by Ellis Ward
The door to the rest room swung open with an exaggerated creak. The sound set Bodie's teeth on edge and made him think, inanely, of sharp, wooden stakes-and how they might be used to eliminate anyone who would intrude upon him at this moment. Through eyes slitted thinly enough to bely sleep, he noted that it was Murphy who had come in, and subterfuge was not necessary: Murphy had not seen him, nor was he likely to, slumped as Bodie was in the corner behind the support pillar, head propped against the wall, torso shielded by the back of a molded-plastic chair, legs stretched out across the lap of another, and the entire lower half of his body hidden by the much-used, and much-battered table he had chosen to commandeer as his own.
Intent upon remaining unnoticed, Bodie took in a deep, silent breath, folded his arms more comfortably across his chest, and beckoned sleep once more. From the opposite end of the room soft noises indicated that Murphy had coaxed a beverage out of the vending machine. There came the scrape of a stirring straw colliding with polystyrene; the drone of Murphy humming agreeably, if tunelessly, to himself: these but minor distractions undemanding of Bodie's attention. No sooner had he begun to drift pleasantly free of his surroundings than the complaint of unoiled hinges rent the quiet again. Shooting a searing glance at the door, Bodie was instantly mollified when Ray Doyle sauntered into the room.
Doyle spied him at once, despite his jerry-built concealment. Although he neither said nor did anything that would betray his partner, Doyle's green eyes lit with cynical amusement. Good-naturedly, Bodie grimaced back.
Dropping the plastic stirrer into the bin, Murphy looked up. "Ahhh, Ray." From his comparatively vast height, he offered a sympathetic grin.
"Back from the hinterlands, I see."
Doyle stepped up to the vending machine while fishing coins out of a pocket. "Go ahead," he invited placidly. "You know you can't resist."
The taller agent muffled a cough of laughter behind a fist. "Only-I wondered if this assignment proved as penetrating as you originally expected?"
"Bugger off." Doyle drew the freshly filled beaker out of the chute and peered doubtfully into its depths. "Ugh." Lifting it to his lips, face puckered and twisted like a gargoyle's, he nevertheless took a sip.
"Horrid, isn't it?" Murph said companionably. He raised his own beaker in a comradely toast. "Still-bottoms up." Murphy attempted, but failed, to strangle a giggle.
Doyle yawned. "That's right, mate, have your fun; Bodie's been looking for someone to thump."
"You're his other half; let him do you." Murphy grinned angelically. "Get it: Do you. "
"Oh, subtle. Very subtle."
Cup empty, Murphy lobbed the crumpled remains into the bin. "Must say, you seem to be coping. Being a backstairs man must agree with you."
Refusing to be baited, Doyle sidled closer to the other agent. "You flirting with me?"
"Heaven forbid!" Murphy intoned piously. "Mind, you don't say something like that in front of Bodie-looks like being the jealous, broody type, he does."
"Well, yes, I expect he could be," Doyle breathed huskily. "But he trusts me, doesn't he?" Head cocked to one side, Doyle made a slow, comprehensive visual circuit of Murphy's body. "A handsome lad, aren't you?"
Rolling his eyes, Murphy snorted. "Careful, Ray. I'll be checking your wrists if you keep that up." He waggled his own hand feyly up and down.
With a smooth smile that did not quite reach his eyes, Doyle murmured, "You know, I'll wager Cowley hasn't told you yet. About you and Stuart."
"Won't wear, my lad. I already have an assignment."
"You did have, you mean. Taking over for us, the pair of you."
This time, a flicker of irritation compressed Murphy's lips before the cocksure smile slid back into place. "You're making that up."
Doyle batted his lashes at him. "Actually, I'm not. He's keen to bust McKenzie, is Cowley. Now that MI6's blown our covers, there's nothing for it but to send in someone else." A chipped tooth glinted whitely, prominently displayed. "You, as it happens."
Murphy continued to smile forcedly, giving little away. "Don't believe you."
" 'S the truth," Bodie said heavily. Extricating himself from his make-shift bed, he had the satisfaction of seeing Murphy startle at sight of him. "The Cow said so." He wended his way through the empty tables and unneatly berthed chairs, stretching as he went, unkinking the knots in his back and shoulders.
"Christ. I think you really mean it." Murphy's expression might have elicited sympathy from less hardened observers. "But I told you. I'm already on a job."
Doyle shook his head, softly tsking.
A little desperately, Murphy said, "Give it up, okay? Was only having a bit of fun."
"No joke, Murph," Doyle informed him with a hint of commiseration as false as his smile. He raised a hand and tested the mobility of his wrist. "He debriefed us on the drive back to Town."
"And of course," Bodie interposed brightly, "we recommended you-and Stuart. Remembered how well the two of them get along, didn't we, Ray?" He reached out for the beaker in Doyle's hand. A headache throbbed dully at the base of his skull; following a night in a holding cell with a dozen disgruntled men, he longed for his bed.
"Of course we did. `Only the best,' we said. McKenzie and his lot'll be wary now," Doyle explained. He watched expressionlessly as Bodie drained the tea from his beaker. "But we told Cowley, if anyone can worm their way into a larcenous gang of blokes, Murphy and Stuart are the men for the job."
"Bollocks. He would've told me by now. And Stuart's under cover somewhere in north London."
"Being recalled; he's due in Friday. It's that important!" Bodie assured him reasonably. "Ah, don't fight it, Murph. After all, it'll probably take months establishing your covers. Might as well get yourself in the proper frame of mind." Bodie delicately cleared his throat. "You and Stuart."
"I don't believe you," Murphy repeated emphatically. Yet dumb horror lurked in the back of his eyes. "Okay, so it was a rotten joke. You'll get worse from the others, I warn you."
"Undoubtedly. But we're not joking," Doyle said.
"And it won't be much longer before you're the Aunt Sally," Bodie promised him.
"We'll see about that. There are some things a man can't be asked to do." Murphy made as if to move forward; Doyle obligingly, but unhurriedly, stepped out of his way.
"Don't fret, Murph: Stuart's experienced-he'll be gentle."
Murphy exposed his teeth. "Sod off!" he snarled. Grabbing hold of the door knob, he gave it a vicious twist. "If Cowley thinks he can-" Abruptly and without warning, he found himself face to face with George Cowley.
"If Cowley thinks he can what?" the controller of CI5 asked with acute interest.
"I- They said- That is-"
"Spit it out, man."
Collecting his dignity like an invisible cloak, Murphy stood taller, shoulders squared, chin held high. "Nothing, sir. Was just off to check the roster for next week."
Cowley's gimlet glare offered no encouragement, but he politely turned one shoulder aside, clearing the threshold.
As Murphy strode into the corridor, Doyle called after him, "You'll like it in Leeds. They're very friendly there!"
The door swung closed on the rest room.
"Sowing discontent?" Cowley asked.
"More like taking a bit of stick," Bodie retorted. "And we seem to take it better than he does."
"Never mind. I've had a call from Guy's."
The two agents sobered instantly. "One of ours?"
"Details are sketchy; but it appears she was savaged by a large animal, possibly a dog."
Doyle frowned. "A dog."
"Possibly. Take your car and meet me there. I'm leaving now."
"Sir," Bodie said.
Two minutes later they were in Bodie's favored pool car, a silver Capri, driving easterly toward London Bridge and Guy's Hospital. It was late in the afternoon, nearer four than three, but only just. Doyle sat quietly slumped in the passenger seat, gazing out at the traffic clogging the streets, the people thronging the pavement. The weather had turned chill this twentieth day of November, and a misting rain descended from an all-encompassing greyness, the separation between heaven and earth almost imperceptible.
"Mission accomplished?" Bodie asked, activating the turn signal indicator for a right-hand turn.
"Yeah, Betty said she'd be happy to help. Just as well, really, now that it's all go again. I'd never get round to the bank; and Walker will only take cash."
Bodie smiled without humor at the note of beleaguerment in Doyle's tired voice. His partner had got no more rest the previous night than he. "Lucky we finished those reports when we did, eh?"
"Yeah." Doyle drew a face. "Not that it would've made any difference. Bloody Cowley."
"Think of Murphy and Stuart; you'll feel better."
Doyle let his head fall back against the neck-rest. "There is that."
After a moment's silence, Bodie risked a glance at his partner. Doyle's eyes were closed. The weariness betrayed by his voice was even more evident in his face: Beneath new stubble, he was ashen, and the lines about mouth and eyes were notably pronounced.
Not that Bodie imagined he himself looked any better. Last night had been one of the longest of his experience, though in truth nothing physically demanding had taken place. No, it was the closing of an important-if too short-chapter in his life that that night had signalled-and he had been unprepared for the suddenness of its ending.
Ray Doyle would not share his bed tonight.
Doyle snorted and raised his head. "Looks familiar," he said trenchantly.
"Ought to. Been here often enough, haven't you?"
Leaving the car at the curb, Bodie led the way flashing his ID up the sloping pavement to the main entrance to Guy's Hospital. Doyle trailed a half step behind.
Through the wide, glass double doors, they saw Cowley speaking with a young woman behind the reception counter. As they entered, he glanced their way, waved a hand beckoning them to follow, and struck off down the wide corridor toward the lifts. Bodie and Doyle hastened through the foyer and skipped a step or two in order to catch up. Impatient as always, Cowley stood between the lift doors, a hand bracing one gliding panel-and thereby, both-open. The two men dashed inside, Cowley pushed the button for the third floor, and the floor beneath them began to rise.
"Anything else you can tell us?" Bodie asked. He and Doyle occupied a corner of the cabinet, shoulders brushing as the jostling upward movement brought them into contact.
"Miss Wingate was on special assignment," Cowley replied. He opened the thin file in his hands and silently perused the information divulged there. "She is not in good condition, gentlemen. It is unlikely, I am told, that she will survive the night."
"What operation was she on?" enquired Doyle.
The cabinet lurched to a stop; the lift doors glided open. "That I cannot tell you."
"But if it has something to do with her attack-"
Cowley stilled Doyle's protest with a single look. "I cannot tell you because I do not know."
Bodie and Doyle exchanged a single look. Cowley irritatedly urged them to keep up; obedient to his every command, they increased their pace.
Even from a great distance, Bodie knew which room had been assigned Olivia Wingate: A single CI5 agent stood guard outside. He studied them now as they approached, his expression clearing as recognition surfaced.
"Howard," Cowley greeted abruptly. "You know Bodie and Doyle."
"Sir. Back in town, are you?" Amusement shimmered in Albert Howard's eyes.
Bodie merely nodded. Doyle gamely bared his teeth.
"Her doctor just left," Howard announced. "She's hooked up to a thousand tubes, and there's an aide sitting with her."
Cowley acknowledged this with a distracted hmph. Howard laid a hand on the latch and gave it a turn; on quiet feet, Cowley padded inside.
Close on his heels, Bodie took in the appearance of Olivia Wingate from over Cowley's shoulder. Howard's description was grossly inaccurate, of course; but Bodie suspected he was off by only a few hundred in his count of tubes attached to Wingate's still form. The woman's face and much of her hair were hidden beneath pink-stained bandages; what injuries lay shrouded under sheet and blanket could only be guessed at.
The young aide left her seat near the top of the bed. "Who are you, please? Doctor said no one was to-"
"I'm George Cowley."
"Oh." The woman extended a hand, palm up. "I must see some identification."
A grudging smile toyed with the carved corners of Cowley's mouth. "Per my instructions." Without further comment, he fished out his wallet.
"Thank you," she said, scrubbed-clean fingers angling the small document for closer viewing. Satisfied, she turned her clear-eyed, but steely gaze on Bodie and Doyle. "And yours, please."
Having seen Cowley's prompt cooperation, they were ready for her. She carefully compared their photos with their faces before inclining her head in approval.
"I shall leave if you like," she informed the controller of CI5. "But for no more than five minutes. Miss Wingate has not regained consciousness. Please do not disturb her."
"I understand." His attention rested on the injured woman for a long moment. "And I would like a few minutes alone."
"As you wish."
The woman quit the room at once, noting her watch as she went out.
Tucking the folder under one arm, Cowley walked nearer the bed. An expression of frustration mingled with helplessness touched his cool blue eyes. Instinctively, Bodie and Doyle took position at the foot and far side of the narrow bed, as though guarding every access point. They were uneasy in this situation and place-as were all operatives-and Olivia was one of theirs, a looking glass reflecting their own vulnerability.
"Two weeks ago Miss Wingate requested permission to launch an investigation into the deaths of several MPs. She assured me that her source was solid, reliable; but she also acknowledged that there was little to support her source's concerns."
"Were they murdered?" Doyle asked. "These MPs?"
"According to Olivia, aye. But, somehow-more than murder was involved."
"More than?" Bodie murmured skeptically.
"You needn't take that tone, Bodie. Miss Wingate noted that all the supposed victims died under apparently innocent conditions. She had certain suspicions, however, which she did not like to disclose until she could provide evidence. And, as she was due a bit of personal leave-"
Cowley fixed Doyle with a piercing stare. "Miss Wingate is ambitious and diligent."
"Most commendable," Doyle said, his voice carefully free of all inflection.
"And I could remind you of a few instances when you and Bodie have pursued independent investigations."
"But without ambition," Doyle averred.
"Hm." Wordlessly, Cowley reached out and tugged the top edge of the bedclothes a little higher round the unmoving body. He gestured them away. As Bodie reached for the door, the handle moved. He stepped out of the way so the patient's small, female protector could enter.
"We're just leaving, Miss-" Cowley searched for her name badge. It was not like him to forget-perhaps, Bodie thought, he was more upset than he wanted them to know. "-Sullivan."
In the corridor, Cowley waited until the door to the room was secured once more. Then he said to Howard, "You understand how important it is that I be informed at once of any change in her condition?"
"Yes, Mr. Cowley."
"Who's your replacement?"
"Spencer; seven this evening."
Without another word, Cowley swung round and struck off down the corridor leading to the lifts. One-handed, he placed his glasses on his nose, then opened the file which had yet to leave his hold.
He spoke as he walked. "A commotion was reported near the bottom of the King's Road just after three this morning. Police constables patroling the area were able to respond within seconds. Outside a public lavatory, they saw a woman under attack by a very large animal. Though it was dark out, that area was well lit; nevertheless, the officers would conjecture only that the animal might have been some sort of dog, very big, with a white or light grey coat. As they approached, the animal turned on them. They shouted and waved their truncheons to frighten it off, then rushed the beast. It ran away into the darkness. The woman-Olivia Wingate-was suffering multiple lacerations and a severe loss of blood. An ambulance arrived in good time and whisked her here, where emergency surgery saved her life and repaired most of the damage. As she was carrying no identification, we were not aware of Miss Wingate's situation until her absence was remarked upon and a routine survey of local hospitals made-about two hours ago."
"Why should anyone have noticed?" Doyle wondered. "If she's working on personal time?"
"Because she's working under the aegis of this department, Doyle. As such, she's observing standard procedure."
"And her identification?" Bodie asked.
"Whereabouts unknown. Vehicle Control has been alerted; it is assumed her car was left somewhere in the Chelsea area."
"She didn't want to give away the fact that CI5 are involved," Doyle suggested.
"Very likely." They had arrived outside the lifts. A touch upon the call button opened the doors. Cowley walked inside the sparsely furnished cabinet and waited for Bodie and Doyle to follow. "I'm keeping this as restricted as possible," he stressed.
"Was Olivia armed?"
"Was her weapon found?"
Cowley's mouth flattened into an cheerless line. "It was."
"Had it been fired?"
"It was empty." The lift came to a halt at the ground floor. As light and noise spilled inside from the foyer, he added, "And none of the rounds were recovered." He marched into the lobby, wasting no time as he cut around the corner which led to the entrance.
Registering the implication of Cowley's words, Doyle shot Bodie a shrewd glance before insisting, "None? Not in a wall, the pavement, nowhere? "
"Nowhere," Cowley said implacably. At the glass double doors, he stopped and faced the two agents. "I'm handing this case over to you. Here's the police report." Two sheets of paper were thrust into Bodie's hand. "I want to know who is responsible for Miss Wingate's injuries; I want to know what she was investigating prior to the attack and who her source was. As soon as possible. Any other questions?"
Millions, Bodie thought wryly; he knew, however, that there would be no answers forthcoming from Cowley.
Doyle shrugged his shoulders. "You'll let us know if Olivia comes round-when she comes round?"
"Aye, I will. And Miss Sullivan and her colleagues will be instructed to speak with you whenever you ring in." Cowley took off his glasses. "Good day, gentlemen."
They watched him walk away-the proud bearing, the measured tread, the ignored limp, all bespeaking the mind and soul of a military man.
"Fat lot of help he is," Doyle reflected.
"SOP. Where do we start?" Bodie held the door open, allowing his partner to precede him into the gloom of the pre-winter late afternoon. "Olivia's flat or the scene of the attack?"
"Scene of the attack, of course." Doyle grinned sidelong at him.
Bodie's heart turned over. Inside, he froze: What was wrong with him? He managed a twist of smile in return. "Of course," he said.
They crossed back over the Thames at Battersea. The sickly wash of daylight was rapidly fading, the sky growing increasingly grey as evening descended. Doyle read the report aloud as Bodie navigated the car onto King's Road. The details merely fleshed out what Cowley had already related to them. Neighbors at the outer edge of World's End had contacted police upon hearing a woman's cries intermixed with the snarls and growls of an animal. ("If it was a dog, why didn't anyone bloody well call it a dog?" asked Bodie condemningly.)
Police Constables Ireland and Brittain ("True!" Doyle exclaimed.) had reacted immediately upon intercepting the request of available assistance. They had run past the public lavatories just off King's Road to the rim of the clearing, where in the shadows they had sighted the roiling figures. By then the CI5 agent was down and a strangely formed, dog-looking creature ("Someone was smoking something he oughtn't," Bodie decided.) loomed over her, head down, jaws poised for the kill. Neither of the officers had heard reports from the woman's pistol; several of the council tenants, however, swore that shots were fired. A search then and in the morning had uncovered no spent bullets. Empty shells littered the ground, and one had ejected into the agent's shoulder bag, which lay on the pavement in front of the women's lavatory.
The woman's blood, spattered about with frightening exorbitance, gave witness to her struggles and the direction the combatants had taken. The responding officers noted that small drops were found just outside the door to the lavatory-the site of the initial encounter; between there and the copse of trees that fringed World's End, the gore increased, until small puddles colored and wet the ground. ("Sounds like a horror flick, don't it?" Doyle said in an aside.)
As soon as the police constables had intervened, the creature ("Dog. What else could it be?" Bodie insisted.) shifted position as if it would confront them. When they started in its direction with truncheons raised, however, the animal had bounded into the dark. Rather than attempt pursuit, the two men had focused their efforts on keeping the injured woman alive until medical assistance could arrive.
The car braked to a stop along the curb several hundred feet from the site of the attack. Doyle, report in hand, unfolded himself to step out onto the pavement, then set off toward the public lavatories.
These were housed in a low, block building, which was well-kept and recently painted. As he neared the structure, Doyle glanced back to find Bodie only a few feet away. He waved the paper in Bodie's face. "They drew a little sketch." He pointed at the door to the women's lavatory, indicating that they should start there. They strode to the entrance together, heads bent forward. A woman came out, recoiled at sight of them, then hastened away, giving them a very wide berth. They scarcely noticed her, eyes fixed on the dull discoloration marring the surface of the pavement.
"From here to there," Doyle said, nodding his head toward the stand of young trees perhaps thirty feet distant.
Together they used the crude map to guide them to the stretch of ground where Olivia Wingate had tried to fight off her attacker. The pavement gave way several feet shy of their destination; from the edge of the concrete the earth was cold and hard-packed. Near the trees, the soil was softened by decaying foliage. All the same, signs of disruption remained-and though the police had performed their customary clean-up, patches of blood-darkened earth could yet be discerned.
"Three AM," Bodie said, rising to his full height, while Doyle crouched near his feet, examining the ground. "She had to use the loo, so-"
"Or she was checking something out; some movement, maybe."
"Maybe. In any case, she was taken by surprise."
"Not so surprised she didn't manage to snap off seven shots."
"D'you reckon they went wild?" Bodie wondered. "Cases but no bullets. Perhaps she fired into the trees."
"Someone would have found something."
"Maybe," Doyle conceded. Pushing upward, he curved his spine alarmingly, hands planted at the small of his back. "Nothing like a night in an overcrowded cell," he muttered. Startlingly green amidst the drab veil of rain, his eyes searched the area surrounding them.
"Make you appreciate your own bed, won't it?" Bodie said practically. "Somewhere off King's Road, don't you think, Ray?" An arm swept in a wide arc indicating the expensive homes and gardens common to Chelsea.
"We'll have a better idea once Olivia's car is found." Doyle wiped his hands with finality. "Let's go back to HQ, eh?" he said. "It's freezing out here."
In fact, Bodie was quite happy to leave the scene of Olivia Wingate's attack. Imagining the night, a frigid mist, and a huge dog, snarling and snapping, trying to rip out a body's throat struck at a deeply guarded part of him that rarely met the light of day.
Thanks to early evening road congestion, the two agents did not pull into the car park under their present headquarters building until after six. By then the night had spread its black wings, smothering the earth like a broody hen, its cloying darkness dulling the glow of streetlamps and doorlights.
It was with a sense of seeking refuge that Bodie settled inside the cubicle he and Doyle called their own. Weeks had passed since last they had used it, but nothing had changed: At the top of the desk stood a tiny transistor radio, legend for its tinny speakers and broken volume control-Doyle's; a framed picture of a center-fold beauty, overlaid with a cut-out bear's head, chicken feathers and duck's feet-all appropriately arranged to guarantee her modesty-graced the right corner-Bodie's. There were other bits and pieces recognizably theirs; nothing, of course, of any great value, monetary or emotional. But it lent a certain personal touch-and a shared one, at that-that gave Bodie a degree of comfort he had never known elsewhere.
Doyle appeared round the edge of the partition, two mugs-not beakers-gripped in his hands. Bodie gave a sigh of pure pleasure as the scent of freshly brewed coffee wafted past twitching nostrils. "You're a godsend! I ought to marry you," Bodie said fervently, hands wrapping lover-like round the very hot mug given him.
"You already did." Doyle sat in the opposite chair, one leg hoisted over a corner of the desk. "Count yourself lucky."
Using the mug to shield his face, Bodie pretended to gaze down into milky depths. "We haven't talked about it much."
"What's to talk about? The op's been scuppered despite two weeks-and more-of bloody hard work. Criminal, that's what it is."
"And Murphy, earlier today?"
Doyle caught his eyes and held them. "He's still breathing, isn't he?"
"Somewhat to my surprise," Bodie admitted.
"Only because you wanted to thump him yourself."
This statement merited some thought; Doyle was, as usual, right. "I wasn't that obvious, surely?"
"Don't often come down that hard on our Murph, that's all. And anyway, it's a nine-days' wonder; it'll pass."
" 'Course it will." Bodie stuck his nose back into his mug. "So what'd you come up with?"
"There's nothing in Livi's desk; nothing in her locker-pertinent to the op, anyway."
" 'Twas ever so," Bodie said darkly. "I rang Dispatch; requested a list of incoming and outgoing traffic for the past month. They'll have it ready sometime tomorrow morning."
"Was told she'd asked for some information on several different individuals. Low priority, however: May have to wait until Thursday. That's if we're lucky."
"Thursday's three days away!" Doyle slapped his almost-empty mug onto the desk with an audible crack.
"See what Cowley says tomorrow. He's already left, by the way." Bodie twitched his brows meaningfully.
Doyle took a moment to consider. "Reckon you're right. There's not much we can do till we find out what she was working on. Maybe she left her notes at home. We can check her flat first thing tomorrow." He studied Bodie with sudden intensity. "Any word on her condition?"
"According to the aide-what's her name-?"
"That's right. Miss Sullivan said Olivia's condition is `essentially unchanged.' From the tone of her voice, I took that to mean it might even be a little worse."
"Very likely," Doyle said grimly. "Finish your coffee, mate. I want to go home."
"Your car still in for repairs?"
"Another day at least, according to Hibberd."
"Which means I'll have to be up half an hour early again," Bodie sniffed. In truth, he did not mind. Extra time spent in Doyle's company was never a hardship.
"You'll survive. Hurry up, Bodie! Look, I'll put up the dosh for a Chinese take-away. Eat at my place; make it worth your bother, eh?"
Such philanthropy was not to be refused. "Deal," Bodie agreed, before Doyle should change his mind. Hooking his jacket over a forearm, Bodie downed the remainder of his coffee with alacrity, then led the way to the door. He had not expected Doyle to seek his company tonight-even to mull over a new case. Rather, he had imagined Ray would ring up the most desirable of his current girlfriends, proving if only to himself, that the last two weeks had been a ruse and no more.
Why Bodie was not possessed of the same notion did not warrant speculation.
" 'Morning." Bodie was greeted at the open door to Doyle's flat by his partner who wore only unbuttoned blue jeans slung precariously low over narrow hips, and a still-sodden towel draped round his neck. "Oversleep?" Bodie asked kindly.
Wordlessly waved inside, he made his way directly to the kitchen, drawn by the hope more than the smell of coffee. "Tea?" he complained loudly.
"You know I prefer it first thing," Doyle called from the bedroom. "But there's toast in the oven."
"Off your feed?" Bodie poured himself a cup, added sugar and milk, and sucked down a bolstering sip before reaching for the oven door.
Doyle padded into the kitchen on bare feet, fingers deftly fitting buttons into corresponding holes on the placket of a silky green shirt. "Some marmalade in the fridge," he said helpfully. "Made extra toast, didn't I?"
"Ah- For me?" Bodie sighed rapturously.
"Nah, for the neighbor's cat. Wouldn't have any, so I saved it."
Bodie was not put off. "Generous to a fault, you are."
"And you're an idiot. Eat your toast." Doyle swooped down to collect his trainers from under the table. As he passed through the doorway into the hall, he added off-handedly, "Dreamt of you last night."
Doggedly concentrating on his second breakfast, Bodie refrained from the obvious response. Doyle was teasing him, but Bodie had no intention of encouraging his bloody-minded partner just yet. It would be something silly-but that was okay. No one made him laugh like Doyle did. He remained sublimely removed even after Doyle returned some minutes later. By then curly, dark auburn locks were nearly dry. Doyle had put on a bulky, cream-colored cardigan over the green shirt. As usual, the sleeves of both were shoved up to his elbows, exposing thin, but well-muscled forearms darkened with fine, dark hair.
"Haven't seen that shirt before," Bodie remarked noncommittally. He rose from the table and scooped crumbs into his paper serviette. The handful was ferried to Doyle's rubbish bin on the far side of the sink cupboard; he glanced across as Doyle took the used mugs off the table and rinsed them out.
" 'S old. Ran out of clean clothes, didn't I?"
Bodie grinned. "Maybe you can sweet-talk Betty into doing your laundry, too."
"There's a thought."
Outside, the morning was dazzlingly bright in sharp contrast to the previous day-it was, however, predicted not to last. Though the pavement was mostly dry, here and there lingered leaves saturated with moisture accumulated over the past weeks. Doyle kicked through a small clump of these as they passed under an ancient maple now denuded of its autumn finery. A smile rested on his face and was unselfishly turned in his partner's direction as Bodie unlocked the passenger door.
Shaking his head, Bodie sauntered round to the other side, then clambered into the driver's seat. He keyed the ignition, waiting only long enough for Doyle to get a firm grip on his door before pulling sharply away from the curb. "You're in a good mood," he declared with a hint of derision.
"And why not?" Doyle countered expansively. "We're home, the day's fine-and I ought to have my Harley on Wednesday."
"The love of your life." Smoothly negotiating the early morning rush-hour traffic, Bodie stifled a yawn.
They had shared a quiet evening, forgoing talk of Olivia Wingate for an extensive news refresher. The newspapers of the last month had been held in the care of Doyle's neighbor awaiting his return. Since this was an important aspect of their jobs, they had found it a pleasantly relaxing means of winding down. Doyle was half asleep on the sofa when Bodie said his good night. Falling prey to the power of a drowsy green, darkly lashed gaze, he had winked at Doyle despite his protestations and let himself out. In his own bed, sleep had come swiftly if not quietly: His night had howled with savage, strange dreams-of great-fanged dogs, their jaws red and dripping; of Doyle, waiting in his own bed-for whom, the dream did not disclose; and of the two of them, curiously, dancing together a stately waltz, their movements refined and sure. Both had been attired in silk morning suits-Doyle's white, Bodie's black-
"You awake over there?"
" 'Course. I'm driving, aren't I?"
"That's questionable. Just missed that blue Rover by an inch and a half."
"Come on! That was no more than an inch!"
Groaning dramatically, Doyle asked, "What's on the agenda for today?"
"HQ first; pick up Livi's notes. Maybe swing by the hospital if she's doing better."
"She isn't," Doyle informed him flatly. "I rang first thing."
"Off to her place then. After that we'll see what Dispatch have come up with."
"More like `if anything usable.' She's well-liked; probably has a slew of admirers."
"Faint heart. Anyway, what are you bleating about? Got a good night's sleep unless I'm mistaken. Ready to take on the world by the look of you."
"Better than you," Doyle stated bluntly. "What'd you do last night? Ring up one of your old girlfriends? Go a few rounds under the sheets?"
"Went to bed alone, actually," Bodie assured him. "Just-couldn't sleep."
"You!" Doyle scoffed. "Are you sickening for something?"
"I'm all right. Probably missed all your twisting and turning; better than a lullaby, that was."
By nine o'clock, they were driving through south London toward Headquarters once more. Olivia Wingate's flat had provided no answers to their questions. Had they been interested in her preference in reading material, casual attire, and taste in food, their curiosity would have been sated. In fact, the woman conducted her personal life in a manner befitting all CI5 agents. Nothing in her flat gave away her working existence.
"Let's hope Dispatch have something for us," Doyle muttered, as they walked into Cowley's antechamber. Betty looked up from her typewriter, dismay wreathing her face-which intensified at sight of the two agents.
"This afternoon, Ray," she said sternly.
With hands spread high and wide, Doyle defended himself, "We're here to see Cowley, love. Need some help securing a bit of interdepartmental assistance."
She sighed. "He's awfully busy...."
"Try him," Bodie said persuasively. "It's about Olivia."
"Yes, I had heard you've been assigned her case." She bit her lip fretfully. "All right, but if he shouts down the phone-"
"All our fault," Doyle agreed.
As Betty rang Cowley's private number, Doyle spun on heel and eyed his partner knowingly.
Uncertain what that look signified, Bodie attempted to exude equal abstruseness. "By the way, what was your dream about?" he inquired, meaning only to distract his partner.
"You said you dreamed of me-"
"Yes, sir," Betty said loudly. "Please go in. And be prompt about it!"
Doyle hastily obeyed, Bodie following smartly on his heels. Inside, Cowley awaited them behind his vast desk, the polished rosewood surface strewn with files and papers.
"What is it?" he asked curtly.
"Olivia requested some work-ups from Records. They've told us we have to wait till Thursday, at the earliest to have them," Bodie explained plaintively. "Is there any chance they can be budged on that, sir?"
"We've pretty much run into a wall," Doyle elaborated.
"What about her own records?"
"Not to be found. We've searched her work area and home. Nothing." Doyle straightened a little. "Has her car been located? It's a long shot, but-"
"I'll be told the minute it turns up. And Dispatch? Have you started there yet?"
"Got 'em moving yesterday, actually," Doyle replied with labored civility. "We're hoping there may be something waiting at our desk."
Cowley ground his teeth together. "I'll handle it. You'll have the files requested by Olivia tomorrow at the latest."
Wednesday, Bodie thought sourly. It would have to do.
His partner was not so patient. "Tomorrow-!" Doyle began.
Bodie silenced him with an elbow to the ribs. "Thank you, sir. Appreciate your help."
Doyle glared balefully at his partner as he was precipitously ushered out of the room. Once clear of Cowley's view, he was released; Bodie solicitously pretended to brush lint off his sweater.
Betty looked up at their arrival, her expression bleak.
"Something's come up, hasn't it?" Bodie asked, jerking his head toward Cowley's office.
"Just coming off a hostage situation at the Museum of Moving Images. It's almost taken care of; but Mr. Cowley's been at his desk since the middle of the night."
Doyle tsked softly under his breath. "Anything we can do?"
"He'd've said, Ray," Betty replied. "He's upset about Miss Wingate, too. Perhaps the best thing-"
"Right. C'mon, mate." Doyle placed both hands flat against Bodie's back and marched him toward the door. The heat of his palms seemed to burn through the layers of jacket, shirt, and t-shirt.
"Oh, and Ray-" Betty called after them.
"Should have your money after one or thereabouts. That's the earliest I'll be able to get away."
"Great. Just ring me, okay?"
In the corridor outside the antechamber, Doyle suddenly caught hold of Bodie's sleeve and gave it a tug. "This way, sunshine."
"Our office is over there."
"Need something to wet me parched gullet. You?"
"Yeah." Bodie came about, lumbering heavily. "And I expect you want to use my change as well?"
"Bit short at the moment," Doyle conceded, not at all shamefaced.
"At every moment, you mean." At the door to the rest room, Bodie said, with emphasis, "Your dream-tell me about it."
Inside, the walls echoed with the sound of their footsteps beating a tattoo on the linoleum floor. Giving the empty room a glance, Doyle headed for the vending machine. "Wish they'd put a proper coffee-maker in here," he grumbled. "Had to beg some off Mandy yesterday."
"Mandy," Bodie murmured, reflectively. "The redhead, short, a little Rubenesque?"
"No, that's Sheilagh. Mandy's the black Irish. About so high; a handful north and south."
"That Mandy. You talked her into coffee? Thought she's hated you since that night-"
"She likes you," Doyle explained with a show of teeth. "Said I'd put in a word for her."
Bodie extricated a palm, full of coins, from a pocket and held it out. "Tea, please, you smooth devil."
"Ugh. Coffee for me, this time of day."
"Opposites attract," Bodie replied glibly.
"Must be true. Look at us, after all."
"Uh huh. Okay, now out with it-your dream, Ray. Or was it too boring for words?" Arms folded across his chest, Bodie hiked his bottom onto the edge of a table.
Giving his nose a rub, Doyle inserted the money and made his selections. "Was one of those weird numbers-y'know, all impressions, colorful sounds, noisy colors?"
"Like a Picasso painting?" Bodie asked with a laugh. He gratefully accepted the cup handed him. Striking a pose, he turned his head to one side, and screwed his lips back toward his audience. "Did I look like this, then?"
"A little." Doyle fetched a second steaming cup out of the dispensing compartment. He glanced past Bodie's shoulder as the door hinges gave a squeal. Noting the dismissal in Doyle's eyes, Bodie assumed that someone had poked a head in only to retreat at once. "And I was disappointed, I can tell you," Doyle concluded.
Bodie raised his chin, affronted. "Disappointed? In me?" His tone implied that such happenstance was inconceivable.
"Yeah. Seems those ten inches you're always boasting were only three."
Bodie's tea bubbled with the force of his chuckle. Raising his head, he found himself eye-to-eye with Doyle, whose purposeful expression gave him pause. Before he could divine his partner's intention, however, his mouth had been claimed and covered by Doyle's lips.
A number of thoughts exploded in Bodie's mind: that Doyle should do such a thing; that he himself should allow it to continue; that the mouth molded to his was inhumanly warm, pliant, and very-
From the end of the room near the door, there came a soft hiss followed instantly by a snort of derision.
Doyle broke the kiss. "Anson," he said, on a note of surprise. "Just like you to barge in."
"Carry on, Doyle," Anson said magnanimously in his droll, smoky voice. He shook out a match and dropped it to the floor. "I'm an open-minded sort of bloke."
Suffused with chagrin and shock, Bodie realized that Doyle must have been aware of Anson's presence all along. He had been set up.
"Nah," Doyle said wryly. "Bodie's shy." He met Bodie's eyes-and flinched slightly at what he found glinting within them. "Ought to be something from Dispatch waiting for us. C'mon, you. You can thump me later."
Flushing anew at a rude snigger emanating from the other agent, Bodie growled, "Thumping isn't the half of what you're going to get, sunshine."
"Must mean it's back to ten inches, Ray," Anson observed gleefully, exhaling a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. "Better be careful he doesn't rupture something vital."
Bodie took to his feet in one slow, fluid movement. Wheeling round on the balls of his feet, as coiled as a snake and at that moment as dangerous, he located Anson and drenched him with a frosty grin. "It's ten and a half-just for the record-and he takes every inch of it. Don't you, Ray?"
All wide eyes and twitching lips, Doyle bobbed his head in agreement. "And begging for more, you sexy bastard," he stated in a tremulous voice. Thereupon he spun round and hurried out of the rest room, spilling coffee with every loping step of the way.
Anson, for his part, had dissolved into a coughing fit suspiciously resembling laughter.
"Those cigarettes'll be the death of you, Anson." Snarling softly to himself, Bodie took off after his partner, stoking his anger with images of torture and agonizing retribution.
"Doyle, you swi-!" Bodie ground to a halt both vocally and physically out of deference to the phone pressed tightly against his partner's ear. The weasely bastard might, unfortunately, be speaking with Cowley, and Bodie wanted no audience for what he had to say.
"Yes, thanks, that's brilliant." Disconnecting, Doyle grabbed up a handful of computer printer pages. He said quickly, "Dispatch came through." He waved the sheets for emphasis. "We've a month's worth of Olivia Wingate's telephone traffic. While I was waiting for you"-he could not have arrived more than thirty seconds before Bodie-"I had a butcher's and spotted at least three good starters."
"Raymond Doyle, one-man investigation team," Bodie sneered. "Was that your first try on the phone, then?"
"That was Records, confirming Cowley's promise to give the ciphers a nudge."
"No-I said a nudge, not a rocket. Tomorrow, as Cowley promised, by noon. They really are swamped, but will do all in their power, etc., etc."
"I'll believe that when I see it." Accepting for the moment that Doyle must not be battered to gooey little fragments until he had been removed from Cowley's protection, Bodie contented himself by snatching the print-out out of Doyle's hand.
According the faded print a cursory examination, Bodie noted at once that Doyle was quite right; three different numbers occurred with regularity on the first page, which encompassed the week just past. "Not that frequently dialled numbers mean much," Bodie muttered as much to himself as to Doyle. "She could've set up this op based on one phone call made two months, or more, ago."
"Or no phone call at all," Doyle acknowledged. "Pessimist." He stole back the sheets, then wagged a remonstratory finger when Bodie made as if to recapture them. "I'll run a copy, shall I? Then we'll divvy 'em up. Okay?"
Bodie growled his assent.
In the hours that followed, Olivia Wingate's phone traffic for the previous month was analyzed, and with the help of the GPO ("BT, now," Doyle reminded Bodie absently. "Prefer GPO," Bodie countered. "Has a better ring to it."), all the numbers on their print-out-both those dialled in and those dialled out-had been identified.
"Her mother, her mechanic, the semi-regular boyfriend, several people involved in her last assignment-and one Trevor Quayle."
"Unknown entity." Bodie scowled at nothing in particular. "Think Betty can come through on this?"
"She'll do what she can. You know Betty."
"Used to," Bodie said with a reminiscent leer.
"That old chestnut." Sighing, Doyle pushed his chair up, off its front legs, and rested against the floor-mounted partition behind him; it wobbled under his weight. "Told you years ago, I found out the truth about that."
"According to you." Head bent forward, Bodie observed his partner from under heavy lids. "She'd never tell you the whole story."
"Give it up, mate." Doyle rubbed his eyes with balled-up hands. "You were a perfect gentleman, from the flowers to the good-night kiss on her cheek."
"You're always so quick to believe the worst of me," Bodie protested.
The phone rang; Doyle rocked forward and scooped the handset off the cradle. "Doyle. That's right. You have? Yeah. Yeah." Using his teeth to uncap his Biro, Doyle began to scribble frenziedly on the back of one of the print-out pages. "Great. Thanks, love. And you." He raised his brows triumphantly. "Got 'im."
"Trevor Quayle. He's done time, then?"
"Not exactly. But he was picked up ten years ago for participating in a ban-the-bomb do; was never officially charged."
"Oh, I see: one of those lucky sods HMG just happens to keep an eye on."
"Lucky for us, yes."
"So who, or what, is the famous Trevor Quayle?"
Doyle beamed. "A journalist." His smile widened at Bodie's look of perplexity. "He rang Olivia nearly a month ago. They exchanged calls over a period of three days. I think he put her on to something. An inside tip, maybe?"
"Because he's a journalist?" Answering his own question, Bodie shook his head vehemently. "Journalists don't like CI5 as a rule. You make it sound as though they were pals."
"Stranger things have happened. Look at us."
In the midst of licking his lips, Bodie abruptly locked his tongue away, at that instant too aware of the lingering feel of Doyle's mouth on his. "You look. D'you have an address?"
Standing, Doyle flapped a hand in the direction of the scribbled-upon piece of paper. "Right there. What time is it?"
"Past lunch. What rag does this Quayle bloke work for? We can pick up something on the-"
"He's freelance. I'll try him at home first." While Doyle dialled the number, Bodie slowly climbed to his own feet. Paperwork took it out of him more than a day in the trenches-and he had yet to find an opportunity to act upon Doyle's actions of the morning. A deeply rooted anger flickered in the core of his gut. He had been made to look a fool, less through Doyle's lunacy than by his own forbearance of it. Why hadn't he stopped him? What must Doyle-more so, Anson-think of him? For that matter, what had inspired Doyle to undertake such a prank in the first place?
"No answer," Doyle announced, dropping the handset back onto the phone with an audible crash.
Reverie shattered, it took a second for Bodie to realize that Doyle was not answering his unspoken thoughts. " 'S the middle of the day, y'know; he's hardly likely to be home."
"So we'll canvass his neighbors," Doyle said with a diabolical expression.
"A chance to dig up dirt on someone-your eyes are gleaming, Raymond. You ready?"
"Yeah. No!" He bustled round Bodie to reach the doorway. "Meet you in the car park, eh? 'M going to see if Betty's had a chance-"
"Enough said. I'll wait for you-this time."
Doyle blew him a kiss-and disappeared.
"I-am-going-to-kill-him," Bodie resolved.
He sat in the car with the driver's window wound partway down despite the brisk breeze flitting about his neck and face. The engine idle had dropped to normal operating speed, and the radio played quietly. A thump on the passenger door proclaimed Doyle's arrival; Bodie had forgotten to unlock it. He did so now, and shoved the door wide in a single action.
Gratefully scooting inside, Doyle hunched his shoulders and ostentatiously rubbed his hands together. Ignoring his partner's acquisitive good humor, Bodie attended to the operation of the vehicle.
"Where're we going?" he asked, signalling a left turn out of the car park.
Doyle told him.
"Of course," Bodie sighed. "Bloody opposite end of the world."
"We'll stop for lunch," Doyle assured him. Out of a pocket he withdrew a large roll of notes, wrapped round with a wide rubber band. The band went onto a wrist; then one by one Doyle stretched out the bills so that they lay flat in a pile across his knees, counting aloud. When he had finished, he smiled benevolently.
"Beautiful, aren't they?"
According Doyle's riches a slighting glance, Bodie murmured, " 'Bout the only place pound sterling still means anything these days."
Freeing his left hand from the gear lever, Bodie briefly touched a finger to the broken, silver stripe running down the side of a ten-pound note. "There to assure the backing of the Bank of England."
"Been sticking your nose in those trivia books again?"
"My old granddad was always spouting such rot. About the greatness of this `green and pleasant land,' his trust in the nation's finances, all that-when he wasn't arguing a return to monarchic rule, that is."
Nodding sagely, Doyle remarked, "Explains a lot about your bolshie notions, that does." Nimble fingers rolled the notes into a sausage-like tube. Retrieving the rubber band from around his wrist, he used it to secure the roll before it could expand. " 'Course, my mum is no better. In fact, she's undoubtedly in her element right now."
"The Royal Nuptials, y'mean?" Bodie changed to bottom gear as he brought the car to a stop at a red light. "Appalling, isn't it? The whole country's gone bonkers over pudgy, innocent what's-its-name."
"Diana, you oaf. And innocent is right," Doyle vouched sardonically, "since she never met you. Otherwise, she'd no longer be princess-to-be material."
Eyes on the traffic as he edged the car forward past two or three late-bolting pedestrians, Bodie announced, "Not my type, is she." He shot a savage grin Doyle's way. "Anyway, I'm spoken for now."
Tossing his head, Doyle braced himself against the floorboard and raised his hips. With one thin hand he shoved the bike money into his pocket. It bulged under the tight press of his jeans, long and round and very noticeable. "Knew you'd have to bring that up," he said dryly, squirming a little as he rested back in his seat.
"And why shouldn't I? Isn't every day I get slobbered on in public by my own partner. Who I thought knew better," Bodie added tightly.
" 'S no more than they expect," Doyle said on a gusting sigh. "Wish you'd seen Anson's expression-it was worth it."
"For you maybe," Bodie argued. "But hardly worth the wholesale destruction of my reputation, though, was it?"
"As if Anson could have any doubts," Doyle countered. "No one'd ever say something like that about either of us and believe it."
"No! They're just happy to have something to wind us up about. Started before we ever went up to Leeds, remember? Soon as Cowley'd assigned us the case."
" 'Course I do. But, Ray-" Bodie cast his partner a doubtful look. "D'you mean to say you've never heard the rumors?"
"About-erm-us," he replied baldly.
"Us." A shrewd smile tugged at Doyle's lips. "What about us?"
Bodie grimaced. "You really haven't heard?"
"Bodie." The threat underlying the soft voicing of his name was not lost on Bodie.
"Ah, c'mon, Ray. You have to have heard something about it."
"I can't believe you've really never-" Bodie shrugged.
Inches away, Doyle shifted in his seat so he could stare malignantly at him. "Go on."
"Well, our birds, for example."
"They're part of an elaborate cover."
"Cover?" The rich, ominous thrum in Doyle's voice almost made up for the incident in the rest room. Too bad for Doyle, Bodie mused, that he was only relating the facts.
"To conceal the truth-y'know-about us."
For a full minute and thirty seconds, Doyle said absolutely nothing. He continued to stare at Bodie as though his eyes could drill through the smooth cap of hair, the taut sheath of scalp, and the hard casing of bone to peer into the very depths of his mind. Suddenly, he slouched back. "Good try, mate," he said casually, "but it won't work on me."
Disinclined to argue, Bodie minded his driving while navigating the car across the southeast of London-three miles or more. It was Doyle who broke the silence.
He breathed, "You're serious, aren't you?"
Sliding deeper into his seat, Doyle watched his partner for a long moment. "Enough," he said, severely. "If you truly believed that, you wouldn't've agreed to the op in Leeds."
"Y'mean, I was supposed to tell Cowley we couldn't play poofs because it would confirm everyone's suspicions?"
Doyle shouted, "Everyone's suspicions?!"
"C'mon, Ray!" His earlier, smoldering anger evaporated in the face of his partner's genuine dismay. "Don't know how you could've missed all the chat. It's a known fact, for example, that the birds in HQ throw themselves at you only because they think you want curing."
At that Doyle surrendered a ragged laugh. "You bastard. I almost believed you."
Wincing, Bodie said plainly, "Not lying, mate."
"Go on!" Doyle folded his arms across his chest. "You've had your fun. Give it up."
They drove quietly for several minutes, Doyle seemingly content to let the conversation lapse, while Bodie puzzled over how best to convince his partner of the reality of their situation.
As he switched on the headlights upon entering Blackwall Tunnel, Bodie launched into speech: "Was nearly four years ago when I first got wind of it."
"Overheard a couple of secretaries talking about us. I'd just dropped off some reports for typing; a page had stuck to the file folder I was still carrying about, and I had to go back. Heard your name mentioned, so I hung about for a bit."
"You're not serious."
"Keep squealing like that, old son, and you'll have people convinced you've had the operation, as well. From what I overheard, it was common knowledge-even then-that you and I have been `more than partners' for years."
"You can't be serious."
"To our mutual detriment, I am."
"All this time-" Giving his lower lip a thorough chewing, Doyle seemed to need a moment to compose his thoughts. "Why've you never mentioned it before?"
"Dunno. I mean, I've heard it so many times-"
"Truthfully. Reckon I must've thought you already knew. Or, if you didn't, that you'd only blame it on me once you found out."
"Well, it's not my fault!" Doyle exclaimed.
Bodie grinned. " 'Course it's not. Half the secretarial pool can vouch for that."
"Right. And the other half can vouch for you."
Eyes glinting under arrogantly arched brows, Bodie corrected him, "Considerably more than half."
"So unless you've been shouting my name at the crucial moment-"
"No, that's right," Doyle said, his sense of humor coming to the fore, "I've been in the next room often enough to know you encourage your birds to make all the noise."
Making a mental note that Doyle should pay attention to such details, Bodie assured him, "Just rumors, Doyle-or they were until today." He scowled genially. "Still, nothing to worry about, I reckon."
"You're forgetting Murphy yesterday," Doyle said painfully, pulling at the end of his nose. "Not to mention us spending the last two weeks holding hands, snogging in public, and generally acting the newlyweds."
"All for HMG," Bodie asserted. "Just keep your lips to yourself from now on-" He glanced across at Doyle only to find him staring frowningly at the very mouth he had kissed, "-and we'll be all right. Eh?"
Doyle met his eyes guiltily. Forced to return his attention to the road, Bodie wondered with panic-and, yes, a twist of anticipation-just what Doyle was thinking.
"Yeah," Doyle murmured. He turned to the view outside his window: miles of concrete barricade ahead and behind. It held him as if fascinated. "Yeah," he repeated under his breath.
Bodie said nothing.
The November sun was westering by the time Bodie and Doyle reached their destination. They had stopped, only briefly, for a meal; but that delay, combined with road works and snarled traffic, caused them to arrive much later than they had intended.
The block of flats in the quiet section of northeast London where Trevor Quayle lived was modestly fashionable. The gardens were large and well-kept and the streets boasted a slightly higher percentage of expensive vehicles than the average.
"Volvo, BMW, Renault-doesn't anyone buy British anymore?" Bodie wondered aloud.
"Like Jaguar, Bentley, and Rolls Royce?"
"Why not? Probably in the same price range as this lot." He switched the engine off, having expertly parked the Capri between a Citroen and a Ford saloon. "Comfortable, this. Do journalists make enough money to buy into this kind of neighborhood?" Bodie's sweeping gesture included the clean pavement, recently painted fence, and the pleasant exterior of the surrounding buildings.
"Wouldn't've thought so; not freelance, anyway."
It came as no great surprise that Trevor Quayle did not reply to the pressing of his bell. Doyle tried the flat next to Quayle's and was rewarded by a woman's voice courteously asking his business. He explained that he was there to meet with Mr. Quayle about a story; might he and his friend come in out of the cold?
As the door obligingly clicked open, Bodie said, all admiration, "You could be a dangerous man, if you wanted."
"This is more fun." Doyle pushed the door wide. "Don't have to worry about being nicked."
"Where's your sense of adventure?"
"I've spent a night behind bars, remember? Not," Doyle said precisely, "to my liking."
Inside, the lobby and lift areas evidenced the same care and attention as the outside of the building. The two agents ascended three floors by way of the stairs. As they neared Trevor Quayle's door, a woman came out of a neighboring flat.
"You're the man I spoke with?"
"I hope you don't mind my saying so, but I find it amazing that Trev would arrange to meet you here at this time of day."
Offering a guileless smile, Doyle said, "It wasn't arranged for this very moment. Told him I'd come by when I could, that's all."
She nodded understandingly. "In that case, and being that it's Tuesday, you'll have better luck waiting for him at the Dog's Leg in Camden."
"Camden?" Bodie asked blankly. "Isn't that a long way from home for him?"
The woman eyed him cannily. "He prefers it."
"You're saying he won't be back for a while, then?" Doyle asked.
"Most Tuesdays he comes in about tennish."
"Ah. Well!" Doyle raised his brows and looked to his partner.
Having noted the gold band on the woman's ring finger, Bodie said politely, "Thanks, missus. Needn't worry; your Trevor'll be safe as houses with us."
At that the woman broke into a wide smile. She gave each man a comprehensive once-over. "I've no doubt of that at all."
Assumed to be fuming, Doyle said little during the drive to Camden. Bodie concentrated on the roads, though wayward thoughts skipped across the surface of his mind like stones slicing across water. The parting observation made by Quayle's neighbor had not upset him as it had done Doyle, who seemed convinced there was now something about him that advertised a grievously false sexual orientation. Bodie had not helped by mockingly suggesting that Doyle had always exuded a certain exotic quality-which the uninitiated might mistake for ambivalence-so why should Trevor's neighbor be any different? For himself-having a thorough understanding of his true nature-sloughing off the opinions of others was routine.
It did not make sense that Doyle, who had been sanguine about playing the gay during their two weeks in Leeds, should now, suddenly, be incapable of suffering the slights of other people's misconstructions. For one thing, it was quite unlike Doyle, who flouted convention more often than not-wearing his hair long at a time when most men had outgrown that 70's affectation; cladding himself in trousers that emphasized his leanness as well as his genitals; and sporting three-inch heels on pointed-toed boots that thrust his hips forward and exaggerated the curve of both buttocks and thighs-to doubt himself. For another-and perhaps more to the point-Bodie knew that Doyle had been propositioned by men in the past and had rejected their attentions with equanimity rather than hostility. Homosexual sex might not appeal to him; but he had never condemned those who practiced it.
Yet, Bodie worried that Doyle might brood, and having brooded, might conclude that his self-image was more important to him than their partnership. No matter what, Doyle's state of mind must not be allowed to cause a rift in their partnership. Quite simply, Bodie would not countenance the single, constant thread of his existence-bloody-minded Ray Doyle-coming unravelled for so inconsequential a reason.
Lost in his own ruminations, Bodie belatedly noticed that Doyle had thrown off his air of self-absorption and was now watching the changing scenery with interest. "There! Bodie, you missed the junction."
Lacking any other reference point, they had petitioned Dispatch to provide directions to the Dog's Leg. The details had been jotted down on Doyle's ever-present notepad; he consulted it now for verification. "Back there-you were supposed to turn back there."
"You might have said earlier," Bodie groused.
"Dispatch came through loud and clear," Doyle said unsympathetically. "Where were you?" Then: "Turn here," he ordered, overlooking the fact that Bodie had already activated the turn signal indicator and was even then wrenching the steering wheel round to negotiate the sharp turn.
"I can find my way from here, Doyle."
"Know you can; just don't want to die of old age first."
The car park outside the Dog's Leg was nearly full. Bodie maneuvered the Capri into the tight space left between two cars. Released from the confines of the vehicle, he locked the door and pocketed his keys.
Doyle, coming abreast of him, displayed a 50p piece. "Heads or tails?"
"Go on, then."
Doyle sent the coin spinning into the air with the flick of a thumb, deftly caught it, and slapped it flat on the back of his hand. "Well?" he asked expectantly.
Doyle removed his hand. Tails it was.
Ordering his features to conceal his pique, Bodie muttered, "At least if I do the bribing, we might get some answers."
A husky chortle from Doyle was carried aloft on the frigid air. "Do tell."
The warmth generated by massed humanity enfolded them at the door. The evening habitues had begun accumulating already, their numbers evidenced by the pall of smoke which hung level with the rims of wine glasses suspended upside-down above the bar.
Forcefully waving his partner off in search of an empty table-if, indeed, there was one to be found-Bodie loitered at the crowded counter. His wait was not long, the barman attending to him with a ready but not obsequious smile.
"Lager for my friend; bitter for me."
The barman's eyes skated in Doyle's direction; Bodie resisted the urge to join him in watching his partner's progress, knowing that Doyle's wiry frame would be displayed to excellent effect, even from behind. Especially from behind, Bodie amended.
"We're hoping to meet up with Trevor Quayle. He's expected soon, isn't he?"
All animation fled the barman's face. "Maybe he is, and maybe he isn't." He placed Doyle's lager on the counter and began to fill Bodie's glass.
Allowing himself a wry smile, Bodie held up a ten-pound note between thumb and forefinger. "So, is he, or isn't he?" There was a strand of steel in Bodie's voice that was not missed by the other man.
"Any minute now." The barman set the bitter next to the lager and availed himself of the note; there was no change forthcoming.
"I'll be...out of sorts if we miss him."
"Not to worry, guv."
"No, I won't. Only-" Counterfeit friendliness twinkled in Bodie's eyes. "My friend is very tight-fisted-and that's his tenner."
Leaving the barman to frown mutely to himself, Bodie took up the two glasses and strode into the crowd. He found Doyle at a far-flung table that yet provided a mostly clear view of the door. Doyle greeted him with a smile that was a trifle frayed about the edges.
"Did he bite?" Doyle asked, accepting his glass.
"Pretended to. I don't think he has any intention of asking Quayle to speak with us."
"Which means he took your money."
Offering his partner a silent toast, Doyle downed a healthy swallow of lager, his Adam's apple bobbing as his throat worked.
"So this is what a gay pub is like," he murmured, swabbing his upper lip with the tip of his tongue.
"May as well get used to it," Bodie advised. He grinned sharkishly. "After that stunt this morning."
Overlooking Bodie's provocation, Doyle said mildly, "Not that different from any other pub on a Tuesday evening. Just a bunch of blokes standing round, watching the telly, chatting up the local talent."
"Which is all male."
"Hm." Doyle ran a hand through his hair. "About this morning-"
"Save it. I think our man may have arrived."
"Him? Doesn't look promising." Doyle's eyes darkened, then narrowed. "Your helpful barman appears to be giving the bloke an earful."
"Looks that way to me, too."
"Do we intercept?"
"Not yet. Ah- He's turned this way."
"And-unless I'm mistaken-he seems to know us."
The two agents exchanged baffled glances. "He does, doesn't he?" Bodie drawled. He deliberately sat back in his chair and waited while the man they assumed to be Trevor Quayle collected a draught before working his way back to their table.
"Bodie and Doyle," he said affably. "Never thought to see the pair of you brazen it out like this."
Standing up, Bodie met the other man's hand with his own. He snagged a chair from a just-vacated table and pushed it within reach. "Trevor Quayle?"
Eyeing him with wary fascination, Doyle asked, "Have we been introduced?"
"You know we haven't," Quayle said softly. He was solidly built, blond, and nearing fifty. Metal-framed glasses circled hazel eyes. His clothing was comfortable, yet stylish. The man was content with his lot in the world, and it showed. "Not formally, anyway."
Rather than ask another question, Doyle raised his glass to his lips and watched Quayle over the rim.
Smiling inwardly, Bodie recognized his partner's discomfiture. On a guess, he would say Doyle was a little put off by Trevor Quayle.
"CI5 is one of my beats," Quayle explained cheerfully. "I keep track of you and your lot."
"Have done for a long time now. Your George Cowley is, by and large, a sensible man. I rather admire him."
"Shall we pass that along to Mr. Cowley?" Doyle asked cordially.
"Do as you like." Quayle fixed his gaze on Doyle's face. "Expect this must be something of a treat for you, eh? Being here."
Quayle was unfazed by the edge in Bodie's voice. "Relax, son. We're all friends at the Dog's Leg. If I intended to throw you to the wolves, you'd've felt their teeth long ago."
"You think we're gay," Doyle said expressionlessly.
"I've been watching you two off and on for over a year: Think doesn't enter into it."
"You're mistaken," Bodie said lightly.
"Am I? I have pictures, y'know? Diaries tracking your activities. In a three-week period last March, you slept round at Doyle's flat twice; he stayed overnight in your flat three nights running. On several occasions following such interludes, a change of clothing was evident the next morning. I have snaps of you touching, embracing, and staring meaningfully into each other's eyes."
An inelegant laugh erupted from Doyle's lips. "You're wrong."
"I don't think so," Quayle said pityingly. "But you needn't worry, okay?"
"Why not?" Bodie asked with genuine curiosity. "If you don't mean to use any of this against us?"
"Because you don't abuse your power. Because I think more harm than good would result from exposing you. Because I think the need for a strong defense against internal threats is necessary, however unwholesome."
"Then why the observation logs, the snaps, all that?"
"In case you slip up," Quayle replied simply. He raised his glass and studied the head on his beer.
Bodie and Doyle watched him in silence.
"I've always wondered," the journalist remarked as he rotated the glass in his hands, "if George Cowley is gay, too? Is that why he protects you?"
Containing his amusement with some difficulty, Bodie said, "I've never thought to ask. Perhaps you might look into that, Ray?"
Collecting empty glasses, Doyle jumped to his feet. "Oh, I shall. The same again, everyone?" He waited scarcely long enough for the two men to respond: Quayle shook his head; Bodie gave him a quick nod.
As Doyle strode toward the bar, Quayle looked after him with open admiration. "As beautiful as he is lethal."
"Isn't he just," Bodie agreed with a dark smile. "D'you have a fella, then?"
"I do actually," Quayle said, a note of pride in his voice. "His name's Charles York. He's an actor."
Bodie blinked. "I've heard of him. Have you known each other long?"
"We've been together fifteen years now."
"That's a little...unusual, isn't it?" Bodie asked delicately.
"For queers, or men in general?"
"In general," Bodie said, unrepentant.
"It's been eight years for you and Doyle." Quayle glanced toward the bar. Doyle was on his way back, his and Bodie's drinks balanced in either hand. "And partners all that time. That's even more unusual, wouldn't you agree?"
"What's unusual?" Doyle asked, lithely bending to set the freshened drinks, unspilled, onto the table.
"You and Bodie being together so long."
Bodie reached into his pocket, "What do I owe you?"
Wiping his hands on his thighs, Doyle sat down. "Nothing. Friend of yours owed you some money."
Bodie rolled his eyes, imagining the conversation that must have taken place between Doyle and the barman. "At that rate, we should be able to sink another four rounds before we're through."
Absorbing their repartee with avuncular approval, Quayle asked, "So why did you want to see me?"
"We're hoping you can help us."
"Me? What sort of-" Quayle's eyes suddenly widened, becoming very large behind thick lenses. "My God, I should have known: Olivia."
"We've been assigned to her case."
Quayle appeared not to have heard Doyle's explanation; he was staring, stricken, into space. "She's dead, isn't she?"
"Why should you think that?" Bodie asked sharply.
"Oh, God," Quayle whispered.
"She isn't dead, Trevor." Bodie reached out and grabbed the journalist's forearm. "I swear to you."
Quayle's eyes dropped to Bodie's hand. "Then why didn't she tell me you'd be coming round? Why'd you wait for me here?" He jerked free of Bodie's grip.
"She's in a coma." Doyle watched the other man closely, waiting for his response. "Tell us what she was working on. We'd very much like to find the people responsible."
Lifting a hand to his face, Quayle shoved trembling fingers beneath the metal-framed glasses. He gave his eyes a fierce rubbing. "The people responsible," he muttered. "How was she injured?"
"Dog attacked her," Bodie said frankly. "What d'you know about this, Trevor?"
"Where did it happen?" Quayle covered his mouth with his hand. "When?"
"You tell us," Doyle insisted.
Eyes raised toward the ceiling, Quayle breathed, "Chelsea. It happened in Chelsea, didn't it?"
"That's right," Bodie said matter-of-factly. "Night before last. Listen, Quayle: We're working blind here. We don't know what to look for, and Olivia could be in danger as a result."
The journalist stood up, so brusquely his chair tumbled over behind him. The dramatic clatter-and the hush that followed-clearly did not register on him. "Not here," he mumbled. "My place-"
"We know where it is." Doyle gulped down the remainder of his drink. "We'll follow you."
"Yes." Quayle cast about, as though uncertain what he ought to do. "Yes." Then he lurched forward and half-ran toward the door, a sound like a muffled moan escaping him before he reached the end of the bar.
Faintly shaken despite himself, Bodie concealed his uneasiness with an outward display of nonchalance. Ignoring curious eyes, he rose sedately, righted Quayle's chair, then cut through the crowd with Doyle at his back. At the bar he paused just long enough to hold out a hand, waiting with labored patience until the barman filled his palm with the change owed from his ten.
Outside, Trevor Quayle was nowhere to be seen.
"Bother you, what he said?" Bodie asked as he and Doyle strode across the misty car park.
"About us? Nah."
Bodie wondered which route Quayle would take. "Acted awfully worried."
"Wasn't worried," Doyle insisted vehemently.
"Hm? Oh- Not you. Quayle."
"Oh. Him. He was. Very. More than worried, I thought."
"Maybe it was the violent look that came into your eyes when he said you're queer," Bodie speculated.
"We. He said we're queer."
"Guilt by association."
"That's what I get for being seen with you, y'mean?"
Bodie took out his keys and unlocked the passenger door. As Doyle slid inside, Bodie jogged round the bonnet. He found the driver's door open and waiting for him. "Seemed pretty certain about us, didn't he?"
"Maybe he was about you."
It was time, Bodie decided, to let the badinage drop. With a twist of the ignition key, the engine started. Bodie switched on the windscreen wipers, the headlights, and, a second later, the heater. As semi-warm air flooded the passenger compartment, he asked, "So what d'you reckon he was so worried about, then?"
"He wasn't worried, Bodie," Doyle said. "He was shit-scared."
Driving back through the night to the outer reaches of northern London, Bodie concentrated on increasingly wet roads and encroaching fog: The weather forecast had proven accurate. For the most part, Doyle remained cocooned in his own thoughts, his occasional observations random and of purely passing interest.
"Y'know," he announced suddenly, as Bodie turned the Capri into Quayle's lane, "we have been in each other's pockets lately."
"Nothing new about that," Bodie did not want to know where this might be leading.
"Hell, I've broken dates to be with you!"
Studiously flippant, Bodie asked, "And why not? I'm more fun than most of your dates-and better looking."
A trace of white betrayed Doyle's smile. "There is that."
A moment passed and Bodie began to relax.
"D'you remember Pamela?"
The question was so diverting, Bodie almost missed a conveniently placed parking space. "My memory still goes back a couple of months, yeah."
"You begged me to take her off your hands because you'd discovered-what's-its-name: Brid- Brin-"
"Right. Who had bristols out to here-"
"But was an error in judgment as I recall."
"Because she failed to mention her husband," Doyle said, acidly sympathetic.
"Who was eight feet tall if he was an inch."
"With steel teeth."
"Fists like ham hocks."
"And an ugly disposition."
Bodie drew up the hand-brake and cut the engine. "Would've killed me if you hadn't stepped in."
Extricating himself from the car, Doyle alighted on the pavement. He exclaimed softly, "I'd forgotten that bit!"
"Had you? Thought that's what all this must be building up to. Saved my life, you did."
"Only because you're my partner. Broke Pamela's heart, you lout."
"Which made her all the more forthcoming for you," Bodie said meaningfully. "What're you complaining about?"
"She wasn't forthcoming, mate. Just wanted a shoulder to cry on."
"You saying the famous Doyle charm had a crisis of persuasion?" Bodie joined his partner in the street. They walked toward the front of Quayle's block of flats, Doyle loose-limbed in the gathering cold, Bodie stiff under his jacket. For all that the night was young, it was already uncomfortably brisk.
"Didn't even try. That night I took her straight home, then went round to Brittany's place to give you a proper talking to. That's how I happened to be there when her husband arrived."
"Is that why?" Bodie pondered, honestly surprised. "Never thought to ask, I reckon."
"That's because Cowley suspended you for two days for brawling, and sent me to Glasgow for two weeks. By the time I got back, you'd taken up with Cheryl-or was it Sharon?"
Amused, Bodie trawled his brain. "Sheila." He hesitated, reconsidering. "Or was it Sinead?"
Just outside the glass double doors, Doyle searched the tenant list for Quayle's bell. Just as he found it, a woman appeared in the front lobby, her face distorted: eyes distended, mouth wide open. She wrung the door handle and burst out, stumbling in her haste. Reflexively, Bodie threw out a hand to steady her.
"Oh, no," she moaned. "Oh, no!"
"What is it?" he asked tersely.
"It's too- I can't-"
Doyle slipped past her and pounded up the stairs, Bodie close on his heels. Off the third floor landing a small crowd was gathered. Quayle's flat! Bodie realized with a sinking sensation. Shouldering his way through the milling, muttering group, Bodie took his weapon in hand and held it unseen under his jacket.
The door to the flat stood half open. Quayle himself lay on the floor, body twisted like a rag doll, legs askew, arms flung wide. Scarlet-great obscene splashes of it-drenched his clothing and trickled wetly down the door and nearest wall.
Doyle crisply ordered the morbidly entranced gathering to move aside. The authority in his voice garnered instant obedience, though they yielded only a few inches. While Bodie stepped over the corpse-there was no doubt in his mind that Trevor Quayle was all too dead-his partner squatted down beside the journalist and commenced a hurried assessment of vital signs.
The inside of Quayle's flat appeared untouched. From foyer to kitchen, downstairs toilet to living room, Bodie found nothing but the normal clutter of day-to-day living. In the upstairs bathroom, however, the window gaped open, buttercup yellow curtains and pristinely white nets buffeted by a cutting breeze. Crouched low, Bodie locked his firing hand in place, swiftly appraising his surroundings. A powerful gust of air sent the curtains flapping; unconsciously, he rocked back on his heels. The fresh breeze stung his eyes and chilled him to the bone.
Features fixed in a hard mask, he began to examine the window casement and its assorted furnishings while cautiously drawing nearer. There was no sign of breakage: The curving latch and its lockpiece gleamed brassily; the painted smoothness of the sill was unmarred; the curtains and nets betrayed no rents or soiling. Save that this was November-and an unusually cold one at that-Bodie might have argued that Trevor Quayle had chosen to give the small room an airing. It was not impossible-but Bodie found the likelihood remote.
With deliberate steps, he covered the distance remaining, his imagination prickling as he approached the seemingly maw-like opening. Teeth clenched, mouth compressed, Bodie bent forward to peer out.
It appeared with explosive suddenness. Yawning blackness was eclipsed by something huge and silver. Sharp, curving teeth cut through the air. Hot breath seared Bodie's face. With no more than a splintered second to throw himself clear, Bodie snapped off a round and heaved himself into a backwards-somersault. Fetching up violently against the base of the toilet, he righted himself at once, heedless of the sparkles that half-blinded him.
The window was empty.
Bodie lurched to his feet, ignoring the fear curled in the pit of his belly.
Heart in his throat, Bodie threw out a hand to stay his partner at the door. Three steps later he stood at the window, eyes quartering the darkness in the street directly below. It ought to have been there-the silver coat would be visible even in this murky pitch. It must-
Movement, furtive and sleek in the shadows at the end of the pavement, attracted his attention: It couldn't be there; he had heard the impact of lead with soft tissue-a fall from this height, with a bullet wound- large, round eyes the color of moonlight met his; a second later, the creature melted into the night. What Bodie had seen, or only thought he had seen, had disappeared.
A quick survey of the outside of the building only heightened Bodie's sense of frustration. Fifteen feet to his right, a fire-escape zig-zagged from just below the bedroom window to the ground. Twelve feet to the left and nine feet down, a balcony overlooked the street from the lounge. Here- Here, five feet beneath the bathroom window, there was only a ledge, no more than four inches wide.
"Right about now, someone somewhere will have the unpleasant surprise of a spent bullet landing on their unlucky head," Doyle commented critically.
Holstering his revolver, Bodie swung round to face his partner. "Untrue. That bullet struck home."
Scrubbing at a bloodied hand with his handkerchief, Doyle said, "On the pavement below?" He stepped up to the window and craned his neck for a better look.
"No." A shrug rolled off Bodie's shoulders. "Should've been. Saw it across the street, actually. It's long gone now."
"Across the street?" Doyle frowned. "Walking? After a fall like that?"
Bodie swallowed his irritation before it could manifest itself on his tongue. "Have you reported in yet?"
"Spoke with Father. Forensics, a meat cart, and himself are on their way. What did you shoot at?"
Doyle's leaps of intuition never failed to impress Bodie; for some reason his own mind did not work that way. "A bloody great dog." He waited for disbelieving laughter.
Doyle bent out the window, confirming his first impressions of the layout of the building's exterior. "Trick dog, d'you think?" He was not laughing.
Suffering a rush of unalloyed affection at this unquestioning acceptance in the face of gross improbability, Bodie shook his head. "Couldn't say. But it was there."
"Yeah," Doyle murmured. "I heard it." He gestured with the corner of his mouth toward the front of the flat. "Best get back to Quayle. The neighbors are a mite alarmed."
"He is dead?"
"As a doornail."
The hands on Bodie's watch were ticking with militaristic precision toward nine sharp as he and Doyle passed through the main, glazed doors of HQ, it the only structure sited on the street with lights blazing bright on all floors. In the intervening hours they had briefed Cowley on Trevor Quayle's involvement in their investigation of Olivia Wingate's assault, and the progress-or lack of same-they had made in her case.
Having established his authority to the police who had responded to the disturbance, Cowley had listened unperturbed in the privacy of Quayle's bedroom to Bodie's lucid and unemotional recital of the evening's events, scarcely altering expression when he had come to the part about the animal at the window. After succinctly instructing them both to commit their reports to paper in the approved fashion, Cowley had turned his attention to overseeing the forensics crew. The small swarm of technicians-no more than five strong-were by then flitting from one spot of Quayle's flat to another, reminding Bodie of nothing so much as bees in a hive, each person performing his given task with insect-like devotion to duty. Once photographs of the victim had been taken, measurements recorded, and observations detailed into tiny, hand-held tape recorders, Quayle's body had been removed.
Bodie and Doyle had aided in the rifling of the journalist's personal effects-though it had been made very clear very soon that the flat was shared by a second man. Charles York, Bodie had remembered while searching through the drawers of a large, steel-trimmed desk. A large photo of the actor-angled and lit so that his craggy features were presented to their best advantage-occupied one corner of the brushed metal surface; a little to one side stood a framed informal snap of York and Quayle together, apparently taken at a party. Besuited and boutonniered, they smiled into the camera, two men as perfectly at ease in each other's company as-
As me and Ray. The thought had made Bodie smile.
Just then Doyle had interrupted his musings, his tone aggrieved. "There's nothing here," he had said, rubbing the back of his neck. "But they must've had something! Some record of what was going on."
"They? Meaning Quayle and Livi?"
Doyle had shoved his hands into his back pockets. "Who else? He was a reporter; he must've taken some notes. Livi's an agent; she'd've jotted down her suspicions." Slowly swivelling round, Doyle had scoured the room through tired eyes. "Quayle was freelance: He had nowhere else to keep his materials, but here. Yes?"
"Nowhere at all."
The dearth of information had plagued them while they took reports from the neighbors, engaged in a final, unproductive consultation with forensics, and all during the drive back to HQ. Doyle had grown gloomily abstracted; he seemed to rub incessantly at his hands, though Trevor Quayle's blood had been washed down the kitchen drain hours before.
Resigned to checking the day's accumulation heaped on their shared desk before calling it a night, neither man was entirely surprised upon entering their cubicle to find an oversize interoffice envelope-their names inked across the top-set squarely on the felt blotter.
Doyle pointed his hand down at it, fingers and thumb forming the familiar configuration of a gun; the finger turned, targeting Bodie.
Brows disdainfully arched, Bodie half-smiled at the showy gesture which invited him to go first. He did so, gingerly unwinding the thick strand of thread that sealed the envelope. Inside was a manila file folder, discouragingly thin-and a scrawled message on a scrap of paper. Bodie pulled the half-sheet out and gave it a quick scan. " 'S from Roberts: Says one of the motor pool crew found the enclosed under the driver's seat in Olivia's car-which was recovered early this afternoon. There's an address, too. According to Roberts, the file was bunged into this envelope, untouched. Oh, and there's a note for you, Ray."
"Your car'll be ready tomorrow after noon."
"And not before bloody time!"
"Just remember who's been playing your chauffeur, eh?" Bodie peered down into the envelope. " 'S not much."
"D'you want to go over it here-or at my place while we eat?"
Revitalized by the prospect of food, Bodie said intently, "Your place? You cooking?"
"No, and it's your turn to pay."
Bodie made a clucking sound. "Not like you to eat out so much. All that processed food." He waved a hand in the direction of Doyle's trouser pocket, indicating the bulge of bills prominently outlined by denim. "Keep it up and you'll be dipping into your savings next."
"Not likely. But I am hungry. How about about a vindaloo?"
"You're making my mouth water. Let's go."
"Articles clipped from the papers-each one reporting the death of a Minister of Parliament-the earliest going back about ten years; ten days worth of comings and goings all neatly timed and dated, but with no names, no addresses! What was Olivia playing at?" Frustrated, Bodie slapped the meager sheaf of data onto the sofa and hauled himself upright. Scooping up two paper plates and four empty paper cartons, he stalked into Doyle's kitchen. There, he binned the remains of their dinner then rummaged in the refrigerator for two cans of beer. Plodding back to the lounge, he continued, "It's bloody irri-"
On the phone, the receiver pressed tightly to his ear, Doyle was frantically gesturing at him to lower the volume of his complaint. More amused than threatened by Doyle's redoubtable scowl, Bodie pretended to zip his lip and pitched a can into Doyle's free hand.
"Yeah, thanks. We'll check back in the morning."
"Olivia?" Bodie asked, as Doyle cradled the receiver.
"Slight improvement; nothing to get optimistic over."
Doyle, Bodie decided, was very tired. His curls, boisterous as ever, yet lay a little more heavily than usual upon his high forehead, forming long, almost-ringlets down the back of his neck. Thwarted green eyes were deeply set and surrounded with grey-tinged skin; the sculpted mouth was clamped shut and presently suffering bedevilment at the tip of Doyle's thumb.
"Those MPs-the ones in the clippings-" Bodie flopped onto the sofa a few feet from his partner. A cant of the head directed Doyle's attention to the photocopies fanned out on the middle cushion between them. "Probably the same ones she ordered full reports on, hm?"
"Very likely." Revolving the chilled can between both hands, Doyle molded his spine to the sofa back. "Nobody saw a thing at Quayle's flat. Heard the ruckus going on inside; his shouts; footsteps running toward the door. The noise stopped for a few seconds, the door opened, and he fell out-blood spurting everywhere from the gash in his throat."
"Carotid. Very messy."
"He tried to speak, according to the woman next door. He couldn't, of course-and in the next second or two, he was dead."
"Don't suppose she could read lips?"
Doyle took a sip then rested the can on his chest. "She showed me the way he worked his mouth." He rolled his head toward Bodie. "Like this."
Full lips essayed a half-pucker-not quite the shape used to form an "o"-closed, and opened again. Minutely studying the movement of Doyle's mouth, Bodie unthinkingly mimicked him. His concentration disintegrated when he realized they were inadvertently blowing each other air-kisses.
"What sound is that, then?" Bodie laughed. "Uhh? Muh? I don't know!"
"She said his mouth was closed to start." Doyle tried it again himself. "Muh...buh...fuh."
"Doesn't make the same shape," Bodie criticized.
"You do it, then," Doyle retorted.
"Uhh, tuh, luh, wuh-"
"That's it! Do that one again."
"Wuh. See it? Wuh. That's the first sound. The second caused his mouth to close. Wuhb, wuhm."
"Close, then open again."
"Wuhba." Bodie broke into a grin. "Just listen to us."
"Looks right," Doyle remarked encouragingly, some of the weariness in his face giving way to amusement. "Just doesn't mean anything. Try it again."
"Wuhma. Wuuuhmaa." Doyle's gaze lingered on his mouth, preoccupation replacing mirth. Unsettled, Bodie took up his can and hid behind a long, long drink.
"Wuuhmaa. Woman?" Doyle asked uncertainly.
"A woman tore out Quayle's throat? A real bitch, eh?"
"What's a bitch but a woman dog?" Doyle asked reasonably.
Bodie stared at him. In an instant he was transported back to Quayle's flat. The darkened window; the stirring curtains; the- "And maybe Quayle was saying `Why me?' " he said callously. "Try it. That works, too-sort of."
Doyle was not deceived. "You turned an interesting shade of grey just now when I said the word `dog.' What exactly did you see, Bodie?" Doyle asked, his voice as soft as gossamer.
"I told you," he said stiffly. "Just a dog."
" `A bloody great dog,' if I recall correctly. What kind of dog was it? Color, breed? Distinguishing characteristics?"
Once more taking refuge in his drink, Bodie thought about the monstrous thing that had haunted the dusty corners of his thoughts throughout the evening. "Was silver," he replied slowly. "Large eyes, long nose-"
Doyle's soft interjection scarcely penetrated. "Narrow body, long legs. Big teeth. Huge. It was-" Coming back to himself all at once, Bodie said contentiously, "It was there and gone so fast, I didn't have a chance to jot down details, now did I?"
"And you shot it?"
"Heard the impact of the bullet. You know the sound that makes."
A flicker of Doyle's eyes conceded this shared knowledge. "At that range, with that size caliber-it ought to've been dead."
"The thought has crossed my mind, Doyle."
"But you saw it across the street, in the shadows, only seconds later?"
Unthinkingly working his jaws, Bodie defended himself, "I didn't imagine it."
Sighing softly, Doyle rolled the half-full can of beer between his hands. "You saw Cowley's expression after he'd had a look at that ledge." One hand upraised to preclude argument, Doyle pulled himself out of the too-loving embrace of the sofa, chugged down the last of his beer, and planted the empty container on the coffee table. "Nothing else we can do tonight." Cocking his head, he lifted his brows questioningly. "You staying here?"
"I-" The question brought Bodie up sharp. The hour was late, nearly one by his watch. If he took Doyle up on his offer, he could whittle extra minutes of sleep out of the night. Yet, alarm bells sounded in his head and the events of the day flashed before him: Doyle, teasing him in the rest room; kissing him-lips warm, yielding; in the Dog's Leg, Doyle glaring uneasily at the journalist after the man blandly assumed that he and Doyle were lovers- For reasons left best unexplained, even to himself, Bodie chose to decline. "Nah. Got a few things yet to do." He stood all at once, avoiding Doyle's eyes.
It was Doyle who collected his jacket, watching him, Bodie thought, more intently than he ought. But all Doyle said was, "Righto." Then he stretched and twisted, cracking his knuckles high overhead. "What time tomorrow?"
"Seven suit you?"
"Seven it is, then. 'Night, Ray."
"Yeah. See you, mate." The weight of Doyle's gaze remained heavy on Bodie's back until the front door closed, with a solid ka-chunk, between them.
Outside, the glacial breeze augured the coming of winter. Bodie huddled in the shelter of his jacket, hands thrust into the depths of his pockets. His footsteps, clipped and unfaltering, echoed alone in the canyon formed by concrete, stone, and brick as he strode toward his car.
He had been forced to park at the bottom of the street, around the corner. Unhappily watching his breath frost before him, and contemplating the distance yet to go, Bodie hurried his pace.
Behind him, a leaf, dry and crisp, skittered across the pavement. At this time of night, all sorts of sounds, imperceptible in daylight, were made definitively clear. Almost rhythmic, it clicked along in his wake. Struck with a sudden, acute sense of foreboding, Bodie paused and swung around: nothing. Not another soul nor creature walked the pavement with him. He was being a fool.
Well used to the mantle of darkness and comfortable with it, Bodie set out again, remaining alert but obstinately relaxed. He allowed his thoughts to turn to the day almost ended-a more pleasurable, yet ultimately disconcerting occupation overall. The case and all it encompassed should have stood at the forefront of his mind-but it was Doyle who held center stage. Today, they had transgressed an invisible barrier, however jokingly; a barrier, Bodie feared, that would be transgressed in all seriousness if they did not think this all the way through, he and Doyle.
Or was it only Bodie who believed that?
In the last two weeks things had changed between them. Living the parts of two men in love had come remarkably easy to them-for they were easy with each other. Those first days in Leeds had been full of "discussions" over the "quibbly" things: the frequency and width of opened windows; blanket count and size, and how they might be utilized amicably; and perhaps of utmost importance, the arrangement of their persons in the bed they must sleep in together.
Eight days had passed before they had wakened in the middle of the night firmly ensconced in each other's arms-this not a side-effect of their role-playing Bodie had envisioned. A slew of jokes had circumvented the possibility of tension, allowing them to carry on as though nothing had happened. And beyond a little prolonged body contact, in actuality nothing had done. Two days later, however, Bodie had been rescued from a nightmare by a quieting, lingering touch on his shoulder. No questions had been asked, no explanations offered; grumbling about the cold, Doyle had inched nearer until they had lain back to back-and in that manner they had fallen asleep once more.
This new willingness to touch-and be touched-on Doyle's part had caused Bodie some consternation at first. In no time at all, however, he had come to welcome those moments when Doyle would gravitate to his warmth-both during the day in view of those who were meant to see them as lovers, and at night, when the charade was unnecessary. Doyle, wrestling with him for a fair share of the bedclothes, collapsing across Bodie's chest exhausted with laughter-and remaining there to fall asleep; Doyle, overseeing Bodie's turn at making dinner, chin on Bodie's shoulder, an arm slung casually round his waist, making rude comments about Bodie's efforts; Doyle, interrupting Bodie's leisurely bath purportedly to review their progress on the case, and amid their conversation, cheekily-and quite openly-taking inventory of Bodie's body from the hair on his head to the nails on his toes, and missing nothing in between.
Breaking free of his reminiscences, Bodie spied the silver Capri, pools of mist standing on its gleaming surface. Three steps later, he was unlocking the door, a fresh gust of wind swirling around him. It lifted the hair off the back of his neck, and somewhere, not far away, sent a small gathering of leaves scraping across the road.
Though Bodie could not say why, that sound, so commonplace since the season had stripped all the trees bare, triggered a shiver that scurried down his spine like a small animal bolting for safety. It was with a sense of unwarranted relief that he pulled the door closed against the elements and simultaneously keyed the ignition. The headlights cut a swath through the darkness and held it at bay, reassuringly displaying nothing in their glare but idle vehicles and damp streets.
During the twenty-minute drive to his flat, Bodie let his mind wander once more. This time it strayed-with some purpose-to Trevor Quayle who would lie on a morgue table tonight-and to Charles York, his lover, who would sleep alone.
In his own bed nearly half an hour later, Bodie was on the brink of unconsciousness when a single, unwanted thought jarred him fully awake: After two weeks of steady rain across the length and breadth of England, everything was sodden-sodden, and in some cases, more than half-decomposed.
If not the dry dance of leaves, what then had he heard?
"Had a dream last night," Doyle announced.
"Lucky for you."
"You were in it. Fancy hearing about it?"
"Mr. Grumpy. Didn't you get any sleep last night, then?"
Bodie cast a hooded, faintly threatening look Doyle's way. "As a matter of fact, no. Any other questions?"
"Ooh, we are out of sorts."
"We are; so naff off, will you?"
The ensuing silence was nearly sliceable. Bodie did not apologize. The memory of Doyle sharing aloud an alleged dream in the rest room-only for a laugh at Bodie's expense-yet stung.
"Might be important," Doyle argued off-handedly. "Some people think the subconscious mind can provide insight that would escape the waking one."
Stopped at a light, Bodie allowed himself the brief luxury of closing his eyes. "I'll just bet."
"You want to hear it then?"
The light turned from yellow to green. A heavy fog dulled the normally bright colors. Bodie's fingers beat a soft tattoo on the steering wheel as he urged the car forward. "And if I don't, you'll tell everyone in the rest room?"
Rolling his shoulders unconcernedly, Doyle countered, "You got your own back, mate." He chortled huskily. "Ten and a half, indeed!"
And he takes every inch. Inwardly, Bodie squirmed. "Go on, then."
"Well- We were in Quayle's flat. Quayle was on the floor, dead, just like we found him-then Charles York came in, saying in his deep, booming voice, `Wuuhmaa, wuuhmaa.' "
A grin began to creep across Bodie's face.
"You pulled out your gun and moved toward the window. And then-" Doyle broke off, overtaken by a huge yawn.
"I married him, and we lived happily ever after?" Bodie asked drolly.
"No, you fool, you married me, and we lived happily ever after." Doyle beamed at him.
"Not bloody likely, mate; I know you. So what really happened-or dare I ask?"
Slumped back in his seat, Doyle folded one leg loosely over the other. He took care to shift the now-familiar wad of notes in his pocket lest it present a hazard to his groin. "Quayle started to say the same thing: `wuuhmaa.' "
"Even though he was dead?"
"Even though. You and I made a strategic retreat toward the door. Not a moment too soon: A huge dog-about the size of the QE2-leapt inside through the window." Doyle's attention shifted to the unlit shops lining King's Road.
"And-it ate them both."
"What about you and me?"
"Don't know- I woke up."
"Sensible of you."
Amidst the pre-dawn murk, Bodie brought the car to a halt, the engine left running.
"Is this the address?" Doyle asked.
"There." Bodie nodded toward the opposite side of the street.
"Expensive." Doyle twisted in his seat, craning a little to obtain a better view.
"Classy. It narrows things down a bit, anyway."
"To this street and the next ones down and up, you mean. Just because Olivia's car was parked here doesn't mean she was watching the place across the road."
"True. You realize, don't you, that we're only four roads away from the public loo?"
"Where she was found."
Bodie let in the clutch and slowly drove back to King's Road. A grey pall extended from sky to land. In those dramatic moments between the advent of dawn and the ascendancy of light-filtered though it was-Bodie navigated the already-busy streets of London. As he nosed the car into a space in the CI5 car park, he glanced across at his long-silent partner. Not much to his surprise, he discovered that Doyle had fallen asleep. Must've been some dream, Bodie reckoned.
He took a moment to watch him, taking note not for the first time of Doyle's unusual features: well-shaped, angular brows over slanted, thickly lashed eyes, distinctively wide-spaced; a mouth as full or fuller than those belonging to most of the women Bodie knew; nose straight and nicely formed; squared-off chin in a rounded face; and his hair-too long, too curly, but luxuriantly brown with a hint of red-somehow quintessentially Doyle. Taken in combination, these attributes constituted a most unusual whole-and that whole, Bodie thought fairly, wholly appealed.
He extended a finger and flipped it, not ungently, under Doyle's nose. "Wakey, wakey, sunshine. Things to do, people to talk to."
"Uh." Lifting his head away from the neck rest with an effort, Doyle shot a muzzy look toward his partner. He sniffed and rubbed his nose, his face hideously contorted as a yawn forced his jaws apart. "We're here?"
"We're always here, no matter where we are," Bodie replied helpfully. At Doyle's unfocussed glower, he only smiled sweetly. "But if you mean HQ, yes. C'mon, mate. Shift your arse." He gave Doyle a playful shove that nearly had him, in his diminished condition and with the passenger door by then half open, sprawled upon the concrete. Doyle just managed to save himself.
Interrupting the resultant barrage of uncomplimentary references to his heritage, his personal failings, and his bleak future, Bodie asked considerately, "Rough night?"
"I'll let you know when I wake up," muttered Doyle.
Leaning back in his chair-propped as usual at a precarious angle against the partition that delimited their cubicle-Doyle held a half-empty beaker of steaming tea between his hands, having left the scattering of newspapers, message slips, and a large, sealed manila envelope which had been awaiting them on their desk, for Bodie to sift through.
"York's in America, on tour," Bodie announced. "According to Cowley's message, he's scheduled to arrive in London early tomorrow morning."
"Tomorrow? That's leaving it a bit late."
"He's a jobbing actor, according to Cowley."
"Bit cold-hearted, though."
"Commitments, Ray. If I suddenly turned up toes, you'd carry on like a proper little trouper, now wouldn't you?"
"Yeah, but you're only my partner, Bodie."
"Up yours, mate."
Resting his head against the partition, Doyle groaned under his breath. "We're different."
Ruefully eyeing his exhausted partner, Bodie murmured, "Are we?" He tapped a finger against Doyle's knee, "How much sleep did you get last night?"
One jaded eye rolled open to stare inimically at him. "Three hours at the outside."
"You couldn't've spent all night on one bloody dream."
"No." Doyle laid his arms across his chest and took a deep breath. "Only-"
The chair came forward with a loud clunk. Doyle placed a hand on the nearest file, though he made no move to pick it up. "Nothing. What do we have here?"
Loathe to leave off interrogating his partner, Bodie nevertheless recognized the clear signs of resistance brewing in Doyle's set features. He took up the STANDARD and offered it to him. "Have a look through this; find out what's being said about Quayle's untimely demise."
Perfunctorily, the two men quickly skimmed through CI5's daily subscriptions, gratified to find little in the way of facts, and even less in the way of speculation.
"Cowley must've threatened a D-Notice, don't you think?" Doyle mused.
"With a load of MPs involved, it's a wonder he didn't invoke it."
"So what's in the envelope?"
" 'S the odds and sods Olivia requested." Bodie withdrew a small stack of computer print-out paper from the manila enclosure, gave it a quick study, then thrust it out toward his partner. Blinking to uncross his eyes, Doyle took the sheets out of Bodie's fist. Bodie continued, "That accounts for the bulk of it." He upended the envelope to dislodge the last of the contents, then stirred a finger through the objects that fell out onto the table. "Some clearer prints of the photos in the newspaper clippings; there's a help. Some official bios, CV's, that sort of thing. In case you were wondering, the names on that print-out look like matching those mentioned in Livi's clippings. At least that's encouraging."
Completing a slow perusal through the computer print-out, Doyle commented, "Not one of those ministers died under questionable circumstances, Bodie. Not according to this, anyway."
"Someone questioned it."
"Olivia and Quayle for starters." Doyle drained the cold dregs of his tea. "So where do we begin?"
"Lists. Each of those MPs. Who and how, when and where. Party affiliations, marital status, religion."
"Be easier to persuade one of the secretaries to put it on the computer."
"And which one of them is offering her services this week?"
A wide grin fell just shy of Doyle's red-rimmed eyes. "All of them. What you said about them wanting to cure me: You were right!"
"Have 'em queued up, do you? On a roster, like?"
"Could do-but, no."
"Why ever not?"
"I'm practicing fidelity. 'M a married man now, y'know!"
"Only in your dreams, sweetheart." The endearment was spoken with something approaching the verve and nasal quality of Humphrey Bogart-or so Bodie hoped.
"Gave you the best two weeks of me life, and see where it's got me," Doyle mourned. An exaggerated sigh pierced the air-but an instant later, the pose of forlorn lover was cast off. "Reckon we'll have to do these ourselves. Hand me a batch of those, will you; then you can ring the hospital."
As the morning waned, Bodie's eyes strayed with increased frequency toward the sliver of pale light that shafted into their windowless space from the hallway. He longed to be doing something constructive; paperwork filled him with loathing, always had; and he was hungry, his belly rumbling noisily and insistently enough to earn a repressive grin from his partner.
"We have a list-"
"Lists," Bodie corrected.
"Lists of all the MPs involved. One died in a road accident, on his way home following a meal with friends; one in a shooting incident, whilst cleaning his rifle after a day of grouse hunting; one of heart attack, in his bed-he was 67; one was a hit-and-run victim-that one's a little bit odd, as he was witnessed darting in and out of early morning traffic before being struck and killed-the driver, by the way, was exonerated; one, with a history of treatment for despondency, of suicide-threw herself under a train at Victoria Station; and one, while out late of a night three years ago, was savaged by a dog-died of blood loss and trauma before he could be got to hospital. The dog was not found, but that saintly gentleman was reported to collect strays off the street which were then delivered to Battersea. Oh, and speaking of dog attacks-we ought to have the results of the bite pattern comparison between that victim and Olivia in the morning."
He cleared his throat and continued with his summary, "There are no obvious common links between any of the dead MPs. They're almost equally split between Labour and Conservative; range in age from 31 to 74; two women, five blokes; three C of E, two RC, one agnostic, one avowed atheist; two represented poor constituencies, two, affluent, and three, middle income." He noted whimsically, "None share the same initials-in any combination; none have the same number of letters in their names-first or last; they all have different birthdates; four were married, three, single; five have-"
"I get the picture, Doyle. Must be something in their voting records, don't you think?"
Doyle's mouth puckered. "Quick of you."
"Basic, really-what else could it be?"
Bodie received no answer, for Doyle had picked up the handset and was dialling Records. As his partner spoke into the mouthpiece, Bodie glanced longingly at the light glowing beyond the partition at Doyle's back. The day had clearly grown brighter throughout this interminable morning; such days were not to be wasted with winter hovering so near at hand.
"Yes, love, I know it's a load of work-but can't you just push a few buttons and have the computer do it for you? Ah- I see. Yes, I do understand-but it's for Bodie, y'know? He asked me to ring you. He did."
Doyle's face was animated and impressively sincere. You bastard, Bodie mouthed. An indulgent smile was cast his way in acknowledgment.
A moment later, the receiver restored to its proper place, Doyle announced, "All set. Tomorrow at the earliest, though. They're busy just now."
"You're a toad, Doyle."
"Gosh, thanks. Let's get on with our lis-"
"Bodie and Doyle?" A woman stepped into the opening to their cubicle. Somewhere between thirty and forty, she was graced with pleasant features and nearly pure white hair. Eyes the shade of cornflowers warily regarded the two men.
"He's Bodie; I'm Doyle."
"I'm Mrs. Diamond." She showed them a manila envelope, held close to her body and gripped tightly in both hands. "I understand that you've taken on Olivia Wingate's case?"
"Yes." Bodie stood and gestured toward his empty chair. "Please, sit down, Mrs. Diamond."
"Thank you, but I mustn't." She hesitated, choosing her words with care. "Before she was injured, Olivia asked me to collect some information for her."
"If you have anything at all you think might help, we'd be most grateful," Doyle said candidly.
Doyle, Bodie thought uncharitably, can be positively winsome when he chooses.
"I do have...something." The woman dropped her eyes. "It was a favor." Drawing a deep breath, she squared her shoulders, and said in a rush, "I oughtn't to have done it."
"You oughtn't to have done what, Mrs. Diamond?" Bodie asked quietly.
"I compiled a dossier on a private citizen without permission. Olivia needed information on her; said it was terribly important. I'm afraid I-"
"You did the right thing," Doyle assured her. "Is that it?" He extended a hand in unspoken appeal.
"Mr. Cowley may not see it that way," Mrs. Diamond said stolidly. "But with Olivia so badly injured, you couldn't possibly know who she was looking into. And if it may help in some way-"
"Leave it all to us." Bodie, carefully approaching the woman, gently freed the envelope from her grasp. "Your name will not be mentioned, I promise you."
"It isn't something I do as a rule, you understand? Only for Olivia-and only very rarely."
"Please. Don't worry yourself," Doyle said. "You can't know how grateful we are."
The woman backed toward the opening. "You're sure?"
Despite a patently burning desire to flee, Mrs. Diamond held herself rigidly in place. "One more thing-"
"Yes?" Bodie asked.
"See to Olivia? She's a lovely, brave girl. I mean, I know she can take care of herself and all that. Just-"
"We'll do our best." Projecting confidence with every fiber of his being, Bodie held his tongue, lest the halting conversation stumble on forever. The woman nodded once and turned away, her footsteps ringing in quick cadence as she fled down the corridor. Unable to resist an instant longer, Bodie ripped open the mysterious envelope.
"What is it?" Doyle demanded, looming over Bodie's shoulder, his breath warm on Bodie's neck.
"Back off a bit, will you?"
"Be happy to, once I've had a look. C'mon, mate, what is it: A signed confession? Photographs taken flagrante delicto? A microdot? A key to a secret boudoir-" Doyle cursed. "Is that all?"
There were three typewritten sheets and a photograph. Slowly, for their mutual observation, Bodie leafed through the pages; then he raised the photograph to the light. "Here-we've seen her before, haven't we?" Between thumb and forefinger, Bodie displayed the black and white print. It featured a man, nondescript save for his handsomely tailored morning suit and bow-tie, and a blonde, well-coifed, elegantly if simply dressed, woman. To the trained eye there was no question that the photo had been enlarged and cropped to focus on the woman, who stood a little to one side and behind the man, whose dark clad form had been cut half out of frame. "And him: He's one of the dead blokes, isn't he? Can swear I've seen his grinning mug before."
Sending his fingers scrabbling through the stack of papers and photos on their desk, Doyle's hand surfaced a moment later with newspaper clippings regarding two different MPs. "Here-and here!" Both accompanying photos had been taken at either a party or reception-the manner of dress, prevalence of wine glasses, servants, and hors d'oeuvres trays made that fairly apparent. The blonde woman was in both of the news photos, though neither of the MPs who appeared with her seemed aware of-or even interested in-her presence. "So who is she?"
"Francesca Oldman," Bodie read aloud. He paused. "Lives in Chelsea, Ray."
"Drove through it this morning. Right across the way from where Livi's car was found."
Doyle's eyes opened wide, then drifted half-closed. "Too easy. Go on. Read me a story."
Bodie did, citing the specifics of Francesca Oldman's existence as it had been condensed for the report. The details were all superficial-physical information: age, weight, color of hair; personal background: schooling, occupation-with nothing noted regarding her philosophical, political, religious, or emotional dispositions.
"She must like dogs," Bodie said solemnly. "Has a Borzoi kennel in Lingfield, Surrey." He gave Doyle a thoughtful look.
"What's a Borzoi?" Doyle asked.
"Russian Wolfhounds, according to this. Big dogs, I reckon. We'll ask her. Has no family. No husband, living or deceased. Keeps the Chelsea flat as well as the `little country place' in Lingfield."
"Estate, is it?"
"As near as; the manager of the kennel lives on the grounds and maintains the house, as well. `Being of independent means,' " Bodie quoted, " `Miss Oldman does a bit of charity work. Mostly, however, she rubs elbows with the elite and wealthy to lobby for a few causes close to her heart.' "
"What sort of causes?" Doyle was furiously scratching notes upon his notepad.
"Animal rights, mostly."
Doyle's pencil stilled; his curly head came up. "Animal rights?"
Bodie stuck a finger in his ear and gave it a twist. "Is there an echo?"
"Prat. That's significant, isn't it?"
"Perhaps Oldman failed to get support for her `causes' because of opposition from certain, now dead individuals. She owns big dogs, you said. Maybe she's trained them to kill."
"Maybe. Remember, though, that the animal attacks-if you include Olivia among the victims-account for only two instances-and the first occurred a bit over ten years ago. Now if you're implying that the former MPs were killed because they were all anti-animal rights, it isn't likely, is it, considering that some of them were left of left-and lefties are renowned for their support of that kind of thing."
For a moment, Doyle simply looked at him. "Logical-but, logic can be relative."
This bit of profundity made Bodie blink. "Meaning?"
"Only, Oldman's reasons for killing all of those MPs-if she's the one who killed 'em-were her reasons."
"Female logic, y'mean?"
"Maybe, maybe not. There may be no particular logic to explain her motives."
"You're not making a lot of sense, mate," Bodie sighed.
"Am so, and you know it." Doyle stood and reached for his jacket. "Time we had some fresh air."
Lunch consisted of a packaged sandwich and a carton of juice consumed during the drive from Whitehall to Chelsea. In between mouthfuls, Bodie and Doyle planned their campaign. Armed with the information researched by Mrs. Diamond, they were confident that their quarry would present no difficulty. At this point, they intended to sound her out, pose a few questions that would, with luck, unbalance her and-if they were very lucky-cause her to reveal more about herself than she might like.
The drive was companionable and brief. Outside, sunshine-crisp, clear, and increasingly warm-gave their spirits a rise. Again, the spell of fine weather was not expected to last-but Bodie meant to relish it while he could. Upon finding a parking slot almost upon Francesca Oldman's doorstep, Bodie decided they could have no better omen for the interview to come-providing, of course, that Miss Oldman was at home.
In answer to their summons, however, they were met at the door by a young, attractive woman, who forestalled their hopes of being invited inside at once.
"She is in, yes," the woman informed them graciously, "but she is also rather indisposed at the moment."
"Not feeling well?" Doyle asked sympathetically.
"I'm afraid not."
"It's very important that we speak with her, Miss-" Bodie waited, blue eyes artlessly compelling.
"Flower," she said, gravely.
"We won't take up much of her time, Miss Flower," he assured her, willing the woman to respond to his sincerity, to the flattering way he regarded her, and to his own not-unappealing aspect.
Doyle dug into a back pocket and produced his CI5 identification. Holding it out for her to examine, he said, "It is very important, Miss Flower."
Startled, she glanced uncertainly from him to Bodie. "Please wait here," she said, and directed them into a small chamber located off the foyer.
As soon as she was gone, Bodie grimaced exasperatedly at his partner. Doyle, however, was having an appreciative glance round. The room was both richly and handsomely furnished, containing three chairs, a wood-trimmed sofa, coffee table topped with a bright spring floral arrangement, and a rack chock-full with a wide-ranging selection of glossy magazines.
"What'd you go and do that for? She was about ready to-"
"Eat out of your hand? I know. You can have her for dinner later, okay?"
Affronted, Bodie said, "Don't want her. And by the way: Cowley won't love you, if you keep flashing your ID about like that."
"Bodie." Doyle opened his mouth to respond, closed it, then opened it again. "You're the one saw the big dog last night, right? If, as we suspect, it belongs to Miss Oldman, she has very likely seen us by now-at least from a distance."
"Just because we were in Quayle's-?" The sentence died in his mouth. Bodie was remembering the sound of leaves scraping across the pavement behind him-or had that been the rasp of a dog's nails? He had not spoken to Doyle of the incident; nor was now the time to bring it up.
"What about our being in Quayle's fl-?"
"Mr. Bodie, Mr. Doyle?"
Miss Flower had silently reappeared inside the door to the parlor. "Miss Oldman will see you in a few minutes. She's asked that you wait for her in her study. If you'll come with me, please."
"Thank you," Doyle said. He immediately fell in step behind the young woman, rather conspicuously cutting off his partner.
Francesca Oldman's study was as pleasantly-and expensively-decorated as the rest of the house. The Persian carpet underfoot stretched elegantly across a beautifully restored oak floor that gleamed with recent polishing. A desk, made of veined marble and chrome, commanded one corner of the room. Filled with books, a huge glassed-in cupboard covered an entire wall. A single window, draped with ornately patterned nets and heavy damask curtains that complemented the marble desk in design and richness, let in only a little of the day's light. To compensate, a brass lamp which occupied a corner of the desk, put forth a warm though subdued glow.
Very softly, coming from speakers concealed somewhere in the room, music was playing. As the words began to register, Bodie's eyes widened:
"Are you listening to your fear
The beat is coming nearer
Like that little drum in your ear
Transfixes you to your fear."
The voice was low and sultry, as rich and vibrant as the tones of a cello, and contemptuous-even without those unpleasant words, Bodie was certain he would hear contempt in that voice.
Taking all of this in, it was a moment before he noticed Doyle's movement toward the wall behind the desk, green eyes fixed on the print hanging there. His partner came to an abrupt stop, stood absolutely motionless for a long second, then began to back up, each step uncharacteristically measured and rigid.
"You need not worry, Mr. Doyle. Domovoy will not harm you."
Francesca Oldman closed the door. Walking with the assistance of a hand-carved stick, she came into the room, her pace slow, but steadfast. A tall, narrowly-built dog rose from the floor behind the desk and padded forward to greet her. She laid her free hand upon its head, curving well-manicured nails into dark, silken hair. "Lie down, my love," she said affectionately.
Waving a hand at two large, leather chairs arranged in front of the desk, she said civilly, "And you, gentlemen, please, you may sit."
As she made her way across the room, her canine companion walked with her, parting company at the end of the desk, where it lay upon a half-obscured oversize pillow, its inordinately long muzzle resting on even longer legs. Francesca Oldman sat in the straight-backed, wooden chair behind the desk, her walking stick hooked on its arm. For the first time, Bodie saw the metal grip clearly: It was a wolf's head; silver, at a guess.
"My print, Mr. Doyle: You were staring at it. Do you like it?"
Doyle did not at first answer. "It's-not very pleasant."
The print was a photograph of two cosmetics-laboratory rabbits, bodies enclosed in small boxes, only their heads exposed. One was white, the other gray. Muzzles pressed close together, they were nuzzling one another, seeking-and finding-in their joint misery an instant of comfort. At the bottom, printed in small letters, was the simple annotation, "Lord Snowdon, 1976, Bangkok."
"No, it isn't. But then the life of such creatures rarely is. And you, Mr. Bodie, what do you think of it?"
Wondering how she knew which of them was which, Bodie said expressionlessly, "I've always liked bunnies."
"That is an unusual attitude for a soldier."
"Former soldier," Bodie said mildly.
"CI5 is a quasi-military organization." She regarded them steadily. "Which leads me, of course, to ask: Why are you here?"
"One of our agents was badly injured a couple of nights ago," Doyle informed her without embroidery. "Savaged by a large animal; very likely, a dog. Not far from here-the public lavs near World's End."
"Yes, I did hear about that." The woman lightly touched a finger to the metal wolf's head, slowly tracing its shiny contours. "It was not Domovoy, if that's what you're concerned about."
"How can we be sure-other than by taking your word for it?" Bodie watched the graceful occupation of her hand with something approaching fascination.
"You can't," Francesca Oldman said composedly. "Unless you request legal intercession."
"To obtain a bite pattern?"
"Yes. I would happily grant you permission-but it is not pleasant for the animal, you understand?" There was a hint of ice in the woman's confident, softly pitched voice; pale green eyes harbored it as well.
"I understand," Bodie said. "You've been lobbying for animal rights for several years now."
"Did the deaths of Allen Adams, Ray Powell, Tony Lloyd, Kate Hoey, Ted Garrett, Jeremy Hanley, and Ita Maloney strike you in any way odd?"
The gauntlet had been thrown down. A vaguely reptilian smile lent a curve to the woman's well-shaped mouth. "You are talking about people who have passed away over a number of years. But as far as I recall, they all died unremarkably. Have you some reason to believe otherwise?"
"We do. And you're wrong about the way they died. There are some rather obvious inconsistencies," Bodie exaggerated, "especially with regard to Jeremy Hanley. Savaged by a big animal, he was."
"Ah, yes. That was-what?-three, four years ago?"
"Wasn't he on holiday in Wales at the time?"
She folded her hands together and rested them on the ink blotter laid across the surface of the desk. "You will want to verify this, of course; but all of my dogs were at show in London that day-did quite well, most of them, too."
Doyle dutifully jotted notes on his pad of paper. "And you, Miss Oldman: Were you with them?"
The woman was gracious, yet cool-and Bodie wondered what she was hiding. In the background, the music had changed, though the voice remained the same:
"Shrunken heads under the bed
The flies are humming...."
He frowned. "What about Trevor Quayle?"
Head tilted with curiosity, the woman murmured, "Sorry?"
"Reporter. Was killed yesterday-again, by a large animal."
"That wasn't carried in the papers," she said knowledgeably. "In any case, all of my animals, including Domovoy, were in Lingfield yesterday, Mr. Bodie-which can be confirmed."
Biting his lip against a pungent remark, Bodie locked gazes with the woman. Untroubled, she was not the first to look away.
"One more question, Miss Oldman." Impersonally polite, Bodie asked, "Could your dogs kill someone-if they took a notion to?"
Francesca Oldman studied him benignly. "If my dogs were so inclined, they could certainly inflict tremendous damage-and, I presume, death. They are, however, very well trained and the most affable of creatures, I assure you. My dogs are not responsible for the harming of anyone."
"Well trained, you say? Trained to kill, by any chance?"
With unmistakable sarcasm, she replied, "Not yet, no-but your attitude may argue the advisability of doing so."
With a snap, Doyle closed his notepad. "Thank you, Miss Oldman." He quit the chair amid a symphony of creaking leather. The expression he turned toward Bodie spoke volumes.
Following his partner's lead, Bodie also stood. "If we have other questions, will we be able to reach you here?"
The woman leaned forward to consult her desk diary. "I shall be leaving shortly for Lingfield to look in on my dogs; back late this afternoon. I have nothing else scheduled for the next few days. If you should have any other questions, you may contact my assistant Lucy Flower to schedule an appointment."
"We appreciate your cooperation." Doyle looked expectantly at his partner.
Tucking his own notepad into an inside pocket, Bodie hesitated. "Is it possible that one of your animals was out roaming about Hoxton last night?" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Doyle go very still.
The woman regarded him unblinkingly. "No, Mr. Bodie. None of my animals was anywhere near Hoxton last night."
She spoke with such conviction, Bodie almost believed her.
Within the confines of the Capri, the windows were fogged from front to back. Doyle blew noisily on his coffee, then took a slurping drink.
Poorly concealing his annoyance, Bodie said nettled, "Are you sure you don't want to flip a coin?"
"I'm sure, Bodie."
" 'S not like you, Ray."
"Hm. So you keep saying. The dog-Domovoy-was it the one you saw in Quayle's window?"
"Did you see it in Hoxton-outside my flat?"
"No. Didn't see anything there. Anyway, it's the wrong color. And you're changing the subject, Ray."
"I'm not. You are free to work your wiles on Miss Flower with a clear conscience; I'll follow Miss Oldman to Lingfield."
The weather had turned, morning sunshine vanquished by grey skies and chill rain. Bodie scrubbed an oval of windscreen clear of condensation and glared out. "You really think she was telling the truth about her dogs?"
"Yes." Doyle sucked at his teeth. "I'd wager a week's pay."
Bodie's eyes flared open in disbelief. "You are joking? She was too smooth, Ray. And she knew exactly what we were talking about."
"You're not wrong about that." Doyle slumped deeper into the driver's seat. "But when we get results from the bite pattern taken from Quayle and that MP-Jeremy Hanley-they won't match any of her animals-just you wait and see."
"Maybe." Bodie took a sip of steaming coffee. "Doesn't mean she's not involved."
Shifting a little, Doyle rested his head against the neckrest. "A hidden animal, you think? Someone else's?"
"Have to be, wouldn't it? If you're right, that is-and we don't turn up a match on any of the bite patterns."
"She was too confident," Doyle reminded him. He sighed. "Taking her own bloody time, isn't she?"
"Steady on, old son." Bodie turned his head, considering his partner measuringly. "Don't you fancy her, then?"
Doyle's eyes opened wide. "Who?"
"Miss Flower. Who else?"
Face blank, Doyle seemed lost for an answer. Then his attention abruptly focused, skipping past Bodie to the street beyond. "At ruddy last!"
"Miss Oldman, hobbling down the steps. Prepare to bail out, sunshine. I don't want to lose her."
"Not to worry. At the speed she's going, you could tail her on a pushbike."
"Yeah? See that Jag? I thought it might belong to her! Out! "
"Okay, okay-but don't take right off: She'll see me."
"Your fault for parking so near the flat. Bodie-"
Doyle's eyes were riveted on the woman in the sleek, black Jaguar; yet there was something in his voice that put Bodie on his guard. "What now?"
"Be nice to her, eh?"
"I'm always nice, Doyle," Bodie replied automatically. "But who did you have in mind this time?"
"Miss Flower. She's a nice girl." He bit his lip. "A bit like Pamela."
"Pamela-? Pamela? " Resisting the impulse to tear his eyes away from the Jaguar-Francesca Oldman was inside and scrupulously attending to her seat belt and the positioning of mirrors-Bodie turned his mind back to the conversation interrupted the previous evening-just before Trevor Quayle was murdered. "You never did explain why you brought up her name-unless it was just to remind me you'd saved my hide that night."
"Nah. 'S not important. You ready?"
"Always. If it's not important, then say why."
A quick flick of the head, a dismissive wave of a hand. "Told you she'd had a cry on my shoulder over you? Well, she was really smitten. Deserved better."
"Out, Bodie; she's started the engine."
"Hang on. It'll take her a minute to clear the Merc and the Bentley. What else? About Pamela?"
Doyle bared his teeth, clearly restive.
The next words were machine-gunned out: "She told me about you. You know, in bed."
A little taken aback, Bodie hid his consternation with a wisecrack. "All about my exceptional staying power and impressive proportions, no doubt."
Doyle broke into a grin. "I think she did say something about you putting a Grand National winner to shame."
Certain now that he was being sent up, Bodie said scornfully, "Pamela never said that."
"Well, no. Was putting it into me own words."
Arching a supercilious brow, Bodie demanded, "What else? I've a bird needing seducing, y'know."
With hands coiled whitely round the steering wheel, Doyle replied, "You wanted to know, and I'm telling you. Pamela had a lot to say. She went on and on about what a tender and sensitive lover you were."
The muscles worked in Bodie's jaws. "The punch line, Doyle."
"Only, I've wondered ever since-"
"No," Bodie said crushingly. "You cannot watch."
Doyle turned and stared at him. "I've wondered ever since...if you're as good as she said."
Transfixed by that vivid gaze, Bodie felt the blood drain out of his face. His heart advanced a beat; the roar of white noise in his ears fairly deafened him.
If Doyle were winding him up-and this had all the earmarks of an elaborate prank-Bodie was in danger of making a very large fool of himself; if Doyle were serious-
Could he be serious?
Taking the risk of his life, Bodie conjured a rueful smile. "The best, sunshine," he said with something approaching his usual rakishness. "Want me to show you?"
Face unreadable, Doyle licked his lips, mouth half-open. He cleared his throat; but the words were not ready. "I-"
The powerful purr of the accelerating Jaguar jolted them out of their preoccupation. Doyle canted his head in the direction of the pavement. "Off with you, mate."
Knowing better than to argue, Bodie scrambled out of the car. Holding the door half open, he began, "Ray-"
Gunning the engine in warning, Doyle wrinkled his nose engagingly. Then he reached for the passenger door and jerked it out of Bodie's hand. An instant later, the silver Capri sped away from the curb. Bodie stared after it until the vehicle had vanished round the corner, a squeal of tires and the outraged shouts of just-missed pedestrians foaming in its wake.
"Bastard," Bodie whispered.
The soft, frigid rain dripping into his eyes recalled him to his surroundings. Joylessly contemplating the Chelsea flat belonging to Francesca Oldman, Bodie crushed the empty beaker of coffee still clutched in his hand and thought of Oldman's young assistant Lucy Flower: He had a job to do; Doyle would have to wait. With a flick of the wrist, he flipped the beaker into the gutter and stepped into the street.
The hands on Bodie's watch seemed to have stopped moving. It was nearly six; he had been back in HQ since before five. He would have sworn that he had been there far longer. Tired, out of sorts, and seething with impatience, he blindly flicked through the most recent collection of paper found cluttering their desk: voting records of the deceased MPs; a couple of messages from Dispatch; a one-page dossier on Lucy Flower that told him nothing he did not already know; and a brief medical update on Olivia Wingate, who was still in a coma.
Just as he was toying with the idea of confronting the vending machine once more, he heard the familiar bouncy tread of his partner coming down the corridor.
"Hello, there," Doyle greeted him brightly. He threw Bodie's keys in his direction. "Didn't expect to find you here."
The keys dexterously caught, Bodie replied with deliberate detachment, "Should've done." He jangled metal against metal. "You had my car."
"Oh, right. What's all that, then?"
"Have a look. How'd it go in Lingfield?"
Shuffling through the varied papers, Doyle answered distractedly, "Clean and tidy operation; the kennel manager, Daniel Currie, was most helpful."
"Yeah. Shit!" Doyle crumpled one of the messages from Dispatch in his fist. "That bloody Walker is pushing his luck."
"No Harley tomorrow?" Bodie's eyes dropped to the prominent bulge deforming the lie of Doyle's trousers. "You'll do yourself serious damage if you have to wait much longer."
In reply, Doyle drew a gruesome face.
"We have voting records for Livi's MPs."
"All that stuff there?"
"Pages and pages." Bodie pushed away from the desk and lifted his jacket off the back of the chair.
Doyle's face darkened. He said sulkily, "That's just great." Drops of rain wept from limp curls onto the edge of the desk. "Reckon you have a hot assignation with Miss Flower, and you're leaving this lot to me?"
"You reckon wrong."
"No? So where are you off to then?"
After running the zip up to the middle of his chest, Bodie meticulously stacked the pile of paperwork together. This in turn was dumped into a large envelope. "We are going to my flat. We'll grill a pizza and try to sort this lot out."
A delighted smile charmed the pout from Doyle's mouth. "She turned you down!"
"Never even asked," Bodie advised him perfunctorily. " 'M a married man now too, remember?"
"Couldn't prove it by me."
"The night is young." He swept past Doyle, who continued to eye him with cheerful suspicion.
"She did turn you down, didn't she!"
Bodie groaned. "There's just no pleasing you, Doyle."
Doyle was at last in possession of a car again; they journeyed in their separate vehicles to Bodie's flat. Once arrived, they concentrated on preparing their meal, nattering about anything and everything-but nothing of consequence. With the pizza in the oven and the salad and drinks prepared, an awkward silence fell between them. After no more than a minute of this, Doyle took to his feet, heading for the telephone in the foyer to ring the hospital for an update on Olivia's condition. Unfortunately, the news was mixed. Though still holding her own, she had not regained consciousness.
Shortly thereafter, their meal was ready, and by tacit agreement, they restricted their conversation to job-related titbits. Settled comfortably on Bodie's settee in the living room, Doyle described the set-up at Ladyhaye Kennels-Francesca Oldman's Borzoi puppy farm in Lingfield. He had observed nothing of interest to CI5. Oldman had disappeared into the manager's cottage apparently for a brief consultation; minutes later she had reappeared, accompanied by said manager, to undertake a strolling inspection of the kennels.
Oldman, Doyle reported, took excellent care of her charges. They were well-fed, professionally boarded, and lovingly looked after. The animals knew and plainly liked her, each responding eagerly to her voice and touch as she passed by.
Once Oldman had concluded her business and returned to her car for the drive back to London, Doyle had presently delivered himself to the manager of the kennel in the guise of a would-be buyer inquiring after a Borzoi suitable for show purposes. Currie, the manager, had established himself as knowledgeable and amiable. He had gone into great detail regarding the breed itself; its travails throughout the last century; its progress in Russia, North America, and England; and Ladyhaye's efforts on its behalf.
There were five dogs, six bitches, and a mob of seven-week-old puppies-all but one of which was female. The rest of the youngsters, Doyle was apprised, would be passed on to the owner of the stud two weeks hence, and were as yet too young to confirm their potential. He had been given the name of the puppies' owner, should Doyle wish to contact her. None of the animals had been silver, nor were any as large as the creature Bodie had seen at Trevor Quayle's window.
In turn, Bodie recounted his afternoon's efforts. Lucy Flower had been more than willing to play truant for a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich with Bodie-though she would not be cajoled into anything more extravagant. He went into little detail regarding his method of eliciting information from her, but it was made clear that Lucy had found him scintillating company.
"But what you're really saying," Doyle summarized at last, "is that for all your efforts, you didn't learn anything useful."
"No more than you, sunshine," Bodie countered. He was half-sprawled upon his sofa, can of beer braced between his hands at the center of his chest. With lazy contentment, he watched Doyle, who sat in the overstuffed chair opposite him, finish the last wedge of pizza.
"Unfortunately true," Doyle conceded. He reached for his own lager. Before before raising it to his mouth, he softly asked, "So, give over: What was wrong with her?"
"It's obvious, isn't it? I'm the one eating your pizza, not her. And she's perfect, Bodie. Young, built, blonde. Don't tell me your tastes have changed."
Slowly rotating the can round and round, Bodie said unemphatically, "Reckon maybe they have."
A shrewd look came into Doyle's eyes. "I know: She's secretly married. Or-worse still-she's preggers."
"You're a twit, Ray. How much have you had to drink?"
"Same as you. Out with it, mate."
Bodie sighed and turned away. "Actually," he said without guile, "I'm saving myself."
"You don't know how." Doyle punctuated this statement with a rude chortle.
"Ah, but you're wrong. For you," Bodie argued with an overbearing grin, "I can do anything."
This gave Doyle a full minute's pause. "Yeah? Then prove it. We haven't even started going through these voting records yet."
"No time like the present."
Bodie stared at him, suddenly unsure what Doyle was asking. "After, we'll talk about it." He did not bother to define what "it" was. For that matter, he was not certain himself. In the hours intervening since their parting outside Oldman's flat, Bodie had vacillated between whether Doyle was having him on, or coming on to him. With Doyle, it was entirely possible that even he didn't know.
By midnight, they had gone through each of the lists at least three times. Bodie's supply of beer and beef-and-cheddar crisps had been laid waste. Frustration levels were running perilously high.
"Bloody nothing!" Sitting cross-legged on the floor near the end of the settee, Doyle flung half a dozen sheets of paper onto the coffee table. They fanned out like a peacock's tail; two or three slipped free and fluttered off the edge onto the floor.
"Nothing conclusive, you mean," Bodie differed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms.
"Nothing nothing, is what I mean!" Doyle snarled. "This lot never voted consistently for or against anything. Always at least one dissenter or abstainer on any issue. Only thing the bleeders have in common is that they're all dead. Makes no sense at all!"
"To us, anyway." Unable to sit a minute longer, Bodie pushed off from the sofa, braced his legs apart, and stretched, hands pointing toward the ceiling. "Time to call it a day, mate."
Doyle glared up at him. Slowly, eyes traveling the length of Bodie's body, his expression underwent a transformation. The anger bled away, to be replaced by caution and a hint of disquiet. His gaze returned to Bodie's face and settled there. "I'll be off then." A second later he too was on his feet, long legs carrying him to the overstuffed chair across the back of which was slung his jacket.
"You're welcome to sleep here, y'know." The words, familiar and unthreatening, were easily spoken, only the huskiness of Bodie's unusually deep voice making them somehow charged and dangerous.
"Best not," Doyle mumbled.
"Jesus, Ray," Bodie exploded, "I'm not out to rape you, y'know!"
Purposefully zipping up his jacket, Doyle asked, "What are you out for, Bodie?"
"I-" Something scathingly sarcastic teetered on the tip of Bodie's tongue, ready to dive off; he shut his mouth and kept it inside.
Head raised, chin forward, Doyle said, "The joke's over, okay? We've both got out of hand since those two weeks in Leeds."
"You so sure about that?" Bodie asked mutinously. "That it's all been a joke, I mean?"
"About you? No, I haven't been sure at all."
"And what about you?" Bodie demanded. "Don't forget, Ray. You kissed me. "
As if drawn by a magnet, Doyle's eyes fell to Bodie's mouth. Heavy-lidded, they lingered there a moment, tracing the shape, brushing over the swells and curves. Suddenly realizing what he was doing, Doyle turned away.
Shivering at the heat of that imagined touch, Bodie whispered, "You want to do that again, don't you!"
Doyle gave himself a shake. He spun round. "I gotta go."
Thinking only that he must not let his partner leave like this, Bodie started after him. He blurted, "You're running!"
Planting his feet squarely on the floor, Doyle pivoted on the heels of his boots, eyes sparking with challenge. "If I thought you were-" He stopped himself, caught his breath and began again, "If I thought you could be-" Making a violent cutting motion with the edge of his hand, Doyle exclaimed something that was to Bodie incomprehensible.
"I am, Ray," Bodie breathed. "All that and more."
Bodie's words seemed to calm Doyle's inner turmoil. "You don't even know what I was going to say."
Suddenly at a disadvantage and not knowing why, Bodie countered sharply, "So say it, whatever it is. 'S not like you to be bashful."
"Okay. Serious. If I thought you were serious."
"I am serious. What else?"
"If I thought you could be-"
"Trusted?" Bodie anticipated him. "Christ, Doyle, if you can't trust me by-"
"Bodie! " Doyle roared. "Not trusted, you fool-happy. I don't know, maybe even satisfied. With me, I mean. I know you, Bodie."
Watching his partner, nearly spitting angry, yet so very earnest, Bodie suddenly absorbed that this meant a great deal to him, that this was something he had thought about, and not just in passing.
"Goes both ways, sunshine," he said, very quietly. "And there's only one way to find out."
Disappointment glimmered briefly in Doyle's eyes; it was quickly extinguished. "Sure."
Bodie's heart began to beat faster. Was it possible that Doyle hoped for something more from him? More than a one-off? If so, Bodie must handle this with an expertise he might be incapable of. Otherwise, the chance of a lifetime would be lost to him forever. Relaxing all at once, he summoned a rather shaky smile. "Think it over, eh? Pick it to pieces the way you like to do- Then sleep on it. Eh? And if you find you like the idea- Well, then- Tomorrow."
Whatever lurked in Doyle's mind, it was kept veiled by his unrevealing demeanor. Hoping that he was reading his uncertain companion correctly, Bodie stepped toward the door, one hand urging him forth. "C'mon. I'll walk out with you."
Doyle gave a little laugh, head confidently tipped back. "Think I can find my way on my own, thanks."
" 'Course you can. But I could use a breather. Let's go."
It was quiet outside. The heavy fog had moved in, freezing cold. Only the two men walked on the pavement, their steaming breath proclaiming them warm and alive as it billowed out of their mouths and nostrils with each exhalation.
"Busy day coming up," Doyle commented. He stopped beside the gold Capri and slid the key into the lock.
"Another one. We're due some leave, y'know?"
"We are," Doyle confirmed, noncommittally. "Meet you at HQ about sevenish?"
Bodie nodded with resignation. "Lovely."
Planted in the driver's seat, Doyle shut the door, then wound down the window. He started the engine and activated the windscreen wipers. "G'night, Bodie."
" 'Night, Ray." He watched idly as Doyle began to maneuver the car away from the curb. Once free of the surrounding vehicles, Doyle braked to a stop.
Doyle grinned broadly. "Tomorrow. " He revved the motor and drove away before Bodie could order his paralytic thoughts. The red rear-lights of the car were dulled by the all-devouring fog; soon even the rumble of the engine was only a muffled memory.
A slight scraping sound brought Bodie's head up with a jerk. With visibility so poor, there was precious little to be seen. Nevertheless, his eyes raked the spaces between cars lining the pavement; the dark, wet streets; the pools of shadow formed by basement entries and window wells. Nothing. No movement at all. He reached under his jacket and released the catch on his pistol. The weight of it in his palm reassured him somewhat less than usual.
Ghosts and ghoulies....
Not a pleasant thought on a night such as this, Bodie decided. With long, deliberate strides, he marched back to the door of his building, glancing from side to side as well as over his shoulder, eyes and ears straining for the slightest irregularity.
Once inside, Bodie still did not drop his guard, entering the lift with extreme caution, .44 in hand and at ready. The stillness of the building was not encouraging, striking him at this moment as the hush preceding a dire event rather than that of mere quietude.
All the same, he arrived at his flat without incident. Ensconced within, he locked both the deadbolt and the electronic secondary, then proceeded to thoroughly search every room and cupboard large enough to harbor an intruder-even one of the canine variety-simultaneously securing all the windows, including the sliding glass door that opened onto the balcony. Finding all as it should be, he set milk to heat, performed his usual ablutions before donning his dressing gown, then returned to the kitchen to make his cocoa, which he took with him to the bedroom. There he settled in his bed, sipped his drink, and listened to the multitude of night sounds heard thousands of times before-all perfectly normal, but all, at that moment, bordering on the sinister.
Sleep did not come easily.
It was a dream, and on some level of his mind, he knew it was a dream. He lay in bed, half-awake, listening with dread for a repeat of the scratching, clicking noise that had disturbed his slumber. It came again from the other side of the closed door. As he watched, the knob slowly turned, and the door opened. Held immobile by terror and the paralysis visited upon his corporeal body by sleep, Bodie's dream-self could only stare wide-eyed at the apparition that stepped majestically into his room. It was huge, powerfully and intimidatingly built, with eyes as luminous and colorless as moonlight. The great body was lustrously covered with silver hair, the head long and well formed. Somehow, the creature knew where he was, would have known without sight or scent where to find him-and now it started toward him, jaws parting, revealing long, glistening teeth. Muscles coiled, legs bent, the thing gathered itself and leapt effortlessly onto the bed. The weight of it depressed the mattress at Bodie's feet. It moved upward past his knees, hips, flank-moving inexorably nearer his throat. And then it was there, its breath, warm and moist and suffocatingly corrupt, splashing across his face.
A scream boiled up from the bottom of Bodie's chest, filled his throat, and spilled into the back of his mouth, where it found itself imprisoned, desperately searching for a way out. But he could no more scream than he could move-and the creature was bent over him now, its jaws shutting round his neck, cutting off the air from his lungs, large teeth penetrating vulnerable flesh-
Bodie awoke, gasping.
He was in his bedroom, in his flat-and his throat was intact. To his incalculable relief, Bodie found himself alone.
That had been a bad one; one of the worse he could remember. He lay still a moment, encouraging his heart to revert to its normal pace. Everything was all right: He had checked the flat from top to bottom; the .44 was well within reach; he was uninjured-
Seemingly of its own volition, a hand crept forth from the warmth of the bedclothes to cover his throat, to protect it from further nightmares. Bodie let out an indescribable sound: half laughter, half groan.
"Christ," he breathed. Had he just survived a pitched firefight, he would not have been more shaken. Realizing the futility of attempting sleep until he had settled down, Bodie slipped out of bed and retrieved his dressing gown from the foot of the mattress. Wrapped in its warming folds, he tucked his feet into waiting slippers, fetched the revolver from the holster that hung from the bedpost beside his pillow, and started for the door-at sight of which he came to a stunned halt. Adrenalin rocketed into his veins: light! Pale though it was, it glinted through the narrow crack formed by jamb and unlatched door. And now, with preternatural acuity, he could hear the slow, steady scrape of steps on the wood floor, somewhere without.
There was someone-or something-in his flat.
Bodie's training kicked in, overriding fear, dread, and all the other emotions suffered by the ordinary individual confronting a potentially violent situation. Calm now, and simmeringly angry, he crept up to the door and peered out: The light came from the corner streetlamp half a street away, its sallow glow straying in through the window over the landing. He had drawn the curtains before retiring, of that he was quite certain. The window itself appeared to be closed; at any rate, there was no breeze-the fabric and nets hung motionless at either side.
From here, only the head of the stairs and a few steps descending could be seen. Concentrating, Bodie determined that the methodical footsteps had moved on, probably to the lower level. As if to confirm this conjecture, there came a frightful crash from downstairs. Forsaking the comparative advantage of the high ground, he crouched low and went out onto the landing. Darkness shrouded the stair like a heavy swirling mist-almost impenetrable. Eyes darting to enhance his night vision, Bodie ventured downward a step at a time.
A low hum gave voice to the refrigerator, a noisy model Bodie had never liked. In the cold, still air, there was nothing else to be heard-only Bodie fancied he could sense another presence, its hearing as finely attuned as his.
He felt rather than saw the creature's passage, a hint of displaced air that wafted upward into his face from the bottom of the stair. This was followed by the softest whisper of a tread, a brushing sound as of something squeezing through a tight opening-and stillness, utter and absolute.
Bodie hurried as quickly as he dared down the last steps. The door to the flat yawned wide, a rectangle of low-wattage incandescence spilling across the threshold from the landing outside. Purposefully Bodie approached, gun held low and close to his body. Hearing nothing, he hazarded a swift glance round the edge of the door-just in time to see a feathery, silver tail disappear down the stairwell.
Mindlessly launching himself after it in pursuit, he actually got as far as the first tread-board of the public stair before reason reasserted itself. It would be idiotic for him to attempt to chase down and confront the creature without back-up, dressed-or undressed-as he was, and driven by impulse.
Stymied, Bodie returned to his flat, eyes grimly searching every pool of darkness, every possible hiding place he passed. Once inside, he pulled the door to behind him and set the two locks with angry precision. From there he strode immediately to the window overlooking the street. In the dark, he folded back one of the fabric panels. He ought to have been invisible to anyone loitering below, but it was the sensation of being watched that directed Bodie's own gaze. At the end of the terrace-house across the way, the creature stood, staring up at Bodie's window, waiting for him to appear.
It was huge, powerfully and intimidatingly built, with eyes as luminous and colorless as moonlight.... Assured that it had been seen, the animal dropped its head and bounded away, melting into the surrounding shadows as though they were an extension of its being.
An inarticulate curse exploded from Bodie's lips. He did not like being toyed with-and for whatever reason, that's what the creature was doing. Messing his mind about like-
"Christ!" Bodie gave his head a shake. It was not a creature, only a bloody great dog. A well-trained and intelligent dog, one that performed its assigned role with uncanny ability-but a dog, only a dog. It was the animal's mistress he need worry about.
Dropping the curtain flap, Bodie cast a searching look over the living room and the corridor which led to the front door. How had she gained entry?
Puzzling over the possibilities, he mounted a thorough inspection of the deadbolt and the electronic secondary. Within only minutes, he had finished, and much to his chagrin, was none the wiser. She must have had inside information-and CI5-confidential information at that-to have broken in without leaving any incriminating traces.
Annoyed and more than a little bothered, Bodie went from room to room, searching through every nook and cranny in the flat. For all his efforts, he found nothing to explain how the creature-the dog! -had got inside.
Only fifteen minutes after having abandoned his bed, Bodie found himself in front of his drinks cupboard, bottle of whisky in hand. He pictured Doyle's big-eyed expression come the morning when he described the incident to him. There would be no sympathy from him. Oh, no. Barely repressed derision, more like. Doyle could be such a-
Bodie's hand convulsed around the neck of the bottle, almost snapping it in two. He was not thinking clearly; he was hardly thinking at all! A glance at his watch told him that dawn was only a couple of hours away-more than enough time for her to have-
The thought was crushed like an intruding insect, the mangled remains thrust into that part of his mind that rarely saw the light of day, along with all the other horrors that resided there. He would only entertain that possibility if none other were left to him.
Whisky forgotten, Bodie took up the phone in the dining room and dialled Doyle's personal number. Though under control on the outside, inwardly he was awash with a dread far more chilling than any he had ever known. He shivered. Phosphorescent eyes and a long-muzzled grin leered at him from the back of his mind.
The ringing tone sounded in his ear; a beat, a beat; the tone repeated; a beat, and another beat. "Answer it, damn you," Bodie hissed. "Answer it! "
On the fourth ring, the receiver was taken off hook-and promptly dropped, by the sound of it. There came a distantly rasped, "Hang on!" A brief, rather noisy pause ensued. Then: "Doyle."
In that instant, Bodie saw his future with clarity and absolute certainty. Stricken with an emotion he had never truly experienced before, Bodie could not speak.
"Ray?" Bodie croaked.
"Bodie, you prick," Doyle growled bad-temperedly. "D'you know what time it is?"
"Three. Ah-sixteen minutes after three. Ray, are you all right?"
"All right?! I was asleep. Of course, I'm bloody well all right!"
"Listen, sunshine," Bodie whispered hurriedly, sensing that Doyle would disconnect at any second. "I want you to check your flat. Now. Right now. I'll wait."
His reply was a strangled obscenity-but astonishingly, Doyle gave no other objection. With something like awe, Bodie heard the receiver laid flat, the rustle of sheets, the rumbling complaint of Doyle pulling on his robe, then the diminishing report of footsteps as he stalked out of the bedroom. Calling on every last ounce of patience allotted him, Bodie waited, counting the seconds, counting his heartbeats, counting the breaths that echoed inside the handset.
"You want to tell me what exactly is going on?"
The sudden return of Doyle's voice wreaked havoc with Bodie's already strung-taut nerves; obviously, his partner had picked up at the living room extension. "Does that mean your security was breached?"
"You know damn well it was."
"No. I only guessed." He's all right! "Put the kettle on, sunshine." Bodie laughed unconvincingly. "I'll be there in twenty-no, fifteen-minutes."
"Suit yourself," Doyle spat, and slammed down the receiver.
"Oh, I shall," Bodie mumbled to himself, unoffended. His partner was more rattled than he was letting on. Together, they would be able to think this through. Together-
Racing up to his bedroom, it occurred to Bodie that the creature might be waiting for him outside. The thought brought him up sharp-but only for an instant. Whatever Francesca Oldman's motive in sending that animal round tonight, it had not been to lure them into the street to be murdered-they both could have been effortlessly dispatched in their beds. The thought made Bodie hiss-but spurred him to move even faster.
Despite imagining seething movement in every shadow-small or large-between the street-door of his block of flats and the door of the silver Capri, the brief walk proved uneventful. From outside the car, Bodie ran a torch over the interior, and once certain that it harbored no toothy assassins, he climbed inside and started the engine. Seconds later, he was on the road. At half past three in the morning, the streets of London were mostly untravelled. Bodie made the most of his solitude, cheerfully ignoring speed limits and yellow and red lights. Fourteen minutes and twenty seconds after Doyle had hung up on him, he arrived outside his partner's building.
He pressed the bell to Doyle's flat, and presently his partner responded. Upon hearing Bodie's voice, Doyle economically commanded him to "push." Three flights of stairs later, Bodie was greeted by Doyle himself, his face stubbled, robe hanging more than half open, and gun in hand.
"You can point that somewhere else," Bodie said tartly. He pushed the P38 to one side with a single finger. "Can I come in?"
"You're in." After a quick inspection of the outside corridor, Doyle shoved the door to, threw the deadbolt and engaged the electronic secondary.
Bodie's eyes roved from one corner of the foyer to the next, ending with the door itself. There were no signs of tampering; the locks shone without a hint of a scratch.
" 'S not here anymore-whoever it was." As always, Doyle had known precisely what Bodie was doing.
"Not a who," Bodie said meaningfully. "A what."
Doyle grunted. Flagging Bodie to follow him into the living room, he said with exasperation, "I'll give you coffee if you promise to make sense."
Contentedly trailing behind, Bodie silently savored the sight of his rumpled partner. Long and lean, curls ebulliently disarrayed, hairy legs exposed from thigh to heel, and shuffling like a geriatric patient on an outing, Doyle was, in Bodie's opinion, absolute perfection. "You found nothing, I take it?" he asked gently.
Two mugs waited on the sideboard, one with the handle of a spoon jutting out of it. Doyle took up the recently heated kettle, ghostly wisps rising from its metal snout, and sloshed water out of it. "Just my front door hanging wide open. Tell me what's going on, Bodie, will you?"
"Not much more than that to tell," Bodie said. "Woke up to find the security'd been overridden. Someone had got in without setting off the alarms in HQ-and without waking me up."
Sparing him a disbelieving look, Doyle automatically added sugar and milk to one of the mugs in very specific proportions. "Something woke you." He shoved the sweetened coffee across the counter, heedless of the scalding liquid that spilled over the rim.
"I- Well, I had a bad dream."
"And then I heard something. Y'know, footsteps." Bodie saw no reason to describe the sensation of presence he had experienced.
"You saw someone?" Doyle blew on his own coffee and waved Bodie toward the lounge.
Pausing in the doorway, Doyle considered this. "Animal, vegetable, or mineral? Though I think I already know."
"Animal." Bodie sat himself down on the sofa, eyes fixed on Doyle's troubled face.
"The two-legged variety?"
Doyle sipped from his coffee, offering no immediate comment. He sagged onto the cushions not far from Bodie.
"One of your Borzoi," Bodie elaborated.
"A big dog."
"There's not a dog alive can override a double-locked, electronically monitored security system," Doyle asserted. He gave Bodie a sharp look. "You did set yours?"
Bodie's sour expression answered Doyle's question. "Yeah, okay-doesn't hurt to ask." A sudden grin smoothed his drawn features. "And thanks for not mentioning the obvious."
Shrugging, Bodie said, "You've learned your lesson."
"Too true. I set mine as well, in case the question ever does crop up."
With the mug held close to his chest for warmth, Bodie muttered, "I'd just like to know why. Neither of us was harmed; not even touched. We could've been killed, y'know."
"Don't I just know it," Doyle assured him dourly. "Planting bugs, maybe?"
"With the dog as a diversion?"
"Possibly. Or maybe it was just an example of old-fashioned intimidation."
"It worked," Bodie said, deadpan.
"Yeah." Staring down into his mug, Doyle asked, "So, do you fancy turfing Forensics out of their comfy beds? Get 'em started now?"
"No point. You've gone over your flat already; I've done mine." Bodie had full confidence that Doyle's search had been every bit as thorough as his own. "They're not likely to find anything other than a dog hair or two-and those'll still be here in the morning."
"You really think that's all it was, then?" Doyle smothered a yawn. "Intimidation?"
"What else?" Eyeing his partner closely, Bodie said, "You must've been sleeping hard."
Chagrin drew the corners of Doyle's mouth downward. "Reckon so. Was the phone that woke me."
He had made the admission, Bodie realized, only because he had been caught out. "You sleepy?"
"Not just at the moment," Doyle said sardonically.
Rising from the sofa, Bodie plucked Doyle's half-empty mug out of his hand. "Another?"
As he started for the kitchen, Bodie said over his shoulder, "I'm staying here tonight-what's left of it, anyway."
"Afraid the midnight mutt will come calling again?"
"You didn't wake up the last time."
Purposeful footsteps sounded behind him. Standing at the sink, Bodie innocently glanced round.
"My hero." Doyle's eyes sparked. "Go home, Bodie. I can look after myself."
Bodie quietly announced, "It's tomorrow."
Doyle frowned. "Tomor-? Oh."
"I'm not sleepy either," Bodie said. He was watching Doyle's face, trying to gauge his reaction.
"You mean-?" Doyle tipped his head in the direction of the bedroom.
The idea was given brief consideration. "Right. We did agree, didn't we? Well-" Doyle gave his ear a pull. "You know where the bed is." Nimbly, he stepped round Bodie and gave him a shove toward the door. "Go on, then." Turning toward the sink, he picked up the two mugs and sloshed them in the soaking water. "I'll follow directly."
Something had gone wrong. Bodie stared at the back of Doyle's head for a long moment before obeying, an uneasy feeling twisting in his gut.
Once in Doyle's bedroom, he stood at the foot of the bed, staring down at the jumbled covers, Doyle's pillow bearing the imprint of his head, the pillow beside it untouched.
"So get 'em off," Doyle drawled from the doorway. "Can't fuck with your clothes on. Not to best effect, anyway," he added with a crude laugh.
Bodie slowly looked back at him. Cast in shadow by the light from the landing, Doyle's face was unreadable. "Nah," Bodie said huskily. "Forget it, mate."
"No? You changed your mind?"
That chiding voice cut Bodie to the heart. "Just know where I'm not wanted." He moved toward the door, expecting Doyle to step aside. When he stood his ground, Bodie raised a brow at him, employing silence as a goad.
It worked: "You can't say I chickened out, Bodie."
"No. But I can say I've had more enthusiasm in a morgue."
It was a measure of Doyle's turmoil that a smart remark was not forthcoming. "We're friends."
"Sex can be good between friends," Bodie argued good-naturedly.
"That wouldn't change."
Doyle's chin came up, eyes narrowed and filled with scorn.
Taking in a deep breath, Bodie sought to marshal his thoughts. "Look-just let it go, eh?"
"Can you?" Doyle's voice was raw.
"If you want me to."
"And if I don't?" Defiance supplanted withering contempt in hard eyes.
"What do you want?" Bodie exclaimed.
"I-" The air rushed out of Doyle's lungs in a noisy whoosh. He threw up his hands. "I-"
"Ray. Hey, mate-will you let me try something?"
Doyle only looked at him.
Very slowly, Bodie reached out and took hold of Doyle's wrists. He pulled them down. "Trust me, sunshine," he said with a wryly affectionate smile.
Clearly uncertain, Doyle waited for Bodie to make the first move.
Letting go of sinewy wrists, Bodie raised one hand to Doyle's cheek, curving his fingers round a whiskery jaw. Doyle flinched at the touch, but made no effort to pull away. Letting the hand fall to Doyle's shoulder, Bodie moved imperceptibly closer. His other arm slid round Doyle's waist, and there it lay, unmoving.
"Okay?" he asked.
"What're you doing?"
Bodie bit his lip. "Holding you. Just holding you. I-" The words disintegrated in his throat. "Oh, God, Ray!" he whispered. In seconds he had dragged his partner's lanky frame into his embrace, arms tight around him, his every sense filled with Doyle's being. "Was so glad to hear your voice," Bodie choked out, "y'know, when I rang. Thought maybe- Was afraid-" He abandoned the effort to speak intelligibly, overwhelmed by the reality of being allowed to hold Doyle like this. His partner was solid and alive. Warm and whole. Breathing, heart beating. Alive.
The thrum of Doyle's voice right in his ear caused Bodie to shiver.
"Sorry," Bodie muttered. He dropped his arms and stepped back. "I'll sleep on the sofa. I'll get a spare-"
"Wait a minute," Doyle said sharply.
Warily Bodie looked up into his partner's face.
"It's my turn to try something. Fair?"
A little nervously, Bodie dumbly nodded his head.
"I thought you only wanted a quick fuck," Doyle said bluntly. "Never occurred to me you might want what I want." He cupped Bodie's face between both hands. Holding him immobile, he lowered his mouth to Bodie's lips.
Doyle's kiss was slow, searching, and persuasively tender. Without thought, Bodie opened to him, welcoming his invasion. He denied his partner nothing, implicitly trusting him even when Doyle's touch became somewhat rougher-and considerably more passionate.
"Bodie-" Doyle gasped. "Don't hold back, mate." Was that a note of anxiety in his voice? "If this is really what you want- Ah!"
Bodie's mouth dropped to Doyle's neck, where it hungrily kissed and nipped at warm, vulnerable flesh. At the same time he slid both hands underneath Doyle's robe, fingers spread wide across bony ribs. One hand worked around and upward, following the ridge of Doyle's spine, stopping at the base of his skull and there curving round his neck, supporting his head; the other fell to the small of his back, fingertips gliding over downy plains and rising curves before drifting lower still.
Doyle shuddered as Bodie's hand molded itself to one buttock. He crowded nearer, groin to groin. Bodie moaned under his breath: Doyle was hard, his erection discernible through the silk of his robe and the corduroy of Bodie's trousers. Heart pounding, Bodie brought his hand round to the smooth flatness of Doyle's abdomen.
Doyle jerked away. He was breathing hard, eyes wild in a flushed face.
"Ray?" Unthinkingly, Bodie followed him.
Doyle threw up a hand. When Bodie hesitated, Doyle came close and began another long, sensuous kiss. His fingers fell first to Bodie's belt which he deftly unbuckled, then to the clasp at his waistband. As in a dream, Bodie felt Doyle's hand slip inside his pants. Doyle touched him, a fleeting touch, insubstantial. Craving more, Bodie pushed up against him, hips thrusting. But Doyle drew back from him once more.
A small growl of frustration tumbled from Bodie's lips. Doyle smiled vaguely. He took Bodie's hand and tugged him toward the bed. "C'mon, sunshine. 'M not calling a halt. Only- It's cold, and the bed's warm. Okay?"
The day's concerns were forgotten as Doyle finished stripping him at the side of his bed. Then, kissing and touching, hands and mouths exploring, they moved together onto the mattress.
Given their instinctive knowledge of one another, there was no surprise in discovering that their partnership worked as effortlessly here as everywhere else. Unthinkingly, they knew how best to serve each other's needs. There was no resistance, no hesitancy. As their first bout of passion swept them up-and up-neither forgot the underlying affinity that had long ago forged their bond-and they made love as friends, with total acceptance and ready affection.
"Can't be. We haven't slept yet."
"Whose fault is that?" Doyle asked. He took hold of the edge of the covers and lifted them away, revealing their nakedness. Disregarding Bodie's whimpering complaint, Doyle heaved himself up on one elbow and proceeded to examine Bodie's body both with eyes and the tips of inquisitive fingers.
"What are you doing?"
"Having a butcher's. Want to see what I've got myself into."
"Haven't got yourself into anything," Bodie reminded him. He pushed his head up against Doyle's chest, nuzzling a chill-puckered nipple with warm lips.
Sliding his hand under Bodie's genitals, Doyle slowly enclosed the lax penis in the wonderfully snug tunnel of his fist. "That's certainly true."
"But you can if you want to," Bodie promised.
" 'M looking forward to it-I think."
Ignoring the doubt in Bodie's voice, Doyle said with just a hint of hauteur, "We are going to carry on doing this." For all his assertiveness, Doyle avoided meeting Bodie's eyes. His own downcast, he watched instead the slowly responding appendage, which had now begun to lengthen and fill out.
"Okay," Bodie agreed complaisantly.
"What about 'em?" Bodie pushed upward to kiss Doyle's mouth. Since no objection was made, he made a meal of his partner, hedonistically savoring the taste and texture of him. He was rapidly rousing under Doyle's continued manipulation, a feat he would have thought impossible five minutes before. In fact, after the previous night in Doyle's bed-could they have done all that in only three hours?-he had to assume that Doyle must be capable of raising the dead.
"I'd react badly," Doyle articulated, once he was free to speak.
"So would I. We're giving them up, then?"
"You don't sound too put out."
"I'm crushed. Lie back, will you?" Triumph and something that might have been awe underlay Doyle's husky voice. He took his time stroking and kneading Bodie's body while sampling random morsels of flesh with mouth and tongue, all the while gravitating downward. Inevitably, Bodie's tumescence came under this same scrupulous oral inspection. Before long he had been relished, licked, nuzzled, and sucked, no aspect of his straining organ left unexplored. And then Doyle settled down to work.
Bodie drifted on molten sensation. Fingers buried in his partner's curly hair, his hands rode the slow up-and-down motion of Doyle's head-up and down, up and down, pace increasing...slowing...increasing again, that pliant mouth somehow, improbably, knowing exactly how much pressure to apply, and where. Bodie's hands stilled only when the instant came upon him, which considering his depleted state occurred with most impressive speed. A moment passed, an hour, an age. Shattered, Bodie lay immobile, while Doyle thoughtfully lapped him clean.
Sometime later, half asleep, he was urged to roll onto his stomach. Bodie groggily complied, spreading his legs and shifting up a little at Doyle's prompting. He shivered involuntarily as his partner pressed down upon him and placed a breathy kiss behind one ear, raising a flurry of gooseflesh all over Bodie's body. Doyle's encompassing warmth and bristling chest hair felt good upon Bodie's back; the hard, velvet length of him gliding unthreateningly between his buttocks, intriguing; and the rush of his breath, hot-like an August breeze scorching the sensitive skin at the nape of his neck. Even the sting of Doyle's teeth cutting into his shoulder as he thrust harder and faster was a sensation Bodie would commit to memory for later review.
It was not long before Doyle gave a soft, gasping groan. Bodie felt the twitches and tugs, as well as a spreading dampness, that betrayed his partner's orgasm-and wondered, with some bemusement, what it would feel like to have those same sensations inside him.
Collapsing heavily upon Bodie's back, Doyle let out a long, sated sigh. "Bloody perfect," he murmured.
As exhausted as his partner, Bodie only smiled into the pillow and fell instantly asleep.
Bodie settled the handset in its cradle for the third time that morning, then sat staring with intense dislike at the small message slip which held pride of place on top of the desk. From the corridor he heard voices: Doyle and a woman Bodie recognized. Upon arrival at HQ, they had gone separate ways-Doyle to Cowley's office for a word or two in Betty's ear; Bodie to their shared cubicle to use the phone and start in on any paperwork that had appeared in their brief absence.
The woman laughed; Doyle's footsteps grew louder with his approach while the clicking of heels faded in the opposite direction.
Doyle appeared in the opening. "Mmmm mm mmm," he announced through teeth clenched shut on a slip of paper.
Expression neutral, Bodie reached out and plucked the note from Doyle's mouth, leaving a corner caught between his lips. While Doyle attempted to spit the remnant out more or less gracefully, Bodie relieved one of his partner's hands of its burden of coffee; the tea, he knew, was for Doyle. Bodie said, "Repeat all last transmission, over." He took a slurp and closed his eyes as the hot liquid, bearing its most important ingredient, caffeine, melted a path down his throat. "Didn't understand a word of that, mate."
"You're lucky," Doyle repeated with excruciatingly precise enunciation, "that I believe in fidelity." He rescued his note from Bodie's mangling fingers and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
With a sniff, Doyle cocked his head toward the corridor. "That's the second offer I've had this morning."
"Offer? Angela, you mean?" Bodie asked, making the obvious connection; he had recognized the pool secretary's voice. He arranged his hands until both forefingers and thumbs formed a frame of sorts around the message slip that lay flat in front of him.
"Yeah. Of a healing fuck."
Unconcerned, Bodie tolerantly awaited the explanation he knew would be forthcoming.
"Y'know, to put me back on the straight and narrow."
"Oh, that." Quirking an ironic brow, Bodie commiserated, "Me, too."
"Ursula. Only she suggested a three-way."
"You, me, and her?"
"Right. I don't, however, think she had healing in mind. Who else? You said you'd had two offers."
Doyle slouched in the empty chair, wrapped his hands round his beaker, and spotted on the breast of his shirt the wedge of paper that had gotten caught in his mouth. He puffed hard. The scrap spun into the air then slowly wafted floorward. "Lucas." Eyes glinting, Doyle grinned. "He suggested a three-way, too."
"Bloody hell." Bodie took refuge in his coffee.
Bracing himself against the edge of the desk, Doyle leaned the chair backward on its rear legs. "Told him no, in case you're wondering; Angela, too, for that matter."
"And Ursula," Bodie conceded, meeting Doyle's smirk with one of his own. "There's more, though, isn't there?"
"You always could tell. Yeah. The Cow wanted a word when I looked in on Betty."
"Pulling us off Livi's case."
Bodie protested, "What?"
"You heard. There's a big op about to go critical. He's given us one more day to tie everything up."
"And if we can't?"
"The other op's more important. Says Cowley." To placate his partner, Doyle added, "Bloody important, apparently." A flick of serpentine brows offered the equivalent of a shrug. "He even cancelled Livi's inside protection, Bodie. Said he had no choice."
Eyes closed, Bodie sat back. The chair groaned under his weight. "Wonderful."
With two fingers, Doyle withdrew the message slip from his pocket; he held it up for display. "And Francesca Oldman has made a formal complaint about our Forensics people taking bite patterns from all of her animals first thing this morning without her consent."
"Thought she might-and she didn't look one to procrastinate. Morrie'd already set out when I rang to report the break-ins at our flats. Must've descended on her kennel like a plague of locusts at pearly dawn."
"In his usual delicate fashion. Cowley said she's very influential; several MPs are reported to have added their objections on her behalf regarding our `unwarranted presumption.' "
Darting a glance at his watch, Bodie exclaimed softly, "By ten past nine? She must be influential!"
Beaker at his mouth, Doyle took a long swallow. "According to Betty, Livi's talking."
"She's out of the coma? When did that happen? What's she saying?"
Smiling tolerantly, Doyle put the beaker on the table. "Well, she isn't really-more of a `twilight' consciousness, so her doctor says; middle of the night, twoish; and, `Oldman...dog.' "
"That's all? `Oldman...dog'?" Bodie complained.
" 'S all anyone could make out for certain. That was Murphy, by the way. He was on duty at the time."
"Murphy's reliable. He may even have got it right."
Purposefully, Doyle eased his chair forward. He jabbed a finger toward the slip of paper Bodie had been spinning round and round between his hands. "What've you got there, then?"
Bodie's gaze fell to the message slip. "Charles York rang in just after two-immediately he arrived back in London. He's asked that we meet him at the crematorium."
Meticulously, Doyle said, "When you say `we,' you mean CI5, right? Not you and me specifically?"
"Actually, I mean us specifically. Asked for us by name, he did." Bodie let the import of this sink in. "What d'you suppose he knows?"
"Whatever Quayle told him, I expect. About us-and this bloody case."
"Maybe he can tell us what Quayle didn't have a chance to: that Francesca Oldman has trained one, or more, of her dogs to kill on command."
Shifting uneasily, Doyle looked Bodie full in the face. "Maybe. What time's the cremation?"
"And he rang here at two this morning?" Pulling a pained face, Doyle sympathized, "He can't have got much sleep."
"No." The word was weighted with no special emphasis. But Bodie's eyes sought out Doyle's, met, and held them. "Common complaint, just lately."
"Prefer our reasons to his," Doyle commented lightly.
"Too right." Mechanically, Bodie went on, "Morrie's promised the bite pattern reports by this afternoon-first thing. We already know Livi's wounds match those of the deceased MP, by the way." Bodie pointed to a typed report lying amidst the detritus littering the head of the desk. "And your dog count at Ladyhaye tallies with the number Lucy Flower gave me-including `Domoboy,' or whatever the bugger's name was-y'know, the one-"
"Yeah, the dog decorating the floor in Miss Oldman's study."
"Him. Until we have something to confirm our suspicions, we can't make a bloody move."
"Even though we know it must be her-Francesca Oldman-who's behind it all."
"Even though." Bodie watched his partner give in to a racking yawn, followed by an elaborate writhing stretch that was so methodically all-encompassing, not a single muscle could have been overlooked. An image drawn from recent memory came into Bodie's mind: Doyle, lying beside him, long and sinuous. The impetus to touch was irresistible. Bodie's hand moved up from its resting place on Doyle's hip to his chest, up, fingers swimming through soft dark chest hair, to the base of Doyle's throat. There his hand came to a rest, surrounding that strongly muscled column. Throughout, Doyle watched him, eyes clear, trusting, filled with new tranquillity-but very little sleep, of which they had stolen an hour, no more, between them. Free to do as he would, and revelling in that freedom, Bodie bent forward to kiss him. There was no passion at the source of his action, only a well-established affection. So long as Doyle was agreeable, this was a new practice he intended to make habitual.
"Hm, very nice," Doyle murmured thickly.
The familiar voice broke through his wool-gathering; the image broke and reformed-still Doyle, curly locks, drowsy green eyes, provocative mouth-all his.
"You were a long way away," Doyle remarked.
"Remembering," Bodie explained simply, "this morning."
There had been no tedious discussion regarding their comportment in public, on the job, or in the company of their mates-nor would there be. In this new aspect of their lives, as in all other facets of their shared existence, they were in total, intuitive accord.
"What d'you say we pay Livi a visit?" Bodie asked. He pushed away from the desk and took to his feet.
"Can't hurt. From there to the crematorium?"
"We'll stop in at the hospital cafeteria first. I'm starved."
Patting his stomach, Doyle murmured with some surprise, "And me."
Waiting in the car park outside the modern building that housed the crematorium where Trevor Quayle's earthly remains were to be reduced to ashes, Bodie and Doyle watched the departure of his mourners under a gun-metal sky. They appeared in clumps, two, three, sometimes more, all somberly dressed, all converging upon the black-clad man who received them at the door. And all-including their greeter-shared a single expression mixed with grief: incredulity.
After several minutes, the mourners began to disperse, filing away toward their cars, which ranged from a raggedy Mini to an enormous, plushly appointed Mercedes limousine. Before long, only the dark-haired man with angular features remained: Charles York.
From the edge of the car park, reporters for the tabloids as well as the respectable press impatiently directed their photographers to move in on him. As they approached, bulbs flashing, Doyle and Bodie stepped out of the silver Capri. They were prepared to delay their own interview no more than a few minutes for the sake of the media vultures. But Charles York adroitly dismissed his uninvited callers with a few words which neither agent was near enough to hear. Polite, but adamant, he sent them on their way-and in short order, they begrudgingly took their leave. His expressionless gaze traveled to the Capri, settled on the two men standing beside it, and unhurriedly took their measure.
"I think he knows us," Doyle said.
"I'm beginning to think we're famous," muttered Bodie.
Beckoned forward by a flick of the hand, they started across the car park toward the paved entry of the building. Their footfalls crunched upon gravel, mingling with those of the thwarted reporters who wandered toward their waiting cars. The CI5 agents were eyed in passing, but seemingly rejected as unnewsworthy material. Theirs were faces known only to Trevor Quayle-and his lover-and Bodie would not have preferred it otherwise.
When they were a few feet away, Charles York stepped forward to meet them. "Hello," he said simply. As he took each man's hand in turn, applying a firm shake, he spoke their names, "Bodie. Doyle."
"We've never met, Mr. York," Bodie said mildly. "How is it you know us?"
"Trevor, of course. He used to discuss everything with me." The actor skillfully ordered his features into a mask both reassuring and noncommittal. "I've seen your photos. He has several, y'know." The facade wavered, York hearing his lapse; as quickly, he recovered. "They're locked away in a safe deposit box. You needn't worry now they'll ever come to light."
"From what Mr. Quayle said, that was never a matter of concern."
"No," York agreed seriously. "He thought you exceptional." Tipping his head with its thatch of straight, dark brown hair to one side, he murmured, "And he thought you both most attractive. Perhaps that influenced his judgment."
For a man who had just suffered a tragic loss, Charles York was well in control of his emotions and himself. He stood just on six feet, lean, neatly proportioned, exuding cosmopolitan gentility in both dress and manner. Yet his eyes were puffy and red-tinged, and the harsh lines in his face looked to have been carved there, even though they were scars of grief rather than age.
"Did Trevor tell you about Francesca Oldman?" Bodie asked.
"Yes," York replied. "And I will tell you all that you wish to know-" He paused, giving emphasis to his next words, "-more, I fear, than you may wish to know. But- I should like to ask some questions of my own first, if I may?"
York gestured toward the building. "Inside. There's a place we can talk undisturbed, out of this terrible wind. It has teeth, I think."
They were greeted at the door by the director of the facility, who acceded to York's request with haste. He ushered them into a medium-size chamber-used, he informed them, for viewing the deceased, secular services, and, as in their case, private conference-and promised to provide tea and coffee forthwith.
York thanked him, then watched until the man left the room. When the door had closed with a decisive click, ensuring their solitude, the actor turned searching eyes onto the two agents. "Please," he said quietly, "tell me how Trevor died."
"He-" Doyle cast a sidelong glance at Bodie. "He was attacked by a large dog."
"Yes. A-" Bodie stumbled, "A Borzoi, we think. That's a Russian Wolf-"
"Hound. I know the breed," York interrupted. "Go on."
"We found him on the floor, in the doorway of his flat."
"He was dead by then?" York asked stonily.
"As near as," Doyle replied. "He tried to speak- But his throat-"
"I see." York folded his hands together on the table in front of him. "Could you make out what it was he was trying to say, Mr. Doyle?"
"Not really. His mouth moved like this." Doyle's lips described the motions. "We thought he might have been trying to say `woman.' "
"Though it could've been something else. `Why me?' looks similar, for example," said Bodie in the interest of accuracy.
He was accorded a glacial, blue stare. "The word was `woman,' I suspect," York contended. "He was trying to warn you."
"Of Francesca Oldman?"
There came a rap at the door. Their tea and coffee appeared, delivered by a young woman. After smoothly placing her burden in the center of the small table at which they sat, she effaced herself with a promise to return should they require, or wish, anything else. The door closed soundlessly behind her.
"Yes," Charles York continued, as though there had been no interruption. "Francesca Oldman. You seem quite certain of the type of dog involved. Have you seen it by any chance?"
"Only Bodie's had that pleasure," Doyle replied. "Twice now, in fact."
"I've seen a dog," Bodie modified. "A Borzoi, I think, but it's larger than most of that breed, according to Miss Oldman's assistant, who says they seldom stand higher than thirty-three inches."
A touch annoyed by York's peremptory manner, Bodie drawled, "It looks like a Borzoi; y'know, the long nose-" A glance in Doyle's direction, "-sorry, muzzle; the shape; overall configuration. Stands about so high. This one has long, silver hair-catches the light. Quite distinctive."
"Was it male or female?"
"Never got close enough to tell. But I think-"
"-that it was female?"
Features carefully schooled to impassivity, Bodie demurred, "Is that what I was going to say?"
A frown spasmed across York's face. "Forgive me, Mr. Bodie. I do not mean to be impolite. I-I am not at my best today."
The actor's hands were trembling, Bodie saw, and of a sudden he knew an unwanted empathy for his interrogator, this actor who eschewed the limelight save when he was acting, this man who had lost his lover, his partner, of fifteen years. His control was to be admired; though in his place, Bodie had no doubt he would prove himself equally removed. Yet, there was no questioning the cost exacted by such a facade.
He did not envy Charles York.
"The dog may have been female," Bodie relented. "Does it matter?"
"If Trev's theory holds any water, yes. He believed it was a female."
"Have some coffee, Mr. York," Doyle suggested, already pouring a fluted china cup nearly full. He added sugar and milk in generous quantities, then handed cup and saucer to the actor.
"Thank you. I- It's been all go. I haven't had a chance-"
Shoving a serviette piled high with a random selection of biscuits into the man's reach, Doyle said, "You know Olivia Wingate, don't you, sir?"
Carefully lowering his cup, York said, "Yes, of course. She and Trevor read English at college together."
"You knew Trevor had contacted her?"
"Yet you asked for Bodie and me this morning. Why is that?"
"Antony Clarke-a close friend-tried to reach her, to inform her of the funeral arrangements. He finally got hold of Kevin Bishop, her boyfriend, who told him that Miss Wingate had been hospitalized recently. She, too, was attacked by a large dog, I understand. Has she been able to describe what happened to her?"
"Not yet," Doyle replied grimly. "She's only now starting to come out of a coma."
"But she is safe? If she can identify her attacker, it is imperative-"
"She's safe," Bodie asserted. "We looked in on her just before coming round here; sleeping like a babe in her mum's arms. There's an agent with her round the clock. She'll be all right."
"I hope," York muttered, "one agent will be enough." He glanced down; the mound of biscuits caught his eye, and he frowned, as though repulsed by the sight of them. "Did- Did Trevor seem-frightened when you spoke with him?"
"About Olivia? Yes, a bit."
A muscle twitched at the corner of York's mouth. "A bit." He set the delicate cup gently on the table and spread his hands before him, a strangely disarming gesture. "I must tell you that was unlike him. Utterly unlike him." York's hollow eyes willed them to believe this. "On the contrary, Trevor was the most fearless man I've ever known. It's important that you know that. As a freelance writer, he traveled everywhere-Northern Ireland, the Middle East. He was wounded, did you know? Lost rather a large chunk of his left leg to a piece of shrapnel. You won't have noticed; he made a point of compensating for it. No limp-though it was a ghastly-looking thing." The actor gazed emptily into the half-full cup. "Trev requested Miss Wingate's assistance as a last resort. He recognized that he was out of his depth."
"I'm afraid we really don't know a great deal about him, Mr. York. That's one reason we were hoping to get in touch with you as soon as possible." Bodie regretted his words as soon as they were spoken; he had not intended the implied rebuke.
York closed his eyes, then covered them with his hands. "I did what I thought best," he said firmly. "Trevor was dead. And I-I still had a job to do." His hands fell away. "Perhaps, in my-" Head bowed, he said hoarsely, "Perhaps my reasoning has been flawed. I ought to have realized sooner that others might be at risk. In any case," he said, very softly, "I knew that to be true this morning when I arrived at Trevor's flat."
Unaccountably stricken at the thought that evidence of Quayle's dying might have been left for York to find, Doyle ejaculated, "You don't mean- That is, surely, the place had been-"
"Cleaned? Yes, of course. Friends had seen to that. No. It was the permanency of it all. The realization. Seeing him this morning- So like, and yet not-" Charles York heaved a sigh, dragged an unsteady hand across his face and drew himself up straight. "You will not believe what I am about to say," he intoned with quiet certainty. "You will not believe me-but, for your sakes and mine, you must."
Casting a quick glance at his conspicuously expressionless partner, Bodie said, "Right. Go on, then, Mr. York. Please tell us everything."
"Light's flashing," Doyle remarked unnecessarily, his partner a step ahead of him, key even then twisting in the lock of the driver's door.
With easy grace, Bodie simultaneously plopped his backside on the patterned seat, took the microphone out of its holder, and stretched across to unlatch the passenger door. "3.7 to Base."
The transceiver crackled at once. "Been trying to reach you lads. Where are you?"
"Hazelden Crematorium. What's up?"
"Two things. Morrie's not best pleased with you lot-appears he wasted his time and the taxpayers' money this morning."
"No bite pattern matches, you mean?"
"That's what I mean. Concerning which, Francesca Oldman had a word in the Old Man's ear-in person, like. Stormed into HQ like she owned the place. Mr. Cowley was not best pleased, either."
"Bloody hell," Doyle breathed. He turned his face into his fist and stared out through the passenger window at the surrounding field.
Chagrin and disappointment determinedly nonexistent in his voice, Bodie calmly asked, "The second thing?"
"Livi's asking for you and Doyle."
"How long since?"
"Half an hour-a little less."
"Of course. Surprised you couldn't hear the cheering coming down the crematorium flue."
"Right. We're on our way. Hang on-"
"Miss Oldman wasn't still in the building when word came round; y'know, about Livi?"
"Funny you should ask." The disembodied voice gave a slight laugh. "She was, in fact. But don't worry on that account. Cowley put her off the track. Told her there was a lottery pool-CI5 and some other organizations, and CI5 won. Wish it were true."
"She bought it?"
"Why not? Wasn't her dogs, remember?"
"Thanks, mate. Maybe we should hand the case over to you." Bodie's hand worked the key in the ignition. "3.7 out."
Reversing back-wheels spat gravel and dirt high into the air behind them. Lowering his hand, Doyle gave his partner a considering look. "What are you worried about? York's mad as a hatter. He never put the wind up you with that bit of nonsense, did he?"
" 'Course not. But Oldman's behind this somehow. And she won't be put off with some stupid explanation about CI5 winning a lottery."
Head shaking wonderingly from side to side, Doyle remarked, "I ask you, a werewolf."
"Grief can do strange things to a person." The nose of the car hovered just shy of the flow of traffic. At the first possible opportunity, Bodie bulled his way in, accelerating until the front grille of the Capri was virtually riding on the bumper of the car ahead of them.
"A bit. Livi's asked to see us. Which means she knows we've taken over the case."
Doyle gave his watch a glance. "Murph's with her by now. It's his shift till tomorrow morning." One side of his mouth twisted upward. "York's an actor, mate. Overimaginative. The artistic soul, and all that."
"I know, Doyle. Still- It would answer a load of questions, wouldn't it?"
"Why the dog we've seen-I've seen-doesn't look like any of the ones at Oldman's kennel or her Chelsea digs."
"Easy," Doyle said assuredly. "Either she's using a temporary coloring-wash on, wash off-or it's not even one of her dogs. That would also account for the size discrepancy. What else?"
"The bloody thing getting into our flats. Werewolves," Bodie almost stumbled on the word, "are supposed to be supernatural, yes?" He shrugged, making it clear that this was all for the sake of argument.
"More likely Oldman's got the assistance of someone extremely knowledgeable about sophisticated electronics. Besides, you said yourself you didn't actually see the beast in the flat."
"Felt it pass," Bodie said stubbornly.
"Insufficient evidence. Next?"
"Trevor Quayle-Mr. Fearless, according to Charles York-handing a sensational story over to a CI5 agent."
"C'mon, Bodie: Where murder's involved, strategic withdrawal's the better part of valor. Anything else?"
"What Olivia was muttering this morning, `Oldman...dog'-maybe she meant Oldman is the dog. And maybe that's what Trevor Quayle was trying to say before he died."
"Pure conjecture." Doyle laughed out loud. "Maybe we ought to ask Morrie to take Oldman's bite sample!" When Bodie yielded a grin, Doyle went on, "Is that all, then?"
"It would account for the various ways all those MPs died. Heart attack, suicide-"
"What about HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, eh?" Doyle interrupted. "Use a bloody great dog to scare the wits out of someone. And she probably didn't use a dog all the time-the shooting death, for example. But we're not after a werewolf, for Christ's sake. There's no such thing, Bodie."
"Okay, okay. That's all, your Honor. I yield to the court."
They drove on for some minutes in silence, Doyle ostensibly watching the scenery pass by. Out of the corner of his eye, when the traffic allowed, Bodie watched his partner instead, the lanky length of him slumped indolently in his seat, the heel of one leg hooked on the dashboard. He was deceptively still, only the fingers of his right hand idly moving as they traced the bulge formed by the wad of notes buried in his pocket. It crossed Bodie's mind that he hoped Doyle would soon be successful in the purchase of his beloved bike. That unsightly lump spoiled his view.
Doyle suddenly turned toward him. "D'you really believe any of that rubbish?" he demanded.
" 'Course not," Bodie replied placidly. "Winding you up, that's all." He felt the weight of his partner's stare for some seconds.
"York believes it."
"Like I said, grief-"
"Yeah." Doyle looked out the window again. "They really loved each other, y'know?"
"Is that so surprising?"
"Fifteen years. 'S a long time."
Aware that his mouth had gone dry, Bodie asked, "Is that what you want, mate? Fifteen years?"
Doyle turned to face him. "Longer."
"Till death us do part?"
Smiling to himself at the note of defiance in Doyle's voice, Bodie said simply, "I do. You?"
"Till death us do part," Doyle agreed with satisfaction.
"Right," Bodie said gravely. Inside, he was soaring.
The car rolled into the drive leading to the hospital car park twenty-five minutes later under an increasingly lowering sky. Freezing rain whipped by gusting winds pelted the building as they surfaced from the underground stair in the main lobby of the hospital.
Several elevator stops later, they found Murphy, tall and expressionless, standing outside the door to Olivia Wingate's private room. At sight of Bodie and Doyle, he gave a weary, welcoming smile. "The lovebirds," he droned.
"It's formal now," Doyle said, flipping a ringless ring finger into the air for emphasis. "I expect something quite impressive here very soon."
"Best thing for you, Ray," Murphy said charitably. "Taking your sort off the streets."
"He doesn't believe me." Doyle turned wounded eyes Bodie's way. "Tell him."
Reaching for the door handle, Bodie said, " 'S true, mate. Doyle's promised me a sapphire to match my eyes." He fluttered them winningly at Murphy while his partner sputtered in the background.
"Sapphire! Don't remember anything about-"
Murphy placed a hand flat against the door, holding it shut. "Not just yet, eh?"
"She wants to see us. We were summoned."
"I know, I know. I'm the one's been listening to her babble for the last hour. No, there's a nurse in there with her just now. Asked me to ensure her privacy for a few minutes."
"A nurse." Bodie said, suddenly tense.
"Just a nurse- has your hearing gone, along with your senses, man? You and Doyle-you are joking, right?"
"What'd she look like?" asked Doyle, starkly.
"Young. Pretty. Wearing the usual rig. Had her name on it and everything. `F. Starik'-noticed it because it's Russian: Means `old man.' Thought it was a hell of a coincidence, what with Francesca Oldman, and all."
"You've seen her before?"
"Well, no. But-"
"Jesus! " A split-second later, gun in hand, Bodie brought one foot up and kicked in the door. It crashed against the inside wall. The wood sheared away from the metal hinges, bounced once, then came to rest at a sharp angle on its side.
Doyle caught his breath; Murphy's incipient objection concerning Bodie's cavalier use of violence was cut off mid-word. "My God," he said instead.
The inside of the room had been transformed. The bedclothes, the walls, the floor-even the window, at some distance from the bed-were covered in a fine, red spray. Olivia Wingate lay unmoving in the center of the mattress. Her hospital gown, once a pale, pleasant green, now was soaked through from neck to waist, as obscenely liquid and dark as the bottom of the Thames. The lush stench of concentrated gore was nauseating; coupled with the grisly appearance of the room, it fairly overwhelmed the senses.
Bodie moved first. Gingerly, he stepped across the threshold, then tracked slowly inward, taking care to keep the bed between him and the far side of the room. He heard Doyle swing wide to his left, glimpsing him out of the corner of his eye. Murphy was behind them, soundlessly bringing up the rear.
At the top of the bed, Bodie made a hasty visual examination of the dead woman. There was no indication of a struggle; Olivia's murderer must have approached without alerting her to anything amiss-or surely the woman would have cried out for assistance. Death, Bodie therefore presumed, had come swiftly and efficiently enough to silence an injured woman while her protectors stood just beyond the closed door.
"Come out," Murphy said, affably. "We know you're still here."
For all that he spoke quietly, the sound of Murphy's voice set Bodie's nerve endings atwitch.
Doyle was given no opportunity to finish his sentence: From beneath the foot of the bed, a huge, blood-smeared thing burst forth. Doyle cried out a warning; braced in a firing stance, and in line for a perfect shot, he loosed only one round before the creature hurled itself at Murphy who stood in its way, in front of the opening. In that same instant, Murphy pulled the trigger of his Browning. The dull thuck of both bullets plowing into their target was plainly heard, if not seen-yet the animal scarcely seemed to register their impact, smashing into the tall agent and dashing him to the floor. It bounded through the opening and charged into the corridor, Doyle fast on its feathery tail.
"Inform Cowley!" Bodie shouted, leaving Murphy to regain his feet on his own. Doyle was already half-way down the wide corridor; there was no time to spare.
"Damn it, Ray, wait for me!" The words were muttered under Bodie's breath as he saw Doyle vanish through the swinging door that led to the stairwell. Casting a last glance behind him, Bodie saw a number of people converging on Olivia's room-the reports from the two weapons along with the din of forced entry would undoubtedly draw them like flies. If Murphy needed help-if he were badly injured-they would see to him.
In the stairwell, he heard the irregular thump-thump-thump of Doyle's feet plunging down several steps at once. Bodie followed suit, determined to catch him up. A very near miss slowed him just a little. With his neck broken he should do Doyle no good at all.
"Bodie, third floor!" The voice wafted up to him from some distance; Bodie deduced unhappily that he had lost more ground than he had reckoned. Pushing himself to the edge of recklessness, Bodie reached the next floor just as one of two doors that opened off the landing swung shut. Had he been an instant later, he would have missed that slight, betraying motion.
Shoving through, he came within inches of bowling over a white-smocked orderly juggling a recently disturbed armful of sheets and towels. Heedless of the man's cry of surprise and indignation, Bodie scoured both ends of the corridor, spying the heel of a trainer as it disappeared round the far corner. Bodie threw himself past the man and took up pursuit once more.
To his relief, he found Doyle only a short distance away down the adjoining corridor, standing at ready outside a closed door. A jerk of the head told Bodie all he needed to know. Shifting into position at one side of the outer frame, he watched as his partner prepared to breach the entry.
"Here, you!" a sharp voice cried out. "You lads can't go in there-that's the ladies' loo!"
Doyle sprang forward, planting his foot dead center in the door. It gave way before his weight, swinging wide on its hinges. He swooped inside, carefully remaining in Bodie's sight at all times. With his free hand, he gestured Bodie to join him.
Long and narrow, the room disclosed four, freestanding washing-up sinks positioned along the wall opposite the entry, and four toilet stalls against the wall adjacent to that. At the end of the bank of toilets, directly across from where they stood, was a closed door.
Systematically, Doyle inspected each lavatory, while Bodie guarded the now-sealed entrance. Rumbling confusion could be heard increasing in volume in the corridor without. Bodie checked the lock; the room was secured from outside interference.
"F. Starik went into Livi's room," Bodie said in a velvety whisper.
"And a flaming great dog came out. I know." Gaunt with tension, Doyle padded toward the untried inner door.
"The window wasn't open."
"Noticed that, too. Could've been, though. Long enough to get the brute inside. Maybe she fooled Livi, opened the window to let the dog in, closed it, and went under the bed. I didn't look, did you?" A long-fingered hand slowly surrounded the handle.
"Hardly. In any case, it wasn't Francesca Oldman-Cowley would've seen to it that Murph was given a description."
Glancing over his shoulder to see that Bodie was in place, Doyle began to open the door. Voice low and hoarse, he suggested, "Your Lucy Flower, perhaps?"
"Not my Lucy Flower," Bodie muttered peevishly.
The door gave way at Doyle's urging. Beyond the threshold was another chamber. It appeared to match the dimensions of the lavatory, but this area was quite obviously used for storage. Shelves piled high with towels, bed linen, and hospital gowns obscured three walls. A large linen collection trolley, partially filled, waited ready in the shadows at the farthest end of the room. Again, a door took up the opposite inside corner. It stood open.
Running water and a clear, high voice humming an unremarkable tune were audible from the next chamber. Bodie and Doyle advanced into the huge toweling cupboard, locked the door at their backs, and swiftly proceeded to make a comprehensive examination of the towels, sheets, and personnel and patient apparel stocked there, lest someone-or something-be hiding among the deep, fabric mounds. Doyle put a foot into the bottom of the cloth-draped trolley; barely laden, it offered no resistance. To make certain nothing was harbored therein, Doyle leaned forward, bent completely over the metal frame, and reached inside.
He surfaced empty-handed.
Straightening, he drew a face at Bodie, and raised his brows in the direction of the neighboring shower room. For all their thoroughness, they had expended only seconds in the storage chamber; all told since entering the women's lavatory, less than a minute.
Bodie nodded. This time he went first. When he stood on the tile floor a yard or so inside the room, he made a complicated wriggle using his gun as a pointer. Expertly interpreting the gesture, Doyle signalled his understanding and complied, stepping into the chamber and moving inward a predesignated distance, where he then paused.
The room was as simply accoutered as the first; its dimensions no longer, but somewhat wider. Four shower stalls, fronted by plastic curtains suspended by rings from metal rods, ranged against the far wall; a narrow, wooden bench took up the center of the floor; and a series of steel lockers, tiered in threes, provided a metal veneer for the wall abutting on the door. There was no entry point other than the door by which they had entered.
The last shower was in use, the person therein visible through the curtain as an amorphous shape. Only her high, clear voice gave away her gender.
With the sureness of choreography, Bodie and Doyle made a sweep of the room, peering inside the empty stalls and glancing into the depths beyond the last triple tier of lockers. Then Doyle pointed down at the floor of the occupied shower.
Red. Rivulets of blood eddied about the bottom edge of the plastic curtain, trapped there by the steady flow of water pouring out of the shower tap.
Wordlessly directing Doyle toward the far side of the stall, Bodie waited until his partner was in place. He carefully curled the tips of his fingers around one side of the curtain and gave it a violent tug.
A woman stood there, hair slicked flat against her head, her bare, pale body streaming with water. Slowly and unconcernedly, she looked round until her face was clearly discernible. It was Francesca Oldman.
"Miss Oldman," Bodie said. "Can you explain what you're doing here-?" The words evaporated in his mouth. The woman's body was overrun with small, round scars: Abdomen, chest, the upper shoulder near the spine-no vital part of her person remained unmarked. They looked, Bodie thought wildly, like bullet holes. But such wounds ought to have been fatal. Unless-
"What are you?" he breathed.
Her smile widened. She turned toward them, arms falling to her sides, utterly unconscious of her nudity. "I think you already know," she murmured.
And then she began to change.
It started with her feet, a reformation of muscle and bone, skin and hair that should have been impossible-but, as witnessed at close quarters by Bodie, all too evidently not impossible at all. The reconfiguration spread upward through her body with shocking speed and fluidity.
Doyle's shout-not his first-finally overcame Bodie's paralysis. He spun round, one foot slipping on a patch of wet tile. Desperately regaining his footing, he bolted for the door. There he skidded to a stop beside his partner. Together they brought their weapons to bear.
Fully transformed, the creature-once more a huge, elegantly proportioned, silver Borzoi-regally emerged from the shower stall. Bodie fired, then fired again. The .44 bucked in his hand-four shots, five shots, six. Beside him, the Walther was spewing bullets in rapid-fire mode. In the confined space, the explosive reports were deafening.
Each bullet struck home, and with each, the animal faltered-but only very briefly-before continuing to saunter toward them. At the last possible moment, Bodie grabbed hold of Doyle's arm, slung him across the threshold into the linen chamber, and deftly slid through after him-almost catching a long muzzle in the door as he dragged it shut.
"Ray- Doyle! Oh, shit!"
Doyle was down, his back against the closed and locked door which led into the lavatory, legs askew in front of him, head lolling awkwardly to one side. "Ray," Bodie whispered. "Doyle, what happened?" A cursory examination uncovered a sizable, and rising, lump on Doyle's left temple half-hidden under a fall of curls. At a guess, Bodie either had thrown his partner off balance with the uncalculated strength of his shove, or wet-soled, Doyle's feet had gone out from under him. Incapable of slowing his collision with the door, Doyle must have suffered a blow to the head-enough to stun him, and certainly enough to remove him from action.
Sluggishly recoiling from Bodie's cautious touch, Doyle groggily opened his eyes. He attempted a smile to reassure his anxious partner, but even that slight effort was too great. His eyes glazed over and rolled up in his head.
"Damn it, Ray, I need you," Bodie exclaimed.
Violent bursts of sound issuing from the other side of the door suggested that time might be at a premium.
"The woman's a bloody werewolf, Ray!" Bodie gasped aloud, finding some comfort in addressing his partner, even though Doyle would be tendering no advice. "What works against werewolves? It's silver, isn't it? Silver- Where am I going to find something silver?"
Doyle's person was subjected to a brisk, impersonal search. For once, he wore neither bracelet nor neck chain. "Ray!" Bodie slapped his own pockets, thoughts desperately dervishing in his head. There must be something-
The door gave a dreadful squawk, wood and frame rattling noisily before the creature's stubborn assault. She was playing them about. At any moment she could easily transform back into her human form and simply open the door.
"God damn it," Bodie protested indignantly, "there're no such things as werewolves!"
His eyes fell upon the incongruous bulge lying under denim at the juncture of Doyle's left hip and thigh. He heard himself say, " 'Bout the only place pound sterling means anything these days." Pound sterling- Of course! The silver stripe, the one running down the right side of all banknotes, the one his father had rabbited on about. "The backing of the Bank of England; the pledge of the Treasury; the proof of British soundness."
Wasting no more time, Bodie whipped out his pocket knife and surgically removed the roll of notes. As swiftly as slightly trembling fingers would allow, Bodie removed the rubber band and flattened the body-warm paper across his knee.
A much louder, splintering creak urged him to hasten his efforts; from the other side of the door at their backs, came the steady rumble of voices and the insistent thud of shoulders attempting to break in. Though the comfort of numbers was hugely appealing at this moment, Bodie dared not risk Oldman's escaping again. And no one on the other side could know what they would be up against.
It took precious seconds to precisely order the notes so that the bit of silver lay in exactly the same place, no matter the denomination, nor the size, of the currency. That done, he then folded and refolded the entire lot lengthwise until he had one narrow strip of thickly padded currency. Aligning the metal stripe squarely over the bore of his .44, Bodie applied the rubber band to secure the notes in place. Then he groped in his jacket pocket for his speed loader.
The shriek of hinges being forcibly displaced brought his head up: One glimmering, canine eye glinted at him through the newly formed crack.
Knowing he had only seconds-perhaps less-Bodie turned the knob of the speed loader, releasing six bullets into the cylinder. He would need only one; but that one must deliver its silver payload where it could do maximum damage: the creature's heart.
Too late he realized the necessity for something to protect his arm, for he meant to let the beast come as close as possible before pulling the trigger. His leather jacket would have to do.
At that instant, Bodie's entire being prepared for battle, Doyle began to stir.
The door crashed inward, nearly torn off its frame. In one soaring leap, the animal was upon them, all teeth and powerful, long-nailed paws. Bodie threw up his left arm, felt the terrible, crushing pressure of closing jaws simultaneous with the formidable weight of the thing smashing into his chest.
The impact of the bullet resonated even through Bodie's arm. Not one to waste an opportunity, he emptied the remainder of his ammunition into the animal's body. Hot, sour breath washed over him; the teeth embedded in his flesh suddenly tore free and lunged toward his face. Though pain lit up every nerve ending between wrist and elbow, Bodie once more shoved his arm into harm's way-and once more it took the brunt of the animal's assault.
He cried out as frighteningly strong jaws clamped down on bone and tissue. Furious, he shoved forward-and amazingly, the animal faltered. The pressure eased, then let up altogether. The enormous wolfhound shuddered from head to tail, gasped frantically in a sudden struggle for air, then collapsed on the floor.
It lay only inches away, the great chest rising and falling to the accompaniment of loud, sucking noises. As Bodie watched, the unbelievable transformation began once more, this time in reverse. Francesca Oldman's head appeared, followed by her neck, shoulders, and torso.
With immense effort, she looked up at Bodie. Her mouth moved, but for a second no sound emerged. Swallowing hard, she tried again. She said slowly, but with perfect clarity, "I-bit-you."
Involuntarily Bodie glanced down at his savaged arm; blood welled through the punctured fabric of both shirt and jacket. He winced, the triumph in the woman's voice ringing in his ears.
Oldman mewled, her hand clutching at her chest. Her fingers twitched spasmodically, then stilled. All at once, she seemed to relax, every muscle in her body conceding the final battle.
"Cri-key." Doyle had regained full consciousness, his eyes wide open now and staring at the nude form lying dead at their feet. "Bodie, take a look at that!" He pointed at the woman's left leg. From the calf down, it retained the aspect of the Borzoi: Silky, silvery hair and canine leg configuration were preserved intact.
Faintly sickened by the sight, Bodie pushed himself back beside his partner. "You all right?"
"Got a hell of a knot on me head; but yeah, I think so. You?"
Bodie cautiously brought his arm up so that Doyle could see it.
A soft whistle rent the air. "Bad?"
"What's that?" Doyle gestured toward Bodie's pistol, which hung loosely from his right hand.
"My- Oh." The blackened remains of Doyle's money, scorched from the muzzle blast but still held in place by the rubber band, formed a ragged, Dantesque halo round the barrel.
Doyle's eyes fell to his trousers and zeroed in on the betraying slit in his pocket. He immediately grasped what had been done. "Bodie!"
"It saved our lives, Ray," Bodie defended himself. The pain in his arm had evolved into one enormous throb. His chest ached abominably from the force of the creature's assault. He fancied that by morning the imprint of four great paws-in the form of spectacular bruising-would lavishly decorate his ribs.
"My money saved our lives?" Doyle said hoarsely. " 'S that what you're saying?"
Offering a nod in lieu of the words he was too drained to speak, Bodie watched in some fascination as the look of intense horror on Doyle's face gradually melted away-to be replaced by resigned affection.
"What?" Bodie croaked, Doyle's amusement at this moment quite beyond him.
"Someday," Doyle murmured, his head coming to rest heavily on Bodie's shoulder, "I'll explain it to you."
In the main, Bodie decided, gauging the strength of his shackles with wrists bearing the welts and redness of previous tests, life is bloody unfair.
The lock-up garage was cold and dank. It smelled of mold and rust and oil. Taking up nearly three fourths of the musty interior was an old, battleship-grey Vauxhall. Despite its outworn look, the vehicle was actually in excellent condition, seen to on a regular basis by Bodie himself. It was his means of escape should the world turn against him-as it had been known to do on occasion-as well as replacement for a previous car which Cowley had had impounded some years before.
At present, Bodie was bound to the car's axle by a length of chain. Encircling his neck was a steel collar and round his wrists were heavy-duty cuffs-all of which had been purchased with ease, and very few questions, from an underground S&M club. Collar and manacles were connected to the longer piece of chain by industrial grade padlocks-neither of which Bodie had keys for. In essence, he was here for the duration; and tonight, he hoped, that duration would achieve its uneventful pinnacle. Contingency for his deliverance from this bizarre circumstance had been arranged-but not for another thirty-six hours would it be set in motion.
Bodie sighed and settled back into the folds of his sleeping bag. Several feet away, linked to the collar round his throat by a thin, but high tensile strand of wire, a cocked Browning High Power tracked his every movement. That tireless, impersonal sentinel kept sleep at bay as no drug could. Grimly, Bodie met its lethal stare.
He wanted to go home. More than that, he wanted to see Ray Doyle.
In Bodie's life there had been privation and succor, agony and pleasure; but only once, had there been unbridled exhilaration: That had occurred eight nights ago, in Raymond Doyle's arms. One night. Then, their world had disintegrated thanks, at least in part, to a woman who could physically change herself into something else. Given his present, unhappy situation, that night now seemed thousands of years in the past.
They had been sorely pressed since the day of Francesca Oldman's death. Bodie's injured forearm had been unceremoniously bandaged, his bottom pricked with some chemical cocktail meant to subvert any opportunistic bacteria, and he himself sent-sans painkillers-to attend Cowley, while Doyle had been held in hospital overnight for observation, quite vocally against his will.
Cowley's "big" op had gone critical that same night. For the ensuing six days all available manpower, including those on leave and the mildly ill or injured, had been placed on assignment. Once out of hospital, Doyle had been sent north to assist with the team in Leicester; in London, Bodie had headed up the group gathering information out of the south and its environs.
At the last moment, everything had fallen apart. Alerted somehow to CI5's surveillance, the terrorist group had gone to ground, vanished almost before anyone knew what had happened.
Cowley had not been best pleased, his wrath more excoriating than ever before. Contrite and exhausted, several overworked agents had drifted homeward to catch up on much needed sleep, while those who had fewer hours on record were left to run the show.
Bodie had not waited for a formal stand-down. After filing a bare bones report, he had promptly removed himself from Cowley's-and, by extension, Doyle's-reach. His plans had been formulated during the long, quiet hours spent mulling his options in place of sleep while on assignment. Accordingly, they had been well developed and, subsequently, smoothly executed.
And here he lay, having completed one and a half days of three that had promised excruciating discomfort and boredom. That potential had been unreservedly fulfilled; but every hour of continued normality was anxiously notched up as another major coup.
But there were still forty hours or thereabouts to go before he could anticipate rescue. Please, Ray....
Bodie closed his eyes, knowing he dared not sleep. Through the grimy skylight, the greying light of dusk shaded slowly to black. This, by far the most important night of the three, would soon be upon him.
So engrossed was he in his thoughts, Bodie almost missed the first furtive click. It came from without, almost certainly from the door to this particular unit-the outside lock? When it was repeated, Bodie incautiously sat up all at once, the blood draining from his heart as the Browning High Power swung about, unquestioningly maintaining the pre-set target in its sights.
Vision obscured by the hulking presence of the old Vauxhall, Bodie could only sit and listen. Click. Click click. The bolt grated noisily as it was withdrawn from its socket; seconds later, the internal restraints-placed there by Bodie-shriekingly protested their peremptory removal by what sounded suspiciously like a well-placed kick.
Someone had broken in.
The intruder painstakingly and at leisure fitted the door back into its frame. By the time the task was completed a minute or two later-measured in double time by Bodie's overworked heart-Bodie himself was on the verge of screaming with tension. He was securely bound and forbidden movement-by his own invention; punch-drunk from lack of sleep and dread; and had at his defense only a three-inch knife-nothing which would stand him in good stead for very long in any sort of battle.
But he also, on some still functioning level of his mind, had some notion who his uninvited guest might be.
A brilliant light shone straight into his eyes, blinding him instantly and totally. The intruder had moved with astonishing stealth; until then, Bodie had not guessed his caller had even ventured away from the door. Horrified, he felt his link to the Browning go shockingly taut, there was a loud snap, and he was released.
"No," he gasped.
"Could hurt yourself with that thing pointing at you," a familiar, but at the moment altogether unwelcome voice remarked.
"Yeah. Fancy meeting you here."
"How'd you find me?"
" 'S a long story. You've changed your fashion statement-or are chains in now?"
"Go away, Ray. Please."
"Not on your life. I'm only sorry I forgot me camera. You'd make a smashing addition to the rest room notice-board in that gear."
Face burning, Bodie said thickly, "Big joke, is that what you think this is?"
"The biggest. But providing you talk your way out of this, I won't divorce you."
"Yeah, mate, I've been laughing meself sick these past three days trying to find you. Forgot how your mind works sometimes."
"Just go away, will you? Two more days and-"
"The full moon will be past. You're a right pillock, d'you know that?"
Bodie's eyes had adjusted to the fluorescent lamp, one of the features of the multi-use, oversize torch which rested now on the ground between them. "Who asked you?" he raged. "Just leave this to me."
Doyle ignored him, studiously disconnecting the Browning High Power from its makeshift perch-a heavy, metal chair fitted with a vise and a pivot.
"I didn't invite you here," Bodie said bitterly. "Can't you take a hint?"
"Me mum always accused me of being thick-skinned. Guess she was right," Doyle replied unoffended. Thumbing the release, he removed the magazine, then worked the slide to eject the chambered round. After collecting the bullet from the concrete floor a few feet away, he held it out to the light. "Silver, eh? That must've set you back a bit." He squeezed it back into the clip and shoved the magazine into the butt of the pistol. The safety engaged, the Browning vanished into an inside jacket pocket. "By the way, Cowley knows about us."
Bodie's mouth fell open. There was no snappy response in his lexicon of smart phrases that suited-so he said nothing at all.
Enjoying his partner's stupefaction, Doyle grinned evilly. "Everything."
"You-? You told Cowley about us?"
Doyle nodded. "That's right." Eyes alight, he dropped onto his heels, scrutinizing Bodie's appearance. "And to think you did that to yourself." He clicked his tongue disapprovingly. "Kinky."
"You bastard," Bodie fumed impotently. "Why'd you have to tell Cowley?!"
Doyle's expression instantly hardened. "Because it's permanent. As we agreed. No point in giving anyone ammunition against us, is there? Anyway, you'll be pleased to know that he took it rather well."
Unconvinced, Bodie scoffed, "Rather well?"
Shrugging off-handedly, Doyle began to pluck at Bodie's supplies, dragging forth the well-stocked cool-bag from under the car. His fingers delved inside, blithely taking inventory. "As well as might be expected. He'll adjust. Newcastle Brown! D'you mind?"
"Help yourself. Adjust, eh? Give us the boot, more like. That's what you really mean, isn't it?"
With the concentration of a brain surgeon, Doyle worked the ring off-then tossed it over his shoulder into the gathering shadows. "Reckon I do," he said unconcernedly. "You complaining?"
Riveted by the challenge in his partner's eyes, Bodie paused. Then he raised his hands in capitulation, the movement setting his chains clanking. "No."
"Good. Now-because I'm going to respect your stupidity-no, that's a lie; actually, I might thump you if you could fight back-I'm leaving you chained. For now."
The breath caught in Bodie's throat. "Ray-"
"Shut it. I haven't much liked the last two days, Bodie." He took a long pull on his beer. "You had me fooled, y'know. Never gave on that you were shit-scared after what that nutter Oldman did to you. When I found out you'd done a bunk, I had to do the thinking for both of us."
Miserable as usual when confronted with an unappealing truth, Bodie mumbled, "The last thing I need right now is you preaching at me, mate."
"Better than some of the other things that've crossed my mind," Doyle countered darkly. Then, with unwilling concern, he asked, "You warm enough over there?"
The grudging note in Doyle's query was ill concealed. Bodie succumbed to a short laugh. "I'm lovely, thanks."
Doyle glowered at him. "You are, you bastard. Beautiful but stupid. Thought you were more clever than that, Bodie." Then almost to himself, he went on, "But it's forever now; can't give up on you, can I?"
Stung by this qualification, Bodie blurted, "You won't say that if-" The words were too ghastly. He would not speak them, though they had occupied the corridors of his mind for the last eight days.
"If you turn into a werewolf?" Doyle said matter-of-factly. "That's what you've been worried about, isn't it?"
Mutiny glinted in Bodie's sleep-starved eyes; but he would not speak.
A tiny smile lightened Doyle's features. "I talked with the coroner, what's-its-name-Parker. Cowley instructed him to tell me all-every gory detail. Didn't understand the half of it," he conceded wryly, "but the upshot was that Francesca Oldman was in no way supernatural. Flesh and blood, he said. His best guess was that she was some sort of mutation."
Sneering, Bodie mocked, "A shape-shifting mutation?"
"You'd rather believe in satanic pacts? Being a rape-got child born on the wrong day-like Ollie Reed?"
Bodie's eyes widened. "You saw that too?"
"With you, if I recollect correctly; on the box, many moons ago." Doyle grimaced. "Sorry." He had another swig of his beer. "According to Parker, she was well into her eighties."
"Eighties!" Bodie said, disbelieving. "She didn't look a day over forty-five."
"Hm. Parker was convinced otherwise, based on organ and bone deterioration-that sort of thing. Better still," he paused, assuring himself that he had his partner's full attention, "she died of heart failure. Natural causes."
"That's ridiculous! I shot her-"
"The bullet wounds were nearly healed when she died. You heard me right," Doyle anticipated Bodie's protest. "You saw them. Had something to do with her metabolism, Parker said. He couldn't be absolutely certain, of course, never having encountered anything like her before. That bloody dog leg was a real fascination, I can tell you."
"But I- The silver-"
"There's no silver in pound notes, you moron!" Doyle shouted. "You blew away three weeks' worth of my wages for nothing."
"No silver! My grandda always said-"
"Yeah, yeah. Common misbelief. Shows the backing of the Bank of England, the strength of the Treasury. 'S codswallop, mate. By the way-I expect you to pay me back."
This sweeping condemnation of his brilliance was almost more than Bodie could bear. "You're telling me that she just happened to drop dead? Bloody coincidental, don't you think?"
With a final gulp, Doyle drained his can. He crunched the empty container in his fist, and wiped his mouth on a sleeve. "Actually, it explains a lot of things."
Unperturbed by Bodie's peevish tone, Doyle gladly complied. "Why the recent, cack-handed murder spree, for example. She killed her first anti-animal rights MP nearly ten years ago. The next one didn't follow for over a year. Picked 'em off slowly, so as not to arouse suspicion. When she realized she was running out of time, she became far more reckless. Oh, yeah: Oldman was a founding member of ALF, too."
"Animal Liberation Front. Terrorist group overseeing the rights of our furry brothers and sisters, according to Lucy."
"Your Miss Flower. Oldman's assistant, remember?"
"You spoke with her about all this?"
"She came to us. Found her great-granny's diaries-didn't even know they were related, mind, though she'd often wondered why Oldman had been so kind to her. Found out through the journals that Oldman had arranged for her to hire on as her assistant just so Oldman could have her near by. After Lucy'd had a look at those, she got in touch with Cowley. Who put her in touch with me."
"She didn't know what Oldman was, then?"
"No. Seemed pretty shaken by that bit of news; being kin and all. Wondered if she might be-y'know?-but Oldman's diaries confirmed what Parker said: that her ability to transform was some sort of physiological quirk-something she was able to do all her life, though she never understood how or why. Cowley believes Lucy's story; he's seen the diaries. I believe her, too."
"Lucy says she wasn't a bad person, our Miss Oldman. Only-she started to go off the rails a bit as she got older-especially in the last ten years."
Doyle conferred a fond smile on his disgruntled mate. "It was modern technology that got to her. Like that picture we saw on the wall of her study, remember? Laboratory rabbits; the mistreatment of animals in the name of science. Those ministers on our list: She'd lobbied all of 'em to support her cause. If they didn't come through for her-they got the chop."
"What about the abstainers?"
"Them too; anyone who wouldn't take a stand. She grew less tolerant of their havering as the years went by-and as the treatment of lab animals became more appalling. Mice, bunnies, dogs, cats, monkeys: wretched little buggers put through the wringer for the sake of people."
"You sound," Bodie declared quietly, "almost as though you agree with her."
Lips pursed consideringly, Doyle dipped his head. "Let's just say I understand the motivation, and leave it at that."
"And Quayle? Why'd she kill him?"
"He knew too much-just like Livi. And he was about to spill all of it to us. Ironic, isn't it, that he was as ardent a supporter of animal rights as Oldman. That's how he managed to twig to her. After the recent spate of MPs dying, he realized she was the one common link among all of those seemingly innocent deaths. He watched her for a while-long enough to stumble upon her secret. That's when he brought Livi into it."
Bodie shifted his left arm; it was starting to fall asleep. Steel pressed against one of the many puncture wounds that were scattered across his forearm. The bandages had come off a few days before, but the skin was still a little tender. "Oldman made a point of saying she'd bit me-as though it ought to mean something."
"She was angry." Doyle rubbed at his face. "Lucy thought she probably wanted a little of her own back before she died."
"Yeah? If Oldman was all that close to snuffing it, why didn't she just kill us when she broke into our flats?"
"Liked to play intimidation games, so your Miss Flower says. Remember the music in her study? And not only that-" Doyle waited a beat for effect, "apparently the old bitch took a fancy to you-was in her diary. Lucy read that bit to me."
Not to be provoked nor amused, Bodie observed, "Was awfully forthcoming, your Lucy."
Green eyes narrowed to basilisk slits. "Not my Lucy."
"Nor my Miss Flower."
Folding his arms across his chest, Doyle stared at him. "No." He raised his brows. "You ready to go home, sunshine?"
The note of entreaty in Doyle's voice breached the last of Bodie's defenses. "You're convinced, Ray? That I wasn't-contaminated?" Of this he must be unequivocally certain.
"One hundred percent? I couldn't live with myself if I-"
"You're not a werewolf. For that matter, neither was Francesca Oldman. Lucy said she liked to use the form of the Borzoi for that very reason."
"I don't understand."
"Borzoi were used to hunt wolves in Imperial Russia. Bred for speed, they were-bigger, too. They could run wolves to ground and tear them apart-or hold them for their masters to do the job. It amused her to become something that contradicted legend." He paused. "I can't explain it; Parker couldn't either. I know what she did seems impossible. But sometimes you just have to accept that there are weird things in this world-only weird, not supernatural."
Doyle's persuasion and confidence were difficult to resist-nor did Bodie want to. Exhibiting his bound wrists with some reluctance, he winced as metal clanked against metal. Tonelessly he announced, "I mailed the keys to you. Should arrive at your flat day after tomorrow."
"You're a cretin-have I mentioned that?"
"And you're boringly repetitive. Go fetch what you need, will you? I'd like very much to go home. Soon."
"Not to worry. I came prepared- 's right outside in the car." But rather than rise to fetch his bag of tricks, Doyle leaned forward and gently pressed his mouth against his Bodie's lips. A faint moan rose in Bodie's throat; roughly, Doyle gathered him into his arms, at once offering comfort and strength and measureless acceptance. As Bodie huddled nearer, chains clinking, his every sense was commanded by the man embracing him. He felt Doyle's muscles flex as a hand fell to switch off the torch. Darkness settled about them like soot descending a chimney.
In the absolute stillness that followed, it seemed as though one man's heartbeat became indistinguishable from the other's. Bodie's reality was defined by Ray Doyle-his warmth, his scent, his signature presence. In his partner's possessive grasp, Bodie was safe and whole-and all too willing to let Doyle's strength carry them both-for the moment, anyway. With no one else had he ever dropped his guard so completely. But, this was Doyle. His Doyle. He would never trust anyone more-nor love so well.
Doyle shifted a little, stubbled chin scraping across Bodie's temple as he raised his head. A laugh, rough and low under his breath, percolated up from his chest. "Bodie-up there."
Doyle's eyes were fixed on the skylight overhead. Through the waterstained and grubby perspex, the moon was brilliantly visible, its round, full face bathing them in its eerie, pellucid splendor.
"So- D'you feel a change coming over you, sunshine?" Doyle whispered.
Almost unmanned by a potent mix of sudden, devastating relief and surging exhilaration, Bodie could not repress a shaky giggle. "I do, actually." He gave Doyle a lush, hungry kiss. "But you've seen it before, and I think it can wait till you get me home-providing you hurry."
"I," promised Doyle solemnly, "will do my very best."
With the moon shining on his face, Bodie smiled: He would never ask for more.
-- The End --