by Ellis Ward
Two somberly clad figures stepped through the black enameled gate, taking no notice of the golden Labrador that lay just within the yard, its liquid gaze turned toward the street beyond. Footfalls clicked on the pavement as the couple walked away, but their leaving caused not the slightest twitch of a furry ear. For over an hour the dejected animal had endured the comings and goings of strangers and acquaintances, whilst the object of its vigil had failed to show.
The woman was guided into the passenger seat of a Rover saloon by her male companion, and when she was settled, he walked round the front of the vehicle to take his place behind the wheel. Their movements were remarked by another pair of eyes, as disinterested as the dog's but far more acute in their survey. Long before the couple had driven off, the watcher's attention had returned to the ever hopeful animal, which for the moment let its muzzle drop down to rest on its large paws, a sigh stirring the grass in front of the shiny black nose. The dog anxiously continued to scour the street through the metal bars.
Bodie grimaced and turned away. Grief was a constant in his work, and he generally dealt with it with brutal efficiency--either by acknowledging its impact and allowing himself a brief, destructive wallow, or more expediently, by denying its existence altogether. Sometimes, however, it was harder to shrug off--like now, when faced with the dumb pain of an uncomprehending creature which would not be consoled by soothing words or comforting touches--unless bestowed by the one awaited.
And that one would never come home again.
The funeral had been well attended by colleagues and friends alike. Shrouded in black, the widow had stood at the head of the mourners with her five-year-old son at her side and George Cowley at her back. Lacking all still-living family--both her husband's and her own had passed away in the intervening years--such impersonal support in this bleakest of hours was all that had been left to her.
Bodie had been there, too, as had his partner, Ray Doyle. Despite being a longtime friend of the family, Doyle had kept his distance, and so accordingly, had Bodie. Hovering at Doyle's shoulder, Bodie had been more aware of his partner than of the solemn proceedings. Tense and preternaturally still, Doyle had spoken not a word when the dark-stained coffin had been lowered into the ground nor moments later when the first clots of dirt had bounced off the smoothly polished surface.
These last days had taken their toll on Ray Doyle: Brian Cook, the husband of pregnant June and father of young Danny, had been recruited into CI5's elite company based at least in part on Doyle's recommendation. This morning, only a few years shy of his thirtieth birthday, Brian Cook had been buried. Later in the day, another of their number, Norman Reynolds, would be interred in his turn. Tomorrow would see the funeral of the bomb disposal expert who had been caught in the terrorists' final blast.
For what it was worth, the criminals had been placed in custody with little likelihood of their escaping conviction and eventual punishment. But for Brian Cook, Norman Reynolds, and the man whose name Bodie did not know, that levy was too little, too late.
And perhaps the same was true for Bodie, if for different reasons. Immediately following the funeral, he had waited with his partner while the other mourners had taken to their cars, and the gravediggers had settled down to work. Still silent, Doyle had stepped nearer the opening gouged out of the earth until he had been able to see the last glimmer of wood disappear beneath a shovelful of dirt.
"C'mon, Ray," Bodie had persuaded. "That's it, eh?"
Ignoring him, Doyle had slipped a hand into a pocket and drawn forth a long, broken neck chain. Holding it in his palm, Doyle had muttered as if to himself, "Need to give this back to June."
Chilled, Bodie had said, "You took it off Brian?"
Trembling fingers had closed tightly round the languidly coiled gold. "Yeah. Meant to give it to her days ago."
"That'll wait," Bodie had suggested. "Let's go, Ray. The Cow's given us the rest of the day off, y'know."
Doyle's head had come up at last. Burnished with April sunshine and lifted by a sweet-scented breeze, his curly locks had glinted redly, a mutiny of color amidst dark clothing and pallid features. Distant green eyes had briefly touched Bodie's face. "No, thanks. We got some thinking to do."
Biting back a retort, Bodie had given a curt nod. "Catch you later, then."
But Doyle had already looked past him, his hand formed into a fist, waving a gesture of unconscious vengefulness toward Brian Cook's grave.
A few moments later, they had parted in the street, Bodie waiting until Doyle had driven away. Aching deep inside, Bodie had finally turned his own car into the road, joining the flow of traffic headed north. Unnoticed, the miles had slipped by while he had withdrawn into the hurt. It was old, this pain gripping his heart, and he knew it well. But never had it threatened to unman him as it now did-but, neither had he ever allowed himself to care quite so much.
It seemed the time had come for good bye.
June Cook's door swung open and released three more unhappy visitors. They let themselves out through the wrought-iron gate onto the pavement where they separated, each striking off toward a different vehicle.
In the distance an approaching motor could be heard. Brian Cook's golden Labrador surged onto its feet, ears arched, nose pad twitching.
"Poor sod," Bodie whispered. He could as easily have been referring to himself.
In a clearing in Kent, Ray Doyle stood at the pinnacle of a slow rise and took in his surroundings. There to his right lay the stretch of ground where Brian Cook had sprawled; a few feet away, Norman Reynolds. The hole dug in a vain search for Jimmy Kilpin's arms cache had since been filled in and, save for that disturbed patch of ground, there was little to attest to the drama that had taken place here. A fanciful eye might have seized upon the blots of discoloration marring the surface of the earth, all within a few yards of each other. For Doyle, there was no need for conjecture, for he remembered with utter clarity whose blood had been spilled and where.
No stranger to death in its more violent forms, Doyle nevertheless found himself growing less immune to the horror of it, rather than the reverse. Throughout his life he had been constantly at odds within himself, never expecting to achieve peace between the warring factions born of intellect and temperament. So this new shift had not been foreseen all those years ago when he had joined the Met. Then, he had anticipated a gradual hardening of attitude--not necessarily a disadvantage for someone in this particular line of work--though intellectually he had feared the loss of sensibility as much as its tyranny.
At least that had been the case until Bodie had come along and, in accepting Doyle without qualification, had made it possible for Doyle to do the same. And now he feared he must lose Bodie to preserve that precious balance.
Doyle swung his head to one side, looking away toward green, rolling fields, eyes watering with the freshness of the breeze, face numbed by its frigid caress. Below him, in the sheltered area formed by the surrounding hillocks, the warmth of the sun gathered undiminished--as it had the day Brian Cook had died.
Sighing to himself, Doyle took out the familiar gold neck chain he had snapped from Cook's throat four days ago and frowned down at it. The site of Cook's murder had seemed a good starting place for Doyle to order his thoughts, for it was here the unthinkable had first sprung to mind.
Or was it?
A year and half ago, Doyle himself had nearly died. Through those long, dragging days in hospital, then afterward in the flat shared with Bodie, Doyle had found himself inundated with unwelcome thoughts. Since he had been largely responsible by his laxness for being shot, Doyle had not surprisingly spent considerable time mulling his abilities--or lack of same--the range of his mistakes, and his place not only with CI5, but in the world he called his own.
Always given to a tendency to brood, Doyle had learned to depend on Bodie to lend perspective to his cynicism. In fact, through those dark winter days of his recuperation, Doyle had come to depend on Bodie for a great deal more.
It was while in hospital that he had grown aware of the striking scope of Bodie's devotion. If Doyle suffered, his pain was reflected in the hard set of Bodie's mouth and the heavy furrow weighing on his brow; if he rallied, that achievement glowed bright in Bodie's eyes and curled impishly on his lips. With relentless persistence, Bodie had chivvied his partner to full recovery, tolerating neither self-pity nor self-reproach along the way. Alternately amused and infuriated, Doyle had nevertheless recognized the genuine caring underlying Bodie's inflexibility.
Over the months of convalescence that had followed, Doyle had slowly come to comprehend that the affection Bodie felt for him far surpassed that of mere friendship. At no time had this revelation repelled or even overly surprised him. As they were flatmates for the better part of half a year, Doyle grew to accept the inevitability of Bodie in his life, whatever role he might play. To Doyle's mind, the prospect of their affection eventually encompassing sex was an agreeable one, and in many ways a most sensible evolution of their relationship.
Bodie, contradictorily, had not been so easily convinced.
Recalled to himself by a sudden drop in temperature--a slow-moving, dark-bellied cloud was passing before the sun--Doyle shoved Cook's chain back into his pocket and cast a last look over the clearing at his feet. There were no answers to be found here.
Hunching into the warmth of his fur-collared bomber jacket, Doyle struck off down the far side of the hill in the direction of the waiting bronze Capri. Sure-footedly negotiating the slightly sharper incline that finally gave way to a lumpy plain, Doyle accorded only a fraction of his attention to his surroundings, his mind turning willfully to Bodie and the first, cautious overtures Doyle had made to sound him out.
They had not gone over particularly well, Bodie assuming an obtuseness that Doyle had encountered before: when Bodie did not wish to know something, he simply could not be bothered. Refusing to believe that he had misinterpreted Bodie's signals--however subliminal they may have been--Doyle had chipped away at his partner's resolve until the facade had shattered--if only briefly--revealing a veritable cauldron of emotion. Accustomed to being held in some esteem, Doyle had been shaken to discover the anger and resentment that boiled up alongside Bodie's fond opinion of him.
His probings had been neither careful nor subtle. Fortunately for Doyle, it had also been during this time that he had been struggling with witless determination to regain his status as a full-strength agent. Irrespective of their personal turmoil, when the job had been involved, Bodie had remained at his side, encouraging him, goading him, until Doyle, exhausted but hell-bent, had passed muster. Otherwise, Bodie had withdrawn.
Yet, feeling had continued to run high between them, for all that Bodie denied its existence, causing their partnership to veer dangerously out of kilter. In one of his first outings, a potentially explosive operation involving a high-powered minister and then--acting MI6 head Dawson, Doyle had been found out as a covert agent. His execution had been ordered from on high, and then contracted by the lackeys who had served as Dawson's somewhat bumbling but lethal operatives. Serendipity had resulted in Bodie, in the guise of a hit man, and his uneasy ally Williams--unbeknownst to them, Dawson's agent--being assigned the job.
Taken into the woods by a coldly remote Bodie and his darting-eyed companion, Doyle had actually begun to wonder just how far Bodie would let things go before seeing to his protection. In fact, Bodie had rather badly miscalculated the true nature of his temporary associate, and only the fact that Williams had been on their side arguably had saved Ray Doyle from serious injury.
"If you don't want me as a partner, just bloody well say so!" Doyle yelled, as Bodie drove him back to the place where he had left his own car. "For Christ's sake, I only just got over being shot almost fucking dead and here you--"
"Leave it!" Bodie roared furiously. It was the first emotion he had displayed in weeks. "So I made a mistake, okay? Not like you--oh, no! You just keep nagging and harping on--! It's a wonder I don't--"
Suffering the silence that ensued like a blow to his chest, Doyle cast a searing scowl across at his partner. Bodie's face was as black as thunder, his mouth compressed into an unyielding line.
"'A wonder you don't' what? " Doyle asked sharply. "Shoot me yourself?"
"That's a fucking stupid thing to say," replied Bodie viciously.
"You were going to let Williams do it."
Bodie said nothing.
With sudden sick doubt, Doyle pondered whether he had misread Bodie's signals after all. Regardless, Doyle had to admit to himself that Bodie was quite right: he had been pressing him, so intrigued with the idea of having sex with his intransigent partner--himself having gone so long without--he had spared little consideration for Bodie's feelings at all.
He mulled this over for several moments, while dull grey buildings fell past on either side in a murky blur. Things had been strained between them for weeks now. As lovers, it would seem they had no hope at all; worse, as partners, they were beginning to unravel.
"Right," Doyle said at last.
He sensed the weight of Bodie's gaze, an almost palpable pressure raking across his profiled cheek. It lingered less than seconds before Bodie turned, unspeaking, to stare once more at the road.
Without words, they had agreed to a truce.
The gold Capri came to a stop in a small carpark located some considerable distance from the verdant grounds surrounding stone ruins. Into the increasingly cloudy sky twin towers thrust upward, their heavy foundations rooting them in a spot that afforded a grand view of the coastline where it opened onto the North Sea.
Doyle clambered out of the car and slammed the door shut behind him. He had been eyeing the stoneworks for some time as he drove along with no purpose nor direction. Being April, there were as yet few tourists to contend with--and it appeared that Reculver was not a major stopping point in any case, for there was only one other car to be seen, and it probably belonged to the gatekeeper.
It cost 50p to get onto the grounds, which Doyle proclaimed "extortionate." The gatekeeper informed him archly that nobody was holding a gun to his head; Doyle conceded with a sardonic smile that this was certainly true.
Shoving the ticket stub into his change pocket, Doyle ambled up to the great towers which were joined together by a partially enclosed walkway. According to the brochure glimpsed beside the gatekeeper's hand--another 25p which Doyle had chosen not to part with--Reculver had been the site of a Roman fort, upon which ruins of a medieval church--the towers and disintegrating grating walls along the coast and east sides all that now remained--had been built.
It was quiet here, and cool. The breeze off the sea impacted with Doyle's slight form with some force, tossing his hair about his head and stinging color into his cheeks.
As he wandered about, Doyle tried to imagine this site as it might have appeared four or five centuries before. He had never longed for the past, not even his own, but there was something comforting in being surrounded by so much ancientness.
Outside the footprint of the erstwhile structure yawed a few weather-worn headstones, their inscriptions almost erased after centuries-long exposure to wind and rain and snow. Doyle came to a stop before the largest of them, his head tilted to one side. His thoughts, however, almost immediately trailed back to the morning's funeral and another grave.
At sight of the new-made widow, whose severe clothing and hollowed eyes had only emphasized the pallor of her face, his conscience had once more begun to flay him. Her big-eyed son had stood pressed close against her swollen abdomen, clutching her hand, his subdued expression one of unwanted understanding.
June had seemed unaware of the child--and of every other person who had come to see Brian Cook into his final abode. It had crossed Doyle's mind that he should take up his place at June's back alongside Cowley, so as to offer his support; but upon the thought had come the absolute certainty that his presence would not be welcome there.
Instead, he had selfishly secured his own solace in his partner's steadfast closeness. Bodie knew what he felt, knew Doyle's side of it. In his own way, Doyle was as bereft as Cook's widow, but with far less claim to sympathy.
It was an empty feeling that gnawed at his insides, not unlike the gutted sensation he had suffered during his semi-estrangement from Bodie following the Dawson case over a year ago.
Then, having concluded that he must put aside the advancement of his relationship with his partner if they were to remain a team, Doyle had learned to employ a certain schizophrenia to keep his own clamoring emotions at bay. While encouraging a resumption of their old mateyness, he had soon discovered that being mere pals with Bodie was a torture he did not like enduring.
Things had started coming to a head when they had taken on the Susan Grant case. With Bodie assigned as her protector and Doyle left well on the outside, Doyle had unwittingly begun to campaign for equal attention, going so far as to flirt overtly--if unintentionally--with his partner. Eventually realizing what he was doing, Doyle had tried to make a joke of it.
Bodie had not been amused.
Chastened, Doyle had resumed his role as backup and general dogsbody, sick at heart and hopeless with it. So he had been greatly surprised when Bodie had capped the operation by requesting his company rather than Susan Grant's. Over a meal, Bodie had entertained him with anecdotes from the case that had gone hitherto unreported. Not the least of these played up the fact that Bodie had not gone to bed with the pleasant young woman--although when Doyle had probed for details, Bodie had been unable to say exactly why this had been the case, as Susan had been quite willing and more than attractive enough to suit him.
A particularly strong gust cut right through Doyle's leather jacket and buffeted him where he stood. Abandoning the headstone, he struck off across the site, his long legs hurriedly delivering him to the remains of the east wall where he sought refuge from the wind. In what survived of the corner nook, he came to a halt. By craning his head just a little, he could gaze out over kelp-darkened water, its menacing vastness reflected on the surface of his eyes.
Despite that brief period of renewed camaraderie, Bodie had soon gone back to holding Doyle at arm's length. Accepting that Bodie must have compelling reasons for his turnabout, Doyle had forced himself to come to better terms with his feelings and concurrently to respect Bodie's more. They had settled into something approaching their early friendship. Nothing had been taken for granted, but each man had been secure regarding his place in the other's life.
By then, almost a year had passed since Doyle had taken two bullets from a would-be assassin's pistol. He had fought an uphill battle to regain his health and vigor, and having done so, had spent the better part of six months putting himself to the test. Doyle had never complained, but he had begun to feel the strain of his particular avocation in ways unnoticed in the past. Always a little hot-blooded, he now suffered from the cold; always bursting with energy, he now fell prey to genuine exhaustion--the kind that would not be banished after a single night's undisturbed sleep.
None of this had been mentioned to Bodie, but Doyle had begun to worry about it more and more. They had taken on the Rahad operation, which required that they once again work apart rather than together. Resigned, Doyle had made the best of it, taking inordinate pleasure from the company of sweet, if well-used, Anna, the prostitute hired by CI5 to assist in setting up the Arab. And truth to tell, he had gleaned immense gratification in bringing about the assassin's downfall; execution at the hands of his own people would have to suffice, though Doyle would personally have liked to see the man eradicated.
It had been Bodie faking his own death in the course of this operation that had shattered Doyle's protective chrysalis. For an instant, he had believed his partner lost to him forever. A second later, Bodie had revealed his prank, and burning anger had replaced shock. With Cowley so close to hand, Doyle had been forced to overcome the immediate urge to pulverize his playful friend, and had, as well, to let Bodie's little--very little--joke go unpunished. A tolerant grin pasted on his face, he had quietly begun to plot his revenge.
Before his scheme could be implemented, however, the Rahad case had had to be taken to its inevitable--at least as far as CI5 were concerned--conclusion.
And then they had been handed Ojuka.
By a quarter to three, the steady exodus of visitors out of June Cook's house had slowed to a trickle. None had appeared on the pavement for over half an hour; time, Bodie decided, to make his move.
The idea had come to him on the way out of his building earlier this afternoon. He had returned to his flat from the funeral only long enough to change out of his formal clothing and to grab a sandwich and a beer. Without Ray to keep him company, there had been no reason to linger, and he had been back on the pavement within minutes.
While crossing the street to his car he had been distracted by the rather comical sight of a red-haired girl, aged about ten, being tugged along the pavement by an outsize dog, which had easily outweighed her by thirty pounds.
"D'you need some help with that brute?" he had asked.
The girl had giggled. "No, thanks. I'm just letting him bully me."
At Bodie's skeptical look, she had insisted, "D'you want to see?"
"Why not? Go on, then."
With that, the girl had planted her feet wide apart, pulled taut on the dog's lead and commanded sharply but without appreciably raising her voice, "Noddy, sit!"
The animal had obeyed at once, almost to the undoing of an elderly gentleman who had just walked onto the pavement from his front door.
"I say!" he had complained loudly. "That creature belongs in a barn."
"Sorry, sir," the girl, all wide eyes and choked-back laughter, had said penitently. "Come out of the way, Noddy. There's a good lad."
Bodie had shrugged philosophically as the old man had tottered past them. "Very impressive," he had added with a hint of a grin.
The child had pouted good-naturedly at him. "You could've warned me."
"Me?!" Bodie had laid a hand over his heart. "I never saw the old buffer."
"Really. On your way to the common, were you? Just don't let that monster eat any other kids, eh?"
"Oh, I shan't."
Bodie had winked at her, then had set about unlocking the door to his car. A moment later, as he had made himself comfortable behind the steering wheel, his gaze had rested on her retreating figure, the overgrown dog loping properly along at her side.
It was then he had remembered Doyle's question regarding June Cook's golden Labrador: "Wouldn't want a dog, would you? She asked me to shoot it."
At that time, they had been sitting in Bodie's car outside the posh block of flats overlooking Lord's Cricket Grounds waiting for the return of Ulrike's lawyer-comrade Tim Hockley. Bodie had not even dared touch Doyle's hand in so public a place.
Gloomy self-absorption had characterized Doyle's mood since the Sunday-morning shootings in Kent; in fact, it was that unremitting pensiveness that was in large part responsible for Bodie's driving all the way to June Cook's house this morning: he intended to offer temporary lodging for her dog.
Having acted on impulse, Bodie now was not entirely clear on his motives. Perhaps he thought that seeing others less fortunate than he would serve to jar Doyle out of his misery. Or perhaps Bodie was simply hoping that such a noble--and admittedly unlikely--gesture would cause Doyle to see him differently.
Perhaps he might even come to love him.
Bodie snorted to himself. He had been an idiot to come here. Taking on June Cook's dog was a burden he was ill-prepared to shoulder under the best of circumstances.
But if it would somehow bring Doyle closer--
The animal's head shot up: another car, at the bottom of the hill, accelerated away. Once more anticipation was replaced by anxiety; the light in the luminous eyes dulled as the dog realized that the vehicle was not the one it awaited.
Suddenly decided for good and all, Bodie stepped into the street, inconspicuously stretching his spine to ease the kinks accumulated after more than an hour of inertia. The Cooks' dog looked up warily at Bodie's approach, its long tail cutting a slow swath through the air.
"Don't get your hopes up, old son," Bodie warned the animal as he eased open the iron gate. "She might just ask me to shoot you, too."
At the front door, Bodie pressed a thumb against the buzzer. A little nervously, he glanced back over his shoulder at the Labrador, which watched him with baffled interest.
"Bet you've got a healthy appetite," he commented ruefully.
Just then the door swung open. Bodie looked down into the wrinkled face of a woman in her middle to late fifties. She took in his appearance with some bemusement but, despite the fact that he was dressed in smoke-grey corduroys and a dark blue turtleneck under his black leather jacket--hardly appropriate mourning apparel--no disapproval. For that Bodie took an instant liking to her.
"Yes?" she asked.
"I'm here to see June," Bodie said by way of introduction. "My name's Bodie."
"Bodie?" Questioning his name allowed the woman another moment in which to appraise him. Apparently finding his unorthodox appearance--and his forthright manner--acceptable, she held the door wider. "Come in, please. I'll fetch June; she's having a little lie-down."
"I understand," Bodie said as he crossed over the threshold. "Tell her I won't take up much of her time."
With a nod of mousy brown hair, the woman gestured him into the foyer and closed the door. Then she disappeared round the corner, her footsteps audible as she made her way down the corridor.
Prepared to wait, Bodie had a look round. A few pictures broke the flow of flowered wallpaper: one was of Brian Cook, serious-faced in a police uniform; another, of June, holding a tiny bundle in her arms; and the last was that of a small child, who bore the narrow features of Brian Cook.
Suddenly wishing he were anywhere but here, Bodie glanced up sharply as a low voice stated, "You're Ray's partner."
For a woman so heavily encumbered, June Cook had entered the foyer on impressively quiet feet.
"Attractive...intelligent...witty...got personality... " Those were the words Doyle had used to describe her. Bodie saw none of that in the woman standing before him. Straight, very black hair hung lank beside puffy cheeks; blue eyes, startlingly clear, were yet flat and expressionless; and her mouth, which may have displayed a certain piquancy when relaxed and smiling, was now only a thin line.
"Yes," Bodie said, covering the surprise that arose from her statement.
"He's not here."
"No, I know."
There was movement at the end of the corridor: young Danny, as somber-featured as his mother, stood hovering like a small, slender wraith.
Bodie said, "I'd like to speak with you--alone."
As June twisted round to see what had caught Bodie's eye, the older woman who had answered the door reappeared. She curved her arms round the boy's shoulders. "June, you really should be lying down."
"I'm all right, Nell." Turning back to Bodie, she said calmly, "What d'you want to speak about?"
Rubbing his chin, Bodie tipped his head very slightly toward their audience.
Frowning a little, June prodded, "Is it important?"
Biting back a sigh, Bodie said roughly, "Maybe. Probably not."
June's small lips pursed thoughtfully. "Nell," she said at last, "would you watch Danny for a few minutes?"
"You'll be all right?" the older woman asked. To Bodie, the unspoken alone echoed hollowly in the silence.
"Bodie's a friend of a friend," June replied matter-of-factly, "Would you mind?"
Nell tightened her arms around the child. "We'll go round to my place while your mum is having a chat with this gentleman," she whispered into Danny's ear. "You can help me brush Nero."
The boy swung his head back, a slight animation sparking in forlorn eyes. "But, his hair--"
"Won't show up on those trousers," June assured him with motherly indulgence.
"You won't let him bite me?" Danny asked.
"You know Nero," Nell informed him tartly. "Cats bite whomever they like." She leveled her kindly gaze at June. "Ring me, love, or give a shout over the fence when you want us back. This weather is too fine to ignore."
Their footsteps faded, to be replaced by the opening and closing of a door in the distance. Tilting her head back, June eyed Bodie measuringly. "Come into the kitchen," she said abruptly. "You look like you can use something to eat."
Bodie's incipient protest was ignored, the small woman already making her ungainly, but fluid way down the corridor. Perforce, Bodie followed.
The kitchen was tiny under normal circumstances; now, with every available surface piled high with foil- or cling film-covered dishes and baking tins, it was reduced to service as a larder.
"There's food everywhere," June remarked unnecessarily. "You'd never guess I was slaving over a hot stove just a few days ago." With unerring instinct, she uncovered a platter bearing a richly decorated chocolate gateau. Stretching up on her tip-toes she took down a clean plate from the cupboard, then bent over to ferret a knife from the utensil drawer. A large slice was cut from the cake and ferried to the plate. Adding a fork, June swung round and handed the lot to Bodie. "Of course, now we have more than enough for a small army. But poor Brian won't be eating any of it."
"Come round in here," June said, oblivious to his discomfort. "Sit down, Bodie." She pulled a chair out from under the table that stood beside the half-wall in the small space adjoining the kitchen and flagged him into it. Once he had obeyed, she walked to the other side. Holding the back of the facing chair but making no move to seat herself, June went on, "That's what Ray always calls you, just Bodie. Is it all right if I do, too?"
"That's fine," Bodie agreed. "Look, I really don't mean to be a bother. I just--"
"No bother. Eat your gateau."
Bodie hesitantly picked up the fork.
"It's crazy, really," June murmured, "but this morning I couldn't wait to be rid of everyone--y'know, all Brian's old mates. And now it's gone so quiet." She stared off into the distance for a moment, her blue eyes dark with puzzlement. Without preamble, she asked, "Where's Ray?"
Closing his mouth on a forkful, Bodie began to chew. "Dunno."
June looked at him skeptically, her head canted to one side in a mannerism Bodie was beginning to recognize. "According to him, you two practically live in each other's pockets." A smile flitted across her mouth though there was little humor in it. "Worse than an old married couple, Brian says." She stiffened, her hands gripping the chair back. After a moment, she added in a tense whisper, "I expect Ray hasn't forgiven me for all those things I said the other day. I really didn't mean them. Only I was so--"
She frowned. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Bodie said firmly. He found himself staring at her imposingly ripe figure. Like many men, he found the physical reality of pregnancy disconcerting, if not outright intimidating.
There was a brief silence. Then June said, "D'you want another piece? Or something else--?"
Hardly aware that he had already cleaned his plate, Bodie gave the offer serious consideration--he had not realized how hungry he was. But he suspected that June must be ready to see the back of him, no matter how much she might argue otherwise. "Thanks," he said, "but, no."
She nodded vaguely.
"Your friend Nell is right," Bodie remarked. "You probably ought to be sitting down."
"I will," she assured him, her voice strangely breathy, "But you wanted to speak with me--?"
"Sorry." Bodie set his fork on the plate. "It's about your dog."
June looked at him blankly. "My dog? Finn? Is he--?"
"Fine. Right out front when I came in."
Eyes shifting abstractedly, June muttered, "What about him?"
Bodie licked his lips. "Ray said you asked him to--well, get rid of him."
Exhaling all at once, June smiled bitterly. "You mean, I asked him to shoot Finn." She closed her eyes. "I wanted to hurt Ray," she said frankly. "Think I must have gone a little mad."
"Are you saying Finn won't be a problem, then?"
June glanced down at her hands where they clutched the chair back. She peeled her fingers free and stretched them wide. They trembled. "Always a problem, he is," she said absently. "Wouldn't mind shooting him myself sometimes--especially after he's had a go at my daffs. Very partial to upending bulbs and the like--"
"Would it help if I took him for a bit?" Bodie asked softly. "Maybe not just me," he clarified parenthetically, "because I can't always count on being back of an evening. He might have to be shifted between me and a few of the other lads. Till you get settled, like."
A strange quietude seemed to descend upon the woman. "Did Ray ask you to do this?"
"I see." She thought a moment. "Perhaps I should take you up on the offer anyway." She drew in a deep breath and let it out very slowly. "But only for a bit, as you say."
Bodie rose. "As long as you like," he said rashly.
"Why not?" she whispered. Then: "Yes. Do it now, Bodie, while Danny's not home."
Accepting this unsubtle dismissal without offense, Bodie shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and turned toward the door. "You know how to reach me?"
"Yes, of course." She stood a little straighter, head high. "Thank you. And Bodie--"
"Tell Ray not to stay away?"
"Don't worry, June." Bodie radiated greater confidence than he felt. "He'll probably be round later this evening."
Leaving June alone in the small dining alcove, Bodie let himself out through the front door. After the gloom of the Cooks' house, the brilliance of the afternoon was dazzling.
Finn sat on a large sheet of flagstone baked warm by the sun. He took to his feet as Bodie stepped onto the pavement, tail essaying a ready greeting.
"You've already guessed, haven't you?" Bodie said wryly. He put out a hand to pat the dog's head. The great golden skull pressed up against his palm, encouraging an increase of pressure. Obligingly, Bodie ran his fingers through coarse hair until they encountered the broad leather collar. "Oh, damn--we need your lead, don't we?"
Having just escaped June's company, Bodie was reluctant to return. He had never enjoyed the role of comforter; it made him feel awkward and somewhat put upon.
Sketching a gruesome expression, he marched back to the front door. Turning the knob with stealthy fingers, he entered hesitantly. "June? It's me again."
There came no answer.
Glowering, Bodie padded into the corridor that led to the kitchen and dining area. "June, I need Finn's lead."
She was in the kitchen in front of the sink, her back toward Bodie.
"I thought you were gone. What'd you come back for?"
"Forgot the dog's leash," he answered coolly. "If that's not too much to ask."
The woman slowly turned round. Bodie saw at once that she had been weeping; her face was wet, her eyes reddened. She collected herself with great dignity. "I'm sorry. I should have thought--" Her shattered voice failed her.
In three great strides Bodie was at her side. He hooked an arm behind her back and gently guided her to the dining area. There he dragged out the nearest chair and helped her to sit in it, pretending not to notice the way her legs fell apart to make room for her unborn child.
"I'll just get the kettle going," Bodie said practically. He paced round to the kitchen. Keeping an eye on June through the wide opening in the partition between the two rooms, he spoke aloud, "Now where will I found the tea? Of course--in the cupboard nearest the kettle. Nice tin."
June's breathing grew steadier with each passing second. She tugged a paper serviette out of a bird-shaped holder that stood in the center of the table and wiped her nose. "I'm all right now."
Smiling to himself at that brave, self-conscious whisper, Bodie wondered how Brian had managed to put up with June's little girl's voice. Probably, he had loved it. "Take your time, love. Why don't you tell me about Danny, eh? What kind of sports is he keen on?" While he spoke, Bodie deftly filled the kettle and attached the flex. Following a brief search, he rustled up two clean mugs. While the water heated, he took a plate from the dishes cupboard and carried it to the sideboard where the remains of the gateau lurked.
Studying him tiredly, the woman said, "You don't have to coddle me."
"Bri was a mate, June." Bodie found the serving knife. "He'd expect us to look after you."
June's eyes dropped to her tightly meshed fingers. "Then why isn't Ray here?"
With the blade poised over the cake, Bodie wasted a second searching for an answer. Finding none readily available, he said nothing and plunged the knife home.
Doyle raised his glass of bitter to his mouth and drained it. His face felt seared from the wind off the sea; it was a relief to be out of it. Only minutes remained before he would have to leave again, however: it was afternoon closing time. He set the glass on the table and pocketed the packet of pretzels he had purchased with his drink. As he made his unhurried way to the door, he waved a hand over his shoulder at the man behind the bar. A pleasant farewell followed him out.
The gusty air tore at him the instant Doyle reached the pavement in front of the pub. Gritting his teeth against its fierceness, he slouched inside his jacket until he came alongside the Capri. As he slid the key into the lock, he cast a last look at the twin towers at Reculver, now nearly a quarter of a mile away, looming black against the sky. A moment later he drove out of the car park one-handed, delving into the packet of pretzels with the other. Chewing industriously, he nosed the car onto the road that curved back to the motorway.
The man had both fascinated and repelled him. Undeniably charismatic, there was yet a ruthlessness about the African ruler that Doyle had found unpalatable--possibly because it reflected a savagery that resided within Doyle himself.
The operation had not gone smoothly, and a young woman had died as a result. Doyle had regretted that most of all. The gunman Parker must have sensed this, for he had bragged of her killing after Doyle had recovered consciousness whilst being driven to Avery's country home. Doyle would have died, too, had he not managed to work free of his bonds in time to defend himself against the killer's attack.
And then there had been Bodie. Despite his avowed disappointment at having to cancel his date with Louise, he had come closer to flirting outright with Doyle than he had ever done before. Calling Doyle "angelfish," referring to himself as Doyle's priapismic monster, and then, impossibly, declaring his concern for Doyle's well-being directly to Cowley's face and in no uncertain terms: never had Doyle expected to witness the like.
Which had made it all the harder to keep his feelings to himself when, after Doyle had arrived back from a visit to the third floor surgery to have his burned wrists treated, Bodie had announced that he had made arrangements for Doyle to double-date with him and Louise later that evening. Agreeing to this with a baring of teeth that had passed for a smile, Doyle had set to the rest of the day's work with a will, his turbulent emotions kept brutally in check lest they tumble out to embarrass both of them.
At the appointed hour, Bodie had shown up at Doyle's flat. It had been Bodie's plan to pick up their dates, take them to a restaurant where a table had been reserved, and afterward, presuming all went well, to then drive back to Bodie's place.
Bodie had scarcely planted a foot in the door before Doyle's phone had rung. That had been Dispatch forwarding a call from Louise, who had informed him that her friend, a nurse, had been detained at the hospital where she worked and would be unable to join them. Far more relieved than dismayed, Doyle had heard her out, then had passed the handset to Bodie. While Bodie had made placatory noises, Doyle had taken himself into the kitchen to begin preparation of his already delayed dinner.
"Sorry, mate." A huge sigh lifting his jacket-free shoulders, Bodie came into the kitchen.
Having paused only long enough to unknot his tie in his haste to free his Adam's apple, Doyle waved his partner off. "Don't worry about me, Bodie. You and Louise have a good time." His wrists had begun to throb again and were none too pleased to find themselves hovering so near the gas flame spurting under the cooking pan.
"Hm." Bodie came up behind him and peered over Doyle's shoulder at his choice of ingredients. "Why're you poking at it like that?"
"'M not poking. Get out of here, will you? You'll be late."
"Are too poking. Like an old lady. It's your wrists, isn't it!"
"Go away, Bodie," Doyle said tolerantly. Butter spit into the air; he jerked his hand aside. "Damn!"
"Give me that," Bodie ordered, and wrenched the fish-slice out of Doyle's fingers while prudently turning down the heat.
Choosing to move out of Bodie's way rather than be shoved aside, Doyle simply traded places with him, loitering close behind his partner so he could oversee his efforts. Thrusting out his arm, Doyle exposed his watch and held it under Bodie's nose. "You will be late."
Doyle withdrew his arm. "You what?"
"You heard. The point of setting all this up was to get you out of an evening."
Not believing this for a heartbeat, Doyle observed, "Wasn't what you said last night."
Bodie blithely raised his shoulders. "Changed me mind."
"I see." Suddenly aware that the moment for his long-awaited revenge had been handed to him on a proverbial silver platter, Doyle glided a half inch closer to his partner. "Only enough there for one, y'know."
"You can start," Bodie conceded amiably. "Looking peckish, you are."
"Yeah, I am hungry," Doyle whispered, his lips very close to Bodie's right ear. "But not for food."
Bodie stopped breathing. "Sorry?"
"You heard me." He touched the tip of his tongue to Bodie's earlobe. "Pay attention to what you're doing there, sunshine," he warned hastily when Bodie violently twitched. "Expect I will want to eat something--after."
Reveling in those two splintered syllables, Doyle slowly curved his arms around Bodie's chest. "I'm always ravenous after sex."
Recklessly he sent his fingertips in search of the lower hem of Bodie's poloneck top; to reach it, he had first to ease the shirt free of Bodie's belted trousers. Encountering no resistance, Doyle pressed the advantage and floated his hands under the warm material, right up against Bodie's abdomen just below the ribcage.
As Doyle continued his explorations, he could feel the quickened rise and fall of Bodie's chest and hear the rush of soft, shallow breaths through parted lips. Keeping his movements fluidly mesmeric, Doyle allowed one hand to drift downward inch by cautious inch until it alighted on Bodie's belt.
After speaking Doyle's name, Bodie said nothing more, not when Doyle's fingers pried the leather tip free of the prong, nor when he worked the clasp of Bodie's waistband open--not even when he slipped his thumbs under the elastic of Bodie's briefs and pushed pants and trousers down onto hard-muscled thighs in one smooth action.
His own heart beating high and excitedly in the hollow of his throat, Doyle then directed his efforts to Bodie's poloneck. "One arm at a time," he whispered huskily. Bodie remained unexpectedly pliant, offering no resistance as Doyle continued to strip him, even curving his head forward to facilitate the removal of the shirt.
With a flick of the wrist, Doyle discarded the body-warm polo-neck, then took a few seconds to survey his handiwork. He would have liked to look longer--even if his view was limited to Bodie's back--but dared not risk losing Bodie's compliance at this point. So, pressing close once again, he turned his face into the curve formed by Bodie's neck and shoulder, his arms encompassing the superbly contoured body with unintended possessiveness.
A gasp hissed out through Bodie's teeth. Inwardly gloating at this newfound ability to affect his normally unshakable partner so profoundly, Doyle molded his full length against Bodie's mostly nude form. One hand roamed freely from shoulder to hip and all points in between; the other described ever-widening ellipses, their zenith remaining fairly stable at the hollow under Bodie's ribs, while their nadir steadily dipped toward Bodie's genitals.
Gently rubbing his own fully clothed groin against his partner's bare buttocks, Doyle spread his descending hand wide to encircle his goal--but stopped, sensing a heat far greater than Bodie was capable of exuding, even in this aroused state. The gas ring still shimmered blue and orange, although the pan and its ingredients had not yet begun to smoke. Doyle spun the control to shut off the flow, then returned to his purpose. As his fingers closed round Bodie's erection, Bodie leaned back against him and rocked his hips forward.
"That's it," Doyle murmured, his breath coursing over Bodie's shoulder and down his breast. Folding his arm tighter across Bodie's chest, Doyle laid his mouth hungrily upon the side of the long, alabaster throat. Farther down, insistent fingers began to stroke and squeeze with knowing precision.
Bodie moved with him, his head gradually dropping back until it lay heavy upon Doyle's shoulder. Then he let out a tiny moan: Doyle had altered the already perfect rhythm so that now it was paced harder and faster.
"God, Bodie," Doyle said with a shudder. His partner's pelvic thrusts brought firm, smooth buttocks up against Doyle's groin again and again. The urge to strip himself bare so that he might experience that exquisite pressure upon unblunted flesh was almost overwhelming. In fact, Doyle had never done anything quite so difficultnor unselfish--as seeing Bodie's pleasure through to its culmination to the neglect of his own.
But his torment was not long drawn out, for Bodie gave an unintelligible groan and, abruptly bringing his hands round to reinforce Doyle's hold, shoved hard into the tight channel thus provided him.
Doyle held his partner until the spasms stopped, his own passion banked to embers while, with sudden nervousness, he awaited Bodie's reaction.
All thoughts of revenge had vanished.
A moment passed. Then Bodie gripped Doyle's wrist and proceeded to peel the thin fingers free of sensitized flesh, one at a time. Before Doyle could divine his partner's intention, Bodie lifted Doyle's hand to his mouth and began to lick it clean with long, warm sweeps of his tongue.
Stunned, Doyle trembled as the embers burst once more into full flame. He fell back as Bodie spun round and took the ends of his tie in a no-nonsense grasp that made retreat impossible. Automatically curving an arm round Bodie's shoulders to preserve his balance, Doyle ventured optimistically, "You okay?"
Bodie merely stared at him, his formidable presence in no way lessened by his state of undress. "Very. You?"
His partner's prosaic response was reassuring. Affecting dreamy disinterest, Doyle gave the question two seconds of polite consideration. "Could use a little help," he murmured at last.
A slow grin took command of Bodie's features. "I'll see what I can do."
Doyle squirmed; that morning remained all too clear in his memory. Bodie had, in fact, taken excellent care of him. And after that first time, they had readily fallen into the habit of turning to one another for sex.
While Doyle had accepted this turn of events with no admitted qualms, Bodie--in keeping with his earlier resistance--had proven somewhat skittish. It was he who, some weeks down the road, had asked if Doyle found their new relationship confining. Doyle had airily answered in the negative. Then Bodie had pressed him skeptically as to whether Doyle didn't actually miss doing the birds.
At Bodie's persistence, Doyle had begun to wonder if his partner were obliquely trying to express his own feelings. But, confronted, Bodie had denied that he was unhappy with the arrangement, and the subject had been dropped.
For Doyle, however, the questioning had only begun.
Along the edge of the rug that separated the dining area from the lounge, June marched. She cumbrously walked from one end of the small room to the other, back and forth, again and again.
Bodie had long since ceased to listen to her self-pitying mumblings, playing the indulgent civil servant to the grieving widow. Yet there was something compelling in the way she tirelessly lumbered across the uncarpeted floor, her hands literally wringing together. The slice of gateau had found its way into Bodie's stomach rather than June's, small compensation for putting up with this aimless harangue.
And then she said something Bodie could not ignore.
"Are you saying you'd rather it was Doyle who'd been gunned down?" he asked, deceptively civil.
Eyes swimming in tears, June glanced at Bodie as though she had forgotten his presence. "Don't sound so high and mighty. I'd rather anyone else had died instead of Brian. Not that I wish anyone dead, y'know? I don't. Oh, damn."
"You're tired," Bodie pointed out, his tone lacking sympathy. "Why don't you sit down and rest, June? You're wearing me out just watching you."
"I can't," she replied pettishly. "Wish I could. I haven't slept since it happened."
"Pacing'll only make it worse."
June rounded on him. "Oh, it's easy for you to say! I expect you've had this chat before--with other widows!"
"No." Bodie pushed his plate away. "Basic common sense. But you're not the only one hurting. Told you before, Bri was a good mate. We all miss him."
She grabbed the edge of the table to steady herself. "Oh, yes, you might miss him for a while. But what about Danny? What about me?" Her eyes screwed tightly shut; she choked back a sob. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Bodie, why are you wasting your time here?"
Baldly Bodie said, "Finn's lead, remember? I need it so I can take him with me."
"Oh." June inhaled sharply. "Oh." A little shakily she pushed off from the table. "Give me a minute, will you?" She started toward the corridor. "It's--buried away. But--I need to use the--"
"I can wait." With an effort, Bodie managed to say the words graciously. He would far rather have been out of the door that very moment.
Yet as the woman walked away with halting steps, Bodie watched her critically. "You'll be all right?"
"Yes." The word wafted back to him on a low moan as June rounded the corner and disappeared out of his sight.
Grimacing to himself, Bodie suspected he might be in for a long wait. June had gone as white as the lilies that had graced Brian's coffin. Perhaps he ought to ring Cowley and suggest counseling--or better still, request that he send someone who could stay with the distraught woman until she might come to terms with her new situation.
Incapable of sitting still another moment, Bodie surged to his feet. He collected the soiled dishes and carried them into the kitchen. These he piled into the sink along with those used earlier, all of which were then covered with water to soak.
Through the kitchen window, Nell and June's boy Danny could be seen kneeling down, heads close together, a colorful rug stretched out on the lawn beneath them. Nell held a sooty black cat in her lap; Danny was brushing its coat with slow caution.
Mingled scents rose from the sideboard to tantalize and distract. Bodie idly began to inspect the various plates, sampling a bite here and another there until he had gone through every dish. He helped himself to a glass of water, spending another moment watching June's neighbor and child play in the afternoon sun.
After a bit, it struck him that quite some time had elapsed since June had excused herself. Muttering under his breath, Bodie took another wander through the array of foods that littered the counter. Chewing with no real pleasure, he finished off a spicy beef pasty, rinsed his fingers under the tap, and decided it was definitely time to leave.
He strode out into the corridor, and made an educated guess as to which closed door represented the toilet. Coming to stand right outside the one deemed most likely, he called loudly, "June, I'll find something else for the dog, okay?"
"Bodie?" The woman's voice barely carried through the door.
"Yeah, it's me. I'm going now, taking Finn with me. Don't worry about the lead, I'll find something--"
Frowning, he went nearer. "What is it?"
.Can you-- Can you come in here--please?"
He heard a low gasp. "Please?'
Confounded, Bodie took hold of the brass-colored knob and reluctantly gave it a turn. "Are you sure, June?" He edged the door open.
A bitten-off moan. "I think--I need--your help."
She was squatting over the toilet, her panties puddled around one foot, black frock hitched onto her thighs. Jerkily her head came up as Bodie entered the small room; her eyes were wide and filled with pain, her mouth drawn paper thin. Watery spots of red stained the toilet seat, as well as the small towel that dangled loosely from her hand.
Faintly shocked, Bodie said, "You're not--?"
She bit her lip. "I thought I had to you know--but when I tried--"
"I'll ring for an ambulance." Bodie smartly stepped back into the corridor.
"Bodie!" June cried. "I don't think--there's time. Fetch some towels--upstairs in the--airing cupboard. Oh--!" She half-stood and reached for the empty towel rail. With legs spread apart she hung on, her face contorting as the contracting muscle reshaped the outline of her abdomen, bearing it downward.
"Jesus Christ, June!" Bodie shouted; he had seen the powerful movement of June's uterus through the fabric of her dress. "You had to've known this was coming on!"
"No--Danny took ages," June grunted. "Oh, please--Bodie--the towels!"
Breaking free of his paralysis, Bodie jogged into the corridor then raced back to where he had noticed the stairs. He took the steps three and four at a time. Seconds later he found the upstairs bathroom. The airing cupboard was behind the door; inside he found stacks of clean, dry towels. Snatching up a huge handful, he bolted out to the landing and pounded back down to the ground floor.
Breathing roughly, June still clung to the towel rail, her temple resting against the wall. Sweat beaded her brow and upper lip. She looked exhausted.
"Towels," Bodie announced curtly, thrusting them toward her.
"You'll--have to--use them."
"To do what?" Bodie exclaimed. "You ought to be in hospital. I'm no doctor!"
June's eyes rolled shut and her whole body went tense. "The baby is--coming--now," she told him with painful articulation. "You'll have--"
"God damn you, June," Bodie snapped. "I can't help you!"
"You must!" she sobbed. The contraction intensified, and she cried out, helplessly shuffling her feet another inch or two apart to accommodate the inexorable downward pressure.
"Oh, Christ." Bodie dropped down next to June's left foot and gingerly lifted her skirt. "Bloody hell!" He rocked back on his heels. "I can't do this," he said bluntly. "I'm going to ring for proper help."
Tears ran down June's face and dripped onto the linoleum floor. "Two--more," she gasped. "Maybe three. I can--hardly--"
But Bodie was already hurtling into the kitchen, where he had seen a phone mounted on one of the walls. Skidding to a stop, he was just about to grab the handset off the cradle when he had an even better idea. He unlatched the window over the sink, flung it wide and shouted through the net curtain, "Nell! Nell, ring 999! June needs an ambulance!"
The woman looked up, startled eyes tracking Bodie's voice. Directly, she began to struggle to her feet. Not waiting to see that she had understood him or that she would obey, Bodie sprinted back to the toilet.
There he came upon June weeping pitiably, one shaking hand wrung like a talon about the rail, the other hidden beneath her skirt.
"I've told Nell," Bodie stated flatly. "She'll take care of it." He picked up one of the towels and unfolded it with military precision. "Tell me what to do." June's beet-red face and clamped-shut jaws suggested he would have to wait before she could respond. Accordingly, he went down on his heels again and elevated the hem of June's skirt, Wincing, he beheld the sight that had disconcerted him so badly a moment before: the dark-haired crown of a slick, wet head cruelly distending the opening to June's body.
"Don't--let it--fall," she hissed. "Use the--towel to--wipe it--off. Oh, sweet Jesus--!"
Once more she began to grunt, a long, agonized sound that raked at Bodie's ears and scraped at his nerves. Simultaneously, a little more of the child's head became visible. Worriedly, Bodie raised the soft terrycotton material to within a hair's breadth of the tiny, sodden skull.
The contraction ended.
Panting, June slumped forward, her cheek flattened against the wall.
"Is that it? Has it stopped?" Bodie asked hopefully.
"God, I wish--! Uhh--"
In the next seconds the child's face was revealed in slow but steady increments; furrowed brow, flattened nose, pinched lips--its every feature seemed to reflect dismay at being introduced so ignominiously into this new world.
Contemplating the wizened and wrinkled head depending so weirdly from its mother's body, Bodie was unaware that his expression matched that of the newborn's almost exactly.
"The head's out, June," he announced tersely. "Should I touch it?"
She mumbled something that Bodie could not decipher. His patience already sorely tested, Bodie opened his mouth to growl. Then he took in June's face: the anguish of loss, the sleepless nights, her present, racking pain--all were deeply etched into her features. His temper dissolved unspoken.
"Christ," Bodie again said under his breath. He covered one of June's small, clammy hands with a warm palm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "You're doing fine, love. Don't give up now, eh?"
With a low, wrenching cry, she bent her knees and helplessly pulled on the rail. As the next contraction began to bend her to its will, Bodie forced himself to shut out her suffering so he could focus entirely on the progress of the child.
With exasperating lack of haste, first one shoulder then the other broke free. Pillowing the waxen, mottled creature with the lightest pressure of the towel, nonetheless Bodie was unprepared when the rest of it seemingly poured out all at once. Fumbling a little, he yet managed to balance the mucky newcomer before it could overflow onto the floor.
"June?" The voice came from the door. Without looking round, Bodie knew that it was Nell. Somewhere in the distance he could hear the distinctive wail of an emergency vehicle siren; Bodie only hoped that it was headed toward June's house.
"Where's--Danny?" June whispered.
"In front. He's watching for the ambulance. Here, Mr. Bodie, cover the wee lad with another towel to keep him warm, won't you?"
"You take him--!"
"No. Not that I wouldn't love to, mind. But there's more to come. If you can shift over a little, I can help June with that--providing the ambulance isn't here before then, of course."
"More?" Bodie protested faintly, reluctantly accepting the proffered second towel. He fastidiously draped it over the infant, being very careful not to touch it or the still attached, pulsing umbilical cord with his unwashed fingers.
"The afterbirth," Nell clarified. "Is the child breathing?"
"I--" Bodie examined it closely. "I don't think so."
"Give his little feet a slap, then."
" His feet? "
"Just do as I say."
Smothering a curse, Bodie warily maneuvered the unwieldy creature into the curve of his left arm so that it lay close to his body, and bared the bowed legs. Anchoring the ankles between the fingers of his left hand, he applied a tap to the sole of each foot with his right.
"A little harder," Nell advised quietly.
Blinking against the sweat dripping into his eyes, Bodie gave the child an audible smack. It gave a shocked inhalation; in the next second, a reedy complaint rose into the air and slowly grew in intensity.
Squeamishly mindful of the umbilical cord, Bodie replaced the towel. He shifted a little to take some of the strain off his back.
"Let me see him, Bodie," June implored. Amazingly, Bodie had almost forgotten about the child's mother. She stood braced with her shoulder against the wall, her hair plastered to damp cheeks, her eyes wide and pleading.
Bodie turned and inched a little closer, bringing the child directly into June's line of sight. Head bent forward, she stared expressionlessly down at the now red-tinged face with its wide open, squalling mouth.
"Does he have all his fingers and toes?" she asked tremulously.
Peering beneath the towel, Bodie dutifully counted them. "All present and accounted for."
Nell broke into sudden laughter. "He's a beauty, June. His dad would've been proud."
"A beauty?" Bodie breathed disbelievingly, "This?"
Weakly writhing, impotent fists flailing, and streaked from head to toe with blood and some other greasy, unspeakable substance, the child appeared to Bodie quite one of ugliest things he had ever seen.
In the service area restaurant at Farthing Corner, Doyle meticulously stripped off the protective cover of a UHT container, the contents of which he then tipped into his cup of coffee. Although the food and drink here lacked taste, texture and visual appeal, he had decided a break from driving would be preferable to becoming one more motorway statistic.
Not that he would have been entirely without blame; his mind, constantly drawn back to Bodie like flotsam skirting a strong undertow, had refused to pay heed to the late day traffic and the maniacal personalities hurrying towards home. After narrowly avoiding a collision that would have left him permanently adhering to the back end of a mud-spattered lorry, Doyle had started looking for a service or rest area, and luckily, had found himself within a few miles of Farthing Corner.
This was his second coffee, the first having accompanied a soggy hamburger and almost as soggy chips. Trying to expunge the lingering nastiness coating his tongue, Doyle sucked down a mouthful of loamcolored liquid that merely scalded off the tips of his taste buds.
He sighed, something he had done frequently of late.
In the six months that they had been lovers, Doyle's emotions had run the gamut from delirious happiness to crashing depression. There had been days when he had castigated himself in the crudest of terms for having allowed the relationship to begin at all; others, when he had willingly acknowledged that his life had been immeasurably enriched. Bodie, on the other hand, appeared to have spent little--if anytime in contemplating the matter. As imperturbable and taciturn as ever, he had not alluded to the subject since that one conversation regarding Doyle's apparently diminished interest in others.
Doyle had been left to wonder if Bodie viewed their changed situation as simply an enhancement to their partnership, the sex being nothing more than convenient. For although Bodie was a most tender lover and astonishingly, a faithful one, as well--in every other respect his treatment of Doyle was discernibly unaltered. But, then, Doyle could hardly complain on that account, as he himself had yet to write sonnets to Bodie's eyes, or plight his troth on bended knee--or far less dramatically, even to take up Bodie's hand in his when the moment allowed. Outside their occasional bed, Doyle rarely displayed physical affection--but then, he never had. And now, he remained determinedly removed and bristlingly independent--to all outward appearances, anyway.
But they had reached a crossroads--or at least Doyle had. The business with Quinn, the poor, befuddled bastard, had been one more reminder of what lay in wait for him and Bodie; Cook's senseless murder had been nothing less than a final warning.
Yet, fear of death was not the catalyst that had driven Doyle to re-examine his life--not fear of his own death, anyway. Watching Quinn race his car into the runway barrier for seemingly no reason at all had brought to mind another man equally unswerving in his resolve: Bodie.
For Bodie, CI5 would never lose its appeal. Just as Quinn had desperately fought years of programming rather than let the side down, so Bodie would forge on against increasingly sophisticated and lethal opposition, budget cuts, shifting political power arrangements, and advancing age to serve Queen and George Cowley. And therein lay the crux of Doyle's misgivings.
For Doyle had lost his edge. Not only that, but he no longer craved the adrenalin surge that was invoked by fire-fights, car chases, and good old-fashioned dust-ups. Perhaps his loss of appetite was due, at least in part, to the realization that he was performing sub-par. While there had always been fear in any unpredictable situation, just lately it had begun to ride on his shoulder like a vulture scenting blood. It was foregone that Cowley would eventually rumble him; worse, so long as he tried to carry on, Bodie was at risk.
Pure selfishness had persuaded him to let it go so long: once Doyle cut his ties to the Squad, those to Bodie would very likely be severed as well. Knowing Bodie as he did, Doyle did not see how it could be otherwise.
His leaving would force Bodie to seek a new partner, for Cowley preferred not to send his agents out solo. Bodie was a creature of habit, and no one was as familiar with his partner's quirks as Doyle. Handing him over to another partner could herald a very dangerous period for Bodie. Even though he was extraordinarily adaptable--given his background, how could he have been otherwise?--Bodie had spent eight years with Ray Doyle, who knew his abilities, instincts, and methods better, sometimes, than he knew his own.
"Have you done, sir?"
Doyle started. A young man stood behind a small trolley that was already piled high with litter from other tables. Glancing down into his half-drunk and now stonecold coffee, he said wryly, "Yeah, reckon I am."
The chair squeaked as Doyle pushed it back from the table. He walked across the brightly lit interior to the counter and requested another coffee. While he waited, he looked out through the darkened windows. Dusk crept over the rolling countryside, bearing nightfall in its wake. The infrequent blaze of car lights on the motorway indicated that most of the traffic had thinned out--Doyle had sat here for a very long time.
He handed a coin to the cashier and picked up the steaming beaker. With a mumbled thanks, he made for the door, his stride long, his gait quickened. His actions this day had only put off the inevitable. More than that, Doyle had wasted hours of Bodie's company that would never be regained.
The surface of the gold Capri glistened with rivulets of dew. Doyle opened the door and slid inside, flicking moisture from his fingertips. Something of the day's warmth lingered, but he shivered. Spurred by a sudden sense of urgency, he keyed the ignition, flipped on the windscreen wipers and the headlamps, then released the handbrake. Wedging the hot beaker between his thighs, he turned the car onto the drive that led to the sliproad, his thoughts centered on home--and Bodie.
He wanted one more night with Bodie before coming to a decision. In the darkest recesses of his mind, however, he already knew what he must do.
Finn's head came up, tilted to one side, then held steady, ears cocked toward the front garden. Bodie, too, heard a car drive up the street, continue past the block of flats, then brake to a stop some yards farther up. The engine sounded familiar, but he had been disappointed too many times this endless evening to once more hope it might be Doyle returning home.
There followed the bang of a heavy door shutting, muted in the thick, moisture-laden air. Straining, Bodie imagined he heard foot steps--boot heels?--clicking along the pavement, headed in this direction; a clatter as the walker ascended the front stairs; then silence.
Finn took to his feet, tail wagging. He stared up at the door overlooking the back garden, his body from nose to tail tip making a single statement: I wait.
Bodie did not realize he was holding his breath until the dog suddenly sat down. Heaving a nervous yawn, Finn stretched out flat on the top step. Letting his own eyes fall shut, Bodie gritted his teeth against the anger now laced with disquiet that prowled inside his gut. By the luminous hands of his watch, he could see that the hour had already gone ten--Doyle should have been back long ago.
For all Bodie knew, Doyle might be lying dead on the side of the road--or lying, aroused, in someone else's bed. If it were the former, Bodie could count on Cowley to inform as soon as he had had the news himself; if the latter, Bodie would know all too soon enough.
It had seemed logical to bring Finn here to Doyle's ground-floor flat: there was the small, but dog-size back garden; the high, wooden fence that provided more than adequate restriction; and the expanse of uncarpeted floor should Finn forget his training.
But no Doyle.
Slow to boil, Bodie's ire had simmered all afternoon and well into the evening. The whole bloody day had been a wash-out from beginning to end, as far as he was concerned. And he was tired, though in truth he had done little enough.
The ambulance crew had arrived just as June had begun to divest herself of the afterbirth. A captive audience, Bodie had literally been left holding the baby while the paramedics had squeezed into the tiny bathroom with them. Nell had apprehended Danny in the corridor, the boy having trailed the ambulance attendants into the house.
A grisly piece of work, Bodie had found the culmination of June's delivery repellent and fascinating in equal measure. As blood was routinely associated with serious damage in his business, it had been difficult to accept that this was a natural and necessary process--and that June was not, in fact, hemorrhaging to death before his eyes.
A moment later, the umbilical cord had been clamped and severed, the baby's vital functions assessed and approved. At long last, June's newborn had been rendered into her none-too steady arms, mother and child loaded onto a trolley, and amidst much wobbling of wheels, transported to the waiting vehicle. Without questioning the impulse, Bodie had insisted on joining them in the back of the ambulance, going so far as to flash his CI5 identification when the driver made as if to argue. As the double doors had folded shut, Bodie had assured Nell that he would get a ride back and let them know how June was getting on.
That he had done. Leaving an exhausted, pallid-faced June dozing in her bed while her infant was numbered, cleaned up, and settled into his own cubicle in the pediatrics ward, Bodie had summoned a taxi to return to June's house. There he had taken tea with Nell and June's boy. Utterly untraurnatized, the child had decided that his mother's ordeal was the stuff of fabulous tales to be passed onto his mates and anyone else who would listen. Imagining what June might have to contend with later, Bodie had repressed a rare smile while ruffling the child's hair and bidding Nell farewell. Outside, he had collected an uncertain Finn, the dog having waited disconsolately throughout.
And here he was, perched on his heels at the back of the night--dark garden, three-quarters empty can of beer in hand, waiting, as Finn waited, for someone who might never show up.
With devastating suddenness, the dog let out a bark, whirled and slapped his forepaws against the half-open back door. It gave way before his weight; Finn shot through the opening. Bodie's hand fell on the butt of his pistol just as a light came on in the kitchen.
A husky voice carried clearly on the still air: "Hello, old son. Whoa! You'll have me over in a minute. Down, Finn. There's a good lad."
Heart pounding violently in his ears, Bodie yet knew at once who that voice belonged to.
"You been fed, then? 'F course you have. Don't try that big-eyed, pleading look on me, eh?"
Boot heels sounded a lazy tattoo in their approach toward the back of the kitchen. Gripping the can tightly enough to dent the thin metal, Bodie watched as a lean shadow spilled into the light. The elongated human-shape eerily molded itself to each concrete step, then stretched farther and farther into the back garden until it was absorbed into the night: Doyle had entered the doorway.
Turning sideways to let the dog pad past him down the stair, Doyle crossed the threshold and drew the door shut behind him. "Jacket on the chair back, half-eaten sandwich on the table, ring-tab on the counter--you're a detective's dream," he remarked amiably.
Bodie said nothing.
A muted glimpse of white suggested sharp teeth tugging at a bottom lip. "I've been looking for you," Doyle tried again.
"You've found me." Bodie's voice betrayed none of the emotions roiling around inside him--anger, relief, resentment, apprehension. Finn trotted to his side and sat down.
"I've just come from hospital. Waited round your flat for a couple of hours. When you didn't come home, I rang Dispatch. They told me about June--and you."
It had not occurred to Bodie that Doyle might try to seek him out at his flat just as he had sought Doyle here. Chagrined, he asked gruffly, "How is she?"
"Friendlier than the last time I saw her. It was after visiting hours, but she insisted on having a chat. She introduced me to Damon William before one of the ward sisters chased her back to her room. She's doing fine."
"Damon William?" Bodie frowned.
"Damon's her father's name; think you can guess where the William comes from."
"She's very grateful to you."
Through clenched teeth, Bodie said, "Was her fault she hadn't got hold of the doctor in time. She's bloody lucky things didn't go all wrong!"
"According to June, her pains had been very mild till soon after you got there. Kinda sneaked up on her."
"I know, I know," Bodie said irritably. "She told me all that in the ambulance."
"She said," Doyle stated without inflection, "that you held her hand."
Dark blue eyes fixed on Doyle with intense dislike.
Unfazed, Doyle leaned back against the house and folded his arms across his chest. "Other than that, your bedside manner stinks--says June."
"Yeah, well, you can tell her I don't intend to make a habit of it."
Nodding, Doyle continued, "She told me about Finn and your offer to take him on for a bit. But she's changed her mind and wants him back. Nell will mind him till she gets home, in a day or two."
"Finn will be happy to hear that," Bodie mused scathingly. "What about Nero?"
"Nell's cat. Do they get along?"
"I-- God knows." Doyle laughed uneasily. "One afternoon, and you're practically a member of the family."
"Yeah, well, it should've been you there."
"Quite right; I can't deny that." Doyle gave him a long look. "What are you sore about, Bodie?"
"Let's just say I've had better days." Curving his mouth round the rim of the can, Bodie emptied the remainder of the beer down his throat.
"D'you want me to go?" Doyle asked softly. "I could stay at your place."
"Do what you like. You usually do." Bodie had not meant to say that; the words had slipped out unpoliced.
Doyle straightened up. "Like today, you mean?"
"Never mind," Bodie muttered.
"I---see." Doyle took a deep breath. "I went to Reculver. Ever been there?"
"Can't say that I have."
"It's on the coast east of Herne Bay; y'know, in Kent."
"Must've driven past it a time or two. What's so interesting about Reculver?"
Doyle produced a mirthless chuckle. "Nothing, really. Just a big ruin--though it costs a fortune to get in. But it's quiet; overlooks the North Sea. I started out near Sittingbourne," he added meaningfully.
The mist formed a halo around the lamppost outside the block of flats; from this angle it was just visible over the spiked trim of the fence. Bodie gazed up at it indifferently. "Where Cook was killed."
"Hadn't changed much," Doyle said in response to Bodie's faintly accusatory tone.
"Bodie--" Doyle cut himself off.
When he failed to continue, Bodie prompted, "Yeah?"
Bodie bit back a curse. It was ludicrous that he should go through hell to please this man, and now that Doyle was finally here, Bodie do no more than snipe at him. "So," he said expressionlessly, "did you get any thinking done?"
Doyle's response was framed with caution. "A bit."
"Come to any conclusions?"
Angular shoulders rolled in a shrug. The movement, which would have been attenuated in full light was no more than a regathering of shadows in the gloom.
Steeling himself, Bodie asked, "You calling it quits, Doyle?"
"I-- How could you--?"
Bodie crunched the can in his fist. "I thought things have been going pretty good between us. What's made you decide to end it?"
A second passed before Doyle spoke. Then he replied candidly, "Wasn't talking about us."
A thousand colliding thoughts battled for supremacy in Bodie's brain; he found himself briefly at a loss. To cover his confusion--and his vexation at having revealed so much--he grunted, "No?"
"No. Why should you think that?"
Waving a hand in dismissal, Bodie demanded, "Then what have you been so broody about? Cook? Reynolds? All that silly rubbish with June?"
"I--" Doyle lifted his hands with fingers spread wide apart. "I've been thinking about leaving the Squad."
Having been convinced that Doyle intended to leave him, this statement merited a moment's reflection. "Any special reason?" Bodie asked blankly.
"This and that," Doyle hedged.
Through years of experience, Bodie had learned that it was best to take a different tack when Doyle was being evasive. So he asked, "Thought about what you might do instead?"
A snort ripped the air. "My prospects are limited. Not much I can do."
"Bollocks," Bodie said succinctly. "Two or three possibilities come immediately to mind. Ones even you wouldn't turn your nose up at."
"Yeah, yeah," Doyle conceded ruefully.
"Reckon I can think of a few, meself." He shifted his weight from one leg to the other. "But I won't do anything right away," he promised a little anxiously. "I mean, you don't need to worry about me not being around to watch your back. Just been thinking on it, y'know?"
The velvety air plucked at the cobwebs occupying Bodie's brain. "I've never worried about my back so long as you've been there," he said thoughtfully.
Doyle dropped his head, nose pointed toward the tip of his boot. Now Bodie's eyes had readjusted to the darkness, he could see his partner with soft-edged distinctiveness, though not clearly enough to discern his exact expression. Even so, he could sense Doyle's abstraction, and suspected there might be more forthcoming.
He did not have long to wait.
In an insistent whisper, Doyle said challengingly, "And what about you? Don't you ever think of doing something else?"
"Always," Bodie said placidly. "But that's my nature."
"Yet you've been with the Squad for eight years," Doyle reminded him. "Because of Cowley--the job?"
"Partly," Bodie agreed. "But I've had good commanders and good jobs before."
A trace of a smile played across Bodie's mouth. "Thought you'd've puzzled that out years ago."
The pale glow from the lamppost glittered in Doyle's intense gaze. "You can't mean me?"
"Me?" rasped Doyle.
Bodie's grin widened at the disbelieving tone. "Who else? Best partner I've ever had. In all ways."
The toe of Doyle's left boot scraped across flaking concrete, raptly overseen by its owner. "You're not one to settle down, mate. Be honest."
"True, too true." The moment stretched while Bodie pondered what to say. It occurred to him for the first time that he and Doyle had always managed to keep their relationship--in all its permutations--strictly implicit. The mutual caring, respect, need, and love had always been present, but never put into words for fear of--
Of giving credence to something that was too fragile to bear the weight of acknowledgment? Or, of discovering that beneath the surface of their friendship nothing more comprehensive existed?
Intuitively linked to his partner, Bodie speculated that this time Doyle needed more than a mere fleeting touch--in friendship or in passion--to allay his concerns. In fact, he was only now beginning to register the extent of those concerns.
"That is, I wasn't one to settle down," he went on, as though there had been no lapse, "until I met you." With Doyle's attention full upon him, Bodie inquired lightly, "So why d'you want to quit?"
Exhaling loudly through his nostrils, Doyle settled back against the side of the building once more. With sardonic admiration, he commented, "Great interrogation technique, sunshine."
Bodie persevered. "Because of Cook?"
"Not particularly," Doyle responded wearily. "Or more accurately, not only."
"The shooting? Yours, I mean."
Eyes turning heavenward, Doyle answered in a hushed voice, "Maybe. Maybe there area lot of reasons." He made a small, disparaging sound before concluding, "What it all comes down to, is that I'm tired. Sounds stupid, eh? But I'm talking about being so knackered that I don't want to get out of bed in the morning--hard enough to crawl into the bloody thing at night."
"And you think that'll change if we get out?" Bodie wondered.
"We?" echoed Doyle. Then: "Reckon I'm just being honest with myself. Yeah, that shooting took more out of me than I've ever admitted." He chortled raggedly. "But maybe it's just time I accepted that I'm not getting any younger. It's a bugger of a job, Bodie. And I don't think I can keep up anymore."
"You mean you don't want to," Bodie amended with unmeant arrogance.
Doyle's mouth fell open. He dropped his arms to his sides, hands rolled into fists, and leaned forward.
"Don't get your back up," Bodie soothingly anticipated Doyle's angry outburst. "Statement of fact. You've got another year or two in you--otherwise I'd've suggested reassignment months ago."
Pleased to hear a lick of temper amidst the uncharacteristic despondency, Bodie concurred, "That's right. I'd wager Cowley's so understaffed we may have some leeway in our options within the Squad. But if you'd rather get out altogether, we shouldn't have a problem."
"You keep saying we," Doyle yelled. "You'd never leave the Squad! I know how you feel--"
"How is that? And keep your voice down, will you?"
"It's-- Well, it's important to you. If you left because of me--"
"Doyle," Bodie interrupted with belabored patience, "you just heard me say that I've been hanging about for the last eight years because of you. Not Cowley, not Her Majesty's Government. You."
Doyle's harassed tone was infuriating. Bodie said coldly, "Don't be an idiot! You know why. You must've known for fucking ever."
For an instant the stillness was absolute.
Then Doyle pushed away from the wall and began to stalk toward his partner. "Must I?"
"Except for words, I've told you every way I know how," Bodie replied bitterly, swiftly gaining his own feet.
Coming to a stop a yard away, Doyle looked hard into Bodie's face. "You saying you love me?"
Having known without doubt that should the moment of revelation ever befall them Doyle would somehow foist the burden of declaration onto him, Bodie gave his partner a fulminating glare. He was within a heartbeat of denying everythingbut only the realization that they would likely never reach this moment again forestalled him. They had, after all, come this far, and he had already given away altogether too much to revert to pretense. He began, "Of cour---"
Doyle's hands shot out and cupped Bodie's face. "No!" he exclaimed in a throaty whisper. He closed the distance between them. "Let me." With that he brought his mouth down on Bodie's parted lips.
Time ground to a stop as Bodie surrendered himself to his lover's welcome but painfully missed attentions. Beside him, Finn let out a quizzical sound; when moments passed and his alarm went unremarked, the dog grudgingly subsided.
His breath warm on Bodie's cheek, Doyle said, "I love you."
Stunned--for in the most closely guarded part of himself Bodie had never really expected to hear those words from Doyle--Bodie wrenched out of his partner's grasp, caught hold of one thin-boned wrist and jerked the slighter man alongside him as he strode toward the steps. There he flung wide the door, drenching both of them in the light from the kitchen. "Say that now," he commanded harshly.
Blinking like an owl caught out by the morning sun, Doyle gave his partner a chastising look. "Disbelieving bastard," he grinned heartlessly. "Nope. It's your turn."
Bodie swallowed. Dipping his head, he brushed his mouth against Doyle's temple with an exaggeratedly delicate touch--it was either that or thump the aggravating bugger. "You know I do. Doyle, you prick, you know I love you."
Laughter rumbling deep in his throat, Doyle announced, "That wasn't so hard, now was it? Although you have gone a mite pale, mate."
Despite Doyle's flippant comments, his face was as gravely serious as Bodie had ever seen it, green eyes glimmering with a hint of tears and vast affection.
"Don't mind me," Doyle said huskily; he swiped at his eyes with one hand. "'S it my turn again?"
Sliding his fingers into silken curls, Bodie matched his mouth to Doyle's and kissed him long and luxuriantly. "Yes," he said at last.
With a self-conscious smile, Doyle stated unfalteringly, "I love you. You're my life, Bodie."
Bodie buried his face in Doyle's hair and clung to him, savoring his partner's heat and solidity--and the bruisingly strong grip with which he was clasped in turn. He felt soaringly alive for the first time in days. "Might ask you to say that again some day," he warned.
"Now I know you don't mind hearing it, I might come up with it all on my own," Doyle countered.
For several minutes, they stood in the circle of their combined warmth exchanging slow, searching kisses, oblivious to everything but each other. Around them, the humid air gradually drifted downward. Protected by the lateness of the hour, the increasing thickness of the fog, and the tall, sturdy fence which separated them from the street, they knew themselves quite safe from prying eyes.
"You hungry?" Doyle eventually asked, quivering slightly as Bodie exposed him to the night, purposefully spreading wide his newly unbuttoned shirt before turning his attentions to his trousers.
"C'mon, then, and I'll fry up--" The breath caught in Doyle's throat. Bodie's hands, moving like silent predators over familiar terrain, had closed in with devastating swiftness on vulnerable prey. "You won't--likely find--anything to--tuck into--down there."
"No?" Bodie dropped to one knee in front of his partner.
"No. Ah--" Doyle's fingers curved around Bodie's head and gently held him in place. "But don't--stop looking--will you?"
His mouth otherwise engaged, Bodie used body language to reply, his laconic statement causing Doyle to writhe.
Finn, hovering in the half-open door, looked on with some concern, his ears rocking forward when Doyle began to moan. As the soft noises intensified, the dog determined that interference at this stage might be unwelcome, and so abandoned the two humans to carry on with their arcane ritual while he went in search of some other entertainment.
"Security guard," Doyle said. Wielding a two-pronged fork, he prodded the slab of bread sizzling in the pan in front of him.
"Gym instructor." Chin propped on Doyle's shoulder, Bodie idly oversaw his partner's efforts on his behalf.
"You'd fancy doing that on a full-time basis?"
"Might run to fat otherwise," Bodie rejoined virtuously.
"Not on what we'll be making."
"You're expecting the worst. Cowley may find something useful for us to do."
"You really think so?"
"Security guard, gym instructor--there are a few of those in CI5 as well, y'know?"
"I can think of something else you can do," Doyle murmured, a smirk hidden from Bodie's view.
"Yeah?" Bodie tightened his arms round Doyle's bare midriff. "Sorry, sunshine, but I'm not passing my favors about--not even for the betterment of the Free World."
"That's reassuring. But not what I had in mind."
"No?" Bodie sounded incredulous.
Jabbing him with an elbow, Doyle remarked, "Was thinking of your newfound talent. Y'know, midwifery."
The silence that ensued was impressive.
"Of course, you'd have to do something about your manners." Tsking, Doyle gave his head a shake. "June said they were deplorable."
"That's already been mentioned. I'd rather hire on with MI6." Bodie made no effort to conceal a shudder.
"That bad?" Doyle lifted the pan off the ring and set it on a tile trivet. Then he turned round and rested his hands on Bodie's waist, smiling into his face.
"Worse." Scowling darkly, Bodie said, "I-- Hell of a thing to admit, Ray, but it's easier killing people."
It was obvious that Bodie was only half-joking. Doyle suggested, "Maybe the next one you deliver will come out shooting."
The faintest hint of a curve came to Bodie's lips. "Might be able to handle that."
Doyle applied a kiss to the tip of Bodie's nose. "Scary, was it?"
"Terrifying. D'you have any idea what that looks like?"
"Kids being born? Was with the Met, sunshine. Had to sit through a film or two, medical instruction, all that. Prepared for every contingency, we were."
"But I bet you never delivered any of the little beggars yourself."
"None that I remember."
"You wouldn't've forgotten that, mate!"
"Happens every day I'm told." Doyle brushed his mouth against Bodie's cheek and returned to his preparations.
"Not to me," Bodie intoned fervently.
"So scratch midwife." Doyle drained still-bubbling fat from each battered wedge. One by one the chunks of golden bread were shifted to the waiting plate. "By the way, what's brown and--let's see--has something to do with the Isle of Wight ferry?"
Bodie hooted derisively. "You never could get a joke right, Doyle. It's 'What's brown and steams out of Cowes? Answer: The Isle of Wight ferry.'"
"Ah ha! It was you. Knew it had to be."
"Danny told you!"
"Outside June's room; he and Nell were just leaving. Gave me start, he did," Doyle admitted wryly. "All I could think of was Cowley. Nearly ruptured meself at the thought"
Giggling delightedly, Bodie remarked, "That never occurred to me at all. Anyway, Danny thought it was funny."'
"June won't thank you for ruining her son's mind. And you've gone off the track, sunshine." Doyle carried the plate to the narrow breakfast table situated at the opposite end of the kitchen. "We were discussing how you intend to support me in the manner to which I've become accustomed."
"You're the one changed the subject, pet," Bodie pointed out trenchantly. Nevertheless he retired to thought, his brow wrinkled, his gaze distant. All at once his features noticeably brightened. "I could take up gunrunning ag-- I could take up gunrunning."
"Bring the tea pot, will you?" Pulling out a chair and brushing off the seat, Doyle countered, "You could also be a minder. Much less likely to end up in the dock for seeing to your client's needs, eh?"
Bodie paused in the doorway. "Lacks appeal." He waggled his brows suggestively. "What about white slaver?"
"I'd miss you." A soft whine and scrape came from outside. Doyle snapped his fingers. "Dogcatcher!" He jerked his head toward the door.
Wordlessly, Bodie moved to obey.
Watching his bare-legged, berobed partner with heavy-lidded appreciation, Doyle murmured, "Actually, after you've bolted this lot down, I think we ought to give your bedroom skills another test."
With a hand on his hip, Bodie halfturned to give his partner a sultry look from under thick lashes. When this had had the desired effect--Doyle thoughtfully licked his lips and began to smile with anticipation--Bodie attended to the doorknob, taking care to stand back as Finn, mouth open and tail sweeping from side to side, galloped in.
"My bedroom skills are beyond reproach," Bodie defended himself.
"Always room for improvement, mate. And practice makes--"
"Speak for yourself Some of us have already attained perfection." The door met the frame with a protracted creak. "Anyway, d'you have any idea what time it is?" Bodie held up his wrist, prominently displaying the face of his watch.
"Timekeeper!" Doyle exclaimed. "London Transport are always hiring."
Bodie winced. "I've changed my mind. Let's discuss my bedroom skills instead."
"No, you were right. It's past your bedtime. Wouldn't want you to lose your beauty sleep," Doyle said with immense selflessness.
"Oh, no, I insist." Bodie started back across the room, grinning wolfishly. "But I'll tell you what: with this new time keeping talent of mine, I'll be sure to keep it under an hour."
Summoning a predatory smile of his own, Doyle drawled, "You'll be welcome to try."
-- THE END --