by Ellis Ward
"Jesus, mate!!! Doyle exclaimed. "Where in bloody hell did you find that?" The last day of April loomed less than a week away, and a raw breeze raced through the canyon formed by storied concrete and brick--yet Ray Doyle stood dressed only in oil-stained t-shirt and jeans, the cold-induced flush on his cheeks belying the warmth of his expression as he stared, enraptured, at the battered strip of metal proffered to him.
"Culver found it somewhere," Bodie replied, containing a smirk with an effort. "He remembered me mentioning your passion for grotty old Nortons and said you'd probably want this. So I made him an offer, and he took it. D'you want it, then?"
"Want it! Christ, it's--it's--and in such good nick! I can't believe it." Doyle's eyes shone with epiphanic lustre; he reverently took the curving back fender out of Bodie's hands and turned it this way and that, lifting it to the grey light of day, the better to appreciate his unexpected bounty.
Shaking his head with mute amusement, Bodie commented, "Lucky I bought it for you, then, eh?"
Doyle ran a probing finger over a patch of rust. "You must've spent a bundle." Mouth pursed ruefully, he added, "I'm a bit strapped just now. It'll be a couple of weeks before I can pay you back."
Bodie tugged at his left ear and glanced without interest at the neighboring house. He knew why Doyle was lacking in funds: most of his recent income had gone to support June Cook and her now-fatherless children by way of an anonymous office collection. She would never be told where the bulk of that liberal gift had come from; Doyle had sworn everyone to silence. In the weeks that had followed Cook's death, however, Doyle had lived very simply, by necessity. This was Bodie's way of rewarding his generosity. "'S all right, Ray. Call it a pressie, okay?"
"For what this cost you! Not likely." Doyle's hands tightened round the sharp edge of the discolored fender with a lover's possessiveness. "Maybe I can do something for you--y'know, work it off somehow."
A speculative gleam came into Bodie's eyes. "For example?"
Briefly stumped for an answer, Doyle shrugged. "Wait-- I know: I'll do your cooking for--oh, a week?"
"A week!" Bodie's cutting tone effectively conveyed his opinion of such paltry restitution. "For a rare find like--" His lips twitched alarmingly. "--this?"
Clutching the aged metal to his chest, Doyle said with some sheepishness, "You're right, of course. You think of something, then." "Something?"
"Anything," Doyle said magnanimously.
"Anything?" Bodie's brows rose disbelievingly. "Really?"
Casting his partner a jaded look, Doyle prompted, "Go on, you twisted prole. What d'you want me to do?"
Lightly licking his lips, Bodie suddenly realized that his heart had skipped a beat and now seemed to be climbing into the too-tight channel of his throat. "Let's see, I reckon I could claim droit de seigneur of your latest bit of fluff."
An impudent hoot of laughter rent the air. "What bit of fluff?" Doyle graphically rubbed his thumb back and forth over the tips of his fingers. "Birds don't come cheap, y'know."
"Some of the-ones-I've known didn't even come expensively," Bodie remarked drolly. "Right. Reckon that leaves us with indentured services, then."
Favoring Bodie with a withering look, Doyle bent over the skeletal structure of his bike and set about positioning the length of molded steel over the exposed rear wheel with an eye toward future perfection. "Don't injure yourself thinking on it, mate. Keep it simple, okay?"
Spreading his hands before him, Bodie noticed not only that there was a smudge of russet residue on his left palm, but that his fingers were trembling as well. It is cold, he assured himself, but tucked the betraying members into the depths of his pockets before Doyle could catch sight of them. "Simple, eh?" He pretended to retreat into profound cogitation. In fact, Bodie knew precisely what he wanted--but, how could he possibly put it into words? Slowly opening his mouth, Bodie gathered his courage about him. "Only one thing I can think of, Doyle." His voice came out low and mournful.
"Let's have it." Squatting beside the back wheel, Doyle raised his head and fixed Bodie with a knowing eye. "A night of illicit passion."
"Trust you. But who with?" Doyle wondered. "Told you, I can't even line up a date for myself, much less get one for--"
"Not one of your birds, Ray." The devil-may-care manner cost Bodie; his insides had begun to twist into a viperish, writhing knot. "Who then?" Doyle demanded blankly.
"You, idiot." Carefully maintaining a smooth facade, Bodie watched Doyle's face drain of all expression.
Bodie said nothing.
Taking pity on the man who now watched him with growing uneasiness, Bodie summoned a malicious grin. "Joke, Ray. Got you."
Doyle exhaled sharply. "Oh." With a forced chuckle, he rubbed self-consciously at his face, leaving a swath of rust from the outer corner of his left eye to the point of his chin. "Bloody-minded lunatic," he muttered peevishly.
"Gullible, Doyle," Bodie said heartlessly, his arrogant demeanor effectively concealing crushing disappointment. "That's what you are, mate."
Gazing down into the nutmeg depths of his pint glass, Bodie tried to shut out the memory of that afternoon for the thousandth time in just over a fortnight. Yet it haunted him, waking and sleeping--and with good reason. Believing he had put Doyle's concerns to rest, Bodie had carried on as though nothing unusual had taken place between them. But some niggling doubt must have lingered in Doyle's mind, for several times in the past weeks Bodie had ..... found himself the object of a dark green scrutiny, Doyle's gaze so intense it could raise the hair on the back of Bodie's neck. Once caught out, Doyle always shook off his preoccupation with a muttered apology and an excuse of temporary abstraction.
Of course, Bodie knew better--and he had only himself to blame. Baiting his partner with sexual innuendo had been an idiot thing to do, despite Doyle's unwitting encouragement. Even if Doyle sometimes seemed to view the whole of humanity as possible bed companions, for some reason Bodie had been excluded from that particular roster. Not to mention that to Bodie's fairly certain knowledge, Doyle had never indulged in a same-sex encounter, regardless of the measuring gaze he applied without bias to both men and women. Stupid of him, then, to even joke about it.
So why had Bodie allowed himself to fall sway to Doyle's unquestionable charms? Certainly the innate sensuality of the randy bugger explained some of it--from the unabashed, hips-forward provocation of his stance to the relaxed, tempting fullness of his mouth, Doyle was the epitome of unstudied carnal invitation. Although, to be truthful, it was Doyle himself as much as his inarguably pleasing exterior that had lured Bodie into his silken web. Irritating, yet generous; remote, yet warmly attentive; icily disapproving, yet quick to defend--all of this and more went into the contradictory package that comprised Ray Doyle. But most importantly of all, perhaps, was the fact that no one was allowed to get closer to Doyle than Bodie, no one was ever made more welcome, no one was ever more tolerated.
How could Bodie not love him?
Mired in discouraged reflection, Bodie was slow to notice when the already dim light slanting from overhead was partially eclipsed by the arrival of a stolid young man. Interested brown eyes settled on Bodie's face, and a mobile, gleaming mouth curved into an enticing smile obviously fashioned especially for him.
Glancing up from under thick lashes, Bodie spotted the timoroushess beneath the man's brash manner. Sighing inwardly, Bodie nevertheless responded with the tiniest twitch of his own lips.
This all the encouragement the other man needed, he bent nearer and offered rough-voiced words for Bodie's ear alone.
The proposition was considered and rejected in less than a heartbeat; Bodie shook his head. It occurred to him vaguely that it was time he left, being here under somewhat false pretenses. The men who patronized this pub came for far more than the fine quality of the liquor and the pleasant surroundings; for this was a gay pub, and here friendly gay company was sought. While his inclinations were most certainly homosexual, withdrawn and unforthcoming as he was tonight, Bodie no more belonged here than the local straight copper standing on the corner a street away.
When the young man made as though to persevere, Bodie raised his head and gave his accoster the full benefit of a most quelling stare. Rebuffed, the other man immediately retreated, boldly voicing his resentment that Bodie's broody allure should so suddenly turn to calculated menace.
Directing his scowl once more into his glass, Bodie lifted the rim to his lips and drained the remainder of the dark, potent ale with a single, long swallow.
"I'll have what this chap's drinking," a quiet voice said beside him. "And give him another of the same, will you, mate?"
The bartender's grunting affirmative batted at Bodie's ears like the wings 6f a huge, blundering moth. Shock and sick horror pounded in his skull, and for an instant he could not think at all. Closing his eyes, Bodie leaned back against the counter--grateful for its support--and ground out harshly, "Cowley sent you, right?"
"Nah." Doyle rested both elbows behind him on the bar and looked out over the occupants of the smoke-layered, noisy room. "Oh, ta," he said to the bartender, and briefly-altered his position to take up his glass in one hand while dispensing coins with the other. With a slurp the foam disappeared from the head of the drink; smacking his lips, Doyle murmured, "Although, I expect he would've, if he'd known you were here."
"You followed me." The words were frigidly furious.
"Yep." Doyle took another swallow, letting his eyelids fall shut as the robust fluid stung his throat. "Why?"
Glancing across at Bodie for the first time since making his presence known, Doyle simply shrugged. Then he turned his attention back to the room and the handsome--and not-so-handsome--men packing its every corner.
"More to the point, why are you here? That's the third bloke you've turned down tonight. Best looking of the lot, too."
Lips compressed belligerently, Bodie said flatly, "Yeah, well, I only ever look."
"That's certainly true. Over the last seventeen days you've spent eight hours and thirty-seven minutes either here or at the Peregrine. Not once have you taken someone home with you, nor made use of the upstairs accommodations at the Peregrine."
A burning sensation flared in Bodie's chest. "How observant. Expect you've got a nice report all ready to hand over to Cowley, have you?" "Of course not," Doyle said evenly. "'S none of Cowley's business." Bodie took up his fresh drink and downed half of it in one gulp. "Let me get this straight: you've been following me for three weeks and you don't intend to inform Cowley? Oh, right!"
"Don't be snotty, son. I. still may."
"Be my guest." Bodie finished the glass and slammed it down on the cardboard coaster bearing the pub's name. "Fuck you, Doyle."
"That's my Bodie," Doyle grinned. "There's just two things I want to know from you, mate."
"And what makes you think I'm going to tell you?" Bodie stared at the back counter, blind to the rows of multi-sized bottles littering its surface.
"You're my partner," Doyle said, simply. "That's why."
The shadowy outline of a grudging smile eased the tight set of Bodie's mouth. "How right you are," he muttered. "But I can probably guess the first one. And the answer's, no, I'm not going to risk my place in the Squad by going to bed with one of this lot." He drew himself up to his full height and turned to study his unwelcome companion. "Go on, then, what's the other one?"
Swiping at his nose with the back of his thumb, Doyle peered at Bodie over the rim of his glass. "You got it wrong. My first question was, are you ready to leave?"
Numb, Bodie could only stare at him. Then he gave a heavy sigh. "Yeah. Why not? Doesn't seem to be much point in hanging round here."
"Right." At once Doyle made short work of his drink. Setting the empty glass firmly on the counter, he pushed away only to be brought up short by the clasp of Bodie's fingers on his upper arm.
"Wait a minute."
Head cocked to one side, Doyle prodded, "Yeah?"
"You had two questions. What's the other?" Believing Doyle had set him up and would eventually make a huge joke out of all this, Bodie intended to cut him down before he had a chance.
He was not prepared for the tender amusement that softened Doyle's face, nor the fingertip-that came up to rest lightly upon his mouth, unhurriedly charting sensitive curves and creases with a lover's touch. Stunned, Bodie scarcely drew breath before Doyle replaced the calloused pad with his own mouth, slowly and thoroughly kissing him.
"Just this: Do I finally get to thank you?"
His whole world reduced to velvet green anticipation, Bodie was briefly incapable of responding.
"Thank me?" he said stupidly at last.
"Knew you'd forget," Doyle chided. "For the bike fender. Said you wanted a night of illicit passion--with me. You can't have forgotten, Bodie!"
I -- --"
Doyle flicked a finger under Bodie's nose. "It's settled then. Tonight's the night. Meet you at your flat, okay?"
Hearing the strangled note in Bodie's voice, Doyle breathed, "Trust me, you fool."
With that, Doyle was gone, his slight form almost immediately engulfed by the press of people that congested the room.
Bodie knew an instant's panic; his mouth fell open to call his partner back. He shut it again at once, reminded of his whereabouts by the many pairs of interested eyes that were openly watching him. "Little sod," he growled to himself, the tart words totally at odds with the soaring exhilaration that sprang, full-blown, into his chest.
Having no clear memory of how he got there, Bodie alighted from his car a few yards away from the main entrance to his block of flats less than ten minutes later. A swift glance told him that Doyle had yet to arrive. That worried him a little, until he pointed out to himself that he had driven with his usual break-neck haste and had quite possibly overtaken Doyle, who outside of an emergency, preferred a more sedate rate of progress.
Accepting his partner's delay as a means to set the stage for his arrival, Bodie bounded up to the building and let himself in. In the lift, he waited impatiently for the cab to complete its snail's pace journey up three flights. Disgorged onto the landing, Bodie strode with brisk purpose to his flat. Once the double locks had yielded to fumbling manipulation, Bodie burst into the foyer and began stripping off his jacket.
He leaped up the stairs three at a time, stopping in the bathroom only long enough to rinse off his hands and face and to smooth down the dark cap of his hair before turning into the hall that led to the bedroom. He restored the jacket to a hanger in the wardrobe, all the while searching the room with a dark blue gaze. Satisfied that everything appeared presentable, he hurried down to the lounge and repeated his inspection there.
As he plumped the sofa pillows, Bodie realized with a faint squirming sensation in his nether regions that more than thirty minutes had elapsed since he had left the pub.
Where was Doyle?
Face pinched, eyes hollow, Bodie dropped the cushion without concern for its homely placement and stalked into the kitchen to stand before the wide - window that overlooked the street. Through the darkness made penetrable by brightly glowing streetlamps, Bodie could easily see all the way to both junctions; Doyle's car was conspicuously not in evidence.
Inhaling raggedly, he turned away, the muted warning tones inside his head beginning to wail like full-grown sirens. Doyle was probably on the phone to Cowley even now, riotously describing how readily Bodie had succumbed to his blandishments. "And it was so easy, sir: Just, 'Let me thank you properly, Bodie. ' Just--"
The doors slammed shut on Bodie's mind.
"Trust me, you fool."
Despondent, Bodie wandered back into the lounge. He had trusted Doyle with his life for years; surely Doyle could be relied upon to safeguard his heart as well?
A selection of drinks and overturned glasses occupied the center of a low, oak-stained credenza that stretched along one end of the sofa. Bodie uncapped a tall, previously sampled bottle of whisky and was reaching for a glass when he heard the front door swing open. "Bodie?"
The familiar voice cut through Bodie's reverie like a surgeon's knife through unanaesthetized flesh. Keeping his back to the room, Bodie called curtly, "Here."
Doyle's tread was markedly tentative as he entered the lounge. "Got caught in traffic," he announced quietly. There came the crinkle of thick paper. "And I stopped off to pick us up some vino." Doyle's approaching footfalls were muffled by the. carpet. "Bodie?"
The glass and bottle were returned, unused, to the cupboard. Bodie slowly stepped round, coming face to face with his partner, who now stood only arm's length away. "Maybe this isn't a good idea," Bodie suggested.
"You've changed your mind?" Doyle's voice and face were unreadable.
"It doesn't seem the most intelligent thing to do."
"Why not?" A hint of anger finally crackled in the two words. "You're the one who started this, remember?"
"As a joke. Maybe we should leave it at that."
"A joke!" Doyle exploded. The green eyes were sparking now, golden lights glittering across their surface. "You weren't joking in the pub. Why've you changed your mind now?"
Bodie's shoulders rose and fell, heavy muscles gliding beneath the surface of his polo-necked shirt. Regarding Bodie shrewdly, Doyle hazarded, "It's because I was late, isn't it. You didn't think I meant what I said. You thought I was just winding you up. That's it, isn't it, Bodie!"
Giving his head a dismissive toss, Bodie replied, "Gave me time to think, anyway."
Banking his anger with simmering effort, Doyle said, "I see." Belatedly, he became aware of the bulging brown wrapper gripped tightly in his hand. Grinning mechanically, he brought it up and thrust it against Bodie's chest. "This is for you, mate. 'S good stuff, that; don't waste it." He pivoted on heel and started for the door.
"A leg opener, Doyle?" Bodie inquired caustically.
Doyle froze. Very-slowly he swung round to face his partner. "No. Idiot that I am, I thought we'd want to celebrate after. Don't worry, Bodie; you're not the fool here - I am!"
The floorboards creaked with the weight of Doyle's leaving. Standing unmoving before the credenza, Bodie heard the front door jerk open and savagely slam shut. In a curious cottonwool cocoon, he felt nothing. He knew the pain would come shattering down upon him at any moment--and nothing could possibly stop it.
With strangely unsteady movements, he drew the bottle out of its paper sheath. It was champagne--an excellent vintage. Rolling the magnum over and over in his hand, Bodie read the label without seeing it, hi, mind still focused on Doyle's face--and the hurt, anger, and profound regret that had been displayed there seconds before he had walked out the door.
Swinging back his arm, Bodie lobbed the bottle hard at the wall across the room. Glass and sparkling wine shot out in all directions, leaving a large, satisfying splotch next to a picture Bodie had once been fond of. "Bugger," he said softly.
Just then a tousled head peered round the door jamb, wide, jade-dark eyes absorbing the wanton destruction evident on the floor, wall--even the ceiling.
"You bloody-minded sod," Doyle sighed. "Told you not to waste that."
Staring at the apparition of his partner, Bodie painfully felt his heart begin to beat again as Doyle came into the room with fists braced on his hips.
"Changed my mind, didn't I?" Doyle informed him challengingly.
Bodie's eyes dropped to his now-empty hands. "Think you should know--" He bit his lower lip, then clenched his teeth. "Think you should know I'm in love with you."
"'Course you are." Doyle started across the room.
Looking up at him, Bodie was utterly unaware of the charming picture of confusion and bewilderment he presented. While he had not known what to expect in reply to something he'd only ever said in his dreams before, Doyle's matter-of-fact presumption left him totally adrift.
"It's only. fitting, sunshine," Doyle went on kindly, his face creasing into a warm smile. "Because I love you."
This time Doyle's kiss was fierce and unrestrained, not pleading Bodie's response, but demanding it. Bodie, surging all at once on a sea of molten sensation, eschewed all caution, and chose to let his body answer for him. Conversation, carried out on a wholly physical plane, flowed electrically between them, starting with tenuous discourse as skin was bared to trembling fingers and soft lips, and soon developing into heated debate, as muscular bodies struggled together in spirited contention. Argument gave way to stunning consensus--which briefly curtailed all discussion--only to be followed by a slow, somewhat undirected summation, characterized by languid caresses and lingering kisses, before all intercourse summarily ceased.
Bodie woke to find Doyle staring at him, their heads sharing the same pillow, their bodies still entwined in the same tight plait in which sleep had overtaken them, only a few hours before dawn.
"You've an incredible way of saying 'thank you,' Ray," Bodie remarked wryly, his voice full of admiration.
"Hm." Doyle's reply was a gravelly purr deep in his throat. "Liked that, did you?"
"Very much. In fact--" Bodie stifled a huge yawn, then nuzzled his cheek against the ball of Doyle's shoulder. "In fact, it's set me wondering if there's anything else you'd like me to buy for you?"
Doyle's hand rose from its resting place on Bodie's collarbone to creep along the column of the broad throat, from there slowly travelling upward to the smooth, pale temple where curious fingertips examined damply curling tendrils of dark, silky hair. "Actually, there is this car I've been looking at," Doyle admitted. He waited a beat, assuring himself of Bodie's complete attention before clarifying, "A Mercedes."
Bodie's brows twitched expressively. "Sounds like an HP arrangement, mate. Based on this rate of payment--"
"Me being in bed with you--"
"Whenever I like."
Absorbing this in silence, Doyle conceded after a moment's pause, "Whenever you like--"
"Ah-- Yeah, all right. Exclusively."
"At that rate of payment, I expect we're talking six years at the least," Bodie intoned seriously.
"That's an awfully long time, Bodie." Doyle's eyes glimmered with unspoken skepticism.
"A Mercedes is an expensive car," Bodie argued gamely.
"And if there comes a time the mode of payment is no longer satisfactory?"
With absolute certainty, Bodie assured him, "That won't be a problem on my part."
"Hm." Bringing his hand back down to Bodie's chest, Doyle began to brush his knuckles tormentingly across a dusky-peach nipple. "What if--"
After a full minute had passed, Bodie prompted his thoughtfully frowning partner, "What if what?"
Guilelessly staring into Bodie's lustrous blue eyes, Doyle asked, "What if I wanted a Lamborghini?"
Bodie forced back a grin. "You'd be saying 'thank you' for the rest of your life, sunshine."
Giving the shrunken nipple a loving tweak, Doyle said decisively, "Then a Lamborghini it is."
Laughing out loud, Bodie reared up and shoved Doyle onto his back, then rolled over on top of his long, bony frame, marvelling not for the first time that something so angular could fit him so well. Cupping his partner's round face between his palms, Bodie applied a yearning kiss to the unresisting, voluptuous mouth. "I've got a better idea," Bodie murmured. "Since I couldn't possibly afford a car like that--"
"Uh uh," Doyle said adamantly. "It's a Lamborghini or nothing." As ---Bodie withdrew to regard him uneasily, Doyle-began to laugh. "Don't worry, mate. I saw an inexpensive red number just the other day--hm, round at Hamleys, actually."
"Yeah," Doyle said smoothly. "Y'know, the kids' store. A dinky little Corgi Lamborghini, it was. Would look ever so ni--"
Outrage bloomed pinkly in Bodie's cheeks. He exclaimed, "You mean, you even followed me to the bloody toy store?"
"Everywhere." Doyle waggled his brows. "Even--" But his next words were forestalled by Bodie's aggressive, and very distracting, kiss--and soon children's shops, Corgi toy Lamborghinis, and Ann Summers sex supermarkets-- were the last things on Doyle's mind.
Not surprisingly, the tiny, red Lamborghini was Doyle's within a day. No fool, Bodie recognized when he was getting the best of a bargain.
-- THE END --