Wine sparkled, crystal sang, savory scents wafted in the air. Bodie sprawled against the leather back of the booth, smiling with sweet satisfaction at the world. Across the table, his partner - of five years this very day - grinned toothily back at him. Not a word was necessary, the warm fellowship ran deeply between them this night.
Lifting his glass, Bodie saluted Doyle, then drank deeply of the rich, heady wine. He bestowed an approving look at the dark-haired woman by his side, then glanced from beneath thick dark eyelashes at Doyle's fair companion. For his part, Doyle was animatedly telling a wild tale of their manly exploits, and his date leaned towards him, glued to his every word. Inger was listening too, her attitude more of satirical amusement. She knew them both well enough to see both the truth and fantasy of Doyle's story-weaving. Once a girlfriend and now a treasured friend -- Bodie appreciated the undemanding ease of her company.
In fact, the CI5 man's world was a delightful place to be this night, and he bathed in the rare sensation of peace. Just for once, everything was going his way...
Natty tugged at his tie as he entered the candlelit environs of the expensive restaurant. His wife was delighted, her nagging tongue playing at her full lower lip as her eyes gorged themselves on the rich decor. The waiter was obsequious, yet suspicious, eyeing the middle-aged couple more carefully than a copper would as he led them to a table. Natty was glad to be seated, and he quickly buried his nose in the menu. One glance assured him that this would cost him a fortune, and he bloody well hoped Liza appreciated it. The gleam in her expression said she did, and he sighed, finally decided - yet again - that some faint peace in his home might be well worth the price. Then again -- his eyes fell once upon the menu prices -- it might not.
Ordering the cheapest item on the menu, he barely swallowed a groan when his wife chose the most expensive. He tried to pick a wine with his eyes to the cost, but the look of hurt in Liza's pale blue eyes and the bite of her front teeth on her lower lip made him wince. Settling for something in the mid-range of exorbitant, he basked for a moment in her smile of approval. At least he'd get himself a reward later, if all went well...
It was hard to say who saw each other first...Natty or Ray Doyle. They both happened to glance around at the same instant, and abruptly their eyes locked. Time froze in an instant of recognition, then both men reacted with mirrored exclamations. Natty shrunk for a moment, then came alert, his eyes darting for the door. Doyle straightened up in a credible imitation of a hunting dog picking up a scent. His head lifted, his back stiffened, his hand instinctively undid the button closing his suit jacket. Jaw tightening, he glanced sharply at his partner and Bodie was fast on the uptake. "Bloody hell!" the big dark man swore under his breath as turned to take a quick look over his shoulder.
"Ray!" he protested, though his voice had fallen into a piercing whisper. "It's our night OFF!" Even as he said it, Bodie's senses were coming alert, the fog of good-feeling, heavy food, and sweet wine lifting like a stage curtain. Behind it lay the experienced, highly-trained instincts of a natural hunter. His breath deepened, even as adrenaline began to flow in the vital currents of his blood. Nerves tingled, muscles tensed, sight and hearing focused tautly. Ready and waiting.
"We've been searching for 'im for weeks!" Doyle rejoined briskly, his lean body coiled like a tense spring, his green eyes taking a swift circuit of the room. Exits and entrances had already been catalogued when they came in, an exercise so instinctive it had not been done consciously. It was repeated, verified, locked into place, even as the sharp mind sought the best form of attack.
"Yeh," Bodie grumbled, even as he followed his partner's lead. The women had sensed that something was happening, and both were staring at their male companions with concern. Inger was quicker on the uptake, for she'd seen these two at work before, and had an idea of what was to come. When the blonde girl opened her mouth to speak, Inger grasped her arm and shook her head vehemently.
"Shhh," she hissed.
Both men had forgotten them now, anyway, and as one, both strong forms peeled themselves up from the plush booth and stepped purposefully across the room. They separated without another word, Doyle homing in directly on his target, Bodie seeming to disappear into the maze of tables and flowering plants.
Natty barely had time to get to his feet before he was confronted with a smiling Ray Doyle.
"Natty, Natty...what a surprise!" Doyle's voice was calm and gently enthusiastic. He sounded like a man greeting an old friend. But neither the soft voice nor the toothy grin eased Natty's mind. He could see the tiger snarling behind those focused green eyes. He felt the wave of menace emanating from the poised agent, and he reacted with abrupt, heart-pounding fear.
Dropping his head, he bellowed and charged at Doyle. So sudden was the attack that even the CI5 man's perfectly trained instincts couldn't move him out of the way in time. They collided, the hard balding top of Natty's head striking the middle of Doyle's abdomen with a soft, fleshy thud. Doyle went down, landing unceremoniously on the floor, long arms and legs flailing, then curling inward to protect his stomach as it lurched in sudden protest. Natty toppled over too, lurching, scrambling, clutching at chair legs, forcing himself back up to his feet. Doyle tried to grab at him, unable to stifle a groan as his perturbed stomach complained vigorously. The rich food rose in his gorge, and he barely held it back with an act of pure will, but he had lost Natty in process.
The little man bolted away, running for the door as though all the hounds of hell were after him. He ran...
Straight into Bodie's fist.
One neat thrust of that powerful arm, and the balding professional thief was laid out flat on the floor. Dazed. Woozy. Light bursting behind shuttered eyelids. Barely a sound emanated from his lips as that same iron hand reached down, took hold of his jacket and dragged him to his feet. Moments later, he was being propelled forward, and then dumped right across a nearby table.
Glasses rang like miniature bells. Silverware clattered. Plates shattered. Food spurted. Wine splattered. Natty found himself face-down in a plate of fettucine alfredo, the thick cream sauce coating his entire face. His tongue instinctively lapped at it, even as his arms were twisted back behind his back and held in a vise-like grip.
Behind them, Doyle staggered to his feet. Wincing, he quickly made sure that Bodie had a good hold on their long-sought quarry, then he glanced unhappily towards the warily advancing manager. The other patrons were breaking into uneasy chatter, men braced to protect their wives, children, girlfriends from the unexpected intrusion of violence. Sighing under his breath as he gauged the extent of the damage, Doyle reached for his identification. The CI5 badge would spin its spell, guaranteeing acquiescence if not cooperation.
But before he could fish the small leather folder out of the inside pocket, he was hit in the back by a screaming virago. At first, he had the strange suspicion that he'd been assaulted by an escaped gorilla. Claws dug through his thin linen jacket and silk shirt, bruising his arms and shoulders. Hands yanked at his hair, sending streams of pain lancing through his scalp. Something hard and pointed struck at his shins and calves, bruised the backs of his knees. Weight came down heavily on his back. Inarticulate shouts battered at his ear drums.
"Bloody bastard!" he yelled, twisting around, spinning in place, trying to free himself from the animal that clung to his back. It - she, he suddenly realized - would not let go. Nails dug deeper into his arms, thick legs tangled with his own, threatening to topple them both to the floor. The flood of verbal abuse never lessened, she hardly seemed to take a breath. "Gerroff!!!" He shouted again, backing up rapidly, writhing in a continuous attempt to free himself. Turning around, he came face-to-face with a large flowery plant. The heavy brass pot stopped his feet in mid-stride, and his struggle for balance was lost. The pot rocked, but remained steady, Doyle twisted forward, slammed forward into the bushy plant, then swayed backward, gravity pulling hard on the excess weight clinging to his back. His ankle, trapped against the huge, round pot, wrenched painfully as he fell. It jerked free as he went down, landing sprawled across the heavy padding of the woman below. Her screams pitched upwards into a glass-shattering wail, then died off as suddenly as they had begun. Doyle rolled over into a crouch, biting his lip against the jolt of pain in his abused ankle. He swore viciously under his breath, then forced himself to his feet. The woman was apparently out cold, but her large chest heaved with the effort of her breathing, so he spared her not another thought. Instead he aimed a piercing, furious glare at his partner, who was standing a bare three feet away. Tightly holding a cream-sauce-dripping Natty, Bodie simply shrugged at his partner. His expression was a mix of barely restrained amusement and pained sympathy.
Limping, Doyle grimaced in return, then turned towards the patently upset manager. The CI5 badge did its work this time, though not without precipitating a lengthy tirade. Nodding his way through it, Doyle finally convinced the unhappy man that the disturbance was over and they were leaving. Already, black-suited waiters were scurrying around, attempting to repair the damage and soothe angry customers. The manager frowned deeply, his glare stating without words that the two CI5 'gentlemen' would never be welcome in this fine establishment again, then he huffily hurried away. Joining Bodie, who had hustled Natty towards the entranceway, he eyed their splattered prisoner with a baleful glare.
"Now, Natty, was that really necessary?" he demanded.
The man in question refused to answer, shivering in his damaged clothes. Bodie gave him a shake, then handed him roughly over to Doyle. "Here, you get 'im into the car. I'll see to the girls."
"The girls?" Doyle echoed, then realization struck. "Oh no! Bodie, what're we going to do? We can't take them with us to headquarters, and who knows how long we'll be stuck making our report."
"Nah," Bodie replied placidly. "No reason to report tonight. We just dump Natty, 'ere, into safekeeping for the night and meet up with the girls at the club. Won't take but a minute."
Doyle wasn't quite so sure, but he was willing to let his partner's confidence sway him. After all, Murph and Susan were on duty tonight; surely they could baby-sit one frightened little thief for the night. Natty wasn't a danger in and of himself - it was information on the owner of a house he'd recently burgled that they were after. It had waited this long, it could wait one more night. And Doyle did want to get to know his new date better...a lot better!
Agreeing with a swift nod of his head, he shoved Natty towards the door and rather happily left Bodie the task of breaking the news to their dates.
Neither man noticed Mrs. Natty ponderously get to her feet and follow Doyle and her husband out of the restaurant.
Inger was usually so sensible! Bodie hadn't the faintest idea what had gotten into her head tonight. But she was adamant.
"Now, Bodie," she said firmly, speaking to him as though he was a wayward little boy. "It's no problem at all. Trixie..." Ahh, that was Blondie's name, Bodie thought, "...and I can go with you to headquarters. Then when you're done, we can go on to the club. There's no reason to split up." "Bbbut..." he spluttered. "Why don't..."
"Oh, go on, dear," she said, patting his arm as she got up out of the booth. "Now you just let Trixie and me go powder our noses, and we'll meet you at the car." Gathering up her purse and Trixie, she bustled past him into the foyer.
Sighing under his breath at the vagaries of fate and womankind, he turned and went to rejoin his partner.
This time, luckily, Doyle heard Mrs. Natty approach before she managed to tackle him. Her unsteady heels clattered loudly on the pavement, and he pulled out of the way just in time. She lurched past him, her attention focused solely on her husband.
"Oh, you poor baby!" she cried out. "What have these 'orrible, nasty men done to you!" Throwing Doyle a poisonous glare, she shoved past him to reach into the car. Her attempt to yank her cowering husband from the car fell flat even as Doyle aimed a well-timed kick at her sumptuous behind. The force of his heel drew a startled gasp, then a cry of outrage, tumbling her forward into the car, across her husband's lap. Startled, he struggled to get free even as she tried to use him as leverage. Ignoring the startled, angry tangle of humanity inside the back seat of the car, Doyle lifted and shoved at her legs. She kicked wildly backwards, her sharp heels threatening severe damage until he finally managed - with one last desperate shove - to slam the car door shut. Locking automatically, it reverberated with the sharp strikes of her feet against the glass.
Wincing, Doyle favored his ankle, ruefully regretting using that foot to propel the heavy woman into the car. Leaning down to rub at his ankle, he saw first two dark-clad legs approach, then the remaining length of Bodie's body as he lifted his head back upwards.
The expression on Bodie's face was not promising. The heavy, slightly crooked eyebrows were drawn, brooding, close over the simmering dark eyes. The worried question in Doyle's own expression spoke louder than words; Bodie shook his head and shrugged.
"They're coming with us."
"What?! They can't!" Doyle exclaimed. Gesturing towards the car, he drew Bodie's attention to the man and woman ensconced in the back seat of the small auto. Mrs. Natty was drooped around her husband, cooing even as she glared viciously at their captors.
"What's she doing there?" It was Bodie's turn to exclaim, his jaw dropping. "Well, what was I supposed to do with 'er? She came at me again - like a bloody elephant!"
"Bbut..." Bodie was reduced to stammering, and he didn't like it at all. Snapping his mouth shut, he drew himself up to his full height and squared his shoulders. That was it. If they had to take Natty AND his wife to headquarters, then the girls would definitely be taking a cab.
Squeezed in beside an equally unhappy Natty, Doyle frowned at the world...or in this case, the only thing he could see: the back of Bodie's head. The tough, hard, menacing ex-merc had caved in like a pile of jelly babies. One sweet, dimpled smile from Trixie and a pat on the shoulder from Inger, and the two ladies were quickly escorted into the front seat of the car. Bodie had then leapt for the driver's seat, leaving his poor, benighted partner to squeeze into the back. That had not been easy...the thin, mangy thief had ended up almost in his wife's ample lap in order to make room for Doyle's lanky form.
How those two managed...
Unh uh - THAT was one place Doyle was NOT going! No, he'd concentrate on his plans for later tonight; after they'd finished with this fiasco of an arrest. It would only take fifteen minutes or so to drive to headquarters, maybe less with Bodie driving, and then... Doyle smiled warmly at the black-haired head before him... Then the four of them could go to that new dance club and continue their celebration. Lots of bubbly champaigne, sweet Trixie in his arms, Bodie's quiet strength at his side...
One instant Doyle was planning an extremely pleasurable end to their night's entertainment, then next he was thrown violently against the side window. His head struck with a crack, then bounced sideways to collide with Natty's thick skull.
"OOOOWW!!! BODIEEEE!!!!" he screamed, as the car careened sideways, struck a curb, bounced, jolted, swung in a semicircle, then screeched to a halt. The three women all screamed in unison, their voices rising in a discordant cacophony of ear-wrenching sound. His head aching as though a croquet mallet was being pounded upon his forehead, Doyle took a deep breath, then leaned forward to grab Bodie's shoulder.
"Bodie, what the bloody 'ell 'appened?" he demanded.
Startled blue eyes met his as Bodie turned around.
"I...I think we blew a tire," he said. "Either that or we got shot at!" "I don't believe this!" Doyle hissed, even as he automatically reached for his gun -- only to find it absent. Belated memory reminded him that he'd chosen not to carry his gear with him tonight, for he'd not expected more than a pleasant dinner, dancing, and...
Bodie had remembered the same thing, and he was even less pleased than his partner. They exchanged boiling glances, both swearing simultaneously, and fervently, that they would never, ever go anywhere again without their guns! Then, moving with that instinctive mutual awareness that had become as natural to them as breathing, they exited the car as one. Bodie leapt for the front of the car, Doyle for the back, each braced as though his very presence could protect the other.
They crouched. Nothing happened. They stood up. Nothing happened. Turning, they looked at each other through the dim glare of the street lights, then shrugged and stepped closer. Bodie in passing looked down at the right front wheel, and his shoulders sagged.
"We've got a puncture," he said, voice rising on the winds of frustration. He kicked out roughly at the sagging rubber, and got a sore toe for his trouble.
"Well, let's get the bloody thing changed," Doyle replied, favoring the offending tire with a spiteful look. It didn't seem to care. Luckily, Bodie had remembered to keep his spare tire in good condition, and they got the jack positioned quickly. Trixie and Inger got out of the car, and stood watching, engrossed in conversation. Natty and his wife were still in the car - Doyle had refused to let them out. But as he and Bodie became absorbed in the process of replacing the tire, the terrified little thief took his chance at freedom.
Natty wriggled over the back of the front seats, and crawled out of the open door. He would have made it out into the cover of the night if his wife hadn't quickly sensed that she was being abandoned.
"Natty!!" she shrieked. "Come back 'ere and let me out at once. Get over 'ere you good-for-nothing little bastard! Don't you dare..." Bodie and Doyle's heads jerked up at once, and hit each other with a resounding crack. They both fell backwards out of their crouches, ending up flat out on the hard concrete.
"Ooo...Oooww!" they exclaimed in one voice, each rubbing at the sore spots on the side of their heads. Inger and Trixie were instantly beside them, cooing in comfort. But Natty was getting away, and neither man was willing to give up their prisoner after all the trouble they'd gone through to get him.
Pushing the women away, they took off in pursuit. But Mrs. Natty had finally wormed her way out of the car, and she was just fast enough to catch up with Bodie who had been slower to escape Trixie's clutches. They went down in a loud, angry tangle, and Doyle didn't pause long enough to look back. He was perfectly happy to leave the elephantine woman to his partner this time, so he sped up in pursuit of the fleet-footed thief. Unfortunately for Doyle, his ankle was still paining him. Each fall of his foot upon the unforgiving concrete sent fine slivers of agony racing upwards along the length of his leg. He grimaced, forcing himself forward, driven inexorably by a fiery combination of indomitable will and biting frustration. He would catch Natty...he would...he would... His quarry ducked into a dark, trash-littered alley, and the CI5 man followed.
Bodie was normally a very placid, easy-going person. He really, truly was. Doyle was the fiery one of the pair; his temper had gotten them into - and out of - some tricky spots. But Bodie kept his emotions under tight-reigned control. He took great pride in self-discipline, in keeping the mask of cool in place.
Bodie was absolutely, raving, frothing, furious! Women! Tires! Bloody thieves who broke into the homes of international spy ring leaders and then disappeared, only to turn up the very night he and Doyle were celebrating their anniversary. Their first night off in months!
Trixie was senselessly blabbering on about God-only-knew-what. Inger was actually encouraging her; giggling like a school girl. Mrs. Natty had done serious damage to his shins, and even to his stomach... Bodie winced at the memory of just how close that pudgy knee had come to striking him in a more sensitive spot... And the bloody spare tire was being more than recalcitrant. It was supposed to fit!!
Swearing under his breath in a combination of English, Afrikaans, and hard-edged German, Bodie pushed, shoved, kicked at the tire until finally, at long last, it slipped into place. He fought with the wrench, tightening the bolts in place with straining muscles. Then it was done, and he tossed the damaged tire, jack, and tools into the boot of the car with a heavy sigh of relief.
But he was still enraged! The expenditure of effort had only increased the furnace of frustration, and he found himself wishing for an excuse to fight. Someone other than three utterly irritating women to punch. He definitely should have known better!
No sooner than he had managed to convince Inger and Trixie to get into the car, so that he could drive in search of Ray and Natty (he had full confidence in his partner's ability to corner the bastard successfully), than three big, dark shadows broke out from around the corner and bore swiftly down on the lone CI5 agent.
One quick, and extremely satisfying punch and Natty was down. Doyle shook his fist in the cool night air for a moment, his lungs heaving. The thief lay in a crumpled heap at his feet, unconscious. Doyle knelt down, checking for a pulse, which was beating rapidly beneath the pale skin. Alive - but definitely out for the count. Taking quick stock of his surroundings, Doyle groaned softly. They were several long blocks from the car, Bodie was nowhere in sight, and Doyle's ankle was complaining loudly about the mistreatment he had subjected it to.
Silently warning it to shut up, Doyle considered his options. He could leave Natty, but that was a certain way to allow him another chance at escape. He could carry him, but he wasn't sure his ankle would take much more travail. He could wait, and hope Bodie would fix the tire and find him. One look at the dismal, dank, dirty tenement walls surrounding him sunk that idea beneath a wave of disgust.
Muttering imprecations under his breath, Doyle accepted the inevitable. Muscles flexed and bunched in his arms as he pulled the small, yet surprisingly heavy body upwards. Bending and twisting, he managed to position Natty in a traditional fireman's carry, then turned and limped painfully back the way he had come.
Bodie spun around and met the first attacker with a powerful swing of his massive right arm. The black-masked figure stumbled backwards, but his two compatriots were already closing in on the CI5 agent. Bodie ducked, weaving sideways, one foot kicking out opposite to the hard thrust of his elbow. He caught one in the knee, struck the other in the groin. They staggered together, falling into a tight dance of deadly strikes and graceful feints. Outnumbered, Bodie kept on the move, breaking one hold only to fall into another. A fist battered his jaw, bruised his shoulder, scraped his liver. But he was in a pure battle rage now, cold, berserker fury raging like liquid fire in his veins.
Two men went down under the barrage of the ex-merc's powerful fists. The third tumbled to the concrete beneath a sharp, perfectly aimed kick. His head snapped back, black-mask-framed eyes widening in shock as they met a pair of icy sapphires, dark as death itself. He screamed despite himself, limp in the clutch of Bodie's callused, experienced hands. His two compatriots stumbled to their feet and came to his rescue, hitting the agent from both sides. He tumbled backwards and they took the reprieve, grabbing their third man and racing off into the night. Bodie was on his feet in an instant, long muscles bunching in his haunches as he poised to launch himself after them...
And was interrupted by the hoarse cry of his name.
Turning around, he saw Doyle staggering towards him, Natty's body draped crookedly over his shoulder. Bodie barely got there in time to catch his partner before he stumbled to the ground gasping for breath.
After a great deal of lengthy fussing from both women, Bodie and Doyle finally managed to catch their breath. Natty was hustled in beside his distraught wife; Inger and Trixie were squeezed into the front seat. Bodie and Doyle paused to take inventory of each other's injuries, and with rueful gratitude found that they just might survive the night IF nothing else went wrong.
Squeezing back into the cramped auto, Bodie and Doyle were relieved to get underway. It was late evening now, and the traffic had decreased to a slow trickle. Bodie drove smoothly through the dark streets, guiding the auto with firm control. Behind him, Doyle was relaxing for the first time in what seemed hours. His hand rubbing his aching ankle, his fantasies were sliding quickly towards a long, hot bath and a good night's sleep. Barely four miles to go, and suddenly...
That was Trixie, craning her head past Inger to peer anxiously at him. "Yeh," he replied without taking his eyes off the road.
"Would you mind stopping? I have to use the ladies' room." Bodie frowned darkly at the wheel.
"Can't you wait a few minutes? We're almost there."
"No..." Blond curls shook around her head while her full mouth stretched into a pout. She quivered in her seat. "I really need to..." She blushed brightly.
"I could use a chance to clean up a bit, too," Inger broke in. "Me too!" whined Mrs. Natty. Before she complain further, Doyle interrupted.
"No! You're not leaving this car."
"How dare you!"
"Oh, shut up!" This was from her husband, and Mrs. Natty glowered at him. He looked anxious, but somehow found a pinch of firmness.
"That's enough, Lizzy. Let's just get this over with."
"Oh, Bodie, PLEASE!" Trixie interrupted again, pleading anxiously. "Unh, Bodie..." Doyle suggested softly.
The driver grimaced tightly, but gave in as gracefully as he could. Yanking the wheel, he gassed the car around the corner on squealing tires, then slammed to a stop in front of a small pub.
"Go on..." he said gruffly.
"Thanks love! I'll be just a minute, promise!" Trixie said brightly, bolting from the car. Inger followed her, leaving their impatient dates waiting in the car.
And finally, the two women came back to the car. Their heads bent together, they were laughing cheerily. Sliding into the car, they both smiled sweetly at the two obviously annoyed men.
Doyle opened his mouth, then shut it firmly. Bodie clenched his jaw and threw the car into gear. The passengers were compressed back against the seats, as the car accelerated at full speed, jerking forward with a rough roar. No one spoke the remainder of the trip, and nothing was a more welcome sight to these two agents than the parking garage housed behind the nondescript CI5 building.
Five minutes later, a small procession entered through the grungy outside doors. The doorman looked up sleepily at the visitors, accepting their waved badges and rapid signatures with droopy-eyed unconcern. Perhaps Cowley would have been furious at the apparent lack of security, or perhaps the drowsy appearance was in fact only an act. Neither Bodie nor Doyle cared. They were in a hurry to deposit their prisoners and escape headquarters as fast as humanly possible.
For once, the elevator was actually working, and it came within a few minutes. Herding their charges inside the small wire cage, the two agents felt a warm sense of relief soothe their outraged senses. Almost there... Exiting the elevator, they pointed Inger and Trixie towards the lounge, and pushed Natty and wife towards the interrogation rooms. But barely five long strides later, a familiar voice roared down the long hall. "BODIE! DOYLE!"
Bodie froze in mid-step; muscles tensing.
Doyle's back straightened; every nerve in his sore body screamed. They groaned in perfect harmony.
Blue eyes meshing with green, they exchanged a look of pure agony. Bodie took a deep breath. Doyle gritted his teeth. And then they each tightened hold on a prisoner and propelled themselves towards the source of that insistent, undeniable voice.
Cowley was standing in the doorway to the lounge in perfect military bearing. His face was set in a fierce scowl; his pale blue eyes gleamed with an unearthly fire.
They were in deep shit. Neither needed to say it. They simply moved closer together until their shoulders were brushing. Stepping together, consciously and unconsciously proffering each other moral support, they went forward to face the crowning glory of this disastrous night.
Together, dragging a miserable, bedraggled Natty and wife along behind, they turned to follow Cowley into a dark, unlit lounge...
An abruptly brightly lit lounge. Covered with multi-colored tissue paper. Crowded full of people. All smiling. Cowley was smiling. And two dozen voices rang as one...
-- THE END --