"I'm resigning," Bodie said, snapping his ID down on Cowley's desk.
"I want an explanation, 3.7," Cowley barked.
"Sorry, sir," Bodie shrugged. His armoury was following the ID. More
guns than even Doyle carried.
"That isn't an explanation."
"It's the best I can do," Bodie said grimly. He set the last gun
down; at least the last by official inventory. "Sorry. Should have
given you more notice."
"You're damned right you should," Cowley barked. "You owe CI5 one
"Dock it off my pay," Bodie suggested wearily. "Or my expense chits.
I've got one month's pay at least still owing me from the last three
Cowley ignored that. "Have you talked this over with Doyle?"
"No. He doesn't know about this. Matter of fact, if you want to do
me a favour--"
"No," the other man snapped.
Bodie shrugged. "Do him a favour then--don't tell him until
"What the devil difference would that make?" Cowley asked irritably.
"Man, if I thought he could talk sense into you, I'd call him in right
"He's off duty for the weekend. So am I."
"You just came in to resign?" the other man inquired sarcastically,
answered by a simple infuriating nod from Bodie. "Man, have some
sense. It's down in your contract you can't resign without a month's
notice." He eyed Bodie, standing at ease on the other side of the
desk--no, not at ease. He didn't look easy. "Sit down, Bodie."
Bodie glanced at his watch, but sat.
"Now, what is this? What's wrong? If you need some time off for some
reason, I'm prepared to put you on unconditional leave, or temporary
suspension, for a while. But I'm not having you resign."
"Have it your own way, then," Bodie muttered. He scraped his chair
back and stood up. "Permission to go?"
"No. What are you going to do now?"
"I'm going back home."
"And where after that?"
"I wasn't planning to go anywhere."
"Bodie," Cowley warned.
"Can't have it both ways," Bodie said tightly. "If I've resigned, I'm
a free agent and you've got no right to ask where I'm going. If I'm
still in CI5, then you gave me the weekend off and I'm going home."
"Ach, be off with you then," Cowley said sharply. As soon as Bodie
was out the door, he rang Doyle.
Doyle had been on stakeout outside Bodie's block of flats ever since
twelve o'clock, he told Cowley; as ordered, he'd tried to get Bodie to
let him in, but his partner (ex-partner?) had refused; snarling when
Doyle became insistent. When Cowley rang the buzzer, though, Bodie
let him in without argument, but met him in the hall without welcome.
"What d'you want?"
"A small malt, if you have it," Cowley said deadpan.
Bodie seemed to be in the middle of packing; two black plastic rubbish
bats sat, filled and tied, in the corner of the hall. Bodie saw
Cowley look at them, shrugged and ungraciously opened the door into
the living room. A third back was standing half-full in the middle of
the floor. The bookshelves were empty, and books stacked in piled
beside it and an open empty, cardboard box.
Cowley stood in the middle of the room looking around him, even when
Bodie handed him a glass lavishly filled. Only when the entire room
had been surveyed with meticulous detail did he take a sip from the
glass. "Laphroaig," he said aloud, startled.
"You gave me a bottle last Christmas. I was saving it." For a long
time; it was late in October now. "I can't remember for what," Bodie
added. "I mean, the stuff's meant to be drunk."
"Best Islay malt? Certainly it is. Where are you going?"
Bodie laughed, on edge and bitter. "Nowhere."
"No--just a clear-out. This is a CI5 flat, I won't be here much
longer. Incidentally, sir, I take it it was you sent Doyle round?"
"Thought so. You ruined a date he's had set up for a fortnight,"
Bodie said neutrally. "I noticed his car's been outside ever since I
sent him off with a flea in his ear."
Cowley took another mouthful of the liquid gold in the glass,
savouring each flavour in the spectrum. "I was startled that you let
me in so quickly without argument."
"Three reasons," Bodie said swiftly. "One; the sooner I let you in
and you say whatever you want to say, the sooner you'll go. Two;
Doyle couldn't call the SAS in and you can. Three; you've got a key,
you can get in anyway."
"I'll grant you the last two, laddie," Cowley said almost affably,
handing the glass back. "But I intend to stay until you tell me what
the devil you're playing at. I'll have the other half of that."
Bodie was turned away for a moment, and Cowley took a step to the
table where he had previously noted the two letters, unstamped. The
one on top was addressed to Doyle; the one underneath, to himself.
Bodie turned back and snatched it out of his hand before the envelope
was half open.
"It was addressed to me."
"Yeah. You can read it tomorrow."
"He can read his tomorrow as well."
"Where were you planning to go tonight?"
"I told you," Bodie said harshly. "I'm going nowhere tonight."
"I never read you as the suicidal type, Bodie," Cowley said
"Damn right," Bodie muttered and laughed. Hollowly.
"I want an explanation," the other man said flatly, "and I don't
intend to go till I get one."
Bodie cast a harried glance at his watch. It was half past ten,
Cowley noted with a glance at his. "You wouldn't believe it."
"Try me," said Cowley, and sat down, looking immovable.
An hour later, Cowley had got no further, and Bodie's glances at his
watch had increased in frequency. "Who are you expecting?" he asked,
putting two and two together.
"I see. When is nobody arriving?"
Bodie looked at his watch again. Twenty-five minutes to twelve. "If
I tell you, will you go?"
"I said I intended to stay until I got an explanation."
Bodie leant back in his chair and closed his eyes, rolling his head.
"I jumped ship in Angola when I was seventeen," he said abruptly.
"Spent a couple of years working as a bouncer in a night-club. Then
it closed down and I joined up--seemed like a good idea at the time.
Discovered it wasn't about a week later, but it was too late to get
out. That was when I made this bargain."
"What bargain?" Cowley prodded gently.
Bodie's eyes blinked open, dark intense blue. "Thirteen years," he
said quietly, "for a price that didn't seem to matter at the time."
"Oh, come on, you must've noticed," Bodie said, suddenly furious.
"You send me out on operations that haven't a snowball's chance and I
come back alive. So does Doyle. I've got a charmed life!"
Cowley had heard the joke made often enough, even by Doyle; it was a
moment before he realised Bodie meant it literally. "Man, how much
have you been drinking?"
"You made a bargain for thirteen years of charmed life?" Cowley said,
taking a deep breath. "Who with?"
"Who d'you think? You're the bible-thumper, who d'you think makes
bargains like that?"
"You're not serious. You made some kind of--of pact," Cowley
gestured, "with ritual sacrifice, or what?"
Bodie started to chuckle. "Listen in Angola, you didn't have to
sacrifice black goats to meet the devil," he got out. "You could find
him easy enough without it. Or he'd find you. "Nah, he made me an
offer. Thirteen years, he said, in return for three things. I'd
almost forgotten, except that I got a reminder this morning."
"A letter?" Cowley asked sarcastically.
"A message." Bodie swallowed. "I used to have a black cat called
Shadow. I found him this morning, hanging up in the broom cupboard,
gutted, and a calendar hanging round his neck."
There was a silence. Bodie glanced at the clock again. Ten to
twelve. "Look, sir, now I've told you; will you get out of here?"
"I don't believe a word of it. I've never heard such a bloody
farrago. I want the truth, Bodie."
"I've sold my soul for thirteen years, and the time's up tonight!"
"Tonight at midnight," Cowley said with sudden understanding. "Very
well, I'll wait. And at five minutes past midnight, Bodie, I'm
putting you on suspension, unless you can prove to me you're insane,
in which case I'll hand you over to Dr. Ross's tender mercies--"
He broke off. They both heard the front door opening. The only two
people in the world with a key to it were inside the room. Cowley sat
as frozen as Bodie; the tension not broken until the living room door
opened quite quietly and normally, and a dapper city businessman
walked in, pulling off his pigskin gloves. "Bodie, dear chap. Good
to see you again."
Cowley let out a breath that he hadn't realised he was holding, and
The man looked at Cowley for an instant, eyes black and opaque. "Who
is this, Bodie?"
"My boss. CI5. Cowley," Bodie said, as though his mind was
"Ah yes. We've met before, Mr. Cowley."
"I don't recall it."
"The man smiled. "Not under this aspect. Bodie, you forgot your
manners; introduce us."
"Marty Martell," Bodie said briefly. "That's what he told me to call
"Very precise," Martell nodded. "Mr. Cowley, I'm afraid Bodie and I
have some private business to transact; you'll have to leave."
"What private business?" Cowley asked crisply. "I am Bodie's
employer, Mr. Martell."
Martell glanced at an expensive, rather old fashioned watch on his
wrist, and shook his head. "Only for another three minutes. Didn't
Bodie explain the matter to you?"
"He did. I don't believe either of you, laddies--"
Martell whipped round on him again, eyes coldly opaque. "Less of the
'lad', Mr. Cowley," he said softly. "I am far older than you could
conceive. And I do not lie except for my own purposes; and from you I
have no need to conceal what I am."
For all his lame leg, there was nothing wrong with Cowley's reflexes,
with the speed of long practice, he was on his feet and his gun in his
hand, pointing straight at Martell's head. "Whatever you are," he
said grimly, "you can get out of here now."
Martell laughed aloud, sounding genuinely amused. "Mr. Cowley, even
if that gun was loaded with silver bullets it would be of no avail
against me. Silver might injure, even kill, some of my servitors, but
I am the Undying."
"Ah, no. Insanity is a mortal weakness."
"All right," Cowley said, gun unwavering, "explain to me this bargain
you made with Bodie."
"Thirteen years of charmed life," Martell said briskly, dropping the
gloves he had been holding. They vanished into thin air about a foot
from the floor. "Absolutely guaranteed. Contract invalidated if
Bodie died during the time, except by his own hand, of course. He
wouldn't claim I cheated him--would you, dear chap? I gave him
something he wanted with his whole heart, in exchange for three things
he didn't think had any value at all. The right to use his Christian
names; a few drops of his blood, to write his name; and of course, his
Outside, the clocks of London began to chime. Martell smiled. "And
now, dear chap, I'm collecting."
Bodie stood up. "How are you going to do it?" he asked on a monotone.
Martell pursed his lips. "Oh, suicide, I should think, dear chap.
You shot yourself. Very sad."
For the first time, Bodie betrayed some sign of emotion. "You can't
do that. Doyle would carry around a load of guilt for the rest of his
life if he thought I'd killed myself--Martell, you owe me a few
"Ah yes, perhaps I do." He added conversationally to Cowley, who was
speechless, "Bodie's been an excellent supplier, over the years. Of
course, having his names and his blood in my possession, the blood and
souls he gets are my rightful due. Very well then, dear chap, a gas
explosion. There was a leak, you lit a cigarette, you went up in
"Two things wrong with that. First, I don't smoke. Second, the fire
would hurt other people--"
"Dear chap," Martell said relentlessly, "No one in this block had
contracted with me for a charmed life. Furthermore, if you keep
making difficulties, I shall begin to think you want to renege on your
contract, and that, my dear Bodie, would be--most unwise."
"The contract is void," Cowley found voice.
"Mr. Cowley," Martell said quietly, "you really should go now. Don't
you think? I can't touch you directly; but if you are here when the
flat goes up in flames, then my Adversary, to whom I perceive you have
made your allegiance, will be unable to shield you. I assure you, the
contract is valid; Bodie has no other allegiance."
"Yes, he does. To me. You can't have him."
"My contract predates yours. From midnight, Mr. Cowley, Bodie has
"You can't have him," Cowley repeated grimly, the gun steady. He had
just noticed that Martell cast no shadow, and was beginning to doubt
himself that bullets would be any use, but if the body before him had
any kind of reality they might at least disconcert it.
Again, Martell laughed. "You claim him as your liege man?
Mr. Cowley, I wish you were on my side! While I am incapable of
insanity, I value it; and for mad courage I have seldom seen your
equal. But I'm afraid the contract still stands." He smiled.
"However, I have a proposal for you. Are you a gambling man?"
"A pity. I had a wager in mind that I thought might interest you."
Martell spread his hands. "A game of...chess, I think. For double or
nothing; if I win, your soul as well as Bodie's; if I lose, I'll give
you Bodie. All of him: body and soul."
There was a long, stretched pause. Cowley could not take his eyes
from Martell's opaque face, though he wanted to look at Bodie; "Done,"
he said at last.
"So throw away that stupid gun--it's really not your style." The gun
flicked out through Cowley's fingers, flew over to the other side of
the room as if he had thrown it, and landed gently on the floor.
"Done," Martell repeated, and clapped his hands. On the table between
them appeared a chess set intricately carved of ivory and ebony,
massive, beautiful pieces. "You have until dawn, Mr. Cowley."
"You didn't mention a time limit," Cowley pointed out, picking up a
black and a white pawn.
"Oh, be reasonable. Some time limit is necessary, or we might stretch
this chess game out until the end of the world, and I have a great
deal to do before then. If you have won by dawn, Bodie is yours. A
lose or draw, and I take you both. There's no need to choose for
colours; I'll take the dark pieces."
The black pawn was no longer in Cowley's hand, and Martell was seated
on the other side of the board. "Your move, Mr. Cowley."
He took a moment to look at Bodie, standing as if frozen, mouth
working; and sat down, replacing the white pawn.
"Oh yes, I have frozen him," Martell said casually. "He would only
have been a nuisance, otherwise; Bodie has an unexpected vein of
nobility. Not that there's anything he could have done, once you
agreed to the bargain."
Cowley ignored him, staring down at the board, turning over game
openings in his mind. The pieces were carved with incredible detail;
each pawn even, had a recognisable and different face. He hoped that
it was a trick of the light that made the eyes move. He put that out
of his mind as well, and moved out a pawn.
Martell played a classic, difficult game; thinking about it remotely,
Cowley wasn't surprised. Through the long night, as each of them made
a move and the other leant forward to study the board and think it
through, as traps were laid, and evaded, as the knights on their
prancing, uncomfortably realistic horses galloped in and out the dark
squares and the light; as the warrior queens advanced, swords drawn
(sometimes they seemed, in the odd light, to have a glint of real
steel) and the castles and bishops (not bishops, Cowley noted with a
quirk of humour; elephants) seamed the board, and the pawns died; the
kings sat safe behind their irregulars and watched the war.
And at last Martell pushed one of his castles sideways in the
culmination of a steel-jawed trap and said, "Check, Mr. Cowley."
"Checkmate," said Cowley, setting his last knight down with a tiny
click. He looked across the board at Martell. "He's mine. "
The center lamp went out, and the light of dawn leapt into the room,
and the being with Martell's shape--was not. Bodie slid down the
wall, his legs suddenly cramping, taking in big starving breaths.
Cowley got to his feet and went over to him, reaching a hand down;
Bodie accepted the help, still with a dazed disbelieving look on his
"You took one hell of a risk."
"You're a damned brave old bastard," Bodie said, and Cowley grinned.
"Ach, I hope not."
"You could have lost--everything."
Cowley was still holding Bodie's hand; he let their eyes meet. "Not
so much as you think. And now; you belong to me."
-- THE END --