"I could get used to this," Bodie decided as he sauntered back between the tables, a Campari in one hand, a gin and tonic in the other. The club was still quiet, though the action would begin soon enough. For the moment a man could still hear himself think and the atmosphere was congenial. Bodie set the gin before his companion and settled in the fake-Chippendale chair opposite.
Doyle sampled his drink and surveyed The Queen's Slipper with a jaundiced eye. "Get used to this? There's no accounting for tastes."
"I mean, the easy life." Bodie relaxed, one arm on the back of the chair. Behind the bar, the young man polishing glasses smiled at him invitingly. The croupiers were starting to set up for the busy session--eight till two in the morning. Two blonde women in lowcut, revealing gowns, four fair-haired men, all young and more or less uniformly handsome.
"The easy life?" Doyle echoed. "You must be kidding. Cowley's landed us right in it this time, mate. One stumble and we're both dead."
With a sigh, Bodie returned his attention to his partner. "There's no need to keep saying it, Ray. I only meant, I could get used to the good life if this whole thing wasn't another of Cowley's charades."
"But it is," Doyle said darkly. "You keep a grasp on that, sunshine, and we might get out of here with our skins intact."
He was right, Bodie admitted. Cowley was famous for these jobs--set-up, sting, hoodwink. The risks were enormous, yet so were the possible rewards. And then, so were the perks along the way. A week in a penthouse flat, a midnight black Mercedes limousine, a wardrobe of the most elegant clothes, a bottomless expense account...a ruse which must be watertight, or the whole game goes up.
Silent, thoughtful, Bodie regarded Doyle with a frown. Ray was tense, but a little tension was a good thing, like the runner on the blocks, the musician about to play a concerto before a live audience. And he did look a lot like Nick Rogan, there was no denying it. The real Rogan was half an inch shorter, two years younger, and his eyes were blue; so Ray wore flat heels, never faced the sunlight to show the true colour of his eyes, and at thirty-three he could easily pass for a man several years his junior.
The real Rogan smoked Cuban cheroots, drank pink gin and swore like a bass drummer in a brass band...the gin in Ray's left hand was pink. The small cigar smouldering in his right had been rolled in Havana, and when anyone was in earshot he used language that would have made a sailor blush.
And then, Nick Rogan was bog-trotting, Belfast Irish, on the run from the police of four countries, twice arrested on suspicion of gun smuggling and mercenary activity, though never convicted; and he was a homosexual.
The last snippet of information had made Bodie chuckle as they read it off the screen. Cowley tapped his lips with the arm of his glasses, and his brain was in overdrive. Even as they read the open file, Rogan was in custody-but only CI5 and MI6 knew it. A high-speed pursuit on the motorway, a sudden altercation with a telegraph pole, and the bold Nick Rogan was suddenly nursing a broken collarbone, a fractured arm. CI5 had been hovering like a vulture for weeks, and moved in fast to pick up the pieces. Data-sharing with MI6 required that they notify their Whitehall colleagues, but the information would go no further than that till the whole operation was finished.
The set-up was classic and yet so flimsy, Ray had every reason to be tense. For six days he and his 'boyfriend' had lived what Bodie called the easy life, and had haunted this club. They knew they were watched, they knew they were being checked out with the maniacal devotion to detail that made the elite colonels of any terrorist group so difficult to get at. Rogan was well connected but he had never dealt with Iranians, at least as far as Cowley's information went.
If that information was incorrect or incomplete, they were sitting on a powderkeg. Bodie sipped his Campari, enjoying the opportunity to overtly feast his eyes on his lover. It was not often he could do so, when the facade of bland heterosexual anonymity must be maintained, for the sake of the department.
In evening dress, Ray was stunning. Rogan had a flair for clothes which transferred perfectly to his alter-ego. Bodie could only approve, though he knew how Doyle disliked formal attire. Jeans and leather jackets were more his style--not that Bodie would criticise. How did a man disparage a mate with whom he was hopelessly, helplessly in love?
Belatedly, Ray felt the weight of his scrutiny and looked sidelong at him over the table setting of flowers and candles. "What's up?" His voice was low, taut.
"I am," Bodie confessed beatifically. "Got a hard-on, and it's all your fault."
"Bodie!" Ray remonstrated, at once flustered, flattered and amused. "Just watch it, will you?"
"I don't have to watch it." Bodie smirked into his glass. "This is a gay club, and I'm a kept men, and if I want to lean over the table and kiss you, I can."
Ray groaned audibly. "You're getting into the spirit of the part, aren't you?"
"Why not?" Bodie demanded philosophically. "I may never get another chance." He reached over, caught Ray's hand as he set down his glass and laced their fingers. "Will you relax? People are going to notice you're strung up like a high tension cable!" He leaned closer. "Nobody's taking any notice to us. Everybody here's accepted me as Mike Charteris--everybody but you. "
"Well..." Ray dropped the cigar he disliked so much into the ashtray, turned toward the table and took Bodie's hands in his own. "It doesn't suit you."
"Being the kept man?" Bodie laughed quietly.
"Well, does it?" Doyle's fingers tightened. "You were never the kind. Independent, mate, that's you. And you damned well know what they all think I do to you!"
"They think you fuck me," Bodie said indifferently.
Exasperation shortened Ray's temper. "Every time, all the time, without exception! They think you're my whore, Bodie, and I don't like that."
The small but vehement outburst surprised Bodie. So many of the pieces that went to make up the jigsaw puzzle called 'Ray Doyle' were still a mystery that even now, after almost a year as lovers and six months in an exclusive relationship, Bodie could still be astonished by some facet of Ray's quirky nature, or the hard-nosed ethics which were the foundation for his character. Bodie knew him as an easy going, tolerant and open-minded man, but that tolerance expired when injustice began to enter the picture.
The injustice of seeing Bodie cast into the role of the hustler, the professional 'bottom' was enough to make Ray see red, and Bodie was secretly relieved and pleased. The part had not been difficult for him to play for a week, but he had wondered, often, how he would take to a lifetime of it. Behind closed doors in Rogan's plush penthouse flat, they were at liberty to drop the act and revert to normal...Ray had gone a step better. Not once in a week had he given indications that he wished to take the active part in their lovemaking, and Bodie twice had to seduce him into the deed. Otherwise, Ray was eager to be the very opposite of everything Nick Rogan was supposed to be...
Quietly mannered, gently spoken, almost faultlessly submissive in bed. It was a private relief to Bodie, and he was sure Ray found it recuperative to drop the Rogan performance in the sanctuary of the flat. Keeping up the pretence was wearying--perhaps, Bodie thought, Ray had so little energy left when they closed their door for the night that he was grateful for the opportunity to fall into a lover's arms and be gently dominated for the sheer pleasure of forgetting what the word 'responsibility' meant.
Footsteps by the table announced a presence they knew. Bodie recognised the French cologne and groaned. Ray's hands drew out of his and the faint Belfast accent was back. Rogan had been overseas for years, living and working among the rich and influential, which had moderated his accent, but nothing would completely stamp it out.
"Mr. Rogan. Nice to see you, sir." It was Colin Morse, the manager of The Queen's Slipper. Fiftyish, hairline receding above a close-shaved face; mouth too wide, nose too narrow for him to have ever been called handsome, yet the deep-set eyes were compelling. He wore the uniform of the house, black evening dress, black tie, silver cufflinks, and a French cigarette smouldered in his left hand.
Doyle dragged on the cheroot and blew smoke through both nostrils. "Evening, Colin. What can I do for you?"
"You're here on business," Morse said cautiously.
"No shit?" Ray was Rogan now: the voice was harsh, the accent studied, the eyes hard. "I'm getting pissed with waiting for Scott to reply. Time to tell him, Colin, if he doesn't get his arse in gear in the next couple of days I've got better things to do than hang about losing money here, drinking more than the doctor ordered and fucking my boy's bum raw out of sheer boredom."
"I've a message for you now," Morse said quickly, with a glance at Bodie which might have been disparaging. The whore was seldom respected, least of all by the pimp. "He'll meet you tonight--in the early hours, at least. Two o'clock."
"Here?" Ray jerked a thumb at the club about them. "At two o'clock this place is hopping like a flea circus."
"That's the best place to hide a little action." Morse nodded at the back of the house. "A private suite by the old garages. My man Bruce will take you there."
"And Scott will be here in person?" Doyle was on his feet.
"Or his deputy," Morse amended.
The pulse quickened in Bodie's temples and his eyes flashed a warning at Doyle, but Ray was already shaking his head at Morse. "Not a chance, Colin. Tell the man, he comes in person, I see his face, or it's no deal. I'm not fucking about with any half-arsed deputy."
Morse accorded him a stiff nod. "I'll tell him." He smiled genially. "In the meantime, can I offer you the hospitality of the house? A meal, a game, a room...?"
"I'll take a meal and the room," Doyle decided without even a glance at Bodie, and took the number-tagged key Morse had offered. "Get a bottle of something, Mike. The harder the better. Waiting pisses me off."
He was gone with that, skirting the buffet, pool and roulette tables toward the stairs in the back. To his left was the disco, to the right, the bar; downstairs, a sauna and 'gym' (where 'workouts' were performed which would curl the hair of genuine athletes), and up above, two levels of rooms and suites, with clean hustlers provided for a fee.
The Rogan act was flawless, even Bodie would have been convinced if he had not known and worked along side Doyle for three years. Certainly, Morse was satisfied. He regarded Bodie with a smirk as Doyle took the stairs two at a time.
"Your boss is a son of a bitch," he observed cheerfully.
"That's his line of work." Bodie gave his own reflection an appreciating glance in the glass panels fronting a cabinet of fake antique firearms. Evening dress had a charm all its own, something Ray had yet to be persuaded of.
"He must pay you well," Morse hazarded, fishing for more.
Bodie arched one brow at him. "Enough. Why do you ask?"
"I just wonder what would make it worth your while to put up with him." Morse took a bottle of Grouse from the shelving beside the bar, turned the label to Bodie. "He's got a mouth like a sewer, and a reputation for being hard on lads like you."
"Oh." Bodie took the Grouse in the crook of his left arm. "Well, it has its moments, Colin. But...I wouldn't like to make a career of it, you know what I mean?"
The older man winked at him. "Cream what you can get out of the little bastard and get out while you can. Smart boy, Mike." He swatted Bodie's backside, dealt him a discreet fondle in passing. "You'd better get up there after him. They say he can be a brute when he's angry."
"I can handle Nick Rogan." Bodie took a step away and paused. "But it had better be this Frank Scott in person tonight. Don't get me wrong--Nick doesn't share his business with me. I'm only the hired help. But I do know he's ready to pop his cork. Scott's kept him waiting nearly a week, and he's missed two other deals, kicking his heels here."
Morse puffed out his cheeks. "I've been telling Scottie he's playing with fire, but he wasn't sure about Rogan. In his business security's the name of the game. You, er, don't know much about it, Mike?"
"Not a thing," Bodie lied fluently, "except Rogan's started to chew the pillows in his sleep!" He chuckled richly.
"Then don't keep his lordship waiting," Morse advised. "Go on, scoot. And if he comes on too heavy, there's always Son of Kong over there. Give a good, loud yell, and Bernie'll bail you out."
'Son of Kong' was an apt nickname for Bernie Clitheroe. The bouncer had the brain of a pot plant and the physique of an all-in wrestler. Few men had dwarfed Bodie since he was eighteen years old, but Bernie was one of them.
"I'll yell if he gets out of hand," Bodie said dutifully. "But that'd be the end of my meal ticket."
"Oh..." Morse looked him up and down speculatively. "I know a few doors that might open. Older man, sixtyish, rich and generous, looking for a--a chauffeur. Live in, drive the Roller...other duties after dark. Fancy the job?"
"Shades of Liberace!" Bodie laughed. "Let me see if I can get Rogan to unwind. I'll get back to you."
He left Morse by the bar and took the stairs in Ray's wake. The more he learned about the real Rogan, the less he cared for him, even though he must remind himself that all the tales were no more than scuttlebutt. No one here knew Rogan personally, but a bad reputation traveled faster than the plague. The man was twice married, and both his wives had divorced him on the same charge of infidelity; in the second case the correspondent quoted was a male and the divorce was automatic. Rogan had spent months in Sri Lanka, ostensibly in the tea trade, but Cowley's information was that he had been arming and training Tamil Tigers. Then, back to Belfast only weeks before a shipment of guns turned up in the hands of IRS men. Russian and American arms, as bought wholesale in Libya, supplied by the Vietnam arsenals left stocked to the rafters by America and Russia after the war.
Room 58 was at the back of the house, far from the club and disco. It was quiet, comfortable, not as plush as some of the master suites up front, but it would do. As Bodie closed the door and slid the bottle into Ray's lap, Ray was on the phone, calling for room service. King prawns, steak Diane, cherry pastries, stilton and coffee.
It was seven and they had not eaten since three. Bodie's stomach gave a strategic growl at the mere mention of food, and Doyle chuckled as he hung up the phone. He was sitting on the side of the bed, pillows to his right, a cellophane wrapped bouquet of red roses to his left, compliments of the house. He drew one long-stemmed bloom out of the gorgeous display and tossed it into Bodie's hands.
"Come here," he invited. "Give me a kiss. Convince me I'm not a right royal bastard."
Bodie took the rose between his teeth and gave his lover a heavy-lidded look, patently seductive, deliberately teasing. He shed his jacket on the way to the bed, spat out the rose and took Ray's face between his hands. "Out there, you're supposed to be a bastard. It's your job. Morse is even a bit worried about me."
"Worried I'll hurt you?" Ray's brows arched.
"Mm." Bodie nuzzled the Cupid 's bow lips he loved. "Word has it, Rogan doesn't hesitate to lay on heavy when he's in a snit, and his current bumboy takes the beating."
"Damn." Ray averted his face. "It's not easy being looked at as if you're Jack the bleedin' Ripper. You seen the glares I keep getting? You'd think I was a mass murderer!"
"You're supposed to be!" Bodie turned his face back and kissed him. "It's an Academy Award performance, sunshine. And it must be if we're going to get out of here alive."
Ray sighed heavily. "Right. But I don't have to like it. I hate doing this to you, Bodie."
In fact, his hands had cupped Bodie's buttocks and were stroking gently, which made him chuckle. "I can't say I hate it. I always liked that."
"What? Oh." Ray patted both those buttocks and sprawled back across the bed. He looked up with a sultry expression. "We've got seven long, tedious, anxious hours to fill in. Any suggestions?"
"Yeah." Bodie licked his lips. "We have dinner, and then we use this bed."
At last Ray smiled. "Mmmm. You can rip these ridiculous clothes off me and give me what Rogan deserves!"
"A bullet through the brain?" Bodie snorted with laughter. "I don't mind tearing your clothes off, but I'll give Ray what he deserves."
"Oh?" Doyle's eyes glittered brightly. "And what's that?"
"Well..." Bodie sat beside him, toying with a curl, winding it about his finger. "You've lived up to Cowley's expectations, convinced them all you're Rogan."
"You're going to give me a BAFTA award?" Long, dark lashes batted at Bodie.
Bodie swooped and kissed him. "My version of it, maybe."
A knock intruded, and Bodie rolled easily to his feet. "That'll be dinner. I'm starved."
The food was wheeled in by a discreet young waiter who took his tip and melted away without a word. Bodie swiped the silver covers off the steak and sorted cutlery with abstract regard for the order in which it should rightly be used. Ray may not have admitted to hunger but he ate ravenously. Tension made him hungry, as Bodie well knew. He studied his imp of a partner over the table decoration of African violets as Doyle sipped a dry red and dispatched the food with relish.
"We ought to be out and free by this time tomorrow," Ray guessed. "If it's not Frank Scott in person tonight, I'm pulling the plug. This is getting too iffy and dangerous. If it is Scott, I want a meeting with the Iranians in the morning. Time to give Cowley the nod. I think," he added as he lifted his glass to Bodie, "I see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Bodie touched the rim of his glass to Ray's. "Just you be careful. I can't give you much backup tonight. There's no way Rogan would have his boyfriend in on the business meeting."
"I know." Doyle lifted his lapel and checked the tiny bugging device. "At least you'll know where I am."
"And I can keep an eye on the room from outside," Bodie added. "If it goes wrong, yell."
"Don't worry, I will." Ray pushed away his plate and leaned back to check the time by the brass clock on the mantelpiece. "Good food, good wine...time on our hands."
"Ought to get some sleep," Bodie suggested.
"Was that serious?" Ray scraped back his chair, walked to the window and held aside the drapes. Below the street was busy, a crush of revelers heading into the club in a steady stream. The disco was in full cry already and by midnight the club's more private 'recreational' areas would be thronged. The real Nick Rogan would have been prowling the subterranean vaults, looking for a willing victim, and eyebrows would be raised when he was not in evidence.
Still, Bodie thought with a moment's self-indulgence, Rogan had brought a companion here with him, and with a 'beauty' in tow he might not feel the need to cruise the local talent. Bodie stood, patted his lips with a napkin and slipped off his shirt. In the mirror opposite the dresser he surveyed his torso, flexed a muscle here and there.
"Admiring yourself?" Ray was looking over his shoulder, half amused and half annoyed, by what Bodie did not know.
"Charteris would. You met the man." Bodie stretched, turned and watched Doyle's eyes skim his chest.
They had spend four hours talking to Michael Ian Charteris while the doctors were busy splinting Rogan. The hustler was twenty-six, as dark haired as Bodie but a little more deeply tanned, with eyes closer to grey than blue, and his body was not so well muscled. He had no idea that his meal ticket was involved with multiple enclaves of international terrorists, and his eyes betrayed his fright as it occurred to him, he could follow Rogan to prison.
The young man's terror was a tool Cowley used with impunity. Charteris knew what would befall him in prison and was eager to offer his services, his knowledge, make any kind of a deal that would keep him out of hell. He offered to accompany Doyle in lieu of Bodie, and play the part of the boyfriend himself, with authentication. Cowley considered the suggestion soberly before rejecting it. Four-five needed genuine backup, not a scared hustler who would cut and run at the first sign of trouble.
Not that there had been trouble--yet. Bodie turned his back on the mirror and held out his hand. Ray took it and was reeled in like a fish on a line. "What was it I was going to do with you?" Bodie teased as they kissed, tasting coffee, stilton and pastry.
"You said something about tearing these ludicrous clothes off me and banging me through the bed," Doyle said drily.
"Never." Bodie refused to believe it. "I would never have said anything like that. Not my elegant turn of phrase."
"Or words to that effect." Ray's eyes sparkled with rueful and reluctant humor.
"Ah, give Ray what he deserves." Bodie accorded him a wink. "Memory jogs." He pulled Doyle to his feet, slipped the immaculate jacket off him, did away with the tie and opened the silk shirt to lay his chest bare. Fingertips tickled through the soft pelt of hair from nipple to nipple. "Then, you get some rest before the show gets underway. I'll call it in."
"Not by RT, and not on one of the house phones," Doyle warned, a throaty purr as his eyes closed and he reveled in the petting.
"Ray!" Bodie dealt him a swift spank to one buttock. "You starting to think of me as Mike Charteris? I'm a bloody professional! RT, house phones? Good God." One green eye prised open. "I'll sort you out right now," Bodie went on as he unbuckled and unzipped. "I'll go down to the car, call it in from there. I want backup right outside, in case it goes wrong."
"In case Cowley's info is wrong, and Frank Scott knows Rogan," Doyle groaned. "Or if Scott's brought an associate who knows Rogan by sight. Damn, how I hate these jobs!"
Bodie sighed, nuzzled his neck under the heavy, sweet smelling curls. "Will you relax?" He took Doyle against him, chest to chest, and deliberately placed Ray's arms about his neck. "Hold me! What's the matter, Ray? Don't you want to mess about? If you'd rather have a drink and take a nap--"
"Don't be ridiculous." Ray seemed to shake himself, deliberately focus his thoughts, and pressed tight to Bodie.
Somewhere, Bodie had read that the one true erogenous zone was the mind. If the mind was out of balance, all the sensual technique in the world would not work...and minutes later he was sighing as he perceived the truth of that statement. Condoms and personal lubricant were provided by the management as a complimentary service, which invited safe, pleasurable sex. He had Ray on the bed, spread wide on his back, and his face was buried between slender, tawny thighs; Ray's musk was stingingly sweet as he nibbled both stirring balls, and yet the sturdy, rosy cock was only at halfmast. Arousal was elusive tonight, and that was not like Ray.
Tension was a curse. Bodie's tongue traced up the ridged underside of the shaft he loved, swept a warm wet caress about the flared head, and then he took his weight on his hands either side of Ray's narrow hips, and looked down into his face. Rueful? Wry? Ray bit his lip.
"I'm sorry, love. I'm just a bit uptight."
"I can hear you twanging." Bodie leaned down and nuzzled his navel. "Close your eyes." They closed; one opened and peeked. Bodie leaned over and kissed it closed. "You're...an explorer," he murmured against Ray's temple as he let his body rest lightly on the bony pillow. "You're hunting a fabulous treasure in a lost city."
"Bodie," Ray groaned, only half seduced as yet.
"Shh. Let your imagination go. You need to rest." Bodie tongued his ear and his voice dropped to a deep, bass whisper. "The jungle's dense and steamy, it's hot and the monkeys scream in the trees. Snow-capped mountains rear over the forest. Your native bearers have deserted you, you're all alone. You could die in this place." He rocked and humped, which drew his cock along Ray's in a sweet, slick caress.
"Oh...my God," Ray groaned. His arms circled Bodie as the fantasy took shape behind his closed eyelids, woven of words and caresses.
"But...you're not alone," Bodie growled, and nipped Ray's lobe with sharp teeth. "There in the trees: silk and steel! Beautiful warrior men, looking at you with lust in their eyes. And they've got you."
A sharp intake of breath, and Ray's shaft pressed into Bodie's abdomen. He was still tense but the diversion of a skillful fantasy was not the same kind of tension at all.
"Marble, onyx and alabaster," Bodie whispered into his ear. "Sandalwood smoke...patter of slippers on the tiles, cool, sweet air as they take you into the city...it isn't as dead as legend says. You're bare now. They took everything you had. Bathed you in lily water." He humped and rubbed, nuzzled and nibbled at ears, lips. "You know you're being prepared."
He caught both Ray's hands and pinned them over his head in the pillows. "Silk rustles in the wind. It's night now. Blue eyed leopard lounges on the cushions...and there he is. He's waiting for you. Velvet bed, wine and joss. You're dizzy as you fall onto that bed."
The column of Ray's cock was hot and hard now, and Bodie gave a fleeting thought to that observation--the only really erogenous zone was the mind itself. Ray's legs fell apart, his hands were lax in Bodie's. He was flying, enjoying this, and it was the relaxation he desperately needed.
"He's waiting for you," Bodie purred. "And he's...big. You can't take your eyes off him. Off it. Can't think of anything but taking that instrument into you. He holds you, caresses you, turns you." He paused to smother the captive with a deep kiss, and as they emerged from it, lifted Ray's legs. "He's bigger than you've ever taken before and you're a little frightened. But you want it. You want him. You couldn't stop him even if you wanted to...and you don't want to."
Ray was sweating lightly, eyes squeezed shut, his hands still in the pillows over his head as if he was confined, though he was completely free. His legs draped artlessly over Bodie's shoulders. His anus, lubricated long, lush minutes before as Bodie tried any and all physical means to arouse him, was open and waiting.
"He wants you very badly," Bodie murmured--and it was the truth. His own phantasm had seduced him too, and his heart was a quick, hard beat at his ribs as he moved forward, found the place and pushed.
The moment of entry was always the best, for both partners. A transitory shock for one, a sublime sensation for the other. Bodie slipped in, sheathed half his length and then slipped all the way out to do it again. Ray didn't usually mind if he did this several times, but first entry was the best, long and anxiously anticipated.
It drew a sharp cry from Ray, and his legs gripped tight. The total withdrawal made him whimper. Bodie kissed his panting mouth and re-entered. "He's big," he said hoarsely, breathlessly. "Bigger than you've ever had. Fright skitters through you as you take him. You wonder how deep he can go in you...you feel your arse stretch wide. Wider."
A mewling cry left Ray's throat and he began to thresh. For a second Bodie wondered if he was hurting, but he knew better than that. In their time as lovers they had done almost everything, in every way, and pain was long forgotten. No, Ray was wild, threshing to try and rub the sensitive underside of his cock on Bodie's belly.
Bodie let down his legs and felt them wrap about his waist in a tight embrace. "He loves you," he murmured. "He's waited for you for so long, and now he's got you. He loves you and he's going to keep you, and do this to you--" a deep, hard thrust, another, another "--every day."
Ray's voice rose in a shout and he came with such force, Bodie was astonished. The quick, hard contractions of his powerful anal muscles were like a fist about Bodie, pulling climax out of him before he could find any semblance of control. Bodie tipped back his head, teeth bared, and froze as he surrendered to the demands of his own body.
His ears were still ringing a full minute later as he slid down on to the bed and set his head on Ray's still heaving chest. Slender arms held him, fingers combed his hair about his nape, but he could not coax his eyes open. Their mingled musk prickled his sinuses, making him think of mown hay, which in turn made him smile.
"That was good," Ray's voice said a long time later. "You should have been a novelist."
"Should I?" Bodie dragged in a breath, yawned to the bottom of his lungs and rolled onto his side. Ray's expressive eyes were dark, doped with satisfaction, while his body was limp for the first time in twenty-four hours. Bodie chalked up a mark to himself. "I'll write 'em if you illustrate 'em."
"What kind of stories?" Ray's fingertips traced Bodie's brow, nose, lips, and were kissed.
"Um...sexy ones," Bodie decided as he began to revive. "And we'll sell them to a publisher in Holland--you can print anything in Holland--and get rich and retire."
Doyle chuckled. "If only!" He stretched and sighed. "I feel great now. You knew I was feeling bad."
"I can read you like a book, mate." Bodie sat up, reached over for a paper napkin from the trolley which had brought their meal, and mopped sketchily at their legs. "Turn over, let me see to you."
"The age of chivalry lives on," Ray said drily as he rolled onto his side and blinked at his watch. "Nine."
"Time to catch forty," Bodie advised. "I'll go down and phone the Cow, tell him it's on for tonight."
His limbs were heavy, his senses fogged, as he dressed. Doyle was still naked, but as Bodie stepped out of the room he made a grab for his pants and the PPK which he carried in an inside pocket. He was not at risk until the dealer, the middle-man, Frank Scott, saw his face...
And then all hell could cut loose, as they said in the Westerns. Bodie swung down the back stairs in time to see Colin Morse hanging up the phone at the end of the bar. The older man lifted a brow at him as the hustler approached, and Bodie appreciated the concern.
"You all right, son?" Morse asked under the beat from the disco and the clatter from the gaming tables and buffet.
"I told you, I can handle Rogan." Bodie allowed himself a smug grin. "He's had all he's getting for now, and I thought I'd slip out for a breath of fresh air, clear my head." For the hell of it, he affected the most subtle limp.
Morse stepped aside to let him pass. "You're too good for the likes of Rogan. You're a nice looking lad, Mike. Why don't you let me find you a sugar daddy who'll treat you right?"
"Maybe," Bodie said noncommittally. "if the price was right."
"It would be," Morse promised. "I'll make a couple of calls."
Then Bodie was shouldering through the crush in the disco, making his way, crablike, toward the foyer and out into the sharp chill of the evening. The late spring afternoons were almost hot but the nights were still cold. City lights, smog and clouds obscured the stars but the moon was up, a crescent over the rooftops.
The Mercedes was in the carpark under the building. Bodie stood on the ramp for several minutes, watching for signs that he was followed, but no one seemed to pay any attention to the movements of Rogan's tame hustler. Rogan's whore? Bodie indulged himself in a chuckle as he wondered what those who knew the real Nick Rogan would have thought if they could have pictured the scene in that room not twenty minutes before.
The car phone carried a scrambler, which was not unusual among high-flying businessmen. He turned the device on before punching Cowley's private line and checking the time. At half past nine the old man should have been at home, but it was a safe bet he would be at the office.
He was. He took the call personally, and Bodie made it brief. "It's on, sir. Frank Scott is finally going to come out of the woodwork."
"Where is the meeting?" Cowley's disembodied voice was distorted by the scrambler, it was impossible to tell tone and mood.
"Right here. Morse offered a private suite. Scott will be here at two in the morning, sir. Any information we can use?"
"Not much," Cowley mused. "To the best of our knowledge Scott and Rogan never met in person, though they know each other well enough by reputation. Scott's certainly taken long enough to check you out."
"Better safe than sorry." Bodie paused as another limousine slid silently by toward the concrete ramp. "Have you got anything out of Rogan?"
"Not a syllable. But young Charteris came up with a few things that may be of assistance. Rogan uses cocaine now and then, so if Scott makes Doyle the social offer, tell him he should be careful about how he rejects it."
"And more careful about how he accepts," Bodie added.
"Aye. And four weeks ago Rogan was in Lebanon. Charteris did not accompany him, but met him at the airport, and he is sure he overheard a conversation between PLO weapons buyers. These men may have been trying to contact Rogan, and of course they won't have been able to. If Scott has heard this, Doyle will have to think on his feet. He'll need an airtight story. "
"I'll tell him, sir." Bodie mulled that over bleakly. "Anything else?"
"Not at this time. You'll have backup for two a.m.," Cowley promised. "Doyle has a radio tracer?"
"Yes. They won't get him out of the building, and he's armed." Bodie watched a well dressed drunk reel toward a Jaguar, get in and start it. There was an accident on its way to happen. "If that's all, sir, I'll get back to him."
"Do that. Good night, Bodie."
The line went dead and Bodie slipped quickly out of the car. He locked it, pocketed the key and strolled back up the ramp to the street. Again he looked out for observers, but who would waste valuable time running surveillance on a male prostitute? His cover was priceless.
The disco was roaring with the sound of Police; scores of hot young bodies writhed and gyrated to the heavy, sinuous beat of the music. Bodie watched them, hands in pockets, and then turned his back on the revelers and took the stairs with a measured pace. He did not see Morse but was careful to walk slowly, stiffly. Security was a matter of minute detail and overlooking nothing.
He knocked, called softly through the door, "It's only me. You decent?"
It opened, he looked down the muzzle of the PPK and into dark green eyes behind it. Ray hauled him inside and locked up behind him. He was in black trousers and white silk shirt, open at the collar, tie off, jacket hanging over the back of a dining chair. "You got through to Cowley?"
"He was still at the office. Backup's laid on. Nervy?"
Ray rubbed his cheek. "Yeah. Very. These jobs always scare the daylights out of me. One thing goes wrong, and whoosh. What do you want on your headstone?"
"'He gave his balls for his country,'" Bodie suggested as he took the cap off the Grouse and swigged a mouthful directly from the bottle. "Info from Father. Rogan uses coke now and again. If Scott offers you a belt, be careful."
"Christ." Ray rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "I can't use that stuff! I only ever used it once in my life."
"And?" Bodie offered him the bottle, and he took it.
"Fireworks went off behind my eyes, my ears played The Bells of St. Mary's, I needed sunglasses in a room at midnight and I got an erection that stayed up for fifteen minutes." He swigged out of the bottle. "I was at a party."
Bodie chuckled. "You weren't a copper at the time?"
"No! I was a student, one of a crowd that was running wild. I ran with them for a while...but by the time they were really going to hell I was in a section house in Putney. Detective Constable Doyle. Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth." He sighed as he slid the PPK back into the inside pocket of his jacket. "Did Cowley have any more for you?"
"Just a snippet of Rogan's business. If Scott asks about your PLO weapons contract, wing it."
"My PLO what?" Doyle paused with the phone in his hand. "Let's have it, Bodie. Give us a fighting chance."
He called down for coffee as Bodie gave him the details, and wore a bleak expression as he considered the predicament. As Cowley had said, he needed an airtight story.
"I'll tell Scott I've been doing the same kind of number on the PLO representatives as Scott's been doing on Rogan," Doyle mused at last. "A full security run. There's a week's work in that, and Scott would buy it. Look at the way he's been jerking us around."
It would do. Bodie sank into the easy chair by the window and watched the glare of neon from across the street. The bass beat from the disco ran through the building's concrete bones like the echoes of distant thunder, or artillery. A waiter brought up fresh coffee and scones, and they watched the clock in tense, companionable silence.
At one, a discreet knock took Bodie to the door. Doyle sat at the table, half a hand of Patience played out before him as Bodie opened to Colin Morse. The older man stepped inside, watched Rogan flick a Bic lighter and hold it to the tip of the characteristic cheroot.
"Problems?" The Belfast accent was back. "I don't want to know about problems, Colin. Tell Scott if he buggers it up tonight I'm not waiting any longer. He's not the only iron I've got in the fire, and he's starting to cost me money."
"No problems," Morse said smoothly. "Scott is on his way in now. My man Bruce will come up for you in an hour."
"I'll be here," Rogan snapped, and slammed a red card down on a black.
Morse beat a hasty retreat, and Bodie looked at the time: so far, so good. Going through the motions, he checked the radio tracer under Ray's lapel while Doyle performed a routine check of his weapon. Bodie also was armed, a small calibre Smith and Wesson tucked into his belt at the small of his back.
Ten minutes before two, they were ready. Bodie took off his shirt and slipped into bed while Ray shrugged on his jacket and stood before the mirror to fasten his tie. Morse's young man glimpsed into the room as he collected Rogan, and would report that the hustler had retired. Bodie watched Ray step through the door and was back out of the bed the instant it was closed.
The radio tracer was working well, and although he would never seen the promised CI5 backup, he knew they were covering the exterior of the building. But inside, they were on their own. How often in the past had it come down to this--himself and Ray, reliant on one another to survive? He was out of the room thirty seconds after Doyle, and listening intently. Footsteps and voices let him to a private suite on the second floor; yellow lamplight spilled from beneath the door, sounds from within were muffled. He stepped back into the shadows of a deep alcove, pressed his shoulders to the wall beside a linen cupboard and settled to wait. It should not take long, either way. It should go like clockwork and be quick...or, if Cowley's information was wrong, and Scott knew Rogan--
The bulk and weight of the pistol pressed sharply into Bodie's back as he ground his shoulders against the wall. Voices rose in the room: Rogan was bargaining, the Glaswegian was conciliatory. At the sound of that, Bodie began to relax. If Frank Scott bought the deception well enough to start haggling they were almost home free. Almost.
Unexpectedly, lamplight spilled out through the open door and Bodie pressed deeper into the shadows. Doyle stepped out first, and from a sheaf of photos Bodie recognised the man on his heels. Scott was a rawboned man, a highlander, sandy-blond, high-cheekboned. He was smiling as he offered his hand to Nick Rogan; Ray Doyle took it firmly.
"Then, till morning, Mr. Rogan," Scott offered. "And we'll do business."
"Good night." Doyle shook the hand of the arms dealer, and as the door closed he and his escort, Bruce, paused in the passageway for Rogan to light a cigar. The tip glowed brightly in the darkness and Bodie held his breath. Ray went by without acknowledging that he had seen his partner in the shadows, but Bodie knew better.
The escort was a bouncer, a big, beefy kid with a tiny bald patch and one silver earring. He padded up the stairs after Doyle and Bodie slipped like a shadow into a side passage. Servants were about and he trod with care. On the floor above, Rogan would back in the room: the light was out inside, the bed was ostensibly occupied, Charteris should be asleep. Bruce would swear to what he thought he had seen.
Footsteps on the stairs announced the return of Morse's bouncer and Bodie watched him go down before he moved out from the corner where he had taken refuge. A cleaner was working in the next room, he heard the muted howl of a vacuum cleaner. Then he was alone, moving stealthily up the stairs.
He knocked and called softly, "It's me."
Again he looked into the muzzle of the PPK, but Ray's face was guardedly smug. "I think we're home free, Bodie."
"You think?" Bodie caught him by the shoulders, fingers digging between sinew and bone. "Be sure!"
"I'm...pretry sure," Ray said cautiously. "We've got a meet, it's set for morning, a house called Knightshaze, out of town. Scott is picking me up personally at ten."
A cold fist grabbed Bodie by the vitals and squeezed. "This could be a set-up." He knuckled his eyes tiredly. "They put you in a car, whisk you away to God alone knows where--"
"Except I'm radio bugged," Doyle added drily, "and I've got backup about three hundred yards behind! You didn't think they were going to hand the Iranian arms dealers to us in broad daylight on a plate, did you?"
"No." Bodie sighed and toyed with Ray's tie. "And is Scott picking you up from here or from home?"
"From home." Ray made a face. "If you can call that penthouse flat 'home'."
He slipped a hand into Bodie's pants pocket, dealt him a suggestive caress as he searched sensually for the keys to the Merc. "Home, James."
"Back to penthouse country for the last time." Bodie took the keys from him and held open the door. "If this goes like clockwork--"
"And it should! We've got enough time invested in it."
"--we'll be debriefing by noon, and back in a draughty Chelsea flat by teatime.
Half way through the door, Doyle gave him an amused look. "Getting used to the good life spoils you for the other."
"The other what?" Bodie swatted his lover's alluring backside and followed him out.
It was almost three. The disco was quiet now, the bar was shutdown, the gaming tables vacant. Morse and his partner were doing the books while the cleaners yawned their way around the tables. Doyle waved to Morse on his way out, and Morse accorded him a polite nod. He could never have guessed, he would be in CI5 custody by ten, on charges of aiding and abetting terrorists.
The sun would be up in a couple of hours but the night air was cold. Frorn far off they smelt the river, which was running high and turbid after the recent rain. The carpark under the building was chill, ringing, empty, smelling of old oil and engines. As Bodie slid in behind the wheel and turned on the heater, Ray picked up the phone and cut in the scrambler.
Since the job had taken a sudden upward turn Cowley had elected to spend the night at the office. Doyle gave him the details in terse tones as Bodie turned onto the main road. The cogs were in motion now. CI5 would move into high gear at a word from its Controller.
"Your backup will be Murphy, Lucas and McCabe," Cowley informed them. "You've no reason to believe you're under suspicion, Doyle?"
"None yet." Ray hesitated. "Frank Scott is not the only middle man, though. There's to be another, Salim Hamdi, an Egyptian mercenary acting on behalf of the Iranians. You'd better see what the computer has on him."
"Salim Hamdi," Cowley said softly, as if he was taking notes. "I'll get back to you as soon as I can, Doyle."
Ray held his watch to the wash of neon from the passing shops. "Scott wants to pick me up at ten. That doesn't give us long, sir."
"Long enough," Cowley judged. "Let me see what I can find on this man, Hamdi, and the location, Knightshaze. We want as few surprises as we can manage. I'll contact you when I have more, 4.5. Out."
The phone clattered back into its cradle and Ray hunched down into his seat. Bodie glanced sidelong at him as the mauve street lighting outlined his features. "Hot shower, good meal, rub down, large scotch. That's what you need."
"What I need?" Ray groaned. "I need a six week holiday in the south of France. Early retirement. A sugar daddy who'll keep me in champagne and oysters!"
The notion made Bodie chuckle. "The champagne and oysters come at a price, mate. A price you wouldn't pay. I've had a few offers since I've been playing the part of Charteris."
"Doesn't surprise me. You're gorgeous, Bodie. People notice." Ray yawned. "What kind of offers?"
"Older man, rich and generous, wants a chauffeur for the daylight hours and a bedwarmer after dark." Bodie sniffed, and expression of scorn. "Not my style."
"Nor mine," Ray agreed. He set one hand on Bodie's muscular thigh, stroking there as Bodie took them northwest through the sparse early morning traffic. The sky had just begun to grow light in the east. "Still," Doyle added as an afterthought, "if I could come up with a 'patron of the arse' about your age and size and build..."
Bodie guffawed. "God, you're a case, Ray. And here we are--security lift to the sixth floor penthouse for the final time. If your lordship will step this way, I shall run your lordship's bath and fix your lordship's drink...."
"Not here, not now, Bodie." Ray caught his hand. "You've played the part of the hustler long enough. I never liked it. Hated talking about you as if you were--I dunno. Cheap. A piece of meat."
"Hey." Bodie brought the slender fingers to his lips and kissed them. "It was the job, Ray. Same as you, playing a right bastard. You think I liked hearing Morse and others talk about you as if they were sure you took me to bed and brutalised me! "
"I don't suppose you did." Ray leaned over and dropped a kiss on the corner of his mouth. "You want to be Mike Charteris one last time?"
"Till Scott picks you up for the meeting, I'm a hustler," Bodie said in a deep, sultry tone. "I'll be right behind you with Cowley, but till then..." He slid out of the Mercedes, locked it, orbited the long black bonnet and swung open Ray's door. "Look at it from another perspective."
"What's that?" Doyle slipped an arm about his waist and hugged as Bodie locked the left door.
"It's flattering," Bodie said glibly. "Rogan's a man of good taste, even if he is a bastard, they all know that. You had the pick of the crop, and who did you choose for your own personal bedwarmer?"
"And I'm a case?" Ray hugged him and let him go as they stepped into the building.
But Bodie had meant what he had said. Deep down inside, the role of the expensive courtesan was a personal fantasy as old as the business of sex for pay. Only the most beautiful, the most perfect were ever chosen by the rich and powerful--kings, princes, captains of industry. Wealthy criminals like Nicholas Rogan could have their pick of the year's finest...and knowing that Morse and others had looked at the counterfeit Charteris and accepted him as Rogan's choice was enormously flattering.
The penthouse was MI6 property, a safehouse where diplomats and dignitaries, defecting politicians, could be hidden in complete security. The phones were tapped but the rooms were not bugged, for which Bodie was deeply grateful. How difficult it would have been, trying to maintain a facade of heterosexuality for a long, tedious week, with Ray in this sultry, smouldery, seductive mood.
Seductive? He was on the prowl as Bodie locked up. The sky was shades brighter, a buzz of traffic had begun as the city began to gear up. Classic art prints and a few less prestigious originals graced the walls, and Ray studied each in turn, adjusted a frame, removed an imaginary speck of dust. The clock showed four.
The bathroom was a fantasy of aquamarine tiles, porcelain and gold fittings. Bodie discarded his evening dress and set the taps. Soundless, Ray was behind him...hands stroking, lips brushing in flocks of soft, fleeting kisses across his shoulders. Nick Rogan was a thousand miles away now. When they shut the door, they shut Rogan and Charteris outside. Bodie turned to him, took him in his arms, and the curly head set down on his shoulder.
"You okay? You sure you told me everything that happened in that room?" Bodie asked against Ray's ear.
"Of course I did. I'll just be glad when this is over," Ray admitted. "Not just the risk, but the whole act."
"You've played killers before," Bodie reminded him as he began to undress him at a leisurely pace, enjoying it. "Pete van Niekirk, for a start. You played that part with relish." He dropped the dress shirt into the laundry basket and thumbed both Ray's sensitive little nipples. "I'll tell you what. You put your arms around me, and I'll make you a deal." The arms went around him; the green eyes were wary. "Next time," Bodie offered, "you can play the hustler and I'll play the customer." Ray groaned and almost fended him off. Bodie kissed him swiftly and tackled buckle and zip. "It's everyone's secret fantasy, you know!"
"You reckon?" Doyle let the black trousers fall and kicked them off. "Yours too? You've had this fantasy often?"
"Not often," Bodie confessed, "but I've had it. Once or twice since I met you. It goes like this..." He hooked his thumbs into the elastic of the black cotton briefs and slid them down the long, tapered legs. "I work for an escort agency. You're a businessman, new in town and lonely for friendly company. You make a phone call and they give you an appointment to look over the stock."
"You make it sound like a horse market!" Ray objected.
"Stud market, at least." Bodie thrust him under the water, soaped both hands and began to massage taut breast muscles. "You have six of the most gorgeous young men to choose from. I'm on the end of the line, and as soon as I set eyes on you I'm in a frenzy of delicious lust. I don't think I've got a chance, but you've already seen me. We go upstairs to an 1890s French boudoir with scarlet flock wallpaper and a four-poster, and the rest is history. Or do I mean biology? In the morning you offer me a permanent job...on staff."
Ray smiled impishly from beneath his straggling fringe. He was, Bodie thought, so ridiculously beautiful, what could you do but love him? The real Rogan had a short, broad nose, his eyes were closer together, his mouth was thinner, jaw square, poor skin...in Bodie's arms was something so close to his own personal ideal of perfection that to see Ray was to desire him; to know him was to love him utterly.
"You never had the hustler fantasy?" Bodie teased, lest tenderness get the better of him.
"When I was a kid," Ray admitted. He leaned his head under the soothing water and closed his eyes. "I must have been twelve or thirteen. Just realizing I liked boys as well as girls, you know? I had this sordid little fantasy where I was kidnapped, made off with by a kind of circus ringmaster who ran a knocking shop on the Continent."
He offered no more, and Bodie's curiosity was piqued. "And what happened to you?"
"Well, I didn't have you to rescue me," Ray said ruefully. "All sorts of ghastly misadventures happened, and then..."
"And then?" Bodie caught him in both arms as they lazed under the water. It would run hot forever, unlike the geyser in that oftlamented Chelsea flat.
"Then I got sick of the fantasy and read King Solomon 's Mines instead. I was Allan Quartermaine for weeks." Doyle chuckled richly and turned off the water. "Queer, isn't it, what goes through the adolescent mind."
"Interesting choice of adjective, that." Bodie snatched up a towel and began to dry them both.
"You know what I mean." Ray stretched his arms over his head. "I could eat bacon, egg, sausage and tomatoes, fried slice, toast, marmalade and coffee."
Bodie's mouth was already watering.
"You offering to cook at this hour of the morning?"
"I'm offering." Ray yawned and began to rub his hair. "It's either that or cornflakes, and...I'm edgy. And when I'm edgy, I'm hungry."
He belted on a pale blue robe as he stepped out of the bathroom and Bodie smiled after him. The scent of frying bacon, the spatter of eggs in the skillet, solicited a rumble from his stomach as he shaved.
The kitchen table was set for breakfast, the window was wide open to the powder blue morning sky, and Ray was shaving with the battery buzz box as he waited for the sausages to be done to a nicety. Bodie had on his beige robe, comfortably barefoot while a blackbird sang in the trees below their window.
"I could get used to this," he said, not for the first time. "The good life. We'll be back down the salt mine in a few days. We get two days off, and we'll be a whole day debriefing before we're free to go."
The razor turned off and Doyle patted his boyishly smooth jaw before slapping a laden plate before Bodie. "Wrap yourself around that." He poured coffee and slid in at the other side of the table. "I always wonder why you hang around, working for CI5."
"You what?" Bodie washed down a chunk of sausage with a draught of coffee.
"Well, work it out." Ray counted off on his fingers. "Public school, and you ran. Merchant marine, and you jumped ship. Mercenaries, and you got out as soon as you could--sensible, that. Service on the Gulf, you told me. You couldn't have been there more than months, before you got out again and signed on with GSG-9 in Germany. Out again, into 3 Para, out again, into the SAS, and then into CI5, all by the time you were twenty-five! I keep asking myself how long you'll be with Cowley's mob before I'm watching you go through the door one day, and you won't be back."
Shadows haunted Ray's eyes, and Bodie set down his cutlery. "You know, for a bright, bonny wee lad, you can be thick as a brick sometimes," he said in a vague approximation of Cowley. "You don't know what keep me with CI5?"
"You signed a contract," Doyle stated drily.
Bodie reached over the table and captured both his hands. "The contract was up last year, so was yours. We both re-signed. You damned well know what keeps me at CI5, and it'll keep me there as long as it takes."
"As long as what takes?" Ray set his elbows on the table and sat still, intent on Bodie's eyes.
"For you to decide it's time for you to move on. If you ever do." Bodie smiled, leaned over and kissed him, tasting bacon and tomato. "You're right, I wouldn't have stayed if it hadn't been for you. The work is interesting but the pay isn't good, and the risks are high. But...I fell in love with you on Round One, Ray. Where you go, I go. That's the bottom line, and stuff the contract."
It was one of those moments when they were closer than close. Bodie treasured every second as Ray's eyes glittered, and he leaned over for a long, deep kiss which searched his very soul.
"You're a lovely big berk, Bodie," he said minutes later in a soft, husky voice filled with affection.
Bodie graced him with a beatific smile. "Finish your breakfast and then have a nap. I'll call Cowley at nine, make sure the whole circus is ready to move on schedule."
It was. Murphy, Lucas and McCabe were in two cars, parked along the avenue from the building; Cowley was a single street away with Ruth Pettifer at the wheel of the scarlet Rover. The whole machine was poised an hour before show-time, as was Cowley's custom. Once before he had been caught out when random factors moved a meeting up by a matter of half an hour, and a young man lost his life without need.
For the last time they undertook the roles of Rogan and Charteris, and Ray dressed for the part with characteristic flair. The jacket was green, the tie of matching emerald, the shirt Irish linen with a fine stripe. He teased his hair to order and checked the automatic just as the phone rang.
It was Lucas, as Bodie had expected. "Look out your front windows. An Aston Martin just pulled up. That's got to be Ray's ride. On your toes, Bodie. This is it."
"Check in with Cowley," Bodie told him.
"I will...someone's about to lean on your bell."
The buzz from the door came a scant second later, and Doyle touched the intercom. "Rogan."
"It's Scott, Mr. Rogan."
"Come up." Doyle released the door and gave Bodie a rueful look. "You realise, you're buff naked."
"Certainly I am." Bodie posed, hands on hips. "And he's going to catch one glimpse of me in my birthday suit. It's what he'll expect and it's part of your cover. Then I'll be right behind you, with Cowley." He came closer, caught Ray by the end of the emerald green tie and cuddled him with one strong arm. Ray's own arm went about his shoulders as they began to hear the lift coming up, and Bodie leaned closer to kiss his ear and whisper moistly in a mock-Chicago gangster voice, "Give 'em. hell. You're doing good, kid."
Heaven knew how the real Nick Rogan would have responded to that, and Ray had barely a chance to respond at all. Bodie let go his tie, deftly straightened it for him, tugged the beautiful green jacket to rights and stepped back with a complacent, teasing smile. Footsteps outside heralded Scott and Bodie paused, waited until their door swung inward before he turned away and let Scott catch one glimpse of his retreating bare backside as he stepped into the bedroom.
He was already rushing into slacks, trainers, shirt and jacket as Scott and Doyle spoke of business matters: Scott wanted fifteen percent rather than the usual ten, and Rogan dickered. Bodie chalked a mark up to Ray as he used the snippet of information Charteris had turned up. He had spent so long waiting for Scott, he had probably annoyed the PLO dealers. Scott had cost him money, and he could damned well accept the usual ten percent, and consider himself lucky to get the business at all.
They were out of the flat then, and Bodie was ready to move. As the door closed he picked up the phone, and Cowley answered after a single ring. "They're gone, sir. You can pick me up as soon as the Aston Martin's out of the road."
It was a classic model, the DBS-V8 in candy-tone gold with custom plates. Bodie watched it pull away and was in the lift before the door had banged and the deadlocks engaged. A clock in his brain had already begun to tick. In his right hand he carried the tracer's radio monitor, and the regular beep was reassuring. With that device he could follow Ray no matter where they took him.
The Rover drew up at the kerb for scant seconds, and Bodie slid in beside Cowley as Ruth Pettifer listened to Murphy's voice over the RT. Six-two was ahead of Lucas and McCabe by half a kilometre, he could see the sports car and Ruth had only to follow his verbal directions.
The house, Knightshaze, had only been quoted as 'out of town', and Cowley wore a wry expression as he offered Bodie the fruits of the night's labour.
"There are five houses called Knightshaze. It could be any one of three."
"I think it's going to be the one in Kent, sir," Ruth guessed. "Scott has just picked up that road."
"Aye," Cowley agreed as he noted the lie of the land, and picked up the phone. "Alpha to all units. It's the Kent location. Move in now, but for heaven's sake don't let them see you."
Bodie's teeth closed on his lip. "And what about the middle man, Salim Hamdi?"
But Cowley could only shake his head. "We accessed all information available from Mossad, CIA, BOSS. Hamdi is Egyptian by birth, Iranian by marriage, and he has belonged to the Islamic Jihad for several years. We can quote you his educational record, Bodie, but...has he met Nicholas Rogan face to face? We haven't been able to make that connection."
"Which means," Bodie said bitterly, "Ray could be walking straight into a hornet's nest!"
The older man's pale blue eyes studied him probingly. "We have excellent backup for him. I assigned a squad to cover the three houses called Knightshaze which are closest to London. The fourth is in Dorset, the fifth is in Oxfordshire. The chance of the location being one of those two was slight. And Doyle is armed."
There was no good retort, and Bodie clamped down on his protestations. Cowley was right, and Doyle would have supported him: risk, danger and all, it was 4.5's job. Bodie shuffled down in the seat and watched the rush of rooves, treetops, signboards as town became country.
A blast of static from the RT, and Murphy was back on the air: "Sir, the car just turned in through the gates. Anson's squad is in position. Do you want us to move in?"
Every nerve in Bodie's body screamed, yes! But Cowley said, "Not yet. Let them get into the house. Doyle will give us the diversion we need to make this neat and clean."
Neat and clean? Bodie gave Cowley's granite profile a glare as Ruth began to brake and look for the other CI5 cars. They were drawn in at the verge under overhanging beech and sycamore, invisible from the house. Knightshaze itself stood back from the road behind a high wall overgrown with ivy. Tall iron gates would have locked behind the inbound Aston Martin, and surely a security system would have activated.
The Rover parked behind Murphy's white Capri, and Bodie rolled down the window. The wind in the trees, the chatter of birds...hard to think that not three hundred metres away, men were haggling, making a deal which would sign the death warrants for hundreds. Munitions were a dirty business, Bodie decided.
Minutes passed and Cowley wore a pensive expression while Bodie began to fret. "Sir--"
"Give it a while, Bodie," Cowley said quietly. "Let them get settled down. Their complacency is a tool we can use."
Again, Bodie bit back his protests. In his pockets his fists clenched as he waited it out, and ice crystallised in the pit of his belly. The feeling was no stranger, and a name came to mind. Ojuka. Ray had been in trouble that day, too. Too? Bodie swallowed hard.
"Sir, it's been long enough," he said quietly when he could bear the waiting no longer. "I can go over the wall right there, if you don't want to go through the main gate. I can probably nobble the security system."
Cowley looked sidelong at him, as if he were a peculiar form of insect under the magnifying glass. "Without a diagram? We can do without heroics, Bodie. But you're right, it's been long enough." He had the phone in his hand as he spoke. "Murphy, Anson. Both squads move in, right behind me."
Bodie began to breathe again, an odd sensation in a chest that had begun to burn. Ruth started the Rover and pulled out past the other vehicles to lead the way. The gates were locked; a camera panned down onto the cars as Murphy strode by, nonchalant as was his style, with a pair of Stilson bolt cutters which made short work of the locks.
But a security goon in the house must have had his eyes on the monitors fed by those cameras, and the clock in the back of Bodie's skull began to count down. As soon as the cars appeared and the gates were breached, Doyle's life was in the crucible.
A hundred times between the gate and the wide, polished oak front door, Bodie cursed Cowley, cursed CI5, Libyans, Iranians, Scott and Rogan...twelve seconds, and Pettifer squealed the tyres at the foot of the steps to pull the Rover up with its nose on the asphalt driveway. Bodie was out before the suspension stopped rocking.
The first of many gunshots punched out of the house as he reached the front door and he swore as he tried the ornamental brass knob. It was open. A dark shape inside was still in the act of scurrying to lock it, and Bodie pulled the S&W into line for one shot. It spun the man around and slammed him into the French-polished banister.
He was inside then, crouched low, pressed to the wall as he scanned the rooms to his left. The shots were from the second level and away to his right, in the house's easy wing. On his heels, Murphy and Anson crouched in the doorway.
"Where the hell is Doyle?" Anson muttered.
"There." Bodie nodded toward the sound of the shots. He could pick out the report of the PPK--the other weapons were heavier, deeper-voiced. "Cover me, Murph."
"Here." Murphy thrust a palmful of reload magazines into his hand as he moved away. "And keep your bloody head down!"
Crouched, Bodie scuttled to the stairs and was on the second floor landing before Murphy had spend his first clip. Nothing moved ahead and he went up the second flight without cover, heart like a jackhammer, sweat prickling his ribs.
The shots were closer now, he felt them as blows to his eardrums. The PPK was still firing, so Doyle was on the loose, and Bodie clung tight to that knowledge as he came out into a long, wide hall between the doors of a dozen bedchambers. Potted palms, framed portraits, genuine antique tables and chairs...blood on the floorboards. A body crumpled against a half open door. Swarthy features, a build like a heavyweight boxer. The Iranians' security man?
"Ray! Ray!" He kicked open the first door but the room behind it was empty. The technique was to sweep, be thorough, leave no stone unturned behind him. "Ray!" He kicked open a fourth door, but the firing came from a corner ahead, a kind of T-junction where the house branched.
Then a sharp cry, a voice in pain, a babble in some language Bodie could not understand, and a man stumbled around the corner. He was dead on his feet already and pitched on his face before Bodie could waste ammunition on him. He glanced once at the body, saw a swarthy face...Salim Hamdi?
"Ray!" he bawled along the crossing passageway as he pressed to the wall beside an enormous Landseer landscape.
And at last he was answered. "Here, Bodie!" Doyle's voice was sharp and high.
Bodie knew that sound. Fear, distress, pain. He chanced a glance about the corner and saw him pressed into the frame of a bay window which overhung the front gardens. His left arm hung limply, blood darkened the sleeve of his jacket. Ray would be furious, Bodie thought feverishly, it was a favorite jacket, and brand new. Cowley would get the bill for a replacement, and like it.
"Hold on!" he yelled as he reloaded the S&W fast. "Where are they?"
"Back that way, two of 'em. I got two others. I think I killed one, wounded one," Doyle panted. "I'm out of ammo."
"How bad are you hurt?" Bodie leaned out, eyes scanning for any sign of activity at the end of the passage.
"Just a nick," Doyle barked. His voice was steadier now; he was hurt, but he was not alone and fear had receded.
A dark head, olive-skinned face, popped out like a rabbit from a burrow and Bodie squeezed the trigger, two shots which found their target. The man was dead before he hit the ground. Bodie cleared his throat. "That's enough! Throw down the gun and come out. You don't have to die, Scott. You're not going to get out of here, you know that." A long silence rewarded Bodie, and he watched as Ray gingerly explored his injured arm. "Can he get out that way?"
"Not a chance. It's a blind passage," Ray muttered. "Just linen cupboards. I tried to get out that way myself, nearly got trapped." His right hand clenched on his left arm. "Damn, that hurts."
"Sit tight." Bodie glanced back over his shoulder to see Murphy, Anson, Lucas and McCabe at the top of the stairs. "Three down, but Scott is still up here. Won't come out." He raised his voice. "You got that tear gas?"
"Tear gas?" Murphy began, puzzled, and then caught the look on Bodie's face and winked. His voice rose loudly: "Got three canisters. You want one or two? Gas masks--catch. Lob one along to 4.5. We'll smoke the bastard out the hard way."
The threat of gas was enough to galvanise Frank Scott. The first Bodie saw of him was his hand, holding the gun by the barrel. The weapon thrust out around the corner and dropped to the bare floorboards. "All right, damn it, you win! I'm coming out," he bellowed. Fright sharpened his voice like razor blades.
"Hands on your head," Bodie barked. "Slowly. That's right. Turnaround. Hands against the wall. Move it! Grab him, Murph. I'll get Ray."
The S&W slid back into Bodie's belt, still warm and cordite-aromatic against the curve of his back. As Murphy took charge of the weapons dealer, Bodie offered Ray is right arm. Ray leaned heavily on him, and Bodie peeled off the ruined jacket. The shirt sleeve tore away and they peered at the small but messy wound.
"You'll live," Bodie said drily. "One more scar. You've got so many of 'em, I can almost play join-the-dots on you." He touched Ray's hot, sweated face with fingertips which, not quite to his astonishment, trembled. "You okay?"
"I will be." Ray took a deep breath, exhaled hard and looked up over Bodie's shoulder. A small expression of warning knitted his brows. "Cowley," he whispered, and gave Bodie a discreet push.
Reluctantly--with a feeling of bruised sensibilities, as always happened when the moment came for him to deny his feelings and pretend once more--Bodie stepped back from him. Cowley had a neat little automatic in his right hand, and after the climb up the stairs he was limping just a little on that old, old injury. He took in the scene at a glance and nodded his satisfaction.
"I sent for an ambulance as soon as we heard gunfire," he said as he frowned at Doyle's left arm. "You'd better get that seen to, 4.5. Go with him Bodie. Take the rest of the day, both of you, and debrief in the morning. Nine sharp."
Bodie was still fuming as he propped Ray up on his good side and steadied him while he negotiated the stairs. The warwhoop of a siren announced the ambulance; three bodies would be whisked swiftly to the morgue, but priority went to the walking wounded.
Insistent, Bodie petitioned for the attention of the bearded young ambulance man, and Doyle sat in the tail of the vehicle as the wound was cleaned, swabbed, dressed with an antiseptic. His eyes watered and he bit his lip as the treatment eclipsed the ailment for a time. A shot of broad spectrum antibiotics and a white bandage, and he was free to go, on the promise that he would have the wound cared for by their own staff medics.
Eager just to leave, Bodie commandeered Murphy's car for the drive home. Bare-chested, flushed and waxen, Ray subsided into the passenger seat and closed his eyes. He was shaking with reaction and Bodie hesitated before he started the car.
"You okay? Home, mate, or straight to the infirmary at base?"
"Home," Ray said hoarsely. "It isn't a bum full of needles I want. A stiff drink, a soft bed...bit of a cuddle. I reckon I've earned it."
"I reckon you have, at that." Bodie leaned over, traced the line of his tightcompressed mouth with one fingertip. "I was scared rigid out here."
"I was scared rigid in there," Doyle grumbled. "There are times, Bodie, when I wonder why I'm doing this job."
"You're addicted to your own adrenalin," Bodie said drily as he twisted the ignition key. He took the car back to the road, turned right and glanced at Ray. He was still waiting for a retort, but Ray seemed inert. The arm was cradled to his chest, his eyes were heavy. "You sure you're okay?"
"No, I'm not bloody okay, I've been shot!" Ray stirred fretfully. "Try not to hit every hole in the road, Bodie."
"Sorry." Bodie slowed down to make the ride easier. "Try and rest. We're a long way out of Town."
It was almost four when he helped Ray onto the pavement outside a quiet building in a Chelsea sidestreet. Ray was in pain, pale, silent, but Bodie had himself sustained too many similar wounds to be overly concerned. They hurt like hell, left a small scar, but that was the worst of them.
An armchair, footstool under his booted feet, triple Black Douglas in his right hand, four Paracetamol capsules, cup of tea...the world looked a few shades brighter as Bodie sorted through fridge and cupboards, found baked beans, franks, tinned pears and a carton of custard.
The food may not have been the elegant fare enjoyed by the likes of Rogan and Charteris, but he was hungry enough for it to be welcome. They ate in the living room and Doyle picked at his meal on a tray in his lap. Finished, Bodie disposed of the dishes and lowered himself onto the stool between Ray's knees.
"You ought to lie down." He set both hands on Ray's thighs. "Do you want Doc Bradley to have a look at you?"
"No." Ray stretched carefully and rubbed his midriff. He was still bare-chested, since the arm was hot and sore and even the pressure of a shirt would trouble him so soon. He took Bodie's cheek in the palm of his good hand. "Thanks."
"For what?" Bodie turned his lips to the warm palm.
"Being my knight errant," Ray said, sighing. "Being there to pull me out of the scrapes bloody Cowley gets me into. And for caring, afterward."
"Caring?" Bodie echoed. "I love you. You forgotten?"
"Not a chance." Ray stirred, ouched as his arm pulled, held it tight to his chest and shuffled out of the chair into Bodie's arms. Bodie half-lifted him as they came to their feet, and held him close. "That's one I owe you," Ray said a longtime later, moist words tickling Bodie's neck.
"Nah. We're even, sunshine," Bodie corrected. "Last time it was you who pulled me out. We made a deal years ago. Take it in turns, we said."
"Did we?" Ray leaned back, looked up into Bodie's face with a smile. "Say it again."
"We made a deal--"
"Not that! Tell me you love me." The green eyes were heavy, dopey and warm with affection.
"Oh. I love you." Bodie kissed the straight, beautiful nose. "Want to hear it again? I...love...you." Words punctuated by kisses for eyelids and lips. "And you're going to lie down before you fall down!"
"S'not a bad idea at that," Ray decided. "Oh, Bodie."
"What?" Bodie slipped an arm about his waist to shepherd him toward the bedroom.
"I was going to sound like an echo." Ray rested his head on Bodie's shoulder.
"I don't mind," Bodie gave him a little squeeze.
"I, er, do love you, mate," Ray said, as if it was a shattering confession. "More than you'll ever know, Bodie."
"Oh, I think I know." Bodie had him in the bedroom now, and eased him flat on the mattress. He fluffed the pillows, unbuckled and unzipped him, drew off boots, socks, jeans, underwear, and left him naked on the quilt. Ray did not seem inclined to move again, so Bodie wrapped the whole quilt about him and tucked it in before he leaned over and pressed a kiss to the invalid's cool forehead. "Rest."
"Lie down with me," Doyle coaxed, slurred.
"It's only six o'clock, and I've got dishes to wash." Bodie chuckled, humour at his own expense, "I'll make someone a good wife."
"Good husband," Ray slurred as his eyes closed at last.
Bodie drew the curtains and stood in the doorway, watching his love sleep for long, wonderful minutes. At the end of every hazardous job he felt the same rush of relief. They were through it, they were alive and well--a reprieve, a second chance? One day they might not be so lucky, and they both knew it, but the knowledge merely made very day they shared that much more precious, and every act of love that much more cherished.
Quiet lest he disturb Ray, Bodie crept from the room to let him sleep.
-- THE END --