by O Yardley
Rumour, that lying jade, was abroad in CI5.
No one knew the facts, but that scarcely mattered. Facts only confused the issue, stifled creativity. Only one was constant, unvarying in all the stories told, and constant that demanded explanation, invited speculation, pleaded - but was denied - information. Bodie and Doyle were gone, gone for good, their IDs and armoury permanently surrendered; no one knew why and no one knew whither.
Some said that they had finally bowed under the stress of years spent in outwitting villainy, in the unremitting fight against the criminal mind. Sooner or later, it was argued, even the sternest will would crack, the toughest mind rebel against unceasing watchfulness.
Others, younger and more resilient as yet, less understanding of the strain that threatens the very sanity of the individual continually under pressure, denied this even as a possibility. It was undercover work, they said, deep and devious, and dangerous beyond anything that Cowley had ever asked before of any agent, even those two, his top men, constantly in the front line of CI5 activity. This time, they said, the very fabric of society was under threat and only the best would do, only the most experienced and deadly could combat the evil that threatened each and every one among them.
Rubbish! cried others of more prosaic turn. Extended leave, that's all it was. The well-deserved reward for long hours of unstinting devotion to duty. It was simply that Cowley, always the canny Scot, would not acknowledge this in case it gave the less deserving among them, the slackers and time wasters and the chicken-hearted, the idea that they too might one day reap the same reward and lie in mindless content on sun-drenched beaches for day after day, working on nothing more demanding than their sun-tans and worrying endlessly over such vital matters as whether or not the wine waiter would bring the bottle of white to their table in time for the fish course.
A few, devoted pessimists to a man, darkly declared that they had been slung out, their resignations demanded for acts of incredible and cowardice that brought the whole of CI5 into disrepute and was likely in the end to lose them all their jobs and good names.
Cowley, of course, knew the facts, but Cowley, dour as ever, was not telling. Only a small crease between his brows spoke to the discerning of a loss that was not measured small. Cowley would miss his best men, the only two whose minds came anywhere near his own razor-sharp brain, who could leap laterally to the heart of a problem with the same unerring instinct and uncanny understanding of the criminal and treacherous.
Cowley would miss them, their black and acid humour, their unspoken care and their undemonstrative devotion. Cowley was sad to see them go but no one, save the perceptive Betty who cared for him with an equally silent affection, would ever know.
The train wheels beat out their rhythmic message of urgency, counting out the yards and the miles as the carriage sped northwards. As dusk fell and the internal lights came on, Bodie could watch his companion's reflection in the window, study the sombre lines etched upon his perfect features, new lines that told of yet more duty done, of selfless love far beyond that of smaller men. He had longed to make this visual feast before on their long journey but hesitated to add to the distress he instinctively knew lay behind the fragile calm.
It hadn't been a difficult decision for Doyle - just the hardest one Bodie had ever had to witness, knowing how it had torn his partner in two. His own offer had been made without thinking, blurting out in his own need to comfort and, most of all, to hold on to the most precious part of his life. To lose Doyle? Unthinkable.
He'd had his reward in the sudden joy lighting the unhappy face, the lifting of a hand that trembled slightly.
"Come with me?" Doyle had murmured. "Oh, Bodie, yes!"
And so he'd followed Doyle, as he would follow him now forever, into Cowley's office and waited in patient shadow, while Doyle told of the approaching family sorrow and of his own sad relinquishment of CI5, his family of choice.
"You too, Bodie?" Cowley had asked the still figure, accepting the quiet, "Yes," with a nod of resignation. As well try to separate Siamese twins with but a single heart.
And now, as the great train thundered northwards, Bodie knew he had done the right thing, that to live for Doyle would be as sweet and right as to die that he might live.
"I have no choice," Doyle said abruptly. "You know that, don't you?"
"I know," Bodie told him softly, the tenderness he felt not quite disguised and was rewarded with a smile.
"Ah!" Doyle nodded slowly, eyes on that dear visage, "you do understand."
Bodie understood, comprehended the long centuries of service that had gone into the making of the complex, thoughtful, caring man who sat a scant few inches away. Doyle would always come before self with him, and Bodie would have him no other way. But even so it was hard to have to give up everything you knew and loved; to return to a life that had stifled you, a victim on the altar of family honour. For now the old order was changing, the old Earl was dying, and Doyle's father would need him at his side when he took up that heavy burden; and Bodie too would have his place and be happy with it, happy in providing his own support when it was needed.
The rest of the journey was accomplished in virtual silence and at last they were on the final leg, the taxi from the station driving through a light mist that swirled about its windows offering ghostly glimpses of forbidding countryside that had its own stark beauty.
In time the cab drew up outside a massive pile whose turrets stretched ever upwards into the mist. Doyle descended, footsteps crunching on immaculately swept gravel, and waited while Bodie paid the driver and took up their luggage. The huge door swung open and an imposing butler admitted them, greeting Doyle with sad formality.
"His Lordship is sinking fast," he said in answer to Doyle's question.
"And my father?" Doyle asked.
"In the library, sir."
"Thank you." Doyle offered a grave smile befitting the circumstances and led the way. "I'm glad you're here," he said to Bodie, pausing with his hand upon the oaken door's iron latch. "It will help to make this time less wearisome - but I fear it is a great burden to lay on you."
"Which I bear gladly," Bodie told him, laying a hand for a fleeting moment on a thin-fleshed shoulder, giving it an encouraging push.
Doyle entered the room, treading its well-polished boards with unfaltering footsteps, approaching the lonely figure that stood by the window, a figure so like Doyle in outline that Bodie's breath caught in his throat as it turned, seeing the years flash by to show him Doyle in the perfection of his middle years.
He hung back, letting father and son greet one another in privacy, but Doyle was soon hurrying him forward, saying gladly, "Father, may I introduce my friend, Bodie? Bodie, this is my father - Lord Fauntleroy."
-- THE END --