by O Yardley
A Modern Christmas Carol
"Bloody Christmas!" Bodie strode out of the store pouting like a three-year-old. "I'll swear it starts earlier every year. If I hear Jingle Bells one more time I'm going to do someone an injury!"
"'tis a bit over-commercialised," Doyle allowed. Secretly he loved every card, carol, tree, paper chain and piece of tinsel. One time he'd even found himself wet-eyed over a display of turkeys in a butcher's shop window, but even he was prepared to concede that was carrying things too far.
"The whole thing's just a con," Bodie said forcibly. "So long as they get their hands on your money they'll use any trick in the book to persuade people to part with it, never mind if it leaves them in debt for the next bloody eleven months."
"The decorations look nice," Doyle said loyally. Bodie's attitude to Christmas was the only fault he could find in him these days, ever since he'd decided he was the sexiest thing on any sort of legs at all, never mind only two.
"Nice?" Bodie stared up at the stained tinsel crowns ornamenting each lamppost and snorted. "Those must be at least twenty years old by the look of 'em. Nice! Tacky is the kindest description."
"Well the things they put up in the shops do look better, I agree, but that doesn't stay out in all weathers," Doyle protested. "It's not surprising if the outdoor stuff gets a bit tatty after a while."
"If they only had it up for a week it'd last a lot longer," Bodie said unanswerably. "I wouldn't mind so much them starting selling stuff early, everyone's got to make a living," he went on more moderately. "It's all this sickly sentimentality that gets me down, and not being able to shop for anything without having carols or every so-called Christmas hit from the last twenty years playing at full blast. And when you dive out into the street to get away from it you find the Sally Army trombonist right up your hooter!" He gestured towards the end of the pedestrianised area where the band in question were mustering, taking their places beneath a dismal-looking tree which was hung with over-large paper-wrapped parcels that were not looking their finest under the fire but penetrating drizzle that was falling.
"You don't seem to object when it comes to packing away the turkey and Christmas pud, " Doyle said pointedly, having been the provider of the feast last year when he couldn't get home because they had both been on stand-by duty.
"I'd give that up willingly if it meant I didn't have to suffer all the build-up," Bodie told him. "It fairly turns my stomach, all this." He gestured again, scoring a direct hit on the waistcoat of an elderly bloke tottering along with his wife - both of them old enough to know better in his opinion - loaded down with a tree, enough holly to decorate Westminster Abbey, and a huge bunch of mistletoe.
"Sorry, mate, didn't see you behind all the greenery," he said with false sincerity, disentangling himself from a particularly tenacious holly branch. "And what the hell do they need mistletoe for?" he demanded as the couple went on their way, arm in arm behind Birnham Wood.
"Why shouldn't they have mistletoe?" Doyle said reasonably. "You're never too old to kiss."
Bodie looked revolted. "What, people their age?"
"You can still father children in your eighties."
"You speak for yourself," Bodie told him. "I'm going into a monastery when I'm forty."
Doyle's burst of laughter at this improbability followed him all down the side street to where they had parked the car. Bodie liked making his partner laugh. It gave him a warm sensation unlike anything else.
It was unfortunate that the season of goodwill brought out the conmen, fraudulent traders and pickpockets in their thousands, and doubly so that this year Bodie and Doyle were the agents selected to keep a careful eye on things. That they had so far been lucky in avoiding the tedious duty bore no weight with Bodie and by the end of the next week Doyle had heard more than he ever needed to know concerning Bodie's opinion of Christmas and its traditions - especially since he had heard it all before, every year since first being partnered with him.
"Scrooge," he told him, only to have Bodie retort that the old man had had the heart of the matter in him and shouldn't have let a bit of undigested food overtake his sane and sensible outlook.
The dusty Victorian building that housed CI5 was enough to daunt anyone's ardour when it came to Christmas decorations, but that never prevented the denizens of the typing pool doing their best with tinsel and chains. Bodie growled all the louder with each new addition, and swore long and viciously on the morning he discovered that even the agents' rest room had not been considered sacred this year. None of the agents ever had either the time or the inclination to pretty the place up, but McCabe's present girl-friend was on the secretarial staff and offered to get it done for them - to the approval of everyone, it seemed, save agent 3.7. Bodie took to lying on the battered sofa with his eyes pointedly shut and scowling horribly.
"He's like a bear with a sore head," McCabe complained, having endured a five minute peroration on the subject of Christmas excesses and their effect on long-suffering Bodies. "It's only a few paper-chains and stuff, for God's sake."
"Actually it was that wind-up angel playing Silent Night and flashing all different colours that really finished him," Doyle said, straight-faced. Bodie's reaction had been obscene and wholly justified. "I wish I could find something that'd get up his nose as far as that did. Where the hell did she get it?"
McCabe grinned and pulled out a small catalogue.
"She didn't... and there's a few other things in here you might like to consider."
Bodie ran up the stairs two at a time making for the restroom and a warming cup of coffee. The weather had suddenly turned very much colder and a chill wind had been blowing all day; a lazy wind, Doyle had called it; one that could not be bothered to blow round you but just went straight through.
Inured now to the tinsel and glitter invading every office and doorway, he did not take particular notice of the over-jolly Santa wall plaque in the corridor leading to the rest-room until it suddenly addressed him with a hearty if mechanic-sounding, "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas," and broke into Jingle Bells.
Bodie all but ran past it, shuddering. That bloody angel had been bad enough but this was downright revolting.
Sinking onto the restroom sofa with a sigh of relief, he buried his nose in his coffee and closed his eyes. It had been a sod of a day and he was knackered. It was a real bonus finding the room empty, though not surprising at this time in the evening. All the non-field staff were long gone, and once his partner returned from having his bruised arm checked over they would be on their way as well. That'd teach him not to try and rescue some dratted child who insisted on pulling a pile of boxed building bricks down on its stupid head. Children shouldn't be allowed in shops, especially whining about what they wanted Santa to bring the way that one had been. Wretched little brat. And it's mother hadn't even acted grateful - just looked at them both as if she was contemplating accusing them of child-abuse.
His coffee finished, Bodie sunk his spine a few notches lower and yawned widely, not bothering to cover his mouth.
After two weeks spent, dodging in and out of shops on every bloody High Street in London, the sound of carols and sickly pop music still echoed in his ears as he fell into a confused dream, in which he ploughed through deep snow following a group of terrorists disguised as carol singers who were carrying Doyle off as a hostage. Of course, in the way of dreams, the snow just grew ever deeper and more difficult to struggle through, and his legs gradually lost their power so that he finally came to a standstill, frantically calling Doyle's name and receiving in reply only the mocking sound of a voice crying, "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas," and then Jingle Bells played on a musical box.
He jerked himself awake.
The irritating tune was still playing on as he struggled upright, blinking and disoriented. He blinked again. Was he seeing things?
Along a pathway cleared among the clutter of dirty mugs, teapots, overflowing ashtrays and sweet wrappings that littered the table in front of his nose, a small red-clad doll with heavy white whiskers was strutting jerkily, his right arm convulsively rising and falling with a small bell gripped in the plastic fist. The tune was emanating from this object from hell.
Without pausing for thought, Bodie reached for the nearest heavy ammunition - an exceedingly tattered copy of the searching through for help in solving that day's Times' crossword - and slung it unerringly straight.
The thing fell to the floor and landed on its back where it lay, legs churning uselessly, bell clattering against the faded linoleum.
"You've cracked him," Doyle said reprovingly from the doorway. "How cruel!"
"It's not the only thing cracked around here," Bodie retorted, glowering as Doyle rescued the revolting object and dusted it down tenderly before replacing it on the table. "What else have you got up your sleeve?"
"Me?" Doyle was all affronted innocence. "What makes you think this is anything to do with me?"
"Who else is this daft?" Bodie said, not unreasonably. "Besides, it wasn't in here a minute ago and there's no one else in the building. Elementary, my dear Raymond. Can we go home now, or do you want to play with your little friend all night? And you know perfectly well what I meant," he added in exasperation as Doyle looked down at himself and grinned.
"You coming to me for Christmas since we're on stand-by again?" Doyle asked companionably as they crossed the carpark. "Mum brought me down a great load of goodies again since I can't get home," he added temptingly. His girlfriend Sally was going north to spend a week with her brood of nephews and nieces and if Bodie didn't come and join him it looked like being a lonely occasion. He'd never been alone at Christmas yet and didn't intend to start now. If necessary he'd invite Cowley over for the day. He said so.
Bodie shot him an ineffable look. "Has she brought some of her mincemeat?" he asked. Mrs Doyle's mincemeat was the best he'd ever tasted bar none. Quite spoiled you for any other variety.
"There's two dozen mince pies in the freezer. And she's made me a cake, and a pudding, and a whole lot of other stuff you'll like. Plenty for two. Plenty for about twenty actually," he added thoughtfully. His mother never stinted when it came to Christmas, which was probably where he got his own love of it from.
Bodie thought about it. Last year hadn't been too bad, in spite of Doyle's habit of waking at the crack of dawn to munch chocolate and sing carols to himself while he opened a large pile of presents - half of which Bodie strongly suspected he'd bought himself. Although that was pretty hard to take, on the plus side he was no end of a dab hand with the turkey and trimmings. It was even worth being dragged in on Christmas Eve to help with all the preparations.
"OK then," he agreed, something short of graciously.
"I've got a real treat laid on for you," Doyle said slyly, unable to suppress a grin when Bodie swung around to glare at him suspiciously. "A nice surprise," he promised.
"I'll be the judge of its niceness," Bodie retorted, not about to give an inch.
He got into the car.
"Good party, wasn't it?" Doyle said, steering his weaving partner towards where they were parked.
"Mmm!" Bodie agreed. "Except for those bloody little bells hanging off the mantelpiece."
"What, the ones that played Jingle Bells? I thought they were no end cute myself."
"You would!" Bodie came to an abrupt halt. "You bloody provided them, didn't you, you little rat?"
"I'll say one thing for you, you do catch on eventually."
"If I'd known," Bodie said through set teeth, "I'd've thrown the damn things out of the window."
"You rotten bugger. Sally's Mum said she thought they were ever so sweet. Go on, get in the car then, don't just stand there staring."
"If I wasn't quite so pie-eyed," Bodie said, doing his best to sound menacing. "I'd deal with you the way you deserve."
"I should be so lucky!" Doyle couldn't resist saying it. He hoped he didn't sound too wistful.
Drawing up outside Bodie's flat he eyed his partner with a smile. "Pity one of us had to stay relatively sober. That was a damn good wine they laid on, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. Shame it was your turn," Bodie agreed with no sign of sympathy in either face or tone. He smiled, the faint, silly smile of one who has imbibed too freely.
"You gonna get out then?" Doyle enquired politely.
"Yeah, out. As in out of the car."
"In, out, in, out, shake it all about," Bodie carolled. "Sounds like a whore in a hurry, doesn't it?"
Doyle sighed exaggeratedly and switched off the ignition. In fact it suited him very well to go in and put Bodie to bed, but he'd no need to tell him that. Besides, quite apart from wanting to put another tacky bit of Christmas cheer to good effect, looking after Bodie when he was drunk went a little way to feeding his fantasies concerning their common future.
"Come on then, come to Momma," he said, hauling him out and holding him upright.
"I can walk, thank you," Bodie replied with dignity, and promptly fell up the kerb.
"You? You're not safe out without a keeper." Doyle got a good grip round the sturdy waist and hung on tight. "Come on then, easy does it."
Once inside the flat, he steered the faltering steps first to the bathroom where he left him with orders to use the loo and clean his teeth and not to get the two muddled, and went to turn down the bed. After that he undressed him with care, not daring to seem to linger. It was perfectly possible Bodie was nowhere near as drunk as he made out and was intending to crow over him later for having fallen for the deception. But that was nothing compared to being allowed to roll him about on the bed, stripping him as gently as he thought he could get away with.
He pulled the blankets up under Bodie's chin and paused, smiling down. "I'll let you off your prayers tonight, sunshine, 'cause I'll bet you'll be offering a few up in the morning. Night-night, sleep tight. Well, you can't help that under the circumstances, can you?"
He switched out the light for him, palmed Bodie's keys, made for the door, and then quietly let himself out to collect something which had been safely hidden in the boot of his car.
Groaning, Bodie hauled himself out of bed at the first shrill of the alarm, knowing only too well that if he did not he'd be snuggling down again, fast asleep before the blankets were fairly around his ears. He hated getting up on these dark winter mornings at the best of times, and generally went about the business of washing and dressing in as close to a coma as he could manage. Enduring a hangover made it all the worse.
Stumbling out into his kitchen with his eyes barely open, he stopped short, first glaring in fury and then wincing at the pain that shot through his head on moving it without due care, as a tinny voice said, "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas," in tones of glutinous goodwill.
Clutching his forehead he stared around but was unable to see what was producing the sound.
Bloody Doyle! Bodie had no trouble in attributing blame as he shrugged, winced again, and concentrated on making a reviving cup of char. He ignored the voice that spoke up several more times as he moved about the room.
It was only as he slumped back in his chair while he drank his tea that the reflection of something flashing on and off gleaming in the glass door of a wall-cupboard made him look up to find the source.
He winced and moaned again on seeing the revolting thing, a stupidly grinning snowman pinned up on his ceiling. It was evidently movement-activated because every time he so much as twitched the bloody thing went into its "Ho Ho Ho!" routine again and its eyes flashed alarmingly.
Bodie promised himself a hideous retribution. When he could think of something sufficiently devious, that is.
"I'll get you for that," he croaked, sinking into the seat beside his partner when Doyle arrived to collect him.
"Promises, promises!" Doyle fluted, grinning.
"Where did you get the bloody thing?" Bodie demanded. "I only ask so I can avoid it," he added hurriedly, knowing from Doyle's, "Yeah, yeah," that he was not believed.
"I've got this source," Doyle said, doing his best to look mysterious through his melon-slice grin.
Two or three days after this, Bodie found an official- looking letter on his doormat and was surprised, on opening it, to find it contained a Christmas card. He hadn't had a card from anyone in years; even girl-friends knew better - those that were around in the festive season - than to waste their money where it was not appreciated. He didn't quite know whether to be glad or sorry he had got one now.
He opened it, frowning, and almost immediately dropped it as it broke into The First Noel. Sadly there didn't appear to be any way of switching the bloody thing off; it was determined to carry on to the bitter end, do what he might. Somehow it didn't surprise him to find his partner's name inscribed inside.
Bodie endured the tune as long as he could, then took the thing into the kitchen to see what immersion in water would do for it.
"You had any cards yet this year?" Doyle asked him brightly some day or two later.
"I only had one, and you know all about that, sunshine."
"Like it, did you?" The bright tone grew brighter.
"I drowned the bloody thing if you must know," Bodie said shortly.
"I'm shocked! Have to get the RSPCC after you."
"I thought it was the NSPCC."
"No, it's the Royal Society for the Protection of Christmas Cards," Doyle said, all innocence.
"Don't tempt me to do the same to the sender, will you?" Bodie retorted.
"You wouldn't do that to your best mate," Doyle said with spurious confidence.
"Essential supplies at your service," Bodie said when Doyle's voice answered his buzz on the outer-door bell.
"Come on up." Doyle grinned to himself and went to open his front door, making sure as he did so that the doormat completely covered the next little Christmas gem he had for Bodie. Confront him with the pictured one beneath and he'd be instantly suspicious, might even do something really daft like refusing to come inside. He went back to the sitting-room and hovered by the door.
In fact, his arms being occupied with a cardboard box full of bottles and cans, Bodie wouldn't have seen the new doormat anyway. As it was, the minute it uttered its hollow, "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas," and followed it with O Come all Ye Faithful, Bodie almost dropped the box.
"Careful," Doyle admonished, coming to take it from him. "You don't want to spend Christmas drinking orange juice, do you?"
"Sounds like you do though," Bodie retorted, wincing as the mat changed to Jingle Bells, a tune he was fast coming to loathe. "I've heard of having Welcome on the mat but this is ridiculous. Doesn't that bloody thing ever shut up, or is it like its owner?"
"Lucky to get a word in edgeways, I am," Doyle held up a bottle. "It's a bit pricy this for setting light to, isn't it?"
"I was hoping to get some to drink as well as watching you slosh it over the pud."
"I could always use meths for that - be a lot cheaper." Doyle pursed his lips.
"Be a devil, use the brandy. After all, you haven't had to pay for it," Bodie told him. "All right, where's my mulled ale then? I thought you'd have it all ready and waiting."
"There's a pot of tea in the kitchen. That's all you're getting until the veggies are done."
Bodie heaved a pathetic sigh. "Slave-driver. All right, where's me pinny? And a Merry Christmas to you too," he said to the still-performing doormat as he passed it. "I know just what it feels like being down-trodden and put upon."
"Here you are, one apron. What's the matter, it's not going to bite you, you know."
But Bodie inspected the poinsettia-decorated garment from a safe distance before gingerly taking hold of it and examining it inch by inch. "It may not bite but if it's got anything to do with you it probably tries to have a conversation with you as soon as you put it on."
"Promise you it doesn't. But you don't have to wear it."
"What, and get my nice clean shirt all dirty? Go on then, I'll risk it, but the first suspicion of a musical note out of it and you'll eat it with vinaigrette dressing!"
"Ooh!" said Doyle. "I love it when you're butch." And he speedily got out of the way.
The last artichoke and potato having been peeled and thrown into a bucket of water to keep overnight, and the regulation cross inserted into the stalk of each brussel sprout, Bodie emptied the peelings into Doyle's kitchen bin and took a long, reviving swallow from his glass of whisky.
"Anything else, Mrs Beeton? This is, you comprehend, one of those Latin questions expecting the answer no."
"That's the lot," Doyle conceded, draping a large bunch of black grapes over an artistically arranged fruit bowl. "We can get stuck into the game pie and pickles any time you like."
"Game pie? You been watching Delia Smith again?"
"No, present from Mum, that is. Guaranteed to make even a pig like you concede defeat after two helpings, she reckons."
"What d'you mean, a pig like me?" Bodie was all indignant eyes and pouting mouth.
Suppressing a strong urge to yield to the temptation of those lips, Doyle turned aside. "I don't think she's ever got over the way you sat and ate your way through four platefuls of roast beef and Yorkshire when you came to pick me up after I'd been home to convalesce that time."
Bodie had the decency to look faintly ashamed but said in self-defence, "I hadn't had a proper meal in three days and you know it."
"I know you said you hadn't," Doyle chuckled. "All right, all right, I believe you, thousands wouldn't but I always have been a sucker for blue eyes." He opened his fridge and, with a flourish, produced a plate on which sat a supreme example of the pastry-cook's art. "Home-made pickles in that cupboard." He pointed. "Help yourself to whatever you fancy."
Spoilt for choice - Doyle's mother seemed to have gone to Town this year - Bodie settled eventually for green tomato chutney, pickled damsons and a delectable-looking pickled pear. His mouth was watering before he began opening the first jar.
Half an hour later Bodie had to admit he could not force down so much as a single nut more. "Not even another glass of beer until I've reduced the pressure on my bladder a bit."
"Bog's in the usual place," Doyle told him, failing to suppress an anticipatory grin.
Instantly wary but his need too pressing to be put off, Bodie entered the small bathroom cautiously and stared about him. The only evidence to be seen - and that drew the eye the minute you were inside the door - was a red-frilled seat-cover on the bog with yet another picture of jolly Saint Nick. Bodie gritted his teeth and raised the lid and seat together, only to find another Santa on the reverse peeping coyly at him from behind a discreetly raised hand. He groaned, loud and long.
"You OK in there?" Doyle's voice said from outside. "D'you need any help or anything? I'll come in and hold your hand, if you like. Or anything else you fancy."
"I wonder about you sometimes," Bodie said, tucking himself away before washing his hands.
"But you never take me seriously, worse luck!" Doyle's voice floated to him indistinctly from the sitting-room so that he was not sure he had heard aright. Being used to such teasing, indulging in it often enough himself, he didn't bother to reply.
"Come on, hurry up. I've got the video set up and ready to go."
"Video?" Bodie closed the sitting-room door firmly. If you didn't, the draught that came in through this flat's ill-fitting outside door threatened to cut you off at the ankles. "What're we going to watch then - blue movies?" His eyes brightened.
"You wish! Nah, you've been behaving like Scrooge for the last two months so I reckoned a bit of culture would do you good. 's A Christmas Carol, innit?"
"What, Dickens?" Bodie couldn't hide his reaction. He'd never been a great fan of Dickens.
Hiding a smile at his partner's ill-disguised disappointment, Doyle reached behind his chair for the object he had hidden there earlier. "Must have something to chew at the pictures, mustn't we?" he said airily. "Have a chocolate?"
Eyeing the exceedingly sweet Santa being held out to him Bodie shook his head firmly. Not even for chocolate was he going to lift the lid of that jar. It didn't take a genius to work out what would happen when you did.
He was absolutely right. The moment Doyle removed the whiskered head that formed the lid, the jar broke into
Bodie took it ruthlessly from him, emptied the contents into a heap on the coffee table where he could reach them, replaced the lid and then took the jar out into the kitchen and dumped it into the waste bin. He was forced to take it out again and make sure that the lid was properly on, because you could still hear the thing even covered in potato peelings. That done, he rinsed his hands under the tap, went back into the sitting- room and sat down, glaring balefully.
"Right, Dickens then." Determined not to react by so much as a quiver, Doyle leaned forward to pick up the remote control. "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."
Sinking onto the sofa, Bodie resigned himself to an hour or so of boredom. The first roll of the credits brought him upright again. "The Muppets Christmas Carol!" he breathed, all of four years old. "Has it got Gonzo in it? Yeah! I'm going to enjoy this," he said confidently.
"I know." Doyle smiled at him more lovingly than he usually dared. "That's why I got hold of a copy, isn't it?"
Bodie almost fell off the sofa when Scrooge's clerks broke into This is our island in the sun, and he alternately laughed, snorted and shook, up to the point where the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come arrived on the scene and Gonzo said it was getting too scary for him.
"D'you want to watch from behind the sofa?" Doyle asked solicitously, topping up Bodie's glass. "'s OK by me if you do. Or you can sit on my knee if you'd rather," he offered generously, venting a huge sigh of disappointment when Bodie abstractedly waved him to silence. At least as long as Bodie thought he was joking, it was OK to ask.
For Christ's sake, Bodie scolded himself a moment later, turning away so there was no fear of Doyle catching sight of his face with its shaming tears, it's only a bloody puppet, you pillock!
Doyle however, always more open about his feelings, was dragging a hand across his eyes and grinning weakly across at his partner. "You know something, that Kermit can act, can't he?"
"What?" Bodie pulled himself together hurriedly. "Wossay?"
"That bit in the book always makes me want to puke," Doyle explained, "it's so soddin' sentimental, but that really got to me. I mean - Kermit as Bob Cratchit... I never expected to find myself getting all wet-eyed over the death of Tiny Tim but... And you look just as bad," he added accusingly. If he was going to make a fool of himself he wouldn't allow it to be a solo performance. Bodie's hunched shoulders were highly suspicious.
"Got a bit of a cold, that's all," Bodie said defensively. "And shut up or I'll miss Gonzo's next bit. It's all a load of balderdash, all the same," he muttered balefully. "Dressing it up with puppets doesn't make it any less sentimental, does it?"
When the film ended it was still only ten o'clock but Doyle was openly yawning, merely nodding ruefully when Bodie suggested that old age was catching up with him.
"Got to be up bright and early, haven't I?" he explained. "And if I don't want to keep Santa away I'd best get to bed soon."
"No good waiting up for him," Bodie said sadly. "He only comes once a year and that's down the chimney. He won't be interested in you." A sudden thought struck him and he glared upwards at his stretching partner. "You're not expecting a stocking or anything daft like that, are you? Because if you are you're going to be sadly disappointed."
"Just a small pressie'd do," Doyle said wistfully, and then glared in his turn at Bodie's conscious expression. "You mean you haven't bought me anything, you mean devil?"
"We've been busy," Bodie protested. "When've I had time? Besides, you know what I thing about all this waste of money at Christmas. It's immoral, when half the world seem to be starving. And I did bring the booze," he added defensively as Doyle raised his eyes pleadingly towards the heavens.
"You could hardly do less," Doyle looked down his nose, "the way you scoff up the grub that goes with it. Don't hear much about wasting money when it's your stomach involved, do we?"
"Well, I'm sorry," Bodie said in the tone that plainly declares the speaker is anything but. "You ought to know by now I don't go along with all this crap. I never have, and I'm too old to begin just to please you."
"I used to think all this Scrooge stuff was just an act. These days I'm not so sure!" Doyle shook his head and moved to the door. Halfway around it he paused and looked back. "I shouldn't sit up late. You never know what might happen when the clock strikes midnight!"
And on that sobering thought, he went to bed.
"Load of rubbish." Bodie muttered again. "all that money spent on stuff that no one wants by people who can't afford to do it. People stuffing themselves silly all day and drinking too much... Sitting around with their families when they can't stand the sight of 'em the rest of the year, and then everyone wonders why more people decide to get divorced after a family Christmas than at any other time!"
He stared resentfully at the door which Doyle had left ajar. That damned draught was slicing through his ankles already and he didn't feel anywhere near ready for bed. A nice cheese and pickle sarnie now, that should help to make him feel replete and sleepy.
Moving with the extreme caution of a fridge-raider who fears to be caught mid-gluttony, he crept out into the kitchen.
Among the supplies Doyle's mother had brought down for him was a small, four-pound Stilton, and Bodie attacked it with gusto, piling on mustard pickle and garnishing the large plateful with as many gherkins as he could safely carry.
By ten minutes to midnight he was drowsily removing the last sock prior to bedding down on the capacious sofa wrapped in a spare duvet.
He remembered this place: it was on the way to and from school. And that was - who was the small youth tagging along at his side? Stevie, that was it. Stevie Wood. And it was Christmas, he saw, looking about him at the decorations everywhere. A sense of excitement suffused him. Wouldn't be long now. Only a couple of days to the end of term and then... He hugged himself excitedly, hoping he'd still get a stocking this year, even though last year he'd caught Dad in the act of creeping in and knew for certain that Santa story was just a con to get you to go to bed extra early so the grown-ups could have fun.
Wriggling with anticipation, he pressed his nose alongside Stevie's at the baker's window.
"Cor! look at that," Stevie's voice was full of wonder as he pointed to the wonderful cake in the centre of the window display. It was huge, shaped like an iceberg with jolly penguins sliding and skating all over it. "I wish we could have one like that at home."
"We do," Billy answered loftily. "Well, not exactly like that per'aps, but my Mum made me a cake like a train for my birthday, didn't she?"
"Yes," Stevie agreed enviously and Billy smiled happily. They had all been impressed, he remembered, even if most of them wouldn't admit it aloud.
"Per'aps I'll ask her to," Billy mused, his mouth already watering in anticipation. "She gen'rally does something special for Christmas. Come on, we'll be late for tea if we don't hurry up. You took ever so long choosing you Mum's present," he added accusingly. "We'll have to run all the way."
"Race you," Stevie said, and meanly began to run without waiting.
Billy chased after him, shouting and laughing.
He was still giggling, gasping for breath, when they arrived at his house, and was about to knock on the front door when it swung open with a crash. His mother reached out a hand to grab his arm, not even attempting to hide the fury on her face.
"I've brought Stevie home," he began, protesting. "You said I could have him to tea today. You did, Mum, honest."
His mother said ruthlessly, "And what sort of time is this to arrive? You know perfectly well you're to come straight home. I won't have you loitering about worrying me sick, as if I didn't have enough to worry about these days. As for you," she turned a bitter glare on the youth hovering behind her son's shoulder, "you run along off to your own home and don't come round here again, making a nuisance of yourself. I don't want Billy having anything to do with boys who don't come straight home when they're told. Come on, Billy, inside this minute."
Turning to pull a face of apology at his friend, Billy found it was too late; Stevie was already running as fast as he could down the road and as Billy was jerked inside by his mother's impatient hand he saw the other boy disappear around the corner without another glance his way.
Sullenly, he preceded his mother down the passageway, hearing but not listening to the grumbling voice.
Suddenly aware of himself as an adult he found himself watching the small boy he had once been. He hadn't thought of this in years, hadn't even remembered Stevie, even though he'd been the last one of his friends to catch it from his mother like that. Now he, Bodie knew, was going to be just like the rest, would refuse to come anywhere near his house with him. Not only that, but he would also join the growing group in his class who taunted him every chance they got about his mother's awful temper. It wasn't fair!
She never used to be like that, but nowadays nothing ever went right any more, and he seemed to get blamed for everything. After all, it wasn't his fault Dad had fallen off that scaffold and broken his back. Lucky not to have broken it higher and been left without even the use of his hands, they'd told him, but that was small compensation to a man whose only skill lay in his strength.
Bodie hadn't understood that then. Now, it was odd to know his seven-year-old self hadn't guessed this Christmas was going to be awful, that there wouldn't even be a tree or a stocking, just a couple of measly presents. A new shirt for school! What sort of a present was that?
Neither had he understood then that for Philip Bodie life with any meaning had ended six months ago. He hadn't been old enough to comprehend how full of hate his father was for anyone who did not suffer as he did; his son, effortlessly exuding life and vitality, he could not even bear to have in the room with him. At one time, Billy would have paused as he passed their old living-room that was now his father's bedroom, and spoken in the hope that his father would answer, but he had long given up even glancing that way.
Bodie could recall his resentment and hurt as if it was yesterday, not over his father's retreat into self-pity, but over the far more important, to him, matter of his mother's increasing unhappiness.
She had said that Stevie could come round that night. She had. It was so unfair to go carrying on like that simply because they'd stopped off so Stevie could buy his Mum's Christmas present without her knowing. Billy had been so taken with the vase Stevie had chosen that he'd planned to go and buy one just like it for her with his next pocket money. But not now! Just see if he cared! It was going to be a horrible Christmas anyway if Dad wouldn't have anyone in his room. He sat there all day doing nothing, staring at nothing, with the blank face of the TV in the corner offering an escape he wouldn't take. Didn't it ever occur to him someone else might like to watch in the evenings? But Mum wouldn't take the set out and put it in the back room - said that one day perhaps Dad would want to watch it again. It was all right for her. She could sit there and knit, or read those sloppy books. OK, so he liked reading too, but not all the time.
Screwing his eyes up against the tears he wouldn't shed, Billy slammed open his bedroom door...
... and was five years older, the sound of his mother's distant sobbing echoing up the stairs behind him. Out of the window he could see the ambulance bearing his father away to hospital, could still hear his voice cursing his wife for letting them take him. Gaunt and pain-racked now, a shadow of the whole man Bodie had loved so dearly, he could still rail against the fate that had left him crippled, turning his rage on his wife and son for being whole and healthy. Refusing to let even his wife do more than the barest minimum for him, his back, legs and feet were now a mass of pressure sores over which the doctor, brought in against Philip Bodie's will, had shaken his head, tight-lipped.
Bodie knew his father would never leave the hospital alive, that his mother would stay with her husband oblivious to the needs of her twelve-year old son at home on his own all the day.
Of all the lonely Christmases he had known, this next would be the worst because it was the first and he was not yet self-sufficient.
The scene faded... reformed.
Enduring the heat and dust most of the year was bad enough but it seemed even worse in December, Bodie decided, lying back, head pillowed on his small bundle of belongings. Bloody unnatural it felt, even now, some five or six years since he'd experienced an English winter. Not that he particularly wanted to be back in the chill winds and drizzle, the greyness of a dull winter's day had never appealed. But to be cool, not to have your clothes clinging wetly to your body, that did sound attractive.
It wouldn't be bad either, to be able to hail a taxi or even ride a humble bus to his destination. Flogging your way on foot across a hundred and thirty miles of rough country was no joke, especially on your own. Not that he was sorry to get away from the others for a few days; his temper had been sorely tried of late. It had been unsettling, in the early days, to discover how a perfectly ordinary mannerism could get your teeth set so hard you found your jaw aching when you lived next to it day in, day out. If Jackson had uttered that giggling little laugh of his once more yesterday he'd have choked the life out of him with pleasure. And Tub's way of blowing his nose and staring at the results as if he expected precious jewels to have emerged had been driving him wild for months.
It occurred to him to wonder what he did that got in amongst the rest of them. Perhaps it was as well he was off on his own for a few days, or it might have been his body left stuffed under a bush for the scavengers to find.
What was the time? Ought to be pushing on yet? He lifted his wrist and screwed up his eyes to focus on the dial against the glare of the sky. No, plenty of time yet. He could even have a short sleep. He began to relax but then, abruptly, brought the watch back to his eyes. Yes, the tiny date square did say twenty-five.
"Bloody 'ell," Bodie said aloud. "Happy Christmas, mate, and many more of 'em! Mind you, I'd've pulled meself a cracker if I'd known!"
Grinning at his own wit he rolled over to lie on his stomach...
... and fell two feet onto Doyle's carpet.
Dazed and bewildered - the dreams of his past had been so vivid he was unsure exactly where he was at first - he was attempting to free himself from the clinging duvet when the overhead light snapped on.
"You OK?" Doyle asked. "I heard this almighty crash."
"Fell off the sofa, didn't I?" Bodie said, shame-faced. "I was having this dream..."
"Nice one?" Doyle cocked a meaning eye his way.
"Not particularly, no."
"Perhaps it's just as well you woke yourself up then. Next time, d'you think you could manage not to wake everyone else?" Doyle suggested, tugging forcefully on one end of the duvet and succeeding in rolling Bodie back down when he had just struggled halfway upright.
"I was only trying to help," he said, once Bodie had stopped speaking. He was carefully not smiling. Too carefully.
"Next time go and help someone else. Here, give us your hand."
"Make up your mind, sunshine!" But Doyle gave the requested assistance and hovered around the sofa, tucking Bodie in until he was cocooned like a papoose. "There we are, ducky, now off you go to bylows or Santa won't come and fill your stocking, will he?"
Bodie's retort, short and pithy, elicited a mild tut-tut from his partner who came round to sit beside him, shoving him over with his hip as he did so.
Bodie looked up at him.
For a moment or two Doyle looked back, almost hesitantly. As though he was going to say something but didn't quite know how to. Or else...
Bodie stared up questioningly, and after a while Doyle's eyes fell. He got up awkwardly, still not looking at Bodie, and went out without speaking.
As the light went out again, Bodie's eyebrows shot up in silent amazement. For a while there he'd thought Doyle was going to kiss him. It was to be hoped his instinctive withdrawal at the notion hadn't been too obvious. A stupid thought, of course; as if Doyle was likely to do any such thing. But he'd've been out of luck if he had. Bodie had had one or two male partners in his time, but he had never been with any of them more than once no matter how much he'd been tempted to. Even with girls, if they looked like hoping for something permanent, he couldn't wait to get shot of 'em.
He couldn't treat Doyle that way though, and Bodie had no intention of wrecking their partnership by trying to. A good mate, Doyle, but inclined to take things like relationships a bit too seriously on occasion; he wouldn't want to hurt his feelings.
Oh, come on! he told himself angrily. As if it was even likely he was thinking of kissing you!
But he'd caught Doyle looking at him very oddly several times over the last year. Perhaps it was time he started to wonder a bit about what Doyle was thinking. Some Christmas present that would be, to be given the unwanted freedom of Doyle's bed, particularly since Bodie was uncomfortably certain his partner didn't just have a brief, experimental fling in mind, but something a good deal more permanent. He'd known for a long time that Doyle longed to settle down with someone; but why the hell did the stupid little bastard have to set his heart on someone who had no intention of getting tied down to anyone? Knowing the silly bugger's romantic notions at times, he probably had some vision of them eventually settling down into retirement together in a small white cottage with roses round the door.
Bodie shivered at the thought.
What a ghastly idea. Impossible even to contemplate. For if Doyle was thinking of them as lovers it was going to ruin everything. No way was Bodie going to stay and get trapped like that. His freedom meant too much to abandon it after all these years. No, he wouldn't even think about the possible consequences because it wasn't going to happen.
Bodie shivered again. The room must be getting very cold now. It was probably a combination of being chilled and eating too rich and indigestible a snack before sleeping that had brought on these strange and unlikely notions.
With a self-discipline acquired over long and painful years, Bodie pushed the question from his mind and fell asleep again as the clock struck one.
Brr! there was no question but the room was colder now; hardly surprising since there wasn't a pane of glass left in the window and the single blanket he owned was threadbare and torn. The fire he'd lit earlier in what remained of the grate had long since gone out. Hauling himself up onto one elbow Bodie felt for the comfort of the bottle tucked inside his coat and took a long, satisfying pull at it, feeling the temporary warmth it offered sliding down his throat and into the cold emptiness of his stomach.
Should've eaten something during the day, of course, but at the time it had seemed too much bother. Once he had taken enough of the liquid to warm him, he firmly recorked the bottle and tucked it away.
He was about to lie down once more when a slight rustle of sound from downstairs made him stiffen and reach for the gun that no longer lay, reassuringly, ready to hand. His mouth curved upwards in a cynical smile of remonstrance as he stealthily felt instead for the knife he kept hidden in an inside pocket. He watched the lighter shadows of the doorway with grim eyes.
Whoever it was approaching they weren't averse to showing a light even though they were doing their best to be quiet - an impossible task in this place where the stairs creaked like the devil even when there was no one's weight on them. The wavering torchlight flickered as its carrier flashed it into the recesses of the other rooms on this landing.
By now, Bodie had moved into the far corner, into the deepest shadows the room had to offer inside a built-in cupboard whose door hung drunkenly on one broken hinge. He watched as the intruder first played the light over the bundle of blanket and urine-soaked mattress on the floor and then crept closer, crouching down to inspect it.
Bodie moved, silent and deadly.
Grabbing his unwanted visitor in a headlock that had him gasping for breath, he held the knife to his throat and whispered quietly, "Well, and what do you want, mate?"
"Bodie? Is it you, isn't it? Let go, you pillock, you're throttling me."
Bodie loosened his grip, not too far, and grated out, "Do I know you?"
"Well, you bloody used to," Murphy croaked. "For chrissake, leggo!"
"That depends," Bodie told him savagely, "on what you're doing here."
"I came to find you, of course. Pennington said he thought he'd seen you the other day coming in here. Least, what he actually said was if he hadn't've known better he'd have thought it was, the bloke was so like you."
Bodie let go despite the fury welling up in his breast. "So what made you think otherwise?"
"I didn't think it was likely either, but I've got to the stage of grasping at straws, looking for you." Murphy sat back on his heels, rubbing at his abused neck.
"Looking for me?" Bodie laughed sardonically. "Cowley wants me back, does he?"
"After that last stung you pulled? You must be joking, mate. He was mad enough to have you shot if he could have laid hands on you, and I don't blame him either."
Since even in his present degraded state Bodie was ashamed of the arms deal he had successfully negotiated between O'Dell and an old acquaintance in London, he said nothing.
"Tell you the truth," Murphy went on, staring through the darkness towards the pale gleam of the face that continued to watch him, "I didn't honestly think it could be you that Pennington saw. Seemed to me you'd be living off the fat of the land, pulling off a deal that big, not wandering about looking like a tramp."
Not about to tell him he'd disappeared from view before payment could be made, Bodie just grunted.
"I'll tell you something else," Murphy said, his voice hard, "if this is another job you're busy setting up it's no use relying on me to keep my mouth shut. I left a note for Cowley telling him where I was coming tonight and who I was hoping to find. Murder me and you'll have the whole of CI5 out after you."
"It's not a job!" Bodie said, more quickly and emphatically than he intended. More moderately he added, "You have my word on that, for what it's worth."
"It used to be worth a great deal. I'll take it that at least hasn't changed."
Ignoring the way Murphy's sniff conveyed his opinion of Bodie's unwashed condition, Bodie said lazily. "So what are you looking for me for then, if it isn't to take me in?"
There was a brief silence and then Murphy said, almost savagely, "I just thought you might like to know, Doyle's dead."
A knife lanced into Bodie's heart. "What?"
"You heard. He never would take another partner after you left and he wasn't the sort to work solo. Too impulsive for his own good. It happened a month or so ago - before we heard about your latest little effort so you can be grateful he never knew it was you involved. He went rushing in because the back-up he called for got delayed and... well, you can guess. He didn't die an easy death, Bodie. It was Merton's lot that got him, and you can guess what they did to him before they finally shot him. Are you all right?"
Suddenly dizzy, Bodie had fallen forward from his crouching position onto his hands and knees.
"I'm OK," he said at last in response to Murphy's increasingly urgent questions. "It's just... I haven't been eating much lately and I've been..."
"Drinking," Murphy finished for him, his tone flat and inexpressive.
Bodie said nothing but crawled over to the stinking mattress and sat down on it.
"For God's sake," Murphy said impatiently, "I'd take you home with me if that wasn't asking for trouble from the Old Man, but couldn't you find somewhere better than this to doss down? I thought they made special arrangements over Christmas for people like..."
"Like me," Bodie finished for him.
So it was Christmas, was it? Yes, it must be around then. He hadn't taken much notice of things lately for one reason and another. In any case, what did it matter? He'd been responsible for yet another death, this time of the only real friend he'd ever made in the whole of his life, so nothing else was ever going to matter in the future either.
He wished Murphy would go instead of sitting there staring at him out of the darkness. He said so.
"Got something to give you first." Murphy reached into his pocket and brought out an envelope. "I found it in Doyle's flat when I went round to clear it. It's for you."
Bodie practically snatched the small white object from his hand, clutching it to him as if it were precious. Impatient now to have Murphy go so he could read it, he suddenly realised that even once he was alone he'd have to wait until it was light enough to see.
"Leave me the torch," he said harshly. "For some reason the electricity's been cut off in my London residence."
Wordlessly, Murphy handed the torch over and got up to go. Pausing in the doorway he said, "Why did you do it, Bodie?"
Murphy shrugged. "Leave CI5 like that, without even telling Doyle you were going. Pull off that bloody deal with O'Dell. Any of it."
Having no answer to the second question that satisfied himself let alone anyone else, and not willing to reply honestly to the first, Bodie shook his head and said nothing.
"It's such a bloody waste, that's what grieves me," Murphy said sadly. "You were a good man, Bodie, hard but good. And now you've thrown it all away. I hope I never see you again."
"And a Merry Christmas to you too, mate," Bodie shouted after him. He didn't intend to be alone in feeling badly.
Once he was sure Murphy had gone he opened the letter with shaking hands and read it slowly by the wavering light of the hand-held torch.
Bodie, if you're reading this then I've done something stupid and you'll never be bothered by me again. If that's happened, please come back to CI5. If you'd told me what you were going to do I'd've gone instead. I never wanted the fact that I love you to be a burden. I'm just sorry I blurted it out like I did that night. Ruined our Christmas, didn't it? Ruined our lives too, and I'm so sorry for that. I was a bloody fool to say anything after all the years of keeping my mouth shut about what I felt.His teeth gritted, Bodie switched off the torch and laid it aside. Then he tucked the letter inside his filthy shirt and held it there, over his heart, as the hot tears welled up and would not be stopped.
Please, Bodie, come back and talk to Cowley. You know he'll welcome you with open arms. You always were his blue-eyed boy. I know he suspects your leaving had something to do with me. I wonder what he'd have said if I was ever mad enough to tell him what the problem was? Oh well, we'll never know now, will we?
I won't say it again because I know you won't want to know, but take care of yourself - for your own sake if you won't do it for mine.
The room was in darkness and, for a while Bodie was disoriented, unsure where he was. His face was wet with tears and a sensation of pure misery held him in a cold clutch. What the hell was wrong?
God! yes, that was it. Doyle was dead. Murphy had come and told him that Doyle was dead and it was all his fault, that he hadn't been there to guard his back when he was needed.
Oh Christ! Unable to bear the feeling that gripped him, Bodie reached for the bottle that lay beside him... and encountered soft dralon under his hand.
Properly awake in an instant he sat up, scattering cushions and duvet, and reached up for the lamp Doyle had thoughtfully placed near his head. Sobbing with relief now, Bodie scrubbed at his eyes with the corner of the duvet and leant against the back of the sofa for support.
Jesus! but what a vivid dream it had been. A vision of a future of worse loneliness than he had ever known, a future that held nothing and no one that he held dear. He shuddered, the chill of the room striking all the way through his heart.
But would it really be like that if...
A small part of him conceded that, yes, his conscience was largely in the care of a certain green-eyed, tousle-headed agent - that part which Cowley didn't operate. Deep down he was shocked to find how far he had gone in giving over his life into someone else's hands for safe-keeping. He was even more shocked to discover that he didn't actually mind.
So much for being happily solitary, so much for not caring so you didn't get hurt. Where had it all gone? that was the question. And when? Thinking back, Bodie could not put his finger on the moment when he'd succumbed to the lures of loyalty and friendship. A loner all his life, he was now so bound up with at least two other people that he apparently would go to pieces at the mere suggestion of a break in the relationships. And it was past time he faced up to this, took care of his responsibilities in the matter. Staring fixedly towards Doyle's bedroom he sorted out his own feelings and came to a decision.
He was pretty nearly certain he knew how Doyle felt about him. It had been growing on him for some time without his realising it until tonight. He'd known for a long time, of course, how much Doyle meant in his life now, how to lose him would be well-nigh unbearable, had known also that Doyle felt the same way. It wasn't that he hadn't noted the gradual erosion of his dedicated self-sufficiency, simply that he hadn't realised just how far it had gone.
In spite of his earlier thoughts on the matter, after that bloody awful, realistic dream he found he didn't object to it anywhere near as much as he'd feared, but it seemed there was one, final, fatal step to be taken into complete reliance on another for future content.
Never one to shirk confrontation, Bodie threw the duvet aside and got to his feet.
It was only when he stood, momentarily hesitant, in Doyle's bedroom doorway that it even occurred to him the whole of his suppositions might be based fragilely on his own wishful thinking.
How long had he wanted this too? He had no idea, only that it was so.
Heart in his mouth he stalked to the bed and lifted the duvet.
"Bodie?" Doyle sounded shaky, uncertain, and Bodie took heart.
"That's me. Shove over, lover, I'm freezing my balls off out here."
Doyle obediently shoved. "Lover?" he said, questioning.
"If you'll have me," Bodie said, his own uncertainty plain to hear. He reached out a hand that trembled endearingly.
Have him? Only on top of his ruddy Christmas list... Bodie delivered on Christmas night, all warm, naked and his for the taking. Well, two out of three wasn't bad, Doyle thought, as he gathered the chilled body to him and their mouths met in a first, tentative kiss.
"Didn't take long to get you warm," he panted some minutes later.
"That's funny," Bodie was equally breathless, "'cause all my blood seems to have gone to just one extremity."
Indeed, Doyle could feel the impressive bulk prodding into his stomach. "I'll soon fix that," he promised, and slid down the bed.
Bodie uttered a long, lush moan as the damp heat of Doyle's mouth closed on him, tonguing him lovingly, but he gathered his shattered senses sufficiently to push, pull and prod until he was in a position to reciprocate, and then had to haul him out of a pair of totally unnecessary pyjama-bottoms. What a waste of time and effort!
Doyle was hard velvet under his tongue, hot and firm to hold, and his buttock was just the right size for Bodie's free hand to mould and caress while he loved him. He slid one finger along the division and felt Doyle shudder and press closer, so he did it again, probing more deeply this time.
"Mmm!" Doyle mumbled, his mouth overful. He freed it to say, "If you do that I won't be able to concentrate on you."
"Like it, do you?" Bodie uncorked himself also.
"Love it," Doyle said fervently.
"So shut up and let me do it," Bodie suggested, lifting his head again to say meaningly, "You can have your turn in a minute."
Having long been a devotee of oral sex, Bodie was in no doubt as to how to go about making it the best ever for the one person in this world he would do anything for. He gave it him, hard and strong, one hand delicately probing the tight bud of Doyle's anus, the other gripping the root of his prick as he suckled firmly, using tongue and, with due care, teeth, going more gently when the first pulse heralded climax.
He waited contentedly for Doyle to recover, feeling no urgency, no impatience for his own satisfaction. When it happened, it would be the best ever.
He was not disappointed.
Having fantasised about this on and off for over a year, Doyle wasn't about to make a hash of it now he was given the chance to show Bodie how much he was loved.
Starting by tasting himself on Bodie's tongue, Doyle went over his whole body with care and devotion, licking, nibbling, teasing and arousing, until he had Bodie panting and desperate.
"Want to fuck me?" he whispered.
"Yes. No. Not tonight," Bodie gasped out, knowing he couldn't wait long enough for that. "Just do it, for Christ's sake. Suck me, hold me. Anything!"
He came, almost with a shout, the moment Doyle's mouth closed on him.
"Was I that obvious when I came in earlier," Doyle asked suddenly into the quiet some time later.
"What - when you came to tuck me back in? No, not really. It was just... well, I put a whole lot of things together that all made sense, including that your very gratifying feelings are entirely reciprocated.
"You've been reading Georgette Heyer again."
"Never mind. And talking of George..."
"Must we?" Bodie positively twitched.
"I was only going to say how about ringing him up in the morning and making sure he's not on his own."
"Bloody 'ell." Bodie blenched at the thought. "And you think he won't take one look at us and see it written all over our smug little faces?"
"Is yours smug then?"
"Cream in my whiskers," Bodie said gravely.
"So what?" Bodie was confused.
"So don't you think he'll be so bloody envious and so grateful for not being on his tod on Christmas Day that he'll give us his blessing?"
"No," said Bodie, ever a realist. "I don't."
"He'll see on Boxing Day when we go in for the party anyway," Doyle prophesied. "It might be better to get it over with and give him twenty-four hours to get over the shock."
"Could turn the Boxing Day piss-up into a leaving party too."
"And if it does we'll still be together... won't we?" Doyle said, suddenly doubtful.
Amazing that what had been deemed impossible only a short hour or two ago should now be so easy.
"Don't know how to break this to you, sweetheart," Bodie said, "but you're stuck with me for life. Faithful, I am. And exclusive," he added on a note of surprise.
"Oh Bodie!" Overcome, Doyle buried his face in the strong neck and snuffled quietly into it.
"Even if you do have a tendency to wipe your nose all over me. Oy! my neck's going soggy."
"'tisn't my nose." But Doyle lifted his head and sniffed hard all the time.
"You crying?" Bodie said softly. "Over me?"
"No. Yes," Doyle conceded.
Bodie hugged him until his ribs creaked. He wasn't going to spoil the moment by talking about his dream, but it was nice to know he wasn't the only one to shed tears tonight.
"Best Christmas I've had since I was seven," he whispered, "and from now on they'll just keep getting better every year."
To Bodie's relief, Doyle did not wake at the crack of dawn the next morning. Even though, at this time of year, dawn did not crack until well gone seven, that was still a highly uncivilised hour to get out of bed when one did not have to. In fact, it was Bodie who woke first, well after it was light, and he lay happily watching his partner - strange how that word had obtained a new meaning overnight - who was still dead to the world.
When Doyle's eyes finally opened, his first expression was one of incredulity at seeing Bodie's face beside his on the pillows, his second one of such joy and wonder that Bodie hugged him too tightly for comfort.
"Happy?" Bodie asked solemnly.
"Doesn't begin to describe it," Doyle assured him.
"Even though I haven't got you a pressie? I'm sorry about that," Bodie said, meaning it this time. "Next year I'll give you a stocking and all the works if you want them."
"I'll remember you said that."
"Better remind me when the time comes, in case I forget."
"You won't forget," Doyle promised him, grinning broadly.
As they sat down to breakfast, Doyle reached up and touched a switch on the poinsettia-decorated bell that hung from the light over the table and, once more, the dread sounds of Jingle Bells filled the air.
Setting his teeth, Bodie reached up in turn and switched it off again. "Sometimes, Ray Doyle, you take a hell of a lot of risks."
"Just so long as you're changing your mind about Christmas..."
"Will it stop all this..." Bodie waved a comprehensive hand intended to include all the various horrors Doyle had kept turning up over the last month, "if I tell you I changed my mind completely about two this morning just before I came in to see you?" He took a long, invigorating pull at his coffee, and another slice of ham. With any luck he was going to need a lot of extra stamina over the next couple of days.
"Was that why you..." Doyle paused, not quite knowing how to put it.
"This is going to sound bloody stupid..." Bodie also paused. "D'you know, I had a couple of the daftest dreams last night."
"It's all your fault," Bodie accused him, "making me watch that film. First of all I went and dreamt about being a kid again, around the time my father had his accident."
"That's not all that daft, is it?"
"No - but the other one was very weird. I'd left CI5 and you'd gone and got yourself killed because... well, because I wasn't there. And - Good God, you don't really want to hear all about my dreams, do you?"
"Only if I figure in them and they're good and sexy," Doyle agreed, grinning.
Laughing both in anticipation and at Doyle's lustful expression. Bodie changed the subject. "So what's the real treat you've got laid on for me?"
"I might have guessed!" Bodie stared over the top of his well-loaded forkful in disgust. "Weeks back you promised me a real treat if I came to you for Christmas. Well, I haven't seen any sign of it yet."
"Wasn't having me enough?" Doyle let a plaintive note creep into his voice. He selected a clementine and began to peel it.
"Would have been if I had but I haven't yet," Bodie leered. "That comes later. So what is this treat then?"
"Persistent bugger, aren't you?" Doyle said admiringly. "You had it last night, by the way. The film," he added hurriedly. "It's yours to keep. Well, I wouldn't want to come between a Gonzo fan and his hero, would I?"
"I reckon that ruddy film's got a lot to answer for," Bodie said darkly. "Gave me bad dreams and drove me straight into your bed."
"In that case," Doyle promised him, eyes kindling, "we'll watch it every Christmas Eve." He did a bit of leering on his own account.
"On one condition."
"That I get given every bloody musical decoration to take away and burn."
Doyle's face fell ludicrously. "I don't think you're going to like your Christmas present," he prophesied gloomily.
He was right. Bodie didn't care at all for the tie that played Jingle Bells.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Old Friends, Too, Chained-to-the-Typewriter Press, 1995
NOTE: Purists have probably been wincing over the anachronisms contained herein - yes, I am feeling defensive. To quote Dorothy Sayers: native country is Cloud-Cuckooland...