Keeping Us in Line
by O Yardley
Party Spirit series #4: After "Look After Annie"
All the way back from the airport I kept on getting these hot little blasts in my left lug'ole as Doyle leant forwards and started to say something; wouldn't have objected so much if he hadn't kept changing his mind'n leaning back without saying anything.
"Wish you'd spit it out'n have done with it," I complained, twisting round to stare at him, having come to a grinding halt on the approaches to the Hammersmith flyover.
"Spit what out?"
"Whatever it is you keep starting to say. Your arm hurting you or something?"
"Not so's you'd notice. I was thinking about Cowley."
"What about him?"
"Was wondering what she said to him before she came hurtling out of his room looking like a thundercloud."
Didn't seem difficult to work it out, recalling the uninhibited tirade we'd been treated to in the car.
"Pretty much the same as she said to us, I expect. You know--when we couldn't hear what she said because of the siren!"
"Yeah. S'pose so. Bitch!" he added scathingly.
"None so blind as those who don't want to see," I reminded him. "Selfish woman, our Annie."
"Can't have known the Cow all that well, can she. Not if she really did believe he'd shot someone out of personal jealousy. Bit petty-minded, that. Strikes me Madam Annie can't bear to think she could be wrong about someone -- or have someone prove disloyal to her."
"Stanley, the lily-white innocent--wouldn't hurt a fly," I agreed. "Too perfect to be true, taken in by a conniving little bitch--"
"Breaks your 'eart, dunnit! D'you reckon--" he leaned forward confidentially as I started to inch the car along with the rest of the slow moving column, "d'you reckon we ought to go back to the hospital, cheer the poor old bugger up."
Shot a wary look his way over my shoulder; Ray can come up with some pretty hairy ideas at times.
"Have you finally flipped, Doyle? What're you plannin' on doing--dancing a hornpipe for him or something?"
"Nah. Was thinking you'd do a striptease. You're good at that," he said; off-hand--but there was laughter there as well.
Had I imagined that intimate undertone?
Kept my gaze so firmly fixed on the road me eyeballs were grazing the tarmac. It wasn't that I didn't think we ought to talk out that cathartic night back at his place after we'd come nose to nose with nuclear annihilation but my one and only tentative attempt had met with such a decided negative I hadn't dared broach the subject again. But it really wasn't such a big deal, what we'd done. Unconventional maybe, but it wasn't the first time we'd flouted the conventions, after all, and we had every excuse for being a little crazy that night.
Heroism is all very well in abstract, but in practice it's a sweaty, brain-numbing, eye-of-a-needle-shitting business with nothing romantic about it, and I'm not going to apologise to anyone for the means we take to deal with its after-effects.
OK, so perhaps I did feel a bit on the defensive; I'd thought we'd handled the situation OK and could forget it, put it behind us, but now the irritating little sod seemed to be teasing me with it, sly and innocent all at once. If I taxed him with it though, he'd deny everything, all wide-eyed and guileless. Decided I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of looking as if I even remembered; though anyone who could believe you'd forget Ray Doyle in full, sexual flight has to be thick as shit.
"Think we could smuggle some whisky in?" I suggested, not very hopefully. The Sister on Cowley's floor had a bosom like granite and eyes like a four-day-dead haddock. And that was on her good days.
"CID material, this lad, " Doyle said, would-be admiring. "I can easy tuck a quarter-bottle into me sling; balance it on the plaster."
I didn't need the quick glimpse I got in the driving mirror of his evil grin to tell me he was hoping for a rise; it's a long time since I've taken more than a cursory notice of his constant carping about money. Careful he is, mean he is not, in spite of the impression he works so hard on giving the world. Besides, anything he cared to say about the pay in our job and the Cow's persistent habit of leaving expense chits so long that inflation makes 'em worthless by the time you get the lolly, saves me the bother of endlessly repeating myself. Job satisfaction I think they call it when all you get's a bloody pittance for the dirty work no one else'll tackle.
Job satisfaction! Yeah--I just love killing people.
We made it half a bottle. Didn't' want the old man sozzled. Knew bloody well who'd get the blame.
He was very quiet. Not his brooding, dangerous quiet that makes the whole of CI5 start examining its collective conscience, more a sort of defeated quality. Even the whisky barely raised a flicker when we handed it over.
"Poor old sod," Doyle muttered as we clattered our way downstairs afterwards. "You were right, he is going to have problems getting back on his own two feet."
I chuckled. "Keeping us in line ought to take his mind off his troubles all right, though."
Wearing one of his butter-wouldn't-melt looks, Doyle tried to convey a total incomprehension of my possible meaning, but as he slid into the passenger seat he said: "Fancy him carrying a torch for her all these years. Not sure I could be that faithful."
Didn't need to tell me that, did he! With both of us it's easy come, easy go so far as birds are concerned.
"Bloody woman was giving him the runaround the minute he walked back into her life," I reminded him. "I reckon there's a lot in what Howard says about her private life; morals of an alley cat at a rough guess."
"With the hots for Saintly Stan," he agreed. "Christ, she couldn't hide it, could she. And anyone with half an eye could see what it was doing to Wee Georgie, watching her crawl all over lover-boy."
Yeah, even the Cow hadn't been able to maintain his usual poker-face. It was a funny sensation, feeling protective of our George, but there'd been times over the last few days when I could have wrung her neck for him, and I knew Ray felt the same.
"Gave her a sense of power, I expect," I concluded gloomily. "You know, what the poor old bugger needs now is a nice, homely body to go home to of an evening--have his slippers warming for him, mash his tea, cook his porridge just the way he likes it--"
"Who've you got in mind for the job?" Doyle asked, mock-serious.
Starting to laugh, I let my smile fade; all unwittingly I'd stumbled on the very solution required.
All we had to do was find Cowley a girl-friend.
By the time I'd delivered Doyle into the tender loving care of the bird who had been conned into doing her Florence Nightingale stint and looking after him while his arm was in plaster, we'd even hit upon a suitable candidate for the post.
The typing pool tends to run to two types: sweet young things all giggles and chain-store fashion; and older, more mature women with a tendency to mother you given half a chance--particularly if they know you've recently been injured in the line of duty. The same one occurred to both of us at pretty well the same time and we said her name in triumphant unison.
"She must have been a raver when she was young," Doyle added thoughtfully.
"She's not bad now--for an old 'un," I grinned. "Wouldn't half mind a fling there myself!"
"Not a chance, mate. You're not her type. Too butch'n beefy, not to mention healthy. Me, now," he tapped his plaster meaningly, "she was all over me when I was in her room this morning. Made me a cup of tea specially, she did."
"What were you doing in her room?" I demanded suspiciously.
"Going over my report with her," he said, oozing virtue. "Have to have a little help now, with this thing on, don't I!"
It wasn't until I encountered Ray Doyle that I ever believed anyone could look innocent and lascivious simultaneously.
"Well, you keep your busy paws off her from now on," I advised severely, "otherwise we shan't stand a chance of diverting Cowley's attention her way and he'll get back rarin' to go, startin' on one of his efficiency purges, I shouldn't wonder, and you know who he always takes his bad temper out on first. Either that or he'll be falling into a green and yellow melancholy."
He sniggered--essence of vulgarity, that sound. "Can't see the Cow sitting like patience on a monument."
"Exactly; so he'll start reorganising everyone, and that's just what we wanna avoid, innit! So we'll begin working on Joy tomorrow. OK?"
"OK with me," he agreed.
There are times when it's a real pleasure and privilege watching Doyle go to work on some gullible soul, male or female. Listening to him casually dismissing Cowley's injuries as mere scratches compared with his own parlous state soon had her convinced the Old Man was on the verge of dying, and gnashing her teeth over our callousness and lack of proper respect for a poor, brave hero. By the time she'd heard our hilarious description of the transvestite Gauleiter in charge of nursing him she was positively bristling to get round there and go into her ministering angel routine. After that it was a doddle convincing her she should be the one who delivered the get-well card, grapes and flowers purchased from the departmental whip-round; we even endured her scathing comments on our lack of bottle in refusing to be seen carrying anything so unmasculine as carnations, although we did agree to drive her to the hospital, and, in the car, filled her up with a load of guff about his lonely life and the empty, unwelcoming flat that was all he had to go home to when they finally let him out. She was nearly crying when we abandoned her with heartless nonchalance at the door and left her to go in and see him all by herself.
Quirking an eyebrow Doyle's way I mused: "Wonder what she'll say if she ever gets to see the pathetic, unfurnished little hovel you've just been describing?"
He exuded confidence the way he does; means nothing most of the time. "She'll be too busy fussing round making him comfy to notice."
"You think so?"
"Well, if you're worried," the crease in his cheek deepened, "we can always go round there first and--er--do it over before she gets him home."
The mad fool was just crazy enough to do it, too, if he thought there was something to be gained by it.
Ray and I have always worked well together, right from the start. Mind you, I had to get to work on him, get all those rough edges smoothed down to my satisfaction but somehow we had this rapport going between us from the word go, made us look like a team to an outsider even before we were quite sure of it ourselves. Used to amaze me how quickly Ray could pick up on what I was thinking and play up to it. We've got even better over the not quite two years since then, become a fantastic double act, and it's extraordinary how even quite intelligent people can be pushed the way we want 'em to go if we apply our brains to the problem. It needed just a few subtle speeches not only to get Joy to go back again next day, but also to direct Cowley into the right frame of mind to greet her with complaisance: a few masterly words to Joy on the topic of Cowley's passionate interest in her holiday snaps of the Trossachs proved most convincing; along with some excellent work on the Old Man on the subject of his clerical staff's sincere concern for his well-being and Mrs Loftus's basically shy and retiring nature which made her sensitive to snubs. Give him his due, for all his tetchy out-spokenness with the likes of Doyle and me, Cowley's not such a bad old stick at heart and doesn't want to upset people if it can be avoided.
So, with the pair of them each handling the other (so to speak) with kid gloves, neither appreciating the adroit manipulation going on behind the scenes, she carried on calling in to see him every day, doing the job of fetching and carrying that up to now had fallen to our unwilling lot. Think she even took over washing his pyjamas but I didn't enquire too closely into that; all along it had been a topic I'd dedicated myself to avoiding.
Come the second week he was sitting up'n taking a proper interest again, running things from his hospital bed in a noticeably mellow mood; a bit unnerving really, particularly when he refrained from carping more than once a day about Doyle being so inefficient as to allow himself to be incapacitated. He didn't even put him to work in Records which, when you recall how near to being ambidextrous the canny little toad is, was exceedingly generous of him.
By unspoken but wholly concerted agreement neither Doyle nor I mentioned either the new lady in his life or the selfcentred bitch who'd gone flouncing back off to the States in such a hurry, being careful our visits never coincided with Joy's and meticulous in all our follow-up reports on the Annie affair.
Inevitably, the Cow found something in them to moan about, curling a distasteful lip over my somewhat rough and ready method of keeping the heavy mob under control.
"Rather a theatrical solution, don't you think?" he said, picking up the relevant page of my report in his finger and thumb as if it might contaminate him.
I had more sense than to try and justify it, just did my best to look abashed and repentant; Doyle's mush grinning away at me over the Cow's right shoulder didn't help any.
You could tell the Old Man wasn't feeling up to much because his mouth didn't wobble into one of those reluctant grins of his the way it usually would. Instead he said:
"I trust Miss Irvine was not in any way shocked or distressed by it."
It took superhuman effort not to remind him his Annie had gone through two husbands besides being in the middle of a steamy affair with Saintly Stan and was hardly likely to be upset by the sight of half a dozen murdering bastards dropping their denims to order. Anyway, all those hairy legs dangling about smothered in goosepimples were enough to make the cat laugh--provided Miss Irvine had a sense of humour, that is.
I muttered something about thinking she was too grateful to be alive to be worried over minor details like decorum, rode the glare he directed my way and started edging towards the door to make a run for it the minute he paused to draw breath.
We'd cut it fine that day--met our Joy at the end of Cowley's corridor on the way in with a bowl of fruit, four files and a pot plant.
I opened the swing door for her with something of a flourish and bowed to Ray as he grabbed the chance to sweep through once she was out of the way.
"Looking very smart today. Did you notice?"
"Yeah! It's the pin-striped pyjamas that do it. No, you berk, Joy! I reckon that blouse'll give him heart failure--with any luck."
He turned to look back at me, grinning harder than ever. "I was right, you do fancy yourself as Cupid. You get all sentimental'n gooey-eyed about lovers."
I shrugged. It wasn't worth arguing about, after all.
"There's enough hate in the world," I told him. "It makes a change to see people happy."
"Yeah, like I said, you're a sentimental so and so under that hard exterior."
The number of things he reckons I hide under this mythical hard crust of mine you'd think I was some sort of human geode!
"Just a romantic at heart," I agreed soulfully. "It's my beautiful nature."
His snort echoed around the stairwell like the tender rattle of an smg at close quarters and he clattered off down the uncarpeted stairs at a cracking pace, sending my heart into my mouth in case he tripped. Trust Ray to go scudding about like a two year old with his arm in a ruddy great lump of plaster and trapped in a sling. Some people never learn sense.
I reached the bottom just a pace behind him and sneaked round the blind side to get the door into the main lobby open for him. Clearly expecting no less, he sailed through without pause and on to the main entrance in the same confident style.
Good thing he could trust me to watch his front as well as his back or he'd've smashed that prominent schnozz of his on the door's toughened glass.
Lucky I'd been there for him when we were hunting for Annie Irvine, too, or he'd've bought it then. Second nature it was now, to both of us, looking out for each other. On duty, off duty, any time.
As we swung out of the car park into the stream of traffic building up for the evening rush I said thoughtfully: "We're working well together these days, aren't we!"
He didn't answer for a minute or two and I glanced over at him as I drew to a resigned halt behind a white Mercedes that had seen better days.
The look he flicked my way was demure, flirtatious.
"It happens that way when people are--close."
I have to admit it, the little bugger was beginning to get me going when he looked at me like that. I kept my head but it wasn't easy.
I pondered the word, wondering exactly what he meant and, more to the point, what I hoped he was on about.
"You reckon we're close?" I asked, playing for time.
He stuck his head on one side and thought about it. "Could improve on it, I suppose. We'll 'ave to think of something, won't we!"
His face had that innocent look that indicates pure evil behind it and I chuckled involuntarily, my mind full of those three unforgettable occasions when we had got really--close--knowing as a certainty it was in his mind as well.
About to blurt something out I pulled myself up just in time, remembering the vehemence of his refusal to talk when I'd asked if he wanted to, and I shut up very deliberately, closing off the subject by concentrating fiercely on my driving and occupying my runaway mouth with a scathing commentary on the inadequacy of everyone else out on the road that day.
When I dared to slide a look his way he had his head turned away, staring with grim determination out of the side window, mouth tightly set.
Oh shit! Now I'd hurt the temperamental, unpredictable little sod.
Or had I? Never could tell with someone as devious as Ray Doyle.
Not stupid enough to give him the advantage of seeing he'd got me temporarily at a loss I carried on talking of anything, nothing, until I spotted a convenient parking spot adjacent to a phone booth and pulled into it with a muttered excuse.
"I'm phoning for Ray," I said when his bird finally answered. "He asked me to tell you he won't be free tonight. Sorry about that. It looks as if something's about to come up and he won't be able to get away."
I could hear suspicion leaching along the wire at the amusement I couldn't quite hide over my intentional double entendre--if only she knew!--but she accepted the excuse in a lady-like manner. I raised my eyebrows at the receiver as I put it back down. Could be Ray might still stand a chance there, if he played his cards right.
I pulled up outside his flat and killed the engine.
"You coming in?" he said, not sounding over-enthusiastic about it.
"I could do with a cuppa. That bacon sarnie I had lunchtime was awfully salty."
"Well, OK then--but don't stay too long. Kate's coming over later."
"Coming over or coming across?" I enquired as I followed him in.
His flashing grin lit the small entrance lobby. "Both, since you ask."
"I'm surprised she hasn't given you the push," I said, taking his key away from his fumbling left hand, "the way you've been making her wait on you recently."
The self-satisfied smirk on his face said it all and squashed any lingering qualms I might have had about unilaterally organising the poor girl a night off for a change.
I tell you, he ran me ragged for the next half hour, running around making the tea, pouring it out for him, cutting him slices of homemade Dundee cake (courtesy of Kate)--fair wore me out, it did, and in sheer self-defense I switched on the telly, settling down in front of its early-evening idiocies with apparent absorption.
's amazing how much you can pick up of the atmosphere around you without using your eyes: every irritated scowl and impatient breath was meat to my inward glee as I kept my gaze firmly fixed on the screen, ignoring all the hints, subtle at first but later openly unambiguous, that my departure would be welcomed.
"Ssh!" I admonished, reaching for another slice of cake, only to have the plate snatched away from my eager grasp. I turned a plaintive eye upon him.
"Begrudge me even the crumbs from your table, you do," I accused him, miming starvation.
"You've had about a pound and a half of it already," he said, exaggerating shamelessly.
I shrugged. "Just a toothful, that's all. 'n quit making such a row when I'm trying to watch the telly."
"Since when've you watched Coronation Street?"
As I hadn't the foggiest notion what I was watching I contented myself with a haughty glare in his general direction and attached myself to my mug of tea.
"Interesting social document of our times, this is," I yelled to his retreating back. "Bet Cowley's watching it!"
His reply was crude and succinct but neatly encapsulated my own feelings on soap operas. I took a moody pull at my tea wondering whether, after all, I had the nerve to follow through what I'd started so blithely.
But it didn't have to go that way, did it--just because I'd put his girlfriend off didn't mean I was obliged to fill her place in his bed.
Trouble was I wanted to and I knew it. I was tingling with it, itching with astonished need to hold that angular body to me the way I'd held it on three previous, surprisingly precious occasions and I wasn't going to let this opportunity slip, either.
"...and I'll thank you to get out before Kate gets here, if you don't mind."
I blinked, finding the angular form in question standing between me and the screen.
"What's up--you afraid of the competition? Would I try it on with one of your girls, mate?" I enquired, deeply hurt at such an insinuation.
"Given half a chance, yes."
Grinning, I said, "She's a nice girl, your Kate. Have to make up a foursome one of these days."
I was between girls at the moment, feeling a bit lazy about fixing myself up with somebody if you must know. "Someone just as nice," I assured him idly. "And I'll go the minute she gets here. Promise."
"Huh!" Another of those elegant snorts rattled his windows.
"I will! May my old mob burst in and get me if I tell a lie."
He lowered himself onto the sofa beside me, released his arm from its sling and settled the plaster cosily onto a couple of cushions. "D'you ever miss them?" he asked curiously.
I relaxed, closing my eyes, wondering if he remembered it was on this very sofa...
Wayward thoughts under rigid control I considered his question. Did I miss them? The answer came easily, soaking through me like butter into a hot muffin.
"What, the old mob? No. Not a bit. Not any of 'em. Well--" I paused, mouth beginning to curl. "Just one of 'em maybe."
"Our Akela. She was a real raver, she was!"
The cushion caught me full upon the ear.
"I thought she'd be here by 6:30," he said, twitching he curtains for the umpteenth time and trying to see out through the darkness.
"Who?" I opened another can of beer.
"Kate, you great berk. And it's nearly 8:00 now."
"She's late then."
His hand hovered over the phone and drew away again--to my relief.
"She didn't actually say what time she'd be here," he admitted, rather sheepishly.
"Then it's probably OK. Sit down and stop gazing out of the window like some nosy old maid spying on the neighbours. 'ave another beer and I'll cook us some supper if she doesn't get her before 10:00. OK?"
He took the can, handed it back to be opened for him and sat down, turning a jaundiced eye on the TV.
"Why've you got the sound off?" he demanded.
"D'you like listening to Stuart Hall and Eddie Waring?" I asked, not unreasonably.
"No. But then I don't watch 'It's a Knockout' either."
But he did that evening. Right through to the bitter end.
"Oh damn!" He got up and prowled restlessly as I cut off the newsreader in her prime. "It's nine o'clock."
"So--Kate still hasn't turned up. Think I'll give her a ring."
"OK." I reached for the phone, pulled it towards me. "I'll dial her for you. What's her number again?"
As he told me, digit by digit, I dialled--my own number.
Unsurprisingly, there was no answer.
He had his lip stuck out in disgust when he handed me back the receiver, warm from being devotedly glued to his hot little lug'ole for so long.
"What's up?" I enquired sweetly. "Had something a bit special lined up on tonight's programme, did you? Could always call on me as a substitute if you're that desperate, you know."
There, it was out. Spoken and irretrievable.
"Could you?" he said, expression lightening only to fade at once. "Nah--I couldn't ask you to do that for me."
"Do what?" I swept a comprehensive leer over him. "I'd do most things for you--if you asked me nicely."
"Wash my hair," he said eagerly. "My head's been itching as though it's alive for the last three days and Kate promised she'd wash it for me tonight."
I don't think I let my jaw sag too noticeably in the few seconds before my face cracked into a smile I had no hope of controlling, and within no time at all I was practically helpless with laughter.
"It's not that funny, mate," he said, staring at me.
His puzzled look only set me off all over again.
So much for the big seduction scene I'd had planned--all washed away in rosemary scented shampoo and laughter.
"Kate," Doyle said with attempted dignity as he did his one-handed best to rinse the soap out of his eyes for the third time, "wouldn't have been so clumsy."
"Or such a good shot," I mumbled, grinning at my reflection in the mirror over the basin.
"What did you say?" A blood-shot green pea glared up at me from under sodden sheep's wool.
"I said 'I should hope not'," I replied, swift-thinking as ever. "If you kept your ruddy eyes shut you wouldn't have a problem."
"I'm trying to see what you're doing up there."
"Well, don't! And get your head back over the basin. I don't want another shoe full."
"I'm doing you a favour. It's about time you washed your feet."
I added extra water from the cold tap to the next mug of rinsing water, eliciting a very satisfactory howl of anguish from him as I poured it out with slowly loving care.
"There you are," I said when I was finally tired of water-play. "Squeaky-clean and guaranteed free of livestock. I inspected every root personally."
"I know. My head feels as if it's been through a mangle," he moaned ungratefully, getting up and groping around with his eyes shut for a towel and falling over me accidentally on purpose in the process.
"D'you mind not dripping all over me?" I requested. "I'm already soaked enough as it is."
"Wet, are you?" He opened his innocent eyes and stared me up and down, gaze lingering on my soggy cords. Then with a sudden flash of evil in his smile he shook his head vigorously, spraying the front of my shirt and my face with fat, flying droplets.
"Ooh!" he crooned solicitously while I was still drawing breath to complain--bloody water was freezing to add insult to injury--"I've made you all damp. Cum'ere and I'll get you nice'n dry."
Bemused, I let him pull me close, half gone already from the sexy undertone that made his voice suddenly husky; afraid to speak in case my own voice was unsteady, shaky...
His left hand slipped into my shirt, lingering, undoing buttons with firm deliberation, parting the material. A warm palm curled over me and I was breathless, no longer wanting to speak, fearful of shattering the moment, brittle as glass, expectancy like fine wires threading my guts.
His hands rose to my shoulders, brushing aside my shirt with his usable one, snagging the thumb protruding from the plaster into my collar, pushing it back and down to trap my arms behind me as his head came towards me. Mouth open, partly in incredulity, partly in anticipation of his kiss, I was dumb, helpless under his gentleness, awaiting him; but his head was dropping, lips aiming not for mine but for the juncture of neck and shoulder, fastening on me in greedy hunger.
His tongue grazed my skin.
Head falling back, I moaned, open to anything this wanton would do, prick already throbbing with need for his touch, for the caresses it had known before and wanted again.
But as my hips thrust forwards to his he pulled away and stared into my face, his own lit in a question.
Of course, you fool. Yes, of course.
I want it.
And so did he; arousal blurring his features; softening each line; mouth heavy.
Urgent for the taste of him I reached out but he was gone, turning aside--deliberately I thought--before he made for the door.
So he didn't want to be kissed. I filed the fact away as I followed him wordlessly into his bedroom and helped him strip, our fingers tangling on zips and hooks and laces.
And he was right, I decided, removing a second shoe and placing it neatly beside its brother, kissing would make this too serious, change it from a quick tension-relieving romp into...
Then with a hard shake of the head I brushed the notion aside, ignoring its implications, mouth curling cynically at the unsuspected sentimentality I'd just unleashed.
Ridiculous, old son, to be getting soft at your age and in your kind of work and most of all with your hard-nosed, stroppy sod of a partner.
Always angered by stupidity--most of all by my own--I made a grab for him, bared flesh goosepimpling in late-evening chill. Fat drops were still lolloping down onto his torso making him shivery to touch, making me quiver as I pulled him arrogantly against me. The insidious trembling only increased my rage and I dragged him to the bed to quell it in sexual heat. Doyle struggled, opened his mouth to argue and I shushed him savagely, yanking him over and rolling on top of him in urgent need, fired on by his instinctual resistance, so that what had begun in gentleness ended in a ruthless battle for domination made all the more exciting for being undertaken without words, by the unspoken challenges given and answered.
When it was over I found Ray on top of me, gripped tightly between my thighs, his head buried in my neck so I could not see his face.
I didn't need to. Ragged, panting breaths told me all I needed to know, that it had been good for him as it had for me; the brilliance of his smile when he finally lifted his head was a bonus I hadn't expected. Disarming.
I was smiling myself as I lay back.
Ray and I work well together--whatever the situation.
Later, having peeled myself from the damp, salt-scented intricacies of bedding and Ray Doyle I went to research the contents of fridge and freezer with a view to getting supper, finding chicken pies, sweetcorn and oven chips which I set to cook while I had a much-needed shower. I felt very good, enlivening the neighbourhood with a cheerful song as I applied soap with a liberal hand.
"D'you 'ave to make that bloody racket? Some people are trying to sleep around here!" Doyle's voice yelling from the bedroom broke into this idyll. "And something's burning somewhere."
"That's your supper," I yelled back. "so go'n rescue it."
When I got to the kitchen, dressed and decent, I found him hopping about wearing nothing but plaster-of-paris and a winning smile and just finishing the dishing up--which just went to prove what I'd suspected all along, that he was fully capable of managing anything he really wanted to do one-handed and was simply taking advantage of poor old Kate out of sheer laziness. I sat down, pulled my plate towards me and fixed my eyes on it., oddly embarrassed by his unabashed nakedness.
He knew, all right, grinning away to himself while he fed his face, but he said not a word.
I cleared my plate, carefully casual, answering his easy chatter with trivialities of my own, and then I did the washing up. No end to my virtue, as I pointed out. He just stared at me, dead-pan, and I felt uneasy, wondering what he'd have to say when he found out from Kate why she hadn't turned up tonight and trying to think up a convincing story to get in with first. Having failed dismally, I left around midnight, half expecting him to invite me to stay, half wanting to do so.
But I slept like a log in my solitary bed; the sleep of the innocent--or the incurably unrepentant.
I was on top of the world next morning; could've taken on mad bulls, charging rhinos, the IRA, CIA, KGB and even my Aunt Gwyneth single-handed. I was even prepared to face Ray's accusations about the previous evening but he couldn't have been in touch with Kate for he was looking pretty chirpy himself when I arrived to pick him up as arranged and drive him to the hospital for a check-up on his arm. He had a well-fed pussy-cat air about him, almost purring, matching my own mood; though neither of us was opening up and talking. What we got up to in private ought to stay that way, not be taken out and looked at in cold blood; it didn't need mentioning, making real, turning into something Kate Ross would have a field-day with; we both knew it was there, that we could have it whenever we wanted without picking at it, trying to make sense or reason out of something that had neither. It was good and it was fun and it didn't mean a thing and as far as I was concerned it ought to stay that way. We could handle it; had been doing so for months already, ever since that Christmas party. So no point in rocking the boat.
I'd thought all this out while I was shaving, as well as working on toning down the tickled to death look staring back at me from the mirror.
"Talking of hospitals," I said when they finally released Ray from his trip round consultants' offices, x-ray departments and plastering rooms, "how about going to see the Cow?"
Something had certainly mellowed the Old Man temporarily because he told us that having spent several days thinking it over he'd decided this was an ideal opportunity to find out whether certain nebulous suspicions he'd been harbouring for a while now had any foundation or not, and he was putting us on to finding out for him.
"Since Doyle has been so careless as to render himself incapable of active duty for at least another three weeks," he said, glaring at me as if it was my fault, "I am placing you, Bodie, ostensibly on stand-by for an indefinite period and you can both do some surveillance work for me that I don't want officially known about. Report to me personally, and don't talk about this to anyone else."
When we heard the address he wanted watched, a respectable house in a well-heeled suburb, inhabited by a decent, church-going, retired Colonel and his Cheltenham-Ladies-College-educated wife, I privately decided the Cow had finally flipped, but ours is not to reason why and Doyle and I duly began the tedious job purely in a spirit of anything to keep the old boy happy and ourselves in paid employment.
It had crossed my mind that the last thing Ray and I needed was several days spent in each other's unadulterated company, cooped up in a series of anonymous vehicles in a leafy suburban road, but in fact we were astonishingly easy together. His Kate, according to all accounts (and I got plenty) was being everything a girlfriend should, and my own new bird was proving equally satisfactory so I had no cause for complaint myself. Ray never said anything about why Kate had not turned up that evening and I concluded he must have forgotten to ask why not, congratulating myself on a fortunate and undeserved let-off.
Even the Cow was on a winning streak again, our watch providing enough to persuade the local police to raid the place, uncovering as sordid and hilarious a prostitution racket as it's ever been my privilege to witness. Not really CI5 business but it had kept us out of mischief and proved a point the Cow had been trying to make for some time concerning a possible source of corruption in a very high place.
Ebullient was the word to describe the two of us around then; we got up a fair number of noses and it was all very satisfyin'. Most gratifying of all was the day we arrived at Cowley's office soon after he'd been allowed back to work and found Joy Loftus there, all pink about the eyes and beaming at the Cow fit to bust bodice buttons.
He waved us to a discreet halt in the doorway and addressed her in that plummy, not quite pompous way he has on the rare occasions he's embarrassed about something.
"I know it's been a difficult decision to make, my dear, a great change in your life from the somewhat rarified atmosphere of CI5 to quiet domesticity, but I'll do everything I can to see you never have cause to regret it."
I nudged Doyle in the ribs at the same time as he made a jab at me and our elbows clashed rather painfully, but not by one flicker did either of us indicate we'd overheard anything out of the ordinary or what clever little Cupids we thought we were. Not until we'd finished our own business and were out of his office and halfway down the stairs did I begin to laugh and Doyle release a snigger that had obviously been ripening away for months in a warm, moist place.
"Did you see the look on Joy's face?" I asked gleefully. "I thought she was going to start crying all over him before she left."
"Must 'ave been a bloody difficult decision to make," he said thoughtfully. "I mean, would you want to take on marrying the Cow?"
"Well, no," I agreed, camping happily along beside him, "but then I never noticed how attractive he was until you pointed it out to me the other day."
He thumped me--right on the ribs with his plastered arm. Darn near broke two of 'em as I mentioned at the time.
Out of an innate sense of--well, I was going to say decency but it wouldn't convince anyone who knows Ray Doyle, and fair play comes nearer to what I mean anyway, neither of us went around boasting we had any inside information on the Old Man's matrimonial intentions, not even dropping a few obscure hints of the 'we could, an if we would' variety around the typing pool. We reckoned Joy would break the news herself when she was good'n ready and it was hardly fair to steal her thunder; but as day after day went by with nothing said we began to wonder whether the two of them were going to deep the whole thing under wraps until it was a fait accompli, thereby avoiding the worst of all the coy good wishes and inevitable ribaldry.
Then, about a week later, Mandy from the typing pool arrived at the rest room door rattling a tin and demanding money with menaces, in other words for someone's leaving party.
"Who's leaving?" Murphy enquired, hands still carefully hanging on to the loose change in his pockets. Some people you're more pleased to say goodbye to than to others.
Ray and I exchanged a silent smirk and reached for our wallets simultaneously.
"Our Joy?" Murphy was shocked. "Who's going to do my typing from now on if she abandons us?"
"How about yourself?" I suggested, handing over a fiver and feeling positively fatherly about it. I was already envisaging myself in the role of best man.
"What? Spoil these delicate nails with rough work?" Murph demanded.
"Why's she leaving then?" I asked idly, wondering if the news had leaked out yet or not. Not, I suspected, or everyone would have heard it by now, the grapevine at HQ being particularly efficient as is only right in an organisation of this kind.
"Oh, she's moving up north. Scotland. Got a job as a housekeeper, " Mandy told us cheerfully.
The housekeeper bit I could understand, but Scotland? Surely the Cow couldn't have decided to retire? I sat up and took notice.
"Scotland! Why Scotland, for god's sake?"
"Well, she's got relatives up there for one thing and she's been wanting to move up to be near them for a long time, but she couldn't get a job locally that would pay well enough, but Mr. Cowley's found her one and she's going to work for one of his cousins, I think." And Mandy departed bearing with her a fiver I could ill spare, torn from me by rank misrepresentation.
From the stunned look on Ray's face he wasn't too happy at being ripped off either.
And I can't think why, but he seemed to think it was all my fault.
Good job my back's broad!
-- THE END --