O Holy Night


It was raining again.

Bodie wiped the binocular lenses with his gloves. He was positioned on a stone wall, beside a telephone pole. "Can't see a fucking thing," he grumbled into his hand-held radio. "You still there, Doyle?"

"Yeah," said Doyle, on the R/T. His fingers were numb, and he flexed them, one hand at a time. He was at the back of the factory they were staking out. "No sign of life."

Bodie let the binoculars go. It was too wet, too cold, to see anything. "Getting on for three forty-five," he said. "Fifteen minutes till zero hour. You ready?"

"Ready for anything," said Doyle, without false cheer. Without cheer at all. This would be a messy operation, one way or another. With or without hostages. Maybe, if they were lucky, the weather would let up.

They waited, each in their own position, thinking their own thoughts.

A van pulled up. Bodie said, "Anson and McCabe," in a low voice.

"Check," said Doyle, who still saw no one. But they were there, all right. He and Bodie had been tailing the terrorist cell for two weeks now. He'd been undercover part of that time, with a related organization of half-baked thugs. Had to blow his cover when they'd grabbed Bodie. He'd kept Bodie alive, and they'd got out, but now they had to act fast before the Nightwing Coalition destroyed the evidence - the bombs, the maps, the pictures, the diagrams, the weapons they'd so carefully hidden. Until Doyle had found it. And Bodie.

Anson and McCabe were followed by the cars with Cowley and the rest of the operations. Murphy was doing the talking, with the loudspeaker. 'Come out with your hands up. Throw down your weapons....' Behind him, as he was, still in cover from the building (but not from the rain) Bodie could hardly hear him.

It was three minutes to four.

"Nearly there, sunshine," he said into the R/T.

Then the bomb went off.

Later, they learned it was in the storage bin by the pavement. At the time, they could see only the flames in the darkness, Guy Fawkes transposed to Christmas in a blazing starfire that blinded the vision as the sound drowned all other sounds.

Cowley was shouting orders. Those who could run were running. Bodie heard gunfire. He held his rifle with his lift arm and said into the R/T, "Four-five?"

"What's going on?" asked Doyle. Normal. Thank God, normal. Unhurt.

"There was a bomb. Cowley's moving in. Back-up plan 2."

Cowley interrupted them. "Move in, theta team."

Bodie waited. He was not part of the teams: he was the vanguard, the mop-up, the ace in the hole if anything went wrong. Of course, things had already gone wrong. He couldn't tell if there were dead. Gunfire; voices; flames in the rain, shrinking with time.

"They're coming out the back," said Doyle suddenly.

"Delta team!" shouted Cowley.

Bodie saw them, men running in the dark.

"Need back-up!" shouted Doyle, over the blast of his gun.

"They're on the way, four-five," said Bodie, keeping his voice steady.

"Faster," said Doyle. "I'm -- "

The R/T went dead.

"Ray?" said Bodie, already knowing it was a dead line. He thrust the R/T into his jacket. He was already running, both hands on his gun, in through the darkness. He jumped over a body, stumbled against another - but they were terrorists, not CI5 agents, and he ignored them, moving faster. He could hear gunfire behind the building. As he approached the corner of the building he rolled, going around it low like a snake, up again in case he'd been seen. He hadn't been.

Two terrorists bolted past him, shooting behind them. He got one right where it mattered, just above the nose. The other had reached his car.

Bodie had more to do than chase him, and might have done it too, except that suddenly Doyle was beside him. "Follow him," he said. "He's got their map."

The map which showed where the bombs were to be placed. Might already have been placed.

The terrorists' car took of with a screeching of tyres. Bodie and Doyle leaped into the one beside it. Bodie hot wired it with deft fingers while Doyle took the wheel. "Thought you'd been hit," he said, as they took off.

"Naw. Shot the R/T right out of my hand. Dirty buggers."

"Cowley won't like that on expenses."

"Never does."

They could see the car ahead of them, red lights in the distance. The R/T bleeped and Bodie said into it, "Three-seven."

"Bodie, where in hell are you?"

"Pursuing one of them, sir. He got out with the map. Four-five spotted it and we're giving chase. Over."

"Stick with it, three-seven. Imperative."

"Yes, sir. Out."

"Bloody hell," said Doyle. "And it's Christmas Eve too."

"Is it?" said Bodie, a little surprised. He'd known the date, of course. It just seemed to have been months since the day started. He was living on adrenaline, which changed perception. "Well. Happy Christmas to you, then."

They were screeching through the city now, where traffic seemed worse than ever and it was becoming harder to keep their quarry in sight. By the same token, their quarry was as bedevilled by the crowds and the weather as they were. He had to stop as pedestrians crossed the street, his horn blasting futilely at them. This gave Bodie and Doyle a chance to get closer, before the light changed.

"We'll get him," said Doyle, in a low voice, almost to himself. Bodie didn't bother to answer. They would, or they wouldn't. If they failed to stop this man, a lot of people would die. It would be their fault, because it was their job. Therefore they would get him. Or not. They'd lived with failure before. He didn't like it.

The man was leading them into the heart of London. He did what he had to, to keep moving. This included cutting through traffic lights, even going the wrong way in one-way streets. Horns blared behind them.

They didn't even have a siren.

The rain had turned to sleet. The terrorist, seeing the impossibility of continuing on clogged, slippery London streets, bolted out of his car.

"Christ!" said Bodie. Doyle slammed on the brakes.

They ran, feet slipping out from under them, so it was a matter of fast, ungainly lurches, guns in hand. Better not to shoot, since the pavement was full of holiday shoppers, travellers and commuters, many of them gawking. Better curious than dead.

The terrorist turned a corner. They followed, abruptly, onto Knightsbridge, with the holiday crowds thicker than ever and tourists gawking in their way. Salvation Army bells made the area sound like reindeer. Underfoot, the ice and snow was wet slush.

The terrorist went into Harrods.

Grimly, Bodie and Doyle followed.

They had left their rifles in the stolen car: rifles were no good in a thick press of civilians. Though their hands hung empty at their sides, their fingers were a reflex away from their shoulder holsters. They walked slowly down the aisles, eyes scanning methodically, Doyle to the left, Bodie to the right. A nervous store detective moved in their direction. Bodie flashed him a charming smile and a glimpse of CI5 authorization. The man's face, professionally neutral, disappeared into the crowd.

Just as their terrorist had.

"I hardly saw him," said Bodie. "Would you recognize him for sure?"

"No question. The bastard tried to kill me."

Bodie grunted. "Lucky thing you're too tough for that."

They paused. "We could go to security," suggested Doyle. "They have cameras."

"And let him slip out while we're on our way?"

"What then?"

"You go left, I go right, we meet at centre aisle and go through. Watch the escalators, but I don't think he's gone up or down."


Bodie looked carefully around him, instinct alert to catch the first hint of something out of place. He felt painfully aware of how many places a bomb could be left. In a shopping bag - like the shopping bag carried so casually by that plump woman in the anorak, the familiar blazon of the store across it. Or in that stroller, or in the basket under the seat, where the well- wrapped toddler was dozing. Or in the back-pack on that student over there, picking out a sweater for his girlfriend.

All those lives, each so complete, each so fragile.

He tore his mind away from the victims. Find the bomber, there would be no victims. Find the bomber -- one anonymous man among many, doing his impression of a shopper at Christmas time. Something must give him away. Something.

It was Doyle who saw him first, just past the perfumes, looking at a Christmas display. He started to move towards the man, who was idly moving towards the food department. He reached for his R/T to call Bodie, then remembered he didn't have one.

It didn't matter. Bodie had seen his moment of recognition, and was moving fast in his direction. Doyle nodded at the man.

Though the place was crowded, Bodie knew without question which man Doyle meant. He had not seen him clearly before, not well enough to recognize the tweed hat or the corduroy jacket, but the stance, the body language and shape, were already familiar.

The man began to run, pushing people aside. A rumble of irritation was turning into a wave of public fear.

"Freeze!" shouted Doyle.

Everyone in the store froze except the terrorist. In the relative silence, they could hear "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" tinkling in the air.

The terrorist grabbed the woman nearest him, a young blonde in a pink coat. She whimpered as he pressed his gun to her temple. "Let me go," he said, "Or I kill."

Someone beside Bodie gasped. Doyle's aim did not waver. He shot so fast the terrorist had no time to tell what was happening. He fell, dropping his gun. The blonde started to scream.

Bodie put a comforting arm around her. "It's all right now, sweetheart," he said, but he was looking at the dead terrorist. Doyle had thrown his scarf over what was left of the man's head, and was methodically searching his body for the map. The police would be here fast.

You bloody fool, thought Bodie, looking at the pool of blood running across the floor. You ought to be home with your kiddies and a roaring fire, eating plum pudding and singing carols. What are you doing here, with your brains on the floor of Harrods between the mince pies and the imported cheeses? What asinine choices led you to think there was any justification for this? What kind of freedom did you want, freedom to die to a stranger's bullet?

Times like this, he knew he was in the right job, doing the right thing.

They had a brief conference with the police. The body was quickly removed. Harrods could return to normal, as people came in who hadn't seen the incident, and those who had went swiftly away to safe homes and friendly families.

Bodie and Doyle looked at each other gloomily. "No map," said Doyle.

"Gotta be somewhere," said Bodie. Cowley's voice rang in his ears: "Imperative." Somewhere, a bomb or bombs. Christmas shoppers might get to witness more than one death, somewhere. Possibly their own.

"Could he have passed it to someone?"

Bodie thought. "No. That'd have to be arranged beforehand, and he didn't know he'd be coming to Harrods. No, he must have put it somewhere."

"Could be anywhere this level. Harrods is a big place."

"Might've thought he'd get away. Might've kept the evidence till he saw you."


"Or Christmas thingummies."

They went in tandem to the place where Doyle had first spotted the terrorist. Christmas trees, ornaments, boxes of cards.... Doyle looked around with dismay. "Shit! This isn't helpful."

Bodie was rummaging through the cards. "They're taped shut, so he couldn't have put it in a box. Was it big?"

"Just a folded map. Like anyone might carry, if he was going to a certain district."

"Don't muck up the display," hissed a salesclerk.

Bodie gave her one of his fourteen carat smiles. "We'll be good," he promised. Surprisingly, she blushed and looked away. Doyle wondered, with admiration, how he did it.

He found it, at last, under the tree. He had to crawl under - obviously the man had just tossed it, and it had lodged on one artificial branch. Doyle emerged with tinsel in his hair and a triumphant expression on his face. "Eureka!"

"How'd you do that?"

"Saw a bit of the corner, there."

"Well done, lad."

"I manage."

It was a tourist map, the kind that they give out for free - never very accurate, even less detailed. This showed Westminster, a piece of the river, the Houses of Parliament....

And scribbled on the margin: "6 p.m. carols".

No useful circles on beguiling spots. No arrows with a note saying "Bombs left here."

"Almost five now," said Doyle.

"Carols, carols.... Where do they have carols?"

"Street singers. No good. Church halls, churches... Westminster Abbey. There's a damned concert on tonight. Christmas songs."

"Starts at five?"

"That - or the bombs do."

They ran. They grabbed the first car going by with a driver in it, flashed their badges and turfed him out, protesting. When he saw how they drove it, he protested even louder.

Bodie was grinning as he pressed the accelerator down and went on two wheels around Hyde Park corner. "Good traction on this one," he said, as a skid proved him wrong. He recovered from the skid, ignoring the noisy reactions from other drivers, and went even faster. "Dunno what people are doing on the roads in this weather."

"Goin' to hear carols at Westminster Abbey," said Doyle.

"Yeah. If there's a choir left."

There was a brief clash of wills with a taxi, and the taxi lost. Bodie screeched to a slippery halt at the Abbey, and they went pelting in.

They were surrounded by music created by and for God through five hundred years of Anglican devotion. They were surrounded by echoing notes of sublime sound, and the rapt attention of hundreds of people, and the perfect pitch of voices which had trained as hard for this as Bodie and Doyle had trained for violence.

They had too little evidence to be able to stop the concert and evacuate the audience. It would be good to handle this with no fuss -- go in, grab the bomb, get out, dismantle it, destroy it.

Impossible to talk, here. Bodie and Doyle exchanged a few silent signals and began to hunt, methodically, pew by pew.

They found it right at the front, in the second set of chairs. There was a brown leather bag, crammed up against one of the legs.

Impossible to reach it delicately. They scrambled over knees, letting the disruption happen, letting the growing objections of the jostled and abused audience pass over them along with the swelling celestial music. Better for these people to be interrupted, abused, bruised and angry, than dead.

It was Doyle who got there fast. He snatched the satchel up in his arms, jumped over the first row of heads and bodies in seats, and ran up the nave and out of the Abbey. Behind him, Bodie ran at his heels. And behind him, the music changed: "O holy night, the stars are brightly shin-ing...."

Outdoors in the muted silence, Bodie and Doyle unwrapped the object in the bag as if it were precious. A concoction of wires and tin and goodness knows what explosives. They had dismantled bombs before -- twice, three times, a fourth time if you count a dud. Nothing was as bad as that atomic bomb in the bowling alley, but no bomb was good.

Letting the fingers shake was out. So was hesitating from fear. Bodie's fingers probed the contraption and Doyle gave him a brief, encouraging smile.

It was all a matter, really, of remembering the lessons properly. Bodie was good at remembering. Step one, step two, do it methodically and carefully, and everything would work out -- unless it didn't. There was no certainty, in this trade.

A penknife was more than enough, the Swiss kind with the little scissors attached.

Like handling a woman, it took a certain delicacy. This particular thing was tied up like tinsel on a tree, hard to tell what all the bloody stuff was for, let alone where it went. It had never been this complicated in bomb class.

He snipped a wire.

"Boom," said Doyle.

Nothing happened.

He snipped another.

"I think you killed it," said Doyle.

"Did I?" Bodie snipped something else. The bomb was beginning to look like a hedgehog.

"Smells bad."

"Does, doesn't it? Wonder what they're using these days. Eye of newt?"

"Harrods perfume department."

It wasn't that funny but they were both laughing, both framed in a halo of snow that settled on their hair and their shoulders and on the terrorists' bomb.

Bodie took out his R/T. He called HQ and asked that the bomb squad come around to the parking lot opposite Westminster Abbey, to pick up the remains of a bomb.

The snow had lessened to light flurries. They could hear the carols from the Abbey, now. "O Holy Night" had not come to an end yet.

"Nice, that," said Doyle.

"Yeah," said Bodie. He kicked at the bomb in the snow. "Wonder how Cowley and his lot are getting on."

"We'll find out," said Doyle.

True enough, the R/T beeped to life: Central must have informed Cowley that they had reported in. "Three-seven," said Bodie.

"Three-seven, have you transport?"

"We can get it," said Bodie.

"Listen carefully. There is a blue van with five men aboard heading north on the M11. License QL 2Y77. You must intercept and detain them at once."

"Yes, sir. Are they armed?"

"Most probably."

Which meant that Cowley did not know with what. "On our way, sir."

"Do we have transport?" Doyle asked casually, as if it were a random question.

Bodie looked around the parking lot. His eyes lit, with pleasure, on someone's Rolls Royce. "Course we do."


"C'mon, sunshine, why not? It's Christmas."

The chauffeur was asleep in the front seat. Bodie woke him with the blast of cold air which accompanied him as he opened the door, the hand on his shoulder, the CI5 authorization at his nose. "End of nap," said Bodie, in a friendly manner. "Don't worry, we'll return it in one piece."

"You have a bloody nerve!"

"He does," said Doyle, with a certain pride. He was standing at the passenger door. Bodie took the keys from the ignition, and tossed them to him. He opened his door, and got in. He looked expectantly at the chauffeur, who still hadn't moved.

"You can't do this. You -- "

"Yes, we can," said Bodie. "It's in the fine print." He lifted the man out of the car by the scruff of his neck.

Then they were off, driving north in light snow, with a rush of speed and a second wind. Behind them, they heard sirens -- probably the bomb squad, coming too late to dismantle the bomb.

"Naw," said Doyle. "They heard you were driving. Public menace, you are."

"Tell that to bomb-boy there," said Bodie. "That was a good shot."

"Not really. I was trying to shoot the gun out of his hand, not to get his whole bloody skull."

"He must've moved, then."


They sped north, darkness and silence and the drifting snow surrounding them.

"Visibility could be better," said Doyle.

"S'better with the snow. More traction than ice."

The car flew like a well-aimed dart. It was as smooth as skin, as responsive as women. "You like this," said Doyle.


"Suits you. Think they'll let us keep it?"

"Couldn't afford the petrol."

"There is that."

After a while Doyle said, "Not much traffic."

"Everybody's got to where they're going for Christmas already now."

"Not in the city."

"Course not, but out of it. Didn't you know? They all settle down with mulled cider and biscuits."

"Thought they did things with stockings and chestnuts."

"Sounds kinky."

"How would I know? I always have to work over Christmas, don't I?"

"Don't see any vans."

"We will. Sooner or later, we will."

Doyle drummed his fingers against the dashboard. Bodie didn't remark on it. He was impatient too. They must be halfway to Newcastle by now, at this speed. Or maybe not.

A bullet ricocheted off the windshield. Another shattered the side window on Bodie's side. Bodie threw himself forward. The Rolls swerved, hit the guard rails, righted itself, rolled to a halt.

They threw themselves out of Doyle's door, guns out and at the ready.

They saw nothing but darkness and snow.

"Where's the bloody van?" asked Doyle.

Bodie grunted.

"You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm going around the back. See if I can spot them."

A shot went by them. Bodie ran, his head down. Doyle returned the fire into the darkness, his eyes straining for light. There was none.

Then, on the other side of the Rolls and slightly behind them, headlamps blinded him as a vehicle swayed onto the roadway, Bodie's bullets ripping and tire, Doyle's smashing a window.

The van careened into the guardrails, lurched, and stopped.

There was silence.

Five men, Cowley had said. It might not be an accurate count; it might be more.

Bodie rose.

A bullet half spun him around. Doyle, cursing, shot out the van windows, and grabbed for another clip of bullets, jammed it into the gun, shot again.

Then there was silence.

"Come out with your hands up," he shouted. He knew it was futile. There was neither a reply nor motion from the van. Bending double, he ran back the length of the Rolls, to check on Bodie.

Bodie was holding a bleeding arm, flexing his fingers. Doyle said, "They got you?"

"Naw, just a nick. I'm okay."

"You're bleeding like a matron's heart."

Bodie shrugged. "I'll live. Let's take those buggers."

Darkness was their ally. Bodie reached carefully into the Rolls and turned off all lights. One headlamp of the van still shone dimply into the snowflakes; the other was smashed.

They walked carefully up to the van from behind, arms bent with both hands holding the guns. The back of the van might open, with gunfire, like in an old gangster movie. Or the driver might leap out with guns in each time.

Or it might be a trap. It might be another bomb.

Some people get to sit at home on Christmas Eve, with their mulled cider and their fireplace and their kiddies. Bodie could, perhaps, be lounging before a fire with a warm body in his arms, and not a care in the world.

It occurred to him with dazzling certainty that he didn't want that. Here, with his hair wet with snow and an aching arm covered with blood, with the cold wind in his face and darkness around him, with a gun in his hand and Doyle beside him, he was as close to happiness as a man could be.

Imperative, Cowley had said.

Bodie reached for the van doors, pulled them open.

Three of them, and out of ammunition. One held up his arms in surrender. One tried to jump them. Bodie, in a thorough temper by this time, tossed him to the ground, put a foot on his chest and said, "Stay," as he would to a dog, gun pointed steadily at his face. The man was pale with fear or with cold. When Bodie moved away, he didn't as much as twitch.

The third man tried to shoot Doyle. He missed by a foot; Doyle grabbed him by the lapels and pulled him out of the van. He kicked the man's gun out of his hand, knocked him down and knocked him out by hand. Blundering amateur.

That left the van's driver and his companion. They did not appear, and Bodie cautiously entered the van and clicked on the overhead light to see what was there.

Inside the van, there were no bombs. There was a great quantity of wire and plastic and plastique and explosives, some labelled and some not. There were dismantled guns and bullets and even a supply of crossbows which Bodie eyed hungrily.

He turned out the light, and dropped to the ground. There was no sound nor motion from the front.

They separated again, one to the left, one to the right. They approached the doors slowly, staying below window level. Then they pulled them open in concert, aiming their weapons into the cabin.

The driver, male, was unconscious, slumped over the wheel with blood on his forehead from his impact with the windowshield when the van had hit the guardrail.

The passenger, female, was pale and tearstained. She might be sixteen. Couldn't be more. Didn't look old enough for her make-up. Didn't look strong enough to lift the gun on the seat beside her. She didn't try.

Bodie put his gun back into his holster. "It's all right, sweetheart," he said kindly to the frightened girl. "It's all over now."

She looked at the dark man with the blood over his coat and the gun in his hand, and she wept. They left her alone.

In the silence of the night, peace was assured once again and Christmas in England could be a time of good will.

The two men who made sure of it waited for their backup to come to take the terrorists into custody and tow the damaged van and the Rolls Royce away and to drive them back to CI5, so they could write their reports over late-night coffee and wait until England needed them again.

-- THE END --

December 1996

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