Sweet Singing in the Choir


"Should 'ave known there'd be a catch in it when Cowley started to hand out money," Doyle muttered angrily to himself as he crawled to the left on the freezing London pavement. He paused to glare at the flat cap by his side: seventy-five pence above the fifty Cowley had staked him for was his to keep. Big deal! Is this what he had jacked in being a copper for? Some progress! He sneezed violently as an icy wind blew a cloud of chalk and street dust straight up his nose. I'll blow me brains out this rate, he thought as another sneeze threatened to shake him to his foundations. Oh, sod it! me knee's smudged the petal! He worked frantically with an orange chalk in one hand and a yellow in the other in a desperate effort to rectify matters before they got any worse. >From the far, unfashionable end of Thistle Walk came the strident wail of mouth organ accompanied by the metallic twang of a banjo.

"'s bloody freezing this end." Bodie's legs felt like two pillars of frozen lard. He stamped his feet to try and get the blood to frisk about a bit. Thank god all the British tax payer could stump up for his undercover one-man-band outfit was a banjo and mouth organ. He would have been really stymied if he had been working for the CIA. With all the cash floating around in their coffers he would have been saddled with the base-drum on the back, bells on his ankles and a pair of cymbals between his knees. Poverty brought its own reward. Hell! I should be home tucking into turkey and chips. He rattled his tin at a pair of passing punks.

"Piss off, Grandad!"

"Yeah, drop dead!"

It took all the control he possessed not to smack them about their shaven heads; the two thugs would never know how close they had come to not seeing Boxing Day.

"Soddin' sunflowers, Vincent was welcome!" Doyle swung back on his heels to try and get his art work in perspective and in the process put his knee through the right leg of his faded, threadbare jeans. The whole picture had now taken on the air of inspired pointillists - Seurat would have given a month's pay for that kind of result. Doyle was disgusted as the fine spray of rain continued to fall on his picture. It was hopeless. Maybe he should have stuck with Turner. He rubbed an exhausted forearm across his eyes. 'Assume a position' had taken on a whole new meaning since he had assumed what to all intents and purposes was the missionary one on these unyielding stones.

"There, there, sonny, don't take on so. Here's twenty pence. Happy Christmas!"

Doyle looked up in gratitude to see the little old lady [he] had bought the roses from some months ago in downtown Gloucester Road.

"Bit out of your way, aren't you?"

"Just going down the DOC's. It's their Golden Oldies knees up, they've got an extension.


"Disgraceful to have to turn out on Christmas Day. Should be at home with your young lady or something."

"Yeah. Or something. Thanks and Happy Christmas."

The old lady bowled along to the Duke of Cumberland, a festive boa of dark green and emerald tinsel fluttered behind her in the cutting wind.

Bodie was trying to marry 'Johnnie Todd' to 'Lily Marlene' and was in deep trouble; and no amount of slipping in the occasional unnatural helped. He glowered towards Kensington in the forlorn hope the Royal Borough might lift his spirits. Forget it! By now he could hardly feel his hand in spite of the warmth afforded by his black and white coney and a couple of nips from a hip flask. He rattled his cup at a passing cyclist who shouted an obscenity but threw fifty pence at him. They were all women and he was grateful for that and the coin. As he stooped to retrieve it he caught sight of Doyle. Poor bugger, still acting like a gentleman in the way he distributed his weight on the pavement. Poetry in motion; superb until you established eye contact.

Murphy was insulated in the luxurious depths of the driving seat of an expensive Mojo, one of Yugoslavia's latest export models. He grinned as he remembered he had won this observation point. Cowley said villains don't take Christmas off and this was how he had ended up watching the front door of San Andreas's establishment. This clown was supposed to have evolved a faultless plan to blow up Horrages, the internationally renowned store, this striking horror into the heart of the commercial class. They in turn would demand for a police state and this would foment an uprising when San Andreas would take over. His sleeping partner was an octogenarian from Ireland who claimed to have been in the Post Office the Easter of the uprising. If all those who claimed they were there at the time actually were, Sean Isle would have been standing on someone else's head. CI5 work was running true to form; just as the light was going and after five hours' obbo Andreas dashed from the building, his getaway bag in his hot little hand. This was not American television, Murphy reminded himself. Damned if he was going to dash about after the delicious food Betty had packed in his Christmas hamper. He simply drove straight into the villain, bowling him down like a skittle. He swept him into the back seat, duffed him and drove off to HQ.

Bodie and Doyle both spotted Isle at the same time. Doyle stumbled over the broken chalks and ran as fast as his cramped legs would take him towards the fleeing man. Bodie unleashed the banjo from its strap and dashed at his prey, his frozen limbs not moving as quickly as they should. Isle fell between them like a ripe plum as he vaulted over the three foot wall at the back of the property. The curly-headed operative's head met Bodie's with a sickening crunch.

"Saints preserve us, there's no need to fight, I'll come quietly - there's plenty to go round!"

He was right there; all the way to HQ their mini was trying to do wheelies with Isle in the back of the car.

Back in the flat neither spoke much until they were clean and warm. Doyle was lying on the sofa trying to unkink himself as he listened to Bodie busy in the kitchen for once, unleashing boiling hot mince pies from their even hotter foil cases. His voice floated out through the open door, along with the rich smell of spiced fruit. Doyle took a long sip of his amontillado listening to every word.

"...the playing of the merry organ..."

Ever inhaled sherry? It's incapacitating at the very least; Doyle had never before sensed an irreverent meaning in this semi-circular carol, but before he could cut in on 'sweet singing in the choir' he had started to laugh, forgetting the mouthful of wine. At first he was sure he could control the coughs but soon he could not breathe or speak, for only the fourth time in his life he started to panic. The next thing he knew Bodie's forearm was across his ribs while his right hand was thumping him between his shoulder blades. The pair of them sank onto the sofa.

"Mince pie?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Bodie."

Bodie lit the Christmas candle Macklin had sent them and started to trace light, fern-like patterns on Doyle's face, then winced. The tips of his fingers were cut and swollen after five hours of the banjo. Doyle looked at the sore patches which also spread around Bodie's lips.

"Look like you've kissed a tractor, Bodie."

"You'd know about things like that, Doyle."

"Nah - just said you looked like it."

"What about bed?"

"Couldn't, Bodie, I'm crippled. Me knees and hands are killing me, not to mention me back."

"No - to sleep! We've got tomorrow off. Don't want to spend it asleep, do you?"


"On what?"

"On who with."

"Still love you."

"Gonna leave a sock out for Santa?"

"No, let him buy his own."

"Sometimes I wonder about you, mate!"

Hungry kiss followed hungry kiss as Doyle drifted down through fields of sweetest cotton candy consciousness to the volcanic explosion which crowned their act of love and incident[al]ly cemented their friendship for the next thirty-five years.

"Was I the first, Bodie?"

"With my looks? Impossible, sunshine. Still, it was a family affair." His blue eyes darkened suddenly with the painful recollection of half-remembered humiliations. "My cousins - the Earls of Bidstone - they were young, strong and foolish. I was an innocent abroad."

"How dreadful for you."

"Yes, it was horrid. What they did buggered all description."

"Beggared, surely?"

"Sadly, no." An enormous tear hung like a 150 carat diamond from Bodie's eyelash and crashed to the sheet. More followed to form a large wet patch. Doyle blotted Bodie's eyes dry with a tissue.

"Fairies at the well."


"Fairies at the well. That's what we used to call tears where I came from."

"You should know," sniffed Bodie.

"I must confess to a gnome in my past... don't be angry, it meant nothing. Just a jolly little fellow from Switzerland."

"Hang about, I've heard about those Zurich gnomes."

"Yeah, but all Albrecht ever wanted to do was run ice cold gems over the burning flesh of my naked body."

"You're putting me on... nothing else?"

"Nothing. Honest Injun." He raised his hand in an ethnic salute.

Next morning the tinsel shone and twinkled on the tree, the lights still blazed, and this Christmas morning Bodie crept back into the bedroom with a glass of champagne cold as Valley Forge charity. Next to the glass on the tray was a single rose. He placed it reverently over his lover's heart.

"Good morning to the first day of the rest of our lives."

He bent to kiss the smooth brow beneath the riot of curls, and Doyle awoke, touselled and disoriented. Could it have been true, just as he remembered it? Yes, he could see the Trojan warrior still manfully at his post. Christmas had worked more magic than the kitchen variety ever could. Both men sipped from the same flute when there was a sudden strange stirring under the bedclothes. Bodie pushed them back to disclose a small, furry ball.

"Oh! it's lovely, Bodie."

"Yeah. Let's keep it, Ray." Gently he stroked the young cat's tail. "Somehow this always makes me think of stories..."

"Not now. Facta non verba, I love you!"

Bodie struggled out of his pine-green wrapper and smiled. "I'd strip to Shubert if it would make you happy, Raymond. Nothing like a little Eine Kleine to start things off."

"Amadeus, Bodie."

Bodie frowned for a moment, then chucked Doyle under the chin and laughed infectiously. "I thought it was Mozart, my love... Happy Christmas."

Doyle took the hand from his chin, curled Bodie's fingers round his own and kissed them one at a time, then looking directly into his eyes said, "And to you, William Philip Andrew."

"You may call me Bodie."

-- THE END --

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