Handy Pandy, Out Goes the Rat
They visited the indoor range one day when I was coming through training, and they more than caught my eye. I knew them for senior agents right off: it wasn't unusual for operational personnel to come by and loose off a few rounds, and for a dead cert these two were neither trainees nor HQ chairwarmers in for their biannual qualification. Fire-eaters, both of them. You can always tell.
"Who're they?" I asked Pollock, who was set up to my right.
He didn't have to ask to know I meant the pair three stations down. He shrugged, as if to say he didn't know, and then proved he did, one of many annoying habits he's got. "Partners on the A Squad, I'm told. Doyle and Bodie."
"Which is which?"
Another shrug, but this, apparently, was information Pollock didn't have; no answer was forthcoming.
I safed my pistol and watched them. The first man was competent, no-nonsense, a steady, practiced shooter. He emptied his magazine, put his Walther down, took his target from the return and looked it over, then folded it and tucked it under his weapon on the bench.
The second man took his place. He drew and dry-fired once, twice, three times. His draw was unorthodox, but he was fast. Like a gunfighter in a Wild West film.
He was using one of those new IMI/MRI Desert Eagles, handling it like it was part of his arm. The sleeves of his white shirt were rolled up, and the extended wrist was slender, but the hand was right at home on that big gun, and the hand was in proportion to the rest of the man. More finely built than his partner, he was whippy, all lean, effective muscle and bone with no extra flesh on him. What you might call deceptive.... I knew the type. A man you might take for an easy mark in a fight, say, only to find you'd bitten off a tougher slice than you could chew.
There'd been some controversy, in shooting circles, about the retool of the Desert Eagle; I'd been itching to get my hands on one. This fellow was having fun with it, and he was lovely to watch. He loaded and reholstered it, then drew and pointed and fired, the heavy gun surging in his hand. Three rounds, quick as could be, and the gun whisked back in the holster. Then he did it all again.
When his target came back, I saw he was some manner of wizard with a handgun. He was using a silhouette, the same sort I had up. At forty yards, rapid fire, he'd put a tight group of three in the heart and an even tighter group in the head. With the excessive recoil the .357 Eagle was said to produce, that was damn fine shooting.
They conferred over the target a moment before the gunfighter folded it small and slid it into his shirt pocket. They traded places and he reloaded while the first man clipped up a fresh target and methodically smithereened it.
"Doyle was shot," Pollock said close to my ear, making me jump; I'd forgotten he was there. "In the heart, they say. Been on convalescent leave and desk duty forever. Due back to operations if he can pass the physical."
Both men looked fit, healthy. "You sure you don't know," I said as the first stepped back from the firing line, "which he is?"
"The mean-looking bastard, I expect. The skinny one doesn't look like he'd survive a bullet. Or anything rough."
After twelve weeks' acquaintance with Pollock, I hadn't thought any pronouncement of his could surprise me, but that one did. There was only one mean-looking bastard in that pair.
Having delivered himself of his expert opinion, Pollock gathered his gear and made off for the gym. I went on watching the show as the partners traded places once more and the wizardry was repeated.
The first man reached up and patted the head of the gunfighter, who drove an elbow back into his belly. It was a vicious strike, pulled at the last possible moment. Though the blow didn't connect, the first bloke let out a pained woof, clutched at his ribs, and generally carried on like he was in agony. Ignoring his antics, his partner unclipped his target, reloaded and holstered his pistol, and collected both sets of ear protectors.
There's no good excuse for what I did then. I don't know what possessed me--or I do, actually: some would say competitiveness, some would say childishness; I'd call it showing off. I put on my protective headset, picked up my pistol, thumbed off the safety, and emptied the magazine as fast as I could fire.
By the time I'd safed the pistol and lowered the headset, my target was back and Doyle and Bodie were standing shoulder to shoulder with me, examining it.
"Competition?" said the first man. He stood just on my height, which is tallish but nothing out of the ordinary, and he'd a high-maintenance build, the sort that puts on pounds if it's let. Blue eyes, dark hair. A good-looking bloke, actually, if you like the type.
"Nah," said the other.
While he studied my target, I studied him: a froth of brown hair, lived-in face, hard green eyes, and a sexy, sexy mouth, the sort you couldn't look at without having to rein in your imagination. Greyhound body, sallow-toned skin with a light overlay of tan.
He nipped at his lower lip as he eyed my target. I'd been lucky as well as good, placing all my rounds where I wanted them: eight holes in a heart-shaped outline where a heart would be, and the rest in a nice tight cluster at the centre of mass.
"Very pretty." He gave me those gunslinger's eyes straight on. "Can you do that when they're shooting back?"
I don't remember what I said, if anything; most likely I just stood there admiring him. Mismatched cheekbones gave his face a fascinating asymmetry. He was the stuff the dirtiest weekends are made of.
"Good shooting, though," he added as he strode off.
Never one to fail to appreciate a beautiful backside, I turned and watched him walk away.
A voice spoke behind me, so close I felt the stir of air on the back of my neck. "Put your hand on that, mate, you'll draw back a stump."
I pivoted to face the partner. His face was neutral; his eyes were not. I resisted the temptation to ask if I'd been given a word to the wise or the threat his remark felt like.
I did my best to come off all puzzled and innocent. Perhaps I'd better not take to the stage, though, because he wasn't having any. He gave me a tight, false smile.
"Thought you ought to know," he said.
"Bodie," his partner yelled, "you coming?"
"Right behind you," he called back, and suited action to words.
So Blue-eyes was Bodie?
The one I wanted was Doyle.
Next time I saw them, I was A Squad myself, the new boy being shown the ropes by the old hand. An old hand name of Murphy, in this case, another fire-eater. Well, we all are, at CI5, or we wouldn't be here. Murphy's a big tall fellow, quick as a cut cat. That first morning in the break room, though, he was so relaxed he was all but comatose.
"Bodie," he introduced, "and Ray Doyle. 3.7 and 4.5, two of Mr. Cowley's fair-haired boys. Jason Collier, 8.6."
Bodie eyed me with all the enthusiasm he might've shown for birdshit on his windscreen. "Hell," he said, "it's the man with the golden gun."
"H'lo, Collier, 8.6," said Doyle.
"Four years on the Firearms Squad," Murphy supplied my CV.
Bodie snorted. "Another sodding copper."
"You'll learn to love me," I assured him, winning a sneer from him, a groan from Murphy.
"Came up through the Met myself," Doyle said, while his partner went on disgustedly: "Dunno what this mob's coming to."
Doyle rolled his eyes. "Yeah, they let in all manner of riffraff, don't they, Bodie. Military off-scourings and whatnot."
Bodie pretended to give him a clout, which Doyle didn't bother to duck. "Come on, 4.5, time to hurry up and wait." He grabbed Doyle's arm and hauled him to his feet, manhandled him into the corridor.
"Get your clammy great paw off me," Doyle was snarling when the door closed behind them.
"Long-time partners?" I asked.
Murphy nodded, handing me a polystyrene cup with steam curling up from something which might once upon a time have been tea, coffee, or embalming fluid.
"Six years," he said, "maybe seven. Since before my time." He blew on the contents of his cup and sipped gingerly. When he didn't die at once, I followed suit and shuddered. Coffee. Foul. "You know Doyle?"
"Spoke with him at the range. And Bodie. Weeks ago."
"Ah." Murphy squinted at me through rising steam. "Thought he must know you. He's not always so friendly, our Ray."
This was news to me...not unwelcome, but news. "What sort of bloke is he, then?" Oh, subtle, that.
Murphy shrugged. He allowed, after a thoughtful moment, "You can't believe everything you hear."
I was lost. "No?"
He sipped coffee, gave me an estimative glance. "There's nothing in it."
"I see," I said, not seeing.
"Hurt Doyle, though," he said, staring off into space as if reciting a set piece, "and you'd best not turn your back on Bodie."
Still not seeing, I played along. "And if you hurt Bodie?"
"Oh," said Murphy, "Doyle wouldn't wait for you to turn your back." I chuckled, taking it for a joke, and he levelled grave eyes at me. "You don't want to ever hurt Bodie, mate. His partner has a bit of a temper."
God knows what Murphy had seen, or thought he'd seen, to make him speak out as he did. There was no doubt in my mind I'd been given another warning, this one kindly meant. Then and there I decided everyone in CI5 was mad. While I've a better notion now what Murph, in his cryptic way, was trying to tell me, I've never seen fit to revise that first impression.
CI5 suited me straight off, so I suppose I must be as certifiable as the rest. We'd heard a great deal, in training and orientation, about the intensity and the stress and what-have-you, and I'd had some doubts. Well, you'd be a fool not to, given the trainers' doom-saying and the outfit's reputation, and I'm no fool. We saw plenty of action, right enough. Things could get warm, and it was stressful, but round at my old address we hadn't even been called out unless gunplay was a distinct possibility. I was in my element from my first operational assignment.
The worst of CI5 wasn't the action but the inaction, the troughs between the waves of danger. Some people relish the tightening spiral of tension that accompanies the wait for an op to come together. I'm not one of them. When a storm's building, the gathering charge in the air makes my flesh creep, but I love being out in the midst of the thunder and lightning when it breaks.
That's not to say I don't know the meaning of the word fear. Certainly I do. Adrenaline, though, the chemical cocktail of fear, is as addictive as anything there is. A full-body high, sharpened senses, exhilarating strength and speed, a sharp, metallic taste on the tongue.... It's frighteningly easy to become an addict. All you have to do is find your drug.
I sweated the waits and thrived on the action and got on well. Bitched, of course, along with everyone else, but I was enjoying myself. Whenever I had the opportunity, I watched Doyle, so even being stuck behind a desk slogging through the ever-present paperwork had its compensations.
Watching Doyle meant seeing Bodie, as they were together more than not. If you did spy one alone, soon enough there'd come the other. I never minded watching Bodie. Doyle was endlessly easy on the eyes, but Bodie was no eyesore himself.
As well as scenic, they were interesting, not only to me but to everyone in our outfit. Theirs was an effective, integrated partnership. Telepathic, people joked, and at times you'd swear they were. In action they were almost uncanny, communicating with a gesture or a glance.
It was nothing more mysterious than the functioning of a partnership forged in blood and shared danger, a partnership that worked, but from outside their closed shop, looking in, it seemed as eldritch and unknowable as the far side of the moon. They were a mutual admiration society and little appeared to touch either man deeply or lastingly, except the other. No wonder the stories went round. Bodie's bluff, hands-on affection was the icing on the gossips' cake.
There was some idle speculation, some good-natured joking, and an undercurrent of nasty rumour about the 3.7-4.5 team: it was true love; no, it wasn't, but they had it off now and again, on a casual basis, when there were no birds in view; no, there was nothing casual about it, they were doing each other at every opportunity, in the lift, in the car park, behind the stacks in dead-record storage. If they'd been getting as much as gossip credited, they'd've been worn to a frazzle.
It was all rubbish. Anyone who knew what to look for could see there wasn't a wisp of smoke, let alone fire. I had what I considered compelling reason to look, and did, every chance I got. I know what I saw.
It needed a woman to throw Doyle's on switch. Bodie was head over heels in love, lust, the whole ribbon-wrapped packet, with his straight partner.
Tragedy. Farce. What the fuck. The way I look at it, there's no such thing as a hundred-percenter. I didn't see why Doyle should be any different.
Well. There may be tougher nuts to crack than Raymond Doyle, but I've yet to encounter them. I tried my full repertoire of subtle come-ons. Didn't dare try the unsubtle...not that it would've made a spot of difference. Doyle missed the point with discouraging consistency. Always with an eye to the main chance when it came to a bird, he was oblivious where blokes were concerned.
His partner was no such thing. Bodie knew what I was up to, right enough, and I couldn't say for sure if he was amused or outraged. Certainly he'd no cause for jealousy.
The physical attraction came first, of course. Doyle was the embodiment of all my steamiest fantasies--more prosaically, my type. I fancied that lean, lithe body and those cool, self-regarding eyes something chronic.
Before long, though, I found myself liking the bastard, and I didn't know why. It wasn't for his sunny personality. He was changeable as weather, swung from extremes of caring to cold, gentle to vicious, at dizzying speed and for reasons indecipherable to me. His tongue could cut and he didn't scruple to unleash it. His temper was legendary, for cause. He didn't suffer fools and most days seemed to slot everyone around him into that category. He could carry a grudge forever and never need to set it down.
He was also endlessly considerate of the victims we so often encountered. He had a sly sense of humour and a quirky intelligence. He adhered to a moral and ethical code that, while distinctly patchy, would have crippled many men, and scourged himself for transgressions real and imagined. He drove himself beyond exhaustion on the job--and would, I think, have liked to do the same to the rest of us.
He was an utter prick to work with. I couldn't help but like him.
He needed his head seen to, of course. While everyone at CI5 was insane, Doyle was more so than any of us. He craved affection, but discouraged, even rebuffed it. He womanised the way a badger digs, the way a wolf bays the moon, as naturally and unthinkingly as breathing, yet I hadn't been there long before I'd pegged him as the disgustingly monogamous type, a romantic who longed to love and be loved in return.
He had the most suggestive laugh I've ever heard, a sort of lewd chortle that went straight to the groin. I don't think he had the dimmest idea how puzzling and tantalising I found him. Certainly he had no notion of the effect he had on his partner.
He held the central place in Bodie's scheme of things. He was Bodie's conscience, his comfort, his magnetic North. I didn't see that straight away--it was plain enough that Bodie loved him, but not so evident at first how exhaustive and unswerving that love was. Bodie had many of Doyle's virtues and few of his faults, but what he did, he did for Doyle; to a lesser extent, for Cowley.
Murphy knew that, I think, and Cowley might've known--what George Cowley knows is anybody's guess--but they knew Bodie better than anyone else but Doyle. You had to know Bodie to understand, and he wasn't easy to know. At first blush, he seemed to be very much as he let you see him. With Bodie, though, as with an iceberg, nine-tenths was below the surface. The water was cold and diving was discouraged.
He felt things more than he let on, Bodie did. Doyle went in for pyrotechnics. Watching him fizzle, flare, and pop, it was easy to miss the minute flex of the jaw or the faint flinch of the eyes that meant Bodie'd been hit just as hard. It took me months to realise that the less Bodie showed, the more he was feeling.
Working the occasional op with them, I saw Bodie suffer far more for his partner's sake than for his own. Any danger Doyle ran sent him half round the bend--which, in Bodie, meant stoicism and a thousand-yard stare. Undercover operations were the worst. Doyle was a damn chameleon. He wore a legend like it was his own skin, so he drew the lion's share of assignments that required an agent to be someone he wasn't. When he was under alone, Bodie wasn't fit to shoot. It wasn't that he didn't think Doyle could do the job--hell, Bodie put his life in the man's hands on days ending in 'y'--he needed to be there, watching his partner's back.
The story of Doyle getting shot was swapped around frequently at HQ, most often when an agent came down with a mild case of lead poisoning. When I was grazed across the hip in a minor dust-up in Hackney, three different bright lights told me not to expect flowers. Doyle died, they told me, and was back at work: he'd raised the bar for the rest of us.
Bloody Doyle. He would. I wondered how deeply Bodie had been wounded by Doyle's shooting, how he'd survived it, what scars it had left. No one said a word about that, and I hadn't the brass to ask.
I'd been in about eight months before Cowley got around to assigning me a partner--not Pollock, thank Christ!--a one-time diplomat-minder name of Siddeley. Nice fellow, quiet, and a lovely dirty fighter. We did a string of stakeouts, the usual observe-and-report, dead boring, then one messy op that scared years off our lives. That one came out all right in the end, and the Cow was happy enough. He gave us three days and kicked us out.
Siddeley spent his leave getting chucked off a horse, the silly bugger, and stepped on by it as well. Our first day back at work saw him and his ankle cast assigned to a desk in Records, while I was told off as extra firepower on a job Doyle and Bodie had in hand. I hadn't seen much of them for several weeks, only to bump into them in the break room now and again, and I was pleased with the assignment.
Doyle did his best to set me straight. "It's the back of beyond," he groused when they'd put me in the picture. "Miles and miles to the bloody road."
"Mile and a half, tops," said Bodie.
"Through a primeval forest, at night. Jesus, Bodie."
"It's a little wood. No bears, no sabretooth tigers. You can hold my hand, sunshine, and I'll scatter bread crumbs so we can find our way back."
Disgusted, Doyle appealed to me. "It's all very well for Tarzan here. Like to do my walking on the pavement."
I agreed, and said as much. Bodie glared at me, probably wishing looks could kill.
That operation began inauspiciously, what with Bodie wishing me out of it and not troubling to hide the fact. He'd got used to me being around HQ--being around Doyle at HQ--but that was a far cry from constantly having to see my shining face on their op. He wasn't overtly hostile, but he was curt and aloof, and I could see Doyle noticing. Before long I was weighing the pleasure of working with Doyle against the discomfort of Bodie's eyes constantly drilling holes through me.
From inauspicious, matters went rapidly downhill.
To begin with, it was cold in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. A road--really more of a rutted track--ran to where we had to go, but their source claimed it was often watched, so we left Doyle's car on the main road well away from our destination and hoofed it through the woods. It was all of Bodie's mile and a half and then some. We weren't over halfway there when the rain began.
One of us--I don't know who; may even have been me--set off some sort of alarm in a security perimeter that wasn't supposed to exist. Next thing we knew, our mild-mannered chemist meeting with two buyers in a tumbledown cottage had turned into a confab of seven or eight irate gentlemen in a defensible snuggery, together with enough armament to wage a small war.
That was what we had, too, blundering about in the rainy dark. If they'd stayed put, we might still be there, trying to winkle them out. We'd positioned ourselves to have the whole house covered, and when they split into two groups and came out the front and side doors, I took a second to confirm our relative positions. In the downpour and the booming, fire-lanced dark, it would be easy to mistake the good guys for the bad.
Off to my left around the edge of the rough yard, I pinpointed Doyle by the flash from muzzle and ejector port. Bodie I couldn't see; a corner of the building stood between us, but I heard the crack of his pistol and a yelp that indicated he'd found his mark.
They brought the fight to us. I had all I could handle with two of them doing their level best to kill me, one armed with a cut-down twelve-gauge pump for which I had a healthy respect. Between the rain beating into my face and running down under my collar, the slick footing and the gingery chill of adrenaline along all my nerve endings, the noise and the flash of gunfire, and a certain amount of outright terror, the party got busy and confusing.
With no way to make a count, we had no idea they hadn't all rushed out. Bodie was cuffing the shotgunner to the sagging gate and I was cursing the limited range of my useless R/T when shots came from the house. I slipped and sat down suddenly in the mud. Doyle's gun spoke to my left. Looking that way, I saw the brass-plated maniac dash across the yard, lengthen stride to avoid two sprawled bodies, and dive headlong through a window.
"Stupid--" Bodie yelled, the rest lost in a barrage of gunfire. He tore past me towards the house, flung himself sideways and down as a flash leaped like lightning from the open door, accompanied by the thunder of another shotgun.
Two sharp reports inside. And silence.
"Doyle?" Bodie scrambled up and started for the house. "Doyle!"
Doyle's head and shoulders bloomed in the broken window against the incongruously cheerful yellow light. "Two dead in here. The Cow's unlikely to be pleased."
Under the rush of the rain, Bodie said something that might have been, "Bugger Cowley." After we'd scraped off layers of mud, he and I gathered up weapons, collected our spent magazines, and double-checked survivors--three, two of them lightly wounded. We'd just stepped into the spill of light from the front door when Doyle's shadow fell across us.
He reeled through the doorway. We both went for him as he fell.
I'd been hit in the right calf and couldn't move quickly, so Bodie got there first. By the time I reached them, he'd hauled Doyle inside and settled him on the floor in the main room. He cut away Doyle's blood- and rain-soaked jacket and shirt to reveal the entrance wound, well up on the left shoulder, and hoisted him enough to get at the exit wound in his back.
"Handkerchief," he snapped at me. I gave it to him. "Jesus," he kept muttering, "Jesus, Ray, how much are you expected to take...."
Ray Doyle looked pretty tough standing up, but not passed out cold on the floor. Judging by the quantity of blood on his clothes, he'd been hit long before he went through the window. He was clay-coloured, still bleeding sluggishly.
All the strength went out of me. My hands shook as I tore a piece from my shirttail and tied up my leg, fear chewing at me--my God, but it shocked me, realising just how scared I was, how deep my feelings went.
"Shift your arse," Bodie snarled, not even glancing my way. "Get back to the car and use the radio."
"Caught one in the leg," I told him. "Not feeling it much yet, but I soon will be--wouldn't make any kind of time. You'll have to go."
"Fuck that," he said with a rasp in his throat. "Doyle--"
"I'll watch him." I crawled closer, settled on Doyle's other side, edged Bodie's hands off the makeshift pads of Doyle's shirt and Bodie's and my handkerchiefs, and applied pressure. "Check the back room, get him a blanket or whatever you can find and get going."
"Fuck that," he said again, but he went, and returned with an armful of musty old bedding. He tucked Doyle up carefully and flung a blanket around my shoulders too, in afterthought. Then he hovered there, crouched at Doyle's side, as if he couldn't bring himself to go.
His head came up, set face paler than Doyle's, and his eyes were the eyes of a dangerous man. He was dangerous, wild with the barely controlled urge to commit violence. He had a bone-deep need to avenge Doyle's pain, and there was no target to hand, nowhere to put his precariously contained hate and fury.
"Collier." That was all he said, all he had to say; the plea and the threat were implicit--and very real.
"I won't let anything go wrong with Ray," I assured him.
A beat.... Then a dawning comprehension shifted into his eyes. Not as dim as he lets on, Bodie. He knew I was in love with Ray Doyle a matter of minutes after I'd figured it out myself. And he knew his feelings were an open book to me.
Some of the edge went off him. He inclined his head slightly, acknowledging my assurance...and my fear, I suppose. Maybe even my right to it.
Then he got to his feet, and he was out the door.
When Doyle came back to consciousness, the first thing he said was, "Bodie?"
"No, it's me."
"Can see that, stupid. Where the fuck's...Bodie?" A spasm of pain twisted his face. "Oh, God. He's dead, isn't he?"
"Ray--no. No. He's fine. Bodie's fine."
"You goddamn liar. Where is he, then?" His eyes were slitted, his skin blanched with shock and blood loss.
"Gone to radio. You need an ambulance, Ray."
His look smoked with pain and mistrust. "He'd...send you. Where is he?"
"For fuck's sake, Doyle." The lovely numbness had gone and my leg was giving me hell, which made me short with him. Even wounded, he was mulish enough to try the patience of a saint. "I got shot through the leg. Bodie's the only one of us with a whole hide."
Bless his black little heart, he apologised. "Shit...sorry." Every word required effort. He took in his breath on a ragged gasp. "Want me...have a look at it?"
I had to laugh. "Always reckoned you had more balls than brains. If I move my hands you'll probably pass out. Now shut up, there's a good boy."
He did, for a while, greying out again while I huddled over him worrying he'd slipped into blood-loss coma and wishing I'd paid closer attention in first-aid training. More shooting victims die of shock than bleed to death, I knew that, but which was more important, keeping Doyle propped up to have the wound above the level of his heart, or elevating his feet, which I dimly recollected was best for shock? He was wrapped up for warmth, at least. I knew that was right.
I reviewed what I could remember about the symptoms of shock. Cold, clammy, pale skin? Check. Rapid, weakening pulse? Didn't dare spare a hand from the wound, so I couldn't tell. Discomfort or pain? The man was half-dressed on a cold night, drenched, covered in gore, lying on a hard floor with a bullet hole through his shoulder--he was unlikely to be comfortable. What else? Enlarged pupils? His eyes were bloody shut. I racked my brain. Thirst? Couldn't ask with him passed out. Irritability? That was a big help. With Ray Doyle, irritability was hardly an aid to diagnosis.
Soon he was awake again--God, enlarged pupils--and clattering on about Bodie: Was I sure we'd accounted for all of the gang? Because Bodie was barging around in the dark with no one to back him up, and if one of them was laying for him--
"We got them all, Ray." I wasn't exactly lying. Our three survivors were cuffed to the pipe gate, and Doyle didn't need to be reminded there might be a man or two watching the road. Bodie wouldn't forget, I knew.
"Should've...gone with him...watch his back."
Did he honestly imagine either of us would've left him alone? "I'm shot, you bastard."
"Sorry. Forgot." His brows knitted in remorse.
He was grey and drawn, shivering so hard his teeth rattled together. Christ. Before I knew what I was about to do, I'd done it: I bent and kissed first the bridge of his nose, then his forehead, smoothing out the frown lines there.
He blinked at me, snickered, drew a shallow, hissing breath. "You're...strange one, Jase."
"Yes, I know. Belt up now, won't you?"
He did, and stayed belted; he didn't make another peep until Bodie got back, when he read him a lecture for going off alone, sounding truly put out about it. Then he told the ambulance crew to see to me first, since I was obviously delirious. And then he passed out again.
The doctor turned me loose that night. I was back the next afternoon, crutching my clumsy way down the corridor to look in on Doyle.
I stood a moment in the doorway of his private room, studying him. No longer so pale he could've been a ghost of himself, barring the blue jaw and the sulky scowl, he looked all right. He'd been lucky; his was a soft-tissue wound that missed the joint and the bone. He'd lost enough blood to be kept overnight, but there'd be no permanent damage and he wouldn't be out of commission long.
He caught sight of me in the doorway. "About time," he snarled, his fleeting look of pleased expectation at odds with the ire in his voice. Then his tone flattened out. "Oh. H'lo, Collier. You all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." I moved into the room and stood propped on my sticks. "I'll be off these by the weekend. You?"
"Be fine too, soon as they let me out of this bed." He ran his eyes over me. "Civvies. You sprung, then?"
"Since last night. Time off for good behaviour."
"Hear that?" said my rival, giving me a start. He'd come in behind me, cat-quiet, as he is when he wants to be. "You'll be here for ages, Goldilocks."
"Bodie," Doyle snapped, looking pleased as punch, "where the hell've you been? I want out of this shithole--"
"Filling up forms for Cowley." Bodie came on into the room and perched on the side of Doyle's bed. He spared me an accepting, even peaceable glance. "Doing your paperwork, Doyle, so less of your sweet nature, if you please. 'Thank you, Bodie, for doin' all my work whilst I'm malingerin', waited on hand and foot by hot and cold running nurses--'"
"Fuck right off," said Doyle, nasty as could be. "One nurse. Five foot tall, fifteen stone, one eyebrow over both eyes, an' she's ten years older than God." His eyes were lit with laughter.
Jesus, I thought. Heartbreaker. Bodie, you poor bastard, I know how you feel.
I did, but it was worse for Bodie, because in his own way Doyle certainly loved him. I was never going to see Ray Doyle look at me with that great warmth of affection glowing in his eyes and know that it wasn't what I wanted. Poor old Bodie saw that every day.
With our partners on the disabled list, Bodie and I worked together for several weeks. We never spoke of Doyle. He was, for both of us, a bittersweet dream, a wouldn't-it-be-lovely-ah-but-it's-impossible fantasy. Doyle was on the far side of reality, while Bodie and I were right here, together, on the near side. I've told and told myself it was inevitable we'd turn to each other, so far gone on our common object of devotion that we wound up sleeping together.
It was good with us. Really--good. Never the grand passion, but it was matey and, truth be known, it was mutually convenient. CI5 being our employer, our sex life necessitated a certain amount of intrigue, and sneaking around added excitement to the proceedings. Not that any extra was needed--Bodie's what you might call a mattress athlete, and I've never been shy. For four months, long after our respective partners were back on the active roster, we burned plenty of calories and a good time was had by all.
We never forgot who we were screwing, though. I never closed my eyes and pretended it was Ray I was with, and I know Bodie didn't. We weren't loving.
Unavoidably, with us getting together for a friendly fuck as often as we did, Bodie spent fewer off-duty hours with Doyle than he had done. It didn't escape Doyle's notice. Despite his blind spot where lovesick male co-workers were concerned, there wasn't much he missed. Baffled, off his balance with his partner, he showed it in typically arse-backwards Doyle fashion: he was nice to Bodie. His sarcasm and snappishness dwindled, then disappeared.
Bodie knew Doyle was hurting, which made him miserable in turn. As long as he had the dubious honour of receiving the sharp edge of Doyle's tongue, he knew he was loved; a sweet-as-sugar Doyle was a stranger, and that cut Bodie to the heart.
We never meant to hurt Ray. It just happened.
We damn well never meant him to find out about us. That just happened, too.
They treated each other's flats as jointly owned property, so by tacit agreement Bodie and I got together at my place where there was no danger of Doyle wandering in at an awkward moment. The one time we used Bodie's bed, Doyle was up north on a solo operation. Cowley had said he'd be three weeks gone, and it'd only been ten days.
I'd seen the end approaching. Bodie would call a halt to us, because Doyle was wondering what he'd done wrong, why his partner hadn't as much time for him as he used to do. And Bodie really shot the works that day. I knew his spectacular performance was a sort of finale, a farewell fuck. Wasn't sure how I felt about that, either.... A little sorry. Maybe a little blue.
When the buzzer sounded, Bodie'd just sprawled flat and wasn't about to get up to answer it. As for me, I sincerely doubted my knees would hold me.
"Leave it," I panted.
"Bloody right I will, I'm due a kip." Another buzz. "G'way," Bodie mumbled, draping his arm across his face. "Nobody home."
The next thing we heard was the door opening, and then Doyle's voice: "Bodie? It's me."
Bodie said, "Shit," very softly. He bolted off the bed and scrabbled for his clothes.
"It's gone one, you're never still asleep?" said Doyle, from nearer. "Bodie? You alone?"
Say no, I mouthed at Bodie, but he wasn't looking at me and, like a stupid arsehole, said, "Yeah." Doyle put his dishevelled head round the door.
A right pair of red-handed fools we must've looked: me splayed frozen on the bed in all my sticky, sweaty post-coital splendour; Bodie frantically hopping on one foot, struggling to climb into his twisted-up underpants.
It isn't so much Doyle's expression I remember as Bodie's. I've never seen a man disembowelled alive, but if ever I do, I expect the look on his face will be the one I saw then.
"Thought I'd stand you lunch," said Doyle in a stranger's voice.
I let out one bray of hysterical laughter, then choked back the rest. Doyle didn't so much as glance my way.
Bodie shot me a look that would've blistered paint at twenty paces. "You're in fucking Leeds," he snapped at Doyle.
"No, I'm...I've finished. Cowley's ecstatic, he's given me two days...."
Doyle's eyes had gone suspiciously bright. Up to then I'd been blanked, but when Ray shut his eyes it thumped me hard in the gut and twisted up under my ribs and Christ, I felt bad. He had a scrape under his right eye, along the misaligned cheekbone, like the other bloke had got in one lucky glancing blow. He looked dead tired and desperately unhappy.
"I'm sorry," he said, choky and quiet, and he was gone.
Bodie turned his pants right side out, pulled them on, and sat heavily on the edge of the bed. He moved like a man who'd taken a terrible beating--which, in a way, he had. I watched him, half expecting I'd need to defend myself; logically I wasn't to blame, but right then it wouldn't have surprised me if he'd gone for my throat with his teeth.
There was no anger in him, no fight. He just sat, hunched and miserable, despair rolling off him in palpable waves. I felt bad for Ray, but I ached for Bodie's sake. He was shattered. Bodie only has one truly soft spot in him, and that spot had just been dealt a death blow.
Ray'd had tears in his eyes.
I'd thought I had only the one soft spot myself, but it turned out I had two. Felt like an idiot, the big, bad CI5 agent with his heartstrings in knots over two other big, bad CI5 agents. Human beings are absurd, you know. Sex is a messy, undignified pastime. Love.... Just then love seemed like the greater of any two evils.
"Bodie." Someone had to do something about this fiasco. "Go and talk to him. Right now."
He gave a peculiar all-over shudder. When he spoke he sounded hollowed out, as if the substance of him were gone. "You reckon sooner's better than later?"
"You know Doyle. The longer you leave it, the bigger he'll make it."
"Yeah." I had his profile. I saw the single twitch of a muscle in his cheek, barely lifting the corner of his mouth. "By Monday the Apocalypse could be upon us."
"Turn round here." He did, showing me a face set like stone. The anguish in his eyes made me want to smash something. Instead, I got up on my knees and patted him. "Bodie, it's Ray. He'll get over it. Nothing could break you two apart."
He didn't believe me. Don't know that I believed me, either, right then. My tone didn't sound convincing even to me. "Shower before you go over there," I said, feeling futile and sad. "You smell of us."
I was on tenterhooks the rest of the day, wondering how bad the damage would prove to be. Bloody Murphy, he could've spoke plainer all those months ago. Between Doyle and Bodie was the last place I wanted to be, and not because I was worried for my own skin. Every time I remembered the look on Bodie's face and the way Doyle just shut his eyes against the sight of us, as though it caused him physical pain, I felt like a total shit.
It was after ten when the telephone rang. I knew it would be Bodie on the line, but I had no least notion which Bodie and was very much afraid it'd be the same man I'd sent off to Doyle's.
"Thought I should call," he said, level-spoken, giving nothing away.
I asked, feeling cautious, "How're things?"
"Couldn't be better."
He meant it. The words were a commonplace, his voice hadn't altered...but I sensed he'd meant precisely what he'd said. The knowledge was just there, suddenly, aching in my head and my heart and my gut, that I'd never understood one goddamn thing about Raymond bloody Doyle.
Something in my chest clenched like an empty fist. I had to sit down, I was that winded. "You're a fortunate sod, Bodie."
"I am," he said. "See you Monday, Collier."
First thing the following Monday I saw them in the break room. Bodie was smug as a cat with two tails, wearing that little Bodie-loves-Bodie smirk on his face and his heart on his sleeve. Doyle was in a snit, blasting him for some trivial offence. When Anson thought he'd intervene on Bodie's behalf, Bodie told him to get stuffed.
They were enjoying themselves hugely. I should've been jealous. Hell, I knew I would be...as soon as I'd settled to my satisfaction which of them to be jealous of.
Murphy brought his coffee over and sat beside me. He watched the Bodie-and-Doyle act with a beatific smile that faded when he caught my glance. "Your first day on the job," he told me after Doyle had left the room like a typhoon coming ashore, sweeping Bodie up in his wake, "I expected one of those two would kill you."
"Don't know where you got that idea."
Murphy drooped one eyelid in a wink. "I'm a student of human nature."
"You're the biggest loon in this asylum," I corrected him.
He sipped from his mug, watching me over its rim, measuring my mood. Murph is nobody's fool.
I quite like Murphy. I like Siddeley, too, very much, and we seem to suit; we've been teamed over a year now. I keep out of Cowley's way as much as possible, we all do, and like everyone else, when I can't stay out of his way I try to keep to his windy side.
And I'm still in love. I don't think that's likely to change any time soon.
What worries me is, sometimes I wonder if I'm not still a little bit in love with Doyle as well. He knows if he doesn't keep Bodie happy there's someone who'd leap at the chance to try. Not that Bodie would have me: I'm not Doyle, after all.
Doyle's as moody as ever, so I suppose he does make Bodie happy. As for Bodie, he's head over heels, same as always. Some things never change.
It's unlikely I'll ever find out who seduced whom: the only way would be to ask, and I don't fancy having my face rearranged. Doyle's never treated me any differently, never said a word, angry or otherwise, about that day at Bodie's flat. I honestly think he expects everyone to fall smitten at Bodie's feet as a matter of course and doesn't hold it against me as I couldn't have done anything else.
Bodie and Doyle still row and banter and repel all boarders. The rumours still flurry round them and nobody believes a word. I know the score, and I'm ninety-nine percent certain Murphy does. Only God and George Cowley know what Cowley thinks, and neither one is saying.
But I know what to look for, and I still look, and Ray Doyle is just the same as ever he was. Which goes to show that he's an unfathomable creature at best. In his case, I didn't recognise what I was staring straight at all along.
One afternoon last month, Siddeley and I were scheduled to relieve Bodie and Doyle on an eyes-and-ears job in Kensington. I arrived early, walked in and caught Bodie kissing the back of Doyle's neck.
He saw it was only me and said, "Oops," mildly enough.
Doyle never glanced away from his binoculars. "H'lo, Collier," he said. "Bodie, you lazy bastard, you won't get round me that way. It's your turn to write the effing report."
-- THE END --
Originally published in A Third Priority A-3, IDP Press, 2001