Gradually the rapid hammering of his heart slowed down and the colour returned to his face, only the barely perceptible trembling of his hands betrayed his nervous state. For an awful moment back there he had thought, that against all the odds someone had recognised him. Again he scanned the faces in the crowded club for a familiar one, and thankfully drew a blank. He knew that he must be mad to have come here in the first place, it could only cause trouble. Damn his insatiable curiosity, he thought to himself. He had successfully kept his thoughts away from this danger area for years. Why now? he asked himself. He was happy enough with his life the way it was, why on earth should he start looking for trouble. If only that barman at the hotel had kept his mouth shut, he wouldn't be in this mess now, he continued to think bitterly. It had all been there; the slightly disapproving look, the little nod of the head as one man gave the other a piece of well meaning advice, the knowing wink of approval in the direction of the very attractive young lady sitting at the other end of the bar.
"That's not a place I'd care to recommend, Sir," the barman said. "Not the type of place where a man could find anything interesting. I've been told that it's all very respectable in there, but the likes of you and me, Sir, would probably feel more than a little out of place."
The barman had then moved to the other end of the bar to serve someone else. Without making a conscious decision he had finished his drink, left the hotel and walked down the road to the club in question. Now he was again in control of his brain, he looked around the room, checking on all his escape routes.
The club was indeed, seemingly very respectable. The attached restaurant served a very high class and expensive menu, and the decor and furnishings in the main club room were tastefully luxurious. On the surface the clientele appeared 'normal' enough. It was really only when one's eyes strayed to the fairly crowded dance floor that the strangeness of the situation struck you. Mingling with the mixed couples dancing away to the music were several closely entwined same-sex pairs, enjoying the closeness and music in the dim light with uninhibited abandon.
Totally unused to this particular situation, he sat feeling rather like the proverbial wallflower, all alone at his cosy-little-table-for-two in the dimly lit alcove and watched, too scared to join in, petrified that someone might ask him to and half afraid that no-one would.
"Have you any idea what time the floor show starts?"
The deep voice with its softly spoken question startled him, he jumped and splashed his drink over his hand and the polished table top.
"No," he tried to cover up his surprise and looked up into a pleasantly friendly face. "I didn't know there was going to be a show. I thought it was dancing all night."
"This is your first visit here then?" The black clad figure enquired politely, still standing by the table.
Looking up at the stranger, he smiled inwardly. A variation of the 'do you come here often' routine. Apart from the absence of a different gender it seemed as if the rules of play didn't change much. The thought was comforting. If the rules were the same he knew how to play.
"Yes, it is." The stranger was still standing there and he saw the shadowed eyes slide to the vacant seat. The man looked friendly enough, he reasoned with himself and he hadn't come here to sit by himself all night had he? His mouth was dry and his palms were sweaty as he forced himself causally to invite the stranger to sit down.
"Thanks," the stranger said, as he slid himself into the chair, "You're not waiting for someone then?"
He shook his head. Fortunately, right then the music stopped and the lights were turned up. The next hour was taken up with an excellent floor show, he experienced one or two embarrassing remarks when the comic, obviously playing to his audience, made several rather blue and wildly appreciated gay jokes. Even as his blushes died away his brain identified the degree of difference in the comic's jokes in this club it wasn't the outrageous stereotype gay who was ridiculed.
Between and during the acts he cast surreptitious glances at the stranger. The face seemed stern and rather daunting, the closed cropped hair accentuating that look, but each time the stranger smiled it seemed as if the blue eyes lit up and the man's face became softer, more approachable. He could feel the dark haired stranger looking at him, but didn't have the nerve to turn his head to meet the inquisitive stare. He knew that he was behaving like a pimply adolescent, but that bit of self-knowledge didn't help much. Beneath the attack of nerves though, he could feel the anticipation beginning to bubble up and became acutely conscious of the black corduroy leg that occasionally brushed against his as the stranger moved, each contact causing the excitement to come bubbling to the surface.
At last, and to a burst of thunderous applause, the cabaret finished, the house lights dimmed again and music began to entice dancers back onto the floor. The two men looked at each other, finally acknowledging each others presence and intent.
"My name's... John." At the last minute he decided against using his real name. The stranger responded with a smile, but the momentary hesitation was there too.
"Hello, John, I'm... Bill."
Green eyes met blue and both faces crinkled into wide smiles as they acknowledged the lies.
"Don't tell me, John Smith?"
"And I suppose you're Bill Bailey?"
"Bit more original than John Smith," was the quick retort, and the blue eyes twinkled in amusement.
"Well," Bill Bailey peered into his empty glass, "Now that we've been introduced, can I buy you a drink?"
As he watched Bill Bailey fight his way to the bar, he wondered what his real name was. Did everyone in these places use false names? Now the stranger's face was averted talking to the barman, he felt happier about taking a good long look at his companion. He eyed him critically; his stance, bearing and manner, the short cropped hair, he could almost picture him in a uniform, an army type perhaps -- one of the forces almost certainly. Unconsciously he fingered the hair resting on his collar, he must remember to get it cut before going back to work. It was about the only thing he really grumbled about continuously, his hair seemed to grow about three times as quickly as everyone else's.
Bill Bailey arrived back at the small table with the first round of drinks and after an awkward start as they each found their feet the conversation began to flow with caustic and witty comments about the state of the world, quality of the beer and who was or wasn't going to win this year's FA cup. The conversation was fairly typical of two young fellas having a chat over a couple of pints except women were never mentioned once. By an unspoken agreement neither man asked any personal questions and the evening sped by. Almost too soon the club began to slow down and couples drifted off in the direction of home.
"Would you like to go somewhere else?" enquired Bailey casually. John Smith gave a nervous start as he raised his eyes to see his companion -- for the night?
"Okay, what did you have in mind... I mean where?"
"I'm booked into the Palace Hotel just up the road, the bar there usually stays open until about three." Bailey watched the green eyes widen temporarily and wondered what on earth he had said, he didn't want to frighten him off now.
"Oh," Smith gave a small grunt of surprise, then by way of explanation said, "I'm booked into the Palace as well."
"It's a small world. I'm in 721."
"Bloody hell," Smith raised his eyes heavenward, "Hello, neighbor, I'm in 723."
The coincidence took them into a discussion on the vagaries of fate which lasted the short time it took them to walk back to their hotel, but when they got there the bar was in darkness, the only signs of life being the hotel porter sitting behind the reception desk. They reclaimed their room keys and walked into the waiting elevator. The silence between them was strained and awkward and John Smith found himself wondering if his companion felt as nervous as he did. Leaving the lift they walked along the carpeted corridor, shoulder to shoulder. On reaching the first of their rooms the dark haired stranger spoke over his shoulder as he opened his door.
"To set the music, I have a bottle of whiskey inside if you still feel like another drink?" The door swung open and he stepped into the room.
Standing in the corridor, Smith felt conspicuous and rather foolish, wasn't this what he had been heading for ever since entering the club. Slowly, he followed Bailey into the room and closed the door. The room was considerably larger than his own next door and his eyes swiftly took in the double bed which dominated the room.
Bailey had removed his jacket and placed it on the hanging rail. Silently he then held out his hand for his guest's jacket. Firmly pushing any qualms about the implication behind the simple act, Smith shrugged off his own jacket and passed it over with a shy smile.
Leaving their jackets hanging side by side, Bailey disappeared into the bathroom to emerge almost immediately with two glasses.
"Not exactly crystal d'arques but at least they're not plastic. I hope you like your scotch neat."
"That's fine by me." Smith sat on the edge of the bed and when the drinks were poured Bailey passed the glass over and sat himself down on the stool, close by, but not touching the nervous man on the end of his bed.
Had he made a mistake, he wondered. Smith or whatever his real name was, was really looking quite anxious. A nervous first timer wasn't the companion he'd been looking for, he didn't want to have to coax or cajole anyone into anything, the whole idea behind going into the club had been to find a willing and eager partner. As soon as he'd seen the somber handsome figure sitting alone he'd been drawn to him, something about the way he was looking so longingly at a couple of young men dancing together had told him that maybe here was a man seeking the same thing he was. He certainly wasn't new to all this, all too often in the past he'd turned to a companion for relief because women had been a rare commodity in the circles he had moved in. Whenever presented with a choice though he always chosen female, but over the past few years he'd grown increasingly dissatisfied, maybe all that time in Africa had changed him more than he'd realised. Tonight, for the first time ever, he had actively sought out a male partner, and he'd found one, the only problem was deciding what to do with him.
"Do you do this often?" he asked quietly, then leaned back against the dressing table, watching the figure perched, as if ready for flight, on the edge of the bed.
"No. Do you?"
There was a moment as quiet green eyes met calculating blue.
"Tell me, John Smith, are you gay?"
"No." The denial was sharp -- too sharp.
"Is that 'no' or 'not sure', I mean to say, why else would you be sitting in a gay nightclub?" Bailey asked reasonably.
"I'm not gay," Smith repeated, "I was just--"
"Curious? Have you ever made it with another man?"
Immediately Smith was swamped by memories which he had tried to block out for years. Dark forbidden memories of a hot teenage summer when he had experimented and found love with a school friend.
Most certainly yes. That summer he'd spent with Gary had taught him a lot about life, sex, love and ultimately disappointment. Ever since Gary had moved away and they'd lost touch he had never found anything to match up to the wonderful feeling they had shared. Recently he'd begun to despair of ever finding someone who could reach him in the same way Gary had, maybe it had all been a stupid adolescent dream. The barman had triggered all the hidden memories earlier this evening, that's why he'd gone to the club -- to find another Gary. Bill Bailey was nothing like Gary and John Smith felt his nerve ends tingling with anticipation, he remembered the electric sensations he'd felt in the club when the corduroy leg had brushed against his own -- No, he hadn't found Gary -- but he had an idea that what he had found was going to be even better.
"Oh, yes," he repeated, the slightly dreamy smile more one of anticipation than of past memories.
Again their eyes met, but this time they were both tuned in to each other, as one they stood up, face to face and their lips met in a tentative kiss which slowly deepened.
"John Smith, you're shaking like a leaf." Bailey ran his hands up and down the slender frame, calming and trying to reassure.
"Like I said, I don't make a habit of this sort of thing."
"Neither do I, but don't worry -- I'm not into rape."
"Is that a promise?"
Bailey smiled into the still slightly anxious face of his partner and then drew the curly head closer and claimed the parted lips, exploring and tasting the whisky sweet mouth. Gradually the quality of the kiss changed as Smith began to explore in return and assert his own presence.
Clothes were slowly discarded, a shirt, a tie, another shirt, zips were drawn down and trousers pushed away and slipped off, socks and briefs were dropped onto the carpet. The heat of flesh on flesh was contrasted by the crisp cold of the sheets, but the cold was only a minor sensation that was lost in the whirlpool that engulfed the entwined bodies as they swept onto oblivion.
During the night they awoke again and again to entice each other to the peak and down again. Sometime during the night they had a strange half conversation as sated, they began to drift into an exhausted sleep.
"What's your real name?"
"Does it really matter?"
"Knew it wasn't Smith."
"I'll be gone in the morning anyway."
"Go to sleep Bill Bailey."
"I'd really like to know your name."
As he finally succumbed to sleep he wasn't sure if he dreamt the soft whisper in his hear. "Ray, my name is Ray."
When he awoke next morning, Ray Doyle found himself held prisoner by a pair of arms. Carefully, and without waking the still sleeping man, he extricated himself from the possessive grip and slipped out of the bed. Quickly and quietly he dressed and then retrieved his jacket. He began to move towards the door when his gaze fell upon the sleeping man.
Last night had solved nothing, in fact it had only made matters worse. Compared to last night what he had shared with Gary had been an adolescent dream. Last night had been the real thing -- and he knew it. If had he been dissatisfied before, God knows how he was going to feel now. But he couldn't stay, he couldn't wait until Bailey woke up, what would that achieve -- nothing. In the harsh light of day everything could well turn sour, it was best to leave now so nothing could spoil the memory. Quickly, before he could change his mind, Doyle left the room.
When Bodie finally woke he wasn't surprised to find himself alone. A quick look around the room told him that his companion had well and truly gone. He lay back on the pillows, turning his head he saw the indentation another head had made on the next pillow. Apart from a strange sense of loss, it was the only evidence that anyone else had ever been there.
Trying to shake off his mood, Bodie got up and prepared to leave the hotel. He was due back at the depot sometime this evening and there was nothing the hang around the hotel for. He knew that John Smith would probably have left by now. Unbidden, the memory of soft lips nuzzling against his ear and a softly whispered name returned to him, at least he had a name for his dreams.
A short while later while he was in reception settling his bill he saw the receptionist leave the register on the desk top. Casually, he pulled the book over and turned the pages back, searching through the room numbers until he found it. Room 723, Mr. R. Doyle, address London. He pushed the book back with a sigh. How many Ray Doyle's lived in London, he wondered, but then forcibly pushed the thought away. Last night was last night. If Ray Doyle had wanted any more he would still have been there this morning -- and he wasn't. Bodie picked up his case and left the hotel.
The door opened and a tall fair-haired man walked in, picked up a file from a desk and left again, barely acknowledging the brooding figure perched on the windowsill in the corner of the room. As the door closed, Bodie gave a sigh, how much longer was he going to have to wait? He looked at his wristwatch and was amazed that only a few minutes had passed since he last looked, seemingly hours ago. It won't be him, he told himself, it would be too much of a coincidence, and if it was, what would they do, ignore it, pretend it had never happened? Impatiently he stood up and stared out over the buildings, it just wasn't possible. Somewhere along the corridor, just the other side of that door, a certain Mr. Raymond Doyle was getting the official welcome-to-CI5 bit, that Bodie had received only yesterday. Once the meeting was over he was going to be sent along to this very room to meet his proposed partner. They would have what remained of the afternoon to get to know each other before reporting to the training establishment at 6 o'clock the next morning.
Behind him, Bodie heard the door open and footsteps as someone came in, then the sound of the door closing. "Are you Bodie?"
The familiar voice almost made Bodie jump. Slowly he turned from the window. He saw the recognition flare in the wide green eyes.
"That's right. You must be Ray Doyle." He forced his voice to remain neutral, but was alert to every minute expression in Doyle's face.
"Bodie," Doyle repeated softly. "What's your first name?" He couldn't believe his eyes.
"Just Bodie. I don't use my forenames -- much," he added as an afterthought, remembering an occasion, one night almost a year ago, when he had. He looked intently into the expressive green eyes and saw the shock of recognition being replaced by disbelief and then darken as disappointment took over. Why was he disappointed, Bodie wondered. Was it because he'd never wanted to meet him again or because he'd seen no answering recognition. Bodie could feel his heart speeding up and his breathing quicken, he knew he wanted this man, wanted him more than he had ever wanted anything. It would be impossible to work closely if his feelings were unreciprocated or unwanted, whatever the outcome, they had to talk about what happened that night -- now.
"Ray Doyle," he whispered. "Do you have any idea how may R. Doyle's there are in the London telephone directory." Smiling he walked over to the stunned man. Doyle slowly shook his head. "Twenty two, and fourteen R. Doyle's with unlisted numbers. That's without counting all the R. Doyle's who don't have telephones."
"You looked in the register," Doyle accused.
"I wanted to but... afterwards I wished I had."
"You wanted to find me?"
"Because I wanted to... I couldn't get you out of my mind." Smiling now and relaxed, Doyle touched his hand to Bodie's cheek. "Bodie," he said softly, "suits you much better than Bill Bailey."
"We're supposed to spend the rest of the afternoon getting to know each other. What do you fancy doing?"
"Well," Doyle said thoughtfully, "I think I already know you but a year is a long time. I wouldn't mind a refresher course."
"Do you really think we're going to be able to work together, this is a tough organization?"
"Can't fight fate, can we?"
"Same hotel, adjoining rooms, same club and now -- working partners. I'd say that someone up there is pretty determined that we get together, one way or another."
"Well, if you put it like that -- I've got a really terrific bottle of scotch at home, d' you fancy coming over and helping me finish it off while we get to know each other better?"
In agreement the duo moved off along the corridors and out of the building, unaware that their exit from the CI5 nerve center was being observed. Watching them walk away, their heads close together in conversation, George Cowley shook his head in amazement. He really wouldn't have believed it possible. Against his better judgment he had been persuaded to allow all his agents details, psychological profiles, professional background, personal histories, in fact every single piece of information he had on his men, to be fed into the CI5 computer, and the computer had matched up the men into working teams, some it had left to work solo.
On paper it had seemed as if Bodie and Doyle had been opposites in everything, personality, temperament and ideology, if it had been his decision he would have left Bodie solo and placed Doyle with someone else -- anyone except Bodie.
The two men were almost out of sight now, but you could still see that they were deep in conversation. Looking at them, George Cowley acknowledged that the computer seemed to have made a good choice, a person looking on would find it hard to believe that the two young men had never known of each other's existence until a brief thirty minutes ago.
-- The End --