Romantic It Ain't


Party Spirit series #16: After "Takeaway"

Cowley's idea sounded quite reasonable until I laid eyes on the 'member of the Hong Kong force' Doyle was going to shack up with pro tem--then I wondered what made him think Ray was going to have his mind on the job for more than five minutes in any one day, the jammy little sod. Still, he's a natural as a barrow boy; born to make a living out on the streets of Soho, and I told him so as I went past early one morning. He looked me up and down, unwashed, unkempt, five days old stubble 'n all.

"Where d'you spent your nights, then?" he asked. "Hungerford Bridge?"

"Something like that--after a decent meal to restore the tissues."

"Fred's caff?"

I told him, "The Carlton Tower," and he laughed until he cried.

"You'll never get Cowley to sign that expense chit."

"You'd be surprised. Do anything for me, the Old Man would."

His snort was vulgar even for him, but he couldn't say anything as a couple of customers arrived to claim his attention and I went on my way.

It was the first time I'd seen Ray laugh properly since I ran out on him that morning, so chicken I was laying eggs. Took me over a week and a different bird every night to convince myself I was still masculine, let alone a big boy who was safe out on his own. As for Ray, he was so pissed off with me he was meticulously polite, freezing me out every time I tried to talk to him outside the job. Didn't blame him, but that didn't stop me longing to dot him one for being so aggravating. Anyhow, all that nonsense went out the window once we were embroiled in something serious. Ray's got more sense than to jeopardise a job.

I was the one who'd nearly done that by not being able to handle what I'd done, what I'd made him do. One thing, it wasn't likely he'd ask to do it to me again and that suited me fine. I thought it'd suit me just fine too if we let things cool down a bit, stopped making it together quite so often. Seemed it'd be OK with him, the way he settled down to domestic bliss with his temporary partner. Very temporary, I reminded myself, resentful of anyone who presented a threat to Cowley's best pairing. Stupid idea, shacking him up with a cute little Chinese bird who had the worst case of Doyleitis I'd seen in years. The pair of them looked like Darby and Joan from the first week they were together.

Luckily I didn't see much of them...didn't want to, all that cosiness being a bit over-powering at close quarters. Thought about 'em a lot, though, for some reason. Always felt unsettled when he's off on his own. Not safe to be out....

Felt a distinct sense of relief when it was all over and her ladyship was flying home. Went to the flat to pick 'em up and ferry her to Heathrow; told Ray his car was in for servicing. It wasn't, but it gave me an excuse to make sure she left as promised. Silly little bitch snivelled all over him in the back of the car all the way past Hounslow. I pretended not to notice, being a gentleman and tactful to boot.

"Nice little thing," I said as he got in beside me after making a meal of kissing her goodbye. I could see her peering at him from the escalator as it carried her out of our lives. He shrugged.

I let in the clutch and pulled away, guarding my tongue. So I was going to be frozen out again now the job was over, was I? That's what he thought!

Or was he really feeling choked up, saying goodbye to Esther?

Had a horrible moment realising they'd probably welcome him with open arms in the Hong Kong police....

"Did some shopping this morning," I said awkwardly. "Knew you wouldn't have time to get anything in at your own place."

"Very considerate of you. Must 'ave a guilty conscience." He stared ahead, carefully avoiding my eye. I kept quiet after that, never one to rush upon my doom.

It seemed ironic how close we'd felt coming the heavy mob with Dieter Kroll 'n his pals. Not a very nice feeling knowing you do your best work with an smg in your hands.

We had a few free days after that, same as we usually do when we've been working undercover for any length of time. We were both of us between birds again, neither of us yet having met the long-suffering ones who don't mind waiting patiently for us not to show up, and cheerfully see themselves home when we're called in off stand-by, or take themselves out with the girlfriend when we're unavailable for weeks on end... I'd planned on spending an evening with one of my current list early on in this last case, but I took one look at myself in the mirror and went right off the notion. Plus I couldn't stand the way I smelled even after half an hour in the bath...CI5 has a lot to answer for.

I picked up a couple of girls over the next two evenings; they were good for a few drinks and quick fuck 'n farewell. Usually I like to take 'em home, let them do the cooking beforehand and get my breakfast next day, but for some reason I didn't feel up to making that much effort. I wanted...well, to be honest I didn't know what I wanted, only that I felt restless, unsettled.

In the end I rang Doyle.

"Yes, I'm on my own," he said warily. "What d'you want?"

"Bit of company. Someone to drink with. I'll even buy you dinner, if you like?"

"If you're talking about another McDonald's..."

Mistrustful bugger. "How about the Bistingo in Kensington?" It was close enough to his place for us to walk there; no restrictions on our alcohol intake, which suited my mood.

"Sounds OK."

"Good. I'll be round about 7.30."

Thought we'd both struck luck in the pub afterwards with a pair of easy-looking birds, but the minute things got interesting they both started flapping their hands in front of their faces and moaning about the garlic on our breath, so we ended up arm in arm on the doorstep at closing time, mournfully watching their swift retreat.

"Told you we shouldn't have had onion soup and scampi provencale," I said sadly, "but you wouldn't listen."

"Well, you didn't have to have 'em too, did you."

"Self-defence. Pure self-defense. Wasn't going to spend the evening with you taking the enamel off me teeth every time you laughed." I led him off into the back streets of Earl's Court. "Besides, I like eating garlic--Aunt Gwyneth thought it was filthy, foreign and decadent so I eat it in non-loving memory."

"Aunt Gwyneth--you mentioned her once before."

"Only once?" Actually, I was surprised I'd done so at all: a right royal pain in the arse, my Aunt Gwyneth.

"The only member of your family I've ever heard you mention, come to that," he added thoughtfully.

"Perhaps that's because she's the only one I had anything to do with." He stared at me suspiciously. "Brought me up, she did," I explained.

Suspicion deepened. "So what happened to your Mum and Dad? Where were they?"

"Dead. Mum died when I was three, Dad about six months later. According to Aunt Gwyneth he knew he'd never amount to anything without my mum to push him and he just gave up. Dunno whether she was right or not, she never had much patience with men...or small boys either."

"Are you serious?" He stopped walking to glare at me.

"Why shouldn't I be? Yes, for what it's worth." I shrugged, changing the subject. "Have you seen a paper this evening? What's the cricket score?"

"I dunno. That's a pretty snide thing to say about someone's father."

"Believed in speaking her mind, didn't she. Always told you what she thought and it was never anything nice. I hated the old bitch, if you must know. She was a chapel-going kill-joy who made my life a misery and if I knew where they'd put her I'd probably go and dance on her grave, but I ran way the day she dropped dead in the Co-op."

"Ran away?" He blinked.

I nodded, knowing he'd always been curious and for some reason prepared to talk about it for once. "I didn't fancy going into care. Reckoned I'd had enough nagging to last me a lifetime, so I bunked off sharpish. Came down to London and got a job on one of those river steamers that ran down to Southend."

"Oh, so that's why...."

"Yeah, that's why."

He didn't say anything more, just stared at me sideways as he began walking again.

"Coming in?" he asked as we approached his front door.

Relieved my time in the Doyle doghouse seemed to be over I nodded. "I could do with a bucket of coffee. My mouth's as dry as a camel-herder's socks."

"Put the kettle on then," he said, disappearing in the direction of his bathroom.

Around midnight I made noises about leaving but he tut-tutted softly. "Why break up a good evening? Why not stay and sleep here with me? Or anything else you want." His gaze slid away from mine--I'd say shyly if that didn't sound too bloody implausible.

I won't often admit to being shaken but the way he looked at that moment did something odd to me so that my stomach was jumping uncomfortably.

I blurted out, "I missed you, you know," heard myself say it and wondered if it was possible I'd gone soft in the head without anyone realising.

"Missed me?"

"Yeah. She was a nice girl, good at her job..." I could admit that now she was safely gone, "...but I'm your partner, for Christ's sake. Cowley should have thought of some way of using the two of us. And what are you grinning all over your fat face for," I added belligerently.

"Well, I suppose the pair of us setting up together in domestic harmony's just about credible but I doubt if the CI5 budget runs to plastic surgery to make you look Chinese. Could have 'ad a lot of fun waxing your legs for a cheongsam though," he reflected. "And you'd look no end cute in high heels. Are you staying the night then, or d'you want me to call a taxi for you?"

I was scared of staying but I didn't want to go; I took so long trying to make up my mind it was too late anyway and he was prodding me ahead of him into the bathroom where it was easy to stop feeling apprehensive when faced with the homely sight of the Doyle face half obscured by toothpaste while the noise he made with the brush drowned out the sound of me piddling. I suppose that's what makes a marriage work, accepting the small indignities of each other's lives. Romantic it ain't. I put out my hand for his toothbrush, telling myself that one of these days I should buy one to keep here instead of borrowing his all the time. And his toothpaste isn't the brand I prefer either.

He had a blob of it on the side of his nose, white against his skin; wetting my fingers under the tap I dabbed it away for him, half tempted to lick him clean but afraid I might start in kissing him if I did and not at all sure what my reception would be if I did. I wanted to kiss him, see what it felt like, if it was any different--apart from the stubble. Wondered if you could really tell any difference if you didn't know beforehand...couldn't see why you should...

He tugged at my shirt and began unbuttoning it, head bent, absorbed in his task, the tip of his tongue protruding slightly, tempting me. But then his hands parted the material and his fingers curled over my ribcage, ticklish and warm and I forgot everything but his touch; his mouth nuzzled my neck, tongue daring out to define my collarbone, using his teeth but not hard enough to hurt, and I wondered why he was being so sweet when he'd been so furious with me after last time. Told myself not to be so bloody stupid; if I'd wanted predictability I should've picked someone else to play around with. I squirmed as his nails scraped my ribs, and my hardness grazed awkwardly on his, both of us straining at trousers unzipped but still fastened at the waistband.

He took me to his bed.

Sixty-nine has always been one of those interesting numbers, elusive as the square root of minus one, unresolveable as pi, satisfying as two plus two. I'd forgotten nothing of his taste, nothing of his texture, and I wondered why I'd let it go so long since the last enjoyable foray... His mouth on me at the same time threatened my sanity.

He licked me clean afterwards and I did the same for him. He fell asleep with his arm and leg thrown over me, his breath puffing across my lips. Too boneless to move I don't know when I followed his example.

I woke slowly, still half dreaming, vague dreams of warmth and belonging which faded as I opened my eyes. His were close, studying me. I smiled, sleepy and unwilling to speak.

"Well, you're still here," he said tartly. "S'pose that's something."

I looked away, troubled. After a moment he said in a softer tone, "Look, if you don't want to talk about this then that's OK with me. But at least tell me you don't. Don't just walk out on me all the time."

"We're doing all right," I said uncomfortably, "the way we are. Don't see we need to go making a lot of it, do you?"

His face seemed to argue the point and his body went tense like it does when he's spoiling for a fight, but he said, "That's OK then. So long as we know where we are."

"I'm sorry about last time," I made myself say.

"So am I. I should have made sure it was OK with you first."

"You did." Suddenly I no longer felt so bad about it, could remember it was all my own doing, that I'd reasoned I could let him only to find out too late I didn't want to after all... "Look, it wasn't your fault. You know that."

"Well, I thought it wasn't but..."

"You know it wasn't. Just me going at things bull-headed, not thinking."

"But you didn't like it, did you!"

"No." I had to be honest.

"That's OK. No reason you have to. Better I should know, don't you think?"

He sounded just a shade too bright, too reasonable, but I didn't have the bottle to discuss it, or to admit (even to him) how badly I'd felt about it afterwards. I mumbled something, agreeing it was better he should and hoping he'd leave it at that.

He didn't, having yet another devastating pronouncement to make.

"Just so long as you bear in mind I did enjoy it."

I stared. "What--you can't mean..."

"I can and I do." He grinned lopsidedly. "Dunno what that makes me. Probably says something about my technique, too, that I couldn't make it as good for you. Always knew it had to have something going for it or it wouldn't've been going on all these centuries, would it."

I couldn't believe him and I didn't know what to say. Accusing him of lying would make it look as though I thought he had masochistic tendencies and while I'll happily believe a lot of negative things about Ray that isn't one of 'em. My doubt must have showed because he said impatiently:

"Oh! come on, Bodie, it's no big deal. I liked it because it felt good. Must be the prostate you hear about...I dunno. Either way, I keep thinking about it, wanting it again..."

Not knowing how to handle this I stretched out, folding my arms behind my head and trying to act nonchalant. "Yes, well, some of us have what it takes to be fantastic lovers. I've never had any complaints yet."

"So I've 'eard-- mostly from you! 's interesting, finding out some of your boasts have a grain of truth. So if you want to 'ave me again one of these days don't forget I'm yours for the asking..."

Unbidden, I had a sudden vivid memory of some things he'd said to me a month or so back. Things I hadn't expected to hear that had poured out of him after we'd both thought we'd buy it from that bomb hung round my neck. I hadn't thought about that, didn't want to. Sounded too much like getting serious over...

Nah, couldn't be that. Too ridiculous even to contemplate.

I stole another look at him.

Shrugging, he said, "Sex is fun, Bodie, that's all. Just bear that in mind."

Stupidly shaken, I agreed too.

-- THE END --

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