Sweeter Than Wine
by O Yardley
Party Spirit series #18: After "Slush Fund"
Christ! but I'd never been so afraid as I was in the seconds between seeing that body under the sodden material and lifting it away to find it wasn't Doyle. And then the sod went and whined at me for fooling around with her headband. How was I to know it was hers? Could've been anybody's...Van Niekerk's for all I knew. Anyway, he had no business picking up birds when he was working. Thought she was the contact indeed! Can't leave it alone, more like. Takes everything I dish out in bed and still lays every woman he meets as well, randy old toad that he is. Provocative too, flaunting it about, 'look what I've got' all the time.
And then he had the gall to tell me to stop looking moody as we finally left to go home. Me! I was hurt and I said so.
He stared at me, not grinning but the crease down one cheek visibly deepening. "You were perky as a kitten when you came out to pick me up this morning, and now you've gone all broody."
I thought of him standing by that phone box looking like something the cat brought in, all rumpled and bruised and put-upon, and remembered the silly euphoria that'd engulfed me knowing he was safe, that Van Niekerk hadn't found a third victim....
"Yeah, well," I said, aware of self-betrayal but incapable of stopping the words, "I was pleased to see you, wasn't I. Scared the shit out of me knowing you were out there on your own and that bastard on the loose. Cowley should've known better than to send you out without backup."
The grin became more open. "I should tell him that if I were you."
"I did." I began to laugh myself. "Very loudly. I'm surprised half the squad didn't hear me yelling at him."
"You...yelled at Cowley?"
"Yeah. And he yelled back, all red in the face..." Suddenly the stupid little scene seemed exquisitely funny and the more I tried to sober down and tell Doyle all about it the more me 'he saids' and 'I saids' descended into incoherence.
"Cook you a meal for that," he said eventually, when he'd stopped holding his ribs and swearing he couldn't breathe for laughing at the idea of me threatening to resign because Cowley--Cowley!--had cocked things up...again?
Makes me all warm inside when Ray laughs like that and I'm the cause. Realised all in a rush that I like making him happy, and my guts went to mush at the thought.
"You're on," I agreed. "Stop off on the way home and I'll buy wine."
It's ironic, but as we drove to his flat I was thinking smugly what a near-perfect situation we'd made for ourselves--pull the birds when it was convenient, made do with each other when it wasn't. No strings, no commitment, no recriminations--fantastic. I was even congratulating myself that Ray didn't want to make any demands of me for something I wasn't prepared to give, something he appeared not only to find bearable but actually to like. I didn't understand it but that scarcely mattered so long as I was OK.
Anyone who tells you I'm selfish hasn't had to look too deep to discover it. Even the few guilty twinges I'd had over getting so rough with him last time had subsided quickly once he didn't seem to mind that much.
I don't remember what he cooked for us but I expect it was OK; his cooking's usually pretty good, better than a lot of birds I've known. Comes of all that independent living in police houses in his formative years, when I was roughing it out in the back of beyond, eating straight out of tins for the most part. I can make a meal out of improbable things like hedgehogs or squirrels but fillet steak was a problem until I watched his technique--surreptitiously, of course, else he'd've ribbed me unmercifully.
"Bed?" I suggested afterwards, having paid my dues by way of the washing up.
His instant agreement satisfied me immensely. Everything I needed in one neat package... I even caught myself humming in the shower.
But then, as he towelled himself down after his I saw the dark swell of bruising across his shoulders and down his flank and the graze on his forehead and the panic I'd felt when I realised he was out there on his own came flooding back...and this time I understood what had scared me.
Dreadful. Terrible. Not to be thought of.
And then that body in the shower, unmoving under wet, white cloth...
I tried to articulate something, couldn't think what, and ended up crushing him to me manly bosom and slobberin' in a disgustin' and sentimental manner.
OK, I'll come clean. I was crying. Huge great gulping sobs without dignity. Don't remember crying like that since I first realised Aunt Gwyneth hit me all the harder if I started howling. After that I used to bite my cheek inside until it bled but I wouldn't give her the pleasure of hearing me so much as whimper. She stopped beating the living daylights out of me the day I got to the stick first and broke it in two in front of her. Gave me a lot of satisfaction, that did.
Don't remember much of the next few minutes, I was too busy being emotional and it's all a bit hazy; I wasn't coherent and he was doing his best to keep us both upright as I clutched at him. I could hear him saying things but my brain didn't seem to be able to make out the words.
Found myself on his bed, cuddled against him, his hands patting soothing paths up and down my back. I sighed, recalling what I'd wanted to do for so long and suddenly finding it easy, uncomplicated. Careful as a collector with a piece of delicate, rare porcelain, I took his face between my hands and sought his mouth with mine.
You could drown in the pleasure of his kisses, the feel of his lips and the perfect taste of him... No lipstick, no sickly make-up, just the fresh, pure essence of Ray Doyle offered for your delight. I feasted, damned near purring at his instant response...shaky from the effect in a new and amazing way.
Never been like this... Don't understand. Doesn't matter...just enjoy. Relish. Perfect word. Better than the best food...headier than matured malt...
So I sound sloppy--why be ashamed? He wasn't, and the few words that did make sense in between the nibbles and licks and deep tongue-searching explorations were as fatuous as those I uttered whenever my mouth was unoccupied long enough.
That was nearly all it took, just long minutes of kissing and the rough press of his tongue on mine...that and the feel of his hardness throbbing against my belly and I was there, sliding over the top and inhaling the lush breath of his coming as it rushed over my lips.
"I've wanted to do that," I said, eyes still closed, "for so long..."
"Don't try'n claim you're deprived," he said acidly. "You never 'ad a bird yet that didn't come across."
"Not that, you one-track-minded cretin." I reached up to rub my thumb lazily at the corner of his mouth. "Kissing you."
"What?" He tried to sit up but I tightened my grip on him. "You've been wanting to kiss me?"
"For ages," I admitted, finding it easy to.
"Then why didn't you, you daft sod?"
"Scared to, I think."
"Scared? What of?"
"Making you laugh, I expect. Besides, I didn't think you wanted it. Was going to once, ages ago, but you wouldn't let me."
"Wouldn't let you? You're making this up."
"No, I'm not. Anyway, what does it matter?"
"Not a bit now," he conceded, relaxing. "But what a pair of prats!"
"Yeah. Thought you'd think it was...well, mushy." He chuckled. "Not very macho."
I quirked an eyebrow his way. "And 'avin' it off with each other is?"
"It's never dented my self-image."
Lucky, lucky Doyle! My eyes slid away from the confidence in his. "It's OK for me," I said, saying the first thing that came into my mind to cover my confusion, "I haven't got a family to care, but you Mum's still alive, isn't she?"
He pulled a face. "I won't tell her if you won't. Nor Tel either."
"Won't tell who?" I asked, confused.
"Tel. Terry. Terence! My brother."
His brother? I never knew he had a brother and I said so.
"No, well, avoid him like the plague, don't I! Know when I'm not wanted." I looked at him enquiringly and he added: "Very political, Tel is, hard left, and he married a rabid Militant Tendency member who thinks all policemen are sickos who get their kicks out of bullying people. You'd've thought World War Three 'ad broken out when she 'eard I'd joined CI5. Went rantin' on about secret police and living in a fascist state...Mum started crying (she lives with 'em, see) and Tel accused me of breaking her heart." I shuddered, picturing the scene with distaste. He raised his eyebrows and smiled faintly. "'aven't been to see 'em since and I don't think I'm missed. Never was the family favourite anyway. Runt of the litter...seven months baby and undersized. 'ad a vicious temper too, just like me Dad's 'n 'e was no loss when 'e went under that bus."
But his eyes were sad in spite of his offhand shrug and I hugged him. "Families, who needs 'em! Turn your face up here, will you!" I wanted to kiss him again, needed the taste and feel of his response. He met me more than halfway. Was odd, running my tongue over that chipped tooth I'd got so used to seeing. I inched even closer, pulling him to me, supporting his head with my hand. His hair tangled round my fingers.
"Who's to know anyway," I said, coming up for air. "'s been a year or two now and no one even suspects."
"No one'd better suspect. We'd be asked to resign quicker'n Cowley can say Glenfidditch if this got out."
I didn't want to discuss it. Didn't want to talk. I kissed him again instead.
He gave me an odd look when we surfaced and I asked what was up.
"You're an evasive bastard when you want to be, aren't you!"
"Not a bastard," I said, deeply affronted. "Aunt Gwyneth wouldn't've had anything to do with me if I wasn't strictly legit. 'ad very serious views on that sort of thing, did Aunt Gwyneth."
"Then she wouldn't've liked this." He gestured at our entwined bodies, sticky with drying semen.
"No," I said, brightening. "She'd have abominated it. Can I stay the night? She wouldn't approve of that either."
"You going to do everything your Aunt Gwyneth wouldn't approve of?" he asked, pulling away and rubbing at the sticky patch on his abdomen. "Bloody stuff doesn't half tickle when it dries, doesn't it!"
"'ave a lot of fun if we do," I assured him. "She didn't approve of sex or booze or dancing or films or sunbathing or darts or football or..."
"I get the picture. She didn't approve of having a good time."
"Didn't care for church-going either, only chapel. People who went to church were in league with the devil. And as for the Catholics..."
"Don't look at me," he said hastily. "Dad might-ve been once but he'd lapsed long before I was born." He clambered off the bed and ambled out to the bathroom, coming back with a damp towel which he rubbed luxuriously over his stomach before throwing it my way. I dabbed at the patch on his quilt and then cleaned myself, while he wandered about turning off lights, opening windows... Pity we didn't have a cat to put out, I thought, chuckling as I got under the covers.
"Just thinking how domesticated I am these days," I said when he asked what was tickling me.
"You? 'bout as domesticated as a panther," he told me, prodding me heartlessly and claiming (untruthfully) that I was encroaching on his half of the bed.
"There you are, see." I wriggled to lie perched in martyred discomfort on the far edge. "Proves it, talking about your half of the bed."
He looked so self-conscious at that that I crowed in delight and wrapped myself around him, finding his mouth once more.
"Kisses sweeter than wine," I said when he eventually let me go.
-- THE END --