DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH, SUNSHINE
The parcel was propped against the door, and Bodie lighted on it with a sneaking relief. Given a bit of distraction, Doyle mightn't notice he was early. His cupboard was bare and he was famished but, being famished, he was in no mood to suffer his partner's gibes. Not even for a feed--a hot breakfast, if he were lucky.
His luck wasn't in. Doyle stood foursquare in the doorway and gave his watch a speaking glance. "Either she came to her senses and kicked you out, or you expect I'll feed you. Which is it?"
Bodie thrust the parcel at him. "Wonder this wasn't nicked, left lying on the steps like that."
Reflexively, Doyle reached for it, then drew back his hands. "It's not mine."
Their eyes met. Bodie raised it between them; each applied an ear.
"Pressure switch?" suggested Doyle.
Bodie sniffed at it and Doyle winced. "Don't joggle it about, for Christ's sake. Could be a motion sensor."
"Not C4 or Semtex, unless it's under airtight seal." Bodie was so hungry the sweetish aroma of plastic explosive would've made his mouth water.
He eased over to the table and set the parcel down with care. Doyle joined him and they studied the label.
The address was smeared and much overwritten. Numerous official-looking inked stamps had been applied, testament to passage through a tortuous round of postal and Customs departments.
"Can't make it out. I haven't ordered anything."
"Has to be meant for you, though--look how many times it's been sent on. Who moves house as much as we do?"
"Damn," said Doyle. "We'll have to open it. Can't leave it lying about all day, it might be anything."
Several tense and cautious minutes later, they were looking at a small stack of videocassettes.
"Porn films," Bodie suggested, leering optimistically. "Don't worry, I'll help you watch them."
He thought the offer a generous one, but Doyle evaded his friendly elbow to the ribs and shot him an irritable glance. "Not now, you won't. It's ten to."
"What about breakfast?"
"You'll have to do without."
"Doyle...I'm hungry," Bodie protested.
"If you want sympathy," was Doyle's unfeeling rejoinder, "you can find it in the dictionary between 'shit' and 'syphilis'." He was shrugging into his jacket, prodding Bodie doorward. "And if it's breakfast you want, try cooking it yourself for a change."
"Oh, thanks, mate. With friends like you, who needs enemas?"
"Ha bloody ha," said Doyle.
The beauty of the forested mountains, the great glittering lake, the pale, pristine sand went unappreciated. Lugging tons of mail was no joke whatever your territory, but Gary the letter carrier especially hated the beach route. For one thing, all that sand sifted into his heavy black Canada Post uniform shoes as he sweltered along the boardwalk under the achingly blue and cloudless sky. For another, all the nutbars lived on the beach.
That weirdo in Number 23, for instance. She'd be lying in wait this morning as she had been every morning for the past two weeks. Any second now she'd pop out her door like the cuckoo she was, and--
Oh, Christ in a sidecar, here she came, right on schedule. Buttons fastened through the wrong holes, hair like Little Orphan Annie coming off a three-day bender, and her eyes--
"Is it here? Have you brought it?"
He shook his head. "No parcel, no parcel notice."
"But it's been two weeks!" she wailed. "Two weeks, Gary."
Funny, he'd never noticed before that her eyes were serial-killer blue. He put on his best placating smile, stepped down off the walk, and began a strategic withdrawal, giving her a wide berth. "Sorry."
"Sorry? Sorry doesn't cut it, buddy."
"Sorry and three bucks just about buys me a mocha frappuccino! Where's my parcel?"
Was she going to follow him? God, he hoped not. He had ten inches on her in height and at least a hundred-pound weight advantage, but she made him nervous.
"I'm going to hold my breath until it gets here." She wasn't following, just standing on the walk shouting after him. "You tell those morons at the Post Office that I'm holding my breath!"
"Uh, look, Ms. Zeminder--"
"Holding my breath!" she shrieked. Then she sucked in a lungful of air and closed her mouth with the abruptness of a leg-hold trap snapping shut.
All along he had been thinking she was crazy, but until that moment he hadn't understood: she was. She really was.
Gary beat feet.
Doyle gave him one of those odd side-of-the-eye glances. He looked away when he saw Bodie'd caught him at it.
Bodie sighed. If Doyle kept this up, the car wouldn't be big enough for the both of them. "You're watching me."
"I'm watching the warehouse." Doyle's voice was flat, utterly lacking in affect. "One of us ought to."
"You were watching me," Bodie corrected. "Been doing it all day. You're getting on my nerves."
Another darting glance. Now an edge of irritation sharpened Doyle's tone. "If you were watching the warehouse like we're bloody supposed to be doing, you wouldn't know that, would you."
"Go to hell, Doyle."
"After you, mate."
"No, no, I insist," Bodie drawled, letting his aggravation show. "Age before beauty, Goldilocks. After you."
"Hah," said Doyle. "Right, then, after me. Pearls before swine."
Bodie could cheerfully have choked him.
Though he was expecting her, Gary couldn't control his start when she slammed out of Number 23 and sprang into his path. Involuntarily and, he hoped, surreptitiously, he checked her hands for weapons, sidling away with his own hands raised in a fending position. "There's nothing today."
"My tax dollar pays your salary," she hollered.
He could have predicted that. Sooner or later they always got around to that one. "Look, Ms. Zeminder, I'm sure it'll be here any day now."
She wasn't listening. She'd taken a deep breath and was, well, holding it. Those glassy fanatic's eyes bugging out above the inflated cheeks...brrr.
Gary took it on the lam.
"You coming for a pint?"
Doyle shook his untidy head. "Not tonight."
"Nah, I'm ready to drop, is all." He squared his shoulders, widened his stance. "Want to go home and get my head down."
He was lying; Bodie knew his partner's body language well enough to spot that. Doyle was tired, true enough, but he had something on, like he'd done yesterday.
Yeah, exactly the same as yesterday. He'd lied about his plans then, too. He'd come dragging in this morning looking used up, claiming an early night had done him the world of good. Right. His eyes appeared bruised with exhaustion. Even his hair seemed dispirited.
Doyle had stared at him all day today. No longer irritated by the scrutiny, Bodie was conscious instead of a growing unease. He'd watched the warehouse and felt Doyle's heavy eyes on him, and worried.
He plastered a hollow smile on his face. "A quick half, then," he coaxed. "I'm buying."
"And I'm knackered. See you in the morning," Doyle said, heading for his car.
"I could've walked there and back by now!"
Gary studied his feet where they shuffled in the sand. He couldn't bear to meet her eyes. The eyes of a sane woman didn't have the hellish rhythmic pulse of a gas flame.
"If that box isn't here this week--this week, Gary--you're gonna find out what going postal really means!"
It gave him the creeps, the way her voice cracked and skidded up the scale. The sound she made gasping in breath to hold it was purely hair-raising.
As fast as he could with thirty pounds of mail banging against his hip, Gary booked.
THURSDAY: London (A.M.)
Doyle, who invariably visited his germs upon all and sundry, had begged off ill from work. Bodie watched the warehouse alone. He was beyond worried.
Why, Gary asked himself as he trepidatiously neared the nadir of his workday, couldn't he have a route lined with mailman-eating Rottweilers, like all the other letter carriers? Anything would be better than the spine-crawling sensation of knowing you were about to be waylaid, waiting for it to happen.
He wondered, not for the first time, what could be coming in the mail to get the wacko broad so het-up. He wondered what she'd do when he told her that today, as yesterday and the days before, there was no parcel for her, no parcel notice.
No sign of her. Unaccosted, he passed Number 23. She was probably holding her breath in a cosy rubber room somewhere, wearing one of those snug-fitting white jackets with the sleeves that tied at the back.
He should have felt relieved. Instead, he felt eyes following him, like crosshairs centred between his shoulder blades. He kept looking over his shoulder, watching his back trail. He speculated, queasily, about exactly what 'going postal' might entail.
There was no need to dawdle. Gary picked up his pace.
THURSDAY: London (P.M.)
Bodie tapped out shave-and-a-haircut on the buzzer with a jauntiness he was far from feeling. They were off duty, no warehouse stakeout for two days. He hoped that would be time enough to find out and sort out whatever was wrong with his partner.
The door opened and Doyle stood swaying before him, yawning and swiping a hand across his face.
Bodie stepped in and shut the door, studying him. His unease began to transmute itself to active alarm. Doyle looked--not rough, exactly, just more weary than Bodie had ever seen him. "You okay?"
"Fine," said Doyle through a yawn. His glazed eyes gradually homed in on his caller. "Bodie," he announced, with the air of a man making a seismic discovery.
"Who'd you expect would--" Doyle flashed a smile so brilliant it left him blinking. He shut up without planning to. The next second his arms were occupied and his thoughts were chaos.
"Was just gonna go to your place," Doyle told him, and yawned. "But you're here, so there's not much point." He dropped his head to Bodie's shoulder. "Think I'll stay home, all right?"
"All right." Bodie shivered, though he was tightly held and warm everywhere his partner touched him, which didn't leave much of him to take a chill. He thought he ought, for form's sake, to protest, yet he did not; while it was novel to have Doyle twined all round him like a particularly clinging variety of vine, the sensation was not an unpleasant one. He decided to behave as though he'd noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
"You weren't talking about Ojuka," Doyle mumbled.
"Eh? What's that?" Doyle's lips tickled his neck, but Bodie made no effort to draw away.
"An' that Kathie Mason--" Doyle broke off for a jaw-cracking yawn.
"Who? Oh, yeah. Her."
"Christ, Bodie, I believe you'd've killed her."
"Don't be ridiculous." So he would've, the bitch, if Doyle had--if anything had happened to Doyle. He'd've chucked her out a window at no charge. He'd've shot her. He'd've chopped her into--
Was Doyle snoring?
"Doyle?" He was. Bodie gently jostled him. "Doyle! When's the last time you got any sleep?"
"Hmm? Dunno." A yawn. Then, "Monday?" hazarded Doyle.
"But that's--what've you been doing with yourself?"
"Figuring out"--yawn--"that you're in love with me." A quiet snore.
"What!" Bodie peeled him off, shoved him back a step. Doyle teetered alarmingly, so he caught him and hauled him close once more. "Always did suspect you of leading a healthy fantasy life, Raymond." He petted his partner, who pressed even closer. "Where'd you get hold of that idiotic idea?"
"The telly," explained Doyle in a dopey mumble--at least, Bodie supposed it was meant to be an explanation--and he nodded off again.
The telly? He'd been so careful. No one could possibly know how he felt about--and as for Doyle finding out from the television--
"This isn't happening," he promised himself. Correcting for Doyle's distinct list to the right, he walked him into the bedroom and manoeuvred him onto the bed. "Come on," he urged Doyle awake as he set about stripping him, "give us a hand."
"Mmph," said Doyle. "What doing?"
"Putting you to bed. After a good night's sleep, you probably won't even remember what you--Jesus, Doyle, how'd you get into these, butter them on?"
Wrestled nearly alert by Bodie's energetic and ineffective efforts to get him undressed, Doyle sat up and fought his way out of his tee-shirt. "The way you went aboard the Cow when that hitter, whatsisname, Van Niekirk, when he escaped custody? Wonder the Old Man didn't let you out."
"Thought he might for a while there," Bodie allowed, yanking again on Doyle's jeans, succeeding only in dragging Doyle halfway off the bed.
"Ow. The jeans come off, Bodie; the body parts stay with me. Here, I'll do it."
"It's a mystery to me how they go on." With Doyle so groggy, his riveted attention should pass for scientific curiosity.
"One leg at a time, same as anyone's." A prodigious yawn. "When the Kuolo girl--"
"Don't say it," implored Bodie. "I don't want to hear about that."
"Okay. Dunno how I missed it all this time, a blind man could've seen--" Doyle kicked his feet free of his jeans and crept beneath the covers Bodie held up. "Course, I wasn't always around, and sometimes my back was turned."
Bodie searched the green eyes for the glitter of incipient anger, but they were fond, soft with sleep. When the sheets were satisfactorily disordered and the pillows beaten into submission, Doyle settled back and gave him a high-impact smile. "You love me. I've got irrefutable"--he yawned, eyes closing--"evidence. On tape, no less."
"What if I do?" said Bodie briskly, determined to brazen it out. "It's platonic."
"Quite the load of shit, that. I suppose your eyes are platonically glued to my arse?" Doyle squirmed, stretched, and sighed. "I feel the same way about you, you know. Now get in this bed."
Bodie waited to see if his knees would buckle.
Doyle slitted one eye. "Don't make me put you in, Bodie. I'm asleep." Nevertheless, he managed to prop both eyes open and keep them that way while Bodie shucked layers of clothing. "Much better. Nearly wore out the rewind button in spots."
"I don't know what the hell you're talking about," said Bodie in happy confusion, sorting the bedding to suit him and disposing himself within it. "You sure about this, Ray? Really sure?"
"Never been so sure of a thing." As inexorable as ivy, Doyle attached himself to his partner. "Platonic isn't in it. Tell you all about it tomorrow. Show you, too. Six times before lunch."
"Oh yeah?" He hoped Doyle was too far gone to hear the creaky catch in his voice. "Your mouth making promises your body can't keep, Doyle?"
"It's perfectly obvious"--yawn--"you don't know my body."
Doyle's back was warm under Bodie's hands, his breath warm across Bodie's throat. Bodie's reply was lost in the buzz of Doyle's snore.
THURSDAY: London (P.M., Reprised)
Shouting, shaking, and fondling finally had effect.
"'m awake, 'm awake," Doyle groaned.
"What the hell d'you mean, evidence on tape?" demanded Bodie, who hadn't slept a wink.
"Surveillance tapes. In Monday's parcel. You, me, Cowley--everybody."
His convulsive shudder owed itself mostly to the lingering lick of Doyle's tongue over his collarbone, but--Jesus, surveillance tapes? Who on earth--KGB? Stasi? MSS? Oh, sweet Christ, not Ross?
"Doyle. Doyle! Who sent them? What are we going to do with them?"
"Dunno, but I owe 'im one. If not for those tapes"--yawn. Lick--"I might never've realized how I feel about you. And we're keeping them. Half the footage is top secret, and the rest of it has"--lick--"sentimental value."
Well, there was that, Bodie conceded. Still...shouldn't they hunt down the guilty party? A troubling thought occurred to him. "If the parcel wasn't meant for you, somebody somewhere's expecting those tapes."
A thick, drowsy murmur. Another lick, laying a wet swath up his neck to the hinge of his jaw, induced a pleasant shiver. It seemed discourteous not to return it, so he did. The salt taste convinced him as nothing else had done: he was in Doyle's arms, in Doyle's bed, in rich, Doyle-redolent darkness.
His hands wanted to chart every unmapped inch of his bed mate. He let them go.
"Mmm...." Doyle moved against him. A slow, sweet eddy of arousal spun low in his belly. "Mmm, Bodie, nice. Is it morning yet?"
"Thank God," said Doyle, recommencing to snore.
Cheerful choking held more and more appeal.
The partners slept late. After Doyle--with enthusiasm, attention to detail, and Bodie's unstinting aid--had kept one third of his promises, they slept again.
Not that he was deliberately dragging his feet or anything, but Gary was way behind schedule. For the umpteenth time, he leafed through the mail for Number 23. R. B. Zeminder, VISA statement. R. B. Zeminder, phone bill. Rimy Zeminder, you may already have won $2,000,000!
No parcel, no parcel notice. She'd be foaming at the mouth.
Outside Number 23, an ambulance was in over its axles. The driver cursed and floored the throttle, digging the vehicle deeper. The paramedics cursed and pushed and were liberally sprayed with sand. Rubberneckers had gathered to make unhelpful suggestions. A festive atmosphere obtained.
"I hope it's not an emergency," Gary remarked at large. "They'll be all day digging out of that. Who's in the back?"
"The woman from Number 23," said one onlooker.
"It's definitely not an emergency," said another. "She croaked. She's deader than a doornail."
Astonished--and the teensiest smidgen relieved--Gary let the conversation wash around him.
"Maybe I should shin over the fence and rescue that big mandevilla on the patio. It'll croak too, with no one to water it."
"Maybe I can have her parking stall."
"I just don't get it. Once you lose consciousness, wouldn't you start breathing involuntarily?"
"You'd think so, but you know how stubborn she is--was, I should say. Remember the time she--"
No longer listening, Gary stuffed the mail for Number 23 back in his bag and meandered off down the boardwalk, whistling softly to himself, drinking in the beauty of the mountains, the lake, the miles-long expanse of spotless sand.
The beach route sure was pretty. He was the luckiest of letter carriers. He was kind of sorry, though, that he'd probably never know what was in that parcel.
-- THE END --