by O Yardley
From their table in the corner Murphy had a perfect view of his fellow agent and he sat, absorbed in watching Bodie watching the entertainment, apparently unaware that the light spilling from a spot trained on the catwalk illuminated his face, revealing its darkly aloof disdain.
Murphy raised an eyebrow in surprise: he wasn't keen on strip clubs himself and knew that Ruth Pettifer was finding the whole thing excessively distasteful, but at least they were making the effort and looking as though they were here for pleasure - Bodie quite simply looked as though he were anticipating imminent disaster.
Unattracted by the gyrations of bodies in various stages of undress, Murphy leant closer to Ruth, determined to make the most of the opportunity (not often afforded) to enjoy her company while keeping his main attention on the surrounding crowd as he was here to do, and mildly annoyed to find whenever he looked at 3.7, that his eyes were fixed upon the stage rather than the audience.
Murphy chuckled to himself: anyone'd think Bodie had never been to a strip club before but while he was prepared to believe a lot of things about the crazy minded ex-soldier, that was not one of them - but if Bodie didn't get his mind on his work pretty soon he'd be having a private word with him later on. After all, if Doyle was going to be there baring his all in the line of duty, the least Bodie could do was pay attention.
But - that was exactly what he was doing, paying attention, Murphy realised with a jolt of surprise, seeing the sudden, nervous swallow and the jerky movement of Bodie's hand as he lifted his glass to his mouth. The poor bastard was eaten up with nerves down there, watching the stage and waiting for his partner to appear.
Fascinated, Murphy studied him more closely, seeing the sudden glint of white teeth as they caught on the jutting lower lip, the restless head and arm movements.
Probably sweating like a racehorse, Murphy decided, feeling a sympathetic rush of dampness covering his own skin as the lights went out, at last heralding Doyle's appearance.
Beside him, Murphy heard Ruth Pettifer emit a choked gurgle of laughter as the full glory of Doyle's costume met their eyes.
Typical of bloody Doyle, that, Murphy decided in amusement and relief of his heretofore unrecognised fear that his fellow agent would be dressed up in some outlandishly camp outfit. Perfectly respectable people were choristers, Murphy had been one himself once, many years ago, in a rig not unlike this only the cassock had been black, the ruff much smaller.
As Doyle glided down the catwalk, the stage lighting once more revealed Bodie's face, his eyes intently upon his partner, his normally aloof expression gone and a look of wistful pain etched in its place.
Murphy's jaw dropped, wondering just what that brief glimpse had told him. He knew Bodie to be over-protective of Doyle on occasions, he'd overheard a few slanging matches between Bodie and George Cowley when the younger man considered Doyle to have been placed in unnecessary danger or given insufficient back-up, but he'd never considered that to mean more than a man's natural concern for the partner with whom he necessarily lived and worked so closely.
Those who worked in pairs always had to come to terms with a kind of closeness the rest of the world was always faintly uncomfortable around: it was one of the reasons Murphy preferred always to work solo, but all of a sudden that look on Bodie's face had spoken of a deeper commitment... no, perhaps not deeper, but different certainly.
Murphy drew a long breath and poured another glass of the sourly unpleasant fizz sold as champagne - the place was sueable under the Trades Descriptions Act, he thought bitterly, gulping it down - it was none of it any business of his.
He turned his attention again to the room at large and Ruth Pettifer in particular. If he couldn't get anywhere with the blonde agent after tonight, he'd give up and lay siege to something easier!
It was quite amusing, Murphy decided cynically, to watch Cowley awaiting Doyle's arrival at HQ on Thursday morning with something very like trepidation.
Not that the Cow was showing anything to those who did not know him well, of course, but he'd asked Betty a second time for a file she'd already given him and he'd twiddled with his glasses rather longer than usual after being told Doyle and Bodie were on their way up for the debriefing after the Plaistow debacle. Not that he blamed Cowley for a minute either. Doyle had an unpredictable temper at times and was likely to be in a filthy mood after having taken on a job like that at Cowley's behest and have it prove all for nothing: Murphy could well imagine the state of chagrin, fury and outraged dignity he would be in under similar circumstances. But he couldn't have done what Doyle did in the first place he acknowledged with an inward smile of appreciation over those few, superb performances he'd been privileged to witness. Sheer animal perfection, Ruth Pettifer had described him as. Murphy wasn't sure he'd go that far himself but had a shrewd suspicion Bodie would have agreed with her wholeheartedly.
In fact, after last week, Murphy was definitely beginning to wonder a few things about Bodie!
The clatter of Cowley's falling pen interrupted Murphy's abstraction and he picked it up politely, placing it beside the manila folder on the desk top, glancing down at the sandy-ringed bald spot with something akin to affection. Poor old bugger had a guilt complex you could smell a mile off and it would be interesting to see how he coped with Doyle's inevitable outburst when it occurred.
Most times he silenced the volatile younger man with a freezing contempt that would have had a less resilient character reduced to shreds in seconds. Doyle simply shrugged it off, usually exchanging an irrepressible grin with his partner, often careless of whether Cowley saw it or not.
Those two both got away with blue murder, but Murphy conceded to himself that they sometimes deserved to - they were the best that CI5 had and the most attuned to what Cowley wanted for the department. They might not always understand the Old Man's motives, just as he did not always comprehend theirs, but they worked well together, superbly on occasions.
It would be a pity if this episode spoiled that rapport.
Trouble was, Murphy could sympathise with both men, with the sort of wild, uncontrolled rage Doyle would almost certainly let rip and with Cowley's need to excuse his own false assumptions without encouraging Doyle to behave unreprimanded, in a way that threatened discipline.
Altogether it seemed something of an impasse and, evilly, Murphy leaned his shoulders against the wall behind his chair and settled back to enjoy a scene in which he was only peripherally involved.
The door opened with the sort of crash that only Bodie and Doyle could give it and the two agents strolled in, sleek as cats, the same look of sleepy disinterest masking a hunter's eye, boiled down aggression hidden behind a false impression of friendly bonhomie.
With a shock, Murphy realised he was seeing what he expected to see and not what was really there. The two of them were relaxed, content, sleekly well-fed. He straightened up, staring in fascination as the two of them sunk into chairs, side by side, eyeing their chief with an air of almost affectionate amusement.
Cowley allowed a few seconds to elapse, deliberately, almost egging the pair of them to get their outburst over, Murphy thought.
But, looking at them, he didn't think the Cow was going to get the row everyone was anticipating. Murphy had almost settled down, surprised and mildly disappointed not to witness the expected drama, when it occurred to him it would be just like the evil-minded couple to bide their time, lull George Cowley into a false sense o~ security and then erupt simultaneously like a pair of rocketing pheasants.
It didn't do to get too complacent around Doyle and Bodie!
Eventually, Cowley dragged his gaze away from his two top operatives and topped the folder on his desk.
"We have wound up this affair," be said baldly, without preliminaries. "A chance remark in a homosexual Club led us to the house in Plaistow ..."
Murphy gave the plummy voice only half his concentration. He knew the details already and was more interested in what it was that had made Doyle and Bodie look as though someone had handed them each a sizeable portion of the Crown Jewels - the pair of them were positively glowing.
Murphy gazed about him surreptitiously, studying other faces to try and see if anyone else had noted the oddity of this, but no one else -- not even Cowley -- seemed aware of anything out of the ordinary in the two agents' behaviour and Murphy began to wonder if he was suddenly developing an over-fertile imagination. He shrugged, putting the matter aside, and gave his full attention to the debriefing.
Much later, in the pub not far away where CI5 agents were wont to assemble after a job well done and where even Cowley was known to foregather for a glass of malt in celebration, Murphy had forgotten all about his earlier puzzlement and was happily draining his second helping of Cowley-provided whisky alone in his corner when something caught his eye and he blinked.
Doyle and Bodie were standing side by side and very close together -- nothing unusual in that, the pub was very crowded at this hour - but quite casually (and hidden from everyone in the room save Murphy in his private little corner) behind their backs they were holding hands.
Stunned, Murphy's eyes slid upwards, encountered Bodie's.
For a moment neither man moved but then Bodie muttered something to Doyle and his partner swung round to stare over his shoulder, his gaze questioning, holding the beginnings of belligerence.
Murphy shook his head and smiled, raising his glass to them both.
He could put two and two together with the best of them.
It may be a surprise but having seen the look on Bodie's face while he watched Doyle act, it was not so very unexpected after all.
After a moment both his smile and his silent toast were reciprocated and they turned their attention back to the group around them.
Murphy grinned inwardly, draining his glass.
How long would it take Cowley to see what had happened? At a guess, not long, but Murphy experienced an understandable sense of smug triumph that for once he was better informed than the head of CI5.
It may not be for long, but it was undeniably a very pleasant feeling!
-- THE END --