by O Yardley
Party Spirit series #26 (FINAL STORY): After "Spy Probe"
Takin' all this villain stuff a bit seriously, aren't you?" I asked, ostentatiously holding my nose as he came near.
"When was the last time you washed?"
"Last time I 'ad the chance," he snapped, anything but sweetness and light. I decided discretion was the better part of valour and shut up; Ray in that sort of mood is best left unstirred.
"Missing you too," I offered, very quietly in spite of the fact that Williams was well out of earshot by now. A real toad, that Williams; wouldn't kill Liz Walsh himself, oh no! that'd be naughty, but he was quite happy to let me go and do it for him. Don't suppose it counted as dead so long as his hands were clean. I don't think he'd've killed Ray even if I hadn't stopped him, but I nearly left it late enough to find out I was so fascinated by the little turd's thought processes ... maybe he reckoned no one'd miss another villain so that was OK. Didn't surprise me he turned out to be MI6, never thought that mob had any scruples. Either way Ray was pissed off with the whole business and as usual I was the one who got the full benefit of his displeasure ... but I wasn't going to have him making rude remarks about Cowley's pal, Miss Walsh--what a lady! Took quite a shine to her, I did, if I hadn't found Ray I'd maybe have made a play for her. Like sharpening your brain on a whetstone, talking to her; kept you lively and on your toes. Her eyes looked clear through to your soul and if she liked what she saw that was OK, if not.... Even our George watched his p's and q's around her, and he wasn't surprised afterwards when he found out she'd put his name on her puzzle board. He wasn't delighted personally, you understand, but you sometimes get the feeling he always includes himself on lists of suspects just in case he's been so good at covering his tracks he doesn't know himself what he's done and hasn't.
It struck me as a bloody silly idea going back to that warehouse in case Ferris turned up again, though no one could be that stupid but I was wrong. I sat in the van with Ray, barely half awake from the comfort of his presence and the effect of too little sleep over the last few nights when we'd not been able to get together. Fine time, I mused morosely, to find out you're so bloody addicted to someone you can't sleep without them. Not that I slept that much with him, come to that; he seems to thrive on four or five hours a night and I was reluctantly beginning to find I needed more. Must be old age creeping up on me.
"This bloody undercover rubbish'll get us killed one of these days, you know," I prophesied gloomily and Ray wasn't arguing. Think he was still feeling a bit bitter and twisted about Williams so I added hurriedly, "Only one kind of undercover activity I'm interested in nowadays," and relished the little twitch of one cheek that elicited. Thought about initiating some there and then but thought better of it; the back of a van's not the most comfortable place for one thing and for another I was starting to get paranoid about all those ruddy eyes staring at us from upstairs. I wouldn't care if I never saw another mannequin, male or female, for the rest of my life. In any case, that bastard Ferris turned up not long after so I had to control my urges.
Nearly did myself an injury when I heard about Ray dolling himself up in his kinky rubber gloves though. Mind you, I'm not surprised Ferris squealed; I'd probably have let out a few oohs and ahs myself!
As for scotting around the docks in an inflatable, well it isn't my idea of a happy way to spend an afternoon, especially when some traitorous bastard's doing his best to kill you. I thought Ray'd saved the country a lot of trouble and expense when he scored a direct hit with that Very pistol. Neat, I thought it was, but Cowley came storming up looking like a wet week on he Costa Brava. Takes it hard finding traitors in his own class. It's easier when you're like Ray and me, from the criminal classes in the first place. Fewer illusions that way. Cowley was not pleased with us; careless was the politest thing he called us.
"We should've let him kill us , I suppose," Ray said, an angry glint in his eye. I could see a row brewing and I was almost too knackered to duck. It'd be easier to fall into anger than try to summon up arguments as to why we'd done what we did, whatever it was.
"Look on the bright side," I said, stretching my neck out for the chop and happy to let Cowley vent his anger on me instead of Ray, "you'll enjoy watching the Minister squirm when he finds out what his favourite prot=8Eg=8E's been up to."
Cowley gave me a look of disgust but luckily had to turn aside to discuss something with the River Police. I could tell I wasn't going to get away with just a withering look though. Got a pretty dirty look from Ray, too, when Cowley didn't stop nagging the pair of us all the way back to HQ.
The debriefing was a tense session, you could see Cowley was hating every minute of it. He looked old and tired; I didn't want to be responsible for making him look older and tireder one of these days and I said so to Ray later that evening when we got home.
"Always knew you had a soft spot for the old bugger," he said, stretching like a cat in a way that ought to have cracked his spine in six places. "Christ! but I'm ready for bed."
"If I had as many soft spots as you seem to think I'd be too limp to stand," I said thoughtlessly.
His stare hit me below the belt. "Thought maybe you 'ad a problem," he said. "Come on, get that shirt off. Why the hell d'you have to wear these shirts that only unbutton halfway--not that I'm complaining, they're better than those bloody polonecks you used to cover yourself up with "
"Like to maintain that bit of mystery, don't I and that tickles. "
"Was meant to. Like making you squirm," he said, pressing up against me and doing it again. "Yeah, like that."
"You know your trouble?"
"Yeah. It's called Bodie. Come on, get this shirt off."
"OK, OK, don't rush me," I pleaded coyly. "In any case, it's my turn."
"Your turn for what?"
"The rape and pillage!" and I dumped him onto the bed.
He's right, having somebody squirming against you's a very pleasant sensation.
"So--we tell Cowley tomorrow?" I said, pulling him into the crook of my arm once I had the energy to do so. He was relaxed against me, damp, warm and accepting and I was happy.
"If you say so," he mumbled, and began to snore quietly.
Think he'd've let it go by if I hadn't been determined to get it over with. Cowley's secretary stalled us for a while but in the end he was free to see us. He was deep in a file when we arrived and all he did was mumble, "Yes?" at us in an irritated fashion.
"In view of this last job, sir," I said, pricking this bubble of preoccupation with deliberate pleasure, "we thought we ought to have a talk with you concerning a possible security risk."
That brought his head up as I'd meant it to. He barked, "Well?" pulled off his glasses and waited. I'd no intention of being hurried, nor of standing in front of his desk with Doyle like two fourth formers carpeted in the head's study. This promised to be a long and stormy interview so I grabbed one chair and waited until Ray was settled in another before turning to face the Old Man eyeball to eyeball.
"It's a personal matter," I expanded. "Ray and I would rather you heard it from us ... not from anyone else ... not that anyone else is aware of it but ... the fact is we have .... that is, er, we ..."
"What Bodie's trying to say is that he and I are lovers," Ray interrupted, offering me a blinding smile when
I looked his way, surprised at the easy way he came out with it. It was a nice line though, and it disconcerted Cowley considerably. Very satisfying. I've been trying do it for years but never with such outstanding success.
"You and Bodie are ..." He broke off, stared from Ray to me and back and then said disgustedly, " Och! if this is your idea of some sick joke ... "
"No joke, sir," I assured him." We're perfectly serious."
The look of disgust deepened. "Then I hope you have both come to your senses by now. I presume this happened some night when the pair of you were drunk ..."
I shook my head. "Actually, it began several years ago -- but it's only recently become serious and exclusive."
"Several years?" Cowley sounded incredulous. He glared at both of us impartially. "Are you telling me the pair of you have been involved in a homosexual relationship for that length of time and have only just seen fit to inform me of the fact?"
"Wasn't anything to tell you about before," I protested.
"Nothing to tell me...."
I was starting to get annoyed. "No, sir, nothing. What we do in our spare time's not your affair...and before you say it, just tell me where it says in the small print that I have to come bleating to you every time I get me end away."
"Bodie's right," Ray put in before Cowley could get his mouth open. "You've only ever wanted to know about our girlfriends if we've started serious or you thought they might be some kind of security risk."
"Girlfriends, yes, but this..." Again he looked from one to another of us, his frown deepening. "Och! I just cannot believe that the two of you are telling me the truth. Not over something like this."
"Is it so hard to believe we could fall in love with one another?" I asked, greatly daring. The glow on Ray's face was reward enough.
"Love!" His tone said he'd give it another name.
"Yes, love," I repeated firmly. "That's why this is serious. There won't be any more girls now, sir, and we intend to live together, too, from now on." I didn't elaborate, he could work out all the implications for himself. He did.
"In that case," he picked up the file and pretended to be reading it but his glasses were still lying where he'd put them. "I shall expect your resignations on this desk within the hour."
"Resignations?" I dunno why Ray sounded surprised. I'd seen it coming ever since I'd let slip how long we'd been involved in this.
"As I understand it, you are both determined to persist in this ... perversion," he said, mouth puckering as if he'd bitten into a sloe, "and in that case you surely cannot expect to continue to be employed by this department. You of all people, Doyle, must know the disastrous effect of any whiff of scandal within the nation's security forces."
"But that's ...that's ridiculous." Ray got up and leaned his hands on the Old Man's desk the better to glare directly into the buzzard's eyes. I sat back, prepared to enjoy the fight. "Bodie and I aren't blackmailable material...I mean, we don't care who knows about us so... "
Cowley positively winced. "But I care, Doyle, and I will not have the good name of this department brought into disrepute simply because the pair of you cannot keep your baser instincts under control ."
"Baser instincts...." Ray was starting to lose his rag and I thought it was time to put my oar in.
"It's no use arguing, sweetheart, he's not going to listen. He knows what he thinks and his mind's closed. You can have my resignation here and now, sir, since that's what you want."
Cowley gave me a long, hard stare, his mouth set in an angry line. I waited. Eventually he said, "I'm very disappointed in you, Bodie, very disappointed indeed."
Christ knows I've come close to hitting the Old Man in the time I've known him, but I've never come as close as I did then. I'd disappointed him .. .what did he mean by that? There were two of us involved in this relationship or hadn't he noticed? Maybe it was like Ray said and he didn't care about him. I'd never taken much notice of that up to now, never been able to see why Ray said I was a favourite.
Clear as ice I said, "It's your loss, sir, not mine. I've got what I want in life."
Beside me, Ray made a little stifled noise, quickly choked off.
Equally cold, Cowley said, "In that case there's nothing more to be said. If the two of you are not prepared to change your minds...." In the brief pause we both shook our heads firmly. "Then either you will offer your resignations or I must take action myself.
There wasn't a lot said while we went through the formalities, handing over guns, IDs, car keys, and so on. It was only as we went out of the door that Cowley said, almost reflectively, "After Dawson I am determined to purge security once and for all. My own doorstep has to be clean enough to eat your breakfast off."
"Understood," I said, and I smiled ruefully. "Picked our time badly, didn't we, sir."
He looked at me then, directly. "There would've been no good time for this, Bodie, no good time at all."
As we went down the steps of the building for the last time, I caught Ray looking about him, a small smile lifting the corners of his mouth. I made an interrogative face.
"D'you know, I was just thinking ... I'm not going to miss this the least little bit."
"Might think differently when we're still standing in the dole queue in two years time."
"Us? Nah!" he said confidently. "Dozen or more jobs we can walk into just like that. And probably better paid, too."
Walk was the operative word for the moment, I thought gloomily as we headed for the bus stop. "Name three," I challenged. He mentioned four; two of them were even feasible and one was on my own list. Experienced security men were always a useful commodity; I was willing to bet that in the unlikely event of Ray being prepared to sacrifice a few scruples we could end up well enough off to retire in a few years ... if we lived that long.
We both lapsed into silence as we took our places at the back of the bus queue and after ten minutes waiting I'd already had too much and hailed a taxi. Ray looked shocked.
"Have to husband our resources," he admonished, settling in beside me. Then the address I'd given the driver sank in and he asked, "Latchmere Road? What're we going there for?"
"Pick up some wheels," I told him, mentally grinning at the thought of his face when he laid eyes on the clapped out old banger (to outward appearances) that I kept garaged and ready for emergencies. Kept a few useful items in its boot, too, things I'd have to remove before parking it in the road outside Ray's flat.
"Your bolthole?" Ray said, looking about him curiously as he walked in.
"Something like that."
"You had it long?"
"Since I've been in London "
"Since you've ... you never told me."
I shrugged. "Never had cause to. Only used it once ... not the car, only what I keep in it. When Willis's mob were after me. Felt naked without a gun that day."
"I' m not surprised. Typical, though," he added thoughtfully, running a finger through the dust on the windscreen.
"What, me needing a gun to boost my confidence?" I slung him a rag to do some wiping.
"No -- you 'avin' something ready so you could make a run for it. Still, it's useful now."
Got a nice little nest-egg stowed away too," I told him. "Not a lot, mind you, but a thousand or two in a Jersey bank. Probably earned a nice-bit of interest by now."
"Well, well, well!" His grin deepened. "You sure you were never a boy scout?"
He tossed the rag back and went to open the doors for me to drive out. Having closed them again and got in he said, "Since it seems to be reveal-all time...I've got a bit of money invested myself if we need it. We're not going to starve."
No, we certainly weren't going to do that, but first things first though; our main priorities were finding a job and somewhere to live. We had a month to do the latter in: Cowley had glared at me with a cold and fishy eye when I'd plaintively suggested that since we were going to live together from now on he might see his way to doubling the time on one flat since he could have the use of the other right away. Still, all of that could wait for another day, today was for coming to terms with the abrupt change in our circumstances. Even if we'd both secretly feared this would happen, it had still come as a shock to find ourselves rejected quite so immediately. I said this to Ray, leaning against the worktop in his kitchen, the contents of my car boot having been safely stowed in his wardrobe and his raised eyebrows having regained their normal position.
"Couldn't have done anything else really, could he," Ray said, handing over the coffee he'd made me.
"No. Was nice to dream though, wasn't it ... I hope the pair of you will be very happy and here's a in your hall for the visiting cards."
"Silver-plated," Ray corrected, chuckling.
"Always was a cheap-skate," I agreed. "No." After a reflective pause Ray shook his head. " "Whatever else you can accuse him of Cowley was never that."
"So what do we do with the rest of the day?" I asked him. "Make the most of an unexpected holiday or start job-hunting?"
"Holiday," he said instantly, surprising me. Thought he'd've been all for getting down to the nitty- gritty, taking it all so seriously. He shrugged. "We were due a day off anyway. 's been a while since we had any time to ourselves. Let's go somewhere for the day."
"Where d'you suggest?'
"Windsor Safari Park ," he said, surprising me again. "I'd like to see the dolphins."
We spent a happy day, daft as a pair of schoolboys bunking off, and enlivened the journey home on the motorway singing scurrilous verses about everyone at CI5 to the tune of 'The Quartermaster's Stores'. Felt my spirits take a nose dive when I recognised the car sitting outside the flat when we got back.
"'s bloody Cowley," Ray hissed. "What the hell does he want?"
As if I knew.
"Good evening, sir." I approached him warily. "What can we do for you?"
"Invite me inside." He was unreadable as ever; Ray and I exchanged a quick look before we led the way indoors.
The 0ld Man accepted malt whisky, doffed his coat, unerringly picked out the most comfortable chair in the room and proceeded to stare at the pair of us in turn over the top of his glass. Feeling stroupy, I perched chummily on the arm of Ray's chair with my elbow propped on its back so that his hair touched my hand in ticklish reassurance, stared right back at the Cow in silent inquiry.
"So you have no intention of changing your minds?" he said running a cool eye over us.
"None whatsoever," Ray said instantly.
"But happy to listen to you grovel if that's what you've come for," I said provocatively. "We've made our decision, you know.
"Yes, you made that very plain this morning, Bodie. What you did not make clear was whether or not this alteration in your lifestyles is going to offer any problems in retrospect, if you follow me."
I didn't and I said so.
"Don't be dim, Bodie," Ray said, a cutting edge in his voice. "What he's asking is whether or not there're any other men in our lives who might cause trouble for him in the future."
"Any other men?" I tried not to laugh. "You don't know Ray if you think I've got time to handle anyone else," I assured him, almost falling off my perch with the force of the elbow dug into my side. "No, sir," I added, seriously, "there haven't been any other blokes for either of us, have there, Ray! And up to now no one knows about us, or didn't until we told you this morning."
He stared at us a bit more, and then nodded. "That's all I need to know."
But he still sat there, looking the pair of us
"Something else we can do for you?" I asked, impatient for him to leave. This day had been for Ray and me up to now and he was spoiling it.
"Yes, Bodie, I think there is." He held out his glass for a top-up which I reluctantly provided. He took a thoughtful sip and went to the point without further preliminaries. "Over the years I've often been asked for advice--both by individual acquaintances and professional bodies--on how to avoid being kidnapped or taken hostage by terrorists or other criminals."
"Pretty big topic," I said drily. "How the hell d'you sum it up in three sentences?"
"Precisely, Bodie, it's impossible. Such a large field cannot be covered by one man...or even two...in less than several hours. For that reason it has seemed to me for some time that there is a place for a company who could not only offer such advice but also assist in dealings over possible ransoms or the recovery of victims ... support for the families of those involved as well."
He paused. I looked down at Ray, Ray looked up at me. "Sounds intriguing. Also sounds expensive to set up."
Cowley took a pull at his whisky. "Leaving that side for the moment--finance can always be arranged if one knows the right people--are you interested, gentlemen?" Interested? We were sitting at attention.
Cowley smiled, one of his wintry efforts. "After all, it's a pity to allow all the time and trouble--not to mention money that's been expended in training the pair of you to go to waste simply because your private lives preclude your working for a government department. Don't you agree?"
"Oh, absolutely!" Ray was chuckling.
"You're right about one thing," I said, frowning. "This isn't something the pair of us could do on our own. You reckon we should form a limited company or something?"
"Something like that," he agreed, adding ruefully, "The world is an increasingly violent place, I'm afraid, and this is a service that is long-overdue."
"Not overlooking that it makes sure the two of us remain on the side of the angels." Ray suggested, studying the ceiling with apparent absorption.
Cowley said nothing, but the corners of his mouth twisted slightly upwards
"And what sort of service do you have in mind in particular?" I asked, thinking it out aloud myself. "Teaching people the obvious precautions like taking different routes, driving unobtrusive cars and so on?"
"That, yes, but also co-operating with foreign police forces should occasion arise and a British national become a victim somewhere abroad, plus lecturing on basic techniques of dealing with captors...that sort of thing."
"And what sort of clients can we expect--firms who have to work abroad in high-risk areas, I suppose."
"And the occasional millionaire, no doubt," Ray put in.
It was settled as easy as that, the two of us dancing to Cowley's tune same as we always did, but it was a tune that had our feet tapping in contented unison, aware that we'd been offered the chance to do something as useful, challenging and satisfying as the job we'd been forced to leave...and with less personal danger, too. We sat there for hours that night, talking it all over, and as the level in the whisky bottle went down we thrashed out the aims, ideals and basic working structure of 'Lifeline'--Ray thought up the name--and by the time Cowley finally left us we had a future to look forward to after all.
"Does it sound as good to you as it does to me?" I asked, following Ray into the bathroom and waiting while he took a leak...not that I was in much doubt seeing the lively way he'd been helping make plans.
"I think it sounds bloody marvellous." He shook away the last drops and tucked himself back into his clothes. "And I'll tell you what sounds best of all...if you can't guess for yourself."
"No more killing?" I hazarded. It bothered Ray more than it did me, but I wouldn't be sorry to leave it behind.
"Well, that too," he agreed, "but mostly that we'll be doing it together same as always. I was afraid we might have to settle for working separately, and I didn't want that." His face was soft and open, revealing I wondered what my own expression revealed and knew it didn=D5t matter. Ray could see it all, have it all.
I reached for him, held him very tightly. Eventually cleared my throat. "Yes I love you, too. You don=D5t think it might get too much, living and working together?"
"Why should it? 's worked OK these last few years."
"Ah, but we weren't living together for most of 'em."
"True. What a lot of time we've wasted, haven't we!" His certainty was very comforting. "Come on, lover, it's time we were in bed. Those bags under your eyes are in danger of overload."
I allowed myself to be led there. "How long d'you reckon the Old Man's been baking this one up?" I asked, getting comfortable against him.
"Month or two," he said sleepily. "Why?"
"You don't think he just thought it up on impulse this afternoon? After all, as you said, it does make sure you and I aren't going to go and do anything that could be an embarrassment to anyone."
One eye glinted up at me. "Since when did Cowley do anything on impulse! He's probably had this up his sleeve for just this moment...I don't think we ought to flatter ourselves that it was actually us he had in mind."
"True. 's going to be fun, isn't it!"
"The best yet...and a lot safer, too."
"Yeah, I thought of that. Be nice not to have villains taking potshots at us all the time, won't it."
"Could still happen though--and we won't be able to carry guns either."
That was a thought. Oh well, nothing was perfect. "It's going to be OK," I said, burying my nose in his shoulder.
My only answer was a sleepy snuffle. It would do.
-- THE END --