Where the Worms Are
by Pamela Rose
Ray Doyle's humor was as black as anyone else who had worked for the Big A for more than five years and lived through it. But even he had his limits.
"That's not very funny, Murph."
"No it isn't, is it?"
Doyle shut his locker and turned to look at him. Murphy was very pale and his face serious.
"Okay, I'll bite. Where'd you hear it then?"
"In the Op Room."
"Oh, very reliable source," Doyle said dryly. "Come off -- "
"It's straight up, Doyle," Murphy cut in. "Rawlins was on the switchboard when the call came in." Then, as Doyle snorted, he added, "Christ, can't you feel it?"
Doyle swallowed his sarcastic remark concerning Rawlins' imagination. He understood what Murphy meant all too well. Ever since he'd stepped into Headquarters, he had sensed the tension and, more than that -- the suspense. As if the whole place was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"How'd this supposedly happen?" Doyle asked, still refusing to be convinced.
A leaden weight settled in Doyle's stomach and he knew he was half way to believing it. Without saying anything else, he left the room and headed directly to Cowley's office.
"Betty -- ?"
The woman looked up, calm as ever, but there was a suspicious redness about her eyes and her hands shook a little as she shuffled some papers back into a file. "What are you doing here, 4.5? You're not due until 9:00."
"It's true then?" he demanded abruptly.
Her composure slipped. "I don't -- "
"Come on, Betty! I know you're supposed to keep your mouth shut, but if it's a rumor, for god's sake, kill it now. If it's true..." he hesitated. "Well, it's better to know one way or another."
She met the determined green eyes, her own bleak. "It's not official. I'm waiting for a call from -- "
The phone rang.
"Controller's office," her voice didn't waiver as she answered. "Yes. Yes, sir. I understand, sir."
She put the receiver down very carefully and looked up at Doyle. "That was the Minister. The entire squad has stand down orders. Even the in-process ops are temporarily suspended." To Doyle's amazement, she took a cigarette from a packet in her desk and lit it, inhaling shakily. Before he could ask, she said stonily, "It's confirmed. George Cowley was killed in a traffic accident one hour and thirty-seven minutes ago."
"My god." Doyle felt as if he'd taken a fist in the gut. It was difficult to envision; even harder to accept. "The old man's dead?" Saying it aloud gave it an unwanted degree of reality. "You're sure?"
"The Minister had just finished speaking with the medical examiner. There's no mistake." She stubbed out the cigarette angrily. "I thought I'd done with these things. Mister Cowley wouldn't appreciate me starting up again -- " Her voice broke and tears flooded her eyes.
Doyle searched absently for the handkerchief he seldom remembered to carry, but she found a tissue first.
In less than a minute she was back in control. "I don't have time for this; there's too many things to do." Blowing her nose one final time, she looked up at die stunned agent and smiled sadly. "You may as well go home, Ray. You'll be contacted about the...arrangements. The Minister will have to appoint a new controller before then, I imagine."
"Yes...yes, I suppose so." Unmoving, Doyle stared at the floor, still trying to take it all in. George Cowley was dead.
Already reaching for the telephone to begin the grim task of informing the necessary people, Betty paused. "Is 3.7 here?"
Startled out of his reverie, Doyle's head jerked up. "No. No, he drew stakeout last night with Carlson at the docks."
"You should tell him, you know," she suggested gently. "It would come better from you."
Even the idea of telling Bodie made Doyle want to run from the responsibility. But she was right. Nothing could really make it better, but it might be easier coming from his partner rather than reading it in the evening papers.
Doyle stood in front of the door for a very long time. He'd done the same thing earlier with the telephone before deciding it would be better to tell Bodie in person. Now, he had doubts about that, too. However he found out, Bodie wasn't going to take this well. He could count on one hand the number of people his cautious partner let himself care about deeply -- and George Cowley had topped that list.
Procrastinating wasn't going to help it, he told himself sternly, and pressed the door signal. There was no answer. Glancing at his watch, he saw it was a quarter to ten. After a long night sitting on the damp and chilly docks, Bodie would be curled up in his warm bed, fast asleep. Doyle pushed the buzzer again, firmly.
"Yeah? What?" came the growled response.
"It's me. Open the latch, sunshine."
"Doyle? Christ, mate, what the 'ell's wrong with you?"
"Just let me in, Bodie. It's important."
There was a muffled curse before the intercom shut off and the lock snicked open. Taking a steadying breath, Doyle went up the steps as slowly as he could, delaying the inevitable.
Bodie, in a brown robe and sleepy eyes, was waiting with his door open. "I hope you realize you interrupted the sweetest dream of my young life. She was gorgeous, agreeable and -- "
"Sorry," Doyle pushed by him and went on inside.
Yawning, Bodie ran his hand over his hair, trying to slick down the wayward tufts. "Oh, he's sorry. That's all right then."
Feeling at a loss now that he was here, Doyle asked, "Got any coffee?"
"What's this, your breakfast caf?" Bodie grumbled, but he had got a good look at Doyle's face and realized whatever it was, it wasn't good. Never could tell with Doyle, though. He got himself worked up over the oddest things sometimes. "What are you lookin' so sour about? No, don't tell me until I've woken up proper. If it's bad news, I oughta be awake enough to hear it."
Doyle followed him into the kitchen, watching as Bodie filled the kettle and collected a couple of mugs.
"Eh?" Lost in his own troubled thoughts, Doyle was startled by the sudden question.
"Is it bad news?" Bodie repeated patiently. "Don't tell me the old man wants me on double watch? Me underpants are startin' to mildew from sittin' out there already. It's a bloody waste of time -- "
"Cowley's dead." He truly hadn't expected to blurt it out like that, but now that he'd said it, it seemed the only way he could have done it at all.
Bodie finished spooning the coffee and screwed the lid back on the jar before swinging around to look at his partner. "Listen, mate, just because it's your turn for stakeout tonight, doesn't mean you can -- "
"Bodie -- don't."
They stood there staring at each other for what seemed an impossibly long time. When the kettle whistled, Bodie turned away and switched off the burner. He poured the water without saying anything, handed a mug to Doyle, and went to the refrigerator for milk.
Concentrating on the other man, Doyle hardly felt the heat of the cup in his hand. "Bodie, did you hear me? Cowley is dead."
Adding sugar to his cup, Bodie stirred it without looking up. "I heard you." There was no outward reaction at all; the smooth, cool surface was unruffled. But, even across the room, Doyle could feel an inner rage building, banked down, controlled, but as tangible as the crackle of electricity behind a storm cloud.
"Who was it?"
Totally confused by the unexpected question, Doyle went blank. "Who? I don't -- " Then he understood. "No. No, it wasn't like that. It was an accident. A smash up in the car."
"Christ." The blue eyes finally met Doyle's. "I don't believe it."
This was something Doyle could relate to. "I know. Doesn't seem right, does it? The old man was such a bloody terror, never figured he'd ever buy it; not like that anyway. Guess we all figured he was immortal or something."
Bodie turned away, setting his mug down on the counter and leaning heavily against the sink. "I suppose you're sure about this, or you wouldn't be telling me."
"I was with Betty when she got confirmation from the Minister."
Bodie seemed fascinated by the steady drip of the faucet. "So what happens now?" he said at last.
Doyle shrugged, wishing the other man would look at him, or simply react enough to give him some clue to what he was feeling. He was having his own trouble coming to terms with this; he'd had a vague hope that Bodie would be able to put it in some kind of perspective, show him how to deal with it. But there was a wall between them now that hadn't been there before.
Doyle cleared his throat. "Dunno what'll happen. Probably some reorganization of the squad. Bound to be when the Minister appoints a new controller."
"You reckon it'll be you, eh, Doyle? You'd like that wouldn't you? You'd bloody eat it up."
Doyle's eyes widened, taken back by the sheer viciousness in Bodie's voice. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"You always were an ambitious little sod."
The bewilderment Doyle felt at this unjustified attack rapidly resolved into anger. "What the bloody hell is wrong with you, Bodie?!"
Bodie laughed harshly. You don't seem very cut up about it, do you?"
"And you do? I know it used to be customary to kill the bearer of bad tidings, mate, but I expect they put up a fight. Lay off me, dammit! It's not my fault."
The broad shoulders slumped. "Yeah. I -- sorry, Ray."
The anger evaporated as if it had never been. Doyle approached the other man and put his hand on Bodie's arm. "S'okay. Have to blow off steam someway."
"Is that what I'm doing?" Bodie's voice was flat.
"Sure. You're not the only one upset, y'know."
"I'm not upset." Bodie met the doubting eyes squarely. "People die all the time, Doyle. I just want to know how."
"I told you how."
"And I don't buy it; not yet."
He brushed off Doyle's hand and headed for the bedroom.
"Where're you going?" Doyle asked.
"Getting dressed. Then I'm going to see him."
Doyle trailed after, feeling useless. Whatever it was Bodie needed to help him accept this was obviously beyond his power. Nor did Bodie seem very eager to offer any support to his partner.
"What's the point, Bodie? It'll just make you feel worse. They're probably still doing the autopsy."
"So I'll wait 'til they're finished. Squeamish, Doyle?"
"Damn you, Bodie, why are you making this harder?"
Shrugging on his jacket, Bodie said darkly, "I'm not such a trusting soul as you, that's why."
Following him down the stairs and to the Capri, Doyle tried to think of something to say to stop him, knowing that seeing what was left of George Cowley wouldn't help anything at all. But, then again, perhaps Bodie had to see to finally believe it.
Bodie opened the car door. "You comin'?"
Doyle shook his head. "No."
Their eyes met one more time, and both felt they were suddenly seeing a stranger.
Climbing in their separate cars, they headed in different directions.
George Cowley was known to have more enemies than friends. Both factions were present in abundance at his funeral. Whatever other emotions the Scotsman engendered, he was respected. The Prime Minister herself bad delivered the eulogy. The graveside service was smaller, although it still resembled a three-ring circus as far as Doyle was concerned. All very posh. The old man would've loved it.
He located Bodie on the other side of the grave, impeccably dressed in a handsomely tailored dark suit, with an expression that looked more dangerous than grieving. Like Doyle, he had remained unobtrusively at the back, letting the public figures have the limelight.
Doyle considered inching around to where he was, but decided against it. He'd been notably elusive during the last three days, and was making it clear he didn't welcome any company. It was a very Bodie thing to do, licking his wounds in private. Doyle understood that, tending to do the same himself -- although during the last few years Bodie had seldom given him the chance. It wasn't until now, when his partner hadn't been around to tease and bully him out of his depression, that Doyle realized how much it had helped. Irrepressible, stubborn and nearly impossible to deflate, Bodie had nudged him through same bad patches. This time Doyle was all on his own. Nor was Bodie having any of the treatment he'd dished out often enough. The couple of times Doyle had tried, Bodie cut him off cold. Doyle hadn't had the heart to persevere.
The prayer book closed and heads dipped for the final prayer. Bodie's chin stayed up, gaze moving from one face to another, studying each with a purpose that suddenly chilled Doyle as it occurred to him what Bodie was doing. He was searching for a culprit; graveside detective work. As a copper, Doyle knew it was seldom of any use in a real murder, and in this case it was totally daft.
The cool blue eyes encountered Doyle's, lingered a moment without noticeable change of expression, then moved on. A shiver of apprehension danced up Doyle's spine, and he wondered sickly if he'd been put down on Bodie's list of "suspects".
As the ceremony concluded and the mourners began drifting back toward their limousines, Doyle shook off the feeling, telling himself it was only Bodie in one of his blacker moods. He nodded to Murphy and Jax as they passed and stopped to give Susan a quick hug -- she was one of the few people who had actually shed tears at the grave -- but when he turned back to where Bodie had stood, the spot was vacant. Cursing with frustration, Doyle started to head for his own car, when he saw his partner's Capri. He broke into a lope to catch him before he could pull cut.
At the insistent rap on the window, Bodie reluctantly unlocked the passenger door. Sliding inside, Doyle said cheerfully, "Give me a lift?"
The other man didn't look thrilled at the prospect, but he nodded and started up the motor.
The silence was tense; Bodie concentrating on outflanking the line of funeral cars, Doyle wandering what the hell he could say that wouldn't guarantee a fat lip. He desperately wanted to know what was going through Bodie's head, but even though Bodie didn't clam up often, when he did, getting him to open up was comparable to poking a tiger with a stick.
Finally unable to bear the silence, Doyle said the most innocuous thing he could think of. "Nice service, wasn't it?"
Bodie shot him a glance. "I was wondering when you were going to say that."
Doyle flushed, realizing how trite and phony it had sounded. "Well, it was, wasn't it?"
"It was a load of crap. The old man would've hated it."
Doyle smiled ruefully. "That's odd. I was just thinking he would've enjoyed the hell out of it. Right along his line. All the muckety-mucks payin' their respects; half of them relieved to see the end of 'im, the other 'alf anxious to read their quotes on his tragic loss in the Times. I reckon he'd have fancied the limos, too. Always had style, did ol' I Cowley. Him and his Club and his Old School Tie." Doyle chuckled fondly. "Eh, you remember all the funerals he used to go to?"
Bodie glared at him, but Doyle felt a slight thaw.
"Speaking of ties," Bodie said sarcastically, "it might've been a nice gesture if you'd worn one, don't you think?"
"Oh...uh, yeah. I would've, honestly. But I couldn't find it."
"My tie. "
That finally drew a smile. "You mean my tie, don't you?"
"Oh, was it yours? I always wondered where I got it."
"Where else? God knows you'd never spend a shilling of your own for one."
"That's right, I remember now." He also remembered the last time he'd worn it -- a date with Ann. It seemed like a million years ago. He grinned. "Want it back, do you?"
"After it's been at the bottom of your cupboard with your dirty socks? No thanks. Besides, I thought you'd lost it?"
"It'll turn up I expect."
They fell silent. Doyle cranked down his window and fiddled with the side mirror. He caught sight of a blue sedan that looked vaguely familiar. As he was opening his mouth to comment on it, it turned off. Then he noticed Bodie had also been checking it out. Why would anyone have a tail on Bodie? Impatient with himself for letting the other man's suspicions be contagious, he said abruptly, "Did you get the letter from the solicitor?"
"Yeah." A pause, then sarkily, "What is it, Doyle? You figure the old man left you his fortune?"
Refusing to be goaded, Doyle just shrugged. "Nah, that wily old goat would've found a way to take it with him." He checked his watch. "Supposed to meet him at 4:00, right? You're going, aren't you?"
Tired of walking on eggshells, Doyle snapped, "Come on, Bodie. Might as well. Give you a closer look at all the suspects, won't it? All the best mysteries have 'em all lined up at the reading of the will."
The hands tightened on the steering wheel. "And just what's that supposed to mean?"
Doyle snorted impatiently. "I saw you back there, mate. Doing a frigging survey, weren't you? What the hell are you up to, Bodie?"
Pulling over to the curb, Bodie shut off the motor. "We've got about an hour, want to grab a pint?"
Realizing the subject had been abruptly closed and unwilling to push at the moment, Doyle let it drop. "So you're going?"
"What? Miss the chance of inheriting the ancestral Scottish manor? I wasn't his blue-eyed boy for nothing, y'know." Bodie opened his door. "Come on, let's have a drink."
Doyle took a deep breath, determined to get past the barriers Bodie had erected. He hadn't felt the brunt of this cold, brittle side of his partner since they were first teamed. But from the moment of Cowley's death, something has changed between them. As much as he tried to avoid the idea, it was almost as if the ties between them were being severed. George Cowley had brought them together and now, without him to give it focus, the connection was fading.
But Doyle wouldn't accept that and was far too stubborn to let it happen without a fight. After the last few days, he was beginning to remember what a cold place the world could be without Bodie beside him.
Inside the pub, Bodie had ordered for both of them and had found a booth in the corner. Taking a gulp of beer, Doyle prepared to try again.
Bodie seemed to recognize the stalking look in the green eyes and spoke first to forestall it. "So what've you been up to these last couple of days?"
Surprised at the question, Doyle wasn't sure how to answer. Finally he settled for the truth. "Looking for you, mainly."
Bodie didn't respond to that. "Been down to headquarters?" he dodged the implied question deftly.
"Yeah. Couple of times. Marks and Davis are spitting fire having their op cut short. They'd worked two months on that case; nearly had it cracked." He shrugged. "But I suppose without anyone at the top...I mean, it's not like the army or even the police force. The Cow really doesn't have a backup. Funny, never really thought much about it before, but it was a bit odd him running the whole thing on his own, wasn't it?"
"Not so odd. It was George Cowley."
"True. Anyway, there's hardly anybody at Headquarters now. It's like a bloody morgue -- " He broke off as Bodie looked up. "Christ, that was dumb thing to say."
"Why," Bodie asked in a tight voice, "do you keep tiptoeing around like I'm going to go into hysterics or something?"
Doyle's eyes widened. "I'm not."
"Oh, yes you are. Have been from the first. It may come as a great shock to you -- and to the rest of the mob -- but I'm not the grieving widow as you all seem to make out. I was fond of the old man, but I'm not ready to throw myself on his funeral pyre either."
Doyle looked down, realizing there was some truth to what Bodie was saying. But it angered him as well. "Well maybe I wouldn't be so jumpy about it if you weren't acting so bloody spooky. Christ, Bodie, you've more or less disappeared for three days, and when I do talk to you, it's like talking through a pane of glass. I can't even tell how much is getting through! You're not going to sit there and tell me this hasn't torn you up, because I damn well know better!"
If he hoped to cause some reaction, he was disappointed. The hard, handsome, face hadn't altered a whit and the dark blue eyes gave no hint of the thoughts behind them.
Doyle leaned closer, dropping his voice to a gentle pleading. "Bodie, please. I just want to find out what's going on with you. I know you, mate, and something's very wrong. Don't tell me it's none of my business, because you know it is. We've been mates too long for you to shut me out."
Something in what he said must've got through, for the ice melted a degree before Bodie's gaze fell. He ran his thumb around the lip of his glass, not looking at Doyle, but obviously thinking something through.
When he finally spoke, the remark seemed almost conversational.
"Do you know his name? The name of the lorry driver that smashed into Cowley's car?"
"Uh...Peter Sanders...no, Sanderson. Why?"
"His real name was Pietor Sarnov. He'd changed his name about a year ago."
Doyle's eyes narrowed. "Go on."
Bodie looked impatient. "He was Russian, Doyle."
"From what I understand," Doyle said carefully, "he was born in Britain. He was of Russian extraction, but he's never been out of this country in his life."
"So? It won't be the first time someone's been planted -- "
"Bodie," Doyle cut him short, "are you trying to say this was a hit? That's reaching a bit, innit? After all, Sanderson was killed, too. Along with five other people."
"Could've been a suicide run," Bodie snarled. "They wouldn't care how it was done, or who else got in the way."
Doyle took a deep breath and tried again. "The brakes failed, Bodie. No plot, no plan. It was a simple accident on a crowded expressway, just like a dozen others that happen every day."
"Yeah, very neat, very tidy. Not too many questions asked," Bodie said bitterly.
"That's not true. There was an investigation. Sanderson was checked out -- you know that as well as I do. You've seen the reports."
"I've seen 'em, all right. Maybe they just weren't looking hard enough."
"And maybe there wasn't anything to find," Doyle countered.
Bodie wasn't even listening. "There has to be something. There've been contracts out on Cowley before."
Disliking the obsessive note in the other man's voice, Doyle asked quietly, "What else do you have then? Beside the fact this Sanderson chap had a Russian father and wasn't keen on advertising it?"
Bodie blinked, as if startled by the question. "Nothing yet, but -- "
"Tell me something," Doyle cut in methodically, "if this fellow's name had been O'Leary, would you be ready to pin it on the IRA?"
When that sunk in, Bodie froze. "Fuck you, Doyle. I should've figured you wouldn't understand."
Doyle sighed. "I understand, mate. I understand you can't bear the thought of Cowley dying in something as stupid and pointless as a traffic accident. It's not easy for any of us. But dreaming up some conspiracy won't make him any less dead, will it?"
Bodie didn't answer.
"Listen, sunshine," Doyle continued gently, "the old man meant a lot to me, too, whether you want to believe that or not. But he'd have your hide for wasting time on a dead end like this. First and foremost he believed in facing things head on." Resting his hand on the tense shoulder, Doyle squeezed it comfortingly. "Just face it, sunshine -- and then let it go."
Bodie picked up his beer and drained the last of it. "Fancy another round?" he asked, as if they'd been discussing nothing more disturbing than the weather or the latest football match.
Regarding him worriedly, Doyle just nodded. Bodie got up and returned with two more pints. He surveyed Doyle coolly. "Finished your lecture, Sigmund? The hour's nearly up, and I can't afford much more spare change for your rates. S' already set me back the price of two pints."
"No, I'm done," Doyle replied, feeling a fool. Worse than a fool, for nothing he had said had made a difference, it had just slid right off that smooth, crystal wall Bodie had erected around himself. If he thought a fist to the jaw might shatter it, he would've tried it. But he knew Bodie better than that. It wouldn't even scratch the diamond-hard surface. Doyle gripped Bodie's arm, hoping some of his urgent warmth would seep through. "Bodie, I was only trying to -- "
Very politely, Bodie pulled away. "I know what you were doing, Ray, but save it for someone else, okay? Let's just finish our drinks and then go listen to the old man's last words, shall we?"
For a moment Doyle regretted not being able to tag along with Bodie's fantasy. It would be easier to bury his own confused emotions in a headlong chase for wisps, to see rats in every woodpile, and fill the emptiness Cowley left by searching for a solid, satisfying place to lay the blame. But he couldn't. Not even if it meant losing that tenuous line of communication Bodie had offered. And he couldn't fake belief in something his very practical mind told him didn't exist. Bodie would catch on very quickly to any hint of condescension.
But he suddenly felt that he was losing all touch with his partner, and it was like a piece of himself had splintered off.
"Bodie, listen, I..." He faltered, wishing more than anything that he could ward off the sense of alienation that had sprung up between them before it snowballed and froze them both. "I'm sorry I didn't go with you," he finished lamely. "When you went to see him...the body, I mean. Shouldn't have let you go alone. I didn't mean to -- "
"Forget it," Bodie stopped him harshly. "Wasn't much to see anyway. The car burned. Wasn't the impact that killed him, y'know. It was the fire. I had a look at the autopsy report as well."
Doyle swallowed painfully. "Ah, Bodie..."
"Drop it, Ray. Come on, let's go. It's getting late."
"Well, he didn't take it with him after all," Bodie said wryly as they climbed back into the car nearly two hours later.
It had been an extremely boring hour. Cowley, as to be expected, had been very precise and detailed in the dispersal of his estate. Being Scottish to the bone, he was anything but frivolous where money was concerned, and none of his usual dry humor found its way into the bequests. While comfortably well off, he was not precisely wealthy, having devoted his time and attention to CI5 rather than the stock market. Everything was very straightforward and unsurprising. A large portion of his liquid assets were willed to a small university in Edinburgh; most of his stocks and investments were left to a distant relative, also in Scotland. His personal effects were parceled out among his friends and companions in London. All of his former secretaries received modest trust funds, and the former Minister received his supply of aged malt scotch. The most whimsical note in the entire document was his leaving his collection of crystal to Macklin.
Bodie and Doyle were jointly bequeathed Cowley's extensive private library.
"What do you want to do about the books?" Doyle asked, still puzzled by Cowley's decision on that particular selection. Neither he nor Bodie were exactly voracious readers. Doyle read when he had time, but his taste ran mostly to spy thrillers, mysteries or an occasional book on art. He couldn't recall ever seeing anything much weightier than a nudie magazine in Bodie's hand at all -- although he'd often suspected his partner of being much more well read than himself.
Bodie shrugged. "I don't care. Doesn't matter to me. You take 'em. I was never much for loading myself down with things. Maybe you can sell them and make a bundle. Probably has some first editions in with that lot."
"No," Doyle said quietly, purposely ignoring the sarcasm, "I won't sell them. It's kind of nice he gave them to us. They meant a lot to him, didn't they?"
Bodie's expression darkened, obviously unwilling to deal with the emotional side of it. "Hiding your disappointment very well, I must say, Doyle. Winding up with a ton of books when you must've expected his mutual funds at the very least."
Doyle, who had found himself more touched by the simple legacy than by any phony, pious phrase spoken at the funeral, just looked at Bodie, waiting for the eyes to meet his own. "You bastard," he said finally, more weary than angry. "You had no call to say that. Or any of the things you've said to me. I don't deserve it, and you don't have the right to say it, whatever the hell your problem is."
A flush of pink stained the pale face as Bodie turned away, accepting the callousness of his remark. The real hurt in Doyle's voice had obviously jarred him.
"It was just a joke."
"Was it, Bodie?" It demanded an answer, and Doyle was apparently willing to wait until he got one.
Bodie rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I don't know. I don't bloody know what to think any more."
Bitter tears burned at the corner of Doyle's eyes and he didn't even try to hide them. He wanted Bodie to see what he was doing to him, make him realize that he cared, dammit, and that he'd taken one wound too many. But Bodie didn't even look at him.
It wasn't until he had started the car and pulled out into traffic that Bodie spoke gruffly, "I'm sorry." He still refused to look at Doyle, and he didn't elaborate, but in the state of mind he seemed to be in, even that much must have cost him more of his composure than he felt he could afford to lose. "Listen, mate, you keep the books, okay? You're the packrat, not me. If I ever change my mind, I'll know where they are, won't I?"
"Yeah, sure. Any time." He didn't know what else to say. Didn't think he knew Bodie at all anymore. But he wasn't willing to play target anymore either.
As they made a right turn, Doyle asked, "Where're you going?"
"Taking you home."
"No, take me back to the cemetery."
"Whatever for?" Bodie demanded nastily. "Not planning on weeping over the ol' man's grave, are you? Not your style at all, son."
Doyle closed his eyes tightly, controlling his need to scream at Bodie to stop it. Somehow he sensed that was exactly what Bodie expected him to do. Consciously or not, the other man wanted him to strike back. Wanted a fight and obviously figured Doyle, with his hair-trigger temper, would oblige. But there was no rage inside to draw upon, only a crushing sadness.
"My car's there," he said simply.
"Your car -- ?" Bodie glanced at him. "Then why'd you need a lift from me?"
"Stupid as it seems right now, I...wanted to be with you. I was even crazy enough to think you might want the same thing."
"Thought I needed a shoulder to cry on?" Bodie scoffed, refusing to hear the pain in the quiet voice. "Not bloody likely."
Doyle didn't bother to point out that maybe it was something he had needed himself. For the first time since Doyle had known him, Bodie was not a generous man.
" -- therefore, it seems obvious that the services of this department are no longer required."
There was a tense silence.
Roberts was the first to speak up. "Sir, are you saying that CI5 is shut down? Permanently?"
"Yes. After due consideration, the Minister has decided that its effectiveness is best served by existing offices of law enforcement; specifically, MI6 and Scotland Yard. Any additional special personnel could be drawn from the SAS in emergency situations. The extra expense of this organization simply isn't justified at present."
"It was justified for ten years," Jax pointed out grimly.
"Times change," the man said brusquely, eager to be finished with this distasteful job. A civil servant of the desk-jockey variety, he thought of these people as little more than hoodlums; certainly they all looked dangerous enough.
"That's no answer," someone else spoke out loudly. "What about the operations that are already underway?"
"They are terminated. Other agencies will continue any that seem relevant."
"They can't," McCabe's lazy drawl cut through the other voices easily. He removed the cigar from the corner of his mouth and stared straight at the colorless bureaucrat. "None of 'em are fuckin' good enough."
There was a roar of agreement, a few bitter laughs, and the tension rose another degree. The representative tugged at his tie, realizing why he'd been given this job. He was the sacrificial lamb. These weren't exactly your typical mild-mannered civil servants. Still, even if he wasn't the bravest of men, Perkins stood his ground.
"Listen to me; the matter is not up to vote. The Minister feels CI5 is extraneous to other agencies, and is hereby disbanded." He added quickly, hoping to soften the atmosphere, "All personnel are, of course, eligible for any available government benefits."
"Terrific," someone else muttered. "Who the hell's stayed alive long enough to draw a pension?"
Perkins cleared his throat and tried to smile. "Well, that covers about everything for now. The Minister -- and the Home Secretary, of course -- wish to express their appreciation for your service and hopes for fruitful employment for all of you. Any other questions can be directed to the Ministry. Thank you. You're dismissed."
"I don't believe this crap," Collins called out furiously. "How can you just close down a whole department, just like that?"
"It's already done," Perkins snapped, becoming flustered. "CI5 is history. I would suggest you all start thinking of other means of making a living other than...than.." Seeing the hard glint in several of the eyes, he amended what he'd planned to say. "...whatever it is you've been doing here."
Lewis pulled out his sidearm and carefully polished its barrel on his sleeve. "Why, whatever can you mean?"
As others began to speak up and direct even more nasty comments at the hapless Perkins, Doyle, who was at the back of the room, noticed Bodie slipping out the side door. Immediately, he followed.
Out in the corridor he called out, "Hey, wait up!"
To his relief, Bodie stopped and turned, waiting for Doyle to catch up.
Doyle jerked his thumb back toward the briefing room where the voices were beginning to get louder and more argumentative. "You didn't have much to say back there."
Bodie shrugged. "Wasn't in the mood to waste my breath. Not much point, is there?"
"Not with that poor little runt, at least," Doyle agreed. "He doesn't have anything to say about it. I half expect that lot to string him up before it's over, though."
"Nah, they'll just play with him a bit before they let him run back to his mouse hole."
They began walking again, side by side. "Well, what about going higher up? To the chief rat, maybe?" Doyle suggested.
"No point, is there? The Minister's already decided, and the Home Sec's going to take his advice on it. Like the man said, Doyle, CI5 is history. Might as well get used to the idea."
"Don't you care?"
"I care. But the bottom line is that they're right. CI5 was George Cowley. Without him, might as well close up shop."
"I don't go along with that," Doyle argued. "Okay, the old man was the best. But that doesn't mean no one else could handle the job. It'd be different, of course, but it'd be better than giving up on all of it."
"And just who would you suggest to replace him?" Bodie asked cynically. "Detective Constable Doyle, maybe?"
Doyle stopped short, flushing. Bodie stopped as well. They looked at each other. "Don't start again, dammit," Doyle smoldered. "You know I wouldn't touch it. So don't even think about starting in on me again, because this time you'll get just what you're asking for. One more snotty word and you'll be eating your teeth."
Their eyes held for several tense seconds before Bodie offered a lazy grin. "That's what I love about you Doyle; you have such a sunny disposition."
Doyle was willing to accept this as an olive branch. They continued walking.
"So who did you have in mind?" Bodie asked again, his tone very different.
"What about Jack Crane or Macklin? They've been around the longest."
"Macklin?" Bodie snorted. "I wouldn't have him direct a Sunday picnic."
Doyle sighed. "Maybe you're right. Finding someone as good as Cowley -- "
"There isn't anyone," Bodie said flatly. "And even if there were, it's not up to us, is it? It's over, Ray. Time to move on."
"Yeah, I guess so."
Reaching the car park, they both stopped awkwardly.
"Fancy a drink?" Doyle asked quickly, before Bodie could fade off again. And this time there wouldn't be a job waiting to draw him back.
Bodie looked at him and for a second Doyle thought he caught a wistful expression in the blue eyes. Sensing his advantage, Doyle pressed the point.
"My place? I'll even feed you, if you insist."
Bodie smiled. "Steak and potatoes? None of that bean sprouts and rabbit food?"
Doyle's spirits lifted. "How's lasagna sound?"
The smile broadened to an appreciative grin. "What time did you say? Shall I bring me own fork?"
Doyle chuckled. "Drive around now. You can have a drink while I cook."
"Sounds like a fair arrangement."
"No it doesn't. But I'm a pushover. See you in a few minutes."
Heart feeling lighter than it had in two weeks, Doyle bounced over to his car, and found himself whistling most of the way home.
Leaving a well-fed and relaxed Bodie sprawled on his couch, Doyle made a trip to the kitchen for two more beers. It had been a terrific evening, the atmosphere between them very easy and comfortable -- almost like any normal at-loose-ends evening they'd shared dozens of times. Except that it was difficult to forget that nothing would be quite the same again, and even harder to forget why.
They'd carefully avoided the subject of CI5 or Cowley, both content to give it a rest and stay on the safe ground of sports, motorcycles, birds and bets. It was coming as a bit of a shock to Doyle just how happy he was to have Bodie here with him; the last two weeks underlining how much he'd taken the friendship for granted. After five years of practically having to toss Bodie out on his ear to get rid of him, it felt rather odd having had to bribe him over. In the time he had known him, Doyle recalled only one other occasion that was remotely similar -- when Bodie was involved with Marikka Schuman. Even now, he could remember the puzzled, lost feeling he'd experienced at the time. Bodie had hardly seemed to know he existed, and Bodie always paid attention to him, no matter who else was around or what they were doing. Except that time. Strange, how much it bothered him when he lost it.
After the last two dreadful weeks, Doyle wished it was something as simple as a woman now. Having a ghost take what was rightfully his, was something else again.
At he kitchen doorway, he stopped, a little stunned by what he'd been thinking. The way he'd been thinking. But as he retraced his thought processes, he couldn't pin down what had jolted him. Giving a mental shrug, he took the beers on into the sitting room.
Catching the can Doyle tossed to him, Bodie gestured to the group of haphazardly stacked crates in the corner. They'd been delivered the day before, and Doyle hadn't figured out exactly where to put them.
"What the devil are you going to do with this lot?"
Doyle sat down on the couch and popped open his can. "Dunno. Didn't expect there to be quite so many. Sure you don't want some of 'em? The poetry at least?"
"Eighty-seven copies of Burns? No thanks, mate."
"Oh come on, Bodie, there's bound to be all kinds in there. You like that stuff -- Keats and Shelley and Kipling and whatever."
"'Who travels fastest travels alone,'" Bodie quoted softly.
"No, I don't want 'em," Bodie said bluntly, a chill frosting his voice for the first time that evening.
"Okay," Doyle said casually, not wanting anything to spoil the mood. "I reckon I'll have to fix up some shelving. You any good at carpentry?" he added, hoping to draft Bodie into helping.
"No," Bodie said shortly, expression unreadable.
"Never mind," Doyle replied, sensing the sudden tension in the air. "They'll keep where they are for now. We're going to be busy enough finding a new job."
Doyle looked up, surprised Bodie picked up on the unconscious slip. He didn't think he'd unduly emphasized the "we". Five years with a partner made it difficult to think in terms of "I". An old conversation came to his mind ("Since when did you ever do anything on your own?"
"Since when did you?").
As the subject was broached, however, Doyle said lamely, "I thought we might try to find something together."
"Like what, for instance?" Bodie was giving nothing away.
"Dunno." Doyle took a nervous sip of beer. "Haven't had time to think about it much, have I? Suppose it isn't a very practical idea."
Bodie didn't offer any comforting platitudes.
The double act was over. All his vague images of them working together again burst like a soap bubble. Odd to feel so nostalgic about something that was barely ended. But, christ, he missed it already. Missed the security of a partnership -- of Bodie. But that didn't mean it all had to be finished.
"So what have you in mind?" he inquired with a false casualness. "Back to the SAS?"
It was a minute before Bodie answered. "What else did you expect?"
Doyle let out the breath he'd been unconsciously holding. "For a bit there I thought you were going to nip off to Africa again."
Bodie snorted. "Nah. Too old for all that. Besides, I finished with that kind of thing a long time ago."
Yeah, Doyle thought to himself, and you don't have the stomach for it anymore either, do you, mate?
"So it's back to your old mob then?"
"Not right away," Bodie replied cryptically. "Got a few things to clear up first."
Doyle sat his beer down on the table, feeling uneasy. "What's that?"
Bodie glanced at him, saw the expression, and his jaw tightened. "Nothing you'd be interested in."
Doyle leaned forward. "Hey, mate, you're not still -- "
"Drop it, Doyle," Bodie warned coldly.
A tingle of alarm shot through the smaller man. "Christ, Bodie, you're still not on about that Russian crap, are you? I thought you'd got that out of your system by now."
Doyle regretted the words the minute they were out, for the wall was back around Bodie, higher than ever.
"It's none of your business, is it?"
Hoping to get back to firmer ground, Doyle asked as coolly as he could, "What else have you found? Must be something. Spill it."
He saw Bodie cautiously glance at him from the corner of his eye, judging his sincerity.
"Come on, mate," Doyle said impatiently. "If you've got something, let's hear it. Won't hurt to have another opinion, will it?"
There was a crack in the wall now, and Doyle glimpsed how eager Bodie was to bring him in on this. Finally, he gave in.
"Okay, then. I did some checking on the autopsy report. Turns out the M.E. did it all on his own, didn't even have any assistants."
Doyle just looked at him. "So?"
"So don't you think that's bloody funny? No help? No witnesses?"
Treading very warily, Doyle asked, "You mean you think there's something screwy with the report? That he was poisoned or shot or knifed? Something like that?"
Bodie looked momentarily shaken. "No, that's not what I mean. It's... No, he died in the crash all right, I know that."
"Then what are you getting at, Bodie?"
"Well, don't you think it's bloody strange, anyway?" Bodie burst out defensively. "No one else around -- "
"Not particularly," Doyle cut in. "I did a bit of checking, too, believe it or not."
There was a hurt expression in the blue eyes, but he snapped, "Humoring me, I suppose?"
"If you like," Doyle replied calmly. "What you probably didn't bother to do was to check the rest of the files on other cases going through that morgue. It's happened before that there was no one else available to assist. Not often, true. But it's not an isolated case. And none of the others had anything to do with CI5. One was a cancer case, in fact."
"So you're still convinced everything is just fine, are you?" Bodie said resentfully. "All on the up and up, and I'm wasting my time?"
Doyle hesitated, not wanting to answer. He ran his hand through his curls, feeling frustrated and helpless. Maybe their lives were cracking up around them, but they ought to be working on patching them back together, not playing whodunit on something that wasn't even a crime except in its very tragedy. He could understand Bodie's need to focus on something else to keep his mind off the pain he couldn't admit to feeling, but this was on the verge of becoming something more dangerous -- an obsession that was masking the grief rather than assuaging it.
He had taken too long to answer, and Bodie was reading it all in his face.
"Well?" Bodie exploded. "Go on, say it! You think I'm mad, don't you? Well, say it, dammit!"
Bodie had jumped to his feet, fists clenched.
Doyle stood as well, aching inside. His voice was unsteady when he finally spoke. "What I think is that you loved George Cowley like a father, that you miss him, and that you can't make yourself accept that."
Bodie turned away from him. He threw his beer can against the opposite wall; it bounced back and foamed over the carpet. With a supreme effort, he caught back his anger before it could go further. After a moment, he faced Doyle again, his voice tightly controlled. "You never really wanted to know, did you? When you asked me what I'd found, you were just skiving to find out how bad off I was; if I was ready for the padded room yet. Well, not yet, Doyle. Not just yet."
More disturbed by the expression of betrayal he saw in his friend's eyes than by the explosion, Doyle said quickly, "That's not true, dammit! I did want to know -- wanted to be sure myself. The point is, neither of us found anything, did we? Stop being such an obstinate bastard and see that!"
Bodie grabbed up his jacket and headed for the door.
Panicked, Doyle ran after him, catching him at the door. "Bodie -- please!"
Bodie's eyes were unrelenting, pinning Doyle with an icy contempt. But there was a deep well of pain poorly concealed behind the coldness.
"Thanks for the meal, mate. See you around sometime...maybe."
He tried to shrug off the grip on his arm, but Doyle clung tighter. "Don't, Bodie. Don't go like this. I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Bodie responded, finally jerking out of Doyle's hold. "You've always been one for 'going by the book', haven't you? As far as you're concerned, this one's closed."
Numbly, Doyle waited until the sound of the footsteps faded down the stairs, then he went inside and shut the door.
Coming home with a sack of groceries two days later, Doyle found a rather interesting little note in his mailbox. "Notice to Vacate" it said succinctly.
Putting down the bag, he sat down heavily, staring at it. Should've expected it, of course. CI5 flat -- CI5 car, too, now that he thought about it. Have to turn that in as well.
Doing a quick mental review of his finances, he winced at the knowledge of the chunk that would take from his savings. Motors didn't come cheap, and god knew what flats were going for these days. He hadn't had to deal with that on his own for years now -- five years, to be precise. One of the perks of CI5 all of them had had the stupidity to grumble about, what with moving around so much and seldom assigned the location or style they'd prefer. Now it seemed like heaven. Christ, even finding a decent flat was going to be a job.
He crumpled up the paper and pitched it across the room. It landed three inches from the beer stain in the rug. He quickly got up and scooped up the ball, not wanting to think about that anymore. It was time to snap out of it and get his life in order. He'd spent the last two days moping around, staring at the walls and worrying about Bodie. Stupid, that. Bodie could well look after himself.
Impulsively, he grabbed up the phone and dialed his partner's -- his former partner's -- number. It was far from the first time he'd tried, although he'd seldom had the guts to actually wait for it to ring before hanging up. The times he had, there was never an answer. Last chance, mate, he thought grimly. I'm not calling again. Another part of his mind laughed at the absurdity of that.
But it didn't ring. Instead, he got a disconnect recording. So Bodie had already moved on. Typical.
Doyle bit his lip, wishing the ridiculous, empty feeling under his ribcage would go away. Why did he feel like he'd let Bodie down? He'd been round and round the subject for days now, and he still didn't see any other way he could have gone with it. The only thing that would have satisfied Bodie would have been his jumping into the murky fantasy right along with him, and Doyle simply couldn't do that.
Maybe by now Bodie had had time to see that, too. True, the man could be impossibly stubborn when something upset him badly, but he'd never been a fool. Sooner or later, he'd come to his senses. Perhaps he already had but was too embarrassed to admit it.
Decisively, he picked up the phone again. It took several calls and some persuasive talking, but he managed to find out from one of Bodie's more current girlfriends where he was staying. The only reason she knew was that he had given her some of his things to store for him until he found a permanent place. Right now, he was in a hotel.
Doyle thought he knew why. Bodie was still on the non-existent trail and had no time to waste on diversions like a flat or a job. Doyle wondered how long his money would hold out; also typical for Bodie, the hotel he'd chosen wasn't exactly inexpensive.
There seemed no point in calling him now; not if he was still set on this fixation of his. They'd only fight again, and Doyle couldn't deal with that right now.
Determinedly, he put his mind back own his own problems.
Nearly a month later, Doyle found he didn't have much time or energy to devote to worrying about his former partner. His own difficulties were beginning to take precedence.
He'd finally managed to find a rather shabby flat in a less than fashionable neighborhood -- for what seemed an outrageous price. He'd bought a second hand car that refused to start in damp weather, and it seemed to rain every other day.
Most frustrating of all, he couldn't get a job.
When he'd tried his old department at the Met, he'd been told there was an unofficial hiring freeze. Accepting that with some doubt, he contacted some people he knew at Scotland Yard, figuring that with his record, they'd find something for him. But he got the same song and dance from them, with the added point that he'd been out of police work for a long time now. There were men already on the force with the seniority and experience to grab up any position he was qualified for.
Special Branch seemed interested at first, but after he had taken a barrage of tests, he was given the equivalent of "don't call us, we'll call you", with no further explanation. This bothered him more than being turned down by the police force. At least that had some warped logic to it, but this bruised his ego. He knew he passed every test with flying colors -- they were a breeze compared to some Cowley had put them through. And Special Branch could always use experienced men. It didn't make sense.
To add insult to injury, he was turned down by two separate private security firms because he was "overqualified and liable to be dissatisfied by the routine work".
By this time, Doyle was getting the nagging suspicion that something odd was going on. Not that he'd particularly expected to get snapped up the first ten minutes (although, deep down, he'd expected exactly that, having no small faith in his own abilities), but this was bloody ridiculous.
Finally, reluctantly, he went to MI6. While it was probably the organization best suited to utilize his talents, and the most similar in style to CI5, even the thought of working for that mob turned his stomach. His time with CI5 had given him a distinct prejudice against this particular branch of the service. Cowley's opinion of them had hardly been a secret, and the rivalry between CI5 and MI6 had just stopped short of open warfare.
Doyle's own experience with them had produced nothing but contempt; starting from Willis' involvement in setting Bodie up with Beirman's murder and permitting Kryber's subsequent assassination of Marikka Schuman, right up to the case he and Bodie had worked on just a couple of months ago when the Acting Head of MI6, Nigel Dawson, had turned out to be working with Kovak of the KGB. Rumor had it that things were sorted out now; Dawson was dead and Willis was back as Head from his temporary duty overseas. But Doyle didn't trust them, and it would take a lot to change his opinion.
His dwindling bank account did much toward that end. His options were narrowing considerably, and unless he wanted to become a taxi driver, he'd have to swallow his distaste and go for it. It occurred to him that he really didn't have the training to be much else than a cop or to do some kind of security work. It was a disturbing thought.
Telling himself there were good cops and bad cops in any service, he made up his mind to give it a shot. A few bad apples didn't necessarily mean the whole barrel was sprouting worms. And if it did -- well he'd been stepping on worms for quite a few years now. He could do it from the inside as well as from the outside.
One thing that made the idea more palatable was the fact that Murphy had joined up with MI6. At least there would be one person Doyle could trust.
After all the soul searching and indecision, it came as something of a shock to discover that, even if he had grudgingly decided to accept MI6, they weren't precisely eager to take him in. They made the proper noises, of course. They'd hired Murphy quick enough, and Doyle had double his experience in intelligence work, and was three times better with a hand gun. But after a week of red tape and delays, Doyle was informed very politely that his CI5 records had somehow been misplaced. Without the proper credentials, it would be necessary to do a thorough security check on him, from scratch. That would take time, there was a regrettable backlog. Perhaps even as long as several months before he could be cleared. Most unfortunate.
"Lost! Can you believe that crap?!" Doyle poured out his frustration and fury to Murphy that night. "Even if I was dumb enough to fall for that, you know as well as I do they have a file as thick as Willis' head on me already. On all of us. Just like the Cow had on all of those bastards." He shook his head. "No, they're giving me the runaround, Murph, just like the others. Something's screwy, dammit!"
Even in the crowded, noisy pub, his angry voice drew attention.
Murphy leaned forward and hissed, "Keep it down, will you? Stop advertising."
Doyle's eyes widened. "What? What the hell're you talking about?"
Glancing around casually, Murphy said quietly, "This may not be such a great place to talk about it, is all."
"Why the hell not?" Doyle demanded belligerently. Although not drunk, he'd had just enough to make the idea of a fight quite attractive.
The other man looked irritated. He put his drink down and stood. "Come on. Let's get out of here."
Doyle wasn't in the mood for mysteries, he'd had a belly full of them already, but if he wanted some answers, he was left little choice but to follow.
Catching up with his former colleague outside on the pavement, he pulled him to a halt. "You want to tell me what's going on, dammit!"
Murphy shoved his hands in his pockets, a very un-Murphylike scowl on his face. "I'm not sure if I can. I don't know myself. But I do know that you've managed to get very solidly up somebody's nose."
"I'm beginning to figure that out," Doyle said wryly. "But whose nose, and why?"
"Whoever it is, it must be pretty high up. I was given the word earlier today, loud and clear, that it's not healthy to be too matey with you or with Bodie."
"I see." Doyle looked grim. "Well, you'd better run along then, hadn't you?"
"Come off it, Doyle," Murphy barked. "You're getting as bloody touchy as that bear of a partner of yours. You think I give a damn about that? I've already decided to pack it in with this garbage outfit. I got you out of there, you stupid sod, because you don't need to make it worse for yourself. I don't know for sure, but I think they're watching you, Ray."
Doyle recalled a few times when he'd thought the same thing, but had dismissed it as simply Bodie's paranoia rubbing off on him. "Why, Murph? I'm out of CI5, I'm just a private citizen now -- an unemployed one at that."
Murphy nodded, "Yeah, and it looks like someone is trying to keep it that way. You've been blacklisted, son. Bodie, too. No one dares touch either of you. The word's out and no one, in our kind of business at least, is going to cross it. You might get a job digging ditches, mate, as long as you don't need a license for the bloody shovel."
Doyle ran fingers through his tangled curls, totally confused. In spite of his vague suspicions, he'd never imagined anything so definite. "This is crazy," he muttered, then thought of Bodie. Yeah, crazy, he thought to himself. Christ, sunshine, what shit have you stepped into?
"Why just me and Bodie?" he asked.
Murphy shrugged. "Maybe because you two were Cowley's best men."
"That doesn't hold up. You weren't exactly chopped liver, and what about Jax and Lewis or a half a dozen others?"
"Listen, Doyle, it's no secret that you and Bodie were closer to the old man than any of us." He grinned crookedly. "No one would've dared call you his pets to your faces, of course."
"Of course," Doyle said dryly. "Bloody cowards. But, see here, Murph, that still doesn't get it. Even if what you say is right, it still doesn't explain a vendetta."
"The Cow made a lot of enemies. Maybe there're still holding a grudge and taking it out on you two. It's the simplest answer, although it does seem a bit far to go to get back at a dead man. 'Course you two never endeared yourself to a lot of people either. You were usually elbows deep in most of the big ops the Cow had on. I wish I could tell you more, Ray, but about everything I've got has been locker room scuttle. Nothing to sink your teeth into."
"I'll find out, one way or another," Doyle swore darkly. He glanced at his companion. "You realize they'll figure out who told me this. Could land you in it as well, y'know."
Murphy grinned. "Yeah, isn't that a shame? Ruin my whole career with MI6, won't it? Hey, I told you I'd had enough already. I thought I could stomach it, but I can't. Spoiled, I guess. Too many years of George Cowley."
Doyle's throat tightened, understanding completely. "Yeah, I don't think any of us knew how much we'd miss the old bastard."
"Bodie knew," Murphy said simply and looked at Doyle for reaction.
But Doyle didn't want to talk about Bodie. Not now, when he was on the edge of facing something very dirty. He'd scoffed at Bodie's fantasies only to run smack up against something that might or might not be connected. He had to find out for sure before he even started dealing with what he might have done to his partner. If Bodie had been right all along...
"Listen, Murph, thanks for filling me in on this."
"I just wish I could've given you something more solid to go on."
"It's a start. You take care of yourself."
"You, too." They shook hands, and Murphy added, "If you want some help -- ?"
"No, thanks, but you're better off out of it. It's something I've got to handle on me own."
"That might not be so easy."
"Nothing ever is, mate," Doyle called over his shoulder as he moved away.
"Sir, we're closing now."
Bodie looked up, having trouble bringing the woman into focus after staring at row after row of fuzzy print on the microfilm. He rubbed his eyes, but it just made them burn more. "What time is it, please?" he asked her.
"Nine, sir. You'll have to leave now."
Nine? Christ, he'd been here nearly ten hours. And found nothing more enlightening than the fact that Sarnov's father had been granted political refuge back in 1958. The odd thing about it was that he'd been arrested for espionage less than two months before. The charges had been dropped, however, and Bodie couldn't find any more details on the case. It could be pertinent, or it could be another dead end. Could be...
Sighing, he got up and stretched his cramped muscles. Damn it, Doyle had always been better at this kind of piddlework; files and old newspapers and dropped shoelaces, all the Sherlock Holmes detail and detective work. He had the patience for it, the copper's nose --
Bodie viciously cut off this line of thought, pushing back the pang of loneliness that came with it. Doyle was out of it. The partnership was as dead as CI5 -- as Cowley.
Depressed and discouraged, Bodie tugged on his coat and moved down the dimming hallways to the exit. Once outside, he stood on the steps, wondering blankly what to do next. It was spitting rain again, and the night was wet and dreary. It had been the gloomiest spring he could remember. But he acknowledged that the weather was the least of it.
He was very tired, but knew it was his spirit more than his body that was weary. He wondered idly what Doyle was doing right now. Not that it mattered, of course. Just be nice to know. Maybe even give him a ring and --
No. Doyle thought he was a nutter. Why the hell would he want to be around someone he suspected of being off his nut? What were some other pithy expressions to cover his condition? Unbalanced, yes that was a delicate turn of phrase. Doyle thought he was unbalanced. Suffering from delusions. Paranoid. Psycho. Unhinged.
Bodie smiled, beginning to enjoy himself. Then there was the ever-popular batty. Not to mention deranged, starkers, barmy and just plain insane.
The smile faded. What if, Bodie old son, what if he's right?
For the first time, he let himself consider the possibility. After all, he'd been wading through files and records and reports for nearly a month now and found next to nothing. Nothing of consequence anyway. He'd talked to dozens of people -- whether they wanted to be talked to or not -- and everything still led to a nice, neat, tidy solution: that it was a simple accident. Still, the niggling voice in the back of his mind insisted it was just too neat, all the strings tied up just a jot too artfully. And every time he was on the verge of giving up, something else turned up that was just a hair out of synch.
Or was it? Maybe it was just him that was out of synch.
He didn't feel insane, he just felt frustrated. Of course, if he were really mad, he wouldn't know it, would he? But if he was inventing the clues he was finding, he must be a masochist as well as a nutter, because he certainly wasn't finding enough to satisfy any self-respecting paranoid.
"Damn it," he said aloud.
The librarian walked past him on the steps, glancing over her shoulder at him nervously.
"Don't mind me, dear," he called after her. "I'm perfectly harmless. They let me out for walkies now an' everything."
She quickened her pace.
Following something stronger than a whim, Bodie got in his car and drove to the graveyard where Cowley was buried. The gates were locked. He jumped up and caught the top of the wall and pulled himself over, landing lightly on his feet on the other side.
It took some time to find the grave in the dark, but his sense of direction was good, and his need for a some type of catharsis was even greater. When he located it, he stood beside it for a long time, staring down and fighting the emotions that assailed him.
"Bet you're surprised to see me, aren't you, sir?" he said softly. "Bit surprised to be here meself. Never figured I was the type to be climbing into cemeteries in the dead of night to hold seances. Corpses don't generally have a lot of conversation."
Bodie's head dropped wearily. "Listen, you old goat, I've got to ask you something, and you've got to tell me straight. No more of your damn triple think. We both know I don't have the brains for it. That's the golly's department, though I'd've bit me tongue off rather than let him know it."
He swallowed the growing lump in his throat and looked up at the starless sky, letting the drizzle wash his face and cool his burning eyes.
Looking down at the grave again, he whispered, "You've got to tell me, please. Is Doyle right? Tell me, George, am I crazy?"
After a minute, he laughed. "Yeah, I'm nuts right enough. Standing here talking to six feet of dirt and a month old corpse. But you see...I don't have anyone else to talk to." He took a deep breath and sniffed. "Yeah, I know what you'd say. Talk to Doyle. That's why God and Cowley made partners."
He moved over to lean against a neighboring tombstone. "It's not that simple, though. Every time I look at him, I think.... Christ, I dunno, what I think. It's just...he doesn't understand. Thinks I'm making it all up in me head. No, I don't blame him -- not now, anyway. Half of me thinks he's right on target and I'm ready for a nice padded suite somewhere.
"But, before I give up, I have to know for sure. You understand that, don't you, sir? You've always understood me better than anyone; certainly better than Ray. Not that he doesn't try, but -- he can be a little blind sometimes, y'know?
"Right now he thinks I'm just doing all this so I won't have to face up to you being gone. Hell, maybe that is part of it. But I think I have faced it. Don't like it much, but I've lost people before, it's nothing new."
Bodie chuckled. "You know what he said? Said I loved you like a father and just couldn't admit it. He could be right about that, too. God knows I hated you like one, sometimes." He smiled fondly. "Remember when you railroaded me into CI5? Christ, I hated your scummy guts then. Some choice: Jail or working for you. Believe me, it was a tough choice."
The smile faded. "Wasn't for a long time that I realized what you did for me. Never have figured out why you took the chance. Took me in when I didn't think I had much to offer anyone, least of all to myself. I was dead inside, had been for years. Doyle once said I was no different from Krivas, but he didn't have any idea how close he was to being right."
For a few moments, Bodie let his mind slide back to the dark valleys of his life, times and places and people he'd sometimes thought he'd never climb his way clear of. But once he had, he had refused to look back, always afraid he would fall back into the chasm. Mostly, he was successful, training himself to keep the past at bay. Only when Krivas turned up or Keller --
"You knew it wasn't me, didn't you?" Bodie said wonderingly, understanding that for the first time. "I'll bet you even eventually figured out it was Keller that sold that gun shipment and just let me take the rap for it. I reckoned I owed it to him after he took that bullet for me -- hoped like hell it would make us even. Knowing Keller, that's a laugh. He just took off to Italy and waited for the heat to die down. Didn't matter; even if I was innocent that time, I'd done the same thing often enough in Africa, it seemed like poetic justice.
"Funny, you never did tell me how you convinced Major Nairn to go along with the cover up. Even if ol' Freddy was anxious to keep the sterling rep of the SAS out of the whole mess, it wouldn't've been enough to get him to let me off without a few years inside. You must've had something over on him, too, you crafty bastard."
He laughed again, beginning to feel strangely better, pouring out his heart in the cool night. It was very private here, peaceful; some of that peace was seeping into him.
"What was it you saw in me, George?" he asked curiously, "To make it worth your trouble? Oh, I've been useful enough to you since, I know that. But what was there about me that made you take the chance in the first place?" He shook his head, realizing he would never know the answer to that.
"I couldn't believe it when you saddled me with that little bastard Doyle right away." Bodie reminisced with a rueful smile. "The crook and the copper. What a bloody laugh. 'Course you never told him about me, and...I just never got around to it meself. He had a low enough opinion of me as it was -- the nasty mercenary. Not that I was wild about him either, y'understand. A flat-foot with delusions of grandeur, I reckoned. But I was wrong about that. He was damned good. More than that, he was good for me. That curly-mopped little firecracker, all morals and integrity -- until you get that temper of his up, then he'll slice you to bits and worry about it later. But he made me feel human again, alive. And somehow you knew he would, didn't you, you tricky old fox? You were wasted in that job; could've made a mint as a fortune teller."
Bodie sighed, amused with himself for needing this purge and at the whimsical method he chosen to accomplish it, but nonetheless aware that it was helping.
"Okay, George, enough's enough. This isn't the first time I've been near the edge. Last time you had to stick a gun to my head to snap me out of it. This time, I'll surrender willingly. This is no fun, y'know. I'm bloody tired of the whole mess. So just tell me I'm crazy and I'll stop so fast you'll be spinning in your expensive coffin."
The wind was beginning to pick up, and Bodie shivered in his damp clothes. Finally he grinned and stood.
"Not talking, eh? Be that way. What the hell am I asking you for anyway? Never could believe half the things you said."
Feeling at least a stone lighter, Bodie strolled back over to the wall and climbed out.
Doyle found that tie of Bodie's. He put it on, along with his best jacket and trousers, and spent a difficult fifteen minutes trying to coax his too long curls into looking less like a bird's nest.
At half past nine, he presented himself at MI6 Headquarters and politely asked to speak to the Head. Determined to get to the bottom of all this, he had decided to try the civilized route first.
"Do you have an appointment, sir?"
"No, I'm sorry, I haven't." He smiled winningly, "But it'll only take a moment. It's quite important, or I wouldn't disturb him."
"Very well, I'll tell him you're here." Unwillingly charmed by the sweetness of the round face and large green eyes, she quickly skimmed the appointment book. "His schedule isn't very crowded today. Have a seat, Mister....?"
"Doyle," he supplied with an angelic smile. "Raymond Doyle."
By five that afternoon, the sweetness had long since soured, and the angel was looking more than a little scruffy. The tie had come off by noon, the neat hair was history by one; at three he was using his jacket as a pillow, and had rolled his shirt sleeves up to the elbow.
So much for civilized, he thought, glowering at the closed door. He had sat there patiently and watched everyone, including Willis' barber, be ushered inside without a blink.
Putting down the phone, the secretary finally addressed Doyle. Her original reluctant warmth toward him had faded as the day wore on and he began to get on her nerves. Not to mention the fact that Mr. Willis must have had an excellent reason for putting him off like this.
"I'm sorry, but Mr. Willis has gone home for the day." There was no small degree of satisfaction in her voice.
Doyle came off the chair like a whirlwind. "What? I've been here for hours! Now listen -- " Doyle shut his mouth abruptly, forcing himself to refrain from wringing her scrawny neck. "Surely he must have been able to spare me a few minutes. Perhaps he didn't understand how much I wanted to speak to him. Are you sure you told him it was important?"
"Mr. Doyle, I'm sorry you waited so long," she said primly, "but if you barge in here without an appointment, you can hardly expect to be received."
Doyle gritted his teeth until they ached. "Naturally. I'll tell you what, love. You just jot me down in that book somewhere for tomorrow, okay? I'll be back."
"I can't promise -- "
"Of course you can," Doyle said smoothly. "And thank you so much."
His appearance the next morning was considerably different. Deciding the formal approach hadn't worked worth a damn, he was back in trainers, tee-shirt and jeans. This produced an even chillier reception, but it made for a much more comfortable wait. He'd brought along a paperback as well -- one with a particularly lurid cover.
Popping a stick of gum in his mouth, he settled back in the chair with the air of a man willing to camp out for weeks.
The secretary looked a bit flustered, and immediately got on the phone to the inner office.
Doyle wondered with amusement how long his bull-in-a-china-shop partner would have waited before kicking the bloody door down. Doyle was giving it two more hours.
As it happened, he didn't have that long to wait.
The door to the inner office opened and Willis came out glaring. "What is all this nonsense, Doyle?"
Doyle stood. "Nonsense, sir? I have an appointment this time. Your marvelous secretary wrote it down for me, didn't you, sweetheart?"
"I'm a busy man, Doyle," Willis snapped. "What is it you want?"
"I wanted a job, Willis," Doyle snapped back, eyes narrowing dangerously. "Now I just want some answers."
"A job?" Willis snorted. "You've a lot of nerve, I must say. Go through channels, if -- "
"I've done that," Doyle cut in, "Seems someone's dammed them all up where I'm concerned."
"I'm sorry to hear that. What's it to do with me? If you want me to write you a recommendation -- -"
"Christ, I'd love to read that."
Willis looked at him hard. "Exactly what do you want?"
Doyle glanced at the secretary. "You sure you want to talk about all this out here? I thought you and me might have a nice little chat about good old George. I'm sure you miss him so."
For a second Willis didn't say anything. Then he motioned to his office door. "Let's go in there. Maureen, hold my calls until Mr. Doyle leaves."
Inside, Willis sat at his desk and gestured toward a chair for the other man. Doyle remained on his feet.
"All right, Doyle, what's this all about?"
"I'm hoping you can tell me, Willis. First of all, what's this crap about my file being lost?"
Willis shrugged. "It happens."
"Bullshit. I've been blacklisted, and I think you might know why. Might even be your idea."
Willis snorted contemptuously. "You've got quite an imagination. Why should I bother? I never liked you much, Doyle, but I never guessed you had a persecution complex. Unemployment is rampant, you know."
"Okay, so you tell me why no one will touch me. I'm good, Willis, and you know it."
The eyes hardened. "You certainly have a high opinion of yourself."
"Well, I've put a few over on you and this mob before, haven't I?" Doyle drawled, "Not that that is much of an accomplishment. My granny could take care of some of the monkeys you've got working for you."
Leaning back in his chair, Willis eyed him with dislike. "All right, smart boy, if you have all the answers, why come to me?"
"Because it's more than just having doors slammed in my face, a lot more. I'm being tailed as well. They have a light touch, I'll give 'em that, but once I started looking for it, it didn't take long to twig."
Doyle sat down on the edge of the desk and pushed a lamp to one side so he could stare straight at the other man. "Now why would anyone want to do that, Willis? Refusing to give me a job -- that can be blamed on my somewhat abrasive personality, I suppose. But being tailed? There's something else going on."
Willis smiled. "And you think I'm behind it? You're becoming as paranoid as your partner."
Doyle straightened. "Yeah, crazy Bodie. Only maybe not so crazy at all. As a matter of fact, I'm beginning to wonder if he isn't sharper than I ever gave him credit for."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Maybe nothing. or maybe this all does have something to do with Cowley's death. What do you think, Willis?"
Willis looked bored. "I think you're wasting your time, and more importantly, my time. If you choose to believe I've got it in for you, go right ahead. Truthfully, I wouldn't have you work for this department if the Soviet navy was boating up the Thames. You're nothing but a street punk, Doyle. You don't respect authority and you don't play the game. That's hardly a good way to win friends and influence people. If you'd change your attitude, you might find yourself employed again. Not everyone's willing to put up with what George Cowley did. Myself, for instance." He pressed the intercom button. "Maureen, get Major Jackson on the line, please. Mr. Doyle is leaving right now."
Doyle stood languidly. "Yeah, I'll go. But I'm not finished with this, Willis. Something's smelling to high heaven, and I'll nose it out sooner or later. Count on it."
Willis sat thoughtfully for a few minutes after Doyle's departure.
"Major Jackson is on the line, sir," his secretary told him.
"Get rid of him," Willis ordered. "Tell him I'll get back to him later. And get me the Minister."
The desk clerk caught Bodie as he went through the lobby.
"Mr. Bodie? There was a gentlemen here to see you yesterday afternoon. He waited for over an hour, but as we didn't know where to reach you, he couldn't stay any longer. He left this for you."
Bodie took the large envelope and nodded his thanks. The return address was of Cowley's solicitor. Back in his room, he opened the clasp and two smaller envelopes were inside. One was sealed; on the outside was one word, "Bodie", scrawled in the old man's handwriting. He stared at it for a moment, mouth suddenly dry. Then he picked up the other and opened it.
I apologize for the delay in delivering this. It was found among Mr. Cowley's papers in his private safe. Since you had left your previous address and your former employers are no longer in existence, I encountered some difficulty in tracing your whereabouts. Perhaps I should have delivered this in person, but there were no stipulations on this matter in Mr. Cowley's will, so I am taking the liberty of leaving it with the clerk. I hope there is no problem in this regard.
If you should require further assistance in any particular, I remain at your service.
Nigel Barrows, Solicitor
BARROWS, BROWN, WRIGHT & BROWN
Bodie's hand was shaking as he picked up the plain white envelope and read his name again. Christ, message from the grave. He got up and poured himself a drink, feeling silly for being so affected by this.
He couldn't imagine what words of wisdom the Cow would leave for him. ("Have your affairs in order, 3.7. Do all your letters.") As a matter of fact, he had -- one to Cowley and one to Doyle. No one else really mattered, did they? Funny, the one to Cowley said much the same thing as he'd said in the graveyard the night before. What was this then, the answer?
Chuckling at his own vague superstitions, he tore open the envelope. There was only one sheet of notepaper inside.
$ $ $
While Bodie hadn't really expected some sentimental outpouring, this had him totally stumped. Who the hell was Sarah Ripley? The rest of the quickly jotted notes made even less sense. Why would the Cow seal such a cryptic message in an envelope addressed to him? But it didn't even seem like a message; more like a scratch sheet with vaguely connected streams of thought that no one would understand but Cowley himself.
Puzzled and more than a little let down, Bodie sipped his drink and wondered what the old man had been up to. Could it be connected to his death? Or was he still grabbing for straws in a phantom haystack? But the Cow seldom did anything without reason. Perhaps he'd meant to explain this, but had died before he had the chance.
Ray might be able to make sense of this; his mind occasionally worked along the same torturous twists as Cowley's. Besides, give the little sod a puzzle to chew and he was happy as a pig in muck.
But not this puzzle. Doyle wouldn't want to know.
Bodie studied the name again. Sarah Ripley. The name didn't ring any bells. An old flame of Cowley's? Not a chance. A contact? Maybe. There was one obvious way to find out.
He drained his glass, tucked the paper carefully in his pocket, and went to visit the lady in question.
She immediately recognized the nice looking young man at the door.
"Why, it's Mr. Bodie. How nice of you to visit. I was half expecting you when I heard about poor George. I've just put on some tea; do come in." She chuckled at his stunned expression. "And do close your mouth, dear. It gives you a particularly witless expression."
He shut his mouth, slowly recovering his equilibrium. "Miss Walsh. I was expecting someone else."
Following her appreciative laugh through to the comfortable sitting room, he sat down in the arm chair she indicated.
"You were calling on Sarah Ripley, I take it?"
"Yes, I was. Do you know her?"
"You're looking at her, dear boy." She calmly poured out a cup of tea as he digested that bit of information. "I hate to disappoint you, when I know you were presuming to meet some sultry blonde with a Russian accent, at the very least."
"Prefer redheads," Bodie mumbled, feeling a little foolish. Elizabeth Walsh, no less than George Cowley, could make one feel like a not-overly-bright ten-year-old.
"Milk and sugar?" Her warm, dark eyes glowed with gentle amusement.
"Yes, please," he responded humbly. "Miss Walsh, would you mind explaining this to me? I was left a note from the Co -- from Mr. Cowley with this address and the name of Sarah Ripley. Do you know why he would do that?"
She sighed as she handed him his cup. "Sweet, cautious George. He was worried about me, of course. This was obviously his way of leaving me in your large," she dimpled, "very capable hands. Totally unnecessary, of course. I've been taking care of myself for quite a few years now. Why, goodness, I'm four years older than George was. And I'm a better shot than he ever was, as well."
"But he never said anything to me -- "
"George always played his hand close to his chest. He probably didn't see the need to tell you just yet, but left that note as a precaution, knowing you would follow up on it. But, like most of us, he didn't anticipate his death would come quite so suddenly."
Bodie looked down into his cup, jaw tight.
A gentle hand touched his arm. "I'm so sorry, Bodie. Are you all right, dear?"
She knew how it hurt him, but somehow that didn't bother him. With her, it didn't seem necessary to deny it.
"I don't know," he answered simply. "Ray doesn't think so."
"That's your partner, isn't it? Ray Doyle?"
He nodded, still not looking up. "I've given him a pretty rough time, the poor sod. It wasn't his fault, but -- "
"But it was easier to be angry than to grieve?" she finished softly.
The blue eyes met hers, took in the intelligence, the quiet understanding, the humor. He smiled. "Yeah."
She patted his arm. "Drink your tea; it's getting cold."
Grateful for both her undemanding compassion and her willingness to let it go, he did as he was told.
Unobtrusively, she watched him, noting the change in him from when she'd seen him only a couple of months before. Still powerful and darkly handsome, there was nevertheless something eroded from him, worn down like water on a stone. He looked tired, but it was more than a mere lack of energy, it was a sense of futility. Two months ago she had watched him tease and aggravate both his partner and Cowley with the air of a man who was secure about his place with both. Now his eyes looked a little lost and his shoulders wore a slump of despair.
"Why the alias, Miss Walsh?" he asked after a few minutes. "Or shall I call you Miss Ripley?"
"Call me Elizabeth...if I may call you William?"
He winced. "I don't exactly -- "
"William," she said firmly. "Bodie was the name of a despicable young man I knew back in the war who made three passes at me and never followed through with any of them, the insensitive lout."
Finding himself thoroughly charmed by her, Bodie surrendered meekly. "William is fine."
"Good. About my alias, well, it seemed wisest at the time to let the premature rumors of my assassination stand. If I was already dead, it was less likely I would receive anymore unexpected calls from hitmen."
"But I thought all that was settled. Kovak is dead, and so is Dawson."
"That's true, but after some consideration, neither George nor myself were positive that was the end of it. George gave the same option to the rest of the people on the list -- some of them took him up on it and are living under assumed names in different parts of the county, most didn't think it was necessary."
"But you did?"
"Let's just say I haven't lived this long without learning to be cautious. Besides, I was ready for a change. I enjoy my retirement, but it was getting a bit dull." She smiled, eyes twinkling. "And not everyone gets the opportunity to read their own obituary. I was quite impressed. Seemed a pity to ruin it all by popping up again. More tea?"
"Yes, thank you," Bodie replied absently. "Elizabeth, if you think Dawson wasn't at the bottom of it -- "
"Then who was?" she finished for him. "And more to the point, do I think all this has a bearing on George Cowley's murder? The answer is yes, I'm sure of it."
He nearly spilled the fresh cup of tea she handed him. "Murder?" he said weakly.
"Of course," she said matter-of-factly. "You believe the same, don't you?"
"I...I...don't -- " Bodie stammered, thrown for a loop. He set the teacup down very carefully before he dumped it in his lap. After over four weeks of going it alone, uncertain of what he was looking for, let alone why, of having Doyle's skepticism ringing in his head at every turn, of beginning to seriously doubt his own stability, he didn't know how to cope with this.
"William," she said sternly, "there's no sense in either of us dancing around the subject, is there? That's essentially what this meeting is all about. We are both determined to find out who killed George Cowley."
He took a deep breath and said honestly, "I haven't found much of anything. There isn't a shred of proof that it wasn't just an accident." There, he thought to himself, I've said it aloud. I've admitted it. Maybe I can give it a rest now. Let Cowley rest.
But Elizabeth obviously had other ideas. "of course there isn't," she said calmly. "There wouldn't be, would there? Not unless they were amateurs; and they are anything but that."
Confused, Bodie stared at her. "Who are they?"
She patted his arm again, sweetly. "That's what you and I have to find out, dear. The real spy, I would imagine. And whoever he's paid to help him. Poor Dawson was probably just a stooge. I don't know why I ever thought he was the top man to begin with. He didn't have the brains or the courage. I must be getting senile. Help me take the cups to the kitchen, there's a good boy."
Feeling as if he were the one becoming senile, Bodie picked up the tray and followed her to the kitchen. He put it down on the sink and turned to her.
"Elizabeth, are you serious about this? It's not some kind of... I mean, you're not just humoring me or something, are you?" he came out finally.
"Why, whatever for?"
"Dunno. Stupid question." He looked down on the floor, face reddening. "Doyle pretended to go along with it once, but he really didn't want to know. Didn't believe a word of it. Just testing to see how far gone I was, I suppose."
"Oh, William," she said kindly, "it really hurt you that he didn't believe you, didn't it? You miss him, don't you?"
Bodie didn't answer.
Elizabeth began rinsing out the teacups. "You mustn't blame him, you know," she said quietly. "I'm sure he wanted to believe you. Perhaps it is easier for him to deal with hard facts. Unfortunately, sometimes that's not enough, and you simply have to go with what's in your heart not your head." She glanced at him. "It also means you let yourself be a lot more vulnerable. Maybe your partner is afraid of that."
Bodie smiled wryly. "The only thing Doyle is afraid of is being overcharged at the chicken and chips shop." The smile faded and he shook his head. "No, I don't blame him for not believing me. Why should he? Besides, I was ready to agree with him that I had slipped my trolley."
"And now?" She dried a teacup as she waited for an answer.
The blue eyes twinkled. "Well, it's hard to believe you have as well. I'd never seen the Cow respect anyone as he did you."
"A very perceptive man, your Mr. Cowley." She hung the tea towel up and pushed him toward the door. "It's getting late and you look like you could use a good night's sleep. That's probably been your trouble all along; can't figure anything out with a muzzy head. Go home now, and come back in the morning. We'll put our heads together then and see what we come up with."
"But -- "
"Go on, William. You're a very exasperating young man."
"All right. But I have to warn you, there isn't much to go on."
"You forget," she replied, eyes sharp. "I have another piece for that puzzle board I started. George Cowley."
Doyle was in an evil mood. His meeting with Willis earlier that day had more than confirmed his suspicions, but it hadn't helped bring an answer.
First of all, and most reluctantly, Doyle had to admit that Willis wasn't the instigator of this. It would have been so much simpler to lay the blame at his dirty doorstep and go from there, but it just didn't add up right. This blacklist, and he was positive Murphy was right about it, went a long way beyond MI6. Willis had very little pull at Scotland Yard, and not a few enemies there as well. And while he wouldn't put it past Willis to have him tailed, Doyle had too much admiration for their style to believe it was any of the ham-handed MI6 chumps. Whoever it was had class. Even Bodie couldn't have done as slick a job as them. So that left him just as much in the dark as to who Willis was working for and where the trouble originated.
Willis had to know what was going on. He might not be running the match, but he knew a little about the game plan. Getting him to talk was the problem. It had to be somebody higher up, someone with a lot more power than Willis. But that, in itself, seemed bizarre. What could he or Bodie have done to put somebody's nose out of joint? They were small fry in the scheme of things; without Cowley behind them, they were about as threatening as a couple of wet matches.
But even a wet match can seem a little risky if it's too close to a gas leak.
For the hundredth time that day, Doyle wondered if Bodie wasn't on to something after all. It kept pointing right back to that.
There was only one thing for it; he'd have to swallow his pride and go to Bodie. Tell him he just might have been right. It wasn't going to be easy after what had gone down between them the last time. Doyle would as soon walk into a lion's den at mealtime. Probably be safer.
Despite that lowering thought, Doyle felt better. Even if Bodie chewed him up and spit him out (which was a distinct possibility), they'd be partners again. And just maybe he could wash away that terrible expression of betrayal and make Bodie trust him again. Perhaps he didn't deserve to hope for so much, but he did, with all his heart.
Doyle was so lost in thought, it took a second for him to notice his way was being blocked. He looked up...and up. Without recognizing the face, he recognized the fact the individual was a half foot taller than he was and considerably heavier -- as were his two companions leaning against the alley wall a few yards away. None of them looked pleasant.
Doyle smiled. "Pardon me, you're standin' in the middle of the pavement."
The man didn't move.
"Okay, you look quite nice there. Carry on." He started to go around and the other two moved to block him off.
"We want to have a little chat with you, friend," the first man growled.
Doyle stepped back, measuring the situation with a rueful eye. He turned back to the speaker. "Lovely. Always fancy talkin' about meself."
"Go on, move it. In the alley, Goldilocks."
"Why does everyone call me that?" Doyle said plaintively. He gestured toward the other two gorillas. "I take it this is momma bear and baby bear; or are they just lodge brothers?"
"No, we're the arm wrestling team from Cambridge, and we want you to join up."
"Oh, very amusing. Listen, what's this all about?"
Papa Bear promptly produced a gun. "I'll bet you're just dying of curiosity."
Doyle's hand itched to reach for his own side. Habits fade slowly. CI5 issued cars, flats and guns. His own had been lawfully and respectably returned to the armory.
Holding out his hands with a grin, Doyle said, "No trouble, lads. Be happy to talk with you, won't I? No need to get nasty -- "
On the last word, his foot neatly removed the offending weapon and it bounced into the gutter, following it up with a fist that doubled up Papa Bear and delivered a excruciating kick to Mama Bear's groin. He wasn't fast enough to take care of the smallest, however, who got Doyle in an armlock and put a knee to his spine before pitching him headfirst against the brick wall. Doyle slid down the wall, nose bleeding. By this time, the other two had recovered -- although one was walking very stiffly.
Turning over weakly, Doyle looked up, wiping the back of his hand under his streaming nose. From the expression their faces, he obviously hadn't endeared himself to them. Sniffing, he offered a wry smile.
"Would you believe I'm really sorry I did that? Honestly, we can have that little chat now."
"Get him up!" the ringleader ordered tersely.
They jerked him to his feet and half dragged him into the darkened alleyway where they shoved him back against the wall.
Conserving his energy, Doyle let them hold up most of his weight while he judged his chances of getting free. They were definitely slim. This wasn't the most salubrious neighborhood at the best of times; at this time of night, passersby tended to mind their own business.
Doyle studied their faces, realizing almost from the first that this was not a simple mugging. But he didn't think they were MI6,, either, although it was hard to be sure.
"You should've emigrated, Doyle," the first man said, grinning, clenching a fistful of curls and slamming Doyle's head back against the wall. "Would've saved everyone a lot of trouble, and you a lot of skin."
So he was right; it was a set-up. What was worse, they weren't even trying to hide the fact -- which meant they didn't intend to let him go to talk about it later.
"What do you want?" he demanded, trying to buy time.
He heard the distinctive click of a switchblade.
"Hang about," one of them said, "not so fast."
"Why not? Let's just do the job and get out of here."
"No. I owe him something first."
A knee landed in Doyle's groin and he nearly passed out from the resulting agony.
"How's that, brave man? Com'on, tough guy like you can take a little pain, can't you? Good thing, too, 'cause you got a lot more coming up."
Doyle could finally breathe again, enough to moan at least, but red sparks still flashed behind his eyeballs as the shock of the blow faded.
"We're wasting time. Just stick him and let's clear out."
"No! Not yet."
Opening his eyes, Doyle caught the glint of dull metal. Terrific, he thought hazily, brass knuckles. He tried to gather his strength to fight, but he was held securely on both sides. Moving his head to dodge the fist, it glanced off the side of his chin and scraped sharply over his neck.
"Hold him, dammit!"
The next punch was to the gut, and he was sure it would finish him. He would have vomited but they slammed him back upright against the wall, where he hung on the restraining hands, gasping.
Then, just to prove that miracles do happen, a whistle pierced the alleyway and a voice shouted out, "Eh! You lot! What're you up to?"
"Shit," one of the men snarled. "Do it, quick. We can't afford to be made on this -- "
Spurred by the wicked flash of the knife, Doyle kicked out wildly, striking his target by luck more than anything. The blade clattered to the pavement, and there was another whistle. The three men scattered, cursing, and pelted down the alley. Doyle tried to brace himself against the wall to keep from falling, but his legs buckled and he dropped down to his knees, sick and dazed. Footsteps raced past him as the copper pursued the men, not even noticing Doyle hidden in the shadows of the garbage bins.
Starting to call out, something stilled his tongue. Couldn't even trust the police now. Whoever was out to get him had influence there, as well. Couldn't trust anyone.
He hurt so much, he was almost afraid to move. He could taste blood and his vision was blurred. Throwing up, he finally felt a little better.
Half crawling, half stumbling, he made it to the mouth of the alley and realized he wasn't going to make it much further. But there was a telephone box on the corner.
Bodie. That single thought furnished the impetus to cross the few yards to the box. He fell against it heavily, legs shaking. The light inside had burned out and the door stuck when he tried to pull it open. Cursing, he jerked harder and banged his shin when it suddenly gave way.
If anyone had been on the street earlier, the police whistle had cleared them off. There was no one in sight, but Doyle was still grateful for the relative darkness of the phone box. In the back of his mind was the fear his assailants would circle around to finish him off.
Finding the numbers swimming before his eyes, he finally got hold of the operator and had her ring Bodie's hotel for him.
Be there, dammit, he pleaded silently as the desk clerk made the connection to the room.
Doyle nearly fainted in the sheer relief of hearing his partner's gruff voice. He swallowed, felt something cut the inside of his mouth, and spit out a small piece of tooth. Christ, when did they get that lick in? he wondered hazily.
"Hello," Bodie repeated with irritation. "Is someone there?"
"Bodie..." Doyle managed at last, and was surprised at how unsteady his own voice sounded.
Doyle leaned his forehead against the glass, feeling sick again. "Yeah, 's me...or what's left anyway. Oh, Bodie...please..."
Picking up the pain in the choked voice, Bodie said quickly, "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I...I'm sorry about..."
"Ray, what the hell's wrong? Where are you?"
"Where?" Bodie repeated patiently.
"Dunno." Doyle looked around blearily, disoriented. "Wait, I was..." he trailed off, feeling himself sinking slowly down.
"Ray! Tell me where you are!"
"Can't," he mumbled, suddenly lightheaded. "'m passing out..."
"No! Don't pass out, dammit!"
"'S a stupid thing to say," Doyle chuckled. "Can't 'elp it, can I?" But the moment of giddiness passed, giving the pain a free rein. "Help me, Bodie..."
"I will, sunshine," Bodie soothed. "Just try to think. Where are you?"
Remembering, Doyle told him the cross streets.
"Okay, I'll be there quick as I can. All right, Ray?"
In a crumpled heap at floor of the box, Doyle was in no condition to answer.
He woke to the feel of a wet cloth on his face, and whimpered as several distinct hurts made themselves known.
"About time you come around, Briar Rose."
Doyle opened his eyes -- actually one and a half eyes; the right one being in somewhat poor repair -- and looked up at the worried face.
"Where am I?" he croaked, trying to sit up.
Bodie held him flat. "My hotel room."
"Oh." Considering that for a second, he asked, "How'd I get here?"
"How do you think? I carried you. Thought about taking you straight to hospital, but figured I'd inventory the damage first."
Doyle smiled groggily at the picture that presented. "Doesn't your 'otel take a dim view of you carryin' blokes through their lobby?"
"Nah, used to it, aren't they."
Doyle chuckled, then moaned at the resultant pain in his stomach. "Christ, I hurt."
"Not surprised; someone did a job on you, son. Lie still."
Doyle winced as the cloth patted delicately along his jaw and neck.
"What the devil happened anyway?" Bodie asked.
Watching the tender concentration on the other man's face as he cleaned the blood away, Doyle felt a constriction in his chest that had nothing to do with the punishment he'd taken.
Instead of answering the question, he said abruptly. "You were right, Bodie. I should've listened to you. I'm sorry...really sorry. You believe that, don't you?"
Bodie regarded him warily. "What are you on about now, Doyle?"
"I was just so sure you were trying to...I dunno, run from the truth, I suppose... I've made a mess of things, and I'm honestly sorry."
Squeezing out the cloth in a basin of water, Bodie didn't answer.
"Did you hear what I said?" Doyle demanded, irritated by the lack of response. "I said you were right, dammit!"
Bodie pushed him firmly back down. "And I said to lie still. The side of your face looks like chopped beef. Let me get some more of this blood off and check how bad it is. Hold still!"
"But I want to tell you -- "
"Tell me what?" Bodie said absently, grimacing as he uncovered a particularly nasty gash beneath Doyle's ear. "Christ, what'd they use on you, anyway, a spiked club?"
Doyle caught the exploring hand and held it, making Bodie pay attention. "Will you hear what I'm saying? I'm trying to apologize for acting the way I did. I was wrong."
Bodie met the intense green eyes for a moment before dropping his gaze uneasily. "They must've given you brain damage, old son. Not like you to -- "
"Bodie, I'm serious, goddammit."
Bodie went back to tending the wounds. "Well, it's not the time to talk about it. You've just had the crap thumped out of you. Take it easy; it's bound to hurt like hell."
"I deserve to," Doyle retorted, wallowing in his sense of guilt. "Knocked some sense into me, didn't it?"
"Don't say that!" Bodie snapped. "I don't like to see you hurting."
"You mean that, don't you?" Doyle asked, a little awed. "Even after the way I hurt you."
Bodie refused to look at him. "You did what you thought you had to, Ray. So did I. Let's leave it at that."
"But -- "
"Listen," Bodie cut him off ruthlessly, "I haven't found a bloody thing that amounts to anything, so there's no reason for you to apologize. Looks like it was you who was right. I admit it, I conceded. So there's no need to humor me anymore, okay?"
"You contrary bastard!" Doyle sat up furiously, ignoring both the restraining hand and his sore muscles. "Don't tell me you've given up! I just got the holy shit beat out of me, nearly bloody killed, and you've finally decided you've been imagining it all! I'll fuckin' kill you!"
Bodie tried to settle him back down. "Okay, okay. Slow down, sunshine. There, you've got your hooter bleedin' again."
Reluctantly, Doyle laid back against the pillows, accepting the cloth to staunch the fresh trickle of blood from his nose. He eyed Bodie irately. "You haven't really given up, have you?"
"No," Bodie replied cautiously, "not totally. But there's no need for you to get involved in it."
"Involved, hell! What do y'think all this was about, anyway? This wasn't a simple mugging, Bodie; it was a hit. Someone paid them to do me in and make it look like a robbery."
"A hit? You sure?"
"Of course I'm bloody sure! They'd been paid to put me down, and it was sheer luck they didn't manage it."
The blue eyes snapped fire. "Who? Why?"
"I don't know. These were just hired bully boys. No finesse at all. Cheap and easy chumps. Something's going on, mate. I don't know if it has anything to do with Cowley's death, but it's beginning to look very much like it. I think -- " He broke off with a yelp as Bodie touched a particularly sensitive scrape on his neck. "Watch it, dammit! I don't have much skin left as it is."
"Sorry, but it's got to be cleaned up, mate." He picked up the bottle of antiseptic. "This is going to smart a bit."
Doyle's breath hissed through his teeth as it was applied. "That's a friggin' understatement. Enjoying this, aren't you?"
Accepting the light tone and appreciating it, Bodie smiled. "Well, this'll teach you to get into punch-ups without me, won't it? I can't let you be off on your own at all, can I? More trouble than you're worth. Here I thought you'd be back wearing nice blue uni's with shiny buttons, directin' traffic or something, not getting into brawls."
Doyle sniffed again, discovering his nose had stopped bleeding. "Believe me, it wasn't my idea. And right now I can't get on as a crossing guard."
"You want a drink?" Bodie offered. "Brandy maybe?"
"The way my gut feels, I'd puke it up. So what's your prognosis, doc?"
Bodie ruffled the curls. "You'll live. Won't be so pretty for a day or two."
"That's no surprise. Never was."
Bodie started to say something, changed his mind and just shook his head, smiling. "Okay, you want to back it up and tell me what you were talking about earlier?"
Doyle filled him in, quickly and precisely, on the problems he'd been having, including Murphy's tip-off. He tried to keep his own feelings out of it -- the vague sense of homesickness for CI5, for Bodie -- and made it crisp and to the point, as if he were reporting to Cowley.
Bodie took it all in, face grim.
At last, he said, "It still doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what happened to the old man, y'know."
"Doesn't it? Then explain what happened tonight. Or why we're being tailed."
Bodie shrugged. "Could be just routine follow-up. Make sure the alienated CI5 geeks aren't turning bad; selling information to nasty people, that kind of thing. A precaution. Better than being twepped, at least. Think about it -- if you were setting a couple dozen trained killers on an unsuspecting public, wouldn't you keep tabs?"
Doyle hadn't really thought about it at all, but it was logical. Cowley had put them onto observing disenchanted, fired, or resigned operatives before. Former agents often turned out to be ticking bombs, "All right, you have a point. But what about tonight?"
Bodie stood and moved to the window. "That's different. I don't want you mixed up in what I'm doing. If you're taking the fallout from my nosing around -- "
"Bodie, from what Murphy's picked up, it's not just that. Both of us are targets because we were closest to the old man."
"So somebody thinks he might've told us something? That we know more than is safe?"
Pulling back the drape, Bodie looked down into the street. "Why just you, then? Why not me?"
"Maybe you're next. Or maybe they got in a hurry to get rid of me because I stepped on the wrong toes. Willis was none too happy yesterday; perhaps he let somebody else know that."
"You think it's Willis?"
"Dunno. Wish it was just him. Be a hell of a lot easier to deal with. No, it's somebody bigger than Willis callin' the shots."
"Cowley's been dead for over a month," Bodie mused. "Why wait so long, if they think we need to be removed?"
"Be hard to brush off two more deaths so close. Too much of a coincidence. And the last thing they want is more questions asked. But they want us dead -- along with CI5 and George Cowley...and whatever it is they're trying to hide." He studied the tense back, wondering what was going through Bodie's mind. "Tell me what you've found out so far."
Bodie's head lifted, staring hard at Doyle.
"Don't look at me like that," Doyle told him sharply. "I mean it this time. I'm ready to listen, dammit. Really listen."
Bodie sighed and let the curtain fall. "Not now. You need to get some rest. So do I. I'm bloody tired."
Judging that Bodie needed time to think about this, Doyle didn't push it. "Okay, tomorrow then." He pulled the blanket up to his chest and glanced around the room. "This must be costing you a bundle."
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Bodie tugged off his shoes. "Not so bad," he replied noncommittally.
"Come on, mate, I know you. Never was one for putting much aside. This has got to be a drain on what little you do have. Bet you have a flash car, as well."
Bodie smiled as he unbuttoned his shirt. "Don't know me as well as you think. I've leased a mini."
Doyle laughed, then groaned. "Christ, me whole gut's sore."
Concerned, Bodie touched his shoulder. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just bruised up. Nothing too major." He watched the other man undress. "Tomorrow you'd better check out of here," he said abruptly.
"Check out?" Bodie paused in the process of hanging his trousers over the back of a chair.
"Face it, you can't afford this luxury. Stay at my flat for the time being. Neither of us are going to be working for a while; it'll conserve money."
Bodie climbed in the bed and propped up his elbow, resting his chin on his hand, blue eyes twinkling merrily. "Is this a proposal, darlin'?"
"Piss off. If we're going to be working on this -- "
"Working on what?"
Doyle stared at him, wondering if Bodie had always been this dim. "Cowley's murder, of course. What've we been talking about for the last hour?"
Bodie dropped his face into the pillow with a groan. "I don't believe this. Yesterday I was mad as a hatter; today I'm gatherin' a fan club."
Doyle frowned, confused. "What d'you mean? Who else knows about this?" He felt an odd pang, just a degree short of jealousy.
Bodie heard the edge in the voice and smiled to himself. The little rat deserved it for not backing him up in the first place. "Tell you about it tomorrow." He leaned over and switched off the light.
"Well what?" Bodie said, amused at his partner's persistence.
"Are you coming to my flat or not?"
Bodie took a long time answering, and Doyle realized he was actually holding his breath while he waited. It seemed very important to keep Bodie with him; he'd had his fill of being alone.
"I suppose it makes sense," Bodie said grudgingly.
Satisfied, Doyle lay back again. "That's settled then. Besides, the way things are going, I don't want to be walking down too many dark streets without your big, hulking presence to keep off the villains. I've had enough of being a punching bag."
"And I thought you loved me for my alabaster skin, and winning ways," Bodie commented mournfully.
Doyle snorted. "Go to sleep."
Wincing as he dried off after his shower, Doyle ruefully catalogued his bruises. He ached all over, but knew if he didn't move around a bit, he'd stiffen up even more. Wasn't the most damaging beating he'd had in his life, but it easily made it to the top ten. At least it helped him avoid giving Bodie a hand in moving out of the hotel room -- not that there had been much to move; a couple of suitcases of clothes was about it.
Coming out of the bath tying his robe, he heard Bodie on the phone and stopped in the doorway, not at all bashful about eavesdropping.
" -- soon as he feels up to it. Yeah, he's walkin' around like a little old man with creaky bones. Okay. Thanks. 'bye."
Doyle leaned against the doorframe. "And who was that?" he demanded testily.
Bodie looked up, startled. "Didn't your mum ever tell you that wasn't polite? Listeners never hear good of themselves, y'know."
"I reckoned my 'creaky bones' would give me away."
Bodie grinned and looked him up and down. "Hard to believe, but you look worse than you did last night. Can you see out of that eye?"
"Well enough. You didn't say who you were talking to," Doyle pointed out.
"Agatha Christie. She's helping me solve the Case of the Crashed Cow."
Annoyed, Doyle glared at him. "You're not going to tell me, are you? You still don't forgive me. What's it going to take to convince you I -- "
"Doyle," Bodie broke in with a sigh, "for the tenth time, there's nothing to forgive. Of course I'm going to tell you; just give me a chance, okay?"
A bit mollified, Doyle grinned crookedly. "Did you have a rendezvous with a beautiful bird this morning? You always get that cat-lap cream in your voice when you're talkin' to a bird."
"As a matter of fact, I did. An older bird. Very nice. But it'll keep 'til you feel up to it. I think she wants us both."
"At the same time? Kinky, mate." He moved toward the kitchen. "Coffee?"
"Kettle's already on to boil," Bodie called after him. "This place is a real dump, Doyle, did you know that? The paper's peeling off in the bedroom, and I don't know how you sleep with the pipes clanging like a one-man band."
"Beggars can't be choosers," Doyle retorted. "An' I'll have your 'alf of the rent up front, by the way."
"How kind. 10 p. a night, is it?"
"You wish." Returning with a mug for himself and one for Bodie, Doyle sat down very carefully on the sofa, wondering if he'd be able to get up again without being pulled up. "So tell me, who was it?"
"What? What's she got to do with all this?"
"She thinks the accident was a set-up, too. That he was murdered."
Doyle whistled appreciatively. "That settles it then. I might have doubts about your sanity, sunshine, but that lady is pure gold. How'd you get with her anyway?"
Bodie explained about the note from Cowley and his visit with Elizabeth the day before.
Studying the cryptic message, Doyle looked baffled. "What's it mean?"
"I was hoping you could tell me."
"Those numbers," Doyle said thoughtfully, "31 - 56 - 62. What do y' reckon they're for? License number? Safe combination? Flat numbers?" His face brightened. "How about a Swiss account?"
"Sounds more like a girl I never want to meet," Bodie muttered.
"Redstone," Doyle mused, ignoring the remark, "Name of a place or a person? The paired letters...could be initials, I suppose. And Dawson." He looked up. "Nigel Dawson, maybe?"
Bodie shrugged. "Maybe Elizabeth will have a notion of what it means. She has an idea it might tie in with that op we were on back a couple months ago. Thinks Dawson wasn't the real spy after all."
"That could be why he's marked a line through the name," Doyle suggested. "Maybe he was onto who it really is. If he was getting close, it'd be reason enough to get rid of him."
"So now your vote's on the KGB?"
Doyle shook his head. "No, that doesn't make sense. Much as I hate Willis, I don't think he'd be tied up with that lot. Besides, the KGB wouldn't have risked leaving the job to those punks last night. They'd've sent one of their own."
"Not necessarily," Bodie pointed out. "Look at the two jokers Kovak had on the payroll."
Doyle sighed. "True. Christ, if the old man hadn't managed to figure it all out, how the hell can we hope to?"
Bodie didn't answer, but there was a remote expression in the dark eyes, as if his thoughts had traveled to somewhere far away and not very pleasant.
"Bodie? What is it?"
Standing, Bodie glanced at his watch. "Getting on to lunch time. You hungry? Do you have any food in?"
"Should have," Doyle replied absently, wondering what he'd said or done to bring back the tension. He watched as the other man headed toward the kitchen. Suddenly uneasy, Doyle sensed something was wrong, but couldn't pin it down. Impulsively, he levered himself off the couch, finding it less painful than he had expected, and followed Bodie. In the doorway, he paused uncertainly. Bodie was rummaging through the ancient refrigerator.
"Bodie, what's wrong?"
Not bothering to dissemble, Bodie straightened, closing the refrigerator door and turning to face him. "Are you sure you want to get mixed up with all this, Ray?"
Dismayed, Doyle stared at him. Bodie still doubted his motives, didn't trust him. While he couldn't blame him, it hurt. Because of that, he snapped, "Don't have a lot of choice, do I? They came looking for me, mate. Guilt by association. They think I'm part of it, whether I am or not."
Bodie's face was unreadable, but there was an almost imperceptible stiffening of the shoulders. "So get out of it; go away from London for awhile. It'll blow over eventually."
"What makes you think they'll let me?" Doyle countered, furious with Bodie for trying to shut him out again.
"Well, there's a better chance they will if you're not hanging around me, stirring up more dirt. Look what they've done to you already. And it's bound to get a lot worse if we get anywhere near the truth." He turned away. "I shouldn't have come here. It was a bad idea."
The more Bodie said, the angrier Doyle felt. "So you think I should find a nice corner to hide in, is that it?"
"That's not what I meant -- " Bodie protested, but Doyle cut him short.
"Yes, it is. That's precisely what you meant. But it's not exactly my style, is it? You really think I'd cut out on you now? Find a nice safe hidey-hole and wait for them to kill you, too?!" He was working himself up to a fine rage now. "You stupid bastard, I thought you knew me better than that."
Bodie whipped around, goaded a little too far. "That cuts both ways, Doyle. I thought you knew me, too. But a month ago you wouldn't see beyond your own nose, let alone give me credit for any sense at all! No, you thought you had it all figured out!"
As if the plug had been pulled, the anger drained from Doyle. "I deserved that," he said quietly. "You're right. I'm sorry."
"Stop saying you're sorry!" Bodie shouted. "Dammit -- !" He shut up abruptly and leaned back against the cabinet, checking his own temper. "I don't want to fight with you, Ray."
"Me neither," Doyle choked, mouth dry. "Listen, if you really want, I'll...I'll get out of your way."
Bodie looked up, confused. "In my way? Where did you get that idea? Christ, Ray, I need you."
"Then why -- ?"
"Because I don't want you to get hurt anymore just because I'm too stubborn to let something go. Remember what you told me? Whether I'm right or wrong, nothing's going to bring Cowley back, is it?" He looked down at the floor. "I don't want to risk you, too."
Doyle felt a sunburst of relief -- and another emotion he couldn't put a name to.
He took a step forward. "Hey, I think we're both in too deep to back out now, even if we wanted to. And I don't want to. I need to find out, too, mate. No, it won't bring him back, but I can't imagine the old sod resting easy if we let this go without a good bloody effort at finding the truth." Moving still closer, he touched Bodie's shoulder, wishing he would look at him, needing to say something more, but finding it difficult to express.
"It's more than that, Bodie," he said finally, his voice very soft. "I'm glad you're here with me. I missed you something 'orrible."
The blue eyes lifted then, and they held a sweetly shy expression. "I missed you, too." It was hardly more than a whisper.
Never quite sure how it came about, they were suddenly holding each other very tightly.
Doyle, feeling a dangerous prickling in the corners of his eyes, kept his head down on the broad shoulder, embarrassed to let it be seen.
"Listen, Bodie," he said shakily, "don't ever let me do that again. Straight up, mate. Next time I won't listen to you, just thump me, okay?"
Bodie chuckled, squeezing him a little tighter. "Nice thought, but I can't picture you appreciating the effort. You'd mop the floor with me."
"No," Doyle said earnestly. "No, I promise. From now on, I'll believe you. Honest I will."
Bodie smiled, both at the humble words and the tickle of curls against his ear. "Bull. Gentle Raymond, meek and mild just isn't you at all, love."
"Maybe not," Doyle admitted stubbornly, "but I can learn."
"Not a chance. Besides, I like you better all sarky and evil-tempered. Makes me feel superior, it does. You're kinda cute when you're ratty."
"'S not ratty," Doyle protested half-heartedly, "It's just my artistic streak comin' through. All artists are temperamental."
Neither of them really wanted to let go, but the seconds were ticking away and they were both becoming self-conscious of the passing time. A quick, macho hug was one thing -- this was lasting altogether too long for easy rationalization.
Finally, with a disconcerted laugh, Bodie pushed him back playfully, a little flustered at how good the contact had felt. "What the 'ell are we doin' anyway? Hangin' all over each other like long lost sweethearts or somethin'."
"Almost feels like it," Doyle countered with a sheepish grin. "After all, I spent more time with you than with any of me birds, didn't I?"
"That's understandable," Bodie said smugly, "I'm better lookin' than most of 'em."
Doyle gave him an affectionate bop on the arm. "Prat. Eh, I thought you were going to cook us up some lunch. I'm starving."
"What the 'ell is that?" Bodie stopped dead on the pavement, surveying the lime green Volkswagen "bug" with amused disbelief.
"S' my car," Doyle retorted defensively. "What's wrong with it? Cost me over a hundred quid, that did."
"Bodie sniggered. "And they saw you comin' mate. Cost you nearly that to have it hauled away."
"Sod off," Doyle growled. "I'll have you know, it has a good little motor, only 86,000 k's on the odometer, decent tires and -- " he cast an apprehensive look at the leaden sky. " -- and let's take your car, okay?"
Bodie did a slight double-take. "What, does the roof leak?"
"No, it...doesn't like to start in damp weather. And you can wipe that smirk off your mug; every old car has its eccentricities. Kind of like old partners. Besides, you're payin' out the nose for that shiny matchbox of yours; might as well get some use out of it."
Hiding his smile, Bodie dug out his car keys. "I'm just grateful you don't expect me to hop on the back of your bike."
They were half way to Elizabeth's when Bodie suddenly speeded up the mini and made an illegal turn. Doyle didn't need to ask why; he watched the side mirror until he saw the blue sedan make the same illegal turn.
"Not being so careful anymore, are they?" he commented.
"Don't need to be, do they? They know we know." Making sharp left turn, Bodie cut in front of a Volvo, putting a little more distance between them and their tag. "But I don't like it. I'd rather they keep playin' cat 'n mouse than feed us a Molotov cocktail tonight."
"Nah, I don't think we have to worry about that just yet," Doyle said. "Taking us out with a big bang would just raise more questions, and that's something they're still trying to avoid. No, I think they'll still try to make it look like an accident."
"Reminds me of a flick I saw once," Bodie mused, still trying to widen the gap between the cars without being overly reckless.
"Yeah? What about?"
"It was one of those Kung Fu things. Cops found the victim in an alley with about ten thousand tiny knife cuts all over 'im. "What's the cause of death?' the hero asks. 'Suicide', says the inspector."
Doyle laughed. "You're makin' that up."
"Honest. Totally straight-faced as well. I reckoned whoever dubbed the dialogue screwed up." He glanced over at Doyle. "But do you take my point?"
"You mean we could end up with self-inflicted bullet wounds in the back of our respective heads?"
"Something like that. You've said yourself, whoever is running this show has influence in high places. And I don't mean just fixing traffic tickets, mate."
Doyle had thought about it and didn't like it. It left them in a very vulnerable situation, but if they started worrying about what was around every corner, they would get nowhere. "They're still back there," Doyle observed.
"Yeah, and it's time to lose them. I don't fancy leading 'em straight to Elizabeth's doorstep."
He turned the car abruptly into a multi-level parking garage, circled all the way to the top and then back down. At the exit, he handed the attendant a tenner and a charming smile.
"Do me a favor, love?"
She was an older lady, but far from immune. "Yes, sir?"
"We're playin' a bit of a joke on a couple of our mates in a blue sedan. How about if you have a bit of trouble with the gate after you've let us through? The arm's been known to stick now 'n then, 'asn't it?"
"Well, I dunno..."
He winked at her. "Five minutes'll be plenty. Keep the change, love. You're a sweetheart."
"Very slick," Doyle granted admiringly, as Bodie floored it and the car whizzed through traffic. "They'll hardly smash through the gate, will they?"
"Not without drawing a bit of unwanted attention anyway. Now, we'll just have to keep an eye out for backup."
Half an hour later, they reached the quiet street where Elizabeth lived, having caught no further trace of being followed.
She greeted them pleasantly, clucked over Doyle's battered appearance, and had them both help her hang a new set of draperies.
"Ah...about your theory, Miss Walsh," Doyle began tentatively, rolling a despairing eye at Bodie who was perched on the footstool, arms full of drapes.
"Call me Elizabeth," she said absently. "A little more to the left, William. And you missed a hook. Oh, you've got them, Raymond. Hand him another."
Doyle choked back a laugh, but he couldn't resist telling 'William' that his hem was crooked. Bodie just grinned good naturedly. "Well, you get up here, Raymond, if you can do a better job."
"No, carry on, mate. You've missed your calling." He turned to the lady. "Ms...Elizabeth, Bodie says you have some idea -- "
"We'll get to all that presently," she cut him off firmly. "I've been wanting to get these up for two weeks now, and I'm not losing this opportunity." Her dark eyes flashed with wicked amusement. "You two finish this up, and I'll put us on a nice tea."
Bodie chuckled at the expression on Doyle's face. "Terrific, innit she? I think I'm in love."
"Better watch it, mate; she'll have you paintin' the front room next. Oy, you missed another hook."
"Well hand me one then and stop blathering about it."
"Don't push it, Doyle. There, how's that look?"
"It looks fine," Elizabeth answered, returning to the sitting room with a stack of papers in one hand, a teapot in the other. "Come down now; put the stool back in the cupboard. Raymond, would you bring the tray from the kitchen, please?"
When they were finally settled with the tea poured, and Bodie had scarfed down two tea cakes, she shuffled through the papers until she found the one she wanted.
"I think I may have discovered a candidate for our villain; the man who began all this to conceal the fact that it was he, not Dawson, who is the Russian spy."
Doyle straightened. "Who?"
"The Minister?" Bodie and Doyle looked at each other uneasily.
"Blimey," Doyle said softly, "the Head man himself? Christ, he's only a few steps and a bit of luck from becoming the next PM."
"Exactly," Elizabeth agreed. "And he's not about to let any loose ends trip him up if the chance does arise. For the past few years, he's been cleaning house, carefully, cautiously, but thoroughly. The KGB sent Kovak to help him with that task so he wouldn't have to be directly involved in the process. Think how important his position is with the Soviets. Having their own man in line for the office of Prime minister is well worth taking a few precautions."
"But he's been vetted a half dozen times," Bodie protested.
"At the very least," Elizabeth concurred. "Ostensibly, he has been clean at every check."
"It's a little hard to swallow -- that a Russian agent could reach such a level without something giving him away."
"Oh, there were lots of little somethings, William. As you pointed out, the man has been investigated over and over. That is where the curious note pops up. Shifting through the records, a pattern develops. Each incident very minor, easily explained away. But added together they present a very incriminating picture."
She sorted through the file again. "Here, when George and I questioned the individuals on Kovak's assassination list, Flynn told us that Major William Baris -- the present illustrious Minister -- was in charge of the installation at Orley when the coded letters were stolen. He was cleared, of course, but the file was never closed." She shook her head ruefully. "I should have caught onto it then, but I was convinced Dawson was the spy. I was right, but only in the sense that he was working for Baris. In fact, it was the Minister who appointed Dawson head of MI6 while Willis was overseas. I rather doubt poor Dawson knew how deeply he was getting into the muck when it first started. He was a fool, and worse, he was an ambitious fool. But a trained agent wouldn't have shown his hand so quickly. Running the way he did was as good as a signed confession. Baris, on the other hand, didn't panic. He kept his head and rode through it as he has a dozen times before."
She leafed through the papers in her hand, nodding. "He's a very clever man; we can't afford to underestimate him. I've been doing a bit of research. I traced through the files of most of the people on that list, and in every instance it seems the Minister was, if not in charge, at least in the vicinity when some problem developed in their own special areas -- the absence of coded messages, dispatches falling into the wrong hands, orders being misfiled, planned operations suddenly going awry, secret treaty information leaking to unfriendly governments. And in each instance, it was necessary to give Baris at least a cursory investigation because of his proximity. Each of these people, by themselves, knew little more than the fact William Baris was present at the time of some scandal or leak in their department. Collectively, that very knowledge becomes damaging; circumstantial but rather difficult to ignore. It was obviously decided it would be safer to prune the branches of that particular tree of knowledge."
"And you believe Cowley had figured this out, too?" Doyle asked. "Or at least got close enough to make Baris sweat?"
"Yes. Three days before George died, he telephoned me to ask my opinion of William Baris. He didn't have the opportunity to go into detail at the time, and I assumed the Minister was planning another cut to CI5 funds. He'd been trying to do just that since he took office ten months ago. It infuriated George, as you can imagine. 'Pulling our teeth', was how he phrased it. And he suspected the reason behind it had nothing to doing with the tightening budget."
"So when he called you, it might have been about some real evidence?"
"Perhaps. Either way, the Minister obviously believed George knew far too much." She frowned. "There is something else, as well. Two weeks ago, Gregory Mills, a retired cipher clerk with Special Branch, died of an overdose of sleeping pills. He happened to have been number six on Kovak's list -- and one of the people who refused George's offer of relocation. His death was listed as accidental. At this point, I think we can assume it was anything but an accident."
"So they're back in business again." Doyle slammed his fist in his hand. "Dammit, we hardly even slowed them down!"
Bodie pulled Cowley's note from his pocket. "Can you make anything out of this, Liz?"
She studied it for a moment. "Well, for one thing the Box was the name for the decoding station at Orley." She looked up sharply. "George gave you this?"
"It's how I found you. But it could be Sanskrit for all the sense we can get out of the rest of it."
"I grant you, it is a bit cryptic, but if George was onto something big, he'd hardly spell it out too clearly for fear of it falling into the wrong hands before he was ready. Still, he was plainly hedging his bets by leaving this for you. He expected you to be able to figure it out."
"Oh, wonderful," Bodie grumbled. "Wish he'd left the secret decoder ring to go with it."
"Redstone..." Elizabeth mused. "Baris had a nickname when he was a major, if I remember correctly. Stoneface or Stoney, or something in that line. But Redstone?" She shrugged. "Could be just a coincidence."
"Do the initials ring any bells?" Doyle inquired. "Are they initials, do you think?"
"Perhaps. TD...I don't know. WB would be William Baris, of course. AS..." She smiled. "Andrei Sarnov."
"Sarnov?" Bodie said suddenly, eyes narrowing.
Doyle picked it up as well. "Sarnov was the driver -- "
"That was the son," Bodie cut him off impatiently. "Andrei was the driver's father. Liz, what did he have to do with Baris?"
"Nothing that I know of. Sarnov was the one who tipped off MI5 to the theft at Orley. Because of his information, they were able to capture the Russian agent before he reached the East."
"So that's what happened," Bodie said meditatively. "He must've made a deal." Noticing Doyle's puzzled expression, he explained. "One of the few things I was able to dig up was that Sarnov's father was arrested for espionage back in 1958. The charges were dropped and he was granted political asylum. Probably in exchange for grassing on his fellow agents."
"So if Baris set up pinching the letters, why didn't Sarnov put the finger on him as well?"
"Perhaps he didn't know about Baris," Elizabeth suggested. "Or he could have been paid off. Do you know what happened to him, William?"
"Had a stroke about six months ago. He's been in a nursing home ever since, hardly better than a vegetable."
"Have you seen him? Talked to him?"
"I saw him. The poor sod doesn't talk anymore, he dribbles."
"Pity. But I think it's safe to assume they managed to get to his son. Somehow they created another red fanatic."
"A suicide run like that," Doyle commented, "they must've bloody brainwashed him."
"It wouldn't be the first time," Bodie pointed out.
Doyle returned to the Cowley's clues. "What about the numbers? Any idea about them?"
She pondered it for a few minutes, but the answer eluded her. "I don't know," she said simply. "But I do think they are three separate numbers rather than, say an account number. Each is followed by a question mark, as if he is questioning them individually instead of collectively. The number 147, however, he seems quite certain of. But as to what they refer to, I'm afraid the possibilities are endless."
"Okay, so where does all this leave us?" Doyle asked, pouring more tea and deftly preventing Bodie from grabbing another slice of cake by moving the plate to the other end of the table. Bodie made a face at him. "If we take the information we have to the authorities -- "
"What authorities?" Bodie scoffed, eyeing the cake like a hungry spaniel. "The Minister has his nose stuck in most of them, and we can't tell who he's managed to pay off. He had Dawson under his thumb, so what do you want to wager he's pulling the strings of at least one key figure in every branch? And most of 'em probably don't have a whiff of an idea he's working for the KGB, just that his favor can be useful to their grimy little careers."
"Are we that positive that he is working for the KGB?" Doyle countered. "I mean, we still don't have any definite proof."
"Come on, Ray, what more do you need? A smoking gun and body at his feet?"
"At least that would be something solid. What we have now is pure speculation."
Bodie's face hardened. "It's enough for me. I say we go after the bastard. I think I can get you a deathbed confession."
"No, William," Elizabeth said softly. "Not revenge. There are better reasons to stop him, and better ways to accomplish it than killing him. Behave yourself."
To Doyle's amazement, Bodie didn't protest. He hung his head sheepishly and nodded.
"That's a nice trick, that is," Doyle told the lady admiringly. "You must teach it to me sometime. Even the ol' man had to use a club to calm him down at times."
Bodie glared at him.
Elizabeth smiled. "William knows I would gladly put a hole through Baris myself if I thought it necessary. As it happens, it isn't. Not yet, at least."
"So what have you got in mind?" Doyle asked, intrigued by her coolness, and the incredible blend of gentility and ruthlessness.
"We keep digging until we come up with something to directly link the Minister with Cowley's death. It was a clever setup, but there are bound to be flaws. Sooner or later, we will find them. When we do, we shall take the evidence to the Prime Minister herself, if need be. She was a very bright girl; I don't believe the limelight has dulled her wits too much."
"They may not give us much time to dig," Bodie put in flatly. "They've had a go at Ray already. If they discover you're alive."
"We will have to trust that they won't," she broke in smoothly. She stood. "I'm going to make a few calls to some people I still know in Whitehall. They have access to certain records that might be useful. They also happen to be among the few I let in on the fact my death was somewhat exaggerated."
"Elizabeth, I don't like you taking chances -- "
"William," she chided, "I've lived a very good deal longer than you, my dear, doing just that. The secret is to know which chances are worth taking. You two are the obvious targets, not a harmless elderly lady like myself."
"About as harmless as a howitzer," Bodie muttered.
She patted his cheek fondly. "Thank you, dear. In any case, I have no intention of wasting my time worrying about you. I'm confident you can both take care of yourselves. George always said you were his best."
Cocking her head to one side, she surveyed the window. "You did a lovely job with the draperies. Now what do you know about water heaters? The pilot keeps going out on mine. Perhaps one of you can take a look at it the next time you come 'round."
"Yes, ma'am," they said in chorus, then looked at each other, eyes brimming with laughter.
"Well, you'd best be running along now and let me get on. Keep thinking about those numbers on the note; they could be the key. And, Raymond, do put some beefsteak or something on your eye, dear. It looks quite painful."
"It's much better now, thank you," Doyle responded meekly.
"Good night, boys. I will call you if I have any brilliant flashes of intuition."
Summarily dismissed, they offered their thanks for the tea and left, feeling about age twelve.
Driving home, Bodie chuckled. "She's marvelous, isn't she? A female Cowley."
"Yeah," Doyle grinned, then qualified. "Well, not quite. She's more likely to use honey than the Cow's patented brand of vinegar. And I can't imagine her giving a tongue lashing that could cut you down at fifty paces."
"Ah, but you see, she'd never need to, would she? Can't picture anyone havin' the balls to give that lady trouble." He glanced over at Doyle. "Now there's your Head for CI5, mate."
Doyle nodded, smiling. "True. Pity she'd never go for it. Got too much sense, hasn't she?" He grimaced and touched his jaw gingerly.
Bodie noticed it. "Still smarting?"
"No...yes. But it's not that. They broke a bloody tooth in back, and it's cutting the devil out of me mouth."
"Want me to pull it for you?" Bodie offered generously.
"Wouldn't let you near it."
"Okay. Where to, then?"
"Find me a dentist," Doyle ordered sourly.
"It'll cost you," Bodie warned with a touch of glee.
"No it won't. You're payin'."
"me?!" Bodie's eyes widened. "Why the hell should I pay? It's your flamin' tooth!"
Doyle smiled angelically. "Because I'm your partner. Because you don't want to see me suffer. And because you don't want to listen to me grouse about it for the next three weeks."
It was hard to argue with that logic. Bodie sighed. "You're not an easy person to live with, Raymond."
"If it was easy, everyone would be doing it," Doyle retorted sunnily.
Bodie opened his mouth to reply, but found he didn't have an answer for that one.
When Bodie dried off from his shower, liberated one of Doyle's robes for himself, and wandered back into the sitting room, Doyle was curled up on the couch doing a crossword puzzle.
"Glad to see you're using your time constructively, Sherlock," Bodie observed.
Doyle grunted, and his pencil kept moving as he thought of a five letter word for 'irritant'. B-O-D-I-E he wrote with great satisfaction. Bodie poured himself a whiskey with one hand while toweling his short hair with the other. He plopped down on the sofa next to Doyle and leaned over to inspect the progress. "Six down is 'Soul'."
Doyle pushed him off grumpily as a stray drop of water smeared the paper. "Dry off, dammit." Then, "How'd you get 'soul' out of 'In tune Yank cop'?" Unfortunately, it fit.
"David Soul, dummy. You know, Starsky & Hutch? Had a bird who was mad about him; dragged me to one of his concerts once. Wasn't so bad."
Doyle rolled his eyes. "The lengths you'll go to to knock off a bird."
"Oh yeah? What about the time you -- "
"Never mind," Doyle cut in hastily, smiling as he returned to his puzzle.
"Hey, what's my name doing on there?"
Smiling, Doyle turned the pencil around and rubbed it out. "The B doesn't work anyhow."
Bodie leaned over and toweled his head vigorously.
"It's got to be dry by now," Doyle observed after a minute. "Don't have enough hair to hold a lot of water."
Emerging from the towel, Bodie gave him a quick look over. "So how's your jaw?"
Bodie doubted that; Doyle had looked a bit green when he came out of the dentists, but he wasn't about to push the issue. "By the way, four across is 'syphilis'."
Doyle tossed the magazine down. "Y'know, I've been thinking about those numbers. Elizabeth is right; they have to be important. What's more, Cowley was sure we'd twig to what they were, or he would have left some other indication as to what they pertain to. What would be the sense otherwise, right? So we're missing something that should be obvious."
"Can't be all that obvious," Bodie objected, "or we'd've figured it out by now. Wish to hell the old man would've just told us something straight out for once."
Doyle shrugged. "Why should this be any different? He never let us in on anythin' 'til he had it ninety percent figured out himself."
"True." Bodie yawned. "I'm beat. Didn't get a lot of sleep last night."
Doyle looked at him affectionately. Or for a long time, he thought. It's been a rough few weeks, hasn't it, old son?
"Go on to bed then, sleepyhead," Doyle poked his shoulder teasingly. "You're too bloody big to carry in there."
"Reckoned I was sleeping on the couch." Bodie looked down at the too short, too hard length with disfavor. "Thought you had dibs on the bed."
"Don't be dim. The bed's plenty big."
"I don't like sharin'," Bodie said primly, eyebrow doing an arrogant lift. "Told you that before."
"Well, I'm sure as hell not sleeping on the couch, so live with it."
Bodie couldn't hide the playful twinkle in his eye. "I have amorous dreams. Thought I'd better warn you. Don't want you to be shocked, son."
"Don't worry. If you talk in your sleep, I'll be sure to take notes."
Bodie laughed. "You comin'?"
"Not just yet. Not sleepy enough." He found the puzzle again. "Ii want to finish this up first."
Two seconds later, Bodie poked his head back around the door frame. "Eighteen down is 'Zimbabwe'."
"Thank you so much," Doyle replied sardonically.
Bodie smiled brightly. "You're welcome."
Five minutes later, Doyle put the magazine down with a sigh, mind wandering for the twentieth time. There was something prickling at the edge of his mind. He couldn't quite catch hold of it, but knew that when he did, he'd feel like a fool for overlooking it so long. Some clue was staring him straight in the face, and he was looking right through it. It was maddening.
Forty-five minutes later, he was no closer to an answer. Finally, he gave it up for the night and went to the bedroom.
There was an all-night deli downstairs and its red and green neon flashed in the window. Going to close the curtains, he paused when he saw the curled-up form on the bed. Bodie was on his side, one arm tucked under his head, the other curved over the pillow, hand open.
Taken by the sight, Doyle moved closer, surprised at the sweet feeling curling in his chest.
All the tension was smoothed from the perfect face, lashes fanned under the eyes like velvet caterpillars.
It didn't occur to Doyle to wonder why his insides were melting like wax. Bodie was special, wasn't he? Maybe it took nearly losing him to realize that, but he knew it now. Who else would have forgiven him so easily? Who else would have given him another chance? And who else had ever accepted him without question, without demands or limits? Only Bodie.
Doyle had had quite a few partners, some of whom had even meant something to him. But none of them had ever been essential to his life; losing them had never constituted losing part of himself. Bodie was in a whole new category. One that included friendship and brotherhood, but somehow was not limited to either.
A little over a month ago, he wouldn't have stopped to look at Bodie like this; would have taken his presence for granted, shoved him aside on the bed and tried to steal the lion's share of the covers. And Bodie would've let him.
Now, Doyle took the time to look, and saw the sweetness in the face that was far more important than the obvious flash handsomeness. There was much more to him than the tough, slick exterior; the ruthless ex-mercenary, the glib-tongued womanizer. There was a gentleness there in the face, unguarded in sleep, and a vulnerability.
Doyle wouldn't have seen any of it a month ago, simply because he wouldn't have bothered to look. Now it scared him a bit, for it made him realize once and for all, just how much he must have hurt Bodie. How incredibly easy it was to do.
His finger brushed the silky, black hair. "I'm sorry, mate," he whispered hoarsely. "For everythin'. For five years of everythings."
Sighing, Doyle turned back to the window and shut the curtains. Climbing into the bed, he moved close to the other man and fell into an easy sleep.
Bodie awoke to the tickling feel of hair against his shoulder. Oddly enough, there wasn't even a second when he thought it was anyone else in bed with him; his subconscious identifying Doyle without hesitation. Opening his eyes reluctantly, he looked over at his companion.
Doyle was like a limp pretzel-one arm tucked around Bodie's midriff, one arm up to the headboard; one knee propped cozily against Bodie's thigh, the other leg sprawled over the edge of the bed. His head was buried in the pillow by Bodie's shoulder.
Feeling lazy, and no particular urgency to move away from the warm figure, Bodie wriggled a little more onto his side into a more comfortable position. The morning sunlight streamed through a crack in the curtain, and he wished they were open all the way. It was a day for sunshine. It occurred to him that he was happy.
Smiling for no particular reason except that he felt good, he tilted his head to observe his sleeping partner. Poor little sod; he still looked a trifle worse for wear. With his fingertips, Bodie brushed back the snarled curls to get a better look at how the damage was healing. The eye was distinctly improved. Still a bit blue underneath, but most of the swelling was down. He had a purplish bruise on his forehead, a scrape on his cheek, and the long red cut stretching along his jawline looked as if it might leave a scar. Bodie was a bit perturbed about that -- it wasn't a face that could afford too many more flaws. But, all in all, he looked considerably better than the day before.
Bodie's fingers stroked through the curls again, liking the feel of it. Doyle's hair was fun, soft and springy, curling itself in wild knots. Bodie loved it. Reddish-brown in color, an occasional ray of sun could light it up to dark copper, suitable for its fiery-tempered owner. Very nice, he thought, to hold fire in your hand.
Amused at his own fancy, he tugged playfully at a curl, bringing Doyle to surly consciousness.
"Stop that, dammit!" He blinked and rubbed his eyes.
"You gonna sleep all day?"
"Ummm. Wha' tim'sit?"
With a growled comment that sounded like "Piss off," he rolled over and buried his face in the pillow.
Bodie was in too good of a mood to let that bother him. He patted the round bump of Doyle's bottom and jumped out of bed. "Never mind. Get your beauty sleep, Goldilocks. First sunny day in ages, too." Whistling, he headed for the shower.
When he returned to the bedroom some time later, Doyle was sitting on the edge of the bed looking glum.
"Thought you were sleepin' in?" Bodie remarked, sorting through the wardrobe for clean socks.
"Bit difficult with someone killing cats in me shower."
"You've offended me," Bodie said soulfully. "That was me best rendition of a classic piece of music."
Doyle looked amazed. "Since when is 'Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I Got Love In My Tummy' a classic?"
Bodie grinned. "See, you recognized the tune. True definition of a classic, that is. Com'on, mate, rise and shine. I'll fix you breakfast."
"Don't threaten me, Bodie. You're the only one I know who adds sugar to sugar-coated cereal." He squinted at the cheerful man. "What are you doin' so chirpy this morning? You know I hate it when you're like this. Makes me feel a 'undred 'n ten." He stood and winced at the pain in his back. "Correction, hundred and twenty."
"Still stiff?" Bodie asked sympathetically, seeing the bruises along the thin body. "Want me to rub out the kinks?"
"Nah. I'll loosen up in a bit. Christ, I'd love another chance at those bastards."
"And if we're unlucky we'll get it," Bodie said soberly. "And maybe worse." He brightened again. "Let's not worry about that now, eh? You take a long, hot shower and I'll do up some coffee and toast."
Doyle took the suggestion, and when he made it to the kitchen, he did feel a lot more human. Bodie had managed a creditable breakfast from cupboard's meager store, and Doyle found himself doing justice to it. He watched Bodie as he munched toast and marmalade, pleased his partner had finally recovered some of his bounce. Bodie didn't get depressed often, but when he did, it was a very dark pit and not easily banished.
"So what do we do today then?" Bodie asked, licking his fingers free of jam.
"Dunno. Wait an' see what Liz comes up with, I suppose. There's something..." he trailed off.
Doyle shook his head. "Forget it. Just that something's been driving me crazy since yesterday, and I can't seem to get a hold on it."
"Well, you aren't suggesting we just sit around here all day, are you?" Bodie said impatiently.
"What would you suggest?"
"Okay, how about havin' a little chat with Baris? Maybe shake him up a little more; make him careless."
"You heard what Elizabeth said; the man's a pro. We go after him now, and he'd just love it. Probably toss us in jail for harassment or disturbing the peace. No, we have to have some insurance before we tackle him, something solid -- " Doyle broke off, a thoughtful look in the green eyes.
"What is it?"
But Doyle just shook his head again, unwilling to voice his idea until it was fully formed. He looked up at Bodie. "Why don't you go bring us in some groceries? You nearly cleared the lot this morning."
Bodie started to argue, but changed his mind. It was better than doing nothing. "Okay, but you wash up."
Doyle nodded absently.
When Bodie returned to the flat an hour later, struggling to balance several bags of groceries without dropping the expensive scotch he'd picked up at the off license, he found Doyle sitting cross-legged on the floor, nose deep in a book.
All around him the sitting room was an explosion of books. They were stacked on the table, on the floor, piled precariously on the end table, and lying everywhere. One of the crates was pulled out from against the wall and pried open. Like Pandora's box, its contents had spilled out and looked as if they'd never fit back in again.
"What the hell's all this?" Bodie demanded.
Doyle glanced up, then back down at the book. "Watch where you put your clumsy feet."
Bodie started to speak, but one of the sacks began to slip, and he beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen. The breakfast dishes were only half washed, the bubbles already fading in the cooling water. He put the food away, wondering what lightning bolt had struck his partner.
Returning to the other room, he cleared off a space on the floor and sat down beside Doyle. "Okay, you want to tell me what this is all about, or were you just bitten by a bookworm?"
Doyle slammed the book shut and reached for another. He grinned triumphantly at Bodie. "I knew there was something we were missing! And here its been packed up in my living room the whole time!"
"What are you talking about, Ray?"
"The Cow's library! He left it to us!"
Bodie was mystified. "So he did. Uh...what of it?"
Doyle regarded him with barely concealed impatience. "Think about it? Didn't you think that was a bit odd at the time?"
"Yeah... But you thought it was sweet." Bodie rolled his eyes. "I ask you, sweet? From the ol' man? Didn't have a sentimental bone in his body."
"Exactly. Plus, he would know you wouldn't mess with them anyway. Would dump 'em straight on me."
"Now, wait a minute -- "
"Bodie, the old man never did anything without a reason. So that must mean he had one, and maybe a damn good one, for leaving these to us."
Bodie's brow cleared. "You think he left something in them? Some clue?"
"I'm positive he did. 31, 56, 82, 147. What if they're page numbers?" Doyle said excitedly. "It's the only thing that makes sense."
Bodie let his breath out slowly. "Christ, you mean we have to go through all of these? There must be hundreds of them. And how will we know what to look for?"
"I'm hopin' we'll know when we see it." He picked up a book and handed it to his partner. "Here. The sooner we get started -- "
" -- the sooner we'll finish," Bodie completed with a sigh. "What a bloody boring way to spend a bright, sunny day." But he opened the book and leafed through to page 31.
Several hours later, they had hardly gone through half of the first crate, and there were three more just like it still unopened in the corner.
Bodie laid his book on top of the stack beside him, which promptly fell over. "This'll take bloody forever," he complained irritably. "Me eyes are startin' to cross."
"Birds like to made passes at fellers wit' glasses," Doyle quipped, crossing his own eyes at Bodie. "Take 'em for rich intellectuals."
"Only if the glasses are filled with champers, mate," Bodie shot back.
"Listen, we'd be a lot further on if you hadn't kept gettin' caught up in the books and readin' more than you was supposed to, wouldn't we? You must've read a couple o' chapters of The Fall of the Roman Empire before I caught you."
"Always fancied meself as a Roman centurion," Bodie said dreamily, leaning back on his hands and stretching his legs out in front of him to ease the cramps. "Shiny breastplate, sword and sandals -- fighting for the glory of the empire -- "
"Don't you mean the public baths, orgies and slave girls?" Doyle cut in unfeelingly.
"There's always that as well." Bodie sighed. "I say it's time for a break," he declared, leaping to his feet. "Want a beer?"
Rubbing the back of his neck, Doyle brightened. "That's a nice thought. Could do with a sandwich, too. It's gone four already."
"One sandwich coming up. "
"No mustard," Doyle called after him, leafing through an edition of Silas Marner.
Bodie was slicing some cheese when a wild yell of triumph issued from the other room. He put down the knife and returned to the sitting room, sucking the cut on his finger. "Whatever you've found, it'd better be good."
Green eyes sparkling, Doyle held up a book. It's garish cover held a dagger on a blood-splotched British flag. The jagged, crimson letters spelled out Red Spy at Night. "Who's a clever boy then?"
"I've nearly whacked me finger off for that?"
Doyle grinned. "It's Thomas Darby's book. Remember the initials on the ol' man's note? TD -- Thomas Darby, eh?"
"Could be. But that book's been around for ages. I read your copy years ago. It was mostly a crock anyway. Did Cowley write something in it or something?"
"Bodie, this isn't the same book. Look inside. It's not even a proper book at all; it's a manuscript. Cowley must've had it reduced and bound in this cover. A perfect hiding place sort of a 'Purloined Letter' idea."
Intrigued, Bodie dropped down beside him and took the book. "You mean this is the real -- "
"Yeah," Doyle broke in excitedly, "It's the manuscript Darby left with Eileen Pierce; the one we caught O'Leary trying to filch from the lawyer's office."
"That's got to be three years ago. The old man's kept it all this time? I thought he'd turned it over to someone."
"So did I." Doyle took it back and flipped to page 31.
Bodie shook his head admiringly. "That wily old fox. If this is half as juicy as everyone seemed to think it was, he's been sitting on a powder keg. And loving every minute of it, I'll wager."
Doyle, busy reading, didn't answer.
"So, what's it say?" Bodie demanded.
"It mentions an agent codenamed Redstone." He moved on to the next referenced page. And then the next. When he had read them all, he shut the book and looked up.
Doyle appeared both disappointed and fascinated. "There's not much. Talks about Redstone's progress, information he picked up. Page 82 goes into detail about a hit he arranged on Mid-eastern diplomat. On 147 it tells about the decoding box at Orley. Redstone was responsible for taking the letters and transferring them to the Russian courier."
"That's it, then!" Bodie said delightedly. "We've got the bastard."
Doyle shook his head. "Bodie, there's still nothing to link Baris with Redstone."
"But -- "
"Okay," Doyle interrupted, "we know he's Redstone, and he might even have a tough time explaining some of the coincidences. But this won't prove anything. It certainly wouldn't hold up in court. Dammit, we should have realized that. If Cowley would've had solid proof, he would've put Baris away years ago. All this did was point the finger; the ol' man was still working on getting the rest of it when Baris had him killed."
"So we're right back where we started."
"Maybe not. Elizabeth might pick something up from this that we've missed. She knew Baris back then. Could be she'll see something to tie him to Redstone."
Bodie nodded and moved over to the telephone. He dialed the number twice before hanging up the phone. "There's no answer."
"She could have gone out," Doyle suggested.
"And if she hasn't?"
Their eyes met.
Doyle stood, as worried as Bodie. "Okay, let's get over there."
Bodie stopped him. "Hold on. Are you carrying?"
"No," Bodie snapped, "a posey. Of course, a gun, you twit."
"I turned it in. Didn't you?"
The blue eyes turned heavenward for patience. "Of course I bloody turned it in. Doesn't mean I don't have others."
He went to the bedroom and returned with a .38, shoving it in Doyle's reluctant hands. "I'm keeping the Walther. You're a better shot than me with small arms; I can use the edge."
Doyle looked down at the weapon but made no move to put it on. "Our permits were rescinded, you know that. We go out with these, an' we're beggin' for trouble."
Bodie just stared at him, finding it unnecessary to point out the obvious.
"Okay, okay; I know what you're thinkin'. But christ, mate, if we even get stopped for a bloody traffic ticket an' they get a whiff of these, they'll lock us up so fast -- "
"Ray," Bodie cut him off flatly, "you can either be a nice, law-abiding citizen and find yourself picking lead out of your belly-button, or you can put on that gun and shut up."
Doyle put on the gun, but he didn't shut up. "I'm just trying to use a little common sense. Nobody's shot at us yet, have they? If they know we're carrying, they might start."
"Didn't they have guns when they bashed you the other night -- or have you forgotten that?"
"No, I haven't bloody forgotten!" Doyle followed him down the stairs, still complaining. "I just don't like -- "
"Ray, face it. You were a copper too long. It's warped your brain."
"You're a fine one to talk -- "
Still squabbling, they climbed in Bodie's car and tore off toward Elizabeth's.
By the time they reached her house, they were more worried about the fact they didn't have a tail than if they had. Both were concerned with the possibility the ubiquitous blue sedan might be busy elsewhere -- dumping Elizabeth's body in the Thames, perhaps.
They approached cautiously. The front door was locked. At a gesture from Bodie, Doyle slipped over to the front window. It was securely locked as well, but the curtains were open and he could detect no movement inside. He shook his head at Bodie and the other man acknowledged it with quick nod. Flattening himself against the wall, Doyle waited while Bodie rang the bell, preparing to smash through the window if there was any sign of trouble.
There was no answer to the bell or to Bodie's subsequent knock.
"What d'you reckon?" Doyle asked quietly. "She may just be out."
"With her motor parked at the curb?" Bodie pointed out. "I doubt it. Let's go 'round back."
The rear garden was blocked by a high wall. Bodie shrugged resignedly, and cupped his hands to give Doyle a boost. Once at the top, he gave Bodie the thumbs-up signal that all was clear, and Bodie jumped up and caught the top of the wall. Doyle braced himself and grabbed his partner's arm to help him up. They both dropped lightly to the thick grass on the other side. Taking out their guns, they moved warily toward the French doors at the back of the house.
"It's open," a voice called cheerfully from the rear of the garden. "No need to pick the lock."
They swung around, startled, wondering where the hell she had been hiding.
Arms full of cut flowers, Elizabeth walked serenely toward them. "I knew I should've laid glass at the top of that wall."
"We were worried about you," Doyle said lamely.
"You didn't answer your phone or your door," Bodie added defensively.
"I've been in the garden for most of the afternoon. Difficult to hear the bells out here. Is that why you've crawled over my wall like a couple of sneak thieves?"
"If we could, someone else can as well," Bodie said grimly. "You shouldn't stay here, Elizabeth. We shouldn't leave you alone -- "
"Nonsense," she broke in with a chuckle. "If they haven't found me by now, I doubt if they will. By the way, do you two have permits for those guns you're waving about?"
Sheepishly, they holstered their weapons. Doyle glared at Bodie.
"See? What'd I tell you?"
But Elizabeth pushed the cascade of gladiolas to one side, revealing a deadly Browning semi-automatic she had trained on them. "Neither do I, as a matter of fact," she commented. "Elizabeth Walsh had a permit, of course, but her untimely demise made it a trifle awkward for Sarah Ripley to apply."
Bodie grinned at Doyle. "See?" he mimicked. "What did I tell ya?"
"I'm not quite the helpless old biddy you think I am," Elizabeth continued, as she led them into the house. "Actually, you're quite fortunate I recognized that curly head. As I told you, I'm a very good shot."
"Well, you can't blame us for worryin'," Bodie protested. "I still don't like you being here on your own."
She chose to ignore that, and busied herself arranging the flowers in a crystal vase. "Have you come up with another puzzle piece then? Is that why you were calling?"
"Yeah, we have. Give her the book, Ray."
"Uh..." Doyle looked momentarily stricken. "I...uh...forgot it, didn't I? It's back at the flat."
"Ah, com'on, mate, you didn't -- "
"Well when we couldn't get through to Liz, an' what with arguing about the guns an' all...I didn't think to bring it with us."
"What book is that?" Elizabeth asked.
They filled her in on finding Darby's manuscript and what those particular pages contained.
"So he did write it after all," she mused. "I'd heard rumors, but I never imagined that George... Is it safe to leave it at your flat?"
"It's been there all along," Doyle pointed out. "We didn't even know it was there, why should they look for it now? Besides, like you said, no one was really sure it existed in the first place. Only three or four people know for sure: Cowley, me, Bodie and maybe Darby's daughter, since she was with us when we found it. What was her name?"
"Helen," Bodie supplied.
"Anyway, she married some American chap and moved to the States a couple of years ago. I think she was too upset at the time to notice much of anything anyway. If Cowley kept it to himself all these years, I doubt if Baris knew anything about it." He frowned. "Not that it matters. There's really nothing in it that'll put Baris away. Not that I can tell, at least."
"Hmmm, perhaps there wouldn't need to be," Elizabeth commented thoughtfully.
"Just thinking aloud." She finished up the arrangement and carried it through to the kitchen for water. They trailed after her. "It's nearly suppertime," she said. "I've a nice chicken pie in the oven, if you'd care to stay?"
"We'd love it, thanks," Bodie answered happily, having already caught the delicious aroma.
Doyle elbowed him sharply. "We don't want to intrude. You weren't expecting us and -- "
"Don't be silly. Now go wash up, both of you." She smiled. "Housebreaking is a very dirty business."
Through the meal and after, Elizabeth watched them both fondly. They were dear boys. A bit rough about the edges, but she'd always thought George a good judge of character and he hadn't failed with these two lads. They had been his favorites -- particularly Bodie. He'd never said so outright, but she had read it easily enough when he talked about them -- bragged about them, rather. 'Doyle could take care of that', 'Bodie can handle this'. As if they'd never dream of letting him down, and he was all too aware of that fact. Obviously, he had been right.
She had taken to Bodie from the time he'd crawled through her window during the pretend assassination. Elizabeth had always had a small weakness for pretty young men, and he certainly qualified on that account. But there was more to him than that, although it took a while before she noticed it. There was an unconscious vulnerability about him that appealed to her maternal side (not an aspect of her character she'd ever taken much time to explore in the course of her busy life). During the last few days, it had taken a stronger effect as she began to see more clearly what he tried so hard to hide; all his macho posturing concealed a heart a soft as warm butter.
Doyle was tougher to read. She had seen less of him for one thing, although she was beginning to think that made little difference. He was cautious, that one. Like a cat, he was willing to strop your leg and cuddle up if it suited him, but you wouldn't dare hold him too tight or the claws would come out. He doled out bits of himself, unwilling to give too much, as if he were afraid of spending it all and having nothing left to barter with. Yes, a green-eyed, battered alley cat, untrustful of a world where alley cats are such easy and expendable targets.
While by no means as handsome as his partner, Doyle did more with what he had; letting his inner sensuality make up for what nature shorted him. It worked incredibly well. So much so, that by the time they were washing up the dinner dishes, she found herself appreciating his exotic looks more than Bodie's conventional beauty.
Until Bodie gave her one of his sweet smiles, and she changed her mind again, amused at herself and even more amused with both of them.
They were quite a pair, these young scoundrels of Cowley's.
But she began to notice something else as well, and it puzzled her for she couldn't quite pin it down. It was the marked change in Bodie that drew her attention. This was a very different person from the quiet, sober young man who came alone to her door a few nights ago. The lost expression was gone from his eyes, and the burden that had stooped his shoulders was lighter now that it was shared. He laughed easily, teased his partner mercilessly, and very obviously enjoyed being teased in turn. It wasn't difficult to recognize the cause of Bodie's transformation. The reason was standing by his side, hands dripping with soapsuds, laughing up into Bodie's eyes.
"All right, I give up," Bodie said with a sigh, "What Irishman stays out all night but never gets drunk?"
"Patio Furniture," Doyle responded gleefully.
"You know, Paddy O'Furniture."
Bodie groaned and made as if to strangle Doyle with the dish towel. Doyle dodged away skillfully.
"Watch it! You'll make me smash up Liz's china."
"Lucky I don't smash it over your head. Where do you get these 'orrible jokes, Doyle?"
Elizabeth had settled unobtrusively at the kitchen table with her notes and a pencil while they did the washing up. She watched them, enjoying their banter, and still trying to decide what it was about the two of them that intrigued her so.
"Okay, I've got one," Bodie said, drying a plate and grinning.
Doyle shot a meaningful look toward Elizabeth. "It's not dirty, is it?" he whispered.
"'Course it's not! What do you take me for? My mind is as pure as...as..."
"Sludge?" Doyle suggested.
"Never mind. Anyway, these terrorists highjack this airplane, see? And the passengers -- "
"How do I know which terrorists? Doesn't matter."
"But if I don't know which ones, how can I -- ?"
"All right, they're...Arabs. Okay, there's four passengers -- "
Bodie took a deep breath. "It's a small plane, okay? Anyway, one is a Yank, one is an Irishman, one is English, and the other's Arab, right?"
"Is he one of the terrorists?"
Bodie blinked. "Who?"
"No, he's not one of the terrorists! Do you want to hear this or not?"
"Sorry. Go on."
"Okay, they're running out of fuel, so they come back and tell them that three of them have to jump out of the plane."
"With or without parachutes?" Seeing from the dangerous glint in Bodie's eyes that he'd passed the quota of patience, Doyle added meekly, "Never mind, go on."
"The Yank stands up and says 'God bless apple pie and Ronald Reagan' and jumps out. Then the Arab stands up and says 'All is with Allah', and jumps out. Then the Englishman stands up and says, 'God save the Queen', and tosses the Irishman out."
Doyle just looked at him. "So?"
"So, that's the bloody joke! Don't you get it?"
"But I thought the terrorists were Arabs?"
Bodie put his hand over his eyes and did a good imitation of a man sobbing his heart out. "Christ, give me strength."
"But it'd make more sense if the terrorists were IRA, wouldn't it?" Doyle said reasonably. "After all -- "
"Doyle, just wash the dishes before I drown you in the dishwater."
Elizabeth smiled, holding back her chuckles at their silliness. They were so comfortable with each other; like an old married couple who still considered themselves on an extended honeymoon.
Suddenly, she put down her pencil and looked at them.
Oh my, that's it, she thought with startled amusement. They're in love. And then wondered how appalled they would be if she'd said it aloud. They weren't aware of it, she was fairly certain of that. They were much too unselfconscious about it all.
Their banter was as acerbic as ever, but the teasing insults and good natured bickering was at total odds with the expressions in their eyes, the way they touched and moved around each other. Doyle, in particular was displaying body language that was more in tune with flirtation. Still very much the alley cat, he was doing everything but purring as he looked at his partner and brushed against him as they worked together over the sink. Occasionally he would look at Bodie as if he were the most amusing, incredible discovery of his life.
Bodie meanwhile, spent an inordinate amount of time ruffling the disordered curls, thumping him gently on the arm, or draping an affectionate arm over the skinny shoulders while he explained sane point he was making. And he looked at Doyle like he was some mysterious, exquisite creature he had netted and couldn't make up his mind if it would be wiser to set it free, or if he could bear to part with it at all.
Elizabeth Walsh had been many things in her life, but never a prude. She'd had more lovers than the Queen had hats, and had enjoyed every one of them. While they had all been male, it didn't prevent her from recognizing the validity of other kinds of pairings. Like these two, she had long been in a profession where you could afford to trust few people, and open up to even less. It could be a very lonely life, and even though she'd come to enjoy that very aloneness, she half-way envied what they had obviously found.
They loved each other, whether they recognized that fact or not. And perhaps it didn't even matter if they never took it further; they were content as they were.
She had her suspicions, however, that they were both too hot-blooded and passionate men to remain at one stage too long.
Finished with the domestic chores, they joined Elizabeth at the kitchen table, bringing her a fresh cup of coffee.
"So, have you found anything?" Doyle asked.
"I have a friend at Whitehall who is arranging to get copies of all the Minister's records in the stacks. There might be something there that will tie in with either Thomas Darby or Sarnov. This is all quite illegal you realize, so I'll have to ask a favor of you. My source would, of course, prefer to remain anonymous at present, so he has agreed to leave the copies in a locker at Victoria Station. This is the key." She handed it to him. "Will you go 'round and pick up the package for me tonight?" She glanced at the clock. "About two hours from now. That should give him time to get it there."
"Okay. I'll bring back Darby's book as well. I'm hoping you might catch something I've missed."
"It should be interesting reading, one way or another."
They had time to stop back at the flat to pick up the book before going to the train station. Bodie took the time to grab a handful of biscuits as well.
"What the 'ell do you need those for?" Doyle complained. "You stuffed yourself full of Liz's pie already."
"Didn't have desert, did I?" Bodie retorted, popping a whole one in his mouth and crunching it noisily to irritate his partner.
"There's something strange about you, y'know. I've seen billy goats with more delicate digestive systems."
"Know many billy goats, do you?"
"Just one -- "
The phone rang, halting them as they were going out the door.
"Girl friend?" Bodie asked with a wolfish grin.
"Don't have the money to waste on birds just at present," Doyle growled, grabbing up the phone. "4674," he answered, then "Murphy? What're you -- ? Okay, I'm listening. Why? No, Bodie's with me. You want to talk to him? But that's -- All right. Hold on a sec." He turned to Bodie. "It's Murph. Says he's got something to tell us. Wants to meet."
"What's it about?"
"I don't think he's too wild about telling over the phone. Didn't say, but I'm guessing he thinks the line's tapped."
"Ours or his?"
Bodie thought it over quickly. "Tell him I'll meet him in half an hour at the tower. He'll know where I mean."
Doyle relayed the message and hung up. "What do y'mean, you'll meet him?"
"One of us needs to pick up those papers, mate. If that crackerjack car of yours'll start, you can take care of that while I find out what Murph's up to."
"I don't like splitting up," Doyle said.
"Neither do I, but do you have a better suggestion?"
"I guess it'll be okay," Doyle granted reluctantly. "What d'you reckon he's got?"
Bodie smiled. "Probably just missed me beautiful face. Very sentimental feller, our Murphy."
"Oh, of course. Listen, mate, you be careful."
"Me? I'm not the one picking up secret, deadly serious, double-O seven type papers. You be careful. Don't speak to any strange men -- or any strange women."
Bodie shut off the motor and switched off the headlamps. Chambers Street was deserted at this time of night -- not that it was exactly a hub of activity in broad daylight either. The area consisted mainly of empty factories, derelict buildings and warehouses, all dark and silent. The only lights visible other than the widely spaced security lamps, were those from the hospital across the way. Bodie preferred it deserted; it made it easier to spot any movement. He hadn't caught any sign of a tail, but their sudden invisibility was nearly as unsettling. It could mean they were simply too sharp for him to make, and he didn't care for that idea at all.
He rolled down the window. It was a pleasant night, moonlit and warm, with just a hint of a breeze. The smokestack was outlined blackly against the night sky. He noticed a movement at the base, and the quick flash of torchlight.
Bodie got out of the car, hand on his gun, and moved warily toward the tower, keeping to the shadows as much as he could.
Smiling, Bodie loped the last few yards, and gave Murphy a friendly punch on the arm. "Figured you'd remember this place."
"Be hard to forget, wouldn't it? It put me right off mountain climbing from then on."
"How you been keepin', Murph? I hear you're workin' for Willis' Wonders now."
"Not quite," Murphy replied grimly. "You know they have your phone bugged, don't you? Yeah, of course you do, or you wouldn't have picked this godforsaken place to meet. Where's Doyle?"
"Had an appointment with his hairdresser. Overdue on his permanent wave."
"Oh yes? Wouldn't want to interrupt something that vital, would we?"
"Won't I do, darling?"
Bodie caught the flash of white as Murphy grinned. "You've mellowed a lot since I last talked to you. Nearly bit my head off after the Cow's funeral."
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry about that, mate. Wasn't quite meself, all things considered."
"Doyle got you back on the track then?"
"Actually, with incredible patience and almost godlike forbearance, I've nearly got the Golly straightened out."
"Thought so," Murphy said with another grin. "He's slow but lovable."
"If you're partial to cactus and porcupines, I suppose the prickly little devil is irresistible. Come on, Murphy, what's up?"
Murphy leaned back against the brick. "I reckon Doyle told you I was getting out of MI6?"
"He mentioned it. I take it you changed your mind?"
"Not exactly. I knew something was rotten when I talked to Ray; the whole situation smelled to high heaven. I offered to help, but Doyle didn't want me in it. After I thought it over a bit, I decided the best I could do was to stick with it a while, keep my ear to the ground."
"So," Bodie asked casually, "did you hear any Injuns heading our way?"
"Half the bloody tribe, mate. And all of them on the warpath. Whatever you two are up to, you're not making people happy. I still can't get close enough to pick up details, but I did find something else that's a bit odd. You know they've shut down CI5 Headquarters?"
"Looks as if MI6 is thinking of moving in."
"Why the hell would they do that? They have a better place. That geriatric mausoleum we were in -- "
"I know. Does seem strange." He shrugged. "Maybe they're just expanding. There's nothing official about it yet, but there's been a lot of MI6 traffic through that place. Just certain people, you understand. And none of them are on my hit parade."
Bodie thought it over. "Maybe they're just dipping into CI5 files. There's useful stuff in there," he suggested.
"What would the Minister be doing carting files? He's been buzzing in and out of there like it was his favorite night spot. No, best I can figure is that they're planning to take it over-under the Minister's instigation. Might explain why they were so eager to close down CI5, if they had their beady eyes on it."
Bodie chuckled. "Christ, Murph, you're the only one I know who looks at mountains and sees molehills. You think they'd kill Cowley just so they could grab the CI5 budget?"
"Kill Cowley?" Murphy straightened. "My god, is that what this is about? The Cow was murdered?"
Puzzled, Bodie said, "I thought you and Doyle had a nice long heart to heart? I figured he told you all about my 'delusions'."
"No. He never mentioned any of it. Christ, Bodie, is this for real?"
"Oh yes, it's real. Even Doyle believes it now."
Murphy swung around and slammed his palm against the wall. "Bastards! Dammit!" He took a deep breath. "Who did it? Do you know?"
"We've got a pretty good idea." Bodie hesitated, unsure how much he should say. But Murphy was nearly like family. After Doyle and the Cow, there was no one Bodie would trust more. "Interested in helping us catch the bastard?" he offered coolly.
"Count me in," Murphy replied fervently. Then, "There's something else as well. Don't know if it means anything, but -- "
A shot rang out and piece of brick was chipped off about a foot from Bodie's shoulder.
They both dropped flat and jerked out their guns.
"Were you followed?" Murphy asked.
"Don't think so. You?"
"Dunno. I checked, but -- "
Another bullet whined past.
"We're sitting ducks here," Bodie observed, "even in this light. Let's move. Over to the barrels. You first; I'll try to cover you."
A few minutes later, they both crouched breathlessly behind the rather meager protection of a pallet loaded with empty oil drums.
"Where do you think they're positioned?" Murphy asked, shoving another clip in his gun.
"One in the doorway of that warehouse over there. The other's on the factory roof. Good elevation, but the distance will hurt him."
Another bullet whizzed past.
"You forgot the one behind that stack of pallets," Murphy pointed out dryly. "He's close enough to spit at us."
Bodie searched through the shadows and the rising mist for any sign of movement. "Cowley would kill us for letting ourselves be set up like bloody amateurs."
Murphy shrugged. "Everyone has their off days." He added conversationally, "They've got rifles, y'know."
"And with infra-red sights, I'll wager," Bodie put in grimly. Catching a quick shift of motion, he fired.
"Get him?" Murphy asked cheerfully.
"Are you joking? In this light? Lucky to hit the side of a house."
There was another spatter of gunfire from both sides. Murphy, daringly, leaned around the side of the barrels and fired off a round at the nearest man. There was a choked scream and the clatter of wood falling as he dropped against the pallets.
"How the hell did you manage that?" Bodie said delightedly. "Very good, mate."
Murphy saluted him with the barrel of the gun. "We upper class blokes have very decent night vision, you know. Comes of eating a lot of carrots in the nursery."
"Well, one down, two to go. Reckon we could make it to my car?"
"Not a chance. They've blocked it off. How are you for ammo?"
"On my last clip."
"Me too, dammit."
There was the sudden wail of sirens approaching.
"Ah, the cavalry! Let's just pray they're armed."
Also hearing the nearing sirens, their attackers renewed fire. There came a soft little yelp from Murphy, and he fell back like a limp doll.
"Murph!" Bodie fired again, trying to force them to keep their heads down while he dragged Murphy farther behind the barrels out of the line of fire. Abruptly, the shooting ceased, and it was silent except for the cry of the sirens.
Bodie pulled the unmoving form into his arms. "Murph? Murphy!" He felt for a pulse in the throat and found only blood and stillness.
He cradled the body in his arms, rocking it, moaning as the sickness inside him blossomed and grew.
"Not you, too..."
He buried his face in the silky fall of hair. It smelled of expensive shampoo and gunsmoke.
"God damn them," Bodie whispered, fighting the dry sobs that threatened to choke him. "Oh, Murph, I'm so sorry..."
Bodie hardly noticed when the police cars squealed to a stop.
"You there! Drop the gun! This is the police!"
He tossed it down. It was out of ammunition anyway.
"Okay, stand up slowly and lean up against the wall!"
"Fuck off," he answered without much emotion, holding Murphy closer. "You're too bloody late. Just leave me the hell alone."
"Stand up, or we'll shoot," the officer threatened.
Bodie lifted his head and looked down at the face he couldn't see in the darkness. For that second, he almost wished they would. But he swallowed painfully and looked up at the cop. "Did you get the other two?" he asked flatly.
"The ones who killed him, you stupid son of a bitch!" Bodie yelled.
"You just mind your manners, son. You've got a lot of explaining to do. For all we know, you shot him. Now, stand up and put your hands against that wall. We won't tell you again."
Hardly caring anymore, Bodie laid Murphy's body down gently, and stood, spreading against the wall as he was told. There was a renewed pain in his gut and a reborn hatred. Christ, had he forgotten so easily how much it hurt? Hardly a month since Cowley... He'd even learned to laugh again. And all the time, this was waiting. He couldn't take much more of it. He'd been robbed too many times, lost too many. God, wouldn't there ever be an end to it?
He didn't move as they frisked him, took his knife and found his driver's license. Paid no attention as more cars pulled up.
"Blimey, the dead man was with MI6! Here's his I.D."
"That's right!" a voice called out. "And we'll take this over from here on, thanks very much."
"But -- "
"Sergeant, this is now a MI6 matter. We do appreciate your assistance, but we can handle it now."
"Very good, sir. But I will have to file a report, you understand?"
"Of course. Ring up headquarters in the morning and they'll give you the rest of the details."
There was the sound of footsteps, the slamming of car doors and motors starting up. Bodie rested his forehead against the damp brick and thought of Doyle. Had they got to him as well? Oh dear god, no. Not Ray.
"Turn around, Bodie."
Bodie straightened and turned. "Williams? What are you doing here?"
"Remember me, do you? I thought you might."
"It's only been a few weeks," Bodie replied sarcastically. "My memory isn't that bad."
"The last time we saw each other, you were locking me up under your Cowley's orders."
"No, the last time I was letting you go -- also under Mr. Cowley's orders."
"Well, it looks like we're switching roles. It's my turn to lock you up."
"You know I didn't kill Murphy."
"Oh yes, I know that. Did I say lock you up? I apologize. What I meant to say was that we are detaining you for questioning."
"There's a body over there that might give you more answers than I can," Bodie said harshly. "And there were two more that you let slip through your fingers -- accidentally on purpose, maybe?"
"We have the body. It will be investigated. But right now, we have you. Turn around."
"Why?" Bodie demanded.
"Don't push your luck. Just turn around."
Bodie did and cuffs were snapped on his wrists.
"Come on, in the car." Williams jerked him around and gave him a push.
"Were are we going?"
William chuckled. "MI6 has basements, too, you know. And methods of getting information. You've got a very interesting night ahead of you."
"When do I get my phone call?"
"Phone call?" Williams addressed the man in the chair. "Surely you know that privilege is reserved for prisoners under formal arrest. I've already told you that you're not under arrest."
"Then why am I cuffed?" Bodie replied, gaze following the pacing figure across the barren room.
"Come on, Bodie. You know the procedure as well as I do. No different from your old mob. Contain and interrogate. No fuss, no publicity."
"That's also not part of the MI6 brief," Bodie told him hotly.
"Yes, that's right. It was CI5 that had all those little goodies to work with. But CI5's all gone now, isn't it? Guess who inherited their 'special' powers? We've got a whole new brief now, son."
"You lousy bastard."
Williams backhanded him. "Watch your mouth. You're in no position to be uncooperative. You're smart enough to realize that."
Bodie raised his head, licking the blood from his lip. "Tell me who Murphy killed. Have you traced that, hotshot?"
Williams smiled. He took hold of another chair and swung it around to face Bodie. Sitting down, he said, "I suppose I can tell you that. He was a KGB agent, as a matter of fact. So what do you make of that, eh?"
"I'm not surprised," Bodie replied darkly. "Good friend of yours, was he?"
Williams slapped him again, harder. "I told you to watch your fuckin' mouth! You're taking a lot of chances."
The blue eyes flashed ice. "Take off the cuffs and try that again."
Williams laughed. "I'd love to. But you know the rules. Better if you just sit there and be nice. We'll all be a lot more comfortable. "
"What do you want?" Bodie demanded. "You obviously know more about the setup than I do. What can I tell you?"
"Now we get down to it." Williams cupped Bodie's chin and lifted his face, leaning very close. "I want to know exactly what you and your friend Doyle have found out."
Bodie fluttered his lashes. "If you're plannin' on kissing me, I just hope you don't have herpes."
Williams let him go with a curse. "Listen, we know you're up to something, and we intend to find out just what it is."
"Moi?" Bodie said innocently. "Up to something?"
"I'm done playing with you, Bodie," Williams snarled. "You're onto something big, or you wouldn't still be going on with this...investigation of yours. Save us some time, and spill it."
"Did the Minister send you?" Bodie asked abruptly. "Scraping the bottom of the barrel, isn't he? I thought Dawson was pretty low, but you're not even competent."
"You're really asking for it, aren't you?"
"I don't have to ask for anything, Williams," Bodie snapped out viciously. "I've already got it. In black and white. We've got Darby's manuscript, and it incriminates Baris to the hilt. Took us a while to find it, but we did. And it's in a very safe place, you can count on that. If I die, it'll go straight to the top. If Doyle dies, ditto. We're not fools." Bodie was talking fast and thinking faster. He had one chance of getting out of this room alive, and he was going to give it his best shot.
"What manuscript?" Williams looked surprised and suspicious.
"You mean the Minister didn't tell you? He's smarter than I gave him credit for. Well, you tell him from me that he's going to have to do some heavy bargaining to get it."
Williams hesitated uncertainly. "You're lying. You don't have anything."
"Don't I? Call him and see what he thinks. Just mention Thomas Darby and the real Red Spy at Night, and see if he doesn't light up like a bloody Christmas tree."
Williams stood and began pacing again. He took out a cigarette, lit it, and drew on it deeply. "If this book you're talking about is so incriminating, why haven't you turned it over before?"
Bodie laughed harshly. "Don't be dumb. What would that get us except a pat on the back? No, they can keep their OBE's, thanks very much. I prefer cold cash. Why the hell do you think me and Doyle are in this to begin with? We want money; a lot of money. Enough to get out of this bloody country and start over in style. South America maybe, or Australia. Not an unreasonable request considering the goldmine we've got. You put it to the governor and see what he says, okay?"
The other man continued smoking, considering it. "I don't believe you. Cowley's Incorruptibles bent?"
"You don't have to believe me. Call the Minister. He won't thank you if you kill the golden goose before he has the egg in his hot little mitt."
Williams smiled, a slow, greedy smile. "I have a better idea. I think I'll get you to tell me just where this supposed manuscript can be found. Maybe I'll be the one to get the nice bonus."
"That won't do you any good," Bodie said quickly. "Like I told you, if I'm dead -- "
"Nobody said anything about killing you..." Williams approached, tapping the ashes from his cigarette. He blew on the end of it, causing it to glow hotly. "Step number one." He pressed the tip against the back of Bodie's neck.
Bodie screamed and tried to twist away, but Williams held him. After a moment, he released him.
"First taste. Ready to talk? I've got a lot more cigarettes, and you've got a lot of skin."
Still shaking with the pain, Bodie could do little more than glare at him.
"No?" Williams said light. "Let's try it again, shall we?"
Bodie jerked to one side, overturning the chair he was cuffed to. Williams followed, holding him down and applying the cigarette an inch below the first burn.
Prepared for it this time, Bodie clenched his jaw and held back the scream, breath hissing through his teeth at the effort. It wasn't the first time in his life he'd been tortured. He'd lived through it before, he could again.
The door opened abruptly. "What the hell's going on here?"
Williams jumped up. "Sir! I...the prisoner was...he was resisting. I was just..."
Canting down from the peak of agony, it took a second for Bodie to register who the voice belonged to. He rolled over, fighting the weight of the chair.
"Let him go," Willis ordered tersely.
"What? But -- "
"You heard me, dammit! Let him go!"
Bodie's cuffs were unlocked from the chair. He sat up dizzily. Neither Willis nor Williams made a move to assist him. When he had finally made it to his feet, Willis turned to the other man.
"Get out. I'll take care of this from here."
Williams flashed a look at Bodie. "Yes, sir. Anything you say, sir." It was just a shade away from being insolent, but Willis let it pass.
"Follow me," he told Bodie.
"What's this?" Bodie asked sardonically. "New team up?"
"I'm letting you go."
Bodie stopped in the corridor. "Why?"
Willis turned. "Whether you're willing to believe it or not, I don't know what's going on here. I'm no part of it."
"You're telling me you're not working for Baris? And that you don't know that Williams is?"
The cold eyes surveyed him measuringly. "All I know is that you've been causing trouble for certain people. That's all I want to know. It's nothing to do with me."
"What if I told you the Minister is working directly for the KGB?"
Willis' eyes widened. "I don't believe you."
"It's true. If you're not part of it, then help us stop him. You can't -- "
Willis cut him off icily, "I said I wasn't part of it, and I'm not. I never said I was willing to go against prevailing winds. I don't believe this story of yours, and I'm certainly not going to put my head on a chopping block to back up your madness."
"Then why are you letting me go?"
Willis looked down. "Maybe I owe you something."
Bodie looked at him bitterly. "What for? Setting me up four years ago? For letting them kill Marikka? Why, Willis, you almost have a glimmer of a conscience. Pity it's too late and too little."
"I didn't enjoy that, you know," Willis replied sharply.
"The work we were doing was important, very important. But what you're telling me now..." He shook his head. "I don't know what's involved. I just know I don't want MI6 to be part of it if I can help it. As of tonight, Williams is out. If he's working for someone else -- that's not my concern any longer."
"In other words," Bodie said acidly, "you're throwing us to the wolves."
Willis smiled thinly. "If you want to put it like that, yes. You and Doyle are on your own. I owed you enough to get you out of here, but that's it. We're even."
They continued walking toward the exit. "I've called a taxi for you. Should be outside now."
"You realize," Bodie commented, "that when Baris falls, the mud's going to splash on you real hard. Especially after what happened with Dawson."
Willis shrugged. "Possibly. If you're right, and if he falls. But if that happens, I'll count on you to remember I was one of the good guys."
"Not good," Bodie said flatly, "just careful. You're a genius at playing both sides against the middle, Willis."
"Right at the moment, I'd be grateful for that small favor," Willis retorted dryly. "It's worked out nicely for you, hasn't it?" He opened the door. "I won't wish you luck. I haven't decided which horse to back yet."
The taxi was outside as promised. Bodie got in and gave Doyle's address tonelessly. He hurt -- and the cigarette burns and bruises had very little to do with it. All he could see was the hidden shadow that was Murphy's face; all he could feel was the limp, cooling warmth of the once vibrant body. Cowley's face rose up as well, like an uneasy specter; a conversation from the past -- "The joke's on me. I killed them. I should have anticipated..."
His job to protect Cowley, and he'd failed. Letting Murphy be drawn into this mess was another mistake. Doyle... Good god, what had he let happen to Ray?
By the time they reached the flat, Bodie was almost resigned to it. The scream of the fire engines, the smell of smoke, the curious crowd around the blazing block of flats -- he'd half expected this, or some variation.
Handing the cabby a handful of notes, he got out of the taxi numbly. Standing across the street behind the police cordon, he stared up at the flaring windows, waiting for the reality of it to come crushing down on him. When it did, he'd be finished, he knew that. Maybe he even deserved it, to lose the most important thing in his life; he hadn't guarded it well enough. His fault.
The hissed whisper came from behind him. In the nearby alley, Doyle leaned casually against the wall, outlined in the flare of the fire and wisps of smoke.
"Ray?" Bodie said hoarsely, unable to let himself believe it was true. "Ray?"
"Get over here, dammit!"
Half convinced Doyle was a ghost, Bodie went to him. He touched the soot-streaked face. "Ray -- " It was real enough; the green eyes were snapping furiously.
"Look at it! My stereo...my clothes...records...books! All of it. I swear, Bodie, when I get my hands -- "
Bodie hugged him with a force that made Doyle yelp in protest.
"Eh! Easy, mate. I'm okay, honest. Did you think I was in there?"
Bodie nodded against Doyle's hair, unable to speak.
Doyle patted his shoulder awkwardly. "Sorry, sunshine. Had a bad minute or two, didn't you?"
Bodie almost laughed at the pitifully inadequate description. He released Doyle reluctantly, keeping a firm hold on the shoulders as he pushed him back to look at him. "What happened?"
"Better not talk here; we ought to get clear before we're spotted. Come on, there's a bus on the corner. Last one; we'd better catch it."
At the bus stop, Bodie demanded again, "Tell me what happened."
"Well, first off, I was followed most of the way to the station. Had a devil of a time losing them. I picked up the stuff and headed back to Liz's. Halfway there, a car tried to run me off the bloody road. Not the blue sedan, by the way. I got ahead of him and I'll be damned if he didn't start taking pot shots at me. You know, much as I hate to admit it, you were right. License or not, I was bloody glad I was armed. No more nice guys in this game."
"No," Bodie said flatly.
Doyle looked at him curiously, catching the tone. The bus pulled up before he could question him. They got on and went to the top, although the bus was nearly deserted. Settling in the seat, Doyle ventured, "Incidentally, where are we going?"
"I don't care," Bodie said dully. "Anywhere. A hotel?"
"Okay, there's a cheap one on Marlowe." He looked at Bodie again. "Are you all right, Bodie?"
"Yeah. Go on; what happened next?"
"Anyway, we had a bit of a running battle for a couple of miles -- it's a wonder I didn't wreck what with trying to drive and shoot at the same time -- but I finally managed to get one of their tires. They skidded right into a Chinese laundry. It was lovely."
"And I went on to Elizabeth's, delivered the papers and the manuscript and came home. Your car wasn't there, so I knew you weren't back yet. I barely got in the door, when I sensed something was screwy. Don't know why; just that feeling you get sometimes. Went down those friggin' stairs like a rabbit -- just in time, too. The back of my shirt is seared. Place went up like a volcano. Glad it was mostly businesses in that block, no one was hurt that I could tell. Damned lucky, all things considered."
Bodie looked out the window without answering.
The flush of adrenaline from his near escape was beginning to fade. Doyle noticed both Bodie's pallor and his quietness. "What is it? What did you find out?" Then he saw something else. "Hey, what happened to your mouth? It's cut."
"Murphy's dead," Bodie answered hollowly, turning away again, but his hand moved out to capture Doyle's.
"My god. How? Why?"
"KGB. Murph got one of them. MI6 identified him."
"MI6? They were there?"
"Oh, yes. They were there right enough." He released Doyle's hand and ran his fingers through his hair. "Ray, Willis isn't part of it. He's a cold, useless son of a bitch, but he's not connected to Baris' game. Williams is. He's the minister's new stooge. One of them, anyway."
"What happened, Bodie?" Doyle asked softly.
Bodie didn't want to talk anymore. He raked a fist across his eyes and straightened. "This is our stop, isn't it?"
They got off the bus and walked toward the hotel a couple of streets away. They were closer to the river now, and the mist was settling in heavier. It was a strange, quiet night. Cooling now, with the moonlight glowing above the fog, the air was filled with gossamer wisps, lit by moonbeams and streetlamps.
"We'll have to go undercover for real now," Doyle said quietly, more to break the silence than to impart any real news. Bodie would have realized that already. "They probably think I'm dead at the moment; I'd like them to go on thinking that for a bit -- at least until they sift through the rubble and don't come up with a body. They're serious now; they want us dead and they aren't picky about how. We can't use the cars anymore either. They'd spot us too quick. We're fugitives now, mate, and we're going to have to act like it."
He glanced worriedly at the man beside him. "Bodie, say something."
Bodie just shook his head.
Doyle pulled him to a stop. "Are you okay?"
Bodie's eyes met Doyle's. "I thought you were dead," he said simply.
Doyle's breath caught at the intensity in the blue eyes, wrapped in mist and horror. He swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. "I'm not. You hear that? And neither are you. Let's just take it from there, okay?"
They went into the shabby hotel, and Doyle booked a room under the names Mr. Lionel Guppy and Mr. Baris Butkis. It nearly coaxed a smile from Bodie, and Doyle felt it well worth the effort. The desk clerk didn't bat a lash.
The room was tiny, a bit sordid, but clean enough -- if you didn't mind faded wallpaper and threadbare furniture. At the moment, neither were up to caring.
"At least we have our own bath," Doyle indicated lightly. "And I definitely need one. Smell like kerosene and charcoal."
Bodie sat down on the one double bed without replying.
Doyle dropped down beside him. "Okay, tell me happened."
Bodie took a deep breath and began to talk. He explained about the ambush, the gun battle and Williams showing at the end. "Murphy really didn't know much. He was onto something else -- a total red herring. He didn't even know we were after Cowley's killer. Thought it was something else." He paused and turned to look at Doyle. "You didn't tell him about me. That you thought I'd flipped."
"'Course I didn't," Doyle said heartily. "You're my problem, sunshine, nobody else's. If you were a nutter, it was my job to fit you with a straight jacket. Nobody else's business, was it?"
Bodie smiled weakly. "Ta, mate. I wouldn't have wanted Murph to think of me being round the bend. I liked him, y'know?" He took a shaky breath. "He was ready to help us, once he knew. Jumped right in. Then -- " he swallowed as the memory threatened to choke him. "Dammit, Ray, they were trying for me. He didn't know anything. We should have kept him out of it."
"Bodie, I told him to stay clear. Obviously, it meant too much to him as well. He was looking for answers, too. Just like us."
"But he died without finding them."
Doyle didn't know what to say. He hurt for Murphy, too, but he couldn't claim to be as close as Bodie had been. Nor as close to Cowley. Or to anyone else for that matter, now that he thought about it. Strange thought, to realize you weren't really close to anyone. Any relatives he had left seemed far away as the moon. Friends? No, mostly just acquaintances. His stock in trade as a copper. Lots of contacts, lots of snitches. Keep everyone at arm's length and stay objective. An odd life he'd chosen, and not always a very satisfying one.
But there was Bodie. Not that he'd wanted to become attached to him, but it had been nearly impossible to keep him at arm's length even when they were first teamed. Now he was finally able to admit how much he needed him, cared for him. And he hated to see him like this.
Sighing, Doyle stood. "I'm going to call down to the desk and see if they've got anything like room service in this dump. Could use a good dose of scotch about now."
Going around the bed to the phone, he stopped before he reached it. "Bodie, what the hell happened to your neck?"
He knelt down on the bed behind him and pulled down the collar. "Christ! What -- "
"Williams," Bodie answered. "He smokes way too much."
Anger raced through Doyle. "Well, he won't live long enough to have to worry about cancer, will he?"
He grabbed up the phone, ordered the whisky and asked if they had some kind of first aid kit he could borrow.
"Get your clothes off," Doyle ordered. "I'm going to get a cold towel to put on that until they bring up the kit."
"It's okay," Bodie said, uncaring.
"Sure it is. Will you just do like I say, please?"
Bodie, too tired to argue, undressed and crawled into the bed. Doyle returned with the towel.
"You may have to finally grow your hair longer," Doyle said lightly, wincing at the painful look of the burns. "They're going to leave some nasty scars, sunshine. Here, leave this on for a while. I'm going to take a quick shower while we're waiting for the scotch."
Twenty minutes later, Doyle had cleaned the burns with antiseptic and covered them with some light gauze. They'd both had several straight whiskeys, which helped the operation greatly.
"It's after midnight," Doyle commented. "Might as well get some sleep. Tomorrow we'll figure out what to do next." He switched off the lamp and slipped into the bed beside Bodie.
The thin wall leaked the sound of music from the next room, and the rhythmic thump of a bedstead hitting the wall.
"Fantastic accommodations," Doyle remarked ruefully.
"You said Liz has the manuscript?"
"Yeah, it's safe."
A pause. "Is she safe?"
"Safer than us apparently. They still don't know about her. I'm sure about that."
Bodie turned to his side, away from Doyle. "They didn't know about Murphy either." There was a moment of tense silence, then in a cold, determined voice, Bodie stated, "If something happens to her, I'll kill him, Ray. Proof or not, I'll blow his fuckin' brains out."
"I'll help you pull the trigger," Doyle answered softly. He waited a moment, then added, "Bodie, none of this is easy. I promise you, we'll get them eventually. For now...just keep your head -- "
" -- while all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you'," Bodie quoted, cutting him off. "I've tried that. It doesn't work. The world just keeps getting madder. Kipling didn't make allowances for that."
Doyle opened his mouth and discovered he had no answer for that. "No," he said finally. "But there's always tomorrow."
"Thank you, Scarlet O'Hara," Bodie retorted wryly, but Doyle was relieved to hear a lighter tone.
"Don't tell me you've read that book?" Doyle asked, wanting to change the subject and lift the mood before they slept. "Thought you stuck to nudie mags and comics."
"I've read a lot of books." Bodie replied, offended.
Doyle smiled. "Yeah? Like what?" he asked into the darkness.
"You know, the usual. Stuff in school. Canterbury Tales, Pamela, Tom Jones...you know."
"Yeah, most of them. Never could get into The Mill on the Floss, but some of 'em had jolly bits. Shakespeare is rowdy enough."
"Then why do you always act like you don't know a dangling participle from a penguin?"
Bodie chuckled. "Because I bloody well don't. Do you?"
Doyle was stumped for a minute. "Well, not actually. Reckoned you would, being so literate an' all."
"Doyle, I left school when I was fourteen."
"Yeah, but you didn't stop there, did you?"
"No, I read a bit, when I had time. Why?"
Doyle rolled over and moved closer to the other man, casually draping his arm over the sheet around the muscular chest. "Just curious."
Bodie relaxed slowly in the embrace, his tension easing with the sympathetic touch. How did Doyle know how much he needed the contact?
"Murph's dead, Ray," he said suddenly, bleakly.
Expecting this all along, Doyle slipped his arm around him further and hugged him tight. "I'm sorry, Bodie. But it wasn't your fault."
"Wasn't it? I wish I could believe that."
"You have to believe it, mate. We'll get the one who is responsible. For Murphy, for Cowley, for all the rest he's murdered. Don't tear yourself up so. I need you now, mate. You and me -- we're all we've got."
Bodie entwined his fingers with Doyle's. "G'night, Ray."
"Good night, Bodie." He rubbed his cheek against Bodie's shoulder. "Things'll be better. I promise."
Doyle wasn't sure what woke him, whether it was the drunk singing off-key in the hall outside their door, or the fact it was very stuffy in the room. The drunk shut up almost immediately -- passed out or put out -- but Doyle couldn't get back to sleep. He kicked off the sheet, but still felt too warm. Beside him, Bodie hadn't stirred.
Doyle padded over to the window, cursing and tugging until it opened. He stood there for a long while, taking in gulps of night air. Bodie would probably sneak over and close it again later. Very cold-blooded was Bodie; all those sweltering nights in the African bush, no doubt.
He remained by the window for some time, thinking of nothing in particular, just letting his mind drift. It was too late and he was too drowsy to do any heavy thinking. The sky was beginning to lighten, and there was just a hint of pink over the far rooftops.
Finally a sound from the bed drew his attention. It was almost like a whimper.
"Bodie?" he said quietly, wondering if he was awake.
There was no response, but another noise followed that caused an uneasy tingle down Doyle's bare spine.
Bodie was sobbing. Very quietly, no more than little choked gasps that tore at Doyle's heart. Uncertainly, he returned to the bed, laying his hand on the broad chest and feeling the ragged breathing, the trembling.
"Bodie, are you okay?" he whispered, then realized.
Bodie was crying in his sleep.
For a moment Doyle was indecisive. In all the years he'd known him, he'd never seen the man cry. Not when Marikka was killed, nor Cowley, or...ever. Had always assumed it was a release his partner couldn't or wouldn't grant himself; that it didn't fit with the cool, easy-going facade he had structured.
Now, Doyle had no idea of what was best for Bodie. Perhaps he needed to let out some of that dammed up pain and this was necessary. Better to release it this way than not at all.
But Doyle couldn't stand it. There was something so unbearably lonely about the unconscious weeping. He climbed back in bed and pulled his partner into his arms.
"Wake up, sunshine. I'm here. Wake up, Bodie."
The figure resisted for a second, then very shakily, "Ray?"
"Yeah. Right here with you. You were crying. I had to wake you."
There was a tense silence. "Was I? Sorry."
Doyle refused to let him move away. "No, dammit," he said fiercely, "Don't you dare be embarrassed with me, mate. It's no crime, y'know. I do it all the time. Tear up at God Save the Queen." His attempt at lightness fell flat. He could still feel the fine trembling in the muscles, felt the wetness of Bodie's face.
"Oh, Bodie," he said softly, "I didn't wake you up to stop you from crying. I woke you so you would know you weren't alone with it. Not anymore."
Bodie didn't answer, but neither did he try to pull away.
"Were you dreaming?" Doyle asked gently.
Bodie swallowed audibly, and rolled to his back. This time Doyle let him go. "Yeah...dreaming." He sniffed then wiped the back of his hand across his face to remove the remaining tears. "Christ..."
"What was it? Want to talk about it?"
"No...yes. I dunno."
"Tell me," Doyle urged. In the early dawn light, he could just make out Bodie's expression. It was so withdrawn, so savagely controlled, he was afraid to reach out to him again, afraid Bodie would shatter at a mere touch.
"Remember when I went to the morgue to see Cowley?"
"Yeah." Doyle wasn't sure he wanted to hear more; found himself as reluctant to think about it now as he had been the first time.
"When I pulled the sheet back from his face -- there wasn't a face. Wasn't anything that looked very human. Just a burned lump of flesh."
"Bodie -- "
"No," Bodie cut him off, "you don't understand. The dream was just the same, you see, except..." There was a choked horror in his voice. "...except this time, when I pulled back the sheet I somehow knew it wasn't Cowley at all. It was you."
In a quick movement, he turned to his side and looked in Doyle's startled eyes. "Nothing's ever scared me like that, Ray. Nothing."
Doyle didn't know what to say; wasn't sure he knew what Bodie was trying to tell him.
But Bodie continued, the words spilling out of him in a shaky rush. "When Cowley died, I...I didn't want to face it. You were right about that. Couldn't, don't you see? Because...because if Cowley could die -- Cowley -- then you could as well. I've never let myself face that before. Even when you were shot, when your heart stopped beating, even then I wouldn't believe it. Kept tellin' myself over and over that you'd make it somehow...like sane kind of juju against fate. And you didn't die, so I slid past it without ever really having to face what it would do to me. But when Cowley died -- it was too real. I couldn't hide from it anymore..." He trailed off, drained of words and mesmerized by the glow in the green eyes.
Suddenly they were together, molded in a embrace that stole the air from their lungs at the intensity of it, hearts hammering wildly in their chests. For a long time neither moved except to increase the pressure even more, if possible, unwilling to let go of something that could be so easily lost.
Eventually they were forced to ease up and draw back just enough to look at each other again.
Doyle looked at Bodie's mouth, only inches from his own. He licked his lips nervously, a little shocked at the new feeling that was beginning to seep along his nerve ends, the increasing delight of Bodie's sweat-dampened skin against his own.
Without letting himself consider the consequences, he moved those slight inches and pressed his mouth to Bodie's.
Bodie gasped, his own mouth opening to accept the startling offer, feeling Doyle's tongue slip inside to taste him, making him realize this was no companionable gesture of affection. Doyle meant business, and obviously had no shame about making that clear right at the outset. That thought alone was enough to send an electrifying bolt of arousal to his groin.
Doyle wriggled sensually against him, letting the other man feel his own swelling erection. He licked at Bodie's mouth seductively, sliding his hand around to touch the nearest nipple, rubbing it with his thumb. Bodie moaned, passion building with each touch, every movement of that alluring body. Unable to remain on the passive side a second longer, Bodie rolled Doyle over and held him down. Lifting his head, he gazed down into the fevered green eyes, smiling at the hungry-tiger expression that lit the face.
"Raymond, do you have any idea what you're about?"
The green eyes sparkled wickedly. He gave a feral grin. "Oh, I do right enough. If you don't, per'aps you should get off an' let me carry on."
Bodie laughed at the throaty growl in the voice and the brazen sensuality Doyle transmitted like radio waves. Still smiling, Bodie leaned down until their lips nearly brushed. "You little devil," he whispered. And kissed him thoroughly, exploring his mouth with greedy delight, then moving on to his ear and down to his throat.
Doyle shut his eyes, soaring on the intoxicating feel of it, every part of his body tingling with excitement. His breath caught in his throat as Bodie found his nipple and let him feel just the edge of teeth.
"Bodie -- I can't..." But it was too late, and he spurted out, head thrown back at the glorious power of his orgasm.
Bodie watched his face, fascinated and even more painfully aroused by the sight.
After a couple of minutes, Doyle's ragged breathing eased. He opened his eyes to see Bodie watching him with a curiously awed expression.
Embarrassed, Doyle stuttered a bit. "Sorry...I just couldn't... The way you touched me...it was...was -- "
"You're beautiful," Bodie said simply, seriously. "You are so damned beautiful."
Looking up into the face for which, as far as Doyle was concerned, the word had been invented, Doyle blushed. "You're crazy," he mumbled.
"Looks like we both are," Bodie observed, and bent down to kiss him again.
It belatedly occurred to Doyle that this had been a bit one-sided. Determinedly, he pushed Bodie back and went to work on him. Bodie wasn't in any condition to protest.
"How the hell did this happen?" Bodie asked very much later.
"Dunno," Doyle replied sleepily, snuggling a little closer -- under the curve of Bodie's arm. "Doesn't matter. It was nice." He paused. "Wasn't it?"
Bodie kissed the top of his head. "Always knew you'd be worth a tumble one day."
"A tumble?" Doyle lifted his head irritably. "Is that all I am to you, a tumble? To be seduced an' abandoned?"
Bodie chuckled. "Thought it was you doin' the seducin'."
"Didn't notice you puttin' up much of a struggle. Didn't exactly have to tie you to the bed posts or anythin', did I?"
"Hmmm. That sounds like fun -- ouch!"
Doyle tongued the teeth marks he'd left. "Watch it, I bite."
"So I notice. Just be careful where."
Doyle grinned. "Oh, I am. Very careful." He hesitated, then asked, "Did you?"
"Did I what?"
"Think I was worth a tumble?"
"Ray, I was joking -- "
"I know that. What I mean is, did you ever think about this before? Me and you?"
"No." Then more honestly, "Not seriously anyway. You do have a very attractive little behind, y'know. And there're times you exude sex like a panther in heat."
"Stop fishing. You know you do. Used to make it bloody hard to concentrate. But seriously? No, I never really thought about it. Didn't imagine you'd be interested for one thing."
"Have you ever done it before?" Doyle asked suddenly. "With other fellers?"
"Have you?" Bodie countered warily.
"I asked first."
Bodie didn't like the direction this was taking. "Yeah. A few. A long time ago."
"Did you like it?"
Irritated, Bodie snapped, "If I did I would've kept it up, wouldn't I?"
"What about us, Bodie? Is this a one-off, too?"
Something in his voice made Bodie pull away so he could look at Doyle's face. "Do you want it to be?"
"This time, I asked first."
Doyle looked away, confused. "I dunno.
"Then why did you ask? Why all the questions? If you want to say something, Ray, just spit it out! It's not like you to shy around and not come straight out with it."
"It's just...if you didn't like it before, why...why now?"
Bodie flushed. "Because it's different."
"Because I didn't bloody well love them, did I?" Bodie exploded.
Doyle's eyes were shining. "No, I guess not. Love you, too."
"Com'ere," Bodie ordered softly, and pulled Doyle back into his arms, holding him tightly. With his cheek against the curly hair, he said huskily, "You really needed to hear it that bad? Didn't you know? Haven't you always known? Yeah, I love you, you nasty-tempered little rat. Can't help it, can I? George Cowley was the best matchmaker in history."
Doyle snorted. "Wonder what he'd've said to that."
"'I am not amused'." Bodie mimicked.
"That's good. Can YOU do a Scottish accent as well?"
"Not as well as I can do something else," Bodie replied evilly, bringing a heavy hand down on Doyle's exposed behind.
"Ow!" Doyle yelped. "That hurt."
"I'll kiss it better," Bodie offered with a glint in his eye.
"I may remind you of that later." Doyle slipped out of his partner's grasp and climbed out of bed. "Right now, I'm hungry. How about you?"
Bodie's stomach growled right on cue. "Starving."
"Okay, order something from room service while I take a shower."
"I've got a better idea," Bodie grinned. "I'll order something and we'll both take a shower."
It took a little longer that way, but they were out by the time the breakfast arrived.
"This is terrible," Bodie commented, chewing on the rubbery toast. "Remind me not to give this place four stars in the review."
"Expensive, too," Doyle grumbled. "Speakin' of which, we may have a real problem. We've got to lay low for awhile, so we're not going to be able to go trotting off to our banks, are we? Have to make do with what we've got in our pockets. I've only got about thirty quid; what about you?"
"Uh..." he bit his lip uneasily. "None."
Doyle choked on his toast. Eyes watering, he finally got it down, with a few enthusiastic and useless thumps on the back from his helpful partner. "None? What do y'mean none? How can you be broke? You've always got cash on you."
"Well, I did have. But I'm afraid MI6 neglected to return my wallet. I didn't even think about it until you said -- "
"Oh, this is just great," Doyle stormed. "No cars, no clothes but the ones on our backs, can't use our credit cards, and only thirty lousy quid to our names. We can't even pay the bloody hotel bill!"
Unconcerned, Bodie popped the last crust of toast in his mouth. "Cheer up, sunshine. You can always snatch some old lady's handbag."
"Oh, very funny. This is serious, Bodie. How the hell are we going to catch Baris if we can't even afford tokens for the bloody underground?"
"I imagine Liz'll bankroll us if we ask nice. Always did want to live off an older woman."
Doyle considered it. "Yeah, she might loan us a bit. But I've thought of something else. I don't think it's such a good idea for us to go near Liz for a while."
Bodie looked up sharply. "I thought you were so sure she was safe."
"She is, we're not. I don't think we can afford to risk it. Right now she's the only other person who knows what's happening. If they do find us, she may be the last ace up our sleeve." He regarded Bodie soberly. "And we can't ignore the possibility that I'm wrong. What if they followed me last night and I just didn't see them? By now they know Willis let you go. They probably know they didn't get me in the blast. To be on the safe side, I think we have to assume they have her place staked out on the chance we'll show up there. Her phone may be bugged as well."
"Ray -- "
"Hold on. I didn't say I thought so, just that we have to expect the worst from now on."
Face grim, Bodie stood and grabbed up his jacket. Doyle stopped him. "No, Bodie! We're not going to go charging over there. That's exactly what I'm talking about. What good could we do?"
"I'm not going to sit here and let them -- "
"That's precisely what we're going to do!" Doyle yelled back. "If they know about her, that's what they'll expect, don't you see?"
Bodie glared at him, but let Doyle push him back down in the chair. "What if they decide to get rid of her?"
"They won't -- not yet anyway. Besides, we don't know they've found her yet. All I'm saying is that we have to be a little cool about this, okay?"
Bodie calmed down. "Okay. What do you suggest?"
Doyle walked over to the bed, sat down, and picked up the telephone with a flourish of his wrist. Bemused, Bodie moved to sit beside him, watching as he dialed.
"Hello, Miss Ripley?" There was just a hint of effeminacy about the voice, heavily laced with not-quite upper class snobbery. He tilted the receiver so Bodie could catch the other end of the conversation.
"Lionel Guppy here. You do recall my associate, Mr. Butkis, and myself, do you not?"
There was a slight pause. "Ah, yes. Mr. Guppy. I was wondering when you would be in touch. I'm very anxious to meet with you both."
"As are we, dear lady. Unfortunately, a tiny problem has developed. We've both been terribly fascinated by tropical fish, especially since we spotted those piranhas. Remember what we discussed?"
"Yes, indeed. But I'm afraid I'm seen no trace of them anywhere in the area."
"That's what we thought, but we wanted to check to make certain. I hate to keep bugging you about it, but Mr. Butkis is so eager to locate them. You know how enthusiastic he can be. Of course, his usual field is ornithology." He winked at Bodie. "Birds, you know. But he has had a sudden change of interest."
Bodie poked him in the ribs.
"When do you think you will be able to call on me, Mr. Guppy?" Elizabeth asked with a smile in her voice. "I've done some more research on that particular species of piranha that I believe you will find utterly fascinating."
"I'm sure we will, Miss Ripley, but I'm afraid we're both regular shut-ins at the moment. The heat is affecting us both. Until the weather breaks, we really should stay close, you understand."
"Indeed, yes. I know Mr. Butkis has a particularly delicate constitution."
"There is one tiny favor we need to ask of you. We find ourselves embarrassingly short of funds due to Mr. Butkis's encounter with an unscrupulous cold fish. And at the present, our bank accounts are inaccessible. We were wondering if you might see your way clear to giving us an advance to assist our research?"
"I see. Would two hundred pounds contribute to that worthy cause?"
"Oh yes. That would be lovely. Perhaps you could send it around to the Marlowe Arms on Marlowe Street."
"I'll send it by special post to make certain you receive it today."
"Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking with you, dear lady. We will keep in touch."
"Please do. And give Mr. Butkis my regards. Goodbye."
Bodie chuckled as Doyle hung up the phone.
"Why, Lionel, I do believe you are developing a lisp."
Doyle grinned. "Watch it, mate, or I'll give you a fat lisp."
"Well, at least we know she's okay for now. What next?"
Doyle rubbed his chin. "First off, we need to pop out and pick up some things. Shaving gear, for one thing." He looked down at his smoke-stained jeans. "Get some new clothes as well, so we can get these laundered. I smell like an arsonist. There's a shop around the corner from here that we can just about afford."
Bodie regarded him suspiciously. "What's that?"
Doyle's smile was positively mean. "Salvation Army."
"Oh, come on, mate! You're not serious?"
"Listen, James Bond, you can shop in Saville Row when you're gainfully employed again."
"You've always wanted to see me in rags," Bodie accused resentfully. "You're loving every minute of this, aren't you?"
Impulsively, Doyle reached out to squeeze Bodie's thigh. "Sane of it isn't so bad." Before the quick spark in his partner's eye could ignite, he jumped up. "Let's go before all the patched trousers and moth-eaten jumpers are picked over and we have to settle for something decent."
Bodie was still grumbling when they returned to the hotel.
"I don't believe it. That shampoo you bought cost more than my shirt and trousers combined. I thought you were supposed to be the sensible one."
"Stop complaining. We got a bargain."
"Oh yeah. The pants are too tight and the shirt's polyester." He shuddered.
Elizabeth was as good as her word. The desk clerk gave them a package that contained both the two hundred pounds and Darby's manuscript. She had stuck a note inside that asked that they meet her in Kensington park at six that evening.
"Think this is a good idea?" Bodie asked.
"It'll have to be. She seems pretty determined. Maybe she's come up with something. What time is it?"
"Half past twelve. "
"Good. That should give me time to really read this thing. Why don't YOU go across the street to the take-out and pick us up some lunch while I pay for another room night."
"Okay," Bodie replied cheerfully, handing Doyle the paper bag containing the day's purchases. "What do you fancy?"
"Fork over the money, then."
Doyle made a face but gave him tenner. "And bring back the change, big spender."
"There's a name for people like you, y'know."
"Yeah, saints. For putting up with sods like you. Stop yapping and get on."
Half an hour later, back in the shabby little room, Bodie finished off the last piece of chicken and dropped the bone back in the sack. Doyle was sitting cross-legged on the bed, bent over Darby's book. Bodie sat back in the only spare chair in the room (it squeaked ominously when he moved) and eyed him appreciatively. Doyle had changed to his new-old clothes, and they suited him very nicely; a faded green tee shirt and a pair of white painter's trousers that were just a little too big in the waist.
"Listen to this," Doyle said and read aloud, "'Benjamin Powell had a fortunate taste for very young ladies. This made it quite simple to find a lever to pry him away from his other, more moral leanings. Patriotism will always take second place to self-preservation. Once I attained a tidy portfolio of photographs of the honorable cabinet member with several nubile fourteen year olds, he was quite willing to furnish the information I needed. I milked him for three years until I found another pigeon with more reliable information.'" Doyle looked at Bodie. "What do you think about that, eh?"
"Ben Powell...he retired over three years ago, didn't he? Left public life and retired to the country."
Doyle nodded. "For reason of poor health. What do you bet it was Doctor Cowley that recommended that particular prescription?"
"It must've been. Look, the man was only fifty-five or so, and looked healthy as a bloody horse. His political career was doing very nicely. Then, about three weeks after Cowley gets hold of this bombshell, the honorable Mr. Powell develops heart flutters. I'll just bet he did, with the ol' man breathing fire down his neck."
"Why didn't he just bring it out in the open? Why let the bastard have a nice, peaceful retirement?"
Doyle shrugged. "Maybe because the scandal would hurt the whole government, not just Powell. God knows, there's been enough dirt raked up already. And the blackmailing was done nearly twenty years ago. From everything I've heard, Powell was a pretty decent bloke -- well, obviously aside from his fondness for little girls. But he was a good politician; probably trying to make up for those years when he was under Darby's thumb."
"Still seems he got off too easy."
"It's not the first time Cowley's pressured somebody out of office," Doyle reminded him. "Remember Ann Seaford's daughter and Sir Charles Melvin? Cowley sent him packing quick enough."
Intrigued, Bodie stood up came over to sit on the bed beside his partner. "What else have you found in there?"
"Plenty. Remember that Branson case we worked on about a year ago?"
"That crooked land deal that Sir Rutherford and Major Brandish were involved in?"
"That's the one. We wondered how Cowley got started on that little game to begin with. It was clean as a whistle from the outside."
"Yeah, we thought the ol' man was off his nut."
Doyle flipped back to the page he wanted. "Seems Darby's banker, the same man who hired O'Leary and Carniary to find this manuscript, also happened to be great chums with Sir Rutherford. They're the ones that started the business to begin with until we nicked Paul Cantwell, and Rutherford had to find a new partner."
"So Cowley's been systematically cleaning house," Bodie mused. "Using Darby's manuscript to get rid of all the rotten wood in the government, one at a time."
"It certainly looks that way." Doyle shook his head. "Until he tackled Baris. Only Baris moved first. He was the big fish and the old man didn't have his hook in solid enough." He sighed. "Yeah, the big one that got away."
"Not yet, he hasn't," Bodie corrected him grimly.
"No, not yet. Do you know what I've been remembering, Bodie?"
"You gave me your definition for corruption once, a long time ago."
"Did I? What was that?"
"Corruption, you said, is where the worms are."
"Yeah," Bodie replied lightly, "but I didn't know we were going to open up a bloody bait shop."
The afternoon passed quietly. Unsurprisingly, Bodie took a nap, and the only sound in the room was the rustle of pages and his gentle snoring.
Doyle found his concentration wavering. Darby's manuscript wasn't any less interesting, it was simply that the man sleeping beside him was more so.
It was difficult for him to take their new relationship in stride as Bodie seemed to do. But that was Bodie. Ninety percent of the time, nothing could shake that cool, unruffled disposition. It was only very recently that Doyle had been able to recognize what that veneer of calm cost Bodie; that the other ten percent was definitely the tip of the iceberg, and so much lay hidden beneath the smooth surface.
Doyle finally gave up all attempts at keeping his mind on the book, and turned his full attention to the bounty beside him. Part of him was amused at this novel infatuation. In his most bizarre dreams, he'd never imagined he would ever feel this way about any man, let alone his silly sod of a partner. But somehow, during the last few weeks, he had misplaced his objectivity where Bodie was concerned.
Sliding down in the bed to be on eye level, he spent the next five minutes in silent appreciation of the sleeping man. He viewed him with an artist's eye, noting the symmetry and cleanness of the facial lines, loving the odd, special quirk of the eyebrows.
Unable to resist, he traced the brows with a fingertip, then lightly down to the tip of the perfect nose. It wrinkled a little at the tickling sensation, but Bodie didn't awaken. Next, Doyle gently touched the mouth, outlining the sensual lips in a butterfly caress. Bodie's eyelashes fluttered but didn't open.
Doyle's exploring finger slid over the stubborn chin, down the throat to the first button of Bodie's shirt. He opened it. Then the next; beginning to bare the smoothly muscled chest. When it was unfastened to the waist, his fingers drifted to the nipples, circling them with unhurried eroticism.
"Don't stop there," Bodie said huskily.
Doyle smiled. "Thought you were asleep."
"Mmmm. Wanted to see how far you'd go, takin' advantage of an unconscious man."
"Go back to sleep and find out," Doyle suggested wickedly.
Bodie just grinned and stretched his arms over his head lazily. "Okay. Carry on."
Doyle leaned over and kissed him, very slowly, purposely keeping it light. His tongue slipped teasingly over the closed lips, coaxing them open for him. Bodie held out about a half second. He opened his mouth eagerly and sucked in Doyle's tongue, his hands coming down to reach for Doyle's shoulders.
Doyle pulled back, laughing. "Oh no. Just lay still, Sleeping Beauty, or I'll go back to reading again."
Bodie made a face, but was willing to play along.
Doyle began again. Smoothing his palms across the bare chest, he worked his way back to the nipples and teased them again, this time using his lips and teeth as well as his fingers. Bodie squirmed, eager for more. Doyle eased his way down the flat stomach with little licks and soft sounds of pleasure. He opened the belt and zip and tugged them down. Bodie was hard and pulsing in his hand, and he paused to stroke him slowly, tenderly, watching Bodie's face at every movement. Finally, he lowered his head and touched his tongue to the tip, tasting the first salty-slick drop at the opening. Bodie moaned, hips thrusting up in helpless response.
Taking him in his mouth, Doyle began to suck, feeling his own cock swelling inside his pants.
Giving up the game, Bodie propped himself up on one elbow to watch Doyle's actions, blue eyes glazing with passion. He reached out to stroke Doyle's shoulder, managed to grab hold of the edge of the tee shirt and pulled it over his head, interrupting the motion at his groin.
Impatiently, he pushed Doyle down on the bed and reached for the fastening of the white trousers. For several minutes, they rolled together on the bed, locked tightly in each others arms, mouths feeding feverishly.
Then Bodie raised his head and looked down at the disheveled figure beneath him. Their cocks were pressed together, feeding the flames.
"Ray, you know what I want?" Bodie asked, voice choked with the effort to control.
The green eyes widened in quick understanding and a flash of anxiety. He swallowed. "Yeah...I know."
"Well?" Bodie kissed his throat, hands sliding under to cup Doyle's ass.
Bodie kissed his mouth, stilling the uncertainty. "Please, Ray... I won't hurt you. I want you."
Doyle's muscles felt like warm spaghetti; he was too aroused to deny Bodie anything, and Bodie was too skillful to let him have much time to consider. Bemused, Doyle realized this was what it was like to be on the receiving end of an expert seduction. He wouldn't have had the strength to say no, even if Bodie had left him enough air to do so.
Somehow Doyle lost track of what was happening; he was burning and hungry all over, and Bodie's mouth and hands were driving him higher. When Bodie finally entered him, he felt a dull jab of pain, but Bodie immediately stopped and caressed him until it faded. Soon pain was the last thing Doyle was aware of. He clutched at the broad shoulders and urged more and more...
When Bodie felt the warm splash against his stomach, he relinquished his own shaky control and began moving deeply, powerfully. He climaxed, and collapsed weakly on top of Ray, heart thundering, lungs pumping wildly. He could feel Doyle's chest heaving under his, felt the heart beating near his own.
He never wanted to move again.
Doyle recovering first, shoved him over. "Gerroff! You weigh a ton."
Bodie rolled over and looked at Doyle. "You okay?"
Doyle grinned that cheeky, devilish grin of his, and scooted closer. "Wow. "
Bodie kissed his cheek.
Doyle's breath caught again. It was such a sweet, incredibly gentle gesture, it stunned him for a moment. As did the expression in the blue eyes.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I shouldn't've..." he trailed off, but his hand stroking Doyle's face and brushing back the sweat-dampened curls.
"What? You're sorry you fucked me, is that it?"
Bodie nodded, embarrassed. "I kinda...pushed you into it. It was too soon for -- "
"Bodie, you dumb crud, it was lovely and you must know that. And you've never been bright enough to push me into anything I didn't want."
"You sure?" Bodie asked shyly.
"Very. 'Course if I walk a little funny, I'll kill you. I'll probably be sore as hell."
"Did I hurt you?" Bodie asked worriedly.
Doyle hugged him. "If you did, I was too far gone to know it. Will you stop worrying, for chrissakes. It's okay. And just think, it's my turn next."
Bodie smiled. "Anytime, angelfish."
They lay together for a long time, holding tightly.
Then Bodie said suddenly, "Promise me something."
Half asleep, Doyle murmured, "What?"
"Just promise me. If I tell you, you'll really think I'm crazy."
"Tell me, Bodie," Doyle coaxed gently.
"Promise me...you won't die, Ray." It was hardly more than a whisper.
Doyle shut his eyes tightly. He could say it was an impossible promise to keep, that it was silly to even say it at all when death was waiting for everyone -- and for them it was always around the next corner. But he didn't say any of that.
"I promise, Bodie. I won't die."
Bodie held him closer. "Thank you, Ray," he said softly.
"Now you promise me the same. I need to hear it, too, Bodie."
"I promise," Bodie whispered against Doyle's hair.
Doyle pulled away just a little, blinking back the sentimental stinging in his eyes. "Well, that's settled then." He glanced at the window, where the sunlight was becoming lower. "We'd better get a move on, if we're going to meet Liz in the park."
"Yeah." Bodie hugged him even tighter for a second, then let him go. "I'm first in the shower."
"Don't use all my shampoo, greedy sod!"
Elizabeth was waiting on the bridge, leaning over the rail and tossing biscuit crumbs to the ducks. The only other people in sight was a young couple sitting together on a blanket on the opposite bank, well out of hearing.
"Mr. Guppy, I presume?"
Doyle grinned. "At your service, madame."
"You were almost too clever for your own good. I nearly hung up on you."
"I knew you would catch on quick enough. We couldn't be certain your line wasn't tapped."
"Where is William?"
"Making certain you don't have a chaperone lurking in the bushes."
"Perhaps you'll tell me what happened? Obviously all this increased cloak and dagger business has a point."
"It's a long story," Doyle replied evasively.
"Then give me the abridged version."
"Okay, to cut it short, they bombed my flat, killed Murphy, arrested Bodie and tried to get him to talk...and have generally made it clear they're not playing games anymore."
"My, you have had a busy time, haven't you? Is William all right?"
Before Doyle could answer, Bodie appeared.
"See anything?" Doyle asked.
"Not a sausage. "
"Looks like they still don't know about you, Liz. That's one bit of luck. Thanks for loaning us the money, incidentally. We'll pay you back as soon as this is over."
"Let's get off this bridge," Bodie suggested. "I feel a bit too exposed out here."
They located a bench overlooking the pond, but half concealed by the shrubbery.
"What about you? Have you discovered anything useful?" Doyle asked.
She didn't reply for a moment. When she did, it was to ask another question, "Are we agreed that George was using Darby's book to weed out the undesirables in the government?"
Doyle glanced at Bodie. "You picked that up, too, eh?"
"Of course. George always did have a fancy for playing god."
Bodie's eyes narrowed. "Now wait a minute -- "
"She's right, Bodie," Doyle cut him off. "That's exactly what he was doing. Being judge, jury and making certain the sentence he gave them was carried out. What would he have said if he caught someone else doing the same thing? Yeah, exactly. Vigilante justice."
"What's your point?" Bodie retorted. "You seemed to be all for it this afternoon. Why the change of heart?"
"No change. You can't call what he was up to exactly ethical, can you? But you've got to admire the ol' man's style, not to mention his gall. And his integrity. Could have used that book to collect himself a right fortune, he could, instead of handing down the Law According to Cowley. Still," Doyle mused, "anyone he forced out of office must've been guilty as sin, or they wouldn't have folded up their tents without a struggle."
"Baris didn't fold," Bodie pointed out.
"Yeah, and that's where the old man made his first mistake. He was playing a very dangerous game, and he must've got a bit too cocky."
"I can't believe -- "
"This is irrelevant," Elizabeth cut in. "George wasn't merely trying to force Baris out of office as with most of the others. Baris is working for the KGB, and George was out to nail his scalp to the wall. I was simply trying to illustrate that Baris did know about the manuscript -- because George wanted him to know. Giving him enough rope to hang himself with, in other words."
"But there wasn't enough proof to convict him," Doyle protested. "He'd laugh himself silly if Cowley tried to blackmail him with a codename and a few pages of hearsay."
"But George wouldn't be foolish enough to let him know that, would he?" Elizabeth replied. "Baris couldn't know how incriminating it really was, and would have to assume the worst."
"You mean he was trying to push Baris into doing something stupid? Something that would give Cowley the proof he needed?"
Elizabeth nodded. "And George succeeded in doing just that. Baris was desperate enough to arrange an 'accident', thereby proving his guilt."
"Except we can't prove he planned it," Doyle said sourly. "And I doubt if this was what he had in mind. Dying to prove a point is bit extreme, even for the Cow."
"On the contrary," Elizabeth said calmly. "I think it was exactly what George wanted. For Baris to make a move against him, something concrete and irrefutable. George merely miscalculated what that move would be and how quickly it would come."
"A fatal miscalculation."
"Not at all," Elizabeth stated flatly. "I don't think George Cowley is dead."
They both looked at her.
"What are you talking about, Liz?" Bodie asked, his voice strained.
"Simply that it wasn't George in that crash. It was a set up from the beginning."
Doyle glanced at his partner, saw the color drain from Bodie's face, and felt a sudden burst of resentment toward the woman. "Elizabeth, don't start this," he said angrily. "You don't know -- "
"Shut up, Ray," Bodie snapped. "Go on, Liz."
"I don't believe Baris would have killed George until he had the manuscript. He's not a fool. Even if he thought George was bluffing about evidence against himself, he would realize how valuable it would be. Think how many other names are in there. He couldn't afford to let it go without at least making an attempt to get hold of it. And, more than that, George Cowley is a valuable commodity in himself. Baris's superiors would love to pick George's brain."
"A quiet little place in the country," Bodie murmured, remembering Cowley's words in a similar situation, "where they can talk for days, weeks...years." Bodie looked at her, a gleam of hope in his eyes. "So you think he's been kidnapped, and is being held somewhere?"
"That's ridiculous," Doyle interjected, glaring at Elizabeth. "Why such an elaborate set up if that's what they meant to do all along?"
Bodie turned to him. "Because no one looks for a dead man, that's why! They'd have a clear field. Not to mention shutting down CI5 and making all of the files available for Baris to report to his bosses." Something else occurred to Bodie. "No wonder he was at CI5 Headquarters. Murphy told me, but I didn't even think... He was looking for the manuscript! Figured Cowley might've stashed it somewhere in the building."
"If he's alive and they've been holding him all this time," Doyle put in harshly, " -- and I don't believe it for a minute -- then he would've talked by now."
"Cowley?" Bodie scoffed. "He'd run 'em round in circles."
"Bodie, anybody will talk. You know that. All it takes is an armful of drugs -- "
"But that's just it," Bodie said excitedly. "The old man's allergic to just about any dope you can name. You know that as well as I do. Whisky was about the only painkiller he could take for that leg of his. If they wanted information out of him, they couldn't afford to chance sending him into anaphylactic shock."
The light in Bodie's eye worried Doyle. He didn't want to think of what would happen if Elizabeth was wrong. For a moment he hated her for raising Bodie's hopes again.
Bodie continued, "As far as that goes, I think they'd be cautious on how much physical force they used as well. He's not a young man -- "
"Bodie, don't jump on this idea so quickly," Doyle cautioned. "We don't know anything for certain. It could be wishful thinking."
The blue eyes hardened on Doyle. "Almost sounds like you'd prefer it that way."
Doyle's temper snapped. "I'm just trying to use a little common sense, goddammit. Not fly off the handle at the first hint of -- "
"Like the last time, eh?" Bodie snarled back.
"Damn you -- ! "
"Stop it, both of you," Elizabeth broke in sharply. "Stop tearing at each other long enough to hear me out!" She faced Doyle first. "I know why you're upset, and I understand. You don't want him hurt again. Neither do I. Don't you think I considered this very carefully before I came to a decision? Gave me some credit."
Doyle looked down at the ground and didn't answer, but he flushed redly. Bodie's mouth opened, but Elizabeth turned her attention to him before he could speak.
"And you, William. I'm surprised at you. You know very well that Ray was only thinking of you. Don't you two have enough people going for your throats, without fighting with each other as well? I should box your ears, and I will if you give me much more reason."
Bodie looked at Ray, a rueful smile quirking the corner of his mouth. The green eyes met his, and they both grinned shyly, feeling proper fools.
She continued, "All I am saying is that George Cowley would be far more useful alive than dead. But it has been nearly six weeks; his usefulness may have ended. Baris may have decided he was too dangerous to hold for very long. But I still think he would feel it worth the risk."
"Okay, Elizabeth," Doyle said apologetically, "I'll listen. What do you have?"
"The papers you delivered to me did contain one very interesting fact. It seems Baris and Melvin Wright have had business dealings together for years."
"Who's Melvin -- " Doyle broke off suddenly. "Christ, the M.E.? That Melvin Wright?"
"Yes, the doctor who performed the autopsy on body to certify his identity -- a body quite fortunately burned beyond recognition. It was assumed to be Cowley even before the examination, of course, for the simple fact it was in George's motor."
"And Wright was alone when he did the autopsy," Bodie added grimly.
Doyle looked at Bodie. "You tried to tell me this before, and I just brushed it off."
Bodie shrugged. "At the time it didn't mean anything. There was nothing to tie it to. I was just grasping for straws."
"Very pertinent straws, as it were," Elizabeth interjected. "Six days ago, Wright left this country for the States. But he made a very interesting side trip -- to Switzerland."
"So he was paid off," Doyle said, shaking his head wonderingly, beginning to believe there just might be a chance Elizabeth was right. "Faked from the beginning."
"It is a distinct possibility. One that shouldn't be overlooked."
"So how do we find out? And where would they be holding him? It could be anywhere." Doyle said. "They wouldn't have tried to take him out of Britain, but that still leaves a hell of a lot of territory."
"Someplace in the country?" Bodie suggested, still thinking of what Cowley had said when they were dealing with another spy.
"That doesn't help much, does it? Unless the ol' man left a trail of breadcrumbs, we wouldn't even know where to start."
Bodie moved to the edge of the pond and stared across it thoughtfully. "Baris might tell us."
"Oh yes," Doyle said dryly. "I'm sure he'll be very helpful."
"With a gun stuck in their ear, it's amazing how helpful people can be," Bodie retorted coldly.
Doyle shook his head. "You'd never get close enough, mate. Lovely idea, but his goons would cut you down before you got through the first door."
"I'm not so sure about that. He just might be willing to meet me on my own."
"Why the hell should he do that?"
Bodie smiled darkly. "Because I've got something he wants. Something I don't think he would trust to any messenger boy."
"The manuscript?" Doyle looked uneasy. "Okay, I can see where he might come out with that as bait -- but not without a backup. And even if he agrees to meet, he certainly won't lead you to Cowley. He may not even know where they're keepin' him; probably turned him over to the KGB straight off. Baris is their top man here, they wouldn't risk him -- "
"I don't agree," Elizabeth cut in. "As far as the world is concerned, George Cowley is dead, so where is the risk to Baris? And he would be in the best position to question George. Nor would he be content to let someone else handle the interrogation; he has old scores to settle, not to mention wanting that manuscript very badly. No, I think Baris knows exactly where George is held -- if he is still alive."
The determined expression on Bodie's face worried Doyle. He approached him and laid a cautious hand on his arm.
"Listen, mate, you can't do it. It'd be suicide. Sooner or later, they'd gun you down."
"Not 'til he's led me to the ol' man. If I can get close enough to Baris, I guarantee he'd call his men off."
"Maybe. But there's no way in hell they'd let you and Cowley walk out alive, gun to his head or not. They simply couldn't afford to. You can't do it, Bodie. There's got to be a better way."
"There isn't," Bodie replied calmly. "Like you said, we don't know where the hell to start. And if Cowley is alive, there's no guarantee of how long they'll let him stay that way. We don't have time to play needle in the haystack."
Seeing that Bodie had made up his mind, and there would be no budging it, Doyle sighed. "Okay then, let me do it."
Bodie just looked at him.
"Well, why not me? You can back me up. Stay back and tail us -- "
Doyle glared at him. "Give me one good reason, why you should go in rather than me!"
Bodie grinned. "It was my idea."
"How can I argue with logic like that?" Doyle took a deep breath. "Okay, we'll try it. But I'm sticking close."
"You can't. They'll be looking for something like that. Besides, Baris has heard about what I've been doing; he'll believe I'm crazy enough to pull something like this. I might even be able to convince him you're out of it. Or -- if we're really lucky -- they might still think you were killed in the bombing."
"Come on, mate. They know better than that by now. He'll know I'm somewhere around. He's not stupid."
"So that's even more reason for you to hang back, isn't it?"
"And what if I lose you?" Doyle demanded furiously. "What will that get us, eh? If I can't keep you in sight -- "
"I think I have a solution for that," Elizabeth offered coolly.
"I don't trust this thing," Doyle complained as Bodie tucked the bugging device under the back of his shirt collar. "I'd rather be able to see what's going down."
"If you can see me, they'll see you," Bodie replied reasonably. "Just be thankful Liz still has some contacts and could wrangle this equipment out of them. It gives us a little edge at least."
"I still think this whole thing is too -- "
"So do I," Bodie cut him off. "Do you have a better idea?"
"About six dozen. But all of them are even dumber than this."
Bodie squeezed his partner's thigh. "I'll be all right, Ray. This is a regular picnic to some of the spots the old man sent us into."
"Yeah, I suppose," Doyle replied doubtfully.
They were in Elizabeth's car heading toward the docks where Bodie was to meet Baris. He had been almost eager to make the rendezvous, and didn't quibble about the payoff Bodie demanded. The reason for agreeable attitude was abundantly clear to both Doyle and Bodie. Baris didn't expect Bodie to walk away from those docks. The only thing Doyle was positive of was that, if Bodie didn't live, he would make certain Baris didn't either.
Elizabeth hadn't been particularly pleased at being barred from the the proceedings; saying that even if she couldn't move as fast as she used to, she could still shoot as straight. However, once they pointed out that if this didn't work, she would be the only one left to point the finger at Baris, she surrendered to the logic of it.
"We need to make a stop first," Bodie said. "I need to tool up again. Williams confiscated my gun."
"Christ, Bodie, do you have your own personal armory or something?"
Bodie smiled. "Something like that. Take a left on Morton."
Ten minutes later, they pulled up outside a garage.
"I lease a space in here. Come on." Bodie got out, unlocked the door and swung it up. Inside the dark, dusty interior, there was a car covered with an oil stained tarp. Bodie tossed it back an unlocked the boot. Doyle caught sight of a couple of rifles and what looked like a machine gun, along with various other bits of firepower.
"Good god," Doyle whistled. "You toolin' up for WW III, mate? Where'd you get all this lot?"
Bodie shrugged, shoving a clip in the handgun he picked. "Here and there. I used to collect 'em. Comes in handy at times."
"So I see."
"Here's an extra clip." Bodie handed it to Doyle, and closed the boot. "Let's go."
Doyle parked in an alley about a quarter mile from the docks.
"What time is it?" Bodie asked.
Doyle looked at his watch. "Twelve to ten."
"I'd better go. It'll take a few minutes to walk it."
Doyle caught his arm as he started to get out of the car. "Bodie."
Bodie turned. "What?"
It was too dark in the car to see much of each other's faces, but they didn't need to.
"Good luck," Doyle said lamely. "Watch yourself, okay?"
There was a flash of white as Bodie smiled. "It's the second best thing I do."
"What's the first best?" Doyle asked hoarsely.
"Watching you, sunshine." He ruffled the curls and opened the car door. "See you, son."
Doyle waited until Bodie was out of sight, then switched on the bleeper. It worked perfectly. He settled back to wait and worry.
Bodie reached the docks in less than ten minutes. There was no one in sight, but he already sensed he was being watched. He had expected that, and it didn't bother him now. He had one ace up his sleeve -- or in his pocket rather, and he would play it at the proper time.
Five minutes later, a limousine pulled up. The Minister got out, along with another man Bodie vaguely recognized as a former MI6 agent, but it wasn't Williams.
"I thought you'd agreed to come alone, Baris," Bodie called out.
Baris waved his hand dismissively. "He's just my driver."
"Yeah, well tell your driver to get rid of his heat."
"Will you do the same?" Baris countered.
"Don't you trust me, Minister?" Bodie said sarcastically. "Fair enough." He pulled out his gun, and at a gesture from Baris, the escort did the same. They tossed them out on the dock.
"Where is the manuscript?" Baris demanded.
"Right here." Bodie held up the book. "No," he said as Baris motioned for the other man to go for it. "You come get it."
"This is ridiculous."
"Maybe. You bring the money to me, and we'll trade."
Baris smiled. "I will have to see the merchandise first."
"Okay, I'll meet you half way." Bodie began walking toward the car.
"Hold it!" Baris ordered, pulling a gun from under his coat. "That's far enough. Toss it here."
"And where's the money?" Bodie asked coolly.
Baris laughed. "You are a fool, aren't you? Did you really think I was going to pay you anything? There are at least two other guns trained on you right at this minute." At his signal, two other armed men came out of concealment. "I must thank you for saving me so much time and trouble hunting you down. You're a dead man, Mr. Bodie."
"Like Cowley?" Bodie suggested without noticeable change in expression.
Baris's head lifted sharply. "What do you mean by that?"
"You never killed him, did you? It was a fake from the beginning. I wonder who the poor sod was you put in Cowley's car. Some old wino you cleaned up enough to drive a car a few blocks? Or was it someone else you needed to get rid of?"
Baris regarded him with amusement. "Not so much the fool I thought you were. You're quite right, as a matter of fact. Dear old George is very much alive -- " he glanced at his watch. "Correction, he was until approximately a half hour ago. I imagine Williams has taken care of that untidy loose end by now."
Bodie straightened. "Why now?"
Baris shrugged. "George wasn't really telling me anything I didn't already know, except where the manuscript was -- and you have been kind enough to deliver that. Oh, I suppose we could have learned some very useful tidbits if we'd pushed hard enough and long enough. But George is a tough old bird, as you are well aware, and I hardly think it's worth the effort or the risk. You and your partner stirred up too many questions; his continued existence has become a liability. That fool Wright panicked and left the country. If you have already put the loose ends together, I can't afford the chance someone else will. It looks bad. No, it's safer to checkmate this little game now."
Bodie pitched the book over the edge of the dock where it landed with a soft splash. "Just one problem with that. That's not the book."
"Oh? Pity. But then, I never really expected it to be. I suppose your friend Doyle has it?"
"No. Doyle had his belly full of this mess. He cut out right after you bombed his flat."
Baris laughed heartily. "You don't really think I will fall for that fabrication, do you? He's around here somewhere, I'm sure of that."
"If he was," Bodie said viciously, "your brains would be splattered on the pavement by now."
"Indeed? Well, don't worry; one of my men will find your partner. It's getting late, and I have an early meeting with the Prime Minister in the morning." He gestured to the other man, who picked up the guns on the dock. The Minister put his own weapon his back in his holster, and opened the car door. "Kill him and dump him in the river."
"What about the manuscript?" Bodie said loudly.
Baris paused. "I'll take that chance, my gullible friend. I've lived with its haunting presence for twenty years, I imagine I can suffer through a few more."
"Okay, hold it right there!" Bodie called out. "Ever seen one of these, you bastard?"
The Minister turned and immediately froze.
Bodie was holding a grenade. He smiled wolfishly. "You need new help, governor. I was able to pull the pin while you were yapping, and not a one of your tough boys noticed a damn thing. Very sloppy." He held up the deadly little bomb proudly. "All I have to do is let up on this lever and about a second and a half later...boom! Are you familiar with this particular model, comrade? You should be; your Russian friends sold a few gross to the Iraqi's a few months back. Neat little items -- very powerful. I'll wager it'll take us all out without much trouble, don't you?"
"You're mad," Baris said. "You'll die, too."
Bodie nodded. "We've all got to go sometime. Figured I'd have some company with me. And unless you want it to be right now, I'd tell those goons of yours to take a hike. Now!"
"You'll never do it," Baris predicted. "You don't want to die."
Bodie laughed. "You're right about that. But look at it this way, what have I got to lose? You were going to blow me away anyway, right? Now, I'm going to count to five, and you and me had better have this dock to ourselves, or they're gonna have a hell of a time scraping us all up."
"Okay, okay. Marks, get out of here. Harris, Kensey -- out!"
A few seconds later, Bodie strolled over to the car and leaned against it nonchalantly. "Now this is much nicer, isn't it? Just you and me." He opened the man's coat and slipped out the gun. "You won't need this, will you?" He stuck it in his belt. "Neither will I as long as I've got my little pear-shaped friend."
"What do you want?" Baris asked, eyeing the grenade clenched in the other man's fist. Bodie had to give him credit; he didn't look scared, he was steady as a rock -- but there was a telltale twitch of a jaw muscle that gave away the fact he was taking Bodie very seriously now.
"Where's Cowley?" Bodie demanded simply.
Baris looked surprised. "I told you, he's dead by now. If it's money you want -- "
"I want Cowley," Bodie said coldly, "and you'd just better pray he's still breathing, or you won't be for much longer. Let's go check it out, shall we? Get in. You drive." He added with a sweet smile. "Oh, and I wouldn't take the scenic route, by the way; my hand could cramp at any time."
Doyle sat up. The bleeper was indicating movement. Bodie had to be in a car. He started the motor and pulled out, heading in the same direction. The bug was only good for about a half mile, so he had to be careful not to get trapped in traffic.
Fifteen minutes later, he began to recognize the area and the general direction they were taking.
"I don't believe it," he whispered. "It can't be."
But a few more turns later, he pulled up outside CI5 Headquarters. The Minister's car was parked right outside.
Doyle jerked out his gun and slipped out of the car. There was no one around, but that didn't man there wasn't an ambush waiting inside. He flattened himself against the wall and listened at the door for a moment, before spinning around and kicking it in.
He was greeted by an empty hall.
His partner peered around the corner, grinning. "Noisy little bugger, aren't you? Com'ere."
Doyle straightened from his crouch, and moved over to Bodie. The first thing he saw was a rather pale Baris, then he saw the reason for the pallor.
His eyes widened. "Where the hell did you get that thing?"
"Need you ask? It was in me sock last Christmas."
"The pin's pulled?"
"The only standing between us and the pearly gates is my trembling little thumb."
"Oh, marvelous. Always wanted to go out with a bang. What the devil are we doing here, anyway?"
"This is where they've been keepin' the ol' man."
"You're joking? In CI5 Headquarters? I don't believe it."
"Somehow I don't think the Minister here is in a joking mood. Not if he's mart anyway, because my sense of humor is fading fast. Okay, where to, Baris?"
"The storeroom off the boiler room in the basement," Baris replied. "But I told you, Williams was -- "
With his free hand, Bodie grabbed him by the collar and slammed him up against the wall. "Don't say that! He can't be. I'll -- "
"Bodie," Doyle grabbed his arm. "Somebody's coming."
Bodie released Baris and shoved him forward. "Get going, you bastard!"
They ran down the corridor, through two doors and down a flight of steps, with Doyle guarding their rear. Bodie's hand was still clenched on the grenade.
"Are they still following?" Bodie asked as they reached the boiler room and pushed through the doors.
"No, I'm sure they stopped for tea," Doyle replied sharply. "How the hell are we going to get out of here? There's no back way out, y'know. Unless you plan on blowing us all up with that thing."
"We'll worry about that later." Bodie approached the door in the corner, his heart pounding, his hand slippery on the grenade from sweat.
"It's locked," he said, mouth dry. "Shoot it out."
Doyle angled the gun and pulled the trigger. The shot echoed in the low ceilinged room. Doyle kicked the door open. It was small and dimly lit, piled with boxes, old office machines and file cabinets. There was a sink in the corner that dripped rusty water.
On a cot against one wall sat George Cowley.
"Well, it took you bloody long enough, didn't it?" he said calmly. "I did everything but draw you a blasted map!"
Doyle's mouth fell open. Somehow, he'd never really believed it. Now, even with the truth staring sourly back at him, he still felt like he must be dreaming. "Sir?"
"I'm not a ghostie, 4.5. I'm real enough, and hungry to boot. An' I haven't had a drop of good malt in o'er six weeks. You don't happen to have any on ye, do ya?"
Bodie couldn't speak, could hardly breathe. He nearly dropped the grenade. "Are you...all right, sir?" he managed at last.
"No, I'm not all right! Don't just stand there; tell me what's goin' on, non!"
"Uh...well, sir, we do a bit of a problem. Baris's flunkies are outside, and I don't think they're going to let us walk out of here." Doyle glanced at Bodie. "Unless they stay back because of the grenade. But I'm not sure we can count on that."
"You can't," Baris put in fatalistically. "It worked with my men; but the KGB know you're here by now. At this point, I'm expendable. They'd certainly rather I die than be held for trial. None of us will get out of here alive."
"Hello, minister," Cowley said sardonically. "Nice of you to pay me another visit." He stood, but wavered a bit on his feet.
Bodie was at his side in an instant, steadying him with his free hand. "Sit down, sir. You're weak -- "
Cowley shook off the support. "Leave me be. I'm fine. Takes more than this to -- " he broke off with a rasping cough. Bodie pushed him gently back on the cot.
"Please, sir, take it easy."
Recovering, Cowley glowered up at him. "Like you've been doing, I suppose? What's wrong with you two? It's taken you six weeks to figure this thing out? Haven't I taught you anything, dammit! Or have you been having a bit of vacation?"
Bodie stiffened, a hurt expression in his eyes. "No, sir. Sorry, sir."
Suddenly furious on Bodie's behalf, Doyle stepped forward. "Not very grateful, are you?" he said nastily. "For a man declared dead, you're pretty bloody demanding."
"Grateful?" Cowley snorted. "For doing your jobs? I have to be grateful for that now, do I?"
"We're here, aren't we?" Doyle snapped, ready to go into detail exactly what Bodie had been through for the unappreciative sod.
But Baris spoke first. "Not for long. We're trapped in here."
A gunshot through the door proved his point. Doyle returned the fire, and whoever was on the other side quickly retreated.
"He'll be back with others," Baris observed. "We don't stand a chance."
"You keep saying 'we'," Doyle said. "Are you switching side now? A little late, isn't it?"
"I told you, I'm expendable now."
"You mean they're afraid you won't swallow the cyanide capsule, like a faithful little traitor?" Doyle said sarcastically.
Baris smiled ruefully. "Hardly. It's not my style."
"How many are out there?" Bodie asked.
"At least two KGB men right now, not counting the men who were working for me. There'll be more very quickly." He turned to Cowley. "It's been a good game, Cowley. But it looks like a stalemate after all."
"It's no o'er yet, Baris," Cowley shot back. He looked at Bodie consideringly. "On the other side of this wall there's a corridor that leads to a back staircase. They won't be guarding it because there's no way to get to it from here. Unless we go through the wall."
"The grenade?" Doyle asked brightening.
"If we go behind the boiler, we could avoid most of the blast," Cowley suggested. "It's worth a try. Well, 3.7? Or have you become too attached to it?"
Bodie grimaced. "Uh...there's a small hitch in that plan." He tossed the grenade up in the air and caught it again. Three hearts skipped a beat. "It's a dud," he explained with an embarrassed smile.
They all stared at him, particularly Baris.
He shrugged apologetically. "It was kind of a souvenir, y'know. I've had it since Africa." Seeing Doyle's stupefied expression, he said dryly, "Well you didn't really think I'd be walking around with a live one, did you? I mean, I didn't expect to actually use it, for chrissakes!"
Despite the deadly serious situation they were in, Doyle laughed. He leaned back against the wall and really whooped, releasing some of his pent-up tension. "Oh, Bodie....here I've practically been ready to pee down my leg from fright for the past fifteen minutes...you dumb crud..."
"Come out!" a voice called from outside the door. "You're trapped! Let Baris go, and we'll talk!"
"Fuck off!" Doyle yelled back, wiping away the tears of laughter. "We've got a grenade!" He started giggling again.
"I'm glad you find it so amusing, 4.5," Cowley said sourly. "Now we are trapped."
With an effort, Doyle sobered. "Yes, sir. Sorry, it just struck me as -- "
A volley of shots cut off what he started to say. Bodie and Doyle fired back, but it was suddenly imperative they all find better cover. They moved back into the store room and Doyle tipped a filing cabinet against the door as a temporary barrier.
"They're gonna be pitchin' some grenades of their own in about a minute," Bodie observed. He glanced around the windowless room. "Anybody got any bright suggestions?"
Doyle shook his head. "Just to take a few of those bastards with us."
"Didn't either of you think to bring an extra gun?" Cowley complained.
"Sorry, sir," Bodie said lightly, "but your gun permit expired when you died. Wouldn't want to be illegal, would you? Just ask Doyle."
"Ha ha," Doyle said dryly, "but I've had my laugh, thank you."
Someone crashed against the other side of the door and the cabinet slid back an inch. They fired through the door, and the wood splintered at the impact of bullets from both sides. The grim standoff continued for another ten minutes.
"How you doin'?" Doyle asked Bodie.
His partner shook his head. "About ten more rounds, and I'm out. My extra clip doesn't fit Baris's gun."
"I'm not much better. Damn."
"Let 'em get the door open," Bodie said blackly. "At least let's get a shot at a couple of the bastards."
Doyle lowered his gun. "Okay. I'll take the first -- you get the second."
Bodie looked over at Cowley. "I'm sorry, sir," he said quietly. "We tried, but -- "
"Save your breath, 3.7," Cowley barked, but then smiled. "The last person you need to apologize to is me, lad. You've gave 'em a good run, and that's all I've ever asked of you." He looked at Doyle. "Of either of you. You're still my best."
On the other side of the door, their attackers had figured out their ammunition problem and that it was safe to break down the door. A few good heaves pushed the cabinet back a couple of feet. Doyle cleanly shot the first head that showed itself. The next one tried to shoot around the cabinet and Bodie got him.
After that, they took few chances; drawing the fire without risking too much. Bodie and Doyle were forced to spend their precious few remaining bullets just to keep the status quo. Bodie's gun soon clicked on an empty chamber.
He shrugged, and smiled at Doyle. "All yours sunshine. Make it good." He gestured to Baris. "And save one for him, just for Murphy, eh?"
"Of course." Doyle fired again and managed to wound his too careless target this time.
Suddenly there were shouts and more bursts of gunfire, but strangely enough, not directed at them.
"Who the hell are they fighting?" Cowley asked.
Bodie recognized a voice directing the new men.
"That's Willis," Bodie said in amazement. "I'll be damned. He must've decided which horse to back after all."
A shot ricocheted off the wall beside them. "It's not over yet," Doyle pointed out, dropping down and returning the fire.
As they were fighting a two-sided battle, someone decided to make one final push. The cabinet tumbled over leaving a clear line of fire into the storeroom. Doyle shot one just as the other -- Williams -- fired.
Bodie cried out and fell back. Doyle shot Williams in the head, then dropped down beside his partner.
"Bodie!" He felt the blood seeping through the shirt and jacket. "No...no...Bodie!"
Cowley grabbed Doyle's gun, but there was no one left to fire at. Their part of the battle seemed over. The remaining men in the boiler room were busier trying to hold off Willis's men than get the little group in the storeroom.
"How bad?" Cowley asked, keeping his eye on the door and on Baris.
Doyle swallowed. "I don't know. He's hurt...hurt bad... Oh, god... No...please don't..." He pressed his ear to Bodie's chest. The heart was beating, but very rapidly and far too weakly. And there was so much blood. Doyle's own shirt was already drenched in it. Bodie's breathing was shallow and there was a frightening gurgling sound in his chest cavity.
Doyle held him with shaking hands. "No," he whispered. "No, you're not going to die on me, Bodie. You promised me. You promised me, dammit! "
The gunfire outside ceased abruptly. Footsteps approached the broken door, and Cowley raised the gun again. Doyle seemed oblivious to anything but the unconscious Bodie.
"Hold your fire. It's MI6 -- Willis!"
"Come on then," Cowley replied.
Willis looked around the door. Cowley's weapon remained trained on his heart. "A little late, aren't you, Willis?"
Willis looked at Bodie, lying very still in Doyle's arms. "Is he dead?" he asked coldly.
Doyle looked up, face torn with emotion and smeared with Bodie's blood. "No!" he snarled. "You bastard! Why didn't you help us before? Why wait until now!"
"Because I was gathering my own proof."
Cowley lowered his gun. "Get an ambulance. And take care of the Minister for me, will you? I'm sure there's a nice cell for him somewhere." He looked Baris in the eye. "Checkmate, Minister."
Baris nodded. "Yes. The game is yours." He glanced back at the two men on the floor. "But it looks as if you've lost one of your knights after all."
Doyle stepped into the hospital room, but didn't move any closer to the figure in the bed. He had washed his face, but his shirt was brown with dried blood.
Cowley sat up a little more in the bed. "How is 3.7?"
"His name is Bodie," Doyle answered bitterly. "Don't you think he deserves more than a number right now?"
"How is he, man?" Cowley demanded impatiently.
"He's in surgery. They...don't know yet." Doyle looked down at the floor, and even from across the room Cowley could see the trembling in the body.
"Come sit down, lad."
Doyle didn't move. "No. I'm going back to wait -- "
"Don't be daft. They'll come here first when there's any news, you know that."
"What did you want?" Doyle asked coldly.
Cowley observed him for a moment, understanding what he was going through. "He'll be all right, lad," he said gently.
Doyle's head jerked up. "Think so, do you? Why? Because the great god Cowley had pronounced it so? You bastard! What do you care, anyway? He did your job for you, didn't he? Caught Baris, saved your miserable hide. Oh yes, I forgot. Replacements can be very expensive."
"That's enough, Doyle," Cowley snapped
Doyle took a step forward. "No it's not. Maybe, since Bodie was your 'best', you'll retire his number. That'd be a keen gesture, very nice." Doyle swallowed, fighting back tears and the crushing pain in his heart. He was exhausted, he was terrified of losing Bodie, and fear was firing his resentment. "Listen, if he...if he dies because of you...because you had to play these secret little games and hang Baris along with the rest of your trophies...if... If he dies because of you, it's not worth it, damn you. You're not worth it!"
Cowley didn't answer for a moment. "I agree," he said finally, quietly. "But what would Bodie say about that?"
Doyle closed his eyes and took a deep breath, pulling himself back together.
"Come here, lad. Sit down."
Drained, Doyle did as he was told, but he didn't look at the other man.
"Why couldn't you tell us from the first?" Doyle asked listlessly. "Maybe none of this would have happened. If just for once, you'd let know what you were up to, before we find ourselves hip deep in shit..." He shook his head. "Oh, what difference does it make now. Forget it."
"No, perhaps you are right. I made mistakes this time. I underestimated Baris and the lengths he would go to. But all I had was suspicions."
"We've worked from less."
Doyle rubbed his eyes tiredly. "I shouldn't blame you for this. Not all of it anyway. It's my fault, too. It's just...I can't lose him now. Not now."
"You won't. Bodie is a strong man. He'll make it."
"But he lost so much blood -- " Doyle looked up, suddenly angry again. "Why did you talk to him like that when we found you? Don't you know how hard he's tried? If it wasn't for him, no one would've even -- No one believed but him. No one even cared, dammit! Can't you see that? Doesn't it even make a difference to you?"
Cowley regarded him curiously. This was something quite new -- Doyle protective of Bodie. In a secret way, it pleased Cowley immensely. At least from the outside, it had seemed very much the opposite way for far too many years. "Perhaps the difference is that I'm not surprised by it; you obviously are. You didn't know him very well, did you?"
"No. No, I guess I didn't." Doyle looked at him. "But can't you just tell him -- "
"My relationship with Bodie is not up for discussion," Cowley said smoothly. "But I take your point, and shall keep it in mind for future reference."
Doyle smiled ruefully. "Christ, you're a mean old bastard."
Cowley smiled back. "If it has taken you this long to discover that fact, 4.5, you're less observant than I thought."
"Mr. Cowley?" The surgeon was at the door.
Doyle jumped up. "What is it? How is he?"
A very jubilant Doyle escorted a bored and irritable Bodie through CI Headquarters.
"That's just terrific, Ray," he said patiently. "I'm delighted they've repainted the rest room. And the new computer system was just dandy. Can we go home now? I'm still an invalid you know."
"You've lolled about reading dirty mags and watching TV long enough, mate. The doctor says you need to be up and about."
Bodie wriggled his eyebrow. "I'm for that. Let's be up and about a few pubs on -- "
"No drinking. You're still an invalid, y'know," Doyle chided.
Bodie pinched his ass. "Not entirely, sweetcakes."
The green eyes flashed. "Do that again, an' I'll flatten you, bullet wound or no bullet wound." He glanced around the empty corridor. "What if somebody saw, you prat?"
"So what? Used to do it all the time."
Doyle grinned. "Yeah, but you didn't mean the same thing then."
"Didn't I? Okay, where to?"
"The ol' man's back today. Having a marvelous time pushing around the big boys in Departmental Accounting and playing with his new budget. After ferreting out Baris, I think he could ask for a moon program and the government would give it to him. His star is rising. Eh, speaking of rises, do you think he'll give us one?"
"He may be back from the dead, Doyle, but I don't think he's changed that much."
Doyle made Bodie actually wait for the lift rather than take the stairs this time. In spite of Doyle's teasing, it was rather a job to keep Bodie from overdoing. It had been two weeks since he'd been released from hospital, but he still had a long way to go before he would be back to his old energy.
At least where some things were concerned. Doyle smiled as he remembered that morning.
"What are you grinning like the Cheshire cat for?" Bodie asked suspiciously.
"Uh, just thinking. Maybe we ought to go straight back home once we see the old man. I've still got a lot of unpacking to do."
Bodie wasn't fooled. Before Doyle opened the lift door, Bodie leaned over and whispered, "You're beautiful when you're lying."
"Come in," Cowley barked in answer to the knock on the door. "Ah, 3.7! How are you feeling, lad?"
"Terrific, sir. And you?"
"Och, there was nothing wrong with me."
"Nothing? Malnutrition, dehydration, and a cracked rib?"
"Nothing," Cowley said firmly. "Anyway, I'm back to work now with a clean bill of health."
"Speaking of that, sir -- "
"Another three weeks, Bodie," Cowley cut him off. "I've talked to your doctor. And even then, it will be the file roan."
"Shit!" Bodie whispered.
"What's that?" Cowley said sharply.
"Yes, I thought not. You, Doyle, have to be in here tomorrow morning at six-thirty sharp."
"What? Wait a minute -- "
"You're both back on CI5 payroll -- with no lapse of pay from the unfortunate events of the last couple of months -- "
"I should hope not," Doyle grumbled, but softly.
" -- and I might as well have the use of at least one of you. Six-thirty, 4.5, remember."
"Well, if that's all, I do have a great deal of work to catch up on." He sat down at his desk and picked up a file, adjusting his glasses and ignoring them.
"One thing, sir," Bodie said.
"Yes? What is it?"
"We'd like your opinion on something we did," Doyle continued.
"Yes? Well, go on. Spit it out mon!"
"How do you feel about roses, sir?"
Cowley pulled off his glasses and looked at Bodie. "Roses?"
"Yes, sir. As opposed to...say...lilies or -- "
"Lilies! What the devil are you talking about?"
"Which would be the proper flowers to send?" Bodie explained.
"To express gratitude and..." Doyle paused to find the precise word he wanted, "admiration."
Cowley regarded them suspiciously.
"We just want your opinion, sir," Bodie added hastily.
"Roses, I suppose," Cowley said reluctantly.
"That's fantastic!" Bodie turned to Doyle. "See, Ray, I told you roses. We did the right thing."
"What, precisely, are you talking about?" Cowley asked threateningly.
"Oh yes, we sent two dozen roses round to Miss Walsh's home, sir. You do think it's appropriate, don't you? After all, without her, we might never have figured any of it out."
Doyle nodded. "Very true. You owe your life to her, you know."
Cowley steepled his hands consideringly. "Perhaps you're right. That was quite thoughtful of you lads. I'm sure Elizabeth will appreciate it."
Doyle smiled widely. "That's good, sir, because we had Betty put them on your account."
"It's the least you can do, sir," Bodie said heavily.
Cowley glared at them, but then relaxed. "Oh, very well. I'll let it go this time."
"And signed your name to the card," Doyle added.
"You did?" Cowley suddenly looked a little uncomfortable.
"She I s a marvelous lady," Doyle mused
"And a looker for an old 'un," Bodie added with a wicked glint.
Cowley stood very slowly. "You aren't by any chance matchmaking are you, Bodie?"
The blue eyes widened innocently. "Who, sir? Me, sir?"
"Never dream of it," Doyle continued the double act.
Bodie offered Cowley his most charming smile. "Good to see up back again, Mr. Cowley. Have a nice day."
They headed for the door, but Doyle stopped Bodie before he could go out. "You know, sir, Bodie is quite poetic."
Bodie struck a pose, hand over his heart, eyes dreamy. "'To Elizabeth with fond thoughts and my undying gratitude. Now that we've both died and been reborn, your true love I would not scorn.'"
Seeing Cowley was in the middle of an attack of apoplexy, Doyle took the time to beat a hasty retreat, pushing Bodie ahead of him. Unable to resist the finish, however, he stuck his head around the edge of the door and added, "'Love, George'."
The desk lamp missed his head by a quarter inch.
-- THE END --