Zebra Crossing


Party Spirit series #8: After "Klansman"

I wasn't exactly thrilled to wake up to Doyle's dulcet tones outside the bedroom door. More humiliated at that moment than I could ever recall feeling I buried my head in the pillows and ungratefully wished for death.

"What's up with 'im," I heard him ask--and I could hear him grinning that melon-slice grin of his through a closed door and two pounds of feathers--"'ad a few too many, 'as 'e?"

Lena's voice being the rich dark-velvet sort I couldn't hear what she said and I was glad about that, even though I didn't for a minute think she'd drop me in it and tell him what I'd gone and done. It wouldn't do my reputation any good if it got about I'd scarcely started the second screw of the evening when I flaked out on top of my companion; that's not the image I try and project.

She was very nice about it, and I have to say if you must do something so bloody ill-mannered it's a good idea to pick an unflappable SRN to pass out on. She 'sorted me out' (to use the phrase these nurses work half to death) and made me comfortable just like she'd spent the last week or so doing, telling me to lie there quietly and sleep it off while she got ready to go to work.

"You didn't have to prove anything, Bodie," she said, sitting on the side of the bed and soothing me fevered brow with an over-practised hand. "I knew you didn't really feel that badly about black people."

"But I said..." I was still ashamed of all the things I'd said; having a reason for feeling that way at the time didn't make it any more excuseable.

"I know what you said, but that was only your mouth talking. Your body didn't agree with you once, and you hung on to me so hard when your fever dropped I've got bruises on my hand. Look!" And she laughed and held up her hand for inspection; it was brown and beautiful like the rest of her. "Come along now, lie still and try to sleep. I've got several things I must do before I leave."

So I subsided, obedient as always, and I was out like a light until the doorbell went and I heard Ray's voice. I scowled at the opening door.

"Sorry," Lena said, coming in first and getting the full brunt of my annoyance, "but I don't think you ought to drive yourself home, and I can't let you stay--my mother's coming round tomorrow and she wouldn't like the look of you. Your skin's the wrong colour for one thing and you're not the marrying kind for another." And she grinned at me, cheeky wench, and went off to work leaving me to Ray's tender loving care. I didn't care for the substitution and I said so, quite loudly and several times.

"Make the most of it," he said, "I'm all you're getting the rest of tonight." He didn't seem thrilled by the prospect and I could scarcely blame him.

"Seem to be making a habit of this, don't I," I mumbled by way of apology as I heaved myself upright--well, more of less--with his help.

"Your track record's not been too good lately," he agreed rather sourly. "Some people'll do anything to skive off. First your hands, now this..."

I ignored that one; it wasn't worth giving him the satisfaction of rising to it.

"Whose car're we going in then?" I asked, wanting to get the post-mortem over and get home to bed; if I'm honest I'll admit I was feeling definitely shaky now I was on my feet.

"No problem--yours. I came in a taxi."

"A taxi!" I feigned shock and staggered more than I meant to and had to hang on to him. "I suppose that means the driver's still outside with the meter running, waiting for me to come out and pay 'im."

"Yeah, that's right. And don't forget 'is tip while you're at it. And more than the measly ten pee you usually 'and out. I've got a reputation to 'old up."

"And me as well," I discovered, the wound in my gut dragging like it had when the bloody physios first shot me out of bed and force-marched me up and down the corridors without mercy or let-up.

"What 'ave you been up to, you poor old man?" he demanded, mouth on the twitch. He doesn't miss a trick, evil-minded so and so that he is.

"You're too young to hear about it."

"I believe you, Come on, get those trousers on, I haven't got all night."

"Hang about, will you. Stop rushing me. I've got some underwear somewhere." I looked about me, certain I'd had pants on when I arrived but quite unable to remember what I'd done with them since.

"Those them, are they?" Doyle pointed to a heap of material decorating the edge of Lena's waste paper basket. "I'd leave 'em where they are if I was you, about the best place for 'em."

"Nothing the matter with my underpants," I said, rescuing them and essaying a tentative foot towards a leg-hole. A couple hands steadied me and at the third shot I succeeded. Doyle cheered.

I got the second foot in and pulled them up, adjusting myself for comfort.

"Gimme my trousers then since you're in such a bleedin' hurry."

Getting my arms into my T-shirt sleeves I found him staring at my stomach--the scars were still pink and prominent with neat stitch holes providing added decoration.

"Pretty, aren't I!" I said, peering down.

"I wouldn't put it that way myself. More like a botched-up Frankenstein's monster. Come on, stop admiring yourself and hand over your car keys."

"All in good time, I haven't got my shirt on yet," I protested.

"Oh christ! you wear more layers than one of those pantomime dames. I'll bet half of your birds fall asleep on you while you're getting undressed."

Did I react to that? I suppose I must have done because he began staring at me, a tiny frown creasing his forehead. I vowed to myself that if he started to grin I'd hit him and to hell with what the Doctor said about taking it easy for a week or two, but the moment passed and he was handing me my blazer and urging me out of the door.

"You gonna take my car to get home?" I offered as we pulled up outside my place. The way I felt I was going to sleep for about a month, or at least until the Cow deemed me fit enough for a stint in Records or something equally stimulating.

"Nope!" He killed the engine and gave me one of those belligerent, don't-you-argue-with-me looks that he puts on when he's made up his mind about something. "I'm comin' in--you need a ruddy nursemaid these days and I don't know anyone else fool enough to put themselves out. Go on, get inside, I'm not giving myself a hernia carrying you indoors if you pass out on the steps. I should call the fire-brigade and the AA to bring the heavy lifting gear. Go on, shift your arse."

I shifted.

He even saw me into bed, scowling away like some bad-tempered pekinese when I didn't move fast enough to please him, and he scowled even harder when I reminded him plaintively of my debilitated condition.

"I didn't do it on purpose," I protested. He was making me feel defensive.

"No, just can't keep out of trouble, that's all."

The way he spoke, sort of taut and stiff-lipped, brought a sudden vivid memory of his face, paler than usual and tear-stained, and the way he'd come tearing up as they lifted me out of the ambulance; I pondered the vision for a moment and wondered if I understood.

Pausing halfway into bed I said: "If you think about it, maybe you wouldn't have ended up with a black eye either if we'd stayed together, but I'm not blaming myself for that."

He glared. "How d'you know I 'ad a black eye? I didn't--"

"No, you didn't come near me for days. How d'you think I know--I asked Jax what was wrong with you."

"Jax has a slack mouth."

"And he's black," I said, grinning, "but I don't call that any reason to go beating him up in pubs. Make us a cup of tea, will you? I'm so thirsty I could drink a bucketful."

I shouldn't have reminded him about my lapse into prejudice because he frowned down at me in a measuring kind of way, making my heart sink, but he folded his mouth over whatever it was he was thinking of saying and went off to make the tea. Even so, I knew it would be answer time before long and I began to brace myself for the onslaught.

Sure enough when he got back and had sat down on the side of the bed, he handed me my mugful and stared at me over the rim of his.

I wondered how he was going to broach the subject, Doyle sometimes demonstrating a deviousness that commanded even my approval, but this time he went straight for it, not trying to wrap it up or be tactful.

"Went a bit over the top the other day, didn't you? I mean calling Zadie a spade the way you did. You were bloody lucky Cowley didn't have your guts for garters using intemperate language like that."

He was a-twitch with curiosity, same as he had been at the time and it grated on me now like it had then. Knowing I'd been thoroughly objectionable I supposed sooner or later I'd have to explain why, and better sooner than later or he'd be worrying away at me like a dog with a marrowbone until he extracted the truth. It'd be simpler to come right out and tell him but the trouble was I didn't want to talk about it, the hurt was still far too new.

"You know Bettany's in hospital," I said abruptly, fiddling with my tea and wishing it was a glass of good malt instead. Bettany--who I hadn't even been allowed to see except as a motionless, unconscious form on a distant bed in Intensive Care; Bettany--who screamed herself into incoherence whenever anyone male approached her bed; Bettany--who had been able to offer only one word to describe her masked attacker...black!

"Yeah. I offered to go and see her for you but you said not to."

I could tell from the sobered look in his eye that he'd picked up on my mood with the uncanny speed he often does and had stopped being a nosy sod and become someone I could talk to easily after all.

"She was raped." I drew a meditative finger around the rim of my mug. "Raped and then injured internally. They don't know what he used but she'll never be able to have kids. I'd just come from talking to her sister when we were sent to see Zadie and I wasn't feeling too charitable to his kind for the moment... and before you say it, I know they aren't all to blame for what one sick bastard did. I just...forgot that for a while, that's all."

"Oh christ!" He looked sick and I could sympathise. "And of course when Helen Zadie walked in..."

"Yeah," I agreed. "She's not unlike Bettany to look at, is she." I could still feel the way my stomach had churned, see the vivid black/white, black/white images that filled my mind. I drank tea in huge, soothing gulps and handed the mug over for refilling.

Doyle didn't say any more; probably saw from my face that I'd embarrass us both horribly if he tried to discuss it.

Of course after all that tea I needed to use the bog again, refusing his help with all the dignity I could muster from an angle of seventy-five degrees.

Coming back into the bedroom I stopped short. Doyle had his back to me and was half bent over, standing one-legged as he stripped off his jeans. I knew I was pooped when it didn't raise a single twinge of anything except regret for my present state of health, although even if it had I wouldn't have been prepared to risk passing out on him; he wouldn't be anywhere near as forgiving as Lena. Knew I shouldn't have tried it a second time with her really, but self-denial's never been my scene. Tend to get twitchy if I don't get my ration... could have something to do with why Doyle and I started in on the bedroom games, though I'm not into analysing all the ifs and whys.

"What're you doing?" I asked sourly, giving him a wide berth as I made for the bed before I fell down where I was.

"What does it look as if I'm doing? I'm staying the night." He straightened and glared at me belligerently as if daring me to argue. "I'll sleep on the ruddy sofa if you'd rather. I mean, I'm not expecting... We shouldn't... Anyway, if that wound's painful you wouldn't want..."

Doyle lost for words is something not many people see, but it appeared we still weren't going to come out into the open and actually mention the kinky things we got up to. I went along with that, not knowing how to put it into words for one thing.

"No need for the sofa," I said easily. "Damn thing's not long enough for a midget to sleep on in comfort, and I suppose it's no use telling you I don't need a nursemaid?"

"None at all. Besides, it's not true--need a ruddy keeper, you do."

I lay down and turned my back to him. "That's OK then, I've got you."

He was warm against my back even without touching me and to my surprise I found it comforting and I slept.

During the night I jerked out of a dream of instantly forgotten menace, disoriented and reaching for my companion as a reflex action, remembering who it was even as I touched him. I hesitated, but his arm came up and curved around my ribs; snuggling up cosily he rubbed his cheek on mine.

"'s OK, Bodie," he muttered, sleep-husky, "everything's OK. Go back to sleep."

And with that he dropped off again, snuffling softly into my neck; I hoped it was only condensation that was making me all damp'n soggy but I was too lazy to move and find out and I lay and cuddled him shamelessly, relishing the closeness. Doyle awake I wouldn't give an inch to; Doyle asleep I'd take all the advantage of I wanted. Not dropping off immediately as I'd done before I let my hands rove aimlessly over him, smiling into the darkness as his thighs parted to give me access. Accomodating as any bird, I thought, chuckling as I cupped the soft swell of his genitals. Nice, very nice.

's the last thing I recall though, so I must have been pretty shattered not to carry on as planned.

When I woke again it was daylight and he was gone; there was a note propped against the clock-radio.

'You're out of bread,' it said, 'and there's no milk. Cowley rang: you're to keep that appointment with the Doctor today or explain why not to him personally. Enjoy yourself... if you can!'

-- THE END --

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