Part 1 of the Adagio series, followed by Catharsis, The Homecoming, and Plain Sailing
The pub was one often used by employees of the less publicised -- and less civilised -- government services. The man sitting at the bar was studying the other drinkers in a way which looked desultory; in fact, he was mentally separating, with a trained eye, the probable CI5 agents from the more ordinary clientele. When the doors swung open and a suave dark man came in, the solitary toper recognised him instantly from the photos he had been shown, and did not waste many glances on him, nor his curly-haired companion. Instead, he simply watched the scene carefully as he had done for many days now without spotting any likely contacts; taking economical sips at his brandy, listening to snatches of conversation, catching the drift of feelings, the emotions revealed by a word, or a look. His employers were getting impatient. He would have to make a move soon.
The man called Bodie and his partner were playing darts, against two other scruffy, muscular young men; there was much chivvying and bragging and noise interspersed with short bursts of intent, silent concentration as the drub and thud of dart contacting board went on. When the game was over, the victorious duo bought a round for the losers and left the pub, smooth head beside unruly one, talking.
The disgruntled losers drank up at the bar, next to the man there. Their conversation was quiet, but easily audible to the listener, whose senses were suddenly alert.
"-- cocky bastard --"
"-- makes hisself out to be god's gift -- the old man's favourite --"
Even when the conversation turned to other things, he listened carefully, judging which was the most sour, the most susceptible, and when the quarry left the bar he slipped from his seat and followed.
The blank-faced man and the edgy service agent sat on a bench, out in the open in an empty section of the park. At first the former had experienced the chilling intuition that he had made a rare misjudgment of character and temperament, which could have for him a literally fatal result, given the intolerant nature of his employers; but he had mentioned then the sum involved and the hard-eyed resolve of the other had flickered. True, the man had not yet agreed, but the first and biggest hurdle had been passed and it was clear they would make a deal.
"A million? Sterling?"
The other confirmed it, watching without pity or distaste the greed and irresolution struggling in the other's eyes. Greed was a powerful force; coupled with envy and resentment it could lead a man to do almost anything...anything at all....
The deal was made.
"One-twentieth now. The balance on completion of the job. The deadline is 12 weeks from today; no later. I must add," said the recruiter, gravely, "that my employer's payroll is large; and though his rewards are generous for those who serve him well, should you be assumed to have reneged on the deal, elimination will swiftly follow."
There was one bad apple in every organisation. Even Cowley's Incorruptibles. The new recruit, his inside pockets and his plastic bag now unexpectedly bulging with 50,000 in used notes, walked home to his small flat in a daze.... It would have to be very carefully set up, if he were to get away with it and settle down to enjoy his million.
One quick, apparently unpremeditated shot from an untraceable source, perhaps. Or a slower, false campaign, with blind leads and a host of meaningless and misleading clues. It had to be one or the other. His conscience soon ceased to trouble him -- he had killed men before without a whiff of it, and so had his intended victim, and whether you were on the side of right or not was not only a subjective argument but also seemed less significant than usual -- given the prospect of one million pounds.
Bodie was drumming his fingers on the roof of the car, his elbow resting on the half-opened window. The noise was irritating Doyle, who had both a hangover and a last-night row with his girlfriend -- now ex-girlfriend -- to contend with.
"Cut it out, Bodie."
Bodie, in a sunny mood, looked over at his partner's tight face and smirked.
"Too many late nights, Doyle? Take a tip from me..."
"I wouldn't touch it," Doyle told him with repressed savagery, "with a ten foot sewer rod. Keep your mind on the job, for chrissake." He was keeping a constant surveillance, mirrors, windows, front and rear.
Bodie was faintly nettled by his partner's surliness. "What job? Straight pick-up."
"We can't be sure of that. Can't be sure of anything," muttered Doyle morosely. "Not in this fucking job."
Bodie considered, and gave him a cocky smile. "Who got out of bed the wrong side this morning then?"
"Just leave it out, will you?" snarled Doyle. "Where the hell is Cowley, anyway?" He jerked an irritated eye at the front door of the house they were expecting to collect their chief from. They had been here before, he vaguely remembered.
Bodie was not willing to let it drop. "Or were you kicked out?"
Doyle was silent. Freezingly so. The silence stretched, expressively. Bodie gave a mental shrug as he surveyed the black face of his partner, and turned to more pleasing views. For example, the fur-jacketed blonde passing the car, who had long nyloned legs, and a white poodle on a leash. Bodie ejected a low breath of admiration. "Take a look at that."
Doyle's fragile control on the morning snapped. "Oh, just give it a rest. Sometimes I wonder about you, Bodie. All that relentless machismo."
"What the hell do you mean by that?" Bodie's face had changed, all the good humour fled. He looked cold, set and dangerous; his narrow lips set in a thin line and his dark eyes snapped cold temper.
Doyle gave a humourless bark of laughter. "Oho. That got home all right, didn't it?" He stared out of the window, not waiting for Bodie's reply.
"-- you're not bloody fit for company today, Doyle --"
Something caught Doyle's eye.
"-- and after this pickup you can fucking well clear off and take your poisonous temper out on someone else --"
-- Something long and slender, the sunlight glinting prettily over it; a black unwinking eye --
"Down!" yelled Doyle and, as Bodie ducked in blind, trained instinct, he was thrusting the car into reverse, hard, and swinging it round. There was an explosion of breaking glass and the whining sound of flying bullets. Guns drawn, the two CI5 men burst from the abused car, ducking and weaving as they made their way towards the narrow space between two houses.
Behind them, a small round hole smoked in the upholstery of Doyle's car, six inches from the spot where Bodie's sleek dark head had rested moments before.
"So --" Cowley drew the word out, pointedly "-- you failed to find any trace of the gunman?"
"Plenty of witnesses who saw Doyle spinning his car like a maniac. Also plenty who heard shots. No one remembers anything useful."
Cowley shook his head, not in negation; just musing. "Was perfectly legitimate. I did put out the call -- however, the office was in some disarray, rearrangement of the filing system -- and Miss Pierce muddled two messages. You arrived in the wrong place, and too early."
"So it can't have been premeditated," said Doyle. His youthful face and sloppily casual dress well masked the quick mind and perfect reflexes -- the same reflexes that had saved Bodie's life an hour ago, and Cowley frowned at him.
"A premature judgment indeed, Doyle. But it does seem unlikely, on the present evidence."
"Miss Pierce?" said Bodie, with his usual economy of expression.
"Is clean," confirmed Cowley. "It's an open case, at the moment."
They left the office and walked down the street.
"So someone sees us sitting there, decides they don't like the look of our mugs and lets rip a rifle blast," said Doyle, disgusted. He turned to Bodie. "Good job I was there with my eyes open."
"Yeah, thanks mate," said Bodie without gratitude, preoccupied. "Look, maybe it's someone we sent down, roughed up a bit, all in the line of duty -- someone with a grudge against us --"
Doyle gave him a look. "Maybe against you. If it was set up, that call went out to you and it was sheer chance I was in the car too."
"It could be one of my ex-girlfriends. They don't take it well when I leave 'em." His expression was unbearably smug. Doyle kidded him along and they mentally filed the incident away until the next time -- if -- it should be repeated.
It was not.
Just another job; just another day. But things had gone wrong, and it was the end of Bodie's life. He knew that, instantly, when the trigger failed to pour out the expected stream of slugs into his opponent; produced only a bewildered click, and then silence.
Bodie saw it all as if in slow motion: the man who faced him, crouching in a desperation that was only now turning into speculation, hardening into a light of unlooked-for triumph as he saw that Bodie was defeated. He and Doyle had chased this criminal and his companion for two blocks, in and out of yards, down alleys, a mad game of tag until they cornered them here in this rickety old warehouse, Doyle taking one, he the other -- this man here, who was lifting his gun, focussing it on Bodie ten yards away with no cover in the centre of the dusty wide room. Nowhere to run. It should all have been different, he thought deep in shock, it should have been me where he is now. So death was finally here. For Doyle too, maybe; Doyle would be here otherwise. He had heard a volley of shots, and then silence. He'd always known they would go together, him and Doyle, when their number came up; it was written on the same slip. The snub nose of the weapon was centred on his heart, its open eye preparing to discharge his death. He could dive and roll, sure; but he wouldn't rise again. The hand on the trigger squeezed.
Doyle burst in through the door like an avenging angel, his brown curls standing out round his head, white face like a halo. With grim determination, he cannoned full-bodiedly into Bodie's would-be killer, knocking him to the ground. While the bullets from the gun of the man, who had nearly killed Bodie, sped harmlessly through the crumbling plaster wall, Doyle, his face empty, pumped an entire round into him. The man fell apart, ripped across like a badly perforated stamp. They watched it, mesmerized by the spouting blood.
Slowly, Doyle relaxed his taut muscles, returning to normal. He took his eyes off the corpse, picked up Bodie's useless gun and examined it, his mouth tight.
"We'll give armoury a bloody rocket about this," he commented grimly. When Bodie did not make the expected comeback, he glanced over. He saw his partner's rigid attitude, the dazed eyes, the pallor of his sweat-sheened face. Shock. He crossed the wide smoky room in three firm strides, took Bodie's hard shoulders between his hands. "Siddown," he ordered tersely.
Bodie let himself be pushed to the floor. Ray Doyle knelt beside him, looking him over carefully. No injury. No physical injury. He was surprised by his devil-may-care partner's violent reaction; they'd come close to death often enough before and walked away laughing. You had to laugh or you'd cry.... The old adage mocked at him as he took Bodie's cold hands in a rare moment of rough concern, rubbing some warmth into him.
"Hey," he said gently, looking into the white face. "All right, mate?"
Bodie looked at him, into the wide green eyes close to his own, became aware of the warm hands holding him. He was shaking. As his sluggish mind and senses began to stir once again with new life, he realised something else. He took one hand away from Doyle, reached up to push it against his sweat-dampened chest, reassured by the solidity there.
"You're shaking," he said with wondering curiosity.
"You were dead," replied Doyle briefly. "Right then, you were dead."
Their eyes were steady, in perfect understanding. For uncounted time, they touched, reaffirming and seeking reassurance. Until something else began to stir and waken, something unwanted, barely recognised.
A whole new question was born in that moment, to loom unanswered.
Abruptly, Doyle rose to his feet, extending a hand to Bodie. They stood dusting themselves off, and collecting their shattered thoughts.
Bodie looked at the ugly sprawled corpse, really saw it for the first time.
"Christ, Doyle. You made a mess of him."
"Look mate," responded Doyle sarcastically. "He had to go. One bullet or twenty, where's the difference?"
"Cowley'll see one, you can count on that."
They left the building, walking slightly apart, each thoughtful.
It was soon after that that the letters began. It was the old trick, individual letters cut from newspapers and pasted in erratically spelt sentences onto cards. The first, pushed under the windscreen of Bodie's car, simply said: YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.
Bodie laughed it off, showed it to Doyle and Cowley and it was filed away.
Soon there was another to join it -- I'LL GET YOU SOON BODIE. And another -- A SINGLE SHOT IN YOUR MURDERING GUTS. Another, thought-provokingly left in his flat which bore not a trace of having been forcibly entered, read -- REMEMBER NAIROBI? REVENGE, which might have been their first clue to the identity of the writer, since Bodie had killed a lot of people's sons, brothers and lovers in Africa; or might have been a deliberate blind.
They decided to take it seriously when the boot of Bodie's car exploded as he opened the door. ARE YOU GETTING SCARED taunted the note taped to the driver's mirror.
"This can't go on," said Cowley irritably when they met up in his office. "It's getting too close to home. You've come up with no leads at all?"
His acerbic gaze swept them both.
"I've just put a lot of work into it, sir," said Bodie ironically. It was his life and he was fond of it and here was the old man carrying on as if Bodie wasn't trying hard enough to find the arrogant so-and-so who was daring to threaten it.
Cowley ignored him. "We'll have to consider it a personal vendetta. One of your old friends, perhaps -- from your pre-CI5 days." One suspected that Cowley did not quite approve of Bodie's former hell-raising days. It was perfectly all right now that it was CI5 he raised hell for, of course. "All these hints are getting us nowhere. He's playing with you -- and you're letting him get away with it. You'd better see if you can bring him out into the open. Hide out somewhere our friend can trace you to; then take him." Bright-eyed and birdlike, he gazed at Bodie.
"I'm deeply relieved it's all going to be so simple," muttered Bodie with sarcasm.
Cowley fixed him with an eye. "It is quite simple. He's had his chances already, 3.7. If he was in a position to plant a bomb in your car at all, why not make it a fatal one? There has to be a reason. He's been making all the moves so far. Now's your chance to get one step ahead, and force his hand. If he's serious, he'll come after you and you can take him. If he's just a joker, then we know where we stand."
Bodie thought around the problem. Cowley was making sense, as usual. If he holed up somewhere, the putative assassin would assume Bodie'd gone to ground to escape his unwelcome attentions. He'd follow, move in -- and Bodie would be there, waiting. Bodie fancied his chances in a straight draw against any gunman in the country. Yes, he'd do it.
"That's agreed then, 3.7. You have one week's leave of absence granted you. Less if it takes less, of course." Cowley looked up, as if waiting for questions. There were none. "Well --" he began testily, waiting for them to go.
"Alone?" The word burst out of Doyle.
Cowley looked mildly surprised. Bodie, after sparing his partner one glance, didn't move a muscle. He and Doyle had never been the same after that intense, shocking experience in the Grahamstown warehouse, weeks ago. They were wary, backing off; they had lost the easy give and take, the smart dialogue. It was as if that one unguarded moment had shown them more than they wanted to see.
Cowley was answering, "Certainly alone. No gunman's going to come running at the pair of you." He said that with a certain amount of well-concealed pride in his ace team. "In any case, there's no need for two of you on this job. I can use you here, Doyle, and Bodie can quite well look after himself."
Doyle stood quite still, digesting the logic of this. It was Bodie who moved round to stand facing him.
"Right, mate?" he said, quiet and impassive. Doyle looked up, his wide-cheekboned face giving nothing away. Bodie smiled at him, a little upward quirk of his lips. "Right?" he said again.
Bodie knew what he was about, all right. But --
Doyle nodded, removing his eyes. "Yeah. Keep your head down, mate."
Bodie left. Cowley looked down at his desk, but his attention was, for all that, firmly on the slouching man in sneakers lingering before him. There was something not quite right with these two. Cowley didn't yet know what it was. But he intended to find out.
All of Doyle was prickling with unease. "He shouldn't have to handle this alone, sir. He should have special protection."
"Bodie should?" Cowley stared at his unruly operative with the look intended to quell. "Good God, Doyle, if Bodie can't deal successfully with one loony out of the many who undoubtedly wish him out of the way, then he's got no place in CI5."
Doyle, angry, persisted. "We've got no proof it's a one man vendetta. No proof it's a crackpot with a toy pistol. It could be the opposite, carefully planned to look like a pathetic loony's no-chance death wish. He shouldn't have to do it alone."
Cowley met it with abruptness, rapping the words out like an SMG, his eyes as hard as Doyle's own. "He has to. With Bodie gone, we're one man down and I've no intention of making it two just because you've some idea about playing nursemaid. I need you here, 4.5, and that's final. CI5 as a unit is more vital than one of its operatives."
4.5 looked as if he wanted to spit. Maybe that had been a little -- stark. Cowley, who understood more than he was letting on, continued: "Don't worry so, Doyle. 3.7 has all the advantages of the very attributes needed to become a CI5 agent -- he's fast, he's armed, he's capable --"
If it was intended as reassurance, it failed. "Oh yeah," said Doyle, bitterly. "All the advantages. Except that granted to common Joe Bloggs in the streets. Because of CI5, he can't have special protection when someone's out to get him."
Cowley was still calm, facing his hot-headed young agent across the desk.
"Not without special circumstances, 4.5. I'm sorry."
Within two hours, Doyle was back. He threw a slim file onto Cowley's desk, the result of a ceaseless, exhaustive search conducted with determination. And desperation. "There," he said. "There's your 'special circumstances'. Sir."
Cowley picked up his glasses. "What is this, Doyle?"
"The Hess file," said Doyle with grim satisfaction. He had the soulless bastard now. "Bodie's needed as prime witness in the Hess trial when it comes up. Without his evidence you can't be sure of a conviction. Given the death threat, special protection," said Doyle, with a humourless quirk of his lips, "might be appropriate, loon or not, wouldn't you say, sir?"
After a long moment, during which nothing showed of the quick lines of thought suddenly racing around in Cowley's sharp mind, the CI5 boss nodded. "All right, 4.5. Consider yourself on one week's leave."
Doyle, thus summarily dismissed, turned for the door, thought of something and looked back. "In view of the -- changed circumstances -- I take it I'm allowed an R/T?"
Cowley acquiesced, crisply. Then, just before Doyle passed through the door, he said, "But I should restrict its use, Doyle, until the situation is resolved. This could be inside."
Doyle stared. "Inside? Inside CI5?" It was almost unthinkable. "I thought we were sure it was Bodie's murky past risen up to confront him."
Cowley's reply was cryptic, knowing that Doyle had taken the point. "Or his present. Don't advertise your departure, Doyle. I'll let it be known here that you're working on a special case for me within this building for the next few days. Dismissed, Doyle."
The door shut, and Cowley stared pensively down at the almost-forgotten manila file he held, the tale of a wrapped-up case, corruption, drugs and vice run by a Mafia-style German family with immense financial resources and a correspondingly large deficit of scruples. It was all over now, thanks to some smart CI5 work; all over bar the trial. The trial where Bodie was first-line witness for the prosecution.
He drew up the chair to his desk, opened the file, and began to read.
Doyle tracked Bodie without wasting a second and with only minor trouble; a lot less, probably, than any possible assassin would have since Doyle knew the workings of Bodie's mind. Bodie had laid clues -- made himself conspicuous buying a newspaper here, stopped for petrol here -- not too many, to alert their friend to the possibility of a set-up, but enough for any hired killer/competent nutter worth his salt to run him to ground. The village Doyle finally roared into was Almesbury, a sleepy little hamlet an hour out of London with little shops that sold postcards of the village green, rock, and ice-cream in cornets. Doyle wandered into one of the alternatives -- a grocers' cum off-licence -- and stood gazing up at the rows of British sherry, Bull's Blood, barley wine.
"Can I help you?"
It was a young girl, quite pretty, in an unflattering brown overall. Doyle favoured her with a smile, his casual attitude showing off his lithe-muscled body in shirt and jeans to best advantage. He was devastating. And he knew it.
"Yeah, thanks. I was wondering -- d'you have any Glenfiddich?" They'd cracked a bottle on Bodie's birthday. It had been a good night, full of profound and solemn restructurings of the world's problems, culminating in a good deal of maudlin drunken sorrow at the injustices of life. The morning hadn't been so good.
"Yes, we do." She moved a metal stepladder, climbed up it a little way. Doyle's gaze rested on the long expanse of nylon-clad leg thus exposed to his view. "I know it's here -- because --" Obviously she was aware of Doyle's eyes; when she turned around with the bottle in her hand she had gone a little pink.
"Nice," Doyle told her, leaving it up to her whether he meant the whisky or her legs. Unhurried, he leant against the counter while she went about the business of wrapping up the bottle in tissue. She was young, and very conscious that she was in the presence of an extremely attractive male, exuding careless virility. It made her a little, fetchingly, nervous.
"You're not from around here, are you? Passing through?"
"S'right. Pretty little place."
"We get quite a few tourists in the summer. It's nice, to see some fresh faces."
"I'll bet." Doyle paid for the whisky with a 20 note and waited for the change. "I might stay myself. There's no hotel, is there?"
She was eager to help. "There's one a few miles out. The Feathers. That's where most go. Or there's a few bed-and-breakfast places here in the village. There's a hunting lodge in Almesbury House grounds they let out in the summer, very primitive --" She looked at Doyle, whose feral stance and casually-exposed area of silken-haired chest made him a clear candidate for the delights of primitiveness -- "That might have suited you, but it's taken at the moment. He was in here earlier today, matter of fact. And the funny thing is --" she smiled a little, amused by the vagaries of fate -- "he was after Glenfiddich, too."
"Funny thing, coincidence," answered Doyle, stashing the bottle away in his holdall. "I might try the hotel; have to see. Thanks, love." He gave her a wink, and a smile to remember him by, and sauntered out.
Hilliard walked into Helen Grieve's office, perched on the edge of her desk. "Bodie in?" he asked casually.
She raised her cool blonde head from the typewriter.
"Owe him a fiver," he explained.
"He's on leave, actually. Gone fishing, I believe."
"Ah," he said noncommittally, and produced a bank note from his pocket. "Can I leave this with you to give him, then? You know Bodie -- likes his debts paid in on time --" As her hand reached for it, he withdrew it, saying as if in afterthought. "Or I could give it to Doyle when I bump into him. Save you the trouble. He's in, is he? Or couldn't he bear the pangs of separation?"
A lot hung on her answer. Hilliard was no fool. Nor any match for Bodie-and-Doyle together, they transcended the sum of their separate parts.
"4.5's in, all right," she said crisply. "But he's on a special job. In conference with the head right now."
"Ah. Well, I'd better leave this with you, after all." He let the fiver flutter onto the desk. It would never be reclaimed. Because its rightful owner would be dead in a few hours.
Doyle concealed the bike and helmet in a hedge, camouflaged it carefully, scaled Almesbury House's ten foot wall with ridiculous ease -- wouldn't keep out a determined midget, that wall -- and dropped down to the other side to take stock. He was on the edge of a wood. Good. Plenty of cover in a wood like this with nice thick trees. On the other hand, plenty of vantage points, too, for an assassin.
Walking quietly, he came to the lodge, a small rough-brick structure in a clearing. Primitive, she had said. A fast look round, then he was at the door, knocking at it, prepared for anything. Even a wolf in Bodie's clothing.
"Who is it?" came a low voice from behind the door.
"Little Red Riding Hood. Your better half. Who'd you think?"
He could hear bolts being drawn. The door opened. Bodie stared at his partner, his hand slowly leaving the inside of his jacket.
"Don't be all day about it, Bodie," said Doyle, irritably. He pushed past his partner into the habitation's sole room, stone-flagged floor, wooden table, two chairs; Bodie's sleeping bag still rolled up in a corner. Behind him, Bodie silently shut and locked the door. Then he turned to face his partner, who was hitched up on the table, watching him.
"Cowley had a change of heart," said Doyle, by way of explanation, dropping his aitches in the manner of a man who cares not where they fall.
"Cowley hasn't got a heart." Bodie's eyes were narrowed in a dark, suspicious line; his nostrils were very slightly flared and his mouth was set in an uncompromising, belligerent pout.
Doyle shrugged, and began to unpack his holdall. Out came the bottle of Glenfiddich -- he placed it, with satisfaction, beside its twin already reposing on the solid oak dresser.
"I don't need help to handle one bloody sniper, Doyle."
"I know that," answered Doyle. He hauled out the paperback he might get time to read, a towel. Clean T-shirts, underwear he'd packed in case of a protracted stay he left in the bag. "Think I'd be here on my account? Cowley's orders, mate."
"He didn't seem exactly prostrate with concern when I left."
"Changed his mind. I told you. Stuff it, Bodie. You've got me now, no argument. Let's get down to business. The old man thinks it might be inside."
Bodie, diverted at last from the inquisition into his partner's unexpected appearance, curled his lip. "Inside? No chance."
"Remember the earlier gun job? Three Clouds Lane, few weeks ago. Call for the pick-up came through CI5 channels," Doyle reminded him. "Simple shot at a sitting duck lured to the set-up place to wait for a non-existent passenger. Couldn't have been easier. Only it went wrong. Because I was there. And no one could have known that in advance, not even any CI5 turncoat. Pass me a drink, will you?"
Thinking, Bodie got the bottle down, poured two slugs of it into tumblers, passed one to Doyle. Careful of his appearance as ever, he was wearing a black shirt which made his skin look pale, in contrast to the dark hair and sombre brooding eyes. It struck Doyle, not for the first time, that his partner was a very attractive man. And for once, not aware of it as he said:
"We agreed that was unconnected. Helen Grieve passed on that message to me because it was on her desk in writing. A mistake; mess-up in the filing clear out. The shot could have been anyone. Kid fooling with a neighbour's rifle. Someone we've riled in the past spotting us and taking a chancy pot shot."
"Yeah, and might not have been. But we'll find out soon enough anyway," said Doyle. "He'll be lying out there with a bullet in him and we just get the ident. and motive job." That was hard, for Doyle. He seemed uncharacteristically tense and sombre. Bodie, about to comment to that effect, saw his partner's set face and thought better of it. Instead, he raised his tumbler:
"Cheers," said Doyle, and raised his in mocking salute.
They cooked a simple meal from Bodie's meagre supplies on the two ring Calor gas burner, ate, washed-up, prepared to settle in the early evening for a long wait. The one-roomed cottage had no electricity, though there was a toilet and washbasin -- 'cold water', said Bodie, expressionless -- attached, and was reasonably easy to secure. In the dark, they began to talk, to while away the hours of waiting.
Doyle started. He'd been miles away. "Ellie. She's over."
He felt, rather than heard, Bodie's sudden attention. He made his own voice easy, relaxed. "Yeah. CI5 and women, you know, they don't mix."
Bless him or damn him, Doyle didn't know which, Bodie didn't take it up.
"Pity. I was thinking -- you and Ellie, me and Diane, we could have joined up one evening, gone to that little place along...."
Doyle had reached into his bag for the serious armoury he'd brought along, and was fitting together a rifle. "Diane? That's a new one. Funny. I thought you were off women."
There was a space of a few seconds. Doyle, unhurried, slotted the barrel over the next section and didn't look up. They were sitting with their backs against the wall; Bodie was looking down at him, his expression unreadable.
"What makes you think that?" he said in a flat, cool voice.
Doyle took a squint through the sights. "Don't hear so much about them."
Bodie thought about it carefully. What was Doyle playing at? Could he be making a cautious opening? Too soon to tell. His treacherous heart was beginning to race. Dangerous game, this. Especially if it turned out that only one of them was playing. Which seemed likely....
He ducked out, again. "Doesn't mean I'm not getting my share. Less talk, more action." He gave Doyle a heavy-lidded leer.
"And are you?"
"Am I what?"
"Gettin' your share. As you so charmingly put it."
"More than my share," said Bodie, smirking and mendacious.
Suddenly Doyle gave a short laugh. "Daft, isn't it?" he remarked, laying the completed rifle to one side.
Bodie was mystified by his partner tonight. "What's daft?"
"The bloody games we play."
Bodie felt carefully around this remark. Before he could reply, Doyle was continuing: "So much effort. You watch 'em and wine them and dine them, whisper sweet nothings at them, you make your move. All that time and energy. And for what? Just so you can make 'em give in, let you push yourself into them, spend a few minutes heaving about so you can come inside them -- and then it's all over. Until you get hot again. And again.... It's a pointless exercise, when you think about it."
In the dark, Bodie shut his eyes. The graphic words, coming from his normally more reticent partner, coupled with a vivid mental image that had come into his mind while Doyle was speaking, had had the immediate effect of arousing Bodie painfully. He was taken back to a time when he was fifteen, innocently passing an open door, and had glimpsed within the full-breasted half-naked body of a 17-year-old friend, changing out of her tennis gear. The shock of the instant hard excitement had been the same then as it was now; it had been a long time since blasé Bodie was so easily aroused.
He shifted position a little and said casually, "That's a bit strong, isn't it, Doyle? A little pessimistic. It doesn't have to be wham bang and thank you. There's plenty of fun to be had beforehand if you know the right techniques." The smug assurance in his voice was meant to convey the message that he, Bodie, was right up to date with any technique you cared to name, not to mention a few you probably couldn't.
Doyle was used to Bodie's style of braggadocio, and ignored it. He had risen to rummage in his bag. He paused to listen at the walls -- Bodie had earlier laid an unobtrusive circle of brittle, hard-snapping twigs in a ten foot radius of the cottage -- and returned to sit beside Bodie, a Magnum between his legs and a jar of gun oil at his side. He had slightly misjudged the relative positions of their bodies; now, every time he leant forward his shoulder brushed against Bodie's drawn-up thighs. Bodie didn't move. He liked it.
It was a surprise when Doyle resumed the conversation; Bodie had assumed it closed.
"Yeah. What you said just sums it up. That word you used -- techniques. As if it's a bloody military operation. A cut-and-thrust CI5 manoeuvre timed and planned down to exact limits." Doyle sounded terse, concentrating on the gun he was checking over, his curly head bowed.
"It doesn't have to be like that, Doyle," said Bodie, with no trace now of mockery or cynical Bodieism in his voice. "It can be better than that."
"Yeah," Doyle agreed. He raised his eyes from the gun and stared unseeingly ahead. Remembering Ann? Bodie wondered.
"Come on now, Ray," he said bracingly. "You can't really seriously be telling me you're off sex. You know it can be good. The best thing there is.... It depends on your attitude."
"Yeah, well, maybe that's what's wrong. My attitude died. Someone shot at it. Death gets to you. I dream I'm coming high-velocity bullets these days."
There was a queer bitterness in Doyle's voice. Before Bodie, stunned and silent could reply, Doyle was shoving at him with a flurry of irritability.
"Give me more room, will you? Can't see a damn thing in this light."
Something was wrong, and Bodie, lost in his own confusion, didn't know how to help. After a while, he began to regale Doyle with mildly ribald tales of his past and Doyle's own, as if nothing untoward had passed, reminding him of the time they had taken the two Durham University girls boating; they had all ended up soaked to the skin. The plump waitress who couldn't choose between them and settled in the end for both -- an uncomfortable memory for Bodie, that, remembering Doyle's unselfconscious nakedness then, the image dim now and touched with new wistfulness.... After a while he was rewarded by Doyle's throaty laugh at some fruity anecdote (one of pure invention) and knew the crisis, whatever it had been, was over. For now. Doyle responded as he worked over the Magnum with some raunchy stories of his own that had Bodie chuckling, even as his guts churned in a turmoil of desire and indecision.... He sensed there would never be a 'right' time for this; that it might as well be now.
It might as well be now. You never know until you try. Ask and you shall be given. You never know your luck. Ten-million-dollar question time. The trite phrases bounced up at him incessantly. Bodie squeezed his nails into his unseen palm, felt the tension in his stomach ball into a tighter knot, the sweat beneath his arms icy on his goose-bumped flesh, and said in a completely casual, nonchalant voice:
"Did you ever make it with another bloke?"
In the silence that lasted for [no] more than one rushed heartbeat, Bodie ran over Ray Doyle's possible reactions to this bombshell -- a fist in the face seemed the most likely.
Doyle hardly glanced up from his lap. "Nah," he said briefly, and picked up the rag soaked in gun oil. He briskly began to apply it to the mechanism.
Even as Bodie's pounding stress symptoms began to slow down, the heady drop of disappointment was there rushing into its place. He grunted, noncommittally, and leant back against the wall, closing his eyes. That was it, then. 'Nah.' Not that he'd really expected any different, he told himself.
The abrupt, unexpected continuation startled Bodie's eyes wide open. The knot of tension was instantly back, with a friend.
"A few, yeah," he said casually through his dry mouth and the cannonball in his throat.
He caught the gleam of Doyle's eyes in the half-light as Doyle looked up at the cool enigmatic face of his partner with curiosity.
"What -- all the way?"
Bodie gave a wolfish don't-care Bodie grin. "Yeah...." His heart was thudding so fast he thought Doyle must hear it.
Doyle looked away, apparently losing attention. "Never interested me."
"Ah," said Bodie. With a sudden vicious movement he was on his feet, snapping, "Get that bloody gun together, Doyle. You're supposed to be saving my life, remember?"
Doyle raised a thoughtful eye to his partner's ramrod back, but he said nothing. There was silence for several minutes. The enforced inactivity and the tension was beginning to wear on their nerves as far as their personal relationship went, but it did not impair their working efficiency. And never must. That was why they were a team. That was why they were still alive.
That was why, when five minutes later a shot rang out over their roof, echoed, was followed by another at one side, they were perfectly in unison as they dropped to crouch, guns drawn, frozen in twin perfect poses of catlike alert.
There were other shots. None hit close. When they finally died away, Bodie rolled to the window, flattened himself beside it and peered out. He could see nothing untoward in the dusk; no movements.
Doyle made for the door. "I'll go."
Bodie pulled him back, tucking his gun inside his holster and pushing past him, saying over his shoulder, "He's not supposed to know you're here. You're the ace up my sleeve, right?"
Kneeling by the open window, Doyle watched, every muscle tensed, his rifle trained exactingly on the lithe dark figure of his partner, at first skulking round the four walls of the lodge, then loping zigzag fashion for the open. He kept Bodie's head in his sights. I could kill you, Bodie. Astounding thought. I could kill you here and now, and you wouldn't know what hit you.
Or he could kill Bodie any one of a hundred times a year, with less direct methods, simply by being a fraction of a second too late giving him cover; making any one of a hundred warnings just -- too -- late.... His hand froze on the trigger, angrily. Too much. There was too much feeling. It had happened despite all their unconscious resolve; they had broken the unbreakable rule. They were like one person, and if anything happened to Bodie now Ray Doyle was also a finished man. He watched his gun hand, amazingly, shake. How had he been so weak as to let it happen? The future was a blank. He had no idea what would happen to them.
He had lost Bodie now in the woods. How could you give cover to a man you couldn't see? He waited. There was no sound, just the breeze in the trees, the intermittent squawking of the birds settling for the night. It had been too long; he'd have to go out. Bodie might be lying there dead right now, that arrogant suave figure sprawled on muddy earth, his blue eyes half-open, gazing sightlessly at his outflung hands. Conquered at last. Their luck couldn't hold forever. Get your affairs in order; encouraging advice to a new recruit. Had Bodie set his affairs in order? Doyle didn't care, about anything to do with life-after-Bodie.
There was a noise, close at hand. Doyle whirled round, on his knees, every CI5-trained muscle perfectly coordinated, both hands on the Magnum aimed at the door. It opened slowly.
Bodie stood there, tall and solid and uninjured, his dark eyes hard in the low light. In one hand he held his gun, exactingly trained on Doyle as Doyle's was on him. From the other dangled a small corpse, feathered and bloody.
Relaxing his gun arm, stashing the weapon away one-handed, Bodie threw the butchered pheasant on the floor between them.
"Poachers," he said, expressionless. "I'll pluck, you draw, okay?"
Bodie went off to wash, leaving Doyle to stare at the pathetic, glassy-eyed body.
Doyle took the first watch. He surveyed the dirty, cracked windows ceaselessly. Behind him Bodie rolled and twitched in restless slumber. Doyle turned to look at his sleeping partner. Something about the movements....
"What are you up to?"
The bag shifted, and stilled.
"Nothing. Can't sleep." The disembodied voice had a faintly defensive, quivering edge.
Doyle stared. And threw back his head in silent, choking laughter.
"Randy bastard. All that hot talk get you going, did it? Don't mind me. You carry on." He chuckled to himself, turning back to the window.
"Fuck off, Doyle," came Bodie's curt, muffled voice; he turned over violently, shrugging the sleeping bag up furiously over his hot face, and took his helpless hurting feelings to sleep.
He was awoken much later by a featherlight touch. He stared up into Ray Doyle's eyes. They were hard, quite expressionless. Doyle was on the job.
"Company," said Doyle in an undertone.
Bodie scrambled quietly out of the sleeping bag, instantly awake and with all personal considerations forgotten. Doyle talked very quietly, bringing him up to date with the utmost economy of detail.
"Pencil flashlight. 50 yards off, intermittent -- he's in the trees."
Visibility from the paned windows was reasonable, thanks to the moonlight. The two CI5 men knew there were only three possibilities here, in this situation, with one door only to the cabin and windows to the front alone. Either their man would take the cabin, depending on a sleeping, unaware victim. Or, if he had access to any kind of armoury and instant, uncomplicated destruction was his plan, the cabin would offer no cover against grenades, or worse. Or he might be setting himself up, digging in during the last quiet night hour, ready to take his man after dawn, the moment he came into the open.
Options 1 and 3 would suit the two agents fine. They had three unstoppable advantages in either scenario; firstly, there were two of them, secondly, they knew he was here, and thirdly, they were hard men superbly trained for this very job; they were professionals.
Option 2 was the obvious sinker.
At this very second, a grenade or something similarly designed for use against soft-skinned targets in inadequate cover might be making its carefree way towards them. That picture was looming very large in Bodie's imagination just then. He rose to his feet in one smooth movement, shrugging into his holster.
"I'm going out."
Doyle caught at his arm. "Think about it."
Both men sensed that this time it was the real thing.
Bodie threw Doyle off, easily. "This is what we came for," he said, impatiently. "Come on, Doyle. What chance has he got in this light at a moving target, however hot a shot he is? And the second he shows, you'll be here all ready to give him the surprise of his life."
In the half-light Bodie moved around quickly and quietly, a bulky shadow. Doyle hoped he, crouched by the window with the rifle, was invisible to any watching eyes. This time he kept his gaze not on Bodie, but sweeping exhaustingly, unceasingly around the clump of trees that bordered the clearing. Any movement and he'd see it. He had no doubt that Bodie's gunman would not last five seconds after making his first shot; Doyle had confidence in his own ability. He knew, too, Bodie would be doing all the right things, keeping within Doyle's range, making himself as chancy a target as he knew how. But -- there was always the risk --
All his instincts rose up in revolt. He should have pressed Bodie to think harder before this muddle-headed hero's way out -- with a punch on the jaw to highlight his argument, if need be. Now Bodie was out there alone, his frail skin and bone relentlessly exposed to a sniper's bullet which could come from any direction.
Damn Bodie anyway. Little bolts of tension assaulted Doyle from everywhere, raising the hairs on his neck, his scalp prickling. I shouldn't have laughed at him...
It was his last thought before it all began.
Bodie was feeling the dawn chill, but he felt marvellously awake, every sense clear and alert. He and Doyle, together; they could take anybody. A whole bloody battalion. He paced around, dodging erratically, waiting for some sight, some movement that would give him warning. He'd have to be quite sure, 100%. It wouldn't look too good if CI5 caused the death of some innocent poacher or estate worker out for an innocuous stroll and attracted by the weird sight of Bodie's shady pre-dawn dance in and around the trees....
There was a sudden movement, a cracking of twigs. He whirled and crouched, ready for a split second assessment, and to fire if need be.
A figure detached itself from the opposing trees, and made its leisurely way towards his colleague. "Hello, Bodie."
It was such an anti-climax. Released from caution, Bodie shook his head, an amused crinkle passing over his lips as he began to rise.
"Christ, Don. Don't tell me Cowley's sending more reinforcements. At this rate, maybe the whole of CI5 will be here on bodyguard duty by sunrise." The older man really must care, he thought to himself; somewhere behind that granite exterior maybe there beat a heart of pure --
Hilliard's face was puzzling him --
Too late, far too late, Bodie saw the trap; the cold-eyed resolution akin to fanaticism in the eyes of the other CI5 agent as he fired his gun.
A searing, shattering pain rent through Bodie and he was flung backwards, astonished to find his legs folding under him and the ground smacking into his head. Time blinked out.
Doyle had shot his man with deadly accurate aim. He had grasped the run of things far quicker than his partner, but still too late. At the moment Doyle's bullet impacted with his guts, Hilliard's own gun had gone off, a reflex spasm of his trigger finger, spraying off an aimlessly lethal round of bullets. One had taken Bodie...
Hilliard lay twitching and groaning. Doyle's bullet had been planned for his groin. He hoped, abstractly, he hadn't severed the main femoral artery; he wanted Hilliard to go right on living. For now.
He spared Hilliard one more glance. Just one; to ensure he was still alive and not likely to move again until the cavalry arrived. Then he never wanted to have to look at him again.
Bodie lay sprawled out much as Doyle had earlier, blackly, fantasized. Dropping to his knees beside Bodie, Doyle worked quickly. He slit Bodie's shirt with firm hands that barely shook at all, parting it to reveal the bullet wound in his shoulder, noting with relief that it didn't look too serious. He pressed a sterile pad from the medical kit in his bag over it and packed wadding over that, finally fastening Bodie's jacket tightly across it all to keep it secure even if Bodie moved while he was gone. He had one last check on Bodie's breathing before turning him into the recovery position. A final glance around; then he ran for the edge of the wood, scrabbling over the wall and dropping down near his concealed bike.
It took him three minutes to reach the phone; he waited just long enough to hear his urgent request for an ambulance acknowledged, then slammed down the receiver and revved his bike back into action, leaning forward in a grim crouch and tearing along the deserted country lanes leaving a trail of exhaust smoke. All was just as he'd left it.
He went once more to the fallen body of his mate, and knelt by his side. Still out cold. Worried, Doyle checked him carefully, but he was breathing without difficulty. Must have banged his head as he fell, he decided, and with that thought Doyle studied him, with almost dispassionate interest; he swept the sweat-darkened hair -- funny, it was beginning to curl in the dewy air, off Bodie's marble-white forehead. Unlike his vision, the dark eyes were closed; the eggshell pallor of the lids accentuated by the strange dawn light, blue shadows around the hollows there. His face looked cynical, even cruel. Doyle had no illusions about Bodie. No one had. He was a hard, determined man, capable of violence, even sadism if the occasion looked right for it. But Ray Doyle knew Bodie better than anyone in the world did. Inside Bodie's iron-hard shell lived something else, something that had been tentatively offered to Doyle. Who had rejected it, only hours before.
He continued his exploration, down to the thin mouth that barely moved sometimes when he spoke, let some dry comment out of it that would amuse or infuriate. Down to the strong neck, the powerful line of the shoulders.
Doyle took a deep, hissing breath. Where was the bloody ambulance? Bodie was lucky to be alive at all. Anger rose in him, a monstrous anger directed right at Bodie for his ruinous misjudgment. Usually suspicious and hard to win, this time his instincts had let him down. Bodie sighed, a whisper of warm breath that touched Doyle's hand.
"Bodie," said Doyle, aloud.
Bodie did not stir, could not be reached.
Doyle lowered his head. "Bodie," he whispered.
The single, anguished cry, hurled out with all the despairing force at Doyle's command, rent the still air and the silence of a pre-dawn forest.
It reached a pair of alert ears, not far off.
"Faster," rapped out Cowley.
Cowley, sharp-eyed, gazed piercingly at his surly young operative who was lounging against the wall, arms folded, one off-white sneakered foot resting on his other calf.
"There's something wrong with your attitude, 4.5."
Doyle emitted a sigh and shifted, his eyes pointedly fixed on a point just past his chief. Normally intolerant of the slightest hint of insubordination, on this occasion, Cowley, who could see that there was something very wrong, was trying very hard to understand. But Doyle was fast outlasting his patience.
"Is it Armstrong? Are you finding it difficult to work with him?"
Doyle looked at him then, his eyes wide. The last thing he wanted to do was give Cowley the impression he was sulky and off-key because he wasn't working with Bodie.
"Armstrong's a good man. We work well together. Don't we, sir?" he said, challengingly.
Cowley acknowledged it; yes, Doyle and the new laddie he'd been teamed with were efficient and capable together, no clash of personality. But there was something missing; that extra, almost telepathic interaction he had come to depend on from Doyle and his partner. He would not, for example, happily risk sending 4.5 and 4.2 into the sort of top-flight operation he had always reserved for Bodie and Doyle.
No sense hoping this tough independent man would confide in him, pour out his troubles to Cowley's practical ear. Doyle was far too remote, too self-contained for that; he was way out in a place Cowley couldn't reach. Bodie too. It couldn't be good for the pair of them. You could only take the old tenet of 'if you never care, you never get hurt' so far before the last vestige of feeling, the ability to let oneself feel, died; crushed beneath the years of automatic repression.
"No more time to discuss the matter," he said brusquely, "if you could call it a discussion, given this incommunicative mood you seem to be in. 3.7 leaves the hospital today; he is lucky it wasn't much worse than a simple shoulder wound. He tells me you haven't been to see him?" He looked up suddenly, to catch Doyle's defiant-urchin expression.
"3.7 is -- was -- my working partner," said Doyle steadily. "Nothing in the rules says I have to spend my off-duty time with him."
"Oh indeed not," agreed Cowley, quietly. "Let me see -- tomorrow he leaves for one month's rehabilitation and refresher course -- three weeks if he keeps his nose to the ground. Then he'll be back on the job. Perhaps you'll revive when we get you two teamed again."
He saw with satisfaction that Doyle had come away from the wall at last, in more senses than one. He moved nearer Cowley, his eyes urgent.
"Is that -- necessary, sir?"
"How do you mean, Doyle?" Cowley regarded him with apparently total puzzlement.
"Armstrong and I work okay," repeated Doyle in a monotone. "After four weeks, Bodie and I'd need time to readjust. Why not just keep 4.2 and me together and find someone else for Bodie?"
Find someone else for Bodie. Got you, Cowley considered, with some satisfaction but no triumph. In this battle for further insight into Doyle's unease of the last week, at last he'd forced Doyle to play his hand. He replied, solemn and absolutely noncommittal:
"We can certainly consider that, yes, 4.5."
Find someone else for Bodie. For some reason Cowley couldn't get the phrase out of his head.
Doyle was knocked off course by his chief's response. He'd braced himself to meet a far more explicit reaction, and an uncomfortable inquisition. There was more to the old man than met the eye. Whatever you threw at him he was always one step ahead.
Still, Doyle mused grimly as he loped his way along the dusty streets, if Cowley knew what this was all about he was not just one jump ahead, but several, since Doyle himself had only a nebulous, clouded idea of what was wrong between him and Bodie. And still less of what to do to put it right.
His path led him into a bar and then, unable to settle, into another. In the third, he saw a face he knew, Freya Anstee, a dark and vivacious girl who worked in one of the other service units and who had seen quite a lot of Bodie at one time. Before the unknown Diane, anyway. Tonight, however, she was with a tow-headed public-school type in a blazer. She had noticed him. When the Eton vet disappeared into the Gents she came over to where Doyle sat nursing his pint.
"Hello, Ray," she said, smiling.
Her perfume hit him like an aromatic cushion. He acknowledged her with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
"How's Bodie?" she continued as he had known she inevitably would. "I heard he stopped a bullet a while back." Her eyes were wide and troubled.
"Bodie's fine. Back to his former perfection of figure. I see you've traded him in for a new model, in any case." He jerked an ironic glance, dead-eyed, towards the Gents.
"Not my doing," she said quietly. "I'd have him back tomorrow."
"Well, that's CI5 for you, love. They don't allow emotional involvement. It's written on every pay cheque and you have to sign to say you haven't committed it before they release the cash."
He was probably a little drunk, he decided. He stared at her provocatively, up and down. Bodie had known that pretty little body.
"I see," she said after a moment. He was making her uneasy tonight, this friend of Bodie's. "Well, all the best, Ray. And to Bodie."
As he supposed he had known he would, he ended up at Bodie's flat. He rang at the door, in code.
Bodie appeared. White-faced, sleek and unsmiling, he confronted Doyle. Doyle faced him out. When Bodie spoke, it was with heavy sarcasm.
"Don't I know you from somewhere? Wait a moment -- give me time...begins with a D, am I right?"
Without replying Doyle pushed past him and went in. Bodie, who wasn't yet fit, followed him. "I wasn't expecting flowers, Doyle. Don't worry about it."
"I wasn't," returned Doyle, flinging himself into one of Bodie's comfortable armchairs. He looked up. Their gazes met; moody street-wise urchin with controlled, dangerous fighter, in deadlock of a war in which neither clearly knew the areas of contention.
"Well, it's really nice to see you again," said Bodie ironically. "Make yourself at home. Have a drink."
"Coffee," said Doyle briefly.
"I -- see." Bodie, immaculate and spruce now that he had showered a week in hospital off himself, surveyed his dishevelled partner from head to foot, taking in the creased jeans, the dusty sneakers, the sweat patches under the arms of the T-shirt. "Yeah, coffee it had better be," he drawled.
While he was in the kitchen, the doorbell rang. With a scramble and a bound, Doyle was there, slamming shut the communicating door behind him. It was a girl, blonde, wide-eyed with surprise. He regarded her coolly, blocking the entrance.
"Is Bodie in? The hospital said he'd been discharged."
"He's not allowed visitors."
She tried to make sense of this. "But I visited him in the hospital yesterday -- and now they've let him home --"
"Yeah, well, he's had a bit of a relapse. Nothing to worry about, love. But absolutely no visitors. He mustn't be," said Doyle wickedly, "excited."
"Look, who are you?"
"Private nurse," Doyle told her laconically, leaning on the doorpost and enjoying the expressions of disbelief, doubt and distrust that flickered over her face as she surveyed his scruffy attire and languid posture. "The Equal Opportunities Act opened up the way for a whole lot of us."
She made up her mind. "I'll just see him for a moment. I won't disturb him."
She made a move. Doyle was upright in a second; nothing sloppy or casual about him any more as he barred the door, and his voice and eyes were hard:
"Sorry, love. Try again some time."
Doyle kicked the door shut, locked and bolted it, and sauntered back into the living room, hands in pockets. Bodie was off-loading mugs of coffee.
"Who was it?"
"Some girl. I got rid of her." He picked up his coffee, tasted it, made a face. "Too strong, this."
Bodie was outraged. "You did what?" he said, with dangerous quiet.
"You heard." He met his partner's angry, belligerent expression without flinching.
"Bloody hell, Doyle," said Bodie, tight-lipped. "What are you playing at?"
Doyle grinned at him, with feline savagery. "Ah c'mon now, Bodie. Two old mates like us -- your first day out of nick, grand reunion, you're off again tomorrow -- s'natural we'd want an evening alone together."
"How drunk are you?" demanded Bodie, after a pause.
Doyle thought about it. "Just right." He gave Bodie a big, beaming smile, drained the rest of his coffee and leant back, hands behind his head. He was here to stay.
Bodie resigned himself to it. He was even pleased by it -- not that he'd show it, any more than he'd given Doyle any hint of his puzzlement and hurt that Doyle hadn't come within a mile of him when he'd been sweating it out in hospital. They began to relax, more into the old pattern, a quiet exchange of news, gossip, opinions. They kept strictly off the personal. After a while Doyle decided he was ready for another drink. Bodie had one too.
Doyle eyed it. "Are you supposed to be on alcohol?" It was the first reference, however oblique, he had made to Bodie's week-old injury.
"Sure," Bodie answered easily, "I'm off drugs now." Doyle had breached the wall; he supposed he was also freed from constraint, and so he continued, "I hear you made Hilliard less of a man." Nasty what Doyle had done to Hilliard.
Doyle took a gulp of whisky. "He never was a man to start with," he said, with deep, controlled violence. "More of a rat."
Bodie began vaguely to sense the source of the immediate problem. "Good job I had you with me, mate. If --"
Doyle cut him off, getting up and going for the whisky bottle. "Oh yeah. Fine bloody job I made of protecting you, didn't I? A whole CI5 agent all to yourself delegated full-time to your protection, and you fucking well end up with a bullet that much away from your bloody heart...."
Doyle rounded on him, spilling some of the whisky suspended over his glass.
"And you're not much better! Inside -- I warned you Cowley said it might be inside, and what happens?" He positively hurled the words out at Bodie standing narrow-eyed and cool. "A prime suspect turns up in the right place at the right time waving a gun around, and what do you do? You only welcome him, that's all; spread your arms and present him with a perfect target area -- " He paused for breath; a wild dramatic figure waving a dripping bottle in one hand and a glass in the other, eyes staring out in blazing anger.
Mindful of his carpet, Bodie stepped over to rescue the bottle. Doyle wouldn't let go of it. They both hung on, forgetting it, staring at each other.
"Okay," said Bodie at last, "I made a mistake. Let's cool down." He finally wrenched the bottle from Doyle's unheeding grasp, set it down, took the glass too.
Doyle stayed where he was, staring at Bodie's silk shirt. "Lemme see it."
"What?" Bodie followed Doyle's eyes, understood. Doyle was a little insane tonight. Maybe he was, too. Takes one to know one. They had to be insane, in this job.
Without speaking, he began to unbutton the shirt one-handed -- the left arm was still stiff. Impatient, Doyle brushed his hand aside and did it for him, jerking the buttons free of the holes in a way that made Bodie wince for the safety of the fragile material, pulling the shirt down and away to bare Bodie's left shoulder. As Bodie's unhurried breath touched his face, Doyle stared at the smooth skin, raking the curve of the shoulder, the delicate wing of the jutting collarbone, and between them, the rough purple-black puckering where Bodie's flesh had cleaved, and painfully reknit. Bodie just stood in Doyle's hands, unmoving, instinctively knowing to allow him whatever he wanted; needed. He didn't even move when Doyle, his face set and absorbed, traced a steady finger around the very edge of the ugly scabbed wound.
Finally Doyle let him go, turned away. "My fault," he muttered.
"Yours? Nah, mate," said Bodie, determinedly cheerful as he shrugged his shirt back on. "Mine, like you said. I should've smelt a rat when Hilliard sprouted from the shrubbery."
"Yeah. You should," said Doyle, his angelic devil's features arranged in a muzzy scowl. "But when you didn't in your sweet naive trusting way, then I should have blasted his hand off so fast his fucking gun was blown away." He paced around the room, angry and restless.
Bodie took after Doyle, brought him back, pushed him onto the settee and sat down beside him, leaning forward to pour more whisky. In this mood Doyle would be better off asleep; he seemed locked in a cycle of maudlin self-deprecation, brought on, Bodie decided reasonably, by alcohol and a partly-justified sense of failure. He'd have one more try to talk him out of it; then it would just have to be a case of getting more whisky down him until he dropped.
"Look, mate," he said firmly, "I'm happy to settle for the compromise. Okay? I'm not dead, thanks to you, and Hilliard's had his just rewards for being a bent little bastard. Cowley's happy because I got my evidence safely down for the Hess trial and the whole caboodle were convicted and locked safely away last week. I'm happy because I'm still alive and still beautiful, and you can be happy because in three weeks when I get this damn shoulder loosened up I'll be back with you all ready to take on the rough and tough of the streets again, okay?"
It was a long speech for Bodie, who tended to favour the clipped laconic approach. Doyle stared at him, still frowning. Bodie couldn't tell whether he'd taken any of it in or not. He smiled again, thumped Doyle on the arm, and got up to draw the curtains -- it had gone dark, they'd been talking so long -- shutting the black night out. He went around fixing the lamps to make a nice soft glow; maybe the atmosphere would mellow Doyle up a bit. When he returned, he sat next to the hunched form of his partner again; in case Doyle started waving the bottle round again, he told himself.
"Have another drink, mate," he said amiably, and passed him his glass. Doyle took it but didn't drink, staring ahead in a moody silence, Bodie wondering what to do; how to put things right. Even if he'd known what to say, he wasn't sure he could express it. He too sat in silence.
Doyle broke it. "You remember what we were talking about? Before Hilliard broke cover?"
"Yeah," said Bodie, tight-lipped, making no pretense of amnesia. He remembered. Often.
"You really make it with blokes?"
Bodie looked at him. There was a sort of fascinated revulsion on his partner's pale face; the flawed cheekbone more pronounced than usual. Revulsion was the word that mattered. He forced a thin smile.
"Yeah well, not that often. Not lately, anyhow."
It really seemed to be bugging Doyle. His glass was twirling endlessly in his hands, his lips were tight, and his stormy eyes would not meet Bodie's.
Bodie turned truculent, his nostrils flared. "No-one you know," he said in a monotone.
"Why? Why do you do it?"
"Because I sometimes want to!" yelled Bodie, his patience at an end. "Keep your bloody nose out Doyle, if it offends you so much."
Doyle ignored him, pressing. "Do you like them?"
Bodie swung his head around, his pursed lips emitting a single, growled word, "What?"
"Do you like them? Or is it just a quick sordid grope? In the lavs maybe, doing the cottages?"
The words came tumbling out of Doyle. Bodie, angry and miserable, reached out to grab his wrist. Doyle tried to jerk it away, but Bodie hung on.
"No. It's not like that. Look, I'm sorry I ever told you. Just forget it."
"How can I forget it?" demanded Doyle. "How can I?"
"Why does it make a difference? What's it to you?" asked Bodie in return; though he thought he already knew, and that he could not, morally, bring that knowledge to Doyle, hurt and embittered him more than anything he had ever felt. Doyle had to realise it himself, if he was to know at all.
"Just tell me who," Doyle said, white-faced. "Who you fancy in CI5?"
"In CI5?" Bodie, on this moving narrow path of unpredictable dangers, was diverted. "Cowley," he said, grinning to avert the peril.
"Don't play games," Doyle hurled at him.
Bodie kept grinning, though there wasn't any humour in him; made his voice light and easy. "Christ, Doyle, I like your interrogation technique. They'd have you in the KGB. No wonder you get such good results. You're in the right job, mate."
He held on to Doyle, eventually forcing him to look, his puzzled desperate eyes meeting Bodie's dark half-smiling ones, until he felt Doyle relax, the rock-hard tendons in his wrist gradually loosening.
"You're overreacting," said Bodie, softly.
Doyle took his hand away, buried his palms hard into his eyes. "Is it Murph?" he said, muffled.
"Murph?" Bodie laughed quietly, to conceal his surprise. "Murph's okay. But I'm not daft enough to get mixed up with him that way."
Funny that Doyle should have picked on Murph. Bodie had often traced the lean body of his colleague with a lazy eye, and wondered what it would be like to make it with Murph. Hard and violent, probably; the way he liked it. The only way he liked it, with men. Bodie knew his man too, knew the signs to look for, the half-signals of cautious interest; Murph wouldn't say no. But Murph was a professional too; he knew the risks; and Murph hadn't asked.
Bodie needed to be asked. Always.
He eyed Ray Doyle again, the pale tough-guy who guarded his back in fights. Two chances. He could turn this aside with equal belligerence and fast talk to match and counterpoint Doyle's, and it would pass off, go away as if it had never existed; it was easy, he'd done it before when Doyle was in some emotional trouble Bodie didn't want to get involved in, just make sure it got smoothed over. So had Doyle, when Bodie was the one with the unresolved inner unease. No commitment -- that meant no real help; just be there to be shouted at, aid the patching over until one's own inner responses recovered from whatever battering they had taken and took over.
This was different. For one thing, he was already involved. It was a mutual problem.
The other choice meant giving more of himself than he'd ever allowed anyone to have; and even though the person might be right, he wasn't sure the time was. Doyle wouldn't ask, Bodie thought angrily to himself; he's giving out all the signs, making all the talk, he's fishing. Is it possible that he doesn't know what he's doing? That he's still deluding himself about the whole thing, truly believes that what he's feeling is just shock that his partner's macho image suddenly took a self-confessed dent a week ago? Or is he just resentful, can't take the discovery that he's not alone any more and doesn't want to try to be? All that hard-won independence, it was gone. For them both. Maybe -- they might as well face up to it --
He waited, irresolute, half-turned on the settee to face Doyle, his frowning dark gaze unconsciously raking him up and down, trying to think. He was waiting, not for Doyle to move, having assessed that was impossible, but for some decision to come from within himself. Just as he had reached it, Doyle took matters out of his hands.
He smiled, rakishly, and reached out to touch Bodie's chest. "Come on then. You'd better show me."
His words were very slightly slurred. Bodie found himself saying stupidly, "Show you what?"
"Show me what to do," said Doyle impatiently, as if the whole turmoil and indecision had taken place in Bodie's imagination alone. He looked relaxed and very sweet-tempered. "I don't know, do I? Not my scene, before. Told you that." His hand went to his belt; he began to slide it free of the buckle.
Bodie paused. "Doyle --" he began in an annoying, patronising tone, as if Doyle was proposing some outlandish, totally irresponsible plan of action in the face of a situation that needed careful thought; but Doyle cut him off again, struggling out of his T-shirt:
"Can't have you wasting it all on Murph."
So.... He hadn't had to ask....
The moon was here, in his hands, and he could not make it real. His heart was jolting and his breath was tight and his throat, and it was very tempting to take the line of least resistance, simply to reach out.... His eye caught the whisky bottle, half-empty on the table, and his mind made rapid calculations even as his senses impatiently urged the total abandonment of caution -- maybe four, five singles before he arrived, two since --
He drew back from Doyle, grinning with difficulty. "Not while you're drunk, sweetheart," he managed, between a shaky laugh and a gasp. "Come on -- sleep it off, eh sunshine?"
He reached forward to pull his partner to his feet, meaning to put him to bed; Doyle drunk usually offered little resistance. Instead, a steely hand fended him off, and he gazed, startled, down into the unshadowed, wide-awake eyes of Ray Doyle.
"I'm not drunk, Bodie," he said clearly. "Don't play so hard to get."
The hand on Bodie's turned from resistance into a caress, running up Bodie's arm; steadily he drew Bodie down. He was warm and pleasant to the touch. Bodie had the sudden, last minute thought that maybe this was kind of a mad thing to do. But it was already too late; Doyle had called his bluff and changed the run of things at a stroke. Already, in the seconds that had passed, he was no longer just another bloke, not just a mate who meant more to him than some because he was Bodie's working partner, the one he had learnt to entrust his life to; with one move he had become -- a lover. Someone Bodie had to discover anew, in a totally different light from the one he was familiar with; he had to find how he felt and how he tasted and how he liked to be touched, what gave him pleasure....
It was a minefield, full of traps.
For a moment, he panicked, but as Doyle, lost in his own thoughts, his own purpose, bore him to the ground, his doubts swept away. He felt a strange sensation in his guts, a sweet melting tenderness that Doyle should want to do this; the alert tingling of arousal, and something more: a release that was almost mystical; he didn't have to fight any more. He was aware of the dim lights to one side of him, the softness of the carpet beneath him, the constriction of his clothes, the warm heavy body covering him, and something else, more directly classifiable --
"Be careful," he said, again half-laughing because at last it had come right for them, "I just got put together courtesy of the NHS -- "
Doyle withdrew instantly, rolling off him, lying there on the white carpet staring up at Bodie, eyes unfathomable, very passive, his clothing disarranged. It made an attractive picture. Bodie finished undressing him, kneeling over him carefully, half afraid to touch, drawing clothes away with infinite care as if any moment Doyle might scare like an ungentled animal.
"Come on, Bodie," whispered Doyle, watching him through half-closed eyes. "Come on. Don't be so bloody half-hearted. Do it...."
Doyle didn't seem to have any hang-ups about being naked under Bodie's scrutiny. He simply waited, in a suspension of calm, for whatever Bodie wanted to do next. It was Bodie who was suddenly full of inhibitions. Bodie drew a shaky hand through his own hair, as he stared down at his partner. He was -- beautiful, bare but for one silver identity bracelet, a silver chain resting against the hollows of his throat. Bodie stared at the polished sheen of skin stretched over the symmetry of bone; the silky hair of chest, arm, groin; the tight elegant line of his pose a sculptor's dream. Or Bodie's. He was having trouble dealing with all of this; too many sensations crowding him all at once. Doyle, watching him, saw the problem. He removed his arm from where he had propped it behind his head, and reached out to undo Bodie's shirt, for the second time in less than an hour.
"I thought you knew how to set about all this," he said in a voice that was only slightly ragged. "Me, it's a first. But I'd lay ten to one that at least we both have to have our clothes off...."
Bodie, trained to overlook pain, was only slightly awkward because of the injured shoulder. Carefully, without finesse, because he was too bemused for a clever campaign, he just let his body sink onto Doyle's, felt the meeting of soft-hard flesh, warm skin on skin; he pressed himself gently into Doyle, all Doyle's mysterious, sweet sensuality there to receive him and make him welcome. Astounded, he buried his mouth in Doyle's hair and squeezed his eyes shut, tight, tighter....
Through the gentle hazy throb of receding pleasure, he felt Doyle pushing at him -- "Get off, you're squashing me --" Sighing, he rolled over and glanced at Doyle, seeing the glistening stickiness on Doyle's lower belly and its reflection on his own. He made a little, contented sound and gave Doyle's sweat-streaked face a Bodie grin.
"How long?" gasped Doyle, his breath scarcely yet back to normal, stretching his cramped limbs. Bodie's pleasantly solid body weighed a ton -- not that he'd noticed, at the time.
"Dunno, wasn't timing it." Bodie was bursting with happiness and triumph, and trying not to show it. But the irrepressible curve of his lips, the unfamiliar spark of delight in the cool, dark eyes gave it all away.
"I meant, how long till the next time?"
Bodie's eyes made a long meaningful wander over the damp and obviously sated condition of their relaxed bodies. "Give me a chance, mate," he murmured, "Can't get enough of me already, can you?" He gave Doyle a smug, cocky grin.
Doyle gave him a quelling look, and continued, "Not much to that, was there? There's gotta be more to it than that."
"Not much...?" Bodie thought it had been the most delightful, uncomplicated sweetest pleasure he had ever experienced in the whole of his turbulent life; from the slow tense start, through the sudden eased-into discovery of a gentle slick rhythm, to the sweet, astonishing bursts of sharp melting pleasure that had taken them both by surprise.... "Put it this way, mate," he said casually, considering his simile, "you were like suddenly making the perfect rallying circuit -- after a hell of a lot of trial runs."
Doyle's lips quirked, at last, into a smile; and he glanced over at his mate lounging all over the floor. "Yeah...but there's more. We gotta try the rest." Doyle the ex-copper was a thorough man.
"Any time you're ready," said Bodie, tipping his head back on the soft carpet. He looked as if he were already half-asleep.
Doyle reached out, covered Bodie's heart with his hand. Its beat was slowing from the fast pace he had felt thudding touchingly against his own chest; as he held his hand there it began to pick up speed again. Bodie's eyes flicked open.
"Try me," said Ray Doyle; and a slow smile of invitation began to curve his lips as he settled back once more and waited for Bodie to come to him.
This time, Bodie knew what he was doing, and he was no longer shy. Freed from the dazed urgency of his own need, he could put it to one side and seek out Doyle's. He pursued Doyle's pleasure single-mindedly, with all the skill he knew -- or, fired on by this new, fragile love, could improvise. He kissed Doyle's mouth softly; one hand twining gently in the curly tangle of Doyle's hair; then fiercer, suddenly assaulting him with lips, tongue and teeth, searching the inner softness of his mouth; then gently once more, soothing the tender abused flesh with penitent licks. He caressed Doyle's skin with his fingertips, gentle as a bird; and rubbed his tongue slowly around Doyle's nipples, letting his teeth close gently there, feeling Doyle shiver. He talked to him, low, telling him he was beautiful here, and here; yes, he was beautiful; that it was arousing to touch him like this; it was exciting for Bodie to do this to him. He laid a delicate trail with his mouth along the tender skin of Doyle's flat belly, to his hip bones; back again to the soft relaxed flesh of his parted thighs, totally absorbed in the wonder of it all, at Doyle's allowing him to do this.
"Do you think -- Cowley's -- watching us?" gasped Doyle, his eyes on the ceiling.
"Concealed camera -- in the room --"
"Well, if he is --" Bodie blew, gently, on Doyle's genitals, watched him quiver, admiringly -- "he'd have to be enjoying it."
As his mouth took Doyle in, drew him in, Doyle gave a sigh, his lashes wavering, then falling shut; and his hands moved to hold Bodie's head close to him, his fingers making gentle wanderings in the feathery dark hair.
Bodie was asleep. He'd dropped quite suddenly, in the end. Of course; he was only a matter of hours away from the hospital. Mind you, he'd seemed to have plenty of energy when he'd needed it. Bodie was tough; he'd have taken no harm from this.
No physical harm. Ray Doyle, wide awake and totally sobered, every muscle in his body relaxed, contented and at peace, was unable to bring the same tranquillity to his mind. After the hesitant start, it had all seemed to be so simple for Bodie; having made his choice he seemed so sure of what he wanted and how to deal with it. He watched Bodie sleep, there on the floor in the low-lit room, all the hard lines of his aggressive fighter's face softened. Killing the threatening burst of sentimentality before it got half-way, he reached out and touched his partner's skin; cool. Doyle got to his feet, quietly went through to the bedroom, pulled a blanket from the pristine bed. He draped it over Bodie, who didn't move. Bodie, whose last waking words had been 'I love you'.
Or would have been. Doyle had clamped his hand over Bodie's treacherous mouth, cutting the words off. "Don't say it," he had said, savagely. "Don't ever say it...."
It was getting chilly in the room; the central heating must have switched off. He checked his watch -- 0325. Six hours. From the scattered heaps of clothing he extracted his T-shirt and pants, put them on, padded into the bedroom for another blanket, switched off the last lights and settled down on the sofa, listening to Bodie breathe deep and regular.
0630. Far-off, the doorbell rang. Doyle cursed dozily and shrugged the blanket further over his face. But, with the anaesthetic of sleep broken, slowly various little discomforts began to impinge themselves on his dawning consciousness. Such as, a) he was cold, deep-through shivery cold under a too-thin covering; b) he was lying on something hard and unyielding in the wrong places; c) he needed desperately to pee and d) the doorbell was still ringing.
Groaning, he pushed himself off the settee, nearly fell over the sleeping form of his partner recumbent on the floor, pulled on his jeans and walked soft-footed to the front door.
He applied himself to the small spy-hole. In miniature and terrifyingly distorted stood a dapper man in a beige raincoat, his hugely looming eye fixed, it seemed, unerringly on Doyle.
"Just a minute, sir," called Doyle, now fully awake and not finding it a comfortable sensation, pelting off before he could hear Cowley's reply. He kicked at Bodie, who still hadn't stirred; then bent down and shook him on the uninjured shoulder, hissing into his ear -- "Get up, Rip van Winkle, the old man's at the door--"
It wasn't the first time he had had to wake Bodie up. Bodie, as always, made some indistinguishable noises deep in his throat, rolled over and looked up. He focused on Doyle's face, and without warning his sleepy features were lit by a sweet, dazzling smile.
It both melted and terrified Doyle. He grabbed at the reaction he could deal with. "For godsake get up Bodie," he snarled, jerking himself away, and went to open the door.
Cowley, neat as a pin and unnervingly clear-headed, eyed his two top operatives, who were half upright, distinctly unkempt and bleary-eyed, dressed -- or rather covered by -- an assortment of unwashed clothes, with a decidedly unmellow eye. He refused a seat.
"Doyle," he said with marked asperity, "you are not off duty, as far as I know. You are supposed to be available to CI5 24 hours a day unless I give you notice otherwise, is that not so?"
Doyle agreed that it was so.
Cowley pressed on. "Then why, when I require your services, are you neither in your flat, nor have you an R/T, nor have you left word as to your presumed whereabouts? Why is this, Doyle?"
"Dunno, sir," said Doyle in a monotone, studying the floor morosely. There were times when Cowley was manageable and charmable -- about as manageable and charmable as a rattlesnake, true, but this morning he could see was not even one of those.
Cowley regarded him with his head on one side, and swung around to Bodie, whom he'd expected to catch grinning, and who wasn't. "And you, 3.7, have a great deal of money and time -- CI5 money and time -- invested in you: you are less than 24 hours out of a stay in hospital to patch up a wound that could have been avoided if you and 4.5 hadn't managed a series of bungles between you -- and you choose to spend your first night home carousing around --" His eyes swept around the room expressively; the curtains still drawn, the bottle and the unwashed glasses, the tangle of bedding on the floor and the settee.
"Not carousing, sir," Bodie hastened to put in, with an injured look. "Just a quiet evening with Doyle here."
"Quiet, no doubt, but for the sound of bottle upon glass?" He made an exasperated gesture. "Really, 3.7, 4.5. The pair of you must shape up. CI5 is not some kind of joke circus with you its star clowns. A sloppy attitude often harbours sloppy thinking. You have ten minutes, Doyle, until your new partner arrives to collect you -- and I suggest you use the time to make yourself a little more presentable." Doyle was gone, the door to the living room, then the bathroom slamming. But not very hard.
Cowley didn't watch him go. "Bodie -- you have two hours to pack. A car will come for you at 8.30. I hope you are sensible enough to profit from your time with the army --"
"The -- army -- ?"
"Indeed," said Cowley , expressionless. "The army rehabilitation camp at Sapperton. An excellent place for the recovering of your skills; they're used to small gunshot wounds. A hard man, Major Jennings, old friend of mine. Don't let me down. I shall expect you back on duty when he sees fit to release you."
Doyle was in the shower. He had locked the door.
"Well?" bawled Bodie through the rush and splash of water. "Was he only pretending to be really annoyed? Or was he really annoyed?"
The water slowed to a trickle and stopped. From under the door leaked a trickle of soap-scented steam. "You heard him," came through the door. "I've got ten minutes --"
"Can I come in?"
Silence. Bodie was enraged. It was his bathroom, after all. He pondered a shoulder charge at the door; decided against it. His razor started up.
After a minute more Doyle emerged, one of Bodie's towels around his waist, his damp curling hair framing the marked angel's face. Bodie decided he looked good enough to eat. An irrepressible surge of happiness rose in him again, and he reached out as Doyle passed, caught him around the waist and hugged him.
Doyle struggled free, furious. "Try that again and you'll never lift another rifle," he stormed, and pushed past Bodie into the tidy bedroom. "Oh yeah," jeered Bodie, lightly. He propped himself against the door jamb and watched as Doyle rifled through his drawers at speed, pulling out clothes in a hurry; shirt, pants, socks. He finally wrenched open the wardrobe, hustling himself into a pair of Bodie's trousers and Bodie's second best leather jacket.
"Look, I know. Why don't you," said Bodie, loading on the sarcasm, "borrow some of my clothes?"
Doyle, satisfied with his dress, swung in front of the mirror and dragged a comb through his hair, with no noticeable result. As he came toward Bodie, the taller man blocked the door.
"Stop playing around," snapped Doyle.
Bodie only cocked him a cheeky grin, tantalisingly.
"I've only got one minute, Bodie --" Small chance, expecting Bodie to be reasonable.
Bodie launched himself at him. For one brief, outraged moment, Doyle found himself held tight against Bodie's chest, and Bodie's lips on his cheek. He sent Bodie, who wasn't expecting it, flying.
Bodie was winded, staring up from the bed where he'd landed. "Doyle --" he said, hurt.
"I haven't time, goddamnit." Doyle was retrieving his personal effects from the living room. Bodie appeared there, too.
"Last night --" All the euphoria had gone flat, minutes ago. Now it was turning sour, too.
Doyle fixed him with a cold glare. "I have to go and work. You remember work, don't you?" he said with sarky emphasis. "We haven't time to discuss it now."
"We have to discuss it," said Bodie. Now he too was deadly serious, watching his partner with cold dispassion. "You know that, Doyle."
Doyle whirled on him, at the edge of his patience and beyond. About to let fly, he looked at Bodie, saw the hurt, the confusion there, all coldly masked over because of pride. Heedless of the sudden blast on the doorbell, he dropped his face into his hands.
"I'm not sure I can handle this, Bodie," he said, muffled.
It was a breakthrough, after the blocks, dodgings and hedgings of the short morning. In two strides Bodie was there, pulling him close. Warm and reassuring and strong.
"Of course you can," he said very quietly, with absolute confidence. "You and me? Anything."
"Maybe you could. Me -- I'm not sure --"
For one precious moment he rested there, against Bodie, felt Bodie's strength, his courage; and believed for too short a time how easy it would be.... Then he pushed him away, but gently this time. The doorbell went again, a longer blast.
"Give me time to think," he said, only adding, "Look after yourself."
Bodie reached out, but Doyle was gone. Alone with his loss, Doyle's doubts shedding a deep weight of dark thoughts all around him, Bodie took a deep hard breath, his fists balled, staring at the space where Doyle had been; and then he turned slowly away to make the necessary arrangements for leaving. He was a professional.
It had been a bloody day. Despite what he had told Cowley, he found Armstrong hard going; basically still wet behind the ears, he was unnervingly conscious of Doyle's reputation, of Bodie-and-Doyle as a kind of CI5 legend; that he himself was maybe a poor second best. Potentially a good man, it was becoming obvious that this was the wrong pairing for him; constrained by the need to match up, he was stifling all his natural initiative and talent. Doyle reflected on the bad management they'd made of the day's assignment between them and winced, inwardly. He took a shower, poured himself a drink, and wondered what to do with the evening.
The telephone rang.
"Hello." The low voice, 100 miles away, came across to his weary isolated ear like an answer to a prayer. Without replying, he picked up the phone, cradling the ear piece under his chin, and moved phone and drink to a table beside his armchair.
The delay put Bodie on edge, imagining all kinds of reasons. "Are you busy?"
"No," answered Doyle, settling back. "Just getting comfortable. You okay?"
"Apart from a ten mile run -- nine-tenths of it uphill, it's that sort of landscape down here -- an hour in the physio-room with a bullet-headed sadist, an afternoon discussing combat technique in a room full of blank-eyed textbook charlies -- yeah, fine. Why bother with the South of France; I'm going to book my next holiday in here. How was your day?"
Doyle laughed, with insane relief. Home. Bodie's ironic, plaintive tones brought him home. The gloom of the day lifted, and he grinned down the phone. "Similar. Surprised to hear Cowley'd packed you off to Sapperton."
"He thought," said Bodie bitterly, "I deserved a little treat to set me up again." There was a little pause. "Are you okay?"
Doyle knew what Bodie was asking. "Suppose so ... where are you ringing from?"
"It's a bugged line," said Doyle, with confidence.
"I know that." Bodie's tone came across aggrieved.
Of course Bodie would know. Bodie was the army man. Doyle relaxed the tension he hadn't known he'd got and settled down to enjoy the call. Some bored operative would be listening to every word, meaning firstly that Bodie couldn't ask him questions he wasn't yet ready to answer, and secondly, that he saw the chance to put Bodie on the spot.
"The Major a soft touch then? Letting you use his phone. Bet you're his blue-eyed boy, him being a friend of the old man and all," he said with deliberate, happy provocation.
"Naughty Doyle," came Bodie's low sexy voice, reacting to it. "Nothing like that. The Major's a good and flexible man. He understands that I have to check in every day."
"What are the women like?"
There was another pause. Bodie's voice said: "You remember Sue Jones."
"How could I forget," said Doyle, with verve.
"-- thick blonde hair, big blue eyes, long legs ...?"
"Mmm...." Doyle approved, passionately.
"The women here are along the same lines --"
Doyle grinned, knowing his Bodie, and waited for it.
"... they have big blue lips, thick legs and short blonde moustaches," finished Bodie's grim filtered voice.
That was so -- Bodie. "Charming," said Doyle, through a chuckle.
This was fun.
"How's your baby Armstrong coming along? Looking after you okay, is he?"
Doyle read the real note of concern. Bodie, no less than he, knew the penalties of an out-of-tune team. "Fine. He's much, much better than you. He does everything I say without question."
"Must be good for your ego. Can't be too good for Cowley's nerves, though."
"How's the shoulder?"
"Surviving. Look, Doyle --"
"Yes," prompted Doyle, after enough time to swig at his Scotch, twice.
"Nothing. Have to go. See you mate."
Life stretched on. Three weeks. He used the time to think, only to reach the same old dead-end conclusions that led to more doubt. It didn't help to know that Bodie was having no such uncertainties. One of them had to do some thinking.
Bodie rang every day. They could say nothing; though they talked a lot. Doyle was glad of the breathing space; but there came a time when it paled. In the second week, Bodie asked Doyle to check his flat over; thereafter he found time to do so nearly every day, wandering round the rooms that smelt of Bodie, looking at the little things -- the talc he favoured, the treasured Hi-Fi -- that made the place his.
One time he was there, he had to answer the door. It was a girl, blonde --
Recognition hit him much later than it did her. Trouble.
"Where is he?" she demanded.
"Detached duty, love."
"Look, I've not seen him, he doesn't answer the phone and the only time the door gets opened it's by you --"
He nodded understandingly. "Must be confusing --"
"I'm not joking!" she said angrily. "Look, who are you? And don't give me that nurse business, I knew that was phony from the start."
Her long blonde hair was dishevelled; pert little face angry with red pouting lips, she made quite a picture.
"No," he confessed, sadly. "I'm given to fantasizing. Tried to control it, but --"
"Be serious," she snapped. "I want to know -- where is Bodie?"
As requested, he became serious. "I told you, he's on detached duty. Out of reach. I tell you what, love, you give me your number, I'll tell him you're waiting to hear from him. That's all I can do."
He couldn't feel any pity for her, though he appreciated her situation. But she was pretty enough; there'd be other Bodies for her.
She stared past him into the empty flat, suspecting abduction, kidnapping, or worse. Doyle got the measure of it, laughed and came clean. "Not me, love. You read much pulp fiction, do you? I'm his partner. Ray Doyle. Bodie's quite safe, couldn't be safer, and I'll tell him you called. Okay?"
The last piece of this frustrating puzzle slipped into place for her; she was relieved of worry. She knew Bodie was in a rather secretive job and was quietly impressed. "Ray Doyle -- of course, Bodie's mentioned you."
"Yeah well, that's all right then, isn't it?" He was keen to get rid of her now, but she was into introductions.
"Did he mention me? Diane Kingsley."
"Yes; yes, he did."
You and Ellie, me and Diane.... It seemed so long ago.
Those days were gone.
He badly needed to talk to Bodie.
He recounted the meeting to Bodie when he called that night, without elaboration and without emotion. Bodie sounded unmoved and practical. "Okay. I'll take care of it."
"She seemed pretty worried about you," Doyle felt bound to say.
"Yeah, well we'll introduce her to your Armstrong. He sounds as if he needs someone to worry about him. The old man keeping you busy, is he?"
"Too right. Not the big-time stuff. He's savin' that for you and me. Bodie --"
"They ever let you out of there? Been thinking -- I could drive down one night, tomorrow if I knock off early enough. Pick you up, have a pint or so, catch up on the news, and I could be back here in time for a few hours' kip."
130 miles each way. He'd worked it out.
"You'd do that?"
"I'm," Doyle told him, "missing your sweet face." He said it with the lightest touch of irony.
"Me too, sunshine," said Bodie, after a pause. "Be glad to see you."
Doyle swung the Capri into the visitors' reception area at the army camp at Sapperton; he didn't have to confront the DO because Bodie was there waiting for him, fit and trim in green army fatigues. He was pale-faced and serious; this came as something of a surprise to Doyle, who'd half expected his mate to make some daft Bodie gesture and kiss him, or something.
"You can drive," he said, throwing him the keys and shunting over to the passenger seat. He'd been driving nearly all day; any more and he felt he'd freeze permanently into the position. Bodie swung the car off without speaking.
Doyle stared out at the pretty green lanes; quite a change not to be on the lookout for tails, villains, narks, punters and life nasties.
"Told Cowley I was coming."
"I had to, didn't I. Look funny if I hadn't told him, he wanted me on a job tonight, and I had to explain that actually I'd just nipped out to see you. As if a 300-mile drive in an evening was the most natural thing in the world --"
Bodie turned the car into the courtyard of an ivy-covered hotel. "So? How did you persuade him it was the most natural thing in the world?" He killed the engine and turned to look at Doyle.
"Told him I thought you were in a bit of a decline. Depressed."
Bodie thought about it as they got out. "How did he take it?"
"He gave me a bit of a strange look. Didn't make any objection, though."
"Lounge or bar?"
"Bar. I suppose I ought to grab a sandwich."
The bar turned out to be a mistake, since it was full of off-duty army in a mellow mood, who hailed Bodie with rapture, clearly having accepted him as one of the boys. With difficulty, he waved off offers of a drink and managed to establish himself and Doyle at a tiny table by the window. While Doyle got down to a cheese sandwich, Bodie addressed himself seriously to a pint, seemingly disinclined to open the batting.
The sergeants at the bar who had tried to absorb Bodie had broken into loud song. "You made some nice friends already," said Doyle sarcastically. He stuffed the last of his sandwich in and washed it down with a draught of cool lager. It tasted wonderful to his dry mouth after the long hot drive.
"Some of them are real jerks," said Bodie gloomily. He cocked his head up, suddenly unable to believe his bad luck. "Like this one -- trouble...."
A stocky red-haired corporal was making his way towards them, with a mate. Doyle assessed them quickly -- no chance -- glanced once at Bodie and settled to wait.
The corporal had a recent bruise on his cheekbone. "Well, if it ain't Superman," he said in a sneery sort of way to his friend. "This 'ere bloke really fancies himself; thinks 'e's a real hot shot, 'e does. Comes from some fancy nark outfit, and he's been sent to us to learn 'ow to 'old a gun the right way up."
Bodie ignored him, saying smoothly to Doyle, "Red Adair here hasn't taken to me. It's because I outshoot him on the rifle range."
Doyle slid effortlessly into the groove, the old double act they used with villains, informers and jumped-up army boys alike. "That right, mate? What, every time?" He eyed Carrots up and down with dispassionate pity.
"No contest," Bodie confirmed sadly. "It's unnerving when you think the defence of our country's in the hands of a little sapper like him who only hits a stationary target six times out of ten."
"He'll be a bit confused when they start running around and shooting back, too," agreed Doyle.
Carrots had gone bright pink and all his freckles were standing out. It was unfortunate for him; but he ground his next words out in a reasonable facsimile of nonchalance. "See what I mean, Len? An' now it's two right smart alecks. He's found himself a boyfriend.... Whaddya reckon?"
"I reckon we take 'em outside. If they 'aven't wet theirselves," rumbled his mate. He looked heavy.
"Any time you're ready," promised Bodie in a voice Doyle recognised. It was Bodie's no-nonsense keen-to-get-on-with- some-action voice. He groaned, inwardly. He didn't feel in the mood for a fight.
He grabbed Bodie's arm, preventing him from getting up. "You can't hit him, Bodie," he said in a totally reasonable tone. "Wouldn't be fair. A little guy like him? Play straight, mate."
Bodie pulled himself free, stared narrow-eyed at Doyle. But after a second he changed his mind and relaxed. Doyle felt the situation instantly defuse.
"They're chicken," jeered the heavy.
"Cluck, cluck," parodied Carrots.
Bodie and Doyle, apparently forgetting all about them, carried on drinking as if nothing was happening; they looked around, or straight through the two men, they exchanged quiet small-talk. They could keep up this kind of obliviousness forever.
After a while the corporals gave up, disappointed. Muttering, they disappeared back into the throng.
"For godsake Bodie," snapped Doyle when they were safely out of earshot. "I didn't drive 130 miles to get involved in a barroom brawl."
Bodie was deeply disappointed. "It would have been a glorious fight...just knew it would be."
"Nah. With those two? All over in ten seconds. Anyway, you can have it tomorrow. By yourself; it'll even up the odds a bit." He cast an exasperated glance around. The bar was even more crowded, absolutely milling with green-clad servicemen. "Look, we can't talk here. Let's go."
The lounge was quieter, but just as crowded, with a wedding party clad in morning suits clinking long-stemmed glasses.
"Could go for a drive around," suggested Bodie.
"I've seen enough of the inside of a car for one day. Go for a walk."
Bodie, unenthusiastic but unable to come up with anything better, compiled. They walked through the hotel foyer, past the booking desk, through the door all covered with stickers -- Egon Ronay Just a Bite, LVs, Travellers Fare -- under the sign showing Vacancies --
Used to thinking together, getting the same ideas, they stopped as one and looked at each other.
"I'll fix it," said Bodie, through tight lips.
"An' I'll lock the car up. Your army pals look a peculiarly moralless lot."
"They don't have morals in the Army," Bodie tossed back over his shoulder. "Just motives."
The receptionist was not at first particularly enthusiastic about Bodie since he was dressed in army gear, but she was female, and by the time Doyle arrived the fatal Bodie charm was in full flow and she was checking the books.
"-- here he is now." He turned to watch Doyle's approach. "They can do you a single with shower, mate, that suit you?"
"Yeah." He signed the form the lady gave him, produced his wallet. "I'll pay now love, okay? Might have to check out early." Earlier than you know....
"Do you have any baggage?" she asked, pleasantly enough; though Doyle thought he heard something behind the question.
Bodie answered for him, easy. "He's just down for the evening, love. But there's a bit of a party going on -- he might need to sleep it off, first -- long drive back --" Leaning near her, he made a pint-in-hand gesture; and she smiled, involuntarily, at the captivating dark man who gave off such an aura of strength and virility.
The room was very pleasant, in blues and greens. There was a single bed with a fringed tapestry cover; a writing desk, an armchair. Doyle flung himself onto the bed and shut his eyes; hoping Bodie couldn't misinterpret the gesture. He really was very tired, and they didn't have much time.
It presented a very appealing picture to Bodie. Ray Doyle lying flat out in shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal his fine strong forearms, his eyes closed. He moved nearer the bed. "This better, mate?" he said in a low, warm voice.
Doyle answered without opening his eyes. "It ought to be. It's costing enough."
Dampened, Bodie said, "I'll pay --" and began to rummage in his pocket.
Doyle opened one eye.
"-- half," said Bodie firmly, and dropped some notes onto the table. He hovered.
"I'm knackered," Doyle said, with truth.
Bodie withdrew instantly, and dropped into the chair; every last trace of hopeful warmth disappeared behind a cool Bodie mask. "And you've got a headache; yeah, I know."
Doyle watched him, and said presently. "Look, we need to talk."
"So talk," deadlined Bodie. He pulled a sheaf of headed hotel writing paper off the desk and stared at it. "It's free, this. Don't forget to take it with you."
"Oh yeah, and where am I gonna put it? Down my sock?" returned Doyle, with sarcasm.
"Yeah. And don't forget the little bar of soap."
Deadlock again. Doyle had known it was going to be like this. He sighed. The bed was soft and comfortable; it would be much easier to go to sleep than try and thrash this out with his truculent partner.
"We shouldn't have done this."
"You know what I mean," said Doyle, exasperated. If Bodie was going to hedge about with moody rhetoric all evening, it was all going to be a waste of time and money, and he'd be exhausted tomorrow with nothing resolved; he might just as well not have bothered.
He tried again, dropping right in the deep end. "All this -- it isn't us. It was all right the way it was. We were partners...."
Bodie's head had come up. He knew this was business, and now he wasn't mucking around. His nostrils were pinched and his lower lip jutted dangerously. "Yeah, and then it changed. You can't go back. You have to face up to it."
"It shouldn't have changed. No," said Doyle, thinking, "that's not right. We shouldn't have let it change."
"Couldn't help it, could we," muttered Bodie with morose fatalism. He met Doyle's eyes with angry defiance. "Look, Doyle; what do you think this is all about? Not one lousy act of sex. We could forget it if it were just that, write it off if that's what we wanted."
"I know that," said Doyle after a pause. Did Bodie think he was telling him anything new?
"Then why the guilty inquest?" demanded Bodie.
"I'm not feeling guilty," said Doyle impatiently. At Bodie's continuing frown he added, gently pushing, "'Lousy'...?"
Bodie's face changed abruptly, remembering.
"I thought I was the perfect circuit --" mocked Doyle. "Or was that just one of your post-coital lines?"
"No," said Bodie, with dark intensity. "It was true." He looked embarrassed, suddenly.
"What are we fighting about? I didn't come here to fight with you."
"You were bloody pugnacious enough the morning Cowley came!" Bodie's face twisted with angry remembrance.
"Yeah, I know. But I've had time to think since then."
"And what did that masterly mind of yours come up with?" jeered Bodie, being unkind because he was on edge; on a very short fuse right now.
"That we've got problems. Maybe we should have seen it coming and killed it. But we didn't; and we can't go back, as you say. So we have all sorts of things to sort out --"
Bodie took time to take it in.
"You mean you want to go on with it?"
"No choice," shrugged Doyle. "Can't get you out of my head."
Bodie's face was a picture. "Bloody hell, Doyle," said Bodie, expressionlessly. "I thought you were coming here to finish it."
"Finish it," said Doyle. "It's hardly started, mate."
Bodie took a long breath, held it; expelled it very slowly. He'd been knocked for six; now he was sailing over the boundary into unknown, possibly dangerous territory. He had the feeling that Doyle, from the look of him, had something up his sleeve. "Well, we're thinking together so far," he said cautiously.
"Yeah, well we'd better stay thinking together. I'll spell it out for you. If this is going to be one of your bloody reckless bursts of enthusiasm that you can't drop fast enough as soon as you've had a few goes, you can forget it. If all you've got in mind is a quick no-strings sexual romp, well, I can get sex in a helluva lot less complicated ways than from you, Bodie. Clear?"
"Clear...." agreed Bodie, not yet sure that it was.
"So you'd better lay it on the line, mate. You're an unscrupulous moralless bastard and lying comes natural to you, I know that. But you won't get away with it with me. I want the truth."
Doyle was propped up on one elbow, gazing at him. Bodie spread his hands, meekly. "You got it."
"Don't be facetious," Doyle said coldly. "I'm perfectly serious. Do you think we've got a chance, or not?"
"Chance of what?"
"Making it work. Think of it like a marriage. If you were thinking of getting married you'd bloody well have a good long look at the prospects first, wouldn't you?"
Bodie flicked him a cautious glance. Doyle didn't look as if he'd gone round the bend. "You mean, I should be thinking like I was considering marrying you?"
"That's it," Doyle approved. "There's a difference, of course. If we could do it officially, we'd have much more incentive to make it work. All those papers to sign; a certificate for the file, and two years of lawyers and a divorce to go through if we wanted out. We can't have any of that. What I want from you is some assurance that you've got that same incentive to put some work into it."
Bodie studied the carpet. "You want that kind of relationship? That much commitment?"
Doyle rephrased it for him, calmly. "I don't want all the complications that are going to turn up if we don't have that much commitment. C'mon now, Bodie. Think about it. Can we do it?"
Bodie opened his mouth, thought again, shut it. "Yes."
Doyle nodded, as if it was what he'd expected. "Yeah. I reckon we're a good match, you and me. Same age more or less, same interests; same job --"
"You have been doing some thinking," drawled Bodie. "Hurt, did it? You got it all worked out like Computa-Date."
Doyle's voice cut across him like ice. "I haven't finished. First off, I want a definite decision. Are we going into this or not?"
Bodie stared, winded, shaking his head in disbelief. Ray Doyle! He hesitated, had one final look around his doubts, then pushed them aside forever. He'd always known he'd be hooked one day. It happened to everyone in the end. He looked across at his partner, who was looking very serious, very correct. His features formed into a slow smirky smile and he wrinkled his nose. "Will you marry me, sunshine?"
Doyle was disgusted. "Be serious, Bodie."
"I," Bodie told him, crossing the space between them in one stride, "was." And he kissed him, pushed his mouth arrogantly onto the cool cupid's lips of his partner, taking one wrist in each hand and pinioning them above his head. He looked down. "I could eat you. I will, if you ask me nicely."
Doyle smiled up, a shy sensuous smile that lit up his face and melted Bodie inside. Then Doyle brought a knee up and jabbed it into his groin.
Bodie folded, gasping.
"Lay off, Bodie," said Doyle, lazily watching his partner's silent display of agony with an unmoved eye. He'd not aimed the blow to hurt. Much.
"I still haven't finished. I want to get it all straightened out so I can go home to bed. Listen mate. We'll have to tell Cowley."
All the writhing on the floor stilled. Bodie's head poked up. "Now I know you're off your bloody rocker," he said, with conviction.
"Look mate. We work for CI5 -- CI5," he said with emphasis. "Not down some fucking fairground where they don't give a damn who screws who so long as the roundabout keeps on turning -- Cowley has to know, don't you see that? We try to keep it one big furtive secret and we're hanging ourselves; laying CI5 open to ridicule, even blackmail. And I think we owe it to the old man to be honest."
"He'll kick us out," said Bodie flatly.
Doyle gave a fatalistic shrug. "Okay, so he kicks us out. We'll join the mercenaries. Think how much harder he'd have kicked us out then, if he'd found out from someone else. Which he would. Anyway," Doyle frowned, "I don't think he'll kick us out. He's an old sod, but I trust him. Why should he care? Long as we keep the team up to scratch. Which we will."
After a long moment, Bodie conceded the point. "But you can tell him," he said glumly. "Preferably when I'm a long way clear."
"No, it'll come better from you." At Bodie's lifted eyebrow, Doyle elucidated: "He knows you're insane. Less of a shock. And he's got a soft spot for you."
"Cowley? A -- soft spot? Don't make me laugh. Titanium, through and through."
"You're going to tell him, Bodie. I'll be right there behind you, ready to catch you when you drop." Doyle sounded as if he would brook no argument whatever. Bodie began to get the feeling that this relationship was not going to go all his own way. It was not altogether a pleasant realisation -- but then again, not altogether unpleasant. Doyle would give as good as he got; and yes, Bodie liked that. But he vowed to himself privately that he'd soon set about making Doyle understand that Bodie, too, could hand it out when he felt like it. Plenty of time....
He liked the sound of that.
Plenty of time. All their lives; however much, or little, they had left to them.
"Well, that's settled then." Doyle swung his legs over the edge of the bed, came upright. "We can sort out the little things later; like whether we live together or not --"
"Whether?" Bodie, still lounging on the floor, stared up. "Of course together. No point otherwise, is there?"
Doyle didn't sound particularly bothered. "Oh, I dunno. Might be useful to keep two places on."
"Not likely. I want you where I can keep an eye on you. And," said Bodie, very practical, "we'd save a lot of money."
Doyle snorted. "What do we wanna save money for? Not our old age. We won't reach it." He stood up. If you worked in CI5 you faced that fact early.
Bodie unclosed a lazy hand and fastened it around Doyle's ankle. "Where are you going?"
Doyle planted the foot Bodie held firmly to the ground, kicked his wrist with the other. Bodie let go, in a hurry. "Are you always so rough with your lovers?" he gasped, pained.
"I," said Doyle calmly, "am going home."
"Now?" Bodie couldn't believe it. He pressed his palms into the floor, sprang to his feet. "You serious?"
"Yeah, always." Doyle stifled a yawn.
Bodie checked his watch. "It's only 11. We can't leave now. They'll think we only wanted the room for a clandestine bout of sex. It does happen, you know," he said hopefully.
"They won't know we've gone, the way we're going." Doyle jerked an eye at the window. He'd already checked it out: it was at one side, with a convenient drainpipe. "And I know it happens. I used to nick people for it." He put on a prim copper's stare. "It's illegal in a hotel room."
"Sex is?" Bodie was amazed.
"Homosexual sex is. Hotel room -- public place," Doyle told him laconically. "Who's going first?" He began to hitch up the window.
Bodie was there, behind him. "Don't go yet," he said, very low.
Doyle could feel his breath warm on his neck. "Have to."
"Look, mate." Doyle wheeled to face him. "I know you get a lie-in and a doddle thereafter. I have to be smilin' joyously at Cowley by 8."
Bodie put his hands on Doyle's hips, drawing him steadily closer. "I want you," he murmured, mournfully.
Doyle let a wide smile spread slowly across his face. If Bodie's women had fallen for that one, he'd been lucky. "If you're randy, mate, you know what you can do. Go fuck yourself."
Bodie considered him through narrowed frowning eyes, head on one side. Deep in his throat, his upper lip curling away barely enough to let the words out, he growled, "Tried it. Wouldn't reach."
It killed Doyle. Try as he might, he couldn't stay in control, and Bodie was getting him to the bed. Giving in, he let himself be pushed down, choking on laughter. Bodie's hands were gentle on him, and his voice was intense as he whispered, "Let me. Let me do this...."
Once again, Ray Doyle found himself on the receiving end of Bodie's warm, passionate attentions.
It wasn't unpleasant; not at all.
They lay in the dark, close together on the narrow bed. They hadn't spoken. Doyle checked his watch: 11.30. It hadn't taken long; Bodie had been conscious of the need to hurry. Now though, paradoxically, neither of them felt inclined to move.
Doyle resting his head in the curve of Bodie's arm, was feeling dissatisfied with his own participation. So far he had let Bodie make all the moves; just lying there and accepting Bodie's mouth and hands on him. Bodie had so far asked very little of him in return, seemingly content with the mere pressure of Doyle's body against him. Doyle had the feeling that Master Bodie was accounting all this up and would one day spring a heavy claim. Doyle had no intention of letting that happen. Bodie had a few surprises coming.
"Doyle," Bodie whispered into his hair.
"Yeah?" They had to be very, very quiet.
"When did this start?"
Doyle gave it brief consideration, not caring much. Reminiscence, of the first look, the first date, came later on in Doyle's book, when the first flush of passion was no longer enough. "When you nearly died down by the docks. Grahamstown. Your bloody gun jammed. You kept looking at me after that... different."
"Did I?" He felt Bodie's lips curve against his hair.
"Didn't take me long to figure out what you had in mind."
"Why did you turn me down?"
Doyle ran back over it all briefly. "Didn't. I came round to the idea quite quickly."
"In the lodge...."
"In the bloody lodge," Doyle said, carefully, "I gave you every opening I could think of. You turned each of 'em down flat. All you could talk about was how you were getting your fuckin' share."
"I asked you." Bodie raised himself on one elbow, affronted. "I asked you, and you said you weren't interested."
Doyle tuned in on the memory, isolated the error. "I said I hadn't been interested before. Then you dashed out intent on a bloody martyr's death. I didn't feel inclined to stop you."
"Failure," decided Bodie, thinking it out, "to communicate."
In the dark, Doyle lifted his eyes heavenwards. "I gotta go." But he didn't move.
"I couldn't figure you out," Bodie continued to muse aloud. "You didn't come to see me in hospital --"
"-- aaahhh..." sympathised Doyle.
"-- then you turned up at my flat looking as if you wanted to bruise something into a pulp --"
"-- you --"
"-- then you banned the door to my girlfriends --"
"You ever get round to ringing her, in the end?"
"Then you hark on and on about why I let Hilliard shoot me --"
"Cowley got there pretty quick. He had a CI5 tail on a few CI5 agents."
Bodie, diverted at last, stared at him. "And tails on the tails?"
"He's sharp, old Cowley. You gotta hand it to him. You'd think he'd be getting a bit senile. But he got it figured out quicker than me."
Bodie had been enjoying the previous line of conversation more and returned to it quickly. "Then you start accusing me of screwing Murph --"
"Do you?" Doyle asked idly.
Bodie continued unperturbed. "-- fancifully accusing me of screwing Murph, so my bet is you're jealous; and I'm just about to make a pass at you when you start ripping your clothes off crazed with lust. And..." he lay back, satisfied at last. "The Rest is History."
Doyle said for the umpteenth time: "I gotta go."
"Stop saying that." Bodie tightened his arms, playfully.
"I mean it. An' you better believe it, if you're happy with that arm in one piece."
"A little moppet like you? Not a chance," said Bodie lazily.
"I mean it, Bodie." That note snapped instantly into Doyle's voice; a warning note that even Bodie respected.
"Nah, you don't." But Bodie let things rest. He wasn't about to take Ray Doyle apart tonight. Although -- he recognised the little thrill of tension that jolted through him at the thought -- it might be an idea. For the future.
Doyle rearranged his clothing, rattled his car keys. "Get moving. Unless you fancy a nice long midnight stroll?"
Bodie considered, swinging himself up and off the bed. "Am I allowed to say it yet?"
"Say what," answered Doyle, going to the window in preparation for his second attempt on it that evening.
"What you said I wasn't allowed to say," said Bodie wistfully.
Doyle stopped. He turned. The moonlight shot off his belt-buckle, and off his eyes, glinting ferally in the dim light. Bodie waited.
"You," said Doyle ferociously, "You know what you are? You're a sloppy, sentimental slushy, pink-ribboned Valentine. Get out of that window. Or I'll throw you out."
Halfway down the wall, Bodie looked up at Doyle's face, suspended above him like the moon. Every muscle of his body was busily engaged in defying the laws of gravity, but you wouldn't have known it. He stared up, his head tipped defiantly back, his mouth mutinous. He said with great dignity:
"I just feel you ought to know. I do."
There was a pause.
"Yeah, I know," said Ray Doyle.
Doyle turned at the door.
"A word with you," said Cowley.
Doyle hesitated, thumped Armstrong between the shoulderblades. "Go, mate. I'll catch you up."
Cowley looked piercingly at Doyle, not missing the signs of sleeplessness; nor the other, less obvious marks of some recent upheaval written in his young operative's fallen-angel face. Doyle was alert and intelligent enough this morning: his mind moving in the no-nonsense, intuitive way that had served Cowley so well in the past. But when he had not been talking, his eyes and his attention had instantly slid to another vision, more distant and more personal.
"Is everything well, 4.5?"
"Yes, sir." Doyle looked faintly, politely puzzled; they'd just been through it all and it really was quite a straightforward job.
"I meant in your personal life."
Doyle regarded him without unease. "Got it all sorted out now, sir."
"That's good," murmured Cowley, believing him. He changed to another tack. "And how was 3.7? Depressed, I believe you said."
"I think I sorted him out too, sir," said Doyle, deadpan.
Bodie was coming back. A week early. Doyle drove down to collect him.
"I hope," he said severely, "you are 100%, mistake proof fit."
Bodie looked fit, all right. "I," Bodie informed him, "am in perfect physical shape." He settled back in the seat, pretty pleased with life in general.
"Why the early eviction order? Or don't I want to know?"
"I was an embarrassment to them," said Bodie without a trace of modesty. "You can set standards too high, you know. All the little greenies were dropping out discouraged and running back into banking."
"Yeah, well, you're back in CI5 now. All of us are perfect too."
"Where are we going?"
"We're stopping off to eat. Then we're going home."
Home. Bodie liked the sound of that, after days on a camp bed and the misery of communal bathroom facilities. Home is where the heart is. He said it, aloud. He was in love.
"Home is where the heart is."
Doyle was giving all his visual attention to the road, swinging the Capri out to overtake a lorry; bringing it in again swearing when a Rover threatened too close behind.
"Look at him," he said disgusted, watching it streak past. "Must be doing 90, at least."
"Haul him in," suggested Bodie lazily. "If it makes you happy."
Doyle was only briefly tempted. "Nah. I got his number. Might report him to the traffic boys. If he smashes himself up that's his bloody fault. But there's kids on the roads. They don't ask to be there when that lunatic screams up and panics some driver doing the legal limit into a mistake."
"Ray," said Bodie, "you're the most moral person I ever met, you know that?" He meant it. The odd hard streak of purity in Doyle frequently infuriated him. Right now it struck him as just another mysterious, appealing quality of this man who had given himself to Bodie.
Their lifetime together was beginning today. He took a deep breath and smiled.
"Where are we going? Where," elucidated Bodie, "is home?"
"You said you knew."
"With you," said Bodie seriously, half shy.
"Your place," Doyle finally allowed.
"I dunno. I like it, I suppose."
"Did you move your stuff in?"
Bodie finally relaxed. He'd been half afraid, after days of muted phone calls, that Doyle might have changed his mind.
They ate in a forgettable service station and reached Bodie's flat around seven.
Bodie walked around it, checking. It was much as he remembered -- only now, Doyle's clothes hung beside his in the wardrobe, and two drawers had been carefully cleared out and were taken up with Doyle's underclothes. "We don't need this," he called to Doyle, who was fixing drinks and lights.
"Separate drawers. Just wear whatever comes out first -- if it fits."
Doyle appeared at the door. "You like togetherness?" he said expressionless.
Bodie looked at him, at the young man in shirt and jeans, hair all tousled: saw his mate. His mate. The word took on a whole new meaning. "With you?" He took Doyle in his arms, stared down into the beautiful, flawed face. "Yeah, I like it."
And he knew coherently for the first time the joy of Ray Doyle holding onto him, kissing him back, his mouth equally demanding.
They watched television: Doyle totally relaxed in the curve of Bodie's arm, his head on Bodie's shoulder. They each held a can of beer, taking occasional pulls at it. Bodie was thinking deeply. Now Doyle was his, he was concerned to keep him.
"You remember when you got shot."
Doyle made an elaborate, headscratching pretense at amnesia. "Wait a minute, oh, yeah, the heart job you mean? Vaguely recall it, yeah, why?"
Bodie was not lighthearted, not at all. "You weren't fighting," he said savagely. "If you'd died, do you know what I'd have done?"
Doyle considered his answer, drank from his can.
"Yeah," he said at last. "Resigned."
"Nah," said Bodie, "what would that have solved? I was gonna stay in CI5 and give the bastards all I got till they got me back."
Doyle understood, though he made a face. "Offer yourself for the suicide runs? Not very rational, mate." He turned his face into Bodie's shoulder, rubbing his cheek there slowly, staring into space.
"I," said Bodie tightly, "am not rational about you. I was angry with you. Bloody mad."
Doyle shifted. "Yeah, well, perhaps now you know how I was feelin' when you were daft enough to let yourself in for this." He touched the shoulder lightly.
Bodie took it in, finally made a tiny nod of his head. He didn't speak. He felt tight inside, knotted up with a helpless anger and fear. Unconsciously, his arm tightened around Doyle, remembering the pale, vulnerable figure who had lain silent and motionless through hours of worrying. He lived the nightmare again, shutting his eyes, bursting into Doyle's flat: the first, terrible moment of seeing him there, lying like a wounded quivering animal in a pool of his own blood; the desperate fear and anger and frustration that had followed. Then, even, then, he had wanted to snatch up his frighteningly fragile partner and keep him, somehow, safe. He remembered telling Cowley, over and over, "he'll make it." "He'll pull through," repeating it in desperation to make it come true, because the alternative was not believable, his mind rejecting it because he could not take it.
"I couldn't get through to you!" he shouted, angrily.
Doyle lay very still against him. The TV chattered on unnoticed in the background; he stared unseeing at its shifting images. "Yeah, well it won't happen again. Got something to live for now, haven't I. Makes a difference."
"Do you mean that?"
"Yeah. And when we go, we go together."
Bodie's hands gripped him hard, bruising the flesh. "You don't say things like that," he said with terrible intensity. "Not unless you mean it."
Doyle twisted free. "Look, Bodie. You want a suicide pact, you got it. It's the only way. You think I don't know the risks as well as you? This is why they warn you off it. I died with you twice these last weeks, and it's gonna happen again. We can't --" he stopped, breathing hard, and began again. "Just because of this, we can't let our reactions and the way we go into things be fucked up because we're too bloody scared of being left alone at the end of it. We gotta stay sharp, stay cool -- do the bloody job the way we always have. We can't let it make any difference. And it won't if we know, if we accept that one day it'll happen. Maybe when we're 90. Maybe tomorrow. But when it does -- it will be both of us. Because no one else is ever gonna have you. And because suicide'll be a bloody sight easier than hanging around looking at you dead."
Bodie let out a long breath. "That's settled, then."
"Yeah," said Doyle savagely. "That's settled." He tossed his empty beer can away, dragging his hand over his lips, and turned.
Mouth met hungry mouth. Doyle fought fiercely, tearing away clothes; he searched Bodie desperately, struggling to find the way to make Bodie part of him, to merge himself with Bodie in one savage, conclusive union. He threw Bodie onto his stomach; found the way, and did it. With one hard, quick thrust he slid into the warm recess of Bodie's body, and they were one.
Lying on Bodie, listening to their erratic, pounding heartbeats, the rushed panting breaths, he stayed quite still. Bodie turned his head to one side, his face tight, his eyes open and sightless. "Ray," he whispered, pleading with harsh raggedness, "Don't let it ever end. Don't let it end...."
Doyle wrapped his arm around Bodie's throat, squeezing him tight. The vicious arousal gripped them both, insistent, demanding that he move. He fought the urgent desire, held it off. Just a little longer.... Beneath him, joined to him, Bodie shivered, his fingers twining tightly into the carpet. Quivering with tension, sweat running from his face, Doyle pushed it into Bodie's hair, whispered fiercely, "You're mine. You're mine, Bodie. No one'll ever take you from me. Even death, Bodie," he squeezed the words out, gritting his teeth, "Not even that."
Bodie went rigid beneath him, fighting his own battle not to move, not to do anything that would hasten the end. Their every reaction, every thought was perfectly attuned to the one goal: the yearning need for this to last forever. Desire without hope: a war whose outcome of defeat was inevitable from the start.
He couldn't hold it off any longer. Breathing hard, he pushed his head and shoulders up and away from Bodie's body, staring down at the dark head pillowed in his arms, the curve of the spine, down to the pale rounded buttocks. His whole body tensed. He began to destroy Bodie viciously, taking Bodie with him as they pushed themselves on, and on, towards oblivion. He was barely conscious of Bodie's voice, hissing: "Come on, you bastard, harder -- do it harder --"
It could make no difference. One savage jerk, one final thrust. Burying his teeth in Bodie's neck, Ray Doyle came, spurting fire deep within Bodie's guts.
He lay there, eyes closed, resting on the warmth; not thinking. When the dark head stirred, he rolled off, and lay on his back with one hand over his eyes. He felt someone touch him, wiping away the thread of saliva that hung from his mouth.
"Well, what a little firecracker you turned out to be," murmured Bodie's lazy voice, and behind it there was a deep burr of contentment.
"Fight fire," he murmured dazedly, "with fire...." Because it seemed ironically, surrealistically apt.
"Look at me."
Doyle opened his eyes. Bodie was kneeling over him. He raised one hand to brush away the sweat from Bodie's forehead, his fingers lingering in the moisture there. A drop fell, landed on his face; he blinked. He brought Bodie's face down, rubbed the salty damp off temples, eyes, with his tongue, slowly. For a long time they remained close.
Finally Bodie eased himself away. "I," he told Doyle, wrinkling his nostrils, "need a shower. And so do you." He looked disdainfully over Doyle.
"Don't be so bloody squeamish," drawled Doyle. He needed time to recover.
Bodie stayed there, looking down. "You're one hell of a surprise, Doyle," he remarked, shaking his head.
"Why? What were you expecting?"
"Saw you making out with a woman once," said Bodie succinctly. "Very different."
"You're not a woman, are you." On second thoughts, he opened his eyes, looked Bodie over. "Did I hurt you?" he said brusquely.
"Let's just say I'd be very careful of you when you were feeling brutal. I mean," said Bodie ironically, "if you were ever in a really macho mood."
Doyle looked suddenly tense. Bodie thumped him gently on the shoulder; he hadn't meant to make Doyle feel guilty. "Nah, mate. S'all right. I like it rough. Turns me on."
"You got me all wound up," said Doyle, low. "All that about us dying. But I could have hurt you."
Bodie interrupted. "Yeah, but you didn't. C'mon Ray. It was good. The best. Tell you something."
"Sex with you gives me the biggest charge I ever had."
Doyle looked up at him. "True?"
"Yeah. Anyway you want to play it -- hard, soft: whatever, sweetheart. I'm right there with you."
Doyle studied his face, half-frowning. Bodie gave a tiny wry smile, kept steady. Doyle shut his eyes. Bodie was there, holding him. "It's all right. You're all strung up, that's all; but everything's going to work out. It'll work out," he murmured into Doyle's hair. "You're beautiful, sunshine. I love you."
Doyle rested against Bodie, breathing him in.
"Bodie," he said, without opening his eyes.
"We got our first problem."
"Nah," said Bodie, ready with easy reassurance. Doyle's unexpected violence really seemed to have shaken him up. It had shaken Bodie up too, and then he had been swept away by the same flood.
"Don't mean that."
"What, then?" said Bodie, prepared to be tender and reasonable if it took all night to sort Doyle out.
Doyle's eyes came wide open. He stared Bodie directly in the face. "I asked Cowley round for a welcome-back drink."
Bodie's jaw dropped, but he hung onto his cool. "Why, has he been away?"
"I said ten pm," continued Doyle, remorseless, "and so we've got ten minutes."
Bodie sprang into action. This was serious. He mock-punched Doyle in the stomach, hauled him to his feet, and hustled him off to the bathroom, one hand in the small of his partner's back, the other with a choke-hold on the chain around Doyle's neck.
When the doorbell rang, this time they and the living room were clean, spruce and well-prepared. Bodie ushered their chief in, smooth and smiling; Doyle was waiting by the drinks tray.
"Your usual, sir?"
"Thank you, Doyle."
"Pleasure, sir," said Doyle, adding mischievously, "-- it's his booze."
Bodie held out a chair for Cowley as Doyle brought him the glass. "It's on expenses anyway," he said cheerfully.
Cowley cocked up an alert ear, frowning. "It had better not be, 3.7."
"Only joking, sir...."
Cowley watched Bodie and Doyle exchange an amused glance and raised an eyebrow to himself. They seemed back on form, thank God. He wondered if he'd ever get to know the reason for all the unvoiced tension that had been flying around these past weeks. He settled back in his chair to savour the smooth malt, unconsciously noting details with a careful eye. Bodie's long living room was looking pleasant tonight; very tidy. His men, too: Doyle looked relaxed and easy, in white jacket, jeans; breaking often into smiles at Bodie's patter. And Bodie, Bodie whom they'd nearly managed to kill between the three of them, showing no trace of it now, dressed in an open-necked shirt and slacks, trim and fit and -- happy. That was the atmosphere here tonight, Cowley mused: happy. It was there in Bodie's gleaming black eyes, in Doyle's ready smile.
If those two were happy, Cowley wanted to know why.
"And how was Sapperton, Bodie?"
Bodie looked distant. "You don't want to know, sir."
"Oh, but indeed I do, Bodie. I want to know that you have confidence that you're perfectly fit again."
"Yes, sir. Full of go," Bodie assured him, and promptly made a face at Doyle that had that half-abashed, half-pleased smile creeping irrepressibly across 4.5's features yet again.
"Doyle said you were depressed."
"Well, you know, sir. All that army discipline got me down a bit." Bodie's mouth turned down at the corners.
"Yes, I can imagine it would, 3.7," said Cowley dryly. "There's nothing wrong with discipline; it's an essential part of an efficient life."
"You know," Doyle joined in, jibing away happily, "I've always thought you were too undisciplined, mate."
They exchanged a look. Bodie curled his lip.
Cowley was opening his briefcase, extracting papers. "I'm arranging for your new partner, Bodie."
As he had guessed it would, that killed the horsing around.
"My new what, sir," queried Bodie. He flicked a glance at Doyle -- and then back again. Astounded, he saw from the dawning recollection on his partner's face that Doyle knew what this was about --
"4.5 had the notion that it would be difficult for you and he to readjust after the separation," said Cowley, breezing on.
"Did he, sir," growled Bodie. He gave Doyle a look. A long, long one.
Doyle had genuinely forgotten all about the interview. "I wasn't -- quite myself at the time, sir," he said hurriedly. "Forgot all about it till you mentioned it."
"Had you, Doyle? I remember it quite clearly." Cowley continued remorselessly, really digging it in: "'Find someone else for Bodie' was your exact term."
Bodie was looking at Doyle, absolutely disgusted. "Well, thanks very much, mate."
Doyle ignored him. "Can we erase that from the record, sir? It was -- a mistake."
"A mistake." Cowley mused to himself, staring down at the papers he held.
"Definitely a mistake," put in Bodie.
Cowley threw the papers down, took off his glasses, surveyed them both. "3.7, 4.5: just what is all this?"
Silence. Bodie studied the ceiling; Doyle the floor.
"I want an answer," rapped out Cowley. "The pair of you have been acting like -- like a pair of star-crossed lovers these last weeks! First you're hardly speaking; then you, Doyle, work flat out desperately fabricating a reason to be granted leave for nursemaid duty --"
"Fabricating, sir?" This from Doyle.
Cowley fixed him with a look. "Oh, I quite agree. Your fortunate piece of detection led me onto the right path. But it was quite by chance. Did you know it was the right path? No, Doyle: you wanted an excuse and you found one."
His agent was quiet, and did not meet his eyes.
"I never knew you did that," muttered Bodie, giving Doyle a quizzical sideways look. Doyle shrugged.
"Then," continued Cowley, inexorable, "I hear you aren't speaking again: that having saved Bodie's life, Doyle is refusing to visit him in hospital. On the contrary; he's requesting a new partner and presenting an ill-tempered front to the world. When I need him for a job one morning it then turns out that he just happens to have been spending the night at 3.7's flat. Then there's the little matter of the mercy dash across the country to rescue Bodie from an apparent decline into depression --"
He made a little pause.
"And now I find you together, sitting on some clearly amusing secret, wearing foolish grins and telling me you have to stay together after all. I think you'd agree -- it's not unreasonable of me to demand an explanation, is it?" He reached for his glass and drank, his attention never leaving them for a second. They traded glances. Tell him, said Doyle's.
Bodie swallowed. "You're not going to like it, sir."
Doyle threw his eyes heavenwards, jumpy with tension. Cowley snapped: "I'm sure of it."
"What you said -- star-crossed, and all that --"
Doyle put his head in his hands, giving up. Cowley scowled, not with it.
"What I mean is, sir," muttered Bodie, determined to go through with it, "that we may have let our relationship veer away from the strictly professional."
The glow of lights softly illuminated the room. Darkness had long ago fallen, and the noise of the traffic moving below had slowed, so that now one could pick out the passing of individual cars. No one said anything.
Until -- "May have done?" enquired Cowley, very precise.
"Have done," clarified Bodie.
Cowley sat in a long silence. He set his empty glass down. He fiddled with his spectacles. Then he looked up, sharply. "And if I asked you to put an end to it? If I ordered you to?"
The two men took time to take it in. Doyle gave a brief shake of his head, staring down. Bodie said, very quiet, "If you made us make a choice between ending it and leaving CI5? Is that what you mean, sir?"
Bodie said, "If you felt it had to be that way sir.... We'd be sorry. We don't want to give up CI5. But we couldn't give this up. It isn't possible. It's too important to us."
It might be the end of all they knew. They waited quietly for Cowley's jurisdiction, ready to accept it.
He picked up his glass. "Dry house, tonight?"
Doyle was up in a bound, returning with the bottle. He poured a shot, thoughtful. His whole concentration seemed to be on the act of getting the liquid carefully into the glass. He said nothing; but he met Cowley's eyes.
"I can't pretend I like it," said Cowley at last. "It makes for complications." He took a drink. He needed it.
"We've talked it out," said Doyle. "We think we can handle it."
"We can't say it'll make no difference," added Bodie. "But we'll try to see it makes no difference to you."
They had never let him down before: not once. He sat, thinking. They were on a tight fuse, all the time, unrelenting: they had to learn to give perfect trust to the one man who stood beside them all the time: they had to live with the fact that they might die tomorrow. Maybe it took a degree of difference, of unconventionality to be considered for CI5: and to agree to join it. They saw things, did things no human being should have to view or perform -- on his orders. No wonder they sometimes broke out in unconventional ways.
Way out in a place Cowley couldn't reach....
He took a deep breath. "How did it happen?"
All at once, he was no longer just their boss, someone to defend themselves against. He was, all said and done, someone they trusted: someone who would have been a friend, if circumstances were different.
Doyle said, frowning: "You get to a point where you need someone."
Bodie said instantly, "I didn't need anyone. I just fell in love." He shrugged, feeling a fool, and looked across at Doyle, helpless. Doyle's frown melted into a smile: he shook his head at Bodie's confusion, feeling very good, very cared-for.
Watching them, Cowley thought without envy that they were lucky. He had not been so lucky; and regretted it often some silent lonely nights neither these two, nor anyone else, would ever know of. They were so alive, so young, so -- hopeful: how could he have the right to interfere, in the face of such courage, such optimism?
"Do your jobs," he said harshly. "That's all I ask. I know you'll give it. Anything else -- that's your affair." He drained his glass, looked about him, stuffed the forgotten papers back in his briefcase. "I must go."
As he reached the door, he paused a moment. "I wish you luck."
Alone again together, the two CI5 agents stared at Cowley's retreating back.
Bodie was the first to speak. "Luck. He wished us luck." He shook his head, amazed.
Doyle was in there fast. "What'd you expect? Red roses?"
Bodie smiled. He put an arm around Doyle's shoulders: it felt right there. Together, they bolted the door and shut the world out for the night.
-- THE END --
COPYRIGHT BLUE JAY PRESS 1983.
No attempt is made to supersede copyrights on "The Professionals" held by any individuals or organisations whatsoever. This publication is produced by fans for fans and no profit is made.