'Folded Arms' and Open Minds


(for Jane Carnall, because of 'touched')

Murphy was feeling considerably more uncomfortable, and conspicuous, than he ought to be on a routine follow-and-observe op. After all, they'd known the bloke was homosexual, and they'd known that the 'Folded Arms' was the most likely spot for the drop. So when Swenson headed for the gay club on Saturday evening, Murphy squared his shoulders, muttered dire threats to Cowley under his breath should he not emerge unscathed, and followed him in.

It was rather dim inside; music was playing and men were sitting at the bar and at small tables scattered around a vacant dance floor. Swenson sat at the near end of the bar and turned to watch the door; Murphy brushed past him without looking and took a seat at a table by the other end, behind Swenson but with a clear line of sight. He was thankful that there was no mirror behind the bar, which would have made his job much harder.

The bartender came by and Murphy ordered a pint of bitters: nothing conspicuous, nothing that would affect him even if he were here so long he had to drink it. Swenson didn't seem to be drinking. Murphy hoped there was no back room to the place; he didn't fancy following him in there. Or even into the loo, for that matter. Come on, come on... He looked away, keeping Swenson in his peripheral vision, and scanned the room.

3.7 and 4.5 were sitting at one of the tables in the back, talking.

Only long training kept Murphy from starting visibly. What the hell were they doing here? On a job too? No; CI5 knew Swenson frequented the place, and Cowley would have told him if he was likely to run into any other agents. The old man wasn't slack about such things. Meeting a grass, maybe? But they didn't seem to be expecting anyone--talking quietly across the table, drinks between them.

Well, well.

Murphy had always considered himself reasonably open-minded, and if Bodie and Doyle were--together, well, it wasn't going to bother him. Wasn't any of his business anyway, was it? Unless they were a security risk, of course...

Just then Doyle glanced up, looking over Bodie's shoulder toward the bar, and saw him. His eyes widened, and Murphy made a quick, deceptively casual gesture that every CI5 agent knew meant I'm working, keep clear. Doyle's gaze slid noncommittally past him, around the room, and back to his partner. After a few moments, he leaned forward and said something quietly to Bodie. Bodie was far too good an agent to turn around, but Murphy saw the broad shoulders twitch.

So. 3.7 and 4.5 were... there was an American phrase he'd heard once, 'asshole buddies.' They hid it well; neither of them seemed at all--well, gay, or effeminate, or whatever. Murphy went back to staring at his drink, keeping a weather eye on Swenson, who still hadn't moved.

No; here came whoever it was that Swenson had been waiting for, not through the door at all but from the back of the club. Tallish, red-haired, and was that a package being slipped from hand to hand? It was, just the size for a packet of photographs. No sign of money going the opposite way, but they might be holding that for later, and in any case the photos were the important part. Murphy risked staring at the pair for long enough to fix the other man's description in his mind, and passed close enough by them on his way out to hear his voice. He left the bar with a sigh of relief, got into his car and drove just far enough to be sure no one was following before parking behind an empty warehouse to call in.

"Thin, six feet or so, red-headed but balding, about fifty, with a Welsh accent. Couldn't get a name."

"Och, no matter." Cowley's voice was tinny through the car radio. "I want you to come in and look through the files, see if you can identify him. Someone else will keep an eye on Swenson; you've been too close to him for a while."

Maybe they were working... "Bodie and Doyle, sir?"

"Why d'you ask?" Fortunately Murphy didn't have to answer that, as Cowley went on, "No, they're off duty. I'll send Anson down. Make sure Swenson doesn't leave until he gets there, then you're off. Eight o'clock Monday for those files, 6.2."

"Yes, sir." Murphy switched the radio off. Well, well.

He didn't see 3.7 and 4.5 again until Monday afternoon, when he had just about finished going through the files of suspected associates of known associates of everyone Swenson had ever spoken to, with no luck at all. Disgusted, he headed for the rest room to find out what was currently being passed off as coffee, and found Doyle and Bodie at opposite ends of the sofa, engrossed in the newspapers. They looked up as he came in.

"Hi, Murph," said Doyle amiably, and Bodie nodded to him. Murphy reached behind himself and closed the door before heading for the coffee machine.

"I wouldn't," warned Bodie. "It's lethal today." But Murphy poured himself a cup anyway before turning to look at them.

They weren't sitting particularly close together. How did gay couples look? He couldn't see any difference, but then he wouldn't, would he--after all, just because he'd just found out didn't mean it had just started. They'd been a close team for ages...

"Doyle said you saw us," Bodie said finally.

Murphy realized he'd been staring. "Yeah. Thought you were on a job too, at first." Give them the chance...

"No," said Doyle. "We've been a few times, for a drink after work. 'S a nice place."

"Then you're--"

"Yeah," said Doyle, and grinned briefly. "We are."

Murphy let out a gust of breath and pulled up a battered chair, folding his long frame into it. "Hey, it doesn't bother me any. None of my business, is it?" He sipped at the bitter coffee. "Does Cowley know?"

Bodie nodded. "Not fair to him otherwise."

"Yeah, well, you're not a security risk, then, I guess." Doyle seemed to be watching him, head tilted, and Murphy shifted uncomfortably in the too-small chair. "Look, it doesn't mean anything to me, okay? I'm not going to tell anyone. As long as neither of you starts touchin' me up..." He fumbled for the breezy, liberal attitude he'd always prided himself on. "There isn't that much love in the world, 'specially in this job, and if you two find it with each other, more power to you--" Then he broke off, completely confused, as Doyle began laughing helplessly.

"What--you mean--you thought we--" He clutched his stomach, unable to speak, and Bodie grinned and punched his partner's shoulder.

"Not that unreasonable a mistake, sunshine, is it?" He turned to Murphy, chuckling himself. "You thought we were a couple, didn't you?"

Speechless, Murphy nodded.

Bodie shook his head amusedly. "Not hardly. See enough of him at work, don't I? An' he swears I'm not his type, though having seen what he goes for, I can only be glad of it."

"But you were at the 'Folded Arms'! Together!" Murphy was thoroughly lost.

"What of it?" Bodie asked easily. "We'd just come off work, and it's a nice place to relax. Don't have to worry about keeping up the front, not letting anything slip."

Doyle, recovered, leaned forward with an elbow on the sofa arm. "You got it all wrong, mate," he advised, earnestly. "We're not in love with each other. We're just gay."

-- THE END --

c. 1990

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