...And Memories Die, Part II
by Ellis Ward
"Of course you're welcome, love," Ray Doyle said, his voice rich with affection. He juggled the telephone receiver from one hand to the other, casting a disparaging glance over his shoulder at the disarray of second reminders and account-overdrawn statements which littered his dining room table like the splintered debris of a shipwreck strewn across a pristine beach. "I'll have an excuse to put off doing all these bills a while longer." He listened to the soft voice at the other end of the line, then laughed. "No, I would not give them to you and Graham as a wedding gift--no matter what Bodie says." Perilously stretching the phone cable around the wall as he entered the kitchen, he picked up the kettle and switched on the water tap. "Yes, that's what you're hearing. Tea will be ready before you arrive. Good. See you then."
Whistling contentedly to himself, Doyle plugged the kettle into the socket and shut off the flow of water before replacing the silent handset in its cradle. He jammed his hands into his back pockets, and stood a moment, surveying the work awaiting him.
This was the first day in five weeks that there had been an opportunity to bring their household affairs back to some semblance of order, and only now, going threeish of an afternoon--and after having fruitfully applied himself to charring around the flat and completing some essential but time-consuming errands--was Doyle prepared to confront the backlog of bills, second-notices, and simple correspondence that had accumulated on their front mat in their absence.
Bodie, of course, was out taking care of what he considered the 'rough stuff': hiring formal attire for Sarah's wedding, and purchasing an appropriate gift. Given that the appointed day was rapidly approaching, this was, arguably, not the simplest of tasks.
While Doyle did not envy his partner, and had willingly agreed to the disposition of duties, the stack of paper seemed impossibly daunting. It was all bloody Cowley's fault, having thoughtlessly worked them day and night right down to the wire. Having been assured the time off to prepare for and to attend Sarah's wedding, the Old Man had nevertheless drained every last usable erg of energy out of the pair of them before allowing that they might have the remainder of Thursday off. Which effectively gave them Friday to rest up before the drive to the church in Bodie's hometown on Saturday morning.
One corner of his mouth drawn into an asymmetrical scowl, Doyle took a fortifying breath and started back to the table--only to veer off at the first squeak that emanated from the kitchen. All too soon the pot was warmed, the bags installed, and boiling water splashed into the portly ceramic belly of the teapot. Leaning back against the china cupboard, waiting for the leaves to steep, Doyle stole a moment for reverie.
He was glad to be home. Their most recent operation had been grueling both physically and mentally, and they were exhausted, right down to their follicles. Six hours ago, Bodie's face had looked like alabaster in the morning sun outside the nondescript building that housed CI5, the soft skin under his eyes puffy and faintly purple, stunning blue irises surrounded by a network of red that would not have looked out of place on an atlas of the south-eastern counties. Amazingly dapper for all that, Bodie had summoned a chipper grin and promised Doyle they could have Friday for them, if they got everything else caught up today. Stupidly, Doyle had agreed, when all he'd wanted to do was to fall into bed with his partner and, curled up warmly beside him, sleep for the rest of the week.
Even now, sometimes, he found it hard to believe that Bodie loved him and accepted everything about him--even those unspeakable weeks when he had whored for his keep. Not his fault, of course. They'd been trapped in another universe, and Doyle had been programmed to believe he was a hustler. Two years had passed and all Doyle had to show for that strange adventure were a pale scar on his right shoulder and a load of memories that occasionally scurried out of the murk to haunt him in troubled dreams. Blessedly, they were rarely as traumatizing as the nightmares that had restored his recollection of that time--a time that had been lost to him upon their return to this world.
The shock of that knowledge had filled him with a fierce self-loathing and had threatened to shatter his relationship with Bodie. Never one to forgive himself the foibles of lesser men, Doyle had withdrawn into himself, shaking off all of Bodie's attempts to discuss and consequently assuage his sick confusion, refuting the reality of what had happened until the dreams had coalesced into memories and he could deny it no more.
Like a suppurating wound, the horror and shock had bubbled up out of him, and he had struck out, seeking to wound his partner, madly trying to drive him away as well as spare him his ugliness. But Bodie had tolerated none of it, allowing Doyle his grief but refusing him the destructive inclination to wallow.
Nearly three months had gone by since that terrible night, when he had remembered all. And in the days that had fled by since then, what remained fresh in Doyle's mind was not the ignominy of what he had done and been, but rather the selfless support Bodie had offered. Instead of reproach, there had been a vast caring; instead of condemnation, only an abiding acceptance.
Unaware of the tender smile tugging at his mouth, Doyle broke free of his retrospection and attended to the tea. When Bodie came home--and after they had seen Sarah on her way--Doyle would take care of his partner's needs. A hot, home-cooked meal, a long soak in the tub, and an attentive lover would restore some of the sparkle to Bodie's tired eyes.
Resolutely Doyle carried his mug to the table and began again to sort through the pile.
Nearly an hour later a great deal of progress had been achieved. Where chaos had reigned before, there was now order--of sorts. From the kitchen wafted warm, appetite-inspiring scents, and upon the dining room table stood three neat stacks. The collection of bills due--and seriously overdue--were nearest the head of the table. These lay open beside the now-depleted checkbook while their less urgent kin awaited their turn.
Doyle sat hunched forward, pen in hand, methodically paying off another account. It was duly accorded a grumbled word or two of imprecation before being enclosed in an envelope for the return post. It was his intention to have as many finished off as possible before Sarah arrived upstairs, which would be in a very few minutes as he had unlatched the front door for her only seconds before.
It was with some surprise that he heard the muted workings of Bodie's key in the lock; he must have entered the building just before Sarah. Smugly aware that he was the very picture of industry, Doyle made no effort to greet his partner's entrance. The door closed quietly, and soft footsteps--measured by Bodie's signature tread--crossed the lounge to the dining room.
Smiling, Doyle relaxed back when familiar hands came to rest on his shoulders. "You get everything done?" he asked, reaching up to offer a welcoming caress.
Suddenly alert, Doyle straightened in his chair. The tremble he had discovered in Bodie's grip was manifest in the murmured response as well. "What's--"
He cried out as something slammed down hard against the top of his right thigh, a few inches below the hip. Through the shock of the blow, the prick of a needle went almost unnoticed, although the rapid spread of warmth into his leg did not.
"Bodie," he gasped, wrenching around even as the drug was absorbed by the less conductive muscle tissue, from there to seep insidiously into the vulnerable blood stream, "What are you--?"
And then he saw him: Bodie--but not a Bodie he had ever seen before. Through swiftly blurring vision, he registered the gaunt, harsh features, the obsidian-cold eyes, the uncharacteristically long hair. His partner could not have changed so completely in such a short time; therefore, this could not be Bodie.
Bones turning to jelly, Doyle began to fold in on himself, coming to slump helplessly against the solid body of his attacker. His face pressed into the expensive woolen jacket, head held there by a supportive hand, each of Doyle's senses fell before the drug one by one. Yet through the rising waves of numbness, a single mad thought surfaced: Whoever this man was--he smelled like Bodie.
Strong arms hoisted him upright and he was half-dragged, half-walked across the floor. Observing himself as if from a distance, Doyle was frustrated to learn that he had no reserves of resistance to draw upon, but rather was disgustingly compliant, as though he were merely good-naturedly drunk.
By the time they had arrived at the landing outside the front door, the tiny homunculus within his head--remaining remarkably detached throughout--continued to log their progress. It noted with some small degree of satisfaction that his unwieldy body decidedly hampered the journey down the narrow stairs, while thrilling occasionally at the frequent missteps and near falls that threatened serious damage should his abductor lose his grip--or his balance.
Withdrawing completely into himself, Doyle gave into the pervasive torpor that apparently did not herald total unconsciousness, and was more than half-drowsing when they reached the landing at the second floor. A flurry of startled voices brought his head up as if in slow motion, and coaxed leaden eyelids to rise.
"But what's wrong with him? I only spoke to him a moment or two ago! Andy--"
Not Andy, Doyle wanted to warn her. It was Sarah, of course, staring at the man she believed to be her brother with something very like horror.
"Must've taken a fall," the man answered calmly. "Found him like this. I'm taking him to hospital. Don't worry, okay?"
"But, Andy, what's happened to you?"
Through his curiously fragmented time-sense, Doyle noted that they had continued to move, and were nearing the first floor landing. Voices came and went, like a radio signal suffering interference. Sarah, baffled and upset, was becoming a nuisance. And Doyle feared what this impostor might do if she pushed him too far.
"S-S-Sar-ah..." he whispered, "A-all...r-righ-t." The effort exhausted him, and he sensed the body beside him stiffen with surprise that he had produced speech at all.
He tried to shake his head, desperate to warn her off, but managed only an ungainly wobble before collapsing against his abductor's shoulder.
"He'll be all right, I promise you," the man advised her sharply, and essayed the remaining stairs at a breakneck pace.
The brightness of the June sun was a painful shock to Doyle's eyes. He groaned as he was hustled down the concrete stairs and onto the pavement. A door opened and he was maneuvered into the front seat of a car he did not recognize. Drifting uncontrollably to one side, he was summarily braced against the now-closed door. Cheek flattened upon the glass, he gazed dully out the window. The worried face of Sarah Bodie was the last thing he saw before the car spun away from the curb and accelerated down the narrow street.
Cursing the broken-down lift out of habit rather than any real sense of irritation, Bodie plodded up the last steps to the third floor landing, shifting the plastic-wrapped burden slung over his shoulder for the nth time--and came to a complete stop at sight of the door to his flat standing wide open.
The stance he assumed was from habit, too--as was the way his hand slid inside his leather jacket and curled around the butt of his .44 revolver. Leaving the newly hired wedding togs draped over the banister rail, he assured himself that Doyle had left the door open for a reason--however indefensible--and that the sick foreboding compressing his insides would make for a good laugh later.
He crept into the flat on silent feet, surveying the lounge for anything out of place. Moving on, he entered the dining room, wanting the smell of food to be a good sign, but too well aware that it was having the opposite effect on his already frozen guts.
A sharp intake of breath drew him round, pistol in hand, finger on the trigger.
Sarah stared at him, her face drained of blood, eyes overwide and stupid with shock. "Andy?" she said blankly.
Bodie quickly holstered his gun and stepped toward the young woman. "What is it, Sarah? Did I frighten you? I didn't mean to. Where's Ray?"
She swallowed with obvious difficulty. Bodie reached her with two long strides and swept her out of the corridor and into the kitchen. There he filled a glass with water and handed it to her, his fingers wrapped around hers to steady them.
"What is it, love?" he prodded gently. "What's happened?"
"Thought it was you," Sarah replied, stammering slightly. "He looked like you, Andy, but--not."
"Who? Who looked like me?"
"The man with Ray. Ray looked sick, really bad. The man was almost carrying him."
Sarah blinked. "Ten minutes? Perhaps fifteen."
Fifteen minutes! In that time, Doyle could have been taken anywhere. Ruthlessly quashing a surge of panic, Bodie sucked in a deep breath. "Tell me everything, Sarah," he said calmly, "everything you can remember. It's important."
Bolstered by Bodie's presence, Sarah made a visible effort to regain control. "Need to sit down," she said apologetically, and settled immediately into the hard-backed chair Bodie slid out for her.
"I called Ray about an hour ago. Asked if you'd mind my stopping by for a few minutes. Haven't seen you in over a month."
Bodie noiselessly lowered himself into the chair opposite Sarah's, studying her closely. "I know. We've been busy."
She took a sip of water, her head nodding. "You always are. He said it'd be fine; we joked a little. He said I'd spare him doing bills." She glanced down at the still neat stacks positioned on the table, the open checkbook, the pen lying where it had fallen. "I rang him when I got here. He released the latch and I started up. I wasn't half-way to the flat when I met him--and that man--coming down. Ray was pale, his eyes shut. The man with him was holding him up; Ray was limp, Andy." She exhaled sharply. "The other man looked just like you. But...."
"Thinner. Tired. Cold. He scared me."
She frowned, her mouth working. "I don't know," she replied finally. She shrugged her shoulders. "He didn't know me, but I was so sure it was you. Ray tried to speak. I'm positive he was drugged. His voice was slurred; he could hardly keep his eyes open."
"What did he say?"
"Could hardly understand him. I think he was trying to tell me that he was all right."
"The man with him: did he speak?"
"Yes. He said something about Ray falling; that he was taking him to hospital. He didn't want me butting in--and, well, I know how close you two are. And I haven't seen you in so long-- I thought maybe you--"
"Don't blame yourself, Sarah," Bodie said. "Did you see them drive off? See the car he was driving?"
"Yes. I don't think he wanted me to follow, but I was so worried, and Ray looked so...." She chewed on her bottom lip, eyes closed tightly. "OPN 153R."
"The number plate--that's what was on it."
Bodie quelled the urge to shout. "You're sure?"
"It wasn't your car. Don't think you'd be caught dead driving a grotty old banger like that."
"I don't know the year or the model, but it was an old Vauxhall."
Bodie smiled grimly. "You're wrong, Sarah. That is my car."
"Then how did he...?"
"I have an idea. Look, love, I've got to go. I don't think Ray is in danger." He stood up and lightly curved a finger under the woman's chin. "But I can't afford to take any chances. Will you straighten this lot out? Lock up for me? And don't worry."
"Andy, you'll ring, won't you? Let me know Ray's all right?"
"Soon as I can. Thanks, love." With that he was out the door and thudding down the stairs three and four at a time.
Sarah sighed. She carried her half-full glass into the kitchen and abstractedly set about putting things to rights.
In fact, Bodie had a very good idea what was going on, the laws of nature and conventions of logic notwithstanding. Only one man could know where that car had been hidden; only one man could hold the keys that unlocked the garage housing it. He was that man.
Yet, nearly two years ago he and Doyle had stumbled into another place--another universe, paralleling their own, Doyle had said--and there they had encountered a man who called himself Bodie, too. Bodie's keys had worked to open that man's flat and to drive that man's car. If, somehow, that Bodie had found a way to cross the barriers that normally divided their universes, then surely the opposite would hold true here, as well.
As preposterous as it seemed, the answer was the only one that fit every criteria--save one.
Not only why should that Bodie purposely enter their plane of existence, but why should he kidnap Ray? Certainly there had been an attraction between them once: the bastard had purchased Doyle's favors when Doyle had been programmed to believe he was a hustler. But for all that he had desired him between his sheets, that Bodie had been willing enough to see them leave, since their presence in his world had been a rather massive inconvenience.
Something had happened to change his mind, obviously, and Bodie had a sneaking suspicion what that something might be.
It didn't bear thinking on. After all, if the maniac was capable of coming through this way, what was to stop him going back--taking Doyle with him?
Drenched in an icy sweat, Bodie turned his mind to the information he had got from Sarah. She had been so frightened; not, he realized now, because he had startled her with his revolver, but because she had recognized in an instant that there were two Bodie's--and the wrong one had got hold of Ray.
Strange how quickly those two had come to form a mutual admiration. Bodie had made his feelings regarding family clear fairly soon after discovering he had a daughter--a daughter who thought he was her brother! Ray was all the family he wanted, and this grown woman was simply outside his experience. He could not speak comfortably with her, although due to Doyle's efforts, he had learned to try. Sarah was inquisitive about her 'older brother,' and wanted to know more about him. Intrigued with the young woman, Doyle had done what he could to provide a link between them. In doing so, he had become Sarah's boon companion on those rare occasions when time was not at a premium and Bodie was otherwise engaged.
All of this had developed not long after they had received Sarah's invitation to her wedding and right around the time that Doyle's memories of all that had transpired in that other universe had come back to him. Those had been a miserable few days, before Doyle worked it out of his system in his usual inimitable way. In fact, Bodie still bore the scars, invisible though they were. Shortly after that, Sarah had made a few overtures and Ray had responded. He it was who had relayed Sarah's wish that Bodie walk with her down the aisle at her wedding; he too, who had put that same intended through the investigation mill, before allowing that the lad was clean, even though Sarah could surely do far better.
While not enamored with the notion of being saddled with a full-fledged family, Bodie had come to terms with the reality of it, for Doyle was determined that it should be so. Even Julie, Bodie's stepmother who had borne his child, had ventured forth a time or two, and everyone had been civil, if not fully relaxed.
Doyle was of the opinion that Sarah should be told the truth about her 'big brother.' Bodie didn't want to be bothered. He dreaded the possible row that might follow, along with the recriminations and disgust--all of which he himself thought perfectly justifiable. His actions had been criminally irresponsible, despite a certain provocation: Julie had been a powerful enticement to a fifteen year old boy. How his father had coped, Bodie could not begin to imagine. Yet the old man had managed somehow, and he had even made it clear in his letter, written in the closing days of his life, that he had exonerated Bodie of all wrongdoing.
Sarah was a lovely woman; bright, headstrong, and very affectionate. She viewed Bodie as a cross between a romantic hero and an off-putting stranger--or so Doyle had confided. For her the prospect of a long-lost sibling was wonderfully enchanting; for Bodie, it was laden with pitfalls and potential disaster. Even Julie had come to respect her stepson and was quick to defer to his judgment on those rare times they had discussed her husband's estate.
While Bodie could concede that this newborn familial entanglement had its enjoyable aspects, it would not matter a whit without Doyle beside him. Always a figure of great import in his life, Doyle had come to assume the very fiber of Bodie's existence. He could not perceive the day when they might be separated forever--would not even consider it. Somewhere, in a not oft-frequented corner of his mind, he knew that when Doyle died, he died. Whether by suicide, or neglect, it made no difference. There would be an ending. And the likelihood of that did not disturb him at all.
Not that he would give Doyle up without a fight. If that other Bodie had found a way to steal into their universe and spirit his partner away, Bodie would find a means of going after them--and he would remain there, searching, until he had got his Doyle back, just as he had done before.
Nevertheless the thought was oppressive, and Bodie pushed it aside, concentrating instead on the traffic, which was thickening as he rode nearer to Soho. Just as his opposite number must have had knowledge of his garaged vehicle--and more prosaically, a key to unlock it--so must he have access to the bolt-hole flat Bodie maintained in this part of Town. Not even Doyle knew about it, an oversight Bodie had meant to rectify some time ago. The subject had not come up, and it was not something he often thought about, having established the flat many years before, shortly after hiring on with Cowley's mob. Like the car, and the weapons secreted in its boot, the tiny bedsit was intended for escape, a place to catch his breath before the hounds could pick up his scent.
Please, he prayed, to no divinity in particular, let Doyle be there.
He was. Sprawled on his back upon fresh linen, and still shackled by the chemicals which evidently inhibited voluntary enterprise, Doyle gazed groggily about the unappealing accommodations and wondered where he was.
They had arrived only a few moments before. Shaken from roiling blackness, Doyle had been hauled out of the car and escorted into a dingy, dilapidated old building. Once inside the one-room flatlet, he had been taken to the small bed and gently lowered onto it. Briefly, consciousness had flirted with him, waxing and waning in a most discouraging manner. But slowly the world had righted, and he had begun to take an interest in his surroundings, noting the position of the door and the regrettable lack of windows. Just as the thought that he seemed slightly more clear-headed flickered optimistically through his brain, his abductor had come into view, standing solemnly at the foot of the bed.
Under that steady, terrible gaze, so very like his partner's, Doyle wanted to squirm. There was nothing of love in it, and so far, not much lust. But there was something.... Foolish, surely, to call it pain?
"I won't hurt you," the man said, ominously slipping the expensively-tailored jacket off wide shoulders. As he stepped round the end of the mattress, his eyes were fixed unblinkingly on Doyle, as though he meant to brand the image of his captive onto the very surface of his brain.
Trembling with the effort of marshaling unresponsive muscles to self-defense, Doyle could only wait helplessly as Bodie's look-alike came nearer. He tried to shrink away when the lumpy mattress sagged beneath the man's added weight.
A cold hand curved round Doyle's cheek, sending a shudder down his spine.
"D-d-on't." Doyle meant the word to reverberate with menace, but lacked the voice to carry it off.
"No point in fighting, sunshine," his captor said softly, head tilted a little to one side. He traced the darkened line of Doyle's jaw to the willful chin. A tremor ran through those fingers and the man grimaced, circling Doyle's broad neck with uncomfortable strength. "I've come a long way for this--for you." With sudden purpose he turned his attention to the first button that held Doyle's shirt closed. One after another he pried them open, taking his time with each, as though he had forever at his disposal.
From somewhere Doyle found the strength to bring his hands up; they were summarily shoved aside.
"Don't bother, Tiger." The voice had fallen to a whisper. "You won't be able to put up a decent fight for hours yet. So you might as well lie back and enjoy it. You enjoyed it before, remember?"
The breath stilled in Doyle's throat. He had known, of course. Even with the drug spinning his thoughts round like leaves in a squall, he had known this man. But to concede that he had wanted him before, and that he had relished the intimacy of his lovemaking, he would not do. "N-not...B-b-Bodie," he gasped.
A rueful smile lightened the haggard features. "Not your Bodie, you mean," he corrected gently, warming a hand beneath Doyle's collar.
The arrogant expression was all too familiar. "No," his captor agreed, even though Doyle had not spoken in argument but in refusal.
Doyle's shirt was spread wide, leaving him vulnerable to sight and touch. He felt scorched by the hot blue stare that raked over him. In truth he remembered this Bodie all too well: The domineering caresses that had swept him to ecstasy, while the pleasure sought from his body had been taken only out of curiosity. To this man, he had been nothing more than a passing conquest, one among many. In fact, he had been bought.
Impotent fury made his eyes blur. His Bodie had never used him so callously. "B-b-bast-ard," he ground the word out.
"Yes." Fingers stroked downward across his shoulders, mapping the contours of bone and flesh with unhurried thoroughness before coming to rest upon Doyle's chest. There they faltered, then stilled altogether, riding the wavelike undulation of Doyle's respiration.
Doyle squeezed his eyes shut, trying hard to clear his vision. This was a torture he had never experienced before. Incapable of protecting himself, he would be forced to yield everything. Doyle promised himself that he would kill this man once he was able. He would hunt him down, and he would destroy him--brutally, viciously, and without compunction.
It was a long, dizzying moment before Doyle became aware that his despoiling had yet to begin. Warily he cracked open an eye. The man's head was bent forward, all his attention centered on his own hands where they lay cool upon Doyle's dark-downed ribcage. A curious expression held siege to that bloodless face: a kind of wistful remorse. One of the palms shifted, just a little, and covered Doyle's heart.
Dazed, Doyle witnessed the crumpling of that hard visage. There was the briefest hint of brightness in the agonized eyes before the man curled forward and rested his cheek between his hands, shifting his head so that his ear was pressed full against Doyle's breastbone. And then he was clutching at Doyle's flanks, lifting him and surrounding him in a suffocating embrace. Ragged sounds bled from his throat, muffled but clearly discernible, evincing a deep-seated grief which had obviously been too long refused.
Not impervious to that shocking display of emotion, Doyle was nevertheless at a total loss of how to cope with it. Offering no objection, he lay quiet as his chest received the man's tears. Himself crippled and drained by the drug, Doyle ultimately did the only thing he could do: he surrendered to the hovering darkness.
Sometime later--seconds? hours?--he woke. A coarse blanket had been placed over him, and he felt distinctly unwell. He rolled onto his side, gulping against the nausea that filled the back of his mouth with salt. Something touched the base of his skull and he twisted around, finding instantly to his regret that not only was he sick to his stomach, but the unwilling possessor of a monumental headache, as well.
"Steady on," that familiar voice warned. "It'll pass in a minute. Just relax."
Agreeing out of necessity, Doyle rolled himself into a tight ball and rode out the spasms. A cool flannel swabbed his brow and moistened his mouth. He glanced up uneasily, not knowing what to expect. The other man accepted his distrust impassively.
"You ready to try some water?"
Hesitantly, Doyle nodded, closely observing the wool-clad arm--his kidnapper was again dressed for travel--as it reached across him and picked up a glass. Doyle was weak, but managed to grip the container with the other's help. He sipped delicately, cautious of his stomach's reception of even so innocent an intruder. A moment later, he drank some more, then crumpled back against the pillow.
The man regarded him with approval. "That's better. The junk'll be out of your system before you know it; it's a very refined cocktail."
"D-do I...want to know what...was in it?" Doyle whispered.
"Probably not." The man glanced away. "I should apologize, I suppose. This was a mistake."
"How...the f-fuck...did you get here?"
That drew a pale smile. "Easy, if you know how. But don't worry. I shan't be staying."
For the first time, Doyle really took in the man's appearance. Unlike the robust individual he had known in that other universe, this Bodie was a husk of his former self. He had lost weight--too quickly, if the unhealthy pallor of his skin and the purplish-blue shadows haunting his face were any indication. Dark hair lapped at his collar, haphazardly trimmed in front of his ears and across his forehead, a sign of neglect in his own Bodie.
"Why--all this," Doyle weakly demanded.
"'S not important now, sunshine," the other Bodie said evenly. "Have some more water. You'll feel better."
Doyle allowed the question to go unanswered--for now. He drank thirstily, more sure of his insides. But he overestimated his strength, and when his fingers lost their hold, only the prompt reflexes of the other man spared him an impromptu bath. A small amount of water collected on his bottom lip, however, and threatened to spill over.
Before Doyle could wipe it away, the other man brushed the backs of his fingers against Doyle's chin, allowing them to linger until the rivulet of moisture came to him. Then, with the ball of his thumb, he spread the wetness across Doyle's lower lip, continuing to stroke the soft skin smoothly, long after the water was gone.
Overcoming his first inclination to wrench free, Doyle was held motionless by the butterfly-light pressure of the man's hand--and the hungry gaze that searched his face. Despite himself, Doyle waited as the other Bodie bent nearer, only recovering himself at the last possible instant. "No," he breathed.
Less than an inch separated them, but the man stopped. He inhaled a little shakily. "Time I took you home, I think."
"That won't be necessary."
Two heads swivelled in unison toward the harsh voice. Bodie--Doyle's Bodie--stood just inside the half-open door, eyes as hard and cold as stone.
His twin on the bed evinced mild surprise. "I must admit, I didn't think you would puzzle it out so quickly."
"I had some help," Bodie said flatly. He gave Doyle a cursory once-over. "You all right?"
Bodie closed the door behind him, the gun in his hand appearing seemingly from nowhere. "Is he?" he pointedly asked his gaunt-faced duplicate.
"He will be," the other Bodie replied. He rose to his feet and stepped away from the bed.
"That was a bloody stupid stunt to pull." The softness of Bodie's tone belied the cold anger radiating from his voice.
"Yes, I know," his double replied wearily. "Now."
"Hand over your shooter." When the man had obeyed, Bodie added, "Shall I finish it--or do you have the guts to?"
Doyle stiffened in alarm, eyeing one man and then the other to be sure he understood. "Don't...be stupid, m-mate."
Bodie shook his head, never allowing the other to leave his sight. "Stay out of this, Ray."
"Wouldn't be murder," Bodie murmured, gradually covering the distance between them, one slow step following another. "Can't kill a dead man, y'know." He laughed hollowly. "Sounds like a cheap novel, doesn't it?"
"Sorry, Ray," Bodie said equably. "He started it."
The other Bodie conceded a small smile. "He is right," he said amicably. "I did."
Doyle lurched off the bed, and flung himself between the two adversaries. "What is...the matter with you?" The color fled from his face, and he swayed, hand stretched out to his partner.
"Sit down, you fool," Bodie said gruffly.
Obeying because he could do nothing else, Doyle leaned forward, seeking his lover's support. It was granted immediately.
"You don't understand, do you?" Bodie's low voice held more than a hint of condescension. Soothing fingers combing through sweat-damp hair, he explained, "His Doyle is dead."
At that Doyle's chin came up. Finding the other Bodie's eyes upon him, he whispered, "You found him?"
"How long...how long has he been dead?"
"Six months." The stunned expression on Doyle's face seemed to cause the other man pain. He said sharply, "Look, there's no point to this. Your mate's right. I'd've killed him if he'd tried it on with my Doyle."
But Doyle had stopped listening, trying to absorb not only what the man had admitted to, but everything that he had left unsaid. "Interchangeable parts," he muttered with acid humor, as the truth struck home. "You're still a...prick, you know that?"
Bodie's thumb brushed lightly against Doyle's temple, unwittingly echoing the other's recent intimacy. "Ray, you okay?"
Doyle met the concerned gaze wearily. "Of course," he repeated mockingly. Then: "We're going home, and he's coming with us."
"No--" the other Bodie began, his voice drowning out Bodie's simultaneous protest.
"You owe me that, you bastard," Doyle snapped with sudden strength. His blanched face challenged his abductor to defy him.
Over Doyle's head the two men exchanged speaking glances. Bodie inclined his head in mimicry of a nod, his expression grim. "You haven't got a choice, mate--any more than I have. It's what he wants."
The other man's mouth twisted bleakly. "Doesn't mean it's good for him."
"Don't I bloody well know it," Bodie agreed dourly. After holstering his weapon, he bent over to grip Doyle under the arms. "C'mon, then, sunshine, on your feet."
The return ride to the flat was made, for the most part, in strained silence. Doyle fell asleep almost immediately, lulled by the vibration of the motor and the smooth motion of the vehicle. Bodie drove with extra care in order not to disturb him unnecessarily, and saved his own questions for the same reason.
The problem of the Vauxhall was solved by arranging to pick it up later. If Doyle were not up to it, Bodie would return alone by way of the tube and restore the old road veteran to the garage. He was thankful that Doyle had been too distracted to wonder about the Soho bedsit--and how Bodie himself had known about it. Time enough for that later; Doyle would remember eventually.
He kept an eye on his double in the rearview mirror, keenly aware that the man's attention was fixed solely on Doyle. There was a kind of hunger about him that feasted on Doyle's presence. The realization made Bodie uneasy while touching him with kindred understanding. Were he to believe Ray dead--and then to find him alive--would his reaction be dissimilar?
His head throbbed with a niggling but steady complaint. He'd hoped their brief interlude in that looking glass world was behind them forever. Although it had gone some way to bringing Doyle and him together, it had also caused a world of heartache for Doyle that he was still coming to terms with. What this little episode would do to him was anybody's guess.
Interchangeable parts. The moron! Bodie sighed, and gave his concentration to the road.
Doyle stirred reluctantly after Bodie had parked the car. Still drawn and waxen, he staggered from the pavement to the concrete entry, relying on Bodie to catch him should he fall. Somehow he made it up all three flights of stairs, only to collapse in a miserable heap on the sofa. Bodie stripped off his shoes after directing his counterpart into the kitchen to start the kettle. Then he fetched a coverlet from the overstuffed chair and tucked it round him. When he started to rise from a low crouch, a long hand snaked out and caught him by the wrist.
Looking askance at his partner, Bodie waited for him to speak.
"I won't have you hurting him," Doyle warned him huskily.
Bodie made no effort to conceal his displeasure. "He was going to rape you. You do understand that, don't you?"
"He had the chance. He didn't do it."
"He doesn't belong here, Ray."
"I know." Doyle exhaled heavily. "But he's already here, isn't he. And I want to talk to him; I...I want to know about him."
Bodie cocked his head to one side. "'Him?'"
"Yeah." The green eyes were not happy. "His Doyle. Don't suppose you can understand that."
"Not really," Bodie said honestly. "He isn't you--anymore than he's me." He bit back the bubbling of an hysterical snicker. "Perhaps I should rephrase that?"
"Don't bother. I know it's mad, okay?" Doyle assured him. "Just promise not to kill him."
Doyle grimaced at him. "Stubborn bugger." He hooked an arm around Bodie's neck and drew him near. "I love you. Remember that."
"So long as you do, as well." He pressed his cheek against Doyle's jaw. "Wasn't the most comfortable scene in the world to walk into back there," he noted obliquely.
Doyle comprehended what he was referring to without difficulty. "Him and me, you mean?"
"I...can't explain it myself. But he looks like you--and he smells like you, too."
An abrupt gust of laughter stirred the curls behind Doyle's left ear. "Am I supposed to find that reassuring?"
"I still told him 'no'."
Bodie rocked back on his heels, cradling Doyle's face between both hands. He bestowed a gentle kiss on the full mouth. "That's the only reason your head doesn't hurt a whole lot more than it already does, y'know."
Doyle accepted that with a wan smile. "Berk."
"Have a little kip, mate. I'll just go and see what your friend is up to."
Heavy eyelids were already drooping downward. "Not me friend...."
After twitching the coverlet an inch higher onto Doyle's shoulders, Bodie left him. Entering the kitchen his empty stomach reacted spasmodically to the tantalizing scents rising from the cooker. The other Bodie, in the midst of stirring a large pot, spared him a glance.
"He will be all right," he said.
"He'd better be," Bodie snapped back. He surveyed the meat and vegetables simmering in a fragrant sauce, the large slabs of bread piled onto a plate, and the chunks of cheese and fruit which occupied another. "Seem to know your way around pretty well," he commented and reached into the refrigerator for a beer.
"I have the same flat--back home."
Bodie stared at him. "Of course." He continued to study the other man, taking in the stylish cut of his clothing, which was at odds with its state of repair: they looked slept in. The man's features fascinated him, too. Only once could he remember seeing that same shattered and ashen look in his own mirror. That had been nearly three years ago, after Doyle had been shot by a bloody-minded Asian girl. She'd nearly killed him; if she had succeeded, Bodie would have snuffed her out like a candle flame pinched between two fingers. She had died anyway, but by then was of no consequence--to anyone--disowned by her own people and held in contempt by those who denounced her purpose. This man wore the face Bodie had worn then. Had Doyle died, and Bodie had chosen to carry on, would he be wearing it still?
Uncomfortably sympathetic, Bodie jarred himself out of his thoughts and swept wide an arm, indicating the meal preparations. "Feeling a bit peckish, are we?"
"It's for Doyle. It'll help him."
"He's sleeping." Bodie took a long pull from his can. "What, precisely, did you have in mind for him?"
The other Bodie's face hardened, but he forced a laugh. "Should think that was rather obvious--even to you."
"More than you might imagine," Bodie came back softly. He bent over and took another can out of the refrigerator. His counterpart caught it deftly. "Tell me how you got here. I thought when it happened to us it was a fluke."
The unopened beer was turned slowly round within large hands. "It was." He peeled back the ring pull. "But there are differences between our worlds. Doyle's diary and my knowledge of where you had come in and gone out made it possible to calculate where points of overlap occur."
Bodie raised a hand. "Slow down. What were you doing with Doyle's diary?"
"When he got himself caught in our agent's flat, remember? We confiscated everything: his gun, money, personal effects."
"And from his diary, you sussed out how to get back here?"
"As you see." The man spoke with unemphatic arrogance.
"You couldn't have done it on your own," Bodie said with certainty. "I couldn't."
"And we're the same, are we?"
"Close as makes no difference." Bodie was rapidly reaching the end of his patience. "At least as far as the basics go. Fess up: who's in this with you?"
The man had a long drink before answering. "Crippled bloke who teaches up at Cambridge. Saw him on tv one night. Likes puzzles. He's considered a bright lad by some."
Bodie's mouth hung a little ajar. "You're joking--aren't you? I know who you're talking about; he's a genius. You just walked up to him and asked how to slip from one...universe...to another, did you?"
"Not exactly. Wrote him a letter."
"And he wrote back, take the 33 bus to East Sheen, step round behind Woolworth's and--poof--you'll be in another London."
A reluctant smile lifted weary lips. "Not quite." A hand slid under his lapel, into an inside pocket. The other man drew out a small sheaf of papers, which bore the telltale ragged edges of a computer print-out. "Based on the information I gave him, he worked out where the 'gates' are temporarily open. Has to do with the differences in our moons' rotations, the pull of the tides--I don't know what-all."
Bodie snatched the papers from the man's hand. Setting his can on the sideboard, he began to rifle through them. There was a map of England laid with dots connected by lines that formed a spiral pattern. Where the rings widened, they spread out over the Atlantic. One of the dots had been heavily circled with ink.
"Portsmouth?" Bodie asked.
"Near there. Look at the next sheet."
Bodie did. This print-out was an ordnance map, with place names underlined and times and dates scribbled alongside each location.
"He said it would constitute a 'transdimensional fault'--if it existed," the other man said helpfully. "Of course he didn't believe any of this; was just a game to him."
"Works in clockwise fashion," the other Bodie lectured in the same offhand manner. "When you were in my world, you were supposed to go back here--if you wanted to maintain your time flow." A blunt finger jabbed at a spot south and east of Staveley Avenue. "Where you went out should've resulted in what he called a 'time conundrum' for you. Did it?"
Bodie gave his head a feeble shake, as if doing so would clear away unexpected cobwebs. "Yeah--if you mean we spent a month in your London and returned to find we'd only missed a day here."
"Maybe I'll tell him," the other Bodie murmured. "He'd be pleased to know that. It's what he suspected."
White-faced, Bodie marvelled at his duplicate's nonchalance. "You must know how dangerous this information is. What's to stop lunatics from going and coming at will?"
"That's the only copy in existence," was his quiet reply. "I destroyed the bloke's offices after he sent it to me. Almost burned down a whole bloody wing, unfortunately. And I did make sure he hadn't kept any of it at home, too. We're safe enough."
Appalled despite himself, Bodie grated out, "You're mad, d'you know that."
The man lifted the can to his mouth. "Not anymore." He spoke with calm assertion. "Seeing Ray...changed all that."
"Why couldn't you--?" At that instant the phone gave off two sharp trills. Diving for it before the extension in the lounge could echo its summons again, Bodie snatched up the handset. "770-7593. Sarah! Sorry, love. Yeah, he's fine. Meant to call, but I-- No, don't, he wouldn't want you to fuss. It was a mistake--a...a joke. Yes, Ray laughed as much as anyone. That's right, we'll be there. I promise. Yes, of course I'll tell him. All right. Good night."
He hung the phone back in its cradle. "Why do I have the impression she didn't believe me?" he groused under his breath.
"That the bird Doyle and I passed going out?"
Bodie glared with glittering menace at his counterpart. "Yes. And you never saw her. Is that clear?"
The door opened behind Bodie and he stepped smartly aside, only just avoiding a collision.
It was Doyle, drowsy-eyed, hair betraying a hasty finger-combing, but looking more alert than Bodie had seen him since morning. "Hallo," he said cautiously. "Is this a private party?"
"Just exclusive," Bodie said wryly. "How're the insides?"
"Ridiculously hungry." He cast a quick glance at the other man, reassuring himself of his existence, before turning back to Bodie. "I'm going to clean up. Will the grub be ready in a few minutes?"
"Greedy guts. Only take a sec to serve up."
"Wonderful." Doyle offered him a grateful smile. At the door, he hesitated. "Who rang?"
"Sarah. Told her you're fine; said the lads had rigged a prank; and we'll be at the church on time. She sends her love."
Doyle's grin widened. "She's a brick. Deserves better than us."
"Doesn't everyone?" Bodie agreed.
As soon as Doyle had disappeared into the bathroom, the other man asked disinterestedly, "I know I'm not supposed to have seen this Sarah, but is she something to you? Relation, maybe?"
Bodie raised a haughty brow. "Why?"
"She doesn't exist--in my world. She's beautiful."
Feeling as though he was treading an extremely precarious cliff edge, Bodie said carefully, "Perhaps you'll meet her when you go back."
The other man was cynically amused. "Probably not."
Bluntly, Bodie stated, "You'd have been better off to do it right after, y'know. Instead of putting yourself through all this."
Blue eyes, reflecting more torment than Bodie ever wanted to know, met his unflinchingly. "True."
Bodie blinked and it was as if the windows to that personal hell had never existed, replaced by an opaque hardness that revealed nothing.
For Bodie, the meal that followed was unutterably bizarre. The three of them sat at the dinner table and conversation was pedestrian, Doyle not yet ready to pursue his enquiries. As always, whether distressed, not distressed, or simply starving, Bodie ate well. Doyle picked, as was his wont, and the other Bodie did the same. In fact, Doyle put down more than he did. Bodie tried to overlook the fact that the other man could not keep his eyes off the green-eyed incarnation of his dead lover, yet it still unnerved him. He wished that he had made no avowals to Ray, and that this intruder was as dead as his lover.
Afterward, dishes were left in the sink to soak while everyone repaired to the lounge room. Bodie settled in the overstuffed chair, pleased when Doyle sat on the carpet by his feet, a bony shoulder pressed against his knee. The other chose the sofa--the farthest end from them--coffee cup held between both hands, as though he sought the comfort of its warmth.
Doyle opted for the direct approach. "When did you meet him--the other me?" he asked, and took a noisy sip from his own mug.
"About a month after you two disappeared. Thought it was you at first," he said reminiscently. "Until he raised his head and I could see the difference in his eyes."
The other Bodie moved his shoulders dismissively. "Don't think I can explain it. But it was there." He laughed softly. "My first mistake, really. You were my tiger; thought to myself he was a sewer rat."
Doyle tensed. "Because he whored around?"
Surprise flared across the man's face. "He didn't."
"It was in his file," Bodie argued. "His 'protector' was Harry Walter, the bloke who had Doyle programmed."
"Of course--" The other paused with sudden comprehension. "You couldn't possibly know." He hesitated long enough to take the measure of the two men, then plunged ahead. "It was his cover. My Doyle never hustled anyone. But it was useful for others to think that he did."
"Why?" Amazement tugged Doyle's voice into a squeak. Bodie had felt the shock of the other man's words communicated through his partner's body; he laid a hand on Doyle's shoulder.
The man said, "Because a rent-boy doesn't draw half the attention of a known assassin."
Ignoring the consternation in Doyle's bloodless visage, the other Bodie went on, "One of the best, too. Worked for our side more often than not. Even hired out to Cowley a time or two."
Bodie's brows drew downward with doubt. "If he was so good, how'd he get caught by you lot?"
"Playing the part. He was taken in a routine trawl. Normally, that wouldn't have caused him any difficulty, but after your mate had been in CI5 custody, we had his prints. A standard check brought him to our attention. And since I'd got my arse in a sling over losing him before--well, Cowley thought I'd want to redeem myself."
"What about Harry Walter?"
"Doyle did a few jobs for him. Harry had a comfortable set-up. And he liked Ray just fine."
"You said he wasn't a whore," Doyle said sharply.
"No. And he was choosy about who he went to bed with. But he wasn't above using people; he used Harry."
"And you?" Bodie asked.
That drew a slow smile. "Yeah. At first. Which isn't to say the attraction wasn't there." His voice trailed off, and for a moment, he let silence speak for him. As though to himself, he added, "Things were pretty shaky in the early days. Neither of us knew what we wanted, but it was always great in bed--kept us coming back for more."
"You fell in love with him," Doyle said, on a note of discovery.
The other man did not deny it. "Yes."
"What about him? How did he feel about you?" Bodie probed.
The man's expression was not pleasant. "It cut both ways."
Cautiously Doyle requested, "Tell me how he died."
The other did not respond at first, a vast emptiness dulling the brilliant color of his eyes. Somehow, in an instant, the hollows cut into his face deepened and the lines etched into his cheeks and jaw darkened, as though he were falling into a decline before them. He spoke and the image was dispelled, his voice unwavering and clear, if a little husky. "He was shot to death, then dumped in the Thames."
"Who?" Doyle breathed.
"I don't know."
"What d'you mean, 'you don't know'?" Bodie demanded.
"It means I don't know," the other replied coldly.
"You tried to find out."
The hard face marginally relaxed before the certainty in Doyle's words. "Of course. Worked on it nonstop for three months. Told Cowley to fuck himself when he tried to interfere. Believe it or not, he came round and offered the total resources of CI5. But whoever murdered my Doyle left no clues, stirred no whispers on the street, and vanished without a trace. I couldn't turn up a fucking thing. Nothing."
"Where were you when it happened?" Bodie wanted to know.
"On assignment. Up north."
Doyle regarded him tensely, picking up on the resentment in the clipped response at once. "How long after he was murdered did you find out?"
A muscle pulled visibly at the back of the heavy jaw. "Nearly two weeks."
"Cowley didn't approve," he explained flatly. "Of us. Because we got close. Guess it threatened him, and the Squad. He told me when I got back to Town."
Bodie was frowning. "Didn't you try to reach your Doyle while you were on the case?"
The other man drained his cup and set it on the end-table with a clatter. "No. We'd had a row the night before Cowley sent me to Leeds. Ray...could be pretty volatile sometimes. Thought the separation would do us both good. Meant to square things when I got back."
Aching for the man who was so like his partner, Doyle asked gently, "You're sure it was him--that it was his body? You said he'd been in the water...."
The other paled noticeably. "Yes, I'm sure. Cowley'd already had him cremated, but there were morgue shots. It was Ray." Without another word, he stood up, face rigidly composed. "Look, I know it's early yet, but could you give me a place to...to lie down? Then I'll go. There's nothing more I have to tell you."
Bodie rose immediately. "We've a spare room-- You know. The bed's made up, clean sheets, the lot."
"Thanks," the man said curtly. He nodded once and left the room. Seconds later they heard the soft click of the bedroom door closing.
Doyle's expression betrayed him. "Christ," he whispered.
Bodie reached down a hand and drew his partner up to his feet. "You all right?"
"Yeah," Doyle said, harshly. "I am." He moved closer to Bodie and took him into his arms. "God, Bodie."
"Know what you mean," Bodie muttered, fervently returning the embrace. "May be early for him, but I'm knackered. You ready to sleep, old son?"
"Past ready. Just--let me hold you a bit, okay?"
"Not fighting, am I?" Bodie said lightly.
Doyle eased his convulsive grip and leaned far enough away to behold Bodie's face. "Rarely do," he replied in kind. "Bodie--"
A finger came up and pressed against his parted lips. "I know, Ray. He's hurting. But there's nothing we can do. Nothing he can do. Just wish he hadn't come here to figure that out."
"'S like seeing you hurt," Doyle said somberly. "Wish--"
Bodie kissed him, silencing the warm mouth once more. "Let it go, mate." He glimpsed a flicker of mutiny in the green depths. "Please."
Doyle bent his forehead to Bodie's shoulder. "Bed," he said.
He should have been asleep. This afternoon, whilst trying to organize their accounts, he could have slumbered where he sat. Now, curled up behind Bodie, one hand resting possessively on a solidly muscled hip, he could not put a stop to his mind replaying the day's events--over and over again. The clock on the bedside table displayed 12:25 in prominent red numbers, voicelessly scorning his wakefulness.
More than anything, he could not escape the memory of that other Bodie's countenance, bleak and hardened with grief. The urge to comfort had been frighteningly intense, even in light of the way he had been treated himself. His anger at being viewed, in essence, a substitute for the other Doyle had given way to understanding. If his Bodie died and he could have him back--just long enough to see his face one last time--would he go to any lengths to do so?
No. No, because Doyle was a coward, and if he could have Bodie back only to give him up a second time, there would be nothing left. And, as this Bodie had found out, a substitute simply would not suffice. Doyle refused to expend a great amount of brain time on the likelihood of Bodie's death. Should he ever be confronted with the reality of it, he would deal with it then.
But with rueful black humor, he doubted that the other Bodie would have done himself in after having got what he'd come for. Yet he could empathize with the man's suffering in spite of that, because there was that much of his Bodie in him.
A soft sound from the adjacent room brought Doyle's head up, ear turned toward the door. The swish of wood gliding over carpet followed a second later, but by then Doyle was already slipping from the bed, automatically closing the covers around his partner to spare him the draft. He padded on bare feet toward the door, sashing his robe at the waist.
The other man's hand was on the latch to the front door when Doyle called his name. His voice had the desired effect and stopped the other in his tracks. "Few hours yet until daylight," Doyle pointed out conversationally. "Why the rush?"
Back turned to him, the other Bodie said, "No time like the present." Yet he lingered, door handle unmoving in his grip.
"Wait until morning," Doyle said with quiet entreaty. "We'll take you to the coast. Save you train fare--or keep you from nicking someone's car."
Doyle thought it over. "I guess because I'd like to know more about your Doyle. And because it was you stirred all this up. Don't you want to talk about him?"
"No." The man released the latch and turned round. They were mere shadows of movement in the darkened room, facing each other across a distance of a dozen or more feet. "You can hate me all you like, but that doesn't place any obligation on me, y'know."
"I know," Doyle concurred. A glimmer of light reflected off the white of his teeth. "The really stupid bit is that I don't hate you. And I should."
The other placed a hand on his hip. "For drugging you? For hauling you off to your lover's bolt-hole--"
"Bolt-hole!" The smile vanished from Doyle's mouth. He bit his lower lip. "Should've realized--or thought to ask, anyway." At least his mind was beginning to work a little more effectively than it had this afternoon. "You must have one just like it--in your world."
"Hm. And, no, the reason I should hate you is for what you did to me on the other side--Over There."
"You were willing," the man reminded him.
"I wasn't in my right mind," Doyle stated with great precision. "And you knew it."
Neither spoke for long seconds, standing enshrouded by the incorporeal fog of night. Then the other Bodie said, almost gently, "I didn't hurt you."
Doyle produced an eloquent snort. "Didn't you? When Bodie and I returned here, somehow I forgot almost everything that had gone on there. That whole month I was selling my arse on the street was a blank, anyway. It finally came back a few months ago. All of it. Including you."
"Like I told you before: you enjoyed it as much as I did," the other said provocatively. "And you were good, sunshine."
"Yes, I was," Doyle said through clenched teeth. "So, for that matter, were you."
There was a sound, almost like a cough, before the man said with irritating good humor, "Touch."
"It wasn't right," Doyle went on inexorably, "for you and me. Not...like it was for you and him."
Again that tiny grunt that betrayed the other's reaction. "No," he acknowledged. "That's true."
"Tell me about him," Doyle whispered. "Tell me what he was like."
Doyle raised his hands, expressing without words his own lack of insight. Then he asked, "Could Harry Walter have made your Doyle a whore?"
The other gave a heavy sigh. "You know, I hoped you would never remember all of it; what they did to make you like that. It can't be important anymore, Ray. You and your mate are settled down--and happy with it. Just leave it alone."
Doyle ignored him. "Could he?" he persisted.
There was a rustle of clothing as the other Bodie shoved his hands deeply into his pockets. He turned his head and regarded Doyle sidelong. "If you expect me to talk, then I'll have a cuppa to wet my throat."
A long arm, clad in softest silk, stretched toward the kitchen. "After you."
Bodie rolled over, rearranging the covers about him. It was cool for June, but that was not what had woken him. Drained by the afternoon's rollercoaster experiences and the accumulated weariness of too many 20-hour days, he had hit the pillow and dissolved into unconsciousness. Doyle had been with him then.
He wasn't here now.
Heart beating far too fast, Bodie left the bed, snagging his robe from between the foot-board and the mattress, where it inevitably came to reside. He called, just under his breath, "Ray?"
There was no answer, but he had not expected one. Panic was a subjective thing, and something he was rarely subject to. Subjectively, he knew he had never been so frightened in his life as he was at this instant. He should've killed the bastard; should've never let Ray talk him into letting the maniac come home with them. And he would most certainly blow his own brains out if Doyle had come to any harm because of his inability to rub two simple thoughts together and spark a coherent idea.
In the corridor downstairs, he immediately spied the strip of light glowing beneath the kitchen door. Dragging his robe about his shoulders, he went forward on stealthy feet, still awash with the urgency of adrenalin and the need for caution. Just outside the door, he heard voices. He listened long enough to recognize both speakers, and the apparently civil tenor of their conversation. The resultant relief nearly had him over. Slowly he turned the latch and pushed the door inward, yet a little uneasy over what he might find within.
Doyle, sitting at the far end of the table, looked up at once. As if unsure of Bodie's intention, he waited until he caught his partner's gaze before offering a ready smile in welcome. "We didn't wake you, did we?"
"You did," Bodie said impassively. "You weren't there." His eyes held a question as he surveyed the homey setting: cozy-covered teapot, jug of milk, sugar bowl, two mugs brimming with milky tea--even a plate of creme-filled biscuits. Doyle must have bought them this morning, when he restocked their cupboards.
Doyle flushed at Bodie's statement. "We've been talking," he said coolly.
It was clearly on the tip of Doyle's tongue to offer explanations, but something inside him that was innocent of wrongdoing successfully fought the impulse. "I've just made a fresh pot of tea," he announced. "I'll get you a mug, if you--"
"No, don't bother. Everything seems well in hand." He contemplated the back of his counterpart's head; the man had not acknowledged his presence by word or look. "Think I'll go back to bed." His eyes were unreadable. "You coming?"
Doyle went very still. "Be there in a minute, okay?" he said at last. It had been a struggle to string those few words together and keep them free of the resentment simmering inside him.
"Yeah, sure." With that Bodie turned on heel and walked out, closing the door with exaggerated care behind him.
The chair skidded on the linoleum as Doyle climbed to his feet and gathered his mug all in one motion. He poured out the tea and rinsed the cup with water. Without facing round, he said firmly, "I'd like you to wait until morning before you leave."
"I'll think about it," the other man said.
Feeling those blue eyes boring into his back, Doyle felt driven to excuse his partner. "'S not his fault, y'know. Expect I'd feel the same if our situations were reversed."
That statement brought forth a sardonic laugh. "Except that it wouldn't have happened in reverse, would it? Everyone else would have left the dead in peace."
"Don't ever apologize for loving him." The words were out before Doyle could stop them. He couldn't even account for the ferocity of their delivery. A little sheepishly he met the other man's eyes, and found himself the object of a huge sadness. No, he reminded himself. Not me. "Good night," he said roughly.
Trailing after him came the soft words, "See you in the morning, Tiger."
Doyle entered the bedroom and shut the door behind him, furiously stripping off his robe. Bodie was a long hump beneath the duvet, facing the wall. Doyle scrabbled in beside him. Regardless of his partner's reaction, he wrenched him onto his back and straddled his hips.
"What the hell--"
"Never treat me like that again, Bodie." Doyle pinned his partner's tightly muscled arms down when he made as if to resist. "Under any circumstances."
"Stay away from him, and it won't be a problem," Bodie snarled.
"It isn't a problem now!" Doyle gave him a teeth-jolting shake for emphasis. "What did you think you were going to find out there: him fucking me on the kitchen table, and me urging him on? Damn it, sunshine, if it'd been any other man--even a gay one--you wouldn't have acted that way. Would you!"
Bodie subsided beneath the smaller man's weight. "No."
"No," Doyle repeated. Keenly conscious of the corded tension still evident in Bodie's body, he said more understandingly, "Ah, Bodie. I'm sorry, too. Can guess how you're feeling. He was trying to leave, and I wouldn't let him."
"Why not?" Bodie asked grudgingly.
"Don't laugh. I just wanted to talk about his Doyle; didn't really have the chance before."
Bodie freed himself so he could slide his hands about Doyle's waist. "So what'd you find out?"
"Nothing very amazing," Doyle confessed. "He and I aren't very different--weren't very different--at all."
"You thought he was better than you?" Bodie asked perplexedly, divining that more from Doyle's tone of voice than from anything he had said.
Thin shoulders rose and fell. "He wasn't a whore."
Bodie could not repress a fond smile. "You'd rather have been a hit-man during that month?"
Doyle's mouth fell open. Several seconds ticked past, before he closed it again without speaking. "Is that a trick question?" he asked wryly.
"Lie down," Bodie suggested, and gently tugged at his mate's arms. "Right here, beside me. Yeah, like that." As Doyle settled, Bodie allowed himself to revel in their closeness. "It happened," he said without inflection. "It left you with a load of rotten memories. But you survived. You've nothing to hate yourself for."
"Don't hate myself," Doyle protested. "Just--regret it, that's all."
"Too much. And you conveniently forget that it's been two bloody years ago."
Doyle rubbed his chin against Bodie's shoulder. "Yeah, I know. Sometimes I forget, too, that I got you--the way we are now--as a result of it. Well, in a roundabout way."
"Is that good or bad?" Bodie murmured.
"Definitely good--'cause you love me in spite of it." He leaned nearer to inhale the scent of Bodie's hair.
As Doyle ran a hand over the broad, smooth expanse of his chest, Bodie thought it prudent to point out, "You do realize it's after one, don't you?" He stopped breathing altogether when the inquisitive touch slid downward to the flat surface of his abdomen, pausing a while to investigate the silky plain that lay between twin ridges of hipbone, then nimbly delved into the waistband of his y-fronts.
"Hm. Finally learned to tell time, did you?"
"Well, one of us should be able to--" Intelligent thought abandoned him before the onslaught of that persistent assault.
"Is this the moment," Doyle asked, after a long, succulent kiss, "that I should politely enquire why you have a snuggery in Soho?"
The pent air went out of Bodie's lungs as though he had been roundhoused. Doyle hovered above him like a gleeful executioner, awaiting his victim's last words. Never one to be at a loss for long, Bodie said without embellishment, "No," and pulled Doyle back down to suffer his own ravaging explorations.
Some while later, when both were succumbing to the irresistible allure of sleep, Bodie assured his close-held mate, "You can start paying half the lease, if you like."
Doyle chuckled softly. "How kind."
It was half-past six and the sun was renewing its authority over the sky when Bodie wandered bleary-eyed into the kitchen. Doyle was already there, fully dressed, standing in front of the big dining room window and sipping tea. He gave Bodie an affectionate appraisal, wooed again by that woebegone vulnerability in the space of an instant. "Sit yourself down, mate. Coffee's ready. I've just started the toast."
Bodie downed a heavily sugared mugful before asking, "Is he still here?"
"Dead to the world." At Bodie's startled look, Doyle assured him, "Asleep, idiot. What on earth did you think I meant?"
"Nothing." Bodie ended the awkward conversation by engaging his mouth in a serious bout of mastication.
Doyle eyed him curiously for a moment, as if gauging his mood. Then he too, retreated into the unthreatening routine of early morning. How useful, he thought, convention can be. He knew, as Bodie did not, that this was the lull before the storm. Conversation was desultory. They discussed the previous job, the latest gossip Bodie had picked up at HQ yesterday morning, and at some length, Bodie's bedsit in Soho.
"Never even think about it except when I get the statement from the bank telling me the lease's due. 'S why I kept forgetting to tell you about it."
"Like that old car you had garaged away?"
"Yeah. Damn. Need to pick it up, y'know."
Doyle took his cup and plate to the sink. "If there's anything left to pick up, you mean."
"Who else'd have it?" Bodie finished off his coffee. "I really wasn't holding out on you, mate."
"'S not important," Doyle said easily. "Know how you like to cover all the angles."
"Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean--"
"--they're not out to get you," Doyle completed the aphorism for him. "Yeah, yeah, tell me a new one."
There was a muffled tread on the carpet outside the half-open kitchen door. A dark head peered inside. Almost apologetically, the other man said, "Thought I smelled coffee."
"You did. And there's toast, if you want some."
He also was attired for the day, face washed and hair combed. "Thanks."
Bodie waved him to an empty chair, observing that the night's rest seemed to have improved his appearance. While still bearing the remnants of fatigue and grief, his color was better and his eyes clearer.
Doyle fetched the loaf of bread from the sideboard and primed the toaster. He plugged in the kettle for more hot water, then leaned back against the sink cupboard to await its call, marvelling over their strange group and how easily the impossible had become commonplace.
"You mentioned a ride to the coast," the other Bodie said, drinking in Doyle's familiar slouching carriage with bittersweet appreciation. "I'd just be grateful for a lift to the nearest railway station, if that's all right."
Affably, Bodie said, "We can do that."
"Thanks." He reached for the coffeepot and sloshed steaming liquid into a mug brought by Doyle for his use.
The toast gave off its trademark scent, and Doyle freed it from the coils before it could darken further. "Mind if I ask you a couple of questions?" he asked off-handedly, dropping the man's breakfast gingerly onto the plate in front of him.
The other Bodie considered the question while wielding the butter knife. "Like what?"
Doyle took up his own cup and briefly perused its contents. "Like the investigation you made into his death." It was not necessary, of course, to explain who 'he' was.
A dark brow went up, mirrored by one exactly like it on another face only a few feet away. "Ask away."
"You said you were given the resources of CI5 to look into the matter, but you found nothing. Nothing at all?"
Sharp teeth clamped down on a thickly marmaladed corner of toast. "No," the other Bodie answered when his mouth was free. "Whoever pulled that off was slicker than anyone I've ever run across. No witnesses, for one thing. Ballistics couldn't find anything distinguishing about the weapon used on him; it had no background. The bloke who pulled him from the River couldn't tell me anything other than that Doyle had been found near Battersea Bridge. He alerted the local nick. The lads there ran his prints and found out he was one of Cowley's mob, so they--"
"What d'you mean, 'one of Cowley's mob'?" Doyle asked, bewildered.
The man heaved a sigh, scowling down at his toast. "Told you, he worked for him sometimes. Hired on for the occasional job."
"As a murderer?"
"Executioner. He was sanctioned, remember?"
"Oh, right." Doyle occupied himself with renewed coffee preparation, pouring boiling water over crushed grounds and clamping the lid on the percolator before saying, "So you never had any suspects?"
The other Bodie chewed and swallowed without pleasure. "Plenty of those. Hard not to make enemies in that line of work, y'know."
"No one you could pin it on, though?"
"What about Harry Walter? Was he on your list of possibles?"
Blue eyes blinked up at him. "No."
"Why not? He was one of...Doyle's associates. You said he used him; maybe Walter didn't like--"
"No. Walter was long dead by then."
Grimly pleased, Bodie murmured, "Had an accident, did he?"
Sharing the same feral expression, his counterpart said, "If you can call an accident deliberate, then yes, he did. One of Ray's specialties was the 'deliberate accident'."
"Doyle killed him?"
"Why?" Doyle asked plaintively.
The other Bodie held out his cup, and Doyle mechanically refilled it. Adding a disastrous amount of sugar and milk, the man stirred the lightened brew with his spoon until the granules dissolved. "Because of what Walter did to you."
Doyle went to the table and sat down, lowering his head to stare directly into the other man's eyes. "He knew about that?"
"Not at the time Walter got hold of you, no. He was off in Edinburgh, on a kill."
Conflicting emotions tumbled inside Doyle like numbers in a bingo wheel. "'M surprised he didn't find it amusing--especially since he only ever played the hustler."
The other Bodie's eyes glinted with malice. "Amusing? To have someone who looked exactly like you put on the street--to be fucked by anyone with a few quid in his pocket? No, Walter was using you to get back at Ray."
"Remember, I said Ray used him? He never gave Walter what he wanted, y'know. Just teased. Let him think that someday he'd let him have his arse. When I told him what he'd done to you, Ray was furious. Didn't show it, of course, but I could see it coming. In less than a month he'd put paid to old Harry."
"What a pity," Bodie said cheerfully.
Doyle shivered. He gulped down the remains of his now-cold coffee. "What exactly did you tell him about me?"
"The truth," the other man said simply.
"And he believed you?"
"Eventually, yes." At the expression in Doyle's eyes, he added softly, "And I told him all of it."
"And he didn't mind?" Bodie asked skeptically.
"No. In fact, he once said he was glad; otherwise, I wouldn't have been so keen to get him into my bed."
"He wasn't bothered by--" Doyle stumbled awkwardly, "--by the comparison?"
A tiny smile softened the hard lines framing the other Bodie's mouth. "He made bloody sure there was nothing to compare before we'd been together very long. Was a competitive little bastard, my Ray." He ducked his head, ostensibly studying the remainder of his toast, which had long since gone as cold as Doyle's coffee. "Look, we need to get going. The gates are only open during specific periods."
"You make it sound like a revolving door," Bodie commented lightly.
"Not quite. But there are precise times and locations. You have the charts."
"You said you had other suspects," Doyle interposed abruptly. "If...if Ray Doyle were to reappear, d'you think that might flush the right one out?"
Bodie felt as though he'd taken a hammer blow to the heart. "No."
His counterpart was suddenly sitting up very much straighter in his chair. "It would certainly stir someone up."
"You're not going back there," Bodie said tightly.
"I want to know who killed him," Doyle argued.
Bodie turned on the man at the other end of the table. "You talked him into this, didn't you!"
"This is the first I've heard of it," the other Bodie replied.
"Nobody's talked me into anything," Doyle flatly informed his partner. "This is something I want to do."
"That's a hell of a plan, mate," Bodie said sarcastically. "Didn't think suicide was your style."
"It isn't. I'd be counting on you--both of you--to cover me."
Bodie rolled his eyes. "Of course. That would make all the difference. And what do we do when you get snatched anyway--if not killed outright? Or maybe you just fancy another turn as a bum-boy?"
Tension flashed through Doyle like lightning grounding itself into a mountainside. He let it go, almost at once, well aware of Bodie's tactics--and his reasons for lashing out, as well. "That wasn't what I had in mind, no. But thanks ever so for reminding me."
"It wouldn't take much. An appearance here and there," the other Bodie speculated quietly. "Word would travel very quickly."
"You're talking about setting a trap with him as the bait," Bodie said savagely. "And you've nothing to lose--"
"It wouldn't be like the last time," Doyle reasoned. "We'd know what to expect. And he could tell us who to watch out for."
"Oh, yes. That would make all the difference."
"I need you there to watch my back, Bodie. We'd have everything planned out. We could make it work."
Bodie shoved his chair away from the table and stood. "I watched your back the last time. D'you want to find out if my skills have improved since then, is that it? See if I can do the job right this time?
"Fuck you, Doyle." He slammed the chair back under the table and stalked out of the room, letting the door crash back on its hinges behind him.
"It would work." The other Bodie's eyes were agleam with predatory fervor.
Doyle agreed with a nod. "I know. But not without Bodie. My Bodie." Handling the furniture and fixtures with considerably more courtesy than his partner had shown them, Doyle went in search of his lover.
He found Bodie in their bedroom, bent before the dresser, shoving tightly folded clothing, shaving gear, and other odds and ends into a plastic-lined holdall. He asked uneasily, "What are you doing?"
"That's a bloody lame question coming from a brilliant copper like you," Bodie retorted. "What's it look like: I'm packing."
"You leaving me?"
Bodie stopped long enough to regard his partner with intense dislike. "If I had any sense, I would."
The bag dropped to the floor, and ungentle hands caught Doyle and dragged him close. Bodie's mouth was cruelly demanding, but Doyle yielded to him without hesitation. In an instant he was released, and roughly pushed away. Bodie said angrily, "If I stop you doing this, you'll never let me forget it. So, we'll go; get it over with--and I hope to God we find our way out of there okay. But that's all: When we get back, that's the end of it. Right?"
Doyle felt very small before that unhappy surrender. Nevertheless, he guiltily began to defend himself. "You know I wouldn't go if you--"
"Insisted? Yeah. And you'd nag me about it for the rest of our lives--however long that may be. Going along with this is fucking stupid, but it's the easy way out."
"It's important, mate," Doyle insisted. "He was me. I want to know why he died."
"You'd be better off leaving it alone," Bodie said unsympathetically. "Poking about over there isn't going to do your friend in the kitchen any good. Can't you see he'd be better off dead, too? You can't change the bleeding past."
Doyle leaned forward and rested heavily against Bodie's back. "No." He eased his arms around the trim waist and held on tightly. "I do love you, mate."
"I'll try to remember that," Bodie whispered ironically.
Stony silence prevailed during the ride to the coast. Despite a closely reined excitement, the other Bodie said nothing, watching as the rolling hills of the downs fled past. In the front seat, Bodie drove, his anger disguised by polite indifference. Doyle sat beside him, conspicuously mulling over the charts which had been confiscated from the man in the back.
Before leaving the flat, Bodie had arranged to have his misplaced vehicle collected and parked in front of their block of flats. He questioned the other Bodie for information about their journey, rapidly gaining understanding of the notations on the charts and how to employ them. And then they had set out, Doyle oddly subdued, Bodie coldly distant, and their companion charged with new purpose.
Despite the less than ebullient atmosphere inside the Capri, the morning was fair. Small clouds roamed a soft blue sky, carried aloft by feathery summer breezes, and the sun quickly burned the dew off green fields dotted by lazily grazing sheep. It was an idyllic day, brimming with the promise of warmth and fragrantly humid air. For all that those travelling in the silver car took note, it could have been sullen with thunder clouds and pelting down rain.
They reached Southsea at half past nine. Following his double's suggestion, Bodie parked the car in a residential area about a mile from the pier. After securing the vehicle they started off, Bodie and Doyle trailing behind the other man, who had he been a lurcher, would have been tugging at his lead.
He took them down the road that fronted the Channel, grunting with satisfaction when he saw that the tide was out. A few small boats and dinghies rested drunkenly on the silty sand awaiting the water's return, surrounded by strands of pungent kelp, a variety of shells, and the more mundane debris created by mankind: the odd can, bottles--Doyle even spotted an unmated deck shoe wedged toe downward, heel in the air.
The other Bodie guided them down to the beach, slogging through yielding sand between the pylons of the pier, and out toward the water's edge. Bodie drew a face but did not falter. They had been told to expect this. All the same, Doyle split the air with a colorful epithet when his trainer went out from under him. Bodie lent him a hand to regain his feet--and withdrew all contact immediately afterward.
They continued to walk beneath the pier, ankle-deep in saltwater--when abruptly they seemed to step off a shelf and into water that came waist-high.
"Right!" the other Bodie proclaimed exultantly. "That way." Rather than returning for shore, they went some distance farther southward before the man instructed them to parallel the beachline. At last, sodden and thoroughly disgusted before the day's adventure had even begun, they were herded inland.
Curious eyes watched them trudge out of the waves sucking at their feet, but were roundly ignored. Bodie's holdall, packed with considerable foresight, had been spared total immersion through his quick response to their initial dunking. All the same he fought a keen desire to dump it into the nearest rubbish tip as he slung it over his shoulder and paced his partner. If this was any indication of what the rest of their day would be like....
"So how are we going to know when we get there?" He shouted in order to be heard over the wall of sound produced by the ocean at his back.
The man striding ahead of them slowed until they came abreast. "You do carry a compass, don't you?"
"I know which way is north," Bodie informed him, deadpan.
The other's head performed a slow, patient wag. "You may think you do. Remember that I told you there are differences. Nothing all that noticeable unless you pay attention to that sort of thing; our lunar cycle follows a pattern not quite the same as yours, for example. Our magnetic north is a few degrees east of yours, too. Found that out quite by chance."
Bodie put a hand into his pocket and came out with his keys; on the keyring was a small compass. Knowing which way was north in his world, and familiar with the lay of the land in this part of England, he proved the discrepancy to himself at once.
"Useful to know," he remarked.
"So, to answer your question, said his counterpart, "We're here."
The old Vauxhall still stood where the other Bodie had parked it, amazingly intact after having been left unattended for two days, even in this placid neighborhood. The men clambered into it gratefully, for though the day would probably grow warm later in the afternoon, it was rather brisk as yet, and their clothing was quite wet. Bodie took the front seat beside the driver, giving Doyle no option but to sit in the back.
"What about when we go back?" Bodie asked practically.
He was favored with a twisted grin. "If it's anything like my crossover, you're in for a treat."
"Coming this way we went under the pier."
"You're not serious," Bodie said dangerously.
"If you say so." The other concentrated on wending the car through the traffic crowding the peninsula. "Did you notice how the water was deeper all of a sudden when we came through? It's like that going back. Looks like the tide's gone out, but when you reach the bottom, there's plenty of water. Don't worry."
"Wonderful." Bodie's teeth were clenched tightly enough to make his jaw muscles ripple.
"You knew that when you came over?" Doyle asked curiously.
The other Bodie replied, "No."
"But you jumped anyway."
The man did not bother to state the obvious.
Under lowering skies, they picked up the M27 and headed toward Southampton. While clearly England in all aspects, the weather here was far less congenial than that they had left behind. By the time they were navigating the roundabout onto the M3, rain was pounding them from all sides, flung in huge sheets by bruising gusts that buffeted the old car on its spongy shocks.
Forsaking conversation amidst the thunderous downpour, each man settled into his own thoughts. Doyle took advantage of his relatively spacious accommodation and curled onto his side on the back seat, head pillowed by one bent arm. He fell asleep within moments, in spite of clinging, chill clothing and the rocking motion of the car.
Bodie observed his partner's withdrawal and, despite his still simmering anger, wished he could make him more comfortable. Yesterday's ordeal had taken its toll on an already worn-thin Ray Doyle. Three months should have been long enough to set his lingering doubts to rest--and probably would have done, if this fool had not shown up. But whatever haunted Doyle from those days had come back to gnaw at him with a vengeance. Quite what was cluttering Doyle's mind at this point, Bodie could hardly begin to guess. And he was worried, especially given the obsessive quality of Doyle's resolution to involve himself in all this.
And yet he could not deny a certain perverse fascination himself. He had never met this universe's Ray Doyle, but the man had clearly possessed the same power to enthrall as his own Doyle. Enough, in fact, to drive an otherwise sane man to find a way to transgress the laws of nature and physics.
Heading northward through lushly verdant countryside, they raced beyond the heart of the storm. Capable of carrying on conversation at a normal volume once more, Bodie said to his driving companion, "Tell me what you thought when you met Doyle."
A dark gaze passed over him before resuming its watch of the rain-slick road. "My Doyle?"
The other Bodie smiled slightly to himself. "Had mixed feelings, actually. He'd been a nuisance before--your Doyle, that is; an unnecessary complication. But he had a way of getting under a bloke's skin without half trying. Went into that interrogation room thinking I'd set him straight--and found myself a step behind before I'd even started."
As the miles sped away, the man recounted his surprise in learning that not only was this not the Doyle he had met before, but neither was he the Doyle he had come to know by his CI5 form. And Doyle guarded himself with expert care. Only after they'd shared a bed a time or two, did he begin to open up, gradually coming to trust Bodie enough to tell him who--and what--he really was.
Within six months Doyle had moved in with him--and it was then Cowley had begun to take exception. To all appearances, Bodie was living with a small-time hustler and petty thief, hardly the best recommendation for a CI5 agent. Bodie, however, had "quelled" Cowley's objections--how, he did not explain. Eventually, Doyle's prowess with a hand-gun and rifle had come to Cowley's attention and, as was usually the case, the old man had found a way to make use of that ability to the Squad's benefit. That Doyle already hired out his services was not information Bodie made a point of imparting, and could only marvel that Ray had managed to cover his tracks so efficiently as to evade even Cowley's resources.
Theirs had not been a life of settled domesticity. Both keenly self-indulgent, they had suffered several fierce battles before jointly recognizing that they actually shared something unique--and good.
It had lasted almost a year.
They were nearing the outskirts of Greater London when the other Bodie finished his story. Vaguely disturbed, but unable to explain why, Bodie spared a glance for his slumbering partner--and found him wide-awake, brows canted low over unsettled green eyes. He wondered if Doyle was remembering home as fondly as he was at this moment.
The sky continued grey all the way to Chelsea, where at last the battered old Vauxhall came to a creaking halt. It was the same block of flats they had walked out of this morning--and not. But that awareness was only in the minds of those who entered, for there was nothing about the building to set it apart.
Miserably encased in still-damp clothing, the three took the lift to the third floor. The other Bodie noted aloud with malicious glee that at least that worked here, and the other two could not argue. He unlocked the door to the flat and they entered, one at a time, following his lead.
The dissimilarities inside, however, were at once apparent, for there were many. Overall, the effect was avant-garde, from the snow-white carpet and black curtains to the startling paintings that decorated the walls. Vividly impressionistic, they communicated a remarkable range of feeling and atmosphere--and were almost disturbing in their intensity.
"Your Doyle decorated the flat, didn't he," Ray commented, his voice hushed.
"Same thing you've been threatening to do for bloody ever," Bodie said, tight-lipped.
Standing before a fierce display of framed color and indefinite activity, Doyle said wryly, "He did all the artwork, as well."
Frowning, Bodie glanced across at his partner. "You haven't painted in ages, Ray--"
"No, but I've seen these already." A finger tapped the side of his fleecy head. "In here."
Bodie's sense of uneasiness increased ten-fold. "Always suspected you had rotten taste in art, mate," he said under his breath.
Unnoticed by Doyle, the other Bodie was free to look his fill, gaze focused intently on the lean figure. "He liked to paint in the morning, over by that window." He directed them to the wide glass in the east wall, near the dining room. "Did this kind of stuff, mostly. Said realism wasn't the medium for the things only he could see."
Doyle shot him a slit-eyed look, his strange mood echoed by the man's words. But all he said was, "D'you still have any of his stuff?" He gestured at his unappealing attire. "I'd like to change."
"In the spare room," the other Bodie informed him quietly. "You know where it is."
Bodie watched his partner stride from the lounge room, wondering if the tiny hairs at the back of his neck would ever go down.
Christ, but this had been a mistake!
"How about you?" the man inquired courteously. "There's plenty for you to choose from. I'll just put the kettle on."
The other Doyle's influence was as strongly felt in the master bedroom, walls covered with more pictures done in the same style. The color combinations and choice of furnishings reflected a strange ambivalence: creativity born of demons. Bodie startled when a soft voice came from behind him, "It bothers you, doesn't it."
Tucking a clean shirt into blessedly dry trousers, Bodie acknowledged his partner's question with a rueful frown. "A bit. You?"
Doyle shook his head. "Only that I recognize it. Stuff I've thought about doing for years." He added vaguely, "Some of it, anyway."
"What's that mean?" Bodie secured the snap at his waist and stretched to ease the fit.
A long-fingered hand reached out and unbuttoned the top of Bodie's shirt. He tried to hide it, but Doyle was trembling. "Came across some sketchbooks and a few canvases. Want you to look at one of 'em."
"You tell me."
Rubbing the base of his skull irritably, Bodie followed his partner into the other bedroom. There were drawings scattered over the somberly hued duvet, depicting people and places in several different media: paint, pastels, pen and ink, and pencil. They ranged in artistic method, as well, from the wildly abstract, to strictly naturalistic. For all that his work featured dark subjects with particularly violent imagery throughout, there was no denying that the other Doyle was a most gifted artist.
Ray pulled a small canvas from beneath a larger pencil sketch and flipped it face-up.
Seldom had Bodie seen anything that repelled and attracted with such devastating power. A pencil drawing, it had captured two male bodies in an instant of spellbinding ecstasy. The smaller man lay on his back, legs spread wide, heels hooked on his lover's shoulders; the other was hunched forward, balanced on his knees, his downward thrust beautifully evoked in the bunched buttock muscles and tendon-taut upper thighs. With a few simple lines, a highly erotic tableau had been wrought. The man on top was quite clearly the other Bodie; the one impaled, though thin and wiry, might have been the other Doyle--or might not. His face, obliterated by the only splash of color on the otherwise totally pencil rendering, was a wash of gruesome shades of red and flecks of white, where bone may have peered through the gore.
"Jesus," Bodie whispered.
"At least he had the sense not to hang it on the wall," said Doyle.
Bodie wrenched his eyes from the horrific drawing; mordant humor of that sort was usually more his style. "Ray--"
"I'm quite sure the two of you are in desperate need of a quick grope, but there are...."
Holding the canvas so that the picture was clearly visible, Doyle stepped round to meet their host. His unvoiced question was answered immediately: the man blanched.
"Have you seen this before?" Doyle asked, putting the question into words.
A slightly trembling forefinger and thumb closed along the edge of the drawing and removed it from Doyle's hand. "No. Can't say that I have."
"Who's the man on the bottom?"
More than a little stunned, the other Bodie lifted his head and blinked at him. "I have no idea."
Doyle was somewhat dumbfounded by the man's reaction. The other really seemed badly shaken. Strange that, since, in their line of work, they saw ugly things every day. Ugly this was--in content, anyway--but far less so than the reality that they dealt with on a regular basis.
"Why would he do something like this?"
The man shook his head. Then he tossed the picture onto the bedspread with a disregard he clearly did not feel. "Ray could be very--inventive. Where did you find it?"
"In the wardrobe, at the back. Yeah, I was snooping. It's the only way I'm going to find out more about him."
With a final glance at the strange picture, the man turned on heel and strode out of the room.
"And what d'you reckon that tells you, sunshine?" Bodie asked, frowning down at the drawing.
"Something we probably don't want to know," Doyle admitted softly.
The other Bodie was filling mugs when they entered the kitchen. His wits about him again, he said without preamble, "We need to do something about him." He gestured toward Bodie.
The 'him' under discussion returned that impassive statement with a flinty glare. "If you think I'm going to stay out--"
"That's the last thing I think," the other interrupted. "Doyle's right: he's going to need both of us to cover him. But we can't operate with you and me looking like identical twins. My appearance has changed--rather drastically--so you can't pretend to be me. You need a disguise."
"A disguise!" Bodie hissed.
Doyle's face broke into a slow grin. "What'd you have in mind?"
The other man took a small box off the seat of a chair in the dining room, and peeled apart the flaps. A hand dipped inside and a light brown wig appeared. With the flick of his wrist, it was sent spinning upon one large finger, longish wavy tendrils flaring out to the sides.
"You're out of your bleeding mind," Bodie snapped.
"It should fit you perfectly. I've used it before. Undercover."
"Kinky like that, are you?"
Bodie's counterpart ignored him, drawing two more items out of the carton. "Put it on. I've a pair of brown contact lenses, and prescriptionless glasses to go with it."
Bodie snagged the hair-piece from the other man's hand and held it out before him as though it were the decaying remains of an overlarge rodent.
"Can't wait to see this," Doyle snickered, and backed hastily away when his partner made a threatening gesture.
"Sod off." Bodie' s mouth pursed sullenly as he surveyed the other articles. "I've never worn contacts before."
"Won't hurt you. I'll show you how they go on your eyes."
"Try the wig on first. It's not that uncomfortable. And it will change your appearance."
Bodie scowlingly carried the offending item to the bathroom, sharply putting Doyle off his stride when he attempted to follow. "You just occupy yourself with something else," he suggested, none too politely.
Sighing theatrically, Doyle went back to the table and picked up one of the mugs. Gratefully sucking the warming liquid down, he felt the other man's gaze upon him--as he had so often in the past day--and met it easily. "What're the chances of us getting access to your computer?"
"At HQ?" The man scoffed, "Very unlikely."
"I mean to. And I want to see the morgue report," Doyle said emphatically.
His words were met with an unreadable stare. "That I can get."
"Good. Think about how you're going to get us on-line, too. Your Cowley used to be...under your thumb," he finished diplomatically. "Expect you could still have your way with him, if you wanted to."
The other Bodie turned away, but not before Doyle had noticed that he seemed to have lost a shade of color. "I'll think about it," he replied, raising the mug to his mouth.
Puzzled, Doyle took another tack. "D'you have a specific suspect you intend to try me out on? Someone more likely than the others?"
The dark head moved in negation. "Told you: I investigated everyone who might've had it in for Ray. They all came out clean, with ironclad alibis. Rather thought we'd take you to the places he used to frequent. If there's anyone wandering round with a guilty conscience, that should get a rise out of him."
Doyle's thoughts were not happy ones. "Bit strange, that. Not one suspect being the least bit shaky, I mean."
"My sentiments precisely," the other said sarcastically. He tossed back the rest of his tea and carried the mug into the kitchen. Doyle watched him slosh amber fluid out of a tall bottle into the cup before returning to the teapot to top it off.
"Good way to ruin fine malt."
"Doesn't do a thing to garden variety rotgut," the other Bodie assured him.
"Good way to ruin a good cuppa, too."
"You'll be warning me about the risk to my kidneys next."
"No point," Doyle said.
"None at all."
"All right, you can both have a good laugh now," an equally sardonic voice said from behind them.
Doyle turned, eyes saucering at his partner's transformation. The wig had taken shape once molded to the finely sculpted skull. The lighter color opened Bodie's face up; the softer style took years away. Entranced, Doyle went nearer, and began a slow circle around his partner. "You're bloody gorgeous, sunshine," he owned at last.
"At least it's not as bad as I expected," Bodie with only a hint of asperity.
Doyle leaned a little nearer and murmured, "May have to buy you one just like it when we get back."
A dark brow arched upward. "If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, Raymond, my lad, you've got another think to come."
"We'll see," Doyle said, sultry insinuation gleaming in interested green eyes.
"Can't you two pack it in for a minute?" The words were spoken tiredly, colored by the faintest suggestion of envy. In fact, before the bland facade slammed fully back into place, Doyle had a glimpse of a killing emptiness, shocking to see in eyes he knew so well.
"Give him a chance, mate," Bodie argued, reassured in good measure by Doyle's response. "It isn't often Goldilocks here gets to see my natural beauty reduced to ashes. Or maybe it's just envy, eh? With this silly thing on me head, I've got more hair than he has."
The other man raised his hands in mock despair. "Must be a cosmic reaction: my Doyle used to come over exactly the same way, whenever I used the damn thing."
For a moment the room fell quiet. The genuine affection and irremediable grief in that brief statement had struck hard at the hearts of the other two. This man could be their future. One possible future, in any case.
Doyle took a deep breath. For the first time he recognized the magnitude of what they had done in coming here, something Bodie had understood with his usual keen instincts. What Bodie had not been able to make clear to him was that Doyle's crusading impulses endangered not only their lives, but their knowledge of each other. Holding these two men up as a mirror to their own lives would be an enormous mistake. For all that their genes were exact replicas, their external influences bore little similarity. If Doyle wanted to understand what had made his opposite number tick, he would have to understand the whole man. And that was something he would not accomplish in a few days' time. Perhaps not even in a lifetime.
Best then, to get this over with as quickly as possible.
He said to the other Bodie, "Why don't you show him how to put on the rest of that rig. Then we can get started."
The man inclined his head. He gulped down the heavily doctored drink and brought himself up to his full height. "Right. Let's go."
Bodie, who had not grasped the import of what had just happened, reluctantly tailed after the other man.
With half an ear tuned to the grumbling complaints and impatient maledictions that fitfully erupted from the bathroom, Doyle trolled through the other Doyle's room. He gathered together the drawings he had uncovered and restored them to the back of the wardrobe--all save the one, which he thoughtfully placed on the chest of drawers. From time to time, as he sifted through the other's clothing, and examined personal effects that had been left lying about, he would look back at that drawing, and wonder.
He didn't know what it was he was searching for, or why it should be so important to get a handle on his other self. Clearly Bodie had not felt this same compulsion, having accepted the fact of his double's existence with his usual smooth equanimity. In fact he had regarded the other man--with good reason, as it came to pass--more as a competitor than an ally from the very start. Two years ago.
Suddenly uneasy, Doyle guessed that his own motives probably would not stand up to close inspection. Would he have been happier to discover that his counterpart was a hustler and content with his lot, rather than a cold-blooded murderer who had never sold his body in his life? Painfully aware of what that previous month's visit here had cost him, Doyle could not say no--and remain honest with himself.
The voice cut through his musings, bringing his head up. The other Bodie stood at the door, watching him curiously.
"Trying to get my bearings," Doyle explained, and returned the toy soldier, which he could not recall picking up and was now nestled in his hand, to the oddments shelf that hung on the wall beside the looking glass.
The small canvas had caught the other's attention. Anger--and something else Doyle could not identify--flickered across the drawn features. "Why keep that out?"
"It means something." Doyle brushed a finger across his nose. "Wish I knew what."
"Means you're as barmy as he was. C'mon. I've got something to show you."
Doyle abandoned the room with a queer sense of relief. The other Bodie waited outside in the corridor, gesturing him towards the bathroom. A chipped-tooth grin erasing his air of preoccupation, Doyle went up to the door and peered around the jamb. "Bloody hell."
A not very happy Bodie gave up trying to tweak the unaccustomed wig into a semblance of naturalness and glowered at his amused partner. "'Ello, Sailor," he lisped. "Looking for a good time?"
Doyle bit his lip to contain a burst of laughter. Whatever Bodie resembled, it was not a hustler on the avenue. In fact, there was a wonderfully bookish presence about him that Doyle would not have thought him capable of in a million years. While the wig had made him appear younger and certainly less tough-looking, the glasses completely altered his appearance. Standing so close his breath threatened to fog Bodie's lenses, Doyle muttered, "What happened to your eyebrows, then?"
"Lon Chaney over there thought they were too dark, what with my new coiffure and all; used some kind of pencil on 'em. Back off, will you? Can hardly see out of these sodding things as it is."
"Sorry," Doyle said, without a hint of contrition. And, then, before Bodie could guess what he was about, Doyle bobbed forward and kissed him, the merest pressure of mouth upon mouth. "Always wondered what it'd be like to kiss a brown-eyed bloke with glasses on." He gave a yell as Bodie reached for him, and danced away before he could retaliate.
"Feel a fool," Bodie moaned.
"You look fine, sunshine," Doyle said feelingly. "More importantly, you don't look like you at all. Tell you what: you must be a mite peckish by now; it's nearly noon. I'll buy you lunch; what d'you say?"
Bodie canted his head at the other Bodie. "Know somewhere safe we can take him and get a good meal?"
Having stood by and waited for the anticipated by-play to wind down, the other was more than ready to depart what had become for him an overly confining flat. "And it's not too far from here. C'mon."
Somewhere between the apartment and The Plow and The Plover, having substituted the Capri for the Vauxhall, the tension within the other Bodie manifestly dissipated away. Doyle suspected it must have a lot to do with his Bodie's transformation. He wondered how he would have reacted had he ever come face-to-face with his opposite number; himself duplicated. Somehow, he doubted his always insecure self-image would have handled it well--no matter what this Doyle had been like.
The pub was small and congenial. Since it was Friday afternoon, and the place was in the heart of an area booming with renovation work, business was lively with working folk of many professions crowding the interior, drinking, eating, talking, and playing the fruit machines. Yet by luck, they managed to commandeer a booth at the far end of the bar just as a group of three left, and started with lagers all round. With a table secured, Bodie and his duplicate went to the ordering station and placed their requests for lunch. They brought back fresh drinks and settled in to wait.
More relaxed now, the two men began to exchange trenchant comments about their fellow diners while Doyle sat back and allowed himself to be amused. Quips flew fast and furious, one man trying to top the other. By the time the barmaid arrived they had attained new heights of cynical commentary and Doyle's stomach was aching from him having laughed so hard.
As soon as she had gone, Doyle pushed hard against his partner's shoulder. "Shift yourself, mate," he said. "I've got to use the bog."
"Jesus, Doyle, didn't your mum ever tell you to go before you left home?"
"Yeah, well, you can't pour a pot of tea and two beers down me without this type of thing happening. Move it, or I'll go on you."
Still complaining--he was virtually salivating now that the food had arrived--Bodie did as requested, not even sparing a glance as Doyle loped away.
"What about his mum?" the other Bodie asked. "Did she die young?"
Bodie closed his eyes, savoring a huge bite of his sandwich. "Hm hm." Under a tolerantly condescending blue gaze, Bodie swallowed, and knocked back a long slurp of his beer before answering properly. "Yeah. He was about five. How about your Doyle?"
"The same. She had a fall down the stairs. His father was a sot. Died a few years later in a sanatorium."
Bodie gestured agreement, returning to his meal with single-mindedness.
"And you?" the other asked casually. "Did your father bring home a fresh-faced young bride when you were but a lad?"
The half-devoured sandwich stalled on its next approach to Bodie's mouth. For some reason it had not occurred to him that this man who wore his face should also have shared his background. After all, they were different in so very many ways, there must have been a branch-off point at which their lives deviated, resulting in the men they were now. At mention of Julie and his father, alarm bells went off in the back of Bodie's head, as he remembered that this man had no knowledge of his daughter, Sarah. That fact implied many possibilities: his father yet lived in this universe; his father had died and had lost touch with his only son; his father didn't give a toss about his only son and had made no effort to track him down; or Sarah simply didn't exist here. Hesitant to complicate this downtrodden individual's life any further, Bodie said simply, "Yes. Is that why you left home, too?"
An edged smile was his reply. "And I never went back," he said dryly, confirming at least one of Bodie's surmises. "'S daft, y'know, but I might never have met my Doyle if not for the pair of you."
Something tightened inside Bodie's chest. "Strange, that. I mean, this'll probably sound sickeningly soppy, because I don't believe in Fate, or God, or any of those supposedly higher influences--but once I'd met Doyle, I knew he belonged with me." He adopted a silly voice, "Somehow we were meant to be together, ducky."
The other ignored his defensive camping. "Yeah," he said pensively. "I thought the attraction was just sex at first. I mean--well, I knew it was good already, didn't I. But he-- I would never have believed that another person could become so important to me." He raised his eyes to Bodie's troubled face. "You were right, y'know, what you said about being unable to kill a dead man. That's the only thing that's kept me going: looking for your Doyle. And when I found him, it was like someone had chucked a load of water into my eyes. He wasn't my Ray Doyle, at all. All that time, I'd just been putting off--"
"Stop it. Ray's given you another reason to keep going. It's important to you--or it should be--to find his murderer. Much as I dislike Doyle's involvement in this, if it hammers the bastard responsible, I won't mind in the least."
Some of the torment dissipated from the other man's mien. "Thanks, mate. I know he wouldn't've agreed to this without you."
"Fat lot of choice I had," Bodie said sourly. "Where is the aggravating little sod, anyway? Can't take him--"
For an instant the two men simply stared at each other, bound together by a single, terrible thought. Throat struck painfully dry, Bodie whispered, "No."
And then he was moving, heels pounding on the wooden floor, thighs pumping as he raced to the back of the building, totally oblivious of the shattering pint glass that was sacrificed in the flurry of his rising. The door to the bathroom stood slightly ajar.
It slapped against the inside wall and bounced off again from the force of Bodie's entry.
The room was empty.
"Fuck!" The single word ripped from Bodie's throat, leaving it raw and constricted. He rounded on the man behind him, only just checking the urge to slam his fist into that frozen, dead-white face. "Search the building," he barked, elbowing his double aside.
"'Ere, we can't have that in my--" The owner of the establishment was accorded the same treatment as Bodie bolted down the corridor. With a quick turn of the head, he scoped the room from one end to the other. The only reminder of Doyle's presence in this building was the meal forsaken at their table, uneaten. A guttural sound escaping him, Bodie ran outside, entertaining the faint hope that Doyle had decided on a breath of air before rejoining his companions. He wasn't there. Just as he was turning to reenter the pub, the other Bodie came out. "I searched the back; there's another exit. He's not there, but there were some scuff marks on the pavement."
"We haven't been here half an hour," Bodie said, his too contained voice giving away the effort required for him to leash his temper. There was blood in his eyes, and the man before him would easily serve his immediate need to strike out at someone. "You looked the place over."
The other was indifferent to the accusing tone, too worried about Doyle's fate to suffer concern for himself. "Of course. There wasn't anyone who should've recognized him. But someone did; probably the moment we walked in the door."
"Obviously." Bodie unthinkingly brushed a stray lock of soft brown hair away from his cheek. "Oh, Christ, Ray," he whispered. "Where do we start?"
He knew it would hurt if he opened his eyes. Pain was waiting for him, a shadowy, lurking presence just behind the tips of his eyelashes. To put off the moment, he tried to collect his thoughts, to recreate the instant that had brought him to this state. That's right: they had been in the pub, their meals delivered to the table--and he'd gone to use the loo. At least he'd been allowed to finish, zipped and snapped, and was in the act of turning round at the noise behind him, when he-she-it had struck. Trusting that other Bodie's judgment, Doyle had been lax in looking after himself. And here he was--wherever here was--flat on his back, bound at the wrists, and tethered, as well.
Aware that he could not put off the inevitable for long, Doyle edged his eyelids upward, simultaneously relieved to find that he was in relative darkness, yet worried that he had been out for so long that night might already have fallen. Incautiously rolling his eyes to one side, he flinched at the red heat that exploded at the base of his skull, surprised but grateful when it did not sever his tenuous link to consciousness. A wave of nausea followed, but he fought it, forcing himself to breathe slowly and deeply until the spasm had passed.
Christ, but he seemed to be forming a bloody habit of this!
When next he ventured a look, the demon inside his head only throbbed threateningly, much to his consolation. Very carefully, and from a rather restricted point of view, he contrived to take in his surroundings. It was a small room, but not without merit; he had certainly been in worse--that flat in Soho, for instance.... The bed upon which he had been deposited was comfortable and the shades had been drawn--out of deference to his expected sensitivity to light?
He was alive. His assailant could certainly have dispatched him outright--but had not. Perhaps that indicated that there remained some time before a decision to do so was made.
Why the hell hadn't the other Bodie been prepared for this? Doyle hadn't even sampled his lunch--although on reflection, he'd probably be wearing it on his shirt front now, if he had.
Life was full of little kindnesses, Doyle decided blackly: He'd been allowed to finish his pee but not to start his meal before being coshed on the head. A bloke should be grateful for what he got. That philosophy was too good not to share with Bodie, who would certainly appreciate it. If he ever saw Bodie again.
Well, he had no one to blame but himself. He had wanted to know who killed the other Doyle, and it appeared that he would have the opportunity of finding out, first-hand. Just before he himself was disposed of, of course.
Niggling concerns. Do something constructive, you whinging bastard.
Gathering his strength, Doyle attempted to move. Several seconds later, after creeping back from the lightning-flayed abyss of unconsciousness, he tried again. He'd hurt like this before, he told himself, even if he had been younger then.
Refusing to give up, and ignoring the very real possibility that he was concussed, even if his skull was not split, Doyle drove himself to the edge time and again. His efforts were slowly rewarded as he gradually adjusted to his environment and the injury he had suffered.
Eyes compensating for the darkness, he was grateful to note that he had been left unguarded and behind a closed door. The lack of watchers was heartening for there was no one to view his pathetic struggles simply to regain control of his faculties, much less to free himself.
Before long he was writhing on the bed, attempting to determine the extent of his bonds. His wrists were braceleted together--probably with his own ruddy cuffs, too. His feet were also strapped together and, like his hands, lashed to something that did not easily yield. Undoubtedly the bed frame.
Despite being trussed top and bottom, Doyle was capable of a degree of movement. He could roll from one side to the other, although his strained shoulder muscles couldn't take the pressure for long. But at least the exercise kept the blood active in his limbs; were he given the opportunity to resist, it wouldn't be necessary to overcome numbness as well as a pounding headache.
No sooner had he settled in for a long wait, than there came a grating of metal against metal from the keyhole. Whipping his head about without due consideration, sharp pin-pricks of light swirled before his eyes--only to be washed away before a greater brightness that poured in through the doorway. Blinded, Doyle was denied even the satisfaction of seeing his captor. There was a quiet click--the door closing again?--and footsteps resounded lightly on the floorboards.
Like a goat tied to a stake, there was nothing he could do but await his captor's purpose.
They had been in and out of the car for hours, haunting the backstreets of London as the other Bodie hunted down his grasses, one by one. Doyle had been snatched between 12:35 and 12:45; it was now four o'clock.
"That's enough," Bodie said unequivocally. He shut the door and dragged the seatbelt across his shoulder once again. "We're wasting time."
"Haven't heard any suggestions from you," the other retorted. "Word'll filter down soo--"
"Not soon enough. It never did with your Doyle, remember?"
The man hunched behind the steering wheel locked his own belt into place. "I don't need reminding," he began acidly. "Especially by--"
"I want to go to HQ," Bodie said.
"He isn't there," the other growled. "That, I can assure you."
"About the only thing you can assure me is that you don't know where he is."
The other Bodie let out a sibilant breath; he was close to the breaking point and Bodie knew it. "I can't get you in," he replied practically. "You know what security's like."
"This from the man who nips round to the next universe when he wants to replace an old boyfriend," Bodie marvelled. "Find a way, and do it now. I want to see your Doyle's file, and I want access to the computer. You figure out how, bright lad."
Silence ensued, lasting no more than half a minute. Then the engine was started and the transmission brutally engaged. Bodie didn't even blink at the near miss they precipitated as they barrelled through a junction. He was already half-dead inside, waiting only to determine Ray's fate before giving up the other half, as well. By his reckoning, the man piloting their vehicle must be even further gone than he: after all, he had lost two Doyles--when Bodie was learning it was quite awful enough to lose one.
Refusing to consider Doyle's circumstances, Bodie fixed his mind on what he could and could not do. Regardless of how long it might take, he would not leave this blighted place until he knew Doyle's fate. Yet in a cold, cold corner of his mind, he damned Ray to hell and beyond for bringing them here, since that was easier than contemplating the yawning, bottomless hole that had opened up inside him.
They had not ridden far when the Capri was swung down a narrow alley and brought to a rocking halt outside a substantial door amidst piles of empty crates and paper refuse. The other Bodie faced his companion and thrust out his hand. "Give us your ID."
The pouting mouth curled into a caustic smile. "'M going to deface it."
Bodie resignedly handed the requested item over. Then he watched his double stride up to the door, rap peremptorily on it before a small viewing hatch slid open. Some unseen communication took place and the man was given entry. Bodie waited impatiently, controlling his restlessness by compiling a list in his head of what he would search for once they reached HQ.
Fewer than fifteen minutes had elapsed before the other Bodie reappeared. As he slid into the driver's seat, he pitched two flat objects at his companion.
Bodie snagged them mid-air. One was his CI5 ID, most of the pertinent information neatly excised; the other was a small card, laminated between two still-warm layers of clear plastic. It was a clearance pass, issued by Enfield Management, Ltd., which bore not only the finger-printed, documented material lifted from his ID card, but astoundingly, a picture of him as he now appeared, brown-eyed, bewigged, and bespectacled. "This is you," he said, out loud.
"Now it's you." The engine roared and they backed out of the alley at ruinous speed. "You'd better make it good when we get there, sunshine. We'll be a bit conspicuous."
"Why Andy Steele?" Bodie asked, his thumb-nail underlining the alias on the clearance pass.
"You've never used it?"
"Nope. Andy I can understand, but the Steele-- Oh. Mum's maiden name."
"Full marks. Surprised you never thought of it."
"Perhaps we don't go undercover as often in my world," Bodie mused, unthinkingly bracing himself as they hurtled through an amber light.
"Never used my own name until I joined CI5. Before that it was William Phillip most of the time," the other told him. "It was Cowley insisted I go by Bodie again."
"Why put it off so long?"
"Habit, I guess," his companion said indifferently. "Thought the old bastard might have put the hounds on me when I first ran away. Not that he'd've wanted to find me very badly; not after what I did. Just seemed sensible, I reckon."
Bodie stored that little bit of information away with the rest of what he had learned about this man. In his world, he had returned to the home where he had grown up several years after his youthful departure to visit old friends. One had divulged to his father his then current whereabouts, and because of that, the 'old bastard,' as the other Bodie termed him, had been able to keep tabs on him. Crazily enough that was why he was a reasonably wealthy young man now, having inherited a goodly portion of his father's estate; and how, well into his thirties, he had also acquired a daughter.
The car-park at CI5 Headquarters was full to overflowing, as usual. Having been flagged through by the security guard, the other Bodie slipped the silver Ghia into a space too small even for its sleek contours and killed the engine.
Refraining from comment, Bodie squeezed through the boxed-in opening, and met his double on the other side. "You off duty? That is, will your showing up surprise anyone?"
"I've been working on something that's coming together very slowly," the man replied. "Cowley knows I come and go at will."
"And he lets you get away with that? Oh, of course, you've a special arrangement with him, haven't you. I forgot."
"Stuff it, mate," the other warned icily. "Don't tell me you've never fucked someone just to get your way."
Wisely, Bodie did not answer, catching the other man up as he marched angrily away.
With his eyesight gone, all of Doyle's other senses kicked in to make up for the loss. The intruder's footsteps were tentative in their approach, accompanied by breathing that was low and hurried. There was scent, too, his first indication that the visitor was either female or preferred feminine cologne.
Steeled for almost anything, Doyle was nevertheless staggered when a delicate, cool hand slid into the top of his shirt. Hampered by buttons, it withdrew long enough to undo the irritating obstacles and laid Doyle bare.
Seized by the memory of yesterday's kidnapping, Doyle almost laughed. He wasn't given the chance. A warm mouth covered his and he was subjected to a long, demanding kiss.
Definitely female, he concluded. It had been quite some time since he'd been touched by a woman; at least two years, in fact. Perhaps, had his head been a little less tender, his hands less chafed, and his anger at being treated so cavalierly a bit less pronounced, he might have reacted more positively. Instead, he jerked his head away and demanded hostilely, "Get your fucking hands off me."
"Oh." The woman's attentions stilled only briefly. "Sorry, love," she laughed, "but you haven't got a lot to say about it, have you."
Doyle was shocked into silence. He knew that voice! And now that his retinas had had a moment to recover from the blast of light, he could make out shapes and shadows again, and the beginnings of distinguishing features. He opened his mouth to proclaim his knowledge, but the woman's head dipped forward and he was taken again, his lips expertly ridden to maximum effect. At least it would have been effective on someone interested in this woman's attentions. Appalled, Doyle tried to twist out of her grasp, only to have his head held firmly in place, given no choice in the matter at all.
But the woman couldn't kiss him forever. And at last she drew away, exasperated by Doyle's tangible lack of cooperation. "You're a real spoilsport, you kn--"
"Jesus Christ, Sarah, what the fuck d'you think you're doing?" Doyle broke in desperately.
"What did you call me?" Startlement pitched the woman's voice high, and now Doyle's vision had fully returned, he could see it in her familiar face as well.
"Sarah," he said. "It is your name."
She backed away from him as though she'd been burned. "How d'you know that?" she demanded.
The almost black hair, cobalt blue eyes, the same willful mouth: this was the very replica of the woman he had grown so fond of in his own universe. Doyle could not withhold a smile of genuine warmth. "I know a great deal about you," he informed her candidly. You're Sarah Bodie. Your mother's name is Julie. Your father was...Will Bodie."
She didn't notice the minute hesitation. "Who are you?"
Doyle winced; how to answer her? "I'm Ray Doyle, your brother's lover," he said, opting for honesty.
"I don't have a brother," she informed him waspishly.
That gave Doyle pause, but he recovered quickly. "You may not know of him; he ran away when he was fifteen."
"That's ludicrous. Mum would've told me."
"Well, obviously she didn't. Ask her."
"I will. She'll be back in a couple of hours. She scowled down at him, very appealing despite the petulant expression. "Is that why you don't want me?" she asked, piqued. "Because you're queer?"
Doyle did not smile, although he wanted very much to. The egocentricity of youth! "No, actually. Bo-- Andy's very important to me, and we have an agreement. Not to mention that you could've chosen your moment better," Doyle added a little acerbically. "Waking up with a thumping headache, and tied to a bed doesn't exactly set the stage for seduction, y'know." He pulled at his wrists hopefully.
The tiniest glimmer of amusement sparked in her eyes. "I can't," she said regretfully. "Mum would murder me."
"Will you stay and talk to me, then?" Doyle requested. "Maybe I could have some water?"
The woman's mouth softened into a beguiling crescent. "Yes, I'll talk to you. But I want to know about this supposed brother of mine. And how you know who I am."
Doyle licked his lips. "Could we start with the water?"
Bodie and his double made it through the front door check-point unchallenged. With monumental insouciance, they strolled down the hall to the lift, and entered with two other people. Bodie recognized one of them as Charles Anson; Anson's companion was unknown to him. The other Bodie responded to the man's greeting with a brusque nod. Apparently this was not unusual, and nothing more was said.
At the second floor, they left the lift and went down to the wing that housed the computer stations allocated for agent use. The other Bodie chose one at the end of a row and tapped in his personal code.
As the computer assimilated the request for access, Bodie performed a quick glance round. Only a couple of other stations were in use, and the faces bent toward those screens were not familiar. He worried a little about that. In his and Doyle's world, they knew virtually everybody in the Squad.
"There you go, mate," the other Bodie said. For the other agents' ears, he added, "That's what it's been doing. All that gobbledygook on the screen."
"I've seen it before," Bodie replied, in character. Since it was nothing more than a standard access menu, he was in no way lying. "Shouldn't be a great bother hunting down the problem. It'll take a few minutes, though, if you have something else to do."
"All right. I need to pay a short visit to Records. You'll be all right here alone?"
"Safe as houses," Bodie assured him.
"Right." With that the other man walked away, hands buried deep in his pockets.
Bodie began to hum softly to himself as his fingers trotted across the keyboard. He had never yet met a computer technician who did not hum incessantly--and usually tunelessly, to boot. The information he called up was promptly displayed: everything he'd ever wanted to know about Subject: Doyle, Raymond.
As his eyes scanned the VDU, he registered little that differed from the Raymond Doyle of his world. At least the basics were the same: weight, height, date of birth, distinguishing characteristics; all save for his face and chest. This Doyle did not sport the battered-boy look, and he had never had the misfortune to arouse the ire of an Asian girl with an itchy trigger finger. Hence, his right cheek and left front tooth were undamaged, and his chest did not resemble an aerial view of Clapham Junction.
It was noted that Doyle was occasionally 'seconded' to CI5 for special operations, although no mention was made of which organization he was borrowed from, nor what his special skills were. With a growing sense of frustration, Bodie continued to read through the file. He'd been a fool to imagine there would be something worthwhile here.
And, indeed, the next screen told him what he already knew: This Doyle had died as a result of several .9mm gunshot wounds in the torso, placed there by attacker or attackers unknown.
Would his Doyle's file eventually report the same sterile fact? Death by unknown assailants? Was his body even now feeding the denizens of the Thames?
With cold determination, Bodie scrolled back to the beginning of the file, and began to read through it again. He knew in his heart that he had missed nothing, yet he forged on. Eventually, driven by a need to do something constructive, no matter how futile, he took to cross-referencing bits of data.
Like the other Bodie, this Doyle had used aliases that his Doyle had never mentioned: Ryan Dougal, Roy Dermot. He checked each one out, comparing them with the computer's personnel list, and each, not unexpectedly, referred him back to Doyle, Raymond (Deceased). His Doyle's favorite, Ray Duncan, was not even listed. For the hell of it, he typed the name in, and when it came up, he saw at once why it had not been among the other Doyle's alter egos: There was someone else--someone very much alive and on payroll--with the same name. That would've gone over a treat had Doyle used another bloke's handle--and maybe brought trouble to his doorstep, as a result. Bodie sketchily glanced over the data displayed, but Raymond Duncan was a boring sod, whoever he was. He went back to Doyle's file and picked up where he had left off.
Ray Doyle was half asleep, more from boredom than actual weariness. His visitor had left some time ago, on the pretext of fetching something for his headache. Nearly an hour had passed since then, and he had grown fairly certain that she would not be back.
Not precisely the level-headed woman he knew back in his universe, nevertheless this child-woman was a veritable well of information, and had been generous with answers to most of his questions. For example, he had learned where he was: a whorehouse. Owned by her mother, it had been handed over to Julie by Sarah's father as a stable source of revenue when he had fallen ill. Julie had taken it on like the trouper she was, and it had proved to be a great diversion for Sarah when she was feeling low.
She had observed Doyle's arrival from the first floor landing and assumed he was to be held until other parties came to collect him. When Doyle had asked her to elaborate, she unwillingly acknowledged that her mother occasionally trafficked with slavers, but added in her defense that it was never by choice. Unfortunately, however, this house of ill-repute had long been a half-way hostel for powerful members of various organizations who ferried their goods from seller to buyer.
When he had asked her if she often attempted to sample the goods, she had colored rather impressively, and owned that only occasionally did she take advantage of what was on offer--either willingly, or through her pleasurable, and usually effective methods of persuasion.
In exchange, Doyle had given her a highly bowdlerized account of how he had come to be here, who Bodie was, and how her existence had been made known to him. In his version, Bodie and he were lovers who had met while working together, and upon his father's death, Bodie had been informed about his sister. Sarah was disturbed by this aspect of his story, for she wanted to know why Bodie had received word from her father's lawyers, when she had not. After all, Will Bodie's estate was stalled in a legal quagmire pending notification of all beneficiaries. To that, Doyle had been unable to cobble together a plausible explanation, and was very thankful that he had omitted any reference to Bodie's inheritance.
The woman was as clever as her counterpart in his universe, however, and must have sensed that Doyle was holding something back, if not lying outright. Eventually she grew tired of the novelty of talking with a stranger who knew more about her than she seemed to know about herself, and told him that she would find something for his headache and return with it soon. And then she had gone, the door closing quietly but with finality on the once again pitch dark room.
Doyle, the back of his head carrying on a syncopated rhythm that would have put the drummers for the Scots Guards to shame, was ready to accept that he had been well and truly abandoned, when, without warning, that same door swung open and the light was switched on, the renewed brilliance tearing into his skull. "Bloody hell, Sarah," he moaned.
"Not Sarah," a woman's voice contradicted him. "But I have brought you some Anadins. Is it true that your head hurts?"
Having exhausted the computer's resources, Bodie began to fiddle with the knobs and cabling in the back of the machine. In the midst of his research, the other two agents who had been working at nearby terminals had departed for points unknown, so the subterfuge was not really necessary; nevertheless, it placated him to be doing something with his hands.
The other Bodie still had failed to return, and as each additional minute went by without sign of him, Bodie grew incrementally more uneasy. Coming to HQ was probably just one more mistake among all the others they'd racked up since entering this "trans-dimensional fault."
Bodie reattached the cable to the printer and powered the VDU back on, glaring at the one great eye of the computer as though it were personally responsible for everything that had gone wrong for him. A shoe scraped on the floor behind him, and Bodie swung round, welcoming the distraction.
His sense of gratitude died with stupefying abruptness. "May I help you?" he asked briskly, summoning all his skills as a veteran dissembler to appear calm beneath the piercing gaze of George Cowley.
"Aye, you can tell me who you are, and what it is you are doing here."
"I'm from Enfield," he said with a salesman's show of teeth. Placing a finger under the ID tag attached to his jacket front to give it prominence, he added, "A service call was placed on this terminal."
"It looks just fine to me," Cowley said insinuatingly.
"It would--now. I've been here--" he took a second to eye his watch "--nearly forty-five minutes. I was just checking to see that everything is back to normal."
"Without a tool kit, Mr.--" Cowley bent nearer to examine Bodie's clearance pass. "Steele?"
Bodie patted his pocket. "Miniaturization, y'know," he said with a cheeky grin, daring the man to demand evidence.
Both men responded to that quiet greeting, turning to face the new arrival. "Hello, Bodie," George Cowley said. His eyes pored over his agent long and thoroughly. "Are you well?"
"Only tired. I've been busy--on the case. Just came in to draw some items from Records."
Cowley shifted his attention from his Bodie to the man sitting before the VDU. "I was told you came in with Mr. Steele here."
"No, sir," the other Bodie corrected him easily. "That is, I met him in the car-park, and he asked directions. Seemed more expedient to show him the way rather than attempt to explain this rabbit warren to the uninitiated."
"I see." He pointed at the large file clasped under the other man's arm. "And what d'you have there?"
"Doyle's file," the agent replied simply, knowing it would be useless to lie.
"Ah, Bodie," Cowley sighed. "Whatever for?"
"Just wanted to review some items, that's all. Make sure I didn't miss anything."
"It's been six months, man. Surely--" The controller of CI5 appeared to think better of what he had been about to say. "You're taking it home?"
"Yes, sir. It's been downgraded to INACTIVE. I'll have it back to Records in the morning."
"All right, lad. But don't--" Again he stopped himself and made a show of clearing his throat. "If you're on your way out, perhaps you could show Mr. Steele to his car. You are finished here, Mr. Steele?"
"Yes, I am, thank you. You'll have an invoice in the mail." At Cowley's black glare, he rapidly amended, "Just a statement of service. After all, that's why you pay for a maintenance arrangement."
"Aye," Cowley agreed coolly, "that is precisely why." His eyes rested on Bodie for longer than good manners dictated. Beginning to believe that the wig had melted away and the glasses and contacts had become transparent to the Scot's inner vision, Bodie fought the urge to fidget. At last Cowley dropped the ocular interrogation. As he stepped away, he said over his shoulder, "Stop by my office, Bodie, in the morning."
"I will, sir," the other Bodie said to the older man's departing back. "C'mon, Steele, I'm ready to leave."
"So am I," Bodie said fervently.
The day was still grey and drizzling as the two men walked out of the old Georgian style building. With the heat and the humidity, thundershowers were on tap for later in the evening, Bodie prophesied to himself. He was feeling low, as dismal as the sunless sky above him. His confederate was none better; it showed in his heavy stride and lackluster eyes.
Coming alongside the car, which was no longer squeezed between two vehicles, he used his own key to unlock the passenger door, marvelling that anything should work to his advantage here. He had barely strapped himself in when a small but weighty bundle was dropped into his lap. Wrapped in brown paper and secured with string, one side was labelled in black pen, DOYLE, RAYMOND.
"What's this?" he asked, examining the package warily. The file Cowley had commented upon was pushed onto the dash in front of the steering column.
"Doyle's things," he was told curtly. "Your Doyle."
"From before--the first time you were here. Y'know, when he was taken by my lot. His gun, ID, diary. Even his money. It's all there."
Bodie couldn't find anything to say, and probably couldn't have forced the words through his too-tight throat if he had. In his hands he held articles belonging to his Doyle, items that had waited two years for his return. Suddenly he was very frightened that this was the last of his lover, all that he would ever recover of him from this buggered place.
Nearly twenty minutes had passed since Julie Bodie had entered Doyle's room. She had refused to speak about anything of importance until he had downed two tablets and a glass of water. Exhibiting a stubborn streak of his own, Doyle would not accept her offering until he could see well enough to know with assurance what it was he was taking.
But the Anadins were clearly marked, and his dully aching head pleaded for them. Julie was as efficient as a nurse, placing the tablets on his tongue, and supported his head while he swallowed them down with wonderfully cool water. Then she inspected the knot at the back of his head and took a quick look into his eyes. She was gentle in her examination, and Doyle surmised by her expression that she believed he would recuperate from her operative's over-enthusiasm without lasting harm.
"Who are you?" she asked, crossing to the chest of drawers. There she set the empty glass.
"Ray Doyle," he answered promptly. "And you're Julie Bodie."
"That might be a good guess on your part," she said cagily.
"I know you." He bit his bottom lip, ordering his thoughts. "You were a secretary for William Bodie. When his wife died, he asked you to marry him. You did. He had a son by his first wife, William Jr. You...found him attractive, and eventually seduced him. Sarah is his daughter. Shall I go on?"
"No," she said on a protracted exhalation. "I think that's quite sufficient."
She walked to the edge of the bed and sat down. "Sarah said you're Andy's lover. Is that true?"
"But we haven't heard from him in years. Not since he ran away. How could he know about Sarah?"
"That doesn't really matter, does it?" Doyle argued, trying hard not to sound obdurate. "He knows, and so do I. And he wouldn't take kindly to you selling me off to anyone as a bloody sex toy."
To his dismay, she let out a chime of laughter. "I'm sorry, that was rude of me. But, Mr.--Doyle, you are scarcely the type of individual wanted on the 'sex toy' market."
Doyle was too tired to take offense. "Why else was I brought to a whorehouse, then?"
"A brothel, please. That has a much more refined sound to it than 'whorehouse.'"
She was subjected to a daunting green stare. "To get you off the street, of course. That was really very foolish of you, y'know. And calling yourself Ray Doyle, of all the lunatic ideas!"
Doyle could only stare at her. Mistaking his perplexed expression for one of protest, the woman forestalled his nonexistent argument with an imperial hand. "Please, spare me the excuses. It doesn't matter to me. I'm here to bargain with you."
The man's reaction was not what Julie Bodie expected: he chuckled, groaning as the movement heightened the throb in his head. But he couldn't contain himself, and within seconds the gurgling chortle had escalated to full-blown hilarity.
"You are mad," the woman said coldly. "Perhaps you don't understand: were I to hand you over to certain people, you would be dead. Listen to me!"
It hurt almost as much to contain the laughter still rumbling in his chest, as it had to allow it in the first place. "Believe me, Julie, I understand only too well. It's just-- Well, it has been a very long couple of days." He sniffed luxuriantly, wishing he could bring at least one hand to bear lest he disgrace himself further. "Tell me what you have in mind."
Clearly at odds with what she was about to do, Julie said, "Sarah said Andy found out about her when Will died."
"You were discreet in saying that Andy is her brother; I thank you for that. Not that it would make much difference. As you have noticed, she is extremely headstrong, and far too oversexed for her own good."
Doyle ruthlessly smothered a giggle tickling at the back of his throat.
Julie took his wide-eyed, frozen aspect for one of keen interest, instead. She continued, in a less condescending tone, "I suppose it doesn't matter how Andy found out, only that he's never come forward. His father left him a large sum of money, Mr.--" Again she hesitated to say Doyle's name, and this time ended up ignoring it altogether. "But he cannot have his portion of Will's estate until he acknowledges the receipt of certain papers. Since I and Will's lawyers have been unable to find him, perhaps you would be so kind--"
"Ah!" Doyle interrupted rudely. "Now I do understand." She wouldn't have been the least bit averse to chucking him to the wolves, if he hadn't brought Bodie's name into it. "So you'll let me go, and guarantee me safe passage--at least until the will is out of probate."
"It is already verified," she said sharply. "You need not come over so high-and-mighty with me. After all, you will benefit from this as well. If you and Andy are as close as you say, he will not hesitate to shower you with generosity."
"No," Doyle agreed evenly. "He would certainly do that." His Bodie had already overwhelmed him with a large portion of his boon. In fact, it had come close to creating problems between them until Bodie had accepted that his natural propensity to make Ray happy was being undermined by a surfeit of gift-giving. "All right. I'll take your documents to him," he promised her. "Now would you please get me out of these bloody cuffs!"
Five minutes later, Ray Doyle was a free man, unfettered and standing upright. He found it ridiculous to credit, but his enforced stay here had allowed him to undo the damage wreaked by the blow to his head. While he was still shaky, and the Anadins were barely holding the Huns at the gate, he was functional again.
Julie Bodie accompanied him downstairs, steering him clear of incoming clients. According to his watch the afternoon was gone, and through his stomach's less than civilized vocalizations, he was reminded that his last meal had gone uneaten. Before being ushered outside the door, he paused. "I'd like to use your phone. Only one call," he pleaded at the first sign of resistance on the woman's face.
"All right," she consented, with reluctance. "Over here."
But the effort was wasted: There was no answer at the other Bodie's flat.
Once again at the entry door, Julie stopped and offered Doyle her hand. A little bemused by her effrontery, he nonetheless took it. "A word of advice," she said, before he could pull away. "You bear a strong resemblance, y'know. I've seen him, and I would've been fooled." She leaned forward and smoothed her thumb against Doyle's upper lip before he could jerk away. "Lipstick," she tsked, showing him the smear on her hand. "That Sarah!" She went on remonstratively, "But it is a dangerous game you're playing, whoever-you-are. Don't pretend to be Ray Doyle; it could get you killed."
Wanting only to be gone, Doyle was bound by innate inquisitiveness to ask, with some exasperation, "Why should it matter?"
"Oh, please: if you were being impersonated by someone--someone who made you look exceedingly foolish--wouldn't you want him stopped?" She read Doyle's suddenly dead white face as an admission of guilt. "Oh, yes, I checked with Sharnford as soon as you were brought here, just on the off chance someone had made a very bad mistake. But you're no more Ray Doyle than I am--and I can assure you: he would not thank you for saying that you are."
It was quiet in the little cafe round the corner from CI5 Headquarters. Late for tea and early for dinner, the other Bodie had brought his depressed companion here for coffee and a pastry. They were both tired, and snappish with it. But once Bodie had opened the papers on Raymond Doyle's death, conversation had ceased altogether.
Ballistics report, autopsy findings, morgue photographs: all these were studied with the utmost care. Early on, something switched off inside Bodie, and when finally he arrived at the pictures, he was well insulated against the hurt rendered by the graphic shots.
Ray Doyle, devoid of color and beyond rigor mortis, lay sprawled on a stainless steel platform, four closely grouped bullet wounds forming a trapezoidal configuration in the vicinity of his heart. The back view was even more dramatic, exhibiting the damage caused by high caliber rounds fired at fairly close range. Expansive bullets accounted for savagery like this: small, clean holes at point of entry; gruesome craters at site of egress. Nine millimeter Parabellum, according to the coroner's report. Hollow point bullets.
His Ray Doyle despised hollow points.
With exaggerated conscientiousness, Bodie tidied the contents of the file and folded it shut.
"Happy now?" his counterpart asked.
"Grinning from ear to ear," Bodie replied.
The other man stood up. "Another coffee?"
Bodie tilted his head back. "Yeah. No. Make it tea, will you."
They would kill each other at this rate, he thought, watching the man make his way to the counter. The truce they had struck was in imminent danger of foundering. And Bodie couldn't allow that; not until he had found his Doyle.
Well aware that he had not been thinking as clearly as he ought for some time now, Bodie spent a moment regulating his respiration, and soothing his badly frayed nerves. He'd wanted to see Doyle's file in order to formulate some reason for the other Doyle being murdered. Certainly the most likely explanation--his line of work--carried considerable weight. But this Doyle had survived as a hired killer for too many years to have gone slack for no reason. A man in that profession kept an eye peeled over his shoulder at all times--unless he was distracted; unless he was upset about something.
He regarded his returned companion measuringly, ignoring the stock, "You owe me 35p," with long years of experience.
"The night before Doyle walked out on you, you had an argument."
An unfriendly blue eye considered Bodie over the rim of a light brown mug. "That's right."
"It was a bad one, then?"
Having expected Bodie to ask what the row had been about, the other was temporarily put off his guard. "Yeah, you could say that."
"Where did he walk out to?"
"Probably Sharnford, although it was officially denied."
Bodie's eyes narrowed to black-fringed slits. He'd seen that name--Sharnford--just recently.
"Look, I checked into all that." The other man broke into Bodie's fledgling thoughts. "Doyle had nothing to fear there." A little sourly, he added, "Just the opposite, actually, which is why he went so often."
"What is Sharnford? We don't have the equivalent, to my knowledge."
"A big house in Stoke Newington. Owned by one of Cowley's old mates, Barry Martin."
Barry Martin! Bodie stifled his dismayed reaction; it was like treading a bloody minefield in this place.
"Why would he go there? Because of Martin?"
"According to Ray, more to spite him. No, Cowley authorized Martin's personal use of the house, and in return he puts the occasional agent up. The Old Corps looking after its own, don't you know. Martin's the one who arranges all of Cowley's kills. The Old Man'd send Doyle up there until a job was done; temporary attachment, like."
Bodie's head was swimming. He attended to his tea, concentrating on the heat and sweetness of it. "You'll have to be more specific," he said slowly. "Why should Doyle go to a safehouse because he'd had a row with you?"
"Martin liked him," the other Bodie said baldly. "And it's a nice place. If Doyle wanted a sulk, he liked to go somewhere comfortable."
Bodie shook off some of his apathy. "'Martin liked him?'"
His counterpart produced a sharklike parody of a grin. "Yeah. He was always after Ray's arse. Not that he ever got it. Ray was the faithful type."
Something about the smug statement, rather than intuitive insight, made Bodie gibe, "And you weren't?"
The other man's mouth tightened into a hard line, and he dropped his gaze. "Mostly, I was."
It was as if the floodgates had collapsed and comprehension rushed in. Bodie stated softly, "That's what the big row was about, wasn't it? You were fucking someone on the side."
A dark red stain blossomed in the other Bodie's cheeks. He said defensively, "Suppose you're going to tell me you've been a hundred percent faithful?"
"Closer to a hundred and ten. Ray'll put up with a lot from me, but he won't tolerate that."
Bodie's double drained his cup in one long swallow. "And, of course, you do everything he tells you," he sneered.
Rather than taking offense at the question, Bodie was pleased for once to have got the upper hand. "We're in agreement on that particular matter, anyway." He gave his head a wondering shake. "You witless bastard. I thought you loved him. Christ--you were hurting so badly for him, you found a way to hunt down my Doyle. And then you couldn't use him because he wasn't the right one. How the fuck could you do that to--"
"Wasn't like that," the other rounded on him. "I had an outstanding obligation. And Ray--" His head dropped back and he fixed a hollow gaze on the ceiling. "Ray...kinda crept up on me."
"What does that mean?"
"He could be an aggravating bugger. And I'd promised myself long ago never to get that inv--"
Bodie waved a peremptory hand. "No-- What did you mean by 'an outstanding obligation'?"
A long breath drained out of the other man's lungs. "Hold onto your sides, Andy-my-lad, this'll give you a real howl."
Once he had finished, however, there was no trace of humor on Bodie's face. "Cowley!" His lip curled with disdain. "Oh, sure--you told us yourself that you slept with him sometimes. But, after you started with Ray--?"
"It never meant anything to me," his counterpart said belligerently. "If your history's like mine, Cowley got you out of a tight spot when he took you on."
Bodie paled, very slightly. "Maybe. And what if he did?"
The other Bodie allowed himself a mocking smile. "It was a way of paying him back, that's all. My choice; my offer."
"Then why keep it up after you and Ray--?"
"Told you: it didn't start out that way with us. We were good together in the sack, that's all. Maybe it was easier for you and your Doyle because you were mates first, but for Ray and me.... Well, for us, that's where it began."
"You did have some idea of what you were getting," Bodie reminded him bitterly, all too aware that it was this man who had bedded his Doyle first.
"Some," the other conceded. "Not much. My Doyle was harder than yours; like broken glass, sometimes. We fought a lot at first." He snorted softly to himself. "We always fought. And that was part of the fun, really. Never occurred to me until it was too late that he had got under my skin."
He molded his hands around the mug, dwarfing it in comparison. "We'd been together a couple of months, y'know, spending most of our time together, when Cowley rang me. That's all he'd do. Just ask me to stop over. Always knew what he meant; and mostly it didn't bother me."
Bodie made a soft hissing sound.
The other shrugged. "Just like I told Doyle: There was nothing heavy in it. The Cow doesn't fancy that. Just wants a bit of relief; and he trusts me. Thought Ray'd kill me when I told him; he was that narked. We talked a bit, and he calmed down. The next time--"
"Jesus!" Bodie couldn't believe his ears. "You went to him again?"
His counterpart closed his eyes and nodded. "Four or five months later. The Cow rang me and I went. Tried to lie my way out of it, but Doyle guessed. He left me then. Took me a month to get him back. The last time--"
"You feeble-minded fuckwit!" Bodie marvelled.
Two spots of color stood out against the other's porcelain complexion. "The last time, I told Cowley the arrangement was off; that Doyle was too important to me. Okay? Cowley didn't like it."
"And, nothing. Told him I wasn't on tap anymore; he'd have to find someone else." In a quiet, defeated voice, he finished, "When I got back to the flat, Ray was gone."
"Wait a minute," Bodie persisted, under the distinct impression that too much was being left unsaid. "You told Doyle that you were going to finish it with Cowley, and he still left you?"
Cold fury spit from the other man's eyes. "Easy for you, isn't it, sitting in judgment on someone else? No, I didn't tell him. I let him think I was going out to service Cowley, just as I'd done before."
"For God's sake, why?" Bodie asked incredulously.
"We were at outs about something," the other replied flatly. "Don't even remember what now. But Doyle was rubbing me the wrong way. He could be such a bloody-minded toad when he wanted to."
Bodie couldn't argue against that. When he spoke again, his tone was rather less uncharitable. "So Doyle walked out and you were sent north."
"Yeah. Intended to explain things in the morning. When I was assigned to Leeds, I wasn't too worried about reaching Ray; he'd gone to Sharnford before, reckoned he'd go there again. Knew I'd get to him sooner or later."
"Did you try to contact him while you were on assignment?"
"No. Thought about it; decided the spell apart would do us good. Just as well, I suppose: Cowley said he was killed the day after I left."
Just as well.... Not knowing of Doyle's demise, the other Bodie had been allotted thirteen days to believe that his Ray was still alive. Alive to argue with, to resent--to love. Bodie thought of the times he and Ray had squabbled; rather nasty, some of them had been. But under the anger there had always been a solid foundation of respect and affection. Bodie shuddered to imagine what sort of relationship they might have formed had they gone to bed before developing that underpinning. As this Bodie had discovered, with two volatile personalities involved, they'd been dealing with gelignite: highly explosive and frighteningly unstable.
"Let's get out of here," Bodie said shortly, already pushing away from the table.
Outside, they walked into a sultry drizzle. The clouds had continued to build and were now fiercely black and swollen looking. There was an itchy feeling in the air, too, as though the heavens were weaving a giant network of unspent energy.
It'll be spectacular, Bodie guessed, when it finally lets rip.
The car was parked a couple of streets away. During the walk back, lacking anything better to say, and needing to ease the mood between them, Bodie said the first inoffensive thing that came to mind. "'S crazy, y'know, the differences--and likenesses--between our two worlds--universes--whatever they are."
Accepting the diversion for what it was, the other said neutrally, "For example?"
Because he knew it would please him, Bodie disclosed, "Barry Martin is dead where I live."
"Lucky you," his counterpart said wryly. "What else?"
"In my universe, I don't think Cowley sleeps with himself--much less anyone else."
That kindled a tiny smile. "Never tried it on with you, I take it?"
"Never." Bodie pulled at his ear thoughtfully. "There're other things, too," he went on. "Obvious ones, like your Doyle being on the outside of the law all his life."
"He had his own code, though," the other Bodie defended his lover good-naturedly. "Like being so irritatingly monogamous."
Bodie laughed. It sounded strange in his own ears; had it been so long? "Wouldn't expect it, would you, from a randy little sybarite like him?"
A soft chuckle came back to him. "Wants to improve your vocabulary, too, does he?"
They fell silent, sparing a moment's concentration for a hazardous street crossing. Shortly afterward, they came up alongside the car and climbed inside. The other Bodie tossed the file containing Doyle's records onto the dash and started the engine. "What else?"
"Hm? Oh--" He reviewed what had struck him as notable in the last eight or so hours. "All right: the aliases. I never used Andy Steele." As they glided into traffic, he continued, "Or Doyle. Most of the names listed as covers were ones Ray never used--not that I know of, anyway. His favorite wasn't even on the charts."
"What was that?" The other man, occupied with the demands of the road, was patently listening with only half an ear.
"Duncan? No, you're right, it wasn't. But then, he rarely used it."
Bodie shot the man beside him a startled glance. "Oh." Then with a casualness that belied the accelerated rate of his heart, he murmured, "Maybe there was someone else on the Squad with that name. It's fairly common, is Duncan."
"Hm. Maniac!" The car stood virtually on its nose as the other Bodie braked to avoid a lane-changer.
With one hand automatically curled around the overhead strap, and his mind turned down totally different paths of immediate concern, Bodie hardly heard his companion complain, "Stupid bugger'll get someone killed driving like that." As they gained speed again, narrowly missing a rear end collision, Bodie persisted, "Was there?"
"Was there what?" the other asked blankly.
"Anyone else on the Squad named Duncan?"
His counterpart arched an inquiring brow at him. "No. He just didn't fancy it the way your mate does, I expect. Why?"
Bodie's insides formed a tiny, uncomfortable huddle. That was where he had seen the name Sharnford: In Ray Duncan's file. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing the information to appear before him, even though he had no more than scanned it at the time. One thing he did recall with certainty: Duncan had not joined Cowley's mob recently. And though he had not thought it odd at the time, the details of Duncan's background had been unusually sparse. Otherwise, the only other data of note that had stuck with him was that Ray Duncan was on CI5's payroll, and residing at a place called--Sharnford.
Sharnford, where Doyle liked to sulk.
Was the Ray Doyle of this universe alive?
Bodie bit his lower lip with force to keep his suspicions from spilling out. It would be the height of cruelty to tell this man that his Ray Doyle was really among the living and had only faked his death. Especially considering the extremes to which his Doyle had evidently gone to ensure that this Bodie believe him dead. Almost as bad as that was the implication of conspiracy: Cowley must know.
"Something wrong with you, mate?"
The other man's words finally pierced Bodie's stunned preoccupation. He had a feeling that the other had spoken before, but nothing of what he'd said had impinged on his consciousness.
"No," Bodie replied in an excellent imitation of his normal voice. Then: "I want to go to Sharnford."
He was subjected to an exhausted scowl. "Told you, I checked the place out."
"For your Doyle," Bodie said smoothly. "I'm talking about mine. What would Martin do if he heard a whisper that someone looking just like Ray was in Town?"
The other's eyes darkened perceptibly. "He'd bloody well go after him, of course. He never fancied Ray for his mind, y'know." His chest swelled with a great, bolstering breath. "All right. Sharnford, it is."
As his counterpart navigated through the heavy evening traffic, Bodie consoled his conscience by telling himself that he was speaking half the truth, if not all of it. There would be a Doyle at Sharnford; he would wager his life on it. And if he had to use that Doyle as bait to get his own partner back, then he would do it--and damn the consequences.
Limp curls tightening with remorseless optimism in the damp evening air, Ray Doyle slowly drifted down the concrete steps which led away from Julie Bodie's establishment. He was a few feet from the pavement when a tall young man materialized from the Mercedes parked at the curb. Instantly bracing himself against attack, he was a little nonplused when the stranger opened the car door and waved a hand toward the backseat. He was even more taken aback when he realized he recognized the man from his own world.
"I work for Ju-- Mrs. Bodie," the fellow explained. "I'm to take you wherever you want to go."
"Thanks," Doyle said warily. "I'll find my own--"
"It is all right," Julie's warm voice said at Doyle's shoulder. "He belongs to me."
Doyle backed away, only stopping when both people were clearly in sight.
Julie handed a small carry-bag to the driver. Her head cocked a little to one side, she said impatiently to Doyle, "You're not feeling terribly well at the moment. Let my man drive you. Please."
Sorely tempted by the offer, Doyle gave it due consideration. So long as he knew where the Bodie of this world lived, and she did not, he would be safe. Gesturing his agreement with a flick of the hand, Doyle stepped into the back of the long, luxurious car.
"Goodbye," the woman said. She turned away and hurried up the steps to her front door.
Awkwardly sitting back, Doyle assumed a loose-limbed pose that denied his state of readiness. It had fooled others before, but the young man seemed to take little notice of him, settling behind the padded steering wheel of the Mercedes with an attitude of banked-down pleasure.
Briefly, Doyle knew a flash of panic when the driver rolled up the windows, locked the doors--then turned on the air conditioning. His panic changed to pained amusement when the man asked, ingenuously, "Where to?"
He could not go to Bodie's flat. With that knowledge, Julie would find a way to manipulate her erstwhile step-son to her advantage; and she would not hesitate to employ force. Nor could he ask to be taken to Sharnford. No matter where he went, his moves would be reported, he was certain of that.
"Are you sure? Ju-- Mrs. Bodie said to drive you anywhere--even to Edinburgh, if that's where you have a mind to be."
A whisper of a smile touched Doyle's mouth. "Waterloo will do."
They were some minutes on the road, driving slowly due to heavy traffic, before Doyle placed their location. He had guessed they were south of the Thames, and sight of a landmark well-known to him finally verified his assumption. That out of the way, he was free to concentrate on Julie's parting words.
You're no more Ray Doyle than I am--and I can assure you: he would not thank you for saying that you are.
What else could she have meant except that Ray Doyle--this universe's Ray Doyle--was alive?
I checked with Sharnford as soon as you were brought here.
Alive and living at somewhere called Sharnford.
Why? And how? Dead men might escape the exceedingly long arm of the law, but rarely did they wriggle free of the clutches of CI5.
And why would the bastard do that to his Bodie?
He thought of putting his partner through the agony that Bodie's counterpart had suffered, and felt sick inside at the brutality of it. Was his opposite number, the Ray Doyle of this world, mad? Far better to believe that than to suppose he had done this intentionally.
And how perverse that Julie Bodie, with her connections to the scummy underside of London, should know the truth, and William Bodie, the man's lover, should not.
A shiver coursed through Doyle's bruised and aching body. His head was the unwilling audience to a renewed bout of drum practice, and his heart was complaining, too. He'd seen so much in his life; so much of ugliness and meanness, unnecessary hurt and sadness. But never had he expected to witness something like this--something that, in a queer way, he was responsible for. He had wanted to know what that other Ray Doyle was like. Now that he had an inkling, his curiosity had quite vanished.
Nevertheless he must learn all of it, and having already opened the mystery box, he hoped to God that there might be something salvageable come the end of all this.
"Sir-- Sir, we're here." The hushed, but resolute voice finally cracked Doyle's light doze. He blinked owlishly, appalled at himself for having nodded off at all, and tried to straighten up too quickly. When his head stopped performing staggering pirouettes, he steadied himself with a hand upon the door, and began to climb out.
Waterloo Station lay before him, bustling with its usual goings and comings. He shoved the door closed and stood a moment on the pavement, ostensibly getting his bearings, but also bringing himself to a proper level of wakefulness. The driver came round and handed him the carry-bag passed to him by Julie.
"Your things," he informed Doyle straightforwardly.
"Thanks," Doyle replied with more than a hint of irony. The bag was heavy; either Julie had loaded it up with some extremely dense scones, or his P38 was in there, along with his holster, God willing. A little bemused, Doyle began to walk away--only to stop after a few steps.
Behind him, the driver had once again assumed his position behind the steering column, and glanced up questioningly when Doyle came back.
"Have you spoken to Sarah?" Doyle asked.
The man's face went completely blank.
"That must mean 'no'." Doyle translated. "She'll surprise you, Graham. I can almost guarantee that."
"How d'you know my--? Did Sarah say--?"
But Doyle was no longer there, his lanky stride taking him steadily across the pavement and into the gaping entry of the station. Mentally castigating himself for saying anything at all, Doyle wondered if he had done the young man a favor by encouraging him. True, Graham was the choice of the Sarah he knew-- But the Sarah of this world was another creature altogether. As was everyone he had encountered here.
Too dispirited to beleaguer himself any further, Doyle turned his mind to practical considerations. His first stop was the men's toilet. It gave his head a jar, but he vaulted the turnstile for want of 10p. Once inside the relative privacy of a stall, he carefully unzipped the carry-bag and inspected its contents. His expression eased a little as he pulled out his holster and pistol--still loaded--and his wallet and ID. There was also a long, thick envelope addressed to William Bodie, Jr.
After making use of the facilities, Doyle struggled contortionistically in the tiny compartment to rearrange his clothing. Appropriately dressed again, he patted his jacket to check the fit of the welcome addition under his left arm. He abandoned the carry-bag on the floor, and stuffed the envelope into his inside pocket.
In a much better frame of mind, Doyle relinquished the stall to an elderly gentleman who was fairly hopping from one foot to the other with urgency. From there he made his way into the station proper and hunted up a tea, and cheese and pickle sandwich. Once he was convinced his stomach would not rebel at the long overdue arrival of food, Doyle again took to his feet, heading back out the way he had come in.
A prudent survey of the roads outside the station gave him the all-clear and he hurried to the taxi stands. Being between trains, he was in luck, and crawled into the back of the first familiar beetle-shaped, black car he came to. "Sharnford," he said.
The driver, a rough-hewn man in his forties, raised a brow at him. "Whereabouts is that, guv?"
"Sorry, mate," Doyle conjured up a smile. "That's up to you to find out."
"Sharnford...." The bluff features formed a question mark. "All right. I'll do that."
A few minutes later, and after a couple of terse consultations on various side streets, the driver, exuding self-contentment, reported that they were on their way. "'S up north," he said mellifluously, his accent proclaiming his Midlands origins. "Won't be cheap, though."
Undaunted, Doyle dragged his wallet out and reviewed the strength of his bargaining position. A small breath hissed between his teeth as he saw the large wad of bills to be found. And he'd thought it was the gun that weighed so much! At some point--Julie must have believed Sarah's story immediately!--his wallet had been substantially expanded. "Not to worry," Doyle assured the driver. Uncoiling limbs as far as they could go, he tried to find a comfortable position for his thundering head. "Is it far?" he asked.
"A bit, yeah. Might as well relax; have a snooze if you like. Don't mind me saying so, but you look as if you could use one," the man replied.
"No," Doyle said emptily. "I don't mind at all."
Not far away, but making far less progress, sat Bodie and his companion, stalled at a junction where a minor, but greatly inconveniencing pile-up had occurred only seconds before their arrival. Trapped behind cars fore and aft, they could do nothing but endure. Chafing at the delay, Bodie gripped the window frame, wishing they were moving, or at least that the storm would break and release the tension still building in the atmosphere.
Beside him, his companion, who had kept his own counsel for some time, suddenly queried, "Why should you want to go to Sharnford?"
The tone was ruminative, but Bodie was instantly alert, hearing unstated suspicion in the words.
"I mean," the other went on, "Why should you think of Sharnford when I told you about Ray using Duncan as a cover name?"
Bodie licked his lips, continuing to glare dead ahead at the offending traffic snarl-up. "Because of...Martin," he said, thinking furiously. "Ray was calling himself Duncan when Martin went bad."
Bodie lifted a guileless brow toward his counterpart. "That's just the way the mind works, y'know. Word association and all that."
Very patiently, as though speaking to a child, Bodie elaborated, "We were on a job. Someone tested Ray by calling him Doyle. He hesitated; just a fraction of a second, but the other guy was good. Later that same afternoon, we stumbled onto some of Martin's dirty work."
The other Bodie was not convinced.
Bodie frowned at him. "Guess it was talking about Martin and cover names at the same time. Why? What's the inquisition for?"
"Just wondered, that's all. One minute we're talking about Ray playing Ray Duncan, the next you're very keen to visit Sharnford. Bit odd, that's all."
"Not to me," Bodie said, allowing a note of offended integrity to ice his words.
To make amends, the other prompted, "So what was Martin involved in? Maybe there's something I can use here."
As Bodie began to relate a rather altered version of Barry Martin's perfidy, his fingers tightened on the slick finish of the car body, thumb acting as a brace on the padded surface inside. If they didn't make headway soon, he was going to provide more pyrotechnics than the hovering thunderclouds.
"There it is," the cabbie stated, well pleased with himself. This would be a rewarding fare, even if it had taken him into the hinterlands of north London.
Doyle was sitting attentively, eyes travelling over the stone wall and metal gate that bordered the road. There was little to be seen of the house from here, only a glimpse through thickly cultivated trees that lined the drive leading up to it. The gate was not closed, but Doyle suspected cameras.
"Move down the road, about half a mile," he instructed.
Those thick brows rose, but no comment was forthcoming. The driver obeyed.
"Thanks," Ray said, drawing out his wallet as they came to a stop where he had indicated. "For your trouble." He handed the cabbie his fare plus half again the amount, conveying his request for silence without a word spoken.
"Ta, guv," the man replied, totally impassive in the face of such largesse. "Hope you don't get rained on."
Doyle waited on the pavement, hands in his pockets, and the driver accepted the cue to leave gracefully. As the car eased away from the curb and rapidly accelerated round the corner bordering the property of Sharnford, Doyle took the opportunity to scrutinize the area more thoroughly.
The lowering clouds lent their shadow to the fading day, advancing twilight by half an hour. Studiously nonchalant, Doyle began to walk back toward the house, grateful for the breeze that lifted his hair and cooled his body. He wished he could wait for morning, wished he could have, at the least, a little lie-down before proceeding further. He wished, most of all, that Bodie--his Bodie--was at his side. Bodie, who was probably scouring London for him at this very moment.
Sighing, he strolled along, taking in the lack of activity in the neighborhood and the pleasant, quiet surroundings that spoke haughtily of old--and new--wealth.
At length he decided it was time to make a move. So far as he could tell, this was a standard CI5 safehouse with low-level operational readiness. No high-ranking individuals would be housed here; not if they were in peril, in any case. Possibly there would be CI5 agents, or their ilk, keeping a low profile.
Heartened at the lack of safeguards, Doyle cast a last scan over the immediate vicinity. Stretched almost to his full height, arms extended overhead, he sought a handhold at the top of the wide wall. Wincing at his body's statement of opposition, he bounced upward, gaining purchase at the cost of a small patch of skin from his left cheek. Always wanted a matching set, he told himself. And then he was scrambling upward, arms straining with his exertions. Knowing he could not afford to linger once he achieved the summit, Doyle rolled right over, and flopped inelegantly onto the ground on the other side, having been raked by branches and stone alike in his descent.
He stayed there until he could get his wind back, afraid to close his eyes lest he succumb to the velvet darkness that beckoned like a fabled siren. It had been an interminable, wretched day and he was tired, hurt and half-sick with regret and lack of proper feeding. In the time it took him to regain his feet, the sky had lost its last pale claim to daylight, and the certainty of rain was in the air, musky and humid. Brushing a twig off his shoulder, Doyle left the cover of the trees and started in the direction of the house.
The grounds were large and well cared for; summer tables had been set up in the back garden. A glance in the window of the garage standing east of the house indicated only a few occupants. No more than twenty, Doyle thought wanly. Returned to the front garden, and concealed by conspiratorial shadows beneath a heavily-branched old tree, he studied the facade of the structure without enthusiasm. Most of the light came from the downstairs rooms; only one or two chambers were lit above the ground floor. Eyes darting from point to point to keep his night vision functioning, Doyle noted the trellises climbing the side of the building and the balconies featured on two rooms along the second floor. It would prove a bit of a climb--25, possibly 30 feet.
And once inside, where did he look? He couldn't simply walk up to anyone and ask for Ray Doyle. The chances of coming across him before being found out were next to nil; and he was hardly in best form to handle anything approximating heavy action.
But he'd known all that--or guessed it, anyway--on the way out here. Buck up, my lad, he told himself. After all, what could--
A small light flared from one of the balconies which Doyle had marked only seconds before. It was the flame from a cigarette lighter--the man using it must have been there all along, and Doyle had missed him, standing so still and silent. In the very instant that the all too familiar features penetrated Doyle's brain, the man pivoted on heel and started back toward the room.
Julie Bodie had told the truth: Ray Doyle was alive.
Hardly thinking, only aware that he must not let the other man get away now that he had found him, Doyle bent and snatched up a small stone from the gravel driveway. There was no time for careful aim, and Doyle lobbed the projectile with as much strength as he could bring to bear. Amazingly, it reached his target, where it smacked with a soft thud squarely between the man's shoulder blades and dropped to the floor of the balcony.
Before Doyle could formulate his next thought, he was caught within the sights of a Walther P38 that looked very much like his own. Some instinct stayed the other man's finger, however. Head inclined a little to his left, he appeared to be trying to make out the details of his assailant.
Doyle stepped forward, heart mingling uneasily with his lungs, and held his hands out to his sides until he was caught in the hazy light misting from a veiled window. It was unlikely that he could be seen by anyone inside, but Doyle was nervous at being so exposed.
A slight increase to the angle of the other's head was the only indication Doyle had that his movement had been understood. All the same, the gun zeroed on him did not waver.
Spreading his fingers wide, Doyle left one hand openly visible and reached into his back pocket with the other. Fumbling the lighter with uncooperative digits, he at last got it maneuvered into position and applied his thumb to the striker wheel. Gratifyingly, the flame erupted instantly into existence. Doyle shifted his hand until the lighter was a little below and alongside his face so that it was blocked from view of the window, its meager warmth welcome upon his scraped cheek.
Very slowly the gun in the other man's hand lowered, nose down, until it hung at his side.
Doyle let the lighter die, prickling with uneasiness as he waited for the man on the balcony to act.
Only seconds passed, although to Doyle it felt like hours. And then the man gestured to him, a come hither movement of his free hand inviting Doyle to join him on the balcony. Wondering if this was likely the most stupid thing he had done in a lifetime full of frequently ill-advised actions, Doyle stepped forward to comply.
Lightning reached down from the blackened sky, spindly fingers stabbing at the earth like articulated claws, briefly blinding the occupants of the silver Capri as they made their slow way northward on Essex Road.
Only in London, Bodie mused, could a bloke spend two hours on the road and cover less than eight miles.
Beside him, his companion had lapsed into a brooding introspection; he and the thunderclouds looming overhead were in perfect concordance.
Bored with the fitful ride, fretting relentlessly at the wig encasing his head, Bodie well understood the mood. He needed to act; needed to know that his Doyle was all right. He would have liked, more than anything, to bundle up his partner and escape this mad place. Quite simply, he wanted to go home.
But not without Doyle. And he would find him; he must. But Doyle would never forget the ticking off he got after this idiotic adventure. And to think that they had come here willingly!
"Not far now," the other Bodie said tonelessly. His face was eerily lit by the instrument display lamps, enhancing the shocking toll that the last six months had exacted from him.
Fairly certain that he could not look much better, Bodie acknowledged the statement with a grunt. It was better to say nothing at all, since the desire to forewarn his strung-out companion grew stronger with every inch of asphalt that passed beneath their wheels.
It was impossible to foretell what kind of reaction this overwrought man might have, were he to discover that his Ray Doyle was not, in fact, dead. Bodie knew from his own emotions regarding Doyle that indifference was rarely among them. Love, yes; rage and resentment, sometimes, also. And which of those extremes might be triggered in his counterpart, Bodie had no way of guessing. He'd never been turned inside out by his Doyle--not like this, anyway. If Doyle should ever treat him as badly, what might he be expected to do?
The very thought was intolerable. Watching the sky for the next flash of lightning, Bodie chose not to consider it further. After all, they would know soon enough--wouldn't they?
The trellis that stretched alongside the balcony to the man's room was laden with roses, as Doyle soon found to his added distress. Head pounding viciously, overworked muscles threatening cramp, he nevertheless scaled upward with a fair imitation of his usual lithe grace, wreaking minimal havoc on the flowering bush, and accomplishing this not unimposing task with barely a scrape of sound.
His lungs were working hard, however, when finally he stepped off the trellis onto the wide railing of the balcony. Taking only a second to steady himself, he entered the chamber through wide-open French doors. Light was pouring from a tall lamp, mercilessly casting its brilliance upon the Ray Doyle of this world.
"Raymond Doyle, I presume," the other said, with more than a suggestion of malice.
Saving his breath, Doyle replied with an abbreviated nod. He saw nothing but the man before him, taking in the gaunt, almost emaciated features, the overlarge, heavily shadowed eyes, and the taut line of once full lips.
The other Bodie had not suffered alone.
Faced with Doyle's mute response, the other man said, almost conversationally, "I didn't believe him when he told me about you, y'know. Not at first, anyway."
Finding his voice with some difficulty, Doyle prompted, "What finally convinced you?"
Again there appeared that charming, but less than friendly smile. "The number of people who suddenly claimed to have sampled my charms. Your Forester was quite the sensation."
Doyle let the words wash over him, trying hard to armor himself against their bite. "Yes, well, I always did say: If you must do something, it's best to do it well."
"In spades, sunshine," the other congratulated him. He left the glow of the lamp and closed the distance between them, eyes covering every inch of the road-weary, battle-worn figure standing motionless in the middle of the floor before him. "You certainly made a lasting impression on Bodie," he commented. As he carried on his inspection, he also made certain that his gun-hand--with weapon still snug in his palm--remained well out of Doyle's reach.
"Only until he met you," Doyle argued softly.
"True. Still, I often wondered what I would make of you if ever we met. It was...difficult to accept that there was another me out there somewhere."
"We aren't the same," he was assured, Doyle's voice reflecting a similar degree of chilliness.
"No?" the other asked, amused.
"I don't kill for hire," Doyle stated.
The man flashed him a toothy smile that caused the lamp's light to pale in comparison. "Oh, yes? On the other hand, I don't fuck for a living."
Doyle knew the man was pushing buttons, gauging his mettle, as he walked round him like a dog sniffing at a possible competitor. He said calmly, "You know how that happened."
The other laughed, and Doyle winced to imagine that he, too, might be capable of such a hollow sound. "That's right: You were brainwashed. But you know what they say: You can't make a bloke do something he isn't already predisposed to do."
There: It had been said. In all the time since Doyle had come to recall that terrible month--was it only three months since he had remembered?--he had waited to hear those very words, had in fact heard them more than once in the confines of his own skull. Was that why he had wanted so badly to confront this man, this mirror of himself; simply to be told what he already knew?
"But perhaps," the other pointed out, with surprising gentleness, "you always fancied the idea of playing the tart--deep down, of course, where not even you were aware of it. I know I have, but then I'm used to thinking thoughts like that."
Turning away from Doyle's nakedly revealing face, the other quietly demanded, "Why are you here?"
Swallowing to moisten his throat, Doyle said in a rough whisper, "You're supposed to be dead."
"I am," the other retorted. "That is, Ray Doyle is dead. I'm Ray Duncan now."
"Why? And how the hell could you do that to Bodie?"
The other shot him a cold look that would have sent any normal mortal running. "I gather you've seen him, then. Is he very unhappy?"
The breath evaporated from Doyle's lungs in the face of such cold-heartedness. "It would have been kinder to put a bullet through his head," he replied evenly.
Green eyes glinted like agates. The other stepped away, keeping Doyle in sight as he moved. "His own fault," he said unrepentantly. "Or perhaps you don't mind when your Bodie fucks around. Presuming, of course, that you two ever got together. My Bodie seemed to think you would."
"He--had a bit on the side?" Doyle asked, dazed.
"Believe it." Watching Doyle's face give away his distaste, the man added, "I don't compete and I won't have sloppy seconds. Would you?"
"No," Doyle admitted faintly. "But it doesn't make sense. He--don't laugh--but, he worships you. Literally."
"Now that I'm dead," the other Doyle remarked sardonically, "I expect he does."
Doyle frowned, caught up on another thought. "Why fake your death? You could just have left him, y'know."
The other leaned against the wall, glancing idly down at the gun in his hand. "Cowley suggested it." At Doyle's start of disbelief, he smiled wearily. "That's right, how could you know: Cowley was Bodie's 'bit on the side'."
"Cowley!" The single pronouncement held a wealth of emotions: shock, dismay, a touch of horror. Doyle bemusedly reached up and shoved heavy curls off his forehead, as though their removal would allow him to visualize the other's statement more easily. He blurted out, "But he was only using him--'keeping Cowley sweet.' Why would he-- And why should you--"
Smiling without humor, his counterpart said, "Laughable, isn't it. The last time Bodie went to him, I'd had it. The next morning I paid Mr. Cowley a visit. Told him that I was no longer part of the game, and that Bodie was all his."
Baffled, Doyle asked, "Why?"
"Cowley is a powerful man. He dared do nothing to me while Bodie was alive; Bodie can be...unpredictable if he's crossed. Once I'd left, I would have been an easy mark. Instead, I made a bargain with the old bastard. Leave me alone, and I'd leave Bodie alone. I--didn't know if I'd be able to hold up my end of it, and I think Cowley guessed that. He said I must make a clean break, and a permanent one. Nothing is more permanent than dying."
"Christ," Doyle murmured disgustedly. Then, with sudden insight: "That was Cowley in the drawing, wasn't it."
The other man cocked his head at him. "What drawing?"
"The one of Bodie. He's fucking someone, but there's only blood where his bedmate's face should be."
"You've seen that?"
"Yes," Doyle said, despite the promise of danger emanating from his opposite number.
"That means you've been in my room. Taking my place, are you? Come to that, what the hell are you doing--"
He broke off as the door burst open behind them, whirling round on the balls of his feet to face the intruder.
"Ray, sunshine, what's keeping y--" Barry Martin was already a short distance into the room before he noticed the other Doyle's companion. His eyes flashed from one man to the other. "What the hell is going on here, Ray?"
"Nothing. Nothing that concerns you, anyway."
But Martin was taking in Doyle's presence with a predatory gleam in his eyes. "You've been holding out on me, mate. Never told me you have a twin."
"I don't," the other Doyle said.
For Doyle, it was very strange beholding a man who had been dead in his world for close to eight years. This Martin had survived long enough to expand his waistline, acquire several more grey hairs, and to assume the questionable skill of undressing a bloke with his eyes. Doyle wanted to laugh, but Barry Martin was as much a threat here as he had been in Doyle's world.
"Then who--" As the tableau he had stumbled into finally connected with his brain, Martin turned a wary eye on the other Doyle. "What are you up to, Ray? Why have you brought him--"
And then he was bolting for the door, stubby legs reluctantly transporting his bulky frame with haste. He never reached it. The gun in the other Doyle's hand discharged one round and the man fell, shot cleanly through the back of the skull.
The two men exchanged glances, Doyle half-stunned, the other coldly unemotional. He flagged Doyle back to the window, striding over Martin's body to reach the door, which he closed and locked. "Go on," he said imperatively. "Back down the trellis."
Doyle was already at the French doors, springing forward to leap over the railing in one deft movement. He buried a thorn deep into his palm while steadying himself on the protesting wooden framework. Biting his lip to squelch a gasp of pain, he skittered down as quietly as possible while negotiating the trellis at top speed. Barely touching ground, he felt the makeshift ladder begin to quiver again; the other man was following in his wake.
Voices could be heard through the garden-level window; Doyle pressed flat against the wall until the other joined him.
"Where to?" he breathed.
"Car's in the garage," his counterpart said, not best pleased. "C'mon."
But they had gone no more than a dozen feet when the outcry from upstairs reached them. "Damn," the other growled huskily. "We'll be caught in the security lamp out there. It'll have to be the street."
The race across the front lawn was a nightmare Doyle remembered for many years. It took them half a minute to reach the comparative safety of the overhanging trees and the welcoming shadows they cast; during that time, second by second, Doyle awaited the bullet that would slam into him from behind. Relief was an almost foreign emotion when they were brought up short by the tall, stone wall.
"Don't stop!" the other Doyle insisted, and held out his hands in a makeshift step to aid his companion over the top.
Knowing better than to argue, yet amazed to be rendered assistance by this cold and fearsome man, Doyle obeyed instantly, and valiantly ignored the predictable dizziness that swept over him as he sprawled flat upon the rounded concrete pinnacle. Refusing to give in to it, he shakily straddled the wall, and extended a hand down to his fellow escapee. The other Doyle took it at once and scrabbled up beside him.
"What are you waiting for?" the other asked querulously when Doyle hesitated on the downside.
"Sorry. Bit woozy."
Without another word, the other dropped to the ground outside the wall. "C'mon, you stupid sod," he whispered loudly. "I'll catch you if you fall."
"I--" A stunning display of lightning streaked across the sky, followed within instants by a booming heavenly complaint. "Shit," Doyle groaned, having just begun to maneuver himself into position. Totally blinded, he tumbled into space.
The other man did not catch him so much as unintentionally soften Doyle's fall. In a tangle of arms and legs, the two men were slow to sort themselves out, due mainly to Doyle's hampered condition.
"Jesus Christ," the other exclaimed angrily. "Why don't you just parade us back to the front door and hold up a sign announcing our arrival!" But even as he castigated the dazed man, he was dragging Doyle to his feet. "We have to get away from here," he said with tight emphasis. "C'mon!"
Trying desperately to clear his head, Doyle nevertheless responded to that anxious appeal, and with the other man's arm keeping him upright, lurched forward into the road. There was no time to save themselves when a car, moving fast, appeared round the corner. But expert handling and excellent reflexes fish-tailed the vehicle to a shrieking halt only inches from them, tire rubber vaporized into smoke in their faces.
The other Doyle dropped his companion and frantically clawed for his pistol. At the same moment, the sky gave forth another flash of light, exposing the two men caught helpless in the road, and simultaneously limning the distinctive outline of the silver Capri Ghia.
"RAY!" Bodie shouted, springing out of the car.
"Don't shoot!" Doyle gasped to his opposite number. The warning was unnecessary, for the other was already rising from a combat stance, his frozen features mute testimony to his shocked recognition of the car.
"Jesus," Bodie whispered, head swinging from one Doyle to the other. There was, however, no question which Doyle was his. "You all right?" he asked urgently, encasing Doyle in a suffocating hug without thought to whatever injuries he might have. "Oh, Christ, Ray, didn't think I'd find you here."
"Bodie, 'm okay. We've got to get out of here, mate!"
Needing no repetition, Bodie hurried his partner to the car. Propping him up with one hand while he bent the front seat forward, he guided him inside with the other. Doyle fell onto the padded upholstery gratefully, thankful too, for the warm body that crowded in beside him. Taken into Bodie's arms again, he had no desire but to stay there forever.
He forced himself to break free. "We've got to go," he shouted to the other Bodie.
His words went unheard. The man in the front seat was motionless, staring blank-faced at the apparition outside his windscreen.
For his part, the other Doyle had made no effort to remove himself, both feet planted firmly on the asphalt, one hand loosely holding the pistol, the other thrust far into his pocket, as he waited for the other Bodie's inevitable reaction.
With a sound that might have been a choked-off sob or a growl of incoherent rage, the other Bodie came alive at last. He slammed the car into gear, released the hand brake and applied the accelerator with a heavy foot. The vehicle sheared past the still figure and careered down the road.
Doyle cried out wordlessly, twisting in Bodie's arms to stare disbelievingly out the rear window.
His cry of outrage was lost before the car's howling protest as it was again brought to a precipitous stop. The other Bodie threw the transmission into reverse and smashed the accelerator pedal to the floor.
"No!" Flung together with his partner against the forward seats, Doyle struggled with desperate strength to disentangle himself from Bodie.
Bodie simultaneously registered what his counterpart intended, and swung his head toward the road behind them--and the solitary man who had not strayed from his place in the middle of the street.
"Don't!" Bodie yelled, grabbing hold of Doyle and pinning him back against the seat in preparation for the collision that must surely follow.
At the last possible instant, the other Bodie cut the wheel to one side, and the back end of the car slewed to the left, clearing the other Doyle by scant inches. Bodie's duplicate stretched out a hand and threw open the passenger door. "Get in, damn you," he commanded.
The other man did not move. Face white, eyes overlarge in hollow sockets, the other Doyle seemed surprised to be alive.
"C'mon, Ray!" Bodie exhorted fiercely from the back seat.
Green eyes, black in the night, touched him with transient interest. Wild curls were haloed by another burst of electrical fire from overhead, and the other Doyle canted his head to one side, as they all heard the faint babble of voices borne on the rising wind.
Something apparently clicked into place, for the man slid into the empty seat, avoiding the other Bodie's accusing stare. The interior light went out when he closed the door, and blessed darkness engulfed them all.
The man behind the wheel shifted the car into bottom gear; wheels squealing shrilly, they launched forward and shot down the road. Behind them thunder mingled with equally loud reports of gunfire, which faded rapidly in the distance as the car's powerful motor sped them on their way.
A mile passed, and another. In the rear seat, Bodie silently examined his partner, blunt-fingered hands running over shivering arms and legs, easing his touch to check ribs and spine. Doyle gave a small gasp when Bodie discovered the egg-sized knot at the base of his skull and tried to wrench away. Bodie hushed him, one arm curled round Doyle's shoulders while his other hand cupped the faintly stubbled jaw. "Is that all?" he whispered, loathe to break the taut quiet that informed the interior of the Capri.
Doyle's only reply was to rest his forehead upon Bodie's shoulder. "Just a bump, mate." He touched Bodie's face. "How'd you know?"
"About you or him?" Bodie brushed his lips along the top curve of Doyle's right ear.
"But you did know about him?"
"Uh huh." He was about to say more when the other Bodie spoke.
"I was set up." His voice was remarkably composed considering the shock he had just been dealt. For an instant his face, inhumanly blanched, was cruelly displayed by a startling flash of lightning. Seconds later rain began to pound down upon the roof of the car. "You and Cowley, for Christ's sake!" He spat out a tight laugh. "Talk about your all-time great fools. It's been good for a grin, hasn't it, Ray?" When the other man did not reply, he shouted, "Hasn't it!"
"'No'," The other Bodie mimicked, hands convulsively kneading the steering wheel. "Then what was it for?"
Staring straight ahead, the man beside him did not answer.
Giving voice to his thoughts, the other Bodie mused bleakly, "It makes such sense now. Why I couldn't get anywhere in finding your killer. Why Cowley was so helpful. He knew I'd find nothing--because there was nothing to find. Cowley." He snorted mockingly. "You and bloody Cowley." From under heavy lashes, he shot the other Doyle a look glittering with hatred. "Expect you two had a few comfy chats about it, didn't you. Cowley--" His throat closed around the name. Gratingly, he began again, "Cowley probably entertained you with reports of my investigations into your murder. Running down every single lead, no matter how piddling-- Day after day, week after week-- I was out to get even for you, y' see." He swallowed painfully. "And of course, he must've told you how much I mis-- Well, he called it brooding. Me--brooding over a dead man--who wasn't dead at all. Christ, what a joke." After casting the other Doyle another sidelong look, he went on brittlely, "It's funny, Ray. Why aren't you laughing? Wait, I know: this'll get you: Maybe the Cow forgot to mention that I saved all your things? That's right. Everything, Doyle. Every stitch of clothing, all your papers and bits of art--even your shaving kit. Couldn't bear to let any of it go, y'know. Damn you, Doyle, laugh!"
"Stop it." The words were quietly adamant.
"Stop what?" the other Bodie asked reasonably, his mouth contorted into a humorless smile. "Stop telling you the truth? Look at it from my side. It was hard enough believing you were dead, y'know. But to find out it was all a prank-- And to think I almost--" He calmed himself with shocking suddenness. "I was better off when you were dead," he stated softly. "Had your memory at least. Even if that was all I had."
"You had Cowley," the other Doyle reminded him bitterly.
"You're wrong." In that same oddly attenuated voice, the other Bodie informed him, "I didn't go to Cowley to sleep with him that last night, y'know. I went to tell him I wouldn't be coming back any more. But I don't suppose he mentioned that little fact to you, did he?"
There was a pause of several seconds before Doyle said colorlessly, "No. He didn't."
Heedless of the road and the traffic jockeying for position about them, the other Bodie swivelled his head and stared hard at the newly resurrected man. If his state of mind had been rendered in oils by the other Doyle, he would have been all dark colors--blues and blacks, shading to grey--signifying the gaping emptiness in his soul where the other Doyle had once held sovereignty. Underlying everything would have been a stark white background--a match for the pallor of his face. And yet, now that he was somewhat past the first killing shock and hurt of having been duped, he was able to take in the reality of the other man's existence. He commented rawly, "You made a good corpse, Doyle. Bet it was a lark faking your own death. They did an excellent job--but then Cowley only ever hires the best. Front and back, you looked bloody authentic."
At the other Doyle's sharply raised head and wary expression, he added drolly, "Don't worry. I won't come gunning for you to give truth to your lie."
Flushing, the other Doyle rasped out, "You could have told me that night. You purposely let me think you were going out to fuck him."
"Yeah. Silly me. Didn't think you'd up and pretend to off yourself for my benefit, did I."
"That was Cowley's idea," the other Doyle admitted harshly. "He said there'd never be any going back that way."
"How considerate of him."
"You should never have found out. And you wouldn't have if it hadn't been for--" He glared over his shoulder at Doyle. "You! What the hell are you doing here at all?"
"He wanted to bait your murderer," Bodie answered him shortly. He was subjected to a long, unblinking inspection that was more than a little discomfiting. Bodie had seen his partner very close to the edge before, but never as close as this man was now. He wondered what would be left of any of them once the debris had settled.
"That doesn't explain how you got here--or how you found out I was 'dead' to begin with." His attention cut back to the other Bodie and he said accusingly, "You said it was an accident when they came through the first time."
"And this time? Another accident, I suppose?"
Intentionally drawing the other's fire again, Bodie said quietly, "Accidents do happen."
His patience taken to the limit, Doyle yelled, "Tell him the fucking truth!"
In the startled silence that followed, the other's green eyes flashed pure warning.
The man in the driver's seat said, "All right. The truth is, I went over there."
"You-- But, if it was an accident, how could you--?"
"I hunted up a bloke at Cambridge who worked it out for me."
"Whyever should you--" The curly head came round and calculating eyes focussed searingly on Doyle. "Because of you?" The full mouth gradually split into a smile, and the man chuckled, long and huskily. "Of course. He couldn't fuck me anymore, so he went after you. How clever of him."
The other Bodie said agreeably, "I thought so."
Sick to death at what was going on between these two, Bodie said witheringly from the backseat, "Tell him what else you intended to do. Once you'd had my partner here, I mean."
The partner in question turned and eyed Bodie curiously.
"Don't know what you're talking about, mate," the other said remotely.
Bodie sniggered crassly. "Oh, just the bit about sticking a gun under your jaw and pulling the trigger. After you'd raped Doyle, of course."
"That's a bit theatrical, even for me," the other Bodie smirked. "In any case, I didn't do it."
"Why not?" the other Doyle asked suspiciously.
"Why not what?"
Speaking his thoughts aloud, he said, "You decided not to kill yourself because these two came over to enlist in your cause. That's obvious. But you didn't rape my shabby cousin back there, either. I wonder why?"
Allowing himself a tired grin, the other Bodie said irritatingly, "You so sure I didn't?"
Through clenched teeth, the other Doyle, said, "Very. Your mirror image would have broken you into a jigsaw. But that's all right; let me guess: You couldn't get it up; he fought you off; you didn't have time--"
Entering a roundabout too quickly, the other Bodie flicked a chilling look at the other man. "You left out the most important one: He wasn't my Ray Doyle."
The car slooped back into its proper lane, narrowly missing another car also heading south. The rain had slackened at this part of town, although the thunderstorm continued unabated behind them.
The other Bodie abruptly let off the accelerator and took the car off the road and onto the verge. He slowed to a smooth stop, slipped the transmission into neutral and pulled up the handbrake. He said, "Get out."
The other Doyle hesitated only a few seconds before moving to obey. The door resisted him, proving strangely uncooperative to usually capable hands. But it gave way at last, and he stumbled out, righting himself before he could fall face-first onto the wet grass. He started to walk away, looking neither left nor right, scraping a hand across his eyes as he went.
Doyle's lips parted for protest, but Bodie stilled him with a hand on his forearm and a sharp shake of the head. His fingers found Ray's and clasped them tightly.
In the front seat the other Bodie sat motionless, hands like talons curled around the steering wheel. An explosive curse erupted from his lips, and he was out of the car, long strides carrying him toward the other man. Hearing his approach, the other Doyle swung round to face him.
A misting rain fell upon them as they stood unmoving, caught in a timeless recreation of betrayal and vengeance. The hurt had gone deep in both of them, and comprehension merely emphasized the fact that love had been the root of it.
Tentatively the other Bodie's hand came up, and a callused finger swept away the moisture glistening on his Doyle's cheek, removing more than rain. The hand travelled upward, and gently entered a soft forest of curls. Holding the man's head cupped in his palm, the other Bodie leaned nearer until his mouth was pressed against a warm temple, seemingly restored by the pulse steadily beating there. With a muffled groan, the other Doyle burrowed against his warmth, arms closing convulsively around his Bodie's stolid frame.
Inside the car, Bodie heard a prodigious sniff from his partner. He arched a brow at him, able to see Doyle clearly in the glare of the domelight. "Your romantic streak is showing, sunshine."
Doyle thumped him lightly on the shoulder. "Sod off."
Bodie's eyes roved over his friend, cataloguing every familiar, yet so beloved feature, one by one. "It's a waste of emotion, y'know," he said wryly. "Those two don't know the meaning of 'happy ending'."
"Probably not," Doyle agreed, lifting his mouth to nuzzle softly against Bodie's lips. "But whoever would've guessed we'd get them even this far?"
"Hm." Bodie pulled away reluctantly. "You are all right, aren't you?" Once more he subjected the round face to an intense scrutiny. This time his attention was caught by a dark stain just under Doyle's left jaw. He flicked aside an auburn tendril and looked closer. The mark seemed to be a bruise, until Bodie turned his partner's head toward the light and could see the pronounced red coloration. In fact, there were more of the tell-tale smudges, a whole trail of them culminating at Doyle's shirt collar. Bodie considered checking further, but decided he wanted to enjoy his lover's return for a while longer.
"What is it?" Doyle murmured, snuggling closer to Bodie like a puppy seeking warmth.
"Nothing," Bodie replied expressionlessly. "Here they come." To his surprise, his counterpart jerked open the door and pushed the seat forward.
"You drive," the other Bodie ordered, and gestured the pair of them out.
Stifling an indulgent grin, Bodie pulled at a synthetic forelock and ushered his partner into the front seat. When they were all resettled, and he had pulled the car back onto the A3, he said, "Southsea?"
"Southsea," the other Bodie confirmed.
"What will you do about Martin?" Doyle asked his counterpart, interrupting the quiet conversation in the backseat. They'd driven about a mile through intermittent rain, occasionally spying a rare patch of sky through which faintly glimmering stars could be spotted. Bodie was oddly withdrawn, deftly deflecting most of Doyle's sotto voce attempts to talk with him.
The other Doyle leveled an unwelcoming glare at him.
"What about Martin?" the other Bodie enquired.
"He's dead," Doyle said.
"Cowley won't like it," the other Doyle pointed out. "But I had no choice."
"That's why you were running?" the man beside him asked.
"Yeah. Barry had a small do going on; there were a few people there who would have been offended by the condition I left him in."
"Perforated, I hope," the other Bodie smiled hopefully.
"Permanently perforated," the other Doyle agreed.
"Don't know if it'll work here or not--but try telling Cowley what I told you about Culbertson," Bodie chipped in.
"That's right--the shipping magnate has red connections," his opposite number recalled.
"Exactly. Unless Cowley's got something going with him, it might be enough to sink Martin's star."
"Worth a try," the other Doyle said consideringly. "Otherwise, I've buggered things up, I expect."
"Not as far as I'm concerned," his companion murmured. "We'll square with Cowley," he stated firmly. "One way or another."
In the front seat, Doyle observed the look shared by the two men and felt his stomach grip uneasily. He shifted back round. Bodie was driving with his usual no-nonsense competence, but his attention was commanded too totally by the road for Doyle's comfort.
"What's up, mate?" he prodded softly.
That drew a quick, searching glance through dark-rimmed glasses before Bodie faced forward again. "Wig's too tight," he said off-handedly.
"So take it off, why don't you," Doyle said lightly.
Without another word, Bodie did as suggested, peeling the sandy-colored hairpiece off his head from front to back. He dropped it on the console between them, the glasses following a second later.
"Do we get to take the wig back with us?" Doyle teased, fingering a strand of false tresses.
Bodie ignored him, preoccupied with smoothing his own ruffled hair.
Frustration filling him with impotent exasperation, Doyle tried again, "Bodie, will you tell--"
"Look, Ray," Bodie overrode him, "why don't you get some kip while you've got the chance? I'll probably doss down on the way home while you're doing the driving."
Rebuffed, Doyle sat in a cold huddle, wondering what he had done to get up his partner's nose. "Sure," he agreed frigidly, and with arms folded across his chest, he rolled his head toward the window and closed his eyes.
Bodie swallowed a curse, wishing he'd kept his mouth shut. He wasn't being fair to Ray, and he knew it. But they were tired, both of them, and now was not the time to discuss the traces of lipstick that decorated Doyle's neck. Bloody hell, it shouldn't matter at all. He had Doyle back--what could be more important than that?
Through the black, seemingly endless miles, Bodie asked himself that same question again and again.
They came into the coastal town of Southsea shortly after two in the morning. Bodie's companions were in various stages of sleep, the two in the back drowsing close together, Ray awkwardly huddled half on his side in the front seat. Bodie woke them all with a cheery greeting, and was charmed by the snorts, sniffles, and grunts that filled the air.
"Why Southsea?" the other Doyle asked sleepily.
"This is where they catch the warp-train home," his companion said, straight-faced.
"Is that the pier?"
"If we're in the right place," Bodie answered him, "yes."
Taking in their surroundings through exhausted eyes, the other Bodie affirmed, "This is the place. You can get the car a little closer; down that ramp there, d'you see it?"
Bodie obeyed the other man's instructions and a few minutes later they were all standing about the silver Capri, stretching cramped limbs and inhaling cool, damp sea air.
"You want to show me how to get these damn things out of me eyes?" Bodie demanded tetchily.
"Sure. It's the least I can do," the other said with quiet meaning. "Sit down, and hold still."
Bodie frowned suspiciously, but did as he was told. After a swift, and unexpectedly painless procedure, his eyes were free of their barely noticeable encumbrances. Nevertheless he scrubbed at his sockets with the pads of his fingers, feeling almost himself again for the first time in many hours.
The other Bodie crumpled the two flexible curves of plastic inside his tightly closed palm, and hurled them toward the ocean.
"Why'd you do that?" the other Doyle asked, yawning.
"'M giving up undercover work," his companion said laconically.
"Well," Bodie began, "I'd say-- No, wait. Need to get something out of the boot." The other Bodie and Doyle stood patiently near the front of the car while Bodie unlocked the rear compartment and drew out the carry-bag he had brought from his universe, which had sat there, untouched, since their arrival. "Ray," he called softly, startling his partner out of a semi-somnolent reverie. "There's a packet behind the passenger seat. It's yours."
"Mine?" Doyle said blankly, but obediently reached in to retrieve the paper- and twine-sealed parcel. "There's a gun in here."
"It went missing, remember," the other Bodie clued him. "From the last time."
"My--" The smile that seized Doyle's face was clearly discernible amid the murk of night. "Cowley'll have to reimburse me!" he crowed.
Bodie could not repress a grin. "You gonna tell him where you've been, then, sunshine?"
"I might," Doyle said rashly. "I just might."
"Everything's in there," the other Bodie said. "Including your money, ID and diary."
"Better late than never," Doyle murmured, rolling the heavy packet between his hands. "Oh! That's right, I have something for you, too." He withdrew the long, opaque envelope from his inside jacket pocket. "This should prove rather interesting to you," Doyle warned, as he passed it over.
"Good interesting--or bad?" the other Bodie wanted to know, gingerly accepting the legal packet as though it might contain something dangerous.
"I think you'll find at least part of it worth your time," Doyle said obliquely. "You'll know what I mean when you look it over."
The other Bodie eyed Doyle a long moment before sliding the envelope into his pocket. Then he muttered, "There's no way I can repay what--"
"Shut up," Bodie said without heat. But he was deadly serious, as he went on, "Just don't come through again, okay?"
"He won't," the other Doyle assured him. He reached out and took Bodie's hand. "You and I never even had a proper chance to say hello, y'know." Before Bodie knew what the other Doyle was about, he had been drawn into a long and languid kiss. His body's reaction was instantaneous--and he knew he would never remind Doyle of what he had interrupted in his flat in Soho. But he would wonder that his partner had been able to turn the other Bodie away, if his glands had reacted as potently as this. His own resolve strengthened by that thought, Bodie gently disengaged himself, and neatly placed several feet between himself and the tempting body of his partner's opposite number. "Hello," he said whimsically. "And goodbye."
Even through the layers of clothing and jacket, he could feel green fire burning furiously into his back. Pasting a suitably bland expression on his face, Bodie swept round and took hold of Doyle by the arm. "Let's go, sunshine. Time we went home."
Doyle tore free and looked across at the other Bodie. "See to him, will you?" he said tightly, stabbing a finger in his counterpart's direction.
"Oh, I mean to," the other Bodie averred silkily. The other Doyle merely beamed at him with improbable sweetness, not in the least intimidated by the implied threat.
Shaking his head, Bodie said hopelessly, "Good luck to you both."
"And you," the other Bodie enjoined.
Giving his partner a none too gentle jab in the ribs, Doyle snarled, "C'mon, darling." He strode away, long, stiff-legged strides bearing him to the ramp which led to the pier. Bodie appeared at his shoulder, carry-bag in hand. From behind them, the other Bodie called, "Don't look down when you get to the end! It'll be easier that way."
Bodie waved his acknowledgement and caught his mate up again. He knew Doyle was incensed at what his counterpart had done--and probably more so at Bodie's compliance. Whatever had possessed the little sod to do that? For that matter, what had compelled him to accede to it?
The matter was dashed from his mind as they arrived at the railing, which marked the end of the pier. Against his opposite's advice, Bodie turned his gaze downward--and immediately wished he had not. It was dark, yes, but there should have been some reflection off the surface of the water--if there had been any water. Swallowing nervously, Bodie snagged Doyle's hand when he realized his partner was stepping over the guardrail.
"We're going home, Bodie," Doyle said coldly.
Doyle ended his partner's incipient protest with a rough kiss. "Now, mate."
Bodie did not argue further. Grasping Doyle's hand as though it were a life-line, he joined him on the other side of the railing. "But on three, okay?" he insisted thickly.
"Sure," Doyle compromised.
Doyle stepped into nothingness, dragging his partner with him.
"Doyle, you bastard!" Bodie shouted. Eyes shuttered tightly, he spun out into space, salty air rushing around him. Seconds became eternity, and still he fell. Somehow his companion was torn from him, and his fingers ached at the loss.
When cold water engulfed him, Bodie had no time to adjust to its reality, and narrowly avoided gulping down a good portion of the Channel before bobbing back to the surface. Filling his lungs with sweet, sweet air, Bodie gave out a howl of laughter. "Ray!" he cried. "Doyle, you rotten sod, where the fuck are you?"
"Here," a husky voice called from several yards away. "The lights. Swim toward the--"
"Teach your grandmother," Bodie retorted rudely, already kicking strongly in the direction of the shore.
The south of England had enjoyed lovely warm weather lately, but the water was not what one would call temperate. Shivering helplessly with the cold, Bodie managed to retain his grip on the carry-bag, even while he fought the sucking pull of the water upon his suddenly very heavy clothing.
"Speak to me, you toad," he cried out, when the vastness of the waves around him became overwhelming.
"I'm here," Doyle replied, surprisingly near. "Put your feet down and quit insulting me. We're almost there."
Bodie did as he suggested, gratified beyond mere words to find the bottom beneath his feet. He could see Doyle then, a wiry, dripping shadow a few feet to his right. Saving their breath for the effort of dragging themselves through knee-high water and crawling sand, they gained the beach in silence.
"Come here," Bodie gasped, pausing at last on solid ground.
"Don't be stupid," Doyle sneered. "Do I look like I want to be thumped?"
"Before you get carried away getting your own back, just remember I haven't forgotten that little scene Over There," Doyle warned him, but waited until Bodie drew alongside him.
Teeth clacking together with the force of cold-induced spasms, Bodie raised his balled hand and pressed it against Doyle's left cheek. "I love you," he said breathlessly. "And thanks."
Before Doyle could find an appropriate reply, Bodie lumbered past him, stumbling up the slope to the wooden reinforcing wall. He found a boat ramp and clambered up it, the soggy carry-bag slapping wetly against his hip.
He finally stood on the road outside the pier where, only a few minutes before, the silver Capri and two other men had been waiting. Now the road was empty.
Doyle squelched up behind him, his trainers noisily announcing his arrival. "Seems obvious, but you might want to check your compass."
"My compass, like me, has been drowned," Bodie said disparagingly. "And anyway, take a look about you: the sky's dead clear here."
"Hm," Doyle said noncommittally. "Might be warmer if there were a bit of fog."
"I'm sure it would be," Bodie said peevishly. Trust Doyle to remind him how very miserable he was, swaddled in bloody wet clothes from neck to toe. He struck off again, this time in the direction of the street where he hoped to find his car.
At half past two of a moonless morning, there was no one else to challenge them, save a stray tom who arched his back and spat to spectacular effect before bounding into the shadow of a nearby wall.
"Me, too," Doyle grumbled, in absolute agreement with the cat.
"Oh, shit!" Bodie exclaimed. "This can't be our England."
Coming up short beside him, Doyle asked wretchedly, "What?! Why?"
Raising one dripping arm, Bodie pointed at the silver Capri, just visible under a lamppost. "Because nobody's nicked the car."
For one brief, immensely tempting moment, Doyle contemplated dropping his partner where he stood with one good right hook. Only the sanity of logic spared him: there was no one else around to carry the bastard to the car.
Bodie let his hold-all fall to the road behind the car's rear bumper, and occupied himself opening the boot. At once he stripped off his holster and gun and began to empty his pockets; wallet, keys, diary, and several coins thudded to the floor of the compartment.
Walking like a zombie, Doyle made a complete circle around the vehicle to ensure that none of the wheels had been clamped and that all four tires were functional. Finishing the circuit, he came upon Bodie, who was bent almost in half, engaged in the seemingly monumental task of removing trousers that were determined to resist him every inch of the way.
"Bloke could get arrested doing that in public," Doyle observed.
"Yeah, well, you can just follow my less than sterling example. You're not sitting in my car like that."
Tossing his head back, Doyle grinned up at the stars. "You proposing we drive back to London starkers?"
"If necessary. Damn! My brain's gone soggy, too."
"Could've told you that, mate," Doyle said helpfully, amused to behold his half-naked companion crouching into a squat beside the carry-bag.
"Ta, sunshine," Bodie growled. "If everything in here is soaked, you're the one gets to ride home in the all-together. I've got a nice comfy rug to cuddle up in."
"Self-centered prick." The words were devoid of reproach, although they earned Doyle a decidedly unfriendly look.
"My lad, you are a genius," Bodie congratulated himself. The carry-bag was fabricated of canvas and lined with plastic, and while that alone could not have protected his clothing from a dunking in the Channel, the manner in which he had packed all and sundry had. Having pulled everything out, and sorting between the sopping and merely wet, he managed finally to produce a pair of damp trousers and a t-shirt that was unbelievably dry, save for the right sleeve, which after wringing, was nearly so.
"You're too kind," Doyle murmured as these items were pressed into his arms.
"Only because you're driving," Bodie assured him. "Don't want to get done up because you're indecently underdressed."
With that, Bodie continued to peel off the remainder of his clothes, shivering violently as the gentle night breeze raised gooseflesh all over his body.
"Hurry up, mate," Doyle said, holding open the rug. "You'll catch your death like that."
Bodie was extricating himself from one last clammy sock when a welcome cotton warmth was draped over his shoulders and back. He straightened up, saying, "Thanks, Ray."
"Cheers," Doyle said, and set about the process of emptying his own pockets--and, interestingly, his trousers front. Before Bodie's bemused gaze, Doyle sucked in his abdomen to attempt the obstreperous clasp, and with hips thrust forward, displayed an inhumanly magnificent bulge. The metal button gave way to frozen but determined fingers, rapidly followed by a slow-to-move zip that Doyle declared under his breath was already suffering rust. When the waxed paper- and string-wrapped packet appeared, Bodie smothered a snicker, and Doyle heaved a sigh of relief. "Bit risky," he defended himself before Bodie's skeptical look, "but I didn't want this left behind."
Doyle neatly laid the small bundle beside his other things, anxious to open it, yet wanting to savor the moment. It wasn't often one could retrieve a part of the past believed lost forever. He was very close to freezing in place, however; the packet would have to wait. With numbing fingers, he wriggled out of jeans that might have defeated him if Bodie had not been there to lend a hand. Immediately he clambered into the spare trousers, then set to freeing himself from his second-skin shirt, arms working hard to lift the material away from his chest and over his head.
Before Bodie's appreciative gaze, Doyle's face and dripping curls reappeared--and then Bodie saw the red marks again, no more than asymmetrical blotches in the yellowish glow given off by the lamp. True to the adverts, the bloody stuff had been impervious to even salt water, as clear to Bodie's offended eyes as when they'd first come to his attention.
Angrily, Bodie yanked his lover close and took his mouth without gentleness. Before Doyle could voice an objection, Bodie let loose of him, and said ruefully, "Well, at least I have a way of telling you two apart now."
Already bewildered by Bodie's brusqueness, Doyle had muzzled the impulse to lash out, but this snide comment was more than he could brush off. "Oh, yes?" he asked, too composedly.
"He doesn't have that dented front tooth," Bodie explained. "Smooth as glass, his is."
"Ran your tongue all over it, did you?"
Bodie shrugged, handing over the half-dry t-shirt before he dropped the boot lid. "Wasn't given a lot of choice, y'know. When a bloke kisses you like that--"
He gasped as Doyle reached forward, wormed a hand through the folds of soft cotton and took a very vulnerable--and private--part of him into his possession. Despite his resentment, the cold night air, and his state of disrepair, Bodie yielded at once. But Doyle fingered him quite impersonally, and released him within seconds, leaving Bodie in no condition to be seen in public.
"Yeah, you're my Bodie," Doyle declared, eyes glinting.
"What the fuck does that mean?" Bodie demanded, furiously refolding the blanket about himself.
"He has a scar right across the top of his prick. Bullet-burn."
Bodie's stare could have grated cheese. "It's so good to know that that particular memory doesn't bother you anymore."
Doyle flinched as though he had been slapped. "You expect me to believe that you hated every second of that touching farewell, I suppose?"
Bodie stalked away before he was tempted to raise a hand to his partner. At the passenger door, he held his temper in rein only long enough to get the key into the lock. "So maybe he and I both had something to get even for."
"Like bloody what?" Doyle protested.
Dragging the car door open, Bodie shot back venomously, "Like the bloody lipstick all over your bloody neck and chest, that's bloody what!"
Mouth agape, several seconds passed before Doyle could seem to make up his mind how to respond. At last, totally deflated, he managed a faintly bitter chuckle. "Why is it," he asked aloud, "that when I get fucked, I also get the blame."
Bodie could feel his insides shrivelling up. "Were you?" he asked desolately. "Fucked, I mean?"
Sullenly, Doyle turned away, distancing himself from Bodie while he struggled into the t-shirt. Amazingly, he was no longer as cold on the outside as he was on the inside. "Just forget it, okay?"
"Can't," Bodie said miserably. "Look, I'm sorry. I haven't even asked what happened after you were taken from the pub. Ray? Please, mate."
Doyle lifted his head and glanced across at the contrite face. Half-heartedly tucking the shirt into the slack waist of the trousers, he went round to the driver's side. The keys were tossed over to him, and he climbed inside. Once his head was leaning back against the neck rest, he admitted grudgingly, "I'm sorry, too." With his unfortunate words had returned full recall of where and how he had acquired those lipstick stains. "And you're not going to like what I have to tell you." He laid a hand on Bodie's knee, infinitely reassured when Bodie covered it at once with surprisingly warm fingers.
"Before you say anything," Bodie forestalled him, fearing the worst, "It doesn't matter--whatever it is. I don't--"
Doyle laid two fingers against Bodie's mouth. "Hush, and I'll tell you. Then you can decide."
Later Doyle sat tacitly awaiting Bodie's reaction. When it came, it was typically Bodie.
"We're not a pretty lot over there, are we?"
"No," he said. "But--I almost wonder if we don't fit in better there, than here."
"You're wrong," Bodie said decisively. "It's a matter of degree. We are what we have to be--here or there."
"Maybe." Doyle asked abruptly, "You do still have the papers he had printed up--how to get here and all."
Bodie canted his head toward the rear of the car. "In the boot, probably soaked beyond use."
"Small favors," Doyle mused. He rolled his hand over and meshed his long, bony fingers with Bodie's thicker ones. "About what I said: I shouldn't've ragged you about kissing him. Know he started it."
Bodie brought Doyle's hand up and held it to his mouth. "Was too much like kissing you," he confessed. "But I--" A sheepish smile softened the hard set of his lips. "I didn't really--y'know--stick me tongue in his mouth."
Spirits rising absurdly, Doyle said, "What about that famous smooth tooth, then?"
Head hung low for effect, Bodie explained, "He was trying to get me to open up. Damn near cut my bottom lip, he was working so hard at it."
Doyle could restrain his laughter no longer. "Maniac," he said lovingly. "What a pair of virtuous old slags we've become. It's been a long time since I turned away a beautiful young woman--even if she is your daughter."
"His daughter," Bodie corrected him, secure in the knowledge that his Sarah would not dally with the inmates of a whorehouse. "Know what you mean, though: Can't imagine ever being this way for anyone else." Nevertheless he felt compelled to ask, "But it is still okay between us, isn't it, Ray?"
Doyle's weary heart skipped painfully at the uncertainty in Bodie's voice. They were both exhausted, and the last 24 hours had encompassed experiences neither would ever wish to repeat. He bent near and kissed the man beside him with chaste thoroughness. "Yours is the only tongue allowed in my mouth, sunshine," he assured him.
"True?" Bodie whispered, rubbing his cheek against Doyle's scratchy jaw.
"Uh huh. I'll show you, if you like."
"If it's not too much trouble...."
"Hm. None at all."
Some time later Doyle turned the Capri north onto the A3. He'd had to convince Bodie that he was quite capable of the drive back to London, despite the bruises and blows he had recently acquired. Over the steady rush of the heater, he listened to one of the pirate stations broadcasting from offshore. When the time and date were announced between songs, he gave a guilty start.
"Bodie, it's Saturday!" he said urgently. "I-- Oh, shit, I forgot--"
"Know you did," Bodie mumbled, unperturbed. "Sarah's not getting married till nine; we'll be there."
"You never said anything," Doyle said unhappily. "Ah, Christ, mate, I'm sorry."
"Said it's all right, Doyle. Will you stop with the chest-beating now? How d'you expect a bloke to get any rest with all that moaning going on?"
Doyle scowled at his companion, who was folded into an improbable position on the half-reclined passenger seat. "You're supposed to cover my back, you complacent bastard."
Bodie's face went blank with disbelief, eyes focusing grittily upon Doyle's palely illuminated person. "What?"
"Your daughter. If I'd fucked up her wedding, she'd've had my guts for garters."
That thought seemed to cheer Bodie immensely. "She may yet, Doyle. If I fall asleep escorting her down the aisle, I'll tell her--"
"Put your head down, then, you silly bugger," Doyle ordered, not entirely feigning alarm. He reached out and ran his knuckles lightly down the side of Bodie's face. "But it's going to be another bloody long day, mate."
He sat before the wide, undraped window, hair burnished with red from the last lurid rays of the sun. Unlike the day before, the weather had been fine from dawn onward, and he had taken advantage of every moment of clear, undiffused light, to work at his easel.
It was as though the sun had come out to eradicate the twilight inside him as well, casting away six months of dark, grey days and bitterly lonely nights. He had much to thank those two fools for, especially the one whose tormented green eyes had mirrored the gnawing agony in his own soul. Their counterparts would be all right; that he was sure of. So would he--and his--now.
Over the vibrant but calming tones of music pervading the flat, came the intrusive rattle of a key at the door. Seconds passed before intent ears caught the soft thud of footfalls on the carpeted floor. This was the moment, he knew, that he had waited for since morning. It proclaimed either a beginning, or an end. He preferred the former, but accepted the latter, as well. In the long run, he had no one to blame but himself.
He sensed a presence behind him; but rather than the blunt snout of a pistol jammed against the base of his skull, softly seeking lips delved behind his left ear. The moist caress sent tiny shivers throughout his body, causing his scalp to tighten and his toes to curl.
"You smell good," Bodie murmured, arms sliding down Doyle's flanks to the his waist, teeth carefully tugging a velvet earlobe into his mouth. "Taste good, too," he added fairly.
"An' hello to you," Doyle returned huskily, and lifted his face to meet the other man's lips.
"Missed you," Bodie laughed softly. "Still can't believe it's not a dream."
Doyle burrowed into the hollow of Bodie's throat and shoulder, cautiously holding his still-wet brush to one side. "Thought I proved that to you last night."
"Last night, you did." Bodie slipped the wooden handle out of fingers that had grown steadily less certain of their grip, and poked the bristles into the small tub of solvent. "Can't get at you properly. There. Much better."
He drew the slight, angular frame of his lover out of the chair and into his arms. Their kiss unashamedly proclaimed what would follow, mouths meeting and luxuriously moving together, gently separating then merging again with a slow irresistible rhythm that soon heated their blood like sweet, mulled wine.
Later, lying on his side, half-draped by soft satin sheets, Doyle asked, "It went well today?" He brushed one finger lightly across a dark stand of thick, coarse lashes.
"Better than I expected," Bodie confirmed. He pushed forward to harden Doyle's touch, allowing the pad of an exquisitely careful finger to rub where it had tickled seconds before. Then he opened his eyes and with lazy satisfaction fell willingly into hypnotic green welcome.
"So what happened?" Doyle chuckled, stirring his bedmate out of his bemusement with a gentle nip to an already swollen lower lip.
"Cannibal," Bodie remarked contentedly. "Explained to Cowley what had happened with Martin--the story we put together, that is. The bloke was right: Culbertson had Barry in a bad spot. Didn't take the Cow long to put it all together. He wasn't pleased."
"Hm. And me?"
"Had to admit you'd done him a service, although he wanted to know how you'd rumbled old Barry. He was going to call you in for questioning, y'know, but--"
"But what?" Doyle asked, idly amusing himself by tracing the sensitive outline of Bodie's mouth.
"But someone topped him this afternoon."
"Killed him?" Dark brows rose over lambent eyes. "He's dead?"
"As mutton. Sniper. Good one, too. Shot came from nearly a mile away."
"One shot?" Doyle queried.
"Yeah. All that was needed. I was right beside him when it happened. Came bloody close to taking me out, as well."
Doyle pressed suddenly nearer, a thumb stroking firmly across Bodie's chin. "Not a chance, sunshine," he whispered harshly, then kissed Bodie with gentle ferocity. "Do they have any idea who it was?"
Bodie turned toward the hand cupping his cheek and swept the tip of his tongue over the tender webbing that joined thumb and forefinger. "Nope. He was good--whoever he was."
"I expect he was paid well, too," Doyle said thickly, gazing at the other man through half-closed eyes.
"Or will be," Bodie agreed, and rising up on his elbow, he pushed Doyle over onto his back and followed him down, teeth closing over already marked skin.
Doyle did not resist as his legs were drawn apart and raised, nor did he fight the suffocating hunger that savaged his mouth. Instead he conceded readily to the other man's passion, comprehending that only time and love would undo the damage they had wreaked.
"I won't let you go again," Bodie breathed, and took him roughly, too fevered to employ more than the minimum in the way of preliminaries. His groan of possession was echoed by Doyle's gasp of pain. "Shh," he hushed him, holding himself motionless upon his lover's trembling form until the agony of impalement ebbed, and Doyle began to relax. "Better?" he asked, his own voice strained with denial.
"Hm. Go ahead. Like that. Again. Oh, yes...Bodie!"
The hoarse cry, vulnerable yet demanding, reverberated in Bodie's skull, and he plunged helplessly forward, lost to the scent, feel, and sight of his writhing lover.
For a fleeting instant, the memory of another man flickered into his thoughts, and he acknowledged it with gratitude. And then it was gone, drowned by his own Doyle's singular reality. There was a consanguinity that existed between them that could never have been formed with another man--not even another Doyle. This was right.
With a ragged breath, he pronounced his lover's name. Surrounded by delicious warmth, and gripped tightly by two hard-muscled legs, he answered Doyle's demands with his own, murmuring unintelligibly as his body remembered what it was to live again--and to soar with a rapturous joy that was all the more treasured for having been lost.
Afterward, he soothed and cuddled and pampered his exhausted mate, tending to his aches and soreness with a dedication that raised a smile from both of them.
"You're beautiful," Doyle said sleepily, moving his head slowly back and forth across Bodie's shoulder.
"Will you still say that when I'm on the dole?" asked Bodie.
"No one'll give you money when you've just inherited a small fortune," Doyle snickered.
"Ah, but that so-called fortune has already been depleted by a sizable chunk."
"Only verbally. Any large transactions would look damned questionable under the circumstances."
Bodie hugged his partner roughly. "I'm not that thick, y'know. Anyway, I only just rang the solicitors today; it'll be a bit before the funds are released."
"Still find it hard to believe your dad would leave you anything," Doyle mused, "considering the falling out you two had."
"You saw the letter." Bodie turned his cheek against Doyle's head in an effort to flatten overly enthusiastic curls prodding at his nostrils. "It was the last--and best--way he had of getting even with Julie. She couldn't contest a rightful heir; and if it took a long time to find me, all to the better." First solution failing, Bodie used his right hand to push Doyle's hair off his forehead. After trowelling it straight back, he kept it down with the weight of his jaw. "The only reason he handed over his, um, business to her was to keep his little girl in good nick."
"Your half-sister, Sarah."
"Who I didn't even know existed till this morning. Hang about a minute!" Bodie's eyes flared wide. "That bird I saw outside their flat-- I scarcely noticed her, but Doyle did call her Sarah."
"Pretty?" the man beside him asked, twisting his head to escape Bodie's confinement.
Bodie sighed. "You probably won't believe this, but I had more pressing matters on my mind at the time."
"Like fucking him rigid," said Doyle caustically.
There was no point in answering--and it wasn't a question anyway. Bodie only wondered how long they would suffer this painful legacy; between the two of them they bore the weight of enough resentment to last an eternity. He buried his face in Doyle's maddening mop and drew him nearer.
"He--didn't suffer?" Doyle whispered.
Stupefied that Doyle should ask such a thing, and not at first catching the strange note in his bedmate's voice, Bodie blurted out hostilely, "Doyle? I didn't touch him--you know th--" He ground to a halt. His bedmate had not been referring to Doyle. "Oh," he said quietly. "No. Would you rather he had?"
"Not particularly," Doyle said evenly. "Despite what he did to us, you liked the old bastard."
A warm hand encouraged Doyle to tilt his head backward. "He never felt a thing. It was an impressive shot. The gunman responsible can be proud of himself."
Doyle twitched free of Bodie's grip, his face dark as he found comfort again on the wide, pale shoulder. "It was necessary."
"I do know." There was nothing in the single word that reflected the array of emotions found in Bodie's eyes.
"There will be an inquiry?"
"Of course," he answered succinctly. "And you'll probably come under suspicion, just because of what you are."
"Of course," Doyle imitated him wryly.
"But since no one ever knew about Cowley and me--he was always bloody careful of that--there should be no reason to assume you might have wanted him dead. Especially when his death is likely to put us both out of a job."
"And you were so clearly loyal to him," Doyle noted.
"Yes." There had been nothing of recrimination in Doyle's statement, nor in his tone of voice, but Bodie felt compelled to add, "Until he tried to play us against each other."
"Well, he can't do that anymore," Doyle observed. "Poor bastard. He wasn't even responsible for cocking up things between us to begin with." Tidily manicured but still edged fingernails raked down Bodie's chest. Four neat red lines blossomed in their wake. "But it won't ever happen again." Absolute conviction mingled with a whisper of menace made the words as much promise as threat.
Refusing to be intimidated, Bodie said soothingly, "Guess that means I'm stuck with you, eh?"
"Not only beautiful, but reasonably bright," Doyle murmured approvingly. He gave a tiny yelp when his ear fell prey to the predations of a set of very sharp teeth. "Oral bugger, you are," he groused.
"Right on both counts," Bodie said in complete accordance. Then, very softly into that same ear, he promised, "I love you. Whatever happens."
"You'd better, mate," Doyle whispered fervently. He treated Bodie to a blinding smile. "Otherwise it could be you in my sights next time."
The tall, aesthetically proportioned blonde was very attractive, Doyle decided--even if she was in her early forties. While never having been particularly restrictive in his tastes, he had always made a habit of steering clear of women considerably older--and considerably younger--than he. Now that his fifth decade was ogling him from only a couple of years away--cor! what a way to put 'turning forty'--he found an increased appeal in women who had attained that same vast age and still possessed their grace and something of their looks. Bodie's stepmother Julie had done it; and this square-faced, large-eyed woman who had buttonholed his partner for nigh on to thirty minutes had done so as well.
Having parked himself in the alcove beneath the stairs between the kitchen and the lounge room, he had shed himself of the rest of the well-wishers and was able to enjoy some time unaccosted, while he nursed the remains of Julie's very potent punch. Mixed with a strong dose of emotional and physical overload, the heavily laced fruit drink was more than capable of putting Doyle to sleep where he stood.
The blonde had captured Bodie as he was working his way back to Doyle, slowed by numerous loitering conversants. Polite as always, he had hesitated when she began to speak to him, then came to a full stop when her lovely face penetrated his equally fogged faculties.
Looking on with interest, Doyle had waited expectantly for the charming smile and polished repartee that would allow Bodie to evade his captor as quickly as possible. Much to his surprise, something the woman had said had quite clearly taken his partner's fancy, and by her side he had remained.
A trifle miffed at first, Doyle had eventually sought this vantage-ground where he could oversee most of the traffic going in and out of both kitchen and lounge, and whence he could continue his ruminations undisturbed.
Whatever could she be saying to him to warrant such an enthusiastic response? Doyle, who knew Bodie's signals clearly, saw no evidence of carnal interest--and that was remarkable, too. Although they had been together nearly two years now, neither had forgotten what attractions the female face and form had on offer. They simply no longer partook of those charms. In the job and out, there had been occasions when the temptation had been damnably powerful, and it would have been painlessly easy to succumb. Sex with a stranger was nothing more than passing pleasantry, and both knew that. But they had agreed on fidelity--even put it into words--and somehow the desire for a moment's dalliance had never utterly short-circuited either's willpower.
No, Bodie wasn't measuring her for silk sheets. What then? And what could she possibly be discussing that would hold his attention so raptly?
"The experts are on the wrong track, y'know: Swiss rolls and chip butties are among the world's greatest sources of nutrition."
Doyle shook his head; that faintly gluttonous expression was missing from his partner's animated face. Food was most definitely not the topic of the moment.
"I quite agree, Andy. A .357 with a 5 " barrel lacks finesse. Now, a .44 magnum with wadcutters--that's a pistol with elegance!"
Perhaps--under normal conditions. But Bodie was as knackered as Ray himself and even his love of guns must pall when he was having difficulty keeping his eyes focused. Of course. There was only one subject that could stimulate Bodie's unflagging vivacity after the last few days.
"The curly-haired gentleman with the sensitive green eyes is your lover? You must count yourself absolutely bles--"
Doyle snapped out of his maunderings to find Sarah had crept up beside him. "Hallo," he said, "Where'd you sneak up from?"
"You were with the pixies," she said, triumphant at having taken him unawares. She sidled around in front of him, turning her back to the lounge, and drove him farther into the shadows. "From upstairs, actually. Changing."
Sensitive green eyes undertook a quick survey of Sarah's going-away outfit. "You look smashing."
Happiness shone from the woman's glowing face. "Thanks. Be glad when we've gone, if you must know. It was Dad always wanted a big elaborate wedding--not me."
"He'd've been proud of you."
She dropped her gaze, long lashes spread like black dandelion feathers upon her cheeks. "He would've been proud of Andy, too," she murmured.
Sarah's words dispersed some of the cotton wool clouding Doyle's brain. "He...never had any reason not to be."
"No." She raised her head and said pointedly, "But it couldn't have been easy for him, either."
Doyle rubbed distractedly at his nose. "What d'you mean?"
"I know why Andy ran off. Dad--he'll always be Dad to me--left a letter. It was waiting for me at school after the funeral."
"You know then...?"
"That Andy's my real father, yes. Or, it might be better to say that he fathered me."
"And it doesn't bother you?" Doyle asked hopefully.
"No. Only in that I never knew him until Dad passed on." She regarded him rather uncertainly. "But does it bother him, Ray? Sometimes I think I make him uncomfortable."
Doyle grinned at her. "Sometimes you make me uncomfortable. You've known about this since last autumn. Why tell me now? Why tell me at all?"
"Because I can talk to you," Sarah said bluntly. "Andy shies away. He hates to be caught alone with me. I don't know if he feels guilty, or if he simply doesn't like me."
When Doyle opened his mouth, obviously to deny this, Sarah anticipated him. "It's all right if he does. I mean, he doesn't owe me anything. He couldn't have known about me until the funeral, and it must have come as a terrible shock. Just--tell Andy I don't mind, will you? And thank him for walking me down the aisle."
"You could thank him yourself, y'know," a deep voice said from behind her.
Sarah turned slowly round, crimson flooding her cheeks. "The obvious question is, how long have you been there?"
"Long enough." Bodie gave his bottom lip a quick lick. "I did want to tell you myself, y'know, as soon as I'd had a chance to think it through. But I--" How to put this without sounding hopelessly inept? "Well, so long as you thought I was your brother, you had no reason to hate me."
"Hate you?" Sarah sounded genuinely astounded. "Dad didn't; why should I?"
Bafflement spoke from every aspect of Bodie's being. "He should have," he said simply.
"You know he didn't," she argued. "Julie said he left you a letter, too."
"Andy, did you know that Mum wanted to get rid of me when she learned she was pregnant? No, I didn't think so. It was Dad wouldn't let her. Dad knew I was your baby, but he didn't care. Mum was afraid he'd come to hate me, but he promised her that I would never be ill-treated for what you and she had done." Her face lightened at Bodie's faintly stricken mien. "How could I hate you for giving me a father like that?"
Doyle interposed softly, "That was in his letter?"
"No. First chance I had, I sat Mum down, and we had a good long chat." She took Bodie's hands in hers, and squeezed them affectionately. "Don't worry. I shall not be a nuisance. You've got Ray; I've got Graham--and by the look of both of them, they're past ready to be away. I--just wanted us to start fresh, and this seemed a good day to do it."
Bodie gave her a curt nod, his face strictly under control. Then he pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. "I don't deserve you, Sarah," he said roughly. "I've no right to be proud of you--but I am. More than you'll ever know."
She stretched up on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks--Dad. Your being here today has made this very special for me." Released from Bodie's loose embrace, she bestowed the same token of parting upon the corner of Doyle's mouth. "That goes for both of you. And now I really must go. Get some rest, please. I'll ring when we've settled, okay?" Leaving behind the pleasant scent of her perfume, Sarah hurried away.
Without uttering a sound, Doyle retrieved a clean handkerchief from his back pocket and handed it to Bodie, who blew his nose fastidiously. "C'mon, Dad," Doyle kindly urged him. "Let's see those two out."
Bodie nodded. "And then we can go home."
"Nope. Sorry, but we're staying here." In the face of imminent thunderclouds, Doyle stood firm. "Julie's offered us your room for the night."
"Here?" Bodie said with dismay. "Don't want to stay here, Doyle."
"Tough. I'm shattered. Been going for two and a half days, mate. I need a rest."
"I mean it. Even starting to lose me grip. You wouldn't credit some of the things I was imagining while you were chatting up that pretty blonde."
"What blonde?" Bodie asked dopily. "Oh! You mean--" He waved a hand back at the lounge, which was rapidly emptying of people. All the guests were following the newlyweds into the garden. "But we-- I wasn't--"
"You're losing it, too, Bodie. We'll wish the happy couple farewell, collect our kit from the car, and then we'll go to your room. We are staying here."
"Christ," Bodie grumbled, kicking the bedroom door shut behind him. "How fools can spend half an hour saying goodbye, I shall never know!"
"You weren't paying attention, then," Doyle said heartlessly. "You just spent half an hour amongst a gaggle of 'em." After dumping his carry-bag on the foot of the bed, he began to extricate himself from the confines of dress jacket, bow-tie and the first four buttons of his starched linen shirt.
"Oh, ta, mate," his partner snarled, and let his own bag bounce onto the opposite side of the bed. "Be careful with those togs, Doyle, we've a cleaning deposit resting on them already; would hate for you to have to replace the whole bloody rig."
Baring his teeth, Doyle refrained from further verbal riposte and went to the wardrobe to hunt up some hangers. Returning with a handful, he plopped a couple down in front of Bodie and set about divesting himself of his posh livery. Making a great show of folding and hanging trousers, shirt and jacket, he then carried them with meticulous care to the wardrobe and gently delivered them to the rod. Clad only in y-fronts, plain white undershirt and some spectacular bruises, he announced suddenly, "Oi! Your bed's grown since the last time we were here, sunshine." He chuckled rudely. "And here was me thinking one of us would have to sleep on top of the other."
Bodie was slow to respond, his attention having been snared by the technicolor discoloration at Doyle's ankles and wrists. "Yeah-- Yeah, you're right, it has." Heedlessly draping his expensive jacket over the footboard, he walked around the end of the bed and reached out for Doyle's hands.
Bemusedly, Doyle let him take them, watching the play of dark emotions that chased across Bodie's normally impassive facade. He was touched and a little astounded when each hand in turn was lifted to Bodie's mouth, the cool brush of pouting lips soothing the dull ache at his wrists. "Crikey, you're a smooth 'un, mate," Doyle said admiringly.
Doyle was gathered close and warmly held. "One of my charms," Bodie informed him. He kissed Doyle's forehead and let him go, returning to the job of disrobing.
Hiding well the fact that he had been profoundly affected by this unpretentious show of affection, Doyle shifted his kit to the floor and sprawled across the bed, eyes on his partner the whole time. They were both a little punch-drunk after nearly two days without sleep, infrequent feeding, and an inordinate amount of road-wear.
London had greeted their return in the greying hours prior to dawn. Once reaching their flat, they had had only enough time to shower, shave, change into respectable clothing and grab a very abbreviated breakfast before dragging themselves back to the car. The ride from Southsea had been nothing compared to the two-hour trip to Bodie's home town. They had traded off driving duties, allowing the passenger to catch a few minutes sleep. Despite running with the accelerator almost to the floor the greater part of the way, they had arrived at the church with only minutes to spare, and needed that time to scrabble into their hired attire.
In their over fatigued condition, the subsequent wedding and reception had been colored by the same strange, dreamlike quality of their visit to that other universe. At this point, Doyle almost feared going to sleep lest, upon waking, the landscape of that other world should have replaced his own.
It wasn't even a nice place to visit.
The creaking of the wardrobe door brought him rudely out of a light doze. Bodie crossed the floor back to the bed, unencumbered of all but his undergarments, the dour expression on his face openly conveying his desire to be elsewhere.
"C'mon, mate," Doyle cajoled sleepily. "The mattress is well-sprung, the sheets are clean, and there's nobody--"
There came a rapid tattoo at the door. Doyle closed his mouth and shuffled under the duvet.
"Shit!" Bodie hissed. Yanking at the zip on his kit-bag, he reached inside and jerked out his trousers. Glaring eloquently at his toe-to-chin covered partner, he donned the faintly wrinkled clothing and stalked to the door.
"Oh!" Julie gasped at his sudden appearance, hand poised to repeat her summons. Braced between her other hand and shoulder was a tray piled high with a cozy-wrapped teapot, sugar and milk service, mugs and two plates of sandwiches. "I won't bother you again, I promise," she said in a rush. "But Sarah said she thought you'd need this." With that she thrust the tray at Bodie, who took it without thought of argument; at sight and scent of the food and tea, his insides had commenced a rousing clamour.
"Thanks, Julie," he said sincerely. "This is very thoughtful of you."
At the placating tone, the woman hesitated, chewing at her lower lip as she contemplated speaking. "Sarah also said she spoke with you. About-- You know."
"Yes, she did," Bodie replied equably.
"And everything is all right?"
Tension seemed to run out of the woman's body like water down a drain. "Oh, good. She was worried that you might not want to know that she knows. I'm so glad it's out in the open now." She smiled wryly. "Look, I'm going away for the rest of the day. Would you mind locking up when you leave? Of course you're welcome to stay as long as you like, but if you should go before I return--"
"Be happy to," Bodie assured her.
"There's plenty of food in. Oh-- And do leave the cleaning-up to me. I don't mind at all." She paused a moment as if to make a final run through her mental list. "That's it, I think. Good bye, then."
Doyle called from inside the room. "Good bye, Julie."
"Good bye, Ray," she replied, a soft flush touching her round cheeks.
Still she stood before him, and Bodie tilted his head to one side.
"She was beautiful, wasn't she, Andy?"
A warm, unguarded smile flowed across Bodie's mouth. "She was. And everything went perfectly. You're to be congratulated."
"Thank you," she said happily, and finally began to take her leave. This time, however, it was Bodie who called her back. "Yes?" she asked, one hand poised on the polished oak banister.
He gave her a very unsubtle wink. "And thank you for the bed."
Blushing hotly, Julie conjured up a wink of her own, and hurried down the stairs.
"Oh, Christ, she's a godsend," Doyle said fervently, when he beheld the tray in Bodie's hands.
They sat side by side on the duvet and made short work of the food. Once the most severe pangs of hunger had been pacified, they continued munching at a more leisurely rate. "Sarah did look gorgeous," Doyle commented reflectively.
"Hm," was Bodie's well-considered response.
"D'you suppose they'll ever get together over there?"
Bodie faltered with his cup of tea only inches from parted lips. He turned and gave Doyle a very long, very measured look.
Doyle sniffed plaintively. "Just wondering, okay?"
Having emptied his cup, Bodie restored it to the tray, and passed the whole works over to Doyle, who was still picking at a sandwich. Bodie climbed out of bed long enough to remove his trousers, then slid under the duvet. Resting back against a soft, downy pillow, he said, "We were talking about kiwi farms."
Doyle's face went utterly blank. "Eh?"
"In California," Bodie elucidated. "Y'know, the U. S. of A. She said they're going to be a hell of an investment for a bloke with a bit of lolly to squirrel away."
"What in the sweet F. A. are you nattering about?" Doyle asked.
"The blonde woman I was talking to. The one you were wondering about. She's one of Sarah's instructors. Dabbles in investments on the side."
"Kiwi farms?" Doyle said skeptically.
"Uh huh. Guaranteed 200 percent return, she claims."
"Yep. Great place to take one's pension, she says."
"We'd have to fly out and inspect the properties, I expect," Doyle speculated.
"Before we sign our futures away. Be nice to know where we'd be living, too."
Bodie met that guileless gaze with a frown. Slipping free of the covers, he took the tray off Ray's lap and took it to the dresser. Returning to the bed, he said pedantically, "All those sweets you gobbled downstairs must've impaired your reasoning, m'lad."
"That's all there was," Doyle defended himself. "Had to eat something. And you're hardly the one to talk," Doyle pointed out, finishing his tea and placing the mug on the nightstand.
"On the contrary," Bodie said smoothly, "I eat 'em all the time; my body's immune to the stuff."
Doyle pulled a rude face, but allowed himself to taken into his partner's arms. "So when do we go, then? Always wanted to live in the sun."
"We don't," Bodie said, and kissed his nose.
"But you said--"
"One of these days Sarah's going to start a family," he stated didactically. "She'll need granddads. Julie's father is dead. We're all she has."
Doyle was not misled. "And you're looking forward to that. No--don't deny it. I can see the truth in those bloodshot beady blues of yours."
"Maybe I am," Bodie said challengingly. He added ruefully, "So long as she waits 20 years or so."
Sliding a knee between Bodie's thighs, Doyle brought his mouth against Bodie's lips and kissed him with abiding tenderness. "No California?" he asked soulfully.
"Would've been nice, all that sunshine," Doyle reflected mournfully. "Still--"
Bodie snuggled nearer, rubbing his nose back and forth across Doyle's chin. "What?"
"Guess we've done enough travelling for a while."
Searching mischievous green eyes with disapproval, Bodie finally said blackly, "You, mate, have the gift of understatement."
"Then you'll know what I mean when I say 'I love you'," Doyle murmured.
"I always have," Bodie said, hiding his face in tumbling curls.
"And here I thought you were going to give me a colossal rollicking," Doyle declared with a hint of amusement. "Y'know, for dragging you Over There."
"It'll wait. Anyway, you'll appreciate it more when you're awake."
Doyle winced. "Going to be bad, is it?"
"Let's just say you won't be likely to forget it."
"But you do still love me?" he prodded.
"That, you fool," Bodie assured him gruffly, "was never in question."
"Good." Doyle rubbed himself lazily against his partner's sturdy body, merely enjoying the pleasurable friction as he was momentarily beyond the rigors of sex. "And thanks. It helped, mate, going back. It really did."
"Remind yourself of that tomorrow, Doyle," Bodie warned him sweetly.
"Hard man," Doyle murmured with mock accusation.
"Have to wait until tomorrow for that, too." Sluggishly Bodie shifted to accommodate his partner's sleepy undulations, holding Doyle's head still to kiss him gently.
Doyle smiled contentedly, his mouth curving beneath Bodie's lips. "I can wait," he whispered.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Other Times and Places, OTP Press, 1990
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My thanks to Judy Gaskins for her suggestions regarding Bodie's family on the Other Side; to Meg Lewtan for RITUAL CLEANSING (I always wondered what Doyle's decision might be); and to Ann Steele for technical advice--amongst other things.