Never Say No Strings
Some days ought to be issued with a Government health warning.
Or a message from On High: 'Raymond Doyle? God here. Most of today is going to be an absolute pig, so I recommend you stay in bed until it is all over.'
I'm not talking about your average run-of-the-mill bad day here, you understand, but about the kind that irrevocably changes your life and your perception of people and things. The kind of day you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, gift-wrapped.
A day like today was, for example.
Saturday. Why is it that if something traumatic happens to me, it always happens on a Saturday? What did I ever do to bloody Saturdays? Only God knows - and He obviously has no intention of telling, any more than He warns me when one of those days is about to fall on me from a great height.
This one started off so well, too. Very pleasantly, in fact.
Bodie had stayed overnight. He hadn't needed much persuasion; attempting to look after himself left-handed for a while had made him appreciative of a bit of coddling, and he had repaid my efforts in a very satisfactory manner. I woke up to his continued repayment. His lips and teeth were exploring my left ear, and his unbandaged hand was encouraging other parts of my anatomy to stand up and take notice. Literally.
When I pushed up against him with a little moan of pleasure the stroking hand stilled. I opened one eye and regarded him severely.
"What'd you stop for? I was enjoyin' that."
"You made a very funny noise. Thought I might be hurting you," he said, straight faced.
I opened the other eye. "How would you like a matching set of hands?"
"Could be a bit awkward, that," he considered gravely. "For you, I mean. If they were both damaged I couldn't very well do this..." he stroked me from base to tip and back again, "...or this..." he dipped lower in a fondling manner, fingers searching.
My hands clenched on the sheet as my hips bucked upward in helpless response. I caught a hint of mischief in his eyes before he bent his head to tongue at a nipple and graze it with his teeth, drawing another half gasp, half moan from me.
"'Course, I could always do that sort of thing, and I wouldn't have any difficulty doing this..." he continued smoothly, sliding rapidly down the bed and taking me into his mouth.
Coherent thought - thought of any kind - fled. He's good at that is Bodie, best I've ever known. Plays me like a master musician on his favourite instrument before driving me up and up and over the top.
Eons later I forced my eyelids open for the second time. He was sprawled beside me, head resting on my stomach. I cleared my throat and found a voice from somewhere. "What was that in aid of? 'Tisn't me birthday, y'know."
"I know." He leaned up on an elbow and grinned down at me. "Call it remuneration for bed and board if you like."
"Oh, I like! You can stay tonight again if you want to. I prefer your method of payment to a cheque any day." I grinned back.
"Randy old toad." He planted a quick kiss on the end of my nose, and rolled out of bed before I could persuade my leaden arms to reach for him. "Sorry, mate, no can do. The lovely Julia's free later, and you never know, I may get lucky."
"Abandoned For Another!" I groaned dramatically.
He paused on his way to the bathroom, glancing over his shoulder. "Can you blame me? She hasn't got bones like razor blades, and she doesn't wake up with a chin like sandpaper either."
The bathroom door slammed shut just in time to block the pillow I flung at his head, and I settled back in bed to enjoy the extra few minutes until it was my turn to get ready to face the day.
With a twinge of annoyance at myself, I smothered the sense of resentment that had surfaced at his mention of Julia. It was none of my business if he was seeing her later; or Michelle, come to that, the other one currently holding his interest. The fact that I didn't particularly care for either of them was neither here nor there. It wasn't necessary for me to approve of his birds, any more than he needed to favour mine. Just because we went to bed together occasionally gave us no rights over one another; that was what we had agreed in the beginning.
No strings. No commitment.
It was only for the sex, that was all. This new aspect of our relationship, which we had wandered into virtually by accident, was never to be taken too seriously. It was merely something to relieve the stresses of the job, something to be enjoyed for the pleasure we gave each other when a bird was unavailable.
No big deal.
I had no reason to start resenting his going off with the lovely whoever-it-might-be whenever he felt the urge. I would be better occupied seeking out one of my own birds. If I could find one who was still interested, that is...
He emerged from the bathroom eventually, a towel wrapped precariously around his hips and his usually smooth hair sticking up in little tufts from the vigorous towelling it had received, and regarded me disapprovingly. "You planning on lying there all day?"
"Chance'd be a fine thing!" I grumbled, swinging my legs out of bed and surveying his progress towards my chest of drawers with foreboding. "There are a couple of your shirts in the top right drawer, and a pair of cords in the back of the wardrobe. Leave my stuff alone."
"I wouldn't be seen dead in your stuff, and you know it," he informed me rattily. "Especially not in the jeans, assuming I could even get into the ruddy things without doing myself a permanent injury. Why you don't sing soprano I'll never know."
"It's just a knack some of us have," I said smugly. Watching his one-handed doing-up of shirt buttons, I added, "How's the hand today?"
"Improving. It only hurts when I use it now, not all the time. I'm getting cheesed off with all this hanging about. Maybe I can flannel Dr. Hopkins into signing me fit for duty."
"Not a chance, mate," I said. "You can't hold a gun in it, and if you can't hold a gun you're no use to CI5. That's the..."
"...Gospel according to St. George Cowley. I know. But if I can persuade the Doc, he'll have to listen."
"Wishful thinking, mate. The Cow never listens to anyone but himself, as you well know," I told him. "But I s'pose you can always live in hope. Go put the kettle on while I shower. We're goin' to be late..."
In the event, we arrived at HQ dead on time to find the place in the midst of a minor uproar. Bodie went off rather sullenly to his medical appointment, and I joined the rest of the on-duty and stand-by operatives in the Briefing Room, where Cowley told us about the killing at Heathrow earlier in the day.
My ears pricked up at the mention of the Helmut/Meyer Group. Nasty bunch, they were. Terrorists of the first order, the kind who'd chop up little old ladies and deep-fry them in public if they believed doing so would further their bloody Cause. If that lot were on the loose in the country we were certainly in for an interesting, if not bloodthirsty, time.
"I want them!" Cowley told us harshly.
I understood and agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment. I wanted them too. Preferably some place nice and secure with the key thrown away. Safest of all would be dead. I know I don't usually think that way, but with the likes of Helmut and Meyer you don't take any chances, because the one chance you do take could turn out to be one too many.
Bodie arrived just as the briefing ended. Behind his attempt to appear bright and insouciant I could read disappointment, and his bit of shadow boxing in reply to my unnecessary, "What'd he say?" was somewhat lacking in conviction.
I leant my shoulder against the wall by the doorjamb and watched with interest his encounter with Cowley. The Cow knows us both well - too well, at times. He had checked the medical report for himself and knew exactly what the doctor had said. Bodie got very short shrift, followed by an old-fashioned look from Betty. I laughed at him when he shrugged his shoulders ruefully and spread his hands at me in defeat, and we strolled into the corridor.
"You don't miss much," I told him, having seen his fleeting, instinctive glance at the mug shots pinned to the blackboard. "It's just a routine stay-alert. The Helmut/Meyer Group."
"Oh yeah?" Bodie knows his terrorists at least as well as I do. I could see the wheels beginning to turn.
"Yeah. Anyway, your timing's perfect," I added distractingly. "Didn't you tell me the lovely Michelle's free this weekend?"
"The lovely Julia. Free this weekend?" I prompted.
The turning wheels changed direction, and he brightened. "Ah. Yeah, could take her rowing on the river."
"You do that," I said.
That would do his injured hand a power of good. Somehow I couldn't picture the lovely - but incredibly irritating and spoilt - Julia doing much of the rowing. Oh well, it was his hand and he was the one who would suffer if he managed to make a further mess of it. Far be it from me to suggest he do something sensible, such as hiring a motorboat...
At which point Cowley's less than dulcet tones roared my name, and Bodie grinned like an idiot at me and beat a strategic retreat down the nearest stairway.
I spent the next few hours wearing myself to a frazzle in Records as we tried to identify and track down possible Helmut/Meyer contacts in London and the Home Counties. It was not the easiest of tasks. Franz Meyer and Inge Helmut had survived for so long in the terrorism game for two reasons: they were careful, and they were deadly. Their acquaintances tended to be few and far between, because of an unfortunate habit of dying suddenly and messily as soon as either Helmut or Meyer decided they were expendable. Considerable time and effort was needed to find two who were still breathing, and when we succeeded they appeared to be ultra-respectable and innocent citizens.
However, appearances are no guarantee of anything, so I took the information we had painstakingly garnered on them up to the Cow's office, hoping fervently that he would send me out on the street to do something about it. I was never cut out to be an office boy!
The telephone was ringing as I rapped on the door and entered. Cowley answered it with a slightly distracted, "Yes?" but it was his following exclamation of, "Bodie?" that drew my attention in time to see his frown.
What was going on?
"The Meyer board...? Which one?"
Meyer? Faces? I remembered the way Bodie had glanced at the mug shots earlier and moved closer to Cowley's desk, feeling a sudden chill. What the hell was the idiot up to?
"Curly hair?" Cowley sat up straight, removing his glasses and looking over his shoulder at me. His expression tightened. "That's Meyer himself. Franz Meyer."
I could hear Bodie's voice very faintly as Cowley eased the receiver away from his ear, and just managed to catch, "...help. His friends..."
"Where are you?"
"...don't know... little place north..."
And then nothing.
"Bodie?" Cowley demanded, and then when there was no reply, more sharply, "Bodie?"
There was still no answer. The line was dead.
Not for the first time, the regulation ordering the taping of all phone calls into and out of the Department proved a godsend. A few minutes later the Cow and I were listening grimly to a replay of the conversation.
Bodie's voice sounded deliberately calm and steady. He wouldn't want Julia panicking on him; I should think a hysterical woman was the last thing he needed in his situation. He'd want her, and whoever else might be around wherever they had gone to ground, to believe everything was under control, however far from the truth that might be. But I could hear the underlying stress, and I couldn't blame him: innocent civilians involved, that bastard's friends closing in - and Bodie with a duff hand. Oh, he can hold and fire a gun with his left hand but he can't hit the side of a barn at ten paces.
If Meyer's friends discovered that...
"North. North of where?" the Cow wondered, pacing. "Where, Doyle? Where was he going?"
"The lovely Julia. His girl friend," I added to his raised eyebrow. "He was taking her on the river. The Thames."
"That's one hell of a river!"
Suddenly a memory surfaced of our last weekend off together. Bodie behaving like a kid with something up his sleeve and refusing to tell me where we were going because, 'It's a surprise and you'll love it!' The pretty old riverside pub, where we had taken our lunch and drinks out on the terrace to sit watching the boats puttering up and down the smoothly flowing water. I had loved it, and it had been a surprise, mainly because it was not at all the sort of place most people would ever associate with the hard man image Bodie projects so easily to the world at large.
"There's a pub he uses a lot. That's on the river, just below Marlow."
"What did he check out of the car pool?"
"Probably a Capri Ghia. It's his car of choice."
"We'll start with that," Cowley said, reaching for the intercom.
Minutes later I was clattering downstairs close behind him. In the echoing cavern of the garage he flung his car keys at me and ordered, "You drive, 4.5. To this pub of Bodie's."
After a while I said, "We could be on a wild goose chase, sir, you do realise that? He could've gone anywhere. I might be wrong about Marlow."
"You might be, but I don't believe you are, Doyle." Cowley shifted slightly in his seat, easing his bad leg. "You and Bodie have an instinct about each other, especially when one of you is in trouble. And I would say 3.7 is in quite a bit of trouble just now, wouldn't you?"
"Quite a bit, sir," I agreed.
The chilly little kernel of anxiety that had formed in the pit of my stomach during Bodie's phone call was expanding slowly but steadily. The abrupt way the call had been cut off nagged at me like an aching tooth. After a few minutes I said reluctantly, trying to deny the one explanation for it that seemed to make sense, "We don't know those wires were cut."
"No, we don't," Cowley assented. "It might have been fire, flood, or an Act of God, but I think they were cut." The addition, 'And so do you!' was unvoiced and unnecessary.
Before he could say anything more the R/T crackled, and HQ informed us that the Capri had been found two miles north of Marlow. Empty, of course. He treated me to one of his speaking looks.
I put my foot down.
When we arrived at the busy little Marina we found Jax and Winterton waiting for us in the car park, beside an all too familiar gold shape. The Cow was out of the car and bearing down upon them before I had switched off the engine, his bad leg notwithstanding.
"He's forgotten his handset," Jax said grimly.
Cowley growled an impatient something about forgetting the rules, and then added approvingly, "You found the car pretty damn quick!"
"The local fuzz were ahead of us, sir," Jax told him, always free with credit where it was due.
"Investigating a stolen car," the uniformed copper reported, clearly relishing his moment of glory dealing with the Big Boys. "Taken from here about an hour ago, from under the owner's nose."
"What kind of car?" I demanded.
"A brown Cortina Estate, sir."
"Get an APB out on that car," Cowley ordered Jax, and then turned to me. "We got that call about half an hour ago. Could he have travelled twenty miles?"
"Nearer thirty, the way Bodie drives," I answered.
"Thirty miles radius," he added to Jax. "I want that car."
"And the rubber boat."
The policeman's quiet, faintly amused words stopped me in my tracks. I turned, eyebrows rising.
"Rubber boat?" I asked, disbelieving. He nodded, eyes twinkling. This was going to be the stuff of conversation down the local nick for weeks to come; that much was obvious.
Jax made a tiny, throat-clearing sound, and I grimaced at him before I followed the Cow back to our car, groaning inwardly. God! Only Bodie could take a bird out on the river while off-duty and injured, run into and capture a terrorist of the calibre of Franz Meyer, and then have to make a run for it in a nicked estate car with a bloody rubber dinghy attached.
Things like that don't happen to just anybody, you have to possess a rare talent...
If the whole scenario had not been so desperate, I might have found it hilarious too!
Cowley spent some time dealing with several pieces of pressing business over the R/T and then glanced at his watch. "Right, Doyle, it is high time for us to join in the search. North, he said."
We didn't get very far before Jax came through to inform us that we had been heading off in the wrong direction entirely. Bodie had gone north all right: northeast; Cowley and I had gone northwest. I spun the car around and retraced our route for about a mile, before turning off onto a series of narrow, twisting side roads as I followed directions to the hump-backed bridge and sharp bend where rubber dinghy and estate car had parted company. Jax and Winterton were there ahead of us, propping the dinghy up against the grassy bank at the side of the road as we pulled up.
"Looks like a car skidded into the boat and then drove off again," Jax told us as Cowley got out of the car.
"Heading north," the Cow agreed, reading the signs as well as the rest of us. "Isn't that what Bodie was trying to say? North? Call HQ, I want every available man rushed into this area. Bodie's near, somewhere, holed up. We've got to find him."
We moved off, Jax and Winterton right behind us, Jax already talking into his radio handset. The road just there was little more than a cart track, but in a very short time we came to a main road and a signpost: Mersham, six miles to the left; Frimpton, ten miles to the right. I turned left automatically, without even thinking about it, and sensed Cowley's eyes upon me.
"If the rest of the pack was baying at his heels, he'd be looking for civilization, a way to get in touch with us since he had no R/T. A police station...help of some kind," I explained. "Mersham's nearest."
That fleeting little smile of his barely touched the corners of his mouth. "Of course, 4.5. I did say 'instinct', didn't I?"
Maybe he was right; he usually was. Maybe it was instinct, or telepathy, or great minds thinking alike; I didn't give a damn what it was called. I just knew somewhere deep inside that this was the direction Bodie would have taken, just as I knew in that same deep, dark place that time was getting very, very short for him.
The Cow's eyes were on me again, considering. "You've never told me about Bodie. I made you a team...what, two years ago?"
"Two years and three months," I said.
And all too clearly remembered that first meeting in the bar at the gym, and the instantaneous antagonism that had sprung up between us.
Those first weeks together had been anything but easy. There had been days at a time when only sheer bloody-mindedness had prevented me refusing to work with the arrogant know-it-all bastard who was my new partner. That, and the deeply entrenched conviction that such a reaction was exactly what Bodie wanted and expected from me. And in those circumstances I had no intention of giving the so-and-so the pleasure of being right.
It was only much later, when reluctant respect had grown slowly into liking and we were easy enough with one another to talk about the early days, that I had discovered I had made him react in exactly the same way. All things considered, it's a bit of a miracle really that, in the beginning, we neither murdered one another nor got ourselves killed on an op trying to prove things that didn't need proving.
"That's long enough," Cowley said.
"Long enough for what?" I asked.
He glanced at me again, that slight smile still lurking around his mouth. "For him to get up your nose. Irritate you."
"Oh, he does that all right," I agreed wryly. "Every day he does that!"
Always has done, probably always will do. The one consolation about it is that without even trying I manage to return the favour. Made for each other, Bodie and I are. No one else would put up with either of us for more'n five minutes without crying 'Uncle!'
"Chalk and cheese, eh?" Cowley said. "Ah, but it's worked rather well, though."
The old devil looked quite smug, confirming something I had only half suspected up until then. He can be a devious bastard, the Cow, but that was one bit of deviousness I owed him for. Without his machinations Bodie and I would never have got to know each other well enough to become friends.
Would never have become lovers... My hands tightened reflexively on the steering wheel.
"Oh yeah," I said, striving to retain my earlier lightness of tone. "I've watched his back; he's watched mine. We're both still alive..." And on that one word all lightness fled as though it had never been. "At least, this morning we were still alive," I finished harshly.
"Aye!" Cowley said. He looked out of the side window. "Aye," he repeated quietly. He turned his head towards me, all faint traces of humour vanished and replaced by an old, sad anger in the pale blue eyes. It was an expression I had seen only once before, on the day Mad Tommy McKay had been killed. He's a bad loser, is the Old Man, and least of all he likes even the thought of losing one of his own. "Bodie gets up my nose too," he said bluntly. "And so do you. But I want both of you to stay alive."
There was that word again: alive.
The opposite of dead, which was what Bodie might be at that very moment. Or if not now, soon.
I didn't answer Cowley; I couldn't. I glanced down at my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel and then concentrated fiercely on the road ahead as I finally got around to admitting to myself something I had been refusing to face up to for weeks.
I loved Bodie. I was in love with Bodie.
No more euphemisms: I didn't just 'care' about him, he wasn't just 'important' to me, or just a 'good mate'. I loved him. Loved him more than I would ever have believed it was possible to love anyone.
And that meant I was in deep trouble.
Because if he was dead a large part of me was going to die with him, and if he was still alive - as, dear God, I hoped with all my soul he was - then I knew now that I couldn't go on as we had been doing. Either way, my future wasn't going to be worth living. Because I had to admit something else as well: Bodie didn't love me as I loved him. He cared about me, that much was obvious. He cared about me a hell of a lot. If I didn't know better, I could almost call the things he did with me in bed 'making love'...but I did know better.
He wasn't in love with me; it was just sex to him. Incredible sex, maybe, but just fooling around with a willing body.
No strings, no commitments, just the way we had agreed.
Whereas for me it was different, and had been so for some time although until now I'd been shutting my mind and heart to that knowledge. But the door had been opened and I couldn't close it again. I was the one who had changed; I was the one who had fallen into the trap of taking seriously something that had only ever been intended as a bit of fun, and I was the one who would have to pay the price.
If Bodie died today I would go through hell, to a much greater degree than if he were only my partner and friend.
And if he lived? Well, sooner or later, if we carried on going to bed together I was going to slip up and give myself away. And if I did that I would lose him as surely as though he was dead.
Those were the facts, simple and unbearable.
Well, I might not be able to change my feelings but if I was strong enough, I could change our relationship back to what it had been before sex crept into it. Could even make a joke about doing so. Two macho bird-pullers like us shouldn't have to fall back on each other, even occasionally. God knew there were enough women to go round, and all of them willing! If I played my cards right we could remain friends, remain close.
Even if it wasn't really close enough for me.
But there was no sense in crying for the moon.
No sense at all.
The really important thing was that Bodie should be alive! I'd take my chances with tomorrow or next month or whenever, just as long as he was here to share it with me. However it might hurt to love and not be loved in return.
It was years since I had prayed so hard. Then, it had been for another partner, Sid Parker, already lying dead, as I had scrambled up those never-ending stairs. That time my pleas had gone unanswered. The thought that they might do so again produced a pain in my chest so keen that it was like nothing I had ever experienced before.
Cowley's voice pierced my introspection, saying something about thirty miles before he was interrupted by the R/T. It was Jax again, reporting the discovery of the stolen car, and I suddenly realised that the road behind us was empty. I hadn't even noticed when he and Winterton had left us, which only proved how distracted I was by Bodie's predicament and my own reaction to it. Not very professional, was it, not thinking straight; operating solely on that 'instinct' the Cow seemed to believe I had? Fat lot of use I was to anybody, acting like that!
I swung the car around and put my foot to the floor, following directions yet again.
The red brick pillars flanking the narrow entrance were partially hidden by over-hanging trees. I spun the steering wheel sharply and turned into the woodland track. Only wide enough for one car, it wound its way between thickly clustered trees, our wheels swooshing on a dense carpet of fallen leaves. Before long we rounded one of the many bends and came upon the small group of people and cars waiting for us.
The stolen Cortina was slewed at an angle, half on the grassy verge, its doors hanging open, and beside it was a red Audi. Jax and Winterton's car was there too, and beyond them, having obviously come from the opposite direction, was another CI5 car belonging to Dalton and Mercer. Winterton was leaning on its open door listening to Mercer who was busy on the R/T. Dalton and Jax were waiting beside the Cortina.
Almost before we had skidded to a halt Cowley had flung his door open and was limping towards them. I followed, hard on his heels, my gaze quartering the surroundings as I searched and failed to find what I was searching for. It was very quiet, with only the occasional distant chirrup of birdsong and the whisper of a breeze in the trees overlaid by the crisp crunching of our footsteps on the brittle leaves underfoot.
"It's the car all right, sir," Jax said, and added pointedly, "Bullet holes."
"Where does the Audi fit in?" Cowley demanded.
"I don't know, sir, but it's on the stolen car list."
"Which way, Doyle?"
I was distracted again, my mind off and concentrating on the search my eyes were carrying out, so when I answered, "I don't know." The words sounded careless.
"Two years and three months, Doyle! You know him better than any of us. Which way?"
Cowley's sudden bark as he spun around to face me wrenched me back to alertness. My eyes snapped up to lock with his and found them charged with anger and frustration, and a comprehension that scared me half to death. The Old Man is too shrewd; he sees far too much, knows too much. Trying to cope with my newly recognised feelings for Bodie was difficult enough. I didn't have to live with Cowley's reaction to them as well. He's no bigot - in fact, considering his upbringing, a less bigoted man in all respects I have yet to meet - but there is that bloody non-fraternization rule, and falling in love with my partner has to be fraternization at its most serious.
Quite apart from us both being male, which is a whole other story...
But crossing that particular bridge was for the future. For now, he needed an answer, and quickly. And he was right. Two years and three months: I understood the way Bodie's mind worked nearly as well as I knew the workings of my own.
"Bodie would go for cover, sir."
"That'll be the woods, then." Cowley accepted my words instantly. He clapped Jax on the arm and then pushed past him. "Direct all units into this area. A full sweep. Begin at the village, and then right across the valley. We'll take the back road, Doyle."
As he spoke we were both heading back to the car, and in a moment were roaring down the narrow track, the fallen leaves skittering from under our tyres. At the pillared gateway I swung left. This road into Mersham was bordered on one side by the boundary of the woods in which the cars had been discovered, and on the other by open fields stretching away towards the river. It was almost as winding as the woodland track had been, but I picked up speed anyway.
"Where the hell is he?" I muttered. "He's around here somewhere, I know it. I feel it! But where, for Christ's sake?"
"Somewhere with a telephone that could be cut off," Cowley said harshly. "That means a house, Doyle. An isolated house, because if it wasn't isolated the neighbours would probably have noticed the strange goings-on and contacted the local boys in blue by now. And they would have contacted us."
"Assuming the neighbours are at home to begin with. Lot of commuters live around here, sir. And assuming also that they don't just follow good old Joe Public's normal habit of saying, 'This 'as nothing to do with me!' and ignore the whole thing. Or that Meyer's mates haven't moved in on them too."
Cowley sighed. "There is that, of course," he agreed, and lapsed into silence.
The road dipped into the dappled shadows of a tunnel of trees for a moment or two and then emerged into the open again, bordered now on both sides by scruffy hedgerows and a patchwork of fields. I eased the car around yet another bend, and then leaned a bit harder on the accelerator as a straighter than usual stretch unfolded ahead of us.
Simultaneously, there was a crack of breaking glass from the nearside rear window.
Cowley's head whipped around reflexively before he ducked. I stood on the brakes, and grabbed for my gun as I rolled out of the driver's door immediately the car screamed to a halt. I edged carefully round by the boot, all my senses on alert. The surrounding countryside was quiet and apparently deserted with nothing to be seen or heard, but there was no mistaking the cause of that neat circular hole with the fine lines radiating out from it.
"A bullet!" I said, my gaze darting vainly in all directions. "Someone's shooting at us!"
Cowley did not need telling. He pushed the car door open and leaned out, keeping low. "From where?"
If it had not been nearly spent the bullet would have shattered the window completely instead of just punching a hole in it, so it must have travelled a long way. Yet no one in his right mind would deliberately try to hit anything with a bullet that would be spent when it got there, except for one reason: to attract attention. And in that case...
Bodie! A cry for help by what must have been the only means available to him.
I ducked, and scrambled over the grassy verge to a nearby wooden gatepost before straightening and peering off across the fields. There was a house in the far distance, a rambling affair with one or two outbuildings clustered by it. It must have been all of half a mile away, but it was in the right direction for the shot, it was close to the woods where the cars had been abandoned, it was isolated...
And I remembered the time a bullet had carried nearly a mile on the firing range. Bodie had been there that day, too.
"We'd better check out that house."
Cowley nodded his assent as I ran back to the car, returning my gun to its holster as I went. A couple of hundred yards farther on a lane broke off from the main road, and I veered the car into it with barely a check in speed. Bodie was in that house. I knew that unquestionably, my 'instinct' where he was concerned in full flow again. And if he was reduced to the sort of desperate measure that shot had been, then he must be in dire straits indeed.
But he was still alive, and God help anyone who tried to stop me getting to him.
Another vicious twist of the steering wheel, together with a barely perceptible easing of my foot on the accelerator, and we were through a wide-open gateway and onto a curving, gravelled drive, and the house was in front of us.
Beside me Cowley's breath hissed sharply in between his teeth. No doubt about it, we had found Bodie - and Meyer's friends. The wrecked car jammed into the smashed front door, making a mockery of the defensively shuttered windows, proclaimed that fact all too clearly.
The Cow reached for the R/T handset as we careered up the drive, his voice, after that one betraying breath, steady as a rock as he issued a brief incisive call for assistance. Then the car slewed sideways as it skidded to a halt, and I was flinging myself out, gun in hand, and diving head first through the ruined doorway. I rolled to one side and came upright against the wall. Seconds later Cowley joined me, settling into a matching position on the opposite side of the door, those keen blue eyes of his taking in the deserted hallway in one raking, comprehensive glance.
Then, upstairs, all hell broke loose.
There was the distant, muffled sound of someone falling. Bodie's voice cried out in pain. Another voice, unfamiliar and heavily accented, shouted frantically, "Yes, Inge! Inge! Yes!" There was the grating noise of a door being forced open, followed by the hasty clatter of feet on uncarpeted wood...
I took the flight of stairs in front of me two at a time, hearing Cowley's limping steps following closely. On the landing at the top there was a door, half open, something behind it jamming it. I pushed through the restricted gap and found more stairs, rising steeply.
At the top of them was Inge Helmut, her face frozen in a snarl of hatred.
At the same moment as I recognised her there was the unmistakeable sound of a gun being cocked, and her hands began to rise.
A woman's voice, high and frightened and angry, screamed "No!"
I swung my gun up and fired, and simultaneously there was another shot from upstairs. Both bullets caught Helmut in the body, and she stumbled backwards. The pistol she had been holding slipped from nerveless fingers, before she folded over and tumbled head over heels like a broken doll down the narrow stairway to land sprawled on her back at my feet.
I crouched and fumbled for the artery in her throat, but it was an unnecessary formality. I'd known she was dead even before she fell.
I straightened and looked up. The stillness and silence up above were deafening, and a fresh flood of dread swept over me. I leapt over Helmut's crumpled body and went charging upwards, yelling "Bodie!" at the top of my voice, all my fear for his safety spilling over and out in that one frantic word.
On the top step I hesitated for a split second, taking in the scene before me.
Meyer, his face contorted with a mixture of rage and shocked disbelief, his hands cuffed behind him to the balustrade; Julia, standing in the doorway of one of the attic rooms, clutching Bodie's gun and shaking like a leaf in a storm, her eyes like dinner plates in her chalk-white face; and Bodie - Bodie on his knees, his back to me, being helped to his feet by a second, older, capable-looking woman whose hair was caught severely in a knot at the back of her head, and whose face was just as white as Julia's.
Then I was moving again, pushing roughly past Meyer as Bodie, half upright, staggered. I slid an arm around him from behind, adding my strength to the woman's, and between us we got him up, one shoulder braced against a doorjamb. He too was as white as the proverbial sheet. His heart was thumping a mile a minute beneath my hand where it rested on his chest, and he was breathing in heaving gulps.
I glanced down at his hands. He was holding them very carefully and wincing with every movement. There was fresh blood soaked into the bandage on the injured one, and the left one was badly grazed and reddened and already beginning to swell.
I raised my eyes again and found him watching me, and said, "You okay?"
He stood there looking at me for what seemed like half a lifetime but could only have been a second or two. Under my hand his heartbeat was slowing down, and his breathing was steadying rapidly. His eyes were very dark, and his gaze was intent, but he's always been good at concealing what's going on inside him has Bodie, and I couldn't read him. After a moment his eyelids drooped and he smiled at me, a funny little sideways quirk of his lips that had more satisfaction in it than humour. He eased himself away from the support of the doorjamb.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said, and pushed me away from him.
The fear for his safety I had been living with since that phone call, the unadulterated terror I'd felt at the foot of the stairs, was still reverberating through my system, and that casual rejection was like a slap in the face or being doused with cold water. I retreated along the landing to the top of the stairs, past Meyer, wilting now in defeat, putting my gun away as I did so. Deep inside a small spark of anger burst into life and began growing.
How dare he! How fucking dare he!
How dare he put me through the hell I'd gone through, and then take my turning up in the nick of time so completely for granted that he didn't even have the good grace to say, "Hey, thanks mate!" or even, "I thought you'd never get here!" Something - anything - to show he appreciated how ragged we'd been running ourselves trying to find him.
Typical fucking Bodie! Probably never had even the slightest doubt that the cavalry would come over the hill and haul his sorry arse out of the hole he'd dug himself into.
He was Bodie, after all! Indestructible Bodie! It wouldn't dare not to!
Would have served him bloody right if we hadn't turned up in time.
Cowley's hand grasped my arm, startling me. Once again I had been distracted, this time by my anger, and hadn't noticed him coming up to join us, nor Meyer and the women being taken down, or even Bodie shoving past and beginning to descend the stairs.
"Bodie needs a doctor to look at his hands; both of them," the Cow said briskly. "The left one may be broken. I want you to drive him up to Town, let Hopkins see to him and then take him home. His formal report on this business can wait until tomorrow. Take my car. I'll be staying here for a while, and I'll go back with one of the others."
"Sir!" I said, and would have moved but his fingers tightened, holding me where I was, and those knowing blue eyes bored into me. "This thing between you and Bodie, Doyle," he said. "I want it sorted out."
"Och, what do you take me for, laddie? I'm neither blind nor stupid; I know what's been going on. And before you say anything, no, I'm not going to drum you both out of the Department for it." He smiled one of those tight little smiles of his. "You've both been discreet. More discreet, it surprises me to admit, than I would have given either of you credit for, given your exploits with the ladies. So long as that discretion is maintained you'll have my tacit acceptance of the situation, if not my approval of it. The two of you have always broken every rule in the book anyway, so the way you chose to break the non-fraternization one came as no surprise to me. But you'll have to sort yourselves out, Doyle. You have been concentrating far too much on what Bodie means to you today, and not enough on the job in hand. If your personal relationship is going to get in the way of your working partnership, then I will get rid of you, before one or the other of you gets either yourselves or someone else killed. Is that understood, 4.5?"
"Yessir!" It was too late to make even a token attempt to deny anything, so I didn't bother. Besides, he was right. I did have to do something about my feelings for Bodie, and I had already decided what that something was going to be. "We - it was never meant to be serious, but I... It's my fault; I seem to have let things get out of hand. Only realised that today, sir. You don't 'ave to worry, I'll finish it soon as I can 'ave a word with Bodie. Get back to the way things used to be before we started this...foolishness."
"Can you do that, Doyle" If I hadn't known better, I might have imagined a hint of sympathy in the quiet words.
"Got no choice, have I?"
He let go of my arm. "And what about Bodie?"
"What about him? It's not important to him, he doesn't feel the same way I do."
"Are you sure of that?"
"'Course I'm bloody sure. If he did, there'd be no problem," I said bitterly.
I went downstairs two at a time, the same way I'd gone up. Bodie was waiting in the hall, leaning on the newel post at the bottom of the staircase. He was cradling his left hand very gingerly on his right forearm, and there was the tension of pain around his mouth. The sounds of voices issued from one of the downstairs rooms and several more CI5 vehicles were scattered untidily on the gravel in front of the house. The cavalry had arrived in earnest, but the only other person visible was Jax who raised a hand to us as I drove off, and then carried on talking into his R/T.
We were heading back towards the main road before I spoke. "What happened to your other hand?"
Bodie winced. "I was careless - and stupid. Got too close to Meyer. He tripped me and jumped on it, and then started yelling for Helmut. I don't mind telling you, I thought I'd bought it for sure, mate."
"Would've been no more'n you deserved if you had!" I muttered through clenched teeth. "Been thick as two short planks all along the line today, 'aven't you?"
"Yeah." He nodded glum agreement. "The Cow gave me a right bollixing."
Standing in the attic in my self-imposed trance, I had obviously missed more than I knew. "What'd you expect him to do? Give you a ruddy medal?"
"Cowley? No way, mate! A word of gratitude for snaring his terrorists for him would have been appreciated, though."
He actually had the gall to sound annoyed about it. I stamped on the brakes, sending the car skidding into the verge, and turned on him, fury spilling over in a tidal wave of words.
"Gratitude! He wants gratitude, yet! Jesus, Bodie, who the fuck were you trying to be - Superman? Given that you were stupid enough to leave your R/T in the car, when you recognised Meyer why didn't you send Julia to find a bloody phone and call for assistance while you kept an eye on him? Oh no! You had to charge in like a bull at a gate, taking him on alone with only one good hand and putting innocent civilians at risk. And when you did finally get around to calling in, why the hell didn't you go by the book for just once in your rotten life and give your bloody position first instead of arsing around until they had time to cut the fucking wires?"
"But - "
I ranted on, ignoring his attempt to speak. "Believe you're indestructible, you do! Don't think, don't give a damn about me, about how I would feel if you got your cretinous self killed, do you? If I hadn't known you were going on the river, if I hadn't remembered that pub you'd taken me to, we'd still be runnin' around in circles like headless chickens and you'd all be dead. And you want gratitude for that kind of stupidity? Not to mention giving me fucking heart failure..."
By the time I got that far I was yelling at him at the top of my voice, before I ran out of breath and momentum. So much for my clever little plan of not allowing him to find out just how much I really cared about him, then! Half way through the tirade I'd realised the extent of what I was giving away, but my tongue had developed a will of its own by then and I couldn't stop. The only way now he could fail to recognise my feelings was if he really was the cretin I had accused him of being - and he wasn't, not by any stretch of the imagination.
I was shaking with reaction. I sat there drawing essential air into my starved lungs while my brain scurried in circles, desperately searching for the slightest chance of salvaging something out of the mess I'd just made of things, too scared even to look at him. When he spoke, I found it difficult to believe my ears.
"I love you too," he said.
When I got my breath back for the second time I croaked, "Run that one by me again, will you?"
He smiled one of those blinding twenty-four-carat efforts that always seem to melt every bone in my body. "I said, 'I love you too'. Have done for ages. You're a sexy bugger, Ray Doyle. I fancied getting you into bed about five minutes after we first met, but I didn't even consider actually doing something about it till we each stopped thinking the other one was a pain in the arse. Gave myself quite a shock, discovering it was more than a quick tumble I was after, I can tell you. Always imagined falling for something off page three, you see, or failing that, the Robert Redford type. Not a ratty little toe-rag like you, an Oxfam reject..."
"Oh, thanks a bunch! Got a lovely way with words, you 'ave!"
I swallowed. He couldn't really be saying what I thought he was saying.
"Been working on you for a long time," he told me, the smile widening at my obvious stupefaction. "Thought I'd got it made that first night you agreed to us going to bed together. I nearly told you how I felt, but I realised just in time that for you any body would've done then, as long as it was willing. So I've been playing it your way ever since, all nice and casual, no strings, and hoping like hell that if I made it good enough for you you'd forget about everyone else and want only me. Hoping you'd grow to love me like I love you."
"My way? I thought that was the way you wanted it," I protested. "God! We're two stupid berks! You're a hell of a good actor, Bodie."
"I had to be. Was too scared of frightening you off. It's been months since I've had sex with a bird, you know that? They weren't you, so I wasn't interested, kept making excuses. Julia thinks I'm a perfect gentleman, for Christ's sake!"
The melting sensation was intensifying and spreading; I'd never felt anything like it.
"You couldn't frighten me off if you tried," I said softly. "I haven't wanted anyone else for ages either. Didn't know the reason until today, when I realised why I couldn't bear the thought of you being dead. You frightened me out of ten years' growth, Bodie! D'you know I'd decided I was going to be all noble and give you up, because I was sure you wouldn't want me to love you? Then me temper got the better of me and gave the game away. Thank God!"
He reached out very gently and ran a fingertip down my cheek, setting my skin on fire where he touched.
"No, it didn't. You gave yourself away back there in the attic when you picked me up and asked if I was okay. It was there in your eyes and on your face, and I just wanted to grab you and hold you the way I'd thought I never would again, and tell you exactly how I really feel about you. No more hiding, no more pretending. But it was neither the place nor the time; there were too many people around. I had to shove you away before I did it anyway."
So I'd been wrong about that, as I'd been wrong about so many other things, such as imagining it might be possible to pretend I didn't love him. Even if I'd managed to put things back on the old footing between us, I would never have succeeded. It had already been too late for that, and Bodie would have fought me every step of the way.
I looked out through the windscreen at the deserted countryside. Quiet and beautiful, there was no indication of the drama that had unfolded, no hint of the fear and violence and death that had shattered its peacefulness such a short time before. Nature remained unchanging in the face of man's inhumanity to man. Only we humans had been altered; some of us thank God, to our inestimable advantage.
Like I said, some days ought to come with a warning attached. This had been one of them, but the worst was over now. There was no way I wanted ever to relive those couple of hours that had forced me to recognise what Bodie meant to me, but I couldn't wish them unlived either, because I was so much the richer for them.
Nothing comes from nothing. Everything worthwhile I'd ever had I had won in pain and had to work to keep. My future with Bodie was no exception, but the difference this time was that he and I would be working at it together.
Together. That was the important thing.
I looked back at him. He was sitting there beside me, relaxed and still smiling in what can only be described as a thoroughly fatuous manner. The thought crossed my mind that I probably looked no less half-witted myself. The knowledge made no difference, it only made my own smile stretch even wider as I raised a languid hand and indicated the isolation surrounding us.
"Too many people around? There's no one here now." I waggled both eyebrows in a decidedly suggestive fashion.
"What, here? Now, right out in the open where anyone could see us? That sort of thing's illegal in public, you know." He tried to look and sound shocked, but failed miserably because the smile would not allow him to do so. "What if someone comes?"
I treated that remark to all the consideration it deserved, making certain he saw the wheels turning over and watching him realise what he had said and sit there waiting for the response he knew wouldn't be long in forthcoming. When I had dragged out the moment to maximum effect, I finally produced one of the filthiest chuckles it has ever been my pleasure to utter.
"Well now, lover, I hadn't actually planned on goin' quite that far. Not here and now, anyway. But let's see what I can do about it if you'd really like to try...?"
With great care I put my hand where it was guaranteed to be most effective, and leaned over and kissed him just as he opened his mouth.
No one came.
But we both did, much later, at home.
-- THE END --