On Stand-by


He told me about Ann tonight - I wish to Christ he hadn't.

No, that's not right. He had to talk to someone and I suppose I'm glad it was me, it's just that...

I can see him even now. He's in the bedroom getting undressed and I'm out here, pretending to be asleep on the sofa. The door is only open a crack, so I can hear him if he pukes in his sleep from all that scotch, but I can still see him.

Not that that's anything to boast about - I've seen him in enough changing rooms to know how he goes about it. Right foot on left knee, undo laces, pull off shoe and toss it somewhere, pull off sock ditto. Usually his head's flung back and he's grinning up at me and making a crude comment about my spare tyre and he's not even looking at his hands. Then it's on to left foot on right knee etc. etc.

Only not tonight. Tonight that shaggy head's all slumped over and I noticed he's tied one lace in a grannyknot and his fingers are too numb with scotch and grief to deal with it properly.

Come on, Ray, break the lace.

There that's better - now the other one.

Come on, mate, finish it. You slept in your clothes last night and you felt like hell in the morning. That's better - rustle and grunt - that'll be the sweater. My sweater 'cause you don't own one do you? Not a proper one anyway, A dozen T-shirts and a handful of those flannel things is as near as you get.

That's how I knew you were in trouble this morning - because you were cold. You're never cold, are you, old son? Me, I don't think I've been warm right through since I got back from Africa, not cold exactly, just not quite warm, but him - usually he's so warm you can feeling it coming of him in waves if you get close. I reckon that's why he's such a skinny little sod - burns it all off.

So come on, mate, finish it and get under the covers. I've put every spare blanket I can find on there for you, so you'll be as warm as it's gonna get.

I knew he was taking it too well. I knew it. Just that one flare up when he shrugged my hand off in the car park and then a brisk "well that's that" and back here to sort things out. Bit brutal that though - sending her stuff back by minicab, not her fault she wasn't up to it, not many would be. There's a lot to Ray, depths and.... complexities and they're not for everybody, you have to know where to look. She didn't know where to start and she didn't take the time to find out.

He looked like shit this morning. Maybe we should have gone back to my place tonight. Can't be much fun trying to sleep in that bed, even if he did strip the sheets and bin 'em.

I hate seeing him like this. Usually when he'd upset he gets angry and then he gets sullen. Today it was like he'd been peeled. All his nerves exposed. Thank god The Cow had the sense to send us off on a nice, complicated surveillance the other end of Town. Just difficult enough to keep him busy, without being so difficult he's going to cock it up wandering round in a daze, shivering.

Odd thing though, he wasn't angry with her and he wasn't a bit surprised. None of that 'how could she do this to me?' or 'where did it all go wrong?'. I've a nasty feeling that, deep down, he'd been expecting it all along. Not so much that he expected her to let him down, more that he expected to be let down and was waiting for it to happen. Maybe that's why he was in such a hurry; maybe that's why he got so angry when the suspicions started to mount, because the other shoe had dropped.

Not that he said much at first. I had to get him drunk before he'd talk about it and now I know a damn sight more than I wanted to.

For one thing I now know what he saw in her. Quite simple really - she was a decent, good-looking, intelligent woman who liked the things he likes, the books, the music, the art; and he thought she had nothing at all to do with the grubby mess we live in every day. She had principles that weren't going to shift according to what was expedient in the circumstances and, best of all, she disapproved of him and she disapproved of his work and that was just fine by him because, a lot of the time, he disapproves of them both himself.

When he did get angry it wasn't with her, or me, or Cowley. Daft bastard got angry with himself. I wasn't having that, so I took him to make a call on that little nest of the Master Race, the other side of Maidenhead, got it all out of his system.

What was that?

Shit, I thought he was choking.

Go back to sleep, mate - that's right.

If anyone had told me in the beginning I'd be spending the night on his sofa. Keeping watch so he doesn't puke, and fully intending to clean it up if he does, I'd have laughed myself silly.

I was wrong about a lot of things back then. For one thing, I didn't think much of the partner I'd been lumbered with at all. The day Cowley introduced us, my heart sank. He looked like a teacher they sent us once when I was about 12, fresh from Training College with the dew still on him, thought he could civilise the poor deprived kiddies with Kind Words and The Arts. We ate him alive and, the last we heard, he was making raffia baskets in the sort of place where they don't allow you anything sharp.

Ray stood there, lounging, all jeans and T-shirt and silver chain, and I thought he was like that, soft - physically and mentally soft.

One of Macklin's workouts took care of the first part. That bastard on the sidelines, pissing both of us off, yelling, "Come on, Bodie, a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un". I didn't have the breath to point out the only trouble with that theory is that you have to catch the little bugger first. I ended up with bruises on me bruises.

Took me a lot longer to realise just how tough he is mentally. Very convoluted mind, our Raymond, but I worked it out in the end. I couldn't see how he stuck it out when he hated so much of what we were doing. Then I cracked it. Doyle does what he knows is right, even though it feels all wrong. He knows the job needs doing, he knows he's one of the best there is, so he does the job, even though every instinct he has tells him he shouldn't. Every time it goes wrong, every time the end justifies the means, he has to re-convince himself that he's doing the right thing and sometimes that's bloody difficult in this job, even for me.

I used to think he fancied me back then, but I could be wrong about that too. If he did, he never said anything. Which was fine by me because I didn't fancy him or the idea. I'm not saying I haven't, I'd just never seen the point when there are women about. Women look nicer, they feel nicer, they sure as hell taste nicer and you don't end up covered in bruises.

I never even thought he was much to look at, skinny little bugger with a face like a hamster with its cheeks full. I reckoned it must be one of those things only women see. He's fit, he's strong, he's fast but, as far as I could see, that was about it.

Until Jean-Marc Wossname came over for the rugby.

I saw you together. You didn't know that, did you, Ray? You said he was coming but I forgot so, when I got back from Brum to find downstairs having the sort of party you can hear three streets away, I came over to your place to scrounge a bed for the night. I went up the fire-escape to see if I could put the wind up you.

I saw you through the window. You were watching the highlights on the telly and drinking those little bottles of French beer and you were naked and in bed with him, Jean-Marc Wossname, 'my old mate from the Surete in Paris'.

I couldn't hear what you were saying but I know you, you were arguing black was white, just for the hell of it and he was laughing fit to bust and trying to stop you spilling beer on the sheets. It wasn't love, it wasn't, but there was companionship and a hell of a lot of laughing and it was so warm and, when the match was over you, turned off the box and I watched you with him.

You took such good care of each other. Sharing pleasure not fighting for it. He was laughing as he came in your mouth and I was harder than I've ever been in my life. Something had knotted in my chest and I could hardly breathe. I watched you get inside him, gently, so very gently, and I wanted smash something and I didn't know why, except this was all wrong.

I drove over 160 miles that night, needing the speed, the movement. I was too worked-up and, for some odd reason, too angry, to think. I ended up in a lay-by on the A1, wanking into a handkerchief, because I couldn't sort it all out for hurting.

Sitting through the downer afterwards, I watched a chilly dawn come up over Stamford and I knew that I wanted him.

Maybe I would have said something if Ann hadn't come along, but then again, maybe not, because I had him pegged as a user. Look at his stuff. He has more bloody stuff than any other three operatives put together, pictures, books, records, what Gran used to call knick knacks - china and glass and silver - all of it beautiful or interesting in a quirky sort of way but, after the first couple of times I helped him move, I realised, it was never the same stuff.

For example, first time I went round to his place, he had this picture, seascape with fishing boats. Lovely thing it was, you could almost smell the sea. Next time he moved it was gone. When I asked him, he said he'd got everything there was to get out of it and sold it, knowing him he probably made a profit. Same with everything else, only a handful of records but never the same records; one move dozens of books, next move most of them were gone because 'I'm never going to read them again'.

Nothing was constant except his paints and his bike, nothing with memories, nothing prized for its associations. I've travelled light all my life but even so there are a few things, photos mostly, I'd hate to lose but he seems to have nothing.

Even his women are usually carefully chosen for the short- haul. No one who'll ask anything of him, no one who wants anything but a cheerfully expert romp, then au revoir and no hard feelings.

I didn't want to be treated like that, a one night stand, the equivalent of a picture or a china figure - a quick, disposable fuck for the fun of it and then onwards and upwards. As far as I knew, that was all he had to offer. Once he moved on, at best I'd end up an occasional indulgence, like Wossname. Five Nations Cup, Jean-Marc's visits; Wimbledon week, time to invite Bodie over for a quick tumble.

I didn't want that, didn't want to risk the team for a few nights in bed, too dangerous, too distracting. Not worth the risk, that's what I thought, or rather that's what I thought I thought.

Jesus, the lies we tell ourselves.

Now I reckon getting him to talk was one of the biggest, fucking mistakes of my life.

No, that's not right. He had to tell someone and I suppose I'm glad it was me. I just wish he hadn't shown me it was love. I'd been kidding myself until then - calling it infatuation, lust, nesting instinct, loneliness (we all get a blast of that sometimes) but I didn't want to know it was love.

Now it'll be months, years maybe, before he lets that happen to him again. Months before his head stops whipping round every time he sees a little redhead out of the corner of his eye; months before a voice that sounds like hers or a perfume that reminds him of hers stops catching him unawares, kicking him in the guts and sending that crawling sensation up his spine and over his scalp. He'll think he's got over her, then something will happen and he'll remember and feel sick and hot and angry, and there'll be nothing he, or I, or anyone else, can do, until it dies in its own good time.

Even then he may never let it happen to him again. I'll have to stand by and watch and wait and try not to hope and then try not to let the hope drain me down. Because I realised tonight that I love him and I don't know how to stop.

Everything I thought I'd lost, everything I tried so hard to lose, when first Juliet and then Marikka died, was still there, stronger than ever, like a plant that flourishes because of all the times it's been hacked back in the past.

That's why I wish I didn't know it was love. Because I didn't know he could love, and I didn't know I could either.

-- THE END --

Originally published in No Holds Barred 16, Kathleen Resch, 1997

Circuit Archive Logo Archive Home