Vignettes Under Calico Skies
by Joana Dey
It was written that I would love you
From the moment I opened my eyes
And the moment when I first saw you
Gave me life under calico skies
I'll never forget the day Cowley called me into his office and told me I was getting a partner. I'm a loner. Don't like having to rely on someone else, or trust a stranger to look out for my back. I'd kept my back clean for 25 years all by myself. When I joined CI5 I'd expected to continue as I'd begun: alone.
Then he told me who it was. I racked my brain and finally connected the name -- Raymond Doyle -- with a face. And a body. Scrawny, scruffy ex-copper. So skinny he hadn't room for muscle between bone and skin. Massive amounts of curly hair. Old blue jeans and T-shirts seemed to be his normal attire. A long distance glance at the way he wore those bits of clothing made my libido wake up and take notice, but sex was all I figured he'd be good for. I didn't think something that small and insignificant could keep up with me, former mercenary, Para, SAS.
I hadn't paid much attention to him in the initial training. Betty, Cowley's leggy secretary, arranged for us to meet at the squash club Saturday morning. I naturally made sure I had a bird lined up for a game that day, leaving time for a `how do you do' with Doyle before I left with better company. It wasn't exactly an auspicious beginning.
"Bodie." I introduced myself first, taking the lead.
"Doyle." His voice was low and husky. If he'd been a she, I'd have thought she had come here straight from the bedroom. The texture of it made me shiver.
I nodded at him. Knew all about him, didn't I? Sneaked a peek at his file after talking to Cowley; he had a hot temper, argued a lot with his superiors at the Met. I figured Doyle had probably looked at mine, too. His next words confirmed that.
"You used to be a mercenary." It wasn't a question, and he almost spat the last word out, he seemed to find it so distasteful. His eyes had narrowed. It was dim in the club's bar and I couldn't quite make out the colour. Bluish? Greenish? Definitely murky.
"And in the Paras and SAS." I couldn't resist a bit of a brag. After all, he was just a skinny
ex-copper, and I was justifiably proud of most of my accomplishments.
"Done a lot of killing, have you? Must have quite a savings for your old age." He pressed his lips very firmly together after that, squashing them flat against each other.
So, he didn't like killing for money, did he? What did he think CI5 was, then? He shrugged when I asked him.
"Try to keep the dirt off the streets. Make things better for people. Do what the coppers can't because of their rules." He was actually serious. Christ, an idealist. What the hell was he doing here?
"You talk like you care about `people'. You can't care. They'll just spit in your face. Gotta stay cool." I figured he hadn't really seen much of life.
"Stay cool, eh? Make it easier to mur . . . kill?" He must have had second thoughts about accusing me of murder, and I decided to ignore his question.
"We're for more training on Monday. As a team. Think you can keep up with me?" I didn't particularly care if he took offense at my words or not. Had no doubts at all that we weren't going to be paired with each other for a whole week, let alone our entire CI5 career.
His teeth must have been grating together something fierce, and I watched, fascinated, as his jaw muscles bunched. Trying to hold on to that hot temper, I supposed. His head turned and the light flashed briefly on the side of his face, highlighting a misshapen cheek bone.
"Make someone angry?" I gestured at the old injury. I wanted to examine it closer; for some reason it intrigued me, and I could feel the skinny sod starting to get under my skin. Suddenly I wanted to know the colour of his eyes.
"Not your business, is it?" He deliberately faced the other way, presenting his unmarred side for my perusal. When I didn't comment, he flushed and turned back to face me head on. "You can say it, sunshine, others have. 'm a right ugly berk, and I know it."
I slowly shook my head. As he'd moved, I'd caught a clearer glimpse of his eyes. They were slanted. "No, not ugly. Bit interesting-looking."
"You're an idiot, Bodie. This isn't gonna work, and I'm gonna tell Cowley that first thing Monday morning." He turned to walk away just as someone opened the door, the morning light spilling in and bathing him in the soft glow. My heart almost landed in my hands . . . .
He stopped, but didn't turn.
"Wanna game of squash? Drinks say I beat you by eight." I held my breath. What the hell was I doing?
Slowly he pivoted around, hands rising to rest on his hips. A half-grin was forming on his lips. "Drinks and dinner say I beat you by twelve."
I ditched the bird. Found out later his eyes were green.
Always looking for ways to love you
Never failing to fight at your side
While the angels of love protect us
From the innermost secrets we hide
I don't know exactly when Ray realised I was in love with him, or if he even thought about it. He seemed to take for granted that I'd always be there for him; I was a natural extension of himself, like having curly hair or green eyes: Doyle had Bodie. I took whatever he chose to throw my way -- even his fist on more than one occasion -- and came back for more.
It always amazed me that no one copped to us; we were always together, either alone with each other or on dates with our current ladies. It was self-protection actually. Seemed the only time anything really bad happened to either of us was when we were apart. The worst of those times turned out to be the turning point in our relationship.
Took six years and two bullets from a vengeful Chinese bird to get Ray to admit he loved me. To him, sex and love were two different matters. It was one thing to have a quick bit of frottage after an especially nasty op. Quite another to admit you couldn't live without a person. He could have died; technically he did. His heart quit, anyway. They got it going again, luckily, since mine had stopped beating at the same time.
I think he was just hiding the truth from himself. He almost admitted it when I was knifed in Blacktown. I opened my eyes one morning to find him crying over me. He denied it, of course. Said his allergies were acting up. Right. Never been bothered by them before that day.
But after he decided to live, not to give in to the Grim Reaper, he told me . . . he . . . sounds daft this, but he gave me the gift of his heart. Knocked down the walls protecting his soul and let me all the way in.
"Couldn't imagine Hell without you in it with me, mate. Be too lonely, you here, me down there." He was looking at the walls, ceiling, the machines he was still hooked to, anywhere but at my face. "Can't live without you; can't die without you either," he added in a whisper.
He didn't realize Hell would be here on earth without him. Was hard not to treat him like a fragile piece of china after that. I wanted to wrap him in cotton and keep him away from all the dangers in our world. He, of course, would have none of it, and let me know -- often, loudly and at great length -- every time he felt I was over-doing the protective bit.
We hid our feelings from Cowley for only a few months. Protecting Ojuka, the head of Betan, brought it all out. Actually, I rather rubbed the old man's face in it, deliberately disobeying his instructions to stay out of the way. Leave Doyle to the hounds? Hell, no, to do that went against every thing I held important.
Fancied I could feel the mark of his teeth as the Cow chewed me out later that evening. He kept asking why, and I couldn't answer. What was I supposed to say? Sorry sir, I'm in love with my partner and I won't let him die? He finally called Doyle in, who explained exactly that. First time I've ever seen Cowley with his mouth hanging open, though it didn't stay that way long.
"You both have been bedding everything female within a ten kilometre range for the last six years. Yet you expect me to believe you're actually in love with each other? I suppose it hit you like a lightening bolt from the sky?" Cowley could be rather sarcastic when he wanted to.
"Yes, sir," Doyle answered.
"No, sir," I said at the same time. Doyle looked at me, one eyebrow raised, so I clarified my negative. "Hit me in the squash court actually, sir. Day we met. Could say this is all your fault. Sir."
I shut my mouth at the resulting glare. Well, teaming us had been his idea. His face smoothed, and he turned his eyes to Doyle, who just stood there, all innocence, as though he had no idea Cowley was expecting an explanation from him as well. I didn't know who would give in first. Doyle, of course, conceded to the master.
"We've been having sex since the beginning, sir. Wasn't until Mayli shot me that I realised how important Bodie was to me." Ray's stance became slightly belligerent. "We shan't change our minds. This is for us till we die."
"And if I tell you I won't have this type of behaviour in CI5, what then?" Cowley asked it in a bland, even voice -- nice weather we're having; he probably already knew the answer.
"Resign." It came out in unison, even though we hadn't given it voice before then. But we'd have quit CI5 before giving up each other.
"If I put you back out on the streets -- despite your sleeping arrangements -- you'll both ignore any orders I might give that would put the other at risk. Is this correct?" His voice had hardened; the nice weather was turning stormy.
"Yes, sir." Another duet.
"To a certain extent, sir," I clarified. "Our first priority has always been to protect each other's backs. From the very beginning, that's how you trained all of us. If we didn't care about each other, we'd be no good to you."
"It's a split second judgment call out there, sir," Doyle added. "We really can't tell you now, inside the quiet of your office, how we'll react later. Can't be done, sir, not truthfully."
Cowley was silent for what seemed like a year. He glanced back and forth between us several times, and I was hard-pressed not to squirm under his level gaze. Finally he sighed.
"I don't believe in prejudice, you know that. Yet you're not only breaking the non-fraternization rule, a few years ago you'd also have been breaking the law. I don't pretend to understand what attracts people of the same sex to each other. Nor do I know what to do. You're my best agents. I don't want to lose you, but you aren't giving me much choice. Go home. I'll let you know what I decide."
He glanced down at his desk, dismissing us, and we sombrely trundled out the door. No matter what the decision ended up being, we knew things were going to change, if only because Cowley now knew about us. His priority -- keeping the Island safe -- was no longer number one on our list.
Didn't take him long to come to a decision. Rang us up that evening; we were at my flat, in the middle of . . . yeah . . . I think he planned it that way on purpose. Said we weren't a blackmail risk, since he -- now -- knew about us. We'd worked fine together up until my faux pas during the Ojuka mess. He was going to take a chance and go with his gut instinct. As long as we didn't embarrass the department, things would go on as they had been.
Embarrass the department? What'd he expect us to do? Hold hands in the hall or have sex in the rest room?
Long live all of us crazy soldiers who
were born under calico skies
May we never be called to handle
All the weapons of war we despise
I got tired of the job before Bodie did. Not surprising, that. I thought the world was truly good beneath the filth and rot. Wrong. Saw hideous shit when I was on the drugs squad -- wake up Bodie -- but he saw worse 'n me. Babies blown up in Africa. Unmalleable young men, boys really, thrown over the side of a ship to be fed to the sharks while the rest of them watched . . . and learned to conform.
After the old man found out about us, we were only on the street for another two years before he pulled us inside to help run operations from there. Oh, we still ran around on the streets when needed; we may not have been as fast as we were at thirty, but we were the most experienced he had left.
But I was done with it first. One word from me and we were both in the office asking to be let go. Things had changed after Cowley died and the Government sent in the new boss. L. David Franklin. Never could trust a man who used an initial instead of a first name. He wasn't much older than us -- maybe by ten years -- and I had the sick feeling he was grooming one of us for his spot when he moved on. We'd been there for twenty years by then, and I didn't fancy another twenty.
Drugs and espionage slowly gave way to terrorism as the years went by. Now we had half the middle east trying to blow up our aeroplanes and Underground, in addition to the IRA shenanigans. The day some obscure African group blew up the entrance to Westminster Abbey, ripping apart some 37 tourists along with the stone and mortar, was what finished it for me. We'd found out -- too late -- and were almost there when it blew.
The explosion threw pieces of everything for almost half a mile, one of them slapping me wetly in the face. Bodie held my head as I heaved my breakfast onto the pavement; the object that hit me still had tiny fingers clutching a rattle. Gradually I became aware of myself again, and Bodie's soothing murmurs finally got through to me.
"Sorry 'bout that, mate." I straightened up, but didn't try to joke it off like I would have long ago. Having body parts rain down from the sky wasn't a laughing matter.
"'s all right." He watched me closely for a long moment, probably making sure I was done adding to the accumulated mess.
Neither one of us wanted to go any closer. The distant sirens signalling the approaching fire, police and paramedic units rivalled the piercing tone of screams and harsh sobs. Both of us knew what we'd see if we went over -- Bodie because he'd seen it before, and me? Had a damn good imagination, didn't I?
We were relieved of the distasteful task when L. David himself pulled up and took over. He gave me a disgusted look -- almost wished I could hang around to see how he reacted to the carnage -- before he dismissed us and strode off. Didn't waste any time taking ourselves far away from there and back to our flat.
Budget cuts back in the eighties allowed us to share a two-bedroom flat; no one but us and Cowley had known we used only one of the bedrooms. Oh, some of the others may have had their suspicions, but what we did behind closed doors wasn't anyone's business but our own.
Did I want out because a child's bodiless hand had bloodied my face? Or because the episode finally broke down the thick wall Bodie's memories were sheltering behind, causing nightmare after nightmare in the dark? There was some thirty years of blood and death hiding in his head, and one last bomb had let the demons loose.
Would wake us both, him screaming at night. Silly sod wanted to sleep in the spare room, save me waking up with him.
"You're a right berk, Bodie." I clutched him tighter that night when he tried to wriggle away. "I'd hear you scream in there, and I'd just get out of this bed and crawl into that one. Don't be an idiot, love."
"You're getting dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep. 's my fault."
I leaned into the roughness of his thumb as it gently brushed those circles, and grinned in the darkness. "'ve always had these. Never bothered you before."
"Never caused 'em before," he shot back. "'s my fault."
"Now you're stealing my lines!" I objected. I was trying very hard to get him out of the funk he was in, without much luck. "'s me on the proverbial guilt trip, mate, not you."
It didn't take us long to decide what to do with ourselves. Bodie had quite a sum saved up, which gave us a cushion to get on with, and the Old Man had left us each a tidy amount, plus a cottage in the Cotswolds no one knew he'd owned. What did we know best? Terrorism, security, how to kill . . . a Yank show on the telly gave us the idea. Consultants and Investigators; we specialized in discretion.
If it got to be too much, we could dip into the Cow's annuity, and whatever we'd been able to save, and retire to the cottage.
I will hold you for as long as you like
I will hold you for the rest of my life
I will hold you for as long as you like
I will love you for the rest of my . .
. For the rest of my life*
It was a beautiful day, one of the rare ones that showed up sometimes during the Cotswold spring. Taking advantage of the crisp, sunny weather, Bodie and Doyle wandered down the path behind the cottage, watching as their collie bounded along ahead of them.
"Never would have thought we'd be hobbling around like a couple of old grandfathers, did you?" Bodie raised his cane and tapped Doyle lightly on the top of his head.
"'m not hobbling, you silly berk." Doyle grimaced and revved the motor of his wheel chair. "Can still beat you with one wheel tied behind me back."
Ruffling the springy white curls, Bodie laughed with delight. "You'll be hobbling once you're back on your feet. Old hips don't mend completely, you know, love. Teach you to go chasing after the dog before you're properly awake!"
"'s all the thanks I get for rescuing your Swiss rolls? Cow woulda gobbled 'em up in no time if I hadn't noticed," Doyle said indignantly.
"He slobbered all over 'em anyway, then saved your bacon barking his lungs out," Bodie reminded him, grinning. "I'll give Cow all the doggie biscuits he wants for that."
They wandered on in a comfortable silence for several minutes, before Doyle spoke up quietly. "Ever think how lucky we are, love? Or wonder what we did to deserve making old bones?"
"No, what?" Ray persisted. "No, you don't think? Or no, you don't wonder?"
"Don't wonder. I know we're lucky, you think I want to jinx it?" Bodie stopped walking and planted himself firmly in front of Doyle's wheels, their knees meeting gently as Doyle slowed down. "If we were married, we'd be celebrating our fiftieth anniversary this year. How many married couples can make that claim, eh? Why can't you be glad for what we've got, and not try to dissect it?"
Bodie looked down at him, puzzled. "Okay? No arguments? Just, okay?"
"Yes, dear?" He flashed a teasing grin at his mate.
"You feeling all right?"
"Just because I didn't argue with you?" Doyle laughed. "I've been making love with you for fifty-six years, disagreeing with you for fifty-six years, three hours and the odd minute. Which would you rather I stopped?"
"Sunshine, 's impossible for you to agree with everything I say. Be the same as admitting I'm never wrong. Not that I am, often." He handed his cane to Doyle and, stepping behind the wheelchair, began to push it up the path.
"They put a motor on this so you wouldn't have to do what you're doing," Doyle pointed out patiently.
"Doing it already, aren't you?"
"Arguing with me," Bodie chuckled. "'sides, I like doing this."
"Pushin' me chair? You're daft."
"Nah, just in love."
"Daft, too," Doyle replied, and leaning his head over, he rubbed his curls against the back of Bodie's hand.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Motet Opus 2 in B and D, Keynote Press, 1997
Lyrics from Calico Skies, by Paul McCartney, from his album Flaming Pie