'Tis the Season
Terry Anson lit up another cigarette and tapped Jon Turner on the arm. "So, do you think Cowley'll give us Christmas off this year? I mean, we're not rookies anymore, now are we? We should be entitled to civilized treatment at this stage of the game."
Turner paused in the meticulous examination of the bottom of his teacup and smirked. "If the Cow has a job for us, it doesn't matter how much seniority a man has in this squad, mate. One thing about the old bastard, he spreads the dung evenly."
The door of the restroom burst open before Anson could pronounce his own opinion of CI5's illustrious leader, the new battling voices drowning out all conversation.
"You heard me, you should've left it alone, Bodie. You're not in the bloody jungle now, you know. You go by the book next time or I'll fuckin' knock your head off!"
"Only in your dreams, Doyle. If it hadn't been for me, you'd be occupying a slab in the morgue this minute--"
"Like hell, you didn't even wait to see what they would've--"
"They would've blown your head off and then gone after mine, that's what they would've done--"
"I could've brought them in alive if I could've talked to them. If
"You're a fuckin' dreamer, Doyle. I'll be damned if I'm gonna let some idiot copper with his head in the clouds get me killed. I may be saddled with you--temporarily--but I'm sure as hell not going to die with you!"
"The quicker I can get rid of you and get myself a human being for a partner, the better I'll like it!" Doyle yelled back.
"Nothing would please me more, St. Raymond." Bodie's voice was as frigid as the expression on his face. "Why don't we take it up with Cowley right now?"
"That's fine with me."
They turned together and stalked out the door.
A couple of minutes went by before the atmosphere thawed back to normal.
"The Cow must've downed a case of pure malt when he put those two together," murmured Anson with a slow shake of his head.
"It's not a marriage made in heaven, but the Cow's usually right on target. They've only been partners for a couple of months, after all."
"Are you joking?! They look like they'll tear each other to shreds on a good day. Talk about opposites, matching up an ex- cop like Doyle with Bodie, of all people. Nothing in common, not a damn thing. Bodie's a solo if ever there was one. Smooth as silk. All those fancy clothes, birds hanging off him like leaves on a tree. Doesn't fool me, though. Borderline psycho, that one. You can see it lurking in his eyes. Born loner. He'll die that way, too. And with the way he takes chances, that day shouldn't be too far off."
"Maybe Doyle'll change that."
Anson looked at his fellow agent as though Turner had grown a toe in the middle of his forehead. "You're crazy, son. Doyle probably won't last another month. Can't understand why Cowley recruited him. I can't even believe he was a copper. I've seen ballet dancers that look more threatening. My nephew looks older than him, and bigger. And he's sixteen."
"Doyle looked plenty tough to me just now. Frankly, I think he's got the personality of a hedgehog, but that doesn't matter a fig. I wouldn't underestimate him, Terry. You know what it takes to get into this outfit. The Cow does not entertain the weak and fainthearted, boyyo."
"So, all right. Never mind how they look or their mental health. The Cow'd hire on axe murderers if they'd chop on his order. Maybe they're qualified. Maybe. That's something they'll have to prove to me. It doesn't change the fact that they can't stand each other. No compatibility. The Big 0. Zero. C'mon, Turner, that wasn't a love scene we just witnessed. You don't expect those two'll be rushing out tonight to buy each other Christmas pressies, do you?"
Turner stared dolefully into his empty cup, hoping it would fill itself. "No, doesn't seem likely, does it? Still, I expect Cowley'll have the last laugh. If he wants Bodie and Doyle together, that's how they'll be, if they want to stay in this loonie bin."
Anson blew out a smoke ring and crushed it with his hand. "If he keeps those two together, we'll all go crazy. It's a mistake, I tell you, a BIG mistake. They'll never make it. Never."
The rain beat against the restroom window in a steady drumroll.
"When the hell is this weather going to let up? God, I practically had to paddle in from the carpark." Anson rubbed his chilled hands together, ignoring his damp feet, and gazed around the room, hoping for sympathy.
It was four in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and he was finally off duty. For the first time in three years, he was actually going to have Christmas Day off, assuming Cowley didn't insist on more written reports and no other crises arose.
There were only two other agents in the room: Pennington and Turner. Neither looked sympathetic.
"What are you complaining about? You don't have to work tonight. My wife's about ready to chuck me out because of the damn hours I've been keeping lately," grumbled Pennington as he rose from his chair and headed for the door. "I should be snuggled down in front of a nice, warm fire, with Peggy in one hand and a lager in the other. And what am I going to do instead--comb through rubbish bins in the freezin' rain, looking for 'evidence,' that's what." He threw Anson a parting scowl and made his exit.
"What about you, Turner? You on garbage as well?" Anson pulled his mug off the shelf, resisting the urge to light up a cigarette immediately, and poured himself a cup of tea. He still had another 15 minutes before his debriefing with the Cow.
"No, I'm taking Lake's shift on the dockside obbo. His mother's in hospital and it's touch and go. This way he can be with her when she gets out of surgery."
"Decent of you." Anson took a sip of tea and reached for his cigarettes, suddenly remembering. "Hoi, last year, you and me wound up spending the entire holiday babysitting that Saudi minister. Hell of a bore, that was."
Turner chuckled. "Yeh, he snored like a bellows, too. No wonder Special Branch dumped that one on us. Well, at least we didn't have to worry about dodging bullets." He began to laugh outright.
"What's so funny?"
"You should've seen Bodie today," replied Turner, his laughter subsiding to a broad grin. "He went and bought a gag Christmas gift for Doyle and he doesn't know how to sneak the ruddy thing into 4/5's flat."
The agent started to laugh again and slapped the table top with his palm. "He was considering a little B&E to get it done. Weird sense of humour, that one. Not such a bad sort really. He sure has changed. I suppose Doyle has, too, come to think on it."
"Not that I can tell," interjected Anson.
"Well, remember round this time last year, the two of them yelling their heads off right here in this room?" Turner pointed an accusing digit at Anson. "You said they wouldn't last beyond a few months, as I recall. Didn't hold a thimbleful of hope for either of them."
"Yeh, yeh, so I misjudged them a bit."
"A bit? Terry, old son, they're starting to call them the Double Act nowadays. You've been with them on an op, you know what I mean. Sometimes I think they read each other's minds to save time talking. They're turning into the best team on the Squad."
"OKAY. I never said they were shit, but I still say they've got nothing in common. The work is one thing, but they're not close off duty."
"I don't know about that. After all, I never thought I'd see Bodie go out of his way to buy a present for Doyle, even if it is a joke. And then go to all the trouble of sneaking it into his flat. Not exactly 3/7's style."
"Bodie bought me a present?"
Anson and Turner both spun towards the door. A curious pair of green eyes stared back. Neither of the agents had noticed Ray Doyle's entrance.
"What present?" repeated Doyle as he walked over to their table, frowning.
Anson counted his blessings that it was Turner in the hotseat. Doyle was like a pitbull when he latched on to a mystery. He'd chew at it until he found out what he wanted to know. He could be a damned, irritating little sod.
"I, uh, I'm not supposed to tell--"
Anson could see by the expression on Turner's face that the poor man realized he'd said THE WRONG THING. Defeat hung in his eyes.
"I want to know what Bodie's trying to smuggle into my flat. No wonder he insisted I give Cowley the rundown on the drugs stakeout. What's he up to? C'mon, Turner, you know you're not walking out of here until you tell me."
"Me and my big mouth." Turner sighed feebly and crumpled in his chair. "He just, uh... Well, that is, it's only a... Oh, what's the use. It's a lifesize standup poster of Darth Vader." He paused, watching Doyle's face. When it remained ominously blank, he added, "With Cowley's picture pasted over the mask part, you know? Pretty funny, eh?" Silence. Turner cleared his throat and started examining his nails.
Doyle's big eyes rounded as he swept both hands through his floppy curls. He seemed a little befuddled, an odd look for Ray Doyle.
"The dumb bastard actually went and bought it." He snagged into a nearby chair, muttering loudly to himself. "Wonder how he talked that theater manager into handing it over. Damn, I was just kidding! Didn't even think he was listening. He never listens to me. Ignores everything I say. Never pays any attention. Acts like it anyway."
Anson couldn't help but chortle. It seemed like a rather funny idea--Darth Cowley. Made the blood run cold at the prospect. "Well, you've got to admit, it's worth a laugh, eh? The Cow and the Dark Side of the Force, eh?"
Anson could see the corners of Doyle's mouth finally twitching upward as he fought back a smile. "My partner's a fool," Doyle told him, but his tone was amused, and even admiring. Unfortunately, instead of letting the matter drop right there and then, Anson made the mistake of innocently asking, "So, what did you get for Bodie?"
One, two, three seconds past. Doyle rose slowly from his chair, shoving it back with the heel of his boot. "Why should I give him anything? I didn't expect anything from him, did I? I didn't want anything. Oh, no, he's not makin' me feel guilty. Him and his stupid jokes. The berk's always makin' me laugh at the wrong times. Usually when Cowley's staring up my nostrils. Or when I'm trying to chat up a bird. I've got an idiot for a partner and I'm supposed to buy him a present?! He can take his bloody poster and stick..." Doyle looked momentarily lost, blew out an exasperated breath, and fixed the other two agents with an incendiary glower.
Anson reeled in silence as Doyle left the room like a firestorm "Well, that was... interesting. Make any sense to you? Sure didn't to me. Except, I'll remember to keep my mouth shut next time. And I thought Bodie was the nutter. Seems like they're getting more alike every day. Now there's a frightening thought."
Turner just looked relieved before his face paled again. "Strewth, hope Bodie doesn't find out I spilled the beans." He shrugged his shoulders philosophically. "Oh, hell, it'll blow over. Maybe he won't even kill me." He paused, scratching his forehead. "Maybe they're falling in love and fighting it."
Terry Anson threw back his head and laughed until he choked.
Several drops of red wine beaded the top of Anson's shiny black shoes and he shook them off. They flew off the leather and onto the thick beige carpet. He cringed, poured himself another glass, wishing he could find some beer, and scanned the crowded room. The place was packed with people and holiday cheer. He wondered how Murphy managed to talk his latest girlfriend into letting CI5's rowdiest into her posh mansion for a Christmas bash. Of course, if she could be talked into going with Murph, she could be talked into anything.
"Great party, don't you think?"
A large hand smacked him in the middle of his back, causing another spray of wine across his shoes. He darted a look behind him and was greeted with Peter Pennington's lopsided smile and overly rosy complexion.
"'Lo, Bad Penny. Yeh, quite a treat for the likes of us, that's for sure. Where's Peggy?"
"She's somewhere in there," answered Pennington, his arm waving in the general direction of a knot of moving bodies. "She's a great girl, my Peggy, but she wants to dance all night! I'm not Fred Astaire, you know. She's dancin' with Doyle right now. See her, over there, in the pink dress. Beautiful, isn't she?"
The music was mercifully not too loud and Anson identified the steady beat of an old Beatles tune. His eyes searched the moving mass of humanity and then he spotted them. Peggy was an attractive woman, but no longer his type; she was too wholesome for one thing, too naive and tender-looking, the kind of girl that automatically made him think of his mother. He knew how dangerous those types could be; he'd been married to one, and he learned quickly enough that working for CI5 did not make for good marriage material. Pennington was the exception, not the rule. Maybe his missus was a special one at that, to put up with it all.
"Yeh, she's lovely. How long you been married, B.P.?"
"It'll be five years next Tuesday. I'm a lucky man."
Pennington was a little squiffy, but the affection in his eyes was genuine as he looked at his Peggy. Yeh, thought Anson, you lifetime for a bloke in their profession.
"Doyle's quite a natural, isn't he?"
Anson shook himself of his thoughts and turned back to Pennington. "Uh, what?"
"4/5. Peggy said she had to have at least one dance with 'im. Said he moved like water. Looks like she's goin' for two."
Anson glanced back at the dancers, focusing on the man with Peggy. The music had changed to a slow number. Doyle was moving them smoothly through the crowd, Peggy smiling sweetly in his arms. They looked graceful, an eye-catching pair. Peggy's pink crepe dress swirled gently around her thighs as she pirouetted. Doyle wore an open-necked white linen shirt and moleskin trousers. The man couldn't seem to hold on to a tie and jacket for more than twenty minutes.
Anson nodded and asked jokingly. "Aren't you afraid he'll sweep your darlin' Peggy off her feet?"
"Nah, she's a big as 'im," replied Pennington with a chuckle. "Nope. Peggy's a one-man woman, and I'm the man. 'Sides, Doyle's got more women than he can handle, as it is."
"Bodie's rejects, you mean."
"Oh, c'mon, Terry."
"Not that I'd turn up my nose at any of Bodie's castaways, mind you. I often wonder where he finds 'em all. Must stake out beauty contests."
Pennington was saying something insignificant in response as he moved off, but Anson's attention was suddenly caught by a curious sight. Off to one side of the dancers, he'd spotted Bodie. The expression on the man's face was so intent that Anson felt compelled to trace Bodie's stare to its source. For a moment, he thought Bodie was looking at Peggy. That would've been odd because Peggy didn't seem to be the kind of bird that interested the Womanizer of CI5. Bodie went strictly for the stunners, the headturners, and strictly for the short-term.
Then, shockingly, Anson realized who Bodie was really looking at: Bodie was looking at Ray Doyle. And the look radiated such a wistful longing that it struck Anson even at a distance. He'd never seen an expression like that on Bodie's face.
Anson took a big gulp of his wine, and then another.
The music stopped and Doyle and Peggy broke apart. Anson watched Bodie. The raw look was gone, replaced by a familiar grin as Doyle snaked his way back to him. Bodie patted his partner's shoulder and handed over one of the two drinks he held. They exchanged a comment and started to laugh.
Just like two old mates.
Anson glanced into his wine glass. He must've been seeing things. Bodie couldn't have been looking at his partner like that. Certainly, Doyle didn't seem to have noticed. Nah. Couldn't have been.
3/7 and 4/5 were the best team on the Squad. Even Anson had to admit it. Three years ago, he would've bet his pension against it.
But what he just saw, thought he saw, that was ridiculous.
Of course, they were good friends. That was something he never would have bet on either.
And then there were the rumours. Well, more like a few smart remarks from a few of the lads. Comments about how protective Bodie was of his partner, about how Doyle could twist 3/7 round his dainty, little finger, and some snikering about what CI5's best duo did to while away the time on a boring stakeout. It was all good for a few laughs. After all, Doyle and Bodie both had more than their fair share of birds.
Of course, Bodie didn't have a date tonight. Neither did Doyle.
Anson tilted his head thoughtfully. Hadn't Doyle just broken off an engagement? Something to do with a drugs case. Ann Holly, yeh, that was her name. A bit upmarket for Doyle was the skuttlebutt.
The sound of "Twelve Days of Christmas" filled the air as guests began to join in on the chorus. 'FIVE GOLDEN RINGS' boomed in his ear as Pennington walked up to him once more, this time with his Peggy by his side. Pennington nodded as he continued to sing, slapping Anson on the back. Then he turned to Peggy, his eyes full of loving affection, as hers was for him.
Anson smiled with a momentary touch of envy and began to sing along. As he did he looked over at Bodie and Doyle. Doyle raised his glass towards the center of the room in a toasting gesture. Anson could tell that the two men were singing, too. And Bodie's expression, fixed on his partner, was very much like Pennington's.
Anson munched on a fig roll and glanced at the small pile of file folders on the seat beside him. All he had to do was drop the stack at Doyle's flat and he was on holiday right through Boxing Day. He counted himself very lucky indeed. He could have pulled the East End surveillance job instead. Of course, his leg wasn't quite healed. The fracture still ached like hell whenever he stood too long.
The notion that Cowley might've felt some sympathy with that was almost unsettling. The Old Man was just finally exhibiting a bit of the Christmas spirit. Whatever the reason, Anson wasn't about to look a gift horse in the fetlocks.
He turned on the ignition and headed out of the carpark. It would be interesting to see Ray Doyle. After nearly three months of convalescence, 4/5 was probably more than ready to get back to work, even on a limited basis. Sorting through files for the Cow was not exactly the most fascinating duty, but at least it was a start.
Doyle was fortunate to be alive.
Anson rubbed his leg as he waited for a light to change. It was tough enough to get hit during an op, but to be shot in your own living room, well, that was downright scary. And when that happened to a man like Ray Doyle, it made everyone else in CI5 feel a little more vulnerable.
You could never be sure when your luck would run out permanently.
By the time Anson drove up in front of Doyle's flat, a light snow was falling, the delicate flakes melting almost as they hit the ground. It looked to be a cold, but lovely Christmas.
Bodie's silver Capri was parked across the street.
Suddenly, Anson felt uneasy. What if he walked in on the two of them in a heavy clinch, wrapped tight around one another? The vision made his cheeks flush with embarrassment.
Don't be so bloody stupid, he told himself immediately. They weren't the flaunting kind.
He pressed the doorbell and lifted the handset. A few seconds later, he heard Bodie's voice.
"It's Anson. I've brought the files for Doyle."
The buzzer sounded, allowing him entrance. He wondered as he took the lift why Doyle hadn't answered the doorbell himself. He couldn't be in that bad a shape after this time. Maybe he was getting dressed or something.
Anson flushed pink again.
Damn, he shouldn't have given up cigarettes. They may have been killing him, but they did calm his nerves.
He hoisted the stack of files more securely in his arms and walked up to the door. Before he could knock, the door opened and there stood Bodie.
For a guy who wasn't really that big, he had a way of appearing more... imposing than reality warranted. Perhaps it was the black poloneck and pants outfit. Or more likely, the enigmatic look in his eyes. Or was that just a slight air of suppressed insanity?
Then Bodie grinned and ruined it. Anson responded with a quick smile of his own as Bodie waved him inside.
"Looks like you brought every file in the place. Doyle will be delighted."
The sarcasm was not lost on Anson. "Mr. Cowley sends his regards."
As Anson walked into the lounge, his eyes were treated to the unexpected sight of Agent 4/5 sitting in front of a not-too-tall, but very bushy, fir tree, his arms tangled in a cat's cradle of Christmas lights. The trail of multi-coloured lights fell across his lap and splayed out across the floor.
"Hello, Terry," Doyle called, without looking up from his task.
"Ray. You're, uh, looking, uh, fit."
And, in fact, 4/5 did appear to be in good shape: his skin seemed to have a healthy glow, he was not much thinner than usual, and his hair seemed as badly in need of a trim as ever.
"Goddammit, Bodie, are you gonna help me with all this crap or not?"
And it seemed his disposition was also unchanged.
Bodie smiled indulgently and sauntered over to his partner. "I reckon I better before you garrote yourself. You could light up the New Forest with all that, you know."
Doyle stood carefully, dumping the mound of lights into Bodie's arms with a sigh of relief. Turning, he caught sight of the files.
"Strewth, I thought the Cow wanted me to review the Merseyside case, not the sheets on every damn villain in the country."
"This is Merseyside. The Old Man wants a thorough job of it."
Doyle grimaced and headed for the kitchen. "Are you on duty?"
"Cowley has kindly given me three days' holiday."
"Business must be dead or there's an imposter in the Controller's office." Doyle put the kettle on and drew down a mug. "Want a cuppa?"
About to refuse, Anson changed his mind. He couldn't remember ever seeing 4/5 or 3/7 quite so relaxed. He also realized he was feeling nosy. Besides, he had nothing else to do. "Wouldn't mind. It started to snow as I drove over here. Gonna be a real, cold one."
"Hmm, a white Christmas; it's been years." Doyle reached into the fridge for the milk, his free hand absently rubbing his chest.
It was then that Anson noticed that Doyle was, in fact, noticeably thinner than before, his waist and hips as narrow as a girl's in the pale yellow jumper and faded jeans he wore.
"You've really lost some weight, Ray," he mentioned conversationally.
The head of curls rolled back, shaking in negation. "Don't think I was wasting away." He set the milk down on the table beside the sugar. "I'm gaining it back, okay?" He smiled, softening the remark, and brought out a huge gold box of chocolates. "Here, help yourself, but leave the red-foiled ones alone."
Anson picked out a caramel nut. "By the time you finish all this, you'll have another kind of weight problem." The candy was delicious and he zeroed in on a piece of dark fudge.
"I've got another box in the cupboard." Amused green eyes glanced towards the other room. "Some people don't know the meaning of excess."
They chatted for awhile, drinking tea and munching chocolates. They talked about work a little, about their injuries, about how nice it was to be alive.
Anson felt comfortable and that surprised him. He didn't consider himself the sociable type. Certainly, Doyle wasn't the sort to bring that trait out in anybody, neither was Bodie, yet here he was having an easy conversation with the man.
And then he understood. Just being veterans in CI5 was enough to make them a kind of fraternity. They were survivors in a world few outsiders could ever comprehend. That made their individual differences, and preferences, very, very secondary.
"Hoi, thanks for all your assistance." Bodie leaned against the doorway as Anson and Doyle continued to sip their tea.
"Have you finished already?"
Bodie frowned half-heartedly at his partner. "No thanks to you, but, yes, the lights are on the damn tree. You can do the rest of it." He strolled over and took a seat, immediately lifting a red-foiled chocolate from the box. "I didn't come over here to do all your decorating for you, you know." He wadded up the foil and threw it with pinpoint accuracy at the floppy curls. The shiny red ball nestled firmly above Ray's forehead.
Doyle removed the foil with exaggerated patience. "Good help is SO difficult to find these days." His full lips twitched into a wicked smile, upsetting his otherwise angelic expression as he added, "What did you come over here for then?"
Bodie sputtered into a cough, his mouth full of strawberry creme.
"What are your plans for Christmas, Terry?" asked Doyle, allowing Bodie to snatch his tea and gulp down a swallow.
Anson eyed both men over his mug with a smile of his own. It was reassuring to see that they could still act like a couple of regular berks. "Going down to my mother's in Hove tomorrow. Now that I've given up smoking, she can't wait to see me."
Clearing his throat with another swallow of his partner's tea, Bodie punched Anson lightly on the arm. "Yeh, I've been meaning to tell you that I can finally breathe freely in your presence, my son."
"Yeh, well, I was getting tired of you filling all the ashtrays in the restroom with water, 3/7."
"I don't know why I'm goin' through the bother frankly. In our racket, who lives long enough to worry about lung cancer?"
"Listen, why shorten the odds? Me, I've died once already. I'm planning on immortality now," replied Doyle smoothly.
"Yeh, me, too," agreed Bodie.
Anson smirked. "Oh, yeh? Then why did you try that stunt on the dockside op the other day?" Missing the sudden frown on Doyle's face, he continued. "I heard you rushed all three of those bastards, even the guy with the Uzi. Murphy said you must've used up four of your nine lives on that one. You know, I always thought you were..." His voice trailed off as the dark blue eyes warned him into silence.
He turned to meet Doyle's now-somber expression.
Head bowed, Bodie casually picked out another red-foiled chocolate. "It wasn't a 'stunt,' for godssakes. It was either rush them or drown, and besides, they were terrible shots. Couldn't hit the sky with a telescopic sight. And the guy with the Uzi was out of ammo."
Doyle looked for all the world like a pale, blank sheet of paper, but his eyes fixed on his partner's face until Bodie finally me his stare.
Doyle didn't say a word, didn't even twitch an eyelash.
Tossing the candy aside, Bodie raised both hands in a supplicating gesture. "I wasn't taking any risks I couldn't handle. I'm not that stupid, or crazy." His voice grew gentler. "Life's too damn good just now."
A moment later, Doyle simply nodded.
"I--I didn't mean to, uh..." Anson faltered over the words, not knowing quite why he was apologizing.
Doyle just shook his head. "It's all right, Terry, 3/7 just needs a keeper. When I'm back on active after the holidays, I'll keep the muzzle on him."
The atmosphere seemed to lighten immediately. Bodie retrieved his chocolate and gleefully popped it into his mouth.
Anson rose to his feet. "I better be off. Traffic's getting worse by the minute. Thanks for the cuppa."
With a rattle of mugs and scrape of chairs, the two other agents followed him out to the lounge.
The tree shimmered by the windows, its fat boughs wreathed in strands of rainbow lights. It was a homey sight against the darkening sky and soft fall of snow beyond the windows.
They stopped, taking in the sight, each man lost in his own thoughts.
The last time Anson had had a tree was during the year he was married. The year he joined CI5. He turned to Doyle. "Do you always put a tree up at Christmas?"
"No. Haven't had one since I left home."
Yeh, some things were better shared.
Bodie was gazing at the lights. The look on his face reminded Anson of a boy seeing his first, very own Christmas tree.
Moving to the door, Anson called back to them, "Take care of yourselves," he said, meaning it and knowing they would.
"'Tis the season," quipped Doyle with a chip-toothed grin.
"Happy Christmas," added Bodie.
"Same to you." With a smile, Anson pulled up the collar of his jacket, and walked out into the cold
"To every thing there is a season
And a time for every purpose
-- THE END --