A Birdwatcher's Guide to Cornish Ghosts
Part 4 in the Birdwatcher's Guide to Cornish Ghosts series, following Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
The wheels of the oncoming bicycle missed Bodie's foot by mere inches and he stepped back quickly, unintentionally colliding with Doyle.
"Ouch!" Doyle complained. "Mind where you're putting your clodhoppers!"
Realising he'd trodden on Doyle's foot, Bodie apologised. "Sorry. Bloody women on bikes. Ought not to be allowed."
Market Jew Street was busy on this, a Penzance market day, a heaving mass of bodies both human and animal, smells good, bad and downright appalling, and noises that both stimulated and excited him but also made Bodie wish he was, at that moment, dangling his feet in the cool waters of a peaceful cove. Despite all this, the silence from his partner was deafening. Bodie turned to see what he'd said that was wrong. As if he didn't already know.
Doyle had a curious little frown on his face and Bodie waited patiently.
"Why what, Doyle?" Bodie felt that, all things considered, he was getting quite good at the game. Yes, it was true he was, mentally, a little slower than his quick-witted partner but nevertheless he was learning. It pleased him.
Doyle breathed in deeply. Bodie judged his exasperation to be just short of Krakatoa level and repressed the smile that threatened to spread across his features.
"Why shouldn't women ride bicycles?" Doyle elucidated.
"Ohhh." Bodie pretended to be enlightened by the explanation. "Well, they're a bloody menace that's why."
More silence. The two men stepped back as a cart load of new potatoes rattled by and a brief image of half a dozen on a plate with lashings of butter, a couple of lamb cutlets smothered in mint sauce, and a helping of young broad beans, again with butter oozing over them, flashed into Bodie's mind. His stomach rumbled. He could almost smell the mint. Time for lunch. But first they had an errand to fulfil.
And there was Doyle to deal with....
"I don't see why you say that," the man said slowly, as though he could be persuaded, given a solid and convincing enough argument, to change his mind.
It was lucky, Bodie reflected, that he knew otherwise. "Just my opinion, that's all."
He stared innocently across the road at a man holding on to the railing on the raised terrace that was a feature of the high street in Penzance. Even from this distance Bodie could see that his knuckles were white and that he was gripping the cold iron as though his life depended upon it. Despite this assistance the man's legs were still buckling under him. "Look at that bloke over there," he pointed out. "He's so pissed he can hardly stand upright. Lucky sod."
Bodie sniggered to himself and decided on lunch at The Dolphin, down on the quay. The idea of washing it down with a beer or six was an exceedingly good one in his opinion.
"Exactly why should you think that women have no business on bicycles?" Doyle was saying beside him.
"Come on, Doyle, let's get across this road before another one of 'em comes along and tries to mow us down while we're still in our prime." Bodie grabbed Doyle by the arm and they just beat the fishmonger's delivery boy as he set off on his errands, wobbling precariously.
They took the half dozen steps two at a time and stood together on the terrace catching their breath. Bodie glanced around for the drunk and found him accosting a woman who, by her age, dress and bearing, was clearly housekeeper of some large establishment. She saw him off with hardly a pause in her step; Bodie wished he could have heard what she said to the man -- it was always fun to hear the Cornish matriarch taking no nonsense from anyone.
"So, what are we doing here?" Doyle asked. The breeze was ruffling his curls and Bodie quickly suppressed a sudden, rather inappropriate, urge.
"We're going in there," he replied, pointing at the shop in front of them.
"A clothes shop," Doyle said, stating the very obvious.
"Full of questions today aren't we, Raymond?"
"Asking questions a bit like women on bikes is it?"
Bodie looked questioningly at Doyle.
Doyle looked smug. "Shouldn't be allowed," he explained.
Bodie smirked and moved a little closer to his partner. "I'm going to buy some knickers," he whispered. "Black ones. What size do you reckon you are?"
He had the pleasure of seeing Doyle actually take a shocked step backwards.
"You can't." Doyle's eyes were very wide but Bodie thought there was just a hint of excitement there as well as outraged indignation.
"Why not?" he shrugged in reply.
"Because men don't just go around buying women's underwear, that's why not! It's not done. You'll get arrested!"
"We'll see." Bodie looked around. The drunk was now weaving his way up the street with that slow, dignified gait that only the inebriated can pull off successfully. The pub called to Bodie again. "Come on," he said to Doyle. "Let's get it over with. I'll need sustenance of another kind after this."
It was dark enough inside to make them blink and screw up their eyes and they both paused a moment to adjust to the gloom. The shop went back for miles and in all directions with small, pokey departments all over the place. It was also a drapers as well as place for clothes to be bought off the peg and the smell of new material accosted Bodie's senses. It was not altogether unpleasant and he breathed in deeply. Memories came flooding back.
As a child his mother had often taken him on shopping trips to such places, either for clothes for himself or for her. Other boys hated such expeditions he knew, but he did not. If he was lucky and the clothes to be purchased were for her and not for him, then he could set about exploring the nooks and crannies of the store. It made him feel like a real explorer such as you read about in the boys' weekly comics he'd devoured so avidly back then. In general, the women who worked in these places liked little boys and sweets were often forthcoming. Some of them also stole from the shop; he'd witnessed on several occasions small items, usually underwear, being secreted into previously unseen pockets in voluminous dresses. They were also not averse to letting male assistants touch them when they thought no one was looking. Bodie had learned at very young age the places on a woman's body a man liked.
Several females were in the process of having yards of material measured out for what Bodie assumed were dresses for the autumn season. He wondered briefly if there would ever come a time when women were not forced to wear clothes long enough to cover their ankles, it seemed to him it must, at times, be a severe disadvantage. Perhaps that was why they were so bad at riding bicycles...
Doyle was whispering furtively into his ear and Bodie returned to the task at hand. "Bodie, we have to get out of here."
Ignoring him, Bodie looked around. Where would they keep the women's underwear?
They were attracting attention. Two of the female assistants were looking in their direction and conferring. Bodie watched as one of them went off and it wasn't long before they were approached by a tall, middle aged man. Bodie seemed to recall he was called the floorwalker.
"Can I help you, sir?" the man enquired.
Bodie wondered if there was a special school where these people went to learn the haughtiness peculiar to men who worked in clothes shops. Reminding himself that they were no better than he, he smiled in what he hoped was a condescending manner. "Yes, my good man..." He hesitated as beside him Doyle was suddenly afflicted with a coughing spasm. The coughing abated and Bodie continued. "I'm looking for the underwear department."
The assistant inclined his head respectfully while still managing to convey the impression that he and Doyle had just been dragged through the door by the shop's feline mouser, and was about to set off when Bodie stopped him. "The female underwear department," he specified.
The man's eyes widened and Bodie suppressed a smirk. He would wager it wasn't often such requests were made by men; this would give the assistant something to talk about for a year or three.
"But surely, sir..." the man began. He flushed and looked quickly around as though, Bodie felt, expecting the wrath of God to suddenly swoop down and smite him dead.
Bodie began to enjoy himself. "For our sister," he said, glancing at Doyle to include him. The look Doyle returned would have felled a charging bull at twenty paces. "She's disabled. Can't get out."
The assistant continued to convey a mixture of outrage and astonishment. He stumbled over several words until once more gaining some semblance of control. "It is customary, sir, for female relatives to fulfil such, er...delicate errands. I'm sure this is most irregular. Not to mention imp..."
"I'm sure it must seem that way," Bodie interrupted, "but we have no female relatives or servants, we live very quietly, my sister, you know..."
Knowing full well it was customary to hide your disabled relatives away from the outside world as though it somehow reflected badly on the family to have them, Bodie held the man's gaze, sure of his ground.
The assistant cleared his throat. "I see," he said. "I understand of course. But it is still most irregular."
At that, Doyle sidled up to the assistant. "Well, I suppose we could try to bring her in here in her wheelchair..." he glanced slyly at Bodie, "couldn't we, William?" He looked around consideringly. "Bit pokey, but shouldn't be all that difficult..."
The assistant looked as though he'd been hit. "No. No, no..." The words spilled out, stumbling over one another. "That won't be necessary. I'm sure we can accommodate your needs without putting you to such an inconvenience."
Bodie watched as Doyle's expression hardened. He knew as well as his partner that the last thing the shop would want was to have a young person in a wheelchair on the premises. It made the place look bad. On behalf of the society they lived in he felt ashamed and part of that shame included the lie he was currently fabricating. Suddenly he just wanted to get what he came for and go.
The assistant cleared his throat having apparently made up his mind at last. "Would you be so kind as to follow me?"
Breathing a sigh of relief Bode went after him, with Doyle bringing up the rear.
It seemed they kept female lingerie away from prying eyes. Climbing two sets of stairs and walking through several areas that dealt with sundry items such as hats, bags and haberdashery, they emerged at last at their destination.
The difficulty was to keep his eyes from popping out of their sockets. All around him was the stuff of every heterosexual man's fantasy. Corsets, chemises, silk knickers, brassieres -- all were on display for the delectation of the elegant and not so elegant female.
Behind the counter the male assistant was in whispered dispute with the female head of department -- an older woman you wouldn't look twice at in the street but who clearly knew how to fight her corner. A slip of a girl looked on, fair hair pinned up severely, her figure covered from head to toe in the same black uniform dress all the women here wore. Everything covered and restrained -- except for the look in her eyes. That she couldn't quite control. Bodie could see her eyeing Doyle with speculation and appreciation as he leaned against the counter. Mrs. Trembath would have described this one as 'knowing'. He followed her gaze and joined in the worship of wide green eyes, full, sensitive lips, chest nicely defined by snug fitting waistcoat, outline of cock displayed to perfection in trousers that... Bodie shook himself mentally, berating himself for allowing his mind to wander in places it had no right to be in such a public forum. God, he needed a drink. Or a fuck. Preferably both.
Just then the two older assistants looked up from their deliberations. "What is it you require?" the man asked.
"Knickers," was Bodie's bald reply.
He heard the deep breath Doyle took through his nose and the almost imperceptible clearing of his throat. It was almost his undoing. His lips fought for the right to smirk but Bodie fought back and won the battle if not the war.
The older woman put back her shoulders and folded her arms disapprovingly. Out of the corner of his eye Bodie saw the young girl's lips twitch. The male assistant gestured with his hand and the woman in charge moved away and began searching in various drawers. She was back in an instant, plonked several items unceremoniously on the counter and moved to one side, her mouth set in a grim line.
Bodie reached for the items and pulled them towards him. He picked one up and held it high. It was some kind of winceyette cotton, completely plain and long enough to come down to the knees where it was gathered there with elastic. "What do you call these?" he asked.
"Passion killers," Doyle pronounced, grinning wickedly.
Congratulating himself on his restraint, Bodie managed somehow not to burst out laughing.
"See," Doyle continued, "it goes like this. If you're unfortunate enough to be sick or disabled then you shouldn't need, and certainly don't deserve, anything pretty. It's frumpy knickers or nothing and be glad that someone's bothering with you at all."
Across the counter Bodie was vaguely aware of the young girl moving away as they spoke. When she returned she pushed several items across at him. Bodie's hand brushed silk -- black, no lace, plain and simple but erotic beyond words. French knickers, three pairs.
"You'd better make sure they're the right size," the older woman scolded.
The girl looked boldly at Bodie. "Oh, I reckon they'll fit perfectly," she replied quietly.
"They look fine," Bodie agreed quickly. "Not too big. For our sister I mean..." Realising he was beginning to babble he shut up and let the girl whip them away and wrap them in brown paper. A neat, anonymous package. The older female assistant pushed the bill across the counter and he paid up with indecent haste.
They exited with even more haste and stood on the pavement outside in stunned silence. Bodie clung to his purchase as though it were pure gold, realising as he did so that his cock was completely rigid.
Doyle's cackling echoed around the alleyway as they headed downhill towards the harbour and the pub.
"You've got a bloody nerve, Bodie, do you know that?"
Bodie did know it.
He also knew that he if didn't do something about his cock soon it was going to explode of its own accord inside his trousers. A memory surfaced. Of another man with an urgent need. Was it still there, the old shed? It was off this alley somewhere...
He had Doyle by the arm now, practically pulling him along.
"Oi, hang on. What the hell's the rush?" Doyle was saying. "The pub won't close for a couple of hours."
Bodie ignored him as he found the entrance he was looking for. Yes, the shed was still there, still practically falling down. He pulled Doyle roughly inside and banged the door shut behind them.
There was no waiting, he couldn't have if his life had depended on it. His mouth covered Doyle's in a hungry, possessive kiss, his tongue probing the wetness and adding to it with copious amounts of his own saliva.
"Christ, Bodie," Doyle muttered into his mouth.
"Undo them," Bodie ordered groping wildly at Doyle's flies.
He attended to his own, releasing an erection which bobbed hopefully in the gloom. Reaching for the package he dug a hole in it with his fingernail and pulled out one of the pairs of French knickers. Doyle had himself exposed at last and without even thinking Bodie moved forward, entwined their cocks within the silk and began to masturbate them both.
The silk felt like heaven against his cock. Sensual, erotic, almost beyond bearing. Bodie knew he was grunting like an animal but was too far gone to care. He bit at Doyle's neck and exposed his own to Doyle for him to return the favour, The other man obliged, biting hard in the way Bodie liked. At times he had accidentally drawn blood and then licked it off. It had occurred to Bodie on occasion that they might both be slightly perverted.
Another time there might actually be some finesse involved in this but right now it was all about desperation, release. Precum already streaked obscenely across the black material like some crazy river delta. Bodie held it to Doyle's mouth and the man obligingly licked it clean, green eyes holding his in a look that took Bodie to the edge of the precipice. So, this was what they meant when they talked about 'heaven on earth'.
Doyle suddenly clasped his waist. "Christ, I'm coming," he muttered.
Striving to hold his own release in check Bodie watched, mesmerised, as Doyle emptied himself over a pair of black French knickers he had lied to obtain. He ought to feel guilty about that and perhaps he might -- later. But as a fountain of milky fluid erupted from his own cock, cascading over his hand to pool in the knickers along with Doyle's, he doubted very much that he would have the energy for quite some time.
"How did you know this place was here?"
"Mmm?" Bodie was inhabiting a place of warmth and of sleep that he had no wish to return from just yet, thanks very much. Trust Doyle to think of a bloody question to ask. "What?" he repeated, groggily.
"I said, 'How did you know about this sumptuous and luxurious palace for the use thereof of sodomists with urges that would make most people's hair stand up on end?' It was like you knew it was here."
Bodie lifted his head off Doyle's shoulder experimentally. It was still there. He'd come so hard he wouldn't have been surprised if his head had exploded along with his cock. And now he was being required to play for time while he thought of a believable answer to said damnable question. After all, his lover probably wouldn't be too happy with, 'Well, it was like this -- I was picked up by a Norwegian Adonis who brought me here and did exactly the same thing to me as I just did to you, minus the floozy's knickers of course, but at least he managed not to ask me stupid questions while I was sleeping the sleep of the orgasmically sated and he thanked me in a rather a sweet fashion afterwards...'
"Well?" Doyle prompted.
Raymond Doyle was not someone prone to sweet proclamations of gratitude and a certain feeling of obstinacy was stealing over Bodie. "I need a drink."
"That doesn't answer my question."
"No, it doesn't, does it? But there's a plate of Shepherd's Pie and a pint of the landlord's best calling to me down at The Dolphin and that's where I'm heading before we start on the autopsies."
Bodie tidied himself up and pushed a rather soiled item of underwear back into its wrapping, without even looking at Doyle. Not that he couldn't feel the atmosphere as it did its inevitable Grande Tour of well known points of interest such as 'curious', 'disbelief' and now -- Bodie was sure -- 'outright suspicion'.
He ought to care, and he did, really he did. The question was a valid one and he was going to have to answer it at some stage. But Doyle needed to rid himself of this notion that he had some God-given right to tell Bodie what to do, that he could ask anything he liked and Bodie was obliged to answer. It was true that Doyle probably was slightly quicker than him, intellectually speaking, but that didn't mean that Bodie had any intention whatsoever of allowing Doyle to run their relationship. He could wait for his answer.
The sun forced Bodie to screw up his eyes as he emerged from the old shed. Mount's Bay glistened in the sun and he took a deep breath of tangy, sea air. He wondered if that was responsible for his appetites, and not just of the culinary variety. The air down here invigorated you somehow, so that you ate, needed sex, ate, needed sex... It was a never-ending cycle that, thinking about it, Bodie had no wish to see come an end. Life was very good indeed.
Waiting for his third pint to be served, Bodie nodded to an old chap nursing a tankard by the ever present fire. Every inn he'd ever had the pleasure of gracing with his presence kept a fire in all year round; given the dampness of some establishments and the noticeable chill in here, it was no wonder really. The old chap was watching him and Bodie smiled again, noting that he was dressed in a somewhat old-fashioned mode. There must be a summer fete somewhere around, one of those where everyone dressed in costumes from a bygone age. On the promenade perhaps. It was one of the widest and longest in the country and often staged fetes or band concerts -- the background of the wide Mount's Bay making a spectacular setting for special events.
Carrying his pint back to their table Bodie noticed that Doyle's food was barely touched and the man was staring distractedly out of the window. He was also still on his first pint. Bodie sighed inwardly. It was true that the man was not the biggest eater in the history of mankind but he could usually sink his fair share of fine ale. He was brooding, no doubt about it.
Bodie knocked the table leg as he took his seat and beer slopped on the table. He mopped it up distractedly with the sleeve of his jacket.
It brought Doyle out of his reverie and he frowned first at Bodie's sleeve and then at the man himself. "Going to be able to cycle home with all that inside you, are you?" he asked.
Bodie glared at him. "Up to me how much I drink, isn't it? I'm a big boy now, Raymond."
A toothy grin followed this statement. "Yeah, I noticed."
Stupidly, Bodie felt himself colouring. He looked around quickly. "Shhh," he admonished, "not here."
"The place is empty, Bodie. We got here before anyone else has even thought of lunch. You and you appetites!" Doyle leered again.
Bodie shrugged, inexplicably nettled. "We weren't the first, the old codger by the fire beat us by miles."
Green eyes swept the room and came to rest on the chair by the fire. Paying due attention to the very excellent Shepherd's Pie the landlord's wife was famous for, Bodie took a while to realise that Doyle was regarding the chair with a slight frown. Bodie followed his gaze and found the chair empty. "He must have left," he said, peremptorily.
"Yeah," Doyle nodded.
Bodie knew it wasn't so...and knew that Doyle knew it too.
"So," Doyle said, clearly wishing to fill an embarrassed silence. "Are you going to answer my question?"
It had to come, didn't it? There was no escaping it really but Bodie was still taken off guard. "Well, the thing is..." he began, his mind going in the direction of thunder storms and places to shelter from torrents of rain and broken down old sheds being a godsend when you were soaked right through to the skin.
"The thing is," Doyle interrupted, "why the hell shouldn't women ride bicycles?"
Bodie, in the midst of taking a fortifying swig from his glass, stopped swallowing mid gulp. He coughed, lost some of his beer down his chin and wiped it away with the back of his hand, but not before it had dripped liberally onto his shirt.
"See, women have got as much right to transport as we have," Doyle opined, sagely. "They should have the vote and all. Shameful the way they get treated. Some of your landed gentry think more of their horses than they do their wives. Treat 'em like reproducing machines. Had an aunt who was in service to some lord on the Welsh borders. Fifteen children his wife had! I mean, what does that do to your body, eh? I'd tell him to go and fuck his bloody horse..."
There were times Bodie reflected, when Doyle did not exactly make it easy for him to keep a straight face, and this was one of them. He nodded agreeably, too relieved not to be questioned over the ramshackle shed where they had scratched their itch -- well, Bodie's itch -- to bother to argue with Doyle over what was surely a valid point anyway. Women died in childbirth. It was a fact of life but one that had always made him very grateful to have been born a man.
Bodie finished his pint while Doyle ran on and the pub filled up. And the man began to eat at last which soothed Bodie because it was criminal to let good food go to waste. He got up to get himself another pint, and one for Doyle, glancing warily at the empty chair by the fire -- which had probably been empty all along -- as he waited to be served.
The landlord pulled the pints and they chatted about the weather. Bodie asked tentatively whether there was some kind of historical event on the promenade this afternoon. The man shook his head and said that he didn't know of any but if Bodie wanted he could ask someone when the next one was. His wife's mother always knew about that sort of thing -- come to think of it she fancied herself an expert on everything... Bodie grinned and said he knew the feeling.
Mixed emotions cluttered Bodie's mind as he made his way back to their table. It looked like The Dolphin had a ghost. He wasn't thrilled that it had chosen him to make its appearance to but at least Doyle seemed more cheerful and that had to count for something.
The pub was now very busy. The smell of beer and good food filled the air as men off the boats and surrounding docks quenched their thirst and filled their stomachs. Bodie had to push past several groups of drinkers and could not see Doyle at all amidst the throng.
He emerged at last at their table, pints slopping all over the place, including down his trousers, and raised his glass to take a long swig. It travelled about half the distance to his mouth and came to a halt as Bodie realised that Doyle had company. Male company. The second shock was that he knew the man. He was Norwegian and went by the name of 'Per'.
Amidst the cacophony of people talking and laughing Bodie's own world went perfectly silent. He was aware only of two men, one sitting, one standing; one with russet curls the other with the fair hair of the Scandinavian races, his blue eyes appraising the other man and liking what he saw. And no wonder. Doyle had draped himself over his chair, the remains of his meal pushed to one side. Legs spread wide, elbow crooked over the top of the chair, his body shouted, 'Look at me!' And Per looked. Bodie could see an interested bulge blossoming inside the man's tight trousers. This was a man looking for action of the carnal variety. It hadn't occurred to Bodie before but that was probably what the Norwegian did -- sailed from port to port picking up men for sex, and male appetites being what they were Bodie was certain such a beautiful man had no problem whatsoever finding what he wanted.
Coming to at last, but consumed with dread, Bodie moved to place the drinks on the table.
Doyle looked up and smiled. "Bodie," he began, "this is Per. Reckons he's from Norway. What about that then?"
Bodie straightened and met the Norwegian's gaze steadily. Recognition flashed between them and the other man's face softened into a surprised smile of welcome. It froze there as Bodie, deliberately keeping his face neutral, held out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Per. Norway did you say?"
He waited on tenterhooks for the man to reply with his charming English, offering up a prayer that he would not give him away. Unfortunately, it must have been God's lunch hour too. The man shook his hand and said, "We meet before? Is nice see you again."
Bodie shook his head slowly. "I don't think so..."
"Yes," the man persisted. "You buy wood for table, no? Was hard...you make good use." He grinned as he said it and Bodie coloured.
Acting as though he'd just had a sudden memory jog Bodie smiled widely. "Oh yes, I remember now. You were in the market. You brought the wood for my table around to Priest's Cove."
Per nodded, still smiling. "It good time. We do again when you have use for hard wood. Hmm?"
Bodie glanced quickly at Doyle and found him watching them both, eyes narrowed consideringly. He felt a surge of panic course through him but willed himself to hold his nerve.
That will was severely tested when Doyle said, "Why don't you join us, Per? Tell us all about Norway."
"Perhaps Per has friends waiting for him somewhere," Bodie interceded quickly, hoping against hope.
"No, I have no persons waiting," Per said, pulling out the chair noisily and sitting down. "Always nice have talks with mens interested in Per."
He winked again and Bodie's heart sank.
The wind had got up while the two men had been in the pub and a cold blast of air hit Bodie in the face as they stepped out onto the harbour front. He swayed slightly and was glad of Doyle's sudden arm about his waist, supporting him.
"Come on," the man said softly, "I think we'd better get you home."
Bodie sniggered. "I know what's on your mind," he said, tapping Doyle on the nose, "never off it, is it? Dirty beggar." He sniggered again.
Doyle smiled tolerantly, softness in his eyes. "Look," he said, "I want you to stay here while I go and get the bikes from around the back. Can you do that? Don't wander off. This is a dangerous area for a man in your condition."
"Constriction? What constriction?" Bodie grinned inanely and swayed again. He wagged an admonishing finger in Doyle's face. "You've got a dirty mind you have, Raymond Doyle. Filthy and disgusting. Thank God."
Green eyes went skyward. "Just stay here, all right?"
Bodie shrugged. "If that's what you want."
Doyle went off and Bodie had an unaccountable urge to lean against the wall. His legs weren't doing the job they were supposed to do for some reason. A man and woman, nicely dressed, clearly respectable, strolled past taking the air. Bodie waved to them and told them how good the beer was in The Dolphin, cheapest in town if they wanted to get rat-arsed. The woman was clearly shocked and the man quickened their pace, taking her away from the scene.
It was Bodie's opinion that some folk were too snooty by half. He told Doyle so when he returned with the bicycles.
Doyle stared at him. "What have you done?" he asked sternly.
"Just passing on a tip!" Bodie answered indignantly. "No pleasing some folk."
A long drawn out sigh escaped Doyle's lips. "I can see getting you home is going to be a barrel of laughs."
"Is it?" Bodie exclaimed delightedly. "Brilliant!"
Bodie had no idea why his housekeeper was so appalled. But she was looking at him in a manner that could only be described as accusatory.
"Yes. I suppose he is," Doyle agreed. "Not really his fault. Lot of people -- beer tends to slop a bit."
"You should see the other bloke," Bodie giggled.
"What 'other bloke'?" Mrs. Trembath asked sharply.
Doyle cleared his throat. "Some Norwegian..."
"A foreigner?" To a Cornishwoman this was tantamount to keeping company with Lucifer himself.
"My friend, Per." Bodie beamed, proud that he had exotic friends.
His housekeeper's eyes quickly met Doyle's. The man shrugged imperceptibly.
"He's a nice man!" Bodie protested. "Knows how to keep a secret, even though he can't take his drink like I can." Doyle stared at him in a manner he couldn't fathom. "'Smatter?"
The other man shook his head wordlessly. Bodie was suddenly very tired and pulled out a chair to sit down. Unfortunately, he miscalculated and would have landed on the floor if Doyle hadn't made a grab for him. It struck him as funny and he began to giggle.
"How in the good Lord's name did you get him back here in that state?" Mrs. Trembath asked.
"Same way I got him out of that cove, I suppose," Doyle sighed. "Grim determination. I wouldn't say 'no' to some tea, Mrs. Trembath." He looked exhausted all of a sudden.
The housekeeper turned away to see to the kettle. Bodie leaned his head on one hand and smiled adoringly at Doyle. "Don't worry," he whispered, conspiratorially, tapping Doyle on the arm, "you're much better at it than him."
All things considered, it was one hell of a breakfast. Two eggs, two rashers of bacon, two plump pork sausages -- the butcher's best -- a fat, red tomato, cut in half and fried until it had collapsed in a heap, and some left over potatoes, also fried until slightly crispy, exactly as Bodie liked. Well, usually. This morning he was hoping that if he stared at the plate long enough it would disappear, like the magic act he'd seen once where a rather portly magician had managed to make his beautiful assistant disappear in a puff of smoke. The music hall had erupted in a chorus of 'oohs and ahhs'; it was impressive stuff, all right. Even more impressive would be if Bodie managed to eat any part of this huge breakfast. He felt as though he were sitting in an enclosed bubble of smells. The bacon took precedence of course, smoked bacon was one of those all pervading aromas, but the sausages and eggs fought well and the combined efforts of each ingredient were winning: together they were making Bodie feel quite sick.
"Better eat that before it gets cold."
Bodie's gaze rose slowly to meet Doyle's. He stared at the other man wordlessly.
"Your breakfast," Doyle said succinctly, as though addressing an idiot, and pointing at the offending plate of food. "Don't let it get cold. Nothing worse than cold fried egg," and he shuddered dramatically.
"Yes, there is," Bodie muttered.
"What's that then?"
"Facing a full breakfast when you feel like I do."
Doyle snorted. "Best thing for a hangover, a good breakfast. Make a man of you."
Mrs. Trembath came bustling into the kitchen with Rascal hot on her heels. "I told you he wouldn't be able to face all that there food. And when's this 'ere dog goin' home, that's what I want to know."
Rascal came and rested his head on Doyle's leg, staring up at him adoringly. Doyle caressed the dog's ears and the dog closed his eyes in contentment. "Don't know, Mrs. Trembath, we haven't heard from John in a while. I wonder if everything's all right?"
The housekeeper frowned worriedly. "I 'spose we'd soon hear if 'twasn't. Bad news do travel fast, as they say."
Doyle nodded in agreement.
"Some fresh air is what he do need," Mrs. Trembath declared, regarding Bodie sternly. "Aggie's gentleman, that she do work for now, 'ave been asking when you two's goin' to pay him a visit. Why don't 'ee take him over there?"
Bodie opened his mouth to say, 'Not today, another time, I feel like death warmed up' but Doyle was on his feet and saying, "Good idea," and Bodie realised that the breakfast might not have to be eaten if he agreed to go.
"There's plenty of time for you to eat your breakfast first though," Doyle added.
Bodie wasn't certain but as Doyle turned away he thought he saw the ghost of a satisfied smile on the man's face.
Botallack was not far from Nanquidno, about six or seven miles all told, but it was far enough for Bodie to realise that all was not right with Raymond Doyle. Judging by what had happened in the kitchen this morning Bodie had hoped that the happenings of the day before had been forgotten. And if not forgotten then at least forgiven. But what there was to forgive he wasn't sure. He and the Norwegian, Per, had got rather drunk. What had been said was somewhat of a blur. Too late, he realised that drinking too much was a bad mistake under the circumstances; he had things he didn't want his lover to know and secrets and alcohol were about as good a mix as guns and madmen.
Now Doyle was quiet. He hadn't been particularly so back in the kitchen but Bodie wondered if that was for Mrs. Trembath -- for the sake of appearances. Or possibly just as a means to gain revenge in the shape of the mammoth breakfast he knew Bodie would not be able to face.
Not exactly the most sensitive of people, even Bodie could tell that there was now a bit of an atmosphere. He hardly felt like scintillating conversation himself but had, nevertheless, made an effort for the look of the thing. Doyle, though not precisely sulking, did not appear to want to talk. He appeared, from Bodie's observations, to be thinking very hard about something.
Knowing it was almost certainly to do with yesterday's fiasco, Bodie sighed inwardly. He'd know about it in due course. When Doyle was ready and certainly not before. He felt sick and it was not just because of the over-indulgence of the day before.
It was no exaggeration to say that Fergal McIntyre was delighted to see them. His sturdy, granite home stood away from the main village and looked down on the Atlantic from high cliffs, making Bodie feel that if he lived here he would never go anywhere at all. Today was a calm, sunny day and the sea wore its benign face; Bodie could easily imagine how it looked in an autumn gale, how wonderful it would be to look out on an angry ocean from the comfort of this wonderful library with a good fire warming the room. And Doyle of course. Doyle would be there with him, ready to coax him away from his books for long moments of pleasure on that huge, overstuffed settee that looked as though it had done sterling service in some old vicarage. Though what he was thinking of doing with Doyle would not precisely suit that setting...
"Mother was Irish, you see, and Father a staunch Presbyterian Scot." Fergal interrupted this debauched train of thought by explaining the origins of his name. "The household was not what you would call peaceful, Mother having a fiery temper and an independent streak and Father liking to be obeyed, without question, in all things."
Bodie observed the man closely. He was not tall, and his wavy hair was thinning almost to the point of baldness on top. Lively blue eyes spoke of intelligence and a ready smile of a good sense of humour. In his early fifties, Bodie guessed, and though not classically handsome there was a certain something about him that made him an attractive man if older men were your thing. Which for Bodie they weren't...he liked...well, Doyle as a matter of fact. He assumed, though, that when Doyle was middle-aged his preferences would change accordingly.
Bodie shook himself mentally to put a stop to these inane cogitations and tried to concentrate on what their host was saying.
"But they had eight children so Mother's temper couldn't have been that much of a drawback." Fergal grinned mischievously.
Bodie laughed out loud. "You never married?" he asked.
The man shook his head. "No, 'too bookish to meet anyone' Father said, and he was probably right, but things are never quite that simple are they?" He looked at Doyle as he said it and Bodie followed his gaze.
When Bodie's eyes met Doyle's he found Doyle regarding him steadily. "No," his lover replied, "they never are."
Mrs. Trembath had been right. Fergal had a library that most would give their right arm to possess. And books were not confined to that room either. There were books in the hall, books in the sitting room, books in the dining room, there were even, Bodie discovered when answering the call of nature, books piled up on a shelf in the toilet. He grinned to himself as he leafed through several books of poetry by the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge and then discovered a rather risque volume of Elizabethan verse that he'd never seen before. It seemed they weren't as fussy back then about which gender a person slept with. The knowledge put a big smile on Bodie's face.
"You've got books in every room." Bodie exclaimed as Fergal showed him his study. "Even the lavatory!"
Fergal laughed. "Well, yes indeed. My housekeeper complains endlessly but it's the maid who actually does the work, as you know, so I pretend to listen and then go my own way."
Bodie assumed the maid was Mrs. Trembath's daughter, 'Aggie', presumably known to this household as 'Agatha', though oddly she was nowhere in evidence today.
"I meant to tell your friend not to venture down into the cove," Fergal suddenly mused. "It's rather precipitous and people have been known to fall. Miners mostly, going to work, but one never knows."
After tea and cake had been served Doyle had declared that he fancied some fresh air and would they mind if took a stroll? Bodie had not been very surprised -- Doyle not being particularly bookish apart from tomes on the supernatural -- and had happily agreed to his partner's wishes.
"Don't worry," Bodie assured Fergal, "I don't think Doyle will be attempting any coves for a very long time."
Fergal frowned questioningly and, as they strolled around the downstairs rooms, Bodie enlightened him about the cove incident and also told him a little of the paranormal goings on in his home.
"Fascinating, absolutely fascinating," Fergal said when Bodie had finished. "I would say there is clearly a link between your house and that bracelet. To do with the events you witnessed in the cove perhaps?"
Bodie looked sceptical. "It's all a bit far-fetched isn't it, Fergal? I know Doyle believes in it but it's all a lot of stuff and nonsense really...isn't it? "
The other man smiled. "It's only now that the age of science and reason is upon us that we feel that way. It's not so long ago that people took the idea of ghostly apparitions quite seriously and accepted their existence as part and parcel of life and death. The clergy too. These days we think it's all a lot of rot but it isn't, you know. You of all people should realise that."
Bodie nodded. "I know," he conceded. "I've just never really wanted to acknowledge the things that happen to me. Partly because I don't want it. I just want to be plain old Bodie."
Fergal regarded him for a brief moment and then looked away, a smile playing around his lips. "Oh -- well, I rather think in your case that might be a bit much to ask."
Unsure of what the man meant Bodie opened his mouth to speak but Fergal cut him off. "Come upstairs and see the rest of my books," he said.
"There's more?" Bodie was astonished, the man must have a collection of thousands...
"Oh yes, many more," Fergal beamed and motioned for Bodie to follow him as he led the way upstairs.
As they made their way downstairs once more Bodie felt himself to be truly content. Fergal had an excellent book collection that held many volumes of Cornish content, concerning the wildlife, the landscape, the towns and villages, and even the folklore which he considered might be of interest to Doyle. And what's more, the man had made it clear that he and Doyle could visit whenever they liked and make use of his library. The private library in Penzance was now an irrelevance.
And Fergal was affable. It seemed to Bodie that he genuinely liked people and that the three of them should get on well.
The two men were laughing at a comment Fergal had made about Cornish peculiarities as they re-entered the library. Bodie stopped short, surprised to find that Doyle had already returned from his walk and was ensconced in one of the comfortable chairs, staring morosely out at the view.
He turned to observe the two men. "It started to rain," he said quietly, "so I turned back."
It occurred to Bodie that the correct word to describe Doyle's demeanour today was 'subdued'. He sighed inwardly. It was all to do with yesterday, of course. He knew he'd behaved stupidly and had perhaps said things he shouldn't have. He just wished he could remember what. Or was it just Per that was upsetting Doyle? Had he sensed an undercurrent? Probably. Doyle was perceptive to a fault. He was also insecure. Bodie hesitated to use the word 'jealous' -- his gut reaction told him it was not appropriate. What his gut failed to help him with was 'why?'. Why did Doyle feel he was not secure in Bodie's affections? It was ridiculous. Bodie adored him to distraction. Wasn't it obvious?
"Good," Fergal was saying, "these north coast cliffs are not suited to walking in the pouring rain. Too dangerous by half. I'll go and call for some coffee, shall I?"
He went off and Bodie regarded his lover. Doyle was once again staring out at the sea; Bodie wondered how much he was actually seeing. "You all right?" he ventured.
Doyle nodded distractedly.
"We were upstairs looking at Fergal's books. Well...other books." Bodie was annoyed at himself for the awkward feelings that were stealing over him. "He's got thousands here. You ought to look at some of his paranormal stuff. Ask him when he comes back... I'm sure he won't mind you borrowing a couple...he's a nice chap..." Bodie trailed off, realising that he was babbling and also that Doyle was not answering him. "Doyle?"
Doyle dragged his gaze away from the view and looked at Bodie, reluctantly it seemed to him. "What?" the man said.
"I'm talking to you."
A frown flickered briefly over Doyle's face. "I know."
Doyle shrugged. "Well, I can see for myself that he's got a house stuffed with books, thanks. And I can see he's a nice chap too. Very nice. What else do you want me to say?"
I want you to tell me what the hell is wrong with you, that's what, Bodie fumed inwardly. And what did he mean, 'very' nice? Something about his intonation jarred with Bodie. Instead, as Fergal returned, he merely replied, "Nothing."
"He be quiet."
Doyle had just taken Rascal out for his evening walk, making it quite clear that he did not require company. It was not precisely unknown for Doyle go out on his own with the dog but the manner in which he had dismissed Bodie bordered on the cruel. It hurt. And if the truth be known he did not wish to discuss it with his housekeeper. Being an observant sort of woman she had of course noticed that Doyle was quieter than usual. Bodie knew she wanted to know why. The problem was he could only guess at the answer to that question.
He stared at her over the top of his cup while she fussed about the sink, clearing up after their dinner. Eventually she turned to him for an answer. Bodie shrugged in reply.
"Don't 'ee know why?" she persisted.
"Not really. Do you?"
She leaned on the sink and appeared to consider the question carefully. "Well, you'm drunk as a skunk when he brought you home yesterday."
Bodie protested. "I wasn't that bad! Well...perhaps I was," he countered thinking about it.
"Bad enough," she replied. "But I seen our old parson on his knees afore now, crawling across the square 'cuz he were too soused to walk upright. Old mother Ellis swore blind 'twas he killed off her prize gladioli but we won't talk about 'ow exactly."
Bodie choked on a mouthful of tea. "This is the one who was found asleep over a woman's grave?" he said when he'd finished coughing. "He must have been quite a character."
"Mmm," she agreed. "You might say that. Then there was the vetinary's wife."
"His wife?" Bodie's eyes widened in surprise.
"Yes, couldn't leave the gin alone, poor soul. Good looking woman. Goodness knows where she picked up that habit. Saw her falling down drunk at St. Just feast one year. Three men had to carry her 'ome and then there was some business about what might, or might not, 'ave happened when they got there..." she added mysteriously.
"Tidn't funny! The drink killed her. Kidney failure. This was afore you came to live 'ere of course..."
"Well, I've no intention of making a habit of it so you needn't worry," Bodie reassured her.
Mrs. Trembath gave him a hard look. "Make sure you don't."
It struck Bodie that Methodism had a lot to answer for in this county.
"Anyway," she continued, "I don't imagine you'm the first person he've seen soused so it can't be that can it?"
"No," Bodie acknowledged.
"Did something happen at Mr. McIntyre's today? No... I ain't thinking, he were quiet afore that." So, she had noticed something. "What about this 'ere foreigner he talked about?"
It was time, Bodie thought to himself, that the police force started to admit the female sex into its ranks. They really were missing a trick.
"What about him?" Bodie did his best to appear nonchalant but must have missed it by a mile because she continued to assess him with her steely eyes.
"Did he upset Mr. Doyle, that's what!"
"Not that I know of," Bodie replied evasively. "He was even more drunk than me but not offensive that I remember."
Mrs. Trembath breathed out noisily, clearly exasperated. "Well, you'm better sort it out quick, 'cuz having him 'round the house in a sulk ain't my idea of no picnic."
Bodie agreed with her one hundred per cent.
It was two days before the bombshell fell and those two days were, in Bodie's opinion, quite miserable.
He had thought that their troubles would be solved in the bedroom that night. It was rare for them to go to sleep without sexual pleasure of some sort. Be it long and languorous or quick and desperate it was always intensely satisfying and communication would surely be easier as they basked in the afterglow.
It didn't happen. When Bodie returned from performing his ablutions Doyle was asleep. Or, more likely in Bodie's opinion, feigning it. He stretched a tentative hand towards Doyle and ran light fingers over his arm. Then pressed a little harder. No reaction. He supposed later that he should have been more assertive. Spooned himself into his lover's body, surrounded him with all enveloping arms and legs and hugged and kissed him into submission -- or at the very least into talking to him.
That he didn't, he decided later, was a huge mistake. Why he was unable he couldn't decide. Fear of rejection? Perhaps. Fear of talking and perhaps hearing something he didn't want to hear. Yes, almost certainly. Men didn't expose their feelings, did they? Talking wasn't a male thing: that was for women. They were the analysers of emotions and feelings. Men just didn't do that kind of thing.
And so he turned over and tried to go to sleep. Wanting to weep but not giving in because weeping over a lover was not what men did either, especially when said lover was probably awake and listening for any sign of weakness.
It was only much later it occurred to him that if only he had wept openly, that more than anything might have brought Raymond Doyle across the bed to his side.
The letter arrived as they were eating breakfast. Doyle had spoken in the intervening two days, but only when spoken to. Otherwise he kept himself to himself, clearly brooding heavily over something.
Bodie was in despair.
Mrs. Trembath had taken to eyeing him accusingly as though he were the one in a sulk, not Doyle. It was the outside of enough quite frankly and Bodie had determined to do something as soon as breakfast was over. He would drag Doyle out to the cliffs for a talk to clear the air. They would have to sort this mess out.
"I'm going away for a few days."
Mrs. Trembath stopped what she was doing to look first at Doyle, the one to speak, and then at Bodie. Bodie met her shocked gaze with a shocked expression of his own. She canted her head in Doyle's direction, a wordless instruction to ask.
Bodie first of all retrieved his heart from his mouth. Then, "What? I mean, why? What are you talking about?"
Doyle looked up from the letter he was reading, cool as a cucumber and almost as unresponsive. "One of my sisters is staying in St. Ives for the summer with her family. She's written to invite me to stay with them for a while. I don't see enough of my family so it'll be a good opportunity to catch up. See the children and so on."
And to get away from you. He didn't say it but Bodie knew it to be the truth. Under normal circumstances, Doyle would not have countenanced being away from Bodie for even a day let alone 'a while'. He probably meant a week, possibly longer. Because travel around here was not easy, you often stayed with friends or family for an extended period. Bodie felt panic begin to build. Would Doyle even come back? The man had been a wanderer before meeting Bodie, he felt sure Doyle would have no trouble whatsoever in slipping back into his former lifestyle.
He wondered if his eyes betrayed his hurt and his fear. If it was so, Doyle didn't seem to notice. Didn't even look at him if the truth were known. Bodie felt as though someone had punched him hard in the stomach. No, not 'someone' -- a stranger -- but Raymond Doyle, his lover, the love of his life, the one person in the entire world he could not live without was inflicting more pain than Bodie would ever have thought possible.
He longed to say, 'Please, don't go'. Instead he said, matter of factly, "When are you thinking of going?"
And Doyle answered, "Tomorrow."
It took no time at all for transport to be booked. Someone Mrs. Trembath knew would take Doyle, by horse and cart, along the north road to the town of St. Ives. A telephone call of two or three minutes duration -- the message to be passed along -- to arrange for Bodie's life to fall apart.
Doyle went off to organise his packing, leaving three shocked individuals. Two of them, Mrs. Trembath and Rascal, stared at the third, Bodie, accusingly.
"You'm not goin' to let him go?"
Bodie was dumbfounded. "How do you expect me to stop him? You know what he's like. The old queen was probably less stubborn than he is."
"Well, I'll give 'ee that," his housekeeper conceded reluctantly. "He do certainly know how to dig 'is heels in." She looked around the room distractedly. "But there's got to be something you can do."
Rascal woofed softly in agreement, coaxing a smile from Bodie. "Sometimes your best course of action is to do nothing, you know."
The woman frowned at him. "I don't see..."
"Let him do what he thinks he wants to do, Mrs. Trembath."
She smiled suddenly. "He do love it here. How long will it take 'im to get 'omesick I wonder?"
"Oooh, I should think a couple of days ought to do it. But I'll wait four or five days before I cycle over to visit the family, hmm?"
His housekeeper laughed. "You know, there's more goin' on in that there 'ead of yours than folk do give you credit for."
Bodie accepted the back-handed compliment for what it was worth and grinned widely as his housekeeper cackled, enjoying the conspiracy. Which was how Doyle discovered them when he came to enquire about clean socks. The shock on the man's face did Bodie's heart good, the bit that hadn't already gone into mourning for the loss of something special that he was not at all sure could ever be recovered.
It took every bit of Bodie's resolve to wave the love of his life off with a happy smile and a wish that he might enjoy his time with his family. The uncertainty that had taken up residence in Doyle's eyes since he'd caught Bodie and Mrs. Trembath laughing in the kitchen was breaking Bodie's heart. He wanted constantly to reassure Doyle that he was still loved, that he didn't want to be rid of him, but that would put his lover firmly back in the driving seat where he knew he liked to be. Bodie hadn't lived with Doyle for months and learned nothing about playing the game. Sometimes you just had to be patient and do nothing.
But 'nothing' proved to be more painful than 'something'...'anything'...ever had. Bodie missed Raymond Doyle with an ache that, at times, made him feel physically sick.
He rediscovered loneliness but now it was in a far worse form because now he knew what it was to have someone special in his life. He became reluctant to go to bed because bed was the one place where they'd been free to express their love openly, without fear of repercussion. Waking every day to Doyle had been something Bodie had cherished. They rarely failed to take advantage of early morning arousal, often making love in a frenzy as though they'd gone without for weeks, not a matter of mere hours. Thus, the worst time of the day for him was on waking, after that single oblivious moment when the mind has forgotten everything it knows and then suddenly returns to full awareness. That was when Bodie's world came crashing down around his ears. Doyle had gone. Might never come home. How the hell would he ever survive that?
In the event he survived the days without Doyle by keeping busy. Rascal got more walks than even his wildest dreams could imagine, the only problem being that walking gave Bodie too much time to think and remember who it was he usually walked with, and what they sometimes did....
He stripped down their bicycles, cleaned every working part and put them back together again, his mind refusing to imagine a scenario where Doyle's machine would never again be used. He smiled to himself as he recalled some of their bicycling exploits, the places they'd visited, the quiet spots they'd found for the relief of certain needs -- the cliffs at Lamorna being the first of many, he seemed to recall.
Another time they'd climbed up through some pine woods above an isolated cove. Doyle had slipped behind the thick branch of a tree, which hung at waist level, to relieve himself. The spot had a view down over the cove and out over miles of open ocean. Bodie had hardly been able to wait until Doyle was finished before coming up behind him, pushing him forward over the branch and fucking him senseless. With the breeze from the sea blowing Doyle's russet curls back into his face and the salty tang of the sea air filling his lungs, Bodie had felt like an invincible being, embedded inside Doyle. He had such a grip on his lover's waistcoat as he came that he was amazed afterwards not to have ripped the stitching. Doyle, too, had spread his seed far and wide, anointing the ground almost as liberally as he had when attending to his call of nature. They'd come hard. They always came hard, it seemed to Bodie. He wondered what accounted for it. If other men were like he and Doyle, it was no wonder their wives were permanently pregnant. Or that housemaids posed such a temptation to men with no scruples.
Bodie also tried to catch up on his reading. He visited Fergal and borrowed more books, but wished his heart was more in it than he knew it to be. Fergal had sensed this and probed a little, retreating again when Bodie told him that Doyle was away and made it clear the subject was not up for discussion. But still the visit had done him good. The man's enthusiasm and cheerfulness was a welcome distraction and Bodie made a mental note to make it up to Fergal for his moodiness at a later date.
During the visit, they talked at some length about Bodie's paranormal experiences. It occurred to Bodie that these things were much easier to talk to Fergal about than to Doyle. This engendered some feelings of guilt -- Doyle wanted nothing more than to rake over every experience he'd ever had and perhaps that was the problem. It was too much pressure, too many expectations that somehow Bodie felt unable to live up to. Fergal, on the other hand, just listened quietly adding a comment here and there.
He was much interested in the bracelet and expressed the opinion that sometimes inanimate objects could carry memories, rather like a gramophone record. But it took a certain kind of person to be able to play these memories back: Bodie was clearly that sort of person. It was nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed about, no more than having a talent for running very fast or being an excellent mathematician. Bodie begged to differ and Fergal had laughed but not pushed it. He was good company, Bodie reflected. Never demanding, never over stepping the mark. It would surely drive you completely mad on a permanent basis and Bodie had a moment where he missed his contrary Raymond Doyle so much it brought water to his eyes and a lump to his throat. What was his lover doing? Did he miss Bodie with the same physical pain that Bodie missed him? It was like losing a limb. No, worse than that, it was as though someone had robbed you of your soul somehow, leaving you aware of what you'd lost but with no clue as to how to retrieve it.
It was surely time to travel to St. Ives.
It meant an early start. Bodie packed an overnight bag, being unable to decide whether he could do the distance, there and back, in one day. Twenty-five miles did not sound like a lot to cycle but the coast road from St. Just to St. Ives was hard going. Even though the evenings were still light until past nine o'clock, he was not sure he would want to do it twice in one day. And at this time of year he was fairly sure he could get a bed and breakfast room for the night if Doyle's sister did not offer, or was unable to put him up. 'Taking in visitors', as the Cornish called it, was a way of bringing in extra income for families struggling to make ends meet. Lucky then that Cornwall had become so popular with the holidaying middle classes...of which he assumed Doyle's sister's family was one example.
As he stopped to survey the town of St. Ives from the top of the hill, Bodie wondered if he should have phoned ahead. He had not. His reasoning being that he wanted to take Doyle by surprise.
He sighed inwardly as he took in the view. Stunning was not an understatement. St. Ives had been built on a small promontory surrounding a natural harbour. Solid granite houses and cottages sprawled all over the hill, the streets resembling some insane version of a game of spillikins. It was picturesque in the extreme but not even close to Bodie's cup of tea. Something about the town was too quaint, too popular, for his taste: he much preferred the bleakness of St. Just and its surrounds. It never would be pretty or quaint and the majority of its residents would rather eat their grandmothers than 'take in visitors'. Perversely, this suited Bodie just fine.
The address Doyle had left with Bodie turned out to be on the opposite side of the town to the harbour and overlooked Porthmeor beach. Facing the Atlantic Ocean rather than the relative softness of St. Ives bay, the houses here bore an altogether sturdier, more solid appearance, as though aware that they needed to be made of sterner stuff. Bodie approved.
The house itself was a double fronted, granite building with a small front garden the like of which one found in seaside towns where space was at a premium. It looked jolly enough, Bodie reflected, as he opened the gate and ventured along the path to the front door. Someone clearly loved roses. The scents and the colours were almost overwhelming but he wondered how they fared when an autumn gale straight from Newfoundland ripped through the town.
A housemaid answered his knock. She regarded him warily until he mentioned what were clearly the magic words: Mr. Doyle. Her face lit up and then fell again in a rather comical fashion. She was sorry but the mistress was out and the rest of the family had gone for a stroll along the harbour front. Did sir wish to come in and wait or perhaps go down to the harbour himself to see if he could see them?
Bodie considered and plumped, in the end, for the latter course. The idea of sitting inside for what could turn out to be a long wait did not appeal. He thanked her, told her of his plans and asked if he could leave his bicycle somewhere safe. The fact that he had one at all had its usual effect but Bodie ignored the surprise written there and went to store the cycle away behind the house as per the maid's instructions.
It was a half-mile stroll down to the harbour. As he went Bodie saw ample evidence of extreme poverty in even this, one of the more prosperous of Cornish towns. Fishing was the thing here, and mining, always the tin mining. Back on the road he'd passed working mines but the industry was in decline with cheaper foreign tin fast becoming available. What when they went out of business? he wondered. The fishing and the farming would continue but more industry would be needed than that. Bodie's guess was that tourism would eventually fill the void and wondered what harm it would do to this solitary, windswept county.
So far, the family he was searching out was proving elusive. Bodie came to a halt and leaned over the railing to survey the harbour. The tide was out and four children were playing on the sands. Three had a ball and were boisterously throwing it back and forth, their laughter and screams typical of children the world over. The fourth, a boy, was apart from the others, kneeling in the sand quietly but steadfastly building a sandcastle.
Bodie smiled to himself and, sensing perhaps that he was being watched, the young boy looked up and smiled. Bodie straightened and took a step backwards in surprise. A shock of russet curls blowing in the breeze, wide green eyes, a sensuous mouth -- this was Doyle at about twelve years old!
"Ray, come and play!" the sole girl of the bunch called out.
The boy waved to her and said that he wanted to finish his sandcastle first. The other children shrugged and continued with their game.
Heart beating too loudly and beginning to sweat, Bodie fought to understand what it was he was seeing. Surely Doyle had never been here as a child? He'd certainly never mentioned it. How could Bodie be seeing a scene from the past that had never happened?
Unless Doyle was...
Panic hit him and turned his limbs to lead. Unable to move he could only stand and watch transfixed, his imagination taking him to the depths of hell. These horrific deliberations were suddenly interrupted.
The Doyle-child was on his feet and running. When Bodie saw who he was running to, his legs almost gave way beneath him. It was his Raymond Doyle.
The boy had to be one of Doyle's nephews. Feeling rather stupid and making a mental note never to tell his lover about this, Bodie took a deep breath to calm himself. And another...but that one froze in his throat as he saw that Doyle had a woman with him. Not just 'with' him but with him; she clung to his arm in a manner in which Bodie had always wished they could when they were in public. Only it wasn't acceptable for two men to act that way. But of course it was all right for her to do it even though Doyle wasn't hers. Was he?
And who was this woman anyway? Tall and dark haired, he wondered if she might be Doyle's sister but quickly realised that she was far too young to be the mother of these children. Who then?
For the first time since they had escaped the sinister cove with two phantom dogs snapping at their heels, Bodie knew real fear. He watched the children and two adults play ball together. Having fun. Lots of it. Their whoops of laughter echoed around the harbour making onlookers like himself smile. But Bodie couldn't smile. He watched in desolation as he realised that Doyle hadn't missed him or their home at all. Doyle was having a wonderful time, in fact. Doyle had replaced Bodie in a matter of days with someone who could give him what he probably hadn't even realised he wanted: children.
Retrieving his bicycle from the back of the house, Bodie's one thought was to get away from this wretched town. He should never have come. That would teach him to try and give people nasty surprises. He turned his cycle round and made to push it back to the road as quickly as possible -- almost careering into the housemaid.
She smiled at him. "Madam is at home and would like to speak with you."
Bodie stared at her blankly. "Who?"
"Madam. Mrs. Pritchard," she replied as though talking to a fool.
"Sister," the girl finished for him. "She's back ahead of the rest. I told her you'd called in and she said to watch for you in case you hadn't been able to find them and to make sure you came in to see her."
Bodie regarded her wordlessly. This was not what he wanted.
"And here you are," the housemaid said, looking a trifle awkward as though she had read his thoughts. "Would you like to follow me?"
No, Bodie thought, but what choice have I got?
Inside, the house was beautiful and immaculate. Doyle's family clearly had money, or his sister had married it. Bodie was shown into the drawing room which overlooked the back garden. French windows opened onto flower beds alive with blooms Bodie couldn't name but did remember that really posh people called this sort of thing an 'herbaceous' border.
Posh. He really hadn't thought of Doyle as such but had a nasty feeling he might have to re-evaluate that supposition. Amongst other things...
That pain again. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Are you quite well, Mr. Bodie?"
Taken by surprise, Bodie's eyes snapped open and he turned quickly, embarrassed. The woman who stood in front of him was older than Doyle by some ten years. Knowing Doyle to have a prodigious amount of sisters this didn't surprise him but the fact that she didn't resemble his lover did.
Coming to his senses, Bodie apologised. "I'm sorry I uh..."
"I expect you're fatigued," she smiled, "it's quite a climb up from the harbour. Let me call for some refreshment."
Something else Bodie really did not want. "Please," he said quickly, "I don't want to put you to any trouble. I'm just on my way..."
"Home," she supplied.
Bodie stared mutely at her.
"Without seeing Raymond," she added. "Or did you see him?"
Bodie felt himself colouring. Doyle might not be even remotely sensitive to the paranormal but this woman had an uncanny ability to read minds. He cleared his throat. Then, "Yes, I did see him. To tell you the truth I only came over to make sure he was all right. And judging by what I saw he is...all right, I mean...blissfully happy in fact, so there's no need for me to worry is there? So, I may as well..."
"Go home without speaking to him," she supplied again.
Bodie bristled. "You don't know that..."
"Possibly," she conceded. "But then you're not as knowledgeable as you thought, either."
"What do you mean?"
"He's not blissfully happy."
Hope springs eternal Bodie's mother used to say and somewhere deep within Bodie it stood up to be counted. "What do you mean?" he asked tentatively.
"I mean, Mr. Bodie, that all is not well with my brother."
Bodie snorted. "It often isn't. I'm surprised you can tell the difference."
He was rewarded with a brilliant smile. "I see you know Raymond well," she said. "I'm Caroline Pritchard." She held out her hand. "It's so nice to meet you at last."
They were just ten minutes into their tea and biscuits and Bodie had only learnt that the family were here until the first week of September and that Caroline's husband worked in London during the week and came down at weekends, when the door burst open and four children hijacked the room. Bodie smiled as the children all vied for their mother's attention at once and then studied his cup and saucer thoughtfully as the morning's fun on the beach was recounted in full. The woman on the beach was 'Louisa' apparently and she and Doyle had enjoyed the ball game as much as the children in their opinion. Bodie, his spirits having been lifted slightly by Caroline, found himself slipping into depression once more.
He was forced out of it when a hand insinuated itself between his cup and his thoughts.
"Hello, sir. I'm Raymond. How do you do?"
Bodie looked up to find Doyle's green eyes regarding him from a face fifteen years or so younger. It was extremely disconcerting. "I do very well, thank you," he replied gathering his wits. "I'm Mr. Bodie."
He shook hands with the boy, impressed with his manners, but then everything about Caroline Pritchard and her family impressed him.
"I know," the boy was saying. "You're a friend of Uncle Raymond's. I was named after him, you know. Do you think I look like him? People say I do but I'm not sure."
"I would say people are right," Bodie smiled, "you look a lot like him. Do you mind?"
The boy shook his head vehemently. "Not at all! People think we're father and son sometimes, it's an excellent wheeze!" He grinned mischievously and there was Doyle again but without the chipped tooth. "But er..." Raymond inclined his head confidingly, "Cousin Louisa doesn't like it."
"Cousin Lousia?" Bodie raised his eyebrows questioningly hoping this charming young man would elaborate.
"Yes. She's Papa's cousin's daughter. She's staying with us for a while to get over being jilted..."
Bodie's jaw hit the floor. "What?"
"Caroline, you really ought to do something about Raymond. He's an impossible little gossip, telling complete strangers the family's business..."
Whereas the atmosphere in the room had previously been convivial it suddenly turned icy cold. The young woman from the beach stood in the doorway giving young Raymond a look that would have frozen a lava flow. Everyone stopped what they were doing.
The boy coloured but squared his shoulders. "Mr. Bodie isn't a stranger, he's Uncle Raymond's friend and I don't goss..."
"Thank you, Raymond," his mother interjected. "And thank you, Louisa, for your kind advice." She smiled stonily at the other woman. "Hints and tips on how to bring my children up are always most welcome."
It was an effort but Bodie managed not to laugh.
"This is Mr. Bodie," Caroline said after a brief pause. "Mr. Bodie this is the daughter of my husband's cousin, Louisa Pritchard." Bodie got to his feet to acknowledge the woman. "Mr. Bodie is a friend of my brother's, Louisa. I'm sure you've heard Raymond mention him."
"You've got a bicycle!" one of the children, the girl, piped up. "And you ride around the countryside on it with Uncle Raymond. I don't mean that you share the same one, of course." She giggled becomingly. "Uncle Raymond has his own. Only, I didn't know Uncle Raymond could ride a bicycle..."
"Uncle Raymond can do a lot of things you don't know about, young lady." The voice came from the door and Bodie's heart missed a beat.
Not being a devotee of the romantic novel Bodie's reaction to seeing Doyle up close for the first time in days took him by surprise. Everything -- heart-rate, nerve endings, breathing, went into over-drive. It was all he could do to stay on his feet, let alone act like a rational human being.
Doyle regarded him steadily, giving away very little in his expression. The urge to walk over and kiss him senseless was practically overwhelming. He knew he was staring, drinking Doyle in like a man who had just crawled out of the desert on his hands and knees.
But this was dangerous. Bodie could feel a stirring in places that common decency didn't allow. Reluctantly, he dragged his eyes away from the man he loved with every fibre of his being and his gaze came to rest upon Doyle's sister. She was staring right back at him. They regarded each other for a long moment during which Bodie had some very odd notions indeed. This woman wanted something from him. Not just that, but he had the impression she knew. How much, he wasn't sure. But the woman was aware and he would need to tread carefully.
"Well, Mr. Bodie." Caroline said, interrupting his thoughts. "Two things. I'm perfectly sure you have no wish to bicycle all the way back to St. Just tonight so I hope you will accept our hospitality?" She stared at him, unblinking, the message clear. This was not a woman who begged but Bodie could read the pleading in her eyes.
"That would be an excellent arrangement," he told her, "but I wouldn't want to put you to any trouble, I can easily get a room for the night I assume."
"Of course you can," Louisa interceded quickly. "The woman across the road takes in visitors. I'm sure you would be very comfortable there."
"There's no need," young Raymond put in, "I can share with George. As long as Mr. Bodie doesn't mind my dinosaur bones."
"Your what?" Bodie couldn't stop himself grinning.
"My eldest son has an interest in dinosaurs," Caroline explained. "Though perhaps 'interest' is the wrong word."
She appeared to be searching for the right one so Bodie saved her the trouble. "It's all right," he said, 'I know his uncle, remember."
Caroline rewarded him once again with a broad smile. It was clear they both knew Doyle very well.
"I resent that!" It was the first normal utterance from Doyle in many days. The little bit of hope resurfaced in Bodie -- perhaps all was not lost after all.
"So, what was the other thing?" Bodie asked.
Caroline frowned and then remembered. "Oh, yes. I'd like to speak to you in private if you wouldn't mind, Mr. Bodie?"
Bodie blinked. "Of course not."
"Good. Then off you all go and leave us in peace."
She clapped her hands and the children left the room followed by Louisa. Doyle lingered, regarding them both doubtfully. Bodie avoided his gaze and eventually Doyle left, albeit reluctantly. Bodie noticed that Louisa had waited for him outside the door and wondered just how much company these two had been keeping.
Caroline sat down by the French doors and Bodie joined her. Scents from the garden drifted in and the quiet drone of bees mingled with the raucous calls of gulls circling in the sky above. Suddenly feeling his early start, Bodie sat up straight, realising he might need to keep his wits about him during this chat with Doyle's impressive sister.
"It's beautiful here," he observed, emitting a deep, contented breath.
The woman opposite him smiled. "It is indeed. This is the first time we've holidayed in this part of Cornwall. We like it so much that we're thinking of offering for this house so that we can come every year. The owner is a friend and thinking of selling, you know."
Bodie nodded. "I wouldn't blame you. It's a beautiful house."
"But you wouldn't live in St. Ives?"
Her intuition was impressive. "No. I prefer something less..." Bodie strove to think of the appropriate words.
"Predictable," Caroline interceded. "Wilder. You prefer the elemental to the calm and ordered."
Not being stupid, Bodie knew exactly what she was hinting at. He nodded imperceptibly.
She stared at him for a long moment, then, "Mr. Bodie, I want you to take my brother away from here."
Bodie regarded her, stunned into silence. "But, Mrs. Pritchard..." he eventually managed to say.
"Caroline." There were a hundred things he wanted to ask, eventually he settled on, "Why? He's only been here for five days."
"Oh, I can assure you that's sufficient time for Louisa."
Bodie regarded Doyle's sister steadily. "Is there a problem with her? Raymond said she was jilted."
Caroline's eyes hardened. "Yes, and no wonder. A lucky escape for young John Aldicot in my opinion. I won't go into the whys and wherefores of that but I will tell you a story. My husband went to Harrow, you know. All the boys on his side did. Partly family tradition but also it was thought that having family members already at the school would help new boys acclimatise. My husband, Richard, was a quiet, studious little boy, a little on the dumpy side, with not much of an inclination towards sport. Boys like that suffer at our public schools, Mr. Bodie."
Having been educated at a small private school, close to home, that he had attended on a daily basis, Bodie had no experience of the goings on at the country's more famous boarding schools, but he had of course read things. "So, I hear," he replied.
She nodded. "I see you understand. What you will find hard to imagine is the identity of the chief culprit. The ringleader of the bullies if you will."
"Who was it?" Bodie asked softly.
"Louisa's father, Lionel Pritchard. He is four years older than Richard. What you might call a dominant force in the family. My husband says he was ever that way even as a child -- always the one imposing his will on the rest of the children at family gatherings, manipulating, either with his will or if that didn't work, brute force."
"It's hard to believe he would treat his own cousin that way when he was away from home, and so much younger," Bodie exclaimed.
"It is, isn't it?" Caroline agreed. "I think, you know, that it is just in some people's nature to be forever besting everyone else. Richard was clever, our children have inherited it," she said proudly, though Bodie had never met a parent who did not think their own offspring brighter than all the others. "I think Lionel was jealous or intimidated, afraid perhaps that his friends would call him the stupid one of his family. Regardless, he took it out on Richard in ways I won't go into at the present."
Bodie regarded her thoughtfully. "Am I right in saying that you don't want your brother becoming entangled with the daughter of a bully?" he ventured. "It's not her fault her father..."
"What do you think of her?" Caroline interrupted.
"On an acquaintance of just a few minutes?"
"I'm a great believer in first impressions."
Bodie shrugged. "I wasn't immediately taken but then..." He broke off, realising he was about to say that women weren't really his thing. Colouring, he cleared his throat.
Was it his imagination or was there considerable amusement in those blue eyes?
Gathering his wits he said, "She seemed sharp. It was quite obvious that she doesn't want me staying here tonight."
Caroline did risk a sly smile then. "Of course not. You see, Mr. Bodie, Louisa is every bit as manipulative as her father. Worse in a way. Women don't use their fists, they use their brains to get what they want and Louisa wants Raymond. She's not having him. Take him away, please."
Bodie emitted a long drawn out breath and rubbed his forehead with two fingers. "The thing is, Caroline, we're not just up against Louisa here, we're up against Doyle. You know what he's like, he'd swear black was white if he felt in the mood to argue, which is most of the time, by the way!"
Doyle's sister laughed. "I know. And how bizarre that I should produce a son just like him. Luckily, my husband has always liked my brother and appreciates the same quirks in his own son. The truth is..." and here she hesitated. "I... I feel you have some influence with him. He's talked about you rather a lot. He is clearly...fond."
Caroline was looking anywhere but at him. Bodie could feel his heart thumping against his chest. An only child, he had no notion of how far siblings tended to be aware of the natures of their brothers and sisters. Or, for that matter, how most people actually felt about men like he and Doyle, or even women who loved each other. The church taught that it was utterly wrong but it was his experience that privately people were more tolerant than you gave them credit for. They didn't want to be involved or be told details but generally accepted that it happened and that there were worse things going on in the world today.
All the same, Bodie had no intention of admitting too much to a woman he already liked a great deal and did not wish to risk alienating. "We are good friends," he said tentatively. There, that ought to cover all eventualities...
The woman opposite met his gaze at last. What Bodie saw in her eyes scared him. "I love my brother, Mr. Bodie. My sisters and I doted on him, we spoilt him in all probability. But that's beside the point. I won't have him married to a woman who will make him miserable. Let's not mince words. You're a very good looking and personable man." Bodie blushed to the roots of his hair at this. "When he arrived a few days ago my brother was unhappy. Why, is not my business. I don't wish to know. But I am not a stupid woman. Certain things are obvious to me even though it is not done to discuss them in polite society. Believe you me, from where I'm sitting I see a man who is more than a match for Lousia Pritchard."
Bodie regarded her steadily, shocked to the core. "You can't possibly be saying..."
"Yes, Mr. Bodie I am saying. Above all things my brother must be happy. His letters to me indicated that he was blissfully so while living with you. She will ruin his life. It must not happen. I truly believe you do not wish it to happen either. Am I correct?"
Bodie nodded wordlessly.
"Good." She gave him a beautiful smile. "Then we understand one another perfectly."
It was horrifying, Bodie reflected, but he rather suspected they did.
Of course, it was one thing to know that your task was to remove Doyle from the clutches of a man hunting predator, quite another to achieve it. Bodie spent the rest of the afternoon observing the relationship between Doyle and Lousia and found himself unable to understand what was going on. To all intents and purposes it seemed as though she was leading him into who knew what and that Doyle had lost the energy to resist.
This was not the Raymond Doyle Bodie knew. They played games with the children and Doyle joined in, laughing and shouting with the rest. But, knowing him as well as he did, Bodie could sense an underlying unease. Almost a nervousness. What exactly was he afraid of? Bodie?
The answer was to talk to him alone. Not one to find it easy to talk about his feelings, Bodie himself felt nervous about this idea but felt it to be unavoidable. The family ate early, leaving the majority of the evening free and it was then that Bodie was able to suggest to Doyle that they take a stroll down to the beach. At once Louisa declared it to be a wonderful idea, saying how much she loved a walk after dinner. Bodie sighed inwardly. She clearly had no intention of letting the two men be alone.
He was saved by young Raymond who looked thoughtful for a moment. "But I thought you were going to teach Charlotte how to do her hair in that plait thing you do," he pointed out.
Louisa glared at him.
"We can do that another ti..." Charlotte broke off mid sentence and Bodie suspected she'd been kicked under the table by Raymond. "Oh. Yes. You did promise, Louisa. Pleeeeease," she pleaded.
Every face in the room was turned towards her expectantly. Reasonably, there was no way she could refuse but when she reluctantly agreed, Bodie was still surprised. Perhaps she was not made of the stern stuff they all supposed.
It was one of those still evenings that follow a hot, sultry day. The sun was low in the sky but the evening was still balmy and pleasant. Ordinarily a walk with Doyle in such circumstances would be a real pleasure but Bodie found himself hardly able to appreciate the beautiful summer's evening.
Bodie decided to break the ice by introducing a safe topic: Doyle's sister, Caroline, and her family. "I like your sister," he said simply.
This appeared to please Doyle a lot. He smiled gently. "Do you? Good. She was always my favourite. She married well and I thought I would lose her but I should have known better. She had no intention of losing touch and Richard is very easy going. Caroline always understood me better than anyone."
"Yes, I got that feeling too."
"How do you mean?" Doyle asked.
"Nothing really, just that she wants you to be happy."
Bodie chose to ignore that. They both knew it wasn't true.
"Your niece and nephews are nice children, too. Can't believe how much like you Raymond is. Uncanny."
"Mmm," Doyle agreed. "Apparently, she took one look at his green eyes when he was born and insisted he be named after me."
"Your brother-in-law must be a very tolerant chap, the eldest boy is usually named after the father."
Doyle smiled again. "Well, yes, Richard is tolerant but in point of fact Raymond is not the eldest." Bodie turned to Doyle, surprised. "No, he's their second son. The eldest, who was called Richard like his father, died aged three of the influenza. Little Raymond was a year old and they were terrified he'd get it too. Luckily, he didn't."
Bodie was appalled. "Life's a bugger sometimes, eh?"
Doyle nodded. "Beautiful child he was too. Head full of blonde curls and bright as a button. Christ knows how a parent copes with losing a child like that."
They walked on in companionable silence until they reached the beach. Once there, Bodie perched his rear end on a large, flat rock and motioned to Doyle to sit beside him. More than anything he wanted to drape an arm around the other man's shoulder and draw him into his embrace but, as always, knew that was impossible. And not just for of the impropriety of the thing either -- he had no idea if Doyle would welcome such an advance. Sadness washed over him like the tide that was advancing rapidly up the sands.
It was time to ask the question. "When were you thinking of coming home?"
"Home?" Doyle's vagueness shocked Bodie.
"Yes, 'home'. You live with me, remember?" Bodie tried to inject some lightness into his tone but was sure his sudden panic was all too obvious.
"To be honest, I don't know, Bodie."
"Why?" It was too late to back down now and anyway Bodie needed to know for the sake of his own sanity.
"I'm not sure..."
"Not sure!" Something inside Bodie snapped. "What do you mean 'not sure'? One minute I'm the centre of your existence and the next minute you're so wrapped up in some floozy you've forgotten where your home is!"
"You're a fine one to speak."
Doyle's voice was expressionless and it stopped Bodie in his tracks. "What do you mean?"
Doyle didn't answer.
"Well?" Bodie insisted.
"A little matter of a certain Norwegian that I'm not supposed to worry about apparently because I'm, 'quote'...'better at it than him'. And I still haven't worked out where Fergal comes into all this."
It was strange, Bodie reflected, how fear had crept into his life at about the same time Doyle had. He supposed when you had nothing to lose fear was mostly absent but, when suddenly you had something precious, the fear that you might one day lose it became your constant companion. And now he really did have some explaining to do.
First the easy part. "Fergal doesn't come into it. Nice chap, nice books, end of story."
"Per doesn't have any books though, does he? So what's the excuse for him?"
"Excuse? I don't need an excuse to have friends, Doyle," Bodie pointed out wearily.
Silence. Then, "No. Sorry. But just tell me will you?"
Bodie emitted a long sigh. "I came across him several years ago. Bought some wood off him on a market day. Long before I knew you. Years. Shared a grope with him in that shed we were in, once... and only once. Honest to God, Doyle, that's all there is to it. I love you, God help me, and I want you to come home because I'm really struggling without you." His voice caught and for one awful moment Bodie thought he was going bawl like a girl. He stopped himself and sniffed loudly.
"No need to cry," Doyle said softly.
"I'm not." Bodie snapped. Doyle handed him a handkerchief that could have doubled for a sheet and Bodie blew his nose. "I just need to know," he said, sniffing again, "if you still love me."
"Bloody hell, watch out!" Doyle suddenly yelled as a wave came crashing towards them.
Bodie wasn't quick enough and was soaked up to his knees but Doyle was faster and remained dry as he stood further up the beach laughing at Bodie's misfortune.
"Come on," Doyle said, "let's get you back and dried off. Be prepared for the children to have some fun with this."
The question remained unanswered for the moment but at least, Bodie reflected, he hadn't said 'no'.
The children did indeed have some fun with a Bodie whose shoes squelched as he walked and left footprint shaped puddles of water all over the beautifully tiled hall floor. He grinned sheepishly at their jibes and plodded through to the kitchen where cook and a kitchen maid fussed over him a little more than was strictly necessary. Doyle, perched on a corner of the table, silently watched.
Barefoot at last with his legs encased in old towels in case he should 'take a chill', Bodie clutched a mug of hot tea and looked across at Doyle.
"You can't help it can you?" Doyle said quietly.
Cook and the maid had moved away and begun peeling vegetables for the next day but covert glances from that direction informed Bodie that he was being discussed. He turned back to Doyle and found himself being regarded. The look in the other man's eyes was gentle but held a certain sadness that frightened Bodie.
"Look," he said, keeping his voice low. "You might be right for all I know but...it's just stupidity."
"Who is?" Doyle's eyes flashed dangerously.
"No one," Bodie countered quickly. "I mean the situation. None of it means anything much to me. It's fun. It's certainly better when people are nice to you instead of being confrontational or just plain nasty. But, when all's said and done, Doyle, that's all it is: nice. It bears no comparison to my relationship with you. My life with you is everything to me. Don't tell me you don't know that?"
Doyle had picked a fork up off the table and was twiddling it distractedly around in his hands.
When he didn't answer Bodie prompted him. "Well?"
"You don't trust me," Bodie stated rather than asked.
Green eyes met his and Bodie knew it to be true.
"Explain it to me because I really don't understand." Bodie said wearily. "I've never given you cause to feel like this, Doyle. Never looked at anyone else since I met you. And very few before if the truth were known."
A moment of silence while Doyle seemed to consider, then, "My father was a difficult man, Bodie, and not only with his children. My mother put up with..."
"Oh, there you are!"
The voice interrupting them was that of Louisa Pritchard. Bodie cursed silently. He'd been about to discover something really relevant, he was sure of it.
The woman marched into the room, glanced dismissively at Bodie, and turned to address Doyle. "Raymond, we're planning a picnic for tomorrow. Come and cast your vote for where you would like to go."
She had hold of Doyle's arm, which struck Bodie as being entirely inappropriate but Doyle didn't seem to mind. Was smiling warmly up at her as a matter of fact. Bodie's heart sank. He was an intruder here and this woman was seeking to underline that by excluding him.
Doyle got to his feet and had to physically prevent Louisa from pulling him away. "What are your plans for tomorrow?" he asked Bodie.
"I'm probably going home." Bodie's reply was toneless and unenthusiastic.
"I'm sure Caroline won't mind if you want to..."
"No, I think I've intruded long enough." Bodie stood and made to walk away, forgetting the towels wrapped around his legs. He stumbled and made a grab for the chair to save himself. Ordinarily Bodie would have found this just as amusing as his two companions clearly did. Except that he had no wish to look like a fool in front of this woman and was it his imagination or were they really laughing at him not with him? Blushing, Bodie removed the offending towels and flung them at the chair.
"Are you coming, Raymond?" Louisa's voice was insistent. It was clear to Bodie that she had dismissed him as being of no importance. And perhaps she was right.
Bodie looked hard at Doyle as he was dragged across the kitchen. Their eyes met. Bodie, his mouth set and eyes hard, said, "Goodbye, Raymond."
He had the satisfaction of seeing the man brought up short, read shock and confusion there, and then, purposely and deliberately, Bodie turned his back on it all.
The journey back to St. Just went almost completely unnoticed by Bodie. He narrowly missed being run over by a farm cart and a chicken running across the track almost dismounted him at one point. The road went through some of the most stunning scenery in the county but none of it penetrated Bodie's black, depressed mood.
Eventually, somewhere around Zennor, he stopped for a rest and to eat the lunch Caroline's cook had pressed upon him. He stared out at the Atlantic Ocean -- startlingly blue today and apparently without end -- and allowed himself to wonder what lay beyond. Canada. Perhaps that was what he should do -- emigrate and start a new life? For the life of him he couldn't see how he could remain in the same country as Doyle with Doyle married and bringing up a family. The chance, remote as it was, that he might run into him one day was more than he could bear. How could Bodie stand to see what was his, existing quite happily without him?
And it was quite clear to Bodie that that was what Louisa Pritchard intended. The rest of his stay at the Pritchard house had been unbearable. Somehow the woman knew she had won, although whether she had any real idea of what she was up against he had no clue. He thought not. It didn't occur to most people that two individuals of the same sex were necessarily intimate and sharing a life together. He suspected she merely thought there was a deep friendship and that Bodie had a hold on Doyle that she needed to supersede.
As the family made plans that evening for an outing to Carbis Bay, Louisa had monopolised Doyle completely. Not being part of their plans, Bodie could only sit and watch from the sidelines. He had not been ignored, young Raymond and Caroline had both tried to persuade him to stay longer but, feeling the situation to be hopeless, Bodie had resisted. Overriding all was the knowledge that he was not trusted by Doyle, never really had been perhaps, and as he saw no way of reversing this, it was best to withdraw and wait to see what happened.
He'd only had time for the briefest of chats with Caroline before he left this morning.
Stumbling over his words, he told her he thought he'd failed and apologised. Louisa was clearing a conniving young lady and Bodie felt Doyle's uncertainty about many things counted in Louisa's favour, not Bodie's. Caroline was not quite so sure and seemed more hopeful. Made a passing remark that her and Doyle were nearly always in agreement about matters and she knew who she would choose. Bodie had smiled warmly and expressed a wish that they would meet again. Caroline, it appeared, was convinced of it. Bodie envied such certainty.
Staring out at the ocean he knew the ball was now in Doyle's court. It rankled. Throughout their acquaintance he had striven to deal with the man on equal terms. He felt he owed it to himself not to let his quick tempered, curly haired imp of a lover have all the control. Where had it got him? Well, here to be precise. Sitting on a cliff, alone, and wondering if he still had a relationship to speak of.
Well, that would be for Raymond Doyle to decide. If he still wanted Bodie, he would have to come looking for him.
Bodie was not a praying man, had never had much time for organised religion in point of fact. Leaving aside the habit of a lifetime, he closed his eyes and prayed.
The first of the autumn gales had arrived early. Although, technically, the first week in September was referred to as late summer, to Bodie it always felt like the beginning of autumn -- his favourite time of year. This was the season Cornwall came into its own as gales and storms whipped seas into a frenzy sending huge waves crashing into the very cliffs it, in its fury, had helped to form. 'Self-perpetuating' Bodie thought that was called, though he wasn't sure. Doyle would know...
How long was it? Six weeks. It felt like six years.
Bodie stared out of the window at a piece of gorse that was hurtling around the yard, blown hither and thither by the ever increasing wind. The evenings were rapidly drawing in but, under a sky of ominously black, scudding clouds it was going to be dark early tonight.
Behind him Rascal whined uneasily.
"What's the matter, boy?" Bodie went over and got down on his knees to give the dog a hug. It was gratefully received and rewarded with a lick. It was the closest Bodie had come to being kissed since Doyle had gone.
"You miss him too, don't you?"
Rascal whined even louder.
"It's no good asking me," he said. "I don't know when he's coming back. Thank God I've still got you, eh?"
It seemed that John Harvey was on the verge of setting up home with his sister in London. London, it seemed, had surprised the man by getting under his skin. He loved it. To Bodie it was incomprehensible. Mrs. Trembath said sniffily that it took all sorts and she would never have believed it of John, as though he had run naked and screaming obscenities through the town or started stealing women's underwear off people's clotheslines like that headmaster's son, in Penzance, last year. The family had been so ashamed they up and moved to Scotland. Bodie presumed the weather was much more severe up there and maybe people didn't hang their washing outside quite so much...
His thoughts were rambling. It happened a lot since Doyle had gone. Not enough to keep him occupied, and no one to talk to, that was the trouble. Mrs. Trembath said as much on a daily basis as though Doyle's going had been his fault. Which of course it was. Mostly.
Not wanting to lose everything that was dear to him, Bodie wrote to John to say that if he considered London no place for a dog used to the open countryside then he would willingly give Rascal a good home. He knew only too well that London had more parks than any city in the world and also knew that John was very attached to Rascal. But still he hoped.
He lit the lamps and closed the curtains on the night.
Dickens -- that was the thing. Bodie had decided that if Dickens couldn't take his mind off his troubles then nothing could. He hefted Bleak House off the table, removed his bookmark and prepared to read about John Jarndyce's unrequited love for Esther Summerson. Poor man. He knew just how he felt.
Rascal settled about his feet and Bodie wished it was cold enough to light the fire for the two of them.
Sometime later he decided it was. The wind was howling down the chimney and driving the beginnings of the rain hard against the window. Bodie shivered and wished he'd laid the fire in earlier. As it was he would have to trek out to the coal shed for coal and kindling. Was it worth it? He laid his book aside -- rather gladly as a matter of fact, Esther had the small pox and Bodie was afraid she might die -- and looked at Rascal.
"Shall I light the fire, Rascal?"
The dog sat up expectantly.
"No, I didn't say 'food' I said 'fire'." Rascal lay back down again, a clear look of disgust and disappointment on his face. Bodie laughed. "Daft dog."
He went into the kitchen to make himself some tea and find something to eat. Mrs. Trembath had made a batch of Cornish fairings today, he was sure of it. But wouldn't the excellent ginger biscuits, dunked in strong tea, go down much better beside a roaring fire? Yes. Most certainly they would. They'd go down even better after wild and desperate sex with Doyle... His cock twitched in agreement.
Bodie sighed inwardly. After such bliss, going back to using your right hand was a severe anti-climax. He smiled at his inadvertent pun. But God, how he missed Doyle's hands all over him, his mouth on his, possessing him with lips and tongue; the way the man's tongue flicked so erotically over his cock-head; the look in the man's eyes as he used the very tip of his tongue to probe the tiny slit; the feel of Doyle's own cock as it slid deep into Bodie's all too willing arse; the little twitch it always gave against his prostate the moment before Doyle erupted inside him...
Rock hard now, Bodie rubbed himself against the sink, building up a rather splendid friction through his trousers. It felt good...very good...though not even remotely as good as Doyle, but beggars couldn't be choosers. A groan began in the depths of his chest and he set it free. It erupted as a half growl, half gurgle and echoed around the empty kitchen.
So close now to filling his underpants, Bodie stopped as a sudden noise from outside penetrated the fog of his arousal. He opened his eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. Opening the curtain a crack he peered out into the darkness and saw a light.
It seemed to be coming from the outhouse though it was hard to tell through the darkness and a window streaming with rain. Knowing he had to go that way anyway to get the coal, Bodie went to get a coat.
With some trepidation he stood on the doormat, clutching the coal scuttle and regarding the door. He ought to leave well alone really. Not only were the weather conditions outside appalling but the outhouse, where Mrs. Trembath did the washing, was the place Rascal wouldn't enter. The place that occasionally gave him the creeps if he had to go in there late at night. What was he doing? It was probably just a tramp anyway, looking for a place to spend the night. Except that Bodie knew any tramp worth his salt would be over at the Pascoe farm, a mile away, making himself comfortable in the barn amongst some nice warm hay.
He had to check.
Cautiously, he opened the door. He needn't have bothered to be careful. A ferocious gust ripped the latch from his hand and sent the door crashing against the wall. Grabbing it firmly, Bodie pulled it to behind him and stepped out into the maelstrom. Just a few minutes ago he was in a very nice place indeed, anticipating a warm flooding of his trousers around his nether regions. Now he was out here fighting the elements, for no discernable reason that he could think of. It was indisputable: he was mad.
The coal scuttle rattled abominably as he made his slow way to the shed. Reaching his destination at last he stood with his coat at right angles to his body, his short hair standing up on end and his eyes watering -- all the work of the wind. None of this disturbed him one bit. What did disturb him was the light showing under the outhouse door and the all too apparent smell of smoke.
He placed the coal scuttle on the ground where it promptly blew over and began to roll back and forth. Bodie ignored it. Reaching out he opened the door and stepped into hell.
Wood was stacked all around the outhouse. Some of it was alight and Bodie quickly realised that it was about to become an inferno. In the middle of the room were two people. Somehow, Bodie knew they weren't real. Knew none of this was real and that it did not have the power to hurt him. Although why this did not and two dogs on a beach did, he couldn't say. Or why he could smell the smoke but knew it couldn't harm him.
He watched in a dream as a man he felt he had seen before leaned over a girl lying bruised and battered on the floor. The man did not appear to speak but nevertheless Bodie heard his voice in his head. A broad Cornish voice, dripping with malice, told the girl she'd been warned. She wouldn't take a husband and had persisted in her unnatural attachment. She was now going to die and join the foreigner upstairs.
Bodie watched in horror, unable to move. The fire spread. He heard the girl's screams and saw what was happening to her flesh. Saw the man's terrible smile as the girl died an agonising death. Watched as he covered his hands with his coat and gingerly removed a bracelet from the girl's arm and then made his escape as pieces of burning timber crashed down around them all...
A terrifying blackness engulfed Bodie and he fainted dead away.
Barking. A voice. More barking.
Bodie raised his head and found it hurt. He lowered it again. For some reason he felt glad to be alive. Sore, but at least not dead. That had to be a good thing, he supposed.
A door crashed open and let the wind in.
"Shut that bloody door," he muttered, "it's fucking freezing in here."
Something very wet hoisted him to his feet. Liquid seemed to be running down his face too. It must be rain Bodie thought, which surprised him as he'd thought the shed was weather proof.
"Look for the leak tomorrow," he murmured.
"Christ, Bodie," a voice said. Bodie knew he should recognise it but his brain didn't seem to be functioning properly for some reason best known to itself.
Outside, the wind nearly knocked him and his saviour off their feet. The dog was still barking and Bodie tried to remember his name. "Quiet, Rover," he muttered once again. Then, "She's upstairs. She's foreign."
"Who is? Oh bugger, just shut-up and let me get you indoors," the voice ordered.
It seemed like a good suggestion in the circumstances so Bodie did as he was instructed. They made their way slowly across the yard, battled successfully with the front door and got themselves inside.
Leaning against the wall in the hall, eyes closed, utterly exhausted, Bodie slid slowly to the floor.
Someone was sniffing his face and whoever it was was not being very elegant about it. A rough tongue liberally anointed his cheek.
"Geddoff, Doyle!" Bodie muttered. "If you want a kiss do something about your breath first."
A wet nose indicated he had the wrong culprit and a throaty laugh confirmed this assessment.
Bodie sat upright and immediately regretted it. He winced and put his hand to his head and discovered a dressing on his forehead.
"You hit your head on the mangle," Doyle said, matter of factly.
Bodie gazed at him from his place on the settee.
"Sorry about this," Doyle was saying, gesturing to the couch. "Couldn't get you upstairs, too bloody heavy. Must be your Cornish cuisine eh, Mrs. Trembath?"
Bodie turned to see his housekeeper standing by the fire. She beamed at what she probably considered the best compliment in the world.
Light flooded in through the window. It was morning -- the morning after the storm presumably. He tried to remember what had happened and remembered instead that he'd just mentioned kissing Doyle in front of his housekeeper. He coloured and leaned back against the arm of the settee. "I must be delirious," he said, hoping she would accept that.
"You're somethin', that's for certain," the woman said. "I wouldn't like to put a name to it."
She and Doyle laughed then and Bodie bristled. "It's cruel to mock the afflicted," he complained.
"Afflicted! That be it!" Mrs. Trembath agreed, triumphantly. "Cousin Gertrude was the same. She got in the family way one midsummer's eve and swore blind 'twas the devil did the deed. Trouble was, the babe was born with her uncle Jeb's jug ears and squint and there was so much gossip, they put her away, being as he was over sixty with hardly a tooth left in his 'ead, though 'is missus always did look proper pleased with 'erself if you knows what I mean..."
Bodie stared at her, trying to make sense of what she'd just said and failing miserably. "But I'm not pregnant," he said.
She rolled her eyes and shook her head at Doyle. His smile seemed to sympathise with her assessment. "Something nice for breakfast perhaps?" he suggested, then. "I've missed your food, Mrs. Trembath."
She gave him a disbelieving look but left them anyway.
"You came home," Bodie said when she'd gone, settling contentedly into the cushions and pulling the eiderdown back over him. There was a lot more to be said and discussed but somehow very little else seemed to matter at the moment and talking could wait. He hoped there would be time enough.
Doyle came over and sat beside him. "Mmm. I walked," he admitted. "Took me all day and half the evening. Bloody soaked I was when I got here!"
Bodie was astonished. "From St. Ives? Good God, Doyle!"
"Exactly! And what do I find when I get here, wet through to the skin and looking for a bit of home comfort, if you get my drift..." He winked lewdly. "I find you on the floor in the wash-house muttering about having a foreign woman upstairs in your bedroom. She'd better not have been wearing my French knickers, or there'll be trouble, that's all I can say..."
Bodie laughed and then winced at the pain in his head.
"Might as well go back to St. Ives, if that's the treatment I'm going to get," Doyle said quietly.
Bodie closed his eyes. "You just try it."
"You're not in any fit state to stop me," Doyle observed.
"No, but there's woman in the kitchen who's had to put up with my moping for weeks on end. She'd halt the Mongol hordes if the situation required it and take it from me it does."
"Missed me have you?"
Bodie could feel himself slipping into sleep. "Give us a kiss," he murmured.
Warm lips covered his and Bodie decided it was the best goodnight kiss he'd ever experienced first thing in the morning and that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be all right.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Secret Agent Men 8, Requiem Publications, October 2006