Sequel is Loose Change
CORNWALL, MAY 1799
He stood at the cliff edge, staring into the cove below, watching the small, urgent figures scurrying from tide-edge to points well beyond the waterline. The rain had eased, although the wind still drove in from the sea; the darkness was broken by flares dotted along the beach.
His face expressionless, Bodie watched as the dead and the injured who had already been swept ashore were stripped of everything of value. It had been a hard winter for the village; the supplies taken from the wreck meant food for hungry bellies and loot to sell if the villagers could strip the ship before the militia arrived. He saw one of the waterlogged figures stir in protest when his pockets were emptied; a cudgel flashed down and the feeble resistance faded. Within seconds the half-naked body had been returned to the sea.
Unmoved, Bodie continued to watch the activity. He was empty of feeling, either for the villagers, or for their victims. His hands dug deep in the pockets of the dark greatcoat which billowed around him, he watched incuriously as spoils were examined, fought over and allotted. There was nothing to interest him here. Recently he had begun to wonder if anything could ever engage his interest again. Non-involvement, that was the secret, he reminded himself tiredly. There were times when he wished he had never learned to open his heart to another, for he had found no easy way to deal with the sense of loss which seemed to sharpen rather than blunt with each year that passed.
Shrugging off his melancholy mood, impatient with himself for wallowing in self-pity, he turned to return to the house, which was empty save for the servants. Impulse took him down the slippery track to the beach, the large hound padding steadily at his heels.
The wind was strengthening, shifting the wreck's position on the rocks. She would not last much longer. The villagers took no notice of the man who had come amongst them, for he and his dog were familiar figures. The relative calm of the busy scene was broken when a fight broke out between two women Bodie did not recognise. Abuse changed to violence when neither woman would give up her prize. Their shrieks sounded above the roar of the incoming tide.
The large figure of the blacksmith lumbered out of the darkness. "D'you want to bring every red coat in the county down on us?"
The women ignored him. He felled her with a hammer-like blow and she dropped like a stone. The other woman whimpered but held her ground, her breath rasping.
"Get goin'," he bellowed, waving a clenched fist.
She fled. Without sparing her a second glance, the blacksmith busied himself with ramming heavy curtaining into the empty chest he had appropriated, before he dragged it further away from the waterline.
Great spars of timber were being tossed nearer to the beach; they would burn well in empty hearths. A ragged chain of villagers waited eagerly, some wading out into the surf to meet them, determined that nothing of value should be lost to the sea. Turning his back on the sight, and quelling his impulse to lend his strength to their endeavours, Bodie headed for the rocky boundary that guarded the flank of the cove. Spray hung whitely over its outer rim before thundering down to froth lacily over the jagged rim and trickle along it, force spent.
It was the dog who found the half-drowned figure of a man tucked in the shadows. His sharp bark drew his master's attention.
"What is it, boy?" Bodie asked softly, silencing the hound with an inconspicuous gesture of his hand.
The man lay face down on a door which had become wedged in the rocks. His wrists were manacled and only the tangled links of the chains, which had wrapped themselves around the ornate door latch, had prevented him from being swept from his makeshift raft. Bodie studied the limp figure thoughtfully, knowing from the reaction of his dog that the man lived, despite his appearance to the contrary. He could make out little detail because of the shadows in which the man lay, except for the pale blur of his shirt. His voice carried down the beach as he called for some light.
Reluctantly Tom Chegwidden set down the wooden chest and looked around. Will Simmons automatically gave up his own flare before going back about his business; he wanted no part of Mister Bodie's.
Chegwidden took the torch with a grunt of acknowledgement and slid across the stones high above the waterline to reach the two figures. As he drew closer his sharp gaze went past Bodie and his dog to the blurred outline behind them.
"Be ye needin' any help, sir?" Chegwidden could see nothing in the unconscious figure to be worth troubling about. Even the clothes were too badly torn to be of value. His eyes widened when he glimpsed the chains. He looked up in silent speculation and meet Bodie's uncommunicative face.
"Forget you've seen him," ordered Bodie. "He was never here, whoever shows an interest. Clear? I have a few questions to put to him when - if - he recovers consciousness." He glanced back down the beach. "You may tell the others they have my permission to store the heaviest goods in the old stables. I suggest they make haste, the militia cannot be far away. Rouse Jedediah and get him to show you the entrance - it's time you were entrusted with its location. The goods will be safe enough there. Captain Ross won't be searching my property again in a hurry."
Chegwidden's face was split by a gap-toothed grin of reminiscent pleasure. "Aye, they bain't be makin' the same mistake twice. Thank 'ee, sir. I'll tell 'un." He hesitated. "'Bout this wreck. Those washed up be French. That's why we bain't be too particular about tending 'un."
"French! Are you sure?"
"They all speak Frog, sir. So you take care with this 'un. I'll be by Friday for orders, the same as allus."
"Thank you, Tom. I'll see you then," Bodie acknowledged.
He looked down the beach to where a few bodies still littered the sand. This ship should have had a larger crew. He looked speculatively at the body at his feet. Waiting until he was alone, and holding the flare aloft in one hand, he bent over the still figure, conscious of a curious sense of foreboding. But the chained man stirred his interest. Passenger ships weren't in the habit of carrying prisoners and this man was undoubtedly a prisoner. But of whom? If he were French he might prove to be a useful source of information. His nationality was by no means certain. The few clothes he had retained must have been of excellent quality before their immersion in the sea; their cut was unmistakeably English - and expensive, the stained boots not dissimilar to those he wore.
Eager to study the stranger in more detail, and with no thought to any injury he might have sustained, Bodie laced ungentle fingers in the sea-matted curls and turned the head. At the same time he eased his foot under the torso and flipped the stranger onto his back. The face was pale under the traces of blood, and that of a youngish man, handsome save for one imperfect cheekbone. The body, while lean, was well-muscled under the torn clothing.
"Ray?" Thunderstruck, Bodie stared at the unconscious face in disbelief, tracing the bruised profile with fingers that shook. Afraid of what he would find, his fingers dipped to seek the pulse in the neck; it was fast but reassuringly strong.
Sensing something amiss, the hound looked up at his master with liquid anxiety. Buffeted by the cold wind, which ruffled his unfashionably cropped hair, Bodie was unaware of the raw cold or the light drizzle which was slowly soaking him. Numb with shock, his insulating wall of indifference in ruins, he remained frozen above the unconscious figure, his hand still cupping the chilled flesh.
He had changed so little.
Bodie had believed him dead these ten years.
He was unaware of the fierce, irrational rage that began to burn within him; the combination of joy, fear and pain. He had found a measure of contentment in this small community. He would not permit Ray Doyle to destroy it.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
Staring lugubriously past the jagged rocks and damp sand to the seemingly motionless sea, Ray Doyle became aware that the muttered imprecations drifting over from under the car had increased in volume and intensity. Without turning to investigate, he called back over one shoulder, "Haven't you finished yet?"
There was a clang as a spanner hit the tarmac. Doyle could almost hear the silent count to ten.
"No, I haven't." Bodie's voice held an admirable restraint. There was a short pause. "Want to give me a hand?"
Doyle subdued a satisfied smirk. Taking his time, he settled himself cross-legged on the springy turf. Examining a tuft, he selected a grass stalk, tugged it free and began to chew on it with idle pleasure before he spared the half-hidden figure under the car an unsympathetic glance. "Nope. Ten minutes you said. So what's gone wrong? That was forty-five minutes ago."
The silence from under the car spoke volumes. After a few seconds Doyle heard the work get under way again. His grin widened, his mood miraculously lightened by his partner's obvious frustration.
The sun was hot, the air sweet with the tang of the sea and the perfume drifting across from the hawthorn hedgerow. Dismissing the wild-goose chase that had brought them down to the West Country in the first place, Doyle gave a sigh of satisfaction. Lying back against the grass, he pillowed his head on his arm and closed his eyes, blissfully soaking up the warmth of the sun.
If the car had to spring a leak on them it couldn't have picked a better time or place, he decided with contentment. A whole seventy-two hours off-duty. It had been a hectic nine months, with no time to themselves since Cowley had given them that week off last August; he'd forgotten fresh air could smell this good. All they needed now was a deserted beach - and he would settle for the one down below - a decent pub that could put them up for a couple of nights, and the weather to hold. If they went back with a tan it would upset Cowley no end.
A shadow fell over Doyle's face, drawing him from his reverie. Reluctantly he opened his eyes to find Bodie looming over him, his eyebrows drawn together in a ferocious scowl. Doyle knew some people went in for the dark, smouldering look; as someone who had spent almost seven years in close proximity to a master of the art, he was not amongst them. He resisted the impulse to close his eyes again.
"I've fixed the car," Bodie announced. Doyle looked singularly unimpressed with his feat of engineering. "I thought of leaving you here," Bodie persevered, "decided against it. It's your turn to pay for the petrol."
Doyle sat up indignantly, their previous spat forgotten. "Not a chance, mate. I paid for the last lot." He eyed his partner with a degree of malicious satisfaction. "It took you long enough to see to the car, didn't it?"
"So I made a small miscalculation. Even I can't always be perfect. I wouldn't want to show you up more than necessary. You coming, or are you planning to vegetate here forever?" There was a faint, edgy note to Bodie's voice as he cast another glance around him, obviously not impressed by the scene of bucolic bliss.
Clambering to his feet, Doyle brushed himself down before wandering over to prop himself against the stone wall which overhung the steep drop down to the beach.
"In a minute. Let's enjoy the scenery for a bit. Give yourself a break, relax. Get back to nature. And I don't mean peeing in the hedgerow, you uncouth bugger," he added, forestalling any witticism Bodie might have planned. "What's wrong, missing the sweet smell of pollution?"
Fidgeting uneasily, Bodie came to stand at his side. He took a deep breath, felt the tickle of grass pollen fizzing along his sinuses and sneezed three times in quick succession.
"Sod the countryside," he said thickly, accepting the handkerchief Doyle handed him when his own failed to materialise. There was a telling weariness about him when he leant back against the support of the wall.
"What's wrong with it?" inquired Doyle. Unbuttoning his shirt, he rolled up his sleeves, stretching with a cat-like pleasure under the heat of the sun on his body.
"I dunno," Bodie admitted, shamefaced. Kicking moodily at a tuft of grass, he eyed his companion from under his lashes. Ray was going to laugh himself silly at this next bit, he conceded, before he took a deep breath and added, "It's this place."
"What's wrong with it?" repeated Doyle, with little real concern. Hitching himself up onto the wall, he sat swinging his legs as he tried to calculate whether he could make it down to the beach from this spot without breaking something vital.
"You want to watch yourself," Bodie advised him, his expression serious. "You can get piles doing that."
Doyle grinned at him from over one shoulder. "Don't be daft, you get them from sitting on radiators."
"Oh yeah, so you do. Well, I was close." Bodie's grin faded, his look of irritable unease reappearing. He scanned the hedgerows as if anticipating imminent attack. "There's something - " He gave a shrug which looked untypically like helplessness. "I dunno. This place gives me the creeps."
Doyle shot him a look of surprise. That wasn't an admission he heard from Bodie every day of the week. Come to think of it, he couldn't remember having heard it before. "Old age, mate," he said kindly. "You're getting past it."
Bodie didn't rise to the bait, which was a sign in itself. Chewing pensively on his lower lip, he looked decidedly twitchy. Despite his disbelief Doyle began to take more notice of his surroundings. When Bodie got that broody look there was usually a good reason for it. He was probably just tired, Doyle reasoned, unable to see any cause for alarm in these pastoral surroundings. Fatigue went a long way to explain what had been wrong between them recently. They'd both been irritable, having too many niggling arguments that did nothing to clear the air. Bodie had taken the brunt of the drive down after twenty-four hours on duty, and he had looked tired before they started out. Neither of them had got much sleep by the time they had reported in to Cowley and tidied up the loose ends.
"Hang on a tick," said Doyle lightly. "I've got just the thing to make the world seem a brighter place." Sliding down from his perch, he ambled back to the car, disappearing in to the depths of the back seat to re-emerge with a bulging carrier bag and a wide grin.
"Lunch for later," he explained in answer to the eyebrow Bodie raised in query. "And liquid refreshment for now. We may as well have it out here while you tell your Uncle Ray all about it. I haven't been on a picnic for ages."
With one final glance of unease over his shoulder, Bodie followed the urchin-like figure of his partner as Doyle loped up the road. How anyone could get this enthusiastic about a little fresh air was beyond him.
The bag tucked precariously under one arm, Doyle disappeared over the chest-high stone wall on the other side of the road. There was a muffled "Shit!" before his mournful voice drifted back to his partner. "I don't think you're going to approve of my choice of venue."
Already sitting astride the wall, conscious of the warmth of the stone against his inner thighs, Bodie nodded in grim agreement. He could feel the hair prickling on the back of his neck. "Got it in one, sunshine. What the hell made you pick this spot?"
"Natural talent," Doyle informed him as he limped over a tumbled gravestone, favouring his bruised knee. The apples had fallen out of the carrier bag; chasing the last one, he paused to peer at the inscription on a weathered, lichen-covered tombstone.
"Hey, this is a good one. Old lady of eighty-three. That was going it some in those days. 'Beloved wife and mother to - 'thirteen kids! I wonder if she holds the record for these parts?"
There were times when Bodie wondered about his partner's sanity. "You really are a gruesome little bugger," he remarked.
"Healthy curiosity, mate," replied Doyle cheerfully. He continued to search the stones for interesting epitaphs.
Dropping down into the sunken graveyard and fighting his urge to make off in the opposite direction, Bodie took great pains not to tread on any of the graves. With the weeds and brambles approaching knee height it was not always easy to tell where they were. He looked up to find Doyle watching his cautious progress with a wide grin.
"It wouldn't be respectful, would it?" Bodie said defensively.
Doyle gave a derisive snort and crunched into the apple he held. Bodie flinched at the sound, then gave an embarrassed shrug as he straightened from his defensive crouch.
"Strewth, you have got it bad," Doyle remarked. "You been forgetting to take your vitamin pills again? Here, sit down and drink this." He thrust a can of beer into his partner's unresisting hand.
Bodie gave him a look of undisguised horror. "I can't sit on one of - "
"Sit," Doyle insisted, pushing him downwards.
Bodie obeyed perforce, relaxing only when no bony hand shot up from the ground to grab hold of him. Becoming aware of the reassuring solidity of Doyle's body at his back, he leant against it and closed his eyes.
"This isn't bad," he admitted after a while.
Doyle gave the cropped head a look of affection and began to knead his partner's tense shoulder muscles, the massage slowly becoming a caress. He had yet to take for granted the moments when Bodie let his guard slip and was still wary about the response he made. Bodie needed a hair-cut, he realised. Deciding not to tell him, because he liked the idea of a wavy-haired Bodie, he ruffled the silky hair in parting and gestured to the can of beer his partner still held.
"Drink up, and get your teeth around this. You're looking peaky."
"Peaky?" Bodie looked from the browning, half-eaten apple being thrust at him, to Doyle. "Sure you can spare it?" But he ate it readily enough, core and all, neatly shooting out the pips into the lacy white head of some cow parsley. The sun warm on his face as he drank his beer, he began to relax. He looked down at his partner's engrossed figure, puzzlement creasing his forehead.
"What vitamin pills?" he asked, picking up on his partner's earlier conversation.
Doyle stopped scraping lichen from the slab of granite he was crouched over to look up with a mocking affection; then he took in the marks of weariness around the half-closed blue eyes. "Go back to sleep. No wonder Cowley gave us the time off. You'd be a fat lot of good to anyone right now. Still feeling twitchy?"
"A bit," Bodie admitted. He was unconsciously scanning the area again. "But it's nothing I can explain. I know this place. Or at least it feels like I should. The village down the hill too."
Finishing his beer, Doyle crumpled the can in his hand. "I didn't think you'd ever been down to the West Country before?"
Bodie scooped up a handful of moss, inhaling its moist, green scent as he tossed the bundle between his hands. He was careful not to meet Doyle's eyes. "I haven't."
"Then what - ? You're cracking up, mate," Doyle told him with brisk assurance. "I didn't think you went in for all this mystical stuff. When are you going to start bending teaspoons and reading tea-leaves?"
Bodie got to his feet, his shoulders hunched. "I knew there wasn't any point telling you. Well, get it off your chest, have a damn good laugh."
The mockery faded from Doyle's face. "You're not joking, are you," he realised. He pushed the heavy curls away from his sweating forehead with a sudden impatience, inadvertently smearing his face with green. "Sorry, mate."
"It's OK, I would have had the same reaction." Bodie returned to stand over the kneeling figure, a faint smile at the back of his eyes. "You've got green all over your face. Here." He touched the spot with a gentle finger. "Maybe I am cracking up," he offered, not believing it himself.
"You can't do that," Doyle told him as he rubbed away the dirt, "Cowley wouldn't like it at all. If this place is getting to you, we'll find somewhere else. We can't have you..." His voice trailed away, body tensing as his gaze dropped to where Bodie had been sitting until a few minutes ago.
Doyle slumped back onto his heels, his face wiped clean of all expression. Wordlessly he pointed to the worn gravestone. Time had eroded much of the inscription, half of it having been smoothed away by the elements, but the occupant's surname and a date were clearly visible. There was enough remaining of the two preceding names for a successful guess to be made.
Doyle found he had to clear his throat before he could speak. "For a hundred and fifty year old corpse I'd say you were looking pretty good," he said huskily.
Shaken, Bodie sank next to him and ran his fingertips lightly over the stone. It was his name right enough. "Well I'm buggered," he said mildly, relaxing now he had an explanation for his unease.
Doyle was suddenly galvanised into action; scrambling past Bodie, he was clearly searching for something. Another gravestone rested tipsily on its side against the stone bearing Bodie's name, half-covered by a choking mess of weeds. Doyle gave a grunt of satisfaction and began to clear the weeds with a frenetic urgency, unconscious of the nettles and brambles he grabbed. Under that assault the area was soon clear. He threw himself flat onto his stomach and peered up under the tilted slab so he could read the inscription.
"Raymond Doyle. The birthday's right. You might make a note of it, you forgot last year and I've got expensive tastes. Mmn, died on the same day - 16th May, 1832." Wriggling clear, he rolled free and sat up to stare at Bodie. "I always knew you'd be the death of me," he said with would-be lightness, but his hand closed over his partner's forearm with a bruising force.
"But the chances of - Someone's trying to psych us out," muttered Bodie, refusing to believe the evidence in front of him. Coincidence could stretch only so far.
"They've succeeded," said Doyle, his voice without expression. Kneeling up, he looked around the sunken graveyard before he shook his head.
He looked vital, alive and very desirable, his half-closed eyes giving his face a deceptive look of austerity. The sun gleamed chestnut through his halo of curls and Bodie resisted the urge to bury his face in them and inhale the scent of his lover.
"It doesn't seem a likely place for a set-up," mused Doyle. "Too much trouble for too little effect. Besides, no one could know we would get lost enough to find the village and this cemetery hasn't been touched for years. Look around and think about it. What would be the point? And why both of us, together even then?"
Bodie's expression tightened as he studied his partner's face. He still found it difficult to accept what had been given to him, knowing that sometimes he hurt Doyle by his inability to respond; he would mask the depth of his commitment with some flippant, throw-away comment, yet feel unreasonably hurt when Doyle withdrew in his turn. He lacked the confidence to treat their relationship as an accepted, familiar part of his life. The emotions that continued to creep closer to the surface as the time they spent together increased were too unfamiliar; they'd had little place in his life before Doyle. Recently Bodie had begun to wonder if what he had to offer his lover would be enough. It was probably just his insecurities coming to the fore, he conceded, prepared in this moment of vulnerability to admit that he woke each morning, only half-expecting to find Doyle next to him. Aching for reassurance, he dared not offer it because he was terrified of rejection.
"Who else would put up with you?" he said finally, his casual tone masking the rush of emotion that swept over him.
There was the flash of white and a familiar crease down one cheek as Doyle half-turned and grinned. "True," he conceded.
Bodie swallowed. That smile turned his guts to water every time. "Oh, Ray." Uncaring if half the village was watching, he leant forward to give the wilful mouth a fleeting kiss.
It deepened as with a throaty murmur of pleasure Doyle gave himself totally to the embrace, melting against his partner. His tongue slid with a moist familiarity into the accepting warmth of Bodie's mouth; he tasted of apples, beer and Ray Doyle: the latter had always been an intoxicating mixture. Bodie locked his strong hands in the tangled hair as Doyle cupped his buttocks and drew him closer.
The clear notes of a blackbird and an intrusive bramble reminded them of their surroundings. Reluctantly they drew apart to stare bemusedly at one another, shaken from their usual flippancy by the depths of feeling the other had revealed in that kiss.
In the months since they had become lovers, soon after Doyle had left hospital after being shot by Mayli, they had avoided making any declarations, relying on love-making to speak for them. Treading warily, they had circled around any possible source of confrontation, avoiding the necessity of testing the tenuous relationship because, despite the success of their working partnership, it seemed like tempting fate to believe it could survive.
Bodie blinked, then took a steadying breath. "What made you start scrabbling around like a squirrel who'd just lost his nuts after we found my - that - grave?"
Doyle sucked a nettle-stung palm. "I was afraid you'd ask me that," he confessed. Vaguely embarrassed, he subjected his palm to an unnecessary inspection.
"Well I have, so..." Bodie's expression cleared and he gave a delighted crow of laughter. "Don't tell me you had a - ?"
" - feeling. That's right, I did." Doyle's defensive belligerence faded as he looked into hilarious blue eyes. "I must be getting soft in my old age. I just didn't want to think of you..." His voice faded into an inaudible mumble.
"Alone, damn it," snapped Doyle, taking the wind out of his partner's sails with that simple admission. He swallowed hard at the expression which appeared in Bodie's eyes - a fleeting look of wonder, followed by a softening of the normally cynical face.
"What the hell am I going to do with you?" whispered Bodie with a helpless tenderness. He felt as if he was crumbling around the edges, while falling slowly from a great height.
Doyle's flippant reply died in his throat when Bodie laced gentle fingers through his hair and leant forward. Drowning in the night-dark eyes, he felt the delicate touch of a warm mouth on his forehead, then on the tip of his nose, Bodie's breath warm and sweet against his cheek. Closing his eyes, he felt the same infinitely gentle caress on each quivering eyelid.
For a moment Doyle remained totally still.
"What was that for?" he asked shakily. His eyes luminous, he stared, bemused, at the naked tenderness on Bodie's smiling face. His knees felt as if they didn't belong to him.
"For being you," Bodie told him simply. "And for putting up with me." His hands curved around his companion's skull, cradling it between his palms, his thumbs caressing the skin behind Doyle's ears. It was ease itself to admit the truth. "I love you."
Doyle's eyes became very bright. "I hadn't forgotten that," he said gently. "And I won't, but it's nice to be reminded occasionally." He gave Bodie a nudge with his nose. "You're very easy to put up with. Well, most of the time," he qualified. "It's just a matter of practice really. And, god, but you're worth it," he breathed, humour dropping away as his grip tightened.
"That's great, mate, but do you think I could breathe now?" inquired Bodie plaintively. His bruised ribs were freed, Doyle's hands sliding down his sides in a parting caress. "We must talk - soon," he added tentatively, knowing that both of them had been avoiding any hint of serious conversation on a personal level for months.
His doubts sliding away, Doyle grinned and slipped a questing finger between the buttons of Bodie's shirt to tickle the few strands of dark hair on the breastbone. "You realise I may just hold you to that? Speaking of practice, do you know what I'd really like to do tonight?"
"I reckon I could take an educated guess," Bodie admitted, his hands sliding down Doyle's spine to cup his buttocks.
"You always were quite bright. I hope you're feeling up to it because tonight I wondered if we might try our hands at making wild, passionate love."
"Wild and passionate, eh?" echoed Bodie meditatively, knowing he never had been able to resist that silken note that entered Doyle's voice when he talked about sex. The muscles of his belly rippled in an involuntary response to Doyle's touch, his erection painfully constricted by this time. He began to nuzzle his lover's throat.
"If you think you'll be able to manage it," said Doyle soulfully, his doubts plain.
Bodie stroked the rounded buttocks, his fingers tracing down the cleft as if the soft denim which covered it had ceased to exist. "I expect I could come up with something," he conceded, grateful that Doyle's hand was moving up his chest rather than over his cock. He released breath he hadn't been conscious he was holding. "Do we have to wait until tonight?"
Doyle tried to look prim and failed dismally, a frankly lecherous look on his face. "There are times when I think you only want me for my body," he remarked. His breathing erratic, his tongue flicked over suddenly dry lips under Bodie's heavy-lidded appraisal.
Staring into the face opposite his own, Bodie desperately wanted to know what went on behind those clear, cool eyes; needing more of Ray Doyle than he had been offered to date. "I think you might be right," he agreed, telling himself to be satisfied with what he had. "But then I'm renowned for my superb taste."
"And modesty. Don't forget the modesty." Reaching behind him, Doyle removed the hands plastered to his backside and draw them around to hold them between their bodies.
Bodie's mouth parted in a silent question.
Like so many others before him Doyle was able to resist everything except temptation and gave the mouth he loved a fleeting kiss. Not permitting the caress to deepen, he drew away and tucked his unfastened shirt back into his jeans. He couldn't seem to stop smiling. Bodie's shyly-voiced declaration had left him feeling about sixteen and in love with the whole world - quite apart from disconcerting him immeasurably.
"Come on," he said briskly.
"Chicken," accused Bodie as he rebuttoned his own shirt. "Where are we going - a hotel?" There was a hopeful, lustful gleam in his eyes.
"Later," Doyle promised him. Batting his eyelashes in an outrageous parody of a sex-god, he grinned when Bodie shook his head, as if despairing of him. "Don't you want to know what happened here?" He picked up the carrier bag and held it in front of his groin for protective cover.
"We - they - died." Only half Bodie's attention was given to their conversation.
"Concentrate, 3.7. Before that."
With an obvious effort Bodie drew his gaze away from that lush mouth, the lips still rosy from his kisses, then stared at the two graves. His expression, while thoughtful, was relaxed. There were worse spots.
"Yes, I want to know," he admitted gruffly. "I want to know who they were. If they were... like us," he finished lamely. "But how are we going to find out anything after all these years?"
Doyle felt his guts melt when he realised that his would-be inscrutable partner had a romantic streak a mile wide - and that Bodie would have died rather than admit it. He promised himself that one day he would make Bodie want to - that and a whole lot more. One day. His look of resolve gave way to amusement when he met Bodie's querying gaze.
"How you ever got accepted into this outfit I'll never know. It must have been your natural charm - unless you've got some hold over Cowley I should know about?"
Bodie reeled back, appalled at the very thought.
"I knew it must be too good to be true," Doyle accepted with regret. "OK, super-sleuth, we start work. The public library, local paper, historical society - bound to be one down here - there can't be much else to do - the church and parish records, local authority records. Think you can stand the excitement?"
"I can hardly wait. Who wanted a holiday anyway? You do realise we don't stand a hope in hell of tracing them?"
Hoisting the still bulging carrier bag against his chest because the handles were threatening to give way - and his erection had subsided by now - Doyle gave his partner an encouraging shove. "You're going to have to stop all this positive thinking," he chided. "We'll dump this in the car, then go down into the village. My brains and beauty, your brawn, we can't fail."
"Shouldn't that be the other way around?" inquired Bodie, floating a punch past the cherubic profile. Catching the retaliatory apple that was tossed to him, he bit into it before passing it across to Doyle. Side by side they headed back to the car.
PARIS, NOVEMBER 1788
Grunting with exertion, Bodie completed the last of the series of exercises he had set himself. His arms trembling with fatigue, he released the bars of the small window and dropped into his fetid cell. Kneeling in the filthy straw, he gasped for breath, infuriated by his own weakness. No more slacking, he vowed as he scratched his latest crop of bites, cursing the fleas and longing for a bath and clean garments. Pulling on his shirt, he tried to ignore the ever-present knot of hunger in his belly. He glanced up through the small, slanted window to scan the tiny patch of darkening sky that had helped him to keep his reason during his first, desperate weeks of captivity. He would eat when it was totally dark, having overcome his revulsion at the smell and appearance of the food a long time ago. He was grateful for any sustenance that would keep him alive for long enough to escape this hell-hole.
If only he knew where he was, he reminded himself, quelling the rage that came with the reminder of his predicament. It was his own fault for electing to spend his furlough in Paris. He had been told of the growing political unrest by well-meaning acquaintances, but had shrugged off the warnings as no concern of his. He was an Englishman intent on pleasure, how could his activities interest the authorities?
A reminiscent gleam lit his eyes. Pleasure there had certainly been, in full measure, although he could not have foreseen having the good fortune to meet Clarice on his very first night in the gardens of the Palais Royale. He still didn't know why he had been detained. His last recollection was that of falling asleep, cushioned on Clarice's perfumed warmth. On waking, he had found himself in a small, dank office, being assigned a number.
A number, by all that was holy.
Where he had been brought, and why, remained a mystery. In the six weeks he had spent in this cell he was none the wiser and had almost grown accustomed to the denial of his identity. At least he had been detained under the alias he habitually used when in France, cold comfort though it was. Bodie's breathing steadied as he fought to subdue his despair. The silence was broken by the rustling in the filthy straw and the faint, barely audible sounds of life somewhere outside.
Unable to resist the thought of eating any longer, he ravenously devoured the thin cabbage soup and grey hardtack he had been saving since dawn. His meal finished, he rubbed tiredly at his beard, feeling a familiar frustration overtake him at his inability to do anything to secure his own release. He stiffened when he heard a distant clank of a heavy door thudding shut, then another and another, the sound coming closer. Faint voices grew more distinct, booted feet echoing against stone. There was the screech of a rusty bolt and his door thudded open, light and fresh air flooding his cell.
Remembering the last time Pêche had visited him at night, Bodie remained motionless, waiting to see what the turnkey intended. The beatings since his initial resistance had taught him that one caution. The gaoler and his bored helpers were, in their way, as much prisoners as those they guarded and they sought diversion from those of the prisoners still fit enough to offer a challenge. Bodie had soon realised his error in establishing himself as a challenge but pride did not permit him to modify his manner. Once he had been capable of acting whatever part might be required of him; he had been free then. Pride was one of the few luxuries left to him. Ignoring the twist of apprehension clenching his belly, his body readying itself for battle, he squinted up at the figures who stood behind the hand-held torches.
"We have a visitor for you," announced the gaoler.
"A visitor?" Bodie crossed the small space to stand at the foot of the steps. "But I know no one in Paris except for - "
"We do not have space to waste. This one will share your cell. If you truly wish to be alone..." Pêche shrugged. "You may always rid yourself of him." From the expression on his face it was clear that he expected Bodie to do just that.
At a nod from Pêche the guards released the man they held. His hands bound in front of him, he was propelled through the doorway; momentum sent him tumbling down the steps. He landed with a choked grunt of pain at Bodie's feet, remaining there as the door was slammed shut on them both.
Having stepped back to avoid collision, Bodie stared through the gloom with a mixture of curiosity and irritation. He wasn't sure he wanted to share his solitude. He had always preferred to conduct his life unencumbered and was accustomed to working and living alone. There was also the mundane problem of communication. While he spoke five languages, he spoke none of them well; his command of French was adequate for only the most basic of conversations. Until now, that had been of little consequence.
"Devil take it, I swear my back is broken," announced the ragged figure into the silence. His resigned tone made it clear that was not the case. He stirred and tried to right himself, his breath catching as he found new sore spots. Moving with caution, he propped himself against the bottom step and looked out into the centre of the cell. "I apologise for the intrusion, Monsieur. It was quite inadvertent, I assure you."
"You're English," exclaimed Bodie.
The man gave a gasp of laughter. "Betrayed, by God. So, obviously, are you. Civilisation at last. I was getting damned weary of being addressed as a number. Raymond Doyle of London." He raised his bound hands. "If you would be so kind."
"What? Yes, of course." Feeling at a distinct disadvantage, Bodie concentrated on removing the tightly knotted ropes. The other man's confidence was disconcerting. As soon as Doyle's hands were free he stepped back, careful that the movement should not look like a retreat.
"May I know your name?" Doyle asked.
"John - "
"Not Smith, I trust," interrupted Doyle, amused disbelief in his voice.
"Almost as bad," Bodie admitted, surprised by the other man's quick wits. "Brown. But when electing to choose her husband, my mother neglected to give any consideration to the difficulties my name might occasion in a situation such as this."
"Understandable, if unfortunate in the circumstances," agreed Doyle.
There was a short silence which neither man seemed willing to break.
"It has been a fatiguing day," said Doyle finally. "Perhaps we might continue to make each other's acquaintance tomorrow?" He showed no sign of wanting to move from his position by the steps; straightening his legs out in front of him, he seemed to have made himself comfortable.
"Of course," said Bodie, relieved to have been given a respite.
Lying still in the corner he had adopted for his bed, he listened to the sound of the other man's quiet breathing and knew that Doyle slept no more than he did throughout the night.
The next morning, while apportioning their meagre ration of food for the day, Bodie said with would-be nonchalance, "How long have you been detained here?"
Doyle scratched his untidy-looking beard. "About a month, by my reckoning. You?"
Outside the sky was a blue so bright that it hurt the eyes to see it, but its light gave the cell the closest it ever came to daylight. It was sufficient to give Bodie the opportunity to study his companion. Made uneasy by the cool green gaze which seemed to track his every move, he avoided looking at Doyle more than was necessary and tried to quell his rising irritation. He knew it stemmed from the fact he had not accustomed himself to the notion of sharing his solitude.
Doyle accepted the food placed in front of him with a degree of self-discipline which was obvious to the man watching him. Leaning back against the wall despite the chill that permeated the stone, he chewed on the hard tack, washing it down with sips of the heavily watered wine.
"I still don't know where we are," Bodie said, unable to hide his tension.
Doyle stilled. "You have no idea of your whereabouts?"
"I wouldn't be asking if I did," Bodie snapped with asperity. He gave the other man a look of dislike. There had been a disquieting note of sympathy in his voice and he took pity from no man. Abandoning his meal, he began to pace around the cell.
"You received no indication of the reason for your incarceration?" questioned Doyle, his head following the other man's erratic passage.
"No." Bodie came to a standstill. "I did ask. The question seemed to afford the guards unwarranted humour. I was damned if I would give them the satisfaction of asking again."
"Were you taken at night and brought here by closed wagon by any chance?"
Bodie took a calming breath. "Mister Doyle, you're succeeding only in provoking me. You've asked a number of questions but I've yet to receive the courtesy of a reply."
"My apologies, sir. I had no intention of creating a mystery. You should seat yourself and prepare for the worst. You're in the Bastille. If you were brought here in secret, and have heard nothing regarding your sentence or supposed crime, you may take it that you are here, like the majority of us, under a lettre de cachet
Bodie slumped against the wall, the blood pounding in his ears. A lettre de cachet
was a sentence of death: worse than death. Imprisoned under a warrant from the King, he would remain here until he rotted. He suddenly felt very alone. There was no one who would question his disappearance. What was one more missing mercenary? People disappeared all the time. Clarice would not have spared her erstwhile lover a thought. She had probably forgotten about him already, he conceded realistically.
Black rage flooded him. "The witless harpy," he exclaimed, his voice savage as he realised who must be behind his imprisonment. "The lying jade. I'll kill her."
"I deduce that a chit lies at the root of it." Doyle's cool voice drifted into the silence. "Whose mistress was she?" He possessed the ability to pick just the right question.
"De Lambrière's," answered Bodie, his thoughts far away. "But she assured me he had quit Paris to visit his estates. We were never seen about together." He omitted to mention that from their first meeting all their time together had been spent in her gilded bedchamber, where there had been no communication problems at all.
"I've a notion you weren't careful enough. De Lambrière has a long reach and the ear of the King. It would be well within his power to obtain a lettre de cachet
. But I commend your choice. She's a fetching piece. If you enjoy poaching your light o' loves from others, it's as well to start with the cream of society. But you were too ambitious in this instance. De Lambrière has never been known to part with any of his possessions. A pity," Doyle added lightly.
"A pity," exploded Bodie. "A pity! You numbskull. If that's the only consolation you have to offer, I suggest you remain silent."
"Lord, Pêche was right," said Doyle. "He went to great pains to warn me you wouldn't welcome sharing your cell. It's obvious he was correct. It's no wonder your doxy grew tired of your tantrums."
His expression murderous, Bodie swung across the cell, intent on quieting that derisive voice. He halted the blow that would have re-arranged the other man's mocking face at the last moment. Fighting his rage, he clamped his fingers around the belt of his trousers in case they ended up around the other man's throat as he belatedly recognised the deliberate provocation that had been behind the seemingly innocent conversation from the beginning.
"You pox-ridden bastard," he breathed. "To connive so cunningly..." He backed away because he did not trust his own control. It would have been so easy to give the other man the oblivion he sought.
There was a fleeting look of something very like disappointment on Doyle's face before he thought to mask his expression, his features assuming a look of truculent resignation. As Bodie watched, the other man relaxed, no longer tensed for the killing fury he had deliberately provoked.
"So, Mister Raymond Doyle," he said, silky with rage when he recognised just how skilfully he had been manipulated. "You want to die but lack the courage to make a clean job of it yourself." Conscious of the other man's start of surprise, he gave a harsh laugh, his face devoid of pity. "You flatter your skills of deception if you imagined I wouldn't recognise your intent. Confinement may have dulled my wits but not to that degree. I've met others who have shared your wish but at least they sought to resolve the problem for themselves. I should have recognised your purpose from the first. Devil take it, no one is this aggravating unless they are dull-witted - or they try very, very hard."
Doyle made no attempt to answer the accusation. His head bent, he seemed to be trying to withdraw totally from what was being said. His docility angered Bodie afresh. Grasping a handful of the thick hair, he gave the other man a light, contemptuous slap before swinging Doyle's head around with another. Doyle's eyes shot open.
"I'm glad to have your complete attention. I regret having to disappoint you, but I've never been in the business of assassination, whatever Pêche may have led you to believe. If that was the case he would be my first client. You, you're not worth the bother, you gutless little worm!" There was a blistering contempt in Bodie's voice.
Doyle remained stubbornly silent. With some deliberation he closed his eyes, blocking Bodie from his consciousness, but his breathing was ragged.
While Doyle had made no attempt to retaliate or defend himself, Bodie had been aware of the quick flare of anger the other man had been unable to suppress. There had been no fear on his face, just a hard resolve concealed beneath the seeming uninterest. Puzzled, he released Doyle and sought refuge in his own corner of the cell. He had much to reflect upon.
For the first time since he had been detained the hours sped by as he tried to rationalise what had almost taken place with what he sensed of Doyle's character. There were a number of anomalies which prevented him from believing that the other man would submit tamely to captivity. He understood both depression and rage in the face of imprisonment - but to seek death without a struggle was inconceivable to him.
Trying to ignore the physical presence of the motionless figure opposite him, Bodie became increasingly uneasy. His temper was usually under better control but his quick, hot rages had not equipped him to deal with the black depression emanating from the still figure in the corner. The sharp exchange had proved to his satisfaction that whatever Doyle might choose to believe, he had no deep-seated desire to end his existence. Bodie didn't choose to analyse why that knowledge should be so satisfying.
Aware that he was spending an unwarranted amount of time contemplating the motivations of a virtual stranger, Bodie tried to continue with his daily routine as if he was alone. It wasn't easy to begin his exercises, knowing his movements were bound to attract the other man's attention, but Doyle didn't stir and gradually Bodie lost his self-conscious air.
That evening as he settled down to sleep, it occurred to Bodie with something of a shock that Doyle hadn't stirred from where he sat propped against the wall; his back very straight, his eyes were closed, his face set. He would be appallingly stiff when he did change position.
Reminding himself that Doyle's behaviour was no concern of his, Bodie closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind so he could sleep. The unfamiliar sound of someone moving around woke him. Instantly alert, he leant up on one elbow, relaxing as, in the dim light, he saw Doyle leave the far corner below the steps that he used as a privy for want of any other facilities. Reassured, Bodie settled back down to sleep, resolving that tomorrow he would do something to bring this sulky silence to an end.
He jerked upright a moment later when he heard the clang of the water jug being kicked over.
"You blundering dolt," he hissed, keeping his voice low only with great effort. "I know it's dark in here but fiend seize it, try to look where you're treading."
Doyle's humourless laugh was designed to conceal how shaken he was. "I should like to," he said with malicious simplicity, "but as I am blind, that's going to be rather difficult." There was a startled silence and for one glorious moment he wondered if he had succeeded in puncturing a little of the other man's arrogant certainty.
"Damn, that's all I needed," said Bodie in a tone of weary disgust.
His sense of direction gone and his head hurting abominably, Doyle gave a crack of laughter at the fervent honesty in his cell-mate's voice. It was that or cry.
Getting slowly to his feet, Bodie padded across the cell, needing to see the other man properly. Their acquaintance had begun badly and they would have to make some effort to rub along together if they were to live in such close proximity. He was taken aback to discover that Doyle should have been able to conceal his blindness for so long. He understood why the other man had tried to hide his lack of sight. After being regaled with Pêche's tales it could be no pleasant thing to be thrust, blind, in with a stranger. Pushing aside his feeling of pity, Bodie stared assessingly at his cell-mate, who was engaged in brushing himself down.
They appeared to be of an age, but Doyle was a trifle shorter and slighter than himself. Bodie suspected his fragile air was deceptive, despite the boisterously curling hair, which gave him an angelic appearance at total variance with his present expression. As if seeking to further refute the charge Doyle swore colourfully but without passion when he discovered a new rent in his shirt. It seemed impossible that he could be blind; those wide-spaced eyes were too alive.
"I am constrained to remind you that it is considered the height of bad manners to stare," announced Doyle, a hard edge to his voice.
Disconcerted, Bodie stepped away from the gaze directed at him. "Are you sure you cannot see?" he blurted out.
"Rot you, do you seriously imagine I would stoop to lying about a thing like that!" There was raw anguish in Doyle's voice.
Furious with himself for letting the casual question splinter his precarious, hard-won calm, he spun away from Bodie's almost overwhelming vitality and walked, with some force, into the wall. Hands pressed flat against the dank stone, his knee and face smarting from the impact, he remained there for a moment, willing himself not to break down. It was the final humiliation.
Bodie stared at the other man's rigid back in an uncomprehending silence. Belatedly it occurred to him how he would feel if their circumstances were reversed. He closed his eyes, then quickly opened them again, peering gratefully through the gloom. He tried to decide upon the best approach to take with Doyle, while wondering why he should be so concerned with the other man's finer feelings.
"No, I don't believe you would lie about it. I was merely surprised at the ease with which you had disguised your lack of vision until now," he said mildly. "I'm bound to point out that you're unlikely to escape me by attempting to walk through the wall. You're also wet. Come, let me assist you." The tone of the offer was casual in the extreme.
"I don't need any help," grated Doyle, not daring to move. He had never felt so finally and completely helpless in his life and he knew there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it.
"Ah, so you make a habit of doing this, do you?" inquired Bodie. "May I suggest you save your English phlegm until you have an audience who will appreciate it. I'm not a great believer in it myself." He placed a hand under Doyle's arm. It was knocked away with a jarring force.
"Damn you, I don't need a wet-nurse!"
Doyle stumbled on the uneven floor and would have fallen if Bodie hadn't caught him. Unseen, Bodie gave the furious face an admiring grin, refusing to be ruffled or rebuffed. His own stubborn nature overrode his inclination to leave the other man to his own devices.
"Perhaps not," he conceded, "but you're going to receive help whether you want it or not." There was a note of determination in his voice that told Doyle any further argument would be pointless.
Giving a weary sigh he allowed himself to be steered back up the cell and seated himself under the window. His mumbled thanks almost choked him.
"You're welcome. There's some food to your right. I apologise for the lack of water," Bodie added, cheered by the signs of temper. He could deal with that.
"I'm not hungry," Doyle told him ungraciously.
"Did I ask if you were hungry? Eat," commanded Bodie in exasperation. "Or do you intend to argue over every plaguey thing I say?"
Doyle directed his scowl where he judged the other man to be.
"A little more to your left," Bodie said helpfully.
Doyle's mouth twitched appreciatively before he surrendered and began to laugh. "I knew I was correct in assuming you wouldn't care to play the nursemaid," he said, sobering. "My behaviour has been abominable. I regret trying to goad you earlier, I was not myself." He was surprised to realise he meant it; it felt good to be alive.
"You would have regretted it even more if your plan had succeeded," Bodie informed him disagreeably. The memory of how easily he had been manipulated still stung.
"Yes, I suppose I would," Doyle accepted meekly. He was beginning to appreciate that what John Brown said did not always reflect what he thought; his voice betrayed little of what was in his mind. "Do you normally hold a grudge for long?"
"No." Bodie answered without thinking, then paused to subject Doyle's too innocent expression to a hard stare. "Why?"
"I'm not going to relish being reminded of this inauspicious beginning to our relationship twenty years from now."
"You don't think we'll still be here?"
Catching the fleeting note of desperation in his cell-mate's voice, for the first time it occurred to Doyle that he wasn't the only one with problems.
"Of course not," he lied. "Not one of my most successful attempts at humour. Between us we should be able to contrive some way of getting out of here." Seeking to lighten the brooding atmosphere, he broke off a piece of the hardtack he was holding. "Here, you must be famished."
About to protest, Bodie accepted the peace offering for what it was. They ate in a companionable silence.
"Perhaps we could start afresh," Bodie suggested casually, sometime later.
Doyle looked up, his expression wary.
"I meant exactly what I said," Bodie said, smiling at the other man's caution. "Some changes are imperative if we are to live together amicably. Doubtless you're aware that you've cut your face. You'll have little skin left to abuse and I shall become very thirsty. Can we accept that you are blind and go on from there?"
"The next time I trip over something I'll endeavour to ensure that the water jug is empty," Doyle promised him.
Bodie laughed and there was a greater ease between the two men as they began to accustom themselves to each other's company.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
Jack Hodge sat morosely nursing his pint of bitter under the watchful eye of his wife.
"Drink up, Jack," she encouraged with a brisk impatience, tapping her empty sherry glass with a well-manicured nail. "We're due back at Thelma's at four."
Hodge huddled further down on his wrought-iron chair. "I know," he mumbled unhappily. "Linda, couldn't we give it a miss this afternoon? Take the kids down to the beach, or something. You know I hate her bridge afternoons."
"No we couldn't," she told him, not pausing to consider his request. "It won't hurt you to look after the kids for once. You can chat to Maurice."
Hodge gave an inward shudder at the thought, then resigned himself to his fate.
His wife's voice sharpened as distant, shrieking figures caught her eye. "Luke, stop that at once! Jane, what are you wearing? Well give them back to Mark this instant. Hopeless, take your eyes off them for a moment... I'll see you back at the car," she told her husband before she headed purposefully after her brood of children.
Hodge watched her neat figure disappear with a lingering frown before he roused himself to glare balefully around the near-deserted pub garden. Bloody holidays, he thought for perhaps the fifth time that day. He'd only been away three days and he was already homesick. Wedded bliss had few attractions for him at the best of times; away from the Smoke and the club it had none.
It had been a long time since he had spent more than a few hours alone with the family; he'd make sure it stayed that way. He should never have married her in the first place. Dave had tried to warn him but she was Ted Connolly's only child; his prospects had never seemed brighter. Now he was stuck with her till death did them part. You didn't dump Connolly's daughter - unless you had a death wish. It hadn't been too bad at first, but it was like she'd changed personality once she'd got the ring on her finger - and one through his nose.
Connolly had changed too. Eight years inside had done something to him, like his mainspring had gone. Since getting out at the beginning of the year he'd shown no sign of wanting to get back to business. True, there'd been a lot of changes in the time he'd been away; maybe Ted had lost his touch. Or maybe that had gone the year Ted had appointed an undercover cop planted by the Drugs Squad as his right-hand man. Hodge felt a surge of hatred for what might have been if only he'd been around rather than off on his sodding honeymoon.
Remembering what the doctor had told him about keeping his blood pressure down, he took a calming swallow of beer and idly scanned the other occupied tables, where customers were enjoying the sunshine in the tiny garden of 'The Drunken Duck'. The table closest to his own held another family. He stared at the mild-faced husband who was encouraging his youngest to 'blow', cheered by the thought of someone else sharing his state of misery. Losing interest, his gaze slid over the other tables.
Beer slopped from his glass as he stared with disbelief at the two figures sitting at a table over by the duck pond. The dark one was a stranger to him - a hard man by the look of him - but that other one. It might have been over nine years ago but he never forgot a face. Had good reason to remember this one. Turn around, you sod, he thought viciously. Turn around and let's see if it's really you. A quick call to some of the lads up in Town and his holiday could start to take an unexpected turn for the better. Maybe he'd found just the tonic Ted needed to buck him up a bit.
PARIS, NOVEMBER 1788
After a week Doyle had borne all he was prepared to of his cell-mate's sour humour. Brown had woken in a foul temper, his mood worsening as the day progressed. Doyle could hear him pacing; the impression he gave was that if he had a tail it would be lashing.
"Would it help to discuss what is disturbing you?" he asked quietly.
"No," Bodie snapped.
"Then what do you want?" Doyle demanded, on the edge of losing his own temper because he felt he could be of no use to anyone.
"A barber, a bath, something decent to eat and drink, a woman, and some clean linen."
"In that order?"
"In any pox-ridden order," bellowed Bodie in frustration. He threw out an expressive arm and inadvertently grazed his knuckles against the cell wall; he bit off an expletive, glaring at the amusement on Doyle's face when he guessed what must have happened. "Very droll," he said in a biting tone.
With no wish to fan the flames, Doyle struggled to control his expression.
"I suppose you have no desire for any of those?" Bodie jeered. "You'll be lecturing me on the wisdom of accepting one's lot in life next. Or do you propose to tell me that things could be worse?"
Sitting cross-legged in his corner, Doyle tried to judge where the other man might be. "You know they could be," he pointed out, unruffled.
"I wonder if you have any concept of how irritating I find you the majority of the time?" His breath gusting in Doyle's face, Bodie's tone was that of a man who has been tried too far.
Doyle pushed forcefully at the man leaning over him, refusing to feel intimidated. "Only too well if your behaviour is any indication. Stop behaving like a spoilt child. We're imprisoned. Accept it until we can think of a fool-proof way of escaping. I like it no better than you." His scowl reduced Bodie to silence. "Sit down and consider. You might not regard it highly, but while we are incarcerated, we are not chained. We are fed regularly. Whether the notion pleases you or not you must now share your solitude. Is that so bad? You could spend the next forty years in darkness, chained to a wall surrounded by your own filth."
"Possibly," growled Bodie, refusing to be placated. "Everyone gets fed," he asserted, in the mood to argue every point.
"Do they?" Doyle did not trouble to disguise the mocking amusement in his voice.
Pausing, Bodie gave the thin figure an assessing glance; it lengthened as he took in the hollows beneath the cheekbones and the prominent bones beneath his ragged clothes.
"You do have a lean and hungry look," he conceded. "Why did they stop feeding you?"
Doyle was regretting having mentioned the matter. "I found that to be one of the gaoler's more acceptable foibles," he evaded, as if that explained everything.
About to pursue the point, Bodie recalled his first week of captivity. Pêche had visited him every night. Confused, angry and disorientated by his sudden imprisonment, he had seen nothing beyond the gaoler's quiet questions and the guards' bored distaste than a weakness which he might exploit. Then had come the night when Pêche had told him what it was that he desired. It wasn't an unfamiliar offer. On this occasion his own explosive response had almost taken him past the three guards to the door. Beaten to the point where he could not resist, he had lain in the straw as the turnkey's now gentle hands explored him. Pêche hadn't sought to do more than that, nor had he visited him again, except to oversee the occasional beating, but Bodie knew he could at any time. He also knew how fortunate he was that, for reasons best known to himself, Pêche sought an acquiescent partner - or at least one he could take pleasure in wearing down rather than breaking.
"I wondered why Pêche ceased to importune me," he said, having no wish to enter into a prolonged discussion on the topic. "So far we have both been fortunate. No doubt, should it become necessary, we could survive on single rations if he resumed his attentions. I wish he would come here unescorted just once," Bodie added wistfully.
"Dismiss that notion from your mind," commanded Doyle, his voice sharp. He caught hold of Bodie's arm to reinforce his point. "I mean it, Brown. It isn't worth it. Nothing is."
Bodie stared at him with distaste. "You suggest I should just lie back and permit Pêche to take whatever he wants?"
"If that is the only means of staying alive, of course."
Bodie gave a contemptuous laugh. "I suppose that is the only course of action left open to you
Doyle released him immediately. "Because I'm blind?"
"If you care to make that your excuse," said Bodie with brutal frankness. Watching the colour drain from Doyle's face, he wished the remark unsaid. But the thought that the other man was prepared to capitulate so easily infuriated him. He didn't appear to be of the kidney to submit meekly; he was proving himself to be about as fragile as the Bastille itself.
Bodie looked up but Doyle's head was slightly averted. Something in his uncommunicative profile made Bodie look away again; it felt too much like prying. Fidgeting restlessly in the straw, he finally broke the uncomfortable silence that had fallen, knowing he had been in the wrong from the first.
"I am the last person who should judge the correct course of action another should take," he admitted uncomfortably. "There are any number of events in my own life that I do not regard with any pride but they were necessary to survive. I apologise for my earlier comment," he added with unusual diffidence.
There was no one present to tell Doyle how rare it was to receive an apology from this self-sufficient man. Bodie cared little for the opinion of others and was not renowned for his consideration for their feelings. Drawing his knees up to his chest and propping his chin on them, Doyle seemed to be staring directly at the other man, as if seeking to learn what lay behind that awkward apology.
"It doesn't signify," he dismissed. Falling silent, he was lost in his memories. They brought their own responsibilities. While Brown was infuriating, exasperating and provoking beyond measure, he would be reluctant to see the tentative understanding that was forming between them destroyed.
Getting to his feet, he paced restlessly up and down the centre of the cell. "Neither of us is accustomed to being helpless," he announced. "But I meant what I said earlier. If Pêche comes again, for either of us, accept it as best you can." His voice lost all trace of warmth. "I thought I could best them. I was mistaken. That one error of judgement cost me my sight."
A chill running down his spine, Bodie stared at him. "How?" he croaked, although the last thing he wanted was to become further involved with his cell-mate.
Turning away from him, Doyle's voice was determinedly casual. "In the ensuing fight after Pêche had made his offer I succeeded in disabling him with a chance kick. Two guards restrained me at bayonet point. When Pêche recovered, he knocked me clear across the cell. He is stronger than you give him credit for. When I recovered consciousness I was blind. I have just stopped believing that one morning I will awake and be able to see again."
"It is possible," Bodie encouraged, an empathic shudder going through him.
"Enough!" Doyle's voice broke before it steadied again. "I dare not start believing that or - You witnessed the state of melancholy into which I had fallen. It's - it's so cursed hard to accept that... It's hard," he repeated, his voice barely audible.
Bodie could think of nothing he could offer that would ease the other man's distress. When Doyle turned, he winced at the other man's bleak expression.
"To set your mind at rest, my virtue is unsullied. I just don't believe the price was worth it. Close your eyes and try to remember that darkness if Pêche should return."
There was a tight note of desperation in the roughened voice. Concerned that Doyle might expect some emotional response that he could not give, Bodie launched into speech. "I will endeavour to keep that in mind," he promised. "Now sit down, I grow dizzy trying to follow you. You never did mention your occupation prior to your arrest."
"I was an artist."
After that bald announcement Bodie had the sense to let the conversation lapse.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
"You're not seriously proposing to eat all that after the meal the vicar's wife fed us?" demanded Doyle, revolted.
"Watch me," invited Bodie as he took a luxurious bite from a cream-laden scone. He systematically set about clearing the plate, pausing only when he came to the last scone. "You sure you don't want one?" he asked as he slathered it in jam that actually tasted of strawberries.
Nauseated, Doyle shook his head. "Positive. You're indecent. I dunno where you put it."
"Hollow legs and clean living, mate." Bodie flopped back on his chair and eyed the surviving scone with a pensive eye. "Maybe I won't," he conceded, feeling decidedly full.
"Can't take it, eh?"
"Nothing of the sort. But you wouldn't want them wasting away, would you?"
Bodie picked up the plate. "C'mon, let's go feed the ducks. That stroppy one on the left reminds me of you."
Sometimes it was like having a small kid in tow, thought Doyle with resignation as he followed his partner down to the lake's edge. He resisted the temptation to push the crouched figure into the water. Even the appalling amount he had eaten wouldn't slow Bodie down enough for him to get away with that unscathed.
Relaxed in the sunshine and the rare pleasure of being off-duty and together, neither of them noticed the reaction of the lone man at a table behind them, or the speed with which he went in search of a phone.
PARIS, NOVEMBER 1788 - JANUARY 1789
The walls of the cell ran damp as winter tightened its hold, their breath white in the cold air. After a week of spartan self-sufficiency and precious little sleep, they collected all the straw into one corner and slept huddled together for warmth. At first they were self-conscious about the enforced intimacy of their position but within a couple of days they had ceased to think anything of it, the imperative to survive paramount.
Bodie had been forced to abandon his exercise programme because he had become too weak for long periods of strenuous physical activity, the bone-numbing cold eroding any surplus energy he may have had. As conditions in the cell grew more uncomfortable Bodie and Doyle's relationship improved. They talked for hours, finding that although their backgrounds and experiences were, for the most part, wildly different, they had enough in common to enjoy each other's exploits.
Gradually their discussions embraced edited personal reminiscences. Doyle spoke mainly of his early life, referring with amused affection to his large and boisterous family, while avoiding any mention of the recent past. Bodie offered little information voluntarily, but did deign to tell Doyle a few ribald or humorous exploits, selected to betray as little as possible of himself. Still their growing friendship flourished, almost despite themselves.
Of course there were black periods, and fierce arguments, quite apart from the daily irritations that came from sharing such a small area with one other person day after dragging day. Even when the atmosphere between them was at its most vitriolic both men admitted, if only to themselves, the relief of having someone who understood the bleak moments when blindness and the confines of the cell came to seem well-nigh unendurable.
Busy finger-combing his tangled mat of hair into some kind of order and wincing when he found a particularly vicious tangle, Doyle's head turned in the direction of Bodie's engrossed figure.
"Somehow I've a notion that John Brown isn't your baptismal name," he mused. "You don't possess the manner of a 'Brown', which is a comfortable, middle-aged sort of name. Reassuring."
Bodie looked up from where he was attempting to free a metal bar from the mortar. "Why can't I believe you intend that for a compliment?" he replied, playing for time. "Brown isn't my baptismal name, as it happens. I haven't used that for years - since I ran away from home, as a matter of fact. A name is of little consequence, when all is said and done."
"I suppose it isn't," conceded Doyle, filing away that snippet of information. "But that being the case, I fail to see why I should use the name 'Brown'. What is your number?"
"I refuse to answer to a number," Bodie told him firmly. "That apart, call me what you will."
"That must qualify as the most tempting offer I've received all week," said Doyle, smiling. "I shall have to consider this. You require something brisk and to the point. It has been a source of constant amusement to me how often you forget to answer to John Brown."
"Nonsense," said Bodie, but with little real conviction.
"It's true," insisted Doyle. "You're sadly lacking in imagination. Only you could have selected a name as unimaginative as John Brown."
What would you suggest - something like Raymond Doyle?" Bodie's voice was dry.
Doyle gave an impish grin. "The name is already taken. It is, incidentally, my own." He met Bodie's derisive snort with a shrug of acknowledgement.
"I know, but would you voluntarily accept such an outlandish name as Raymond? Of course you would not. My sister, of course, claims to believe that it becomes me. This was her doing." Doyle gestured to the injured cheekbone, which gave his profile such a piquant charm.
Bodie was already acquainted with the large and confusing Doyle clan; he had heard a great deal of their exploits in the weeks he and Doyle had spent together, primarily about Doyle's nieces and nephews, for whom he had an inordinate affection. Every person in the family had been painted for him in vivid, one-line character sketches.
"Catherine did that?" he asked, interested despite himself.
"My dear, sweet Kitty. I cannot conceive what I did to deserve a sister such as her. It's a wonder I survived to manhood. Did I neglect to tell you of the time she knocked me out?" Doyle added, his face alive with laughter. "She has as true a left hook as you will ever come across."
"You're fortunate to have such a family. I think," added Bodie as he recovered from Doyle's rendition of his own unheroic part in the tale. His face muscles ached from laughter but there was an echo of sadness in his voice. Doyle had conjured up the sunny, carefree days of childhood, surrounded by a loving, mischievous family; very different from his own bleak upbringing.
"What about your own family?" asked Doyle.
"I don't possess one," Bodie said, tensing.
"Nonsense. Everyone has a family, even you."
"Are you daring to pity me?" Bodie demanded, forgetting that his menacing stare was wasted on the other man.
Doyle gave an infuriating grin. "I fancy that I am. Self-sufficiency is all very well, if not carried to excess. Never fear, I don't bite. And I give you my word that I won't hold the fact you have a mother, just like everyone else, against you."
"I prefer not to talk about myself," Bodie told him in a repressive tone, but he sensed he was wasting his breath. Doyle was far too astute at reading between the lines. He might trust the man, but not that much; he had never trusted anyone that much.
"I had noticed," Doyle assured him. "But why so mysterious? I'm tired of hearing the sound of my own voice and I refuse to believe some of the tales you've spun for me about your life as a mercenary."
"Are you doubting my honour?" demanded Bodie, hiding behind anger.
"No, but I believe you have a talent for embroidering the truth," replied Doyle, refusing to be intimidated by the cold menace in the silken voice.
A choke of laughter escaped Bodie's controls. "You may be right," he admitted, "but the truth is really very tedious."
"That's twice in one day," Doyle said with a trace of smug satisfaction.
"Twice what?" asked Bodie, puzzled.
"Twice I've made you laugh in one day."
Bodie glared at him, all traces of good humour leaving his face. "You're not the most joyous of companions yourself at times," he pointed out, angry at being made to feel like an interesting specimen being dissected. Ignoring the feeling of hurt that he should be only a source of entertainment for his cell-mate, he sat with his shoulders hunched, scowling across at Doyle.
"I know that," said Doyle, cursing himself for having broken the light-hearted mood he had worked so hard to create.
It had been a source of great pleasure to hear Brown's rich chuckle and to hear him offer something of himself without prompting. Now every barrier had risen against him. He could feel the tension emanating from the other man and was suddenly flooded with a longing to see Brown's face - to see behind the disguises Brown had learnt to adopt in his voice.
Getting up, Doyle moved restlessly around the cell, pacing out his stride automatically now. They had arranged their meagre possessions so that he knew exactly where everything was placed and there had been no further accidents.
Bodie often forgot his companion's lack of sight because Doyle persisted in trying to pretend it didn't exist, even as he fought to come to terms with it. Looking at Doyle's lack of expression, Bodie recognised the first signs of one of the black depressions which overtook the other man on occasion. Doyle was a born fighter, and made valiant efforts to accept his lack of sight, but it was a totality which came near to defeating him at times. To his surprise, Bodie found himself wanting to help Doyle through those dark periods. It was then that Bodie would talk freely, prepared to do whatever was necessary to draw Doyle from his melancholy, be it with humour, anger or pathos. Doyle had done as much for him on the days when captivity brought Bodie close to the point of trying to ram his fist through the wall. He had learnt that Doyle was unshockable and usually unflappable. He respected Doyle's opinions, and had learnt to tread lightly when the other man lost his formidable temper.
As the weeks passed, Bodie began to feel that he had known the other man all his life. Accepting Doyle as a friend, he had grown accustomed to his quirks of character. It didn't occur to Bodie that he could afford to relax his guards - or that Doyle might already have seen behind them.
"Did I ever tell you about the time I jumped ship in Turkey and ended up in the Seraglio?" Bodie offered casually into the tension-ridden silence.
Doyle halted mid-stride, then turned, suspicion on his face; he was quite clearly in no mood to be humoured. "No, and don't bother," he snapped aggressively.
He was obviously spoiling for a fight. Refusing to accommodate him, Bodie hid his grin. "Well, if I'm boring you," he murmured, retreating into a hurt silence. He had soon learnt how to manipulate his volatile cell-mate, who was too tender-hearted for his own good on occasion.
After a few minutes Doyle could stand it no longer. He stalked to where he judged Bodie to be and stood over him, glowering. "I'll wager you're looking like a whipped pup. Damn it, will you stop humouring me." Pausing, the anger drained from his expression. "After all this time I still have no notion of your appearance."
"Well you wouldn't, would you?" Bodie said, without thinking. He saw Doyle flinch and touched him lightly on the arm. "Sorry. But it seems of little consequence. I'm no oil painting at present."
"An oil painting I can do without," Doyle told him, smiling at that endearing display of vanity. His interest caught, he sank down beside Bodie. "But what do you look like? How old are you? What colour is your hair, your eyes? What build are you? Do you realise how little I know of you?" he demanded, realising how many of the details he had always taken for granted were denied him. They had come to assume an immense importance in his mind, reinforcing his feelings of isolation and helplessness.
"Five and twenty, and I am of medium height and build," replied Bodie promptly.
"Five and - Is that all?" Doyle's voice rose with indignation. "From the tales you have been spinning me I thought you must be fifty at least."
"I started young," Bodie explained winningly, but his blue eyes were wary.
Doyle gave a snort of disbelief. "In the cradle, more like. Hellfire, I have a three-year advantage over you but I seem to have wasted an inordinate amount of time if your example is anything to go by."
"There's no immediate cause for concern," Bodie told him comfortably. "You've kept your boyish good looks." If he hoped to divert or distract his companion he failed.
Doyle knelt up opposite him. "It's strange to think I shall never know what you look like. A voice is so little to go by." Reaching out a tentative hand, he stilled the gesture at the last moment, feeling shy at the intimacy of what he proposed.
Bodie drew back. "What do you intend?" His voice was wary in the extreme.
"Hell's teeth. Not what you're panicking about, that's for sure," said Doyle with a delighted gurgle of amusement. The laughter slowly faded from his face. "But I should like to gain some notion of the shape of your face, to judge the symmetry or otherwise of your features, to discover what I may of your appearance." His hand opened. "My fingers will have to act as my eyes - if you have no objection?" he added hesitantly.
Bodie had any number of objections, although he would have been reluctant to voice any of them. He studied Doyle's uncertain face, his expression relaxing as he realised Doyle would never ask this of him again if he was refused now. Besides, he was curious how he would appear to the other man.
"I have no objection," he lied.
Taking Doyle's fingers in his own, Bodie placed them on either side of his face and sat very still, hardly daring to breathe. Try as he might, he could not be entirely matter-of-fact about this. He felt a rush of heat under his skin as the long fingers gently explored him. The feather-light touch drifted over his cheeks, tracing down his nose, spanning it as Doyle judged the proportions of the face. Obedient to the unspoken request, Bodie closed his eyes, his long lashes quivering under the delicate touch. Sitting in the dark, he shivered, feeling vulnerable and exposed as Doyle continued to draw his image with his hands.
The sulky look had vanished from Doyle's face, overtaken by total concentration. His hands curved around Bodie's head; fingers probed the bone before he ran his hands back to trace the contours of the skull, finally coming to rest on the base of the strong neck.
Of necessity they knelt close together, Doyle's breath warm against Bodie's cheek. His light touch both teased and stimulated after so much sensory deprivation and Bodie gave a small gasp of surprise when he felt himself stir.
"I've not hurt you?" Doyle asked in quick concern. He was too engrossed in the image his hands were supplying to think of the effect his actions might be having on flesh starved of touch.
A haunted look in his eyes, Bodie nervously licked dry lips, willing his errant flesh to subside before it could betray him utterly. It had been too long, that was the simple truth of it, but he would not enjoy explaining that to Ray Doyle.
"Of course not. I'm sensitive around the neck, that is all," he said.
"I must remember that," said Doyle lightly, seeking to reduce the intensity of the moment.
Bodie sat motionless as hands cupped his face once more, tracing over his cheeks and beard before they sought out his mouth, which tightened a little. Abruptly Doyle removed his hands.
"Your hair is dark and you have dark - no, dark blue eyes," he guessed, making no reference to the tension he had felt in the muscles over the jaw.
"That's correct," said Bodie, declining to be impressed. "Well, do I pass muster?"
"You were correct, you're no oil painting," Doyle remarked, flippant as he tried to conceal the effect warm skin and the other man's submission were having on him. "But I could paint you, John Brown. You've an interesting face, and one that doesn't care to be read. You also have the strangest eyebrows I have ever encountered."
"My compliments, but they suit me well enough. Are you in the habit of making these kind of examinations?"
Familiar lines of amusement appeared at the edges of the green eyes. "No, I am not. I am considered eccentric enough as it is. Perhaps I should consider taking up face-reading if all else fails?"
"Only as a last resort," retorted Bodie, flicking an affectionate finger at the other man's nose.
Doyle's eyes widened in surprise. "Do that again."
"What?" Uncertain what his companion meant, Bodie stared at him.
Doyle clambered to his feet, then bent to urge Bodie up. "Do it again. Aim for my face."
Feeling foolish, Bodie did so. "Do you mind telling me why?"
"I've been giving a great deal of thought to our situation, and to quitting this place in particular. The odds are not favourable. One man has little hope of success against Pêche and two armed guards, but if we could both
fight... No one would expect an attack to come from me. At present the best I could hope to do would be to place a lucky blow. But it may be that I could be taught to fight blind."
"You really believe that's possible?" With no desire to quash the other man's enthusiasm, Bodie tried to keep the doubt from his voice.
"We won't know until we try, will we?" said Doyle with a confidence he was far from feeling. "This is a chance for you to prove your skills as an instructor."
He had already come to the conclusion that they could not sit passively enduring their confinement. It was time they began to channel their energies into some constructive activity. Until his hands had cupped the other man's face he had not appreciated how starved for touch he was, how vulnerable all his senses would be to the insidious pleasure of skin against warm skin. This development of new skills would provide them with an opportunity of ridding themselves of the self-consciousness which was slowly building between them; it might even prove to be useful.
"Feint a punch to my left, would you?" he requested briskly.
Giving an acquiescent shrug, Bodie complied, making no allowances for the other man's lack of sight.
"And again," said Doyle.
Concentrating, he listened out for every small clue he was offered as Bodie moved, feeling the air change around him, hearing the rustle of straw and cloth and trying to understand what these changes in sound signified. The third time Bodie struck out Doyle judged the blow well enough to avoid it, his own fist stopping an inch short of Bodie's ear.
"Not bad," said Bodie with a hard smile of approval, swallowing his surprise at the other man's quick reflexes and obvious ability.
His hands on his hips, Doyle gave him a knowing grin. "Not bad? Try it from the right this time, and be warned, I've a useful right hook."
By the end of the day they were both breathless and tired. By the end of the week, while they were physically fitter and better pleased with their progress, they were exhausted.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
Bodie watched with resignation as his partner effortlessly wound the young records clerk around his finger, ensuring her complete co-operation rather than grudging instructions. Half-listening to her explanations and attempts to flirt with an impervious Ray Doyle, he swore under his breath when he saw the retrieval system they would be using and the amount of material they would have to sift through.
"What time do you close?" he asked, trying not to sound hopeful that they wouldn't have time.
"Five-thirty." She spared him only the briefest of glances.
"Then we've got bags of time," said Doyle cheerfully, straightening his face as Bodie glared at him. "Thanks for your help, love. See you later."
As she walked away, Bodie watched the sway of her hips with a reminiscent pleasure. "There should be a law against what you've just done to her," he told his partner severely.
Slipping the first cassette into the reader and putting it on fast forward, Doyle gave him an absent grin. "There is, mate. Did you see her - ?"
" - couldn't miss 'em, sunshine. Very nice." Seating himself at the adjoining machine, Bodie flicked on the power. "Do you miss it?" he asked with idle interest, as he stared at the blank screen, anticipating the boredom to come.
"Miss what?" asked Doyle absently as he scanned the narrow obituary columns.
"Women, and all that embraces."
Doyle spared him a look of surprise. "I hadn't really thought about it," he confessed.
"Think about it."
Doyle gave his altered life style due consideration for a full ten seconds. "No, I don't miss it." There was a high-pitched buzz as he activated the fast forward switch again. "Do you?"
Bodie decided his partner was looking far too sure of himself. "No. Well, sometimes," he admitted, with just the right trace of reluctance.
He had succeeded in gaining the other man's full attention. His eyebrows drawn together in a frown, Doyle stared at him, his eyes darkened by anxiety and doubt.
"You don't pinch my razor to defuzz your legs," Bodie explained, all innocence. He was laughing too much at how easily he had caught Doyle out to dodge his partner's retaliatory punch. Dismissing thoughts of the flippant conversation, Bodie did not notice the new wariness in Doyle's eyes, or his subdued manner.
PARIS, FEBRUARY - MAY 1789
"I am too told for this kind of exertion," complained Doyle mournfully. He flexed stiffened muscles and discovered new bruises acquired when one or both of them had miscalculated in a practice session.
Their workouts extended for hours now, neither man giving or expecting any quarter. Bodie was an excellent teacher, possessing a patience Doyle had not expected to find and the knack of explaining exactly what he meant. For his own part, Doyle found he was learning some valuable additions to his fighting skills, although undoubtedly some of the holds would have been frowned upon in polite society. But he refused to admit how exhausted the intense concentration and physical exertion left him.
"Nearing your dotage, more like," Bodie told him with a scant lack of sympathy.
Doyle refused to allow himself to be treated as disadvantaged in any way and had inevitably taken some painful falls. Bodie yelped when a calloused hand swatted his rump as he bent to pick up their food. Straightening, he advanced on his cell-mate, who retreated, his face alive with amusement.
"Try that again," Bodie invited, his voice deceptively mild.
"You wouldn't strike a blind man," pleaded Doyle, breathless with laughter as he tried to place where the other man might be.
"Try me," Bodie threatened. He advanced stealthily out of respect for Doyle's improved skills and lightning-fast reflexes before he came an abrupt standstill. "Do you realise this is the first time you've been able to make light of your lack of sight?"
"I know." Doyle's expression changed as he stood in uncertain silence, wishing fiercely that he could see. There were times when it wasn't enough to read what lay behind that deceptively smooth voice and often caustic wit. This was one of them.
"Then we'll say no more about it," said Bodie, prepared to be magnanimous. "Shall we eat? Then you can resign yourself to hearing the next exciting instalment in my life history," he offered rashly, more because he was worried by the expression which had crossed Doyle's face than because he had any desire to exchange personal confidences.
"That will have the value of novelty. You don't rattle on about yourself. What I know of you would fit, with ease, onto the head of a pin."
"So much?" marvelled Bodie.
Sitting cross-legged in the straw, Doyle picked up his bowl, then glanced up. "It isn't my turn for the spoon this week, is it?"
"No, but I decided to cosset you. You're a sloppy eater at the best of times."
"You're a fine one to talk." Taking his first mouthful of food, Doyle became aware of the change in consistency and improved flavour. "The cuisine has taken a turn for the better. This is almost edible."
"Just don't wonder what might have gone into the making of it," Bodie advised him, quietly finishing his own, smaller, portion.
Refusing to concern himself with non-essentials, Doyle contentedly finished his meagre meal. "They must have taken pity on us. That was almost a good-sized portion."
"Now I know you must be sickening for something," said Bodie lightly, willing him to drop the subject.
There was a short, suspicious silence.
"That decides it," said Doyle finally. "When that innocent tone enters your voice I know you have some nefarious scheme in mind." A possible explanation for the increased quantity of his meals over the last few weeks occurred to him and he set down his bowl with a precise click before turning in the direction of his cell-mate.
"I'm familiar with the concept of stealing coins from a blind man's cup, but this is ridiculous. You're supposed to take something from the cup, blockhead, not to bankrupt yourself."
Bodie fidgeted where he sat. "I suppose you have some notion of what you're talking about?"
"Oh, so innocent," mocked Doyle. He glared in Bodie's direction. "How long have you been supplementing my meals with your rations?"
"The idea's nonsensical," bluffed Bodie irritably.
"And I have perfect vision," responded Doyle, equally tart. "I might be blind, but don't treat me as if I were half-witted." Without warning he poked Bodie's ribs. By the time he returned his hands to his lap, he was wearing a ferocious scowl.
"Understand one thing here and now, John. From this moment I take over responsibility for dividing the food."
Bodie closed his mouth on his protest, wondering how he could have supposed his ruse could succeed. "You divide the food," he agreed with unusual docility, adding with suspect meekness, "Do you wish to check the rations we have left?"
The severity of Doyle's expression melted and he gave an admiring grin. "You never admit defeat, do you? You cannot seriously imagine that I am going to eat anything else. I don't care to think how much weight you've lost. You must be starved, you great chucklehead." For all his scolding, his voice was gentle, and a little unsteady. "I have never been given so much, and for that I thank you with all my heart. But don't do it again, I beg you. Leave me a little pride."
He lightly shook his companion by the shoulder, resisting the urge to hug the stubborn figure to him. "Now eat," he commanded.
Bodie took a joyless bite of the piece of hardtack he held, unable to deny his hunger, which had left him feeling increasingly lightheaded over the last few days.
"If you don't cease to harp on about it, I'll leave you in little pieces," he threatened. "We'll have to reduce the frequency and duration of our practice sessions. You're too thin." He choked when Doyle gave his ribs a meaning prod.
"Change the subject, Ray," he pleaded.
Doyle sat back with a thoughtful air. "I shall be glad to do so the moment I have your word of honour that you will not do such a foolish thing again."
Refusing to be dictated to, Bodie sat in a mutinous silence.
"Very well," accepted Doyle, unsurprised. "Then I don't eat until I have your word."
There was a small silence before Bodie gave a hefty sigh. "You would do that, wouldn't you," he said bitterly.
"If that's what's required to make you see sense, of course."
Bodie didn't doubt for one minute that Doyle meant it. "I give you my word," he mumbled, ungracious in surrender. "Now can we change the subject?"
"Of course. You were going to tell me about yourself. Where were you born?"
"You're possessed of the most insatiable curiosity of anyone I've ever had the misfortune to meet. I fail to see why my private affairs should interest you."
"Some people would take that for a set-down," said Doyle wisely.
Bodie gave a faint, audible sigh. "You're obviously not one of them."
"I am very thick-skinned," Doyle explained with sunny good-humour. "Where were you born?"
Bodie conceded defeat. "Lancashire. My family were - are for all I know - engaged in the wool trade."
Surprised by this gratuitous supply of information, Doyle looked suitably horrified as he reeled back where he sat. "Trade. How dreadful," he said primly. "I must consider whether I feel able to continue to acknowledge you as an acquaintance." His concentration lapsed, he had no warning of the light clout he received.
"Buffoon," accused Bodie, trusting he hadn't hit Doyle too hard.
"Barbarian," retorted Doyle pathetically as he rubbed his smarting ear in a manner which instantly reassured his companion. "You took an unfair advantage."
Bodie's expression was thoughtful now. "If you can maintain this rate of improvement I shall need all the advantage I can gain."
Sensing his devious companion's purpose, Doyle refused to be diverted from his original line of questioning. "When did you run away from home?"
"When I was fourteen. I joined a ship at Liverpool, jumped ship as soon as we came into port again." Even after all the years that had passed, the memories of that first year still haunted him.
Doyle unerringly caught the tension in his companion's voice. "That bad?"
"Worse," said Bodie tersely. He still bore the physical scars of that first year at sea and never permitted himself to linger on that portion of his life, pushing it deep into the recesses of his mind, with all the other unhappy memories.
A hand clasped his, offering an undemanding comfort. "Tell me," coaxed Doyle in his most persuasive tone.
Bodie never knew if it was the quiet voice or the expression on that worldly face, but something melted the reserve of a lifetime. Almost against his own volition he began to talk, stumbling awkwardly at first before the story came tumbling out. Some of the memories lost a little of their sting as they saw the light of day for the first time.
His flat delivery offered neither excuses nor embellishments, but it was still too vivid. Doyle could see with aching clarity the stubborn, emotionally-starved child in the man opposite him. As Brown crept out from behind his barriers Doyle came to understand where his cell-mate's almost religious insistence on non-involvement had stemmed from as he read between the lines of what he was told. When the other man threatened to fall silent he would prompt him with a question or murmur of acknowledgement.
Hours later the story had been told right up to the present day. Bodie raised his head, exhausted by the memories he had relived, to stare at the other man, suddenly aware that he had stripped himself naked in front of this man. All he could see of Doyle was his bent head, the long, matted curls shielding his face.
"So now you're acquainted with my entire sordid history. I trust you found it edifying," he said savagely, cringing from how much he had revealed. Fearing Doyle's reaction, he sat awaiting rejection.
Some unfamiliar note in the husky voice made Bodie lift Doyle's face from concealment. The slighter man tensed but made no further attempt to hide. His cheeks were wet with the silent track of his tears. Some hard core of resistance within Bodie dissolved, melted down by the other man's loving concern. His expression softened as he touched a wet cheek with a gentle fingertip.
"For me?" he said, on the verge of disbelief. "A stranger?"
Doyle jerked away. "I have a weakness for children in trouble," he muttered, his voice husky. Furious with himself for getting so deeply involved, he gave his nose a sharp blow on his shirt tail, wiped away the betraying tears with his hands, and glared belligerently in the other man's direction.
"Any children," he added with asperity. "Even you. Like it or not, we're no longer strangers. You may as well accustom yourself to the notion. What happened to your declared policy of non-involvement?" Too late he realised he should have addressed that question to himself. He and John Brown had come a great distance in a short space of time.
Bodie gave no thought to the defeated anger in Doyle's voice, his eyes on the other man's betraying expression.
"It fell by the wayside some time ago," he admitted, his voice quiet. "I don't know why. I have never..." He gave a shrug indicating his sense of helplessness. "We're involved, I accept that. It's foolish, but I feel as if I have always known you, yet we're strangers."
There was genuine bewilderment in his voice, and hesitancy, as if he couldn't bring himself to accept the extent of their commitment to one another. Gentle hands cupped his bewildered face as Doyle sought to read the truths his troubled features could provide. Fingers brushed the lines of tension on his forehead and between his eyes, skimming down his bearded cheeks before one traced his mouth. Bodie kept his lips firmly compressed, denying his instinctive response.
Doyle's hands slid back to cradle his face between warm palms. Staring sightlessly into the deep blue eyes warily locked with his own, he said matter-of-factly, "Strangers or not, you know me, John Brown. You know me better than any other soul, living or dead."
Bodie's already shaky defences crumbled at the understanding in the quiet voice. To his horror he felt his eyes prickle and blinked in denial of any weakness.
"God help me, I do," he whispered in unwilling acknowledgement. A tear nudged the tip of Doyle's finger as Bodie admitted his growing attachment to this paradoxical being. He gave a shuddering sigh, his head sinking wearily onto the other man's shoulder. "I am not accustomed to - I have never needed anyone before. Never wanted to. But I rather think I need you."
Doyle's arms slid around him in an accepting, comforting embrace, a tender, half-amused, wholly loving smile on his face. "Welcome to the human race, John Brown. We all need somebody, even you.
"Even me," he added softly. "Rest now." Keeping his voice to a low murmur, Doyle gentled Bodie until he had relaxed into a light doze, trusting Doyle enough to sleep while he was still held in that undemanding embrace.
As the harsh winter gave way to spring their physical condition improved. But the change of season reinforced awareness of their captivity and lack of amenities. As the weather grew first mild, then positively benign, it brought other changes that both men were reluctant to admit, even to themselves. The fierce cold had sublimated their sexual energies into the basic need to survive. With the change in the weather came a quickening of the blood and insistent demands of healthy young flesh.
Out of habit they still slept in close quarters, but became uncomfortable at the close proximity they shared as awareness of each other's physical presence increased. The nights were soon spent in a miserable, semi-sleepless silence as they lay with rigid correctness, avoiding the most fleeting of contact.
Plagued by desire, by mutual, unspoken agreement they stopped their practice sessions. When that failed to alleviate the problem they took to sleeping apart. From then on relations between them flourished again.
Gradually the days grew hotter and the cell more fetid as Spring gave way to a sweltering Summer.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
"I think I've gone off the idea of fishing trips for a while," said Bodie, breaking the dismal silence which had fallen since they'd left the Archive section of the local newspaper office. Sliding behind the driving wheel, he leant over to release the catch of the passenger door. "All sodding afternoon to find one lousy obituary."
Feeling less than cheerful himself, Doyle stood by the open door staring at his partner, feeling a fierce envy for a man long dead. When Bodie glanced up, one eyebrow raised in silent query, Doyle bundled himself into the car and pulled up his jacket collar, as if to ward off the cold. Staring through the fly-blown windscreen, he said, "Two. There were two obituaries."
"How could I have forgotten?" Bodie's voice was heavily ironic. "It was a lovely write-up. Drowned in a summer squall while out on a fishing trip. Great way to go, that is." His mouth snapped shut as he drew a steadying breath, disconcerted by his over-reaction. He knew he was identifying too closely with men long dead.
Doyle slid further down in his seat, scowling to disguise his true feelings. "It's probably a better death than we can expect."
"There's no good way to die."
"Maybe not, but there's ways of making each day count. The obituary said they'd been living down here for over thirty years - together. Can you see us staying alive that long?" There was a bitter note in Doyle's voice.
The car took off with a vicious turn of speed, leaving the small town behind. Driving with meticulous skill, but at too fast a pace for the narrow, winding lanes, Bodie made no reply.
Barely saving himself from going through the windscreen Doyle turned angrily. Recognising the lack of expression in his partner's cold face, he closed his mouth, gave a resigned sigh and settled back in the seat, his fingers locked over the hand grip above the door. After a few minutes, during which their speed had only increased, he said, "No, Ray, I can't see us living that long either. Particularly not while I'm driving like a lunatic."
"I know what I'm doing," Bodie insisted irritably, but he slowed the car.
"Sure. Where are we heading for then?"
"I was afraid you'd ask me that," Bodie confessed, having begun to wonder if he had missed the turning. The car was purring along at a sedate thirty-five miles per hour by this time. "We've found out how long they were together," he added into the silence. "Now we know how they died, let's quit while we're ahead. They're dead and buried."
His expression bleak, Doyle didn't look up. "If that's what you want."
Bodie didn't answer.
The car turned left down a concealed turning, following the narrow track. Shrubs and trees arched over them, cutting out the early evening light; foliage brushed the sides of the car at times.
"Why have we come down this track?" Doyle inquired, roused from his abstraction by the loss of light. He could see nothing but vegetation.
The track widened, sweeping them onto a semi-circular gravelled driveway. Avoiding the pot-holes, Bodie drew the car up in front of the rambling house that was spread along the cliff edge. What the building lacked in architectural elegance it made up for in character.
"Very nice," murmured Doyle ironically, eyeing it with disbelief. "What time do they let the bats out around here? They're all this place needs."
Bodie had been looking doubtful himself, but naturally covered the fact in the face of his partner's scorn.
"We want a bed for the night, don't we? And I don't known about you, but I'm starving. Cream teas are all very well but I'm a growing lad. This is a hotel, Ray."
Doyle gave him a look of the deepest suspicion. "You could have fooled me. Are you having one of your funny turns again? This place is a dump."
"Not inside it isn't," Bodie reassured him with supreme confidence.
Doyle contented himself with giving Bodie a speaking look.
"Well one of us had to get organised and I knew there was no point expecting that from you so I asked Lyn where the best hotel was around here. This is the only one out of the list she gave me that we can afford, but apparently it got a good write-up in the Good Food Guide."
Propping himself against the side of the car, Doyle tucked his hands in his jacket pockets and shivered. The wind was coming in off the sea as the tide came in and the tangy air had an edge to it. It had been a depressing afternoon; he had the feeling the evening was going to be worse.
"Since when have you cared about good food?" he asked with disbelief. "All you expect is quantity."
"No need to be like that, mate." Bodie hoisted his overnight bag out of the boot; it was stuffed to over-capacity with the extra clothes they'd bought to tide them over their unexpected holiday. He slung Doyle's to him over the roof of the car.
Doyle caught it on automatic reflex, grunting at the unexpected weight. Padding up the short flight of steps to the imposing front entrance, he paused at the massive door, his expression sombre.
"Do you really want to pack up the idea of doing any more research into what our nineteenth century namesakes got up to?"
Pushing the door open, and ignoring the sense of familiarity which swept over him, Bodie held his partner's gaze. "Yes." He saw the disappointment which swept across Doyle's face and smoothly changed tack, ignoring the instinct which said to back off fast. "Of course, if you felt like trying to talk me round using what you claim is your incredible charm, over a decent meal with a little wine, before you have your wicked way with me..." There was a small flame of arousal in the back of his eyes. "Well, let's just say I'm open to persuasion."
They were alone in the small dark lobby.
"Is that a fact?" mused Doyle, an appreciative grin forming as he gave his companion the once-over. His free hand slid down to cup a firm buttock, stroking it gently. "I'll consider it." He felt the muscle twitch in response to his touch.
As Bodie turned, an admonishing look on his face, Doyle gave him a swift, hard pinch, his expression innocence personified. Barely stifling his yelp of surprise, Bodie went through the swing doors into the reception area faster than he had anticipated.
"You're going to regret that," he promised Doyle in his silkiest tone.
"Maybe, maybe not." Doyle loped after him across the wide lobby to the desk. "It's your fault for having such a gorgeous - "
"Evening," cut in Bodie pleasantly to the young and very attractive receptionist. "We'd like two rooms for a couple of nights, please."
"Rooms?" Doyle fell into a chastened silence under a basilisk glare from his partner.
"You'll have to excuse my companion. He's such a cheapskate."
"I'm sorry, sir, but all the available rooms are already taken," the receptionist told Bodie.
He leant confidingly forward onto the counter, weight taken on his folded arms. "Nothing left at all?"
Doyle barely subdued a groan when he heard the seductive note in his partner's voice and saw Bodie's gaze slide with unabashed appreciation down her neat figure before his attention returned to her face.
"There is one suite that's free," she offered, responding to the sultry look in those wonderful eyes despite herself. "But it's in the old wing that the staff use and we decided not to open it to the public this season. It's in dire need of modernisation. The plumbing," she explained succinctly.
"Ah," said Doyle, trying to sound knowledgeable.
Bodie just smiled, his gaze lingering on her full mouth.
"It has a bathroom en suite, of course, but it's rather old. And as it was originally the master bedroom of an old house I'm afraid there's only a double bed, although it is a big one."
Bodie gave a resigned shrug. "Right now we'd take anything that's going. My partner and I are dog-tired. It's been a long, hard week. The room sounds fine and it won't be the first time we've shared a bed, will it, Ray?"
Obedient to the nudge in his ribs, Doyle shook his head. Leaning forward next to Bodie, he treated the receptionist to his most wistful smile. "We're really knackered," he said with a touch of pathos.
Bodie's side-on look told him that he might have over-played that one.
"Well, if you're sure you don't mind," she capitulated, although she still looked doubtful. "Luckily everything in the room's in order. We only decided not to use it last night. If you need anything, just ring across on the internal phone. But I'm afraid I'll have to charge the usual rates."
"That's OK," said Bodie with cheerful unconcern as he glanced at her scribbled calculations. "He's paying." He jerked a gleeful thumb in Doyle's direction.
Doyle swallowed his protest. "Very reasonable," he agreed on hearing the rates. His smile changed to a threatening grimace at Bodie the moment the receptionist turned away to get the key.
"If you could just sign the register, Mr - "
"Doyle. Ray Doyle."
Scrawling out the required details, he listened doubtfully to her directions. "Tell you what, if we're not down for dinner, send out a search-party because we'll be lost. Don't worry, we'll find our way. Short-staffed, are you?"
She gave a rueful shrug. "And then some. The trouble is, all we can offer is long hours and too little pay. Are you sure you don't want any help with your bags?"
Doyle leant forward confidingly. "I know he's on the puny side but I'll help him up the stairs. He's marvellous for his age, really."
"Oh, I believe you Mr Doyle. You're not wearing so badly yourself." Her professional smile embraced them both before she turned away to get back to work, having quite clearly forgotten their existence.
Bodie dragged Doyle off in the direction of the first flight of stairs. "Come on, sunshine, it's way past your bedtime."
"You owe me sixty-four quid," Doyle informed him with ominous clarity as they strolled along a short passageway to the next flight. "For double that I expect to buy the place."
Bodie gave him a soulful look. "Aren't I worth the price?"
Doyle paused at the top of the stairs to give him an assessing look from cropped crown and back again, lingering on the way down. "I don't know," he said finally, his eyes dark with desire. "I'll let you know."
The stairs too public a venue, he started up the next flight of steps.
Bodie tried to ignore the provocation of the rump swaying in front of him, but was tantalised by the way the soft denim hugged the under cheek of Ray's arse almost as closely as he planned to later. "What do you mean you'll let me know?"
"Well, you are planning to pay me in kind, aren't you?" Doyle gave him a hopeful look.
Bodie gave a lecherous grin. "Try and stop me. Hey, why have we started to go downstairs all of a sudden? I thought you knew the way," he accused.
"So did I," muttered Doyle, disconcerted to realise he had been moving by instinct alone. "Have faith. Come on, round this way."
Flinging open the door he had unlocked, he gave a choke of laughter before he dissolved completely. "I don't believe it," he exclaimed, dropping his bag as he wandered around. "This place is fantastic. Look at it, straight out of Hammer Horror via Fawlty Towers."
The room was immense, dark-panelled, with shadowy corners and alcoves; the general tone was that of heavy, Victorian splendour, although some of the worm-scored pieces of furniture were clearly far older. Logs were stacked in the large fireplace, needing only to have a match set to them. Threatening to dwarf everything else was a vast four-poster bed.
"You could hold an orgy in that bed and still have room to spare," remarked Bodie in awe, having walked around it as far as he was able.
Doyle's arms slid around Bodie's flanks to draw him back against him. "I plan to," he whispered. His tongue tip traced the outline of one neat-set ear.
"What, just the pair of us?"
"We'll be enough," Doyle promised him.
A warm mouth found the nape of Bodie's neck, a moist tongue teasing the tender skin. Skilful fingers slipped around, seeking to unfasten his flies. Bodie caught hold of the wayward hands.
"Not now," he said with as much conviction as he could manage in the circumstances. "I'm hungry."
"So am I," confessed Doyle, his voice muffled against Bodie's throat as he explored further.
"And I want a shower," Bodie added, ignoring the effect Doyle's mouth was having on him.
Pressing himself against the length of the muscular back, Doyle rotated his hips suggestively; his arousal was obvious.
"Before dinner," insisted Bodie, abruptly freeing himself from the other man's embrace.
"What's the matter?" asked Doyle quietly. His expression changed when he saw Bodie's face. He felt somehow excluded.
Bodie shook his head in reassurance and brushed a hand down Doyle's flank before he went to pick up his over-night bag and headed for the bathroom. "Not a thing," he said lightly. "I'm just hungry, that's all."
Watching the door close behind the other man, Doyle stared at the threadbare carpet and wondered why Bodie had felt it necessary to lie to him.
PARIS, MAY - JUNE 1789
Doyle lay curled on his side with his back to his cell-mate's unmoving form, silently cursing the demands of his recalcitrant flesh.
"Enforced abstinence has little to recommend it, don't you agree?" Bodie's calm voice drifted into the tense silence.
Doyle tensed, uncertain where this conversation might be leading.
"But I've never resorted to rape in my life. I have no intention of breaking that habit now with you," Bodie added, a trace of humour evident in his cool voice.
"I never supposed that you would," said Doyle, startled into speech. This was one hell of a personal conversation for a man who avoided them with dedication.
"Equally I have no intention of being raped," continued Bodie.
Doyle sat bolt upright, mouth parted as he faced the spot where Brown lay. "What - ?"
"You have a right hand, make use of it," snapped Bodie with a sudden, rough impatience. "Another night such as this and we'll both turn into gibbering lunatics. Don't be so damn missish."
"Nonsense," protested Doyle weakly, too stunned by the unexpected turn the conversation had taken to think of a more convincing rebuttal.
Bodie gave him a look of disbelief. "Have it your own way, but forgive me if I seek some privacy." Rising to his feet, he moved to the far corner, valiantly trying not to notice the increased stench from the privy.
Desperately embarrassed but thankful that his inconvenient erection had subsided, Doyle tried to close his ears to any sound his companion might make.
There was complete silence, to the point where he could hear his own stomach rumble.
Struck by the ludicrous situation they found themselves in, he began to laugh, quietly at first until the momentum grew and he was giggling uncontrollably, curled in an aching ball. Finally rolling onto his back, Doyle gave a prolonged, sensuous stretch of sheer well-being, scratched briefly, then craned his head in the direction he knew Brown to be occupying.
"I believed, mistakenly it would seem, that it was a problem I was successfully concealing," he said finally.
"No," said Bodie with restraint. "Unless it's usual for you to behave like a bear with a sore... head?"
"Are you plagued by dreams, too?"
"Of course, but I shall share my fantasies only when I have been regaled with yours. I'm beginning to believe I have forgotten what it is like to copulate," he added wistfully.
Doyle propped himself against the wall. "I knew you lacked imagination, but I didn't realise you suffered from a failing memory too. The stench down that end must be appalling. Come back here. I'll try to contain my ungovernable lust for your undeniably desirable body."
"It isn't your reaction which concerns me," Bodie retorted, making a joke from the truth.
The close proximity of the other man took Doyle by surprise; he had not heard Brown move.
Bodie studied Doyle through heavy-lidded eyes. He would have great pleasure in assuaging his dragging physical need for relief with Ray Doyle. That wiry, lithe body and exotic face had come to seem very attractive over the months but he would do nothing until he was certain that such a course of action would not adversely affect their friendship. He wouldn't risk that. As he was unsure of Doyle's reaction, he chose to sleep alone.
"I have never bedded a man," Doyle told him, his face thoughtful, as if he was considering the idea.
Bodie's cock twitched. "It has its merits," he informed Doyle, answering the unasked question.
"I'm sure it does. I can also foresee a number of problems." Doyle moved over to make room for Bodie to lie beside him.
"So can I," Bodie admitted. "That's why I choose to sleep alone."
A brief smile lit Doyle's face at the arrogance which prevented Brown from doubting his powers of persuasion. "I would be more flattered were it not for the fact your choice is somewhat restricted at present," he said dryly.
There was a long pause.
"I doubt my choice would be much different," said Bodie with deliberation.
Doyle caught hold of Brown's arm, knowing the other man rarely spoke without first considering what he said. "Then perhaps I should reconsider. There are few problems that are not capable of solution."
Resolute, Bodie looked away from the unconscious invitation of the well-defined mouth, his senses stroked by that velvet-soft voice.
"Perhaps you should," he agreed, keeping his voice light only with great effort. "Be sure to let me know what you decide. But be equally sure you know what you're agreeing to."
"Are you lecturing me?" demanded Doyle with amused disbelief.
"Yes, I am. You're too soft-hearted for your own well-being. Be certain that when you decide, your decision accords only with your own wishes."
"Oh, I will," Doyle promised him softly, a small, amused smile quirking his mouth. "I'm already certain you'll be the first to learn of my decision."
"Good," said Bodie, content for the moment with that. It was more than he had hoped for.
He stiffened in surprise when Doyle drew closer to relax against him, his head resting comfortably in the crook of his shoulder. Wriggling until he was completely comfortable, Doyle gave a contented sigh.
"There must be others afflicted with your overwhelming conceit," he informed Bodie in sleepy amusement. "I simply haven't had the misfortune to meet them."
"Go to sleep and cease babbling," instructed Bodie, a wide smile on his face as he slung a protective arm around the other man.
The damp, even breath against his neck soon told him that, for once, Doyle had obeyed him. His own position was not particularly comfortable, but Bodie elected to remain where he was because he was reluctant to disturb the sleeping man.
"Kitty has a superb chef," said Doyle dreamily, ignoring the bowl of gruel on the floor next to him. The intense heat had stolen his appetite. "He has a way with fish that - "
"Say one more word," threatened Bodie as he worked through his own portion while trying not to gag at the foul taste, which was even worse than its smell. "If I have to support one more menu I shall probably throw a fit of the vapours."
"Really? Could you?" Doyle asked with interest.
"I don't propose to put it to the test. Eat up," instructed Bodie briskly. "You can continue working to improve my grasp of the French language afterwards. I must be making some progress after all this time."
"Not that you would notice," said Doyle with a melancholy sigh. He had accepted a while back that Brown had no aptitude for languages. "How you contrive to massacre any tongue so atrociously is beyond my comprehension.
"Years of unrelenting endeavour," Bodie informed him with cheerful unconcern.
"I have no wish to be further edified with tales of your exploits in - or out - of the bedchamber," Doyle told him with would-be severity.
Bodie's expression was all bland innocence. "Would I lie?"
"Would you - " Words, almost, failed Doyle. Pausing only to draw a deep breath, he began to enumerate the various occasions on which he had discovered his companion to be less than honest.
"So I exaggerate a little," said Bodie, when the other man had to pause to take in air.
His face lit with amusement, Doyle surrendered. "Let us just agree that you're a congenital liar. Lord, but it's hot." He re-tied his super-abundance of hair with a ragged strip of cotton torn from his shirt before he listlessly sat back against the wall, welcoming the chill of the stone.
"We should renew our attempts to loosen the window bars," he informed Bodie with a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm.
After several weeks of endeavour they had succeeded in removing very little of the mortar in which the sturdy bars were encased. Neither of them chose to consider what help clearing the window would be to their escape plans, for its dimensions were too small for either of them to be able to escape through it, quite apart from the fact it opened onto an inner courtyard which was always bustling with troops.
Bodie looked pensive. "It's a pity you couldn't have remembered that before you ate. You're no light-weight at the best of times."
"Rest easy. I haven't eaten yet," Doyle told him sunnily, enjoying the other man's exasperated sigh.
Balked, Bodie gave a despairing groan and rose resignedly to his feet. He flexed his sore shoulder muscles, that were still protesting from the burden of Doyle's weight the day before.
"Alternatively, it's time I took my turn as a prop," said Doyle.
There was a disconcerted silence during which Doyle struggled to keep his face straight. While Brown would deny it vehemently, he was more protective of his cell-mate's well-being than a hen with one chick. He persevered with his attempts to make the other man accept how nonsensical his attitude was. So far to little effect.
"You lack the necessary inches," Bodie pointed out, grasping at straws.
"All one inch by my reckoning," Doyle returned, his voice dry. "Is that the best objection you can find? Stop mollycoddling me. And don't seek to deny it. I might be blind but I am not half-witted."
Bodie glared at him in impotent frustration, irritated at having been caught out. "Very well," he said gruffly, seeing the other man's determination, "but if you drop me..."
"Save your energy for the bars," Doyle advised him. He offered his cupped hands as a step.
Bodie stared at him with ill-concealed reluctance. "We could always resume our attempt tomorrow," he prevaricated.
Doyle raised his head to glare at him. With a sigh of defeat Bodie clambered up onto his companion's lean back.
Bearing what was fast coming to seem an unendurable weight, Doyle was unconscious of the moment when the cell door was opened. Bodie having been distracted from his task by a glimpse of what could only have been a petticoat, he was oblivious to his surroundings as he strained to see out at a right-angle in the direction the elusive female had gone in.
The first indication that either man had that they were not alone was when the butt of a musket caught Doyle in the kidneys. The blow slammed him, choking with pain, against the wall, sending Bodie tumbling to the ground. Training enabled Bodie to make a swift recovery and he turned, eager to test his skills. The three well-fed and bored guards proved to be both fit and able fighters.
Unable to stand straight, his lower back feeling as if it was on fire, Doyle knew himself to have been forgotten as the guards vented their spleen on Bodie, who had proved to be more difficult to subdue than they had anticipated. Held by two men, the third was systematically beating him.
Controlling the rage which flooded through him, Doyle concentrated, determined to waste none of his element of surprise. As he moved into the attack, one startled guard found himself being wrenched away, his arm twisted to the edge of agony as he was thrown cross-buttock to lie in a stunned heap.
For all Doyle's initial success, he soon discovered that the practice sessions with his cell-mate had been a very different matter from hand to hand combat with strangers intent on injury. But he had a few tricks of his own and had been taught to channel anger to his advantage. That, combined with his element of surprise, gave him the edge until a chance blow caught him on his already bruised kidneys.
He moved before he was fully conscious and instantly regretted it. His first thought, verging on panic, was that he couldn't see. Then memory returned and Doyle gave a choked sound that was caught between a laugh and a groan. The movement brought a wave of stabbing pain in his back which only slowly assumed bearable proportions.
"I was beginning to believe you would never recover consciousness," said Bodie roughly in an attempt to conceal his concern.
His voice came from the other side of the cell and there was a note in it which worried Doyle. "Brown? Are you - Damn!" There was a painful silence as he fought for breath after moving too quickly.
Bodie pulled uselessly at the ropes which bound him wrist to ankle, and drew the cords even tighter. His face in the straw, he tried to wriggle on his belly to where Doyle lay.
"It's nothing," said Doyle in quick reassurance. "Merely bruising. I must be more out of condition than I had supposed. I believe we should resume our practice sessions. I am sadly slow, unless you have been over-protective of me all this time." He frowned. "I didn't strike you in error, did I?"
Bodie came to a painful halt, near to laughter for all his discomfort. "Not as far as I am aware. It became a little crowded on the floor at one point. If it's any consolation, one of the guards was limping when he left and another was sporting the beginnings of a beautiful shiner."
Doyle gave a disgruntled snort. "If this is victory, I should hate to meet the losers. Your voice sounds odd. What's amiss?"
Bodie could not have moved another inch to save his life. "They left me bound. If you could..."
"Where - ? Ah, yes. I have you." Doyle quickly discovered it was possible to move if the inducement was strong enough.
His hands brushing the prone body, it took him a moment to visualise the other man's position. He found the locked muscles in the shoulders and legs where Brown lay on his belly, his body arched in a crude bow enforced by the constraint of the ropes which bound him.
"The pox-ridden bastards. I hope I de-balled one of them," Doyle muttered in fury as he struggled with the knots. He knew from his companion's unnatural silence that each clumsy movement jarred the cramped muscles even more. Sweating with tension, he tried to gain a purchase on the knots.
He lost all awareness of time as he struggled with them, cursing his inability to see and the guards with equal fervour. When he eventually managed to free the central knot Bodie gave a groan of relief as his arms were released from the strain they had been under. Busy with other ropes fastening ankles and legs, Doyle wasn't immediately aware of the effort the other man was making to remain still as the circulation thudded back into his swollen, purple hands.
Having disposed of the final rope, Doyle rested one arm lightly across Bodie's shoulders. "We must present a sorry picture at present." He became aware of the tremors rippling through the other man and belatedly realised that he was shivering with the pain caused by his returning circulation.
His face taut with rage, Doyle began gently to rub at the swollen hands. Avoiding the torn wrists, he tried to ease the other man's agony as best he could, while wondering how long Brown had been trussed up in that manner. Sweat was soaking through Brown's shirt and tremors still shook his body. It hurt to be powerless to help him. He brushed a rivulet of sweat from Brown's eyes, his hand lingering in a faint caress.
"Save your English phlegm," he reminded his companion, trying to inject some humour in an otherwise humourless situation. "Yell if it helps."
"It doesn't," said Bodie wearily as he rested his head on Doyle's shoulder. Fingers massaged the nape of his neck.
"I knew there was a sound reason for my preferring to keep my feet on the ground," said Bodie with a drowsy pleasure. "This must be it. That feels so good."
"Good. How is the pain?"
"Easing." Raising his head, Bodie took his first good look at his companion and winced. "You look terrible."
"I have no reason to doubt you. I feel it. Come, let's rest. We have no way of knowing what tomorrow might bring. Did the guards see you at the window, do you suppose?"
There was a guilty silence.
"Brown? You were supposed to be attempting to free one of those bars. What were you occupied in doing?"
"I did work on them, but then I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of a petticoat. I leant out to try and get a better view," said Bodie defensively.
Doyle glared impotently past the other man's left shoulder. "Are you telling me that while I was hoisting your weight on my back you were ogling some chit of a girl?"
"Yes," said Bodie, using honesty because that was all that would serve.
"Of all the devious, ungrateful - "
Staring in that infuriated face, Bodie couldn't resist the temptation to disconcert that righteous fury. He silenced his cell-mate's diatribe with a gentle kiss.
Making a sharp sound of surprise, Doyle's mouth remained closed. Palms flat against Bodie's chest, he made as if to push him away.
Cradling Doyle's face between his hands, Bodie persevered, offering all the conflicting emotions that Ray Doyle aroused in him with the deepening caress. His mouth cajoled rather than demanded, his tongue teasing the beautiful lips to part for him. Doyle's tentative response slowly gained in confidence, his mouth firming, tongue touching the other man's as his hands slid around the broad back. By the time they drew apart Doyle's expression was a mixture of bemused speculation and arousal.
"Well, that's certainly one method of silencing an adversary," he said. His arms still around the other man, he was untroubled by his own stirring flesh, or the fact the other man had provoked such a physical and emotional response in him.
Bewilderment on his face, Bodie continued to stare at him, mute. What had been intended as a jest, mingled with ever-present desire, threatened to turn into something he had never intended or sought. He released Doyle firmly but without haste and took a couple of steps away from him.
"I apologise," he said with great formality. "It was an ill-conceived jest that got out of hand."
Propped indolently against the wall, Doyle's head tilted in silent query. He recognised tenderness when it was offered to him. It was that, not the lick of desire which had raced between them which had startled him so. The tension in the other man's voice made him refrain from posing the question which Brown clearly had no intention of facing up to, never mind answering. There would be time, probably far too much time, in which to examine his own feelings and then pose his own questions.
"Not so ill-conceived, John Brown. But not perhaps something we should make a habit of. You need a shave."
Bodie gave a forced laugh, his relief apparent. "I certainly need something."
An impish grin dissolved the pensive look from Doyle's face. "I had noticed."
Bodie flushed for the first time in many years and remained silent, unable to think of a single retort.
Much to their surprise there were no further reprisals of a serious nature. The guards had obviously reported the incident but beyond their ration of food being cut no mention was made of what had occurred. But Pêche came to the cell more often, the report obviously stirring his curiosity as to how the two men dealt with one another. He paid no personal calls, choosing rather to watch them through the grille of the cell door. By unspoken agreement Bodie and Doyle were careful to give no hint of the extent of their friendship lest they be parted. It was safer that Pêche believe they shared the cell in a state of armed neutrality.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
Maurice looked up unenthusiastically as the three men trooped into his lounge. Looming over him, they nodded before sinking in silent unison onto the leather settee. He glared at his brother-in-law.
"I thought you said they'd be inconspicuous," he accused. "They stick out like sore bloody thumbs. I've got to live here, you know."
Jack Hodge stretched out his legs, for the first time feeling at ease amongst the marble-topped tables and gilt-edged mirrors.
"Shut up, Morrie. We'll be gone before you know it. All right, Dave. What have you got for me on Ray Doyle?"
"Alec and Ken did a bit of double-checking. It seems Doyle left the Force to move onto better things. Word is he's been with CI5 for nearly eight years now." Dave nodded when the older man gave a silent whistle of surprise.
"That's right, CI5. It's none of my business, Jack, but does Mr C. know what we're running into? We're not equipped to deal with that mob."
"Listen, my son, we ain't gonna tangle with them. This is strictly personal. Besides, can you see that lot giving a monkeys? Course not. They ain't gonna know who it was. There must be a whole queue of people with a score to settle with Doyle by this time, and CI5 aren't best loved. Morrie here established that Doyle's booked into the Shambolt's Cove Hotel, master suite, old wing. Why don't you pay him an early morning call? It's a simple job. Just get him into the boot of the car and away you go, no messing. Not yet anyway," added Hodge with grim satisfaction. "I intend to be there when Doyle gets his."
Sinking further down into his armchair, drawing furiously on his unlit pipe, Maurice tried to look inconspicuous as he wished himself a million miles away. But he couldn't help listening with a horrified fascination as the fine details were worked out.
PARIS, JULY 1789
When their full ration of food was restored to them they gorged themselves.
They stirred to consciousness to find Pêche standing between them.
As he tried to clamber to his feet Bodie realised with a sick self-contempt that their meal must have been doctored with some opiate. It was an effort to keep his eyes open. He propped himself against the wall for support, still swaying, a knot of apprehension gripping him when he saw the expression in the gaoler's eyes as he stared at Doyle. Still sprawled in the straw, Doyle was barely conscious.
"What do you want?" Bodie asked thickly, finding speech and any kind of concentration difficult.
"Prisoner 987, you will accompany me now," Pêche ordered.
Doyle struggled to get to his feet, only to subside as his legs failed him.
"He won't," contradicted Bodie, his expression grim as he tried to go to the other man. His body betrayed him.
The guards restrained him effortlessly; manhandling him against the wall, they chained him there, spread-eagled and helpless.
Doyle staggered to his feet and nearly lost his balance as he tried to rush forward when he heard the impact of fists against flesh.
"Don't," he cried out instinctively.
"Ray, be quiet. You - "
There was the sound of another blow, a gasp and Brown's voice was cut off.
"The pair of you have said enough," said Pêche unemotionally. "He has been sufficiently punished," he told the now panting guards. The taller guard landed one final blow, which made Bodie cry out.
Pêche easily evaded the blow Doyle attempted to land, for the smaller man lacked any co-ordination. Restraining him in an arm-lock, the gaoler gave him an admonishing cuff that made his ears ring.
"You have both courage and great stupidity. What do you imagine you can achieve while you can't stand unassisted? Extend your hands."
Unable to stop yawning, Doyle had no choice but to obey. He felt the heavy draw of manacles shackling his hands a few inches apart but refused to surrender to the fear growing in him.
"May I know where I am to be taken?" He kept his tone courteous in the hope that he might obtain an answer for the benefit of his listening cell-mate. The wary note in the gaoler's voice suggested that the moment he had dreaded since his arrest had arrived.
"You are to be questioned by officers from the Ministry of Justice. I know no more than that." Pêche's own apprehension was clear. "Come, they are waiting."
Bodie wanted desperately to speak but the words refused to form. He was afraid what he might blurt out in his agony of fear for Doyle's safety. Unobtrusively he exerted all his strength against the chains which held him but succeeded only in awakening all the small hurts he had accumulated from this new beating.
With the assistance of a rough hand under each elbow Doyle paused at the top of the stairs, looking down to where he judged Brown to be.
"Well, one thing's for certain, I won't be likely to startle you on my return wearing this finery. Have a care." He was pushed out through the door before he could say more.
Bodie glared up the stairway, his expression murderous as he saw the gaoler staring at him. Unperturbed, Pêche scratched his head and gaze a lazy smile.
"Of course, he may not be capable of walking by the time he returns. If he returns," he added with soft-voiced malice. "Sleep well, monsieur."
It was one of the longest nights of Bodie's life.
Paul Degas took one disgusted look at the prisoner who had been presented to him for questioning and waved the man away, his lace handkerchief held fastidiously to his nose.
"He's an offence to the nostrils. Return him when he ceases to be so."
Aggrieved, Pêche spared the bewigged figure a protesting glance. "But monsieur, we have no facilities for bathing - "
"Then contrive some, man. And quickly. I grow faint from the stench of this place."
Doyle was bundled out of the room as quickly as he had been pushed into it, a beatific smile on his face.
An hour later, bathed and roughly shaved by a sulky guard, and reclothed in a clean shirt and trousers, Doyle felt ready to face anyone.
Conversation ceased as he re-entered the small, humid chamber that was pungent with the perfume of the men waiting to question him.
"That's better," said Degas with approval. "You may go. Leave two guards outside."
Doyle heard the door close behind Pêche and stared expressionlessly in the direction he judged his interrogators to be sitting. He knew there were three men, one, if his laboured breathing was any indication, in poor health. His expression schooled, he waited patiently for the interrogation to begin.
"And now, Monsieur Doyle, we have a few questions to put to you. I would advise you to be careful in the answers you supply."
"Deal with us honestly and you will have nothing to fear," a second, older voice told him with patent insincerity, his breath wheezing.
The third man said nothing then or throughout the time Doyle spent in that room. But from whispered, half-audible fragments of conversation, and once, the scratching of a quill on paper and the new, seemingly inconsequential turn the questions took thereafter Doyle knew it was this third man and not Degas who controlled the interrogation which was inexorably pointing to his likely fate.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
A towel knotted precariously around narrow flanks, his head buried in another as he vigorously dried his hair, Doyle ambled to the half-open door of the bathroom. The bedroom was in darkness except for the dim light provided by a standard lamp and the flames of the log fire. He propped himself against the door jamb in self-conscious invitation.
"Well, having promised me this night of wild and passionate love, I hope you're ready to cough up the goods because here I am, clean and ready for anything."
He knew he was being less than honest. He would have been quite happy to be called off-duty and placed on a twenty-four hour surveillance right now, preferably solo. Over dinner their light-hearted mood had evaporated, changing to a politeness which had never existed between them before, even in the early days of their teaming. Bodie's mocking question of this afternoon had rankled, raising all kinds of doubts about the durability of their relationship; doubts that had grown increasingly persistent over the last few months. They might work well together and their sex-life was terrific but he wanted more - only he didn't know what.
Proof of commitment? Fat chance. Bodie's cheerful acceptance of the weeks they had spent apart, the expression in his eyes as they followed their pretty young waitress around the dining room and the growing silence between them over the weeks had done nothing to reassure him that commitment was something his partner had even thought about.
He called out to the motionless figure on the bed. Receiving no reply, he discarded the towel he had been using and stalked across the room to stare at the relaxed figure.
"You can't have fallen asleep on me," he accused, fleeting indignation mixed with relief; anger stirring that he should feel either emotion.
Bodie didn't move. The only sounds in the room were those of the crackling logs, the groaning of the antique plumbing behind the wainscoting, and the soft breathing of the sleeping man. Bodie lay sprawled on his back; one knee crooked, the covers were twisted around his hips, an arm thrown above his head.
"I don't believe it." Doyle leant over him, prepared to wake the sleeper in no uncertain terms. But after a glance at the defenceless face he couldn't bring himself to do it.
Asleep, Bodie looked impossibly young and deceptively vulnerable. His cynical expression smoothed away, the mocking gaze was hidden by the long, dark lashes that fanned his exhausted face. He needed a shave. Studying him, Doyle knew himself to be lost, love for this complex, multi-faceted man stealing through him anew. He experienced a twist of pain, wondering how much longer they could hope to share between the exigencies of the job and their own natures.
Doyle had abandoned his attempts to analyse why it should be Bodie to whom he should have lost his independence; exasperating, wilful, fiercely-independent Bodie. It had never happened to him before; not with Ann, not with anyone. There were times when he resented it fiercely, wishing he could turn back the clock and return to the uncomplicated partnership they had shared.
But had it ever been uncomplicated?
Doyle sank onto the edge of the bed to consider that. He'd never given himself easily to anyone. He still couldn't place the moment when he had looked at this powerful, masculine body and wanted it with a hunger which had shocked him with its intensity. Forced to admit the scope of his love, he had known how completely he was committed to Bodie, whether he liked it or not. Yet most of the time Bodie didn't seem to need anyone, least of all one very confused ex-copper.
Why Bodie? wondered Doyle as he stared broodingly at the sleeping figure. Then anger drained away as he remembered the naked tenderness that had overtaken Bodie's face this morning, and the love that had enfolded him. His flesh twitched with the memory.
"Damn it," he whispered, both to his inconvenient erection and his sleeping partner.
Bodie gave an incoherent murmur and rolled onto his stomach, hugging the pillow to him. Padding around the bed, the towel dropping unnoticed to the floor, Doyle slid into bed beside him, sinking into the soft feather mattress which slid them together in the centre of the bed. Bodie mumbled something, nestling unquestioningly against the familiar warmth offered to him. His stubbled chin grazed Doyle's bare shoulder, one arm resting heavily across Doyle's flat belly, virtually pinning him in place. Doyle felt his toes curl, Bodie's warmth and scent and the sleeping weight of him lighting every sense he possessed.
"Damn you, wake up," he muttered irritably, pricked by desire.
His hand swept down the smooth, muscled back to come to rest over one beautiful buttock. Squeezing it, Doyle pushed back the covers, devouring Bodie's naked length with his eyes. His touch and the cool air brought Bodie back to consciousness with a muffled query.
"Morning," he mumbled, without opening his eyes. He felt too comfortable to want to begin another of the meaningless, petty arguments that had become so common between them recently.
"It's not bloody night-time yet, mate," snapped Doyle.
"Oh. Sorry." Becoming aware of the tension in the body under his hand, Bodie began an idle exploration, brushing crisp, pubic curls before finding the semi-tumescent cock.
"Ah. Been on the boil for long?" he inquired, divining the source of his partner's ill-humour with no difficulty. Fingers grasped his wrist and Bodie obediently stilled his gentle pulling, determined that he wouldn't lose his own temper.
Doyle's grip didn't ease. "You complacent bastard," he snapped.
There was a surge of movement and Bodie found himself pinned under his partner's not inconsiderable weight. His head was taken in a vice-like grip as Doyle's mouth ground against his, teeth bruising. For a split second the instinct to retaliate flared before Bodie controlled it when he remembered the bleak unhappiness on Doyle's face.
Muscles relaxing, Bodie slid his hands caressingly down the thin-fleshed spine, the hot, distended flesh pressing into his belly igniting his own response. Of his own accord his lips parted, accepting the savagery as he offered the sweet confusion of emotions that Ray Doyle aroused in him.
The urgency did not lesson but the violence changed to passion, their bodies, slick with sweat, finding a hard, sure rhythm. Moving fast and strong, Doyle climaxed quickly, his warmth spurting between them. Impatient with Bodie's straining flesh, he slid down, his mouth demanding. Hips thrusting, his hands locked in still damp hair, Bodie arched strongly upwards as he was engulfed in the warm suction that took all he could offer.
Feeling curiously vulnerable, he opened his eyes and found himself staring into narrowed green eyes that glinted with a driven anger as Doyle assessed him with a cold speculation. Pulling free of the embrace which held him, he stared down at the sprawled body that was still sticky from his own climax.
"I want you," he said abruptly, moving to kneel between the sprawled thighs.
Astonished to find that he was shaking, Bodie raised a gentle hand and rested the back of it against his lover's sweating face, brushing back the heavy curls.
"I can see that. But later, eh? There's something wrong. Tell me, Ray. What is it?" he coaxed, his thumb stroking the flawed profile, a strange, sweet ache building in him.
"Nothing you'd understand," snapped Doyle, jerking his head away.
He was too lost in his inexplicable rage to notice the colour drain from Bodie's face and wasn't aware of the moment Bodie reached out for him again, before he stilled the gesture.
"I want to fuck you," Doyle added harshly. "That's simple enough, isn't it. Or do you want to talk about it all night instead?"
There was naked pain in Bodie's eyes before he curtained them with his lashes. "Right now, I'd prefer to talk. Unless you're proposing rape?"
"What?" Disbelief stark on his face, Doyle stared at him in horror, his mouth dropping open.
A humourless smile twisted Bodie's mouth. "No? Well, I didn't think that was your style, but I thought I'd better check. I've begun to wonder just what you do want from me." Quiet despair echoed in his voice.
Unhappy and confused, Doyle sank back on his heels, desire killed by the scene he had precipitated. Uncertain of what it was he wanted - needed - he felt a sick awareness of what he might have done - of what he had said. He pushed the guilt aside.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said, all defensive bristles.
Bodie was staring thoughtfully at the sheet. "There's been something bugging you all day. I knew it must be something serious when you groped me in the lobby. You never do that. Touch me just for the pleasure of it, I mean. The only time you touch me is when we're in bed." His eyes bleak, he looked up. "Is that all I'm good for to you, a quick fuck or blow job? You certainly never want to talk things out with me, or bother to find out if I might understand whatever it is that's bothering you. Sometimes I wonder just how you do see me."
The underlying pain in his lover's voice penetrated Doyle's self-absorption. Stung, he looked up, his anger draining away. Bodie had rolled back onto his stomach, his face buried from view in the pillow. It was a totally defenceless position.
"You know bloody well what I think of you. You know that's not true," Doyle denied, his voice husky. The accusation was too stupid to take seriously.
"Of course it's not," agreed Bodie tonelessly. He did not trust himself to say anything else. Subconsciously he waited for the other man to leave, as he had always known he must one day.
The unfamiliar note of defeat in Bodie's voice alerted Doyle fully to the fact that something was seriously wrong. Bodie never gave up; he didn't know the meaning of the word surrender. Doyle stared at the dark head, then at the hand clenched over the pillow, every sinew clearly delineated.
The breath whooshed out of his lungs. He'd always known Bodie could be hurt - and badly. Months ago he had vowed he would never be the one to inflict that kind of pain on him; that he would do everything in his power to keep Bodie from harm. With one short announcement Bodie had shown him how appallingly he had failed, while at the same time revealing the extent of his love and how much he was hurting.
Galvanised into action, Doyle uncurled his cramped legs and moved up the bed to kneel over his prone partner. Wanting desperately to comfort him, he knew that touch alone would not be sufficient to erase the hurt he was responsible for inflicting. Gently touching Bodie's naked shoulder, he pretended not to notice when the other man flinched.
"Hey, you're frozen." Striving for normality, Doyle's voice was tense and strained. He drew the covers up over them both.
Bodie's unnatural rigidity did not ease. Resting a clammy palm over his partner's clenched fist, Doyle's thumb caressed the starkly defined tendons at the wrist.
"We don't talk enough," he conceded, his voice soft in the silence. "Not at all about the things which are important to us. I've known that from the beginning but..." Faltering, he forced himself to go on. "I've been too scared to break the silence. I didn't - don't - want to lose you," he explained baldly.
There was a long silence before Bodie gave a shuddering sigh. When he spoke his voice was indistinct. "The final bloody irony. You don't want to lose me. Every night I wonder... It's got to the point where I wonder if you'll be there when I wake up."
Doyle made a sharp sound of protest.
Bodie raised his head. "It's the truth," he said simply, too weary to be able to lie, or to pretend any more. "It's just that it's got worse recently." He turned his head away from the eyes that seemed to see right to the heart of him. His own vision was too blurred for him to be able to see much at all.
Feeling as if he had just been knifed in the guts, Doyle's free hand shakily rested on the nape of Bodie's neck, massaging it gently. "You daft bugger," he whispered with a helpless tenderness. Giving a fierce sniff, he wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand. "How am I going to walk out on the other half of myself?"
Taking Bodie's hand in his own, he locked the cramped fingers with his own, holding on as tight as he could.
"All this is my fault, I know that. Tonight was about... I was hurt by what you said this afternoon so I took it out on you. I'm sorry. So very sorry. But I could have killed you in that Records Office for frightening me like that." The love in Doyle's voice made a nonsense of the claim. "You made me realise how many things I'd been taking for granted. I wanted to stake my claim on you. I could have taken you there and then. Wanted to. Wanted to lock you away from anyone - everyone - who could take you away from me. Jealous, immature, possessive and stupid, I know. But, Jesus, Bodie," his voice cracked, "will you at least look at me while I'm spilling my heart out to you?"
Bodie's head turned. "That stupid joke of mine hurt you that much?"
"Yeah. But then I've not been thinking too straight recently either."
Bodie rolled onto his back. Reading the truth in Doyle's expression, he gave a soft sigh and shook his head. "And you called me a daft bugger." His fingers curled around Doyle's, sealing the ties between them. "Grown men acting so bloody stupid. I'm beginning to believe we might deserve each other." He felt some deep wound he had never been aware of until then heal, cured by the unmistakable love-light in the eyes fixed on his face.
Doyle's grip on his hand tightened to the point of pain. "I need you," he said with a rough awkwardness. "Sometimes I resent how much I need you. If I haven't talked to you it isn't because I don't think you'll understand. I know you do. You understand me too well for comfort. Put up with more than I have any right to expect. I take you for granted. I do that a lot. Too much."
Bodie gave one of his rare, blinding smiles that dispersed the remnants of the unhappiness in his eyes. "You think you're the only one at fault here? Come on, Ray. You know better than that."
Slinging an arm around him, Doyle drew them both back against the pillows. "You're far from perfect," he conceded with an almost familiar grin. "But sometimes I forget what a fraud you are and take you at face value. I can still remember the surprise all those years ago when I discovered you were nothing but a sheep in wolf's clothing. The hard man..." He ruffled the silky dark hair. "Shoot to kill, can't afford to care, you told me. So how come I've seen you, having had the drop on someone, take a knife in the shoulder rather than do it? Soft as butter."
Mumbling something incomprehensible, a faint colour crept up under Bodie's skin.
"All right, have it your way," said Doyle. "But it just goes to show. I'd have done it. And considering your reputation, how come it's usually you calming me down?"
"That's just my natural superiority coming to the fore," muttered Bodie, uneasy at what amounted to a eulogy from his partner. He gave a wayward curl a friendly tug.
"I'm inclined to believe you," Doyle told him. He grinned when Bodie's jaw dropped. "I rationalise too much, brood much too much. I don't have the guts to accept the consequences of my own actions all the time like you do. There's one big difference between us. You're demonstrative. I'm not. I never have been. I thought you would have realised that by now. I don't use touch to communicate the way you do. Or I didn't. You touch people all the time. It's as much a part of you as that crooked eyebrow."
"Are you suggesting I grope anything that moves?" asked Bodie with a trace of indignation.
"Be serious for a minute. You wanted to know why I don't talk, I'll tell you. You're the best damn interrogator we've got. Even Cowley admits that. The sympathetic ear, the velvet glove, the smiling psycho. Whatever's needed, you provide it. And you get results. You're too good a listener, mate. Once I started talking to you I might not be able to stop."
"Don't be daft. Do you think I'd mind?"
Doyle shook his head decidedly. "Maybe you wouldn't, but I would."
"I'd forgotten what a self-contained little bugger you are." Bodie shrugged and fell silent, uncertain what he was asking for but wanting it anyway.
"Self-contained, me?" said Doyle with puzzlement. "This from the inscrutable man himself. I don't mean to shut you out. I just didn't see any reason to take my moods out on you."
"Try it sometime," suggested Bodie. "It never used to stop you."
Doyle relaxed against him, grinning now. "No, it didn't, did it?" Propped against one another, they were silent for some time, comfortably soaking up the awareness of each other.
Then Doyle stirred to give Bodie a prod in the ribs. "Do you realise we haven't had a decent holiday since last August. You call that normal?"
"No, but things have been tight at work. You off one way, me the other. There's hardly been time to think recently, let alone have time off for a row."
"Right. So when we do get together, where do we end up? Bed, that's where. And, no, I'm not complaining. But these silences, both of us afraid to react normally, got me down while we both pretended everything was great. I'd begun to worry that sex was all you wanted."
Bodie's face was completely unguarded. "That isn't all."
"No, well I know that now. How the hell could we get it so wrong? Enough insecurities to sink the Titanic. We nearly made a right mess of it."
"We still might," Bodie pointed out.
"No way. But when I wake you up at three in the morning because I've had a bad dream and want a cuddle you'd better not complain," Doyle threatened him flippantly.
The blue eyes crinkled at the corners, laughter in their depths. "If it's confession time about insecurities, I suppose I should tell you one of my darkest secrets."
Doyle eyed him warily. "OK, I'll buy it. What?"
"I'm terrified of pigeons," said Bodie, shamefaced.
Doyle's mouth fell open. "Pigeons!"
"Straight up. I dunno why, but even the thought of them is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. I can cope with them, mind, but I don't like it."
It was only then that Doyle realised he was serious. "It's rats with me," he offered, his expression pensive. "And I'm not wild about ear-wigs, if we're on the subject." He became aware that Bodie was shaking with suppressed laughter. "I can't help it. God, when I was in the Force... Some of the sights on the streets. I got to hate rats."
"Sorry, I wasn't laughing at that. Besides, I don't like them much myself. I was just thinking... This conversation isn't going according to plan, is it? Secret neuroses of CI5 agents. Christ." Convulsed with laughter, Bodie buried his face against his partner's shoulder.
Doyle hugged him tight. "And this, god help me, is one of the reasons I love you, you mad bugger. Living with you is like living with a cross between Methuselah and Davy - with maybe a touch of Cowley thrown in."
Resting limply against the other man, Bodie gave a snort of disbelief and sat up. "I don't see it myself." A new smile was already tugging the corners of his mouth.
"Well I'm telling you, so shut up and listen," instructed Doyle in his firmest tone.
Bodie's hand drifted down Doyle's torso, finding and following the thin, crooked line of hair, kneading the flat belly. "You don't have to say any more. Let's just make love. I'm sure my balls must be in a lover's knot by now." He moved so that he could plant a series of kisses down Doyle's quivering stomach muscles.
Doyle tugged at Bodie's hair to get his attention. "Yes, but in a minute, OK? I just want to say one more thing."
Bodie looked up, his face serious. "Listen, I was being stupid. You don't have to tell me a damn thing."
"Yes, I do."
Bodie sighed. "This will teach me."
"I said I loved you. I don't know why exactly. You're autocratic, bloody-minded, possessive, and a rotten cook to boot - even if you can beat the shit out of me in a work-out. But I need you. Everything about you. Even when you're driving me nuts it's never better without you than with you. It just doesn't always occur to me to say so." His hand held in a bruising grip by this time, Doyle shrugged. "It honestly never occurred to me that you couldn't know because it's so much a part of me. I love you, so bloody much." He hugged Bodie again, with strength enough to steal breath away.
Running his hands up and down Doyle's back, Bodie swallowed the lump in his throat. "You and Davy have a lot in common," he said at last. Feeling the damp warmth against his skin, he ruffled Doyle's hair. "You'd be pulling off my shirt buttons too - if I was wearing any. I can see where he gets his tendencies from."
"Yeah," agreed Doyle, wiping his face dry against Bodie's shoulder.
A little later he began to move his body, hands languorously exploring familiar territory with a heightened pleasure. Bodie shivered when Doyle lapped down his neck before nipping over the pulsing artery, marking him with great precision.
"If Davy ever shows any sign of wanting to do this to you I'll have a word with him," Doyle promised, leaning back to admire his handiwork.
"He's a bit young, isn't he?" said Bodie with no more than passing interest.
"Us Doyles start early," his partner informed him smugly, before he went to work on the other side of Bodie's neck. He paused, struck by a thought. "If Cowley could see us now he'd send for the men in white and a padded wagon."
"If Cowley could see us now they could take me without a fight," retorted Bodie, caressing Doyle's arse with his fingertips while he cupped the perfect curves.
Doyle pressed back into Bodie's hands.
Strong hands pressed Doyle back against the pillows and held him there with ease. Bodie's breath was warm against the pulse of Doyle's cock.
"Later," Bodie promised him. He set a neat row of sucking kisses up Doyle's inner thigh, traced across the lower belly and down the other side, then began to suck Doyle's testicles. Tonguing them delicately, he could feel them stir and tighten at his touch.
Crying out his partner's name, Doyle's head went back, exposing the long, taut line of his throat. One hand reaching out in blind appeal, the other was clenched in the sheet.
Realising Doyle was beyond speech, Bodie looked very smug. Taking pity on his incoherent lover, he traced up the straining column of flesh before he touched his tongue tip to the head, then traced down the sensitive underside. His hand encircling the root, his mouth accommodated the glistening head. Sucking avidly, he was rewarded by a sudden ripple before Doyle came in the warm, wet sanctuary of his mouth, completing him.
Slow to stir back to life, Doyle gave a long stretch of animal well-being. Reaching out, he caressed whatever portions of Bodie were nearest.
"I want to do that for you," he said lazily.
"That's OK. You still can."
"You're sure you don't mind?" Doyle checked, all mock-anxiety.
Bodie had to bite his bottom lip as the long-fingered hand slid frustratingly down his thigh. "No," he said, in a slightly higher pitch than usual, "I don't mind. In fact I'm almost getting to enjoy it."
"Well I wouldn't want to insist," Doyle cooed, his lips hovering.
Tried beyond endurance, Bodie glared at him. "I'll be past it if you leave it much longer," he warned.
That was his last coherent thought for some time.
PARIS, JULY 1789
The next morning Pêche ordered one of the guards to release Bodie from the wall chains. The musket which covered him was an unnecessary precaution; his muscles unnaturally strained for twelve hours, Bodie was incapable of doing anything but collapse on the floor. Eventually he managed to frame the question uppermost in his mind but neither Pêche nor the guard would speak to him.
Stiff and sore, he allowed himself the luxury of hope when he saw he had been left a double ration of food and watered wine. As the hours passed and Doyle did not return, hope dwindled, his imagination working overtime.
Bodie spent the day pacing around the cell, unconsciously waiting for some mocking comment from Doyle. Even with his eyes closed he could see Doyle's expression as he had been led away. No man should look that vulnerable, he thought painfully as he recalled the pale, resolute face and the burden of chains weighing him down. His thoughts chased furiously on why, after all these months, Doyle should be questioned. And about what.
Anyone detained under the authority of a lettre de cachet
ceased to exist as far as the outside world was concerned, no matter who might enquire. It was then that Bodie realised Doyle had never, in all the months of their shared captivity, discussed the circumstances surrounding his own arrest. Indeed, the subject had never arisen.
The Ministry of Justice would be skilled in all forms of interrogation. Having travelled through war-torn countries Bodie had seen and experienced many different styles of questioning. He knew exactly how the sessions could be conducted. Doyle might be dead already.
Worn down by anxiety, Bodie finally had to rest. Sinking onto the straw, he fell into an uneasy, nightmare-ridden doze.
He awoke, chilled by his dreams, to find himself still alone. He spent the remainder of the day hunched in his corner under the window listening to the silence. He had never known a silence like this one, but then he had never experienced such an intense sense of aloneness before. In a life during which he had maintained a careful distance from others there had never been anyone whose company had been that important to him.
And he hadn't even bid Ray farewell...
Forbidding himself to degenerate into morbid sentimentality, he briskly tried to alter the course of his thoughts, but with little success. By the second night, he was almost frantic with worry. Eventually he slept, but waking to look around for Doyle, he found his face wet with tears.
The second time he awoke was when some unfamiliar noise broke through his nightmare. Fear leaden in his belly, he found himself enfolded in a warm embrace. Stunned, he didn't hear the door of the cell slam to a close.
"What's amiss, John Brown?"
The voice sounded impossibly like Doyle's. Bodie stretched out an incredulous hand and brushed a clean-shaven chin. Instantly awake, he wrenched free to glare at the shadowy figure in front of him. From the gleam of white in the dim light he knew Doyle must be smiling his familiar smile.
"Where the devil have you been?" he demanded, his voice roughened by emotion. It rose as he took in his companion's radically improved appearance. "God above! You contrive to take a bath and shave while I've been out of my mind with worry."
"I was given clean clothes, too," said Doyle with glee. The long hours of questioning interposed with periods of solitary confinement and little sleep had demanded all his concentration. Stunned by his temporary reprieve, he was determined to make the most of every second of life he had been given and was oblivious of the growing storm.
Bodie's open-handed slap was delivered with the weight of two days of gut-tearing anxiety behind it. The blow sent Doyle to his knees, his head ringing and his face feeling as if it was on fire.
Biting off an exclamation, he flexed his jaw and got slowly to his feet. Despite himself he gave a wry smile. With John Brown to consider, his own plans could never be certain. His cell-mate was not the most predictable of individuals. "What was that for?" he demanded ruefully.
"I'll show you," growled Bodie, infuriated by the sweetness of that smile.
His fingers tangling in the soft, clean curls, he found the full, lush mouth, his teeth grinding into the soft flesh, demanding entry. He used his superior body weight to pin the slighter man to the wall.
Trapped, Doyle twisted desperately but because he was unwilling to cause the other man harm was unable to free himself. The ruthless strength which pinned him gradually changed in nature. There was more than lust behind the violence, although for now that would have been enough to ignite his own response. Doyle's lips parted willingly, his hand sliding around the unkempt head to draw it to him.
It had been so long.
As a questing tongue thrust to meet his own, Bodie gave a start of surprise and jerked free with a desperate, "Don't!"
Doyle was just grateful for the support of the wall behind him. He could feel the other man trembling under his hands and a surge of affection washed dizzily through him.
"I rather thought the inspiration had been yours," he said, surprised at how calm his voice sounded.
"I must be deranged," said Bodie bitterly. The changing light was sufficient to show him the mess he had made of the other man's face. He touched the bruising with gentle fingertips. "I had no intention of - I don't understand what caused me to - "
Doyle tilted his head. "Do you not?" he said gently. "I think you understand all too well. Come here, John."
"No!" Bodie physically backed away, determined to save them both from any impossible level of commitment.
Doyle paced steadily after him, then paused when all sound in the cell ceased. He had no idea where the other man was.
"You'll have to move sometime," he pointed out into the silence.
There was no answer.
Having bathed, shaved and been given fresh garments, Doyle had grown accustomed to a relatively unpolluted atmosphere. The stench in the call had almost unmanned him. He followed his nose to stand in front of his cell-mate.
"You smell terrible," he informed him gravely. He took a lock of the filthy hair and rubbed it between his fingers. In that moment he was certain of what he wanted, admitting his need to himself for the first time.
Mute, Bodie stared at him, caught between disbelief, longing and amusement. It had been a good many years since he had seen a seduction begun with such casual skill.
"Make love to me," coaxed Doyle, sliding an arm around Bodie's neck. "Now, while we have the chance."
Intoxicated by the scent and feel of the other man, Bodie placed gentle hands on Doyle's shoulders. "You cannot mean... Do you know what you ask?"
The length of his body brushing Bodie's, Doyle's straining erection offered its own silent assurance. "I know," he said with confidence. His questing mouth silenced Bodie's next question.
Bodies sweat-slicked and drowsy after love, they ignored the humidity of the July night to lie curled around and over one another, sometimes talking quietly, then dozing, to awake and find that it had not been a dream after all. Once, waking together, their arms and legs entwined, they heard themselves making murmured promises they both knew they had little hope of being able to keep.
The freedom to touch was a new pleasure. The heat of passion abated, they moved languidly together, their bodies sliding to an unhurried climax.
Sated from love-making and sleep, with Doyle's sleeping head pillowed on his shoulder, Bodie lay contentedly staring up at the ceiling, a new, softer expression in his eyes. Only when the dawn light edged into the cell did he become aware of his companion's almost imperceptible withdrawal, betrayed by the tension in the body still wrapped around his own and Doyle's changed breathing rate.
A part of Bodie wasn't surprised. He had known that the wild, sweet sharing of the night was too good to be true, even in the midst of passion. Such joy always had to be paid for; foolishly, he had allowed himself to hope that the illusion might be maintained a little longer.
As if unaware that Doyle was awake, he slid free from the loose embrace with some care; his face assumed a mask of control when Doyle did not stir. Slowly Bodie dressed himself. Sinking down with his back against the wall, his eyes sought Doyle out again as he resolved to salvage what he could of their relationship.
Last night had been... The best, he admitted to himself, the memory of it having the power to make him smile.
Their nagging, ever-present but rarely admitted physical hunger had been assuaged, rekindled and assuaged again. Physical release had been the least of it. What he treasured most were the small moments; the impulsive Doyle sense of the ridiculous which had sparked off his own humour, usually in the most inappropriate moments. But even more than the gift of laughter, he valued the unthinking trust Doyle had displayed.
He knew Doyle was probably regretting his impulse of the previous night, unable to accept that he had flown in the face of propriety and made love to, and been loved by, a man. Bodie had never considered the gender of his bed-mate to be of any great consequence; one took pleasure from whatever source could offer it. But while gender wasn't important, Ray was. If he couldn't accept the change that had taken place in their relationship...
Bodie knew that if he had to lose the exquisite pleasure of the lean, wiry body to keep what he valued most in Ray Doyle he would do so without hesitation, even as his blood sang at the memory of the other man's touch. For the first time in a life dedicated to denying the tender, loving side of his nature, Bodie had found someone whose well-being was more important to him than his own. They had fed each other's pleasure, touching and stroking insatiably, marvelling at the response they could produce in each other's trembling flesh.
Watching through heavy-lidded eyes as Ray's lazily sensuality exploded into wild abandon under the power of his hands and tongue, Bodie realised just how much of himself he had given to this man. For once in his cautious life he was content to trust, letting instinct sweep him where it would. So now he sat denying his need to speak until Doyle should choose to acknowledge his presence; not from any bizarre notions of humility or gratitude, but because it was something he could offer his lover that Ray obviously desired.
His features highlighted by the light from the small window above him, Doyle's face in repose fascinated Bodie because of the contradictions he knew it concealed. A naked yearning in his eyes, he studied it with new intensity, as if seeking to memorise it.
As if becoming aware that he was under scrutiny, Doyle stirred, his eyes opening very wide in the manner he adopted when he had no wish to betray his inner thoughts. Seeking to avoid the moment when he would have to tell his companion the truth, he asked quietly, "What are you thinking, John Brown?"
"How fortunate you are in your cell-mate," he replied with a flippancy he was far from feeling. Staring at Doyle's closed expression, a wave of love overtook him, frightening in its intensity. For a moment he almost hated Doyle for forcing him from behind his protective barriers. "And how very beautiful you are," he added into the silence.
Grief and fear ripped through belly, chest and throat, Doyle unable to maintain the pretence any longer. "Don't," he cried harshly, rolling onto his stomach and burying his face in his arms. "Don't make it any harder than it is already."
Bodie began to knead the knotted muscles of Doyle's shoulders.
His gentleness was almost more than Doyle could bear.
"What's amiss?" asked Bodie, aware of the terrible tension that defined every muscle. "Do you regret what we did last night?" His voice shook, his dread of what answer he might receive obvious.
Hearing the pain which lay behind that question, Doyle felt his gut lurch and twist. It would have been to John Brown's advantage if he could lie and answer in the affirmative, but there were lies enough between them already.
Turning onto his back, Doyle's expression was bleak with misery. "Never," he said in fierce repudiation of the idea. "Damn it to hell." He gripped Bodie's upper arms with a strength borne of desperation. "Just - hold me. Then let me go, I beg of you."
Bodie's questions died in his throat. His hands inexpressibly gentle, he did as he had been asked. Doyle's breathing was ragged against his neck and he was shaking. Perplexed, Bodie remained silent, offering the undemanding embrace for as long as it should be required.
Eventually, still shivering slightly, Doyle made to draw away. Bodie released him instantly. Remaining silent, he watched as Doyle dragged on his clothes, his movements unusually clumsy, then seated himself some distance away from where Bodie stood.
"My actions last night were inexcusable," Doyle announced, his voice harsher than Bodie had ever heard it. "I used you, John Brown. Without a thought for your well-being I took what I needed. I regret that very much. But nothing else of what passed between us."
"I cannot recall protesting," observed Bodie. "You took nothing I wasn't prepared to offer, and it was an equitable exchange, was it not?"
"Most equitable," Doyle agreed, and despite their bleak situation a reminiscent smile lit his face. When it faded he looked old beyond his years, his face taut with strain. "But I didn't intend... I planned now to offer you falsehood, to make it plain that what we shared was of small matter. I cannot. It is grossly unfair to burden you with unsought declarations of emotion, particularly now. But I don't think I could bear your disapprobation."
It was an effort not to shake the truth from him. "What the blazes are you talking about?"
"I had great need of you last night. I need you now. Tomorrow I leave the Bastille for further questioning. Then I will be executed as an agent of the British Crown." There was nothing in Doyle's tone to prepare Bodie.
He stared at the other man in numb disbelief, colour draining from his face as a chill wave of sweat rose over him. The blood pounded in his ears, external sounds rising to a thin, keen whine as the earth tilted under him. For the first time in his life Bodie fainted.
He regained consciousness to find his head pillowed on Doyle's lap, his face cradled between anxious hands as Ray leant over him.
"I should have broken the news to you in some other fashion," Doyle said with remorse.
"What a piece of missish foolishness that was," Bodie announced in tones of great disgust. "Is it true, you are to be executed?"
Doyle gave a shuddering sigh. "Yes."
Bodie closed his eyes against the tearing hurt. Turning his face, he buried it against Doyle's thigh in instinctive denial, but that stark announcement did not permit disbelief.
"Why?" Bodie demanded in a savage whisper, as if to himself. "In God's name why?"
His fingers soothing the ruffled hair, Doyle offered what he could, but it hurt that, even now, he could not offer the whole truth.
"While I was sketching at a café table last October I was detained on suspicion of activity prejudicial to the safety of the Realm. It has been suggested that my drawing disguised a more serious purpose, that of espionage. Apparently the Ministry of Justice were not aware that I had been detained here until an officer come on a chance inspection of the guard saw the list of prisoners. They attempted to remove me yesterday but neglected to produce the necessary warrant. They will have it by now. I leave tomorrow." He stared sightlessly at Bodie, his face drawn. "Knowing that, I had no right to involve you further but... I needed you very much last night. And I need you now. I am so very sorry."
"You're sorry!" Bodie surged up to grip Doyle by the shoulders before he shook him hard. "Christ, tomorrow you die and you apologise to me." His voice broke as he heard the import of what he was saying and saw its truth imprinted on Doyle's face.
To know the exact time and manner of your death, to be helpless...
"When they come for you, we'll make a fight of it," he said, regaining a semblance of control. "We won't make it easy for them. Let the bastards work for it."
Doyle dredged up a crooked smile. "I concur with your sentiments but no, we won't fight. My fate is fixed. Someone in authority is determined that I must be permanently removed. We won't be given the opportunity to resist. Accept the fact. But one thing would please me greatly."
"Tell me." Bodie knew himself to be on the point of breaking down.
"When you are free of this place - " Doyle cupped his companion's face, a finger running along the compressed mouth. "When you are free again, go home and make your peace with your family."
Bodie tensed, then relaxed under Doyle's hands. "I'll try."
Moved by the other man's capitulation, Doyle attempted to cover the fact with some forced irritation. "The philistines who arrested me had no cause to destroy my portfolio of work. It contained some of my best character studies."
Bodie gave a reluctant smile at the genuine indignation which had appeared in Doyle's voice. "How good an artist are - were - you?" he asked, obediently joining in Doyle's effort to reduce the emotion-laden atmosphere.
Doyle shrugged. "Probably not as good as I thought. I enjoyed the work." He managed to produce a grin. "The sittings could sometimes provide an unexpected bonus. London is full of beautiful but bored women. I did well enough to maintain a comfortable life style. Would you promise to do just one thing for me?" he asked abruptly.
In that moment Bodie would have promised him anything, although he permitted none of that to sound in his voice. "Possibly."
Doyle gave a chuckle of appreciation. "This is the John Brown I became acquainted with, ever cautious. If I should ask you to perform, or refrain from, some action, will you give me your word of honour that you'll do as I request without question?"
Bodie gave him a look of suspicion. Then caution was lost as he became aware of the strain Doyle was attempting to conceal behind his insouciant facade.
"I give you my word," he promised, unable to think beyond tomorrow. He linked their fingers until their flesh was one. The gesture denied his fierce, inner rage which he tried to control for the other man's sake.
Crooking his free arm around the strong neck, Doyle's expression was one of mocking affection as he tried to thrust reality away from him while it was still possible. "It's difficult to recognise you in this submissive mood. Such docility." He edged closer, the full contact of their bodies making him aware of the extent of his companion's fear on his behalf. "There's just one other matter," he added in a tone of unmistakable invitation.
His eyes too bright, Bodie gave a shaky laugh as he felt the gently questing hand brush his groin. "I doubt that I can oblige you," he admitted ruefully.
Doyle's breath was warm against his cheek. "Not even if I were to assist you?"
For the remainder of the day they buried knowledge of the future and suspended thought, refusing to look beyond the moment and each other. Inevitably it was a day of tension and sudden, misery-ridden silences when neither of them could maintain the pretence.
Doyle had no wish to die and was unwilling to submit tamely but in this instance he could see no hope of defeating the forces ranged against him. He had known the risks when he came and had accepted them, but he hadn't considered the possibility that he might implicate an innocent bystander. If what Pêche had intimated was true, Brown's life could be in danger if Degas learnt he hadn't spent his time in the Bastille in solitary confinement. Pêche was the only man in a position to give them that information. To offer his body for one night in return for the gaoler's promise of silence had seemed a small price to pay, in the abstract. As the time drew closer when he must fulfil that bargain Doyle was no longer sure if he would be able to complete his own part of it.
Trapped by his own doubts and fears, he didn't fully appreciate the strain his companion was under as the day progressed. Bodie permitted nothing of what he felt to betray itself to Doyle, offering his strength and love as a support, knowing by instinct when to talk and when to remain silent. Beneath his fear for Doyle's safety he was icily calm, having resolved that when they came for Doyle they would not take him without great cost to themselves. The promise he had made to accept Ray's death was one he had no intention of keeping, and no qualms about breaking.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
"I'm hungry," announced Bodie into the panting, unfulfilled darkness. "Do you suppose there's any chance of getting some food?"
"You should have eaten your dinner," Doyle told him sanctimoniously, able to joke now about the dismal meal they had shared. Untangling his legs, he rubbed an incipient twinge of cramp.
Seeing what he was doing, Bodie took over automatically, his fingers finding just the right spot. Doyle gave a sigh of bliss and went limp with pleasure.
"Has anyone ever told you what a self-righteous little sod you can be at times?" Bodie asked him.
"It's been mentioned in passing," Doyle allowed, drifting with the touch of the skilled fingers. Stretching sleek as a cat, he did everything he could to encourage the massage.
"Tomorrow you get a lecture on the subject. What are you grinning about now?"
"You. If we ever get short of cash I'm going to rent you out to one of those massage parlours. You'd be a natural."
The touch was abruptly harder than was strictly necessary.
"Sadist." Getting up only with some difficulty, because Bodie declined to let go, Doyle clambered across the vastness of the bed, falling over twice because the thick feather mattress dipped and swayed beneath him.
"Where are you going now?" Bodie asked.
"I've just remembered. There should be all that food left in the carrier bag. We never did get round to eating it. What are you - ? Lemme go, you idiot. You'll rupture something." Doyle resurfaced, spluttering, before he gave a broad shoulder a forgiving nip.
"I'll eat later," said Bodie comfortably. "There's a certain invitation I'm still hoping to take you up on."
"Well I'm ready and willing, it's your ability that's worrying me, sunshine." Doyle cut short his lover's indignant rebuttal.
There was the susurration of bedclothes being pushed aside and the whisper of flesh against flesh, the movements slowing, changing. The bed creaked when Bodie whispered something and got a lazy affirmative. There was the sound of an indrawn breath. Bodie's stifled curse came almost immediately afterwards as he was swallowed up by the mattress, which seemed to have a life of its own.
"I don't believe it," wailed Doyle in frustration as they righted themselves and he saw Bodie's softened cock. "Not again."
He collapsed into a heap of helpless laughter at the look of chagrin on Bodie's face. Curled, incoherent, on his side, he was vaguely aware of Bodie sinking dejectedly beside him.
"Bloody mattress," growled Bodie. He gave his giggling partner a look of the deepest suspicion. "Are you sure you're really trying?"
"I was trying," Doyle insisted indignantly. Weak with laughter, he dragged himself up to lean against Bodie for support.
"It's only a question of getting up on your hands and knees and keeping your arse in the air."
"Who said poetry was dead?" mused Doyle soulfully. "Maybe if you slowed down?"
"If I get any slower we'll be applying for our pensions before I get inside you," said Bodie, his eyes sparkling with unwilling amusement. "You're just not concentrating."
"How can I?" asked Doyle reasonably. "That's three times we've tried. Three different positions. The first time I damn near stifled, the second I got cramp. The bloody bed's going up and down at all the wrong moments and you, you're - You looked so... Don't you know your way there by now?"
Bodie's slap across his elevated rump flattened him into the mattress. He bounced.
"That hurt," protested Doyle into the mattress. "Mmn, that didn't, but you could do with a shave." He tried to peer back over one shoulder. "What are you doing now?"
"God, but you're thick," Bodie told him lovingly as he sank his teeth into the reddened flesh. Licking the bite, he planted another next to it. "You taste fantastic. Much better than stale sandwiches." Planting a kiss on the back of Doyle's thigh, he swept his hands over the tempting rise of his buttocks and cautiously edged off the bed. "Come on."
"Where're we going?" asked Doyle, but he was already moving. They ended up in front of the fire, where the logs were half-burnt through.
"Where we should have gone half an hour ago, the floor. We'll be well away here, unless the floorboards have got woodworm." Bodie spared the carpeted boards a dubious glance before his eyes rose to lock with Doyle's desire-darkened gaze.
Holding Bodie loosely by the flanks, Doyle ran his tongue between the other man's nipples, tugging gently at them before nuzzling down the rib-cage. He paused at the navel, then glanced up mischievously.
"You sure you know what you're doing down there?" Bodie asked, but his pelvis was already thrusting in instinctive response to the stimulation that was heading towards his groin.
"Lie down and shut up. Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Now, what did that manual say was supposed to happen if I do this?"
His bones melting under the subtle, long-fingered touch, Bodie surrendered totally. There was silence, of a sort, for a while.
"Yeah?" Doyle's attention was clearly given elsewhere.
"I thought I was going to make wild and passionate love to you."
All movement stopped.
"So you were," said Doyle. "I'll stop, shall I?" He stifled a cry when Bodie pressed back, the warm, tight channel engulfing his finger. Every sensation centred on his pulsing groin. "Hey, take it easy or it'll be over before it's begun. You OK?"
Bodie grinned over one shoulder. "I will be when you get your finger out and your cock in. Come on, damn it." Pressing back again, he arched up in invitation, wanting and needing this.
He felt Doyle's hands slip to his flanks before there was a moist, damp warmth as a velvet tongue sought him out, caressing the relaxed bud of muscle, easing inwards, leaving him liquid with the wanting.
"So impatient," Doyle whispered, knowing his own control to be in tatters.
His hands resting on the muscled flanks he stroked down the cleft of Bodie's arse, sliding down between the parted thighs to cup and caress the tightening balls. Bodie gave a soft groan of impatience. Taking a deep breath, Doyle shivered with pleasure as the head of his cock nudged Bodie's flesh; his eyes closing, he found and entered through the relaxed field of muscle. The initial penetration was almost his undoing. One hand curved around Bodie's straining cock, moving in rhythm to his slow penetration. Bodie thrust back to meet him, demanding a deeper, harder touch, crying out with fervent need as he was filled. Sensation rocked through him as the rhythm increased. Unable to survive the double source of stimulation, he gave a hoarse cry, muscles clamping down as he climaxed.
Doyle gave a husky moan that was triggered by the incredible sensations of that hot, tight encasing flesh along his length. Release spurted into Bodie and from him into Doyle's encasing hand.
Drained, Doyle eased from Bodie's body to slump next to him while he waited for the world to right itself.
"We need more practice at that," he mumbled at last, the taste and the scent of Bodie filling every sense he possessed. His hand smoothed down the still-heaving back that was slick with sweat.
Rolling over, Bodie stared at him, his eyes soft as velvet in the flickering light. Drawing Doyle against him, he gave him a lengthy, possessive kiss before releasing him to study him with a suspect sorrow.
"I would never have thought it," he said mournfully.
All concern, Doyle found the energy to sit up. "I didn't hurt - ?"
"Don't be a prat," Bodie told him kindly, pushing him back down without any effort at all. "I'm fine. Terrific, even. Give me a couple of minutes to get my strength back and I'll go out and conquer the world for you. Of course, tomorrow would be better."
Doyle's self-satisfied grin grew to Cheshire Cat proportions but showed no sign of fading.
"But I never took you for an under-a-minute man," Bodie continued. "No stamina, that's your trouble."
Abashed, Doyle hung his head. "I hoped you weren't timing me this time," he explained. His tentative smile didn't fool his partner for a minute. "But look on the bright side. At least I found my way there unassisted."
Bodie hugged him close. "It was that rotten mattress," he insisted, trying to defend his reputation.
"Of course it was," soothed Doyle, all understanding, but his eyelids were drooping to a close.
"Yeah. And what's more I'll prove it to you."
Doyle gave him a look of sleepy respect. "Now?"
"Well, maybe not right this minute," Bodie prevaricated. He was betrayed by a huge yawn. A gentle hand smoothed over his hair, portions of which were sticking up.
"Poor old has-been. Come on, back to bed."
Propping each other up, they made it back to the vast four-poster. Inevitably they both slid to the centre, lying in a comfortable tangle.
"Maybe if you were to put a sixpence under the pillow the Good Tooth Fairy could help you out," offered Doyle as he snuggled into the curve of Bodie's body. "Who's to say what other spare parts she has lying around."
A hopeful expression crossed Bodie's face. "Do you suppose a fifty-pence piece would do the trick?"
Doyle turned to look at him, kissed him on the nose and rolled onto his stomach in preparation for sleep. "Seems a bit excessive to me, even allowing for inflation. You can have too much of anything, you know. Perhaps you'd better practise with what you've got."
He had fallen asleep before Bodie could think of a suitable retort.
PARIS, JULY 1789
Without warning the cell door swung open. Bodie sprang to his feet and moved with cat-like speed to stand at the foot of the steps, blocking Doyle from view. The light from the torches held by the guards sent bizarre shadows dancing across the cell and revealed his face, which was devoid of expression except for his eyes.
Pêche looked down into that burning gaze with something like sympathy before he gestured for a torch. Setting it in a wall sconce he gestured for the guards to leave the cell. He waited until the door had closed behind them before he moved halfway down the stairs.
Bodie gave a huntsman's smile of the purest satisfaction and padded forward. He halted warily when he recognised the other man's lack of concern and the way his brown eyes sought Doyle out.
"You have not told him of our agreement?"
It took Bodie a moment to realise Pêche was not addressing him.
"No." There was a note in Doyle's voice that Bodie didn't recognise.
"We made a bargain. My part of it is complete, save in one respect."
"I will honour that bargain," confirmed Doyle. His voice was steady and clearer now as he came to stand at Bodie's side.
"What bargain?" Bodie's voice was deceptively mild, his motionless stance threatening.
"Monsieur Pêche was ordered to keep me in solitary confinement until Degas returned with the warrant. Instead, he offered me the opportunity of spending today with you," explained Doyle. His voice was so cold as to be virtually unrecognisable.
"In return for what?" demanded Bodie with quiet menace.
"Tonight he spends with me," said Pêche. He studied the dark-haired prisoner with caution now, aware of the atmosphere of incipient violence that hung around him, mistrusting the expression in the blue eyes.
"Ray, you can't!"
Ignoring him, Doyle was looking in the direction of the gaoler with something like approval on his face.
Bodie wheeled around to stare at Pêche again. "Why?"
"Because I desire him and he is willing."
"The hell you say," snarled Bodie.
Doyle prevented his cell-mate's leap up the stairway, his iron grip tightening as he blocked Pêche from view with his own body. He felt the surge of strength checked and gave Bodie a small shake. "He doesn't lie. I am willing, eager even. His desire is mine."
There was a sharp crack as Bodie backhanded him across his already bruised face.
Doyle made no attempt to defend himself, but his grip on Bodie didn't weaken as the blood rushed to his face, branding his cheek with the imprint of Bodie's hand.
"I gave Monsieur Pêche my word. He gave me his, which he has kept to the letter. Will you see me stripped of all honour? You promised earlier to do as I asked, when I asked it. I ask you now, let me go to him." Doyle wondered savagely whose control would shatter first. He could feel his companion's rage building and knew he could not hope to halt the more powerful man when that fury broke free from the minimal restraint being imposed on it.
"So I am to see you go willingly to him?" Bodie's face was grey.
"Yes, for it's the truth," said Doyle, hating the lie but unable to think of another response that could prevent Brown from risking his own life.
Bode stared into the determined face with a black rage, hating Doyle in that moment for having brought him to this betrayal. Blinded by pain and an all-consuming jealousy, he had no thought for anything else.
"You whoreson. Go then, and may you find much joy in each other." Bodie wrenched himself free, knocking past Doyle to seek the shelter of the shadows.
His back to the door, he didn't see Doyle turn incredulously to stare after him, naked hurt stark on his face.
Pêche quickly came down the last few stairs to take Doyle's arm. His cell-mate's contempt ringing in his ears, his precarious control shattered, Doyle was directionless, unable to move by himself.
"It is time," Pêche told him, uncertain whether the younger man had heard him. Placing Doyle's unresisting hand on his own arm, he led him up the steps and out of the cell.
Bodie didn't hear the door slam to a close. Only when the empty silence had grown to immense proportions did he realise what he had permitted to happen.
CORNWALL, MAY 1983
"Hey, come on, wake up," urged Doyle as he bounced on the edge of the mattress.
Bleary-eyed, Bodie lifted his head before flopping back against the pillows. "Oh, it's you," he said, his lack of enthusiasm obvious. He gave a lethargic stretch. "Strewth, I think I must have died at some point during the night. What time is it?"
"Er, about - " Doyle's voice was indistinct as he got up to fling open the windows; the room smelt of wood ash, age and sex. A lot of sex. And laughter. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this good.
Made suspicious by the evasion, Bodie leant up on one elbow to glare at him. "What time did you say?"
"Half past five," Doyle admitted, his expression guileless.
"Come here," invited Bodie in a silky voice.
"Uh huh." Doyle shook his head, grinning.
"So why did you wake me?" asked Bodie plaintively. He abandoned his look of menace to sink back against the pillows.
Doyle shifted his weight from foot to foot and stuffed his hands into the pockets of his tracksuit top. "It's a fantastic morning out. Crisp, sunny. I thought I'd go for a run."
"You know better than to think I'm going to come with you at this time of night."
"Morning," corrected Doyle patiently.
"To me it's still the middle of the night. I'm a growing lad, I need to sleep occasionally. So why did you wake me? Oh." A smile of blazing happiness lit Bodie's face before he recovered himself. "And you call me a romantic," he accused softly.
"I didn't want you waking up and wondering where I was," explained Doyle defensively. "I'm off. Go back to sleep, mate. You look awful," he added frankly. "I'll bring you a cup of tea on my way back, OK?"
"I'll let you know after I've drunk it." Bodie opened his closing eyes. "Isn't that the new tracksuit I bought yesterday?"
"So it is. Well, you wouldn't want me to go getting my stuff all sweaty, would you?" Doyle pointed out reasonably.
Bodie glared at the blue-clad figure from over the top of the sheet before he waved him off. "Don't go running over any cliffs," he instructed sleepily before he disappeared back under the bedcovers.
"I'll be careful not to tear this if I do," Doyle promised him.
Bodie heard the jaunty squeak of trainered feet leave the room and the door close. He was asleep before Doyle had left the hotel, a faint smile still on his face.
Stirring when he heard the door click to a close, Bodie said sleepily, "Forget the tea and come back to bed and give me a cuddle." His eyes snapped open when cold steel ground into the back of his neck. He remained perfectly still, his brain racing as he assessed the situation.
"Oh, that's very cool. We'll carry on taking things nice and easy, shall we? Now, who were you expecting and when's she due back?"
It was, Bodie remembered with some surprise, a natural enough presumption. "One of the hotel staff. She's gone to make me some tea," he lied. There were three men.
"The room's clear," announced a soft, south-London accented voice. Bodie heard the bathroom door click to a close. "His gun's under that jacket. A Smith and Wesson. Nice piece. Do we take it?"
"No. We leave everything as we found it. We'll be moving now," the voice told Bodie. The bed covers were ripped away. "Out of bed, nice and easy. No tricks, unless you want to see your girlfriend splattered all over the walls. Get dressed, and don't waste our time. We know all about your fancy tricks, Mr Raymond fucking Doyle. Now move."
Bodie's expression did not alter by so much as a hairsbreadth. Absorbing his change of identity, he hurriedly dressed when he remembered this room was booked in Ray's name; he hadn't signed the register. Ignoring the fact that he was held in a cross-fire, with the third man standing at the door, he scanned the room. He could see the bulge of Ray's holster under his jacket that was slung over the easy chair; knowing he had no chance of reaching it, Bodie was grateful he had put his own jacket away. But it meant that Doyle was unarmed and off-guard; he could be coming back at any minute. He dared not risk asking the time to find out how long Doyle had been gone.
"Who wants me?" he asked, as he zipped up his flies.
"That's for us to know. Let's just say it's an old acquaintance. This your shirt? Then get it on. Ken, take the jacket, he can have it later. Now, we're going out the front. You can either walk under your own steam or be dragged. It makes no difference to us. Any tricks and you'll be the first one who gets it, understand?"
Bodie's hard blue gaze moved between the men, who had been careful to give him no opening. "Perfectly," he said, assessing his chances - and Ray's - if he got it wrong. "Let's be off then," he said, assuming command.
"You're a cool one and no mistake."
Bodie gave a feral smile that didn't reach his eyes. "That's right, I am," he said arrogantly, waiting for his baiting to take effect.
The smallest of the three men stepped forward.
"Leave it, Ken. He'll get his later. After you, Mr Doyle."
The small procession, with Bodie in the lead, left the hotel without encountering anyone. He eyed the electric blue Granada parked at the side of the drive with disfavour as he shivered in the cool air. Doyle must have been feeling fantastic to call this a sunny morning, he thought absently.
Ken passed his Magnum across for safe-keeping before he moved behind Bodie, fumbling in his jacket pockets. "Hands behind your back. Come on, move it."
Seeing there was no alternative, Bodie did as he was told and felt the cuffs snap on. The car boot was swung up and he looked unenthusiastically into it, knowing he wasn't going to enjoy the next portion of his journey. Ducking, he avoided the plaster about to be strapped over his mouth.
"Leave that petrol rag in the boot and I'm going to puke. If you want me to choke to death on my own puke, fine. If not, get rid of it."
Dave Lennon held the challenging gaze and signalled for the arrogant mouth to be taped. "I'm starting to take a personal interest in this," he told Bodie. "Get rid of the rag, Alec. No, not on the drive, cretin. Right, get in, Doyle. And here's hoping you don't choke, too much."
Curled in an uncomfortable ball, Bodie watched the lid of the boot slam down, leaving him in a cramped, evil-smelling darkness. Emptying his mind of all extraneous thoughts, focussing his strength on one task, he began to test the structure of the boot with his feet.
PARIS, JULY 1789
In the privacy of his quarters Pêche studied the prize he had never thought to gain, a gleam of anticipation lighting his eyes. "So you are a man of your word after all," he mused.
Feeling what must be the edge of a cot pressing against the back of his legs, Doyle nodded dully. He took a step toward where he judged Pêche to be. "Shall we begin?" He pulled his shirt free from the waistband of his trousers, wanting this to be over with before he had time to think - or to lose his nerve. There was the faint odour of stale sweat and snuff, with a hint of cheap cologne as the gaoler drew closer.
"Where is the need for haste? We have all night." Pêche's voice thickened as he studied the face of the man opposite him, wanting to see that reserve turn to passion.
Doyle bit his lower lip when a calloused hand traced his profile, lingering to cup his neck before it slid under the open neck of his shirt. He willed himself to relax.
"You said you would give me what you were able. Is it really so little?" asked Pêche. His grip tightened. "Or is it that you fear I may yet speak of your companion?"
Doyle's eyes widened, his blind gaze searching the other man's face. The implied threat to John Brown could not be ignored, but Pêche was no ogre. He sought a willing bedmate, not a rape victim. At least he now had some experience with which to meet the gaoler's advances. He slammed his mind shut against the pain which came with the thought. That was over. Finished. He'd had to act many roles in this life. This wasn't so very different.
Knowing with aching clarity that it was, Doyle rested his hand, the palm clammy with sweat, over the gaoler's. "Show me what you desire," he murmured. Easing closer, he slid his arms around the thick neck; his body pressing against the stocky frame, he sought out the other man's mouth with his own.
Pêche's lips opened greedily, his thick tongue thrusting into Doyle's mouth. Damp hands travelled over his body, pushing aside clothing and his stomach lurched when he felt Pêche stir against him. His shirt was slid from his shoulders and he heard Pêche sigh before the hands travelled over him again.
"Remove your trousers," instructed Pêche thickly.
Doyle obediently kicked them off. Naked, he made no resistance when he was drawn down onto the stale-smelling cot. Hard fingers explored him in the most intimate of areas. He closed his eyes when he smelt the other man's arousal.
"Maybe you'll get more lively when I stick this beauty in you. Turn onto your hands and knees," commanded Pêche feverishly. He slapped a rounded buttock when Doyle was slow to obey.
His skin crawling, a cold sweat ran down Doyle's back. He hadn't expected this; couldn't believe that the act could be pleasurable. He arched when fingers slick with some kind of stinking grease pushed into him and he bit his lip, sickness roiling in his belly. Trying to withdraw mentally from what was about to happen, it was a while before he became aware that the thudding he could hear wasn't his own heart but a hammering at the door. Pêche stilled and the slick hardness nudging the back of his thigh withdrew.
"I'm off-duty!" he bellowed.
"Not any longer. The Governor wants you. Now! There's trouble on the streets. A mob. He wants us to be prepared in case they try to storm the Bastille." There was unmistakable panic in the guard's voice.
"Storm - But that's impossible."
The gaoler's erection was wilting against Doyle's flesh, uncertainty and panic in Pêche's voice now. Doyle felt the other man move away, then heard him leave the bed, clothing rustling as it was refastened. His face hidden from view, he remained motionless, not knowing whether to be glad of this reprieve or not.
Doyle forgotten, Pêche hurried out of the room, but he remembered to lock the door behind him.
Bodie knew it must be morning because it was light. That was all he knew; he had no memory of time passing.
Distant noises grew louder as the day progressed but he paid them no heed. The sound of shots and cannon, then of tocsins pealing barely penetrated his consciousness. When the exultant mob hurled open the door to his cell, delighted to have discovered someone in need of rescue, Bodie was sitting quietly, staring at the wall.
Try as they might, the excited crowd could not make him understand that he was a free man. Eventually, taking him to be another of the lunatics, they bundled him out with them into the heat and noise of the Parisian streets.
The Bastille had been stormed in just four hours. Locked in his own private hell, it made little difference to Bodie where he was. By then all his exhausted mind could comprehend was that Ray Doyle must be dead and that he had died alone and friendless.
Buffeted and pushed by the euphoric crowds who were growing ever larger as news of the storming of the ancient fortress spread through the city, Doyle found shelter with his back to the sun-heated wall of a patisserie. Disorientated by the noise and bustle, he tried to make sense of events since Pêche had been called away; the gaoler had never returned.
The scents of the streets assaulted him in a confusing, vibrant wave of life: dust; sweat; wine; horse dung; fresh bread and coffee. But beneath those everyday scents which had been missing from his life for so long he could still smell the sickly sweet reek of blood. He had smelt it the strongest when he was hustled, barely dressed, through the winding passageways of the Bastille and out across the drawbridge. Somewhere off to his right a man had screamed, the sound cut off, to be followed by victorious cheering. Once outside, his rescuers had lost interest in him when they discovered that his own desire was to return to the place of his confinement. They had abandoned him and he had no idea where he might be in relation to the Bastille.
Doyle tried to force himself to move but his legs would not obey him. The totality of his helplessness enfolded him in a choking wave of anger. Blind, lost in a foreign city, how was he to make his way back to the Bastille to find John Brown if he was too gutless to put one foot in front of the other? Enraged with himself, Doyle grasped the sleeve of a passer-by and demanded to know his location. Intoxicated by free wine and the excitement of the day, the man brushed him to one side. The next person Doyle selected wasn't so gentle. Grim-faced, he picked himself out of the dust and ignoring the taunts of street urchins began to concentrate on the snatches of conversation going on around him.
"Doyle, me old darlin'! Is it truly you?"
The warm velvet tones were instantly familiar and Doyle turned incredulously, certain he must be going mad.
"Murphy?" His outstretched hand was taken and firmly grasped before he was pulled into a bear-hug of delight.
"None other," said Murphy with assumed cheerfulness as he studied his companion. He knew better than to probe too deeply and so kept up a light flow of inconsequential chatter to ease the moment. Ray's disorientation was obvious, his physical condition poor.
"So where have you been hiding yourself all these long, dreary months? And me being forced over here in your stead? The old man's less than pleased with his green-eyed boy. He hated the notion of you let loose on an unsuspecting Paris." Murphy's voice sharpened. "Ray, step back, man!" As he spoke he dragged Doyle from the approaching wheels of a heavily-laden wagon.
Shaken, Doyle faced him full on for the first time and Murphy sucked in his breath when he saw the other man's gaze slip past him.
"What day and month is it?" Doyle's set expression dared the other man to offer him pity. "I was an inmate of the Bastille until my release earlier today."
"So that's where you were taken. Dear God, Ray. It's the fourteenth of July 1789."
"I thought the year must be further advanced than that," said Doyle after a moment. It seemed that he and John Brown had spent a lifetime together. "I must return there - to the Bastille. Now. There's someone I must find. A prisoner. Like me. My cell-mate."
Murphy's hard gaze softened when he saw the other man's forceful stare try to command the lintel of a door. "There's no one left alive in there. As I passed they were hoisting heads onto pikes." He grabbed the swaying figure, concerned by the other man's loss of colour. "Bear up, man. Here, sit for a moment."
Doyle shook himself free. "I am well enough."
"You should see the bruises you're sporting."
"Damn it, Murphy, there's someone I must find. A friend." He clutched the other man's arm, his grip biting to the bone.
"I might have guessed," muttered the Irishman, no proof against the poorly-hidden grief. "That tender heart of yours. How long have you been blind?"
"Since last October," replied Doyle absently, unconsciously listening for one voice among the multitude thronging around them. "Go to the Bastille for me. Ascertain the whereabouts and well-being of a man called John Brown. Of England. He was a prisoner as I was."
"Only a lunatic would return there at present. You have no comprehension. The whole area is swarming like a disturbed hornets' nest and as the wine flows the violence - There's no hope of being able to trace one man."
"I'll go myself as you're so reluctant."
One glance at his companion's expression killed whatever comment had been hovering on Murphy's lips. "Ah, well, if it's that determined that you are, I'll do what I can. Can you give me a description of him at all?"
"You swear you'll try?" demanded Doyle, remembering those honeyed tones of old.
Murphy gave a wounded sigh. "Saints alive, your spell in prison has done nothing to blunt your tongue. I swear by the old man's teeth," he said, using the oath familiar to all those in the section who had listened to innocents meeting George Cowley for the first time swear that his bark was worse than his bite.
Doyle relaxed his grip on the other man's forearm. "I would appreciate it, Pat. He's important to me." He quickly supplied a description, adding, "Oh, and he has oddly shaped eyebrows."
"Oddly shaped eyebrows?" echoed Murphy with disbelief. He heaved a weighty sigh and put his hand under Doyle's elbow with a firmness which refused to be shaken off. "Well, with a description like that, how could I be missing him? Let's get you to a place of safety and I'll go in search of your paragon."
The tension in Doyle's face was relieved when he gave a small grin. "It's no paragon you'll be finding, Murphy me old darling." It was an appalling imitation of the other man's warm brogue. "Far from it. I advise caution when you approach him."
"If you've started to think of caution I've a mind to find myself a suit of armour," said Murphy dryly as he recalled with ominous clarity some of his companion's madcap exploits of the past.
"Just find him for me, Pat."
"I'll try, I promise you that much."
With some relief, Murphy saw Doyle taken into the care of his manservant in the small house he had taken on the outskirts of the St. Antoine area of the city.
To give him his due, Murphy did search diligently for Doyle's mysterious Englishman. Those who had participated in the storming of the fortress had long since left to celebrate their victory, or to have their injuries tended to. Most of the guard were dead, but among the few disfigured bodies that were still sprawled in the passageways Murphy found one who matched the description he had been given, except that the face had been hideously disfigured by shot.
Resolving to make no mention of his find, or his suspicion that this was the missing prisoner to Doyle, and relieved to have an excuse to leave a country gone mad, Murphy returned to his small house to make arrangements for Doyle's safe passage to England.
...Continued in Part 2...