November


Autumn, winter, Christmas... magical seasons for lovers. The bleak and bitter chillness of their lives: the warmth inside - locked in and safe with siege provisions against the encroaching dark This whole story is a metaphor! Or maybe I'm a pretentious twit and it was just November when I wrote it. I have to say i was shocked by the bleakness of this post-Graveyard story when I read it after a long gap; but also pleased with the way it captures a little CI5 reality along the way, as well as the bound-till-death silver cord that ties our heroes together, no matter what, or who, or when, or where. Wherever they go... they go together....

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The day was dreary, a dark grey lowering, but the room assigned to them in the small hotel was unexpectedly pleasant. Miss Parrish the proprietor opened the door and a flood of rosy light permeated the interior as she switched on a lamp here and there.

“I think you’ll be all right here, gentlemen. Breakfast is from eight till ten, or you can leave the card out for our Continental. If there’s anything you want in the meantime, just ring down for it to Reception.”

Although it was many years since she had left MI-something and she was now a typical old-lady old lady with steel grey hair and a Marks and Sparks twinset, something about the gimlet eyes behind cold thick granny glasses gave Doyle a definite chill. When she had shut the door leaving them alone, Doyle gave a chuckle, throwing one case down onto the floor and setting the larger one down more carefully, continuing the irreverent conversation they had begun with their eyes behind her back:

“Nah, you’re wrong, mate. Cowley never ’ad a thing going for that one. She makes Annie Whatsername look softer than a marshmallow.” Wandering over to the dressing table he yawned widely, running a hand through his hair and peering into the mirror as he did so.

“You reckon? Myself,” Bodie said austerely, “I think the reverse. A HevviFraym corset and cast-iron suspenders wouldn’t put Cowley off.”

“Nah, he’d rise excitedly to the challenge,” said Doyle, and gave that surprisingly lewd chuckle, rubbing his hands together. Bodie turned the key in the lock and turned to survey the room, eyes swiftly delineating its characteristics: two pink beds, wall-to-wall white carpet, some tasteful mahogany furniture, a bedside light and a tall standard lamp both shaded in deep pink velvet and heavily fringed, casting cosy shadows across the room. Through the wide bay window could be seen the rapidly-fading November dusk. It made Bodie sense fireworks, and Christmas coming, and the thrill of being locked in and safe with siege provisions against the encroaching dark winter. In the bathroom to one side Ray Doyle hummed noisily as he did whatever he was doing in there, accompanied by splashings.

All in all, this suddenly didn’t seem such a bad place to be.

However, there was work to be done; Bodie heaved a resolute sigh and got down to it, sleeves rolled up and mouth set in a determined line. It was a matter of minutes before the two men, working quickly and together, had the room set up for a weekend of surveillance over a nearby embassy: a pad for notes and a pair of high res. binoculars on a tripod by the net-curtained window, positioned out of the sightline of anyone passing below.

“Reckon this’ll take long?” Bodie asked, and Doyle’s hand made a doubtful ‘so-so’ waggle.

“Depends where he’s got to, dunnit?” He -leaned nearer Bodie confidingly. “Personally, I reckon the old man’s got it wrong this time. Soo’s very politically sensitive, very dodgy right now. He’s never gonna be stupid enough to come back here, now is he?” Bodie shrugged, for the very good reason that he didn’t really care. Hard to work up much interest and involvement in a routine obs. job like this; however, he knew why they had been given it and was in some sense grateful. He leaned back on one deep rose counterpane and surveyed Doyle idly. -His partner was wearing grey slacks and a soft sage v-necked sweater. He was leaning over affixing the plug of his portable cassette recorder to a socket in the wall and pressing the play button. The strains of Vivaldi’s ‘Autumn’ filtered into the room. Doyle’s expression as he turned was one of transfixed bliss.

“You’re so sensitive and artistic, Ray,” Bodie said in his best thick yob’s voice.

Doyle growled and ruffled the cap of dark hair as he passed. “Watch it. And that’s my bed you’re messing up,” he added, opening the wardrobe door.

“Who says?” Bodie squinted over at the other, identical one.

“I do. Can’t sleep next to the window,” Doyle explained seriously. “Makes me feel insecure.”

Bodie snorted. “You, insecure? Come off it.” Nevertheless he swung both legs off the bed and got up, glancing out of the window. The door to the Embassy remained shut, the street empty. Not that Amun Soo, who had been spotted at Tel Aviv three hours ago, could even be in the country as yet. Short notice, this. Handy for Cowley, though. He’d probably been sweating on where to place his newly-fit and ultra-sensitive pairing.

Staying there, Bodie reached for his gun and pressed back the barrel, squinting down it. He reached for a cloth from his Gladstone bag, soaked it in gun oil, and absently began to polish the mechanism, looking out all the while without seeing anything. Not hearing Doyle come up, he felt first the light insubstantial caress as two hands from behind briefly covered his eyes and the warm breath of a voice in his ear: “Don’t you ever think of anything else?”

“Eh,” Bodie said. Doyle, now beside him, grinned at him, cocking an eye out of the window. There, across the street was a girl, a typist perhaps, snatching a minute’s break between documents to throw her sandwich crusts to the pigeons; she had long dark hair, a pink blouse, and a narrow waist. They watched her for a moment in silent, shared appreciation. After a while Bodie put the forgotten gun down; his arm slipped around Doyle, his fingers squeezing tight on the narrow shoulder-bone. The moment was quiet; the urge pressed in on him to find something to say.

“You want to go out tonight?” he asked.

Doyle leaned against him easily, one trainer-shod foot turned sideways, his thin brown fingers twining in a knot of curtain rope over and over.

“We’ll ’ave to if we wanna eat.”

Doyle was thinner than before the shooting, always-narrow hips sharp inside taut skin, but any aura of fragility this might have lent him was, however, quite false: he had trained extensively in the weeks of his recovery, pushing himself to the limit over and over again. How impossible for Bodie, Bodie who had found him lying there with his blood pumping out too fast, his glazed eyes staring fixedly at the carpet, his breathing a laboured struggle to catch, all images stained indelibly and horrifically on Bodie’s memory: how impossible, after that, to have him back and not feel fiercely, dangerously protective towards him. Dangerous in many ways, not least that it both enraged Doyle and upturned his fragile new self-respect, regained at cost.

“Unless you fancy the Battleaxe Spinster’s institution greens?”

Doyle was looking at him, quizzical. Bodie’s eyes were shaded by a dark-lashed droop; his mouth set in a little pensive pout which made him look melancholy. Doyle wanted him cheerful: he nudged Bodie’s ticklish ribs and repeated his prediction on the menu. He was rewarded by the return of Bodie’s attention; the bigger man grinned down at Doyle with a wry, funny quirk of the lips as he patted Doyle’s hip and pushed him away.

“We’ll do better than that for you, sunshine. Two Big Macs and a large fries more up your street?”

Oh, that smile. Bodie’s peculiar gentleness with him frightened Doyle, made him back off just a little bit: the darkest skeleton in his cupboard opened the door and looked out, every time. Nor did it help to know that Bodie tried not to do it. That made the skeleton loom darker, grin wider.

“Oi.” Bodie snapped two fingers in front of his eyes. “Where have you gone?”

There was warm, open friendship in Bodie’s look: he was perhaps the only person who, knowing him thoroughly, had ever liked Doyle whole-heartedly, really liked him; no rose-coloured glasses could survive five years of often gritty partnership. A partnership that had hung for a while on a thin line between death and life, or indeed anything less than a return to perfect fitness. Doyle had had to do a lot of thinking in the hospital and it had troubled him, to think that if they could no longer work together their friendship might simply fade away in the way of things, a card at Christmas maybe, a drink together once a year. There were so many things; you never gave them a thought from day to day, nor took them but for granted; and then death brushed you close and left you seeing things in a clearer perspective, your eyes sharpened by the foreclosure that everything would come to an end.

Doyle remembered something else, and smiled.

Feeling himself left out of something private, Bodie turned away. “Let’s go, shall we? Unless you’re planning on changing.”

Doyle looked down at himself in surprise. “Don’t need to change, do I?”

“Nah,” Bodie assured him, softening; “You’re perfect as you are.” He watched in faint disbelief as Doyle reached into his overnight case and extracted a pair of sunglasses, hooking them unhurriedly over his nose. “Ray. It’s November.”

“Might snow.”

“And it’s dark.”

Doyle sucked in his cheeks and shook his head with worried wisdom. “Ah, they can be very hazardous, those streetlights.”

Bodie gave in. “Well, if you want to look like Medallion Man himself, there’s nothing I can do about it.” And ducked as a pillow sailed his way.

He followed his partner flying down the stairs, taking them himself at a more sedate pace. Apparently Miss Parrish had taken note of the descent, because she was waiting for them in the hall.

“Going out, I see?”

Doyle favoured her with his nicest charm; he had used it to good effect in the past, his most notable success being Marge Harper.

-I could do with a bit of it coming my way sometimes, Bodie thought with resignation: then, hard on the heels of that thought came another: at least, whatever I get, good or

-bad, it’s the real thing. Doyle collected a key to the door—”in case we get held up”—it was locked, Miss Parrish informed them, promptly at ten: and then the two agents set off into the grimy backstreets. Little Asian kids out late played ball in the gutters, the girls in frail pretty dresses trailing in the grime, the boys forcing unpainted swings upwards to dizzying heights over cracked concrete. Tiny grey gardenless houses backed onto the yards of more of the same. They passed several takeaways of the fish-and-chip, Indian or Chinese variety, each emitting a tempting, warm miasma, but kept walking. Bodie noticed Doyle’s breathing, more hurried than his own, and said unthinkingly, “This too far for you?” Doyle whipped round and glared at him sinking Bodie’s heart. “Don’t fuss, for chrissake.” he snapped. “Just give it a rest, Bodie, will you?” Stung at the unexpected viciousness, Bodie retorted: “Sometimes you can be a right little nest of poison, can’t you? Just a civil question.” Doyle said nothing for a moment. Then: “Sorry.” “All right,” Bodie said coolly. But the moment had turned a cold edge to the evening. They kept on walking. Determined not to risk another rebuff, Bodie offered no advice as to direction and it was a relief when they came to a grim-looking pub which promised ‘Bar Snacks’. “Not exactly the Hilton, but it’ll do.” “’S all right. I’m more at home in a joint where you can spit on the floor.” Doyle’s rueful grimace made Bodie smile, but distantly: he was still feeling the backlash of Doyle’s sudden spite. Inside they ordered pie and chips and settled to wait with a pint of beer. Round brown tables with cork beer mats and hard wooden benches set the scene; a fruit machine spun and jangled incessantly manned by a succession of scruffy youths, and two elderly men threw darts at a board defaced with holes. The sweetish malty smell of stale beer permeated, and the air was blue with smoke.

Altogether it was not particularly pleasant.

Doyle was acutely conscious that he did not want to be here: he didn’t like the surroundings, he was quite sure he wasn’t going to like the food, and most of all he didn’t like the distance between Bodie and himself. Lately, he knew, he had been relying more and more on the abstruse comfort of Bodie’s company: Bodie understood without any need of words what it was like to die and against all the odds be brought back. It was expected by outsiders that you would seize this extra gift of life gratefully and get on with living it with three times the zest. Somehow it didn’t seem to be as easy as that.

The last thing Doyle wanted was to be estranged from Bodie.

He leaned nearer, meaning to try to restore things, but his companion had his mind on something quite different. Catching Doyle’s eye, “In with a chance?” he nodded towards two buxom lasses at the bar.

Doyle inwardly winced. Women since Ann had been fleeting, and now he wasn’t even sure it was worth the effort. He had put everything into loving Ann and it still hadn’t been enough: all that, and it had come nevertheless to cold pale tears in the street— you’re one thing, Ray, and I’m another—he didn’t think he had any more reserves to give.

And even if there was ever to be a longstanding love in his life, he was damn sure he wasn’t going to come across her in the Cock and Bull, somewhere in this unsavoury north-west nook of London.

All the same, he mustered a smile when Bodie ushered the two ladies to their table; they were cheerful-looking creatures who would uplift anyone’s spirits for a while. Rosa was brunette, with pretty dark eyes; Sal had long red hair which, Siren-like, was attracting the attention of every passing male. Both fell for Doyle instantly as many women did, sensing something fey and complex about him which was probably false, but he generally capitalised on it quite happily, opening wide green eyes and flirting. Nor did they neglect Bodie who was perfect tonight; if he had a darkly brutal air behind the blue-eyed charm they loved it, seeing a sensual strength in the broad shoulders, a spice of danger behind the humour and the promise.

Bodie was in rare sacrificial mood: he was doing his best to make the evening work because he felt a little uncomplicated sex might be just what Doyle needed: had he but known it, Doyle would not have agreed with him, having found that sex was seldom uncomplicated, and an evening’s sweaty romp with Rosa and Sal was not what he wanted, on any count at all. But since it seemed to be what Bodie wanted, he let himself slide along with it; it was less trouble than to resist and they were nice girls, sweet really.

“Doesn’t anyone ever feed you boys?” Sally was asking, watching in fascination Doyle shovel in great and speedy forkfuls of shepherd’s pie. Doyle widened his eyes at her, his mouth full, his eyebrows finely arched.

“’E needs fattenin’ up a bit.” Bodie said at once. “Here, sunshine, have some of mine.” He tipped Doyle’s head back with an easy hand in his curls and popped a chip in his mouth. Doyle swallowed it happily. They were all getting a little drunk. “And no, we’re not married, if that’s what you’re asking.”

She flapped a limp wrist at him, deliberately misunderstanding. “Oh, I never thought you were, duckies.” This amused both girls, without sending either Bodie or Doyle into raptures. Smiling vaguely down at his plate Bodie thought, you don’t know how right you are, for being partners in CI5 was very much like a marriage. It wasn’t even uncommon to fall a little in love with your partner; most successful pairings were linked by some small passion which sparked in odd manifestations: an overly-biting tongue when the partner was missing, or in danger; a fury vented on them when they returned safe; all the way to a withdrawn grief should they die.

If they died…

Bodie ached, his guts clenching. The pain of it was actually physical: he gazed at the mop of brown curls with a fierce hunger, every nerve tense with worry and despair.

Doyle, pleasantly drowsy on a pint and three scotches, was leaning first against one soft perfumed curve, then another. He caught Bodie’s eye on him, saw the odd expression. He reached out and tapped Bodie’s hand. “Hey.” And when Bodie’s gaze locked with his, hurt and angry and blazing with some fierce and unseen passion, some odd flash of the intuition which made them a good team alerted Doyle to what Bodie was remembering. What he kept remembering. What he could not forget whenever Doyle was at his side—or worse, away from it.

For the first time, Doyle’s eyes opened to what Bodie had been through: self-pity and shock had blinded him to all but his own struggle to regain normality. Surprise, then pity overtook him; and a new resolve not to turn Bodie’s protective instincts away for reminding him that once he had failed, and so, the talisman of invincibility destroyed, might fail again.

Why didn’t you set the locks. Why, Ray?

“It’s all right,” he said. “We live to fight another day,” and the simple words did the trick, the shadow falling away.

“Amen to that. Another drink, ladies?”

Bodie’s gallant charm as he leapt to his feet and leaned over them, his eyes that deep nightsea blue, sent shivers down Rosa and Sal’s susceptible spines.

“Well, I don’t know. Isn’t it time we were thinking of moving on somewhere?” Sally said with delicacy.

Bodie met Doyle’s eyes, inclined his head slightly. For a moment Doyle did nothing; then he gave a little nod.

Well, that’s it then, Bodie thought fatalistically: no getting out of it now.

“You got anywhere in mind?” Doyle was asking, with a little flirtatious toss of the head, lip lifted to show a whitetoothed grin. It was something he did rather well. Bodie had seen it many, many times. He could not repress a smile, watching as Rosa and Sally melted.

“Well, now you come to mention it—”

Bodie offered an arm to each lady and, laughing, they swept along with him, leaving Doyle behind to savour the very last mouthful of whisky. “Are you sure we want the boy with us?” Bodie asked facetiously; with a very telling glance Doyle materialised at his elbow and relieved him of Sally.

That left Bodie with Rosa who was the prettier of the two, velvet eyes and a ripe melony bosom; not that Bodie would have minded, he liked any feminine company if it was warm, friendly and amenable and Rosa certainly fitted the bill. No, it was Doyle who had the taste for cool upper-class bitches, and look where that had got him.

After a chilly but swift walk through dark streets they stopped outside the door of a small terraced house and Sally fumbled for a key. Bodie drew Rosa closer in the circle of his arm.

“Are you sure this is safe, sweetheart?” he murmured into her soft hair. “Me and him, we don’t much go for jealous husbands.”

Rosa whispered in his ear, “Both divorced.”

With his customary speed of attack Bodie it was who reached the bedroom, a frilly ladies’ boudoir, first, along with his all-too willing lady; she leaned over him, tickling his face with the tips of her sweet-smelling hair. Time passed pleasantly. As he surfaced from a perfumed kiss a low chuckle from the doorway made Bodie’s head turn; Doyle was propped there, arms akimbo, shirt open to the waist, appraising him with a look of slow languor.

“Don’t waste much time, do you mate? I could spare you a few chat-up lines if you like.”

“Don’t seem to need ’em,” Bodie shrugged smugly. He turned back to Rosa’s plush lips, mumbling against them: “Besides, ’ad me mouth full, didn’t I.”

“Mind if I join you?”

“Why—am I coming apart?” With amazement, Bodie kept one eye on Doyle, throwing himself down on the bed beside them and making himself comfortable. “Where’s Sally?” he asked; his heart was behaving oddly.

“In the bathroom. And if she doesn’t get a move on I’ll have to start without her.” Doyle chuckled evilly, ran a quick, provocative hand down himself, and closed his eyes.

Within a minute Sally was there, dressed in something green and silky which didn’t stay on long. Good: he could stop worrying about Doyle now. He would, he really would. Firmly Bodie shut his eyes and threw himself into his lady’s embrace with fervour. Go to it, Ray. Enjoy yourself.

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Doyle lay there passively while Sal undressed him; he suddenly felt very tired. “What’s this?” She noticed his chest.

“Gunshot wound,” he answered, and she laughed, clearly disbelieving him. Turning his head to one side as she struggled to draw off his jeans in a most unromantic fashion, he watched Bodie kissing Rosa; both naked already, what a fast worker. Bodie had a good body: strong, muscular, (perfect) skin. He was murmuring something to his girl with an amused twist of his lips; whatever it was it made them both burst out laughing. Sally had arrived at last at his underpants; he was now expected to show some interest in the proceedings.

For a sick second of cold fear Doyle was gripped with uncertainty; but then she touched him and he closed his eyes and it was (thank god) all right after all, his cock awakening to her fondling. He felt more relief than anything: what he would have liked was to get blown, just to lie back and do nothing while the sweet feeling surged, but he supposed it would be selfish to ask, some women didn’t fancy it and who could blame them. So to be friendly he stroked her in return, and soon he felt her settle above him; he held her hips and thrust and was inside her, it was as sweet and as simple as that.

Beside him Bodie was moaning, short little exhalations on a rising note. Lost in his own fantasy, Doyle opened his eyes hazily—and was arrested by the sight of him.

Christ but Bodie was putting more energy into this than he was, palms pressing into the bed, the long strong muscles of back and thigh moving strongly as he took her, his chest rearing up and his head thrust back. The visual impact of this excited Doyle suddenly, the pleasures of voyeurism not lost on him; Sally moved and moaned and he wanted to push her aside; she was blocking his view. He clasped her to this chest, her head beneath his chin; a move she interpreted as affection and kissed his neck while he studied Bodie’s face: dark tendrils of hair curled damply on his brow and as he watched entranced, navy blue eyes opened and linked with his.

At that moment Doyle poured himself upwards in a lightning bolt of glory and it was all over.

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After a polite interval, Sally slipped off him and lay beside him. Doyle put an arm around her and held her; she’d probably been disappointed, definitely not one of his better performances. He felt vaguely miserable and ridiculously tired. Sally kissed his shoulder in a comforting kind of way, thereby confirming his impression that he had totally failed to please her.

Bodie was getting his breath back. As Doyle looked over he met Rosa’s eye and she smiled at him. She looked pleased, flushed. Well, when they compared notes after this no doubt as to who’d get the better write-up. (Nor who deserved it.) Bodie’s arm around her shoulder touched Doyle’s: he left it there, a warm and solid comfort.

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“Do you want some coffee?”

Bodie started; the whisper had aroused him from the doze he’d slipped into. “Yeah, that would be great.”

With a smile and a last kiss she slipped out of the bed and into a robe she took from the back of the door. Bodie looked over at Sally and Doyle, tangled up together, both fast asleep. Pity to wake him, but they’d have to be on their way soon. Bodie’s brows narrowed into a frown as he surveyed Doyle; even asleep, little lines of stress showed around his eyes. Silver glints in his hair, and on his chest the ugly brand of a wound

most mortal.

Doyle was not yet thirty-five years old.

The familiar tight sensation hit Bodie, an expression of fierce brooding twisting his face:

Doyle had nearly died.

It couldn’t be right. Not that a young man, full of life and vibrance, moods and feeling should be wiped out in a flash, just like that—all he had to offer to the world gone, flung to the winds and lost. For no good reason.

For no good reason.

And if he had died, Bodie asked himself reasonably, eyes dwelling on the smooth honey of his skin, returning as if drawn to that black nightmarish pucker over his heart: if he had died… What would that have done to you?

He closed his eyes, trying to blot out the rising panic: to quell it, he set about to be practical. To let his mind catalogue the options open to him, to both of them: anything to screen the fearful view of the future which had so nearly become the past. I will do it, he thought, I have to do it; I’ll ask him to get out with me, we’ve done our bit for the nation, Cowley can find some other young hopefuls to do or die.

He touched Doyle’s shoulder, found the skin moist, and cool; pulled up the duvet over him. Then, Bodie got up, picked up his clothes from the floor and padded to the bathroom to wash.

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Walking home through dark streets, Doyle was quiet. So many moods, Bodie thought: so many areas of light and shade to make up the complexity of one particular man. Doyle could be childish, distant, scrappy; infuriatingly moral or surprisingly cold-blooded: caring and callous depending on the day of the week. Most people were no better, many were worse. Bodie knew plenty with sweeter tempers he loved a good deal less.

Warm puffs of breath smoked the freezing night air a little. Doyle shivered and turned the fur collar of his leather jacket up, a little comfort against the November chill. Bodie knew better, this time, than to comment.

“Turn down here, yeh?”

Doyle’s only reply was a noncommittal sort of sound. “Nice girls,” Bodie offered, not that he felt much about them one way or the other; they turned into a side street.

“Yeah, they were. Too nice for us,” Doyle’s sour voice floated up from his chest where he had buried his chin.

“Oh, I dunno. They got what they wanted, didn’t they?”

“That was what they wanted, was it—a quick poke and a wave?”

Uh-oh. Obviously the blues had set in. Bodie felt defensive, as if Doyle were blaming him for something unknown; he had the feeling of stiffness between them, nothing specific, just that Doyle was very far away from him right now.

“All right, all right,” he muttered savagely.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Doyle deliberately, provokingly challenging. Spoiling for a fight.

Bodie clenched his fists, thrust them deep and safe into his jacket pockets. “Thought you’d enjoy it. For chrissake, Ray, you weren’t exactly slow on the boil. Didn’t have to drag you to the bed kicking and screaming, did she?”

He felt resentful, as people do who bear someone’s troubles uncomplainingly for years and never get their sacrifice seen. Doyle was staring at him, with that ominously chilly look.

I didn’t? Hang on mate, you were the flash-eyed Jack. Top marks for effort, sunshine. You really got your rocks off, didn’t you? And you’re telling me you weren’t keen!” He put his hands on his hips and sneered. “I’d love to see it when you’re really feelin’ in the mood. Must move mountains, does it?”

He said it very nastily. Had a viciousness to him, Doyle did; not often Bodie standing in the way of it. On top of all the emotions raging in him, Bodie was somewhere feeling a vast astonishment: that Doyle could really believe he’d wanted nothing more from the evening than to screw his end away in Rosa.

“Love to see it would you?” he said with a lacing of silky venom and a very pleasant smile. “Yes, I just bet you would.”

Doyle stopped dead still, and turned to face him. His eyes glittered in the half-light; any sensible person would step back right now and in a hurry.

“Quite the little voyeur, aren’t we Doyle?” Bodie hissed, hot with his own rage now, sick with his own blues. “Turns you on, does it, watching: need it a bit kinky these days, do you? Third-hand thrills, watching another bloke doing his stuff in bed—”

Blind with fury Doyle swung a punch at him with the full force of his body weight behind it; Bodie blocked him, letting the hefty blow flash harmlessly past his ear as he sidestepped and caught Doyle as he cannoned into him, off-balance with impetus.

All textbook stuff. Macklin would be proud of them. What came next was in no book ever written on the martial arts. Bodie took Doyle’s arm and pushed him to the rough brick wall behind. “Third-hand thrills? Try the real thing, Doyle,” he said and leaned into him, bringing his mouth down onto the pout below and imposing on him the most savage, most brutal kiss he was capable of.

He felt the bitter wind blow against their skin as the kiss went on for uncounted time; Doyle’s mouth hard, resisting his, then softening, growing warm, his lips finally parting to Bodie’s searching tongue. Tasting salt, Bodie swallowed, and kissed him again with fire but no violence: his body pressed against his partner’s, and even through denim he could feel the burning heat of Doyle’s body, the driving need of his own.

Finally he drew his mouth away, resting his forehead for one brief moment on Doyle’s leatherclad shoulder, Doyle’s hurried breath warm against his ear.

Then he pulled himself away and stood there, looking at him, his hands clenching into fists.

“So now we know,” said Doyle, his voice odd, husky.

“Oh yeah?” Bodie said bitterly. “You think so?”

“Fancy me, do you?”

Bodie drew in a long ragged breath, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Fancy you?” he repeated derisively. “Oh Christ no, Ray, it’s much worse than that.

Without looking at his partner he set off, his steps brisk and purposeful. Doyle came after him, conscious of a deep cold which reached through his icy blood right to the heart of him; in five minutes they were back at their hotel. He followed Bodie up the steps to the ugly stained-glass front door; after all, there really was little else he could do.

Inside he leaned against it for a scant second, starting upright when the bone thin figure of Miss Parrish materialised. He slumped back and let Bodie deal with her, eyes running over the broad back, the powerful lines of Bodie’s thighs in closecut cords, tuning into the conversation well after it had begun—

“—rather it didn’t happen again—”

and Bodie’s coolly polite, unhumble murmur of conciliation—

“—doing our friend the Major a favour is one thing, but having men treating the house like a transport cafe is something else entirely—”

“I’ll pass on the message," Bodie promised, with a swift and charming smile: and as she vanished back into her domain— through the open door, marked PRIVATE, a television screen flickered—Doyle came to with a blink, realising Bodie’s hard, dark gaze was piercing him to the bone as he told him:

“We got company.”

Bodie’s eyes looked black in the dim light, glittering with the aftermath of the madness which had seized them; Doyle did not know it but he looked as wild, half-fey in the shadows which cast light on his odd cheek, lent a green shine to his eye. They stared at each other for a moment without speaking.

“Come on,” Bodie said, and he turned and ran straightbacked up the stairs. Doyle followed, taking them an easy three at a time.

In their room, a haven no longer, lounged two of their fellow agents.

“Well, well, now, if it isn’t Butch and Sundance,” Flaherty’s soft Irish drawl greeted them as Doyle kicked shut the door. “Dodie and Boyle, Cowley’s favourite calflings.” An old foe, this: he and Doyle kindled one another like flint against gun-metal, scratching then flaring. Bodie groaned inwardly, watching Doyle’s wary, feral stance as Flaherty uncurled his lean six-foot-one frame and circled him slowly.

This is all we needed.

“And what have you been up to, Raymond me sweet?” Flaherty’s long finger flicked Doyle on the cheek, sharp summersky eyes searching, not missing the bruised, swollen lips. “Looking a little tired, if I may say so. Just a touch the worse for wear.”

“Shut up, Spud,” said Bodie shortly. “I hear you’re hot tip number one for the Cow’s merit award this month: and a black eye just might ruin your chances.” He liked the Irishman, who was a brilliant shot and smart and quick as mercury; also his placid partner Todman, but right now they were nothing to him, they might as well be stones on the beach. “Bit late for a party, innit? Todders needs his beauty sleep like no-one I know.”

Burly agent 4.8, he of the crinkly brown hair and the best collection of beer cans ever seen—due, he’d assured Bodie gravely, to a lifetime’s quietly joyful experimentation— said from the depths of the pink armchair: “George is worried about you two. Hopes you’re eating well. He’s sent us to share the load, in fact, so you can have regular tea-breaks.”

Doyle threw himself onto the bed, hands behind his head, dirty-soled boots up on the counterpane. It was in fact Bodie’s one, but Bodie decided, looking at the tight set of his partner’s mouth, that to remind Doyle of this would not be prudent.

Oh Christ make them go. Or stay.

“We don’t need bloody minders,” Doyle was snarling at Flaherty, who looked pleased, carefree and winning on points, as he sniffed the air with delicacy. It was faintly rank—possibly boiled carrots? “That your dinner I can smell? Lucky, lucky little laddies.”

“We dined ite,” Bodie said, “ectually.”

The ridiculous remark broke the tension crackling through the room; Bodie, sitting defensively on the fence, breathed again and they fell to discussing the matters in hand.

“You takin’ first watch?” Bodie addressed the other pairing.

“We fully intend to, Bodie me ol’ mate,” Flaherty responded. “Laid out the sarnies already, for the midnight feast.”

“Oh, and just look at the time,” Bodie said, pointedly examining his watch and leaping to open the door. “If you don’t get going you’ll miss the deadline.”

On his way out Flaherty couldn’t resist one parting shot. “And you look after that little leprechaun of yours, Bodie-boy. He’s lookin’ peaky, to me.”

Doyle sprang up and flew for the door. Bodie slammed it shut on retreating Irish laughter and stood firm.

“Don’t, Ray, it’s not worth it. Ray,” fending off Doyle with one hand. “What’s the bloody point, he’s just a stirrer, that’s all.”

Doyle turned away from him and thumped both fists hard against the wall in impotent fury, or despair. He stayed leaning there, head between his arms, staring at the floor.

“You can see what they think. What they all think.”

“No they don’t. Look, Doyle, there’s no real harm in Spud: can’t you see it’s the very last thing he’d say if it was true?”

Doyle’s head flew up and he glared at Bodie, green fire in his eye. “No, I don’t see that. I don’t see that at all. Well, I’m damn well going to prove everybody wrong, that’s all.”

Bodie grinned, preferring angry to maudlin any day of the week. “That’s my Ray. You do that.”

Feeling better, Bodie wandered around having a yawn, drawing the curtains, switching on the rose-pink standard lamp.

“Bodie.”

“Yeh?”

“Do you think I’ll come back?”

Bodie didn’t look at him, banging his pillow into shape. “Yeh, no problem.”

“You’re just saying that.”

Bodie was brutal, swinging round and glaring. “Look, mate, I knew someone in the Mercs had half an arm and a foot bitten off by a croc. Next I knew he was in charge of a battalion making raids on weapon stores, and if he could come back anyone could so stop feeling so bloody sorry for yourself and get on with the bloody job.”

“I don’t bloody well feel sorry for myself!” Doyle snapped. “Just as well, since everyone else is more than makin’ up for me.” He stamped off and slammed the door of the bathroom shut. There was a sound of taps being wrenched around in angry jerks. Water shuddering and hissing into the bath tub. A tank somewhere started to gurgle, noisily refilling from juddery old pipes.

Bodie raised his eyes heavenwards. He marched to the bathroom, opened the door and looked in. Doyle was stripping off; clouds of steam were rising from the genteel pink tub.

“I’m sure Miss P,” Bodie said acidly, “and all the other guests will be thoroughly enjoying your midnight ablutions. They’ll probably tell us, just how much they enjoyed it, in the morning.”

Doyle clearly cared as much about that as he did about the best knitting patterns. The sage sweater came Bodie’s way, followed by Doyle’s trousers and two flying socks. Bodie fielded them all neatly and tossed them into the bedroom.

Doyle was stepping over the rim of the bath. “Tell her it’s on the Cow’s statutes we go to bed clean every night.”

“It could be, at that,” Bodie agreed as Doyle, naked, slid wholly beneath the water, then resurfaced, blurry-eyed and shaking his head of dripping curls. Some brisk interplay with a bar of soap began. Bodie’s gaze darkened, drifting like debris on the tide: he said abruptly: “What about resigning?”

Doyle opened wide eyes at him, totally still, the soap forgotten in his hand.

“Not you,” Bodie hastened to say. “Both of us.”

Doyle’s hand wandered to the ugly puckered snarl on his chest. “Because of this?”

Bodie turned restlessly away. “Not just that. There comes a time, that’s all…playing cops and robbers all our lives.” He stared unseeingly at three ducks in tasteful ceramic winging their way up the wall, thinking it out as he spoke, his voice rising and quickening as his urgency grew, “We’ve had a good run, we’ve done it all, every damn thing Cowley’s asked us to do for our bloody country save lying down and dying for it: what about getting out before that’s top of the list?”

Doyle looked at him; he seemed totally stunned by the turn of the conversation. “And do what?”

Bodie turned back towards him and looked down at him swishing gently, rhythmically in the bath and said: “I dunno. Insurance salesmen. Couriers. Open a shop. Who cares? We’d find something.”

Doyle snorted suddenly with laughter and rinsed soap out of his ears. “Shopkeepers!” Bodie’s narrow leather holster encircled his broad back; he was balanced on the balls of his feet and frowning into the steamed-up mirror; a hard dark fighting man, every inch of him. Despite himself Doyle felt a bleak erotic stab within; all that power, leashed back. Bodie had the kind of dangerous beauty which women found compelling. Women—and some men. Doyle knew only too well how attractive his partner was to gentlemen that way inclined.

“I’m trying, but I just can’t see you in a butcher’s apron, mate,” he said, a delightfully incongruous image springing to his mind, Bodie in a bloodstained apron, bare strong forearms revealed, wielding a mighty chopper.

Bodie was not to be diverted. He returned and sat on the edge of the bath, gazing broodingly down at Doyle, dark gaze raking him from top to toe. Under the scrutiny Doyle winked, and kicked one foot lazily, languishing like a basking seal. The water was clouded with soap; Doyle’s body hair lifted and settled, lifted, settled, like seaweed drifting around rocks.

“I’m serious, Ray. Okay, it’s been fun, it’s been great, we got paid, laid lead into a few blokes the world was better off without. But now—” Bodie’s voice sharpened with tension— “you damn well nearly died, Ray. I reckon we can call it a day, no sweat, no guilt. Let some other idiots fall under Cowley’s do-or-die spell.”

Doyle sat up. One hell of an evening. He swung himself up and over the edge of the bath, pulled a warmed rosepink towel off the rail, rubbed himself vigorously and efficiently. Drops of water flew everywhere. He threw the towel over his head and said from the depths: “Look mate. That’s a bit drastic, innit? Okay, it’s been a weird night, and we’ve had some hard times lately. It’ll all look different in the morning.”

His buttocks were thin, pale and muscular, a darkened cleft between. “You’re avoiding the issue, mate.” And Doyle whirled to face him, eyes blazing a question, a challenge:

“What is the issue, Bodie?” And they were there again, staring into the abyss.

Bodie rubbed his hand over his eyes; he was conscious suddenly of a gritty fatigue.

“You get to bed, Ray.” He turned away and began to strip, boneweary. His watch was the last thing to come off—12.30. Christ. For the sake of quiet he used Doyle’s water; it was still reasonably hot, if scummy with soap, the odd curl of hair here and there. By the time he got to the soaping stage Doyle was back, pulling a striped silk dressing gown around himself and tying it deftly at the waist. His hair was damp and curling tightly, his eyes heavy with fatigue. He stared at Bodie from the doorway.

“You think I’ve lost my edge, don’t you. Don’t fancy trusting me as a partner, is that it?”

“No,” Bodie said. “Christ no, Ray, of course not. I’d trust you with my life tomorrow, you know that. I may have to.”

“I dunno,” Doyle said, “seems everyone’s always looking over my shoulder these days. Especially.”

Of course it must seem like that to him. Touchy and sensitive as he was: no wonder he took it the wrong way, seeing distrust where there was only—something quite different.

“Look, Ray, if I do that it’s only because—”

He stopped abruptly and hauled himself out of the bath, setting off quite a tidal wave in the cool water as he bent over and wrenched out the plug. A dreadful tumult began, loud sucking noises, shuddering pipes and horrible gurglings. Bodie winced. This rate, they’d probably be booted out in the morning by the Iron Lady.

“Because what?” Doyle asked. He hadn’t moved, leaning easily on the doorjamb, one slender fingered hand gripping the frame.

Bodie plucked another large towel off the rail, its soft thick pile a noticeable contrast with the dry sandpaper rectangles which emerged from his washing machine.

“Give it a rest, Ray.” Dry enough, he folded the towel neatly, brushed his teeth at speed and padded still naked to the bedroom, pushing past Doyle.

“Look, if we don’t get our heads down soon, we’re gonna be in no fit state for 24hour eyeballs tomorrow, so get to bed.”

He put his gun within easy reach, switched off the main light and rolled into bed. Too much had happened tonight, his mind whirling with a difficult stir of thoughts; he supposed Doyle must be feeling much the same. Unfinished, the tumult lamented, lost chances, undone.

In the sudden dark, memories burned with unwelcome clarity; Doyle turned over, pressed his cheek into his hand, and remembered Bodie’s kiss.

If you could call it that.

Assault, more like it.

And yet…

He remembered hard lips bruising fire onto sensitive skin, the lazy kiss of Bodie’s tongue with his own; shafts of dark and secret pleasure stabbed him in the guts.

Christ.

More exhausted than he would wish Bodie to know, he fell asleep.

Bodie, not so fortunate, sweated on what to do, what to say, what he wanted—he didn’t know—what Doyle wanted—he didn’t know that either—and finally he turned his face onto a cool part of the pillow, closed his eyes, and slept.

==========||||==========


Doyle jerked, and awoke with a shock to find Bodie looming over him in the darkness. “What is it?” he slurred groggily, reaching out for his gun, for the light, knocking something off the bedside with a clatter. Bodie stopped him, pressing a hand down on his arm and pushing him back to the bed.

“Okay, mate, it’s okay. You were dreaming, that’s all. Go back to sleep, it’s only five.”

Doyle lay back, exhaling like a surfaced whale. “Sorry,” he muttered. Almost instantly he was asleep again. Bodie slid back between the sheets gratefully—the air in the room had a chill dawn feel—and wondered what would have happened if he had touched Ray, so warm. If—

Next time he woke it was light. His eyes fell upon Doyle, sitting at the window, back to him, a grey blanket slung round his shoulders as he warmed both hands around a steaming mug and stared out at the horizon.

“Bit keen, aren’t we?” Bodie’s voice croaked with sleep. He always felt terrible in the morning: and Doyle wasn’t usually a ray of sunshine, either.

“Don’t want Soo to slip through our fingers. I may be farmed out to babysitting jobs these days but that’s all the more reason not to let the baby die on me. ’Ave a coffee.”

“Made it for me, have you?” Bodie asked hopefully.

“Kettle’s still ’ot,” Doyle said without a pause. Bodie grimaced, rolled over and sat up, prising his eyelids apart. Doyle’s blue unshaven jaw was tilted in a determined set and his eyes raked the streets mercilessly.

“God,” Bodie groaned, “Ray Doyle, supersleuth.” He dragged himself out of bed and came to stand behind his partner. “You been reading the Boy’s Own again?”

“Nah, just Cowley’s motivation pamphlets.” Bodie disappeared into the bathroom and reappeared in precisely ten minutes, neat and shining with virtue and efficiency. He narrowed his eyes and peered out at the deserted streets. “I reckon we ought to take a look round the embassy. Just in case.”

In answer Doyle tossed him a piece of paper. “Map.” Bodie unfolded it and stared at the diagram. “Cowley said not to tread on any toes.”

Bodie grinned, stretching and throwing his chest out, hands behind his head. “You and me? Would we? My dancin’ days are over, mate.”

“’E meant it. Any trouble and we’re on our own.”

Bodie groaned in earnest, hefting his Magnum from one hand to another. “Not that again.”

Embassies were sensitive places: and especially this one, whose occupants were enjoying themselves right now sitting on the fence between Britain, the U.S., and Iran; the apprehension of one of their diplomats suspected of terrorism on the politically neutral ground of an embassy by agents of the host country’s government would not weigh too well in Britain’s favour.

“That’s if one of his own lot don’t pick him off anyway,” Bodie added gloomily. “They ’ave about fifty branches of the royal family all with a claim to the throne, you know. Die like flies in the swatting season.”

Doyle twisted to look at him unblinkingly. “Did your homework, I see.”

“Yeah. Riveting stuff.” Bodie yawned, feeling a twinge of hunger gripping his belly. “Shall I go down for breakfast first? Or you?” He leaned down over his partner, very close, to catch his reply. Doyle had a large picture of Amun Soo laid on his lap.

Unbearably and inexplicably moved by this, Bodie kissed him on the cheek. Doyle squawked, “Gerroff, Bodie!” and dusted him away.

“Just my natural high spirits,” Bodie said, stalking away smugly, “coming out.”

Doyle snorted. “Not the only thing comin’ out, I reckon.”

“Promises, promises,” carolled Bodie, batting his eyelids roguishly and heading for the door.

Doyle turned around to stare after him. “Oi. Where d’you think you’re going?”

“Breakfast. Don’t worry. I’ll save some for you.”

“If it’s black puddin’,” Doyle’s voice floated glumly through the open door, “don’t bother.”

==========||||==========


Bodie felt good as he went down the stairs, better than for a good while now; Ray seemed to be in a sunnier frame of mind, not feeling too vengeful. Okay, so nothing was resolved: but things had a way of working themselves out. One way or another. Take each day as it comes…

“Good morning,” Miss Parrish’s voice transfixed him from behind; her smile this morning looked predatory, like a steel trap for animals. “I’d just like, if you don’t mind, to draw your attention to the House Rules, and then if you’d like a table for breakfast—”

The rules began with ‘Guests are requested not to smoke in their Rooms’, ended with ‘Gratuities to the kitchen staff are NOT permitted’; somewhere in the middle was ‘Guests are requested not to draw hot water between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.’

Bodie handed them back, smiling with great charm and contriving a puzzled air. All the way to breakfast he could feel her eyes boring grimly into his back.

It was a bright, cheerful room containing several tables, each with a vase of fresh flowers in the centre of a snow-white tablecloth, a stone jar of chunky marmalade and a generous pat of butter in a glass dish—no tiny foil-wrapped portions here, Bodie was glad to note. From somewhere came the heartening smell of frying bacon, and the waitress who approached him had a wide smile and a pleasantly large bottom. What more could be hoped for?

“—with three sausages?” Bodie said winningly as she scribbled down his order. “Need to keep my strength up.”

She giggled at him and tossed her long blonde hair as she walked away, and Bodie knew he would get his extra sausage. His lips wrinkled smugly: if you were born beautiful, charming and irresistible, you might just as well exploit it.

His stomach gurgled as he contemplated the three-artery-pileup of cholesterol set before him; looked wonderful. Doyle, now he’d probably munch his way through an identical plateful and then float up to the room claiming he’d had a glass of spring water and a little Austrian muesli. Bodie picked up his fork and dived in.

The door opened and in came a man, bald and wrinkled, who boomed out a cheery excitable greeting as he spotted Bodie, who mumbled a muted response.

“Mind if I share? Shame to dirty two tables. Nice girl, that Jane, far enough to do as it is.”

“Er—my mate’ll be down in a minute,” Bodie lied, but undeterred the man sat across from him, beaming as he shook out a snowy napkin and stuffed it inside his collar.

“Name’s Fred. You?”

“Bill,” Bodie said resignedly, shaking the proffered hand.

“Fred and Bill! Sounds like the Flowerpot Men, dunnit? Best breakfast in all London, this,” Fred carried on, “for the price, that is. You on holiday then? Seeing the sights.”

“No chance,” said Bodie glumly. “Sales have been pretty low lately, my boss wants a 30% rise in definite orders this month.” He loaded a fork with sausage, chunk of bacon, piece of fried bread, and dipped the lot in his egg.

“Salesman, are you?” interpreted Fred, a man of lightning uptake.

“’S’right,” Bodie agreed through a mouthful.

“Very interesting,” Fred said valiantly. “Now what line of business would that be, then?”

Bodie ran through half a dozen alternatives from Bugattis to cosmetics, and said unexcitedly, “Vacuum cleaners.”

“You don’t say,” Fred marvelled. “Now me, I’m retired. Coffee for me, love, and two poached eggs.” He winked at the waitress who smiled at him. Then she smiled at Bodie, and whisked off under his admiring gaze.

When he returned it to his breakfast, his companion was peering with him at his plate.

“Like a cooked breakfast, do you?” Fred said gloomily. “Doctor’s orders, me—lowfat diet.” With a jaundiced eye he watched him use up most of the butter on one half-slice of toast.

I do not want, I just do not want the company of this man at breakfast tomorrow, Bodie thought, the taste of his sausage quite tarnished by dislike; and he opened his mouth and began to tell Fred quite a lot more than anyone would want to know about the sales, performance, and technology of your average vacuum cleaner.

==========||||==========


Twenty minutes later he was closing the door of room 14 behind him. The head of curls silhouetted in front of the window looked decidedly fed-up.

“Your turn,” Bodie said, arriving beside him and staring out. “Anything?”

“Nope,” came the disgruntled reply. “Street’s as bare as the parson’s nose.”

“Bit early for your average international terrorist, probably.” Bodie plucked the binoculars out of Doyle’s unresisting hand and displaced him on the stool. “Go and get your juice, old son. You’ll like the waitress. Also a charming fellow guest, name of Fred.”

“Bodie.”

“What?” He didn’t turn, being officially on-duty now, but something in Doyle’s voice tensed him.

“I don’t want the waitress. Understand?”

“Okay, fine,” Bodie said lightly. “Leave her for me.”

Doyle snorted, eyes on the broad back of his partner. For a moment it seemed as if he might say something more, but he turned on his heel and left.

“Don’t forget to look out for Fred,” Bodie called after him. “Very good conversationalist.”

“Right.”

“Oh, and Doyle—”

“What?” Doyle stuck his head back around the door, irritable.

“You’re a salesman.”

==========||||==========


Doyle breakfasted by himself, noted the charms of the waitress just as Bodie had, then took his third cup of coffee into the bright lounge. As he sank down into a very comfortable armchair, a lean and rangy figure unfolded itself like a creaky spectral vision from a seat with its back to the door.

“Hello there, hello. Fred’s the name.” The man bounded eagerly over, hand outstretched.

“Ray Doyle,” admitted Doyle sourly, having long ago decided that Bodie’s Fred was most likely one of Bodie’s little fantasies.

“Raid Oil?” echoed Fred doubtfully, but shaking his hand nonetheless. With gloom Doyle saw him take a seat beside him and decided this was going to be a very quick cup of coffee indeed. He reached for it firmly.

“Havin’ your coffee in the lounge then,” Fred said, nodding approvingly.

“S’right,” Doyle agreed, and took a large swallow.

“Then you’ll be off on the beat, no doubt.”

“No doubt at all.”

“Business a bit slack, your mate tells me.”

“Yep.”

“Nice chap,” Fred said clearly disappointed that Doyle was so different. He chuckled. “I’d buy a Christmas tree in August off that one, all right.”

“Me too,” Doyle agreed absently. Out of the window he saw a group of businessmen, dark suited, very close to the Embassy doors. Every hair on head prickled with tension: he catalogued the men rapidly. Oriental, yes; suspicious looking—yes; and, ohmigod, one of them was actually reaching inside his doublebreasted suit—

Doyle leapt to his feet, diving inside his jacket for his gun—not there—damn and fuck it to hell, every sense alert and ready to go, to move, to run: and then the businessman drew out of his pocket a gold lighter which he flicked as he talked rapidly and lit the cigarette of his nearest colleague.

Doyle sank slowly back down onto the chair, puffing out his cheeks with the gustiness of his sigh.

Watching him were two curious eyes.

“Sorry,” Doyle said, and he sniffed. “Felt a sneeze coming on.”

==========||||==========


Anything?” Bodie queried of his R/T, squinting out over the top of it with one blue eye.

“Naught but a word from Cowley,” Flaherty’s tinny voice reported. “Things are hotting up…so he says.”

Bodie groaned. “Well, tell him the only thing hotting up round here is—”

“—Doyle?” Flaherty enquired, interested.

“My temper,” Bodie told with equanimity. “This is a waste of time, and don’t we all know it.”

==========||||==========


Doyle was on the last two inches of coffee.

“I expect it’s your mate does the talking,” Fred guessed.

“Yeah,” Doyle agreed. “Me, I’m just there to discourage—late arrivals of payment.” With this, he smiled. Fred flinched.

“Well, it’s not everyone gifted with the gab, is it,” he comforted. “How many would you say you sell a week, then?”

Doyle set his cup down, suddenly wary. How many what?—Wait a minute—

“Well, season’s coming up now, of course,” he said elusively.

Fred stared at him. He had a peculiarly egg-shaped head, with greasy-looking glasses. “Seasonal sort of trade then, you’d say?”

Doyle stared back. Naturally Christmas trees were seasonal—weren’t they?

“Yeah, I’d say so.”

“Interesting,” mused Fred excitedly. “People do more of it in the winter, do they?”

Something was amiss here.

“Seems so,” Doyle said floundering, but hoping for the best. He buried his head in his cup—all gone but the dregs.

“Must be all the pine needles. Never get rid of ’em do you?” jested Fred and Doyle’s head snapped up suspiciously. Now they were back to Christmas trees again!

Fed up with this, he decided to lay his cards on the line: placing both hands flat on the table he faced Fred firmly.

“If you’re interested, I could do you a nice Norwegian spruce. Special price.”

“A what?” Fred looked at him askew. “A what, son?”

Doyle pressed it home, smooth and sure and to the bone. “6-footer, flame-resistant pine-o-tex in natural evergreen with a red leatherette pot. Very,” Doyle said, “natty.” And he sat back.

“Ah well,” Fred said after a pause. “Takes all types, dunnit?”

==========||||==========


Bodie was where Doyle had left him, leaning at ease against the wall, the binoculars dangling from one square hand.

“Anything?” Doyle said, shutting the door behind him.

“Not even any street theatre.” Bodie turned his way and glowered darkly. “Looks like being a really thrilling day. Pack the dominoes, did you?”

Doyle chuckled as he walked across the room. “Thought you wanted it borin’. Not twelve hours since you were all for us signing on with the Boy Scouts, or somethin’“

Bodie turned to look at him, his eyes very blue indeed. Doyle stood stock still; but Bodie said, mildly enough, “Yeah, well that’s me, Doyle, always prepared.”

Doyle pursed his lips and peered out of the window. Bit of action, that’s what Bodie needed. He was too tough, too large a character to be cooped up like this in a soft pink cage.

No action, however, was forthcoming. Only an old man, looking the other way while beside him a mangy dog squatted. Bodie was incensed. He pushed up the sash window and bawled: “Oi! There’s a fifty quid fine for that, you know!”

“Poor old geezer,” Doyle said as the man jumped a mile and began a haunted visual search for the source of the reprimand. The dog, unconcerned, continued to perform.

“I’m fed up to here with dogshit on my shoes.” The R/T bleeped and Bodie angrily snatched it up. “3.7.”

“Just checking up on you,” Flaherty’s mechanised tones filtered from the tiny metal grille. “We’ll leave the baby rockin’ in your tree, then, me mate an’ I are off to the ball.”

“What baby,” Doyle bemoaned, leaning over Bodie’s shoulder.

“You might well ask, me lovey: meself I think the Cow’s tossed us an empty bucket.”

The connection broken, Doyle was examining the carpet. Bodie glanced at him. “Put some music on, eh? Might liven us up a bit. Even if it’s only that Mozart rubbish you were playing last night,” he said to be wicked, but Doyle didn’t leap in and correct him haughtily, didn’t even seem to have heard.

“Do you think Spud and Todders—”

“No, I don’t,” Bodie said sharply, his spine tensing.

“Why not?”

Bodie grimaced. “Oh, look at Todman. Pipe and slippers chap if ever there was one.”

“There was Matheson and King,” Doyle said almost defensively.

Bodie shrugged. “Well okay, we all knew about them.” He added, half panicking, a jeer: “What’s the matter, Doyle? Planning a purge?”

Doyle took no notice of him. “Just wondering, that’s all. What any of our chances are—” He stopped, staring out, moody-eyed.

“Of what?” Bodie prompted, his heart pounding, pounding.

“—of living,” Doyle said, into the remote distance.

Quietly spoken, terrible in aspect.

After a pause, Bodie said roughly, “You’re not the only one has nightmares, you know,” and from nowhere the vision came: Doyle below him, the view angled and slanted, his slit chest stretched open by a surgeon’s clamps, the bloody arch of his ribs shielding a ravaged heart which trembled and refused to beat: the chink of a bleeding bullet in a dish.

Bodie drummed and tapped his fingers on and on and on. Doyle was silent. “You see?” Bodie said, because he could not bear not to. “You know I’m right. You know it. Let’s get out, Doyle, before it’s too bloody late.”

Doyle shook his head. It was tempting, Bodie thought, to shake a bit more of him, but his anger died away as Doyle said, chin tilted:

“Run away, you mean?” and Bodie understood with his gut diving helplessly that now, more than ever, there was no chance for them.

He turned angrily away. “Make us a cuppa,” he said, staring out of the window. “Oh, unless it’s against the bloody house rules, of course.”

==========||||==========


The day passed slowly. People sauntered along the pavement, people went up the Embassy steps. People left the Embassy: but none of them was Amun Soo—unless, as Doyle pointed out, he’d had a foot of shin removed from each leg; Soo was a tall man, and the Embassy visitors seemed one and all to be midgets.

In the late afternoon Doyle snoozed on the bed while Bodie did the watching; he must be feeling more like himself, a week ago he’d have stayed up grim-eyed till midnight rather than give in. Bodie stayed at his post, jettisoning a glance back towards the huddled form on the bed every so often. Ray Doyle! Whether he was blessed or cursed to know him Bodie had no idea.

Doyle twitched, and muttered, and dreamed.

A huge mirrored ballroom dazzled him, so that he could not quite see; he glided about among people whose faces he did not quite know. Confusion and a great weariness troubled him; just to lift one foot and put another down seemed like something tremendous. He was worrying, too; he was late for something important, he had to be somewhere, somewhere else, and how could he get there quickly if he was so weighted down?

He had a partner in his arms, light as down; in the mirrored wall he kept glimpsing the top of her head against his chest. She felt insubstantial, barely real at all and he had no idea who she was.

A tap on his shoulder made him jump. Turning, he saw Bodie there, large and vivid, but it was Bodie with a peculiar look in his eyes which made his heart hammer and his legs turn weak.

“May I have the pleasure?” Bodie asked in his deepest voice, and Doyle let go of his partner, never saw her again. He was enfolded into Bodie’s arms and swept off; and he knew with a vast sense of relief that it was all right now: wherever he had to go Bodie would take him. And Bodie whispered into his ear with the subtlest of charm, “Come with me, Ray.”

Doyle felt himself tremble, life impossibly sweetened: he felt himself hard and tight against Bodie and he knew he was going to have an orgasm.

“It’s all right,” Bodie murmured to him, very seriously, “No-one will care…”

==========||||==========


Doyle awoke with a frightening jolt, heart pounding, skin tingling sickly with shock. For a moment he simply stared up at the ceiling, closed his eyes, opened them and stared again, exhaling as he tried to calm his racing pulse. Bodie was by the window, gazing out; he didn’t turn towards the bed. Doyle watched him, saw the broad shoulders in leather, the dark hair curling over his collar, the fine ends of it just beginning to curl. Someone—Bodie of course—had laid a blanket over him while he dozed: with the chills of the newly-awake he was glad of it.

Not yet wanting to face Bodie, he closed his eyes again. His body thrummed with disappointment, threads of sweet delight still hovering, waiting to be gathered. It brought a bitter smile to his lips: he needed something, that was for sure.

The smile died, a hazy imperfect memory stealing into his mind; one night, drunk, flicking beercaps at a spot on the wall, much hilarity. They had had many good times like that, himself and Bodie, firing each other on to new highs of energy, of humour, of wildness—excitement—

And this night—

The lights were low, the television flickered.

Bodie had suggested something, or he had.

He didn’t remember the details; the next morning with a sour belly and an aching head he had dispatched two empty Johnnie Walker bottles down the rubbish chute to shatter at the bottom: old Cowley’d be proud of the singleminded effort he and Bodie were making to boost the Highland economy.

No, the details…

…were unimportant, but he knew beyond doubt or self-delusion that something had happened. Unmistakable, that guilty delight at something secret shared, something intensely thrilling, a little wicked (dirty?) maybe… Bodie had been nice to him for days, a softness in his eye when he looked at him.

In one way he wished he could remember, and yet he didn’t need to. Bodie had touched him, and he had wanted Bodie to: they could turn on to one another, it was no use denying it.

Fancy me? he had accused Bodie savagely last night; but Bodie had turned the question aside, and answered quite a different one.

Doyle burned, and yet shivered: newly fragile, to invite Bodie’s love was surely to kill forever his chance of independence. He could just imagine Bodie, stepping in solicitous, pinning a cloak around his shoulders to protect him from the storm.

==========||||==========


With one sudden movement Doyle got up, flinging the blanket aside. Bodie jumped, and turned to look at him.

He was not expecting anything, had no expression prepared: had no idea of the sudden beauty of his eyes, a navy blue gleam under black silken lashes, the handsome, tender line of his jaw. Staring at him, Doyle narrowed his eyes, took a deep breath.

“What’s the matter?” Bodie said, and after a moment Doyle came over to him, rested his hand on Bodie’s shoulder. What would that commit him to? Nothing. He left it there, squeezing gently. “Seen anything?” He nodded at the window.

“Course not,” Bodie said lightly. “Beginning to think you’re right, mate, this is an oyster with no pearl.”

Doyle leaned against him a little, stayed there. Together they looked out at the grey streets in silence.

==========||||==========


The day stretched on: their watch ended at six.

“What shall we do?” Bodie asked idly; he stretched and yawned, all of his joints clicking.

Near enough to notice, Doyle caught the scent of warm sweat; Bodie wore a white shirt, the cuffs of which were rolled up to his elbows, the brown leather of his holster softened and worn in places. The black magnum gleamed, however: Bodie was an army man and you did not take short cuts. “Get an early night, from the sound of you,” Doyle growled.

“Need to eat.”

“Takeaway?” Doyle suggested, reluctant to go back to the pub. No more Sals, no more. All that’s over.

The thought came from nowhere; he felt more relief than anything. And then he knew it meant he was getting older, that soon he would be looking back on his youth. It took him by surprise: a chill ran through him, and then another.

“Getting a cold?” Bodie asked, innocuously enough but it caught Doyle right on the raw. He hunched his shoulders and snarled:

“For chrissake will you stop watching me all the fuckin’ time?”

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. Bodie said nothing; after a moment he went into the bathroom.

Doyle took off his gun, viciously. He began to unbutton his shirt. A door slammed behind him and another opened.

“Where you going?” He whirled around to catch Bodie leaving, and Bodie looked back at him, a dark, enigmatic look.

“Thought I’d go out. Since you’re in one of your more charming moods.”

Doyle crossed the space between them in two bounds. “Don’t.”” He took hold of the lapels of Bodie’s jacket in two hands, and Bodie looked down at them expressionless, not caught up with this.

“I know I’m hell to live with,” Doyle said. “Don’t give up on me.”

Two beats of silence; then it broke.

A quirk of humour gleamed from Bodie’s eye. “All right, Raymondo, you win a second chance.” He tapped Doyle’s cheek with a firm finger. “But that’s your lot.”

Making Bodie stay was easy enough. In fact, Doyle had the feeling that making Bodie do anything at all might not be difficult. He found the thought oddly disquieting.

They went down, in the end, to the second sitting of dinner in the hotel; not having prebooked they weren’t entirely welcome. But Miss Parrish, obviously remembering some heady, long-ago nights with a dashing young Cowley, bit down on disfavour and produced an unexpectedly good steak-and-kidney pudding. Fred waved from across the room, clearly disappointed to be on his caramel crème when they were only just starting the soup (oxtail).

==========||||==========


Back in the room, fed and full, Doyle cast a venomous glance at his R/T. “If Spuddy calls in with more sweet sympathy—”

“I’ll take it,” Bodie promised in a hurry; he put the television on. There was a match on, Spurs v. Liverpool in a third-round Cup tie, so they settled down to watch.

“Can you get a drink in this place?” Doyle muttered, feeling the evening’s thirst creep up on him. “Don’t you just bet Miss P ’as Saudi sympathies?”

Bodie made a face. “Yeh, bar’s as dry as a—virgin’s drawers—” He was reaching over to his Gladstone bag, rummaging; came the right way up, with a smug smile. “Fortunately, however—” and he produced a bottle of whisky with a triumphant flourish.

“Good thinkin’,” Doyle approved; but the strange mood of the evening was still upon him. The stuff slid on a smooth and fiery track down his throat; he shifted higher up the bed, leaned on the pillows with his glass in hand and watched the football, though he couldn’t have told you the score.

The little room was cosy, glowing pinkly again. Rain drummed unceasingly on the windowpanes and pattered on the roof; the cars swished by slickly on the wet roads. It was not a night to be out. Bodie lay on his back, on his comfortable bed with a rosy light beside it, contented enough, doing the Guardian crossword. He did quite a lot of it out loud, speculating and frowning and scribbling down anagrams.

“‘Pointers to someone’,” he read, “‘without it’.”

“’Aven’t got a clue.”

“Just gave you one. Too late. Person,” Bodie said with satisfaction, and his pen moved quickly and scratchily on the page.

Doyle’s eyes flicked from side to side, following the little stick footballers running and running this way and that while the voice of the crowd rose and fell in the background, and the excitable commentator squeaked on and on and on.

Finished, Bodie threw down the paper and the pen and stuffed his hands behind his head, surveying the tensely curved shoulders of his partner, the curls which lay on the collar of his white sweatshirt. Three coloured stripes banded the midriff; as usual Doyle wore brown leather boots tapping restlessly. Bodie considered him, lips pursed in thought.

Doyle was unsettled tonight; anxious, angry vibes filling the room. Bodie took another swallow of his whisky and downed insanity with it.

“Ray.”

“What.”

“Come here a minute.”

Bodie put out a hand. Doyle didn’t turn his head, stared straight ahead at the TV screen.

“Ray. Come over here.”

Doyle turned, his expression bleak, his eyes a cold and wintry grey. Bodie held his gaze steady, and his outstretched hand. After a moment Doyle tipped back his chin and drank off the beaker of whisky in three or four gulps. Then he set it aside and came over to the bed, perching his hip beside Bodie on the pillow, looking down into Bodie’s face, seeing the trouble there, a reflection of his own.

Bodie’s frown smoothed out, became instead a smile. His hand slid slowly up Doyle’s arm, then curved around the back of his neck. Doyle closed his eyes as he allowed himself to be drawn down. Maybe this is the answer, after all. Bodie’s mouth was gentle, nuzzling at his then settling, his tongue darting inside Doyle’s lips. Little twinges of desire made up his mind for him: he turned within the circle of Bodie’s arms, pressing a palm to Bodie’s shoulder; and opened his mouth wholly to Bodie’s kiss.

The comfort of it vanished as lust ignited in a blaze; Doyle’s nerves rang with shock. Disturbed, he opened his eyes to see Bodie’s face; unguarded. The vulnerability of it terrified Doyle unaccountably. He thrust himself away from Bodie, breathing hard; stood up and flung himself over to the window. Putting back the curtains he stared out, hard and angry and unseeing, and gave imperfect voice to his thoughts:

“I hate feeling like this,” and it hurt him savagely, just as he knew it would have hurt Bodie. Even so, it only took Bodie a moment.

“Don’t then, Doyle: simple as that,” his voice arrogantly low, mocking, and furious.

“Simple!” Doyle jeered, one foot up on the radiator pipe as he rocked angrily and stared out to the night.

Bodie was angry too, swinging his feet off the bed and getting up in one fluid surge. “Yes it is, bloody simple: don’t think I’m goin’ to be beggin’ to touch you again. You got a vicious streak, Doyle: people like you should carry a health warning.”

Doyle winced, believing this only too readily, it being in perfect step with recent events. But he carried on, well-armed; his voice dangerously low, “You’ve changed your tune. I wasn’t that far gone in the hospital, you know: Murph would’ve laughed himself sick if he’d come in a moment earlier— ” Yet it hadn’t been funny: Bodie, his eyes furious, desperate, burying his mouth in Doyle’s hair— “Not to mention the little débâcle a few weeks before.”

Bodie heard him out; he had gone quite white, his eyes blazed fire. “You were more than willing. But don’t worry, mate.” He was by the door, snatching up his leather jacket, dragging it on. “S’funny, innit. There I was, trying to work out a future for both of us. And now I find I’m on my own. Well, believe it or not, that makes it a hell of a lot easier.”

“Don’t do anything stupid, Bodie,” Doyle warned, watching his partner with narrowed eyes.

Bodie was experiencing a curious lightheaded sensation, an overpowering relief: he could go anywhere, do anything, he was answerable to no-one. He no longer had to juggle Ray’s sensibilities with his own, struggle with dreams which refused to coincide: this was it. Ray, after due consideration, had scratched it out.

He turned for the door. “That’s sweet, coming from you,” he said coolly. “‘Don’t give up on you’, didn’t you say so touchingly? But the trouble is, Ray, you’ve given up on yourself. And that’s too much for anyone to live with.”

The door slammed, rocketing a gust of cool air into the room.

Bodie would be back, no doubt; he wasn’t one to neglect his duty, not Bodie, and their next shift began at six. Doyle gazed out of the window with eyes that felt stretched open; a light was on in the embassy, just one, high up, and the streetlights cast a haloed orange glow on the wet pavements. Rain drizzled down endlessly onto the shining roads. The whole fabric of the house shook a little, and there was Bodie running crisply down the steps, hands shoved into his pockets, neck hunched against the rain.

No further thought was necessary; Doyle snatched up his jacket and ran, flying down the endless stairwell, grabbing open the frontdoor and slamming it shut; vaulting the rail as his jacket flew out behind him like leather wings, landing on the pavement and setting off at a run.

He could still see Bodie, just turning the corner. Running full pelt Doyle caught him up in no time at all. Bodie had turned once to see who was running; he faced forward again now, walking determinedly, head down against the driving rain.

Doyle grabbed at his arm. “Bodie.”

Bodie just looked at him stonily, as if he were a nightmare. Doyle’s heart lurched. Bodie was his mate, good for a laugh, a roustabout drinking session; but he had another face, one Doyle had sussed out the moment they met: he was dangerous, aggressive and chancy by nature, out on the edge just the way you had to be to be a leader in their underworld, not a victim. It was that face of Bodie Doyle was looking into now; the knife in his eyes.

After a moment Bodie removed his gaze from Doyle’s face and walked off. Doyle followed. “Bodie?”

“Fuck off, Doyle.”

He dragged on Bodie’s arm again, all his weight behind it, fully prepared to fight if he had to.

“Let me go,” Bodie ground out, coming to a halt.

“Can’t.”

Bodie’s eyes, haunted by devils, met his.

Christ, Ray,” he said violently, “how much more do you expect me to take?”

Doyle didn’t answer that. A bunch of teenagers holding beer cans and larking about was approaching. Grabbing a handful of Doyle’s jacket Bodie pulled him into a dark alley, a yowling cat fleeing out from behind the dustbins, and manhandled Doyle against the wall, Doyle tense in his hands. But this was better: anything—anger, a fist in his guts—was better than that dreadful, indifferent walk away.

“What am I supposed to do?” Bodie asked with some kind of anguish twisting his face from the inside. “Stand still for all the filth you spit at me and come up all rosy smiles?” He added more quietly, eyes travelling all over Doyle’s battered face, “Look, I know you’ve been through a hard time lately. But whatever I do is wrong.”

“I know what I want now,” Doyle said, desperately.

Bodie stared back unsmilingly. “Yeah. And then what?”

They had something to lose, that was the trouble: not much, perhaps, a dodgy friendship at times. But no-one saw clearer than Doyle, just how risky this was going to be. Yet still he wanted it.

“It can’t be worse than this,” he said at last. Neither one thing nor the other…

“What are you trying to do, Doyle?” Bodie wanted to know, a spark of angry venom still there and feeding on itself, “Lead me on again? ’S probably quite funny, is it, from where you’re standing?” Doyle made a gesture of exasperation, grimacing down at the ground. “I know, you want me to say, ‘Let me toss you off, Ray, you’ll feel ever so much better’,” Bodie mimicked, flying out high on a line of anger, shocking Doyle and dragging his gaze up to Bodie again. “Poor duped fool, on his knees to you while you grant some obscene favour, and all in the name of therapy? Well, listen to this, mate,” and Doyle saw Bodie’s Adam’s apple move rapidly, heard his voice change, “I cried for you. So help me God, it fucking tore me up when I saw you there, like to die. And you make out it’s some sort of game. Well, I’ll play, Doyle. We’ll go back right now and play: you like it a bit wild, don’t you, a bit way out, and yeah, I’ll give you that. But don’t expect me to walk away laughing when you hit me in the guts afterwards with one of your charming little lines: I hate feeling like this, Bodie,” and he laughed savagely, a dangerous mockery shining in his eyes. “Plenty more where that came from, I reckon; you seem to have the bottom line in self-pity.”

Doyle’s head felt heavy with despair; Bodie would never, he knew, come closer to saying the forbidden than that. As for himself he seemed unable to say anything at all. Bodie looked at him intensely, and then looked closer.

“Oh Christ.” And Bodie’s arms went around him, pulled him close, cradled his head on one broad shoulder and rubbed his hair. “It’s all right, Ray. Don’t. It’s all right.”

After a while, Bodie’s hands slipped underneath his clothes and touched him, the shock of them cold on his warm skin, but gentle. Shivering, he let himself go with it: it was the only security there was left for him in the world. Bodie’s mouth settled against his, Bodie’s lips warm, both a comfort to him and a lure: again he felt that incredible, desperate diving inside his guts and wanted only more. He wrapped his arms around Bodie and gave himself up to the kiss, making a wild surrender of it, a challenge.

And when Bodie’s ceaseless hands asked a question, Doyle himself unbuckled his jeans, unzipped himself, desperate to be touched, and his eyes fell shut at the pleasure of it. A few moments more and Bodie half-laughed, half-sobbed into his ear, something incoherent; then he dropped to his knees in a stinking alley out beneath the stars and the cold and brought a little pleasure to Doyle, the first he had tasted for so long it seemed like the sweetest of his life.

Afterward Bodie held him roughly in his arms until his breathing slowed and his slumped legs straightened. Bodie’s own legs ached and he scanned right and left with his eyes, looking for passersby. Terraced houses slanted unrelentingly to the skyline behind them and in front; here and there a light shone out, but if anyone had seen the two dark figures in the narrow alley, Bodie doubted they’d have seen what they were doing. Or if they had, who cared? Probably not the first time.

Doyle’s eyes, open now, were trailing over his face hazily. “Come on,” Bodie said, not ungently. “Dunno about you but I’m cold.”

They walked quickly; the rain had slowed to a sprinkle and wisps of cloud, silver shining in drifting gauze. Doyle felt dazed and shivery, cold to the marrow. But excitement threaded through his veins fast and quick: he felt as if he was setting out on some tremendous adventure, his bearer at his side: all the dangerous romance he could want, and secret tender nights in the darkened tent to come.

Bodie walked just as he always did, hands in his pockets, brisk and sure, head down against the drizzle; he looked the same, showed no outward signs of what he had done. They passed the same group of drunken teenagers they had seen before: nearing midnight now, a six-pack of beer inside each of them, louchely aggressive and looking for a fight. Doyle watched Bodie handle them, putting down hecklers goodhumouredly, calm with the sheer assurance of being the best man there: which he undoubtedly was, no question of it. The teenagers went on without trouble, and they didn’t even need to know, Doyle thought wryly, that beneath the armpit of his partner reposed a high-calibre high velocity weapon; the sight of which would disperse all that group male conceit at a stroke—

“Bodie,” he said urgently.

Bodie looked at him in surprise. “You okay?”

“No.”

He felt confused, a weird elation, and still that excitement so intense it sickened him: coming sweetly, fiercely in Bodie’s mouth had not relaxed him, only fired him further: he felt he would never have enough.

“What is it?” Bodie asked him, closer, concern in his eyes. “Soaked, aren’t you.”

His curls hung limp and sodden and his face was wet. “Let’s get back,” he said through chattering teeth.

==========||||==========


In the room they put no lights on; a streetlamp already cast a glow. Doyle stood there, provocative, halfway between the bed and the bathroom.

“Shall I bath? Or stay dirty?”

Bodie surveyed him. “Oh, I think you’ll do as you are,” he said between clenched teeth, and he snatched Doyle, pressing them together hard as his lips slid around to Doyle’s ear. “I’m not going to let you sleep tonight: you know that, don’t you?”

Doyle was sweating, with a twinge of fear. Bodie seemed like a stranger, eyes and teeth gleaming in the half-light: and yet wasn’t that just what he had wanted?

Bodie’s breathing was fast as he held him; laying his fingers along Doyle’s cheek he turned his mouth up to kiss. His hands slid beneath Doyle’s jacket, undid the buttons of his shirt and slipped inside, the cold shock of his hands sending a shiver rippling across Doyle’s skin.

“Let’s go to bed,” Doyle managed.

“No hurry,” Bodie said; his hand cupped Doyle’s neck, his fingers stroking through a tangle of curls as he drew Doyle towards him again, lapped languidly at his lips, then drove his tongue arrogantly into Doyle’s mouth. So unlike a woman, the strength of the arms around him like chains to bind him and keep him: a delicious tendresse of fear ran up Doyle’s spine again as he tasted the alien tongue, his cock springing to life; he grabbed Bodie hard, kissing him back with urgency, with fire in his heart.

“Hey,” Bodie murmured, drawing away, “don’t rush,” and Doyle, drawing in great gulps of air, understood with a thrill which dizzied him: Bodie wanted to stay in charge, even (perhaps) knew all about the darkness in his soul.

Head bowed, he began to strip off his clothes. “You ever done this before, Bodie?”

“Of course I have,” Bodie said, lazily amused, eyes trailing over his body, “and don’t try pretending you haven’t, corruption’s written all over you.” His hand traced down Doyle’s naked arm from his shoulder, over his narrow strong forearms to the slender handsreleasing his cock from his jeans, the touch lingering. Bodie laid his fingers atop Doyle’s for a moment, and watched him, and darkly smiled. “But it’s a nice thought.”

After a while Bodie threw off his last garment and joined Doyle on the bed; his partner lay there face up, eyes closed.

“So, Ray,” he murmured in a voice so low and soft it stroked Doyle’s nerves, “you want to play the virgin for me, is that right?”

It was so nearly true. Doyle simply said nothing, did not stir, lapped by a desire so strong he felt weak.

“Or is it Sleeping Beauty?” Bodie’s voice caressed him quietly, gentle lips grazing the sensitive opening of his mouth as it quivered. “Oh yes, Ray, I think I know what you want, all right.” And Bodie’s tender mouth, all-knowing hands, absolved him of all blame, all guilt; and, submerged beneath a black sweep of pleasure so intense he could die for it, a spice of sweet tender pain.

When once he opened his eyes it was to see Bodie studying him through eyes that glittered through the blackest of lashes, an unnerving hunger, a curiosity which burned. After a moment Bodie smiled at him. Doyle saw that he was shaking; stabbed by swift tenderness, he raised his hand to touch Bodie’s cheek, then his mouth, beautiful still; and held Bodie’s look as long as he could, before the terrible pulses of ecstasy racked him, swept his whole body up and involved it so that even his fingertips felt it; and then, when all he wanted to do was sleep, Bodie was quick with him. He stayed with Bodie until he felt the brilliance of Bodie’s desire for him explode, and then he fell asleep.

==========||||==========


When he awoke it was again to Bodie’s eyes caressing him, lingering on his face.

“What time is it,” Doyle croaked, limp and dazed with heavy, dreamless sleep.

“’S only two. Sssh.” Bodie stroked him, up and down, long and luxurious and Doyle relaxed under the touch and the eyes until he no longer felt sleepy at all.

He threw back the covers and leaned up on one elbow to look at Bodie, stealing a swift kiss from his lips.

“My turn now, is it?”

Bodie gave it scant consideration, before lying down, his hands uncurling at his sides. “Yeah, if that’s what you want.”

Doyle considered it for a while longer, while his hand searched slowly over Bodie’s body.

“Come on, Ray,” Bodie said. “You can take me all right, you’re tougher than you look.”

There was admiration in that, and something else.

“Yeah, but it worries you, doesn’t it?” Doyle guessed.

Bodie sighed as Doyle’s rubbing fingers found a sensitive spot. “What does?”

“Losing control.”

“I reckon it worries everyone. Even you. But I—”

Doyle pounced on the pause. “—you what?”

Bodie opened his eyes and smiled, a peculiarly sweet smile. “—I trust you.”

That and the smile stopped Doyle’s breath, stabbed his heart. He said: “So you do. But, you know, I reckon—it just might not be your thing—” He arched an eyebrow at Bodie, waiting.

Bodie lay there, relaxed, unconcerned. “I’d do it for you.”

“Yeah,” Doyle said softly, “you would, wouldn’t you?” And he moved, into Bodie’s arms with a little arrogance, a little possessiveness which made Bodie smile.

“We’ve got time,” Doyle said into his ear when another kiss was over. “No need to rush things. You said so yourself.” His hands probed Bodie, pressing on the muscles beneath satin skin, the sharpness of bone; he had forgotten that Time was Bodie’s bête noire.

“Did I?” Bodie said harshly: “Well, that was rash of me; now I’d say get on with it, Doyle, if I were you.” Iron arms and legs locked around Doyle, pulled him downwards; Doyle resisted, fighting free, extricating himself finally and rubbing at his left arm where Bodie’s grip had burned him.

“Jesus, Bodie,” he spat, glaring. He knelt back on his heels, straddling his partner, breathing hard and ignoring the painful glow of abused skin. Bodie just laughed in his face.

“Hurt you, did I?” and his eyes flashed a mocking glint. “Sorry, mate. Just trying to get you going.”

Doyle’s stare was icy. “What the hell’s got into you? I thought you’d be—”

Suicide. He knew it instantly, would have caught it back but Bodie leapt at it like a trickster snatching bullets out of the air: “Did you, Doyle? Should be happy, should I, now that you’ve so generously, given me everything? Perhaps I should be on my knees to you kissing your bloody arse in gratitude—?” Then he grinned, a slow delightful smile which didn’t touch the burn of his eyes. “I suppose anything’s possible.”

Doyle sat back, dragging a hand across his lips, a bitter taste in his mouth. “I didn’t mean that and you know it.” But he lied.

“Oh, don’t give me that, Doyle,” Bodie drawled, looking up at him with amusement. “Don’t tell me you don’t think it’s everyone’s lifetime ambition to come on to you.” His hands settled onto Doyle’s hips, pinched him lightly.

Trying to work this through, Doyle battled his rising temper, his sense that all this was slipping out of his grasp. He placed a hand flat on Bodie’s broad chest. “If you wanna keep it just sex, Bodie… Safer that way. Keep your options open…”

Surprised, Bodie opened his eyes wide; he pursed his lips. Then he sighed, a warm gust Doyle felt like a caress on his naked skin, blowing his fears away.

“Ah, no Ray…” A charming, perverse smile lifted his features into pure, arrogant mischief. “I reckon I could make you happy, all right.”

And it was suddenly there again: Doyle breathed hard, and looked down at Bodie, and felt, after all, that they had slipped once more into that curious intimacy so intense there was room for nothing else. They had felt it before, out on the job together. Bodie lifted a hand to trace the curls around his face, taking infinite care, the drift of his fingers exquisite. “But as to time… remember old Marvell, bloody winged chariot and all. Shouldn’t hang about too much, old son.”

“Gather ye rosebuds?” Doyle asked, amused. Then thinking lewdly about it, “Sounds all right.” He ducked his head, kissed Bodie’s chest, tasted salt on each nipple. Bodie sighed, and pulled up the bedclothes around them: the bed smelt warm and sultry. A nice place to be on a cold November night. Leaning over Bodie’s warm skin, the yielding of his belly, the sweet pressure of his thigh: Doyle basked in it.

“This may be the longest night of our lives,” Bodie said into his ear; it jarred Doyle out of his pleasant driftings, and he was tired anyway.

“Certainly feels like it,” he snapped. Bodie’s silence was a speaking one. “Stop it, Bodie. Just bloody stop it, will you? Don’t be so bloody Camille. Okay, so you’ve got a touch of the shadows. Not been too ’appy lately. Me, neither. But it’s over now and it’s time to start looking past a funeral with full military honours, because I missed my chance. Geddit?” He paused, looked down deeply into Bodie’s eyes, darker than his own and wilder. “Nobody died, Bodie. Nobody died.

“Not for want of tryin’,” Bodie drawled, with that bright edge of cheery insanity, and looking at the terrible wound on Doyle’s chest, tightly stretched and ridging as it healed: he touched it. Doyle let him, closing his eyes. “Don’t worry, Doyle; keep at it. You’ll make it one day.”

A shining rill of anger trickled through Doyle; but it ebbed when he saw Bodie’s expression. “Ah, Bodie. What am I gonna do with you, hey?” he murmured, fierce with love and despair.

“Whatever you like,” Bodie said, and there was suddenly so much warmth about him, so much attraction, that Doyle gave himself into it wholly and fled the dark with him, at least for a while.

==========||||==========


Bodie whistled in the shower; he seemed happy, though reading Bodie was never easy. Some people took Bodie as he appeared to be: a born fighter, somewhat mindless, a gleeful, malicious sense of humour like a boy. Not many saw, or cared to see, the twisted line of character which centred Bodie: it didn’t matter, anyway. If there was something not quite safe about Bodie it was to CI5’s advantage. Not to mention Bodie’s lover. And the strength Doyle had feared, he found he worshipped.

Doyle was only too happy to follow Bodie way out, right out to the limits…

To the end.

He poked his head around the bathroom door to find Bodie shaving. Bodie winked at him and carried on, tracing the shaver around his jawline with concentrated care.

Doyle wandered back and checked with Todman, then with Cowley; the latter, he was told, was out of the office and unable to speak to him. Doyle wrinkled his brow and frowned and looked out of the window. A feeble sun was shining this morning. Bodie came into the room behind him and he didn’t turn, only rested his head against the arm Bodie slung around him as he leaned to look out beside Doyle. Bodie smelt freshly of soap and manly scents; Doyle could feel the warmth of him beneath his shirt.

After a while he said, “Can you think of any reason the Cow wouldn’t want to talk to us?”

“Yeah,” Bodie drawled, and ruffled his hair, but Doyle remained pensive. “Operation bloody Susie,” he said, remembering.

Bodie looked suddenly alert: “Do you think—?” Then relaxing, “Nah, Doyle, ’s just your guilty conscience.”

“I dunno,” Doyle muttered.

“Oh all right, all right,” Bodie said goodhumouredly. “I’ve always had me faith in you, ever since you picked that winner at Kempton Park.” He knelt down on the floor and pulled out the bag containing their armoury.

Doyle’s face twisted with an agonised grimace as the cruel memory surfaced. “I never bet on the bloody thing!”

Bodie’s smile was smug as he ranged out their ammunition neatly, sorting it. “Yeah, I did though, didn’t I?”

No need to remind him. “What did you do with the money?” Doyle asked sourly. “Fifty to one, wannit?”

“Look, Ray, you can’t say I didn’t treat you with the proceeds.”

“Oh yeah, I remember. Nelly’s caf—sausage sandwich—cup of tea and a digestive.

“Should back your own hunches, sunshine. Can’t leave everything to me.”

Doyle knelt beside him, helped him pack it so it was ready for instant use. His eyes flashed up, met Bodie’s levelly. “I’m backin’ this one.”

“Ah, no need to worry,” Bodie said easily. “Could fight off an army with this lot.”

“How about Towser and Macklin?” Doyle suggested, and Bodie made a face.

“Now that’s optimistic.”

==========||||==========


The day passed. Nothing.

By the end of their watch the room began to close in on them.

“—and this is the Big Bopper,” Bodie droned into the handset, “signin’ off for today. After the pips—” Doyle blew the pips through his hand— “the airways are yours, boys.” He held out the R/T for Doyle’s final, flourishing pip: then thumbed it off.

“That’s it for another action-packed day. But cheer up, sweetheart: word is they’ll call us off tomorrow night. Before athlete’s foot sets in.” He rose and stretched, arms behind his head.

“Why does Cowley want Soo anyway?” Doyle idly asked.

Bodie shrugged. “Bit of third degree, no questions asked, I suppose.”

“Sprat to catch a mackerel?”

“Yeah, I reckon.”

“Been reading up on the political side,” Doyle said distantly, “and it looks like Soo’s about the worst choice the Council could have made, from our point of view, that is. Very traditionalist. Goes right with the floggings in the street, no truck with these nasty corrupting Western ideas, sort of thing. Bet Cowley’s intending a lecture on the virtues of reform.”

“Maybe,” Bodie shrugged. “But he’s not payin’ Soo’s salary, is he? Only so much you can do to poke about in the way they choose to run their country.”

“Does Cowley know that, though?”

“Yeah, I reckon. Ours not to reason why, Doyle.”

Hearing the ring of unfinished poetry and waiting for the inevitable, Doyle regarded him grimly. Bodie chuckled despite himself and kissed him lightly, with the kind of presumptuous arrogance Doyle had expected to resent.

Instead he found himself holding onto Bodie and fighting thirstily for more of his kisses; his hands slid around him, under his armpits, and discovered the hard snub weapon, warmed by Bodie’s heat. On a whim his fingers rubbed it gently, slid over it and held onto it as he thrust himself, hard, against Bodie’s thigh.

When Bodie released him his eyes were bright with with knowing, even with respect. “Randy old toad you are. Pretty, isn’t it?”

In answer Doyle slipped the weapon out of its snug leather holster: it came smoothly, just as it should. His hand curled around it with the ease of familiarity—after all, his own was identical—and he cradled it between them, Bodie’s thighs pressing against his own: he felt Bodie’s unease, the tensing of his hands behind Doyle’s back, but Bodie stayed with him, didn’t move.

The smooth shining metal was warm to his touch, the black tunnel stared up at them with its one bold eye. Light smacked off it smartly; it glinted its arrogance. The ultimate symbol of power; anyone would bow to the one who held it.

Bodie’s breath stirred his hair as lips slid around to his ear. “Safety on, is it?”

Doyle felt for it with his thumb and flicked it off. As he did so he felt his loins flood with obscene pleasure and excitement.

Bodie’s eyes were wary now, his grasp on Doyle loose but sure. “Gonna kill us both, is that it?”

“So you keep on sayin’,” Doyle replied, the lick of his tongue around his half-smile slow. “Might as well be now as ’ang around waitin’ for it.”

“Never could stand in a queue, could you, Doyle?” Bodie drawled; he was tensed with alarm, yet he held on. Doyle might be playing, he might be serious: he had the character for it either way. And Bodie did not care to take a chance on it.

“’S true,” Doyle said, pressing closer. Bodie could feel how hot he was, his body damp with sweat beneath the thin shirt. “You’re so damn sure we’re gonna snuff it, Bonnie an’ Clyde and all that, why not cheat and go for it before it comes for us? Why not, Bodie, eh?” He jabbed the gun upwards and Bodie recoiled grimly.

“Just bloody watch it, will you, ’cos I’m not sure a hole in the jaw is the best way to go.”

“Then what is?” Doyle asked. He pressed the gun to Bodie’s belly, soft muscle ridging to hard as the snub barrel probed. “Here?” He trawled it upwards, settled it on a soft spot midway between the breastbone, over the pulsing heart. “Or here? Do the job all right, this range.” His eyes were shining: no doubts. No fear.

One second away from death Bodie acted, seized the weapon from Doyle and clicked the safety on as he jerked Doyle’s wrist hard, and held him harder, and thrust the gun straight for his genitals, caressing the outline of his cock with an arrogant sweep of the weapon: “How about here, since this is where all this is comin’ from?” Tenderly, lingering, he eyed the pale pinkness of his partner’s mouth, a part of Doyle which always featured in the occasional sweaty fantasy he had indulged himself with when longing had seemed a far step from reality: gently, carefully, he traced the Magnum around the sensuous curve of the mouth, then slipped it between lips which parted for it. “There, Ray,” he said, voice low, “it’s a substitute, innit? You suck on this—” he pressed it in a little deeper— “when what you really want is something else. Something that won’t blow away the back of your head when it goes off.” He smiled, a curve of arrogance. “Not quite, anyway.” And then he snatched the gun away, spun it in his hand.

Doyle tasted metal laced with corbomite and spat, wiping his mouth on his hand, glaring at Bodie. Bodie took him in two hands again, gentle but inexorable, a smooth course set in motion by Doyle’s perversity and unstoppable now. Doyle knew what was coming—indeed, he had courted it—and fear laced his high excitement; his heart knocked in his ears and he felt dizzy, his head ringing.

“Tastes nasty, eh?” Bodie whispered to him. “Let’s see if we can chase it away. Something sweeter—”

Doyle heard the rasp of a zipper; closed his eyes trembling; heard the dark whisper: “Come on, Ray. Kneel for me.” And, blind but sure, he knelt, knowing that Bodie would not disappoint him.

He felt the caress of it over his ear, and the cold kiss of it at his temple.

He said, muffled: “Keep it there.”

“Of course,” Bodie said above him, and smiled, and shut his eyes.

==========||||==========


In the night he woke, and found Bodie propped on one elbow, and watching him again by the moonlight which cast a path through unshaded glass. The room was silvery, Bodie’s face pale; he met Doyle’s wideopen eyes. Smiled: briefly, then the smile died; he resumed his brooding, self-absorbed stare at Doyle’s body.

“A’right?” Doyle asked him, yawning. They were both rather short on sleep, and nights in a single bed were cramped. He lay back on the pillow and examined Bodie’s face, stark and perfect in the pale purity of moonshine, his eyes darkened by shadows.

“You’re beautiful, Ray, you know that?” Bodie asked, in a strangely detached, almost impersonal way.

Of all things… A gurgle arose in Doyle’s throat. “You don’t mean that.”

But the silence, even the intensity of Bodie’s gaze had something disturbing about it: the dark, melancholy sweep of Bodie’s fears became monstrous, filled the room from within, beating on the window.

“Don’t you want this?” Doyle asked quietly; he slipped his hands into Bodie’s armpits for the delights of warmth, and silken hair damp to his touch: “Don’t you, Bodie?”

Bodie stared at him, aloof, almost aristocratic, an expression Doyle would have laughed at outright under any other circumstances.

“Don’t be bloody stupid.”

Because love, when it turned this way, might free you from one kind of misery even as it enslaved you with others; but you could never, having once tasted it, spit it away in the wind.

“Bodie—I need you,” Doyle said, panicking suddenly, snatching at time the way Bodie did. And Bodie smiled at him, a little quirk of his cheek as he touched Doyle’s hand, lacing their fingers gently. “I know.”

The comfort of it was immense; as he settled down to sleep again, near to Bodie, he knew they would be all right.

The were both of them complex, unpredictable, with stardrive needs born of the path they had taken; but together they would be all right.

Wherever he needed to go, Bodie would take him

He fell asleep.

==========||||==========


Bodie went down for breakfast, ate enormously, smiled sweetly at the waitress and at Fred, and returned to call Cowley.

The old man was unavailable.

Bodie shook his head. “I dunno, Doyle. ’S odd.”

“That’s what I’ve been sayin’, innit?” Doyle began with painstaking earnestness, “I’m beginning to wonder—think we should confer with Spud ’n Dud?”

“Nah, they’ll just take your head off,” Bodie disagreed. “Listen, today’s the deadline, right? Nothing happens today, we clear out, leaving, of course, a tip for the maid.”

“Payin’ our bill?” Doyle wondered.

Bodie gave it his best concentration. “Nah. She can send it on to Cowley.”

Doyle was pushing past him as he spoke; Bodie tripped him, catching him and tipping him back in his arms, Doyle instantly arching perilously, tango-style. Bodie began to hum something Spanish. “We gotta stop meeting like this,” Doyle breathed, a centimetre away.

“Yeah: this any better?” Bodie agreed, crossing his eyes and leering.

Doyle came up from the impossible position in a fluid move, and he was chuckling. Bodie sank onto the bed and watched him.

Bodie did not yet dare to believe in what had happened to them: it seemed safest not to look it in the eye lest it bang in his face and vanish. He was playing it by ear; Ray was difficult. Not easy to understand, disturbingly sexual: not, most definitely, an easy ride. Keep him guessing, that was the thing; keep him intrigued: look at the way Ray was looking at him now, interest and appreciation livening his eyes. Bodie blew him a kiss, and smiled.

He still had plenty of tricks up his sleeves; oh yes, Ray might surely think he was the last word in brilliant sexual eccentricity, but Bodie knew better, and more, and worse…

Then, when it was all passing, all that sexual rush and fury, perhaps they might find out what they really had going for them.

If they got that far, of course.

He caught Doyle’s hand, and pulled him towards him. Noting the darkening shades of mood, Doyle said, “Now what?”

“Do you believe in premonition, Ray?” Bodie asked him, keeping him there with easy strength, holding onto his hand.

Looking straight into his eyes, Doyle said, “Yes, I suppose I do.”

Bodie nudged his knee against Doyle’s thigh, a new and precious intimacy. “Then take me seriously.”

Doyle was quiet for a moment, staring down. Then he lifted his eyes and said lightly, “I know what’s the trouble with you. Don’t suppose you were too thrilled about the prospect of a new partner, just when you’d got me trained.”

Bodie picked up his cue, “Yeah, took long enough—” but his heart wasn’t in it and he continued, his voice dropping, “Listen, Ray—” and he saw the irritation flash into Doyle’s eyes, his unwillingness to go over and over it. Bodie just said: “There’s a little voice in my head keeps telling me this is borrowed time, Ray. That’s all.”

Doyle politely retrieved his hand, squatting by the bed. He began to stir around in the ammunition case, sticking clips into his pockets, sliding them into the tight back pocket of his jeans. Bodie squatted too, watching him very carefully, very seriously, eyes on the rounded curve of his partner’s cheek. He raised his hand to shape a caress around it, light as a butterfly’s wing. He said, consideringly: “I’d really hate, you know, to lose you. So soon.”

Perfectly still, Doyle watched him, his eyes a stony grey. Bodie smiled at him, puffed out his cheeks and blew a straggling curl off his forehead, hummed a few bars of ‘Waltzing Matilda’; then breaking off, grinning at Doyle’s faraway expression. “Ah, don’t look like that, Ray. Like your budgie died and you’d just bought a new tin of seed.”

“What do you want, Bodie?” Doyle asked with a kind of desperation, brought up at last to stare Bodie’s point in the face. “Set ourselves up in a little glass case or something and look out at the world?” Bodie was silent, his eyes dwelling on Doyle’s face, eyes, mouth. After a moment Doyle remembered to speak again; he said, more gently, “We couldn’t live that way, fella. Get bored in no time, we would.”

“Can’t do without this, is that it?” Angered now, Bodie reached out and flipped Doyle’s gun. “Feel less of a man without it, do you? You could always take up killing birds.”

A little stain of colour crept along Doyle’s cheekbones: his head lifted and he stared Bodie in the eye. “Comin’ from you, that’s sweet. You got a licence in triplicate: didn’t want to take any chances on losin’ it, didja Bodie?”

But Bodie had already repented. “Ah don’t, Ray. Don’t let’s fight. Okay, if that’s what you want. We’ll go on till Cowley retires us, gives us our old age pension and the CI5 gold watch for distinguished service in the field.”

He winked at Doyle and got up, to ease cramping thighs. Doyle stayed there a moment longer, thinking. “Waltzin’ Matilda, Matilda, my darlin’,” Bodie sang quietly, looking out of the window.

“That’s not the tune,” Doyle said absently.

“Nah, it is,” Bodie said loftily. “Proper, original tune that is.”

Doyle looked up at him, momentarily diverted. “You’re up the chute, Bodie. It goes like this.” And he la-laed unselfconsciously.

Bodie made a face. “Too bloody Rolf Harris, mate. This is the original. As learnt in the Ozzie outback, in person.” And he resumed his performance.

Matilda, my darling. A strange sweet sinking filled Doyle’s belly, as he got up. He was thinking something quite ridiculous: that to be Bodie’s darling, to have the other man lay claim to him with just that endearment, might just be his own personal price. A price above nations, above rubies; above pride itself.

“Bodie.” He sprang up and over to where his partner leaned forward, hands on the sill. “Just had a thought.”

Bodie mimed shock, arrest, disbelief. “Come here.” His hand settled on Doyle’s forehead. “Take it easy now Ray, still comin’ is it?”

“How about this. Ask the Cow to be taken off Active. Too old, lost our bottle, got religion, whatever. Go into admin.—who knows, you might end up in Cowley’s spot, he’s gotta die some time, ’asn’t he? Or on the trainin’ side of things. You know—here’s the shooter, make-a-will-and-do-it-quick-sort of thing.”

Bodie stared at him, unsure how to take this. “You serious?” Doyle thought about it, lip caught between teeth, then he nodded.

“You’d do that?”

“Yeah, I reckon.”

“Right now?” Bodie said.

Doyle shook his head. “Ah, no. See this one out, eh? Safe enough ’ere even for you, innit? Go and practise your knots or somethin’.” And Bodie subsided to think it over; their whole lives on the brink of change.

It was perhaps ten minutes later when Doyle, his hands clasped moodily around a mug of coffee, spotted a limousine drawing up outside the embassy. “Bodie.” His hand went out, grabbed his partner’s sleeve. “Wha’?” Bodie applied himself to the binoculars. The door of the car opened and out got a tall man, flanked by two more. “Yeh, that’s ’im,” Bodie said economically, grabbing the R/T and tossing it to Doyle, who was checking his gun, swift and obsessive, stuffing it inside his jacket: “Better wake up the Spud. This is it mate.”

The fire-escape was a rickety iron contraption. They flew down it five steps at a time, Bodie addressing his R/T as he ran: “How long?”

“One minute,” the R/T said. “Get to it, laddo, meet you there.”

Action. Adrenalin pumped through Doyle’s veins, giving him a dizzying rush of fear and excitement; he steadied, as he always did, tasted the extra drive of it, the edge. The very air seemed stronger, keener around him, he felt alive and ready to go. This was more like it. Swiftly and unobtrusively he slipped around the rear of the small white building, gun drawn, dragging on a black hood—absolute anonymity, that was in the ground rules, but he momentarily hated it; and then he forgot it. Bodie, ex-Para, looked at home in his as he scudded around the side of the building at the identical moment to Doyle; he gestured to indicate that Todman and Flaherty were in position at the front— counting one, two, three— Doyle and Bodie charged the door, running, flying kick bashing it down. Immediately the piercing whine of an alarm sounded; they ignored it. If this was going to work at all it had to be fast: should be, Christ, they’d planned it often enough, exactly this strike-and-run scenario. They arrived in a pillared hall: empty. Looking up they could see a galleried landing with two, three doors opening onto it, very dangerous, had to watch it all the time. Keeping his eyes stretched wide Bodie motioned Doyle in front of him, up the stairs, covering every angle except the rear which was the job of their colleagues, no chance to check, just trust.

Doyle was right out there in the bloody front line, oh god the thoughtless courage of him. The alarm wailed mournfully. Doyle reached the top of the stairs. And at that moment a man burst out of one of the doors and centred the gun he held on Doyle.

Instantly Bodie killed him, steadying the gun carefully on his other hand: nerves did not affect him at all as he shot, not until he realised, as the man cartwheeled over the banister and thudded to the floor, just how close Doyle had come. His heart thudding and his guts diving Bodie was up the last four stairs in a flash, ejecting spent cartridges and slipping in others. “Cover me,” he said tersely. “I’m goin’ in.”

Doyle spat and wiped his mouth. “The fuck you are.” They had never, not since the first days of training, played it that way. Doyle, faster and smaller, had always gone in first, ably and expertly covered by his partner, the better long-range shot.

In that second, looking into Doyle’s dead, cold eyes, Bodie knew and understood that there were harder ways of losing Doyle than seeing him fall.

Eyes hard and bleak, he drew up his gun, gestured Doyle on his way.

Soo was there, in the first room, with the two men he had entered the building with. Both had guns drawn, both loosed off shots as Doyle burst in yelling and diving— “Freeze!”

The shots whined past and smacked into the doorjamb, over the head of the man rolling. Then there was Bodie, there behind him, the large Uzi up and ready.

For a moment no-one moved.

A smile crossed Bodie’s lips. The worst was over: Doyle was alive, sitting up on the floor. “Come on, drop ’em. You can’t argue with this, can you?” And he lifted the black heavy machine-gun, ready, despite the touch of humour to fire; resolute.

“Only sensible,” Doyle added, catlike and watchful as he crouched on the floor. “He won’t hesitate, you know, ’e got out of bed the wrong side.”

With a gesture to his companions, Soo raised his hands. With a mutter, they dropped their guns.

Doyle darted in to pick them up. “Now you come nice an’ quietly,” he said to Soo, “No-one’ll get hurt. Someone just wants a little chat with you, thass all.”

“Maybe a cup of tea if you’re lucky,” Bodie chimed in poshly.

Doyle pursed his lips, sucked in his cheeks. “Ooh, that’s pushin’ it a bit. Thursday, innit?” And they were off, clattering down the stairs, Soo in front of them, cheerful in their satisfaction that the job had gone off well, no bloodshed, Mission (stage one) Accomplished.

No sign of Spud and Dud. Bodie thrust Soo none too gently into the rear of the Capri parked exactly where their fellow agents had promised; the man was wearing a dark overcoat, had a certain nobility to his darkeyed looks. He acquiesced to Bodie’s manhandling with a kind of patience; it occurred to Bodie that almost certainly he thought he was being taken to his execution. So he winked at him and gave a grin. “Nothing to worry about. Like ’e said, just a talk.”

“I don’t spik your language,” Amun Soo said coldly.

“This language—? Universal,” Doyle told him, looking in the rear mirror, and they were off, gunning away from the kerb with a terrible screech of tyres. Bodie winced delicately. Thank god it wasn’t his car!

Ten yards down the road was a blueshirted bobby. Doyle whistled, uncouth as ever. “Close, that.”

“Nah, had a story ready,” Bodie said unperturbed, as if explaining away the abduction of a diplomat from the sacred ground of an embassy with a submachine gun dangling form your arm was of small matter to a talented liar.

Doyle had the R/T out, driving with one hand on the wheel, using a prearranged code: “Baby’s in the cradle. On our way to the nursery. ETA ten minutes.”

“Message received and understood, Night-hawk.”

Doyle chucked the handset over the back of the seat to Bodie. “Think we’ll get our merit awards for this?”

“Nope,” Bodie said gloomily, “more likely a fulltime post in this department. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too good, y’know.” As he spoke he spotted a brown van, which he had also spotted in the last street.

Doyle was looking in the rear mirror. “There’s still a chance.”

“You spotted it,” Bodie said in admiration. “They don’t call you Nighthawk for nothing. Would you care for a little lie down?” This last politely, to Soo: a flash of blue eyes and he had pressed the man, gently enough, to the seat and covered him with a rug.

“Been with us since we started,” Doyle said on a note of surprise; because no-one should have got away from the Embassy in time to follow them, that was what Flaherty and Todman were there for. Speaking of whom— “I suppose it’s not our little friends, is it? You know how they love a party.”

“They got a Capri, haven’t they? Standard issue, innit?”

“Except 6.2. He got the 2CV.”

“Yeh, but that’s because he told Our Leader he was a cognac man.”

Doyle swerved down a side street without signalling then doubled back around the square. When the silver nose of the Capri slipped out onto the road again, they could see the brown rear of the van a hundred yards in front of them.

“That’s beautiful, mate,” Bodie said, impressed. A dark head could be seen poking out of the van’s rear window. “Look—” Bodie pulled Soo’s head up for a brief look— “That a friend of yours, sunshine?” He patted the head back down again, onto his lap.

The man looked up at him, cool and impassive. He had a certain aristocracy to his looks; Bodie was fleetingly reminded of Persian nobility, flying carpets and forty thieves. “I have no friends in this country.”

“I know the feeling,” Bodie said with a grimace. Poor bugger, doesn’t look like a terrorist. Probably got a photo of his kids in his pocket. “How long, Ray?” Still, an hour with

Cowley never killed anyone. Came pretty damn close at times, mind you. But that was only if you worked for him. This fella’d be back home by teatime, with a good story to tell—ABDUCTED by aliens! TAKEN in a strange craft! INTERROGATED by a small green Scot with a limp!—

Doyle’s voice cut into his lightening thoughts: “Ten minutes if we’re lucky. Fifteen if there’s bloody lights on the Finniston Road again.”

“Who are you?” Soo asked suddenly; his dark eyes, open and big as pansies, had never left Bodie’s face.

Bodie looked down at him, saw the curl of his nostrils, the tint of his skin brushed by a brighter sun than ever shone here.

“Nobody,” he echoed softly. “Me and him—nobody at all.” And Amun Soo met his eyes for a moment in perfect understanding, for in the context of duty, he too was nobody; a cypher to be moved by his country at will.

Bodie was to remember this afterwards, when it became important to him to believe that the man understood, would not blame Bodie for what happened; but instead what lingered to haunt him was a sense of his own treachery. Quite unjustified. He no more than any of them knew what lay ahead as they travelled along the wide London road, eyes shaded against the dazzle of the low November sun.

The turned off the bypass at last, took narrow streets again. Doyle was giving the insect-dotted windscreen a blast with antifreeze, the wipers swishing this way and that; he was driving fast but not urgently. Postbox, petshop, fish and chippie. Into an industrial backwater, bodyshops littered with rusting tools. And here was the particular graveyard of abandoned vehicles they sought; Doyle turned in. As he did so, Bodie’s “Wait a minute!” clashed with his own curse: “Christ, Bodie! That’s not—”

Turning in behind them was the little brown van.

“If there’s anything you want to tell us,” Doyle said.

“—now might be a good time,” Bodie added, brighteyed. He was stashing ammo into a belt, sorting it fast and furious. But Soo looked merely blank.

Was ’e behind?” Doyle said urgently, swinging their car along a covering line of vehicles, bumping up and down on the rough terrain.

“No, no chance,” Bodie said calmly. “No way both of us could have missed him.”

“Then someone somewhere’s a bit leaky.” He pulled the car to a scorching halt behind the disused garage offices. “Where the hell is the old man?” He pulled out his gun, checked it speedily.

Bodie gave him a slow smile beneath the burn of his eyes. “How does ‘not here’ sound to you?”

“Very likely,” Doyle said grimly, and thumped his hand onto the dashboard: “Damnit! You beginning to get the feeling we’ve been set up?”

“Or strung up.” Bodie glanced over at the van, a hundred yards away, from which two, three—too bloody many—brown figures were emerging.

Doyle cast him a swift glance, stuffing his pockets full of bullets, clips, the lot. “I take it all back, 3.7, you’re a bloody seer. You can pick the Kempton Park runner next time.”

“Never works on anything good,” Bodie said glumly. Time was running out on them. They dragged Soo out of the car and dashed around the back into the office. They could see, all around them, little brown-overalled men like crabs scuttling for cover, finding vantage points—

“Safe House,” Doyle said viciously. He dropped to one knee behind a window, sighted his gun through it, grim and set and in a rage.

“These—are they your friends?” Soo asked, from where he lay on the floor, pushed there by Bodie and snarled at to stay.

“Nope. Are they yours?” Bodie asked grimly, busy.

“No.”

“Party’s not going to be much fun then, is it?” Bodie said with sweet, black temper, blue eyes gleaming and watchful, very very watchful as they darted all around, front, back, sides, front.

“Where the hell is Cowley?” Doyle exploded as they crawled onto the floor and examined the empty room for vantage points.

This seemed, at present, just about as dangerous as anything they had ever done. Bodie was deeply troubled, searching his mind for something, anything, which would get them out of here alive; but right now he just had this grim feeling they’d get no takers at all on life insurance. Pity. Sorry, Auntie Sheila. Never mind. You’ll like me African tusk thing. “Too many bloody windows,” he muttered, savagely thrusting the butt of his gun through the glass, recovering it and sighting it in through the hole: little brown spiders, scuttling. “We’re going to get surrounded in here, Doyle.”

Doyle snorted. “Thanks, Bodie. I hadn’t noticed that.” He was seething, breathing quite hard: but he forced himself to slow down, calm his nerves, set himself straight. “I don’t like this. There’s something wrong.”

“Maybe we should just make our excuses and leave?”

“So where are Spud an’ bloody Dud when we need ’em?”

Bodie didn’t answer that. He was remembering Todman, taking up a position at the front of the building. And a whisk of flying blond hair as his partner circled the corner beyond.

And then—nothing.

“Yeah, I think we should be tryin’ to make a run for it,” Doyle decreed, watching like a hawk for the first move, for any move at all.

“That’s brilliant, mate. Trouble is, the Old Man wanted us here—”

“Old Man isn’t here himself. And I thought he was the Star Guest.”

“—other trouble is, I’ve got this feelin’ that now we’re ’ere, they may just fancy a quick game before we leave,” Bodie concluded with gritty fatalism.

Actually, something was happening, but not the quick explosive start they were tensed for. A man with a megaphone was approaching the ramshackle building, one arm raised.

“That’s brave,” Bodie muttered, raising his rifle an inch, “I wouldn’t like his job.”

“What makes you think we haven’t got it?” Doyle growled; his mind was working overtime on things he planned to say to Cowley when they got back.

“YOU KNOW WHAT WE’RE HERE FOR,” boomed out the megaphone. “LEAVE IT AND GO AND THERE’LL BE NO TROUBLE.”

Bodie looked down at Soo, and back up at Doyle. Soo made no pleas for his life, did not beg them to stay. “He doesn’t look like a terrorist, does ’e?” Bodie said softly, to his partner, and Doyle just shook his head, crouching on his haunches, whipcord thighs straining his tight and faded jeans.

“I think we should take it back where we found it.”

“Flying carpet?” Bodie suggested sarcastically, because clearly they wouldn’t even get as far as the road.

“In the Embassy, I was safe,” Soo said. “Many people worked hard to bring me there, where I might be protected. And you have undone all that.” He said it with no particular reproach, still calm, merely laying the facts before them.

“Who’s after you?” Doyle demanded, hard and direct.

Soo shrugged. “It could be many people…in my position, one has many enemies. Particularly now, when the election is due.”

“We’ve got to get him back there,” Doyle said. “It’s the only way to get a chance—”

“Oh brilliant, Doyle,” Bodie snapped, getting edgy. “I’ll just pop out and explain then, shall I?” Doyle was on the R/T now, picking up a crackle of static; he flipped it, banged it. “Still no back-up.”

“Trouble,” Bodie muttered; all of this had an increasingly nasty look to it, like something recovered from the back of the fridge. The man with the megaphone was retreating, at a run; obviously they had decided enough lip service had been paid to negotiation. “Well, if you’re ready, mate, I think they are.”

And as the bangs and blasts began, Doyle said to Bodie: “You were right, you know. Let’s open a cafe together,” but he was never sure if Bodie had heard him, because by then they were in the thick of it.

==========||||==========


Soo died very early on, struck quickly and cleanly by a bullet in the head. The two CI5 men lasted quite a long time, scooping and pressing and aiming and firing, firing; the air was blue and the skies seemed to ring with noise. There was so much blood and confusion that Doyle could not decide, crawling hazily about the floor some time later, whether or not Bodie was dead; he was silent, marble-white, and his right hand appeared to be in bloody tatters. It didn’t seem to matter a great deal, since Doyle knew it was only a matter of time before they came in here and finished everyone off, himself included; he couldn’t shoot any more, too damn tired, something wrong in his chest.

Too many. Sorry, Bodie. He laid his head down next to the dark one of his mate. Gave it our best shot.

Only he had the feeling it had all been bloody futile.

==========||||==========


They met in the corridor outside Cowley’s office. It had been a long time, and each found the changes in the other unsettling, but then there were bound to be changes. Bodie looked fit but for the sling and bandage he wore on his right hand; he was thinner, grimmer. Doyle was quiet: still thin, still greyish. He would pick up, no doubt, in warmer weather.

By now, some three weeks after the trouble, they had each of them pieced it all together; and nothing they had learned predisposed them fondly towards Cowley. And so the interview began.

“You wanted him dead,” Doyle accused, eyes hard and stony, “so you set him up. Someone else kills him, and you come out of it smelling of roses.”

Cowley eyed his surly operative coldly. “The British Government wanted him dead, Doyle, and this way we’ve avoided any hint of an international incident. You know quite well if you’ve read the papers that any number of his own countrymen were out for his life before the election takes place. Now the party he represents will be, in all likelihood, overthrown and replaced by one—less extreme in its views. I tell you, the world’s a safer place today without him in it.”

“Who’s to judge that?” Doyle said, quiet, but in his eyes were depths of violence.

Cowley said: “I did, Doyle. I judged that.”

“Funny that,” Bodie said, stirring from where he leaned against the wall. “Then why do I feel as if his death’s on my conscience?”

“And mine.” Doyle’s gaze never left Cowley for an instant.

“Not only that,” Bodie said lightly, “but his death came rather expensive, wouldn’t you say?” The fingers of his one good hand tapped unceasingly on the wall. “At the price of Todman, for example. And nearly at the price of Doyle and me, as well.”

“You’ve forgotten something, Bodie,” Doyle said. “We’re expendable. In black and white on our contracts, that is.”

Cowley made a noise, an exclamation. He pushed his chair away from the desk and stood up, a small, irascible man who still had the power to chill his operatives with a glance, a word—even these two. He met their eyes unflinchingly, angry in his own right. “Ach, Doyle. You and Bright-Eyes there were meant to dump Soo and run. No-one said you had to hang around doing your Western Heroes act.”

“Yeh, but we wouldn’t have,” Bodie burst out, stung, “if we’d had back-up to cover us out, would we?”

That silenced them all for a moment, for these two, bruised and hurt and altered as they were, had at least come back. Todman hadn’t been so lucky. Killed by some bodyguard’s bullet before he ever left the Embassy, his term of duty with George Cowley finished before its time.

And theirs?

Cowley did not mention the future. Nor did they.

In the circumstances, an astonishing omission.

==========||||==========


Bodie turned right outside the grey anonymous building which housed CI5, head down, trudging along. Doyle kept up with him.

“Where you going?”

“Physio,” Bodie said. He did not look at Doyle.

Doyle asked because he had to: “You gonna be able to shoot with that thing?” Bodie’s hand was a mess, shattered horrifically in crossfire: ironic. They had delivered Soo to his execution, as per the (hush-hush) behest of Her Majesty’s Government who paid their salaries and required of them to ask no questions even in the dirtiest wars: if they had been knocked about a little in the process, so what? They had done their job. Their wages were safe.

Bodie met his eyes then, and a chill swept across Doyle’s skin, starting at his cheeks and travelling quickly downwards so that he felt drenched with cold all through. “Who knows?” Bodie shrugged: two words to dismiss his livelihood, his life.

Doyle opened his mouth to speak, but could not. Bodie was turning, about to go on his way; a separate entity now, encased in walls of grey solitude. Doyle could scarcely believe that once they had—

Shared something intolerably precious. Better to drift apart, now, like this, than go the way they had been falling.

Not because what they had was not strong enough.

“Shall I come?” he heard himself ask, a last shot in the dark.

But because it was, as Bodie had seen, too strong by far for either of them to survive the breaking of it.

Bodie was looking at him brusquely, ice in his eyes. “No, don’t bother.”

Better this way. He had seen Spud: ferociously dryeyed, burning up within. It was not comfortable to be near him.

He watched Bodie go on his way. Something was breaking inside him, but it was all for the best. Darkness was encroaching on the street; it was November, the evenings started early. Soon it would be Christmas, buses packed with shoppers, Santa everywhere you looked. He watched every step of Bodie’s, but Bodie did not get very far along the pavement, his pace faltering, then bringing him to a halt.

He turned around, and faced Doyle. “Ray?”

Doyle could not answer, his throat choked.

“Come with me, will you?” Bodie asked, almost diffidently, and Doyle nodded. Wherever they had to go—

They would go together.

He began to run.

September 1991

98