The Smallest Room
Another story in which plot is merely sketched in with a brushstroke to draw in my obsessions, Guns and Death. And Sex, of course.
I love the last line.
The dark man sat at ease against the wall, his fingers busy with the buckle of his holster, flicking the metal catch into every notch in turn.
Beside him crouched his curlyheaded partner, seriously trying out his draw, over and over and over. His hand darted into his armpit, seized the butt of the Magnum, flipped it out, the whole movement swift, very swift, his hand a blur until the black circlet steadied: aimed. Over it frowned the twin green focus of his eyes, narrowed in exactitude.
Then he would break the forced pose, and try again. Each sequence took him slightly less than two seconds. Still he kept trying. Looking for that elusive 1.5.
Eventually the bigger man, who watched him on and off, stirred and said mildly:
"Oh, give it a rest, Ray."
The room was very small, with one tiny window; the smallest room in the house, in fact, and right at the top of it, under the eaves and warm, stuffy. Bare boards were beneath their feet and the sole piece of furniture was one tall cupboard. Doyle pulled out the heavy gun again with one hand and dragged a rag out of his pocket with the other. He began to polish the barrel, slowly and precisely. No speck of dust was going to friction-drag on Ray Doyle's draw.
Bodie patted his hand kindly. "Your draw's fine." His own was, in fact, a fraction slower, Doyle being probably the best small-arms shot in CI-5: but Bodie wasn't going to raise a sweat on last-minute practice. 1.8, 1.6, what did it matter? The guy was just as dead either way.
Drawing the holster on at last and buckling it beneath his arm, Bodie thus watched Doyle's preparations with an amused, tolerant eye.
He was just as obsessive in his way, no doubt about it. But it suited him, even, perhaps especially, here alone with his partner, to look as if it all came about by natural-born talent.
"Look at this," Doyle said, frowning. Bodie cast a glance over his way. Doyle lifted away his gun hand and displayed it to Bodie. It was shaking, a small, consistent tremor. Bodie watched Doyle try to quell it, fail, try again.
Today looked like being tough: the two of them policing a reception where Cowley suspected an assassination attempt on one of the diplomat guests. The tipoff had been vague in the extreme, but no one wanted to take any chances; so the event was going ahead as planned, with two extra attendees. Who, while they might be required to stay alive as long as possible in order to fulfill their conditions of duty, were most definitely expendable.
And Ray Doyle, as courageous a man as any Bodie had worked with, had a gun hand which shook. Bodie looked sideways at him, silent.
"It's okay when I get there," Doyle was explaining seriously. "Don't have to think about it when I get there."
Bodie dismissed it, a quick wave of his hand. "Ah, s'just adrenalin, mate."
Doyle's lip curled away from his teeth in exasperation. "I know what it is. Just, I could do without it minutes before the bullets start flyin'. Does wonders for my confidence, y'know?"
But as they both knew, there would be no time to worry--about shaky gun hands, too-tight holsters, or the like: instincts would come into play at the first flash of trouble, and training would take over from there.
"Look on the bright side, Doyle," Bodie drawled. "I hear the catering's on the cheapskate, more lumpfish than Beluga. Maybe they won't think it's worth turning up for."
"Yeah, and just maybe it's bigger fish altogether they got on their minds," Doyle said gloomily, and shifted to a more comfortable position, shoving his Magnum away. He turned his attention now to his jacket, pulling it on over his denim shirt: soft, scuffed leather, it fit him closely and looked good. He looked exactly what he was: a young, tough fighter. No chance anyone was going to mistake him for one of the guests. Bodie now, in dark cords instead of worn blue jeans, had rather more chance of being offered the canapes.
"Scared?" he asked of his partner now, offhand.
Doyle flicked his eyes up to meet Bodie's blue-blaze stare. He snapped, aggressive and defensive, "I'm always bloody scared. And don't try tellin' me you're not."
"Be mad not to be," Bodie agreed lightly, his eyes travelling over his companion. "Doesn't make my gun-hand shake though--and nor will yours when it matters so stop worrying."
"I hate caviar anyway," Doyle muttered. He hunched himself into his jacket, and stared moodily at his nails. "Why'd anyone want to eat all those little black fishy balls?" Waiting. Hanging around. He hated it.
About to pass some crudity on the subject of fishes' balls, or their lack thereof, Bodie saw the creased brow, the angry eye, and said instead:
"'S the tension. Gets to you."
"Yeah, too right." He'd feel a hell of a lot better when they were out there in the thick of it; prowling among people, suspicious, sharpeyed, alert--the adrenalin rush pounding through his veins, ready, ready, ready.
Bodie stretched out, and sat more comfortably. "What you need's a good screw, sunshine."
"A pee's more what I feel like," Doyle grumbled, an eerie twingeing in the pit of his belly.
Bodie smacked his thigh smartly. "Naughty boy, Raymond. I told you to go before you came out."
"Didn't want to then," Doyle whined in true infant fashion.
"There's a cupboard over there," Bodie indulged him. "Might be a bucket or something."
"No thanks," Doyle declined swiftly. "It'll have to wait." He shifted restlessly again. Waiting!
"Worst part of this, innit?" Bodie understood all too well, shared very precisely what Doyle was going through. The awkward twilight hours before an ambush: reminded him--
"'Course, in the Mercs--" Doyle yawned widely and inelegantly--didn't stop Bodie at all--"night before we had a big job coming off, we'd get to the town, or what passed for it, pick up a woman--or what passed for 'em--"
"Yeah--?" Doyle said, semi-interested: the scoffing--"Lead to some memorable encounters, did it?" Fed on a diet of Western romance he could see in his mind's eye some scratch frontier town, swinging saloon doors, a low, red-lit room: a shadowy female with black suspenders on white thighs, frilly red garters: and Bodie. Lounging at ease. Watching her with a hard and hungry eye.
"I'm just sayin', that's the trick the Mercs use," Bodie said distantly. "Kills the tension, see? Steadies the gun hand, sights in the eye."
"Does it really?" Doyle jeered. "Well, I'll keep that in mind next time the cow sends us up for anythin' dodgy."
"You mean Jackie didn't come across last night?" Bodie leaned his head nearer to grin, flicking off the safety of his gun to test it, flicking it on again.
It was news to Doyle that Bodie knew he'd been seeing the redheaded waitress at the wine bar; he simply grimaced.
"And you couldn't get 'round her?" Bodie marvelled. "Raymond, my boy! Losing your touch?"
"No," Doyle snapped irritably, and Bodie grinned down at his feet. "She had a--"
"--headache? Oldest one in the book. Next time, you give her two aspirin and tell her to lie down for a bit."
"You lie down and give her a bit, of course," Bodie said smoothly. "Never fails. But I was telling you about the Mercs."
Doyle groaned, both at the joke and the prospect. "Yeah, well I can live without your shagging-and-fagging tales."
"Sometimes we weren't near a town. Or there weren't any women, or no money to pay 'em--"
"Bodie, I don't want to hear this."
"But the tension's sill running high, job's got to be done. All those suicidal desperadoes," Bodie said, gaining enthusiasm for his tale, "to face in the bush tomorrow. What do you do? No war, no money: and you've got to live to get paid."
Bodie broke his gun in half to inspect the chamber, whirled the cartridge around, apparently losing interest in the conversation. "So, what?"
"Bodie, I thought this was the whole point," Doyle said patiently. "What did you do?"
Bodie raised his head, a devilish glint in his eye. "Not what you're thinking."
"What was I thinkin'?" Doyle defended, grinning suddenly.
"What everyone thinks. No, why bother with all the limp wrist and fairy frolics stuff, when your old right hand's just as good to yourself?"
"Borin', Bodie. Borin'." Doyle slid down the wall, hands behind his head.
"Seriously." A bird dive bombed the roof above their heads; Doyle jumped a mile, hand flying for his gun; Bodie intercepted the hand calmly. "Look at you, see? Nerves in tatters. Another time, you take a tip from me. Make a date with yourself." He shook the hand he still held. "Steady as a rock, after, I guarantee it."
So good humoured was the lecture and so much did Bodie sound like a proud housewife showing Doyle his clean sheets: Doyle had to laugh. He flicked a wide grin Bodie's way. "A'right, Bodie: next time pick me up ten minutes later."
There might be something in it, at that. After a few moments Doyle closed his eyes and listened to the thud of blood in his veins and imagined the afterglow of orgasm, self-induced or otherwise: his heartbeat slowing sweetly, a rosy flush spreading on his skin, relaxed, soft, floating down slowly on a pleasure-cloud.
Sunlight shafted across the room and dust danced in its beam. Bodie watched Doyle's hair catch fire beneath it and said casually:
"Not too late, is it? Half an hour to go yet, more." He reached over to the Thermos in his kitbag and pulled it out.
Doyle, dreaming, opened his eyes at the sound of liquid glugging out of the flask. "What?" He accepted the small plastic cup and took an incautious sip of something lukewarm and too sweet, nearly spitting it out. Hardly worth making Bodie take his turn if this was the result.
"Look, if it doesn't work, I'll consider scratching that fiver you owe me," Bodie said reasonably. "Can't say fairer than that, can I?"
Sipping slowly and steadily, Doyle gazed at him.
"Come on," Bodie encouraged. "Get on with it." And he threw Doyle's hand lightly towards his faded denim lap.
"Oh very funny," Doyle said, giving him a hard stare.
Bodie shrugged. "What's funny? You consult me about a problem--the jitters. I give you my considered advice. And I shall certainly," he loomed in, gave Doyle a dazzling smile which left his eyes cold, "be highly offended if you don't take it. Court-martial offence."
Doyle handed the empty cup back in silence. Bodie did this to him so often: teamed for less than a year they were (and guessed it) a brilliant pairing, sharing some off-key harmony of attitude and intuition. A perfect team. Everybody said so.
Yet they were not close, and not even friends.
Bodie was affable enough, mostly: good enough company for a quick offduty drink: but it didn't go very deep. And any glimpses Doyle had had of what deep might be only tended to rock him on his heels.
Bodie was a weird one, all right.
Doyle supposed it was the life he'd led: being planted out in the city streets, perhaps, when his heart lay still in the jungle; that Bodie occasionally came out with something so way-out, so at odds with the niceties of social intercourse, and never seemed to know that Doyle might find it strange.
And it would do Doyle no good to act the outraged moralist: not when he spent every moment of every day competing with some hidden attitude of Bodie's: that Doyle was (so far) proving himself very nicely, but that Bodie, biding his time, was sure it couldn't last. Convinced of his own superiority against a one-time copper's, Bodie was always looking to find him wanting. That he had not done so yet only made the chase the sweeter. Pin you down one day, old son, Bodie's slatey cynic's eye said.
But not today.
So he favoured Bodie with a wide-eyed stare, lying back at his ease.
"That's what you'd do in my place, is it?"
Bodie's lip wrinkled smugly. "Not my gunhand with the tremblies, sunshine."
"No, and it never was, right? Come off it, Bodie," Doyle said in unfeigned disgust. "Stop playing Mr. Cool. I'm your partner, for fuck's sake."
Bodie ducked out of this with grace. "I'm not saying it never gets to me. It does, course it does."
"And so there you all were," Doyle cast his hands behind his head and mused, "all in your tents, walls shakin', everyone on compulsory wankin' detail...."
Bodie gave an enigmatic smile and didn't answer.
"Somehow I can't picture it," Doyle decided, derisive.
Bodie lifted his head and stared at him, not particularly friendly. He had, Doyle had noticed before, some bond of extreme loyalty to his former life which surfaced at odd moments, mostly when anyone looked like to criticise it. "What do you want me to say, Doyle, 'No, we were too shy?'" he mimicked hands-in-the-air horror. "Use your imagination, Ray. Six months before you got a sight of anything female, on two legs anyway; three score men with their brains in their bollocks, what'd you expect? Yeh, some of them screw each other. But not so many as you might think. For most of 'em it's a quick wank in the bushes or go mad. And ten to one there's another bloke in the bushes right next to you."
"I knew it," Doyle said with satisfaction, and gave a long, slow whistle. "I knew it. Kinky stuff."
Bodie considered him long and hard for a moment. Then a little smile wandered across his lips, breaking the ice of his expression.
"Tell you the truth, it does add an edge to it, yes."
Doyle pursed his lips, and exhaled. He shook his head. "Sick," he said happily. Yet, in a funny kind of way he knew exactly what Bodie meant, had felt the instant thrill of it leap like a spark inside him.
"Oh come on Ray, don't give me that," Bodie said with a blue-eyed flash of anger, "all very well being holier-than-thou when the furthest you've ever been from the nearest available cunt is a ten-minute tube ride."
Doyle cast a sidelong glance at Bodie: a dark fringe of lashes shading the midnight of his eyes, his profile set and determinedly handsome as he did something to the barrel of his gun with a tiny scraper. He looked, not brooding exactly, but distant. Closedoff. End of story.
That was a pity, because the last thing Doyle had intended to do was come across too naive to be favored with more fascinating nuggets of Bodie's vivid past.
He edged closer to him and dug an elbow in his ribs.
"Tell me more."
"More what?" Bodie didn't look up. Scrape, scrape.
"About what you got up to in the Mercs."
"Maybe one day."
Doyle sighed and subsided into silence. You couldn't win, you really couldn't. He checked his watch. Forty minutes to go.
"Want to go down? Another look around wouldn't go amiss."
Bodie twisted to look out of the tiny window behind his right shoulder. It looked down onto a wide sweep of yellow-gravelled drive, on which a large van and several cars were parked.
"Caterers are here. Not to mention those pert little French maids."
"Now there's a thought," Doyle said, and grinned through a lusty yawn. "What are my chances there, d'you reckon? Save all that wankin' in the bushes, very messy I should think."
And like a flash from nowhere the potential of the situation whacked him between the ribs and took his breath away.
Bodie was answering him, cheerful, "Not a hope, mate. Even your big eyes couldn't charm that frilly apron off in time."
Wicked, Doyle. Wicked.
But what fun.
His heart seemed to be lodged in his throat and in distress. Ignoring it, ignoring the wild throbbings of the blood in his veins, Doyle heard himself say softly, "That so? Well, thassit then, innit?"
And the changed tone of his voice, some quality of stillness, made Bodie look at him, arrested.
Doyle stood up, with the slow control of an athlete. He flexed his hands, and his limbs, stretching each in turn. He eased himself out of his jacket, slung it over his shoulder dangled on one finger. His eyes met Bodie's, and creased with a smile, sweet and fleeting.
"You want to watch, do you?"
Bodie stared at him, head tilted back. Doyle gazed back serenely. He said in the same, smiling voice:
"You said it, mate. What's the point of you sparin' me all this good advice if I never take it? Nah, it's good sense. I can see it now. You knew what I needed better than I did meself."
Chucking the jacket Bodie's way he leaned back against the wall, facing him, arms folded in a casual, relaxed stance. Bodie's eyes narrowed briefly. Doyle tossed him a grin. He pulled up each sleeve in turn, folded it back midway to his elbow, precisely, like an artist working on a delicate sculpture.
"So, you gonna watch? Or look tactfully out of the window?" Bodie didn't reply. "I don't mind either way," he added. "Always fancied meself on the stage."
He saw he had really caught Bodie's attention, saw it frozen onto himself, and it made him dance in secret glee. "Only trouble is," he said, "can't say I feel exactly in the mood." And his hand went to the tab of his zipper as he added, dark and soft, "Got any ideas?"
Head down to watch what he was doing he drew down the zip, began to unbuckle his belt. He was aware, too aware, of how Bodie watched him narrowly, tensely. He changed his position again, settling back against the wall, finding a comfortable pose.
"Come on, Bodie," he said. "Tell me a story. All in a good cause."
"Story?" Bodie stared.
"Yeah, a story. Somethin' good. Get me goin', right?"
For the first time, Bodie showed a restlessness, looking at his watch again, saying, "Not much time."
A wicked delight flitted through Doyle: triumph hovered, a mocking gleam lit his eye. "C'mon Bodie, how long d'you think it takes?"
"You tell me."
Doyle grinned, playful now, running with ease. "Depends how good your story is, dunnit?"
Oh nice one, Doyle. But Bodie cleared his throat, said huskily: "What sort of story d'you want?"
"Oh, I dunno," Doyle said, settling himself, closing his eyes; but he did know. Had known since the chance comment had sent a ghosted finger brushing sweetly down his spine: casually enough he said, "How about you and the Mexican whores, then? What did they wear, what did they say, what did you do?"
But the fun vanished: suddenly it was working too well.
His eyes shot open: Bodie was there watching him with that hazed, distracted stare.
Time to put an end to this.
He stared back at Bodie, brazen.
"Nah, I don't think so after all," he remarked with intrepid calm. "Just can't seem to work up the interest."
Anyone else would know when to back down, meet him half-way, honours and dishonours even.
Instead, Bodie's expression flickered and reformed, a perverse bitter smile crossing his lips.
"Want," Bodie said, "a hand?"
"Yeah," he drawled, watching Bodie through heavy, slitted eyes. His breath sang in his ears and his heart thumped skittishly in his chest. Bodie would never dare. Would never. Would never.
But he watched Bodie rise to his feet and stalk him, and there was nowhere to run.
He closed his eyes as Bodie crossed the space between them; opened them in time to glance a challenge right into the glitter of Bodie's.
Well, they were both caught in it now.
Without any pause Bodie took hold of him, easily, as if he had done it many times before, unbuttoning then pushing his shirt aside and off his shoulders. He slid one arm around him and held him, hard and close; with the other hand he dragged loose the bottom of Doyle's shirt and touched him with astonishing arrogance. Warmer fingers than his own slipped across his chest, a brief sensation of peculiar delight at each nipple, and Doyle shuddered. Bodie closed in then and took his mouth, as if he had every right to, kissing him roughly, wetly.
No. In revolt, Doyle twisted, trying to turn his head away: Bodie's lips moved hotly down his throat instead, brushed his adam's apple, nuzzled his ear till he shivered. Fear, anger, excitement stirred his cock, made it rise and stick out and yet he was still sure in some inner place that Bodie would not have the guts to do it.
But he had misjudged this; Bodie did not hesitate, not even at the last step, the irrevocable.
And so, dazed, enchanted, he stared out, over Bodie's shoulder to the small window slanting a view of the gardens below; a van, tiny and shining like a matchbox model, drew up the gravel and came to a stop. Even up here, through glass, you could hear the crunch of the stones beneath its tyres, the jerky ratchet of the handbrake, the sound of tiny voices far-off. But it seemed like a miniature world in a different time zone, one dimension removed from this close little room up here where sweet and terrible things were happening, where Bodie's breath warmly brushed his cheek and the scent of his own sweat and musk rose up around him, where there was silence but for the sound of brisk fingers and his own little gasps for breath.
Unable to bear the look in Bodie's eyes he closed his own.
It was better than doing it himself. The tight, tight knot of tension in the pit of his belly eased; it hurt him with pleasure.
"Bodie don't," he whispered, lostly, but Bodie heard him, knew the score all right, when to listen: when to stop, when to quicken the pace. And it was out of his reach before he knew it; the sharp sweet feelings as Bodie said soft and wicked things to him, the liquid, sticky language of sex; on Bodie's silver tongue he tasted the best, worst thrill of his life.
His fickle cock throbbed in Bodie's hand, romanced and entranced by this stranger's touch: and now it was going to happen--
His legs gave way but Bodie was holding him, pressed him to lie on the bare boards and he dragged Bodie's head towards his own to be kissed, because he needed it as much as he had rejected it before. And as his hungry mouth opened to Bodie's he was struck by a sadness which cut a fragile wound inside him; the image flashed into his mind again of Bodie and the whore in the saloon and as he watched them something peculiar was happening to him; in his mind's eye he became the whore himself.
For a second it was there: flashpoint. He felt orgasm draw up and poise for its violent strike, his heart thundering in his ears, a hot sweat prickling all over his body: his eyes flew open and locked with Bodie's and he knocked Bodie's hand away, just in time.
"Take your clothes off," he said harshly.
Bodie's eyes met his, darkly glazed. He could see himself in Bodie's eyes: he could read Bodie's mind--Hardly worth it, it is? But Bodie did what he wanted him to do: and, finishing first, Doyle lounged back on his elbows and watched Bodie, stirred in a peculiar, not quite comfortable way, by the sights of Bodie naked, the strength and power of him, the knit of muscle, the proud thrust of his cock. And then, as Bodie came into his arms, stirred more sweetly by the satin warmth of touch, by Bodie's clever hands skimming his skin. Bodie's cock pressed down on his own, rubbed hard and slick with sweat and silk; and soon, before he himself had made it Bodie moaned into his ear, a shocking sound after his utter and determined silence.
"Oh Ray please--"
The cry was torn out of him; quieted, thrilled, Doyle felt the convulsive stream over his belly, and with it an impossible hunger surged between them, electric longing. He trembled, empty inside, hollow. Lost in his own world Bodie ground him down onto the floor; Doyle's cock slipped through something warm and wet.
Something too exquisite to bear flowered in him and fled away at once, violent with sweetness: and it was beautiful, yet he knew all the time and with every precious pulse that he had left the real gift behind, unmarked, lost it; he snatched, but too late....
Bodie was still holding him afterwards; but when Doyle stirred, languid, in his arms he let him go.
He heard the sounds of Bodie dressing, but he didn't open his eyes. Not yet.
"Ray? Ray. "
After a moment Doyle exhaled, long and low, a tremendous sigh. He could scarcely believe what they had done: but they had.
He opened his eyes to see Bodie with his back to him, shrugging his broad beige-shirted shoulders into his holster.
"What?" His voice sounded odd to his own ears.
"Better get ready, ten minutes to go."
"That all you've got to say?" he said bitingly, and then regretted saying even that. But he turned over; balanced himself on his palms, then jumped to his feet slowly. Bodie did not say anything more; a bleak and shuttered silence.
Doyle dragged his clothes on over drying sweat and sweat that broke out anew at the enormity of it, waiting just around the corner to hit him. Christ. Sex with Bodie. Trouble.
As if with intimacy had come sensitivity, Bodie turned from the window to stare at his partner standing there disconsolate, his lower lip caught between his teeth. He looked at him, said quietly,
"Don't worry, Ray."
The light behind made a silhouette of Bodie; gave a darkness to his eye which hid him perfectly from view. Don 't worry. The odd gentleness of it slipped through Doyle like a knife, a sear in his wound he could well do without and he turned away with a shaky laugh, stuffing a hand through his curls. "Didn't even lock the bloody door.... Look good on our records, this would." And he took a deep, shuddery breath.
"No one will know."
Doyle laughed again, caught between despair and the shameful secret of euphoria: for even now his nerve-ends flared with echoes of what Bodie had known too well how to wring from him. And Bodie, too, had his burns to bear: trapped into a brief betraying tenderness, sighing out an unguessed vulnerability against Doyle's throat. What did it matter that no one would know? He and Bodie would know: they would never forget. They would never talk about it, but it would be with them always; spicing every secret look, every occasion they should be alone.
He faced the door, straightened his clothing, buckled on his gun, took more deep breaths. In less than ten minutes he would be on guard, fighting for his own life and others', down among a crowd of strangers, victims, and killers.
But not alone. The thought came to him that whatever happened, now or then or in the future, he trusted Bodie with his life: absolutely and unconditionally.
He turned, surprised, so deep had his thoughts sunk. Bodie looked at him without speaking.
After a moment, Bodie turned away, began to sort out and fill his pockets with ammo clips. "How about coming round to my flat one night? When you've nothing better to do. Have a beer or two."
Casual, offhand. But Doyle, winded with surprise, heard the strain in it, felt the tension which strung out the silence. Clink, clink went the ammo going into Bodie's pockets: far too much. He imagined himself, climbing the steps to Bodie's flat, combing his hair with his fingers perhaps as he waited for Bodie to answer his ring: the door opening, Bodie letting him in.
He gathered himself.
"All right. Yeah. Maybe."
As they turned together for the door and the unimaginable, Doyle dropped to one knee, tried out his draw one last time and the gun whipped out and centred in, unwavering, on Bodie's vulnerable spine. Perfect. 1.6. Maybe even 1.5.
"Thank you," he said to Bodie's back, pulling his weapon up, reholstering it. Bodie turned around in time to catch his eye; unexpectedly, a charming smile lit his face.
"Thank you," Bodie said with exaggerated courtesy, making him a sweeping bow: and Doyle could see how it was going to be. He followed him, down the stairs, no longer afraid of what lay below.
The real threat was closer to home.
-- THE END --