by Jane Carnall
"I'm resigning," Bodie said, snapping his ID down on Cowley's desk.
"I want an explanation, 3.7," Cowley barked.
"Sorry, sir," Bodie shrugged. His armoury was following the ID. More guns than even Doyle carried.
"That isn't an explanation."
"It's the best I can do," Bodie said grimly. He set the last gun down; at least, the last by official inventory. "Sorry. Should have given you more notice."
"You're damned right you should," Cowley barked. "You owe CI5 one month's notice."
"Dock it off my pay," Bodie suggested wearily. "Or my expense chits. I've got one month's pay at least still owing me from the last three op expenses."
Cowley ignored that. "Have you talked this over with Doyle?"
"No. He doesn't know about this. Matter of fact, if you want to do me a favour -- "
"No," the other man snapped.
Bodie shrugged. "Do him a favour then -- don't tell him till tomorrow."
"What the devil difference would that make?" Cowley asked irritably. "Man, if I thought he could talk sense into you, I'd call him in right now."
"He's off duty for the weekend. So am I."
"You just came in to resign?" the other man inquired sarcastically, answered by a simple, infuriating nod from Bodie. "Man, have some sense. It's down in your contract -- you can't resign without a month's notice." He eyed Bodie, standing at ease on the other side of desk -- no, not at ease. He didn't look easy. "Sit down, Bodie." Bodie glanced at his watch, but sat.
"Now, what is this? What's wrong? If you need some time off for some reason, I'm prepared to put you on unconditional leave, or temporary suspension, for a while. But I'm not having you resigning."
"Have it your own way, then," Bodie muttered. He scraped his chair back and stood up. "Permission to go?"
"No. What are you going to do now?"
"I'm going back home."
"And where after that?"
"I wasn't planning to go anywhere."
"Bodie," Cowley warned.
"Can't have it both ways," Bodie said tightly. "If I've resigned, I'm a free agent and you've got no right to ask where I'm going. If I'm still in CI5, then you gave me the weekend off and I'm going home."
"Ach, be off with you then," Cowley said sharply. As soon as Bodie was out the door, he rang Doyle.
Doyle had been on stakeout outside Bodie's block of flats ever since twelve o'clock, he told Cowley; as ordered, he'd tried to get Bodie to let him in, but his partner (ex-partner?) had refused; snarling when Doyle became too insistent. When Cowley rang the buzzer, though, Bodie let him in without argument, but met him in the hall without welcome.
"What d'you want?"
"A small malt, if you have it," Cowley said deadpan.
Bodie seemed to be in the middle of packing; two black plastic rubbish bags sat, filled and tied, in the corner of the hall. Bodie saw Cowley look at them, shrugged, and ungraciously opened the door into the living room. A third bag was standing half-full in the middle of the floor. The bookshelves were empty, and books stacked in piles beside it and an open, empty, cardboard box.
Cowley stood in the middle of the room looking around him, even when Bodie handed him a glass lavishly filled. Only when the entire room had been surveyed with meticulous detail did he take a sip from the glass. "Laphroaig," he said aloud, startled.
"You gave me a bottle last Christmas. I was saving it." For a long time; it was late in October now. "I can't remember for what," Bodie added. "I mean, the stuff's meant to be drunk."
"Best Islay malt? Certainly it is. Where are you going?"
Bodie laughed, on edge and bitter. "Nowhere."
"No -- just a clear-out. This is a CI5 flat, I won't be here much longer. Incidentally, sir, I take it it was you sent Doyle round?"
"Thought so. You ruined a date he's had set up for a fortnight," Bodie said neutrally. "I noticed his car's been outside ever since I sent him off with a flea in his ear."
Cowley took another mouthful of the liquid gold in the glass, savouring each flavour in the spectrum. "I was startled that you let me in so quickly without argument."
"Three reasons," Bodie said swiftly. "One; the sooner I let you in and you say whatever you want to say, the sooner you'll go. Two; Doyle couldn't call the SAS in and you can. Three; you've got a key, you can get in anyway."
"I'll grant you the last two, laddie," Cowley said almost affably, handing the glass back. "But I intend to stay until you tell me what the devil you're playing at. I'll have the other half of that."
Bodie was turned away for a moment, and Cowley took a step to the table where he had previously noted the two letters, unstamped. The one on top was addressed to Doyle; the one underneath, to himself. Bodie turned back and snatched it out of his hand before the envelope was half open.
"It was addressed to me."
"Yeah. You can read it tomorrow."
"He can read his tomorrow as well."
"Where were you planning to go tonight?"
"I told you," Bodie said harshly, "I'm going nowhere tonight."
"I never read you as the suicidal type, Bodie," Cowley said pleasantly.
"Damn right," Bodie muttered, and laughed. Hollowly.
"I want an explanation," the other man said flatly, "and I don't intend to go till I get one."
Bodie cast a harried glance at his watch. It was half past ten, Cowley noted with a glance at his. "You wouldn't believe it."
"Try me," said Cowley, and sat down, looking immovable.
An hour later, Cowley had got no further, and Bodie's glances at his watch had increased in frequency. "Who are you expecting?" he asked, putting two and two together.
"I see. When is nobody arriving?"
Bodie looked at his watch again. Twenty-five to twelve. "If I tell you, will you go?"
"I said I intended to stay until I got an explanation."
Bodie leant back in his chair and closed his eyes, rolling his head. "I jumped ship in Angola when I was seventeen," he said abruptly. "Spent a couple of years working as a bouncer in a night-club. Then it closed down and I joined up -- seemed like a good idea at the time. Discovered it wasn't about a week later, but it was too late to get out. That was when I made this bargain."
"What bargain?" Cowley prodded gently.
Bodie's eyes blinked open, dark intense blue. "Thirteen years," he said quietly, "for a price that didn't seem to matter at the time."
"Oh, come on, you must've noticed," Bodie said, suddenly furious. "You send me out on operations that haven't a snowball's chance and I come back alive. So does Doyle. I've got a charmed life!"
Cowley had heard the joke made often enough, even by Doyle; it was a moment before he realised Bodie meant it literally. "Man, how much have you been drinking?"
"You made a bargain for thirteen years of charmed life?" Cowley said, taking a deep breath. "Who with?"
"Who d'you think? You're the bible-puncher, who d'you think makes bargains like that?"
"You're not serious. You made some kind of -- of pact," Cowley gestured, "with ritual sacrifice, or what?"
Bodie started to chuckle. "Listen, in Angola, you didn't have to sacrifice black goats to meet the devil," he got out. "You could find him easy enough without it. Or he'd find you. Nah, he made me an offer. Thirteen years, he said, in return for three things. I'd almost forgotten, except that I got a reminder this morning."
"A letter?" Cowley asked sarcastically.
"A message." Bodie swallowed. "I used to have a black cat called Shadow. I found him this morning, hanging up in the broom cupboard, gutted, and a calendar hanging round his neck."
There was a silence. Bodie glanced at the clock again. Ten to twelve. "Look, sir, now I've told you; will you get out of here?"
"I don't believe a word of it. I've never heard such a bloody farrago. I want the truth, Bodie."
"I've told you the truth. I sold my soul for thirteen years, and the time's up tonight!"
"Tonight at midnight," Cowley said with sudden understanding. "Very well, I'll wait. And at five minutes past midnight, Bodie, I'm putting you on suspension, unless you can prove to me you're insane, in which case I'll hand you over to Dr Ross's tender mercies -- "
He broke off. They both heard the front door opening. The only two people in the world with a key to it were inside the room. Cowley sat as frozen as Bodie; the tension not broken until the living-room door opened quite quietly and normally, and a dapper city businessman walked in, pulling off his pigskin gloves. "Bodie, dear chap. Good to see you again."
Cowley let out a breath that he hadn't realised he was holding, and snapped "Bodie -- !"
The man looked at Cowley for an instant, eyes black and opaque. "Who is this, Bodie?"
"My boss. CI5. Cowley," Bodie said, as though his mind was elsewhere.
"Ah yes. We've met before, Mr Cowley."
"I don't recall it."
The man smiled. "Not under this aspect. Bodie, you forget your manners; introduce us."
"Marty Martell," Bodie said briefly. "That's what he told me to call him."
"Very precise," Martell nodded. "Mr Cowley, I'm afraid Bodie and I have some private business to transact; you'll have to leave."
"What private business?" Cowley asked crisply. "I am Bodie's employer, Mr Martell."
Martell glanced at an expensive, rather oldfashioned watch on his wrist, and shook his head. "Only for another three minutes. Didn't Bodie explain the matter to you?"
"He did. I don't believe either of you, laddies -- "
Martell whipped round on him again, eyes coldly opaque. "Less of the 'lad', Mr Cowley," he said softly. "I am far older than you could conceive. And I do not lie, except for my own purposes; and from you I have no need to conceal what I am."
For all his lame leg, there was nothing wrong with Cowley's reflexes; with the speed of long practice, he was on his feet and his gun in his hand, pointing straight at Martell's heart. "Whatever you are," he said grimly, "you can get out of here now."
Martell laughed aloud, sounding genuinely amused. "Mr Cowley, even if that gun was loaded with silver bullets it would be of no avail against me. Silver might injure, even kill, some of my servitors, but I am the Undying."
"Ah, no. Insanity is a mortal weakness."
"All right," Cowley said, gun unwavering, "explain to me this bargain you made with Bodie."
"Thirteen years of charmed life," Martell said briskly, dropping the gloves he had been holding. They vanished into thin air about a foot from the floor. "Absolutely guaranteed. Contract invalidated if Bodie died during the time, except by his own hand, of course. He wouldn't claim I cheated him -- would you, dear chap? I gave him something he wanted with his whole heart, in exchange for three things he didn't think had any value at all. The right to use his Christian names; a few drops of his blood, to write his name; and of course, his immortal soul."
Outside, the clocks of London began to chime. Martell smiled. "And now, dear chap, I'm collecting."
Bodie stood up. "How are you going to do it?" he asked on a monotone.
Martell pursed his lips. "Oh, suicide, I should think, dear chap. You shot yourself. Very sad."
For the first time, Bodie betrayed some sign of emotion. "You can't do that. Doyle would carry around a load of guilt for the rest of his life if he thought I'd killed myself -- Martell, you owe me a few favours."
"Ah yes, perhaps I do." He added conversationally to Cowley, who was speechless, "Bodie's been an excellent supplier, over the years. Of course, having his names and his blood in my possession, the blood and souls he gets are my rightful due. Very well then, dear chap, a gas explosion. There was a leak, you lit a cigarette, you went up in flames."
"Two things wrong with that. First, I don't smoke. Second, the fire would hurt other people -- "
"Dear chap," Martell said relentlessly, "no one else in this block has contracted with me for a charmed life. Furthermore, if you keep making difficulties, I shall begin to think you want to renege on your contract, and that, my dear Bodie, would be -- most unwise."
"The contract is void," Cowley found voice.
"Mr Cowley," Martell said quietly, "you really should go now. Don't you think? I can't touch you directly; but if you are here when the flat goes up in flames, then my Adversary, to whom I perceive you have made your allegiance, will be unable to shield you. I assure you, the contract is valid; Bodie has no other allegiance."
"Yes, he does. To me. You can't have him."
"My contract predates yours. From midnight, Mr Cowley, Bodie has been mine."
"You can't have him," Cowley repeated grimly, the gun steady. He had just noticed that Martell cast no shadow, and was beginning to doubt himself that bullets would be any use, but if the body before him had any kind of reality they might at least disconcert it.
Again, Martell laughed. "You claim him as your liege man? Mr Cowley, I wish you were on my side! While I am incapable of insanity, I value it; and for mad courage I have seldom seen your equal. But I'm afraid the contract still stands." He smiled. "However, I have a proposal for you. Are you a gambling man?"
"A pity. I had a wager in mind that I thought might interest you." Martell spread his hands. "A game of... chess, I think. For double or nothing; if I win, your soul as well as Bodie's; if I lose, I'll give you Bodie. All of him: body and soul."
There was a long, stretched pause. Cowley could not take his eyes from Martell's opaque face, though he wanted to look at Bodie; "Done," he said at last.
"So throw away that stupid gun -- it's really not your style." The gun flickered out through Cowley's fingers, flew over to the other side of the room as if he had thrown it, and landed gently on the floor.
"Done," Martell repeated, and clapped his hands. On the table between them appeared a chess set intricately carved of ivory and ebony, massive, beautiful pieces. "You have until dawn, Mr Cowley."
"You didn't mention a time limit," Cowley pointed out, picking up a black and a white pawn.
"Oh, be reasonable. Some time limit is necessary, or we might stretch this chess game out until the end of the world, and I have a great deal to do before then. If you have won by dawn, Bodie is yours. A lose or a draw, and I take you both. There's no need to choose for colours; I'll take the dark pieces."
The black pawn was no longer in Cowley's hand, and Martell was seated on the other side of the board. "Your move, Mr Cowley."
He took a moment to look at Bodie, standing as if frozen, mouth working; and sat down, replacing the white pawn.
"Oh yes, I have frozen him," Martell said casually. "He would only have been a nuisance, otherwise; Bodie has an unexpected vein of nobility. Not that there's anything he could have done, once you agreed to the bargain."
Cowley ignored him, staring down at the board, turning over game openings in his mind. The pieces were carved with incredible detail; each pawn, even, had a recognisable and different face. He hoped that it was a trick of the light that made the eyes move. He put that out of his mind as well, and moved out a pawn.
Martell played a classic, difficult game; thinking about it remotely, Cowley wasn't surprised. Through the long night, as each of them made a move and the other leant forward to study the board and think it through, as traps were laid, and evaded, as the knights on their prancing, uncomfortably realistic horses galloped in and out the dark squares and the light; as the warrior queens advanced, swords drawn (sometimes they seemed, in the odd light, to have a glint of real steel) and the castles and bishops (not bishops, Cowley noted with a quirk of humour; elephants) seamed the board, and the pawns died; the kings sat safe behind their irregulars and watched the war.
And at last Martell pushed one of his castles sideways in the culmination of a steel-jawed trap and said, "Check, Mr Cowley."
"Checkmate," said Cowley, setting his last knight down with a tiny click. He looked across the board at Martell. "He's mine."
The centre lamp went out, and the light of dawn leapt into the room, and the being with Martell's shape -- was not. Bodie slid down the wall, his legs suddenly cramping, taking in big starving breaths. Cowley got to his feet and went over to him, reaching a hand down; Bodie accepted the help, still with a dazed disbelieving look on his face.
"You took one hell of a risk."
"You're a damned brave old bastard," Bodie said, and Cowley grinned.
"Ach, I hope not."
"You could have lost -- everything."
Cowley was still holding Bodie's hand; he let their eyes meet. "Not so much as you think. And now; you belong to me."
Feedback: e-mail me (or comment me if you have a livejournal).