by Jane Carnall
and Ann (without whose help and **** this would never have been conceived, let alone written)
dedicated with love to N.C., who believed.
Part 1; "Stand by me, Death"
Part 2; "If the wound grows sharp"
Part 3; "Step closer, Love "
Part 4; "The ruined years"
Part 5; "Show me the face behind your mask"
Epilogue; "Let's finish where the tale began"
Part 1; "Stand by me, Death"
The doorbell pealed; with a grunt of annoyance, Cowley pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the stab of pain through his knee, and went to answer it. Before he could get there, it rang again, as if the caller was furious with impatience. Himself annoyed, Cowley yanked the door open. "What is it... Bodie?"
"I wanted to see you, sir."
"Evidently," Cowley said dryly. Bodie had washed and changed since this afternoon; instead of the grimy black leather gear he'd gone to fight the Hell's Angels in, he was clean and trim in cords and a black jersey. It had been several hours ago that he'd sent both Doyle and Bodie home for the day. "Well, come in." He stood aside and locked the door after the other man. Without being invited, Bodie had gone through to Cowley's sitting room and sat down on the chair opposite the one Cowley had been sitting in, the glass of Scotch set on the floor beside it.
Cowley remained standing, hoping to keep the interview of short duration. "Well, what is it, Bodie?"
"I need to know," Bodie said flatly, "would you have shot me?"
The memory of the moment when he had held the gun to Bodie's dark head was vivid with Cowley. No. But if it ever happens again, a cooler voice interjected, if you need to make him believe you'd kill him to stop him doing some damned foolish thing and wrecking his life -- what then? Cowley's face was as impassive as the darker man's. "What do you think?"
"That's not an answer," Bodie grated. His voice was heavy and deep with anger.
Cowley's knee was stabbed again with white pain. Before it could give way, he sat down, picking up his glass and drinking from it. He knew his voice was quite level. "It's all the answer you'll get, Bodie."
All of Cowley's operatives, some more effectively than others, could exude menace. Cowley had seen people under interrogation give in out of pure terror of what Bodie -- or any of his crack operatives -- might do. But Bodie more than any of the rest; Doyle, and the others, would deliberately menace, but Bodie reeked danger without even trying.
As he was doing now. He had been sitting still, his eyes apparently on the floor, not looking at Cowley. And then, almost without apparent transition, he was on his feet, looming over the older man, and one hand gripping his forearm. "I need to know," he said dangerously.
Cowley set his face to neutral and his eyes to outstare Bodie's. Blue eyes. Vividly, strikingly blue, under crooked dark brows. And his knee was sending shafts of agony up through him, in this state it objected to being walked on, let alone to a run through the woods --
Without taking his eyes from Bodie's, Cowley's forearm jerked from Bodie's hand and, with both hands, he began to try and settle his leg into a more bearable position. Abruptly, Bodie knelt down and, brushing Cowley's hands away, began to rub at the cramping muscles just above the knee.
"How long has this been going on?" he demanded.
Cowley leant his head back. "It comes and goes." Bodie's hands felt good.
"How long has this particular bout been going on?" Bodie expanded, exasperated.
"Three days," Cowley admitted. The pain was lessening, and now that it was no longer over-mastering, a familiar and unwelcome consciousness was creeping through him. Bodie was attractive. Very attractive. Very dangerous. Attractive because dangerous, and, for Cowley, dangerous because attractive.
Cowley closed his eyes. Bodie's hands were still working on his leg. He heard Bodie mutter "You're a brave old sod," and his mouth twitched.
"It's inaccurate," he said, almost under his breath. "I'm not brave."
Opening his eyes, he sat up straighter. "That's enough." There were still faint twinges from his leg, but as soon as Bodie had gone he could lie down and the knee would stop complaining. "It's all right, Bodie. Thanks."
He had hoped that Bodie would withdraw to his seat, but the other man sat back on his heels and reached for Cowley's glass, passing it up to him. He was still far too close for Cowley's peace of mind, and looking up at Cowley with an eyebrow-tilted, speculative look in his eyes. "You said that before," he said lightly, "and I didn't believe you then."
"My leg is fine," Cowley said tightly, deliberately misunderstanding.
"That you're not brave."
Cowley shrugged. "I don't like risks."
"You took a risk on me. After all, I'm queer." Bodie grinned and his accent changed, deliberately plummy. "I always thought men like that shot themselves." Reverting to his normal voice, he added "But you were going to do it for me." A pause. "Were you?"
Ignoring the last part, Cowley shrugged. "You'd been in the paras and the SAS and you weren't dishonourably discharged from either, so it wasn't much of a risk that you'd not be discreet." He'd also given orders that Bodie was to tell him who he slept with, to avoid security risks. Bodie had been surprisingly continent, in three years. "Thanks for your help. I'll see you and Doyle in my office, eight am tomorrow." He stood up briskly to show Bodie out, took one step and nearly fell.
Bodie was holding him up, one arm round his waist, the other, on Cowley's bad side, taking his weight. Resting against Bodie's hip. "Let go of me, Bodie."
"In a minute, sir." He was guiding Cowley over to the couch, and let him gently down, carefully lifting his legs up. Lying flat, Cowley let out an involuntary breath of relief.
"Where's the painkillers?" Bodie asked briskly.
"I don't use them."
The other man glanced back at the bottle, half-full. "Just the Scotch?"
Cowley ignored that. Bodie was still half-sitting on the edge of the couch, leaning over him, one arm propped against the back. Cowley was about to tell him to go, when, with a disarming grin, Bodie asked "You hungry? 'Cos I'm starving."
Tell him to go away. But he wasn't going to feel like getting up for a couple of hours yet. What the hell -- "You'll find something in the freezer, no doubt."
They had supper, talking shop. Both of them avoided talking about the events of the past week; Cowley would get Doctor Ross's final report tomorrow, and then would be time enough to bring it up. The steak and peas were good; Cowley complimented him. Bodie grinned. "Straight from freezer to stove to stomach, and I'm a good cook."
When Cowley next glanced at the clock, he saw it was ten past midnight. This time, when he sat up, his knee gave out no more than a twinge, and he pushed himself to his feet without difficulty. Standing up, the knee started complaining more viciously, but a night's rest should put it right. "My office, eight am, sharp," he reminded Bodie, who nodded, following him out the door.
"Right, sir." Standing in the hall, under the light that gleamed on his dark hair, he was ruthlessly attractive. Cowley took hold of the bannister behind him, surreptitiously. His knee had started complaining in triplicate.
"Good night, Bodie," he said firmly.
Bodie just stood there, looking at him. "Think I'd better help you up the stairs, sir." He moved forward inexorably and, as before, took Cowley's arm firmly in his own, holding his weight against him.
"You should see a doctor about that leg," he commented on the way up.
"I have been to see," Cowley took a breath, "a dozen doctors about my leg. All of them recommended cutting my knee up to get the bullet out. None of them could guarantee I'd still have my leg afterwards. Then they prescribe painkillers."
"Which you don't take." They'd reached the top of the stairs and Bodie headed for the open door, guiding Cowley over to the neatly-made bed, switching the centre light on with his shoulder on the way. He went to the windows and drew the curtains, returning to the bed to swing Cowley's legs up and push him gently back against the headboard. Then, still casual, he sat down on the end of the bed and began to pull Cowley's shoes off, first right, then left, putting them down on the floor.
"I don't need your help getting undressed, Bodie," Cowley snapped.
Bodie finished with the second shoe and grinned. He moved up the bed, reached out for Cowley's tie. "All part of the service, sir."
He had pulled away the tie and unbuttoned the top button on Cowley's shirt before the other man snapped "Bodie!" and took hold of his wrists, holding his hands firmly away from the second button down.
"You may not need it," Bodie said deliberately, "but unless I've been reading you all wrong, I think you want it."
Cowley took a breath. "What I might want is completely irrelevant, Bodie. Get out."
The other man was grinning that small smug smile that had made a good many people itch to slap it off his face. Cowley was no exception. However, both his hands were occupied. Bodie leant forward and kissed him. Still smiling, he pulled his hands free of Cowley's grip, stood up. He switched the bedside light on, went to the door and switched off the centre light. His eyes on Cowley, watching Cowley watch him.
Nothing so unsubtle as a strip-tease. Just Bodie, taking his clothes off, in the middle of the room where Cowley had slept alone for years. Just Bodie. Nothing subtle about him.
Naked and scarred he came back to the bed and began to undress the other man; and this time Cowley said nothing. Nothing until they were both naked, under the covers, and Bodie lying over him, kissing the side of his neck. "How do you want it?" Bodie breathed, his voice thickened; not faking it, no. Not with his erection hard against Cowley's thigh.
Cowley remembered, afterwards, the dark hair crisp as feathers against his fingers; remembered tracing the line of one scar that curled around Bodie's ribs like a whiplash; remembered the sleepy, still-confident, smile on Bodie's face as he hooked an arm around the other man's waist and fell into a satisfied sleep. These things he could bear to remember, though they seared him; for the rest, it would have been better if he could have forgotten what must never happen again.
When he woke, the room was half-lit with the morning sun through the curtains, and Bodie's arm was a warm weight across his waist, and Bodie's hair was ruffled against his neck. He knew that the last night had been probably the worst mistake of his life.
The alarm clock started screeching; his hand went out to switch it off instinctively. Bodie rolled over and propped himself up on his elbows with an enormous yawn, blinking. When he opened his eyes again, he was grinning, even though, visibly, he was still not entirely awake.
Before Bodie could either say or do anything more, Cowley got out of bed. He was halfway through to the bathroom before he realised that his leg was complaining no more than usual. That was one bonus out of this worst mistake.
He came back, showered and more awake; Bodie brushed past him on his way to the bathroom, his face set in a sombre look. Cowley trusted that this meant Bodie had thought things through and come to the logical conclusion. He cleared up his own clothing from where Bodie had dropped it last night; his housekeeper would be in at nine and would be -- to say the least -- startled to find that her normally obsessively neat employer had thrown his clothes all over his bedroom.
Downstairs in the kitchen he started the percolator, and sat down at the table, resting his elbows on it and rubbing his face with his hands. Probably the worst mistake of his life. He looked up, catching some whisper of sound, and Bodie was standing in the doorway.
Without a word, the other man pulled down two mugs from the shelf above the sink, opened the fridge and took out a bottle of milk, set the lot on the table in front of Cowley, and went to lean above the percolator. When, a minute later, it signalled ready, he filled both cups and sat down, adding milk to his own mug.
Cowley sweetened his coffee and drank the first scalding mouthful. He had never been in a fit state in the early morning until at least his second cup of coffee. Finishing his first mugful, and pouring a second, he was arrested for an instant by a purely practical consideration. "Where did you park your car last night, Bodie?"
"Round the corner. Not in your parking place." Bodie took the jug from his hand and poured himself another cup. His face bore the same eyebrow-tilted, speculative look as it had yesterday evening.
Catalysed by that look, Cowley said sharply "This doesn't make any difference, 3.7. And never again."
Finishing his coffee, Bodie said nothing. He pushed his chair back, glanced at his watch. "Ten to seven. I'd better be going, sir. See you later."
In the CI5 car park, Doyle had just drawn up when he saw Bodie's car pull in, and waited for him. His partner didn't seem to have noticed; he climbed out of his car, slammed the door, and was heading towards the entrance when Doyle yelled "Bodie!"
At that, the other man did pause and glance round. Doyle caught up with him. "You going blind or something?" he inquired amiably.
"Morning, Ray." Bodie pushed the door open and went in, Doyle following.
"Where were you last night? I rang you up about half-eight to ask if you wanted to come out for a drink, and you weren't in."
"Use your head, sunshine," Bodie advised. "I'd already gone out for a drink."
"Drinking alone's bad for you, y'know," Doyle offered, unoffended.
"Yeah," Bodie turned and grinned at him, "if I'd known you were going out alone I'd have been worried."
Doyle swung a mock-punch at him; they'd just reached Cowley's secretary's office, and when Bodie dodged he barely missed a stack of paperwork in Kirsty's In tray. "Careful," she warned, but she was smiling.
"Sorry, darling," Doyle lounged on her desk. "Cowley's expecting us, eight sharp."
"I'll tell him you're here."
Bodie was on edge, Doyle knew, and couldn't blame him; this morning they were due to hear about the final reports on the annual testing, and though he'd done well enough in the end, his early scores had been bad enough for a greenie. So when Kirsty put the phone down and told them to go through now, Doyle made no objection to entering first.
In his office, eight o'clock, Cowley was reading through the final reports on Doyle and Bodie. Doyle's was unqualifiedly positive, as Cowley had known it would be; he put it to one side after skimming through it. Bodie's was more complicated.
All the other reports but the psychological one were moderately positive; after a few days of unusual incompetence, Bodie had suddenly returned to his usual killer level and remained there. Only Doctor Ross had qualified her recommendation; one more day's reaction tests to ensure that Bodie hadn't faked the results as she suspected he had last time; and she also wanted to interview him over the Williams business.
His phone buzzed. "4.5 and 3.7 here, sir."
"All right, send them in."
Doyle first, Bodie just behind him. In a quick glance, Cowley could read no change in Bodie's expression; it might have been any morning.
"Morning, sir," Doyle said cheerfully.
"Good morning, 4.5, 3.7. 4.5, your report is completely positive; you're back on duty as of today. You're scheduled for hand gun tutoring with the new men over at the centre, 9.30 sharp."
Doyle nodded, glancing at Bodie, who shifted almost imperceptibly.
"3.7," Cowley went on, "everyone except Doctor Ross appears to be satisfied with you. You'll be spending today with further reaction tests at the centre. She also wants to ask you some questions about the Keith Williams case. She's expecting you in an hour."
Bodie nodded. No arguments; evidently Doyle had expected something as well, from the odd look he threw his partner.
"Well?" Cowley asked briskly. "What are you waiting for?"
Bodie cleared his throat. "Permission to speak to you in private, sir."
Cowley looked at him sharply. But if he was keeping to what he had told Bodie, no difference, he had no reason to refuse. He hoped he wouldn't have reason to kick Bodie out in five minutes. "All right, 3.7. 4.5, you can go."
The door closed; Bodie said without preamble "Reporting as in standing orders, sir; I slept with a man last night."
Cowley's breath caught in his throat for a moment. Bodie continued over the silence "I don't need to give you his name; I don't believe there's any security risk. Not sure whether it's a one-night stand, or more than that, yet, sir; I'm leaving that up to him to decide." He looked down at Cowley without smiling, but that speculative look in his blue eyes.
"All right, 3.7, you can go," Cowley grated, unable to rebuke Bodie for insolence.
CI5 was chronically under-staffed; the morning after Bodie had been passed fit for duty, they were pushed off on a drugs ring case that had been waiting twenty-four hours for them. Cowley snapped out the information and ordered them out the door fastest; on the way to Records to pick up the photographs, Doyle whistled.
"The Cow's not getting any sweeter-tempered, is he?"
"Leg's probably killing him. Don't you have any of those contacts of yours in Lambeth?"
"Never my district, sunshine." Doyle started to whistle again. They were back on the job.
Four days later, the main distributor having been cleaned up -- though her source was still unknown -- they were reporting back. Doyle did most of the talking; Bodie had clammed up.
Cowley had apparently not sweetened in four days. Maybe Bodie was right, Doyle thought with faint uneasiness, and the Cow's leg was giving him hell. He looked sideways at Bodie, expecting some kind of backup -- his partner was usually damn good at giving ever-so-respectfully as good as he got -- but the other man was doing the stony-faced look, and answering only direct questions.
"We went through the house with a fine-tooth comb," Bodie was saying, unusually quietly, in response to a growled jab from Cowley about had they searched the place?
"Yeah," Doyle chimed in; "did the CI5 Number all over the wallpaper, the carpet, the lino, the floor-boards, and the loo. We got the heroin, sir."
"One kilo," Cowley snarled. "Raiker's supply for a month. You didn't get her import agent, and that's what counts."
And if they'd got the import agent, then Cowley would have been growling that the overseas contact was still on the loose... that was the sort of thing Bodie normally said, but with the Cow's temper (or his leg?) in this state, maybe he was right to keep his smart mouth shut. Funny, it had never stopped him before.
"We did find something," Doyle offered. "Not much; just the name on her telephone pad. Chrestomanci. All tied up with a lot of doodles, like she'd been sitting by the phone with a pen in her hand."
"Well, we looked," Doyle glanced sideways at his impassive partner, "Bodie looked it up in her address book and it's the name of a toy shop in Reading."
"She's thirty-seven," Doyle said, "not married, no relatives, so far as we know no close friends with children -- so why does she have a toy shop's address in her phone book?"
"Mphm." Cowley frowned. "All right, it's worth following up. Get out there."
"What, now?" It was past five, and they'd had four days on stake-out. "Don't we even get a night's sleep, sir?"
Cowley glanced at his watch. "Aye. I suppose so. First thing tomorrow morning, 4.5. 3.7. Now get out of here."
"Old bugger," Doyle muttered viciously on the way down the stairs. "And the bloody toy shop probably belongs to her second cousin."
Bodie didn't answer; Doyle stopped short and glared at him. "Bodie!"
"What?" Four days on stake-out; no wonder he sounded tired.
"What's up? You didn't say one more goddamn word in there than you had to -- what's eating you?" Since Bodie was still heading down to the exit, Doyle followed.
"I'm bloody tired, that's all."
"You're tired? Listen, I was on stake-out too, y'know -- "
Bodie turned his nastiest dark-blue glare on his partner. "You were? Thought that was a gollywog in the passenger seat."
Doyle grinned and thumped him. "And a kapok-stuffed gorilla in the driver's seat."
Going home. He hadn't slept here since the night before he'd taken on those bikers. Since the night before he'd slept with Cowley. Forget it; that was over. Cowley was acting like he'd forgotten 3.7 had any other name.
There was a pizza left in the freezer and a can of baked beans in the cupboard and three slices of stale bread in the bread-box. Bodie cursed. He always forgot to go shopping until after he'd run out of food; and he didn't feel like going out again until after he'd had a night's sleep in a bed instead of a car.
The bread he threw out, the pizza went under the grill while he was finding a clean pan to heat the beans in. He poured the sludgy beans over the pizza and took the plate through to the living room to sit in front of the tv while he ate.
There was a new series on the BBC which probably would have been better if he hadn't been falling asleep in the middle of trying to work out whether he fancied the dark one or the curly-haired one more. Halfway through the third badly-staged fight Bodie gave up trying to figure out what the hell was going on, switched the tv off, and went to bed.
He was in a forest that turned around him. Nothing was secure except the people he was fighting; they were vivid and solid and certain and he struck at them and they fell and became as fuzzy as the forest floor, and more came at him. Until there were no more left to come at him except the bastard who'd killed his friend and the forest was spinning around him and nothing was secure except the stick in his hand.
He flung the stick away and went for Billy. The younger man didn't stand a chance, and that made Bodie feel good. Keith hadn't stood a chance. Let the punk know what it felt like.
"Bodie!" Certainty; compact, explosive certainty; Cowley. Holding a gun to his head. Something was crumbling. "So help me, Bodie, if you finish that neck-lock I'll shoot you dead."
Crumbling. Standing in the open, in the sun, and one of the two securities of this life was crumbling at a touch. "Sir? Mind if I ask you a question?"
"If I had killed him, would you have pulled the trigger?"
A pause. "What do you think?" And Cowley turned and walked away.
Bodie stood there, watching him. He was aware of Doyle standing beside him, and asked "What d'you reckon?"
"I reckon he might have."
No certainty. If he wanted security, he had to make it himself. Same as always. Bodie watched Cowley walk away.
As usual, he was out of bed and putting the coffee on (one thing he took care not to run out of was coffee -- he was in no fit state in the morning until after his second cup) before he was fully awake. And still aware that he was missing something, but unable to work out what.
Cowley. Bodie shook his head. Nah. He'd got what he wanted. Cowley wouldn't kill him, not now. But he'd liked the compact wiry strength of the older man. He'd liked the way Cowley touched him. He'd liked waking up next to someone who knew who he was.
Better to forget it. Appropriately, the doorbell rang. Bodie picked up the intercom.
"Morning," Doyle beamed, bursting in like happiness at a funeral. He grabbed a fairly clean cup and poured himself some coffee.
Bodie glared. "Make yourself at home."
"Thanks," Doyle agreed. "How's the stuffed gorilla this morning?"
"How's the gollywog?" Bodie finished his coffee and picked up Doyle's mug as well, dumping them both in the sink.
"I hadn't finished!"
"We're supposed to be driving out to Reading this morning, aren't we?"
"Yeah. Your car or mine?"
"Yours." Bodie didn't feel like driving.
In the car, Bodie was silent. He never was much of a talker any early morning start, but his normally mobile face was sombre to grimness. "What's up?"
Bodie glanced sideways at him. "Thinking."
"Painful, is it?"
"About kapok," Bodie elaborated. "Stuffed gorillas."
"Kapok," Bodie told him impatiently. "That toy shop. Bet you a fiver it stocks nice cuddly stuffed toys imported from Taiwan."
"And you reckon," Doyle started to grin, "they're stuffed with something else than kapok?"
"Would explain how it gets past Customs, wouldn't it?"
"Yeah." Doyle was shaking his head and chuckling. "God, can you imagine it? A stack of purple hippos stuffed up with heroin."
"Yeah." Bodie was grinning now; he seemed to have shaken off the moodiness. All of a sudden the morning looked better.
"What the hell is kapok, anyway?"
"You learn something new every day...."
Cowley stood in the middle of the remains of what had been a toy shop, looking round rather grimly at the wreck. Doyle came out of the back room, holding a teddy bear in one hand. Seeing Cowley, he grinned, somewhat sheepishly.
"Afternoon, sir. Sorry about the mess."
"Was it necessary?"
Doyle shrugged. "They fired first. And it wasn't toy guns they were using."
"So I see. Where's 3.7?"
"Hunting up some more of these." Doyle held the bear out so that Cowley could see. The seam up the back had been slit open and inside was a neat hollow in the stuffing. "We reckon they must have been sewn up like this in the factory."
"Aye. So we've a line on the overseas supplier as well as getting the import agent. Nice work, 4.5."
"Bodie's idea," Doyle said generously.
Cowley nodded shortly. "Nice work," he repeated, and went back outside to clear up loose ends with the local police, who were neither appreciative of gun battles in their district nor of CI5 sniffing out the headquarters of a drugs ring from under their very noses.
He'd noted, without noticing, that the car he'd parked beside was Doyle's, not Bodie's. When matters had been settled to Cowley's satisfaction (if not that of the local police), there was still a boxful of eviscerated soft toys to be dealt with. Bodie and Doyle were standing over the colourful stack, suppressing hilarity as they caught his eye.
"Mphm," Cowley said, indicating the box with a shove of his toe. "You'd better take that round to the Drug Squad, 4.5. Just in case anyone has any ideas about copycat smuggling."
"Copybear..." Bodie muttered.
Cowley glared. "I'll see you both in my office Monday morning 8 am," he snapped, "3.7, want a lift?"
No hesitation, and no double-take. "Yeah. See you," Bodie added to Doyle.
Once the car was moving, Cowley said "Nice work." He glanced sideways at Bodie's face, outlined against the window, the man casually relaxed in the seat. Bodie didn't turn his head, but grinned. "Yeah."
Cowley fell silent again. Bodie and Doyle were a damn good unit. It would be a pity to lose Bodie. Manoevering his way out of Reading and on to the motorway, he mentioned the operation Murphy was working on, deep undercover, that had provided the information to send Bodie and Doyle after Raiker.
Bodie and he talked shop companiably for the rest of the journey. Cowley couldn't tell what might be going through the back of the other man's mind, behind that impassive face, but Bodie had evidently taken Cowley's warning of No difference seriously. He hadn't been insolent, nor reminding. It seemed as if he meant what he'd said, I'm leaving that up to you to decide.
It's dangerous, Cowley thought, navigating a roundabout, only half-listening to an anecdote of Doyle's sharp-shooting, to get involved with someone who knows who I am.
"...so Doyle yells and I drop and next thing I know the bastard behind me, didn't even realise he was there, is down with three bullets through him. Doyle said after that if I hadn't dropped when I did it would have been through my head." Bodie's lips curled in a sudden grin. "Doyle shoots like he's aiming for a target at the bloody Olympics."
"Aye," Cowley nodded, "and you just shoot to kill."
Bodie's grin broadened, unoffended. "Yeah."
Dangerous, attractive, dangerous; but though a killer, not a blackmailer. At that rate he might be less of a risk than prostitutes.... Cowley veered off that in sheer embarrassment. That was something he didn't like to think about before or after, and as little as possible during. They were coming into London, now, the houses sprouting up along the side of the road. "Are you hungry?"
"Starving," Bodie said easily.
"Mphm." As he pulled up at traffic lights, Cowley looked Bodie up and down. Faded cords and scruffy jacket. "Indian or Chinese?"
For the first time, Bodie turned to look the other man full on. He was smiling, blue eyes catching the smile. "Either," he said, with surpassing cheerfulness. He leant back against the seat again, still smiling. "I'll eat anything."
The restaurant was not crowded at this time in the evening, and the food was excellent, and the company was better. Cowley was aware that they were both setting out to be charming, and that Bodie, at least, was succeeding. The blue-eyed crooked-brows speculative look had returned, and Cowley was still not sure what he was going to do about it. He shared the last of the wine scrupulously between their glasses, and Bodie picked his up, the big hands holding the fragile glass, and smiled. "Your place or mine?" he asked quietly.
Making a final decision in a split second was one thing Cowley was good at. "Mine," he said just as quietly, picking up his own glass and finishing the wine.
Cowley paid the bill and followed Bodie to the door. Outside the sky was still light, though the sun was behind the buildings. Bodie was whistling, offkey and happy, as he walked to Cowley's car.
In the car, it re-occurred to the older man that he had never done anything like this before, that he would feel far more secure if he took Bodie to one of the anonymous hotel rooms he'd used before. He could just see Bodie standing for that. Cowley fell silent, and the other man, after a sideways glance at the dour face, didn't attempt to break the silence.
Once inside the house, Cowley went to the sitting room windows and drew the curtains. Bodie did not switch on the light until they were closed without a crack. Without being asked, he shrugged his jacket off and took Cowley's, hanging them both up in the hall. Alone for half a minute, Cowley let his shoulders sag. Mistake? God, he wanted Bodie. Dangerous, to let himself have anything he wanted that much.
Arms closed around him from behind and pulled him back against Bodie. Cowley jerked away and spun round. "For God's sake, man, get your hands off me!"
Bodie's eyebrows drew down. "Sorry," he said unapologetically, and stood there looking at the other man until Cowley turned away and went automatically to the tv. He always watched the ten o'clock news, when possible.
Behind him he heard a short sigh, and Bodie sitting down on the couch. Cowley sat in his usual armchair, but about halfway through the news Bodie stood up and moved across the room to sit on the floor by him. On his good side, so that when the dark head shifted to lean back against his knee, it was not even uncomfortable. Merely disconcerting. He had no idea what the latter half of the news had been.
As the credits started rolling, Bodie made a long arm and switched the set off. "I'd just like to know," he said into the silence, "whether you'll remember my name's Bodie in the morning, and not 3.7."
Cowley made a small dry sound of amusement. "I'll remember." He got to his feet; Bodie scrambled up with the ease of someone with two sound legs. "You remember that it still doesn't make any difference." He turned away and made for the door, and the stairs, and the bed, knowing Bodie was right behind him.
Waking to the ringing of the alarm, and Cowley shifting under Bodie's arm to switch it off. And then a moment when the other man lay still, as if, as Bodie hoped half-asleep, he also was appreciating the sleepy closeness. The covers were shoved back and Cowley was gone, and Bodie could hear the shower being switched on in the bathroom. Bodie propped himself up on his elbows and glanced at the clock. Quarter past six. For someone who was no more a morning person than Bodie was, Cowley kept unnatural habits.
After Bodie had showered, he dressed in the clothes of the night before and went downstairs to the kitchen, from which the smell of coffee was already percolating. Cowley had taken two mugs down from the shelf and milk from the fridge for Bodie's coffee; an improvement on the first time, when Bodie hadn't been sure that he wasn't going to be kicked out without benefit of caffeine.
This time, Cowley even poured him a cup, and sat down opposite him again without a word. Bodie drank the coffee and brooded. Was it going to happen again?
Going home with Cowley was better than going home alone. He lifted his head and looked across the table at the other man. "Is there going to be a next time?" Bodie asked politely.
Cowley's glare was freezing, but Bodie only looked back. Cowley would want to make all the moves, at least outside the bedroom, and that was fair enough; but Bodie was not going to hang waiting for the next move when he had no surety that there would even be a next move.
"You would have to be exceptionally careful," Cowley said at last, in his precise Scottish accent. He might have been talking about some undercover operation, Bodie noted with drawn eyebrows, but grinned.
"Me? I'm always careful," he said expansively.
"I mean it, Bodie," Cowley snapped. "If one living soul gets to know about this, it's over, and you'll be looking for a new job."
Bodie rubbed along the side of his jaw with one knuckle, his eyes very blue, face set. "Understood, sir," he said quietly.
The other man's expression softened for an instant, and he smiled. "Aye. You do." Then, brisk as if the moment had never been, he asked "What are you planning to do with the rest of today?"
Bodie shrugged, pouring Cowley and then himself a second cup. Yeah, Cowley had given them the weekend off, hadn't he? With everything else, Bodie had almost forgotten. "Playing squash with Doyle this afternoon, probably." Adding more milk, Bodie looked speculatively across at Cowley. Well, it was worth asking; "Doing anything this evening?"
Cowley frowned. "I'll have work to do," he said repressively.
So, he would want to make all the moves. Well, it had been worth asking. "OK, when?"
"I'll let you know."
Bodie nodded, finished his coffee, stood up. "I'd better be going. I'll catch a taxi on the main road."
Cowley went with him to the front door. There was a moment, when Bodie had pulled his jacket on and was standing in the doorway, his shadow blocking the sunlight, when he would have wanted to put an arm round the other man, kiss him lightly goodbye, as he would have done with any other man. He smiled, instead. "Bye. See you Monday."
And turned and walked down the driveway, feeling Cowley's eyes on him until he heard the door close. It was a wonderful morning -- for Bodie, it could have been raining and it would still have been a wonderful morning. He felt good all over, keenly aware through his whole skin of the morning breeze and the summer's sky and the tactile memory of holding Cowley.
He reached the main road in a couple of minutes, but kept walking, not wanting to stop moving. But within ten minutes a taxi passed, and he directed it back to his own flat.
It felt cold and empty. The sink was stacked with unwashed dishes dating from over a week ago. There was nothing to eat in the flat, and it would be an hour at least before the local supermarket would open. Grimly, Bodie bowed to necessity, and did the washing-up.
It was early Saturday afternoon when Bodie turned up. Doyle let him in and wandered back to his bedroom to pull on his jeans.
"Out on the tiles last night?" Doyle came back, a sweat-shirt half over his head, adding "Rang up and you weren't in."
"Yeah," Bodie agreed absently.
"Anyone I know?"
Bodie shook his head, grinning. "No one you'd be interested in, sunshine."
He'd told Doyle years ago, when they were first permanently partnered, that he was bisexual. It seemed to mean no more to Bodie than the occasional walk on the wilde side. "Ah," Doyle said sapiently, nodding. "Squash this afternoon?" Bodie's extracurricular sex life didn't bother him, but he never wanted to talk about it. At least, not once he'd confirmed that he wasn't Bodie's type.
"Going to beat you into the ground," Bodie said cheerfully.
"Everyone should have one unfulfilled ambition."
On the way over to the sports centre (Bodie's car, today, so he was driving) Doyle said, awkward despite having been thinking about it for quite a while "Y'know, something's been eating you for the past few days."
"So?" Bodie grunted.
"Anything to do with the Cow holding a gun on you?"
For an instant, Bodie glared at him. Then, turning his attention back to the road, he muttered "Yeah."
Another pause. "I don't think he would've killed you, Bodie."
Bodie slammed through traffic lights turning amber and took a corner almost too fast. Doyle shut up. They were almost at the sports centre before Bodie said, out of the blue, "No, he wouldn't."
And that was all, then or later. Bodie, Doyle concluded, must have decided not to hold a grudge.
Part 2; "If the wound grows sharp"
"You're lucky you've got a good thick skull," the man in the white coat was telling him cheerfully. Bodie tried to nod and realised this was not a sensible idea. Next time he opened his eyes he was lying in a white empty room that smelled of hospital, and the afternoon light coming in through the window. He could see yellowing leaves outside, and hear the faint roar of traffic.
A nurse came in briskly and smiled at him. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Bodie said automatically. "Headache."
"Yes. Do you remember what happened?"
"Must have been hit over the head," Bodie concluded. "Where's Doyle?"
"If you wouldn't mind answering a few questions," the nurse didn't answer him.
Probably didn't know. Save that till someone else came by.
"What's your full name?"
"William Andrew Philip Bodie."
"What's the date?"
"Nineteenth September. Tuesday."
"And where are you?"
"Hospital. Probably East London." That would have been the nearest to where he had been knocked out, and that was CI5 standard procedure.
"Right. Well, you seem to be doing well."
"What's the time?"
"Nearly four o'clock." The nurse smiled again and turned to go.
"Wait a minute. Was anyone brought in with me? Raymond Doyle, curly-haired bloke, bashed-in cheekbone?"
"There's no one like that on this ward," the nurse said apologetically. "More than that I don't know."
After the nurse had gone, Bodie lay still. He knew better than to try sitting up with possible concussion, and besides, he felt most unlike doing a CI5 Number through the hospital, hunting up one ex-cop with no bloody idea of watching his own back, to make sure that after his partner had been knocked out early this morning the ex-cop hadn't done something bloody silly. Later for that, if he couldn't get some info out of somebody. Anyway, Cowley would be round later, no doubt, to give him a rollicking for being stupid enough to put his head in the way of some thug's blunt instrument. Cowley would know what had happened to Doyle. His mind still dazed, it took him some time to reason that far, but having reached that point, he felt immensely comforted. Cowley would be around.
Drifting somewhere between sleep and waking, following the leaf-pattern on the ceiling, Bodie was roused again to wakefulness a couple of hours later by another nurse coming in.
"What's your name?"
Not again. "Bodie. William Andrew Philip. It's Tuesday the nineteenth of September. I'm in hospital in east London."
The nurse grinned. "Nothing much wrong with you. Concussion and minor bruising, the chart says -- knocked down by a car, were you?"
"No, someone hit me," Bodie said with certainty, and then frowned. He was certain of that, though there was a fuzzy blank patch somewhere. Outside in the hall, he could hear suddenly a familiar voice, and involuntarily he grinned.
"Look, I know it's not visiting hours yet," Doyle was saying irritably. "Can read, can't I? I'm going up north for a few days, I won't see him till I come back if I have to wait another hour. Anyway he's in a private room, isn't he? Who am I disturbing?"
Doyle came in through the door; Bodie was slightly surprised he'd bothered to open it first. "Hi, Bodie. Christ, you look terrible. How're you feeling?"
"Headache," Bodie said succinctly.
The nurse glanced at Bodie, glanced at Doyle, grinned at the both of them, and left.
Doyle snickered, sitting down beside the bed. "Yeah. Kenny McCaskall clobbered you with a very large and very blunt instrument, sunshine; you're slipping."
"Thanks. What happened after I was knocked out?"
"I hit Kenny. Then I told Danny if he didn't surrender his kid brother would suddenly be without a head." Doyle shrugged. "So he packed it in, after Kenny had groaned a bit. No guts, that lad."
"So the job's over?"
"Yeah. I reckon you just got knocked out to save yourself doing the paperwork."
Bodie grinned. "That what you've been doing all day?"
"That and getting briefed by the Cow. You're off active duty for a few days, I reckon, because he's sending me up to York with Allinson."
"Half an hour ago. Allinson's parked outside. Told me we could spare a few minutes."
"Tell him thanks. Doyle, do us a favour?"
"Get me something to read from the hospital shop."
"Sure..." Doyle froze in the act of standing up, as they both heard a familiar, precise and plummy Scottish voice from the corridor.
"Bodie's in here? Thank you, no, you needn't show me in."
Doyle finished standing, shoving his hands in his pockets, greeting their boss with an apologetic shrug. "Hello, sir."
"4.5, you're supposed to be on your way to York," Cowley greeted him, sandy eyebrows drawing together.
"I am. This is on the route north," Doyle explained.
"Aye, well, now you're here you can run down and buy some grapes."
"Grapes? Yes sir," and Doyle left on the run, no doubt thanking God it was no worse.
Cowley closed the door behind the departing runner and came quietly over to the bed, looking down impassively at the younger man. Bodie's right hand was lying on top of the blankets, and Cowley's hand closed over it. For a moment Bodie just lay there, conscious of a upwelling of sunny warmth focussed in the feel of Cowley's fingers on his, thumb gently rubbing his palm. Then he smiled and curled his hand around Cowley's, enclosing the narrow, smaller hand in his own. Neither of them said anything.
After half a minute Cowley stepped back, letting go of Bodie's hand and folding both of his behind his back. "I take it Doyle told you what happened to the McCaskall brothers?"
"More or less. We got them, then?"
"Aye, we did. Daniel wouldn't talk, but Kenneth is presently spilling his heart to Murphy and Carter."
Bodie grinned, answered briefly by Cowley's dry ironic smile. Murphy was six foot one, impressive to anyone who could be impressed by pure muscle. Carter was easily the most terrifying of CI5 operatives; at one Christmas party she had been given an anonymously wrapped badge inscribed More Deadly Than The Male. Between the two of them there probably wasn't a man they couldn't crack.
"Great," he said sincerely.
"No thanks to you," Cowley added crisply. "What were you thinking about, man, letting a cheap thug like Kenny McCaskall knock you out?"
"Can't remember," Bodie said ruefully. "I'll try not to let it happen again."
Doyle came back through the door, clutching three paperbacks and a paper bag. He handed the bag to Cowley, who put it down on the bedside locker.
"Thank you, sir," Bodie said.
"Mphm. Three days sick leave, 3.7; I'll see you in my office 10 am Saturday." He turned and left, nodding sharply to Doyle on the way out.
Doyle let out a held-in breath. "Mean old bugger!" (Bodie winced.) "He never paid me for the grapes!" Setting down the three paperbacks on the locker, he added "One Miss Marple, one Poirot, one Dick Francis. Sorry, couldn't remember which you'd read."
"Doesn't matter. Didn't they have anything else but murder mysteries?"
"Thought it would be a nice rest for you," Doyle said grinning. "Good clean harmless mayhem."
Bodie grimaced. "Thanks, sunshine. And for the grapes." He knew why Cowley had sent Doyle for them, and could guess why he'd forgotten to pay Doyle the money. Half a minute guaranteed alone to hold Bodie's hand.
"You put your feet up and I'll see you when I get back," Doyle added. He glanced at his watch. "Allinson'll kill me. Bye."
Bodie had been discharged from hospital early afternoon, Wednesday. It was Thursday morning that Kate Ross came in and requested (since Bodie was otherwise unoccupied) to give 3.7 a standard follow-up interview. "I'd have preferred to talk to him earlier, Mr Cowley, but he always seems to be fully occupied."
"My men are," Cowley observed.
"If he's overworked, all the more reason," Ross said firmly.
"It's been two months since the Williamson affair. Bodie's shown no signs of being in any way adversely affected."
"In his work, possibly," Ross conceded. "But after all, you can hardly speak for his personal life. I just want to talk to him."
"Aye, all right." Cowley was unable to think of any reason to refuse -- or any real reason why he should want to, except that Bodie would hate it. "I'll tell him to report to you tomorrow afternoon."
"Two o'clock will do nicely. Thank you, Mr Cowley."
The phone rang twice in Bodie's flat before the man answered. "Hello?"
"Cowley. 3.7," code for official-not-personal "Doctor Ross wants to give you a follow-up interview tomorrow at her office, two pm."
Bodie sighed down the phone, but didn't argue. "Yes, sir."
"Are you using your sick-leave beneficially, Bodie?"
"I'm reading." He sounded bored.
Cowley's fingers tapped, thoughtfully, on his desk. "You can collect the second volume from my house after eight this evening."
This time, Cowley could almost hear Bodie grinning. "Yes, sir."
Quarter past eight, the doorbell rang. Bodie walked in, hung up his jacket, and drew a deep, blissful breath.
Bodie's smile flashed. "Starving." He followed Cowley through to the kitchen and sat down at the table, set for two, looking expectant. The other man took the casserole dish out of the oven, the salad out of the fridge, and the bottle of red wine from the corner where it had been standing uncorked for a little over an hour.
"What is it?" Bodie asked, half way through helping himself to a mound of salad.
Bodie's eyebrows quirked. "Been poaching?"
"No. My housekeeper's son raises them in his back garden, so she tells me."
There was a small silence. Bodie seemed quite comfortable, eating Cowley's food and drinking Cowley's wine; but Cowley was not, not altogether. It was not that it was unthinkable for agent 3.7 to have a meal at the controller of CI5's house. It was only different.
Bodie mentioned something about the Christina Hertzog case, and they talked shop for a while.
"What were you reading this afternoon?" Cowley asked.
The other man looked down at his plate, took a piece of rabbit on the end of his fork, and glanced up again, grinning. "Would you believe me if I said Watership Down?"
"I'd say that was carrying coincidence too far."
"You'd be right. Almost, though." Bodie swallowed, took a forkful of lettuce and tomato. "The Plague Dogs. I don't think there's a second volume."
Cowley smiled, a brief sharing of the joke. "No. And have you been spending all your spare time as constructively?"
"Played pool with some of the lads," Bodie shrugged, "and last night Jennifer and I went out for a meal."
The piece of meat Cowley was chewing went cold and tasteless in his mouth. He swallowed it and said, dryly and indifferently, "Mphm. A pleasant evening?"
Bodie finished the last of the rabbit and helped himself to what was left in the casserole dish. On Cowley's raised eyebrows, he added the last couple of spoonfuls to the other man's plate and said casually "Keeps up appearances."
"Aye." Jennifer Black, Ian Barrett's stepdaughter. One of Bodie's girlfriends. "She seemed like a nice lady."
"Yeah." Bodie drank. "She told me about that lunch. She said she'd covered for me."
That Jennifer Black might have mentioned to Bodie the lunch Cowley had had with her two months ago, when Bodie had appeared to be heading straight for the exit from CI5, did not surprise Cowley particularly. "Covered for you?" he asked, frowning.
"She's a lesbian," Bodie said flatly. "We cover for each other."
"That's very... convenient."
"Cuts down on the number of women I have to flaunt in front of Doyle and the rest." Bodie gave him a slanting look under heavy eyelids. "By the way, Susan wasn't too pleased."
"Her girlfriend. She was meeting her for lunch that day."
Cowley cleared his plate, set knife and fork together, and waited for Bodie to finish his larger second helping. "How did you come to know these women?"
Bodie leant back in his chair. "They had some trouble coming out of a gay club one night. I did my knight in shining armour bit, and escorted them back to their flat. Once we'd got to know each other, turned out we had similiar problems." Putting his attention again to his plate, he had emptied it in a few minutes, and began to stack the dishes.
"Do you visit places like that often?"
Bodie stopped, looked at Cowley, eyes darker blue. "You know exactly how often I visit them." He started to put the dishes and cutlery in the sink, as Cowley remembered that filing card in Bodie's most personal file, the one no one but Cowley would see so long as he was controller of CI5. Nineteen dates, nineteen names, over the past three years.
"Is that the only kind of woman you... go out with?"
Bodie came back to the table, picked up his glass, and sat down, drinking before he answered. "Yeah, except sometimes Doyle's fixed me up with a friend of his out of the kindness of his heart." He shrugged. "Sometimes you have to go through with it."
"And you have no difficulty." To himself, he sounded sharp and on edge.
But Bodie was half-smiling. "No. But I'd rather be here." He glanced around the kitchen, looked directly at Cowley, and the older man found himself staring down into the wineglass in his hand. A compliment from a blue-eyed dark-haired dangerously attractive man was something his varied career had never taught him how to handle.
"What about Marikka?" he asked abruptly, looking up.
Bodie's face changed, so quickly and so rendingly that Cowley said swiftly, "Ach, never mind. None of my business."
"Met her through her brother," Bodie said with difficulty. "Crazy Karl, they called him. Only practicing anarchist I ever met. He's dead too."
Did you love her? Cowley nearly asked, and shut his mouth on the question like a trap. That too was none of his business, and besides, he remembered Bodie yelling down from the high water-tower, sounding half-mad with rage, "That's twice in my life I've trusted you." Maybe for Bodie, that meant more.
"None of my business," Cowley said again. There were regions of his past where he'd sooner Bodie didn't go.
It was nearly ten; they went back through the hall to the sitting-room for the news. Bodie settled himself on the couch, yawning briefly. "Sorry. Ate too much."
"Compliment to the chef." Cowley switched the tv on and sat down beside him.
Bodie's arm slid along the back of the couch, and, not quite as eggshell-cautious as the first time, down across Cowley's shoulders. "Um. You? Thought your housekeeper did the cooking?"
"I'm not completely helpless in the kitchen, Bodie." Cowley neither acknowledged the arm nor shrugged it off. He would not for all the secrets of the KGB have admitted that he liked it.
"I can cook," Bodie protested the jab, but mildly. He yawned again, settled himself heavily against Cowley.
"Frozen food. If you're going to sleep, man, don't dig your elbow in -- "
"Sorry," Bodie said through a yawn, and shifted again. By the time the news was half over, he was dozing, though he woke quickly enough when Cowley jerked an elbow in his ribs.
"You'd better go to bed."
"Yeah." Bodie rubbed his eyes, gave Cowley a crooked grin. "Not going to be much use to you tonight."
"Never mind that. Is your head all right?"
"Yeah, it's fine. Tell you the truth, hasn't been a twinge since yesterday."
"I didn't hear a word you said," Cowley said dryly. "Go on, man, get to bed. I've still some work to do."
He came up an hour and a half later, and Bodie was fast asleep in the middle of the bed with most of the quilt wrapped round him. He barely woke when Cowley got in beside him, tugging a share of the quilt away; only enough to throw one heavy, sleepy arm around the other man and bury his head against one wiry shoulder. Bodie's hair still felt like feathers.
Kate Ross was not usually seen around CI5's central HQ; her office, and most of her work, was out at the training centre. Late Friday afternoon, however, she appeared in Cowley's outer office, requesting a word with him. Kirsty showed her in.
"Well, Mr Cowley, you were right, and I was wrong," she began without preamble. "Bodie does seem to have sorted himself out." She passed the report across to him.
Cowley took his glasses off and held them by one ear-piece, looking at the psychologist with a frown. "Stable?"
Ross sighed. "Mr Cowley, you know my opinion of the psychological make-up of anyone who risks his life as cheerfully as Bodie does. But given that, then yes, he's stable." She tapped the beige file, smiling. "It's all in my report, but if you want it in layman's terms, he's happy."
"Thank you, Doctor Ross."
Saturday, Sunday, and half of Monday, until Doyle was back from York, Bodie spent, bored, in Records. And when Doyle was back, Cowley put them both on to a trailing job, about which he told them so little that Bodie almost suspected that it was all he knew. It went smoothly until the man caught sight of Bodie for the second time, when he was in Kensington, and took fright. He and Doyle chased him into a block of flats; their minds working together, Bodie took the lift to the top floor, Doyle would work up stair by stair from the ground. They should be able to corner him.
Coming down the stairs to the third floor, he heard a door open and Doyle saying hastily "OK, love, don't get frightened. Just go back inside, please."
Standing on the stairs waiting for the woman to go back inside where she wouldn't get hurt, Bodie saw the door one along, behind Doyle, crash open. "Look out!"
His gun spoke, once; the man dropped. Doyle had shoved the woman back into her own doorway, out of harm's way. Seeing that neither of them were hurt, Bodie went past them to the man whose name he still didn't know, to find out if he was alive or dead.
Dead. Shoot to kill. Bodie's mouth twisted sourly. "Better call HQ," he said over his shoulder to Doyle.
An ambulance and a police car turned up, and Cowley, moments later. Having seen the body of the man he'd killed into the ambulance, Bodie turned and went back to the red Escort, hearing in the tone of his partner's voice rather than the words that Doyle was on the defensive. "...nothing we could have done, sir. There he was."
"Ah, it's unfortunate. I wanted him alive, I told you."
"Yeah, well, that's about all you did tell us!" Bodie snapped, on the offensive. "What were we following him for anyway?"
"To observe and report," Cowley snapped back. He had been leaning up against the car to talk to Doyle, but as Bodie came to stand at Doyle's shoulder, Cowley went back around the car to the door on the driver's side. "The last thing I wanted was any shooting."
"Oh yeah? Well, why didn't you tell him that. He had a thirty-eight on Doyle, what was I supposed to do?"
"Aye..." Cowley unlocked the door. "D'you want a lift?"
"Yeh," Bodie said shortly, and was getting in before he thought about the fact that Doyle was still standing there, that Doyle's car was parked the other side of this housing estate, and that reasonably Doyle might expect that the offer of the lift included him as well.
Doyle leant down and grinned at him. "Ah -- see you later." Shoving his hands in his pockets, he turned back to the block of flats; Bodie slammed the door, and Cowley drove off.
"Who was he?" Bodie asked after a moment.
"The man I killed," Bodie expanded. He was on edge himself.
"Why d'you want to know?"
"Yeah, well, I might want to send flowers with a card, y'know, it's not every day I kill someone I don't know."
His voice was abrasive, but Cowley's sideways glance contained a certain amount of understanding. "His name was Conroy. Walter John Conroy." Unasked, he added "Had a tip that he knows a man who's into a lot of dirty business."
"Our sort of business, eh?"
"Maybe. Or maybe some run-of-the-mill criminal matter to be passed over to the boys in blue. Now we may never know."
There was silence for a few minutes, and then Bodie asked neutrally "You don't mind about Wednesday night?"
Cowley drew up sharply at traffic-lights suddenly turned red. "Don't be a damned idiot," he answered. "You're free tonight?"
"Yeah," Bodie said, slouching back with an uncomplicated grin.
Bodie was waiting for Cowley as he came out of HQ. The file on Conroy was sketchy.
"What's the verdict?"
"Conroy was a pro," Cowley answered. In a way it was reassurance, that Bodie hadn't been wrong to kill him, even if it was annoying. "Clean as a whistle."
Bodie shoved his hands in his pockets, his mouth twisting in sardonic amusement. "What, no book of matches with nightclub name on them?"
"Or anything. They went over him with a fine tooth comb."
"Not much." Cowley stopped by his car, tapping absently at the file. "Except that he must have liked Italian food. Traces of pasta were found."
"Down his tie?"
"On his shoes. Both shoes, deep in the welts."
"What, he waded in pasta?"
"Mhm. Doubt if you'd get that from a restaurant, but you might if you were invited into the kitchen."
"Sounds like Doyle's job. He's the one with the Italian contacts."
Cowley nodded, agreement and dismissal, and went round to the driver's side; Bodie left him, turning across the car park to his Capri. Cowley did not watch him go; he had an appointment with the Minister at half past ten, about an operation that had nothing to do with this one, and barely ten minutes to reach Whitehall.
Doyle called in word of the assault on his informer, Benny Crolla, several hours later, and that he had been taken to hospital with barely a ten percent chance of survival. As soon as he could spare the time, which was not until late that evening, Cowley went there.
In a job that had more than it's share of unpleasantness, this was not one of the least; to stand over a boy (he must be twenty-four; he looked intolerably young) and watch him die, and try to make him speak before he died.
It was dark outside, and cold; but Bodie was standing in the entrance, the collar of his jacket pulled up, waiting for him. "Well, sir?"
Cowley shook his head, getting into the car.
"Well, I'm not going to be the one to tell him," Bodie said flatly, slamming the door and starting up the engine. He drove straight to Doyle's flat in silence, but as Cowley opened the door, he added, with an effort "Want me to come in with you?"
"No," Cowley said shortly. "My job." He went briskly to the door and signalled the intercom. Doyle let him in and he climbed the stairs, ignoring minor complaints from his leg. It gave him time to rehearse his opening line and expression.
"Ah, sorry to disturb you, Doyle -- " and stopped short, realising that a young woman was sitting at the table, eating supper with Doyle. "Can we talk?"
"Yeah," Doyle gestured back through to the hall.
"Excuse me," Cowley said politely to the woman, and retreated.
"Sorry," Doyle added lightly, and followed him, closing the door. He stood with his back against the wall, as if protecting himself against what he knew Cowley was going to say next.
Doyle said nothing. After a moment he nodded.
"I'm sorry, Doyle, I know you liked Benny."
"It's all part of the job." He swallowed. "Anyway, he was just an informer, wasn't he."
Cowley nodded. If that was the way Doyle wanted to cope with it, that was his business. "Yes." He glanced up, briefly, at Doyle's face. "And he spoke before he died. 'Dumbo'. That mean anything?"
"Nah... 'Jumbo', that meant something big. Benny likes using codes."
"I thought it was 'dumbo';" Cowley said thoughtfully, "but anyway, something big. And he said 'the Christmas man'."
"Christmas man?" Doyle shook his head. "No."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Doyle said more sharply, "'course I'm sure, the Christmas man, no."
"But, something big, eh?" Cowley nodded. "All right." He turned to go. "Oh, and -- Benny -- we'll be sending a wreath, of course."
Outside in the dark he could hear a dog barking somewhere. The car was warm by comparison with the street outside. Bodie turned to look at him as he closed the door. "How did he take it?"
"Ah, he's not easy to read." He glanced towards the building. "Who's the girl?"
"Red-head. Green eyes. Petite."
Cowley could hear the amusement in Bodie's voice. "What -- he's got her in there?"
Bodie started to laugh. "The crafty randy old toad! Oh, she sounds like the girl he met at the flats -- you know, when I shot Conroy."
He started the car and drove off. Cowley settled back in his seat, thinking. It could, of course, be pure coincidence -- a woman picking Doyle up or vice versa was hardly an unusual event -- but a woman who lived in the same block of flats, on the same floor that Conroy had chosen for refuge; that might not be coincidence. Cowley did not like coincidences.
"What's bothering you?" Bodie asked casually.
"Ach, nothing." It was probably nothing at all.
It wasn't for another five days that Bodie had any chance to see Cowley alone. This was not unusual; Cowley habitually worked solidly eight to eight, whether in his inner office guarded by Kirsty or out gathering up tangles after his operatives or limping the corridors of power. The only place, apart from Cowley's own home (not, and never, Bodie's) was in either the silver Capri or the red Escort. Or, of course, the inner office well after six, when Kirsty would have gone home along with the rest of the office staff and most of the operatives. Including Doyle, who had a date with Ann.
They talked formally about the drugs drop; Cowley was dismissive. It was a matter for the Drug Squad, really; but Cowley had a habit of keeping a finger in every pie. Beyond the fact that it would happen, and happen soon, they had almost no solid data. A plane and a Christmas man. Cowley turned back to the filing cabinets. "Aye. Well, that's Doyle's forte. I'll put him out in the streets, undercover."
"Yeah, well, you'd better be quick about it, sir -- he's going to stick out like a sore thumb in his morning suit."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Bodie snickered. "Oh, nothing, maybe... but I think spring's come a bit early for him this year."
"That girl?" Cowley sounded serious.
"Yeah. Bit tasty, mind."
Cowley ignored the last comment. "And you think it's serious?"
"Mm." He thought about it. "Well. Nah, it's just a passing fancy, but..."
"Well, he may not be pulling the rope, but he's certainly hearing those bells."
Cowley set the file he'd been leafing through on the cabinet, and turned back to his desk. "Well, that's your job."
Putting his glasses on, Cowley sat down to the stacked paperwork. "To check her out."
"Ah, come on!" Bodie moved closer to the desk, looking down at Cowley's bent head. "Doyle's girlfriend?"
"Would have to be checked out if he wants to marry her. No operative can marry without my permission."
"Didn't know that."
"It's in the small print." Cowley looked up, meeting Bodie's eyes, and added dryly "And anyway, it's not ever likely to affect you, is it."
"Thanks," Bodie murmured, just as dryly. "Yeah, well, we don't know he's going to get married yet, do we?"
"Well, when he does, if he does, I'll be able to smile benevolently and say yes, won't I?" Cowley glanced back down at the report he was reading. "Check her out."
Dismissed, Bodie turned towards the door, muttering "Don't believe you could smile benevolently." He had intended to be overheard.
Checking up on Ann Holly had proved to be mainly checking up on her father, her only living relative. Ann herself seemed to be precisely what she said she was. Bodie spent most of the day after the unfruitful interview with Cowley confirming it, and having got himself invited to supper with the two of them, made a few delicate probes about relatives.
Ann didn't seem to care or know if her father was alive or dead, but Cowley wouldn't take that as an answer. The next morning Bodie drove down to the village where Charles Holly lived, off the A3 out to Basingstoke. It all seemed to be clear enough, but Bodie left an automatic camera focussed on Holly's front door.
Cowley had gone home early (for him) from HQ. That made it a week, damn and blast the cold blooded bastard. Instead of going back to his own flat, Bodie turned his car towards Doyle's, who was just going out for a meal with Ann. His own flat was cold and deserted. Bodie was rummaging through the freezer for tonight's meal when the phone rang.
He was unable to prevent the broad grin that spread across his face at the precise Scottish voice. "Hello, sir," he said formally. It was just as likely to be a night operation for CI5.
"Are you free tonight?"
"Was going out with Doyle, but he's occupied; yeah." The grin got broader.
"Ten o'clock," said Cowley, and put the phone down.
Several hours later, the two of them were lying together under the heavy quilt in the darkened bedroom, Bodie's arm flung as usual over Cowley's waist. He should be going to sleep, but his mind was still running.˙He knew Cowley was still awake, and muttered into the concealing dark, "I'm worried."
"What about him?" Cowley said sharply.
"Him and Ann. Oh, it's not that -- " correctly interpreting Cowley's sudden alertness -- "she's not involved in anything crooked, and I doubt her father is. But she's not right for him, and he's obsessed with her." Bodie had never seen Doyle this involved with anyone before, and could wish it was anyone but Ann Holly. She was as wrong for him as he was wrong for her. She was cool, he was hot, she was elegant, he was scruffy, she probably held long cold grudges, Doyle lost his temper explosively and then forgot -- and both of them seemed to be wilfully blind to it or else assuming the other one would change. Bodie didn't give a damn about Ann, but Doyle was going to get hurt. He was trying to find words to explain this all to Cowley.
The other man had waited a moment, but as Bodie said nothing further, he said crisply "Never come between a man and his woman, Bodie."
Proverbs. Bodie rolled over, away from Cowley, to lie facing out the other side of the bed. There was cold spreading in his gut. Helpful bloody heterosexual aphorisms were the last bloody thing he wanted right now.
There was a moment's pause, and then the bed shifted slightly and Bodie felt a wiry arm close round him. "Aye, he's your partner. I'm sorry."
Bodie turned, shoving a reciprocal arm round Cowley's waist. "Yeah," he said wearily.
In the morning, nothing was said. Bodie mentioned he'd be going to pick up the automatic camera; Cowley nodded. "When the film's been developed, bring it to me."
Bodie had slept in the back of Cowley's car; Cowley had not slept at all. It was nearly noon before they got Charles Holly and the rest back to HQ and into the interrogation rooms. Doyle was attempting to clear Ann Holly's possible involvement out of the way when there was a noise in the hall outside, and he whipped round and tore out of the door.
From the voices, it was Ann herself; Bodie had moved to the door and was standing by it, his face absolutely expressionless. Then the sound of two people running, and Bodie moved to follow them.
"Bodie!" Cowley snapped. "Just leave them."
"What the hell's going on here?" Charles Holly demanded, evidently having recognised the voice of his daughter.
With quick strides Bodie went to the window, lifted the shades, and looked out. Voices didn't carry, but the muffled sound of a car driving off did. He turned again from the window and went back to the door, jerking it open.
The dark man leant against the side of the doorway, letting out an audible sigh, and turned, then. Cowley met the dark blue gaze. "Yeah, I know, 'never come between a man and his woman'" Bodie said with a kind of weary anger. "What about a man on his own that's taken a bit of stick? Got a proverb for that?" And with that he was gone, the door closed behind him and footsteps echoing away down the hall.
For a moment Cowley sat still as if carved in stone, feeling cold snarling anger like a wolf tearing at him. He got up abruptly, his leg beginning to complain again, and turned to the window. Doyle was standing in the middle of the car park; Bodie had just come out of the building, and went up to him, putting an arm around his shoulders.
Cowley saw Doyle shrug it off, turn and walk away; but he stopped only a few yards off, and Bodie went to him again. They walked away together.
Jealousy. Fierce, bitter, furious, snarling jealousy. Cowley cursed himself silently for a moment, repressing what he felt tightly down and turning back to the interrogation.
It was an hour later that the phone rang in the outer office, and Kirsty said -- just as Cowley was going out the door again -- "It's 3.7 on the phone, sir."
"Cowley," he said briskly.
"I'm at 4.5's flat, sir. When shall I report back?"
"I'll be at HQ until eight o'clock and at my own home after that."
"How is 4.5?"
"How d'you expect?" Bodie asked, and put the phone down.
He had called Cowley briefly when Doyle was out of the room. He had practice in reading the other man's code; this meant, I want to see you this evening.
It was past nine when Doyle finally went to sleep. Bodie had driven him home and spent most of the afternoon pouring booze into Doyle and listening to him. He had gone through the various stages of drunkenness from abusive to maudlin before lack of sleep and too much alcohol eventually caught up with him. Bodie hauled him upstairs to his bed and tucked a blanket over him.
His own car was... back at HQ? Yes, though he hadn't used it since yesterday afternoon. He caught a taxi.
Cowley let him in and went straight back through to the sitting room while Bodie was still hanging up his jacket. With a shrug, Bodie followed.
"How is 4.5?"
"First he blamed you, me, God, and her dad. Then he started blaming himself. Then he went to sleep. Whether he'll still be blaming you and me when he wakes up, I don't know."
"He has no reason to blame either of us," Cowley said crisply.
"Oh yeah?" Bodie leant back against the door. "You sent me to check up on her; I don't suppose he'll forget that."
"It's your job, 3.7."
"My name's Bodie -- remember?"
There was a moment's pause, and then Cowley turned away and limped across to the decanter, pouring himself another glass of whisky.
"You drink too much," Bodie said harshly.
"It's none of your business."
"No, it's none of my business. It's none of my business if you drink yourself to death."
Cowley put the glass down on the table and set his hands flat on the wood, not turning. "Painkillers don't work any more," he said finally, a form of explanation. "They haven't for years."
Crossing the room quickly, Bodie laid an arm around the wiry shoulders of the stubborn, smaller man who had fought a personal battle against pain for over thirty years. Cowley straightened, taking his hands from the table, still standing within the circle of Bodie's arm.
"Aye, well," he said after a brief moment. "D'you want a cup of coffee? Something to eat?"
Bodie shook his head. "Let's go to bed."
Part 3; "Step closer, Love"
Three weeks after Ann Holly had driven out of Doyle's life, he and Bodie were working late in Records. They were trying, probably futilely, to get some sort of lead on one Simon Charteris, who might not be in Britain at all. It was nearly eight when Doyle stood up and stretched. "I'm for some coffee. Want a cup?"
"If I stay here much longer I'm going to fossilise," Bodie said. "I'm finishing this last stack and then I'm off."
"Yeah, me too," Doyle agreed, "but I need coffee."
The nearest coffee machine was down a flight of stairs; as he came back up, he heard Cowley through the door.
"Working late, Bodie?"
"Almost finished for tonight."
"Want to go for a drink?"
"Yeah." Doyle could hear Bodie grinning. "I'll be out in a minute."
As he came through the door, the door on the other side of the room was swinging shut. Doyle sat down on the other side of the table with his coffee as Bodie stood up and began putting his files away.
"You off, then?" Doyle asked, as Bodie reached for his jacket and started to pull it on. Bodie paused and glanced at him. "Yeah. See you tomorrow, sunshine."
Doyle had been expecting Bodie to say "The Cow's asked us out for a drink, are you coming?"; so much so, that he had drunk half his coffee before properly taking in that Bodie had not even mentioned it.
Stacking the files back, he went down the half-darkened stairs and let himself out. Well, he'd take himself for a drink, then. The bar closest to HQ, which was almost a CI5 local, had no familiar red Escort or silver Capri parked outside. In fact, for once, there was no one in the bar he knew at all.
Why had Cowley asked Bodie for a drink, and not Doyle? Well, Cowley might have thought that Doyle had already gone home, but Bodie knew he hadn't. Why had Bodie accepted without including Doyle?
Maybe they were planning to discuss a job Doyle wasn't going to be in on? But in that case, why not Cowley's office?
He bought a second drink and took it back to the table, still puzzling. Cowley didn't buy anyone a drink that often, let alone one of his operatives; except perhaps at the end of a thunderingly successful operation. And they were only in the middle of trying to identify who Simon Charteris was this time, if he was here at all, and anyway, why hadn't Bodie invited Doyle along?
In the weeks since Ann left a Holly-shaped gap in Doyle's life, Bodie had been trying (with all the tact that was in him, Doyle noted with another grin) to keep Doyle thoroughly occupied. There'd been evenings when he'd gone off on his own, but he'd never have - never had before - gone off for a drink after work without Doyle.
This is all a bit childish, Doyle thought, but why didn't they invite me along? He frowned. Maybe Cowley wanted to talk to Bodie about Doyle? Has agent 4.5 recovered from the Holly case? The obvious solution. Doyle went home.
After he'd finished supper - a Chinese takeaway, he couldn't be bothered cooking - Doyle rang Bodie, intending to pump him about what Cowley had said, but he wasn't in. Must have gone out again. If he'd rung earlier he might have caught him.
It took a week to track Simon Charteris down, and they had some small trouble clearing it up. Cowley came out to the airport (to make sure, Doyle commented with a sideways grin at Bodie, that Charteris really was out of the country) and when the plane had lifted off, informed them both that he'd expect them in his office, eight am.
Doyle nodded and, pulling his keys out of his pocket, began to head back to his car. Cowley said briskly to Bodie, "Want a lift?"
"Yeah," Bodie agreed.
Doyle turned and looked after them, frowning.
Cowley had a stack of reports sitting on the passenger seat. Bodie shoved them onto the back seat and grinned as Cowley closed the door. "I'm cooking?"
"No," Cowley said precisely, starting the engine, "but there's probably something in the freezer that you won't be able to muck up."
Bodie went through to the kitchen; Cowley took the reports into the sitting room. Setting the oven and putting a frozen ready-made shepherd's pie in took less than five minutes; he went back to the sitting-room and, seeing Cowley occupied, wandered over to the bookshelves and sat down in the deep armchair that stood within arm's reach.
Most of the books on these shelves were old but in good condition; a few, scattered here and there, were scruffy and battered as if they had been read almost to pieces. Interested - what kind of books did Cowley read to death? - Bodie began pulling the battered ones carefully off the shelves. There was a one-volume Shakespeare, including the sonnets, and another of the Complete Poetical Works of Lord Byron. An especially battered collection of John Donne's poetry, and - Bodie grinned - Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. Further along, there was a whole shelf of Kipling, of which the scruffy volumes were both Jungle Books, Kim, and Stalky & Co. A couple of Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey novels, The Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night, also seemed to have been read to death. When he noticed the two small volumes of Dumas, The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, Bodie added them to the motley collection.
By the look of them, the books on these shelves were the ones Cowley had acquired a long time ago - before WW2, maybe. He checked inside a copy of Kai Lung's Golden Hours and confirmed it; in the familiar handwriting, George Cowley, 1935. Bodie slid that book back with it's well-cared-for kindred and turned to the battered volumes on the floor.
Or maybe Cowley had bought some of them second-hand. Bodie had to puzzle to make out the name inside Kim - Mark Baccatt? Barratt? but the handwriting became easier by practice with each volume. It was easiest of all to read inside the volume of John Donne, because it was in Cowley's handwriting, clear as print; To Captain Mark Barrett, December 1943.
Bodie glanced over at the desk. Cowley was just setting one report on the completed stack. "Who's Mark Barrett?"
The chair swung round abruptly and Cowley snapped "What?"
Bodie picked up a book and waved it, quirking an eyebrow. "His name's inside all these books."
Cowley took a breath and said quite levelly "He was a friend of mine."
"Mind your own goddamned business, Bodie," the other man barked, and turned back to his desk, opening another report. "If you haven't got anything better to do, go and make me some coffee."
Bodie shrugged and got up. It was time he checked on the shepherd's pie anyway, and at least Cowley had remembered his name was Bodie. When he came back, carrying a couple of mugs of coffee, the other man was still staring at the first page of that report. Bodie set the mug with the sweetened black coffee carefully down at Cowley's elbow, and put his hand on the man's shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry."
Cowley glanced up briefly. "I shouldn't have shouted."
"I'm a nosy bastard." He turned away and went back to the bookshelves, putting his own coffee down and beginning to return the books to where they had come from.
He heard Cowley clear his throat. "Mark died thirty-five years ago." After a moment, the other man left the desk and came over to sit in the chair beside the bookshelves, watching Bodie put the books away.
"You were in the war together?"
"Aye. He was killed at the battle of Camaar. I stopped the bullet in my leg a few months later."
Bodie looked up. "Ah, it wasn't the Spanish Civil War, then?"
"Everyone says around the Squad that you hurt your leg in the Spanish Civil War..." Bodie's voice trailed off. Cowley was, almost, laughing.
"You're a load of bloody dramatists. I was still at school."
At a loose end, Doyle rang Bodie's flat and got no answer. He must have gone out for the evening. He wished Cowley hadn't given Bodie a lift home; if Doyle had driven him back, they could have talked over the Charteris case and arranged to go out for a drink.
Why had Cowley offered Bodie a lift? Doyle could perfectly well have run Bodie back to his flat. Thinking back, over the past two or three months, it seemed to have become a regular thing. Which was as strange as Cowley asking Bodie out for a drink.
Doyle frowned. This was pointless. He went through to the kitchen half of the living room and began to put a meal together. Unlike Bodie, Doyle enjoyed cooking, when he had time for it.
But the thought remained, as he chopped the vegetables and the bacon and stirred the rice. Cowley and Bodie, friends? OK, so Cowley had always had a soft spot for Bodie - let him get away with stuff anyone else would be stamped into the ground for trying, always had - but suppose it was more than that? Maybe when Cowley offered Bodie a lift they went off for a drink together? Wonder what they talk about - what the hell have Bodie and Cowley got in common?
Well, the Army, but he couldn't imagine that for a regular drinking subject. Doyle heaped rice on his plate, added the stir-fried vegetables and meat, and sat down to it, taking the wine from the fridge and pouring himself a glass. He ate desultorily and drank with more concentration.
He was nearly at the end of the bottle when he thought, Maybe Cowley's grooming Bodie for succession to Controller? Doyle spluttered with amusement. Nah, you needed diplomacy as well as intelligence, and Bodie was never diplomatic. Or maybe (Doyle grinned) they're having a mad passionate affair.
Nah, he couldn't imagine Cowley having it off with anyone. Anyway, he didn't think the boss was Bodie's type - though mind you, all he knew for sure about Bodie's male predilections was that he wasn't Bodie's type.
He lay back and laughed, finishing off the wine with a flourish. "You've had too much to drink, sunshine," he said out loud. "Time for bed."
But the thought stuck with him. Not in working hours, for the most part; one look at Cowley and he could see exactly what a ridiculous idea it was. He thought about asking Bodie, once or twice, when they were out for a drink together in the evenings, but refrained. Bodie would die laughing and then hit Doyle, or hit Doyle and then die laughing.
From that evening when he had found out about Mark Barrett, Bodie had in the back of his mind the project of trying to discover more about him. Unfortunately, the avenues of exploration were limited. There were the Army lists, of course, from which he found out that Mark Barrett, born May 1921, had enlisted at the beginning of the war. He had been made second lieutenant in 1940, first lieutenant in 1941 - just a month before Cowley had enlisted, as Bodie discovered from the next volume of the lists. He had been promoted to captain in December 1943, and six months later he had been killed. That was as much as the Army lists could tell him; and though Bodie had contacts in that regiment through which he could find out more, that would undoubtedly, eventually, come to Cowley's notice.
In fact, there was nothing further he could find out about Mark Barrett that wouldn't eventually bring Bodie's investigations to Cowley's notice. Bodie grinned to himself; the direct route appealled to him anyway.
Doyle waved a hand in front of his face. "What are you standing there smirking to yourself about?"
"There was this air hostess - " Bodie said smugly, only to be interrupted by Kirsty.
"All right, he's free. You can go in now."
By the look on Cowley's face, his leg was hurting him. Nothing Doyle would notice; a slight compression of the jaw muscles, a tightening of the lines about his eyes. "Morning, sir," Bodie said impassively, and Doyle echoed him more cheerfully.
"Good morning, 3.7, 4.5. 3.7, do you still have a contact with the weapons traders?"
"Yes, sir." Bodie cocked an eyebrow. "Someone been exporting something they shouldn't?"
With controlled exasperation, Cowley shoved a handful of photographs across the desk. "Look at these."
They'd been taken on ordinary Instamatic film, by the look of them; but the subjects were anything but ordinary. Bodie heard Doyle breathe in, sharply; and said out loud, to cover it, "Napalm?"
"Where were these taken?"
"We don't know. They were posted in Islington late Wednesday. They arrived at the Minister's office yesterday morning, and he called me immediately. The envelope and the film have both been analysed, without any useful information resulting, except that the photographs were taken recently."
The photographs were of animals; a couple of horses, several large dogs. All of them were dead; at least, any animal lover would have hoped so. They had been burnt, horrifyingly; some of them were still burning. The background of the photographs showed only the anonymous concrete of any holding area anywhere in the world.
"God," Doyle said at last. "Someone's importing napalm?"
"It's possible," Cowley said grimly. "Check it out, both of you. Report back soonest. I sent 2.4 and 1.8 out to Islington, but if the envelope was posted from there I don't suppose that's where the napalm is."
Once outside, Bodie shoved Doyle towards the duty room. "You go and get some coffee for the both of us - I'll ring Marty." You didn't get used to the sight of what napalm did to a living body, but Bodie had seen it before, and not in photographs. Doyle hadn't.
When he came back from a brief conversation with Martell, Doyle was sitting with his coffee untouched in front of him, staring down at it. He glanced up as Bodie sat, and said, "Terrorist group?"
"Probably," Bodie shrugged.
"Why did they send that collection of photos?"
"Exhibitionist terrorist group?" Bodie grinned. "I'm meeting Marty at twelve o'clock. He said not to bring you."
"Eh?" Doyle frowned. "Why not?" He sounded affronted, and Bodie grinned again, pleased at having distracted him.
"Well, actually, what he said was 'Don't bring that curly-haired ex-cop with you this time.' I don't think he likes you," Bodie added mournfully, and drank his coffee.
"Where are you meeting him?"
"Does he have something against the indoors?"
"Yeah. It's harder to bug the great outdoors." That and that running into an old friend on a cross-river ferry or in Kew gardens could be considered coincidence, if anyone happened to have either of them under observation. This was second nature for Martell.
In the car (Doyle's) Doyle said abruptly "Is it safe you going to meet this guy on your own?"
"What? Marty?" Bodie shrugged. "Look, I wouldn't say that Marty wouldn't kill me, if he thought he had to - but he's a pro. He'd do it right. And it wouldn't be some time when he'd just made an appointment to meet me." He slouched more comfortably, and added "Nah. Long distance target shooting, that's the way Marty would kill someone."
"He couldn't be involved in this napalm import business?"
Bodie fell silent, thinking it over. "I doubt it. Marty does guns, not chemical weapons. He thinks they're messy."
Some time later, strolling through the autumn gardens, Martell said just that. "But, my dear chap, you know I don't deal with napalm and so on. So messy. A pro keeps it simple."
"I know," Bodie agreed. "But you do have connections with people who do."
"Perhaps," Martell conceded. "Off the record, Bodie - perhaps."
"How about keeping your ear to the ground, for a while?"
Martell sighed. "For goodwill again, dear chap?"
"Goodwill," Bodie agreed, grinning. "If we wanted to, y'know, we could easily prove you were involved in some not quite legal gun-running."
Martell looked resigned, correctly identifying the situation Bodie was referring to. "Ah, that was a mistake, Bodie. I was doing a favour for a friend. If I'd known what the cargo was, I wouldn't have touched it myself."
"I'm sure," Bodie agreed. "It'll sound very convincing, when you've polished it a bit more."
They walked on round the circuit, exchanging news about various mutual acquaintances; Kramer was keeping a bar in Minneapolis, would you believe it? and Morley - not Neil, Neil was dead now, John Morley - had settled down with a wife and three kids in Kenya. Gregory was in South America, and doing very nicely for himself. "He asked to be remembered to you, Bodie. Said if you ever need a job, there'll always be a place open for you."
Bodie glanced around him, at the peaceful autumn day. "Won't be for a while."
They had reached Martell's car, and shook hands formally. "Remember, if you do hear anything...?"
"I'll pass it on," Marty said.
"Great." Bodie turned back across the gardens to the gate where Doyle was parked waiting for him.
Cowley hauled them both into his office when it was past seven o'clock; he was tapping the desk as he listened to their essentially negative reports. "One thing, sir," Bodie added. "Those photographs. Why were they sent?"
"To convince us this group, whoever they are, mean business," Cowley said testily.
"Was there a note enclosed? A threat? A demand?"
Cowley shook his head, watching Bodie intently. "It could be the first stage in a gradual build-up of terror."
"Yeah, it could," Bodie agreed, frowning. "But those photos didn't look like they'd been posed for effect. I was wondering if maybe someone in the group's got a conscience about what they're planning?"
The older man snorted. "A terrorist with a conscience?"
"Napalm's not nice stuff," Bodie said with a twisted, edged grin. "I've known mercs with no qualms about gunning people down not use firejelly."
"We've been working on the import angle all day," Doyle said. "But look here, sir; napalm's just jellied petroleum. Maybe not the kind of stuff you'd brew up in your back garden, but not that difficult to make. Suppose someone's manufacturing it?"
"Mphm," Cowley said thoughtfully. "3.7?"
"Yeah," Bodie agreed, "it's possible."
"It still doesn't give us much of an angle, though." Cowley's fingers recommenced their drumming on his desk. "All right, off home with the pair of you. I'll see you in my office, eight am sharp."
"Yes, sir," Doyle said, pushing himself to his feet, echoed a moment later by Bodie. They were out of the door and half-way down the corridor when Bodie realised, with loud, public annoyance, that he'd forgotten to include the notes of his conversation with Marty with his report.
"The Cow'll kill you," Doyle said cheerfully.
"Nah, what I'll do is tuck them in the end of my report." Bodie glanced at his watch. "He might not have got around to reading mine yet - might not bite my head off."
"You'll be lucky," Doyle prophesied gleefully, and leant back against the wall of the corridor as Bodie headed back to Cowley's office. He was back inside five minutes, unscathed, grinning. "He was tut-tutting over all your spelling mistakes," he told Doyle cheerfully. "Wanted to know where you'd gone to school."
"He knows - " Doyle said unwarily, and Bodie thumped him on the shoulder.
He was whistling, offkey, all the way down the stairs. In the doorway, Doyle asked "Coming out for a drink tonight?"
Bodie shook his head. "Nah. I'm staying in. Might get some serious sleeping done."
"Want a lift back to your place?" Doyle had his keys out already, but Bodie shook his head.
"Don't bother, sunshine. I'll get a taxi."
Later that night, when Doyle, calling himself every kind of over-imaginative idiot, phoned Bodie's flat, he got no answer, though he let the phone ring for several long minutes. And he hadn't seen Bodie catch that taxi.
Once inside the house, Bodie put his arm firmly around Cowley, supporting most of the weight of his bad side and neatly removing the briefcase from Cowley's hand. "Your leg's been killing you all day, hasn't it?"
It had, but Cowley made no answer. He accepted Bodie's help over to the couch, though, and, shrugging off his coat, lay down with a grunt of relief. "I need to read through 2.9's report, and 1.8 and 2.4's, tonight."
"I'll get them," Bodie said briskly, stepping through to the hall with his jacket and Cowley's coat and bringing back the case. "Supper?"
"Freezer or fridge," Cowley said economically, opening the briefcase and starting on Murphy's report. Bodie went through to the kitchen.
He came back after a few minutes, and went to the windows to draw the curtains before switching on the centre light. Cowley glanced over at him when he sat down on the chair by the bookshelves, looking oddly rueful.
"Mrs Adler left salad in the fridge for one, and lasagne in the oven, also for one. I put a couple of potatoes on to bake, and I could scramble some eggs - "
"I daresay," Cowley murmured dryly.
The other man grimaced. "I can cook eggs."
Cowley went back to Murphy's report. He vaguely heard Bodie shifting in his seat, and then stillness; and when he glanced up again, turning to Blake's report, the man was reading. You never quite got to the end of Bodie; from the way he talked most of the time you'd think the only thing he read was page 3 of the Sun, but here he was reading for choice - what?
"What are you reading?"
Bodie did not look up. "The Three Musketeers," he said absently.
"Are you enjoying it?"
"I'd forgotten how funny it was," Bodie said, eyes still on the page, grinning to himself. "Hysterical historical."
Silence fell again, only the mellow ticking of the clock and the occasional suppressed snicker from Bodie disturbing the peace of the room. Edding's report joined Blake's and Murphy's; this time, though, when he looked across at Bodie the man was sitting looking at him, holding the book in one hand as if he had half-forgotten it. Deliberately, seeing Cowley's eyes on him, he looked down at the title page where Mark had scrawled his name. "What was he like?"
I should have thrown the books out with the snapshots. "What d'you mean?" Cowley barked.
"Well..." Bodie shrugged, "what did he look like?"
"Five foot eight, fair hair, blue eyes..." Cowley began to rap out a military description, but trailed off, remembering with cursed vividness. "He used to crack his knuckles, drove me crazy."
Bodie stood up and came across the room, sitting down quite casually on the floor by the couch. Drawing back from memory, Cowley snapped "Why do you want to know?"
"I was wondering if he looked like me," Bodie said quietly, but there was enough expression in his voice to read. Wondering... worrying?
He was quite close, though not touching, just sitting, and his eyes were dark blue. Cowley reached out to touch and hold the back of Bodie's neck with one hand. "No," he said quite truthfully, "he was nothing at all like you."
Bodie leant forward, planting an elbow on the couch, and kissed him. He stayed there, leaning over Cowley, hesitating a moment as though expecting a reprimand, and kissed him again, slower this time. He pulled back, one hand on Cowley's shoulder, stroking him through the thin silk with his thumb. "Did you love him?"
He was still clasping the back of Bodie's neck, and let his hand curve upwards into the feathery hair. "We never talked about it," he said thoughtfully. "It sometimes seems, after so long, as if we never - really - talked at all. You asked what he was like, Bodie; I could tell you every damned mannerism he had, I could tell you what he read, what plays he wanted to see, what his favourite food was, why he liked Bach rather than Beethoven, but what he was like? He's dead." Cowley's voice trailed off again. He was remembering, more vividly than he liked, both an early morning when Mark had been shot and another early morning, far more recent, when Bodie had been running with a bomb strapped to his chest and Doyle racing after him, and himself, trapped with a gammy leg, unable to do anything but stand with a stiff face and wait. Even if Bodie had been killed, Cowley could have said nothing, done nothing, that he would not have done for any other agent; send a CI5 wreath to his funeral. And, if there was nothing more vital to be done that day, even go and stand by the grave.
No, not even that; Bodie had requested cremation. Bodie was still leaning over him, hand warm on his shoulder, vital and alive, and he could feel the pulse in his neck. "Aye, I loved him," Cowley said baldly. "But he's long dead." He felt a shiver go up the other man's neck, though his hand and face were still. "What are you thinking, man?"
Bodie grinned, but sounded rueful. "I was wondering why you want me, if it's not because I remind you of Mark."
"You're very attractive," Cowley said, "and you know it."
"Yeah," Bodie agreed, not smugly, "but you're not the type to fall for a pretty face. Might have been why you wanted me the first time, but it's not why you wanted the rest."
"Ach, I don't know," Cowley said, but it was prevarication, and he was honest enough to admit it. "All right, two reasons. I know you; I know I can trust you. And I don't know you, because you're the most consistantly unexpected man I've ever met."
Bodie cocked an eyebrow. "That right, is it?" he said slowly. His thumb started moving against the shoulder-muscle again. "Yeah, well, I had a mixed upbringing." He half-shrugged again, eyes still on Cowley. "You already know most of it."
"Hardly," Cowley answered dryly. "You have one of the sparsest records in CI5, Bodie. I have practically no information on you before you joined the Merchant Navy at the age of what you claimed was fifteen, and very little for the eight years you spent in Africa."
"I didn't know that." Bodie grinned crookedly, but fell silent, his face abruptly sombre to grimness. "I've wondered a few times what would have happened if my mum hadn't died when I was nine," he said after a while. "Y'see, my dad caught me in bed with my best mate when I was fourteen. He was a Jehovah's Witness. Dunno if my mum was, or if she just went along to keep the peace. I thought she didn't believe the way he did, but we never really got a chance to talk about it. My father believed all right. He threw us both out of the house, and when we went round to Kev's home he was already on the phone telling Kev's parents what I'd done to their son. Kev was thirteen, and I was big for my age - expect it sounded quite possible I'd corrupted the innocent lad." Bodie grimaced. "For the record, I hadn't. We'd been jerking each other off for years. So they took Kev in and they told me to go back to my dad, and I couldn't think of anywhere else to go. So I went back," Bodie's voice slowed, and he was speaking with difficulty now, "and my father took me in and prayed over me and explained that what I'd done was worse than murder. I couldn't see why - always was an argumentative sod - and he got a bit vocal and then a bit violent. Hit me with his belt a few times. Eventually he locked me up in my room, explained to me he'd rather have a murderer for a son than a pervert - Christ!" Bodie nearly choked on a snarled laugh, "when I got back from Africa I nearly looked the bastard up just to tell him that now he'd got both."
"I've met a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses," Cowley admitted with distaste. "So then you left home?"
"I climbed out the window and hitched a lift to London and joined the navy," Bodie said tersely. "No one found it difficult to believe I was fifteen. Haven't seen the bastard since."
Two boxes had originally been left blank on the personnel form Bodie had filled in; Religion: and Next of Kin:. When Cowley had informed the newest recruit that some reply, even if 'none', was required for the first, and some name legally required for the second, the ex-SAS sergeant had scowled and scrawled in 'born-again atheist', and (with grudging permission) his new employer's name.
"Mark called himself an atheist," he said thoughtfully.
"He read John Donne, which I wouldn't expect an atheist to appreciate."
"Oh, an atheist could," Bodie said reasonably. "Why worry about what you don't believe in? I believe in God; who is a malign thug."
Every Presbyterian bone in Cowley's body prompted him to rap out a reprimand for blasphemy; he bit it back only on the knowledge that if he did, it would change what was happening. "You don't believe that."
"You ever read that book of Donne's you gave Mark?"
"Remember one of those holy sonnets, the one that begins 'Batter my heart, three person'd god,'?" Bodie inquired.
Cowley nodded, frowning.
"Lovely sonnet. Celebrates god the rapist. Supper's burning." Bodie stood up abruptly, adding "Coming through to the kitchen, or want to eat in here?"
His leg had stopped complaining. Cowley set both feet carefully on the floor and stod up, cautiously. It hurt, but not unbearably. "The kitchen."
Bodie shook his head, planted one hand firmly on Cowley's chest, and pushed him gently back down. "Forget it. I'll enjoy my supper a lot better if you're not putting yourself through purgatory to get yours."
The other man turned round at the door and grinned, ironically amused. "Just a figure of speech. Thought you'd prefer it to masochism."
He came back with the food (the lasagne was slightly charred); settled Cowley's meal on a tray on the small table, and sat down on the floor, leaning against the couch, to eat his.
After a moment, about to eat a forkful of Bodie's scrambled egg, Cowley tapped his shoulder. "What was that you said about masochism, Bodie?"
The other man turned, and a sudden delighted grin flickered across his face as Cowley chewed, swallowed, and looked startled. "Told you I could cook eggs," he said smugly.
"You surprise me."
"Do my best," Bodie murmured. Turning his gaze back to his own plate, he added neutrally; "Meant it, though."
They finished the meal in silence. Cowley watched the set of Bodie's shoulders, leaning comfortably back against the couch, and the dark head tilted slightly to one side. Nothing at all like Mark. Mark's eyes had been washed-out blue, nearly colourless; hair so blond it looked almost grey; an angular face that Cowley could no longer remember clearly. He did remember that for all Mark's pale looks, he had never seemed faded, even asleep; only when he was dead had he looked ashy, washed- out, washed away. Mark had been twenty-three when he was killed; it was strange to think that he had been eight years younger than Bodie was now.
"You go to church on Sundays," Bodie said, setting the plates aside. "We've had to fetch you out a couple of times."
"And if I do? What do you believe in, Bodie?"
"Me," Bodie said promptly. "I was born, and I'll die, and that's all anyone can be certain of - and if there is a God, he's a divine thug."
"Your father's God."
Bodie brooded on that in silence for a while. "The Witnesses cram their kids full of stuff from the Bible, Jehovah thundering on this and complaining on that and generally acting like a spoilt brat," he said eventually. "But if there is a God, and he's running this world, then either he's a malign thug or else he doesn't know what the hell he's doing."
It was hard to argue with that, knowing what Bodie had seen - what Cowley himself had seen. Mark had argued his atheism logically, which had been easier to counter.
"What do you believe in? Apart from church on Sundays?"
Cowley hesitated. "I don't suppose the prophet Micah was ever read much at Witness services," he said precisely, "but since you ask; 'And what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?'"
Bodie's head turned sharply, showing surprise for an instant, but then he grinned and said blandly "Can't imagine you walking humbly with anyone." But he had reached out for Cowley's hand and covered it with his, even as he looked away again.
For the first time, Cowley leant and kissed the back of Bodie's bent neck; he saw the edge of the taut mouth curl up. "Tired?"
"No," Cowley said dryly. "Let's go to bed."
It was three days later that Marty rang, when Doyle was on the late night watch with Bodie. He picked up the phone, being nearer. "I want Bodie," a voice he recognised said without preliminary.
Doyle passed the phone over, mouthing "Martell."
Bodie nodded, propping the receiver between his ear and his shoulder. "Hello, Marty, how's it going?"
After that for a long while he said nothing, beyond "Uh huh," and "Right," and once, sharply, "What?" Doyle reached at one point for the second phone, to be hastily gestured down by Bodie.
Towards the end of the conversation he said, exasperated. "Marty, I know you can take care of yourself. But CI5 can -- " A pause, and then, "OK, OK. I'll tell my boss. Keep in touch." He put the receiver down with a sharp click, and looked at Doyle. "Sorry. But if Marty thought someone else was listening, he'd have clammed up."
"What did he tell you?"
Bodie sighed. "More than we knew. But nothing good."
"You did tape it, didn't you?" Doyle asked, seized by sudden doubt.
The look Bodie gave him was a masterpiece of much in little. "Yeah, 'course."
"So let's hear it."
The tape was replayed again the next morning in Cowley's office. He listened intently, frowning; when Martell said "But there definitely is a napalm dump," and Bodie snapped "What?" he glanced across the desk at the other man, chilly blue eyes impassive.
The tape ran into silence and Cowley switched it off. After a moment, Bodie stirred and said "Well -- at least we know there is a problem."
"Ach, I knew that from the start, Bodie," Cowley snapped. "This is all hearsay -- rumour. Your friend's heard talk about what may possibly be a new group operating in Britain, that might be backed by an individual fortune -- he doesn't even know if they're Irish, African, or Japanese! The only useful information is these two names; Roy Garth and Daniel Cross. Are they in Records?"
"Yes, sir," Doyle said promptly. "We looked them up last night. Cross is a small-time hard man, one conviction. Garth's never been inside, but he's been closely involved with a string of right-wing pressure groups."
"They've both belonged to the National Front," Bodie answered; "but at different times, and they're not currently paid-up members."
"Neither of them likely to be running a show like this?"
Doyle shrugged. "Not likely, sir; both of them are followers, not leaders. Besides, Cross doesn't have the brains for it."
"We can't afford to let them know we're onto them," Cowley muttered, fingers tapping. "But we have to find out more before we can risk making a move at all." Coming to a decision, he nodded to the other two. "Put them both under discreet surveillance. Don't let either of them so much as suspect they're being watched. And we'd better give Martell protection -- "
"Ah," Bodie interrupted, "that's not so simple. He doesn't want it."
"What he might want is irrelevant -- " Cowley said sharply, and broke off.
"If Martell gets rattled, we won't get anything more out of him."
"If he's killed, we won't get anything either."
"Marty can take care of himself."
"That's what I'm worried about, 3.7," Cowley said glacially.
Nevertheless, no operative was assigned to Martell; and Doyle, with Bodie, spent another few days carefully keeping an eye on Garth and Cross, and following up all their visitors. A few were to be found in Records, but none seemed likely to be central to the group.
Grumbling, Cowley assigned more operatives to the names being turned up; it was dull and fruitless work, and Doyle had plenty of time to think, staring absently sometimes at Bodie's profile against the window of the car. He could conceive of Bodie going to bed with the devil himself, if he felt like it and the devil was willing; but George Cowley? It was inconceivable, except that he had thought it. It was implausible in the extreme, except that the idea refused ever to be completely set out of mind, It was... not impossible.
Just highly unlikely, and his own fault for letting the stupid idea ever enter his head. He meant never to mention it.
Late one afternoon, though, when Bodie was giving him a lift back to his flat, his partner asked abruptly "What's eating you, Ray?"
"You've been on edge for a week, what's bothering you?"
The car drew up outside Doyle's flat and he opened the door, ready to get out. Well, might as well ask him. Try to get out of reach while he's laughing before he can hit me.
"You've been spending a lot of time with Cowley lately."
Doyle slid his legs out of the car, ready to run. "Not having an affair, by any chance?"
Bodie was staring at his hands gripping the steering wheel. Not laughing; not thumping him. Doyle swung his legs back inside, closed the door, and leant his head back against the seat. There was silence for a couple of minutes, and then Doyle let out a long breath. "Oh, Christ. You are, aren't you."
"I don't want to talk about it," Bodie said, still looking at the wheel; hard and level, the words evenly spaced.
Doyle shook his head, almost helplessly. "You've got to -- but not here. Come in for a drink."
"I don't want a drink," Bodie grated, "and I don't want to talk about it."
"You have to talk about it, sunshine -- to me or Security."
"You wouldn't do that," Bodie snarled, turning to glare at him.
Doyle was silent, then "Don't make me have to." Another pause.
Part 4; "The ruined years"
There was a pause; and then Doyle got out of the car and Bodie followed him, into the block of flats and up the stairs, his mind turning on one constant point; his partner knew. After three months, his partner knew. The bastard. I wouldn't have threatened him with Security, no matter who he was sleeping with. He could see the tension and anger in Doyle, and shoved his hands deep into his pockets. He must not be provoked into hitting Doyle. Must not.
When Cowley knows -- Bodie followed Doyle into his flat and kicked the door shut behind him. The moment it had closed, Doyle rounded on him. "Spill it, Bodie."
"What do you want to know? What details can't your perverted imagination supply?"
"You know me better than that," Doyle snarled. "I want to know what the fuck you're playing at." He was spitting fury; Bodie did not want to face him down. It would come to a fight, and it wasn't worth it. Doyle didn't know yet, but it was finished. The other man was advancing on him; rather than turn his back, Bodie sidestepped and went into the living room. He went over to the window, staring out into the street, not seeing it.
He heard Doyle come in after him. "Don't clam up on me, Bodie. I'm your partner."
Not any more. You were, but not any more. Bodie had a lot of practice in tearing up a life and starting again, but it was still, inevitably, shattering. The street outside was darkening; the sun was already behind the houses.
"I never expected you to buck for promotion via the casting couch," Doyle jabbed at him, trying to provoke a reaction, Bodie noted distantly. He was under orders not to talk about it, but that didn't really matter now. The damage had been done. And he'd wanted to talk; in more than three months, he hadn't, not even to Cowley.
"It's not like that, Ray," he said at last, to his faint reflection in the glass. "Maybe at first I did need some sort of hold on him, needed to know he wouldn't pull the trigger. But it's much more than that. I don't have to remember the name I gave the night before, or what branch of the civil service I said I worked for, or think up a reason why it's just a one-night stand."
He sounded flat and tired, even in his own ears, and Doyle, when he next spoke, was gentler. "I can understand that. But if it has to be a man, and within CI5 then -- " Bodie could almost hear him shrugging " -- there have to be other alternatives."
Bodie swung round. "Are you offering your services as a substitute?" he jeered viciously. "Fuck off," he added, exactly as Doyle snapped "Fuck off -- "
They shared a sudden grin, acknowledging identical patterns of thought, as so many times before, and Doyle said more lightly "There's a lot of things I'll do for my best mate, but that's not one of them." He hesitated, but then he asked "But why Cowley?"
"Because he knows who I am and what I am." Bodie looked Doyle straight in the eye. "And because I like him."
Doyle glanced away, slightly embarrassed. "That I don't understand. Don't suppose I would regardless of who it was." He shrugged, and moving back to the cupboard where he kept the bottles, added "Come on, sit down; have a drink."
Automatically, Bodie glanced at his watch. There was a little time left. He sat down, accepting the glass Doyle passed him and taking a perfunctory sip.
"Are you happy?"
Doyle sat down. "So you'll finish it."
"You have to -- use your head, Bodie! A scandal like this could wreck CI5, not to mention destroying Cowley."
Bodie's hand clenched tighter, around the glass. "Cowley's safe enough," he said, a rough edge to his voice. "He told me when it started that if anyone else found out, it would be over."
"So you will be finishing it?"
"Weren't you listening to me? If anybody found out, and that includes you, Doyle -- it's already finished."
Doyle stared, frowning. "What are you going to do?"
"Oh, I dunno. South America, probably. I'm not going back to Africa."
"Is there something wrong with your hearing? It's over. I'm out of CI5."
"Because you know. Cowley said that if anyone else knew I'd be looking for a new job. So I'm out. Got it now?"
"I'm not just anyone else." Doyle shook his head. "I'm your partner. I wouldn't tell anyone."
There was a peculiarly nasty grin on Bodie's face for a moment. "What was that you said about talking to Security?"
"Ah, look, Bodie -- " Doyle sighed. "I was angry and I wanted to get you to listen to me. And nobody would believe me anyway."
Bodie set the glass down on the table. "Am I meant to take that as some sort of insult?"
The other man shrugged. "I was thinking about it for more than a fortnight and I didn't believe it. I wouldn't have believed it except that you didn't hit me and you didn't laugh, when I asked you."
"Shit!" Bodie said explosively, and laughed. "Christ, Ray -- "
"Yeah," Doyle was grinning. "OK, Bodie, I'll give you this; so long as no one else but me works out what's going on, there's no security risk. And I don't see how anyone else but me could work it out. And I'm not going to tell anyone."
The smile left Bodie's face; he looked grim again. "Makes no difference. I'll have to tell Cowley that you know."
"Why?" Doyle demanded. He got nothing but a wooden look from Bodie, and groaned. "I'm not going to tell anyone. I'll never mention it again, not even to you, if you'd sooner I didn't. So what difference does it make?" When Bodie remained stonyfaced and silent, Doyle exploded, "Christ, Bodie, anyone would think you wanted to leave!"
Bodie shrugged. "Sunshine," he said more gently, "I'm an expert at leaving. People. Things. Places. I've had enough practice. I wasn't expecting this to last forever."
"We've been partners three years, Bodie, doesn't that mean something?"
"It means you can tell when I'm lying. And I'm not. Not to you, and not to Cowley."
"What -- now?"
Bodie glanced at his watch. It was half-past seven. "He's picking me up at eight."
Doyle was sitting still as stone, now, a bewildered look half of anger and half of misery on his face. "And that's it?"
"Very probably," Bodie agreed. "You know Cowley; never goes back on his word."
"We're right in the middle of an job."
"So he may save firing me till we're finished. Either way, I'll see you tomorrow." Bodie stood up to go; he heard Doyle make an abortive move -- to prevent him leaving, to snatch him back, but he closed his ears to it and went out the door and down the stairs and drove away.
Back in his own flat, he sat down in one of the chairs in the living room and leant his head back, closing his eyes. True, he hadn't expected it to last forever. He'd just hoped for longer, for a better reason to finish it than Raymond Doyle's being all too observant.
He should really tell Cowley the moment he arrived. Better for Cowley, better for him. And never again the night spent with the wiry, compact man with certainty amd authority in all he did. Never. It disturbed him more than he had thought.
The buzzer went; ten past eight. Cowley. All the way down the stairs Bodie was preparing and discarding opening lines "Hello, sir. Permission to report, agent 4.5 knows about us." -- "Doyle worked out what's been happening between us." -- or even simply "Bye, George." He had never called Cowley George.
The car door was open; Bodie got in and automatically slammed it shut. Cowley drove off. Bodie came suddenly and finally to a decision. He'd tell Cowley tomorrow morning. It couldn't make any difference, and they'd have one last night.
"Going to be working tonight?"
Cowley shook his head wearily. "We're stalled. Completely bloody stalled."
Bodie shut up. Somewhere in Britain (probably but not absolutely certainly in the south of England) there was a dump of jellied petroleum. Somewhere, sometime, it was going to be used. People would go up like torches. And they had no way to find it, no way at all.
Glancing sideways, taking in for the last time the blue eyes and set face, Bodie saw a tense bitterness, as though Cowley were tasting failure in advance. Setting the loss aside, Bodie started to talk. He talked, with determination and without much response from Cowley, about current CI5 gossip about Julia Carter and Brian Macklin, about the rumour that CI5 were covering the next Royal Ascot because Princess Anne was so worried about her horses, about the weather, and finally, in desperation, plunged into the football results, before Cowley cracked a grin. "Shut up, Bodie."
"Yes, sir," Bodie murmured politely, glancing sideways with a grin of his own.
Cowley turned into his driveway and stopped. "Is that a fact, about Macklin and Carter?"
"I think so," Bodie said, firmly keeping a sober face. He didn't know if _ Cowley knew about Carter's sobriquet, More Deadly Than The Male.
"Brave man," Cowley muttered, and got out of the car. He did.
Bodie hesitated a moment before following the other man into the house, but only a moment; he was inside the familiar hall. This was the last time. Automatically, he shrugged off his own coat, took Cowley's, and hung them both up.
He could never remember what they had talked about that evening, though he remembered other details vividly and clearly. He thought he had been charming; he knew that he had been withdrawn. He caught Cowley's eyes on him, once or twice, questioning.
They had sat talking over supper, as often before, until five to ten, when, as usual, they had gone back through to the sitting room for the news. Bodie sat down on the couch, and Cowley switched the tv on and sat down next to him. Just as usual, Bodie's arm went round his shoulders. Just as usual, and never again. He was not aware what the news had been.
The credits were scrolling up the screen. "What's wrong with you?" Cowley asked abruptly.
Bodie came back to himself, and shook his head.
"Come on, man, what's wrong?"
He shook his head again. "Nothing that can't wait till morning."
Having admitted so much, he half-expected Cowley to dig further, to uncover it all, but the other man sat there, inside the curve of his arm, looking at him and frowning. Icy-blue his eyes were, and chilling, as they seemed to rake through him. He closed his eyes, and heard Cowley ask "Tired?"
"No." Bodie shook his head a third time, opening his eyes again and looking at the wiry, compact man he held. "Let's go to bed."
When Bodie walked out, leaving his drink all but untasted, for a moment Doyle almost leapt up to grab at him and drag him back, to talk him out of this. He stopped mid-motion, knowing it was pointless. Once Bodie had made his mind up, it was fixed.
After about half an hour of pacing around the flat uncomfortably, unable to settle to anything, he gave up. He might as well go back to HQ and do some overtime, and buy himself a carry-out on the way.
Blake and Eddings, the operatives on the switchboard for tonight, both evidently thought he'd gone crazy, but happily gave him the latest list of names to hunt through Records for. He was on his third cup of coffee when the internal phone signalled, and he picked it up.
"Doyle? We've got a caller on line three. Asking for Bodie. You want to talk to him?"
"Yeah, put him through."
It was Martell, and he wasn't pleased. "I said I wanted Bodie."
"He's not here at the moment," Doyle said with restraint, "but if you want to give me a message I'll see he gets it as soon as possible."
"Look," Martell said, teeth audibly gritting, "I've got no reason to trust anyone in your bloody organisation but Bodie. I have information; places, people, dates." He overrode Doyle's reaction, crisp and sharp; "Either I see him, alone, inside an hour, or I am getting out of here. He'll know where. Tell him it's foxhole time."
"OK," Doyle said desperately, "I'll get him."
"He's got one hour exactly," Martell snapped, and put the phone down.
Doyle glanced at his watch. It was twenty past eleven.
There was no answer from Bodie's flat, and Doyle cursed. The photographs he had seen of the burning animals were vivid in his mind's eye as he tried, without success, the R/T and the car radio. He tried the local "Bodie? No, love, we haven't seen him -- " and dug out of his memory phone numbers of two of Bodie's longest-lasting girlfriends. Jennifer; "No, I wasn't expecting Bodie tonight. I haven't seen him for over a week." Claire; "Bodie? I don't think so..." but she called "Rachel? Bodie didn't call tonight, did he?"
Without waiting for Rachel to answer, Doyle slammed the phone down and looked at his watch again. It was 11:33, and as he watched the minute window changed to :34. There was only one person who could tell him where Bodie was, and Doyle knew it, knew he should have known it from the start as soon as Bodie didn't answer his R/T.
Cowley. If Bodie was already halfway to South America -- With steady hands, though intent with rage, Doyle dialled the familiar number. It rang twice, and the precise Scottish voice answered, sounding just-awake. "Cowley."
They were lying together under the quilt, and Cowley knew Bodie, holding him, was awake. He could feel the tension in the muscles, and there was a faint difference in the breathing. He himself was half-asleep, and not inclined to talk through the night, or he might have tried to get Bodie to admit what had been bothering him all evening. But it could wait till morning, he thought, drifting.
The phone rang. Cowley sat up, leaning across Bodie to switch the light on and pick the phone up, still not quite fully awake. "Cowley."
"Where the hell is Bodie?" Doyle snarled.
In the light from the bedside lamp, Cowley saw Bodie's eyes flick open, wide and dark blue. "What? What are you talking about, 4.5?"
"Look, I've been searching for him all over the place, we've got forty-five minutes before Martell leaves the country, what the hell have you done with Bodie?"
It hit him in that moment, like a blow in the pit of the stomach, a physical wrench. He jerked up, away from Bodie, sitting up on the other side of the bed.
"For Christ's sake if he's there, let me talk to him," Doyle shouted, and then, incongruously, "Sir."
Bodie had pushed himself up as well, now, staring at Cowley, who all but threw the receiver at him, and got out of bed, reaching for his clothes. He could not remember ever having been so shatteringly angry ever before; bitter hurting fury slicing through him, sharp as ice.
He dressed rapidly, with automatic neatness, hearing but not attending to Bodie's voice, barely noting out of the corner of one eye that Bodie was dressing himself as well as he could with the receiver wedged between ear and shoulder. Knotting his tie, he turned back to the bed, just as Bodie said "OK, I'll see you at Hunter's Wharf, in twenty minutes," and slammed the phone back and reached for his shirt.
"Get moving, 3.7," Cowley snapped, and left the room. His jacket was hanging where Bodie had left it, a long time ago. He heard Bodie come tearing down the stairs and left the door open as he went out to the car. The other man was still struggling into his shoulder holster and jacket when he reached the car; as he got in, he muttered "Hunter's Wharf," and Cowley snapped "I heard."
There was silence for the rest of the drive, though not in Cowley's mind. He heard, over and over, repeating in Bodie's casual, sardonic voice; "I screwed the old man last night." Of course he had told Doyle; one of the most successful partnerships Cowley had ever made, the 3.7/4.5 team. Why wouldn't he want to boast "The old bugger's putty in my hands." And he had trusted Bodie; at the back of his head the ironic voice mocked "You'd never believe the old sod can still get it up." They marched through his mind, reiterating over and over, countless ugly phrases, all in Bodie's voice. He felt old.
Old or not, he still had work to do. Speeding through the deserted streets, they made it to Hunter's Wharf in twenty-two minutes; Doyle's car was already parked about a hundred yards from the entrance, and Cowley drew up beside it. Bodie and Doyle slammed out of the cars almost simultaneously; Cowley only a moment or so later.
"It's all clear so far as I can see," Doyle reported crisply.
"I'm going in alone," Bodie said, and went, running, ducking in and out of shadows. Cowley was left staring at Doyle over the roof of his car. When he judged Bodie to be out of earshot, Cowley jerked his head towards the wharf. "Back him up."
Doyle nodded and followed Bodie, equally silent. Cowley leant in to his car radio, calling in the arrangements he had been making in his head, the cooler part of it at least. Ten minutes later, Bodie came back escorting a man who looked like an eminently respectable and successful city businessman. "Martell?"
The man jerked a short nod. "And you're Cowley. CI5." It sounded like another name; in many ways, it was.
"4.5, you'll drive 3.7 and Mr Martell to safe house 9. 3.7 will remain there on guard until further notice. 4.5, as soon as Martell has given us the main locations and names, you'll come back to HQ and report."
"Sir," Bodie acknowledged, seconds before Doyle.
Forrest was at safe house 9 before them; he handed over the keys and Doyle unlocked the door. "You'd better get back to HQ," he added, "there'll be a big op on tonight."
"I was asleep an hour ago," Forrest said tartly. "What's going on?"
Bodie only glowered, ushering Martell into the neatly soulless living room, and Doyle shrugged, following him. "Sooner you get back to HQ sooner you'll find out, won't you?"
Setting up the cassette recorder, his mind focussing down on the details of hand and eye, Bodie was not, definitely and desperately not, thinking about the look on Cowley's face when Doyle had yelled, loud enough for Bodie himself to hear, "What the hell have you done with Bodie?"
"Operative 3.7. Time; 0015 hours. Date; 10th November. Subject; Martell. OK, Marty," Bodie added, setting recorder and microphone on the table in front of the couch where the man had seated himself (back to the wall; Marty never sat with his back to a window or a door) "let's start with places. Where is the main napalm dump located?"
"There are three," Marty said, a glance up at Doyle, standing by the door. Evidently he no more liked the look of the ex-cop now than he had two years ago. "The main one is in a warehouse in Croydon...." He went on; places, names, even a couple of prospective dates set for action.
Doyle interrupted only once. "Who's behind all this?"
"Ostensibly a political terrorist group," Martell said, ignoring Doyle, speaking straight to Bodie. "They have certain demands, certain concessions required of the Government. However, there may be a man behind them who is not so motivated; as I understand it, he simply saw this as a method of making money."
He gave the man's name; both Bodie and Doyle, used as they were to high-level corruption, were conscious of a certain shock. "How do you know all this?"
"An... acquaintance," Martell said, choosing his words precisely, "who has been involved to a certain degree in this affair, came to me wanting an exit from the country. I supplied this, in exchange for the information, which my acquaintance was... quite glad to give, I think. I believe that some photographs had been sent to some ineffective government body earlier."
"We'll need the name of your -- 'acquaintance'," Doyle said, but Martell turned to look at him full on and, very slowly, shook his head.
"Forget it. We've got all the information we need right here," Bodie interrupted. "Better get going."
"Yeah." Doyle snapped the cassette out of the machine and turned towards the hall, jerking his head at Bodie. Hesitating only an instant, Bodie followed him, closing the living room door.
"How's it going?" Doyle asked quietly.
"Your timing stinks, sunshine."
"What -- ?"
"I hadn't told him."
He saw Doyle take that in, as his partner said on a breath, "Ah, Bodie...."
Bodie jerked the front door open. "Get going," he snapped, and as Doyle passed him bit; "He probably thinks I told you, ages ago."
After a minute, he heard Doyle's car roar off outside the closed door, and Bodie went back into the living room. Martell looked up as he came in, opaque eyes fastening thoughtfully on his face; Marty could read people the way most people read books. He had been, until Bodie had met Cowley, the most ruthlessly effective operator Bodie had ever known; but with a rigid, if confined, sense of privacy. He never pried unless there was a profit.
"These houses are kept fully stocked," Bodie said, closing the door. "Want anything?"
"Coffee," Martell said promptly. "Black and bitter. How long are we likely to be here?"
Bodie shrugged. "Until all the people involved have been pulled in and checked up, and the dumps cleared. Three days to a week."
It was four days before they could be certain that every member of the active group was in custody. It was a moment of intense satisfaction for George Cowley when he knew that all of them were in, and before they had even begun to issue their threats. There was also the matter of their financial backer, and that was not so satisfying, because although Cowley would take Bodie's word for it, that didn't necessarily extend to belief in all Bodie's disreputable acquaintances; and the Minister had no reason even to take Bodie's word.
And nor had he, Cowley remembered; for the first four hours all that had kept him going and his usual icy self was the certainty that when this was finished, finished with, he could call Bodie and Doyle, the bloody Bisto Kids, the damned 3.7/4.5 team, into his office, and take immense personal pleasure in firing them both.
Then things grew hectic at CI5 HQ, and he had no need and no time to dwell on anything else but the terrorists being hauled in, in ones and twos, some terrified and ready to talk, some with a fierce fragile shield of bravado that could be shattered, and some that wouldn't talk at all, keeping stubborn silence to the most innocent-sounding questions. They all had to be dealt with, and houses searched, and the results of the searches dealt with, and Cowley had to coordinate and construct his preliminary report to the Ministry.
It was four days before he went to the Minister to report directly; and by that time Cowley knew that the financial backer would have to remain untouched. For the present. His name would go into the CI5 records, and if he tried again they could follow him closer, find some actual evidence. In the meantime, he had no intention of mentioning even the possibility to someone who knew this financial backer personally.
The Minister, not knowing this, was unreservedly pleased, and extended an invitation to dinner at the Club which Cowley refused as politely as a tired man could. Driving home, he wished that he had accepted it; Bodie had sat beside him in this car too often, and the vividness of that memory brought back the other, bitterer memories.
Too tired to eat, Cowley poured himself a measured glass of Scotch and went upstairs to lie down, numbly, on the bed. He folded his arms behind his head and stared up at the ceiling.
It would have given him intense pleasure to fire Bodie and Doyle, but he couldn't do it. Motives had to be examined, his own more closely than any, and he knew that he had been right about Bodie in the first place; the man was no security risk. That he had told Doyle what he had no right to tell him didn't invalidate that, it only bore out the closeness of that partnership, the best partnership Cowley had ever made.
If he fired Bodie, he lost that partnership. On his own Doyle was less than half as good as the two of them put together. And he couldn't justify it by security; Doyle was no more a risk on that score than Bodie himself. If he fired them, either or both, it would be from nothing more than his own hurt pride.
CI5. Cowley's Irregulars. For so long as he was CI5, he had no right to pride. He should have known better than to sleep with Bodie in the first place; having done so, he should never have allowed it to happen again.
The room was darkened, and Cowley was tired, but he still lay there fully dressed and wide awake as evening shadowed into night, putting away from himself what he still -- still -- wanted, and had no right and no real need to have.
Next morning, as soon as he reached his office, Cowley sent out a request for operative 3.7 to see him as soon as possible. Kirsty had the day off -- most of the office staff had been given the day off, to compensate for the intense workload of the past four days -- so his own office was as private as they needed to be.
He had been in precisely eight minutes when there was a knock on the door. "Come in."
Doyle appeared round the edge of the door. "You got a minute, sir?"
Cowley looked at him with cold attention. "Aye."
"It's about Bodie."
Silence. Doyle took a deep breath, hunching his shoulders. "He didn't tell me. I worked it out for myself."
Another silence; Doyle was glaring back at Cowley's icy stare, hands rammed deep into his pockets. "I had to threaten him with Security before he'd tell me anything," Doyle said finally. "He was probably trying to protect you."
"That's none of your business, 4.5," Cowley barked.
Doyle was silent, evidently expecting more, but when Cowley said nothing, he added "Look, this isn't an easy conversation for me either."
Silence. Despite the chilly gaze transfixing him, Doyle said eventually, angrily, "Bodie isn't a security risk, no more than I am. I'm not going to tell anyone. Who'd listen to me? If it'll make you any happier, I'll resign, sir."
Cowley said nothing. Doyle said nothing.
"Are you finished, 4.5?" Cowley inquired frostily at last. "Then get out of my sight."
Doyle shrugged, and turned to go, and turning back to Cowley demanded "Are you going to fire him?"
"That's not your concern, 4.5."
"If you fire him," Doyle snapped, "you've got my resignation."
Silence. Doyle turned away again, reaching the door before Cowley said expressionlessly, "Your resignation won't be required. If 3.7's outside, send him in."
Bodie came in a moment later; though Cowley had prepared himself for it, still the first sight of him was a physical jolt. He kept it out of his face as Bodie came over to the desk and stood in an unconsciously military at-ease.
Bodie spoke first, abruptly; "You want my resignation, sir?"
"No?" For a moment, Bodie's face showed surprise.
"I gave it due consideration," Cowley said with cold precision. "The best interests of CI5 will be served by keeping you on."
There was a look on Bodie's face in the silence that followed that Cowley couldn't interpret. Almost of regret. "That's fine for CI5, but what about you?" the other man asked quietly.
"My feelings are irrelevant, 3.7," Cowley snapped. "And so are yours."
Another silence. "I didn't tell him, sir," Bodie said at last.
"So your partner claimed."
"You don't believe it."
Bodie sounded flat and tired; not disillusioned, but as if he had never had any illusions to lose. "I don't know what to believe," Cowley answered at last, more gently than he had ever intended. "Give me time, Bodie. Now get out."
"This finishes us, doesn't it."
"Of course it does," Cowley answered, just as bleakly. "The only possible excuse was never to be found out. I am CI5 -- I'm irreplacable. I have to be irreproachable." He opened a report, looking down at it, and repeated "Get out."
He heard the door close behind Bodie as the other man left and let out a sharp breath, cursing himself for having ever said 'give me time'; he had meant to stick to 'it's over, get out'. It was over. Cowley's mind still trudged round in weary circles.
Doyle would lie to prevent Bodie from being fired; but Bodie wouldn't bother to lie to escape dismissal, let alone when he'd just been assured he could stay. And what would he gain from lying, if he was lying -- apart from thinking that he could talk Cowley into continuing the relationship? but why would he want to do that? Why did he start it in the first place? (It was the first time Cowley had let himself ask that question; it hadn't appeared important before.)
It hadn't appeared to be important because Cowley had never believed that it would last. Sooner or later Bodie would have walked in the door and told him it was over, or handed in his resignation and gone off to do something else. Bodie had been in CI5 for three years, almost as long as he'd ever stayed anywhere since he was fourteen.
It had been a transient affair, unimportant, soon to be forgotten; on Bodie's part, no doubt, because it simply had never been important to him. (Why had he started it in the first place? Why didn't he just let it drop after the first time?) On Cowley's part because it was essential that he forget as soon as possible what it burnt him to remember.
With prostitutes, with the few brief holiday affairs, forgetting presented no difficulty. Bodie had been the first time since Mark Barrett that Cowley had slept with anyone he worked with. A mistake. Bodie had not let himself be pushed into a small corner of Cowley's personal life, had never been merely a corner of Cowley's working life; and now it was over. It was probably better in the long run that Cowley had said "It's over," before Bodie had decided to finish it, but that did not help at the moment. But it was better, undoubtedly better, that he finish with Bodie. Why had he ever said 'give me time' to Bodie? That held implications of some future, and they had none, had never had one.
He was back at the beginning again. Cowley forced his mind away from the plodding track and started to read the report he had been looking at, and realising that it was one he'd already read. Snapping it back on the Out pile with unnecessary force, he picked up another and bent his mind to it with forcible concentration.
Seeing Bodie come briskly out of Cowley's office, very white about the mouth and going straight past Robin Eddings without a nod or a grin (she had smiled and started to say hello, stopping short and frowning when she realised he hadn't seen her), Doyle was prepared for Bodie to pass him without any sign of recognition, which he did; and Doyle went after him.
Bodie headed out of the building directly to his car, and drove out of the carpark. It was something of an anticlimax when Doyle, rounding the corner at a speed slightly illegal in a built-up area, discovered Bodie had simply parked in this quiet street and was sitting in his car. Doyle drew into the curb a few yards away, and sat still for an instant himself, trying to think of some way to approach Bodie.
By the time he'd reached Bodie's car and rapped on the window, he'd managed to build up a fair head of steam. Bodie glared and looked away; Doyle knocked again, harder this time.
Bodie rolled down the window, clearly not his usual sweet self. "What the fuck d'you want?"
Doyle took an involuntary step back, but leant down to lean through the window, arms resting on the sill, preventing Bodie from closing the window again. "For God's sake, Bodie, will you talk to me? What the fuck's going on?"
"Nothing," Bodie grated.
"Don't give me that. Are you still in CI5?"
Doyle let out a breath of relief. Bodie glanced away, closing his eyes for an instant, staring out of the other window.
"I'm sorry, sunshine," Doyle said quickly. "Look, come on, let's see if we can get some breakfast."
"I ate an hour ago," Bodie said flatly.
"When has that ever stopped you? If you're really not hungry you can watch me eat," Doyle promised, still trying to keep relief and pleasure out of his voice. It was clear Cowley had broken off with Bodie, and that with Bodie still in CI5 was really the best ending anyone could have hoped for; except that Bodie clearly didn't see it that way.
"What about work?" Bodie said, still flat.
"We'll take the R/T." Doyle stood up, careful to give no emphasis to his words; "If he wants us, he can find us." After a moment, Bodie leaned over and opened the passenger door. Doyle grinned an unseen, enormous smile of pure relief and nipped round the car to get in.
They found a quiet hotel overlooking the river, offering breakfast to non-residents. The restaurant was three-quarters empty at this time in the morning. Doyle ordered muesli, croissants, and yoghurt; with coffee for two, as Bodie remained silent.
Not only was he silent, stirring milk into his coffee, he made no effort to steal any part of Doyle's breakfast (though Bodie was known to remark that muesli was God's way of making shredded wheat taste exciting, he wasn't above stealing food from Doyle's plate in the same way as the sea is not above the clouds).
"You OK?" Doyle asked, knowing Bodie wasn't.
Bodie looked up from his coffee. "I will be," he said shortly.
"Did he mean that much to you?" Doyle asked awkwardly.
Looking back down at his cup, Bodie didn't answer that, only "Could we change the subject, Ray?"
"Look, if you need to talk to someone...?"
Bodie glanced back up at Doyle, shook his head, and turned his attention down again to the coffee he wasn't drinking.
Coffee, and early mornings (hours earlier than this) and Cowley sitting opposite from him in his kitchen with the light coming through the eastern window. Why was he still sitting here across from Ray Doyle and not on a plane to South America? Why didn't I resign and get the hell out of here? That was what he usually did. He should have resigned there and then in Cowley's office -- what the hell was he still doing here? Had Cowley convinced him with his 'give me time' that the other man would take him back? Hanging around wasn't Bodie's style.
Why had he kept Bodie on? 'Best interests of CI5' -- was it really in the best interests of CI5 for there to be tension between one of the top operatives and the Controller?
He heard Cowley's precise Scottish voice saying "I am CI5." True enough. Cowley's Irregulars; he'd made them, he practically lived for them. Bodie knew enough about Cowley's personal life to know that there wasn't much of it. He was a lonely man.
Maybe that was why he hadn't fired Bodie; maybe having the other man around, even just an operative, was better than not having Bodie around at all. Bodie's guts twisted as if he had been stabbed; was that why he hadn't resigned, why he wouldn't resign? Because he knew Cowley needed him; or because he needed Cowley?
Whatever the reason, he wasn't leaving. Grinning sourly, Bodie drank his coffee. It was half-cold by this time, of course, and Doyle was looking worried. "Better get back to HQ, sunshine," Bodie said, as lightly as he could, stirring an answering smile from his partner. "Lot of loose ends to clear up."
Part 5; "Show me the face behind your mask"
Loose ends having been cleared up and loose terrorists having been tidied away, the ordinary routine of operations at CI5 seemed like a rest. With an odd guilt flickering away at the back of his mind, Doyle took care not to leave Bodie out of things; they went out on a couple of pub crawls, once with a bunch of other operatives and once just the two of them, the two women Doyle had fixed himself and Bodie up with having let them down.
Arranging double-dates with himself and Bodie was something Doyle hadn't done too often before; Bodie was always so casually certain of his ability to charm any woman that walked. But right now Bodie seemed to have lost his usual enthusiastic approach to the pleasures of life; getting drunk, getting laid, and mouthing off. In fact, Doyle had practically had to nag Bodie into coming along.
They came out of the last pub into the cold night wind and Bodie grabbed at Doyle's shoulder as he staggered. "I'd better drive, sunshine," he said, sounding amused.
"You never bloody show it," Doyle retorted, passing over his car keys.
"Wasn't drinking the half of what you were, either."
"Weren't you?" Doyle was frowning as he got into his car beside Bodie. He'd thought Bodie had been going glass for glass with him, but come to that he couldn't say for sure that Bodie had finished all of them. And that wasn't the idea at all; it had been Bodie who was supposed to get cheerful.
"Got a bottle of wine at home," he offered. "Just the thing to end the evening with."
"If I share a bottle of wine with you, I'm spending the night on your sofa," Bodie said, driving with notable concentration.
"Fine with me," Doyle muttered, and said no more to distract Bodie until his partner had parked. "Come on up then."
Time for some plain speaking, Doyle thought, hunting for the corkscrew until Bodie pointed out that it was a screwtop bottle. He opened it, sloshed the wine into a couple of glasses, and set one down in front of Bodie, collapsing beside him with the other.
"What's wrong with you?" he demanded.
Bodie shot him a look. "Wasn't me that was hunting for a corkscrew to open a screwtop," he pointed out, taking a gulp of wine. He was drunk, though not quite mellowed; Bodie seldom was.
Nevertheless, Doyle plunged in. "Nah, not tonight -- no, including tonight. You're drifting round the place like a ghost -- you don't talk back, you don't want to get drunk, you don't want to go out with birds -- you want to get your act together, Bodie, get back to normal. If it isn't a bird you want, then go pick up some guy -- "
He wasn't aware he was running into danger until Bodie interrupted. When his partner was projecting anger, he shouted. When Bodie was truly furious, his voice would drop to a low, caressing whisper of pure rage. "Shut up, Doyle," he said very softly, "and try and get this through your thick head. I don't want to go out with these women you keep fixing me up with. I've got less interest in leggy blondes at the moment than I have in you. For God's sake, will you leave me alone?"
"No," his partner said, keeping his gaze steady with resolution he didn't know he had. "You've been like hell with the fires out the past three weeks, and I am not bloody going to leave you alone in that state. Not till you get back to normal."
Bodie cracked a snarling laugh. "Normal? Look, sunshine, I wasn't dragging you off on double-dates right after Ann Holly dumped you, was I?"
"That was different!"
"How different?" Bodie's dark blue glare intimidated. "Because you loved her?"
Doyle rubbed his face. "I thought I did." There was a pause as it sank into Doyle what Bodie had just said, and he asked incredulously "Are you telling me that...?" He couldn't frame the words. Cowley having a sex life was hard enough to cope with, let alone with Bodie; but Cowley surely didn't love anything but CI5, and Bodie had never shown any signs of loving anything but himself. No, Doyle caught himself, that wasn't true; if Bodie didn't love him, the way he watched Doyle's back and trusted Doyle's guard, the number of times he'd come after Doyle and risked his own neck to save Doyle's, and had been there for him during some of the worst times of his life, then he needed a whole new definition of love.
Bodie was still staring, expressionlessly, at Doyle. "I don't know," he said at last. "I don't know."
If Bodie could love, it wouldn't be surprising if he did love Cowley. Not really. Doyle swallowed hard. He'd always prided himself on his tolerance; it was hard to come to terms with the fact that he had only coped with Bodie's bisexuality by ignoring it. So long as it had seemed to be a matter of a casual fuck with a faceless stranger, Doyle had had no trouble; big of him, when the moment it came down to someone Doyle knew, when it wasn't Bodie and a man but Bodie and Cowley --
"I'm sorry," he said at last. Sorry for more than he could express in words; the guilt at the back of his mind had flared to furnace heat. "God, Bodie, I'm sorry -- "
"Wasn't your fault."
Doyle shook his head. After a moment's silence, Bodie said neutrally, "Sunshine, you're drunk. If you say a word more, you'll regret it in the morning. Go to bed."
Doyle nodded. He got up, following Bodie's directions almost childishly. Bed. He was tired, tired and drunk. Bodie was pulling his shoes off and stretching out on the couch; his eyes were closed. Hesitating, his hand on the light switch, Doyle said again, "I'm sorry..."
Bodie's eyes blinked open. "Not as sorry as you will be, sunshine, if you don't switch the light off right now and let me get some sleep."
In the morning, apart from a hangover that would've done credit to an elephant -- and from the way Bodie looked, his wasn't much better -- it was as if nothing had been said. But Doyle knew it had.
They were back in Cowley's office the next morning, and ordered out with the usual briskness and precision and not a word wasted (and not a word from Bodie, beyond "Yes, sir") to a warehouse siege.
It was a curiously amateur effort, and only lasted three days because the warehouse, an old Victorian building as defensible as a fortress, more than made up for the strategic deficiencies of the three criminals who had holed up there. Blake and Eddings had originally been sent on the job, and according to Blake, it was with immense irritation that Cowley had agreed to send more operatives.
"However," Eddings added, grinning, "having agreed, he did us proud. Sent his very own blue-eyed boys, the Bisto Kids themselves."
"What are you doing?" Doyle asked hastily, not looking at Bodie.
"Making sure they don't get out, and hoping they get hungry enough to surrender," Blake said shortly.
"There's three of them and they've got two shot-guns, anyway, and the driver might have been armed. We don't know how much ammo they've got, but they don't seem to be worried about it running out."
"Which makes it likely they've got more ammo than food," Doyle concluded.
"He can add two and two," Eddings noted. "Bet they're kicking themselves they didn't pick the warehouse in the next block."
"Why?" Bodie asked, cocking a dark eyebrow.
"Full of tinned sardines," Blake grinned.
Bodie cracked a laugh. "Oh, I dunno. They might hate fish."
The warehouse was solidly, massively built, with a large pair of doors in the north side for loading. A smaller door had been cut in one of the larger ones; it was constantly under guard by one or more of the men inside. The only other access were narrow windows running round the entire building, high up in the walls, and those too had a gunman on watch. The obvious means of access was the roof, but short of calling in a helicopter (which would alert the men inside) there was no way to get to it without coming under fire.
"I don't believe it," Doyle said disgustedly at one point, after more than a day's nervewracking wait. "Four crack CI5 operatives, and we can't get at three bloody smash-and-snatch thugs?" He meant the comment for Bodie, but Blake answered through her R/T.
"That's what I said. Hey, Bodie, how d'you reckon the Cow would take it if we called in the SAS?"
"Badly." A pause. "How about just chucking a couple of grenades at the door and seeing what falls out?"
"How about just sticking your head in a guillotine and seeing what falls off?" Eddings inquired. "Didn't the Cow tell you or can't you read; it belongs to a demolition firm and it's full of bloody explosives."
It was not for another two days that they managed to stage a diversion sufficient to let Bodie up onto the roof unseen. Once there, he kicked a hole through the tiles and could reverse the situation; the two down on the floor, by the door, were covered. Even before the three men were out, one wounded, Doyle had called HQ; one ambulance and several police cars appeared soon enough, but no sign of Cowley's car.
Nevertheless, Cowley was crisply pleased with the four of them in his office that evening; he conceded the difficult position they had been in, congratulated them on not simply blowing the place up (Blake and Eddings both gave Bodie a brief look) or starting a gun fight in which innocents could have been hurt, and finally and most unexpectedly, asked all four of them out for a drink. Eddings and Blake, who had been yawning ever since they entered the warmth of HQ, declined (with some regret; but both of them were visibly having trouble staying awake) but Doyle accepted for both himself and Bodie with the enthusiasm customary among CI5 operatives when George Cowley offered to buy the drinks.
It wasn't until they were at the pub, and Cowley, having bought the first round, settled down to talk (to Doyle) about the latest trouble up north that Murphy and Cooper were dealing with, that Doyle remembered reasons why he maybe shouldn't have accepted for Bodie.
Cowley was talking to him, all but ignoring Bodie, all but his eyes, which travelled sideways from Doyle's face to Bodie's; cold blue eyes that seemed to be drinking in the sight of Bodie. And Bodie, leaning back against the cushioned bench, was, Doyle reckoned, aware of Cowley's attention, and all but purring. He looked more content that Doyle had seen him for four weeks -- happier than Doyle had seen him since that afternoon four weeks ago.
That Bodie might love Cowley had been a hard enough concept; that Cowley might love Bodie was all but inconceivable. But Doyle had swallowed enough apparently inconceivable ideas in the past month. One more wasn't going to choke him. It was still true, perhaps, what he had yelled at Bodie a month ago; that this could destroy CI5, destroy Cowley. Perhaps; but if they'd been lovers for three months and no one had guessed, would anyone?
From the intonation of Cowley's voice, Doyle guessed a question had been asked. He nodded noncommittally, glancing again at Bodie. To hell with CI5 -- taking care of CI5 was Cowley's business. Bodie looked happy, and Doyle didn't want to see the light in his face go out. Leave the two of them alone right now and maybe they could talk something out.
He stood up abruptly, glancing at his watch. "Ah, sorry, sir, but I just remembered a date I made last week. If I run, I might not be more than ten minutes late picking her up."
"Never keep a lady waiting, Doyle," Cowley said gruffly. "My office, tomorrow at nine."
Doyle left, glancing over his shoulder at the door as he pulled his coat on; the two of them were sitting in silence, Cowley still not looking directly at Bodie.
For a few minutes after Doyle had left, there was silence. For the past two or three weeks, though he had tried not to do so, Cowley had been worrying about Bodie. There was no sign of his technical competance falling off, thank God, but he had been very quiet, and very polite, at least around Cowley himself, ever since -- for a month. There had been no back talk, no jokes, none of Bodie's familiar "running all the way, sir" humour.
To be expected, perhaps. But he hadn't realised how much he would miss it.
"Are you all right?" Bodie asked quietly.
With a start, Cowley looked full at Bodie for the first time. On the defensive immediately, he snapped "What d'you mean?"
"I asked if you were all right," Bodie said slowly. "I do care, you know, sir."
"I'm fine." Cowley paused. "And you?"
"Me? Yeah, I'm okay." Another silence, and then Bodie asked conversationally, "Have you been back to that Italian restaurant in King Street lately?" They had visited it together a couple of months ago.
"What, after the waiter got my order wrong?"
"The way you terrified him he probably handed in his notice that night and fled the country," Bodie said grinning.
"Did I imtimidate him?" Cowley inquired drily.
"Well, you scared the living daylights out of me, and I was sitting right next to you."
At that, Cowley had to grin; and Bodie, visibly more relaxed, offered casually to get the next round. The pub was quiet, and it took Bodie no more than three minutes to buy the drinks and bring them back to the far table, but Cowley had time to think; What is Bodie playing at? and Why is he reminding me -- I don't need reminding -- and, more urgently, Maybe I should get out of here.
And Bodie was back, planting Cowley's glass in front of him and sitting down with his own, commenting casually on the price of a drink at this end of London. They spent another hour or so talking of trivialities, Bodie more relaxed than Cowley had seen him in over a month.
Cowley had no intention of offering to buy another round; he had not planned to be alone with Bodie, and though accident had let it happen, he could not let it continue. But he had missed this, this easy companionship, Bodie's relaxed familiarity. God, how he had missed it.
As he stood up to go, Bodie followed suit. "Doyle was driving. You're going to have to offer me a lift, sir." Politely phrased, but the familiar smug smile was back, briefly.
Cowley shot him an icy look, saw Bodie unfrozen, and said tersely "Aye," heading out the door. He would give Bodie a lift back to his own flat, and that would be that.
In the warm darkness of the car, lit in flashes by the street lamps, Bodie was only a shadowy bulk lying comfortably back against the seat; relaxed, content, and... confident. Cowley drew up outside Bodie's flat, and knew, nerves on edge, that Bodie was making no move to get out of the car.
"Your place or mine?" the familiar voice said at last, very quietly.
"You're tempting a weak man, Bodie."
"Never thought of you as weak, sir."
Cowley stared at the wheel, his hands clenched on it, as if the force of his gaze could melt it. If he looked at Bodie, he was lost. "You're one hell of a temptation."
There was a momentary, almost startled silence, acknowledging how seldom Cowley used profanity for emphasis except under enormous stress. Then he heard Bodie sigh, resignedly, regretfully. "Forget it. I'll see you in the morning." And the click of the car door and the cold night air slicing in.
Cowley's hand snapped out and grabbed Bodie's wrist; the other man froze.
"Don't," Cowley said shortly. Bodie closed the car door, turning back to him with a look even in the darkness of cocked-eyebrow enquiry. "My place," he answered the look, and released the wrist, starting the car again.
They didn't speak on the drive to Cowley's home. Nor, really, even when they were inside the house; nor even within the bedroom. Cowley wondered, in a knife-edge cut between one moment and the next, if Bodie was as afraid to speak as he himself, afraid to shatter this time. Hardly; he had never found anything that Bodie feared.
Late at night, though, unable to sleep, unable to stop thinking, Cowley watched the luminous hands on the clock-face move around the dial. Bodie was asleep; deeply, contentedly sleeping, his warm weight heavy and familiar against Cowley's back.
This had been a mistake. The Drake situation could blow up at any time now; things were complicated enough as it was, without adding Bodie as an unpredictable factor. He shouldn't have done it, he should have let Bodie go home and gone home himself and tried to sleep as he had tried to sleep for the past week, ever since Pymar had rung with the word that Drake's house had been fired. He would need all the resources he could muster, CI5's and his own, to win through this intact -- and Bodie was an unpredictable constant in the equation --
Why is Bodie so damn important to me? A constant, no, constant he isn't. I know him better than anyone alive, and he's never stayed with any unit, any commanding officer, for more than three years.
Cowley lay still, staring at the clock-hand barely moving. It was one o'clock in the morning, and the alarm would ring before seven. He had an important security meeting in the afternoon, he had to be rested and alert; he had to sleep. He must not think, not about Bodie, who would leave him sooner or later, and likely sooner.
But while he stayed he would be loyal, loyal as a soldier to his commanding officer. Loyal and effective. Cowley closed his eyes and tried to sleep. He had made the final decision two weeks ago; there was no way to turn back from it now, even if he would. That he didn't want to think about.
The next morning might have been as silent as the night before, but at the end of his first cup of coffee Bodie asked abruptly "You going to tell me this must never happen again?"
Absolutely deadpan, Cowley finished his coffee and began to pour a second cup, adding sugar. "Wouldn't be much point, would there," he said levelly. And caught Bodie's eye, and smiled.
Bodie grinned back, sharp with relief. He knew Cowley hadn't planned last night, and that Cowley was apt to object to anything not planned by his own devious brain.
"You'd better go," the other man added. "I'll see you in my office, 9 o'clock."
Nodding, Bodie got to his feet, and then on impulse leaned over and kissed Cowley goodbye. On the way down the road to catch a taxi, he caught himself grinning. He was pushing it, he knew he was pushing it. He hadn't been thinking quite straight when he kissed Cowley -- but the other man hadn't looked anything but surprised.
Whistling offkey, Bodie let himself into the flat and made himself breakfast. What with one thing and another he hadn't had anything to eat since the takeaways Blake had bought them, nearly fourteen hours ago. It was only when he realised how long ago it had been that he realised he was starving.
He made sure not to reach HQ until five to nine; he didn't want to talk to Doyle until he'd had a chance to talk things out with Cowley. Waiting in the outer office under Kirsty's benevolent eye, he could see a thousand questions teeming on Doyle's face, and did not really want to give his partner the chance to ask them. He wasn't even going to ask Doyle about that (probably nonexistant) date last night.
Cowley was crisp and brisk and called them by numbers; Bodie wondered if Doyle would ever realise that the times Cowley was most punctilious about the 3.7 and 4.5 usage where when Cowley and Bodie had been together the night before. Probably not. Bodie had no intention of enlightening him.
Cowley spent five minutes raking the two of them over the coals (mild coals; temperature no hotter than would melt bronze) about the paucity and inadequacy of their paperwork (a set speech; all the operatives got it about twice a year) and told they had four days to catch up on it.
Forbes and Robertson were going in as they came out; Doyle looked after them ruefully. "Now they've probably got some interesting job to do," he muttered, following Bodie.
"Never satisfied, are you, sunshine? Four days nine to five office work, just like your mother would have wanted."
Doyle thumped him, and Bodie dodged, snickering. "Should never have taken you to meet my mother," he grumped, as Bodie settled down to a desk near the constantly-opening door in the operatives office.
Having achieved his objective; to work somewhere Doyle couldn't pose any of the questions Bodie didn't want to answer, Bodie was bland. "Sweetest little old gin-guzzler I ever met," he said slanderously. (The strongest liquid Margaret Doyle had let past her lips for years was either her tea or the communion wine, she would have knocked under the table anyone who called her old, and was an inch taller than Bodie.)
Doyle snorted, clouted him lightly, and settled down to the desk beside Bodie's. They had been working fairly steadily for an hour or so when the phone rang in the office and Bodie got up to answer it.
He recognised the voice on the other end of the line; though normally Cowley was the only one who talked direct to the Minister, Bodie had had occasion to report direct. Once or twice.
What the Minister had to say stunned him near speechless; he nodded once in reply to a query and added hastily, "Yes sir." He didn't put the receiver down until he heard the click at the other end, and then he knew he had to turn and face Doyle, keeping his own mask so well in place the other man wouldn't be able to see past it.
"That was the Minister."
"Yeah? What's up?"
"We're to go and take Cowley into Rapworth. Grab his passport first."
"What?" Doyle was staring, as stunned as Bodie had been. "His passport? It's a security grab? Cowley?"
"Yeh," Bodie said shortly. "He's out over at Wapping, but he's got that security meeting this afternoon, so he'll have to come back before noon -- I reckon we can get his passport before he comes back, and then we can pick him up at his house around twelve-thirty -- it's a slack day, he'll probably go home for lunch."
"Bodie," Doyle said, suddenly urgent, "what do you know about this?"
"Nothing, sunshine," Bodie said, tasting bitterness. "Not a bloody thing."
They took Bodie's car to Cowley's house; Bodie oddly distanced from his own hands on the wheel, following the familiar route. He drew up outside and turned to Doyle, knowing he could not, not for anything, walk in that door he'd left early this morning. "You get his passport."
"Yeah." Doyle was halfway out the door before he twisted round and glanced back at his partner. "Er -- do you know where it is?"
"Top righthand drawer of his desk, in the sitting-room. The key's under the paperweight on top, so don't break the lock."
That would save time. The passport should be handed into MI5 headquarters as soon as possible; then they would have to get back and wait for Cowley to return. If he didn't come back here for lunch they could always pick him up at the security meeting. Christ, what had happened?
Doyle was coming back with the passport in his hand and curiosity written all over his face. But he didn't ask any questions, and Bodie had no answers anyway. He said nothing at all on the run to MI5 HQ, and only three words on the way back again, past noon, now; "No cuffs, right?"
It was standard procedure, no exceptions allowed; a passport grab meant a vital arrest meant the handcuffs on. But in one sideways glance at Doyle's face, he could tell that his partner had not even been thinking about the idea of putting cuffs on Cowley. Doyle looked appalled. "No," he said slowly, after a perceptible pause. "No cuffs."
Arresting Cowley had been, at least, quick; he was silent on the drive into Rapworth, and so, for once, was Doyle. Bodie knew as surely as he knew Doyle that Cowley wasn't any kind of traitor, but, where the Service were involved, it was certain 'be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny'. Suspicion was as damning as proof.
Christ, it couldn't be anything to do with that -- with himself and Cowley -- could it? Ever since Guy Burgess (hell, before Burgess, it probably went back to Edward II) queers had been anathema to security.
That thought gave Bodie a bad five seconds, during which he drove like a machine, before common sense reasserted itself; if Cowley was under suspicion of homosexuality, so would he be, and he'd never have been sent to arrest his lover. More than likely he and Cowley would have been arrested together, and probably at night.
They reached the large house and Doyle and he escorted Cowley in, through the vast arching halls into a room where two similiarly dressed, anonymously-faced men got up to greet him. One -- Manton? dismissed them, and they turned away to retrace their path through the halls.
Bodie was cold and hollow inside. It felt wrong to leave Cowley here, in the hands of his enemies (never mind that he used to work here, used to be Manton's boss, right now they were his enemies). "What are we supposed to do now?"
"Wait," Doyle shrugged.
"Well, until he comes back."
"What makes you think he's comin' back?" Bodie shoved his pass at the guard sitting by the front door, and went out into the December sunlight.˙If Cowley didn't come back, he was going after him, with everything he'd got. The thought gave him a spurious warmth for a moment, but he knew with helpless cold futility that it was false fire. Nothing he could do, no way to fight; Cowley in danger, and there was nothing he could do.
Doyle didn't try to start a conversation; he glanced at Bodie a couple of times as they stood waiting, leaning on the car, worry plain on his face, but worry for Bodie, not Cowley. Doyle had some certainties Bodie lacked, and one of them was that nothing really bad could happen to Cowley.
He let Doyle do all the talking on the drive back as well. A large chunk of him wished Doyle wasn't there; there were things he wanted to say to Cowley, things he wanted to ask him, but not with Doyle sitting in the back seat. Probably wouldn't have said them at all anyway.
"My place," said Cowley at last, having finished bawling them out for not handcuffing him (and typically Cowley, adding that he appreciated it), and Bodie turned the car obediently towards the familiar address.
In the sitting-room, Bodie accepted the glass of Scotch without thinking about it, but Cowley added briskly as he handed a glass to Doyle, "It isn't a bribe, Doyle. I'm under house arrest now. On my honour."
Bodie stirred. "Always thought you had a lot of that, sir."
Cowley looked at him directly, almost smiling. "Why, thank you, Bodie." He lifted his own glass. "Cheers."
"Dunno what it's all about, sir," Doyle said inquiringly. "Drake, I suppose." Bodie let himself relax infinitesimally. His partner had obviously been putting two and two together and had done better than Bodie had. Of course, he'd taken the passport into MI5 HQ; place must be like an anthill right now. "Why are you involved?"
"Yeah, you left the Service years ago," Bodie added. Something in that smile had been wrong.
"You never leave the Service, Bodie, not completely, totally. Your mistakes always follow you."
"That what Drake was? Your mistake?" Doyle asked.
Cowley looked at them both, eyes steady, voice level. "That's what you're going to help me find out."
Alone that evening, Cowley stood in the shadow of the curtain, watching the street. He could not be certain (if there were watchers, they were good, as was to be expected) but by the hairs on the back of his neck he rather thought that Manton had taken no chances on Cowley's honour. As expected. Nor would Cowley, under the circumstances.
There was no point in watching. Going back to the bookshelves, he pulled down an album and began to leaf through it. The game was set. Right now, maybe, Bodie and Doyle were setting off to find a presently nameless pawn in the game; Andy Drake would be sitting in the stained concrete of a prison cell; and he himself, like the king of a chess game, unable to move more than a square in each direction, trapped by his own pieces.
The doorbell buzzed. It would be the Minister. Cowley went through to the hall and opened the door.
Edward Grant was urbane, polished, and a distinctly Home Counties accent. He no doubt thought of Cowley as a personal friend (wouldn't have called him George otherwise, Grant had his honesties) but Cowley had never made that mistake with a politician. Inviting him in, taking his coat, offering him a drink (one of the things Cowley exercised his memory on was remembering which drink went with which politician), occupied a few minutes.
Grant accepted the glass with a smile, "Ah, luxury, these days. My wife, you know, insists I cut down on it. May become 'drink-reliant'."
"Ah, she must have been listening to the broadcasts from the House of Commons. The swinish herd." Cowley poured himself a measured dose of Scotch. His leg ached. "Radio Haw-haw, someone called it."
The Minister drank. "You're jocular, for a man whose career may be a whisper away from ruin."
It always has been, Cowley thought, a brief warning note that had sounded when Grant said my wife. "If it happens, it won't be a whisper, but a shout from the headlines and the rooftops. Sit you down."
"Andy Drake," the Minister said, sitting in one armchair. He sounded reflective. "Always regarded him as just a bureaucrat. Good man, but... not like you, George. No fire..." He looked at Cowley standing in front of him, his eyes seeming to weigh and measure, and then added "Andy Drake. I never thought he had it in him."
"It's in everyone, Minister." Cowley sat down. "It just needs the right key to unlock it."
There was a moment's silence, and then Grant said, sounding genuinely concerned, "I'm worried about you, George. This business.... I just hope you're taking the right precautions."
"Och, you sound like a wee lassie behind the pub on a Saturday night," Cowley grinned.
The Minister was not amused. "Very jocular."
Bodie would have understood, but Bodie wasn't here, couldn't be here while the house was under surveillance. "It's my neck on the line. And though I despise myself for it, the tension, the gamble, the chance to -- " He stopped, seeing polite noncomprehension on the Minister's face. Bodie would have understood. "As I said, Minister, it's in everyone. A bit of a tearaway, in everyone."
Grant stayed, talking, for a while. Although Cowley would not explain the full strategy to anyone, he owed it to Drake, who had trusted him, to give the Minister all the facts he could disclose. When the Minister stood up to go, thanking Cowley for the drink, he added a warning "Sir, if I were you, I'd keep a low profile."
"You mean, um..." Grant looked disconcerted. "Pull my hat down?"
"I know it's just house arrest, sir, but, well -- Manton is a stickler for detail. There could be a man watching the place."
The Minister shook his head, but held his hand out. "Good luck, George."
"Thank you, sir." They shook hands; Grant left, pulling his hat down with a certain embarrassment. He'd probably only seen it done on old Humphrey Bogart films. Cowley had always prefered Claude Rains.
It was an hour later that Doyle rang to confirm that they had one 'Chinese takeaway' just as ordered. Another piece fallen into place on Cowley's chessboard of the mind.
A long day, and a longer evening. The Minister came round again, hat pulled low over his face in self-conscious concealment, but bringing the summaries Cowley had asked for with him. Studying them, Cowley was half-aware of the man standing at the other end of the sitting-room from his desk, looking around. Bodie would have gone to the bookshelves; but Edward Grant was evidently not a reading man. He looked at the books as he looked at the picture on the wall above the fireplace, with casual lack of curiosity.
Cowley took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
"Oh, I don't know. It's all so much gobbledegook to me."
"Well, it can never be absolutely clear-cut. Just a Foreign Office interpretation of Russian policy. A gleaning from notes here, remarks there."
Impatiently, Cowley pushed himself to his feet and paced across the room. "But is it the clear cold wind of detente or just the breeze before the storm?"
Cowley turned. "Yours?"
"My guess would be -- just a guess."
"Nevertheless, I'd value it more highly than most." He sat down in his armchair, resting chin on hand.
"Hm. I think..." Flattery appealled to politicians. It was even moderately true. "Moscow are genuinely seeking calm. I don't think they'd sanction anything extrovert at this time."
"And if they were forced to?"
"Well, in that case there'd be conditions. The iron hand in the velvet glove. Very thick velvet."
"If possible," the Minister shrugged. "But it's just my opinion, George. I wouldn't want you to stake your career on it."
"My career?" Cowley chuckled. "I'll take a chance on that. It's lives I'm gambling with."
Grant left soon after, leaving Cowley a long evening alone to think about what he was gambling with; lives, and loyalty. Tully had asked "And what about your boys? If you go, they fall with you." He had made the only possible answer "Then that would be their hard luck, wouldn't it?" Bodie... and Doyle.
Curious to think he was relying on the loyalty of a straight man who knew that he was queer. That had been a piece of information he'd trusted no straight man with for forty years. But Doyle could be trusted; if only, Cowley thought with a sour grin, because anyone who had put his life, and his career, on the line for a friend -- as Doyle had for Bodie -- made it certain that Doyle's personal loyalty to Bodie could be depended on to the last inch.
Picking up a black knight from the chess set, Cowley turned it absently over in his fingers, looking at the lively carving. He remembered the Minister's parting words "I hope you know what you're doing, George."
"So do I," he said aloud. "So do I."
Cowley picked out the tulip from the box of stun grenades, saying with a wintry smile, "Ah, I think McKye must have left this for you, Bodie. It was in Amsterdam, wasn't it, that he beat you in the judo championships." He was holding the flower out to Bodie; the other man muttered "I was ill."
With suppressed glee, seizing the perfect chance to embarrass Bodie, Doyle took the tulip from Cowley. "Oh, I don't know, sir, it might not be that. It might be some kind of... um... bouquet. You never can tell these days."
"Yeah," Bodie grunted, taking the flower from Doyle and shooting his parter a dirty look.
With a sudden, horrible thud, Doyle realised what he had said. He'd only meant to get at Bodie, as he had so often before, now he and his partner seemed to be back to normal. But if Cowley chose to take it as a personal jibe -- Doyle swallowed hard, his vision clearing.
Miraculously, Cowley was grinning. "Now, stop it you two, this is a serious business."
When the two gas-masked men had sped off with Drake in their car, Cowley made for his own, dumping the smg in the boot as he fished out the oxygen mask. He parked and leapt out. Bodie first; flat on his back, arms and legs outflung. Cowley dropped to his knees beside him, putting the mask over his mouth and nose and pressing the bulb to pump oxygen into him. "Here -- now, take it easy, Bodie, that's it -- easy -- " Bodie started to cough, rackingly; Cowley ran his hand down the side of his face, immensely relieved, and pushed himself up to go to Doyle.
"Easy now, easy. Slowly, slowly." When Doyle had started to cough, Cowley left him and went back to Bodie. "Here -- " more oxygen, Bodie was coughing and choking on the gas still in his lungs " -- here -- " He stroked Bodie's face with the back of his curled fingers. Alive.
"Failed you, sir -- " Bodie choked out. "Sorry -- "
"Ah, don't be, don't be. It was perfect, quite perfect. We failed but then we always had to." He slid his hand round behind Bodie's head, holding the back of his neck for an instant, "Come on, can you get up? Take it easy now," helping him to his feet, "That's it. Easy."
A glance behind him confirmed that Doyle was getting up by himself. Cowley put an arm round Bodie's waist, helping him stand upright until they reached the car, when Bodie pulled away from him, going round to the passenger seat. As soon as Doyle was in, Cowley drove off. There was no reason to hang around waiting for any inquisitive passers-by, but after taking a couple of side-turns away from the incident, he pulled the car into the verge and parked.
Doyle had recovered sufficiently to find his dark glasses and put them on, also to start protesting. "But they snatched Drake!"
"I'm glad to say they have." Cowley glanced sideways to where Bodie sat, slumped against the side of the car, face masked, silent.
"You wanted it."
"So he wouldn't be around to talk about you," Doyle accused.
Cowley laughed. "That kind of double-think! You might have been a good man for the Service, too. I've advanced to triple-think."
"What the hell are you up to?" Bodie grated.
"Locating Drake," Cowley said briskly. "They won't dare risk transporting him far, thirty, forty miles at most. And Pymar's transmitter is good for a hundred."
"Drake's bugged!" Incredulous, and angry, understanding in Bodie's voice.
"Since his operation, a few months ago. They inserted a pin in his elbow, but no ordinary pin."
"But -- just -- just -- " Doyle was practically stammering. "Just a minute. How long have you been planning this?"
"A long time. A very damn long time." Cowley put on his glasses and fished a detail map out of the glove-compartment.
"Planning what?" Bodie demanded.
"A man-trap." End-game.
Drake was traced without difficulty to an isolated house not five miles from the incident. Bodie and Doyle, operating with their usual neatness and dispatch, knocked out the men who were preparing to dispose of Drake's lawyer, and then followed Cowley and Pymar into the house.
There was no shooting. Confronted with four guns, and no doubt under firm instructions to avoid bloodshed, neither of the KGB in the room made a move. Nor did the third man, but for different reasons.
"Manton," Cowley said viciously. "I'm glad to say I lost a bet with myself. I thought it was Tully. So did Andy, here. Is he OK?" he added to Bodie.
"Yeah, seems OK, sir." He clicked his fingers for the cuff keys; the senior Russian handed them over.
"Great. Treat him gently, he's a very brave man and a very loyal one."
"A set up," the Russian grated.
"A baited trap, and you obligingly sprung it. You and your Number One here. We knew there was a Number One, but not who. So we drew you out, and here you are."
"Cowley -- " Manton said, cut off by Cowley's bark "Mr Cowley!" He turned back to the Russian. "You'd better round up your thugs and go. A lot of explaining for you to do when you get back home. Safe trip, tovarisch!"
Pymar moved to handcuff Manton, who protested, face still blank, evidently not quite able to comprehend how far his world had fallen.
"Someone spoke to me," said Pymar, "but I don't see anyone."
"That's right, Pymar, no one at all. No cuffs," Cowley added, a restraining hand on Pymar's arm. "No formal arrest, just somewhere quiet in the country, eh, Manton? Somewhere like this, where we can talk and talk for hours, months, years even." And Manton would know they could do it. Cowley saw his face change, seeing those years ahead, leading to an unmarked grave somewhere. "Take him," he told Pymar, and patted Drake's shoulder as he followed Manton and the Special Branch man out.
Bodie had helped Drake up and put his jacket round his shoulders, but by the time they reached the gate on to the road he was walking without help. Pymar's car was parked at the edge of the road further down from the gate; Cowley called after him, "Pymar -- "
and as he turned to glance back, taking advantage of the momentary distraction, Manton slammed him in the stomach and ran. Out of the corner of his eye, Cowley saw Bodie drawing his gun, and said crisply "No. Manton!" He took his gun out and cocked it.
Manton kept running. Cowley fired, and Manton dropped. Drake took a couple of paces forward to stand at Cowley's shoulder, looking a question with tired eyes.
"He couldn't have told us anything, Andy. It was our organisation he was milking, not theirs. And along the way he was responsible for more than a dozen men. Good men. Friends."
It took the rest of the day to clear matters up, but by the early evening, though Cowley could foresee a good deal of tedious explanation in the next few days, matters had been wound up. A good ending to a tricky game, Manton the only death.
Back at his own house, he was pouring drinks for Doyle and Bodie when Bodie said, politely, "Sir?"
"You put these stun grenades in their minds. Ah -- say they hadn't."
"Yeah," Doyle agreed, accepting a glass of Scotch from Cowley, "supposing they hadn't gone for it?"
"Yeh," Bodie nodded.
"I had you both covered," Cowley said cheerfully, pouring a glass for Bodie. "I'm a very good shot."
"Yeah," Bodie said tersely, "saw that. Nevertheless, what if something had gone wrong."
"Oh, in that case I would have arranged a nice headstone for the two of you." He handed Bodie the glass, and turned to pour one for himself. "Out of my own pocket, of course."
He saw Bodie's mouth twist as Doyle said, "Permission to make an observation, sir."
"You're a ruthless old bastard."
"Not so much of the old, sonny," Cowley said, and chuckled, raising his glass. "You've both got two full days leave. I'll see you in my office, first thing Thursday morning."
"Great," Doyle said cheerfully, finishing the last of his Scotch and putting the glass down. "With your permission, sir, I'll start mine right now."
Expressionlessly, Bodie pulled the car keys out of his pocket and chucked them at Doyle. "Take my car, I'll collect it in the morning."
Doyle looked at Bodie, looked for a fleeting instant at Cowley, consciously non-committal. He turned and left the room as quickly as possible; the door banged shut half a minute later, and they heard the Capri drive away.
"Another drink, Bodie?"
"Well, I think I'll have another." Cowley had gone over to the drinks cabinet, was pouring himself a measured dose of Scotch; not in escape but in rare celebration.
"You're going to need it," Bodie said grimly from right behind him. Cowley spun round, not having heard the other man approach, and finding Bodie now inches away. Bodie grabbed his arms, holding him there against the wall.
"Start from the beginning. I don't suppose it even occurred to you to tell me what was going on?"
"It was none of your business, Bodie."
"None of my business? None of my fucking business? I've been sweating blood over you, and you've been enjoying every bloody minute. What's the matter, sitting behind your desk got too boring?"
"Bodie -- !" Cowley snarled warningly. Bodie's fingers were digging in to his muscles.
"You play games with people's lives and you don't give a fuck who gets hurt -- "
"I was covering you -- " Cowley interrupted, to be overborne.
"Christ, you can be dense sometimes," Bodie said viciously. "That's not what I was talking about."
"Then what the hell are you talking about?"
Bodie's voice went quite soft and infinitely dangerous. "You didn't tell me. You had me home with you the night before it all blew up and you never told me. You let me think you were in trouble for three days and you never said one fucking word."
Cowley brought his arms up, trying to get the leverage to push Bodie away, and realised the futility of it. He stood still.
"I love you, you bastard, and you used me. You knew I'd back you and you knew Doyle would back me and you used the both of us -- "
"What did you say?" Cowley snapped.
"You used me," Bodie repeated viciously.
Cowley slumped. He'd heard it right the first time, anyway. Keeping his eyes level with Bodie's, he said steadily "I couldn't tell you. Can't you understand that?"
Bodie let go of him, and turned and walked away a few paces, standing in the middle of the room with his back to Cowley, shoulders slack. After a moment, Cowley went over to him and put his arms around him from behind, standing holding him for a moment in silence. Bodie didn't shrug him off. Bitterly and furiously Cowley knew he had to say it, had to admit it to Bodie and to himself.
"Look at me, Bodie."
Bodie turned. Now they were not touching, standing face to face, only a few inches between them.
"I love you. I didn't plan for it, I don't want it. And it can't make any difference. Not to me, and not to you." Having said it, given the bitter truth he owed to Bodie (owed more than that, but that was the only coin he had to pay), he could move away. Blindly he found the couch, sat down, and put his head in his hands.
He realised Bodie had followed him over when he felt Bodie's hands on his, pulling his hands away from his face, and bent down to kiss him, and said soberly "OK, I'll try."
"It's not a case of trying, Bodie -- it can't make any difference."
Bodie straightened. "All right, if that's the way you want it."
Cowley's head snapped up, and he only realised he was shouting when he heard his own voice. "Oh, Christ, it's not the way I want it -- it's the way it's got to be!"
He watched Bodie turn and move away, and then turn back again. "OK. But I want promises."
"I'm not in a position to promise you anything," Cowley said wearily.
"I want to know this is going to last."
"You want permanency, Bodie?" Cowley asked with irony. "In our job?"
"I want all we can have."
Cowley only sat staring at Bodie, and Bodie came over to him, crouching down in front of him again, and said, hard and direct, "Dammit, you don't know what it's like waking up in the morning not knowing if today's going to be the day I get chucked out of CI5, get chucked out of your life."
But I do. He reached out a hand to the back of Bodie's neck, to touch and hold, and promised "I'll give you all I can." It wouldn't be enough. Not forever. There would come a time, Cowley knew with absolute certainty, that he would as Controller of CI5, as CI5, have to give orders that Bodie would find unacceptable. He could promise Bodie all that was his to give, but he couldn't promise Bodie what belonged to CI5, and sooner or later Bodie would know that it wasn't enough.
But Bodie let out a breath of relief, losing an incredible amount of tension, and leant forward to take Cowley's face between his hands, and kissed him. He was smiling when he pulled back; clearly he didn't see that all Cowley could give wasn't enough. "I'll have that drink now," he said cheerfully, and stood up.
"Help yourself," Cowley said dryly, as Bodie was pouring himself a dram from the bottle.
Bodie turned around, drink in hand. "Can I stay the night?" he inquired.
"Two nights in one week, Bodie?"
Bodie grinned. "You can always say I was too drunk to go home."
Standing there, smiling, eyes dark and blue, he was magnetically alive, wolfishly attractive and dangerous. Be glad of what you've got while you've got it. Mark had said something like that, all those years ago. Bodie came back across the room and knelt down by Cowley, resting his weight against Cowley's good leg, and flinging an arm across his lap.
Epilogue; "Let's finish where the tale began"
Cowley's kitchen. Not sunlit from the eastern window this early a late autumn morning -- almost winter, now. Bodie whistled tunelessly, setting the percolator going and finding milk and sugar as Cowley came in. He wasn't normally this buoyant before caffeine, and Cowley didn't seem to appreciate it.
Cowley gave him an icy glare which turned by gradual stages into a smile; and almost casually put an arm briefly round his shoulders as he reached up for the coffee mugs. He had moved away and was sitting down at the table before Bodie could reciprocate.
Never mind. First morning of the rest of my life, there's time.
Bodie waited until Cowley had finished his second cup of coffee and looked relatively human before mentioning what was necessary, though. "I've got to go collect my car from Doyle's."
"I'm going to tell him about us."
There was a pause.
"I have to tell him. He'll work it out anyway, like he did before: if I tell him myself it'll be easier, and safer, and I can warn him to keep his mouth shut."
Silence. Cowley was looking at him expressionlessly. "Look," Bodie said at last, "it isn't just me he'd back. Told him... yesterday," (to Cowley too the morning before seemed a long way away) "nothing in the rules said we had to mount an op when the Controller's under house arrest, and he didn't like what we thought was going to happen to Drake, but he did his best for you anyway." Bodie met Cowley's eyes. "If I tell him, he'll keep his mouth shut for both of us."
Another pause; but Cowley nodded. "Aye. You do that."
"Right." Bodie stood up, ready to go. "Ah... how about going for a meal tomorrow night," and there was the briefest hesitation, "George?"
Cowley looked up, completely deadpan. "That Italian restaurant on King Street, eight o'clock. I'll book the table, Andrew."
Bodie rolled his eyes, grinning acknowledgement, and watching the suppressed grin break from the wintry spark in Cowley's eyes to his face. He bent and kissed Cowley goodbye, and went out, whistling offkey.
The doorbell rang at seven-thirty. Doyle was already awake, and half-dressed; he pulled on a t-shirt and went to the door. The person he expected was on the doorstep, smiling like a cat full of cream.
"Come in. You're bright and early. Want breakfast?"
Bodie rubbed his hands together, grin broadening. "Yeah, I'm starving."
Doyle put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster, plunked plate, knife, butter, and marmalade down in front of Bodie where he was leaning on the counter, and put the kettle on for coffee for himself. He was trying to think of an opening line for the conversation (more properly, interrogation) that he intended to have with Bodie.
"You're happy this morning."
"Got cause to be," said Bodie, spreading marmalade thickly and taking a sticky bite. Resignedly, Doyle put two more slices on.
"Yeah? What happened last night?" He tried to keep the inquiry light, and failed.
Bodie was staring him right in the eye. Still lightly, maybe even a touch smug, he said "We sorted a few things out."
Doyle nodded. "OK.... Why are you telling me this?"
"So you know to keep your mouth shut."
"Who would I tell?"
"Not just to anyone else. I'd appreciate it if you didn't rub Cowley's nose in it."
"Yeah." Doyle grimaced. "Sorry about that joke about the tulip."
Bodie grinned wickedly, breaking the grimness. "I could see you wondering what to do with your other foot after you'd swallowed the first one." And then, with a swift change of mood: "Any more toast going, sunshine?"
Feedback: e-mail me (or comment me if you have a livejournal).
Title and chapter headings are from the poem "Three Pleas", by Henry Treece:
Stand by me, Death, lest these dark days
should hurt me more than I may know;
I beg that if the wound grows sharp
you take me when I ask to go.
Step closer, Love, and dry your eyes,
what's marred you'll never mend by tears,
let's finish where the tale began
and kiss away the ruined years.
A moment, Faith, before you leave,
there's one last favour I would ask;
put to some use your handsome hand
and show me the face behind your mask.
This story was built on and around and through four episodes; "Wild Justice", "Fugitive", "Involvement", and "Need to Know". All quotations are as faithful as possible to the actual televised episode, given a video and a remote control switch and writer's cramp. So watch again... with new eyes. (This applies to any episode after "Wild Justice" - there's a particularly good bit in "The Ojuka Situation" where four of us watched the scene half a dozen times and couldn't make out if Cowley is running his hand along the back of Bodie's chair or his shoulders.)
"Lest These Dark Days" was begun very largely because we were both certain that no one would believe it. (It wasn't called "LTDD" then, either. It's mutated. It started life as "Trust" because neither of them were, and it went to "Show Me The Face Behind Your Mask" when I discovered the poem by Henry Treece, quoted in bits throughout and in whole at the end of part 5, and then because Ann was protesting so much I changed it to the shorter and final version.) We are both (those who have met us can testify) perverse persons. It was three months struggle against Ann's sentimentality, my romanticism, and the characters' own bloody-minded persistence. (Cowley is probably thanking God it's all over; however, we are planning a sequel.) (Are we insane? DON'T ANSWER THAT!)
I want to thank Barbara for her amazing and delightful pipeline of Professionals stories, and because I like thanking Barbara whenever possible or plausible; N.C. and Louis Renault, for their soothing atmosphere, catholic encouragement, and blind faith; the unknown author of "Tethered Goats and Tigers", the unremembered author of a Bodie/Cowley poem in an old issue of Enigma, five years ago; and of course, Ann herself, for remaining always and forever my most enduring friend.
I'm thanking Carol for bravery in the face of adversity, and Jane Carnall for remaining my friend through the blood sweat and tears it took to write this story (honest I'm not joking) [she is exaggerating, though. A bit. At least, I don't remember actually bleeding (hJc)], and Sara, without whose help supplying us with videos and encouragement I would have given up long ago, and Helen Raven just because she's there.
with love to you all