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20 March

Where are you?

His head was a throbbing mass of pain and confusion. People were blurred rainbow-haloed outlines. Sounds echoed and surged. His tongue tried to form words, but only a few made it out past his lips, and he wasn't sure even of those. The ones he wanted seemed to float just out of reach, and he grappled to anchor them with others.

Voices had told him he should rest, he was concussed, he should rest, they couldn't give him anything for the pain just yet, he should rest, he shouldn't worry, he was safe in hospital, his eyes would be better, his ears would be better, his speech would be better, rest, rest...

How could he rest? He had to warn them, but the words wouldn't come...

"R-r-a-y..."

Where the hell are you? I could tell them if you were here. I can say things to you...

Went ... went to see your mum. Back tomorrow. Today. No, it was longer than that. Why didn't you come back? That undercover. You had to be Brennan. Did they suss you out? Did they...?

You were going to see your mum...

"Ang-l-th-"

Where are you?

Safe beside me, asleep... Safe asleep... sleep...

17 March

He drifted up out of sleep and lay assessing the state of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Day off. Two days off, though he might look in at the Black Swan this evening to check on his infiltrated Irish bunch. All mouth and trousers, most of them, apparently more interested in picking fights among themselves than seriously planning acts of terror, but there were just enough intimations of something solid to make it worth pursuing. Kathy Malone thought so, and she was an astute observer, but distrusted the telephone so he had to talk to her face-to-face while ordering up his pints. Not an unpleasant duty.

Sight: sunlight filtering through the curtains. Doyle's sleep-straggled tangle of hair, curl almost grown out.

"Why the perm?" Bodie had asked a long time ago when he'd been trying to get up Doyle's nose for some reason.

After a moment's disconcerted pause Doyle had snapped: "My mum likes it," and somehow that had been that.

Smell: he inhaled deeply, relishing the scent of Doyle after love and sleep, the night's sweat just on the edge of staleness.

Sound: faint traffic, dog somewhere. Doyle snoring gently.

Touch: Doyle's head against his shoulder. Doyle's sinewy arm flung across his chest. Lithe body relaxed against him. Bodie ran a fingertip over the visible fraction of a stubble-rough cheek, rubbed a strand of hair between thumb and forefinger, considered kissing him awake, but...

Taste: would be improved by a toothbrush.

Cautiously he eased away. Doyle grunted and snorted and clutched, grimaced as the sunlight touched his eyelids, and sprawled back into slumber.

Bodie stood stretching for a minute, then padded barefoot to the bathroom. He relished the sense of being centred in his body, his smoothly functioning muscles, the slight morning chill against his skin, the change of texture beneath his feet from carpet to wood to tile.

Ah, the pleasure of a good piss, clearing the way for other joys. The refreshing coldness of water against his face, the tingle of spearmint in his mouth. He let the water run hot and went through the automatic ritual of shaving, then a quick shower. His mind kept bumping up against the knowledge that Doyle would be off to Derby in a couple of hours. Off to see his mum.

Something odd about her. Doyle would mention her casually but tended to be evasive. Bodie had gathered she was something of an invalid, living with Doyle's widowed sister Janice and her two kids.

Doyle went to see them every few weeks. Away after breakfast, back late the next afternoon with his hair cut and permed. He said his sister did it for him, saving a few quid.

This would be one of those days. After innumerable work delays disrupting their time off it should have been last week but he'd coaxed Doyle into postponing it.

"Nobody's picked later than next Friday," he'd said. "I'll win about twenty quid. Treat you to dinner."

"Haven't seen her for nearly three months now," Doyle reminded him. "They're expecting me."

"One more week, come on, Ray."

Well, he was safe there. Nobody had selected a later date. His entries in the recurring Doyle Haircut Pool were regarded with suspicion by the rest of the squad, but they grudgingly agreed that Cowley's breaking point was unpredictable, and he lost often enough to maintain a precarious credibility.

But he wished now he'd let Doyle go last week. The Irish lot and sundry other little jobs had been sopping up his last few evenings and he could just have done with a couple of days of general orgy. Last night had only taken the edge off his appetite.

He'd bring Doyle a cup of tea in bed, a luxury always appreciated, and see what developed. With luck his partner wouldn't be hankering for a five-mile run.

 

 

He drifted up out of sleep and lay assessing the state of Raymond Doyle.

Sight: empty bed beside him. Bodie skiving off again. Supposed to be instantly available, wasn't he?

Smell: sweat, semen. Bodie-smell on the pillow, on his skin. He inhaled gently with slightly open mouth, seeking his lover's scent like a cat tasting the air.

Sound: water running, bathroom, kitchen, Bodie. Oh last night the sound of Bodie trying to muffle his pleasure against the pillow, got the nerve to say I'm noisy!

Touch: slid a hand over the tight muscles of his belly, down to cradle the sweet morning heaviness of cock and balls, waiting for Bodie.... He flexed the muscular length of his legs, curling and stretching his toes, luxuriously dozing again...

Taste: toothpaste mintiness briefly against his own night-stale mouth.

"Mmmmmmm." He tried to engulf, but Bodie was on his feet, had only leaned down to wake him. He could smell the comforting warmth of tea. Wake up and drink it, or lure Bodie back down into bed?

He could hear Bodie out of range opening drawers and wardrobe, so he heaved himself up, rubbing his eyes, reached for the mug of tea, drank gratefully.

"Awake an' slurpin', me old rattlesnake?" Bodie, in Doyle's purple dressing gown, was gathering clothes from the collection that had taken up residence in his partner's flat, sorting what was wearable from what needed cleaning.

"Trouser snake," Doyle suggested, "needs a bit of rattlin'."

"Randy toad, you are. Dip it in your tea. Keep it warm till I get round to it."

Doyle contemplated this possibility. "Never tried it with a cuppa. You done it with a Swiss roll?" He tucked the image away for future enjoyment.

"Wicked waste, that. Swiss bird, once. Rolled her all night." Bodie stacked his sartorial gleanings on a chair.

"Did she scream for Alp?"

"Screamed for me Matterhorn, didn't she? Noisy as you." Doyle smiled to himself. Bodie took the empty mug out of his hand. "What's that smirk about?" Doyle shook his head, eyes half-closed. "Let's be having this snake, then."

A while later, thoroughly mongoosed, Doyle opened his eyes and gazed into the dark blue ones that smiled lazily back at him.

"You've got something soppy going through your head." Doyle's tone was one of mild accusation. He ran his fingers through Bodie's short dark hair. "Might as well spit it out."

Bodie said resignedly, "Because I liked you better than suits a man to say..."

"Been reading that Housman book again?" Doyle would tolerate "something soppy" when he was in what Bodie thought of as one of his sweet moods. They were rare enough. "I dunno, used to be you'd dish out a line every six months but these days it's like living with a one-man poetry society."

"You gave it to me. Only polite to show my appreciation, isn't it?"

"Can't live on that. Don't you want any breakfast?"

"Stay me with flagons," Bodie suggested, "comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love." He touched his lips to the sweat-salt hollow of Doyle's throat.

"Well, if you're sick of it we might as well get up," Doyle responded. "Had the last of the apples yesterday."

"Any flagons going begging?"

"More tea, coffee, orange juice, milk." Doyle craned his head back, offering his throat for further caresses.

"Milk of Paradise." Bodie licked his lips lasciviously.

Doyle rolled his eyes. "Might be a can of lager if you really want it this early."

"A loaf of bread, a flask of wine, and thou..."

"Toast? There's some cooking sherry if you like."

Bodie rolled over onto his back. "Not romantic, that's your trouble."

"You're just missing the thrill of the chase. Getting bored with me. Want me to go back to birds so you can seduce me again?"

"I could fight a duel for your favours," Bodie speculated. "Very romantic, that." He slid an arm beneath Doyle's wide, bony shoulders. "Tricky fighting a bird, though. Have to find one who's good at martial arts and fancies you -- dunno why she would if I was around."

"Find one at the shooting range, add bit of spice."

"Pistols at dawn. Well, eleven-ish."

"Who's this Dawn that you're so rudely aiming pistols at?"

"Rosy-fingered dawn."

"Kinky. Who's Rosie, then?"

"No bleedin' poetry in your soul, is there?"

Doyle pushed up onto one elbow. "When Deadeye Dick and Panama Pete went--"

Bodie tugged him back down and silenced him.

"Ah, well," Doyle said when he had use of his tongue again, "not so sick of love, then?"

"Bit shagged out," Bodie yawned. "Hard work, being your lover. Very repetitive. Trouble with you older men."

"Demanding, am I?" Doyle teased.

"Start living off you today if you'd got any money. Toast, did you say? Any bacon?"

"Need to go shopping. Keep my young stud happy. Get some bread from that new French bakery."

"Bacon?" Bodie persisted, nuzzling the soft flesh beneath Doyle's jaw.

"Some poor pig--"

"With a ring at the end of his nose."

"What?"

"Land where the bong tree grows."

"Eh? Never knew they grew on trees."

"Thought you'd have been out chopping them down in the Drugs Squad."

"Keats, is it? Byron?" Doyle sat up, stretched further.

"Lear."

"What, Shakespeare?"

"Owl and the Pussycat."

"Oh, him. Fella that wrote all those clean limericks with no punch lines."

"And The Dong with a Luminous Nose."

Doyle blinked. "Suppose that could come in handy in the right circumstances. What are you doing this afternoon?"

"Might go and see if I can get in at Lord's. A mate of mine works at the ticket office."

"That's sensible," Doyle approved. "No point stodging indoors on a nice day like this. Told June I'd take young Danny to a football match next season," he added pensively. "You could take him to cricket too. Bit slow for me if you're not playing."

"Like your sports primitive, don't you? Enemy's head being hurled round the battlefield?"

"Or knocked about with ripped-off legs. Like cricket before it got all sissy. What good's a game where the ref never confiscates anyone's teeth?"

"That how you lost that chunk off yours? Gnawing off body parts for a set of golf clubs?"

Doyle disentangled himself and retreated to the bathroom. Bodie floated into a blissful doze, disrupted when Doyle returned and announced: "I'll need these sheets to take to the launderette."

"Now? I'm asleep."

"Can't leave it much later or they won't be ready when I get back tomorrow. No clean ones left--can't think why."

"Come and sleep in my bed."

"Nah." Doyle preferred his home ground. "Not with that flea-bitten bedspread moulting all over the shop. Got mange, I expect. Not been feeding it right. Might take a bite out of me. Shift off, sunshine--you can kip on the sofa if you want."

"All right, in a minute," Bodie said meekly. If he protested too much Doyle was likely to demand help with the chores by way of retaliation.

Doyle clothed was a magical promise of nakedness. Doyle naked, skin and bone and hair and whipcord muscle and scars, was sheer delight. Doyle getting dressed was a delicious reverse-striptease. The sight of him easing into those jeans was only rivalled by memory and anticipation of him sprawled in a tangle of denim peeled down his thighs by Bodie's urgent hands, swollen cock surging eagerly to the welcome of Bodie's mouth, balls cradled tenderly in Bodie's palm. Trustful, shamelessly sensual.

"Ray?"

"What?" The adept fingers were fastening the waist.

"If you're going to wash these sheets anyway..."

"Give over, you randy sod." That deep-toned chuckle was a provocation all by itself. "Thought you were shagged out."

"Come back to bed and we'll check."

Doyle lunged at him, merciless fingers tickling until Bodie rolled off the bed in pure self-defence, and Doyle grabbed the sheets in triumph.

 

20 March

"Sounded like angel, sir," Murphy ventured.

Cowley stared down at the battered mouth that tried to fumble for words. "Bodie? Are you saying angel?"

"Thhh...g..."

Murphy shook his head at Cowley's questioning glance. Cowley exhaled a long breath of weary frustration.

"Unnghh..." Bodie's right hand rose a couple of inches in protest, fingers flexing. "Wer... wwwtt... wiii..."

"Why? White?" The fingers moved. "Is it white, laddie?"

The slightest nod.

"A name, White?" Cowley leaned over him.

Bodie moved his hand in apparent negation and reached with painful slowness to touch the knot of Cowley's tie. "Lef..."

Then the bruised face was empty again.

 

17 March

Bodie eschewed the lure of Nescafe and meticulously followed the instructions for measuring and grinding and this-ing and that-ing Doyle had impressed upon him since he'd acquired this new-fangled coffee set-up. The resultant brew was worth it, both for itself and for the approving sniff Doyle bestowed upon the aroma when he returned.

"That a baguette under your arm, or are you just pleased to see me?" Bodie relieved him of the Guardian and Express and a brown carrier bag.

Doyle rummaged in the carrier and dropped a small bag on the table. "Here, got you a couple of those Danish things."

"The strawberry?"

"Mmm. Well, I don't know much about romance, but I know what you like." Doyle broke the end off the baguette and chewed voraciously. "That's good--pity it never keeps more than a day."

"All that music and painting," Bodie said. "Think romance would go along with it. Know more poetry than you let on, don't you? Tell me some."

"When Dead--"

"Not bloody Eskimo Nell again! Come on, Ray..."

Doyle pondered, then recited: "She was iron-sinewed and satin-skinned, Ribbed like a drum and limbed like a deer--"*

"You always had a funny taste in birds, mate."

"Nah, 's about that big gymnast you lumbered me with that time." Doyle took a bag of apples from the carrier and started to wash them. "Judy was always saying that one when we were riding. Good rhythm. Don't know where it's from." He put the apples into a brown pottery bowl.

Bodie bit into a pastry. "These are fantastic. You having one?"

Doyle shook his head and sank his teeth noisily into a Cox's orange pippin. "Comfort meself with this." He refilled their coffee mugs and sat down at the table. "There's bacon if you want to cook it." He dipped bread into his coffee. "Miss birds, do you?"

Bodie regarded him warily. "Sometimes. Some things."

"Liked the whole ritual, yeh? Romantic, moonlight and roses."

"Never was big on the roses part. Bought red ones for Marikka when..." There was a momentary silence. He'd never talked much about Marikka. "Gave them to an old biddy instead. Didn't seem--"

Doyle risked it. "I got 'em, you know. Your old biddy flogged them to me for a quid. Couldn't hang on to them, though. Gave 'em to another old dear. She probably got another quid from one of those berks from Willis's lot."

"Thought you'd kept them treasured behind your sofa cushions."

"Rather grow them. If I ever get a garden again. Perhaps getting me hair cut will soften the Cow's heart."

"If you could hold off a bit we could get another pool started," Bodie suggested hopefully.

Doyle shook his head. "Keeps getting in my eyes. Don't fancy meself in a hairnet. Anyway, the Cow's getting his knickers in a twist about this lot: seen him looking bayonets at it. Ready to snap." He pushed his chair away from the table. "I'd best be off."

And the CI5 phone rang.

"Uncle George's All-Night Haggis Takeaway and Knocking Shop," Bodie observed helpfully. "You'd best be off."

Doyle made a gargoyle face as he answered the summons for them both to duty.

 

20 March

"White tie?" Cowley hazarded. "A formal occasion? Something to happen...? Left? White--right?"

"You must let him rest," the doctor urged.

"Stay here, Murphy," Cowley conceded. "I must go back to headquarters for a while. Where the devil 4.5 is hiding himself... Be sure you let me know if he manages to say anything that--aye, of course you will." Learn to trust them! he reminded himself. Murphy and Doyle know what they're doing! But the habit of full watchful responsibility was embedded to the bone.

Murphy settled in the chair by the bed, ignoring the dubious glances of the doctor, who finally left, and Nurse Ojibwa, assigned full time, who hovered with quiet immovable competence, alert for any sign of her patient's needs.

"R...ayy..."

"He's been saying that," she murmured. "Somebody--?"

"His partner," Murphy explained. "He's undercover in Birmingham and we can't get in touch with him. Should be back today. He might be able to make sense of it."

"Ange...th..g..."

 

Cowley was there...wasn't there...knew it was important. Bodie recognised the distorted sound of him, the vague shape of him, but he wasn't there now.

"..trees..."

"What, mate? Trees? Bodie, it's me, Murphy, do you know who I am?"

Course I know you. Stupid git!

He groped for the elusive words. They were always somewhere else in the line, evasive, refusing to be snared by his voice.

"Lovl...st of... fif.. "

Why didn't Ray come? He'd know. Quiet, safe, hold him, guard him while he struggled with this chaos in his brain. Ray would remember; for all he pulled the covers round his ears and complained about being kept awake, he'd remember the words, he'd sort them out...

Angelthug...

Lumbered...

"R...ray..."

 

20 March

"Doyle!" Cowley glared from his desk, haggard and edgy. "About time you showed up!"

Surprised, Doyle protested, "We said today, didn't we?" He offered the report he'd written during the train journey back.

"You can give me a summary and I'll read it in the car." Cowley tucked it into his briefcase.

"Well, when I -- "

"In the car, man." He hustled Doyle out of the office. "Bodie's in hospital and we -- "

"What! Why -- "

"Betty, call me if --"

Doyle grabbed his arm, snarling in panic: "What's wrong with Bodie?"

Cowley let it pass, hurried him down into the waiting car, explaining as much as he knew. "It was an emergency call late last night, some kind of brawl or assault, we don't know yet. He's concussed and having trouble talking, but there's something he's been trying to tell us and he's asking for you."

"How hurt?"

"He's very confused. They say it's probably temporary but -- "

"Probably?" Doyle's gut tightened.

"There might be some brain damage. But probably not." Cowley's voice was steel. "Now tell me about the meeting."

And Doyle forced brain and voice to respond, delivering a succinct report, battling to sound no more agitated than any competent agent concerned for his partner.

Undercover. Always bloody undercover....

 

17 March

The whole squad was gathered in the briefing room, some on regular shift, some uttering the usual complaints about disrupted off-duty time, discreetly hushed when Cowley strode briskly in, a folder under his arm.

"Fergus Brennan. Apprehended on his way back from Libya. He has been quite cooperative," he told the assembly. "He's been out of sight for years, and is instrumental in perfecting what he is pleased to describe as super-plastique. However, it seems he has developed something terminal and now he just wants to be supported in comfort for the rest of his days without having to look over his shoulder. A deal Her Majesty's representatives were happy to make. There is to be a gathering in Birmingham of certain parties interested in bidding for the formula. Doyle will appear in Brennan's stead and I think we will gain some very valuable intelligence."

Somebody at the back of the room laughed and said: "I saw him once. He's -- "

"Thank you, McFarlane," Cowley responded coldly. "Doyle resembles him in build and eye colour, and the damage to the cheek is particularly fortuitous. Provided nobody has actually met him, the resemblance is sufficient, with a little further adjustment--"

He produced an enlarged photograph from the folder and held it up to be viewed.

Doyle tried to scowl in six different directions at once as whispers of sadistic delight rustled round the squad.

"Bodie," Cowley went on, "I'll need you to lean on all your contacts among the arms dealers, see who's doing what. Call in any favours you have outstanding. We have to nip this in the bud. It may even be connected to the Malone business you're looking into. Now, Murphy, you and--"

"Just a minute," Doyle protested, knowing it was futile.

Cowley's eyes glinted with unholy glee, maliciously focusing on the unruly mass of Doyle's hair. "Och, laddie, you're due for a wee trim. I'm sure you'll scarcely notice it!"

"Baldy Brennan to the life!" said the irrepressible McFarlane.

 

20 March

"Think it's me not having hair," Doyle said. "He can't make out that it's me. Thinks I'm--" He stood looking down at his partner, tried for the fifth time: "Bodie? It's me, mate, Ray." The swollen hazy eyes tried to focus, hearing his voice, passed over him, searching beyond.

Doyle shook his head irritably. "Look, if the pair of you would just pi--" He squeezed his eyes shut, opened them again. "Could I have a few minutes alone? Sir," he added carefully.

Cowley locked stares with him. He knew Bodie's primary allegiance had been transferred to Doyle after that wretched business with Ojuka, and had never ceased regretting those tactless words. Doyle was too important to his future plans to risk alienating him now. He was trying to be more careful of Doyle as of Murphy, trying to remember to treat them consistently as respected lieutenants rather than insubordinate pawns. If Doyle was pushed too far, left CI5, Cowley knew Bodie would go with him, would follow his new alpha without hesitation, both lost to him.

"Aye, very well," he agreed after a moment. "Murphy, we'll wait outside. But," he added grimly, "if you can dislodge Nurse Ojibwa short of physical force, I'll get you blind drunk on Glenfiddich any day you care to name."

Nurse Ojibwa smiled to herself, knowing she had been assigned as much to protect her patient from over-zealous questioning as for intensive care. The doctor had met Mr Cowley before.

 

17 March

"Should have told the Cow you've got Samson Syndrome," said Bodie. "Look what happened when that bird cut his hair off. If he reckons you'd come back and pull CI5 down round his ears he might think better of it."

"Ought to go and get it done now." Doyle's face was morose. He took a long swig of lager. "Get used to the way it feels. Probably catch pneumonia. Need to get one of them woolly hats."

"And something to make the colour look right, not all pale," Stuart suggested.

"Perhaps Betty'll lend me her makeup kit." Doyle sighed. "Anyone got any useful tourist tips about the bloody place?"

"There were two young ladies of Birmingham," Murphy offered.

"Yeah, that's about as much as I know," Doyle agreed glumly. "Meet them, might be a bit more interesting."

"Supposed to have the worst villains in this septic isle," said Stuart brightly. "Hard man's hard men. You'll have the time of your life, Doyle!"

"I've got an auntie lives there," Anson offered. "You could have tea with her. She's about a hundred and fifty. Used to nip up to London and chuck bricks at the Bill during the suffragette days: got cat-and-moused, forcibly fed and everything. Now she's gone all High Tory, thinks Mrs Thatcher's a softie. Really fancies Enoch Powell and Ian Paisley. You can tell her you're a skinhead: she'd probably be one herself except for the rheumatics. No, sorry, I tell a lie. Basingstoke."

"Oh, ta very much! Get me going with visions of fresh baked scones and a nice pot of Lapsang to lighten me exile--"

"Auntie Maude, you'd be lucky if you got a stale digestive biscuit. Too busy trying to get people sent back where they came from, silly old bat. Hasn't caught on that most of them were born here."

Jax grinned. "You should hear my Auntie Ida complaining about the Arabs that moved in up her road. Convinced they've got a harem and everything. Goes round licking her chops about dens of iniquity and slows to a crawl every time she passes their house in hopes of getting shocked rigid."

"Perhaps both your aunties should join the harem," Murphy suggested. "Then Ray can bring his new friends to tea with them all."

Doyle heaved his martyred sigh. "I Was a Skinhead for CI5."

"Sounds like that Bear for the FBI story," said Stuart.

"Don't know that one."

"Don't you? Writer does this piece about a bear, calls it A Bear, and the editor tells him the title's too dull. So he changes it to I Fucked a Bear and the editor says it lacks motivation. Changes it again: I Fucked a Bear for the FBI. Editor thinks it lacks spiritual depth. Ends up I Fucked a Bear for the FBI and Found God. Something like that," he trailed off.

"Oh, well," Doyle said philosophically, "if I don't meet the two young ladies, there might be a friendly bear I can have a pint with. Don't fancy the other much though the Cow will probably have me doing it any day now." He banged down his empty glass. "If I see any of you lot tomorrow morning, witty remarks may result in GBH."

"What else is new?" Anson commented as Doyle and Bodie left the pub.

 

17 March

"Too much aggro may affect your cooking," Bodie said, emerging from a drowsy reverie of erotic satiation, "but it does bloody wonders for your fucking."

Doyle grunted, roused from his doze. "You casting nasturtiums on my prowess?" He started to sit up, but submitted to Bodie's lazily restraining arm. "Can't get it up again just yet, if that's what you're angling for. Fancy it rough, you've only got to say. Don't need to go annoying me so I scorch a perfectly good casserole. Emergency takeaway does sod-all for my libido, y'know."

"Not rough, just--emphatic," Bodie murmured, twining his fingers in the luxuriant mass of Doyle's hair. "Anyway, not me that set you off tonight. Not my fault that cat thought your window box was a public convenience and you forgot to turn the oven off. Been rampaging round effing and blinding about this op -- I've just been reaping the benefits. Occupational therapy, that's me. Got it out of your system for now, have you?"

A malachite glower threatened mayhem, then Doyle's raucous, deep-toned laugh twanged the chord in Bodie's psyche that resonated to his partner's unpredictable happiness. "Yeah, into yours, right?" Doyle's bony elbow jabbed into his partner's ribs, just hard enough to let him know he wasn't getting away with anything. "I don't need to say sorry for bein' a pain in the bum, then!"

"Emphatically not." Bodie kissed him with the unhurried enjoyment made possible by temporary sexual exhaustion. With any luck they'd be set for something else around midnight. The prospect of imminent deprivation was a potent aphrodisiac. "Nice when you're all sweet." He exerted more energy than he thought he had left to subdue Doyle's indignant response. "Food gets fantastic. Remember that long weekend off a couple of months ago? You made that incredible Beef Birmingham--"

"Boeuf flippin' Bourguignon, you dumb crud!"

"Yeah, and the Prick au Vin, and that Shrimp Jumble Sale--"

"Jambalaya."

"And that unbelievable chocolate mousse cake with the Grand Marnier! Still having wet dreams about it."

"Got that at Fortnum's," Doyle confessed.

"You mean I could just go and buy it any time I wanted? It's legal and everything?"

"Don't need to bother with me at all, do you?" Doyle wriggled into a more comfortable position, the slide of his warm nakedness against Bodie's evoking both memory and promise. Bodie relaxed his vigilance and Doyle's deadly fingers flashed to their target. "Sweet, am I?" he demanded. Bodie convulsed.

"I'll swing for you yet!" he gasped when Doyle finally relented. "Why the hell aren't you ticklish?"

"My feet are," Doyle consoled him. "You can annoy them."

"Difficult to get at them in a hurry. Need to keep you in a good temper till after dinner," Bodie concluded, "then get you all emphatic at bedtime."

"Been thinking, if I'd had a bit more warning I could've got one of them bald wigs."

"Bald what?"

"You know, like actors have. Miss it, will you?"

"Always do when it's cut. Only soft thing about you--that and the extra chin." He nuzzled into it. "And a few bits of skin that aren't all hairy. And your mouth when you're not feeling emphatic." He paused to demonstrate. "Well, and this."

"Just temporary, that is. Do with a wash, too, before you start muckin' about with it again."

"Only me, isn't it?" Bodie said with an uncharacteristic lack of fastidiousness. "Call up one of the slaves and tell her to come round with a bucket of rosewater. Dry me off with her hair."

"Just don't go wiping it off on my hair. Though I suppose you might as well; I won't be using it." Doyle pushed into the knowing hand that cradled him.

"Temporary, you said?"

"Mmm...Bodie?"

"Oh christ, you're thinking, aren't you? 'Tis only thinking--"

"Lays lads underground, I know, I know, hear you reeling off the complete works of Housman in your sleep some nights, footnotes an' all. You're getting a rugby song book next birthday. How many lads've you laid in the Underground, then? Fancy having it away it on the Bakerloo line? Oi, watch it!"

"Shouldn't go prodding me when I've got your jewels hostage, angelfish," Bodie reproved him mildly.

"Thought you wanted proddin'."

"Not in the ribs, thank you!"

"Be grateful for what you can get. Bodie..."

"Thought I'd derailed you. Don't start brooding, Ray. Still fancy you without the hair, you know. Be interesting watching it grow back: not much on the gogglebox these days."

"It might not," Doyle speculated gloomily. "Might get offended and shut down all the follicles."

"Never happened with your beard, did it?"

"Could do with slowing that down. Or--hey, what if I let it grow? Bald and bearded, what d'you think? Might be the magic key to Betty's favours! Shame to let her think you're the best CI5 can do!"

"Give the Cow something new to look pained about, anyway. Don't think I ever slept with a bearded fella, though there was a bird in Jordan who--"

"What, not any of those sailors or mercs or--"

"Always went for the well-groomed ones, not just any old riffraff. Don't know how I got mixed up with you."

"Luck of the Scouse. Getting late--where'm I supposed to get meself sheared? Where's open?"

"Wait till morning. Niko's opens at seven."

"Oh, christ, Bodie..." He screwed up his face, embarrassed. "Look, not your fault, only you talked me into not going to see Mum last week..."

"Well, this op won't take all that long, will it?"

"Thing is... Listen a minute..."

Bodie waited. Ventured a fingertip caress to Doyle's shoulder. Waited. Waited.

"My mum," Doyle finally managed, "she fell downstairs years ago. Hit her head. Did some damage, a bit like a stroke. And she..."

Bodie waited.

"She doesn't know who people are unless... Well, Janice, that Mum sees all day, she always has to wear something light blue. My Auntie May who's round there all the time, there's this ancient red handbag with brass snaps she has to have. And me..."

He stalled again.

"What? Curls?" Bodie prompted.

Doyle nodded. "Bloody unnerving when your own mother looks at you like a stranger."

"But why curls if -- ?"

"Used to be natural when I was a kid, gave me an edge in fights because they thought I was sissy, the ones that didn't know me. Then it straightened out when I started getting hairy other places. When I was about fifteen I had to let it get a bit long for a school play and Dad got all pissed off about it. Regular stereo some days: get it cut, you look like one of them hippie layabouts in one ear and such lovely curls he used to have in the other.

"Anyway, after the play was finished it was Mum's fortieth birthday, and they'd been on about my hair again--I was putting off getting it cut because the birds seemed to like it--and my Auntie Dora from Breethorp that did hair was stopping a few days to help with the party, said why not give them both a treat? and she permed it, a joke, just for the party, and she said she'd cut it short for me next day, make Dad happy. Well, Mum loves it, and I'm poncing about, all the girls raving about it and all the fellas taking the mickey, and then my Dad comes in, half-cut, and ... christ, you'd think I was wearing full drag and soliciting on the bloody street corner! Worst row I remember, him and Mum going hammer 'n tongs, and... that night it was, Mum had her fall.

"Everything was all chaotic then and Auntie Dora took me back to stay with her. Mum was in hospital for a long time and they said she needed to be kept quiet and not be worried about anything. So I stayed with Auntie Dora about a year." He chuckled. "And her friend that I called Auntie Sue. Been together years: very respectable, both teachers."

"Yeah? Thought she did hair?"

"Just as a sideline. But it was one of those turning points, you know? Quiet, and books all over the house, and Auntie Sue got me interested in art, and I was away from all the little thugs I hung about with at home. You remember Breethorp, where that nutter Chives bloody near murdered the pair of us?"

Bodie grimaced. "Tell you what I remember--you fast asleep in that other bed and me thinking about all the things I'd like to do to you... That's the place you had your first bird, wasn't it? The Odeon one?"

"Mmm. Well... My dad used to come and stay for a few days every now and then. Skiving off work, drinking too much. The aunties weren't too happy about it but they put up with him for Mum's sake. I heard them talking, they reckoned he'd pushed her. I dunno. Anyway, then Mum was getting better and I went back home...

"She looked at me and smiled, all polite-like, and I said Mum, it's me, Ray and she said Such pretty curls my Ray's got and she didn't know it was me. She didn't know.

"Bloody knocked me sideways. Auntie Dora took me back with her again and we waited till my hair got long enough to perm and then she recognised me. Only she's never had much time sense since the accident so it's like she didn't really know I hadn't been there all along.

"Then my dad had one drink too many and lost an argument with a lorry, and so there was a whole lot more upheaval and -- I suppose I started to grow up. Dad gone. Couldn't be a kid any longer. Decided to be a copper when I finished school. Get some order going in my life."

Abruptly he pulled away and off the bed. "Time to get on with it."

Bodie gave him a few minutes, listening to him search for something, then went to see what was happening. Doyle had been looking for the big all-purpose scissors, and was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, newspaper strategically spread, preparing to hack off his hair.

"Ray! Don't--not yet!"

Doyle turned to him, eyes carefully empty of emotion. "You do it, will you? The hair?"

"What? Cut it off?" Bodie stared at him in dismay.

Doyle nodded. "Don't want anyone else mucking about with it, not this time. Easier if you--"

"Now?"

"Yeah. Give me a chance to get used to it before tomorrow." He shrugged. "But I can do it if you don't want --"

"No, it's all right." Bodie felt a curious tightness in his chest. Of all the things that Doyle would trust him to do.... "Just a little while, okay?"

"Got to be soon." Sudden fatigue creased Doyle's face. "I could do with a drink."

"Go back in. I'll get it."

Doyle disengaged himself and wandered back to the bedroom. He slumped down against the heaped pillows. "Ta." He accepted the double Glenlivet Bodie fetched, and touched his glass to Bodie's with an ironic "To Auntie Maude and the Bear!"

"Auntie Ida and the harem, lang may their lums reek!"

"Yer what?" Doyle's mood was lightening.

"One I got from the Cow: hope their chimneys go on smoking."

"Get done under the Clean Air Act!" A bit strained, but Doyle was laughing again, and Bodie decided the four malts he'd been conned into buying for the Old Man last time had been cheap at the extortionate price. "Got enough Dutch courage to get started?"

"Wait a minute." Bodie went to retrieve Doyle's Polaroid camera from the shelf in the kitchen. "Let me get a picture first, so you'll remember how I want it putting back."

Doyle opened his mouth to protest, then grinned. "And I get one of you, too. Full nudal frontity."

"Pity there's not one of those automatic settings. Do a lovely picture of us both for Betty's desk."

"Think it would work with the mirror?"

Bodie peered at the film indicator. "Only three shots left. We'll sort out Betty's perks later. One for Auntie Maude as well." He took Doyle's hairbrush from the chest of drawers and tossed it over. "Go on, make yourself beautiful. I want a good head shot first, then you can do me your famous seductive sprawl."

Doyle plied the brush vigorously. He only used it when the perm had grown out and there was little remaining curl to explode into frizz. "And you'll pose how I want?"

"Within reason," Bodie cautiously agreed, trying out camera angles.

"Just don't want you covering anything up at the last moment. Too perishin' modest by half, you are."

"What, just because I don't walk round London practically topless and my trousers so tight nobody has to ask if I'm circumcised?"

"Nosy lot of people you meet," Doyle commented. "What do you tell 'em? Or do you just whip it out and--"

Bodie's response was brief and crude. He framed Doyle's head and shoulders in the viewfinder. "Don't go saying cheese." He clicked the shutter, catching the beginning of Doyle's laugh. "Gorgeous," he said as the image started to emerge. "Slightly shop-worn golly with hairbrush, very kinky. Now let me--"

"After," Doyle said firmly. "Remind you what I'll be looking like when I get back. Let me get mine of you."

Bodie handed over the camera and assumed a September Morn pose. "This do?"

"Warned you about hiding your naughty bits!" Doyle objected. "Don't make me get all emphatic!" He brandished the hairbrush menacingly. "That's more like it. Now get it up for me."

"Ah, come on, Ray!"

"Lovely blush, sunshine! Go on, I've seen you do it before." Doyle contributed a few graphic memories embellished with assorted imaginative flourishes, peering through the viewfinder. "Don't get your hands in the way, though. Yeah, good enough to eat, that is! Something to keep me company in Brum."

"Christ, not taking that with you, are you?" Bodie demanded as the image was revealed. "Makes me look big, doesn't it?" he added complacently.

"They say the camera adds weight, so maybe it gave you an extra--what?--three inches? More than double real life, not bad." He dodged the cuff Bodie aimed at him. "Come on, let's get on with the short back and sides, then if we've still got the strength we can see if three is enough to notice."

 

20 March

As the door closed behind them Nurse Ojibwa moved to face Doyle, looking up at him with calm penetration. "You are Ray he's been asking for?"

"Yes."

"Angelthug?" Her lips quirked with amused sympathy.

"That what he's been saying?" Doyle returned the look.

"I thought that was it." She shook her head slightly. "I must not leave him, Mr Doyle, but if you would be kind enough to move that armchair over by the door I would very much like to sit down and listen to the news on my headphones and rest my eyes for a few minutes."

He nodded, recognising her value as an ally, and settled her with her back to the bed, guarding the door. He pulled off his jacket and boots and perched on the edge of the bed.

"Bodie..."

The bewildered face turned to him, turned away, turned again, questing.

"It's me, love," Doyle said with studied calmness. "Know my voice, don't you? Had to shave off the hair for the undercover job in Birmingham -- remember you did it for me? They've gone and done yours now, too: Cowley's going to send us begging at Heathrow in orange sheets to supplement the budget."

"Ray...where...?"

Doyle swung himself up and stretched out beside him. "It's me." He carefully slid one arm behind Bodie's neck. "Know the stink of me, don't you?" He brushed his lips softly over the other man's bruised mouth, then took the unresisting hand and guided it to his damaged cheek. "Know me ugly mug, don't you, love?"

"Like...you...better... " The fingers moved in familiar patterns, hesitated where they had been accustomed to twine into his hair, cupped the side of his head. "...suits a... "

"Yeah, I know, it's all right, sweetheart. Bashed you on the head, didn't they? Can't see or hear or talk right just now, I know, it's only temporary." I hope. He curled his fingers around Bodie's. "What was it about, the trees? White tie? What was it?"

"Fif...spring...know if...bit me...bum..."

"Wouldn't know a cherry tree if it bit you on the bum," Doyle had teased when Bodie had stopped to declaim beneath a magnolia last spring.

"Cherry tree, was it?" Fingers pressed his own. "Cherry?" Fingers squeezed. "Yeah, okay. Someone called Cherry? Yes? Cherry White? No... --white for Eastertide. Easter? Something happening at Easter?"

A weary nod. "Angel...th..."

Doyle hugged him gently, cautious of the ribs. "Listen, love, going to get the others back in. If you're doing it in poetry, the Cow's good at that, be faster. Promise I'll listen to it all in future. All right?"

"Stay..." He pillowed his head on the broad shoulder, turning his face to nuzzle at the softness beneath Doyle's jaw, "...safe..."

Doyle chewed his lower lip, considering. Let them see... No. Had to protect Bodie, had to protect Cowley, had to protect the Mob, had to protect everybody. He thought he didn't care any longer about his own privacy, let the Cow do what he liked about it, but it wouldn't be fair to expose Bodie without his full knowledge, full consent. Not if it could be avoided.

"Safe now, sunshine," he said. "Need to get up for a bit. Not going anywhere. But we've got to tell them about Easter, yeh? Waste you getting duffed up, else."

"Yeah...."

He eased Bodie back onto the pillow and slid off the bed, slowly, wary of jarring his partner's shaved, bandaged head or his strapped ribs. He kept up a soothing murmur of reassurance, now that Bodie was convinced that his shape and voice belonged, trying to hold down the relief that almost made him tremble. He slipped his feet back into the heavy boots and went to relieve Nurse Ojibwa from her post and open the door.

"He still can't get the words direct," he told Cowley and Murphy, "but he's using poetry, associations. We've got somebody called Cherry and something at Easter--that was the 'white', sir, wearing white for Eastertide. He's been on a Housman kick lately."

"Ah!" Cowley nodded, comprehending. "Loveliest of trees... Now, what else did we have?"

"The time he reached up to your tie, sir?" Murphy reminded him. Doyle and Cowley looked at each other, fishing for memories.

"Housman, aye!" Cowley snapped his fingers. "It's Ludlow! That singer, Cherry Ludlow! I have been to Ludlow Fair and left my necktie God knows where--"

"Cherry Ludlow: doing that Easter holy pop tour," Murphy confirmed. "Shall I get the itinerary, sir?"

"Yes. Wait--"

"Hang us...now..." Bodie mumbled.

"...in Shrewsbury jail-- At Shrewsbury, yes? Good lad."

"Shhr..."

Then Bodie's face relaxed into sudden exhausted, duty-fulfilled sleep.

"Right! Get started on that, Murphy," Cowley instructed, "and I'll let you know if we get any more details."

"Sir." Murphy flipped a congratulatory wave to Doyle, muttered, "See you later, mate," and was on his way.

"There's really no winning, you know, Doyle," Cowley said almost apologetically. "All we can do is try to contain the chaos, hold back the night. Not go gentle into it."

Doyle's lips twitched in a brief smile. "I know, sir. Hang on to that pong of roses and lavender, eh?"

Cowley nodded, silent, dog-tired.

"Go and get some sleep, sir. Murph and I are okay for now. We'll keep it all running for a few hours. I'll stay with Bodie."

The doctor returned, noting Bodie's slumber with satisfaction, then perversely rousing him to shine a light into his eyes. He nodded when Bodie responded with a brief but coherent obscenity before returning to sleep.

"He'll do. If you're staying, Mr Doyle, I don't think we'll need a nurse with him full time any longer."

Nurse Ojibwa tidied up, took leave of Doyle with a conspiratorial smile, promising to send in a cup of tea.

Doyle settled himself in a chair close to the bed and kept vigil, superstitiously reluctant to be convinced by the doctor's "he'll do", his heart speeding up every time one of the nurses came in to check until she threw him a reassuring smile and left.

He drank the tea and ate the snacks that arrived at irregular intervals, made quick trips to the loo, and came as close to praying to the nebulous something he suspected lurked behind the universe as his nature would allow. He wondered if Cowley was making any such effort.

"You believe in you, mate," he said quietly, remembering that long-ago conversation during the Parsali op. "But I'll take all the help I can get."

Bodie slept on.

 

17 March

The bathroom was quiet except for the snip of the scissors and the occasional half-hearted wisecrack. Doyle sat on the laundry hamper pulled in front the mirror, observing the process with a fair pretence of indifference. The chestnut locks fell in sad little heaps on the spread newspaper. Bodie watched the shape of Doyle's skull emerge: his hands knew its form, but always cushioned by the hair. The unprotected nape of his neck was exposed, and the silvery patches at his temples. Doyle was right: nobody else's hands should wreak this intimate havoc.

"That's about as short as I can get it," Bodie said.

Doyle ran a questing hand over the stubbly remnants, grimacing at his reflection. He picked up his electric razor. "Reckon this'll do the rest of it?"

"Want me to?"

Wordlessly, Doyle handed him the shaver. His eyes focused beyond the mirror, into some private distance.

Warm skin, curved plates of bone, so thin at the temples as the silver fell away, so vulnerable. The damaged cheek, scarcely noticed any more save as a familiar landmark to caress, seemed suddenly conspicuous. So many scars on Doyle's lean body, all mapped onto his own palms and fingers. The buzz of the razor couldn't conceal the occasional uneasy catch of Doyle's breath as he watched the transformation.

"There you go," Bodie announced. "Need anything for the weekend, sir? Why don't you shower off the bits while I tidy this lot up, then..."

"Well, at least nobody's going to be hanging me for the colour of my hair." Doyle stared into the mirror, stared at a stranger. "Feel the draught whistling round me lugs." He shook his head fretfully, exploring with his fingertips. "Mum used to say if we messed about with the rough kids we'd catch lice and need our heads shaved. Don't think anyone ever did, but it was one of the things we were brainwashed to think would be the worst shame."

"I got 'em a time or two," Bodie said. "And other things. Bloody crabs. One reason to avoid getting cosy with the bearded lot, but anyone with hair was risky. Kept everything shaved in one really bad camp: doesn't half itch when your pubic hair grows back. Be glad it's just your head. So you did what your mum said and never played with the rough kids, eh?"

"Stevie Brannigan," Doyle said reminiscently. "Came at me with a flick-knife he pinched from his uncle. Christ, I was scared shitless. Slashed him right down one side of his face when I got it away from him, seemed the only way to keep him off without shoving it right in. Didn't know how to cope with stuff like that. Stevie was more scared of his uncle finding out he'd swiped the knife than anything else, so we made up a story how he'd fallen on some broken glass. Don't think anyone believed it. Mum never did really catch on that I was one of the rough kids."

"Right little tearaway, weren't you!" Bodie encircled him with his arms, cupping his hands round Doyle's shaven head, pulling him back against his chest where the tightness seemed to be melting into a bittersweet puddle of tenderness and desire. "Still playing with the rough kids, too. Here, you know a good cure for crabs?"

"Why, you got 'em again?"

"What you do is, you shave off half your crotch hair, then set fire to the other half, and when they come rushing out you stab them to death with a pin."

Doyle spluttered with laughter, and his eyes caught Bodie's in the mirror. "Oi, rough kid, ready to screw a skinhead for CI5, are you?"

"Feel that?" Bodie nudged forward. "Get a move on or you'll be finding a white streak down the middle of your back."

Doyle lifted his hands, laid them over Bodie's. "You're lumbered with me, you know. Up, lad, up, for time's a-wasting-- Oh, sorry, you already are, aren't you? Keep it warm while I rinse off, then I'll keep it warm for you. You can chuck the hair in the window box, it's all good organic."

 

"Not going to say I don't miss it," Bodie admitted, answering the question in Doyle's eyes when they stopped to catch their breath. "Love the way it feels. But it's not important, not really. Just a very desirable optional extra. Proper villain you look," he added by way of encouragement. "Wouldn't trust you alone with the kitten."

"Makes more sense in a fight," Doyle said. "Hurts getting grabbed by the hair."

"I suppose that's why they do it. Safer, yeah."

"Prettier with it long?" Doyle chuckled.

"Nothing pretty about you at the best of times, mate," Bodie assured him. "Gorgeous if the light hits you just right and you're in the proper mood, but if I hung about waiting for that I'd be dead of terminal lover's nuts months ago."

Doyle pushed himself up onto an elbow. His free hand traced the lines of Bodie's ribs, poised to tickle again. "What d'you mean, proper mood?"

Bodie thought about it. "When you aren't all strung up and ratty. When you're happy you sort of light up. That photo caught it a bit. You just see what's in the mirror when you happen to look, don't see the way your face changes, like your eyes change, changing all the time." He hesitated. "Wish you could see how gorgeous you are when you're turned on, when I'm..."

"Fucking me?" Doyle said cheerfully. "See you looking at me, don't I?"

"See yourself reflected in my eyes?"

"I'll look, if I think of it." Again the deep-toned chuckle. "Can't keep much blood in my brain when you're doing that. If you don't want me thinkin', that's your best bet, isn't it?" He retrieved the lube from the bedside table. "Your turn to do some work, mate. Get on with it before me scalp turns grey!"

But Bodie paused to take his final Polaroid, capturing the wanton image of Doyle with parted kiss-swollen lips, lust-heavy eyes, one hand reaching out, the other stroking the blood-pulsing cock twitching against his belly. Only the hair...

He realised that his eyes were already becoming accustomed to the look of the shaved head; his hands had accepted the smooth warmth; his mouth had traced the exposed contours. If he had first known Doyle this way, he pondered, would he have been nostalgic when the hair grew back?

"C'mon, sweetheart," Doyle murmured. His hands drew Bodie down, his arms claimed the strong weight of him, his body welcomed him, and Bodie stopped thinking about anything other than the tight clutch around his shaft, the long legs that urged him ever deeper, the sinewy arms that clung to his shoulders, the demanding throb of Doyle's hardness between them, the inarticulate sounds that welled from the beautiful mouth between kisses, the intensity of the sea-storm gaze into Bodie's eyes...

 

Doyle checked off items as he stowed them in his overnight bag, all undistinguished from Marks and Sparks, nothing to arouse curiosity. He would buy anything else he needed: often they were dispatched with only the clothes they were wearing and whatever might be grabbed from the lockers. Murphy kept a bag ready packed, but it had usually been liberated by the time he wanted it.

"Need the shaver," said Doyle wryly. "Be working it overtime. Claim extra batteries on expenses. Don't need my brush and comb, though, just a shammy and a bit of beeswax."

He dressed in black jeans and tee-shirt and a pair of tan bovver boots Bodie hadn't known he possessed. His sheepskin jacket, comfortable and comforting, would go on top. A few small items, legal and otherwise, were stowed in a pocket concealed in his jacket lining, padded enough to evade a cursory search. Bodie hadn't seen Doyle add the photograph, but knew it was there. If anyone saw it, he thought, Doyle would already be in such bad trouble that it probably wouldn't matter.

He thought of Doyle looking at it, fantasising, alone in whatever place they landed him in. He would be thinking about that, night after night, until--if--when--until Doyle was safe home, safe in the night beside him.

A long kiss of leave-taking, and Doyle said, "I'll miss you, sunshine. Watch it, won't you!"

"You watch it, angelthug."

Time to go.

 

21 March

"Ah, he's awake," the nurse said cheerfully as the dawn light started to filter through the blinds.

Doyle jolted out of a doze, astonished that he had slept. "Hear that, mate?"

He didn't expect any coherent reply but Bodie turned his head and peered at him through swollen eyelids. "When... breakfast? Bacon an'... fried slice?"

"We'll see what we can manage," the nurse promised. "Mr Doyle, you should go and get some proper sleep."

"An' a bath," said Bodie.

Doyle laughed with joyful relief. "You'll do, sunshine! Can't keep you down for long!"

Then Cowley was in the doorway, and Doyle caught his murmured "Thank God."

Or whatever, Doyle agreed silently.

 

23 March

"Head still aches like a bastard," Bodie complained.

"As you can hear, Mr Doyle, his speech is perfectly recovered," Nurse Ojibwa observed placidly. "I will be back later for your bed bath."

"She's off seeing other men," said Bodie mournfully. "She doesn't realise it's only the sight of her that keeps me going. That and the baths."

"I am off to see my lunch," Nurse Ojibwa said. "If you need anything, Mr Bodie, one of the other nurses will come if you ring."

"One of the pretty ones?"

"One who is good at her job, Mr Bodie."

"Got your number, hasn't she!" Doyle set the small carrier bag on top of the locker, pushed the armchair in front of the door for warning, then leaned down touch his lips to Bodie's. "Shocking state you were in, mate. Still look like a Frankenstein export reject."

"Yeah? Well the ribs are bloody sore but I'll be out of here before you know it. Get me another cake from Fortnum's?" Bodie cautiously drew him down onto the bed and into the circle of his arms. "Your hair's starting to come through again."

Doyle rested his head on Bodie's shoulder, breathing the smell of him beneath the hospital overlay of disinfectant and dressings. "Be a while before me mum knows me. Here, did you remember why they beat you up? Why didn't they just knock you off?"

"All came back to me last night. It was that barmaid I'd been chatting up at the Dirty Duck, what's-her-name..."

"Kathy Malone?"

"Right. Mick Shaughnessy had been shooting off his mouth to his girl when he was drunk and she was dead worried, told Kathy, and Kathy told me. She's got no time for that kind of caper and a Cherry Ludlow fan with it. But it seems a couple of the fellas both fancied Kathy and when yours truly came along, tall, handsome, enga--"

"Spare us the commercial, mate."

"Forgot you've already paid your money and taken your choice. So these two spot Kathy and me with our heads together and naturally assume she's succumbed to my irresistible charms -- well, she would have, given another few minutes -- so they decide they want the old status quo restored and ambush me on the way back to the car. 'You bloody well keep away from Kathy, you blankity blankity blank,' says one while the other wallops me on the head, then they both start putting the boot in. Which naturally attracts a bit of attention, and a lady starts screaming that she's calling the cops, and the fellas deliver a last couple of kicks to the coconut and leave me alone and palely concussed until an ambulance arrives."

"So Kathy's in the clear, then."

"Right. Nice girl." Bodie stroked his cheek. "Need a shave, don't you? Keep the razor off the head, all right?"

"Bloody bossy you are. I've got used to it."

"Get un-used to it, then. I want all the optional extras. Want everything I can get while I can get it. No good trying to pretend we're immortal, is it?"

"If we're lucky we can do a Butch-and-Sundance exit."

"Yeah? Who's going to be Butch, then?" Bodie asked suspiciously. "Think either of us will make it past forty?"

"Going to take a bloody good crack at it," Doyle declared. "And -- " His R/T beeped. "Back to Uncle's Knocking Shop. See you later. Here." He retrieved the carrier and set it on the bed. "Don't complain I'm not romantic. Wait till I'm out the door."

Bodie watched him leave, then investigated, grinning as he drew forth a half-pound each of Terry's Moonlight and Cadbury's Roses. And a small card, handwritten:

 

Because I like you better
Than suits a man to say,
With hair or without it
You're lumbered with me,
Ray

[End]

 

*A. L. Gordon, The Romance of Britomarte

(Title: "...poetry to protect me..." from I Am a Rock, Simon & Garfunkel)