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Ninety-Nine Yew Trees

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Doyle had been sitting in the parked car for twenty minutes, his fingers drumming idly on the steering wheel. He’d told Cowley he wouldn’t do it, that he could fire him for it, but he wouldn’t do it. Even parked under the trees it was too warm to be sitting there with the windows rolled up. Doyle wiped the sweat off his face with his shirt sleeve and stared at the cottage.

If Bodie had wanted his help he’d have stayed in London. Usually, they looked after each other, dropped by the flat bringing takeaway and carefully engineered casual insults designed to stop the slide in to self-pity. How pathetic was it that they had a “usually” about being injured? Not that Bodie would have got his help. Doyle tightened his fingers reflexively. He glanced over at the large brown envelope lying on the passenger’s seat and then back out through the windscreen. The cottage still looked deserted, still looked exactly like it had when he’d last looked at it two minutes ago. Bloody Cowley. When Doyle had said no a second time Cowley had bribed him. All he had to do was drop off the envelope and then he didn’t have to be back at HQ for eight days. He could do this. Even if the cottage wasn’t as deserted as it looked like it was, he could talk to anyone, even Bodie if he absolutely had to, for five minutes. Five minutes and the next eight days were his. Doyle got out of the car.

Outside of the stuffy car, the world was a very different place. A light wind rippled across the beech trees lining the lane, the paler underside of the leaves forming wave patterns as Doyle breathed deeply and turned instinctively into the breeze. He had to admit that it was a beautiful place. The street was bordered on one side by an old church, the church he was sure gave St. Mary’s street its name, and he could see old tombstones amidst rows of trees behind the wall. It was the sort of village, Doyle instinctively knew, where those graves belonged to the ancestors of the little kids he’d seen playing at the primary school when he’d driven past it. This was the sort of place where if you were lucky enough to be born here you’d never leave. He could think of less likely places to find a cold-blooded killer, but not many. Tucking the envelope firmly under one arm he crossed the street.

The garden gate was squeaky on its hinges and Doyle was careful opening it, hoping to make as little noise as possible. The garden beyond had been mowed and there were a few stubborn shrubs clinging to what must have once been flower beds but it looked sadly neglected compared to the abundant gardens on either side of the neighbour’s hedges. He knocked quietly on the front door, no point in disturbing the neighbours after all. No answer. Bodie obviously wasn’t home as even in his present condition he’d have responded. The little porch over the door contained a miniscule bench and Doyle pondered wedging Cowley’s envelope under it. No one would be able to see from the street and Bodie would find it when he got home. No, he couldn’t do it, he’d promised Cowley that he’d deliver it, so he knocked again. Still no answer. Bodie had already been in the cottage three days. By now he’d probably be chasing village wenches around the village green even if he had to do it in a wheelchair. Doyle didn’t want to see that, didn’t want to see Bodie at all really. He decided, one more knock and then he’d just leave the envelope.

“Are you looking for Will?” A face appeared over the hedge, causing Doyle to jump. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you, young man.”

The elderly but healthy looking woman was beaming at him, her face framed by a huge straw hat that had seen better days. The effect was somehow enhanced by the smudge of dirt on her cheek.

“Will’ll be delighted to have a visitor.” As she spoke she gestured with hands encased in bright green gardening gloves, the blade of her trowel catching the light.

“I’m just here to drop something off for... Will” Doyle had been taught to be polite to his elders. “Perhaps I could leave it with you?”

“Oh, where are my manners? Why don’t you come round, so we don’t have to talk over this here hedge like savages?” She spoke with a deep West Country accent that could draw simple sentences out to sound like she was reading the entire telephone book to him.

Doyle brought the envelope up to rest on the hedge. “If I could just leave this—”

“I’m sorry dear, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, just pop round” and with that she disappeared back behind the hedge.

Doyle looked longingly at that spot he’d picked out for the envelope under the porch bench then shrugged it off and headed back to the garden gate. On the other side of the hedge it was a different world, banked and crowded flower beds on either side of the garden path a riot of colour, the height of the beds explaining how the old lady had been able to peer down at him over the hedge. She was waiting for him near her gate.

“I’m Mrs. Hammond. Will’s probably sitting in the back garden, sits out there all day he does.” She turned back towards her cottage, forcing Doyle to follow her out of politeness. “You see there’s no path round the cottages, you have to go through them to get to the back gardens.”

It didn’t take a genius to work out why they were headed up the path to her cottage and it wasn’t what Doyle wanted at all.

“It’s too much trouble, if you’ll just—”

“Nonsense, Will’s not had any visitors at all. It’ll do him a world of good to see a friendly face.”

Doyle supposed it would, now if only Murphy had brought the envelope instead of him.

“Really, Mrs. Hammond, if I could just leave this envelope with you, there’s no need to disturb him.”

But Mrs. Hammond was already pushing her front door open and Ray was forced again to follow her. She shepherded Doyle through her cottage that was just as crowded as her front garden was although to a much more hideous effect. It was full of figurines of milk maids, with lace doilies smothering anything that didn’t move and that wasn’t already covered by an antimacassar or hideously large botanical patterns. It reminded Doyle of his own grandmother, how the prints in her house had seemed to grow larger as she’d seemed to shrink. Mrs. Hammond led him on through her kitchen and out the back door.

“Slim young lad like you can just squeeze through the gap in the hedge, could do it myself when I was younger, mind I wouldn’t try it now. Just watch yourself, in those tight trousers of yours you might snag something vital.”

No, Mrs. Hammond wasn’t quite like Doyle’s grandmother.

“Sorry to leave you here but I have to get back to my flower borders else the neighbours will be talking about me, Mrs. Downey three doors up has a particularly vicious tongue.”

Doyle gingerly approached the hedge, easily spotting the gap Mrs. Hammond had referred too, the ground beneath it hard and clear of grass where generations of neighbours had obviously passed backwards and forwards before the hedge had got so tall, a good foot over Doyle’s head. Through the gap he could see Bodie sitting in an old wooden garden chair, propped up with needlepoint pillows that had obviously come from inside the cottage. Doyle turned sideways to slide through the hedge, the movement accompanied by the scraping noises of the branches against his body. At the noise, Bodie started slightly in his chair and then slumped back when he saw that it was Doyle. The beginning of one of Bodie’s patented eight year old boy grins lit up his battered face before his eyes dropped to the large brown envelope that Doyle was holding. Then his face went carefully blank.

“Thought Cowley was sending Murphy. Thanks, you can just leave it on the table.”

Doyle was annoyed to find himself clutching the envelope to his chest like a shield and overcompensated as a result, dropping in to the seat on the other side of the garden table, relaxing back in to it, determined not to let Bodie see how tense he really was.

“So, let me guess, the Cow asked you to talk me into coming back.”

Doyle watched as Bodie raised one hand before obviously thinking better of it and letting it drop back in to his lap. He moved his left hand, the fingers protruding from his cast, to pull the cuff of his right sleeve down over his bandaged right hand. The gesture was a reflex, Doyle was sure Bodie didn’t know how telling it was.

“Well you can tell the Cow—”

“I’m just here to drop off an envelope. I’ve got no interest in whether you come back or not, couldn’t care less. I won’t be working with you again that’s for bloody certain.”

“Right, you’ve already made that clear enough. So what did he bribe you with to come here?”

Doyle dropped the envelope on the table, next to a small basket.

“Eight days off.”

Bodie’s head dropped to look down at his hands. It gave Doyle a chance to look him over more closely, from Bodie’s uncharacteristic beard to the fact that he’d never seen Bodie looking this thin, his shirt hanging off him, his trousers loose through the hips. Even after days on a stakeout he’d never seen Bodie look this rough.

“He gave you eight days? Eight days? You really didn’t want to come here.”

Bodie’s voice was rusty sounding, like he hadn’t had much cause to use it in quite a while. There was an underlying tremble in it too, that almost made Doyle feel guilty about it but Doyle wasn’t having any of that. He pulled the basket towards him and peered inside. It contained a tennis ball, large rubber bands and a big ball of what looked like Play-Doh.

“So what’s all this then, thought you’d had enough when you left the rehabilitation centre?”

“Had enough with CI5, but I’m not stupid.”

Doyle didn’t even try to hide his snort of derision.

“Physio made it clear, keep doing the hand exercises or end up crippled. I’ve got plans—”

“Mercs hiring again are they?”

Bodie ignored him. “Still got a lot of life to get through, with or without... CI5.”

Bodie’s eyes met his for the first time since he’d slipped through the hedge. Doyle didn’t like the reproach he could see there and he wasn’t going to stand for it.

“Christ, that beard. Looks like a rat died on your face.”

“I find it stops strange men from getting funny ideas. Right, Doyle?

Doyle wasn’t going to be talking about that either.

Bodie waited for a moment and then slowly wrapped both hands around the glass of water in front of him and sipped from it before carefully lowering it back to the table.

“Fine host you are Bodie, not even going to offer me a cuppa?”

“If you want tea, you’ll have to make it yourself. Although I’ve got no milk. Or sugar. Or even tea for that matter.”

Doyle wasn’t going to ask, it wasn’t like he was concerned about Bodie or anything, far from it. “So what do you have in your kitchen?”

“Some lovely tap water and a few cans of soup. You can have that if you want, think I’ve got some oxtail.”

“You should have stayed in London if you didn’t want to stay at the centre, not come out here to the middle of nowhere.”

“I wouldn’t have had any more help there than I do here, would I?”

Doyle couldn’t stop himself from flinching and was irritated to realize that Bodie had seen it.

“Look, I’m sorry, I’m sorry about everything, Ray. How’s the squad doing?”

Now Bodie was trying to change the subject and Doyle wasn’t here to chat.

“I bet the local shop in a village like this one would still deliver your shopping for you.”

“No phone.”

“How about that Mrs. Hammond next door, bet she’d—”

“I don’t like to impose on her any further. She’s already kind enough to change my bandages for me, stalwart of the local St. John’s ambulance brigade she is.”

“Christ Bodie, you’ve got to do something, you look like shit.” Doyle hadn’t even known he was going to blurt that out.

“Thanks for the lovely visit Doyle, I feel loads better now.”

“Not here to make you feel better, just to deliver this envelope.” Doyle rose to his feet, intending to say goodbye and slide back through the hedge but his feet wouldn’t seem to move. He ran his fingers across his own jaw line. “You could at least shave that off, tidy yourself up a bit.”

“It’s painful to raise my arms up high enough to shave or to wash my hair.”

“Hands?”

“Ribs too. There’s no shower, the cottage is too old. I could get in the bath all right I think but I’m not strong enough yet to be confident about getting out of the bath on my own. If I ended up having to shout for help Mrs. Hammond would be the only one who might hear me and I think me in the nude might be a bit much for her.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”

“So I’ve been taking sink baths, at least managing to get clean enough so I can stand myself.”

It didn’t matter to Doyle any more, nothing about Bodie did. “I’m here, you can take a bath at least. We’ll see if we can find an old shopping bag to keep that cast dry, get you settled in there and then I’ll nip up the road to the shop I saw on the corner and get you some stuff in. I might even make you some dinner.”

“Why would you do all that?”

“Because I wouldn’t leave even my worst enemy in this state.”

 

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