Bodie drove to CI5 headquarters in the barely serviceable Cortina he was having to make do with until training was completed and CI5 provided him with a vehicle. After an energetic evening with his current girlfriend, Caroline, and six hours sleep, he was ready to take on King Kong.
Unfortunately he got Brian Macklin instead.
The man was a sadist, Bodie concluded, after the trainer had put him through his paces. He had barely held his own against the older man, astonished at the former agent's skill and reflexes. Not for the first time Bodie wondered why Macklin wasn't out in the field - a minefield for preference.
Aching, tired but pleasantly so, feeling the satisfaction of one whose abilities have been stretched but not snapped, he entered the showers. Ignoring the horseplay going on around him, assuring himself that he really didn't care that he was excluded, he showered quickly before leaving to get dressed. His underpants felt uncomfortable when he pulled them on but he put it down to the detergent at the launderette and reached for his trousers. He resisted the growing urge to scratch at his groin, not wishing to do so in public. Of course, the more he tried to ignore it the worse the itch got, but a hard man like him could endure it. He pulled on his socks and shoes - and almost yelped. His feet, one of the most sensitive parts of his body, likely to have him squealing for mercy if tickled, started itching even worse than his groin.
Then he knew why.
Fierce blue eyes fastened on the curly-headed man smiling at him with malicious satisfaction.
And he knew who.
Itching powder, bloody itching powder, which that bastard Doyle must have sprinkled all over his underwear. The itchiness seemed to be getting worse by the second. It soon became unbearable. Flinging his shoes aside he hauled his socks off then spent a few seconds scratching his feet. The relief this gained was slight, overwhelmed by the suffering of his crotch. He scrambled out of his clothes with less than his usual finesse, his obvious haste attracting some attention. Snatching up his clothes he headed, once again, for the showers.
A single futile minute was spent shaking out his garments before he fell into the shower, his heartfelt groan of relief causing the listening men to exchange grins. He took his time, making sure all traces of the irritating powder were gone before he switched off the water and dried off. Regarding his briefs and socks warily, he threw them into his sports bag. Nose wrinkling, he put on the spare pair of sports socks that had been in his bag for a week and he still hadn't got round to washing. He quickly put on his trousers and shirt, his movements jerky, cursing long and loud at having to go without underwear.
Soft laughter greeted the more colourful of his curses and he looked up. The gym was empty save for Macklin. Amazed to discover that the trainer had a sense of humour, even if it was currently directed at him, Bodie gave his number three glare, the one designed to stop charging rhino and upset human bodily functions.
Macklin gave a grimace. It was a few seconds before Bodie recognised it as a smile.
Admitting defeat, consoling himself with the thought that Macklin was obviously a nutter, Bodie made for the door.
"You should watch yourself."
At his trainer's words Bodie halted but didn't turn round.
"I know Doyle's sort, he'll have a long memory."
Looking over his shoulder, Bodie was all cool self-assurance. "I can handle him." He left the gym and followed his nose to the canteen.
His thoughts occupied with how he was going to deal with Doyle, he could almost forget he wasn't wearing any briefs.
Apart from the urge to scratch every couple of minutes and the conviction that everybody was staring at his crotch, Bodie thought he carried off his role of calm insouciance rather well. He was most impressed by his ability to check his homicidal feelings towards Doyle.
Apparently several of the other men were also impressed. He had noticed one or two approving nods in his direction. It was soon made clear how his seemingly good-humoured reaction to Doyle's practical joke had started a thaw towards him. Two of his fellow recruits sat at his table in the canteen during lunch and struck up a conversation. While his cynical side wished to reject this overture, his more practical side insisted he had to work with these men and sulking about their initial treatment of him wasn't going to achieve anything. So he answered their questions about his army training, mutual acquaintances and a brother in the Paras that Bodie had known were discovered, and Bodie found himself agreeing to meet up at the Red Lion that evening.
Break over, recruits started heading for their next lecture. Doyle was one of the first to leave, walking past Bodie as if he didn't exist. Bodie quashed his immediate impulse which was to grab Doyle and make damn sure he did notice him. Instead he shrugged and smiled philosophically at the others at his table. With a certain dark satisfaction he saw he had done the right thing when he received sympathetic smiles and Doyle had at least three disapproving looks thrown in his direction.
About to stand up and join the exodus, Bodie felt a hand on his elbow. He tensed, then relaxed when he saw it was Murphy. Remembering his initial impression that here was a man worth having on his side he waited for Murphy to take a seat opposite him.
Murphy waited until the canteen was empty before speaking. He looked uncomfortable but was wearing the kind of look that said a man has to do what a man has to do. "I want to talk to you about Doyle."
Lip curling with distaste, Bodie complained mildly, "Do you mind? I've just eaten."
"Look, I know you and him don't like each other, though how you've managed to discover that without having held a conversation I don't know. Doyle's a good bloke."
"No, he really is, even if you happen to be having problems with him."
"I don't have a problem with him," Bodie argued. Nothing a locked room and no witnesses couldn't fix, he added privately to himself.
"You mean apart from wanting to throttle him?"
Bodie scowled, but he saw little point in lying. "So he gets up my nose. Trying to kill the annoying little bastard once was enough."
"I happen to regard 'the annoying little bastard' as a friend," Murphy pointed out mildly.
Bodie looked uncomfortable, reluctant to alienate Murphy whom he had hoped to get to know better, perhaps with a view to teaming up with him if they proved compatible and Cowley agreed. Murphy saw the other man's discomfort and gave a smile to ease the situation. "There's a lot about Doyle to like."
Bodie frowned. "Have you ever met someone who - ?"
Murphy choked back a laugh. "Who you've never met before and have wanted to smash their face in? No, I'm glad to say, I haven't."
Bodie eyed him warily. "What's so funny?"
"I had this same conversation with Doyle. Thankfully murderous impulses are restricted to you and Doyle. God help us if the pair of you ever have to work on an op together. This building's pretty old and I doubt the structure could withstand warfare between you two. I'm not sure if my ears could either."
"Cowley would have to be crazy."
"True. Mind you, in a couple of months or so, once you've got to know him - "
"Only part of Doyle I want to know is his rear-view."
Seeing Murphy's eyebrows lifting and the tiniest of teasing smiles forming on his lips, Bodie added, "His back, you pillock, as he leaves CI5!"
Murphy's smile widened and there was approval in his expression as he watched Bodie relax. "Ah. I thought I'd have to keep my back to the wall around you."
"You should be so lucky."
Though Murphy's smile lingered his expression had turned serious. "About Doyle. Just give him time, he'll soon come round."
Bodie looked sceptical but he liked the tall, mild-mannered agent and knew he meant well. Doyle didn't know how lucky he was having this man as a friend. "Give him time, eh? All right, I promise not to murder Doyle, at least not this week, but only if I'm not provoked. Itching powder I can stand, but if he - "
"I'll have a word in his ear," Murphy interjected hastily. "Come on, we'll be late at this rate."
"And whose fault is that?" Bodie pointed out, matching Murphy's pace as they strode down the corridor.
They were arguing amicably as they entered the lecture theatre. Both men scanned the room for today's speaker and found Major Swallow was absent as yet. They also found themselves the recipients of the coldest glare it had ever been Murphy's misfortune to see. Icy green eyes swept over them, then Doyle looked away, and Murphy let out the breath he had unconsciously been holding.
"It will be. Looks like you're in the dog-house, too, mate," Bodie murmured, finding it hard to hide his grin, so he didn't bother.
Murphy scowled at the amused man beside him. "One of these days - "
"Yeah?" asked Bodie as he found them a couple of seats on the middle row.
Murphy sat down heavily. " - I'll learn to keep my mouth shut and my nose out of other people's business."
Bodie smiled sympathetically. About to reply, he noticed the arrival of Major Swallow, so he settled for a playful nudge of his elbow in Murphy's ribs then hauled out his barely touched notebook.
The Red Lion was popular with CI5 personnel, though just that week a memo had been pinned to the notice board reminding agents of the dangers of being too predictable. Two months earlier there had been an attack on two agents in the Hare and Hounds pub, another CI5 haunt. Both men had been instrumental in the downfall of a powerful crime lord and one of them had killed the criminal's son when he had pulled a gun on them. Now one agent would be unfit for duty for another month. As for his partner, he was becoming more skilled at manoeuvring his wheelchair with each passing day and was a real asset in the computer section of Admin.
As a result, agents were careful to limit the number of their party and visits per month. So for the first time since starting their training (the second time for Murphy) four of Cowley's would-be finest entered the cosy traditional pub to find God was smiling on them - the place was wall-to-wall women.
Pete Bishop, red-haired, brown-eyed, thick-skinned and insatiable, whimpered once then went into action, offering a vague wave of farewell as he headed in the direction of black hair and big breasts.
"Damn. Was planning to con him into the first round. I'm a bit short this week," Jimmy Lawrence muttered dolefully. He turned hopeful blue eyes on Bodie.
Bodie took pity on him. "Go on, what are you having? And you, Murph. Place is packed so I'll get a couple of rounds in. Jimmy, you grab a table. Murphy, you're helping me with the drinks."
"Oh, Bodie, you're so masterful," Murphy fluted, making the other men laugh, and causing a couple of heads to turn sharply in their direction.
Leaving Jimmy to guard a miraculously free table and make a thorough inventory of the available talent, Bodie made his polite but inexorable way to the crowded bar. Flashing his most winning smile at the barmaid, he and Murphy were soon back at their table with the drinks. Jimmy was eyeing a petite blonde who was talking to some friends and indicating the watching man.
"Down, boy," Murphy commanded, slanting a sly, assessing look at the blonde and her friends. He looked around the crowded room, noting just how large a percentage was female. "Don't know what's so special about this place, never get this many women in one pub as a rule."
"Knew I was coming," Bodie suggested immodestly.
"What, in your trousers?" Murphy asked in a scandalised, and purposely loud, voice. The same heads that had turned earlier did so again, this time with company.
"Apparently some old lady does a spot of fortune telling," Jimmy informed them, valiantly ignoring the stares of the curious.
Bodie raised an eyebrow, managing to convey surprise, curiosity and scepticism, which was quite a feat. "Plays with her crystal ball does she?"
"I don't know about her personal habits but she does read cards and tea leaves. According to Carol," with a nod of his head Jimmy indicated the blonde he had continued to keep his eye on, "she's pretty good."
Murphy looked intrigued. "Who is? Carol? She'll be wasted on you then."
"I should get out of here," Bodie declared.
"Why's that? All these women make you nervous?" Murphy smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, we'll protect you."
"'s not that. You do realise Gypsy Rose Lee will be spouting the usual 'tall, dark 'n' handsome stranger' line, don't you? All these women will naturally think she means me." He examined Murphy from head to toe. "You'll be safe, mate."
Ignoring Murphy's indignant reply, Jimmy muttered, "Got to go, lads. Some toe-rag's eyeing up Carol." With a quick grin at the other two men, he left them and went over to stake his claim.
"I see it's not going to be the lads night out we had planned," Murphy sighed mournfully, his voice at odds with his expression as he spotted dark, long-lashed eyes looking his way.
"Go on, go for it. She doesn't look like she'll bite you but you can't have everything."
"In a minute, don't want to look too keen." He turned his attention to Bodie. "So, what do you think of this place? You haven't been here before, have you?"
"I missed that thrill. Seems popular enough. I take it you have?"
Murphy nodded. "Just the once with Doyle and Lawrence - we did our assessment together. It's all right here, nice and easy for the CI5 rabble to blend in. Just think, once training's over, we too can go into a place and spend half our time and attention on wondering whether it's safe, where the exits are, whether the shifty looking bloke in the white trench-coat and stupid hat really is a spy."
"Don't you do that already?" Bodie asked wryly. "Been spoilt, you have."
Murphy pulled a resigned face. "Be nice to go somewhere and not have your army training take over and turn a cosy restaurant into a potential deathtrap. Talk about a passion-killer."
"Wonder if it ever leaves - Will you look at that!" Bodie murmured with the kind of reverence usually reserved for the Turin Shroud.
She had just walked in and so, mercifully, hadn't been subjected to Pete Bishop's idea of flirtation. A voluptuous Amazon - breasts like that should have a Government Health Warning stamped on them, Bodie decided. She was easily the tallest woman in the place, with long legs - though he couldn't see much of them because of her long dress. A mane of golden curls framed her face like a halo - lovely. Pity the dress she was wearing was the most hideous shade of purple he'd ever seen. And orange platforms?
Behind the blonde he caught a glimpse of brown curls gleaming with reddish highlights - the blonde's friend perhaps? He couldn't see her face as she was hidden behind the statuesque woman. The blonde stepped aside just as the other woman turned to face the bar. Unlike the blonde she was dressed more casually in a silky looking green top and jeans that clung to every beautiful curve. The tight denim encased the most perfect rear he had ever seen, and those shapely legs were so long he didn't know whether he could scale them unaided, or if he should race home to fetch his ropes and pitons.
He'd always had a weakness for a great pair of legs and a gorgeous bum. The blonde temporarily forgotten, Bodie lusted happily from afar, oblivious of Murphy who had taken note of the blonde Bodie had pointed out and was following her progress with admiring comments. Several chat-up lines were considered then discarded. It didn't take long before Bodie had settled on one of his most tried and tested, and he was straightening his tie when the owner of the Most Perfect Arse in London (at the very least) turned round.
Bodie was lusting after Raymond Doyle.
Holy fucking shit.
Eyes were hastily averted as silent prayers went racing through his horrified, atheist mind that, please, God, don't let Doyle have caught him eyeing up his arse. Embarrassment didn't begin to describe it, he felt like he had when he was nine years old and his mum caught him giggling as he searched through a dictionary for rude words.
Of all people, Doyle!
He risked a quick glance in Doyle's direction to find he was once more facing the bar.
Safe, he permitted himself a quick glance, just to check his first impression hadn't been wrong. Christ, but he did have a nice arse. Pity it didn't have tits to match. Oh, yeah, and the other bits as well, of course. How the hell had he mistaken Doyle for a woman? So much for twenty-twenty vision.
Eyes still fixed on Doyle, he noticed he was looking at the tall blonde whom he'd been walking behind when he'd entered the pub. Doyle was practically salivating, which was hardly surprising as The Blonde Amazon was definitely the best looking woman in the place. And if Doyle wanted her, then naturally Bodie had to move in on her. His current girlfriend had been getting too possessive anyway.
As one they moved in on the target, Doyle unaware of Bodie or his intent, Bodie focussed on the woman but conscious of the other man's exact location. Doyle spotted him seconds before they both converged on the woman each man planned to seduce. His scowl was horrible to behold, but Bodie didn't flinch.
The woman looked startled at the abrupt appearance of the two men, but her rapid assessing gaze established several important facts - they were not about to attack her; they were not drunk; they were both very good-looking; and the dark-haired one was wearing an expensive suit, whilst the one with the curls was wearing the sort of tight jeans that had nuns weeping with regret and angels binning their halos.
And they were both gazing at her with lust in their eyes.
Thank God for Max Factor and birth control.
Both men smiled at her but instead of delivering their chat-up lines they locked eyes with each other.
"Doyle. Didn't expect to see you here. Thought you'd be home with the wife and kids."
"I suppose I'll have to tell my sister I saw you out on the prowl again. Least you could do is wait until after the baby's born, you know how upset she gets."
The Blonde was eyeing them both with rather less favour. Bodie concluded that he could either continue with this game or let the woman decide who she wanted. Did he really fear Doyle as competition?
"Sorry, love, we're always like this, teasing each other. Aren't we, mate?" Christ, saying 'mate' almost choked Bodie. Doyle had better play along or he'd bloody well swing for him.
"That's right. Can't resist. Just like I couldn't resist coming over here to find out your name. Not often we get someone as attractive as you in here."
Oh, God, he was going to be sick! The fact that Doyle had just used the very line he had planned to use was beside the point. Bodie viewed the other man's smile with distaste, knowing how calculated it was for all its apparent warmth. And the silly cow was falling for it. Time to move in.
Doyle had a chipped tooth, he observed absently.
"I think it's about time we introduced ourselves. That's Raymond Doyle," he said, casually flicking a finger - the middle one - in the other man's direction. "And I'm Bodie." He gave her his most charming smile and was gratified to see the warmth of her answering smile.
"I'm Clare. Clare Evans."
Determined to hold her attention, he took the hand she held out to him and raised it to his lips. He made it an elegant but casual gesture, ignoring Doyle's derisive snort, certain that Clare would find it charming. The look of delight on her face confirmed his assessment - she probably read Barbara Cartland novels. The quick all-over glance which put a gleam in her eyes was not due to the influence of flowery Romances, and was pleasing if not unexpected. After all, thought Bodie, he was wearing an expensive suit.
He was taking a risk but he chanced leaving her with Doyle anyway. "You must be thirsty. Can I get you a drink?"
"A Babycham would be lovely."
He just managed to prevent his nose from wrinkling in distaste. He almost said 'a lovely drink for a lovely lady' but some things you just can't lie about, and seeing Doyle's disgusted scowl made up his mind to keep his mouth shut. He saw the moment Doyle realised he was leaving them alone, the scowl replaced by a predatory smile.
Perhaps he was making a tactical error?
Bodie managed to get served in record time, earning several irate glares as he left the bar, then headed towards Doyle and Clare. He was annoyed to see the other man had managed to make her laugh, but consoled himself with the thought that maybe she was laughing herself sick at Curly Top's pathetic lines. Doyle couldn't be that accomplished if he hadn't managed to whisk Clare away in his absence.
Doyle was pleased to see Bodie's frown when he saw them laughing, and he moved a little closer to Clare to give an impression of intimacy. He watched as Bodie's lips tightened then thrust out in a pout that held Doyle's gaze. The peculiar eyebrows were drawn down, like birds wings, hovering over the stormy blue eyes.
Where the hell had that fanciful notion come from? wondered Doyle.
Doyle cast the thought aside, focussing on his current displeasure. He had tried to put Clare off Bodie by delicately hinting that gentleman was into S and M and bondage. Instead of shock and hoped for revulsion she had grinned hugely, then proceeded to relate the story of how she had handcuffed her boyfriend to the bed, and was in the middle of spanking him when his mother had walked in with a pot of tea she had made for them. What had happened next was a mystery as yet as Clare had broken into hysterical laughter, that veered from high-pitched squeals to donkey-like braying. It was annoying him intensely and prior to Bodie's return he'd been looking around for alternative talent and had spotted a petite, demure-looking brunette who probably thought S 'n' M was a small town in Northamptonshire.
"There you go." Bodie passed the Babycham to Clare then sipped at his scotch.
"Didn't you get your friend a drink?"
"Yeah. Where's mine, mate?"
Like taking sweets from a baby, Bodie thought gleefully. He assumed an embarrassed look, appearing to be uncomfortable with the question. "Ray, please."
Doyle looked wary. "What is it?"
Bodie sighed, careful not to overdo it. He edged nearer to Doyle, knowing full well that Clare would be straining to overhear their conversation. "You promised you'd limit yourself, gave your word. Please, Ray, don't spoil this evening. You know you don't need it, not really."
It didn't take Doyle long to realise what the other man was insinuating - Bodie was hardly being subtle. "I can handle my booze!" he snapped, then saw his mistake when the warmth faded from Clare's eyes. Alcoholics denied their addiction, he knew that, and apparently so did Clare. "He's just joking," Doyle explained, but he knew it was a lost cause. Sod it, he'd lost interest anyway.
Doyle threw a fierce glare in Bodie's direction, but not possessing Gorgon powers it was a wasted effort. "I'll leave you two to it. See you around, Clare. Bodie." With dignity he left, his chin tilted at a somewhat defiant angle. A minute or so later he heard braying laughter and he allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction. Without looking around he knew Bodie winced. Happy once more he headed for the brunette who had just cold-shouldered Pete Bishop.
Bodie had seen Clare laughing, but the noise of the pub crowd had drowned out the sound. Now he was hearing her laughter in all its equine glory.
Oh God, he thought hysterically, I'm chatting up Mister Ed!
Still, so long as he didn't make her laugh, it would be okay. After all, sex didn't have to include giggling and laughter. She seemed relaxed, had waved briefly at some friends he guessed she was supposed to be meeting. They were watching them intently - watching him he realised self-consciously, thankful he was past the age of blushing - and he felt it was time to move on to the next stage.
He proposed moving on to somewhere a little more intimate and she smiled her agreement. With Clare waving an enthusiastic farewell to her friends and himself feeling like a trophy - wasn't this supposed to work the other way around? - he avoided meeting the eyes of the group of laughing, teasing women who were bidding Clare goodbye and eased her towards the exit. He looked about for Murphy and the other lads but they were all fully occupied. Then he noticed Doyle was leaving a pretty brunette and heading for the bar, presumably to get her a drink.
It was irresistible.
"Excuse me, love, but I've just spotted my cousin. I'll only be a second."
He left Clare near the exit and walked over to the brunette, pasting a concerned look on his face. "Excuse me. I know you don't know me but I saw you talking to Ray just now."
"Are you a friend of his?" She smiled, leaving Bodie unsure as to whether he still preferred blondes.
"Not exactly. I'm his brother-in-law."
She nodded towards the tall blonde woman standing near the exit, whom she had seen Doyle talking to earlier. "Oh, is that his sister?"
"No. Oh, God, how can I say this?" He tried for a tortured look and saw she was looking concerned so he down-played it a little. "Ray is married to my sister."
"I swore I wouldn't interfere, Trish made me promise, but what would you do if your sister was pregnant and - ?"
"I don't want to hear anymore." There was pain and anger in her voice and Bodie felt the briefest stab of remorse. "He'll be back in a minute. If that bastard's going to cheat on his wife it won't be with me. You know, I noticed a couple of rings on a chain round his neck."
"That's what he said. Said both had been a long time ago but he still carried them as a reminder of how beautiful love could be. I thought it was ever so romantic."
"Trophies of past girlfriends. He wears them to taunt my sister," Bodie bit out, his voice choking on the words in the most fetching manner.
"You'd better go, I don't want him to know you've spoken to me. I have some pride."
"All right. I'm so sorry. But I think it's wonderful of you, many women wouldn't have your principles. A pleasure meeting you."
Seeing Doyle was still occupied at the bar, he leaned forward and placed a chaste little peck on the brunette's cheek. Brimming with glee, he returned to an impatient Clare. He managed to wait until they were outside before he started laughing.