With many thanks for the art made for me! :D
art from : http://archiveofourown.org/works/292125
art from : http://nickygabriel.livejournal.com/571267.html
With many thanks for the beta to anna060957. All errors remain my own, and the characters are, of course, not mine. I make no money from this. –Allie
Summary: When Doyle is ordered to go undercover as a stripper, Bodie worries.
Rating: PG-13 for adult themes, some violence
Characters: Bodie, Doyle, Cowley
Pairings: none (Bodie and Doyle bromance)
Cowley removed his glasses. His voice was dangerously, scarily soft. “It wasn’t a suggestion, 3.7. Doyle will be undercover, and you will be observing the suspect. Your paths won’t cross unless Roberts goes to the strip joint.”
Frustration made Bodie unwary; made him answer back to Cowley. “But somebody’s got to watch his back, sir.”
“I’ll be fine,” grumbled Doyle, obviously trying to get Bodie to shut up before he got the old man in a really foul mood.
“He’ll have backup. But it can’t be one man, and it can’t be you. You’re needed on Roberts. Now go!”
Bodie swivelled in silence and long steps took him from the room. His shoulders and face felt very tight, and he wanted to hit something. He headed from the building, forcing himself to loosen his tight fists and breathe evenly. Doyle would be fine. Doyle would be fine. Doyle would be...
After a moment, he was aware of the Doyle in question’s arrival. Bodie could sense him as much as hear him, an ability that had always served them well working together. He turned as Doyle closed the door behind him carefully and leaned in against the wall.
“I’ll be fine,” said Doyle. He sounded and looked grouchy, but more worried about Bodie than upset about the op.
“Yeah, right, as a stripper!” said Bodie. “And without me there to watch your back.”
“Can watch it myself. I’ll be fine, Bodie. You just watch that killer. If he gets away from you, and takes the bait...”
“Yeah, I’ll stay glued to him. But you watch yourself. Roberts isn’t the only creep out there.” He jerked his chin at Doyle. “Sure you can do it? I mean, stripping...male club...all that?”
Doyle shrugged. “It’s undercover. I’m good at undercover.” If the look in his eyes did not quite agree with this lazy pronouncement, Bodie didn’t argue. Because Doyle was good at undercover, and... what could they do about it, anyway? An order was an order.
Cowley had been firm. Doyle closely fit the profile that the killer, probably Roberts, seemed to go for: wiry, curly-haired, youthful-looking and with an air of toughness about them. Bodie had seen the pictures of the victims, though, and it gave him a sick feeling of dread to think of Doyle as the bait in the trap this time round.
Shouldn’t even be a case for CI5. Wouldn’t, if it wasn’t a diplomat getting away with these murders.
What was it with these diplomats, thought Bodie sourly, pushing the boundaries of their diplomatic immunity?
Oh, they didn’t have enough to be certain it was Roberts—not to prove it in a court of law. But they had enough that he’d be damned certain to be called in for questioning and possibly even charged—if he weren’t a diplomat.
As it was, a few male strippers had died. Some of them had been drug addicts. Their lives weren’t worth any diplomatic trouble to Great Britain. Except to Cowley, who had wrathfully promised that he would prove Roberts guilty and have him ejected from the country.
Roberts was one of those wild men who nobody would ever dream liked men ‘that way.’ Perhaps he didn’t, and just liked to kill them. He’d been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, gone to the right schools and attended the right university, made all the right contacts. He’d risen to his appointment as ambassador throughthose contacts and through his father’s influence. Cowley had dug up several scandals that his father had quickly hushed up. They appeared to have been more along the lines of parties where drugs were found, and affairs with the wives of influential men covered up, rather than strip club murders, but the point was, he was trouble and his family had clout.
Paint fumes stung Bodie’s nose.
Bodie frowned darkly, shifting his seat on the hard wooden chair where he watched Roberts’ party from across the street. Lovely flat this would be, if it weren’t in the midst of being decorated.
Through his binoculars, he could almost hear the laughter and the tinkling of champagne glasses. He’d been living off cold baked beans and bouillon-and-vodka for the past two days. Sometimes life really wasn’t fair. He stared at the scantily clad blonde laughing uproariously at something Roberts said (couldn’t be THAT funny), and thought sour thoughts.
“Hello hello!” called a cheerful voice, and Bodie turned, glad enough to be relieved. “Mac? Thanks.” He handed over the binoculars. “All quiet on the western front. How goes it with Doyle?”
Mac smirked as he took the binoculars. He looked through them at the party, and his eyebrows rose. “Wow, she’s—”
“How’s Doyle?” repeated Bodie, frowning.
“Oh, he’s really getting into it,” said McCabe with a dirty laugh.
“Yeah, well, he’s good undercover.”
“He’s lovely,” agreed Mac in a camp voice. He laughed again and peered through the binoculars, shook his head. “The rich and powerful get all the fun.”
“Aw, now, that’s no way to act. I saved you some beans.”
“You’re all heart!”
He wanted to ask about Doyle again, but if it was only going to draw snide remarks he’d rather not. A little teasing was to be expected, but Bodie hadn’t seen his partner since the undercover began, and his subconscious refused to believe that Doyle was safe. So if Mac started up about Doyle Bodie would probably not take it well.
It was really no good getting snappy and defensive of Doyle, because he knew very well he’d be the exact same way if it were any other member of the squad undercover as a stripper. Of course he’d have preferred to be even more closely involved if it were one of the female CI5 agents, but, well...
Somebody needed to keep Doyle safe. And something in Bodie simply couldn’t believe that he was safe without Bodie as his backup. He knew it was silly, but hearing Mac make it all into one big joke wasn’t helping to reassure him. This needed to be serious, and Doyle needed to be safe: or else.
He left the building with Mac still enviously watching the party and headed home. He had just time for a quick shower and a couple of hours’ sleep before he was back on duty. He fell into deep sleep almost right away. He hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. But all the same, something nagged at him during his rest. Doyle—Doyle was—
Since he couldn’t see it, he nonetheless imagined it. Doyle, up on stage, gyrating and taking off clothes to the music. He’d seen enough women do it, but Doyle... It made him feel angry and itchy. He tried to get to the stage, to turn the music off and take Doyle away from there. His partner looked so dead-eyed and expressionless. “Keep away from him, keep away!” he snapped at the men—crowds and crowds of men, laughing up at the stage, and he couldn’t push past them all. He heard Mac over there, laughing uproariously with his mates, and there was Cowley telling him, “3.7. 3.7...”
He woke with a start, and reached automatically for his R/T. But no, it had just been a dream. He sank back and groaned. Even in sleep, Cowley could get to him. He remembered the angry, helpless feeling of the dream and stared moodily at the ceiling. It was still dark. Bodie was due back shortly.
Mac could bloody well wait. He swung his feet to the ground and got up. He dressed quickly, threw on his gun and jacket and headed out. He’d get breakfast at the strip joint. They had to serve some kind of food there, didn’t they?
He knew he had his angry face on when two men leaving the place quickly got out of his way.
Inside, he looked around with distaste at the smoky room, the brash music, the tables which seemed too close together, yet isolated as well. A quick glance at the stage told him it wasn’t Doyle, and he moved to the bar. “Sausage and chips,” he ordered. That would be hard to mess up, even for such a greasy-looking place as this.
A bottom placed itself on the stool next to Bodie’s. He’d been drumming his fingers and waiting impatiently for his food, wondering where Doyle was. Now he looked over at Turner, who shook a finger at him, grinning. “Naughty naughty. What will the Cow say?”
“I’m off duty, aren’t I?” said Bodie. “Just wanted some breakfast.” He gestured to the food, which was now arriving. Limp chips and funny-looking sausage.
“Trust me, you won’t after you’ve tried it.” Turner took a few peanuts from his bag and cracked them annoyingly. “I’ve been living off these and takeaway from the place down the street.”
“Oh, you always live on those things, mate,” said Bodie, digging in, determined not to be put off by Turner. The chips were a bit all right, though they could’ve been cooked longer. One cut into the sausage, however, convinced him not to eat it: it was pink inside.
“Some poor pig died to make that sausage, mate. Or else it didn’t,” said a familiar, deep voice. Bodie turned with a big smile on his face, glad to hear Doyle sounding so like himself.
Familiar green eyes looked out at him from Doyle’s tired-looking, uneven face. He looked just as he might after any other time when he’d been working for long hours: tired and disreputable in his tight jeans and old shirt, his hair rather astray. But his eyes held a welcome and a naughty spark as he challenged Bodie to call him on his remark.
Bodie reached over and slapped him on the arm, a rough, friendly greeting.
“Careful, can’t touch the work force,” said Doyle, grinning at him and bellying up to the bar. He stole two of Bodie’s chips, his eyes daring Bodie to say anything about it. “Staying long?”
The question was mild, but it made Bodie pause. Doyle didn’t want him to stay, he realised suddenly. Green eyes were watching him sceptically as Doyle chewed. He stole another two chips, and licked his fingers after putting them in his mouth. “Only I’m on soon.”
You don’t mind Turner and the laughing McCabe, but you want me gone! thought Bodie indignantly, feeling a bit hurt.
But he understood it a moment later, and the offended feeling slipped away. Of course Doyle didn’t want anyone more than necessary seeing him strip. It was the sort of thing that would get him ribbed endlessly, and he’d like to keep the spectacle from as many jolly jokers as possible. That included Bodie, because, well, he usually would tease Doyle about anything if he got the chance, wouldn’t he? It was no good saying he wouldn’t about this, about anything really important, because their definitions of ‘important’ might be different, and Doyle would just rather be left alone about it.
Ought to trust me more, mate, thought Bodie, but his annoyance was gone. He gave Doyle a smirking smile, shook his head at him, and said, “Yeah, I’m going. Eat the rest of those, there’s a good lad.”
Doyle pounced on the chips. “Ta. I’m on soon and forgot to eat.”
“You’re so blasé about food, Raymond, as though it grew on trees.” He threw the lame joke off—didn’t get a reaction, Doyle was eating—and got off his stool and squeezed past Doyle, pausing to give his arm a good, firm, reassuring grip as he moved past. Doyle stilled for it, and he felt the reconnection between them, some of the tension leaving both of them, and a quiet understanding growing.
Doyle turned to smile at him, his eyes warm. He stuffed some more chips in his mouth and said, mouth full, “Go on, then.”
Bodie made a face at him, slapped playfully at his gut, and went. He felt better about Doyle than he had since this thing started. His partner would hold up fine.
On the way out, Bodie checked his watch; he’d be a bit late, but he was sick of beans. He stopped at Turner’s Chinese takeaway and ordered three large meals. They smelled wonderful. He might share with McCabe; then again he might not.
The odours of lovely food filled the car as he drove back to the obbo flat. He wrinkled his nose again at the smell of drying paint and found Mac waiting for him, glaring a bit. Mac looked interestedly at the takeaway containers and reached for one.
Bodie pulled them away. “Tell me first. Anything interesting?” He sat down and pulled out the plastic fork.
“Nah, still partying. He went to bed for a bit—not alone—and now he’s drinking his breakfast. The man’s mad. Give over, Bodie!”
“All right, but no funny business,” said Bodie in his fake American accent.
“What?” Mac was torn between a laugh and a scowl, as he dug for his own fork. “Funny business...?”
Bodie pointed his fork at Mac and narrowed his gaze. “You keep your eyes to yourself and off my partner, partner,” he said in a terrible John Wayne impersonation. Mac laughed, as he was meant to, and they dug happily into their food.
After a few moments Mac checked his watch. “Mm. Got to go. I’ve got something delectable waiting for me.” He waggled his eyebrows.
“Then give me back that food, you greedy— Oi!” Bodie stood up, indignantly. But Mac was gone, laughing.
Bodie settled in for a boring obbo and wished that Doyle were here to laugh and joke and eat with. Though in truth, the paint fumes would probably make him woozy, he’d complain about the food choice (whatever it was—even if he liked it ordinarily), then he’d lie down in the corner for a kip on a paint rag and wake up grumpier than ever, if Bodie knew him.
Still, it would’ve been better than being separated, Bodie to a boring task, Doyle to a dangerous one. He wondered if he could’ve done it, get up on stage and strip off his clothes slowly, to music, for a bunch of watching men. Men! Now if it were a bunch of squealing, pretty girls...
No. Bodie was pretty sure it would’ve been difficult even then. He didn’t go for the whole public displays of affection thing. What would it be like to have public displays of your body for anyone to see just for a bit of money?
He tugged unconsciously at his polo neck shirt, tight against his neck, and thought of Doyle. Doyle wore his shirts practically open to his belly button. He wouldn’t mind showing just a bit more, would he?
But he’d looked so tired.
So tired and so relieved and happy to see Bodie, instead of more strangers. The joking, Bodie was fairly certain, had revived him as much as the chips, if not more. He’d forgotten to eat—fat chance. He just hadn’t been hungry, pining away undercover, barely able to stand it another moment.
Then Bodie laughed at himself. Doyle could take care of himself. He’d be fine.
All the same, he tried to think of what he’d bring Doyle to tempt him to eat, when next he saw him. Because of course, he was going to see him the next time he was off duty.
He was flaming bored, but at least something had finally happened. Roberts got a phone call and took off in his fancy American car. Bodie trailed him in his Capri, carefully at a distance. Wouldn’t do to lose the man, especially as he was heading right for the strip joint.
The town grew seedier and seedier around them. There: he was parking, looking around, getting out—and paying the cover charge. Bodie did the same, not following too closely. He hoped whoever was guarding Doyle was on their toes.
The music was loud and raucous. The crowd was busier than it had been earlier. Drinks flowed, along with scattered laughter, whistles and cheers.
And Doyle was up.
How often did he have to go on? wondered Bodie, feeling angry as he heard a catcall aimed at his partner.
“Take it all off!” shouted someone else. Ugly bastard, too. Did he think Doyle would look twice at him, would do any of this if he had a choice? For a moment, Bodie felt overcome with protective rage.
Wait a minute... Was that why Cowley didn’t want him here? Because Bodie would feel protective, instead of focusing on the job at hand and acting professionally?
He took his temper sternly in hand and scanned the crowd, looking for Roberts. He’d joined another man at a table and they were talking quietly. The man had eyes only on Doyle, very watchful eyes, but at something Roberts said he turned and blinked, Roberts finally having caught his attention.
Bodie caught sight of Anson. The bastard! He was watching Doyle, not the room! Probably didn’t even realise Roberts had arrived.
Finally getting his bearings and sitting down at a table near the back where he could watch Roberts, Bodie turned his attention from the obnoxious gits filling the room, and from Roberts and his companion, to... Doyle.
He was far along, nearly down to his underwear. And he was good at this—too good, as McCabe had said, realised Bodie with a little shock. You didn’t get that good at anything in two or three days.
Doyle moved with a lithe sensuality, coldly going over the moves of the strip-tease as though he’d done it a hundred times before. He moved exactly right for the music, and he undid his clothing and got out of it with practiced disinterest and ease. Bodie felt really uncomfortable watching this. It was a very strange feeling to see Doyle on display like this, to have everyone jeering at him. Appreciative or not, it certainly sounded like jeering to Bodie’s ears.
And when he looked at Doyle’s face...he didn’t like what he saw. Doyle was not...he just wasn’t Doyle. Certainly he’d gone far undercover before—as he said, he was damn good—but this...he looked like he wasn’t home at all, just an emotionless shell going through the motions.
His body was there, but his mind... wasn’t. His face tilted a little towards the light and Bodie caught a glimpse of his eyes. Even from this distance, he could see the cold, flat stare of them, the way he had shut himself inside. Bodie didn’t like that, not one bit. Worry tickled his gut.
Doyle could be the most expressive bloke ever. When he shut down like that—completely shut down, so no emotion reached his face or his eyes whatsoever—something was wrong.
Bodie was the one more likely to shut off emotion to his face. It was how he dealt with things, not letting anyone get too good a look inside. That worked for him; but for Doyle—well it didn’t seem natural for Doyle. Bodie had seen what it meant when Doyle was so closed off.
The surroundings made him less uncomfortable than Doyle’s...distress, or whatever it was. He felt it all fading away—he could stand it, if he could support Doyle somehow—and focused on his friend’s face, willing him to...what? What did he want Doyle to do? Notice he was here? He hadn’t thought, but his presence might just make Doyle feel more...whatever it was he felt. Instead of seeing an ally, he might just see Bodie as another joker.
Bodie realised he was gripping his hands tightly on his knees, and loosened up a bit. He’d called it in to Cowley, of course, where Roberts was headed and that he would follow him inside. Now all he could do was wait and see what Roberts did or didn’t do. But he didn’t think he could wait much longer without doing anything; Doyle’s utter control kept screaming to him that something was WRONG.
Then, it happened. Doyle’s gaze, scanning the crowd with a quick, dispassionate roving look, fell on Roberts and hesitated for one second. He kept moving then, turning his gaze elsewhere. Now his weary sensuality took on a stronger note. Damn, he was turning up the heat, touching himself lightly. Bodie swallowed, once again uncomfortably aware of his surroundings, and what all the men here must be thinking about his partner. They had no business...!
Suddenly, Roberts surged to his feet. Bodie braced himself to keep from doing the same. But instead of heading wild-eyed and maniacal towards the stage, Roberts turned towards the door and headed out.
Bodie started after him as soon as he dared. He caught Anson’s eye on the way out, and Anson gave a faint nod and looked towards the table Roberts had vacated. Good; he was finally paying attention and would keep an eye on this other bloke. About time he got his eyes off Doyle and started doing his job!
As he headed out the door, past the bouncer, Bodie realised Doyle’s song had ended, and somebody else was beginning. Roberts had left early, and Bodie wouldn’t be surprised to find him lying in wait at the end of the alley or something equally ominous. Instead, he headed straight towards his car and drove back to his place. Bodie trailed him at a safe distance, reporting everything that had happened at the club and that he was back on his trail again, appeared to be heading back to the flat. Well, he left one thing out: how protective and angry he’d felt, and how disturbed. And how something had seemed to be wrong with Doyle. Cowley wouldn’t care, and it would sound stupid to merely say that Bodie sensed it. He had nothing to prove it, nothing that couldn’t be interpreted another way.
After reporting to Cowley, he spent the rest of the drive brooding.
Really, he shouldn’t think of it any different than when Doyle had to go undercover and seduce some hapless but possibly sinister bird. Sometimes that got him hurt, and really, all he was doing was undressing. Doyle was good at undressing, obviously. He might as well risk himself as someone else. He’d no doubt have put it that way. He hadn’t liked the idea of this job any better than Bodie, but he knew he could handle himself, whereas if they waited for Roberts to pick another target on his own the odds weren’t nearly so good the next young man would be able to do so.
Let’s face it, Doyle can protect himself! And he does other things he doesn’t like. He’ll be fine.
Wish they’d leave him alone.
Wonder where he learned... well, when he learned that.
None of your business, mate.
Bodie should stop worrying. Yeah. Doyle could handle himself. It wasn’t a big deal.
But if it had been Bodie... He knew he wouldn’t handle it very well being stared at by strangers AND CI5 men alike, his body more or less for sale (well, only for looking). He wouldn’t handle it even as well as Doyle was doing.
If Cowley had ordered him, Bodie supposed he’d have tried. And made a hash of it, probably.
Roberts pulled into his garage and headed back up to his endless party. Bodie pulled around back behind the building next door and headed up the stairs back to obbo duty, two at a time. Suddenly he brightened. Doyle had always been good at undercover, ‘course he had. And this was the sort of thing that cops would normally be doing, not CI5 men. Back when he was a cop, he’d probably had to go undercover just like this. That explained why he was so good at it, why Cowley had chosen him, everything.
Bodie felt much better. He was even grinning by the time he reached the right floor and paint fumes smacked him in the hooter.
Of course this didn’t make it any easier for Doyle. He obviously didn’t enjoy the job. But he’d do it, same as he’d do anything else for queen and country—shoot, interrogate, intimidate, sell himself, whatever. He might not enjoy it, but he’d do it. And he’d be all right later, if they could just get through this. Him knowing how to strip convincingly—well, it simply didn’t mean a thing.
And he was a randy little bugger, always had been. Could make anything seem sort of sensual if he was in one of those moods, anything from leaning in the doorway to just walking past a pretty girl in those too-tight jeans.
There was a thought. Maybe he’d learned to strip for a demanding girlfriend, and simply didn’t enjoy doing it in public.
But he’d be fine.
Bodie went back to the binoculars, feeling relieved and less restless inside. Doyle had never really been for sale when he’d learned it. It was different doing it for undercover. It didn’t mean a thing.
Nothing happened the rest of the day, and when he got off shift he was glad enough to catch a few hours kip. Cowley called him in for an update before he returned to shift in the morning, and he went, wishing he’d had time to shower and grab more than two pieces of toast. He’d eaten them on the way, crumbs falling in his lap as he drove. All this hard work—and all the worrying—were enough to give a man an appetite.
Cowley said, “Roberts’ friend is none other than Dannelly Steed, a British citizen. They’ve known each other since university—Steed was an exchange student in America. Apparently, they’ve been friends since those days—parties, visits, the like. He wasn’t on our radar because he’s neither a criminal nor politically important. He works in international banking with his father. Roberts’ visit last night encouraged us to check him out, and we have, with a fine-toothed comb. Not every detail is back yet, but we have some news—and it’s big.”
“Sir?” asked Bodie, as something seemed to be required of him.
“Steed was in town each time the other murders took place.” Cowley’s hard eyes sparkled with triumph. “We have another suspect. Perhaps they are even in it together.”
“And if it is Steed,” said Bodie slowly, “we don’t have to let him get away with it. Do you want me on him, sir?”
“Yes. Roberts has shown little propensity to bolt, and I have two men on him at present. I need someone of your abilities to stay on Steed—and stay on him hard! I’ll not have him getting away and putting Doyle in jeopardy if he is involved. I have agents working on his history, but you stay on him—tail him, report anything suspiciously and above all, if he goes after Doyle catch him in the act.”
“Yes sir,” said Bodie. Catch him in the act—attacking Doyle, Cowley meant. No way did Bodie want to let any killer get even within stone’s throw of his partner. But if it was the only way to catch the killer.... Doyle as bait. Doyle as stripper. Doyle as tethered goat....
He wondered how Doyle was doing. But there was no time to go check, for he was on his way immediately Cowley released him, heading for the address Cowley had given him.
Steed hadn’t been at work. He’d stayed home all day. The agent Bodie replaced assured him it should be routine work, just keep an eye on the house.
Instead, almost immediately Bodie took over, Steed was out and about, and the routine work became some of the hardest tailing he’d ever done.
Steed was a reckless driver. He tore round corners without regard for such petty things as traffic laws and safety. Part of Bodie was forced to admire such driving skill—the man was still alive, after all—and part of him felt annoyed. Did Steed realise he was being followed? But no, he parked flamboyantly in front of an ‘adult’ club, and waltzed in without a glance backwards.
Bodie couldn’t figure it. Nor could he figure it when Steed headed out after a half hour, and hit another two clubs in the next hour and a half. Bodie had to call support so they could tag-team Steed. He simply drove too fast and recklessly to be followed without several vehicles involved. They traded off when Steed got too far ahead to follow without being noticed and needlessly endangering the public.
It seemed as though they had to keep calling in more and more agents for the tailing process. Steed went to all the seedy strip joints and ‘adults clubs’ that he could find. They seemed to have no theme in common, either. There were male clubs, ‘regular’ clubs, and clubs where the girls were, if not underage, certainly intended to look underage. Bodie wondered what the cops were doing about those places, as it looked like the answer was a big fat ‘nothing.’ Perhaps bent coppers had been paid off, he thought cynically.
By morning, they had nothing to show for it but a large petrol bill. Steed was safely tucked into bed slightly after dawn, and Bodie stumbled home for a rest. “And a shower, 3.7,” Cowley had instructed pointedly.
It went on like that for days. Bodie was certain Cowley would be calling off the operation any time now. They weren’t getting anywhere, it was taking up too many man-hours and resources, and he couldn’t believe Cowley was happy with the demands on his budget. Other cases were piling up, clambering for attention. Any day, Bodie was certain, they would be back to their regular work, racing down streets and averting terrorist plots instead of trying to catch one irritatingly rich American with diplomatic privileges or his British cohort with a too-wealthy-to-be-real father.
The worst of it was that Bodie hadn’t seen Doyle face to face, not since that day with the chips. He’d started getting restless dreams again, the sort you got when you were deep undercover or worried about your partner when he was. The sort of dreams where you never get there fast enough, there’s always one too many enemies, and someone ends up in a crumpled pile on the floor, bleeding. Usually it was Doyle, of course. He was never wearing enough clothes and he was shivering, his eyes blank with shock. Sometimes he had something to tell Bodie. Sometimes he was past communication. Either way, he never got a word out....
Bodie kept wanting to go see Doyle, but Cowley kept them stretched tight with all the monitoring, and he had to get a bit of sleep or he’d slip up. He called Doyle on the R/T and asked how he was, tried to joke a bit, but Doyle seemed distracted and said he was busy. How was he holding up, after all this time? Bodie hoped he wouldn’t lose himself.
Finally, even Cowley had to admit defeat. He recalled the reconnaissance, ended the undercover, and Bodie had his partner back by his side.
When he first saw him, Bodie took a good look at Ray and thumped him on the arm and called him ‘sunshine.’
Doyle looked weary, but refreshingly like himself. Bodie had to restrain himself a bit. Even if Doyle hadn’t been feeling awkward from the undercover bit—and you could see he was—he would only tolerate so much enthusiasm.
For the first couple of days he was back, Bodie just wanted to grab him and rough him around, thump him or wrap him in an anaconda grip, or knock him around and rough up his curls—rough games that fit lads or puppies better than a Bodie and a too-dignified Doyle. He did find a couple of excuses to tease and prank his partner, though he left stripping well alone.
It was like always. If a case bothered one or both of them they never talked about it afterwards.
Anson and the others kicked up a fuss and several annoying larks about Doyle’s undercover. Somebody had snapped a few shots of Doyle, arching his back, eyes closed, nearly undressed. With a rude note beneath it, it had been posted in the rest room. Bodie snatched it up and shredded it, and made a few discreet remarks to Anson later about how if there were any more shots like that, or negatives, they had better never see the light of day.
Anson protested innocence, but not very convincingly.
As far as he knew, Doyle hadn’t seen the picture, but he’d certainly heard the teasing. So far he’d kept his temper in check and stared out at the culprits with a bland, cold gaze rather like a serpent’s. Bodie would back him to the hilt if he did get angry, but he hoped there would be no departmental scuffles that might involve Cowley. It would be hell to get up and explain to the boss why you’d been in a fight with other CI5 agents.
All in all, things seemed reassuringly boring.
Then there were two different cases that nearly knocked them off their feet, and no time to think about other things, barely to eat or shower, much less sleep.
After that the killings started again. Someone in the very club Doyle had worked at was murdered. This time it was the man behind the bar, who’d sold Bodie under-cooked sausage.
Bodie and Doyle went to investigate, as well as the cops.
Everyone seemed surprised that Doyle was CI5. But they did talk to him, and they talked to him more and better than they did to Bodie. Nobody could shed any light on it, except that Fred Langos had sometimes received phone calls he didn’t want anyone to know about.
Roberts had returned to America, but the other suspect, Steed, was still here. And he still frequented the club.
One of the strippers said that Fred’s calls were reporting on people’s whereabouts. He would report to anyone who paid him, if a person in question arrived here. Suspicious lovers, wives, or worried friends or family. It was all the same to him—cash and no questions asked, just needed a picture of the man in question. He’d had a good sideline, the stripper said, talking to Doyle and ignoring Bodie as if he weren’t there.
“Never have guessed you for a copper,” added the stripper, a young man with a pinched face, but a very fit body. He was a drugs user, of course; hadn’t even bothered to pull down his sleeves to hide the track marks on his arms.
“CI5,” said Doyle, not giving an inch. His face was a bit hard, but the young man obviously wanted to talk, and he certainly couldn’t quash a stream of confidences if any of them might be useful.
“Thought you were legit, and a good dancer, too. Figured you for the boyfriend.” Bodie got a jerk of the head. “Since he wasn’t interested in any of us, and lit up like a Christmas tree when you came ‘round.”
“Oh, subject of gossip was I?” asked Bodie, trying to keep his voice light.
“Let’s go,” said Doyle in a hard voice.
“And then when you didn’t show up and he kicked the furniture and called you Bloody Bodie—”
Doyle grabbed Bodie’s arm, hard, and steered him away. The young man had a malicious gleam in his eyes.
“Fancied you, did he?” asked Bodie out on the street. “Spreading tales out of school.”
“Yeah, a bit.” Doyle’s voice was gruff.
“So go on then, why’d you kick furniture?” Bodie was fascinated, and leaned forward to grin at Doyle, who was avoiding his gaze.
“Because you didn’t come back,” admitted Doyle. “I was angry, all right? You came by once, and then I found out later you’d been by with Roberts and seen me, and never showed up again. Figured you freaked out and—” He shrugged. “Just got mad at you, all right?”
“Ah, should’ve said, sunshine. Cowley didn’t give me a spare minute. It wasn’t you.”
“Yeh, I figured that, when you didn’t act any different afterwards,” confided Doyle. He gave Bodie a green eyed glance, a bit hesitant, still a bit bitter. “Took me awhile to realise it, though. Stayed mad at you for a bit.”
“Stupid golly,” said Bodie affectionately. He reached out and tousled Doyle’s head.
His partner ducked, looking partly embarrassed and partly pleased, but also annoyed. “Yeh, well—figured you for another Anson, had to gape and laugh, and then act funny round me. Usually would, mate, you must admit.”
“Well, not with you,” said Bodie reasonably. “You’re my mate.”
“You’d tease me about anything else under the sun,” said Doyle reasonably. He shot Bodie a hesitant glance. “But not this.”
Bodie hesitated, not knowing how much to say. “You looked like it was difficult for you. Didn’t want to make it worse.”
He watched as a big, incredulous grin took over Doyle’s face. It was like the sun coming out. (Not such a bad nickname for Doyle, ‘sunshine,’ was it?) Bodie found himself grinning in response, sheepishly.
“You old softie,” said Doyle in a halfway teasing, but quite pleased-sounding voice.
“Well only for you, mate,” said Bodie and aimed a punch at Doyle.
Doyle ducked his half-hearted blow and shoved back at him, and they had a bit of a punch-up in the street. It was rough but friendly, and certainly better than words for clearing up the misunderstandings between them.
“Mate?” said Bodie.
Doyle looked at him.
They were sitting on the couch together, watching telly, cheering or jeering for the football teams, relatively good-natured and relaxed with just a bit of competition between them as they tried to outguess each other in predicting the next score.
He turned to look at his partner, and realised that Doyle was half asleep, his eyes hooded as he struggled to keep them open. It gave him an indolent, pugnacious look as if he would get into a fight if he weren’t too bored by the idea.
Bodie gave him a nudge to wake him up. Doyle blinked but didn’t pay much mind. “What?” He gave a shove back, not terribly hard, and then yawned and flung his head back against the couch. He scrubbed a hand back over his hair and then covered his huge yawn. “I’m knackered.”
“Off to bed then, granddad,” said Bodie. He gave Doyle a hard slap on the thigh. Doyle jumped a little and lowered his gaze to glare at him.
“What were you going to ask me?”
He’d thought better of it, but he still wanted to know. For a moment, he debated with himself. He couldn’t say it to Doyle’s eyes. He smiled. “Never mind, sunshine.”
Doyle looked at him, and as he so often did, Bodie felt that those eyes saw through him—even through his defences—more than most anyone could. It didn’t make his life easier, sometimes. But other times, Doyle’s understanding seemed the only thing that helped him make it through the rough jobs and tough days.
Now there was a sharp look of too much understanding, and a wary hesitation in Doyle’s gaze. “Go on, then.” He gave a commanding jerk of his chin.
“You and all,” said Doyle without malice. “Go on. Ask.”
Bodie’s gaze flickered. “Just going to ask where you learned. You did it for the cops, undercover, right?”
“No,” said Doyle.
“No.” His gaze stayed and held Bodie’s, hard and unyielding, angry. “Thought it didn’t make any difference to you.” He gestured to the mess of the fish and chip wrappers spread out, their feast, the television, them together on the couch. Their level of comfort with each other.
“Well,” said Bodie. He turned back to the telly, trying to decide. Did it make any difference? He’d had himself convinced Doyle had been doing his duty when he’d learned that. Doyle’s prickly nature and angry answer proved that wrong. It was very... much as though he was putting Bodie on trial, judging him for judging Doyle and that wasn’t what Bodie had meant to do at all. He just wanted to know....
He wanted to be okay with it. But if Doyle had really sold himself on purpose, like that—when he seemed to hate it so much—well, Bodie felt a little strange about that.
“Look down on me, do you?” said Doyle in a nasty voice, getting to his feet. “You?” He put a bit of scoff and scorn in it, a nasty blow. “As if you’ve never sold yourself—”
“Mercenary,” said Bodie grimly, “is different.”
“Yeah, it’s worse because you kill, and all.”
He grabbed his partner’s wrist and yanked, pulling Bodie’s attention off the telly and onto his eyes. They seemed to crackle with green electricity and fury. “Don’t you dare look down on me.”
“Oh, give it a rest.” Bodie pulled his arm free scornfully. “Just surprised is all. You, the lily-white copper, gyrating for money in front of a bunch of salivating blokes.”
Doyle looked like he wanted to take Bodie’s head off—and at the same time, like he wanted to explain, ask absolution. He stood there, seeming to waver between the two. Bodie waited. He was quite capable of meeting Doyle’s attack, even in this seemingly-relaxed position on the couch. But he wanted to hear the reasons, instead.
Or else he didn’t.
His face either gave him away or it didn’t; and it may or may not have influenced Doyle’s decision to turn away abruptly. Bodie couldn’t tell; he also couldn’t tell if he was disappointed or relieved when the door slammed behind Doyle and fierce, angry footsteps took him down to his car. The engine revved, and the car screeched away into the night.
Bodie flopped his head back against the sofa and let out a big sigh. He stared at the ceiling. Then he got up and began to clean up the mess the two of them had left. He glanced at the telly, but he no longer cared who would win.
He regretted bringing it up, of course he did. It would be better to believe whatever explanation he wanted than to question Doyle and make him angry.
Of course, Doyle shouldn’t fly off the handle for a simple question, but he did; that was Doyle.
Nor, Bodie could tell, was he to be forgiven right away. Doyle walked with an angry tension in his shoulders, a quick step, and he ignored Bodie unless he actually needed to speak to him for some reason.
It was one of Doyle’s worst qualities, holding a grudge. Bodie knew he wouldn’t be forgiven until he somehow said or did the right thing (no telling what that was, though), or Doyle got over it. That could take time—maybe up to two weeks.
Doyle expected too much from people, he really did. Should realise a bloke might be curious and a bit taken aback by learning that about his partner. Shouldn’t take it so hard.
“I’m going to piss you off. It’s practically my job,” Bodie had told Doyle once. “But you shouldn’t hold a grudge. I don’t. Do you see me staying mad for days or weeks? No, I shrug it off. You ought to learn from me, sunshine.”
“Who are you, Doctor Ross?” Doyle had retorted.
Nothing more was said.
Doyle hadn’t taken his words to heart. Or else he’d found himself fundamentally unable to change. He still got moody and angry with Bodie sometimes and Bodie found there was often little to be done about it but put his head down and endure.
When he was at his best, you could tease Doyle out of a bad mood. Or you could let him spill his angry words and then feel better and act more human. Sometimes, even a drink or so would level him out. But when he got in that mood, the one he was in now—
Inwardly, Bodie sighed.
He’d tried to say something to Doyle the very next day, something awkward about how it was none of his business, sorry for—
“You’re right it’s not,” said Doyle, giving him a glare, and then refusing to look at him again for the next hour.
Bodie had sighed, and settled himself in to endure.
It was easiest working together when they could get along, but they could work together no matter what. That was probably why Cowley called them his best team. Not that he called them that when they could hear, of course, but it got back to them and made Bodie want to burst his buttons. Doyle seemed less likely to be impressed by praise from the old man, but even he could grin like he’d never stop, if he heard such words.
When they got the call about the body, Bodie was expecting something diplomatic or international-crime related. He certainly wasn’t expecting what they saw.
They parked near the tiny, filthy alley and hopped out of the car in unison. They still worked in synch, even with Doyle in one of his moods.
Bodie reached the body first, and stopped. The man lay face down, dead. The area was blocked off by policemen, and one of them looked decidedly uncomfortable. It was a dodgy part of town: an area worked by prostitutes. During the day it looked shabby and sad. At night, it would be populated by people working the streets or looking for someone working the streets.
The question was, why had Bodie and Doyle been called here, and whoever this man was, had he been a customer or a seller?
None of it much mattered to Bodie, until he saw the man in question. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared, eyes widening. He turned to cast an incredulous glance at his partner. He wanted to reach out and prod his partner on the arm, assure himself Doyle was really there.
Doyle was staring at the body, didn’t notice Bodie’s consternation.
The policeman on watch gave a start as well. Doyle was almost an exact body double for the dead man. Tight jeans, slim but muscular figure, same colouring, even the exact same hairstyle: fluffy curls, a bit too long. And he lay dead and cold in this alleyway.
The wide-eyed policeman stared at Doyle, and had to be spoken to twice before he told them why they’d been called.
“Um, we had it on record that you were looking at cases with similar M.O.’s. The murder was first a knife attack under the ribs, then strangulation with garrotte. The victim would not have made much noise or survived long. The pattern seems to fit those stripper killings from a couple of months ago, and this boy—he worked the streets a lot. I recognised him,” the man added uncomfortably. “It’s part of my beat, sir. He worked this part of the street.”
Doyle nodded. “Go on.”
“They wanted you called in case you could take the case off our hands. We’re swamped, sir, and the killing does match almost exactly.”
“Thank you. We’ll get our lab to tell us if it’s a match. Anything suspicious last night?”
“No sir. I mean, I was walking my beat, and they—they clear out a bit before and after I make my rounds. Only he was there in the alley, so I called for reinforcements. Found him at four in the morning, sir.” He gave Doyle a salute, looking very uncomfortable and still a bit shell-shocked by the resemblance.
At the coroner’s lab later, they got a look at the man’s face. Here the resemblance to Doyle was less, with a younger, thinner, very pale face on the slab. He looked unhealthy, undernourished and with poor teeth. Not someone you’d mistake for Doyle, really—except at a distance.
Since the killing very much fit the profile of their stripper killings, CI5 took the case, and Cowley instructed Bodie and Doyle about it.
“You’ll talk to any witnesses you can find. It was most likely a killing of convenience, but you’ll also talk to any friends or family. This killing, if it is by the same man and it certainly looks as though the evidence will prove it is, means we’ve eliminated the American. He’s been back in his country for the last week. However, his friend Mr. Steed has been in London the whole time. I want him pulled in for questioning.”
“Yes sir,” said Doyle, and turned and started from the room.
“And Doyle,” said Cowley. “Not by you.”
Doyle stopped. He and Bodie stared at their boss. “Sir?” said Doyle, his face looking hard and stubborn and confused, and a wee bit nervous, the way Cowley’s plans could make one.
“I want you in reserve,” said Cowley, and smiled. “You’re obviously his type. If he’s moved on to prostitutes, we may have to set you up—”
“No!” said Doyle. “I mean, no sir. I’ve never done anything like that. I wouldn’t be convincing, I mean, sir.”
“You needn’t be. You needn’t convince anyone of anything, simply walk down an alley—with plenty of cover—and present yourself as a target when the suspect is in the area. We’ll not let him out of our sight again—nor you—and we’ll catch the son of a bitch this time.”
Bodie blinked. It was odd to hear his boss use any foul language. This case had caught him hard, too.
Cowley turned to Bodie. “Bodie, bring him in. Question him. Make it look routine, but find out where he was last night and if he could possibly have an alibi. It’s possible we’re still barking up the wrong tree.”
“Yes sir,” said Bodie. Even though he was pretty sure the American hadn’t been the killer, he had to ask. “You’re certain Roberts is overseas?”
“Yes, Bodie. I have a contact in the CIA who assures me they have him under surveillance—for reasons of their own.”
“Bloody hell,” said Bodie. “He really is a naughty boy. Suspected on two continents!” He caught the glare from Cowley, realised what he’d said (bloody hell!), and added automatically, “Sorry, sir.”
“That will be all, Bodie,” said Cowley.
“Yes sir.” He left, wondering why his swear was worse than the boss’s—or if he just wasn’t allowed to swear even though the boss was.
When he pulled Steed in for questioning, the sandy-haired, broad-shouldered man looked Bodie up and down—a glance that was neither quick nor furtive. It surprised Bodie somehow, made him feel off-balance for a second.
He was supposed to be the one in charge of this whole scene, and yet this man seemed confident—arrogant—enough to believe that he had control, could even look a CI5 man up and down as if assessing his ... qualities. He did the same thing with any girl who got in his view, and Bodie began to wonder just how safe this arrogant man felt that he could be so indiscreet even in CI5 headquarters.
“Where were you last night?” he asked Steed, doing the whole steely CI5 man bit. Remembering the corpse that had looked like Doyle, it wasn’t hard.
Forensics hadn’t proved whether Steed (or anyone else) had been a customer of the dead man, and no one had been found to serve as a witness of any sort. Bodie was dreading the visit home to the family. Perhaps he could palm it off on Mac or Murph. Doyle was out, for obvious reasons. (Getting to sit on his arse while the others worked theirs off!)
“I can give you names and addresses if you like.” Steed leaned back, arms crossed, smirking.
“Oh? More than one, was it?”
“Several.” He proceeded to give details that left Bodie in no doubt about his insatiability—if they were true.
He was glad to be out of the room with that mocking gaze. The man irritated him. Especially as Bodie was supposed to make this look like a routine investigation, and had to keep the gloves on.
“It doesn’t make any sense, sir,” said Bodie, frowning. He, Doyle and Cowley were conferring in Cowley’s office after Bodie and Doyle had separately tracked down each of the names and addresses. Each witness swore blind that they’d been with Steed for part of the night.
“And all the hours line up neatly, minus a little driving time.” Doyle flopped down his notebook and sighed heavily, angrily. He ran a hand back through his hair. “It has to be a setup—has to be. But why?”
Bodie threw him a glance, wondering if he’d been forgiven now, or if the ‘why’ was a general thing, aimed at no one in particular. “That’s what I’m saying. Why bother getting alibis—and so many? Why bother killing that man—going to all that trouble? He obviously has as many willing sexual partners as he wants, and no shortage of funds if he can bribe so many people. Though they may not all be bribes.”
“Because, men,” said Cowley, “killing is the biggest thrill of all. Och! He’s rubbing our noses in it. I can smell it. The American may or may not be involved, but Steed is involved, and deep, too.”
“Doesn’t make any sense,” repeated Doyle in an undertone. He was frowning, as if trying to make sense of something.
“What doesn’t?” Cowley faced him, and Bodie watched, too. They were both alert to Doyle’s hunches, knew not to underestimate them.
“I can’t put my finger on it yet, sir.” He looked up at Cowley, confused and worried and a bit irritated. “But there’s something...” He shook his curly head slowly.
“Well think of it, and soon, Doyle. Now on your bikes, men.” He turned back to his desk, to tackle the piles of papers there.
Bodie caught up with his partner by the coffee machine. “Pour me one. Ta.” He looked at Doyle, trying hard to be bright-eyed and cheerful. He took a mouthful of coffee, then grimaced, and added sugar. “You could’ve at least sweetened it for me.”
He waited for Doyle’s comeback, something along the lines of telling Bodie he was getting lazier every day.
It didn’t come. Doyle still wore a frown.
“Face’ll stay like that if the wind changes,” said Bodie jovially, a remark designed to draw fire, or a roll of Doyle’s eyes and a laugh.
“Still not talking to me then?” he finished, letting his face go mournful.
Doyle cast him a glance, as if only just noticing he was there. He looked annoyed, as if by a buzzing mosquito. “Oh, go away Bodie, I’m thinking!” He ran a hand back through his hair. He slurped his own coffee, grimaced and set it down and stared abstractly at the pattern on the wall.
“Right, I’ll just go away then mate, shall I?” Bodie headed to his desk, mouth turned down. Forget him anyway.
There was a scratchy sound of cloth against microphone. “I still don’t like this.” Doyle spoke into the wire he wore. He couldn’t afford to be seen with an R/T. He wasn’t wearing much, couldn’t reliably conceal it anywhere.
Bodie crouched in a nearby alley and watched his breath make fog. Doyle must be frozen. He walked up and down the alley, rubbing his arms. His steps sounded quick and sharp in his boots. He wore his jeans with the patch on the arse. They were tight, faded, and quite worn. He wore a thin red shirt, buttons open to the waist. His hair was wild and in his chest hair nestled a gaudy gold chain. But essentially everything was the same: Doyle, in his too-tight clothes. Only today he was walking down an alley undercover as a prostitute waiting for a customer.
Bodie would tweak him about that someday—that he didn’t have to change his style much to pass as a hooker.
But not today. Today he was just so worried about Doyle that he didn’t have any jokes in him.
He’d prevailed on Cowley, insisted on being within sight of Doyle the whole time. Visions of the other dead men haunted him sickeningly. And even though he knew Doyle was strong, armed, and knew karate, the pit of dread in his stomach didn’t go away from that knowledge. In fact, even with him watching, he wouldn’t really feel safe until this was all behind them, until Doyle was safely (and warmly) indoors and the killer was finally behind bars.
It had to be Steed. It just had to be.
Now he was heading this way, carefully and secretly tailed by CI5 agents, his whereabouts reported conscientiously all the way.
He’d come this way last night, and they had every reason to hope he’d come here again, trawling for sex. Cowley had set Doyle up tonight to prepare for that possibility. Ignoring Bodie’s objections.
No one had died last night. But perhaps there had been no one who looked like Doyle, either.
Now all they could do was wait.
“I hope we catch him this time,” muttered Doyle into his wire. “I’m tired of being the goat.”
Since he wasn’t talking into an R/T, Bodie couldn’t reply, couldn’t dredge up a smart remark to lessen the tension. All he could do was endure....
His R/T crackled to life, and another agent’s voice sounded, tight and alert. “Here he comes, 3.7. Get ready. He’s cruising along, heading right your way.”
Bodie’s grip tightened on his gun and he crouched lower. Despite the cold, he could feel sweat slicking his armpits.
He knew that not far away other men and women walked and waited for customers. How did anybody work like that on a night like this in an alley like this, when they knew someone had been killed so very recently? It must be hell...
He thought back to Doyle’s words to Cowley. He had sounded both indignant and unnerved. “‘I’ve never done anything like this,’” he’d insisted. As though he needed that to be very clear to the whole world—and especially to Bodie, whom he was still mad at.
But he hadn’t said the words to Bodie. Actually, he’d barely said anything to Bodie lately.
Now, watching his partner play bait in a cold alleyway, Bodie strongly wished that so much didn’t separate them. The undercover op, the lack of R/T, but more than that, the cold indignant wrath from Doyle, because Bodie had said the wrong thing. He wished he could set it right now—take back the fact that he’d mentioned it or say the right words to set Doyle at ease again. To remove that bitter, distrustful look from his slanted green eyes.
Bodie gripped his R/T more tightly in his fist.
I’d say it doesn’t matter, mate. It doesn’t matter who you were or what you did. You’re my partner, and I’m sorry if I ever gave you cause to doubt that.
But so much more than a few cold yards of air and pavement separated them tonight.
The sound of tyres. An engine. A car, driving slowly. Doyle strode towards the front of the alley and leaned provocatively against a brick wall. Bodie couldn’t see it, but he could imagine how it would be: Doyle’s gaze, sullen and smouldering, following the car’s driver.
Daring him to stop.
The car braked, gently. A door opened. Footsteps.
Doyle’s voice, rising in a cant wheedle of price arguing and bravado. The rumble of Steed’s words in reply. Bodie clutched his gun, thought of the dead men and felt sick.
Doyle was leading him back into the alley, ostensibly for a bit more privacy, in truth to be nearer his backup. Was he terrified? Was his heart pounding desperately? Or was he playing it cool, handling everything with grace under fire the way Doyle so often seemed to do during undercover work—fooling everyone, except Bodie....
“Let’s see the colour of your money,” said Doyle, near enough now for each word to be distinct to Bodie. He shifted his aching calves a little, and readied himself to spring forth. They needed some kind of evidence, though. An attack, a threat—something. Only, please, not a dead Doyle.
“I’ve got it for you right here,” said Steed’s arrogant voice, heavy with something ugly and sensual at the same time. He drew a hand from his jacket and—
The gleam of light from metal caught Bodie’s eyes at the same second Steed thrust his knife forward. Bodie erupted from his hiding place, screaming a wordless war yell, running all out.
Doyle flung out one of his fancy karate moves, but Steed twisted, shoved the knife deeper. And drew back and shoved it in again, twisting.
When he pulled it out, Doyle crumpled to the ground like a rag doll. Steed stood there in the moonlit, hazy alley, holding a blood-drenched knife. His gaze rose to Bodie, flicking up from the gruesome task that every silent signal of his posture screamed he wanted to complete.
The knife flicked to the ready. “Come on, then.” He took one step forward so he stood over Doyle, his grin an ugly thing, daring Bodie, taunting him.
Bodie raised his gun and fired.
Two shots exploded from his gun. Steed looked... somehow surprised as he toppled. It seemed he fell in slow motion, right on top of Doyle.
Bodie ran towards them, reached them and yanked him off, fumbling with his R/T. “Ambulance, in the alley,” he ordered in a gasp, and shoved Steed with his flickering eyelids aside. Bodie knelt over Doyle, who lay so very still.
Down the alley burst another agent, eyes wild, gun drawn. “Steed?”
Bodie ignored him. “Come on, sunshine. Come on,” he murmured, searching quickly for the wounds. Doyle was slick with dark liquid. “Mate, don’t leave me.”
Vaguely he was aware of the footsteps of the other agent. The man neared Steed, bent over him and then drew away. “I’ll guide them in,” he said, retreating with one shocked glance at Doyle. He spoke into his R/T as he moved away. “Where’s that ambulance?”
Doyle gasped in a painful breath and opened his eyes. “Bodie!” he complained, his voice half its usual strength, odd-sounding, small and rough and pained.
“Sorry love.” His hands had found the wounds, low on Doyle’s abdomen. Under the ribs. Probably not fatal, but bleeding fast. Steed must’ve meant to finish him with a garrotte, like the others.... “Hold on for me and I’ll give you a pressie,” he promised nonsensically, his voice shaking with emotion and tension. “This’ll hurt, so be brave.” He yanked off his jacket, pressed it against the wound, against the welling dark liquid. Doyle cried out.
Bodie winced in sympathy. “Told you it would hurt.” His voice sounded like he would either laugh or cry in a moment. He bit his lower lip, hard, and kept the pressure on Doyle’s wound.
It was like his dreams, only worse because now it was real. Bodie, Doyle, blood, cold pavement, and a darkness deeper than night welling in his partner’s eyes.
Doyle’s breath was coming in shattered gasps, as if he couldn’t get enough of it in his lungs. Did he have a lung puncture? Was he haemorrhaging on the inside, filling up with blood so he couldn’t breathe? These things could happen, Bodie knew.
“Bo-die,” said Doyle. His eyes were dark, dark: now reflective mirrors showing street lights, fear, and a wise old soul. His teeth chattered. He’d been cold even before getting stabbed...
“Right here, sunshine.” He fumbled with his other hand for the R/T, now slick with Doyle’s blood. “Where’s the bloody ambulance?” he demanded, his voice beginning to break.
“Bodie... sorry... I’ve been a jerk...” Doyle’s eyelids began to close.
“You haven’t, mate. I was. Stay with me now, all right?” He nudged his partner’s arm. “Doyle! Not like you to give up a fight! Show some bottle.”
“No you’re not. Come on, stick with me.” His voice was all a-tremble, very un-Bodie-like. Behind his eyes, wetness burned. This was not happening. It had happened before, yes, to soldiers and mercs he knew, but never, never to someone he couldn’t bear to lose. Never to Doyle. Not that look, please God not that empty, slack look—
Finally, sirens. An ambulance pulled into the alleyway and disgorged itself of ambulance men. Its blue lights filled the alleyway with pulsing light, glowing eerily.
The medics removed Bodie’s bloody hand and began to work on Doyle. They checked Steed, and left him, and fetched a stretcher for Doyle. They called medical things to one another, hard at work, ignoring the uninjured CI5 man on the pavement who was choking back tears.
This was Doyle. He could survive anything.
Bodie reminded himself of that fact as he sat in the hospital. Well—sat, stood, or paced. He couldn’t seem to sit still for long. Even when he sat, he kept moving, shifting position, crossing one leg over the other, draping his arms over the backs of other chairs, then tilting his wrist to checking his watch. And frowning and erupting from his chair to begin the pacing process all over again.
He couldn’t get it out of his head that Doyle had been trying to say his last words to Bodie. Apologising, of all things.
The bloody fool. Best apology for anything he could ever do would be surviving. Just live through it, mate, he found himself thinking. Willing it with every cell of his being.
He hoped—he wanted to believe—that it would be nothing. He’d find out Doyle wasn’t hurt badly. They’d share a shaky laugh and move the topic quickly away from the scare they’d both had.
He’d buy Doyle grapes, tease him about skiving, give him magazines.
Make him promise never to say any last words to Bodie.
Bodie had been the recipient of too many last words already in his lifetime. Sometimes, they were from people he didn’t even get on with under normal circumstances.
It was a chore, a heavy burden to watch someone die and try to help them and be unable to help them. It was a heavy burden you’d never quite forget, to hear someone’s last words—even if they were nothing more than an incoherent desire for water or a tearful cry for Mother.
Those, in fact, were the worst. To have someone you’d hated dying practically in your arms, and hear the little boy in his voice, the things he would never say in any other hour of his life... It tore into your soul and left little gaps, where lesser feelings could sieve through.
Doyle, for all his quick compassion (and rage), had never understood that. He’d never seemed to realise how, after living through some things, smaller emotions and cares could come to mean next to nothing. These days a tragedy had to touch Bodie deeply and personally for him to feel much. It wasn’t just being a ‘hard man’ (as if it were some sort of game to him, or a play he was putting on), as being a soldier. A soldier who’d live through hell and come out and been very glad of the sunshine on the other side. But a soldier who was never quite the same afterwards.
But Doyle. Lying on the pavement bleeding—well that took it out of Bodie. Left him a jibbering wreck inside, to be honest. He’d been damn near bawling on the pavement, till someone came and drove him to the hospital to wait for Doyle.
Damn! He’d not known he could be so vulnerable to hurt anymore.
He got up, and started pacing again.
“Your partner can see you now.”
Bodie sprang to his feet at these so very welcome words. “Thanks, love.”
He’d fallen asleep for a bit in the waiting room, despite everything. It had been light sleep, a soldier’s sleep, alert for the unexpected noises, footsteps where they didn’t belong or the sound of weapons. Dreams, half-remembered things, had flitted through his brain, reminding him of Doyle, of death, of African suns beating down mercilessly on the dead and dying.
He was so glad to be back in the starched and sterile hospital with a weary nurse telling him where to go. He headed down the hall at a quick pace, nearly a jog.
Doyle, Doyle, Doyle...
“He’s been asking for you.” The doctor holding a clipboard faced Bodie somewhat disapprovingly from behind glasses that could rival Cowley’s for their no-nonsense quality. “But you can’t stay long. He’s groggy from anaesthesia, but recovering from his surgery quite well.”
“Thanks mate.” Bodie breezed past him with barely a nod, eyes and mind all for Doyle.
The pale figure in bed stared up at him blearily, as if he having trouble focusing. Doyle looked rather pathetic. “Bodie?” he asked, sounding utterly spent.
“Me, mate, all two of me.” Bodie smiled down at him far too widely and squeezed his partner’s arm.
Doyle gave an infinitesimal nod, as though everything were in place now. Then his eyes closed again, his breathing faint but steady.
Bodie stayed till the doctor returned to send him out.
He went home, showered, shaved, and tumbled into bed and slept, deeply and for a long time. No calls disturbed him, no dreams.
He held the door carefully for Doyle. The curly-haired agent moved slowly, achingly as he climbed into the Capri, grimacing as he tried not to jar or bend his knife-wounded, bandage-wrapped lower abdomen.
“All right?” asked Bodie.
Doyle nodded, his lips pressed together in a grouchy look. Bodie shut the door after him and bounced around to the other side. He climbed in, started the engine, massaged the gears and drove off, nice and easy. A smooth ride, to deliver Doyle home.
For a while, they didn’t say anything. Bodie was content with that.
Days seemed so much brighter since Doyle was going to be all right. It had been a painful and difficult thing, to see him hurt and deal with the aftermath, but Doyle was going to be all right now, so Bodie could forget all that.
Funny how something horrible happening could make you appreciate regular things so much more. It had always been that way; he remembered how wonderful his first pint tasted after a battle. How beautiful the whole world looked. It seemed macabre that it should be so, after all the ugliness he’d witnessed. And yet he’d never felt more glad to be alive than right after a battle.
“Bodie,” said Doyle. He no longer seemed to be biting his lip to keep from groaning in pain.
“Yeah mate?” Bodie kept his eyes on the road, but he smiled at the familiar voice—beside him, where it belonged.
Bodie glanced over at him, found him staring out the window broodingly.
Oh yeah, right. This was Doyle. He needed words.
Everything was settled between them as far as Bodie was concerned, but he realised he’d never actually come out and said the words to Doyle. It was awfully hard to get them out, now that the crisis was past. Besides, they’d already both said sorry in the heat of the moment. What more was needed?
But this was Doyle, who needed to thrash things out with words.
“Listen mate,” said Bodie, “you have to know, it doesn’t matter to me. None of it. I was just curious, that’s all. Didn’t mean to—make you think I care. Because I don’t. You’re my partner, that’s all. I don’t give a damn about anything else.”
Doyle turned an embarrassed, pleased smile on him. “Ta.” He drummed his fingers on his jeans. “But I want to tell you.”
“Well, you don’t have to.”
“You want to know,” said Doyle with utter conviction.
“Only if you want to tell me,” uttered Bodie in saintly tones.
Doyle laughed. “All right, well maybe I do. Used to model in art school, you know?”
“Didn’t know that.”
“Well, I did. It never bothered me—the human form, nudity, just natural, isn’t it? And I needed the money.”
Bodie imagined a young Doyle posing with an unconcerned, blasé attitude for an art class. Once again, Bodie marvelled at the differences between them. Bodie didn’t even like taking his shirt off in public at the beach. He was not generally what anyone would call shy, but he certainly couldn’t have sat through an art class being drawn by a bunch of artists. At least not without turning beetroot red.
And if any of them were pretty girls it would be even worse. He’d either be embarrassed out of his skull or extremely turned on. That would be intolerable, leave him feeling out of control and not at all cool. And yet Doyle, whose temper or joy could flare up in an instant, would’ve sat through it steady as a rock, utterly confident in himself, even wearing nothing but his skin.
“Go on, then. I’m all ears,” said Bodie.
“We had this teacher,” said Doyle, who’d apparently needed the prompting, and sounded as though he didn’t enjoy what he meant to say next. “He fancied men. No big deal. Except sometimes he’d—well he gave out better grades to anyone who decided they fancied him back. That sort of thing.
“And I didn’t. Lord, wouldn’t have even if I was into blokes. He was a nasty, ugly little man. Uglier on the inside than the out, too.” He rubbed a palm distractedly over his leg and knee, and left it there, cupped, as he stared through the windscreen, not seeming to see the street ahead.
“He despised me. Suppose I was too obvious that I wasn’t interested. He used to—stare during my modelling. I just ignored it. Let him eat his heart out. I just didn’t give a damn. He couldn’t scare me.
“But then he started—giving me bad grades. And other teachers did, too. Really said some ugly stuff about my art. You know how toffee-nosed teachers can say the cruellest things in the nicest way? Make you feel like complete dirt? Yeah.” Now he drummed his fingers, faster. “Well I was never really sure—and I’m still not—if I was just that bad, or if it was some sort of vendetta because I wouldn’t play patty cake with him. But I wouldn’t put it past him.” He laughed, a hoarse cracked sound. “I also wouldn’t put it past me to be just that bad.”
Bodie wanted to defend his partner, but he didn’t know, either. Doyle had never let him see any of his art. Doyle would just laugh if he asked about art. (“Gave that up long ago, didn’t I?”)
“So go on,” said Bodie. “What happened next?”
“Dropped out, didn’t I?” said Doyle, lightly. His voice did not conceal that he didn’t take it as lightly as all that. In fact, it sounded as though it rather pained him, even after this long. “And I needed work. Someone told me since I was good at modelling, I should give stripping a try. Well, why not, right? It’s the same difference. Taking off your clothes for money, because someone’s silly enough to pay.” He shrugged—and then grimaced and brought a hand gingerly towards his wound. His hand stopped before touching his bandaged side.
“I still didn’t do it. Just—feeling so very low, I was glad enough to work in a shop and forget everything to do with art classes.
“But my teacher was prospering. I heard he was up for some award or other. Then one day I ran into one of my old fellow students when I was packing his groceries. He made a remark about the teacher spending a lot of time at a certain male strip club instead of teaching. Then and there my brain hatched a scheme for revenge. Sort of thumb my nose at that teacher. I’d show him what he never got, and never would get.” Doyle laughed uncomfortably. “I suppose you don’t think so, but I can be rather vengeful sometimes.”
Bodie kept a tactful silence.
Doyle glanced at him, that green gaze astute. “Or maybe you do think so.” He raised a hand, and laughed at himself. “Well anyway I took the job. I started taking off my clothes to music, for a bunch of men.”
He shook his head. “Looking back, I can’t see why I didn’t realise I wasn’t happy doing it. But at the time, the money was good, and I was so miserable from being an art failure, I didn’t really care about much of anything. I liked having a feeling of power—especially over that teacher.
“It got to him just like I’d thought it would. He couldn’t stay away, but he couldn’t stand it either, knowing I was out of reach. And I got pretty good, and I made a fair chunk of change.” He paused, as though remembering. “But one day someone accosted me, taking it for granted that I would sell more than just a peek. It got a bit rough. Sort of woke me up. I knew a bit of karate, I wasn’t really hurt. But it surprised me out of my gloom—made me realise just how miserable I’d become.
“I didn’t enjoy what I was doing. I just sort of shut my mind off and went through the motions, except when the teacher was there. Then I took malicious pleasure in it. Anyway, after that I quit. Didn’t look back.
“I started working in a shop again, and working towards becoming a policeman. Somewhere inside me, that goal had coalesced, and I realise that was what I wanted since I couldn’t be an artist. I wanted to stick up for people who couldn’t stick up for themselves, and fix everything that was wrong with the world.” He snorted.
He tapped his fingers on his knees, drumming rapidly. “Had to go to a different town, in case I was known as a stripper. They did find out, but a family friend put in a good word for me. My scores were quite good as well.” He shrugged. “Looking back, I guess my whole ‘stripping for revenge’ plan was a pretty ridiculous thing to do. I didn’t want you to know about it and look down on me.”
Bodie protested. “Hardly fair, mate. Me look down on you? You’re the one who looks down on me sometimes.”
“I don’t, really.” Doyle sounded surprised. “Proud of you, aren’t I? You’ve done so much in your life, and come so far.”
“I’ve come so far—what, from being a dirty old merc?”
“Not everyone could come back from that life, mate. You’re something special that you did.”
Bodie wondered if that was true. He liked hearing it, either way.
He was glad to learn the truth, and his sympathy was all with Doyle, no matter what. But he knew from experience, he needed to say something here, not just nod and smile. Doyle would take offence if he didn’t get some sort of response. Maybe he wouldn’t get angry today, but he would start to brood and then take it out on Bodie later, thinking he’d been rejected or laughed at, even if that was the last thing Bodie intended.
“Thanks for telling me, mate. I’m glad you’re all right,” said Bodie. The words, even as simple as these, felt awkward. It was so much easier to make a joke, or have a drink together and seal the contract between them that way, than to put anything serious into words. He was learning, but it wasn’t easy for him. He thought Doyle was learning to accept his peace offerings and silences as well, but he couldn’t risk being misunderstood after Doyle had shared things so personal and obviously still painful.
“You ever think about having that teacher investigated for abuse of power with his students sort of thing?” he asked casually.
“Yeah. Tried when I was a cop, didn’t I? They started an internal investigation, but so far as I know nobody ever discovered anything. Or else they covered it up. Far as I know, he’s still teaching, a dirty old man getting dirtier and older.”
“Cowley could make an investigation be taken seriously.”
“Yeah,” said Doyle thoughtfully. “If the teacher is still at it. You’ve got a point, mate. I never wanted Cowley to know, but he obviously does anyway. Enough, at least, since I was the first person he thought of to be a stripper.” His voice held a sort of ringing self-mockery and chagrin.
“That was because you looked like the victims, mate.”
“No, he knew. I know when the old man sees right through me. And he did. Guess I’m lucky he hired me at all.”
“He’s not that much of a stickler.”
“No, right. He hired you, after all.”
“Hired you and all.”
“Yeah, well he hired you.”
“Hired you first.”
“No, did he? Lord, he loves me best after all.”
They were grinning from this silly exchange, and still smiling when Bodie pulled up at Doyle’s flat. He hopped out and went around to help his partner from the car. Or at least hold the door for him, if Doyle’s pride wouldn’t allow him to accept any help.
CI5 and the police did a thorough going-over of all Steed’s property. And he had a great deal. They could only piece together so much, but evidence made it likely that he’d killed Fred Langos for trying to blackmail him.
They still couldn’t tell why he’d killed the strippers and the prostitute, though. From Doyle’s experience, it seemed that Steed was interested in killing, not sex at all. Perhaps Cowley’s theory about the thrill of killing was correct.
But to find out as much as they could, they wanted to talk not just to relatives and ex-lovers (as they had done), but to his American crony. To this end they waited till Roberts came back into the country, over a month after Steed’s death. And Cowley confronted him—along with the minister and a higher-up American diplomat for clout.
It was a closed meeting, and Bodie and Doyle weren’t in it.
Waiting outside for the results of it, Bodie said to Doyle, “Doesn’t make much difference, does it? Steed’s dead now. I don’t know why the Cow cares about motives at this point.”
“Suppose he wants to find out how much Roberts was in on it,” replied Doyle. “If he should be deported.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sure he should, just for poor choice in friends if nothing else.”
Doyle shifted a bit. His side was much better, but Bodie caught him grimacing at times, as if it still caused him discomfort. Probably shouldn’t be back on even light duties yet, but Cowley and Doyle both said he was up for it, and so here he was.
The American emerged from the room now, his face ashen, his expression troubled and distant.
Then his eyes fell on Doyle, and he gave a start. “What are you—” He checked himself.
Doyle rose slowly. “Yes? What am I what?” he asked in his most intimidating voice.
Bodie stood beside him protectively, his soldier’s senses tingling and alert for any coming threat.
But none came. The man simply tried to get his face under control, his mouth gasping like fish out of water. He managed it at last. “Nothing,” he said, waving it away. “I thought I recognised you.”
Cowley stood in the doorway, his glasses gleaming. “Someone you and Steed both recognised, Mr Roberts? Someone he hated enough to kill?”
“Yes—no—I—I don’t have to answer your questions. Talk to the embassy!” And he hurried away, clearly disconcerted.
Bodie started after him, but Cowley stopped him. “Bodie. Leave him. We don’t need trouble, and he’ll not tell us more now. It must’ve been someone Steed and Roberts both knew. We can find out, if we check the records. Likely from their student days. Perhaps he refused Steed, as not many people seemed to have done. Then when Steed went off his mental rails, he began killing anyone who looked like this man.”
Bodie was conscious of a self-conscious, guilty look from Doyle. Was he equating his own art school experience with this somehow? Did he think his old teacher would go mad enough to start killing anyone who looked like him?
“Never mind, lads,” said Cowley. “I’ll have the research department dig it up. We’ve put a period to it, at any rate. Roberts confessed—more or less—to the knowledge that his friend was becoming obsessed. He said he was trying to put a stop to him getting into dangerous situations. He refused to admit knowledge of the killings, and we can’t prove anything, but he certainly conspired to keep Steed from being caught.” He shook his head. “Och, so much wasted life! All those young men killed for no good reason. And these two foolish rich thugs. Both had too much power and did nothing good with it.” He sighed. “I don’t think Roberts is a killer, though. Simply wasting his life doing nothing but partying at his country’s expense.” He sounded surprisingly weary. “Come along. I’ll buy you a whisky, and we’ll have our own little party, at my expense.”
“Thank you, sir.” Bodie smiled in anticipation at the treat. It always meant a job well done, if you got to drink with the boss.
“And you’ll buy me the second round.” Cowley’s weary eyes gleamed momentarily.
Doyle grimaced in anticipation of that pleasure.
“Yes sir,” said Bodie, for both of them.
“So come on, then, Ray.” Bodie nudged Doyle with an elbow and looked over at him, smiling. “You’re going to someday, aren’t you?”
Doyle shook his head stubbornly. He was slightly slurred from all the whisky. Cowley had told them not to even think of driving themselves back, but to take a taxi or bus. Then he’d left, limping a bit, and given the barman a sharp nod of goodbye. In the end, he’d covered most of the bill, but left just enough of it for Bodie to feel the pain in his wallet.
Now Bodie and Doyle were drinking, side by side, finishing just a bit more, loathe to let go of the last mellow feelings from a case completed. Even though Cowley wasn’t paying. Even though the case might never have all its ‘t’s crossed and ‘i’s dotted.
“Be a mate,” cajoled Bodie. “You’ve let other people see.”
“Told you I’m no good, didn’t I?” Doyle grimaced at him, pugnacious with drink. “And besides, I don’t do it anymore.”
“Doesn’t mean you haven’t kept any. You mean to tell me you binned all your old paintings?”
“What, every last one?” Bodie tsk’d. “I don’t believe you mate.”
Doyle raised his glass, emptied the last few drops, and set it down firmly. He stared at it, frowning.
Bodie continued. “You never even told me what you painted. Oil or watercolour? Or acrylics? How ‘bout finger paints?” he guessed, nudging his partner, trying to raise a smile.
“Leave it, Bodie.” Doyle’s voice was low.
“I’m just curious, sunshine,” said Bodie. “Whole part of your life you’ve just cut me off from, haven’t you?”
“Cut myself off from it as well. Nothing special for you. I told you, that’s all in my past. Why do you want to dredge it up again?” He shot Bodie a dark look.
Because I want to know if you were any good. And if you let someone stop you from doing something you love just because their words hurt you. I want to know if that’s how you make your decisions. And I’d like to see a bit further into your soul about the things that mean something to you.
He couldn’t say any of that, even with a good few drinks inside him. Instead he just grinned. “Want to see the nudes you painted, don’t I?”
Doyle rolled his eyes and looked away. “Human figure is nothing to giggle over, Bodie! It’s art, for pity’s sake!”
“Oh, boy, do I like art!” Bodie rubbed his hands together, gleefully grinning. Doyle stayed turned away and ignored him.
Bodie stopped and tried another tack. “Never painting again then, sunshine?”
Doyle shook his head gently. “No, mate. I’ve had enough of that. No dreams are meant to last forever.”
Bodie put down his glass, and stared at him, blinking, all smiles gone from his face and his heart. “You can just change your mind like that? About something that meant so much to you?”
He thought, CI5. And me. Suddenly he didn’t feel so drunk or so happy.
Doyle gave him one long, slow glance, and smiled ruefully. “Not you, mate.” He pushed a couple of notes across the counter and rose, giving the barman a nod and a “Ta.” Bodie followed him as if in a dream, feeling more unsteady on his feet than he’d realised he would be.
They left the warm, dark pub with its friendly background noise. On the street, the air was a cool wakeup call. Cars whizzed by in a businesslike manner and somewhere a bored dog barked.
“D’you mean you’ll never leave CI5 then?” Bodie asked, pushing his luck, wanting to be certain he’d heard correctly, hoping that Doyle had meant what he said.
“No,” said Doyle. He stopped, leaned against a wall outside of the pub and crossed his arms. He yawned so widely that Bodie saw tonsils.
“No?” Bodie tried to smile. “Decisive lad, aren’t you?”
And then Doyle gave him a smile of rare beauty, soft and seeing straight through him to his worried core. “Said I’d never change my mind about you, sunshine. Not CI5. No guarantee I’ll be here forever, or you either. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? Nothing lasts forever. But I won’t change my mind about you even if we don’t work together anymore.”
“Just like that?” said Bodie, a fierce well of dizzy happiness rising in him. He wanted to grit his teeth. He wanted to shout. He wanted to thump Doyle hard and run from his retribution. It was all mixed together with a happy feeling. “Always be your mate, someone you shout at and bully and shut out—and fight to the death for?”
“I never bully you!” Doyle sounded wounded.
“Well, potato, tomato—”
“I never did!” said Doyle. “But yeah, all the rest.” He looked at Bodie with glittering green eyes, daring him, arms still crossed.
Bodie felt a silly grin growing on his face. “Same here, mate.” He reached out and punched Doyle on the arm, and laughed.
Dreams didn’t last forever, maybe; but perhaps some things did.
Bodie and Doyle both stood in front of Cowley. Bodie was there as backup only. They both had grim faces, and Doyle seemed really tense. He’d nearly backed out twice.
“If you don’t ask him, I will,” Bodie had threatened while they were sitting at their desks.
That had made Doyle laugh. “You don’t even know his name.”
“Could find it out,” said Bodie, and flicked an elastic at him, sitting at their desks. Doyle had squinted his eyes shut in an automatic wince and ducked aside. And then retaliated with several paperclips.
In the end, Doyle had gone through with it. Now he was standing very straight, speaking stiffly to Cowley.
“Sir, I was wondering if you could—start an investigation into an old art school teacher of mine. I have reason to believe—”
Cowley looked up at him levelly. “Mr Johnson? I was wondering when you would ask about that, Doyle.” He removed his glasses and folded them precisely, holding them in his hands. Bodie found himself watching, focusing on this small gesture instead of Cowley’s dangerously calm face. He felt more than saw Doyle stiffen at his side.
“You knew, sir?”
Cowley allowed himself a small smile. “Of course, Doyle. I don’t hire anyone I don’t know a great deal about. I would venture to say, I know everything there is to know about your past.”
At this, Doyle looked decidedly uncomfortable.
“Yes, Doyle, even that!” Cowley smiled.
Doyle cleared his throat. “I don’t know what you mean, s—”
“Don’t you? Well, never mind, lad. Never mind!” He rose from his chair and strode around the desk. “The point is, I had your teacher investigated immediately I learned of him. He was stripped of his position and retired shortly after the investigation was complete. He had indeed been accepting sexual favours for higher grades. It created a small, though well-covered-up, scandal. Not because of his sexual preferences, but because of his abuse of power. The school made certain that it never reached the news.” He stared at Doyle.
Doyle gaped at him as if he’d grown extra ears. “You knew? And you—did all that—and never told me—sir?”
Cowley sat on the edge of his desk. “No, Doyle. I wanted you to trust me with it. If you didn’t, I assumed you didn’t need to know.”
Doyle just gaped at him.
“But whether you knew or not, I wanted to take care of the rot. British education will never be the finest in the world if we can’t control our teachers and hold them to a standard of self-control and fairness. I take care of my own, as well.
“As near as I can find out, your grades would have been passable, if Johnson hadn’t influenced the situation. I can’t regret the presence of a good officer—” Here he gave a wintery smile. “—but I can deplore the situation that made your leaving art school necessary.”
He put his glasses back on and went around the desk, sat down and picked up papers, tapping them into place together. “If that’s all, gentlemen?” he asked, back to being the stern boss.
“Yes sir. Thank you sir,” said Bodie for both of them. He plucked at his dazed partner’s arm and they left the room together. Bodie shut the door behind them carefully, afraid of Doyle’s coming outburst getting back to Cowley. Bodie led him further away, steering Doyle by an elbow.
“I can’t believe he knew...” Doyle’s voice was low and shocked. “And I did get better grades...! And he never told me!” Now it was nearly a shout, ringing with feeling.
“Shh, mate,” said Bodie comfortingly, with an anxious glance back at Cowley’s door. “You know how the old man is. Thrives on secrets.” He put a hand on Doyle’s back to steady him.
Bodie kept himself planted firmly between Doyle and the door. Sure enough, Doyle looked wrathfully, indignantly back at it. If he went back to shout at Cowley, Bodie intended to tackle him, healing wound or not. They’d had far too much trouble recently to go asking for more.
“He was looking after you in his own way,” reasoned Bodie. “C’mon, have a drink. And tell me about your art now. You could take it up again now, as a hobby.”
Doyle blinked and stopped walking, despite the pressure on his elbow, steering him towards the front door. “Yes,” he said, appearing much struck. “I guess I can.”
Bodie swallowed and forced himself to smile, thinking of Doyle in a paint-covered smock, a beret and a silly moustache. Holding a paintbrush, and talking about art. Becoming famous and leaving this life far behind...
Doyle turned a smile on him, nearly blinding in its brilliance, augmented by damp eyes that seemed lit from behind, like glowing globes. “Thanks, mate. For making me ask!” In place of his anger was a sudden, dizzy joy. In his gaze, Bodie saw all the dazed happiness of a man recovering something he’d thought he’d lost forever—something wonderful that he’d never thought he’d get back, not in his wildest dreams.
“Anytime, mate,” said Bodie, keeping emotion off his face, staying placid and calm, and thinking unaccountably of a bird in your hands, broken wing now healed. And you opened your hands and let it go.
Of course you did; there was nothing else to do.
If Doyle wanted to be free, Bodie wouldn’t hold him back. Even if it hurt. No dreams for him, just life, lived with eyes wide open, and if Doyle said any last words to him at least they wouldn’t be because he was dying. Just because he was leaving, that bird taking flight to music Bodie couldn’t hear.
Maudlin, he thought, and shook himself. Besides, Doyle had promised.
Maybe Bodie would visit the art gallery and tell dirty jokes and be welcome, somehow, even amongst all the nobs and toffee-nosed gits. And Doyle.
“Drink?” he asked.
“Yeah, drink,” said Doyle, his steps lively and high, an extra bounce in his curls and a smile on his face that nearly hid the fact he was very close to tears.
They went and had a drink together, their reasons entirely different: celebration and consolation.
Bodie told himself he was a silly fool for seeing more than a hobby, for taking any of this personally.
And then he drove Doyle to the art shop, and helped him pick out fresh brushes, canvases, and oil paints, while making remarks about all the shades of nude that existed in the world.