The chase was on. The illegal arms shipment they had been after for weeks lay abandoned in the old freight yard in Battersea. The buyers, three in all, were either lying dead or wounded on the railway tracks or handcuffed and in the custody of CI5’s finest. The sellers, however, had run, the two men returning fire with weapons that could have come from their own shipment, a Browning each and one of them had a Russian Kalashnikov assault rifle, the famous AK-47, a weapon Bodie had more than a nodding acquaintance with.
Doyle was running slightly ahead, leaping with agile quickness over a weed engulfed pile of metal and cardboard rubbish that stood in his way. Bodie followed close behind and slightly to the side, ready to cover his partner’s mad dash. The stupid bugger just didn’t think sometimes, ran straight into danger without due consideration. It was a good thing Bodie was around to watch his arse, otherwise it would have been shot off long ago.
The escapees were still ahead of them, rounding a collection of disused railway carriages. Bodie hesitated, a premonition holding him back. Sure enough the edge of the AK-47 poked out over the window sill of the end carriage and seconds later a bullet kicked up dirt inches from Doyle’s foot.
“Down,” Bodie shouted but Doyle was already rolling across the dirt, coming to rest beside a rotting wooden box that gave scant protection but was probably better than nothing.
“Get down yourself, you stupid berk!” Doyle’s shouted instruction was punctuated by two more rifle shots and the whistle of a bullet past Bodie’s ear. There was nothing around but clear ground and Doyle’s box so Bodie simply dropped where he stood, diving onto his stomach, gun arm extended, firing off his own shot as Doyle’s gun exploded into action.
Bodie fired again but Doyle had stopped shooting and was peering cautiously around the edge of his cover. Silence filled the air.
“They’ve moved,” Bodie muttered.
“They have,” Doyle responded.
“Why can’t they, just for once, give up when we ask them?”
Doyle smirked “And you always put it so politely, too.”
“I know, I know. Gunrunners have no couth these days.”
Bodie started rising to his feet while Doyle came out from behind the box. Nothing happened. Cautiously confident, they made a dash to the railway line, guns held up and ready, and landed up with their backs against the comforting bulk of the same carriage that had hidden their quarry. The silence continued. They looked at each other and nodded at the same time. With an ease born of long practice and an unquestioning confidence in the other’s support they rounded the end of the carriage as one, Doyle slightly in the lead, Bodie at his back. They were just in time to see a flash of colour disappearing into the darkness between two goods trains sitting side by side further across the yard. Doyle ran forward and moved cautiously between the trains, following that flash of colour, while Bodie veered to the opposite side and made his way quickly along the track, ducking as he went to check underneath the wagons. He was halfway down the train when he heard Doyle’s shout.
“Hold it! Drop the weapon.”
There was an immediate response, “Okay, okay. Don’t shoot.” And the distinct sound of metal hitting gravel. But the other sound Bodie was hoping for, the one that would tell him the second man was also under Doyle’s gun, didn’t come. Damn, that wasn’t good. Where the hell was the missing gunman?
He moved on, intent on climbing between the freight cars and coming in from behind so he could cover Doyle but a metallic click stopped him. He ducked again and was rewarded with a view of a leg and a boot-clad foot as it rested on the ground beside the wheel of the opposite train, the owner presumably concealed between the freight cars. Bodie didn’t hesitate. Taking careful aim he fired and was instantly rewarded with a satisfying howl of pain followed by a full view of the formerly rifle-toting gunman falling to the ground clutching at his injured appendage and delivering a stream of invective.
“Bodie, that you?” Doyle shouted
“Who else would it be, Sunshine?” Bodie asked reasonably as he climbed over the coupling between the cars. He was greeted with the sight of the first gunman securely handcuffed and scowling at a bent double Doyle who was laughing with hysterical cruelty at the antics of the fallen gunman who’d managed to regain his feet but was hopping madly on the spot holding onto his foot, hurling abuse at both of them.
“You shot me bloody toe off, ya arsehole,” the man yelled as a final insult.
“Now, now,” Bodie tutted, walking past the dancing man to retrieve the fallen rifle. “It’s not as bad as all that. You’re fortunate it wasn’t your head.”
“Yeah, teach you to hide behind trains and take pot shots at people,” Doyle supplied
Just then the radio in Doyle’s jacket crackled into life as Cowley’s voice interrupted the discussion.
“4.5, report your position.”
“We’re standing beside a train, Sir.”
“Very clever, Doyle.” Cowley’s sarcasm was heavy and obvious. “Have you by any chance managed to apprehend the suspects?”
“Yes, Sir. Got them both here alive and kicking, one more than the other.”
“I take that to mean they are both reasonably hale and under their own steam. In which case, what are you waiting for? Bring them in.”
Doyle’s “Yes, Sir,” was lost in the decisive click of the other RT being switched off. He switched off his own radio and turned to the two captives.
“Come on, you two; our boss is very anxious to meet you.”
“I’m sure he’ll have tea and scones ready, then a nice warm cell for you both after,” Bodie added.
“A real comedy act, aren’t ya?” was the sullen response from Doyle’s prisoner.
“Yeah, got a turn at the Palladium next week,” Doyle assured him.
“’ere, I can’t walk with me toe like this,” the wounded man whined, trying to balance on one foot.
“Well I’m not carrying you,” Bodie told him, delivering a none too gentle push to send him on his way. There seemed no point in bothering with handcuffs.
The man hopped a couple of steps then staggered into his friend and they both nearly tumbled but somehow managed to stay upright. Bodie and Doyle just watched, their expressions bordering on the impatient, guns held loosely at their sides but in clear view. The men got the hint and untangling themselves began a strange three legged gait back to the freight yard, the unwounded helping the wounded as best he could.
Most of the area had been cleared by the time the little procession made its way back. Cowley took one look at the injured gunman and ordered him put into the ambulance that was just about to leave with one of the wounded buyers. The other man joined his surviving customers in the police van Cowley had commandeered for the purpose. After that there was nothing left to do but go home; interrogations would start the next day.
“Fancy a pint?” Bodie asked as he slid into the passenger seat of the Capri.
Doyle hesitated before answering, taking his time with the car key, jiggling it a little as he inserted it in the ignition. “Nah,” he finally said. “You still got some of that Glenfiddich left?”
“Yeah, there’s more than half a bottle,” Bodie told him, remembering the twelve year old single malt holding pride of place in his new drinks cabinet. He had been holding onto it for a special occasion but what the heck, this could end up being a special occasion in itself.
“Right then.” Doyle started the engine then turned to flash Bodie one of his more angelic smiles, the one that always hit Bodie right where it counted. “We can make a night of it at your place.”
Doyle was on edge. It had been obvious after the chase, the nervous energy sparking the laughter at the wounded gunman’s expense. Now Bodie could tell by the way he drove. Competent but reckless, taking the corners too fast and braking at the last minute. At each red traffic light he played a restless beat on the steering wheel, waiting for the change then jumping on the accelerator for a skidding start as soon as the orange flashed.
It had been a long two weeks waiting for a break in the case and Bodie knew how much Doyle hated waiting for anything, knew how he tensed up and fidgeted constantly, got on other people’s nerves and his own. Today’s shootout had brought an end to the wait but still left Doyle on a knife edge, needing something to bring him down from the high. The whisky would help but Bodie knew something else that would help even more, the method they’d been using for a while now to bank the flames and bring them down to an even keel, and the anticipation gripped his belly.
Doyle grabbed him as soon as they were inside the flat, pushing him up against the door he’d just shut and pressing his body along Bodie’s length, hard and urgent. Then he kissed him. Which took Bodie completely by surprise. They rarely kissed, even in bed and when they did it was in the throes of passion, not this almost gentle press of lips as sweet as any he’d enjoyed before. Doyle’s mouth explored his, his tongue tracing over his lips and Bodie opened to the touch, allowed the invasion.
It ended as quickly as it had happened and raw desire took over. Bodie couldn’t help but feel regret at the loss, even as Doyle’s determined hands roamed his body and began to tug at clothing, pushing it out of the way to reach skin. Bodie returned the favour, almost ripping Doyle’s shirt in an effort to pull it free.
“Bedroom,” he managed to get out, feeling the hard press of Doyle’s cock against his own hardness as Doyle’s hands reached his arse and pulled Bodie to him, grinding against him. They moved with a stumbling gait in the right direction, not willing to let go, somehow managing to tear at each other’s clothes without tripping over themselves. But they only made it as far as the couch, colliding with the arm so that Doyle tipped over and Bodie tumbled down after him. Doyle’s laugh was pure delight.
“Not getting there, mate.” His face was flushed, wild curls tangled, damp at his forehead with the small beads of perspiration gleaming there. Bodie looked down at him, filled with desire and something else he wouldn’t name. He bent, burying his face in Doyle’s neck, nosing at the curls to breath in the smell of sweat and gunfire and Doyle. He moaned into the sweetness of it and felt the shudder that went through Doyle. Then Doyle was pushing at him, making him lift away so that he could skim his hands over shoulders and chest, moving lower. They’d lost their jackets at the front door, their shirts and shoes along the way but they both still wore trousers and Doyle’s fingers tickled as they traced along the waistband of Bodie’s cords then down the zip. Bodie’s breath caught, his erection almost painful until Doyle lowered the zip and granted him freedom.
“Fuck me?” Doyle begged, his hand tight on Bodie’s cock as he stroked. Bodie nodded, unable to speak. He stripped Doyle off, pulling jeans and underwear down as one then stood to take off his own cords, tripping slightly in the process, making Doyle laugh again. He smiled in a way that made Doyle’s laughter stop as he bent and took him into his mouth. Doyle gasped, arching up into it. “Oh, god.” His voice was hoarse, as if he’d been shouting. Bodie sucked greedily for a few seconds before moving his tongue over the tip then lifting his head to look in Doyle’s eyes
“Turn around, kneel up,” his said, his voice a quiet murmur in the stillness of the flat.
Doyle obeyed, coming up to kneel on the couch, his legs widespread, feet hanging over the edge, arms braced on the back. Bodie moved behind him then stopped, hesitating as Doyle thrust back against him.
“Wait …” he told him
Doyle let out a groan. “It’s all right, you can do it without anything.”
“No, I can’t,” Bodie told him, not willing to hurt the man. “Just... wait.” He hurried to the kitchen and was back in seconds, a bottle of cooking oil in his hand. Doyle was still kneeling, his arms against the top of the couch back, his forehead resting on them. Bodie spilled a small portion of the oil onto his fingers and ran them over Doyle’s cleft making him jerk at the touch, then spilled a little more into his hand, quickly coating his cock, their need too urgent for anything more. Pulling Doyle’s hips back a little he folded over him, nuzzling into his neck, one hand at his hip, the other reaching around the narrow waist to grip his cock with the oil dampened hand, stroking as his own cock slid inside. Doyle pushed back and the feeling was so good he moaned loudly into Doyle’s neck and thrust again; then again, harder, deeper. Doyle cried out and jerked and Bodie thrust again, then climaxed as Doyle’s come coated his hand and arched across the back of the couch.
He lay on Doyle’s back for a few precious moments, catching his breath, feeling himself soften and fall from Doyle’s body. Then Doyle collapsed under him. Bodie went with him until they were a sprawled mess half on, half off the couch but still wrapped together.
“Feel better now?” Bodie asked when he could manage to speak, huffing into Doyle’s hair.
“Yeah, needed that.” He stroked the hand that was still clasped around his waist. “Thanks, mate.”
Bodie smiled. “Anytime,” he said, knowing he meant it.
“Messed your couch up though.” Bodie didn’t have to see Doyle’s face to know he had a smug, self-satisfied grin on it.
“Never mind, I’ll give you the soap and scrubbing brush and you can clean it tomorrow.” He felt the laugh that bubbled through Doyle’s body, and the heel that kicked his shin.
“Not likely. It’s your couch,”
“You made the mess.”
“You fell over it in the first place.”
They were still arguing as they picked themselves up off the floor, made their way to the bedroom and fell into bed together.
Bodie woke from a sound sleep hours later curled at Doyle’s back, his arm resting over the slim waist. It took him a moment to work out what it was that had disturbed him until the jangling of the telephone in the lounge registered. Doyle muttered a complaint as Bodie slid out of the bed then snuggled back down into the covers without waking.
The air in the lounge was cold on his bare skin as Bodie used the glow of street lights and a frail moon to navigate his way to the phone. He picked up the receiver with a brisk but quiet “hello”. There was a moment of eerie hissing static then a dense silence before a voice echoed from the reciever.
“Will? William Bodie?”
Bodie’s breath caught in his throat. The voice was almost indistinct, crackling over the line as if from a great distance in time and space. But he would know it anywhere and what it could mean.
“Thought you’d probably died long ago,” he said, his own voice cracking slightly, although whether from lack of use or his screaming nerves he couldn’t be sure.
“I’m not good enough to die young, you know that.” There was a pause before the voice came again. “It’s good to hear you, Will. It’s been a long time.”
“Yeah, you too,” Bodie said. “How’d you get my number?”
There was a quiet laugh on the end of the line. “It wasn’t difficult. You have a rather large file in a certain foreign intelligence agency’s filing cabinet and I have contacts.”
Bodie grimaced but didn’t say anything.
“I’ve found him, Will,” the voice continued.
“Where?” Bodie swallowed, trying to clear the obstruction that seemed lodged in his throat.
“He’s been living in South Africa all this time, has a ranch outside Messina. Changed his name from the merc days, or maybe the name he used then was fake. That’s why it’s taken so long.”
“That makes sense, all of it. He’d go back to his roots either way. Where are you now?”
“Here in London, staying at a boarding house. I couldn’t touch him in South Africa, too many problems getting close. But he left for England two days ago; I was on the same flight. I’ve been following him ever since.” There was silence then the man spoke again. “You in?”
Bodie hesitated, the enormity of what he was contemplating and how much he could lose if he did what the voice suggested hitting him. Then memories of pain and loss and blood covering a loved face took over.
“I’m in,” he said. “I’ll need some time to sort things out. Where can I reach you?” He grabbed for the pen and paper that were always beside the phone and jotted down the number dictated to him. “I’ll let you know when I’m clear to meet you,” he told his caller.
“Good, I’ll wait to hear from you.” There was a click and the line went dead. He sat for a while in the quiet dark, looking at the receiver still in his hand as if it was a snake that was about to strike, his mind in chaos. Eventually he put the handset carefully back in its cradle.
“Who was that?”
The voice startled Bodie and he jumped, swinging around to look towards the bedroom. Doyle stood leaning against the doorframe, a faint sheen of sweat outlining his naked body in the moonlight. There was a look of curiosity and concern on his face.
“Nothing, just an old friend I haven’t seen for a long time,” Bodie told him, struggling to keep his voice even and casual. He’d obviously failed because the concern was deeper now, questioning.
“You okay?” Doyle asked, pulling himself off the doorframe and moving closer, intent on answers and reassurance and Bodie regretted the almost psychic bond that had developed between them, and the caring. They’d started their affair, or whatever it was they indulged in, with no more thought than comfort and the handy release of sexual tension with no strings attached. Which suited him, suited the resolve he’d made long ago to never let anyone in again, never let anyone too close because it hurt too much. Now, looking at the man coming towards him he realised what a bloody fool he was, that it was already much too late, perhaps for both of them Remorselessly he crushed down on the feeling, knowing that Doyle would probably never forgive him for what he was about to do.
He stood abruptly, halting Doyle’s progress with the movement.
“Everything’s fine. Just an old army mate in town. Silly bugger’s had too much to drink, didn’t even bother about the time till I gave him a bollocking. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up with him later.” He knew he was babbling but headed resolutely back to the bedroom, hoping Doyle would just accept the explanation. “Come on, let’s get back into bed, it's cold out here and we have to be up early.”
Doyle hesitated, looking at Bodie as if he was about to argue the point. But he just nodded and followed him into the bedroom.
“Hope this army friend of yours chooses a better time to ring next time,” he said, slipping into Bodie’s arms as they both slid into the bed.
Bodie grunted and pulled Doyle close, closing his eyes and feigning instant sleep. He felt Doyle’s gaze on him but he kept his eyes resolutely shut, then there was the gentle touch of lips on his cheek, the second time that day Doyle had kissed him, and Bodie felt unaccustomed tears pricking at his closed eyelids at the simple gesture. With a soft sigh Doyle settled down with his head resting on Bodie’s shoulder.
Bodie lay there still and silent. After a few minutes Doyle’s breathing evened out into sleep but Bodie stayed awake, his thoughts thousands of miles and more than a dozen years away in the past.
Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Going up that river was like travelling back to the
earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation
rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings.
An empty stream, a great silence, an
impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy,
sluggish. There was no joy in the
brilliance of sunshine.
-Joseph Conrad,Heart of Darkness
“Sacrément!” The exclamation was punctuated by the crash of a hard hand against the steering wheel of the three tonne Chevy truck as the driver brought the cumbersome old vehicle to an abrupt halt at the dusty edge of the tarmac road, the noise an accompaniment to the hiss made by the steam that was rising from the engine.
The young man sitting in the passenger seat of the cab looked from the belching steam to the cheroot smoking Belgian driver and shrugged philosophically. “At least we’re near the river this time,” he said.
The driver grunted but made no comment as he pushed open the door of the cab and climbed out. The young man waited a moment, watching the driver though the rear view mirror as he pulled back the flap of the truck’s canopy and retrieved a blue jerry can, then he sighed and made his own way to the back of the vehicle. This was the third time in as many days that the truck’s radiator had all but boiled itself dry and it would be the third time they would have to stop and wait for it to cool before refilling the radiator.
“Here, Monsieur Guillaume,” the Belgian said, handing a second jerry can to the young man. “It is fortunate indeed that the river is close by. We can fill them both now and keep one for next time.”
Which the young man thought was a definite case of pessimism on the Belgian’s part, but he took the offered jerry can with a sigh and made no comment on either the apparent need for more water in the future, the ‘monsieur’ or the Frenchified version of his name. He’d long since given up advising Matthias he didn’t speak French and would prefer the man use his last name if he found all three of his first names too difficult to pronounce in English, but the little Belgian was not to be swayed. So William Andrew Philip Bodie had resigned himself to being Guillaume for the rest of their journey.
“How far away is the rendezvous point?” he asked, straining to keep up with Matthias while avoiding the backlash of foliage as the Belgian forged through the dense bush and overhanging vines. The hot, moist air hung like a heavy wet blanket, smothering and constricting, making it hard to breathe and giving no opportunity for sweat to escape the body. There were midges too, biting and irritating, getting in your eyes when they weren’t crawling around your mouth. Bodie swotted at them incessantly, creating a turbulence in the damp air around his head that had no discernible effect on the swarming insects. Bloody Africa, he thought.
“No more than fifty miles as the crow flies,” Matthias answered him. “However, as we are not crows and must follow the road as it follows the river, it is closer to ninety miles. If the engine had not failed us again we would be there by late today, perhaps, but now...” He shrugged his shoulders in Gallic fashion.
Bodie knew that Matthias would not travel by night, a fear of wild animals almost as strong in him as the fear of rebels, black or white, but Bodie’s hopes were for an end to this uncomfortable and draining journey. Unfortunately it was Matthias’ truck and Matthias’ call.
They heard the river before they saw it, a rush of sound that spoke of swiftly flowing water and rapids. Matthias pushed aside a solid mass of vegetation to reveal a length of muddy beach strewn with small boulders, and there it was, flowing green, strong and inscrutable, the edges of thick jungle growth pushing in on it from the banks.
Matthias knelt to fill his jerry can and stepped back. Bodie hesitated, looking out over the turbulent water rushing over rocks, kicking up little white waves. Then he too knelt by the water’s edge and filled the can.
“Think I’ll wait here for a bit,” he told Matthias when the man started to head back the way he had come. “Give me a shout when the truck’s ready again.”
Matthias nodded, shifting the cheroot around in his mouth. “Be careful, do not let the crocodiles get you,” he said with a wink, then chuckling at Bodie’s expression he turned back to the path they’d trampled through the undergrowth, trailing long tendrils of smoke after him as he left.
Bodie looked again at the water, startled by the Belgian’s words, but decided the man was having him on. No self-respecting crocodile would be foolish enough to brave the swiftly flowing rapids, would they? Nevertheless he found a large boulder a respectable distance from the river’s edge to settle down and wait for the length of time it was going to take for the Chevy’s ancient engine to cool down. The air was slightly less humid here by the river and the midges had all but gone, leaving in their place the consistent buzz of mosquitos. But mostly it was quiet and after a week of Matthias’ continual chatter in French and broken English, the noise of the water and occasional screech of some bird Bodie had no way of identifying, made for a peace that was… peaceful.
Africa confused Bodie. It was big, noisy, utterly foreign and full of contradictions, totally different from the staid, conformist English society he’d grown up in and fled from at the first opportunity. But he’d been unable to resist the lure of this Dark Continent when the merchant ship he’d been a crew member of came into sight of the Port of Dakar. So he did what he had always done when something new, different and apparently exciting came his way, he reached out with both hands regardless of the consequences. He jumped ship the very night they docked. It had been remarkably easy, the ship’s watch conveniently looking the other way, the captain no doubt entertaining his lady friend in the privacy of his cabin. It was probably for the best in any case. There had been trouble with the captain and the captain’s lady. Bodie had been flattered by her attention, she’d been younger than the captain and not that much older than Bodie but of course the captain had taken exception to their friendship and Bodie had the feeling he would be safer on land than on board.
He found work on the wharfs at first then as a bouncer in one of the city’s many nightclubs where lying about his age was easy because no one cared how old you were if you looked big enough and strong enough to take on the roughs that were the regular customers. It was in that smoke filled atmosphere he’d found Marty Martell, or rather where the well-dressed and debonair English gentleman with an offer too good to refuse had found him. Martell, Bodie discovered after making a few discreet inquiries of his own when he realised the man was asking questions about him, was in the business of supplying military hardware and not being too fussy about how he obtained the certification for such goods. In other words a black-market gunrunner.
The offer, made over drinks in a relatively quiet corner of the bar, had sounded simple enough, a very large remuneration for escorting a shipment of goods from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma and thence across Lake Tanganyika then through the vastness of the newly formed Democratic Republic of the Congo, the final destination being just beyond the Kasai river border of Katanga Province and Angola.
“You’ll meet up with my local agent in Dar es Salaam, Matthias. He’ll be responsible for logistics and knows the route well. All you have to do is make sure the shipment arrives safely.” Martell told him.
“And the goods are?” Bodie asked. It never hurt to get confirmation from the horse’s mouth.
“I know you’ve done your homework already, asked a few questions,” Martell said smiling at Bodie’s raised eyebrow. “In fact I’d have been worried if you hadn’t. But the point is that you know what I deal in without me having to tell you. All I need to know now is if you’re interested or not.”
“I’m interested. But what about Katanga? There’s a war going on there, or so I’ve heard.”
“Nah, the Government’s in control again and the UN’s rounding up Tshombe’s mercenaries. Besides, Matthias is Belgian Congolese, he knows his way around Katanga like the back of his hand
“Why me?” Bodie asked him.
“I’ve seen the way you work, the way you handle yourself and the way you handle that.” Martell looked at the Browning automatic Bodie had tucked into the waistband of his trousers, only half hidden by the jacket he wore. “And you’re free, white and over eighteen, as they say. A young man with potential.” He paused. “You are over eighteen, aren’t you?”
“Of course,” Bodie lied. Martell didn’t have to know he’d reach his seventeenth birthday in a few months.
“And you know what you’re about and you’ve got experience with guns,” Martell continued, apparently satisfied with the reassurance. “There’s a lot of potential for industry growth in this area, Things are happening in Africa, new republics forming, the colonists fighting it out with the separatists, the separatists fighting with each other. Katanga was just a start. There’s going to be a need for guns, lots of guns. This is a small consignment. But it’s a first delivery, a test run in a way, for a brand new client. You do well with this job and there’s the possibility of more work for you.”
Bodie watched the man, taking in all he had to say, wondering how much was bullshit and how much was genuine. There was an indefinable look in his eyes at times and Bodie had the feeling the man was secretly amused by something Bodie couldn’t comprehend. But the deal sounded real enough and the money Martell mentioned had made him blink. Besides he was getting bored throwing drunks out of the bar and how much more dangerous could it be in the jungle than breaking up murderous fights that involved more knives and broken bottles than fists?
“So, we have a deal?” Martell had finished his spiel and was watching Bodie in return, waiting for his answer.
Bodie shrugged. “Got nothing better to do at the moment. Yes, I’m in.”
“Good.” Martell reached into the inside pocket of the suit he was wearing and withdrew a large envelope, throwing it on the bar in front of Bodie. “This is your advance payment, expenses and a ticket for a Sabena flight to Dar es Salaam tomorrow. Don’t miss it. The address where you’ll find Matthias is written on the envelope. You have two weeks to deliver the goods. The buyers will be waiting at the specified meeting point for three days. Once you’ve handed over the consignment you and Matthias will continue to Luanda. I’ll meet you there with your final payment.”
Bodie picked up the envelope and checked the contents, doing a quick count of the bundle of pound notes then fingering through the Congo francs and Angolan escudos “You were that sure of me?”
Martell finished off his drink and rose. “I know a likely lad looking for some adventure when I see one.”
Bodie watched as Martell walked from the bar and wondered just how much the man did know about him.
Dar es Salaam was another African city of narrow streets and sprawling slums with a landscape of minaret-adorned mosques shaking hands with colonial architecture, and a smiling Matthias, who turned out to be a rather rotund, middle-aged little Belgian with a big smile and a penchant for vile cheroots. His Chevy was of the same vintage – middle aged, smelly and of uncertain temperament. It also had a false bottom to the body of the truck, accessed via latches that enabled a lower section of the truck’s floor to slide out from under the false floor, much like a concealed drawer. A hidey hole that contained an assortment of automatic rifles, hand guns, grenades, ammunition and a rocket launcher. The manifested cargo for the truck was cotton, a dozen bales he and Matthias lugged from a warehouse near the docks and loaded themselves.
Matthias’ plethora of papers and seemingly unlimited supply of local currency for bribes had seen them safely to Kigoma, the dusty little port town that sat amongst the hills on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. From there a ferry had delivered them the six hundred odd miles across the vast waters of the lake to Albertville and the shaky peace that had apparently been restored to the Congo after the nearly two years of Katanga secessionist war and rebellion from Baluba tribesmen.
They’d been stopped by UN forces twice on the road from Albertville, first by Canadian troops and then by Nigerians. But the Canadians were after hidden mercenaries, not hidden guns and the bales of cotton covering the false floor were of no value to the Nigerians, so they’d been sent on their way both times with surly words and threats to keep out of the way of UN forces in the future.
Now they were following the course of the mighty Kasai River as it wound its way through Katanga towards the border with Angola, stopping every few hundred miles to fill the Chevy’s radiator as it inevitably boiled dry.
Bodie was almost dozing when the noises brought him back to the present, intruding rudely into his thoughts making him start with the suddenness of the distant cadence of explosions and gunfire. There was the sound of at least one aircraft too, also distant but quite distinct. Over that he could hear Matthias’ voice, shouting with an imperative for immediate attention.
“Guillaume, come. We must go.”
Startled, but with a rise of something that could have been fear or excitement in his belly, Bodie didn’t waste any time getting back to the truck. Matthias was slamming the bonnet shut as he arrived, the now empty jerry can held in his free hand.
“What’s going on?” Bodie asked him, swinging up into the passenger side of the cab as Matthias threw the jerry cans onto the floor and slid behind the wheel.
“Les mercenaires,” Matthias told him, revving the engine and making the wheels spin and kick up dust as he accelerated. “They are running from the UN forces. Listen, they are getting closer. We must move quickly or we shall be caught in the middle.”
Bodie stuck his head out of the open window. Sure enough, the sounds of gunfire and explosions were louder, more insistent. But it seemed they were already too late for escape as a man holding an automatic rifle across his chest stepped from the foliage on the side of the road to stand directly into the path of the truck. Matthias swore loudly in French and slammed on the brakes. The man remained standing, unflinching as the truck stopped just inches away from him. He skin was the colour of dark coffee; his black eyes regarded them steadily from under the brim of his military style beret. He was wearing military fatigues and the weapon he carried was held loosely, almost casually in his hands but the business end was pointed decidedly in their direction.
“Katangan gendarmerie,” Matthias hissed from the corner of his mouth. “President Tshombe’s men, raised as a military force during the secession. Now they must choose to lay down their arms and hope their surrender is accepted, fight the Government forces or flee for their lives with the mercenaries.” Before he could say anything else another man appeared from the bush at the side of the road and joined the first. He was also wearing combat fatigues and carrying the same type of automatic rifle as his companion and this too was pointed loosely at the truck. This man was darkly tanned but obviously European. From the way Matthias had started swearing under his breath in French again Bodie assumed he knew him.
“Who’s that?” he asked, seeking confirmation.
“He is Colonel Jean Toussaint, a merc … mercenary. They call him Black Jack.” There was awe in Matthias voice as well as fear.
Bodie studied both men as they exchanged a few words. The African was young, around Bodie’s own age, with the build of a skinny teenager while the European was much older, perhaps in his mid-thirties, with sharp features and a beak like nose. He exuded an aura of confidence that spoke of command and an assumption his orders would be obeyed.
“What do they want?” Bodie asked, his hand moving towards the gun nestled in the waistband of his trousers.
“We will soon find out,” Matthias told him as the mercenary began to walk to the truck. “Be careful, Guillaume, drawing a weapon on Black Jack Toussaint should not be taken lightly, he may take exception.” There was more amusement in his voice than fear now and Bodie moved his hand away from his gun, feeling a little foolish and slightly out of his depth. “I will talk with him, you remain here in the truck.”
Matthias open the door of the truck and got out meeting the mercenary as he reached the truck’s fender.
“Monsieur Toussaint,” he said in greeting, then hurried on in English. “I would not have expected to see you here, so far away from Albertville.”
Toussaint seemed momentarily taken aback as he peered more closely at Matthias, then a slight smile flicked across his face.
“Ah, yes. Matthias isn’t it?” he queried in heavily accented English. Without waiting for confirmation he switched his attention to Bodie. “Who is your companion?”
“I’m Bodie, William Bodie,” Bodie supplied before Matthias could speak.
Toussaint nodded then turned back to Matthias “What are you smuggling today, old man?”
“I, Monsieur?” Matthias stuttered. “I smuggle nothing, we are transporting the cotton, that is all.”
“Into Angola? That is all there is at the end of this road. But I think not, Matthias. No matter, whatever it is you’ve got hidden does not interest me at the moment. The vehicle, however, does. I have several injured men and as you can no doubt hear, half the UN, not to mention those Government bastards, breathing down my neck. We managed to throw them off some miles back but they will no doubt track us soon enough. Your truck has arrived at a very fortuitous time.”
Not bothering to indulge in any further conversation Toussaint hurried to the rear of the truck, Matthias scrambling after him, gabbling in French. Toussaint ignored him, turning his head instead to shout back to the African still standing in the middle of the dirt road. “Patrice, call the men, bring the wounded so we can get them loaded up.”
The African nodded and disappeared into the bush again. Bodie slid from the cab and waited to see what would happen. It didn’t take long. Toussaint had lifted the canvas flap at the rear of the truck and was starting to throw the loose bales of cotton onto the side of the road, ignoring Matthias’ protests. A few seconds later the African Toussaint had named as Patrice emerged once again from the bush at the side of the road. This time he was followed by half a dozen other Africans in varying states of disarray, their uniforms torn and dirty and some with visible wounds and makeshift bandages. Patrice himself was half carrying, half dragging a wounded European. Bodie tagged along behind as the little party wobbled its way to the back of the truck, his curiosity slightly outweighing his trepidation.
Toussaint seemed to have finished dispensing all the cotton bales from the back of the truck and they now lay on the roadside in a sad abandoned pile. Toussaint himself was busy spreading the contents of one of the bales that he’d cut open onto the floor of the truck to form makeshift bedding.
“Are we just going to let them do what they want?” Bodie watched as Patrice and Toussaint carefully lifted the wounded European into the truck.
Matthias shrugged. “If we don’t they will just take the truck and leave us here, dead perhaps. These men are desperate, Guillaume. If they are caught by Congolese Government forces they will be shot. We can expect no mercy from them if we do not co-operate.”
“Well, if you put it that way,” Bodie said, reaching out to help one of the Africans over the tailgate.
The rest of the men were loaded in minutes, taking up most of the room in the truck. Patrice sat on the upraised tailgate, clutching onto the roof struts while Bodie, Matthias and Toussaint crammed into the cab.
“Dilolo?” Matthias enquired politely as he turned the key in the ignition.
Toussaint nodded. His manner appeared calm and collected but there were beads of sweat forming on his brow and Bodie squashed in between him and Matthias and with Toussaint’s rifle all but poking him in the nose, could feel the tension in the mercenary’s body.
“Make all haste, my friend, the Congolese forces are not far behind. The rest of my division is ahead, we were holding the rear, creating a diversion, while they fled on another road and hopefully are almost over the border by now. With luck the ANC will continue to think we are on foot and it will slow them down.”
The truck rumbled onto the bumpy road. The noises of distant gunfire had all but ceased as the Government forces realised their quarry had momentarily eluded them and Bodie grasped the fact they had already been caught in the middle of the fleeing Katangans, their mercenary companions and their pursuers miles back without even knowing it.
They were within fifty miles of the border crossing when the jet aircraft found them, possibly the same aircraft Bodie had heard from the riverbank. It was Patrice who warned them. The young African spotted its mica-like glint in the distant sky from his perch on the tailgate before the rumble of the jet engines reached them. Clinging like a cat to the struts of the canvas frame he made his way along the side of the truck to appear as a black apparition at the driver’s side window. Matthias, startled at his sudden appearance, swerved the truck, almost throwing Patrice off the running board he was standing on, but the African held on grimly, shouting at Toussaint through the open window as Matthias managed to slam on the brakes and stop the vehicle just before it plunged into the ditch that ran along the side of the roadway.
“Colonel. Aircraft. Coming fast.”
”Merde, the pilot will report our position.” Toussaint was already opening the passenger door and dropping onto the roadside. Bodie tumbled out with him, pulling his gun from his belt as he did so, although what good the handgun would do against a jet aircraft he had no clear idea.
“Maybe it’ll miss us,” Bodie suggested as he followed Toussaint. They had been climbing steadily for the last ten minutes and now they were at the crest of a small range of hills, looking back at the road as it snaked through the forest just below them, appearing and disappearing through the overhanging vegetation. The river was a greenish thread running sometimes close to the road, sometimes further away.
The jet was closing in, flying low over the hills, a silver point of light that was growing quickly larger and they could hear the low rumble of it now over the noise of the truck’s engine. Then it dipped and veered slightly off course.
“No chance, my friend. He has spotted us already, I think he is coming for a better look.” Toussaint said, hurrying to the back of the truck, Bodie and Matthias close on his heels. His men were clustered at the tailgate, watching the jet’s approach. Toussaint spoke to them rapidly in French. There were several responses of “Oui, mon colonel” as they began checking their weapons and hurrying back along the road, carrying their packs, to where the roadside ditches were slightly deeper. Toussaint stopped one of the men with a question, tipping his head towards the interior of the truck. The man shook his head. “Mort,” he said, before joining his companions. Toussaint stood for a moment, his eyes focused on the inside of the truck, to the bundle of clothes and rags that lay motionless on the floor.
“What are you going to do?” Bodie asked, not wanting to intrude on the man’s private grief but the rumble of jet engines was getting louder.
“Get the men under cover and perhaps we can make it a little hot for the pilot as well, no?” Toussaint said.
Bodie hesitated, wondering how much more damage their rifles could do to an aircraft than his own pistol. Then he made a snap decision.
“Would a rocket launcher help?”
Matthias gasped and paled. “No, Guillaume!”
But Toussaint stared at him. “You have a rocket launcher?”
Bodie grinned and started unfastening the clamps that secured the false bottom of the truck, sliding the hidden tray out to reveal the armaments it contained. Toussaint’s eyes lit up and he started reaching for the launcher fitted so snugly in the side of the tray, its lethal supply of grenades nestled beside it.
“Matthias, you surprise me. I had not thought you to be so enterprising,” he said, but he was looking at Bodie as he lifted the heavy weapon from its resting place and began to load a grenade. “This may not take down a plane, William. But it may, as you English say, frighten the shit out of the pilot and buy us some time until that storm gets here.”
Bodie glanced up at the sky. He’d been so engrossed in what was happening that he hadn’t noticed the heavy rainclouds gathering in front of them. They were close, dark and heavy laden.
Matthias was wringing his hands. “What will Monsieur Martell say?” he wailed. “And the clients?”
Bodie shrugged, picking up one of the AK-47 automatic rifles and loading it. “I’m a little bit more concerned about my own skin at the moment. We can worry about Martell later.”
“I suggest you both take cover,” Toussaint told them as he settled, kneeling, at the edge of the roadway, the rocket launcher hitched at his shoulder. Bodie wasted no time sliding down the small embankment, Matthias close behind. So close that he bumped into Bodie, sending him staggering into the nearest gendarme, causing a domino effect down the line of soldiers. Startled grunts and exclamations followed and Bodie straightened up to find himself staring into the black laughing eyes of Patrice.
“You are in too much of a hurry, Monsieur William,” Patrice said holding out the rifle Bodie had managed to drop in the commotion. “Here, you may have need of this.” The other gendarmes were all grinning now, no doubt amused at the white man’s clumsiness and Patrice’s response.
Bodie took the rifle with a grace he didn’t feel. “Thank you, Monsieur Patrice. You may be right.” Patrice’s grin widened and he inclined his head in acknowledgement before turning back to his companions and rattling off a few words in French. Whatever he said to them had the gendarmes laughing but their glances at Bodie were friendly.
Bodie turned to look at the cause of his discomfort but Matthias had missed the entire exchange, being curled into a ball at the bottom of the trench with his hands over his head. Bodie shook his own head and turned his attention to the sky again.
The jet was now close enough to see clearly as it came in over the tops of the trees. And no doubt the pilot could see them just as clearly. It was a Sabre with Ethiopian markings. The pilot altered course slightly to bring it directly in line with the Chevy and began cruising towards them, a beautiful silver monster, its engines not at full throttle but still it came at a speed that was incredibly fast. Then it was so close that Bodie could see the pilot through the canopy, his head covered with a helmet, his dark features partly obscured by the dangling face mask.
“Here he comes,” Toussaint muttered. “Get ready to fire.”
But the jet fired first, bright sparking lights coming from the cannons and tracers filling the air between plane and ground, kicking up rivets of dirt and bits of tarmac in front of them on impact. The noise of a thousand wasps was joined by the clamour of rapid fire reports from the gendarmes’ rifles as they opened up as one on the encroaching jet.
Bodie aimed his own rifle, frighteningly aware of the bullets from the jet’s cannons speeding their way towards them. He brought the jet clearly in his sights and pressed the trigger. The rifle shuddered into his shoulder, spent cartridges flying from the breech. The smell of cordite stung the back of his throat. Then Toussaint fired the rocket launcher and bright flame belched from its barrel as the grenade was expelled but the range was still too great and the detonator exploded just short and below the oncoming jet.
The aircraft seemed to slew slightly under the percussion and the nose lifted, sending its spray of cannon fire harmlessly over their heads, then the pilot regained control and dipped the nose downwards again, firing off two of the rockets nestled underneath the wings. The noise of the rifle fire abruptly stopped as everyone ducked, replaced by the sound of shrieking demons as the rockets streaked towards them trailing lines of white smoke. But the pilot had miscalculated, either from fright at the ferocity of the counterattack or inexperience. Whatever the case, the rockets missed the truck and its erstwhile occupants completely, instead taking out a patch of dense forest to the left of the road, sending a shower of earth and foliage skywards in two massive explosions that sounded as one. The concussion of the blast made Bodie stagger and he felt the debris that pelted down on them all like deadly rain.
Then all was silent, apart from the distant drone of jet engines rapidly fading into the stillness. Bodie cautiously lifted his head and stared behind him; he could just see the bright light that was the jet as it climbed steeply above the forest and into the sky. He shook his head trying to rid himself of the buzzing noise in his ears from the concussions. His hand hurt and he looked down. There was blood coming from a shallow cut that ran in a line across his knuckles, it must have happened when he tried to protect his head from the debris of the explosions. He quickly checked the rest of his body but apart from a few other minor scratches everything seemed to be intact.
Around him the other men were gathering themselves, dazed expressions being replaced by relief and cautious smiles, even laughs as they similarly checked themselves and their weapons. Matthias was still beside him, still curled into a ball and moaning softly. He didn’t seem to be injured.
“Will he come back?” Bodie asked Toussaint, who was facing the direction the jet had taken, his gaze intent on the approaching storm and the aircraft’s course until it disappeared into the top of the cloud bank.
“No, he has done enough. He will have radioed the ANC, they have our position now. Why should he risk his neck any more? The only chance we have is that rainstorm.” He nodded towards the thick, heavy clouds that were moving to meet them with an all too slow determination then abruptly turned to Matthias and toed him roughly.
“Come, Matthias, get up and get this vehicle of yours started.” He switched his attention back to the Katangans. “Jacque, Mwenye, check the road, see if there’s any sign of our pursuers. Patrice, distribute some of that ammunition Monsieur Matthias and Monsieur Bodie have been so generous as to share with us, then get everyone loaded. Let’s move.”
The Africans obeyed with alacrity and Bodie followed them to the truck while Toussaint paced the roadway, still holding the rocket launcher over his shoulder. Matthias, shaking his head and muttering loudly under his breath, also obeyed but with much less alacrity. The sound of the Chevy’s engine attempting to turn over as Matthias tried to start it reached them a few seconds later as Bodie helped Patrice distribute the ammunition. What Martell would have to say about the loss of so much ammunition and the rocket launcher, which Toussaint seemed to have no intention of giving up, was a problem he’d face later. What the clients would do was another matter, that was if the truck, and themselves, ever made it to the rendezvous point.
It was a matter of minutes only for them all to start to reload, storing extra clips in pockets and packs and for Bodie to start pushing the hidden drawer back. But already it was too late when Jacque and Mwenye came breaking out of the forest, Jacque skidding to a halt in front of Toussaint, panting and pointing back down the hill, gasping out, “They are right behind us, Colonel. A convoy.”
There was silence as everyone looked back the way they had come. There was nothing visible for a moment, then a large canvas covered lorry came into view as it rounded a curve, then another one close behind it; a third could be glimpsed further back. There were soldiers too, walking beside and in front of the vehicles, rifles held ready. The sounds of the engines carried on the slight breeze. It would take only minutes for the convoy to catch up with them. More worrying was the field gun being towed behind the lead lorry. Even as they watched the lorry drew to a halt across the centre of the road. More soldiers erupted from its interior, swarming out and over the field gun, unhitching and turning it to face up the rise of the hill. It seemed the Sabre jet had indeed given their position away, quite accurately, it seemed, and the advancing soldiers knew exactly where their objective lay and had something a little bigger than a grenade launcher to fire at them.
Toussaint was the first to react, issuing orders with rapid precision, sending his men scurrying to finish reloading their rifles and loading their packs with the ammunition before ordering them into a loose cordon a few metres from the truck and sending one of them to the truck’s cab to help Matthias with the engine, which was still trying to stutter into life, then finishing off with a shout for Bodie. “Get that damn drawer stowed if you want to save these weapons of yours.”
Everyone moved, but not before a loud wailing noise overtook them and suddenly there was a long gush of white smoke as a shell streaked over their heads and landed with a thunderous crash on the road about a hundred yards in front of the Chevy. Then another rocket flew overhead striking the road behind them, putting another large crater in the tarmac and they were again covered in dirt and debris.
”They are getting the range, the next one will be on target,” Patrice muttered as he helped Bodie slide the weapons cache back into its hiding place. Toussaint was again kneeling in the centre of the road with the grenade launcher at his shoulder aiming for the field gun, his men around him doing the same with their rifles. Bodie secured the hidden latches of the drawer and looked around for his own weapon, realising that he’d left the rifle in the ditch by the side of the road and all he had on him was the pistol in his belt.
He’d started towards the ditch when the grenade launcher exploded into action, along with a volley of fire from the gendarmes. At the same time the Chevy’s engine burst into rattling hiccupping life. Then rain started to come down. Large heavy drops that stung as they landed, soaking everyone and everything in seconds as the quick pelting became a torrential downpour and the heavy clouds brought darkness and sudden cold.
Bodie reached his rifle and turned back; the truck was only just visible through a curtain of rain. He heard Toussaint’s triumphant shout. “Alors, mes amis, we win. Quickly, to the truck.” and could just vaguely see him in front of his men as they backed to the vehicle, rifles still firing into the obscuring downpour. There was return fire and one of the men flinched but remained standing.
Bodie fired off his own shot into the mist but had no idea what, if anything, he was aiming at. Then he ran, slinging the rifle over his shoulder and slipping and sliding on the suddenly muddy verge, struggling to find purchase. The truck was moving and the gendarmes were piling in the back, pulling each other up and over the tailgate. There was no sign of Toussaint. He dragged his feet out of clinging mud and found the edge of the tarmac. His legs were like lead, unable to move fast enough to catch up with the truck’s rapidly gathering speed and all his nightmares of chasing something but never being able to catch it seemed to be becoming real. Then there was someone hanging over the edge of the tailgate, shouting words that blew away in the rain and wind. He reached out to grab at the hand extended to him, missed and nearly staggered but regained his feet, pushing himself forward and this time grasping that hand and hanging on. He was half dragged half pulled along behind the truck for what seemed like forever but must only have been seconds before another hand latched onto the back of his shirt and he felt himself being lifted enough that he could throw his free arm over the tailgate. Then he was falling into the back of the truck in a tumble of limbs and rifle, the barrel jamming into his side, the strap nearly choking him. He untangled himself to find Patrice’s eyes gazing into his, a wide smile stretched across his lips.
“Do you make a habit of being alone and palely loitering, Monsieur William?” he said. “It may get you killed one day.”
“Just call me Bodie, or Will. Either will do,” Bodie replied, trying to make himself more comfortable on the bits of tangled cotton on the floor of the truck and sense of the question Patrice had asked. He was wet, cold and more afraid than he’d ever been in his life but he had also never felt more alive. He wondered if he’d feel the same once the adrenaline rush had worn off and discomfort seeped in.
Patrice had settled down beside him on the cotton and was trying to light the cigarette that was now dangling between his lips with a Bic lighter, only the cigarette was wet and bedraggled, hanging limp and impossible to light. The lighter wasn’t much better, emitting only a small blue flame; it had obviously suffered from a soaking as well. Frustrated, he discarded the sopping cigarette on the floor
“You have any cigarettes, Will? Preferably dry ones.”
“Sorry, mate. Don’t smoke,” Bodie told him, puzzled by this man who was so very African but spoke in almost perfect English idiom.
“Ah, all I want is a fag and I end up rescuing a non-smoker.”
“Yeah, thanks for that. Hate to think what would have happened if you hadn’t pulled me into the truck.”
“They would have taken you for a mercenary and if you were lucky they would have dumped you into a prison in Albertville.”
“And if I wasn’t lucky?”
Patrice didn’t answer, just looked to the lump under the bundle of rags at the back of the truck. The other Africans had left as much of a gap as they could around the body but otherwise they were ignoring it and the reminder of their own mortality it portrayed. Instead they had found the food supply Bodie and Matthias had stored and were busy unpacking and opening tins of bully beef, devouring the contents with gusto. Life goes on, Bodie thought, and so does our food supply. Still, he was sick of the damn stuff and with any luck they’d be over the border soon and delivering the goods – or what was left of them – and be on their way.
Patrice shouted across to the men in French and one of them stopped eating long enough to dig around in a pack and throw a packet of cigarettes to him. Patrice caught them deftly and lit one straight away, drawing the smoke deeply into his lungs.
“You shoot well; is it a requirement of a gunrunner?” he enquired genially, watching the long spiral of smoke he’d expelled drift up to the roof of the truck.
Bodie studied him, wondering why the man was so curious. “Didn’t hit anything though did I?” he said. “Was champion in my local gun club two years running. Got the job gunrunning 'cause I know guns and because I was handy, I suppose. What about you? Why are you running around in the jungle with half the Congolese army and the UN after you?”
“You know of our President Tshombe and of the Katangan secession after the Congo’s independence?”
Bodie nodded, recalling endless conversations with Matthias about the political situation in the Congo. There had been precious little else they had in common for them to converse about since they left Dar es Salaam. “Tshombe’s gone into exile now, hasn’t he?” he said.
“Yes, he has. And we, my friend, are the last vestiges of the secession and of Mr Tshombe’s army. We fought the ANC for our own independence, fought off insurrection by the Baluba but were beaten by the politicians. I suppose you could say we won a battle but lost the war. Now we run so we can live to fight another day.”
“You’ll come back? Try again?”
“I am Katangan, this is my home. Mr Tshombe is our leader, he won’t give up. One day we will try again and then we will win.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, the quiet being disturbed only by the clatter and rumble of the truck and the snores of the gendarmes who, sated after their raid on the food stores, were all dozing. Patrice lit another cigarette and Bodie decided to broach the question that had been bothering him for some time.
“Your English is very good. I thought most Congolese only spoke their tribal language and maybe Swahili or French.”
“That’s what two years at Trinity College will do for you,” Patrice said, smiling through cigarette smoke.
Bodie stared. “You went to Trinity College… in Dublin.”
Patrice nodded. “Of course, being brought up by an Irish priest helped with the English as well. I was the only African student they had at the time with the hint of an Irish brogue.” He was grinning broadly now but the grin dimmed a little as he carried on. “My parents were killed in some inter-tribal fighting when I was a baby. Father Joseph O’Leary ran the local mission station and he took me in. He saved my life.”
“He got you into Trinity?”
“Yes, I gained a scholarship when I turned sixteen, organised through the Church in Ireland. All part of civilising the Dark Continent and bringing the Black Heathens to the Lord.” His tone was ironic but he was still smiling.
Bodie laughed. “Doesn’t sound like you wanted saving,” he said.
Patrice handed him the cigarette and Bodie took a draw. He held the smoke in his lungs for a second then breathed it out in a coughing fit, still coughing as he handed it back to Patrice with a grimace.
“It will take more than prayer and incense to save Africa, Will.” Patrice took another draw on the cigarette before stamping it out on the floor of the truck. “Father Joe was good to me. He taught me everything, quoted Keats to me until I learnt to appreciate poetry. We discussed science and philosophy, Voltaire and Marx. And he cared for me like I was his son. He was the only parent I ever knew or wanted. ”
“What happened to him?”
Patrice was quiet for a moment, staring at the other gendarmerie and the pathetically wrapped bundle in the corner of the truck. Then he drew a deep breath.
“When we became the Democratic Republic of the Congo I wanted to come home, be part of the independence process. But Father Joe told me not to, said I had to finish my education first because the Congo would need educated people. So I stayed. Then Tshombe declared secession and the Baluba...” He stopped and looked at Bodie. “Do you know of the Baluba?” he asked, then carried on when Bodie shook his head. "They're a tribe from the northern areas of Katanga, very fierce, very proud.
"Anyway, they didn’t like the idea of secession so they revolted. The mission was cut off. There was no word from anyone in the area. That was when I came home and joined the Gendarmerie. But it was too late. By the time we broke through to the mission there was nothing left of it. It took me several days to find Father Joe, or what was left of him. They had buried him in a shallow grave by the river.”
“I’m sorry,” Bodie said, knowing it was inadequate but having nothing else to offer. “Will you go back to Trinity now?”
“No, my life is in Africa. Father Joe and Trinity College are the past. I belong here.” He fidgeted, then pulled another cigarette out of the pack, but he didn’t light it. “What about you, Will? You came to seek your fortune in Africa, like so many white men, did you?”
“Something like that,” Bodie said, smiling warily. “Hadn’t thought I’d be shot at so often though. Maybe I should have stuck to the Merchant Navy.”
“Maybe,” Patrice agreed. “Your name is Irish, but your accent isn’t.” There was a question there and Bodie didn’t mind answering.
“Nah, I’m a Scouser,” he said, then clarified, at Patrice’s questioning look. “Liverpool Irish. Still have cousins in Ireland though, the Northern bit.” A dim memory stirred in his brain, of schoolboy lessons that inevitably bored him but a sentence that had, at the time, caught his imagination until distraction came again. “What you said to me before, about being pale and loitering, that was Keats wasn’t it?”
Patrice laughed. “Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, alone and palely loitering?” he recited. He put the still unlit cigarette between his lips and dragging his pack onto his lap began searching inside. “La Belle Dame Sans Merci. The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy. One of Keats’s best.” He pulled a tattered book from the hidden depths of the pack. “Here, it’s the first one.”
“Ta,” Bodie said taking the book. He groped around in the dark, finding the torch he knew Matthias kept in case of emergency and settled down.
The truck travelled on through the rain and Bodie read of dames and knights and nightingales by torchlight, jostled by old springs and decaying bodywork, marvelling at the sensual words that unfolded, so incongruent after the violence of the warfare he’d just experienced and wondered why he’d never paid attention to such beauty at school.
It was twilight by the time they reached Dilolo, the border town and crossing point into Angola. The vegetation had opened up now and instead of towering forest giants and lianas there were acacias and palm trees. The town was quiet with few lights showing in the mud brick houses and shanties that were scattered in no particular order throughout the area. Some mangy dogs greeted them with barks and howls but the only inhabitants visible watched them rumble through on the dusty road and out again with curiosity but less interest.
They stopped outside the town, on the dirt road that led to the bridge crossing the river and then on to the border post of Angola. The moon had just risen, casting dappled light and shadows over the landscape. Matthias turned the truck so that the headlights shone out over the rough terrain at the side of the road and there they buried the dead mercenary in a grave they dug by hand and rifle butt at the roots of a baobab tree. Jacque fashioned a cross from some fallen branches of the baobab, tied with strands of elephant grass. They took turns filling the grave with dirt and afterwards stood in a sombre circle while Toussaint spoke of the man, whose name Bodie had discovered was André, and Patrice recited The Lord’s Prayer.
They stood for a while after the short sad ceremony, smoking and talking amongst themselves. Bodie tried another cigarette and found that one more palatable. Then Toussaint and Bodie opened the hidden arms drawer to replace the rifle and return the rocket launcher to its original hiding place. There were spaces where the grenades should have been of course, and gaps in the ammunition supply but that was all.
“Your clients will not be happy with the losses,” Toussaint commented as he laid the rocket launcher down.
Bodie shrugged. “Maybe they won’t notice,” he said with a grin then glanced over at the grave mound. “Sorry about your man.”
Toussaint’s eyes clouded. “He was a good man, a brave man. He did not deserve to die like that, so far from his people and being chased down by the UN and the Congolese army. His family owned land here for two generations.” He stopped abruptly and turned away, signalling for the men to board the truck before glancing back at Bodie. “It is no matter. Come, we had best move on.”
They were on their way in minutes, rumbling over the rattling wooden bridge that spanned the river separating the two countries. The border post was beyond a section of ‘no man’s land’ between the river and the habitation of a small village and consisted of a large boom gate with a ramshackle wooden building set beside it housing an office and living quarters. Army barracks could be seen beyond the building and several African soldiers manned the boom gate.
They waited in front of the gate patiently while a pompous looking and overweight Portuguese official waddled from the office and inspected their papers, accepting Matthias’ explanations of business to attend to in Luanda without comment. His examination of the truck while they stood on the verandah of the office was equally as cursory and he seemed unconcerned about the gendarmes who had piled from the back of the truck and were talking to the soldiers. Finally he stamped their passports, accepting the large amount of cash Matthias supplied for visas and waved them through before returning to his office.
“What now?” Bodie asked as he watched Matthias park the truck by the side of the road beyond the boom gate.
Toussaint shrugged. “Now I am free to do as I wish. Perhaps join the Portuguese Army and fight the terrorists and their gunrunners,” he grinned.
“But you won’t.” Bodie smiled with him
“No, I won’t,” he agreed. “Luau is just down the road, and the Benguela railway depot. From there I can get to Luanda and the first plane back to Belgium.”
“And them?” Bodie nodded at the gendarmes who were stubbing out their cigarettes and gathering their packs from the back of the truck.
“They will find refuge here in Angola for now,” he said. “Many have fled across the border and into exile with the Angolan army. Those border soldiers come from around here and are Lunda, like my gendarmes. They will make them welcome and see they find their way to their own kind.”
Bodie asked the same question now he’d asked Patrice earlier. “Will you come back if Tshombe returns?”
Toussaint just smiled. “No one can predict the future, William.” He held out his hand for Bodie to shake. “Thank you, my friend. Perhaps we will meet again one day.”
“Yeah, perhaps we will,” Bodie told him. Toussaint went to the truck to retrieve his own pack and make his goodbyes to his men. Bodie waited, leaving them to their privacy. After a long conversation with Patrice the two men embraced and Toussaint gathered up pack and rifle and sauntered off down the dusty road.
Matthias had started the engine again and was leaning out of the window to shout back to Bodie to hurry up. Bodie waved a signal to wait and turned to Patrice.
“Thanks, mate,” he said, handing back the book of poems he’d stuffed into his pocket when they had reached Dilolo.
“You keep it,” Patrice told him, hitching his pack onto his shoulder. “Father Joe would have liked a fellow Irishman to have it.”
“Liverpool Irish,” Bodie corrected him as the gendarmes began to move off towards the barracks.
“Ah, yes,” Patrice smiled then waved a farewell as he hurried to join the others.
Bodie returned the wave. “Will you be okay?” he called out.
“Of course!” Patrice shouted back. “Father Joe used to always tell me I had the luck of the Irish”
He watched as they faded into the shadowy darkness. It would be another two years before he saw either Toussaint or Patrice again.
Everything was wrong, Doyle knew it was, but he just couldn’t quite put his finger on what the ‘everything’ was.
Bodie had been acting like a complete arse since they finished up the last op and Doyle couldn’t figure out why. No, that wasn’t quite right. He’d been acting like a complete arse since that mysterious phone call, the one that had disturbed their sleep in the middle of the night. Doyle had asked him what it was all about again the next day, while they were getting dressed. But Bodie remained stubbornly silent, fending off his questions and changing the subject with consummate skill so Doyle left it, shrugging the incident off as none of his business. But as the days passed Bodie became more and more distant - he’d almost say morose if it weren’t for that fact that although his partner was hard work at times, closed off and uncommunicative when he wanted to be, he was never morose - he found it more difficult to ignore the situation. And now it seemed the man had gone off on his own without a single word to his partner. Doyle only found out when he was called into Cowley’s office on Monday morning, after a rare weekend off, during which he’d neither seen nor heard from Bodie.
“What do you mean, Bodie’s taken leave for a few days?” Doyle felt his voice rising into a belligerent whine but he couldn’t help it. Bodie had never let him down like this before.
”Exactly what I said, Doyle, do pay attention. Bodie asked for a few days to attend to some personal business and as there are no pressing matters on hand at the moment I granted his request.” Cowley looked at him keenly from over his glasses. “I gather he didn’t mention it to you?”
“He did not,” Doyle confirmed.
“Well, until he returns, and if the need arises, you’ll be working alone. I trust that will be suitable.” It was a statement, not a question and Cowley clearly didn’t expect a response, but
it suited Doyle very well. If he didn’t have Bodie at his back he’d make do with no one.
“I suggest you take advantage of this current hiatus in criminal activity to catch up on your paperwork,” Cowley continued. “The reports for the last two assignments you and Bodie undertook appear to be missing; perhaps you could rectify that situation.” That was also not a question but Doyle nodded anyway and backed out of the room with a quick, “Yes, Sir,” before his boss could come up with any other comments.
Doyle was deep in thought as he headed to the small broom cupboard the agents used when they weren’t in the field; what Cowley called their office. The problem with Bodie seemed to be deeper than he’d first realised. Something was going on and Bodie was keeping secrets from him again, shutting him out like he had with Marikka. He didn’t like that, not one bit.
Their affair, if you could call it that, had started in a blaze of passion that Doyle had thought would extinguish itself once they’d done all the things to each other they’d both apparently been thinking of doing, longing for, almost from their first meeting when Cowley had introduced them as new partners. They’d rubbed each other up the wrong way at first, Bodie’s caustic humour and irreverence almost driving Doyle crazy at times, sparking off his own temper in retaliation until he learnt to understand and appreciate the depth of Bodie’s quiet loyalty and the defensive mechanisms he’d built around himself that other people never saw. In turn Bodie learnt how to handle Doyle’s moodiness and temper. It had been easy after that to become best friends, sharing everything from their casual lovers to quiet evenings in the pub or watching telly, and finally each other’s bodies. It had worked too, this occasional fucking with no strings attached, and if Bodie wanted anything more from it he’d never said. That hadn’t stopped Doyle from hoping, though.
Now the sod had taken off without even a word to him. ‘Personal business’ indeed. It was more than that, otherwise Bodie would have confided in him. But whatever it was, if the stupid prat was determined to keep his secrets and go off on his own like a spoilt child, who was he to interfere? Satisfied he was being perfectly reasonable Doyle pushed those nagging little doubts and concerns that insisted on niggling at his brain aside. It was Bodie’s decision, after all.
The office was empty when he reached it, which also suited Doyle, he wasn’t in the mood for company. Sitting at the desk, he contemplated the portable typewriter in front of him and the stack of papers beside it. He glanced at the phone on the other side of the desk, next to the empty chair, the one that Bodie usually sat in, then shook his head and determinedly pulled one of the A4 sized pieces of copy paper from its torn wrapping and jammed it into the typewriter. He started two-finger typing with hard, determined punches of the keys.
The bright morning light seen through the small window high up on the wall of the office wore on into a grey and dull afternoon that drifted into a dreary evening. The pile of not so neatly typed papers beside the typewriter had grown and Doyle was nearing the end of his first report. He’d worked steadily, ignoring everyone who came by, stopping only for the occasional cup of tea, to raid the biscuit barrel and to brush off Anson’s sarcasm and Murphy’s questions until they left him alone, both departing with comments of “Doyle’s in one of his moods again”.
He was still typing as the last rays of a fitful sun were departing and his eyes had drifted once again to the telephone. He stifled an exasperated exclamation and switched his attention back to the typewriter, banging hard on the keys, swearing as the type bars jammed together against the guide. Still swearing he hooked his fingernail behind the type bars and flicked but the bars remained stubbornly stuck and all he accomplished was a painfully bent fingernail. Glaring balefully at the typewriter he ripped the paper from the machine, balled it up and tossed it over his shoulder then sat, sucking on his injured finger and feeling sorry for himself.
He looked at the phone again, resentful of its pull, then giving up all pretence reached over to pick it up, dialling quickly before he could change his mind. The ringing at the end of the line echoed into emptiness and Doyle was about to give up when there was a click and a rich deep voice that wasn’t Bodie’s answered.
Doyle sat, unable to speak into the expectant silence. The initial questioning “Hello” was repeated, this time with a slight hesitation. Doyle swallowed and managed to clear his throat enough to answer.
“Is … is Bodie there?” Even to his own ears it sounded like a strangled soprano rather than his usual confident baritone.
“No, he had to go out. Can I take a message?” The diction was clear and concise, the voice definitely male and sounding like someone who had every right to be where he was...
“No, no. That’s fine. I’ll... I’ll call later.” Doyle had never thought himself a coward before but he dropped the phone back in its cradle as if afraid it would bite him then sat staring at it wondering what he should do next, his thoughts a jumbled mess of confusion and doubt. His common sense was telling him that whatever or whoever Bodie had become involved in he should stay out of it but his instincts were screaming something different and he didn’t know which to believe. And who the hell was this man who seemed to have full access to Bodie’s flat? Doyle didn’t like the sting of jealousy he felt at the thought of what the man could mean to his partner; they had no hold on each other after all. But the sting was there nevertheless.
Finally, he made up his mind. Ten minutes later he was in the silver Capri and on his way to finding out what was going on.
Night had set in by the time Doyle pulled up in the street outside Bodie’s flat and lights shone from several of the building’s windows. It had begun to rain, a light patter that drummed gently on the car roof, sending small rivulets of water down the windscreen. He sat without moving, watching the play of shadows flitting across the lighted window that was Bodie’s lounge. The window next to it, the bedroom, was in darkness, the curtains tightly closed. Eventually the rain grew heavier, blurring his view through the windscreen and he was forced to make a decision.
Bodie answered his knock on the door. He looked good, casually dressed in black cords that fitted like a glove and an equally tight shirt that was two shades lighter than the colour of his eyes. But there were lines of strain around those eyes and his greeting was less than cordial.
“What are you doing here? Did Cowley send you?”
“Nice to see you too, mate,” Doyle threw the curtness back at him. “And no, Cowley didn’t send me. It was all my own idea.”
“Sorry,” Bodie had the grace to look abashed. “You’d better come in,” he said, stepping aside and waving him through the door.
The room was messier than it had been the last time he was there, Bodie’s sometimes obsessive neatness apparently having been thrown out of the window along with his usual suave charm. There were papers scattered across the coffee table and overflowing on to the chairs, as well as empty take out containers – Chinese from the look. There was a bottle of whisky too and two glasses half filled with the amber fluid.
The man sitting on the couch glanced up from the London A-Z he was studying as Doyle entered. The smile he flashed at Doyle was very white toothed and quite engaging. His dark skin seemed to glow in the bright light. Doyle returned the smile, immediately aware of the man’s attractiveness.
Bodie moved to make space on one of the chairs, talking quickly as he did.
“So, why did you come, Ray? Didn’t Cowley tell you I was taking some time off?”
“He told me,” Doyle said. “But you don’t ring, you don’t write. What’s a person to think?” He remained standing, still watching Bodie’s companion. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”
Bodie looked at him steadily before glancing across at the stranger. “Ray, this is Patrice Kayembe He’s an old friend from my mercenary days,” he said, his voice full of patient formality. He waved a hand in Doyle’s direction. “Patrice, meet my partner, Ray Doyle.”
“Ah, Mr Doyle. I’ve heard a lot about you.” The smile was broad now and the man rose, extending his hand in greeting.
Doyle accepted the firm handshake with a reluctance he hoped was well hidden. “Well, I haven’t heard that much about you, Mr … Kayembe was it?” Doyle couldn’t help the sarcasm. “Bodie doesn’t seem to like to talk about his past. Do you, Sunshine?”
Bodie ignored him and Patrice switched his gaze between them both. “Perhaps I’d better go, Will?”
“Yeah, there’s not much else we can do tonight anyway. Give me a call in the morning if anything happens,” Bodie agreed then glanced towards the coffee table and the papers strewn across it. “You’d better take those with you.”
Patrice nodded, collecting most of the papers and stowing them in a briefcase he produced from beside the couch. Doyle had the feeling the display of secrecy was for his benefit.
As soon as Patrice was out of the door Bodie rounded on him.
“Couldn’t leave it alone, could you, Doyle? Had to stick your nose in.”
“Stick my nose in what?” Doyle bit back. “You and this Patrice are into more than old time reminiscences, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked the Cow for time off. You’re not that brave. What the hell’s going on?”
Bodie was defensive now. “Nothing’s going on. Patrice is in town and we met up. That’s all.”
“So, your old friend comes all the way from Africa and the two of you spend all day cooped up together here instead of being out there seeing the sights of Merry Old England? Pull the other one. It’s got bells on.”
“What do you want me to tell you?”
“The truth,” Doyle said. “That’s all.”
Bodie picked one of the glasses up from the coffee table, looking into its depths before downing the contents in one gulp. “I can’t do this now, Ray. It’s been a long day and I’m tired. Stay if you want, or go, whatever. I’m going to bed.”
Without waiting for an answer he slammed the glass back down on the coffee table and strode towards the bedroom, pulling his clothes off as he went. Doyle watched as he disappeared into the room, stunned and not sure how to proceed after the abrupt brush off, wondering if he should just go in and drag the truth of the matter out of him, regardless of the consequences to their relationship. But the closed door spoke volumes. Reluctantly he sat down on the couch and stared at the papers and the map that remained. If Bodie was going to be stubborn, so be it. He wasn’t going anywhere until he found out something of what was going on and what Patrice Kayembe meant to Bodie.
An hour later he was no nearer the truth, the papers had revealed nothing and even a search of the lounge had been unproductive and the exhaustion of the day had seeped into his limbs. He stretched out on the couch, intending to think things through once again, try to make some sense of what was going on. The rain was beating a tattoo against the window, keeping time with his thoughts as he closed his eyes and let his mind roam through the events of the day. He was asleep in less than a minute.
The first scream echoed around the walls of the flat bouncing from one to the other in a hopeless chase. The second scream was quieter, more of a loud whimper. Doyle woke instantly. He knew the sounds, had heard them before and knew what they meant.
He tumbled off the couch, falling in his anxiety to gain his feet but tangling them instead. The sound of pain and terror came again, slightly louder than the last one, as if a memory had sharpened, become more powerful. Doyle had gained the door to Bodie’s bedroom and was almost at the bed when the fourth scream issued from beneath the thrashing jumble of bedclothes.
Doyle approached cautiously, all too aware of the flailing arms and legs that could turn into lethal weapons without conscious thought. Bodie was moaning now, breathing harshly and struggling with the bedclothes but Doyle managed to pull the covers aside enough to reach out and touch a trembling shoulder, murmuring softly. The trembling stilled momentarily and Doyle took the opportunity to kick off his shoes and slide in beside his partner. He reached his arms out to gather Bodie to him and Bodie responded, turning to the comfort of the embrace. They stayed like that, holding onto each other, Doyle whispering words of comfort, feeling a wetness on his neck. Gradually Bodie’s trembling stopped completely and his breathing steadied. After a few moments he lifted his head from where it had been resting in the hollow between Doyle’s neck and shoulder.
“Okay, mate?” Doyle asked, rubbing a hand up and down his back.
“Yeah, sorry about that.” Bodie sniffed and wiped the back of his hand across his nose. He turned his head away and looked out into the darkness. “Don’t know what brought that little lot on.”
“You don’t?” Doyle queried. “Think I could make a guess.”
“Leave it, Ray. It was just a dream, that’s all.”
“Some dream. Sounded like all the demons from hell were after you.”
He was suddenly aware of Bodie’s nakedness and the memory returned of another night and the need for comfort that had turned into something else entirely, the night that had signalled the change in their relationship. Bodie seemed to remember too because he turned back towards Doyle and laid a gentle kiss on his collar bone.
“Thanks, mate. For being here. For waking me up.”
“’s alright,” Doyle told him, intending to push his partner for more information, make him talk to him now that they were in this quiet haven of peace. He started to speak again but Bodie moved his lips further down and the only thing that came from Doyle’s mouth was a moan as the buttons on his shirt were opened and a tongue explored his chest, tracing across one nipple and then the other. He tried again, bringing his hands up to still Bodie’s head, make him stop, make him listen to what he had to say, but Bodie was moving down, undoing Doyle’s jeans and pulling down the zip and his fingers only grasped at short strands of hair and held on, waylaid by the feel of Bodie’s tongue licking up the length of his erection. He gasped out Bodie’s name but Bodie shushed him and then his mouth had closed over Doyle’s cock and he lost all coherence as his partner sucked him in, using his tongue to massage and tease. The pleasure was exquisite, Bodie’s mouth so talented and Doyle relaxed into the sensations, obediently lifting his hips so Bodie could tug the jeans further down and gain greater access, using his hands and mouth to bring him to completion.
It was over quickly, Doyle exploding in shattering orgasm into Bodie’s mouth. Sated and basking in a warm afterglow he lay there stunned by the suddenness of Bodie’s attentions, trying to catch his breath. Then he moved, intending to reciprocate, give his lover what he had just received. But Bodie had moved too, was leaving the bed, only a chill remaining in the empty space he left behind. For the second time that night Doyle watched as his partner inexplicably walked away from him.
This time, after fastening his jeans but leaving his shirt undone, he followed.
He found him in the bathroom, splashing water on his face, dressed in hastily pulled on jeans and a t-shirt. Doyle leaned on the door frame and watched as Bodie dried himself off, wondering what to say, wondering how they’d seemed to move so far away from each other so quickly.
“What was that all about?” he asked finally.
“Huh? What do you mean? What do you think it was about?” Bodie returned, his voice muffled in the towel.
Doyle considered. “Don’t know, mate,” he said. “Payment for services rendered?
Bodie lifted his head from the towel, his face stricken. “Don’t think that, Sunshine. Never think that.”
“Maybe you should tell me then, because I have to admit, I’m lost here.” Doyle told him, having no pity on his pain. He couldn’t afford to stumble now, not when there was a chance of getting to the bottom of Bodie’s misery.
Bodie looked at him and saw his determination, He finished drying his face and threw the towel on the floor. “Don’t know about you,” he said, brushing past Doyle on his way to the lounge. “But I could do with a drink.”
The whisky was still there on the coffee table, the glasses beside it. Bodie switched on the small lamp beside them and filled his own glass then went into the kitchen, returning with a clean glass for Doyle, which he filled before handing it over to his partner. Doyle was slouched on the couch, his arm stretched across the back, displaying a relaxation he didn’t feel. Bodie sat in one of the chairs opposite him, hunching forward and taking a long swallow of the whisky. They were both silent for a moment then Bodie spoke.
“I didn’t want you to be involved in this,” he started. “Tried to keep you out. But you, you stubborn bastard, wouldn’t stay out, would you?” There was a half smile on his face and Doyle knew there was no malice in the words.
“Okay, I get it,” he said. “None of my business.”
Bodie shook his head. “No, you don’t get it at all.”
“Then tell me what it is that I don’t get, Bodie. Explain all this to me.” He waved his arm at the map, the whisky and the bedroom. “And explain what Patrice is to you.”
Bodie took another sip of his drink. Doyle hadn’t yet touched his.
“It’s not a nice story, Ray. I did things a long time ago that I’m not exactly proud of now, things that I hoped I’d never have to tell anyone about, least of all you.”
“We all have our secrets, mate, our dark pasts,” Doyle told him, hoping to lift the mood a little, give Bodie the encouragement he obviously needed to proceed.
Bodie nodded. “Maybe,” he acknowledged. He was quiet for a moment, not looking at Doyle but staring into a darkness beyond the lamp that only he could see. Then he seemed to come to a decision and started speaking again.
“Patrice is exactly what I said, a friend I haven’t seen for a long time. As to the rest, where do I start?” he queried, then answered his own question with a sardonic laugh. “I suppose the beginning is as good a place as any.” He settled back a little but his posture was still guarded.
“You know I was in the Merchant Navy and jumped ship in Dakar?” He waited for Doyle’s nod then carried on. “Well, after a couple of months in Dakar I came across Marty Martell in the bar I was working in. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, the money was too damn good. I was to run a shipment of guns through the Congo and into Angola for him. It was 1962 and the Katangan secession in the Congo had just fallen apart.”
“Shit, Bodie,” Doyle said, trying to do quick calculations in his head. “How old were you?”
Bodie grinned, his face finally relaxing into the easy familiarity that meant so much to Doyle. “A bit over sixteen.” His grin widened. “I was very advanced for my age, could pass for older. And nobody cared much about that sort of thing there anyway, so long as you knew how to handle a gun.”
“And you gained this essential gun handling experience how?” Doyle asked, smiling at this return to the smug self-satisfaction that both annoyed the hell out of him and personified everything he cared about with this man.
“Was always interested in guns so my dad took me to the local gun club when I was a lad. I was rifle shooting champion when I was fourteen. Knew enough then to make a good impression, the rest I learnt along the way.”
Doyle shook his head but didn’t say anything.
“Anyway,” Bodie continued, his mood had sobered again. “That’s where I first met Patrice. He was, still is probably, a Katangan gendarme. There was a group of them and a mercenary by the name of Toussaint who were on the run from the Government forces. I got caught up in the middle of it all, nearly lost the shipment.”
“And that’s when you became a mercenary?”
“No, that was much later. A different time, different circumstances. You’d better make yourself comfortable, Ray. It’s a long story.”
“I’m all ears, mate. And I’m not leaving until I’ve heard it all.” Doyle said, determined now that he’d got Bodie to start talking to not let him stop. He picked up his own glass and took a sip of the liquid. Outside the flat the rain was still beating down, drumming on the window in percussive backdrop to their conversation. Doyle tucked his legs up underneath him and settled back, prepared to wait as long as it took for Bodie to tell his tale.
Bodie acknowledged his determination with a wary smile.
“Well, there’s not a lot more to tell about those early days – the beginning of my life in Africa, but here goes …”
As Bodie began to tell of the final days of his first gun running enterprise and the beginning of his business relationship with Marty Martell Doyle felt himself drawn into that world Bodie had inhabited so long ago. The scents and sounds of Africa became almost real, taking him away from the dreary dullness of a rainy London night and into the realms of the Angola bush and the road to Luanda.
“It is impossible to convey the life-sensation of
any given epoch of one's existence--that which
makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and
penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness,
The weapons delivery went off smoothly, despite Bodie’s misgivings, after a bumpy ride on a dirt track that was little more than twin ruts cut through bush. Their customers, a ragged bunch of ill-assorted warriors dressed in cast off remnants of Portuguese army fatigues, baseball caps or military berets on their heads, ammunition belts draped across their shoulders and assorted weapons stashed about their persons, were waiting patiently for them. They accepted the weapons cache mainly without comment, Matthias conducting the negotiations in a kind of broken Swahili which the rebels appeared to understand well enough. After that it was a long, exhausting and mainly uninteresting journey by dirt and tarred road with the joys of a hot bath and a meal that did not contain bully beef at the end of it.
Luanda turned out to be a busy, bustling city with, unsurprisingly, a strong Portuguese influence. The hotel Martell had arranged for him was luxurious in that it had all the accoutrements of civilization Bodie had sorely missed over the past few weeks. It was with no particular regret that he said his farewells to Matthias outside the hotel and watched as both he and his decrepit Chevy rattled off to parts unknown.
There was a message waiting for him at the hotel reception, a contact number that he was to ring immediately on his arrival. He rang the number after the promised bath, a delicious meal supplied by room service and twelve hours sleep. He arranged to meet Martell later the same evening, in the hotel bar.
He arrived in the bar in the freshly washed and ironed clothes supplied by the smiling black maid that afternoon. Marty was already there settled on a barstool with a drink in front of him. He felt Martell’s scrutiny as he approached and wondered how much the man might know about the events in the Congo. But Martell just smiled and ordered him a drink.
“My new clients were satisfied with the delivery,” he said, handing over an envelope. “Did you have any trouble on the way?”
“No, not that you’d notice,” Bodie told him, checking the contents. “You got another job for me?”
“Now that you mention it, I’ve got something sweet going on for a group of people in South West Africa. You interested?”
Bodie was, only this time it wasn’t Matthias and a battered Chevy but an old DC10, an even more battered British ex-pat bush pilot going by the name of Pat Malloy and a very rough landing beside the swamps of the Caprivi Strip. Nobody could accuse Marty Martell of not being consistent in his fly-by-night gunrunning deals.
Over the years that followed there was much of the same, until the gunrunning industry began to lose its shine.
Any fit young man looking for employment with a
difference at a salary well in excess of £ 100 per
month should telephone 838-5202/3 during
business hours. Employment initially offered for
6 months. Immediate start.
Johannesburg Star, Friday, Sept. 04, 1964
Doyle watched as Bodie finished off the last of the scotch in his glass. The bottle stood empty on the coffee table. Doyle’s drink was still in his hand barely touched after that first sip. The storm raged outside and a tree branch scraped against the window, making Doyle jump with the sudden teeth-jarring sound of it. Bodie had seemed content enough telling him the results of his first ever gun-running enterprise for Martell but now that he’d delivered those tantalising glimpses of his African past he appeared reluctant to carry on.
“So, you ran guns for Martell for awhile. How did you end up becoming a mercenary?" Doyle asked at last, trying to push a little when it looked like Bodie wasn’t going to speak again.
Bodie looked down at his glass as if surprised to see that it was empty.
“Told you, it’s a long story,” he said. He put the glass down on the table and looked towards the kitchen, at the clock just visible through the open doorway. It was just past midnight. “Look, I’m bloody starved. Think I’ve got some eggs in the fridge. You fancy an omelette?”
Doyle hesitated. He wanted this history, this soul searching over with, to know the worst and try to pick up the pieces after. But he knew that if he pushed the issue Bodie would clam up again, become the irritatingly stubborn sod he could so easily be when he decided to dig in his heels, and besides he realised he was hungry too, he’d skipped lunch and hadn’t bothered with dinner in his headlong rush to get at the truth. Maybe they both needed the space, the chance to come out of the past. He just hoped it wouldn’t be as hard to get Bodie to open up again when they were done.
They used the same co-ordinated teamwork in the kitchen that had become natural to them in the field. Bodie gathering eggs and cheese while Doyle produced a frying pan from under the sink. Bodie mixing while Doyle grated the cheese, picking up stray bits and popping them in his mouth, getting a rap on the knuckles with Bodie’s spatula for his pains.
“There’ll be more cheese in your stomach than in the omelette if you keep that up,” Bodie complained the fourth time he had to use his spatula for other purposes than his cooking. “Besides, it’s unhygienic, you sticking your fingers in it like that, probably getting all kinds of nasty germs in it.”
“Nah, it’s just like the five-second rule,” Doyle told him, helping himself to another morsel of cheese from the pile in front of him. “If you drop food on the floor and pick it up in five seconds it’s okay to eat. Same thing with dipping in your fingers.”
“Charming! Where’d you come up with that one?”
“It’s a scientific fact. Me sister uses it all the time with her lads.”
“Your sister doing it does not make it a scientific fact, Raymond,” Bodie told him, edging his spatula around the edges of the pan, lifting the omelette. “Here, bring what you’ve got left, before you scoff the lot.”
Doyle grinned as he brought the cheese, pleased to see Bodie smiling, enjoying their easy banter. He watched as he spooned the cheese across the omelette, adding some herbs before expertly folding the mixture in half.
“You’re good at that,” he said. “Mine always fall apart and look more like scrambled eggs than an omelette.”
“Takes an expert’s touch, Sunshine,”
“Yeah, suppose you have to be expert at something, even if it is only folding omelettes.”
“I’ll have you know my pancake flipping is every bit as professional. If you’re very good I’ll give you lessons. Grab a plate, will you? This one’s done.”
They sat at the kitchen table to eat, Doyle devouring the omelette with relish He had to admit that Bodie was the expert omelette maker he claimed to be.
“What did Cowley say to you?” Bodie suddenly asked, his fork halfway to his mouth.
Doyle hesitated, not sure where the question would be leading. “Just that you had personal business to attend to and I’d have to work alone for a few days,” he said. “And he had me writing up those reports you’d promised to do.”
Bodie had the decency to look guilty, which was at least encouraging. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Was going to do them, honest. Just hadn’t got to them and then ...” he trailed off, either not sure what else to say or unwilling to say it.
Doyle studied him for a moment then decided on a question of his own. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why let me find out from Cowley that you’d disappeared?”
“Didn’t exactly disappear, did I? Still here, aren’t I?”
“You know what I mean.” Doyle was starting to feel exasperated again. Bodie was still avoiding, backing off instead of opening up to him. “You’ve been missing for at least three days and I’ve not known a thing about it until now. I thought we had a bit more going for us than that.”
Bodie looked away, avoiding his eye. “I didn’t mean for you to find out like that. Thought this would all be over with before there was any need for you or anyone to know. It’s not worked out like that.”
“No, it hasn’t, has it?” Doyle agreed. “Dunno, mate. Sometimes I reckon you don’t think at all.”
“Always said you were the brains of the outfit.”
The smile on Bodie’s face gave Doyle a small sense of victory, though not enough to let him off the hook.
“How long were you running guns for Martell?”
He thought for a moment that Bodie wasn’t going to answer him but he pushed his empty plate away and appeared to gather his thoughts.
“At that stage about two years,” he said, putting his hands behind his head and tipping his chair back to stare at the ceiling as if his personal history were written there. “Africa was a gunrunner's dream in those days.” He smiled at the memory. “Still is. Everyone had their fingers in the pie; Russia, the CIA, China, even Cuba did business there until it got a bit too hot for them. I ended up playing around with all of them at some stage; Marty always did believe in free enterprise - sell to the highest bidder.”
Knowing the arms dealer, Doyle wasn’t surprised at the assessment. “What happened to make you stop working for him?” he asked.
“Dunno really. One too many deals gone pear shaped because the buyers ran out of funds or the opposition got wind of the deal and decided to move in.” He laughed suddenly. “Guess I just got restless, wanted to see what else was on offer. I drifted south, ended up in Cape Town with a job in a nice little shebeen in District Six, that was before they made it a whites only area and shifted out the Coloureds and Blacks.”
“Shebeen?" Doyle interrupted.
“An illicit drinking establishment that serves mainly kaffir beer, for the uneducated among us,” Bodie told him with a superior smirk as he brought the chair back to the floor again. “Wasn’t a bad gig; stayed there six months. There was this bird that ran the shebeen.” His eyes lit up at the memory.
“A bird.” Doyle shook his head. “Trust you to find someone to warm your bed.”
“Ah, she was gorgeous, Ray. Cape Coloured with just the right mix of Xhosa and Malay to make it interesting. Had the figure of one of those Botticelli paintings, you know? All big boobs and bum.” He looked delighted at the memory.
“I think they call it buxom,” Doyle said, dripping sarcasm.
”Yeah, that’s it. Buxom,” Bodie carried on, deliberately ignoring Doyle’s tone. “Her name was Thandi. A bit older than me but she knew more tricks than a Soho hooker.”
“I’m surprised you could tear yourself away long enough to become a mercenary.” Doyle was still sarcastic but Bodie had suddenly sobered, his face losing that cheeky look he had when he was teasing Doyle.
“Yeah, well, things change,” he said, getting up from the chair and collecting their used plates, taking them to the sink. He turned on the tap and added liquid to the running water, then stood there, staring at the swirling water and bubbles.
Doyle watched him, startled by his sudden abruptness. He rose and went to stand by his partner. After a moment’s hesitation he put his hand on Bodie’s shoulder. Bodie moved a little but didn’t shake him off.
“You’re going to have to tell me the rest sooner or later, Sunshine,” he said, making his voice as gentle as he could. “And it might as well be sooner. Leave that; come back into the lounge.” He reached over and turned the tap off. Bodie nodded and turned with the same abruptness he’d used before, heading into the lounge again.
Doyle sighed and followed. This wasn’t going to be easy.
Bodie was already settled in the same chair he’d sat in before, maintaining the distance he’d established previously. Doyle took up his place on the couch again There was a new bottle of scotch on the coffee table but it remained unopened.
“I was still there, in Cape Town, when the news came out about the Simba uprising in the Congo and that Tshombe had got himself invited back to the Congo as Prime Minister,” Bodie began. “Then there was the article in the paper, the one about Tshombe reforming his gendarmes and calling his former mercenary commanders back to help the Congolese army with the rebellion. And the ad of course, in the Johannesburg Star, for mercenary volunteers.”
“They put an ad in the paper for mercenaries?” Doyle was incredulous.
Bodie smiled at that. “Why not?” he asked. “Not quite CI5 recruitment tactics, I’ll grant you, but effective. I was feeling restless again, so I applied.”
“You left the shebeen, and Thandi, for the life of a mercenary soldier. Sometimes I wonder about your life choices, mate.”
Bodie sighed, “It seemed like a good idea at the time. Thandi thought I was crazy, of course. Twelve months later, when I was burning leeches off my legs in a godforsaken swamp, I reckoned she might have been right.”
He was grinning though, at the memory, and Doyle felt himself smile as well. He settled down again and began to listen to what Bodie had to tell him, not interrupting this time, letting him tell it all in his own time, in his own way. The mystique of Africa drew him in once more as Bodie started to describe his life as a mercenary soldier in the middle of a Congo jungle.
Aba, Orientale Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
“Perhaps on some quiet night the tremor of far-
off drums, sinking, swelling, a tremor vast, faint;
a sound weird, appealing, suggestive and wild –
and perhaps with as profound a meaning as the
sound of bells in a Christian country.”
-Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness,
“What’d you think, Bodie? Reckon we’ll be moving out soon?”
“Maybe,” Bodie said, propping his leg up in front of him on the bed he was sitting on and carefully peeling off his sock to begin a minute inspection of the area around his ankle and calf, searching diligently for the tell-tale red sores that meant he’d been a meal for the leeches that inhabited the swampy water surrounding the small Congo town. “How should I know?”
“You’re in good with Toussaint and those kaffirs of his, aren’t you?” Stan Hayden took a long draw from the cigarette he was holding to his lips and, tipping his chair, leaned back to belch smoke towards the ceiling. “Reckon you’d be the first to know what’s going on.”
Bodie spared him a brief look from under lowered eyelashes but didn’t answer, knowing Hayden was referring to his friendship with Patrice and the other gendarmes. When he’d arrived in Léopoldville a year earlier, a volunteer for the newly formed 5 commando mercenary force, he’d looked for the African and found him easily enough, as part of Jean Toussaint’s Belgian 10 commando. Patrice had been delighted to see him. Toussaint’s only comment had been “you’ve grown”, which Bodie knew was true. He’d gained two inches in height over those last two years.
Hayden watched him, waiting for more of a response but when none was forthcoming he glanced over at Tub Western, who was leaning on the frame of the open doorway of the bungalow they’d commandeered as their barracks, contemplating the heat haze and sucking on a bottle of Congo beer.
“What the hell you reckon we’re doing here anyway, Tub?” he said waving an arm to encompass the room in general and the area in particular. “The bloody Simbas are on the run; even that commie bastard Guevara’s up and quit on them. The ANC could run things up here; we should'a stayed put in Stanleyville.”
“No one made you stay on for another six months, Stan,” Tub told him. “Could 'ave taken your bonus last month and pissed off back to Jo’burg, gone home like Benny an’ Frankie.”
“Yeah, Stan.” Chris Johnson joined in the conversation. Chris was a fresh recruit, only two months into his contract, new to the Congo and new to the mercenary way of life. “Why didn’t you leave when you had the chance if you feel like that?”
“Why bother going when I’ll only come back?” Hayden said. “They’ll be back too, soon as they’ve had their fill of ‘home’. None of you can stay away. Africa’s like that, she grips you and doesn’t let go. If they don’t end up back here it’ll be some other god forsaken little African dump of a trouble spot. ”
“If you say so.” Chris sounded unconvinced, his young face a mix of doubt and almost innocent credulity at the older man’s words.
“Yes, I say so.” Hayden blew more smoke at the ceiling “You’ll find out soon enough.”
“Quite the philosopher, aren’t you, Stan? Never knew you had it in you.” The comment came from the man who up to then had been lounging on his own bed engrossed in a book and apparently ignoring both the conversation and the other occupants of the room. “However, I think it’s more likely they’ll be back because they’ve spent their money.”
Hayden shot the man a dark look. “What would you know about it, nancy boy?”
“Probably as much as you, Stan. Been here long enough.” The man seemed unperturbed by the intended insult but he put his book down and spared Hayden a look before delving under the bed and pulling out a first aid kit.
“Yeah, guess you have been round the block a few times at that. Haven’t you, Denis lad?” Hayden said, a smirk spread across his face.
Bodie glanced up from his inspection, ready to tell Hayden to shut the hell up but Denis caught his eye and shook his head. There was silence as he rummaged in the first aid box and withdrew a tube of cream, dressings and antiseptic swabs before heading across the room.
“Here, let’s take a look,” he said, sitting on the bunk and picking up Bodie’s foot, laying it across his lap. “Can’t be too careful with these little suckers, give you a nice infection in no time,” he said. His touch was sure and gentle as he ran his fingers over instep, ankle and calf clearing away dried blood with the swab and rubbing the antiseptic cream into the flaming redness he found there. Bodie relaxed under the caressing movements as the soreness eased.
“Better?” Denis asked, fixing an adhesive dressing into place on a bite that was still dribbling blood.
“Yeah, thanks.” And it was. Denis’ fingers were a soothing balm, easing his tension as well as the sting of the bites.
“Well, look at that.” Hayden’s voice broke rudely into their quiet speech, momentarily breaking the connection between them. “Like a regular Florence Nightingale."
“That’s why I’m a medic, Stan. Give comfort to the sick and wounded.” Denis put Bodie’s foot back on the bed and picked up the other one, beginning the same gentle examination.
“Bet you enjoy it too, especially the comfort bit.”
“Of course, it’s my calling after all,” Denis Cross told him, his voice even, his attention still centred on Bodie’s foot. “By the way, that special lotion I ordered for your little visitor has arrived, should work well for the itch.” He looked up and grinned at Hayden before addressing the room in general. “Our Stan seems to have caught a nasty case of crabs,” he said. “Must have been that bar girl he was hanging out with in Stanleyville. You really should be more discerning in the company you keep, Stan.”
Stan Hayden ground his cigarette out on the table in front of him and gave Denis a sour look. “Shut your mouth, Cross,” he said over the sniggers and amused looks from the other occupants of the room. “Before I shut it for you.”
“Suppose you could try.” Denis seemed unperturbed by the threat as he patted Bodie’s leg and eased it back onto the bed to join its mate. “This one’s clear, Will. Make sure you have your trousers tucked into your boots the next time you decide to go swanning around in the swamp.”
“You two bloody suit each other,” Hayden cut in again. “Wouldn’t have taken you for a ponce though, Bodie.”
Bodie felt his temper rising but held it back with an effort. “I’ll forget you said that, Hayden,” he said. “This time.”
There must have been something in his voice because Hayden backed off. “You’re the sergeant,” he muttered.
“Yes, I am. So shut it.” Bodie still wasn’t quite sure how that had happened, why he’d been signalled out for promotion in this army of volunteers. But if he had the rank he was going to use it.
Hayden set his chair back on its legs and rose. “C’mon Tub, I’ll buy you a real beer instead of that Congo crap, if the excuse for a pub down the road has any left, that is.”
“That’ll be a first, you buying. Can’t let an opportunity like that go begging.” Tub finished off his beer in one go while stepping out of the doorway and into the tropical heat. “C’mon, Chris, the man said he was buying.”
Chris looked around uncertainly for a moment but after a brief hesitation he followed Tub outside, leaving Hayden hovering in the doorway.
“Leave you two lovebirds alone, shall we?” he said, ending the silence left after Tub’s departure, getting in a last word. There was a smirk on his face. Not waiting for a response, he turned and disappeared into the Congo afternoon.
Bodie sighed and shook his head. “Don’t know why we put up with that bastard.”
Denis shrugged, balling up the swabs he’d used and throwing them with uncanny accuracy into the rubbish bin across the room. “We put up with him because we have to. Besides, he’s all mouth.”
“I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Wouldn’t want to turn my back on him.” Bodie turned to the task of pulling his socks back on, followed by his boots.
Denis tucked his hands behind his head and lounged back against the bed’s metal frame. He regarded Bodie thoughtfully “So, do you know?”
Bodie returned the look, taking in the flop of sandy coloured hair that fell into dark brown eyes, admiring the play of muscle under the khaki shirt and felt the pull of his attraction for this medic who’d joined 5 commando a couple of months previously.
“Know what?” he asked finally, pulling his attention back to recalcitrant shoelaces.
“When we’re moving out of course.”
Bodie grinned. “Now that you mention it, I saw Toussaint yesterday. He’d just got back from a meeting with the Minister and was drawing some supplies. It seems there just might be some action on the cards in the next day or so.”
“Right, I’d better call in at the hospital, see to my own supplies. The way you lot keep getting shot at, I’ll need them.”
“Don’t forget Stan’s special lotion,” Bodie reminded him, finishing with the shoe laces and lying back across the bed to stare at the ceiling.
Denis laughed. “Heaven forbid. Can’t have our Stan any more tetchy than he already is.”
He bent forward a little so that he was leaning over Bodie and opened his mouth to speak again but whatever it was he was about to say went unsaid as Chris came rushing in through the door, hesitating as he saw the tableau on the bed.
Denis jerked back with a muttered, “Some people should learn to knock,” while Bodie pulled himself upright and looked a question at the flushed young man still hesitating in the doorway.
“Um, Bodie. The captain wants to see you, him and Toussaint, in headquarters. They said you’re to report straight away.”
“Thanks, Chris,” Bodie said, glancing at Denis as he left the bed. The medic was leaning against the bedhead again, a small smile playing at his lips. Bodie breathed a sigh of regret as he followed Chris through the door.
Command HQ was in one of the better houses of Aba, a large verandah shaded European style mansion that belonged to the local magistrate who’d been fortunate enough to flee to Elizabethville before the rebels overtook the town.
Toussaint and Captain Campbell were in the dining room huddled over a large mahogany dining table. There were maps and photographs spread out across its surface and a bottle of whisky graced the far corner. Filled glasses stood in front of the two men. They both looked up as Bodie entered, Toussaint acknowledging him with his usual enigmatic smile while Campbell merely nodded. They were both dressed in military fashion, Toussaint in fatigues that had seen better days while Campbell wore a decent facsimile of a British Army uniform. It was rumoured that Campbell would be taking over as commander of 5 Commando when their current commander, Mike Hoare, left at the end of his contract. Bodie wasn’t at all sure how he felt about that. Campbell was a very different man from the gentlemanly Hoare; fearless and utterly ruthless, he engendered as much resentment as he did loyalty amongst the men.
“Ah, Sergeant Bodie. Come in,” Campbell’s face had lifted into what could be taken as a smile. He turned to a side cabinet in front of the large bay and selected a glass, filling it from the bottle on the table and handing it to Bodie and waited until he’d had taken a sip from the glass before speaking again.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why we called you here,” he said, pausing briefly for a response.
Bodie glanced at Toussaint but the Belgian commander remained silent, his smiling features giving nothing away. Campbell watched the exchange and when the silence continued he began to speak again.
“I know the men have been speculating on our next objective so it won’t be too much of a surprise for you to know that we move out tomorrow to continue the campaign against the rebels,” he said, getting straight to the point. “We have information from what I consider a reliable source that the rebels have withdrawn most of their force from Faradje to concentrate on their defence of Watsa. So, in a combined undertaking, 10 Commando and our own 5 Commando will be advancing on both those towns from tomorrow.”
Bodie knew who their ‘source’ was. A truck had barrelled through the mercenary lines the night before, the driver seemingly oblivious to the fact Aba had been taken two days previously. All the occupants of the truck had been killed in the resulting barrage of fire, except the driver, who had been wounded. His screams had carried through the night air for half an hour but no doubt his information would have been satisfactory to Campbell.
”We expect the most resistance to be centred on the approach to Watsa, particularly here at the Kibali River.” The captain jabbed his finger down on the map spread out on the table and Bodie looked down to where he was pointing. The map was detailed, the captain’s finger sitting decisively on one stage of a meandering thread of blue that denoted the river in question.
“Our only way across the river is by the Kibali bridge. No doubt that bridge will be heavily defended and there is the chance the rebels will attempt to destroy it at the first sight of our advance. That’s where you come in.”
Bodie raised his eyes from the map and found Campbell looking straight at him.
“Colonel Toussaint will lead a small party of men down the river to take the bridge before the main force reaches it,” the captain told him, his gaze steady, looking for a reaction from Bodie. “He’s requested you and your squad’s presence in that party. I’ve agreed on the provision that you and your men are happy to accompany him. This is a purely voluntary mission.”
Bodie shifted his eyes from Campbell to Toussaint. “How exactly are we planning on going on this expedition down the river?” he asked the Belgian, suspicion blooming.
Toussaint’s half-smile widened into a broad grin. “Canoe,” he said with false simplicity, then gave a short bark of laughter at Bodie’s raised eyebrow and incredulous look. “Patrice has found himself a native dugout,” he said, still smiling at Bodie. “It’s in good condition. He’s very keen to try it out. We can truck it through to Faradje and join the Kibali upstream from Watsa. No problems paddling downstream then. The Simba won’t even know we’re there till we hit them.”
“You don’t think a canoe carrying European mercenaries floating down the river will stick out like a sore thumb then? Or were you planning on disguising us as hippos?”
“No need.” Toussaint’s humour wasn’t to be gainsaid. “We move at night, they won’t see us until we’re on top of them.”
“Oh great,” Bodie rolled his eyes. “We rely on night blind crocs, hope the Simbas are asleep, and trust a leaky canoe to get us there. You’re a mad bastard, you know that?”
Captain Campbell looked as if he was going to issue a reprimand at Bodie’s irreverence but Toussaint jumped in before he could open his mouth.
“The Simba don’t attack at night, you know that, Will. It’s bad juju. They’ll be working up their courage and drinking their dawa. And you’re just as crazy from memory,” Toussaint said with a wink.
Bodie shook his head. The Simba might rely on witchcraft to see them through battle but they were fierce fighters either way.
“Whatever the merits of the plan, it’s just crazy enough to work.” Campbell did succeed in breaking in this time. “What we need to know from you, Sergeant, is if you’re willing to go along for the ride.”
Bodie switched his gaze between the two men. Campbell was all serious military attention; Toussaint all relaxed self-assurance and the half-smile was back but the Belgian’s eyes were shining with the light of battle. Bodie had a feeling Toussaint knew he wouldn’t be able to resist.
“Yeah, why not?” he said, his attention focused on Toussaint now. “Can’t speak for the others though. They’re not quite as insane as we are.”
Toussaint’s smile didn’t waver and Bodie knew he was the one he wanted. The others were a compromise.
“Good, that’s settled then.” Campbell’s words broke into the sudden silence. “I’ll leave you to brief your unit, just make sure they understand the voluntary nature of the mission.”
“Yes, Sir.” Bodie finished off the last of his whisky and with a final nod to Toussaint turned to leave the room. He didn’t salute, this wasn’t the Army, by any stretch of imagination.
As it turned out the men of Bodie’s unit accepted the voluntary mission with different degrees of enthusiasm. Tub, plodding and unimaginative, willing to be part of any operation that came his way without too much thought. Chris, around the same age as Bodie but years younger in experience, showed the keenness of youthful high spirits. Hayden’s acceptance was grudging, stemming perhaps more from a fear of missing out on something than any desire to play the hero. Denis agreed after an intense look at Bodie that conveyed more than he intended saying in front of the others.
It was after Campbell had confirmed the planned advance on Faradje to the rest of the commando and the resultant chaotic confusion of preparations - the checking of packs and armaments, the ingenuity of finding petrol so that they could start their vehicles and keep them running – that Bodie had time to think about Denis and that look. By then the drums had started up, their monotonous beat weighing heavily in the warm sluggish air, the sound reverberating through the jungle that surrounded the town then picked up further away, the messages travelling from drum to drum, village to village until there was a constant echo that died out only to be picked up again an instant later.
Most of the mercenaries had heard the talking drums before but it was no less unnerving through familiarity. The steady beat had a way of touching the very soul of the most hardened Congo veterans; for the new recruits the sounds were like portents of doom.
“Do you know what they’re saying, Patrice?” Chris asked, trying to ignore the looks he was getting from Denis as his hands jumped every time a drumbeat sounded, making the task of fitting the new battery they’d found in a deserted Aba garage into the Land Rover they were working on much harder than it should be.
“The drums can say many things,” Patrice told him. He was crouched on the ground, cleaning his AK-47 rifle while Mwenye sat beside him, sharpening a wicked looking panga, testing the edge with his thumb every so often. “They gather the people together for a festival or a feast and they pass on the village news.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Although they are taking an awful long time just to pass a message on this time, must be a long one.”
Bodie glanced up from where he was siphoning petrol from a jerry can into the petrol tank of the Land Rover. “Or,” he quipped. “Maybe they just keep getting a wrong number and have to start all over again.”
Chris switched his gaze between the two of them, confused, not sure whether to take them seriously, until he saw the grin on Denis’ face and the look Patrice and Mwenye exchanged.
“Piss off, Bodie,” he said pleasantly then looked at the still grinning Patrice. “You do know what they’re saying though, don’t you, Patrice?” he persisted.
Patrice shrugged, serious now. “They are probably talking of how the White Giants are coming and how their bullets will not harm them but they will become lions in battle and drive their enemies away with their juju.”
“Do they still believe that, even now?” Bodie asked
“Everyone has to believe in something, Will,” Patrice told him. “Muti, juju, magic, witchcraft, whatever you want to call it, is very strong in Africa, you know that. The army fled from the Simba, sure their witchcraft actually worked, until the mercenaries, the White Giants, came and showed them different.”
Mwenye, who had been listening intently to Patrice’s words, following the gist of what he was saying despite his poor English, nodded enthusiastically. “The drums and mai, they make the Simba strong, the armee weak,” he said, spitting to the side.
Bodie knew the disdain the Katangans felt for the Congolese National Army, the history of the abortive secession and subsequent mistreatment dished out to the defeated Katangans too strong to be easily forgotten.
“What’s ‘mai’?” Chris asked.
“It means water,” Patrice told him. “The Simba believe the water or dawa their witchdoctors give them to drink before battle contains magic properties that make them impervious to bullets. Of course the marijuana they get high on helps.”
“The invincible army,” Bodie commented. “Driven by witchdoctors' prattle and symbols.”
“Only the invincibility’s wearing a little thin now. Bit like this old Land Rover of yours, Will,” Patrice commented.
“This Rover, my son, has been with me since we took Stanleyville. She’s a faithful old girl, all she needs is a bit of TLC and she’ll keep going for the rest of this damn jungle war.”
“Shit, Bodie,” Chris said as he finished tightening the final battery lead and stepped back. “The spark plugs are shot, the timing's all to hell and,” he gave the nearest tyre a short sharp kick, “the tyres are as bald as my uncle Fred.”
“I wouldn’t come between Bodie and his Land Rover if I were you, Chris,” Denis suggested as he slammed the bonnet shut. “Treats her better than a lover.”
Chris laughed. “I’ll apologise to the lady if she gets us to Faradje in one piece,” he said, then sobered quickly. “They know we’re coming, don’t they? That’s what the drums mean really, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. They know we’re coming all right,” Patrice said. “They’re just not sure when or how. And when we do come they’ll either believe their magic still works and stand and fight, or run. If we’re lucky, they’ll run.”
There’s nothing quite as dark as the Congo at night, even in the not so equatorial reaches to the north of the country. Night didn’t bring any relief from the insistent drumbeat but the air was slightly cooler, especially outside the confines of the bungalow, something Bodie appreciated as he leant against the wooden support of the bungalow’s verandah, drawing deeply on the cigarette he was holding between his fingers, watching the exhaled smoke curl and drift away in the lazy breeze.
The voice, coming as it did from out of the darkness in front of him, was startling as well as unexpected.
“Hey, pretty boy.” Bodie didn’t need the benefit of the dim light shining from the bungalow window to know it was Denis.
“I’m not a boy,” Bodie told him, still unbalanced by Denis’ sudden appearance.
“My, we are being prickly tonight. May I just call you ‘pretty’ then?” Denis asked as he moved to stand beside him on the verandah.
“Idiot,” Bodie said, but there was no force in the words. “What are you doing out here anyway? Thought you’d be tending to Stan’s little problem.”
“Jealous?” Denis asked. He was smiling.
Bodie raised an eyebrow. “Of Hayden? Not likely, mate.”
“That’s good,” Denis said. He reached up and traced a finger over the arched brow. “I wouldn’t want you thinking I’d fancy him, even on my worst days.”
Bodie laughed. “Stan has a face and personality even his mother must’ve had a problem loving.”
“I don’t want to talk about Stan. I’d rather talk about you,” Denis told him, taking the cigarette from between Bodie’s fingers and drawing on it then puffing the smoke out into the night air. The gesture was surprisingly intimate.
“Don’t blame you. I’m far more interesting,” Bodie quipped.
“And very modest too,” Denis quipped right back, flicking the cigarette butt into the darkness, sending up a spiral of small sparks. “Come with me, there’s something I want to show you,” he continued, moving off into the night again, not waiting for Bodie, sure he would follow him.
Bodie did, trailing slightly behind as Denis led the way down the winding path from the bungalow to where the river flowed past the town, the faint light of the moon guiding his steps. Further away from the subtle town noises the drumbeat sounded even louder, more insistent, like a steady heartbeat in the darkness.
“Bloody drums,” Bodie said as Denis stopped in a small clearing by the edge of the river. “They’re enough to drive you barmy.”
“Forget about the drums,” Denis told him, slipping an arm around his waist to draw him closer. They were screened from sight by palm fronds and the night. “They only get to you if you let them.”
“What did you want to show me?” Bodie asked, leaning into the loose embrace.
“Close your eyes,” Denis said and Bodie obeyed.
The kiss was a mere touch, a soft whisper against his lips. Then Denis drew back and looked into Bodie’s eyes as he opened them.
“Do you want me as much as I want you, pretty boy?” he asked.
Bodie stiffened slightly. “I told you I’m…” he started, but Denis broke in before he could finish.
“Yes, I know, you’re not a boy.” Bodie could feel Denis’ amusement, even if he couldn’t see it. “But what a strange mix of youth and experience you are. And you haven’t answered my question yet.
Bodie wrapped his own arm around Denis and moved close again. “Yes, old man. I think I do.”
Denis did laugh at that as he sank down taking Bodie with him until they were both on their knees on the jungle floor holding on to each other. Then he pushed him backwards, landing awkwardly on top as Bodie’s back hit the jungle floor. Bodie opened his mouth to protest but Denis sealed it with his lips.
“Have you been with another man before?” he murmured, moving his mouth lower.
Bodie thought about that, as much as he could think with Denis sucking on his neck, and wondered if the teenage fumbling in his bedroom with his best friend when he was fourteen counted. Or the mutual groping with the first mate on a merchant ship. It didn’t seem to matter in any case.
“Yeah, of course,” he said, gasping as the suction became a little harder.
“Liar,” Denis said, flipping open the top button of Bodie’s shirt, then the next. “I’ll be gentle,” he promised.
Bodie felt a cool breeze across his nipples as the rest of the buttons were popped open, then the brush of a thumb against the sensitive nubs. He gasped as Denis lowered his mouth and stroked his tongue across one, then the other.
“Do you like that?” Denis asked, doing it again. Bodie shuddered, he could feel the grin against his skin but he didn’t have time or inclination to answer as Denis began to undo his belt and the buttons on his fly at the same time that mouth continued its work on his nipples. There was a breeze again but this time he could feel it on his stomach, then Denis’ hand took its place before slipping lower so that fingers could stroke over the erection stretching beneath his underpants.
He felt a sudden sense of loss as Denis abruptly rose and sat back on his heels
“Lift up,” he commanded. Bodie obediently planted his feet, lifting his hips as Denis pulled his trousers and underwear down over his thighs and shins to the top of his boots, effectively tethering his ankles together until he managed to pull one trouser leg off over Bodie’s boot, freeing his feet to move wider apart. Bodie felt the harshness of the jungle floor on his skin, the scrape and rub of twigs and sharp edged leaves that dug into his buttocks. Denis looked down at him and breathed out a sigh before running his hands down the length of Bodie’s inner thighs then up again to settle in the crease between thigh and crotch.
“You are beautiful,” he murmured and bent down to bestow a kiss on Bodie’s belly before sitting back and fumbling in his pocket. Drawing out a small tube he unscrewed the top and coated his fingers with the viscous contents.
“Always prepared,” Bodie murmured.
“I’m a medic, remember.” He gave Bodie no chance to respond, bending to kiss him full on the lips, playful and passionate. Bodie responded, opening his mouth to the pleasure. Denis nudged his thighs apart and he felt the cold touch of his lotion coated finger press between his buttocks and slide over his anus. He shuddered at the touch, then again as the finger pushed against the muscle, slipping inside as it yielded, then out again. The next time there were two fingers and Denis had found his neck again. Bodie wrapped his arms around the medic and held on as the sensations he was creating threatened to overwhelm him and when Denis slid his fingers completely out and drew back again he cried out in frustration.
Denis laughed. “Patience, love. Nearly there,” he said as he quickly unbuttoned and yanked trousers and underwear down to his knees. Then he was kneeling between Bodie’s legs and leaning forward. It felt awkward at first, not what Bodie was used to, and he was hampered by the trousers still clinging tenaciously to one leg but he used his free leg to brace across Denis’ thigh giving him purchase to lift his hips as Denis’ cock slid along his cleft and then pressed in. Bodie gasped at the sharp pain and Denis immediately stopped his forward movement.
“Okay,” he asked, his breathing harsh with the effort of holding back.
“No. Yes, don’t stop. I’m fine.” Bodie gasped.
Denis waited a second then pushed in again, harder and the pain flared but died just as quickly as he started a rocking motion that set up a delicious teasing friction inside Bodie. Then Denis bent and kissed him, breathing gentle words against his lips and wrapped his hand around Bodie’s cock, stroking with the same rhythm as his thrusts into Bodie’s body.
Bodie’s senses swam, his harsh breathing dulling the sounds around them as Denis continued to thrust and stroke, the sensations inside him building to a crescendo even the beat of the drums couldn’t penetrate. Then Denis found something deep inside him and the world exploded into a tight ball of pleasure and he came, spilling his seed over Denis’ hand as the tremors took him. Denis thrust inside him once more then fell, gasping onto Bodie’s chest.
They lay breathing harshly through open mouths, the drums sounding around them in rhythm to their beating hearts.
“That was... incredible.” Bodie murmured when he could speak again.
Denis nodded agreement, licking the sweat from Bodie’s neck, sending a shudder through his body. “It was worth the wait,” he said, managing to untangle himself from the self-imposed restriction of their lowered clothing to roll off and lie with one arm lying across Bodie’s chest, his head on his shoulder.
“You’ve been waiting?” Bodie could feel Denis smile against his throat.
“Indeed I have. Since the first time I saw you.”
Bodie remembered, the new group of volunteers just arrived from Salisbury and the medic who stood out from the rest. He looked up at the night sky, at the clouds starting to drift over. It looked like there might be rain. His heart rate had slowed down but the drums still kept up their restless beat.
“We’ll have to go,” he said with regret.
“I know.” Denis lifted his head and started to rise. He stood for a few precious seconds, looking at Bodie, his eyes moving over his nakedness then he held out his hand and Bodie clasped it, letting Denis draw him to his feet. They put themselves back together again, Bodie falling comically over in his efforts to get his trousers back on over his boot and Denis laughing at him. But when they were finished Denis leant towards Bodie, putting his hand behind his head to draw him in for a long kiss.
“Pretty boy,” Denis murmured against his lips. This time Bodie didn’t object.
“You go first,” he said, drawing back.
Denis nodded and abruptly turned, walking in the direction of the camp. He didn’t look back.
Bodie waited for a few minutes, then followed.
Doyle tore his gaze away from Bodie for the first time since he’d started his tale, looking past the light of the lamp while he digested this new and somehow unwelcome revelation of Bodie’s past relationship and wondered why he hadn’t seen it coming. He’d known when they first had sex that his partner’s experience with men went far beyond his own youthful experimentation, abandoned long ago for the conventions of so-called ‘normal’ heterosexual relationships. That Bodie knew what he was doing had been a blessing then, his guidance saving them both from possible embarrassment. Now he wasn’t so sure.
Bodie had stopped talking and was looking at him with an odd expression on his face. Doyle knew he would have to say something to cover any possible misunderstandings. He couldn’t really be jealous of someone from Bodie’s long ago past. Could he?
“What was he like … Denis?” he finally asked, not at all sure he wanted to know the answer.
Bodie’s smile was one of fond memory. “Older than me. Funny, most of my lovers then were.”
That’s a surprise, thought Doyle.
“He was kind, good to be with and quite open about what he was,” Bodie continued. “And most of the men accepted that.”
Doyle knew he looked sceptical because Bodie was quick to explain.
“There were a lot of close friendships - bonds, between the men. The usual conventions of the time seemed to blur in the jungle, even between the blacks and whites, so no one really thought too deeply about the relationships that were established and most probably weren’t sexual. It was a particular camaraderie of the time and place, I suppose.”
“Except for you and Denis.”
“Yes, except for us.”
“You were in love with him?”
“I think I was too young to know what love was then. But I cared for him very much. He meant a lot to me.” He smiled again at the memory and Doyle wondered if Bodie knew what love was now, if he ever even thought about love.
“So the attack went through the next day?” he said, wanting to move away from a discussion of Bodie’s past lover. Maybe later, when the tale was done, he would examine his own wayward feelings in the matter.
“Yes, it did.” Bodie told him. “We attacked shortly after dawn.”
He started to continue where he had left off and they both retreated again to the harsh tropics of the Congo while the rain pelted against the window and Doyle tried to still the confusion in his own mind.
Faradje, Orientale Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
“The reaches opened before us and closed
behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely
across the water to bar the way for our return.
We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.”
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
The column arrived in Faradje, a picturesque town full of palm and mango trees and red gravel roads, sixty five kilometres west of Aba, early the next day and secured the town without casualties. The heaviest resistance to the advance had come from a small village not far from Aba, the origin of the previous night’s jungle drums judging by the signs of feasting that remained scattered in the dirt. The drums were now silenced, the village razed to the ground.
It was close to sunset by the time Bodie and the others gathered by the river to check out their future mode of transport.
“So, that’s it.” Bodie said, staring at the wooden dugout as it bobbed up and down against the small wooden jetty it was tethered to. It was a dull brownish colour, shallow and sharply pointed at both ends. Patrice had supervised the unloading from the truck that carried it from Aba with the care and attention of a devoted parent.
“Yep,” he said now. “A beauty, isn’t it?”
“Beauty wasn’t exactly the word I had in mind,” Denis supplied, eyeing the boat dubiously. “Will it float?”
Patrice rolled his eyes. “Oh, ye of little faith,” he said. “It’ll float like a dream, believe me.”
“Forgive me if I reserve judgement,” Denis grinned.
“Think it’s a bloody crazy idea, trusting a kaffir boat to get us down river. Why don’t we use a proper boat, with an outboard?” Hayden chimed in.
Bodie looked at him, incredulous. “Don’t see too many pleasure boats with outboards around here,” he told him patiently. “Besides, don’t want to be announcing our arrival to the whole Simba army, do we?”
“Nobody’s forcing you to come on this little jaunt, Stan,” Denis added. “You can always back out if you want to.”
Hayden gave them a sour look but didn’t argue the point.
“Dunno,” Chris said, watching as Patrice carefully slid from the jetty into the boat, which wobbled precariously as he landed. “Reckon Tub might sink it.”
“Don’t let him hear you say that,” Bodie told him. “Very sensitive about his weight, is Tub.”
“You saying something about my weight?” Tub demanded as he joined the group, a tin of bully beef in one hand, plastic fork in the other.
They were saved any explanations by the arrival of Mwenye and Toussaint, who was carrying a large canvas bag which he dropped onto the wooden boards of the jetty.
“Ah, I see we have the canoe ready. Good,” Toussaint said, squatting down next to the canvas bag. The others joined him so that they formed a loose crouching circle at the edge of the jetty. Toussaint opened the bag and produced a map which he laid out on the boards. They watched as he pointed out the landmarks of the Watsa area, the bridge and railway line that ran alongside the river to the gold mine that was a Watsa landmark, and explained the lie of the land and the battle plan.
“Air support is expected at dawn so we’ll hit them at four o’clock in the morning, just before light. We expect heavy resistance but if we can take them by surprise and hold the bridge with minimal fuss the rest of the column will gain a toehold before the Simba even know we’re there. The column will advance once we give word the bridge is under our control. The air support will come in at that time as well, a couple of B26’s with rockets. Should be quite a party. Any questions?”
“How do we let command know we have the bridge?” Bodie asked.
“With this.” Toussaint dipped into the bag again and produced a walkie-talkie. “The column will have moved to within five miles of the bridge by the time we go in. That should be sufficient range for us to reach them. Captain Campbell will call in the aircraft using his field radio.”
Toussaint looked around at the men but there were no further comments so he stood and indicated the bag.
“Right, there’s extra rounds of ammunition and grenades in there. Fill your packs and ammo belts. We can store the extra equipment in the canoe. Once you’ve done that I suggest you get some rest; it’s going to be a long night.”
It was dusk by the time they finished sorting and storing the equipment Toussaint had provided, the brilliant sun of the day sinking slowly, sending orange and mauve streaks across the western sky. They sat around the small fire Hayden and Tub had built on the beach beside the jetty talking quietly, eating from ration packs and gorging on the ripe mangos that had fallen from the trees. Eventually they settled down for what was left of their night, Tub, Hayden and Chris lying down by the dying flames of the fire, resting their heads on their packs, while Patrice and Mwenye clambered into the canoe, somehow managing to find a comfortable spot between the narrow wooden seats and equipment.
Bodie waited for a moment then he sought Denis’ eye, dipping his head slightly towards the darkness beyond the fire. Denis nodded and began to make his way further down the beach. Bodie grabbed his pack and followed, ignoring Hayden’s watching eyes and wide smirk.
The moon lit their way along the sand, picking out the outcroppings of rock that reached out from the edges of forest.
“Here, this will do,” Denis said, dropping his pack on the ground and following it down, spreading himself out on the sand flat on his back. The spot was not far from the fire but far enough to offer a degree of privacy. Bodie crouched down beside him then followed suit, stretching out his limbs and resting his head on his pack. He gazed up at the sky at the light of a thousand bright stars shining down on him with breathtaking brilliance.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Denis’ voice was quiet, subdued by the majesty of the night.
“It is,” Bodie said just as quietly. “You never see it all like this at home.”
“It’s the lack of city lights and smog. The sky’s clearer, the air cleaner here.”
Bodie turned onto his side and propped himself up on one elbow, looking down into Denis’ eyes, seeing the glint of stars reflected there.
“What you said to Hayden before. You can back out too, you know. You don’t have to come with us. You’re a medic, not a combat troop.”
Denis looked at him, the edges of a smile lighting up his face. “Medics are the same as everyone else in this particular army, or hadn’t you noticed? Anyway I’m not about to let you go haring off on your own, lover,” he said. “You need a keeper, someone to watch your back.”
“And you’re it?” Bodie asked, pushing the flop of hair that always fell into Denis’ eyes back with a fingertip.
“For now.” Denis pulled him back down to lie beside him. “Better get some sleep.”
Bodie settled down facing Denis, close enough to feel the man’s warmth but not too close. Soon the sound of Denis’ quiet breathing and the gentle ripple of the river lulled him into an uneasy doze.
They paddled through the cool night air, taking turns with the long handled oars, the current of the mud brown river helping to carry them along at a brisk pace, the faint dip and splash of the oars fading into the nocturnal sounds of the jungle. There was only a crescent shaped moon, not bright enough to reveal their presence on the river but enough for them to make out the darkness of the forest trees along the banks.
They reached the bridge in the hour before dawn, gliding in under the supports. Toussaint signalled and they stopped, listening. The only sound was that of water lapping against the wooden poles. Satisfied, they edged around towards the bank, using the cover of the bridge to conceal them from watching eyes. Patrice alighted first, slipping from the canoe into the papyrus reeds with deathly quiet. Toussaint followed and between them they pulled the canoe further into the shallows before the others joined them. Tub was the last out, clambering over the small wooden seats to balance precariously by the prow before levering himself out, Toussaint wincing at the splash he made.
They tied the boat to a protruding tree root. It would stay there, concealed by the reeds, until some lucky fisherman discovered it. They had no further use for it.
Toussaint led the way up the embankment and past the strand of fever trees that edged the river; the others followed, gravel crunching under their feet. Bodie could feel the tension in the group, his own adrenaline rising. They gained the top of the bank and the trees thinned out. Toussaint moved into the undergrowth for several yards before coming to a sudden stop, going into a half crouch, his rifle held ready. Bodie almost bumped into him but stopped himself just in time. From the stifled curses behind him it seemed it had almost been a domino effect. Regaining his equilibrium Bodie joined Toussaint on the forest floor, the other men crowding around.
“There.” Toussaint spoke barely above a whisper but even that wasn’t necessary, the flickering flames from a camp fire clearly visible through the sparse trees. The rebels had set up in the clearing next to the bridge, their jeeps parked in a small semicircle on the far side of the fire, the rebels scattered through the camp asleep, curled on the forest floor, their rifles and packs beside them. There was a 4.2 inch mortar sitting at the edge of the camp, aimed towards the bridge. There were sentries too, one not more than five hundred yards away, his back to them, rifle held in both hands but pointing down to the ground. The other was further away, on the opposite side of the clearing, near the vehicles. He was sitting with his back to a tree, cap pulled down over his eyes. Every now and then his head fell forward before he jerked it back up again.
Toussaint motioned them back behind the cover of the trees. When they were all gathered again he spoke, still in little more than a whisper. “Will, I want you, Patrice and Mwenye across the other side of the camp, take that guard out. I’ll take care of this one. As soon as I’ve dealt with him we’ll start firing. That’s when you open up as well, Will. We’ll catch them in a crossfire before they even know what’s hit them.” He looked around at the faces of the men, waiting for questions. There were none. Finally his eyes fell on Bodie, who grinned, pleased with the simplicity of the plan; less chance of things going wrong, he hoped.
They began to silently check their weapons. Toussaint drew a wicked looking knife from the sheath on his belt. Bodie locked eyes with Denis, willing him to be careful. This time it was Denis who nodded, his lips moving into a half smile.
“Right, you heard the man, let’s go.” Bodie slung his rifle over his shoulder and moved away, Patrice on his heels, Mwenye close behind.
He led them in a wide circle, working their way around the camp to come in on the sentry from behind, keeping low and to the trees that bordered the clearing but moving quickly. When they were within a few feet of their objective they stopped. Patrice signalled to Bodie, pointing to himself and holding up his knife. Bodie nodded. Patrice crept forward in a crouch, coming at the sentry from behind. The man didn’t have a chance as Patrice wrapped an arm around his head, pulling him away from the shelter of the tree and back as he slit his throat, then pushed him away. The rebel fell to the side without a sound.
Bodie turned and took a step back in the direction of the camp. That was when he walked into the other sentry, the one standing in the shelter of the trees so that they’d missed seeing him. Attracted by the slight scuffle rather than any noise, he’d ventured out of his cover, his mouth open, the words he started to speak dying on his lips as he spotted Bodie inches in front of him. They both froze in a moment of shock and Bodie saw the African’s eyes widen almost comically, the whites clearly visible in the flickering light of the camp fire. Then they both moved at the same instant, Bodie going for the hunting knife in his belt, the other man starting to lift his rifle. But Mwenye was quicker. Grabbing the African around the throat and clasping his hand over his mouth, he held him still, giving Bodie the precious seconds he needed to bring his knife up and plunge it into the man’s stomach. The knife slid in with little resistance and the man stiffened convulsively, arms and legs going rigid, then he puffed out a sigh through the cage of Mwenye’s fingers and his body relaxed while blood flowed over Bodie’s hand, warm and sticky, the sickly smell rising to his nostrils in a nausea inducing wave. He pulled the knife out and stepped away, nodding his thanks at Mwenye, who let the body drop to the ground as he smiled back.
At that moment the clearing erupted into a cacophony of wild noise as Toussaint opened up – the sound of flying bullets joined by the flashes of exploding grenades. Bodie dropped, joined by Patrice and Mwenye as they opened fire in their turn. In minutes it was over, the clearing turned into a killing field of thrown grenades and automatic rifle fire. When the smoke cleared the rebels lay dead or wounded, sprawled in untidy heaps only inches from where they had been sleeping. The only casualty suffered by the unit was Tub, who’d tripped on an exposed tree root and taken a tumble, breaking his leg in the process.
After it was all done Bodie stood by the bridge, smoking a cigarette and watching the sun begin to rise. The blood from the rebel he’d stabbed was still on his hands, thick and clotted. He picked at it, wanting it gone, but knew it would take more than that to take away the feeling and the smell. He looked over to where Denis was tending to Tub, who was stretched out on a blanket purloined from one of the dead rebels. Patrice and Mwenye walked among the bodies, checking for signs of life or documents or perhaps what they could keep for themselves. They would throw the bodies in the river when they were done. There were a few prisoners sitting huddled in a little bunch near the jeeps, Stan keeping guard over them. They didn’t look as if they would cause him any trouble. Bodie had watched Hayden earlier as he'd made his way through the dead, using the hunting knife he carried to remove the ears from the corpses of the men he knew he’d shot. Bodie knew some of the mercenaries practiced the barbaric custom. It had made him sick to his stomach the first time he saw it, but he felt powerless to stop Hayden from doing it.
“I didn’t think it would be so easy.” It was Chris, his rifle slung across his shoulder, his face streaked with sweat and dirt.
“This is just a forward defence, left to guard the bridge. They didn’t expect us, that’s why it was easy,” Bodie told him.
“What about the rest of them?”
“They’re out there somewhere, under cover, waiting for the attack,” Toussaint said as he joined them.
“What do we do now?”
Bodie smiled to himself at Chris’ eternally naïve questions and wondered if he’d ever felt as young as the lad seemed to be. “Wait for the cavalry,” he said as Toussaint lifted his walkie-talkie and spoke into it.
“Captain Campbell, we have the bridge.”
They didn’t have long to wait. As dawn coloured the morning sky in a gold and pink hue the planes began their covering attack. Two B26 bombers came streaking overhead, dropping their bombs in the virgin jungle beyond the bridge, sending plumes of smoke and debris into the air. Following close behind was a T-28 Trojan, the CIA’s major contribution to the air support. The trainer spattered the road and jungle edges beyond the bridge with machine gun bullets before peeling off to come around for another run. Then the column came into sight, cluttering along the road with armoured vehicles, jeeps and walking soldiers before beginning a rumbling progress across the bridge, following the dirt road as it meandered its way through the jungle towards Watsa.
With the bridge theirs, the taking of Watsa was accomplished in a little over two hours, the rebel’s initial defence being routed by the inexorable march of the ANC and the White Giants. In the end they marched into Watsa as the rebels fled, leaving their dead and dying in the muddy streets behind them.
It was late afternoon when Toussaint sought out Bodie with his new orders. Command HQ had been set up in the mission in the centre of town, the airfield had been secured as had any other points of tactical interest. Tub had been installed in the field hospital, a makeshift casualty ward in the hospital section of the mission that had no beds, only blankets spread out on the floor, but was reasonably well equipped. The news was he would be shipped back to Stanleyville the following day and from there airlifted to Salisbury in Rhodesia for further treatment.
On the assumption they wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, Bodie, Denis and Chris found quarters for themselves in one of the thatched roofed outbuildings of the mission. And that was where the Belgian commander found them.
“Ah, Will. Good to see you’ve managed to make yourself at home,” Toussaint said, taking in the case of Congo beer at Bodie’s feet, the table filled with mangos and the relaxed sprawl of all three men in armchairs obviously confiscated from the main mission building.
“Help yourself, Jack,” Bodie told him graciously, waving at the case with his bottle filled hand.
“Another time perhaps,” Toussaint told him, that habitual half smile on his face. “You might want to save it all for later too. Right now I need you to take your men and check out the mine. There’s been a sweep through the area to clear out the Simba but we have to find out if there is any sign of what happened to the mine supervisor and his family.”
Bodie pulled a face but obediently, if somewhat reluctantly, deposited the bottle on the table and got to his feet. “Bloody typical,” he said. “Never a minute’s rest.”
By now Toussaint was positively grinning. “No, not for the wicked. I’ll join you for some of that tonight,” he said indicating the beer before moving back to the doorway. “In the meantime you’d better get moving before the light fails. I’ve told Patrice and Mwenye to go with you. They’re waiting outside.”
“Right, you heard the man.” Bodie reached for his rifle as Toussaint left. “Chris, round up Hayden, can you? He’s probably at what would pass as the local bar around here.”
“Do I have to?” Chris asked, his dislike of the man almost palpable.
Bodie just looked at him. Chris shrugged and headed out of the door, rifle and pack in hand.
Denis had stowed his beer and picked up his own gear. “Stan certainly knows how to make himself popular, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, seems to have the knack,” Bodie agreed as they walked out into the brilliant sunshine together.
Patrice and Mwenye were already sitting in the back of the Land Rover, mouths stretched in wide grins. They found Chris and Stan Hayden where expected, waiting for them outside the run down hotel at the edge of town. Chris looked put upon, Hayden pissed off. They could hear his loud complaining voice before they even reached the pair.
The mine was a gigantic terraced hole in the ground. An open-cast artisanal working, mined mostly by the local population, who panned the gold out by hand through the ugly mud, slush and rocks. Now it was deserted, tools and equipment left lying in untidy heaps where they had apparently been dropped.
The mine official’s house was set at the edge of the mine, close to the undisturbed areas of forest. It had a melancholy air about it, as if the owners had stepped outside with the intention of returning soon, but had never come back, leaving the house to mourn their loss. A child’s tricycle lay turning to rust in the overlong and weed filled grassed area in the front of the house and the cultivated native shrubs and bushes that comprised the luxurious garden were growing in a wild untamed profusion, proof it never takes long for the jungle to re-claim its own.
They left the Land Rover at the edge of the grassed area and approached the house cautiously on foot, fanning out to provide maximum cover, but it wasn’t necessary. There was no movement anywhere, just the occasional flutter and dart of a weaver bird or swift and the chatter of monkeys swinging through the trees.
Bodie halted them a hundred yards from the house. It was a double story affair with an outhouse that probably served as a garage and workshop.
“Patrice, Chris, check around the back,” he ordered. “Mwenye, you’re with me. Stan, you and Denis take the outhouse. Meet back here when you’re done.”
They all scattered to their tasks. Bodie headed to the side of the house where an area had been fenced off for a vegetable garden, Mwenye following at his shoulder. The garden was in ruins, the once neat rows of root vegetables kicked apart, the produce now scattered dry husks.
When they returned to the front of the house Stan and Denis were there already. Bodie looked a question at Stan who shook his head. “Nothing much, just a rusted up Ranchero and a few tools,” he told him.
Patrice and Chris arrived a few minutes later. Patrice looked grim. His rifle was slung across his back and he was holding a bundle of what looked like torn and dirty rags in his hands. Chris’ face was pale with an almost greenish tinge.
“There’s a very bad smell back there, Will,” Patrice said. “About three hundred metres into the bush. Someone’s been digging around in there. It doesn’t look good. We found these.” He handed Bodie the rags. They were scraps of clothing; a child’s t-shirt and part of a woman’s dress.
“Poor buggers,” Bodie said, throwing the remnants onto the grass. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”
The front door of the house stood open, almost welcoming. Inexplicably the inside, unlike the vegetable garden, hadn’t been touched.
“Maybe they were disturbed before they could finish the job,” Denis hazarded a guess.
“Maybe,” Bodie agreed. Whatever the reason, the prim neatness of the house after the devastation outside was almost chilling.
They split up again once they were inside, Bodie, Stan and Patrice going through the rooms to the left while the others headed right. It was probably mere co-incidence that they all ended up in what was obviously an office at the back of the house at the same time, Chris and Mwenye stopping so abruptly in the doorway that Denis ran into the back of them while the other three stepped through the door at the opposite side of the room, coming to the same sudden stop, mouths gaping open.
“What the...” Denis started, pushing against the human barrier in front of him, making them give way so he could see into the room. Then he too stopped and gazed at the scene in front of them, at the open safe and at the dozen canvas bags scattered in haphazard disarray on the floor, some hanging open. Beams from the late afternoon sun shone through the windows catching the small rocks and granules that spilled out, making them glitter and shine like fairy dust.
“Shit,” came from Hayden and he whistled softly, taking another step into the room, Bodie just behind him.
“Is that what I think it is?” asked Chris, though the question could have been rhetorical.
“Think it might be,” Bodie answered him anyway.
They all drew a little further inside, still doubtful, still questioning.
Denis crouched beside the bags and reached down, closing his fist over the spillage then turned it over and opened his hand. Golden grains lay in his palm; they seemed duller out of the sunlight but no less captivating for that. “It’s gold alright,” he said, spreading his fingers and letting the grains flow back to the floor.
“What are we going to do with it?” Chris asked.
“Keep it, of course.” Stan was already bending down, grabbing one of the bags and pushing the nuggets and grains back inside.
“Wait a minute,” Bodie said, pulling at Stan’s shoulder. “We need to think about this. We can’t just take it.”
“Why the fuck not?” he asked, shrugging off Bodie’s hand.
Bodie stopped, uncertainty clouding his mind. They’d all looted before, liberated cash and bills of exchange that came their way from deserted banks or post offices, found and sold off jewellery and other effects of value that lay behind while their owners had vanished, unlikely to ever return. Somehow this seemed different, more dangerous, but he wasn’t sure why. He was grateful when Denis broke in.
“For a start this goes a bit beyond the usual looting,” he said. “The Congolese Government controls the mining concessions now, it’s all been nationalised. I don’t think they would take too kindly to finding out we’ve just cheated them out of a small fortune in gold. Congo gaols aren’t the best places to spend time, you know.”
“So, we make sure they don’t find out,” Stan reasoned. “Who’s to know about it being here anyway? The Simbas didn’t find it. And even if someone did know, who’s to say what became of it? It could just have vanished or been buried like those corpses out the back.”
There was a moment’s heavy silence at the grim reminder of the fate of the mine supervisor and his family.
“The gold didn’t do them any good, did it?” Denis said.
“No, it didn’t,” Bodie agreed.
“Well, it’ll be fine for us,” Stan leaned down and ran a finger over the metal; it came away with a slight golden tinge. Stan looked at it awestruck.
The sight was appealing to Bodie as well and he could see from the expression on the faces of Denis and Chris they shared the feeling.
“Well, if we’re going to do this, we do it together. Agreed?” Bodie said.
Denis nodded, “Yeah, why not?”
Chris didn’t say anything, just gulped and nodded. Finally Bodie turned to Patrice and Mwenye who up to then had been standing together at the far end of the room, silently watching the exchange, their faces unreadable.
“You with us?” he asked.
“Hey, you’re not including the kaffirs in this are you?”
Bodie swung back around to face Hayden. “What do you mean, Stan?” he asked, his voice deceptively quiet.
Stan looked at him and then turned to appeal to Denis and Chris but their expressions stopped him in his tracks.
“Oh, what the fuck,” he muttered. “Please yourselves.”
Bodie turned back to the two Katangans. They shared a glance, then Patrice nodded.
“Right, let’s do it then. Equal shares all round.” Bodie said. “The only thing is, how do we weigh it up?”
“This is a mine office, there must be a set of scales here somewhere.” Denis said.
Bodie grinned at the pure logic. “We’d better find it then, hadn’t we?”
A diligent search turned up the required scales and they set about gathering the spilled contents and weighing the bags, making sure each one contained the same weight in gold. By the time they were finished it was dark and they’d had to find lanterns to give them enough light to work by. They stood looking at the bags stacked neatly on the office desk, tied together at the neck in pairs with thick cord, each bag weighing just over four kilos.
Bodie picked up two of the bags. “Heavy,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy carrying this lot around while we’re still on the move.”
Hayden hefted another two of the bags, picked up his rifle and headed to the door. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll get by,” he said as he walked out without so much as a glance at the others.
“Wasn’t going to,” Bodie’s tone was sarcastic, but the effect was lost on Hayden because he was already gone.
“Do you trust him?” Denis asked
“Who, Stan? Not at all,” Bodie answered, then grinned. “Don’t think his own mother would trust him.”
“That man is dangerous, Will. You should not underestimate him.” Patrice said, frowning, still eyeing the door Hayden had exited through.
Mwenye nodded in agreement, turning to spit on the floor, his opinion obvious.
“What’s he going to do?” Bodie said. “He’s stranded here as much as we are. The nearest border is Sudan and no sure way of getting there through what’s left of the Simba. Mind you, if he wants to take his chances with them, he’s welcome.”
“Patrice is right. I think we all should keep an eye on him.” Denis warned
“You’re all acting like a bunch of old women.” Bodie started, then seeing the expression on their faces he shrugged. “I still say he’s not going to start anything here.”
Chris, who had so far remained silent during the exchanged, leaned over and picked up another two of the bags. “Just how are we going to carry this lot around with us?”
Bodie winked “I think I may just have the solution to that,” he said. “C’mon, let’s get it loaded in the Land Rover before Stan decides to take off with it and leave us here. I’ll tell you about my plan when we get back to Watsa.”
Early the next morning, before most of the column had stirred and the sun was but a pale golden orb in the eastern sky, Denis, Patrice and Mwenye stood by the windows of the Land Rover, watching with interest as Bodie crouched in the back of the vehicle and unfastened the wing nut and clamp holding the spare wheel in position behind the two front seats. Chris, sitting on one of the side box seats, was another interested spectator. Stan Hayden was nowhere in sight, having disappeared as soon as they arrived back in Watsa the night before, something that didn’t bother Bodie at all.
When he had the wheel unfastened, Bodie look over at Chris.
“Here, give me a hand with this, mate,” he said, straightening up.
Between them they lifted the tyre out of the depression in the floor of the vehicle it was resting in and rolled it out of the way. Crouching again, Bodie felt around in the dip for a few seconds, locating the small clips he was looking for and unfastened them then lifted the metal plate they released. Underneath was a concealed space slotted neatly into the floor of the land rover. Chris let out a low whistle at the sight.
“Why, you sneaky bastard,” Denis said in admiration. “How’d you do it?”
“It was easy enough,” Bodie told him, laying the plate to one side. “Just lifted the clamp for the wheel up a few inches for more space and cut out that part of the floor, had one of the local metal workers in Stanleyville make up a box to fit then welded it all in. Works a treat.”
Denis looked over at Patrice. “You don’t seem terribly surprised.”
Patrice grinned at him. “Will is rather ingenious at concealed spaces; you should ask him what he did before joining the mercenaries.”
Denise rolled his eyes. “I don’t think I want to know,” he said looking over at Bodie in resignation. Bodie just returned the look with the best injured innocence he could muster.
Denis laughed. “I knew there was a reason I loved you,” he said. Patrice’s grin widened a little and Bodie knew his face was flushing. Quickly he crouched down to join Chris who was busy examining the box more closely.
“It goes almost as far as the wheel shaft. There’ll be enough space for all the bags,” he said, scrambling up again.
Patrice and Mwenye had moved away from the land rover and were speaking earnestly together in Swahili, Patrice nodding when Mwenye spoke. After a few moments they came back to the window again and Mwenye looked at Bodie.
“We all put gold there?” he asked, indicating the exposed compartment.
“Yes, Mwenye. If you want to,” Bodie told him.
Mwenye nodded. “Good place,” he said.
Touched by the trust the smiling African was putting in them Bodie smiled back.
“Right, let’s get to work,” he said.
By the time Stan showed up again and the little town was staring to come out of its night’s slumber the gold was stored in its hiding place and the spare wheel sat proudly over what was arguably a small fortune.
A week later Bodie and Chris sat in a dark corner of what served as the local pub in the port town of Baraka, a shabby building set amongst palm trees and run by a morose mixed race Congolese carrying a machete in his belt.
The campaign to oust the final remnants of rebel resistance had surged forward, sweeping the rebels from their last remaining strongholds. But with that success had come the news that changed the political face of the Congo yet again. Moise Tshombe had pushed his luck too far and had been dismissed from Government, fleeing once again into exile and Joseph Mobuto staged a bloodless coup that caught everyone by surprise. Now the men were on tenterhooks, not knowing whether Mobuto would keep the mercenary forces in the country or if they would be arbitrarily expelled.
“What do you think is going to happen, Bodie?” Chris asked, wiping at his sweat covered face, the slowly revolving ceiling fan doing nothing to shift the hot clammy air. They were waiting for Denis to bring their drinks from the bar.
Bodie shrugged. “There’s an old Congo saying that if one watches the Congo River long enough the bodies of one’s enemies will go floating by. Seems like just about every Congolese politician in the last five years has done just that. Who knows what will happen? I’ll tell you something, though, I don’t want to be here to watch the next lot go by.”
“So, what do we do?” Denis cut in, setting three glasses of foaming beer down on the table.
“We take our gold and find a way out of this jungle,” Bodie told him
“No doubt you have a plan already.” Denis settled into the set next to Bodie and looked at him. Bodie took a long draught from his glass and looked back without shame, wiping foam off his mouth.
“There might just be a certain bush pilot who owes me a favour,” he said. “And who might be willing to give us a lift to the nearest outpost of civilisation for a small consideration. All we have to do is get back to Stanleyville.”
“I worry sometimes about you and your contacts, Will. You seem to know so much that borders close to the illegal it’s almost obscene,” Denis said.
“Signs of a misspent youth,” Bodie told him, unrepentant. Denis smiled and took a sip of his own beer.
“How do we get back to Stanleyville?” Chris asked.
“Don’t think we’ll have to worry about that,” Bodie said. “10 Commando are heading back there next week. I’ve already requested a transfer for us over to them. Don’t fancy staying with the 5’s under Campbell anyway.” As expected, Mike Hoare had retired and returned to South Africa, leaving the command under Captain Campbell, now Colonel – promotion came fast in the Congo.
“Um, when were you going to tell us about this transfer?” Denis asked politely.
“Telling you now, aren’t I?” Bodie put his best innocent face on. Denis laughed and ruffled Bodie’s hair, caressing his cheek in the process and Bodie leaned into it. Chris watched them, a smile on his face.
“Speaking of Stanleyville, has anyone seen Stan lately?” he asked.
“Now that you mention it, no,” Bodie frowned. “He seems to have been making himself scarce.”
“Maybe he’s decided to make a break for Sudan after all,” Denis suggested. “I’d be happier if he has.”
Bodie raised an eyebrow. “Thought you said not that long ago that he was all mouth.”
“Let’s just say I’ve revised my opinion. Patrice is right, he’s a dangerous man and I’d rather have him where I can see him or gone.”
Bodie frowned again. Hayden had been seconded to another unit the day after they found the gold in Watsa. What he had done with his own gold nobody knew. Bodie suspected his motives for transferring but hadn’t bothered to check the matter out, just pleased to be shot of him. Now he wondered if he hadn’t been too hasty.
“How much do you think it’s worth?” Chris asked. They didn’t have to question him to know he was referring to the gold.
“Enough to set us up nicely in some quiet little corner of the world,” Denis suggested.
They smiled at each other and began to make plans.
Stanleyville, the ‘Inner Station’ of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, had changed little since the bloody battle that had freed the hostages held by Simba rebels a few months before; the signs of the war were still showing in the empty houses and bomb and bullet spattered buildings.
They had been in the city for a couple of days, after spending several frustrating months patrolling the edges of Lake Tanganyika, routing out the last of the rebels, and Bodie’s plans for a quick exit were materialising. Patrice and Mwenye had been given their share of the gold when they first arrived in Stanleyville, the two Katangans having their own methods of smuggling it out to one of the neighbouring African countries. Then Bodie had met up with Pat Malloy. The expat had set up a lucrative business as a charter pilot ferrying diplomats and journalists in and out of the Congo. Pat had promised him a flight to Salisbury in two days, after his current clients had finished with him. All they had to do was sit tight and wait out the present tension that existed between the Congolese army and Katangan gendarmes.
Bodie stopped speaking for so long that Doyle started to think the tale was done, that there was nothing more Bodie would say. He was just about to ask what had happened to all this gold that was Bodie’s share and why he wasn’t living on a tropical island somewhere with Denis but decided to hold his tongue before the words were out. He regretted his flippant thoughts later and was glad that he’d not given in to temptation. But right then he was wondering why Bodie had stopped there and how he could get him going again, he had the feeling there wasn’t much more to tell and he would rather it was all finished with now, not later.
Finally Bodie stirred and rubbed at his eye with the heel of his hand, a gesture so unusual for him that Doyle could only stare, but Bodie still didn’t speak. He rose to his feet instead and walked across to the window, staring out at the darkness.
Doyle waited patiently, knowing that when he was ready, Bodie would come back out of the silent world he’d entered. His patience was reward several minutes later when he turned abruptly from the window and returned to his chair.
“Right, where was I?” he said, as if his sudden silence and introspection had never happened.
“Sitting tight in Stanleyville, waiting for a plane out,” Doyle told him.
“Ah, yes.” He started speaking again and Doyle listened with growing dismay to the end of the tale.
Stanleyville, Orientale Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
“... it was written I should be loyal to the
nightmare of my choice.”
-Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
In the end it was all too late. He never figured out afterwards how Hayden had managed to keep track of them and follow, whether he’d heard the rumours before they did and knew what was coming, or if it was fate that played into his hands, or a combination of both. Whatever the cause, the effect was devastating.
The trouble, when it came, started in the late afternoon with the sound of gunfire. Chris heard it first and came running into their quarters, interrupting Bodie and Denis’ game of cards with his excited babble.
“There’s something going on, down by the police station, there’s gunfire.”
Bodie looked up from the hand of cards he was holding. The police station was run by Katangan gendarmes; gunfire from that direction didn’t bode well.
“You sure?” asked Denis, putting his own cards down on the table.
Chris nodded. They waited, listening. All was quiet, then the sudden percussion of an explosion rocked the building, leaving an echoing vibration that melded with the sounds of automatics spitting out bullets.
“Shit!” Bodie didn’t wait for a response, just grabbed his rifle and headed for the door, the other two following close on his heels.
The scene in front of them was one of urban warfare. The sound of gunfire was everywhere and smoke billowed up from buildings further down the road that led to the barracks. Soldiers could be seen in the distance, Congolese army by the look of them. They were in pursuit of another group of soldiers that Bodie recognised as Katangan. The Katangans were returning the army’s fire, stopping every now and then to lob grenades at the advancing soldiers. Two figures broke off from the main group and starting running towards them. Bodie recognised Patrice and Mwenye. Patrice was shouting something that Bodie couldn’t make out at first so he stepped further away from their quarters, trying to make out what the Katangan was saying. Denis moved behind him with Chris not far away. Finally he could hear Patrice’s words.
“He’s coming, Will. Tshombe is returning! We are taking over Stanleyville; will you join us while we make our stand?”
Bodie stared open mouthed, his thoughts a blur. A mutiny now would ruin everything, but it was happening and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He began to level his rifle, unsure of anything other than that his friends were in trouble.
It all happened in a matter of seconds. Mwenye went down first, Patrice followed, spinning in a half circle before falling beside him. Bodie shouted, shocked and bewildered not least because the gun fire that had taken out his friends came from behind him, not in front. He jerked around in time to see Hayden standing in the shadows of the barracks his rifle turned now towards Chris. Bodie screamed, “No!” turning, moving a half step towards Chris, trying to get to him before it was too late but the sound of gunfire came again and Chris dropped like a stone. Bodie turned again towards Hayden but it was Denis who saw the thrown grenade first. His shouted “Will,” came milliseconds before he crashed into Bodie, shielding him as the grenade exploded next to them. Bodie went down, Denis on top of him.
He lay, stunned, for precious seconds, feeling the weight of his lover on his back. Then he struggled up, shifting Denis over, pulling him into his lap and wrapping his arms around the still form. There was blood on Denis’ face and his open eyes were glazed, unseeing.
Bodie moaned, a deep pain filled sound that was torn from his depths. But then he was being pulled away, dragged up and a black face was in front of him, the black eyes staring into his, the mouth wide, spittle spraying into his face. But he couldn’t understand the words being shouted, could only stare and shake his head dumbly. The man lost patience and hit Bodie in the face. That was the catalyst for more blows to be rained down on him, then kicks and the full force of rifle butts until the world faded into blackness.
He woke up hours or maybe days later floating in a sea of pain in a Congolese prison cell.
The silence in the room stretched and elongated, became a palpable barrier as Doyle’s world teetered on its axis. How could he compete with Bodie’s dead lovers? Marikka, and now Denis. They were Bodie’s reality, part of what had made him the man he’d become, part of a past that told him not to give too much of himself. Doyle understood that now more than ever before. What he was going to do with that understanding he didn’t know.
Finally he did know he would have to say something, either that or get up and walk out of the flat and out of Bodie’s life, let him go off to do whatever mad thing he had in mind to do to purge the pain and memories from his system.
Somehow that wasn’t an option, so he broke the silence and hoped his voice would break the barrier.
“I’m sorry, mate,” he said and knew immediately the inadequacy of the words, so commonly used they were a meaningless platitude. But Bodie didn’t seem to mind. He nodded and came back with another useless phrase.
“’s alright, was a long time ago.”
The seconds ticked by and neither of them spoke so Doyle tried again.
“Tshombe didn’t return, did he?” It wasn’t really a question, or rather he knew the answer already, but he waited anyway, willing Bodie to respond, to come out of his darkness. He thought at first that Bodie wasn’t going to, that he had gone so deeply into his own mind that he was no longer aware of his partner’s presence. But he waited patiently as the rain pattered on the roof and eventually Bodie shuddered slightly and lifted his gaze from where it had been fixed on the pattern cast on the coffee table by the light from the lamp.
“No, he was another of those politicians who would’ve ended up floating past on the Congo River, only for him it wasn’t the river, just a lonely death in Algeria. That first mutiny in Stanleyville was an ill-timed disaster doomed to failure from the start, only lasted a day or so before the army put it down.”
“How long were you in the prison?”
“About three months.” His eyes were dark, haunted. But once he had started talking it seemed like he couldn’t stop. “I was lucky it was only that long, it could have been years, or an execution. Not very pleasant places, Congo prisons. Their execution methods are even less pleasant. They claimed I was the one who killed Denis and Mwenye. Thankfully Chris and Patrice both survived their wounds. Hayden had disappeared, of course. The only people who could clear me were dead, badly wounded or gone, or both and the authorities didn’t want to know anyway; as far as they were concerned they had their killer and one of the mutiny ringleaders. It was Patrice who got me out in the end. Used his share of the gold for some bribes in the right places, otherwise I’d probably still be rotting in that cell.”
He did stop then and reached for the bottle of scotch, but hesitated and put it back down on the coffee table again, unopened. Doyle almost picked the bottle up himself but didn’t; he needed a clear head for what was coming.
“So Patrice was the hero,” he said instead, ignoring the sharp look Bodie gave him. He didn’t trust the African but he wasn’t quite sure why. That Bodie set such store by the man worried him.
“There was nothing left after Patrice got me out of the prison,” Bodie continued. “My Land Rover had disappeared of course, Hayden would have used it to get out of the Congo as well as for the gold.” He gave a humourless bark of laughter. “Hope the bastard had to take the thing apart to find it, though.” He stopped again, staring at nothing until he seemed ready to start again.
“Everyone, everything was gone. Chris had been airlifted to Johannesburg, badly hurt, then repatriated back to UK. Best place for him really, he was just a kid, shouldn’t have been in the Congo in the first place.”
Neither should you, Doyle thought, feeling strangely protective and wondering what it was that had driven a young Bodie to the Merchant Navy and then to a mercenary life in Africa in the first place, but he kept his thoughts and feelings to himself for the moment.
Bodie shifted in the chair continuing in the sharp quick manner he’d used before, wanting to get the recitation over with.
“In the end I stayed on in the Congo with Toussaint’s commando. There was nothing else I could do, had no money to buy my way out further than Salisbury and I wasn’t keen on getting involved at the time in their bush war. Then a year after that first disastrous mutiny a second one broke out. This one was led by Toussaint and it would have succeeded in overthrowing the army, and the government, if one of the commanders hadn’t been shot early in the piece. Anyway, in the end we had to make a run for it, all the way down to Bukavu, a resort town sitting on a lake right on the border with Rwanda. And that’s where we held out, the Congo Army surrounding us and the lake at our backs. Finally, after four months of fighting we ran out of food and ammo. That’s when the Red Cross repatriated us across the bridge to Rwanda and another five months in an internment camp in Kigali. When we were finally released I couldn’t go home so I joined up for a stint in Biafra, then Jordan.” He shrugged. “Well, you know the rest.”
Outside the room, dawn was breaking with a dull, listless light and the rain had finally stopped. Doyle thought he even heard a bird cheeping, a distant sound of early morning joy he couldn’t share.
At last he broke the new silence. “Stan Hayden is here, isn’t he, in England? That’s really what this is all about, why Patrice is here.”
Bodie’s one word answer came out roughened by a long night of speech, or perhaps it was raw emotion that made his voice break. “Yes.”
Doyle nodded, satisfied he was right but regretting that he was. He uncurled from the couch and headed to the kitchen, returning a moment later with a glass of water.
“Here,” he said, handing the glass to Bodie.
Bodie took it with a grateful smile and gulped down the contents. When he was finished, Doyle took the glass back and placed it carefully on the coffee table, next to the unopened bottle of scotch and just as carefully turned again to his partner, willing him to lift his head and look at him. When he had Bodie’s full attention he asked the questions he couldn’t put to him with the barrier of the coffee table and half the room between them.
“Tell me exactly what’s going on, Bodie. What’s Hayden doing here and what mad thing are you and Patrice planning?”
Bodie reached out and took Doyle’s hand, pulling him down to sit on the arm of the chair. He seemed calmer now, as if a weight had been lifted with the telling of his tale. He was quiet for a moment, gathering his thoughts, then he began to speak.
“Patrice has been looking for Hayden since the Congo days, but he never succeeded in finding him until a couple of months ago. When he did, he discovered the leopard hadn’t changed his spots. Stan has been up to his neck in one illegal deal after another for the past thirteen years. And his luck has never run out, though that doesn’t seem to have applied to his business partners. He’s a suspect in at least three deaths over those thirteen years; the last one was some poor black sod who’d smuggled some diamonds out of the Oranjemund mine in South West Africa. He made the mistake of going to Stan to fence the stones, only he ended up with a bullet in his head for his pains. Sound familiar?”
“So Hayden isn’t here for the benefit of his health.”
“Decidedly not. But what exactly he is up to, we’re not sure. We’ve been staking out the hotel where he’s staying for the last few days but so far there’s been nothing of any interest happening.”
“Why not just hand all this over to Cowley? If Hayden is here doing something dodgy The Cow can pull him in.”
Bodie shook his head. “Hayden’s evaded the law for years, got away with murder. No, he’s ours and we’ll take care of it.”
“What do you think he is, some kind of supercriminal?” Doyle launched himself off the arm of the chair and began an agitated pacing, suddenly angry. At Bodie, at the situation, maybe at Denis himself, though god alone knew why, the man wouldn’t have meant to die, become a martyr to Bodie’s conscience “And you still haven’t answered my question, Bodie. What are you and Patrice planning? Is it revenge you’re going after? ‘Cause, mate, if it is you’re going to be into it up to your neck and even if you get away with it Cowley’s going to find out and the least of what you’ll lose will be your job. Don’t fancy visiting you in Wormwood Scrubs for the next twenty years.”
Bodie stood up too and faced him down, grabbing onto his arm to stop the restless pacing.
“I’m not planning anything, Ray,” he said with a calmness Doyle didn’t trust. “I just know I have to confront him. We have something to settle between us. This has been hanging over my head since the Congo. Hayden murdered my friends in front of me and walked away. Tell me, what would you do?”
Doyle looked into his eyes, the blue of them deep and dark in the early morning light, edged with fatigue. He remembered watching those same eyes feverish from a knife wound while his own filled with tears and the fear of loss. He wanted to rail against fate, against his feelings for this man who seemed so dead set on exacting some kind of revenge or justice for another man long dead but he knew he was defeated before he even started and his anger evaporated as quickly as it had flared.
“Okay, I suppose there’s nothing I can say that’s going to stop you going after him. But at least I can go with you, try and keep your arse from getting shot off.”
“No, you can’t, Ray.” Bodie was adamant and Doyle knew there would be no way to change his mind, short of shooting him himself. “This is between me, Patrice and Hayden. I can’t let you get involved any more than you are already. Anyway, I need you to keep Cowley off my back.”
“Cowley! That’s not going to be easy, mate. Not if he takes a sudden interest in what you’re doing and that’s bound to happen. What am I supposed to tell him?”
“You’re very inventive, you’ll think of something.”
“Oh great, you know he’s going to have both our heads on nice shiny platters for this, don’t you?”
Bodie smiled a little and slid his hands around Doyle’s waist pulling him close. “More than likely. But it won’t be the first time and not the last either.”
Doyle rested his hands on Bodie’s arms, rubbing gently, enjoying the feel of skin under his hands. “No, it won’t. Just make sure you come back in one piece so he can.”
“I will, Sunshine. No fear of that.” Bodie’s arms grew tighter around Doyle’s waist as he pulled him close. Then he leaned in and kissed him. They rarely kissed, Doyle realised suddenly – it was always all about the sex - but this kiss of Bodie’s made up for that. It was sweet and gentle, infused with some kind of longing that Doyle couldn’t name and even more welcome for being so unexpected. He responded in kind with lips and tongue and mouth, trying his best to imprint his own mark on his lover. They stayed like that, fused together, for precious minutes. Then finally Bodie lifted his head and Doyle felt an acute sense of loss.
“You’d better go,” Bodie said.
Doyle nodded. “Yeah.” Then he remembered something that Bodie had said before. “Why couldn’t you come back to England after the internment in Rwanda?”
For the first time Bodie smiled, a genuine smile that teased at the edges. “Ah, that’s another story, for another day,” he said.
“Pillock,” Doyle told him affectionately, reluctantly moving out of the circle of Bodie’s arms. He turned for a last look at his partner before he pushed open the door, wondering to himself if that kiss had been a mere goodbye kiss, or a final kiss goodbye. He just hoped he wasn’t making a bad mistake.
Standing at the window Bodie pulled the curtain aside and watched his partner walk towards the Capri. He hadn’t wanted to involve Doyle in this crazy rollercoaster ride that could be heading to disaster, but the damn fool wouldn’t let go, would he, had been a stubborn sod since he’d known him. Mind, the man had hurled that same accusation back at him more than once. Maybe he was right, they were two of a kind, stubborn loners who had more in common than they would admit. Maybe that’s why he cared so much about the annoying sod.
He tried to shelve that thought, like he had so many times before, hide it in that compartment in his mind where he stored the other things he wanted to forget or ignore. But this time it wouldn’t stay where it was supposed to, his feelings for Doyle too close to the surface now, his emotions too raw from the memories that had come tumbling out at his partner’s bidding. But Doyle wasn’t just his partner, they had become lovers, and now he was the holder of his secrets and innermost thoughts … his soul mate. He examined that for a moment, tasting the flavour of it and decided he liked the idea and wondered if Doyle would feel the same way, when this was all over. But he knew that he didn’t deserve Doyle’s love, the same way he hadn’t deserved Denis’. He’d let Denis down in the end and now he was on his way to letting Doyle down as well.
He sighed as he dropped the curtain back into place hearing the Capri skid from the curb with a squeal of tyres even through the closed window. The sound made him smile, the daft sod always had to make an exit, didn’t he.
He headed to the bathroom and threw off the t-shirt he’d been wearing then turned the taps on. The warm water felt good on his face and he spent several seconds just splashing in it, trying to wake himself from the inertia that had soaked into him. Feeling slightly better he reached for the shaving cream.
The last few days had been as bad as any boring surveillance job The Cow could give him. They had spent hours watching Hayden’s hotel in Mayfair waiting for an opening, for a chance to get the man alone but Hayden had proven to be an uninteresting subject, remaining mostly in his room, coming out only for meals at a nearby restaurant
Not for the first time Bodie wondered what Hayden was doing here, in the UK, what business had brought him out of his bolt hole in South Africa but Patrice had claimed not to know and without the resources of CI5 to rely on Bodie hadn’t been able to make his own investigation into the matter. There was something changed about the African since those days in the Congo, a hardness that hadn’t been as evident when they were both youngsters fighting for adventure or political idealism. But then they had both changed and he wondered what Patrice saw in him now.
He drew the razor down across the foam covering his cheek, cutting a clean swathe that exposed his shaven skin. Leaning forward a little to check the effects, he found himself looking deeply into his own reflection studying the fine lines around his eyes. What had he looked like then, in Africa? Was each line he’d gained since a reflection of how many lives he had taken, how many mistakes he’d made that had cost people their lives? Had Geraldine Mather been right, was the sum total of his existence to be a killer for other men’s wars or ideals?
He set the razor in position again and drew it down in another sweep across cheek but his hand wasn’t as steady this time and he nicked a sharp edge into skin, bringing a small flow of blood to mix with the shaving cream. He watched the stain as it spread, turning white foam to red. He studied the razor, seeing the shiny edge of the blade that protruded and imagined the blade held in his hand, free of its trappings, lancing Hayden’s throat, cutting through skin and soft tissue to get to the important vein, and the red flow that would follow. He could almost smell the blood. His hate for Hayden was all that had kept him alive in that Congo prison cell, his plans for how he would take the man’s life if he ever saw him again the nourishment that kept him going. But was he killer enough now to do it? Was his hate still strong enough?
He was almost glad when the insistent jangling ring of the telephone broke into his introspection before he had time to answer his own questions or examine that particular can of worms. Wiping the foam off his face he hurried to answer.
It was Patrice.
“Will, he’s moving. Checked out of the hotel a few minutes ago and ordered a taxi.”
“Damn it, right, I’ll be there as quick as I can. Try and delay him. Okay?”
There was a pause on the line, long enough to make Bodie think his friend had decided to hang up, then Patrice was speaking again.
“There are times when you do not make things easy, William. But, I’ll do my best. Just, don’t take too long getting here.”
Bodie laughed into the receiver. “Quick as I can, mate. Quick as I can.”
“Hey, Doyle. Cowley wants you.”
Jax’s shout came over the general clamour in the rec room. It was midmorning and the room was crowded with CI5’s finest, all falling over each other to reach tea or coffee or milk, pushing and shoving like a bunch of errant schoolboys. Doyle had intended to ignore the general scrum and find a quiet corner somewhere to brood.
“Thanks, mate,” Doyle shouted back, doing a quick reverse out of the door.
He felt like brooding. In fact he felt like throwing things against the wall, not least of all his boneheaded partner, but he knew he couldn’t throw anything. Which was funny when you thought about it; normally he was the one who blew up, threw a tantrum, and Bodie the calm voice of constraint. This time he had to be the grown up, the controlled one. The role made an odd fit.
He’d tried phoning Bodie before he left for work, after a quick duck under the shower head hanging over his bath, the warm water chasing away some of the exhaustion he felt from the night. But there’d been no answer, not even the deep mellow voice of Bodie’s African mate, for which Doyle had been grateful at the time but now he thought might have been preferable to the sound of the phone ringing out into emptiness. Cowley’s summons would at least be a distraction.
Cowley was sitting at his desk in shirtsleeves, tie slightly askew, studying the papers and files that were spread out in front of him. He looked up as Doyle came in, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose with one finger. “Ah, Doyle. I see Jax found you.”
“Wasn’t exactly missing, Sir,” Doyle told him.
Cowley frowned. “Unlike your partner, it appears. Have you heard from Master Bodie recently?”
Doyle hesitated. Lying to Cowley was never a good idea, especially when there was every chance you could get caught in that lie and right now he had a feeling Cowley knew more than he pretended. He decided on a half-truth.
“Not recently, no.” Which was perfectly true if you counted the last few hours as recent. Then he took the plunge. “Why?”
Cowley studied him for a moment before speaking.
“Because, Doyle, Bodie appears to have extended his leave without bothering to inform me. Or, indeed, ask my permission. As his partner I thought you might know something about that.”
Doyle just shook his head, trying to think of a response that would please Cowley and keep his promise to Bodie. Of course there wasn’t one that could do both. The silence stretched.
Cowley sighed, a sound full of reproach and exasperation in equal measure. He opened one of the files and drew out a photo which he placed carefully on the desk in front of Doyle. It was of a man; greying, short cropped hair, late forties, stocky build. He was standing outside a Mayfair hotel.
“Do you know who this man is?”
At last, a question for which he could give Cowley an honest answer.
“No, never saw him before in my life. Who is he?”
“His name is Stiaan Vanderheiden.” Cowley told him. “He’s a South African national with known criminal associations who arrived in this country several days ago.”
“No, sorry, doesn’t ring a bell,” Doyle reiterated; he was starting to get a very bad feeling about all of this. “What’s he done?”
Cowley didn’t answer, instead he selected another photo from the same file and laid it next to the one of Vanderheiden.
“I’m sure this one will shed more light on the matter for you,” he said.
Doyle blanched as he picked it up, silently congratulating Cowley for his sense of the dramatic. The photograph was a grainy black and white and showed four men in army fatigues, holding rifles and standing next to a Land Rover. They were looking at the camera. Vanderheiden was easily recognisable and Doyle thought he knew who the young man with the pushed back helmet and smiling open face would be. It was the other two men that he focussed on, a much younger Bodie. leaning back against the vehicle, deceptively casual, rifle butt balanced on his hip, and the slightly older man standing next to him, a flop of sandy hair falling over his forehead, his hand on Bodie’s shoulder. He was leaning forward as if about to say something into Bodie’s ear.
“Now do you know who he is, Doyle?” Cowley broke into his concentration, his voice deceptively casual.
Doyle felt a momentary confusion, then drew his attention back to the subject of the discussion. “Yeah, only when this was taken he was called Stan Hayden.” He put the photo back on the desk; subterfuge seemed irrelevant now.
Cowley nodded as if something he just suspected had now been confirmed.
“What’s this all about?” Doyle asked, starting to get tired of the games both his partner and his boss were playing with him.
Cowley didn’t immediately answer, instead he stood and walked across to the window and gazed out, apparently fascinated by the drizzling rain. Eventually he turned back to face Doyle.
“I was hoping you could tell me that, Doyle,” he said. “Perhaps you could start by telling me what you know about Vanderheiden and his association with Bodie.”
Doyle hesitated, the bad feeling getting worse. “He was part of Bodie’s unit in the Congo. Only he wasn’t Vanderheiden then, his name was Hayden, like I said. There’s some history between them and Hayden left under a cloud.”
“And that’s all Bodie has told you? Did he mention that Vanderheiden, or Hayden, is now here, in the UK?”
Again Doyle hesitated and Cowley broke in before he could speak, his tone sharp and impatient.
“Come on, man. Tell me what you know. This is important.”
“Why?” Doyle shot back. “What’s Hayden or Vanderheiden or whatever his name is supposed to have done? And what’s it to do with Bodie?”
Instead of answering him straight away Cowley returned to his desk and sat down again, his expression unreadable.
“I had an interesting phone call yesterday from Chief Superintendent Wilson of the CID Fraud Squad,” he started, the sharpness gone now. “He wanted to know why CI5 was conducting their own investigation into the smuggling of South African Krugerrands into the UK by a man named Vanderheiden and why Scotland Yard hadn’t been informed of our interest. It seems that the Fraud Squad are very near to closing in on Vanderheiden and Wilson was at pains to let me know in no uncertain terms that he would brook no interference from CI5. Needless to say I had to tell him I had no idea what he was talking about. He then informed me that Agent 3.7 had been spotted conducting his own surveillance of Vanderheiden and he wanted said agent removed immediately or he would take the matter to the Minister.”
He stopped speaking and looked Doyle in the eyes, holding his gaze. “I spent most of yesterday placating Scotland Yard and all of last night in the archives, looking for any connection between Bodie and Vanderheiden, any reason why Bodie would be associating with the man.” He gestured towards the photos and files. “You know what I found. So, now do you see why I have to know what is going on, Doyle? If Bodie has gone rogue I have to know about it. Your protecting him isn’t helping either of you.”
Doyle stared at him. “You think Bodie’s involved in this gold fraud thing with Hayden, don’t you?”
“Is he?” Cowley asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Of course not!” Doyle felt his belligerence surfacing again and battled to keep it in check. Irritating Cowley any further now wasn’t going to help Bodie, though the irony of Cowley spending all night researching Bodie’s history while he had spent the night listening to that same history wasn’t lost on him. “Hayden’s a murderous bastard. Bodie had his reasons for tracking him and they weren’t because he’s up to his neck in whatever illegal activity Hayden’s involved in.”
“What were his reasons, Doyle?”
That was a question Doyle didn’t want to answer. Bodie might not be involved in Hayden’s criminal activities but it didn’t seem a good idea to reveal his intent on revenge to their boss, or Bodie’s own long ago attempt at gold smuggling.
“They’re personal, Sir. Something between Bodie and Hayden.”
“There is nothing personal in CI5, you know that. And if you don’t know it you should read the fine print in your contracts.” He picked up one of the files and cracked it sharply back down on the desk for emphasis. “These files tell a tale about Bodie and Vanderheiden. Because of Bodie’s actions he’s now under suspicion and I can’t do anything about it. Wilson is calling for an investigation at the highest level, something I can’t deny him. So, you’d better do some explaining, Doyle, if you want to get your partner off the hook.”
Doyle dropped unbidden into the chair in front of Cowley’s desk and slouched, trying to make up his mind how much to tell his boss, how much the man would accept of the truth without pressing for all of it. By the expression on Cowley’s face that wasn’t going to be a lot.
“I saw Bodie last night,” he said at last. “He told me about Hayden… Vanderheiden, about what actually happened in the Congo. Hayden killed two of his friends in cold blood before he took off and left Bodie to take the blame for it. Bodie spent months in a Congo prison because of Hayden so when he found out that he was here he went after him.”
“With what intent, Doyle?”
Doyle shrugged. “Confront him. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know that Hayden’s involved in smuggling, or if he does, he doesn’t care about that.”
“Well, his desire for revenge is in character if nothing else.” Cowley seemed resigned to his agent’s failings. “Do you know where Bodie is at the moment?”
“No, I don’t. But I think that confrontation was on the cards to happen soon.”
Cowley was quiet for a moment. “Bodie has placed himself in the centre of Wilson’s operation, whether deliberately or not,” he finally said. “And if he is involved in any way in Vanderheiden’s illegal activities he will be answerable to me and no one else. CI5 cleans its own doorstep. It also looks after its own.” He picked up the same file he’d slapped down previously to gain Doyle’s attention and opened it, shooting a quick glance inside before carefully placing it down again over the photos that were still on the desk.
“According to Wilson’s information an exchange will take place today at a meeting between Vanderheiden and his buyer and the CID will be there to catch them at it. I suggest you find Bodie before that happens and get him out of the precarious situation he’s managed to lodge himself into, preferably before irreparable damage is done.”
“How exactly am I supposed to do that, Sir? I don’t even know where either of them are.” Doyle felt a momentary bewilderment.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll find a way, laddie. But you’d best be quick, you haven’t got much time.” Cowley told him, getting up from the desk and heading to the door, pausing only to hook his jacket from the coat rack and glance back at Doyle. “In the meantime I have an urgent meeting with the Minister. You can make your own way out.” Then he was gone.
As it turned out it took Bodie ten minutes to get to the lock up where his car was garaged, the one no one knew about, another five to check his weapons stash in the boot then forty-five minutes to reach the hotel because of traffic.
Patrice was waiting for him a hundred yards from the hotel. He came out of the shadows and jumped into the passenger seat when Bodie double parked.
“Well, where is he?” Bodie asked, hoping it wasn’t too late.
“There,” Patrice told him, nodding towards the entrance of the hotel.
Bodie looked over and was in time to see Hayden getting into the back of a black London taxi.
“Well, that’s a bit of luck,” he said, pulling out again into the stream of traffic, ignoring the belligerent blare of car horns and the motorcyclist he nearly knocked off his bike.
“Luck had nothing to do with it.” Patrice sounded smug and Bodie risked a sidewise glance at him while still keeping an eye on the now rapidly moving taxi.
"So, how did you manage to keep him hanging around?”
“I stole his suitcase.”
“You what?” Bodie couldn’t keep the astonishment out of his voice.
Patrice’s smug look just got smugger, if that was possible. “I stole his suitcase,” he repeated. “Walked past, picked it up, walked off with it. By the time he realised it was gone I was in the men’s room. I left it there, it took them half an hour to find it. Then they had to order another taxi. It was easy.”
“Weren’t you worried he’d recognise you, getting that close?”
“Nah,” Patrice said and this time he was grinning. “You know all kaffirs look alike, especially to someone like Hayden. He wouldn’t have known me even if he’d stared me in the face.”
“You are one sneaky bastard,” Bodie said in admiration.
“Learnt from the best, didn’t I?” Patrice told him and Bodie felt a tightness in his chest at sudden memory. Patrice must have noticed because his smile slipped a little and a sudden bleakness filled the car.
Startled by Cowley’s sudden exit, Doyle could only stare at the closed door in consternation and wonder if the old man had finally cracked. Then he picked up the file Cowley had been so careful to place on the desk in front of him. Once he’d opened it he found himself engrossed in a detailed history of the CID’s investigation into Stiaan Vanderheiden, alias Stan Hayden and the intricacies of smuggling gold coin Krugerrands into the country, avoiding import duty and VAT then selling them for a lucrative profit. When he’d finished he knew Cowley was right, time was running out. And he knew what game his boss was playing, one that left it up to him to get Bodie out of the trouble he was surely heading for.
He left Cowley’s office ten minutes after his boss had departed, hoping he wasn’t already too late and startling Susan on his way out, who hadn’t realised he’d been left on his own in the boss's inner sanctum. He abandoned the Capri at his flat in favour of his motorbike, a much quicker ride through traffic and more inconspicuous than a car. It wasn’t until he was on his way to Mayfair that he realised no mention had been made by either Cowley or in the file about Patrice Kayembe and wondered how the African had managed to keep himself so effectively out of the sight of both the CID and his boss.
Gunning the motorbike, Doyle turned into Hanover Street just into time to see Hayden getting into a taxi. He slowed down, then veered sharply as a car pulled out in front of him, nearly taking him out. He juggled for control for a moment, in danger of going completely over, but managed to right both himself and the bike. Looking up he started to hurl a stream of invective after the departing vehicle only to recognise both the driver and passenger.
“Stupid sod,” he muttered gunning the engine again and following both taxi and Bodie at a safe distance. “I’ll kill him when I catch up with him.”
“How did it go last night with your friend?” Patrice asked after the silence had stretched.
“I told him everything.”
“Everything?” Patrice looked surprised.
Bodie nodded. “Yeah, all of it, warts and all. Funnily enough, he’s still talking to me though.”
“He must be very important to you.”
“He is that, “Bodie admitted, trying not to think about Doyle and wonder how they were going to work things out after all this was over.
“I’m glad for you, Will,” Patrice told him, reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out a packet of cigarettes. He drew one out and put it between his lips then offered the pack to Bodie.
“No thanks, mate.”
“Ah, yes. I forget, you don’t smoke any more, do you?” Patrice lit his cigarette, opening the window slightly to let the smoke drift out.
“Never did much, anyway.”
Patrice laughed. “Yeah, the first one I gave you made you choke. Thought I’d have to resuscitate you there for a while.”
”I was very young then,” Bodie said in his own defence but he was smiling at the memory.
“We both were,” Patrice said and Bodie’s smile faded a little at the thought of just how young they both had been. It seemed so long ago now.
The silence descended again after that as the cab headed out of the City of Westminster, towards the London docks. Bodie negotiated the traffic with ease, keeping the vehicle in sight but not getting too close, always letting a few cars pass and get in between them.
When the same dark blue Citroën passed them for the third time and tucked in between the cab and a grey Vauxhall Bodie finally commented.
“Either I’m imagining things or we’re not the only ones following Hayden.”
Patrice, slouched down in his seat and apparently dozing, opened one eye and fixed its gaze on Bodie. “Perhaps you are just imagining it,” he said. But he didn’t seem surprised.
“Is there something you’re not telling me, mate?”
Patrice shrugged. “There may be a police interest in Hayden.”
“What kind of police interest?”
“The kind that happens when someone starts smuggling Krugerrands into a foreign country,” Patrice told him, a half smile on his face.
“Krugerrands! You’re joking aren’t you? And the police are on to him?” Patrice just carried on smiling. “Kept that one a bit dark, didn’t you?”
“Would it have made a difference if I’d told you?”
“No probably not,” Bodie had to admit. But the news did make a difference, especially if his boss somehow got wind of Hayden’s illegal activities and his own involvement. He pushed that thought aside for the moment, Patrice’s activities and seemingly endless knowledge begging further scrutiny.
“Who do you work for, Patrice?”
“Anyone who pays me. I discovered the mercenary life can be quite profitable, especially if you’re wise in your choice of paymaster.”
“Must be an influential paymaster, considering the amount of information you’ve managed to come up with. How did you know where to find me?”
“You asked that before, Will.”
“Yeah, I did, didn’t I? Now I’d like an answer. My private telephone number is only available to my employer and the people I choose to give it to. I know I didn’t give it to you.”
Patrice pulled another cigarette out of his packet and lit it, taking several draws without speaking and Bodie wondered if he was going to answer him. But finally he did.
“Finding out about you has always been relatively easy, Will. Several foreign agencies have all your information in their files, including your contact details.” He lent his head back against the headrest and started reciting. “When you came back to the UK you joined the army and then the SAS. In 1976 you were invited by George Cowley to join the newly formed CI5, an invitation you immediately accepted, and you’ve been partnered with Raymond Doyle ever since.”
“Very impressive,” Bodie told him. “But that doesn’t explain how you came by your information.”
“You know that after our internment in Rwanda the Katangans were taken in by the Angolan military and used to fight the rebels, don’t you?” Patrice waited for Bodie’s nod before going on. “Well, I did that for a few years but got tired of working for a losing side so I started freelancing in … security. Just lately the South African Government has been very interested in methods of stopping illegal trafficking, particularly that of diamonds pilfered from of their diamond mines. That’s how I came across Hayden again. I started looking into the death of that black miner from the Oranjemund mine and that set me onto his trail.”
“You work for the South Africans?” Bodie shook his head. “That I would never have expected”
“They do pay well. Well, at least they pay me well for what I do.”
Bodie decided not to delve too much into what it was that Patrice did, what exactly ‘security’ covered. “Why didn’t you mention all this before?”
“I wasn’t sure if you’d want to know about all that, being in CI5 and all.”
“Are the South Africans part of this, do they know you’re here?”
Patrice just looked at him.
“No, I guess not. It looks like we’re both out on a limb with our bosses.”
There wasn’t much to say after that.
The taxi led them off the A13 at the Beckton junction and down a network of roads to where the old Beckton Gas Works stood, its rundown buildings and high gas holders long abandoned and left to the elements.
Bodie stopped the car and they watched as Hayden paid off the taxi driver and started walking along the road that led into the gas works carrying his suitcase. The blue Citroën had peeled off when they took the exit off the A13 and Bodie knew the police, if they were police, were keeping a distance in case Hayden realised he was being tailed. Bodie had no such qualms. No doubt there would soon be a considerable police presence in the area and Bodie knew he and Patrice didn’t have much time.
They waited a few seconds until Hayden had disappeared into the grounds of the gas works before getting out of the car. Bodie opened the boot and grabbed an Armalite to go with the Walther in his holster, and some ammunition, offering Patrice his own choice of weapon.
Patrice studied the contents of the boot. “This is quite an arsenal,” he said, staring at the remaining rifle and several hand guns nestled among the tools and rags the boot contained.
“I like to be prepared,” Bodie told him, slinging the rifle onto his shoulder by the strap.
“Obviously,” Patrice muttered as he picked up a Python Colt, checked the chamber for bullets then tucked it into the waistband of his trousers.
Bodie looked around at the abandoned buildings, disused railway tracks and looming gas holders. It seemed he’d come full circle from that other similar railway yard little more than a week ago and yet so much had happened, changed. He felt his hatred of Hayden grow and swell, a tangible thing sitting heavy in his stomach. The man had taken so much from him. Not the gold, that hadn’t mattered; it was the lives he’d stolen that were important. And perhaps now, by coming back into his life like this, he would steal much more. Brushing the thought aside, he followed as Patrice led the way into the interior of the gas works.
The ground inside was a chaos of rubbish and rubble, the buildings of the production plant in ruins, bits of rejected machinery exposed or scattered around the area. The slopes of Beckton Alps, the huge sludge heap of toxic soil, towered in the distance against a darkening sky; it looked like a storm was brewing.
They moved quickly, stepping around obstacles that lay in their path, sweeping the area, looking for a sign of where Hayden had gone. But there was nothing to be seen and no movement.
Damn, Bodie thought, he can’t have gone far.
Patrice was studying the ground, looking for signs, the spoor of their quarry, but the ground was hard, unyielding. Still he seemed to have found something because he straightened then pointed.
“He went that way.”
Patrice nodded and again Bodie followed as he led them towards a derelict building sitting on higher ground a hundred yards to their right. All the windows were broken and there were large gaping holes visible in the brickwork.
Patrice started to speak again but before he could get a word out the ground in front of him kicked up into a spray of flying dirt seconds before the report of a rifle shot reached them, stopping them in their tracks. The sense of déjà vu hit Bodie again as he dropped down beside a pile of rubble, unslinging his rifle and holding it in his hands while he looked for a sign of where the shot had come from. Patrice, crouched next to a stubby bush in the middle of a patch of untended and overlong grass nodded towards the building. “He’s in there.”
“Whoever the hell you are, just turn around and go back the way you came.” The shouted voice brought a familiarity to Bodie that scratched at his nerves and made his scalp prickle. It was a voice that had haunted his dreams for far too long.
”Stan Hayden,” Bodie shouted back. “I want to talk to you.”
Patrice looked a question at him but Bodie just shook his head. Hayden had them pinned, he’d have to try a bluff, keep him talking to give them a chance to get close to him now, or risk one or both of them being shot.
“It’s a long time since I heard that name. Who are you? What do you want?”
“Want to talk a deal with you, Hayden. Heard you’ve got gold to sell.”
“Who told you that?”
“A friend, said you were in the market to sell Krugerrands.” Bodie motioned to Patrice, signalling for him to try and circle around and come in from behind Hayden. Patrice nodded and began to move sideways, making for another pile of rubble a short distance away. He just made it behind the cover before dirt kicked up again in front of them
“Either one of you moves again, I’ll shoot them.”
Patrice looked across at Bodie and held a finger up in a circling motion, then pointed to the side of the building. Bodie shook his head. It wasn’t worth the risk.
“Come on, Stan. You’ve got an interested buyer here. I just want to make a deal with you.”
“I already have a buyer.”
“Don’t see him. Maybe he’s got cold feet.”
“I know you, don’t I?” Hayden was uncertain now, hesitant. “Who are you?”
“An old friend,” Bodie shouted, getting ready to rush across the open space of ground to the building, rifle or no rifle. This had to be finished, now. From the corner of his eye he could see Patrice tense and knew the African would join him.
Before they could make the commitment, an all too familiar voice broke the stalemate followed by two gunshots too close to call a difference between them. There was a cry of pain and the sound of something falling. Then silence.
Bodie rose from his cover, desperate and aching. He could hear his own voice scream out one word, “Doyle,” but he hardly recognised it as he ran towards the building, heedless of guns, bullets or Patrice running behind him trying to call for caution.
Doyle followed his quarry, keeping well behind, weaving in and out of the traffic with impunity. As Bodie had, he noticed the blue Citroën early on, judging it to be another tail on Hayden. Talk about the followers following the followed, he thought, confusing even himself with the conundrum.
He slowed down when they reached the gas works, slipping into a side road and propping the bike on its stand. By the time he’d secured the bike, taken off his helmet and hurried on to the main street again, Bodie, Patrice and Hayden had all disappeared, presumably into the grounds of the gas works.
He heard the first rifle shot as he approached the entrance. Throwing caution to the wind he dashed through the entrance with his gun drawn and held his breath when he saw that Bodie was down, then let it out again when he realised there was no damage done, that both men were taking cover. He fixed Hayden’s position at his first shouted command to Bodie and Patrice and began to edge his way towards the derelict building, heading towards what he hoped would be a back entrance, taking advantage of the shouted conversation to cover any noise he was making.
The ground under his feet was rough, filled with sudden dips and rocks but he managed to negotiate the distance without attracting attention. The back of the building had fallen into such disrepair that part of the wall was completely gone, leaving a large gaping hole into the interior. Doyle covered the brick strewn area with minimal noise and stepped through.
Inside the building was filled with shadow and light, darkness from the corners that were still upright and enclosed blending into faded light from the dullness of the day outside.
It took a few moments for Doyle’s eyes to adjust to the difference but once they had, he spotted Hyden crouched by one of the glassless windows, rifle balanced on the ledge, the slope of the ground giving him a perfect sight over the area below.
Aware of the imperative for action now, before Hayden got bored with a shouting match that was going nowhere, or worse, realised exactly who he was talking to and opened fire on an old enemy, Doyle edged forward trying to ease over the dusty gravelled floor without making a sound. He was only yards from Hayden when his foot slithered on some loose masonry chips, throwing him off balance for a moment and making enough noise that Hayden turned, bringing his rifle around with him, ready to aim at what had attracted him.
Doyle steadied, raised his gun hand and spoke in a loud voice.
“Drop the weapon.”
Hayden didn’t, he fired instead but he was off balance and the shot went wide. Doyle shot with more accuracy, the bullet taking Hayden high in the shoulder. He cried out and fell to his knees, the rifle falling from a useless hand.
He was moving in on the wounded man when Bodie slammed through the doorway that had no door, coming to an abrupt halt when he saw Doyle on his feet, his gaze switching to the disabled Hayden then back to Doyle again.
“You stupid bastard, you could have been killed.”
“Good to see you too, mate.” Doyle replied. Bodie gave him that look of his, the one that was a quarter contained fury and three quarters exasperation. But he didn’t say anything, instead he turned back to Hayden, who was regaining his feet again. Doyle paled as Bodie raised the armalite and pointed it at the wounded man.
“Well, if it isn’t Sergeant Will Bodie. Thought you’d still be rotting in a Congo prison.” Hayden swayed a little, his hand held against his shoulder. Blood was seeping through his fingers.
“I’m sure you did,” Bodie told him, his gun arm and concentration steady.
Doyle heard movement at the doorway and saw Patrice for the first time. The man seemed to be able to move like an unseen shadow – or a cat, here one minute, gone the next. Hayden saw him too and switched his attention from Bodie, peering through the dim light as Patrice moved further into the room.
“Patrice?” he questioned. “Thought you were dead.”
“Nearly, Hayden. You didn’t make a good enough job of it, though.”
“Pity.” Hayden dismissed Patrice from his attention as of no importance and turned back to Bodie. “Didn’t miss sweet Denise though, did I, Bodie?” he sneered. “Saw him go down like a rock, fuckin’ fag.”
“I’d shut up if I were you, Hayden,” Bodie told him.
“Bodie,” Doyle broke in hoping to distract his partner, diffuse the tension he could feel radiating from him. “The CID are on to him, mate. And you. They think you’re involved in all this. They’ll be here any minute. We’d best be getting out of here. Leave Hayden to them.”
Bodie nodded, but his hands didn’t waver as he trained the Armalite on Hayden, his finger dangerously close to depressing the trigger.
“So, what are you going to do, Bodie? Shoot me, an unarmed man?” Doyle had to give the man credit for bravado, or maybe it was just stupidity and lack of imagination.
The seconds ticked by as Bodie remained still, his face a blank mask then his finger eased off the trigger.
“I should. You’re a murdering bastard who doesn’t deserve to live.” Bodie lowered his arms, the Armalite held in steady hands but pointing to the ground now. “But, you’re not worth the bullet, Stan. I’ll let the British police have you.” He looked across at Patrice for confirmation. The African shrugged, his gun now held loosely by his side.
“We’d better move, Bodie,” Doyle told him. “They’ll be here in a minute.”
Bodie nodded then looked back at Hayden. “You’ll enjoy your stay in an English jail. It’s far more civilised than the Congo variety,” he told him, turning towards the doorway. “Come on, Patrice. Let’s get out of here.”
Doyle started to follow him, his attention on his partner, Hayden forgotten for the moment. The gunshot that echoed in the confines of the enclosed area drew it back though, and the startled look on Bodie’s face as he turned at the sound of the shot and looked to where Hayden’s body now lay.
It was stretched out on the dusty floor, arms widespread, blood still seeping from the shoulder wound. There was a neat hole in the centre of his forehead and a surprised look in the wide staring eyes. Patrice still stood in the same place, his gun still held by his side but there was no doubting where the bullet that had killed Hayden had come from.
“Why?” Bodie asked, his voice cracking a little.
Patrice looked at him, his face calm, stance relaxed. “He was going for the rifle,” he said. “You really are too trusting, Will. I think working for CI5 has softened you.”
Doyle knew he was lying and from the look on Bodie’s face, so did he. But there was no time for further questions or recriminations as the shrieking wail of sirens rent the air.
“Oh, shit,” Bodie intoned, looking out the window at the police cars that had just skidded to a halt outside the building, the drivers oblivious to the risk to tyres and differential.
“They’re at the back as well,” Doyle told him, watching another two cars pull up, dislodging more occupants, these all in uniform.
“Well, what do we do, Sunshine?” Bodie held the rifle up, balanced on his hip, while he drew the Walther from its holster with the other hand. “Go out like Butch and Sundance, shall we?”
Doyle just looked at him. Bodie lowered the guns with a feigned resigned look. “It was worth a try.”
Doyle wasn’t sure if his muttered, “Pratt,” actually reached Bodie’s ears or not but he detected the suspicion of a smile flickering on his lips. But whatever else he might have had to offer by way of escape methods was lost in the moment as Doyle suddenly realised that something, or rather someone, was missing.
“Where’s Patrice?” he said, looking around for the African. He was nowhere in sight, there were only shadows and the dead body.
Bodie shook his head. “He must have slipped out when we were distracted by your mates from the Met arriving.”
“Jammy bastard,” Doyle muttered, wondering how the man had managed to get past them and, obviously, the police who were now grouping outside.
“He always was quick on his feet,” Bodie said, reading his mind.
But there was no further time for discussion as an authoritarian voice echoed through the space, aided by the use of a loud hailer, demanding the immediate surrender of the occupants of the building.
Bodie rolled his eyes. “Bit melodramatic aren’t they?”
“C’mon, better get it over with.” Doyle walked towards the doorway, fishing out his ID. After a moment’s hesitation Bodie followed, throwing one last glance back at Hayden’s body before he joined him at the doorway, the rifle held loosely by one hand, his own ID in the other.
There were two police cars and five men taking cover behind them. At least two were armed, the guns pointed uncomfortably in their direction.
“Hold on there. We’re CI5.” Doyle shouted, taking a deep breath and a step through the opening. “We’re coming out.” He held his ID up in clear view. The police seemed unimpressed.
“Drop your weapons.” The speaker was a tall man with a rank of DCS on his uniformed shoulder.
“Superintendent Wilson?” Doyle made a guess as they cautiously stepped forward.
“That’s right. And I said, ‘Drop your weapons’.”
“You’re joking,” Bodie exclaimed but Doyle threw him a sideways glance.
“Do as he says,” he told him.
Bodie didn’t look happy but he lowered the rifle to the ground then the Walther. Doyle followed suit.
“Cowley’s lot.” Wilson walked closer, making it a point to examine the ID’s they still held up. “I should have guessed. The bisto kids, Bodie and Doyle. Where’s there’s one you’ll find the other.” His voice held an element of disdain. The other policemen had crowded around and were collecting the discarded rifle and handguns. “Where’s Vanderheiden?”
Bodie looked puzzled at Wilson’s question and opened his mouth to say something but Doyle got in first.
“He’s dead,” he said, nodding towards the derelict building. “We heard the shots but he was dead when we got here.” He shrugged. “The deal must have gone wrong and there was a shootout.”
“And the supply of Krugerrands?”
Doyle blinked, startled by own his oversight. He’d completely forgotten about the gold coins. The realisation followed that he couldn’t remember seeing Hayden’s suitcase after Patrice’s fatal shot. Judging by Bodie’s expression the same thoughts were crossing his mind.
“Gone. Whoever shot Vanderheiden must have taken them,” he said, admitting a truth more to himself than to Wilson.
The Superintendent studied them for a moment, his expression inscrutable, then he turned to the waiting DC’s. “Phillips, round up the uniforms and make a search of the area, see if you can find anything of this mysterious shooter. Coates, with me. The rest of you keep an eye on these two.”
They watched as Wilson strode into the derelict building, Coates dogging his footsteps.
With nothing better to do than wait for Wilson’s return Doyle slouched against one of the squad cars. Bodie joined him, standing with his back against the car, his arms folded. The rest of the DC’s milled around, holding onto the agent’s weapons, not sure where to look.
“Vanderheiden?” Bodie muttered the question in barely more than a whisper.
Doyle raised his eyebrows. “Uh-huh. Surprised?”
“You could say that.”
There was no time for any more as Wilson came striding back, making a bee line for them.
“Satisfied?” Doyle asked, straightening up.
“No, not nearly, Doyle. Not nearly.” If steam really could come out of a person’s ears, it would be coming out of Wilson’s. “Mr Cowley has assured me that your involvement with Vanderheiden has been purely the result of your own investigations into his activities. Personally I have my doubts. There are too many unanswered questions here, not least of all how both you two and Vanderheiden’s killer managed to get past my men.”
Bodie muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “inefficiency” but Doyle coughed at the same moment so there was some doubt. Wilson glared and carried on speaking.
“I may not be able to prove anything, but you two are now on my radar. So be warned, you’re in my sights, both of you.”
“Suitably warned, Sir. Can we have our weapons back now, if you don’t mind?” Bodie said with perfect insouciance and Doyle had to turn away to hide his grin.
The buzz of a car phone interrupted before Wilson could retaliate. Fixing them both with a stony glare he reached into the vehicle and spoke briefly into the phone.
“It’s for you,” he said waving the handset at Doyle, a smug look on his face. “It’s your boss,” he added, smile widening.
Doyle accepted the phone reluctantly. There was no salutation and the conversation was concise.
“4.5, I want you and 3.7 in my office immediately, understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” Doyle replied to a dead line.
The smirk on Wilson’s face became impossibly wide as he turned to his men.
“Give them back their toys, lads. Let them be on their way and leave us to do the real police work,” he told them, walking back towards the building and Hayden’s body.
“Better late than never,” Bodie muttered, accepting his rifle and handgun back from a grinning DC. The Superintendent hesitated, then stiffened his back and continued walking. Doyle, his own handgun safely stowed in its holster, took a grip of Bodie’s arm, hauling him away before he could do any more damage.
“Mad, is he?” Bodie asked as they made their way back through the rubble to where Bodie had parked his car.
“Cowley? Yeah, you could say so. Told you, didn’t I? Platters. Heads. Wouldn’t listen though, would you?”
“I had to do it, Ray,” Bodie told him.
“Yeah, I know,” Doyle acknowledged reluctantly. “Patrice took the Krugerrands, didn’t he?” He knew the answer but he needed Bodie to admit it too.
Bodie nodded. “Must have, if they were in that case Hayden was carrying. Suppose he reckoned he was owed it.” He paused. “What was that about Vanderheiden?”
“Something else Patrice kept from you,” Doyle told him. “Hayden goes … went by the name of Stiaan Vanderheiden now.”
Bodie looked thoughtful. “I wouldn’t have taken him for an Afrikaner,” he said. “Never really knew where he’d come from, come to think of it. We didn’t delve too deeply into people’s pasts in those days.”
They’d reached the roadway at the front of the gasworks and Bodie hesitated, looking up and down the street.
“Where the …” He started striding further down the road. “The bastard,” he muttered. “The bloody bastard.”
“What are you on about?” Doyle hurried to keep up with him.
“Patrice, that’s what I’m on about. The bastard’s stolen my car.” Bodie’s look of indignation was too much. Doyle folded, laughter bubbling up and spilling over into almost hysteria.
“It’s not funny, Raymond. I parked it right here. Now it’s gone. Had to be Patrice. Had my spare weapons in it an’ all.” Bodie’s seriousness just made Doyle laugh all the more. When he could finally speak he straightened up and patted Bodie consolingly on the arm.
“Never mind, Sunshine. We can’t always choose our friends wisely.”
Bodie glared at him, then grinned. “True,” he said. “But I still have you.”
“For now. Until you piss me off one time too many,” Doyle told him. But the threat had no bite and Bodie knew it because Doyle couldn’t help the smile that hovered around his lips.
“Hope your car’s handy,” Bodie said. “I don’t fancy going back and asking Wilson for a lift.”
“Didn’t come in a car,” Doyle told him, nodding in the direction of the side street they’d just reached and the motorcycle propped up on the side of the road.
Bodie stared. “Oh,” he said in dawning realisation. “That was you.”
“Yeah, that was me. You nearly had me off, you stupid berk,” Doyle told him but his tone softened at Bodie’s look of remorse. “Come on, before I change my mind and make you walk. Cowley’s waiting.”
Cowley was in his office, as usual, leaning back in his chair, his watchful gaze pinned on them as they entered. The overhead lights were on now, fighting against the storm cloud darkness of the day outside, reflecting off the heavy furnishings that seemed as intimidating as the man himself.
Neither of them was invited to sit down. Which suited them, it always seemed they had a slight advantage to be standing, though that inevitably turned out to be an illusion.
“I see you’ve finally decided to return to duty, Bodie.” Cowley finally said, then switching his attention to Doyle before Bodie had a chance to say anything. “And I see that you didn’t quite succeed in extricating him from Superintendent Wilson’s operation before some damage had been done, Doyle.”
Doyle just shook his head while Bodie looked stoically ahead, standing at the parade attention he sometimes couldn’t help adopting when he felt the most vulnerable.
“I’ve had Wilson’s version of events,” Cowley continued. “Now I’d like to hear yours.”
Bodie relaxed his stance enough to glance across at Doyle, knowing that he would speak up for him if need be, tell Cowley whatever he wanted to know, saving Bodie the onerous task of going over everything with their boss. But Bodie also knew he couldn’t let Doyle do that, couldn’t let him take the brunt again while he remained silent. So he started speaking, reciting the events of the past hours, leaving out nothing but his own suspicions.
Cowley remained quiet for several minutes after he’d finished. “You didn’t mention this Patrice Kayembe before, Doyle,” he finally said.
“No, Sir.” Doyle said. “Didn’t seem important at the time.”
Cowley glared at Doyle, his look one of slight disbelief. “Every detail is important, Doyle. You of all people should be aware of that.” His sigh was one of exasperation as he turned his attention back to Bodie. “You’re certain he took the suitcase with the Krugerrands, after he shot Hayden.”
“Had to have been him, there was no one else there,” Bodie told him.
“What about the South African connection. Could they be part of this, using Kayembe to play their own political games.”
“I don’t think so. Patrice was after revenge, like I was. I doubt there was anything else involved.”
“And he took that revenge for both of you.”
“Yes, Sir. He did.”
Cowley leant back in his chair and studied Bodie from head to foot. The scrutiny was unnerving but Bodie stood his ground, his gaze unflinchingly fixed on a point somewhere above Cowley’s head.
“You know that I should suspend you,” Cowley said at last. “Wilson has demanded nothing less.”
“You do not involve CI5 in your personal vendettas, under any circumstances. That should have been obvious to you from the beginning of this mess.”
Bodie felt the flippant response come to his lips without wise thought. “Wasn’t, Sir. Was on my own personal time.”
Cowley ignored him. “And you don’t involve any other operatives in those same vendettas,” he continued with barely a pause.
Bodie was about to open his mouth again but thought better of it when the light in Cowley’s eyes turned to sharp flints. Suddenly he felt bone tired. He wanted this interrogation over and done with, would accept whatever punishment Cowley meted out, and more, if he could just lie down and close his eyes. He felt Doyle move closer so that he was standing at his shoulder. The proximity brought back some of the warmth that leached out of him in the last few minutes.
“You can’t go off taking matters into your own hands, Bodie. No matter what the provocation might have been. You must see that.” Cowley’s voice had lost its sharp edge, he seemed more frustrated than angry now.
Yes, Sir,” Bodie said. “I’m sorry.” And he was. Sorry for the trouble that had been caused to Cowley and for dragging Doyle into it all, Anything beyond that he would analyse later.
Cowley seemed to sense some of what was going through his mind because his tone softened and his next words had less sting.
“Ah, well. What’s done is done,” he said, leaning forward over his desk again. “And fortunately for you, Bodie, I do not allow others to dictate matters that concern CI5 and my agents. So, under the circumstances I’ve decided not to suspend you, this time. You will, however, be spending some considerable time in records.”
Bodie breathed out a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he said, relaxing slightly now that he knew the worst. Doyle was grinning.
“You may not be so grateful when you see the backlog,” he said, then seemed to notice the paleness of Bodie’s features and the lines of fatigue for the first time. “Ach, go home, lad, before you fall over. Take Doyle with you. He’ll be useless here on his own anyway.”
He waited until they were at the door before adding, “Oh, and Bodie, there will be no more private vendettas, unless I authorise them. Is that understood.”
“Yes, Sir …Um, no, Sir,” Bodie managed to get out before Doyle yanked him through the door.
The CI5 car park was deserted, anyone having no pressing business to attend to apparently sensible enough to seek shelter indoors from the oncoming storm.
When they reached his bike Doyle pulled the spare helmet from the side pack and handed it to him, a smile hovering on his lips. “C’mon, lover. Let’s go home.”
At Doyle’s words Bodie felt a peace he hadn’t known for a long time settle over him. Hayden was dead, but not at his hand. Part of his past had died with the man, now there was time for a new beginning. One he knew he wanted Ray Doyle to be part of.
The storm hit them as they neared Doyle’s flat, the rain pelting down with a vengeance, filling the gutters with swirling water and soaking them through jackets and trousers. Bodie huddled into Doyle’s back, his arms tight around the slim waist, trusting his partner to get them home safely.
Finally they were there, in a quiet world of their own, the only sound that of the rain that drummed against the roof and pelted at the windows and the occasional hiss of the boiler. They stripped damp clothes from each other with fingers shaking from the wet and cold then stood together in the bathtub under the steaming water of the shower head, turning this way and that to warm cold chests and backs, legs and arms, touching and stroking as they did, slipping on the watery surface, flailing with the awkwardness of them both standing in the tub, trying to huddle under the warm stream of water. They spoke little, just murmured soft requests and uttered sighs of contentment as life returned to numbed extremities. They dried themselves on towels that Doyle had placed on the boiler to warm then slipped into bed.
The lay there, wrapped together, Bodie resting his head on Doyle’s chest, listening to the soft even rhythm of his heart. Doyle’s fingers traced lightly through his hair, massaging his scalp, the touch soothing, making his thoughts drift. He pulled them back into order. There was something he had to say, needed to say, before either of them slept.
“Thank you.” He murmured it against Doyle’s skin, chest hair tickling his nose.
The fingers stilled and Bodie could feel a slight change in Doyle’s posture, a subtle tensing of muscles. “What for?” he asked, the rumble of his voice an echo with his heartbeat.
There was so much Bodie wanted to say but it was jumbled now in his mind and he couldn’t pick one thing that might be more important than another so he settled for one word. “Everything.”
Doyle seemed to understand because Bodie felt his muscles relax and his only comment was a quiet “’s alright.”
But there was something else that had to be settled.
“What do you want now, Ray. For us?”
The reply came without any hesitation. “This. You and me together. Always.”
Bodie closed his eyes and felt content. “That’s all right then,” he said.
The fingers began their massage again. “Yes it is, isn’t it? Go to sleep, love.”
They woke at the same time, when night had come, the storm ended and clouds drifted across the moon, throwing passing tendrils of light and shadow on the wall.
Bodie stirred and looked up from the pillow he’d made of Doyle’s chest to find green eyes looking into his. He smiled and Doyle smiled back with a warm sweetness that made Bodie’s heart ache. He lifted up, bringing his mouth to Doyle’s for a long satisfying kiss. Doyle sighed into his mouth and Bodie deepened the kiss moved to lie on top so they were chest to chest, groin to groin, legs twined and tongue stroking tongue in slow easy movements that sent shivers down Bodie’s spine.
At last they drew away for breath and Bodie buried his face in Doyle’s hair, giving small quick kisses to the side of his face, feeling the rough scrape of stubble against his lips, until Doyle flipped him and straddled his hips. He bent down to bestow a gentle, almost chaste kiss on Bodie’s lips. “Let me,” he murmured against his mouth.
Bodie smiled as Doyle began to make love to him with slow gentle movements and touches, bringing his lips to his neck to kiss and nip, tongue probing into the hollow of his throat, mouth sweeping to lick and suck over nipples, the sensation going straight to Bodie’s cock. Then he moved further down, his breath tickling Bodie’s belly as his tongue made languid strokes in and over his belly button. Bodie moaned, a deep throated noise that echoed around the room. Doyle laughed, the sound wicked and promising, voice husky with the murmured, “Turn over, sweetheart.”
Bodie obeyed, pushing his face into the pillow to stifle more moans at the feel of Doyle’s hands on his back then a mouth pressed to the crease of his buttocks and a tongue’s invasion. There was a momentary absence before the quick cool sensation of slick fingers sent sparks flying behind his shut eyes, making him draw a knee up underneath him to allow greater access. When the fingers were withdrawn he begged. “Now. Please. Ray, love.”
Doyle eased into him, murmuring endearments, taking hold of his hips and lifting him, then pushing in with deep hard thrusts. Bodie clung to the pillow, wrapped his arms around it and hung on, feeling himself unravel, knowing he could rely on Doyle to put him back together again after. Doyle slammed in harder and Bodie whimpered out a cry of ecstasy, his voice shattering as he came. Doyle was with him all the way, pushing in one more time before Bodie felt him pulse deep inside him.
They both fell hard onto the mattress, panting, unable to move, Doyle a heavy weight on Bodie’s back, his face buried in his Bodie’s hair, breath a heavy tattoo on his neck. Then he managed to roll off dragging Bodie with him so they were lying face to face, their still frantic breaths mingling.
“That was …” Bodie started, when he could manage to get a few words out.
“Fantastic?” Doyle supplied with a smile and Bodie leaned in to give him a long lingering kiss.
“Bloody fantastic actually,” he said when they parted.
Doyle grinned, then his expression sobered and Bodie found himself looking into sea green eyes that were full of concern and an indefinable emotion.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “Are they gone now, the ghosts and nightmares?” The gentleness in his voice was almost Bodie’s undoing, the memories brought to the surface in the last few days now laid bare for scrutiny.
He was silent for a moment as images and voices played a painful echo through his mind before they finally faded and all he could see was Doyle’s frown.
“I think so. I never had a grave to mourn over for Denis or Mwenye. Don’t think I need that now.”
Doyle nodded, his frown clearing. “I love you, you know that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Bodie told him, drawing him close, unable to find the words for the moment to express what he felt. Doyle seemed to understand because he didn’t press, just burrowed more deeply into Bodie’s arms. This time Bodie lay awake watching as the dawn rose in a clearing sky and his lover slept.
Two Weeks Later
It had been another hard week of chasing criminals, endless reports – all done by Bodie because he owed Doyle that – and useless stakeouts. Now it was the dead of night and they had the weekend off, courtesy of a dubiously generous boss who seemed to have forgiven if not forgotten past indiscretions. Bodie was looking forward to it. A whole two days spent, preferably, in bed with Doyle, making up for the fact they’d not had the time or opportunity to share a sandwich, let alone a few moments of intimacy for the last ten days.
Doyle was driving, turning into Bodie’s street, home and hearth in sight, driving slowly now instead of at his usual breakneck pace, looking for a parking spot close to Bodie’s flat. There was nothing.
“Here,” Bodie told him, fishing a key out of his pocket. “Take it to the lock up. It’s not that far. I’ll put the kettle on.”
“You sure?” Doyle asked.
“Yeah, there’s plenty of space in it now,” Bodie grinned, his missing car no longer such a sore point and keeping lock ups and stashed supplies secret a thing of the past, at least as far as his partner was concerned. “Oh, and you can pick up some fish and chips on the way back,” he added. “I’m hungry.”
“Aren’t you always?” But there was no rancour in the question and the hand that settled briefly on the top of his thigh was warm and comforting.
He watched as Doyle drove off then turned to the business of unlocking his front door.
“You’re a hard man to catch alone, Will.”
The voice badly startled him, coming as it did from the shadows cast by the streetlight, making him fumble with his keys and almost drop them.
“Patrice?” His voice seemed to echo into emptiness as he moved away from the door and peered into the gloom, seeing nothing until a shape dislodged itself from between the buildings.
“Of course, who else would it be?”
Even close up now, it was almost difficult to see him, his dark features and the black clothing he was wearing blending perfectly into the blackness of the night.
“What are you doing here?” Bodie asked “Thought you’d have been long gone with your booty by now.”
“Unfinished business. I needed to speak with you, Will. Before I left, explain things.”
“Explain what, Patrice? You did whatever it was in your warped mind you thought you had to do. It’s finished now … done. What’s left to say?”
“Ah, you are angry with me.”
Bodie thought about that for a moment. “No, not really,” he said. “At least not about the gold coins or the car or even that you set Hayden up. That you set me up is a different matter.”
“You worked it out, then?”
“What? That you were Hayden’s buyer? That you knew exactly where Hayden was going that day to do his deal because you had arranged the meet in the first place? Yeah, it took a while but in the end I realised it was the only answer to all the unanswered questions. What puzzled me was how you did it. How you managed to get Hayden to go along with you.”
“He didn’t know who I was, of course. I arranged everything by phone or used an intermediary. Hayden was never the smartest tool in the shed, and he was greedy. It was easy enough to have him dancing on the end of my strings.” He paused then and looked directly at Bodie, into his eyes. “It was never my intention to set you up. Hayden yes, but not you.”
Bodie saw the truth there but it still hurt. “Then why did you do it?”
Patrice pulled the inevitable packet of cigarettes from his pocket and drew one out, but he didn’t light it straight away.
“Hayden was more of a savage than what you whites believe us Africans to be. He betrayed us. He killed our friends. Did you know Mwenye was my cousin?” When Bodie shook his head he carried on. “Mwenye and Denis had to be avenged. You knew that in Africa, as did I. But you’ve made a life here now, Will. Maybe not a perfect life but a good life. I knew you wouldn’t kill Hayden in cold blood, you had far too much to lose and too much of a conscience, you always did have that, a conscience. That’s what made us so different, even in Africa. So I kept quiet about the deal I’d set up with Hayden.” He stopped talking so he could light the cigarette.
“Then I knew when I met your Ray Doyle that what had to be done, I would have to do alone, that you wouldn’t go along with the set up and that, in the end, you wouldn’t be a party to Hayden’s death.” He shrugged then, “I had to give you the chance though, at first.”
“Funny, I didn’t know I was being tested,” Bodie told him, then carried on when Patrice didn’t respond. “Why do it all, anyway? You could just have killed Hayden in South Africa.”
Patrice blew cigarette smoke into the dank air before he answered. “You could say two birds, one stone,” he said. “This way I got Hayden and the Krugerrands and no one’s the wiser, except you.”
Bodie felt a chill in the air, a restless stir of wind that brought a shiver to his spine. “Unless I tell someone,” he said, wishing the thought away but not quite succeeding. “Would you kill me too then, Patrice? Is that why you’re here?”
Patrice burst out laughing, the sound rich and deep in the night. “Of course not,” he said. “Why would I kill you? You’re my friend and it’s not all that much of a secret. Certainly not worth a life. No. I came to make sure things were all right between us.” For the first time he looked unsure. “They are, aren’t they?
The relief was palpable. The one person he didn’t want a fight to the death with was his old friend. He smiled his reassurance. “Yes, of course. What are bullets and a fortune in Krugerrands between friends,” he quipped.
Patrice grinned and Bodie felt again the camaraderie that had always existed between them.
“And, I have to give you something back,” Patrice told him.
“Your car, of course. It’s parked two streets away, under a street light, you can’t miss it. Everything’s still inside it too, except the Python. I threw that in the Thames, wouldn’t want the wrong person to find it and make the connection to the bullet I put in Hayden.”
“You think of everything, don’t you?”
“I try. Now, I must go. There’s a cabin on a tramp steamer waiting for me and I don’t have all that much time to get there.” He moved quickly forward taking Bodie by surprise as he enfolded him in a brief hug before stepping back. “Take care, William. You’re a very lucky man. I wish you and your Ray an interesting life together. Knowing the two of you, it certainly won’t be a dull one.”
Bodie could see the white toothed gleam of Patrice’s smile as he backed away into the shadows again.
“Goodbye, Patrice,” he whispered as the last remnant of his Congo past vanished into the darkness of the night.
“Who were you talking to?”
Doyle’s voice made Bodie jump for the second time that night and he swung around to find him just inches away, a newspaper wrapped parcel under his arm.
“Nobody, just someone who wanted a light. But I told him I don’t smoke,” Bodie said, slinging an arm around Doyle’s shoulders to lead him to the door.
Doyle waited until they were inside with steaming cups of tea on the kitchen table, the fish and chips spread out in the middle for them to share.
“It was Patrice, wasn’t it?” he said around a fat chip.
“Yes,” Bodie confirmed, not surprised that Doyle had guessed. He leant over to steal a quick kiss and the chip that was in Doyle’s hand, drawing back quickly at the indignant yelp as he popped the purloined chip in his mouth. “He brought my car back. But he’s gone again.”
“What else did he say?”
Doyle looked expectantly at him and Bodie had a feeling he knew exactly what Patrice would have said. He tried it anyway.
“I asked him if he’d set Hayden up in the first place, if he was the fictitious buyer and he admitted it.”
Doyle nodded. “I’m glad you cleared that bit up with him.”
Bodie frowned. “How did you know? And why didn’t you say something?”
“I guessed. Two and two doesn’t usually make five, you know.” He popped another chip in his mouth, chewed and swallowed before carrying on. “It didn’t seem important at the time. And who was I to disillusion you about your deductive abilities?”
“Didn’t know I was in love with Sherlock Holmes,” he quipped.
“Elementary, my dear Watson.” Doyle threw a chip at him that bounced off his nose. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
The smug look on his face was too much. Bodie leant over the table again, this time pulling his lover to him, scattering chips, smatterings of fish and newspaper, stopping all protest with his mouth before pulling back. He watched those beautiful lips curve into a smile and thought of all the things that mouth could do to make him feel good, to bring him to climax or bring him kisses that made him feel loved and wanted and he knew Patrice had been right. Their life together probably wouldn’t be dull, it would certainly be dangerous and more than likely full of as many fights with each other as with the criminals and terrorists they chased. But it was their life and they were together and nothing was ever going to change that. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The truth is that I think it’s time we went to bed,” he murmured against Doyle’s mouth.
There was no reply, just a hand taking his as Doyle led the way to the bedroom.