It was hot and crowded in the pub, and the regulars were giving the CI5 agents a wary, respectful berth, these hard-eyed young men who had invaded their space and were noisily drinking themselves into forgetfulness. There was a more frenetic air about them this evening, exacerbated by the fact that it was mostly the younger agents who were clustered around the bar. The senior agents, Murphy and Jax, Pennington, Allison and Anson, were seated at small tables off to the sides. Bodie could see Corrigan, probably telling Lucas and Lewis one of his trademark filthy stories. O’Hara was whispering into Pettifer’s ear, and she was looking bored, Bodie thought, but he was comfortable, leaning with his back to the bar, and he knew full well that she would not need him to go to her rescue. He watched everyone tolerantly, twisting slightly to avoid McCabe and Fisher, who were dancing past too close to his beer for comfort, and caught sight of his partner. His eyebrows drew together in a frown. Doyle had that look on his face already, a sort of mental indigestion, as if the noise and the year’s end were too much to bear, and he too overburdened with the world’s cares for levity.
‘All right, mate?’ he said, nudging Doyle’s elbow.
‘No, I’m not all right,’ his partner responded without looking at him.
Bodie sighed. His suspicions were confirmed: Ray Doyle was indulging in his annual fit of the moodies. He’d hoped to have avoided it this year, but apparently Doyle’s earlier bout of reasonable behaviour had now dissipated, leaving in its place a sullen, miserable git. He looked around for backup, but his colleagues were all wisely enjoying themselves elsewhere, the bastards.
‘All right, lads, all right.’ An overly-solemn Rivers had grabbed a glass and was banging it down on the table: abstractedly, Bodie had a sudden wish that it would break in his hand and sever an artery. Then perhaps this whole farce would be cut short and they could go home. He sighed and turned to face the younger agent along with all the others.
The mob of agents shuffled to their feet in what passed for silence. As the clock ticked towards midnight Rivers raised his glass.
‘Here we go, then. To absent friends.’ There was a rumble of agreement.
Rivers looked around slowly, head high.
‘Donahue,’ came the chorus raggedly, with glasses raised to honour their dead.
‘Hogan,’ repeated the group, stronger this time.
‘And here’s to us that’s left – the best!’
‘The best!’ roared Cowley’s agents as they clapped each other on the back in a show of camaraderie, all disputes and rivalries forgotten for this moment.
Doyle was watching, mouth twisted as if he’d bitten into the lemon in his gin and tonic.
‘They never even knew Hogan,’ he said bitterly, indicating the younger agents nearer the bar.
‘Ah, come on, they did.’
‘Not really. They passed him in the corridor, or at the drinks machine. They probably thought he was an old fart, waiting out his time. They didn’t know how good he was with a handgun or a knife. They didn’t know how steady he was, what a relief it was to know he was sent to back you up. And to finish like that – taken out by a car bomb!’
Bodie was getting tired of this now. ‘Give over, Doyle. Rivers and the rest, they’re doing okay.’
‘Yeah. And everyone else is enjoying themselves, so Rivers has got it right.’
And give the lad his due, thought Bodie, his timing was faultless. The rest of the pub segued into a chant of ‘Five, four, three, two, one…’ and it was midnight. The revellers round the bar were jostling each other, everyone was grabbing partners for a kiss, and his partner was still yakking on in his ear, having to shout now above the heightened noise around them, but determined to get his point over.
‘Two. That’s two good men we lost this year, Bodie. And what, three invalided out? Well, I tell you, I’m sick of it. I’m not hanging around until it’s my turn.’
‘Happy New Year, boys!’ That was one of the girls from the secretarial pool, passing them with a flirt of her skirt and a sideways glance from under lowered eyelids. Well, he couldn’t kiss his own partner here in the pub, and a little camouflage went a long way at times like this… Bodie made a dive for her, but in his turn a hard hand grabbed his arm and dragged him back.
‘Are you even fucking listening to me?’ Doyle snarled into his face.
‘Not right now, no.’ He smiled sweetly, and stepped past Doyle, towards Julie, or Fiona, whatever her name was. He’d find out.
‘Fine.’ And Doyle slammed away from him, his departure causing a few angry glares as he barged towards the exit. Then all that was left was an eddy in the smoke-filled air as the cold draught from the closing door hit the blue pall of cigarette haze in the pub, and Doyle was gone.
Every bloody year. He’d go and chivvy him out of it later. He’d be back at his flat, sitting in solitary misery in the dark, waiting for Bodie to come along and jolly him along. Again.
Well, Doyle could wait for a bit. It was time he learned to cope with New Year’s Eve like everyone else did. He didn’t have to like it, but making this fuss year after bloody year was ridiculous.
Meanwhile, there was booze to drink, and secretaries to kiss.
Bodie leaned on Doyle’s doorbell, smiling as he played his customary game of trying to replicate the latest chart Number One with the limited resources available. The smile changed to a frown as his partner’s dulcet tones failed to rasp from the speaker. He straightened up from his pie-eyed slouch by the door and scowled at the bell. He buzzed again: long-short-long. Nothing. Through the fading alcohol fumes he wondered, was Doyle home? Nonsense. He always came home to brood after the pub on New Year’s Eve, and the toast to agents killed over the last year. Could he have broken with tradition and gone elsewhere? Or was he just passed out on the floor this time? Bodie fumbled in his pocket for his keys.
Entering the flat, everything was in darkness, and Bodie was aware of all the infinitesimal signs that he was on his own. He stood for a moment, listening, testing the silence. Nothing. Not even the grumble and thump of the boiler, or the asthmatic wheeze of the heating. He moved cautiously down the hallway towards the kitchen. Nothing moved the still air other than his own stumbling passage. He flicked the light on. There was nothing out of place, but equally there was nothing to suggest that Doyle had come home and made a cup of tea, or a sandwich, or got himself a glass of water. Bodie frowned, then checked more thoroughly. The heating was turned off and the fridge was empty. He checked the bin. That was empty too – Ray had obviously taken the time to put the rubbish out. It was starting to look as though he’d had gone away for a few days, although neither of them had any leave planned. Bodie winced. Cowley would - well, he didn’t know what Cowley would do if Doyle just went AWOL. There was no precedent for it. Unless he’d already phoned the Old Man and asked for leave? Personal, immediate, urgent… Bodie couldn’t imagine how Doyle might phrase his request, nor how Cowley would respond, given the date, and Doyle’s state when last seen. He shook his aching head. The first thing to do was to check to see if Doyle really had taken himself off for a few days.
Hurrying through to the bedroom, Bodie checked the drawers. All Doyle’s clothes were still there, and his holdall was still in the cupboard. He hadn’t gone away, then. What was he missing? Bodie headed back through to the sitting room, flicking all the lights back on as he entered. He checked the room from the doorway. Then, freezing in place, Bodie spotted what he’d missed on his first pass through the flat. There on the table, under the unforgiving brilliance of the overhead light, was the evidence of Doyle’s final actions at home. His ID, his Browning and his wallet were neatly lined up next to a note. Bodie strode over and picked it up.
I’m so sorry, Bodie. I can’t do this any more. I can’t go on like this.
And, scrawled out, through and through, I love you.
The whole ratty bit of paper was screwed up, and the ink had run down one side where the paper had been wet. Bodie studied it carefully. It was not tears that had blotched the note, but whisky, he found when he sniffed the paper. Further, sticky, evidence of this could be found on the table, and on the wall, and on the floor, where scattered shards of glass caught the light with a venomous glint.
Bodie stared around the silent room. What did Doyle mean, he couldn’t go on? What, exactly, couldn’t he do any more? Like this? Like what? Thoughts scurried though his fuddled head frantically, beating at his brain one after the other until there wasn’t space in his head to think. Doyle loved him, he knew that. They didn’t talk about it, of course they didn’t, but it was there nonetheless, unspoken but so deeply part of them both that it was like breathing – you didn’t think about it, you just did it. So why were the words crossed out, scored out until the paper was almost torn through? Why had Doyle left his gun and ID? His wallet? He’d gone without even his coat, as far as Bodie could see, just his jacket, but his car and bike keys were in the jar in the kitchen where he always kept them. What the hell had happened, that Doyle wasn’t here?
He sagged down onto the settee, mind blank. He flicked the switch of Doyle’s stereo, as if the music that drifted out might somehow call him home, but the music was hurtfully reminiscent of the last time he’d seen Doyle here, outlined against the window, turning with that chip-toothed grin of his, posing deliberately to get him going. It was guitars – Steeleye Span, that was it, Gaudete, all fast and jangly until the girl’s voice sounded high and pure, singing about the birth of Christ. Bodie hit the off button viciously. It reminded him of Doyle nattering on about the blend of old and new, ancient carols and folk-rock, talking in that rough-honeyed voice until all Bodie had wanted to do was push him down to the floor and stop that perfect mouth, kiss the words out of him until – was that what Doyle had meant? Was that what he couldn’t do any more? Them?
His heart shrank to a cold knot of iron. What damage had he caused, by not following his partner earlier? He’d honestly thought it was Doyle’s annual trip down misery lane, nothing to be concerned about. What if he’d been wrong? He reached for his RT slowly, hesitantly. Doyle wouldn’t lightly forgive him if Bodie called it in and he’d just gone off on a jolly. Doyle’s RT wasn’t with his ID and gun: Bodie scrambled up from the settee and dashed to the bedroom to look for it. Perhaps he’d taken that with him, at least. He flung open the bedroom door again, hoping. But Doyle’s RT was there by the bed, where he’d left it earlier. He stood frowning, wondering whether to contact Cowley or the switchboard. Bodie trudged back to the sitting room, undecided, and picked up the note again.
His partner’s bleak despair raged up from the paper at him. Bodie crumpled it in his hand.
‘Oh, Ray, what have you done?’