Nigel's wife had done him proud, the cottage a gleaming example of a loving attention to detail. The horse brasses had been polished to a mirror-like shine and every surface groaned under the weight of Christmas ornaments, festive bric-a-brac and silver dishes full of sweets and nuts. There was even a fire burning brightly in the large stone fireplace, its flames reflecting softly in the glass baubles adorning the pièce de résistance, a six feet tall Christmas tree. The pantry and the fridge were bursting at the seams and the drinks cabinet harboured a sea of booze. There were enough provisions for a small army rather than for the four guests that had been expected, even if one of them was Bodie.
The cottage was, quite simply, beautiful. Still, slumped on the leather couch, staring blindly into the fire and ignoring the glass of twenty year old single malt clasped tightly in his hand, he had never been so miserable in his life.
He'd left the CI5 Christmas party with a simple plan, to go home to his flat, set a new Guinness world record for drinking himself into a state of oblivion, and hope that by the next day Doyle would have decided to join him in a convenient bout of amnesia. When he'd parked outside his flat he'd felt a sudden overwhelming sense of claustrophobia at the thought of going inside and had instead fished his old parka out of the boot and gone for a walk. He'd strolled slowly around the park a couple of times, carefully not thinking about Doyle, before sitting on a bench by the duck pond. He hadn't moved from that spot until he'd felt in imminent danger of freezing his balls off and then had slowly walked back to his flat. He'd been surprised to find that almost three hours had passed since he'd left the party. The phone had been ringing incessantly as he'd unlocked his door.
Anson had been waiting for him at the hospital. “Bodie! Good to—”
“How is he?”
“Not too bad, considering.”
“Considering he was run over by a car.”
“Details, Anson.” He fought the urge to shake him until his teeth rattled.
“The doctor said Doyle was lucky that he was drunk, though I think if Doyle hadn't been that drunk he probably wouldn't have stepped out in front of—”
“The doctor said...” He reminded himself that it probably wouldn't help anything to kill Anson.
“Right. Luckily, the car wasn't going that fast and the doctor said Doyle was so drunk his muscles didn't tense up when he was struck. He's got lots of cuts and bruises, including some very nasty bruising to his ribs, and he partially dislocated his left shoulder. It's amazing that he didn't break any bones.”
He gripped Anson's arm. “So Doyle's going to be all right?”
“The doctor wants to keep him overnight at least to make sure there's no hidden soft tissue damage, check he's not pissing blood or anything like that. Doyle will be bloody sore for a few weeks but they're confident he'll be all right.”
The light was off in Ray's room but Ray's body formed a sharp relief under the sheets in the light spilling in from the corridor. He’d been about to leave when he'd realized that Ray was mumbling something. He'd moved quietly closer to the bed, reluctant to wake Ray.
“No Bodie! Gerroff me. I'm not yours, you've got to stop.”
He’d fled from the room, turning to see Murphy wending his way down the corridor.
“Here you are. When we couldn't reach you Cowley sent me to relieve Anson and to keep an eye on Doyle. We think it was just an accident but it was a hit-and-run and until we're absolutely sure, Cowley doesn't want Doyle left alone. But now that you're here—”
“As it happens I was leaving, Murph, I just wanted to see for myself that he's all right. I've still got to spend tomorrow finishing up the paperwork on Schaeffer, got to do Doyle's now as well, and then we're both off duty for Christmas. Keep a close eye on him.”
As he went to walk past him, Murphy put a hand on his arm. When Bodie looked down at it, then back up at him, Murphy removed it.
“What'll I tell Doyle when he wakes up and asks where you are?”
“If he asks—”
“If he asks, tell him what I just told you and wish him a Happy Christmas for me. Tell him I'll see him when I get back.”
He'd called Murphy several times the next day to make sure that Ray really was all right. He’d known that if he stayed in London he wouldn't be able to stop himself from seeing Ray and probably making a fool out of himself, so he'd followed his original plan and gone to the cottage in Surrey.
When someone started knocking on the front door, he almost ignored it. It was only 8:00pm and he'd already been serenaded by two different sets of drunken carollers from the village. Still, he had Nigel's reputation to consider and so he heaved himself up off the couch, picking up a plate of mince pies on his way to the front door. He pasted what he hoped was a suitably festive smile on his face and flung the door open, only to find Ray leaning heavily against the doorframe with a large holdall at his feet.
“Ray, what are you—”
“Hang on a minute.” Ray turned around to wave at the car idling in the lane. Murphy waved back and drove off. “You were saying?”
“What are you doing here?”
“You invited me, remember?”
He clutched the plate of mince pies more tightly to his chest. “I meant what are you doing out of the hospital? You look like shit.”
“Happy Christmas, Ray,” Ray spoke slowly, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Good to see you mate. Why don't you come inside where it’s warm and stop freezing your balls off out here in this brass monkey weather.” Doyle stepped around him into the hall. “Let me get your bag for you, I know you must be tired. Isn't that what you meant to say?”
“Happy Christmas, Ray.” He put the plateful of mince pies down on the hall table, before picking up Ray's bag and locking the door behind them. “Let me show you up to your room.”
“Later, Bodie. Right now I need to sit down and I need a drink, not necessarily in that order.”
He pointed toward the living room and Ray shambled over to the doorway, before stopping dead in his tracks.
“Bloody hell, Bodie, just who is this friend of yours?”
“Nigel Lattimer, John Lattimer's son.”
“Lattimer's Biscuits, John Lattimer?”
“The same. I served with Nigel in the SAS, saved his life a time or two and he's grateful.”
“I should bloody well say so. It looks like Harrods exploded in here.” Ray settled slowly into the middle of the couch in front of the fire.
He remained standing, still holding Ray's bag.
“Make yourself useful, put my bag down and get me a drink.”
“Aren't you still on painkillers?”
“A cup of tea, Bodie. I could murder a cup of tea.”
He put the kettle on and then got two mugs out of the cupboard. “You want something to eat, Ray?”
“I'll take one of those mince pies for now.”
He pottered around the kitchen, straightening the already straight cutlery drawer, surveying the contents of the pantry and double checking the contents of the fridge in case the goose had made its escape while he was distracted.
“Oi, did you go to India for that tea?”
He brought the kettle back to a boil and finally made the tea. “It'll only be a few minutes more.”
He gave Ray a mug of tea and took his own to the armchair across from the couch.
“Mince pie, Bodie?”
“Sorry, forgot.” He set his mug down on the coffee table and went back out into the hallway for the mince pies, depositing them on the table before returning to the kitchen for a plate for Ray.
Ray took a large bite of mince pie and drank some of his tea. “It’s good, this. You’re not having one?”
“I'm not hungry.” He sat down again in the armchair.
“You sure you're not the one who got hit by a car?”
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I've already ate several in the company of carollers.”
“Sorry I missed them.”
He leaned forward grinning. “I'm sorry you did too. You should have seen the last lot, so wassailed off their arses that one of them fell over a bush and still kept singing ‘Silent Night’ while flat on his back.”
“Why didn't you come to the hospital, Bodie?”
He leaned all the way back in to the armchair again, tugging at the welted seam on the arm. “I did come by to make sure you were all right. You were having— you were sleeping.”
“Murph told me.”
“I wanted to get the paperwork finished on Schaeffer so we could—”
“He told me that too.”
“If it had been the other way round I'd have stayed with you and sent Murphy home.”
There was an uncomfortable silence, as he stared in to the fire, feeling Ray’s eyes on him all the time.
“Nothing to say then?”
“I thought you... we, could both do with a bit of a breather.”
Ray stared into the heart of his half-eaten mince pie sitting on the plate in front of him. “You were probably right. Help me up, Bodie.”
“'Cos I want to get up, I've only got one arm available and this bloody couch doesn't seem to want to let go of me.”
Ray was trying to wriggle his way forward off the couch. He strode across the room, took Ray's right hand in his and then slid a protective arm around his back to ease him to his feet. Once he had Ray back on his feet he shifted his arm away so fast that Ray actually swayed and almost lost his balance. He had to grab Ray again fast, causing him to grunt as Bodie made contact with his bruised ribs.
“Sorry. I didn't mean to jar you like that.”
They stood there for a couple of minutes, Bodie with his arm around Ray but still unable to meet his eyes.
He dropped his arm. “What?”
Ray started to walk slowly toward the door. “I'm exhausted and I want to go to bed while I can still manage the walk up the stairs.”
“I could always carry you up there.”
Ray turned to glare at him, eyes narrowing dangerously. “Try it and you'll be missing some teeth.”
“I'll take that as a no then.” He tried for one of his patented cocky smirks but he couldn't quite pull it off.