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High Stakes

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High Stakes
By Dawnwind
Pros/Racing Game crossover

Chico grinned at his lover, raising a glass of the finest French Champagne, the name of which he couldn’t pronounce. The clink of their crystal goblets was a loud chime, persisting long after the tone should have died away. He groaned, trying to cover his ears, but the ringing persisted.

“Chico,” his lover murmured.

“Leave off,” he replied, clutching the stem which splintered in his hand as the dream shattered, the pleasant dinner destroyed by the ringing of the telephone.

“Get it, will you?” Sid Halley groused, burrowing deeper into the covers. “One of your stable girls phoning for a handout at half past one…” He trailed off sleepily.

Resenting that Sid assumed the call would be a former girlfriend for him, and not a potential client calling about a situation that required their private eye expertise, he pushed back the duvet to grasp the receiver. “’Allo,” he mumbled groggily, laying the phone on his pillow.

“Chico!” Her shriek nearly burst his eardrum. “’E’s dead!”

“Who?” Chico meant to ask who was calling, but his brain belatedly supplied the name Emerald. Emerald Kelly, who had, in fact, been a stable girl. Damn that Sid Halley. Point of fact, not a former girlfriend.

“Charlie!” she wailed. “You’ve got to ‘elp me shift ‘im. Coppers’ll think I done him in.”

“Emerald.” Chico sat up, nudging his lover.

Sid Halley opened one dark eye, peering at him whilst getting his bearings.

“Where are you?” Chico asked, holding the phone between him and Sid so they both could hear. “And who’s died.”

“Me boyfriend,” Emerald cried breathlessly. “We was in bed, having a go, and…’e’d been poorly all afternoon, but no problem gettin’ in the mood…”

“Sorry that he’s dead.” Chico grimaced at Sid. “But why ring me at this time in the blooming night?”

“You’re Trackdown, yeah?” Emerald sobbed. “You h’investigate racing crimes. Charlie’s the ‘ead of the club, y’know. The Jo—“

“The Jockey Club?” Sid said at the exact same time. He snatched the phone from Chico’s hand. “Emerald, it’s Sid. You’re with Lord Charles Spenser?”

“I’ve said that, ‘aven’t I?”

“Where are you right now?” Sid waved at Chico with his truncated left arm, swinging it toward the pen and pad of paper they kept on the bedside locker for such emergencies. He thrust the phone at Chico to write down the information.

Chico nodded, balancing the pad on his left knee and the phone against his right ear. “Give us the address, love,” he urged.

She hiccupped, supplying an address that was a good hour from their horse farm in Roxbye.

“It’ll take us a bit of time to get there,” Chico said gently. “We’ll be leaving straightaway. D’you mind me ringing some friends in London?”

“Not coppers!” Emerald squeaked.

“Not coppers,” Chico soothed, watching Sid jam the stump of his left arm into his bioelectric prosthetic. “Civil servants, they are. They’d be there in a trice. ‘elp you out.”

“Well…” Emerald moaned. “Just never been with a dead body before. Didn’t know…”

“You done exactly right, my love,” Chico assured, wishing he could help Sid with the arduous task. The arm was a bugger to position. Sid got it on, flexing the plastic fingers of his false hand absently. “They’re both good lads.”

~~**~~

“This the house number Chico supplied?” Bodie asked in awe, looking up at the elegant white house on Egerton Crescent. He’d never had reason to visit a residence on one of the swankiest streets in London.

“Home of Lord Charles Spenser, head of the Jockey Club.” Doyle nodded, rubbing his eyes sleepily. “Must cost a packet paying for all this.”

Bodie chuckled. Doyle longed for a rise in their salary, although exactly what he’d spend it on was a mystery. His clothes were, for the most part, from the Oxfam charity shop, and his flat was gratis, courtesy of CI5.

“Likely to throw a spanner into our weekend plans, ain’t it?” Doyle added with a grimace. He twisted his left wrist, the one with a thick chain link bracelet. The one Bodie had locked on his arm over a year ago and hadn’t removed since.

The chain signified Doyle’s willing submission to Bodie. They didn’t play erotic bondage games very often, but when they did, both enjoyed the sessions very much. They’d hired a cottage for Friday and were meant to spend the weekend in perverted bliss. As this was already one hour into Wednesday, the prospect of an investigation featuring a famous, well-connected victim didn’t bode well for holiday time on Friday.

“Any luck, this will prove straightforward. The old man’s ticker clocked out whilst tickling his wedding tackle,” Bodie said with forced bonhomie. That could happen, couldn’t it?

“Interested in putting a wager on it?” Doyle wiggled his fingers.

“You’re always about the dosh,” Bodie complained. “Fiver that we get out of here by …” he reconsidered. Paperwork alone would keep them busy all of Thursday, even if this was simply a death by natural causes. “Thursday teatime.”

“You’re on.”

Trotting up the steps to the front door, Bodie raised his hand to grab the brass knocker when the door opened a crack.

“’Oo’s there, then?” a suspicious voice asked.

“Bodie and Doyle.” Doyle shoved his identification in through the narrow space, hip checking Bodie in the process.

Stifling the urge to return the hip bounce, Bodie pushed gently on the front door, revealing a petite woman with an overabundance of dark hair. “Emerald Kelly?” he asked.

She nodded warily. If ever there was a person whose outward appearance didn’t match their name, this was she. Emerald was beautiful, no doubt about that, but Bodie had created a mental image of a freckle-faced Irish girl with red hair and green eyes. Emerald was Snow White personified: pale complexion, luminous blue eyes and enough curly black hair for two cascading past her shoulders to her waist. She clutched an old-fashioned purple silk dressing gown to her chest tightly enough to see that she was almost flat-chested, with narrow hips.

“Bloody hell, I din’ know what t’do,” she cried, scrubbing tears from her eyes. “You’re the friends Chico sent.”

“Cheers.” Doyle pocketed the ID she returned to him and glanced around the elegant townhouse.

Alert for any signs of danger, Bodie moved slightly away from his partner, scanning the long hallway toward what was presumably the kitchen and dining room. There was a lounge—or in a house like this would it be called a drawing room? He’d watched enough episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs. He ought to know those sorts of details. It was dark in the large room, but he recognised a grand piano near a cluster of uncomfortable looking chairs. Baddies might be lurking in the shadows, but he didn’t sense any other people except the distraught girl.

“Anyone else here?” he asked. “Servants? Family?”

“Mrs Lum leaves at ‘alf past seven.” Emerald swiped at her runny nose with the back of her hand. “I come after that.”

“Where’s his Lordship?” Doyle inclined his head up the main stairs. “Bedroom?”

“Yeah.” Emerald sucked on her bottom lip. “’E’d been poorly all evening, all itchy skin, dicky stomach, and the asthma, so we both thought a bit of…”

“Hanky-panky?” Bodie grinned, catching Doyle’s eye, and reading the urgency there. Doyle would suss out the crime scene, if that was what it was, whilst Bodie kept her occupied, and teased out the details.

“A little in and out never hurt nobody.” Emerald hitched several moist breaths. “Until now! ‘E kept gasping ever so strange like he couldn’t get in air. I figured ‘e was comin’, y’know?”

He did. Sex with Doyle had left Bodie short of breath on any number of occasions. “When did the symptoms begin?”

“I got here ‘alf past eight?” She looked up at a tall Grandfather clock ticking loudly in the hallway. “Brought him a curry, but he ‘ardly touched a fing. Usually loves his spicy foods.”

“So you brought the food,” Bodie established, checking off mental boxes. She could still be a suspect. However, that she’d called them and stayed in the house with a dead body—something that would send most fleeing into the night—spoke a lot for her character. “But he was already feeling sick?”

“Yeah.” She frowned, turning left and right. “Where’s Bodie?”

“I’m Bodie, he’s Doyle,” Bodie corrected as Doyle appeared on the landing above them.

“He’s certainly dead, but I don’t see what killed him,” Doyle said gravely. “Call in the squad.”

~~**~~

It was past two a.m. by the time Sid Halley drove into Egerton Crescent. He found a parking space a few streets away, which meant a hike to their destination.

“Bloody hell,” he muttered, staring up at the white house. “This is how the other half lives.”

“Your ex-father in law, Charles, got ‘imself nice enough digs,” Chico said. “Larger, I’d wager, but this one wins on the address alone.”

“CI5 have already encamped,” Sid noted. Although the organisation didn’t block off the street with crime scene tape and police officers stationed all over as the London Met would have, he had worked with CI5 often enough to recognise Bodie’s silver Capri parked at the kerb. Next to it was a discreet white panel van most probably for the lab technicians. There were regulation panda cars, as well.

A very young copper was standing guard at the front door, his fair skin pinked from the cold air and his jaw tight with strain. Must be his first murder investigation, Sid thought.

“We’re with CI5,” Chico announced cheerfully, pushing his longish blond hair off his forehead.

“Wait here,” the copper said gruffly, turning slightly toward the door and then looking back at them. “I’m not to let anyone through without identification.”

“Sid Halley,” Sid said firmly, stepping to the man’s right to grasp the door handle. “We—“

“You’re THE Sid Halley?” he gasped with unabashed hero worship. “My da used to bet on you in every race! You nearly always won!”

“Told me ‘e always won,” Chico interjected with a teasing grin.

Sid nodded, surprised the boy knew who he was. “I hope your da won a packet.” It had been five years since the race that cost him his arm, and he still missed it—the memory of riding low and fast on a powerful horse hurt as much as the phantom pain from his amputated arm. Being reminded like this could shove the air out of his lungs, the sensation quite similar to the dozens of times he was unseated during a race and landed on his back, breathless.

“Could you sign an autograph for ‘im?” the copper continued excitedly.

“Be happy to.” Sid patted his pockets for a pen, inhaling slowly.

Chico snorted and held out one from his own inner pocket. “I’ll check on the lads whilst you…” he said, slipping through the door like a waif in a storm.

“All I’ve got is my arrest book,” the copper said, holding out a battered notebook. The back cover contained several scribbled phone numbers but there was a blank space on the lower end.

“Good enough.” Sid leaned over to sign the pad he was holding, glad the young man had realised it might have been difficult for him to hold it himself. “What’s your father’s name?”

“Same as mine, Fred,” Fred explained. “Fred Bickers, senior and junior.”

“Glad to meet you, Fred Bickers.” Sid smiled. In a strange way, this throwback to his past was as much a blessing as a sadness. The pain was mitigated by recalling the good times. The wins Fred had mentioned, and there had been so many of them. Standing in the limelight had not been his favourite part, though. It had been those moments after a race, when the public went home and he spent time with the horse, head on its warm flank, brushing its mane, reliving the feeling of flying over a fence at top speed.

Signing his name, Sid glanced at the copper. “Your father still watch the races?” he asked.

“We do,” Fred answered. “Together.”

“I’ve got Faerie Lights running in two weeks,” Sid said, with a fond smile. His pretty Faerie with the fiery temperament and the need for speed. “Ladbrook Hurdle, in Kempton. late November.”

“She’ll lead the pack?” Fred asked eagerly. “I’ll tell me Da.”

“Don’t know if she’ll win, but there’s a good chance she’ll place,” Sid patted Fred’s arm as he went inside. Really didn’t hurt as much as he feared to be reminded of good times.

~~**~~

“Chico!” Emerald shrieked, throwing her arms around him. “You’ve come at last. This lot’ve spread out all over the ‘ouse, taken charge.”

The place was heaving with CI5’s finest combing the house for evidence, several men Chico recognised.

“As we’d thought they would,” he said, disentangling himself from her clutches.

Emerald was a good mate, though clingy to a fault. They’d met when she’d arrived to work as a stable girl for Sid’s increasing stable of racehorses. The latest acquisition, a few months back, had been a sweet natured filly called Brown Betty. Emerald accompanied the horse from the breeder’s, apparently with ulterior motives. She cared lovingly for Betty, and then proceeded to wheedle advice on becoming a jockey from Sid.

She and Chico bonded after she introduced him to Chinese martial arts films. As a boy, Chico hadn’t the dosh to go to the cinema regularly, but he wanted to make up for it now. There were dozens of films featuring steely eyed Asian warriors battling it out with blazing fists of glory, each more exciting than the last.

“’Ow are you getting on?” he asked carefully. She’d left the security of the Halley stables for the pressure of the novice jockey world barely four weeks prior. Incredibly, she’d won two races in the last month.

“Ridin’ high until tonight.” She bit her bottom lip hard enough to blanch out the colour, looking small and scared.

“When did you take up with ‘is Lordship?” Chico asked, glancing around for his friends and surprised Sid hadn’t joined them yet.

“’E took a fancy t’me straight away,” she said with a sudden sweet smile. “I’d of never expected t’meet someone like ‘im so quickly, but ‘e were touring the stables at Market Rasen in Lincolnshire where I was riding on Eightball.”

“Of course,” he said, clicking his fingers. “Jockey Club owns that course.”

“Yeah.” She nodded, looking behind him as the door opened. “Mr ‘Alley.”

“Emerald,” Sid greeted.

“Charlie was chatting me up right off, and asked me to ‘is box for a drink after I won that day,” she continued her tale.

“Royal treatment,” Chico murmured, making eye contact with his partner. Sid’s dark gaze always grounded him, settling him into an investigation.

“Felt like a princess!” Emerald mimed sipping a cocktail. “We ate oysters and watched the last race. Thought I’d won Ascot on my first professional win.”

“You’re a good, solid rider,” Sid said proudly. “You’ll go far. But isn’t he married?”

“Charlie and ‘is missus don’t get on.” She sighed, wrinkling her nose. “She lives in Lincolnshire, ‘e stays in this ‘ouse, for the most part. We was still keeping it on the QT.”

“Which is why you arrive after the housekeeper leaves?” Ray Doyle came down the main staircase. “Sid, Chico, the action is up in his bedroom.”

“I’d wager it is most nights.” Chico chuckled. Sid sent a glare his way which only made him laugh all the harder.

Emerald nodded. “She don’t approve of Charlie’s choices, from what ‘e’d tell me.”

“We sequestered Mrs Lum in a sitting room near his Lordship’s bedroom,” Doyle said.

“Thought she’d left for the night,” Sid clarified.

“We called her back, to identify the body,” Doyle said, glancing at Emerald. “She was distraught. Had noticed that Lord Spenser wasn’t feeling well before she left last night, but he hadn’t wanted a fuss, so she said.”

“That was Charlie.” Emerald’s bottom lip trembled, tears gathering in her large blue eyes. “Ever so kind, not all ‘igh and mighty like I thought aristocrats would be. I…I ain’t never seen anyone die b’fore!” She burst into tears, running down the corridor toward the back of the house.

“I’ll see to her,” Chico said, following in her wake.

~~**~~

“What did he die from?” Sid Halley asked when Doyle ushered him into a small, sumptuously furnished bedroom.

“That, my friend,” Bodie came over to shake his hand, “is the sixty-four thousand dollar question.” He pointed to a body covered by a sheet on the king sized bed that took up much of the floor space. A tall Asian man wearing a white overall was standing by the headboard, making notes in his notebook. “Dr Yan? Give us a preview?”

“Any speculation is premature, at this point,” the doctor said. “I’ll have to open him up on my table to be positive, but my suspicion is some kind of toxin.”

“He was poisoned?” Doyle asked in astonishment. At least it wasn’t contagious. Not that he’d touched the body after finding Lord Spenser curled on his side in the large bed. Emerald must have left the blankets tucked around her lover’s body when she’d phoned Sid and Chico, but Doyle had seen the reddened patches all over his shoulders and upper arms. “Poison caused the rash?”

“Possibly.” Ben Yan frowned, pocketing his pen. He donned a new set of gloves before flipping the sheet back from the body.

Bodie grimaced and Sid put his right hand to his mouth in a gesture Doyle entirely understood. He’d already seen the body far more times than he wished, and was unlikely to ever forget the sight.

Spenser was now lying on his back, his mouth agape. His lips and skin were bluish, his tongue lolling to the left. He looked like he had been in great pain just before death.

“At first, I suspected he’d had an anaphylactic reaction to something he ate or inhaled,” Yan explained, pointing a gloved finger at Spenser’s face. “But whilst he clearly had respiratory distress, and there is the rash you noted, his throat is not swollen shut nor is there edema around his tongue or lips.”

“Thank you, Doc,” Bodie said, a trifle pale around the gills. “Get on with your…”

“Autopsy,” Yan supplied concisely, signalling two burly aides to come in and cart the body away.

“Disturbing,” Sid said when he, Bodie and Doyle had gone into the hall while the body was removed. “You reckon he had some enemies?”

“What about the girl?” Doyle asked, to be the devil’s advocate. He’d only spoken to her briefly but she seemed genuinely upset. Or she could be a phenomenal actress. “Could she have possibly injected him? Slipped something into his food?” He shrugged, not at all sure how such a toxin would be administered.

“Emerald’s as fine as they come.” Sid shook his head. He took out a cigarette, lighting it one handed. “She was working for me in the stable until a month ago. Rode professionally only once or twice before the race she won on Eightball.”

“Then our Charlie’s got some very nasty friends,” Bodie intoned in a plummy accent. “The question is, why? Jockey Club may be a prestigious position, but not as if he has his hand in government matters, or large sums of cash, does he?”

“He wields quite a bit of power,” Sid answered. “Head of the governing body for all horse racing in the entire country. He holds the responsibility for devising and enforcing the rules of racing. It’s a massive industry. Millions of pounds per year.”

“Not to mention racecourses, betting offices, the like,” Doyle added. He’d never thought much about horse racing before meeting Sid and Chico. Oh, there’d been the odd bob on a race for fun, but not much more. With some sort of horse racing, either flat or steeplechase, every single weekend, and on some weekdays, across the length and breadth of England, the Jockey Club certainly did have considerable influence on the economy.

“We’ll need to inform the board of stewards, and find out if he was investigating any malfeasance,” Sid went on. “Likely, much of what he was working on will be confidential, but your lot has the clout and security clearance to look at top secret documents.”

“Cowley loves diving into another department’s paperwork,” Bodie said, nudging Doyle with a grin.

“’Eard you from downstairs,” Chico said, gaining the landing just as the covered body was manoeuvred out of the bedroom by the burly aides, Dr Yan following behind.

“Always said you were a loud bugger,” Doyle muttered, elbowing Bodie as they moved away for the procession to pass.

Sid chuckled, standing toward the back of the group.

Chico flattened himself against the opposite wall to give them space to descend, and looked up toward the ceiling as if to avoid seeing the corpse. “I was reading Racing Times a couple weeks ago…” He took a step, putting him in line with bedroom, and glanced inside. ‘Appened to be about the Jockey Club investigating…” He turned to face the other three but frowned suddenly, gazing at the floor and then the ceiling again before walking down the hallway to the far end, trailing one hand on the wall between the doors to the bedroom and the sitting room farther down.

“Gone senile, Chico?” Sid teased. “Twenty-four seems young for that sort of—“

“This wall seem off to you?” Chico asked, taking a step back to take in the entire passageway.

“In what way? It’s flat and solid,” Doyle remarked, standing next to him to see what Chico was seeing.

“This door is here.” He pointed to the bedroom door, poking his head inside for a second examination. “And that one is all the way down yonder.”

“Yes,” Bodie agreed in a grumbly way, obviously not following Chico’s logic. “Because the entries are on the opposite ends of the rooms.”

“But they aren’t,” Doyle said, not sure what Chico going on about but keen to follow. He indicated the closed door to the sitting room. “I talked to Mrs Lum in there. The door isn’t on the far end of the room.”

“Which means,” Chico spread his arms to encompass a section of the passageway wall, “there’s a large chunk of this ‘ouse that’s unaccounted for between the two rooms.”

“How the hell did you see that?” Bodie looked into the bedroom and then out into the hallway again.

“Amongst the many jobs I’ve ‘ad in me misspent youth,” Chico knocked his knuckles against the wainscoting, “was construction. Mind, I was no good at it.”

“I remember you pointing out that block of flats you helped build.” Sid smiled proudly at him.

“Hammered a few nails, and all me fingers,” Chico said, flexing his digits. “Learned more than I’ll ever want to know about load bearing walls and the like. But old ‘ouses like this one tend to have the doors at regular intervals. That bedroom’s narrower than it ought to be.”

“And if you are correct,” Doyle said, going over the dimensions in his brain. For a main bedroom, it had seemed on the small side. “And I believe you are, there’s another room between the bedroom and the sitting room.”

“Spot on.” Chico stabbed a finger at him. He ventured into the bedroom, regarding the wall behind the bed with hands on his narrow hips. His reflection in a tall mirror mimicked every movement.

Doyle, Bodie, and Sid followed, all three watching expectantly.

“Likely to be a hidden panel,” Sid suggested.

“That’s what I was thinking, squire,” Chico agreed, finger-walking up the wall between the mirror and the side of the bed.

“Ah, Victorian intrigue!” Bodie rubbed his hands together as if relishing a good mystery. “The evil lair concealed behind a bookcase.”

“And yet, no bookcase,” Doyle observed, examining the decorations and furnishing for clues. There was an immense painting directly above the bed, an original from the looks of it, but the artist had not been talented in portraiture. It portrayed Charles Spenser and a blonde woman who was presumably his wife kitted out like Renaissance royalty wearing heavy velvet clothing. Two large, ornate mirrors flanked the bed. If a person were to hide an entrance, that seemed the logical place to put it.

Bodie and Chico had obviously come to that conclusion as well and were carefully feeling around the frame of the one on the right.

“Bolted to the wall,” Chico reported.

“This one isn’t.” Sid pushed his bioelectric hand under the heavy mirror on the left, lifting it a few inches.

“Thus, it must be behind this one.” Bodie pushed his fingers around the edges of the fixture. “Is there a gap here, in the wallpaper?”

“There it is,” Chico said with satisfaction. He slid his smaller hand underneath the gilt frame, scrabbling to push inward. “I can feel a tiny depression the length of the mirror, cleverly hidden, but no latch.”

“Stand back,” Sid suggested, doing so. He pointed up at the frame, tracing the carved Celtic style patterns in the air. “It must be hidden around the mirror.”

Doyle, Bodie, Sid and Chico bunched together, staring at the gilt edging. Doyle reflected privately that had anyone else come in at that moment, the four men must appear to be staring at themselves in the mirror. As it was, he was acutely aware of Bodie’s body pressed against his backside, Bodie lightly grasping Doyle’s left wrist. The one with the heavy metal chain locked around his arm. He pressed the thick links firmly into Doyle’s flesh with the palm of his hand, and Doyle nearly went to his knees in lust.

Yet, he could see his own face in the mirror, with Chico on the right, and Sid on the left, Bodie directly behind, and none of the emotion, passion, or intensity showed in the slightest. He did close his mouth, and suddenly saw what they’d all been seeking. The frame had a repeating design of interlinked Celtic knots. All had a circular pattern of woven lines, nearly like a star inside a spiral. One of the centre spirals near the base was shinier than the others, as if someone had repeatedly rubbed a thumb print across the top.

“Here.” Doyle bent, pushing the small target.

There was a soft click and the sound of machinery coming to life. With a slight jerk, the wall behind the mirror parted, swinging toward them.

Sid shoved the door back farther. Doyle was the first inside. The room was about half the size of the bedroom, and fitted out as an office, complete with a computer and telephone.

“Wot is all this?” Chico asked, looking around at the files and stacks of paper.

“You were expecting an illicit little boudoir for bondage sex?” Bodie snorted, turning to leer at Doyle.

“Shut it, berk,” Doyle growled, his contrary cock alerting at the idea. He pressed his thighs together to remind himself he was on the job.

“Somethin’ like that.” Chico laughed. “This is right out of James Bond.”

“More than you’d think,” Bodie said seriously. He held out his hands, preventing the others from riffling through the tantalising evidence. “That report’s written in Cyrillic.”

“He’s a Russian spy?” Sid asked incredulously.

~~**~~

“Ingenious,” George Cowley murmured, inspecting the secret office. He ran a finger down the smooth side of the door.

“If he was a spy, he was deep undercover,” Bodie said. Once they’d discovered the secret room, the sense of mystery and urgency had doubled, necessitating a call to the controller. “Unless you’ve heard something?”

“Nary a whisper of anything concerning Lord Spenser. He was a womaniser, that was well known.” Cowley grimaced. “What about the housekeeper? Was she aware of this chamber?”

“Not as far as we can tell,” Bodie continued. “Doyle’s gone to fetch her.”

“Since a majority of these papers are in Russian, no fear that she’ll be able to read them,” Cowley said, moving slowly around the cramped room to examine every inch. “Treat this room as part of the crime scene.”

From the main bedroom, Bodie heard a Chinese accented voice. “What is the meaning of this? You have broken the wall!”

“So you’ve never seen this open like this before?” Doyle asked.

He and the diminutive Mrs Lum appeared around the edge of the open section of wall. The top of her head barely reached Doyle’s shoulder. She had jet black hair pulled into a severe bun and a plain black dress with a black cardigan over the top.

“How?” she asked, eyes wide with shock. “First he is dead and now…”

“Major Cowley,” Cowley said gently, holding out a friendly hand. “Mrs Lum?”

“Lin Lum,” she said with a distracted nod. “I did not know he had a computer at home, nor this telephone.” She reached out but did not touch the device. “There is one downstairs.”

Bodie glanced over at Doyle, reading his partner’s face. Both of them believed she was innocent, as was Emerald. So how had Lord Charles been poisoned? And why? Because he was Senior steward of the Jockey Club? Or this new and tantalising revelation that he might be a spy? For which side was another question? For the British? Possible, but in this era of the Cold War with Russia, all the exotically foreign looking Cyrillic books and files pointed to a more sinister answer. Had the head of the Jockey Club been a spy for the Soviet Union?

“I take it he had an office at the Jockey Club, then?” Doyle asked. “Didn’t bring his work here?”

“Of course not!” Mrs Lum drew herself up as tall as she could as if incensed at the idea of his bringing work home. “This place is dusty. I would have cleaned it up far better.”

“The Jockey Club on High Holborn here in London?” Cowley sounded as if it weren’t vitally important.

Bodie was fairly sure he and Doyle would be off to the Jockey Club headquarters as soon as there was someone there to let them into the building.

“Yes. When he wasn’t in Lambourn, Newmarket, or Epsom,” she replied, her forehead furrowed. “He worked out of any office on the racetracks owned by the JC.”

“So he could’ve encountered the…” Bodie didn’t say poison out loud with the housekeeper right there.

Doyle nodded, understanding what he meant. “Any number of places.”

“Was he in London all day today?” Bodie inquired, another thought crowding in immediately. “Was he feeling off when he left this morning?”

Mrs Lum put a finger to her cheek, pondering all the questions. “He ate breakfast before I arrived, but I washed a teacup and the bowl he’d used for muesli. When he returned about six, he mentioned that he was tired, feeling a bit off, and would have a kip until his friend came.”

“Friend?” Doyle leaned against the doorframe. “Emerald?”

“I was not…privy to his assignations,” she said with the prim dignity of a Victorian aunt. Her eyes teared suddenly as if the situation was overwhelming. “I should not judge. I think she made him happy.”

“How long have you worked with his Lordship?” Cowley asked, leading her out of the room.

“Two years.” She kept looking back over her shoulder at the hidden chamber, shaking her head in bewilderment.

“I’d like to speak to his wife, could you help me with the call?” Cowley asked. They walked out to deal with that difficult business.

She visited a few days hence,” Mrs Lum said as they went down the hallway. “They had tea, here in this room.” She flicked a hand at a cart bearing a china teapot decorated with pink roses and matching cups. A matching three tiered stand sat alongside, awaiting sandwiches and cakes. “Major, we can make the call downstairs.”

“That would work nicely,” he said, going with her.

“Something happened at the Jockey Club,” Doyle surmised when they were alone. “Our next stop, Watson?”

“How is it that you’re Holmes and I’m the sidekick?” Bodie protested, grinning even so.

“There’s the question.” Doyle nodded with a squinty eyed look. “Was Watson the sidekick or was it all a ruse? He was the writer, after all, he could have been having a go with us.”

“Conan Doyle was the writer.” Bodie stabbed an accusatory finger into his partner’s chest. “One of your lot. Watson was just his fictional persona.”

“Conan Doyle was a nutter.” Doyle walked out of the bedroom onto the landing and down the main stairs. “Believed in fairies and talking to the dead.”

“Which would be useful right about now.” Bodie hurried down the steps after him, taking only a brief moment to admire his Doyle’s luscious arse. “We could ask Spenser who poisoned him.”

“Murph!” Doyle called, seeing one of the squad by the front door. “You’ve not been here all night?”

“No, arrived with the old man.” He inclined his head upwards. “Cougan, poor ginger, had to jump out of his bed in the wee hours. His wife can’t be too pleased.”

“His wife?” Bodie countered, incensed. “I was ejected from my warm duvet. It affects my mood, it does.”

“He’s touchy about losing beauty sleep.” Doyle snickered. “Seen Halley or Barnes about?”

“Kitchen,” Murphy replied, waving as his partner Cougan trotted up to the stairs with a box for removing the evidence. “Beautiful lass was making tea all around. I’d like to see more of her.”

“You may.” Sid came toward them, sipping from a steaming mug. “She’s set to ride Faerie Lights in the Ladbrook Hurdle, in Kempton.”

“She’s not a jockey,” Murphy declared, gobsmacked.

“She is.” Sid looked over his shoulder when Chico and Emerald walked out of the kitchen. “Which means, she’s meant to have regular riding time. Any objections to her staying with us?”

Emerald had changed from the dressing gown into a tight blue woollen jumper and jeans with shiny black boots, excellent for riding a horse. Her eyes were red from crying but she had the determined air of one who was not finished by horrible events.

“At the flat in London?” Bodie specified. “Cowley will have more questions for you.” He looked over at her with a gentle smile. “Where’ll you ride?”

“I can go out on the early string near Kempton racetrack. I’ve got mates who work there,” she said. “Always a horse going wanting for a quick dash around at dawn, to get the muscles warmed up.”

“I can have Faerie Lights brought up if we have to stay longer than a day,” Sid said. “But we’ll all need rest.”

“What’s the time?” Chico was practically dozing against the wall. He yawned widely, latching onto Sid’s right arm with his left.

“Leave off,” Sid groused, pulling away.

“Just want a gander at your watch.” Chico grinned infectiously, tapping the timepiece. “Left mine in Roxbye. Whilst you and Emerald commune with the ‘orses, I’ll doss in the car.”

“Lazy sod.” Sid rolled his eyes. “It’ll be coming on seven when we get to the track. You’ll be talking to those that knew his Lordship.”

~~**~~

“E were ‘ere, yeah, why’d you want to know?” Dodger, so named because he resembled the actor Jack Wild, who’d portrayed the Artful Dodger in the 1968 movie Oliver!, limped across the yard to toss a pitchfork load of hay into an empty stall at Kempton Race Track.

He was tiny. Even Chico, who topped five foot six and ¾ inches if he stood really straight, thought so. He’d ridden once upon a time: Sid had mentioned meeting Dodger when he was new to the circuit and Dodger the old hand, but one too many falls from a horse had permanently damaged his leg.

“Did you not ‘ear? ‘E’s been found dead,” Chico said, spreading his hands in mock exasperation. Could be Dodger was going a bit deaf, as well. Bloke had to be in his fifties, if not older.

“Truly dead?” Dodger pushed back his long, straight fringe, fanning the sweat on his brow. “Thought you meant the petit mort, know what I mean?” He cackled at his own joke, then abruptly sobered at the idea the man had died. “Poor sod. ‘E were a kindly soul.”

He stabbed the fork into a pile of hay, sucking on his bottom lip. “’Ow’d he go?”

“Not been determined by the coroner yet,” Chico hedged. He wasn’t revealing any secrets. Just after they’d arrived at the racetrack, Sid had got a call on his car phone that Cowley had spoken with the Jockey Club stewards, and a statement about the senior steward’s death would be in the morning’s Times. However, the cause was still under investigation. Was it possible Yan was mistaken about the poison? Somehow, Chico doubted that.

Dodger shook his head, spreading clean straw around the stall.

“C’mon, give us the details,” Chico complained, kicking the wooden wall. “When was ‘is Lordship about? This tenner’s going wanting if I don’t have something substantial to take back to my gov’nor.”

“You still with Sid ‘Alley?” Dodger looked over his shoulder before turning on a hose to fill the trough.

“You know I am.” Chico yawned. He could have gone to sleep right there on that nice clean bed of straw, he was that tired. Sid was keeping an eye on Emerald and three or four other young jockeys galloping around a track about a mile away at the farm of some friends.

“Lord Charles was here for lunch with the manager of the course,” Dodger said, walking out of the barn to point at the grandstand. To one side was a building with a dining area out front. There were tables with white umbrellas dotting the open space, but no-one eating at this time of the morning. “There be private rooms in the back for those that need ‘em. Saw Mr Cheevers—“

“The manager?” Chico specified.

“That be ‘im. ‘E were talking with ‘is Lordship over by the fence there. Lit’le doxy following right behind ‘em, toting Lord Charles’ case.” Dodger scratched his armpit thoughtfully. “Ever so attentive she were.”

“He had a girlfriend with him?” Chico asked, wondering what he would tell Emerald.

“Nah. She must’ve been some kind of clerk, assistant? Fetched him a coffee before they went over to the meeting rooms.”

Now they were getting somewhere. Who was this woman, and what might she know about Lord Charles’ afternoon? “Did you catch her name?” he persisted. “What’d she look like?”

“They was too far away to hear much.” Dodger shaded his eyes, indicating a horse trailer driving onto the road beside the stables. “Best be—“

“The tenner’s in your pocket,” Chico said quickly, much more awake with this intriguing bit of information. “if you can describe her.”

~~**~~

The Jockey Club headquarters was a stately, old-fashioned red brick building. As with many public places in this era of the IRA and other terrorists—including potentially the USSR, Doyle mused--there were armed guards standing in the lobby. They eyed Bodie and Doyle’s identity cards with dispassion and frowned at their weapons.

“Cannot take those into the upper floors,” intoned one M Collins in a flat Norfolk accent. He was big enough to toss the two of them out by hand.

“Leave them at the desk here,” his mate N Griffin added.

“Now see here!” Bodie started.

Doyle pressed a calming hand on his arm, the metal links hidden under the cuff of his red and black checked jacket knocking against his wrist. Bodie gave him a hard stare, his eyebrow arched, but he backed off. Doyle felt an illicit thrill at dominating his master. Were they actually role playing in public? “You’ll guarantee there aren’t any armed marauders up there?” he asked lightly, taking his pistol out of the shoulder holster and handing it over to Collins grip first.

“Just your average civil servants in residence, mate.” Griffin rolled his eyes, accepting Bodie’s weapon. “They’d hardly know which end shoots out the bullets. Second floor. Talk to Mr Meijer.”

“Civil servants,” Bodie repeated, eyeing Doyle with what looked like fiendish glee as they walked to the lift. “Isn’t that what they call us?”

“You haven’t a civil bone in your body,” Doyle retorted. “Meijer is the Deputy senior Steward?” Cowley’s renowned secretary Betty had given them a list of the seven—now six—stewards of the Jockey Club.

“Reckon he got a promotion,” Bodie said.

The lift was well maintained for such an old building, without the usual creaking and groaning. They stepped out into a posh reception area. A woman with her brown hair pulled back into an elegant French knot sat at the front desk. Her eyes were reddened as if she’d been crying.

“Bodie and Doyle, CI5,” Bodie flashed her his card. “We’re here to see—“

“Mr Meijer.” She gave him a clipped nod, pointing to the hallway directly behind. “He’s expecting you.”

Meijer was a small, spare man with hardly any hair on the top of his head. Wispy blond strands wrapped from ear to ear, and he was overcompensating with a luxuriant moustache Wyatt Earp would have coveted. He looked like he’d been weighed down with a burden too heavy to lift.

“Your Major Cowley told me you’d be round,” he said sorrowfully, shaking hands with Bodie and Doyle in turn. “Such horrible news. Was it his heart?”

Doyle glanced over at his partner, not really surprised. So Cowley hadn’t warned Spenser’s colleagues. Good. That left them less suspicious of questions. “The coroner hasn’t disclosed cause of death,” he said carefully. “Did his Lordship seem unwell yesterday afternoon?”

“I didn’t speak at all with him on Tuesday,” Meijer said. “I was at Sandown racetrack the entire day. Perhaps one of my—“ He started for another office as two men came out the door together.

One was tall and thin with gleaming white hair. The other was so rotund Doyle wondered where he managed to find trousers to go around his girth.

“More stewards?” Bodie guessed.

“Mister Winter and Lord Arbuthnot,” Meijer introduced. “Were either of you in contact with Spenser?”

“John Winter,” the tall one answered. “Meant to have a meeting with him at four
but he begged off due to a headache.”

Now they were getting somewhere, Doyle thought. Spenser had symptoms at four in the afternoon but had not been so overcome that he couldn’t eat dinner at eight thirty, and sex with Emerald in the late evening. What poison would cause a slow decline like that?

Arbuthnot nodded mournfully. “Never had such a sudden death in the Jockey Club.” He had a decidedly Glaswegian accent.

“How long have you worked here?” Bodie asked.

“All of us have to be elected into the Jockey Club, and then appointed as stewards,” he explained. “We are appointed as stewards for a period of five years on the board. Lord Spenser would have finished his term in 1985.”

“So you’ve known him for at least—“ Doyle began, following the other three men into a well appointed conference room. Dark panelled walls were adorned with photographs of racehorses galloping across myriad courses. A large table had twelve chairs around the perimeter.

Bodie took up the rear, claiming a chair once the stewards had sat. Doyle leaned against a trophy case crowded with gold cups, Waterford crystal awards, and multi-coloured ribbons.

“Ten years, in my case,” Meijer put in. “Winter attended Eton with Spenser.”

“We met in similar circles even before the Jockey Club, “ Arbuthnot added. “All of us have ridden to the hounds at some point.”

“Had you any concern with his behaviour?” Bodie asked. “Before yesterday?”

“His behaviour?” Winter repeated, with a look of disdain. “His work as a steward was exemplary. He’d been involved with the horseracing world since he was in short pants. He truly understood the importance of good sportsmanship, and maintaining that the Kings’ sport is accessible to all.”

“His womanising?” Doyle said casually, watching their reactions.

“Well known.” Winter wrinkled his nose, clearly condoning the dalliances.

“He had a pretty little bird at every race,” Meijer nodded. “Stable girls, racing enthusiasts, that rare flower, the female jockey, but it was harmless. He wasn’t breaking any laws.”

Arbuthnot chuckled fondly. Doyle wondered if he had the same predilections.

“Were there any specific people he met with regularly at the track?” Bodie asked.

“You’d have to take that up with his assistant, Cassia, or his secretary, Mrs Fulham,” Meijer said, sobering again at the idea that their senior was no longer there. “I suppose I shall have to be apprised of all that was currently on his plate and what needs immediate attention.”

“You’re acting senior,” Winter agreed, briefly patting his shoulder in commiseration. “Until the members take a vote.”

“Large shoes to fill?” Doyle asked.

“Indeed.” Meijer sighed. “Mrs Fulham will be at her desk. I haven’t seen Cassia this morning.”

“Nor I.” Arbuthnot frowned, clasping his hands over his round belly like a monk at prayer. “Strange. We often seem to arrive at the same time, and she’s made me a cup of tea more than once.”

“Could she have heard about his death before you three?” Bodie leaned forward with interest.

“Doubtful. I got the call at my home because I am second in line,” Meijer said. “And told the rest once they’d arrived here. We are naturally going to have a day of mourning while funeral arrangements are made.”

“His…body may not be immediately ready,” Doyle said carefully, “Due to the sensitive nature of his death.”

“Because he was with a girl?” Arbuthnot sounded as if that couldn’t possibly be an impediment.

“Because of his title and his authority,” Bodie answered ambiguously. “We’d like to get some more background on his Lordship. Speak to this Cassia—“

“Noble,” Arbuthnot supplied.

Obviously the man had eyes for her, Doyle mused. Her absence on the day her boss died was troubling. Could she have had something to do with it?

“Quite efficient, that girl,” Meijer said, glancing at his antique pocket-watch. “Mrs Fulham would have her particulars.”

“Let me get this straight.” Winter stood, his height giving him an advantage. “You suspect foul play?”

Coming from him, it sounded straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.

Arbuthnot twiddled his fingers nervously. “I’ve got…business to attend to,” he said, and fled.

“We are simply following orders from Major Cowley to ensure that nothing is overlooked if his death becomes an issue in any of your ongoing investigations,” Bodie replied, his tone brooking no more questions.

Doyle could have kissed him, and resolved to as soon as was possible. Bodie wasn’t usually so politically astute. “I’ll take a look in his office whilst you talk to the secretary, then?” he suggested lightly.

Meijer nodded as if that closed the entire matter. “I doubt you’ll find much of any use in his office. No paperwork or files will leave this building, however.”

“Understood,” Doyle said. “Which is his--?”

“One storey above.” Winter pointed. “He had the entire floor.”

Bodie turned to Doyle and gave him a mimed ‘Wow’ as Meijer escorted them to the private lift for the “penthouse.”

They stepped out into a lobby dominated by a painting of an ungainly looking racehorse so immense that Doyle could stand in front of it and look the horse in the eye. The jockey was above his head. “Phar Lap?” he read off the caption beside the frame.

“Horse out of Australia, won more than three dozen races,” Meijer said in passing, “a particular favourite of Charlie’s.”

He walked past several more horse racing paintings, including one that Doyle realised was by Degas. Unless his art college past had led him astray, it was quite possibly an original. There were also dozens of photographs.

Bodie stopped at each, peering intently. “That’s Sid!” he called out.

Doyle looked, recognising the jockey standing by his winning mount as a much younger version of their good friend. “Eighteen if he’s a day,” he said. Halley looked on cloud nine, his distinctive dark eyes alight with stars, holding up a gold loving cup.

“You know Halley?” Meijer asked in surprise as if their stock had just risen threefold.

“He was the one who alerted us to Lord Spenser’s demise,” Doyle said.

“He’s friends with Emerald Kelly, the jockey who was with his Lordship when he passed,” Bodie finished for him.

“Bird who rode Eightball for the win on one of her first professional races,” Meijer recited from memory, tapping his forehead. “I’d assumed…”

“You’d assumed what?” Doyle pressed.

“Cassia wasn’t there last night?” Meijer asked delicately, glancing into the next room where a woman of indeterminate age with a stiffened sweep of lavender grey hair sat weeping at her desk.

Bodie shook his head.

“She reported to me going on half past five that he had taken ill and she’d see him home.” He spoke quietly so that Mrs Fulham wouldn’t hear. “She drove him in his car, or so I was led to believe.”

“Ta. We’re building a more complete picture of how his last hours went,” Doyle said. “We’ll take it from here, I’m sure you have much to do.”

“Quite.” He entered Mrs Fulham’s sanctum hesitantly. “Mrs Fulham, these are the men from CI5.”

“H’dy’do,” she muttered, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. “How can I help you uncover the truth?”

Bodie lured her away to show him recent investigation files, as well as Cassia’s work area so that Doyle could have a few undisturbed minutes alone in the inner office. It was as grand as he’d expected: a mammoth desk with a small drinks cart on the right and an actual metal safe on the left, the sort Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might have stolen. The style of the room evoked an old boys’ club, the scent of cigar smoke lingering in the air.

Approaching the desk, Doyle looked for any obvious clues to possible—what, poison? Would it be there out in the open like this? He thought that unlikely. There was a cup with dregs of tea left at the bottom. Unopened mail was scattered across the desk and the blotter, meant to be flush with the front of the desk, was askew. Not so obviously that a scuffle might have ensued but more like someone had shoved it and all the envelopes on top back from the edge.

Doyle bent down to examine it more closely and caught a whiff of…bleach? He sniffed cautiously—definitely bleach, and there were milky smears on the wood grain of the desk where someone had tried to wipe it clean. Scanning the surrounding area, he saw three small white blobs, smaller than grains of rice on the lip of the drawer just below the desktop. Looking down, he spotted a faint, irregular line of white on the Karastan carpet, as if something had fallen from the desk and then been crushed underfoot.

What the hell? Cocaine? As he’d done in his days on the drugs squad, Doyle dabbed his finger on the grains from the drawer ledge and rubbed the gum above his front teeth. Nothing, not the distinctive numbing sensation. He frowned, staring at the residue on the floor, trying to tie all the clues together.

Presumably Spenser had sat, going through his mail after returning from the racetrack. Doyle made a mental note to ask the exact time he’d got back. What else had he been doing? Drinking something other than tea? A quick glance at the drinks cart did not reveal any half drunk glasses or spilled liquor. Doyle pretended to open an envelope, tearing across one end and tipping out the contents, and his lungs froze.

Dr Yan had suspected: something he ate or inhaled, but whilst he clearly had respiratory distress…

“Bodie!” he yelled, bolting from the chair and racing to the office door.

~~**~~

Sid laughed, the delight of sitting astride a horse on a gorgeous morning filling him with pure joy. The vile nature of the investigation into Lord Spenser’s death had dropped away as he’d galloped over the slope near Kempton. Emerald, riding a sleek filly with two white socks and a distinctive tiara-like marking between her ears, galloped toward the fence on the opposite end of the grassland. Sid could just make out a blond haired man perched on the fence cheering them on.

Chico. If riding this magnificent beast, Marco Polo, had made him joyful, seeing Chico smiling in the sun flushed love through every part of his body, leaving the fingers on his right hand tingling. Or maybe he was gripping the reins too tightly. He pulled up sharply a few yards from Chico, Emerald doing the same.

“Squire,” Chico greeted, “milady.”

“You sound like a musketeer in that movie with Michael York and Oliver Reed.” Emerald giggled.

Chico pretended to thrust and parry an invisible sword left-handed. “I like to think I am.”

“Be careful with that thing, it’s sharp,” Sid joked. “You have information?’

“I do.” Chico jumped off the fence to take the reins from Sid when he dismounted. “His Lordship had lunch with the course manager and toured the place, accompanied by a bird, but our Dodger didn’t catch her name.”

“Dodger’s got rocks in ‘is ‘ead.” Emerald nuzzled her horse’s long neck. “Isn’t she a beauty? Name’s Tsarina. She’s a queen.”

“She th’one won the Hunter’s Cup as a two year old?” Chico squinted at the animal.

“She is.” Emerald cooed, stroking Tsarina’s nose.

“Learn anything else of interest, Chico, or did you fall asleep on the job?” Sid chided, walking Marco Polo in a slow circle to cool him down before taking him back to the stable.

“This mysterious bird’s about my height,” he grinned engagingly, “with blond hair that curled under. Toted Spenser’s case and his coffee.”

“Unless I miss my guess, that would be Cassia,” Emerald said over her shoulder.

“Cassia?” Sid stopped in his tracks, Marco Polo almost ploughing him over. “She’s not another girlfriend, then?”

“She’s his assistant!” Emerald replied indignantly. Tsarina snorted in dismay at her loud voice and she rubbed the horse’s flank. “His clerk, Mrs Fulham’s old enough to retire. She don’t go out to the courses.”

“You’ve met her?”

She chewed her bottom lip, thoughtfully. “No, ‘e just talks about her endlessly. I was jealous, y’know, because Charlie thinks the world of Cassia…” She inhaled sharply, likely realising she’d used the present tense, and her eyes filled with tears.

“We all need breakfast and a kip,” Sid declared, the exhaustion hitting him like a tonne of bricks. He still had to get Marco Polo back to the stable lads. “We’ll drive over to the flat in London, ring Doyle and Bodie.”

“Will do.” Chico ran the back of his hand the length of Sid’s right arm as if he were brushing off a bit of horsehair. “I’ll wait in the car whilst you clean up the ‘orses.”

Sid grinned at him, a random memory swimming to the top of his brain. “Chico, back at Spenser’s house, you were about to tell us about an article you’d read. Pertinent to the case?”

Chico stopped, giving him a blank look. Marco Polo whinnied impatiently at the delay.

“You mean the betting scandal?” Emerald asked, knuckling the tears out of her eyes. She gave Tsarina a little tug, walking her forward. “Was in the Racing Times, and other papers picked up the story, as well. Jockeys using their friends to bet on ‘orses for them, manipula’ing the odds. Then the jockey would deliberately ride slow, or pull up his mount so he’d lose to the long shot ‘e’d bet on.”

“Oi!” Chico clicked his fingers. “That’s not what I read about, but I remember it. This was on the Jockey Club conductin’ all manner of criminal investigations, particularly illegal betting. But as you and I well know,” he winked at Sid, “drugging the ‘orses, money laund’ring, and the Russian mafia, as well.”

He and Sid had helped CI5 on a case involving giving racehorses a performance enhancing drug called Equis-erithrophedrine, or Triple E, last November.

It had been one hell of a year, Sid reflected, combining the good and the bad. Chico had severely broken his arm on that case and it had taken him months to get back to full capacity as a black belt in Karate. They’d acquired Zarathustra then, and shortly after, bought their horse farm. Then two more horses joined the first when Sid and Chico worked another case with Doyle and Bodie. Now, Sid was on his way to becoming a respected trainer, with his horses entered in prestigious races. One of which Emerald would be riding in two weeks. Life was always change and upheaval.

“We need to find out exactly what the man was investigating.” Sid shook his head, “And whether that got him killed.”

“And a nice English brekkie would not go amiss.” Chico rubbed his flat belly with a mournful expression.

~~**~~

Bodie watched anxiously as CI5’s physician examined a fuming Doyle and drew a blood sample from his arm.

“Told you all, this is bloody unnecessary!” Doyle protested, holding the cotton ball in the crook of his arm until Dr Reynolds slapped Elastoplast over the wound.

“Did you obtain a medical degree when I turned my back?” Reynolds shot at him. “Cowley would have me doing thirty six hour shifts as I did in training if you’d been poisoned.” He dated and timed the label on the tube of blood. “I’ll get this to the lab, stat. You report any abnormal symptoms, particularly anaphylaxis.”

“I won’t let him out of me sight,” Bodie promised, glowering at Doyle. Of all the stupid moves the golly had done over the years, this had to be the ultimate. Putting an unknown substance in his mouth, when he bloody well knew they were on the alert for a deadly poison. Bodie’d had Spenser’s office quarantined and a hazmat team sent in to get samples.

“It was a single grain,” Doyle hissed through his teeth, jumping off the exam table.

When he wobbled slightly on the landing, Bodie’s heart stuttered against his rib cage. “Ain’t the first time you’ve nearly died, but it’s the very last time I will ever allow it to happen on my watch,” he declared, poking his finger at Doyle. At that moment, Bodie realised the master who dominated his submissive had burst through in public.

Doyle narrowed his eyes, visibly angry but he held back, clearly as aware of the charged atmosphere as Bodie was. “You can’t….” ‘command me like a slave’ went unsaid. He shot the cuff of his jacket back so the metal chain around his left wrist was visible and raised two stiff fingers at Bodie. “What I would have done to check for cocaine when I was on the drugs squad,” he said, jaw clenched. “And if it was a mistake, it was mine to make.”

Bodie met his stare, unyielding. “Doubt Cowley would see it that way.” The yearning, driving need to take Doyle hard and fast nearly doused all logical thought. Was this his dominant self or simply a desire to prove that Doyle hadn’t died yet again?

He swallowed, repressing the wanton urges. “Best we talk to Cowley, catch him up to speed.”

Doyle inhaled sharply, but when he walked past, his fingers brushed Bodie’s, re-establishing their connection, their love. They rode down in the lift, neither one saying a word.

“Berk,” Bodie said sotto voce as the lift doors opened.

“Could say the same,” Doyle replied, as mercurial as always.

Bodie flashed him a grin and they muscled their way through the entrance to Cowley’s domain side by side, Bodie’s shoulders only bumping the door frame once so that he could get through.

“A reckless, thoughtless display of arrogance,” Cowley proclaimed, his eyes as cold as glaciers. “4.5, one must always consider circumstance and procedure.”

Doyle leaned against the back wall, arms crossed over his chest like armour. He looked carved from stone, accepting the criticism as his due.

“Won’t happen again, sir,” he said formally. “We’ve gone through Spenser’s diary for the day, as well as eyewitness accounts of his whereabouts when at the Jockey Club, but for a more accurate accounting we’d like to interview his assistant, one Cassia Noble. However, she didn’t turn up at work this morning.”

“Curious.” Cowley steepled his fingers thoughtfully. “She would have had access to all aspects of his life. You suspect her?”

“Could very well be circumstantial,” Doyle put a hard inflection on the last word, “but on the other hand, she had opportunity. Means or ability, no way to know. She did escort him home when he’d taken ill at the Jockey Club.”

“Keep digging on Miss Noble,” Cowley agreed, making a note on the paper in front of him.

“You spoke to Lady Spenser?” Bodie asked, to steer the conversation away from Doyle.

“Stiff upper lip sort.” Cowley shrugged slightly. “Obviously taken aback, but putting up a good front as British women of that generation do. There are no children from the marriage, so she’d inherit the estate and monies.”

“Hardly a marriage,” Doyle said. “Lived in different cities, rarely spending time together.”

“Mrs Lum said she’d visited,” Bodie pointed out.

“True, just wouldn’t wonder she’s not all that distressed that he’s passed.” Doyle had relaxed since the dressing down from Cowley. His lean was more of a slouch. “She had her life, he had his, is all I’m saying.”

“Quite, 4.5,” Cowley nodded. “I’m awaiting preliminary reports from Dr Yan any time now.“

~~**~~

Chico slept for the entire drive to the flat he and Sid occupied whenever they were in London. It was the upper storey of an old Victorian style home, and climbing the stairs to the door blew the last cobwebs of sleep out of his brain. May have only been a short nap, but sleep had worked its magic.

Emerald and Sid, on the other hand, were wilting on their feet. Sid ducked into the bedroom and was asleep in minutes. Emerald pulled a woollen rug from the back of the sofa and closed her eyes, dead to the world.

Which left Chico on his lonesome, hungry, and restless. Which to do first—report in to CI5 or eat? He’d have chosen the latter on most days, but that would be in a kitchen with a well equipped larder. Because they’d been out in Roxbye for several months, getting Faerie Lights in shape for her big race, they hadn’t shopped for the London flat. Which meant either he made do with a tin of Heinz beans sans toast, or nipped out to the corner shop quick-like whilst the others slept.

He should call CI5 to get them up to speed. Dialling Cowley’s office, Chico pondered what to get for breakfast. Eggs and bacon would be fast and easy to fix, whenever the two jockeys awakened. As for himself, he’d murder for a strong cup of tea.

“Cowley,” the familiar voice answered.

“Barnes,” Chico responded in kind with a grin. “Returned from Kempton—”

“What can you report?” Cowley asked. “3.7 and 4.5 are present.”

“Lord Spenser arrived at the racetrack approximately 11:30 for a noon time meeting with the manager, Mr Cheevers. He toured around accompanied by a bird, before they ate.”

“It’s Bodie,” another familiar voice identified. “His assistant, Cassia?”

“Emerald guessed the same,” Chico said, “According to Dodger, she’s apparently my ‘eight, blonde, blue eyes, mole on her left cheek.”

“We spoke with several stewards at the JC,” Doyle put in. “All mentioned her, but none had a photograph, and her address on file is an hotel.”

“Bloody ‘ell,” Chico said louder than he’d meant. Across the lounge, Emerald stirred under her blue woollen rug, her dark hair like a spill of ink over the upholstery. He lowered his voice. “She was toting his case and offering him things to drink, but Dodger didn’t see them during lunch nor after.”

“According to his colleagues, he was at headquarters by four but left with Cassia, saying he was ill at half five.”

“We need to find this Cassia and demand answers,” Cowley said irritably. “Barnes, when can you and Halley be in here?”

“Couple hours, sir,” Chico replied, elated. They were one of the team again. “The jockeys are both sleeping. See you then.”

~~**~~

Betty rapped on the door and stuck her head into the office. “Major Cowley, Mr Adler is here to speak to you,” she announced.

“Adler?” Bodie repeated, glancing at Doyle.

“What does he want?” Doyle straightened in his indignation. He and Bodie had had prior encounters with MI6 operative Adler. A close mouthed bloke with a rule book shoved up his arse.

“Show him in,” Cowley said, with a sideways look at Bodie and Doyle that clearly signalled keep your tongue in your head for once.

Betty ducked out as quickly as she’d come in.

Adler was average height with brown hair, parted on the left, clean shaven and wearing a dark suit. His narrow tie struck Doyle as being wildly out of fashion. The man’s one stab at unconventionality?

“Langdon,” Cowley said cordially. “What brings you here this morning?”

“I came as soon as I heard of your investigation into Lord Charles Spenser’s death,” Adler explained, and for a moment, there was a look of sadness on his smooth face before he’d schooled his features. “There is a matter of eyes-only security here. MI6 is asking that you turn over all evidence and documents pertinent to the case immediately. We will look into the matter from here on.”

“What right d’you have? We bloody well started this, we’ll –” Bodie erupted, jumping to his feet.

“Bodie,” Cowley chided, looking sternly over his glasses like a judge on the bench. “By what authority are you taking this case?” he directed to Adler.

“MI6,” he said shortly, glowering at the three of them in turn. “I don’t have to answer questions when this is a matter of top level security.”

“I rather think you do,” Doyle chimed in, crossing his arms over his chest. He was oddly chilled and his belly was off. Wasn’t nausea, and he didn’t feel sick. It was weirdly nonspecific, but there all the same. “When the four of us in this room have top secret clearance.”

Bodie grinned savagely at his partner’s assessment. “At least, since the three of us know our security clearance, we’re only assuming yours is the same.”

Adler was boxed in and he knew it. Doyle wanted to do some sort of celebratory dance, but restrained himself.

“What was it that Lord Spenser was investigating?” Cowley asked with a glint in his blue eyes.

“As Senior Steward of the Jockey Club, he was juggling multiple high level investigations which could be put in jeopardy if prematurely halted or compromised,” Adler said, his jaw tight. “When the documents are handed over, my superior can confer with you.”

“Would this have anything to do with correspondence and articles written in Cyrillic found in his Lordship’s office?” Cowley continued, folding his hands as if he could wait for an answer all day.

Adler blanched, which Doyle found quite fascinating to watch. He’d never seen a man with the pale cream coloured skin of a Brit in winter go so completely white.

“Lord Spenser,” Bodie said with his plummy Etonian accent, ”was an operative for MI6, possibly even a double agent, wasn’t he?”

“We deal in facts, Bodie, not speculation.” Cowley raised an eyebrow, looking directly at Adler.

Drawing in a fortifying breath, Adler was obviously stalling. “How do you reckon that?”

“Found a panel with a hidden room,” Doyle answered. “And unless you play nicely with us, not going to show you how to get in.”

“I’ll have my superior—” Adler blustered

“No you won’t,” Cowley said with absolute authority. “It is not a matter of who has priority, Langdon. This is our investigation from the start. We will, of course, cede to you all matters that have nothing to do with his murder, but until then, my men must have free rein to conduct whatever interviews and inquiries necessary.”

“You know for a fact he was murdered?” Adler responded, the grief again visible. “We didn’t get—”

“Reliable intel?” Bodie prompted. “Our lot wouldn’t let you into his house?”

“And the chaps at Jockey Club wouldn’t gossip?” Doyle added, pressing the palm of his hand to his stomach. He was hungry, that was the problem. Hadn’t eaten since dinner the night before which seemed like eons ago.

Adler cleared his throat in a disgruntled fashion. “Yes, Charles Spenser worked with us. Had been for two years, but I would not call him a spy. As head of the Jockey Club, his reputation was spotless…”

“Except for that niggling problem of going after barely legal girls,” Bodie said in a loud whisper as if making an aside to Doyle.

“As an investigator,” Adler stressed. “He was well known on all the racecourses, and could ask questions without raising concerns, so he was approached.”

“By MI6,” Cowley clarified, clicking his tongue.

“We’d been observing a person of interest in a betting and possible money laundering scheme,” Adler said, holding himself very still and upright.

Like he’s reciting in class but doesn’t actually have the correct answer to the equation, Doyle thought maliciously.

“A person of Russian nationality?” Bodie pressed.

Nodding, Adler pursed his lips. “His contact’s name is Sergei Koshkin. He’s a diplomat in the Russian Embassy and owns racehorses.”

“Oi, quite possibly diplomatic immunity,” Doyle grimaced. “Which horses would those be? Front runners? Or the ones that come from behind so he can push up the odds and cash in when the horse wins?”

“Something like that,” Adler mumbled. “His best known horse is called Tsarina.”

“What I would like to see here,” Cowley said, “is reciprocity between our two agencies. We’ll give you whatever we uncover about Koshkin, and you alert us to anything that could be cause for Spenser’s murder.”

“I would think that would be patently obvious,” Adler sneered. “Someone found out he had secrets. I’d bring in Koshkin immediately.”

“We’ll keep that in mind,” Bodie said in that upper crust bored voice he got when annoyed. “Until then, we’ve other rocks to turn over.”

Adler stood stiffly, his bland effect so similar to a glare, Doyle wanted to laugh. “On that note, I will take my leave.”

“G’day.” Bodie waved with a satisfied grin as the man walked out.

“He did not give validation on our supposition that he was an agent,” Cowley said with pursed lips.

“Until Dr Yan has his report, we’ll be in the rest room,” Doyle said quickly, sliding his eyes to Bodie. Not a chance his partner would protest; Bodie could eat anytime, anywhere. Thing was, Doyle was privately wondering if this off sensation was more than hunger. Could that miniscule grain of whatever it was really cause him harm? He didn’t feel sick, just---strange. Not something he was going to admit to Bodie. At least not until there were definitive symptoms.

~~**~~

"Not much here that you’d eat.” Bodie rummaged through the half eaten sacks of crisps, and opened boxes of chocolate biscuits. “Not a swede nor leafy rocket to be seen.”

“I’ll just have a cuppa,” Doyle said, pouring hot water from the electric kettle and dunking in a PG Tip.

“We ate dinner fourteen hours ago.” Bodie popped two slices of bread into the toaster, munching on a biscuit as he did so. “Must have something in the engine or you’ll wind down. Butter or marmalade?”

“None of the above.” Doyle sunk into what Bodie referred to as the comfy chair. It was well stuffed but the sprung support on the cushion caused the seated person to practically disappear into the blue striped depths.

“You taken ill?” Bodie asked, fear that Doyle had been poisoned still too fresh. His guts flip-flopped, nearly dispelling the biscuit he’d eaten. Did Doyle look peaky or was that Bodie’s overactive imagination? He quickly grabbed the crunchy toast, passing Doyle the first and buttering the other for himself.

Doyle gave him a hard stare over the top of his teacup, then lowered the cup and took a huge bite of the toast. “Not a bit of it. Rather have a bowl of soup or a nice cheese sarnie than stale crisps and whatever that was.” He waved the toast at a takeaway box from Marks and Sparks that neither of them had investigated.

“Undoubtedly something Murph dragged in,” Bodie agreed, not completely convinced Doyle was telling the truth but willing to let it go for now. One slice of toast didn’t half fill the hole in his belly and he made inroads into seconds.

Cowley pushed through the door with Dr Yan close behind. Doyle sat up in surprise, sloshing tea onto the fabric of the chair.

“One of those going wanting?” Cowley held out a hand for a slice of the toast popping out of the toaster.

This was a first. Bodie couldn’t recall when he’d ever seen the controller in the rest room. For propriety’s sake, he placed buttered toast on a clean plate before sliding it over to Cowley.

“You know what killed Lord Spenser?” Bodie asked Yan who’d appropriated the last chocolate biscuit.

“I have an inkling, but need more time,” he said, pouring himself a cuppa, as well. “What do you know about false morels?”

“Likely Bodie’s got ‘em.” Doyle snickered. “If he’s got any morals at all.”

“They were real last time I looked,” Bodie quipped, not about to admit he hadn’t a clue what false morels were.

“I’d hope not,” Cowley said archly. “Are you are referring to Gyromitra esculenta or infula?”

“Either one.” Yan raised his cup in admiration. “Didn’t know you were a mycologist, Major.”

Mystified, Bodie shrugged. Doyle laughed into his cup, giving Bodie a sweet grin when he’d swallowed.

“Oh, aye.” Cowley beamed, finishing his toast. “Roamed the moors looking for edible mushrooms every season as a lad.”

“Spenser died from mushroom poisoning?” Doyle asked.

“Possibly a number of poisonous compounds mixed together,” Yan explained. “I’ve been fascinated by fungi all my life, so I recognised them in his Lordship’s blood sample straight away. Thing is, takes quite a lot of most types of Gyromitra to kill, so I’ll be doing more testing to tease out all the ingredients.”

“But he was definitely poisoned?” Cowley leaned forward with interest.

“That’s the last time I eat a mushroom tarte at that French place you like.” Bodie pointed a finger at Doyle.

“Likely not an accidental ingestion, Doctor?” Doyle questioned.

“Right. Not only did I find evidence of mushroom spores in his stomach, there were extremely high levels in his blood, and in his nasal passages.” Yan shook his head. “He’d been poisoned systematically for some time, I suspect, in various ways. And those grains you found in his office? Also Gyromitra.”

“Reynolds said I was fine!” Doyle protested.

Bodie went cold as ice. This was it, he was going to lose Doyle yet again.

“You are. One grain wouldn’t kill a grown man,” Yan explained. “Particularly since you put it in your mouth. Might have made you ill had you inhaled a larger quantity of the stuff—“

“Particularly in Spenser’s case as you suspect he’d been dosed over a period of time?” Cowley asked.

“Exactly.”

“How is eating it—” Bodie started, wanting proof that his lover would survive.

“Rubbed it on me gums,” Doyle specified.

“Some Gyromitra are edible. Amazingly, they’re considered a delicacy in Finland and parts of the US.” Yan frowned with disdain. “The poisonous compound is monomethyl hydrazine or MMH. Different mushrooms in the same family have varying levels of MMH, some only make the victim sick—”

“And others kill them?” Bodie finished.

“Even experts would have a tough time figuring out which because the region where the fungi are grown can alter the MMH levels.” Yan drained his cup. “Cheers. I’m off for more blood tests.”p

“Keep us appraised, Doctor.” Cowley nodded. “You two must find out who was poisoning him.”

“Likely culprit is this Cassia, yeah?” Doyle spoke up. “What about his wife?”

“We can’t fall into a trap of looking for the most obvious, 4.5,” Cowley chided. “Talk to Koshkin—”

“Despite what you said to Adler,” Bodie chuckled. “And find out more about his horses.”

“On your bikes then, men,” Cowley said, standing. “Or should I say into your saddles?”

~~**~~

The Hare and Hounds was a traditional style pub quite near CI5. Dark panelled walls, a dart board, and dozens of framed pictures of local football teams. Sid scanned the dim interior, only catching sight of Bodie and Doyle when Doyle stood to grab two pints from the curvy brunette behind the bar.

“Left corner.” He nudged Chico, dodging a couple of blokes leaving as they walked inside.

“Order me a brown ale?” Chico grinned cheekily at him. “Bangers and mash.”

“I’m to do all the heavy lifting, is that it?” Sid snorted, shoving his false hand more firmly in his pocket. Truth be told, he was hungry. The eggs they’d had earlier had been tasty but fleeting. Must be the early rising and then generous gallop in fresh, crisp air. He wouldn’t have changed it for the world—except for Lord Spenser’s death, that is. He loved the challenge of a good mystery but it was unfortunate that the majority of investigations he was involved in began with a dead body.

“I can carry me own.” Chico raised his arms like a strong man flexing his biceps. Not that his wiry frame would ever sport Popeye type muscles.

“Go claim two chairs.” Sid gave him a push. “I’ll be there quick as a wink.” He caught the landlady’s eye, putting in his orders. Wished this were simply a meal with four friends and not a discussion on how to solve a murder, but if this was how he could see Bodie and Doyle, so be it.

Chico was regaling Bodie and Doyle with a long account of one of his recent judo tournaments when Sid carried over two beers.

“Well met, good sir!” Bodie called out cheerfully. “We’re keen for some betting tips.”

“I’d bet you are,” Sid responded with a laugh.

Chico pounced on his drink as if he hadn’t any in decades. Sid knew quite well he and Chico had gone to their local only the night before. Seemed like years past instead of hours, because of the shortened night’s sleep.

“If I tell you to put money on Faerie Lights at the Ladbrook Hurdle in two weeks, don’t reveal your source,” Chico said with a wink.

“What did you think of Lord Spenser?” Doyle asked, nibbling on the peanuts from a communal bowl. “You must have met him a time or two?”

“He wasn’t the Senior Steward when I was riding.” Sid drank beer thoughtfully. Of course he had met the man, but really knew little about him beyond his public persona. “He presented me with one of my last trophies before the accident.” Among friends, with his back to the pub’s main room, he could remove his bioelectric hand from his pocket to open and close the fingers. This always broke his melancholia whenever he mentioned those dark days after his hand was crushed from the combined forces of one thousand pounds of horse flesh and the sharp edge of a horseshoe. He had a new career, one where he was successful and happy, partially due to the false hand. “It was well known that he liked the young ladies, and had inherited wealth. But he wasn’t one of those aristocracy always splashed across the pages of The Guardian or various tabloids.”

They paused when the food arrived, all tucking in for a few bites before continuing the conversation.

“One thing I’ve just recalled,” Sid said, spearing a few lettuce leaves. He no longer had to keep a specific weight according to jockey handicaps but he was so used to eating carefully that he rarely splurged. A green salad was a common lunch for him. Doyle was having the same, whilst Bodie and Chico had both gone for the same far more British fare. “He married his wife Trellen Ashcroft Spenser less than ten years ago—she’d been one of the young things on his arm on and off for a long while but at the time they were wed, she wasn’t a blushing bride by any means.”

“Any motive for jealousy?” Bodie asked, clearly intrigued.

“If there was,” Chico snorted with derision, “she’d’ve done something before now. Emerald weren’t the first, nor, I suspect, was she ‘is only, poor lamb.”

“Agreed.” Sid took out a cigarette, lighting it one handed. He loved a fag with lunch. “I’ve never met her but heard that Trellen was married previously.”

“We’ve had some reliable intel that Spenser was working undercover to get in with a Russian diplomat called Sergei Koshkin,” Doyle stated, popping a cherry tomato into his mouth. “He owns racehorses.”

“He owns Tsarina, one of the most celebrated front runners of the last year. Once she goes into breeding, she’ll be in high demand,” Sid answered, stunned because he’d seen the horse only that morning. “He’s other horses, as well, but none as favoured as the Russian Queen, as she’s been dubbed by the sports news readers.”
“Emerald was riding her today at the gallop,” Chico added. “Since her usual jockey was taken ill.”

“Perfect!” Doyle smacked a hand on the table. “Then you have a legitimate reason for a visit—”

“Under the pretence of finagling Emerald onto his horse in a future race?” Sid asked skeptically. He’d guided the young jockey in her first races, but she was putting herself out to owners and trainers since winning on Eightball.

“That or, I don’t know, breeding Syah?” Bodie proposed. “Gets one foot in door, at the very least. Since I’m not able to interrogate him inside the Russian Embassy, I’ll come along for the ride, and chat a bit without spooking the suspect.”

“Syah’s not a bad idea.” Chico stabbed his fork in Bodie’s direction. “’E’s restless, that one. Needs a bit of ‘know what I mean’ to soothe his nerves.”

“What would Faerie Lights think about that?” Sid put in, amused.

Doyle chuckled.

“Bout the same Emerald said of Cassia.” Chico rolled his eyes. “All business. She’s not a girlfriend.”

“We need to locate that bird, quick like.” Bodie pushed away his empty plate, toying with his beer glass. “Either eliminate her as a suspect or bring her in for questioning. The fact that she’s not been seen since taking Spenser home is suspicious.”

“Best if we could box this up by the weekend,” Doyle proposed, glancing at Bodie. He toyed with the silver chain on his left wrist. “Let’s split up.”

Sid caught the odd exchange between Bodie and Doyle. It was far more than an unspoken agreement to use their resources wisely. Something was afoot. He was well aware that the two CI5 agents had a relationship much the same as his and Chico’s. “Bodie and I will drive round to meet Koshkin, whilst you and Chico locate Cassia.”

~~**~~

Doyle and Barnes weren’t inside CI5 two minutes when Betty hailed them.

“Been looking high and low for you,” she grumbled, in her cheerful Betty manner.

“Found me, now.” Doyle turned to face her, mentally ticking off sites to check for the missing girl. One of the office staff had called her hotel earlier in the morning to learn she’d not been back—and she owed on her bill.

“And me,” Chico chimed in.

“Where’s Bodie?” Betty stalled, glancing down the corridor as if he’d pop up like a Jack- in-the-Box.

“Gone with Halley to interview a suspect,” Doyle explained. “We’re looking for—”

“If it’s this Cassia Noble, she’s found.” Betty held out a slip of paper with the printed notation of ‘While you were out—‘ at the top. Her notepad for telephone messages.

Chico claimed the paper, passing it to Doyle after he’d read the neatly written notation. “She were in hospital?”

“Rang up the blokes at the Jockey Club this morning, apparently after you left.” Betty checked the silver watch on her wrist. “You’d best go round before Cowley hears you hadn’t phoned all the nearby hospitals first.”

“Ouch.” Doyle rubbed the back of his neck, sure he could feel the sting of Cowley’s criticism at such a lapse. “St Bart’s it is.” He headed back the way they’d just come.

“Think she ate poisoned mushrooms, as well?” Chico asked.

Doyle and Bodie had filled the other two in on Dr Yan’s diagnosis over lunch.

“Reckon so, but we won’t know until we speak with her,” Doyle said. “Could be she had a car crash or stepped in front of a taxi after she left Spenser’s.”

“A London cabbie’d never run down a bird,” Chico scoffed, miming a judo chop at Doyle.

Grunting like the fighters in the martial arts films he and Chico watched, Doyle swung a kick, intentionally missing his opponent. He could play with Chico because the two of them were similarly ranked black belts.

He’d have liked nothing better than to don traditional white gis and spar instead of questioning Cassia. At the very least, it would bleed off some of his built up lust. He needed to be bound, held fast in Bodie’s loving arms, and teased erotically. Why that worked so well for him was a mystery but it smoothed out all the frustration, guilt and anger that was part and parcel of CI5. He’d not have previously believed himself submissive until a few years ago, when he and Bodie began their games under the sheets. Initially, it had been the standard stuff, perhaps a bit rougher than he’d ever done with a woman, but within normal parameters. One night, after an operation gone pear shaped, both had been on edge, quarrelling and blaming each other for the mistakes of the evening. Growling, Doyle had lunged at his partner with the intention of shoving him onto the bed for a fuck. Instead, Bodie had grabbed his wrist tightly, twisting until Doyle went to his knees. He’d been hard and needy so quickly, he’d have sucked whatever was shoved into his open mouth. Luckily, Bodie’d known what he needed and yanked down his flies.

They’d experimented with bondage and dominance ever since. At first, Doyle had been resistant—when he was in a logical frame of mind--but the lure was undeniable. The beatings his father had given him as a boy were so far an impenetrable barrier, which was fine with both of them. There was no BDSM rule book that required swats.

Chico skillfully blocked Doyle’s foot, nudging it aside with a counter move that, had they really been brawling, would have landed Doyle on his arse. He went to tackle Barnes and saw Murphy and Cougan come out of an office door.

“Gym is in the basement.” Murphy wriggled his thumb toward the lift. “Think you’d wait until Bodie returned, or at least sign up with Macklin for a one on one ‘stead of playing Bruce Lee with the nine stone weakling.”

“Oi!” Chico twisted, snarling in Murphy’s face. “Care to step into my dojo?” He spread his arms slightly, elbows bent, going into a slight crouch as if ready to pounce.

Doyle watched in amusement. Murphy had been around on cases when Barnes and Halley were working with them, but was probably unaware that Chico was a fourth level black belt.

“We’re meant to be collecting the food from the house on Edgerton Crescent,” Cougan said uneasily, backing away. “In case any was poisoned.”

“Got that song ‘everybody was kung-fu fighting’ playing in my head now,” Doyle said, knocking his knuckles against Chico’s left arm. Could have ruined Chico’s kata, had he actually been sparring with Murphy. On anyone else, Doyle might have got a jab in the eye. But he knew Chico, and wasn’t worried about the consequences. “Remember Cassia?”

Rotating his hand, Chico grinned sweetly, ready to shake hands with a nonplussed Murphy. “Next time.”

“I’ll pencil you in.” Murphy nodded, escaping quickly.

Cassia didn’t, in Doyle’s estimation, look ill. Certainly nothing like Spenser had been. Not that he had an iota of medical knowledge. She was sat in bed wearing the usual ugly hospital gown. No blotchy red hives marred her face, and she displayed none of the shortness of breath or other symptoms Spenser had had. Could a brief poisoning have dissipated so rapidly? Or had she been admitted to hospital for some other reason?

When they walked in, she was drinking a cup of tea, her face pale but composed. As the Jockey Club stewards had described, she had bright blond hair, about shoulder length, and a mole on her cheek. Blue eyes regarded them warily.

A blue uniformed nurse at the bedside noted something on a chart, tongue sticking out between her teeth.

"We’re from CI5,” Doyle said, holding up his warrant card. “Ray Doyle, and this is my associate, Chico Barnes.”

Cassia glanced at the hovering nurse before nodding.

“What do you want?” Cassia asked bluntly.

“Anything you can tell us about Charles Spenser,” Doyle answered.

“Emerald Kelly rang me last night, that ‘e were dead,” Chico said, slouching against the wall as if trying to stay far away from possible contagion.

“Judas,” Cassia gasped, mouth open as if she was having trouble breathing. “He was feeling off when I left, thought he had tummy wobbles. Mine wasn’t doing much better. I didn’t make it back to my hotel—stopped off at A&E, and they admitted me.” She waved a hand at the small, private hospital room as proof. “I tried to call him but…” She blinked rapidly, hand to her throat.

A fairly good performance, but Doyle wasn’t completely convinced. Should he speak with her doctor? Had mushrooms been found in her system, as well?

“Why’d you think the two of you took sick?” Chico pressed. “Something you ate?”

“Why are you asking me so many questions?” she retorted, smoothing the bedclothes over her knees. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

There is the possibility that his death was other than natural causes.” Doyle took the single chair by Cassia’s bed. “We’ve spoken with your colleagues at the Jockey Club, and you were with him during his last hours.”

“So you suspect me?” she snarled.

“No, my darling, not a bit of it!” Chico said with a charming smile. “You were close to him, and able to give us details, yeah?”

Cassia crossed her arms, with a guarded them expression.

“I was at his office earlier,” Doyle admitted. He was still aware of a oddness in his chest and belly but the strange sensation was easing. “I smelt bleach, and it appeared that someone had cleaned the edge of the desk. There was—” He decided against revealing that the substance he’d found had been identified and that he’d been exposed. “Do you have any idea what was there?”

“He was looking over the post,” Cassia said. “There was a letter with some sort of powder inside—spilled all over. I cleaned it up.”

“What sort of powder?” Chico asked, meeting Doyle’s eyes.

“Did you take the letter away with you? Who was it from?” Doyle persisted.

Haven’t the vaguest. Threw it in the bin.” She spread her hands, tugging on a lock of hair. “Both of us were feeling off by then. I convinced him to let me drive him home.”

“Leaving his car at the Jockey Club?”

"Yes. He’d not been well for a fortnight, or more, I think,” Cassia said reluctantly. “I didn’t expect he’d die! It’s those grotty chefs at Kempton. Can’t make a Spanish omelette or Welsh Rarebit to save their lives. He’s always grousing about the food there.”

“I’ve ‘ad their fare, as well.” Chico nodded sympathetically.

“He was sick after he left the racecourse?” Doyle clarified. “Or had been the entire day?”

“As I’ve said, he’s been suffering from pains in the gut for some time. Sometimes his lungs, as well.” Cassia ran a finger through her hair, played out a strand and twisted it around her finger. “This was the first time I’d had troubles, and I was doubled over, needing the ladies, if you take my meaning.”

“Did either of you eat mushrooms?” Doyle asked.

“Can’t abide ‘em.” She shook her head, smoothing out the curl she’d made. “Mum is a connoisseur.”

“Your mum?” Chico came closer.

“Perhaps I should have said straight off, but I was…” She glanced out the door, as if expecting a rescuer except there was no-one in the corridor. “Intimidated by two strange men. My mum is Lady Trellen Spenser. Charles was my father.”

Gobsmacked, Doyle kept his surprise to himself. There was information CI5 didn’t have. Did MI6 know? Or did he have leverage on Adler? Would this change the course of the investigation?

“I rarely ask a lady’s age,” he said carefully, knowing it was a potential landmine, “However, your mother married Lord Charles ten years ago—and you’re over eighteen, I’d guess.”

“Well over eighteen.” Cassia laughed. She’d been pretty before, but the bright smile and amusement in her eyes transformed her into a beauty. “I’ll be twenty-one come January.”

No wonder Emerald hadn’t any competition from Cassia Noble. She did not resemble Lord Spenser, as far as he could tell.

“My parents’ve known one another for decades,” she explained, a blush pinking her cheeks. “There should be a bar sinister on my coat of arms.”

“Bastard, are you?” Chico exclaimed cheerfully, thumping his chest. “I am, as well.”

“Your parents maintained a relationship whilst married to others?” Doyle crossed his arms comfortably, not certain why he felt like she wasn’t completely forthcoming, even after confessing what must be a dark family secret.

“They’re aristocracy, very discreet.” She shrugged. “They all do it, don’t they? Finally, I put down my foot and told them to get married. For propriety’s sake, I use the name of the man my mother married when she was expecting.”

“But you and your father kept this information private when working together at the Jockey Club?” Doyle watched for any sign she was fabricating her answers. If she was obfuscating, she was a pro.

“Seemed best.” Her pretty lips twisted into a grimace. “Those frightful old letches, always giving me the eye, trying to see up my skirt if I bent over. They wanted Papa’s job, as well. Plotting amongst themselves to get him out, especially that rotter Winter.” She cupped her hands as if about to catch a ball. “Arbuthnot was all hands, on my derriere as we went through a door, you know the sort. Winter condemned the behaviour. Acted like he was so important without a drop of blue blood in his veins.” After the long speech, she sucked in her bottom lip, clearly overcome with emotion and teased out another lock of hair to twist around her finger.

“You suspect them of conspirin’ against his Lordship?” Chico asked with interest.

“Aren’t they suspects?” She looked up at him wide-eyed, innocent as a lamb. “I’d assumed that was why you’d come.”

They hadn’t been previously, Doyle mused, but possibly he’d been overlooking the obvious. Most murders were ultimately for power, money, or passion. The trouble here was, they had suspects for all three. “We’re exploring all possibilities. Did you know a Sergei Koshkin?”

“Owns Tsarina and Samovar,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “Papa liked him, but he’s another with roaming hands and ulterior motives.”

“Such as?” Chico had given up hovering by the door and leaned against the foot of the bed.

“You know the sort in racing,” she continued. “Betting schemes, shady deals with the jockeys and trainers…”

“Do you have specifics?” Doyle asked. He wanted to ask more, probe her on her father’s dealings with a spy for the Russians, but that would have been construed as leading the witness.

“Papa was investigating him, that was for certain,” she said guilelessly. “He had reams of background on the man, as well as papers in Cyrillic. I can’t read it, but Papa could—his mother was Russian.”

Another fact left off the CI5’s background files on Spenser. The girl was either a treasure trove of information, or trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Doyle was beginning to feel like the ground was shifting under his feet. Fatigue, that must be the trouble. He hadn’t slept enough. A glance at Chico proved that Barnes looked just as perplexed.

“Your father go to Russia?” Chico put in.

“More than once. Particularly as a child.” She nodded, and if remembering her cue, teared up. “Now he’ll never visit his family’s dacha ever again.”

“Not recently, though?” Doyle shoved his hands in his pockets.

“With Sergei, you mean?” She smiled sadly, the tears glistening in her blue eyes. “You know he was a spy.”

~~**~~

Sergei Koshkin’s place near Sunbury was a work-a-day farm, without frills. A small white house bordered the narrow road with a long drive around the back to the stables. Large maples skirted both sides of the lane. Bodie drove the car up beside the main building, keeping watch for Koshkin. Halley got out, eyes on the stables. Two horses were grazing in a paddock beyond, the autumnal colours of the trees adding beauty to the peaceful setting.

“Homely, the horses look fit,” Sid said approvingly. He waggled his right hand. “House or stables?”

Bodie found it difficult to imagine that anyone in the house could have missed a car driving in, and not stepped out to greet them, but on the other hand, perhaps the inhabitants were sleeping in? Also difficult to imagine. He had an itch to draw his pistol, at the same time chastising himself for conjuring up Bond villains in the British countryside.

"Who’s come?” a voice called from behind the stables.

Grinning, Bodie pointed to the left.

Sid snorted good-naturedly. “Koshkin? It’s Sid Halley—“

A small man rushed into the yard, a mucky shovel in hand, his rubber boots proof that he’d been cleaning stalls. “Halley?” He stopped short, seeing the both of them before sticking out a hand to shake Sid’s. “An honour. Never seen you race, but you are a legend!”

“Cheers.” Sid grinned, taking the proffered hand, his left tucked carefully in his jacket pocket.

Whether a spy or not, Koshkin looked the part of a racehorse trainer. He and Sid were of a height, with similar builds. Even their dark hair, thinning on the top, was a match. His Russian accent was very slight, mingled with definitively British undertones.

“You could be brothers,” Bodie blurted.

“This is Bodie, an old friend,” Sid introduced.

“I have been told of our resemblance.” Koshkin brushed a hand over the crown of his head.

“I had not,” Sid said, chuckling. “Never knew I might have family from that far north.”

A mischievous glint in his eye, Koshkin gestured around the yard. “The Baronial estate. What brings you to my home?”

“My protégée, Emerald Kelly, had the good fortune to fill in for a rider at this morning’s gallop near Kempton, on Tsarina. She was instantly in love,” Sid explained, looking over at the paddock. “The mare is still at Kempton?”

“Yes, she’s running on Thursday. Unfortunately for Miss Emerald, I have riders for her in all the races Tsarina is currently entered in.” He raised a finger. “I saw her ride Eightball, she was grand.”

“I’ll give her your thanks,” Sid smiled. “Actually, I had a more personal request. To be first in line, so to speak. You plan to breed Tsarina in the next year?”
“Precisely. She’s a wonder, but I don’t want to exhaust her potential by racing her for much longer.” He placed the shovel against the wall of the stable. “You have a stallion in mind?”

“I do.” Sid walked over to the fence to stroke the nose of a friendly horse. “Syah. Have you heard of him?”

“A magnificent beast.” Koshkin pulled two carrots from the pocket of his barn jacket to feed to the horses in the paddock. “This would be a wonderful collaboration.” He held his hand flat for each of the animals in turn to eat the treat. “Kopeck and Samovar,” he identified. “Both will be two on January first.”

Because of Halley’s influence, Bodie was aware that all racehorses, no matter what month they were actually born, came of age at the beginning of the year. Which meant Koshkin had plans for the future. This didn’t square with the idea of an agent using his diplomatic status as a front and possibly pulling off illegal betting schemes, ready to run back to Mother Russia when his luck turned. And, totally unrelated to whether the man was a crook or not, Bodie found himself charmed by the effusive, cheerful man. He needed Doyle by his side—Ray had a knack for reading people.

“I do wonder,” Koshkin said, dusting off his hands. “Why you’d come all this way when ringing me up would suffice.”

Better to be up front and direct. “Did you hear that Lord Charles Spenser died?” Bodie asked.

“What?” Koshkin paled, a hand to his chest. “How? I had not spoken with him in a few days, and have been here since Sunday.”

“He was poisoned, according to the coroner,” Bodie explained, catching Sid’s eye when Koshkin bent his head, crossing himself. If this guy was the culprit, he could win a BAFTA for his acting. He was that convincing. Yet, for all the man’s charm, Bodie didn’t want to be swayed without evidence to the contrary.

“What a loss for the racing community.” Koshkin shook his head. “I need to sit down. Come inside?”

“Or course, you’ve had a shock,” Sid commiserated, following him to the house.

Inside, it was neat as a pin, but small enough that three men together in the lounge was a crowd, particularly due to the large, overstuffed furniture and a preponderance of mementos and bric-a-brac. Koshkin went to the drinks cabinet and poured a small measure of whisky into a glass.

Bodie had expected vodka. Was that a stereotype?

“Whisky?” the man asked. “Or I can heat up water for tea.”

“Always time for a wee dram, as my superior would say,” Bodie conceded, accepting a glass.

Sid took the second, sitting on the settee. Koshkin claimed a flowered, stuffed chair that clearly was his nightly place for watching the telly directly opposite. Which left the narrow second cushion on the settee for Bodie, jammed up against Halley. He could feel the hard plastic of the false arm pressing on his hipbone.

“You were friends with his Lordship?” Bodie asked after a sip of fine Irish spirits. Even Cowley would have appreciated the peaty flavour.

“We were acquaintances, I would not say bosom friends,” Koshkin hedged, looking into his glass as if seeking a better answer. “Of course, I saw him on the racetrack regularly, as both a racing fan and the senior steward of the Jockey Club.”

“And he was investigating you regarding illegalities in betting?” Sid asked with a gentle smile as though he was only inquiring to be polite.

“You know about that?” Koshkin stiffened, swallowing tightly. “It is a misunderstanding, of course. I own horses, I want to bet on them.” He stared out the back window at the grazing horses. “Technically, it is within the rules to bet on one’s own horse, as many do, and illegal to bet that a horse will lose.” He smacked the rounded arm of his chair. “I am innocent of all charges.”

“Good to hear,” Bodie soothed. “I will put that in my report, for what it is worth, since I am not involved in the Jockey Club.”

“Who is your employer?” Koshkin stared hard at Bodie, suddenly wary.

“CI5 was called in to work with the Jockey Club,” Bodie only fudged the truth a bit. They were collaborating with the JC, sort of. “To uncover any motives for his murder.”

“And you come straight to me?” He no longer looked the easy-going horse trainer, and his accent even seemed thicker. “You suspect me because I am Russian, I could do something so heinous, simply because I was caught up in an investigation?” He looked from Bodie to Sid, and back again.

“We’re talking to everyone he was in contact with in the last week,” Sid answered without rancor.

“What exactly is your job at the Russian consulate?” Bodie came on stronger, as if this were an interrogation instead of a chat at the man’s home.

>p>“I am an analyst,” Koshkin said tightly, placing his whisky on the side table. “And translator. Information comes in, I sort through, translate for my counterparts in Russia, then translate the Russian paperwork on this end.”

“So you’re privy to all the secrets,” Bodie sat back, playing the tough spy. He could surely use Doyle to balance the scale. “Seems to me that would imply…”

“Nothing.” Koshkin shut him down. “Not a spy, not an enemy of the British government.” He indicated a shelf jammed full of family photos. A dark haired woman smiling with a baby in arms and a short, balding blond man beside her. Another of a much younger Koshkin graduating from university. “My mother was British. I spent most of my childhood here, but my father wanted me to attend the schools he had, outside of Moscow.”

Bodie was in no mood to argue. That alone did not rule out that the man was a spy, only that he had a soft spot for the UK.

“There is no denying you and Spenser worked closely,” Sid commented. ”Paperwork was found…”

“In his home office, with your name on it,” Bodie finished, pleased with the lead-in Halley had provided. Almost as good as working with Doyle. “In Cyrillic.”

“Ah.” Koshkin relaxed, breathing noisily through his nose like a horse snuffling at flies. “His writings. Have you read them?”

“Don’t have Russian,” Bodie admitted, adding it to his mental list of things he should get around to. “My superior sent them to an interpreter.”

“Then I can tell you the gist.” Koshkin rose, walking over to a bookshelf crammed with volumes of all sorts. Many were in English, but the majority were Cyrillic. He extracted two books, peered at another shelf and selected a third. “You’ll be able to read this one.” He dropped a mystery novel into Bodie’s lap, holding up a Russian book with a nearly identical cover illustration of a horse racing down a track.

“Final Lap,” Bodie read the title, “by CK Spense.”

“CK Spense?” Sid repeated. “In other words, Charles Kelvin Spenser?”

“You have sussed out the elusive spy.” Koshkin sounded darkly amused. “He was a mystery writer. Originally in Russia, because he felt that his reputation as a steward, as well as his standing in aristocracy, would suffer.”

“Yet, it was published in English,” Sid pointed out.

Koshkin gave a Gallic shrug. “Charles came to me early in his writing career for help with idioms he was unsure of. We talked, about many things—yes, racing and betting amongst them. He’d released three novels in Russia and his publisher wanted the English speaking audience to buy his books, as well.” He held up the two Russian books. “You may not be able to read Cyrillic, but I assure you, these were written by Charles.”

Rarely at a loss for words, Bodie cast about for something vaguely intelligent to inject but found himself grasping. Where did they go now? Was Spenser simply a Jockey Club steward with a side interest in mystery novels written in a language few in England spoke? Was he a spy? A letch for barely legal girls? All of the above, or was Koshkin an expert at pulling the wool over their eyes?

Was Koshkin a mild-mannered diplomat and horse trainer, or an international spy? Bodie’s head was aching.

There was a time and a place to retreat, gather more intel and forge ahead another day. This was that time.

~~**~~

“Where is 3.7?”

Cowley looked more irascible than usual, and that was saying something. Chico wished there were a way to sneak out of the old man’s office. With the only door behind him, no joy. Luckily, Doyle was the current target of Cowley’s wrath.

“Chin wag with the spy, Koshkin, sir,” Doyle reported dutifully.

Since they’d already reported what Cassia Noble had told them, Chico figured it was time to head out. No matter how much there was still to uncover here in London, the neighbour just down the lane in Roxbye couldn’t be expected to feed four horses, a cow, and a cat this afternoon, on top of his own farming responsibilities. Undoubtedly, Sid would be ready for a drive back to their home once he’d returned. Which should be any time, right?

Chico yawned widely.

“The Russian interpreter has got back to me, and I think you’ll be interested in her findings,” Cowley said darkly, patting a pile of paper. “Heard of an author called CK Spense?”

There was one Chico could actually answer. “Wrote a mystery called Final Lap. Set on a racetrack in Moscow, where the jockey was murderin’ other riders.”

“Read it, did you?” Cowley toyed with his glasses, glancing at the typewritten words in front of him.

“Nah, but half the stable lads—and birds—I know did.” He’d acquired the book but it had ended up in the same pile all the other novels friends gave him did. He intended to read them but with the plethora of murders he encountered in real life, not to mention dealing with farm activities, martial arts training, and a nightly beer at his local, he’d fall asleep before cracking the front page.

“What’s that to do with all the papers and books we found in Cyrillic in his office?” Doyle was beginning to sound irritable, as well. He scratched at his left wrist, twisting the silver chain he wore as a bracelet.

“There’s no proof Spenser was a spy, no matter what Adler claims! He was writing novels in Russian,” Cowley erupted. “It’s been seventeen hours since Miss Kelly rang up Barnes, and we haven’t a shred of evidence that will hold up against any of half a dozen suspects.”

“We’ll have to interview the lot of them again,” Doyle said wearily. He’d slumped against the wall, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. “Starting with Mrs Spenser, tomorrow.”

“Can’t he still be a spy?” Chico asked. “I mean, writing don’t prove ‘e weren’t pumping Koshkin for information, anymore than it means he weren’t a Jockey Club steward.”

“Aye, you’ve got to the crux of the matter.” Cowley nodded, rubbing his forehead as if he had the devil of a headache. “For a public man, he had far too many secrets. I must stress that this revelation about his wife and daughter be kept quiet. The last thing we want is the press to get hold of that sensational story and go after the widow.”

“Cassia said she’d been married previously,” Doyle said. “Surname Noble, around the time she was born.”

“I’ll have one of the researchers get on that.” Cowley scribbled himself a note. “As well as talk with the British publisher of his novels.”

“Main question is, what has this to do with his murder?” Doyle mused.

“Oh, and—” Chico wriggled his fingers, chasing down a stray thought in the back of his memory. Seemed like he was doing that more often lately. A sign of old age? He was going on twenty-five this year. “When we asked Cassia about mushrooms, she switched the subject quick like. Said her mum was a conn’sseur, then threw in the bombshell ‘bout her da.”

“You think her mother might know something about this Gyromitra?” Cowley cupped his chin, adding another piece to the overall puzzle.

“Where’s the Spenser estate?” Chico asked.

“Lincolnshire,” Cowley supplied without checking his files. “You and Bodie will go in the morning, 4.5.”

“Yes, sir,” Doyle sighed.

Chico understood completely. He’d have to muck out stalls before any rest tonight. What would the morrow bring? He was keen to help Bodie and Doyle any way he could but wasn’t sure what he and Sid could offer at this point.

~~**~~

Doyle didn’t wait for Bodie—he left CI5 immediately after talking to Cowley, afraid he’d be roped into background research on the suspects in Spenser’s murder. He’d rather have a work-out with Macklin and Towser than be sat in front of a computer poring over data.

He was exhausted and reved up at the same time. Too many unconnected facts crowding his brain. He yearned for…discipline. Bodie’s discipline. To pull him out of his head, let him relax, and get some rest. The really interesting bit he’d discovered was that BDSM gave his unconscious mind time to catch up with a case and fit together disparate parts while he wasn’t stressing over minutia.

How to convince Bodie for a session in the middle of the week when they were working and had been up since one a.m.? Miraculously, whatever malaise he’d felt earlier in the day after the potential poisoning at the Jockey Club had vanished completely.

Stopping at an Indian takeaway, Doyle paid for a couple of curries and some naan bread. The Madras Jacket was one of Bodie’s favourite places. The spicy food would put him in a good mood.

Sack in hand, Doyle strode up to the front of Bodie’s most recent flat just as a silver Capri pulled alongside the kerb.

“Allo, allo,” Bodie called out like a jolly Rene Artois in the telly series. “Our Raymond’s gone to Madras Jacket, has he?” He craned his head out the car window to sniff at the food. “Reckon you’re angling for something.”
,p>“Why would you think that?” Doyle groused, annoyed that Bodie could read him so well. “Park the car, I’ll have the food served by the time you’re in.”

“You want something,” Bodie sing-songed as he drove down the street to a free parking space. “And I think I know what it is.”

Doyle stomped into the lift, fuming. Who did Bodie think he was? Did Bodie think he could sidle up, turn on the charm, and get under Doyle’s skin? Which was exactly what he had done, and effortlessly, too.

He shoved open the door to the third floor flat, and was ready to drill Bodie into the mattress by the time he’d dumped the tub of curry on the coffee table. But as much as his traitorous cock relished the idea, Doyle knew the situation called for patience.

,p>Rapping his knuckles on the open door, Bodie bounded into the lounge. “This is the sort of thing that makes the long day worth it,” he proclaimed, snatching up a round naan and sitting down with a satisfied grin. He leaned back, lifting up one foot.

“Get your feet off the coffee table when we’re eating,” Doyle cautioned with a look. He might want to play at being the submissive, but there was etiquette. Of all types, and he was not kneeling at Bodie’s feet begging for a hand-out. Not this fellow.

Bodie grinned engagingly, as he always did when trying to get away with something naughty, and dished up some food for himself. With a glance at Doyle, standing in the archway to the kitchen, he held up a spoonful of curry and rice.

“What’s your take on this whole investigation?” Bodie asked, beckoning him over until he could slide the spoon into Doyle’s mouth.

Which meant kneeling. At Bodie’s feet. Doyle nearly didn’t, to be perverse. However, his desire was far too strong. And the proximity to Bodie too alluring.

He bent to take the tasty mouthful, chewing as he knelt.

“Too many suspects, yeah?” Bodie continued, dipping the naan in curry before biting and then feeding Doyle the remainder. “That Koshkin was a nice chap, talkative and friendly. If it’s him, I don’t see the reasoning. On the other hand, those three at Jockey Club could be wrangling for position by topping off their boss.”

“All in on the scheme?” Doyle swallowed what was in his mouth. His tongue was on fire, that curry far spicier than he’d anticipated. More’s the pity, he hadn’t put out drinks by the time Bodie’d arrived.

“Nah.” Bodie pushed out his bottom lip, considering that idea. “Likely one is power hungry. Winter’s my guess.” He placed a hand on the top of Doyle’s head, indicating that he should stay put, and went into the kitchen to rummage in the little fridge.

“Bottom shelf,” Doyle called out, his feet beginning to tingle from his position. Yet, there was a little thrill in his chest that Bodie had begun the impromptu session without their usual build up.

“How’d you know my refrigerator better than I do?” Bodie laughed, uncapping a single bottle of Heineken.

“A mystery for the ages,” Doyle quipped, very thirsty. He wasn’t surprised when Bodie, in a clear show of dominance, drank down half the bottle. He waited for his share, breathing in and out slowly. Already, much of the frustration and stress he’d carried all day was dissipating, and they hadn’t done anything remotely sexual.

,p>“What did you think of Miss Cassia?” Bodie asked, sitting down to shovel more curry in his mouth. After a moment, appraising Doyle with those lovely blues, he held out another spoonful.

“Which revelation you want first?” Doyle asked before taking what was on offer. “That Spenser’s her father or that he’s a published author, of novels set in Moscow.” Bodie’s eyes widened and Doyle felt like he’d won a victory prize.

“Knew about the books, Koshkin told us.” Bodie drank down more beer, finally tipping the bottle for Doyle to taste. “He’s her father? But he didn’t marry the wife until…”

“Need a lesson on the birds and the bees, Bodie?” Doyle chuckled.

“You’re half a wit, you are,” Bodie said dryly. “They’d carried on before the wedding then?”

“As do many others,” Doyle replied. “Thing is, there was something cagey about Cassia, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what.”

She wasn’t telling the whole truth?”

“Not so much lying as not revealing everything.”

“A bit like you?”

“Me?” Doyle retorted.

“Could have come straight out and told me, luv.” Bodie caressed Doyle’s cheek with the back of his hand. “Instead of plying me with curry and such…” He stared down at Doyle’s groin, prominently displayed between his thighs, “pretty form.”

“Want what you want,” Doyle said softly, leaning into Bodie’s hand. He was momentarily dismayed when Bodie stopped to pull open a drawer in the cabinet at the end of the couch.

“I want this.” Bodie took out a metal chain, twin to the one around Doyle’s wrist, except for the small carabiner hanging off one of the links. “But I’m far too tired for much else.”

“Yeah.” Doyle closed his eyes with pleasure, holding out his arms to his lover.

Grasping the fabric of Doyle’s shirt, Bodie pulled it over his head, leaving him bare-chested. Doyle shivered, not from cold, but from pure sensation as Bodie feathered his fingers along Doyle’s arms, pausing here and there to plant a kiss or a sharp nip of teeth. Each was a jolt directly to Doyle’s libido, swelling his cock. His jeans, already stretched tightly from the kneeling position, were strangling his erection. Doyle wriggled his fingers, needing to unzip, but Bodie closed both hands around his wrists, preventing movement.

“Haven’t finished.” Bodie tightened his hold, pressing his thumbs on Doyle’s pulse points.

His heartbeat sped up, thrumming against Bodie’s grip, beating only for Bodie. Because of Bodie. Doyle opened his eyes, looking directly into Bodie’s. “I love you.”
“Didn’t know what love meant until you.” Bodie kissed the inside of each forearm before fastening the chain around Doyle’s right wrist and linking it to the bracelet on the left.

Lowering his restrained arms, Doyle rotated his shoulders slightly, adapting to the decreased mobility. There was a brief panic, like moths fluttering in his belly, yet, a weird feeling of release, as well. He had no autonomy, for one evening, and no decisions to make. He was free—of the case, of whatever issues life held, of having to be in charge. For this night, he was only for Bodie, for whatever Bodie wanted.

And he knew it wasn’t prolonged sex. They were both knackered. They needed to be together, joined. The bondage soothed something deep inside that he couldn’t possibly have explained, just that it was there. It would be enough to lie next to Bodie, cuffed and unable to leave.

“May I…?” He placed his bound wrists on Bodie’s left knee, pointing at the obvious erection barely hidden by Bodie’s twill trousers.

“Isn’t about that, and you know it.” Bodie smiled invitingly, nonetheless, and undid his flies.

Reaching into the slit in Bodie’s briefs, Doyle cradled the length of his cock between his palms. It was solid and strong, like Bodie, throbbing with life to match Doyle’s pulse hammering in his wrists and chest. As when they were in a dangerous situation, standing side by side, the bond connected them more strongly than simple friendship.

“Taking initiative,” Doyle said. He dipped his head, going down on his lover, taking the thickness in his mouth. Sucking was so good, he wanted to do it all evening, but that would interfere with sleep, another thing he wanted badly. Instead, he drew back slightly, pleased when Bodie keened low and needy, grabbing Doyle’s shoulders to urge him on. Doyle blew a cool wind over the damp cock and applied himself again, swirling his tongue around and around until Bodie was panting like a racehorse at the end of a gallop.

Bodie pressed his fingers into Doyle’s deltoids, kneading his stiff neck as if he knew exactly where Doyle was tight. Of course he did. Didn’t relieve the pressure on his erection but did wonders for the base of his skull.

Fondling Bodie’s sac like a couple of pound coins held to bet on whether he’d climax or not, Doyle rounded the course toward the finish line. He tweaked Bodie’s balls and applied strong suction on the cock.

Bodie came, hard and fast, spunk flooding Doyle’s mouth. He swallowed once, withdrawing to catch most of the fluid in his hands.

Collapsing against the cushions, Bodie nodded weakly with a huge grin. “Got the hang of it, you do.” He shoved the paper napkins that had come with the takeaway at Doyle to clean his hands. “C’mere.” He patted his spread thighs, inviting Doyle between.

Pins and needles jabbed his soles and ankles as he stood to straddle Bodie’s lap. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, but Doyle didn’t care. What the location did was position his crotch so Bodie could easily unfasten his jeans. His swollen cock sprang out like a child’s toy after a crank is turned.

Bodie did just that, twisting his fist in a corkscrew fashion destined to drive Doyle mad. Painful and exactly right, lust filled him up until he erupted, spilling semen across Bodie’s shirt.

Pulling in deep lungfuls of air, Doyle was so relaxed, he could have gone to sleep right there.

“Leaving these on when I tuck you in,” Bodie whispered in his ear, tugging on the chains.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.” Doyle climbed off his lap, ignoring the leftover curry on the table to head to the bedroom. According to CI5 files, the flat was Bodie’s. They were both transferred to new quarters every six months or so, more often if security was an issue during an operation. The latest move had amused Doyle since their flats were in the same area, albeit six streets apart. By virtue of that half a mile, Bodie’s was closer to CI5, and had become their destination at the end of the day.

Of course, any D/s games were always at Bodie’s, no matter where it was. No question That had been the policy for the last two years.

Doyle barely spent any time at his own flat, only partially for expediency. His was a little, dark, below street-level bedsit, the sort that would have been a pantry or scullery one hundred years ago. Cramped and chilly, he continually felt like he needed to feed a few more coins in the electric meter to put the fire on and brew another pot of tea. Nothing like the lovely, airy garden place he’d had a while back with a private garden and walls that seemed made of glass. That, and the wonderful spiral staircase to the loft.

This time around, Bodie had won the flat lottery. Three floors up with a view of the Thames through huge bay windows and access to what must have been a pigeon coop on the roof. There were still a few pigeons living in the tumbledown structure. Doyle loved the place, sad that it would only be a temporary way station.
He stood in the jut of the windows, looking down at the dark river bordered by the yellow globes of streetlamps. London by night, Big Ben like a beacon in the dark, guarding the vast metropolis.

“Come away,” Bodie said with a slight edge in his voice.

“Afraid I’d fall out?”

“More like a sniper could get a bead on that curly mop.” Bodie tugged him over by the carabiner between his wrists.

What once might have caused anxiety now sent arousal through his body. And only moments after he’d come. Wonders never ceased.

Bodie slid both hands down to Doyle’s slender hips, aligning their bodies. “If only I had the stamina, sunshine…”

Resting his head on Bodie’s shoulder, Doyle sighed, utterly satisfied. “This was enough, ta.”

“Seems to me I recall a bloke used to hate being tied up,” Bodie observed, towing him to their bed.

"What’s that old American song?” Doyle asked sleepily, sliding under the duvet. He’d have never expected to like this level of domination, but it was exactly what chased the terrors of their job out of his mind. “The times they are a’changin’…”

“Haven’t I said? No singing in bed.” Bodie burrowed his face in the pillow, ruffling Doyle’s curls affectionately. “I require eight hours of sleep to remain…”

“Tall, dark and engagingly modest?” Doyle tucked his linked wrists under his chin, scooched up close to his Bodie and fell asleep instantly.

~~**~~

Leaving Emerald in London, Chico and Sid drove to Roxbye in near silence, stopping only to grab Welsh rarebit and pints at a pub. Parking the car in the drive, Sid bypassed their little house to deal with the livestock first.

All four horses neighed greetings, rushing for the doors of the stalls as he opened each one. The smell of horse was such a potent, homely odour evoking good memories of the past and more for the future. Losing a hand, his racing career, and what he’d imagined would be his entire life had crumbled before his eyes a few years back. It had been a long slog to arrive at this point where he could feel good and proud of what he’d accomplished, before and after the accident. Depression was part of his nature, something he’d never be completely rid of, but he could watch Emerald’s accomplishments and cheer for the wins of the horses he’d trained without falling into a deep despair.

He raked dirty hay out of the first of the stalls, exchanging it for new, and went to make up the horse feed, intending to clean the rest later.
Matilde was lowing impatiently, her swollen udder ready to be emptied.

“Chico, your lady friend is calling.” Sid leaned on his pitchfork to watch his partner walk in with the milking pail. He loved Chico’s loose, easy movement, the long narrow column of his body. Wanted to kiss the sweet spot on his neck, hidden by blondish curls.

“’Ow many times do I have to say, got no lady friends,” Chico complained with that sunny smile lurking on his face. “Matilde and I are…” He scratched her under the chin, cooing sentiments in a gooey voice.

“Sickeningly sweet, that’s what you are,” Sid said, laying on the Welsh inflection.

Chico gave the first pull on her teats, milk spraying into the pail with a chiming noise as the liquid hit the metal container. For a boy raised in an inner-London orphanage, he’d become surprisingly good at milking a cow. The black cat he’d dubbed Ninja came padding in, followed by a more timid grey. Chico always laid out a small dish with some food for the cat.

“’Ello!” Chico greeted, directing a spray of milk to the newcomer. She lapped it appreciatively. “Squire, seems you’ve got a lady friend, now.”

“Isn’t she a beauty.” Sid squatted, putting out a friendly hand. The little grey eyed him nervously, staying in her corner. “At least, I assume Ninja brought a lady with him.”

“Good thing we’ve given him the snip,” Chico said, contentedly patting Matilde on the rump, the full bucket of milk between his knees. “Or there’d be a lot more ladies about.”

“Smokey, then, until her sex is otherwise confirmed.” Sid nodded, getting to his feet. Chico’s comment put something in his head. Multiple mates, multiple marriages… He finished off the horse feed, distributing it to the four animals and went back to mucking out the stalls. Physical labour let his brain sort through the details and evidence they’d acquired. What a day—what a case.

Seems he should have known more about Lord Spenser since they’d been so closely involved in the same world, but how much did anyone know about those they interacted with each day? It had been years since he’d ridden. Longer still since his own marriage to Jenny. Her family’s standing in the social strata, as well as his own in racing had required attendance at various upscale occasions with members of the Jockey Club and other hoi polloi. Who else might have knowledge of the senior Steward? Odd tidbits that even CI5’s crack researchers might not cotton onto?

He hefted more hay, feeling his muscles flex and strain with the motion. Felt good. “Sir Charles!” he said out loud.

“Your ex’s father?” Chico asked, pouring the milk into bottles for refrigeration.

“As you well know.” Sid snorted, looking over his shoulder at his partner. “I never fancied the social circuit, but Jenny was raised with those folks, and her father knows everyone.”

“As in Lord Spenser.” Chico nodded, knuckling the top of Smokey’s head. The cat purred appreciatively, Ninja gliding up next to her to rub against Chico’s legs.

“Actually, it was Lady Spenser I was thinking of. Trellen’s an odd name, don’t you think? One that Charles would remember. Trellen Noble, Cassia said.”

“D’you know her maiden name?” Chico asked, toting the bottles of milk into the kitchen.

Sid trailed behind and not simply to admire Chico’s arse. Now that he thought of it, Trellen as a first name seemed wrong. As if he’d once met someone with the surname Trellen.

“Now that you mention it, no, but Cowley must. I’ll ring Sir Charles and be up in a trice,” he called out once inside the house. Chico had his head in the fridge, probably going for an evening snack.

“See that you are.” Chico grinned at him, a cherry yoghurt in hand. “I won’t wait long.”

“Now see here!” Holding the phone in his right, Sid shook his false hand in mock anger.

~~**~~

Doyle wore both chains all through their communal shower and breakfast quite contentedly, although Bodie removed the carabiner once they got out of bed.
It had been a marvellous night. Snuggling next to Doyle negated all the violence and crime that cluttered his dreams. The mild bondage had been an added bonus, promising more when they could—even if it probably wouldn’t be at the hired cottage come Friday evening.

He watched his lover pour two cups of steaming tea and coax crumpets from the toaster, admiring the way the steel links caught the overhead light whenever Doyle moved his wrists. The rest of him was quite distracting, as well, since he hadn’t put on a stitch of clothing after they’d washed.

“Not getting dressed this morning, are you?” Bodie chuckled, buttoning his neat white shirt.

“That electric heater is very effective.” Doyle grinned over his shoulder, eyes alight, his damp hair tousled making him look like some unruly schoolboy. “Hot in here.” He buttered the crumpets, wriggling his arse in Bodie’s direction.

“No disputing that.” Bodie grabbed his cup for a drink so he wasn’t tempted to sink his teeth, or some other part of his anatomy, into Doyle’s tender flesh.

Doyle bit into his crumpet with obvious relish. “How long d’you think to drive to Lincolnshire at this time in the morning?”

“Traffic through London will be a beast,” Bodie lamented. “Probably three hours.”

“Then we don’t have any time for—“ Doyle broke off as the telephone jangled.

Bodie automatically picked up the receiver. If it were Cowley on the other end, he’d be unfazed if Doyle answered at this hour of the morning, but others—particularly any of the women they occasionally escorted for appearances sake on evenings out might get the wrong impression. Or the right one. “Hello.”

“3.7,” Betty said primly. “Mr Cowley requests your presence here whilst he talks to Miss Kelly. And 4.5, too, of course.”

“We were meant to go interview Lady Spenser,” Bodie protested. Doyle had ducked out to get dressed, more’s the pity. “Up north.”

“Cowley would like your input,” she responded. “He’s waiting.”

That would delay their trip by quite a while, although traffic through London midday was as bad or worse than so-called rush hour. Bodie stuffed buttery crumpet into his mouth with a gulp of tea to wash it down.

The trip to CI5 headquarters didn’t take long, however, and both marched into Cowley’s office in lockstep. Emerald Kelly was already there. She’d clearly been to early morning gallop. Her hair was bound in a tight plait and she was wearing a dark blue roll neck with black jeans and stylish, sleek boots that could have been for riding or simply in fashion.

“Emerald, how are you holding up this morning?” Doyle asked sympathetically.

Clutching a tea mug in both hands, Emerald nodded her thanks. “It’s ‘ard. I didn’t know him very long but he’d become that important to me…t’see him lying out like that, dead…” Her bottom lip trembled as she tried to pull herself together.

“Use mine.” Bodie pulled a cotton hanky from his pocket. His gran had told him a well brought up gentlemen carried a handkerchief with him at all times. He’d never found much reason to use it himself, although there was the one time it had been a makeshift bandage when Doyle was gashed in a knife fight. The small, white square had served nicely to appease many a pretty girl, weeping or sneezing, either one.

“Ta.” Emerald snuffled into the hanky, her blue eyes bright with unshed tears.

Doyle arranged himself against the bookcase on the wall next to the door, as he usually did, hands clasped together. Bodie had to look away for a moment, missing the silver chain on that right wrist, the twin to the one prominent on his left. Such a little thing brought such immense benefits—for both of them.

Cowley cleared his throat as if to swing the conversation back on track. He placed both hands on his desk like some judge in a court. “Miss Kelly, I’ve no wish to add to your grief, but as I’m sure you are aware, it is imperative that we gather all pertinent facts to bring his killer to justice as swiftly as possible,” he said gruffly.

"Yeah.” She twisted the handkerchief into a knot, then took a last sip of tea. “You’ve talked to me once. Don’t know what more I can tell ye.”

“Have you given any thought to whomever might have wanted Lord Spenser dead?” Cowley went on.

“He were popular, friendly to everyone,” she answered.

“What about the others at the Jockey Club?” Bodie asked. “Winter, Meijer, and Arbuthnot?”

“Didn’t have nuffing t’do with me.” Emerald toyed with the hanky, tying and untying it. “Saw them once or twice at a race, but they don’t mingle with the likes of the jockeys, I can tell you.”

“So much for being the Jockey Club,” Bodie muttered. Cowley gave him a stern look of disapproval.

“And Cassia?” Doyle put in. “Sid told us you’ve said you never met her. She didn’t come to the races you were riding in?”

“Not that I know.” She shrugged. “His wife, now, saw her.”

“When?” Cowley pounced on the scrap of information, leaning forward against the top of his desk.

“Lincolnshire, ‘cause she lives there, doesn’t she?” Emerald gave a sharp giggle. “An’ don’t look a fing like that picture hangs above the bed. Old, she is. She were with him when he give me the winning trophy. She must’ve gone home before he brought me to ‘is box …” Her smile waned to a wistful thing full of memories.

“She didn’t come into London often?” Cowley took off his glasses to clean them with a cloth.

“She’d come to tea a few days earlier, I fink.” Emerald pointed to the mug she’d set on the desk. “Made her own tea, she did. Brought it to him special. He thought Earl Grey was crap.”

“So they were in regular contact,” Doyle summed up, catching Bodie’s eye by raising his left hand, pinkie extended as if he were having an afternoon cuppa. “Although apparently not a loving couple.”

Staying connected for Cassia’s sake? “You knew very little of his life, then,” Bodie remarked, thinking this had all been a waste of time.

“’E said it were better that way,” Emerald said without a trace of regret. “That ‘e’d got a reputation as a ladies man and didn’t want to…” She put a finger to her lip, thinking. “Used a word I’d not ‘eard since my granma went to her rest. Didn’t want to sully what we ‘ad with vicious rumour.”

“Ever see him with the diplomat and horse trainer Sergei Koshkin?” Cowley asked.

“They were mates, talked on the blower a time or two, but I made myself scarce.” She fanned the flared bottom of her knotted hanky like a pretty skirt. “I’d go in, take a bubble bath. Charlie didn’t want to be disturbed then, and they was speaking in Russian, weren’t they?”

“Had you read his book?” Doyle hitched a knee onto the edge of Cowley’s desk to be more in her sightline.

“Not much of a reader.” She scrunched her nose and top lip. “Which books are these?”

“He wrote,” Cowley said. “In Russian, to be specific. And one was translated into English.” He held up a pristine copy of Final Lap.

Emerald stared at him, her mouth hanging open. “Haven’t a clue. He use to call me his dear—derogaya, but I don’t know the language.”

Her Cockney put a weird spin on the word. Bodie was sure Spenser hadn’t pronounced it quite that way, but it affirmed that he didn’t completely hide his Russian interests from everyone.

“And he were always scribbling on bits of paper, but I’m not much for that sort of thing. I been on a horse since I were five.”

“Is there anything else you can tell us?” Cowley sounded as if he were discouraged by their lack of progress.

“He had ‘is flaws, like anyone.” She pressed both palms together, a prayer. “But he was kind t’me, and that went a long way. No-one deserved what he got.” She stood on trembling legs, no longer the confident jockey, just a woman mourning her love. “No-one.”

~~**~~

Chico didn’t usually indulge in reading a novel, but when he did, he gave it his all. And this one was a corker. International intrigue, racing, and sex. Lots of it. Lord Spenser certainly had thrown himself into his research, if all that they had learned about him was true. He practically wrote from his own life.

Turning the page, Chico reached for his tea, brushing the cup with the tips of his fingers, realising a moment too late that it had been on the edge of the kitchen table and was now, undoubtedly, about to smash onto the lino.

It didn’t.

Startled, Chico jerked out of the action in the story to see Sid grasping the undamaged cup in his false hand. Impressive. There’d been a time when he couldn’t hold an egg without cracking the shell.

“Here I thought you possessed some mystical kung fu mojo,” Sid said in that dry, sarcastic way of his. His grin was the cherry on top. “When were you ever up before me, reading a book?”

“Change, always change, old son,” Chico replied, plucking his cup from the outstretched hand and drinking down the tea. “Final Lap, by CK Spense. Every bloomin’ thing that’s come up in our investigations is in the book—betting scandal, young girls…”

“Not a spy at all.” Sid nodded, popping toast into the toaster before rooting in the fridge for marmalade. “Just as Koshkin said. So why kill him?”

“Thing is, what they’re doing in the book--” Chico dipped his finger in the jam pot.

“Oi! None of that.” Sid pulled the marmalade out of harm’s way.

“Would work. Have some illegally obtained funds? Bet the pile on a sure thing.” Chico clicked his sticky fingers with a magical wave of his hand, “And hey presto, launder the dosh with no-one the wiser.”

“Thinking of doing that yourself, are you?” Sid chuckled, spreading his toast with orange marmalade.

“Maybe I would…” Chico kissed Sid quickly, feeling his lover smile. “If I didn’t know someone who’d suss me out in under a minute.”

“Better believe that.” Sid lowered his eyebrows in a menacing way. “I know where you live.”

“’Eard from Sir Charles this morning?” Chico asked lightly. He was fairly certain of the answer, since the phone was jangling when he’d gone out to milk the cow. Sid nearly always managed to get the horses set up for the morning before Chico got dressed. He frequently also talked to clients, wrote up billing chits, and filed paperwork in the early hours, all without a secretary.

“He had some very intriguing information. I’ll catch you up on the drive into London.” Sid answered. “I asked Charles to call Cowley, see what his people could do about getting everything verified, possibly obtain certain legal documents.” He poured fresh cow’s milk into his steaming cup of tea, stirring it absently with a spoon. “Emerald’s rung up, as well. She’s going over to CI5 after early gallop, but really doesn’t know what more she can tell them. She does want Faerie Lights stabled closer to the course so she’ll have time to ride her before the race in two weeks.”

“My turn to back out the horse van, yeah?” Chico stood, poking a finger into the jam one last time. Always tasted better like that than on a piece of toast.

~~**~~

“Well, Inspector Poirot.” Bodie leaned against the door of the Capri, watching Doyle drive. “Do we have enough suspects?”

“Thought I was Holmes.” Doyle looked away from the road long enough to admire Bodie’s wide shoulders and bright blue eyes. Matched the blue tie he wore perfectly.

“That was back when this was a conundrum,” Bodie said with a grin. “Now it’s more like the Orient Express—half a dozen suspects, without a viable motive between them.”

“There are motives aplenty,” Doyle replied. He watched the Volkswagen in front of him for a few moments, trying to gather his thoughts. “The old standards.”
“Money or passion?” Bodie grinned.

“Any of the three Jockey Club stewards would receive a rise with the senior position.” Doyle ticked off on his fingers. “Cassia would stand to gain all her father’s wealth, as well as legitimacy.”

“That’d be contested until the next century.” Bodie shook his head. “Other Spenser relatives would wrest the title and inheritance from a daughter born out of wedlock.”

“Conceivable,” Doyle agreed.

Bodie snorted at the pun and smacked his arm hard enough to hurt. The warm glow of lust blossomed in Doyle’s chest. God, he was hooked.

“Bodie,” he snarled, even though it was all he could do not to pull the Capri onto a verge and beg to be reamed. He glowered at his partner, raising his left eyebrow in what he knew was a fair approximation of Bodie’s. He’d practiced in the mirror.

“Knew you wanted it rough,” Bodie purred, low and sensual. He cleared his throat as if he were having a difficult time keeping himself in check as well. “Erm, what has Emerald to gain?”

“Honestly can’t think of a thing, and she seems genuinely bereaved.” Doyle pondered the idea, trying to come at it from another angle. She’d been the last to see him before he died, but that rarely meant she was the culprit. He could recall at least a dozen victims who’d been nowhere near their murderers by the time they succumbed. Not the least of which was Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian writer and journalist living in London. He’d died in 1978 after being attacked by a man with an umbrella. The umbrella had been rigged to inject a poison pellet under his skin. “Remember that bloke who died after he was scratched with a poison umbrella?”

“So now we have a phantom Soviet spy?” Bodie retorted. “Stick to the facts, man,” he said in a perfect mimicry of Cowley. “Supposed to be eliminating suspects, not adding new ones. We already know Spenser died of poison. Who’d gain by giving it to him?”

“All I am saying it that Yan wasn’t positive how the poison was administered, except for what was in his stomach,” Doyle reasoned. “Could be Mrs Lum is a coldhearted assassin in the guise of housekeeper and mixed Gyromitra in with the wax for the wood floors.”

“You’re just making this up now,” Bodie said. “Like Conan Doyle, you could come up with your own super sleuth.”

“Once I quit the squad.” Doyle nodded, suddenly intrigued. Talk about thinking outside the lines, he’d never considered such an avenue for a career. He’d always enjoyed writing a journal, although the daily slog of paperwork for CI5 was soul numbing. What would he call his hero? He was so enthralled in devising possible exploits for the dashing CI5 agent that he almost missed the turning for Lincolnshire.

Bodie grabbed the steering wheel to push it to the right with enough time for Doyle to navigate the rest of the turn off the motorway. They were immediately surrounded by rolling chalk hills, verdant and peaceful. Doyle saw the ubiquitous British sheep munching on the grass, and a few horses grazing in a field on their left.

The Spenser family manor wasn’t difficult to find, particularly because there were notices on the side of the road advertising public tours every Saturday and alternate Wednesdays.

“We’ve missed the tour.” Bodie put on a sad face, pushing out his bottom lip. “think Lady S will let us wander around unobserved?”

“Cowley called ahead, we get the private viewing,” Doyle said. “Expect she’ll grill us on when she can get the body for a funeral service.” He stopped in front of ornate gates bearing a stylised metal S in the centre. There was a small intercom mounted on a pole on the driver’s side. Pressing the red button, Doyle waited for a reply.

“May I ask who’s calling?” a male voice answered.

“Doyle and Bodie, from CI5. We were expected.”

“Aye, come on through.”

The gates parted silently, obviously well oiled, and Doyle drove up the lane. Tall poplars and graceful elm bordered the gravel track for nearly a mile. The surrounding lands were beautifully groomed but left mostly natural until quite near the house. A small folly containing a marble nymph running with hounds was the first sign of civilisation. Then, a shrubbery maze, the bushes meticulously trimmed, the entrance guarded by a pair of statuary in the shape of seated lions.

“Those things give me the willies,” Bodie shuddered. “Imagine being lost in the maze at night, with nowhere to turn.”

“And you a seasoned military man,” Doyle scoffed, looking ahead at the dwelling he could see just beyond the next rise.

A beautiful manor, although not as grand as some, from a bygone era when the rich lived sumptuously and the poor scraped by. It was rectangular in shape, constructed from pale brown stone, with triangular peaked upper gables like wide eyes peering out at the countryside. Elegant grounds spread out past the house, with snatches of a greenhouse, stables, and probably worker’s cottages visible beyond.

“And here I thought the house on Egerton Crescent was good living.” Bodie whistled between his teeth in appreciation.

“High life doesn’t suit you,” Doyle said out of the corner of his mouth. He parked near a garage with one door ajar. A vintage Bentley was partially visible inside. “Watching telly all day, never lifting a finger to pour your own lager or cut another slice of cheese?”

“A man can dream, mate.” Bodie winked. “Have time to indulge in the finer things.” He flicked a finger against Doyle’s silver chain and climbed from the car.

“Only if we finish this case with enough time to check into the cottage you’ve hired,” Doyle said gloomily, knowing it wasn’t likely at this juncture. Nevertheless, his cock jumped with hopeful enthusiasm. He followed Bodie more slowly, looking around. Bright sunlight illuminated the stained glass above the doorway and sparkled in the mullioned glass windows. The dodgy November weather, half sunny, half clouds, had cleared as they’d arrived, as if blessing Lincolnshire. “Cowley gave us the Monday since we’d missed every Bank Holiday this year.”

“May be able to get my deposit returned,” Bodie mused, raising a hand to grasp the lion’s head knocker.

Before he could bring the brass down on the wood of the door, the portal swung open. A small woman stood there, wire rimmed spectacles framing narrow brown eyes.

“Bodie and Doyle?” she asked brightly. With her grey hair pinned up in a messy bun, cat’s-eye glasses and a red hand knit cardigan over a gaily flowered blouse and grey trousers, she looked friendly.

Possibly the housekeeper?

“We’re here to see Lady Spenser,” Bodie said politely.

Doyle had to bite down on a grin. In situations like this, Bodie’s inner Victorian gentleman emerged. Had he a top hat, he’d have swept it from his noggin with a proper bow.

“You’ve seen her.” She dipped her head in greeting, shaking his hand. “Trellen Spenser. You’re Bodie…?” she asked, glancing between them with interest.

“Bodie, and this is Ray Doyle,” he introduced, clearly surprised.

There was no resemblance to the woman in the royal portrait over the bed in the least. Much older, for one. She did have much of Cassia’s looks.

“You’re here about Charles. Your Mr Cowley called.” She frowned, indicating that they should come in. “Mind how you go, Bethany’s just waxed the floor since there aren’t any tours today.”

The parquet floor had been buffed to a high gloss. Ice skaters could have performed triple axels across the surface. Bodie followed the older woman, using mincing steps to maintain his balance. One hand trailing the wainscoting, Doyle kept pace. A sign directing tour groups to the west wing pointed left but Trellen led them to the right, past huge portraits of aristocratic ancestors. Vases, lamps and bric-a-brac that would have brought sums in the thousands at Sotheby’s were arrayed on side tables and shelves along the corridor. Queen Victoria herself would have been right at home. Trellen opened a door, entering a drawing room with green brocade settees, dark gold wing-backed chairs and a wealth of light coming from wide windows overlooking an elegant garden planted in autumnal mums and asters. Near the sitting area was a large hearth with a fire blazing merrily. Various family photographs crowded the mantel, interspaced with Dresden figurines that had to be worth a fortune.

We’re conducting interviews with all who knew your husband, “ Doyle explained. Even standing several feet away from the fireplace, he was already roasting. “To uncover any motive on why he was murdered.”

“The man was no saint,” Trellen said with a slight pique, “but none of us are. I’ve no clue who would…” She sat gracefully on a settee, waving a hand at the matching one. A low table was set with a teapot painted with roses and three matching cups. Only one was already full of tea. On offer was a tantalising array of tea sandwiches and scones clustered on a three tiered stand. “I’m sure you must be peckish after the long drive. Let me pour you a cuppa.”

“Thank you.” Bodie wrinkled his upper lip as if about to sneeze, rubbing his nose. “Do you keep cats?”

She didn’t need to reply. Two perfectly matched grey and black tabbies strolled from behind one of the gold chairs.

Enchanted, Doyle wriggled his fingers enticingly at the moggies. Bodie was allergic and never came near what he termed ‘the beasts’. “What do you call them?” he asked, stroking the head of the bolder cat.

“Pyramus and Thisbe.” She handed Bodie a cup and poured a second one for Doyle. “There’s Melisande and Pelleas peeping out from the drapery.” She aimed her own cup at the furry faces around the edge of green curtains that matched the furniture. “Victoria and Albert are most likely in the garden somewhere.”

“The classics,” Bodie said, setting his cup on the table to stifle his oncoming sneeze.

One of the grey cats, Doyle wasn’t sure whether it was Pyramus or Thisbe, stared intently at Bodie as he loaded a small plate with tea sandwiches and a currant scone.

“Were you aware of his friendship with Sergei Koshkin, the horse trainer?” Doyle asked, taking a sip of tea. It had an aromatic, nutty flavour that he couldn’t place but quite liked.

“We rarely mingle in the same circles. However, I’ve met Koshkin,” she said with mild disdain. “Not my sort. But really, Charles and I have little in common save horse racing. Cassia informed me that she’d confided about our…unique family. ”

“She did.” Bodie popped a morsel of scone into his mouth, reaching for his cup of tea just as a grey cat launched himself at the fish paste sandwich lying on his plate. The cat collided with Bodie’s arm, knocking the full cup onto the carpet, splashing sandwich, cat, and Bodie’s trousers.
“Thisbe!” Trellen scolded. “Bad cat!”

As if on cue, all four greys slunk from the room.

“So sorry!” Bodie grabbed Doyle’s serviette, dabbing at the wet spot on the carpet. He sneezed twice, as if closer proximity to the cats had intensified his allergy.
Doyle gulped tea to keep from laughing out loud. Choked, but he managed to keep his professional demeanour.

“No worries.” Trellen grasped a tapestry bell pull, ringing for a servant. “Happens daily with such an abundance of cats.”

“For the most part, you live here and your husband in London?” Doyle took up the questions again.

“Many don’t understand our situation.” She shrugged, nibbling a cucumber sandwich. “But it suits. Early on, we were quite passionate, but weren’t able to cohabitate without aggro. Cassia was born sometime after we’d gone our separate ways, only to find that we…how do I put this delicately?”

A young woman with red curls and a checked apron tied around her waist came in with towels and a fresh teacup and plate for Bodie.

“Ta,” he muttered quietly, looking embarrassed at his faux pas. “You and his Lordship continued in the Biblical sense?”

“Quite.” She smiled triumphantly, saluting him with her cup. “I married, as did he. We both lost our spouse and decided to carry on as we had. Simple really.”

Doyle ate a single sandwich, washing it down with the last of his tea. “This is very good. Cassia says you make your own?” he asked to make conversation. He needed time to study Trellen Spenser. She wasn’t at all what he’d expected, yet something was out of joint here. He’d set himself up to gently question a grieving widow about to inherit a fortune. Or possibly, an overly made-up society matron half in her cups. Trellen was neither. She was, he suspected strongly, being surprisingly honest on her unorthodox marriage but also holding back something. What, he couldn’t say.

“I am quite proud of my teas.” Trellen smiled her thanks. “I read botany at University, and nutrition, as well. Horticulture is my passion. That’s my work, there.” She pointed to the bright flowers in the garden. A beautiful knot garden wove together ornamental blooms with edible plants and herbs.

In the distance, Doyle could make out an extensive greenhouse and lush plantings on a low hill. “You must spend all your time digging in dirt.”

“When I’m not dabbling in teas, essential oils, and soaps.” She hefted the teapot. “Shall I be mother?” she asked before pouring more into Doyle’s cup and filling Bodie’s.

“You’re not aware that his Lordship had any enemies?” Glancing at the kindle of cats gathered at the threshold, Bodie selected the last of the fish paste, finishing it off before any of them could claim it.

“Nary a one.” She sighed without a sign of mourning. “Mind you, I’ve lost a husband previously. It’s a dark period, but one emerges intact and ready to commence living again.”

Twenty-four hours gone could hardly be called a mourning period, Doyle mused, clearing his throat. He drank more tea to lubricate the tightness in his throat. He’d have asked her for a sample to take home, but Cowley would have drummed him out of the squad for accepting gifts from a possible murder suspect.

“Our coroner established that your husband died from poisoned mushrooms,” he revealed. “He reckoned there’d been multiple administrations—oral and otherwise.”< /p>

“Horrible.” Her lips tightening, she crossed her arms. “But ingesting poisonous mushrooms is surprisingly common.”

Protecting herself from attack or holding in her grief? She was one of the hardest people to read that Doyle had ever met. He wiped sweat from his brow.

“Mushrooms were part of your studies?” Bodie asked, catching Doyle’s eye. He sneezed abruptly, patting his pockets for a handkerchief. He finally mopped at his nose with a serviette.

“I’ll admit to being a mycologist of long standing,” Trellen proclaimed with a gleam in her eye. “There’s nothing more bracing than going into the morning damp to ferret out wild fungus as the sun is rising.”

“Then you know Gyromitra?” Doyle added, idly scratching his neck. He was overly warm and prickly. The fireplace was really too hot for the mild November weather.

“Of course. Some find it difficult to differentiate between the delicious morel and its more dangerous cousins, but I’ve never had a problem.”

Her answer chilled Doyle to the bone, and from Bodie’s guarded expression, he was unsettled as well. Doyle took a sip of tea to refresh his dry throat.

“Did you give Lord Charles Gyromitra?” Bodie stood to establish authority, eyeing the lurking felines.

“What worldly reason would I have to do that?” Trellen glared at him, the head mistress at school accused of illegal practices. “I resent the implications and demand that you vacate the premises. I am a member of the aristocracy. You are trespassing.”

“We will get a warrant to search the grounds, Lady Spenser,” Doyle said. He wasn’t about to argue with her. Technically, they had no damning evidence, but she was the most obvious suspect. She ticked off every box, motive-wise: stood to gain from his death, a knowledge of the murder weapon, and a relationship with the victim.

“I’ll be on the phone to my solicitor forthwith,” she said coldly, pointing toward the door. “I thought you were interested in solving the mystery of who killed my husband, not trotting out baseless claims against a poor widow.”

“Who stands to inherit a fortune,” Bodie growled, advancing on the cats with a snarl. The animals fled. “We’ll be seeing you soon enough.”

About to follow, Doyle nearly plowed into his partner when Bodie stopped abruptly. Cassia stood in the passageway, hugging a large black and grey tabby.

“Mum?” Cassia stared at them, open-mouthed, dropping the cat. “What’ve you done?”

~~**~~

“Och, what took you two so bloody long?” Cowley groused as Sid and Chico walked into his office.

“Two lorries mixed it up on the motorway, and we were pulling the horse van,” Sid answered, rather piqued at Cowley’s grumpiness. “Can’t put on the speed with a valuable animal in tow.”

Cowley gave them a look that said he’d have dealt with them quite differently had they been in his employ.

Sid was all the more glad that he was his own boss, no matter the headache and expenses of running a business with only Chico to help.

“However, I must commend you and your father in law—“

“Ex father in law,” Chico reminded, sprawling in one of the wooden chairs opposite Cowley’s desk.

“Aye.” Cowley shuffled through several files on his desk. “The information you provided has swung open a door on a whole new direction of inquiry. Research has been able to verify a few pieces of the puzzle.”

“Trellen isn’t her real name.” Sid sat down in the other chair. “Sir Charles recalled meeting a young girl long ago, a racing enthusiast who hung around the tracks chatting up influential folk, mostly aristocracy. He was married and ignored her.”

Cowley grimaced, nodding. “Tracy Ellen Rose, born in 1930. She married the son of a duke, Lord Peter Cavendish, who did a bit of amateur riding, in 1956. No difficulty obtaining that marriage certificate. Lord Peter didn’t last the year. Died only a few months after the wedding.”

“Fell off his ‘orse?” Chico asked.

“The cause of his death is unknown at this time.” Cowley fingered the side piece of his glasses thoughtfully. “That is—thus far—all we’ve found on Tracy Ellen. As Trellen Spenser, she is far more visible. When she assumed the name Trellen is difficult to determine.”

“D’you think she had the means to murder Lord Charles?” Sid asked. He’d tried in vain to recall ever seeing the woman at a race, possibly Ascot or more of the other posh events. No-one resembling the blonde in the Renaissance velvet gown from the bedroom portrait came to mind whatsoever.
“Wot ‘bout asking old timers ‘oo worked the courses back then? Dodger, for one?” Chico said.

“Good suggestion,” Cowley agreed. “We’ve simply too much ground to cover in a short time. If only there was a way to swiftly search birth, death, and marriage records, not to mention proof of employment, and taxable income. What a boon that would be to investigations.” He lightly smacked his own forehead, pressing the intercom button on his phone at the same time. “Betty, has research checked national tax files?”

“I will find out, sir,” her disembodied voice came through the phone’s speaker. “They do have some preliminary findings. I will bring them in directly.”

“She were married to a Noble, as well, round when Cassia was born,” Chico added. “Cassia ‘erself told me and Doyle that she was a bastard, like me and Sid.”

“Which would have been in 1964,” Cowley confirmed. “We have her employment records from the Jockey Club. Born 10 January, 1964.” He shook his head. “This isn’t looking good for the wife. Already two husbands—“

“Three,” Sid reminded. “Two we know are dead.”

Cowley nodded. “Any knowledge of what happened to this Noble?”

“’Ang on!” Chico clicked his fingers, sitting up straighter.

“Don’t just leave us hanging,” Sid commented dryly. He adored Chico in all ways, especially when his partner had the light of discovery in his bright eyes.

“Aye, man, we haven’t got all day,” Cowley added, sounding grouchy.

“Yeah, all right, give me my moment,” Chico retorted, with cheeky attitude. “Sid-boy, remember when we was talking with Ray and Bodie at the pub? You called the lovely Lady Spenser by an extra name…” He screwed up his face, thinking. “Croft?”

“Ashcroft!” Sid blurted, wondering why he’d forgotten. Too much evidence without sufficient time to slot it into place. He really should write this down as Cowley obviously did. “I’ve always seen her name as Trellen Ashcroft Spenser—printed on pamphlets and such. She’s a patron for the Jockey Club’s injured jockey’s fund.”

“Widows and Orphans fund, as well, I’d expect.” Chico crossed his arms, proud of his contribution.

Cowley was already pawing through the files for corroboration when Betty rapped on the door. “Come!” he called distractedly.

“More data on Lady Spenser,” she said, placing a thick wad of papers on top of his desk, with what looked like several lengths of paper from a computer printer. “On the top is Lord Spenser’s lawyer’s name, as well as the deed to the house in Lincolnshire.”

“Excellent, Betty.” Cowley snatched those from her hands. “The deed lists her name as Trellen Ashcroft Spenser, just as you’ve said, Halley.”

“If they were all in the racing world, would you have known any of them?” Cowley asked shrewdly.

“Began riding in the late sixties,” Sid explained. “So not Cavendish nor a Noble. I do recall a trainer called Ashcroft, but I’d never put the two together.”

“’Ave a Christian name, does he?” Chico asked.

“Vernon…” Sid pulled the name from the recesses of his memory, trying to dredge up the circumstances around why he had been briefly famous.

“Vernon Ashcroft?” Cowley repeated, clearly astonished. “He was in the government—a low level secretary in PM Harold Wilson’s time. An avid fan of horse racing, if I recall, and—” He paused as if realising the full implications. “Died just after Edward Heath became Prime Minister.”

“That would probably be easily sussed out,” Chico said without his usual exuberance. He swallowed with a sour expression. “Bloody hell, our Trellen’s a black widow.”< /p>

~~**~~

“What has she done?” Bodie demanded, blocking Cassia’s way. Doyle shouldered in beside him to keep the young woman from going around them.

“She’s been ill!” Cassia peered past them at her mother, whispering fiercely. “Don’t believe what she says, she’s…not well.”

Trellen didn’t interrupt, standing her ground.

“Didn’t seem sick to me,” Doyle said with a slight cough punctuating his words. “What’s going on, Cassia?”

“Please, just go. I’ll sort it,” she pleaded. “Mum, I’m here now. I had a night in hospital—”

“We’ll return with a warrant to search the premises,” Bodie promised, finally letting her walk by. He sneezed abruptly, ruining his sense of superiority. “We need answers.”

“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” Trellen sneered, no longer the sweet old lady. “Or mushroom.”

“Mum!” Cassia latched onto her arm, pulling her into the drawing room.

Doyle gave Bodie a hard look, heading for the front door. From nowhere, Bethany appeared to shut it behind them.

“She’s done it, hasn’t she?” Bodie ranted, racing toward the car, mopping at his streaming nose. They were too far from London to use the R/Ts to contact Cowley and get the warrant issued, but they could stop in Lincoln to use a pay phone. “You agree with me, don’t you?” He paused, looking back. Doyle was walking far more slowly, breathing heavily.

“You want to drive?” Doyle asked, pressing on his chest.

“You all right?” Bodie started to raise his hand to feel Ray’s forehead like a mum checking for fever. He looked pale, with a blotchy red mark on his neck.

“Come over all funny.” Doyle scratched his chest and left arm, almost simultaneously, wheezing as he inhaled. “Must be allergic…like you.”

“Get in the car,” Bodie ordered, his heart rate slamming into triple digits with alarming speed. Doyle was having an allergic reaction, sure enough, but not to the cats. Anaphylaxis came swimming out of some hidden crevice in his brain. When the body reacts too violently to---what? Mushrooms? There’d been no mushrooms served with the tea.

This was every dire scenario he’d ever imagined. Doyle would die yet again. Not if he had anything to do with it. “We’re going to the nearest hospital, now.”

Uncharacteristically, Doyle complied without comment. Which only proved how badly he must feel. By the time Bodie had driven down the lane, Doyle’s breathing was harsh and laboured with a distinct squeak when he inhaled.

"She’s poisoned you, the bloody great cow,” Bodie rambled to keep his brain sharp and away from frightening images of Doyle dying in his arms.

“We both…ate, and drank…” Doyle managed between heaving breaths. “As did she.”

“Not exactly.” Keeping his eyes on the road, Bodie pushed the accelerator down hard, mentally cataloging what each of them had consumed during the short visit. He’d eaten three fish paste sarnies, as well as a scone. Lady Spenser had eaten a scone and a cucumber sandwich. Doyle, in his usual spartan manner, had only taken one cucumber. None of those had been poisoned, then. And no obvious Gyromitra. Could Trellen have used some other deadly substance?

What about the tea? Trellen had already had a full cup in front of her when they arrived. From a different pot? The bloody cat had knocked over Bodie’s first cup and he’d never drunk from the second. Doyle had sucked down two, if Bodie was correct, and he knew he was. Damn—it was the tea, something the entire CI5 lab team had overlooked in their search of edibles in the kitchen. In his mind’s eye, Bodie could see the innocuous tea caddy alongside the tea set in the upper salon near Spenser’s bedroom.

Doyle hitched a tight, painful sounding breath, his face oddly grey.

“The tea, then, sod her. Keep breathing, hear me?” Bodie demanded, terrified.

“Yes, m—master,” Doyle rasped, cutting his eyes to the right to look at Bodie without moving.

Amazingly, his flippant answer soothed Bodie’s soul. “Don’t die on me. Not again.”

"Not…” Doyle inhaled noisily, clawing at the red patch on his neck, “planning…on…”

“Stop speaking, berk. Save your breath.” Bodie was driving blind, barely looking at the road in his concern for Doyle. Which he bloody well knew was dangerous, here in horse and sheep country where any livestock might be tromping down the lane. He took a turning onto the main road towards the high street at reckless speed, grateful there were few cars in the vicinity. He’d never been to Lincoln and hadn’t a clue how to locate the hospital.

Doyle gasped, breathing in a rapid-fire rhythm that didn’t seem to draw in any air. His usually lush curls were dark with sweat, matted against his skull.

Then, for once in his life, divine providence smiled on William Andrew Phillip Bodie. A blue arrow shaped sign with white letters pointed down Greetwell Road toward Lincoln County Hospital. Bodie hadn’t prayed in decades, but he sent up a sincere thank you all the same.

Doyle was distinctively bluish by the time Bodie slammed the Capri into the hospital parking lot, screeching to a stop in the A & E bay.

“Breathe!” he ordered Doyle, jumping out of the car. The electronic doors parted soundlessly as he raced into the hospital. “I need a doctor, now!”

A nurse in a dark blue uniform frowned, gesturing at a waiting room with a handful of people. “Sir, you’ll have to wait your turn just as all the others who’ve…”

Bodie grabbed her arm, hustling her out to the Capri.

“Unhand me! I’ll call security—” She sputtered to a stop seeing Doyle sprawled half in and half out of the car as if he’d tried to get up and walk in himself. “Linnea!” she yelled to the nurse dashing toward them, security guard in tow. “He’s barely breathing, fetch a trolley.” She knelt to examine Doyle more closely. “Sir? What’s your name?” she asked.

Bodie finally took a good look at the nurse. Forty, if she was a day, her black hair pulled into a ponytail under her white cap. Possibly East Indian or Pakistani, with gorgeous, compassionate dark eyes set in a plain, sweet face. “Doyle, Ray Doyle.”

“Mr Doyle, my name is Aarushi,” she said softly, taking the pulse on his wrist.

Doyle wheezed painfully, his eyes half open to acknowledge her.

Staring at the chain she’d moved slightly to place her fingers in position, Bodie wanted to scream at her to get a doctor. Instead, he pulled in a steadying breath, trying to wait for Linnea’s return. “He’s been poisoned,” he said, moulding his hand to Doyle’s cheek, only partially to monitor his breathing. “Check for Gyromitra mushrooms. Remember that!”

“I promise,” Aarushi said solemnly. “He needs epinephrine to open his airway.”

Linnea and two men barrelled out with an oxygen tank and wheeled stretcher between them. Doyle was scooped up and hustled into A&E with suddenness that left Bodie feeling rudderless. He was barred from the exam room, his last view of Doyle lying flat with a plastic mask covering his nose and mouth while Aarushi slid a needle into his arm.

For a few moments, Bodie had such a sensation of displacement, loss of self, that his knees wobbled and he almost crashed into the counter where the medical staff gathered to chart. You’re an experienced operative, he chastised himself, with a steadying hand on a large cart containing gloves and folded gowns. Stiff upper lip and all that—there was work to be done.

Arrest that witch at all costs. His first impulse was to drive helter skelter to the Spenser estate and handcuff the woman in front of Cassia and all her nasty cats. His rational side told him to hold back, take legal recourse.

“Sir, are you all right?” a sweet voice asked.

Bodie peered into the face of a nurse who barely looked old enough to pass her A levels. “Telephone?” he asked.

“Straight through the double doors, on the left.” She pointed, gathering two boxes of gloves before returning to the room where Doyle was.

For a moment, Bodie glimpsed his partner, his bare chest bristling with sticky lead wires trailing off to a heart monitor. IV tubing snaked from both arms. Hives covered his torso, just like Spenser’s. Bodie shuddered, remembering the body in the bed.

A group of doctors and nurses gathered around Doyle, discussing his case with pressured, urgent comments. But he was alive. After Ray’s time in hospital when Mayli shot him, Bodie had learned much about heart rate tracings on a monitor screen. The glowing greenish line wasn’t normal looking, but it was moving up and down as it should.

He was alive.

Call Cowley. His own heart beating so fast Bodie found it difficult to breathe, he located the telephone and fed the required coins into the slot. Waiting out the lag time between CI5’s switchboard and Cowley’s inner office used up every ounce of patience he had left.

“She’s poisoned Ray!” he shouted into the receiver when Cowley picked up.

“3.7,” Cowley said sternly. “Present the evidence in a concise manner.”

“Trellen Spenser. We spoke with her at the estate,” Bodie tripped over his words in an effort to get the report out. “She’d laid on a full spread for tea—nearly got her to admit she’d given his Lordship the mushrooms. In the tea! When we were leaving, Doyle was having trouble breathing and by the time we’d got to hospital, he was in shock…”

“Good Lord.”

Cowley wasn’t usually prone to swearing, and the sharp utterance had the power to ease Bodie’s anxiety. They would get through this. Doyle was alive. Cowley on the warpath.

“Halley and Barnes are here,” Cowley relayed. “We’ve been over new information pointing straight at Lady Spenser, and it isn’t good. I’d just rung the magistrate for a search warrant, but that won’t be necessary since you provided probable cause.”

“I’m going there now,” Bodie declared. Leaving Doyle alone tore at his heart, but he couldn’t stay still. The impetus to move, to smash, was too strong.

“Wait, Bodie,” Cowley commanded. “We’ll be in the air in less than ten minutes. Meet us at the estate in approximately forty-five minutes.”

“She’ll scarper,” Bodie protested.

“Wait, Bodie, wait.”

~~**~~

Chico had ridden in a helicopter for the first time less than a year ago, when Sid was held prisoner by a smuggler. He’d hated the sick making sensation of lifting off solid ground and throttling through insubstantial air. This was a far larger chopper than the previous ride, with closed sides instead of bug-eyed windows displaying the passing ground below, but smaller than a sturdy airplane.

He didn’t like it, and sat with his eyes closed. Last time, he’d had Sid’s discarded prosthetic arm to hang onto, which had helped anchor him, no matter how daft that sounded. Now, he’d have latched onto Sid’s bioelectric prosthetic in an instant, especially because it was currently attached to his lover. There was, however, a certain element of manliness to maintain.

He tried meditation, mentally going through his usual katas, the karate forms he practiced daily to maintain his black belt. Except every time the helicopter swooped to one side, his nausea rose, shattering his concentration.

Turbulence buffeted the little craft violently. Except for his seatbelt, Chico would have landed in Sid’s lap. He clutched the thick, plastic and metal arm braced against him, no longer caring whether the pilot or Cowley, in the front two seats, could see him. Murphy in the seat facing them, was poring over the info on Trellen, blissfully unaffected by the bumpy ride.

“Keep your stomach where it belongs,” Sid shouted into his ear. “Be over before you know it.”

Chico rolled his eyes, clamping his jaws shut when the pilot swung wide and then headed earthward. He swallowed mightily and managed to avoid the embarrassment of sicking up his fish and chips into Sid’s lap.

Once the chopper settled onto a wide open field, Chico was the first out, gulping air to settle his stomach. The huge blades above his head slowed to a stop, still buffeting the grass in the meadow where they’d landed. In the near distance, he could make out a large Victorian style greenhouse, glass panels shining in the afternoon sun. Beyond that was an estate where any royal would have gladly spent the weekend.

“There’s someone in the greenhouse,” Murphy announced, pointing.

“And that’s Cassia Noble,” Chico identified, shading his eyes with one hand. He could just make out the tiny figure of a blonde woman leaving the back of the manse and heading for the greenhouse. The rolling landscape made it difficult to follow her progress but he caught sight of her hurrying past a copse of trees.

Sid glanced at him, eyes opaque but Chico felt the connection, nonetheless. Sid nodded, on the alert.

From the section of the drive visible this far away, Bodie and Doyle’s Capri braked, Bodie jumping out to sprint toward them.

“Fan out, and focus on the women we can see,” Cowley commanded. “Undoubtedly, they’re aware we’ve arrived.”

Murphy went first, followed by Sid and Cowley. Chico, feeling rough, took up the rear, leaving the pilot with his craft.

Had Cassia known what her mother was doing? Armed with the names of her former husbands, Cowley, Sid and Chico had compiled more information on the men, and by extension, the woman they’d married. Four confirmed ex-husbands, all probably killed by her hands. Chilling. Why had she branched out, gone after Doyle? Because he and Bodie were sniffing around? And why had Cassia taken ill? As a smokescreen, or an amazing coincidence? In all the hurry and bother, they’d never got her medical files, that Chico was aware of.

Bodie put on speed, narrowing the gap between him and Cassia. She looked back, seeing him, and raced toward the greenhouse. She was shouting, but Chico was too far away to hear what. He broke into a run, trailing the others.

They were all nearing the glass structure. Chico finally glimpsed an older woman in a red cardigan surrounded by potted green foliage and trailing vines hanging from the ceiling. Trellen Spenser? She bent, pushing something to the ground. Suddenly, flames erupted, licking the plant filled wooden table beside her.

“Mum!” Cassia crashed through the double doors as fire swelled, eating the cluster of vegetation crowding the main room. “No!”

“She’s torching the mushrooms!” Bodie shouted, plunging in to get Trellen.

Smoke filled the glass structure, obscuring what was happening inside. Murphy grabbed a hose, turning the spigot, and directed the stream of water into the inferno. The blaze was fierce, the old fashioned building burning like kindling. He soaked his dark suit with water, and disappeared into the dense smoke.

“Get to the house, call the fire brigade!” Cowley yelled, wetting himself down, too.

“On it!” Sid responded, pelting down the knoll.

The heat was incredible, superheating the surrounding air. Cowley pushed an old rake against the main door to keep it open, hesitating only a second before plunging into the billowing smoke after Murphy.

Chico coughed, already having trouble breathing. He snatched up the hose Murphy had abandoned, focusing water on the entrance. Fear tightened his chest, but someone had to stay outside. They couldn’t all burn alive. If he could keep the doorway wet, the fire couldn’t get a purchase there, and his colleagues would have an escape route.

Glass began to break on the wall where the blaze had begun, the sound like gunfire as each pane shattered in the intense heat.

Cowley and Murphy emerged like ghosts from the conflagration, dragging a sobbing Cassia. Chico hosed them all down, coughing. Cassia went to her knees with a wail of surrender.

“Where’s Bodie?” Chico demanded, trying to see past the wall of flames.

“He was…” Cowley hacked, unable to speak. Soot grimed his face.

Murphy turned to go back inside when Bodie staggered out, clutching Trellen like a bridegroom crossing the threshold.

~~**~~

Struggling to pull free of clinging nightmares, Doyle inhaled, grateful to be able to do so. Where was he? What time was it? He felt like a mummy, dried to dust and left in a sarcophagus.

Shapes and images danced around in the recent past, taunting him to reconstruct a cohesive whole. Driving in the car with Bodie, laughing. A dead body in a bed, covered in hives. Drinking tea with an older woman.

His eyes were crusted shut. Doyle breathed for a while, puzzling why his throat hurt, and raised his hand to scrub at his eyes.

“Oi,” Bodie said softly, pushing his hand back down. “You’ll jostle the drip.”

Something cool and damp brushed over his face and eyes and miraculously, Doyle could open them to see his love. “What’s happened?” he asked, voice like a scratchy recording. Bodie was clutching a wet rag but he had bandages on his hands and forearms, swathes of gauze wrapped around as if he were going as a mummy to a masquerade party.

“We had a barbeque whilst you were out,” Bodie joked with half a grin. “Grilled CI5 agents.”

“I couldn’t catch me breath…” Doyle said, wisps of memory floating in his head. Frightening imagery, full of dread and death.

“Our Trellen served you a piping hot cup of Gyromitra,” Bodie explained, miming drinking. “By the time we were in the car, you were—” His mouth twisted in a grim line. “Anaphylaxis. But made it to hospital in time. Cracking staff, pumped you full of adrenalin and Benadryl, and you were out like a light in a trice, breathing as you should.” Bodie gave Doyle’s hand a gentle squeeze, kissing his knuckles before tucking it back under the sheet.

“Why didn’t you…?” Doyle searched back to the tea party. The moggies. He sat up clumsily, leaning against the pillows. “Thisbe saved you from death. You’ll have to take her as your own, in gratitude.”

“Servitude, more like,” Bodie grumbled cheerfully. “Thought Thisbe was the bloke?”

“Berk. Obviously Thisbe’s a bird. Pyramus is a man’s name.” Doyle rolled his eyes. He tapped Bodie’s gauze covered right hand. “Where’s Lady Spenser now?”

Bodie was just launching into the saga of the fire at the greenhouse when Chico and Sid piled into the room. Both looked dishevelled and smelt of smoke, but were uninjured.

“Good, you’re up and around,” Halley declared. “The Major is giving a press conference.”

“You’re pulling my leg,” Bodie scoffed. “He doesn’t appear on camera.”

“This time, ‘e does.” Chico fiddled with the buttons on the telly mounted on the wall opposite the hospital bed.

An earnest, young newsreader looked directly into the camera. “Following reports of a salmonella outbreak in The Dalles, a community in Oregon in the US, authorities have concluded that the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh may have attempted to poison many Oregonians in advance of an election this month. The Rajneeshis wanted to gain political power in Wasco County court.” He shook his head. “In far more local news, we go to Spenser house, where fire destroyed a century old greenhouse.”

“Heard of those Rajneeshis,” Doyle said, remembering seeing a group in Picadilly with the bearded guru’s picture a few months before. Were poisonings the in thing right now? “They wear all red and have wild sex.”

“Where can I join up?” Bodie snickered, crowding in close on the edge of the bed to sit beside him.

“This is Martin Forrest speaking with Mr Murphy,” a serious man with windswept hair said. “You arrived at the estate without knowledge of the fire. Why had you come?”.

Murphy’s face filled the screen. “We’d word that she was growing mushrooms, and…wanted her expertise on the sort implicated in the death of several people,” he explained evasively. A cowlick stood up in the back of his hair and there were streaks of dirt across one cheek. Murphy was minus a tie and suit jacket, his eyes much wider than usual, white showing around the iris as if he wasn’t at all keen on the idea of appearing on camera.

“Been coached, he has,” Doyle observed, looking around for something to drink. Definitely not tea. Not for a good long time.

“Water?” Bodie asked shrewdly, as if reading his thoughts. Even with the bandages on his paws, he poured water from a plastic pitcher, plopping a bendable straw into the cup.

Doyle wanted to growl at him, just because, but he turned back to the screen, sipping the refreshing liquid. Hydrated all the dried parts of his throat and mouth wonderfully. It was then that he realised the chain usually padlocked around his left wrist had been replaced by a plastic hospital ID band. The loss gutted him.

“You saved her Ladyship’s daughter?” the reporter was asking.

“When I arrived, the greenhouse was in flames,” Murphy replied, glancing past the cameraman.

Undoubtedly looking for guidance from their controller. Murphy’d never been good at improvisation.< /p>

“I saw her and her mother inside, and was able to rescue Cassia Noble,” he said, sounding like he’d memorised the response. “A colleague got Lady Trellen out, but we were unable to get…s-samples of the fungus.” He cleared his throat nervously. “We’ve no idea the origin of the blaze.”

“But we do,” Sid said when the report ended with a view of the fire brigade hosing down the blackened wreckage of the once beautiful greenhouse. Football scores followed.

“She’d been ‘oarding petrol, according to the staff,” Chico said, perching on the window ledge, spinning a pointer finger at his temple. “Gone round the bend, if you ask me. Killed four husbands!”

“Bloody hell.” Doyle choked on his water, spewing down the front of his hospital gown. “I didn’t marry the woman.”

“Reckon we got too close,” Bodie said, handing over a serviette as if in payback for his own spill earlier in the day. “The tea had worked so many times before, as far as Cowley could tell, although there’s more to uncover. She was ranting when I pulled her out. That ‘she’ was younger than Cassia.” He shook his head regretfully. “Burned more’n half her body. Not sure she’ll survive.”

“Emerald was younger than Cassia?” Halley said sadly. He took a cigarette and lighter out of his pocket, then glanced at the oxygen tank beside the bed and tucked them away again. “I expect he’d often gone for the eighteen or nineteen year olds, but once their own daughter got that age, it changed the game.”

“Emerald were in love,” Chico sighed. “For her, it was real.”

“Don’t know that it wasn’t reciprocal.” Doyle closed his fingers around his wrist. Felt light and unsubstantial without the weighty jewellery.

“Probably never know.” Bodie placed one hand on top of Doyle’s to stop his groping. “Nurse clipped it off.”

“Hospital staff always do that,” Sid agreed. “Lost all manner of watches and such when in A and E.”

“Goes to show, don’t get ‘urt,” Chico said cheerfully. “Gov, we’re shoving off. Cowley’s pilot wanted us back at the ‘elicopter by ‘alf past seven.”

“Can’t be that late!” Doyle protested, with a glance out the window. Sure enough, it was completely dark outside, a sliver of moon riding low in the sky.

Bodie held up his own wristwatch. “Like a princess in a Disney film, you slept for hours.” He waggled his mummy wrapped hands at Chico and Sid. “See you back in London?”

“Reckon if the chopper lands in our back garden in Roxbye—” Sid started.

“Squash the squash and swedes, it will.” Chico laughed.

“Chico can milk his cow,” Sid finished, giving him a look, “whilst I deal with the horses.”

“Oh, now Mathilde’s my cow.”

“We’ll drive into London on Friday morning for a debriefing.” Sid pretended to smack Chico with his prosthesis as they walked out the door.

“Ta,” Doyle called but he was far from light-hearted. This case had bounded wildly between rational and inexplicable conduct in such a short period of time. What had caused Trellen Spenser to kill—repeatedly? Would they ever know? “What’d Cowley uncover?” he asked wearily.

Bodie gave him a rapid overview of what was known so far, and his own hypothesis that she’d used mushroom teas as her weapon of choice.

“Tisanes,” Doyle corrected, watching with consternation as Bodie unwrapped his bandages and tossed them on the lino. “An infusion of dried herbs or…”

“Hmm?” Bodie revealed his hands. Both had painful looking streaks of reddened skin, but no blisters or severe damage. “All that gauze was getting in me way.”

By comparison, Doyle still had fading red patches on his arms from the hives. “Doctor will have your hide.” He flexed the fingers of the hand with the drip, disgruntled and sad.

“Had worse burns that time on the beach in Majorca, remember?” Bodie smiled fondly, grasping his hand, finally skin to skin.

“Boiled like a lobster,” Doyle recalled, surprised that there were tears in his eyes. His throat was tight, and it had nothing to do with anaphylaxis. This had all been too close. How many more times would they be able to skirt death before it was the last?

“Ray,” Bodie whispered, kissing him quickly.

“Bodie,” Doyle responded against his lips, wanting to be alone with him, not stuck in some public place where the nurse had every right to step in whenever she wanted.

“I’ll get you another chain, no worries,” Bodie said, sitting back reluctantly.

“Don’t care about that.” Doyle kissed him, the weight of them together keeping him sane.

"Yeah, you do.” Bodie glanced at the door before one more kiss. “I’ve seen you touching that chain all the time. It’s our connection.”

“It’s you when you’re not there, and even when you are,” Doyle admitted reluctantly. “It’s part of me.”

~~**~~

Doyle fell asleep, leaving Bodie wired and restless, unfocussed. His hands and arms were painful enough that he’d have killed for paracetamol, but the hospital pharmacy wouldn’t dispense without a prescription. The Ward Sister gave him the gimlet eye when he asked for a couple of tablets, and directed him to the hospital gift shop.
It was shut up tight with a handwritten sign apologising for the early closing.

“Bugger,” he muttered to himself. The main lobby was deserted, banks of chairs empty, the odd magazine left open on the floor. He was about to cross back to the one door left open after hours, and heard a small, hiccupping sound.

Walking quietly across the carpeted floor in case he disturbed a mourning family member, he spied a familiar figure. Cassia was tucked between the wall and a fake potted fern, hugging her bent knees up under her chin. She looked so despondent, Bodie could almost forgive what he assumed was her deception.

“Cassia?”

She lifted her cheek off her knees. The left half of her face was shiny with ointment and her pretty blond hair was singed short on that side, an asymmetrical punk haircut, but like Bodie, she hadn’t been seriously harmed.

“Your mum?” He knelt down beside her but far enough away that he wasn’t crowding. “How is she doing?” The doctors had told him that she’d been burned over 40 percent of her body. That in itself was dire because she could easily die from infection or dehydration. Her age didn’t help matters. He’d lost his own mother when he was barely out of primary school, he didn’t wish it on his worst enemy.

“Doctors’re airlifting her to Nottingham Hospital burns unit before nine tonight.” She snuffled, wiping her nose on her sleeve. She had a knitted cardigan quite similar to the one Trellen had been wearing. “They’re the best in the area, but…” She shrugged helplessly.

She’d basically lost both her parents in forty-eight hours. He thought of that awful time after Ray had been shot in the chest. He’d hunted down the killer only to discover Mayli shot and dying herself. Bodie mourned the woman, knowing she’d already paid for her crimes. Compassion could be such a complicated emotion. He wanted to beleaguer her about her mother’s murderous deeds and scoop her into his lap so she could cry on his shoulder.

“It’s still touch and go?”

“Her lungs…were most probably damaged beyond repair. Inhaled hot air mixed with petrol,” Cassia said quietly, pressing her fingertips to her bottom lip.

“Did you—” Bodie stopped, settling on the floor with his back to the plate glass window. Should he interrogate her here, now? Cowley would sentence him to months of endless stakeouts mixed with forced practice with Towser and Macklin if he didn’t return with some sort of concrete information, a motive at the very least. “Know your mother had killed her late husbands?” he asked finally.

Cassia shook her head, clearly exhausted. “I knew that she… had been married more often than she let on, but I still don’t know how many. Your Mr Cowley told me she’d m-murdered Papa.” She began to cry again, wiping at her eyes in vain and speaking between sobs. “She’d become so angry at him. Not like before.” She spread her hands. “They’d both had affairs. It was their way.”

“She was angry because of Emerald Kelly?”

“Mama said she’d seen her at the racetrack and knew he’d fall for her—a gorgeous little jockey, so fresh and new.” Cassia pressed against her mouth again, swallowing. “For the last month, she was obsessed, practically seething. That was new.”

“She was angry at him, not Emerald,” Bodie summarised.

“That p-powder your partner found,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper, “at the Jockey Club.”

He nodded, the memory still traumatic, even after Doyle’s more recent incident.

“I took the envelope. It was from mum.” She twisted her fingers together, hiccupping again. “Don’t know what the powder was, but she was always compounding mushrooms and…poisons. Could have been anything.”

“Do you still have it?” Bodie asked carefully. Dr Yan would be ecstatic for a solid piece of evidence.

She shook her head, finally looking at Bodie with such overwhelming sadness. “Before, there’d always been a string of men here, and women at Papa’s.”

“Do you remember any names?” He had to admit a certain morbid fascination at the woman’s exploits. How had she got away with murder for so very long?

“There was Lord John Vaughn and…Uncle—“ She got herself under tenuous control, “I called Lord Silverbridge Uncle Dan as a girl. They were her lovers, I knew it. Then they’d disappear and Papa would be back in the picture.”

Bodie made a mental note to add the two men to the list of Trellen’s possible victims. “Your mum’s real name is Tracy?” He wasn’t at all sure what to ask, particularly with Cassia in such distress.

“I only ever heard her called Trellen,” she whispered, face pale. “I didn’t know her at all.”

“Did you accidentally drink some of her mushroom tea and end up in hospital?” he asked, to tie up at least one loose end.

“Course not!” she scoffed, palming the last of the tears out her eyes. “Can’t abide the stuff. Was the fare at Kempton’s restaurant. Food poisoning, and I wasn’t the only victim.” Cassia got to her feet slowly as if her whole body ached. “Still can’t eat much, stomach’s all wobbles.”

“One last question,” Bodie said, standing. Two nurses approached Cassia with determination. “Sergei Koshkin. You told my partner he was a spy.”

“Oh, yes.” On this point, she seemed quite certain. “He’s said straight out. Wanted information from Papa, wined and dined him in the hope of some juicy tidbit to take back to the Kremlin for the prestige of it all. He’s quite determined.”

Bodie had a twinge of disappointment, he’d liked the Russian. “Your father was investigating his gambling for the JC, and using what Koshkin told him as fodder for his novels?”

“They were mates, in the end,” Cassia agreed, turning to acknowledge the women.

“Miss Noble, you’ll want to come directly,” one of the nurses said.

Cassia paled, hurrying in her wake.

“Has her mother passed?” Bodie asked carefully.

“I can’t give out information to non-family members,” the older woman answered primly, walking away.

Bodie let them take the lift, unwilling to intrude. It was then he noticed a window display of the gifts available in the gift shop. ‘Give the patient a smile!’ read a placard above a miniature bed heaped with get-well cards, chocolate boxes, and a hardback book. Final Lap by CK Spense.

~~**~~

“Feels like we ain’t been here in an age, ‘stead of this morning,” Chico groaned, setting the fresh milk containers into the refrigerator.< /p>

Sid peeled off his barn jacket and muddy Wellingtons, eyeing the clock over the cooker. Too late to roast a proper joint and jacket potato. He was knackered and only wanted a shower and bed, but for once his belly was demanding food immediately. They’d cared for the livestock first, like good animal owners, and now it was their turn.

“What’s in there for a nice fry up?” He sidled up close to Chico, getting a good whiff of petrol fumed smoke, masculine sweat, and a bit of bovine fragrance. Delicious. Almost good enough to eat. “I could eat…”

“Mmm.” Chico turned in time to get kissed on the mouth. “Yeah, tastes great but doesn’t fill me up.” He snickered and kissed Sid, opened mouth, with tongue.
They could have done that all night standing there in front of the open fridge, until Sid’s stomach rumbled loudly.

“’Eard that in the north country, they did,” Chico commented with a teasing grin. “There’s two bangers gone wanting, as well as some onions, and…” He bent down to peer into the fridge, pushing aside the Ribena, a jar of pickles, and a bowl of Bisto from dinner days earlier. “Mushrooms.”< /p>

“No, toss those,” Sid declared, half sickened by the thought of eating them. He used to be quite fond of a mushroom omelette, but for now, they would be off his diet. He took out a couple spuds and a knife. “I’ll slice up some potatoes and we’ll fry it all in the same pan.”

“Efficient.” Chico threw the mushrooms in the rubbish bin with a grimace.

Sid loaded two sliced potatoes into a frying pan with the sausage and onion when the phone began to ring. He grabbed the receiver off the wall before the first chimes had finished. “’Lo,” he greeted.

“’Aving a rough go t’night, Sid,” Emerald said, tears evident in her voice. “I miss ‘im ever so. I’d be there, now, if it ain’t…” She took a long, shuddering breath as if to calm herself.

“I’m glad you rang up, then, Emerald.” Sid shoved a wooden spoon at Chico, motioning for him to stir the food on the cooker and held out the telephone so they could both hear. “We’ve just been up in Lincoln. Have you heard about Lady Spenser?”

“S’why I’m in such a state,” she moaned. “Saw it on the telly, that she’d likely poisoned Charlie. How could she do that to ‘im? ‘Er own husband.”
“When we arrived at Spenser Manor,” Chico said, leaning into the phone whilst stirring left handed, “she’d set the greenhouse alight, to destroy the evidence. Burned ‘erself instead.”

“’Orrible,” Emerald said vehemently. “Is she laid out?”

“She was still alive when we left the hospital,” Sid murmured. Was it wrong of her to wish Trellen dead? He’d never been a church goer, only partially because, as a child, his status as a bastard had put shame on his mother. But he knew all the platitudes and commandments: Love thy neighbour and don’t judge lest ye be judged. In this instance, while he understood rationally that there had been something very wrong with Trellen Spenser, he didn’t begrudge Emerald her animosity in the least. “Under arrest.”

“Charlie didn’t deserve this!” Emerald spat. “’E weren’t perfick by any means, nobody is, but he were kind and gentle, and…I loved the ol’ sod.”

“We know, my darling, we know,” Chico said softly, turning off the gas under the frying pan. “Buck up and ‘ave yourself a bit of Sid’s whisky. You’re still there at the flat, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “Was going off to bed when I stopped to watch the news. I’ll be exercising Faerie in the morning. Less’n two weeks before the race.”

“Then do as Chico says, and we’ll see you tomorrow,” Sid said, dishing their dinner onto plates. “Take care.”

"Poor lamb.” Chico shook his head, opening the fridge again. “She were really smitten with the old man.”< /p>

“What makes it all the more difficult for her, because few will believe they might have actually been in love,” Sid sat down, poking his fork at the bangers. “With his reputation and the short time they’d been together.”

“A bit like us, yeah?” Chico held aloft a bottle of Champagne they’d bought the year before on a short trip to the continent for a horse race in the north of France. “The infamous jockey Sid ‘Ally and his ‘andsome judo teacher what pulled him out of ‘is doldrums all those years ago? Who’ve thought we’d end up t’gever?”

In spite of himself, Sid laughed, glad to be able to after the sombre day. Chico had taught him martial arts, which had contributed to decreasing his depression after the accident. All those years ago was a bit of a stretch. “What’ve you got there?”< /p>

“Obvious, innit? Put those ‘eavy gage steel dabs to good use and open up the bubbles.” Chico handed over the bottle and collected two wine glasses.

He was right, there were situations when the prosthesis was an asset, and popping a tight cork was only one of many. Loosening the wires around the cork, Sid eased the stopper out. The champagne was cold, so only a whoosh of compressed air rushed out before he poured golden liquid into the glasses. Champagne was probably his favourite drink on earth. “We’re not celebrating yet, should save this for when Emerald rides to victory.”

“This is…wot you call it? Dream interpretation.” Chico took a sip and leaned over to kiss him.

Sparkling wine, like exploding stars, filled his mouth. Sid surged into his lover, prolonging the kiss. Let the fry up get cold, he didn’t care any longer.

~~**~~

“4.5, you’re fully recovered?” Cowley asked when Bodie and Doyle arrived in his office.

“Doctor gave him a warning to steer clear of Gyromitra,” Bodie said, poking an elbow at his partner. In truth, he hadn’t even wanted to bring Doyle into headquarters. The urge to spirit him away from all danger loomed so large that he’d almost turned the car off the southern motorway for the west toward Gloucester where their hired cottage was located.

“Vowed never to eat another fungus for the next week.” Doyle’s eye roll contained both bemusement and fatalism. He knew very well that neither of them could control when and if they’d be assaulted by those on the wrong side of the law.

“I’m sure you are aware that Lady Trellen Spenser died of her injuries shortly after she was flown to Nottingham burns unit,” Cowley said soberly.

Bodie grimaced with a nod. “Was on the radio as we were driving.” He glanced over at Doyle before taking a chair. Doyle should be the one resting but as usual, he was propped up against a piece of furniture. The drinks cart, in particular. “Spoke with Cassia shortly before she left with her mother. She maintains that she had food poisoning from the fare at Kempton.”

“Not eating there ever again,” Doyle commented, raising a finger as if he’d thought of something. “If Spenser was already sick from drinking cups of the mushroom tea, would food poisoning have tipped him over the edge?”

“Indeed,” Cowley murmured, brightening with the prospect of new evidence to explore. He dialled the phone quickly and relayed the question to Dr Yan.

>

“You had other matters on your mind.” Doyle put a gentle hand on the burned streaks on Bodie’s forearms. “Cassia wasn’t involved in any of it, was she?”

“Doesn’t appear so, no.” Bodie shook his head. What a waste. “She must not have spent much time with his Lordship as a girl, so she went to work with him to get closer? Never realising that her mum’s obsession was getting worse. Told me about two other blokes her mum was seeing. Could be Trellen murdered them, as well.”

“Senior Steward, writer, spy…Spenser wore a lot of hats,” Doyle said, eyeing Cowley before pouring out three shots of whisky. “Think we should raise a glass to ‘im.”

Cowley hung up the phone with a satisfied air. “Yan confirms that diagnosis, and had planned to catch us up when I rang him first. As to Miss Noble’s symptoms, he informed me that there have been six confirmed cases of food poisoning from those who ate lunch at Kempton on Tuesday.”

“At the prospect of repeating myself,” Doyle said.

“Never eating there again,” Bodie agreed.

Cowley rose, taking a shot glass from the trio on the cart. “Anticipated me, 4.5?” he asked, with a certain tart quality to his tone. He drank the alcohol in a single swallow. “Yan had done bacterial samples on the contents of his Lordship’s stomach Wednesday, but those take hours to days to reveal themselves, so he went with the initial diagnosis of Gyromitra.”

“But it was both?” Bodie reiterated, swallowing his whisky quick. The deep, peaty flavour warmed his body through, relaxing all those little tight places inside.

“Aye.” Cowley looked into his glass as if there were more answers at the bottom. “We’ve had permission from the Noble family, as well as the Ashcrofts, to exhume the corpses of both men. Yan suspects the bodies could still yield mushroom spores this long since burial.”

“You’ll have to add Lord John Vaughn and a Daniel, Lord Silverbridge, to the list,” Bodie said. “Cassia told me her mother had seen those two when she was growing up. That they’d disappeared.”

“The woman was insatiable,” Cowley muttered, jotting down the names. “You two unwittingly uncovered a serial killer.”

“Always have me wits about me,” Bodie protested, trying for droll. Wasn’t sure he managed judging from Cowley’s expression.

“Doesn’t happen every day.” Doyle picked up his glass last, downing the contents. “Think we deserve a rise.”

“You’ve reports to fill out and paperwork to sign.” Cowley pointed the hand holding his spectacles in the general direction of their office, clearly signalling that the meeting was at an end.

“We’ve scheduled time off,” Bodie said quickly, standing.

“For all the missed bank hols,” Doyle added, his eyes going wide as he realised they had a stab at their extended weekend after all.

“After you’ve—” Cowley began, raising his voice.

As Bodie pulled the door open, hooking an arm around Doyle to propel him along, Adler burst in, with Betty hot on his heels. It was very nearly a farcical comedy worthy of a West End stage for a moment before they’d sorted themselves.

“Sir, I was away from my desk for just a mo—” Betty said hurriedly.

“We’ve remanded Koshkin into custody,” Adler spoke over her. “The Jockey Club is cooperating fully in our joint investigation. Acting senior steward Meijer was more than willing to unload some of his cases into our hands.”

“As I’d predicted,” Cowley said, waving Betty off with a nod. There was a satisfied glint in his eyes. “Which did you stick him with, money laundering or espionage?”

“Let’s leg it while we can,” Bodie said, trying to shove Doyle past Betty’s desk and into the corridor. “Gloucester, here we come.”

“I was listening.” Doyle hung back to catch the rest of the conversation.

“Only person you’ll be listening to for the next three days is me,” Bodie let his register drop, projecting dominance to his submissive.

Doyle’s pupils dilated, the sudden lust in his eyes gratifying in the extreme.

Had they been alone, Bodie would have sent Doyle to his knees immediately. As it was, his groin went hot and achy.

~~**~~

Bodie had a mysterious errand before they drove out of the city. Doyle waited in the Capri, a street over from Bodie’s destination, sitting quietly to get himself into a submissive state of mind.

On one hand, he needed this after the frantic last couple days, and on the other, he felt unsettled and ready to jump out of his skin. Doyle scratched absently at the last of the blotchy hives on his chest before remembering he wasn’t supposed to do so. He’d gone into the Spenser manor like the rawest of agents fresh from training without an ounce of caution. Then drunk the fare she’d offered—and relished the tea! The most basic tenet of self-preservation warned against consuming a potential enemy’s food. What a fool he’d been.

He caught sight of Bodie ambling along the pavement, hands thrust in his suit jacket pockets. The burns weren’t visible, but they were there, a potent reminder of how Doyle’s actions could have killed them both.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Doyle was so far from submissive that when Bodie opened the car door, he tensed, ready to rail and spit at anything Bodie said, no matter how benign.
As if aware he was sitting down beside a wild animal, Bodie didn’t say a word. He glanced over at Doyle with a speculative look in those blue eyes, turned the key in the ignition and started the car.

Feeling strangely like he’d been thwarted by a master, Doyle frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. What had Bodie thought would happen? That he’d simply capitulate without a single protest?

They needed time to…what? Process. That was the word. Deal with the fall-out was the phrase he’d heard in American cop programmes.

Bodie drove in silence until they were on the M5 and past most of the London traffic. Doyle had become a bit crazed waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, for Bodie to give him a dressing down or condemnation for his behaviour. Wasn’t that what a dominant was supposed to do?

Bodie had never struck him during one of their scenes, but there was always a first time. This seemed as appropriate time as any. He’d effed up. Doyle had dreaded swats when he and Bodie first began to play kinky games, mostly due to the beatings his father had meted out at regular intervals, particularly when drunk. Which was a goodly portion of the time. Unless Ray’s mum got to the pay packet first and siphoned off the pound notes to feed the children. The memory of his father’s rage, and the bruises he caused, had vanquished any possibility that Doyle could ever find swats erotic.

He’d been able to alter his perception of bondage after years of being tied up by various thugs and bullyboys, coming to cherish Bodie restraining him. Beatings remained tainted by brutal, lasting memories.

“Suppose this is when you expect me to box you ‘round the ears with a resounding ‘Pillock, what the bloody hell did you do that for’, is it?” Bodie remarked, with added Scouse for emphasis.

Doyle stared at him, although, in truth, they so often read each other’s thoughts in times of stress that it should not have surprised him.

“I ate her sarnies, as well, berk,” Bodie said, starkly honest. “Was that moggy saved my arse, or we’d’ve both been gasping on the carpet.” He cut his eyes left for half a moment, skewering Doyle to the core. “You know that, yeah?”

It was in him to negate the bland statement, but he couldn’t. The bands squeezing his chest loosened a fraction. “We both acted the fool?”

“Did you know that in Lithuania, getting lost whilst picking mushrooms is so common that there is a word for it?” Bodie steered around a slow moving Volkswagen and the Capri shot ahead. “Nugrybauti.”

“You’re having one on,” Doyle accused.

“Never.” Bodie shook his head, a grin ghosting his lips. “Not certain of my pronunciation. Don’t have much Lithuanian, but who would know?”

“Nugrybauti,” Doyle repeated, taking a slow breath.

“Another question for you,” Bodie continued, eyes on the motorway as if there was nothing special beginning to happen. “Would you rather sit all stroppy and feeling sorry for yourself or be restrained and sexually frustrated?”

Not expecting to be dropped into the scene quite so suddenly, Doyle choked on his next breath and had to cough. “Yes, please.”

“Which?” Bodie raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

It didn’t take a trained observer to notice that Bodie had steered off the M5 onto a road leading to petrol and a Little Chef. He expected an answer, then. “Restrained,” Doyle whispered, desire flooding his body so quickly that his mouth went dry.

“For the rest of the drive.” Bodie held up not one but two silver chain bracelets.

“You replaced it,” Doyle said reverently. Somehow, seeing the sign of his…what to call it? Commitment to Bodie’s dominance had the power to soothe all the anxiety he’d heaped on himself.

“I have sources.” Bodie smiled at him.

There was such love coming from him that Doyle wanted to dive in for a kiss, here on the side of a public road. Instead, he held out his wrists for the two bracelets. Tiny padlocks secured each around his arms and then a short length of chain with a clip on each end was added to link the bracelets together. Doyle could hold his arms in a relaxed posture, hands resting on his thighs about four inches apart. “Yes,” he said simply. “How much longer until we get there?”

“Roughly an hour and a half?” Bodie guessed, navigating back onto the M5. “I’ll stop for food near the cottage since I’ll wager you won’t want to be out to the pub starkers, which is how I plan to see you for two days, at the very least.”

Doyle moved his arms slightly on his thighs, watching the glint of the silver bracelets catch the sunlight, casting splinters of brightness against the dashboard. He continued to be fascinated and confused about his own capitulation into what most would consider deviant and perverted. So why did it soothe his inner beast like nothing on earth? Sex with Bodie was brilliant. To then add bondage, like the Chocolate Flake on a ninety-nine, was heaven.

Bodie wasn’t long in a grocery shop soon after they arrived in Gloucester, returning laden with sacks which he stowed in the boot. Doyle had dozed off while he was gone and only roused when Bodie bounced back into the Capri.

Turning the car radio on before starting the ignition, Bodie dialled in the local station. “An oldie,” he proclaimed when the plaintive tones of To Sir With Love swelled forth. “Who’s the better singer, Lulu or Petula Clark?”

"Subjective, innit?” Doyle yawned, rotating his shoulders to smooth out the cramps.

“Not to me.” Bodie consulted some printed directions, driving left and then right. He parked the car by the kerb directly in front of their destination.

The house was nothing special: a terraced home made of pale stone, exactly like the ones on either side. A brown door with one window to the right side and two directly above on the next level.

“From here on,” Bodie said, “If you don’t answer a question correctly, I get to pick whatever to do…” He paused dramatically, “to you.”

“And if I get it right?” Doyle countered.

“Your choice.”

“Lulu or Petula?” Doyle considered the implications. Bodie had been humming along to Lulu, but on the other hand, that was the song playing—what else would he do? He often bopped along when Downtown played on the jukebox at the pub. “What’s the penalty for this question?” he asked astutely. “I reckon there will be others?”

“A point in your favour.” Bodie tapped his own nose. “So early in the game. There will be others. This one?” He climbed out of the car and went around to hold open the door for Doyle. “You get me off once we’re inside the house.”

That was an easy one. Doyle would have done that whether or not he won the round. He snickered, well into the spirit of the game. His jeans were uncomfortably tight in the groin area. Doyle mentally sang Downtown, “Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty, how can you lose?” No neon signs about, but there had been when they’d passed through the main part of Gloucester. How could he lose?

Bodie gathered his sacks from the boot, and a small overnight bag which apparently didn’t contain any clothing for Doyle. Grinning to himself, Doyle walked up the path to the front door behind his partner.

As Bodie fit a key into the lock, Doyle leaned forward, letting his tongue brush Bodie’s ear. “Lulu,” he said sweetly.

Bodie chuckled, flicking on the interior light as they walked inside. “Ding ding, wrong answer,” he chortled. “You forfeit. On your knees, peasant.”

Doyle sank to the wooden floor, hardly noticing the hard surface, his eyes on Bodie’s cock as it emerged from his trousers. A fine, fleshy specimen, solid and muscular, clearly Bodie’s.

As his lover, his partner, his master, leaned against the closed door, Doyle raised up to draw it into his mouth. He swirled his tongue around the tip, applying brief suction with his lips and then blowing lightly on the damp surface.

Bracing his hands on his thighs to maintain his balance, Bodie moaned deeply in his throat. The pure sound spurred Doyle on. He clamped his mouth around Bodie’s length as if it were the sweetest of all peppermint sticks on Christmas morning. Savouring his treat, he cupped Bodie’s scrotum in both hands.
Bodie must have been as primed as Doyle. He came like a racehorse, charging across the finish line, nasals flaring. Doyle swallowed once, but pulled away from the full load. Because of his fettered wrists, Doyle couldn’t slip his arms around his lover. Instead, he steadied Bodie with both palms on his belly to help him slide down the door to the floor.
“Got us off to a roaring start.” Bodie grinned beatifically, gathering Doyle in so he was astride Bodie’s legs.
Inching forward, Doyle kissed Bodie, accepting the tongue that pushed into his mouth with enthusiasm. He loved a good tongue ballet, the long slippery surfaces dipping and curling around each other in a graceful dance.
The pas de deux lasted several minutes before Bodie wriggled his legs. “Losing circulation,” he mumbled.
“Should have said so.” Doyle scrambled off, hesitating before he got to his feet. Had they officially begun their scene? Was he on command or could he simply do as he pleased? He stood, his belly giving out a loud rumble.
“And you’re hungry.” Bodie laughed, nodding. “Always go with the bodily functions first.” He made quick work of unlocking Doyle’s wrist chains. “Shed your clothes whilst I whip up a goodly repast.”
“Lofty ambitions when I strongly suspect you’ve got sliced ham, tinned beans, and a packet of crisps in that bag,” Doyle teased.
“Ye of little faith!” Bodie slipped off his blue suit jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his French cuff shirt.
Doyle took a shower in the well appointed bathroom because he’d not had the time earlier at the hospital. Felt like he was washing away the contamination of the Gyromitra. Regarding his clean body in the steamy mirror, he was pleasantly surprised to see that the hives were almost completely gone. He raked his fingers through tangled curls since he had neither comb nor brush. Had Bodie brought him anything or would he have to leave Gloucester on Monday wearing the same clothes he’d had on when they visited Lady Trellen Thursday afternoon? Seemed a lifetime ago and yet was only twenty four hours. So much had changed.
He cherished this time with Bodie all the more knowing that it was akin to a miracle no- one else had died. From what he’d heard about the fire in the greenhouse, they all had been at terrible risk.
“You decent?” Bodie asked with a smirk, eyeing his naked form with evident approval.
“Never,” Doyle replied. That earned him a kiss. Then two.
It was Bodie’s stomach rumbling that turned them to the table and the splendid feast he’d supplied.
“Wasn’t just a homely green grocer’s then?” Doyle sat down, eyeing the fare. There was sliced tomatoes alternating with round pieces of mozzarella on a plate, a thick loaf of French bread, brined olives, and several other things clearly intended to appeal to his palate.
“International cuisine.” Bodie speared prosciutto onto his plate, heaping olives and tomatoes beside it. He ripped into the bread with gusto, all the while watching Doyle do the same. “Didn’t think you’d got much to eat in hospital.”
“Coffee and something that was possibly Rice Crispies, but not entirely sure, at breakfast.” Doyle shuddered for effect, tucking into the dinner quite happily. He didn’t indulge in the Quality Street chocolates Bodie ate afterward. He sat back, satisfied, watching his partner unwrap the crinkly paper and drop red and purple wrappers on the table. “How’d you find this place? Not really a cottage.”
“Yeah.” Bodie squinted up at the exposed beams in the ceiling. “Not your average holiday hire, either.”
Doyle extended his bare foot, running his toes up under Bodie’s trouser leg. Having eaten, he was keen to move on to other pursuits.
Bodie’s pupils dilated and he gulped suddenly, swallowing the choccie. “Erm, there’s a board… in the naughty little shop on the high street with listings—”
“Which high street?” Doyle asked, placing his other foot on Bodie’s thigh. He’d always had dexterous toes, and could wriggle them quite nimbly across a certain warm piece of anatomy.
“That has houses which have been adapted for specific…”
Bodie stiffened, breathing faster every time Doyle pressed a toe into the swelling target.
“Specific tastes, if you will,” Bodie finished, valiantly acting as if he weren’t getting a foot job all the while. “What with our…” He paused, stiffening, his mouth wide, his head lolling back with a look of bliss.
That made twice Bodie had climaxed, and they’d been in the house for less than an hour.
Doyle laughed out loud. It wasn’t often he could control Bodie’s lust to such an extent. Not that he ever wanted to dominate his lover. More that he liked the shifting dynamics, the give and take between him and Bodie. It made life fun. Something he needed far more of.
Bodie captured Doyle’s foot with both hands, running his thumbnail from heel to toe. Doyle nearly came off his chair, the sensation tingly painful and ticklish in equal measure. He tried bending his knee to escape Bodie’s clutches, but Bodie only held on tighter.
“I’d already decided that with our…” He fluttered his fingertips lightly over Doyle’s instep, “misadventures yesterday, neither of us would be up for suspending you from yonder ring in the beam.” He looked upward again.
Following his example, Doyle spotted not one but three metal rings embedded in the wood above their heads. Interesting. Looked sturdy and solid, able to support a great deal of weight, if necessary. He flexed his foot to tolerate the overstimulation.
“Nor using the actual pillory in the spare bedroom, according to the literature,” Bodie went on, circling his forefinger around each of Doyle’s toes.
The whole thing was sending waves of arousal throughout his body which coalesced in his cock. Doyle wanted to get off in the worst way but from the fiendish expression on Bodie’s face, that wasn’t about to happen any time soon.
“What’d you have in mind then?” He hitched a breath, settling his tingly heel firmly on top of Bodie’s groin. Two could play at this game.
Bodie used his right hand to waggle a finger in Doyle’s direction, all the while shifting the foot in question onto the floor with a brusque movement. “Up. Time’s wasting to investigate this palace.”
“Unless I am mistaken--” Doyle swept an expansive hand in the general direction of the rest of the house. He squashed his abused digits against the hard floor, the pressure alleviating his lingering arousal. “Kitchen there, with bathroom next. Two bedrooms—likely the master suite on the left and this spare to the right. Not much to explore. We’re in the lounge.”
“Killjoy.” Bodie canted his eyebrows sternly. “Back to twenty questions then. Which is the best pet, dogs or cats?”
Knowing better than to reply immediately, Doyle leaned against the table, considering. This was a trick question, he was sure of it, but how to finesse the correct response? “You hate cats. You’re allergic,” he began thoughtfully, watching Bodie cross his arms over his chest. Doyle yearned to unbutton those little pearlescent buttons to reveal the hidden muscles and pert brownish nipples underneath. He took a step closer—dangerous that, because he was within reach of those ensnaring arms, the clip in Bodie’s pocket easily accessible to lock his chains again. Possibly behind his back, leaving him completely at Bodie’s mercy.
Exactly his intention.
“And you’ve fawned over a dog or two in your life.” Doyle strayed closer, willing Bodie to grab for him. “Particularly that yappy little beast your last bird Marvel-Anne kept in her back garden.”
“Marvel-Anne?”
“Model with the enormous…” Doyle tapped himself on the nose.
“Hooter!” Bodie chuckled, observing Doyle’s advance. “Dog was all right but didn’t fancy her.” He curved proprietary hands around Doyle’s hips. “You, though…could eat you with a spoon.” He stroked Doyle’s arse with both thumbs, making little circles that had the power to mesmerise and seduce.
Struggling to maintain his brainpower to answer the question so he would have leverage in the game, Doyle weighed the two options. Allergy versus affection? But wait— “Lady Trellen’s moggy saved your life.” He let Bodie sway them in a slow, languid waltz. “You said that yourself.”
The disbelief on Bodie’s face was comical. “You’re good at this.” He danced them into the bedroom, depositing Doyle on a huge bed covered with a deep blue coverlet made up of velvet and satin squares sewn together like a quilt. Lingering for a single kiss, Bodie promised he’d return in a minute and dashed into the lounge.
Doyle lay back, the coverlet deliciously smooth and silky against his naked skin. He propped himself on his side, waiting for what came next. The room was furnished in an eclectic but not overly fancy way. It took a discerning eye to glimpse the little embellishments for fetish play. The head and foot of the bed were constructed of thick pipe artfully twisted into ornate curlicues. There was a leather chair in the corner with small D rings on each side of the arm rests and just peeping out directly above the front wooden legs. They matched the burnished buttons that decorated the tufted upholstery of the chair, but served a dual purpose. There were photographs and paintings hung on the purple and blue striped wallpaper, none of them blatantly pornographic, but suggestive. Mucha, Erte, and Mapplethorpe were displayed next to less familiar artists.
Dropping the overnight bag on the bed beside Doyle, Bodie cracked it open. “Because you were correct on the last round, you can choose any of the contents of the bag.”
“No restrictions?” Doyle grinned. This was interesting. He rarely got a vote in the matter. Upon investigation, he rolled his eyes skeptically. “They’re all to be used on me.”
“Said you were good at this.” Bodie unbuttoned the collar button of his shirt, idly touching the exposed skin.
The view was so alluring, Doyle forgot to unpack the bondage gear. “Not going to finish?” he asked acerbically.
“Finish?” Bodie echoed in a decidedly plummy, Etonian accent. “Whatever did you have in mind?”
“The buttons.” Doyle reached over for a chance at undressing his favourite man. He slipped the next button out of the narrow hole, pushing his hand down between fine Egyptian cotton and warm, alluring skin. Flattening his palm on Bodie’s chest, he moved it gently, manipulating the left nipple without pinching or pulling.
Bodie grinned, sitting down on the bed to be more comfortable. He covered Doyle’s lips with his own, kissing him deeply.
Doyle stilled his hand, caught up in the sweet gentleness of the kisses. They usually played with the same intensity they showed in their work. This was rare, to indulge in being together, enjoying each other’s physical presence.
He was surprised when he felt wetness on his cheek. Pulling away, he saw that Bodie had tears in his eyes. “What’s this?”
Bodie turned his head, scrubbing away the evidence. “Allergies been plaguing me something fierce.”
Doyle stroked his hand, avoiding the still bright burns on his forearms. “I saw reports of the fire on the telly. Scared the hell out of me.” There was a boulder in his throat making speech and breathing a challenge but he pressed on. “You went into a burning building to get her—not sure whether to knock some sense into that pea sized brain or ask Queen Liz to give you a knighthood.”
Bodie turned his hand, gripping Doyle’s tightly, all five fingers digging in as if he never wanted to let go. “Was afraid you’d leave me again.”
“I never meant to,” Doyle whispered, clenching his teeth. “This wasn’t—” He couldn’t deny the medical notes in his chart from the shooting years ago that proved he’d had a near death experience. Yet in his—what did he call them? Dreams? Visions? He’d been with Bodie most of the time, hashing out quandaries, establishing commitment to his partner. “Want to be with you for the long haul, pillock,” he said finally.
Flicking the chain on Doyle’s wrist, Bodie nodded. “I’d wear one, too, and lock us together if I could.”
That had the power to render him speechless.
“D’you think it’s time?” Bodie asked, sounding vastly weary.
Didn’t have to ask what Bodie meant. It was a subject they poked at once in a great while and then backed away from. Quitting CI5. Finding something less dangerous, whatever that might be.
“Are you ready?” He realised he wasn’t. Not yet. Soon? Maybe.
“On days like that—” Bodie gestured over his shoulder, pushing Thursday even farther into the past. “Yeah. Now?” He curled around Doyle, chest to chest, and lowered him onto the bed. “No.”
“Next year then?” Doyle grinned into the resulting kiss, squashed under Bodie’s body. That gave his cock lofty ideas. So much for dealing with the serious questions. Another day, another time.
“Give it some thought,” Bodie muttered, taking little bites of him.
Doyle shivered and laughed until the bites got harder, longer. Bodie closed his teeth tightly onto his right nipple, pulling it sharply upward. Hurt like the Dickens, sparking all sorts of arousal. Doyle held his breath, eyes on Bodie’s teeth against his skin. Although sure Bodie wouldn’t draw blood, he didn’t want to chance it.
His tongue flashing wetly against the abused nub, Bodie grinned, taking a quick love bite of Doyle’s shoulder before rolling away. “Piercing. Another thing on offer at the naughty little shop in the high street.”
“Next year?” Doyle said, not at all sure he wanted a ring hanging from his nipple. “Where’s that satchel? What are my choices?”
He scrambled away, delving into the bag. All were things Bodie had acquired over the last couple of years to bedevil and erotically torment. But there was absolutely no question in Doyle’s mind which he wanted. It was one of the first bondage items that were, in reality, not meant for humans at all. A horse bit. Or more specifically, a Mullen bit. He knew the term from working with horses as a teen.
Bodie was endlessly inventive, finding fiendish playthings in the most innocent of objects.
“This.” He held out the tangle of leather and rubber.
“Brilliant,” Bodie praised. “Put it in your mouth.” He sat back to watch with eager expectation.
That was the most difficult part. Participating in his own submission. It was one thing to allow Bodie to exert control over him, another entirely to give up his own voice, movement, and autonomy even for a short time.
Oddly freeing at the same time. Almost like flying, supported by his loving partner.
He sorted the lengths of leather attached to the rubber bit with round metal ‘O’ rings, straightening the long shafts of metal running horizontally to the rings linked to a shorter piece of leather underneath.
“P’haps sitting in the comfy chair would help?” Bodie said in a vaguely Pythonesque accent with an incline of his head.
Clutching the object of his debasement, Doyle settled into the leather depths. It was surprisingly cosy. He placed the bit on his tongue, memories of doing this same procedure sparking his nervous arousal. It was always marvellous once buckled on, but anticipation hampered his actions.
Don’t stop, his inner voice urged. That little bit of encouragement sent his cock into overdrive, standing at hopeful attention.
“Lovely.” Bodie combed his fingers through Doyle’s hair, brushing it back from the tight leather straps against Doyle’s cheeks. He buckled the straps around his head, arranged the unyielding metal side braces on Doyle’s jaw and adjusted the sling under his chin so that it held him securely in position. The final touch was draping the reins up and over the back of the chair.
Doyle closed his jaw as far as he was able, drool collecting at the corners of his mouth immediately. The familiar aches returned, his constrained jaw awkward, his tongue flattened, making swallowing more difficult. He breathed in and out through his nose, feeling his nostrils flare with the effort.
The effect on Bodie was obvious. He clearly savoured seeing Doyle bound like this, and leaned in, kissing his cheeks, the tip of his nose, and lingering over his parted lips. Then going to his knees, he cupped his hands around Doyle’s exposed, needy cock, rubbing briskly.
Zaps like electrical shocks sent explosions through his core. This. This is what he’d been waiting for.
Bodie chuckled, licking the tip once and then delicately closing his mouth enough that Doyle felt his teeth indent. Not biting as hard as he had on the nipples but clearly establishing who ultimately owned that piece of anatomy.
Widening his knees to give Bodie space, Doyle sucked in air, the climax building quickly after so long. Bodie kneaded his sac, adding erotic gratification. And then stopped, hands flat on Doyle’s spread thighs as if to prolong the denouement.
“Bo—dee,” Doyle managed to get the word past the rubber bit crowding his mouth. Moisture slicked his cheeks and chin because he couldn’t close his lips.
“Want it badly, do you?” Bodie taunted with a laugh.
Doyle raised his arms. Bodie had never entirely unbuttoned his crisp, white shirt. Maybe that would provide some incentive. He grasped a button only to have Bodie slip out of his clutches.
“None of that, guppy,” Bodie tsked, seizing his right wrist to clip the chain bracelet on a hidden D ring on the arm of the chair. He made quick work of the left one, restraining Doyle completely.
Wriggling his arms ineffectively, Doyle pondered his predicament. He was entirely at Bodie’s mercy, a fine place to be. What would be next?
Swaying in a silent burlesque, Bodie pushed one button and then another through the buttonholes in his shirt. The cotton edges fluttered enticingly with his dance, providing Doyle with alluring glimpses of smooth, pale chest. His mouth watered all the more at the sight.
“Look but don’t touch,” Bodie teased, unbuttoning the rest. He took off the shirt, tossing it onto the bed. His belt was next and then his trousers.
Completely nude, Bodie grasped himself, pumping his cock to impressive size and length. His eyes glazed with pleasure.
Unable to do anything but watch, Doyle groaned, his already swollen erection throbbing painfully from the visual feast. The leather and metal seemed to press ever tighter against his face. He could not have widened his jaw enough to go down on Bodie even if he tried.
When Bodie had himself ready, he straddled Doyle’s thighs, aligning their penises. The simple friction of heated flesh on flesh primed Doyle effortlessly. It hadn’t been very long since his earlier orgasm, but he was game for another, certain he could perform again.
The word love formed in his head, when he was unable to say it out loud.
Bodie must know, right?
~~*~~*~~
Doyle looked ravaged. There was no other way to describe him. The metal and leather framed his angular face as if it had been made precisely for him; his wet lips stretched wide, baring his teeth. His curls were still damp from the shower earlier, wildly tousled from their play. His chest heaved with exertion.
He’d done this for Bodie. Gave himself without reservations to Bodie. It was an incredible turn-on, one Bodie would be ever grateful for.
“Love you,” he whispered, rubbing their cocks together in a delicious rhythm that burst through, taking him over the edge.
Doyle was shaking, sucking in deep gulps of air, as he came for a second time.
Bodie wanted to sleep, curled around his favourite bed companion. It hadn’t been that long since either of them were in hospital, injured in the line of duty. They had earned the days off through pain and sweat, sweetened by the exhilaration of sex.
“Come to bed?” Bodie coaxed, releasing him from the bondage of the comfy chair.
Doyle nodded, his tongue flicking out to lap at the bit.
He wanted it out, that was obvious. “Not yet.” Bodie ran his pointer finger along Doyle’s bottom lip, wicking away some of the wetness. “We’ve another round after a kip. Need to build up my strength.”
His Adam’s apple sliding up and down as he swallowed, Doyle crawled across the bed on his knees, curling against Bodie’s side. He presented his wrists, touching the chains against each other the way he’d been fettered two days ago when he and Bodie slept together in London.
“Think you like this too much,” Bodie said, his heart overflowing. He located the connecting chain in the pocket of his discarded trousers and snicked it around a metal link on each bracelet.
Doyle nuzzled his cheek, seeking a kiss but unable to pucker his lips sufficiently. Bodie laughed, obliging. Kissing his love was never, ever, a hardship, even when Doyle was orally compromised. Maybe especially when Doyle was orally compromised. No sarky comments, no aggro.
“May have to gag you more often,” Bodie teased.
Doyle glowered at him, as much as he could bound with leather straps and metal bars, and pushed his tongue out below the bit with a growl deep in his throat.
“Or not.” Bodie knuckled his jaw, soothing the tense muscles, Doyle’s bristly whiskers scratchy on the back of his hand. He smoothed the leather reins back behind his neck. “You want to gag me?”
Doyle widened his eyes and tapped the end of his own nose.
Bodie snorted with laughter. Such joy, such—dare he say it? Generosity of spirit from his volatile, sometimes contrary, partner. To give up his own liberty, and yet prove he wasn’t beaten down, was a beauty to behold.
“Love you,” he said again. Because it needed to be said more often than either was apt to do under normal circumstances.
Doyle nodded, looking directly into his eyes as if he could project his thoughts. “Luv—”
Sharing the pillow, they lay together, foreheads touching, Doyle’s bound hands, sandwiched between their chests. Bodie fell asleep with the scent and feel of Doyle surrounding him.
The room was pitch black when he woke, something feathery light touching his thigh, arousing his lower parts. He opened his eyes, peering at the shadow looming above him. Any other time, he might have reached for his pistol. Instead, he flicked a metal link encircling a wrist he couldn’t quite see. Strong, slender fingers squeezed his.
“Yeah,” Bodie said softly, his cock engorged and ready from Doyle’s attention. “Lay back with your knees bent.”
He felt more than saw Doyle arrange himself on the bed, the mattress dipping and swaying as he got into place.
His eyes adjusting to the dimness, Bodie could make out his lover’s bent knees and the target between. He was as ready as could be, taking only enough time to fumble for the lube he knew to be in a pocket of the equipment satchel. He prepared himself, listening to Doyle breathe. The silence wasn’t oppressive or scary. More like a calm in the storm that could be their lives, a soothing peace when they needed it as much as they needed to be one.
Inserting two fingers into Doyle’s anus to loosen the tight sphincter, he scissored his fingers wider. Doyle exhaled noisily, raising his butt off the pillow underneath as if to lure Bodie in more deeply. Grasping Doyle by the ankles, Bodie pulled his legs up, settling them on his broad shoulders. This got him closer, in contact with the lithe, beautiful man he adored.
One hand on Doyle’s flat belly, he steadied himself and then pushed his penis into Doyle’s arse hole, going slowly but deliberately.
Doyle cried out in ecstasy, reaching out to latch onto any part of Bodie he could get. Because his wrists were still linked together, he couldn’t spread his arms to hug Bodie close until Bodie found the small connecting clip to release them. As Bodie shoved deeper, Doyle grabbed Bodie’s hips, stabilizing him securely. No words were necessary. They knew each other so well, anticipating every step of the way, no matter what they were doing together.
Completely engulfed in his partner’s body, Bodie roared his triumph, sharing it with Doyle. Nothing could be finer.
~~**~~
The weather had turned decidedly wintery, with a brisk cold wind that burrowed under woolly scarves and knit caps. Not that Sid wore either of those things. He had donned his favourite brown roll neck jumper under a tweed jacket and a brown fedora. His usual Burberry finished off the ensemble—pure country gent, as Chico had said. The picture of a successful horse trainer. At least that was the logic behind the outfit. He wanted the racegoers—and bettors—to forget the old Sid Halley. The jockey, especially, the man who’d lost his hand in a spectacular fall off his mount, and replace it with the image of an award-winning horse trainer.
Kempton racetrack was packed with merry racing fans ready for an afternoon of fast horses and winning money betting on said horses. The Ladbrook Hurdle was the third race of the program, less than half an hour from now. Everywhere around him, stable lads and lasses were readying horses for a race. Jockeys and trainers stood close together, going over race strategy.
Sid glanced at his friends clustered around Faerie Lights. The beautiful white horse had never looked more elegant. She gleamed in the weak November sunlight like a unicorn in a medieval tapestry.
Bodie and Doyle were laughing at something Chico was telling them, probably related to the martial arts from the exaggerated arm swings and kicks he was demonstrating.
Faerie Lights squealed in alarm, stomping her front hooves.
“Oi! Chico, none of that!” Emerald chastised. Wagging a finger at the three of them, she dashed over to defend her horse. “My lady Faerie is a sensitive soul about to embark on the race of a lifetime. You lot, out. On your bikes!”
“Thinks she’s the Queen, she does,” Chico complained good-naturedly, moving out of range of Faerie’s kicks. “Expect you’ll have put jam n’honey down on ‘er coming in first in the Ladbrook Hurdle.”
“She wins, there’ll be no living with her,” Bodie teased, leaning down to give her a peck on the cheek. “Am I allowed to wish good luck?”
“Very quietly.” Emerald smiled, her eyes merry. She looked perfect; the blue silks with a purple chevron across the front that Sid had chosen—with ample help from Chico—for their colours were bright and memorable. Her black curls had been tightly plaited, the braid contained in a small snood at the back of her neck.
“Break a leg not done?” Doyle kissed her other cheek.
“She’s won’t be on the stage.” Sid waved the well-wishers away to take his place by her side. “Can’t really think of any advice to give you—you and Faerie have been a team from the very first. Keep her steady on the course, avoid any loud noises—”
“And don’t let ‘er see the whip,” Emerald finished fondly, stroking Faerie’s pure white nose. “I will.”
“Then I’d expect to see you standing in the winner’s circle shortly,” Chico proclaimed.
“We’ll be on the fence, watching,” Doyle said, turning to go with his partner.
“Wait, Bodie, Doyle.” Emerald held out her hands to include all four of them. “I don’t know how to express all that’s in me ‘eart, but you’ve made this possible.”
“Halley’s the trainer,” Bodie reminded with a smile. “I just bet me bob.”
“You trusted me, believed that I had nothing to do with Charlie’s death,” Emerald whispered fiercely, as if afraid passersby in the busy stable yard might hear her. “He meant the world to me, he did. I loved the old sod.” She ducked her head to wipe tears from her eyes. “Didn’t fink we’d be wed, none of that, but…”
“You ‘ad dreams,” Chico concluded with a nod. He glanced at Sid with an enigmatic grin.
“So this is for ‘im,” Emerald said, only a hint of inner pain. “My Charlie.”
“To Lord Charles.” Doyle pretended to raise a glass in his honour.
“Lord Charles,” Sid echoed, the other two chiming in. “Once you ride our Faerie over those hurdles to victory, there’ll be real champagne flowing.”
“You do tempt a girl when she’s gone without her lunch.” Emerald rolled her eyes, catching up the horse’s reins. “Faerie and I need to get in the zone. Give us space, will you?”
“All right, all right.” Chico raised his hands in resignation, trailing Bodie and Doyle to the packed viewing area.
Sid watched Emerald walk Faerie toward the track, feeling oddly nervous but in a different way than in years past. He’d have been the one preparing the horse for the race, collecting his saddle for a weigh in, and going without food for twenty four hours to maintain the required weight limit for a race. He’d been accustomed to that mode of life. Had hardly thought about the strict regimen, even when his ex-wife Jenny used to complain mightily. That had been his normal.
Being an owner and trainer was still new, different. He wasn’t quite sure how he should comport himself, and the what-ifs crowded in. What if Faerie stumbled, Emerald falling off and under her wickedly sharp hooves, just as he had once? What if the horse broke her leg? Emerald bashed in her skull? All common occurrences in horse racing, but he’d learned to ignore them when he was atop a thousand pounds of horse jumping over a series of fences. His belly clenched with sudden dread. There was literally nothing he could do but watch.
“Squire,” Chico said in his ear.
Startled, Sid dropped the cig he was trying to light. “Look what you’ve done!” he groused, pulling out another.
“You’re overthinking this.” Chico tapped Sid on the forehead. “She’s ridden b’fore. She’s won b’fore. Let it ‘appen as it will.”
Que sera sera’? You ever consider becoming a motivational speaker?” Sid regarded him with love, forever grateful Chico was in his life.
“Would have liked to’ve seen you ride.” Chico nudged him with an elbow, hands stuffed in his pockets as if he weren’t really herding Sid toward their friends.

“You never did?” Bodie asked in surprise.

“Too young, poor lad.” Sid chuckled, smoke from his cigarette floating above his head. “Locked up in that orphanage, unable to escape to the races.”

“I saw you once.” Doyle leant on the rail separating them from the track. “When we first met, I didn’t put it together. But my da had a passion for the races. Always maintained he could have been a jockey. So I worked in a stable yard as a lad—and there was a black and white telly where we’d take a cuppa between chores. Saw you come in second, if I recall, on a horse called Mickey Finn. Thought it was funny a horse with that name would even place.”

Sid roared with laughter. “So did I! Not a good name for a racehorse. He was out to pasture soon enough, a pet to the trainer’s son.”

“Pets!” Chico snapped his fingers, then paled, looking around to check if Faerie Lights was in hearing distance.

“Reckon you’d learned not to do that around her majesty.” Sid glared at him, pointing at Emerald and their horse outside the weighing station, far enough away for comfort. Faerie had been known to rear and trample a person because of the sound of finger snapping.

“We were given the by-your-leave to collect the cats from Spenser Manor,” Chico said more quietly.

“All six?” Doyle inquired.

"Actually, more like eight,” Sid answered. “The staff had already been dismissed by the family solicitor, but Bethany Rowland was coming in regularly to feed the moggies. She asked to keep a pair called Heloise and Abelard.”

“Hadn’t known about those two,” Bodie said. “What has this to do with us?”

“A ginger pair, apparently not grey enough for her Ladyship,” Chico scoffed, watching the parade of horses walking toward the starting gate. “The ‘ousekeeper claimed ‘em. Cassia has taken in Victoria and Albert, and we’re adopting Melisande and Pelleas.”

“Which leaves…” Doyle’s eyes went wide and he chortled with laughter. “Thisbe and Pyramus.”

“Yeah. Good mem’ry.” Chico nodded. “Bodie, Cassia told us her Ladyship told ‘er you’d a particular fondness for Thisbe.”

“No!” Bodie backed away, hands up to ward off the very idea of cats. “You’ve land, a barn. You take ‘em. I’m allergic.”

“We’ve two at home now, plus these two new ones,” Sid reminded, shoulder pressed against Chico’s in solidarity. “Not to mention the horses and cow.”

“I’d fancy a couple of moggies around the flat,” Doyle said with a grin, rubbing his hands together with glee. “Cowley will have a cow, mind, but they wouldn’t be much of a bother. Thisbe saved Bodie’s life. He’s indebted.”

“This is…blackmail, I tell you,” Bodie wailed.

“The race is starting!” Sid pressed against the rail, holding his breath. Eight horses were poised, jockeys hunched over their mounts, ready to gallop around the track, leaping over hurdles, to victory. It brought such a rush of adrenalin laced memories. He felt Chico slip a hand around his waist, holding him close.
The pack started out almost as one, a line of horses, their riders kitted out in the colours of the rainbow, massive bodies racing by in seconds. One stumbled on the first hurdle and was out. Two horses surged ahead, with Faerie close behind.

The crowd in the bandstand roared with approval, encouraging their favourites.

“It’s Lunastar out in front with Sugar Rush second, and Faerie Lights in third place as they go over the fourth hurdle. Faerie Lights used that jump to catapult herself ahead of the other two and is now leading the pack…” the announcer on the loudspeaker said excitedly.

“Go, Faerie!” Doyle shouted, slapping Bodie on the back in his enthusiasm.

“You can do it, Emerald!” Bodie called loudly.

“It’s for the win, I know it!” Chico cried, whistling shrilly between his teeth.

When Emerald rode Faerie Lights over the finish line, a full stride in front of Sugar Rush and Lunastar, Sid threw his arms around Chico, kissing him there in public. Nothing could be finer.

FIN