“Well, that went well!” I glanced across the living room to the armchair where William Bodie sat and wondered if things would have gone a little smoother if we had put up a more united front when telling my son our big secret. Probably not, though. Toby was showing all the signs of the famous Doyle temper, and me and Will sitting together on the settee holding hands would not have altered the fact that it was a hell of a shock to find out that your father was in love with another man.
As the echo of the door slamming died away, Will finally looked up at me. “We should have waited.”
Whoa, where had that come from? “We agreed it was time to tell him.”
“You told me it was time to tell him.” There was a brief flash of defiance in Will’s tone. “I don’t recall having much say in the matter.”
I glared at him. “No, Will, you agreed that it was time. It’s no good changing your mind just because you think you’ve lost your best friend.” I was always good at hitting below the belt when I needed to.
“I haven’t lost my best friend, Ray. I just think it’s a lot for a twelve year old to take in.”
“So when should we have told him? When he’s sixteen? When he can vote? Perhaps on your death bed when you’ve been shot in the line of duty?”
“No, Will. I said I thought it was time to tell him and you didn’t tell me not to. We agreed when we became lovers that we wouldn’t keep it a secret for ever.”
Will took a deep breath. “All I’m saying is I’ve got a lot going on at the moment. Perhaps this should have waited until I’m out of the field permanently.”
I huffed. “As if Cowley is going to let you give up field work. You’re too valuable to him as an agent.”
Will’s lips quirked in a slight smile. “If he keeps making me do both jobs, he’ll not have me at all. You can work a willing horse to death, you know.” He pulled himself out of the armchair with a grunt. “God, I’m getting too old.”
“Age has got nothing to do with it. Too much pie and cake more likely.”
He plonked himself down next to me and slid his arm across my shoulders.
“Ray, I don’t want to argue with you. We agreed we shouldn’t keep our relationship a secret from Toby forever. I just think now wasn’t the best time to tell him. Toby’s getting to an age where kids care if they aren’t seen as normal. Having two dads instead of a dad and mum makes him not normal and he’s going to come under a lot of peer pressure because of it. Puberty’s just around the corner and that’ll hardly be a barrel of laughs without this added complication.” He squeezed my shoulder. “It’s going to take a lot to make this all work out and I’m not going to be around for you and Toby as much I want to be. You’re going to have to take the brunt of the fallout yourself, and I hate not being here to support you.”
“Cowley’s asking too much of you.”
“Cowley is making sure the future of CI5 is secure.” He grinned. “I’m actually quite flattered. Whoever thought William Bodie was capable of leading that motley crew?”
It was my turn to snort. “It’ll all go to pieces within six months with you in charge.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Seriously, you’ll make a great replacement for Cowley. But I think your heart is in the leg work, not sitting behind a desk.” I finally looked him in the eye and was surprised that the usual sparkle was not there. When had that disappeared?
“I promised you, Ray. You and Toby come first.”
“Not if it makes you this unhappy.” I could be as magnanimous as the next man when I wanted to be.
He didn’t answer for a moment and I wondered what he was building up to say.
“It’s hard at the moment because I’m taking on more and more from Cowley, but I’m still as active in the field. I think when the learning curve is over, things will be much easier.”
Yes, I agreed things would be easier if he was only doing one job. But, if that was the wrong job …
We had been lucky to have what we’d had over the last couple of years. We’d met in not-ideal circumstances, me a struggling single dad earning a crust doing odd jobs and book illustrations when I could get the work, and Will working undercover to bring down an East End crime lord named Robert Gower. There had been an immediate attraction between us and even though Will should have kept his distance because he was undercover, we had started something of a relationship.
The outcome of us being thrown together was my job at CI5 training both the existing agents and new recruits, which I loved, and a large flat which I’d originally been assigned so that Will would have someone close by looking after him while he recuperated. The fact that Cowley knew about us had worked in our favour. He had allowed us to continue sharing the flat under the guise of keeping costs down in the department. No-one batted an eyelid knowing how tight the CI5 controller kept his purse strings. It had been the perfect solution.
And right back at the beginning Will had agreed that when we knew that things were serious between us, we would tell Toby, and Will would leave field work behind. It helped that Cowley wanted Will to be his second in command.
Where, then, had the feelings of guilt come from? The feeling that I was pushing Will into something he didn’t want?
“Can’t do that, mate. We need to talk.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
I waited a moment, then quietly said “please.”
When his door opened I wasn’t surprised to see his blotchy red face and swollen eyes. I held my arms open and as he came to me the tears started flowing again. I held him tightly in my arms and rocked him as he sobbed onto my shoulder.
“Shush, love, it’s alright.” I soothed continuously while rubbing his back.
Eventually I managed to edge him over to the bed and eased us both down so he was still in my arms. The sobs eventually eased to soft hiccups, and I let him pull back when he wanted to, but kept my arm around his shoulder.
“Nothing’s really changed, you know. I’m still me, Will is still an annoyingly childish … child.”
Toby’s answer was a sniff and a quick nose wipe across his sleeve. I did my best to ignore the line of snot that was left behind. Now was not the time to be a nit-picking parent. I tried again.
“I still love you. You are still the most important thing in my life.”
“Are you sure that isn’t Will?”
I sighed. It had been too much to hope that the burgeoning teenager might stay hidden for a little while.
“Yes, Will is very important to me. I’m not going to pretend I don’t love him …” I felt Toby shudder against me when I said love “… but you come first, you always have and you always will.”
“There’s a kid in my English class who’s got two dads who live together.”
“Yeah?” I felt a stirring of hope. If Toby knew someone else in his, our, position it could ease the way.
“Yeah.” He paused with another sniff, but thankfully the sleeve remained intact this time. “He got his head flushed down the toilet when Bates and his gang found out. They had to call an ambulance to the school.”
It was my turn to shudder. It never ceased to amaze me how cruel kids could be.
“Is he alright?”
I shut my eyes and shook my head in resignation. God, wasn’t it enough that I had Will’s odd sense of humour to put up with? My own son was apparently learning the art of deliberate obtuseness from the best master of them all.
“Sorry.” He muttered. “Yeah, I think so. He has to have a six former with him between all his lessons to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“That must be difficult for him.”
“He’s not very popular.”
“Still, it’s good to know the school won’t put up with bullying like that.”
Toby gave me an oddly grown-up sideways look. “They put up with it for nearly a year. One of his dads is a solicitor. After Richard nearly drowned they threatened to sue if the school didn’t do something.”
“Surely that’s not true.”
Toby nodded sagely. “He was always off school sick. He never said anything, but I know they beat him up at least three times. He had a broken arm once. Said he tripped over his shoelace on the stairs, but I think Bates pushed him down.”
I squeezed my arm around Toby’s shoulder. “Have things got any better for him?”
He shook his head. “He’s got no friends. The six formers hate him. He should just leave.”
“It’s not always that easy. Where else would he go?”
Toby shrugged. “Nobody wants him around. “
“Have you tried being his friend?”
Toby’s head jerked round. “You’re joking, right? I don’t want my head flushed down the toilet.”
“You need to give back as good as you get.”
He just raised an eyebrow at that, another familiar gesture that he’d picked up from my other half.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Two wrongs don’t make a right.” He didn’t exactly return my grin but at least the hard lines on his face softened.
“Look, mate. Robert might have a solicitor for a dad, but you’ve got something else entirely.”
“What’s that, then?”
“Both your dads work for the Government. We know some people in high up places.” I paused dramatically. “We can make people disappear. Forever.”
There was a giggle against my shoulder and I felt a small bit of tension leaching away.
“You know I didn’t seriously mean we could get rid of people, don’t you?”
He giggled again and relaxed into my embrace. “I know that, Dad. I’m not stupid.”
“Never said you were, mate.”
I kissed the top of his head, right on top of his curls. “It wouldn’t hurt to practice some self-defence moves, though.”
“I know karate.” Yes, he did, and he was one of the best pupils in my class at the Youth Centre.
“And that’s a great start. But there’s a few things I can show you that’ll give you an edge.”
“I thought you insisted on keeping the karate moves clean.” He was baiting me and I pretended that I didn’t notice.
“In the class, yes. You have to be in control there. Slip ups cause accidents. But on the street, you need every advantage you can get.”
“You’re going to teach me to fight dirty?”
I pulled a face at him. “Just for emergency situations where you’ve got to defend yourself. I don’t want to get called to school because you’ve been fighting over nothing.”
He nodded. “I get it. Self-defence only.”
The door was ajar and I could see Will’s reflection in the mirror as he brushed his teeth. I leant against the door frame and waited. He didn’t acknowledge my presence but he knew I was there. He spat and rinsed, then glanced up at me.
“How’d it go?”
I shrugged. “I think we’ve a hard road ahead of us.”
“You knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
I shrugged the shoulder that wasn’t leaning against the frame. “I thought …” I stopped. If I was honest with myself, and I certainly didn’t want to admit it to Will, I probably hadn’t thought about it enough. I had this picture in my head of a happy, if unconventional, little family. I didn’t like secrets and was fed up with living a lie, having to watch every little thing that I said or did when Toby was around. I had thought his love for Will would be enough that he could ignore the fact that his new parent was another man. Perhaps I had been wrong.
Will’s arms wrapped around me. When he spoke it was with love and affection, but still his words hurt a little. “I think perhaps you didn’t think it through enough.”
I hated that he knew me so well that he could almost read my mind.
“Your trouble, Ray, is that sometimes you can be a bit blinkered. You don’t let anything stand in the way of how you think things should be.”
I tried to pull away from him, angry, but he held me firm.
“There’s nothing wrong with being an idealist, love.”
“Even if I’m blinkered?” Even I could hear the venom in my voice.
I felt his lips pressing against the side of my neck.
“The only thing wrong with telling Toby about us now was the timing. I agree he has the right to know.”
I wanted to be angry but it took too much energy. Instead I relaxed, allowing him to hold me and drawing the strength I needed from his strong arms. It didn’t last.
“I think we’d better still sleep separately.”
I pulled away from Will and glared.
“Give Toby a while to get used to the idea before we thrust it in his face, yeah?”
Sometimes I hated a reasonable Will, especially a Will who was being reasonable after I had made an almighty cock-up of my life.
It was four thirty when the phone in the hall rang, and any thoughts of getting any decent sleep went right out the window.
I hurried down the hospital corridor, my eyes focused on Murphy’s size eleven feet sticking out from behind the nurses’ desk. As I rounded the corner I saw Will sitting next to Murphy, his back straight, his hands resting on his thighs, and his eyes glued on a set of double doors leading to the suite of theatres. He didn’t acknowledge my presence.
Murphy straightened in the hard plastic chair, pulling his legs in and shuffling his backside to find a more comfortable position.
Will still showed no sign that he knew I was there.
Murphy just shook his head. “They took him into surgery hours ago. No-one’s been out to talk to us since.”
I nodded my head towards Will and mouthed “he alright?” Murphy’s half smile was so brief I almost didn’t see it, but he nodded. “Could probably do with a coffee.”
I knelt down in front of Will’s chair and placed my hand over his left one. It still took him a minute or two to register that I was there. As his eyes focussed on me, I smiled. “You wanna come and get a coffee with me?”
As Will came back to us, so too did his awareness of his surroundings. He jerked his hand away from mine as if I’d burnt him. I fought against the sigh that wanted to escape. Murphy was the only person nearby who was paying us any attention. And he didn’t care. He’d been privy to our relationship right from the very beginning. In fact, he was the one who’d made me see sense when Will had been lying unconscious in the hospital after he helped save me and Toby from Gower.
So few people knew about us, to be honest it was a relief that there was someone we didn’t have hide our relationship from. In time I hoped Toby would come around. It would be very hard to carry on maintaining the distance between Will and me at home. My old friend Jax knew about us but didn’t approve although I think that was more because he couldn’t stand Will rather than being homophobic. And I would never have flaunted a relationship in front of my boss even if it was a straight relationship. Cowley knew about us, but he didn’t have to see evidence of it.
Talking of Cowley ... The fourth and final person who knew of my and Will’s commitment lay on a table in an operating theatre the other side of a pair of ominous-looking doors while what I hoped were London’s finest surgeons worked to save his life.
I pushed up to my feet with resignation. It was obvious that Will hadn’t been ready to come out to the world. I accepted that it was too late where Toby was concerned, but it didn’t have to go any further.
“I’ll bring you a cup back.” I muttered and turned away from the surgery waiting room, my eyes searching out one of numerous wall signs that would direct me to the canteen.
When I got back I handed Will and Murphy their coffees, and tossed a bag holding a stale doughnut at Will. He didn’t even grunt in thanks, and a little childishly I decided to sit by Murphy. At least I’d get some halfway decent conversation from him.
Murphy took a sip of his coffee. “You know what Cowley’s like. As far as we can make out, he was working late at the office. Took a taxi home, must have been about 1.30. According to the driver, he got out and paid up, and started crossing the road. Next thing he knows there’s a car haring down the road, no headlights on, heading straight for Cowley. He didn’t stand a chance.” He swallowed and glanced to his left where Will still sat silently. “HQ got the call at about three and called us in. I guess the police will be by soon to see what’s what.”
“I take it that it was a hit and run! Driver didn’t stop?” Murphy shook his head. “Any ID on the car?”
“According to the taxi driver, the number plates were obscured.”
I raised my eyebrow in question.
“Mud! A thick dollop of mud conveniently smeared to hide the plates.” He sipped at his coffee again. “On an otherwise immaculate car.”
My eyebrows couldn’t actually reach any higher. “Definitely no accident then.”
“I had to ask.” I swallowed a mouthful of my own sludge. “Make of car? Colour?”
“A dark Mercedes. Which doesn’t help us at all. There must be hundreds of the things driving around London, let alone the rest of the country.”
I agreed with him. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. The only thing which might help us track the car down was a potential dent where it had impacted with Cowley. But Mercs were well engineered. A body, Cowley’s body, bouncing off the bonnet probably didn’t even leave a scratch. I shuddered at the thought.
Will stood suddenly, reminding me of a jack in the box. “Need the bog.” He muttered as he strode away, heading in the direction of the toilets.
I watched his back for a minute, then looked at Murphy.
“He’s been like this since I got here at five thirty. Hasn’t said two words to me. I know he thinks a lot of the Cow, but God knows why he’s not on the warpath trying to find out what happened.“
I looked back down the corridor where Will had stormed off. I didn’t want to admit to Murphy that Will’s behaviour probably had more to do with the burden of yet one more stress piled on him than his inability to accept or cope with his mentor’s possible demise.
Will’s earlier return from, as he eloquently put it, The Bog had brought a return of the William Bodie who was Cowley’s deputy. He had flashed me a brief, apologetic smile and then got down to the business of organising CI5. Once Cowley was moved out of recovery and settled into a private room, a security guard was set up on his door. Six hour shifts around the clock. I fully expected to pull a shift and would have happily done it, but Will didn’t approach me.
“Until we know more about this attack, we take all precautions.” He told those agents gathered in the hospital staff break room that CI5 had commandeered for the short term. “Watch your backs at all times.”
As he directed the teams, I got a glimpse of the man Cowley had seen to be his successor.
Recognising there was nothing more I could do other than support Will, which he gave no indication of wanting or needing, I headed out with the intention of collecting Toby from school and trying to rebuild the walls of that relationship.
“Toby, leave the damned radio alone, for pity’s sake.”
He found Radio 1 and was content to sit back and listen to a few songs until we lost the signal under the railway bridges we got stuck under when the traffic ground to yet another halt. The static was grating on both our nerves by the time we started moving again.
“How was school?”
His answer was simply a shrug.
“How was the maths test?”
He looked at me with ill-concealed boredom. “Okay.”
He soon lapsed into silence, and the fiddling started again.
I wound down the window, as much to have something to do as to let in some air. I rested my arm on the frame, tapping my fingers along with the tune on the radio and I was well aware that my act of nonchalance was just that; an act, completely faked. I didn’t feel at all calm. My insides were churning and I wanted to run around screaming. I wanted to turn back the clock 24 hours and talk myself out of the stupid resolve I had had to tell Toby the truth about me and Will. I wanted to be able to warn Cowley that an attempt was going to be made on his life within a few short hours. I wanted to be out there, working with Will and Murphy and the other teams in CI5 to find out who had carried out this atrocity. And I wanted to go back two years to when I had made the demand of Will that he give up field work when he and I became serious.
What was the expression? “If wishes were horses …?”
Will looked drained. There was no other word for it. He threw his jacket onto a free hook by the door, where it stayed purely by luck, and kicked his shoes off, abandoning them where they fell. He looked up when he realised I was leaning against the door frame.
“God, what a fucked up day.”
“Any news?” Cowley’s condition, the perpetrators of the hit and run, CI5 in general; I wasn’t fussed how he took the question.
He shook his head. “No change. He hasn’t come round. Doctors aren’t too worried yet.” His hand rubbed across the dark bristle on his cheeks. “God, I’m knackered.”
“Have you eaten?”
Again, he shook his head. “Hours ago, I think.”
“Go and run a bath. I’ll make you a bacon sarnie.”
Even as he smiled with gratitude, his shoulders slumped as if he were relieved that someone else was making the decisions for him. I waited until I could hear the water running in the bathroom before heading into the kitchen.
I soon had bacon sizzling in the frying pan and two pieces of thickly sliced and buttered bread waiting on a plate. A healthy dollop of tomato sauce on each cooked rasher and it was just how Will liked it. I took the plate and a mug of tea to him in the bathroom. Today was not the day to worry about eating at the table. The impressionable young man of the house who needed to be brought-up correctly was fast asleep. I knew because I had checked before sitting down to watch the news.
I left Will and the obscene noises he made as his teeth sank into the sandwich alone and went to clean up the kitchen. When he emerged from the bathroom half an hour later, a towel wrapped around his waist and water glistening on his skin, the drained look he had had about him when he arrived home had gone, but his shoulders were still tense. I took the plate and mug from him and steered him into his bedroom.
“Make yourself comfy, sunshine.”
I dumped the crockery on the kitchen table and grabbed a bottle of baby oil from the bathroom cabinet. God only knows what we were doing with baby oil in the flat, but it had come in useful on many occasions. I think the CI5 doctor had recommended oil for massaging Will’s shoulder when he’d been stabbed saving Toby’s and my lives before we first moved into the flat. The muscle damage had taken a lot longer to heal than the doctor had thought and this had been a last resort.
Will was lying on his stomach, his head resting on his arms. He was almost asleep. I eased the towel from around his waist and dried his back. Lazy man, why he could never do this for himself I’d never know. Straddling his hips, I poured a little oil into the palm of my hand and rubbed both hands together to warm it up. With the first stroke across his shoulders he sighed deeply and I could feel his muscles relaxing almost instantaneously. I loved doing this for Will, helping him release tension. Can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy it myself.
I worked his shoulders and back for several minutes, my hands familiar with the ridge of scar tissue from the stab wound on his shoulder and another more recent scar low down on his hip where a bullet had creased him a year ago. There were other permanent marks on his body, reminders of the dangerous lines of employment he had found himself in both before and during his time with CI5.
I didn’t ask questions about them. Occasionally he would say something, make some reference to a time when he suffered one injury or another, but I think I was too scared to know more, realising how many close calls he had had over the years. I didn’t want to know how many times I could have lost him before I had even met him.
God, what a sap! There I went again, thinking like one of the heroines in the Gothic romances I still occasionally illustrated. Back before CI5 changed my life, in more ways than one, when times were tough for me and Toby, one of my jobs was illustrating books. Somehow, I always seemed to end up with the Gothics or children’s books. No detective stories or thrillers, both of which I loved to read. I would never admit it to Will, he certainly didn’t need any more ammunition against me, but I did secretly like reading the Gothics.
I shuffled down his legs a little as I reached the curve of his backside, my hands fitting over his arse cheeks, fingers kneading the firm flesh there. I have always loved Will’s arse. I think it’s safe to say that Will’s arse is the first thing about him that I fell in love with. It’s certainly the first thing I noticed. I’d have been hard-pressed not to, fitted as it was into skin tight jeans right on a level with my eyes. The rest of him wasn’t too bad, either.
I went even lower, down his thighs, my fingers finding all the knots in his muscles and easing them out. I lifted my weight off him and pushed at his side, encouraging him to roll onto his back. He settled back down, hands still raised above his head, and this is where things started to get interesting. It’s not my fault I find him irresistible. He has a fine body, all taut muscles and hard planes.
I ran my thumbs over his nipples, just to get a reaction. I wasn’t disappointed. His eyes flew open and he drew in a quick breath.
It was almost like he was giving me permission to seduce him. I watched him lick his lips as I brushed his nipples again and then squeezed gently, pressing the firm peaks between my fingers and thumbs. He groaned and shifted his hips and there was no doubt as to his level of interest. His cock pushed against my thigh and I found myself wriggling to ease the sudden tightness in my jeans.
I flattened my hands out and went back to massaging his shoulders for a few minutes, intending to give us time to catch our breaths rather than be a tease.
“Ray.” His breathy whisper was too much. I eased off him and turned to the door, quietly turning the key. The last thing I wanted was for Toby to walk in on us having sex. Even if he accepted our relationship, seeing his father impaled on another man’s penis would scar him for life. And, God, I wanted to be impaled.
I was soon out of my clothes, jeans and underwear a trodden-down bundle where I stepped out of them and my t-shirt pulled over my head and flung to land on top of the wardrobe. I settled back over Will and reached for the oil again, repeating the warming process. He watched through half closed eyes as I ran my palms over his hips, turning my wrists slightly so my fingers lightly ran over his stomach. I did it again, this time digging my thumbs slightly into the crease of the groin and his cock jerked. When my hand closed around it he groaned again, the sound ending with a whimper which he would later deny, and I felt another twitch.
I leant forward and took his mouth in a gentle kiss. His lips opened under the pressure of mine and he ran his tongue over my bottom lip. I found myself groaning and lost myself to his expert ministrations. This position gave me access to my own backside and I reached behind with my right hand. I slipped an oiled finger into my anus and found my own muscles clenching in anticipation. It didn’t take many minutes to loosen up and my middle finger slipped easily inside alongside the first. All the time Will held my face pressed to his, his hand cupped behind my head, his tongue doing wicked things to my mouth.
Breathing became a necessity and I eased back from Will, pulling my fingers from my arse and shifting my hips forward. Altering my grip on his cock, I slowly lowered myself until I felt it nudging at my hole, and then I sank down, taking him in completely in one smooth move.
We both froze, me to get used to the slight burn of stretched ligaments and flesh, and him to fight the urge to come too soon. No matter how often we did this, we still needed these few minutes to gain control.
“Okay?” I whispered, rocking my hips forward slightly.
He nodded and gave a choked groan and I started moving, rocking gently backwards and forwards. Tonight wasn’t about frenzy and urgency, there was no desire for either of us to take possession of the other, and I gently moved my body over Will, easing up until only his cock head was still in me, and then I sank back down until my buttocks rested against his hot groin.
He continued to rain kisses over my face and neck but as he came close to climax the kisses became nothing more than his lips pressing against my skin. I could feel my own balls tightening, the friction from being trapped between both our stomachs providing enough stimulation for my cock. I stiffened, and came and seconds later he followed me.
Will was asleep before I came back with the wet flannel to clean us both up. I stood gazing down at him, watching the rise and fall of his chest, feeling my stomach churning with some unknown emotion. I wanted to stay with him, wrapped in the safety and warmth of his arms. I didn’t want to hide any more. I loved this man, I shouldn’t be afraid to show it, shouldn’t be ashamed to want him. And yet while my son slept not twenty feet from where I now stood, and the man by me was unwilling to come out of the closet, I was afraid and I was ashamed.
“I’m here for my son. Toby Doyle.” The policeman behind the desk looked up with bored disinterest.
“And you are?” Rubbing policemen up the wrong way was not conducive to resolving the issue, I told myself while fighting the urge to bang this particular policeman’s head against the wall.
“I’m his father, Ray Doyle.”
He nodded slowly, and I felt my finger nails digging into my palms as my hands clenched into fists.
“Do you have any identification?”
Resisting the urge to bang my own head against the wall, I pulled out my CI5 identity and placed it on the counter with the driving licence from my wallet. He scrutinised both with a near-sighted squint.
“Yes.” I hoped I was imagining the disdain in his tone.
He didn’t answer and the silence dragged on, while I stood kicking my heels and wondering just how much trouble Toby had got himself into.
“Have a seat.” That was it? Have a seat? I glowered at him, but the Doyle intimidation obviously wasn’t going to work. He made no move to return my belongings so with a huff I turned and stalked over to the wooden bench lining the opposite wall. Obviously the bench was designed to cause the utmost suffering to those who waited and it wasn’t long before my bum had gone to sleep and my legs became twitchy.
I fought the desire to get up and pace. I had been a tightly coiled spring ever since I had received the phone call at CI5 headquarters that had me abandoning a training session for new recruits half way through. I was aching in places I’d forgotten I even had thanks to some excellent moves from one of the new men, and sitting still was not helping to relieve those aches. The session had been going really well, and today there had been a real breakthrough. The last thing I wanted or needed was a phone call from the Bow Police Station to say my son had been picked up. As it was only eleven in the morning I entertained a forlorn hope that the worst of his offence was truancy. The fact that he was at a police station told me it wasn’t.
I lost track of time and lost myself in thought. When the front door swung open with a bang I was as surprised as the unhelpful policeman behind the counter. The angry man who stalked up to him was dishevelled and dirty, in the building trade I would guess.
“Where’s the little bleeder?” He demanded. PC Unhelpful just blinked at him. It probably wasn’t the wisest thing he could have done.
A fist landed on the counter with a resounding thud. “Oi, I asked you a question.”
I sat up straight, ready to leap in if necessary.
“Yes, Sir. And which little bleeder would you be referring to, Sir?”
I hid a smirk. PC Unhelpful went up a notch or two in my estimation.
“Andrew Bradley. Got a phone call at work to say he was here. Bloody inconvenient. Don’t see why you couldn’t ‘ave kept ‘im for a few hours. Would ‘ave taught him a lesson. ”
“Sir, can I …”
“The good ‘iding I gave ‘im last time obviously didn’t work. He needs to be locked up for a bit, give ‘im a fright. The missus is too soft on ‘im, let’s ‘im get away with too much. It’s shoplifting now, it’ll be armed robbery next.”
He paused in his rant to take a deep breath, no doubt preparing for the next round. PC Unhelpful took the opportunity to jump in with “I need to see some identity, Sir” and took the wind right out of the man’s sails.
“What? Oh, yes.” He pulled out his wallet and handed over his driving licence, then turned to look around the waiting area.
“Oi, what you lookin’ at?” he demanded when he saw me looking at him.
I shook my head and turned to look at a campaign poster on the wall which demanded that the population “Keep Britain Tidy”. Not getting a rise out of me he turned away. I knew the type if not the man. A bully through and through. I felt a little sorry for the little bleeder even if he had done wrong. I wouldn’t fancy going home with this man.
“Have a seat, Mr Bradley,” PC Unhelpful indicated the bench and Bradley turned back to me. I was grateful when he sat as far away from me as he could. The relief was short lived, though, as it became obvious a few minutes later that we were there for the same reason.
“Gentlemen.” A young woman police constable came from a back room and spoke to both of us. I had a sinking feeling that truancy was the least of my worries.
I had never raised my hand to Toby, and I had no intention of doing so now, but witnessing his friend getting slapped by his father in the road outside the police station had obviously made him think.
“If you wanted the record so badly …” The sentence trailed off. Not even I was so oblivious that I thought Toby had pinched the 45 because he really wanted it. I doubt he’d even heard of The Jam before walking out the record store with their latest single tucked under his school blazer. And what the hell did he think he was doing walking down the high street in his school uniform. Considering he should have been keeping a low profile, he stood out like a sore thumb. No wonder the shop assistant had been suspicious of two schoolboys wandering around during the middle of the morning. Talking of which, “and who the hell is Andrew Bradley? You’ve never mentioned him before. I don’t want you mixing with his sort.”
“His sort?” Toby yelled back at me. “He’s my friend. He understands me.”
“Yeah, he understands he’s found a sap who’ll do just what he wants.”
“You don’t know anything.”
I rubbed my hand across my face in frustration. “I know you don’t need a friend like him.”
Toby didn’t answer.
“Just be grateful you were let off with a warning. The last thing you need is a criminal record.”
“I didn’t want to be let off with a warning. I want a criminal record. “
If I hadn’t been driving I would have closed my eyes. “For God’s sake, Toby. It would ruin your life.”
“It hasn’t ruined Andrew’s Dad’s life.”
Uh Huh! “I don’t even want to know what he’s done.”
“It was only GBH. Nothing serious.”
“Grievous bodily harm is serious, you great … twit.”
“It’s not like murder.”
“Oh my God, Toby. You are twelve years old. What the hell are you doing thinking about this stuff?”
“Andrew says …”
“I don’t care what Andrew says. You are not to mix with him anymore.”
“You can’t stop me.” He was screaming at me now. As we sat at the traffic lights I could see the people walking past looking at us.
“I can stop you, young man.”
“What you going to do? Arrest me? Arrest Andrew? Or have your boyfriend do it for you?”
The air in the car was suddenly so thick it could have been cut with a knife. I just looked at Toby with my mouth open. He looked back at me, his face red and his eyes streaming. It was only a car horn blowing behind us that made me realise the lights had turned green.
I put the car into first gear and drove away without saying anything. Toby turned his face away and stared out of the window at the passing shops and houses.
I should have seen the connection before now. How had I been so oblivious to my own son’s anguish? For the last three weeks it had virtually just been him and me at home, Will being wrapped up first at work and now away overseeing the security at a government meeting in some secret location. I’d had nothing to distract me and still I hadn’t seen that Toby wasn’t coping with the recent bombshell that his father and surrogate uncle were not only queer but queer for each other.
I should have realised that the temper tantrums had become worse, that the increased door slamming had nothing to do with reaching puberty. But I hadn’t and now it was going to take twice as much time and effort to resolve, if indeed it could be resolved.
After managing as a single father for years I suddenly found I needed Will’s sage advice and support. And it was soul destroying to know that I couldn’t have it. How could I possibly burden him with this when he was already over-burdened with running CI5 and at the same time trying to track down Cowley’s attacker?
No, I had to somehow reach Toby myself. I had never felt so alone and miserable.
Murphy phoned at six, asking if he could pop in and collect a change of clothes for Will who was caught up for longer on the security job than he’d expected. I threw some bits and pieces into a hold-all and put it by the front door and then went back to staring mindlessly at the bedroom wall while I waited. It was as good a wall as any to stare at, the brown and orange rectangular pattern being quite hypnotic. By the time Murphy arrived I realised how much I hated that wallpaper.
He took one look at my face. “You alright, Ray? You look a bit peaky. Heard you had to leave a bit early-like today. You got that bug that’s been going round?”
“Nah, just got a few problems with Toby, that’s all.” I couldn’t stop the automatic glance over my shoulder.
“Bodie said he’d got a bit moody recently.”
I felt a momentary flash of annoyance that before he had gone awayWill had both noticed Toby’s increased moods and that he’d talked about them to Murphy. The big agent might be his best friend but, still, some things were private.
Murphy seemed to sense my disposition. “Want to talk about it? I’ve got a few hours yet before I’ve got to check in.”
For a minute I thought about taking him up on the offer. A problem shared, and all that. But then I reconsidered. Whatever I said to Murphy would get back to Will, and under no circumstances did I want Will feeling any pressure because of this.
“Thanks, mate, but it’s under control. He’s just being his … usual self.”
If Murphy noticed the hesitation, he didn’t comment on it. With a cheery wave he was on his way and I headed off to the kitchen to find a can of lager. Something stronger would have been nice, but I needed to keep a clear head.
“Bye, mate. Have a good day.” I muttered sarcastically as I watched him go. I was not going to admit to myself how much it hurt that he didn’t even say goodbye.
Once the bell had rung I made my way to the school office, determined to find out how often Toby had skipped school and, if yesterday wasn’t the first time, why no-one had notified me of the truancy.
I didn’t get very far. The staff acknowledged that yesterday was the third time Toby had played truant in the last four weeks, and a letter addressed to me should have come home after the first time. I could only guess where the letter had ended up. I got the impression that in the scheme of things, one more kid playing truant was not noticeable at school, but the harassed secretary did say that if it happened again she would try to call me.
There was little more I could do, so I headed into work. The place was eerily quiet, with over half the agents on the Government security gig and half the remainder on round-the-clock surveillance on Cowley who remained in a coma in the hospital. Macklin, my immediate superior, frowned at me when I walked into the broom cupboard laughingly called our office.
“Mornin’.” I handed him the mug of freshly brewed coffee that I’d picked up on my way down the corridor, grateful when the frown lines on his forehead eased.
“Your son okay, then? Get everything sorted?”
I had given him the bare details when I’d rushed off yesterday.
“Yeah, he’s got a few problems we’re working through.”
Macklin nodded, then immediately turned back to the report he was writing. I was never more grateful for his reticence.
Sitting in the office instead of putting the agents through their paces, the day passed slowly. I found myself clock watching even though I had made sure that Toby would be heading straight to Mrs M’s after school. Our old neighbour had willingly offered to look after Toby after school when I had first started working for Cowley, and somehow she was still a very big part of our lives.
I had dropped in quickly after my visit to the school to let her know a small amount of what had been going on and she’d promised to get in touch if Toby didn’t turn up after school within the agreed time limit. As soon as I finished work I’d be joining them for tea, as I had every Wednesday for the last two years, because tonight was karate night at the Youth Centre and I’d taught the class since its inception.
I was actually dreading this evening. What if Toby let it spill about me and Will? I had never said anything to her about our relationship and I had no idea if she guessed. I was expecting to arrive tonight to be kicked straight back out again.
I should have known better. Mrs Montgomery was a tough old nut. She had survived the War, illness, marriage to an abusive husband and, as I found out while sitting in her overflowing living room with a cup of tea in one hand and a plate of sandwiches in the other, her youngest daughter still in a long term monogamous relationship with another woman. I had lived in the flat above hers for years and never known that Julie was a lesbian.
Mrs M had greeted me with “Toby and I have had a chat.” I felt my heart plummet, but she patted my arm before pulling me into the living room. “He’s out in the garden” she added when she saw me looking around for my son.
“What did he say?”
“Just that Will is your boyfriend. And that he doesn’t know how he should feel.” Her voice faded as she disappeared into the kitchen
I found myself nodding even though she couldn’t see me. “I can understand that.”
She came back carrying a loaded tray which she placed on her highly polished coffee table.
“I told him about Julie.”
“What about her?”
She looked at me, blinking, and then burst out laughing. “Don’t tell me you don’t know.”
“Oh, Ray, dear. Julie has been living with Rose for twenty years.”
“I thought …” I broke off. I had always assumed Rose was Julie Montgomery’s best friend. I was quite shocked at my obliviousness when I realised that Rose probably was Julie’s best friend as well as a hell of a lot more. “How did you …” feel, cope, accept?
She handed me a freshly poured cup of tea. “She was still my daughter. It was a bit of a shock, but she was happy. How could that be wrong?”
She took a sip of her own strong brew. “I explained that to Toby. I don’t think he really hates you and Will. It’s just all a bit strange for him. He feels like his life is changing and that he has no control over it. And he thinks he’s losing you.”
“I know that, but try telling an insecure twelve year old. I told Toby he should talk to you.” She passed the plate of sandwiches. “And that he could always talk to me if he didn’t want to talk to you.”
“Doyle’s Dad’s a poofter! Doyle’s Dad’s a poofter!” I cringed at the taunts I could hear coming from the side of the Youth Centre. Up until this point the evening had been going so much better. The talk Toby had had with Mrs M had done wonders and he’d actually talked to me. Perhaps not his usual chatty self, but at least we’d had a half-way decent conversation.
We’d arrived at the Youth Centre and Toby had immediately gone off with some friends whilst I got on with the class. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the under-privileged kids who came to the Youth Centre. The classes here helped keep them off the streets and out of trouble. And the karate class helped teach them to stand up for themselves.
As I heard the heckling and realised my son was in the thick of some on-going argument I wondered if teaching kids to fight was wise.
I rounded the corner to the skateboard rec area which Will had helped construct back when we’d first met. There were half a dozen or so kids hanging around; Toby and one of his karate friends facing off against the three who were calling me a poof, with a couple of others on the side-lines jeering but not actually taking sides. I recognised one of these kids, the one with the over long hair and a beaut of a black eye, but couldn’t immediately place him.
“Doyle’s Dad’s a poofter!” The kid in the middle was a known troublemaker at the Centre, often disrupting the other kids. I wondered just how the rumours had got started. Surely Toby himself hadn’t said anything.
“Oi, are you going to let him get away with that?” The kid on the side shouted, and I remembered an older version shouting “oi” to me only the day before at the police station. What was Andrew Bradley doing hanging round here? I didn’t have to wonder too hard where his black eye had come from, though.
“Take that back, Phillips.” Toby screeched, egged on by his fellow shop-lifter. But Phillips’ laughter just fuelled Toby’s anger, and to be perfectly honest it didn’t need much fuelling. Toby leapt forward, forgetting all the martial arts rules that should have been second nature by now. With fists flying he jumped on top of Phillips and both of them went crashing down onto the tarmac surface.
The other boys gathered round in a tight circle as I started forward and I would have been hard pressed to tell who was who if it weren’t for Toby’s curls bobbing around his head. I pushed the Bradley boy to one side and grabbed a handful of my son’s collar.
“That’s enough, now.” He came up fighting and took a swing which I easily blocked. “Toby, calm down. It’s me.” I set him on his feet, wincing when I saw a smear of blood on his cheek.
“Now, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea what’s been going on here. But what I want to know is who started it?” If glares could talk it would have been a very noisy place to be.
“Toby?” His eyes flicked to me for an instant, then hardened again as he immediately sought out Phillips bruised features.
“He started it.”
“Liar.” Phillips’ fury made him forget that I was there and he took another swing at Toby, but his fist connected with my palm as I, coolly I would like to think, intercepted him.
“I said that’s enough.”
He backed off, his two friends seeing sense and holding him back.
The boys were obviously not going to resolve this between themselves and I was tired. I steered Toby towards the front of the building and the car where I’d dropped my bag in a hurry when I’d heard the scuffle. I hoped it was still there. As we walked away I heard a snicker and the word faggot. I’d recognise Andrew Bradley’s nasally voice anywhere. That solved the mystery of where the rumours had started. I wondered if Toby realised that his new friend wasn’t quite the friend Toby thought he was.
I fetched the first aid kit from the bathroom and set it down on the kitchen table, before turning to fill the kettle and switch it on. Bruises were thankfully the worst of Toby’s injuries with the blood coming from a small nosebleed and not a cut as I’d feared. His knuckles were a bit of a mess, though; bruised and grazed. No doubt tomorrow he would feel like he’d gone a few rounds with Muhammad Ali.
“It’s not too bad.” Murmuring softly I went about cleaning him up, applying a liberal smear of Savlon to his sore knuckles before getting up to make us both a cup of tea, the traditional English cure-all. He had remained silent throughout it all.
With my back still to him, I asked softly “how did they find out?”
“I was angry. I told Andrew.” I’d guessed as much.
“And he told the others at the Youth Centre?”
“He must have. I didn’t.” He paused. “I wish I hadn’t said anything now.”
I put a mug of sweetened tea in front of him and then grasped his shoulder. “I’m a big boy, Tobe. A few words aren’t going to hurt me.”
“Why’s it so hard?”
“What’s that, mate?” I sat down with my own mug of tea grasped in my hands.
He swallowed hard. “I don’t know what to think. You’re still … you. And I guess Will hasn’t changed either. But …”
“But there’s an awful lot of intolerance in the world about things and people that are different.”
He nodded. “That’s what Mrs M said.”
“Well, she knows what she’s talking about, doesn’t she?”
He smiled slightly.
“And she has never been wrong yet,” I went on.
He shook his head.
“What do you think about me and Will. Forget what everyone else says, what do you think?”
He thought about it for a few minutes. “I think you’ve been much happier since we’ve been living here. You and Will laugh a lot. I like that.”
“He does make me happy.” When he’s here, I thought with a moment’s bitterness. It soon disappeared when I remember the last time we had made love.
I leant behind me and grabbed the biscuit tin off the work surface. I think we both needed some comfort right then, and what was better than Ginger Nuts dunked in tea? Half the packet had gone before we came up for air.
“When’s Will coming home?”
“I don’t know, mate. I think he’ll be gone another week at least.”
He slurped his cooling tea. I drank some of mine, ignoring the crumbs floating on the surface.
“Is Mr Cowley going to get better?” I studied him for a few long seconds. Obviously we had given him an idea of what had happened, but he hadn’t really asked since the first couple of days following the accident. I wasn’t aware that he had any idea how serious it was
“The doctors are hopeful.” I wondered where this conversation was going.
“What do you think?”
I pursed my lips and wondered how much of my fear I should voice. “I think the longer he stays in a coma the harder it will be for him to recover.”
He nodded. “Will will have to stay in charge, won’t he?”
I hadn’t allowed myself to think that far ahead. “I think he’ll have to be in charge for some months while Mr Cowley recovers. Long term … I don’t know.”
“I want Will to come home. I miss him.” There was a little hitch in his voice. “I don’t want him to be in charge if he’s never home.”
I shifted my chair around so it was next to Toby’s and put my arm around his shoulders. “Me neither, mate. Me neither.”
“I heard he was already demanding the files of our current caseload and wanting an update on his own case.” Anson was bragging loudly in the VIP lounge as I walked past the door.
“Yeah, he’s already got Bodie running around.”
I stopped as Murphy mentioned Will’s name, and decided that I’d detour for a coffee. They looked up as I entered.
“Ray, great news, isn’t it?” Murphy was beaming at me. Will was obviously not the only one who had been under pressure these last few weeks.
I grabbed an empty mug. “There’s not much that’ll keep the old man down.”
They agreed with me, then Murphy continued with what he’d been saying to Anson.
“He demanded to see Bodie straight away but the doctors managed to keep him occupied with tests and the like on Friday.”
“I bet he didn’t like that.”
“Nah, but it gave Bodie chance to prepare. He was tied up with the Minister all day Friday going over the security for the Irish talks. He didn’t need Cowley breathing down his neck.”
I only listened with half an ear. When Will had spoken to me on the phone early last week he’d been frustrated that Whitehall were nit-picking over his decisions. It seemed like it hadn’t eased up.
“He had to pop in and see The Cow on Saturday, though. And he was there most of yesterday. He’s got me running over there this morning so he can get on with some paperwork. No getting away ....”
Who knew Maxwell House coffee jars didn’t shatter when they were dropped on the floor? I stood staring down at it, at the spilled instant coffee on the vinyl tiles, as the conversation behind me stopped abruptly.
“You alright, Ray?” Murphy asked solicitously.
I looked up from the jar and swallowed, suddenly feeling a little bit sick. Murphy grabbed a dustpan and brush from the cupboard and brought it over.
“Yeah, sweaty hands, that’s all.” I took the equipment off Murphy and bent to clear up the spillage. “Bodie’s back in London?” It took a lot of effort to keep the tremor out of my voice.
“Yeah, week ago tomorrow!” Anson answered. His head buried in the daily paper, he didn’t see the look of sorrow that Murphy gave me and was completely oblivious to the sudden undercurrents in the room.
“He’s here now?” It came out as barely a whisper.
Murphy must have been good at reading lips. He nodded slowly. “He’s in Cowley’s office.” Equally quiet.
I nodded once, decisively, and brushed instant coffee off the floor.
I didn’t want sympathy, or anything else, from Murphy. I ignored him.
I stood the now half-empty jar on the work surface and screwed the lid back on. The mug went back in the cupboard, the wasted coffee in the bin and the milk in the fridge. Murphy took the dustpan and brush off me.
“Ray, I’m …” I would have glared at him, but the door suddenly swung open and several agents entered, laughing and joking. I heard Cowley’s name mentioned. I turned my back on them and left the lounge.
I don’t remember the walk to Cowley’s office but I found myself standing outside the half-open door, listening to Will’s voice as he talked to someone, on the telephone I guessed judging by the lack of audible answer.
There was a light cough from behind me and I moved aside to let Cowley’s secretary, Betty, enter the office. She left the door open and I saw the very moment that Will looked up and noticed me standing there. Not even someone as oblivious as me could mistake the look of guilt that flashed across his face. He sat there, phone pressed to his ear, just looking at me. I found I couldn’t move.
Whoever he was talking to must have said something twice, because he suddenly turned his attention away from me back to the telephone with a quick apology to the other person and continued the conversation.
My hands were fisting at my sides, the finger nails digging into my palms, when he glanced back up at me a minute or two later, a pleading look in his eyes. What he was asking me I couldn’t tell, and I wasn’t going to stick around to find out. I turned my back on the office and walked away. I heard Will say “just a …” as I turned into the stairwell and took the stairs three at a time.
Macklin didn’t question my sudden urge to investigate new locations for the annual re-training of existing agents. He, like everyone else, was too happy that Cowley would recover. I spent the better part of the day sitting in the park near the flat watching the ducks on the lake, trying not to succumb to my own destructive thoughts.
I was in bed when Will came home that night, but I wasn’t asleep. How could I sleep under the circumstances?
I could hear him moving about in his own room, the wardrobe door opening, then the glide of drawers as they were pulled out, and I suddenly realised that he was packing.
I burst in on him before I knew what I was doing. He looked up guiltily with a start, and stood awkwardly in front of his bed, trying to hide the hold-all sitting on the blanket. I just knew he wasn’t unpacking it from his recent trip.
“What are you doing?” I kept my hand firmly on the door knob. If I hadn’t, I would have punched a hole in the wall.
“Ray, I …” he swallowed and looked away.
He just shook his head. “I can’t do this anymore.”
“Do what? You haven’t been here recently to do anything.”
He rubbed his hand across his face. “Look, it’s late. Let’s talk in the morning, yeah?
I stared at him until the hand clenched tightly around the door knob started to hurt, then I turned on my heel and returned to my room. I deliberately didn’t slam the door although the urge to smash something was very strong. I threw myself down on my bed and did something I hadn’t done for a long time. I wept.
Needless to say I didn’t sleep that night. I lay staring up at the ceiling through sore, stinging eyes. I don’t know who I hated more, Will for doing this to me or myself for allowing myself to cry.
When morning came around I dragged myself into the shower, turned it up as hot as I could bear and just stood there letting the water pound down on my shoulders. The steam felt good but did nothing to release any tension and by the time I got out I felt no better. At least the hot water wiped out any trace of tears.
In the kitchen I filled up the kettle and switched it on, automatically getting out the teabags, milk and mugs for the three of us. When I realised what I had done I stood there gripping the edge of the work surface and staring out of the kitchen window. Will had ingrained himself into our lives. How was I supposed to manage without him? My eyes started stinging again but no tears fell, thank goodness. I guess I was all cried out.
Breathing deeply I managed to get myself under control and grabbed a loaf of bread from the cupboard for toast. My life might be crumbling away, but Toby still had to have breakfast before school.
I had the table laid by the time Will hesitantly showed his face in the doorway.
“Morning,” he said. I looked at him for a long minute but couldn’t think of anything to say to him. The ball was in his court. I turned away and grabbed the tub of margarine from the fridge, dumping it on the table with a little more force than was strictly necessary.
I sat down in front of the plate of toast.
“Why did you lie to me?” I finally asked, rubbing my temples to stave off the headache I could feel coming.
He pulled out his own chair and plonked himself on it. “I needed time alone to think.”
“Well, it’s obvious you did that, all right.”
“Ray, I’m sorry.”
“When did you get back?”
He winced with embarrassment. “Last Monday.”
“You’ve been back in London a whole week?”
He nodded, red-faced.
“And when you called me from Northumberland?
He took a deep, bracing breath. “Epping Forest.”
I nodded. “Epping Forest. And what’s so interesting in Epping Forest?” What was I suggesting? That he had someone else? As soon as I spoke, I knew that wasn’t the case.
“A little bed and breakfast I used to stay at years ago before I joined CI5.”
“Plenty of time to think, then. A whole week’s worth of long, lonely evenings.”
“Not as many as you’d think, what with Cowley and the Irish peace talks coming up. But, yes, I got some things clear in my head.”
“Look, Ray, I don’t want to hurt you. I never meant to hurt you.”
Words failed me. Almost. “Well, what do you call leaving me? Don’t you think that’s going to hurt me?”
“Look, it’s not you, okay. It’s me.”
“Don’t all breakup speeches start like that?” I interrupted him angrily.
“If Cowley hadn’t been attacked, things would have been different, okay? But I can’t handle all of that as well as … here.”
“As well as here? What the hell do you mean, as well as here? You haven’t been here. Do you know what the last few weeks have been like for me? Did you know Toby was arrested for shoplifting, that he’s been playing truant. Did you know he’s been fighting?” I couldn’t sit still any longer and jumped to my feet, pacing back and forth. “No, you didn’t know because I haven’t told anyone. I thought you could do without the stress. God, what a stupid fool.”
“What do you mean, Toby arrested? Ray, what’s been going on?”
So I explained, as briefly as I could, exactly the kind of stress that I had been under. Two could play at that guilt game.
“For God’s sake, Ray, you should have told me.”
“You weren’t here. What could you have done from Northumberland?”
“You can’t handle this … life as it’s been. How would you have coped with all that and knowing what Toby’s been up to? You’d have been bloody suicidal.”
I stormed out of the kitchen and ran smack bang into Toby.
“What’s going on, Dad? Why’re you shouting?”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I simply said “Will’s home,” then grabbed my coat and slipped my feet into my trainers and left the flat. I needed air. Toby was just going to have to be late for school today.
The fresh air and exercise did nothing to clear my head. My thoughts were all over the place, my mood swinging from complete and utter devastation to fury. I still couldn’t accept that Will was doing this to us. Couldn’t he see that together we were stronger?
At some point I realised how thirsty and hungry I was and it was only then that I remembered I hadn’t actually had any breakfast when I fled. I knew I couldn’t put off returning any longer, and I quickly turned around, looking for some landmark to clue me in to where I was. I was shocked to realise that I had walked a good five miles.
It took an hour and a half to make it back and it was nearly eleven when I turned onto our street. I was gasping for a drink but came to a halt when I saw Will’s car parked on the double yellow lines right outside the flat entrance. I stood watching him come down the steps and load a box into the already full boot of the car. He sensed the scrutiny and looked up, watching warily as I approached him.
“You’re not going to change your mind, then?” I asked quietly. He shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Ray. I’m not cut out to be a father.”
“That’s utter bullshit and you know it.” I hissed at him. “You and Toby are brilliant together. Just face it, Will. All you’re worried about is what people will say when they find out that the great William Bodie is fucking another man.” My voice was getting louder and louder and we were beginning to attract attention. “Can’t have the top CI5 agent …”
The sting of Will’s hand across my cheek shut me up. Fast. I cradled my sore face with my hand, staring at him, devastated to feel tears pricking my eyes again.
I couldn’t make out the expression of Will’s face. On one hand he looked distraught and I could see him eyeing the handprint I was sure was prominent on my cheek. On the other, he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here. He glanced around us, looking to see how many nosy beggars were enjoying the free entertainment.
“Where’s Toby?” I whispered, suddenly equally conscious of where we were.
“In his room, reading. I phoned the school to say he was sick.”
“Where are you going to go?”
He looked down, taking an unnecessary interest in the cracks in the pavement. “I’m going to stay with an old army mate for now. Long term, I don’t know.”
“Is it permanent?” He looked blank. “Moving out,” I added for clarification.
“I think so. I’m just not ready for the whole … shebang. You know, out of the closet, the relationship, work.”
“You won’t change your mind?” I had to ask, even if I did sound completely pitiful.
He shook his head.
“Have you got all your stuff?”
“There’s a few things left. If it’s okay, I’ll send someone round for them when I’m settled.”
I shut my eyes against the pain.
I felt his fingers on my face. “I’m so sorry, Ray. For everything.”
He slammed the boot shut and then I heard the driver’s door opening. I didn’t open my eyes until the sound of the engine had died away. I was alone on the street. Even the gawkers had left me. I stuck my hands in my pockets and trudged up the steps to the flat, prepared to face the music with Toby.
“I don’t know, Ray. It doesn’t look that random to me.” I stood next to Dave Martin, my former neighbour and fellow Youth Centre helper, as we surveyed the smashed window which overlooked the waste ground behind the youth club. I had to agree with Dave’s assessment. There was only this one window broken, conveniently out of sight of the street or any houses. The Youth Centre had had bricks thrown through windows in the past, graffiti written on the walls, bins upended outside the doors, but this looked too … neat.
“Has anyone checked inside?”
Dave shook his head. “I’m waiting for Brian to get here with the keys.”
We made our way back around the front of the building, stepping over rubble and the accumulation of rubbish which seemed to fill the narrow gap.
“Why would anyone want to break in? There’s nothing of any value left on site.” Dave mused.
I shrugged. What could I say? Why does anyone do anything? I thought nastily, then gave myself a mental slap. My temper these last couple of weeks had often nearly got the better of me, and like in every other instance, my companion had done nothing to deserve it. I took a deep breath.
“No idea, mate. But seeing how carefully they removed the glass I know one thing. Someone wanted in there.”
Dave nodded in agreement.
After a few minutes silence he asked “how are things at home?”
For a moment I stiffened, then sighed deeply. He was only asking about Toby. I knew that. “Good days and bad. I thought things were getting much better, but he’s mixing with that Bradley kid again. At least I know he’s going to school.” I knew because I watched him go inside every single morning.
“And he’s still coming to the Youth Centre with you.”
I turned to where I had left Toby sitting in the car. He had his eyes glued to a comic. “Under sufferance.”
To say things had been fraught the last few weeks was an understatement. The argument between Will and I on the day he left us had done nothing for Toby’s and my relationship.
“It’s all your fault,” Toby screamed at me after I told him that Will wasn’t coming back. More plaster cracked off the walls as Toby slammed his door shut, and I was left standing in the hallway with tears falling wondering how everything had all gone so wrong. Toby had barely spoken to me since that day.
Murphy had knocked on the door three days after Will had left. It was eleven o’clock in the morning. I let him in without a word, turning my back on him and throwing myself back on the settee in front of the television, scratching my unshaven face. I didn’t care what he thought.
He sat in the armchair, elbows resting on his knees, hands hanging down.
“I’m sorry, Ray.”
“Did you tell him to leave?”
He shook his head.
“Well, what the fuck do you have to be sorry for, then?” He flinched at the venom in my words.
“What he’s doing isn’t right.”
I was about to retort with another snippy comment, then I realised what he’d said. My mouth snapped shut and I looked at him, really looked at him. I must say he looked nearly as bad as me: pale, with dark circles under his eyes as if he hadn’t slept for days. I gave myself a mental shake. Being up to your eyes at work because of the security at upcoming government peace talks was not in the same category as having your heart shattered into a million pieces.
The giggle I couldn’t hold back clued me in to how bad things had got for me. I slapped my hand across my mouth and stared wide-eyed at Murphy.
He looked at me, then sat up. “Right, that’s it, mate. You need a bath, some food and some sleep. In exactly that order. Then when you’ve had a sleep you need more food, then more sleep.”
I let him take charge. He ran the bath, dragged me to the bathroom and started to undress me when I just stood there. He got to the button on my jeans before I came back to myself and slapped his hands away. He left me to it and went to make lunch. I dragged myself out of the cooling water, certainly cleaner if no more clear-headed, to find he had made cheese and pickle sandwiches. He tossed a packet of salt and vinegar flavoured crisps at me then turned his back to pour a mug of tea. By the time I had finished I could hardly keep my eyes open. It crossed my mind that he might have drugged the tea, but I didn’t have the energy to question it.
It was darker when I woke up. The street lights were just switching on in the dusk and my bedroom was warm with the evening sun. I stumbled to the bathroom and had a pee, and then went to investigate the delicious smell that was wafting from the kitchen.
Murphy and Toby were sitting at the table, each tucking into a plate of stew. I stood in the doorway, rubbing my bare belly, trying to work out in my sleep-addled mind exactly what I had to do. Toby just sat there, forking cubes of meat and vegetables into his mouth, watching me. He didn’t speak or even smile at me. Murphy came to my rescue. On his way to getting another plate and filling it with stew, he took my arm and pushed me in the direction of his chair. He exchanged his empty plate for a full one, and then poured a glass of juice which he sat down in front of me.
He leant back against the work surface, glaring at me until I picked up the fork and began to eat. It was good, too good to have come from a tin, and my body didn’t hesitate to tell me how badly I had been treating it the last few days. It seemed only seconds had passed and the plate was empty. Murphy brought the saucepan over and spooned some more stew onto the plate, and that second helping disappeared almost as fast as the first. Toby was still watching me silently, but there was now a small quirk to his lips that could have been amusement.
My fairy godmother, although God forbid Murphy should ever find out I had thought of him in that way, cleared away the empty plates and then placed a bowl of hot apple pie and custard in front of me. I hesitated for a moment, the memory of Will’s love of pie filling my mind, and then I tucked in.
I realised Murphy was talking quietly to Toby as I scraped the last of the custard from the bowl. I listened to them, leaning back in the chair and closing my eyes. It seemed that Murphy was giving Toby advice on his homework, and I couldn’t remember the last time Toby had asked me to help him.
“He’ll come round, mate.” I felt Murphy’s hand on my shoulder and I opened my eyes to find that he and I were alone.
The smile he gave me was sad.
Murphy nurse-maided me and Toby for the next two days, taking control and removing any need for me to make any decisions for myself. I was told when to eat, when to sleep, when to wash. He cooked, cleaned, took the dirty washing to the laundrette and ironed it when he brought it home. He got Toby to school, picked him up, made sure he had the right books, lunch, PE kit. By the time he left on the Sunday morning, having spent Saturday entertaining my son, Toby and I were even able to hold a conversation together without shouting at each other. I know in those few days I couldn’t have coped without Murphy.
Now, two weeks later the last thing I needed was a Sunday afternoon call out to say someone had broken into the Youth Centre. Even with Murphy’s frequent visits I was still struggling to motivate myself. Pounding the hell out of a bunch of new recruits had helped until Macklin had sent me off, telling me I was being too hard on them, his argument being that he wanted them to be able to walk at the end of the induction course. In my opinion, if they couldn’t keep up they didn’t deserve to be in CI5. Macklin just shook his head. Murphy laughed his head off over a can of lager when I told him about it that night. That night was the first time I had laughed since Will had walked out on me. If there was a hint of hysteria about it, Murphy didn’t comment.
“Alright, lads, what’s been going on here, then?” If Dave’s message to Brian had been as brief as the one to me, Brian was totally in the dark.
We showed him the damage to the rear of the building before tentatively entering in the more normal manner by using the front door. That someone had been in the building was obvious the minute we made our way to the rear of the building. Whoever had broken in had completely trashed the rear store room next to the cloakroom which now sported a broken window. Shelves had been overturned, boxes upended, the contents of both strewn all over the floor. The corridor itself had remained untouched, but further investigation of the building showed that the store room was not the only room to sustain damage.
Unfortunately, the damage to the main hall seemed to be directed towards a specific person. And, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I realised that the specific person targeted was me.
Faggot. Queer. Homo. Poofter. Any derogatory name for homosexual that could be used, had been used. The perpetrator had written it on the walls, on the floor, on the windows, on the curtains. It had been written in red paint, and black paint, in white chalk and blue pen.
My first, slightly hysterical thought, was that whoever had done this must have been well educated. Then, as I looked closer, I could see a clear message in some of the scrawlings. Watch your back, faggot.
What the hell?
Brian turned slowly in a circle, taking in the damage. Dave just looked at me and I knew that he had heard the rumours about me. What could I say? I closed my eyes tightly for a minute, and was startled to feel a hand on my arm.
“Don’t worry, Ray. It’ll be alright.” Dave, his voice quiet, his tone serious, told me he knew about me and didn’t have a problem with it. That simple gesture alone filled me with more hope than I would have dared for. “We’ll get it sorted.”
“Right,” Brian agreed. “No-one does this to one of ours.”
I swallowed hard, fighting emotion, as Brian’s hand clamped onto my shoulder in passing. I watched him go back into the hall, to the pay phone set up there. Within seconds he was reporting the damage to the police.
It was difficult keeping out of the police investigation. Old habits tried very hard to kick back in, especially when faced with the incompetence of the freshly promoted sergeant who thought he knew everything. I tried to keep CI5 out of it but as soon as the police found out where I worked, a healthy dose of cockiness joined the mix. And the homosexual issue did me no favours either.
All in all, the police got nowhere. No-one claimed to have seen or heard anything. Convenient, that. After the police added our break-in to the pile of unsolved, harmless pranks, I did my own asking around and pretty much reached the same conclusion, much to my chagrin.
Clearing up the Youth Centre took longer than the police investigation. In the end we were left with no choice but to paint over the worst of the graffiti and scrap the curtains, which Dave, Brian and I replaced out of our own pockets, despite my telling them several times I would foot the bill myself. The Centre only closed for two days.
At my karate class on Wednesday I caught several of the kids speculating about what had happened. Of course the rumours were flying, and some of them hit pretty close to the truth. But I was a big boy and could handle it.
But I was glad I had left Toby with Mrs M for the evening, which he readily agreed to, when I returned to my car and found it sported a new paint scheme. Little of the silver paintwork was visible under the red writing which now covered the Capri.
I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths.
I found myself grinning at Dave’s exclamation as he came up behind me, and turned to meet him. “They’re very persistent, you must admit.”
“It’s sacrilege, that’s what it is.” He touched one of the trails of still wet, running paint with his finger . “What bastards would do this to such a fine car.”
I patted his arm. “It’s okay, mate. It’s only metal.”
“God, Ray, I’m sorry. I know there’s more important things going on here than a damaged car. I just …” He trailed off, clearly embarrassed that he’d given more thought to the damaged car than the bigger picture.
“It’s okay, mate. You’re right. It is sacrilege.” I shook my head and looked back at my work-issued, no longer innocuous–looking vehicle. There was no way I could report this at work. If my colleagues saw the graffiti the rumours would start flying and I didn’t want to give anyone any reason to put two and two together. No-one had ever commented that our shared living arrangements had carried on longer than were strictly necessary, and that once Will had recovered from his injuries there was no reason for us to carry on flat-sharing. It helped that Cowley was renowned for being a tight-ass where budgets were concerned. But start putting ideas in people’s heads, and it wouldn’t take long before there was speculation. And Will didn’t need that sort of speculation in his position. Standing in Cowley’s shoes was hard enough without being branded a faggot.
I found myself wincing: after all Will had done to me, I was still looking out for him. God, when would I ever learn?
“Can you get it fixed through work?” Dave asked as he wiped his paint smeared finger on a handkerchief which had long ago seen better days.
“Not going to.” He seemed to be waiting for an explanation. “Too many questions.”
“They don’t know you’re a …”
“Only a few of them. And that’s enough.”
He nodded. “I know just the place. They’ll give it great re-spray and it won’t cost the earth. They’ll need it for a few days, though.”
“That sounds great.” I could manage without a car for a few days. Worst came to the worst, I could take a pool car if we had any training scheduled off site. “Who do I call?”
He headed down the street to the phone box on the corner. “He’s a mate of mine. I’ll give ‘im a call now. Probably best to get it off the street as soon as possible.”
Thirty minutes later I watched as my car was winched onto the back of a breakdown truck and covered with a blue plastic sheet. There was a little part of me that wished I could crawl under the same cover and hide away from everyone.
I walked back to Mrs M’s and collected Toby. He didn’t question my explanation that the car had been pranged, and we caught the bus back home.
A quick call to Murphy when we got back arranged the lift in the morning, to get Toby to school and me to work. I still wasn’t keen to let Toby make his own way there, which I felt very guilty about. But things were still strained between us and I wouldn’t put it past him to play truant again.
Murphy accepted my explanation that I was having trouble starting the car without question, but after we dropped Toby off in the morning and I’d watched him walk into the playground and past the teacher on duty at the gate, he quizzed me.
“What’s going on, Ray?”
“Huh?” My confusion wasn’t an act.
“The car? You said you couldn’t start it, but it wasn’t parked on your street.”
I should have remembered that CI5 agents were trained to spot such things.
I sighed, and explained what had happened.
“You should have called it in.”
“What good would that do? The police have been next to useless already, and the last thing I want to do is bring this whole bloody mess to work.”
“It happened in daylight. Someone would have seen something.”
I looked out the window at the shop fronts we were passing. “Maybe, but if my car got towed into work looking like that, what would people think?”
Murphy heard the resignation in my voice. “Yeah, I see what you mean.”
We were silent for the rest of the journey while Murphy negotiated the rush hour traffic, BBC Radio One playing softly in the background. I was grateful for that: my mind would have been ticking over without the distraction of the radio and I didn’t want to think about anything right now.
It was just my luck that Bodie was getting out of his car the minute Murphy and I drove into the car park.
I tried not to look at Bodie but I hadn’t seen him for three weeks and I was like a man dying of dehydration in the desert. I just couldn’t take my eyes off him. He looked almost gaunt, as if he wasn’t eating, and tired. I guessed that life at the top wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. No wonder Cowley drank so much of his pure malt Scotch if the stress was this great.
If Bodie was aware of my scrutiny he didn’t acknowledge it. In fact, he didn’t acknowledge me at all. His eyes didn’t even flicker in my direction. He waited for Murphy to lock the car and then fell into step with him as they walked towards the entrance together. Murphy glanced over his shoulder at me and shrugged and then they disappeared behind the heavy oak door. I hadn’t even moved from my position by the passenger door.
I ignored the stab of pain I felt in my chest and trailed behind them. I had to wonder how things had gone so wrong between us.
It was standing room only on the Tube, and a tight squeeze at that. I turned my head away from the sweaty armpit close to my face as its owner gripped the grab rail above our heads to keep his balance. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do much about the smell and tried to breathe through my mouth.
I don’t know why I suddenly felt that I was under scrutiny but the hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I tried to act normally. A quick glance at my fellow passengers did nothing to enlighten me but still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched.
I slipped off the train when the doors opened, carried away with the crowd and unable to change direction even if I had wanted to. But following the old adage that there was safety in numbers I was happy to be swept along with them. Exiting the station onto the street the crowd thinned out and I ducked into the newsagent next door, hidden and peering through the gaps in the grimy window where numerous posters and notices were stuck down with Sellotape.
By the post box right outside the newsagent a man was twirling round, looking down the high street towards the park in the east and then back the other way, the way I needed to go. There was nothing to make him stand out in the crowd. His features were plain, his collar length hair was dark, his sideburns could have rivalled Noddy Holder’s, but then again half the men on the street sported excessive facial hair. Even his clothing was nondescript. I didn’t know him from Adam. I watched his face crease with frustration as he muttered something under his breath, and I was certain that this was whose attention I had felt back on the Tube.
I could see him take a deep breath and his posture seemed to slump before he turned and walked towards the West. I watched him as long as I could, craning my neck to keep him in sight and trying to memorise his features. A cough behind me startled me and I turned to see the shop keeper glaring at me from behind his counter. With a rueful smile I grabbed the first magazine to hand and went to pay, not realising I had picked up Woman and Home until I was out of the shop and standing by the post box myself, debating whether or not it was a good idea to follow my follower.
In the end I took the long way round to pick Toby up from Mrs M’s. I never spotted my mystery man again.
“He doesn’t look very happy, does he?”
I grunted a response and wondered how I could avoid talking to Will while he was obviously in such a bad mood.
“Out you get then, mate. I’ve got a job to get to.” I knew he wasn’t being deliberately cruel. I just didn’t want to be the first person Will had to greet.
Sighing deeply I opened the door and climbed out, desperately trying not to look at Will. The more I told myself not to look up, the harder it became to keep my eyes on the floor. I heard Murphy push to door lock down on the passenger side and then climb out his own door.
Will still hadn’t spoken. But, then again, neither had I.
“Alright, mate?” Murphy’s greeting to Will seemed full of false cheer. Or maybe that was just my interpretation.
“Murphy.” And there was Will’s response, the complete opposite to Murphy’s exuberance.
I shuffled my feet awkwardly, expecting them to move off and not wanting to seem as if I was tagging along when they did. I still hadn’t spoken. Truth be told, I didn’t know what to say.
When it became embarrassingly apparent that they weren’t moving, I started forward with a “Well, I must be …” My sentence had already trailed off before Will stopped me.
“Ray, can I have a word.”
“Catch you later, Ray.” Murphy bounded away, far too quickly if you ask me, and I waited for Will. The ball was in his court.
“I just …” He coughed softly, nervously, and unfolded his arms. “Um, how are you doing?”
I was pleased he seemed to be having as much trouble talking as me.
“Been better.” I said with a shrug.
“Listen, you need …” Again he trailed off and I waited. Why should I make anything easy for him? “Murphy told me what’s been going on. You need to be careful.”
I looked him in the eye, then, my temper suddenly flaring.
“Don’t you dare, Will. You lost the right to tell me what to do when you walked out.” He put his hand on my arm but I shrugged it off.
“For God’s sake, Ray. I’m not telling you what to do.” His eyes closed and he took a deep breath before opening them again. “You need to watch your back. For your sake, and for Toby’s. “
I opened my mouth to make a scathing retort but he held up his hand.
“I know I don’t have the right to ask anything of you, but please be careful. Someone has got it in for you, and you need to watch your back.”
And with that he turned and crossed the car park to the office door. The wind went out of my sails and for the second morning in a row I was left staring after him. The only difference was that this morning I felt total confusion as I tried to identify the emotion I had seen in Will’s eyes.
The car looked amazing when I picked it up from Dave’s mate’s three days later. I would not have known it had ever been defaced if I hadn’t seen the red graffiti with my own eyes. I duly paid the bill and drove away. I was aware of the car that slipped into the traffic three cars behind me, the same car that I had noticed behind us when Dave brought me over to the Garage, the same car that had somehow shown up a dozen times over the past three days.
I found myself doing what Will had asked: being careful and watching my back. And whoever it was in the dark blue car trailing me, so far they had done nothing more than follow. I hate to admit I was getting used to them being there.
I called into the hospital that afternoon after work, confident that Will was tied up with some Minister or other at Whitehall and that Cowley would in all probability be alone. The guard at the door was one of last year’s fresh-faced new recruits. I remember giving him hell over his inability to block attacks from his weak left side.
He grinned at me. “Hello, Mr Doyle.” And didn’t that make me feel so old. He could only have been eight or nine years younger than me, if that.
“Reynolds.” As I greeted him I wondered how long it would be before his enthusiasm waned. “Is anyone in with Cowley?”
“Mr Bodie visited him earlier, but he’s alone now.” He winked at me. I found the gesture somewhat incongruous. “I keep hearing him muttering. Something about incompetent subordinates and useless intel.”
That statement there did more to alleviate any worries about Cowley’s future than all of the reports the doctors had given put together. If Cowley felt he couldn’t trust his team to keep the ship afloat I knew it wouldn’t be long before he was back on his feet.
With a nod to Reynolds, I entered Cowley’s private room.
He looked up from the papers he was reading, his glasses sitting low down on his nose.
“Ah, Doyle. How goes it?”
I had nothing to say to him about the upcoming peace talks or Will’s preoccupation with appeasing the Ministers. Other than training matters, I didn’t get involved with individual cases or proceedings. In fact, I had no call to be visiting the old man. But I wanted to see how he was doing. I wanted the reassurance that while other areas of my life were slowly crumbling, Cowley and his ‘island smelling of roses and lavender’ remained a constant.
“I thought you’d like to know that Susan beat up Anson the other day.” I dare say training matters were the last thing on Cowley’s mind, but we both needed a distraction.
He snorted. “Nothing would surprise me. That lad needs to stop smoking for a start. Then again, Susan can be quite formidable.”
“How are you doing, Sir?” I perched on the cushioned seat placed by the wall.
Cowley looked down at his lower body, hidden beneath the sheet and blankets. “I need to get out of here. There’s too much that needs doing.”
“Don’t trust the subordinates?” I used Reynolds word with a grin.
Cowley’s face twisted. I wasn’t sure if it was constipation or if he was trying to hide his smile. “Certain subordinates are more than capable. Then again, there are others who leave a lot to be desired.”
“I won’t ask you to name names.”
“Better not.” He flapped the papers in his hand a little. “What do you know about the peace talks?”
I hadn’t expected that question. “Not a lot. I know they’re happening but that’s about it.”
“Hmm.” He looked down at the papers.
“Security is being stepped up ten-fold on this one, lad.”
I waited for him to say more but he stayed quiet, making me do the running. “That’s only to be expected, Sir.”
“Certain factions will stop at nothing to gain access to the PM.”
That fact was nothing new. We all knew how important these peace talks were to the country and that some people were keen to prevent them. Sinn Fein appeared to be as keen as the Government to reach an agreement. It was the likes of the IRA and other organisations who thrived on disruption that would try to stop the talks going ahead.
“I’m sure CI5 can handle it, Sir.”
He looked up at me, studying me. “Aye, CI5 can. But there are individuals that can be … persuaded.”
I frowned. “I hope you’re not suggesting …”
He cut me off with an impatient wave of his free hand. “I have never doubted your loyalty, Doyle.”
“Then why …?”
I was interrupted when the door opened and Cowley’s dinner was brought in. He looked at it in disgust and shook his head, glowering at the hapless student nurse. She backed out of the room before he could complain.
“How they expect patients to get better, I’ll never know.” He grumbled.
“What you were saying, Sir …”
“Ignor my ramblings, lad. I’m just frustrated that I’m stuck in here while there is so much to be done.”
“You don’t trust Bodie?”
Again, I found myself under his scrutiny, and felt somewhat discomforted by it. “Bodie is the best man for the job” he finally replied. He didn’t need to say if I can’t do it for me to hear it loud and clear. “He could do without distractions, though.”
I took a deep breath to keep my temper in check. “It’s not …” I stopped. I had been going to say it’s not my fault and realised just how childish that sounded as the words formed on my lips. And did I really owe Cowley any explanation as to the reason why Will might be distracted?
He smiled at me, wistfully, and again I felt uncomfortable. “I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.” He said. I was somewhat thrown by the non-sequitur.
“What will? The Irish peace talks?”
He nodded. “Of course everything will be alright. Bodie can handle it.”
I had the distinct impression I had lost track of the conversation somewhere in the middle. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Cowley had, too. As I left him to his dinner, I reasoned that being in a coma for several weeks probably left one in a delicate frame of mind. On the other hand, knowing Cowley, he probably knew exactly what he was talking about and expected me to follow along with his thought patterns. I don’t think I’d ever get entirely used to him.
“Ray, thank God you’re here.”
“Dave?” I took his arm and lead him to the steps where I tried to get him to sit down. He shrugged me off with impatience and hauled himself back upright grabbing hold of the railing.
“Ray, it’s Toby.”
I swear my heart stopped.
“What do you mean?”
He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “He never arrived here after school. Mrs M asked me to help search for him. We tried to call you but by the time we found out you’d gone to the hospital, you’d already left there.”
I closed my eyes against my own rising panic.
“Have you called the police?”
He nodded. “Yes, when we couldn’t get hold of you. They’re sending a car round.”
I hoped against all hope that the fragile truce between me and Toby hadn’t disintegrated, and that he was just being a typical pre-teen trying to piss his Dad off. In my heart, I knew that there was no way in hell he would do that to me, not following his kidnapping two years ago.
“Have you spoken to his friends?”
“Some of them. They all said he left them in the Gardens heading in this direction.” He pointed over the road to Tredegar Square Gardens. “I’ve been all through them. There’s no sign of him.”
I shuddered and felt overwhelming helplessness.
Three hours later, I felt no better. The police had been unable to find out anything more than Dave, and had even suggested that Toby’s disappearance had something to do with the damage caused to the Youth Centre. It was clear they thought it was entirely my fault.
Despite being told to sit and wait, I couldn’t. I needed to be out there, doing something. I wandered the Gardens time and time again. God only knows what I thought I’d find the fourth time I skirted the perimeter. I’d even looked in the wee-ridden telephone box where the criminal low life Robert Gower had dumped Toby’s satchel when he’d snatched Toby in an attempt to stop me investigating his activities two years ago. Of course it was empty except for a few scraps of paper and the over-riding smell of urine which no amount of cleaning would ever get rid of.
It was dark when I sank to the steps outside Mrs M’s flat, grasping the mug of sweetened tea she had pushed on me when I had finally admitted I could do no more. The police car parked down the street did little to reassure me, nor did the familiar dark blue Rover parked two cars further down. I had stormed up to the car to demand some explanation from the driver but the vehicle had been empty. And now I had time to think about it, I wondered if I was mistaken. After all, there were a lot of blue cars on the streets. It might not be the one that had been tailing me all this time.
As I sat with my elbows resting on my knees, the mug grasped firmly between my hands in an attempt to bring some warmth and comfort, I considered all the places Toby could have gone to if he was running away from home. And I dismissed them as untenable just as quickly. I still didn’t think he would run away, but as the hours passed without word from a kidnapper, I had to consider all possibilities. His close friends had all denied any knowledge of his whereabouts, as has Andrew Bradley who I had first gone to.
I was staring out across the Gardens thinking, of all things, that at least Toby was able to look after himself in a fight thanks to his martial arts training, when a metaphorical light bulb switched on over my head. Of course, the Youth Centre. God knows why I hadn’t thought of it sooner. Without any real conscious decision I found myself flying across the street and through the Gardens, dodging the group of teenagers still hanging about on the benches in the middle of the central square.
The street light cast its gloomy illumination on the front door of the Youth Centre, the front door that should have been locked but wasn’t when I tried the handle. I threw the door open and then hesitated. Inside it was totally black, and my copper’s instinct kicked in. Belatedly I realised I was a sitting duck standing in the doorway, back lit as I was by the street light, and I ducked to one side, pressing my back to the poster lined hall wall. The door swung shut behind me.
I stood in the dark and listened, but the only sound I could hear was my own barely audible breath. Reaching out with my left hand I felt for the light switch and closed my eyes quickly before I was blinded by the sudden illumination. When I opened them it was obvious there was no-one else in the hallway.
“Toby!” I yelled, too impatient to wait any longer. If there was someone lurking I dared them to jump out at me. I was itching for a fight to burn off some of the adrenaline currently flooding my veins.
I turned my head, listening, trying to pinpoint what I prayed wasn’t my imagination.
With my head facing the other way there was no mistaking the second thump. I hurried down the hallway towards the cloakrooms at the back of the Youth Centre.
“Toby, keep thumping, mate.”
And he did. Thump after thump after thump until I stood outside the door to the miniscule closet the Youth Centre organisers stored the cleaning supplies in. A heavy metal filing cabinet shoved up against the door prevented it from opening, and when I put my back against the cabinet and physically manoeuvred it out of the way I saw that the door lock had been smashed open.
Light from the hall flooded into the room and I saw my son lying on the floor, trussed up like the Sunday roast and with a rag stuffed in his mouth. When he saw me his body visibly relaxed, and I dropped to the floor next to him.
“It’s okay, mate, I’ll have you out in a minute.” There were tears on his cheeks when I managed to untie the gag from behind his head, and I gently brushed them away with my thumbs as I cradled his face with my hands.
“Dad.” It broke my heart to hear him sob like that, and I pulled his small body to me and hugged him fiercely for a few minutes, giving us both some degree of comfort.
I needed to know what had happened, who had done this, but my priority at that time had to be getting Toby out of there. My fingers fumbled with the knots on the rope that held his wrists together behind his back, and I felt several nails tear in my haste. I slowed down and found the less frantic movements worked better at loosening the knots.
He cried out when his arms flopped down to his side and I sympathised with him. I studiously ignored the raw looking wounds around his wrists: he must have put up one hell of a struggle in the hours he had been shut in here.
As I managed to undo the last knot round his ankles I became aware of a crackling noise from out in the hall. Expecting attack, I whirled around but there was no-one about to strike. What there was struck even more fear into my heart.
A haze of smoke was starting to fill the hall, and back by the front door there was a growing orange glow. Now I knew the building was on fire I could smell the acrid smoke and started coughing as it filled my throat. Oblivious to the new danger, Toby sat beside me hugging his knees to his chest and sobbing softly. I could see there was no exit the way I had come, and frantically looked around. We had no choice but to carry on to the rear of the building where there was a back door in Brian’s office.
I instinctively ducked when part of the ceiling by the front door collapsed, sending up a shower of sparks. It wasn’t taking long for the old wooden prefab building to disintegrate. We had to get out now.
I gathered Toby to me, slipped my arms under his knees and round his shoulders and rose unsteadily to my feet. When had my son grown so big? I staggered down the back corridor which led to the office and cloakroom where the air was a bit clearer and there was a back door and windows.
I was sweating like the proverbial pig when we reached the office and I kicked the door shut behind us. If the door being closed only gave us a few more minutes it was worth the effort.
“Okay if I put you down?” I asked Toby.
He nodded shakily. “What’s going on, Dad?”
“I really don’t know, mate. But we’re going to get out of here and find out.” I kept one arm around his shoulders and gently pushed him towards the back door. I knew Brian kept the key on top of the door frame and reached up for it, releasing the breath I didn’t realise I was holding when my fingers closed around the still-cold metal.
The key turned in the lock easily and I pulled the handle down and put my shoulder against the wood to push the door open. And it didn’t move. I tried again: handle down, push. Nothing. I put a bit of brute force behind it, and felt a slight shift but that was all.
“Sod it.” Years of not swearing in front of a child was ingrained, but sometimes the only word that would do was a swear word.
Toby giggled and I glanced at him, worried. Did he not realise the position we were in? But I didn’t have time to dwell on it now. We had to get out. My eyes flicked towards the window and without conscious decision I found myself crossing the office towards it. Was it my imagination or was the roaring of the flames louder? I glanced towards the door and could see wisps of smoke curling around the frame. We didn’t have much time left.
I didn’t have any better luck with the window. I couldn’t even lift the latch which was sealed firm with layers of paint and years of disuse. Frantically looking around my eyes fell on the old typewriter sitting on the spare desk and I grabbed it with undisguised relief. It was a heavy beast and a struggle to heft in my arms, but I managed it.
The sound of the glass shattering was a welcome one as I flung the typewriter through the window into the night air. I grabbed the yellow pages kept by the telephone on Brian’s desk and knocked out the remaining shards of glass. When it was clear I dropped the battered directory and grabbed my son.
“Out you go, mate. Quickly.”
“Toby, you’ve got to go now. We don’t have time for this.” I pulled him towards me by a handful of sweatshirt. Poor kid, he was terrified.
“Doyle, give him to me.” A voice ordered from outside.
I couldn’t have been more shocked when a pair of arms reached through the window frame. I peered, trying to see more of the body they belonged to, and instinctively pulled Toby back into my arms when I saw our rescuers face. The sideburns gave him away.
“No way, man.” I wasn’t going to hand my son over to the man who had been following me all this time.
“For God’s sake, Doyle. Do we really have time for this? Give me the boy.”
In his panic he was getting angry. I knew exactly how he felt.
He breathed deeply. “I don’t have time to get my credentials out, Doyle. We can have a pissing match once you and your son are out of there.”
Still I hesitated.
“Bodie ordered me to follow you.”
Suddenly his gaze shifted away from me, to some point over my shoulder, and his eyes widened. I wasn’t going to fall for that old trick but his muttered “fuck” and “get out, now” had me glancing behind me. The door was an orange fireball. We were out of options.
I practically flung Toby at the man who lifted him effortlessly over the sill, and tumbled headfirst after them. I landed on the glass covered grass, but if any of the sharp pieces cut me I didn’t feel a thing. The adrenaline flooding my system helped to get me first onto my hands and knees and then onto feet, albeit shakily. A firm arm snaked around my waist and then we were stumbling away from the window, down the narrow track of land between the building and the fence, and then we were out into the open space of the skateboarding area. And still our rescuer didn’t stop, not until we were safely on the pavement across the street. Even from this distance I could feel the heat from the flames.
I stood bent over with my hands on my knees, panting. My eyes were burning and streaming tears down my face, and each breath I took was painful, but I didn’t care; we were safe. Toby was crouched down, his back resting against the park railings and I slid down beside him and slipped my arm around his shoulders. Under my arm I could feel him shaking.
“It’s okay, mate. We’re safe.” He nodded.
I looked up at our rescuer, who stood with his hands on his hips and his back to us and he watched the Youth Centre burn.
“Thank you.” Raising my voice hurt my throat, but he heard my almost whisper and looked down. He glanced back at the building and then turned to my son and I crouched down in front of us.
“Ambulance is here.” I glanced down the street and sure enough the ambulance was just pulling up.
“Thank you.” I said again and he suddenly grinned.
“Only doing my job, mate. Bodie would kill me if I let anything happen to you.”
“Yeah. He told me to keep an eye on you.”
“Who are you?”
“Paul Hemming, at your service.” He held his hand out to shake mine, but when I raised mine I saw it was covered with blood and I hesitated, staring at it.
He looked down, too.
“Think we’d better get you seen to, yeah?”
And before I could say anything more, he stood with one easy fluid movement and with a shout he waved to someone down the street. Through my daze I noted that he never left our side.
Once he was sure someone was on their way over, he crouched back down to our level.
“Bodie’s on his way.”
“What?” I could have sworn he said Bodie was on his way here and I looked around expecting to see him striding down the street.
“Nah, mate, he’s not here yet. I just called the ambulance men over. When I saw the fire I put a quick call in to Bodie. He’s on his way now from CI5.”
I felt like I had walked into the pictures halfway through the film, and couldn’t work out what was happening. I don’t think I could put all the confusion down to smoke inhalation.
“Who are you?” I asked again, almost stupidly.
He grinned again. “Like I said. Paul Hemming’s the name. I’m an old army mate of Bodie’s from way back when. “
“And you’ve been following me?”
“Yeah, Bodie was worried. Said something about keeping up appearances, but that he couldn’t just leave you unprotected.”
I was suddenly, uncomfortably aware that there was something huge going on that I wasn’t privy to, and I felt unaccountably angry.
Hemming must have seen something on my face because he carried on. “His hands have been tied, mate. I don’t know everything …” he snorted with amusement. “When does the Sarge ever tell me everything?”
“Bodie. He was me Sargeant in the SAS. Anyway, he calls me up and tells me to keep an eye on his mate. It was the least I could do. Although, you’re a sneaky little bastard, aren’t you?”
I glanced down at Toby’s head, buried against my shirt. I definitely heard a snigger coming from down there.
Hemming carried on. “You know how to lose a tail. Although, I’d like to know how you knew you were being followed in the first place. What did I do wrong?”
I would have answered him but for the arrival of the ambulance men.
In short order, Toby and I found ourselves sitting side by side in the ambulance. I watched with growing fury as Toby’s wrists were cleaned and wrapped loosely in gauze. The man tending him was gentle and kind to him, but every time Toby winched or sucked in his breath sharply I felt an overwhelming urge to find the bastard that had done this to my son and beat him to a pulp.
I barely felt my own cut up knees as they were cleaned up and wrapped, only really feeling any pain when the ambulance man had to dig painfully deep to get one stubborn shard of glass out. The urge to swear was strong, but I restrained myself by clenching my teeth and grabbing onto the edge of the seat with my hands, gripping tightly until my knuckles went white.
That was how Will found us.
“Ray.” I recognised his voice but I looked up anyway, torn between fury at the way he had treated me and desperate for comfort from the man I still loved. The fury won out and I didn’t answer, just blinked at him for a few long seconds and then turned my head back to Toby.
The ambulance man was just finishing pinning the last piece of material around Toby’s wrist and he looked up at me.
“He’s good to go, sir. But I’d recommend a quick trip to A&E to be sure.”
“This is definitely going to need stitches,” my own carer added as he finished prodding my lacerated knee. “And it won’t hurt to get checked out for smoke inhalation.”
I opened my mouth to refuse, but the words came from my right.
“Don’t argue, Ray. You’re going.”
I glared at Will. “Don’t you dare tell me what I should do. You lost that right.”
He must have learned a trick or to from me: his returned scowl was one to rival my own. But all he said was “for Toby’s sake.”
Damn the man. He knew me too well. Will leaned into the ambulance and cupped the side of my face with his big hand. My eyes darted around, aware of the audience, but Will ignored everyone but me. His thumb started to stroke my cheek and I found my eyes filling. Embarrassed at my own weakness I started to pull away, but his fingers curled around my neck and held me in place. I could have wrenched myself away from him but that would have caused a scene and to be perfectly honest it felt too good to have him touching me after so long.
His thumb gently wiped away a stray tear. “I am so sorry, Ray, for everything.”
I looked into his eyes and saw a whole sea of emotion there: sorrow, love, anger, sadness. And then he blew my mind away when he leant forward and kissed me in front of everyone. There was no passion behind the kiss, his lips were soft and barely touched mine, but he was in no hurry to pull away and when he did he only went so far as to rest his forehead against mine.
“When I got the call, I was so worried.” His thumb stroked my cheek again. “I know I have no right to be after the way I treated you.”
I wanted to reach up and touch him, reassure myself that he was really there, but I found it very hard to move my hands off my lap. I perhaps wasn’t ready to forgive just yet.
There was a soft cough behind Will, and he pulled away, but unhurriedly and only far enough to look over his shoulder.
“Place has gone up like a matchstick, mate.” Murphy said. “There’s absolutely nothing left, let alone any evidence.”
Will chuckled quietly. “It’s not like we need any. We know who did this.”
Murphy grunted an acknowledgement.
I was left totally in the dark. “Would someone care to tell me what’s going on?”
“A&E first, Ray.”
Will finally pulled back completely and I felt bereft when he moved his hand from my face. It was only a little consolation when he turned his attention to Toby who had sat far too quietly by my side for too long.
“Hey, Toby, you going to shift along a bit so I can get in?”
I wasn’t the only one who thought Will was losing his mind. The ambulance man who had tended Toby looked up sharply.
“I’m sorry, sir. There’s only room for two.”
Will climbed in and settled down between me and Toby, pulling his warrant badge out of his pocket and thrusting it under the nose of the objector. “Deal with it.”
Then his arm snaked around Toby’s shoulders and my son melted into the comfort his second dad was giving him. I knew exactly how he felt.
The two ambulance man looked at each other and then gave up without another word of objection, one with a shrug, the other with raised eyebrows. I assumed they’d come across the might of CI5 before and realised resisting would do no good.
Murphy stood back out of the way of the closing doors.
“I’ll finish up here, mate, and then find you later.” Whilst the words were directed at Will, he looked straight at me. “And Bodie?” He waited until he had his best friend’s attention. “You need to tell Ray what’s been going on. All of it.” Then, with a smile at me, he stepped back and the door closed.
Under the watchful eye of the ambulance man, Will said no more to me. Every now and then he murmured something to Toby, but too quietly for me to make out. And Toby’s response, if there was one, was far too quiet as well. Will’s free hand dropped to my thigh and he left it there as if daring the ambulance man to say something. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to prove or who he was trying to prove it to, but I was too tired and sore to care. All I knew was he had come through in the end. I just hoped his reasons were worth it.
Will stayed with us during the visit to A&E. Toby and I were deemed non-urgent, and sat waiting patiently. Considering the time of night, it was depressingly busy. Toby eventually dropped off to sleep against my shoulder. I think I would have joined him but for the stinging pain in my knees every time I flexed my legs.
Several times Will’s hand strayed under his leather jacket, reaching for the Browning Hi-Power I knew was nestling there in a shoulder holster. Here was a man on the edge, but it was also reassuring. Whatever threat still remained, Will was ready to deal with it.
When the doctor got round to us, Will went with Toby while the nurse showed me to a different cubicle. I lost track of time while my wounds were cleaned and stitched. I had to admit the local anaesthetic was more than welcome. By the time I hobbled back into the waiting room, bandaged and sporting several neat rows of black stitches, Will and Toby were waiting for me.
“Time to go home for a good sleep.” Will stood and slipped an arm around my waist, supporting my suddenly sagging weight. Toby followed, not quite so fast, but with equal enthusiasm.
“Are you staying at home, Will?” I winced at Toby’s question. I also desperately wanted to know the answer, but at the same time didn’t.
Will glanced at me before replying. “Your dad and I have got a lot of talking to do, mate. But I’ll definitely be staying for a bit. You two need someone to look after you.”
Toby beamed at him.
By the time we made it through the front door I was shaking with exhaustion and pain. So much for local anaesthetics: why couldn’t they last a bit longer? At least I knew I had some pretty powerful pain killers tucked away in the bathroom cabinet.
I came to a sudden halt when Susan appeared in the hall from the living room. “What are you doing here?” I grumbled.
“Good to see you too, Ray.” I swear that woman sounded chirpy at any time of the day or night. She spoke directly to Will, cutting me totally out of the loop. I was getting a tad annoyed at being in the dark constantly. “We’ve done a complete sweep of the whole flat, Bodie. Everything’s clean. There are two teams on round-the-clock duty. Ruth and Benny have the flat across the hall …” I wondered briefly what they had done with the air hostess who lived there with her boyfriend “… and the gas road works outside are actually our boys. I’m not sure who is on now, but the morning shift will be Biggs and Anson.”
“Thanks, Susan. Sorry for dragging you all in at such short notice.”
She smiled at me and pulled me into a gentle hug. “It’s for one of our own, Bodie. You know no-one minds.” She even had a hug for Toby, although the pained look on his face would have been hilarious at any other time. With a quick ruffle to his curly mop of hair, she pulled back, grabbed a coat and bag off the chair, and headed towards the door. “I’ll be back this afternoon, boys. Remember, keep the door locked and keep the curtains shut.”
Bodie took a swat at her backside as she walked past him. “Cheeky mare. I was doing this sort of thing for a living when you were still in nappies.”
She grinned at him and was then gone. Bodie bolted the door and set the alarm.
“Right then, food and then bed.”
“I’m not hungry.” Toby moaned.
“You can manage a glass of milk and a slice of toast. You’ll feel better later if you do.” Will took his arm and led him into the kitchen. I didn’t seem to be able to make my feet move and so was still standing stupidly in the hall minutes later when Will came back.
“You really are in the wars, aren’t you, sunshine?” Again he pressed his hand against my cheek. I found myself leaning into it, and then I was in his arms as he pulled my unresisting body against his.
“I’m so, so sorry, Ray. I thought I was doing the right thing.” His voice broke and I looked up at him, gobsmacked to see tears in his eyes.
He took a deep breath and swallowed hard a couple of times. “I have so much to make up to you,” he muttered. “I wouldn’t blame you if you never forgave me.”
I knew I could milk this for all it was worth, but I don’t think either one of us was strong enough for that. “You’d better have a good excuse, that’s all I’ll say.” He beamed at me, and then our lips met, this time with a long-denied passion bubbling just under the surface.
Reluctantly I pulled away a few inches. “Much as I’d love to get you in bed right now …” I murmured for his ears only “… now is not the time. I’m not sure I can even make it to bed, anyway,” I finished as a particularly painful spasm paralysed my left leg.
Will took my arm and led me into the kitchen much as he’d done with Toby. After he had me settled in the nearest chair, Will placed a plate of buttered toast in front of me along with a mug of strong tea.
“I don’t …”
He didn’t let me finish. “Eat it up, Ray. You need something in your stomach before you take any meds.”
I grunted and picked up the mug. The tea was hot and sweet and just what I needed right then. Toby finished the last of his toast and swallowed down the last few dregs of milk. Then Will shepherded him out of the kitchen.
“Just have a quick wash and brush your teeth for now, Tobe mate.”
“I stink of smoke.”
“We all do, mate. But if you get in the bath now you’ll fall asleep and I’m not carrying your skinny butt to bed when you do.”
“You’d do it for Dad.” I nearly choked on my toast.
I heard a decidedly undignified snort from Will. “Yeah, well, not with the way my back’s been playing up recently.”
“Huh.” Toby was obviously unimpressed.
“You can have a bath later after you’ve had a sleep. I’ll even change the bedding for you as well, princess.”
When they came back into the kitchen Toby’s face, at least, seemed a lot cleaner. His eyes were drooping with tiredness, though he was obviously reluctant to get himself off to bed.
“Bed time, Tobe.”
Toby shook his head and clung to my hand.
“Come on, mate. Your dad needs to get cleaned up, too.”
But still he wouldn’t let go. I took a deep breath.
His eyes downcast, I could feel the slight tremors running through his slim frame.
“Scared.” His whisper was so quiet I could barely hear it. I opened my arms and he flung himself into my hug.
“It’s no wonder, mate. I’m scared, too.” I could see another visit to the CI5 psychiatrist in our future. “Want to sleep in my bed tonight?”
He nodded against my chest. “Let Will get you settled while I get washed up, okay?” I looked over Toby’s head at Will, who was gazing fondly at us. He nodded to my unspoken question and gently pulled Toby back.
“Come on, mate, you can grab the comfortable side of the bed before hop-along can get there.”
Toby wiped his sleeve across his face and allowed Will to lead him to bed. I struggled to my feet and followed slowly behind them.
By the time I had washed up and had taken some pain killers I could hardly keep my eyes open. I had no idea what time it was, but guessed it was early morning judging by the traffic I could hear on the street. I didn’t want to go to bed, I wanted to find out what had been going on, but there was no way I’d stay awake long enough.
Will met me in the bedroom doorway and helped me off with my soot covered clothes and into a soft pair of pyjama trousers. I eased down onto the mattress next to an already fast asleep Toby.
“I’ll be here when you wake up. We’ll talk then.” He turned to leave the bedroom.
He looked down at me with a small, sad smile. “If you’ll have me back.”
I nodded and held out my hand. He grasped my fingers like a lifeline.
My eyes started to close, but they flew open again when I felt his grip slipping. “It’s okay, I’m just getting a chair.” He was reaching behind to pull over the old Lloyd Loom chair where I tended to dump my dirty clothes. He knocked the pile onto the floor and then took my hand again as he settled into the chair.
I fell asleep to his fingers gently brushing across my forehead.
I must have made a strange sight, lying in the bath with my legs propped up on either side, a concession to keeping my stitches dry. But, damn, it sure felt good to soak away the smoke and my aches and pains.
It was now seven in the evening. When I had woken up Will had told me I’d slept thirteen hours straight. Toby had woken an hour or so before me, and now sat wrapped in a blanket in front of the television watching Dr Who and munching on a chip butty. My own chips were keeping warm in the oven. I’m not sure who Will had bribed to deliver them: Susan, probably, as she had a soft spot for him, or maybe Murphy, feeling guilty. I didn’t really care so long as they were hot and drenched in vinegar and salt, just how I liked them.
The bathroom door opened and a blast of cold air wafted in and displaced some of the steam that I had allowed to build up.
“God, Ray, it’s like a sauna in here.” Will paused whilst he shut the door behind him. “You are in here, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, I thought so.” He chuckled, and he thrust a mug of tea at me. “Here you go, sunshine.”
“Ooh, ta, mate.”
He perched himself on the closed toilet lid and leant forward, resting his arms across his knees. He almost looked like a man facing a firing squad. He took a deep breath.
“I have a lot of explaining to do.”
I took a slurp of tea and nodded. “It better be good, too.”
Even through the steam I saw his grimace. “Yeah.” He paused, marshalling his thoughts. “Do you remember Robert Gower?”
“Like I could forget him.” The crime lord had been the scourge of London a few years before, a rival for the Krays in notoriety, and the man targeted by CI5 when I first met Will. In fact, Will had been working undercover as Gower’s gofer. And it had been Gower who very nearly ruined my life when he kidnapped my son to get me to stop asking questions. I would never forget that mad bastard as long as I lived. I was just glad he had been shot dead when we had been rescued. By Cowley’s hand, no less.
“Do you also remember that he was trying to do an arms deal with the IRA reject Donald O’Leary?”
I nodded. That deal had fallen through when CI5 had been forced to bust Gower’s operations early to save me and Toby.
“Well, Donald O’Leary is back in town, and he has been waging a bit of a vendetta against CI5. Me, in particular.”
“Oh, it’s not just personal. Revenge is an added bonus. He has an ulterior motive.”
“And that is?”
“Access to the PM at the upcoming peace talks.”
“Access as in …”
“He plans to assassinate Callaghan at the talks, and place the blame firmly on me and CI5.”
I shifted in the bath and the water sloshed over the sides. Will automatically leant forward to move the bath towel to cover the wet patch.
“What will he gain by that? The IRA kicked him out, didn’t they? He was too irrational, even for them.”
“Well, he hasn’t actually confided in me, but my feeling is he wants to return to the fold. Thinks by getting rid of the Prime Minister, he’ll have a way in.” Will leant back and rubbed his forehead slowly.
“And how does he plan to do that?”
“Apparently, I’m to leave a section of the grounds un-manned and he will walk right in the door.”
I snorted. “He obviously doesn’t realise how much integrity you have.”
“Ah, that’s where he’s clever, you see.” He smiled at me, both sad and tender at the same time. “He knows my Achilles heel.”
I was reaching down to scratch the skin around the stiches on me left knee when he said that and I paused mid scratch to look up at Will. I didn’t need to ask.
“You, Ray. And Toby, of course. O’Leary has become … aware of what you both mean to me.”
“How? We’ve always been so … discreet.”
“He’s been watching us for a long, long time. He’s held a grudge against CI5 since that failed arms deal. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s been onto us since the bust.”
I found myself flinching. The immediate aftermath of that bust had me sitting vigil at Will’s hospital bedside, and then taking care of the invalid for months after. It wouldn’t have taken too much of a genius to see my feelings back then, even if since then we’d been very careful.
“But he couldn’t know you’d be involved in the peace talks. Cowley hadn’t made his final staff selection when he had …” I trailed off as the penny dropped. We’d known all along that Cowley’s accident hadn’t been an accident. And with Cowley out of the way, half of London knew that Will would take over as Controller, even temporarily.
“Cowley is above reproach. O’Leary would never be able to blackmail him in a month of Sunday’s. He chose an easier target.”
“You’re hardly an easy target.”
“No, not ordinarily.” He slid off the toilet seat and knelt on the floor by the bath, the wet patch soaking into his trouser legs as he took my hand in his. “He realised I was the better candidate for blackmail because of my deep, dark secret.” He saw the shuttered look come onto my face and added quickly, “those are his words, sunshine, not mine.” He raised my hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles. “I was stupid. I should have trusted you, told you what was going on. But I thought it would be safer for you and Toby if I kept out of the way.” He laughed scornfully. “God, I was so naive.”
“I’ll admit you don’t always think everything through, but I wouldn’t say you’re naïve.” I tried to lighten the mood a little bit.
“I asked Murphy to keep an eye on you, though. I swore him to secrecy. He kept telling me I should let you in on it, but I thought I was doing the right thing.”
I remembered my strange conversation with George Cowley in the hospital. “Does Cowley know what’s going on?”
“He came out of his coma knowing something was up. When I told him, he called me all the names under the sun for being so stupid. I think he’s rethinking my ability to be his second in command.” He paused. “Did he say something to you?”
“He was being incredibly cryptic. I actually wondered if he had suffered brain damage.”
Will’s chuckle sounded a bit forced. He took several deep breaths. “Anyway, I decided to hell with it. Let O’Leary announce to one and all that I was in a homosexual relationship. When I told him that, he laughed.” He shifted so he was sitting cross-legged on the floor. “I guess he knew that I would step up to the plate when I needed to, so he had a back-up plan.”
“Yeah, he started to intimidate you. The Youth Centre, the car. I kept saying no ...” His voice faltered, and when I looked up he was crying. My big, tough William Bodie was actually crying. “Fuck, Ray, I really thought I’d lost you both last night when Paul Hemming called me.”
I twisted round and pulled him in to my chest, my legs slipping down into the water. Sod it if the stitches got wet. Will clung onto me, sobbing onto my shoulder, and I ignored the sting in my knees and the growing ache in my back, and I let him cry out his anguish. The situation had been devastating for me, thinking Will had left me, but I couldn’t imagine what he had been gone through these past weeks trying to do the right thing and failing at every turn.
Gradually the sobs stopped and if it wasn’t for the occasional sniff I would have thought Will had dropped off to sleep. He probably needed it.
“You know what you are, don’t you, sunshine?” I eventually broke the silence as the bath water grew cold.
“A right plonker.” I kissed his ear, the only part of his head that I could reach. “But I still love you. And just so you know, I won’t be so forgiving the next time.”
“God, I hope there won’t be a next time.” He pulled back, rubbing over his red face with his right hand.
I stiffly pulled myself up and reached for the towel he’d left lying on the washbasin. “Do you have a plan?”
“I have a summons to be at the Cow’s bedside at ten sharp in the morning,” was his answer.
“Good, that means he has a plan.”
“Penny for ‘em?”
He turned his head slightly to look at me.
“Just wondering if it’s all worth it.”
“If what’s worth it?” I turned on my side and propped my head up on my hand.
“Work. You know, CI5.”
I snorted. “You love CI5.”
“I used to. Not so sure now.” His gaze went back to the ceiling. “The job has nearly destroyed what we have. It’s not worth that sacrifice.”
I ran my fingers over his bare chest, circling his left nipple. He shivered at the first touch but remained still afterwards.
“I can’t do it anymore. Even as controller I’m not safe. No, that’s not what I mean.” He paused momentarily. “Even as controller, I can’t keep my family safe.”
My heart swelled. I liked that he considered me and Toby his family.
“And out on the street, I’m not safe. I don’t want to cause you the kind of grief partners of agents suffer when the agent is killed.”
“What will you do if you leave CI5?”
He turned his head back to me. “I honestly don’t know. Haven’t got that far, yet.” He grinned suddenly. “I could always write my memoirs; that would be good for a few pounds.”
“Yes, but I don’t think the general public is ready for tales of your sordid life, sunshine.”
“It’s not all sordid.” He huffed with mock indignation. “The bit where I met you is pretty … nice.”
I laughed out loud. It felt good.
“I know something else that’s nice,” I said as I slid my hand down under the waistband of his pyjamas.
“Ray, you don’t have to.”
“I know, mate. I want to.” My fingers encircled his hardening cock. “It’ll do us both the world of good.”
His hips lifted and I squeezed gently.
“Let me do this for you.”
His breath hitched as he muttered “okay”, and I stroked with slow, sure movements. I leant down and found his lips, gently pressing my own against them until he opened and I slipped my tongue inside. Oh God, I had missed this contact with this man so much. He moaned slightly and I swallowed the sound.
He started thrusting up in my grip and I let him set the pace himself, rubbing my thumb across his slit each time he lowered himself down, squeezing firmly when his hips rose.
Within minutes I felt his body tense mid-rise, and then his come shot onto my hand. I gentled my stroke through his orgasm and then let him go completely as he sank onto the mattress. Only when his body stopped trembling did I release his lips.
I brought my hand up to my mouth and started to lick his spend from my fingers. His eyes flew open when he realised what I was doing and he stared at me. His eyes dilated as I cleaned every last drop of semen from my hand.
“Fuck, Ray. I can’t get hard again yet.”
“No-one has asked you to.” I grinned maliciously and reached for my own rock-hard penis.
For a man who had just come as hard as he had, he was able to move incredibly fast. Before I could react, he was kneeling between my thighs and pulling down my pyjamas until the elastic waistband rested just below my balls, pushing them up towards my cock. I groaned at the delicious sensation.
“Not so loud, sunshine. We don’t want to wake Toby.”
I just glared at him.
He wiggled into a more comfortable position, half off the bed, being very careful of my freshly bandaged knees. Although I was grateful for the consideration, right now I couldn’t feel anything below my groin.
His breath ghosted across my hot flesh and I groaned again, albeit quieter. When his tongue licked a stripe from base to head, I couldn’t have kept my hips down if I’d tried. Then the bastard blew on me again.
“Don’t tease me.” I muttered and reached to take myself in hand, but found my limb slapped away in no uncertain terms.
“Allow me,” Will replied as his mouth sank over me, and he took me deep into his throat.
I pulled Will’s pillow over my face and bit into it to keep from making any more noise. The last thing I wanted was Toby interrupting the best night I had had for weeks. I felt Will’s chuckle around my penis and didn’t that cause a new set of sensations for me to enjoy? He alternated between sucking and licking, swirling his tongue around the glans and then pressing against my slit.
I guess I came as quickly as Will had, although at the time the pleasure seemed to last for an age. I felt the pressure building in my balls, heat radiating out from my groin, up my spine, through my shoulders, and then an explosion of bright lights hit behind my eyes as I orgasmed harder than I had in years.
As I gradually came back to myself I became aware that he was watching me.
“Smug bastard.” I muttered and closed my eyes.
I felt him repositioning himself on the bed and when he kissed me I could taste myself on his lips. We lay together for long minutes, trading soft kisses and gentle strokes until he shifted uncomfortably against me.
“I think we’ve just made up another load of washing,” he grumbled as he slipped out of his soiled pyjamas. I didn’t have the energy to comment and lay there as he manoeuvred me off the now wet sheet. I was nearly asleep before he settled the clean sheet over me, and didn’t stir when he slipped in next to me. Everything felt so right.
“We have to let O’Leary think he still has the upper hand.” Weighed down by two casts on his legs that reached from high on his thighs to his feet, and an arm fixed in a bent position by the third cast, Cowley shifted his position awkwardly on the bed. I pretended I hadn’t seen the wince that crossed his features.
Will sat in the only visitors chair available in the small private room, his legs crossed elegantly and his hands lightly clasped on his knee. He looked relaxed and calm, but I knew better.
He had woken several times during the night, deep in the throws of some nightmare or other that he said he couldn’t remember. The haunted look in his eyes told me he was lying, but I didn’t call him on it.
“What do you suggest, Sir? No doubt he’s seen that Ray and I have been reconciled.”
Cowley looked to where I was propped against the window ledge. The position suited me: my legs had stiffened up something awful during the night and any sort of manoeuvring into or out of chairs was very painful and better avoided at all costs.
“You need to let him know that you are prepared to accept his terms.”
Will opened his mouth to speak, but Cowley held up his good hand.
“I know we agreed that you would resist at all costs, Bodie.” He smiled apologetically at me before adding for my benefit “we needed to know how far O’Leary was prepared to go. That is why Bodie arranged for his old colleague to stick close to you.” He turned back to Will. “You can tell O’Leary, with all honesty, that you are not prepared for any further harm to befall Doyle or his son.”
“O’Leary doesn’t deserve honesty,” Will muttered under his breath.
“No, lad, he doesn’t. But the best lies are those with a grain of truth. If O’Leary is convinced you are being up front with him over this, it will be easier to fool him over the PM’s plans.”
I didn’t like to question the old man. Hell, I was one of the first to admit that he was a first class tactician, but even I didn’t think O’Leary was that stupid.
“O’Leary’s been living on his wits for a long time. What is going to stop him thinking this is a trick?”
“Because Bodie is going to go to him a broken man.”
Both Will and I raised our eyebrows at that.
“I’m acting head of CI5,” Will huffed indignantly. “There is no way I’d become a broken man over something like this.”
I didn’t comment, trying to knock back the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps all wasn’t hunky dory between Will and me.
“That’s where you’re wrong, lad. You have been barely holding it together these past weeks. Even I could see that from my hospital bed.” Cowley disputed.
Will grunted. “It has been rather stressful.” He refused to meet my eyes.
“For God’s sake, man, why can’t you just admit you’ve been miserable as sin without Doyle and Toby.”
Will’s head shot up and he was about to respond when Cowley jumped back in. “It is okay to admit you care about them, you know.”
“We could both loose our jobs over this.”
“Not by my hand, and I’ll no tolerate homophobia in CI5 while I’m in control.”
I had to wonder about the old man. Was he keeping more than secrets of national security close to his chest?
“Bodie, I have known about you and Doyle since you first met, as you well know.” He signed deeply. “To get back on track, it is acceptable for a man to do anything to keep his lover safe.“
Both mine and Will’s heads shot up.
“O’Leary will be expecting you to break. That is what he is counting on. You’ve just got to lose a bit of that stiff upper lip, my lad.”
It was good to see a bit of a twinkle in Cowley’s eyes.
Will huffed at him. “Fine. So when O’Leary next makes contact I tell him I’ll do whatever he asks, if he’ll only leave Ray alone.”
“Precisely. And that’s when I’ll throw a spanner in your works.”
“You will agree with O’Leary’s plans for him to gain access to the PM in the easiest and safest way for him, which is what he wants, after all.”
“Yes.” Will drew out the word, obviously not seeing where Cowley was going with this. I had to admit, I didn’t either.
“But that way won’t help us to apprehend him. O’Leary has checked out the location of the talks, hasn’t he?”
Will nodded, finally catching on the Cowley’s line of thought. “And he has chosen the exact spot where he can shoot the PM and still make a clean getaway.”
“Exactly. What we need to do is throw him a curveball. And that is where I come in.”
I was a little surprised at the unexpected Americanism Cowley used. What threw me more was that Will had obviously had many more in depth conversations with O’Leary than he had indicated last night.
Cowley continued. “At the last minute I will decide these talks are too important to let junior staff handle.”
Will snorted in disgust. Cowley shot him a look and carried on regardless. “I will insist on seeing your security plans, and when it is obvious you are incompetent, I shall insist on being present on the day.”
He very nearly succeeded in hiding the slight twist of amusement on his lips. If I hadn’t been watching, I wouldn’t have seen it.
“That means you will have to come up with an alternative for O’Leary, one that is not so risk-free for him. One that gives us a good chance of catching him in the act.”
“And one that won’t get the Prime Minister actually assassinated.” I added to the discussion, although I felt my contribution was rather superfluous.
“Quite!” Cowley nodded sagely.
“It’s too dangerous, Ray.” Will tried to push past me with his packed hold-all but I wasn’t shifting.
“I owe that man something, Will.” I still saw red when I thought about Toby’s raw wrists which only now were starting to heal two weeks after his ordeal.
“And CI5 will make sure he pays for what he did.”
“For fuck’s sake, Will. I’m not the little woman you have to keep safe at home. I may not be an agent on the streets, but I can handle myself in a fight and can use a gun.”
Will closed his eyes. “There is no doubt as to your ability, Ray. I would happily have you watching my back in a fight. But if you’re there I will be worrying about you all the time and not concentrating on the job.”
“And what about the threat of O’Leary snatching me or Toby beforehand to make sure you follow through with your end of the deal? Huh? Won’t you be worrying about that?”
He paused then, and I swear he couldn’t have thought about that possibility. His face drained of colour and he reached for his Pye communicator.
“Murphy, get your arse in here.” He ordered and threw the communicator down on the bed without waiting for Murphy’s reply.
“What? You going to get Murphy to babysit us? You need all the agents possible at the talks.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” He suddenly yelled at me, then flopped back down on the bed, rubbing his hand over his face. “I don’t know how to keep you safe.” He whispered as Murphy came barrelling in through the door.
“What’s happening?” Murphy panted with the exertion of sprinting up two flights of stairs. He was looking around the bedroom, assessing any and all potential risks. “What’s going on?”
I sat down next to Will and put my hand on his knee. “Bodie here has just realised that Toby and me could still be at risk.”
Murphy looked between us. “Oh?”
I explained my reasoning.
“You have a point, mate. Where’s Toby now?”
“Reading in his bedroom.”
“We’ll wait ‘til dark and then get you both out of here.”
I shook my head and looked back at Will. “Let me come with you. I can help.”
Will closed his eyes and breathed slowly, in and out, in and out. The action was almost mesmerising. Eventually he spoke, and ignored me. “Where can we hide Toby?”
Murphy grinned. “CI5 HQ. You won’t get security much better than there anywhere else, and there’ll be enough people still around to watch out for him.”
“He’ll have to have someone with him at all times.” I knew my son. Let him loose somewhere like CI5 and he would run riot given half a chance. There was too much for a soon to be teenager to see and do.
“I think Ruth is assigned duty service this weekend. I’ll double check and get back to you.” He was halfway out of the door, then flung over his shoulder. “You two give some thought to how we can smuggle him out of here and into HQ.” And then he was gone.
“Thank you,” I said simply.
“I’ll have to run it by Cowley first.”
I nodded in agreement. “I’ll put the kettle on while you give him a call.”
It wasn’t long before Murphy was back with the news that Ruth was on duty over the weekend and she was more than happy to keep an eye on Toby, but with the proviso that he bring enough to occupy him. I didn’t enlighten anyone that for a twelve year old, there would never be enough to occupy him.
Will spoke to Cowley at length on the telephone. It turned out that my insistence to be included fell neatly into Cowley’s hands, and I had to wonder if he’d had something planned all along. Against all advice, he was adamant that he would be at the Manor House to oversee the peace talks, and he would need someone helping him on site. Not wanting to tie up any field agents with such a menial task, I was the ideal candidate. I confess I’d never thought of myself as a personal assistant to an invalid. But who was I to complain? It got me close enough to be part of the action.
The next obstacle was removing Toby from the flat without O’Leary or his minions being any the wiser. It was Murphy who suggested a disguise, but Cowley’s secretary Betty came up with the coup de grace when she came to collect her ‘daughter’ from the child minder. I tried very hard not to laugh when I saw a scowling Toby dressed in a red gingham dress and his shoulder length curly hair tied in bunches either side of his head.
“I look ridiculous,” he grumbled while adjusting the skimpy white cardigan Betty had just helped him into.
Murphy turned away and looked out the window, his shoulders shaking. I glared at the back of his head. Will elbowed him in the arm as he passed him, but I swear I could see Will struggling to hide his own smile.
A pair of black ballet-style pumps and a bright red satchel completed the look. I shoved his normal clothing into the satchel, along with some books to keep him occupied. Betty found space for his trainers in her own voluminous bag.
“Smile!” Betty instructed. Like all of us at one time or another, Toby instantly obeyed her. And although the smile was forced, it truly transformed him from a surly teenage boy to a pretty girl being collected by her mother after school.
I gave Toby a quick hug, not caring two hoots about his growing level of embarrassment. “Be careful, mate, okay? Listen to the girls, they know what they’re doing and they’ll keep you safe.”
He nodded at me, blinking back tears.
Betty took his hand as I stepped back. “Now, Toby, you’re going to have to do a bit of acting when we leave. There’s a lady who lives on the third floor, Mrs Bridges. Do you know her?” Betty had certainly done her homework to help us out.
Toby nodded, but his eyes flicked to me in question.
“Well, we’re going to pretend you’ve been looked after by her, okay? When we go down the front steps, I want to you turn round, wave and shout ‘see you tomorrow, Mrs Bridges’. Think you can do that?”
Toby nodded again.
“And you’ve got to keep smiling and be really happy. I’ve parked just down the street, so we haven’t got to pretend for too long.”
“You can do it, mate.” Will added his two pennyworth.
Murphy turned away from the window, all signs of humour now gone. “Anson and Susan are parked down the street. They’ll follow you all the way back to HQ, and make sure you get inside safe. Then they’ll give us the all-clear.”
“Come on then, Toby. Let’s give the performance of our lives.” She started to lead him away but he flung himself at me for one last hug. It was only the thought of keeping him safe that enabled me to eventually push him away, and I didn’t relax until the phone call half an hour later that told us they were safely ensconced in the CI5 building.
Through a narrow crack in the curtains, I watched as the Bentley carrying a decoy Prime Minister drove up the long drive to the Manor House where the peace talks were taking place. Cowley sat behind me in his wheelchair, his legs propped up in front of him and his arm supported in a sling. From the way he was barking orders you would not have believed he was in anything other than tip top physical condition.
How Cowley had persuaded Whitehall to delay the talks by a day, I would never know. But delay they had. Now, despite all the bogus hustle and bustle staged for O’Leary’s benefit, the only people actually on site were CI5 agents and special branch.
I don’t know who they’d got to stand in for the PM. They’d scoured the services to find someone with a near enough resemblance to Callaghan, and then make up and clothing had done the rest. Will had said the likeness was unbelievable. I just felt sorry for the poor bastard who in a matter of minutes would be lying, supposedly shot and bleeding out, on the ground. What if O’Leary went for a head shot?
“How far away are they now?” Cowley asked.
I had another look and tried to judge the distance through the trees and round the lake. “Four hundred yards, give or take.”
“Get ready, lad.”
Unfortunately that instruction just meant Cowley wanted pushing nearer to the action when it happened, not that I would have any look in on the said action.
There was a flash of sunlight reflected from the roof of the stable block to the left of the big house, and I peered in that direction, tweaking the curtain a little wider to see.
“Looks like O’Leary took the bait.” I muttered.
“Did you ever doubt he would?” Cowley didn’t even look up from the sheaf of papers he was going through.
I looked back towards the Bentley. “Two hundred yards now, Sir.”
“Right.” He straightened himself in the chair and I stepped behind him and pushed him up to the heavy wooden front door.
Cowley talked into his communicator. “Everyone in position,” he instructed the agents that were, I suspected, already in their positions.
The gravel crunched under the tyres as the car pulled up at the bottom of the steps, and the engine turned off. I heard a door open, and then another, and could only imagine Callaghan’s look-alike stepping from the luxurious interior. The shot, when it happened, was like the crack of a whip, and for all it was expected I still jumped a good few inches into the air. I was somewhat gratified to see Cowley’s hands clenching on the armrests of his wheelchair.
Into the intervening silence there suddenly blared a cacophony of noise. The front door was flung open and I pushed Cowley to the top of the steps, safe from view of the stables by a three foot wide stone pillar. The scene below us was one of, I hoped, organised chaos. The blood covering the chest of the fake-Callaghan looked incredibly realistic, and I hoped again that no-one had forgotten the bullet-proof vest and blood bags.
His ‘bodyguards’ had closed ranks guarding the prone man from further attack. But my attention was on the stable block from where O’Leary had been lead to believe he’d be able to make a clean getaway but where Bodie and Murphy were actually waiting to make an arrest.
There was movement on the stable roof and Will appeared, his weapon held out in front of him with both hands and trained on the person crouching down behind a parapet. When the would-be assassin stood up it was obvious that he and Will were trading words but of course I couldn’t make out what they were saying. What was worrying, though, was that O’Leary was not surrendering his weapon no matter what Will said to him.
The second shot took everyone by surprise. It came fast out of nowhere, and Will’s body flew backwards. From where I stood it looked as if he went right off the edge of the roof.
I was off, sprinting down the steps two at a time and across the gravel drive, my anguished “no” resounding in my ears before Cowley’s communicator crackled to life and Murphy needlessly announced that Bodie was down.
“Doyle, wait.” I ignored Cowley’s terse command. I didn’t care for my own safety; there was only one goal in my mind. That preoccupation was probably my first mistake.
As I reached the bottom of the stone staircase that ran up the outside wall of the stables, I met O’Leary bounding down. He took one look at me, snarled, and before I could back away he brought his arm up in one fluid move and pointed a handgun directly at me.
“You bastard, O’Leary.” I had never seen the man before, but in my mind there was no doubt that was who he was.
“What’s the matter, you poofter. Has loverboy had an accident, then?”
I didn’t care about the gun. A red haze of fury overcame me and I lunged at the grinning Irishman. And therein lay my second mistake. O’Leary brought the gun down across my forehead. I saw it coming and tried to duck away, but there was still enough force behind it to stun me.
I started to sag but before I made it halfway to my knees O’Leary had wrapped his arm around my upper body and hauled me against him, my back held firm against his chest. I could feel the barrel of the gun pressing against my throbbing head, and even though I was rapidly losing my grip on reality I tried to pull back from the pressure.
O’Leary was having none of it. “Keep still. I’ve already shot Bodie. Won’t bother me if you die, too. And then what will happen to that curly headed brat of yours?” He hissed in my ear. My movements stilled and I blinked hard, trying to bring my surroundings into focus. A movement to our right drew my attention and I saw Murphy hovering, his weapon drawn but pointing harmlessly at the sky.
“Give it up, O’Leary. There’s nowhere for you to go.” I guess Murphy had to try, but I wasn’t holding my breath that he’d get anywhere.
“Ha, you’ve got to be joking. Doyle here is my meal-ticket.” He gave me a shake to prove his point. It jarred me right to the bone and the pounding in my temples increased tenfold.
He started backing away towards the Rhododendron shrubbery that lay to the side of the stables, dragging me with him. I stumbled over my own feet but managed to stay upright.
Over the roaring in my ears I could hear shouting, voices raised in panic, my own name called, although I couldn’t tell by whom. After the blinding sunlight sending shards of pain through my head, the shade in the shrubbery was a blessed relief, even if my vision was just as blurred. I tripped over roots and fallen sticks, the dead and dried leaves crackling underfoot. O’Leary himself tripped over one particularly large branch lying low to the ground across our path and together we crashed down.
“Ah, bejesus,” his hissed as he jumped back on his feet. “Get up, Doyle, I’ve not finished wi’ ye yet.”
I decided I’d had enough and I wasn’t going anywhere. He pulled my arm but I continued to lie like a dead weight on the earth. He swore and through my half closed eyes I saw him take a step away from me. Suddenly his whole body flew backwards into the twisted trunk of the Rhododendron that had tripped us up in the first place. As he slid down, the shot registered in my hearing. I raised myself up on my elbows, staring at the hole that sat neatly in the centre of O’Leary’s forehead, a narrow ribbon of blood running into his left eye.
My aching head couldn’t quite make out what had happened. Had he been shot? Was he dead? I rolled over and managed to make it onto my knees, and then crawled the few feet that separated us to peer more closely at him.
I wasn’t prepared for the sound of another shot, nor for my right arm to suddenly collapse under my weight and pitch me down smack bang on top of O’Leary. I blinked against the cotton of his shirt and breathed. The pain in my shoulder, when it came, was like nothing I had ever felt before. I had been grazed by a bullet once before, in the fight with Robert Gower as it happens, but that was a walk in the park compared with this. My shoulder was burning, and even the gentle movement of breathing hurt. I couldn’t have moved if I had wanted to. I just lay there resting on O’Leary’s still stomach, feeling my hot sticky blood soak into my clothes.
“You bloody idiot.” Through the ringing in my ears I heard someone shout. It sounded like Will, and I wondered if I would soon be joining him. There was no reason for him to chastise me, though. It’s not like it was my fault I got shot.
“I … I’m sorry, Mr Bodie. I didn’t …”
“No you fucking well didn’t …, you fucking idiot.” Yep, definitely Will, but I couldn’t understand who he was shouting at. I wasn’t sure where he’d end up once he was dead, but wherever it was he obviously had company.
“Get the medics here, now.” When did Murphy die?
“Ray?” I felt myself being turned over by ever-so gentle hands. Even so, it hurt like fuck. Surely in death the pain would stop?
“Christ, mate.” Will sounded choked up. I knew I had to comfort him.
“It’s okay, sunshine.” I managed. “At least we’re together again.”
“Too bloody right we’re together again. I’m never letting you go, and I don’t care who knows it.” I felt his lips, soft and caressing, against my cheek. “Stay with us, Ray. The medics are here.”
“Too late for the medics,” I muttered.
“Don’t be so bloody melodramatic, you prat.” He grumbled. “It’s only a flesh wound.”
My eyes flew open. I regretted it immediately as sharp stabs of pain reminded me I’d been hit on the head not too long ago.
“You’re dead.” I stated with all the assurance I could muster under the circumstances.
He blinked down at me. “No I’m not, you stupid fool. I was wearing a vest.” I must admit, now I was looking I couldn’t see any blood on him.
“You fell off the roof.”
“Yes I did, and my back is going to remind me of the fact for some time to come.”
“So, you’re dead.”
He closed his eyes and breathed deeply a few times, before opening them again and staring right into my eyes. “The scaffolding I landed on should probably have the last rites read but I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, dead.”
His fingers reached out and he touched my blood stained sleeve. Glancing back over his shoulder he bellowed “where the bloody hell are those medics?”
I giggled. “I like it when you’re masterful.”
That brought a grin to his face and a wry chuckle. “And you are probably concussed and suffering from blood loss.”
“Blood loss. Right.” I glanced sideways at my shoulder and felt like throwing up when I saw just how much of a mess it was. There was an awful lot of blood. “Why am I losing blood?”
“Because that stupid twit Reynolds shot you by mistake. In the shadows he thought you were O’Leary. I’m going to have him kicked out of CI5 before he can even write up his report.” I remembered Reynolds, I think: the kid who’d been guarding Cowley when I’d gone to visit him in the hospital.
“Jus’ an accident,” I mumbled. “Don’ be too hard on ‘im.” It was getting harder to talk clearly. Or think, for that matter.
“Hold on, love. We’ll have you patched up in no time.”
“It will be soon.”
I closed my eyes, intending to rest them for just a few seconds, but when I next opened them everything had changed. God knows how long I’d been unconscious.
I found myself lying on a bed in a darkened room, the sound of a heart monitor and the smell you only associate with hospitals giving away my new location. I admit I was fairly happy with that. Hospitals had pain medication, even though at the moment I felt pleasantly buzzed from whatever they had me on. I certainly wasn’t feeling my arm until I moved incautiously and pain flared up my nerve endings.
Once things had settled down again I noticed I was at one end of a small ward. There was someone snoring heavily in the bed immediately next to mine, but other than that the ward was empty of patients. I spent a few long minutes trying to sort things out in my head. It was obviously night time, but it was too much like hard work to calculate how long it had been since I’d been shot. I raised my hand to my forehead and felt a dressing over my right eye. Even my fingers brushing over the wound brought a stabbing pain and I hissed. A soft shuffling sound from my other side had me glancing that way.
“Evening, Ray. You back with us?” Murphy leant forward into the meagre light, shifting the hard plastic chair closer to the bed so I could see him. He looked tired, his eyes lined with dark circles. “How are you feeling?”
“Getting shot hurts.”
“So they say. The concussion probably isn’t helping much, either.”
I grunted my acknowledgment. “Where’s Bodie?”
He looked past me to the other bed. I panicked and started to sit up. Murphy’s large hand pressing on my good shoulder kept me down. “Not so fast, mate. Settle down.”
“How is he?”
“He wasn’t quite as lucky as he thought. The bullet that hit him broke four ribs. Thank God he was wearing the vest. At that range, the bullet would have surely killed him without it.”
I really didn’t need that little visual.
“He also dislocated his shoulder in the resulting fall. The bloody fool knocked it back into place himself before coming to find you.”
“I didn’t have any choice.” I’d never been more glad to hear Will’s voice. I hadn’t noticed that the snoring had stopped.
He stood up with a grunt and shifted stiffly over to the side of my bed. Someone had found him some pyjama trousers and it was only the bandages wrapped tightly around his chest that kept him from being topless. I noticed that his left arm was strapped tightly across his body.
“I thought he’d killed you,” I murmured, my eyes roaming his body looking for any further injuries.
“I know you did.” He chuckled. “In fact I think everyone who was at the Manor House knows you did.”
I ignored Murphy’s laugh on my other side, too relieved to worry about what anybody else had heard or thought.
Will’s fingers gently touched my sore, bruised face. “The doctors say it was the concussion talking.”
“You’ve got it wrong, mate,” Murphy corrected. “Ray really is just a big sap.”
“Shut up!” I huffed. “Both of you.”
“We make a right pair, don’t we?” Will asked. “You with your right arm out of action, me with my left.”
“It’s got to be worth some time off, right?” I wanted a nice long holiday, preferably somewhere warm and sunny.
“Yeah, I think we’ve both earned a few weeks.”
I needed to know if he’d thought any more about giving it all up. I needed to know what had happened with O’Leary. I needed to know … so much, but my mind was shutting down. I managed “Is Toby okay?” as my eyes started to close and no amount of blinking would get them to remain open.
“He’s fine, he’s with Ruth and Betty. They’re doing a grand job …” and I drifted back off to sleep without hearing the rest of Murphy’s answer.
“Toby, turn that blasted din down.” I chuckled as Will finally had enough of listening to the constant repeats of Toby’s latest favourite song. I’d never tell Will, but I actually quite liked “Down in a Tube Station at Midnight”. The Jam really weren’t all that bad.
I stuck my paint brush in the jar on the window ledge by the side of my desk and swirled it around for a few seconds before sitting back and looking over the picture I had just finished. It wasn’t half bad, even if I said so myself: William Bodie looking menacing in fatigues hacking away at the vines in some unnamed jungle, a rifle slung over his shoulder. It was the stuff fantasies were made of. Well, my fantasies, anyway.
I felt Will behind me seconds before he leant past me to put a mug of tea and a packet of digestives on my desk. His hands came to rest on my shoulders and he automatically started to massage the ache away, taking care to avoid the still sensitive skin where I had been shot almost six months ago.
“Hey, that’s pretty good.”
“Yeah, well, mate, there’s probably not an ounce of truth in it. Bit like your book.” Grinning, I ducked in time to avoid the swat he gave the back of my head.
“Oi! I’ll have you know that everything in that book actually happened.”
“Yeah, but did it all happen to you? Are you sure you haven’t cobbled together the stories of several of your mates.” I could just imagine the glare he was giving me.
I was goading him and enjoying every minute of it. What had started off as a bit of a joke had escalated to me calling one of my publisher contacts to see if they’d be interested in ”Gun for Hire: The Memoirs of A Mercenary” . I had been gobsmacked when they said yes, even more so when they asked if I could illustrate it. So I dusted off my paints and brushes, dragged the easel out of storage, and tried my hardest to depict the diverse life of a mercenary.
I can tell you it had been one of the hardest illustrations I had ever done. Not because I was out of practice, not because it was technically difficult, but because every time Will posed for me I had to fight the overwhelming urge to jump him and rip his clothes off.
Will’s arms slipped round my neck and he snuggled in to me, gently nibbling the skin behind my ear.
“It looks good, Ray. Thank you.”
I turned my head and his lips met mine. The kiss was soft and gentle, a hint of pressure, and full of love.
“Oh, for God’s sake. Can’t you two ever leave each other alone?” Toby walked past shaking his head. “I’m going to go blind.”
I’m sure I didn’t imagine the twitch of his lips as he disappeared into the kitchen. “I’ll remind you of this next time I catch you on the stairs with Emily Davidson.”
“Dad!” Toby squeaked out indignantly over the sound of something crashing onto the draining board. “I told you, she kissed me. I didn’t kiss her.” He appeared in the doorway with a glass of milk, red faced with embarrassment.
I knew he had a bit of a soft spot for our youngest new neighbour. I just raised my eyebrow.
“Dad.” He grumbled. “Will, make him stop.”
“Ray, stop teasing your son.” Will grinned down at me mischievously. Next time I’m sure it would be him tormenting Toby, and me restoring peace. That was just the comfortable pattern we had all seemed to slip into in the aftermath of O’Leary.
Will stood up straight and stretched his back. Even I could hear the pop of a few joints from where I was sitting.
“You’ve really got to start doing some exercise, mate. And cut out the biscuits,” this as he reached down and grabbed a handful of digestives out of the packet, “and pies. You’re going to end up a fat old slob in retirement.”
“Did you hear what he called me?” He turned to Toby slapping his own stomach. “I’m not fat.”
“Not yet, you aren’t. Give it a few months, though.” Who was I kidding? I knew from first-hand experience just how firm his abdomen was.
“Huh.” Will grumbled and shoved a biscuit into his mouth, whole.
I shook my head. “You have the manners of a pig, you know that?”
I couldn’t interpret his reply as I dodged the biscuit crumbs that sprayed out of his mouth.
I was at the sink washing out the brushes and paint pallet by the time Will put the hoover away. Toby had disappeared back into his room and now the piano strains of the Boomtown Rats latest song were filling our new flat.
“Tell me why, I don’t like Monday’s, tell me why, I don’t like Monday’s,” Will sang along softly as he put the cleaner away.
“It’s me who doesn’t like Monday’s, sunshine.” I muttered. “You get to lounge around in bed while I go out to work. Something not right, there.”
His arms came around me and he kissed my neck. “You know I always fancied myself as a kept man. What do they call it? A gigolo?”
I dried my hands on a towel and turned in his embrace, slipping my arms around his neck. “Don’t get too used to it, mate. You and Paul are viewing offices this week.”
“Don’t see why we can’t operate out the back of a van like Paul’s been doing.”
“If you were a fishmonger then, yes, you could operate out the back of a van.” I paused to kiss his sumptuous lips. “However, I think a prestigious security company will do better if it has an office.”
“Semantics.” He cupped the back of my head, his fingers tangling in my curls, and efficiently stopped me talking. When we broke apart, our lips red and glistening from the passionate kiss, I was quite breathless and found I lacked circulation to a certain part of my anatomy. Will, the bastard, just grinned as I adjusted myself.
“If you do insist on wearing such tight jeans, sunshine.”
I glanced down and noticed he was just as hard as me. He just had more room to move in his slacks.
“Bloody bastard.” I groused and deliberately dodged around him to get out of the kitchen. I wanted to rip Will’s clothes off right there in the kitchen and bend him over the table. I wanted to sink into the heat of his body. I wanted some bloody privacy so I could show this man exactly what he meant to me.
I stormed through the kitchen door and headed for the bedroom where there were still boxes to unpack. I had to do something menial to take my mind off what I couldn’t have. I wasn’t really mad, and certainly not at Toby. It was just very frustrating.
Since the O’Leary debacle five and a half months ago Will and I hadn’t really had that much time together on our own. Firstly we were both recovering, me longer than Will due to an infection, then there was Toby’s insecurity. I know it embarrassed him, although under the circumstances I’d have been exactly the same, but for several months Toby didn’t want to be away from me. When Will returned to work after his own recuperation he was putting in a lot of long hours which hadn’t really stopped until Cowley returned as Controller six weeks ago. And then there was the flat move.
During the weeks following the unsuccessful peace talks, when neither Will nor I were up to much of anything other than talking, we talked. About where we were, what we wanted from work and from life, how we could get what we wanted.
The whole business with O’Leary had shaken Will to be core. And me, if I was being honest. Despite giving it our best shot, we realised it was impossible to raise a child with both parents working for CI5. Well, with one parent in a prominent position within CI5. I think it had taken some time for Will to come to the realisation that for once in his life he had something other than work to fulfil him. And once he did, he chose me and Toby over CI5.
Of course, Cowley had tried to persuade him to stay, offered him all manner of incentives. But one thing I’ll say about Will, once his mind is made up, it’s made up. He had given serious consideration to what he’d do. He’d been a man of action since he was a teenager, and he admitted that any old desk job would not suit him. When I jokingly said he should go into security with Paul Hemming, he’d taken the idea and run with it.
Will leaving CI5 left us with another dilemma: where to live. Lowly CI5 employee Ray Doyle didn’t warrant a three bedroom flat. In fact, it was generally only the agents who got their accommodation paid for by CI5. Therefore we would effectively be homeless. We spent several weeks looking and in the end settled for a small place not far from where we had first met in Tredegar Square. Cowley insisted on making sure the new flat was secure, though.
I had cleared two boxes and was stacking paperbacks onto the pine bookshelf behind the door when Will came looking for me with a fresh mug of tea.
“Murphy’s on his way round.”
“He’s going to take Toby to see the new Bond at the flicks.”
I looked up at him gratefully. “Thank you.”
“We all could do with a bit of a breather, I think.”
Despite desperately wanting time alone with Will, Toby’s reaction was the crux of the matter. We both knew that there weren’t many places Toby felt safe at the moment, or people he felt safe with. Murphy was one of the few.
“Have you told Tobe?”
Will nodded. “Yeah, he’s quite excited. Moonraker’s all they’ve been talking about at school, apparently. I told him it was to get him out of the way so we could finish his room.”
“He believed that?”
“Toby did. Not so sure about Murphy, though. He laughed when I told him.”
“We’ll have to crack on, then.”
Will winked at me and left me to my books.
“You better make sure you do his room, lads, or he’ll want to know why.”
I decided there and then that Murphy was going to get what was coming to him when he least expected it. And that wasn’t the same as what I had in store for Will as soon as Murphy spirited my son away.
I stood at the window and watched Toby climb into Murphy’s car, waiting until it was down the street and around the corner before I spun away from the window and tackled Will to be floor. It took mere seconds to free him from his trousers and briefs, pulling them half-way down his thighs. Before he could even formulate a comment, I had his hard cock in my mouth and was alternating pressing my tongue along the length of the shaft, then sucking with a gentle pressure. Will’s hips jerked and I used my shoulders to keep his legs firmly pressed to the floor. I found his balls with my fingers and rolled them from side to side then squeezed until he was gasping.
“Ray,” he groaned, carding the fingers on one hand through my hair. He was circling the base of his cock tightly with the thumb and first finger of his other hand, trying to stop his impending orgasm. “Ray, for pity’s sake, slow down. I’m never going to last like this.”
I kept sucking as I lifted my head up, letting his cock fall free with a popping sound. His head thudded back down on the carpet and he groaned.
“I’ve got plenty planned for you tonight,” I murmured, pulling his hand away from his genitals and pushing both of his arms above his head. “Don’t move.” And then I sank back down. We’d never really been into power play, but having Will helpless in my hands was certainly pushing a few of my buttons.
I was ruthless. As I felt his balls tighten under my fingers, I squeezed around the base of his cock whilst easing the suction. Time and time again. He was a writhing mess by the time I relented, bobbing my head up and down in a steady merciless rhythm. And he kept his arms above his head, holding onto the legs of the coffee table to ground him. This submission was definitely something I was going to explore in the future.
His whole body suddenly tensed and he stopped breathing. I increased the suction, and then my mouth filled with his salty ejaculate. I swallowed it all and then, after his body gave one last shudder, I licked him clean.
“My turn now.”
He just lay there, his eyes closed, panting.
I released my own aching penis from the confines of denim. It sprang free, hard and ready to go. I grabbed the tub of Vaseline from behind the couch where I’d hidden it earlier and coated my length before easing Will’s legs apart and finding his hole with my greased fingers. He didn’t move or speak as I prepared him and I wondered if he’d passed out. As my fingers brushed across his prostate, though, he let out a soft, breathy moan and his cock jerked slightly. I scissored my fingers for a few more seconds and then pulled them out.
I slipped Will’s left leg over my shoulder and positioned myself. His hips lifted slightly and I slid home, steady and sure until I was fully seated in him.
“Oh, fuck, that feels like heaven.” I didn’t know I had spoken aloud until I heard him moan again and rock slightly against me.
“Move, Ray. Please.” I could feel his penis hard again against my lower stomach but I ignored it for now. As I’d said before, there was plenty of time for round two.
I took my time, stilling every time I felt the build-up of heat in my groin. I had waited so long for this, I was not going to rush it. Eventually, though, his tight heat worked its magic and I found myself too far gone to pull back from the edge of orgasm. It washed over me, a flush that started in my balls and swept out until my entire body was tingling and on edge, and then it erupted. I cried out and Will grunted as I pounded into him through my release.
I was left breathing hard, my head hanging down and sweat dripping off me onto his chest. My arms were shaking but I couldn’t move.
“Oh God, Ray,” he groused, “you broke me.”
I chuckled and lifted my head to find him watching me, his hands still clamped around the legs of the coffee table.
“I needed that.”
“Obviously.” He wriggled his lower body. “When you’ve quite finished.”
“I don’t think I have, yet.” I lowered my upper body onto his chest, feeling his still hard length trapped between our stomachs, and rested my head on his chest, my mouth conveniently positioned over his right nipple. As I licked and sucked Will’s sensitive flesh, I felt myself growing hard again, still embedded inside him.
My weight kept Will still, and I rolled my hips slowly, not only enjoying the sensations on my own hardening penis, but giving Will the friction he needed to find his second release. I bit down on his nipple, perhaps a little harder than I had intended while squeezing the other one between my thumb and finger. He tried to thrust up with his hips but was unable to shift very far, and still I kept the steady rocking motion going. His second release hit as hard as the first, and he lay trembling beneath me while he caught his breath.
The contractions in Will’s muscles from his release were just what I needed to find my own, and I kept sucking on his nipple while I shot my second load deep inside him. When my body finished I looked up at Will and found him completely still, breathing deeply with his head turned on one side. I guess this time he really had passed out.
We’d worked hard late into the night painting Toby’s room the vibrant bright blue colour he had chosen to match the new curtains and bedding. We’d have time in the morning before he came home to rehang the curtains and straighten everything up. With any luck he’d never realise just how much of a rush it had been to finish on time.
And at least the smell of paint hid the smell of sex, several rounds of sex in fact. We’d certainly made up for lost time, and my aches and pains weren’t all entirely down to decorating.
I heard the shower shut off and minutes later Will slid into the bed next to me, damp and naked as the day he was born. It was just such a crying shame that I really didn’t have the energy for anything more than sleep.
Will curled up on his side, his arm draped across my stomach.
“Think we’ve done the right thing?” He asked, kissing my shoulder.
“Well, Toby chose the colour himself. He’d better not change his mind.”
He pinched the flesh on my side none too gently. “Not the decorating, you prat. I meant with work, and everything.”
I turned to face him. “Having second thoughts?”
“No.” I knew he wasn’t lying. There was no hesitation. “I’ve never been happier. You and Toby are safe. I’m going to be published.” He ignored my snort of humour. “I think the security firm is going to be a great success.”
“With you and Paul running it, it will be. Between you both, you have a lot of experience.” I snuggled closer to him. “I overheard Cowley recommend you to someone the other day.”
“Yeah, I’ve had a few calls from people he’s put in touch with us. It’s just …” He paused. Eventually I gave up waiting.
“It’s just …?”
He took a deep breath. “Is all of this right for you and Toby?”
“All of what?” I couldn’t be happier that Will had made the choices he had.
“You know, living together, two queers raising a son …” he waved his hand around as if that would finish the sentence for him. “I haven’t forgotten all the trouble we had with Toby when all that with O’Leary kicked off.”
I looked up at the ceiling. “Toby is being raised by two parents who love him deeply, and love each other deeply. There are going to be problems, but then every family has issues. Who knows what’ll happen in the future. But I’ve seen how we are when we’re not together and I’ll tell you something.” I paused until we were looking into each other’s eyes.
“What’s that then, sunshine?”
“We’re stronger together than apart.”
He pulled me closer to his body, and his hand started to drift under the sheet and blankets down to my groin. I slapped it away without hesitation.
“It’s two thirty in the morning and I’m worn out. There is no way you are getting another rise out of me.”
He sniggered. “I was actually trying to get a rise out of me. Who said anything about you?” He flopped onto his back. “I think you’re right.”
“I’m worn out too.” He sighed deeply with great feeling. “Oh well, it was good while it lasted.”
“What time’s Murphy bringing Toby back?”
“Just before lunch he said.”
I reached over and turned off the light, then snuggled back into the warmth that was Will.
“I’m sure we’ll be able to get a rise out of each other once we’ve had some sleep and breakfast.”
His hand reached down and gently cupped my soft penis. “I’ll hold you to that, sunshine.”
I fell asleep with the biggest smile on my face, ready to face whatever life threw at us.