The front running horse pulled ahead of the pack, a jockey wearing blue with white chevrons perched high over his neck. Doyle clutched his race card in anticipation of a clear victory, slapping Bodie on the shoulder. They’d both put down bets on the favourite in the amateur’s race. Odds were good of a few extra guineas in the near future, and the drinks would be on them in the racetrack bar.
It was a pleasure to watch Zarathustra stretch out; the horse was clearly eager to win. Doyle grinned, the thrumming of the horses’ hooves on the dirt an echo to his heartbeat.
“C’mon, Zara, you beauty,” Sid Halley whispered to Doyle’s left, unconsciously holding phantom reins in his hands as if he were on top of the magnificent beast.
His partner, Chico, whistled shrilly, all but jumping up and down with excitement. He wasn’t alone: even the most cynical racing fan had been won over by the exuberant two year old that had shot to the top of the amateur racing circuit in the last few weeks. Zara was a brown blur of powerful muscles leading the charge.
“It’s Zarathustra in the lead, with Starfaerie approaching on her flank in second,” the race commentator intoned over the increasing cheers from the crowd. “Cupn’saucer coming third. Miserly is a distant fourth and…”
The blue and white clad jockey’s head exploded as Zarathustra galloped home. Carrying a dead rider, the horse squealed in terror, crossing the finish line in a frantic bolt.
Crazed with fear, Zarathustra galloped in a circle until Timothy Merrill’s body pitched off, leaving a bloody trail on the hard-ridden grass. Starfaerie had bucked when the shot fired, unseating his jockey and dashing for the far side of the oval track.
Spectators began to scream even before the steward called over the public address system to get an ambulance.
“Bloody hell!” Bodie cried, already swivelling around to scan the roofline of the grandstand for the shooter. He took off, plunging into the suddenly swirling crowd of panicked race-goers like a salmon swimming upstream.
The rest of the horses and riders from the aborted race wheeled away from the gory remains, the jockeys clearly working hard to control their spooked mounts. Racing officials poured onto the track, security trying to keep the public away from the crime scene.
Doyle had his r/t out of the pocket of his leather jacket without even thinking. “Get down to the track,” he said to his companions, “see what you can find out! I’ll call Cowley.”
Sid Halley hadn’t even waited to hear the end of Doyle’s spiel. He leapt over the bank of seats in front of them, dashing for the stairway down to the bottom of the grandstand, and was quickly swallowed up in the crush of bodies.
“Oi! Squire!” Chico yelled in frustration. “Like as not go after ‘im,” he said with a quick wave to Doyle. “You good ‘ere?”
“Keep your eyes and ears open,” Doyle said urgently, mentally tabulating the few facts he knew. “This’ll be an international incident very soon, what with that jockey being the American ambassador’s son.”
His r/t squawked before he had a chance to hit the talk button. “Bodie?” Doyle responded. He grabbed the back of the seat in front of him as the audience buffeted him on all sides. Race fans were surging out of the grandstand despite the voice of the race commentator imploring everyone to remain calm and stay off the racetrack to let the officials do their job.
“Shooter’s gone,” Bodie said succinctly. “Found where he had to be laying in wait, and a wrapper from a Dime bar, some scuff marks from his shoes. If we’re lucky, a few fingerprints.”
“No gun?” Doyle asked, catching sight of Halley talking to a racing official. He had been allowed onto the track to where the body was cordoned off with a yellow tarpaulin. The ex-jockey had privileges where the rest of them would be turned away. Chico flashed a smile at the same official and was waved on through as well.
Stable lads had finally appeared, along with myriad owners and trainers, to sooth the horses and lead them away from the jockey’s remains. The reporters from every paper that happened to be covering the amateur race were pressing along the fence for quotes from the other riders. None of them seemed to be obliging. Most were obviously in shock.
“No gun, and security’s Johnny-come-lately, but they’ve finally arrived and are keen to guard the evidence until the coppers get here,” Bodie reported. “I’ll be down directly.”
“Calling Cowley as soon as I can find a blower,” Doyle said, scanning the grandstand. There was a row of phones near the cluster of bookmaker’s boards, but every one was being used, either by intrepid reporters or race-goers gossiping to their friends unlucky enough not to have seen the gruesome spectacle.
He did know where there was a telephone he could use: in Halley’s car. Except Doyle didn’t have the keys, and time was of the essence. Once word got out that the Ambassador’s son had been murdered on the race course, both the British and American governments would step in, taking it out of the hands of the local police.
As a witness to the actual crime, Doyle wanted to be in on the investigation.
He climbed down the grandstand stairs, keeping his eye on the telephone kiosks. Maybe by the time he got there, one would be free. Cowley would have his head if he didn’t check in as soon as humanly possible. Worse luck that the range of the r/ts didn’t go from Kempton Park racecourse back to London.
Chico bounded up just as Doyle set foot on the concourse, his usual sunny smile a grim line that didn’t fit with his open, youthful face. “Sid’s sent me to be of assistance since there ain’t much t’do with the dead jockey,” he explained.
“May I use the telephone in your car?” Doyle asked politely, keeping up a quick pace to the car park. The crush of racegoers clogged every exit, making it all the more difficult to get out.
Chico dangled the keys in front of Doyle like a carrot in front of a horse. “Your government don’t ‘ave the wherewithal to give you fancy kit such as a car phone?”
“I’d ask Mrs Thatcher for a rise in the equipment budget, but she isn’t returning my calls,” Doyle said sourly. This was supposed to have been a fun weekend with friends, and then he and Bodie were going to have one of their private evenings. He mourned losing that most of all. He and Bodie rarely had enough time to indulge in their personal relationship as it was, even less time to do what they had planned after the sun set. He glanced down at the small leather wristbands Bodie had given to him that morning. One for each wrist—leather bracelets with a tooled pattern of Celtic knots, fashionable but with special meaning to the two of them alone. He forced his thoughts away from contemplating the leather bands. “James Bond we are not.”
“Pity, I’d’ve liked to have seen what Q had for you.” Chico unlocked the door to Sid’s car and Doyle slid into the seat.
He dialled CI5 quickly and got straight through to Cowley. Car phones were not much more than glorified long distance radios, so Doyle kept his comments general. “We’re at Kempton Park, and the American ambassador’s son has been…”
“Already aware, 4.5,” Cowley said brusquely. “Splendid that you got there so quickly. I couldn’t raise you on the r/t.”
How in the hell had Cowley found out so quickly? Doyle opened his mouth to say more but his controller cut him off.
“Secure the area and rendezvous with the local constabulary,” Cowley continued. “Was Ambassador Merrill at the race?”
“From what I understand, no,” Doyle answered.
“Then I will call the American embassy to speak with the Ambassador myself,” Cowley concluded. “And, 4.5, try to keep it from the reporters.”
“Cat’s out of the bag, sir,” Doyle said respectfully, raising his eyebrows at Chico. His r/t chirped in his pocket, but he ignored it. “Half a dozen reporters saw the murder and it’ll probably be on the front page of the Guardian and the Sun by nightfall. Timothy Merrill was expected to win the race, and the cameras were focussed on him.
“Then do your best to quell the rumours and keep the crime scene intact!” Cowley growled. “Report back when you have more.”
Adding what Bodie had told him about where the shooter had waited, Doyle rang off. In the short time that he’d been on the phone, most of the cars in the car park had been driven out. There was no way in hell this was going to be kept quiet—every Tom, Reg and Neville was going to call into the radio chat programmes and to their home county paper to report the assassination.
“Too lit’le, too late?” Chico quipped amiably.
Sid Halley shook his head, turning away from the morgue attendants gathering up the body of nineteen year old Timothy Merrill. What a bloody waste. It turned his stomach in a manner that all other racetrack related injuries did not. The usual concussions and broken collar bones were such common occurrences for jockeys that most shrugged them off as hazards of a dangerous career. But no one expected to be executed as he rode across the finish line. What the hell was the motive?
He saw the anguished face of Sir Wendell Jefferies, Zarathustra’s owner. Jeffries was talking with a grim racing official, but it was clear from his body language that he was shocked and perplexed by the crime.
“Mr Landry,” Sid said smoothly, feeling the role of private investigator slide over that of the ex-jockey who continued to dream of riding. Years earlier, near the end of his career, he’d ridden one of Sir Wendell’s horses to win the Richard Francis Silver Cup. “Sir Wendell, let me express my deep condolences on Timothy Merrill’s death.”
“Excuse me.” Landry, the general manager of the racecourse, edged away. “Many, many details to attend to.”
“Save the condolences for the lad’s father,” Jefferies said gruffly, jamming his fists in his jacket pockets. “I want answers. Was this a botched attack on the horse, or was the boy the target?”
“Very good points,” Sid agreed, keeping his own prosthetic left hand firmly in his jacket pocket. “Do you have any ideas?”
“Zarathustra was a promising horse, likely she’ll now be affrighted at the sound of a gun. Can’t enter her in a race with a starting pistol, can I?” Jefferies grumped. “But it’s the lad—brought down with his whole life before him, and just as he was successful in his riding and his business life. Someone’s got a grudge against young Tim.”
“Have you told the police this?” Sid asked, glancing over to the concourse. Chico had connected with curly haired Doyle and they were walking toward the car park. Sid allowed himself a second or two of indulgent admiring of his cheerful blond partner. Despite the awful circumstances, simply seeing Chico gave him an inner joy that helped ameliorate the smell of blood.
“Haven’t spoken to anyone but Landry, and why should I? All speculation on my part and they’ll just want the dry facts.” The horse owner shrugged.
“Still, you’ll need to tell the police anything you do know.” Sid watched the man for signs that he was holding back information. There didn’t seem to be any deceit in him.
“Oh, aye.” Jefferies shook his head as the coroner’s van trundled slowly over the grass. “They’ll ask why’d Merrill get shot, that sort of rubbish. As if I knew the answer for that.”
“So you do you think it was his success that got him murdered?” He was reaching, he knew, but right now, there was so little to go on. Sid could see the headlines: Bright Young Jockey Brought Down. Murder on the Racetrack.
“Not saying that. Haven’t got any real specifics. Mind you, his friend’s made some enemies.”
“His friend?” Sid leaned slightly forward, feeling the heavy weight of his steel and plastic left hand shift in his jacket pocket.
“Allie Hastings, the artist.” Sir Wendell pointed at one of the horses being led back to the stables. “He paints portraits of horses, mostly racehorses.”
Sid recalled seeing an advert in the racing papers about an exhibition of horse racing paintings. He’d been very interested. As a successful investor in the stock market, he’d been thinking of branching out into art. “Algernon Hastings? He and Merrill were friends?”
“He and young Tim were partners in the scheme to promote these paintings.” Sir Wendell grimaced, scratching his nose. “Got a catchy name—Picture Perfect, I think it was. I know a great many owners and trainers who’ve had paintings done by Hastings recently.”
“And he’s made enemies?” Sid recalled seeing a young man sketching or painting the horses on the track in the recent past but he’d never spoken with him. He had a hazy memory of a slender, pale youth with possibly light brown hair.
“I’ve only met the lad once, and from what I’ve seen, his pictures are good—certainly look like the horses they’re meant to.”
Jefferies seemed to be losing interest in the conversation. Probably, Halley surmised, because they were no longer discussing either Zarathustra or Merrill. “But?” he prompted quietly.
“I don’t know anything more than what I’ve heard. Apparently Hastings has a temper and has gotten into rows with some of the owners and jockeys.”
“Loose lips sink ships, Halley!” Sir Wendell quoted, clearly a man who remembered the war years. He hunched his shoulders, the brisk autumn wind lifting his slate grey hair.
“You didn’t engage Hastings to paint Zara?” Sid added, knowing when an inquiry was over. Jefferies wasn’t about to tell him much more.
“No, what would I do with a bloody oil painting? Got photographs enough, and my wife is keen on clipping articles out of the papers for her scrapbooks.” Sir Wendell smoothed his hair, looking off toward the stables. “I’d best be checking on Zara —and then call young Tim’s father. More’s the pity.”
“Give him my regards,” Sid said.
“So, there won’t be an actual winner for the race? The whole thing is forfeit?” Bodie blew on his chilled fingers. He hadn’t expected to spend the entire morning and half the afternoon outdoors in November. There was no rain or snow in the forecast, but the wind was picking up and the temperature had to be hovering just above freezing, if the tips of his ears were anything to go by.
He cast an eye on Cowley asserting his authority over the local constabulary. Once the CI5 technicians had arrived and taken samples from the shooter’s lair, as well as the murder site, the local authorities had stepped in to clean up. Mr Landry and the rest of the racetrack officials were pressuring Cowley to return the race course to its previous pristine condition in order to continue races as soon as humanly possible.
Bodie had no doubt that there would be a capacity crowd at the next race meeting: scores of people hoping to catch any glimpse of remaining gore or scandal. Already, he was sure there was a picture of the horse carrying a headless corpse over the finish line gracing the Evening Standard.
“No, and I haven’t a minute yet to speak with the head of the Injured Jockey Fund—they were sponsoring the event.” Sid put a cigarette to his lips and drew in a lungful of thick smoke. “Still have the cheque for the prize money in my pocket.”
“You reckon you’ve got enough jam n’ honey to treat us all to a couple o’ pints?” Chico asked with a snarky grin.
“The perks of knowing a celebrity.” Doyle smiled, rubbing his left thumb around the leather band he wore on his right wrist.
Bodie watched Doyle’s thumb and then all five fingers stroke and twist the tight little bracelet with momentary satisfaction. Doyle was tolerating them better than Bodie had expected. He’d thought Doyle would take one or both off before the day was through—especially since their original arrangement had been to be alone by three o’clock in the afternoon. Would they have time to go through with the plans now? Or would Bodie have to postpone the next phase of his idea?
“It’s not my money to spend, Chico,” Sid drawled, one corner of his mouth turning up. Shading his eyes with the hand holding his cigarette, he looked up toward the overhanging roof sheltering the grandstand. “Bodie, the assassin was lying just there?” He pointed with the fag, the glowing end bright in the long afternoon shadows.
“Opposite the finish line,” Bodie agreed, moving to the left slightly until he was directly below the correct place on the roof. “Military maybe. Wouldn’t have been a difficult shot for someone with sniper training.”
“Roughly three hundred feet, give or take?” Doyle estimated, shivering in the blustery wind. He crossed his arms, tucking his hands into his arm pits. “A professional assassin? A sniper? Or just some lucky idiot with a rifle?”
“Reckon anyone saw him go up there?” Sid puffed on his cigarette before dropping the butt on the ground and grinding it out with his foot.
“No-one from the grandstand anyway,” Doyle said pessimistically. “Sightlines are wrong.”
“Wot ‘bout the race commentator?” Chico asked.
“Spot on!” Sid grinned at his partner.
“You mean the announcer who describes the race on radio?” Bodie stared up at the roof, imagining himself getting into position, peering through the rifle sight and firing. One of his jobs, back when he was a mercenary in Africa. He could almost feel the emotional numbness settling in: drawing a breath and squeezing the trigger. It was scary still. He mentally shook off the sensation, turning toward Doyle to centre himself on his love.
“Or on the telly,” Chico continued, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. He pointed to their right across the roof to a small hut on the far side of the structure. “’E’d be up there, watching the race on a lit’le screen as well as bein’ able to see the ‘ole of the course.”
“Something tells me you’ve been up there,” Doyle put in.
“Yeah, well…” Chico feigned innocence. “Once in a great while, when the races are done for the day, it’s a nice quiet place to…spend time with a special friend…”
“Chico,” Sid warned in a low, half-amused, half-censorious tone.
Bodie chuckled. He’d long assumed that Sid and Chico were as close partners as he and Doyle. Hiding up in that booth was not unlike going behind the school when he was in short pants and groping Margaret Lannigan’s first brassiere.
“Might be worth it to talk to the bloke,” Doyle suggested. “And bein’ that you two know more about the racing world, could you take a crack at him?”
“We being drafted into CI5?” Sid asked lightly.
“Och, a fine idea,” Cowley announced, coming up behind them. “Your acquaintance with some of the people involved will undoubtedly prove advantageous, Mr Halley.”
“Thank you,” Sid acknowledged the compliment. “The race announcer this morning was Niall Flynn. I’ll ring him up, possibly even talk to him this evening.”
“’E’s sure to be forthcoming after some Guinness,” Chico added, miming a drink. His fair skin was bright pink from the cold.
“Excellent.” Cowley nodded. “On that note, I’ve asked the staff to keep the bar open so that we’d have a quiet place to debrief.” He led the way to the small bar tucked in the far corner of the grandstand. A lone bartender looked up and put out five small glasses and a bottle of whisky.
Glad to be out of the wind, Bodie claimed a stool, not a all surprised that Doyle chose the one next to him. Chico swung a leg over the farthest one, leaving Sid the stool beside Bodie.
“A decent malt,” Cowley observed, eyeing the label of the bottle. He poured a small amount into each glass, waiting until each of his team took one. “To the laddie who lost his life today,” Cowley said solemnly.
All raised their glasses and took a somber drink. Every time they worked an obbo where a victim was shot, it was far too easy for Bodie to remember finding Doyle bleeding out on the carpet in his flat. That, combined with his memories of being an sniper for hire, swirled in his belly like oil and water. He’d seen both sides.
“Now, it is imperative that we pursue this murderer with all haste,” Cowley continued, the moment of mourning past. “I’ve spoken with Merrill’s father, the American ambassador. He is, of course, grief stricken, and cannot fathom why his son would be shot down whilst riding in a race.” He finished his dram with a speculative glint in his eye. “Mr Halley, what can you tell me about Timothy Merrill?”
“He was a talented jockey, but never ridden professionally, as was evident on the race card,” Sid began, taking the official race programme from his pocket and handing it to Cowley. “Amateurs are denoted by the use of Mr in front of their names on the card. Merrill had a category A license—for amateurs-- to ride on British courses. I’d only met him earlier today, but a decent sort of chap—didn’t brandish his father’s political clout in one’s face.” He shrugged, glancing at Chico.
“Never heard rumours of ill repute about ‘im,” Chico said, “from the stable lads or nuffing.”
“Yet, someone took a dislike to him,” Doyle spoke up, leaning on the bar rail. “I talked with the manager of the course and the man in charge of pre-race weigh-ins. No-one thought there was anything amiss, nor had seen anyone suspicious.”
“An enigma,” Cowley noted, turning to Bodie. “What have you learned, 3.7?”
“The shooter was sloppy, sir.” Bodie thought about where the sniper had laid in wait. “Or deliberately gave us a clue, not sure yet. Found a chocolate bar wrapper, but no dabs. Undoubtedly wearing gloves. Barnes and Halley are going to be talking to this telly presenter…”
“Niall Flynn was in the lit’le shed on the roof,” Chico put in, eyeing the whisky bottle, but polite enough not to make a grab for more. “We’ll find out if ‘e got a butchers at the suspect.”
“I chatted up Zarathustra’s owner,” Halley reported. “He said that Merrill was partners with Algernon Hastings, an artist—“
“There’s an exhibition of his horse paintings off the Portobello Road,” Doyle said. “I’d planned to see it next week.”
News to Bodie, but then he had never shared his partner’s love of art.
“Was this partnership a money making scheme?” Cowley inquired.
“Difficult to say, Mr Cowley.” Sid shrugged, lighting another cigarette. “They called themselves Picture Perfect.”
Bodie watched as Halley held the fag in his false hand, flicking the lighter with his right. The ex-jockey rarely showed his prosthesis unless he was among friends. In the six months that he’d known Halley, Bodie had only seen the plastic hand a few times.
“From what Sir Wendell said, I can’t work out how they’d pull in that much cash.” Sid blew a cloud of smoke over his shoulder. “Hastings can only paint so many horses at a time, and even if he charged a bundle for each canvas, it’s only moderately lucrative. On the surface, I fail to see what use Merrill would have been at all.”
“Was he Hastings’ agent?” Doyle asked.
“Like some film star?” Bodie said with a grin. “Getting him into the aristocracy’s soirees and having his picture taken on the red carpet in Leicester Square?”
“That would be a boon for a struggling artist who needs well heeled clients,” Cowley mused, stroking his chin. “Interesting supposition. This is top priority. We cannot let this become a point of dissension between Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan.”
“I’m peckish. Where did you say Hastings was having that art show?” Bodie asked when they climbed into the Capri.
“Telford Road, you know how to get there,” Doyle said, cranking up the heat in the small car. Didn’t usually take long for the interior to get toasty warm, but until then, he was freezing. “What’s that to do with food? You never want to wander around looking at paintings.”
“This is in regards to Merrill’s death, innit?” Bodie drove out of the car park. “Too right, Telford Road’s one street away from my flat.” He shook his head, laughing. “It’s a Saturday evening—prime showing for an aspiring young artist, and with the death of his partner, he’s sure to have a gallery full of morbidly curious clientele, not to mention bits of cheese, wine, possibly prawns.”
“Morbidly curious prawns?” Doyle muttered, just to get Bodie’s goat.
“Berk,” Bodie said out of the corner of his mouth.
“So you do always think with your stomach.” Doyle elbowed Bodie gently so he didn’t jostle the steering wheel and accidentally hit the kerb. He wouldn’t mind some cheese and crusty French bread either. Now that he was thinking of food, he realized he was famished. A heaping plate of yellow curry and pilau rice wouldn’t be refused, come to that.
“Regular fuel keeps my body—and brilliant mind—running in tip top shape,” Bodie said, casting a gimlet eye at the leather encircling Doyle’s wrist. “You’re wearing the bracelets long past when we’d intended to play. How do they feel?” He looked at the road as if he were trying to avoid influencing how Doyle answered the question.
His belly in a knot, Doyle was suddenly no longer hungry. He struggled to keep his voice on an even keel. “You’re still keen to go through with this?”
“Once we’ve talked with Hastings, yeah.” There was a firm authority to Bodie. “Tonight.”
Doyle recognized the voice of his Master and his nervous reactions drained away, as if giving all decision up to Bodie was exactly what he’d needed. In truth, after wearing the damned things all day, he was curious about whatever else Bodie had planned. “Your flat, then, after.”
“Exactly.” Bodie flashed him a cheeky grin. “Now tell me whatever you know about this Algernon Hastings?”
“Up and coming artist in the sporting world.” Doyle thought back to the few things he’d seen by Hastings. “Mostly racehorses, but I seem to recall an oil of cricketers, of all things.”
“Shows good taste, then,” Bodie said approvingly. “Wonder who told him about the murder?”
“Most likely one of Rupert Murdoch’s lot,” Doyle answered. “News of the World and the Sun seem to turn up like bad pennies when there’s violent crime and salacious rumour.”
“Vultures.” Bodie wrinkled his upper lip. “Some day they’ll find themselves in deep muck from all the shit they’ve shoveled. Hastings any good—as a painter, I mean?”
“He’s not quite in John Frederick Herring or George Stubbs’ league, but he’s only been around for a couple of years.” Doyle watched the cars on the motorway, still seeing Zarathustra surging ahead of Starfaerie, seconds away from the finish line and then the explosion of blood, brains and skull. He’d seen many a horrific sight in his career, and this one was destined to be featured in nightmares for some time to come.
“There he is,” Chico sang out, pressing through the throng in the restaurant behind Sid. There was a television mounted over the bar and footage from the race was playing on the news. Just his luck to have to see the bleeding thing over and over. Once had been quite enough for one life time. It was the one drawback to his chosen livelihood—too many violent, frequently gruesome deaths. The nuns who had raised him at the Barnes Street Convent had thought his teaching judo and karate was too violent. Little they knew.
“Niall,” Sid greeted a tall, lanky man with a shock of ginger hair who was nursing a pint of lager.
“Halley!” Flynn responded, his Irish accent evident even in the single word. “Chico, I’ll expect you didn’t use the booth for…”
“Not t’day, me old china.” Chico rolled his eyes. “Let’s get a table.”
“Gammon steak, Chico?” Sid asked. “Niall?”
“Yeah, that’ll go down well,” Niall agreed over his shoulder.
Once they were all seated at a table in the far corner, away from a lively snooker match going on across the room, Chico glanced at the telly again. The news presenter had moved on and a pretty bird with bouncy blonde hair was pointing out weather fronts on the England/Scotland border.
“’Eard your melodious voice this morning, Niall,” Chico began, glancing over at Sid. His partner nodded minutely. Sid always gave Chico the lead when chatting up witnesses in pubs. “I can’t enjoy a race any more without you describin’ the ‘orses. You must ‘ave a fantastic view of the whole of the track, includin’ the roof.” The assassin’s location hadn’t been released to the press.
Flynn paused with his glass halfway to his mouth. “You think I saw something?” He sounded strained, verging on nervous.
“You’re perched up above the whole grandstand,” Sid said mildly. “The shooter would have needed a similar eagle’s view.”
“So, did you see a man walkin’ up there where he shouldn’t ‘ave been?” Chico asked, leaning forward.
“I’m paid to watch the race!” Flynn protested. “I have to study the jockey’s colours—get the horses’ names correct.”
“But before?” Sid asked, nodded at the waitress who walked up with three plates heaped with gammon steaks and chips.
Flynn ducked over his plate, sprinkling the chips with vinegar. “Could be, I did see a man but only for a few moments—I couldn’t pick him out in a suspect parade.”/p>
“And?” Chico encouraged. “Wot’d he look like? ‘Air colour?”
Clenching his jaw, Flynn picked up his glass. “I wasn’t paying him any mind. Not the first time I’ve seen folk on the roof.” He shook his head. “Don’t you think I would have reported something had I seen the bloke pull the trigger? What do you take me for?”
“Niall, you’re the closest we’ve got to an eye witness,” Chico groaned in frustration. Here he had a delicious looking dinner and couldn’t eat it because the berk was holding back.
Sid sat silently, his deep brown eyes focussed directly on Flynn.
“What if it gets back to the murderer? And he comes after me?” Niall asked, his baritone announcer’s voice raising half an octave.
“We’d never breathe a word,” Sid replied, taking a slow sip of his beer.
“A man with dark hair.” Niall shrugged, his face pale even in the dim light of the restaurant. “I didn’t see no gun, my mouth to God’s ear, I’m telling the truth.” He crossed himself. “I’ll be seeing that poor lad’s head explode for the rest of my life. This dark haired bloke-- he knelt down on the edge of the overhang to the left of my booth. I’d stepped out to smoke a fag.” As if needing something to do, he began cutting his gammon in small pieces. “He were watching the jockeys on their horses at the post. I went back into the booth and got to work. That was all I saw.” Niall drained his lager in one gulp and called over to the bartender for another.
“He must have had a rucksack or holdall for the rifle?” Sid asked, taking a bite of his food. “Wearing a mackintosh? Burberry? Give us a few more clues.”
Flynn snorted with a bitter smile, his hand shaking on his fork. “The one thing I thought? Looked a bit like Roger Moore. I was gobsmacked, what was a film star doing there on the roof?”
“James Bond shot the jockey?” Chico sniggered, unable to help himself.
Sid silenced him with a look. “So he was white with clean-cut features, dark short hair.”
“Just said that, didn’t I?” Flynn grumped, shovelling his dinner in at top speed now that he’d unburdened himself. “Got to get back to the studio, they’ll be needing me to record the voice overs for an obit on Merrill.”
Chico suspected that Flynn simply didn’t want to be questioned any more but wasn’t about to leave a relatively free meal. The waitress brought over a second drink for him and Flynn drank it fast, wiping his hand over his mouth.
“He was wearing an overcoat,” he said, standing. “Like a pea coat, only longer. Blue.” Turning, Flynn pushed past a couple walking to the bar and darted out the door.
“Didn’t expect a detailed description,” Sid commented, forking up chips. “But Roger Moore, eh?”
“Least we know ‘e’s not Q,, Holly Goodhead or Miss Moneypenny.” Chico laughed, chuffed when Sid joined in. “Narrows it down a bit.”
“I doubt that Cowley will see it that way.” Sid raised an eyebrow. “And Niall swears he didn’t see a gun. How’d it get there then?”
As Bodie had hoped, the Merida Gallery on Telford was ablaze with light when they walked up the pavement to the door. A large banner hung in one window featuring a painting of a horse leaping over a standard steeplechase fence, the jockey’s red silks simply a blur of colour hunched over the animal’s powerful neck. Even in the reproduction of the original, there was an amazing depth and artistry to the brushstrokes. It wasn’t simply a horse jumping; it was synergy of horse and rider, the movement and the speed caught in a magical instant.
“I’m no expert, but that one’s a keeper,” Bodie said, peering inside in hopes of some of those prawns or perhaps French pate.
“Impressive,” Doyle murmured begrudgingly. “I’d like to see the original.”
The gallery was swarming with people. More than a few were from the newspapers, trailing photographers in their wake, obviously looking for Hastings himself.
A long table laden with hors d’oeuvres of every stripe barricaded the front of the room from the paintings beyond. Bodie rubbed his hands together gleefully, surveying the fare. “I’ll have one of everything.”
“And be completely unable to move for a fortnight,” Doyle said snidely. “Not the least you won’t have the wherewithal to go through with your plans later. “ He picked up a paper plate, the leather band on his narrow wrist quite visible, and scooped up raw carrots, celery and tomatoes, adding a small helping of Brie and two water crackers. “At your service, master.”
Bodie managed not to gawp at Doyle, but it was a near thing. He wanted to grab a handful of succulent crab legs and prawns, just for spite. If he did so, who was being the Top and who was being the bratty submissive? “Ta,” he said through his teeth. “Don’t think I won’t remember this.”
Crunching on a carrot stick, Doyle gave him a cat-who-swallowed-the-cream smile. He leaned over the table, displaying his delectable derriere to ask the waiter manning the drinks table for a glass of Perrier. Bodie felt his mouth go dry with the need to pull Doyle’s trousers down and plant a possessive hand on that arse. He cleared his throat and looked elsewhere. There was a tray with already poured flutes of champagne, and an array of soft drinks. Bodie selected a lemonade, glancing after his partner.
Doyle was examining a large oil of a grey thoroughbred streaking for the finish line, the ripple of his muscles caught viscerally. Bodie wanted to cheer the horse on, sure that the moment he turned his head, the grey would gallop to a win.
“Morning Mist,” Doyle read the citation on a card mounted next to the painting. “Why does the name of that horse sound familiar?”
About to voice his opinion, Bodie was shut out by a loud voiced woman peering at the large canvas.
“Verna, look! That’s the ‘orse won the Grand National last year. Me Bert bet his ‘ole packet, I was that angry at ‘im, and then Morning Mist came in first. We won three thousand quid!”
“I do wish my Danny was a bettin’ man,” Verna said wistfully, moving on to the next painting.
“Which reminds me,” Bodie said into Doyle’s ear. “I collected your money from the betting window since this morning’s race was abandoned.”
“I only put fifty p on Zarathustra.” Doyle laughed. “I do recognize the next horse.” He indicated a painting of a regal looking chestnut wearing a wreath of flowers and a blue ribbon. “That’s Teacup Lady. Remember, she came in second that time we saw Aladdin’s Treasure run in April.”
“Apparently won the Fairgate Hurdle in June,” Bodie said, squinting at the painted notice beside the horse. “This looks to be a winner, too.”
A fairly small canvas featured a sleek black horse racing ahead of the field, fierce determination in the lines of his body illustrating the drive to run bred into his bloodlines.
“Casino Royale,” said a quiet voice pitched below the babel of gallery patrons. “One of my favourites, that. He’s won more races than I could name.”
“Yeah, read about Casino Royale in the Racing Times.” Doyle turned from examining the painting to see who had spoken.
“My God, you’re exquisite,” the man exclaimed. “I haven’t done a nude since ‘79, but I would change my oeuvre for you.”
“I haven’t posed since the early seventies, and vowed never to do so again,” Doyle responded tartly. “Nude or clothed.”
“What a shame,” he replied. “You’ve missed your calling. Those tilted eyes and—“
“Who might you be?” Bodie asked with a slight snarl. The desire to see those old sketches of a younger Doyle, where ever they might be, reared at the same time as a broad streak of possessiveness.
“Bodie, this is Algernon Hastings.” Doyle rolled his eyes. “Did you not see his photograph when we came in?”
Hastings was small enough to be a jockey, with a shallow, almost sickly complexion, acne scars and round, slightly protruding brown eyes that brought to mind a barn owl. His hands were delicate, slender and fine as a woman’s. The whole package could never be described as attractive, but he exuded a presence that loomed larger than his physical self.
“Too busy admiring the artwork,” Bodie lied glibly. “You have some beautiful paintings.”
“Thank you,” Hasting acknowledged, pursing his lips. It was difficult to ascertain if he was sad or irritated. “I’m not at my best today…”
“Which is exactly why we are here,” Doyle cut in smoothly. “Ray Doyle, CI5, and this is my partner, William Bodie. We’d like a chance to talk to you about your business associate, Timothy Merrill.”
“Oh, Lord,” Hastings whispered, sucking in his bottom lip. “Such a h-horrible tragedy. I didn’t want to have this opening tonight, but my assistant insisted. We’d done the publicity, paid the caterer…”
Bodie glanced around the crowded room, seeing a small door marked private on the far side near a metal spiral staircase. “Perhaps we could take this in there? Away from the…”
A bold reporter sporting a press badge from News of The World pushed past a group of fans admiring the portrait of Teacup Lady. “Mr Hastings!” she called loudly. “Can you give us an exclusive on your reactions when you heard that your good friend Timothy Merrill’s head was blown off?”
Hastings went from wan to fish belly pale, gaping in shock. Doyle grabbed the smaller man, tucking him under his arm and hustling him quickly towards the door.
“This is a crime,” Bodie stated with a slight snarl, “currently under investigation by Scotland Yard, and thus, neither Mr Hastings nor his management are obliged to make any comments on the ongoing case.” At Bodie’s ferocity, the reporter gasped and took two steps back. “I strongly suggest your lot clear out before the lads from the Met arrive and do it forcefully.”
“Well, I—“ she said with affront, obviously ready to state some muck about freedom of the press.
“The management concurs.” A large black man with massive shoulders spoke up, his voice like something coming out of the depths of the earth.
The woman from News of The World and two other reporters with accompanying photographers who’d clustered round after hearing raised voices began clamoring for their rightful interviews. The art patrons, startled by the ruckus, were muttering nervously and heading for the door.
“All those interested in Mr Hastings’ art, please stay. There’s more champagne where that came from,” the massive man continued. “The rest of you vipers,” he stared at the group of reporters, “get out now.”
They bolted, along with a few of the other patrons. Enough stayed, mollified by the quickly distributed glasses of champagne.
“Maxim Trimble,” the black man introduced himself. “Allie’s assistant and dogsbody. And you are?”
“Bodie, CI5.” Bodie produced his identification. “Thanks for the back-up.”
“I saw the other bloke get Allie away from that witch, Lavender Brown,” Maxim said. “He don’t know nothing about Tim’s death. We were here all day.”
“That was one of the things we needed to ascertain.” Bodie nodded with as friendly a smile as he could muster under the circumstances. “But we’d like general information on Merrill as well. I’d better go see what my partner has got up to.”
“I’ll keep the French wine flowing,” Trimble said grimly. “Most of ‘em came for the shock value, because of Tim, but we did sell one painting.”
“Yeah?” Bodie paused, interested. He very much liked Hastings’ work.
“That one.” Trimble jutted his chin at a huge canvas that nearly filled the entire wall. A long legged bay was poised to jump, the fluidity of action perfectly captured. There was a certain tension to the painting—would the horse make it over the hedgerow or drop into the open ditch? “That’s---“
“I remember,” Bodie said with surprise. The painting was a version of the famous photograph that had been in many newspapers. A horse no-one had expected to win numerous races in a row; so fast over the jumps that no other racehorse could keep up. “Candlemas.”
“That’s right.” Trimble smiled for the first time. “Most of these originals belong to the horse’s owners, and only a few of them want to sell. But Candlemas died shortly after his winning streak, and the owner couldn’t stand to be reminded of his horse’s glory.”
“So you and your assistant were supervising the hanging of the paintings all day today?” Doyle asked as Bodie walked in. Doyle flicked a glance at his partner but didn’t let up the pressure on Hastings. He felt like the artist was hiding something, but he hadn’t figured out what yet.
“I’ve just said that.” Hastings sat in a straightback chair holding a sketchpad in his lap, making seemingly random swipes with a charcoal pencil. “We weren’t listening to the radio or telly, busy—“ He made a vague gesture at the gallery, his shoulders slumped. There was a brightness in his eyes, but he blinked the moisture away, concentrating more on the sketch than what Doyle was saying. “Me and Tim have been friends for—oh, four years or more. He came over to study abroad and stayed with my family for the summer.”
“Exchange student?” Bodie inquired, perching on the end of a small chaise longue draped with a black and red gypsy shawl.
“Yeah. He was interested in all sorts of scientific things, chemistry, like that,” he said.
Hastings made one or two more lines, more controlled strokes. Doyle watched, stunned when suddenly what had appeared to be meaningless doodles rearranged into an amazingly accurate portrait of himself. The angle of his damaged cheek, the slant of his eyes and a hint of curls tumbling over the forehead.
Bodie drew in a breath. “That’s very good.”
“I told you I wasn’t posing,” Doyle said irritably, more than a little annoyed that Hastings had drawn his portrait right in front of him without his knowledge. He snatched up the sketchbook, examining the drawing critically. He had to admit, it looked exactly like him. “Stick to the questions.” Doyle tapped the sketch pad on his knee. “You’ve known Merrill for four years?”
Hastings nodded, sucking on the tip of his forefinger. When he pulled it out, Doyle saw there was a slinter on the end. “I didn’t think we’d get on—,” Hastings started, “him into science, me art. I was two years older, but it was one of those miraculous things. We just clicked. Friends for life.”
That rang true; Doyle knew the feeling. He’d never expected to have anything in common with Bodie beyond their job when they were partnered. Yet, quickly, they’d gelled, almost like two disparate halves of a whole. They completed each other in ways he couldn’t even define—even if he tried. They’d evolved from close friends into lovers, and in the last year, taken it a step further into this weird, exhilarating and scary world of domination and submission.
“Was his father the ambassador when you met?” Bodie asked when the silence stretched too long after Hastings spoke.
Doyle mentally pushed away his woolgathering. Not safe to indulge during an inquiry.
“No, he worked for the American government but became the ambassador here the following year.” Hastings shifted, clearly wanting the sketchbook back—possibly as some sort of armour, but Doyle didn’t return it to him.
“In 1981?” Bodie persisted.
“Yes.” Hastings nodded, thumbing a stray tear from his eye. “We were both overjoyed—Tim had come over once since his summer here, but now he had reason to be in the UK, and we did everything together.”
“You were already painting horses,” Doyle said. “You were successful right away, from what I’ve read.”
“I had the great fortune to paint Moonlight, who won the Derby in ’80. My dad and the owner are old friends, and afterward, the commissions fell into my lap,” Hastings said with a slight shrug as if it no longer mattered without his friend. “I don’t know—today has been such a tumult. Tim d-dead, and a substantial sale—“ He swallowed convulsively, another tear falling from his eye.
Doyle couldn’t let sentiment get in the way of an investigation. This young man was talented, and seemed a good egg, but there was something off. “In fact, just about every horse you’ve painted in the past year has won significantly, isn’t that true?”
Out of corner of his eye, he saw Bodie’s eyes widen at this revelation and realized that he’d not consciously fit the pieces together until the words came out of his mouth.
Hastings was caught unawares for less than a second before his eyebrows came down like thunderclouds. “You accusing me of something?”
“Are you guilty of something?” Doyle countered.
“Not murdering my own best friend!” Hastings shouted. “Never in a million years. I’ve painted probably two dozen horses. Of course some of them win their races.”
“No insinuations, mate,” Bodie said genially with a friendly smile that lit up his handsome face. “It’s in our blood, we see something that doesn’t quite add up, we speculate. You’re talented, those paintings out there are spectacular. I heard that you and Merrill had started some sort of business?”
Doyle eased back, placing the sketchbook on the desk beside him, enjoying watching Bodie play good cop to his bad cop. He’d forgotten the name of the enterprise Halley had told them about, but luckily Bodie had picked up on that tidbit. It was exactly why they worked so well together.
Hastings inhaled, calming slightly but no longer as open and friendly. “Picture Perfect, yeah.” He bit down on his lip, a clear sign that he wasn’t happy discussing the project.
Why was the question? Why did discussing his successful business, which had brought him fame and fortune, cause him to tense up? Did it have anything to do with the death of Timothy Merrill or were he and Bodie barking up the wrong tree?
“After I painted Moonlight, word spread. I had a numbers of bookings. Tim didn’t have a job because he’s American, so he sort of worked as my secretary and public relations rolled into one,” Hastings said, obviously unhappy at the continued questions. “Tim had contacts through his dad, knew members of Parliament, the aristocracy and—well, helped me organise my time.”
“Wouldn’t that be something that Maxim Trimble does?” Bodie asked.
Who the hell was he? Doyle sat up straighter. Bodie had some information that Doyle didn’t possess and he needed to stay alert.
“Trimble is more sales and security,” Hastings said tightly, grabbing the sketchbook off the desk. “Listen, what’s with all the questions? My best friend is dead, I can prove I was here all day. I resent this—intrusion into my private life.” He stood, signalling the end of the interrogation.
“Have you had any rows with your clients? Owners who didn’t like the painting?” Doyle asked, casting about for something to keep Hastings in the room.
“No,” he said shortly through his teeth. “I’ll ask you to leave now.”
“Not even Lord Fitzhugh, who owned Candlemas?” Bodie asked, sounding innocent as a schoolboy.
Doyle almost chuckled. Bodie had very clearly struck a nerve. Hastings froze, fury transforming his youthful, Worzel Gummidge face into a nightmarish mask.
“If you have any further questions, address them to my solicitor, James Manchester. Good night,” Hasting sneered.
He opened the door, staring at them both until Doyle left the office with Bodie on his heels.
“Maxim, these two…I cannot in good conscience call them gentlemen, are not welcome,” Hastings said savagely.
Doyle got a brief look at a man with the shoulders of a weight lifter. He shot Hastings a confused glance and nodded once, holding out his hand to wave them out of the gallery.
Standing on the pavement, Doyle paused, trying to sort through what had just transpired. Where exactly had they lost Hastings’ trust, and why?
Bodie popped a pilfered canapé into his mouth with a roguish grin. “Pity, would’ve liked a few more of the cheese puffs, if nothing else.” He brushed the crumbs from his hands. “Get the feeling he’s leading us on a merry fox hunt?”
“Remains to be seen if he’s as cunning as a fox or just a weasel,” Doyle remarked, his stomach rumbling. He should have eaten the free food. “He knows more than he’s letting on.”
“Indubitably, Raymond,” Bodie said, his voice changing subtly.
He curled his fingers around Doyle’s wrist, applying pressure. Under normal circumstances, Doyle would have protested the tight grasp. Not tonight. He recognized his master’s voice and froze, accepting what was done to him. The tiny bones of his wrist grated painfully together, sending an instant buzz of arousal to his goulies.
Bodie shifted his grip very slightly, fingers resting lightly on Doyle’s pulse. “Your heart’s racing, petal,” Bodie said very softly. “We can’t speak to Hastings’ solicitor tonight and haven’t got enough to go to Cowley right away.” He raised his chin with a feral, predatory expression. “Are you ready?”
“Ready, steady, go,” Doyle said, his voice firm, not a hint of nerves. He had the overwhelming urge to bow his head, submit right there in front of the Merida.
Berk, he chided himself as he and Bodie turned onto the next road.
They always played in Bodie’s flat. That was an undisputed rule—and now with the CI5’s tendency to displace agents regularly to reduce the chance that unfriendlies discovered where they lived, Bodie’s flat was right round the corner from the gallery. He didn’t bother to move the Capri to another parking place. This late on a Saturday night, they’d never find anything closer.
Walking on the kerb, Bodie kicked a discarded Heinz tin, sending it scuttling into the metal grating of a drain. “You reckon our Allie and Merrill had some sort of falling out and Hastings turned violent? He’s got a bit of a temper.”
“Nah.” Doyle pulled a face, clearly thinking through their conversation with the artist. He absently ran a thumb along the smooth leather band around his wrist. “Hastings seemed to genuinely mourn Merrill—and I believed that he’d been at hammers and nails all day hanging paintings. He’d got a splinter.”
“Call you Sherlock Holmes, I will,” Bodie commented, impressed. He hadn’t noticed. “Not to say that he still couldn’t have slipped out to Kempton Park this morning for quick target practice, but it’s a long trek and if there’s one thing I know, Maxim Trimble would have noticed his absence.”
“Could be Trimble’s a sniper,” Doyle put in.
“Too muscle bound, mate. He’s lifting dumbbells, not rifles.” Bodie found himself continually looking at those leather bracelets, remembering how it felt to snap them around Doyle’s narrow wrists. To have his partner’s complete trust literally in his hands. “Then, it’s a toss up, enemies or outside forces putting pressure on our impressionable jockey and painter with dire consequences?”
Doyle chuckled, the sound doing delicious things to Bodie’s cock.
“You’re reading too much Ian Fleming, Dr Watson, and not Conan Doyle. The evidence is in the details—and we’ve a dearth of clues thus far,” Doyle said, laughing.
Light spilled from the window of Punjabi’s Takeaway, catching the shifting blue-green of Doyle’s eyes, highlighting the auburn in his hair and softening the sharp planes of his cheekbones. A mythical woodfae transplanted into modern London.
Bodie choked on the first words that sprang to his lips, forcing himself not to speak. They didn’t gush over emotion, or express their love on the street like two teens in the throes of hormones. Still, he needed to get his hands on Doyle, hold him down and take him, hard, like a man—with passion because he loved his mercurial partner more than he could ever say in words.
“Fancy a curry?” he asked instead.
“Yeah,” Doyle said with a lazy grin. “Got a tenner?”
“I don’t pay for your favours, guttersnipe,” Bodie replied, revelling in his role as master.
Doyle jutted his chin, the fae gone, replaced by a jaded kid from the streets. “Oi! I don’t put out for nuffing,” he drawled with Cockney inflection. “Got t’eat, don’ I?”
Bodie pulled out a salmon and brown Florence Nightingale and slid it into the front pocket of Doyle’s obscenely tight jeans. “Get the food, boy, and we’ll see who ends up paying for favours.”
Doyle narrowed his eyes. He snorted inelegantly, probably weighing the merits of a snarky response. Wisely staying silent, he slouched into the shop, bum directly in Bodie’s line of vision.
Bodie salivated, and he was suddenly not a bit hungry for Indian food. He glanced at his building directly opposite Punjabi’s on Faraday, next to the fire station.
When he moved in a month ago, Bodie had cursed the location, so far from his old place. He’d just located the best market, pub and mechanic, only to be uprooted. That happened every time he had to move, but in the case of the last flat, there had been that hook in the kitchen ceiling. Situated too close to the cabinets to hang a plant, but absolutely perfect for kinky play. Doyle used to wrap his hands around the large hanger and lean back against the counter to give Bodie access to his body.
The current place was a converted warehouse with four flats, two on each level. There had, so far, never been anyone living across from Bodie, which he appreciated, and the elderly woman who lived one storey down was quite hard of hearing. Another bonus to his way of thinking. There were not, however, any convenient ceiling hooks, interior doorways to spread-eagle a man or even sturdy low hanging beams to suspend Doyle from. The ceilings were ten feet, the only enclosed room was the loo and the place had come sparsely furnished.
Bodie had to improvise—nothing new in his play with Doyle. Years of being tied up and beaten by various enemies had given Doyle a healthy and unsurprising dislike of being restrained.
They’d been working on this for some time. The leather bracelets had been an inspiration once Bodie discovered a useful trick. The snaps on the circlets were universal: they could be snapped to one another end to end.
Doyle came out juggling the sack of Indian bread and two takeout containers. Bodie sniffed, catching the spicy aroma of curry. Maybe he was hungry. Maybe he could think of some fun things to do with spicy food.
Reaching into the sack, Bodie tore off a hunk of naan and chewed. Intense garlic flavour filled his mouth. “Shall we repair to my abode?”
“Like that, is it?” Doyle asked lightly, following him up the stairs and into the converted warehouse.
“Hold up,” Bodie said once they’d gone inside his flat. He took the food, placing it on the table in the kitchen area. “Take off your jacket and put out your arms.”
Doyle eyed him with wordless bemusement, doing as he was asked. Draping his jacket over a Danish modern chair, he stood with his back to the closed door. There was a subtle shift in his demeanour that Bodie recognised as submission. In no way was Doyle lessened by this: he still maintained a sense of self-worth, intelligence and tensile strength.
When Bodie leaned into his lover, he could sense the slight tension in Doyle’s body. “Making an adjustment to the wristlets—won’t take a mo.” He unsnapped the right leather band and crossed Doyle’s wrists with the palms of his hands together. Unfastening the left leather band, Bodie crisscrossed the ends and snapped left to right so that Doyle was effectively restrained with his hands in front of his body.
Doyle caught his breath. “Hadn’t expected that.” He bent his elbows to bring his wrists up and examine the bracelets.
“Keep you on your toes,” Bodie said loftily. “Figuratively if not literally.”
“Do you know the symbol for infinity?” He looked pointedly down at his bound wrists.
“Maths not my subject, mate,” Bodie said over his shoulder. He scooped some yellow chicken curry into a bowl and put the naan on a plate.
“Sort of a figure eight, continuous, looped in on itself.” Doyle sounded contemplative, as if trying to explain it to himself as much as to Bodie. “Infinity—that’s you and me.”
Something tight and emotional settled in Bodie’s chest, but he didn’t acknowledge that.
This was supposed to be fun and stretch their boundaries, not a wallow in romantic rhetoric. He leaned over and kissed Doyle, gently pushing his tongue between his partner’s lips. He could feel the curve of Doyle’s mouth, the sweetness of his smile against his own when Doyle bussed him in return.
“Now, let’s see, haven’t quite found the proper place for you yet.” He grinned with a sudden idea that harkened back to their old kitchen arrangement. “Counter’s about the right height for that lovely arse of yours.”
Doyle smirked and positioned himself back against the kitchen counter, feet spread to stabilize himself. “Like this?”
“Jeans will have to go, of course.” Bodie clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, missing the warm, wetness of burrowing into Doyle’s mouth. There would be time for that.
He undid Doyle’s zip under his partner’s watchful eye, and jerked the jeans down to his ankles. Silver and copper coins clattered to the floor, the change from Punjabi’s, no doubt. Leaving the jeans around his ankles as a soft restraint, Bodie cupped one hand under Doyle’s thick scrotum, still covered by soft cotton underpants. Doyle’s cock was rising, thickening with the stimuli and Bodie’s already interested penis swelled in unison, pushing the limits of his own trousers.
Bodie reached into the closest drawer with his other hand and pulled out the kitchen shears. Doyle sucked in a startled breath when Bodie put the blades against his skin. Two snips later and the pants were nothing but rags, their precious cargo completely unharmed.
“I’d never damage the merchandise, mate,” Bodie said, looking up at his partner from the floor.
Doyle’s smile was lazy and sweet; he hadn’t been fooled by the sharp implements. His bound wrists were almost exactly level with Bodie’s face—directly in line to kiss. Bodie pressed his lips to the trip-hammer pulse above the mound of his thumb, feeling the thrum of Doyle’s blood coursing in his artery. Such vulnerability coupled with strength—the heart beat unceasing.
Except when it was stopped by catastrophic trauma. Because Doyle’s heart had stopped once. Bodie knew that as a fact, and yet here he was again, warm, alive and real. Another thought Bodie couldn’t allow himself to dwell on. He was becoming maudlin in his old age, when he should be revelling in all that he had with Doyle.
“Master?” Doyle asked softly, clearly aware that Bodie had paused for too long.
“How do these feel?” Bodie focussed on the present, insinuating his tongue under the edge of the leather bands. The rich, heady aroma of cured leather filled his nose, along with the distinctive scent of Doyle’s sweat.
“Tight,” Doyle answered, twisting his hands as Bodie licked his right palm. “I’m very aware…but they’re different. Not at all the same as when bloody Arthur Pendle, amongst others, tied me up.”
“So—“ He’d welcome restraints from now on? Bodie trailed his tongue along the side of Doyle’s forearm toward his elbow. Good thing he’d worn a t-shirt with short sleeves. “Erotic or a damned nuisance?”
Doyle exhaled lustily when Bodie licked the inside of his elbow. “All context, innit? Very erotic.” He chuckled.
“Terrific.” Bodie straightened, quite pleased with himself.
Doyle looked wanton, his chest heaving when Bodie ran his fingers up under the edge of the t-shirt to palm his narrow waist.
“No gag today, which I know you’ll appreciate.” Bodie winked at him, locking lips with his victim because he couldn’t stay too far away for any length of time.
Doyle surged into the kiss, his bound wrists banging into Bodie’s erection with stupefying results. Bodie saw fireworks behind his eyelids and nearly came from the simple friction. Bliss, absolute desire. Yet far too soon. He was not ready to succumb to his sub’s charms so early in the play.
“This will not do. Seems we need a bit of discipline!” Bodie chastised with a bit of comic German accent.
“What’ll you do to me, Kommendant?” Doyle taunted.
“These pretty little hands are far too active.” Bodie yanked Doyle’s jeans up just enough to slide the decorative beaded belt out of the belt loops. He’d always liked the belt, been quite pleased to see Doyle wearing it to the races this morning. It fit well around his waist, with or without jeans to complement the outfit. He guided Doyle’s body around to place the belt with the buckle in the small of Doyle’s back. “Arms behind you, spy,” he added, giving the last word a little spittle.
Doyle peered over his shoulder at his captor, that challenge and reckless defiance classic Raymond Doyle.
Bodie wrapped his arms tightly around his imprisoned love, unfastening the wrist bands by feel. He thrust forward, centering his still trouser bound cock on Doyle’s anus, to establish his dominance: his ownership on that small space. “Disobedience comes with a price. Mind your manners.” Doyle stiffened in his arms, and not just his spine. That lovely erection was as rigid as a soldier at inspection.
“Didn’t know there was proper etiquette for this sort of thing,” Doyle said with a touch of temper.
Bodie jerked Doyle’s arms behind him, inserting one of the leather bands through the belt and snapping Doyle’s wrists behind him. Now he was well and firmly fettered, his ruched jeans hampering his legs from below.
“Very nice.” Bodie circled him, enjoying the way the pull of his arms enhanced Doyle’s wide chest and strong shoulders. “I could get used to this.”
“You’d have to do all the paperwork,” Doyle observed with a lift of one eyebrow that Bodie recognised as a parody of himself.
“Mock me, will you?” He pressed the ball of his thumb under Doyle’s chin, meeting his eyes. “That will get you another penalty.” He’d bought three of the leather wrist bands, knowing that he could get a lot of use out of them.
“Nuffing I can do about it,” Doyle said, wharf rat style.
“You might wish you could.” Bodie laughed craftily. The third strip of leather was in the same drawer as the scissors. Planning ahead, that’s what that was. He held it up. “Looks innocent enough, but hey presto—“ Bodie wrapped the band twice around Doyle’s thick penis, earning a stifled yelp from Doyle. The leather accented his cock quite nicely.
“That’s even tighter,” Doyle managed with a slight squeak.
“Suits you.” Bodie paused to admire his handiwork and take a bite of naan dipped in the zesty curry. He ate with enjoyment; Punjabi’s made delicious food. Doyle watched him intently. “You’d like some?” Bodie asked, pretending to be surprised.
“I did pick it up.”
“And I paid for it.” Bodie shrugged, having fun. He dipped another piece of bread into the sauce and tucked it into Doyle’s mouth. “Quite good, eh?” he said as Doyle chewed. “And a wee bit more.” Dipping his finger into the curry, he painted it onto Doyle’s bound cock.
Swallowing, Doyle gasped. Shuddering, he looked down in shock at his penis.
Bodie chuckled. The heat from the curry spices wasn’t full potency, mixed in with the other ingredients in the chicken dish, but the capsaicin still had the capacity to leave a burning sensation on sensitive skin.
“What is it with you and spices in my nether regions?” Doyle asked, mouth open and panting from what must be ever increasing heat. He flexed his arms as if he wanted to pull them out of the leather bands.
Unlike leather cuffs with a buckle or lock, it would be relatively easy for Doyle to unsnap the bands and release himself. Bodie took a step back so that he didn’t force Doyle into a situation he wasn’t comfortable with. They’d had amazing success with restraints thus far, Bodie didn’t want to jeopardize things now. “Are you still in the game?” He tried for casual but wasn’t sure how well he pulled it off. He wanted to continue, badly. His cock was struggling in the confines of his trousers and if he didn’t release it soon, he’d have to take matters into his own hand. Not what he’d planned for!
Sweat beading on his brow, Doyle widened his eyes, obviously considering whether to stay with curry heating his erection or to demand an end to their play. He gulped air, his chest heaving.
Bodie couldn’t hide the fact that he was mesmerized by his lover’s inhalations. He wanted to latch onto one of those small pink/brown nipples on Doyle’s hairy chest and bite down. Hard. It often had the effect of accelerating the game precipitously. But putting Doyle in restraints had quantified the way the game went. Bodie had to give Doyle a small measure of autonomy here because he’d been so resistant to being fettered until now.
“What’d you want me to do?” he asked, voice strained. He straightened his shoulders, surrendering to the bands—and his master. Doyle ducked his head in submission.
Bodie ran a gentle hand across his partner’s bared neck, wishing he had a collar to bind around. That would come—with time. They’d played with all sorts of minimal restraints ranging from keeping Doyle in mental restraints—unable to move unless allowed—to the memorable snaffle bit Bodie had got from a horse trainer six months earlier. A collar seemed a possible next step.
“John Thomas needs a bit of attention,” Bodie said quietly. His cock was aching, each beat of his heart echoed in his rigid member. “Take down the zip with your teeth?”
Doyle glanced up at Bodie from under his curly fringe as if considering a refusal. Breaking into a sardonic grin, he nodded once. “Least I’ll get something substantial in me mouth. Lend us a hand?”
Bodie steadied Doyle until he was kneeling, the jeans still captured around his ankles. Looking at Doyle: bound, flushed and beaming, almost brought Bodie to his knees. God, he wanted Doyle in the worst way. Hell, in any way he could have him! “Careful, sunshine. No teeth on the cockles, mind,” he said instead.
Doyle chuckled. With astonishing delicacy, he took the zipper pull in his teeth and tugged. Only a few jerks of his head brought it down. Bodie’s cock burst out immediately. Divesting himself of his boxers, Bodie leaned back against the kitchen table to give Doyle room.
Closing his lips around Bodie’s length, Doyle hummed, the vibrations sweeping through Bodie in a wave. Absolutely brilliant. He staggered when Doyle sucked hard, feeling like his cock was being drawn directly down Doyle’s throat.
“Always said you…” Bodie gulped air, reaching out blindly for something to hold on to. He grabbed Doyle’s shoulders, gripping as Doyle gave him the blow job of his life. “—had hidden talents,” Bodie managed to say, arching to bury himself ever deeper inside his lover’s mouth. He clenched, every muscle tightening as the orgasm took him over. The release was powerful, his entire body quivering as Doyle swallowed what Bodie gave him.
Sinking into a kitchen chair, Bodie pulled Doyle into the V of his bent knees.
Doyle sighed, leaning against Bodie’s thigh. “Master…”
“You are the master here, Raymond,” Bodie said truthfully. He was sure he didn’t give Doyle such fantastic oral. “And, it’s your turn now.”
Doyle smiled, the curve of his mouth tilting his eyes even more so. “Care to move to some place more conducent to a bit of a kip after?”
“You hedonist.” Bodie hauled his love to his feet, kissing him on the way up.
“As the eldest here present, I need remind you that joints stiffen,” Doyle commented, rotating his shoulders so that his bound wrists rode up his back as far as the leather belt and bands would allow. He winced, but said nothing, accepting his subjugation from his master’s hand.
“Walk ahead of me so I can admire that arse.” Bodie watched Doyle twist his wrists as if trying to find a comfortable position with a feeling akin to awe. Fiery Doyle was not usually so complacent—could there be a storm brewing sometime in the near future or had they finally found a restraint Doyle could endure?
Not wanting to force his luck, Bodie caught up with Doyle in two strides. He shoved a finger between the bands with enough force to unsnap them, releasing Doyle’s wrists.
“Ta,” Doyle said simply, turning so that he caught Bodie around the shoulders to kiss him.
A very bold move for a submissive, yet Bodie didn’t give a damn. He kissed Doyle passionately, pushing him onto the bed.
Directly in the middle of the wide open loft, the bed was situated under a skylight. The moon was peeping through the panes like a prying neighbour. Bodie tumbled over Doyle, rolling the both of them onto their backs to look up at their celestial observer.
“Man in the moon’s watching,” Bodie said into Doyle’s ear. “Wants a show, and he likes it dirty.”
“Heard that about him,” Doyle agreed conspiratorially. “I’d lie back and think of England like a good Victorian, but me willy’s been doused with curry—“
“Rendering it even tastier than under ordinary circumstances.” Bodie went onto all fours, crouching over Doyle. He couldn’t get enough of his partner like this: arms flung wide, rib cage flaring with every breath and that impossibly narrow-for-a-man waist bisected with the thin, beaded cowboy belt. “Grab the posters on the bed and hang on. Don’t let go.”
“Does it ensure I’ll get relief?” Doyle asked with puckish verve.
“Mind yourself, slave,” Bodie chastised lightly. “Or there’ll be none at all.” He stared directly at Doyle’s prominent cock. There was a smear of curry still evident, and he longed for a taster.
“Bloody hell!” Doyle shouted when Bodie went down on him, thrusting up into Bodie’s mouth.
Full of his partner’s cock, Bodie gave himself over to pleasuring Doyle. It wasn’t difficult, he knew what Doyle liked after all this time and it was fun to use his phallus like a pennywhistle. He nipped gently at tender flesh with his teeth and then blew lightly over the same spot, making Doyle tense and moan with passion. Yet, because Bodie had forbidden him, Doyle never took his hands off the bed posters.
Bodie spared a moment to admire his lover—his submissive. Doyle’s body was arched with need, his cock standing straight up as if trying to slide back into Bodie’s mouth. He panted with his mouth open, fingers clenched around the roundels at the top corners of the bed.
“Bodie!” Doyle keened.
Delighted, Bodie engulfed Doyle’s shaft smoothly, licking and sucking. He palmed Doyle’s tight sac, fingering the testes. Suddenly, he felt Doyle’s body tighten, vibrations running the full length. Doyle came forcefully, just as Bodie pulled off to let the ejaculate splatter on his hand and the bed sheets.
“You can let go now,” Bodie said very softly, moving up to ruffle Doyle’s curls.
Doyle stretched like a cat, a lazy smile on his face as he flexed his fingers and brought his arms down around Bodie. “Gets me thinking, that.”
“Should I be worried I didn’t command your full attention?” Bodie saw faint red marks on both Doyle’s wrists, minor chaffing from the leather bands, but those would fade quickly. He stroked the underside of Doyle’s wrist gently before his slave pulled away to grab a pillow.
“Nah,” Doyle smirked, stuffing the pillow behind his back. “The Queen herself would have applauded that performance.”
“Not the Queen I care about, Raymond,” Bodie said in his most uppercrust voice. “What got your cogs moving?”
“That sounds far dirtier than it ought.” Doyle sat up, avoiding the wet patch on the sheets. “Who do you think Timothy Merrill was fucking over?”
“Someone angry enough to kill,” Bodie said soberly.
Chico Barnes waved goodbye to the last of the boys leaving the gymnasium and locked the double doors. He liked the scrappy buggers from St. Dismas House: all boys from broken homes or kids without parents. He gave them judo and karate lessons for free. Didn’t pay the bills the way the posh Covington Prep and hoity-toity Kensington Boys Academy did, but the little rotters kept him sane. Reminded him of his rough and tumble childhood at Barnes Street Convent where being a foundling bastard raised by nuns wasn’t nearly as bad as being the smallest kid in school. Every single year.
He’d learned to charm his way through life, and when that didn’t work, a sneaky left hook and a deft twist of the wrist that put the bigger boys on the pavement usually sufficed. Most of the boys he’d grown up with had never expected a slight, fair haired boy would play dirty—and be so strong. Still caught most adults he encountered by surprise, as well.
Maybe that was why he’d got along with Sid Halley right from the first. Sid had the same experiences of being small and fatherless. Although his parents had been engaged to be married, his dad had died a few days shy of the wedding, and shortly before his son’s birth. Sid had channelled his energies into horses, and come out a winner until the accident that cost him his hand—and livelihood. Barnes and Halley met when a depressed Sid came to one of Chico’s free adult judo classes. They’d clicked in that indefinable way Chico could never quite explain, but he didn’t care. Their connectedness had endured through setting up their private investigation business, Trackdown, and into a deep and abiding love.
Chico hadn’t relished sliding out of their bed at the crack of dawn. He’d jogged through the viciously cold November morning thinking of Sid. But teaching impoverished nine year olds Kumi kata and the art of a move known as Jigo hontai, helped alleviate his need to give back to a place like St. Dismas. If not for priests and nuns who cared, these boys would not have a place to call home, and twenty-five years ago, he would not have either.
Nasty coffee from a corner McDonald’s had kept him awake during the class, however he wanted better stuff now. If he had any sort of luck—and he usually did—Sid would have an expensive Sumatran brew in the coffee maker and the London Times spread across the kitchen table in their flat. Possibly boiled eggs and sausage on the cooker, as well.
With that in mind, Chico jogged down the lane toward the main thoroughfare where a Pakistani family ran a bakery that was open on Sunday mornings. Sid never could quite resist freshly made scones, especially if there was clotted cream and jam to go with them.
Baked Well sat adjacent to the local Ladbrokes. Chico glanced into the window of the betting office but the place was dark. He and everyone else who’d bet on Zarathustra in the race on Saturday had received a refund from the betting window at the racetrack. The single reason he had a few quid in his pocket now. He jingled the pound coins as he went into the bakery and made his purchase. The rigors of martial arts and corralling a group of obstreperous boys had put the death at the racetrack out of his mind, but now he was reminded every where he looked. Even the other customer in the bakery had a rolled up newspaper under her arm, emblazoned with the headline, “American Jockey killed during Race!”
Who could have had reason to kill Timothy Merrill? And in such a spectacular fashion? The murder would be endlessly discussed on every racecourse, in every stable yard and on every bleeding chat programme for the next week, which had the potential to muck up the investigation.
Loitering on the corner to collect his thoughts, Chico tucked into a warm scone, scenes from the fateful race going through his mind.
“Like to place a bet?” a man said behind him.
Startled, Chico belatedly recognized the voice as he was shifting position to ram his elbow into the fellow’s gut. Rebalancing his weight, he bounced slightly on his toes, swallowing the crumb of scone in the back of his throat.
“Milty, me old son, wot you doin’ here so early?” Plastering on a genial smile, Chico turned to face hunchbacked Milton Fogg, a dodgy acquaintance from way back. They’d been dorm mates once upon a time at Barnes Street Convent. Milty wouldn’t know the straight and narrow if he tripped over it. He’d had his hand in any number of illegal activities and been in the nick often enough. “Didn’t know you were aware of daylight until the sun was at its zenith.”
Milty had always been a little slow on the uptake, and he blinked at Chico’s vocabulary. “Races start in less than an hour, Chico—have to make me bread n’honey while the sun shines.” He grinned as if he’d made a joke. “Saw you peering in at Ladbrokes. Pity they ain’t open t’day. I could take a wager for you.”
“Not interested.” Chico wanted to get home to Sid, but something about Milty set off silent alarm bells. He was sweating slightly, on a day barely seven degrees at the warmest, and had a desperate quality about him.
“You sure I can’t ‘elp you?” Milty persisted. “A couple o’guineas on rugby? Cornish Pirates or the London Scottish team?” He darted in front of Chico, preventing him from walking away. “I know you and that jockey, the bloke wif one ‘and, go to the races. Prefer the ponies, do you?” He tried for a grin, revealing two missing teeth on the right side. “Dominic Albergheti’s riding Thundergod in the second race at Sandown t’day. Worth your while, ain’t it? Just a couple a bob. He’s a sure thing, guaranteed.”
His constant patter was exhausting. Chico placed a hand on Milty’s greasy jumper, keeping him in place. “What’s put your knickers in a twist? You need to fill a quota?”
Milty couldn’t hide his surprise, nor his nervousness. Sweat poured down his temples and Chico could smell the sharp tang of his fear.
“No worries, mate. No worries, you don’ want to place a bet, I’ll take my book elsewhere.” He hopped back, waving a twitching hand at the empty street. “Just that Thundergod’ll go like a bomb. Jack’s alive, dependin’ on what you bet, perhaps more’n that by tonight.”
Other than Baked Well, there wasn’t a shop open on this end of the road, and very few people walking out in the cold air. No-one to overhear them—or keep an eye on Milty.
“Who you working for, Milty?” Chico asked more seriously.
Milty tittered, pulling a face that didn’t convince Chico in the least. “Got a source, y’know, a bookmaker who relies on me to pull in the wagers, don’ I? Wot about that Thundergod, then?”
What was five pounds? Chico produced his remaining coins, placing them in Milty’s hand. “I’m off to the races this afternoon, so how ‘bout five on American football?” He knew little about the game, except that he and Sid had gone to an exhibition game between the newly formed London Ravens team and—what was the name of the American team? “New York Jets.”
“Yeah, yeah, they’ve a match today as a matter of fact!” Milty said so brightly that Chico didn’t believe he knew a thing about the team’s rota. “Fiver to win then?”
“Yeah.” Chico grabbed Milty’s scrawny arm, pulling him up against the outside wall of Ladbrokes. Milty was taller by several inches, but as skinny as a yogi on a diet of air. “And a bit of info, my lad. Who you working for?”
“B-belmonti,” Milty admitted, sucking on his bottom lip.
“Luigi Belmonti?” Chico clarified with a tightening in his belly. Worse luck. “Belmonti’s the mob, old son. Wot possessed you to go in with his lot?”
“Need to eat, don’ I?” His shoulders around his ears, emphasizing the twist in his spine, Milty seemed to deflate. “You got away from this life, Chico, don’t fink you’re so ‘igh and migh’y.”
Flummoxed, Chico stepped back. “I just—“ He thrust the bag of scones into Milty’s hands. “Want to help. You get into a jam, Milty, you know where to come, yeah?”
Milty peered into the bag with a fleeting expression of joy. He took one out, eating half of it ravenously. “Trackdown.” He nodded. “You done all right, Chico—better’n the rest of us.”
Chico accepted the compliment with a nod, walking toward the turning to the lane where he and Sid shared a flat in an old Victorian. He hadn’t thought that he’d accomplished all that much in his life, but he’d never felt so desperate to make ends meet that he’d worked for the mob. In fact, while he’d scrabbled for money many’s the time, he’d always found a job—even if a few of them had been slightly shady. Sobering thoughts crowded out any ideas on Merrill’s death.
Chico let himself into the flat and stood for a moment to gaze silently at Sid. Cigarette smoke curled lazily around Halley’s head like an unlikely halo. He was talking on the phone, leaning back in his chair, oblivious to Chico. As expected, the table was strewn with the London Times, a cup of coffee weighing down on corner of a full page devoted to Merrill’s murder.
This was exactly who and what had brought order and decency into Chico’s life. He wasn’t sure where he’d have been if not for Sid. He’d never had to stoop as low as Milty Fogg, but he wasn’t sure that he’d have been so successful on his own: half ownership of a private investigations firm, the freedom to teach judo for gratis--without Sid Halley by his side.
Incredible love swept through him. Chico was not usually given to romantic clap-trap but he was caught flat-footed with an urge to fit his hand around the curve of Sid’s head. The desire to feel the close cropped curl at the nape of Sid’s neck tickled his palm and Chico wiggled his fingers, resisting the need. Sid wouldn’t approve, especially when he was on the phone.
With one ear to Sid’s side of the conversation, Chico nipped into the kitchen to fry up the rasher of bacon already in the pan waiting for him. He added some slices of thick bread to the bacon fat and made scrambled eggs in another pan. Breakfast was ready to dish out into plates when Sid came in.
“Wondered when you’d arrive,” Sid said by way of a greeting, brushing the back of his flesh hand against Chico’s wrist.
Nearly an embrace by Sid Halley standards. If Chico wasn’t overly demonstrative, Sid was even less so. Both chose their moments to show their love, and Chico held each and every one since that first tumble into bed deep in his soul.
Chico grinned and twisted around to plant a kiss on his lover’s lips. “Talking to Old Robert, were you?”
Robert Carson and sons, highly successful horse trainers, were a font of gossip and information. Old Robert was in his nineties and still got up before the sun rose to watch the horses on their early morning gallops. His son, Robert Two, did most of the horse training, along with the third generation, Young Robbie. Chico always chuckled when referring to Young Robbie, because the man was older than he was. Various other Carson family members were all involved in horse racing in some manner or other; if there was news in the racing community, the Carsons generally were the first to know.
“Robert Two’s trained all Sir Wendell’s horses, including Zarathustra. He wasn’t at the track because he’d gone to Hexham up north,” Sid explained, bringing the plates to the table. “His granddaughter is lead groom at Kempton.”
“Specifically in charge of Sir Wendell’s ‘orses, or employed by the racetrack?” As Chico had hoped, the coffee was expensive, dark and rich. He practically inhaled half the cup before sitting down.
“She works for Kempton racetrack,” Sid replied, eating a forkful of eggs.
“I did see our Mags leading Zara away sometime after the race. She looked as spooked as the ‘orse.”
“With good reason. Apparently she had—“ Sid paused to chew his food with a slight smirk. “As Robert would say, dallied with Timothy Merrill.”
“They were seein’ each other?”
“Not currently, but had spent some time together last summer.” Sid shrugged. “Robert didn’t like the boy, which doesn’t seem to square with what Sir Wendell said. He claimed that Merrill had a great future, very successful. According to Robert, Merrill had some less than stellar qualities.”
“Smoke weed?” Chico mimed taking a drag on a joint, well aware of Robert Carson’s opinions on jockeys indulging in drug taking behaviour. “Or drink to excess?”
“I have a strong suspicion that he bet on his own rides, although Robert didn’t elaborate.”
“Oh-ho, could be banned from the sport for that!” Chico rested his forearms on the table, staring at two newsprint pictures of the jockey in question. In the first, Merrill was standing beside his father, the American ambassador. Both Merrills were small of stature, with slender builds and dark, smooth caps of hair. The father had grey streaks at his temples and was wearing thick black glasses, but their resemblance was uncanny. In the second picture, Timothy Merrill was astride an unnamed horse, beaming. “If so, he was risking everything.”
“Sussed that one out for yourself, did you?” Tipping his cup to his mouth, Sid regarded Chico with such fondness, his dark eyes the exact colour of the coffee he was drinking. He raised his eyebrows, his lips curving up at the corners over the edge of the cup.
A wave of arousal flushed through Chico, swelling his cock. He needed Sid naked, now.
“Oh, by the by.” Sid set down the cup and wiped his mouth with a napkin as if just remembering something. “Cowley rang while you were out. We’re expected at CI5 headquarters in under an hour.” He stood, glancing down at the watch on his right wrist.
“Wha…” Chico sputtered, his erection robbing him of his powers of speech. “John Sidney ‘Alley, how can you wind me up and then leave me ‘anging like that?”
“Did nothing of the sort.” Sid snorted inelegantly. He walked toward their bedroom, talking over his shoulder. “I’ve been a jockey for nearly half my life—if I can’t mount a ride and finish quickly, I’d never have made it in the business.”
“I like that!” Chico groused. “Referred to as a ride, and given short shrift---“ He crossed the distance to the bedroom door in two strides. “I’ll have a word with you, squire!”
Sid didn’t let him speak. He covered Chico’s mouth with his own, kissing him for a good long while. Left even less time for the main event, but Chico didn’t mind a bit. He still had both hands to pull his track suit bottoms down.
After Cowley’s summons, a stop at his flat for a change of clothes, and the subsequent ride to CI5, Doyle ruminated on what Bodie had done to him the previous night. He wouldn’t say he’d truly liked being restrained with leather, but there was no denying he’d been quite turned on. Never once did he flash back to past obbos spent tied up with twine in mouldy cellars or flats equipped with bombs about to go off.
On the whole, he’d enjoyed himself vastly, which was a revelation. He’d spent most of the day, before, during and after Merrill’s murder, nervously anticipating the worst. Why he’d feared the cuffs was inextricably tangled up with his father’s abuse and drunken neglect, along with his dangerous life as an agent.
Did he want to do that again was the main question. Bodie had always given Doyle his head, all the while pushing the envelope with every one of their sessions. And it wasn’t as if they indulged in kink all the time. Usually, their alone time was as ordinary as a pint at their local and a cuddle in bed. So why did it feel like they’d reached some sort of pinnacle?
“You with me?” Bodie asked casually when they both got out of the Capri. “Seemed like you were on some far planet and I was going to have to hop aboard that American space shuttle and retrieve you.”
“Missed your flight.” Doyle smiled at him. Bodie had on a blue shirt under his brown leather jacket, and the autumnal wind was ruffling the hair on the crown of his head. He looked—good enough to eat. Pity they had to spend the bulk of the day dealing with the aftermath of the racetrack assassination. “I’m not up on when the space shuttle flies, but I think it was in the summer.”
“Have to thumb a ride, then,” Bodie said into his ear, as intimately as if they were alone in the flat instead of on the pavement outside the building. “I’d find you where ever you were hiding.”
What could have sounded almost menacing with the slight growl in Bodie’s voice instead poured pure love and adoration into Doyle’s soul.
“Don’t plan on hiding from—“ Doyle began, interrupted when Halley and Barnes came around the corner. They were laughing, Chico elbowing Sid over something he must have said.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” Bodie said. He reached out to shake Sid’s hand, then Chico’s.
“Morning,” Chico said pleasantly, what little sun there was throwing highlights in his dark blond curls. He had a tartan scarf wrapped twice around his neck in deference to the wind and a black leather jacket.
“I’ve got one nearly the same,” Doyle tugged on Chico’s scarf. “Should have worn it.”
“You left off the motorcycle leathers, as well, I see,” Chico flicked a glance at his wrists. “I used to have bands like those, when I first got the bike.”
Had he realized the real significance of the leather bracelets, Doyle wondered. Chico often picked up on the minutia others overlooked. Early on, when they’d occasionally crossed paths at martial arts competitions for primary school kids, he’d sussed that Doyle worked for a government agency without being told.
“I see Cowley called in both the first string and the second,” Halley said with a self-deprecating smile. He took a last puff on a cigarette, dropped it into the gutter and ground it out with his heel.
“We may be on the Queen’s payroll, but you’ve got the racing smarts.” Bodie mockingly bowed to the ex-jockey. “Learn anything new?”
“About to ask you the same thing,” Sid countered.
“We’ve been to an art show, met an aspiring young painter who’s painted some winning horses.” Bodie held open the front door, ushering the group inside. “Has quite a temper.”
“Nice paintings, though,” Doyle put in, rubbing the inside of his left wrist. He was sure he could still feel the smooth leather band against his flesh.
“Poxy faced?” Chico asked. “I saw him shouting at one of the grooms once, because he wanted a specific angle and the ‘orse wasn’t standing still enough. Forgotten that until just now.”
Sid glanced at him with an expression of surprise. “Didn’t know you had met Hastings.”
“Just saw him, like you done.” Chico poked his partner’s arm. “At that charity event in the summer, put on by the Injured Jockeys. Remember? There was a silent raffle with art. One was a great large canvas by this ‘Astings.”
“That’s right.” Halley nodded. “Probably five hundred people attended. And there was a television crew.”
“They interviewed you. A poor injured jockey found a new career.” Chico mimed a director framing Sid’s face with both hands. “Sid ‘Alley’s moment of glory.”
“I saw that programme!” Bodie said with a laugh. “On Sports Chat.”
“You’ll have your moment of reflected glory later on, my son,” Sid warned with a twinkle in his eye, shaking a forefinger at Chico.
“Could his temper have landed him in hot water with one of the owners?” Doyle mused. He’d watched the chat on the lawn at Ascot race course as well. Fascinating to see someone he thought of as a friend on the telly.
“Alternatively, we’ve learned that Merrill might be—“ Halley said, following Bodie and Doyle into Cowley’s office suite. He broke off seeing a man talking to Cowley in the inner office doorway.
“Merrill,” Doyle and Chico said at the same moment.
“Senior,” Bodie added with a tilt of his left eyebrow.
“4.5, 3.7, come,” Cowley called out when he caught sight of them. He opened the door for Merrill. “Good, good, Misters Halley and Barnes, too. Then we can begin.”
When they’d all trooped inside and found places to sit or stand, Cowley made introductions to Ambassador Merrill. The man looked weary and far older than the photo in the London Times, Doyle thought. His eyes were reddened behind thick black glasses and his shoulders slumped as if barely remaining upright under a terrible burden. There was no sign of the diplomat he must be under normal circumstances, with the ability to deal with international crises and Americans stranded without their passports on foreign soil with equal ease.
Doyle leaned against a bookcase on the back wall, one of his usual places: it afforded a good view of the entire room and was closest to the door in the necessity of a quick exit. Merrill had taken one chair and Sid the other, leaving Chico propped against the hatstand. Bodie stood solidly behind the two chairs, arms crossed over his chest.
“I’m so sorry we have to meet under such dreadful circumstances,” Sid said for all of them, shaking Merrill’s hand. His own false left hand was tucked out of sight in the pocket of his Burberry. “I only met your son yesterday morning but I’d heard excellent things about his racing prowess.”
“Thank you, Mr Halley,” Merrill said formally.
Doyle was no expert on American accents; the Ambassador wasn’t southern, that much he could ascertain. Possibly from the western part of that vast country?
“Of course,” Merrill went on, “Tim really looked up to jockeys like you. I saw you race some years ago, before…” He stopped, gesturing vaguely at Sid’s left arm as nearly everyone did.
“We met Tim’s partner Allie Hastings last night,” Bodie said, barrelling over the sudden awkward pause. “Went to his exhibit.”
Doyle noticed Cowley leaning forward, one finger poised against his chin, obviously intrigued.
“He was quite disturbed—shocked-- by Tim’s murder.” Bodie walked around the chairs to perch on Cowley’s desk. “And became strangely irritated when we started asking questions about the business—what was the name?”
As if Bodie had actually forgotten. A stalling ploy to gauge Merrill’s reactions.
Doyle could just see the older man’s profile. He frowned, but there was no sign of outrage or anger, just abject grief.
“Picture Perfect,” Merrill said with a shake of his head. “I was never sure about that. He and Allie were good friends, but neither of them had ever taken on such an ambitious project. They were both—naïve.” He spread his hands helplessly. “Something, I’m not sure what, got them in over their heads.”
“Could you hazard a guess?” Cowley asked, placing his hands flat on a folder on his desk.
Probably containing gruesome pictures no father would ever want to see of his son, Doyle suspected. Chico Barnes grimaced, rubbing his nose as if he could still smell the blood. Doyle sympathised. It was the worst part of their business—that they frequently had to deal with dead bodies.
“I—“ Merrill sighed, wiping his palms on his expensive brown cashmere trousers. “I have my suspicions.”
“Man, if you want us to solve your son’s murder, you’ll have to come clean!” Cowley came out of his chair and half over the desk, his fury driving Merrill back as if he’d been struck.
“I have no proof!” Merrill said weakly, tugging nervously on his tie.
“Did it involve betting?” Sid asked almost blandly, in direct opposition to Cowley’s emotion.
“Did he bet on his own rides?” Chico came in on the tail of his partner’s statement.
Both of them knew something, Doyle realised.
Merrill let out a long, pent up breath, visibly deflating. “He—he’s always liked to place bets. Football, baseball. It’s not legal in the US, but here, it’s so easy. He’d put fifty or one hundred pounds down on an American sport and then fly home to catch the actual game.” Merrill wiped sweat off his upper lip. “It was getting expensive, his trust fund dwindling week by week.”
“Trust fund?” Cowley demanded, still sounding annoyed.
“The Haversham side of the family. Set up by his mother—she died years ago.”
“So he didn’t win regularly?” Bodie asked.
“He won as often as anyone might.” Merrill shrugged. “In the beginning. Then recently, he seemed to not only have money but wads of cash. I found some in his…” He broke off raggedly, tears in his eyes. But the man was a politician, aware of his public image. He blinked at the tears, taking off his glasses to thumb the wetness from one eye. More composed, he smoothed his tie. “Tim had one thousand in American greenbacks in his room, in an envelope. And tucked behind, over nine hundred pounds.”
“Were you aware he carried that much cash on him?” Doyle spoke up finally, relinquishing his spot by the door to join in the discussion. He walked to the other side of Cowley’s desk, opposite Bodie.
“No!” Merrill said vehemently. He raised his hands in defeat. “I realise that my job has kept me away much of the time during Tim’s early teenage years, but I thought I knew him. Now I begin to wonder if I just knew a side he was allowing me to see.”
“When did his mother die?” Sid asked quietly. He lit a cigarette, tucking it between his lips for a puff.
“Some months before he came—here,” Merrill pointed down to the floor. “To England as an exchange student. She’d had cancer for years. I thought the change in scenery: new friends, new experiences, would do him good.” He glanced around the room briefly as if suddenly remembering who he was talking to and sat up straighter. “I was the ambassador to Kharistan until seven years ago when Laura, my wife, became so ill that she required the kind of medical treatments we could only get in the US, so we moved back to California. But I was in and out of the country doing various political jobs for President Ford, in particular, much of the time. I missed a lot of Tim’s growing up, which I truly…” His face tightened up and he pursed his lips, gathering his emotions. “Regret.”
“Do you know many of Tim’s friends and contacts other than this Hastings?” Cowley asked shrewdly.
“Only those I have met in the racing world.” Merrill ran his fingers down his tie reflexively. “The political world and the racing people mix more than you would expect. I’ve attended many functions where Tim had been invited because of his connections.”
“Gettin’ back to the money you found,” Chico spoke up. “Either he won a proper packet a’honey or he was payin’ somebody off, I reckon.”
Because of the crowded room, Doyle and the others turned toward him instead of waiting for him to walk around to Cowley’s desk.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Merrill replied, stiffening as if under attack.
“Was ‘e an equal oppertun’ty betting man, or only the American sports?” Chico questioned, still lounging against the hatstand but with an alert intensity that belied his casual pose.
Doyle noticed Sid’s eyes slide over to Chico. Halley was obviously curious where his partner was leading the conversation.
“He particularly liked rugby,” Merrill said. He looked at the other men, and relaxed his defensive posture, apparently realising they were only trying to get at the truth. “And cricket—a game I never have gotten the hang of, despite living in England and Kharistan, but I suppose he caught the bug from Allie when they were roommates.” Merrill frowned, wrinkling his nose at the smoke from Halley’s fag. “What does this help with finding his killer? I’m…inundated with reporters insinuating all sorts of rumours, including that he and –“
Sid reached over to Cowley’s desk and put out his cigarette in the ashtray.
“What?” Doyle coaxed gently.
“One bastard called my office, asked my secretary if Tim and Allie were—“ He shook his head, shame colouring his cheeks. “A couple.”
“Oh,” Sid abruptly, blunting that avenue of discussion. “Rubbish. Chico, did you have a point to all this?”
“Wonder if Mr Merrill knew the places—or names of blokes that our Tim did ‘is betting with?” Chico asked, his expression one of guileless interest without a trace of malice.
“Excellent inquiry,” Cowley said emphatically. “Merrill, we need solid leads.”
“I’m sure he goes to Ladbrokes, that sort of thing…” Merrill said.
Doyle was certain he detected a hint of evasiveness in the man’s voice. Before he could get a word in, Chico spoke up again.
“Would you know of Luigi Belmonti?” Chico asked.
Bodie silently mouthed “Belmonti?” at Doyle, his eyes bright with intrigue.
They’d never tangled with the mobster, but Doyle had heard of him. He’d been arrested by the Met any number of times for racketeering and mafia related crimes, but few if any had ever stuck. The man was slipperier than an eel.
“Of course, he’s an Italian olive oil importer, well connected. I’ve met him at the Italian embassy,” Merrill answered.
“I’ll say he’s connected,” Bodie whistled. “Did your son do business with him?”
“I doubt Tim knew him at all,” Merrill began. He paused, thinking. “Although, Belmonti was at that garden party thing last summer for the Injured Jockey Fund.” He focused on Halley with a smile of recognition. ”You were there—the honoured guest, but I had to leave before we could shake hands.”
“Very unfortunate,” Sid murmured, “that it took until now for us to meet.”
“It’s come to my attention that Belmonti runs a prof’table book outside the normal betting organisations,” Chico explained, smiling grimly. “If your son knew ‘im, and it sounds quite possible that ‘e did, our Tim could’ve been in a dangerous game.”
Merrill drew in a noisy breath, paling. “Do you think this Belmonti could have---?” He trailed off, one hand tugging at the bottom of his tie. “Mr Cowley, you must apprehend this man at once! Detain him and interrogate him. I will call in FBI, CIA to help, but—“
“Now, man, we’ve got absolutely no proof on Belmonti at this time.” Cowley held up a hand when Merrill started to interrupt. “We have to investigate all leads, Mr Merrill—and new information could come to light, but presently, this is speculation.” He gave Chico the gimlet eye to silence any more of this sort of conjecture. “I am interested in something you mentioned early on—that your son used to go regularly back to the States to attend sporting matches. How often did he do this? Did you have a private conveyance or was he using commercial airlines?”
Which CI5 could access to get flight records and passenger manifests, Doyle realised. Crafty old Cowley.
“He always flew Atlantica Air,” Merrill said with a sad, fond smile. “I used to tease him about liking the air hostesses, especially a girl named Nora.”
“Do you know her surname?” Bodie asked casually.
“No, but I’ve seen her many times getting off the plane. Pretty, with dark hair and eyes.” Merrill tapped his fingers on his thumb as if counting back. “I’d say he went at least four or more times in the last couple months—particularly to watch the San Francisco Giants, and he went to the World Series a month ago.”
Halley nodded absently, his dark eyes almost hooded as he listened. Since meeting Sid, Doyle had come to know that the investigator had a keen ear; he could often remember the fine points of a conversation without writing anything down.
“I used to send the diplomatic pouch with him,” Merrill continued. “far more secure than sending certain vital communiqués through the mail or by Army transport.”
For a moment, Doyle was sure they were all struck dumb. Bodie nearly chuckled, but caught himself. Chico rolled his eyes and Sid briefly closed his. They understood what a crucial piece of information this was about the growing enigma named Timothy Merrill, even if his father clearly did not.
“Was your son in the diplomatic corps?” Cowley regained his voice, picking up a gold fountain pen to scratch a note on a legal pad.
Merrill seemed surprised at the question but he answered calmly enough. “No, but we’d had some trouble back when I was in Kharistan, so I frequently used my closest staff or family when possible to take things back and forth to the US.”
Doyle cleared his throat, well aware that he could be on very treacherous ground. “Did Tim ever open the pouch, or possibly put anything inside?”
Merrill frowned, his eyebrows low, clearly angered. “Of course not!” he snapped. “Tim was raised in the diplomatic world, he understood that the pouch was secure and sacrosanct, to carry documents intended for specific members of the government…”
“Churchill himself imported Cuban cigars in the diplomatic pouch,” Cowley said mildly without looking up at Merrill.
“I highly resent your implications.” Merrill stood, abruptly concluding the meeting. “I demand that your office co-operate fully with American authorities in all matters and bring my son’s murderer to justice with all speed. If I suspect malfeasance–“
“Mr Merrill.” With an aura of menace, Bodie took a step closer to the ambassador, almost crowding him. “We’ll get to the bottom of this and arrest the culprit, but we don’t shrink from the hard questions. If you can’t handle finding out what your son may or may not have been mixed up with then don’t—“
Merrill bristled, an aging bantam cock next to Bodie’s broad shouldered youth.
“Bodie,” Cowley said sharply.
Doyle bit down on his lip, both amused and irritated by the play of testosterone. They didn’t need this in a murder investigation. Bodie’s eyes glittered with anger, but he backed down, muttering under his breath. Doyle completely sympathised, they’d never got on well with the FBI.
“We will pursue an honest and above board inquiry into the tragic death of Timothy Merrill, and share with the American authorities, but—“ Cowley stood too, walking around the desk without a hint of his gammy leg, “make no mistake, Ambassador, this happened on our watch, on our soil, and will be our investigation.”
“My office will be in contact with yours,” Merrill said formally and stalked out.
“Touched a nerve, I’d say,” Chico said, commandeering Merrill’s vacant chair.
“Aye.” Cowley scrubbed at his face with a rueful expression. “I knew the man was on a tightrope of emotion. When I spoke with him yesterday, he was stricken with grief. Today was an improvement, but getting him to suspect that his son had a hand in illegal operations—“ He shook his head. “There are far too many variables at this time.”
“You know,” Bodie said slowly. “Seems like there was a convergence of…” He frowned as if unable to come up with the right word.
“Involved parties?” Doyle finished with a smile meant only for his partner.
“Touche.” Bodie flourished a forefinger at him. “At this function last summer where Halley was interviewed.”
“Ah, good thinking, 3.7.” Cowley brightened. “Halley, you mentioned you had contacts with that race announcer, Niall Flynn?”
“Yes, Chico and I spoke with him last evening,” Sid replied. “He saw someone on the roof of the grandstand, but not a man with a rifle aimed at Merrill’s head.”
“Oh?” Cowley looked hopeful. He pushed his glasses up his nose.
“Flynn’s bang on at describing ‘orses, but he’s less precise when it comes to human beings,” Chico added. “Said the shooter looked like double oh seven ‘imself.”
“James Bond?” Doyle clarified with a laugh, imagining a shadowy 007, gun held at the ready as he did in the opening credits to the movies.
“Which Bond?” Bodie perched on the window ledge, arms folded over his chest. “Connery, Lazenby or—“
“Moore.” Sid raised his good hand above his head to indicate height. “Tall, dark haired, even features. Not much to go on and we’re not even positive he was the shooter. Could have been anyone with clearance to be up there.”
“That’s easily ascertained,” Cowley said dismissively. “I’ll have 6.5 get a list of employees, jockeys and animal handlers on the track that day. We must find a solid lead to the shooter. I’d also like to view the film from that summer event, to get a glimpse of Merrill, Hastings and even this Belmonti, if possible, in situ.”
“I’ll ring up Niall,” Sid volunteered. “It was a BBC film crew; they’d still have the tape and could probably send it over here this afternoon.”
“We’ll reconvene after lunch, then.” Cowley gave a decisive nod.
The fare was a ploughman’s lunch at the pub around the corner from CI5. Used to rationing himself, even though he hadn’t ridden as a professional jockey in years, Sid Halley ate the boiled egg and cheese with judicious sips of Guinness. Leaving the rest on his plate whilst he went to put a call into Niall, he came back to the table to find Chico popping the last pickled onion into his mouth.
“You nicked my onion!” he declared, poking his finger into Chico’s ribs.
Both Doyle and Bodie immediately hid grins behind glasses of dark beer.
“Yeah, I did,” Chico responded without an ounce of remorse. “Delicious. Could do with a few more.”
Chuckling, Bodie tossed his leftover onions. Chico opened his mouth, managing to catch one on his tongue.
“You should take that performance on Benny Hill,” Sid said dryly, sitting down next to Doyle.
“You talk to Niall Flynn?” Bodie asked, chewing on the last sausage, which he had filched from Doyle’s plate.
“He’s happy to dig out the tape from last August and have it couriered over to Cowley,” Sid answered. “I expect he thinks this ameliorates him not having seen Mr Bond clearly.”
Several people at the bar cheered, calling out encouragement for the horses running on the TV screen. The races from Sandown; Sid recognised the curve of the track, not to mention the plantings past the rail.
“Bugger,” Chico said ruefully. “We’ve missed the first race.”
“And the start of the second, as well, unless I miss my guess.” Doyle pointed to the horse out front. “Isn’t that one Thundergod?”
“Albergheti’s ridden him several times recently. He’s had an amazing streak of wins.” Sid nodded, focusing on the telly. A tiny thrill ran through him, as it did nearly every time he watched a race, sure he could feel the powerful animal under him. He yearned to be hunched over Thundergod’s neck, racing down that track.
Dominic Albergheti seemed almost part of the horse, his body moving in perfect sync as they flew over hurdles. Thundergod lived up to his hyperbolic name: he was magnificent, running with confident joy, leaping over the last fence clearly ahead of the second place horse.
“He won!” Bodie cried, pounding the table. “Too bad none of us put down a wager.”
“I nearly did this morning,” Chico muttered. “Never thought Thundergod had it in ‘im, first time we saw him run.”
“He’s not much to look at,” Sid agreed. “But really come into his own these last few months.”
“Does that happen often?” Bodie asked, propping his chin on his fist. He lazily reached over and took Doyle’s wedge of cheese.
“I was saving that!” Doyle smacked his hand, breaking off a chunk.
Bodie stuffed the bit he’d pilfered into his mouth.
Sid smiled inwardly, amused by their antics. He really enjoyed working with the CI5 agents. They had far more complex and quite possibly deadly obbos than what he and Chico generally had to investigate, but they were good, solid lads. He’d suspected that they had a true partnership like his and Chico’s, one of deep abiding love, but had never got confirmation. They certainly acted as close and interdependent as he and Chico did.
“Do horses improve?” Sid responded to Bodie’s earlier question. “Of course, just that some seem to win steadily and others burst onto the scene like rock stars. Others plod along, winning every once in a while, but…”
“Thundergod never won a race in his career until—oh, September, yeah?” Chico squinted in memory.
“I’d say that’s about right,” Sid agreed, thinking back to seeing Thundergod as a fresh horse barely able to keep up with the pack on the course.
“Who trains him?” Bodie asked. “Perhaps his performance improved with a different method or—“
“Sid,” Chico said suddenly, setting his beer glass down on the table with a thump. “Candlemas.”
Sid’s heart accelerated nearly as fast as if he’d actually been riding a horse across the finish line. Now they were onto something. He sat back a moment, holding up his finger to indicate he was thinking. What did Thundergod and Candlemas have in common? Trainers, riders, stable lads, who else had access to a horse, and who could possibly influence the horse’s abilities? And did this have bearing on Timothy Merrill’s murder?
“What about Candlemas?” Doyle asked.
“He died,” Bodie put in with a frown.
“Algernon Hastings,” Doyle said with a look that said he was thinking almost as furiously as Sid.
“I know this is the place where you need someone ask, wot ‘bout Allie ‘Astings?” Chico raised his beer in a salute with a cheeky grin.
“When we questioned him at his show, he tossed us out after Bodie mentioned--”
“Candlemas,” Bodie answered for him.
“Now that we’ve all ‘stablished which ‘orse we’re talking about.” Chico grinned. “Wot’s this got to do with our Tim? Or Thundergod?”
“I may be able to shed some light on that, though it might take a while,” Sid said.
“I’ll pick up another few pints if there’s money in it,” Chico suggested.
“There’s no free lunch,” Bodie moaned good naturedly, pulling out a fiver.
Chico got up and ambled to the bar. Sid used the interval to sort out his thoughts. Pieces began to fit themselves together by the time Chico came back with the beer.
“Candlemas shone as brightly as his name suggests for a very short period of time,” Sid explained, taking his glass. “He was a star and then died on the night before a highly publicised race. He’d suffered an aneurysm. Simply dropped dead.”
“Is that common?” Doyle asked.
“No, and Alexander Fitzhugh, his owner—who also owns Thundergod-- screamed foul from the first.” Sid fiddled with the cigarettes in his pocket but didn’t bring one out. It was times like these when his prosthetic hand weighed heavily in his pocket. A normal man, with two hands, could have brought both out; gestured as he spoke, even drunk beer and smoked at the same time. Sid couldn’t get himself to do that in a public place. “Had a necropsy done, but the vet couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary—no poisons or drugs that he could recognise.”
“If there’s anything we’ve ever learned,” Bodie said thoughtfully, glancing at Doyle to include him in the statement, “is that you have to specifically look for those kinds of things. If they’re new or not expected, the scientific blokes either don’t know what to look for or they have no test to use.”
Chico nodded, nursing his drink while he listened.
“Very true, and similar to what Alexander Fitzhugh was told. He was sure something had been done to Candlemas.” Sid sipped his drink to moisten his throat. He loved the deep richness of a good Guinness and this one satisfied on all fronts. “He’s trained numerous spectacular horses in his time. Thundergod seems to have risen to the fore in recent months exactly the same way.”
“Hastings’ assistant, Trimble, said that Candlemas’ owner couldn’t handle having the painting around, so it was sold last night,” Bodie explained.
“I knows ‘Astings’ done a painting of Thundergod, too,” Chico commented.
“Why do you not tell me these things?” Sid demanded, slightly piqued.
“’Ow was I t’know it’d be relevant?” Chico countered. “At that summer party, the one that suspiciously keeps comin’ up in conversation. ‘Astings was to be doin’ a demonstration, yeah? Painting the ‘orse wif an audience, and started in on the poor sod brought Thundergod over.”
“The penny dropped,” Doyle remarked, running his finger around the rim of his beer glass. It made an eerie noise that was audible even over the barflys cheering for the next race on the telly. “Just how many horses has Algernon Hastings painted, and have any others come to a bad end?”
“More to the point,” Bodie said. “Did he paint Zarathustra, and if this trail leads from Tim Merrill to Allie Hastings, how does their business fit in?”
“According to Sir Wendell, Zara’s owner, he has not commissioned a painting of his horse,” Sid recalled the discussion he’d had with Jeffries minutes after the murder.
“Still, there’s definitely some connection between Picture Perfect and Merrill’s death,” Bodie continued.
“Then there’s that Merrill quite obviously bet on the wrong sport or race at some point and possibly was mixed up with Belmonti,” Sid said soberly.
“It’s going on half past one.” Doyle held out his wrist to show his watch. “We’d best get back to Cowley before he sends Murphy and Jax out after us.”
Chico had eaten far too many onions. As they left the pub, he bought a dairy milk bar in the shop next door to get rid of the aftertaste.
When they arrived back in Cowley’s officer, there was a portable screen set up and several more chairs than had been there earlier. Chico chewed the last bit of Cadbury’s as he, Sid, Bodie and Doyle found seats for their matinee.
“Your breath stinks,” Sid whispered as they sat down.
Chico had to stifle the urge to smack him and bared his chocolatey teeth at his partner.
“Your mate, Flynn, proved quite useful,” Cowley commented with a slight smile. “Let’s hope watching this film is equally beneficial.” He nodded at his secretary who was operating the projector. “Betty, the lights, and we’re ready to begin.”
“This was a charity event in August to raise funds for the Injured Jockey Fund,” Sid explained quickly when the lights went out. “The usual sort of thing. One hundred fifty pounds for a plate of chicken and mash, a silent auction, meet the celebrity…”
“Sid weren’t the only one there,” Chico added as the first images appeared on the screen, an overview of the entire racetrack with a large tent where the food was served, a children’s game area, a paddock for the horses and tables displaying the items to be auctioned. “The news presenter, Carole Chapel, and one of the page 3 girls, as well.”
“Oh, did you get her autograph?” Bodie chuckled.
“Too right!” Chico laughed, remembering the way she’d leaned into him with her impressive cleavage.
“Quiet, quiet!” Cowley scolded. “Halley, would you point out young Merrill and Hastings?”
What they had was apparently raw footage that had not been edited into a shorter segment for the BBC news. There were several shots of Niall Flynn standing in front of various locations, giving a quick intro that could be used for different news programmes throughout the day. Long pans of the crowd enjoying their day were interrupted by brief shots of important people and more than one ogle at the page 3 girl. Chico caught a few glimpses of Belmonti amongst the hoi polloi but he seemed on his best behaviour. No sign of the mob threatening Britain’s aristocracy.
“There’s Merrill,” Sid said finally, pointing to the screen. “Betty, is it possible to roll the film back a few frames?”
She did so and stopped the projector so that they could all get a good look at the young man. Small, dark and spare, he had a winning smile. He was carrying two glasses of champagne, caught in mid-stride. When the film started rolling again, Chico watched eagerly, as if he had not been to the actual event. He almost felt like he was at the cinema watching a story he didn’t know the ending to.
“And that’s Algernon Hastings,” Doyle called out.
Betty again adjusted the film reel so the people walked in slow motion. “He’s sweet,” she said for the first time.
“Looks ratty if you ask me,” Chico grumbled. He didn’t know why he’d never liked the painter’s pale, pointy little face. Possibly because the one time he’d even seen him in the flesh, Hastings had been shouting cruel invectives at the stable lad.
On film, Merrill walked over to his partner with the champagne and gave it to a beautiful girl with thick brown hair pulled back with a jewelled clip. Hastings chatted briefly with the two of them and then pointed to a slender lad leading a large horse to one corner of the paddock. There was a paint box and easel set up near the fence. Several people were gathered farther away, obviously ready to watch the artist at work.
“Must be Thundergod?” Bodie asked.
“Yes,” Sid answered.
Because the lights were out, it was too dim to see Sid’s expression, but Chico knew the sound of his voice. There were days, even weeks, when the wistfulness got to be too much for Sid. He’d never stop yearning for his other hand, to be gripping the reins of a racehorse barrelling down the track. Chico had to nip this in the bud before it spiralled into all out depression. He needed to come up with a plan once they left Cowley’s office or Sid would be hell to live with.
More film of the racing world elite, titled folk, Shawna Moore, the page 3 girl, and a cameo by Ambassador Merrill chatting with Sir Edward Percy, the head of the Injured Jockey Fund; all hobnobbing and drinking champers. Just as Niall Flynn announced that he was going to interview “well known ex-jockey Sid Halley,” the camera caught Algernon Hastings in full on fury.
“Bloody hell!” he shouted at the cowed stable lad trying to keep Thundergod in position. “Can you do nothing right?” He jumped up, lunging at the boy. Thundergod squealed at the sudden move, rearing in terror. ”Turn the fucking horse around into that patch of light or I’ll have you sacked…”
“Al!” Tim Merrill moved into the shot, effectively hiding Hastings from the camera. He grabbed for the horse as the stable lad jerked ineffectively on the lead rope.
Chico remembered seeing Hastings raise two fingers at Merrill, muttering snidely. He’d retreated to the easel to swipe brown paint on the canvas, fury in every line of his body. His audience of art lovers had all fled for the free canapés.
As if realising that he was doing more eavesdropping than responsible journalism, the cameraman hastily cut the shot. The next image was an overly close picture of Sid Halley.
“Good God,” Sid groaned at himself, spreading his long fingers over his eyes. “Certainly glad that one was edited out of the piece aired on the telly. We’ve seen what we needed to see, I think?”
“Aye,” Cowley said heartily. “Betty, if you could review the footage for any other interactions between both Merrills, Hastings and any other incidents you deem important?”
“Certainly, sir!” she agreed with a perky smile, turning on the lights.
Chico squinted in the overhead glare, glancing at his partner. He was surprised to find that Sid didn’t appear as morose as he’d sounded. Maybe the investigation was keeping his thoughts on the murdered boy and not so much on what he’d been doing when he was killed.
“Let me give you a hand!” Bodie jumped up to disassemble the portable screen. “Can’t have you doing all the work, Betty.”
“Helping out won’t increase your chances with me, Bodie,” Betty said with a saucy wink. “I know your sort!”
Doyle laughed, holding open the door for the two of them to take the equipment out. “Such a gentleman,” he called after Bodie.
“The one thing I am in agreement on with Ambassador Merrill,” Cowley said, replacing his spectacles and peering at the preliminary reports on the investigation, “is that we need to get this case solved poste-haste.”
“We’ve come up with some ideas.” Sid brought Cowley up to speed on what they’d discussed at the pub, with added comments by Doyle and Chico.
“Very interesting indeed.” Cowley’s blue eyes were bright. He laced his fingers together thoughtfully. “Doyle, as you said that Mr Hastings took to you over Bodie, and he doesn’t know young Barnes, the two of you nip over to the gallery to get a full list of the horses he’s painted.” He held up a finger. “As well as sussing out more of what he may know on the matter of Merrill’s death.”
“Yes, sir,” Doyle responded with a nod at Chico. “Breaking up the usual partnerships?”
“Have to lower me standards t’work wif you, Ray,” Chico jested, pleased. He enjoyed getting to know Doyle away from the world of martial arts where they’d first met. The only drawback was having less private time with Sid. Couldn’t be helped. With any luck, they’d have this murder solved by tea time on Monday. Then he and Sid would be off to the midweek races and possibly an overnight stay in some quiet B and B, just the two of them.
Bodie swung through the door as Cowley continued. “As Halley knows Thundergod’s owner, Lord Fitzhugh, and we’ve determined that Merrill and Hastings interacted with that horse, I feel it’s imperative that we get a blood sample from Thundergod to prove or disprove any drugs theory,” Cowley explained. “Blood from Zarathustra, as well, since Merrill was riding him when he was murdered.” He waved a hand at his agent. “3.7, you and Halley drive over to Fitzhugh’s stables to obtain the necessary blood so that our labs have something to analyse. With more sophisticated tests, we may be able to ascertain whether there was a drug administered to the horse.”
“Not much good with a needle, sir,” Bodie protested.
“No need,” Sid said, standing. “Lord Fitzhugh has a stable full of horses, with a vet on retainer. Dr MacKenzie will come as soon as he calls.”
“Well, then, we’d best get on the motorway,” Bodie pulled a face, glancing over at Doyle.
Chico saw the look that passed between them and it only strengthened his assumption that Doyle and Bodie were lovers.
“Sunday afternoon brings the nutters out onto the roads,” Doyle said with half a smile. “Let Sid drive.”
“Berk,” Bodie said out of the corner of his mouth.
“Chico,” Sid drawled. “Keep your hands to yourself and mind your elders.” He smiled, slow and lazy, bumping Chico’s arm with his left elbow when he walked past. As much of a caress as Sid Halley ever did.
“Oi!” Chico groused, mocking outrage. “Nearly my birthday, ain’t it? Maybe I’ll be on the lookout for something I’d like to get.”
“When is your birthday?” Doyle asked, ushering his temporary partner out of Cowley’s office.
“Planning to buy us a pressie?” Chico asked. He wasn’t sure why but he felt like a kid on holiday instead of heading off to the gallery of a sod with a hell of a temper. “December 24th, Christmas Eve. ‘Orrible day to be born when you’ve been raised in a nest of nuns.”
Doyle chuckled, mashing the button for the lift. “I can see where that would be a problem. Maybe Algernon Hasting will paint your portrait.”
“Nah, ‘e’d only want me to pose in the nude astride an ‘orse and where’d that get me in the end?” Chico snorted inelegantly.
“Reamed?” Doyle burst out laughing.
Yep, Chico thought. He and Bodie were snogging.
Sunday afternoon must not be the time for browsing in a gallery, Doyle reflected when he and Chico walked up Telford Street to the Merida. He saw a young couple stop to admire the banner featuring the synergism of red shirted jockey and brown horse, but they didn’t venture inside.
“Sid’s been thinking of buying some art, for investments.” Chico pushed the door of the gallery open. “He’s already got a George Stubbs.”
“Hastings is very good,“ Doyle commented, glancing around at the pictures he’d seen before. One wall was completely bare: the sole painting that Hastings had sold must have been picked up already. The gallery seemed quiet as a tomb and for some reason, a chill went down his spine.
“Not likely to be ‘cumber sarnies for tea, then?” Chico said, tucking a gallery pamphlet in his pocket. “Bodie went on and on about the spread ‘Astings put out.”
“The macabre interest has died down,” Doyle said absently.
Chico stopped to examine a painting of an inky black horse sailing over a shrubbery hurtle. The horse’s four legs were completely off the ground, the front two reaching out, the back two bunched from the powerful liftoff. The jockey rode in classic jump position, arse off the saddle, strong thighs keeping his weight high and forward.
Next to it, Doyle noticed smallish oil of a horse and jockey outside a stable. The jockey, dressed in blue and purple stripes and carrying a small saddle, had wide, dark eyes under the edge of his riding helmet.
“That’s Sid with Malarkey!” Chico exclaimed. “I’ve seen photos. He won that race.”
A small noise came from the direction of the offices and Doyle had his gun in hand without even thinking about it. He motioned Chico to silence, every fibre of his being shouting that something was very wrong. Where was Maxim Trimble? Where was anyone?
Chico glanced quickly at Doyle before moving up against a partition in the centre of the gallery hung with two paintings. He peered around the wall at the back of the room, shook his head and took a step out from the safety of his hiding place.
“Chico!” Doyle hissed.
Annoyed at Barnes’ fearlessness, Doyle scanned the four corners for any signs of danger, his heartbeat galloping. He heard a sort of sucking gasp. He knew that sound, felt the agony of it in his own chest and ran, clearing the office door at the same time Chico did.
Algernon Hasting lay on the carpet, his life’s blood pulsing from a mortal wound in his chest and onto the floor. There was a brilliant red swath of blood arching across the wall behind Hastings, as if he’d intentionally painted a crimson farewell to his patrons.
“Oh, shite!” Chico choked, stopping in his tracks. “Is ‘e dead?”
“Call an ambulance!” Doyle figured he must have looked like Hasting two years ago: crumbled on the floor with that exact expression of shock and horror on his face. He remembered Bodie being there, giving him courage and determination. He could only hope to do as much for the artist. Doyle dropped to his knees, regardless of the gore, praying to hear that gasp of painful breathing again.
“Hastings?” he whispered, and was rewarded with another gurgling inhalation. “Help’s on it’s way, mate, you’ll be right…” How could he say that? He knew the agony of a chest wound, had barely survived one himself. “Stay strong.” Yanking a decorative shawl off the chaise longue, Doyle pressed it into Hasting’s chest to slow the bleeding.
From the amount of blood splashed across the room, he didn’t think it would do much good. He’d gleaned a bit of medical knowledge after two months in hospital: blood gushed out of a severed artery with every desperate pump of the heart until there was not enough fluid left in the body to live.
“On Telford!” Chico shouted into the telephone. “Hurry, ‘Astings is bleeding out!” He slammed the handset down, looking wildly at Doyle. “Eejits. Can’t understand a simple address for nuffing,” he muttered. “Can ‘e talk?”
“I doubt it.” Doyle shook his head, forcing himself away from the dark abyss he was circling. This was not his shooting. It was still a crime, and one he had to solve, no matter how maddening Hastings had been.
“Ray,” Chico said suddenly, pointing at the window in the wall that faced the street. “Bullet hole.”
It was no wonder Doyle hadn’t noticed the circular mark in the glass—the hole was amazingly small, a perfectly round puncture taken out of the middle of the window. There wasn’t even a single crack radiating from the edges.
“You reckon it’s the same bloke?” Chico asked. He squinted, closing one eye and moving his finger up and level with the building opposite, clearly calculating the trajectory of the shot. “The one what shot Merrill?”
“With all likelihood.” Doyle pressed a finger into Hasting’s neck, feeling for a pulse. Hastings hadn’t taken another breath. Doyle held his own, willing Hasting’s heart to beat, but there was nothing. Flesh still warm and pliant, but life had fled in an instant. “He’s gone.”
“Damn-all.” Chico collapsed into the desk chair, running his fingers through his hair. “We should check out …” He gestured at the brick building across the street.
Met police arrived first, with an ambulance on their heels. Once the victim was pronounced dead, a coroner’s wagon was brought in, along with more coppers. Maxim Trimble’s body was finally located behind the building. He’d been taking out the rubbish—the alley also a direct line of sight from the old fashioned office building that Doyle assumed was their suspect’s lair. Trimble had a single bullet wound in the back of his head.
“Never saw it coming, poor bastard,” Chico said softly. He grimaced at the crowd of onlookers that had gathered with the arrival of all the emergency vehicles.
“I want to see where he…” Doyle started, ducking under the barrier of yellow tape already draped around the area. The movement of one man caught his eye, a dark haired man wearing a long military style overcoat, standing among the gawkers. “Chico,” Doyle said, barely moving his lips. “On your three o’clock.”
Chico, bless him, knew enough not to make a sudden, obvious turn. He grinned as if Doyle had said something particularly funny, and amiably followed him under the caution tape. “Well, ‘ello, if it ain’t double oh seven watching our every move,” he muttered. “We going after the shit?”
“What I get paid to do.” Doyle replied under his breath. Why had the suspect stuck around? To watch the aftermath? Now that he thought of it, there had been no way to know whether the man had been in the crowd of racegoers at Kempton on Saturday. He might have been there all along, monitoring their investigation.
The r/t squawked from his pocket. “Bugger!” Doyle whispered, grabbing the offending device.
Chico’s eyes slid right toward their suspect and he kept walking, passing a clutch of cops. Roger Moore’s doppelganger turned away, heading to the corner.
Doyle mashed the talk button in irritation. “What?”
“An update, 4.5?” Cowley growled, ice slicking the greeting. “I received a report that the Met was called to the gallery.”
“Yes, sir,” Doyle replied, searching the crowd for any sign of Barnes or the possible assassin. Less than a minute had gone by, but he didn’t see either one. He forced down his annoyance at having to give a report, walking briskly as he talked. “Hastings and his assistant Trimble are dead. Hastings died right in front of us. Barnes is going to question a possible witness.” He wasn’t sure why he didn’t actually tell Cowley they might have seen the suspect, but it was still circumstantial at best and he didn’t want to raise false hope. He clicked off with half a mind to stash the r/t in a shrubbery so he wouldn’t get buzzed again.
Bodie missed Doyle’s company on the long drive north to Lord Fitzhugh’s, but he and Halley passed the time trading surveillance stories. When he first met Sid Halley, he’d assumed that the Trackdown private eyes basically did security work with some minor investigation on the order of tracking down missing persons. Every time he’d been with the ex-jockey, Bodie was surprised at how rigorous his job actually was. Nearly as dangerous as the obbos Bodie and Doyle got mixed up in.
“An owner actually murdered someone to keep secret that his horse, New Year Lad, was born on Christmas day?” Bodie asked, half amused, half indignant.
“Just six days put his horse born a year earlier, and ineligible to race later as a two year old,” Sid explained. “Despite that he was in fact a two year old. On the rule books, he was a three year old. Millions of pounds at stake as long as no-one found out. Nearly killed Chico, as well.”
“And I thought the yobbos we dealt with were mad.” Bodie shook his head, turning onto a side road. “Down that lane?”
“Yes, just on the left, past the larch trees.” Sid pointed toward a large, ornate gate.
“Puts me in mind of Monty Python,” Bodie snickered. “The Larch.”
“Don’t you start. Chico’s forever got that programme on, sounding like a twit.” Sid rolled his eyes, barely concealing a smile.
“Upper class?” Bodie piloted the Capri into a wide yard with an old fashioned, cross-timbered house on one side and a block of stables on the other. There was a horse trailer parked ahead of them, obstructing the driveway.
Just as Bodie shut off the motor, a man erupted from the house, followed by two or three others. They ran around the back of the building, yelling, but they were too far away for him to hear.
“That was Lord Fitzhugh,” Sid said in astonishment, getting out of the car. “The second man.”
Bodie didn’t waste any time, he bolted after the horse owner with Halley close on his heels.
“Call the vet!” someone was shouting. “Now!”
Bodie went left around the far end of the stable, stopping so quickly that Halley ran into him.
“Oi!” Sid groaned, bracing himself with his false hand.
Bodie ignored the sudden thump of heavy gauge steel prosthesis against his hipbone, trying to make sense of what was going on.
Two parallel stable buildings flanked one another, with a wide area between. There had to be more than two dozen stalls, but Bodie could only see a handful horses in their stalls, and a few out in a paddock. All were craning their necks to watch the humans crowded around a brown horse lying in the dirt directly opposite the paddock gate.
“The vet won’t be of any help,” Lord Fitzhugh announced, crouching over the racehorse. “Thunder’s dead.” His voice cracked at the last word and he bowed his head.
The other men gasped, talking amongst themselves in consternation.
“Fuck,” Sid said quietly. “We’ve come too late.”
“Does seem to prove that there’s a connection between Thundergod and Candlemas,” Bodie put in, his heart rate accelerating. He glanced around the yard, trying to see anyone or anything that seemed out of place. He got the feeling that this was a very large operation with room for far more horses than were in view. The stable yard was immaculate, but there was a hint of something off that he couldn’t put his finger on. The horses where clearly disturbed by their dead comrade, several animals pacing in agitation, as some of the humans were.
“Possibly,” Sid murmured.
Lord Fitzhugh stood up, rubbing his forehead. He was a tall, muscular but elegant man with full head of salt and pepper hair, a square jaw and stormy eyes. His shoulders stooped, the death of the horse obviously a heavy blow. “Call Dr MacKenzie as well as the knacker’s van, Peevis. This time, we’ll get every test, find out exactly what happened.”
“Y’sir.” A grizzled man wearing wellies and a padded coat shook his head somberly, walking into the barn.
Several other grooms slowly went back to their appointed jobs, until Sid and Bodie were the only ones standing near Thundergod. Bodie was keenly aware that the other horses were staring at their dead companion: a black horse in the closest stall let out an eerie sound, nothing like any neigh Bodie had ever heard. A few other animals whinnied shrilly in response, sending a chill down Bodie’s spine. Even Halley looked disturbed at the unsettling noise.
“The rest of you, get back to you…” Lord Fitzhugh began, abruptly seeing that there were two extra men in his yard. “Sid Halley, as I live and breathe, what are you doing here?” He shaded his eyes, staring at them.
“We’d hoped to talk to you about…” Sid stopped, glancing down at Thundergod and shaking his head. “Lord Fitzhugh, this is Bodie, of CI5.”
“Good afternoon, your Lordship.” Bodie held out his ID with what he hoped was a competent smile. All the restive horses unnerved him, and he fancied himself a decent rider. Today, he would not have got up on any of Fitzhugh’s horses for all the tea in China.
“You finally taking my charges seriously?” Fitzhugh snarled angrily. “My horses are being murdered, I tell you. It takes a second one for you lot to—“ He broke off, searching Halley’s face and then Bodie’s before looking back at Thundergod.
One of the stable lads was covering the body with a tarp.
“How exactly did you know about Thundergod?” Fitzhugh demanded, taking an aggressive step toward Bodie, his fists curled. “The bloody animal only just died, how--?”
“We’re investigating Timothy Merrill’s death.” Bodie held both hands away from his body, wary of the old man. Fitzhugh might have thirty years on him, but the man looked like he could bench press a small pony before breakfast. They needed Fitzhugh on their side. “Sir, may we talk in your office?” he asked politely, catching Halley’s eye. “More private.”
Sid gave a minute nod, walking into the back door of the cross-timbered house as if he knew the way. Lord Fitzhugh fumed, staring at the mounded tarpaulin in the stable yard before heading into the house with a muttered curse.
The black horse screamed eerily again, raising the hair on the back of Bodie’s neck. He grit his teeth. Give him a straightforward toughie with a bomb any day.
Fitzhugh’s office provided ample evidence of his love for horses. There were photographs of racehorses covering the walls, along with display cabinets stuffed with ribbons and racing trophies. A mahogany desk big enough to seat a family of five for dinner dominated the middle of the room. Fitzhugh stomped to the desk and stood with his arms crossed until Halley and Bodie found seats.
“Who’s going to tell me why you think Merrill’s murder has anything to do with my horse?” the old man asked sharply.
“Chico and I have been working with CI5 since Timothy Merrill was shot yesterday on the track at Kempton,” Sid began, rubbing the smooth leather on the arm of the chair with his good hand. “We’ve learned that he had partnered with Algernon Hastings in an art scheme, and Hasting painted at least two of your horses.”
“What the bloody hell has that got to do with—“ Fitzhugh exploded, thumping the desk with his palm. “Are you trying to give me some rot about having the horses’ portraits painted killed them? Utter rubbish!”
“I’m no horse expert, sir,” Bodie began. “Halley knows a good bit more than I, and he’s explained that Candlemas and Thundergod both began racing far better in a few short months…”
“Coincidentally or not, soon after each was painted by Algernon Hastings,” Sid finished his sentence. “We understand that you were unable to get a definitive diagnosis for Candlemas’ death.”
“MacKenzie said t’was an aneurysm.” Fitzhugh narrowed his eyes. “What proof do you have that it wasn’t?”
“None at all, but we’d like to get a blood sample for our labs, as long as your vet is taking some.”
“Nothing was found on Candlemas,” his lordship said stubbornly. “Bloody idiotic experts could find nothing out of the ordinary. And I paid a bloody fortune for an independent lab.”
“Could be something new?” Halley ventured. “We’re looking for patterns, anything to connect horses who were either painted or began winning regularly, or both.”
“The labs at CI5 will do every test there is, gratis,” Bodie said as incentive, “to uncover a reason for those two horses’ deaths. Is there any other link between them?”
“Same groom?” Sid suggested.
Fitzhugh stood his ground, chin jutted out and a murderous glint in his grey eyes. “Of course they had the same groom. The two horses were stall mates for a time. And—“ He stabbed a thick forefinger at a picture of a chestnut mare with a dark haired man holding the lead rope. “Same dam, Flagship.”
“Fuck,” Sid said very softly. He pulled out a cigarette, rolling it between his fingers for a moment before putting it to his lips. “There could be some kind of genetic link between Thundergod and Candlemas through their dam. That would have to be ruled out.”
“Exceedingly rare for horses to have that kind of congenital aneurysm, Halley, and I think you know that,” Fitzhugh said shrewdly. “What are you going on about?”
“Did Tim Merrill bet on either of those horses?” Sid asked, lighting his fag and puffing out a cloud of smoke.
“How would I know what the boy did?” Fitzhugh roared.
“But I’ll wager he spent time here?” Bodie put in to show that he was keeping up with the racing talk. “Possibly rode Candlemas or Thundergod? Was around when Hastings was painting or sketching?”
“Yes to all of the above.” Fitzhugh narrowed his eyes.
“Who was the groom?” Sid asked. “Did he accompany Thundergod to Sandown? Help Dominic Albergheti before the race?”
“Charlie Dash,” Fitzhugh said through his teeth. “Good with the horses, but a trifle too full of himself. He’d prefer to delegate his duties to others and be off at the pub drinking his earnings.”
“Exactly the sort that would be easy to…” Bodie started when Peevis came in to announce that Doctor MacKenzie had arrived.
Drawing blood from the corpse was the work of moments. While there were needles and blood letting going on, Bodie went back into Fitzhugh’s office and got Cowley on the blower to expedite the transfer of the samples. As he put the phone back in the cradle, he caught a glimpse of the rubbish bin beside the desk: three or four Dime bar wrappers. His Lordship must have a sweet tooth.
Fitzhugh and MacKenzie returned to the house, the vet carrying a small cooler. Having been appraised of the investigation, he took the phone to speak with Cowley. “Who’s in charge of your biological lab?” MacKenzie asked. He listened, nodding, “Splendid. Porter is top hole.”
His accent was so similar to Cowley’s, Bodie figured they must come from the same part of Scotland. He felt an driving urgency building under his breast bone. They were on the verge, he was sure of it. Not much longer until they found who had killed Merrill. He studied the picture Fitzhugh had pointed to, something niggling in the back of his brain. Why did the man standing beside Flagship look vaguely familiar?
“Have him call me,” MacKenzie said into the receiver. “I want Porter to check for the new performance enhancing drug coming out of the States. They’ve had a rash of the stuff on the west coast.”
Wondering if Doyle and Barnes been able to get a list of the other horses connected with Picture Perfect, Bodie kept one ear on the vet speaking with Cowley while examining the pictures mounted on all four walls. Most were images of Fitzhugh with horses, in the paddock, saddling up and in the winner’s circle. The dark haired man was in a few, as well, but his face wasn’t clearly visible in most of the photos. Bodie found one of Sid Halley standing alongside his Lordship, grinning for the camera, Halley’s face smeared with mud after a rough race.
“That you?” Bodie whispered, smiling at his friend.
“And that,” Sid said grimly, pointing to another. The grey horse caught mid-leap, a jockey dressed in bumblebee yellow and black stripes curved into the animal’s neck, but it was clear that a second horse had bumped into Halley’s mount, knocking him sideways. “The last ride, seconds before the fall.” He raised his left shoulder but characteristically didn’t remove his prosthesis from his jacket pocket.
“Hell.” Bodie didn’t quite know what to say.
“Precisely,” Sid responded dryly.
“One of Fitzhugh’s nags?” Bodie asked.
“What is this performance enhancing drug you were talking about?” Fitzhugh demanded behind them, looming furiously over the smaller vet.
“Equis-erithrophedrine,” MacKenzie said succinctly. “Anyone heard of it?”
“It’s some sort of supplement or vitamin, from what I have read.” Halley frowned. “Only used experimentally by a few trainers in the US. Gives the horse astonishing vitality.”
“It’s more than a vitamin.” MacKenzie rubbed the back of his neck, his face grim. “Already, the American Veterinary society has issued a warning that the stuff can be dangerous in higher doses.”
“This has naught to do with my horses.” Fitzhugh thumped his desk with his fist and papers skittered onto the floor. “We don’t use that. I’ve never even heard of it!”
“After you questioned the results of the blood tests on Candlemas, I did some reading, wondering if he could have accidentally eaten—or been given any unknown substances,” MacKenzie explained. “An article about Equis-erithrophedrine came across my desk only last week. I’ve just heard about it myself. Candlemas’ aneurysm was very likely caused by this stuff. It’s nasty.”
Bodie shoved his hands in his pockets, half distracted by the pictures on the wall, but he wasn’t certain quite why. “Is it even available here? Because we know Tim Merrill regularly went to the US and back.”
“Spot on,” Halley said under his breath. “Lord Fitzhugh, we need to check for every possibility, and right now, because two of your horses have died under unusual circumstances, the question is how? Could someone have administered the drug to Thundergod and Candlemas?”
Fitzhugh sat down, planting his elbows on the desk. There was anger and exhaustion in every line of his body. “You asked about Charlie Dash earlier—Thundergod’s groom. He’s gone.”
“Gone?” Bodie echoed, pulled back into the conversation completely.
“Charlie drove the horse trailer back from Sandown, and took Thunder down the ramp,” Fitzhugh continued, “and clipped his lead to a post outside the barn. Moments later—just before you lot arrived, Thundergod collapsed and died.”
“He must have seen that the horse was doing poorly on the return trip,” MacKenzie murmured. “And fled.” He tapped the cooler, looking over at Bodie. “This is for Porter, in your lab. Get it to him as soon as possible and tell him I will ring with the facts about Equis-erithrophedrine.” He touched his nose thoughtfully. “We should coordinate with veterinary labs in the US who have tested for the stuff.” MacKenzie nodded to Lord Fitzhugh. “I’m off to the necropsy.”
“Bloody hell.” Fitzhugh sat back in his chair after MacKenzie left. “This is all too much. We already lost a packet of money after Candlemas. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” He rubbed his forehead. “With Ellery here, I’ve had him doing the books and such so I can manage the horses, but… No matter what the cost, I’ll ring MacKenzie to come back and check the other horses for that equis-shit.”
“Ellery?” Bodie asked.
“His son,” Halley supplied. He indicated the photo of Flagstag. “That’s him.” He pointed to another picture Bodie had barely noticed; the dark haired man was standing with Fitzhugh, holding a trophy. “And there with his father, accepting the cup for the Coventry Steeplechase.”
The small hope Bodie had been harbouring that they’d nearly cracked the case guttered in his belly, clenching his chest. He knew why the dark haired man seemed so familiar. Why didn’t Halley see the resemblance? “Sid, didn’t Chico say that Niall Flynn claimed the as—“ He broke off, unwilling to say the word in front of his Lordship, “the man on the roof at Kempton looked like Roger Moore?” Bodie asked.
Halley swung around to stare at the photo, his eyes going wide.
“Ellery’s chums used to tease him, call him The Saint back when he was at Eaton,” Fitzhugh said proudly. “He’s recently out of the Royal Navy, fought in the Falklands.”
Doyle skirted the people outside the crime scene, going right. There was a pretty park with a gazebo in the centre. He didn’t see Chico or the suspect. Damn, where could they have gone? The park wasn’t very large, and there were few obstacles big enough to hide two men. He stopped on the edge of the path, senses alert, but the crowd on Telford was too noisy, the whoop-whoop of police sirens ruining any chance of hearing small furtive sounds.
He advanced carefully into the pretty garden, fingers twitching, ready to pull his weapon at the slightest provocation. His heart skipped a beat when he spied familiar blond curls and then the curve of Chico’s body half-hidden in a shadow below a picnic table inside the gazebo.
“Chico!” Doyle ducked down, almost afraid to put his finger to Barnes’ neck to feel his carotid.
Chico groaned, shifting in place. “Bond went toward Wornington…” he said through gritted teeth. “Go!”
Doyle pivoted on one foot, straight into the long barrel of a rifle.
“Don’t make a fucking move,” the dark haired man snarled. He was standing alongside a tree, the dark coat blending with the thickest tree trunk in the garden, a high clump of shrubbery hiding him from anyone passing by on the street.
Going very still inside, Doyle held his arms away from his body, not wanting to provoke. Chico was undoubtedly hurt because he hadn’t bounced back up with his usual energy.
“This place is crawling with coppers,” Doyle cautioned. “You don’t have a chance in hell of getting out of here.”
“I’ve two chances, you, and the little one,” the man replied with maddening calm.
Ellery was the murderer? Sid stared at the photograph: he’d never noticed a resemblance to the actor before, but now that Bodie and Fitzhugh pointed it out—maybe, yeah. How the hell did he play this?
He clenched his right hand, feeling that weird sensation that his left hand was doing the same, even when he knew full well that it was not. The prosthetic fingers closed in on themselves but could not form a fist. “You said Ellery recently returned from the Navy?” he asked as casually as possible. “How has he been since?”
Bodie looked over at him, dawning realization in his eyes.
“It’s been grand to have him back, sorting out the office,” Fitzhugh said with a rigid smile. “After his discharge, he needed time to set a new course in life.”
Sid had been acquainted with Fitzhugh long enough to see through the subterfuge: something was amiss. He’d never known Ellery well, the younger Fitzhugh had been on a ship during the years Sid had been a working jockey. From what Sid remembered of him, Ellery had not been the type who would be content to live the quiet life of a county gent. Not after nearly a decade in the Navy.
“Where is he right now?” Bodie asked.
“Gone to London for the weekend,” his Lordship said. “I say, what’s with all these questions? I need answers on Thundergod.”
Sid nodded distractedly, thinking hard. If Merrill and Hastings were in fact doing something to the horses, they had to have accomplices. Clearly that must have been this groom, Charlie Dash, who’d scarpered. Ellery had been around for months, possibly bored with going over the paperwork—could he have seen some kind of exchange? An injection or the actual drug itself? “I’d…” He glanced at Bodie and amended his statement. “We’d like to talk to Ellery—“
“As well as Dash, and most of the other lads who had contact with Candlemas and Thundergod,” Bodie put in smoothly, his left eyebrow arched. “Even the most trivial of discussions, incidents can lead to important evidence.”
“I’ll have him call you straightaway once he returns,” Fitzhugh promised, visibly exhausted from the strain.
Sid had noticed the empty stables, the gentile shabbiness of what had once been exceedingly well kept buildings. “Your Lordship, if I may inquire something quite personal?”
The man glanced around at the pictures of his prize runners and jumpers, his whole world, probably taking a moment to decide. He finally inclined his head, his shoulders slightly hunched as if he knew exactly what Sid was going to ask.
“How much money did you lose when Candlemas died?” Sid asked, saddened. He could guess what had happened—and now with Thundergod gone, too, the financial collapse might be too difficult to pull out from. Another thing Ellery must have figured out if he had been working on the books. “Had you sold subscriptions to have Candlemas cover other mares?”
“Just so.” Fitzhugh raised one empty hand at the photographs of horses. “Even before today, the coffers were nearly bare. We’d been counting on the prize money from the race today, as well as…” He swallowed as realization dropped into place. “If the authorities discover that Thundergod had been given something to enhance his performance, we’ll lose the prize money, as well.”
“I’m afraid so,” Sid murmured. What a horrible, devastating blow to a man who had once been a successful, highly respected owner and trainer.
“We’ll be in touch, your Lordship,” Bodie added. “Right now, we need to get these samples to headquarters. I am sorry for your loss.” Hefting the cooler, he glanced out the window toward the stables. “Saw Thundergod race today on the telly. A real corker.”
“Thank you,” the man said wearily, looking decades older than when they had arrived.
Neither of them spoke until they gained the relative privacy of Bodie’s car. “Ellery Fitzhugh never entered my mind,” Sid said, feeling a need to explain why he hadn’t pinned the description on a man he knew. “It’s been years, and quite honestly, I haven’t seen a Bond film since Connery.”
Bodie grimaced. “Not your fault, mate.” He started the car, taking a glance back at the men loading Thundergod’s corpse into a van. “Knew the man might be ex-military from his marksmanship.”
“His Lordship seemed evasive on why Ellery was staying with him,” Sid said.
“Noticed that, did you?”
“Your lot must be able to find out if he had an honourable discharge.” Sid looked down at his false hand, thinking about friends who’d come back changed after war. His own scars were visible, but many men had less obvious ones. He could feel the pull of depression way down deep in his soul and thought of Chico’s light. The only thing that ever helped. “What his…mental status was like?”
“Yeah.” Bodie frowned, steering carefully on the narrow lanes. “The return to so–called civilization is the hardest part.”
“You served in the military?”
Bodie’s mouth twitched. It was difficult to tell if he was amused or mocking. “Not in the most conventional terms. Threw in with mercenaries when I was but a lad, then joined the SAS afterward.”
“You don’t do things by halves, do you?” Sid asked, impressed in spite of himself.
“School was boring,” Bodie said, with an ironic smirk. “Now let me get this straight-- we’re going on the assumption that Timothy Merrill and Algernon Hastings worked together to get this equis—whatsit into horses, whether or not Merrill was riding them, yeah?”
“I reckon Merrill must have some contact for the Equis-erithrophedrine,” Sid explained, more pieces of the puzzle slotting into place. He watched the hedgerows flash past the car with a sudden yearning to be back with Chico—and Doyle—to hear what they’d learned, and solve this murder. “He smuggles it from the States in the diplomatic pouch and distributes it to—assumedly—stable lads, or possibly even owners of up and coming horses that Hastings is painting.”
“Figuring owners who’d pay high prices for a horse’s portrait would benefit even more so from a horse’s increased performance,” Bodie continued, turning onto a two lane country road. “And Merrill’d know which runners were going to improve vastly, potentially winning, so he can bet with confidence.”
“Probably covered himself by placing bets on first, second or third,” Sid agreed sourly.
“How did this Ellery Fitzhugh suss it all out, then?” Bodie slowed, muttering under his breath as a slow moving flock of sheep spread out across the roadway.
“Whether or not he had… some sort of thing like the American vets returning from Viet Nam with their heads screwed on wrong, he’s a trained soldier—“ Sid shrugged because it was all simply speculation.
“Saw the chaos losing Candlemas did to his father’s finances, and went after the person he could pin the blame—however he’d divined the reasoning,” Bodie said bitterly.
Stunned from the pain in his right arm, Chico listened to the assassin taunting Doyle. He felt like an utter fool; had walked right into the man’s trap and paid the price. James Bond, or whatever the hell his real name was, had used the heavy stock of his rifle like a club, slamming it into Chico’s forearm with extreme force.
Although he’d never had a broken arm, Chico was relatively sure he had one now. Hurt like blazes. He couldn’t move his fingers or turn his wrist. His thoughts kept skittering away from the idea of irreparable damage: Sid would be fuming as it was. Sid would be absolutely gutted if Chico lost his mobility too.
Wasn’t going to happen.
He watched Doyle edging away from the barrel of the assassin’s gun out of the corner of his eye. He had to do something to balance the scales, and fast. Easing very slowly to his knees, Chico concentrated on his breathing to blunt the pain, using martial arts techniques.
“You can’t pull the trigger,” Doyle said boldly. “Cops will be on you in ten seconds. You’ve killed two men back there, but if you cooperate, the courts could offer leniency.”
“No proof at all.“ The man laughed. He sounded amused and confident. “Now get down on your knees.”
Chico didn’t have time to plan an attack or calculate the difference between his own 5 foot 6 inch height and the fucker with the gun’s six feet. He let years of judo and karate training take over. Protecting his injured right arm against his chest, Chico stepped forward, striking up with his left elbow-- age empi uke—catching his opponent in the side of the ribs, directly into the diaphragm. Paralyzed the lungs, just for a moment.
The man gasped, swinging around to grab at Chico except his chest had seized up on him. Chico knew that terrifying sensation of complete airlock; his first sensei had taught him by using specific example. Tough love, but very effective.
Bending slightly, Chico slid his left foot into harai-goshi, destabilizing the bigger man.
Bond greedily sucked in air. “You little shit!” He stumbled, dropping the rifle to the pavement.
Doyle kicked the weapon into the bushes, going at their opponent with all the skill of his black belt in karate.
Chico fell back, the pain in his right arm all encompassing. He felt sick, and recalled Sid’s jockey’s credo “The body will heal. Pain is boring, but don’t let it stop you.” If there was anything he had learned teaching Sid judo techniques for a one armed man, there were ways to fight even when at a distinct disadvantage.
The assassin circled Doyle, evading the agent’s parries and lunges. He crouched, landing a quick jab to Doyle’s midriff and came up holding a knife hidden in his boot.
“Oi!” Chico yelled, using noise when he couldn’t move quickly. With any luck, some passerby would see the fight and alert the police.
Moore’s doppelganger turned, lashing out with the knife just as Doyle dove at him. Chico saw the blade connect, saw bright crimson stain Doyle’s white shirt and then the assassin was running through the park toward Portabello Road where he could easily get lost in the crowds.
“Fuck.” Doyle ran a few steps after their suspect. Knees buckling, he sat heavily on a picnic bench, his face the colour of clotted cream.
“How bad is it?” Chico asked. Now that the immediate danger had passed, he could barely stand. He dropped down beside Doyle, feeling distinctly ill. His heartbeat seemed to have relocated to his right forearm, throbbing ominously.
“We cocked this one up royally.” Doyle grit his teeth, using his left elbow to put pressure on the wound while fumbling in his pocket for the r/t. He inhaled sharply and pushed the talk button. “4.5 calling Alpha One.”
“4.5?” Cowley replied so quickly he must have had his finger on the receive button waiting for them.
“Call in the cavalry and fast,” Doyle said. “Suspect is on the run down Portabello, toward Ladbroke Grove. He’s dark haired—“
“Six feet if he’s an inch,” Chico supplied, staring down at his swollen limb. The fingers looked like boiled sausages.
“Wearing a great coat, resembles Roger Moore, armed with a knife. And we’ve got his rifle.”
“Get after him, man!” Cowley growled.
“Barnes is badly injured,” Doyle retorted without moving.
“And Doyle’s bleedin’,” Chico shouted into the transmitter. “As ‘e said, send in the cavalry!”
The moment Bodie drove into outskirts of London, the r/t chirped. He and Sid hadn’t stopped since they left Suffolk, anxious to get back to headquarters. They never made it—Cowley’s words sent them straight to St. Charles Hospital.
Not giving the gothic cathedral-like edifice even a cursory glance, Bodie had to racewalk to keep up with Sid.
“May I help you?” A matronly nurse barred their way, obviously disapproving of men who smelt of horses running through her pristine corridors.
Halley glared, peering past her to the doors marked casualty.
Holding up his official ID, Bodie stiffened his spine, trying not to think about his partner bleeding. Cowley hadn’t given any specifics, just that Barnes and Doyle had been taken to hospital and that the suspect had escaped.
Damn! Almost exactly at the same time Bodie and Halley had discovered who he really was.
“You’re with the Scot?” the woman asked with condescending sniff.
She was a formidable foe; Bodie could see nothing got past her. “Cowley, yes, ma’am. We’ll need to debrief our agents. They hold valuable information vital to the case.”
Halley glanced at him with acerbic exasperation. The nurse looked unimpressed as well, her glare reminding him that she had probably changed bandages during the London blitz—before he was born.
“Your Mr Cowley is speaking to the fellow with the curls,” she said, letting them past with a glower. “Doctor has already attended to his wound.”
Which was no help at all. They both had curls: Doyle’s more abundant than Barnes’ but still--
How badly was Doyle hurt? had been running through Bodie’s thoughts since Cowley’s summons. Sid was equally as worried: the quivering muscle in his jaw an outward sign of concern. He’d been chain smoking for most of the journey, lighting a cig from the burning butt of the previous one.
They found Murphy inside the casualty department, standing in front of a bank of curtained cubicles with his hands in his pockets.
“How are they?” Bodie asked.
“Doyle’s lost some blood, but refuses to be admitted,” Murphy reported with a grin of admiration for their colleague’s pluck. “Barnes will need surgery. Smashed his wrist.” He inclined his head to the cubicle on the left.
Going pale, Halley immediately slipped behind that curtain. Smoke from his cigarette drifted in his wake.
Exhaling to erase any show of concern, Bodie pushed aside the fabric around Doyle’s gurney. “Trip over your clumsy feet again, did you?” he asked, taking in Doyle’s pallor and the bandage taped over the left side of his chest. He wasn’t shot, which made things infinitely more palatable.
Doyle bared his teeth without real malice. “There were extenuating circumstances,” he replied tightly.
Bodie ached to take his love’s hand and kiss him deeply, more to make himself feel better than Doyle. With Cowley so close by, he was forced to keep a respectable matey distance from Ray.
“You and Halley are sure that the murderer is this Ellery Fitzhugh?” Cowley demanded.
His eyes wide, Doyle almost made it to his feet. This was clearly the first time he’d heard the man’s name. Bodie pushed him back onto the gurney and was surprised how easy it was to do. Doyle was hurting, even if he wasn’t letting on.
“Ruined my favorite shirt already. Keep still!” Bodie ordered. “I saw a photo in Lord Fitzhugh’s office. Halley recognized the son immediately, and the father told us many of his school chums used to call him ‘The Saint’.”
“The programme Moore starred in during the sixties.” Cowley nodded grimly.
“I’ve always preferred The Persuaders,” Doyle said, glaring at Bodie.
“Tony Curtis looked like a poofter.” Bodie felt Doyle’s self-recrimination down to his toes. Doyle always blamed himself, even when he couldn’t possibly have prevented the outcome.
“Murphy and Jax searched the entire area around Hastings’ gallery.” Cowley crossed his arms, frowning. “Without finding hide nor hair of this Fitzhugh. I’ve already set Betty to digging through Naval records for his file.”
“He’d undoubtedly stashed a car somewhere close,” Doyle said, bracing one hand on the edge of the gurney without laying back. He looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Miserable self-flagellating sod, Bodie scolded mentally. Aloud, he said, “we’ll need the number plate, make and model.”
“I’ll put eyes on Lord Fitzhugh’s property immediately,” Cowley said decisively. “In case the son returns to his father.”
“The vet, MacKenzie’s sending bloodwork from Thundergod and Candlemas to Porter straightaway,” Bodie explained, catching up Cowley and Doyle on all that he and Halley had learned at Fitzhugh’s stables.
“What about Zarathustra?” Doyle awkwardly picked up his blood stained shirt and raised one arm to slip it on.
Bodie merely took the shirt from him, tossed it in the rubbish bin and handed over his own leather jacket. If the idiot was going to insist on coming along, the least Bodie could do was cover his back.
“Always said we were two of a kind,” Sid murmured. “Same height, both bastards, now this…”
“Sid, don’t…” Chico squinted, seeing two small, tidy men with wide dark eyes framed with black lashes far too beautiful for a bloke. He turned towards his lover and the room swam. Morphine. The medical staff had given him vast quantities of the stuff which made intelligent thought like flying a kite on a windless day: frustrating and nigh on to impossible. “Don’ beat yerself up ‘bout it. Already ‘appened, ‘asn’t it?”
“If you’d come with Bodie and me—“
“Didn’t, did I?” Chico avoided looking down at his right arm. Bad enough having to decide which of the two Sids he was speaking to. He didn’t want to see two broken wings swathed in yards of bandaging. He couldn’t even feel his arm, the morphine was that good. As long as he didn’t move. “There’s something I’ve been needing to tell you but this ‘appy juice’s got me brainpan all scambled.”
Sid’s visage solidified enough for Chico to see the raw anguish: no doubt this had doubled Halley’s despair over his own loss.
“I don’t want you to have to suffer through—“ Sid broke off when a portly Indian man wearing a white coat came around the curtain.
“Good afternoon,” he started in a New Delhi accent, looking up from his clipboard. “Oh! I’d expected simply Mr Barnes, but you’re Sid Halley.”
Chico watched as Sid’s public mask slid on. The pleasant, if slightly ordinary face that hid his lightning quick smarts—and all emotion.
“And you are--?” Sid shook the man’s outstretched hand.
“Dharmendra Patel, orthopedic surgeon,” he answered with a quick bob of the head. “One of my colleagues was your surgeon.”
“Mr Mathers?” Sid asked.
Chico closed his eyes, dread taking up residence in his guts at the name Mathers. Brought back all the memories of Sid’s amputation and that first unnerving sight of Sid coming out of anesthesia, his truncated left limb wrapped in bandages. Was Mr Patel here to explain how he planned to cut off his right hand? Chico bit down on his bottom lip, forcing a calm that was in no way effective.
“Yes, of course,” Patel said. “Mathers was most unhappy that you would never be able to race again.”
Holding his breath, Chico waited for the other shoe to drop. How soon before his own hand was amputated?
“No more than I was,” Sid replied, merely a hint of sarcasm in his tone. “And not at all germane with respect to my friend. He broke his--?”
“I am quite pleased to report that whilst Mr Barnes has sustained considerable damage to his radius and ulna,” Patel began, “his wrist bones were not crushed, as we had originally feared.”
His usual optimism flooding back in at the surgeon’s words, Chico opened his eyes to see Mr Patel snapping an x-ray onto a lighted screen set into the side wall.
“You’ll see here.” He pointed to the jumble of whitish bones. “There are eight small bones in the wrist. The trapezium, trapezoid, capitate…” He laughed suddenly. “I forget that I am not lecturing in an anatomy classroom.” Patel smiled at Chico, instilling a sense of confidence. “You were extremely lucky. Although the ulna is broken in four places, we can fit in screws so that the bone will knit together. The radius snapped in two from the force and your tendons and muscles twisted with such strength that it pulled all of the wrist bones out of alignment and torqued the whole arm.” He tapped the x-ray again.
Feeling distinctly unwell at this overly cheerful recitation of his injuries, Chico tried to focus on the image of his arm but the room was spinning a bit too fast. He had to close his eyes again. “Cut to the chase, wot are me chances of playing the fiddle?” Or ever teaching judo again. He thought of the boys at St. Dismiss.
“You don’t play the fiddle now,” Sid scolded gently. He slid his right hand into Chico’s left, giving him a squeeze.
As good as a kiss under most circumstances. Chico managed half a smile. “I could learn, yeah?”
“Yes, by golly, you certainly could,” Patel agreed. “Only one bone, the small scaphoid under the thumb joint is irreparable, I suspect.”
“Never was one to ‘itch’ike,” Chico said, looking down at his good hand, clasped in Sid’s.
“Quite so, a dangerous endeavour.” Patel beamed, glancing at his watch. “It is necessary to wait until the swelling goes down in your arm. Once you are situated in your room upstairs, I will put traction on the wrist to re-establish proper alignment. Then on to the operating theatre tomorrow for a few screws to maintain correct position and promote healing.” He tucked the x-ray back onto his clipboard. “You’re young and fit--you’ll be right as rain in a fortnight.” He waggled his head. “Six weeks, at the most. I’ll see you in an hour in the treatment room.” He scurried out, on to some other unfortunate orthopedic patient.
“Well.” Sid seemed at a loss for words. “He’s jolly for a surgeon.” He smiled, one that was more than a trifle fixed and unconvincing. “You heard the man, six weeks—“
“Six weeks too long.” Chico hitched a breath. Damned morphine was wearing off. Pain shot up from his irreparable scaphoid bone up to the elbow, flash burning away the fog in his brain. Milty Fogg. Belmonti. He’d told Sid and the others about Belmonti’s mob, but not about Milty. “Oi, before the matron comes back to give me another jab of poppy, got something to tell you ‘bout Milty.”
“What are you going on about?” Sid asked. He loosed their clasped hands, brushing his fingers over the IV drip in the crook of Chico’s elbow and then across his cheek. A barely there caress.
“Me old friend Milty from the convent,” Chico ground out. The pain was building exponentially and he was afraid he’d lose his train of thought. “Saw him this morning…” Was it really the day that he’d bought scones after judo class? “It is still Sunday, ain’t it?”
“All day,” Sid deadpanned, some of his humour resurfacing.
“Milty tried to get me to bet on Thundergod,” Chico said. “Kept pushin’ like. To shut ‘im up, I gave him a fiver on the New York Jets.”
“Unless I’m very much mistaken, that is American football, not a horse race, Chico,” Sid said with affection. He pulled up a small stool to sit down by the gurney.
“Know that, don’t I?” Chico curled his lip, waiting a moment in hopes that the room would settle down and stop revolving so. “In retrospec’, seems Milty knew Thundergod was bound to win, yeah?”
“That’s why you mentioned Belmonti to Ambassador Merrill!” Sid exclaimed.
“Never got to tell the ol’ Cow ‘bout Milty.” Chico breathed out slowly, riding the pain but it was getting away from him and he didn’t have the energy to fight any longer.
“He must have been aware of the equis- erithrophedrine,” Sid told him. “Lord Fitzhugh’s vet believes that an American drug was given to Candlemas and Thundergod.” He grinned broadly. “Chico, my son, I think you’ve found a link we were all looking for.”
“Deserves a kiss, then, don’t it?” Chico murmured.
He never got it. The nurse arrived with a syringe full of morphine and his marching orders for the fifth floor.
Taking off Bodie’s leather jacket in the CI5 rest room, Doyle stifled a groan of pain. The gash along his ribs had necessitated ten stitches, and in addition to the original wound, he could feel every individual point where the needle had gone in and out of his flesh. Opening the narrow wardrobe, he selected one of his emergency shirts at random and pulled it on. Not bothering to do up more than one or two buttons, he sat carefully at the table just as the door opened behind him.
Bodie dumped a military file into Doyle’s lap with a barely concealed scowl.
“Cup of tea?” Doyle asked, well aware that Bodie was counting up his infractions as if they were deep into a kinky scene. He suddenly wished he were wearing the leather bands on both wrists. Bodie would clip them together and then…what? Bodie had never actually struck him, never flogged him like some cabin boy in a raunchy novel.
Something dark and angry flashed in Bodie’s clear blue eyes, but he retrieved cup, sugar bowl and pitcher from the tea trolley. “Since you’ve already had one lump, I’ll just add milk, shall I?” Bodie poured and stirred, handing the result over to Doyle.
“Are you quite through?” Doyle asked, still half in the dark fantasy where Bodie took him to task for doing his job so very badly. He didn’t want swats, the way his father used to do, but the firm clasp of those leather straps around his wrists, pressing into his flesh, would fit the bill. Would Bodie ever smack him, hard and firm, right before penetration?
“No.” Bodie thumped down into a chair, slurping his tea noisily.
Doyle gasped, steaming tea splattering on his leg. Which was enough of a distraction that Bodie didn’t seem to notice that Doyle had reacted before he’d splashed the hot liquid on himself. For a moment, he’d thought Bodie could hear his thoughts, deduce his nasty fantasies… Shame gutted him.
“Hurt yourself?” Bodie asked, tossing him a tea towel from the trolley.
“Seems all I can do today,” Doyle answered savagely.
“Rather you didn’t,” Bodie said into his cup.
“What?” Doyle demanded, although he’d heard him quite clearly. He tended to lash out, knew that about himself and still did it anyway. He really did need to be taken down a peg, as his da used to say right before he pulled off his belt.
Bugger! Why the hell was he going on like this?
“I reckon you’ve already read the file?” Doyle asked instead, setting his tea cup on the table.
Bodie nodded with a complicated expression Doyle couldn’t read. “Our Ellery was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, well decorated, rising rapidly in the ranks until shortly after the Falklands war.” Bodie retrieved the papers from Doyle’s lap, his fingers lingering just a beat too long against the inner seam of Doyle’s jeans. “He was discharged from the Navy soon after, although there’s a hint that things were not all shipshape and above board.”
“Such as?” Doyle wasn’t in the mood for Bodie’s word play. The stitches along the side of his rib cage throbbed and the tea wasn’t doing a bit of good.
“Apparently he was having trouble sleeping, starting arguments and fights with superior officers—which sounds a bit like someone I know.” Bodie flicked a glance at Doyle over the top of the page he was consulting. “There are several testimonies from fellow sailors and the like on Fitzhugh’s behaviour. Me thinks the Royal officer was quietly shipped out because he was becoming too dangerous, especially when confined to a ship for days at a time.”
“How was his marksmanship?” Doyle asked, about ready to start a fight with his partner if he didn’t finish.
“Top of the class, had the medals to prove that.” Bodie nodded. “He could have easily shot all three victims from quite a distance. What kind of rifle did you see?”
Doyle didn’t have to close his eyes to visualise the long barrel that Bond—or rather Fitzhugh had prodded him with. “Lee-Enfield, model L42A1. We’ve got it in ballistics right now, bullets being tested for a match.”
“So he kept his weapon after he left the Navy,” Bodie tsk-tsked, flipping through the rest of the file.
Which is why Doyle saw Halley before Bodie did. He looked knackered, as if the life had been sucked out of his body. Unusual for Halley, he wasn’t even hiding his plastic left hand. It hung like a weight from his arm, dragging his body toward the earth.
“Sid!” Ignoring his own wound, Doyle nearly leapt out of his chair to give Sid somewhere to sit. “How’s Chico doing?” He felt totally responsible for Barnes’ injury. If he hadn’t stopped to talk to Cowley on the r/t. If he had been more vigilant. If…
Sid shrugged, dispirited and sucked in a lungful of smoke before crushing the butt into an overflowing ashtray at the end of the table. “Surgeon says that in all likelihood, he’ll keep his hand…” He faltered for a moment, scooping air with his good hand as if trying to find confidence in the medical system.
“Tea coming right up,” Bodie inserted, clearly uncomfortable with the discussion.
“Metal pins into the bone, that sort of thing.” Sid shook his head, holding his right arm up with fingers splayed. “When I left him, they’d strung him up with his fingers attached to wires to hold the bones in traction. Looked like a torture device…” He sank into the chair that Doyle had vacated, accepting the cup Bodie pressed onto him.
“Can’t take this on yourself, Halley,” Bodie announced firmly, offering a tin of biscuits. Halley didn’t take one. Bodie ate two in quick succession. “Exactly what we were talking about on the way to Fitzhugh’s; we’re in a bloody dangerous business.”
Doyle snorted intentionally loudly, since he and Bodie had been deep in self-flagellation not five minutes before. “Literally,” he murmured.
“I’m a selfish bastard, no question, and I’m having the devil’s own time separating my experience—my surgeries from his,” Sid admitted, rubbing his left upper arm. “Chico’s forearm was broken badly, but is repairable, it’s not…” His jaw twitched, his prosthetic fingers closing and opening spastically. “It’s not the same as my own, but how do I keep my doubt away from Chico? That’s the last thing he needs.”
Doyle and Bodie glanced at each other at the same moment. Doyle felt supportive love flowing from his partner, soothing gaping wounds he’d barely acknowledged. Didn’t change his own opinion of what he’d done.
“May we ask something personal?” Bodie leaned against Doyle’s chair.
Sid took a swallow of tea with a shrug. “Reckon we know each other well enough by now to dispense with formalities.”
Checking to see that the door of the rest room was closed securely, Bodie took a breath. “Doyle and me, we’ve been together, as more than work mates for a while now.” He touched Doyle’s neck, just for an instant, a loving caress that spoke volumes.
Halley’s mouth lifted in a brief, wry smile. “You’ve just confirmed Chico’s suppositions,” he said with an abrupt laugh. “Yeah, don’t have to inquire any further. It’s the same with us.”
“Good,” Doyle said sincerely, laying a hand on Halley’s shoulder. “In that case, Chico already knows this is as hard on you as it is on him. He was with you, from all you’ve told us, when you went through it. Be there for ‘im now, it’s all he’ll want.” He gazed at Bodie, remembering the long, dreadful nights in hospital when Bodie had been his entire world; a link to reality when everything else was pain, IV drips and nurses invading his privacy.
His Adam’s apple betraying his inner turmoil, Sid nodded without speaking.
Doyle drew in a breath that was too painful by half. Damned knife wound, reminding him of his failures. “So what we don’t have right now is why Fitzhugh murdered Hasting, Trimble and Merrill. What did he know?” he asked, bracing his side with his left elbow. He sat down to conserve his strength.
Bodie watched him silently.
“Somehow he must have found out that Merrill supplied the drugs when Hasting came to paint the horses,” Bodie explained. “He could have seen a transaction at his father’s stable.”
“And what’s this stuff do exactly?” Doyle asked. Bodie had carefully pronounced the tongue twisting name on the drive back from the hospital. Didn’t mean Doyle could remember anything more than it began with an E. “Increase the horses’ speed?”
“From what I can understand,” Sid said slowly, “the red blood cells multiply more rapidly, giving the horse more oxygen and then—like the street drug speed, I reckon, there’s also some kind of stimulation of the nervous system.” He rolled his eyes, staring into the tea cup. “I had some time whilst Chico was getting tests done. Asked the doctors a few questions and was directed to the medical library in the basement. One can discover a great deal that way.”
“There’s far too many branches on this tree.” Doyle grimaced. “I need a flow chart—the ambassador’s son and his artist partner, drugs to horses to ensure the outcome of a race—“
“Which assures a winning bet,” Halley added. “Chico’s discovered more of the puzzle. Seems that mobster Belmonti employs an old mate of Chico’s.”
“Titchy git’s got marvellous friends,” Bodie said dryly, perching on the edge of the table.
“’E’s my tichy git,” Halley said in affected Cockney. “Apparently, Milty nearly insisted Chico bet on Thundergod. If Merrill was bringing the equis- erithrophedrine into the country, he was quite likely in league with Belmonti—“
“So that’s why Chico brought him up earlier.” Doyle hunched over the table, the wound in his side aching like a rotten tooth. He should have got the prescription for paracodol the doctor had offered. The mild narcotic in the painkiller would have taken the edge off about now, but he didn’t want his brain clouded when they were on the hunt.
“Merrill was playing a long game.” Bodie grabbed a paper napkin to start a list. “Like setting up dominos in a pattern and knockin’ them down. Merrill partnered with Hastings to get access to certain horses. Once they got the drug into the horses, he bet on them, and raked in the money.”
“At some point, he must have gone in with Belmonti,” Sid took up the theory, “getting a percentage of the payout on every horse he could guarantee would win a specific race.” He shook his head in amazement. “Racing officials and owners wouldn’t have noticed the change in the horses’ performances at first because it was generally over a few months, the way Thundergod improved. Trainers simply took the credit for better training methods.” He tapped his plastic fingers on the arm of the chair. “Merrill was smart, he didn’t bet on his own rides, and stayed in the amateur races to maintain distance from his scheme.”
“He and Hastings would have had to have accomplices—they can’t possibly have gone out to all the stables to administer the equis-stuff frequently,” Doyle mused.
“We’ve already sussed that one out,” Sid agreed. “A stable lad from Fitzhugh’s place went missing.”
“He’s the one who took Thundergod back and forth to Sandown,” Bodie said. “Charlie Dash. And I’ve just recalled someone we never slotted into the scheme—the bird with the dark hair. She was in the footage of the charity event.”
“Quite possibly the air hostess Merrill was seeing when he flew back and forth to America?” Doyle asked.
“If she was, then he was playing the field.” Sid frowned. “He was stepping out with a stable lass, as well, last summer.”
“Probably to keep an eye on whichever horses she worked with.” Bodie sketched a stick man on a splay legged horse. “Our Tim was a very busy boy. No wonder he had enemies.”
“Could that woman who worked for Atlantica Air—“ Halley touched his forehead, “her name is on the tip of my—“
“Nora,” Halley and Doyle said at the same time.
Sid smiled a little more easily than he had when he arrived and saluted Doyle with his false hand. “Could she possibly be an intermediary instead of a girlfriend?”
“Ahh!” Bodie sounded like a professor making a major discovery. “If Tim scored the drugs somewhere in America during his trips to sporting events, he could tuck them into the diplomatic pouch and hand them off to Nora during the flight. No-one would be the wiser.”
“Hopefully, Cowley contacted the airlines for a list of employees,” Doyle said.
“Except that Merrill and Hastings would need to have the drugs to distribute to their customers when Hastings went to paint his portraits.” Halley glanced at Bodie’s list—and drawing-- on the napkin. “Art isn’t your forte. P’haps Nora simply held the triple –E…”
“Much easier to pronounce.” Bodie nodded encouragingly.
“Until they needed the stuff, or so that Merrill could bring the pouch back to the embassy free of anything illegal?” Halley got up to pour himself more tea.
“With so many facets to the investigation, we need to focus on the immediate, the murder,” Doyle said, grateful he could keep up with the discussion as his failures layered fault onto his soul like bricks in a wall. The phantom leather bands were back, no matter how he tried to repress them, constricting both wrists. He could almost feel Bodie forcing him to his knees with a savage snarl—not now.
He ruthlessly eliminated the fantasy. “Which brings us back to Ellery Fitzhugh; where d’you reckon he’s holed up?”
“Since Chico and Ray saw him, he’ll be in survival mode,” Halley said thoughtfully. “And if he gets in touch with his father, he’ll find out that you and I were there.”
“Exactly. Is he the sort to flee with his tail between his knees or come out fighting in retribution?” Bodie mused.
“I’d say the latter, unfortunately,” Halley commented. “He’s a trained military man, he’ll have a plan. He was extremely careful, brought about well executed murders.
“According to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing, he has an older model Ford. The Met is on the lookout for his number plates now,” Bodie said, his eyes on Doyle.
“How did you two see him?” Halley asked.
“He was on the edge of the crowd, watching the cops, like any other nosy neighbour,” Doyle answered. “Chico followed him, but I was delayed, calling into Father.”
Halley’s eyebrows slid up.
“Cowley,” Bodie explained. “So, Ellery’s been watching us, has he? All the more reason to beat the bushes until we--.”
“Find him, fast,” Doyle finished the sentence, feeling Bodie observing him like a suspect in gaol. Feeling his actions being judged and found wanting. He’d been inches from Fitzhugh and let him get away. Hadn’t prevented Chico’s wounds, hadn’t done one damned thing correctly.
He deserved every swat his father had ever laid on his bare skin, every beating the old man had given him after a night down at the pub.
Old memories welled up, his da gathering all the girls around, Doyle’s sisters and mother, as witnesses. Liam Doyle was always judge, doling out the sentence with a harsh flick of the wrist. Raymond Doyle had invariably been at fault, for every damned thing he’d ever done.
He was worthless.
Doyle had gone somewhere dark and depressing. Bodie could read it in every line of his partner’s body. Not to mention that with every hour that passed since they’d left the hospital, Doyle got paler and more lifeless. Even takeaway Chinese hadn’t put any colour in his wan cheeks. Bodie had made sure to order some of Ray’s favourites: bok choy in garlic and vegetarian spring rolls.
For once, Halley had dug into the food as if he was starving. Halley ate like a bird most of the time; Bodie was convinced the man basically lived on cigarettes, black tea, and the occasional beer. Halley had once said that he’d got used to a meagre diet when he was a jockey and hadn’t been able to tolerate rich foods since.
“Don’t usually eat all three meals,” Sid said, looking down at an empty container that had held sweet and sour prawns. “What time is it?”
“Going on half past nine,” Doyle supplied.
Halley nodded. “Seems an age since lunch at the pub and even longer since breakfast at our flat. Chico’s nil by mouth tonight, with surgery looming on the morrow.”
Polishing off the last of the chicken and cashews, Bodie pitied anyone who couldn’t enjoy their food. Doyle was still playing with the vegetables on his plate as if they were plastic toys.
“Not going to eat that then?” Bodie asked, irritated. The stubborn berk refused to go back to his flat to rest until they’d found Fitzhugh despite all evidence that he was feeling poorly.
At nine, just when Bodie had returned with the takeaway, they’d heard from Scotland Yard that Fitzhugh’s Ford had been found abandoned on a dark close in the middle of London. So he was either still in the city limits or had found some other vehicle and escaped to parts unknown.
“Finished.” Doyle pushed away the plate.
“You didn’t eat a thing.” Bodie took Doyle’s discarded spring roll. There were nibble marks on one end, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d bitten something that Doyle had had in his mouth. Bodie ate it in two bites. Delicious.
He’d prefer having Doyle in his mouth, in all truth. Another day.
“Not hungry,” Doyle said savagely. He lurched to his feet with a snarl. “I can’t sit here any longer, I’m going…”
“Ray!” Bodie grabbed Doyle’s slender wrist, and saw sudden arousal flash across Doyle’s face. It was gone in a second. “What’s –“
“Shut it,” Doyle hissed, jerking his arm out of Bodie’s grasp.
Anson came through the rest room door as Doyle spoke. He spied the leavings of the Chinese food and latched onto the last of the pork buns. “Cowley’s looking for you lot,” he announced, munching. “Lord Alexander Fitzhugh’s arrived; Cowley’s already grilling him.”
“That can’t be good,” Sid said standing. He glanced between the three agents. “This is your bailiwick. I’ll be going back to hospital then.”
“Nope, ol’ George particularly wants you in on the parley,” Anson continued, helping himself to some tea and then the untouched bok choy in garlic. “This isn’t bad for Doyle’s usual crap.”
“Eat it all,” Doyle said without inflection.
Bodie stifled the urge to slap some sense into Doyle. He wasn’t right in the head just now, but there was nothing Bodie could do about it with Cowley summoning them. Duty called, and all that.
“C’mon, Sid,” Bodie said instead, leading the way out the door to the left. “You didn’t get a tour of the highlights of the building the last time you were working a case with us. The interrogation rooms in the dungeon have all the amenities: fetters, thumb screws—“
Doyle inhaled a trifle too sharply, his eyes slightly glazed. No-one else would have noticed, but Bodie knew Doyle’s every mood. He was furious, disconsolate and unaccountably horny.
“Wrong direction, Bodie!” Anson called out. “Cowley’s got the old gent in the unused office.”
“Perks of the aristocracy,” Doyle muttered darkly, turning on his heel.
Cowley was waiting for them outside the office on the opposite side of the corridor from his own. “I’d expected the three of you long before this,” he snapped, blue eyes blazing. “Doyle, you’re with me. You identified the son at the scene of the crime which should jolt his Lordship into reality.”
“But I didn’t know it was his son when I—“ Doyle countered.
“He needs to understand what actually happened,” Cowley interrupted with a brusque gesture. “Prove to him what his son has done in the name of retribution for a horse.” The last word came out in an angry growl.
Bodie had rarely seen the Controller so furious. Could it be that he was affected by what happened to Barnes and Doyle? He’d always had a soft spot for the effervescent Chico. “Sir, I could--”
“He knows you and Halley, which would put him at his ease,” Cowley said sharply. “I want Lord Fitzhugh rattled to his core. He’s used to the deference accorded the elite, and he’s not going to get it here.”
Doyle’s green eyes glowed with sudden equal anger, but he nodded stiffly and proceeded the rest of them into the office. Bodie saw him straighten, assume the role of tough interrogator, sloughing off the dispirited and hurting Doyle he’d been in the rest room.
Tucking his prosthesis in his jacket pocket, Halley followed him and Cowley into the office without a word. Bodie shut the door, standing in front of it.
“Lord Fitzhugh,” Doyle said formally. Fitzhugh was seated at a conference table. There were five other chairs around the pine table, but no-one else sat down. “The name is Doyle. I work with Bodie, whom you met earlier with Sid Halley.”
The older man’s eyes narrowed warily. The hours since Bodie had seen him last had been hard ones. The wrinkles on his face were more deeply engrained, his complexion sickly in the fluorescent overhead lights.
Fitzhugh glanced at Sid with what looked like hope. “Halley, I’ve told Mr Cowley that--”
“Halley is merely an observer,” Cowley cut him off. “Explain to Doyle where your son has been this weekend.”
“As I have said more than once, Ellery left for London early, to visit friends—“ Fitzhugh replied, sitting ramrod straight. A ghost of the man who’d trained Ascot winners shone through.
“Not to Kempton yesterday or Sandown today, for the races?” Doyle asked rapidly, without giving him a moment to answer. “Did he take a Lee-Enfield rifle with him?”
“What?” Fitzhugh looked aghast. “He knows how to shoot, of course. He’s an excellent huntsman, but there’d be absolutely no reason to—“
“Does he own an L42A1?” Doyle shot back. “A military style sniper weapon? We’ve seen his files. He had sniper training, didn’t he?”
Bodie smiled privately. Doyle had never even opened the file. He was fishing, but doing a damned fine job.
“Yes, part of his duties in the Royal Navy.” Lord Fitzhugh nodded with a suspicious frown. “What are you getting at?”
“We have reason to believe Ellery used that weapon to kill three men,” Doyle told him flatly. “Ballistics have already confirmed that a bullet from the rifle I took from Ellery killed Tim Merrill, and we’re waiting on the matches to the bullets from Algernon Hastings and Maxim Trimble.”
“Impossible!” Fitzhugh jumped to his feet. “My son could never…”
Both Doyle and Bodie reached for the guns holstered under their arms, but neither drew their weapons. Cowley watched expressionlessly, his blue eyes bright. Out of the corner of his eye, Bodie saw Halley shift from one foot to the other, but he could have been playing poker for all the emotion that showed on his face.
“You’ll do well to sit down, sir,” Bodie said in a hard voice, grimly satisfied when Fitzhugh dropped into his chair as if he’d been struck. Moving his hand away from his holster, Bodie chose the chair closest to his Lordship. “Your son was identified.”
“Witness said a bloke who looked like Roger Moore was on the roof at Kempton races—“ Doyle said very quietly, as if imparting a secret. He braced one hand on the table, crowding Fitzhugh. “I saw him today at the scene of the shooting at Merida Gallery.”
“You yourself admitted he’s a dead-ringer for the actor,” Bodie stated, unable to look away from his partner. Doyle was menacing and truly gorgeous, not a hint of injury marring his feline grace.
“He wouldn’t—” Fitzhugh started, his complexion as pale as chalk. Bracketed between Bodie and Doyle, he didn’t flinch. “He’s had a rough go at finding a position since—“
“You neglected to mention to my colleagues that Ellery was brought up on charges of insubordination and discharged from the Navy,” Doyle stated, leaning closer into the old man. “Where the bloody hell is your son? He’s killed three men in cold blood and we will track him down, with extreme force.”
“Ellery kept his own council.” Fitzhugh didn’t move but he had aged before their eyes. “He didn’t tell me what happened, but the war changed him…” Fitzhugh scrubbed a hand across his face. “He’s been emotional lately, but never violent. Not a kill--”
“He’s a murderer, man!” Cowley’s brogue rolled the R’s. “What do you know?”
“Does he have a place to go? Who are these friends?” Doyle asked savagely, his face inches from Fitzhugh’s.
“He was a fine officer!” Fitzhugh insisted, balling his fists. He stared defiantly at Doyle. “He always had high marks in maths in school. When Ellery went over my account books, he recognized the financial straits the stable was in…but I never thought he’d…” Fitzhugh shook his head stubbornly. “I cannot believe your claims until my son tells me the truth.”
“Then give us a name, a location, Alexander,” Halley spoke up at last, with the request of an old friend. “So we can determine Ellery’s whereabouts, give him a chance to explain his actions.”
Doyle bit off a curse but backed off the pressure, leaning against a wall with his arms crossed. He glared at Halley. “He knifed me after killing two people, did you know that, sir?” The honorific was a snarl of rage.
“How can I betray my own son? You’ll charge him with these vicious crimes!” Fitzhugh countered in obvious despair.
“Your Lordship, do you recall my mate, Chico?” Halley stood across the table from Fitzhugh.
“I do,” he answered cautiously.
“Chico’s in hospital,” Halley said, taking his false hand out of his pocket. He held it up so that the plastic arm was quite visible and unbuttoned the cuff of his sleeve, shoving the fabric away from the fake, peach coloured skin.
Bodie watched, impressed. He’d never seen Sid reveal his prosthesis so publically. That took guts. Cowley observed Halley with keen interest. It was clear he’d never seen the full effect either.
“Ellery attacked Chico and Doyle—slammed the rifle into Chico’s arm. The bone’s shattered, do you understand?” Halley brandished proof of his own limitations in the old man’s face. “He could face amputation.”
Fitzhugh sat white faced, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Chico described Ellery to me. So how the hell—“ Halley’s voice cut like the blade of knife, the Welsh lilt of his youth colouring every syllable, “can you sit here defending your murderous off-spring?” He slammed his plastic encased metal forearm onto the table with a crash.
Fitzhugh jumped, clenching his teeth. “He went to London yesterday morning,” he said, clearing his throat as if he couldn’t get enough moisture to speak.
Good, Bodie thought privately. Let him stew.
“I don’t know the names of his friends. Ellery’s a private man.” His right hand was quivering and he clamped the left one over his fingers. “I’ve heard him speaking on the telephone to a woman—Niamh.”
“What’s her surname?” Doyle demanded. “Where’s she live?”
“Niamh Paulson.” Fitzhugh exhaled. “I’ve never met her, I think she lives in Notting Hill.“
Bodie beat Doyle to the door of the office, but only because he’d been closer in the first place.
They were already driving through the dark London streets when Doyle’s r/t squawked. “4.5.,” he identified himself.
“We’ve got an address for a Niamh Paulson,” Jax intoned, rattling off the number. “St. Luke’s Road, off Westbourne Park Road.”
Bodie swung the steering wheel, roaring into a heart-stopping left turn directly in front of oncoming traffic. A lorry’s horn blasted behind them as the Capri hurtled toward their destination.
Doyle clicked the talk button on his r/t. “Who’s meeting us there?”
“Murphy and his mate, that new bloke—“ Jax started.
“Cougan,” Bodie supplied dryly. “Hardly green, he’s been in the squad for six months.”
“Call him Ginger, it’s easier on all of us,” Jax said with a laugh. “And the Met’s been put on alert as well.”
“Damn all good they’ll do,” Doyle muttered bitterly, tucking the r/t back into his jacket pocket. He felt lousy, but there was no way he was going to sit out arresting Ellery Fitzhugh.
“You up for this?” Bodie asked seriously, glancing at him.
“Have to be, don’t I?” Doyle ignored the concern. He’d get his comeuppance later, of that he was sure. Until then, Bodie was not his master while they were on duty.
“Nothing I can say, is there?” Bodie’s face was a pale blob in the dark interior of the car. The occasional lamp post highlighted his profile very briefly; he looked like a Victorian silhouette cut-out.
“Shut it, Bodie.” Doyle scowled, feeling like he was composed entirely of raw nerve endings. “You want me to admit I fucked up? Yeah, I did. And Chico got hurt.” He resisted the urge to guard his own injured side with his elbow. “So, shut your gob.”
“Even if I wasn’t going to say anything of the sort?” Bodie retorted. He slowed the car, turning cautiously onto St. Luke’s Road. “It’s the house in the middle, on the left.”
“After the dust up in the park this afternoon, Ellery could have walked here along Portobello Road,” Doyle commented, looking up at the brownstone building. There were probably four flats. Every window in the place was lit up, and he could see BBC news presenter Laurie Mayer on a telly screen clear as day. This wasn’t going to be easy.
Bodie parked the Capri opposite the building. Moments later, a small Ford passed them. Murphy waggled his fingers at Doyle and slid his car up against the kerb two houses further up.
“6.2, eyes open and cover the building,” Doyle said into his r/t, watching the street. One woman strolled by walking a small corgi, but she was the only pedestrian in sight. “We’re going in.”
“Right,” Murphy answered.
“How do we play this?” Bodie asked, both hands still on the steering wheel.
“You mean other than storm the place and haul the fucker out on his ear?” Doyle slid his gun out of the holster. The movement hurt his side, but he welcomed the flare of pain. It was a potent reminder. He checked the bullet magazine and tucked the pistol back into place.
“I’m thinking telly licence fee?” Bodie suggested lightly, doing the same with his own weapon. “Our van has been in your area and triangulated your signal,” he went on, imitating the plummy voice on the televised advert. “You’re overdue in paying your bill, sir and or madam, and could be fined unless you pony up.”
He almost succeeded in making Doyle laugh. “Yeah, all right,” he conceded. “A soft approach. Ellery won’t have his rifle, that’s some relief.”
“Still got the pig sticker he used to carve his initials into your side.” Bodie frowned at him and climbed out of the car.
Getting into the building took seconds. Two young men, barely out of their teens by Doyle’s admittedly jaded estimation, swung open the front door as Bodie and Doyle walked up. The ground level was nicer than he’d expected, with a grouping of potted plants and carpeted stairs.
“Mail boxes,” Bodie said aloud, pointing to the name Paulson on the fourth box. “Second storey. Would have to be, eh?”
Doyle took the stairs two at a time, very aware of Bodie directly behind him. Bodie was his anchor, his rock, even when he felt completely out of kilter. He didn’t even have much of a plan besides breaching the Paulson threshold and throttling that bastard Ellery. He was running on fumes and anger, not a good combination.
When they reached the landing, Bodie shouldered in front of Doyle in the narrow corridor. Noticing that he hadn’t even pulled his pistol, Doyle started to speak but Bodie held a finger to his lips. “Telly licence, remember?” he chided.
All well and good if Miss Paulson answered the door. If Ellery was as paranoid as they feared, and came out blazing, Doyle didn’t even want to consider the consequences.
Bodie knocked on number four, plastering on a pleasant, if fake, smile.
“It’s after ten o’clock! Who is it?” The door opened a crack, one blue eye peering out above the security chain lock.
“Ma’am, we’d like to verify your television licence fee, to ensure that you get the best service from the Beeb and—“ Bodie started his spiel.
“Please,” she whispered. “Go away, now.”
“Are you Niamh Paulson?” Doyle asked softly, cognizant that Ellery could be quite close by behind the solid barricade.
“How do you know?” She sounded terrified.
“We’ve been in contact with Ellery’s father, he’s looking for him,” Doyle said, only slightly bending the truth. “We’d just like to speak with Ellery.”
“He’s not here--“ She moved back, the gap growing smaller as she closed the door.
To get leverage, Doyle shoved the toe of his boot in the narrow space. He heard her cry of terror from inside the flat.
“Bloody hell!” Bodie slammed the door with his shoulder, snapping the security chain as if it was a toy. He and Doyle barrelled through the door in unison.
Doyle drew his gun on instinct, going right as Bodie went left. Ellery held Niamh Paulson by the upper arm, his fingers digging brutally into her milky flesh. He pointed the knife blade toward his attackers, slowly pulling Niamh back into the hallway leading to the bedroom.
“Put down the knife and let Miss Paulson go,” Doyle said, déjà vu overlaying the present with past. Hadn’t he just done this with Chico?
“You!” Ellery sneered. “Thought you’d have had enough. You’re still bleeding.”
He hadn’t been aware. Belatedly, Doyle could feel the sticky dampness on his left side. Bodie didn’t look his way but took a step, increasing the distance between them with his pistol aimed straight at Ellery.
“This is only going to end one way, Fitzhugh,” Bodie growled, moving further to the left, diverting Ellery’s attention away from Doyle. “You going to prison. You’ve murdered innocent men—“
Doyle slid a foot closer to Niamh while Ellery was focussed on Bodie.
“Innocent?” Ellery retorted. He swung the knife wide, levelling it at a huge canvas propped against the wall. An Algernon Hasting original portraying a bay poised in the act of jumping.
“Candlemas,” Bodie identified.
“An innocent man would not have given that horse poison!” Ellery snarled, returning the knife point to Niamh’s neck. She gave a small sob. “This animal was my family’s livelihood,” Ellery ranted. “And it’s all been stolen by that American bastard and his snivelling little friend.”
Another step to the right and Doyle caught Niamh’s hand, the barrel of his gun held against his lips to signal quiet.
“So you decided your first course of action was to murder the jockey during a race?” Bodie demanded, staring directly at Ellery. “I was there, Fitzhugh. I saw where you waited on the roof to blow that man’s head off.”
“Like a lamb to the slaughter,” he boasted with an odd chuckle.
Niamh stared at Doyle, blue eyes wide like a frightened child. Her lip quivering, she shifted incrementally away from the knife pressed against her neck. Just enough of a space for Doyle to jam his stiffened fingers into the bundle of nerves under Ellery’s left arm.
“What the hell?” Ellery yelled as his arm went slack.
Niamh cried out in terror when Doyle shoved her away, the knife blade swiping a thin line of blood on her throat. Ellery swung around to viciously hack at Doyle with the knife, the point of the blade grazing his right arm.
“She’s mine!” Ellery yelled.
Bodie tackled Ellery from the side, bringing him roughly down onto the carpet. The knife flipped end over end, the blade slicing though the stretched canvas of the painting.
“You have no rights in a private citizen’s abode!” Ellery bellowed, thrashing under Bodie’s firm hold. “This will not be sanctioned.”
“El!” Niamh wailed, blood trickling down her neck. “What did you do?”
“Your grasp of the law is as dicky as your moral ethics,” Bodie chided. “Murder isn’t a viable excuse for revenge, no matter what a fellow’s done.” He kneed Ellery in the back, grasping his flailing wrists in one hand. “Doyle, you have cuffs?”
“Use the tie backs.” Doyle yanked a gold tasselled cord from the window curtains and tossed it to his partner. He had to look away as Bodie looped the rope around Ellery’s wrists, sudden desire to be the one under Bodie’s thighs--under Bodie’s thrall—all consuming.
He shook off the arousing image, gently leading Niamh to the couch. “Where did Ellery get that painting?” he asked, even though he already knew.
“He bought it for me, as a gift,” she said, tears coursing down both cheeks. “I’ve never even been to a horse race. He said it was to remind him—of what he’d done.” She hitched a sobbing breath. “What did he do?”
He was riding Sable Flash in the Grand National, streaking down the course, the thundering hooves from the other horses yards behind him. This was what he’d trained for his entire life; this would be the apex of his career.
Sid gave Sable Flash a slight tap with the riding crop, and tried to tighten his grip on the reins with his left. Nothing happened. He glanced at his arm in horror; his hand was gone, replaced by gears and wires.
He clenched the horse with his knees, using a minor shift of muscles to communicate with his mount. Take the next hurdle at all speed. Sid tucked his body, becoming one with Sable Flash. To hell with his hand, to hell with them all.
He felt the horse leave the ground, and then Sid’s head exploded.
Gasping, Sid sat up abruptly, his shoulders and upper back seizing with pain. Damn! One hell of a dream. He gulped reflexively, rubbing grit out of his eyes with his right hand.
The St. Charles Hospital waiting room; little different from a dozen other waiting rooms he’d been in. Between frequent injuries as a jockey and the sometimes violent nature of his current work, he’d seen enough over the years.
A nurse was walking toward him, her blue uniform so starched it practically crackled. Sid uncrossed his legs and finger-combed his short dark hair into some semblance of neatness, trying to appear alert and intelligent.
“Mr ‘Alley?” she asked politely. “You asked to be called when Mr Barnes was awake.”
“Yes, of course.” He stood, ignoring the pins and needles in his feet. He peered at her name tag, Kitty. “Has Mr Patel set a time for the surgery?”
“This morning.” Kitty nodded. “He’s been added to the operating schedule after the patient Mr Patel is currently working on.”
Sid saw the compassion in her eyes, she was clearly able to see that he was not at his best this early in the morning.
“It’s going on ‘alf past six just now,” Kitty added.
“Thank you,” he said formally. Chico’s room was down the corridor to the right. He decided to wait until both feet had enough blood circulation to get him there.
Kitty padded off on her soft soled shoes, and Sid gave thanks that he wasn’t currently a patient in the ward. He’d been hospitalised so often that he really had no clue how to behave now that Chico was the patient. Chico used to jolly him up, cracking bad jokes and leading him to reality once he’d had the amputation. Sid felt inadequate to the task. He recognised his own tendency to get lost in the dark without the ability to see a way out. His hyper focus had been an asset in racing—and investigation--but it was useless when he had to locate the bright side.
He was scared witless—even after Patel’s optimistic assessment of Chico’s chances—that Chico would lose his right hand. What kind of partners would they be with only two flesh and blood hands between them?
“Halley!” a familiar voice called from behind him.
Bodie and Doyle came up, both looking like they hadn’t slept all night. Plus, Doyle was wearing a bloodied shirt—his second in the last twenty four hours.
“How’s Chico?” Doyle asked.
“He’s going into theatre later this morning. I was about to check on him,” Sid replied. “More to the point, what happened? Did you locate Ellery?”
“He’s in custody. Questioned him at CI5 first before remanding ‘im to jail. Took all night.” Bodie said, curling his lip. “Ellery threatened his girlfriend with a knife, right up to when we got him in handcuffs. Clumsy here ripped out his stitches saving the woman.”
“Just call me Frankenstein’s monster,” Doyle said sourly. He was visibly knackered. “Lines of spider tracks across me chest.”
“I suppose if you’re the monster, then I’d be the bionic man.” Sid waggled his plastic fingers with a rueful smile. “Glad it wasn’t worse.”
“Ellery was the one that bought the painting of Candlemas shortly before Doyle and I went to the gallery on Saturday,” Bodie said. “The painting was in his girlfriend’s flat, along with the bill of sale. He must have picked it up and then shot Hastings and Kimble. “ He grimaced. “Cold and calculated.”
“He knew Hastings was passing along the drugs to the stable lads, but of course, didn’t quite put two and two together until Thundergod began improving in exactly the same way that Candlemas had,” Doyle said.
“So instead of going to the police, he decided to kill all the suspects.” Sid shook his head. It definitely sounded like the assumption of shell shock or whatever it was currently termed had been a good call. “Perfectly logical.”
“Said he’d bought the painting to remind himself of what Merrill and Hastings had done to the family fortune.” Bodie frowned, taking Doyle’s elbow. “This one wants a kip in the worst way.”
“Speak for yourself!” Doyle snarled, leaning more into Bodie’s support than he probably intended to.
“I wouldn’t say no to some shut-eye, either,” Bodie continued with a smug grin of superiority. “Give our best to Chico and we’ll stop by with some grapes when he’s eating.”
“Chico can generally always eat.” That thought made Sid both happy and sad—because right now Chico was undoubtedly ravenous, but with surgery in the offing, he’d not be allowed food. “I’ll call when he’s out of surgery.”
He walked farther down the corridor to the room he’d peeked into the previous night. Chico had been in a drugged sleep then, but now he was wide awake.
“Ssssid-boy!” Chico called joyfully, with a sweetly unfocussed grin.
High as a kite, Sid postulated. Well, at least he wouldn’t have to bolster Chico’s spirits. A telly, bolted to a retractable metal support, was broadcasting the BBC’s morning chat show. The hostess was interviewing a pretty starlet.
“Good dreams last night? You must have slept well.” Sid brushed a blond curl off Chico’s forehead, willing himself to forget his own nightmare.
“You never tol’ me wha…” Chico licked his lips and laughed soundlessly, a puff of air filled his cheeks for a moment before he seemed to deflate back onto the pillows. “Wha’ good stuff you get when you’re in ‘ospital.” He poked a finger into Sid’s midriff. “You didn’t tell me.”
“I never liked that disconnected sensation,” Sid answered gruffly, unable to look away from Chico’s bandaged right arm hung from a complicated system of pulleys and wires designed to keep the bones and muscles in alignment. He’d had metal bits fitted into his shattered finger bones during the first two surgeries. Hadn’t improved his mobility or straightened his digits one iota. In the end, Mr Mathers had lopped off his hand just above the wrist. Didn’t bear thinking about. “Makes my head swim.”
“Don’t care if me ‘ead’s swimming, do I?” Chico closed his eyes briefly as if just the mention had made him aware that he was dizzy. “Me mouth feels like a camel in the Sa…” He licked his lips again, emphasising the H in the middle of the word. “Hara. Need a drink.”
“Sorry, mate.” Sid pointed at a visible notation posted above the bed. “Nil by mouth before surgery. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that.”
Chico pouted momentarily, sucking on his lower lip. He glanced at the television as a sports presenter came on. There was a short video of Timothy Merrill’s highlights, minus any gruesome images of the moment when his head was blown off.
“Turn up the volume,” Chico demanded.
“CI5 has announced that a major suspect is in custody. He will appear before a Magistrate on Tuesday. No name was released, but speculation is high that the same man also murdered the artist Algernon Hastings and his manager Maxim Trimble.” Small, unremarkable photos of those two appeared above the presenter’s head. “The racing world was still reeling from the death of one of its own jockeys, when Thundergod, the horse that won at Sandown on Sunday, died at his home stable sometime after the race. Dominic Albergheti, the jockey who rode the horse to victory, could not be reached for comment.”
“Ever wish there was a way t’go back, do it over ‘gain, but better?” Chico asked, his eyes haunted.
“I doubt we could have changed much,” Sid answered, knowing exactly how he felt.
The sports presenter had gone on to football statistics. Portugal won against Sweden, France came out ahead over Spain. “And onto rugby, the Cornish Pirates beat Scotland’s team…”
“Me and Doyle, we could’ve got to the gallery sooner, stopped…” Chico drew in a shaky breath. “’Astings was still alive when we found ‘im.”
“Yeah.” This was the sort of thing he wanted to shield Chico from. Odd because originally, Chico had been the one with the rough and tumble background, who’d been exposed to violence and poverty—along with an early education in the less than savoury occupations. Still, Sid had a strong instinct to protect his love from all that was bad in the world. That he could not do so still rankled.
Chico shifted his left arm along the blanket, being careful not to jostle the IV taped in the crook of his elbow. He latched onto Sid’s tie, tugging him closer.
Unable to resist the pull, Sid found himself nearly nose to nose with Chico. The urge to kiss him was overpowering, no doubt exactly what Chico had planned. He might be high, but he wasn’t brain dead. Sid pressed his lips to Chico’s, hearing the jaunty melody from some advert on the telly, tasting the dry, slightly sour flavour of Chico’s mouth and not caring one bit. Love and desire swept through him, completely wrong at this moment in time, but when had lust ever chosen an appropriate occasion?
“Needed that,” Chico said softly, his lips curving against Sid’s.
“Dangerous, that,” Sid amended, sitting back to adjust the knot on his tie. He was fairly competent at it one handed, although at home, Chico sometimes did the honours. “What with nurses and doctors in the corridor.”
“All the mor’ a challenge,” Chico slurred, sounding drunk.
“In other sports,” the presenter went on, “The American football team, the New York Jets had a surprising win against the Oakland Raiders, who were considered the stronger team. Punters on both sides of the pond received large payouts because the Jets had been so poorly favoured.”
“I won!” Chico crowed, jerking too strongly on his tractioned arm. He blanched, panting heavily with the pain. “I put a fiver down on the Jets with Milty!”
A middle-aged nurse, built like a short, thick fire hydrant, came in. “Mr Patel’s called. You’re going to theatre in half an hour, young man. Last vitals before they whisk you off.”
Chico frowned unhappily at her. “I can’t collect from Milty if I’m…”
“Tell me where to find him, I’ll sort it,” Sid assured with a smile.
“Near the bakery, past St. Dismas,” Chico muttered as the nurse efficiently noted his heart rate, respirations and blood pressure. “I want’a buy somefing with the money,” he said when she’d finally removed the thermometer from his mouth, pronounced him fit and added an additional sedative to his IV fluid. “Saw it at the gall’ry.” Chico’s eyes fluttered sleepily as the nurse padded out.
“What did you see?” Sid asked, fearful and hopeful at the same time. They’d get through this. Chico would not lose his hand. All would be well. He just had to believe that.
“Painting of you, squire.” Chico closed his eyes with a blissful smile. “With Malarkey. ‘Astings must’ve done it from a photo…” He inhaled softly. “You looked utterly mad…” He grinned crookedly, peeking at Sid with one blue eye. “And marvellous, bloody gorgeous.” He went to sleep just as two porters arrived to wheel the bed out to surgery.
Sid stood back to let them do so, feeling like he was astride a horse in mid jump over a hurdle, his heartbeat hammering in his ears.
“Food and bed,” Bodie said, leading the way through the lobby of St. Charles Hospital to the car park. “I’m knackered. Neither of us have slept in…” He tried calculating the hours, but his brain was too stuffed with cotton to do the figures. He’d gone for days with less sleep on other occasions, but right now, he couldn’t imagine how. The morning air was close to freezing, sky dark with a threat of rain.
“About twenty four hours,” Doyle agreed, walking stiffly, but without support. “Since it’s after 7am now. Bed, then food.”
About to dispute the ranking, Bodie’s r/t squawked before he took another step. “Fuck,” he said succinctly, shivering when the wind went up his back. “The Cow’s found us.”
“Unless you chuck that thing in a gutter, of course he’s going to find us anywhere in London,” Doyle reminded, hunched into his jacket. “Answer it or he’ll have Murphy after us forthwith.”
“Such aristocratic language,” Bodie said out of the side of his mouth as he mashed the talk button. Not about to waste time, he kept walking toward the car.
“3.7, has the doctor tended to 4.5?” Cowley asked, sounding surly.
He had every right to be, Bodie thought, even though they’d missed their opportunity to escape to his flat. Cowley had been working as long as they had. They all needed sleep. “Yes sir, we’re outside St. Charles. Stopped in to see Halley. Barnes is going in for surgery soon.”
“Splendid. Ambassador Merrill will be here at one o’clock,” Cowley said. “Arrive promptly, show some respect to the man.”
Nearly six hours off, giving them time to sleep, as well as time to get to back to headquarters, not factoring in actual food consumption. Much more than Bodie’d expected. “We’ll be there, sir,” he promised, clicking off.
“Sleep first,” Doyle insisted, the wind blowing his curls back from his temples. Made him look older, worn down; his sideburns were going grey.
Bodie didn’t argue. His entire body craved spooning against Doyle’s warmth on a soft mattress, with the duvet pulled over them both. At this point, he would have shelled out a twenty pound note to do so. Luckily for him, from St. Charles Hospital, his flat was only two streets over. Or, behind the hospital and one street past, to put it another way. It would almost be faster to walk, but Bodie followed his partner to the Capri, assuming Doyle would drive.
He was surprised when Doyle stood beside the passenger door, his head lowered submissively, his shoulders slumped. “When we get to your flat, will you allow me to wear the leather bands?” Doyle asked formally, his voice pitched so low Bodie barely heard him over the noise of cars going by on the road.
Examining Doyle’s contrite posture, Bodie came to a conclusion he didn’t entirely like. This was no request for an erotic session. It had an ominous feel, as if Doyle wanted penitence for some insubordination. “You put them on if you like,” Bodie said, intentionally blunt. “Or not, whatever suits your fancy.”
Doyle raised his head, glaring.
No, Bodie amended. Not a glare. What he saw was hostile anguish; Doyle’s eyes as stormy grey-green as a turbulent North Atlantic sea. He wanted to suffer, a harsh punishment to take away the pain of failure. Bodie wasn’t about to oblige—not today, not ever.
While he had nothing against rough sex, even swats or caning, if it suited the mood, he wasn’t going to feed into Doyle’s misplaced blame. Doyle expected his father’s version of discipline. Bodie’d heard the stories of Liam’s cruelty and it still set his teeth on edge. Bare knuckle beatings and switches that drew blood on youthful flesh. He wanted no part of that.
“I want—“ Doyle said stubbornly.
“Ray.” Bodie blew out a frustrated breath, a tiny cloud appearing in its wake. Bloody cold out and he really didn’t have the energy for an argument. “I know what you want,” he said very softly. “You’re just not going to get it from me. Into the car with you.”
Bodie yawned, feeling his ears pop, and drove out of the car park onto Barley Road toward Ladbroke Grove. He glanced over at his partner, but Doyle had his eyes closed. Bodie didn’t think he was asleep; he could feel waves of conflicting emotions coming off Doyle, filling the car up with a miasma of hot-tempered depression overlaid by an irascible touch of arousal.
Doyle didn’t speak until Bodie parked the car directly in front of his flat. “Why?” He demanded without turning to look at Bodie. “Isn’t that part of what we do?”
“If you think that then we’re not doin’ it anymore,” Bodie snapped, something sharp and angular piercing his heart.
Doyle clenched his fists on his knees, breathing hard, which had to hurt with his new stitches. “Ain’t what I mean, is it?”
“Then spell it out.” Bodie twisted the door handle to climb out of the car.
“I want the discipline,” Doyle said very slowly, his head down. “I want to feel something else because me head’s in a vile, rotten place.”
Bodie reached over to slide his fingers through Doyle’s, feeling the heat of Doyle’s skin through his palm. “Exactly why I cannot do what you want, love. I won’t hurt you for something I don’t think you are in any way responsible for.” He bounced their joined hands once, then let go. “If, in the course of a scene, the headmaster of the prep school felt the need to give young Doyle two raps on the knuckles for breaking a school rule, that’s one thing—“
Doyle grimaced, his mouth twisting, and for a moment, Bodie thought he might cry. But that was not Ray Doyle. He crossed his arms tightly over his body as if trying to prevent something vital from flying off and nodded, licking his lips.
“But asking for punishment because you think you fucked up?” Bodie clenched his teeth, mentally piling more charges onto Ellery Fitzhugh. “That doesn’t enter into our private play. You know that, don’t you?” He got out of the car. “That would be Cowley’s department. He’ll have you permanently on stake-out of an abandoned building for a fortnight.”
“Yeah,” Doyle said over the roof of the Capri. “You keep me grounded, Bodie.”
“As you do me.” Bodie would have kissed him then, but they were on a public street and dozens of his neighbours were passing on their way to catch a bus or the underground.
Doyle’s upper lip turned up slightly, not a genuine smile, simply acknowledgement of their mutual dependency. “I still want the bands on.”
“They suit you. I like seeing them on your wrists,” Bodie said lightly, holding the door to his building open.
Ambassador Merrill strode in moments after Doyle and Bodie. He was dressed to the nines, with what Doyle recognised as a suit from one of the preeminent tailors in London. Prince Charles himself had worn the same style only days before, grey with a bright blue tie.
Doyle wasn’t usually one for sartorial excess, but Bodie had decided that if Cowley wanted them to be respectable, then they damned well would look the part. Bodie was kitted out in a dark suit and a tie with repeating gold diamonds. Doyle hadn’t seen that outfit since the early days of their partnership, before Bodie loosened up and started dressing more like him. Today, however, Doyle was dressed more like Bodie, in a borrowed cream coloured jacket with patches on the elbows and a God-awful green tie with small bunnies scattered all over. He’d given Bodie the tie as a gag gift one year. Now the gag was on him, and it felt like one, too—that or a noose. He’d asked for punishment, perhaps this was it.
Bodie had lent him a shirt, too. He tugged the French cuffs down to conceal the leather bands wrapped around each wrist. Contrary to the garrotte in the guise of a tie, he loved the constriction of the leather, linking him invisibly to Bodie.
Cowley glanced up and down at the two of them, his blue eyes assessing. Apparently he found no fault, and turned to Merrill. “Ambassador, thank you for coming in to aid in wrapping up this dreadful business.”
“The thanks are all mine, Mr Cowley. I commend you and your men for catching the murderer so quickly.” Merrill sat down, rubbing his forehead. “This has been, pardon my French, one hell of a weekend. I regret that I left angry yesterday, but…”
“You had every right to tear into us,” Doyle said, his own impotent rage still smouldering in his belly. The gash in his side constantly reminded him that Fitzhugh had bested him, nearly twice.
Merrill let out a noisy breath. “This has been hard—“ He touched his immaculate tie, rubbing a finger down the length. “Worse than when my wife died. With the reporters, members of my own staff and the government questioning me…” He swallowed, visibly exhausted. “I thought I knew my son, thought I had some inkling of his life.”
“From all we have learned, Tim appears to have been very good at compartmentalising his actions from various friends and family,” Cowley said neutrally. “Do you take issue with what we’ve uncovered?”
“No.” Merrill shook his head. “I see now that my…trust was misplaced in Tim. I should never have allowed him to carry the diplomatic pouch. I’m having such a—difficult time understanding what he thought he could gain by…”
“Had you ever heard of equis-erithrophedrine?” Bodie cut him off.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Merrill sighed, closing his eyes. “My brother-in-law in California, my late wife’s brother, helped develop the drug. As a stimulant for sluggish horses.”
“The sound of the other shoe dropping,” Doyle said bitterly. A solid link to where Tim got the drug. Although exactly what had initiated his smuggling and doping scheme wasn’t clear. That was an investigation for another day. Triple E originated in the States, where CI5 had no jurisdiction. Luckily, there were enough threads to be tied up in the UK, starting with Belmonti. Doyle wanted to shake the mobster until his eyes rolled around in his skull and see what fell out.
Doyle looked over at the grieving father, a man trying to come to terms with the realisation that his own son was someone he hadn’t known at all.
What was it about fathers and sons lately? Doyle thought back to the night before when he and Bodie brought Ellery Fitzhugh into CI5; Ellery raving, clearly off his head. Lord Fitzhugh had been in the passageway when they’d arrived. Finally faced with the truth of what his son had done, the father had broken down in shock and horror. Cowley had had to ring the squad’s physician to sedate the older man before Bodie and Doyle could interrogate Ellery.
Then there was his own da, whose actions influenced him to this day. Doyle still saw his father once or twice a year; strained holiday meals with Liam’s new, considerably younger wife. He wanted to forgive, and at times, thought maybe he had. Liam had stopped drinking, but Doyle couldn’t quite put what he could now admit was abuse completely in the past.
“We’ve contacted Atlantica Air and brought in the air hostess, Nora Bellamy,” Cowley was saying when Doyle forced himself back to the present. “She has been cooperating with us for a reduced sentence for her involvement, although because the charges include drug smuggling among other more serious ones, a reduction will likely mean a prison sentence in any event.” He pushed on his thick black spectacles, sorting through the paperwork on his desk. “Och, here it is, buried.” He peered at the information, looking for a specific paragraph. “Miss Bellamy admits that Tim would board the plane and sit in first class where she was working. She’d volunteer to put the diplomatic pouch in the overhead bin—“
Hearing that, Merrill leaned forward, head in his heads. “It’s never supposed to leave the courier’s hands,” he muttered in dismay.
Cowley pursed his lips, watching Merrill with an unsympathetic expression and continued to read. ”She would transfer the contents of the diplomatic pouch to her travel bag whilst Tim was in flight. Which means—“ He levelled stern blue eyes at Merrill, “that she quite possibly saw or read sensitive high level security American documents meant for you and your staff.”
Bodie glanced at Doyle, raising his eyebrows. Espionage. That hadn’t even occurred to Doyle with all the other ramifications of the younger Merrill’s actions. This was a complex, multi-faceted case with wide reaching implications. Solving the murder in less than two days had not reduced the international incident, but vastly magnified it. There would be more than enough work for CI5, the FBI, Interpol and half a dozen more localised police in both countries.
“My career as a diplomat is over,” Merrill said carefully as if he couldn’t quite find all the words to describe his current situation. “I’ve already been informed that my chief of staff will be assuming my duties from now on…” Fingering the end of his tie, he clearly needed a few moments to gain control of his emotions. “I wish to be a help in any way possible...” He removed some files from the briefcase in his lap. “And to that end, since you are unable to—search the diplomatic residence for evidence, these are all the papers I could find in my s-son’s rooms.”
Bodie took the top file and glanced through the first few pages. “Exactly what we’ve been looking for, Picture Perfect’s client list.”
“Grand,” Cowley said, practically rubbing his hands together with glee. “Jax and Murphy brought away all that they could find on the partnership from the Merida, but it was woefully inadequate. Most of the papers there were provenance on the paintings, and whilst those were most informative, Hastings had done more paintings than simply the horse portraits for Picture Perfect.”
“Several were done from photographs of older horses and races,” Doyle spoke up. “Plus, there must have been some unfinished works wherever he had his studio.”
“Ah, yes,” Merrill said, raising a hand. “I’ve already spoken to the Hastings family who wish to limit their involvement in any criminal proceedings levelled against their son. I’ve talked to Allie’s solicitor, James Manchester, too. Because of the Picture Perfect agreement between Tim and Allie, the family has given me power of attorney for the paintings and his holdings, which includes a small studio Allie had rented.”
“Good to know.” Cowley nodded emphatically. “That will expedite the investigation. My men found an address for a studio and were going to obtain a search warrant.”
“You may search the place. I want complete transparency. I am beyond horrified at what Tim and Allie did,” Merrill said wearily. “I am planning to sell the paintings. I cannot get my son back, but I can help others who were affected. Start a fund for the owners and trainers whose horses were drugged by my son’s…”
“Avarice?” Doyle suggested when Merrill had paused long enough to prove he wasn’t going to finish his sentence. Who was the most to blame here? Tim Merrill who used his father’s status as a diplomat, combined with his standing as an amateur jockey to lure horse owners and trainers into a false sense of security? Pretending that he had their best interests at heart when he was really playing a confidence scam, combined with drug smuggling, all to line his own pockets? Allie Hastings who clearly went willingly along with the scheme when he could have had a lucrative career as a painter? Or Ellery Fitzhugh—he’d served his country, come back filled with too much pain of war and found his family in ruins, so he killed the people responsible. Was this the equivalent of an eye for an eye? Did murder equate to fraud, drugs, and gambling? Where was the line?
He knew there was one: a distinct demarcation that he would never step over. Ray Doyle had always been on the side of the law, or at least the side of the righteous, when he had a choice. He hadn’t stopped Ellery Fitzhugh from murdering, or even hurting a friend, but he’d helped bring the man to justice, and certainly that counted for something.
In all conscience, he didn’t dare compare himself to others, but he’d done a hell of a lot better than Merrill, Hastings and Fitzhugh. So why did he still feel so desolate?
Bodie glanced at him, love and friendship in his eyes.
Merrill inclined his head. “Please know that I want to make up for whatever my son did. I can’t begin to comprehend how far this reaches. Do you know how many horses were affected?”
“Not at this time.” Cowley steepled his fingers. “But the files you’ve provided will help.”
“We can ask Sid Halley to get the word out to the horse trainers and owners who hired Picture Perfect for paintings. Those animals may have been drugged,” Bodie put in.
“Bonnie idea,” Cowley said. “This is certainly only the tip of the iceberg. I have a notion that we’ll uncover much more corruption in the days to come.”
Merrill stood, squaring his shoulders. “I’m giving a press conference later today, to announce my resignation. I’ll be staying on in England for some time, until Tim’s…body is released and I can deal with the gallery, Picture Perfect and all of that…” He shrugged. “I think much of the…grief hasn’t sunk in yet.”
“The Bible says that fathers are not responsible for the sins of their children,” Cowley murmured. “That’s a difficult notion to grasp when faced with overwhelming evidence, but a bit of a comfort nonetheless?” He rose from his desk, extending a hand to Merrill.
“At this point, I’ll take every bit of comfort I can find.” Merrill shook his hand and walked out solemnly.
“Do you truly believe he knew nothing about what his son was doing?” Doyle asked when the door had closed. He wanted to leave, to go be with Bodie, away from all of this for at least a few hours. He wanted to know Chico was all right and that Sid wouldn’t have to live with the fear of his love undergoing amputation. He wanted…joy. He’d been happy forty-eight hours ago, watching the race begin with Bodie, Sid and Chico. The favourite, Tim Merrill on Zarathustra, had started down the track with such enthusiastic confidence.
Cowley inhaled noisily, tapping the earpiece of his glasses against his bottom lip. “I am reminded of Barry Martin. None of us suspected what was in his heart, or preying on his mind when he shot young Tommy.” He frowned, then shook his head ruefully, his fair hair tousled by the movement.
Separating the files Merrill had brought into two stacks, Cowley doled them out. “All right, lads, there’s work to be done. Wade through these and find something tangible we can sink our teeth into. With the main suspects in the case dead, we cannot let the arrows pointing to more criminal activity die with them. ” He shooed them into the hall, one hand already on the telephone.
Taking several files with him, Doyle wrinkled his nose. “Should have known we’d be shovelling horse shit sooner or later.”
Bodie laughed, loud and delighted. “And here I thought you had such fond memories of mucking out stalls as a boy.” He walked in companionable silence next to Doyle to the offices they used when forced to do paperwork.
“Fond is a negotiable term.” Doyle pictured himself at fifteen, skinny as a scarecrow, all knees and elbows, whistling as he cleaned up after the horses in the stable where he’d worked. It had been the year he’d come into his own, realised there was a world beyond the tension of his dysfunctional home life. One that did not include his father drinking to excess and beating on family members. He’d felt free with the scent of horses and sweet hay in his nostrils, the sun beating down on the back of his head. He was free now—as an adult, he could make his own decisions, even when he bowed to a new master. Bodie gave him freedom and choice, and for that he was supremely grateful. “I’d say it was more nostalgia.”
“Ah, 1962. Elvis on the radio, girls in their beehive hairdos.” Bodie put a hand over his heart, fluttering his dark, luxurious eyelashes. “And young Raymond, bare-chested, wearing a pair of threadbare blue jeans and wellingtons, muscles straining as he lifts a forkful of…”
“Shut it.” Doyle smacked him with the file, a sudden rush of happiness surprising him.
“A certain devilishly handsome lad leaning on his mop on the deck of a merchant marine ship was dreaming just such a fantasy…” Bodie said impishly, grabbing the file and dumping all of the folders onto their shared desk. He eyed Doyle, left eyebrow canted in the mocking manner that could be teasing or torment. “Found a better place, have you?” he asked astutely.
“Never left it.” Doyle smiled, sinking into a chair and opening up Picture Perfect’s bank balances.
Looked like the world was swathed in cheesecloth when he opened his eyes. Filtered light filled the room, similar to those old movies when the heroine came out of a swoon. Chico blinked, his vision clearing enough to see a pair of luminous dark eyes peering at him. Very nice eyes.
“Oi,” he greeted lazily. His mouth tasted nasty and his tongue stuck to his teeth. “Wot’ve I got t’do to get a drink round ‘ere?” He vaguely remembered waking once before, in the recovery room. His right arm had been heavy as lead, but when he’d looked down, his pink fingers had been peeping out the end of the enormous cast. Now, if he concentrated, he could wriggle them, although that hurt like the blazes. All things considered, he’d rather not.
“Ask and ye shall receive,” Sid said affectionately, holding out a cup with a bent straw.
Chico sucked up as much as he could. Brilliant stuff, water. Nothing like it. “No quoting scripture to me, squire,” he scolded. “The nuns stuffed enough of that into me early on.”
“Speaking of those who reared you.” Sid waved his plastic hand at a bouquet of roses. “They sent flowers and you’re on the prayer list.”
“Don’t think I’ve ever officially been off it.” Chico snickered. Amazing how a drink of water and the sight of his bandaged arm could cheer a bloke like nothing else. He took another sip before Sid put the cup on the bedside locker. “Sister Margarite feels she’s the only fing standin’ twixt me and ‘ell.”
“Sister Margarite is a tough ol’bird.” Sid slid a fag out of his pack but obviously thought better of smoking in a hospital room and put it back. “If she’s kept Lucifer away from you for this long, I’m grateful. Are you up for more visitors?”
“Oo’s about?” Chico asked. He was tired and in pain, but wanted normalcy, people and noise; entertainment after all the aggro about amputation.
“Your mate, Milty.”
“Milty? ‘Ow’d he know I was in ‘ospital?”
“I warrant he talks to the sisters now and again. Something you could remember to do,” Sid admonished. “I wouldn’t have known him, but he was there with Sister Margarite and she introduced us. Saves me the trouble of tracking him down, doesn’t it?”
“I’ll have a dicky bird with ‘im,” Chico agreed.
Almost before Sid had put his head into the corridor, Milty appeared in the doorway. In the day and a half since Chico had seen him, Milty had had a bath, a shave and a clean change of clothes. Didn’t hide the purplish bruise on his right cheek or improve his general air of shiftiness. He seemed as tightly wound as a Swiss watch, rubbing the underside of his arms nervously through his newish padded jacket. Chico reckoned he’d been to the convent. The sisters would have given him supper and something to wear from the charity bin.
“I was lookin’ for you all evening ‘til I run into Sister. She told you’d got a gammy wing. Same nutter what killed that jockey,” Milty said, eyes flitting from Sid to IV pump to Chico’s bandaged arm, to Sid and then back to Chico. “Rum go, mate. ”
“I’ll be miles better with me winnings in ‘and,” Chico commented, glancing over at Sid perched on the window sill, watching them languidly. Would he lay into Milty about Belmonti right here or wait until a more auspicious moment?
“Yeah, yeah!” Milty said with false geniality, a rictus grin revealing his missing teeth. “’Xactly why I’ve come, innit?” He dug into his pocket. “The Jets wasn’t well favoured, you done good to bet on them. Fifty to one, they was. Paid out a nice packet.”
He handed over a wad of bank notes, slightly damp from his sweaty palm. Chico accepted the money solemnly. He was spacey enough from the painkillers that the cash seemed to pulse slightly in his lap, as if it was breathing.
“How’s your employer then, Milty?” Sid asked. With his back against the window frame and his left hand in his trouser pocket, he looked casual and harmless. No-one would suspect the sharp wit or stunning intellect. “Mr Belmonti not a good provider to his underlings? Had you roughed up when Chico didn’t bet on the horse he was supposed to.”
Milty’s sudden pallor accentuated the plum colour along his jaw. “Don’ know wot you’re on about, gov,” he sputtered.
“We know a lot more than simply who killed Tim Merrill,” Sid continued, standing. “What I’m more interested in is what you know?”
“No’fing.” Milty gave a chuckle that was all wrong and backed toward the door.
“Milty, we ain’t going to turn you into the rozzers,” Chico said, licking his lips. Bleeding painkillers made his mouth so dry that is was difficult to talk and he was beginning to feel like shit again. Time for a kip once this was done. “We just want to put what’s right.”
“Mr Belmonti, ‘e didn’t like me makin’ book on American football is all,” Milty hedged. “Game’s a mystery. Who understands the rules?”
“Why’d you put Thundergod forward, then?” Chico asked, lying back against his pillows. The room swung very gently from side to side. Not enough to make him sick, but quite disconcerting. “The poor nag died only hours later.”
“How would I know that?” Milty whined.
“Belmonti knew specifically that Thundergod would win, didn’t he?” Sid advanced on the snivelling sod.
“I’m only told which ‘orses to talk up, yeah?” Milty held up both hands with a squirrely shrug. “What the boss knows ain’t my concern.”
“Right then.” Sid smiled amiably. “Which other horses have you been encouraged to promote—in the last six months?”
Good tack, Chico thought, no longer able to add much to the conversation. He could feel his awareness unravelling, sleep pulling him under.
“Blimey, you do ask a lot,” Milty groused, but he no longer looked quite so cornered. “I fink there was Teacup Lady. She weren’t a front runner ‘til midsummer, was she?”
Chico recalled Teacup Lady losing to Aladdin’s Treasure back in April, so that sounded about right.
“And Morning Mist!” Milty stabbed at the air triumphantly. “Might’ve been others, can’t remember.”
“That’s fantastic, Milty.” Sid gave him a hearty pat on the shoulder. “I’m beginning to think you might be just the person I’m looking for. Someone with an inside angle, if you get my meaning?”
Chico squinted at them, attempting to follow Sid’s logic. It wasn’t usually so difficult. He shifted on the bed to find a comfortable position but his arm ached horribly and was heavier than the rest of his body.
“You want me t’spy on Mr Belmonti?” Milty asked, mouth hanging open.
“Not spy.” Sid waved away the notion with his good hand, his voice dropping low, almost secretive. “More information gathering, as a favour. I could slip you a few quid, now and again, just to keep it on the up and up.”
“Like you was betting on the ‘orse?” Milty specified.
“Exactly. Chico and me have been helping some friends who are working to keep…” Sid paused.
Chico chuffed a laugh. He could almost see the cogs turning in Sid’s brain to come up with a plausible rational.
“Betting proper. Because no-one wants to go the way of the United States where it’s all but illegal,” Sid concluded. “You’d be in aid of your country, as it were, Milty.”
“That sounds real good, Mr ‘Alley,” Milty said almost reverently. “Give you tips, just like any bookmaker.”
“Ring us up whenever Belmonti has a new…frontrunner, shall we say?” Sid fished out his cigarettes and offered one to Milty. “Careful not to smoke this in front of the nurses.”
“’Course not!” Milty scoffed with a conspiratorial grin, hurrying out the door. “I know your number, for Trackdown.”
“Tell Sister I’ll be by,” Chico called out, glad to be rid of him. “Just put our Milty among the pigeons?”
“He’s gormless but a survivor.” Sid gazed down at Chico, love in his eyes. “A bit like you.”
“Oi! You malign me, you really do.” Under any other circumstances, Chico would have hit him. Hard. Instead, he raised two fingers on his left hand, ignoring the dangling IV line. “I’m far better looking.”
“Yeah, I’ll grant you that.” Sid grinned wolfishly. “I should report back to Cowley. Bodie and Doyle called earlier. Mr Merrill’s got control of Hasting’s paintings and plans to sell the lot.”
“I’ve got money.” Barely able to stay awake, Chico shoved at the tumble of cash on the blanket. “Take it and buy that painting. You and Malarkey.”
“Chico,” Sid began in protest.
“Don’t say I never gave you an’thing…”
Sid kissed him as he fell asleep.
Tuesday was crammed with debriefings, hearings and errands. Bodie was out of the flat before Doyle had even finished his shower, promising to catch him up at the courthouse after his meeting with Cowley. They had both been called to give statements on the investigation and arrest of Ellery Fitzhugh, and Doyle’s debriefing had fallen after the hearing.
In the court, Bodie did his bit first. He’d just finished when Doyle was called up. With no time to actually talk, Bodie had given Doyle a certain look as he strode out the courtroom door. A dangerous look, one that promised kinky pleasures and possibly kinky pain. Doyle straddled the fence on whether he’d welcome some sort of punishment, even when he knew Bodie wouldn’t give it to him.
Clasping his right hand over his left arm very briefly, he felt the leather band under his jacket sleeve press into his wrist. That centred him, got him through the statements to the judge, as well as the dull recitations of the facts once again with the Cow later on.
It was already dark at a quarter after four when Doyle managed to stop by the hospital to visit Chico with the promised grapes.
“Only just missed Bodie,” Chico told him, his bandaged arm raised up on a pillow. “’Im and Sid gone to the Merida. I’m buying an ‘Astings original.”
They’d passed like ships on the Thames.
“The one of Sid?” Doyle asked, not surprised when Chico nodded with an unfocussed smile. He didn’t stay long because Chico dozed off in the middle of a discussion on one handed judo techniques.
The Merida was only two streets away. Doyle thought idly about going over there but really didn’t relish reliving the memory of Algernon Hastings dying on the floor. Besides, he needed to get into the right attitude to dance to Bodie’s tune tonight—and the way he’d been feeling the last two days, that would take a significant mood adjustment.
In a miracle of major proportions, he had no difficulty finding a parking space opposite Bodie’s flat. He sat in the Capri, watching the world go by, wondering if Bodie would walk past.
He sought peace, relief. If he didn’t find that, he’d never manage to submit totally to Bodie, and he desperately wanted to. Desperately wanted to feel free—yet tethered to his master.
This flat, the wide open loft with the skylight, was temporary. In another few weeks, CI5 would reassign Bodie to some other abode in their usual rota of security measures. But where ever Bodie was, Doyle would be, too—despite the dwelling CI5 allotted him. Bodie was his permanence. All he had to do was open himself to whatever Bodie thought up. Their partnership was a balance of give and take. They were each other’s counterweight, opposing and yet yielding in equal measure.
Walking upstairs, Doyle breathed in and out slowly, the way he did when he readied himself for martial arts. He hadn’t taught a class in several months—there’d been too many obbos, too much horror draining his energy. He needed to get back to a healthier Ray: a fitness regime and a proper diet.
His belly rumbled as he slid the key into the door and he laughed. Undoubtedly, Bodie would bring home something he fancied— or they’d go out for takeaway later, but food wouldn’t be the first thing on the agenda.
Doyle glanced around the flat, not at all surprised to find himself there first. They’d tentatively agreed that morning to rendezvous at five pm, but exactly when either of them would be able to arrive was never certain on any given day.
They always played at Bodie’s flat.
Looking at the clock, Doyle nodded to himself, and drank a glass of water to stave off hunger and thirst. He didn’t want anything to interfere with what Bodie had planned.
Unzipping his flies, he shucked out of his jeans, folded them and put them into the wardrobe situated near the front door. His jacket and shirt went in next. The only things he left in place were the two leather bands encircling his wrists. They looked somehow exactly right bisecting his hands from his arms and he turned his forearms, watching the play of muscles against the leather. He was surprised how much he liked the feeling of being held—even mildly restrained. It no longer held the spectre of capture by an enemy determined to maim or destroy.
He had a second’s regret at removing all his clothes before Bodie returned; it was damned cold in the flat. Turning on the electric fire, Doyle shivered and sat down in the ladder-back chair closest to the heat. Didn’t do to suffer unnecessarily. He decided against grabbing the wool rug from the back of the green check sofa to pull around him—that would be going a bit far when Bodie wanted him naked.
He inhaled, going through the Japanese phrases he often used to centre his students at the start of a class. His heart rate slowed, his mind no longer racing through the maze of what-ifs. There was no more reason to second guess his own actions: Chico was on the mend, and they’d solved Tim Merrill’s murder in record time. Ellery Fitzhugh was behind bars. Triple E was under scientific, if not legal, scrutiny and Belmonti would be watched all the closer in the near future.
Doyle traced the edges of the bandage on his left side with his eyes shut, assessing his pain level. Wouldn’t be the first time he and Bodie had played when one of them had been injured. In fact, it seemed to enhance the edginess, take them into a realm where they were skirting danger without actually doing any real damage. Why the hell that worked for either of them was a true mystery. They already had violent, hazardous jobs, so why did that spill over into their sex? He couldn’t have given an answer, but he gloried in their kinky play, feeling challenged and more alive than ever before when Bodie pushed him to the outer most limits of his endurance.
Hearing a key in the door, Doyle quickly opened his eyes. He wasn’t sangfroid enough to sit with his back to the entrance without checking to see who was arriving. He sniffed the air as the Bodie came in carrying a sack, smelling pastry and meat. Possibly a Cornish pasty?
“That’s exactly what I’d like to see when I come home in the evening,” Bodie said with a lecherous grin. “Eyes front, my lad, I’m admiring the scenery.”
“Can’t possibly see much through the back of the chair.” Doyle smiled, eyes on the framed cigarette cards on the wall opposite.
“I can see quite well,” Bodie retorted, audibly setting down the bag and opening a drawer in the kitchen area.
Doyle could hear Bodie coming up behind him, felt his own skin tingle in anticipation. The light from the kitchen threw Bodie’s shadow onto the floor at Doyle’s feet, presenting a long black figure with arms outstretched. The warm, delicious sensation of Bodie’s hands on his shoulders sent a shiver down Doyle’s spine.
When Bodie blew on Doyle’s neck, he nearly jumped out of the chair, but Bodie kept him in place. “How’s the gash on your ribs?”
“Not going to impede us,” Doyle answered, adding, “Master.” It rolled off his tongue, securing them into their roles. Another chill skittered down his spine despite the electric fire.
“Good.” Bodie slipped something over Doyle’s eyes, blinding him.
“Wha…?” He started to raise his arms to touch what he realised were glasses, but Bodie grabbed his hands.
“Special sunnies, mean for skiing—they’ve got little blinders on the sides to reduce snow glare,” Bodie explained, holding him in place. “Plus I added a bit of black tape to the lenses. Can you see?”
“Not a bloody thing.”
“Good.” He guided Doyle to his feet, standing so close against his naked skin that Doyle could identify the blue wool jumper and twill trousers Bodie wore by feel. As if he hadn’t watched Bodie dress that morning.
“You’re under my protection and my watch. Do you understand?” Bodie rubbed his thumbs on the underside of Doyle’s wrists as if buffing the leather bands.
“Yes, Master,” Doyle said formally.
“I’m going to fasten your wrists behind you,” Bodie continued, placing a kiss between his scapula, his fingers directly over the bands. “If you have any objections, this is the one time you can say no.”
About to say no, as in he had no objections, Doyle almost laughed. “Yes, I’m ready.” In fact, he felt charged. His cock rose as Bodie gently angled his arms behind him and unsnapped the leather bracelets. A moment later, his palms were facing, the bands now cuffing his wrists together. Doyle resisted the urge to pull against the restraints, partially because he didn’t think the snaps were that strong and partially because of the arousal that crested in his belly. His erection swelled all the harder, throbbing against his groin. “Bodie…” he whispered on an exhale.
“Yeah, potent, isn’t it?” Bodie whispered in his ear with a wicked chuckle. He suckled Doyle’s earlobe for a moment before turning him completely around to latch onto Doyle’s lips.
Doyle surged into Bodie’s mouth, panting, wanting it all, wanting Bodie’s tongue fucking him. He kissed his lover, rejoicing when Bodie thrust his moist tongue between Doyle’s lips.
Bodie pushed against the roof of Doyle’s mouth, both hands anchored around his face. Doyle closed his eyes, in bliss when the hard bulk of Bodie’s cock pushed against his leg through the twill trousers. He didn’t have to be able to see to know his partner was ready for action.
“You’re still wearing clothes,” he said when Bodie came away slightly to get some air. Turning his head in the brackets of Bodie’s palms, he planted a kiss to his partner’s right thumb. The glasses tilted slightly on his face, but he still couldn’t see his lover. He felt like his eyes were straining past the barriers for a single glimpse.
“I knew you’d be hungry first,” Bodie said fondly, letting Doyle take his whole thumb into his mouth. “But if you’re satiated with this, I could postpone dinner for other recreation.”
His mouth full of thumb, Doyle set his teeth very carefully against the fleshy mound, and grinned when Bodie pulled it out with a cry.
“You’ve wounded me, peasant!” Bodie declared in a hoity Etonian accent.
“Want I should help you off with yer clothes as a sort of payment, gov?” Doyle switched to Cockney, taking a bold step closer. His cock brushed Bodie’s hand and he nearly came from the slight touch. He had it bad. “I fink you’re in need of relief.”
“I think you have your hands tied behind you. Couldn’t possibly be of any help to me,” Bodie continued in his boy’s school voice. He slid his damp thumb down Doyle’s chest, circling each nipple and trailing down to the bellybutton.
Doyle could barely breathe. What might seem an innocuous action on any other day was highly erotic. His willy throbbed so hard it hurt and he wanted the long, slow tracing to carry on lower, onto his meat and around the base until Bodie had all five fingers deliciously wrapped around him. “Bo—“
“Not yet, sunshine,” Bodie cautioned.
He took his thumb away, leaving Doyle’s skin with a lingering ghost of the caress. “We’ve got time…” He was so near, his hair grazed Doyle’s cheek when Bodie leaned down and caught one hardened nipple in his teeth. He wasn’t half as careful as Doyle had been. He bit fiercely.
Doyle sucked in air, a flare of pain streaking across his chest. It was as if he’d been plugged straight into a wall socket and switched on. He couldn’t help jerking his elbows up as much as they would go with the bands linking his wrists: he wanted Bodie to leave off biting him and wanted him to give the other nipple the same treatment, in equal measure.
And he wanted to see Bodie latched onto his nipple, wanted to watch those full lips, teeth bared, scraping over his sensitised flesh. “Bo—die,” he cried. “Master…”
“Yeah, that’s more like it.” Bodie lapped Doyle’s sweat beaded skin, slicking his chest hair down with a swipe of his cat-rough tongue. He curved one hand very gently against the bandage on Doyle’s ribs as if bestowing a brief blessing. “One last thing, though, to make your outfit complete.”
“Outfit?” Doyle repeated, feeling like he was swaying without Bodie’s support. He was light-headed and dizzy. “I’m starkers.”
“The sunnies, leather and…”
Bodie pinched a nipple between two fingers and then popped on a constricting circlet. It wasn’t as painful as a clothes peg, or even a metal document clamp, but it was astonishingly tight. The tip of Doyle’s nipple ached, throbbing in time with his heart.
“Elastics make for alluring haute couture.”
Bodie tweaked the left nipple, applying a second cincture. Even with the glasses on, Doyle closed his eyes, trying to acclimate to the tight fit.
“I’m not prancing down a catwalk like Twiggy in her prime,” Doyle said with all the dignity he could muster. The sharp pains eased away quickly, but he was incredibly aware of his chest, his focus split between nipples and cock.
“Twiggy?” Bodie snickered. “Your knowledge of fashion models is two decades off.”
From the sounds he was making, Bodie must finally be removing his jumper and trousers. Doyle twitched his cheeks, trying to unseat the sunglasses enough to see Bodie nude. Didn’t work, the earpieces were solidly hooked around his ears. He waited impatiently, ready for the next phase, his cock heavy against his lower belly. Rotating his shoulders helped with the ache in his arms, although his fingers felt thick and numb, the sensation of pins and needles sparking to life whenever he tried to wiggle them. Almost better not to.
“I could use that bat you’re carrying to hit a cricket ball,” Bodie observed, tapping the crown of Doyle’s cock.
Arousal sparked to conflagration. Doyle very nearly went to his knees. He opened his mouth to plead Bodie to take him in a firm hand and wring the life out of him, but he still had a modicum of pride. “Like to see you try.”
“Yeah, you would. Take two steps back, against the sofa,” Bodie directed.
Putting one foot behind the other without the ability to see where he was going sent a rush of adrenalin through his veins. Doyle raised his bound hands to feel for the piece of furniture and felt Bodie’s steadying hand instead.
“Another step, Ray. Wouldn’t let you fall at this stage of the game. I’m as primed as you are.” He positioned Doyle against the back of the sofa, and gathered Doyle’s tackle into one hand, milking off some of the arousal.
Doyle howled, pushing into Bodie’s hand and falling forward into space when Bodie abruptly took his hand away. “What the hell?” he yelped from his knees. Luckily, there was plush carpet in this section of the loft.
“Like seeing you on your knees,” Bodie said playfully, helping him up. He planted a conciliatory kiss on Doyle’s lips which led to a long lingering embrace.
Doyle kissed Bodie’s mouth, his bristly cheek and then down to his warm, musky scented neck. Every second Bodie held him close increased the sensation in his aching nipples until they were so sensitive he couldn’t tolerate the brush of Bodie’s bare skin against his.
Bodie’s cock stropping on Doyle’s was absolutely essential. Doyle gasped, arching away as much as he could without losing contact below.
“You’re wily, I can see that.” Bodie pushed Doyle just enough to separate their needy body parts. “You’re trying to turn this around to your own agenda, and that won’t do. May have to put you over the back of the sofa and…”
Doyle shuddered, memories that he’d thought he’d come to grips with roaring out of his past: his father forcing him face down onto the table. Maeve, Kathleen, Mary Margaret and Deirdre clinging to their mother, sobbing as his father beat the shit out of young Raymond.
He growled, banishing the intrusive thoughts. He teetered on the edge of arousal, desperate to get back into the joy of the play. Bodie had vowed never to hurt him and Doyle knew that was the absolute truth. This was them, creating new memories where blame had no place.
Going limp, he let Bodie manhandle him over the sofa, and revelled when his cock swelled again from the scrape of the sofa’s cloth. He rested his abdomen on the long back, positioning his legs wide so that his arse stuck out behind him. His linked wrists lay against his spine.
“Get as comfortable as possible,” Bodie instructed with a wicked cackle. He smeared something cool and slippery on and into Doyle’s anus. Poking his finger inside, Bodie swirled it around enticingly and then popped it free.
“Bo—master,” Doyle said roughly, gasping when his smarting nipples came in contact with the rough nap of the fabric. Like as not would rub them raw if Bodie went on very long. With his head down, the blood roared in his ears and the glasses came away slightly. He could just make out the blurred green check nearly mashed into his face: this was exactly where he wanted to be. “I need…”
“Yeah, I know, don’t I?” Bodie whispered, low and erotic. He skimmed his palms along Doyle’s bound arms, kissing and nuzzling the leather bands. Trailing his fingers over Doyle’s flesh with a feather light touch that both aroused and soothed, Bodie traced patterns over Doyle’s spine. He left a kiss on each old bullet scar.
Doyle wondered if Bodie had some arcane charm that could lock them into a world of their own, cementing this moment for all time. Bliss supplanted all the anger and fear that had weighed him down.
“Ready, steady…” Bodie chanted softly, gripping Doyle’s hips and centring his cock directly on Doyle’s arsehole. “Go.” He breached the ring of muscle immediately, wringing a cry from Doyle. “Take it, love, whole…”
He thrust again, shoving Doyle across the top of the sofa until he was hanging from the bend in his hips, head ground into the seat cushions. Doyle hollered, unable to brace himself without his hands as the width of Bodie’s thick column stretched him wide. The burn was an awesome thing, demanding his attention— a pain/pleasure that lit his fire from within.
It wasn’t really a true pain, more a spreading warmth that expanded his inner being, sucking Bodie inside until they were one person with two hearts. Bodie’s pulse synced with Doyle’s; the throb of his cock seated in Doyle’s body so right that Doyle was loath to ever release hold.
Bodie moaned, “Raymond,” over and over again like a holy chant, caught in a mystical rhythm that swept Doyle into the vortex. Feeling Bodie’s sac tense and his sheathed penis swell again, Doyle was astonished to find that his own genitals were responding exactly the same from the frottage of the couch fabric. His limbs shook, tiny vibrations skittering through his core. Just when he was sure that Bodie was going to explode, Bodie reached around and grasped Doyle’s cock, clasping it roughly. That was Doyle’s tipping point. They came at the same moment, practically howling at the moon.
His heart trip-hammering so vigorously he was sure it might come right out of his chest, Doyle went limp with Bodie’s heaviness anchoring him to the sofa. If he hadn’t needed to breathe, Doyle wouldn’t have moved for a million pounds sterling.
Bodie kissed one of Doyle’s vertebrae on his upper back. “Love you,” he murmured, his voice was so soft that Doyle might not have heard him except that they were pancaked together like victims of a cave-in.
“You must be fourteen stone,” Doyle grunted, love implicit in every single word. His nipples were screaming with pain and it felt like his organs were shoved against his backbone, but honestly, he didn’t mind a bit.
“I am most certainly not!” Bodie hauled Doyle up by his cuffed hands and tugged the snaps apart.
He kissed each shoulder blade before Doyle turned around in the circle of his arms to kiss his lover. “Can’t decide whether I want a kip or that meat pie you brought home,” Doyle muttered.
“A kip, the pasty’ll warm later in the oven.” Bodie smiled, looking straight into Doyle’s eyes, desire so blatant, Doyle could have come again in an instant. Until Bodie plucked both nipple elastics off at the same bloody time.
Forgetting how to breathe, Doyle couldn’t decide whether to yell or grab his chest in a useless attempt to rub away the astonishing pain as circulation reclaimed his nipples.
They didn’t make it to the bed. Instead, tumbled together onto the sofa with the woollen rug pulled over them for warmth.
Doyle woke first. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but they probably hadn’t slept half an hour. He looked over at Bodie. God, he was beautiful—completely relaxed in sleep. With his penis softened from its earlier glory and his brown fringe falling over his forehead, he seemed far younger than he did awake. Bodie slit open his eyes, bright blue peeping through the thick dark fringe of his lashes.
“Imagining having your way with me, are you?”
“Always,” Doyle admitted truthfully. “As long as me master allows me the freedom.”
“He’s a kind and benevolent god-head.” Bodie waggled his eyebrows, holding his cock by the base as an enticement.
“You don’t suffer from a lack of self-esteem, do you?” Doyle snickered, throwing off the rug to untangle his limbs from Bodie’s.
“I’m brilliant, handsome and…” Bodie began until Doyle tossed a blue velvet pillow in his face.
‘I’ll put dinner into the oven,” Doyle said over his shoulder, walking to the table where he could see the Tesco’s carrier and a piece of paper. He stilled when he recognised the spare charcoal strokes of the sketch: the angle of his damaged cheek, the slant of his eyes and a hint of curls tumbling over the forehead. It was the portrait Allie Hastings had drawn of him. “Where did you get this?” he asked aloud.
“Ray, I thought you were a copper with trained detective skills.” Bodie walked up behind him, placing his hands possessively on Doyle’s naked hips and his chin on Doyle’s shoulder. “Sid and me went to the gallery to meet Merrill senior. Sid bought a painting for Chico and—“ He reached around to tap the black pencil curve that represented Doyle’s misaligned cheekbone. “This was all I wanted.”
“Not worth a sou, he never signed it,” Doyle commented, inordinately touched nonetheless.
“Wasn’t planning on ever selling it.” Bodie paraded past him with an exaggerated swing of his hips. He opened the fridge and pulled out two beers. “Might poke in the dust bin for a broken frame, though.”
“Skin-flint,” Doyle flung at him good-naturedly. “Could at least buy one from Woolies for ninety-nine p.”
Bodie smiled, joy infusing him with unearthly beauty. He handed over a cold Newcastle Brown ale and knocked his bottle with Doyle’s. “I was saving that money to hire a holiday cabin for Christmas.”
“Were you?” Doyle drank down some beer before sticking the pies in the oven to warm. “Now I know you’ve got delusions of grandeur. The Cow will never give you time off in December.”
“Already has.” Bodie leaned against the counter, naked and sure of himself. “Unless there’s some invasion from a foreign power that sends us into a scramble on December 26th.”
“Having Betty with you, I’ll wager,” Doyle said with as much innuendo in his voice as he could muster.
“Got a new bloke in mind,” Bodie replied. “Skinny as a stick, with hair like Tom Baker—“
“Charmed, I’m sure.” Doyle winked at him and pulled his jeans out of the wardrobe. Late November was really too cold to be wandering around in the buff, and the loft was drafty as an old barn. He debated on his tee-shirt. His nipples were far too tender for even the soft cotton, but he was surprised that his recent stitches hadn’t given him a moment’s bother.
Bodie retrieved his jumper and rammed it over his head. “Where’d you go, earlier?”
“What are you on about?” Pretending he didn’t have a clue what Bodie meant, Doyle focussed on his zip as if it was the most important thing in the world.
“For a moment, I lost you,” Bodie clarified. “Just before you went arse over tit on the sofa.”
“No where I wanted t’be.” Doyle waved it away. He was done with that part of his life. He didn’t have to be beaten to know his place. It was right beside Bodie.
Feeling like he was missing a crucial element, he looked down at his bare wrists. Where had Bodie left the leather bands? Visually searching the floor, Doyle spotted the brown circlets near the sofa. “Not going back there, ever,” he said, scooping the leathers off the floor and snapping them back into place.
“Good.” Bodie pulled on his trousers and sat down at the table. “Oh, spoke with Uncle George shortly before I got here. The lab’s obtained blood samples from three other horses, Morning Mist, Teacup Lady and Casino Royale. Should know whether they had Triple E in their systems soon enough.”
“What about the stable lads who gave the horses the pokes?” Doyle routed in the fridge for tomatoes, or at least a limp piece of lettuce to add some vitamins to their meal.
“Local coppers near Derby hauled in both Charlie Dash and a groom who cared for Morning Mist,” Bodie reported, curling his lip at the salad Doyle was concocting.
As it should be. They were back in their familiar patch, their lives as agents always encroaching on their private affairs. As long as he and Bodie were together, Doyle would not have had it any other way.
Bodie nudged Doyle with a grin as Sid Halley led a brown racehorse down the ramp from a horse van. Chico Barnes leaned against the paddock fence, holding the gate open with a red trainer clad foot. His right arm was encased in a thick cast up to his elbow with just his finger tips peeping out of the end.
“Sir Wendell thinks that Zara was permanently scarred by having a rider shot off his back,” Sid said, stroking Zarathustra’s soft muzzle. The horse nickered, turning to lip at Sid’s fingers. “I want to prove him wrong, so I bought him.” He grinned at his friends. “I think Lord Fitzhugh is the trainer to get him back into racing form.” He inclined his head when the older man walked out of his office into the stable yard.
There were tears in Alexander Fitzhugh’s eyes. Bodie could well understand the man’s emotion. The newspapers had vilified him, painting him with the same brush that had tarred and feathered Ellery. Any hint of Ellery’s war induced psychosis or whatever the hell the doctors would call it had fallen away in the tabloid press’ fervent zeal to hold Ellery up as an evil murderer bent on destruction. Bodie wondered what might have happened had his own memories of war and violence coloured his current life. Was there an event that could trigger him to perpetuate such senseless carnage? He looked over at Doyle joking with Chico and knew who kept him sane.
“I think Zara could excel with the right sort of training,” Sid said. “She could be…
“A contend-ah,” Bodie said in a horrible American accent.
Doyle wrinkled his nose, shaking his head. “Keep your day job, Mr Brando.”
“Was that meant t’be Marlon Brando?” Chico questioned, his blue eyes alight with gleeful mischief. “I reckoned he was Marilyn Monroe.”
“You little--!” Bodie stalked Chico with mocking menace.
“Oi, broken arm, ‘ere!” Chico held up his cast. He dashed away, leaving Doyle in charge of the gate.
Bodie grabbed Barnes around the waist, lifting him off the ground with a loud “Ai-yah!”
“His fists of fury flying,” Chico declared in the manner of a badly dubbed Chinese Kung Fu movie, “he vanquished his foe with a single blow of one heel.”
“Fist of Fury!” Bodie put him down with a laugh. “I’ve seen that one.” He and Doyle had watched it together, when Doyle was still more broken than it was possible to be after Mayli shot him. The juxtaposition of breath-taking martial arts, execrable dubbing and the memory of Doyle’s Asian assassin had mended something inside the both of them.
He glanced over at his partner leaning against the white washed fence, arms crossed easily over his chest. Bodie couldn’t wait to play with him—and those leather bands peeping out from the sleeves of Doyle’s leather jacket-- again that evening.
“Sid,” Lord Fitzhugh said, taking Zara’s lead rope and stroking her brown flanks, “I can’t thank you enough for this vote of confidence. I’d begun to fear that the racing community would ostracise me completely.”
“You had no knowledge of what your son was doing,” Sid said confidently, walking beside Zara into the paddock. “I could see that when we came to talk to you a fortnight ago. You were shattered at the idea.”
“Few men have shown such mercy,” Fitzhugh sighed.
“Doyle, come on in,” Sid called. “You know your way around a horse better’n those two yabbos.”
“Come again?” Bodie challenged, raising two fingers at Halley.
Barnes burst out laughing. “Miserable old sod, he is,” he agreed, winking at Bodie.
Sid rolled his eyes, beckoning Doyle. “Can you walk Zara around in a circle so we can have a look at her?”
“Been a decade or two since I led the horses out for first string.” Doyle closed the gate behind him, approaching Zara slowly.
Bodie smiled as Doyle ran his hand up along her withers, murmuring soft nothings. Rather him than the horse, if he had his way. Still, it gave him a chance to ogle Doyle unabashedly. The weak, late autumn sun caught Doyle’s curls, bringing out the auburn highlights. He grinned, the chipped tooth visible for an instant, when Zara bobbed her head against his shoulder and followed obediently on the lead.
“Zara, you beauty,” Sid said reverently, watching the horse walk around the perimeter of the paddock. “You’ll do well.”
“Good clean lines,” Fitzhugh said approvingly. “She has the look of a winner.”
“I’d put five bob on ‘er,” Chico joked, resting his cast on the fence.
I’d ride him any time, Bodie thought, never taking his eyes off the jeans clad arse to one side of Zara, and the rectangle shaped patch directly over one buttock.
“Sid, show them how a real jockey rides a fine animal like Zarathustra,” Fitzhugh encouraged, his dignity in his abilities as a trainer visibly returning.
“Yeah, Sid, enough of this parade.” Doyle urged the horse over to the gate. “Let’s see the Grand National winner in the saddle again.”
Sid Halley smiled, glancing at his partner for a moment. Chico nodded back at him, waggling his fingers from the end of his cast.
Bodie held open the gate for Doyle, snaking an arm around his waist when Sid went past them. Doyle pressed into him, both of them secure in the circle of their friends.
With the wind in his dark hair, Sid grasped the pommel of the saddle and swung his leg over the seat, sitting up straight. Zara shifted uneasily, adjusting to the feel of the new rider but didn’t shy or buck. Sliding forward slightly, Sid urged the horse into a walk and then a trot. They rode around the ring, going faster and faster with each passing.
Chico cheered, whistling between his teeth when Zara segued into a canter. Hunching over her neck, Sid went into classic jockey position, arse up as Zara raced toward the end of the paddock. With the ease of a horse bred to win, she jumped, clearing the fence, limbs tucked under her in a powerful leap. She landed gracefully, galloping across the field like a champion.
Doyle stiffened, watching with his mouth open.
“Zarathustra’s in the frame and headed for victory,” Bodie called out.
“Picture perfect finish,” Doyle said into his ear with a dirty laugh.