I've been vetted regularly since I was a lad. Always worked with the Major, since he was old enough to keep a rifle steady and not to wet his pants facing the enemy. He was young, then, but never stupid, or careless.
I am old now. Never had a wife, nor kids. I was happy living the life of a soldier first, then following the Major around. I am still happy, though content is probably a better word. Sure enough, the old joints ache, and eyesight is not what it used to be. But I am alive, still, and lived through a couple of major wars and some minor, secret ones. No less important, mind you. But you wouldn't know, would you? Never mind. I'm an old Army man, from the old school, in charge of the CI5 car pool because the Major would never let one of his own down. Well, unless it were for the Greater Good, but that would be another story....
The job suits me well enough. Since we move around so much, there is a main site and a mobile one. I look after the main site, where cars come back after one or the other of the lads have managed to smash them soundly and thoroughly. The lasses--bless them--know how to treat the wheels properly.
They treat me properly, too, buying me the odd pint now and then, chatting away and charming me. The lads make fun of me, more often than not. Death doesn't scare them, no sir, but age...ah, age is their worst fear. When their trigger finger won't be so firm, when their hands will tremble. I scare them. Eh, I think the Major knows all too well.
That's how I spend my days, now: nine to five, seeing to it that the repair jobs proceed on schedule, checking the cars in and out, taking care of those wheels, 'cause lives depend upon them being in order. The Major has a soft spot for me, calls in regularly with excuses and drops by at least once or twice a month, unless there are big ops going on. He looks at me, never says a word, but I know that brusque way of his, and that severe concern, by now. And that's what intrigued me, at first. Seeing that look I thought was mine, focusing on someone else. The Major had come by as usual, a quick look through the books, time for the annual budget fight. Before going away, as he was leaving my small office with glass-panelled windows all over, I happened to notice his glance outside. So I followed it, and there he was, his driver, Bodie. Nice lad, always a quick smile for an old man, but terrible for the wheels.
I'd seen him before, of course. Great test driver, yes, and not half bad with a bike. His partner, Doyle, was much better though. I was not surprised to see Bodie acting as driver for the Major; all CI5 agents do their share, around here. But the Major gave him that look, and I realised I knew why. Doyle'd been hit, just the previous month. Badly. And although Bodie looked as usual, acted as usual, the Major's look of concern worried me.
So I started to watch closely. Noticed how the Major kept Bodie busy, more often than not having the lad driving him around, coming to pick up the repaired wheels. I saw more of Bodie in the following months than I had in the previous years. And if the Major looked concerned at him, hell, then there was reason for it.
I mean, the Major looks concerned for me--though he pretends not to--because he knows my time is coming. After all, there are only a given number of years in one's life. We never spoke, really, never said a word, but I know I will be missed. That helps balancing for all the rest. For the things not said, actions not taken. Par for the course, one could say. So I wondered...was Bodie's time coming, too, in the Major's mind? That's why I started looking. My own personal observation op. Site-restricted and time-limited, but there's only so much you can do in a wheelchair. And Bodie, yes, deserved to be watched. I realised he wasn't smiling anymore, not even that polite ta-mate-but-I'm-in-a-hurry quick grin.
It took months, of me watching. Doyle came back, of course. Money was exchanged in the canteen, betting on recovery time being a trend the lads never tire of. Bodie and Doyle were back as a team, Doyle as scruffy and tough as ever. CI5 went on, and on, and on. I started feeling a bit under the weather, for a while. Had a spell in the hospital--hated it--but most of the lasses and lads managed to come and see me. After all, I was the oldest CI5 employee. Eh. I liked the attention.
It was then I realised Bodie wasn't yet smiling as he used to. Doyle came with him, but always stayed for a shorter time. He was just out of the white beds; I could understand his not feeling particularly at ease around them.
I went back to my car pool duty. My time was getting shorter and shorter, the Major's visits longer and his innuendoes more and more forceful. The job still suited me, but I didn't want to be a nuisance to anyone. So I went back one day after my usual hours, organising the papers in my office and making it so that the next car pool officer would find everything in order. There is always someone around, apart from the usual night guard. But in the evenings the main site is quieter and I wanted to work at my own pace. I saw them arriving with the silver Capri, Bodie's, of course. I didn't like the engine's sound, the lad must have given it a bit of a thrashing. Doyle got out of the car, slamming the car door. Bodie did the same, then they looked at each other across the car roof. I was working with the small table light, its light well centred on the middle of my desk, smack right on the accountancy books I was getting ready to hand over. Old Army instinct, maybe. I turned off the light, knowing they would go to the night duty officer to check the car in and leave it to him to bring back another car for them. I could watch them, unobserved. I knew what the Major would have said, at that. Had to smother a chuckle, at the thought. He could always ever be such a prude, sometimes...good ol' George, grown to a fine man in front of my very eyes, taking upon his shoulders the rights and wrongs of the world and renouncing all the rest....
Bodie went to talk to the night officer, signed the register then stood still while the man went away to retrieve another car. Doyle waited until they were alone. He spoke clearly, not loudly, but enough for me to hear it. "You try that again, and I'll kill you myself, Bodie."
Bodie got closer to him. "Don't be like that." He gave a quick pat on Doyle's shoulder.
"You stop treating me like fine china, I won't be." Doyle was staring at Bodie, who turned his head and looked downwards. Bodie was more in the darkness and I couldn't see his expression clearly. Doyle stepped forward, the faint noise of an engine running coming through from the garage's side. "Christ, Ray...." Bodie sounded peculiar, to my ears. I couldn't say if he was sort of pleading, or angry.
Doyle turned and I had him in full light. Doyle'd always been a man with strong feelings and fierce demonstrations of the same. He was so intense, I thought. Then I suddenly felt a striking pain in my chest, quick as silver, sharp as a blade. Doyle reached out with one hand, putting it around Bodie's neck, pulling Bodie to him. Bodie rested his head on Doyle's shoulder.
"I won't break, Bodie. I won't leave you." Doyle spoke softly, but I could still see his face clearly, see his lips moving. Lip reading had always been a speciality of mine; and at this distance, my eyesight could still make it. Bodie hugged him, and I could see his brown leather tensing over his shoulders.
I felt another sharp fit, and now sight became misty, and strange lights were flickering beneath my lids. Couldn't hear what Bodie was saying, but Doyle said: "I promise. Won't ever leave you. I promise you." Word of honour. They were already distancing themselves from one another, quickly, not to be caught hugging by the night officer. I was hearing a roar in my head and by now I knew I had to reach the buzzer, and call for help. Still, those words of promise, I could hear them echoing in my mind, and in my memory. Words spoken like that could warm one's heart, forever. The Major had never left me. I knew then that Doyle would do the same with Bodie.
Who would have thought it? But then, right at the end, it felt so right.