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His Maggie May

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His Maggie May

by Snailbones

 

Chapter 1

Warm and comfortable, he woke slowly. A room in shades of peach, with fine curtains of cream silk moving in the soft breeze, letting the sunlight filter onto their bed.

He stretched, careful as a cat, not wanting to wake Jazz. He could hear her softly breathing beside him, and he smiled, proud to be in her bed, proud that he could satisfy her so well that she slept deeply. If only his mates could see him now… He rolled up onto one arm to watch her sleeping face, studying her as she wouldn’t allow when she was awake.

The morning light didn’t do her any favours, smudged mascara and wrinkles around her eyes, but he felt a surge of affection he’d never felt for anyone before, this tawny-gold woman with the bright smile and sexy laugh, so much older than him.

He leaned over to kiss her bare, warm shoulder, softly so as not to wake her, but she sighed and smiled, reaching for him, pulling him down. Not asleep then, just Sunday-morning lazy, like him.

Except it was Monday morning. A sliver of guilt nagged at him even as she rolled them over, strong smooth thighs straddling his hips, cool breasts heavy against his skin, her thick mane of perfumed hair held back in one hand as her mouth covered his. He gave in to her, as he always did, as she knew he would. Whatever she asked or demanded from him, he gave her, and in return she’d taught him… everything.

Somewhere, a bird sang, sweet and rich.

 

Twenty minutes later, and Jazz was wrapping herself in her brown linen robe, classy, like everything else about her. ‘Make us some coffee, beautiful boy.’

Ray lay back on the bed and watched, wondering how he’d got so lucky, and how long this could last.

‘Boy?’ he asked, amused. A month ago he’d have been insulted, but not now. Jazz had shown him how to be a man, how to make love to a woman. His insecurities had fallen away, along with his inexperience and virginity. Now he felt oddly secure in himself, mature beyond his age. The first time she’d gone down on him he’d been so shocked he’d cried out something stupid about his willy, and she’d stopped and grinned up at him, that wicked grin of hers, and said, ‘Boys have willies, men have cocks, and this,’ she’d licked a long, slow line up his penis, ‘is no willy.’

It was October, and he ought to be at school, but he’d been missing so long now they probably wouldn’t let him back anyway; and what was the point? It wasn’t like he could afford to stay on past 18 anyway. Maybe he should move on, get down to London and get a job. Easy money, down there. Or so his cousin Vince said. No questions either, you could make your own way, be your own man.

‘Man, then,’ Jazz said, echoing his thought unexpectedly. ‘Beautiful man. Go make the bloody coffee, there’s a pet.’ She threw his ratty old jeans at him, dumping them perfectly on his face, and by the time he’d untangled himself she’d vanished into the bathroom. He heard her laugh and the shower start up.

Stretching again, he crawled out of bed. Was sex always this knackering, he wondered, or was it because it was still new for him? He hauled on the jeans, feeling them sag a bit. He’d lost weight since moving in with Jazz, not that she didn’t feed him well enough, but with all the exercise he was getting… He scratched his stomach absently, and with nothing better to do, wandered downstairs to put the kettle on.

Staring out the window at the big, overgrown garden while he waited for the water to boil, he thought about his future again. Couldn’t expect to live off Jazz forever… London sounded good, glamorous, but he was no fool. He’d heard the stories, knew something about the dangers, and he didn’t want to end up living rough, turning tricks to survive; not that he was completely sure what ‘turning tricks’ involved, but he sure as hell didn’t want to end up trading sex for money. Though women did all right, didn’t they? Was it worse for blokes? Were men rougher, or were there women who’d pay a bloke for sex? And Christ, if it came to it, could he do it like that? How did a bloke get it up on demand?

Thoughtful, he poured hot coffee into mugs, leaning a bony hip against the sink as he stirred.

The sound of bare feet on the tiles, essence of damp honeysuckle, and Jazz wrapped arms around him from behind, laying a kiss right between his bare shoulder blades, making him shiver. She laughed, low and sexy, always delighted with his instant reaction to her.

‘You’re getting skinny, my love,’ she kissed him again, on top of his shoulder, hugging him harder round the waist, one hand cupping his genitals possessively through the worn denim while nimble fingers explored the gap in the front of his waistband. He squirmed, ticklish, and turned in her arms to kiss her properly. She’d changed into jeans and an old white linen shirt – a work morning then - and looked a million dollars, even with minimal make-up and her hair dragged back in a ponytail. The shirt was rough and warm against his bare chest and nipples, her hands tightening on his bum as she deepened the kiss and moved suggestively against him. Just as he started to get going, she pulled away, laughing to see his disappointment.

‘C’mon, bring the coffee, I want to draw you now, looking just like this. Debauched.’

What the hell did debauched mean?

With two mugs of coffee and no spare hand to hitch his jeans, he shuffled after her towards the conservatory where she liked to work in the mornings. She turned to look at him, eyes alight with life and devilment, and walking backwards down the tiled corridor, she pulled up her own shirt and undid the belt round her jeans.

‘Present from India, you need this more than me, love,’ and she stopped to kiss him again and thread the blue-beaded leather through the loops of his jeans, pulling the brass buckle tight so his dignity was restored, then taking one mug from him, blowing and sipping.

‘Ta, ever so,’ he said, and followed her with a resigned grin, knowing he was in for hours of posing now. Not that he minded, but it felt a bit poncey. She was good at drawing, far as he could tell, not that he knew much of anything. But it was all right; she chatted to him, asked him questions and told him outrageous stories, and she made his ugly bits vanish somehow, so when he saw what she’d made of him he was always amazed to find he looked, through her eyes anyway, somehow exotic. Not the real him at all, not even the man he hoped he was becoming, but something more beautiful. A creature that never was, he thought, the line coming to him from long ago, memories of hot chocolate and a crackling coal fire. Far removed from his present, posing for a woman who’d lured him with promises of sex and adventure.

Funny how things turned out, he thought, slipping long legs out of his jeans and shivering, barefoot and naked in the morning air.

Chapter 2

Jazz dropped him off at the station and left him with a fistful of £20 notes, a smouldering kiss, and never a backward glance. His last sight of her was in a blur of lemon yellow E-Type Jag, roof down and tawny hair whipping around her face.

If he’d had a single ounce of sense right then, he’d have bought a ticket home to his gran in Derby, gone back to school, got a job and put Jazz and his cousin’s glowing tales of London behind him.

Instead, he found himself in London, adrift in a harsh world, surrounded by men with names like Flick, Clipper and Blue Bag.

Cousin Vince turned out to be a prize prick and a liar. His talk of London, bright lights and easy money was, in reality, a damp bedsit in Croydon; Vince worked cash-in-hand as a weekend bouncer at a club, and as a bodyguard and thug for a pusher named Juke.

It hardly mattered to Ray, who’d turned up on Vince’s doorstep to a grudging welcome. It’d been a year or more since they’d got drunk at Vince’s sister’s wedding; Vince had gained three stone and blossomed into a bully, while Ray had grown from an awkward, gangly boy into something approaching a beautiful young man. Vince saw… possibilities, and plastered on a smile that never quite reached his eyes. Little cousin Ray was just the type Juke liked, and whoring him out to the boss would give Vince an opportunity to move up a rung or two. Besides, it’d be good for the lad, harden him up, teach him about the real world.

After three weeks, Ray knew all he ever wanted about the real world. Vince had got him drunk on his first night, got him high on his second, and introduced him to the realities of earning his keep with his mouth and body by the weekend. The lessons came thick and fast after that, each harsher than the last, reinforced by threats, drugs, and Vince’s meaty right fist.

ooOoo

Juke pulled out and rolled over onto his back with a satisfied grunt, breathing heavily, rotting the air with the sickly sweet stench of Parma Violet breath fresheners.

‘Vince’s right. Finest white ass I’ve ever had,’ he told the ceiling, his accent an incongruous mix of lilting Welsh and transatlantic American.

After a moment more, he sat up, smacking Ray hard on the back of one thigh. ‘I said, finest white ass I ever did have, boyo.’

Ray grunted noncommittally. There wasn’t much he could think of to say that wouldn’t get him another clout, and he was already sore enough. Juke wasn’t overly rough, but he was a big bloke, outweighing Ray by a good five stone. He’d given Ray a playful slap or two that’d rattled his teeth and made his ears ring.

‘Gotta get going though,’ Juke yawned hugely. ‘Business t’take care of, y’know?’ He scratched absently at his belly, then lower, and Ray turned his head away and grunted again. If he’d ever fancied trying sex with a bloke, this huge black bastard had put an end to it. The bed dipped as Juke got up, and Ray risked another glance; the rear view was no more attractive than the front.

He swallowed what was left of his pride. ‘Juke? Mind if I stay here while you’re gone? Just to sleep?’ There was a whine in his voice he couldn’t control, and he loathed himself for it.

Juke laughed and didn’t bother to look back on his way to the bathroom. ‘There’s a tenner for you on the side, lad. Be gone,’ he yawned mid-sentence, ‘when I get out the bog.’

Ray knew better than to argue. He gave himself a moment or two to get his head together, then dragged himself up and into his clothes, grabbing the single note off the bedside cabinet. It felt greasy. Soiled. He was tired and sick, shivering with cold or nerves or drugs, he had no idea what, and he’d have sold his soul for a long cold drink of water, but he didn’t dare hang about and risk Juke’s fist.

Outside the flat he was surprised to find it was still daylight. He’d no idea of time anymore; days and nights had blurred into one long continuous stream, addled by lack of sleep and the pills Vince fed him. He slunk along head-down in the drizzle until he found a building with lights and people; a library. A place where people like him could hide and keep warm for a while, sleeping fitfully behind a newspaper in the reading room.

Thirst kept waking him, and that reminded him of the public loos and the few times he’d locked himself in a stall and slept an hour or two on the floor. It was pathetic. He was pathetic. But it’d come down to the safety of the public toilets, or Vince’s. The only money he had was the tenner from Juke; the remains of the cash he’d had from Jazz had vanished the first night he’d spent under Vince’s roof. He had nothing left, nowhere to turn.

The library started to close a couple of hours later, and outside on the pavement the drizzle had turned to a bitter rain killing the last of the grey daylight. He thought about maybe finding a café and buying a hot meal, but the idea of food made him feel sick. Christ knew what Vince’d been pumping him full of… he could barely think straight anymore. His only clear thoughts revolved around Vince, the comparative comfort of his damp bedsit, and the endless water he could drink there. Without conscious thought, he began moving, wandering in widening circles until a street name looked familiar, then a pub name, a shop, until eventually, frozen and soaked to the skin, he found his way back to the sordid reality of his cousin’s bedsit.

Vince was there, greeting him with a hard slap to his head, shouting things Ray didn’t try to understand, desperate to use the loo and drink from the tap. The tepid, rusty water tasted like the sweetest thing Ray’d ever had, and he drank greedily until his stomach rebelled and he threw up copiously, shaking and weeping silently.

Sometime later he realised Vince had stripped him and dragged him to bed; of the many disgusting and perverted things he’d done, somehow sex with his own cousin seemed by far the worst. He felt sick again, and high, but mostly sick. He wondered what Vince’d given him this time. He tried to warn Vince, to tell him he was going to throw up, to let him get to the bathroom, but Vince was high himself and beyond caring until Ray started to retch.

‘Fucker!’ he screeched, hauling off to belt Ray. ‘Dirty little fucker!’

Ray tried to roll away, tried to dodge Vince’s fists while his stomach heaved. He’d already purged all the water he’d managed to drink, but the dry retching continued, leaving him almost helpless against the violence of Vince’s attack. With animal instinct he tried to curl into a protective ball, arms over his head, but Vince grabbed his hair with one hand and slapped him hard across the face with the other.

‘You don’t puke on me, you hear?’ Vince was yelling in his face. ‘Stop whining, you bloody cry-baby, I’ll give you something to cry about…’ He balled his fist this time, and brought it down hard, smashing Ray in the mouth. Ray felt blood spurt and pain bloomed shockingly. Vince didn’t let go of his fist in Ray’s hair, but leaned back a bit to look at the damage, laughing in sudden manic delight.

‘Ah shuddup. I done you a favour, be a better cock sucker without any teeth to get in the way. Tell you what, I’ll ‘elp you some more.’

Vince’s fist came up again, and Ray realised there’d be no mercy; Christ only knew what the bloke had taken, but he was higher than a kite and outweighed Ray by several stones. Ray spat blood at him, hoping to distract him, and started frantically fighting back, twisting and bucking, punching him in the guts with one hand, clawing at his face with the other, going for his eyes. Vince shrieked in fury, cursing as they rolled in the bloody sheets, trying to reassert his hold on the sudden rabid rat in his bed, slippery now with sweat and vomit and blood.

And then there was a knife.

Ray had no idea where it came from, but it was there. Had Vince had it in the bed? On the chair next to the bed where he dumped his clothes? He had no idea, but it was there, next to his hand, sharp and clear, bright in the sheets as Vince got a grip in his hair again, using his greater weight to pin Ray, crush him, crush the living breath out of him… first the blade was in his hand, wrong way round, slicing his palm, then the handle. He thought he warned Vince, said something, but the various hurts were swamping his brain.

His next semi-clear thought was the bastard had stopped.

Ray pushed at him frantically, shoving him off enough so he could roll away. The move dumped him right off the edge of the mattress, and he hit the floor with a terrible crash, more wounded animal than human being, scrabbling to get under the bed though the gap wasn’t big enough. In the weak light from the overhead bulb he could see copious amounts of dark blood on both his hands, up his arms, smeared everywhere he looked. He lay on his side, naked and panting, aware Vince wasn’t coming after him immediately, knowing he had to move, confused by the blood. It smelled metallic, terrible.

There was a noise in the room, above him on the bed, an odd soft wheezing sound, and traffic in the distance, but other than that the night was still. There were other people, he knew, close by, living in the adjoining dingy bedsits; he’d heard them now and again, dull thuds and thumps, shouting, or a radio turned up too loud. He couldn’t credit nobody had heard their fight, or at least his fall off the bed, but there was nothing, no pounding feet on the lino stairs, no voices raised in complaint. Nothing. He lay still as he could on the filthy carpet, listening. No movement from Vince either, though he was still wheezing.

Slowly, he pulled himself up to peep over the edge of the bed. Vince was an indistinct lump, mostly covered by an eruption of bedding and pillows. There was dark blood all over the place… Vince was going to be so pissed when he came round and saw the state they were in… Christ.

Ray used the edge of the bed to get himself to his feet, keeping as quiet as he could, moving slowly, terrified of waking Vince and having him kick off again. He doubted he’d fight off the murderous bastard a second time… this was luck, he told himself, pure luck. He had to get out, away, and quick. Once Vince woke up, remembered… shit.

He staggered the few feet to the bathroom, shutting the door as quietly as he could before he risked clicking on the light over the basin. Shit. He was a mess. Blood all over his face, in his hair, his mouth swelling… he lifted his top lip with a cautious finger and could immediately see a front tooth was broken almost in half. Fresh blood welled from the cut inside his lip, and he leaned over the sink, spitting and rinsing as quietly as he could. When the water eventually ran clear he shoved his whole head under the tap, sluicing away the blood matting his hair, then rubbing vigorously with the room’s only towel. Then he used the soggy cloth to scrub away the blood smeared on his body.

There was just one thought in his head; he had to get out. Get dressed, get out, before the bastard came round. Get the fuck away, out of London.

He was almost too afraid to open the bathroom door again, expecting to find Vince standing right outside the door, waiting. He cracked the door a quarter inch, but could see nothing. Further, and he let out a relieved breath; Vince was still peaceful on the bed, hadn’t shifted, didn’t look likely to.

Moving slowly and carefully, he hunted his clothes off the floor; jeans, t-shirt, trainers, sweatshirt. Those and his ancient black leather jacket were about all he owned. His body was sore and uncoordinated, but he managed to noiselessly haul everything on apart from the shoes. Bare feet were quieter anyway, and stopping to tie laces wasn’t an option. He glanced repeatedly at Vince, but there was still no sign of him rousing. Bastard. God, the place stank: blood, vomit and something else… faeces maybe? He didn’t want to think. He wanted out… His hand was on the Yale lock before he consciously even knew he’d got to the door. Another fearful glance back at Vince, who still hadn’t moved. Had stopped making those wheezing noises too, now he came to think of it.

Shit!

At last the penny dropped, and he snatched his hand away from the door catch, turning back slowly to look at the bed properly. And the corpse on the bed.

Shit.

The knife… he remembered the knife then, at last. Had he…? There was no clear memory. Nothing. Vince’d been breathing when he’d gone into the bathroom, but that was then, and this was… dead.

Shit.

Heart pounding, he panted to get air into his labouring chest. Dear god, what’d he done? Maybe Vince wasn’t dead. Maybe he was just breathing much quieter now.

Ray swallowed, and crept cautiously to the side of the bed where most of Vince’s bulk was lying. No movement. He poked him experimentally with one finger, but still nothing. Finally he used his hand to shake the great lump of flesh; it moved only as far as his hand pushed it, then flopped back.

Shit shit shit!

His legs gave out suddenly, and he found himself on his knees. Now he was eye-level with Vince’s face… he twitched the sheet away, and found half-closed, empty corpse-eyes gazing back at him. He clapped both hands over his mouth to stop himself making a noise, breathing frantically through his fingers, unable to take his eyes away from the hideous dead thing in front of him.

After a while his breathing calmed and he leant with his hands on his knees, trying to think, to get his head round what had happened, to think what to do, what to do… he felt sick, he wanted his gran, he wanted this to not have happened, he ought to call the police, confess, be sent to jail, they’d catch up with him if he didn’t, a life spent running away and afraid, change his name maybe, maybe the police would call it manslaughter if he told them Vince was trying to… was it rape? If a bloke forced another bloke? He wasn’t even sure of that. Wasn’t sure of any damn thing. Didn’t want to be the stupid kid who’d got himself raped…

Had he been?

Jesus.

Another look into the dead eyes of the thing on the bed, and he threw himself to his feet, away from it. Leaning against the door, he got a grip on himself. Was he going to wreck his life for this miserable bastard? Hell, no! Could he slip out, away, deny he’d been here if asked? Probably only Juke knew for sure he’d been staying here, and he wasn’t likely to go talking to the cops. What did that leave? The knife? His fingerprints on the damn thing, wherever the hell it was. Still in Vince? Shit. He needed to get to it, clean it off.

He circled the bed on naked feet, trying to see where the knife had gone in, tweaking the bedding here and there to see better… and eventually he saw it, caught under Vince’s arse where it must have ended up after either he or Vince had dislodged it. He eased it out from under the body with a kind of horrified numbness at what he was doing. He held it stupidly for a second or two, then jerked to life, back to the bathroom to use the blood-stained towel, wiping the knife over and over to make sure all his fingerprints were erased, before simply dropping it on the floor.

Right then. First step taken… he felt something deep down inside himself harden. This was his life now, no more a victim or an easy lay. He’d killed.

He glanced up to look at himself in the bathroom mirror, and saw a thinner, paler Ray Roberts looking back, all huge eyes and thickened lip. But still himself. He could live with this. Yes.

He needed to put distance between himself and the remains of his cousin. He needed to do it quickly – part of him was straining to hear approaching footsteps. The knife could stay, was scrubbed clean, wasn’t his. Leave it.

He glanced around the bathroom, assessing if anything of his was here; he’d used throw-away razors, and Vince’s spare toothbrush, his towel, his bedding, his bed…

He was already wearing all the clothes he had, his empty wallet was in his jacket pocket, his trainers were where he’d dropped them by the door. Nothing else here, nothing of him.

Vince’s spare door key was in his jean’s front pocket, thank god he’d remembered, didn’t want anything on him to tie him to the place. Put it where? The top drawer of the chest of drawers next to the window, where Vince kept his drug stuff. And his money.

Ray stared down at the wad of notes; several hundred pounds held by a rubber band. Vince’d pinched his money the first night he’d arrived, and hadn’t given him a penny since, so the dead bastard owed him. Besides, Ray was already a killer; might as well be a thief too. If he could live with murder on his hands, a few hundred quid wasn’t going to keep him up nights.

He grabbed the money and zipped it into the inner pocket of his jacket. And having stolen that much, he took a few more precious moments to toss the place more thoroughly, finally taking a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate, an orange, and a thick blue wool jumper from the back of one of the drawers, slinging it round his neck over the top of his jacket like a scarf. He forced himself to sit on the floor and tie his trainers properly – determined not to stop for anything once he was outside the front door.

Without another look back, he slipped out, pulling the door shut softly, hearing the lock snick behind him. With luck, Vince’s sorry remains would be a long time before they were found. He felt a slight pang of guilt for his mum’s sister Lena, who wouldn’t know her only son was gone, but he deliberately squashed that line of thought. Family were in the past now. Family and innocence and childhood.

He moved quietly out into the night, fading intimately into the shadows.

Chapter 3

Bill spent most of May’s afternoon visits sleeping.

The nursing staff had been reassuring, telling her it was normal, his body’s way of getting over the shock of the heart attack, but it still left May alone, scared and bored silly in the half-empty ward. There was nobody there for her… The green plastic chairs were supremely uncomfortable, the walls were painted the same miserable grey as the floors, the matching grey tea was weak and only grudgingly offered by indifferent women. The doctors were never there, and the visiting hours were at once too short and too long.

Apparently she was in one of Hell’s waiting rooms, and bitterly sure neither she nor Bill had done anything to deserve it.

Of the six beds, only three were filled: her Bill - silly sod, what’d he go and have a heart attack for, the week after he retired? Some poor old man dying of cancer and doolally with it – no visitors ever came for him and the staff seemed to keep him medicated to the eyeballs, not that they’d admit it, but May wouldn’t blame them. And the boy in the bed next to Bill, also no visitors. Poor kid. Couldn’t be more than 16 or 17. Like Bill, he was mostly asleep, curled onto his left side – not surprising considering the discoloured, bloody dressings covering the right side of his face from hairline to jaw. What was visible was swollen, black and blue with bruising.

May had thought it must’ve been a car accident, but one of the nurses told her he’d been beaten horribly, savagely. Why would one human do that to another, especially a lad, hardly more than a child? Had he done something to provoke it, May wondered. Surely, nothing deserved being hurt so badly? Poor little bugger. Sometimes he whimpered softly in his sleep, sometimes she saw his face wet with quiet tears. Worse, nobody ever seemed to come for him, no family, no friends, not even a social worker. How could a boy that age be so alone?

ooOoo

 

Bill, once he began to take notice of the world again, and with nothing much else to fill his time in between May’s visits, started to find out. He might be retired and sick as a dog, but he was still a copper through and through, like a stick of Brighton rock.

‘Says his name’s Ray, but either he can’t or won’t give a second name. In big trouble, I’d guess,’ Bill told her. ‘Nobody here seems too bothered about him. Poor little sod. From what I’ve heard he was found in a shop doorway when somebody opened up in the morning. Lucky he didn’t die of shock if he’d been there all night.’

‘He looks too young to be on his own,’ May said. They were holding hands, talking softly so as not to wake either the old guy in the bed opposite or the lad in the next bed. Five days of visiting, and May had yet to see the boy properly awake. ‘Why would anyone do that to another human being?’

‘Dunno, love. Gang fight, maybe. Or drunk. Could be drugs. Or maybe he just looked at someone the wrong way. I’ve seen all sorts and I’ve never really understood it. Never will.’

‘What about his family? He must have somebody, somewhere. Surely they must be worried about him.’

Bill shook his head. ‘He might’ve run away – could’ve been living rough for months or longer. Probably been gone so long they’ve given up bothering to look. It happens, love. Families split up, drift apart.’ He’d seen youngsters like this time and again; they tugged your heartstrings, you wanted to save them, but most were beyond rescue. By the time they were living on the streets in London, they were too far gone. What their home lives must be like god only knew, to choose sleeping in a cardboard box and scrounging for food over going back.

Poor little devil. Why did people have children if they didn’t really want them? He and his May… Christ, they’d have loved a half dozen sprogs, god willing. God hadn’t. Their one attempt had resulted in a miscarriage of such spectacularly disastrous proportions it’d almost cost him May. God! Never worth another try, in his reckoning. But still. He knew May regretted it, and yes, if he was honest, he regretted it too. Never enough to risk his May, or what they had, but there was an emptiness.

Ray now. All skin and bones, scared and alone, already so resigned to a rotten life. There was a story there, Bill would bet good money on it, but finding out wasn’t easy. The lad slept a lot, leaving few opportunities to talk to him, plus his face was so swollen what little Bill did get was almost impossible to translate.

‘Anything you can get would be a help,’ the ward matron said softly that evening, careful not to disturb Ray who was dead to the world again. ‘We know next to nothing about him, and we haven’t the staff or the time to spare. If we’re not careful, he’ll vanish out of here as soon as he’s able, and we won’t see him again.’

‘Or he’ll turn up here again in a worse state,’ Bill agreed.

‘Or dead,’ the woman said. ‘Whatever reason he’s ended up like this, it can’t be an easy life he’s leading. It’s a blessing he didn’t die. He won’t be so lucky a second time.’

Bill watched the battered face in the next bed for an hour or more after she left, wondering about people and families.

One of the nurses helped out next morning by finding a pencil and a pad of paper. Bill had a worried moment thinking maybe Ray couldn’t read or write, but Ray managed to smile lopsidedly at the pretty girl and mumble some sort of thanks. His heavily bandaged right hand had been stomped on by a booted foot, but with a furious scowl of concentration he managed to hold the pencil in his left hand. The resulting scrawl was awkward but just about legible.

‘Ice cream?’ the nurse guessed, squinting slightly, and got another twitch of a grin and a pathetically hopeful look that would’ve melted the hardest heart. ‘Not sure how we’ll manage, but if you want, we’ll give it a go.’

It was astonishing just how much mess two young people and a tub of vanilla ice cream could make. An older nurse scolded them in passing, but Bill caught her indulgent smile as she turned away.

ooOoo

Later, Bill returned from a tediously slow walk up and down the corridor – all the exercise he was allowed - to find visiting hours had started already. May was there, holding Ray’s undamaged hand, talking to him quietly with her head bent low over the boy’s. The lad could’ve been May’s own, Bill realised – right age, the same dark tangle of hair, green-grey eyes and straight nose. Even the Cupid’s bow mouths were oddly similar.

Ray was distressed, and Bill could tell from the soft way May was talking she was having a hard time comforting him. He caught her eye, and raised his eyebrows in query, but she just shook her head at him. Whatever the problem, she didn’t want his help.

The ward was thankfully quiet – poor old Ted in the bed opposite had long since passed the point of taking any further interest in life, and never had any visitors anyway. Bill carefully sat himself down on the side of his own bed and swung his feet up to lie on top of the covers. Nurse, doubtless, wouldn’t approve. Tough.

The smell of antiseptic was powerful right now; he wondered if the cleaning staff were in a particularly vindictive mood. A smell that strong would make the tea, when it came round shortly, taste even worse than it already did. He longed to be out of this place, home, feet up in front of some footy on the telly with May fussing over him, bringing him decent cuppas and maybe trifle. Didn’t even like bloody trifle normally. Funny what a heart attack did to you.

He turned his head slightly to see if his wife was making any progress with young Ray and was surprised to see she now had her arms around him, and he was resting his face in the warmth of her neck. Tough little bugger that he was, hardened street kid if ever Bill had seen one, May had him sobbing softly in her arms.

Ah, well, maybe there was some hope for him yet.

A bit later May straightened up and left Ray curled into his pillows, just as the tea trolley came round, pushed for once by a jolly woman, who insisted Bill had his cup of char to ‘keep his spirits up’. Thankfully, she left both Ted and Ray alone, and took herself and her urn off, leaving May and Bill to talk in peace.

‘I can’t wait to get out of here,’ Bill told his wife, as she leaned down to kiss him for the first time that day.

May beamed at him, but scolded, ‘You’re not coming home till the doctors are happy with you. I don’t want you going all blue on me again. You just behave for a few more days.’

‘I want trifle when I get back.’

‘You don’t like trifle.’

‘I know.’ Bill caught May’s look and swiftly changed the subject. ‘What was all that about with young Ray?’ he asked, lowering his voice, though he was certain Ray was asleep again. He hadn’t given any sign of life all through the crashing of the tea trolley.

‘Poor lad,’ May said, instantly serious, glancing over at the next bed. ‘The doctors have scared the living daylights out of him – they’ve told him he’ll probably lose the sight in his eye, he needs a plate in his face, and his right hand might never mend properly. He’s so scared and hurt… and he told me it was no better than he deserved, like he’s guilty about something.’ Bill could see tears brightening her eyes. ‘It wouldn’t be quite so bad if he had somebody here for him, but he doesn’t seem to think he’s got a soul in the world to care. How can that be? Everybody has someone, don’t they?’

‘I don’t know, love. Maybe there was no-on who cared, or maybe he alienated everybody who might’ve. There’s more than one side to everything… I know, I know,’ May was glaring at him. ‘We don’t know anything other than somebody thought beating him half to death was a good idea. We’ll see, all right?’

May tipped her head to one side, not needing to ask.

‘Okay, yes, he’s got to me too, and don’t look so pleased with yourself, woman. I’ll try and find out more from him, and if he won’t tell me anything, I’ll ask around a bit. Somebody must know about him – he didn’t just materialise in a shop doorway.’

ooOoo

Bill waited till much later that evening before trying to talk to Ray. There were too many nurses bustling in and out after visiting hours ended with the whole nightly ritual of pills and supper, getting the walking wounded back to their beds in time for lights out at ten. Though the lights were never really turned out, and besides, poor old Ted had taken a turn for the worse, curtains closing ominously around his bed. It was bad enough for Bill, accustomed to the harsh realities of living and dying, but Ray’s face under the bandages was sickly pale as they listened to the old man gasping his last, just out of sight behind green curtains.

It was a good time to get the truth out of Ray, while he was unsettled and distracted.

Bill sat on the side of Ray’s bed, little by little enticing a mumbled and halting story from the boy. Maybe not the truth, but something close: a broken family, an abusive man who might or might not have been his father, and a mum who drowned herself in booze. One day his father walked out and never came back, the classic, ‘just going out for a packet of fags’ scenario. His mum had dumped him on his granny, saying she’d pick him up in a week, but he’d never seen her again either.

His gran had taken him in, let him sleep on her sofa in her manky council flat. She was getting on and disabled, but she’d given him love, kindness and rules to follow, like going to school and working weekends. School had led to evening classes at the local art college, where Ray’d obviously fallen for a teacher. His blush said more than enough, and god knew, Bill should’ve been disgusted. How the hell the relationship had jumped the rails from student/teacher to something else entirely he couldn’t begin to imagine, a woman so much older taking advantage the way she obviously had… and yet, the way Ray spoke, the innocence in his words made it something else again. Probably the woman had just been using the lad, but she’d looked after him and put a roof over his head for a while.

Then the story became vague... a bedsit in London and a cousin; having to leave quickly with only the clothes on his back. He’d lived rough on the streets, then a squat, before he’d got so desperate he’d gone to ask for work from somebody he knew. That was the night he’d been attacked, though if he knew who or why, he wasn’t telling.

Sometime in the dark, as Ray talked, poor old Ted passed away, unnoticed until the night nurse did her rounds.

ooOoo

May held Ray’s hand through the pre-meds for the operation for his face. It was the only way the nurses could administer the drugs; Ray had a deep fear of needles.

Bill frowned, privately wondering about that. They’d said he wasn’t a user – no track marks - but he was obviously terrified.

May insisted she’d be staying while Ray was in surgery, and would be there when he woke up. The harassed staff sensibly didn’t bother to argue.

Bill, due to be discharged the next day, left May fretting over a plastic cup of grey tea in the waiting room. He found a public phone in a draughty corridor and made a couple of calls to old friends on the force. It took less than an hour before he was back with May, his face grim.

‘What?’ May asked, knowing her husband had been hoping to follow up on some of the scant details he’d got from Ray.

‘Ah love, it’s not good,’ Bill said. He sat down heavily beside her and absently took a sip from her abandoned tea. He pulled a face and stared at the disgusting sludge before putting it down again quickly. ‘The old lady he told me about, in Derby, his gran?’ May nodded. ‘A young PC found her body. The neighbours were complaining to the council about the smell. They reckon she’d been dead a month or more.’

‘Oh god. How horrible. I was hoping, maybe …’ she trailed off.

Bill took her hand and squeezed gently. ‘I know,’ he said, and raised her hand to kiss her knuckles. ‘I was hoping he could go back to her too. There’s nothing left though – there was no record of him, no next of kin anyone knew of. The council cleared the flat, incinerated everything and fumigated the place, paid for the old lady to be cremated and her ashes scattered at the crematorium. Bloody grim.’

‘Poor boy,’ May said, leaning into the comfortable warmth of her husband. ‘Not even a grave to visit. What’re we going to tell him?’

Bill sighed. ‘Truth, love. Hard as it is, there’s no way round it. He needs to know, and better coming from us than some stranger.’

May subsided into a lip-chewing silence, which on reflection ought to have worried Bill. By the time a nurse came to tell them Ray had come through the operation, May had made up her mind – they’d take Ray home with them as soon as they could, care for him while he recuperated.

Bill pointed out it was a terrible idea - like taking home a feral cat then being surprised to find it fishing the goldfish out the bowl or munching on Granny’s budgie – but one look into his wife’s fierce eyes and he knew they’d adopted… He kissed his wife, wondering what the hell they were letting themselves in for, then grinned.

There, and to think he’d worried what he’d do once he retired.

Chapter 4

November, and the mid-week briefing was taking place early and in the chill semi-dark. Bloody radiators on the blink again, or possibly never working properly in the first place. Bodie scowled out the grimy window next to him and wondered if it would ever be full daylight today. The clouds looked ominous. Drizzle before long, probably just in time to soak them on the way to the armpit of Erith Marshes.

Hot builders’ tea in a grubby mug appeared under his nose, and he took it gratefully, sipping at the evil brew, sugared too much and strong enough to rot your tonsils, just the way he liked it. He grunted thanks at Doyle, who lowered himself onto the hard chair next to him and slumped into a typical boneless sprawl. The poor sod looked worse than Bodie felt, and Bodie took pity and passed the mug to him. Doyle took a mouthful and handed it back again.

‘Hope neither of you’ve got cooties,’ Jax muttered, sliding into the last vacant chair in the room on the other side of Doyle.

The atmosphere changed with George Cowley’s arrival as the dozen or so agents sat up and took notice. Just because it was early on a miserable, cold day when they were all tired and stretched thin was no excuse in Cowley’s eyes, and well they knew it. He looked immaculately crisp in a dark grey suit, bulging manila folders tucked under one arm, pale grey eyes scanning the room as he took his seat, inspecting his troops, missing nothing.

The briefing was swift, more a counting of heads and an update on various ops to bring everyone up to speed. There were three ongoing, none of them close to concluding, all of them heavy on manpower.

While Cowley was loath to divert resources, he’d had a request for assistance which he was in a unique position to give. His eyes rested fractionally longer on Doyle as the room listened to Mike Thomas giving his gloomy update on the Hounslow surveillance.

At the end, as agents filed out, chatting and jostling, bemoaning the wet day they had to go out into to earn an honest crust, Cowley caught Bodie’s eye; Bodie raised his eyebrows in silent query.

‘You and Doyle, stay.’

Bodie laid a hand on Doyle’s back, and whatever passed between them, Doyle responded, turning back, glancing at Cowley, his expressive face full of curiosity. Neither man was happy with their present assignment, a mixture of house to house questioning and following leads, punctuated by interminable spells of utterly fruitless surveillance. No doubt Doyle was hoping for a change of pace.

Cowley indicated they should sit down again, coming around the table to lean against it.

‘I may have something new for the two of you,’ he began, studying both faces. Bodie looked his usual impenetrable, imperturbable self, while Doyle, the more highly strung of the pair, looked frayed around the edges. ‘It may come to nothing, but I think on balance it might pay dividends. Unfortunately, it involves past… indiscretions.’

Doyle glanced at Bodie, who did a double-take.

‘What?’

‘It’s you with the indiscreet past,’ Doyle pointed out, and Bodie looked momentarily outraged.

‘Gentlemen,’ Cowley interrupted before they could get started. Shifting his attention to Doyle he said, ‘Jasmine O’Hara.’

‘Oh, god,’ Doyle moaned, covering his face with one hand, while sliding further down in his seat. Embarrassed rather than upset, Cowley decided, while Bodie seemed totally baffled at his partner’s reaction.

So. Not a part of Doyle’s history that’d been shared then. Interesting. Possibly awkward.

Doyle uncovered one eye enough to look at his boss. ‘Jazz?’ he asked, and when Cowley nodded confirmation, he slid impossibly lower and groaned softly again.

‘What? Who?’ Bodie asked, looking from one to the other of them.

When Cowley didn’t reply, Doyle muttered, ‘Someone from my youth and childhood.’ He uncovered his eyes to stare hard at Cowley. ‘I was promised it was a closed book.’

‘I promised it wouldn’t be referred to unless it became necessary,’ Cowley corrected with sufficient hardness in his voice to stop Doyle becoming antagonistic. Doyle looked mulish, then nodded his agreement. He didn’t look happy; then again, Cowley hadn’t expected him to.

He softened his tone. ‘I’m sorry, lad. I thought it was a closed book too, but she’s offering information that may be too valuable to pass up. You’re the one person on this side of the law she’ll trust.’

‘Information?’ Doyle asked.

‘Indeed. Mrs O’Hara would like to trade certain material regarding her stepson, Sonny Prakash, and his business colleagues in return for full protection, immunity from prosecution, and a new identity.’

‘Why now?’ Doyle was frowning. ‘Is the old man dead? I can’t believe she’d cross him…’

‘Not dead, terminally ill. She contacted someone at the Met late yesterday, asking if you were still on the force. The CI5 connection was flagged up and passed on to us.’

There was a discreet knock on the door, and Cowley’s assistant Betty popped her head into the room. ‘I’m sorry, sir, your meeting is in fifteen.’

‘Thank you, Betty. I’ll be with you in a moment.’ He stood up, taking a manila folder from the table behind him and handing it across to Doyle. ‘I want you to track Mrs O’Hara down – the address she gave the Met is in there – talk to her, find out what she wants, and what she’s prepared to trade.’

‘You think there’s something in it then, sir?’ Doyle asked, all signs of potential mutiny gone.

‘I do. The Met seem to think it’s the ramblings of an hysterical woman, but you and I both know that’s one thing Mrs O’Hara certainly isn’t.’ He turned his attention to Bodie. ‘I would normally prefer Doyle deal with this alone; he knows the woman and won’t spook her. But I’ve a feeling this could get unpleasant. I want you to stick with him, whether Mrs O’Hara likes it or not.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Bodie flashed a quick smirk in Doyle’s direction. ‘Always happy to help out with his dubious past, sir.’

‘Glass houses and stones come to mind, Bodie,’ Cowley said. ‘I’ll want a report as soon as you can, Doyle. Both your reports, mind Bodie.’

‘Sir,’ Bodie acknowledged, while Doyle hid a grin.

ooOoo

While they’d been with Cowley, the London weather had deteriorated still further. Bodie pulled the car out into creeping traffic, flipping on the Capri’s sidelights in the increasing gloom. The day was getting darker rather than lighter, and the fine drizzle had turned into a dirty, miserable sleet.

Doyle sat beside him, slouched low and staring moodily out of the passenger window. The folder Cowley had handed him was abandoned on the car’s floor down by his feet; probably had wet footprints all over it by now. Records will be thrilled, Bodie thought sourly.

‘So, who’s this closed book of yours then?’ Bodie asked.

‘Shut up, Bodie,’ Doyle muttered, one hand tugging distractedly at his curls.

‘What?’

‘Let it be, yeah?’

‘Okay, but I’m driving; be handy if I knew where we’re going?’

‘How the fuck should I know?’

‘Because you’re the one with the dodgy past and the size 11 boot planted on the folder with her last known address,’ Bodie pointed out patiently.

For a moment the explosion looked imminent, then Doyle’s mouth twitched into a grin, never able to take himself too seriously in the face of Bodie’s relentless good humour.

‘Yeah, all right, I‘m being a twat,’ he agreed amiably, then added a mild ‘shit’ as he fished in the footwell for the folder and saw the state of it. After a moment or two of leafing through, he gave a raucous hoot of laughter.

‘What?’ asked Bodie, grinning.

‘Jazz’s last known. Priceless. She’s shacked up at The Portella, hiding in plain sight.’

‘The Portella?’

‘You know the one – that private hotel, very swanky. Used to be a whorehouse, back in the day. Very discreet these days, but they kept the whorehouse décor. It’s perfect for Jazz. Typical of her.’

‘The lady has a sense of humour?’ Bodie asked, aware he was back on fragile ground. Doyle’s temper could erupt again in a moment. Stroppy bugger. Instead Doyle tipped his head back and laughed at some memory, and started giving Bodie directions.

The Portella reeked of old money and faded grandeur. Tucked away in South Kensington with its own parking and modest railed grounds, it could have passed as a private college, club or discreet embassy. The brass nameplate was worn by years of polishing, the door and railings painted in the kind of glossy black which suggested they were polished daily too.

The front door was opened by an equally shiny elderly gentleman, who glanced sourly at Doyle’s ratty jeans, dismissed him completely, and addressed himself exclusively to Bodie, who struggled to hide his amusement.

‘Sir?’

‘We’d like to see a Mrs O’Hara. We believe she’s staying here?’

‘You have an appointment, sir?’

‘We don’t need one…’ Doyle started to move past, and found his way blocked by the determined old gent on one side, and Bodie’s firmly restraining hand on the other.

Bodie waved his ID. ‘CI5. Mrs O’Hara asked to see us.’

The disapproval radiating from the doorman decreased slightly. He sniffed and turned a cold stare on Doyle. ‘Is this person with you, sir?’

Bodie nearly lost it at the sight of Doyle’s outraged expression. ‘I’m afraid so,’ he apologised. ‘Is Mrs O’Hara available? Please?’

Mollified by Bodie’s polite manner, the man stepped aside, ushering them into a cocoon of warmth and dark panelled wood.

Closing and locking the door behind them, he indicated an area to the left of the door where a coal fire was burning in an oversized fireplace, surrounded by leather sofas and armchairs that looked as though they’d seen their best days in the previous century. The air of a gentlemen’s club was spoilt by the hulking presence of a young man in an immaculate black suit, who must have weighed in at a good twenty stone.

‘If sirs would wait here, I will see if Mrs O’Hara is available to visitors. Mr John is here should you have any requirements whilst you wait.’ Mr John sniffed loudly into the silence, and stared at them.

Bodie settled himself comfortably in a leather armchair close to the fire, while Doyle roamed the room, inspecting both his surroundings and Mr John, before coming to rest leaning against the mantelpiece, instantly managing to make the entire room look untidy. He felt the weight of Bodie’s gaze, turning wide green eyes and a ferocious scowl on his partner.

‘What?’ He sounded indignant. Bodie just grinned.

For a few minutes, only the sound of distant traffic and the crackle of flames in the grate disturbed the silence. Then the sound of footsteps and the elderly gent reappeared, accompanied by a much younger man. The old boy looked considerably friendlier, the fair-haired youth trailing behind him less so.

‘Gentlemen? Mrs O’Hara would be grateful if you’d go up to her suite. Mr Paul will show you the way.’

Mr Paul came forward, glancing between Bodie and Doyle, obviously far more interested in Doyle, staring hard at his face as though looking for something familiar.

‘You’re Ray? Jazz was right, she said you’d come.’ His voice was deep and rich for such a slender young man. Bodie reassessed his likely age – perhaps in his twenties rather than his teens. Far too pretty to be out on his own.

Doyle’s eyes narrowed, but whatever he was going to say was lost in a rush of a slim, silver-blonde woman, dressed in blue jeans and a black leather biker’s jacket.

‘Ray!’

‘Jazz!’ Doyle’s face lit up with delight as the woman threw herself at him, hugging him for all she was worth. ‘Don’t you dare say I’ve grown!’

‘Don’t you dare say I’ve gone grey!’ She was grinning, unwrapping herself enough to stand back in his arms.

‘You have gone grey,’ Ray teased, instantly completely at ease with her.

‘My god, you’ve grown!’ She hugged him ferociously again. ‘God, I’ve missed you.’

‘Why didn’t we stay in touch? I must’ve been…’

‘Young?’

‘Well, yeah, there’s that.’ He kissed her forehead. ‘And then there’s stupid, and idiotic, and…’

There was the sound of a throat being cleared loudly behind them.

‘Shit! Sorry Bodie. Jazz,’ he grabbed her hand and pulled her round. ‘This ugly bugger is my partner, Bodie. Bodie, this stunning-but-older woman – ouch! who still packs a hell of a punch - is the love of my life, Jazz O’Hara. It is still O’Hara?’

‘Hell, yes.’ She and Bodie raised polite hands to wave at one another. ‘I wasn’t going to take Raj’s name back then, and nothing’s changed.’

‘Thought maybe something had,’ Doyle turned sober, frowning down into her face. ‘Isn’t that why you wanted to see us?’ She stared back at him, eyes huge, studying his face properly, registering the difference for the first time. She reached, touched, stroked his mended cheek gently, her bottom lip caught between perfect white teeth just the way he remembered when she was concentrating, puzzling.

So, she hadn’t known. He’d never been sure.

‘Ray?’ she asked, softly, just for him.

He shook his head. ‘Later, luv. Is there someplace we can talk?’

‘Of course. My rooms are a mess, but there’s a fire through here, we can get coffee… Paul honey, can you get us coffee?’

Paul-honey looked less than pleased, heaved a sigh, rolled his eyes upwards, but went to sort out the coffee anyway.

She grinned at Doyle again. ‘Can’t get the staff.’

Jazz took his hand to lead them through a doorway into a much smaller room beyond, furnished with more leather armchairs, a couple of sofas, shelves of books, a small fire burning in the grate.

‘Better,’ Doyle agreed, aware of Bodie silently checking out the room before coming to stand with one elbow on the mantelpiece.

Jazz led him to one of the sofas, pulling him down without ever letting go of his hand. He sat turned towards her, knowing Bodie was on guard. He could concentrate… Jazz looked wonderful; older, yes, but still utterly gorgeous. Her eyes had more laughter lines, and her forehead was creased with worry, but underneath it all, she was still magic, and he felt the old attraction despite himself.

‘What’s happened, love?’

Her eyes slid sideways to Bodie. ‘Your partner?’

‘For me sins, yeah. Bodie and me, we’re with CI5. The Met passed your request on to us.’ She was still looking at Bodie. ‘He’s all right. He broods for a living, but underneath all that, he’s just a big kid.’

Bodie obligingly crossed his eyes horribly and grinned, before morphing seamlessly back into James Bond.

Jazz laughed that richly loud laugh of hers, and Doyle grinned, delighted, wondering how he could’ve forgotten it.

Leaving her hand in his, she sat back a little, better to include Bodie. ‘Rajan – that’s my husband – he’s dying.’ She paused for a moment, glancing down at their joined hands. ‘He’s an old man now, and to be honest, it’ll be a happy release. He’s been sick a couple of years,’ she shrugged slightly, frowning in concentration. She didn’t seem upset, more resigned, Doyle thought. He’d never understood her feelings towards the man who’d bought her from her father as a child in India, married her, kept her like some beautiful, exotic animal. Raj Prakash allowed her astonishing freedoms, permitting her to take lovers and live her own life as long as she was there when he wanted something of her – mostly to be decorative and look adoringly at him at posh parties. There’d been a second wife, Doyle recalled, in Pakistan, giving Raj the children he required. It’d been a strange, unholy set up; maybe it was starting to unravel.

‘Sonny, Raj’s eldest son, he’s always loathed me. He was a spiteful brat - Raj brought him here for school - and he’s grown up into a monster. He blames me for the way his mother’s been treated, he calls me a whore to my face… those are the highlights. I don’t think there’s much he wouldn’t do to hurt me, and once Raj is gone…’ She trailed off, biting her lip.

‘You think what?’ Doyle asked gently. ‘He’ll hurt you? Kill you?’

Jazz laughed, a bitter sound. ‘If I’m lucky he’ll only kill me.’ She looked at Doyle, real fear showing in her eyes. ‘I’m scared of him. Really scared. He’s got Raj’s temper and pride, and none of his kinder qualities. He’s evil, Ray. He likes to break things.’

‘Ray!’ Bodie’s voice was low and urgent, and the tone caused Doyle to react without thinking. He jerked Jazz towards him, face-down onto the sofa and swivelled onto his knees, drawing his gun in one seamless motion. Bodie was already leaping across the back of another sofa, positioning himself by the window, neatly making himself at once a harder target and dividing the firepower of anyone attacking them.

And they did.

Gunfire erupted into the room, filling it with terrible noise, smoke, the smell of hot metal. Beneath him, Jazz cried out in terror, tucking her legs up, jostling him slightly, but his shots were still clean, picking off the first gunman into the room easily, causing him to jerk backwards and the automatic in his hands spraying bullets harmlessly into the ceiling. Plaster dust rained down as Bodie took out the next man, two shots, heart and head; never one to waste time or ammunition, his Bodie. The third wasn’t nearly as stupid, shouting at somebody still out of sight behind him, pushing a terrified whey-faced Paul-honey into the room in front of him, an arm round the poor bugger’s neck, a gun pointing from behind his shoulder.

‘Shit! We just want the woman, give us the woman, you can have the poof, c’mon, quick!’

Paul-honey was in the way of a clean shot, so Doyle waited his moment, crouched down using the back of the sofa as a shield, aware of Bodie, always aware of Bodie, now concealed by an armchair with its stuffing spewed by the first burst of gunfire. Bodie, the mad bugger, flashed a grin at him. Doyle rolled his eyes at him; nowhere he’d rather be, no-one he’d rather be with…

More shouting beyond the doorway – possibly the hotel staff getting their second wind. There’d be police sirens soon, and if they weren’t quick, potential dead coppers. This lot were obvious amateurs, standing out like sore thumbs dressed in black and sporting stocking masks, all trying to come in by the same door… God only knew what they’d do when the cops arrived.

‘Give us the bleedin’ woman!’ The bloke holding Paul-honey lost his rag enough to poke a bit too much of his head beyond that of his hostage, and Bodie didn’t need any further invitation. Blood and bone and stuff you didn’t want to think about sprayed Paul and the wall behind him; by the time Paul had drawn breath to scream in horror and fright, Doyle had vaulted the sofa and leapt over the dead gunman, pushing Paul forcefully out of his way as he tried to get to the fourth man beyond the door.

He was back in the room, cursing, within seconds.

‘Got away,’ he reported tersely to Bodie. Seeing his mate was checking on Jazz, he turned his immediate attention to Paul, semi-slumped against the wall where he’d been pushed, all huge eyes and hyperventilating. On his way past, Doyle kicked experimentally at the body of the first gunman, but the bloke was as much a corpse as his two friends with the holes in their heads. Damn. Cowley wasn’t going to be best pleased.

‘You okay? Hurt at all?’ he asked, pulling the petrified lad away from the blood-spattered wall. Paul shook his head, then couldn’t seem to stop shaking his head. ‘You’re fine, Jazz is fine, they’re gone,’ Doyle soothed mindlessly, checking over his shoulder both Bodie and Jazz really were in mint condition. Bodie was sitting with an arm round Jazz, who was clinging; Bodie smirked at him, delighted to have got the girl. Doyle almost laughed, but it wouldn’t have looked good… and the next moment Paul had thrown himself at Doyle, arms, and quite possibly legs, wrapped around him like a terrified bushbaby.

Blood bloody-well everywhere, too.

Shit.

Chapter 5

‘Ack, Bodie. It’s a slaughterhouse,’ Cowley grumbled, poking one-fingered at the hastily supplied black and white scene-of-crime photos spread across his desk. ‘When will you learn to wing them?’

‘They weren’t all mine,’ Bodie defended, pouting slightly. ‘Doyle made a right mess of that first bloke.’

‘Yes, well. At least he left enough of the man’s face to be of some use identifying him.’

‘I’ll aim lower next time, sir,’ Bodie offered. Cowley’s lips twitched.

‘See that you do.’ Cowley frowned briefly at the remaining ten by eights, then gave his full attention to Bodie sitting opposite him. ‘Where is 4.5?’

‘Showers, sir. He was a bit… bloody.’

‘None of it his I hope?’

‘No, sir. The lad – Paul whatever his name is – he was standing next to the third gunman and got, well… messy. Then he crawled all over Doyle.’

‘I see. And where are Mrs O’Hara and the lad now?’

‘Betty is working her magic on them – tea and sympathy. They were looked over by a medic at the scene, and they’re just shocked. Well, the lad is. It’ll take more to rattle Mrs O’Hara.’

‘Aye, she’s a strong woman. A real survivor. Has Doyle told you much about her?’

‘Not a thing so far. Hasn’t been much time.’ Bodie defended.

Nose a little out of joint? Cowley wondered. Bodie didn’t trust easily, for all his easy going charm; his relationship with his partner was both hard fought and hard won. Cowley suspected Bodie would have a difficult time if Doyle was less than honest with him, even though Bodie himself lied outrageously about his own past - something Doyle appeared to accept without complaint or noticeable exasperation. Exactly how honest had Doyle been?

‘And there were four gunmen altogether?’ he asked, getting back to the immediate business.

‘Four blokes, yeah. Not sure if the forth was armed; he didn’t shoot, and took off like a rabbit when Doyle went after him – all Ray got was a glimpse of him tearing out a rear door.’

‘Hmmm.’ Cowley tapped a finger thoughtfully on one of the photos. ‘Four to take one woman, when two would have managed quite easily?’

‘Not good at it either – they were armed, but they all came in the same way. No thought or planning. Complete amateurs. She’s not a big woman, they would’ve expected her to be alone...’ Bodie shrugged slightly. ‘One man could’ve grabbed her easily and not even been noticed, done right.’

‘Taken or killed?’

‘Taken.’ Bodie was positive.

A sharp knock on the office door interrupted whatever Cowley was about to say.

‘Sir,’ Betty was looking uncharacteristically flustered. ‘Mrs O’Hara and Paul have vanished. I answered the phone, turned around, and they’d gone.’

‘Gone? They can’t have left the building,’ Cowley said.

‘I’m sorry sir, but if they’re here, we can’t find them. Mike downstairs says he’s positive nobody’s been in or out for at least the last hour, and we’ve done a quick search of the building from top to bottom.’

‘Except in here,’ Cowley pointed out drily.

‘Well no, but…’

‘Where else hasn’t been searched? The men’s changing room, the showers?’

‘Empty,’ Betty confirmed, lips tight.

‘Except Doyle,’ Bodie interrupted softly.

‘No, empty,’ Betty insisted, looking even more annoyed.

Cowley’s eyes came up to stare at Bodie, seeing his own dawning suspicion mirrored on Bodie’s face.

‘He wouldn’t,’ Bodie said immediately, stoutly defending his idiot partner.

‘He would.’ Cowley‘s eyes were bright with anger. ‘You know he would, if it suited him. Utterly insubordinate, the pair of you. I suppose you knew about this?’

‘Me, sir? No, sir.’ Bodie’s affronted dignity lacked conviction, and Cowley had the distinct impression the man wasn’t taking this at all seriously.

‘Go find him. I’ll want a damn good reason for not loaning you both to the local nick in Skegness.’

ooOoo

Several hours and three of Doyle’s less-charming boltholes later, and Bodie was no longer amused. Pushing his flat door open, the last thing he expected to see was Paul-honey sacked out on his sofa under a small mountain of blankets, dead to the world.

‘What the fuck…?’

‘Shuddup! You’ll wake them.’ Doyle appeared and grabbed his arm, hauling Bodie unceremoniously across his own living room, and into his kitchen. By the time Bodie had swung round to protest, Doyle had shut the kitchen door and was leaning back against it, grinning like a fool. ‘You found us then?’

‘What the fuck?’ Bodie repeated.

‘Tea?’ Doyle offered, pushing past him to the kettle. ‘You’re nearly out of milk, by the way.’

‘So sorry, wasn’t expecting guests,’ Bodie said through his teeth. So help him, he’d kill Ray bloody Doyle one of these days.

‘Ah,’ Doyle glanced over his shoulder and grinned again.

‘This isn’t why I gave you a key,’ Bodie said.

‘It’s okay, I didn’t use the key.’

‘You picked my locks? Jesus!’ Bodie gazed heavenwards and decided not to ask… ‘Why the hell did you pick my locks? You’ve got a key.’

‘Well, yeah, but I forgot.’ Doyle stirred the mug and handed over the tea, dark, strong and sweet, along with a matching smile.

‘You forgot…How… Oh never mind,’ Bodie muttered in exasperation. ‘Why here, what the hell are you thinking? And thanks for ducking out of HQ like that too, while we’re at it – Cowley’s fuming and blaming me for not keeping you on a short lead, preferably with a muzzle. It’s taken me till now to find you, I’ve crawled through god knows what filthy dumps…’

‘You never tried that place over the garage in Shoreditch, did you? Christ Bodie, it’s going to fall in the river any day. We’re going to have to replace that hidey-hole sometime soon.’

‘Never mind that, what the hell are you thinking coming here with them?’ Bodie flapped one arm toward the closed kitchen door.

‘Must be the warm welcome and clean sheets.’ Doyle held up both hands to ward off his advancing partner. ‘Sorry, sorry. But think - we weren’t followed to the hotel. You’d have spotted a tail. Whoever those blokes were, they were godawful lousy amateurs, but they were there before us – either they were onto Jazz already, or somebody tipped them off.’

Bodie digested in silence for a moment, hating Doyle’s logic, but at the same time, a feeling in his stomach told him Doyle might well be right. That, or he was hungry. One of the two.

‘You know I’m right,’ said Doyle, sensing weakness, and pressing his advantage.

‘Maybe,’ Bodie conceded. He stared hard at Doyle, trying to put his finger on what was off about the man. Something… ‘But still, what were you thinking, bringing ‘em here, for Christ’s sake?’

‘Will you two stop bickering like a pair of old married queens? You’ll wake Paul, poor boy.’ Jazz appeared, pushing her way into the kitchen, wrapped in a white towelling robe ten sizes too big for her – his, Bodie noted sourly – her hair and eye make-up mussed. She looked fabulous, and Bodie frowned as he watched Doyle watching her. Cowley’s parting shot had been, ‘Be careful, laddie, she predates you.’ It came back to him for the umpteenth time that afternoon, and he tried to recall the exact look on the old bastard’s face when he’d said it.

‘Sorry, love,’ Doyle pulled her into a casual one-armed hug, handing off his tea mug to her. She took a sip, pulled a face, but drank again, leaning into his body with that easy familiarity that only comes with intimate knowledge. Bodie felt a pang of something - jealousy?

‘Cowley’s on the warpath, mate,’ Bodie got back to the subject in hand. ‘He wants your balls for breakfast.’

Jazz grinned and tipped her head back to look at Doyle. ‘He seemed like such a nice man, too,’ she said sweetly. Doyle’s expression caused Bodie to choke on his tea.

‘So what’s the story?’ Bodie asked, leaning back against his fridge door and folding his arms. ‘Who were the blokes shooting up the happy home, and what’ve you got they want?’

Jazz chewed at her bottom lip with neat white teeth.

‘You can trust Bodie, love,’ Doyle encouraged her, moving slightly so he could wrap both arms around her waist and pull her back against him. She glanced up at him again over her shoulder, then nodded slightly before turning back to Bodie.

‘Sorry, Mr Bodie, it’s been a crappy few days.’

You could drown in those smudged green eyes, Bodie decided.

‘Just Bodie,’ he corrected automatically, ‘and I can see how a bunch of blokes with automatics could make you a bit jumpy.’

‘It’s not just them – Bodie?’ She tested the name, and Bodie nodded for her to go on. ‘My husband’s become very frail in the last couple of months. He hasn’t got long, maybe a few days. He’s always protected me from his son. Once he’s gone, I’m scared what Sonny will do.’

‘And you think his son was behind the attack this morning?’

Jazz nodded. ‘There’ve been a couple of things the last few weeks. A truck ran me into a ditch and didn’t stop, the back door of my house broken down one evening, a dead magpie left on my car seat… He’s trying to scare me. Managing.’

‘Why would he want to scare you?’ Bodie asked.

‘He hates me,’ Jazz hugged Doyle’s arm where it rested on her waist. ‘He’s a good Pakistani boy with a good Pakistani mother – he sees her as Raj’s true wife, and me as some sort of aberration, the whore who corrupted his father or some such rubbish. He manages to ignore the small fact I was married to his father before Raj met Shari. Killing me would purify his family... oh, and prevent me inheriting Raj’s money.’

‘So why Doyle? Why come to him? Us.’ Bodie asked.

‘Doyle?’ she turned in Doyle’s arms. Linking her arms around his neck and leaning back to look at him. ‘You weren’t Doyle back then. No wonder I had such a terrible time trying to find you.’ She was openly flirting now, and Doyle, being Doyle, was letting her, flirting right back, all smiles and soft looks.

Bodie reeled internally. Doyle? Doyle wasn’t really Doyle? Nice of Ray to mention it, the bastard. Good god above, this day just kept getting better.

‘I was, kind of,’ Doyle said. ‘My gran’s name. I needed a change after I did something stupid, seemed a nice way to remember her.’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ Jazz said, swaying in his arms. ‘You’re you, just like you always were. I can’t believe it’s been so long.’

Bodie cleared his throat, held up a hand and wiggled his fingers at the pair of them.

‘Still here,’ he reminded them. ‘You didn’t answer. Why him? Why us?’ He ignored Doyle’s narrowed-eyed scowl. Tough shit, mate.

Jazz sighed and moved away from Doyle, pulling out one of the kitchen chairs to sit down, settling her tea on the Formica table top.

‘Sonny’s always scared me - he was a horrible child. He calls himself a business man nowadays, but he’s just a drug dealing thug. Raj knows people, pulls strings to protect him; he’d’ve been caught and locked away long ago if it wasn’t for his father.’

Jazz gazed into the tea mug, and Bodie admired her worn beauty in spite of himself. Doyle had always had good taste. Even before he’d been Doyle… Bodie ground his teeth as Cowley’s prophetic voice floated through his mind again, intoning ‘she predates you…’, and he told it to please shut the-ever-loving-fuck up. She was Doyle’s type though: tough, feminine, blonde, big eyes, long legs, rumpled, a maiden in distress… oh shit, yes, she’d push all Ray’s buttons all right. Except she was old enough to be his mum. Almost. Maybe she was the ‘older woman’ Doyle had talked about that day on top of the bus? Bodie’d thought Doyle had been kidding. Maybe not.

‘Stop scowling mate, you’ll sour what’s left of your milk,’ Doyle said. Bodie glanced up at the cracked ceiling, counted to five under his breath.

‘So Sonny? He’s the one after you?’ Bodie asked.

‘Maybe.’ Jazz pulled her hair back in distraction. ‘I don’t know. It might be him, it might be Raj.’

‘Your husband?’ Bodie was rapidly losing patience with the bloody woman. ‘Make up your mind, luv. I thought he was the one protecting you? Or did I miss something?’

‘Bodie…’ Doyle said, warning. Bodie favoured him with another scowl, which bounced right off the stupid sod. Bloody woman had him by the balls.

‘Raj might’ve found out I took some things, papers. From his safe. He wanted me to burn them in the fireplace - I was sitting up with him late one night. He was fussing about these papers, wanting me to get rid of them straight away. I started wondering what I was burning, if there’d be something I could use against Sonny. Raj couldn’t see what I was doing, so I left some things behind in the safe. When he fell asleep I took everything. God, I was so scared he’d wake up and catch me.’

‘How’d you get them out?’ asked Bodie.

‘I hid them in… well, about my person, as they say.’

Doyle sniggered, ‘Don’t tell me – down your knickers? Priceless!’ He moved to sit beside her at the table. ‘So what’d you score? His secret treasure map?’

‘Better than that,’ she said.

‘What?’

‘A notebook with stuff he’s done for Sonny. Favours called in, that kind of thing.’

‘With names, dates?’ Doyle asked, idly stroking her wrist with one long finger.

‘Names, dates, places, details… the lot,’ she confirmed, suddenly sounding a lot less naïve and more like the tough survivor she was.

‘If Sonny knows it exists, he’s going to want it,’ Doyle agreed.

‘Might explain why they seemed to want to grab you, not just kill you,’ Bodie said. ‘Or it could be your husband – if he suspects? But if he’s protected you against his son all this time, why not let you keep whatever you’ve got? Let you get on with protecting yourself once he’s gone?’

Jazz pursed her lips, frowning slightly and winding her fingers into Doyle’s, staring at their joined hands. ‘Raj is sick. I’ve always thought of him as a kindly monster, but now, I don’t know. He’s crumbling mentally as well as physically. I honestly don’t know what he’s likely to do.’ She stopped talking, still gazing at Doyle’s hand in hers, her thumb rubbing over an old scar on his knuckles.

‘What, love?’ Doyle prompted softly.

‘There’s more?’ Bodie asked.

Jazz leaned back in her chair, pulling Doyle’s unresisting hand up to her mouth, kissing his knuckles gently as their eyes met.

‘I may have taken something more important,’ she said.

‘Such as?’ Bodie asked, ignoring Doyle’s irritated glance and moving to lean stiff-armed on the table opposite them. It’d been a long day already. What he wanted was a hot bath and a cold beer, not to play twenty questions with this infernal woman. Time Doyle – or whatever his bloody name was today - stopped thinking with his dick and moved things along. Shit, Cowley was going to have both their balls at this rate.

‘There was an envelope… photos, a few letters,’ she paused, obviously waiting for Doyle’s encouragement.

‘And?’ he asked, obediently. Bodie could’ve cheerfully smacked him round the head.

‘You remember that man in the news, John Bindon?’

Doyle laughed hollowly. ‘Do we ever. The bloke who’s supposed to have been indiscreet on a beach with Princess Maggie?’

‘Cowley bites another bit out of his desk whenever the bloke’s name comes up,’ Bodie added. ‘Bindon is untouchable, out of bounds, anything related to him, too. No idea why, but we can guess. The bloke can literally get away with murder. There’s not a thing any of us can do.’

‘What about him?’ Doyle asked her.

Jazz hesitated.

‘Come on, love.’

‘The photos I took from Raj, that’s what they are,’ she said.

‘Bindon?’ Doyle asked.

Jazz nodded, glancing between Doyle and Bodie. ‘I didn’t realise at first. I thought they were photos of somebody Raj knew, maybe he’d blackmailed. Then I looked at the papers, the letters, the Downing Street letterhead... I thought it was a joke. Then I started to read, looked at the pictures again… and I knew.’

‘Photographs?’ Bodie traded a glance with Doyle, saw the same doubt on his face. ‘Of the two of them, what, naked? Doing it?’

Jazz simply stared at him.

‘Well, fuck. You’re sure they’re genuine?’ asked Bodie.

‘I don’t know!’ Jazz ran her hands through her hair again, making herself, if possible, more mussed and sexy than ever. ‘I don’t know about these things, but they looked real enough.’

‘It’d take an expert to be sure,’ Doyle said, giving Bodie another dirty look, wanting him to back off. Bodie crossed his eyes, saw Doyle’s lips twitch despite himself. ‘Okay then, I reckon we need Cowley. There’s no way to deal with this on our own.’

‘But Ray…’ Jazz looked panicked.

‘No, love,’ he interrupted firmly. ‘Even if we could get you away, destroyed everything, you can’t stay hidden forever, and you can’t un-see what you’ve seen either. Or Paul, for that matter; has he seen, does he know too?’

Jazz nodded miserably. ‘He was there with me, at Raj’s.’

‘Shit,’ Doyle said, standing up and pacing barefoot across the tiny expanse of kitchen lino.

‘Ray’s right,’ Bodie agreed. ‘Even if we destroy the lot, somebody somewhere knows, or guesses, you’ve seen the evidence. They won’t let you ride off into the sunset. Or that poor little bugger out there either.’

‘He is still out there?’ Doyle glanced guiltily at the closed kitchen door. He hadn’t bothered to keep track of Paul-honey, last seen dead to the world on Bodie’s better couch.

‘He’s still there. I set the locks,’ Bodie said confidently. ‘We have to go to Cowley with this, and soon.’

‘I don’t want to,’ Jazz said softly, before Doyle had a chance to say anything. ‘I just wanted to find Ray, ask him to hide me somewhere. I don’t know what I thought. I don’t want it to blow up into something… official.’

‘Bodie’s right, love,’ Doyle crouched down beside her chair. ‘You can’t pretend it hasn’t happened.’ Doyle gazed into her eyes, willing her to trust him. ‘Whoever’s after you won’t give up easily, or any time soon. Cowley’s our best bet to get you out of this. Bodie and me, we can keep you safe and hide you for a while, but we can’t do it forever.’

Jazz stared at him for a moment, then nodded.

‘Okay, how do we do this?’ Doyle consulted Bodie, rising to his feet, his attention back on the job, back on his partner.

About bloody time too, in Bodie’s opinion.

‘Do we ditch…?’ Doyle jabbed a thumb over his shoulder indicating the closed kitchen door and the unknown quantity of Paul.

Bodie shook his head. ‘Nah. He’s seen too much.’

‘Who’d you reckon is after them?’

‘Right now?’ Bodie turned the candidates over in his head. ‘Sonny-boy, for starters. Maybe Raj, or maybe part of his organisation going into business for themselves if the old guy is losing his grip. Then MI5 have to be contenders if they know about the Bindon stuff, which…’

‘…which they do.’ Doyle echoed his unspoken words exactly.

‘Yeah, they’re not daft,’ Bodie agreed. ‘After that – given the Royal connection - anyone from the Russians to the Americans. And we know bog all about Paul in there. He might be involved, or he might’ve said something indiscreet in the pub…’

‘Paul? In a pub?’ Doyle said, eyes wide, incredulous.

‘Well, a nice wine bar, then. Flocked wallpaper, little paper umbrellas.’ Bodie cocked his little finger to demonstrate. ‘Or a boyfriend?’

‘Girlfriend?’

They stared at one another for a moment. ‘Nah!’ in perfect unison.

‘Paul?’ Jazz interrupted.

They both ignored her.

‘I didn’t see your car out there.’ Bodie said.

‘Old post office van, painted brown.’

‘That new?’ Bodie asked.

Doyle nodded. ‘Had it a few months. Parked two streets over. I brought them in one at a time, Jazz first, went back for him.’

‘So Paul-honey has been on his own at least once?’

‘Shit.’ Doyle muttered.

‘Yeah, shit.’ Bodie agreed.

‘He wouldn’t,’ Jazz said, looking from one to the other of them. ‘I know him, I trust him. He wouldn’t.’

‘Anyone would, luv, for the right price, or if they’re scared enough. Where’d you find him anyway?’ Bodie asked.

‘Raj’s. A few weeks ago. He was nursing Raj. I think he belonged to Sonny and got left behind to help with Raj when Sonny realised he was good at it. He’s sweet, gentle with Raj, doesn’t care what he has to do. And he’s pretty…’ she trailed off and looked at Doyle helplessly.

Doyle grinned, understanding and remembering all too well.

‘So, where do we go, who do we trust?’ Bodie said. He and Doyle stared thoughtfully at one another, wordlessly going through the choices.

‘I want to see my husband,’ Jazz said into the silence.

‘Eh?’ Bodie said foggily.

Doyle was only slightly more eloquent. ‘What, Raj? You want to see him?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’ Doyle winced as he heard himself. He hadn’t thought she gave a shit about the old bastard, let alone she’d want to see him.

‘He’s still my husband, Ray. He’s dying, and for all his faults he’s been good to me in his own way. I don’t love him, never have, but I’ve never had cause to hate him either. I want to say goodbye to him… ’ She pulled at her hair in that gesture Bodie was all too familiar with in his partner. ‘I need to say goodbye,’ she repeated. ‘I can take you to the photos right after. I hid them there – he’s got this big old manor house - I put everything in a bag and hid it in the grounds.’

‘Ray?’ Bodie interrupted, ‘Whatever we do, wherever we go, we need to do it soon. Cowley’s going to notice I’m AWOL by tomorrow morning. He’ll have the lads round, checking.’

‘Yeah,’ Doyle agreed. He was momentarily torn between his partner and his old lover, loyalties warring silently. His trust in Bodie won out easily enough. ‘I reckon we tell Cowley. If the Bindon stuff is for real, we’re going to have MI5 and god knows who else on our tails. While he’s digesting, we can take Jazz to Raj, grab the dirty postcards or whatever, be back before the old man can object.’

Bodie winced. As plans went, it was crap. ‘He’s going to love us. You.’

Doyle laughed, rich and dirty. ‘All the better if you’re the one to break it to him then,’ he reasoned. ‘You call him, tell him you’ve tracked me down after heroically crawling through muddy ditches and barbed wire… ‘

‘Oh, no no no,’ Bodie said firmly. ‘No way, sunshine. Forget it. You’re the one who buggered off with the goods, you face the music. Not me, no way.’

ooOoo

It took Bodie almost an hour, what with dodging through back gardens to make sure he wasn’t tailed, selecting a pub he was sure he hadn’t been in before, then getting his ears royally blistered down the phone by a Cowley not best pleased to hear half his top team had located the other half, but wasn’t inclined to share. It hadn’t gone down too well.

Sneaking back into his own flat under the cover of evening gloom and freezing drizzle, he was greeted by Jazz, now wearing one of his shirts over a pair of jeans – probably some of Doyle’s – and Doyle engaged in trying to get Paul into one of Bodie’s old tracksuits, while Paul was equally intent on losing his clothes. Both were giggling and handsy, while Jazz sat on the arm of the couch, large Scotch in hand, looking too bloody sexy and pleased with herself for words.

Doyle cursed softly as Paul wriggled ticklishly; neither of them seemed to be trying particularly hard to get a move on. What the hell was Doyle thinking?

Bodie was furiously aware of Paul – it was pretty damn obvious what he was thinking at any rate. And Jazz was perched there, all hair and long legs, a spectator to the show on the couch, laughing quietly, absolutely knowing what was going on. Bitch.

‘Doyle?’ Bodie said, his tone should have been enough warning he wasn’t happy. Doyle, kneeling on the carpet, his face three inches from Paul’s crotch, twisted impossibly and grinned up at his partner.

‘How was Cowley? Happy?’

‘Ecstatic,’ Bodie confirmed drily.

Doyle sniggered, turning his attention back to Paul. ‘Thanks mate, I owe you one.’

‘More than one, believe me; the old man is spitting tacks.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Thought the phone was going to melt till I mentioned Bindon.’

‘Bodie, dammit.’ Doyle was on his feet with smooth grace, a flick of his eyes enough to convey he wasn’t happy to talk about Bindon in front of Paul-honey.

Well, tough shit.

‘My office?’ Bodie suggested sweetly, leading the way to the kitchen, waiting for his idiot partner to follow and close the door behind them. Doyle leaned back against it for a moment, glowering at Bodie, then opened the door again enough to lean through and tell Paul to get a move on and dress.

‘Worse than a kid,’ he muttered, shutting the door firmly again and running a hand through his curls in distraction.

‘Takes one to know one,’ Bodie offered, unable to stay mad at Doyle for long.

‘I’ve no idea what’s wrong with the silly little sod,’ Doyle said, making Bodie smirk. Trust Doyle to be oblivious.

‘He’s got painted toe nails,’ Bodie heard himself say. Bugger! He hadn’t meant to mention it.

Doyle grinned, all infuriating slant-eyed Siamese. ‘He’s young, he’s experimenting. I bet you did daft things at that age.’

‘No. Too busy running for my bloody life at that age,’ Bodie corrected with dignity. Doyle just laughed. Bastard. Nothing about Paul-honey seemed to really faze him.

Bodie changed the subject. ‘We need to get them out of here soon. I was careful, but...’ He shrugged. He could still have been followed, there could still be somebody working against them in CI5.

‘How bad was Cowley really?’ Doyle said, finally showing some concern.

‘As you’d expect. Bindon changed everything though. He wants those photos, and he’s not fussy what we do to get them.’

‘Figures.’

‘I didn’t mention our little side-excursion to see Raj, though.’

Doyle looked at him, brows drawn together.

‘It’s stupid, dangerous and unnecessary, and you know it,’ Bodie said.

Instead of arguing, Doyle just grinned. ‘Yep. I know – never could say no to Jazz though.’

Bodie began to smell a rat. Doyle was far too relaxed, his body language more sensual than usual - even for him, his pupils dilated…

‘Shit,’ Bodie said, sudden anger washing over him as he sussed what was off about his partner. ‘What the fuck have you taken?’

Doyle blinked at him and tried to look innocent. ‘Taken?’ he repeated, sounding vague.

‘Are you mad? What the hell are you popping? Christ alive Doyle!’

‘Don’t be stupid, it’s nothing,’ Doyle said, not bothering to deny it. ‘I’ve done it before. I’m not daft Bodie, I’d never use anything strong. It’s just pills, no worse than a stiff drink. It‘s no different.’

‘Of course it’s bloody different!’ Bodie snarled, furious, grabbing an arm as Doyle tried to turn away.

Doyle went from passive to spitting-wild, grabbing both Bodie’s arms and shaking him hard.

‘Shut the fuck up!’ he spat. ‘I’ve never willingly taken anything addictive, nothing stronger than a good Scotch. I’m not about to start now, okay?’ He calmed down and added, ‘Loosen up, mate.’

‘Willingly?’ Bodie picked up on the word, his voice going soft. Surely not? Not Doyle… ‘Does that mean there’s been an unwillingly?’

Doyle shrugged and let go of Bodie, turning away. ‘Things happened when I was a kid. Cowley knows, so stop worrying. If I’m good enough for him… shit, I stink. I need a shower.’

Bodie followed him as he went to the bathroom, watching as he shed his clothes along the way. Admiring. He always did.

Unselfconscious, Doyle ignored his audience to stand under the shower. After a moment or two though, he felt Bodie’s eyes still on him.

He turned furious eyes on his partner. ‘Checking for tracks or something?’ he asked harshly.

Bodie shook his head. ‘No. Sorry,’ he played for time by unzipping himself and using the loo. ‘You’ve just chucked a lot at me – your name, pills, Jazz… bit off balance is all.’ He zipped himself up again, washed his hands.

Behind him, the shower turned off. When Bodie turned round to look, Doyle was towelling himself briskly, watching Bodie intently. Something in Bodie’s face made him relax and grin.

‘It’s Jazz, she’s always been a terrible influence on me,’ Doyle said, sounding pleased with himself.

‘Jesus, she’s almost old enough to be your mother,’ Bodie said, still not sure what to think, confused and exasperated.

Doyle just laughed, unoffended. ‘Funny, that’s what they said about my real mum.’

 

Chapter 6

Once they left London, Jazz’s sense of direction proved to be terrible. They drove around for hours, up and down lanes, and at one point through a farmyard, much to the delight of a bored sheepdog who tried to shred the tyres. Thank god the farmer didn’t wake up and join in, Bodie thought. The whole expedition was turning into something approaching a farce, Doyle driving with Jazz leaning over his shoulder directing him - god alone knew where they actually were - and Paul-honey complaining of being bounced around and feeling seasick. It was cold, dark, and miserably uncomfortable in the van. Bodie tried to remember how long he’d been awake today - if it was still even today and not tomorrow; he was knackered.

A particularly violent lurch as the van hit another pothole, and a gloriously explicit curse from Ray brought Bodie out of his thoughts, just as Jazz pointed between them excitedly.

‘There! Masters! I knew the old back entrance was here!’ Bodie glared at her and she added ‘Somewhere,’ with an apologetic grin.

‘Ooh, back entrance! Saucy minx.’ Paul sat up and took notice as Doyle killed the headlights and engine, letting the van roll to a halt.

‘Think the suspension’s buggered,’ he said.

‘Think it was buggered before we started,’ Bodie grumbled, thankful the bouncing around was finally over. Hated to admit it, but Paul-honey had a point about the seasickness.

Without the headlights on Bodie could see it was starting to get light – or what passed for light this time of year. A gloomy hedge blocked most of the end of the rutted lane they were on, but there were also a pair of huge ornate metal gates. One of them hung at an odd angle, but they must have once been expensive and impressive.

‘What was this place again?’ Bodie asked Jazz.

‘Masters. It was a wreck when Raj bought it. It was an old manor house, then a hospital or something in the last war. When Raj took a fancy to it, it was a run-down hotel, no guests, no staff, just leaking pipes and overgrown grounds. Loads of outbuildings, stables, smelly green swimming pool. No idea why Raj wanted it; maybe he saw himself as lord of the manor.’

‘You think we can get in there without being noticed?’ Doyle sounded dubious. ‘How far are we from the house?’

‘I’ve never used the back entrance – hush Paul, love – but it can’t be far. Paul? You know the place better than me.’

Paul stopped sniggering and became thoughtful, leaning forward over the front seats to stare at the gates. Somewhere in the undergrowth a blackbird began to sing.

‘I don’t think it’s that far,’ Paul said. Bodie was surprised again at how deep the young man’s voice was, especially in the rare moments he wasn’t camping it up. ‘Not sure, doesn’t this lane lead to all those old sheds? Pig sheds, I think the old bat - the housekeeper - told me. Then there’s the stable or whatever it was and, I don’t know, maybe a couple of minutes’ walk further on you get to the back of the big house.’

‘Are you sure?’ Jazz peered into the growing light at the deeply overgrown and rutted driveway.

‘No idea, love,’ Paul pushed floppy blond hair out of his eyes and peered out of the grubby windscreen. ‘It looks like it though, doesn’t it?’

Doyle stared too, then wound down his window and listened intently. After a moment, Bodie wound down the passenger-side window and leaned out to listen too. The air was freezing, which at least had the effect of making Paul retreat. The only sounds were birds starting to sing and, somewhere not too far away, a cockerel warming up.

‘What d’you think?’ Doyle asked softly, leaning over to Bodie, eyes scanning their surroundings.

‘Either nice and quiet, or…’

‘…too quiet,’ Doyle finished for him. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel for a moment. ‘Check it out?’

‘Check it out.’

‘Them?’ Doyle tilted his head at the back of the van where Jazz and Paul were huddled on a makeshift seat of blankets and sports bags. And possibly Doyle’s spare gun, Bodie thought. Hope the dozy sod’s brought something as well as his Browning anyway. And ammo. Ammo’d be nice.

‘C’mon,’ Doyle broke into his thoughts. He twisted round impossibly in his seat to look sternly at their passengers. ‘Stay put, okay Jazz? We’ll take a quick look, be back in a minute. In an emergency, lean on the horn.’

‘Turn the van?’ Bodie suggested. If nothing else, it would give Jazz something to do for a few minutes. Keep her out of trouble.

‘Too much noise if there’s anyone around,’ Doyle pointed out.

‘Okay.’ Bodie drew his gun, aware of Doyle doing the same thing and Paul’s eyes growing large at the sight of them. Poor bugger, probably still not over the fright he’d had yesterday.

Then Doyle was bailing out on his side of the van, dropping to the ground, expecting Bodie to mirror his actions, and Bodie had to move bloody quickly to be where his partner expected him to be. He felt a surge of irritation, knowing damn well he was a beat behind where he should be, and had been ever since Jazz had shown up yesterday. Was it only yesterday? Seemed so much longer somehow. He squashed his thoughts in favour of keeping up with Doyle, and concentrating on the job in hand. And not getting their fool heads blown off if a load of blokes armed to the teeth happened to come round the corner.

They paused for a moment, crouched behind their respective van doors; crap cover if somebody started taking pot shots, but better than nothing.

‘Yeah?’ Doyle asked quietly. Bodie waited a moment more, scanning every leaf and stick, listening so hard he could hear Doyle’s soft breathing on the other side of the van.

Still not entirely convinced, none the less Bodie said, ‘Yeah, I reckon.’

Doyle made a swift move, rolling away from the shelter of the van’s door, keeping low and moving fast, first to the side of the tilting metal gate, sheltering behind the towering stone gate post, and then round, ducking through the gap where the gates no longer met, and hitting the ground full-length on his stomach, gun held double-handed in front of him.

Nothing. Bodie waited a moment, then followed, repeating Doyle’s moves and ending up full-length beside him.

The view on this side of the gate was no different from the other. Dense trees and shrubs meeting overhead and almost blocking what was left of the driveway, and everywhere in between were bramble bushes meshing the whole lot together. It was still almost dark under the trees, with no sign of life apart from the occasional bird song.

‘Quiet as the grave,’ Bodie murmured. ‘Don’t suppose we’re in the wrong place?’

‘Could be anywhere,’ Doyle said glumly. ‘Think we’re breaking into a convent?’

‘Monastery,’ Bodie predicted gloomily, then grinned. ‘At least it’d cheer young Paul up.’

Doyle snorted. ‘C’mon. My assets are freezing.’

‘After you, sunshine. Can’t have your assets wilting.’

‘Perish the thought.’ Doyle rose to a crouch, eyes still sweeping the bushes, then crept forward, gradually straightening up. Bodie followed once again, each taking one side of the track. Now and again a twig cracked underfoot, or one of them brushed against a low branch; the silence was oppressive.

Doyle shivered - as usual he was feeling the cold more than Bodie. They’d been on the go for over 24 hours now, and hunger and cold were starting to be an issue. Bodie decided they’d have to take a break soon, or risk Jazz and Paul. Easy enough to protect them when he and Doyle were fresh, but now, tired, cold and hungry, mistakes would be more likely.

They eased cautiously round a curve in the track – drive would be too kind a word for the hard-packed mud underfoot – and finally saw the side of a stone building, swamped by ivy and weeds. Whatever it was, it seemed as decrepit and abandoned as everything else. It could certainly be one of the old pig sheds Paul had mentioned. Bodie inclined his head to the rear of the building, and Doyle nodded, about to take the front when a horrible shrieking noise shredded the silence and had them turning and dropping full-length to the ground, guns aimed back the way they’d come.

Jazz slowly raised both her hands in surrender and managed to look embarrassed. ‘Um. Sorry?’

‘Shit, Jazz!’ Doyle scrambled to his feet, gun still held on her, eyes scanning for the source of the sound.

‘Pheasant,’ Bodie said helpfully, rising more slowly.

‘Eh?’ Doyle squinted at him, baffled.

‘It was a pheasant. Something scared it. They do that, make that noise,’ Bodie said.

Doyle favoured him with a scowl. ‘Well, what scared the bloody thing?’ he asked.

‘Um, Paul?’ Jazz said, peering over their shoulders into the bushes. There was a rustling, a thump, a muffled grunt. Bodie and Doyle spun, dropped to the ground and aimed in perfect unison. Paul appeared round the side of the building, blond fringe flopping over one eye, the other eye fixed on the two guns levelled on him.

‘Shit!’ Doyle was trying to keep his voice low. ‘Which bit of “stay put” didn’t you understand?’

‘Sorry,’ Paul looked anything but. ‘It was freezing cold in that van, and we’re sure we’re in the right place. I’m sure anyway. It’s my fault, I told Jazz it’d be all right.’ He tried to look winsome and failed. Doyle glared and Paul wilted.

Bodie climbed back to his feet yet again, brushing another coating of mud and grit off himself. ‘This is getting old,’ he complained, making Doyle grin.

‘You’re getting old, mate,’ he said, and held out a hand for Bodie to haul him up. Bodie ignored it.

‘So, Chuckles, where are we then?’ Bodie asked Paul.

Paul beamed, thoroughly pleased with himself and oblivious to Bodie’s best attempt to menace. ‘Where I said, before. The sheds are all empty, and the stable place is just along the drive a bit further. I knew I knew it.’

‘God help us,’ Doyle muttered. ‘Come on then. Show us. And Jazz, stay behind Bodie.’

‘Yeah, let me get shot first,’ Bodie agreed.

ooOoo

‘What’d you think?’ Doyle asked quietly. He and Bodie were kneeling in freezing wet bushes, the steady rain soaking them through.

‘Is that your teeth making that noise?’ Bodie asked. ‘Not enough meat on your bones, that’s your troub... fuck! Christ.’ He rubbed at his ribs. ‘Bloody bony elbows an’ all.’

He peered thoughtfully at the building on the other side of the rough gravel - more a widening of the overgrown drive than a real courtyard. Looked like nobody’d been near it in a decade or more. An old stable, with loose boxes and a feed loft, according to Paul. Rat-infested, Bodie reckoned. The low slate roof seemed to be in one piece though, and the few windows he could see were tightly boarded over. If they could get inside they ought to be out of sight, and a damn sight drier than they were now. Though that sodding great rusty padlock on the double wooden front doors was a bit of a bummer.

‘I reckon, yeah,’ Bodie said. ‘We’re all going to die of hypothermia if we fart about out here much longer. Let’s get the kiddies warm and dry. Bring your lock picks?’

‘Never leave home without them. Not the front though. You round them up and I’ll open ‘er up.’

‘Wait, wait wait… shit.’ Bodie was left making a lunge at empty air as his idiot partner, probably still high on something god help them all, vanished into the shrubbery. ‘So help me, I’m going to throttle him,’ Bodie muttered.

The cold and wet seemed to have knocked some of the sass out of Paul, and Jazz looked bedraggled and miserable. Bodie tried not to be pleased. He rounded the pair up and pointed them in the right direction just as Doyle appeared at one side of the building, grinning manically and flapping an arm in what was presumably a come-hither gesture. Bodie decided to thump the prat if and when he ever came down from whatever he was on.

Inside, the stable was still and dry, with a strong smell of mould and long-gone animals. The combination of boarded-over windows and the grey sky made it dim and uncertain. The door Doyle let them in by opened into what had been a tack room, with the loose boxes and main entrance beyond, and an open wooden stair leading drunkenly to a hay loft.

‘Look!’ Doyle beamed, waving expansively at the fixtures and fittings like an overly enthusiastic estate agent. ‘Sofa, blankets, mattress, table, tools…’

Bodie tuned out his idiot partner’s nattering to focus on the one thing of immediate use: a rusty paraffin stove. A poke and a shake, and he decided it might actually still have enough paraffin inside to be of use. If it didn’t blow up in his face. Looking at Paul and Jazz huddled together shivering, he decided it was worth the risk.

‘Oy!’ He interrupted Doyle’s ramblings. ‘Anything to eat in here?’

Doyle seemed momentarily puzzled, then made a quick circuit of the room, searching for any sign of food. He was muttering to himself something sounding suspiciously like, ‘we seek him here, we seek him there…’

Bodie ground his teeth and slung a grubby blanket in Paul’s direction. ‘You two dry off while I get this going… shit, Ray!’ He made another snatch at empty space as Doyle slipped his leash for a second time and vanished back out into the rain.

He turned on Jazz. ‘What the hell did you give him?’

‘Nothing strong.’

‘What?’

‘He’ll be fine. He used to say it relaxed him.’ She didn’t even have the grace to look guilty as she rubbed at her hair with an end of horse blanket. Bodie stared at her; did the bloody woman have a death wish or something?

‘That was then, this is now. He could get killed out there, for Christ’s sake.’

Jazz stared at him across the dim room, eyes as big and dark as Doyle’s had been… shit. She was high too. Useless to argue with her.

‘Okay, well, knock it off, all right? I need him in working order.’

Paul sniggered. Bodie glowered. Paul decided to investigate the loft.

‘You watch him all the time,’ Jazz said.

‘Paul?’ Bodie asked, his attention more on their surroundings than Jazz. The place seemed secure enough… What the hell did Doyle think he was doing, popping pills? And where had the dozy sod gone?

‘Ray,’ Jazz said, moving closer, trailing the horse blanket.

‘I have to’ Bodie said absently. ‘It’s part of the job, being alert to each other.’ He poked at the stove’s innards.

‘Not like that,’ Jazz argued.

Bodie clenched his teeth. ‘Exactly like that,’ he snapped. ‘He twitches and I need to know if it’s a sneeze or if he’s going to pull his gun. It’s already saved your life, whether you like it or not.’

She shrugged, dismissing.

Bodie erupted. ‘Look, lady, lay off. Stop interfering with something you don’t begin to understand. He’s a man doing a bloody tough job, not the child you seduced god knows how long ago.’

The paraffin stove spat, and against all odds, lit.

‘Oh my god, warmth!’ Jazz exclaimed, stooping to peer at the miracle, then grabbing Bodie and kissing him on the lips. ‘You’re a saint. A god. Mmmmm. You taste nice…’

Bodie disentangled himself as gently as he could. The woman was a menace... and sexy as hell. Not his sort: too complicated, too experienced, too mature by far, but bloody tempting. And she was Ray’s. If he still wanted her. Did he? Bodie was for once utterly unsure of what exactly if was his mad git of a partner did want.

Speaking of whom… Doyle reappeared, shouldering the door shut behind him while using both arms to cradle something wrapped in the hem of his sweatshirt. If possible, he looked wetter and more manic than he had a few minutes earlier.

‘Eggs!’

‘Eh?’

‘There’s chickens. With eggs. Only not with eggs, ‘cos I’ve got them.’

Bodie sincerely hoped when Doyle came back down to earth, the hangover would hurt like hell.

Still. Eggs.

Bodie’s stomach rumbled hopefully.

Trust Doyle to miss the bleeding obvious.

‘Bucket, water, stove,’ Bodie said, pointing, keeping the instructions simple enough for even Doyle’s addled brain. ‘Be back in a minute.’

It was closer to twenty when Bodie reappeared– the chickens had put up a good fight. He was grinning like the mad bugger he was and holding a limp hen in each hand.

Doyle wondered how he’d failed to notice how bloody gorgeous his partner was, while Paul screeched in horror and Jazz looked slightly queasy.

‘Breakfast!’ Bodie waved his gory prize around, belatedly noticing the resulting splattering of goo.

‘Well I’m not plucking them,’ Doyle said firmly, crossing his arms and looking unimpressed.

Bodie, the daft sod, just grinned even more. ‘I’m not the pheasant plucker, I’m the pheasant plucker’s son…’

Feathers flew.

Doyle had to admit, even boiled and a bit raw here and there, the hens were bloody good.

Then he wondered how you spelled salmonella, why his head was pounding, why he couldn’t seem to stop chatting, and why it was when Bodie told him to shut the fuck up and go to sleep for a bit, he obeyed.

Bodie smiled as he covered the unusually docile Doyle with one of the manky horse blankets. Normally such solicitousness would result in the loss of fingers. It felt nice, this. Maybe he should get some of whatever it was off Jazz, just for special occasions.

He caught Jazz watching him from where she and Paul were curled together like a pair of sleepy kittens on the broken-down sofa. There was a look of knowing on her intelligent face.

‘What?’ he asked, annoyed.

She shrugged slightly, smiled, kissed Paul’s temple as he snuggled closer. ‘When can I see my husband?’ she asked.

Bodie scowled down at Doyle for a moment – no point trying to do anything until the silly sod was back from his trip with the fairies.

‘This evening, once it gets dark,’ he answered her. ‘I’m going out to take a good look round, be back in an hour or so – you two stay put. I mean it.’ He pointed a warning finger at her. ‘Keep an eye on Sleeping Beauty – and for the love of god don’t give him any more happy pills.’

She looked rebellious and he didn’t trust her – or Paul – an inch, but it couldn’t be helped. He needed to make sure there was no-one prowling around outside. He hadn’t seen a soul on his chicken hunt – the whole place seemed to be deserted and overgrown - but he knew there had to be somebody about somewhere. If they were lucky, just staff; if they weren’t, nasty blokes with guns.

He slipped cautiously out of the musty warmth of the stable and into the damp November day.

Circling the manor house and its various outbuildings took him a good couple of hours, hiding every few minutes, standing perfectly still and watching. The place was silent as the grave, no sign of vehicles, nobody moving around outside, or if they were, they were bloody good.

Bodie decided to give it up when he couldn’t feel his feet any longer.

He took the time to check on their van, still where they’d left it, and grabbed the sleeping bags Doyle had slung in the back, just in case they had to doss down in the tack room all night.

The stable looked as peaceful as when he’d left, and he crept quietly back into the tack room, hoping vaguely Doyle would be awake, or that they’d all be sleeping, catching some rest. If Doyle was capable of doing his job again, he wouldn’t mind getting his own head down for a bit.

Instead… Shit!

They were all under the covers all right, but sleep was far from what they were doing. He’d walked in on a bloody orgy, all three of them naked on the mattress, blankets scattered over and under them, hiding nothing. Doyle was in the middle, wrapped round Paul, kissing, holding, moving, while Jazz lay on the other side of them, watching, stroking, laughing…

‘What the fuck?’ Bodie exploded. Three slightly guilty – not guilty enough – faces turned towards him, and Doyle grinned. Which did it.

Bodie marched straight back out into the cold, slamming the door behind him, not giving a shit if half the Home Counties heard.

Doyle had the grace to come after him, clothes hastily hauled on, looking embarrassed and rumpled. Like sex on legs, damn him.

‘Come back, Bodie,’ he said, getting so close Bodie could feel the warmth of his body. ‘ ’m sorry, okay? Don’t know what’s wrong with me.’

‘Does Cowley know?’ Bodie asked, his voice hard and low.

Doyle laughed harshly, not pretending to misunderstand. ‘Of course he bloody does. Right up there, top of my resume: ex-copper, ex-whore, swings both ways, great with a gun. Must have wet himself with excitement when I came along.’ His face was scrunched and ugly. ‘Know? Oh he knows alright. Made it clear right from the start what I might be called on to do, all in the line of duty, laddie.’

‘Has he ever asked you to… with a bloke?’ Bodie persisted.

Doyle hesitated and swallowed, breathing harshly as though he’d been running flat out. Bodie could almost see Doyle’s innate sense of fairness asserting itself. Typical of the man, burning bright and hot one moment, cool the next. Always unpredictable, his Doyle.

‘No. He’s never asked it of me,’ Doyle admitted. ‘He would though, in a second, if he thought I’d be of use.’

‘Yeah, he might,’ Bodie agreed, ‘but be fair, Ray. Give the man the benefit of the doubt. He’s – we’re – in a dirty business. He might use us and whatever talents we have, but he wouldn’t do it lightly.’

Doyle shrugged wide shoulders, eyes downcast, not convinced. ‘I ought to have told you before though,’ he said. Wide, anxious green eyes glanced up to check Bodie’s face.

Bloody impossible, Bodie decided. ‘Telling me about the name change and the drugs would’ve been nice, too,’ he grumbled.

Doyle managed to grin and scrunch up his face at the same time. ‘Sorry ‘bout that an’ all,’ he offered.

As apologies went, it was feeble, but Bodie decided nothing was worth freezing outside over, not even bloody Doyle. He stomped back inside, leaving Doyle to make sure they were secure. About time the silly sod did some work.

ooOoo

Bodie tried to get comfortable, twisting around in a sleeping bag intent on mummifying him. Eventually, having done a full 360 degrees in the infernal thing, he fought it off, and lay half on top of it, one leg thrown outside to cool off.

What the hell?

He could always sleep, whenever and wherever the opportunity presented.

So why not now?

Doyle, of course.

Bloody, bloody Doyle.

Impossible sod.

Impossible beautiful sod.

There’d been that time - a threesome after a silly night out, too much booze… Doyle, all lazy smiles and submissive body, hauling Bodie into the bedroom along with a woman they’d picked up… a tangle of limbs, of warmth, of not quite knowing which bit belonged to who… Bodie remembered touching himself, watching them beside him, then Doyle reaching for him and touching him too. Had they kissed? Wasn’t sure, but he thought they had. The details were vague, but the feeling of warmth and loving had lingered in his mind and taken root. Not the first time they’d shared a bird, but the first time it’d meant something deeper. To Bodie at any rate. He had no idea about Doyle, always flirting with anything that moved.

Bodie loved women, he reminded himself – undemanding company, good food, warm sex.

But Doyle? Did he want Doyle? Like that?

He loved the miserable little git, without doubt and without thought. Not sure when it’d started, and god knew, they’d half-heartedly tried to kill each other once or twice to begin with, before a grudging respect set in, followed by trust… and now Doyle was simply a part of him, skin-deep, bone-deep. Beautiful, tough as old shit, violent, bright, funny, unpredictable, ugly, mean… a thousand words and none of them quite explained what he felt about Doyle… Doyle who matched him, stretched him, challenged him as no-one else ever had. With Doyle he was never bored, constantly off-balance… he’d had never felt more certain or safe with anyone before.

But… Doyle and Paul, woven together, naked, kissing, soft laughter; Jazz lying there too, watching them the same way he’d watched Doyle and that bird… except Jazz wasn’t some bird, some casual pick-up. She’d known Doyle, long before anyone else. She knew so much of him, shared those looks… ‘She predates you,’ Cowley’s voice intoned again.

Shit, fuck, and bugger.

Chapter 7

By late afternoon, it was damn near dark again. While the rain was easing, the wind had picked up. The temperature was dropping. Leaving the fuggy warmth of the tack room seemed a monumentally bad idea.

Doyle had woken after a few hours, thankfully back to his usual cranky self. Admittedly, still not clear-eyed and bushy-tailed, but decidedly in charge of his faculties. Bodie decided to take what he could get, even if it included being snarled at more frequently than usual. This Doyle he could deal with, no problem. Jazz looked less happy – tough shit, lady – while Paul’s case of Doyle-lust seemed to have gone up a notch. Must like his blokes mean and moody.

After some bickering, they decided to take a look at the main house together, leaving Paul and Jazz to stay dry and warm while they could. Jazz was insistent she needed to see her husband before she showed them where she’d hidden the papers. Bodie still thought it was a lousy idea, but he was outvoted.

The rear of Masters was typical of a country pile – all the good architecture was out front to impress the hoi polloi, while the back was a mess of tacked-on extensions and afterthoughts. A battered Land Rover was parked close to one rear door, and there were a few lit windows in that part of the house casting warm light into the darkness.

Choosing a window furthest from the lit ones, they made easy work of the feeble catch. They found themselves in an empty room with an open door leading to a passage, off which there were more abandoned rooms. In the near-dark, the place seemed eerily deserted. They passed two narrow staircases leading upwards before reaching a room with light spilling through the partly open door. A sparsely-equipped kitchen, with two matronly women intent on gossiping over a pot of tea at the central table. They were leaning with their heads close together talking quietly, so intent on each other they had no notion two men watched them silently from the shadows before moving on.

‘They don’t look like they’d drive the Land Rover,’ Doyle said softly. Bodie nodded agreement. There must be at least one other person here, plus presumably Raj, unless he’d died, or was so sick he’d been moved elsewhere.

They drifted silently through as many of the darkened downstairs rooms as they safely could, pushing doors open carefully, peering into the gloom, barely able to make out the shapes of shrouded furniture in some rooms, while others seemed completely devoid of all furnishing.

Bodie felt Doyle shiver. ‘We’re not going to find anyone down here,’ he whispered.

‘Don’t like not knowing where the Land Rover bloke is, don’t like leaving Jazz any longer,’ Doyle whispered back.

They stared at one another for a heartbeat, silently agreed, and stole back the way they’d come, passing the kitchen which now stood in darkness. Bodie waited while Doyle paused to put his head round the door. He pulled back and shrugged.

‘Gone?’ Bodie whispered.

‘Bed,’ Doyle whispered back, guessing.

‘That an offer?’

Doyle’s eyes came up blazing, and Bodie backed off quickly. He really should know better… his breath went out of him with an ‘oof’ noise as Doyle launched himself, pinning Bodie against the passage wall. Bodie fought back quietly for a moment, until he realised Doyle’s mouth was seeking his, lips warm and soft, Doyle’s hands trying to hold his head still enough to acquire his target.

Bodie went still and opened his mouth to say ‘shit’, and found himself being kissed with a desperate, sweet intensity.

It was over as suddenly as it’d started, Doyle grinning and striding away down the dark corridor. Bodie shook his head like a wounded bull, went to wipe his mouth with his sleeve, and instead softly rubbed a palm across his lips.

They were outside before Bodie thought to ask indignantly, ‘What the hell was that for?’

Doyle laughed softly. ‘Because you were wondering,’ he said.

‘I was not,’ Bodie said, trying to sound stern. Doyle laughed again and started hauling him back towards the stable. ‘Was not,’ Bodie repeated.

‘Yes you were.’ Doyle was cheerfully unrepentant.

‘I was?’ Bodie asked.

ooOoo

Getting back into Masters an hour later with Paul and Jazz in tow was surprisingly easy. Paul and Jazz had the advantage of knowing their way around, knew who the two women in the kitchen were – the housekeeper and the cook - and seemed reasonably sure the Land Rover belonged to the estate rather than to anyone in particular.

Jazz indicated one of the narrow staircases they’d passed before and they crept upwards, Bodie in the lead, gun held at the ready. Apart from the two women who’d been downstairs, the whole place seemed deserted.

The door at the top of the stairs opened into a well-lit, warm world; a wide corridor carpeted in crimson with ranks of bedroom doors standing ajar, the rooms all in darkness.

Jazz stared towards the door at the furthest end of the corridor, and murmured, ‘Raj.’

Feeling unpleasantly exposed in the bright lighting, they checked the empty rooms briefly as they went. No sound came from Raj’s bedroom, and the door opened silently when Doyle pushed the handle.

In comparison, the bedroom was dimly lit, the thick cream carpet underfoot made Bodie’s feet sink slightly, hushing his footsteps. He followed Doyle in, both with guns drawn, although it seemed the room was as empty as the rest of this mausoleum. A huge bed dominated the room, elaborately carved in dark wood, with a golden silk comforter matching the heavy, floor-length curtains drawn across the windows. Everything was on a grand scale, from the huge double wardrobes to the massive open fireplace. There was no fire there now, just a heap of grey ashes. Even so, the temperature of the room was oppressively warm, overlaid with a sickly sweet smell. The bedside table was littered: pill bottles, a steel emesis basin, cotton wool and a jug of water.

The artwork on the walls was as impressive as the rest of the room; a dozen or more ornately framed small works - drawings and watercolours - covered the walls, while over the bed hung one huge oil painting of a female nude, starkly modern, a woman tied hand and foot to a wooden chair, her eyes bound by a black strip of cloth; it could have been Jazz, ten or twenty years ago, Bodie thought. Perhaps it was. He glanced back behind him to where she stood silently in the doorway with Paul. Nothing; no reaction. Her eyes were huge though, and fearful, staring beyond Bodie to the bed. He swung back, instantly alert to something he might have missed. Then, finally, he realised the room and the bed weren’t empty at all.

Raj lay virtually hidden beneath the heavy gold comforter. Bodie concentrated and could hear him breathing in soft irregular gasps, gulps of air for lungs barely functioning. Fucking awful way to go, Bodie thought, unexpectedly feeling pity for the old man. The old bastard probably didn’t deserve it, but still.

The covers stirred, pushed back by hands thin as bones, revealing a hairless skull, a withered tiny face and black, black eyes, malicious, glittering, fearless. Raj was near enough to death he must be tasting it, but his years of dominating and winning, grinding anyone who crossed him underfoot, were still uppermost. There was no repentance in the eyes which fixed on each of them in turn, only a fierce interest.

Bodie rarely allowed himself flights of imagination, but this creature neither of this world nor yet the next chilled him. It took conscious effort to meet the calculating gaze as it lingered on him. Raj stared at Bodie for a moment, then his eyes flickered past, finding Jazz.

‘Jasmine. My dear. You’ve come home.’ The voice was high and thin, each word fought for. Restless fingers moved like withered pink spiders across the comforter. Jazz seemed hypnotized by the thing her husband had become; there were tears in her eyes as she stared at him, but she seemed beyond speaking. Raj sighed, and his eyes wandered away from her, finally coming to rest on… Doyle, Bodie realised. Ray had been so still and silent Bodie had almost forgotten him. He was standing frozen in place at Bodie’s shoulder, pinned by the malevolent stare of the man in the bed.

‘And you’ve brought your old lover,’ Raj continued. ‘How modern. And the boy? I know him, don’t I? You haven’t sketched him yet, I suppose? Pity. He’s pretty.’ Black eyes flicked briefly over Paul-honey, then back to Doyle. ‘But not as pretty as you, Mr Doyle. Or at least, you were.’ He paused for breath. ‘Wasn’t he, my love?’ He turned his gaze back to Jazz. ‘Remember?’

Jazz nodded silently. She looked deathly pale; scared out of her wits, Bodie guessed.

‘Come closer, my dear, surely you’re not afraid of me?’

‘No.’ Jazz took a deep breath. ‘Of course not.’ Her voice shook slightly. ‘I’ve never had any reason to be. You’ve always been good to me, Raj. Kind.’

‘Jazz…’ Doyle warned softly, but she just shook her head at him and walked over to take one of Raj’s restless hands. He tugged at her and she perched beside him on the bed. The look on her face betrayed her words; she was obviously afraid of her husband, even now, when he must surely be only hours from death.

‘I remember you so well, Mr Doyle,’ Raj carried on as though Jazz hadn’t spoken. ‘All those years ago…’ He broke off as a harsh cough rattled his body and made veins stand out under the thin skin of his forehead. Jazz tried to offer him a drink from the bedside table, but he ignored her, seeming determined to carry on talking. ‘I knew about you, of course. All Jasmine’s lovers, those before you and after. I was grateful; you made it certain she would stay with me. Always, didn’t you, my love? Always faithful to me, in your own way.’

‘Always,’ Jazz agreed softly, and bent to gently kiss the hand held in hers. Raj watched her bent head with eyes alight with emotions. None of them pleasant, Bodie thought. The old bastard might be dying, but he sure as hell wasn’t over and done yet.

‘Such a shame Sonny isn’t here,’ Raj said, ‘He’ll be sorry he missed you; he’s only just left.’ Rheumy eyes flicked up to the door briefly, as though to check his son wasn’t still there. ‘But perhaps you and he, Mr Doyle, perhaps it is better you don’t meet?’

‘Why would that be?’ Doyle asked coldly, moving closer to the bed. Bodie could almost feel the tension vibrating through Doyle’s body as he passed.

Raj gazed up at him, and drew his lips back in what might have been a smile. He squeezed Jazz’s hand hard enough to make her suck in a breath and compress her lips. ‘Not as pretty these days,’ he carried on as though Doyle hadn’t spoken. ‘But still, it couldn’t be helped. Now my son, he was supposed to kill you, back then.’ Another harsh cough interrupted Raj’s monologue.

‘Because of me?’ Jazz asked, clearly confused.

Raj ignored her, his fascinated eyes never leaving Doyle’s face. ‘I hoped to have you for myself, you see, when Jazz had finished… You were so very pretty. Sonny went to fetch you back, but you were already whoring for your fat oaf of a cousin. I suppose it was you who murdered him?’

‘Ray?’ Bodie asked softly, wanting to know what Raj was talking about, and why his partner was looking as though he’d like to vomit on the shag pile. Doyle just shook his head, his attention locked on Raj as though he couldn’t look away.

‘I never cared for soiled goods…’ Raj gasped, ‘and my Jasmine… I thought she might look for you, want to keep you, so I told my son to dispose of you... he suggested breaking you instead, make an example… Stupid boy forgot to cripple you properly, but he had a nice job done on your face. Took photographs when they’d finished… blown up on his office wall… Chip off the old block, as they say. You should be grateful; you kept your life… I kept my Jasmine…’ His strength gave way; his voice petered into laboured wheezing.

‘You kept me?’ Jazz dragged her hand violently from his grip, eyes fixed on what was left of her husband. Her eyes glittered with fury. ‘You bastard!’ she shrieked, ‘You utter, utter bastard!’

Doyle erupted into movement, grabbing Jazz as she went for Raj. She was trying to claw at his eyes as her control on a lifetime of being used and abused finally snapped. Doyle hung on tight, wrapping his arms around her, smothering her wild movements and wordless cries and taking several random blows meant for Raj in the process.

‘Hush, hush, shhhhh,’ he said, over and over, until she began to calm, turning away from Raj with a final sob of sheer frustration and fury, wrapping her arms fiercely around Doyle, clutching him and burying her face in his shoulder.

‘I’m sorry sorry sorry,’ she mumbled into his shirt.

‘Hush, luv. He’s not worth it. You’ll ruin your manicure.’ He kissed her forehead. ‘Anyway, he’s right, I am grateful. I was on my way to beg Sonny for work that night - I was that desperate. Stupid. I’d’ve ended up whoring for him, drugs, god knows… Instead, I woke up in a hospital bed next to a bloody decent man. Him and his wife, I owe them everything.’

Jazz stared into his eyes, saw the calm certainty in the mature man her lover had become. He smiled at her, and her heart lifted as she felt a new freedom. Not her husband’s possession anymore. That was over.

‘C’mon,’ Doyle said, gathering his partner with a glance while guiding Jazz away from the bed. ‘We need to get going. Let the old bastard lie there and rot.’

Raj started making an odd noise – Bodie realised he was cackling with sick delight, laughing so hard he almost couldn’t draw breath. Jesus.

Raj calmed enough to crook a finger at Bodie, who moved closer, fascinated by the old monster in spite of himself.

‘Look! See, see?’ Raj wheezed. He was pointing to a small framed pencil drawing among the paintings on the wall opposite his bed. ‘That was him… before. Jasmine drew it and I kept it to remind me. And her.’

Bodie walked to the picture, glancing back to make sure this was the picture the old man meant. Raj nodded and grinned horribly. A death-head’s leer.

The drawing was unmistakably Ray Doyle as a youth of perhaps 18 or 19. Bodie took in an impression of several small studies of body parts – slender hands, a foot, a shoulder – surrounding a larger drawing of Doyle lying on something, a bed perhaps, naked, laughing… slanting eyes and sweeping brows, his face perfect and unbroken. Beautiful.

Behind him, Raj cackled again.

Bodie felt his control slipping. ‘Soiled goods,’ he said between clenched teeth, repeating Raj’s words. His anger delighted Raj even more. His wheezing laugh grated on Bodie’s every last nerve.

Doyle had got Jazz out of the bedroom, but Paul was lingering in the doorway, apparently equally fascinated by Raj. Can’t be helped, Bodie thought.

He turned back to Raj, letting the old bastard see his fury.

‘My manicure’s already ruined,’ he told him calmly, drawing his gun, taking cold, careful aim, seeing realisation and terrible fear flood Raj’s eyes at last.

He pulled the trigger.

Paul started screeching.

‘Bodie!’ Doyle’s voice was a hoarse shout of panic. Bodie could hear him scuffling with Jazz in the corridor, Jazz crying out and trying to get back into the room.

Bodie took one last look at the mess on the bed, spared another glance at the picture, wishing he could grab it and take it with him, though he didn’t begin to know why, no time to think… Then he was moving quickly, collecting the trembling Paul with a rough hand under the boy’s arm, dragging him out through the door. In the corridor, Doyle was holding a shaken Jazz. He looked over her head in askance at Bodie, who held up one finger and glared at him. ‘Don’t say one fucking word,’ he warned.

Doyle stared hard into his face, then nodded, not liking what Bodie had done, but accepting.

Jazz turned wide, shocked eyes on Bodie, and he could see she knew. ‘Sorry, luv. Your old man was using up air somebody decent might need.’ It was the closest he could bring himself to an apology. He shook Paul roughly by the arm he was still holding. ‘And you,’ he snarled, ‘bloody grow up.’

 

Chapter 8

‘Jazz?’ Doyle said softly, watching her as she stood with her back to him, still and silent in the musty darkness of the tack room. Wherever Paul was, he was being thankfully quiet, and Bodie was outside somewhere in the darkness, standing watch, probably wrestling with his demons. Though knowing Bodie, he was just as likely perfectly at peace with himself and busy wondering where his next meal was coming from. The fleeting memory of Bodie with a dead chicken in either hand, looking so bloody pleased with himself lightened Doyle’s mood for a moment.

Jazz sighed and pulled her hair roughly back with one fist, a habit so achingly familiar it made Doyle wonder why he’d ever left the woman. Run away from her, he corrected himself. He’d been such a stupid kid. But it was still there, the passion, the attraction, the tenderness for her, used, broken and imperfect as she was… as they both were.

He’d never had to be anything other than himself with her. Hadn’t needed to be tough, or clever, or even good at sex. She’d washed over him like a cleansing wave, taken the insecurities and petty hurts of adolescence and changed him forever. He’d been the best version of himself, back then in those few warm weeks of summer; by the autumn he’d become something foul and dirtied, and by the winter he’d become a killer, and almost immediately a victim of Raj’s petty spite… He’d never been sure, never been able to recall all of the beating, but he’d always had an odd conviction it’d been Sonny. God knew why; the memories were mainly swamped by horrible pain and fear.

He swallowed hard on sudden self-pity. ‘Jazz?’ he tried again, ‘I’m sorry. Bodie…’

‘I know,’ Jazz said, finally turning to face him. No tears, no anger. ‘He’s a violent man in a nasty world. He did it for you, because he cares and he won’t see you hurt. I can’t hate him for that.’

‘He’s my partner, I should’ve known. Stopped him.’

‘No, love,’ Jazz finally closed the space between them, came into his arms so he could feel the shock still trembling through her slim body. ‘Don’t blame yourself either. Raj was dying.’ She shrugged slightly. ‘He wasn’t my husband or my friend any more. That man died months ago. And he had this done to you…’ She trailed off, leaning back in Doyle’s arms enough to touch his face, so very gently. ‘I’ll never forgive him, or his bastard son, for that. Never.’

They were quiet for a few moments, standing holding one another in the dark while the wind and rain pounded the old building.

Jazz sighed. ‘Love me, Ray? Like we used to… I want to forget this bloody horrible day, everything.’

He held her close, tight against himself, the warm scent of her hair reminding him vividly of other times and places… she was older now, but so was he. He bent his head to kiss her lips, gently, carefully, exploring tenderly, sensing what she needed, wanted. She opened her mouth to him, softly surrendering, tentative, becoming certain, memories and bodies pushing away the years and the hurts. By the time the kiss ended, they were laughing softly, delightedly finding their old selves in the ruins of the day.

‘I thought I’d forgotten, imagined, something…’ Doyle said, and kissed her neck, feeling her shiver, squirm, laugh again so quietly, hugging him close, her hands moving across his back, learning his body all over again.

‘I’ve never forgotten, not a moment,’ she said. She brought her legs up suddenly, wrapping them around his waist in a full body hug.

‘Oof!’ he complained. ‘Warn a bloke, will you?’

‘Baby. Big, strong, baby…’ She was kissing him again, his mouth, neck, face, tiny butterfly-soft kisses never twice in the same place, and in between murmuring to him, ‘So strong now, not a boy anymore… loved you then, love you now…’

Love? Yes, he’d never quite thought of it like that, but love was close enough. He supported her bottom with his hands, held her closer, and laughed when she bit at his shoulder through the cotton of his shirt.

‘Vampire.’

‘Remember how I used to call you a beautiful boy?’

He stopped trying to kiss her neck and pulled his face back enough to see her. She was smiling, laughing, so damn sexy, teasing him just like she’d used to. The years vanished, and he swung her to her feet, took her hand and tugged her to the stained old mattress on the floor.

They avoided the poking springs and the odd oily patch that smelt funny, and made love, slow and sweet, whispering words of pleasure and rediscovery; she remembered how ticklish his ribs were, he knew exactly how she liked to be licked, and where… And how she loved to be held afterwards, resting on his chest, safe and comforted as he stroked her back, rubbed softly down her spine.

She kissed him just beneath his collarbone bone, warm hair tickling his skin. He used his free hand to stroke through her hair, and felt her smile against his chest as she pillowed her head on him.

‘Better?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she yawned, snuggled closer. ‘I feel… it’s good to be alive. Does that sound odd?’

‘Why odd?’

‘My husband of 40 years just died. I feel I ought to be weeping or something.’

‘Did you love him? Ever?’

‘God, no,’ her answer was quick, decisive. ‘Never love.’ She moved enough to kiss his chin, before making herself comfortable on his chest again. ‘I do love the sound of your heart though,’ she said, distracting herself. Another gentle kiss to the centre of his chest made him shiver. ‘I was a child when he married me. He was stern, kind, distant, made sure I was well cared for and educated, didn’t lay a finger on me until I was fourteen, and even then, he was careful not to scare me. He was a good man, back then. Not a saint, but in his own way. And he’s always been good to me. I felt more like a spoilt child than a wife. He had other women for his base lusts, kept me for show, I think. Took me out of my box when he needed a pretty western woman on his arm, put me back again at the end of the night. I served a purpose.’

‘He gave you a lot of freedom - at least, that’s what I thought. He allowed you to have me.’ His younger self had grabbed at the pleasures and sex she’d offered, enjoyed the luxury of a life paid for by another man. Been her plaything for a while. It should feel grubby, but it didn’t. He and Jazz were two of a kind; both of them used and in turn, users.

‘He did,’ Jazz agreed, and smiled again. ‘Such a sweet summer. And then you were gone, and… god, what he did to you, love.’ She rolled up enough to be able to touch his damaged right cheek again, fingers gentle and warm, loving. ‘Does it bother you?’ she asked. This close, even in the darkness, he could see tears in her eyes. He brushed his fingers against her cheek, as gently as she was touching his.

‘It doesn’t hurt – feels odd, but I’m used to it. I try not to get smacked in the face if I can help it… but aesthetically, no, it doesn’t bother me. It’s not like I was ever a great beauty anyway. ‘Sides, it makes me look mean. Good thing, that, in our business.’

‘Thug,’ she accused, smiling. One tear escaped, warmly wet on his chest. ‘You’re wrong though. You were a beautiful young man. I wanted to draw you, paint you, forever. If time had stood still…’

‘It doesn’t.’

‘No. But I’ve still got the paintings to prove it. You were lovely, then, but you’re even more now. When I first saw you, what he’d done to you, it was a shock. So different… but it suits you, in a funny way, kind of makes you complete.’

‘I’ve grown into my looks?’ Doyle suggested, grinning at the idea; he was more manky alley cat than anything, and he knew it. Bodie, on the other hand, now there was masculine beauty.

‘You should draw Bodie,’ he said, finishing the thought out loud.

‘Bodie? Why?’

‘He’s the good looking one, don’t tell him I said that. Stop laughing.’

‘He’s a very attractive man,’ she admitted, ‘but not my sort. Lovely musculature, those eyelashes, and he pouts beautifully…’ Doyle laughed in delight, ‘… but he’s almost too perfect.’

‘Whereas, me on the other hand… hang on, have I just been insulted?’ Doyle asked, grinning. ‘You prefer your men scrawny and looking like the back end of a bus. What about Paul?’

‘No! I don’t, and you’re not. You’re bloody gorgeous and you know it. Paul’s too pretty by far, but he’s sweet and funny. I didn’t want Sonny to have him. Sonny breaks things…’ Her voice trailed off, then she added, ‘I like Bodie.’

‘Yeah?’ Doyle asked, trying to see her expression in the darkness.

‘He cares about you.’

‘He’s my partner, my mate. Dunno about care, but he’s loyal to a fault.’

Jazz laughed softly.

‘What?’ Doyle asked, smiling. It was good to hear her sounding better.

‘You make him sound like a Labrador,’ Jazz said.

‘Well, he’s got a nice shiny coat and a cold wet nose, he’ll do anything for a choccy drop…’ Doyle agreed.

‘He didn’t seem shocked – seeing you with Paul.’

‘Nah, not shocked. Angry, mostly. But he’s read my file, same as I’ve read his – it might not all be there, but he’d have joined up the dots alright. He’s not slow.’

‘But still…’

‘Bodie’s a pragmatist.’ Doyle said. ‘He’s been fending for himself most his life – there’s not much he hasn’t seen or done… If there was a nuclear holocaust tomorrow, he’d crawl out the wreckage…’

‘…with a dead chicken in each hand…’ Jazz put in.

Doyle laughed. ‘With a dead chicken in each hand, and he’d make a new life without a backward glance – he says regret’s for fools. Same if I died tomorrow, he wouldn’t fall apart; he’d carry on with his life, maybe raise a glass to me once a year, if he remembered. It’s who he is.’

‘So what does he like about you?’ Jazz asked, curious.

‘Easy. I’m bloody good at the job, I fight dirty, and I laugh at his terrible jokes,’ Doyle listed. ‘Plus, I’m a better shot than him.’ He stretched a little, loving the warm weight of Jazz in his arms, loving the feel and smell of her after so long.

‘I think you’re wrong,’ Jazz said. ‘The way he looks at you sometimes…’

‘That’s just the job, luv,’ Doyle objected. ‘We’re more married to it and each other than we’ll ever be to anyone else. Have to be to survive.’

‘Why do you enjoy it?’ she asked.

‘The job? The adrenalin rush is like nothing else, knowing you’re the best at what you do, the intensity of our relationship…’

‘Relationship?’

‘Working relationship,’ he said firmly, trying to end the speculation.

Jazz was never easily put off. ‘What happened, Ray?’ she asked softly. ‘You’re so different.’

‘I grew up,’ Doyle suggested, grinning.

‘No, not just that.’ Jazz kissed his chest softly, taking the sting from her words.

A kaleidoscope of images swirled in his mind: sweet mornings in peach silk fading away into Vince’s miserable bedsit, drugs and degradation, blood and terrible pain, freezing rain, white antiseptic rooms, Bill and May taking him in, Gran a three-week corpse before anyone bothered to wonder about the smell… Yeah, he’d grown up alright.

‘You’re harder, different,’ Jazz continued. ‘Raj. I didn’t know he’d had you hurt like that… I knew he could be terrible, vindictive, but I didn’t know what he’d done to you, I promise I didn’t.’ She sounded upset again.

‘Hush luv. It’s all a long time ago,’ he comforted.

‘Was it because of me, really?’ she asked, then unexpectedly added, ‘He said you killed someone. Your cousin?’

Doyle sighed. He’d half-hoped she hadn’t caught that bit.

‘Not deliberately,’ he told her. ‘But yeah, not long after I left you. I stayed with the bastard in London, and he…’ The words died in his throat. Too many memories.

‘What, love?’

‘He pushed his luck,’ Doyle managed, his teeth clenched.

Jazz rolled over, pulling him so she could make out his face and the emotions in his eyes. New face, not the one she’d once known and drawn so intimately. She found she liked this face better, liked the man even more than she’d liked the boy.

‘You said once a person had to fight for themselves to survive,’ she said. ‘You were so young – it made me wonder.’

He frowned briefly. ‘My gran used to say it to me, after me mum left,’ he said. ‘I lived with her a bit back then, camped out on her old sofa in a one bedroom council flat. Terrible place. Loved the old lady to death though…’ Bloody memories... the borders between the good and the fucking awful were narrow.

‘You were so skinny then,’ Jazz said, wanting to divert him. ‘You ate everything in sight.’

‘God! Yes, I remember,’ Doyle laughed, his mood changing swiftly. ‘You must’ve thought you’d taken in a stray wolf, the way I ate back then.’

‘You’re still too skinny,’ Jazz teased, and pinched a non-existent inch of fat on his ticklish ribs.

Outside, a gust of wind threw rain against the building, rattling doors and boarded windows, sneaking a draught across the floor. The howling of the wind intensified; it was a disgusting night. Doyle wouldn’t send a dog out in it… Labrador… Bodie…

Jazz snuggled impossibly closer. He felt her shiver, and pulled the grubby horse blanket tighter about them, sensing her drifting into sleep. He spared a moment wishing for his jumper, discarded somewhere out of reach in their hurry to reach the mattress. Bodie’s jumper, he corrected himself. His own sweatshirt had been a nasty bloody mess back at the flat, and he’d helped himself to Bodie’s clothes without a second thought. Jazz started to rouse again, and he shushed her softly.

‘What about…’ she yawned into his shoulder, more asleep than awake. ‘… Bodie? Isn’t he out there?’

‘Shhhh. Don’t worry. Bodie’s close,’ he said, knowing it was true, though god only knew how. He kissed her hair, glanced around the darkness of the room. Bodie was there all right, over near the steps to the loft, standing in the deepest shadow. Utterly motionless in the way only Bodie could be.

How long had he been there, when had he arrived? What had he seen, heard?

Doyle waited a few more minutes until he felt Jazz go heavy against him, before he asked softly, ‘Bodie?’

For a moment he thought Bodie would pretend not to be there, but the darker shadows stirred. ‘’m here,’ Bodie confirmed, matching Doyle’s own soft tone, telling Doyle nothing.

‘Everything okay out there?’ Doyle asked, falling back on the job and routine, willing Bodie to at least move closer.

‘Bloody awful. Wet. Wind’s like a banshee… don’t think we’ll have visitors tonight,’ Bodie said, finally coming closer, keeping his voice low enough not to disturb either Jazz or Paul, wherever he’d bedded down.

Paul. Nasty thought, that.

‘Any idea where…’ Doyle began, but Bodie headed him off, coming to sit close, leaning his back against the wall.

‘Paul-honey’s roosting up in the rafters, poor little sod. I heard him sobbing earlier… shock maybe, or jealous of you. Or her.’

‘Of Jazz? Why’d he be jealous…?’

‘She’s got you,’ Bodie made a sound that might have been a huff of amusement. The wind gusted violently again. Doyle tried to shift enough to see Bodie better, but the man was a dark shape against a dark wall.

‘She was upset,’ he began, feeling guilty. He’d abandoned Bodie to the foul weather and whoever might be roaming around out there, assumed he’d keep them all safe, left him to it. Shitty thing to do to your partner. Not to mention sloppy. He needed to stop with the bloody pills; they’d always done his head in.

‘So you got your magic dick out and made her better,’ Bodie said. Doyle tried to gauge his tone, and decided he was only mildly hacked off. Not too bad then.

‘Works every time,’ Doyle acknowledged, knowing the humour was falling flat.

‘Thanks…’ Jazz mumbled into his shoulder, kissed him where her mouth rested against warm skin, sank back into sleep again.

Bodie laughed quietly in the dark, and Doyle relaxed. ‘Sorry, mate,’ he offered, and sensed Bodie’s shrug of acceptance. ‘You want to get some kip?’ Doyle asked.

‘Nah. It’s starting to brighten up out there, be dawn soon. We’ll need to move.’

Doyle slid out from under Jazz enough to roll up onto one elbow, absently pulling the blanket more closely around Jazz’s shoulders. ‘Any movement at the house?’ he asked.

‘Quiet as the grave.’

Unfortunate expression, that. Bodie was right though; the rain was starting to let up, and it was getting lighter. Doyle could see his shape against the wall clearly already. The night was almost over.

‘D’you think whoever’s there has found the body yet?’ Doyle asked.

‘Maybe, maybe not. He was a nasty old man, nobody to care about him. Could be the staff left him to it for the night and slept right through our visit.’

‘A gunshot though?’ Doyle said.

‘I dunno, maybe; innocent people sleep through things that’d have you and me hanging off the chandelier wondering how we got up there.’

They were quiet for a minute or two, both listening to the sounds of rain outside, Jazz breathing peacefully, the occasional creak of the old building in the wind.

Bodie shifted slightly. ‘How old were you?’ He pointed at his own right cheek to make sure Doyle understood.

‘Seventeen,’ Doyle said softly, absently stroking one long finger down Jazz’s arm.

Christ. Bodie felt his stomach lurch slightly. Big, butch Bodie, he thought to himself wryly, you’ve got it bad all right. As if he’d ever really doubted.

‘You know what I am,’ Bodie said, needing to clear the air between them. ‘I didn’t do it for you – not the you you are now – I did it for the kid you were then.’

‘Yeah, I know what you are,’ Doyle grinned at him suddenly, reached out a warm hand to squeeze his leg. ‘I’m not sorry about it, mate. Never that. I should have known… and thank you.’

Bodie’s leg still felt warm where Doyle’s hand had rested. ‘You must be knackered,’ Doyle said, easing out of the warm blanket cocoon and sitting up. His naked skin goose-bumped immediately. He shivered. ‘Sure you don’t want to get your head down for half an hour or so, while I take a look round out there?’ He searched around vaguely, pulling on items of clothing as he discovered them, and for a moment Bodie’s lack of response didn’t register. He glanced up, and found dark eyes watching him with an odd intensity.

‘Bodie? You all right?’ A creaking sound from the loft above broke the moment, and Bodie smiled suddenly.

‘Sounds like Paul-honey is still with us. You want to wake him, or shall I?’ Bodie asked, ignoring the suggestion of getting some rest.

‘I’ll go,’ Doyle said, mostly dressed now. He used Bodie’s left thigh to lever himself up, then shambled off towards the steps to the loft, his inherent grace gradually reasserting itself as he went, all long, loose limbs and ease of movement that always drew Bodie’s eye.

‘Oy,’ Bodie called softly.

Doyle turned to look at him immediately. Bodie felt his own mouth go dry. He pointed up at the rafters in the direction of Paul. ‘He’s not a puppy, and no, you can’t keep him,’ Bodie said, sounding stern. Doyle ginned, flipped a single finger at him and vanished up the steps.

‘He’s still beautiful,’ Jazz said unexpectedly. Bodie hadn’t thought she was awake, but Doyle leaving had probably disturbed her. Glancing toward her, he could see her far more clearly now. They’d have to move soon. Above them, he could hear Doyle moving, boards creaking, soft voices, speaking, perhaps arguing briefly… Doyle would sort the lad out.

He turned his attention back to Jazz. ‘Beautiful? That gormless bugger?’ he asked, still not sure how she was likely to react to him. He’d just offed her husband, after all. Women tended to resent things like that.

‘He is. You know he is,’ Jazz confirmed. Her expression was all too knowing, unsettling. ‘You watch him as much as he watches you.’

‘So. We’re partners, till death or Cowley do us part. Worse than a bloody marriage. Worse than a wife for that matter, the way he nags.’ There was a thump on the bare boards above them, and he glanced to the steps.

‘Paul,’ she said, dragging his attention back to her again.

‘Eh? Paul?’

‘He bothers you. Him and Ray. You didn’t expect it.’

More bumping and scuffling from above, and a low, dirty laugh. Distracting.

‘I never know what to expect,’ Bodie heard himself confess out loud. He shook his head and gave in, grinning at Jazz. ‘That’s part of the attraction.’

Chapter 9

Outside, a miserable daybreak was making its grudging appearance. The wind had died down to an occasional sulky gust, and everything was sodden, weighed down from the night’s rain. The world was cold, wet, dim and dripping, but thankfully the sky was brighter, the birds were starting to sing, and the air smelt fresh and clean.

Bodie breathed it all in deeply, thankful the night was finally over and he was outside in the open again. Behind him, he knew Doyle was keeping both Jazz and Paul from straying, encouraging them to stay low and move quietly. For once, thank god, Paul was doing as he was told. Maybe he was finally catching on this wasn’t a movie.

Bodie led them on a careful route, circling away from the main house at first, into the scrubby woods to one side, and back around; a long and slow circuit which would have taken him and Doyle a fraction of the time without the other two. The extra time and caution paid off though - the rear of the house now had three vehicles parked up – the Land Rover from the night before, plus a top-of-the-range black BMW and a battered grey Ford estate.

Leaving Paul and Jazz crouched in the lee of a crumbling garden wall, he and Doyle edged forward to get a better look, carefully keeping to the cover of bushes and shrubs. Underfoot was soggy and slippery, wet leaves smelling of decay.

‘What d’you think?’ Bodie asked as Doyle crept close to kneel behind him in the wet grass. He could feel Doyle’s warmth against his back.

Doyle didn’t answer immediately, eyes squinting in the misty drizzle that was still falling. It made everything slightly blurry and surreal. Combined with the cold and almost no rest it was starting to take a toll on both of them, slowing them down.

‘The two women last night with only the Land Rover, so must be at least four in there now. Not MI5, cars are wrong, so my first guess is Sonny and his mob - him, maybe a driver and a heavy or two in the BMW, and…’

‘…Christ knows how many more in the Ford,’ Bodie finished the thought for him, glancing back to look at Doyle and then almost laughing out loud. Doyle was soaked through, his curls plastered to his head, making him look mean and miserable. How either Jazz or Paul could fancy him right now was beyond Bodie. Anything less appealing he couldn’t imagine. Or less safe… he wiped the delight off his face instantly, and tried to look innocent instead. Doyle glared at him.

‘Want to take a better look?’ Bodie asked quickly. Doyle considered for a moment, but shook his head and scowled, looking like a wet gargoyle.

‘Nah, no point. They could be all over the place, outside too; it won’t help us anyhow.’

Bodie agreed with a nod. Creeping about outside for much longer wasn’t an option; they needed to get out of the weather soon. None of them were properly dressed for the wet or cold, and the temperature felt as though it was dropping further as the light came up. Jazz and Paul were slowing them down as it was, and they’d become dangerous liabilities if they got much colder. ‘Pity she didn’t hide the bag further away from the house,’ Bodie said, more to himself than anything.

‘She was in a hurry, it was dark, she was scared,’ Doyle said, leaning on Bodie’s shoulder to steady himself as he wiped rain off his face, sounding distracted. ‘Is that a bloke over there?’

‘Show me.’

‘Three o’ clock, bush next to the door.’

Bodie squinted into the mist at the jumble of doors, windows, and tacked-on extensions that made up the back of the manor. Even though they were fairly close, no more than a fast sprint from the rear of the buildings, the gloom and mist were making it hard to see anything clearly. Bodie thought Doyle was right though – there was a human shape tucked into the side of the bush, sheltered from the worst of the damp by the overhanging roof of the building. As they stared, the shape shifted slightly, a match flared, and there was the brief glow of a cigarette tip.

‘Sloppy,’ Bodie murmured.

‘Like back at the hotel,’ Doyle added.

‘Yeah. Do we take him out?’

‘Have to, he’s right in the way there.’

‘Shame,’ Bodie said. They’d hoped to get the hidden bag with its papers as soon as it was light, then creep away again without anyone ever being the wiser. Take one bloke out, and things could get messy quickly.

‘Back soon,’ Bodie promised. For once they didn’t bother to argue or toss for it – Doyle was best able to keep Paul and Jazz calm, especially Paul, who was just as likely to run screaming into the woods at the slightest upset. Bodie heard the lad’s teeth chattering as he slunk away, using the ruined garden wall as cover.

Alone now, he could hunt. He moved swiftly and silently, alert to every sound, every smell. Just because one of them was sloppy didn’t mean they all were. Too much to hope for… could be half a dozen of the buggers sat out here in the shrubbery.

The bloke having the crafty fag was easy prey. Young. Stupid.

Bodie felt a moment of regret, before recalling Doyle’s portrait on Raj’s bedroom wall, the Doyle he’d never see for himself… men like these had broken his face, and he wasn’t about to forgive any time soon. He wrapped one hand around the guy’s face and felt lingering remorse die as a knife came up out of nowhere towards him. Maybe not so stupid then. He dodged it easily, snapped the bloke’s neck, textbook, like he’d been taught; in the same moment he knew he wanted that drawing, knew he’d come back for it, when this was over.

Should have knocked the bloke out he supposed, but it was safer this way, and the sightless eyes gazing up at him from the death-ugly face became just one more set of eyes that had looked at him that way. He waited for a moment to feel pity or shame, but didn’t. He rarely did.

The practicalities of an inconvenient body set in - the housekeeping was always a problem. Bodie looked around, calculating quickly, before hoisting the limp thing up and over his shoulder. Bloody heavy for a short guy - too many takeaways. And a gun. It dropped out the bloke’s jacket pocket and landed with a clatter on the concrete step in front of the door. Bodie froze, cursing himself for not checking the body before trying to shift it. Christ, he must be really tired. Long seconds passed, and there was no additional sound or movement, inside or out. He glowered down at the gun; he ought to pick it up, but he’d have to lower the body first, crouching awkwardly, fumbling around, waste yet more time out here in the open where every second counted. He settled for edging it deep under the bush with one foot, hoping it was well-hidden from every angle.

ooOoo

‘What took so long?’ Doyle demanded in a hoarse whisper as soon as Bodie got back.

‘Inconvenient body,’ Bodie said. ‘Couldn’t get it to fold up properly.’

Doyle grinned. ‘Macklin’s origami class for you, my lad,’ he said.

Bodie sniggered. ‘Perish the thought, ducky, I’d break a nail. Do we know where we’re going?’

‘Yeah, it’s the building immediately behind the yard – that gate in the wall over there is the old kitchen garden, the building with its back to us is some kind of fancy tool shed that’s falling down. She shoved the bag into a hole in one of the walls, almost at ground level.’

‘Um,’ said Bodie. Doyle twisted to look at him properly, saw downturned eyes emphasizing impossibly long eyelashes…

‘Boh-dee. Don’t tell me that’s where you…?’

‘Oops?’ Bodie offered.

‘Bugger,’ Doyle muttered.

‘I had to shove him somewhere,’ Bodie defended.

‘I know, can’t be helped… Paul-honey’s going to have hysterics again. You can hold his hand this time.’

‘Me? It’s you he fancies.’ Bodie was indignant.

‘Yeah, well, it’s your corpse,’ Doyle said unkindly. ‘C’mon, let’s get this over, ‘m freezing me bleedin’ arse off here.’

Crawling through soaking wet bushes was bad enough, but combined with the cold it was a miserable exercise. Jazz was mostly silent, carefully watching Doyle and moving as he indicated, flattening herself on the wet grass without hesitation or complaint. Paul was obviously unhappy, but he was thankfully quiet most of the way – Bodie only had to shove him to the ground once, holding a hand over his mouth, surprised when the little bugger tried to bite him. Still had some spirit left at any rate, Bodie thought. Doyle, slightly behind them with Jazz had obviously seen Paul’s attempt, because when Bodie glanced back the bastard was sniggering.

‘I’ll hold your face in the mud, you do that again,’ Bodie growled in Paul’s ear before letting him up.

‘Ooh, so butch,’ Paul shot back, but he kept his voice down, and flashed a sudden bright grin at Bodie. Silly little sod. Get them all killed at this rate. Bodie shook his head in mock despair and got back to the job of not getting killed.

The corpse – whoever he’d been - hadn’t been missed yet, or if he had, no-one was looking around for him outside; they managed to reach the walled garden and its broken wooden gate without incident. They’d have to find another way out though; they couldn’t risk another journey so close to the back of the house with all its doors and windows and potential for disaster. Bloody wonder nobody had spotted them yet.

No sooner had the thought passed through Bodie’s mind than he heard a door open. Without conscious thought he shoved Paul down behind the cover of the wall, and heard a slight squeak of surprise from Jazz as Doyle reacted just as quickly, hauling her through the gateway and out of sight of the house.

They froze silently huddled together for a long minute before Doyle risked peeping round the wall.

‘Okay,’ he murmured as he drew back. ‘Bloke came out, took a leak, he’s gone back inside.’

‘Why do it outside?’ Bodie asked.

‘I don’t know, do I? Likes it al fresco?’

They were interrupted by a gasp from Paul, who’d momentarily slipped his leash and headed on all fours for the dubious shelter of the crumbling tool shed. He seemed to have crawled into the doorway and come face to face with Bodie’s earlier mishap.

‘Shit,’ Doyle muttered, and scrambled past Bodie to deal with the imminent screaming. Bodie could feel a lecture coming on regarding corpses and hiding them properly.

‘Why on earth do you do this job again?’ Jazz asked from beside him. For a woman who’d slept rough, been dragged through wet bushes, and had semi-raw chicken for her last meal, she looked surprisingly calm and still as sexy as hell. Bodie grinned at her, liking her in spite of her effects on Doyle.

‘The fun, the exotic locations, and the…’

‘…pretty girls,’ Doyle finished for him. ‘Jazz, while Paul’s throwing up, show me where you shoved this bag.’

Doyle groped inside the wall, straining to the tips of his fingers with his face pressed to the earth. When that failed, he withdrew, flipped onto his back and tried again.

‘Nope,’ he said, wiping dirt off his face. ‘Paul, you’re the skinniest of us, you have a go.’

Paul-honey looked rebellious. ‘Jazz is thinner.’

‘Of all the gentlemen present, you’re the skinniest,’ Doyle amended.

Paul glowered at Bodie. ‘He’s no gentleman.’

‘No,’ Doyle agreed, ‘and if you don’t pull your finger out, I’ll let him prove it.’

‘So masterful,’ Paul minced. ‘What about spiders?’

‘You don’t get a bloody move on, spiders’ll be the least of your problems,’ Bodie promised.

Paul sniffed, but obediently lay down flat on his stomach in front of the crumbling hole, and wormed forward, managing to get a lot more of his body inside than Doyle had. Toes scrabbling, and using one hand under himself to gain an extra inch or two, he made an unhappy sound muffled by the wall.

Doyle knelt down beside him, one hand resting on his back. ‘Got it?’ he asked hopefully.

‘I’m stuck,’ Paul replied miserably.

‘Not having a good morning are you, old son?’ Bodie knelt on the other side of Paul’s body, exchanging grins with Doyle. ‘Have you got the bag?’ A muttered curse from the depths of the wall seemed to indicate he had. ‘C’mon then, out you come, and don’t let go the damn bag or I’ll shove you back in there.’ Between the two of them, Doyle and Bodie hauled Paul far enough back he could wriggle the rest of the way on his own.

‘Spiders big as rats!’ he scrubbed at his hair, frantically trying to dislodge dirt and creepy crawlies. His audience were far more interested in the green canvas bag hanging from one strap. Possibly something a game keeper might use, ragged and dirty with mud, dust and old age. Hard to think the contents could be enough to shake the foundations of a monarchy.

Doyle caught himself holding his breath. ‘Jazz?’ he asked. She was equally mesmerized by the damn thing.

‘Yes, that’s it.’ Like there’d be more than one bag stuffed in the shed wall.

‘Have a quick look then, luv, see if it’s what you remember,’ Bodie said, and then to Doyle, ‘We need to get out of here quickly. They’re bound to miss chummy sometime soon,’ he indicated the unfortunate corpse with a tilt of his head. ‘And Paul-honey yakking up all over him hasn’t helped.’

‘I dunno,’ Doyle flashed Bodie a sudden bright smile. ‘Not exactly professional-assassin behaviour, throwing up all over your victim. Probably confuse the hell out of them.’

Bodie watched Jazz struggle with the buckles on the bag. ‘You and me, we’re used to being cold and wet, but these two won’t take much more,’ he said quietly.

‘Yeah,’ Doyle agreed. He looked relaxed, almost sleepy, but his eyes were constantly scanning, watching the house, the bushes, the trees beyond. ‘Reckon this sodding weather’s the only thing stopping the place from swarming. Wonder what happened to our lads? Thought they’d have tracked us down by now.’

‘Half the lads are chasing all over Manchester looking for some mad mick with a bomb; Murph’s cracked his ankle again…’

‘…again? Christ. Bet the Cow’s happy.’ It was the first Doyle had heard about Murphy’s latest injury. Poor sod was getting a reputation as the class klutz.

‘…over the moon,’ Bodie agreed, ‘and most of B squad is stuck giving support with that shindig at Chequers. That’s on top of the three ops still on the board… I reckon backup might be Betty and the tea lady, next Thursday fortnight.’

‘If Betty’s in a good mood and the tea lady can read a map,’ Doyle agreed gloomily.

‘I’d kill for a hot cuppa right about now.’ Bodie looked tragic.

‘It’s all still here,’ Jazz said, breaking into their joint contemplation of tea. She’d worked the damp straps loose and got the bag open, rummaging through papers and envelopes inside. Bodie and Doyle hesitated, staring at one another, the same thought in both their minds. Bodie raised his eyebrows. They were up to their necks in this, whether they saw what was in the bag or not.

‘Later,’ Doyle said in agreement to Bodie’s unspoken comment. They were buggered whatever they did, so they might as well look at the contents of the bag – nobody would believe they hadn’t anyway.

Meanwhile, getting away with the bag and its contents, and getting all of them safe and warm were the priorities.

'Hotwire the BMW?' Bodie asked.

Doyle opened his mouth to reply, but what came out was, 'Oh shit!' his eyes going wide and staring at a point behind Bodie, half a second before he shoved him hard. Which was when Bodie knew their luck had just run out.

ooOoo

The paunchy, red-faced bloke pointing the gun at them could have passed for an irate country squire confronting poachers. Except it wasn’t that kind of gun.

‘Who are you?’ Bodie asked, going for nonchalance.

‘Who are you?’ The bloke shot back.

‘Bet his name’s Roger,’ Doyle muttered from behind Bodie.

‘I asked first,’ Bodie pointed out reasonably.

‘But I’ve got the gun.’ Roger waved the offensive weapon vaguely in their direction.

‘True,’ Doyle muttered unhelpfully.

‘CI5,’ Bodie said.

‘MI5.’ Roger sounded smug, as though one MI5 trumped two CI5’s in some mad game of snap.

‘What’s the difference?’ Paul asked.

Roger moved a bit closer. ‘We’ve got bigger guns and we don’t like poofters,’ he sneered at Paul.

‘Yeah, well we fight dirty,’ Doyle said, and kicked Roger in the meat-and-two-veg. Even Jazz winced in sympathy. Roger made a sound of distress and dropped his gun on the ground as he doubled over, clutching himself where it hurt. Gone a funny colour too, Bodie noticed with interest. Doyle really was a vicious little bugger. He was just about to suggest they make a dignified exit while Roger was otherwise occupied, when the shooting began. Doyle’s language became inventive as he pushed Jazz and Paul into the shelter of the garden wall.

‘House?’ Bodie asked, though he was pretty certain himself. Doyle’s agreeing nod confirmed it; Sonny’s lot were on to them.

‘Fuck fuck fuck!’ Roger threw himself into the cover of the wall beside Bodie, grabbing for his fallen gun as he arrived. He was clutching himself with his spare hand, and looking green about the gills. ‘There wasn’t supposed to be anybody here, fuck it!’

‘Eh?’ Bodie said, while grabbing Roger’s hand and its loosely-held gun and pointing it away from himself and towards the house. Roger looked at him in askance. ‘They’re shooting at you too,’ Bodie pointed out gently. Roger glared at him, but pointed his gun in a useful direction.

‘This was meant to be easy,’ he moaned. ‘None of you, or them, were meant to be here, just crossing the t’s, dotting the whatsits, tick the boxes, and a nice B&B for the weekend at the Jolly Pheasant down the road in Wooton Bottom; got a Michelin star and a mention in the Sunday Telegraph restaurant review. I was looking forward to the duck…’

Bodie and Doyle stared at one another in complete disbelief.

‘We’ve stumbled into a farce, haven’t we?’ Doyle said.

Bodie nodded, having decided the same thing. ‘Brian Rix is going to pop up any moment…’

‘…without his trousers.’ Doyle finished for him.

‘It’s not funny!’ Roger said loudly, then regretted it as he provoked a hail of gunfire from the direction of the house. ‘Shit,’ he added with deep conviction.

‘Shut up, Roger,’ Bodie said.

‘Who’s Roger?’ Paul and Roger said in perfect harmony, and Doyle grinned.

‘So you – MI5 – aren’t hot on our trail?’ Bodie tried to clarify. Roger looked shifty, which struck Doyle as hilarious, gunfire or no. Roger looked deeply affronted, which set Doyle off again.

‘Poor bugger. Bet you thought you’d got a cushy number,’ Doyle guessed.

‘And you kicked me,’ Roger said.

‘And I kicked you,’ Doyle agreed, sounding suspiciously like he’d been at the happy pills again. He hadn’t, had he? Bodie promised himself a row with his dozy partner sometime soon.

‘Bastard,’ Roger added, sounding almost admiring.

‘Yep,’ Doyle beamed at him, then cussed again as yet more gunfire came their way. Paul squeaked in pain; probably been nicked by a shard of stone from the wall, Bodie thought – there seemed to be plenty flying around. Time they all got the hell away from here.

‘Okay, ladies, time to move,’ Bodie said.

Doyle was immediately business again, sliding round all of them to put himself closest to the house, nodding to Bodie as soon as he was happy about his position. He’d lay down covering fire while Bodie got the others out of immediate danger. Whether they could evade an unknown quantity of opposition for any length of time was another matter.

ooOoo

It was a hairy ten minutes before Doyle caught up with them again, huddled in a handy ditch.

‘Where's Roger got to?’ he asked Bodie, starting to make running repairs to Paul-honey's still-bleeding arm.

Paul was being surprisingly stoic, gazing at Doyle's face with something suspiciously like adoration. Doyle was sporting a cut to his forearm which he was typically obviously unaware of, as well as being oblivious to Paul's besotted looks.

'He's gone off to try and raise some support for himself. Didn't seem overly impressed with CI5's backup arrangements… I don't think he's going to apply for a job any time soon.'

'Shame, that. He doesn't happen to have his own cavalry lurking in the wings, I suppose?' Doyle twisted himself impossibly to look hopefully at Bodie, who shook his head.

'Nah. Poor sod was just here to check the place over, then toddle off to the Dirty Duck for a posh supper on expenses. His nearest backup’s further away than ours, and that's saying something.'

Bodie sucked absently on a skinned knuckle, and watched intently for any of Sonny’s men. Doyle seemed to have done a good job putting them off. They were still out there, but they’d stopped firing like they were after grouse on the last day of the season. Small mercies. Bodie pulled a face and thoughtfully examined their own motley crew: Paul was definitely suffering a severe case of Doyle-adoration, Jazz was irritatingly taking everything in her stride, Roger had vanished into the landscape. Doyle was bleeding, his jeans were ripped at the knees… he looked like he was having the time of his life.

Just another day at the office then, Bodie told himself, suddenly inexplicably happy. Doyle glanced his way as though sensing his mood shift, and grinned wildly back at him.

There was the distinctive sound of a shotgun being cocked.

ooOoo

Bodie spun around, bringing his gun up, aware of Doyle surging to his feet right behind him.

Instead of some smart young thug, an old guy with an even older shotgun stood, rooted in the landscape like he’d grown there. The barrel of the gun was pointed straight at them. At such close range, if he coughed he was going to hit one of them.

‘It’s okay,’ Jazz broke the momentary standoff, moving forward, evading Doyle’s protective grab. ‘It’s the old guy I told you about. He lives here. Somewhere,’ she added vaguely. ‘Adam?’

The dirty face smiled suddenly, and the shotgun lowered. Doyle and Bodie breathed out simultaneously.

‘I think he’s senile, or foreign or something,’ Jazz continued, still smiling angelically at the old boy, who nodded in enthusiastic agreement.

‘Same thing,’ Paul muttered, and got a sharp elbow in the ribs from Doyle.

‘Well, which?’ Bodie asked, his eyes still firmly on the shotgun.

‘No idea,’ Jazz admitted.

‘Adam?’ Bodie asked, and the gun came up again pointed directly at the middle of his body. No way could the old guy miss, even by mistake.

‘Oops,’ Bodie said softly, holding out his palms in the universal sign of surrender. The gun lowered again.

The old man said something that sounded like a question in a language Doyle most definitely didn’t understand. Bodie, however, perked up and replied with a couple a faltering words, but the resulting change in Adam was instantaneous. He beamed at Bodie, spat into his right palm and held it out for a handshake, and once that was completed, began to babble.

Bodie made desperate slow-down gestures, then started to reply tentatively in whatever language the old guy was using. Doyle could hear some French, Arabic maybe, a little English, and realised they were using a mixture of languages. Bodie, thank god, only looked mildly baffled.

‘He’s not daft, he’s Moroccan,’ Bodie said. ‘Name’s not Adam, but I can’t make out what it is…’ He asked something in what sounded like Welsh - couldn’t be - got an answer he obviously still didn’t really understand, shrugged slightly. ‘His wife’s English, he met her…?’ Adam made a rat-tatt-tatting noise and mimed using a gun. ‘He met her in the last war, came over here, never went home. Never learnt much English either, eh?’ he asked, and Adam grinned, showing off pink gums and a couple of straggling teeth. After another volley of enthusiastic gesturing and questions, Bodie added, ‘He was the caretaker here. They never told him to move out.’

‘Don’t mention the chicken,’ Paul intoned in a credible Basil Faulty voice. Doyle elbowed him a second time. Only harder.

Adam looked sad and clasped his hands together by his face, miming sleep. ‘Elle est morte?’ Bodie asked. The old man nodded. ‘Combien… de temps vous ensemble?’ Bodie sounded like he was pecking at a mental typewriter. Adam held up the fingers of both hands silently, and Bodie translated, ‘She died. They were together 24 years.’ He touched the old man’s hand, lowered his eyes and made the sign of the cross on his own chest, surprising the hell out of his partner in the process.

Bodie added softly, ‘A long time, but never enough. Jamais assez. N’est-il pas vrai?’

Adam’s eyes filled with unshed tears, and Doyle could see Bodie’d done right. Even Paul-honey shut the fuck up and swallowed audibly.

Adam began to talk again… then suddenly, in English, ‘You leave? I show you. Safe.’ Adam touched Bodie’s arm. ‘Safe,’ he repeated.

‘Yes, thank you,’ Bodie nodded enthusiastically, then to Doyle and the others he added, ‘I don’t think he cares much for Raj and Sonny and their chums.’

‘Bunch of tossers,’ Paul-honey agreed.

‘Tossers! Yes!’ Adam beamed at him, and Paul beamed back.

‘C’mon then, Grandpa, show us how to get the hell out of here.’ Paul slung a matey arm around the Moroccan’s thin shoulders and Adam tucked his shotgun under one arm and his other arm around the lad’s waist. The two leaned into one another, Bodie rolled his eyes heavenward, and Doyle tried not to laugh out loud. He gathered Jazz against his side instead, and followed their unlikely guides into the drizzle.

The old boy led them into a wood of dense, ragged pines, moving with the deliberate calm pace of a countryman. Every so often he stopped and held a grubby finger to his lips to shush them as he stood listening, head down, concentrating. The pine trees and the thick covering of fallen needles deadened sound. There wasn’t even birdsong to break the near-silence. There was no sign of pursuit, but Adam seemed uneasy. God alone knew where Roger had vanished.

Bodie shrugged mentally, deciding they had more pressing problems than a stray MI5 agent with bruised balls. Paul-honey was drooping noticeably, Jazz was needing Doyle’s supporting arm more and more; all of them were beyond tired, cold and wet. Bodie could feel it becoming a bone-deep ache. Watching his partner he could see he was feeling it too. Doyle’s natural long-legged grace was giving way to the occasional stumble as he lost his footing, sliding, and slower to right himself than he’d normally be.

Bodie checked behind them, then moved up to try and convey his need for urgency to Adam, whose bright, intelligent brown eyes and a gummy smile were both frustrating and reassuring. Bodie wished like hell they had more words in common, but Adam seemed confident. ‘Safe,’ he repeated, leading them on towards what Bodie could see was a thinning of the trees. A minute more brought them to the edge of the pines, overlooking a steeply sloping field. Below them, towards the bottom of the hill, was a large wooden shed, probably once used for sheltering livestock but seemingly abandoned, and in front of it on the muddy track was an old post office van, painted brown. Their van.

‘Safe!’ Adam beamed, waving an arm towards the van, making Paul duck to avoid a smack on the nose.

Bodie frowned. ‘We hadn’t even missed it,’ he said softly. ‘What d’you reckon?’ he asked. Beside him, Doyle was squinting all around, searching for any sign of blokes with big guns.

‘Let’s try it, can’t sit out here freezing much longer,’ Doyle said, though he didn’t sound happy. ‘We’re going to be right out in the open down there though.’

‘Adam…? Shit! Where’d he go?’ Bodie was staring at the vacant space where he could have sworn the old guy had been half a second ago.

Doyle twisted round, looking equally bemused. ‘Cowley ought to recruit the old boy, give classes in sneaking around and scaring the crap out of people.’

Somewhere close by a shotgun went off, startlingly loud in the damp air. Instinctively they all ducked down, but it didn’t seem to be aimed at them.

‘Think the old guy’s laying down a bit of cover?’ Doyle asked.

‘Dunno, but let’s take advantage. Paul, Jazz, fast as you can, don’t stop for anything. Doyle an’ me’ll be right behind. Come on, come on. Go!’

The four of them launched themselves down the steep hillside, slipping and slithering in the mud and wet grass, feeling horribly exposed. Another shot rang out, and this time was answered by the higher crack of a rifle.

Paul yelped and found a faster gear, passing Jazz only to go tumbling as he lost his footing in the mud. Doyle snagged his arm on his way past, yanking him to his feet and hauling him downhill while still managing to twist enough to watch for pursuit.

They fetched up beside the van, using it for cover. Doyle yanked the doors open while Bodie frantically twisted the wires under the ignition.

‘In!’ Doyle urged, and they fell inside, Doyle scrambling into the passenger seat as Bodie gunned the engine and let out the clutch. The wheels slithered and slid on the muddy track before finding grip, the van fishtailing precariously and causing Jazz and Paul in the back to slide about, grabbing frantically onto one another.

Doyle hung out his still-open door, gun in hand, taking a couple of pot-shots at somebody Bodie couldn’t see. A wing mirror shattered, a shot pinged off the bonnet. He pressed harder on the accelerator and changed down a gear, looking for more grip and speed. The van lurched the wrong way, he was aware of Doyle twisting away from the open door, of fighting the wheel, sliding…

‘Losing it,’ he warned…

Chapter 10

Doyle re-entered the world around about the same time Bodie was leaving it.

He came out of the comforting darkness of unconsciousness abruptly, skipping the whole stabbing-pain-behind-the-eyes-going-to-throw-up thing he normally enjoyed. That caught up with him a moment later. By then he was fully aware and mostly alert.

It was Bodie who’d brought him round; the sounds of him being beaten hadn’t really registered, probably because Bodie had a tendency to become completely silent when having the crap beaten out of him. It was the contemptuous, bored tone of Bodie’s, ‘Sod off,’ just before a fist silenced him which woke Doyle with a jerk. His partner had provoked the opposition into doing something stupid; time for Doyle to take interest in proceedings again.

Which was about the time the usual effects of being knocked out re-asserted themselves, along with a nasty tearing pain to the left of his ribs when he breathed. He screwed his eyes tightly shut again and drew breath to say, ‘Shit,’ but a miserable groan came out instead. The second time he tried, ‘Shit!’ came out clearly, succinctly, precisely. Result.

‘Ray?’ Jazz, sounding uncertain and afraid, was somewhere close by, behind him where he lay on… what? Carpet? Not the usual cold concrete he was used to waking up on in these situations, he caught himself thinking, and added a possible concussion to his growing list of complaints. He certainly felt like he’d had a recent whack in the head, though for the moment the exact circumstances eluded him.

He was lying on his right side, and didn’t seem to be tied, which was a good thing; unless he looked so bad their hosts didn’t think he was worth the effort. Which wasn’t very bright of them.

Doyle risked squinting his eyes open and saw an acre of expensive beige carpeting leading to an open fireplace. The wall beside it was hung with photographs of little girls in a variety of states of undress… Christ! Must be back in the main house, maybe in Raj’s office or a private sitting room? He didn’t recall a room like this from their earlier visits to the house – he knew he’d have remembered the repulsive artwork, no matter how hard he’d been thumped on the head in the interim.

Somebody else entered the room out of Doyle’s immediate line of vision, and apparently felt the same way about his unbound status.

‘You really ought to put some ropes or something on that one,’ a vaguely familiar male voice said. ‘He kicks like a mule.’

Ah, Roger, then. And nursing a grudge. And apparently not above swapping sides if it was convenient. Bastard. Should’ve kicked him harder.

Doyle tried to push himself up, or at least over, but all he succeeded in doing was making the tearing pain in his left side kick into overdrive. When his eyes stopped watering, he saw a pair of expensive leather shoes had moved to stand beside his head… his brain was still lagging behind, he realised as he gazed stupidly at the shine on the brown leather for a moment. The owner crouched down beside him, casually resting one knee on Doyle’s hip, effectively pinning him to the floor.

Sonny.

Even after a gap of nearly two decades, and only having seen him a couple of times back then, Doyle still recognised him straight away. His black hair was thinner, slicked back like a 50’s American movie star, his skin as greasily smooth as his hair, and the deceptively placid black eyes with eyelashes that rivalled Bodie’s.

‘Well, well, I see you’re back with us,’ Sonny smiled down at him, twisting his head at a slightly odd angle to better see into Doyle’s face. ‘You missed some of the fun earlier, but I’m sure you can catch up now.’ He looked up at Roger, still standing out of sight behind Doyle, to explain, ‘We knew each other briefly years ago. Old friends. My father wanted him dead, but I had a better idea.’ He smiled back down at Doyle, then frowned slightly, before his face cleared. ‘Of course! I had many photos taken of you – it was the other side of your face though, I remember now.’

Rough fingers clasped Doyle’s jaw and moved him so the other side, the damaged right cheek, came into view.

Doyle tried to wrench his face away, but Sonny just tightened his grip, and carried on gazing at the marred cheek with a fascinated look in his eyes. Doyle clenched his teeth and resisted the urge to spit in the bastard’s face. With his right hand trapped under his body, and his left arm held hard to his side to support whatever had given way under his ribs, there wasn’t much he could usefully do.

‘Temper, temper,’ Sonny chided. ‘Was your temper got you into trouble in the first place, I seem to remember. Topping your cousin like that. Tsk, tsk.’ Sonny tutted and forced Doyle’s face even further round, caressing his broken cheek with his fingertips. ‘I did do a fine job on your pretty face, if I do say so myself. I don’t suppose Mommy-dearest would’ve wanted to draw you again if she’d ever bothered to find you.’

‘Leave him the fuck alone,’ Bodie growled, and Doyle relaxed for knowing Bodie was back among the living and having opinions.

Sonny laughed and stood up. ‘Would you have cared, if you’d known?’ he asked, looking beyond Doyle to Jazz. She moved into Doyle’s field of vision, eyes furious.

‘Of course. I had no idea, no idea what Raj was capable of.’ Doyle saw her eyes flick towards the wall of mostly-naked children, saw the same repulsion he felt on her face. Thank god. She hadn’t known, hadn’t had a clue until she’d been brought into this room. Sonny glanced at the photographs too, and shrugged slightly. Indifferent.

‘My dearly departed father was an unpleasant old man, with some nasty habits,’ Sonny agreed. ‘That’s why he bought this place, you know - secluded, plenty of space to bury little bodies…’ Sonny shook his head in feigned distaste. ‘He was taking his own sweet time to die, too. Whichever of you – I assume it was one of you? - whichever of you put a bullet in the old goat’s brain did me a favour. I was going to do it myself, a mercy killing, so you can imagine my delight at finding the chore already taken care of. Still, I would have enjoyed it.’ He paused to brush some imaginary dust off one sleeve. Pretentious bastard. Doyle tried to wriggle himself over onto his back, and regretted it. Shit. What the hell had he done to himself?

‘That must hurt,’ Sonny said, watching Doyle’s efforts with mild interest. ‘I really wouldn’t trouble yourself, though. If you get up, I’ll just knock you down.’

Then Jazz was there, kneeling beside him. He hadn’t even noticed her move, so maybe he’d passed out again briefly. ‘I really think you should keep still, love.’ Her smile was far too bright and she seemed leery of touching him. Shit shit shit. He tried to move again, and it hurt like bloody hell again. He flopped back, feeling like a sodding fish on a mud bank.

‘Listen to the pretty lady, Ray,’ Bodie said, still out of sight behind him.

Doyle decided they might all have a point. He relaxed for a minute, catching his breath and trying to recall the last thing that happened before he woke up in… wherever this was.

‘Where?’ he managed to ask the room in general. The room in general span lazily, and he was otherwise ignored.

‘Let Paul help him,’ Jazz said, looking up at her stepson.

‘Paul? The pretty boy? What’s he going to do, give him a blow job to take his mind off the pain?’ Sonny laughed at his own humour.

‘Oh, really,’ Roger tutted.

‘Paul has nursing experience,’ Jazz said, sounding firmer and more in control. ‘Let him help, unless you want Ray to bleed to death.’

‘Surely not?’ Sonny leant over slightly to peer down at Doyle with exaggerated interest. ‘Oh, yes. Unfortunate. Yes, it would be a pity to lose him so soon. Pretty boy, stop snivelling, come here and do something useful.’

‘Like what?’ Paul said, sounding tearful. Doyle hadn’t even realised he was in the room, he’d been so silent. Jazz glared at Paul, who came from whatever corner he’d been hiding in, and knelt down beside her and Doyle.

‘Apply pressure,’ Bodie suggested, sounding just bored enough to reassure Doyle.

Paul was already at work though. For all his apparent horror of blood and violence, he was surprisingly competent, hands drifting gently over Doyle’s side, feeling carefully. When he saw Doyle was watching him he bent further over so his flopping blond hair concealed his face from the rest of the room and gave Doyle a huge wink. If he hadn’t thought it would hurt too much, Doyle would have laughed at the idiotic kid. Then Paul pressed down on his side, and all thoughts of laughing faded in a black roar.

ooOoo

When he returned to the world the second time, he felt marginally better. It didn’t hurt too much, as long as he didn’t take deep breaths. He found he’d been propped upright, leaning against the wall opposite the horrifying gallery of photographs, with Jazz and Paul resting on either side of him so he didn’t topple over. Both were asleep. Bodie was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the fireplace looking gloriously pissed off and mostly in one piece. Bit bumped about, Doyle thought, but not overly damaged. He was also inconveniently handcuffed by one wrist to the metal fire basket in the hearth.

No sign of Roger or Sonny.

Doyle must have made enough sound to alert Bodie, who looked up from his glowering contemplation of the wall of photos and broke into a huge smile.

‘Hello, sailor. You’re missing all the fun,’ he said, using a sleeve to mop absently at a split lip that was still dribbling a bit.

Doyle snorted. ‘Looks like you’re a bit buggered there, mate. Need some help?’

‘Need a lock pick. And some breakfast,’ Bodie grumbled. ‘Service here is complete crap.’

‘Can’t get the help these days,’ Doyle sympathised, and added, ‘Where?’ making a circling movement with one finger.

‘Sonny-boy and the ever-charming Roger wandered off for a nice coffee and chat about an hour ago,’ Bodie said. ‘Talk about unholy alliances.’

‘Mmm,’ Jazz yawned, snuggling against Doyle before memory kicked in and she sat upright, hauling her hair back from her face with one distracted hand, while touching Doyle’s face gently with the other. ‘How are you, love?’ she asked softly.

‘Not playing football any time soon, but I’ve felt worse.’ His voice was coming out far stronger than earlier on too, which was encouraging.

He had vague memories now of what had happened: shots; the van slithering and Bodie cussing while he hauled on the steering wheel; himself twisting in the open van door to fire, though he couldn’t recall what he’d been trying to shoot at; trying to scrabble back as the van tipped onto its side, and Bodie’s calm voice warning, ‘losing it’; a loud bang; searing pain as something caught him hard under his ribs.

‘You okay, mate?’ he asked Bodie, feeling more alert by the moment.

‘Fine. Had rougher girlfriends than Sonny and his mates. Soft bully boys, no real clue what they’re doing.’

Doyle nodded, winced at the headache he’d forgotten. ‘Reckon they’re our amateurs?’

‘Yeah, my thoughts too,’ Bodie agreed.

‘Amateurs?’ Jazz asked, looking back and forth between the two of them.

‘From the hotel, when we came to pick you up,’ Bodie reminded her. ‘All the shooting and blundering about, messy… We’ve been wondering who they were, but I reckon it was this lot – Sonny’s lot.’

‘It’s been bothering us,’ Doyle tried to explain.

‘You choose the oddest things to bother about,’ Jazz said.

‘She has a point,’ Bodie agreed, and clanked his handcuff meaningfully. ‘Could you?’

‘Oh, yes. Right.’

‘He shouldn’t try to move around,’ Paul suddenly piped up. When he found all eyes on him, he pulled a face. ‘Well, he shouldn’t. I’ve stopped the bleeding, but it’ll start again if he moves about.’

‘Not sure we’ve much choice,’ Bodie said, practical as ever.

‘We?’ Doyle asked, managing to sound indignant. Bodie grinned, and Jazz rolled her eyes at the pair of them.

‘What did you do with your lock picks?’ Bodie asked. ‘Jazz went through your pockets already.’

‘Just my pockets?’ Doyle looked at her.

‘I’d never take advantage,’ Jazz protested. ‘Well, not in front of your other half, anyway.’

‘Yeah yeah,’ Doyle grinned. ‘They’re in the hem of my jeans. Ouch. Can you get them for me, luv? I don’t bend that way right now.’

‘You bend the other way though,’ Bodie heard himself say. Blazing green eyes flashed anger at him.

‘Got a problem, Bodie?’ Doyle snarled.

‘None,’ Bodie said quickly, his eyes locked with his partner’s, willing him to understand. ‘None whatsoever. I like bendy.’

‘You do?’ Doyle stared at him hard, then suddenly laughed, low and dirty as sin. ‘You do,’ he agreed, apparently delighted. Bodie let out a long breath.

Jazz let out a soft sound of triumph. ‘Got ‘em,’ she said, dangling some thin bits of metal from one finger.

‘Quick as you can over here, luv,’ Bodie said.

Voices from the corridor spurred Jazz into action.

The door was unlocked and a glowering, muscle-bound thug wearing crimplene slacks a size too small for him preceded Sonny and Roger into the room.

‘Ah, back with us.’ Sonny looked self-satisfied as he glanced around. ‘Good. Mr Singer and I have been having a nice civilized talk over breakfast. Haven’t we, Malcolm?’

Malcolm? Malcolm! Bodie hoisted one eyebrow in Doyle’s direction to check. Yep, Doyle was equally amused.

‘We have. Most civilized,’ agreed Roger-come-Malcolm, looking insufferably pleased with himself. Bodie glanced at his partner again, and sure enough he could see Doyle was thinking the exact same thing: really really should’ve kicked him harder.

‘Malcolm and I have come to an amenable arrangement over the contents of my father’s safe… mine now, since his tragic passing.’

‘Mine, according to his will,’ Jazz interrupted coldly.

Sonny’s eyes narrowed, but he ignored her. ‘Malcolm has kindly agreed I will retain the papers which relate to my own business dealings – the ones the old goat thought would protect him and his whore. Malcolm will take the unfortunate photographs of the royal lady and…’

‘… the bloke with the big knob,’ Doyle suggested helpfully, possibly to keep everyone’s attention away from Bodie’s open handcuff, or possibly just for the hell of it. Doyle could be a mouthy git when the mood took him, Bodie thought fondly.

Sonny’s face darkened briefly, not liking the interruptions. ‘Yes. Mr Bindon. Never met the chap myself. Pity. I could have used a talent like that in my business. No matter. Malcolm will take those. They’re of no good to me, sadly, too many interested parties. He’ll return them to his masters and get a nice big pay rise and a promotion, and of course, sing my praises.’

‘Out of the field,’ Roger added with a sniff. ‘Loathe all this cloak and dagger stuff, lurking in bushes.’

‘And he’ll make sure to put in a good word about me in the right ears, open doors into the kind of society I wish to do business with. A richer class, you know.’

‘With richer tastes in drugs,’ Doyle added.

‘More sophisticated, shall we say? And with more disposable income,’ Sonny said. ‘Oh, and of course, I’ll deal with the four of you, no questions asked, no mentions made.’

‘You seem to be getting a good deal,’ Bodie said.

Sonny smiled, looking delighted. ‘I do! But then again, Malcolm could easily have some awful accident out here in the wilds. This way, for the price of the occasional word in the right ear, he gets to keep his life, I get a new business partner. We all live happily ever after. Well, most of us, anyway.’

‘And what about us?’ Jazz asked, not sounding scared anymore, just angry.

Sonny turned to stare at her, eyes gone cold and hard. ‘Perhaps you really are stupid. Don’t you understand how much I’ve hated you all these years?’

‘I know. I’ve never understood why. I didn’t have any choice in what either my father or yours decided for me. Why hate me for something I had no say in?’

‘Because you’re nothing but an English whore. Not like my mother. She is the true wife to my father; she bore him children, unlike you. You were nothing but a prize, a trophy.’

‘So? I should have run away from Raj? Or thrown myself off the nearest high building to satisfy your mother’s honour?’

‘Yes,’ Sonny said simply.

‘Ridiculous!’ Jazz spat. ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about. Your mother wanted nothing to do with Raj. He bought her from her father, the same way he bought me. I was useful when he needed a pretty white woman to host his parties, and she was useful for breeding sons and heirs. He used us both. Her father sold her to Raj exactly the same way mine sold me, and probably for much the same reasons.’

‘My grandfather was an honourable man,’ Sonny sounded genuinely angry for the first time.

‘Your grandfather was a gutless bastard, just like my father. Greedy, grasping, weak men, using women in their power like chattels. What exactly is honourable about that?’

Sonny took two swift steps forward and backhanded her across the face. Not hard enough to make her fall, but enough to make her stagger backwards a step.

‘You bastard,’ Doyle said succinctly, coming up off the floor with that impossible speed of his. Before Sonny could strike at Jazz again he found himself with a spitting-angry Doyle in his face, albeit listing heavily to one side. Sheer surprise made Sonny hesitate, giving Doyle more than enough time to belt him hard in the nose. As Sonny clutched his face, Doyle swung a leg round - he was impeded by the hole in his side, but enthusiastic for all that - he delivered a powerful kick to Sonny’s upper leg, making him bellow in pain and anger.

‘Your turn,’ Doyle told his partner as he sat down suddenly, his side leaking copiously again, all Paul’s good work undone.

Bodie hadn’t been idle, using the momentary confusion to throw himself at Roger. While there were bigger threats in the room, Bodie was betting Roger still had his gun and would be comparatively easy to relieve of it. He crashed into him with one shoulder, and the pair of them fell, Roger making a nice soft cushion for Bodie, who was already twisting as they went down, finding and lifting Roger’s gun from its place under his jacket.

Roger grunted in protest, and made a feeble attempt to hang onto the gun, which resulted in Bodie hitting him hard on the jaw. He’d had more than enough of the wanker.

By the time Sonny collected his wits, Bodie had the room covered. He spared a glance towards Ray - Jazz had fallen to her knees next to him, firmly applying pressure to his side despite his attempts to stand up again. Not helpful, mate, and this carpet’s never going to be the same again, either.

Sonny’s thug was drawing his gun, and Paul-honey was slightly in the way of a clean shot, but Bodie took his chance anyway. The sound was loud in the small room, and the bloke he’d shot fell backwards, hit the door and crumpled over, still twitching slightly. Not a clean kill then; Bodie regretted that, didn’t like the indecisiveness of a living threat. Doyle would’ve gone for a head shot, whereas Bodie’d gone for the body, for the bigger target, intent on hitting something, slowing the bastard down, and not hitting Paul in the process. Couldn’t be helped.

He planted one knee in Roger’s stomach, just to be sure he wouldn’t interfere, and swung the gun back to Sonny. A fraction too late. Dammit. The bastard had pulled a tiny handgun from god only knew where - possibly up his own backside – but had yet to aim it anywhere. From out in the corridor came the sound of another hired hand trying to shove his way into the room past the body of his fallen colleague. Fool. Bodie risked one shot at the door, moving so fast Sonny didn’t have time to consider his own options. In the fraction of time it took Bodie to swing his weapon back to Sonny, the man had started getting with the plot; Bodie found Sonny was – at long last - aiming at him.

Bodie smiled.

He squeezed the trigger, knowing Sonny was doing the same, heard Doyle cry out a warning, caught a flash of movement from his partner. Both guns exploded, and Bodie waited an eternity to feel the bullet strike him.

As Bodie’s brain finally caught up with his eyes he saw the handle of a knife sticking out of Sonny’s throat just below his Adam’s apple. Either the force or the shock of it must’ve caused Sonny’s shot to go wide, while Bodie’s own bullet had gone true to its mark. There was a red bloom in the centre of the pure white silk shirt. Between that and the mess on the carpet, housekeeping was going to be pissy as hell.

Sonny stood staring down at his own body for a long moment before silently falling, strings cut.

‘Bugger, I missed.’ Bodie heard Doyle say.

‘What were you after?’ Bodie managed to keep a straight face despite the wild urge to laugh.

‘Leg.’ Doyle sounded disgusted, then grinned up at Bodie from where he sat on the floor in an untidy heap of limbs, blood and drooping curls.

‘Berk,’ Bodie said, affectionately.

‘Paul? Honey?’ The fear in Jazz’s voice made Bodie spin around to where she was kneeling on the floor close to Doyle. Her focus was Paul, lying in an unnatural sprawl, a look of surprise on his face. As Bodie watched a dribble of bright blood formed at one corner of his mouth and ran slowly down his chin.

‘Shit,’ Doyle said succinctly, squirming around and flopping over enough to reach Paul’s side.

Bodie left him to deal with it for a moment and did a quick head count. Sonny and one of his men were definitely done for, vacant eyes staring at the ceiling. The bloke out in the corridor was having some sort of religious conversion; Bodie could hear him whimpering, ‘Oh god oh god,’ over and over. Presumably Bodie’s pot-shot at the door had hit something or other. Roger, while looking worse for wear, was definitely starting to perk up again. Bodie sighed and punched him in the jaw again. Roger stopped looking perky and passed out.

Jazz, while covered in various people’s blood, seemed unharmed. She was folded over Paul, cradling his body and rocking slightly, while Doyle was trying to stem a wound in Paul’s upper chest. Bodie guessed it must’ve been Sonny’s bullet, meant for himself, going wide when Doyle’s knife had struck him. Bodie wondered briefly where the hell the knife had come from as he crawled off Roger to go to Doyle.

Bodie heard Paul say softly, ‘Never mind love, it’s…’ then a slight gasp, a sigh of air, and Paul didn’t try to breathe in again. His body went slack and still, and Jazz sobbed.

‘Hush, love,’ Doyle said, and reached for her, pulling her unresistingly away from Paul and into his arms. She wrapped herself around him, causing him to wince, buried her face in his neck and began to cry in earnest.

Bodie reached over, wanting to make sure Doyle wasn’t quietly bleeding to death, but aborted the movement when Doyle shook his head at him. Nothing too desperate then, and Jazz probably needed to weep for a bit.

Wearily hauling himself upright, Bodie bypassed the two bodies on the other side of the room and went to check on the thug in the corridor. Ah. Unfortunate, and not just a religious conversion either from the look of it. Bodie winced and thought he probably ought to have aimed higher. Still, it was wonderful what modern medicine could fix these days. At least the bloke wouldn’t cause them any further difficulties. And after all, Cowley had told him to aim lower…

Chapter 11

They saw Paul-honey buried on a freezing wet day just before Christmas. Wherever he’d come from, whatever his real name was, he’d taken it all with him into death. Jazz didn’t know any more than they did; she’d met him when Paul had been helping to nurse Raj. Before that, he’d been with Sonny. She’d never known his surname, his age, or where he’d come from originally.

Paul had lived. He’d been funny and full of life, and then his life had ended. It seemed as though nobody actually noticed or cared.

Doyle cared.

When the search for his family, his friends - even his bloody name - had failed, Doyle had Paul’s body released to a funeral home. Bodie’d only found out when he went to the mortuary to make similar arrangements.

Not having a name for the death certificate - or the headstone for that matter - made for all manner of problems, but Cowley didn’t give it any further consideration, making phone calls and signing paperwork, making official objections quietly vanish. He even offered to cover the costs from CI5 funds, but Doyle had refused over a small glass of single malt.

Jazz hadn’t been able to face the funeral. In the end, just the two of them saw Paul into the good earth, a vicar to say the final words, and the coffin bearers as unobtrusive witnesses. They’d argued briefly about the name he’d take with him into the next world – Paul Smith seemed sadly trite – and they’d sent him on his way as Paul Honey. They decided Paul would’ve appreciated the joke. When they told Jazz, she laughed softly and kissed them both. The only flowers on the grave were hers - a large wreath of cream lilies, plain, classy. No message.

‘I’ll split the cost of the headstone with you,’ Bodie said. Doyle nodded, watching the grave diggers as they began to pile the dark earth back into the hole. He still looked a bit pale, and he was careful of his side when bending or twisting, but he’d be back on operational status right after Christmas. Thank god. Doyle was a moody bugger at the best of times; being lumbered with chauffeuring Cowley while he healed did nothing to sweeten his temper - he’d made two of the girls in records cry, and picked a row with Anson with no obvious provocation. Anson had immediately blamed Bodie, for reasons Bodie suspected he’d never understand.

‘Thanks,’ Doyle said, stretching his shoulders back and gazing up at the rain clouds. He was wearing a charcoal grey suit under a black wool coat, raindrops beading his hair in spite of their shared umbrella. To Bodie, he looked both severe and beautiful. ‘I wish I’d known him better, been able to help him, maybe. It seems so empty, burying him and knowing so little about him.’

Bodie thought of hasty graves he’d helped dig in the African heat. Men - boys - his own age or younger even, using made-up names, running from god knew what, only to end in blood, heat and swarming flies, left in unmarked graves. Empty was the right word for it. There should be more, but sometimes there wasn’t.

‘He knew who he was, he knew what he was doing – it might not have been his choice, any of it, but it didn’t strike me he was unhappy,’ Bodie offered. ‘He was making the best of whatever life chucked at him.’

‘He should have had more,’ Doyle said.

‘I know,’ Bodie said. He scowled briefly at the rain that was starting to come down again. ‘Come on, us freezing our arses off stood out here won’t help anyone. There’s a pub just down the road – bet they’ve got a proper fire and sausage and chips on the menu.’

‘Electric fire, smell of wet dog, limp cheese sarnies,’ Doyle predicted sourly, but he’d brightened visibly, and Bodie laughed.

‘We never even got to see those bloody photos either,’ Doyle groused half-heartedly.

‘Thought Cowley was going to take my arm off, he grabbed that bag so fast,’ Bodie said. ‘Still, who wants to look at some bloke with oversized equipment?’

Doyle looked thoughtful. ‘Sounds like it would be a hindrance, don’t you think? Get in the way.’

‘They say he can hang five beer mugs on his nudger,’ Bodie said.

‘Yeah?’

‘Straight up,’ Bodie grinned.

‘Why would you want to…?’ Doyle started, then thought better of it.

They bumped shoulders comfortably as they walked away across the muddy grass. It seemed to Bodie a bloody awful place to leave Paul, who’d been so full of life and sweet wickedness, but it couldn’t be helped. He smiled at the sudden memory of Paul wrestling with Doyle on a grubby old mattress, both naked and laughing, Jazz making up a threesome of such curious beauty.

‘What?’ Doyle asked, catching Bodie’s smile.

Bodie considered lying, but decided it was a day for truths. ‘Remembering the three of you together, that day.’

‘God!’ Doyle threw his head back and shut his eyes. ‘I’m sorry. No idea what I was thinking, bloody Jazz and her happy pills.’

‘Reminded me of that time, you and me together with that girl.’

‘Yeah?’ Doyle stopped walking to stare with disconcerting intensity at his partner, not pretending not to remember.

‘Yeah,’ Bodie said, and grinned. Saw the penny drop as Doyle realised he wasn’t being wound up.

‘You sure about going to the pub?’ Doyle asked.

‘You got a better idea?’

‘I think so.’ Doyle turned to stare back across the grass and gravestones to where the grave diggers were still at work, understanding Jazz’s need to make love after Raj died.

ooOoo

Warm and comfortable, he woke slowly.

Opening lazy eyes, he found Doyle beside him, leaning on one elbow among the rumpled bedding watching him with a sweet smile on his face.

He smiled back and was rewarded by Doyle leaning over to kiss him, long and sweet.

‘You okay?’ Doyle asked, his voice husky.

‘Mmmmm,’ Bodie breathed sleepily, reaching to pull him closer, wondering if he’d ever get used to a tame Doyle. ‘Nice,’ he added, making Doyle grin and snuggle.

Doyle. His Doyle, snuggling. Who would believe?

‘You were watching me sleep,’ he said, wrapping an arm carefully around the long warm body, mindful of the night before when no matter how gentle they were, Doyle had still winced once or twice. Not as healed as he’d like everyone to believe, Bodie reckoned.

‘Yeah. Still can’t believe my luck, you here, in my bed,’ Doyle said, kissing Bodie’s neck softly, just below his ear, making him shiver. ‘Our bed,’ he amended. ‘Reminded me of something a long time ago.’

Bodie thought for a moment. ‘Jazz?’ he guessed, vaguely surprised to find how very little she bothered him now.

‘Kind of. Not her though, just how proud I felt to be the one she wanted… that’s how I feel about you, so bloody amazed you wanted me.’

‘Want you.’ Bodie corrected. Last night he’d discovered there was an endearingly insecure side to his self-confident and self-contained partner.

‘Yeah?’

‘Oh yeah.’ Bodie flipped them both and after a brief skirmish ended up on top, grinning down at Doyle.

‘Brute,’ Doyle complained, and tried to bite. Bites turned to kisses…

‘She was your first?’ Bodie asked a little later, resting curled together.

‘In every way that mattered,’ Doyle yawned and cuddled closer. He sounded sleepy. ‘I’d done the mandatory teenage groping, got my end away a few times, but never with anyone who knew what they were doing. You know what it’s like,’ he yawned again, ‘all talk and not wanting to let on you haven’t a clue - scared as shit kissing a bird would get her knocked up…’

Bodie grinned, remembering his own adolescent fears all too well.

‘Jazz turned everything round... taught me, used me, but I didn’t mind. Dunno why me though. Funny to think she’s done it again…’ Doyle’s voice trailed off into another yawn.

‘Done what again?’ Bodie asked.

‘Mmmm? Turned everything round again.’ Doyle opened his eyes and rolled in Bodie’s arms to face him, eyes sleepy and warm. ‘Without her happy pills, I’d never have thought twice about Paul, and without Paul you’d never have thought twice about me.’

Bodie examined the logic for a moment, then decided he was so bloody happy right then he didn’t much care how they’d got to where they were.

‘Cowley’d have a fit, he could see us right now,’ Doyle said suddenly.

‘Fuck Cowley,’ Bodie said firmly, which set Doyle off into helpless giggles.

‘She’s a beautiful woman,’ Bodie said once they’d calmed down, then couldn’t resist, ‘Out of your league though, mate.’

‘Oy,’ Doyle protested half-heartedly, then grinned, ‘Yeah, you’re right. God knows what she saw in me, all those years ago.’

Bodie - frequently surprised by Doyle’s lack of awareness of his own moments of fleeting beauty - flashed back to the picture of a young Ray Doyle, hung like a trophy on Raj’s bedroom wall. He knew damn well what Jazz had seen in Ray, back then.

He kissed Doyle on the end of his nose, then hugged him tight before the vicious bugger could retaliate.

‘It’s okay,’ Bodie said, ‘I know exactly what she saw.’

Chapter 12

Two weeks later, Bodie kept the promise he’d made to himself to go back and try to find Adam. He’d already guessed the old guy would be long gone, but the empty chicken coop and the dark cottage beyond confirmed it. He pushed at the front door after a polite knock. It gave easily, left unlocked, the wood frame already starting to rot away. Cracked windows let watery light into the room beyond, and what had probably been a poor but tidy home already had an air of decay.

The living room was deserted except for a wooden table and two matching chairs, a threadbare and pockmarked rug in front of the open fire, and beyond that, a kitchen area with a plastic curtain hung across the doorway. A butler’s sink with one tap, a wooden stool, some empty shelves, another door opening onto a walk-in pantry, also bare apart from some glass jars of something brown and sludgy. Maybe home brewed chutney or pickle? Bodie couldn’t tell. The only way to cook or heat water was an old fashioned open range. The posh ladies of Chelsea got their husbands to pay small fortunes for things like that for their bijoux cottages in the country. The reality of having to actually live with one of the damned things was a lot meaner and sadder.

Bodie stood still for a long time, feeling the emptiness of the place, trying to conjure some ghost of the couple who’d lived and loved here. There was nothing. They were gone as if they’d never been.

Upstairs was equally derelict. One bedroom, no bathroom, no furniture apart from the metal frame of a double bed. The paint was peeling and mould was already darkening the corners of the walls. It was hard to imagine the old guy had still been living here until a few weeks ago.

Going back down the treacherously narrow staircase, Bodie spotted a plain wooden cross pinned to the wall with a single nail. He reached up, half-thinking to take it with him, but in the end he just touched it, running a finger along the rough wood.

Outside, he stood still for a moment, looking around. The place was utterly deserted. Maybe the old guy had taken to the woods, maybe he’d come back, looking for… what? Mail? Doubtful. Bodie’d already had checks run, trying to find anything on Adam and his deceased wife, but they’d come up blank. As though neither had ever existed.

He tore a page from his notebook, and after a moment’s hesitation scribbled: ‘Adam. Thank you for your help. I owe you – if you ever need anything, please call me here. Bodie.’ He added the official CI5 switchboard number, already certain he’d never get a call. A rusted nail over the door was sticking out of the mortar far enough to impale the paper firmly – if Adam came back, he’d see it right away. But Bodie knew in his bones the old guy had gone, faded away leaving nothing behind.

The stable was as they’d left it, though a dozen or more various agencies had checked it over. Their sleeping bags were still there too, tossed to one side, Doyle’s ancient canvas holdall underneath. Bodie scooped them up and bundled the lot into the boot of the Capri.

The main house was last on his list. The downstairs windows were all boarded over now, the doors locked. It could have been abandoned for years.

Bodie walked the perimeter, checking and checking again for any sign of life, but there was nothing. No straggling coppers, no lurking heavies, no hopeful spies in the bushes. The wind blew gently, and the last of the leaves scudded and swirled around. Somewhere a door had worked loose and banged now and then randomly in the breeze.

Bodie shivered. Bloody place was full of ghosts; he’d be glad to leave here, to forget and move on.

He was half-tempted to turn away and go, certain he was wasting his time. Anything of value would surely have been removed or pinched once the initial police activity and scene-of-crime guys had finished. Still, he’d come this far…

It took seconds to jimmy the lock on the scullery door, using more brute force than finesse to force his way in. The place was dim and still. Moving towards the front of the house he found his way into the grander rooms – a lounge with leather Chesterfields and a huge empty fireplace; what must have been the old man’s study, with an ornate carved wooden desk dominating it – the Cow would’ve salivated – and beyond was a library with the musty vanilla smell of old, unloved books.

Across a wide hallway and through double wooden doors he found a grand dining room, curiously half-lit by light coming in around the boarded French windows. The room was occupied by a massive dining table which could’ve easily seated 30, still set with glassware, cutlery, and fruit dishes of rotting black bananas and oranges which had turned green. There was such an overpowering feel of decay Bodie shuddered and drew back immediately, feet making no sound on the thick carpeting.

Down another corridor and he came to the entrance hall, all white marble columns and smooth flagstones, with a huge open fireplace opposite the front door. A wide stone staircase curved upward, shimmering and pale in the light from un-boarded windows above. Bodie pursed his lips in a silent whistle of appreciation; they’d only used the back stairs when they’d been here, missed all the front-of-house grandeur. He suddenly grinned to himself, thinking how much Doyle would’ve hated the pretentiousness of it all. Should have dragged him along…

The stone bannisters were cold and grubby with dust, and Bodie avoided them as he climbed the stairs, tempting though it was to trail his hand along their sinuous curves. Somewhere, the distant door still banged randomly, and his footsteps echoed in the still air of the hall, but other than that, the place was utterly silent, brooding. Bodie didn’t believe in ghosts or things that went bump in the night, but this place made him deeply uncomfortable. Twice, he caught himself glancing over his shoulder, instinctively reaching for his gun.

Beyond the sweep of the stairs, the corridors became more familiar. Although the light up here was brighter, the air of decay and abandonment was more profound. Bedroom doors stood open, as did the door to the upstairs sitting room where he’d been taken and beaten. He passed by with only the merest flicker of a glance inside.

The room he was looking for was at the end of the long wide hallway. The carpeting was dense and cream, and the light was odd – a mix of daylight and night-time memory rendering everything slightly unreal.

Here, he’d entered a dying man’s bedroom, here he’d felt pity, and here, just over here, he’d felt cold fury, pulled the trigger and put an old monster into his grave without a moment’s regret. What did that make him? As bad, or worse? Or simply an executioner, primed and ready, no worse in his own way than the hangman, or the vet putting down the family cat?

He stood in the doorway, and let the memories rule him briefly. Perhaps it was why he’d really come here. Perhaps Adam, the sleeping bags and the picture were all just excuses to come back to this place of endings, to stand alone in the shadows like a ghost of himself and perhaps… what? Grieve? Not for Raj. He’d had his three score and ten, and whatever had created him, made him, driven him to be the thing he was, it was too far beyond Bodie’s ability to find either compassion or regret.

Regret for Paul-honey, perhaps. He’d been funny, devious, both a victim and a survivor, grabbing at whatever and whoever would help him to the next warm meal or the next warm bed. He’d died as randomly and as easily as he’d lived, leaving behind neither name or, as far as they could tell, a family to mourn him.

Bodie sighed and bowed his head. This bloody place was too full of echoes and regrets. Hopefully, once everything was done and everyone satisfied, they’d bulldoze the whole damn thing, plant some trees, let nature reclaim it.

But he’d come for one reason at least, all the others aside. That picture.

He moved into the room, senses on full alert for an enemy which good sense told him didn’t exist. The ridiculously ornate bed was still there, down to the bedding, rumpled and looking grey in the uncertain filtered light. What had seemed bathed in gold and cream that night now seemed coated and tarnished, as though more time had passed than was possible. Bodie half-expected to see the old man’s corpse still there on the bed, possibly grinning at him, but he got a grip; the only evidence of that night were the bloodstains, dark against the bedding. Oddly not that much. Perhaps the old man had already been sucked dry by the cancer.

Bodie thought of Jazz, a child when Raj bought her, married her, raped her; thought of Doyle and his broken face, and his granny dead in a flat for weeks before she was missed, and found he really didn’t give a flying fuck about Raj or a flicker of regret for being his executioner.

As he’d thought, the pictures were gone. Probably because they were of obvious value, and even with Sonny and Raj dead there was still as estate to be wound up and beneficiaries. Hopefully, Bodie thought, if there was any justice, Jazz would get the lot.

He wondered who had removed the picture over the bed, the one he suspected was Jazz. Whoever had it, he hoped they’d have the decency to destroy the damn thing. Shame he hadn’t stuck a bullet through that too, now he thought about it. Bloody hindsight.

He was about to give up and find a pub when the edge of something in the open bathroom door caught his eye. Two or three smaller frames had been stacked inside, leaning against the cream tiles, and another few bigger paintings next to them. Abandoned for some reason… and against all the odds, the picture right at the back was the one he wanted.

He caught his breath as he disentangled it from the others, afraid it might’ve been discarded because of damage. It was unmarked. A grouping of Jazz’s pencil studies of a nude male body – a hand, a foot, the sweep of delicate collarbone – surrounding a drawing of a young Ray Doyle, lying on his stomach propped on his elbows, looking rumpled and drowsy, grinning cheekily straight at the artist. Beyond his shoulders his body was a languid stretch of muscles and long coltish legs, the rise of the perfect bottom, the bedding crumpled and soft under his body, as though he’d recently woken after making love.

He’d been all skin and bone even back then, Bodie thought distractedly.

Beyond Ray’s feet there was the suggestion of a window with billowing curtains. It was a beautiful piece of work, showing skill and balance in the artist, as well as obvious affection for her subject, and he for her.

It was the face, though, the perfect un-broken face beneath a wild disarray of curls which made Bodie unconsciously hold his breath. God, but Ray had been a beautiful young man. The sensual mouth, the straight nose, the exotic shape of his eyes, the tilt of his eyebrows as he grinned; Jazz had caught it all.

It was the same face Bodie knew and loved, but re-arranged and shifted into something not-quite-Ray.

It was the opposite way round, of course. Bodie felt something inside him lurch. Not long after this had been drawn, this innocent laughing young man had been abused by his own cousin, had killed, then been violently attacked and beaten, his whole life broken as casually as his face.

Jesus!

Bodie sniffed hard and tucked the picture under his arm. Ray was a far different creature from the boy in the picture. Tough, wild, unpredictable, violent.

His.

He’d never know the gentle unsullied Ray in the picture, but he’d treasure this sweet ghost, just as he’d love the man the boy had become, for as long as he was able.

He walked away, down the stairs and back out into the milk-pale winter sunshine.

Somewhere, behind him, a door slammed.

 

E n d