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Nice-Orno Ltd

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The briefing droned on. Not that Bodie would ever suggest the word droning within earshot of the Cow, but the grin whispering it under his breath put on his partner's features was worth the basilisk scowl the schoolboy misdemeanour elicited from the great man himself.

''Do you have something to add, Bodie?'' Cowley interrupted himself to enquire acidly.

''No, sir'' snapped Bodie instantly in response ''But I think Doyle has something to say...''

Doyle immediately smartened up his slouch and offered ''Was just saying we could do with some back up, sir.''

''Indeed?'' Cowley intoned glacially.

''Yes, sir'' Doyle assured his boss brightly ''Old ladies make Bodie nervous.''

''I should have thought that boot resided firmly on the other foot'' Cowley muttered irritably to himself, before returning his attention to his audience ''In conclusion gentleman, this is a sensitive matter and I have given the PM my personal undertaking that it will be resolved sensitively.''

This statement was followed by a general murmuring of respectful assent, intermingled with the sound of chair legs scraping across the floor, as the assembled agents rose to leave.

Bodie and Doyle turned to follow the tide of retreating agents ebbing from the room.

''Doyle, Bodie'' bellowed Cowley, ordering them back.

They came immediately to heel, as the dictates of self-preservation demanded, to await their fate.

''My patience with your antics, Bodie'' Cowley began, having identified to his own satisfaction the likely ringleader in the double act's latest act of petty insurrection ''Is not inexhaustible.''

''No, sir'' agreed Bodie.

''Or to be tested'' warned Cowley.

''No, sir'' repeated Bodie.

''I think he means 'Yes, sir' '' Doyle contributed helpfully.

Cowley eyed them both with baleful suspicion and then announced ''I have a job for the pair of you.''

''Yes, sir'' said Doyle, with an innocence bordering on insolence.

Cowley narrowed the focus of his suspicion upon Doyle ''What do you know about knitting?''

Bodie inexpertly stifled a giggle, Cowley raised a censorious eyebrow in Bodie's direction, Bodie tried manfully to produce his poker face.

''Not much'' admitted Doyle, implausibly oblivious to the by-play between his partner and his boss ''Me Mum's a dab 'and, though.''

''I shall bear that in mind'' replied Cowley disdainfully ''In the meantime, I want you at the V&A, and take the Laughing Cavalier, here, with you.''

''What for?'' asked Bodie, recklessly skirting the edge of belligerence.

''Doyle, because one of our great national museums is hosting an exhibition of valuable textiles, which will include some of the earliest examples known to the historical record, and for which they are seeking our advice with regard to security'' responded Cowley ''And you, Bodie, because I'm sick of the sight of you.''

''You have to be kidding, sir'' protested Bodie, impervious to insult ''That's a job for the W.I.''

''Not this time, mate'' contradicted Doyle ''I've read about that exhibition. They've got some pretty heavyweight stuff, sort of thing that can cause an international incident, if it gets vandalised or nicked.''

''Quite so, Doyle'' affirmed Cowley approvingly.

Bodie looked sourly between his boss and his partner and then seemed to resign himself to his fate ''Okay, then. Lead on, Macduff.''

''Dunno what you're worried about'' remarked Doyle, heading for the stairwell with a jauntiness calculated to irritate ''Cushy little number, like this. Be a doddle compared to what Cowley's stuck the rest of the squad with. You can't tell me you really wanted in on that job.''

''Wasn't the job'' replied Bodie petulantly ''It was the benefits.''

''What are you talking about?'' asked Doyle as they exited the building and headed onto the street.

''Where are you going, Doyle?'' asked Bodie.

''Bus'' said Doyle succinctly, stopping abruptly at a bus stop and sticking his hand out.

''Bus? '' demanded Bodie, scandalised.

''Yeah'' said Doyle, his arm still outstretched ''Bound to be one in a minute.''

''And why are we getting on a bus?'' queried Bodie, scornfully eyeing Doyle's obvious, if somewhat misplaced, acquaintance with the concept of a request stop.

''Parking'' replied Doyle.

''What's parking got to do with it?'' asked Bodie, scanning the empty street and wondering if Doyle's optimism would actually summon a bus.

''It's all double yellows round that way, we'll never find a meter'' replied Doyle piously ''We'll get a ticket, bring the mob into disrepute, that would.''

''Doyle'' said Bodie patiently ''Am I standing at a bus stop because you're still trying to get your leg over the Fascinating Felicity Frosty-knickers, our favourite, but unthawed, meter maid? Give it up, me old son, lost cause.''

''What d'you mean 'lost cause'?'' objected Doyle, straining his arm to its limit ''Just needs a bit of work, she likes the law abiding type.''

''And that would be you, would it?'' enquired Bodie sceptically.

''Ex-copper'' replied Doyle smugly ''Can't get more law abiding than that.''

Bodie confined his disbelief at this assertion to one slow blink and then directed his gaze heavenward for support in his hour of need.

''They don't listen to atheists'' announced Doyle gleefully as, miraculously, an ageing routemaster, complete with a whippet-lean conductor, lumbered into view.

Leaping on board, Doyle hurtled up the stairs and made a beeline for the front, closely followed by his partner. Bodie seated himself behind Doyle, leaning his back against the window as Doyle turned in his seat to face him.

''Do you even know where this bus is going?'' asked Bodie.

''Be going into town somewhere'' reasoned Doyle ''They all do, tourists love 'em.''

''Okay, Marco Polo, wake me up when we get there'' replied Bodie, shutting his eyes and snuggling down as best he could in his seat.

''You'll never get any sleep like that'' scoffed Doyle. Then, sighting the conductor at the top of the stairs, he called over Bodie's head ''This bus go anywhere near the museums, mate?''

''Nah'' said the conductor, swaying expertly towards them ''But if you're feeling healthy, I can put you off at the park and you can cut through and walk the rest.''

''That'll do'' said Doyle ''Single for me and Sleeping Beauty here, just give us a shout, eh?''

''You two don't look like tourists'' confided the conductor as he reeled off two tickets and hunted for Doyle's change ''Car off the road?''

Bodie peeled open an eyelid and offered ''We're commuters, slaves to the nine to five.''

''You're late, then'' the conductor advised him cheerily ''It's gone ten.''

''Civil Servants'' countered Doyle, pocketing his change ''Flexi-time.''

'''S'alright for some'' observed the conductor amiably, heading for the stairs ''I'll give you a shout when we get to your stop.''

''You strike out with this bird, Doyle'' muttered Bodie ''And I'm gonna throw you under a flaming bus.''

''Told you, she likes the law abiding type'' replied Doyle confidently ''What benefits?''

''Eh?'' queried Bodie, struggling to lever himself up in his seat and peer quizzically at his partner.

''You said you wanted in with the rest of the mob because of the benefits'' said Doyle ''What benefits?''

''Not that you deserve to know'' replied Bodie ''But that hall where the mad old biddy and her sister live?''

''Yeah?'' shrugged Doyle.

''Naturists'' imparted Bodie sagely.

''What, those two batty old dears?'' queried Doyle incredulously ''Cowley reckoned they're eighty, if they're a day.''

''Yeah'' dismissed Bodie ''But, it's not them, is it?''

''Isn't it?'' asked Doyle, trying to rid his mind of the images now playing in it.

''No'' said Bodie ''They run the place like a hotel, you know, for the like minded.''

Doyle winced ''You mean the place is full of starkers old dames?''

''Did you listen to any of that briefing, Doyle?'' asked Bodie, rolling his eyes in despair.

''Yeah'' answered Doyle, affronted ''You were the one mucking about. Some posh bird has invited half the debs in the country for a long weekend in the sticks, and now the Cow's in a flap because it turns out she's in big with some nutty sect. Figures they're out to brainwash the daughters of the great and the good. Reckon we're well out of it, posh birds give me a pain.''

''Since when?'' scoffed Bodie.

''Since they 'ad the sort of hyphenated parents who are gonna let us 'ave it with both bleedin' barrels for spying on their little darlings'' replied Doyle ''Not to mention the bit where the Cow has 'em hauled off to interrogation, and if the papers get wind...''

''Little naked darlings'' interjected Bodie, arching a knowing eyebrow for emphasis.

''Oh'' said Doyle simply.

''Little naked, brainwashed darlings'' continued Bodie ''All revved up and willing, just waitin' to wheedle me secrets out of me, by the oldest means in the book.''

''Oh'' repeated Doyle.

''I wasn't planning on putting up a fight'' added Bodie meaningfully.

''Sorry, mate'' offered Doyle.

''Problem with you, Doyle'' advised Bodie ''Is that you don't do your research properly. Never get anywhere sticking to the brief.''

''What about the job?'' asked Doyle, ever curious about his partner's idiosyncratic work ethic.

''Never said 'don't do the job', did I?'' replied Bodie ''Just look after number one, while you're at it.''

''Oh'' said Doyle once more.

Bodie suddenly leaned forward and gave Doyle's hair an energetic and impromptu restyling ''Trouble with you, Doyle, is that you think too much.''

''Better than not at all'' protested Doyle, grinning with indulgent chagrin.

The conductor picked this moment to reappear and announce cheerily ''Next stop is yours, gents.''