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Parsing the Sentence

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Parsing the Sentence
By
Dawnwind

The fireball sun set violently, igniting the western sky with molten lava, flames flicking the clouds. Doyle watched silently, sure that his very existence was burning up in the conflagration. All that was left of his former life was a charred corpse, ready for the grave.

If only it were that easy.

Darkness closed in around him, shadows swallowing the details, and he lowered his eyes. It wasn’t so dark that he couldn’t make out the confines of the tiny room. In fact, he could almost stretch out his arms and touch both walls.

A ten foot by six foot cell. He’d been informed, by one of the guards, that he was lucky to have the tiny window, set at eye level. Most prisoners didn’t. The window conferred a certain privilege. One that he’d only been accorded because of the level of interest from those in power.

Why, he couldn’t fathom, at this point. Like his life as a copper, he’d surely burned all bridges—not that he’d known any influential persons to begin with.

What would come next was a formality, wasn’t it? He was doomed for prison, for a decade, if not more. The judge would take a look at the evidence presented by Chief Superintendent Malachi Beacham of the Metropolitan police and send Raymond Francis Doyle straight to Wormwood Scrubs, locking the door himself.

Doyle should be furious. His old self would have been raging, railing against an unjust system bent on imprisoning the innocent. Because he was innocent. Deep inside his soul, he could sense the anger, beating his fists impotently against the mental barriers he’d erected. It came down to the fact that he couldn’t prove his own innocence.

He didn’t allow thoughts of alternate penalties other than prison. That would be too much to bear.

There was no hope. This last year had been one disaster after another—ever since the incident he’d thought would define his career. It certainly had. Put a target on his back and directed all eyes on him, with malice. Then his mum’s diagnosis and decline.

The one small ray of brightness, of joy, perhaps, because it certainly didn’t qualify as hope, was the night before his downfall. Had it only been three days ago? Seemed like a century. An evening out of someone else’s life, when he hadn’t thought of the future or the past, only that moment. Then, too many beers and an encounter he would to treasure forever.

Which is all it would be. A memory of fumbling in a dim room, hands on naked flesh, heated breath and sweet kisses. Dark hair tickling his nose and cheeks.

Doyle exhaled, pushing away the images projecting in his brain. No more. It hurt too much, and right now he needed to be numb. Frozen and alone.

The problem was, he was, by nature, a fighter. Resistance kept surfacing, bringing up questions. How and why? Where had the orders to frame him come from? Who’d given the command?

He knew the why, knew it far too well. And was afraid he’d never be allowed to testify why he’d done what he had.

~~**~~

George Cowley surveyed the court room with a critical eye. He had always kept his own counsel, and knew his own mind, no matter which way the prevailing winds indicated. On this matter, he was sure there was a side the judge had not been privy to. Why, was what he needed to know. He’d heard rumours, but not enough to reckon exactly what had led to this moment.

He had to bide his time. Apply pressure too soon and the construct fell apart, apply too late and the concrete was already hard, beyond changing.

He settled back, listening to Leland Shuster, barrister for the Crown, finish his statement. A load of rubbish without a sufficient foundation, as far as Cowley was concerned. Even the photograph Shuster’s assistant passed around: a fan of banknotes and a packet purported to be of cocaine, seemed flimsy proof.

Cowley glanced over at the defendant standing silently in the box. He seemed exhausted, in mind and body, his face expressionless as if he’d lost the ability to react. Little wonder in a case such as this one. All the evidence piled against him, and not a word, not even the chance to provide his own defence.

The poor lad looked blue in this light. Cowley shivered, pulling the collar of his overcoat higher around his neck. Had the magistrate ordered the room kept cold, to cause the defendant further suffering?

Cowley frowned. He particularly abhorred the recent custom of forcing the defendant to stand before the judge naked. The reasoning five years hence had been that it removed any chance of secreting weapons under clothing. There’d been too many situations where a prisoner had brought knives or guns into the court and instigated violence.

Cowley was of the opinion that the hard-line Traditionalists, currently the party in power, simply relished humiliating their opponents.

That his own private agenda would bring shame to the defendant was a sticking point, one he’d wrestled with in the privacy of his own glass of whisky. In the end, it would result in a greater good. That’s what he’d told himself.

“Your Honour.” Shuster touched his white wig as he turned away from the audience to face the judge. “My recommendation is that Raymond Doyle be given the full sentence as accorded by law. While a member of her Majesty’s police force, he was meant to abide by that law, not recklessly flout the rule of the land for his own gains.”

Judge Malcolm Blackstone nodded gravely, gazing at the prisoner in the dock with a stern expression. “It grieves me deeply to find those charged with upholding the law breaking those very rules,” he said ponderously, shaking his bewigged head. “There is no reason to take this to jury, the evidence is quite clear…”

“Sir,” Doyle started, clutching the front wall of the dock with both hands, his knuckles white with strain. The chains of the shackles linking his wrists clattered against the wood. “I…”

“Silence in the court!” Blackstone's gavel hit the base like a bat thwapping a cricket ball. Hard and sharp.

Doyle froze, watching the two guards with the wary trepidation of a cornered hare.

Yet Cowley sensed that the lad wasn’t completely defeated. That cheered him, gave him hope that his scheme could be accomplished. He had to use finesse, along with the connections of the old boys’ club. So useful under the right circumstances.

Shuster glared at Doyle. Even Doyle’s own counsel, a meek barrister who’d probably never represented a client in court before, waved his client to silence. Cowley suspected Mr Frazier had been picked precisely for his mousey brown hair, watery blue eyes, and barely audible voice.

“Mr Frazier, advise your client that he has lost any rights to petition this court.” Blackstone pointed the gavel at Frazier. “I will review sentencing options in chambers.“

“Yes, sir,” Frazier muttered meekly.

Cowley saw the fire that flashed briefly in Doyle’s eyes as he was led from the dock, and inwardly cheered him on. Flanked by the thickset guards, the lad was slight, with broad shoulders and wiry musculature. His narrow waist would be the envy of any young woman. The cold had brought his genitals up against his body. He tried covering them with his cuffed hands but the grip of guards’ hands forced his arms up and away from his body, in what had to be a painful position.

“Your Honour.” Cowley stood, waiting until Doyle was marched past and out to the holding cells. “If I may approach the bench.”

“The court recognises Major George Cowley,” Blackstone said sourly.

He should, Cowley thought. There was no love lost between them, but he’d lunched at the club on any number of occasions with Blackstone.

“He has no interests in this case,” Shuster protested, clutching a file folder full of papers.

At the other table, Frazier stared at Cowley in open mouthed surprise.

“I’ve got a proposal.” Cowley deliberately thickened his brogue. Nothing disarmed a victim more than the stereotype of a Scotsman with his fist on his purse and right hand on the Bible. “Which you may find advantageous—for both yourself and the prisoner.”
He didn’t stoop to sliding a bank note onto the surface of the desk.

“What makes you think I need a different solution than the Scrubs?” Blackstone asked, settling back like a poker player regarding the pot.

“A copper like Constable Doyle won’t survive a day in prison, and you’re fully aware of that. He’s surely made enemies…” Cowley began.

Blackstone raised his eyebrows, scowling. “My chambers. Mr Shuster, I will speak with you afterwards.”

“That’s not how it’s done!” Shuster took a step forward.

Blackstone waved him off. “It is in my court,” he countered, stepping away from his desk. There was a wooden door set into the paneling at the rear of the courtroom.

Cowley kept a tight rein on his elation but allowed himself a nod of superiority to Shuster. The barrister flushed the colour of puce.

A uniformed guard with the bland regard worthy of a Beefeater in front of Buckingham Palace silently opened the door, waiting while Blackstone and Cowley walked through.

The judge’s chambers were sumptuous, in direct conflict to the spartan courtroom. Blackstone sank into a thickly padded wingback chair behind a desk large enough to play billiards, and steepled his fingers. His bushy ginger brows and ruddy complexion didn’t complement the stiff white wig perched on top of his head.

“A glass of Glenfiddich, Major?” Blackstone poured himself a goodly portion and splashed some into a second glass. “State your business,” he said, drinking deeply.

Cowley didn’t immediately take the other glass. Glenfiddich certainly had its merits, but he preferred Glenlivet or a well-aged Macallan. “It has come to my attention that you favour the slavery solution on certain problematic cases,” Cowley said without preamble.

Blackstone took another drink, watching Cowley over the rim of his glass.

“Single cells are scarce in the Scrubs, and coppers daren’t be housed with the general population,” Cowley continued. “Solitary is expensive, and can cause permanent mental damage on some inmates.” He was fully aware of a suit filed by the family of a prisoner who blamed his suicide on ten years of solitary. It was a thorn in Blackstone’s side—just when the man was seeking election to Parliament.

Blackstone cleared his throat as if gargling with the whisky and swallowed loudly. “What is your interest in this disgraced policeman?”

“I’ve had my eye on him for some while,” Cowley said. “There’s no denying he’s a bonny lad.”

Cackling, the judge shoved the untouched glassful at Cowley and poured another dram for himself. “Old bean, I’d never expected you to admit to such proclivities.”

“Not for myself,” Cowley snorted. “Although, I know people who have such desires. No, I became aware of him when he testified against his fellow officers— implicating Sergeant Allyens and Inspector Norse of bribery, drug dealing, and graft.”

“Quite.” Blackstone shook his head. “The slavery solution is only appropriate in particular instances. I’m not convinced that this Constable Doyle warrants such handling.”

“When he’s spitted like a hooked fish the first day he’s in the exercise yard, the backlash of your decision won’t affect the election in the least.” Cowley lifted one shoulder as if he didn’t care which way the political winds blew and brought the glass to his lips.

“You’d hold the fate of a single inmate against me?” Blackstone bared his teeth, leaning forward. “I hold no such power over the prison system.”

“I’d wager, rather, that you do,” Cowley explained patiently, letting the smoky flavour of the whisky smooth out all negativity. His plan would work—it was to be a long game, as those in the confidence rackets said—but he could wait. Like chess, he had to make his move now whilst mentally calculating five moves ahead. “Well researched studies prove that a mix of prisoners can either ensure a efficient operation inside and out—no escapes, no violent clashes. Or,” he drank down his share of the Glenfiddich, “escalate the aggression and hostility amongst the inmates, bringing danger to those in command. If it got out that you’d incited riotous conditions by inserting a copper into the mix—“

“What’s your proposal?” Blackstone bit off the words.

“I’ve already stated my intentions.”

“The slavery solution requires utmost monitoring of the prisoner. Because the cost is borne by a third party and not the Royal government, the sentence is reduced from what it might be in prison.” Blackstone pressed a finger along one of his bushy brows. “The owner of the slave’s papers must feed, clothe—“

“Clothe?” Cowley chuckled. He’d seen nearly naked women, wearing the distinctive red bands around both wrists, loitering on the doorsteps of their residences. Brothels, to be specific. “Surely that doesn’t amount to much. Especially when forced to work menial jobs even immigrants wouldn’t touch.”

“How and what you plan to do with the slave is to your discretion,” Blackstone continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “A monthly check-in is required when the slave receives his flogging.”

He’d expected that. Whippings these days were big business—both in the advertising revenue and the medical after care. Slaves had access to so few rights, but no owner wanted their money flushed down the sewer from an infected whip slash. Even so, he hated the spectacle of it all; the posts that had been erected in a large pavilion outside the Palace as if this were ancient Rome.

“I heard that the protests against public floggings had turned the tide in Parliament,” Cowley commented, recalling the political debate Prime Minister Connelly’s slavery law had caused in 1972. Amidst objections from various factions, Parliament had quietly put the option into practice: in theory, to decrease the burden on the overcrowded penal system, and cut the number of immigrants coming into the UK. “That there was proposed legislation for lessor punishments.”

“Whims of the public in an election year.” Blackstone closed his fingers around the neck of the half empty bottle. “Once we’ve a new Prime Minister, these protests will subside.”

Or, if the Radicals gained power, the law would be repealed.

“Has a price been set for Doyle?” Cowley asked. He was done with this useless discussion. Everything hinged on having the lad in his mob. Quite probably, he could juggle those restrictions to suit his needs.

“I believe you mean to ask his remittance?” Blackstone corrected, one corner of his fleshy lips stretched up into what was probably meant to be a smile. He relished having the upper hand here. “Her Majesty, the PM, and Parliament are very clear on this subject. We do not buy and sell humans. Their debt to society is assumed by a citizen of upstanding reputation with the necessary funds.” He drew a large book out of his desk drawer.

It seemed to be from an earlier era when everything was written in ink—if not blood, Cowley reflected ghoulishly. No triplicate copies from a computer printer.

“When the Traditionalists took the majority five years ago and implemented the new regulations, the monetary compensation for specific malfeasances was set down.” He pointed to a page of numbers, all with multiple zeroes and a pound symbol on the left side. “Matters not a whit whether the purchaser pays all at once or over an agreed period of years. However, if not paid in full by the allotted time, the prisoner in question will be required to either submit the remainder of the fee or be remanded to prison for an additional sentence.”

There’d been no need to explain the process. Cowley was fully aware of the facts. He’d armed himself with every step of the procedure so there would be no surprises. It was a throwback to the feudal system, cruel and clearly biased toward those who had large bank accounts. The old fashioned Victorian workhouse/debtor’s prison seemed kind by comparison. He was cognizant that many purchasers resold their bond onto another—generally a member of the criminal underworld—resulting in prisoners who rarely escaped the stigma of slavery and crippling debt. A vicious circle, to be sure, where the purchasers, and the court, made money hand over fist. Little wonder the economy of the United Kingdom was on an upswing.

“And should I have some financial difficulty and wish to divest myself of the remittance?” Cowley asked, as if considering his choices.

“Not my affair, and the court does not condone such practices.” Blackstone nodded with a wink. “You’re keen for this plod?”

“Start the paperwork,” Cowley said firmly.

~~**~~

Bodie snagged a cup of tea from the break room before sauntering down the corridor to the controller’s office.

It’d been nearly a month since he’d checked in at CI5 headquarters. Felt odd to be walking these halls again after the three-week undercover operation where he’d worked in a Coventry motorcycle parts factory. He’d been enthusiastic at the start, visions of test riding the cycles dancing in his brain. The reality of drudge labour: screwing on a gear every thirty seconds and then tightening a wing nut before sending it on to the next bloke had nearly put him over the edge. He’d literally been a cog in the machine. In the end, the actual arrest of the suspect, the owner of the company, who’d been extorting funds from overseas sales of the parts and stashing thousands in a Swiss bank account had occurred at the man’s home. Bodie had missed out on the only exciting bit of the whole case.

He still had oil under his fingernails, but it felt bloody good to be wearing a suit and polo neck once more.

The only joy that had come from that job was having his nights free. In the past, he’d generally been assigned stakeouts and investigations during the wee hours. Being able to go to the same place regularly had been invigorating, and he’d made some friends. Especially so in the last week.

He leaned against the door frame, admiring Betty’s round derriere as she leant over the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. “Himself in?” he asked, grinning when she jumped up with a muttered curse, tugging at her skirt.

“I say, Bodie, don’t startle a girl like that!” Betty snapped, slamming the files onto her desk. “Mr Cowley’s out for the morning, but he’ll want to speak with you at half past one. A new assignment, I believe.”

“Then I’ve time to invite you to lunch, don’t I?” Bodie gave a teasing bow. He was in a good mood—memories of the bloke he’d spent the evening with on Sunday still had him on an un-medicated high. With all luck, he’d see the same man again soon, and they could exchange names. There’d been something about the slender, curly haired man that he was unable to forget.

“Not a chance.” Betty rolled her eyes, wagging her forefinger. “You’ll take advantage, like last time, and I’ll be late returning. Mr Cowley frowns on fraternization in the ranks.”

“He doesn’t have to know what happens when he’s not even in the building,” Bodie wheedled, enjoying the flirting.

“If you believe that then you’re far more naïve than I’d ever expected,” she replied tartly, with a broad smile.

The berry colour of her lipstick was a lure Bodie couldn’t ignore. Would it taste as good as it looked?

“Not naïve, petal.” He gave her a broad smile, patented to draw her in, like bees to a flower. Birds or men, didn’t matter a jot to him. If he got a chance to run his palm over her fine derriere, he could always close his eyes and pretend he was cupping the perfect arse of the bloke from Sunday.

Had to find him again. Soon!

“Bodie.” Betty put both hands on her hips, apparently not at all entranced by his come-hither smile. “Take yourself off to the local and drown that randy soul in a pint,” she demanded. “I’ll not be losing my job for the likes of you.”

“All right, all right.” He raised his arms in surrender. “I know when I’ve lost the skirmish, but I’ll continue to wage the campaign.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” she said with an impertinent wink, leaning over the file cabinet once more.

Bodie looked, but in his mind’s eye he saw a pair of legs encased in threadbare jeans. That is, right before the angel dropped to his knees to service Bodie’s exposed cock.

~~**~~

Doyle stood dully beside the open door of the holding cell, his eyes on the small sliver of blue sky showing through the window. How many more times would he be allowed to go out before he was permanently locked behind iron gates? He was still shivering from the brief walk from the van into the holding cell. To the guards in their militaristic blue uniforms, the wind must have been chilly. For him, starkers and shackled, it was like an ice storm straight from the North Pole.

“You’d best put on the overall,” the kinder of the two guards said gruffly. Then, as if he’d forgot up until that point, he unlocked the chains connecting Doyle’s wrist cuffs. “Lunch’ll be brought in directly.”

“’E looks quite a treat, bare-arsed, though,” the other one said.

Doyle wanted to strangle that one. Strange that in all that had happened in four days, a hand fondling him roughly was the single incident that had him blazing. Exactly what he’d yearned for most of his adult male life was now anathema. He sucked in air between chattering teeth, snatching up the blue denim outfit. No pants, no vest, just the overall.

Keeping his back to the snickering duo, he climbed into the covering garment. He’d basically zoned out through the entire trial, such as it was. Foregone conclusion—his life as a copper, as a citizen of good standing-- was done for. The judge hadn’t seen him for who he had been, just the fabricated evidence brought forth by that toad of a barrister, Shuster. The other one, meant to defend him, had been so cowed by the whole ordeal, Doyle’d almost felt an ounce of pity.

Now, desolation weighed him down. Had the guards not been watching him dress, he would have knotted the legs together into a noose and—how? How to hang oneself in cell of this size? No overhead beams or pipes. Even the bars separating him from freedom had only a single crossbar at waist level. Nothing to hang down from.

While covertly examining the room for ways to kill himself, the urge died, altered into something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Not hope, certainly, but for now, the despair had lessoned a fraction. He could breathe, just a bit. Possibly it was the modicum of warmth and modesty provided by clothing.

When—Doyle took the time to look at the nicer guard’s nametag—Ferdinand brought the meal tray over and slid it through the bottom slot in door, he actually picked up the cheese sandwich. He hadn’t any appetite for days, not since he’d been shoved into this cell that first nightmarish day. Naturally slender, even he could tell he’d lost some weight. Needed to eat, didn’t he? That’s what mum used to tell him when times got hard and his da beat the living crap out of him.

His mum used to keep a small hand-printed card with Churchill’s famous quote in her pocketbook. If you’re going through hell, keep going.

Unexpected tears pricked his eyes. Doyle ducked his head, taking a bite of tasteless white bread and amazingly bland Cheddar. He’d been sure he was beyond feeling anything but depression, but thinking of his feisty mother who’d endured a hellish marriage to raise six children, mostly on her own, proved his undoing.

He’d survived the funeral on liquor and bravado, managing to keep his grief private, even from his sisters’ condemnation, and for what? To return to this nightmare, renounced as a copper, accused of crimes he’d never committed, and tossed in jail. Hunched over the plate, he allowed himself to mourn. But only for a moment.

All, right, Mum, he thought, swallowing. The wad of bread and cheese stuck in his throat, almost succeeding in choking him before he washed it down with a drink from the plastic cup of water that accompanied the sandwich.

I’ll keep going.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough for now. After two bites, and the entire cup of water, he lay down on the bench and slept.

~~**~~

“Bodie.”

George Cowley’s pale blue-eyed scrutiny had always felt like an examination that would discover something lacking in his personality. Bodie resisted the urge to squirm, waiting until the controller spoke again. He and Cowley had a good relationship, all things considered. Bodie’d never had much of a father figure, and even to himself, he would admit that his career choices, from mercenary to the SAS, had been in relentless pursuit of an authority figure he could thrive under. George Cowley had been that man.

“You’ve worked without a partner at CI5 for too long,” Cowley said as an opening statement. He waved a hand at the chair opposite his desk and then folded his hands as if he had all the time in the world.

Unexpected, to be sure. Bodie nodded, taking the seat. He’d sat there many a time since his recruitment to CI5 two years before and had never been disappointed. The investigations were demanding, interesting, and fulfilling. Barring the last one, that is. He would have preferred to be in the group that stormed the castle, so to speak. Go in and wipe the ground with the suspect, not back with the rank and file supporting the warriors.

“Did you have someone in mind, sir?” he asked politely, mentally reviewing the other members of the squad. While he’d worked with all at one time or another, generally as part of a team, none had ever clicked.

“A new man—he’ll be brought in soon. You’ll be his mentor,” Cowley explained.

Bodie’s heart sank. Some bloke he’d have to train? He wasn’t encouraged. “What’s his background?”

“Former copper, most recently a detective constable in the drugs squad,” Cowley went on. He opened a file, reading from the printed information. “Raymond Francis Doyle, born January 27, 1945, unremarkable education, joining the Metropolitan Police in 1971.”

“And?” Bodie was no fool. There had to be a damned good reason Cowley was touting a mid-level copper as a good fit for CI5.

“He received both commendations and criticism for turning in fellow officers on charges of graft, drug dealing, and bribery.” Cowley took off his spectacles, toying with the side piece thoughtfully. “You may have read about that in the papers.”

Bodie sat up straighter, recalling the ensuing scandal. Not only had the plod turned in his own kind recently, he’d implied that many others in the department were corrupt. “Not destined to make friends,” he commented. Probably some pinched-nose do-gooder who’d be hell to work with. Bodie liked to see how far a rule could bend before it snapped in two. This bloke didn’t sound like his sort at all.

“As of today, Doyle is sitting in the London jail, having been tried for dereliction of duty, stealing bank notes, and drugs which were taken in as evidence, in addition to perjury.”

“What the hell?” Bodie blurted, stunned. His mental image of a git with a poker up his arse and the haughty expression of a head boy in public school shattered into a million pieces. “Why’d you want him at CI5?”

“Because not only do I believe he is innocent and has been framed,” Cowley said. “But I firmly believe the reason he was charged was because he was getting too close to the truth. One that would have major repercussions.”

“And you want in on that investigation,” Bodie surmised. “How, if this Doyle’s bound for the Scrubs.”

“Slavery.”

“You’re planning to pay for him?” This was his day for surprises. Cowley argued over every extra penny on an expense account. That he’d put down money meant Doyle was important.

“As the judge informed me, bond slavery means that one does not own the person, but his remittance. Once that has been paid, he’ll be freed.”

“Until such time, you plan to drill into his head, extract all he knows, and go after whomever’s controlling the corruption scheme.” Bodie snorted. Typical Cowley. The man had never met a challenge he couldn’t twist, turn, and manoeuvre into an opportunity to right a wrong. “And in the process, pull Doyle out of the fire. What happens if you find he’s been involved all along?”

“Then he’ll receive what he deserves,” Cowley replied acerbically. “Until such time, he’ll be under your watch.”

“Why?” Bodie asked.

“Because I think you need the discipline far more than he does.”

What the hell did that mean?

Bodie never got the answer.

~~**~~

“Out with you,” Ferdinand’s partner bellowed, unlocking the cell door with a large key.

Doyle rolled over, eyes gummy with sleep. How long had he been out? Seemed like moments ago he’d choked down a few bites of bread and cheese. Now it was clearly morning, from the weak light coming through his window. A single step further into his dismal future.

“I said, out!” The burly man stooped, grabbing Doyle by the upper arm, and basically lifted him onto his feet. “Time’s wasting.”

Without a chance to use the facilities, nor even understand what was happening, Doyle surprised even himself by resisting. He clamped his fingers around the thick plastic tubing that made up the hard cot, which was bolted to the floor. Gritting his teeth, he focussed directly on the guard’s badge: his name was McCordie. “Give us a mo, will you?” he asked more pleasantly than he’d expected. “I’ll take a leak, make myself presentable, yeah?”

“You’ll be a sight more presentable out of these overalls.” McCordie grinned maliciously. “We got ‘nough time to…get ‘quainted this morning whilst our Ferdie’s got yard duty.” He gave Doyle a shake like a dog with a rodent.

There was no contest, Doyle hadn’t anywhere near the strength of McCordie, not after four days of minimal food. His head and shoulders knocked back against the wall from the force of McCordie’s blow and his arm went numb, the fingers slipping easily from around the pipe. Belly tight with apprehension, he attempted to push away from the larger man, but McCordie tightened his grip on Doyle’s arm and slipped the other around his waist.

“Let go!” Doyle hissed. He didn’t have to guess what was going to happen next. All those kinky teenage fantasies of handcuffs and being shoved against a wall while his captor ground relentlessly into his arse came back to haunt him.

“We’re walking down to the prep room nicely, aren’t we, Ray?” McCordie said into his ear, oily disdain in every syllable. “And if anyone else sees, you’re a model prisoner. Compliant, eager to please.” He force-marched Doyle out the cell door and down a different corridor than they usually went, in the opposite from the door to the outside world. “Or things’ll go a great deal rougher all ‘round.”

They didn’t walk far. McCordie herded Doyle into a beige room with several chairs similar to those barbers use, and floor to ceiling locked cabinets. A rough shove sent Doyle to his knees. He bit back a groan of pain, determined not to show weakness. If this was what he had to do to survive, so be it. He could handle the abuse.

“Take it off, quick-like.” McCordie waggled a finger at the denim overall.

“More of a challenge if it’s on, innit?” Doyle bared his teeth, scrabbling backwards to the wall.

“I could always rip it off, but that’s much more difficult to explain.” McCordie reached down, yanking him to a stand.

Unfastening the snaps one-handed, Doyle forced an inner resilience. He was at a disadvantage, but there were ways to fight, even if they occurred long after the trauma. His mother had taught him that. Police training had taught him hand to hand combat and how to repel an attack. Which would be the most effective here?

“There now, that’s the spirit.” The guard nodded when the garment hung off Doyle’s shoulders, exposing his chest and crotch. “That’ll do.” McCordie hauled him over to a pole Doyle hadn’t noticed at the back of the room. There were cuffs dangling from a crossbar.

“Don’t have to do that, mate,” Doyle protested, going for a smile. He was sure that failed miserably. “I know what you want. No need for…”

“Then oblige, bampot.” McCordie grinned, pushing Doyle to his knees. “Open wide.”

He took down his flies with alacrity, glancing behind them at the door. Doyle couldn’t look away from McCordie’s thick, hairy cock. It’s been ages since he’d—

In for a penny, in for a pound. He sheathed his lips over his teeth, swallowed saliva, and took in half the man’s length. His belly roiling at the overwhelming scent of cologne mixed with something nastier, Doyle sucked.

Banging on the door interrupted seconds later.

“Shite!” McCordie jerked upward.

Doyle’s teeth came down on sensitive flesh. He didn’t entirely mean to, but it was incredibly satisfying, nonetheless.

“Why’s this door locked?” a voice called out. “Is someone in there?”

When McCordie slammed him hard against the wall, Doyle’s vision grayed at the edges, fireworks going off in his retina.

The banging got louder. “Go fetch a key,” the voice commanded.

“Oi!” McCordie covered up, dashing across the room. “Never you mind. Just securing a prisoner—“ He swung open the door to admit a burly woman in a white overall.

Ferdinand came in behind her, clearly suspicious of his partner.

The last thing Doyle wanted was more trouble. He stood, dizzy and unbalanced, using the wall for support.

“Doesn’t look secured to me,” the woman said sourly, glancing at Doyle. “Fasten that overall, boy, no internal exam this morning.” She indicated one of the barber chairs. “Hop on up. Your future’s been decided, luv.”

“What do you mean?” Doyle asked, warming to the gruff but apparently kind woman. He quickly fastened the snaps.

“You didn’t tell him?” Ferdinand asked, obviously aware what they’d been up to.

“He were combative.” McCordie glared at Doyle. “You’re a slave now, bampot.”

Never. His blood rushing in his ears, Doyle clutched the arm of the chair. “Thought I was meant for the Scrubs,” he said evenly. No emotion, no weakness. Ever.

The woman shrugged, her plain face sympathetic. “Never given explanations, luv, just orders. Jump on up for the bracelets. Won’t take a mo.”

The bracelets. Red bands around the wrists of bond slaves. Doyle’d seen them many a time as a copper. The bands designated a slave’s non-status, as someone who could not vote, could not hold property, no longer considered a citizen. Owned, not free.

Far worse than he’d feared. In the last few days, he’d become resigned to the idea of incarceration. He hadn’t allowed himself to consider slavery. Hadn’t let the concept past his mental barriers. Shame flushed through his chest, although why slavery was far more demeaning than prisoner wasn’t something he could pick apart just then.

He had lost everything, hit bottom. There was nothing left. Where he’d once thought that he’d found his purpose, as a copper, that was all gone. He’d wanted to right wrongs, and to that end, vowed to fight the corruption he found in the midst of the Met. Instead, he’d been confronted with anger and resentment, then charged with crimes he’d never committed. Doyle went numb as he climbed into the chair.

“The name’s Donna, luv,” the woman said conversationally, nodding when he’d settled into place. She trundled over a cart containing her equipment.

He realised she’d probably done this dozens of times. She knew how awful it was, but this was her job. She got on with it, making the whole process as pleasant as it could possibly be. He might appreciate that on any other day.

The guards lurked, one on each side of the chair, far too close for comfort. Doyle kept his eyes on Donna, filtering out McCordie’s lust. Damn, but that had been close; he could still taste the thick cock in his mouth, the rank flavour like a film on his teeth. With all luck, he’d left teeth marks in the flesh.

That alone gave him solace.

“I’m to solder the bracelets on, so we’ve got to smear a bit of this jelly on your skin,” Donna said, opening a jar and applying a thick layer of Vaseline to Doyle’s wrists. Positioning his hands with the palms up, she placed a thin leather pad just below his thumbs.

He’d never given any thought of how the red bracelets were secured, but by all indications, this would be painful. His entire body clenched, preparing to bolt when Ferdinand grasped one of his arms and McCordie the other. As they held him firmly to the chair, Doyle’s horror mounted.

“Don’t—“ he started, desperate to escape.

“Luv, it’s over in seconds,” Donna assured, donning a welder’s mask, humming a tune that was halfway familiar.

Doyle wanted to give in to the lure of the music, identify the words that danced out of reach in his panicking brain.

She selected a red metal bracelet with a small gap on one side. It appeared entirely too small to get his wrist through, but that didn’t stop Donna. She efficiently shoved the band past the knob of his wrist bones, scraping a small amount of skin. “The pad keeps the solder from burning off your flesh,” she murmured gently. Picking up a slender soldering iron, she touched a length of metal solder to the red bracelet.

Intense, agonizing heat flared through Doyle’s wrist for a second, maybe two. He arched off the chair, sure the burn had gone down to the bone, but couldn’t escape. Ferdinand and McCordie forced him against the leather chair, McCordie grinning with sadistic glee.

This couldn’t be happening!

Donna added a few words to her tune. “’enry the Eighth I am…” she sang, jamming the other bracelet around Doyle’s right wrist with a quick twisting motion. “Second verse, same as the first…”

~~**~~

Adorned in nothing but the requisite red bracelets, Raymond Doyle was escorted out of the prisoner holding area into an interview room off the courtroom. In the next room, Cowley watched through the one-way mirror.

Doyle was thin and pale, his shaggy hair drooping in his eyes. He appeared even less of a threat than he had a day earlier. Cowley frowned in disapproval. He’d have to forestall the start of his investigation to restore Doyle’s health. He wasn’t paying the equivalent of an Italian sports car for a sickly man unable to do a job.

“I’ll have you know, I received more than one memo concerned that CI5 was trafficking in slavery.” Judge Blackstone crossed his arms over his barrel chest. Without his white wig and courtroom regalia, he was bulbous, thick rolls of belly fat hanging over his belt.

“I scarcely think keeping one former copper out of Wormwood Scrubs equates to trafficking,” Cowley retorted, eyes on Doyle. Little wonder Blackstone had received warnings from his cohorts; the system was riddled with corruption. Those who regularly used slaves would rightly view CI5’s tough reputation as a threat.

His scheme was already having an effect.

“Does weaken your ideals,” Blackstone offered, as if it were no skin off his nose.

“You have papers for me to sign?” Cowley asked, irritated. He agreed, in principle. Did the end justify the means? Or would it turn out to be a no-win solution, his soul tainted by using another human being as a literal tethered goat? Even if he could clear Doyle’s name of the charges, he himself would forever be changed by the process.

That was his Presbyterian upbringing talking. His rational, pragmatic side recognised that this would not be the first time—nor the last—that he had to out-think, out-manipulate, and out-con the other players. He had to live with the successes and sail past the failures.

“In duplicate,” Blackstone said, setting a sheath of papers on the table under the window. Several lines highlighted in yellow gleamed in the fluorescent lighting. “Under normal practices, the new bond slave would be remanded into the custody of the Thrall manager and sold to a master with the proper licenses at our weekly slave auction."

“I am grateful you were able to bend the rules for me, this once,” Cowley murmured, signing in the proper places. It did feel bizarre that he now had complete control over another human being. Not simply the authority he always swayed over his employees but literal possession of Doyle. A weighty responsibility that he would not abuse. He was well aware of unscrupulous men who paid the remittances of prisoners in order to use the poor souls as objects for barter or sale. Pawns in the greater game of greed and manipulation.

He again examined the prisoner, taking in a pair of bruises on Doyle’s upper arms, and a few more across his flank and hips. Those hadn’t been there before. Left a disturbing impression of his time behind bars.

“Quite an…” Blackstone paused as if searching for the correct word, “honour to work with CI5. Your reputation precedes you.”

“Indeed,” Cowley murmured, finished with his signatures. “I’ll collect him, then?”

“You are aware that a bond slave must be listed in the Bond Registry Office—where he will reside, with whom, and who takes ultimate responsibility,” Blackstone reminded pompously.

“Of course, man.” Irritated, Cowley started for the door. He’d be more than happy to bring the judge into line.

“As well as the required monthly flogging,” Blackstone added.

A self-satisfied smiled played on Blackstone’s lips when Cowley turned with a frown. “I’ve read the fine print, I’m no fool.”

“Of course not.” Blackstone inclined his head as if seeking atonement. “Not suggesting otherwise. You are new to the role…”

“I retain facts quite well,” Cowley said coldly. “If we’re done?” He marched out of the viewing room before Blackstone could respond, sensing the mounting disharmony of the other man.

A tall guard stood in front of the interview room. When he saw Cowley, his eyes immediately flicked over to Blackstone for permission.

“Major Cowley holds Doyle’s remittance,” Blackstone instructed. “Allow him access.”

As soon as the door opened, Doyle turned from his examination of the far wall. Cowley glimpsed a slight widening of his pupils but otherwise Doyle maintained his composure, no outward sign that he recognised his new master nor that he was afraid.

Good. Cowley had expected as much and was heartened that the lad’s intelligence and wit hadn’t suffered for his rough treatment. Doyle wouldn’t wilt under pressure.

“Surely you provide garments?” Cowley snapped, holding Doyle’s gaze. “The weather’s been unpredictable lately, I’d prefer he didn’t catch his death on the first day.” Doyle shifted his stance, not quite relaxing, more shoring up his defences, as if he hadn’t expected even the single kindness of clothing.

Reminded Cowley of a pup he’d had as a child, half feral, half in need of a decent home and love. He gave himself a mental shake. This was not a mercy adoption for the lad’s sake. This was an all-out assault on the establishment, using Doyle as bait. When Cowley had rounded up the suspects and proved Doyle’s innocence, then he’d celebrate a victory.

~~**~~

Riding in the back of a Ford next to his new master, Doyle wasn’t sure what to think or how to behave. He’d gone numb inside, unable to decipher one emotion from another. Who was he now? What was expected of him? Was he a servant to this man? Expected to bow and scrape, do what he was told? If so, he’d be locked into the Scrubs within a week. Raymond Doyle had never been one to blindly follow orders without question.

Still, this Cowley seemed a decent sort, so far. Breathing in deeply, Doyle felt his stomach rumble. The pittance he’d eaten the night before was long gone, and he’d had nothing since. He raised his face to the thin warmth coming through the car window. The sun was peeping out from behind a cloud, but he relished seeing it without bars. Looked to be just past noon, by his reckoning.

Could he ask for food? Or where they were headed? Or would that be perceived as bad behaviour to be totaled up and added to the whip strokes meted out monthly? He clenched his fists, watching the wrist muscles flex against the tight red bracelets. The skin felt seared and raw directly underneath the shiny soldered join. At least the prison had returned his clothes. The jeans which had fit like a second skin the last time he wore them felt alien and the t-shirt chaffed his skin as if he’d been flayed.

“I have no doubt you’re brimming with questions, lad,” Cowley said, his Scottish accent thick. “Take heart, we’ll be at headquarters soon. I’ve called in tea for both of us.” He nodded, his blue eyes gentle and surprisingly kind.

“May I speak?” Doyle asked, flicking a glance at the blonde woman driving.

“Ruth Pettifer is a loyal and highly competent agent of CI5,” Cowley said. “Anything said here won’t be repeated elsewhere.”

“So you are Major Cowley of CI5,” Doyle stated. He’d seen the man twice before his appearance in court; once at the Met talking with the Police Commissioner, and another time on the telly.

“Aye.” Cowley acknowledged, cocking his head to one side like an inquisitive bird. “And you are Detective Constable Raymond Doyle of the Met, who took your colleagues to task for their deplorable behaviour.”

“Was,” Doyle stated, bitterness on his tongue. “Won’t ever be again.”

“You exhibited a courage few possess,” Cowley went on.

“And look where it’s led,” Doyle retorted, watching the London streets go by. They were approaching a large office block a few streets ahead. Their destination? It was well known that CI5 kept a very low profile, even picking up lock, stock, and barrel to move to another location if necessary.

“To me.” Cowley nodded as if well satisfied in the arrangement.

“Why?” he asked, a tiny spark of interest flaring deep inside his soul. He hadn’t expected to be prized for himself, instead of a commodity.

“All in good time, laddie, all in good time.”

Cowley patted his knee as Ruth stopped the car in front of the large structure. It was no architectural marvel, certainly not featured on any coach tour of London for the American tourists. More a throwback to Victorian days, a drab exterior with narrow windows and little ornamentation. The rooms inside were probably cramped and dimly lit.

Much like the jail he’d just left, Doyle thought morosely.

The blonde woman hopped out of the driver’s seat and opened the door for him. Her smile was warm and friendly, although aviator sunglasses covered her eyes. What was she hiding?

He glanced back at the man climbing out of the car behind him. George Cowley was slender and slight, shorter than Doyle, but with a commanding presence and direct blue eyes that pierced a man’s soul. Why did Cowley seem to know so much about him, a low-level plod from the Met? He didn’t know whether to guard himself from the man’s influence or trust the leader of Britain’s most classified organisation. A man with that much power could be dangerous indeed, and he had the authority to bend or break rules to suit himself.

His trust in short supply, Doyle resolved to wait until his questions could be adequately answered.

There was a wheeled cart with covered dishes waiting in Cowley’s office when they walked in. The smell of roast chicken was almost more than Doyle could bear. He truly wanted to resist Cowley’s kindness, but when Ruth removed the silver covers to reveal potatoes and green beans nestled up close to the chicken, Doyle’s knees buckled. He braced an elbow against a bookshelf just inside the door, leaning into the supporting wood as if he wasn’t seduced by the succulent meat.

“Tuck in,” Cowley urged, gesturing at the plates. He took one, sitting down at a large mahogany desk.

It was then that Doyle realised there were three plates heaping with food. One for Ruth?

“I’ll fetch Bodie, then?” Ruth offered. She’d removed her sunglasses, giving Doyle a slight smile before striding out.

Who was this Bodie?

“Thank you.” Cowley cut into his chicken. “You’ll not have meals like this every day, but I thought it wise to start you out on a solid footing.”

“Smells delicious,” Doyle said, finally allowing himself to sit in one of the two chairs beside the cart. Despite the knots in his belly, the food was incredible. He hadn’t eaten this well in a long time. Even before his incarceration, he’d been subsisting on frozen meat pies and green salads. Dealing with his mother’s illness and her death, on top of investigating his colleagues, had left little time for luxuries.

Eating slowly to savour the meal, he catalogued and memorised as much as he could of CI5 headquarters. As a copper, he’d learned to be alert to his surroundings, mapping out escape routes and locations. Never knew when that knowledge would save his life.

The building consisted of three stories, according to the buttons in the lift. Cowley’s office was on the first floor, above the expected security checkpoints on the ground level, and what had looked like rooms for telecommunication, computers, and stenography.

All doors on the first floor had been closed against prying eyes as he, Cowley, and Ruth had come out of the lift. Doyle hadn’t seen a single other person except for the woman working a typewriter outside Cowley’s inner sanctum. Her nameplate read Betty Shultz.

There must be more people here—what were CI5 employees called? Spies, agents? Operatives? They must be all out in the field. The place had an oddly empty feel.

A spirited knock at the door halted Doyle’s thoughts. He turned, the chicken in his stomach turning to lead when the man entered.

What the bloody hell? What was Cowley playing at?

Images of the last night in Coventry crowded his brain, almost obliterating all intelligence. Dark hair with a hint of curl, blue eyes to drown in. Strong hands bracketing his head, holding him steady as he sucked, cold from a lino floor leaching through his trousers to his knees.

He clenched his jaw, seeing recognition in the other man’s face, and the instant all shutters slammed into place, those blue eyes going hard and flat.

Now he was even more confused.

“Bodie,” Cowley called out, beckoning him in. “Come in, come in.”

“Sir.” Bodie practically clicked his heels together and saluted, his nose twitching with the scent of the chicken. “I could smell the poulet roti all the way down the hall.”

“Laurent, the chef from Maubeuge, prepared the meal,” Cowley said, eating more chicken and potatoes. “You were correct, his technique is excellent.”

“Thought you’d like it.” Bodie collected his plate, turning to Doyle. “Bodie, A Squad,” he introduced himself.

Doyle caught the minuscule shake of his head. The manner that they’d originally met was private, not to be discussed in front of the Scotsman. “Ray Doyle,” he responded quietly. Did Bodie already know about his status?

“Indeed,” Cowley murmured when Bodie was seated, shoveling in his lunch. “Doyle, because I have numerous people to oversee, meetings with governmental ministers to attend, etcetera, I am unable to monitor your—“

“Slavery,” Doyle said bluntly, baring his teeth. He was no longer remotely hungry.

“Sentence,” Cowley substituted smoothly. “As such, Bodie will supervise, but the two of you will, I trust, operate more as a team as you get to know one another.”

“What exactly do you expect me to do?” Doyle demanded, anger he’d thought dead and buried erupting so suddenly his hands were shaking.

“He fancies investigating the Met,” Bodie said, his scouse coming to the fore. “And you’re the spanner to prise open the lid.”

“Bloody hell?” Felt like all the air had been knocked from his lungs. Doyle stared first at Bodie, then Cowley.

“Aye.” Removing his spectacles, Cowley gave Bodie a small, fond frown. “Not quite the way I would have outlined the scheme, but that has the shape of it.”

“Not possible,” Doyle said when he could speak. He’d never in a million years expected this. To be taken seriously. “Too many people involved.”

“You tried.” Bodie shrugged, spearing a boiled potato with his fork.

“I was a fool.” Doyle shook his head: all those lofty ideals had tumbled like a poorly assembled stack of blocks.

“How high do you reckon the corruption goes?” Cowley asked quietly.

Inhaling, Doyle thought for a moment, wishing he hadn’t destroyed most of his notes. He’d been a fool, but not a complete witless sod. Once he’d connected Allyens and Norse, and gone before his superiors with his evidence, he’d been fully aware that the axe would fall on his own neck sooner than later. No-one likes a snitch, least of all a colleague. After providing the internal review board with exactly what would prove his claims, he’d burned what he had on hand. Pictures of Allyens with mobster High Hat Dolan, and the scribbled notes he’d taken from interviews with a couple of addicts who knew their pusher was a copper named Norse. There were a few more items, less incendiary, tucked away but nothing so incriminating. “At least to Chief Superintendent Malachi Beacham,” he said miserably. The man he’d initially thought on his side.

“Unless I miss my guess—“ Cowley began.

“And he rarely does,” Bodie put in.

“The links in the chain extend farther than that,” he continued, tapping a pad of paper with the earpiece of his glasses. “Beacham is Judge Blackstone’s nephew.”

Doyle went cold inside, recalling the judge’s condemnation of his actions. No wonder they’d thrown the book at him. “Then he’ll suspect what you’re up to.”

“I intentionally dealt with him directly whilst negotiating your remittance.” Cowley steepled his fingers, regarding Doyle so intently he felt like a bug under a microscope. “To judge his suspicions. While he acted as though he had reservations about using the bond slavery option, and cautioned me on specifics, it was my opinion that he was intrigued that the head of CI5 would go that route.”

“Ah.” Bodie chuckled. “He assumes your standards have lowered, that paying Doyle’s remittance levels the pitch, and that CI5 is as corruptible as any other department.”

Doyle listened with consternation, not yet ready to put his trust in these two.

“Which is exactly the assumption I want him to make.” Cowley gave a curt nod, taking a last bite and pushing away his plate. “Just as he believes I have played into his hands, and now am vulnerable to blackmail, extortion or some other means of coercion, I have manoeurved him into exactly the same position.”

“Machiavellian,” Doyle muttered. “He’s been involved in this for some time, has protection, safeguards…”

“Just as I have,” Cowley said confidently. “I won’t mince words, lad, this is dangerous, as are all the operations CI5 is involved in. This is a power structure, and disassembling it won’t be easy, but it’s necessary for the smooth running of an ethical and democratic government.”

“Which uses slaves,” Bodie snarled.

Doyle stared at him, surprised. He’d never supported the law. It had been enacted by Parliament soon after he started at the Met, and there was no use protesting by then. He’d been charged with upholding laws, not pulling them down. As a cop, he encountered many unfortunate people caught in the horrible situation—a huge majority of them worked in the sex trade or in the low-paying jobs few British citizens wanted. The proponents of bond slavery claimed it kept the country running smoothly.

“Never been right to take away freedoms, choices,” Bodie said with a twist of his mouth. “I saw whole enslaved families working in the mines in the Congo. Wasn’t pretty.”

“Not our place to argue the points of an unjust law.” Cowley stood, walking over to a small drinks cart. “But to operate within the confines—and having judges, barristers, quite probably members of Parliament, using the law to line their own pockets as well as subjugate citizens without due process of their rights.” He selected whisky from a cluster of bottles and poured three small drams. “Aye, slaves may not have all the rights afforded most British citizens, but they do have them, and it’s our job to protect.” He handed glasses to Bodie and Doyle. “We’ve a long afternoon ahead of us. Into the night, I wouldn’t be surprised, so drink up. There’ll be another dram later, when we’ve accomplished something.”

“What is it you’re proposing we do?” Doyle asked. “I’m not usually this thick—“

“Pick your brain, old son,” Bodie said, with a rather fiendish grin. He drank his whisky down in two swallows. “Everything you can recall, whether you’ve got the physical evidence or not.”

“Start with Allyens and Norse, lead us through your investigation,” Cowley encouraged, sipping his own drink. “You came to my attention about six months ago, during a drugs case you were involved in.”

“High Hat Dolan,” Doyle supplied, impressed.

“We’ve bumped into the sod once or twice ourselves,” Bodie said, reaching over to push Doyle’s hand holding his whisky glass to his mouth. “Get that under your belt, lubricate the brain cells.”

“Dolan’s operations extend widely throughout London and southern Britain,” Cowley said. “I’d planned to talk to you—possibly, offer you a position here when—“

“I got arrested.” Doyle tasted the whisky, rolling the smooth, smoky flavour around on his tongue. “We couldn’t touch Dolan,” he said, feeling the alcohol penetrate all those frozen, traumatized places he’d hidden deep inside. “He had layers upon layers of protection, and always seemed one step ahead. I talked to a couple of grasses, and one finally let loose the name Inspector Norse. Didn’t want to believe it at first, you know?” He could still recall the visceral shock and disgust that one of his colleagues would be involved in dealing drugs. Made a weird logic—a cop investigating the drugs scene would know exactly who and where the deals would be occurring, and be able to shoehorn his way into the biz.

Cowley slid on his specs again, reading from a folder. “Inspector Jacoby Norse, twenty-year veteran of the Met when he was charged with multiple counts of drugs dealing, vice, and extortion.” He shook his head ruefully. “Even Shuster and Blackstone couldn’t discount the overwhelming evidence once it came to light, and he had to be jettisoned. His partner in crime was Sergeant David Allyens?”

Although he’d couched it as a question, Cowley already knew the answer, Doyle was certain. “Yes. He was the man on the street, the go-between since Inspector Norse had to appear to be investigating crime. I was already trailing Dolan’s people, off the clock, actually, so my superior wasn’t aware I was in the area—and I saw Allyens meeting with Dolan.”

“So did I,” Bodie spoke up, leaning forward. “Undercover. At The Falconer’s Club. As you said, Dolan’s got layers between himself and any illegal activities. Even when I saw ‘im talking to Allyens, they appeared to’ve bumped into one another at the nightclub.”

“Did you make any arrests?” Doyle asked, his interest piqued despite his reservations. Being this close to the man haunting his dreams for the past week was confusing and yet his treacherous cock was aroused. Would he and Bodie continue what they’d started? Bodie was funny, incredibly sexy and intelligent—everything Doyle had ever wanted in a man--but the pitfalls were enormous. The fact that he was a slave—something he still was having difficulties wrapping his brain around—made any liaison between the two of them dangerous.

“I was s’pposed to a low-level mobster angling for a position in Dolan’s squad,” Bodie answered. “But Dolan’s paranoia was rampant and I couldn’t get close. Had to bow out. We’ve still got eyes on his mob, but never got a leg in. Thinking maybe you’re our bait.”

“For sex.” Doyle only just got the words out in a normal tone of voice. His brain was screaming that they were only being kind to lure him into complacency. This was a trap and he’d fallen hook, line, and sinker.

Cowley cleared his throat loudly in the sudden silence. “If it comes to that,” he admitted. “But slave trading is a big business in itself.”

“So this is all just…a setup, using me like some kind of pawn in a massive chess game?” Doyle snarled, coming to his feet. “How many moves do you propose?”

“Sit down, sit down,” Cowley said irritably. “Chess is an apt metaphor, but I assure you, this is no parlour game. There will be no forced sex nor bloodshed under my watch.”

“What if I refuse?” Doyle challenged. He’d already been nearly raped in the jail; he’d rather die with his back to the wall than go down without a fight.

“I stand by what I just said,” Cowley answered, his face softer, clearly aware of Doyle’s anguish. “Coercion is not my intention. Toppling these men off their thrones is. If you’d prefer to remain behind the scenes, I’ll not force you.”

“Bringing down these bastards is the goal.” Bodie looked at him steadily over the rim of his glass before holding the vessel out to Cowley for a top-up. “You started this on your own, it’s time you got some back-up, my son. Sounds like you know where some of the bodies are buried.”

“3.7, you’ll have more when we’ve done some actual work,” Cowley chided with a twinkle in his eye.

Bodie pushed out his bottom lip in a pout, blue eyes calculating as if he were figuring out a way to circumvent the rule.

The old man was hard as nails, but Doyle sensed a core of fairness and strict moral code. Bodie was even more of an enigma, a jokester with strong ethics and quite possibly a devious streak. Could he really trust these two?

He had to start somewhere. Wearily lowering himself into his chair again, Doyle drank down the rest of his whisky, coughing when the burn hit the back of his throat. “Started because I kept having to drive to Coventry to visit my mum. She was dying of cancer, and I’d sit by her bed, mulling over things I’d seen or connections I’d made at the Met. Kept coming to the same conclusion, and they weren’t pretty.” Once he started talking, he couldn’t stop.

~~**~~

Doyle was sleeping sitting up, his head reclined back enough to rest on the bookcase behind him. Bodie stole a look, marveling in the unexpected collision of his private and public lives. He would never have anticipated such a turn of events. How did he handle this? Work with Doyle, who was, in the eyes of the law, currently a slave? What little he knew of the man, Doyle was not naturally submissive—he’d been willing to be on the bottom on their initial foray, but Bodie had sensed an unquenchable fire inside.

The bloke was clearly exhausted. They’d been digging into the fine points of Doyle’s research, hammering out specifics on what could be done immediately, and what could be shelved at present, for hours. Bodie’s back was cramping in the uncomfortable chair. Little wonder that Doyle had nodded off after such a day. What indignities had he faced in prison, sentenced to slavery?

Bodie had only seen him the one time, last weekend, and mostly in the dark bedsit, but it was clear Doyle was thinner. The red bands around his wrists emphasized how slender he was. No ten stone weakling, though, that was obvious. He would not have survived being a copper, not to mention prison, without inner fortitude. Bodie was caught between revulsion at what had been done to him, and admiration for his stamina.

Where did that leave them? He truly did not want to be Doyle’s—what had Cowley stressed? He didn’t own Doyle outright, he owned his debt. Essentially, didn’t that mean he had control over the man until the debt was paid off? Or, more to the point, until they proved his innocence.

From what Doyle had said, evidence that framed him must have been planted in his house on Sunday night. The same Sunday that Bodie could provide an alibi for Doyle. However, there was no way either of them would ever bring what had happened to light.

It burned deep in Bodie’s gut. He’d lusted after Doyle ever since their encounter but now—they couldn’t possibly have a future together, that was for certain.

Cowley was lost in the accumulated stack of information, scratching notes on a yellow pad, and muttering to himself, as if he’d completely forgotten the other two were still in the room.

“Sir?” Bodie stood, stretching his back.

“3.7!” Cowley exclaimed, his blue eyes magnified behind his spectacles so he resembled a startled owl. “This will work, there’s no doubt. We’ll bring down an entire cadre of corrupt men.”

“What are we to do with this one?” Bodie waved a hand at Doyle. His mouth was open, tongue peeping out between his teeth. Bodie’s cock took the opportunity to remind him of the fun Doyle had provided days earlier.

“Take him to your flat.” Cowley removed his glasses with a nod as if the matter was all decided.

“There’s just the one bed,” Bodie protested, although a part of him didn’t want to.

“Aye?” Cowley frowned slightly, tapping the earpiece of his glasses to his bottom lip. “Tomorrow we’ll shuffle you to another place. Time for a change of address, eh?”

Quite true. Bodie wasn’t sure how Cowley kept such vast myriad details straight in his head. “The couch for me, tonight, then,” he said, nudging Doyle’s shoulder. “Sunshine, let’s be going.”

He was on his feet in a single movement, green eyes wide with alarm. Fight or flight turned up too high. He contained himself in less time that Bodie expected, shuttering all emotion behind his beautiful, rough-boy exterior.

Cowley’s expression was far easier to read: the reality of Doyle’s slavery troubled him more than he was willing to say. He sighed, settling his glasses back on his nose as if the procedure was all important.

“To mine,” Bodie said to Doyle’s unasked question.

~~**~~

London’s trendy neighbourhoods flashed past the windows of the silver Capri, but Doyle didn’t pay much attention. He felt on high alert, more so even than when Cowley had fetched him from prison. Now he had a weird, possibly misplaced, determination—there was the remotest possibility that he could clear his name with the help of CI5, bizarre as that seemed.

Neither of them had spoken since Bodie drove away from the kerb. There was probably some protocol about a slave speaking without permission, but Doyle had a suspicion that Bodie didn’t hold with such fash. He’d banked his own anger at seeing Bodie again at CI5 but now, flames were increasing inside his chest, seeking something to char. Had this been a colossal set-up from the get-go with him as a game piece?

“I ain’t doin’ nuffin’ for your lot,” Doyle said, using a rougher accent to emphasize his anger without losing control. “Until I get answers.”

“Cowley doesn’t know about us,” Bodie said promptly, as if he’d been able to read Doyle’s mind.

Some of his bluster deflated, Doyle sat back in the seat, examining the other man before continuing. Bodie was one of the handsomest men Doyle had ever met. Pale skin that seemed to gleam with inner light, dark hair, and gorgeous blue eyes. He’d been immediately smitten, the week before in Coventry. It had been a long time since he’d allowed himself the…what to call it, certainly not luxury. Perhaps indulgence was the bon mot, to admire a man and kneel in front of him, taking a cock into his mouth. He’d never, not once, done it so wantonly, anonymously, but mum’s slow demise and then death had numbed his soul, particularly on top of the animosity at the Met. He’d succumbed to a deep need to feel.

He hadn’t cared about anything after the funeral. He’d have welcomed pain as much as pleasure. Almost tried to pick a fight but that took too much effort. Submission, though—submission to a man who should have been on the catwalk showcasing masculine perfection had been sublimely easy. He’d followed Bodie up the stairs to the rooms above the bar without a single thought of anything other than want.

They’d never turned on the lamp, lunging into each other once the door closed. Doyle could still pinpoint exactly where Bodie’s fingers had pushed into him, holding his arse as they kissed. Doyle remembered Bodie’s scent—machine oil mixed with a whiff of heady masculinity. The beers he’d drunk hadn’t gone to his head as quickly as that aroma. Doyle had dropped to his knees and opened his mouth, ready to be debauched. He’d taken Bodie’s cock in his mouth, aware of nothing else except the thick length blocking his breath. He’d sucked and licked, brain cells dimming from lack of oxygen, exactly what’d he’d needed. When Bodie came in his mouth, thick fluid clogging his throat, he’d felt himself lifted up, placed on a divan to rest.

Bodie stepped into the loo for a wee and Doyle had fled, his head still swimming. In retrospect, he wasn’t at all sure why. Remorse didn’t enter into it, neither did penitence. It felt more like he’d needed a place to hide, to savour what had happened alone.

Unable to go to his mother’s house one more time, he’d driven back to London and found his life in tatters.

“Did you set me up?” Doyle asked with blunt force, despite his surprise that Bodie had so easily known what he was thinking.

“Never.” Bodie pulled the car to a halt beside the kerb.

A shadowed building loomed over the car, gothic as a gargoyle. Doyle grit his teeth, ignoring the old fashioned menace of the place. “How was it you were in Coventry, then?”

“I go where the old man sends me,” Bodie replied, making no move to get out.

“Dolan has no purchase there, Coventry’s Castor’s patch.”

“Wasn’t working on the Dolan case for the last month.” Bodie set both hands in his lap as if planning to stay awhile.

Or maybe to keep them off Doyle’s arse. Doyle grinned savagely to himself—he had weapons at his disposal, whether he used them or not.

“It’s not all double O seven crap,” Bodie continued with a hint of scorn, “I was a cog in a motorcycle shop whilst other agents were mopping up the international extortionist.”

Which explained the scent of motor oil that clung to Doyle’s memory. “So you just pick up men for the ‘ell of it.”

“Wasn’t hell,” Bodie said softly, turning toward him. “This is a cockup, no pun intended, all the way round. I don’t want this any more than you do, and I’d gladly get into me TARDIS, go back a week, and introduce myself, tell you I want to get to know you better.” He petered out as if he had to take a breath.

His ire vanished completely leaving a weird emptiness behind. Doyle wanted the anger because anything was better than not knowing how to go on. “Cowley didn’t leave any specific instructions,” he said, feeling off-kilter.

“Never fear, old son, he will,” Bodie snorted, humour reasserting itself. He climbed out of the low slung car. “As for now, sleep, perchance to dream.”

“You quote Shakespeare?” Doyle commented. Bodie wasn’t at all who he’d imagined on their first meeting.

“I can quote any number of poets, writers, intellectuals,” Bodie said, playing with a posh, Etonian style accent. “Misspent youth, and all.” He unlocked the front door, leading the way into the building.

Doyle glanced around the lobby, somewhat in awe. It was not the sort of building a plod could afford, or an agent for CI5. Probably built one hundred years earlier, with a creaky but gorgeous lift, all metal fittings and filigrees.

“Don’t trust that thing,” Bodie waved a hand at the lift. “And Ol’Macklin will say the walk up’s good for the heart.” He mounted the stairs to the first floor. “My flat’s up one.”

“Macklin?” Doyle repeated, as he knew Bodie’d expected. He didn’t really care. He just wanted plans straightaway that untangled this wicked mess before his appointment to be flogged came due.

“You’ll meet him in time.” Bodie said less than cheerfully, ushering him into the flat.

High ceilings and crown moulding spoke of an elegant, genteel past, but as with the exterior, there was a creepy element that couldn’t be denied. Bodie flicked on the light in the lounge, leaving the kitchen and corridor in shadows that didn’t do anything to dispel the spookiness.

“Can’t fathom why some wealthy bloke hasn’t snatched up this flat,” Doyle said, wrinkling his nose. It was, of course, quite cold without central heating or even a coin for the gas register. His bare, cement cell had been warmer.

“Exactly the reason CI5 is able to secure the place for operatives. I haven’t spent much time here, and Cowley’s going to shift us this afternoon to a new address,” Bodie said, heading into the loo. He returned after a minute with a towel and soap. “You look like you could use a good night’s sleep, take the bed in the back room.”

Admittedly exhausted, Doyle had assumed he’d be relegated to a blanket in the corner or some such Victorian version of a slave. “Where will you be?” he asked. After the discussion in the car, he knew Bodie wasn’t going to continue their original familiarity.

“I’ll kip on the settee. Actually more comfortable than that mattress,” Bodie threw over his shoulder, rummaging around in the narrow kitchen. “Swiss roll?”

“No thanks. Could sleep standing up,” Doyle answered, holding the towel in front of him as if he were still naked. He felt off-kilter, unable to maintain one emotion or thought for more than a moment. Thoughts of his mum welled up, that final straw that could break his back if he allowed it to. Turning, he headed into the shower. If he cried at this point, the water would hide the tear tracks.

He wasn’t going to cry.

~~**~~

“Rise and shine!” Bodie called out, peering around the door. Doyle was almost buried under the duvet, only his curls peeping out above the fluffy spread. Doyle intrigued him—aroused him--more than he supposed was at all safe. It wasn’t just the wary angel’s face, exotic greeny-blue eyes, and riotous curls. The cunning intelligence he could sense lurking under Doyle’s understandably guarded exterior. Why in the world would Doyle trust them after what had been heaped on his head? A relationship of any sort was clearly off the table —Bodie could easily imagine the charges of impropriety, possibly even sexual misconduct that could be directed at him if Doyle did overcome his current sentence.

The best course of action was to operate as colleagues, mates of a sort, in an unusual situation and ignore the lust he felt churning in his loins. Bloody hell, he hated Cowley’s crafty doublethink.

“Wha’ time z’it?” Doyle slurred, sitting up.

He was starkers, and the sight of his bare chest sent frissons of sex to Bodie’s cock. What a way to start the morning.

“Coming on eight. BBC radio is blasting ABBA and The BeeGees.” He gave himself one last look to fuel his fantasies.

Doyle frowned, glancing at the pile of clothes at the end of the bed. “I’ll need to put them in the washer,” he said, obviously uncomfortable.

Bodie hadn’t given a thought to the fact that Doyle hadn’t brought an overnight case. He wasn’t one to notice what others wore, generally speaking, but now that he remembered, those threadbare jeans and the t-shirt looked very much like what Doyle had on the night they’d met. “Been wearing those all week, then?” he asked.

“Well, no,” Doyle snarled. “Wasn’t wearing anything at all.”

The immensity, the degradation of Doyle’s lot hit home for Bodie. He prided himself on sartorial splendour, enjoyed going to the tailor for a bespoke suit.

“You want the view?” Doyle tossed back the duvet, climbing out of bed. “Have your fill. Then leave me the hell alone.”

Stung, Bodie chided himself for his raunchy daydreams, standing there for two beats as if naked men in his bedroom were a common occurrence. “Dressing gown in the closet,” he said with forced cheer. “I’ll toss those in with me own unmentionables and tote them down to the washer in the basement. Persil will get out any stains.”

Doyle stared at him as if unsure whether he was being made fun of or given a chance at dignity. He stalked past Bodie to the closet, straight as a soldier, the bones in his spine starkly visible down his back. Donning the dressing gown, Doyle nodded, some of the starch gone out of him. “I’ll be having a shower.”

Bodie clenched his jaw, adding the clothes to his laundry hamper. He spent the trip down the stairs thinking up blistering responses, but had regained his equilibrium by the time he was loading the washer. Doyle deserved his independence. If Bodie had to hide his attraction for another man, so be it. Certainly would not be the first time he’d done so.

Collecting the newspaper on the trek back up to his flat, he figured he’d sorted out his own mess. The headline in the paper brought it all back like a punch to the solar plexus. ‘Sloane Square Man enslaves own Baby’.

What the hell? Bodie tossed rashers of bacon into a skillet and slotted bread into the toaster, trying to read at the same time. The tycoon had paid the bond on a young woman, used her as a kitchen maid—and frequent bed partner—until she was pregnant with his child. Understandably, his wife and family were horrified, demanding that the unnamed woman be sent back to prison. Which left the fate of the child in question. Born in prison to a slave. There was no provision for a baby born into servitude. For now, the man had claimed the baby as his slave.

Unconscionable, and undeniably cruel, but Bodie had lived in the Congo where some children were left to die if deformed or simply the crime of being born a girl.
He heard Doyle coming in and shoved the paper behind the rubbish bin. No reason for him to see that first thing in the morning.

Dressed in the purple satin dressing gown, his curls so fluffy Bodie longed to touch them, Doyle looked a treat.

Bodie dished up bacon and toast for himself. “No eggs in the fridge, meant to pop out to the market,” he said. “Tea in the pot, serve yourself.” He focussed on eating the food to avoid fantasies of taking Doyle there on the kitchen table.

Doyle stopped abruptly as if expecting something else entirely. “Thanks,” he mumbled, pouring a cuppa whilst nibbling on toast. No butter or jam.

Bodie shook his head. The lad wouldn’t put on a stone at that rate.

“Been thinking,” Doyle said without preamble. He sat down opposite Bodie, still with that sense of awkwardness.

“Not going to bite,” Bodie spread his arms to include the entire flat. “Don’t care what the rest of London considers you are, there are no slaves here. We’re…” He had to choose his words carefully. No hint of his desire should leak out. “Partners. Mates.”

It was the first time he’d seen Doyle’s smile, albeit a modest version of what must be stunning when Doyle was truly happy. The chipped tooth in the front gave his face a piquant charm, and Bodie resolved to make him smile more often.

Doyle nodded, ducking his head over his cup of tea. “We need to go to Coventry,” he said.

“Just shook the muck of that place off me heels, old son,” Bodie groused. “What’s in Coventry?”

“My mum’s house.”

Doyle eyed the two pieces of bacon Bodie had deliberately left on the plate. He shoved it Doyle’s way. “It’ll go wasting otherwise. Even if your mum left you the house in a will, you can’t claim the inheritance now.”

“I know—meant to call my sister, aren’t I? Tell her the wonderful news of my new…” Doyle savagely stuffed the bacon into his mouth. “Engagement, let’s call it. But I left a few items there. Cowley may want to see them.”

“Pertaining to the case, yeah?” Bodie grinned widely. “We’ll be able to put the trip on our expense account then.”

~~**~~

The magnificent Coventry Cathedral rose in the distance, far across the city from the modest house where Doyle’s mother had once lived. A typical residence, nearly identical to its neighbours on either side. There was a postage stamp square of grass in front, a planter with half dead geraniums on the step, and the postbox overflowing with mail.

“How long since you’ve been here?” Bodie asked.

Doyle unlocked the front door, tossing the mail on the stairs directly opposite. Half slithered down to the floor, the Woman’s Own magazine with cast members from Coronation Street staring up at them. Doyle growled to himself, intentionally stepping on the glossy magazine. His emotions were tearing him apart, and he couldn’t afford the loss of control. “The night we were together.”

He glanced around, keenly aware that Siobhan and Claire were no longer here. They’d have gone back to husbands and children. At some point in the near future, all five sisters would return to clear out mum’s things, claiming her jewelry and china, sending the rest to a charity shop or into a skip. Which was the reason for his haste.

Bodie stepped in front of him, a wall he’d have to confront or crawl over. In his current mood, Doyle would have liked to tunnel under him, but he didn’t have a shovel.

“You told Cowley and me your mum died, and there was a funeral.” Bodie’s voice was low, with a tint of anger, but compassion, as well. “It was that Sunday, wasn’t it? After the funeral, you went round to the pub to…”

“Couldn’t come here,” Doyle snarled, pain detonating in his chest. Already felt like the walls were closing in on him, far worse than when he was in prison. He could sense his mum everywhere, smell the sick on her, hear his sisters’ sobs. He wanted to run as far away as possible and get very drunk.

Except he’d tried that, and look where it had got him. “Sisters, everyone, were at the wake to talk about her. They’d been standing around the gravesite, patting my hand, cooing that she was gone to a better place.” He stuck out his hand to shove Bodie aside, but Bodie grabbed his arm, forcing it down. “Changed out of my church kit and got pissed. Went down on you. That’s it. You looking for more of the same?” Twisting his wrist from Bodie’s grasp, Doyle stabbed his fingers at Bodie’s flies, starting to yank down the zip.

Bodie jerked back, his face hard. “You think I’m some sick bastard?” he growled. “I wasn’t in that nasty bedsit on my own, sunshine. I wasn’t the one whispering ‘hurt me’ in the dark.”

“I’d been waitin’ for someone like you all my life,” Doyle choked on the words. “Except I was the good son, the one stuck by mum after she took ill, did my job, rubbed my nose in their shit so I could prove I wasn’t…” He broke off. “Twisted. Dreaming that some knight would dominate me.”

Bodie didn’t move, didn’t speak for what felt like forever. Certainly long enough that Doyle could compose himself, stitch up the wound in his soul before the pain bled out on the floor. He inhaled deeply. Now the shame of his confession was uppermost, which was as it should be. Far better to be humiliated for his desires than his actions as a cop, and a son.

Cowley, confound him, actually believed in him, something Doyle still had a difficult time getting his head around. Bodie had been kind, even understanding, and how did that sit with what Doyle had shouted at him?

“Now ain’t the time nor the place,” Bodie said, jaw so tight his teeth must be grinding. “We’d both do with a couple beers and a quiet corner in the pub, but for now, what was the bloody reason for coming to your mum’s?”

Doyle stalked past him, his heart pounding against his ribs. Bodie believed him, then. Bodie, quite possibly, was as attracted to him as he was to Bodie. They needed time—to sort out the case, and to discover if they truly fit together, or if it was all raw emotion.

“Told you, I was shuttling back and forth between Coventry and London, before and after shifts, on my days off, when I wasn’t tailing Dolan and company.” Doyle crossed the lounge to pull the bench away from the piano. Memories of his mum playing Scott Joplin or Gershwin haunted him. Flipping open the lid, he dumped music books on the floor to uncover a thick folder wrapped with elastic bands. “The last night I was in my own flat, I took the photographs and shite I had there and burned it so they’d not find anything. Knew they were closing in.”

“Then your mum died?” Bodie guessed.

“Siobhan called, asked why I wasn’t here, mum was likely to go in the wee hours.” Doyle licked his lips. It was the first time he’d said any of this out loud and it hurt like pulling off a plaster. “She was cross, as if I hadn’t been juggling my time there with the demands of the Met.” He sank onto the sofa, holding the file to his chest. “She died the moment I walked in her room. Was like she’d been waiting for me. Claire and Siobhan, all my sisters, were crying.” He shrugged. “All I felt was relief.”

“I know,” Bodie said so quietly Doyle wasn’t sure he’d actually heard the words.

“The priest down the block knew she was dying, the funeral’d already been planned—I never went back to London that week until after I was with you.” Doyle sighed, wearily stripping the elastic bands from the file. “Ambushed, they’d already searched my place and planted what they found, arrested me…”

“They’d not ever followed you to Coventry?” Bodie asked.

“As far as I can tell, no.” Doyle opened the folder, spilling out the contents. He was so tired. “Don’t even know what’s here. No time to sort through the lot.”

“Cowley will have a field day.” Bodie scooped up most of the papers, and a roll of film dropped onto the rug. “What’s this then?”

~~**~~

“I’ve put a rush order to the lab to develop the film as quickly as possible,” Cowley said. “I’m expecting the prints within the hour.” He held out his hand, a ring of keys dangling from his fingers. “3.7, your new flat.”

“Thank you, sir.” Bodie handed over the old set with an odd sense of loss. He wasn’t quite sure why. He’d spent little enough time there and was accustomed to the frequent changes of address necessitated by the organisation. Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the daydream he’d indulged in the entire drive back from Coventry.

Doyle had gone to sleep the moment they hit the road going north, snoring slightly, the breeze from the open window ruffling his curls. Bodie had fantasies of the two of them romping on the bed, Doyle’s mouth slippery on Bodie’s cock. He’d been rock hard most of the drive, which was bloody distracting.

The new flat would have two beds, in two rooms. Bodie’d never be able to snuggle into the pillow that Doyle had rested his head on. Damn, but he was beginning to feel like the hero in some Regency romance, pining for his lost love.

“Where is the place?” Doyle asked stiffly.

“On a need-to-know basis,” Bodie joked.

“Don’t you need to know?” Doyle sounded confused.

“In good time,” Cowley soothed. “Once the movers have transferred his things and put standard furniture into storage, rearranged new beds and sofas,”

“You don’t even get to—“ Doyle started.

“This you do need to know.” Cowley held up a finger. “Our Miss Pettifer had an excellent idea, and it is even now being set in motion. She’s developed a temporary agency for clerk staff—all of whom are women trained by CI5. We’ll be able to infiltrate high level offices when we are investigating, and possibly obtain information or evidence which before might have proved difficult to come by.”

“Knew Ruth had the makings of a good agent,” Bodie grinned. He’d always liked the cool, impervious blonde although she’d given him the back of her head more than once.

“She could easily best you, 3.7,” Cowley chided.

“In a filing challenge, hands down,” Bodie conceded. He wouldn’t mind a bit of hand to hand combat training with her, as well.

“The photographs, sir.” Betty rapped on the door and came in without permission. She directed a smug smile Bodie’s way and placed a small packet on Cowley’s desk before sashaying out.

“Excellent. Thank you, Betty. And I’ll need those Bond Registry Lists as soon as you get hold of them.” He opened the box, rapidly flipping through the stack of pictures. “When were these taken, Doyle?”

“I’d have to look at them,” Doyle said. “To be honest, I didn’t recall there was a roll in the things I’d stashed at mum’s.” He walked around the desk, standing respectfully to Cowley’s right. “A bit dark, that one,” he apologised.

“Bound to be, when one is using a camera at night, without a light.” Cowley nodded, settling his glasses more firmly on his nose to examine the pictures. “Let’s attempt to identify these people.”

Bodie crowded in tight against Doyle’s side, indulging in a bit of sensory pleasure whilst on the job. Doyle didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, he made no mention. The next photo in the stack was taken from a long distance away, of two men and possibly one or two people behind them.

“Useless.” Doyle groaned, throwing up one hand.

Bodie grit his teeth when Doyle accidentally elbowed him in the ribs, the consequences of standing so closely together, but he didn’t make a sound. In a perverse way, he liked it.

“Patience, laddie, take the time to look through them properly.” Cowley tsked with broad Scots. “We can always have the photo blown up larger.” He placed three side by side with a satisfied nod. “These are far better.”

Bodie caught his breath, startled out of his indulgences. “I know that bloke!” He tapped a finger on the taller of two men in the photo. The other almost had his back to the camera. Doyle must have either got closer to his subjects or changed lenses because the detail was far better.

“Don’t leave us in suspense!” Cowley snapped irritably.

“Johnny Redmoon,” Bodie identified. “Real American red Indian, or so he claims. High Hat Dolan’s right hand man.”

“Good one, Bodie!” Cowley exclaimed. “I’ve never seen a picture of him.”

“That’s Norse,” Doyle said, pointing to the other man. A hat and thick scarf around his neck hid much of his face. “Was generally who I was following ’cause he’d leave the Met about the same time I did.”

Bodie glanced between the red bracelets encircling Doyle’s wrists and something suspiciously similar in the image. Grabbing a magnifying glass from Cowley’s desk, he held it over the first of the sequence, then the second, and third photo. The two people behind the men were both women, and one obviously had red bracelets around her wrists. The tiny amount of illumination from a nearby streetlight had caught the streak of tears on her cheeks.

“He’s selling slaves,” Bodie said, his mood shifting to serious anger.

“Does appear that way.” Cowley took the magnifying glass, slowly peering at each face. “If Judge Blackstone were to signal his nephew, Chief Inspector Beacham, when there were female bond slaves available, he’d have access to their papers.”

“Norse always did the scut work, selling the product—whatever it was,” Doyle continued, his expression bleak. “I didn’t even make the connection back then. I was focussed on the drugs. He must transfer the slaves to Redmoon, i.e., Dolan. Any way to find out who those women are?”

“When exactly did you take these?” Cowley repeated his earlier question.

“Must have been ‘couple months ago, as Norse was still in business.” Doyle frowned. “Mum was in hospital in late January, and my sister was sitting with her, so I had the evening free.”

Any other would have gone to the pub for a night of darts, but Doyle had doggedly pursued his obsessive goal, to the detriment of his life. Bodie didn’t know whether to be impressed by his bravado or scornful of his single-minded focus.

“Could obtain court records of any women sentenced to bond slavery around January…” Cowley began.

“Twenty seventh,” Doyle said abruptly. “My birthday, because I went to Beacham with the evidence I’d found a week or so later, and Norse was in the nick soon after. Must’ve left this roll in Coventry when I went up there. Siobhan rang me to drive mum home from hospital, as she’d had to return to Brinley Woods.”

No-one bought him a pint on his birthday, then? “Setting the ball in play,” Bodie commented.

“Aye,” Cowley agreed. “Beacham couldn’t avoid arresting Norse, or jeopardise his own role in the operation.” He removed his glasses, smiling. “Doyle, I think you may have provided the rope that ties all the players together.”

“We can’t prove that Dolan’s involved simply because of Redmoon,” Bodie said.

“What if we found the women?” Doyle countered. “At his club?”

“You and Bodie?”

Cowley’s smile was so crafty, so calculated, Bodie wished Doyle had never spoken at all. He’d given into that smile often enough. He had to, Cowley was his boss. “The women would never speak to us. He’s got a hold on them.”

“He owns them,” Doyle said bitterly, crossing his arms over his chest.

“True. As I, on paper, own you.” Cowley rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Which gives you an access which Bodie nor I have.”

“I try to get the women to testify against their owner?” Doyle asked, aghast. “Dolan would have us all killed.”

“Always important to have a challenge.” Bodie chuckled, because what else could he do? “You, my son, need something else to wear. Permission to take him on a shopping expedition, sir?”

Cowley scowled with a curt nod. “He can’t go to a club dressed like that. Aye, go on, both of you. Just don’t…”

Bodie grabbed Doyle’s arm, towing him out of the office before Cowley finished speaking. If he didn’t hear the instructions, he couldn’t disobey them, could he?

~~**~~

Doyle had never paid much attention to what he wore. Jeans and a shirt for casual, a dreaded tie and suit jacket when he’d been forced. The blue uniform of a copper worked for the rest of the time.

Therefore, he’d never set foot inside posh Tristan Penvenen’s. He was extremely aware of the snooty regard from the head sales clerk, and tugged the sleeves of Bodie’s old leather jacket down over the red bracelets on both wrists. Bodie, on the other hand, seemed in his element.

He swept into the shop, barely glancing at the elegant gray suit with a subtle gray pinstripe on the mannequin at the front, and walked straight up to the long nosed clerk.
“Gilchrist! We’ll be at the Falconer’s Club this evening and both need something to wear,” he announced with calm authority. “Current and hip but not overly so.”

“Mr Bodie!” Gilchrist exclaimed, his narrow dark eyes lighting up with a pleasure that did not extend to Doyle. “I’m happy to serve you in any way possible, however—“

“Price, as you know, is no object,” Bodie stepped on his objections. “And my continued business at your fine establishment depends on tonight.”

“Ah, may I suggest a fine black silk for yourself, then?” Gilchrist led the way to a rack with well-designed suits finer than Doyle had ever seen. “All are, of course, handmade. We’ll fit you now and be able to put on the finishing touches by five this afternoon.”

Bodie inclined his head, subtly urging Doyle forward, almost as if he was enjoying pushing Gilchrist’s face in the slavery. Doyle took four steps to stand beside Bodie, crowding out the clerk.

Gilchrist sniffed officiously but didn’t say a word.

“Excellent!” Bodie grinned confidently, sliding the hangers along the rack with a quick look at each jacket. “This one for me,” he said, holding up a double-breasted suit coat with wide satin lapels. “And the Italian cut with the waistcoat for Raymond.”

Bodie had an eye for fashion, even a neophyte like Doyle could tell. The second jacket was cut narrower, which would emphasize his own wide shoulders and slender waist. For the first time in his life, he really wanted to dress up.

“Sir—“ Gilchrist started, his eyes going to the left as a small, moustachioed man came out of the back room.

“Are you refusing my patronage?” Bodie snapped, his left eyebrow arching dramatically.

“Of course not, but…” He coloured, jaw tightening with the accusation.

“Gilchrist, call the fitters,” the older man said, holding out a hand to Bodie. “Mr Bodie, it’s always a pleasure to have you in.”

“Tristan!” Bodie greeted. “Gilchrist seems conflicted.”

“A perpetual state, I’m afraid. I fear he wears his trousers too tight.” Tristan’s eyes twinkled as he glanced over at the clerk. “We’re simply not used to dressing someone in your…”

“Partner,” Bodie said, going quieter and hard. “Raymond Doyle. He’s my guest at the Falconer’s Club tonight.”

“Raymond’s situation,” Tristan continued with a nod at Doyle. “We adapt, as one must. Please go with Helen to the dressing room so she can pin up the trousers and fit the jackets.”

Removing clothing directly beside Bodie, without a sexual motive, was decidedly odd. Doyle turned away so he wouldn’t see Bodie semi-starkers, something he realised with a shock had never happened in his presence. That one precious night, he’d opened the other man’s flies to go down on him, and remembered shedding his own shirt in the process, but neither of them had been naked. Not even down to their smalls, as his mum used to say. The painful lump that came at the thought of her drove away the compulsion to peep at Bodie. Doyle donned his new suit with alacrity.

After exiting the crowded cubicle whilst Bodie was pulling on his jacket, Doyle stood as still as possible to let Helen pin up his hem and take in the waistband of the trousers.

Helen was a tiny woman, not five feet, with long China silk black hair and almond shaped eyes, marked by a large port wine mark on her left temple. She didn’t speak, going about her appointed tasks with determination. When she reached up to twitch his waistcoat straight, the long sleeves of her peach smock slid back and Doyle saw the flash of red bands on her wrists. No wonder she did what she was told. Maybe he could get her to talk to him privately? Prove to Cowley that he could contribute to the mission?

“As usual, Tristan’s suits fit me like a glove,” Bodie was saying when he emerged from the dressing room. “Let’s take a gander at yours…” His voice trailed away when he gazed at Doyle.

Although he hadn’t seen himself in the mirror, he realised he didn’t need to. The look in Bodie’s eyes said it all: the suit was meant for him. Bodie’s pupils widened, almost crowding out the supreme blue, arousal evident. Doyle was shaken to his core. Bodie wanted him, really fancied him, but it was never to be. They were too far apart now, and would be forever. Once the op was over, and Doyle was freed, he hoped to be released from his contract. Then he would leave. To where? He shook his head, distracted, which Bodie took it as an unspoken message. He retreated to the farthest corner of the tiny room, shuttering his emotions.

“Helen, is it?” Bodie said with hearty verve. “Cinch in his waistcoat, be a dear? That should fit like a second skin. Need to attract…investors.”

Helen flinched as if struck. “Please r-remove your jacket?” she whispered, head down over her pincushion.

Doyle longed to assure her this was all make believe, except it didn’t really feel that way to him. He’d be on display, no matter how one interpreted the matter. “How long have you…been in thrall?”

Helen stared up at him, pins held tight between her teeth. She carefully inserted the pins where needed before speaking. “Two years,” she whispered. “I am lucky, Mr Tristan is good to me. I don’t have to…”

“Satisfy the customers’ every whim?” Doyle asked, veiling his meaning as much as he could.

“A woman named Maribel was in prison when I arrived. She was sold the first night,” she said sotto-voce. “I am not so desire—“

She clammed up tightly when the curtain was pulled aside and Gilchrist peered in suspiciously as if he’d heard her barely audible voice.

“Timely arrival, Gilchrist.” Bodie dove in without hesitation. “Both suits are exactly what was needed. Mine requires no altering, Doyle’s does.”

“Excellent,” Gilchrist responded stiffly. “Shirts, ties and handkerchiefs, too?”

~~**~~

Bodie shepherded Doyle to a less ritzy store for undergarments, a change of clothes for every day, and some decent shoes. He enjoyed himself thoroughly, even when Doyle pierced him with withering glances. The bloke could not hide his emotions under a poker face if he tried.

He was clearly going to be a good operative, though. Testing out his questions on Helen had been killer. And provided the corroboration they needed. Women—and probably men, as well—were being sold like commodities on the open market. Exactly what Bodie and Cowley had surmised. Not simply so that someone wealthy could assume the bond debt until it was repaid, but for prostitution, pure and simple. If the slaves were being sold right out of prison, that seemed to implicate authorities in the system. An inside job, as it were.

“Chippy?” Bodie walked out of the men’s shop, pointing across the road.

“Erm?” Doyle’s eyes widened, as if he assumed Bodie had called him a naughty word.

“Fish and chips,” Bodie emphasized. “Wrapped in newspaper with vinegar.” Perhaps the poor sod had never eaten Britain’s favourite meal?

“I don’t usually--,” Doyle started. “Too much salt and fat.”

“You’re a stick, son,” Bodie jabbed him in the ribs with the point of his elbow. Seemed more matey that way, less sexually motivated. Bodie wanted to touch him all the time, but sensed Doyle’s reluctance, his retreat from contact. Frightened of the intimacy? Surely not. More like he was cowed by the situation and implications of their job. “Need a bit of fat and salt down your gullet.”

“I like cod,” Doyle conceded, following him into the zebra crossing.

As Bodie doled out pound notes and a couple silver coins into the East Indian fish seller’s hand for two portions of fried cod and chips, he saw a mixture of bitterness and envy cross Doyle’s face. For what? Bodie’s freedom? A pocket full of cash? He liked the tetchy little git more than he’d expected, above and beyond the sexual component. Doyle was a quagmire of emotions, understandable under the circumstances, but dangerous if they were in a sticky situation. Their lives could be on the line. Would Doyle have his back when it counted?

“Fill your pie-hole,” Bodie said gruffly, unwilling to let Doyle know he sympathized so strongly. “We’ll take a bit of a walk.”

Doyle glanced at him quizzically without speaking because he was stuffing two chips into his mouth. So much for all the salt and fat.

“Kensington Gardens, the splendour of London,” Bodie announced, with an expansive gesture at the fenced in park.

~~**~~

Despite having lived in London for years, Doyle had never set foot in Kensington. He’d always presumed there’d be an air of tourist attraction or hang-out for the rich and bored Sloan Square Rangers about the place.

In fact, it was lovely, with wide lawns, beautiful plantings, and quiet benches. It didn’t drip of privileged wealth at all. There were a scattering of nannies with their charges and a gaggle of schoolchildren in gray uniforms with red ties on a garden tour, but really, mostly peaceful folk having a stroll on a midweek afternoon. The weather couldn’t quite decide between cloud covered sun and fully gray skies.

A balding man dressed in khaki shorts and a white shirt with a Kensington Park Gardens badge on the shoulder walked slowly past, carefully sweeping forgotten lollies, torn newspapers, and cigarette butts into a dustpan. Red bands on both wrists marked him, and most of the garden visitors completely ignored him.

Doyle wanted to turn away from the sad man, but he forced a smile, giving him a nod. The old guy continued with his task, never making eye contact.

Had it been only a week ago when he’d watched the fiery sunset from behind bars? Walking freely in such beauty felt like a treat he didn’t deserve but relished all the same.

He munched another chip, surprised at how tasty they were. It had been a long, long time since he’d indulged. He’d maintained his own life so tightly as a copper: no relations with men, no junk foods, and plenty of exercise to prove that he was worthy of the responsibility. It had taken the combined weights of his mother’s decline and the proof of rampant corruption in the Met to throw him off the rails. Spectacularly.

Throat suddenly too tight to swallow the mouthful, he turned away from Bodie, pretending to admire the Peter Pan statue.

Bodie put a hand on the small of his back, as if to steer Doyle in the direction of a bench. It had a surprisingly calming effect. The panic attack, if that is what it had been, shrank back into the recesses of his memories.

“We need to talk,” Bodie said, tucking into his meal with obvious relish.

He’d sprinkled a generous helping of vinegar on his chips. Doyle wrinkled his nose at the smell. “You don’t trust me?” he asked carefully.

“I want to,” Bodie answered simply.

“I started this bleeding investigation, Bodie!” Doyle stood abruptly, scattering chips on the pavement. Pigeons gathered noisily to get their share, squawking indignantly when Doyle stomped across the path and back again. “Those bastards targeted me because I turned in one of their own.”

“I’m on your side, sunshine,” Bodie murmured, offering him a morsel of fish.

Doyle froze, staring at him, wanting to believe that he had an ally. “We’ve known each other less than a week.”

“And Cowley had to tell me your name,” Bodie quipped, then sobered quickly when he saw Doyle’s expression. “It’s a rum go, all way round, no question. But if you fly off the handle every time some posh twit turns up his nose at those bracelets, we’re not going to get very far.” He grabbed Doyle’s wrist, directly over the red bands, reeling him in.

“Oi!” Doyle protested, groin heating up at his rough touch.

A horn bleeped, a blue bicycle whizzing by directly behind him, nearly smashing in his heels. Doyle ended up against Bodie’s knees and his first instinct was to drop to the cement, head bowed, to take that magnificent cock in his mouth again.

“Mind where you go,” Bodie said breathlessly. It was clear the proximity had the same effect on him.

Doyle blinked at the prominent evidence, so out of place in a public park, and pulled away when every part of him screamed submission to this man. He snatched up the twist of newspaper with his fried fish and took a savage bite. Bodie silently handed over the ginger beer he’d been drinking from.

The fizzy drink seemed to clear the cobwebs from his brain. Doyle inhaled. “I didn’t trust the blokes I’d worked with at the Met, and I’d known them for years. Why do I trust you after so short a time?”

“You’ve got good instincts.” Bodie tapped his half eaten fried cod against Doyle’s.

“I know me job, and I’m well aware how to behave when it counts,” he said carefully, sitting as far along the bench as possible from Bodie. “We started on the wrong end of our…”

“Partnership,” Bodie finished for him. “Let’s begin anew. ‘Allo, my name’s Bodie.” He stuck out his hand, palm up.

“Doyle.” He shook the hand with a firm grip, letting go quickly under the pretense of eating more food. “How’d you do.”

“Not bad, not bad. Football’s been grim of late and can’t find a decent pint in my local. Had my fill of that Watney’s Red Barrel.”

“Should come over to mine.” Doyle grinned, getting into the silly game. “Whitbread’s on tap.”

“Wouldn’t mind.” Bodie nodded, the smile on his face lighting Doyle’s heart.

Could he actually be falling in love? Doyle’d never felt like this for another person, man or woman. He wanted to get to know Bodie, actually go down to a pub and talk for hours. Precisely what was never going to happen. They’d do the job, arrest the ringleaders, and sign off.

Bodie’d gone quiet, sipping the ginger beer, watching two children toss a ball back and forth. “I’ll follow you, Doyle.” He ducked his head over the bottle, voice barely above a whisper. “We’ll take down these arseholes together.”

“Kitted up finer than I’ve ever been in my life,” Doyle answered, overwhelmed in spite of his misgivings.

“Looked good enough to shag.” Bodie handed over the bottle. “With your clothes on.”

Which is what they’d already done. Did he mean to hint that he was game to do it again?

~~**~~

“I think I may have identified one of the women in the photo,” Betty announced, briskly handing over enlargements of Doyle’s prints. “Only because she’s had her picture in the papers.” She added a clipping from The Sun of a buxom blonde in a tiny bikini. “Thought I recognised her.”

“You look at their faces?” Cowley asked mildly, putting on his glasses for a proper examination. On the rare occasions that he perused The Sun, he flipped right past the sexualised images.

“Sometimes.” Betty winked with a saucy grin. “Bodie and your new protégée are here,” she added, walking out.

Betty had included a brief curriculum vitae about the unfortunate woman, who was probably not a real blonde, judging from her arrest photo. Barbara Tanner, born in 1955, had a short career as a model before drugs had got the better of her. She was arrested for prostitution in mid-January for possession and public nudity. By January 27, her bond had been assumed by one Red Moon, a none too clever alias for Dolan’s minion.

Bodie and Doyle walked in so closely together, they could have been Siamese twins. Both were chuckling at some private joke. Doyle looked so much healthier—possibly happier—than he had when they’d left that morning that Cowley would have sworn he was a different person.

“Sir,” Bodie said, straightening into parade rest like the ex-Royal Army man than he was. “The suits will be delivered from the tailor before five, and we’ll hit The Falconer’s Club after nine.”

“How much will it cost me this time?” Cowley grumbled, pretending he minded the expense. Bodie had good taste and knew what would be needed at the Falconer’s Club, probably far more than he himself did. The formal wear of his old boys’ club was more his style. Along with the music of WWII, not this disco cacophony.

“The satisfaction that we put the perpetrators out of business,” Doyle said intensely.

“Nicely said,” Bodie intoned with a hint of upper class inflection.

Cowley rolled his eyes. He’d finally acquired another agent who could go toe to toe with Bodie. Who would have expected that? They’d bonded far more quickly than he could ever have imagined. And Bodie might think he hadn’t noticed but he’d caught that flash of surprise—no, recognition?—on Bodie’s face the first time he’d seen Doyle in this office. What was that all about?

“First things, because of the temporary agency she founded, 2.4, or as you know her, Miss Pettifer, has been hired to do general office work at the Bond Registry,” Cowley explained, quite pleased with the turn of events. He hadn’t expected to have her scheme pay off quite so quickly. Of course, the small matter of persuading one of the low level clerks employed there that she’d suddenly won an all expense trip to Spain for a fortnight had been a deciding factor. Privately he could acknowledge that, like Bodie’s bespoke suits, these expense account sacrifices were necessary to lubricate the forward movement of an operation. “I’ll expect reports back from her in a week or so.”

“She’ll surely not have access to the most sensitive documents in her first weeks,” Doyle said, leaning against the bookcase.

This had become his perch of choice, Cowley noted. “We shall discover that when the time comes. For now, Betty has found corroboration for the woman Doyle photographed behind Redmoon and Norse.” He shoved the sheath of papers she’d left across his desk.

“Our Betty’s been dipping into my private collection,” Bodie said, snatching up the newspaper clipping.

“You save the Page Three girl?” Doyle scoffed, looking over his shoulder. He held the enlarged photo up beside the one Bodie held.

“Every one. This is last summer, if I remember correctly.”

Doyle flipped it over with his thumb to see the date on the opposite side. “July.”

“Knew it would be of use one day.” Bodie nodded, studying the two images. “Do wonder how Betty sussed out my filing system?”

“Would be astronomical luck if she was…escorting gentlemen guests at the Falconer’s,” Doyle said.

“Barbara Tanner was arrested for possession,” Cowley added, tapping the report. “If she was an addict, he may be supplying her in return for the tricks.”

“Undoubtedly.” Doyle leaned against the bookcase behind him. “Gives him a hold on her even stronger than the bond money.”

“Bastard.” Bodie grimaced. “From Redmoon, to High Hat Dolan, Doyle’s Norse, and up to the Judge—we’re mowing them all down.”

“Nicely said, 3.7.” Cowley smiled. This would work after all.

~~**~~

They might not have got in at all, but for a fluke. Doyle recognised the doorman. A muscle bound yob he’d arrested more than once for assault and rape. Lovely.

“Bodie,” he said low and soft, hand flat on Bodie’s flank to slow him down before they reached the entrance to the Falconer’s Club.

“Well, look ‘oo it is now,” Cochrane called out. “If it ain’t the lit’le informer ‘imself.” He crossed his arms, barring the door. A posh couple he’d just let in turned to see who was causing such a ruckus.

The woman’s red lip-sticked mouth pursed in a moue of distaste and she hurried inside behind her escort.

“Got caught, didn’t ya?” Cochrane went on with delight. “‘ow’s that feel?”

“Cochrane,” Doyle said neutrally, glancing at Bodie.

“You know this little git?” Bodie asked, smacking Doyle on the arse hard enough to smart. “Got him cheap, guess you know why, eh?”

“I do, I do.” Cochrane chuckled, directing a stream of spittle at Doyle’s feet. “Red bands’d look a treat round your bushel n’ peck. Tight, like, yeah?”

Knowing better than to react to such provocation, Doyle bit down on his back teeth without saying a word.

“Let us in, then,” Bodie said, commanding and hard.

“Could do that.” Cochrane stood solid as a boulder, raising his hands in as if weighing the decision. “But Mr Dolan only wants…friends around tonight.”

“We’re friends, aren’t we?” Bodie threw a matey arm around Cochrane’s shoulder. “You and Doyle could catch up. Got a bit of history with High Hat, meself.”

Cochrane shook him off with a low growl.

Doyle caught the minute twitch of Bodie’s head. Cochrane wasn’t carrying. Just the mere size of his fists were potentially dangerous, but not as deadly as a bullet could be.

“Where’d you get the dandy threads, Doyle? Must’ve cost your master a pretty penny.” Cochrane stroked Doyle’s waistcoat, running his hand down toward his flies. “Gilding the lily, I calls it. You’d do better in nuffing at all.”

“Against the law to walk around starkers,” he said, stuffing his anger down deep.

“Gauche to discuss the price of merchandise,” Bodie added blandly.

“True,” Cochrane conceded, cupping Doyle’s groin for a second. “You’ll decorate the club, that’s for certain.” He grinned, all teeth like the shark in Jaws, and turned aside to allow them entrance. “Welcome to The Falconers Club, gen’tmen.”

Doyle wanted to slug something, preferably Bodie, Cowley, and that bloody Judge Blackstone. The need made his hands tremble, the bones of his wrists knocking against the tight bands on his wrists. Every curse word and slur he could think of ran through his brain, the reality of his slavery stark and frightening. He couldn’t fight back—not legally.
He had no rights to protest, and if he did, the government could actually punish him for standing up for himself.

Even if Cowley managed to bring Blackstone and the rest of his corrupt cohorts to justice, British law still allowed slavery of good, decent people.

“Ever wondered why he was called High Hat?” Bodie pointed to a tall, shiny, black hat on display in a glass case. There were two photographs, one a reproduction of Prince Albert in a tall hat, the other of Dolan early in his career, sporting the same hat. The legend below claimed he’d acquired the royal chapeau and worn it for several years to set himself apart from those “Carnaby Street posers.”

“All the Victorian birds must’ve been mad for ‘im,” Doyle deadpanned sourly. The music pouring out of the club, the Swedish group ABBA, from the sound of the mingled harmonies, was loud enough to prevent much talking. The chorus, “Waterloo, couldn’t escape if I wanted to…” was too close to the mark.

He and Bodie passed through a beaded entry into a wide room ringed with curved booths. Couples whirled and pranced on the dance floor in the centre below multi-coloured lights that washed out pale faces. A full half of the women in the place had the distinctive red bands around their wrists and wore costumes clearly modeled after the Playboy bunnies’ attire. These were Falcons, in gold and brown satin strapless bodysuits with a cunning pattern of feathers on the front, and a sleek feathered cap on their heads. Otherwise, the girls were as good as nude, the corset tight satin barely covering their backsides and thrusting their breasts outward. Instead of a tiny fluffy bunny tails, the Falcons wore a plume of feathers anchored between their arsecheeks.

“Bloody hell,” Doyle said aloud, glad Waterloo drowned him out. His own arse clenched in sympathy with the woman.

“You’ve never been inside?” Bodie asked, standing close enough to speak directly into his ear.

~~**~~

Bodie had to keep himself from slipping both arms around Doyle’s hips. He’d never much cared for the Falcon birds, himself. Too in your face. But Doyle, in the charcoal gray suit and waistcoat of deep plum was a waking wet dream.

Instead, he played the good agent, casing the establishment, looking for their opponents, keeping an eye out for connections to the case as well as escape routes. The club was groaning with the glitterati of London and the continent. He spied the lead actor in the current double O seven programme on BBC, a Bulgarian prince, and several other well known faces. Not Dolan, however, or any of his cronies.

“Keep walking in, like we own the place,” he said into Doyle’s ear. “Table on the right.”

“Aren’t we meant to wait for the hostess…?” Doyle muttered.

The music stopped momentarily, long enough for Bodie to realise that the group on the little stage was actually the pop group ABBA, long blond hair, huge, flare legged chiffon costumes, and blended harmonies. High Hat had clout.

“May I help you, gentlemen?” one of the Falcons asked politely as Bodie and Doyle seated themselves. She had red hair and an Irish lilt. “I’m Eilish.”

“A beautiful name for a beautiful…lass,” Bodie said briskly, holding up two fingers to include Doyle. “Whisky.” The red banded staff might have welcomed a fellow bond slave, but they weren’t allowed to take his order, even if he had money to pay for it.

“Won’t be a moment, Mr Williams,” Eilish replied as ABBA swung into their recent hit Knowing me, Knowing You.

On any other day, Bodie might have been unsettled by the coincidence of the song and her knowing the alias he’d used here months ago. Eilish hadn’t been there late in 1976, of that he was sure. He’d have remembered that particular Falcon. Cochrane must have blabbed to the boss man moments after they entered

“Have we met previously?” he asked, careful not to touch her or come on too strong. Might need her as an ally.

“I am to be your personal Falcon for the night.” Eilish smiled brightly, perfect charm and sexy allure. “Mr Dolan’s insistence. Let me bring those drinks.” The feathers in her plume swung gaily as she walked away on six inch stilettos.

“Got his eye on you quick-like,” Doyle said, glancing around the crowded room.

“More like you, my son.” Bodie nudged him with one elbow. “His ultimate prize.”

“Ray of sunshine, you are.” Doyle scowled, hunching his shoulders.

“Likely there’s some sort of surveillance,” Bodie said, discreetly checking for cameras or observation ports. There were over sixty guests and wait staff, at a minimum, in the club. “But with these strobe lights and the Mylar streamers waving on the dance floor, impossible to spot.”

“Think about the size of the building itself.” Doyle formed a rectangle with his thumbs and forefingers on the table top. He wriggled his thumbs. “We entered here and walked back to the club. There was a coat check girl at the entrance, a second lookout, if you will.”

“Yeah.” Bodie pictured the layout of the place—obviously had a second level, and other rooms beyond the main club. The kitchen, a changing area for the Falcons, offices, and such. “The door just before the display cabinet probably hides stairs to the floor above.”

He stopped when he saw Eilish, if that was her real name, threading through the crowd with a tray in one hand, and glanced at the stage, above the heads of ABBA. Dolan’s office had to be there. The entire room faced that direction. The private chambers were undoubtedly soundproofed, otherwise he’d get no work done with a band below, but most importantly, he could easily view everyone in the club through two way mirrors and cameras.

“Something to eat, with the compliments of The Falconer’s Club,” Eilish said, leaning forward to display her impressive pulchritude while setting a tray of hors d’oeuvres on the table with the glasses of whisky.

“Caviar!” Bodie exclaimed heartily. In truth, he hated the salty stuff. On toast points, no less, which was a waste of lovely toast, in his opinion. Luckily, there were a variety of other appetisers, including brie en croute, a particular favourite.

“Please give Mr Dolan our regards,” Doyle said, reaching across the table to pick up toast with caviar, the cuffs of his new shirt sliding up to reveal the red bands on his wrists.

Eilish didn’t bat an eyelash, only nodded. “I will, thank you, sirs. If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to call me.”

Bodie watched the performers on the stage, humming along. He and Doyle had agreed with Cowley that this would just be an exploratory venture, to see what might turn up. That Dolan had given them a sign was more than he’d expected on the first visit to Falconers, and gave him hope that they were on the right track. In the meantime, he had no problems spending the evening—and, with all luck, future evenings with Doyle.

Which came to pass. He and Doyle planned to visit Dolan’s often enough to seem casual but regular. Each time they were treated graciously, and with special favour, but no actual sighting of their host.

Bodie quite enjoyed the leisurely pace, so different than his last obbo. He and Doyle had moved into the new flat, complete with two bedrooms. It was in a quiet neigbourhood a mile or so from Kensington. Felt like they really were mates, partners—he would forget about Doyle’s status for hours until a glimpse of the red bands or some mention of slavery by a BBC news presenter brought back the stark reality. There had to be some way to prove Doyle’s innocence.

~~**~~

Doyle didn’t sleep well. Whether it was the frequent late nights awash with alcohol and coffee, or his anxiety coming to fore in the wee hours, he’d wake in the dark, restless, and sweaty.

Nothing had helped in the last few days. His mother’s old panacea warm milk turned his stomach, and he daren’t ask for sleeping pills. The last thing he wanted was Cowley or anyone at CI5 to deem him unfit.

So he walked, quietly, around the flat, usually ending up on the small balcony facing the fenced-in garden across the street. At three a.m., the place was silent and calm. He craved the peace, wishing he could somehow inject it into his veins like a drug. The horrible truths of what his life had become, the aspects of what Cowley intended to do, and the complication that kept he and Bodie apart, swirled constantly in his brain. He couldn’t shut it down any more than he could remove the hated red bands.

As much as it depressed him more, he’d was becoming used to the degrading looks on the street, and his status as a second class citizen. How would this end? He acknowledged that however Cowley’s operation to expose Dolan, Blackstone and the rest of their ilk turned out, Bodie would never actually allow him to be sold to Dolan. The fact remained that unless they found more evidence, he could be a slave for the rest of his sentence.

That terrified him.

All the more reason to relish the relative freedom to sit quietly and look up at the night sky without cell bars or walls imprisoning him. In the centre of London, the stars were faint, overpowered by ever present light pollution, but there were enough to dazzle the eyes. The moon was gorgeous, just a night or so past full, the enigmatic face peering down on him with a benevolent gaze.

He felt hidden in the darkness, away from the goons, safe with his own thoughts.

“Oi,” Bodie said softly, coming up behind him.

Doyle shuddered, his heart rate accelerating far out of proportion to the minor disruption, adrenalin overloading his system. “Don’t do that,” he said irritably.

“I hear you walking around,” Bodie said, hunkering down beside him on the small ornamental bench. He had a bag of crisps in one hand and an apple in the other. “Take your pick.”

Doyle almost laughed, the gesture doing much to placate his nerves. “Wouldn’t you be surprised if I chose the crisps.” He selected the apple, holding it between his palms.

“You’d have shaken my entire world view.” Bodie nudged him, opening the crinkly bag of crisps. “What’s got your knickers in a twist tonight?”

“Nothing,” Doyle hedged, staring out toward the dark garden. What would it feel like to lie back in the grass, the spicy scent in his nostrils, a hint of dew sparkling wetly across his body? “My sisters and I used to pretend we were camping in our back garden,” he said instead. “Lying in the grass with a couple of woollen rugs to sleep on. In midsummer, we would watch the Perseids streaking across the sky.”

“I saw them from the deck of a ship when I was crossing to Africa.” Bodie crunched several crisps. “Always put me in mind of the Beatles, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Suddenly ravenous, Doyle bit into the apple. Juice ran down his chin onto the t-shirt he’d worn to bed. “When do you think Dolan will make an appearance?” he asked simply to have something to say.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Bodie responded. He dusted salt from his fingers thoughtfully. “That night we met—“

“Met isn’t the right word,” Doyle interrupted.

“That Sunday night after being with me, you left Coventry for London in the morning and found Beecham’s crew in your flat?”

“Yeah.” They’d gone over this more than once. He tucked the apple core into a pot filled with dirt. Maybe it would grow.

“What exactly did they use as proof you were dirty?”

“Bodie, I was hangover and exhausted. They ambushed me,” Doyle snarled. Not to mention mourning, and in shock. Not fit in the least. “You’ve read the arrest reports.” He hadn’t—too painful. What’s done was done.

“You knew whatever they found weren’t yours, so where did it come from?” Bodie persisted, turning to see him more clearly. “Did you see it then?”

Doyle opened his mouth to reply and shut it abruptly, trying to piece together the events that chaotic morning. He’d seen the cars outside on the street, why in the hell had he gone in? To force them out? Four detective sergeants had been in his flat when he arrived, all Beecham’s cronies. They’d left his belongings a shambles while rooting through his closets and drawers. What precisely did they have?

“That sod, Sarafian, held a key of…” He could see it with his mind’s eye, the white substance wrapped tightly to form a solid brick. Numbers written in red danced down one side. “Coke. Naught, five….”

“Five kilos of cocaine?” Bodie asked sharply.

“No, one kilo, some cash, both British pounds, and I think Francs.” His belly spasmed, cramping hard, and for a moment he thought he’d sick up onto his bare feet. He inhaled through his nose several times to quell the urge. “The cocaine had a number written in marker on the side. Naught, five, naught, three, seven…”

“A date?” Bodie asked.

Doyle nodded mutely, dredging events out of his memory. The Kimmell drugs bust. Cocaine, seized as it was being off-loaded from a shipment that had originated in Marseilles. A true French connection. “The week before—I wasn’t in on the arrest, but some of our men were. Nine kilos of coke were seized. I saw them laid out in the situation room.”

“They stole evidence and framed you, not even trying to hide the fact.” Bodie sounded hard and angry.

“Can’t prove it now.” Doyle felt that he was at the lowest point yet. He leaned his head against Bodie’s shoulder, sleepiness swamping him.

“Certain we can,” Bodie said firmly, giving Doyle’s hand a squeeze.

Doyle didn’t want him to let go.
.
~~**~~

“Odd you swanning off without a chaperone,” Doyle observed, leaning against the door frame of the office they shared in the CI5 building.

“And here I thought I was your minder.” Bodie chuckled. “You’ve more training with Macklin. Never know when you’ll need to know some odd variant on jujitsu.”

“Towser enjoys tossing me on my arse.” Doyle rubbed his backside with a grimace.

“Don’t we all!” Bodie said over his shoulder, marching down the corridor so he wouldn’t drool all over Doyle in the tight red and white track suit. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t, mate.”

He had arranged his own outing precisely because Doyle would be occupied for much of the day. And they weren’t going back to The Falconer’s Club until the weekend. It didn’t pay to look overly eager or anxious to get in with Dolan. As much as it galled him to have to go slow and steady, he knew that was the right move.

He dipped into CI5’s wardrobe for a smart blue copper’s uniform, complete with the proper insignia and shiny buttons. Exactly what was needed to invade Doyle’s old place of employment and possibly meet those he worked with. If this scheme panned out, it might go a long way to proving Doyle’s innocence.

Kitted out in like a copper, he strolled on Vine Street opposite the West End Central Police Station. What was it called in old American gangster films? Casing the joint. He patted his jacket directly over the document tucked in the inside pocket, and took the zebra crossing to the entrance of West End Central. Wouldn’t want to be accused of jaywalking directly in front of the police department.

The entire place had that well-used and poorly maintained look of an old building. Most probably constructed in the nineteenth century, if Bodie was any judge. The interior had hardly been upgraded since except for the introduction of electricity.

A harried looking woman in uniform sat behind a desk with a small gate built into the left side, preventing anyone from charging into the main situation room without permission. Her nameplate read Constable E Heatherton.

“How can I help you,” Heatherton asked in a Northern accent, peering through cat’s eye glasses at the badge on Bodie’s jacket, “Detective Sergeant Bodie?”

“Scotland Yard.” Bodie used a dash of old boys’ club inflection, sure to make him sound authoritarian. “Investigating a case related to one your lot had a hand in.” He unfolded the seemingly official document covered with miniscule type and several large signatures, all courtesy of Betty and her minions. “I’ll need to inventory evidence from the Kimmell raid, and take away a sample to compare with the haul we’ve got.”

“I’ve not heard word one about this!” she fussed, trying to reach for the paperwork. “CS Beecham’s not in at present and—“

Bodie knew exactly where Beecham should be. Ever since the night on the balcony, he’d coaxed more details of life on the force from Doyle, particularly the date of the monthly meeting of Chief Superintendents of the London Metropolitan Police Force. He hadn’t been entirely forthcoming with Cowley either, only admitting that he was pursuing a few leads of his own. Luckily, Cowley was immersed in meetings with Parliament members and left wing party leaders, discussing potential goals to ending bond slavery for good.

“This won’t inconvenience you in any way, Constable Heatherton.” Bodie walked confidently through the gate. “Remain at your post. I have my orders, as I know you have yours. That’s the top and bottom of it.”

She stood uncertainly, peering at the document for the moment Bodie allowed before he folded it securely back into his jacket pocket.

“I’m meant to escort anyone…” she started when a well-padded woman and a sobbing teen burst through the front doors.

“Reporting a theft!” the woman announced in a brassy voice. “I’ve been robbed, I tell you!”

Grateful for the distraction, Bodie skirted past the desk at a brisk walk and continued down the corridor.

“What is your complaint?” Heatherton was asking.

The woman launched into a sordid tale of keeping banknotes in her bread box and opening it to find the money missing. Bodie could hear her saga until he had descended a set of creaky stairs to the basement, where the evidence was kept. Doyle had described the layout of the entire building. The dicky part would be getting into to evidence lock-up unchallenged to examine what they had on the Kimmell bust, as well as Constable Raymond Doyle.

A young officer, barely out of short pants, in Bodie’s opinion, sat sleepily on a stool outside a large room that appeared to be constructed entirely out of chain link fence. Perhaps this is where the extent of the upkeep budget for the department went. The metal links were shiny bright. He kept back a few feet, pretending to read what was posted on a bulletin board when once again, he was saved by a complete stranger.

“Vogel!” a man in plainclothes barked, startling the boy so thoroughly he toppled off the stool. “Armistead’s solicitor is here to collect what they’ll need in court this morning.”

“It’s a big box, gov,” Vogel said defensively, opening the cage with a large key and pointing to a crate on the floor.

“Well, fetch it quick-like,” the senior detective demanded, tromping back to the lift. “Haven’t got all bleeding day, have we?”

“Yes, sir, right away.” The boy sighed at the man’s back and hefted the crate over as the lift opened with a shriek of unoiled metal parts.

Vogel never relocked the cage. Celebrating his good fortune, Bodie slipped inside the storehouse like room and took a look around. He knew the date when the cocaine was seized and the name of the main perpetrator. It was the work of seconds to locate the correct bin and inspect the contents. Bingo!

Using a tiny camera not much larger than a matchbox, he snapped photos of the inventory list and the contents from the Kimmell bust. Doyle had said there’d been nine kilos of cocaine, large amounts of cash from several different countries, as well as a stash of weapons and ammunition. He only located eight bricks of the drug, and had no time to count the cash before the rumble and squeak of the lift returning alerted him. Bodie was out of the cage with one second to spare before Vogel returned wiping his brow.

“May I help you?” Vogel asked wearily.

“Scotland Yard,” Bodie identified, flashing the paperwork too quickly for the boy to read. “Inspection. That evidence room was unlocked and unattended when you left your post. Against policy!”

Vogel blanched the colour of the wall behind him and hastily fit the key into the lock.

~~**~~

Some days seemed like bank hols, particularly if they were at the club until all hours without an early morning call-in from Cowley. Bodie and Doyle slept until noon and had a late breakfast with the newspaper. Doyle liked The Guardian and Bodie stuck to The Sun with its lascivious page three photos—for his file, of course.

“Finally,” Doyle said out loud, between mouthfuls of egg.

“What?” Bodie lowered his paper, peering at his breakfast companion. Doyle was tousled from sleep, his curls in disarray. He’d got a trim the week before to tame the ‘do. Bodie had rather preferred the overly long curls, like some old fashioned knight in an Arthurian saga.

“A growing movement to have the slavery law repealed.” Doyle folded the page around so Bodie could see the headline. “Just as Cowley was pushing for.”

Skimming the content, Bodie nodded. “Much as I support that, the government’ll never go for it.” He ate one of his bangers, considering all that he’d learned in a short time. This was supported by some very powerful politicians. Slavery was a despicable law, no question, but it had been a surprisingly successful one. “Slave labour alone has increased inexpensive workers for menial jobs, decreased the national debt, and kept immigration at a minimum because there’s no need for untrained people.”

“The repeal is only supported by three Parliament members thus far,” Doyle said gloomily, looking down at the bands on his wrists.

“I reckon there are peers in on this wholesale prostitution ring,” Bodie said. The idea that the government, members of Parliament, were sanctioning a cruel law for their own gain was truly terrifying. Orwell’s novel 1984 sprang to mind—not so much the plot of reforming a non-conformist, but the dire predictions of a Big Brother type government. That the actual date was only seven years away was chilling.

“Didn’t you see Lord Clarridge, Secretary of the Bond Registry, at Falconer’s the other evening?” Doyle asked, stabbing a finger in the vague direction of downtown London. “He’s not the only one in Dolan’s sphere. And there we sit, downing expensive drink, looking on like Tiny Tim peering through the plate glass at the rich folk.” He crunched a last morsel of toast as if wanting to smash something. “It’s been two weeks.”

“Patience, my son, I have a good feeling about tonight,” Bodie soothed. He was growing impatient, too, but couldn’t let on with Doyle in such a temper.

It felt indulgent, this—taking their time with an obbo, getting to know Doyle, if not intimately, then well. Their particular styles of investigation meshed, and they got on, which surprised him more than he’d anticipated. Doyle was certainly a moody bloke with a chip on his shoulder, but quietly cerebral and artistic, with a flare for goofy jokes when he’d downed a few bitters. As someone who’d read his way across more than one ocean voyage as a merc, Bodie was pleasantly surprised to find a partner who could keep up with his eclectic intelligence.

“Been thinking,” Doyle said, standing to clear away the dishes.

“Dangerous, that.” Bodie winked, draining his cup of tea. He peered into the pot to keep his eyes off Doyle’s fine arse. A few inches of hot water in the Brown Betty, was there enough left for another cuppa?

“Are we wrong assuming he’s dealing in men as well as women?” Doyle appeared to be intent on his washing up, as if he could pretend they weren’t discussing the potential of himself being sold into sexual slavery. “Because there hasn’t been a shred of proof regarding men. Where are they?”

“One more secret to dig up,” Bodie replied, no longer interested in tea. He hadn’t yet admitted to Doyle that he’d dug into the evidence used to frame him. Mostly because while he had film, which he’d passed along to the CI5 lab technicians, Shuster now claimed that actual brick of cocaine and cash supposedly recovered at Doyle’s had gone missing.

Investigating the names of anyone they saw at the club: who might have actual connections to Dolan, or any of the others they were certain were involved in the corruption, and who simply visited the club for a good time had taken a goodly portion of their time. The list of those involved had grown longer by virtue of who knew whom. Did the fact that the double O seven actor knew a peer of the Realm have significance? Or did they frequent the same venues because they were wealthy and famous? Betty had been working overtime on all the cross-referencing and computer work she was taxed with.

They’d verified four more women who had been bond servants and were sold outright into prostitution. Bodie was certain this was a fraction of the actual number, but where were the men they sought? Why hadn’t Dolan contacted them about Doyle? Had they been on the wrong track all along?

~~**~~

Cowley spread the new set of photos out on his desk, fuming. He should ream Bodie a new one for going out on an unsanctioned quest. Yet, his foray had yielded unprecedented results.

Although he’d never been privy to the actual evidence against Doyle, he had seen a photograph in court. The brick of cocaine and a stack of cash.

Clearly, those behind the frame-up had never expected to have their handiwork compared to the original stash. Bodie had taken sharp pictures of the Kimmell hoard. On the inventory sheet, it listed eight kilos of cocaine, ten thousands pounds British currency, eight thousand French Francs, and around one hundred thousand American bills. Not to mention numerous guns and boxes of ammunition. In a most egregious manipulation of the data, someone had taken a pen and changed a typed nine to an eight by drawing a round ball on the lower half of the nine to obscure the numeral.

“Not even a clever forgery,” Cowley said out loud. He pressed the button connecting him with Betty. “Call in 3.7 and Doyle.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied promptly.

~~**~~

The day seemed endless. The April air, usually decent in the mid-fifties Fahrenheit, had been closer to freezing the night before and only climbed to around forty-eight degrees by midday. Doyle shivered, standing next to the electric heater in the office he and Bodie shared. Outside, he could hear chanting voices coming nearer. What was going on?

Abandoning the dreary lists they’d finally got from the Bond Registry of women and men who’d elected, or been coerced, into slavery, Doyle pushed open the window to look down on the street. A parade of fifty or so people were marching in the road, brandishing signs protesting slavery. Many of the placards proclaimed: “ESSENS—English Slavery Should End Now Society”. A barricade of coppers was forming on both sides of the pavement, hemming in the protestors. Didn’t appear that the picketers had a chance.

Once upon a time, he’d have been amongst the men in full riot gear, at the ready to arrest the people judged at fault. Well, he’d been judged, and wanted no part of that life anymore. He watched in amazement. The police observed quietly, allowing the demonstrators to pass on down the road to where he could see a cluster of news cameras and reporters.

Good. He wanted to cheer, to run down and join the ranks opposed to slavery. But he couldn’t. Couldn’t jeopardise the operation at a critical time. He and Bodie were accepted regulars at the Falconer’s Club—on friendly terms with staff and the men in Dolan’s coterie. They both expected an invitation to meet Dolan quite soon. Gaining his inner circle would be a leap forward in their investigation.

“What’s all the noise?” Bodie banged through the door and thrust a steaming mug of tea in Doyle’s direction. A packet of chocolate biscuits peeped out of his jacket pocket.

“Do-gooders advocating an end to slavery,” Doyle reported, gritting his teeth. He’d been on edge in the last few days, feeling trapped into a life he feared might be his prison for a long time to come. He reveled in the work with Bodie, but what if they never found any hard evidence on Dolan? What if the whole inquiry came to naught? He couldn’t live as a slave. It sucked the soul out of him every time he saw another person wearing the bloody red bands.

He’d never asked Cowley how much his bond was worth, but it had to be far more than his monthly pay packet as a copper had been. How long would it take to pay it off if they couldn’t prove his innocence? The charges against him, theft, drugs possession, and perjury, would have got him twenty years in the Scrubs, at the very least.

Twenty years a slave.

“Oi,” Bodie said sharply, waving a chocolate biscuit in front of his eyes. “Where’d you go?”

“Nowhere you’d like to be,” Doyle groused, taking a large swallow of tea. It was far too hot, burning his tongue.

“Good of ‘em to try and raise the roof.” Bodie glanced out the window at the tail of the parade. “Won’t do much good for you.”

“You joining the Traditionalist party now?” Doyle snarled, pent up anger churning inside him.

“Don’t fret, poppet.” Bodie patted the air, to soothe from afar. “Fair minded people will prevail. We’re part of the vanguard, dragging the diseased exploits into the light, but it’ll take years to change policy.”

As he well knew. The reality weighed him down as if he’d drunk lead instead of tea. Doyle drew in a tight breath that didn’t reach his clenched belly. “Those lists aren’t accurate,” he said after a few minutes.

“How can you tell?” Bodie claimed the desk chair, running a finger down the names.

“Supposed to be a tally of everyone in the bond slavery program, by year,” Doyle explained, letting the work bleed the intensity of his anger away. He could do this, even if he never benefited from the results. Thus far, he’d had a better go than most held in slavery; respect, a decent place to live, good mate, and work that fed his intellect. What did he have to complain about? “There were five in ’72, the first year. After that, the number of slaves doesn’t just triple or quadruple, the increase is exponential.” He had to stop, the realisation of how many people had been forced to their knees, either physically or metaphysically, was overwhelming.

“Hard to fathom,” Bodie said softly, the rough edge on his voice somehow calming Doyle’s ire more than a dozen kind words could have done. “It happened right under our noses, without enough attention paid to the details.”

“Society doesn’t care to know what’s done to those charged with crimes, as long as they’re kept away from hearth and home,” Doyle said bitterly.

“Giving them the drudge work, in the muck and nasty, seemed kind, I suppose,” Bodie continued thoughtfully. “If one didn’t think about it too closely.”

“Which few do,” Doyle finished. “Thing is—there’re at the very least, two, possibly six or more, names missing, that we know of. Which means there must be dozens, possibly hundreds not on that roster.” He pulled the list for 1977 off the bottom of the stack. “Your Page Three bird, Barbara, for one.”

“Bloody hell,” Bodie said. “Four prisoners’ sentences commuted to bond slavery in January.”

“All men.” Doyle sipped the tea more slowly. “Which, oddly, is the same for February—six men, no women. But that doesn’t hold true every single month. So I took a gander back two years. Remember Helen in Tristan Penvenen’s shop? She mentioned a Maribel—didn’t say what month, but they’d entered prison on the same night.” He rifled through the lists until he located a page labeled 1975. “There’s a Helen Kwong—“

“Has to be Gilchrist’s little tailor,” Bodie agreed. “Easy enough to establish her surname.”

“No Maribel at all,” Doyle absently selected a chocolate biscuit from the open packet sat on the desk. “Unusual enough name that it should stick out.”

“But it doesn’t.” Bodie crunched a biscuit in harmony with Doyle.

“The same for the four names we got from Eilish who’ve disappeared from the club.” Doyle brushed crumbs from his hands. “But what of men? Sold less often?” He quaked at the idea of Dolan handing over cash for his naked body.

Bodie drummed his fingers on the desktop with a frown, as if spelling something in Morse code. “What if they’re dealt with in a different manner?”

“You onto something?” Felt like they were grasping at straws.

“Early days yet.” Bodie waggled his fingers, finishing the choccie biccie. “Coal mining?”

“Think Yorkshire has that one sewn up.”

“I know well, the Army will take just about any able bodied bloke.” Bodie tapped his chest ruefully. “Particularly when there’s an uprising in some remote location.”

“They’re being sold to the military?” Doyle tried fitting that into the whole. “Mixed blessing, I suppose. Dangerous but not as demeaning as sex work.”

“That’s what you think.” Bodie rolled his eyes.

“Bodie, Doyle?” Betty rapped on the door frame, although the door was wide open. “Mr Cowley would like a word.”

“What’s he on about?” Doyle asked, suspicion reigning. He’d lived on the edge of stress for so long, he couldn’t step away.

“Just collected the mail, didn’t I?” Betty said prettily, “And there was something to do with you.”

“Come along, let’s get it over with.” Bodie prodded him to the corridor. “You can bring him up to speed with your Registry lists, since it was your discovery.”

“Where are the missing prisoners ending up?” Doyle mused out loud. “D’you think Dolan sells them overseas?”

“International slave trafficking.” Bodie grinned malevolently, his arched eyebrow giving him a devilish aspect. “Now we’re onto something good.”

~~**~~

George Cowley was often conflicted when giving subordinates commands. He hid it well, rarely permitting his own opinions on a difficult assignment or perilous operation to influence the decision to send out an agent.

This, however, felt wrong on so many levels. He was a good Presbyterian—liked to think that he atoned for sins, followed the rules of a good Christian life, as far as he could finagle within the nature of intelligence work. Sometimes, he was forced to condone unsavoury aspects, torture, and cruelty. He didn’t like to admit it, but those were the bare facts of life.

He read over the summons again with a shake of his head. He’d known this would come due, and yet had put it out of his mind, preferring to deal with it when the time came.

That time was now.

“Mr Cowley?” Doyle paused at the threshold to his office, Bodie just behind.

“Come in, come in, and 3.7, close the door, will you?” Cowley said briskly. Best to do it quickly, like ripping off a plaster. He held out the missive to Doyle. “Your monthly flogging.”

Doyle, to his credit, didn’t flinch or waver. He plucked the paper from Cowley’s hand, scanning the brief contents. “On April tenth, I’m to report to the pavilion adjacent Buckingham Palace…” He swallowed, about to read more.

“Hold on!” Bodie interrupted angrily, pushing past Doyle to thump a fist on Cowley’s wooden desktop. “There must be a way to stop this.” He looked stricken, horror mixed with disgust. “He’ll be injured, unable to—“

“Bodie,” Doyle said so low he was almost inaudible. “It’s part of—“

“Part of his sentence,” Cowley said, although his jaw was so tight his teeth ached. “I’d commute the punishment if there was anyway possible.”

“This isn’t right!” Bodie objected loudly, aiming a kick at the chair leg.

“Bodie,” Cowley scolded. He shook his head, reaching for the bottle of Glenlivet he’d bought only the day before. This was exactly the occasion to have a wee dram.

“Seems you all know my name,” Bodie snarled, hurling himself into the chair. He put a hand on Doyle’s arm.

For a moment, Doyle appeared to shrink away from the touch, going inward, but he didn’t actually move. Stood still as death before surrendering to the kindness with something like a shudder. The summons loosed from his fingers, dropping to the lino.

“What is the status of your case?” Cowley asked, playing mother with the whisky and glasses.

“We’ve found something amiss pointing to inside manipulation,” Bodie said after tasting his drink. He looked over to Doyle.

“Erm.” Doyle had a false start, took a drink, and frowned. “Appears that when some bond slaves are obtained by buyers—we’re fairly certain of our Barbara Tanner, in specific—they are dropped from the national registry completely.”

“Very interesting.” Cowley’s Scottish burr added extra Rs to very. He steepled his fingers in speculation. “Who would have that sort of power? It hadn’t occurred to me until just now that.” He nodded at the paper on the floor and Doyle bent to retrieve it. “The Registry must maintain strict accounting for the monthly punishments.”

“Those buying these missing slaves wouldn’t want their deeds quickly exposed, so there must be someone overseeing both the Registry as well as the punishment log,” Bodie mused.

“Like a word with them,” Doyle added, his knuckles white around the glass.

“We all would,” Cowley agreed grimly. Would this unknown person be the weak link they’d use to bring down the entire enterprise?

~~**~~

Cochrane no longer confronted Bodie. The smile he sent their way chilled Bodie to the bone. Had something changed? Or was that gruesome grin Cochrane’s way of greeting them?

Shaking his head to clear extraneous thought, Bodie gripped Doyle’s elbow, guiding him toward the booth where they frequently sat. Up on the stage, a man in a glittery jacket and huge rhinestone studded glasses was pounding on the piano, singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart!”

“You can let go now,” Doyle said into his ear, jerking from Bodie’s grasp.

Bodie wanted to protest; no, he’d never let go. The idea that Doyle was to be lashed the next day was all he could think about. He’d been whipped. Oh, not by a professional, but the incident remained fresh in his brain. When he was not much more than a boy, bored by village life and living with a drunken mother and strict nan, he’d run away on a merchant ship. Testosterone was the order of the day: who had the most ran the roost. Older men fucked the boys, subjecting them to abuse and torture to prove their manhood.

No-one was spared the ritual of the lash across a bare back. It was a rite of passage, proof of strength. He’d endured his trial, absurdly proud that he’d taken five strikes without crying—and jumped ship less than a week later, never looking back.

Doyle’s punishment would be far worse. Bodie had seen the occasional whippings in the Buckingham pavilion, usually because he had to be seen there for an investigation. Floggings were not the sort of entertainment he preferred. Footy and a good lager at the pub were his choice of spectator sports. Most mandated floggings were twenty-five or more strikes on naked flesh. All over, not only the upper back.

He’d grappled with the idea of spiriting Doyle away all afternoon. Hell, he was an operative, with multiple passports, hidden caches of money, and contacts all over the world. Wouldn’t take an hour to disappear. Cowley might never find them.

Might was the qualifier here. Cowley would put out feelers to the same contacts and cities Bodie knew. Not to mention when they were found, the British government who would toss Doyle into prison without benefit of the semi-freedom of slavery.

Wasn’t worth the risk. Didn’t mean he’d dismissed the notion entirely.

“Oi.” Doyle was sat in the leather booth, regarding him with a frown. “Your usual?”

Eilish popped into his vision, her red hair pulled into a high ponytail so that the feathered falcon cap perched low over one eyebrow. “Mr Williams?” She smiled, thrusting her cleavage at him.

Took Bodie far too long to remember he was using the bloody alias. “Whisky,” he ordered tersely, sliding in beside his partner. Fucking dangerous to zone out that completely whilst undercover. “Some cheese and bread.”

“Very good.” She bobbed her breasts and scurried away.

“Stay in the game,” Doyle snarled.

“Hate Elton John,” Bodie responded, sitting with his back to the stage. Which was why he saw a slender man with shaggy blond hair come through a door that shouldn’t have been there at all. The bright strobe lights and glitter disco balls caused shifting shadows that hid much of the room. Once the blond had closed the door, Bodie had difficulty perceiving the outline of a portal he knew existed. Ingenious.

He was about to alert Doyle when the blond approached their table, wearing an expression that declared “I went to Public school and I am important.” Bodie imagined shoving a fist between his capped teeth. The last notes of Elton John’s Pinball Wizard faded, giving the man time to speak without shouting.

“Mr Williams?” He nodded in greeting, barely glancing Doyle’s way. “Raymond. Mr Dolan invites you to a private meeting. He has expressed an interest in getting to know you.”

Bodie eyed Doyle who had gone blank-faced, playing the subdued slave to the hilt. Bodie wanted to give him a shake, ignite that spark that was pure Doyle. Instead, he rose out of the booth, standing toe to toe with the blond. “Who says so?” he asked, glowering. Didn’t pay to look too eager.

“Patrick Vickers,” Doyle supplied, head ducked. “Dolan’s toady.”

Vickers was fast, but Bodie was faster. He closed his hand around Vickers’ wrist just as he swung back to slap Doyle’s face.

“Naughty, naughty,” Bodie chided in Vickers’ ear, the sudden wave of adrenalin doing much to assuage his emotions. “Laying hands on a man’s slave. S’not right, is it?”

“Mouth on that one.” Vickers twisted free with a grimace, stepping back to smooth his tie. “Shouldn’t wonder the little copper was nicked after he grassed on his mates.” The hot temper drained away all the upper crust accent.

Doyle bared his teeth like an angry dog but had the good sense not to go on the attack. Luckily, with Elton John blaring the lyrics to Crocodile Rock, and encouraging club guests to sing along, very few patrons had noticed the charged encounter between Bodie and Vickers.

“Lead the way.” Bodie motioned to the hidden door. “I’d like to meet the boss man.” He waited a beat until Doyle reluctantly stood.

“That entrance is only accessible from the other side,” Vickers intoned, the faux Etonian back in place. He led them out of the main restaurant to the corridor featuring Dolan’s antique hat, straight to the door Bodie had noticed their first night. “Up the stairs.” Vickers unlocked the door with an old fashioned key. “He’s waiting.”

~~**~~

Felt like he was walking to his doom. Doyle was torn between his true nature, where he challenged authority and baited those who got up his nose, and the submissive conduct he should be showing. Had his identification of Vickers got them into hot water? The arsehole had been a thorn in his side since he’d begun the investigation last year. Vickers was a small time criminal who somehow caught Dolan’s eye. With the mobster’s sponsorship, he’d risen in the ranks, acting as go-between, so that only the privileged ever came near Dolan.

“Didn’t get the drinks and cheese,” he commented to Bodie, very glad of his partner directly beside him. They went up a flight of stairs to a dim passageway with light coming from a half open door at the other end.

“Expect it’ll be served here,” Bodie said wryly, that eyebrow of his waggling.

Almost made Doyle laugh. He paused at the junction to Dolan’s inner offices, unwilling to go in without his partner—not his master.

The room was brightly lit, furnished with ostentatious style, featuring a gold and white couch and matching chairs that could have been lifted straight out of Versailles. A small man with the visage of a mischievous leprechaun sat in the middle of the couch, a buxom blonde on his right, and a curvy brunette on his left. Two other men flanked the trio, but it was clear they were not partying. Both had the shoulders and wide upper bodies of weight lifters, and the outline of their shoulder holsters completely ruined the cut of their dark suits. Bodyguards.

“Come in, come in!” Dolan invited, his brogue lilting and sweet.

Doyle wasn’t charmed. Long before he took up this quest, he’d heard of the crimes done in Dolan’s name. Not just robberies and extortion, but murders. Dolan was a cruel man, with a heart of coal. He ran his businesses like a dictator—only one person was right in his organization, and that was he. All others feared for their jobs, or their lives when in his employ. He and Bodie had not found one Falcon who would utter a single word against their boss.

“You’re a tease, Mr Williams.” Dolan held out a hand to Bodie, shaking it with enthusiasm. “Coming in so often with the copper on his leash.”

Bodie crossed his arms over his expensive jacket, strong, competent, and tough. “You believe I was trying to get your attention?” He laughed.

Doyle breathed in, eyelids at half-mast, peering at the women through his lashes. Both wore clingy evening dresses which featured long sleeves, all the better to hide the red bands around their wrists. The brunette was kitted out in bright red, exactly the same colour as the mostly hidden bands, the bodice cut so low Doyle could see the jut of her pert nipples. The blonde’s gown featured a gilt braid that undulated with her every inhalation. Both women kept their attention focused on Dolan as if fearing reprisal should they turn away.

“Sit, sit,” Dolan said impatiently. “Eilish will be up in a trice with your order. I want to know you better. Why you’ve been coming in so often, if not to hold the puppy up for my approval?”

Bodie gripped Doyle’s elbow, exactly as he’d done when they arrived. There’d most definitely be bruises on the morrow.

“Word on the street got back to me, that you’d taken an interest in Ray’s…” Bodie steered Doyle beside one of the gold chairs, leaving him standing whilst Bodie sat down. “Activities earlier in the year.”

Eilish came in so silently, Doyle would not have heard her except that Dolan suddenly smiled, completely ignoring the other two birds.

“My little beauty,” Dolan crooned. “From County Donegal, we both are. I knew her mother way back when. A beauty, as well.”

Eilish’s smile was painted on. She knew her place and did it with her usual flair, but the light in her eyes that Doyle had seen down in the club was dimmed. He could almost smell her fear.

“She was, sir,” Eilish agreed politely, pouring the whisky for Bodie.

Doyle hadn’t expected a glass of his own. Sitting with Bodie was one thing. With his master, he was given whatever his master allowed. In Dolan’s lair, the rules changed dramatically.

“Three kinds of cheese, Mr Williams. Would you be wanting anything else?” Eilish bent, presenting her décolletage as required, to put a wedge of Brie on a cracker for him.

“Got such a set on her, she could win prizes in the county fair,” Dolan boasted. “Exactly why I imported her from the old country.”

“No, thank you, love, you’ve done a wonderful job.” Bodie accepted the treat and passed it over to Doyle once she’d turned away. “Mr Dolan, it’s clear you admire the female form in all its glory.” Bodie grinned at the bookends. “But I haven’t seen a boy on offer in all my visits. Makes me wonder why you’ve an eye for our Ray.”

Doyle stuffed the cheese into his mouth to prevent himself from reacting. He’d known full well that it would be difficult enduring Dolan’s level of perversity, but hearing it from Bodie was chilling.

“Tis true, I prefer the ladies.” Dolan chuckled. “But I’ll dip me nib in any attractive inkpot.” He rubbed a hand up the blonde’s thigh, tucking it under the slit in her dress. “You pamper Raymond. Giving him your food as if he were free.” His voice had gone hard and cold as he continued. “I’ll be watching when he’s flogged. That’ll take the wind out of his sails, and he’ll be a whole different slave. More amenable. Easier to control.”

“You know his flogging date?” Bodie asked.

Doyle heard the intensity in the question. Bodie did not like that level of detail from the mobster.

“I keep track of such things. Have to, I have a large stable, some of mine are tomorrow, as well.” He waved an expansive hand toward the club. “Getting back to what I think was your original query, I own another club for those interested in a masculine allure. Someone else does the day to day running and…procuring of talent.”

“Care to reveal the address?” Bodie shifted in his chair, his shoulder pressing against Doyle’s thigh.

“In Whitechapel, where there was a proclivity for the sport. Fox Hunting Club.” He chortled, amused by his own joke. “I’m surprised you were unawares.”

So was Doyle. It made them seem unprepared.

Bodie only raised his glass of whisky in reply.

“However, as I said, I enjoy the spectacle of public flogging.” He clapped his hands together in anticipation. “A throwback to the Roman Coliseum, slaves as entertainment, battling for their lives.”

The blonde and brunette both pursed their lips, clearly dismayed at Dolan’s glee. As if dismissing her own reaction, the blonde leaned over to kiss him on the cheek, distracting him for several minutes. The brunette quickly joined in.

Doyle was no less dismayed. He could only imagine the pain of twenty-five strokes of a whip on his bare back. How would he endure such a thing in front of an audience? Sick making, it was. Then there were the two bodyguards who studiously kept their eyes off their boss whilst he was indulging. The one on the right was staring across the room as if there were a particularly intriguing moth on the lamp fixture. The one on the left had a particularly unnerving method of undressing Doyle with his eyes.

Doyle schooled his face with difficulty, McCordie’s abuse in the prison rearing up as if it was yesterday.

“Not to break up your sport,” Bodie said languidly, eating a piece of ripe bleu on a water cracker. “I’d assumed you had an agenda for having us in.”

“A wee birdie told me your Raymond’s bond was purchased by Major Cowley,” Dolan said with a maniacally impish grin. He reached over and liberated a wedge of Wensleydale cheese and a water cracker from Bodie’s tray. “How is it you came by him?”

“Now the other shoe drops,” Bodie answered, picking up the identical appetizer. “I’ve no doubt you are aware of how commerce works, Bertie.”

Dolan narrowed his eyes in displeasure at the use of his first name but amazingly didn’t fire off a salvo.

“George sold me the papers for a packet of Our Liz’s pictures,” Bodie continued, “and I took possession of Ray.”

“You’re a funny man.” Dolan waggled a finger at him, his eyes expressionless as a snake’s.

“That why you’ve asked us over for tea?” Bodie sipped his whisky. “I make you laugh?”

“You do, you do, Andrew me lad.” Dolan laughed, throwing his head back against the blonde’s soft bosom. “You slay me. He’s a lovely specimen, even when he was a pain in me backside as a copper.”

If having the bodyguard’s eyes roaming over him was disturbing, Dolan’s pervy regard was akin to being dipped in sewer water. Doyle clenched his back teeth to keep his head in the game. This was a golden opportunity to observe the inner workings of the mobster’s organization. He realised he’d never seen Redmoon in the club at any time he and Bodie were there. Did the man work elsewhere? Probably. Had he dropped off the edge of the world? Possibly, in Dolan’s world.

“He’s grown on me,” Bodie said, leaning back to cross his legs at the ankle. “This can be a lucrative endeavour; not sure I want to lose my single asset before I acquire others.”

Nodding, Dolan tapped his upper lip as if mulling over an idea. “Since you are new to the business, I’m willing to give you a break and offer a premium for your boy to take him off your hands. A symbol of my good faith.”

Doyle ducked his head, staring straight down at his own brogans because if he didn’t, he would have gone for Dolan’s throat.

“What do you have in mind?” Bodie asked.

Dolan shook his head with a glance at Doyle. “Prefer not to let it get to their heads. Wellington, take our Raymond into the corridor and don’t let him out of your sight.”

Clearly, Dolan was aware of which bodyguard wanted a piece of Doyle. Wellington took a step from his left side of the room, ready to bodily eject Doyle.

“I can let myself out,” Doyle said stiffly, catching Bodie’s eye. He could almost hear Bodie telling him to simmer down before he boiled over.

“No you can’t,” Dolan snapped. “Not in my club. Wellington?”

Closing one massive hand around Doyle’s upper arm, Wellington all but lifted Doyle over the threshold into the narrow hall. Doyle started to jerk away when another door opened, a tall man with jet black hair emerging. Johnny Redmoon, at long last.

“Got him already, then?” Redmoon asked, taking Doyle’s measure with a discerning eye.

“Boss man’s still in negotiations,” Wellington said, basso profundo.

“Carry on, then.” Redmoon walked past them to the stairs without a glance back.

Leaning against a wall with a wary eye on Wellington, Doyle contented himself that he’d made a small contribution to the intel for the evening.

~~**~~

The street outside The Falconer’s Club was peaceful, only the murmur of an expensive car stopping to pick up a patron and Cochrane’s cheerful “cheerio!” to break the quiet.

Doyle stalked out, past the doorman, two steps in front of Bodie. The Capri was parked a few streets away, so they had a goodly walk ahead of them. Bodie didn’t have to be an expert in codebreaking to read Doyle’s mood: he was wound tighter than a watch spring, his back ramrod straight. Despite that their meeting with Dolan had been a success.

“What’s got you in a lather?” Bodie asked with forced bonhomie. Didn’t do to pile on more aggro.

“I’m a fucking slave!” Doyle hissed through his teeth.

“Already established that, sunshine,” Bodie answered as blandly as possible. “What else?”

“I can’t…” Doyle whirled around abruptly, facing Bodie, one long arm braced against the brick wall on his left. He looked magnificent, and full of rage.

No-one else in the street to see them. Or hear them, Bodie hoped.

“Can’t—do what you want, when you want?” Bodie asked. He yearned to pull Doyle into his arms, hold him close and kiss those lovely lips, but he was well aware that was the last thing Doyle would want in this instance. More likely he’d slug Bodie in the mouth than kiss him. “Whilst on an op, none of us are totally free,” he said. “You’ve in a category all your own. Can’t be changed.” He took a step forward, right palm up. Nonthreatening.

Doyle shuddered on an exhale, the anger coming off him in waves. “That—wanker’s going to watch me be flogged like he’s gone to an afternoon showing of an X certificate film.”

“Yeah,” Bodie agreed. He didn’t like it any better than Doyle did. “So you hold up your chin and show ‘em they can’t grind you down.”

“Easy for you to say!” Doyle growled, but his ire was diminishing. He hunched, both arms around himself, as if drawing strength from within.

“Hey.” Bodie didn’t move for a beat, feeling that they were poised on the head of a pin: this wasn’t a matey moment, where a punch in the arm and a pint would heal. Neither was it the right time for a shag, no matter that he reckoned they both would be better for it. And with his position as Doyle’s erstwhile master, did he have the right to give Doyle a hug?

Doyle looked up at him from what seemed like miles instead of two squares in the pavement. Something altered in him from one second to the next, and he squared his shoulders, becoming a predatory feline, all sleek muscle and sensuous drive.

“C’mere,” Doyle demanded, his eyes glittering feral and strange in the spill of light from a street lamp on the corner.

Bodie couldn’t look away, stunned at how quickly the tables had turned. His heart thudded. He was aroused and confused—he’d quashed ideas of fucking in his own mind, but apparently Doyle hadn’t got the memo.

Doyle grabbed his wrist in a tight grip, pulling Bodie into the alley between a block of flats and a shuttered storefront. “It’s my bloody turn,” Doyle whispered, shoving Bodie against the dark wall hard enough to make him cough.

This far back from the pavement, there was almost no light. Colour was reduced to black, darker black, and streaks of gray when a cloud passed over the crescent moon. Cars swooshed by in the distance, no longer part of their intimate world whatsoever. Bodie couldn’t see Doyle, but he could feel every inch of him, from his rapid fire breathing to the thickness boring through his trousers. Forcing calm he wasn’t sure he could maintain, Bodie acquiesced. He already knew this was not to be gentle lovemaking.

Doyle pawed at Bodie’s shirt and tie, loosening the knot and parting a few buttons for a rough caress over his suddenly sensitised chest skin and aching nipples.

“Keep going,” Bodie encouraged. This was Doyle’s right: he’d been the one on his knees the last time. Bodie would take his turn. “But slow down, no need to…”

“Shut up,” Doyle instructed, pressing his knuckles on Bodie’s lips in an approximation of a punch before shoving him to the debris covered cement. “Fill your mouth with something nutritional.”

Liberating Doyle’s throbbing cock from his flies was the work of seconds, although even that was too long for Doyle. He hissed at Bodie’s touch, panting. His whole body trembled like an addict begging for another dose, and he angled Bodie’s head towards the target, bracing himself against the wall with one hand as he’d done moments earlier.

It had been a long time. Bodie hadn’t sucked a willie in…he had no brain cells to calculate the time span. This was now, this was…Doyle. He slathered the thick length with his tongue, adorning it with his lips. But Doyle was in no mood for niceties. For prolonging the mood.

After only a few of Bodie’s finest moves, Doyle came, shooting his load across Bodie’s face and upper body. Then, as if the violence of his actions were the only things keeping him on his feet, Doyle crumpled against the wall, his chest heaving from the strain.

Not sure how to feel, or what to think, Bodie stood cautiously, zipping Doyle’s trousers shut with hands that shook. He scooped up an unresisting Doyle, walking him as if they were paired in a three-legged race at the summer fete. The knees of his trousers were damp, and he really didn’t want to know what he’d been kneeling in. With all luck, it had been beer and not some bodily fluid. His shirt was most probably ruined, two buttons hanging by threads and spunk sliming the rest.

They’d reached the Capri when Doyle raised his head. His eyes were dark smudges in a pale oval. “I—“

“Was your turn, Ray,” Bodie said quietly.

~~**~~

Cowley hadn’t expected to see 2.4 so late in the morning. With her stenographic duties at the Bond Registry Office, Pettifer was busy between eight thirty and five, Monday through Friday. She’d managed to smuggle out smudged copies of several vital documents that would go far in building the case for not only corruption, but conspiracy to commit violent acts. There was ample evidence of a case of mismanagement and fraud, as well as proving that mobsters were involved in international sexual trafficking and drugs rackets.

“2.4, this is an unexpected surprise.” Cowley caught sight of her in the corridor and waved her through to his office.

“I’ve only a few minutes,” Ruth smoothed the long sweep of her perfect blonde hair, and took off her sunglasses. She glanced around as if surprised no-one else was there. “3.7 and the new one, Doyle, aren’t here yet?”

“A mite early in the day for them.” Cowley clucked his tongue in disapproval, although he knew why they kept banker’s hours. The late nights of a club goer were for a younger man than he. “You’ve an update?”

“This is truly nepotism all the way down,” she said primly. “Were you aware that Lord Clarridge was once married to Judge Blackstone’s sister? And the peer, Lord Bellingham, who first introduced the law to Parliament was a cousin, as were two of the original supporters. Malachi Beecham is—“

“Unconscionable,” Cowley shook his head. The hubris of those in the upper stratosphere of government was staggering. “Blackstone’s brother’s son, and I’ve only recently unearthed that Albert Dolan’s first wife was Clarridge’s niece on his wife’s side,” he agreed. “Aristocracy is inbred, but this whole scheme is knotted with familial ties.”

“I was sent out to buy more office supplies because somehow—“ she smiled with a shrug, opening her handbag to root around for a slip of cellophane. “The group tasked with maintaining the stores never received the most recent request for inventory.”

“Good show, 2.4.”

She placed what appeared to be a very tiny black spot into his hand. “Microfilm, sir. Must dash.”

~~**~~

Doyle felt cold, as if his bones were constructed from blocks of ice. Made no difference that the sun was shining, temperatures on the rise, and spring flowers were blooming in every garden and window box. His behaviour the night before had been reprehensible.

He’d been a complete shit, forcing Bodie to submit. Rape, that’s what it was, pure and simple, because how was it any different, really, than what McCordie had tried on him? He was utterly ashamed of himself. He hadn’t been able look Bodie in the eye since they woke up in the same bed smelling of whisky and sex.

He didn’t eat anything, basically hiding in the shower while Bodie dressed and had a late breakfast, only emerging when it was time to leave the flat.

Bodie glanced over at him as if needing to talk, but Doyle ignored him, and the cup of tea he held out. With all that had occurred, and was happening later, the last thing he could tolerate was food.

The flogging was set for 2 p.m., and he was meant to be there by one to “prepare,” whatever that entailed.

Barreling into CI5 headquarters, as if arriving in Cowley’s office would get their report over with more quickly and somehow affect future events, Doyle nearly ploughed into Ruth Pettifer.

“Doyle!” she cried, sliding to the left to avoid a collision. She glanced at Bodie and touched Doyle’s arm gently. “Stiff upper lip. Stay strong,” Ruth said softly, shoving her sunglasses on at the same time.

Momentarily stunned, Doyle realised she was scared for him. He’d seen a single tear in her eye before she hid behind the aviator lenses. Her empathy lanced the shame he’d harboured all night, leaving him mired in far too much emotion to deal with. He wasn’t about to unload onto Bodie, not again, so he clamped his lips shut.

This was his bed, and he had to lie in it, no matter if he deserved the punishment or not. He would pay the penance for raping Bodie.

“3.7, 4.5,” Cowley greeted.

“Four five?” Doyle echoed, Bodie chiming in on cue.

“Your designation,” Cowley said shortly, waving them to chairs. “When are you due at the Buckingham Pavilion?”

As if he didn’t know. “One, sir,” Doyle said, leaning on the bookshelf to leave the chair for Bodie.

Bodie sat with a backward glance at Doyle, mixed emotions warring on his face.

Doyle couldn’t look, couldn’t deal with Bodie’s reactions. Not today. Maybe not ever again.

“We’ve made contact with Dolan, sir,” Bodie began, his voice rough, betraying how much he’d drunk and how little sleep he’d had. “He made an offer, on the stipulation that he watch the flogging today, first.”

Cowley’s eyes widened. “Does he expect to make the exchange immediately afterward?”

“The weekend, I reckon.”

This was news to Doyle. He should have asked Bodie more questions. “Then we can set up a sting, yeah?”

“As in the American film with Newman and Redford?” Cowley looked faintly amused. “I do go to the cinema.”

“Set up the buy, and arrest Dolan when he hands over the cash?” Bodie asked rhetorically, his brow furrowed. “It’s not technically illegal to sell a bond to someone else.”

“It is if it’s proven that the man was falsely imprisoned and enslaved,” Cowley answered.

For a moment, Doyle wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly. He couldn’t breathe. “Sir?”

“Because of Bodie’s efforts on your behalf, we have solid evidence that you were framed.” Cowley nodded, patting a file. “I’ve talked with Baron Tallmouth, the president of the Supreme Court, who put me through to Lord McMaster of the High Court. He is now reviewing your case.”

“Fantastic!” Bodie crowed.

“You never said,” Doyle whispered, finally looking his partner in the eye. He saw sadness and hurt.

“Had to make sure it could be substantiated.” Bodie turned away as if maintaining eye contact was too painful. “Sir, you’ve got the goods?”

“Aye. At the inquest, I saw a photo of the items supposedly found at your flat,” Cowley explained. “When you supplied the photos of the evidence from the Kimmell case, there was no denying that the cocaine was from the same batch.”

“Hoist with their own petard,” Bodie said with satisfaction.

This was far better than Doyle had ever imagined. He might be a free man in a few days, completely exonerated.

“Lord McMaster’s clerks will take possession of both the physical evidence from the Kimmell case and Doyle’s posthaste, despite Shuster’s objections that certain items have been misplaced,” Cowley continued. “3.7, when Dolan contacts you, explain that the royal physician in charge of slaves after punishments is keeping Doyle for twenty four hour observation. The earliest he can be…transferred is Sunday evening.”

“I’ll be flogged then?” Doyle said, unable to hide the despair.

“We cannot allow any hint of the investigation to leak out—not only to Dolan, but Malachi Beecham, as well. There are too many players who could leak information.” Cowley frowned. “The explanation for collecting the evidence is that the Met wants to keep the case of a corrupt copper quiet.”

“While we put a landmine up their arses.” Bodie chuckled bitterly.

“Bodie—“ Doyle started, not sure what to say or how to express his gratitude when he felt flayed, without a single stroke of the lash.

“I know, Ray,” Bodie said, touching his arm for the first time that morning. “I know.”

~~**~~

Bodie pressed a hand against his chest, following the queue into the grandstand at the Buckingham Pavilion. He ached, as if he was having a heart attack. Up until the moment the guards separated him from Doyle, he’d entertained the grand scheme of turning the car around and speeding north, to somewhere wild and uncivilized where he could keep Doyle safe. No slavery, no flogging.

They’d both be fugitives, hiding for the rest of their lives.

Which was worse? Watching the man he loved receive a vicious beating or evading the law for the next twenty years. He couldn’t count on Cowley’s strategy to have the entire law struck down in Parliament. Not in the short term, anyway. At the very least, his little undercover to the West End Police Department had paid off. Like every other civil servant in the kingdom, he was forced to wait for the slow pace of government for results.

He would wait for Doyle as long as necessary.

Scores of people were arriving to watch the floggings, including a surprising number of children. Anyone under sixteen should be in school, in Bodie’s opinion. Not here to witness cruelty and abuse inflicted on another human being. He looked around but didn’t locate Dolan or any of his entourage in the melee. Was that a good sign or a bad one? No doubt there were private boxes for the hoi polloi. Finding a seat proved more difficult than Bodie anticipated, but he claimed a place to sit about five minutes before the event was set to begin.

Having participated in far more battles, both hand to hand and with weapons, than he cared to recall, Bodie was well versed in violence. However, watching a flogging as if it was an amusing entertainment turned his stomach.

As much as it horrified him, how much worse would it be for Doyle?

There were twenty posts erected in the centre of the arena. Guards marched out the completely nude slaves. The crowd around Bodie murmured expectantly, many sitting forward to get a better view. A few pointed, calling out their slaves’ names, or hailing someone they knew.

There had been public floggings for five years now, and the guards had their jobs down to a system. They quickly secured the slaves’ wrists to the metal rings at the top of the posts and restrained their ankles to bars positioned a few inches off the ground. Some of the prisoners rattled their bonds in protest, but the majority took the bondage with remarkable stoicism. This was clearly not the first time they’d been flogged.

There appeared to be fifteen men and five women. Doyle was the second to the last to be locked in place. He looked pale and tough, the sharp line of his jaw like the blade of a sword. He’d gained weight in the last month, but with his arms raised, the breadth of his chest narrowed out his waist to a slender sapling. The red bands around his wrists were bright against the pallor of his skin, and just above, Bodie could see the fingerprint sized bruises he’d put on Doyle’s elbow the night before.

Bodie gripped the armrests of his chair, determined that if Doyle had to endure the pain, he had the bollocks to sit and watch.

A balding man in a gray uniform walked out, eyeing each slave, presumably to examine their bindings. The crowd watched in breathless silence. Bodie wondered if there were those who hoped for a slave to break free and cause a commotion. Nothing happened.

“Psalm 89,” he said, addressing the audience. “If they break my statutes—I will punish their transgressions with a rod and their iniquities with the lash.” He inhaled heavily. “The laws of Great Britain reflect laws set forth hundreds of years ago and are quite relevant to our society.” He nodded ceremoniously and turned to walk out, leaving the naked slaves shivering at their posts. “These slaves will now privately reflect on their own sins.”

Using the Bible to condone brutality. Bodie snarled under his breath. He’d long ago split from the CoE because of the dichotomy of a loving Jesus and the prejudice some church goers spouted under the banner of dogma. This was far worse, in his opinion, squashing the masses with hypocritical cruelty.

Two Punishers arrived, their faces covered by leather masks, commanding fear in their dark anonymity. Each held a thick leather strap which was more like a wide belt than a whip or a multi-strand flogger.

The anticipation had to be the worst. Bodie hated the wait, wondering what Doyle was thinking about. Each strike of the whip across Doyle’s back and legs would cause excruciating pain. There was minimal consolation that the majority came away with few if any scarring on their first go-round. The Punishers wielding the whips were professionals in their own right, and proud of their ability to mete out pain with the least amount of damage. Most slaves, though, received a flogging once a month, for years. There was absolutely no way to prevent wounds every single time.

The Punishers stood behind two female slaves on the right side of the row and raised their straps in tandem. The leather landed heavily on the slaves’ bodies, inflicting deep pain and bruising but less likely to cut the skin. The women’s agonised cries filled the arena.

The older lady sitting next to Bodie began to sob, manicured fingers pressed against her mouth. “I watch,” she whispered, glancing his way. “Because my daughter…she was enslaved, but we’ve never known what happened to her.” Her lips trembled, and she scrubbed tears from her eyes. “I keep wondering if someday I’ll find her.”

Bodie nodded mutely as the Punishers rapidly finished the twenty-five swats and moved onto the next slaves. And the next.

Bodie focussed on Doyle, dreading the idea of seeing Doyle hurt. He wanted to close his eyes and shove his fingers in his ears to block out the sound of the leather strap whistling through the air just before it struck the poor sod on the receiving end. Then came the wails of pain.

~~**~~

Listening to the other slaves’ floggings was horrific. Suffering through his own was tantamount to a nightmare that never seemed to end and yet was over in a few minutes.
Doyle felt pulverized, every nerve fibre and muscle in his body screaming. As the leather strap slammed into his back, his body jerked forward, slamming his chest into the wooden post and wrenching his restrained arms in the shoulder socket. Hurt didn’t even begin to describe the sensations.

Because he was almost last to be punished, many slaves were being led away to the infirmary by the time he was whipped. They walked with their heads down, some supported by the guards. Doyle clenched his jaw, determined to be stoic. He stared out at the stands, willing his mental self away from the physical to dull the pain. Bodie was somewhere up there, and it seemed vitally important to locate him in the audience, to connect.

The last stroke hit hard, jarring every inch of his body, jerking his head up and back. He saw the face he’d been searching for in the mass of humanity.

Bodie. That dark hair and pale skin dazzled his eyes. He still had Bodie—at least for now.

Doyle was only minimally aware of the guard releasing him from the fetters. His arms dropped to his sides, deadweight until the circulation flowed into his hands. He staggered, his knees buckling, and grabbed the post for support. He was in agony, back on fire, chest deeply bruised. Simply pulling in a breath was excruciating, all the muscles in his torso tightening.

Bloody hell. The average slave endured this once a month? How was that possible? If the entire point of the cruel law was to increase the work force and decrease prison overcrowding, how could thrashing the slaves regularly be cost effective? The pain and suffering put a person out of commission for a couple days. There were so many slaves in London that these floggings occurred several times a week—there must be floggings in other cities, as well. Barbaric!

His brain was going a mile a minute to distance himself from his situation. This had to end.

Please God. Please Cowley.

“This way, this way.” A guard with hands like hams hooked Doyle under the arm and led him out of the arena.

~~**~~

The crush to leave the stands was as bad as an exit after a rock concert. Bodie elbowed past a stout man expounding on the benefits of regular discipline to a browbeaten looking man with red bands on his wrists. Bodie wanted to shove a fist in his pudgy face.

He gained the landing and hurried around the curve of the large building toward the infirmary. By law, all slaves had to be inspected by a physician before release. Cowley had already informed the medical staff that his slave be given top priority and kept until Cowley sent written authorisation to release Doyle.

Bodie slipped through the infirmary door into a madhouse. There were people everywhere; nurses caring for the injured, and owners waiting to claim their property. Nearly all twenty slaves were sitting or lying on cots, most still nude, and clearly in bad shape. A single overworked doctor was going from patient to patient, examining their bruises to determine fitness.

“You cannot be here without ownership papers,” a short, dark skinned woman barked in the lyrical accent of East India. “Sir?”

Bodie turned, finding her sat at a table completely covered with intake forms. She had long black hair wound in a bun with a pencil stuck through the middle to hold it in place. “I’m meant to check on Doyle,” he said firmly.

“Do you have proof of ownership?” she demanded, holding out a be-ringed hand.

“He’s my—“ Bodie looked past her head at the double row of cots in the examination room. Doyle was lying on his side with his back towards the entry. He was covered with bright red lash marks from shoulder to knee, but there didn’t appear to be any blood or open wounds. Only one or two of the slaves in the room seemed to need bandaging or sutures.

“Here to fetch Leela,” an Etonian accented voice said from behind Bodie. An austere man with white sideburns and very little hair on top handed over the correct paperwork to the clerk. “She’s there, in the front.”

Leela was sickly pale, with short, mousy coloured hair. She pulled on a lightweight shirt and trousers, wincing as she did so. A nurse nodded with encouragement before scurrying over to Doyle.

Craning his head around the constantly moving staff, Bodie saw Doyle respond to the nurse and sit up stiffly with her assistance.

“Leela,” her owner called without an ounce of empathy. “Mustn’t lollygag. Time is money.”

“Yes, sir,” Leela said quietly, walking slowly to his side.

Bodie held the door open for Leela and her companion as they walked through to savour one last look at Doyle before leaving. The ache in his chest that had started when he dropped Doyle off for this barbaric process was a stone weighing down his heart.

He reached the steps down to the main doors and almost smacked into a slender bloke with shaggy blond hair. “Vickers,” Bodie said, grabbing the stair rail to avoid being shoved downward by the people streaming past. “Always turning up like a bad penny.”

“Mr Dolan wants a word,” Vickers said shortly, pointing outside to a car in the no parking zone.

“Johnny on the spot, aren’t you?” Bodie muttered, mentally girding his loins. He had a part to play, and the entire scheme revolved around him keeping Dolan interested. Approaching the car with Vickers on his heels, Bodie noticed a tall, broad-shouldered man with thick, black hair leaning against the boot. Redmoon, in the flesh.

“Williams,” Redmoon said as if they’d accidentally met on the pavement. “Off with you, Vickers.” He flicked his fingers dismissively and opened the door of the Rolls Royce. “Mr Dolan’s expressed an interest.”

“Get in, get in!” Dolan gestured expansively, holding up a tumbler. “I find these spectacles require a bracing beverage afterwards to restore one’s vigor.”

“Be doling them out to the poor buggers on the whipping posts, then, will you?” Bodie asked caustically. He had no intention of driving off in a car with the mobster but it would be positively bad form not to sit down with the man they were investigating.

“You’ve a droll sense of humour about you, Andrew.” Dolan smacked him playfully on the shoulder when Bodie joined him on the leather upholstery. “Your boy will fit in well at the Fox Hunting Club—that’s Redmoon’s domain. He particularly enjoyed the performance.”

Redmoon took the jump seat opposite. He was so tall he appeared to be crouching on some fae toadstool meant for a much tinier creature. He picked up a tumbler of whisky without asking.

“Neglected to mention last night that the place catered to rough trade.” Just to ensure his own escape, Bodie left his foot resting against the open door. The club might have interested him once upon a time when he’d frolicked with a bird who liked his handcuffs. After his recent crash course in slavery and forced discipline, if given the choice, he’d never go near the place.

“He’s wiry but tough. Took those swats like a pro.”

Redmoon was a baritone. Bodie had the daft image of the three of them—plus possibly Vickers? In a quartet, singing four part harmony, with Dolan as the tenor. Gave him enough of a step back to refrain from pummeling Redmoon to a pulp.

“Have to visit once he’s installed,” Bodie said.

“Members only,” Dolan put in, that hint of malevolent glee always present in his voice.

“Surely you’d vet me?” Bodie wheedled with a slight grin. “We’re mates now, yeah?”

“Exchange first, then a night on the town,” Dolan poked his finger at Bodie. “I’m ready to take possession…” He chuckled, his leprechaun face wicked. “Of the merchandise.”

“Not possible today. He’s to be held over until Saturday evening for evaluation.” Bodie shrugged as if the entire affair was out of his control. “Spoke to the doc in charge, didn’t I?”

“Puts a crimp in my weekend,” Redmoon groused, clenching his fist. “Seemed fit enough to me.”

Dolan looked over at him speculatively, and Redmoon inclined his head slightly, a whole conversation in seconds. The hairs on the back of Bodie’s neck lifted. Their silent communication was a rare thing, one which he’d felt a time or two with Doyle.

“Sunday then,” Dolan said with a nod that finalised everything. “You’re keen to go to Fox Hunting, we’ll meet there. Nine thirty?”

Startled by the rapid agreement without any negotiation, Bodie paused, suspicious. Did they have something nefarious in mind? “We’ll be there, then,” he said, shaking hands with Dolan.

Redmoon peered darkly at him but didn’t offer a hand. “You’ll get the money once the slave’s turned over to us.”

“Wouldn’t expect otherwise,” Bodie replied, Redmoon’s blatant disregard for Doyle’s humanity chilling.

He climbed out of the car and pushed the door shut moments before the unseen chauffeur steered the heavy car away from the kerb. Feeling oddly disconcerted, Bodie started for the car park where he’d left the Capri only to be waylaid by a face he recognised all too well.

“Murphy.” Bodie stopped, hands on his hips. He’d known Cowley would send other agents to the Pavilion for back-up, but like Vickers and Dolan before, he hadn’t spotted a friend in the throng. Proving they were good at blending in or that he was derelict in his duty? A bit of both. “Keeping your eyes peeled for bad ‘uns?”

“Could be I’ve found one.” Murphy grinned, hands in his coat pockets as if out for an afternoon stroll.

“Just missed his highness Dolan.” Bodie jerked his head in the direction the Rolls had gone.

“And my opportunity to hire on.” Murphy snapped his fingers. “Cowley barked, you’re back to the big house until Doyle arrives.”

~~**~~

Doyle woke slowly, his back and legs swollen and tight. He hurt—badly—but somehow had managed to sleep. Where was he? Keeping his eyes shut, he listened to identify location from the ambient noise. Rapid steps across the floor, concerned voices murmuring over someone crying softly, and an East Indian woman on the phone explaining that a slave named Margo had required stitches.

Damn. The flogging. The infirmary.

Opening one eye, he estimated it was late afternoon, from the sun streaming through a bank of windows above the cots. He must have slept for two or three hours, despite the pain. Had the doctor slipped him something stronger than the two Paracetamols the nurse had provided earlier? More likely it was exhaustion after the beating. He’d not slept well for the last few weeks, maybe the accumulated deficit had finally caught up.

He was cold, too. When Doyle attempted to push up, a cold pack fell from his back to the lino. He groaned with the movement. Even turning his body was nigh on impossible—sitting and standing would take more effort than he wanted to expend. He breathed in carefully, all the muscles between his ribs sore beyond belief. How was it possible to endure this monthly?

“Oh, you’re awake. I’m Mrs Lemon,” an older nurse said, her short salt and pepper hair fluffy around her muffin shaped cap. “Ready for a cuppa?”

“Love one,” he admitted. He hadn’t eaten anything all day, either. When she placed a steaming cup and a scone on a small cart and rolled it over, he would have kissed her if he had been able to sit up that quickly.

“Ease up slowly.” Mrs Lemon clucked her tongue, shifting him carefully into a sitting position. “This your first flogging? Most get used to it after a time.”

“How?” Doyle barked, regretting the outburst immediately. This late in the day, there were only a few patients left but all turned to stare at him. “How do they cope?” he asked in a whisper, his cheeks burning with shame. “How do you care for them?”

“Someone has to,” she said simply, sipping from her own cup. “Three days a week, all are in pain, all need a carer. For some of these people, I wonder if it’s the only time in the month anyone is kind to them.”

“Thank you.” Overcome, he couldn’t say more. There was every possibility that this could be the one and only time he ever had to be flogged. He could see the back of a woman two cots over. She was heavily bruised and had a bandage at waist level. Was she the Margo who was so badly injured she needed suturing? On her right side, he could see pale scars from some past flogging. Suddenly, the tea and scone didn’t seem so appealing.

“Eat up, ducks,” Mrs Lemon urged. “You need the strength. You’ll all be right as rain in a tick.”

Doyle truly wondered if she actually believed that. From the mournful expression on Mrs Lemon’s face when she went to help a dark skinned man leave with his owner, he suspected she didn’t. But there was nothing she could do except continue the compassionate care that she provided. He blew on the surface of the tea and drank nearly the entire cup in one swallow. The scone went down almost as quickly.

He was gingerly sliding his arms into the sleeves of his blue button down shirt, gritting his teeth with every single movement, when he heard the door to the infirmary open.

“Come to fetch Doyle,” a woman said.

Ruth Pettifer? Doyle turned to see his fellow agent far faster than he should have, pain clamping both sides of his back. She wore a felt hat, her blonde hair a perfect sweep of silk, and sunglasses. With an air of unflappable capability, she handed over the appropriate paperwork to the East Indian woman at the desk.

The clerk nodded briskly. “Everything is in order.” She stamped the bottom of the paper and scribbled her signature. “Doyle, your ride is here.”

Mrs Lemon glanced up from writing her notes, sending him off with a smile. “On your way then. Expect I’ll see you again.”

He almost said no, but held his tongue. No bloody way on earth. Walking hurt too much to talk anyway, and it was a long distance from the infirmary to the small car Ruth had parked in front of the Pavilion. Neither of them said a word, but he caught her glancing at him with the same expression she’d had that morning. For reasons he couldn’t have explained if he tried, that hurt as much as his bruises.

“Where’s Bodie?” he asked as she unlocked the car.

“With Cowley,” Ruth answered briskly. “They were up to their elbows in papers when I came in, so I was recruited to chauffeur.”

“Your regular assignment?” Folding himself enough to climb into the car was excruciating but he wasn’t about to show weakness in front of her. Bodie, possibly. Bodie had seen him at some of his worse times without bailing on him.

“I enjoy driving.” She grinned, steering into traffic one handed. “I used to race cars in Silverstone and Oulton Park.”

“Really?” He was so startled he leaned back against the upholstery. That was a mistake. Brought tears to his eyes. He blinked rapidly, turning his head to watch red uniformed Beefeaters march in front of Buckingham Palace.

“The reason I was recruited,” she continued, braking for a stop light. “I expect Cowley liked the…unexpectedness of a woman who raced for a living, and craved the adrenalin rush.”

“Didn’t know girls drove race cars.”

“A lot you don’t know, isn’t there?” Ruth laughed, accelerating towards CI5.

“I know—“ He inhaled carefully, letting the air out slowly. Didn’t relieve the ache, but gave him a sense of control. “You—Bodie, and Cowley, saved me.”

She inclined her head slightly, blond hair sweeping forward as if she were trying to hide any emotion. “In the job description, directly under race car driver.”

Doyle was surprised to find himself grinning. “What you were doing at the Bond Registry—it panned out, didn’t it? That’s what Cowley and Bodie are working on? They’ve found a way to turn this around?”

“Indeed,” she said.

~~**~~

“Raymond Francis Doyle,” Cowley said with sonorous authority, ”you are free man. Completely exonerated.”

Doyle looked gobsmacked. There was no other word for it.

Bodie went to clap him on the back, and froze, his hand in mid-swing. The very last thing he should do on the same day Doyle had received twenty five strikes from a leather strap. “No more slavery. No more red bands,” he said gleefully.

“Not guilty of all charges?” he whispered as if the news hadn’t completely sunk in.

“Lord McMaster viewed your trial as a travesty, and cleared you,” Cowley explained. “The proof is in the pudding.” He pushed the release papers across the desk towards Doyle.

“What of Beecham and Shuster, Judge Blackstone?” He stood so stiffly it made Bodie ache, his movements nothing like Doyle’s usual feline grace.

Taking his arm gently, Bodie guided Doyle to the chair he’d been using earlier. “Sit down before you fall down.”

“They’ve been remanded into custody, and will be held in a secret location until we round up more men involved in this…” Cowley shook his head, removing his glasses to tap the side piece against his lip. “The word that comes to mind is conspiracy. The more I delve into the matter, the more it appears to be a noxious collusion between factions of the British government and criminals. Starting with the original perpetrators, ex-PM Connelly and his Deputy Lord Bellingham, the Earl of Longview, a well known racist. Your investigation, and 2.4’s supplied ample ammunition for the demise of the entire operation.”

“There will be reprisals. These are dangerous men,” Doyle said breathlessly, bracing his arms on his bent knees. “They won’t go down without a fight.”

“I’ve uncovered some staunch allies since beginning this inquiry,” Cowley continued. “The anti-slavery movement, particularly ESSENS, was far more robust than I’d anticipated. Members of Parliament have already formed a committee to delve into the matter. From here on, policy may change quickly.”

“They’d already collected evidence we can use to our benefit,” Bodie added, waving a hand at the paperwork. Far more than he preferred to have to sift through. He did so because it was vitally important for Doyle’s well-being. For his future. Their future. “We’ve until Sunday night to set things in motion. Meeting at The Fox Hunting Club at nine thirty for the handover.”

Doyle scowled, taking his release forms to scan the contents.

“Good that we knew the name and location of that club in advance,” Cowley said dryly. “I’m in the process of getting Murphy and Jax into the place as patrons, as well as several other agents in whatever roles we can muster.”

“For now, require rest for the weary,” Bodie urged. “We’ll all be at this all day tomorrow.”

“Aye.” Cowley stretched his neck, rubbing the base of his spine. “Doyle,” he said gently. “I’ll talk to people at the prison to have your red bands removed.”

“Can’t do that until after the…” Doyle paused, as if steeling himself for what was coming. “Meeting. Dolan will notice. Hell, bleeding Redmoon will notice.”

Cowley nodded gravely. “Good on you,” he said. “Seeing the job through.”

“He was a strange one,” Bodie said. “Dolan is rotten scum, but Redmoon—“ The bloke had given him the heebie-jeebies, make no mistake, “wasn’t human.”

“Don’t have a choice, do I?” Doyle replied to their superior, sounding philosophical. “At least I know they’ll be off soon enough. Thousands of people out there have been banded, some of them as long as five years. I couldn’t have lived.” He jerked out of the chair, pain flickering across his face, but he seemed to ignore the physical. “Let’s go home,” he insisted, making for the door with a speed Bodie could barely match.

~~**~~

Bodie bought Tandoori chicken and rice at an Indian takeaway stall on the High street while Doyle stayed in the car. He hunched forward in the seat, ignoring the throbbing from his thighs to his shoulders, mulling over the day and what was to come. He had to make some decisions.

He’d been absolved of all changes. It didn’t seem real yet. He’d been a slave for slightly more than a month, hardly any time at all in the totality of life, but the shame and degradation had weighed him down so completely that he felt like a shell of his former self. Then there was his mum’s death which he hadn’t fully processed.

Time. He had all the time in the world now. Time to be. Time to live. Time to—spend with Bodie? The possibilities spread out endlessly, so different from when he had vowed to finish the obbo and view any thought of a future partnered with Bodie as a pipe dream.
Would Bodie have him was the question? Doyle had felt such incredible support from the other man, such…love. Then he’d mucked everything up by raping Bodie. Which had shattered any hope of a relationship.

“Roll up your sleeves and tuck into this,” Bodie announced, dumping the sacks of food into Doyle’s lap.

The smell was incredible. It had been several hours since the scone and tea at the infirmary, and Doyle’s belly rumbled on cue.

“There, see, knew what would seduce you,” Bodie said cheerfully, getting behind the wheel of the Capri to drive to their flat.

Poking into the cartons, Doyle located onion naan and a covered cup of milky chai. Not much different than his last meal but he chewed and drank with pleasure. “Bodie, what’s meant to happen after—“ He stopped, unsure of how to phrase what he was asking.

Would things change? Could they work together without—what?

“After we round up the thieving cattle rustlers and settle into the OK Corral once more?” Bodie asked in a dreadful Western American accent.

“Wasn’t there a horrible massacre at the OK Corral?” Doyle laughed in spite of himself, chai going up his nose.

“I thought Wyatt Earp won?” Bodie parked the car down the lane from their building.

Doyle shrugged, wiping his upper lip. “Not an expert on the old west.”

“Got something just there.” Bodie raised his thumb, grazing it across Doyle’s lip to his right cheek to wipe away the remains. “Need a serviette.”

“Place didn’t include any,” Doyle whispered, chills running the length of his spine which had the fantastic result of numbing his pain. What Bodie did to him, and with so little effort. There was a tingling in his groin, luckily covered by the bag of food.

“Bodie.” Doyle rolled the top of the sack, clutching it tightly. “I should never have done what…what happened the other night, in the alley. I was wrong.” He couldn’t look into those heavenly blue eyes. Not now. Perhaps leaving once the job was concluded was the best idea. “Forgive me.”

He pushed open the door to climb out.

“Wait.” Bodie caught him by the shoulder, stalling any forward movement. “Nothing to forgive, Ray,” he said with quiet assurance. “I knew what you needed, just as—“

“I raped you!” Doyle snarled, anger directed at himself surging to the surface. He turned, staring into those eyes, and was lost. “I forced—“

“I didn’t stop you, and you know bloody well that I could've.” Bodie touched his cheek a second time, with such gentleness. “Told you to keep going, didn't I? And I’d do it again.”

It was as if all the air whooshed out of Doyle’s lungs, sweeping away the anger. What he’d done to Bodie in no way compared to his experience with the guard in prison.
“What do I say to that?” he despaired, turning his face into Bodie’s palm.

“I want you,” Bodie continued, stroking Doyle’s jaw with his thumb. “Would prefer to do it in a bed, with some chance of seeing who I’m with the next time.”

“Bastard,” Doyle ground out, laughing all the same. He had to brace his aching rib cage to keep from moaning. “You won’t let me apologise, then make me laugh, which hurts like hell. What do you want from me?”

“This.” Bodie leaned in, kissing him full on the lips.

“Blimey,” Doyle sputtered when he could breathe again. Bodie’s kisses were the thing of legend, sucking him into another realm. He wanted to live there forever.

“Make you swear, do I?” Bodie chuckled, kissing him again.

Doyle tried to surge into him, become part of his body, but when he moved too fast, his whole back cramped up. “Bloody hell!”

“There you go again. Going to be like this every time?” Bodie rubbed Doyle’s neck softly. “What you need, my son, is to put your feet up and a cold compress.”

“From my shoulders to my thighs.” Doyle couldn’t stop the groan of pure agony when he prised himself from the car.

“This is when I say never again, Ray.” Bodie took the sack of food and slipped an arm around Doyle’s shoulders to guide him to the door of their building. “I will never let anyone hurt you ever again.”

~~**~~

Sex would have to wait a few days. Bodie completely understood that—Doyle was badly bruised. When he took off his shirt, Bodie had to turn away on the pretense of dishing
Tandoori onto the plates. The skin on Doyle’s back was dark purple with patches of reddish blue. An abstract painting illustrating pain.

Anger boiled in his chest, the urge to swing that whip at someone so strong he had to exhale forcefully to dispel the notion. There was no single person responsible—except possibly the bugger, Lord Bellingham, Connelly’s stooge, who’d sponsored the slavery law five years earlier. Since then, layer upon layer of politicians, solicitors, and criminals had manipulated the poor people in their charges for their own means, using the law as a cover for their deviant, cruel perversions. What reason had there been originally to whip the bond slaves monthly? It served no earthly purpose except to satisfy the public’s lust for humiliation and violence. And line the mobsters’ pockets with money from the Pavilion beer stalls and sausage sales.

“Oi, Bodie?” Doyle called out. He’d stretched out on the settee, lying on his belly. “Pass me my plate?”

“Woolgathering, mate.” Bodie smacked the side of his own head before handing over the loaded plate. He found himself staring at Doyle’s back, recalling each stroke over and over like a film on instant replay. Almost put him off his meal.

Doyle went up on one elbow, the way ancient Romans once ate, reclining on their sides, to fork up his chicken. That placed his back parallel to the cushions on the settee, hiding the gruesome sight.

“I had a dream last night, before the—“ Bodie inclined his head at Doyle, unwilling to say flogging once more. “We went north, near Scotland. Found a little cottage.” It hadn’t been a sleeping dream, actually, but he’d hardly admit that. He shoveled Tandoori into his mouth to shut himself up.

“Lived together?” Doyle smiled, oddly shy. “The way we do now?”

“Not exactly.” Bodie raised his eyebrows. Did he have to spell it out?

“In the Biblical sense?” A sweet smile played across his lovely mouth, parting his lips so that Bodie got a glimpse of that chipped tooth.

“Adam and Eve we are not.” Bodie rolled his eyes.

“What about David and Jonathan?”

“You think they were—“ Bodie stopped, dredging up the story of the future king and his good friend. Two men who meant everything to one another—beyond reason, beyond simple friendship-- to a place where love was their truest connection. “You can’t have learned that in church!”

“Nah.” Doyle winced when he set the plate on the table next to the settee, his breath hitching with the effort. “The priest sent me flipping through the Bible for a reading for mum’s funeral. I found that instead.” He closed his eyes, clearly recalling the exact wording. “Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women,” he quoted. “Second Samuel. Didn’t think I’d come across something…” He trailed off, pain, mourning, and loss written across his face.

“So personal?” Bodie shifted from the overstuffed chair to the settee without quite realising he’d done so. His hip pressed against Doyle’s bare toes.

“Not the least helpful for the funeral, but it stuck in my head.” Doyle raised himself to sitting. “Siobhan found an…appropriate verse, and read it at the funeral. I couldn’t.” He turned to Bodie, leaning his head on Bodie’s shoulder. “Means more than ever to me now.”

Gently easing him closer, Bodie put both arms around Doyle, kissing his forehead, his nose, and the lump on his right cheek. Doyle raised his head, angling to get the kisses on his mouth.

Which had been Bodie’s target all along. He sank into Doyle’s mouth, smiling against those lips when Doyle’s tongue came out to play. Slippery, warm, and so very satisfying, their tongues like miniature cocks curled around each other in mock battle.

Until Doyle moaned, and not in any romantic, passionate way. He panted, jerking away with a whimper.

“What?” Bodie asked in alarm. “Too much, too soon?”

“Not enough, at the wrong time.” Hunched in pain, Doyle tried to laugh but it cost him. “Meant to lie down, aren’t I?”

“Ice pack and painkillers,” Bodie proposed, his cock wailing nonetheless. “In bed.”

“Your bed?” Doyle asked wearily.

“Ours,” Bodie decided. “Course, which that is, is up for debate.”

“The closest one,” Doyle declared.

Didn’t matter a whit to Bodie, as long as they were together.

~~**~~

Rain was pelting down, the gutters awash with water. Clouds crowded out any chance of moonlight, and a fierce wind whistled through alleys and rattled window panes. Felt like a monsoon, or what Doyle had always thought a monsoon would be. He shivered violently, which did nothing for his spirit or to warm his chilly skin.

No real reason to be this cold—he’d been granted the use of a raincoat, a Burberry, in fact, to ward off the weather. As often of late, Bodie had dressed him for the occasion. Instead of a finely tailored suit, he had a pair of leather trousers. Where Bodie had dredged those up was a question for another time because they fit Doyle like a second skin. He had low heeled leather boots, a pair he would have chosen himself, and nothing else. Dolan had wanted to see his bruises from the flogging. The moment Doyle removed the Burberry, the results of twenty five swats would be on display.

Which was why Doyle didn’t plan to take off the coat unless ordered to.

He glanced over at Bodie driving, although he couldn’t see much, as dark as it was. Just the sharp line of his profile.

“Mob is in place, according to Murphy’s report,” Bodie said unnecessarily, steering around a traffic circle.

Doyle had heard Murphy’s report before they left CI5. He and Jax were posing as a couple in the club. Stuart, a bloke Doyle had not yet met, was on the waitstaff, and McCabe playing piano in a band. On another day, Doyle would have loved to find out more on how he’d pulled that one off.

Seemed like he and Bodie should say something to each other. Declare love? He almost laughed. Bloody unlikely, even if he knew that was the truth. Admit he was scared? Bodie knew that, just as he was keenly aware how frightened Bodie was. Not of the meet with Dolan and Redmoon, although that was certainly a factor. No, they were both conscious of their new relationship, and the danger inherent in their job.

Doyle thrust his fingers through his unruly curls, the edge of the red band on his left wrist snagging on a lock of hair. He hated the bands and all they represented. When Cowley told him he was a free man, it had taken every ounce of his resolve not to demand a bolt cutter and remove them immediately. The bands signified his status and he was keenly aware that they were as much a part of his costume as the leather trousers.

“Up there on the right,” Bodie said, looking to Doyle instead of their destination.

Doyle could see the whites of his eyes, hear his inhalation, and took strength from his lover. “Less of an old boy’s club than the Falconer’s,” he replied.

The building had probably once been a pub, the sort where fellows went after a day on the job. The street side windows had been covered over with a large mural of men in pinks standing or mounting large brown and gray horses, a small red fox portrayed in the farthest corner of the painting as if about to flee into the forest.

“This is a hunt, old boy,” Bodie intoned in a poncy accent. “It’s the pursuit.”

“And the capture,” Doyle added with a temptation to bare his teeth, like that little fox.

After parking the Capri, Bodie and Doyle splashed through the puddles side by side. No umbrella or hat between them. Doyle felt like a drenched sheepdog by the time they’d reached the club. He resisted the urge to shiver, looking over at his equally wet partner. Bodie’s fringe was plastered to his forehead.

Despite the rain, there was a contingency of ESSENS supporters picketing a few yards from the Fox Hunt Club. Holding aloft a combination of protest signs and large umbrellas, they were singing the old hymn “We Shall Overcome.” The incessant downpour almost drowned out their voices entirely. Doyle waved, giving them a thumbs up.

An awning over the door to the club provided minimal shelter from the shower, but Bodie and Doyle crowded underneath. A male couple, arm in arm, preceded them through the door, holding out small cards to a doorman wearing the iconic red hunting jacket and buff coloured breeches.

“Williams and Doyle,” Bodie said formally when it was his turn. He wiped water off his face, his overcoat dripping on the tiled floor. “We’re expected.”

The young man consulted a list. “Yes, you are.” He smiled, a beautiful example of British breeding, aquiline nose, smooth peaches and cream skin, pale blue eyes, and tawny brown hair. “If you’ll go into the main room, I’ll alert Mr Redmoon.”

“Tally-ho,” Doyle said under his breath.

The main part of the club still retained its origins as a pub, with the addition of a large stage featuring a St. Andrew’s cross and a rack of various implements to use on a slave.
Doyle did shiver, no longer from the cold. He’d known that the club was that sort of place. However, seeing the proof with his own eyes was unnerving.

“Mr Williams? I am Kerwin.” A dark skinned boy—he hardly looked out of his teens—nodded to Bodie, holding a hand out to a table on the left side of the room. He wore buff shorts that barely covered his arse and a small red waistcoat that didn’t meet in the middle, providing ample view of his trim chest and flat abdomen. The red bands on his wrists matched the waistcoat perfectly. “If you’ll just sit here, I will fetch whisky and cheese with crackers.”

“You know our usual?” Bodie asked, glancing at Doyle.

Kerwin gave a brief smile.

Aware of his place in the hierarchy, Doyle followed without speaking. It was quite clear that there had been communication between the two clubs.

“Your accent’s familiar,” Bodie commented. “You from South Africa?”

For a moment, the boy looked scared. He nodded warily. “I was born there, sir.” He nodded, leaving so quickly Doyle was sure he was avoiding more questions.

Doyle kept his eyes open, trying to take in every guest, escape route, and hidey-hole. He saw Jax and Murphy tucked into a booth over by the bar.

As with The Falconers, the lighting was dim, the short red glass lanterns at each table providing minimal illumination. A band was indeed playing on the stage, a jazzy and slightly discordant melody. Not to Doyle’s liking whatsoever. He flicked his eyes to the dark haired, youthful piano player. McCabe was vaguely familiar. They’d spoken once or twice in the rest room at CI5.

The place was busy, nearly every table filled with an almost entirely male clientele. Many guests had a red banded slave at the table with them, in various forms of undress from starkers to one incredible outfit made entirely of leather straps that left nothing to the imagination whatsoever.

Taking off his wet coat to drape it over his chair, Bodie sat facing the stage, leaving Doyle the chair opposite which gave him a view of the bar area. Several other slaves in abbreviated fox hunting kit scurried about pouring drinks and fetching comestibles under the watchful eye of a mustachioed barman.

“They’re good,” Bodie commented, drumming the table in time to the music. “No big name stars here, though.”

Doyle scowled, watching Kerwin balance a tray with drinks and food as he side-stepped another server carrying several large pints of beer. He didn’t spy anyone keeping an eye on them. Even Jax and Murphy were doing a good job of looking very interested in each other.

“Mr Redmoon is slightly detained,” Kerwin said quickly as if to forestall Bodie speaking at all. “He’ll be here directly.” He set the food and drink in front of them, hurrying off without a backward glance.

“Don’t think he likes you.” Doyle selected a square of cheddar and a cracker, but didn’t eat it. Truth be told, even if he weren’t on edge from the situation at hand, he’d grown quite tired of the same old fare. A pint and some Scotch eggs would be a welcome change.

“Wonder if they water the booze?” Bodie asked, taking a healthy swallow of his whisky. “Not quite Uncle George’s calibre, but then…” He shrugged, snapping his fingers to the band’s next number.

An oldie Doyle recognized and liked. He found himself appreciating the lively tune more than he expected. He nibbled on the snacks, eyeing every person he could easily see without appearing to be staring.

Redmoon came out of a door to one side of the bar, his jet black hair almost invisible in the shadowy setting. Doyle would have rather faced a tiger in the wild than the cold-hearted pervert.

“Williams,” he said cordially. “Raymond.” He flicked a finger against the sleeve of Doyle’s raincoat. “Dripping water all over the furniture—as good a reason for a demerit as any. This was meant to be checked.”

“Cold in here,” Doyle answered, well aware he was skirting danger.

“Take it off in front of your betters, boy,” Redmoon said low and menacing, intended to make the offender crap in his pants.

Doyle slid the damp Burberry off, letting it fall to the floor. Bodie had expected this would occur. Didn’t make it any easier to endure an entire room full of debauchers ogling his bruises.

Kerwin swooped in, whisking away the offending coat with all speed.

Standing, Doyle held out both arms, taking a slow turn to show his bona fides.

“Better than dabs for proof of identity,” Redmoon said with a curl of his lip, sliding his hand over Doyle’s arse. He curled the ends of his fingers, squeezing Doyle’s balls from underneath.

Doyle quivered, holding his ground, staring at Bodie. His entire backside still ached like an exposed nerve, Bodie’s strong presence the only thing keeping him steady. He would not be bested by Johnny Redmoon.

“Leather trousers are a nice touch,” Redmoon growl-purred in his ear.

“Hands off.” Bodie placed a proprietary palm on Doyle’s belly, pushing him slightly back. “Haven’t shown me what you’ve brought to the party yet.”

“Dolan and I will meet you two in the back.” Redmoon reached over to take a slice of bleu cheese. “Bring your drinks with you, we won’t torture you—yet.”

Bodie laughed, tossing back the rest of his before he stood. “Like to have me hands free in case of attack.”

“Someone threatened you?” Redmoon pulled on concern the way anyone else would don a mask, as a disguise.

“Never liked foxes,” Bodie said smoothly. “Ray?” He took two steps and stumbled slightly, steadying himself with a hand on Doyle’s shoulder.

“Told you that brie was spiked,” Doyle joked, his chest tight. This was it. The moment they’d been working toward for weeks. With Cowley’s leadership, they were collapsing the entire house of cards with the prospect of actually triumphing over a sadistic law. It should feel like walking into a dragon’s lair with Excalibur. Instead, he was tense. He didn’t let the anxiety show—he was a copper, after all. Or was he an agent now?

Bodie gained his composure, clapping when the band finished the number. “Bravo, maestro!”

“We’ve had them in before,” Redmoon commented, walking back to the door beside the bar. “The piano player is new.”

He wasn’t stupid, not by a long shot. Doyle lowered his lashes to avoid locking eyes with Bodie, even when he could sense something was off with his partner.

Proving his superiority over Redmoon, even in the other man’s club, Dolan was enthroned in the office, his bodyguards Wellington and the other muscle bound thug bookending a desk. No simpering birds this time. This was all business.

Redmoon walked over to whisper in the crime boss’ ear, then stepped away to stand with his back against the door they’d entered through.

“Shouldn’t take a moment,” Dolan said without ceremony. “Sit, sit, Andrew. You look tired.”

“Couldn’t sleep a wink, knowing I’d see you again.” Bodie lifted an eyebrow in jest, almost missing the chair seat.

Doyle could see his knuckles go white when he clutched the arm rests. What the bloody hell was wrong, and should they abort the mission now? How did he alert the agent on the waitstaff—what was his name? Stuart? He wasn’t even sure what the bloke looked like. Could Jax and Murphy get back here if they had to?

“How did you find our whisky?” Dolan looked over to Redmoon, pointing to a silver case in the corner.

“Decent, but not why I came.” Bodie crossed his arms over his double breasted suit, waiting impatiently. He blinked rapidly as if trying to clear his vision.

“Raymond, the colour becomes you,” Dolan nodded approvingly, apparently in no hurry to finish the transaction despite his earlier comments. “Mustn’t let the bruises fade.” He grinned lecherously at Wellington.

An invitation Doyle was not going to accept. He angled himself to keep the four of them in his line of sight, but the room was too small, too narrow, to manage it.

“You’re stalling,” Bodie said with a frown. “Where’s the…” He swallowed compulsively, shaking his head, and pulled on the knot in his tie. His blue eyes were glazed, confusion setting in.

“Pissed already, Williams?” Redmoon asked, obviously amused. He hefted the silver case, placing it on one end of the desk to open the lid.

“Doyl—“ Bodie slurred, grabbing his red banded wrist. “Wha…?” He slid bonelessly downward, only staying on the chair because he was still grasping Doyle’s arm.

“What’d you give ‘im?” Doyle shouted, reaching down for the pistol Bodie had stashed in his jacket pocket.

He didn’t make it. Wellington tackled him by wrenching Doyle’s arms back with an iron grip.

“Bugger off, you shite!” Doyle screamed, half to alert anyone outside in the hall. This place wasn’t as soundproofed as The Falconers, he could still hear the band playing “God Only Knows” with a jazzy riff through the walls.

Wellington was locking the red bands together with a metal clip. Doyle heard the click of metal and kicked back with his legs, using a move Macklin had taught him. He twisted, trying to bite the thickly muscled arms holding him.

“Johnny, gag him before the whole club descends,” Dolan smacked the desk, standing angrily.

Wellington slammed Doyle to the floor, bouncing his head on the edge of the desk. For a moment, the fight drained out of him, the world tilting to the left in a sickening lurch. He faced Bodie slumped in the chair, fear tightening his already constricted chest. How had this gone so completely wrong so quickly? Was Bodie dead?

Bodie’s inky eyelashes fluttered against his pale cheeks, and he hitched a breath.

Doyle opened his mouth to call out when a pair of black boots stepped in front of him, obscuring his view. Redmoon shoved a thickness between Doyle’s lips, holding his jaw shut. Dry heaving, Doyle attempted to expel the monster but Redmoon secured it tightly at the back of his neck.

Rotating his hips, Doyle lashed out with both feet, but someone caught him at the ankles, yanked off his boots, and locked him into metal cuffs. Lastly, a thick hood was forced over his head and buckled at the neck. Terrified, Doyle choked, smelling leather and old sweat, unable to do more than wriggle like a worm. Where were they taking him?

He was astonished he could hear their voices, slightly muffled, but audible.

“The coffin’s in the closet, boss,” Redmoon said, turning back to Dolan. “And the hearse is waiting in the lane.”

“As long as no-one sees the damned body,” Dolan groused, starting into the hallway. “The ship won’t wait. There’re already four other passengers secured on board.” He chuckled fiendishly. “He’ll be out of our hair before you can say Jack Robinson. Wellington, get the car. Cromwell will help Johnny.”

“Yessir.”

Doyle felt himself being lifted up and then lowered again, placed into a narrow space.

God, no.

His world diminished to a box, not much wider than his shoulders. Not as big as his cell had been.

~~**~~

“Bodie,” a voice demanded. “Bodie, get up now.”

In theory, that seemed like good advice. Execution of the actions involved were another matter entirely. Bodie groaned, aware that there was some necessity for speed but completely unable to say exactly what that was.

“Doyle’s gone. Jax is calling in the troops, and Murphy’s holding off the riff-raff like John Wayne,” Stuart barked. “Where’d they take him?”

“A coffin,” Bodie slurred, dredging up a half-heard conversation. His limbs felt like lead weights, too heavy to lift. He finally managed to pry his eyelids open and the room swung lazily around as if no longer obeying the laws of gravity.

A coffin?

His belly lurched and he made it to his feet in one movement, searching for the gun that should have been in his right pocket. Gone.

He was meant to be protecting Doyle; instead he’d been the weakest link. He examined the small office, looking for clues, but his vision was as fuzzy as a telly with no aerial. There in the corner—a blurred caramel coloured lump transformed into Doyle’s discarded Frye boots, soles upward.

Stuart barrelled down the hall to the back of the building. Bodie followed, the floor pitching and rolling like a ship in a hurricane. He had to hug the walls to walk in a straight line, not trusting his own feet or eyes.

The thrumming of the rain on the tarmac was louder than the gun range, immediately drenching both of them. The lane was empty.

Bodie sagged against a skip, sure he’d lost his lover and the best partner he’d ever had forever. Stuart looked in both directions, going to the right.

Bodie took the left. His body was adjusting, fighting off whatever Redmoon had dosed him with. Taking two steps into the street, Bodie gawped at the unexpected sight. Ruth Pettifer was standing beside a hearse, her blonde hair soaking wet. A Jaguar from the early sixties was parked askew in the road, both vehicles boxed in by an idling London taxi, and two panda cars. A crowd of people took up the rest of the roadway and pavement, stalling traffic from both ends of the street. The distinctive be-boop of multiple sirens signalled more police were on the way.

Looking more closely, Bodie realised many of the group preventing those in the hearse and Jaguar from escaping were still holding their ESSENS signs, and talking to police. Guests from the Fox Hunting Club had gathered at the front door, but were unable to leave because of McCabe, his pistol held high.

“Ruth!” Bodie paid no attention to the slippery ground, weaving through the obstacles. “Where’s…?”

She shook her head rapidly, directing a small Webley at the two men just exiting the Jaguar. One of the coppers was standing close by, his eyes fixed on the suspects. Inexplicably, the London cabbie seemed to have things well in hand. He yanked open the door of the hearse, pulling Cromwell out.

“Saw High Hat Dolan directing the loading of a coffin into this hearse,” Ruth said efficiently. She waited a beat, ignoring Bodie for the moment when Dolan held both hands away from his body, beaming a charming, effervescent smile. The picture of an innocent leprechaun despite the rain.

The other cop quickly restrained Wellington, steering him towards the nearest panda.

“There’s some mistake, lass, and no mistake—“ Dolan began, his brogue thicker than it had been less than ten minutes ago.

“Hands on the hood of your car, Dolan,” Ruth commanded, showing him her handcuffs. “You are under arrest. Seeing that you just came out of a notoriously kinky club, I’ve no doubt you won’t object to a pair of shiny bracelets.”

“Williams!” Dolan located him in the crowd, craning his head over his shoulder when she snapped on the cuffs. “This isn’t my—“

“Shut it, Dolan,” Bodie barked, anger burning away any lingering hangover from the drug. “Where’s Doyle?” He grabbed the mobster by his expensive silk tie, ready to strangle him with it.

“Now you’re working with them?” Dolan laughed cynically, going up on his toes from the pressure of Bodie’s fist under his jaw.

Ruth watched dispassionately, her gun level with Dolan’s nearest shoulder, rain pelting down on all of them.

“Any port in a storm, eh, Williams?” Dolan continued cockily, as if he weren’t in danger of being choked to death. “Or were you in it for yourself all along?”

“You’re unreal!” With a curse, Bodie thrust him away.

Ruth bustled her charge into another panda car with a supportive smile in Bodie’s direction.

His brain reeling, Bodie scanned the crowd. The gang was almost all here—except Redmoon. Stood to reason Doyle must be nearby, Bodie only had to figure out where. He’d only been unconscious—semiconscious? For a short time. Think, you dim-witted sod, think.

A coffin.

Dolan had been loading a coffin into the hearse. Dashing to the back of the long, black vehicle, Bodie yanked at the rear door. Locked. He pulled air in through his nose, snorting furiously when he sucked in rain, too, and ran around to the open driver’s side door. A small lever beside the seat released the locking mechanism.

The coffin was heavy, something bumping and moving inside. His heart in his throat, Bodie flung back the lid.

Doyle was bound with cuffs, wearing a black leather hood over his head. With little regard for roughness at this late date, Bodie hauled Doyle out of the narrow box, pulling him into his lap. Huddled in the cramped quarters of the hearse, he cradled Doyle to his chest, murmuring endearments he wasn’t sure Doyle could hear.

“Get you fixed up in a tick, sunshine,” Bodie chattered, his icy, wet fingers fumbling on the multiple buckles securing the hood. He kissed Doyle’s collar bone in apology for the brutal treatment and succeeded, after several attempts, to slide the last leather tongue through the last buckle that released the cowl.

Doyle’s chest was heaving with the strain to breathe, his ribs flaring against his skin as if trying to escape. Bodie yanked off the hood, staring straight into Doyle’s wide, panicked green eyes. His hair was slick with sweat, tangled into a snarled nest.

“Got you, Ray, got you forever,” Bodie babbled, so relieved that Doyle was alive he wouldn’t care if the entire world saw them kissing. That is, once he got the gag out.

Another buckle. Either because of prior experience or a looser fitting, this one unfastened far more easily. To the screaming sound of yet more approaching police cars, Bodie wrenched the sopping gag from his mouth and kissed Doyle full on the lips.

“Bodie!” Murphy yelled from somewhere nearby.

“Bo—die,” Doyle gasped into Bodie’s skin. “Lemme—“ He wheezed, breathing fast and shallow. “S’okay, s’okay.”

Confused as to why Doyle was comforting him, Bodie bestowed a last kiss on his now bare throat and tackled the rest of the restraints. The red bands had been linked by a simple mountaineering carabineer but the ankle cuffs were another matter. A small padlock secured the connecting metal chain between Doyle’s legs.

“Need a bolt cutter,” Bodie surmised, sat back on his heels, out of breath himself.

“Then get one!” Doyle bellowed, enraged.

“Thought I heard familiar voices,” Murphy said pleasantly. “Need a hand?”

~~**~~

CI5 might be a well oiled machine, capable of pulling off a complicated operation, but there wasn’t a bolt cutter to be had. Doyle perched on the back of the hearse, barely able to walk under his own power but oddly glad to be out of the melee.

The street was clogged with vehicles, which meant there was no way for Bodie to get the Capri from down the road unless he carried Doyle in his arms. That was not going to happen, if Doyle had anything to do with it. Instead, he watched the parade of Londoners flowing past, some to the nick, some fox hunters slinking home with their proverbial tails between legs after a truly unexpected night at the club.

The coloured roof lights from numerous panda cars lit the night, flickered off windows and raindrops like strobe lights in a disco.

Bodie had been reluctant to leave Doyle. It took numerous assurances, from he and Murphy, that he’d be safe and relatively dry in the hearse, before Bodie dashed back into the building.

Shivering because he was wearing only leather trousers, Doyle rubbed his palms together, the red bands compressing his wrist bones. A bolt cutter would solve two problems at once. He twisted his left hand around, staring at the symbol of his slavery. He should have felt triumphant—they’d delivered a major blow to the corruption that fed the maw of those in power. Would it be enough?

“Oi! Need help here!”

Even over the din of cars, coppers, and fleeing fox hunters, Doyle heard Bodie’s voice. He jumped out of the hearse and nearly went face first into an oily puddle, landing on both knees. “Shite!” Yet another bruise to add to the total.

Murphy bent to help him stand.

“Go!” Doyle barked, angry at his own inabilities. “I can’t.” He hurt all over, the skin on his back and thighs ablaze with pain after being thumped around and dumped into a coffin.

Murphy went, Doyle fuming at his retreating figure. The distance between his cuffed legs was less than ten inches, making walking incredibly difficult. It took a fair bit of manoeuvring and whimpering under his breath to haul himself up on the bumper. By that time, he could see Bodie, Murphy, and Ruth dragging Johnny Redmoon to a van parked directly across the road. A banner painted on the side proclaimed “English Slavery Should End Now Society”, encircled by red bands. Was ESSENS a front for CI5, or were they simply using the existing group to their own advantage?

“Where was the worm hiding?” Doyle called out, grinning at Redmoon’s murderous expression. The pain down to a dull roar, he cautiously got to his feet, shuffling across the roadway. They’d nicked them all. Would that be the straw that broke the law into pieces? There still had to be hundreds of people profiting from the illegal commerce of slaves.

“In the closet, weren’t you, Johnny?” Bodie gave him a shake.

“Larger than a coffin, but smaller than the cell where you’ll spend the rest of your days,” Doyle said fiercely, with a savage grin.

Redmoon glowered but didn’t say a word. Ruth cocked her hip, arms crossed like a bemused headmistress watching her students quarrel. “I’ll take him from here, lads.”

Bodie shoved the handcuffed man into the van. “Our Ruth’s keen to have her way with him.”

Ruth pushed a dripping swath of hair off her face with a laugh. “I’ll get him to reveal where the secrets are buried.”

“And here I thought you were only meant to be driving cars,” Doyle teased, suddenly light-hearted although he couldn’t entirely explain why. He’d been part of this amazing and unexpectedly loving group of people in a way he’d never been at the Met. In so short a time, he’s become one of them even though he’d not met some of these agents before tonight. They pulled together, as a team, to help each other.

“One of my many talents, but not the only one,” Ruth tossed gaily over her shoulder, supervising the loading of Redmoon. Wet to the skin, skirt plastered to her legs, she managed to look efficient and in charge.

Then there was Bodie. Ignoring the throbbing in his back, and indulging an entirely different sort of throbbing between his thighs, Doyle allowed himself to admire the man who had literally come to inhabit his dreams. The embodiment of male perfection—strong, brave, and daring, but also goofy, gorgeous, and sexy as hell.

Maybe he would let Bodie carry him to the Capri after all. If they didn’t locate a bolt cutter first.

“Waiting for me, sunshine?” Bodie asked, bursting with pride, and a fair amount of happiness.

As well he should be. Doyle flashed him a smile, ready to be quit of this place. He was cold, wet, and weary to the bone. “What happened to you there in the office? Thought you were—“ He wasn’t about to admit he’d feared Bodie was dead.

“Drugged.” Bodie shrugged cheerfully as if it were all in a night’s work. “Short acting, whatever it was.” He glanced around.

Many of the cars had melted away, finally leaving the way more or less clear. Except for the cabbie, who’d been in the midst of the fray the entire time. Parked directly beyond the hearse, he was rummaging in the boot of his taxi.

“Who is that?” Doyle asked, taking careful steps. Wasn’t quite as difficult as he’d expected.

“Jack.” The blond man straightened, peering at them around the bulk of the taxi. “Friend of Ruth’s.”

Bodie tapped the side of his head as if dredging up something from the depths of his memory bank. “You’re MI5,” he said, pointing at Jack. “Met you two years ago when I interviewed.”

“You interviewed with MI5?” Doyle echoed, astonished. So much he didn’t know.

“Wouldn’t have them,” Bodie defended his honour virtuously. “Too rule bound.”

“Very true.” Jack nodded, finally locating whatever it was he was hunting for. “We’ve shelves full of policies and procedures.”

Now that most of the panda cars—with their roof lights—had departed, the street seemed dark, ominous. Shadows stretched out between the streetlamps shimmering in the rain. Did Jack have a rifle? Unable to make out what the other man was carrying, Doyle wouldn’t let himself flinch, aware he couldn’t run.

Bodie took one step, positioning himself between Doyle and Jack, full on protector. “What’ve you got, mate?” he asked, low and tough.

“Thought you might have use of this.” Jack held up a long handled bolt cutter. “Know for a fact that it cuts through those red bands like a knife through butter.” He handed it to a clearly gobsmacked Bodie with a mischievous salute. “I’ll be on my way. When you’re finished, tell my Ruthie, and she’ll get it back to me.”

My Ruthie? “Cheers,” Doyle managed with a laugh, pushing Bodie aside. “Appreciate collaboration between departments.”

“Wait until you get the paperwork.” Jack centred his tweedy cap on his wet hair and climbed into his hack, whistling.

“Alone at last,” Bodie said in wonderment, opening and closing the jaws of the bolt cutter. “Should I try this?”

“Thought you’d never ask, love,” Doyle said, suddenly self-conscious. How could that be? He’d had sex with this man more than once. They seemed at their best—and their worst—in the cushioning dark. Because it was more difficult to see Bodie, or conversely, much, much easier?

Bodie’s blue eyes fixed on him, so close he could see a squiggly set of his own peepers in reflection. “Love?” Bodie asked softly, running his knuckles gently along Doyle’s cheekbone. “That how it is?”

“Obvious, innit it?” Doyle murmured, turning his face to Bodie’s. “Not here,” he whispered, wishing desperately for the kiss. He glanced around. While they’d been busy, the hearse had been winched to a tow-truck to be trundled back to the lab at CI5. “Do the leg cuffs before we’re vagged.”

Didn’t take the work of a minute. Bodie snipped through the chain linking the cuffs and then the metal manacles. Shoulder to shoulder, Bodie swinging the bolt cutter in his right, they walked to the Capri, giggling like children.

~~**~~

That was the best part of the night, in Bodie’s opinion. The rest was a mixture of debriefings without sleep and the mind numbing prospect of getting all the particulars down on paper. He, Doyle, Stuart, McCabe, Murphy, and Jax changed into dry clothes—most culled from CI5’s undercover ops wardrobe, which resulted in some weird combinations. Murphy wore a wide sleeved white shirt better suited for Frederick the young paradox in Pirates of Penzance. Jax had on a fleecy cardigan that looked like he’d sheared a sheep and donned the wool.

Doyle had unearthed a tatty pair of jeans with a patch across the bum and a pale green tee-shirt so tight Bodie declared he should wear it every day. Doyle flashed him a glare both come hither and flinty eyed at the same time.

They all crowded into Cowley’s office after midnight, dragging in chairs from different offices to sit on whilst telling their portion of the take-down.

Bodie made sure to snag a seat next to Doyle. He felt rough, the after effects of whatever drug he’d taken leaving him vaguely sickish and light headed. Nothing a good night’s sleep wouldn’t cure, but there’d be little of that for the foreseeable future. And the jumper he’d put on was too scratchy by half. Doyle propped his chin on one fist, the red bands still tight around his wrists. Bodie had planned to snip those off first thing, but Doyle had insisted they wait until they were alone.

“Was in the kitchen, cutting cheese,” Stuart began.

Murphy guffawed. “You always are, mate.” The others joined in the laughter, Doyle rolling his eyes with a look of affection.

“Leave the frivolity in the restroom, 6.2,” Cowley said, directing his laser blues at the original offender. “Continue, 2.5.”

“Heard Dolan in the corridor, adjacent to the kitchen, talking about getting someone into a coffin, and onto a ship about to sail.”

“Which it did not, thanks to quick actions on all your parts,” Cowley congratulated. “Betty was able to locate a ship owned by Falcon Limited, one of Dolan’s shell corporations. Anson and Spalding got to the docks in time to free four British citizens bound apparently for Africa, restrained in the hold.”

Bodie clicked his fingers, the pieces falling into place abruptly. He pictured the young boy, Kerwin, at the Fox Hunting Club. “That’s why there weren’t as many men sold into prostitution. They were being shipped to other countries—“ His blood went cold at how close he’d come to losing Doyle to such a fate.

“And lads brought back from Africa and the Middle East,” Jax put in. “We managed to talk to two of the servers at the club. Both were paying off enormous debt incurred when they were smuggled into this country by way of a—heard them called coyotes in the States.” He shook his head. “Basically slavery.”

“And although slavery’s legal in this country,” Doyle said bitterly, “trafficking blokes from other continents where it isn’t, for purposes of hooking, is a crime.”

“Exactly, 4.5,” Cowley said, steepling his fingers. “We have numerous workarounds to keep Dolan and his cronies in prison while the slavery law is still on the books.”

“I pretended to bring more cheese to the office,” Stuart went on. “Saw Bodie out cold and Doyle was gone.” He pointed at each of his colleagues. “Got word to the rest of the mob and set up a perimeter to keep the natives from escaping.”

“Pettifer is questioning Redmoon now,” Cowley explained. “I thought it best since she’d had no prior contact with him, yet knew the particulars of his involvement. She’d joined ESSENS sometime back, long before our investigation, and realised how useful they could be in monitoring various groups whilst picketing.”

“Spying on them, was she?” Bodie cackled in a voice straight out of a children’s witch tale.

“What about Dolan and the rest of his ship of fools?” Doyle asked.

“In good time, 4.5, in good time.” Cowley nodded. “I have half a dozen meetings with members of Parliament and the Bond Registry board in the morning.”

“We let Dolan and friends stew in the nick for the night?” Jax asked hopefully. McCabe and Murphy murmured in agreement.

“That was the idea,” Cowley said.

“See how they like the accommodations.” Doyle clenched his jaw, looking down at his wrists. “Should have them all red banded right away.”

Cowley smiled, a crafty expression in his blue eyes. “Not a bad idea, 4.5.”

~~**~~

Leaving CI5 in the early hours of the morning, Doyle was relieved to see that the rain had stopped. Large puddles made walking hazardous in trainers, which was all he’d been able to find in his size in the wardrobe. Bodie apparently kept more than one pair of shoes in his locker, which definitely merited thought now that Doyle had decided to stay.

Decided. He wasn’t even sure when that had happened, or if it had actually been his idea at all. Cowley’d bestowed a numerical designation on him weeks ago, but it hadn’t truly registered that earned him a real job—complete with pay. Just as Cowley was leaving the building, not long before Doyle and Bodie abandoned their partially completed reports for a time when they were actually awake, he’d informed Doyle that his pay cheque was waiting to be cashed.

A pay cheque! No longer a slave, no longer a criminal, Doyle had a real life ahead of him. He hadn’t been back to his original flat in—five weeks? So short a time and yet everything had changed.

Were his old things still there? He didn’t give a stuff about his copper uniform, but there were pictures of his mum and sisters, his paints, and guitar. What had become of those? He’d have to find out. Most probably Cowley’s efficient moving team had boxed them up and into storage until needed.

“Penny?” Bodie asked, reaching down to pick up a coin shining in the lamp light on the slick pavement. “For your thoughts.”

“Earning a decent wage now,” Doyle boasted.

“You’ll have to start buying your own clothes, then.” Bodie tucked the penny into his pocket. “’Course, I like this patch on your jeans. Like there’s a target on your bum.” He planted his spread hand directly on Doyle’s arse as if he owned every inch.

Which, in a way, Doyle thought, he did. And always would. “Was thinking about my old life. I don’t want any part of it anymore.”

Bodie nodded, pulling out the key to the Capri. “I’ve started over myself any number of times,” he said. “Challenges a person to become—“

“More,” Doyle finished for him. “True to himself, discovering what is the right fit.”

“Whom he fits with,” Bodie said, putting his hand in Doyle’s, and the key with it. “You.”

“You,” Doyle echoed. This time, they did kiss in public. On the corner, where anyone going by could see. This was not a coupling in the dark or a furtive groping in a alley. Two men in love. This was passion and necessity. This was freedom.

When Doyle gently broke contact, Bodie laughed with delight. “This had better become a regular part of my day,” Bodie said, nuzzling his neck.

“What if someone saw us?”

“Let ‘em,” Bodie said boldly. “No law against it, is there?”

“Not for ten years. Let’s go home,” Doyle said, kissing Bodie for a second time. He’d never belonged anywhere before. Now he had a place. “Next time Cowley wants us to change residences, tell him we go as a pair.”

“Would make it far easier for him to get a hold of us for an assignment.” Bodie slid into the passenger side of the car, letting Doyle drive for the first time.

“As well as save on the expenses,” Doyle put his foot on the accelerator, pulling out into the sparse traffic. Only a couple of early morning buses and a milkman or two at this hour.

“That’s the reason that’ll settle it for him.” Bodie curved his palm around Doyle’s thigh as if he couldn’t stop touching him. “Why’d you wait to be rid of those bands? Thought that would be the first thing you’d want to toss in the rubbish.”

“Private,” Doyle said quickly, not sure how to explain the turmoil that was his emotions. “Not from you, but—“ He took the left in the direction of their flat, glancing at his beloved. “I’m damned lucky, aren’t I? Got a chance, and--you-- against all odds, it is. Feel almost like it’d be lording my freedom over all those others who’ve been slaves for longer, enduring the worst of the worst for so long—“

“Cowley will set them free, or die trying,” Bodie murmured.

“So we’ll do it in private,” Doyle concluded, parking at the kerb.

“A ceremony.” Bodie collected the bolt cutters from the boot where he’d stashed them hours before, and led the way into their home.

With the usual this and that which needed doing when they entered the flat, it didn’t happen immediately. There were bodily functions to attend to, lights to turn on, and a couple coins in the meter to turn on the gas fire so the lounge was comfortable without a duvet around the shoulders. Bodie, being Bodie, had to eat a slice of toast and two chocolate biscuits. Doyle made tea and filched a bite of the toast, bumping hips with Bodie in the tiny kitchen. Seemed as if they’d always done so.

Feeling the red bands around his wrists for one last time, Doyle nodded and pulled off his green tee-shirt. Bodie watched him, wistfulness and desire on his face. He removed the oddly bunchy jumper he’d liberated from CI5, and his trousers, starkers even before Doyle had finished undressing.

With a strong sense of purpose, Doyle knelt by their bed and held his wrists palm side up. This was his moment. The fatigue that had gripped in Cowley’s office melted away.

When Bodie slid the curved lower jaw of the bolt cutter between the red band and Doyle’s skin, Doyle hissed without moving, afraid he’d be sliced if he did.

“Did I cut you?” Bodie pulled the blade out with chagrin.

“Very tight,” Doyle ground out, wanting this done, now. “Get on with it!”

Bodie fit the blades in place once more, snipping through the red band on the right, and then the red band on the left. He dropped the cutters, catching up Doyle’s chafed wrists in both hands. Bending, he pressed his lips to each wrist in benediction, whispering words Doyle couldn’t hear.

“What did you say?” he asked softly, lifting Bodie’s chin with one finger to get those lips up on his own.

“Never again,” Bodie said. “No more bondage, no more flogging. It’s barbaric.”

“You know,” Doyle kissed him on the mouth, then scattered kisses across his face, on both eyelids, and the centre of his forehead. “I used to have these…fantasies. Trite, like some schoolgirl’s daydreams, of a dashing prince kit out all in leather having his way with me.”

“Read your sisters’ Mills and Boon novels, did you?” Bodie chortled, sitting back on his heels to gaze at Doyle with a quirk of that dramatic eyebrow.

“Possibly.” Doyle ducked his head, his cheeks burning. Such a silly thing, part of his past life. “Wasn’t a great deal of great literature laying around our house.”

“I’ve got an old jacket…” Bodie scrambled to his feet, going for the closet. He shuffled through the coats, finally drawing out scuffed tan leather that could have been an aviator’s jacket, or possibly owned by an explorer in the Amazon. He shrugged it on over naked skin and held out a hand to Doyle still sitting on the floor.

He looked good. Damned good. Better than the expensive suits from Tristan Penvenen’s shop. Eyeing his lover’s erection, Doyle went back on his knees, beckoning Bodie forward, feeling like they’d come full circle. Bodie took two steps, combing his fingers into Doyle’s curls as if finding a rare and precious treasure.

Placing his hands on Bodie’s hips and his mouth on Bodie’s cock, Doyle breathed in. Puffing air onto the sensitive organ, he tootled it like a ten penny whistle.

Bodie gasped, his grip tightening on Doyle’s head. “Keep going…” he whispered.

Taking the length, feeling Bodie swell in his mouth, was glorious. Doyle massaged Bodie’s sac like a bag full of dice, rolling them between his fingers. He sucked and licked, looking up at Bodie. Watching the way his eyelids fluttered, and how his chest, framed so beautifully in leather, heaved with increased lust.

“Won’t last if you…” Bodie babbled, stroking Doyle’s bulging cheeks with his thumbs. “Need to come out.” He staggered back, his cock coming free with an audible pop, leaking ejaculate.

“What was I doing wrong?” Doyle asked, devastated. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, surprised that he was trembling.

“Nothing, nothing!” Bodie pulled him to his feet, into a crushing kiss. “I want to play darts.”

“Darts?” Doyle shouted, anger obliterating the arousal. He scrambled away, sitting abruptly on the bed, and turned to fumble for his clothes. “Down to the pub, right now?”

“Not there.” Bodie grinned, all teeth. “Here.” Taking advantage of Doyle’s upturned arse, he inserted the tip of his finger into the puckered hole.

Felt weird, and incredible. Doyle started to arch away but changed his mind, panting. “Why’d you call it darts?” he asked when Bodie bent for another kiss with his finger still in place. Passion surged, sending amazing stimulation through his chest down to his groin, and his anus, a region he’d never before associated with pleasure. His cock pulsed, fully erect and interested. Even the dull ache from his bruises diminished from the onslaught of arousal.

“I want to hit the inner bull’s-eye, and win the heart of my love,” Bodie declaimed like an actor in a panto, hand flat to his bare chest. “Wilt thou be mine?”

“As long as I pay me own way, get to carry a pistol, and—“ Doyle laughed when Bodie nodded, interrupting his list of demands with resounding kiss.

“I’ll even give you my jacket, sunshine,” Bodie said, shucking off the leather.

Doyle held out an arm to slide it into the sleeve. The silky lining was smooth against his skin, the fabric warm from Bodie’s body temperature. He cuddled in, Bodie cradling him close with his nose buried in the aromatic leather.

“Your back is still so bruised,” he sighed regretfully. “Are you sure you—“

“Shut it, you cow,” Doyle exclaimed without realising how rude that sounded. He was instantly contrite. “Bodie, I—‘

Bodie was laughing, clutching his belly as if that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “You’re a sour git, I’ll say that much for you. Can’t fathom why I fancy you.”

“That, since you never met her, was my mum,” Doyle admitted, surprised that the memory of her didn’t hurt as much as it once did. “She had quite the temper.”

“You favour her, then?” Bodie asked, sitting behind him on the bed with his back against the headboard.

“Her favourite son.”

“Told me you were the only son,” Bodie chuckled. “With a gaggle of sisters.”

“Cannot tell a lie.” Doyle situated himself between Bodie’s outstretched legs, absently stroking his furry thighs and groin but scrupulously avoiding the pulsing cock. Didn’t want to have it go off prematurely. However, letting his own thick length brush the sides of Bodie’s legs, even a little glancing blow to Bodie’s sac, was definitely fair game.

Bodie all but purred as Doyle finger walked up his chest to toy with his nipples. Different than a woman’s rounder, fuller breasts, they were infinitely more fun to play with, in his opinion. Bodie’d closed his eyes, his head back, long neck exposed. Doyle was drawn between coaxing the nubs to peak firmness or latching onto the smooth skin of Bodie’s neck and the throbbing artery there. No vampire fantasies, more that he wanted to feel proof of his lover, internalize the beat of his heart, and join with him forever.

“How does it work, this dart practice?” Doyle asked, circling Bodie’s nipples with his thumbs and scripting secret words of love into his flesh. He was interested but wary, his hormones voting for any sort of coupling with Bodie. Preferably in the next few minutes. The thrum of desire in his chest was impossible to deny.

“Ever gone up the back entrance on a bird?” Bodie opened his lids half mast, peering at Doyle with a goofy look of hedonistic pleasure.

“Never came up,” Doyle deadpanned, trailing his fingers along Bodie’s biceps. He dropped a kiss here and there, feeling like he was exploring new worlds.

“A comedian you are not.” Bodie pulled a face. “Get comfortable lying on your front, with a cushion under your hips to raise ‘em up.”

“Don’t you need…I don’t know, something to grease the way?” Doyle asked with alarm. The anus wasn’t exactly an easy place to slide things into. As a copper, he’d arrested far too many criminals with a cache of goods hidden up their arseholes. Not always drugs, but that was the most common thing. He knew the lengths people went through to deposit their smuggled items back there. Wasn’t pleasant and required lots of lubrication.

Wasn’t that he was afraid of anal penetration—far from it, particularly after the astonishing sensations Bodie had provided with a single finger. More that he was being practical. Would Bodie’s entire cock fit inside? What would it feel like? Would it hurt like hell, or something far more erotic?

“Never fear, I come prepared.” Bodie opened a drawer in the bedside cabinet to grab a tube of jelly. “Go as slow as you want, Ray. No pressure. Well--” He grinned savagely. “Until the end.”

“Do I put it inside or you apply it…topically?” Doyle asked, twiddling his fingers over the sensitive head of Bodie’s cock. Made Bodie’s length twitch and Doyle’s willie demanded attention. He’d been neglected far too long.

“A bit of both,” Bodie said, smearing some of the clear gel on his fingers and transferring it carefully to his own cock. Then, with a fiendish grin, he closed his fist around Doyle’s penis as well, sliding up and down with slow, incredible strokes.

Was like spraying petrol on a smouldering fire. Doyle forcibly slowed his breath to prolong the bliss. A simple hand job had never been this good. “B-bodie,” he whispered, “Bodie!”

“Yes, love,” Bodie replied, leaning in to capture his mouth. At the same time, he pumped his fist hard, twice.

Doyle soared. There was no other word for it. His climax burst forth like a fountain; fantastic, messy, and real. Just like Bodie.

Doyle kissed Bodie, feeling mighty, all powerful. “I’m ready,” he said, exhaling, sure he was floating on a cloud.

He turned over to lie on his belly, feeling Bodie guiding him into place and tucking a pillow under his hips for leverage. Doyle wished he could see Bodie make his moves, but for this first time, maybe it was better to let things play out as they would. He pillowed his cheek on his arms, gazing out at the pre-dawn sky, content and in love.

“I’ll start slow, get you accustomed…” Bodie said, couching behind. He spread Doyle’s bum cheeks, anointing his anus with a dollop of gel.

It was cool and sensuous, Bodie fingering his rim, occasionally dipping one and then a second finger inside the tight sphincter. Doyle swallowed, his heart thudding against his ribs, anticipation rising. He wanted to shout ‘faster, faster’ and ‘slow down’ at the same moment.

“Nothing on earth feels quite like it,” Bodie went on, spreading Doyle a mite wider than was comfortable.

Willing himself still, Doyle caught a flash of that wonderfully thick cock out of the corner of his eye. Bodie was centring in on the target. Suddenly, there was a sort of punch against his ring, the thick head pushing in with dreadful, marvellous pressure.

“When’d you…?” Doyle grunted, a sharp burning pain gripping internally. It would get easier, he only had to hold out until Bodie was fully seated inside.

“As a boy, on the ship,” Bodie said quietly, his whole tone somehow different. As if the memory wasn’t one he wanted to relive just then. He pushed forward, slowly, steadily widening Doyle’s inner walls.

The stretch was indescribable. Doyle panted, his mouth open, clutching the blue duvet underneath him. Should he admit this hurt badly, or submit? He flashed on that first night, the terrible hour of his mother’s funeral before he encountered Bodie. He’d begged, “hurt me, hurt me,” on his knees in that dank bedsit. Was that how it would be from here on?

“How is it?” Bodie stroked his shoulders, a soothing caress despite the pain. His body was heavy on Doyle’s, an anchor of strength.

Truth, always, with his partner.

“Hurts,” Doyle admitted, gritting his teeth. Any movement seemed to exacerbate the cramping. “But I can handle it. Keep on. This is nothing like Friday—“

“The pain is fleeting, just wait,” Bodie promised, and thrust in fast.

Light flickered and fractured. About to protest the agony, Doyle gawped: it was gone as if it had never been. In its place, pure ecstatic release. Transcendent bliss. “Bloody hell.”

“Still making you swear?” He sounded amazed, grabbing Doyle’s upper arms for support.

Bodie bucked, setting up a steady rhythm Doyle could have tolerated for hours. The forward motion sent waves of pure pleasure through Doyle’s core, overwhelming any coherent thought. This wasn’t pain, it was heaven. As Bodie rocked backward, he pistoned in and out, buffing Doyle’s world. He was sure he had been transported into a realm where only he and Bodie existed, linked together forevermore, never to be parted.

Bodie cried out with pure joy, stiffening as his climax approached. He erupted, fluid flooding Doyle’s rectum like an uncapped fire hose. He went over on his side, still encased in Doyle’s body, murmuring love words that penetrated Doyle’s foggy brain with tiny sparkles of brightness.

It wasn’t until he opened his eyes that he realised the light was coming from the window. Looking up into the eastern sky, he saw yelloworange clouds heralding the dawn. Glorious rays stretched across the grayblue heavens, breaking the sky into pie shaped sections of golden brilliance.

The rising sun was molten fire bringing light. Starting life over again. For he and Bodie, myriad chances and the freedom to choose who they wanted to be.

FIN