The Long Trick
‘’And just where d’you think you’re going, Casanova?’’ demanded Bodie, making a grab for his partner’s arm.
As mercurial as ever, Doyle slipped through his fingers, pirouetting round on his cowboy boots and grinning like a baboon. Having turned full circle, Doyle bounded up the steps of the summer training college and disappeared through the heavy swing doors at its entrance.
Bodie sighed the sigh of the long suffering and went to lean against the bonnet of his capri. To anyone who cared to take an interest, leaning against his capri signalled that he was a nonchalant man of the world, who just happened to find himself with a few idle moments on his hands. Actually getting in and waiting, suggested that he was Doyle’s poodle, and any impartial observer only had to look at Doyle to know which of them resembled a poodle.
The college doors swung open again, but only a gaggle of visiting Nigerian nurses emerged. Bodie straightened instinctively, but they were the studious type, all shiny faces and starched uniforms. Bodie subsided and folded his arms.
The next time the college doors opened, a man in a white coat emerged and hurried across the gravel driveway to disappear through a green door set in an imposing privet hedge. Bodie knew the neatly clipped wall of greenery screened the staff car park, but he didn’t hear an engine. For a few minutes he entertained himself theorising possible explanations for this, then the green door opened again and the man hurried back into the college.
Bodie spent a few more minutes concocting increasingly implausible motives for the man’s behaviour, after which, he gave in and checked his watch. Admitting to himself that Doyle might as well have tied his lead to a lamppost, and that he was actually more bored than nonchalant.
When the next swing of the college doors still produced no Doyle, Bodie gave up and went in search of his errant partner.
The corridors of the august institution were full of international students, gathered in small earnest clusters, nurses sporting a variety of uniforms, and other medics wearing indistinguishable white coats, all speaking a babel of languages. Doyle should stand out like a sore thumb, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Bodie popped his head round a few classroom doors, just on the off chance, but garnered nothing but a few blankly incurious stares. Almost at the point of giving up, and calling Doyle on his radio, he found Doyle sitting alone in one of the common rooms.
Doyle didn’t look like a man who had just netted the nurse of his dreams. Bodie sat down next to his partner. Upon closer inspection, Doyle looked like a man who required a nurse more for her professional talents, than her romantic ones.
‘’Strike out with Nitty Nora?’’ asked Bodie, hoping he’d misread the symptoms and Doyle was just wallowing in one of his lovelorn melancholies.
‘'Not yet’’ replied Doyle ‘’Something came up.’’
‘’Thought that’s why you wanted to see her’’ suggested Bodie with impish salaciousness.
‘’Leave it, Bodie’’ warned Doyle ‘’I’m not in the mood.’’
‘’You were in the mood half an hour ago’’ objected Bodie ‘’What happened?’’
‘’Cowley’’ snarled Doyle, almost spitting the word.
‘’Ah’’ comprehended Bodie sagely ‘’ What’s he stuck you with?’’
‘’I need time to think’’ answered Doyle distractedly ‘’I’ve got to get me head straight, figure out my next move.’’
‘’Who are you kidding?’’ scoffed Bodie ‘’You do what the Cow tells you to, mate, no choice about it.’’
‘’Not this time’’ countered Doyle, rising to leave ‘’This time the duplicitous, conniving old bastard can go do the other thing.’’
‘’Splendid’’ replied Bodie, rising to join his partner and rubbing his hands together cheerily ‘’I look good in black, just tell me where you want to be buried.’’
What little colour was left drained from Doyle’s features, and he looked as if he might throw up on the spot.
More alarmed than he cared to admit, Bodie demanded ‘’How about, you stop pratting about and tell me what’s going on?’’
‘’What do you see when you look in the mirror, Bodie?’’ obfuscated Doyle irritably ‘’And don’t give me all that guff about being irresistible, I don’t give a damn. What do you see?’’
‘’I’m not playing twenty bloody questions’’ countered Bodie argumentatively, concern gnawing at his patience ‘’What’s this all about?’’
‘’I just found out I murdered a man’’ snapped Doyle, though the bile seemed to be inwardly directed, as if Bodie was incidental to the outburst.
Bizarrely relieved, Bodie softened his tone, filling it with warmth and understanding ‘’You’ve killed before, Sunshine’’ he cajoled gently ‘’Bit late to start letting it get to you now.’’
‘’I didn’t say killed’’ corrected Doyle obdurately ‘’I said murdered.’’
‘’What’s the difference?’’ asked Bodie ‘’Dead’s dead.’’
‘’You’re right’’ Doyle abruptly conceded, although he looked about a million miles away from being convinced ‘’Once you’re dead, why would you give a damn about how you got there? Only, thing is, Bodie – I’m the one who cares. Me, because if I didn’t, if I didn’t…’’ Doyle’s voice caught on a rough spot somewhere in his throat ‘’Because, if I didn’t, Bodie, what would that make me?’’
‘’When have you ever killed anyone who wasn’t asking for it?’’ chided Bodie ‘’Terrifies me sometimes, the way you give everyone a chance but yourself.’’
‘’Not everyone’’ said Doyle quietly.
‘’Okay, then’’ challenged Bodie ‘’Name one. Go on. Name one. Give me one bloke you put down when you shouldn’t have. One bloke. When it wasn’t you or him - or him or me.’’
‘’Paul Coogan’’ replied Doyle steadily ‘’Remember him?’’
‘’Don’t tell me you’re still harping on about that?’’ dismissed Bodie impatiently ‘’Get smart, mate. It was proved, his brother thumped him. Okay, so maybe you did as well, but that wasn’t the one that did the damage. Even that Mather bird had to accept that. ’’
‘’No’’ denied Doyle emphatically ‘’What she and her bloody inquisition had to accept was that no one could prove I killed him.’’
‘’So what makes you so special?’’ demanded Bodie ‘’I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Sunshine, but you’re not a lawyer - and I don’t care if you’ve shagged Florence bloody Nightingale herself - it still doesn’t make you a nurse. So how come the lawyers and the medics can’t say who killed him, but the righteous truth suddenly reveals itself to Saint Raymond of Doyle? Had an epiphany from on high, have we?’’
‘’Yeah’’ snarled Doyle contemptuously, though the contempt, like the bile, seemed inwardly directed ‘’Something like that.’’
Frustrated, Bodie fell back on a trusted remedy ‘’Look, let’s get out of here. Find a pub somewhere, drown our sorrows.’’
‘’You drown ‘em’’ retorted Doyle dismissively, rising to leave as a pretty brunette arrived at the door of the common room ‘’I have other plans.’’
Bodie smiled in relief and resignation, of course Doyle’s belligerent, existential soul searching would end in the absolution of the bedroom.
Following his partner’s lead, Bodie got up and headed out of the building. But, when it came to it, he found himself prevaricating about starting the engine of the capri. Minutely adjusting the wing mirrors, rubbing away smudges on the windscreen, picking lint from the upholstery and sifting through the glove box. All driven by the barely acknowledged hope that he’d catch a glimpse of Doyle, and be reassured that his partner hadn’t evaded the brunette’s company for a second time, and headed off on his own for a night of self recrimination and self loathing.
Ten minutes went by with no sign of Doyle. Finally, Bodie turned the key in the ignition and headed for home, unable to shake the disquieting feeling that in some obscure way he had failed Doyle.
On the outskirts of town, Bodie changed his mind about going home and decided to go to the pub after all. Some part of him craving the company of souls less complicated than his partner’s. He left the capri outside his flat, preventing anyone else nicking his space and, feeling better already, jauntily dropped the keys into his pocket.
Looking up, he caught the eye of his neighbour, a statuesque blonde currently graced with a main of soft curls that must have cost a bomb in some west end salon. She was putting a bulging bin liner in her dustbin with more satisfaction than the simple domestic chore commonly merited.
Bodie recognised the signs ‘’Slung him out, have we, love?’’
The blonde smiled at him sheepishly ‘’Always was a rotten bleeder.’’
‘’Fancy some company?’’ hazarded Bodie, nodding in the direction of the pub.
‘’Yeah, why not?’’ the blonde replied ‘’Just let me get me coat.’’
The blonde disappeared into her flat and emerged two minutes later in a fox fur coat. She locked the street door, dropping the keys into a beaded evening bag, and joined Bodie on the pavement.
It was not uncommon for Nigerians to travel to the UK for educational purposes in the 60s & 70s - However, Nigeria’s oil based wealth meant that few migrated permanently - Unfortunately, a drop in oil prices adversely affected Nigeria’s over reliant economy.
(Footnote for nit-pickers - post Klansman Bodie who has learned an appreciation for nurses from ethnically diverse backgrounds :0))
‘’’S only the Fox and Hounds, love’’ cautioned Bodie, openly admiring the effect.
‘’I know’’ replied the blonde ‘’But I’ve been wearing rags for six months for that useless lump, so no one’d know we wasn’t living off his wages.’’
‘’What does he do?’’ enquired Bodie.
‘’He’s a mechanic’’ answered the blonde ‘’And it ain’t bad money, but I make better.’’
‘’What do you do?’’ pursued Bodie, intrigued.
‘’Bleeding artist, aren’t I?’’ announced the blonde.
‘’Are you?’’ asked Bodie, now not only intrigued, but bemused.
‘’Yeah’’ said the blonde ‘’I illustrate books. You know, for kids. Took me a while to get started, mind. Once they got an earful of me accent they didn’t want to know. But‘’ she continued conspiratorially, hugging Bodie’s gallantly offered arm ‘’ I got wise, didn’t I?’’
‘’Did you?’’ asked Bodie, finding himself amused in unsuspected measure by his impulsively chosen companion.
‘’Too right’’ said the blonde ‘’I sent me posh mate in wiv ‘em - me drawings, that is - didn’t let ‘em clap eyes on me ‘til I’d signed on the dotted line.’’
‘’How did they take that?’’ asked Bodie, surprising himself by being genuinely interested in the answer.
‘’Bit rough at first’’ the blonde admitted ‘’But they treat me like a bleedin’ mascot now. Bloody toffs.’’
‘’And does the mascot have a name?’’ asked Bodie indulgently.
‘’Trixie’’ said the blonde ‘’Straight up’’ she added, in response to the quirk of Bodie’s eyebrow ‘’Me Mum wanted to name me after me Great Aunt Beatrice, but me Dad took some persuading, so it’s Trixie.’’
‘’Okay, Trixie’’ allowed Bodie, finding himself almost utterly disarmed, and warming to his companion in unexpected degree.
‘’Bit of a girl, me Great Aunt Beatrice’’ elaborated Trixie as they reached the pub and Bodie opened the door for her ‘’Served as a nurse in France during the Great War, she always called it that, the Great War. Got a lot of stick from the other girls ‘cos she didn’t come from some la-de-da family, but she got the last laugh.’’
They were at the bar now and Bodie ordered two bacardi and cokes before asking ‘’How’s that, then?’’
Trixie didn’t answer him until they were settled at a table, explaining ‘’Got herself in with this Duke’’ as she shrugged out of her coat without a care to its treatment.
Bodie had been sure the fur was genuine, and now he recognised the prestigious label attached to the satin lining. Something in him had started to root for Trixie and her Great Aunt, and he hoped there was a happy ending to the story of Great Aunt Beatrice and the Duke she had got in with.
‘’Bagged herself a Duke, eh?’’ he prompted.
‘’Yeah’’ said Trixie eyeing him assessingly ‘’And not ‘ow you think, neither.’’
‘’How, then?’’ grinned Bodie, enjoying himself.
‘’The Duke’s son, he was wounded, out in France’’ began Trixie ‘’Bad, ‘e was. When they got ‘im back here, he was off his rocker. Shell shock, or sommat. They couldn’t do anythin’ wiv ‘im. He was almost mute - ‘cept, he kept asking for me Great Aunt. Only, they ‘adn’t a clue who she was.’’
Something in Bodie fell silent in commemoration of the plight of the young officer ‘’What happened?’’ he asked soberly.
‘’The Duke’s no idiot’’ explained Trixie with smug pride ‘’He figures this Beatrice has to ‘ave been one of the nurses who looked after ‘is son. So ‘e starts writing. Eventually ‘e writes to the unit me Great Aunt was wiv, only they don’t let ‘er see it. ‘Cos they don’t think it’s proper, a Duke corresponding wiv the likes of me Great Aunt, wot wiv ‘er having two sisters still in service.’’
‘’So did Great Aunt Beatrice find a way round them?’’ asked Bodie, losing himself in the story.
‘’Too right, she did’’ scoffed Trixie ‘’She ends up seeing the letter anyway, and recognises the Duke’s writing from the letters she’s read ‘is son. At first she thinks the lad must’ve died, but then she reckons the stationery’s not right for that, ‘cos they had all these rules in them days, all very formal like, and it’s not as if the Duke couldn’t afford it. So one night, she sneaks the letter and ‘as a look.’’
Absorbed in the tale, Bodie gestured to Trixie’s glass and she nodded her assent. Taking his own glass back to the bar, as a gesture of consideration towards the staff, Bodie re-ordered and then turned to keep Trixie in friendly view while the barmaid poured two more barcardi and cokes. He returned to their table with the drinks, asking as he settled himself in ‘’So what did the letter say?’’
‘’Said about ‘ow his son wasn’t right in the head’’ replied Trixie ‘’And ‘ow he was asking for me Great Aunt Beatrice - and ‘ow the Duke would put ‘er on staff - at a good salary - if she’d just make ‘im right.’’
‘’And did she?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’Well, his brain was scrambled weren’t it?’’ responded Trixie ‘’No way she could make that right, but she could make ‘im ‘appy ‘’ Trixie continued ‘’He was like a big kid. He’d ‘ad this shrapnel in ‘is head - bleedin’ fat lot of use them tin ‘ats are - and he was a bit simple. But he loved me Great Aunt Beatrice. She stayed wiv ‘im for years, right up ‘til he died.’’
‘’She never married?’’ asked Bodie.
Trixie blushed diffidently and sought refuge in the depths of her glass ‘’Don’t reckon me Great Aunt Beatrice was the marrying kind.’’
Bodie took a minute to process this information and then a wide disbelieving grin spread across his features.
Trixie looked up hastily ‘’I’m not like that, though’’ she added emphatically ‘’But me ‘ole family’s proud of me Great Aunt Beatrice. Me Grandad once knifed a fella wot said sommat about ‘er being…Well, the way she was.’’
‘’I’ll mind me Ps and Qs, then’’ offered Bodie indulgently.
Trixie gave a wry smile and then continued with fierce pride ‘’The Duke made sure me Great Aunt Beatrice was treated right. She didn’t want for nuffin, and when ‘e died - and ’is son inherited - she was treated like she was a Duchess ‘erself. You’d reckon the family would be all snobby, wouldn’t you? But they wasn’t. They loved ‘er for lookin’ after the son. An’ when the son died - ‘is mother made sure me Great Aunt Beatrice ‘ad a good pension - and a cottage by the sea. Lived quite a while, the son did. Long as me Uncle Albert, wot started out on the docks. Not as long as he should ‘ave, though. Lungs was never right, see? Like me Uncle Albert - only wiv ‘im, it was forty a day, since ‘e was twelve.’’
Bodie studied his unexpected Boadicea for a few moments and then said quietly ‘’Want to come back with me? No funny business, not if you don’t want to. Just could do with some decent company.’’
Trixie smiled a melancholy infused smile and conceded reticently ‘’Yeah, reckon I would. Could do wiv some decent company, meself…Only…I’ve got the decorators in, if you know what I mean.’’
A fleeting frown crossed Bodie’s brow as his male brain sifted this irrelevant bit of domestic trivia and realised, given the context, the decorators must be of the metaphorical variety.
‘’How about a drink and a snuggle?’’ he suggested kindly ‘’Never did anyone any harm, that.’’
Trixie visibly relaxed, observing ‘’Should ‘ave slung that bleedin’ waste of space out when you moved in.’’
Bodie grinned and downed the last of his drink. Then he stood up and made a conspicuously gallant display of helping Trixie into her coat.
Trixie finished her own drink more demurely, submitted to being aided into her fox fur, and then took Bodie’s proffered arm and allowed herself to be led back to his flat.
Once they were settled on Bodie’s sofa, Bodie having poured them both a brandy, and Trixie having kicked off her shoes and curled her legs up on the seat cushions, Bodie extended a protective arm, and Trixie tucked herself beneath it, snuggling up against Bodie’s chest.
For a few minutes neither of them spoke, snuggled together sipping brandy and lost in their own cares.
Then Trixie said ‘’I know what’s got me feeling like I could do wiv a bleedin’ break, but what’s got a bloke like you ready to settle for a snuggle and a good night kiss?’’
‘’Am I getting a good night kiss?’’ enquired Bodie.
‘’If you play yer cards right’’ confirmed Trixie.
‘’Dunno’’ admitted Bodie in return ‘’Just could do with some company I understand.’’
‘’Girl trouble?’’ suggested Trixie.
‘’Nope’’ replied Bodie amiably ‘’Doyle trouble.’’
‘’What’s a Doyle?’’ asked Trixie.
‘’Good question’’ said Bodie ‘’And if I had a good answer, I’d probably be a whole lot happier.’’
‘’Is it true you’re a copper?’’ speculated Trixie cautiously ‘’Only, that’s what Fred reckons, ‘im from the neighbourhood watch.’’
‘’Close, but no cigar’’ lied Bodie ‘’Civil Servant. Home Office.’’
‘’That’s a bit posh, innit?’’ said Trixie ‘’Where’s yer bowler hat?’’
‘’Left it at the office’’ claimed Bodie unconvincingly.
‘’You’re pulling my leg’’ accused Trixie ‘’If I was to guess, I’d say army. Only, you’ve been around too long for that. Ex-army, then.’’
‘’What makes you think that?’’ asked Bodie, surprised.
‘’Way you carry yourself’’ said Trixie ‘’The way you dress.’’
‘’What’s wrong with the way I dress?’’ objected Bodie.
‘’It’s…’’ Trixie paused, searching for the words to articulate her intuition ‘’Like you was doing it to rules. Like there was nothing of you in it’’ she concluded.
‘’You ever heard of a bloke called George Cowley?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’No’’ answered Trixie ‘’Why?’’
‘’’Cos you’d be just his type’’ replied Bodie.
‘’He anything like you?’’ probed Trixie.
‘’No’’ said Bodie ‘’He’s Scottish.’’
‘’Think I’ll stick with you’’ decided Trixie, wriggling forward to put her brandy glass on the coffee table.
Bodie leaned forward to put his own beside it, then in one fluid movement he leaned back again and found Trixie’s lips with his own.
The kiss was soft and sweet and made no promises. When they parted Trixie resumed her position snuggled under Bodie’s wing and enquired ‘’Am I staying? Or are you the type that likes to sleep alone?’’
Bodie planted a kiss on the top of her head and said ‘’I’m the type who keeps his promises.’’
‘’Bed, then?’’ suggested Trixie.
‘’Yeah’’ said Bodie ‘’Need anything?’’
‘’Nah’’ said Trixie ‘’You’ll throw me out first thing, can make do wiv’ what I’ve got in me bag.’’
‘’What makes you think I’ll do that?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’’Cos this ain’t real’’ replied Trixie confidently ‘’It’s a kind of ‘oliday. We both ‘ave to get back to real life tomorrow - and I don’t reckon you’re the type to shirk, not when it comes down to it.’’
‘’You make it sound like a failing’’ said Bodie.
‘’Nah’’ said Trixie as she hauled herself to her feet and allowed Bodie to steer her to the bedroom ‘’Just bleedin’ inconvenient.‘’
Bodie smiled, releasing Trixie by the bathroom door, while he travelled on to change for bed. Then they seamlessly exchanged places, finally meeting in Bodie’s bedroom to turn off the light and slip awkwardly under the covers.
‘’You ever done this before?’’ asked Trixie, taking in Bodie’s reticent body language.
Bodie raised himself up on one elbow, careful not to allow the movement to bring him into contact with Trixie, or to allow his share of the covers to slip unchastely, his gaze mapping the undulating shape of Trixie’s body under the bedclothes.
‘’Like this?’’ he clarified ‘’Just sharing a bed?’’
‘’Yeah’’ confirmed Trixie.
‘’Not without prospects’’ admitted Bodie.
‘’Thought not’’ said Trixie ‘’Why me?’’
Bodie suddenly relaxed, pummelling his pillows into shape and rolling to lie on his back and stare myopically at the gloom shrouded ceiling.
‘’Because I’ve had a bellyful of complicated’’ he said into the darkness, extending an arm, much as he had on the sofa, and allowing Trixie to snuggle beneath it ‘’And because you’re…I dunno…Easy.’’
After a moment, in the dissonant clanging silence which followed this statement, Bodie began to feel the tremors of Trixie’s silent laughter. It ignited his own, until they were both giggling aloud uncontrollably.
‘’I didn’t mean -’’ Bodie attempted to apologise between giggles.
‘’Bleedin’ well ‘ope not’’ Trixie interrupted him.
‘’I just meant –‘’ Bodie tried to explain.
‘’I’m not hard work’’ Trixie finished for him, grinning impishly ‘’And whoever you’re trying to forget, is.’’
‘’Hadn’t exactly thought of it like that’’ conceded Bodie, finally sobering sufficiently to be aware of his tiredness ‘’But, yeah. I’ll admit this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but then, sometimes life comes up with what you need, not what you want.’’
‘’There’s a song in that’’ observed Trixie sleepily.
‘’I know’’ agreed Bodie ‘’Some geezer had it on at the pub.’’
‘’Bleedin’ jukebox’’ yawned Trixie.
Bodie planted a kiss amongst the cascade of her expensively coiffured tresses and Trixie snuggled further into the bed. Bodie shifted his arm to a position less likely to result in its blood supply being compromised and watched Trixie drift into sleep, all the while pondering the vagaries of fates which had led him to this unlikely situation.
No part of him registered his own transition into slumber.
He awoke without fanfare to an empty bed. No note pinned to the pillows, no lingering reminiscence of perfume on the sheets. It left him feeling lonely and slightly depressed, as if he had been party to something utterly pointless.
He felt listless and restless, neither wanting to remain still nor having the energy to do anything about it. It was a combination with which he was familiar, and one which had returned to plague him in these last few months. He had been denying it because, for the first time since he had heaved his guts up over the side of a ship, he had felt a sense of belonging. Of family.
But it was building, and one day, as he always did, he would yield. Strike out for pastures new and leave CI5 behind. It was as inevitable as the passing of the seasons, and - if he didn’t do it himself - Cowley would do it for him. Not today, not tomorrow, but some day, some not too distant day, when his reflexes were slower, his recovery time more pronounced. When he could no longer bounce back.
Bodie rolled onto his side and curled up, staring blankly at the wall facing him and wishing he had chosen a less solitary life, all the while knowing, deep within the core of him, that he could live no other. Eventually he became aware that his eyes were dry from lack of blinking and he dragged his eyelids over them, relishing the discomfort as a spur to action.
Hauling himself unenthusiastically out of bed, he made for the comfort of the kitchen and the kettle, and debated the merits of a run. The day was his, unless Cowley decided otherwise. It stretched before him, beckoning him onto the streets, or at least out of his malaise. The sun was shining on the just and unjust alike, and seemed no more disfavoured towards him.
He made a mug of tea, threw a sweatshirt over the jogging bottoms he’d slept in, and took himself downstairs to sit on the wall dividing the small patch of garden in front of the flats from the street, and drink his tea in the watery light of the still rising sun. If the day before was anything to go by, it would be stifling by two o’clock.
‘’Miss me?’’ Trixie’s unmistakable tones enquired. She looked as innocent as a daisy in a simple cotton frock, standing on the steps leading to her own subdivided building, studying him.
Bodie looked up and smiled ‘’Cinderella returning to the scene of the crime?’’ he asked.
Trixie came down the steps to sit on the garden wall beside him and said ‘’Don’t be like that.’’
‘’Sorry’’ offered Bodie ‘’Woke up out of sorts.’’
Trixie nudged him companionably ‘’Found this on yer windshield’’ she said, handing Bodie a thin sheet of irreverently folded, typewritten A4 notepaper ‘’Thought it was from that useless lump I slung out. I was gonna give ‘im a piece of me mind, tell ‘im it was none of ‘is bleedin’ business, and where did ‘e get off threaten’ me new boyfriend – not that you are – but ‘e’s not to know that, is ‘e?’’
Bodie put his mug down on the garden wall and unfolded the paper.
‘’Wouldn’t ‘ave read it, if I’d known it weren’t from that useless lump’’ continued Trixie apologetically ‘’That the same Doyle you were on about last night?’’
Bodie nodded absently.
‘’Work for you, does ‘e?’’ asked Trixie.
Bodie shook his head, feeling queasily off kilter.
‘’Why’s ‘e given you ‘is resignation letter, then?’’ asked Trixie ‘’Why can’t ‘e hand it in ‘imself?’’
‘’He will have’’ said Bodie, his voice sounding oddly tinny and distant in his own ears ‘’He’s not signed it. This’ll just be a copy, to let me know he’s done it.’’
‘’Why not write you a proper note?’’ asked Trixie ‘’Bit off, just sticking that on yer windshield.’’
‘’Ray wouldn’t mean anything by it’’ said Bodie, wondering exactly why, and to whom, he was defending Doyle ‘’He’ll probably ring a bit later, when he thinks I’m about. Usually go for a run on my mornings off, he wouldn’t expect me to be home.’’
‘’Could’ve stuck it through the letter box, though’’ observed Trixie.
‘’He could’ve done a lot of things’’ reflected Bodie, trying to shake off his sense of surreal disconnection to the known world ‘’But Doyle never does anything the easy way.’’
‘’You really like ‘im, don’t you?’’ asked Trixie.
‘’For my sins’’ admitted Bodie, rallying enough to wave the paper dismissively and say ‘’He’ll have changed his mind by tonight, it’s not the first time he’s pulled a stunt like this.’’
‘’Normally leave it on yer windshield, does ‘e?’’ probed Trixie ‘’What if it rains?’’
‘’No’’ conceded Bodie ‘’Normally, he blows up in Cowley’s office and storms off somewhere to lick his wounds. This is a new twist.’’
‘’And that’s why you’re worried’’ speculated Trixie with breezy intuition ‘’This time, ‘e might mean it, this Doyle, bloke?’’
‘’Nah’’ insisted Bodie ‘’He’ll change his mind, he always does.’’
‘’What does Doyle think he’s playing at?’’ demanded Cowley, throwing the now familiar resignation letter across his desk in disgust.
Bodie ignored the letter, much as he had tried to stonewall the preceding interrogation, standing stiffly in front of the desk at which Cowley was seated, eyes fixed on a set of invisible co-ordinates, hovering like a halo, somewhere over the Controller’s head.
‘’Answers, Bodie’’ demanded Cowley impatiently.
Bodie remained immobile, held captive by the need to control the conflicting instincts colliding within him.
‘’Ach’’ Cowley finally capitulated ‘’Stop standing there like Cleopatra’s Needle, and make yourself useful, pour me a scotch.’’
Bodie obeyed, grateful for something to do, moving through the familiar ritual on autopilot.
‘’And one for yourself’’ ordered Cowley, though the order had never been an afterthought.
Bodie did as he was told, bringing both glasses back with him. Cowley got up and limped round his desk to join his man on its far side, seating himself next to Bodie on one of the creaking, slack jointed chairs which fronted it. Accepting his glass, he stretched out his bad leg and rubbed contemplatively at his knee.
Bodie eyed the pantomime with disdain, he was in no mood to play along with Cowley’s man of the people act. He didn’t want the Controller’s sympathy, he wanted his authority. The ability to order a man hunt, to find Doyle whether he wanted to be found or not. He was still angry with Doyle, stung by his disloyalty, but gnawing at his guts, somewhere in the less wounded part of him, was concern.
‘’He’s a good man, Doyle’’ observed Cowley ‘’A bit too hot headed, and far too idealistic, for a job like this - but a good man, nonetheless.’’
‘’What do you expect me to do, sir?’’ asked Bodie pragmatically.
‘’You’ve no idea where he’s gone?’’ pressed Cowley.
‘’If I had’’ said Bodie ‘’I would have gone after him. Talked some sense into him.’’
‘’Then you know what prompted this action?’’ surmised Cowley astutely.
‘’I can take a good guess’’ replied Bodie, studying his untouched whisky.
‘’I’m in no mood to play games, Bodie’’ warned Cowley ‘’Doyle’s not only a valuable asset, he’s a vulnerable one.’’
Startled, Bodie looked up.
‘’I’ve been reviewing his file’’ continued Cowley, sipping his whisky in the hope that Bodie might follow suit and unbend a little ‘’He’s been having problems, psychological ones.’’
‘’Part of the job’’ replied Bodie noncommittally, distancing himself from his glass, setting it down with deliberate care on the Controller’s desk ‘’Doyle’s no different to anyone else, he’s not going to start selling state secrets to the Russians, if that’s what you’re worried about.’’
‘’It wasn’t’’ said Cowley dryly ‘’If only because Doyle has not been privy to anything of value for quite some time now.’’
‘’You haven’t trusted him?’’ demanded Bodie, abruptly, and recklessly, outraged on Doyle’s behalf ‘’You think Doyle would sell us out? Well, if that’s what you believe, you can have my resignation as well. Doyle’s a bloody good man, the best.’’
‘’I shall overlook that outburst, Bodie’’ replied Cowley evenly ‘’In his current state, Doyle is a liability. If you’re going to behave like a sentimental fool, I can’t send you after him.’’
Outrage replaced by bewilderment, Bodie asked ‘’You want me to go after him?’’
‘’Bodie, you and Doyle constitute one of the best teams this organisation has ever produced’’ expounded Cowley with unusual forbearance ‘’Possibly the best. What you lack in civility, you make up for in intuition. Doyle has got up the noses of more diplomats, foreign and home grown, than I care to count, but that is not what concerns me. The lad has made no secret of his hatred for corruption, without CI5, and in his current state, he might as well have a target pinned to his back.’’
‘’I don’t have a clue where he is’’ yielded Bodie with ill-concealed exasperation ‘’I’ve checked his normal boltholes, no one’s seen him.’’
‘’What about his women?’’ speculated Cowley.
‘’Last bird to see him was that nurse he took a shine to at the college’’ replied Bodie ‘’She hasn’t seen him since that night. He left a copy of his resignation on my windshield, and just disappeared.’’
‘’He can’t just have disappeared, Bodie’’ objected Cowley ‘’He has to be somewhere.’’
‘’I checked the CCTV at the newsagents he uses’’ said Bodie ‘’Nothing doing, last sighting they had was on Sunday. His car is still outside his flat. I tried the neighbourhood watch round my way, see if anyone saw him leave the note. I checked the train stations, and the coaches. Same thing. If he’s left town, he’s been careful about it, maybe he hitched a ride with someone.’’
‘’What about his bike?’’ suggested Cowley.
‘’Still in the garage’’ Bodie discounted automatically ‘’Doyle’s CI5 - even if he wasn’t, he’s an ex-copper. It’s missing persons, he’s gonna know the drill. If he doesn’t want to be found, we’re gonna have a hell of a job finding him.’’
‘’Aye’’ conceded Cowley wearily ‘’But if he can be found, Bodie, it’ll be you who stands the best chance of doing it.’’
‘’What did they say?’’ asked Bodie ‘’The psychological stuff, how bad is he?’’
‘’What would be your guess?’’ enquired Cowley in response.
‘’Guilt’’ said Bodie ‘’He was talking about Paul Coogan, I figured he’d got through all that. Looks like I was wrong.’’
‘’Did he say anything specific to you, Bodie’’ pressed Cowley ‘’To indicate that was his problem?’’
‘’You know Doyle, sir’’responded Bodie ‘’He can be pretty tight lipped, when he’s a mind.’’
‘’His file suggests some form of imminent mental collapse’’ offered Cowley ‘’Not total and not unavoidable. It was suggested that he be given a secondment.’’
‘’To where?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’The Red Cross’’replied Cowley ‘’It was suggested that helping an organisation with more charitable aims than our own would restore his sense of purpose.’’
‘’What, dishing out blankets in some half-baked Nissen hut?’’ scoffed Bodie.
‘’A little more than that’’ rebuked Cowley ‘’It was thought that his skills were a good match for many of their operations, and that using those skills for a demonstrable good would redress the imbalance in his thinking.’’
‘’Bit simplistic, isn’t it, sir?’’ replied Bodie.
‘’I had concerns that it was so, yes’’ admitted Cowley ‘’But given the present circumstances, those reservations hardly do me credit.’’
‘’This isn’t your fault, sir’’ said Bodie ‘’Doyle’s a hard nut to crack.’’
‘’You appear to have managed it, Bodie’’ observed Cowley.
‘’Still missing, though, isn’t he, sir’’ replied Bodie ‘’Maybe none of us got through to him.’’
‘’Rare false modesty’’ queried Cowley ‘’Or a genuine assessment?’’
Bodie grinned ‘’A little of both, sir.’’
Cowley’s mouth twitched into a smile of its own ‘’It’s good to know that your sense of perspective is undiminished, Bodie.’’
‘’Still not right without him, sir’’ admitted Bodie ‘’Feels like someone’s chopped off a limb.’’
‘’I imagine Doyle feels the same way’’ conceded Cowley ‘’Which makes it all the more concerning that he has taken this course of action.’’
‘’Yeah, but he’s still only missing’’ argued Bodie ‘’You can’t think…I mean…He’s not the sort to top himself, not Doyle.’’
Having finished his own drink, Cowley reached for Bodie’s orphaned glass ‘’And what type, Bodie, do you presume ‘top themselves’, as you so poetically put it?’’
‘’Coward’s way out, isn’t it, sir?’’ answered Bodie.
‘’Not in my experience’’ replied Cowley ‘’In my experience it is usually the final act of a brave man.’’
Bodie didn’t press the point, unconvinced himself, but sobered that Cowley obviously believed it.
‘’Have you been to Doyle’s flat?’’ queried Cowley.
‘’I gave it the once over’’ confirmed Bodie ‘’Think I should go back, sir?’’
‘’Yes, Bodie’’ said Cowley, making thrifty use of Bodie’s whisky ‘’I do, and go over his car while you’re at it. If Doyle’s state of mind is as poor as his file suggests it might be, he may have been careless, left a clue. Something only his partner would spot.’’
‘’Right, sir’’ agreed Bodie ‘’Even off his trolley, Doyle wouldn’t be careless enough to leave something anyone else was likely to find. No point running around chasing my tail, I’ll go back, see if I can turn anything up.‘’
‘’Bodie’’ ruminated Cowley thoughtfully ‘’ I think we stand a good chance of finding Doyle - or, at least - of his coming to his senses and contacting someone, but only a fool doesn’t consider all the possible outcomes.’’
‘’I’ll find him, sir’’ insisted Bodie ‘’It’s just a matter of time.’’
‘’But if we don’t’’ pressed Cowley.
‘’If we don’t’’ said Bodie getting up ‘’I wouldn’t recommend the Red Cross, I won’t be feeling very humanitarian.’’
Cowley gave a wry smile ‘’No, you’re more the type to keep chained up in the attic.’’
‘’I was thinking interrogation’’ said Bodie ‘’That would do wonders for my sense of purpose.’’
‘’Thuggery has its limitations’’ observed Cowley ‘’Not least, its irritant effect on our critics.’’
‘’Critics, sir?’’ echoed Bodie ‘’Since when did we start listening to them?’’
‘’I always listen’’ replied Cowley, finishing his purloined whisky ‘’It’s agreeing with them, confounds me.’’
By way of answer, Bodie gave a wry grin, then let himself out of Cowley’s office and headed for the car park. A constant distracted sense of loss followed him. Doyle had been missing for three days, and he hadn’t yet acclimatised, still turned to speak to him, still picked up the ‘phone and the radio to call him, still expected his own name to be followed by Doyle’s.
He and Doyle had been separated before, contrary to popular belief, they didn’t live in each other’s pockets. Despite their partnership, even the job had kept them apart longer, but this sudden amputation had left his nerves jumpy and raw.
Doyle climbed out of the lorry’s cab and slung his jacket over his shoulder. The services were dismal. The lack of visual amenity did not seem to bother the driver who, having evicted Doyle, and secured his cab, was heading across the tarmac with a spring in his step in search of a cuppa and the prospect of less taciturn company.
Doyle loitered until he was sure that he could slip unseen between the wagons towards the hedge which separated the services from the fields. Screened from view by the parked lorries, Doyle made his way to a gap in the hedge, the leaves of which disguised a fence constructed of two sturdy horizontal poles fixed resolutely between wide spaced posts. Doyle climbed over it with ease and began to cross the field.
Within twenty minutes he was little more than a moving dot among the crops, within forty he was not visible at all.
Out amongst the verdant farmland, Doyle had no further use for transport. He knew where he was heading. Towards the coast, any part of the coast. He didn’t care where. He just wanted to be able to see the sea. To look out at its wide horizon and feel dwarfed by the vastness of it.
He trudged on, ill equipped for walking in his cowboy boots. He knew his clothes would have to go, he was too conspicuous in them, too much a man of the city. Besides, there wasn’t a stitch Bodie couldn’t identify. It wouldn’t take his partner long to deduce what he must be wearing, and Bodie turning up was the last thing he needed.
He didn’t really have a plan for resolving that conundrum. He didn’t really have any plans at all. All he knew was that he couldn’t do it anymore. That he was done with CI5 and Cowley’s grip on his soul.
But he knew that walking away made him a liability. This wasn’t how you were supposed to resign. There was a protocol, and failing to follow it marked him out as someone who could no longer be trusted. Cowley didn’t suffer from bloodlust, but he didn’t have many scruples when it came to traitors either.
Long limbs carried Doyle over the tilled earth, cutting a swathe through the crops, which parted and closed behind him. Marking his passage as a wake follows a ship. He wanted to put as much distance as he could between himself and the unprepossessing services. The last known sighting of Ray Doyle.
Now, that was something he could change, even out here in the fields. The first step on the path to a new life, but if not Raymond Doyle, then what? He turned the problem over in his mind. He was quite attached to ‘Ray’. Somehow it had come to define him. ‘Doyle’ he could live without, it constrained him. It was what Cowley called him, but ‘Ray’ was something else. ‘Ray’ was something his friends used. Bodie used.
He wondered if there was any way he could keep it. Bodie, the bastard, only ever went by Bodie, even his bloody birds used it. But there was a lot you could do with William Andrew Philip. Hi, I’m Bill, or Andy, or even bloody Pip. How about ‘Liam’ or ‘Billy’, he’d even run a cross a tourist called ‘Drew’.
Typical - of course Bodie would be overly equipped for an assignment of this sort, whereas he was stuck with Ray Doyle. It was as if Bodie had been predestined, like some bloody Greek hero, to be the golden boy of CI5. Apple of his master’s eye. Bastard.
Doyle realised that his face was snarling at the world at just the mere thought of Bodie. He made a conscious effort to relax it. Proving, if any proof was still needed, that he had been right to walk away.
On the other hand, while he couldn’t see himself embracing ‘Drew’ with a straight face, ‘Andy’ had a ring to it he could live with. Why not? He couldn’t exactly put his finger on why, but Bodie owed him that much. So ‘Andy’ it was then, but what about the unloved ‘Doyle’? Pedestrian as it was, it would stand out like a belisha beacon for anyone from CI5. He couldn’t nick two names from Bodie, Bodie would spot that a mile off, should he ever run across it.
Doyle turned a number of names over in his head, avoiding anything he thought might be too conspicuously stolen from CI5. Despite his earnest ruminations, after trudging through the fields, negotiating field boundaries, and the odd herd of curious livestock, he found himself at a five bar gate still nameless.
The lane beyond the gate dipped steeply away into a tunnel of foliage. The banks on either side were an impenetrable thicket of tangled greenery. It looked cool and womblike, a place for Doyle’s fevered thoughts to find solace. Doyle swung himself and his jacket over the gate and headed towards the eerie green light filtering through the trees. Once under their canopy, the temperature dropped noticeably. He slipped on his jacket and felt oddly at peace.
The lane meandered downwards for around a mile and a half, with few breaks in the canopy, but where there was a break in the interwoven branches reaching out from each side of the lane, the light became a dazzling haze of yellow, before returning to the soothing respite of jade. Doyle noted the contrasting colours without thought, as he always had, and assumed others did, until some unguarded word reminded him that he lived in a world of subtleties, while they lived within the uncompromising confines of a child’s paint box.
It had surprised him one day, trapped with Bodie in the capri, the rain pelting against the windows, visibility limited to the end of the bonnet - trying vainly to establish if the local bookies was also doubling as a drop in centre for some of the more political elements of the local criminal fraternity - when Bodie had mused aloud that the rain had changed the quality of the light. Not that he’d exactly expressed it that way, but he’d rambled on about how rain on land looked different to rain at sea, and how a downpour looked different to a shower, and how everything looked cleaner afterwards, no matter what kind of rain it had been, so that you could really see it.
Cocooned in their metal box, the rain curtaining them from the outside world, Bodie had talked unselfconsciously, assuming Doyle would listen without judgement. It was the first time Bodie had talked like that, comfortable and trusting. Doyle had been aware of feeling strangely honoured, the way someone might if a wild animal had put sufficient trust in them to eat from their hand. Cowley had warned him not to underestimate Bodie, not to assume that his new partner had swallowed the training manual whole and was incapable of thought beyond regurgitating its pages.
Doyle considered himself to be liberal minded, and had resented the implication that he was incapable of judging the man on merit. He was convinced Bodie hadn’t received the same pep talk about himself. Bodie - who wore his prejudices on his shirt sleeve - but, in the end, he had underestimated Bodie. He’d recognised his skill, sometimes grudgingly and without grace, but he had recognised it, but he hadn’t seen the rest. Not in the beginning.
But then, Bodie wasn’t easy to like, obnoxiously self assured, unashamedly certain of his reaction in any given situation, untroubled by self-doubt even in the face of failure. Insensitivity personified. Except, there he had been, rambling on about how the world looked as if it had been drawn through tracing paper.
The same tracing paper he’d apparently used to improvise a kazoo, when he was supposed to be tracing an outline of Queen Elizabeth I, in order to impress Deidre Keogh. An act of romanticism which had resulted in a caning, and a lecture about his near treasonous lack of patriotism, given his status as a child of Empire and a New Elizabethan. Deidre Keogh had apparently been more appreciative, instigating a relationship which had lasted sufficiently long for Bodie to get under her bra. A garment, Bodie had sworn, of which young Deirdre had been precociously in need.
Bodie - a combination of the sublime and the profane, loyal, generous, impossible, arrogant. How many times had he been asked to explain Bodie? How many times had someone looked at him and struggled to see why he had given his loyalty to such an oafish lout. How many times had he been interrogated about his partner, in the hope that his choice might be understood, seeking something that wasn’t there, some other Bodie.
The truth was, the Bodie he had chosen to defend, to befriend, to risk his life for, to take into his home, and even into his heart, was the same Bodie they all saw. There was no other Bodie who emerged when they were alone. It was he who had one face for the world and another for Bodie.
With Bodie he could be ugly. Give vent to his disaffection. With Bodie he didn’t have to be the man he aspired to be, with Bodie he was free to be the man he was. The man who had learned the hard way what he was capable of and had spent a lifetime running from it. Into the police, into CI5, and when there was nowhere else to go, into the bottle.
Except that he hadn’t done that since he’d met Bodie, because the first night he’d tried it, Bodie had been there, leaning on his doorbell, all angry confrontation and bullet hard sympathy. He’d been pummelled into forgiving himself and, in the process, he’d got a glimpse of the man Bodie saw. Bodie hadn’t been fooled for an instant, and didn’t need him to be a saint. Bodie just needed him to be in one whole messy contradictory piece. It had been liberating at the time, all that furious unconditional acceptance, but now, when he needed someone to see the monster within, it was suffocatingly oppressive.
Rapt in his reverie, he had travelled a good mile down the lane. The near unbroken canopy arching over him, combined with the steeply sloping topography, meant it wasn’t completely dry underfoot. The tarmac was a grey barren wasteland, drying easily, despite the shade, but at its verges was a natural gutter choked with a carpet of greenery, trapping any rainfall running down the lane. Even on a day as glorious as this, it shone silver-bright with moisture.
Lost in his thoughts, Doyle didn’t hear the breakneck rumbling until it was nearly too late. A tanker being driven at near homicidal speed shot past him without a care to the fact that there was nowhere for a pedestrian to escape its wheels. Doyle threw himself high against the steeply sided bank, knowing there was no purchase for a man of his weight amongst the thick tangle of shallow rooted plants within his grasp, but gambling that the reckless speed of the tanker would take it past him before he fell back to earth.
He landed awkwardly, in an undignified heap in the wake of the tanker, his foot slipping on the wet greenery at the roadside and twisting painfully. He screwed up his eyes and waited for the first wave of excruciating pain to pass. Then he tentatively tried his foot, it felt oddly spongy. He waited a few moments more, rotating his ankle, waiting for it to decide whether it would condescend to take his weight. His boots were both a burden and a boon. They made the sharply accented ache of rotating his ankle worse, but they also gave it some stability.
Finally he decided to stand, leaning against the near vertical wall of vegetation he’d flung himself against, and hobbling a few steps forward. The weight of his boot dragged at his ankle, but stopped it turning over as it wobbled beneath him. He missed Bodie’s insensitive concern, and cocooned himself in an imaginary version of it, conjuring Bodie’s voice telling him to buck up and stop behaving like a big girl’s blouse, while all the while clucking round him like a mother hen.
‘Never gonna survive like this’ Doyle berated himself, as the pain of Bodie’s absence bit deeper than the pain in his ankle ‘Pull yourself together, you’re on your own now. Bodie means CI5, and CI5 means the Cow, and you’ve left all that behind.’
His ankle steadied as he walked, and after a few hundred yards he could trust it again, but he’d give his eye teeth for a hot bath. ‘Left those behind, too. Not earning now, mate’ he told himself firmly, while all the while wondering if he could squander a few pounds on a nice B&B. In the end he promised himself that he would blow his first new pay packet on a hot bath.
The incident was not entirely bereft of silver lining, Doyle decided to honour it by christening himself Andy Foot. By the time he had turned off the lane to follow the sign leading to the coastal path, he was even smiling and whistling a disjointed, merry tune.
The coastal path, in reality more of a rutted animal track strewn with half buried slabs of broken paving, tested his unhappy joint, but he persevered. As he had hoped, the gusting sea breezes felt like they were cleansing him of the unwanted detritus of his soul. Remaking him, clean and fresh, fit for civil society. ‘I don’t want them locking up their daughters, Bodie’ he explained to the imaginary partner inside his head, as he hadn’t been able to explain to the man of solid flesh ‘I’m tired of having doors shut in my face, of mothers pulling their kids away, of the world and his wife spoiling for a fight. Whatever I used to be, I used to feel clean, I want to feel like that again.’
Satisfied he’d made some explanation to the man he’d left behind, Doyle set his thoughts to his more immediate needs, sustenance and shelter. In his youth, he had occasionally used sex as a means of meeting them. The right bird, her own place, beyond the reach of parental opprobrium, savvy enough to avoid getting herself up the duff, content to feed and pamper him, but not daft enough to mistake it for love.
But he wasn’t in his youth, and he didn’t want to start his new life that way, that path had led him to CI5 - had made him a man fit for CI5 - and he didn’t want to be that man any more. He wanted to be like those clueless sods Cowley rejected, not willing enough to break the rules, not eager enough to be moulded to Cowley’s whim, not stupid enough to believe the Old Man’s lies.
He wanted to be clean, more than wanted, craved it. So, it was a job then, something simple, starting again from scratch, like he was still a kid, and the world, and the years, stretched before him. He needed work. Something that wouldn’t put him on Cowley’s radar. Something that wouldn’t lead to him being hauled back to CI5, so Cowley could get his money’s worth out of his training. Not the Labour Exchange then, not that his youthful feet had ever been inside one. Jobs had always been easy to come by, if you were a bright lad who didn’t mind what you did, and only had horizons that stretched to the next payday. He’d been that once, before he’d got wise and settled down. Respectable job, wife, kids, mortgage, it had all beckoned. Except the respectable job had turned out to be rotten with corruption, and the wife had never materialised, and the mortgage was still a pipe dream.
‘Why didn’t you ever do that?’ he asked himself as the first rooftops appeared against the skyline ‘You could have had a mortgage, put away savings, invested in some kind of future. Loads of time, people get married when they’re forty, fifty even. You could still have kids, lots of blokes have kids when they’re fifty. Why did you give it all up for CI5? Who said you had to? It’s not even in the small print. Bodie could never have kids, too big a kid himself, but you could, you’d be good with them. A proper family, with a wife and maybe a dog.’
An intrusive vision of the heavily pregnant and abruptly widowed June Cook filled his head and turned his stomach ‘No, not a dog, don’t fancy a dog’ he told himself disingenuously ‘But neighbours, wine and cheese. You could have done all that. But you’re not going to, are you? You’re never going to, because if you were, you would have done it. Because anything you want to do, you do. You’re a selfish sod Raymond Doyle, I’m glad you’re dead.’
The skyline was full of houses now, huddled round the sweep of the harbour and the crescent of sands beyond. Doyle stood a moment, admiring the view. It wasn’t picture postcard pretty, all bobbing yachts and hanging baskets, but that detracted nothing from what was actually there. He was in no mood for genteel, tourist friendly kitsch, he wanted a pub the locals didn’t avoid, shops that sold boot polish and treacle, cafés where the tea came in ill-assorted mugs and you couldn’t get a scone for love nor money.
Even as he made his way off the coastal path and towards the town, he knew what he wanted was impossible. There would be guest houses to stay in, and sticks of rock to take back home, and saucy postcards to spice up the post room, but not so many that there was no town left underneath. Not so many that he could be beguiled by the polite fakery that turned chandlers into antique shops, and custom houses into galleries, not so many that he could be disorientated by the gaudy razzmatazz of the arcades. He wanted things to be what they were. He needed them to be honest. He had already drowned in lies.
His first port of call was a café, with an unprepossessing shop front and egg and chips on the menu. He ordered a mug of tea and was gratified when the mug he was given was a muddy brown affair with orange stripes.
He sipped his tea staring out of the café’s streaked plate glass window at the uninviting waves washing up the beach.
‘’You ‘ere long, love?’’ the overall clad woman who had served him asked, as she wiped down a table across the aisle which divided the café.
‘’Actually’’ he replied ‘’I’m looking for a job.’’
‘’Wouldn’t of thought we had much round ‘ere for your type’’ remarked the woman ‘’You wanna go inland a bit.’’
‘’My type?’’ asked Doyle, wondering how he’d been categorised.
‘’You’d want an office job, wouldn’t you?’’ the woman answered ‘’Dressed like that.’’
For a moment Doyle was flummoxed, in all his planning he’d forgotten that he was no longer the scruffy kid one jump ahead of a life spent shuttling between social security and imprisonment. He’d found the discipline he’d been searching for, in the end he hadn’t had to look very far for it. It had always been there, waiting for him to wise up and stop thinking the world owed him a living.
Instinct had him sifting a multitude of cover stories. Raymond Doyle’s instincts. But Raymond Doyle was dead, and Andy Foot was another bloke entirely. Andy Foot liked to stick to the truth, the whole truth, not just the convenient autobiographical building blocks of a cover story - and where he couldn’t do that - as close to a version of the whole truth as possible.
The café was empty, except for Doyle and the inquisitive woman in overalls. Just the sort of setting where a bloke from the city might choose to be honest about things he might not otherwise care to disclose.
Doyle put on his best diffident expression and admitted quietly ‘’Had a bit of a breakdown, need peace and quiet now.’’
‘’Oh’’ said the woman, looking uncomfortable ‘’Never mind, dear. Want more tea?’’
‘’Yeah’’ smiled Doyle ‘’That’d be nice.’’
The woman disappeared into the back of the café, and Doyle was amused to note that when she reappeared behind the counter to make the tea, a hefty lump of a man appeared with her, staying conspicuously, to do nothing in particular. Doyle got up and collected his tea, settling up at the same time, and returned to the window to watch the chilly waves wash up the beach.
Yes, a breakdown was a good cover story. Doyle couldn’t help how he carried himself, couldn’t help that Andy Foot carried himself the same way. He had come to expect more from life. It had seeped into his bones, the unconscious expectation of more. The easy confidence, which came with being cock of the walk in CI5. Easy, because the only life that mattered was your own. Easy, because you didn’t have to put a roof over someone else’s head, or food in their belly.
Being in CI5 was easy, real courage was what other people had. All those ordinary people who couldn’t tell their boss to stuff it, because other lives depended on them, who waded daily through the humiliations exacted for their inadequacies, not the right school, not the right colour, not the right class. All those little people that Cowley faintly despised because they put the brakes on his crusade.
They were all cowards, himself, Cowley, Bodie. The whole of CI5, none of them had what it took, what these people had. Thanklessly building communities, raising families, looking after their sick, educating their children. Generation after generation. What had CI5 ever done compared to that?
Doyle set down his empty mug. He was glad he had left it all behind. Time to rebuild. He’d turned his life around once, he could do it again. As he scraped his chair back to stand, the conspicuous hefty lump of a man, who had been doing nothing in particular behind the counter, arrived to take his mug. Doyle waited patiently for the man to collect it and move aside so that he could pass.
The man took a paper from under his arm and handed it to Doyle ‘’Local Gazette, if there’s a job going round ‘ere, it’ll be in there.’’
‘’Thanks’’ offered Doyle automatically.
The hefty lump of a man shrugged and took Doyle’s empty mug back to the counter.
Bemused by the contradictory nature of life, Doyle took himself out of the café to sit on a bench, on what passed as the promenade, and read his second hand newspaper.
The front page was upset about a new block of flats which would ruin the view from some part of town that meant nothing to Doyle. Several locals expressed the opinion that dark forces were at work in the planning office. The local council pointed out that the current view encompassed a car park and some disused railway sidings. An enthusiastic member of the RSPB reassured worried readers that the local bird population was unlikely to be affected, and one of the older residents assured everyone in general that this sort of thing would never have happened before the war.
Elsewhere, the local bandstand had been vandalised, unnamed youths were assumed to be the culprits. The local beauty queen had made it through to the county finals. There were a number of births, deaths and marriages. The caravan site had been overrun with sheep, due to a careless tourist leaving a gate open. The vicar had been caught speeding, and the local football team had signed two new players.
There were also several personal ads, a horoscope, and the promised job listings. Doyle didn’t bother with the personals, or the horoscope, not least because he wasn’t yet sure if Raymond Doyle shared a birthday with Andy Foot. Though he should decide, it was the sort of thing people asked. Instead, he focussed on the job vacancies. About half way down was an advert for help in the kitchens at the hotel, perfect work for a man who had resigned from his life.
The town had a quantity of guest houses and camping sites, but only one hotel, near the old railhead, a speculative venture built when it had seemed certain the town would have its own railway station. The passenger station had never arrived, the project abandoned when fashion took the wealthy further up the line. For a few decades, the fisheries had made use of the rails to ship their goods to meet the main line, until the lorries came, and made it more advantageous to ship the catch directly to the canneries, then refrigeration had changed the game again. Local memory said the old lines had been pressed into service during the war, but they now lay derelict and weed strewn, never having realised their full potential.
The hotel wasn’t difficult to find, an imposing gothic edifice which had once overlooked the entire town, and had now been overtaken by a sprawl of bungalows, each with a neatly sheared lawn defended by a cohort of garden gnomes, and sporting such names as ‘seaview’ and ‘periwinkle’.
Doyle stood at the hotel gates in an unaccustomed quandary, suddenly realising he had no idea how to approach his task. He couldn’t stride in, all arrogance and authority, and wave his ID under the manager’s nose, even if he still had it, which he didn’t, because it erroneously claimed he was Raymond Doyle. Neither did he feel comfortable simply walking in as a guest, because he wasn’t. For the first time in his life he found himself regretting the demise of the tradesman’s entrance, a utility he had spent his life abusing as a euphemism and vehemently rejecting as a class construct.
Feeling foolishly self-conscious, a trait Andy Foot must have cultivated in him in the few hours of his existence, Doyle walked down the short drive to the hotel entrance. The building was coated in cream masonry paint, the repeated application of which had long ago clogged any finer points of architectural delicacy. Doyle suspected the original building had been unashamed of its red bricks, proudly embracing the nation’s burgeoning industrial might. Its current appearance reflected the disillusion of a declining industrial power, harking back to pre-industrial splendour.
Doyle approached the reception desk with butterflies in his stomach.
‘’Hello, sir’’ the receptionist greeted him ‘’Do you have a reservation?’’
‘’No’’ admitted Doyle, proffering his copy of The Gazette ‘’I’ve come about the job - in the kitchens.’’
The receptionist would have made a poor poker player, despite her professional façade remaining barely disturbed, her consternation was nevertheless quite evident.
‘’I’ll get Mr Malcolm’’ she informed Doyle ‘’He’s the manager.’’
Doyle smiled reassuringly, awaiting his fate with equanimity.
‘’Mr…?’’ ventured the manager when he appeared.
‘’Foot’’ supplied Doyle.
‘’Ah, yes’’ acknowledged the manager ‘’Mr Foot, would you care to come this way?’’
Doyle obediently followed the manager to his office.
After a perfunctory interview, which seemed to consist entirely of the manager sizing up Doyle’s personality from a series of non-sequiturs, Doyle was led to the kitchens.
To his surprise, he was not put under the management of the chef. Instead, he found himself standing in a cramped office, barely large enough to pass as a linen press.
Having introduced him as ‘Mr Foot,’ in a manner which seemed honed by the centuries to depersonalise, the manager left him to it.
‘’Washing up’s housekeeping’’ he was informed by his new supervisor, a substantial woman with a cigarette dangling as if surgically attached from her lips ‘’At least, it is here. You can thank Pierre for that.’’
‘’Who’s Pierre?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Chef’’ replied the woman ‘’’Pierre’, my arse’’ she continued contemptuously ‘’His fondant fancies were more French than ‘e was – but it looks good in the kitchen, dunnit?’’
Doyle nodded sagely.
‘’Anyway, he’s long gone’’ she added ‘’But we don’t change things round here, not when we don’t need to. Pierre had a run in with the union, we don’t want that kind of trouble again. So washing up’s housekeeping, got it?’’
‘’When did Pierre leave?’’ asked Doyle, in an attempt to ingratiate himself.
‘’1967’’ he was briskly informed ‘’You can call me Doreen.’’
‘’Right’’ said Doyle, rapidly concluding that easy banter would no longer form a part of his working life ‘’In that case, it’s Andy.’’
To his astonishment, Doreen met this with spluttering amusement, narrowly avoiding swallowing her cigarette as she choked ‘’Andy Foot? Pull the other one.’’
Doyle reflected on his choice of nom de guerre, running the name through his mind shorn of its etymology.
‘’Andy Foot?’’ repeated Doreen, wheezing with mirth ‘’You poor buggar, bet they gave you ‘ell in school’’ then with a salacious wink she added ‘’Bet that’s not the only thing, comes in ‘Andy. Eh, love?’’ followed by near hysterical asphyxiation as she enquired ‘’Is that a foot, an’ all?’’
Doyle stood his ground, blinking stoically, until Doreen regained her lung function.
Tears still glistening in the corners of her eyes, Doreen advised huskily, with an unsuspected motherly warmth ‘’Best not give the lads the ammunition, you got another name? What did they call you in school? Your mates, I mean. Or where you worked before?’’
‘’Poor buggar’’ repeated Doreen.
Doyle tried again ‘’William’’ he revealed tentatively ‘’William and Philip. Those are my other names.’’
‘’Which one comes after Andy?’’ asked Doreen.
‘’Philip’’ replied Doyle truthfully.
‘’Andrew Philip William’’ mused Doreen ‘’Wasn’t she expecting any more boys, your Mum? Putting all her eggs in one basket like that? It’s like a royal flush, all them princes. ’’
Doyle was immediately assailed by an unwelcome vision of Bodie grinning smugly in his best bib and tucker. He’d never asked, never bothered to find out, why Bodie carried all those princely names.
‘’Not really my business, is it, love?’’ continued Doreen kindly ‘’We’ll just tell ‘em it’s Phil, Phil Foot isn’t too bad – unless you’d prefer William?’’
‘’Phil’s good’’ agreed Doyle.
‘’You got anywhere to stay?’’ asked Doreen conversationally as she ushered Doyle out of her Lilliputian office.
‘’Not yet’’ conceded Doyle ‘’I saw the advert for the job when I arrived. Finding a place will have to wait until later, must be somewhere that can put me up.’’
‘’You can stay ‘ere for a bit’’ offered Doreen ‘We get staff in from the continent over the summer, but they’re not all ‘ere yet. You can ‘ave one of their rooms. Staff rates, better value than anywhere else, where’s yer luggage?’’
‘’Don’t have any’’ admitted Doyle.
Doreen gave Doyle a distrustful look.
‘’I just left it all behind’’ explained Doyle ‘’I had a sort of breakdown, don’t want to go back.’’
‘’Like Reggie Perrin?’’ queried Doreen uncertainly.
‘’More like The Good Life’’ Doyle reassured her ‘’I just woke up one morning and wanted out of the rat race, only I’m rotten at growing vegetables.’’
‘’What about yer family?’’ asked Doreen.
‘’Not married’’ said Doyle ‘’No kids. Maybe that was part of the problem, I just know I have to start again.’’
‘’How about money?’’ asked Doreen.
‘’When do we get paid?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Friday’’ answered Doreen ‘’You’re casual, so you get paid every Friday, cash in hand. You get a week in lieu, if we ‘ave to let you go, but you lose that if you give us cause for dismissal - and we call the police if you turn out to ‘ave light fingers.’’
‘’Fair enough’’ agreed Doyle ‘’I’ve enough to last until Friday, but I could do with buying some stuff, change of clothes, toiletries.’’
Doreen looked at her watch ‘’Shops will be shut in forty minutes, don’t bother about the toiletries, we can sort you out for those, get yourself down to Shirley’s, you can get the basics in there. Mind, if you’re looking for stuff with labels, like you got on now, you’ll have to get the bus out of town.’’
‘’Okay’’ said Doyle ‘’Where do I find Shirley’s?’’
‘’Out the front of the hotel’’ directed Doreen ‘’There’s a road leads down, it runs straight to the high street, you can’t miss it.’’
‘’Okay’’ said Doyle ‘’See you in a bit.’’
Once outside the hotel, Doyle broke into a light, shuffling jog. He could still feel a dull ache at his ankle, but it held firm despite each jarring footfall. The mouth of the road was immediately opposite the hotel gates, Doyle jogged inelegantly down the steep incline, instinctively leaning back and trying not to let gravity pull him down faster than he could control.
The road was lined with neat semi-detached houses that must have climbed up towards the hotel between the wars. The paving slabs were a similar colour to the hotel’s exterior and were laid neatly in their beds, almost as smooth as bitumen.
Doyle reached the high street with a throbbing ankle and twenty-five minutes to spare. He glanced up and down, looking for Shirley’s. Unable to see anything which might indicate where it was, he stopped a passerby.
‘’Shirley’s?’’ he enquired.
The woman looked him up and down, observing ‘’Wouldn’t have thought it’d be your sort of place, dear, but it’s up there, ‘bout fifty yards down – and it’s called Hendry’s now.’’
‘’Right’’ said Doyle, heading towards Hendry’s.
The shop looked as if it hadn’t been remodelled since the twenties, the sign over the window display said ‘Hendry’s’ in bold white lettering against glossy brown paint, but the blue speckled composite quartz doorstep still had ‘Shirley’s’ written in swirling black letters.
Doyle crossed the threshold and pushed at the door, setting off a tinkling bell. Doyle had never been to an Arab souk, but he imagined this must be what it was like, stepping from brilliant sunshine into a dark cave crammed with teetering stock.
A skinny old man in an ill fitting suit approached him ‘’May I help?’’
‘’What happened to Shirley?’’ asked Doyle, as if nothing in the world had changed and Bodie was about to come sauntering in after him, the music hall act complete.
‘’Retired’’ the old man replied succinctly, and - if Bodie had been there - Doyle would have met his eyes, communing for the briefest instant, speculating as to Shirley’s age, if it had been displaced by the old man’s youth.
But Bodie wasn’t there, so Doyle said ‘’Need some clothes, couple of shirts, something to sleep in, underwear, if you’ve got it.’’
The old man looked Doyle up and down for a few assessing moments, and then began a circuit of the overcrowded shop. Pulling open drawers, tutting to himself and then closing them again, peering into boxes only to replace them.
Having completed a full circuit of the shop, he came to rest before Doyle ‘’Blue or brown?’’ he enquired.
‘’Blue or brown?’’ repeated Doyle vacantly.
‘’I’m afraid we won’t have any black or green until Thursday’’ apologised the old man ‘’But I have several pairs of blue or brown, if you require socks.’’
‘’Let’s push the boat out’’ said Doyle ‘’How about a pair of each?’’
‘’Very well’’ agreed the old man ‘’Would you like two of everything?’’
‘’Why not?’’ agreed Doyle ‘’You only live once.’’
The old man repeated his circuit of the shop, this time collecting items as he went. He piled them neatly on the glass topped counter, finishing with the socks.
Doyle eyed the pile speculatively and then said ‘’I don’t suppose you’ve got a bag?’’
The old man reached beneath the counter and retrieved a sturdy carrier bag, emblazoned with the word ‘Shirley’s’ between blue and black chequered borders.
‘’No’’ corrected Doyle hastily ‘’I mean like a duffle bag, holdall – that sort of thing.’’
The old man held up a finger, gesturing for patience, and then silently disappeared into the back of the shop. Doyle waited obediently for some minutes until he returned.
‘’Will this do?’’ the old man asked, upon his return, placing a purple tie-dyed rucksack on the counter.
Doyle blinked at the exotic object.
‘’I found it in the stock room’’ the old man explained ‘’It’s never been used. I grant the design is rather effusive, but the canvas is still good.’’
Doyle wondered if Phil Foot was the sort of bloke who could carry off a purple tie-dyed rucksack. On the other hand, judging by the pile of clothing on the counter, Phil Foot was the sort of bloke who was about to carry off pale blue cellulose Y-fronts and a set of forest green pyjamas with dark brown piping.
‘’Haven’t you got any more of those blue striped pyjamas?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Not in sir’s size’’ apologised the old man ‘’Will that be all?’’
‘’Yes’’ sighed Doyle ‘’Better throw in the rucksack as well.’’
The old man rang up the sale, and Doyle was gratified to see the rucksack go through at its original ticket price, although by Doyle’s lights, the same scrupulous accounting overvalued the forest green pyjamas.
Doyle paid in cash and the old man accompanied him to the shop door.
‘’Sorry, if I’ve kept you’’ Doyle apologised.
‘’Only five minutes’’ replied the old man, as he turned the shop sign to closed and pulled down the door blind ‘’Nothing to trouble yourself over.’’
‘’Thanks’’ said Doyle, slinging the rucksack over his shoulder ‘’Keep quiet about where I got this, shall I?’’ he winked in parting.
‘’That would be greatly appreciated, sir’’ smiled the old man, locking the door after Doyle ‘’Have a pleasant evening.’’
Doyle toiled up the steep street leading to the hotel, his ankle was throbbing more or less constantly now and the thought of spending his evening standing at a sink washing up dishes held very little appeal.
Doreen met Doyle as he neared the kitchens, eyeing his rucksack in mute surprise.
‘’Left over stock’’ explained Doyle.
‘’From what century?’’ teased Doreen.
Doyle grinned, he was beginning to like Doreen.
‘’Come on’’ said Doreen ‘’I’ll show you where yer room is, and fill you in a bit on what’s expected.’’
‘’Okay’’ agreed Doyle.
The staff rooms were bare and utilitarian, but each had its own bathroom. No actual bath, but a shower, toilet and basin.
‘’My idea’’ said Doreen ‘’The temporary staff were staying in local guest houses, which is daft if they’re working in a hotel. We had these guest rooms, but we got complaints about the kitchens bein’ so close. All the noise and smells. So I said why not turn ‘em into accommodation for the temporary staff?’’
‘’You’ve got my vote’’ said Doyle, dropping his rucksack on the bed.
‘’We wouldn’t ‘ave got ‘em out of the guest houses without the bathrooms’’ said Doreen ‘’And with the bathrooms we can justify the rate we charge.’’
‘’Yeah’’ said Doyle ‘’About that, how much do I owe you?’’
Doreen walked over to a small wooden picture frame on the bedside cabinet beside Doyle’s bed ‘’The rates for everything are on ‘ere’’ she said ‘’Toiletries, meals, laundry – personal that is, housekeeping do the bed linen and towels – although we charge if you ruin anything, so keep them boots off the bed.’’
‘’When do I get thrown out?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Middle of next week’’ replied Doreen ‘’Foreign staff get preference in the summer. There’s not many of these family run hotels left, sight fewer making a profit the way we do, we might do things a bit different to the big chains, but it’s still good experience.’’
‘’And when do I start?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Might as well come with me now’’ said Doreen ‘’The key to the room is on your side of the door, that’s where you leave it when you leave. You can order meals when the kitchens are open, just like the guests, but you ‘ave to collect ‘em from the kitchen yerself – and take the dirty crocks back when you’ve finished.’’
‘’Okay’’ said Doyle, following Doreen out of his room and locking the door behind him.
‘’You’re not allowed to use the restaurant or the bar’’ continued Doreen as they made their way back to the kitchens ‘’You can bring alcohol in, but we don’t tolerate drunkenness. The tea and coffee in the room is free, but you ‘ave to pay if you order it through the kitchens - and if you want anything off the à la carte menu, you pay the full price, even though you can’t use the restaurant. Clear? ’’
‘’As crystal’’ confirmed Doyle.
‘’Good’’ smiled Doreen ‘’And once I’ve shown you how to get in and out of the staff entrance, that’s what you use. No exceptions’’ she winked cheerily ‘’Except the fire drill’’ she continued more soberly ‘’There’s a different drill for bombs, the alarm sounds intermittently for those, so you’ll know it’s different. And even though you’re only a glorified bottle washer, the guests always come first. So, if you can’t help ‘em - and if it’s a drill, you’d better be bleedin’ dead, or I’ll have your guts - you find someone who can.’’
‘’Right-ho’’ acknowledged Doyle, feeling like he was back in uniform again.
‘’Behold’’ announced Doreen as Doyle finally found himself in the kitchens ‘’Your domain.’’
A few faces looked up, paying him more attention than he supposed the arrival of a new dishwasher usually merited, but no one lingered, too intent on what they were doing. Unused to being invisible, Doyle felt slightly depressed. His ankle seemed to throb more insistently as he tagged behind Doreen like a stray mongrel. The kitchens themselves were a mix of the grandly domestic and the professionally utilitarian, reflecting their origins.
There was nothing grandly domestic about the sink. Doyle studied it dispiritedly, tucked away from the main kitchen in a cubbyhole that seemed entirely given over to the processing of dirty crockery.
‘’Used to be the scullery’’ said Doreen ‘’In the days when you was either a maid ‘ere, or at one of the big ‘ouses.’’
Doyle nodded, absorbing the words more by osmosis than listening.
‘’Course, it’s been remodelled a lot over the years’’ continued Doreen ‘’And you can’t get out that way anymore, not like you used to.’’
‘’Worried I’ll run off?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’You’ll do’’ approved Doreen, giving him a friendly nudge with her shoulder ‘’Grab yourself a cuppa, then make yourself at ‘ome. Chef’ll do his pieces if he finds you wandering round his kitchen.’’
Doyle looked out at the tidy kitchen and wondered where he’d find a kettle. A skinny lad with a nervy disposition suddenly arrived by his side and thrust a mug at him, advising ‘’It’s warm and wet, can’t guarantee anything else.’’
‘’Cheers’’ mustered Doyle, caught unawares by the over sugared brew.
‘’Shout if you want another’’ the lad informed Doyle as he returned to his duties ‘’You never know, you might get lucky.’’
‘’That’s Simon’’ said Doreen ‘’Friendly lad, but don’t try playing cards with ‘im. Not if you want to keep yer wages.’’
‘’Right’’ said Doyle as Doreen began a tour of his new working environment.
‘’These is the dishwashers’’ said Doreen ‘’The machines, that is, you load ‘em up and unload ‘em when they’re done. We don’t put the glasses in ‘em, you do them by hand, plus chef’s precious pots and pans, if ‘e don’t make one of that lot do ‘em’’ she added indicating the kitchen staff with a nod of her head ‘’His favourite punishment, that is. One of ‘em splits a sauce and it’s a night with the pots and pans.’’
‘’Right’ said Doyle again.
‘’You okay, love?’’ asked Doreen.
‘’Ankle’s playing up’’ admitted Doyle ‘’Twisted it before I got here.’’
‘’Tell you what’’ suggested Doreen conspiratorially ‘’I’ll get you some aspirin, that should help keep you going.’’
‘’Thanks’’ said Doyle, surprised and touched by Doreen’s motherly interest.
‘’Don’t let that sink fool you’’ advised Doreen ‘’You’re still housekeepin’, remember – and us lot ‘ave to stick together. Chef’d be running the place, if he ‘ad his way, nasty great brute.’’
Doyle nodded, finishing his tea and familiarising himself with the equipment, while Doreen went in search of some aspirin.
In the end, Doreen furnished him with a whole packet of aspirin and assured him that, while she couldn’t promise him a hot bath at the end of his shift, the toiletries he’d find in his bathroom would be free of charge, as a gesture of her sympathy.
The work hardly taxed Doyle’s intellect, and although there was enough to keep him busy, he soon established a rhythm equal to it. Halfway through the night he realised his mind was drifting, pursuing its own thoughts as the dirty dishes passed through his hands on autopilot.
Half his mind was still running on the rails he had left behind, he felt just as he did when he was undercover. His instincts recognised that there was no danger, that his life didn’t hang on a misspoken word or the unexpected appearance of a half remembered face, but neither did they embrace his new existence. Some part of him remained impervious to his changed reality, that he was now a man who earned his living washing dirty crockery, insisting that his place in life’s pecking order placed him comfortably ahead of Doreen, and the kitchen staff, and the oblivious diners munching their prawn cocktails surrounded by the petty-bourgeois opulence of flocked wallpaper.
Doyle’s mind was still adrift when his shift finally ended, still a tourist in the hinterland between his old life and his new. The crockery was all where it was supposed to be, the cutlery, the pans, the regimented lines of hand washed glasses. Somehow, during the hours he had worked, some unheeded alchemy had transformed the alien surroundings into a familiar space. His toil had made it his.
An unfamiliar sense of peace accompanied him to his room. It stayed with him as he slid awkwardly down the bathroom tiles to sit in the shower tray and allow the pungent scents of the promised toiletries to surround him, and the cascade of hot water to wash over him. His weight finally off it, his ankle drank in the healing mist, signalling its gratitude to the rest of his body. When he was finally ready to stand and rinse away the cleansing suds, he felt a virtuous repose descend upon him.
He dried himself in sleepy wonder and robed himself in the forest green pyjamas. ‘Raiment’ he mused as he slipped under the covers ‘In his raiment of green’. He wasn’t sure if the phrase had come to him through the mists of inattentive boredom spent at Sunday school, or the hours afterwards, spent lying on his stomach in the long summer grass, reading Robin Hood. He’d found more of God in the tales of the men in Lincoln green than he ever had in the unlikely weave of Joseph’s technicolour dreamcoat.
For the first time in his life, or any portion of it he could remember, dreams stole into his brain on the petticoats of his thoughts. They beguiled away his conscious mind and left a gentle curve on his lips.
When he awoke, it was late, no one had called him. No telephone demanding his attention, no static laden summons over the airways, no partner insistently hammering at his door. It felt good, it felt clean, it felt as if he could breathe once more. As if the world had suddenly widened and brightened and he had stepped from dark, confining shadows into liberation and sunlight.
He stretched and rolled in the bed, revelling in the need to be nowhere, as he had as a child on the first day of the summer holidays, when the weeks stretched before him full of the promise of birds’ nests and skinned knees, and the start of the new term seemed a prospect as distant and unimaginable as the end of time. It had been safe, that world, full of certainties. Good and bad. Even its inequities had been understood and understandable.
He shut his eyes and tried to visualise a map, the stepping stones which had led him from the sunny certainty of those days of grubby boyhood innocence to the long grey days of sophisticated adult cynicism. He tried to pinpoint the one misstep, the one fork in the road, which had led him astray, but there was none. Every step had seemed sound beneath his feet, every new path had promised to be righteous.
Depressed by this dismal revelation, he hauled himself from the bed and padded over to the kettle on his mismatched ankles, one sound, one protesting, to make himself a mug of tea. There was a long mirror screwed to the wall by the door. He studied himself in it while the kettle boiled. Already, what he saw pleased him more than it had yesterday morning. The dishevelled man in the green pyjamas didn’t seem like anyone Raymond Doyle had ever been.
He took his mug of tea over to the window to drink. The view wasn’t inspiring, probably another reason the rooms had found no favour with the guests. There was an expanse of shaggy lawn terminating in a brick wall. Doyle sipped his tea and decided that whatever place he found to call home would need a view of the sea. The infinite swell of cold, slate grey waves extending beyond the horizon until, unseen, they washed upon some distant foreign shore.
Doyle’s previous experience of hotel life had been largely limited to the other side of the house. Even surveillance and babysitting duties hadn’t taken him much beyond the parameters of a paying guest. Pretending to be room service hadn’t really equipped him with a working knowledge of his new trade. Even so, he suspected that the hotel’s idiosyncrasies would raise a few eyebrows among hospitality cognoscenti. The thought comforted him, aware of his own misfit status, it offered the hope of acceptance.
Doyle finished his tea, sluicing the mug out under the bathroom taps, and wondered what the protocol was for dirty crockery he hadn’t obtained from the kitchen. Not that it mattered, he suspected that his new found job would be at the bottom of it somewhere.
He hadn’t bothered to unpack the night before, beyond pulling the reviled pyjamas from his flamboyant rucksack. He rectified that now, his entire worldly goods fitting into one utilitarian drawer. Then he showered and thought about shaving. Did a man who had swapped his trigger finger for dishpan hands need to shave? It would be cheaper if he didn’t, and Bodie had never seen him in a full beard.
On the other hand, Doreen might be less sanguine than Bodie about the roguish appearance a few days growth usually gave him. Academic at the moment, since the toiletries Doreen had furnished hadn’t included a shaving kit, and his electric razor was sitting on a shelf in a flat he’d never see again.
The Y-fronts were surprisingly comfortable, and did nothing to impede the fit of his jeans. He’d raided his bank account before absconding. His life in CI5 had been lived from paycheque to paycheque, no milkman to pay off, no window cleaner, or paper boy. It had always been cash on delivery. He’d spent his money on wine, women and song. Different for the married blokes, who had someone at home to spend it for them, but he’d never had to budget for school uniforms or family holidays, so he’d frittered away his salary. He’d never really saved for anything, never thought about finding money for his clothes and records.
It was all faintly depressing, he realised. A man should have financial concerns, some investment in life. He was still living as he had in his twenties. CI5 had somehow stunted his growth, never having to bother about flat hunting or getting his own wheels. The bikes didn’t count, they were either flashy status symbols or nurtured wrecks. Other blokes’ weekend vehicles, a way of reclaiming the wild years of their youth, or realising its cherished dreams.
Admittedly, his clothes were better, his sound systems more sophisticated, but in the end, that meant nothing. The restaurants he frequented and the wine he drank, all gave the appearance of maturity, but if you took off the price tags, he might as well still be living at home. All he had really acquired was the freedom to watch the television channel he chose and bed his sexual partners without inquisition.
Maybe he should be grateful, he might have gone on like that, year upon year, until one day he woke up and realised he had nothing to show for life but a mane of grey hair and the serial, bittersweet memories of a string of ultimately meaningless flirtations.
Most of his money was still in the plastic bag the bank had given him, tucked in the inside pocket of his jacket. The rest had been in his wallet, but he’d spent that yesterday, kitting himself out. He still needed a spare pair of jeans and a winter coat, and something other than his boots for his feet. Probably best to get them now, while he still had the money to do it.
It felt good budgeting like that, the way the rest of the world did. It felt as if he was finally growing up, leaving the quasi-adolescence a life in the force, and then in CI5, had trapped him in. Doing his thinking for him. He put on his jacket, locked his room and went in search of Doreen.
He found her in her tiny office, fag welded to her lipstick, poring over a sheaf of papers. It was weirdly reminiscent of Cowley’s habitual attitude when discovered in his lair. It should have rankled, but it didn’t. Doreen had already imposed her own stamp on his psyche, the echoes of Cowley melting away like summer mist as she looked up and smiled.
‘’You look a sight better than yesterday’’ she announced cheerily ‘’Them aspirin must ‘ave done the trick.’’
‘’Feel better’’ agreed Doyle ‘’Ankle’s still protesting, but I’ve ‘ad worse. You said something about the staff entrance…?’’
‘’Oh my lord’’ exclaimed Doreen in consternation ‘’Did I forget to show you that? C’mon, my love, this way.’’ She extricated herself from behind her desk with a dexterity that belied her bulk and grabbed Doyle’s hips as she passed, turning him to face her ‘’You’re not as young as I first thought, are you, love?’’
Flummoxed by her unorthodox approach to the social niceties, Doyle found himself without a retort.
‘’Reckon it must be your figure’’ Doreen continued breezily ‘’Bloke your age doesn’t usually look like you. They’ve usually got some padding here’’ she added, patting his stomach in manner that more resembled a slap ‘’And you’ve got a young way about you, too. Like you was one of them students we get round ‘ere sniffing for work in the summer. Not that I’d take one of them.’’
‘’Why not?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Bleedin’ lazy, is why not’’ spat Doreen contemptuously as she beckoned Doyle to follow her out of her office ‘’We get kids from all over working ‘ere, good kids, and them students ain’t a patch. All they want to do is get the chambermaids into trouble and smoke their funny cigarettes.’’
‘’What, even the girls?’’ asked Doyle innocently.
‘’Well, maybe not all of ‘em’’ Doreen conceded wryly ‘’But I don’t see the point of students.’’
‘’What about medical students?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’We don’t get bleedin’medical students, do we?’’ objected Doreen archly ‘’Reckon the hospital gets them, we get philosophy and French knitting.’’
‘’Lucky I’m not a student, then’’ observed Doyle amiably.
‘’What was you?’’ enquired Doreen conversationally as they traipsed along the corridors together.
‘’I was a copper for a bit’’ said Doyle ‘’After that, I was a sort of Civil Servant, doing pretty much the same thing, making sure people played by the rules. I suppose you could call it investigation - if you were looking for a name – or security. It was kind of both.’’
‘’And to think I gave you the lecture on being light fingered!’’ exclaimed Doreen.
‘’Can’t always trust a copper’’ responded Doyle evasively.
‘’Ah’’ nodded Doreen intuitively ‘’That’s what you did, weed out the rotten apples. No wonder you wanted a break, must be lonely, a job like that, can’t make many friends.’’
‘‘Not many’’ agreed Doyle, happy with the resolution Doreen had provided. Perhaps it wasn’t the whole truth, the factual truth, but the essence of it was truth, and once that story got on the grapevine, he wouldn’t get many questions about his past.
‘’Here we are’’ announced Doreen as they reached a stout wooden door, which gave all the appearance of being painted shut ‘’It can stick a bit in winter, but all you ‘ave to do is give it a good shove.’’
‘’Is there a key?’’ asked Doyle, a little glow of warmth burning in his stomach at Doreen’s ready assumption that he would be using the door in winter.
‘’Lost’’ said Doreen ‘’Still a key ‘ole, but none of us ‘ave ever seen the key.’’
‘’How do I lock it, then?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’We don’t’’ replied Doreen, pointing gleefully at the sturdy brass bolts top and tailing the door ‘’We just put the bolts on, so you’d best be back before eleven, if you don’t want to sleep in the coal ‘ole.’’
‘’Thought I’d take the bus’’ announced Doyle ‘’Get meself some gear.’’
‘’You should be back before eleven, then’’ Doreen informed him ‘’Stops running at seven, last bus’ll get you back ‘ere for eight. Stop’s just out the front, don’t take five minutes to get to, maybe ten on that ankle of yours.’’
‘’And then straight in the kitchens?’’ confirmed Doyle.
‘’Straight in’’ nodded Doreen ‘’Should really be there by seven, but they’ll survive for one day. The waiting staff will ‘ave piled up the day stuff, so that’ll be waiting for you, but shouldn’t be that busy, not your end, before eight, so you should be able to catch up.’’
‘’Thanks’’ said Doyle, reaching for the heavy brass door knob.
‘’Must seem odd’’ mused Doreen ‘’Being a Civil Servant, not working in the day.’’
‘’Not odd’’ corrected Doyle ‘’Free.’’
‘’Don’t think you’ll regret it?’’ asked Doreen ‘’Leaving it all behind? You must’ve been on much better wages.’’
‘’I don’t need a lot’’ replied Doyle ‘’And some things…they don’t ‘ave a price.’’
‘’True enough’’ agreed Doreen ‘’Should be a bus in twenty minutes. Mind you’re not late back.’’
‘’Thanks’’ said Doyle again, tugging open the door and stepping into the sunlight.
The day was heating up nicely, and Doyle’s jacket was already too heavy for the weather. Something else he’d need to think about.
It was worse on the bus, the travelling green house became an airless sweatbox. Doyle had taken his jacket off and laid it across his lap. He could feel his legs sweating under the fabric, but the bus had picked up passengers as it travelled through the town and was now jam packed.
Doyle suspected it was more comfortable on the upper deck, but his ankle was throbbing and he worried that the trip back down the steep staircase would end in an ignominious, and possibly injurious, fall.
He blew his curls absently off his face and sat with grim stoicism, hoping the trip cross country would ease his suffering. He’d plucked his sunglasses from the top pocket of his jacket and they sat with greasy impertinence on his nose. The bus finished its route along the prom, and lumbered back up out of the town, away from even the pretence of a breeze.
Doyle waited patiently, grateful that the standing all appeared young and fit, headed for the camp sites by the looks of them, and seemed to harbour no expectations of being given a seat. Sure enough, as the bus came to a halt, where the land started to level out, just beyond the fringes of the town, most of the standing were disgorged into the open air. Over the hedge, Doyle could see towels and bathing costumes fluttering from both temporary and makeshift clothes lines in between the caravans, but the breeze clung to the headland, and didn’t reach the road.
It was a little cooler on the bus, and a little less cramped, after the bus stopped at a second stop, the fields beyond full of tents, but Doyle suspected that the rest of the passengers – mostly war hardened pensioners – were with him for the duration.
The bus lumbered through the countryside, and Doyle stared out of the window. His stop had been one of the first the bus had arrived at, and he had taken advantage of the fact to bag a window seat, but the sun beat through it relentlessly and he wondered if his choice had been the wisest. The fanlights had all been opened and the driver had opened the doors, against the regulations, in all probability, but it was just shifting hot air about, most of it in the aisle.
The pensioners seemed oblivious. The ladies in headscarves and the blokes in flat caps, string topped, like driving gloves. The ladies sported pastel coloured showerproof macs over floral frocks, one or two of the men had ventured a woollen cardigan in lieu of a jacket. One man with sinewy, tanned, nut brown legs, exposed above sandals and long socks, had risked a pair of modestly tailored shorts. Doyle seemed the only one who was suffocating in a shirt and jeans.
The bus rumbled through the countryside in near total silence, no one seemed inclined to expend the energy. Finally it reached a village and briefly stopped, a few pensioners disembarked and were replaced by less wilted doppelgangers. The bus shuddered like an overspent workhorse for a few moments, while the doppelgangers settled themselves, then quieted and rumbled forward. Doyle didn’t count the repetitions of this little drama. Phil Foot allowed the world to wash over him, in a manner Raymond Doyle could never afford. Finally the countryside gave way to houses and parched paving, and the stops became more frequent, though less active. Younger people got on now and headed straight upstairs, as if spooked by the living reminder of their mortality on the lower deck.
The driver had returned to shutting the doors between stops, no doubt fearing the wroth of an inspector. Doyle grinned to himself, feeling smug at his insight. The superior city brain pitted against the mere provincial cunning of his fellows.
As if on cue, the old dear behind him announced to her companion ‘’Don’t know why he’s bothering, they inspectors never bother this time of day, and it was nice getting a bit of a breeze, even if was like an oven.’’
‘’Can’t see it makes much difference’’ her companion replied.
‘’No, but it felt like it should’’ insisted the old lady ‘’And that’s half the battle.’’
Hoist on his own intellectual snobbery, Doyle smirked his chagrin to himself, even in CI5, one old biddy’s riposte could flummox them all, Bodie would have loved it.
As the bus lumbered through the traffic to the bus station, Doyle allowed himself to wonder what Bodie was doing. Had he given up looking?
No, not yet. Not Bodie. He’d be giving the Old Man hell. Doyle allowed the guilt of that to settle round him. Bodie would come to terms with it eventually, but Bodie never understood betrayal. It would always be a tender wound.
‘’Don’t let anyone use it against you, Sunshine’’ Doyle murmured as the bus finally reached its destination and the passengers began to file out. Like the congregation of a mechanised church, obeying rules no one had ever spoken aloud, and which always marked a foreigner out. Rituals learned by osmosis, or not at all.
Doyle roused himself as his time came, shuffling off the bus, aware of the film of greasy sweat which clung to his body. Sweat patches he hadn’t suspected making their presence felt as oases of cool on a desert of heated skin.
Once off the bus, Doyle followed the stream of hardy pensioners making their way out of the bus station and towards the shopping centre. There was a fountain in the middle of the rectangle of shops, a functional spurt of water, splashing into a barren square of blue lined bricks. A few mothers were sitting on the coping stones, cooling their feet in the water and eating ice lollies while their toddlers splashed about in brightly coloured bathing costumes and squealed their delight.
For a fleeting moment, Doyle thought about joining them. Putting his boots alongside the neatly paired shoes, and the short, fat towelling sausages. Maybe, one summer, when Raymond Doyle was just a bad memory, Phil Foot would do that, but not today. Not when Raymond Doyle’s sunglasses still sat on his nose and Raymond Doyle’s clothes still clung stickily to his skin.
At first Doyle headed for shops he would normally frequent, but once inside he realised all the clothes were things Raymond Doyle would wear. For a few moments he hesitated between the familiar racks of jeans, shirts and jumpers, uncertain what to do. Phil Foot, it turned out, wasn’t a very decisive bloke.
As he gazed past the window display at the opposing line of shop fronts beyond, Doyle spied a shop Raymond Doyle would never frequent. Doyle made a bee line across the square, skirting the fountain with its paddling toddlers, and entered the charitable emporium he had spotted. Raymond Doyle didn’t wear second hand clothing, Raymond Doyle didn’t shop in places that sold other people’s cast offs. Raymond Doyle dropped pennies in the tins shaken under his nose, he popped coins in the little envelopes slipped through his letterbox, sometimes he was even in to hand them back to the earnest, fresh faced students and blue rinsed martinets who called to collect them.
But Phil Foot, the dishwasher, he would buy second hand clothing. Phil Foot wouldn’t care where his clothes came from, so long as they were durable and comfortable. Phil Foot had forest green pyjamas and a tie-dye rucksack.
Doyle stared at the musty smelling assortment of textiles in front of him. Last week, when he was still Raymond Doyle, when he still clung to Raymond Doyle’s spurious innocence, he would have wrinkled his nose in disdain. But this week, when Raymond Doyle’s guilt had been laid bare, when he could no longer allow Bodie to persuade him of the merits of convenient expediency, when he could no longer be persuaded to push it to the back of his mind, this week he reached forward and began to rummage through the jumble, looking for something that would fit.
After about half an hour, he’d found two pairs of jeans, a jumper, a cardigan, a blue shirt with two missing buttons and a proper winter coat. Apparently, charity shops did not stock their wares seasonally. He’d given the shoes a cursory glance, but wasn’t tempted by any of the lopsided, worn offerings on display.
The lady at the checkout smiled at him approvingly and took his money, bundling all his purchases into a donated carrier bag, emblazoned with the logo of one of the local supermarkets. Doyle smiled in return and let himself out of the shop.
Feeling more carefree than he could ever remember feeling before, Doyle explored some of the side streets leading off the main square of the shopping centre. He stumbled upon one or two other charity shops, and topped up his wardrobe with a few more items.
Retracing his footsteps in a circuitous fashion, he realised that there was a street market winding down in one of the car parks. The butcher was sluicing out his van, and the fruit and veg stall was stuffing discarded leaves and spoiled fruit into a black plastic sack.
But the man trying to persuade the dwindling number of indifferent housewives that his china was every bit as good as anything Josiah Wedgwood had ever come up with, and so cheap he was bankrupting himself by selling it, was showing no signs of giving up. Neither were the stalls with bags and purses of all shapes and sizes swinging freely from their canopies, or the stalls piled high with balls of wool and bolts of material.
Just along from a stall which could barely be glimpsed beneath the weight of summer dresses with which it was bedecked, was a stall entombed in white shoe boxes. Some of the contents had been perched on the top of their respective boxes, but most were still nestled out of sight in their tissue paper, the only clue as to their appearance being the little black and white illustration appended to the end of the box, next to the details about their size and constituent materials.
Most of the boxes had women’s shoes in them, sporting style names like ‘Rachel’ and ‘Belinda’. Until this moment, Doyle had never thought to classify a pair of shoes by name. ‘Yes sir, the woman we’re after is wearing a pair of ‘Tammy’s’ - tan with a wedge heel.’
‘’Same as a car’’ Doyle mused aloud ‘’Wouldn’t think twice about saying ‘Capri’ or ‘Escort’’’
‘’What’s that?’’ enquired the stall holder, looking at him with suspicion.
‘’Just thinkin’ out loud’’ said Doyle ‘’You got any men’s shoes?’’
‘’Down the front’’ replied the stall holder, then looking at Doyle’s feet, he added ‘’Got some boots round the back too - can’t shift ‘em in this weather.’’
Doyle stood back and peered at the boxes stacked in a neat line on the ground in front of the stall. For the most part, they appeared to contain trainers. Doyle crouched down to examine them further. He picked out two pairs of trainers and looked up expectantly ‘’Mind if I try ‘em on?’’
The stall holder shrugged indifferently.
Doyle sat on the ground and proceeded to tug off the boot on his good foot. Then he tried on both sets of trainers, just one shoe, waggling it about confidently without standing up.
The stall holder waited patiently, seemingly able to keep an eye on Doyle and simultaneously catch the eye of the dwindling stream of shoppers heading for the car parks and the bus station, without any discernible effort.
Finally Doyle tugged his boot back on and, favouring his bad ankle, stood up, announcing ‘’I’ll take them.’’
‘’Want the boxes?’’ asked the stall holder.
‘’Nah’’ said Doyle ‘’Better just stick ‘em in me bag.’’
‘’Suit yerself’’ replied the stall holder dropping the trainers one by one into the bag Doyle held open.
Doyle fumbled for his wallet, paid the stall holder and joined the stragglers headed for the bus station.
Contrary to his assumption, it transpired that the return bus ran twice hourly, at ten minutes and forty minutes past the hour, until ten past six when the next bus, the last bus Doreen had told him about, ran at seven.
Having assumed he’d be too late for the six o’clock bus, he’d been quite content to wait for fifty minutes in idle contemplation until the seven o’clock turned up. As it was, he was just in time to join the end of the baggage laden queue shuffling on board the ten past six.
With the shops shutting strictly at half-past five, most of the other shoppers must have decided to catch the earlier bus, because this one was only half full. It was a pleasant contrast to the outward journey. He was able to bag himself a seat at the back. He chose a window seat affording a view of the opposite side of the road to the one he’d had on the way in and placed his bags beside him.
The heat had ebbed from the day, leaving a friendly warmth. The bus chugged placidly in situ for a few moments more, then it reversed away from the stop, out of the bus station and onto the main road. Doyle allowed the journey to wash over him, sleepy now, his ankle throbbing in time with the ponderous diesel engine of the bus.
By the time the bus reached the open countryside, which Doyle had expressly positioned himself to enjoy, he had fallen asleep.
His dreams were full of fitful images of Bodie sitting in the driving seat of some unknown vehicle. Some part of Doyle knew he was seated beside Bodie, had to be, to be able to see that familiar profile. The wind ruffling dark hair that was too short to be ruffled, the jaw set determinedly. They were headed somewhere at great speed, Bodie never glancing from the road, and yet they were one, bound together. The details of the journey changed about him, first heading one way, then another. Sometimes through built up streets, sometimes through leafy lanes, sometimes in daylight, sometimes at night, but always together, speeding relentlessly forward.
The bus rumbled on, picking up passengers and setting others down, just as it had on the outward journey. Until, at last, it reached the tents and caravans perched above Doyle’s new home.
Although not awake to realise it, Doyle was among the few remaining passengers. The bus descended through the town, stopping here and there to let off passengers. No one boarded now, it was too late in the evening. Everyone was heading home. Later, maybe, a few hardy souls would venture out looking for entertainment, but at this hour the guest houses were serving overcooked vegetables and grey meat to grateful inmates who had taken their fill of the windswept beaches and seaside entertainments and now just wanted to settle into a comfortable stupor in the TV lounge. The locals, too, were scurrying home. Only Doyle had no life to return to.
Doyle slept on, but not peacefully, his dreams had taken a darker turn. His subconscious had stitched together a Frankenstein’s monster of every argument Bodie and he had ever had and now, in searing flashes, the ugly kaleidoscope of scenes tore at his soul. There was no soundtrack to this silent horror, but the emotions were as alive and real as the day they were forged.
Beyond the minnow-quick darting of Doyle’s eyes under his eyelids, no hint of his inner turmoil showed on the surface.
Then, with the capricious benevolence of dreaming, the intensity which had gone before, and the horror which had come after, quietened into the sunnier climes of their relationship. The days when they forgot CI5 and bonded over a weekend’s fishing, or chasing birds. The evenings in front of the telly, the hours of lager and laughter, the moments when a shared glance could make the worst of days bearable. The remembered warmth of belonging, lulling and comforting Doyle.
Finally, in accordance with the stricter timekeeping of the waking world, the bus began its crawl back up through the town, letting off its last few passengers, until Doyle was the only one left on board besides the driver.
‘’Oi, sleepy head’’ yelled the driver, pulling up at Doyle’s stop ‘’You ‘ere or at the campsite?’’
Doyle jolted awake, filled with a soul deep mourning for a life let go.
‘’’Ere or the campsite, mate?’’ enunciated the driver laboriously.
‘’Here’’ managed Doyle, feeling anxious and cold. The way exhaustion sometimes left him. He scrambled to pull his possessions together and get to his feet. His ankle had become stiff and un-cooperative, forcing him to lurch down the aisle with an ungainly, lopsided gait.
‘’Sorry mate’’ offered the driver, clearly assuming a more permanent handicap.
‘’Just a sprain’’ Doyle assured him, some of his old certainty returning. He was in the right place doing the right thing. He always knew when that was true. His instincts never let him down. They’d kept him going through the dark days in uniform and the eager, wary days in CI5, before Bodie and Cowley had conspired to make sure his life would never be lonely, or his own, again.
Doyle clambered awkwardly from the bus and made a limping beeline for the staff entrance, his new purchases swinging in their bags in time with the rhythm of his see-sawing stride. His ankle responded well to the exercise, loosening up with each step until he was almost walking normally by the time he reached his room and dumped the bags by his bed. He had shaken off the worst of his tiredness too, though it still lurked beneath the surface like a monster from the deep waiting to drag him under.
‘’Daren’t sit down’’ he muttered regretfully to his ankle ‘’Be out like a light.’’
Giving his bed a last wistful look, Doyle headed for the kitchens, leaving his bags to be dealt with in his unoccupied morning hours.
He arrived at the kitchens just in time to be all but bowled over by Doreen exiting in apparent high dudgeon.
‘’Don’t you give ‘im the pleasure’’ Doreen raged as she stormed past ‘’Jumped up little bottle washer.’’
Despite his current occupation, and used to Cowley’s irascibly byzantine thought processes, Doyle was unperturbed by Doreen’s cryptic outburst. He entered the kitchen in state of mild curiosity as to its cause. The apparently studious atmosphere was so strained even Bodie couldn’t have missed it.
Doyle took up his post, checking the dishwasher settings and running hot water into the sink with the same quiet efficiency with which he prepared for a CI5 operation.
Although she’d been too distracted to notice, he’d arrived back a bit earlier than Doreen had anticipated, and - as she had predicted - the evening’s washing had hardly started to pile up. As a result, he had washed up the day’s glasses, loaded the rest into the dishwasher, and was now metaphorically twiddling his thumbs. Unused to having to manufacture activity, Doyle was a bit lost.
He was saved by a summons from the restaurant. Not that anyone wanted to see him, but apparently some diner had been bold, or possibly pretentious, enough to ask for the chef.
Chef clearly adhered to the eighteenth century principle that a surgeon’s merit could be read from the splattered condition of his apron and left without further ado.
The atmosphere in the kitchen relaxed and Doyle immediately recognised the conspiratorial air of a shared joke suppressed in the interests of self-preservation.
Simon, the nervy lad who had introduced himself the day before, sidled over to Doyle with the air of a stage spiv.
‘’You should’ve been here earlier ’’ he informed Doyle ‘’Chef’s got the hots for Doreen.’’
Doyle’s mind boggled at the kitchenbound shenanigans which might have transpired in his absence to confirm such a thing.
‘’He’s only gone and baked her a birthday cake’’ continued Simon ‘’It’s got all these blue roses on.’’
The ghost of DC Raymond Doyle couldn’t help but point out the circumstantial nature of the evidence ‘’Bit of a leap, isn’t it? Maybe he was just being nice’’ said Doyle ‘’You know, peace offering.’’
‘’He’s never baked anyone else a cake’’ insisted Simon.
‘’Yeah’’ said Doyle ‘’But he’s a chef, what else is he gonna do? It’s not like he bought her a ring.’’
‘’Not yet’’ intoned Simon smugly.
‘’Didn’t look like a match made in heaven from where I was standing’’ observed Doyle ‘’Couldn’t get away fast enough.’’
‘’Women are like that’’ Simon advised sagely ‘’Always play hard to get.’’
‘’There’s hard to get’’ argued Doyle ‘’And then there’s running from the room.’’
‘’Yeah’’ agreed Simon ‘’But she’s that age, isn’t she?’’
‘’What age?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’The age when women get funny’’ Simon explained meticulously ‘’Had a teacher like that, used lock ‘erself in the store cupboard to have a good cry. Tommy Stockers said ‘is Mum got like that after ‘is Dad left. Women see, they can’t help it.’’
‘’Right’’ offered Doyle, blankly non-plussed.
Alerted by some furious mummery coming from his more advantageously placed colleagues, Simon suddenly bolted back to his station. Microseconds later, Chef swept in on a cloud of self-satisfaction. Clearly the self-important patron who had summoned him had chanced upon the means of flattering his chefly ego.
Doyle joined the rest of the staff in keeping his head down.
Chef, however, appeared to have returned to the kitchen in an expansive mood. After humming a few triumphant bars of Gilbert and Sullivan, he announced in a rich baritone ‘’Compliments to the chef, from the Mayor and his party.’’
Clearly trained to recognise their cue, the kitchen staff cooed their praise at Chef while he preened like a prima ballerina at a curtain call.
Doyle kept his head down, his own early training leaving him convinced that praise from such a lowly quarter was more likely to be viewed as impertinence.
If Doreen’s precipitous exit from the kitchens had ruffled Chef’s feathers, he gave no sign of it, floating through the rest of the evening on a cushion of Mayoral approbation.
He even unnerved Doyle by bidding him a goodnight.
In the morning, Doyle went in search of Doreen. He found her in her cubby hole of an office.
‘’Morning’’ he greeted her cheerfully.
‘’That’s what you think’’ replied Doreen.
‘’Having a bad day already?’’ ventured Doyle.
‘’Who does he think he is?’’ demanded Doreen.
‘’Chef?’’ ventured Doyle.
‘’Who else?’’ retorted Doreen ‘’Well, it’s the last straw, that’s what it is. I’ve never been so embarrassed - and I told Mr Malcolm the same. This time, it’s ’im or me.’’
‘’Mr Malcolm, the manager?’’ asked Doyle, finding himself genuinely concerned at losing the only anchor he had ‘’You wouldn’t really leave, would you?’’
‘’I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again’’ said Doreen ‘’He’s a nasty great brute, and that’s the be all and end all of it.’’
‘’Yeah, but you wouldn’t let him get the upper hand like that, would you?’’ argued Doyle ‘’Leave, I mean?’’
Doreen finally relented ‘’Don’t you fret, Phil love. I’m not going anywhere, but it’d serve ’em right if I did.’’
‘’Did he really bake you a cake?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Yeah’’ admitted Doreen ‘’With royal blue icing.’’
‘’I heard there were roses on it’’ prompted Doyle kindly.
‘’It wasn’t the roses that were the problem’’ replied Doreen, finally seeming to regain her sense of humour ‘’Stupid great brute put my age on it.’’
Doyle smirked in sympathy. ‘’Still, nice gesture’’ he added ‘’Simon says Chef’s never baked a cake for anyone else.’’
‘’Well, that’s true enough’’ agreed Doreen ‘’Just as well, if he’s going to go round sticking a person’s age on it for all to see.’’
‘’Most girls like folk to know they’ve turned twenty-one’’ ventured Doyle mischievously.
‘’That’s enough out of you’’ rebuked Doreen ‘’What are you in here for anyway?’’
‘’Know where I can get a cheap tent?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Why?’’ asked Doreen.
‘’I’m thinking it would be cheaper to camp out than rent a place’’ replied Doyle.
‘’The campsite’s for tourists’’ cautioned Doreen ‘’You’d be better off renting a room somewhere. I can ask around, if you like. Someone’s bound to have a spare room you could have.’’
‘’I wasn’t thinking the campsite’’ said Doyle ‘’I was thinking of finding a pitch down on the coast.’’
‘’Rough in winter’’ commented Doreen.
‘’Hardy soul’’ replied Doyle ‘’I can look after myself. All I need is a tent, keep the elements off.’’
‘’Even a cheap tent is going to set you back’’ said Doreen doubtfully ‘’What we pay is fair, but it’s never going to be what you were used to. And you’re a city lad, it’s not all ninety-nines when the weather turns.’’
‘’Tougher than I look’’ repeated Doyle ‘’And I can’t face four walls, I need to see the sea.’’
‘’You’ve got four walls now’’ protested Doreen.
‘’Temporary’’ said Doyle ‘’I need something else for permanent.’’
‘’A tent doesn’t seem very permanent to me’’ observed Doreen.
‘’Must ‘ave gypsy blood’’ responded Doyle impishly, miming playing a violin.
‘’Get away with you’’ laughed Doreen ‘’Tell you what, I’ll give you a number. Charlie - you won’t know him, but he does a lot with the scouts - he might know where you can get a cheap tent. Probably ‘ave an idea where you could pitch it too.’’
Doyle took the number, an apparition of Bodie smirking his way through Doreen’s unfortunately phrased advice in the periphery of his mind’s eye.
‘’And you can shut up, mate’’ Doyle advised his absent partner as he made his way back to his room. He rang reception and asked to be put through to an outside line. The courtesy of having his own phone, he assumed, a leftover from the days when the rooms had been for paying guests.
Charlie proved more than useful. There was apparently, at this very moment, a tent for sale at the post office, or at least there was a card advertising one. Charlie had considered it himself, but had decided to treat himself to a brand new one for some upcoming jamboree. However, he was more than happy to meet Doyle so that they could inspect the advertised tent together.
Doyle rather warmed to Charlie, he’d always had an ambivalent admiration for the type. On the one hand they could be very useful, sympathetic to the authorities, meticulous in their record keeping, civic minded. On the other, they could be a bloody nuisance, getting underfoot, reporting every minor infraction, innocently expectant of a level of service no public servant could hope to provide.
Doyle then turned his attention to his purchases of the day before. No need to launder the shoes, but everything else would probably benefit from a spin in a washing machine. He had meticulously avoided buying anything that was strictly dry clean only. Some items might be labelled otherwise, but they would survive a trip through the suds.
Bodie had always been aghast at his cavalier approach to laundry, but then he had caught Bodie ironing one of his few pairs of jeans, so what did that say about the man? No wonder Bodie favoured corduroy, there was a case for ironing that. Bloody army, ruination of many a good man. Bet Bodie never ironed anything in Africa.
Doyle was pitched from his peevish reverie by the sound of the telephone ringing. Doyle stared at it in stupefaction, then remembered himself and grabbed the receiver, answering cautiously ‘’Phil Foot.’’
‘’Hello Philip, Charlie here’’ came the cheery reply ‘’Sorry to catch you on the hop, but I’ve been thinking over what we said. You see, if it’s anything like advertised, it really is a bit of a bargain. So I’ve taken the liberty, hope you don’t mind, of fixing a time to view. How does three suit? I can pick you up on my way back from Mrs Gregory. She should be done by then.’’
‘’Mrs Gregory?’’ repeated Doyle blankly.
‘’Oh yes, run her to the hair-dresser once a week, shampoo and set’’ replied Charlie.
‘’You’ll pick me up at three?’’ confirmed Doyle, slightly bamboozled.
‘’By the bus stop’’ agreed Charlie ‘’Told the chap we’d be there for half-past.’’
‘’Thank you’’ said Doyle.
‘’Nothing like striking while the iron’s hot’’ dismissed Charlie ‘’See you at three.’’
The other end of the line went dead and Doyle sat staring at the receiver wondering whether the shampoo and set had been Mrs Gregory’s idea or whether she had fallen victim to some long running pythonesque gag.
Doyle bundled up his washable possessions and then went in search of Doreen once again. He discovered her in the kitchens, giving Chef a piece of her mind.
‘’And who said you could bake me a cake in the first place?’’ demanded Doreen ‘’I’m houskeeping, I am.’’
‘’You suggest a hierarchy?’’ queried Chef patiently.
‘’I’m suggesting you keep yer beak out’’ retorted Doreen.
‘’Did you want something?’’ enquired Chef, over Doreen’s head, as he spied Doyle.
‘’He’s housekeeping, too’’ snapped Doreen.
‘’You’re welcome to him’’ replied Chef.
‘’Why Mr Malcolm ever thought I would put up with this is beyond me’’ announced Doreen, catching Doyle up in her wake as she swept from the room to find safe harbour in her own office.
‘’Have you two ever got on?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Never you mind’’ said Doreen ‘’What did you want?’’
‘’Laundry’’ grinned Doyle.
‘’Can tell you were a bleedin’ copper’’ replied Doreen, sinking into her seat ‘’Go and ask that nasty great brute if his precious kitchens will deign to make us a pot of tea.’’
Doyle did as he was told and returned, unscathed, with a laden tea tray.
‘’What did he say?’’ asked Doreen.
‘’Wasn’t there’’ replied Doyle ‘’Marie Celeste, so I made it myself.’’
‘’You like to live dangerously’’ observed Doreen ‘’How come we’ve got tea plates, then?’’
‘’Because that cake is going to be dry as a bone by tomorrow’’ said Doyle.
‘’It’s in a tin’’ said Doreen, tugging at the bottom drawer of her desk.
Doreen artfully obliterated the offending icing recording the increase in her age as she cut two slices from the cake, serving Doyle first. Doyle reciprocated by pouring the tea.
After a few moments of contemplative silence Doyle said ‘’I’ll say this for him, he bakes a good cake.’’
‘’He does that’’ agreed Doreen ‘’Nasty great brute.’’
‘’So how do I get my stuff laundered?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’You go down to the laundry’’ said Doreen ‘’Tell ‘em what you want doing, they’ll get you to bag it up, take your name and your money, and give you a ring when it’s done. They fit it in when they have time, so you’ll just have to wait.’’
‘’Bag it up?’’ queried Doyle.
‘’Whites and coloureds’’ said Doreen ‘’Goes through the wash in a laundry bag, so nothing gets lost.’’
‘’What about delicates?’’ asked Doyle mischievously.
‘’What’s a nice looking boy like you doing here?’’ returned Doreen.
‘’Why do you give Chef such a hard time?’’ replied Doyle.
‘’Fair enough’’ allowed Doreen.
‘’You know why’’ offered Doyle.
‘’I know what you said’’ replied Doreen ‘’I’m not sure even you know why.’’
Doyle studied Doreen with an open, unquestioning countenance.
‘’I’m glad it’s here you fetched up’’ said Doreen ‘’I have a feeling it’s where you belong.’’
‘’Maybe that goes for both of us’’ observed Doyle, finishing his tea.
The Long Trick
Bodie had been lost himself, physically, mentally, been near dead himself, been presumed dead himself. That was the easy part, when it was yourself.
Watching Doyle die on an operating table, that hadn’t been easy. Watching him come back from the dead, with indecent haste, had been worse.
Bodie had read enough Victorian novels to know that decorum demanded a gradual convalescence, not scant weeks of ever decreasing dependency.
Doyle had been elated to be back in training, Bodie had been jumpy for months, was still jumpy, come to that.
Not jumpy enough. He’d missed the traitor in their midst, Doyle himself.
He hadn’t lied to Cowley, it did feel like someone had chopped off a limb. Something vital, anyway.
He didn’t need Doyle to cover his back, there were enough good men to do that. Good women too, come to that. That had taken some getting used to. Not that the fairer sex could do it, but that his instincts could be persuaded to rely upon it. Enough that he could rush in where angels feared to tread, without getting himself, or any other bloody fool, killed.
He didn’t need Doyle for afterwards, when the tasteless lager was swilled and the even more tasteless jokes were told. He didn’t need Doyle for the days when the people who should be dead were alive and the people who should be alive were dead. If you couldn’t handle that, you couldn’t handle the job.
He didn’t need a pulling partner, or a curly-headed set of eyeballs in the back of his head, or a second set of instincts, or even someone to lick his wounds for him. He had someone for all that. He had the squad for that, all of it, the mad, the bad and the downright dangerous to know.
He didn’t need Doyle for the boisterous banter or the quiet moments of introspection. He didn’t even need a bloody partner. There were people for all that.
No, none of that was the gaping hole Doyle had left in his life.
Elite didn’t mean you couldn’t cope on your own, couldn’t get the job done on your own, fell apart because the squad was one man down.
But elite didn’t mean you weren’t human either, it just meant you’d found the thing you were good at. Better at than almost anyone you met.
That was the hole Doyle had left.
Sometimes, when you looked up, just before you fell, there was a pair of eyes holding you steady. The look that promised you were coming back from whatever bloody fool thing you were about to do. The invisible armour plating you carried into battle and out the other side. The Vikings probably had a word for it - it probably meant Doyle.
Bodie smirked, Doyle would make a lousy Viking. The hair was all wrong, you could never plat those wayward curls into heroic braids, how could you put the fear of God into anyone sporting a couple of Becky bunches?
The simple truth was, he missed Doyle. Was tired of substituting for the whole with the sum of the parts. Murphy for the quiet talks and introspective humour, the unspoken telegraph of ideas. Cowley to patch him back together and keep him focussed on what really mattered. The women who caught his tears and the men who helped him drown his fears. Every irritating sod who’d ever got under his skin. There was a Doyle shaped hole in his universe, and it was beginning to look as if there always would be.
They hadn’t found him. The early, edgy optimism had died. The long administrative slog had led nowhere. The days had become weeks, the weeks had become months, the months…
No, he wasn’t ready to start marking anniversaries. Not the way Cowley did, with a raised dram and a grim, silent prayer.
Doyle was bloody alive somewhere. Had to be. He wasn’t prepared to accept a world where that wasn’t a truth. Rivers ran to the sea, the price of a pint never went down, Doyle was alive. These were universal truths, proven against all denial.
This last Doyless operation had been a dismal one, the only highlight in the gloom had been Murphy’s futile and inept wooing of the Princess about whose dynasty it had centred. Although, inexplicably, the lady herself had seemed rather charmed by it.
Foreign potentates gave Bodie a pain, no more so than the Princess’ arrogant and clueless brother, the Crown Prince. Bodie had been sorely tempted to save the assassin the trouble, do humanity a favour, and shoot the man himself.
The Royals now safely ensconced in their liveried and opulent airliner, Bodie was nursing a lukewarm lager in the comforting, and not in the least opulent, surroundings of a familiar hostelry.
His Doyle infused reveries were interrupted by the thud of a heavy bottomed tumbler being placed under his nose.
‘’Och, lad, stop drinking that dishwater and get something decent down your neck’’ instructed his benefactor.
Bodie didn’t deign to look up, or change his drinking habits ‘’What d’you want?’’ he demanded obdurately.
There weren’t many men in full possession of their faculties who dared to test the patience of George Cowley, fewer still who did so in the certain knowledge of the potential consequences and maybe only one who would always get away with it.
‘’Stop feeling sorry for yourself, man’’ ordered Cowley as he took a seat and savoured the contents of his own glass ‘’Not bad for a pub malt’’ he observed ‘’Better at my club.’’
‘’Why don’t you buggar off there, then?’’ suggested Bodie.
‘’I shall overlook your insubordination, Bodie’’ replied Cowley.
‘’You will until I can’t hold a gun anymore’’ accused Bodie ‘’Then you’ll probably shoot me yourself.’’
‘’I wouldn’t waste the ammunition’’ said Cowley ‘’I’d just throw you to the Russians.’’
‘’I’ll talk’’ replied Bodie.
‘’Or the Chinese’’ ruminated Cowley.
‘’In Mandarin’’ added Bodie.
‘’After I’ve had your brains scrambled?’’ asked Cowley ‘’Not that I suppose there would be any appreciable difference.’’
‘’Bet you would too’’ accused Bodie amiably, taking hold of his apparently free scotch ‘’You amoral old bastard.’’
‘’You won’t charm me with flattery, Bodie’’ warned Cowley.
‘’What’s the job?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’MP’’ answered Cowley ‘’I’ve heard some deeply disturbing things.’’
‘’Am I getting a pay rise?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’I said disturbing, Bodie’’ rebuked Cowley ‘’Not implausible.’’
Bodie pushed back in his chair ‘’Go on, then. How disturbing?‘’
‘’The sort of thing that would have got your partner’s hackles up’’ said Cowley.
‘’He’s not dead’’ intoned Bodie darkly.
‘’We don’t know that’’ replied Cowley ‘’How long has it been?’’
‘’Oh, I get it’’ answered Bodie contemptuously ‘’I’ve lost me partner, so I must have lost me marbles? The trick cyclists got a puncture, have they? Roped you in to see if I’ve lost me edge?’’ he leaned across the table, exuding menace ‘’What d’you think?’’
‘’I think it’s your round’’ said Cowley patiently ‘’Nothing less than a double, on the double, if you would be so good, Bodie.’’
Bodie sneered disdainfully and took both tumblers up to the bar and returned with two doubles. He handed one to Cowley and sat back in his chair clutching his own, observing quietly ‘’There’s no evidence he’s dead.’’
‘’None that he’s alive’’ countered Cowley.
‘’Bodies turn up’’ said Bodie.
‘’Not always’’ said Cowley, sipping his malt ‘’And it’s been over twelve months.’’
‘’I know, I know’’ recited Bodie tiredly ‘’If they don’t turn up straight away, they don’t turn up at all.’’
‘’Not quite’’ said Cowley ‘’What makes you think he’s alive?’’
‘’Truthfully?’’ asked Bodie ‘’Just this feeling in my gut. Try telling that to your bloody shrinks.’’
‘’Doyle has found you before on less’’ observed Cowley.
‘’Bloody well failing, then, aren’t I?’’ brooded Bodie ‘’Because we haven’t found him, have we? I haven’t found him.’’
‘’You blame yourself?’’ tested Cowley.
‘’Don’t you?’’ asked Bodie, searching Cowley’s eyes.
‘’No’’ said Cowley ‘’I’ve never had much time for blame, but if I did, I would say, ultimately, it lies with someone else.’’
‘’Doyle?’’ queried Bodie ‘’You really have been talking to the shrinks, haven’t you? I’m not my brother’s keeper? All that bollocks? Give me a break.’’
‘’No’’ intoned Cowley ‘’Doyle is at fault, yes, and you too, Bodie, but I would place the blame somewhere closer to home.’’
‘’You, sir?’’ asked Bodie incredulously ‘’Why you?’’
‘’Because he was my man, Bodie’’ said Cowley ‘’And I didn’t see it.’’
‘’Is your man’’ corrected Bodie.
‘’Just so, Bodie’’ conceded Cowley, raising his glass in tribute.
An Essay on Criticism (For fools rush in where angels fear to tread)
The evidence was damning, corruption of the least edifying sort.
The weasely siphoning of cash to fund even more weasely vices. There was no audacity, nothing to admire in the slimy dealings. Nothing entertainingly quixotic in the vices. They weren’t even appalling, no great achievement in stopping him, just a sad little man and his sad little hang-ups.
Bodie flipped through the file. Cowley was right, Doyle’s nose would have been so far out of joint he could probably have used it as a pipe rack. Not that this one needed Sherlock Holmes.
‘’What exactly are we investigating, sir?’’ asked Bodie ‘’It’s all here. Doyle’s old mob could handle it in their sleep.’’
‘’He’s done a runner’’ replied Cowley ‘’Or, to put it more exactly, he has returned to the bosom of his constituency. ‘’
‘’Where is it?’’ asked Bodie contemptuously ‘’Knotty Ash? No coppers, just Diddy Men?’’
‘’Bodie, if you could take this seriously, for just five minutes… ’’ admonished Cowley wearily.
‘’Okay’’ agreed Bodie ‘’So what’s the big deal? Why can’t the Diddy Men arrest him? Fallen down a Jam Butty Mine?’’
‘’Bodie!’’ exploded Cowley, shifting his glasses to rub his temples.
‘’Yes, sir. Sorry, sir’’ replied Bodie contritely.
‘’The Home Secretary has asked me personally to intervene’’ said Cowley.
‘’Why?’’ asked Bodie, flipping back through the file, knowing he hadn’t missed anything.
‘’Because of the likely sentence’’ said Cowley.
‘’First time’’ assessed Bodie ‘’Barrister will argue otherwise upstanding character, not a toff, so the Judge won’t feel the need to make an example - slap on the wrist, sent to the back of the class, out in eighteen months.’’
‘’Precisely’’ said Cowley.
‘’Ah’’ said Bodie ‘’The whips can’t touch him, not now, so they want you to put the fear of God into him, make sure he has a cautionary tale to tell in case anyone else is thinking of raking it in on the back benches? Voters don’t like that sort of thing.’’
‘’The PM doesn’t like that sort of thing’’ said Cowley ‘’And I’m taking you with me.’’
‘’Why?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’I need someone to tie my shoe laces’’ snapped Cowley irritably ‘’My driver has gone down with a summer ‘flu and you’re at a loose end.’’
‘’What about all that stuff from the antiques raid?’’ protested Bodie.
‘’I’m sure they can manage without your expertise, Bodie’’ intoned Cowley with finality ‘’Bull in a china shop.’’
‘’Thanks very much’’ muttered Bodie ‘’Three days of cushy cataloguing up the spout. I had a bird lined up for every evening.’’
‘’Mothers everywhere will thank me’’ Cowley dismissed his man with a wave of his pen.
Bodie sloped out of the Controller’s office feeling hard done by.
‘’Horse walked into a pub’’ announced Murphy cheerily upon spotting him in the corridors.
‘’What?’’ said Bodie.
‘’And the barman said…’’ prompted Murphy.
‘’Eh?’’ said Bodie.
‘’Why the long face?’’ obliged Murphy.
‘’Sometimes I worry about you, mate’’ replied Bodie ‘’If you must know, I’ve just been stuck with a driving job by the Cow. Ferrying him to some backwater constituency so he can put the fear of God into the local MP.’’
‘’’Course, his driver’s down with ‘flu’’ sympathised Murphy ‘’Hang about, that means you won’t be able to take the luscious Fiona out - and the reservation’s all booked. By her, so she’ll have your squidgy bits in a vice if you try to cancel it. Excuse me, mate, think I have a ‘phone call to make. Damsels love a bit of the old Prince Charming when they’re in distress.’’
‘’Cheers’’ said Bodie bleakly.
‘’We aim to please’’ claimed Murphy cheerfully as he hurried off to find a telephone before the news of Bodie’s unavailability got out.
More dejected than ever, Bodie decided that he might as well get Cowley’s car and bring it round before the Controller found another, less appetising, use for his time. At least he could sit in comfort and maybe get forty winks before his foray into the sticks.
Having drawn the car up to await Cowley’s pleasure, Bodie folded his arms and tried to settle in for a doze. He didn’t quite have Doyle’s ability to fall asleep on a clothes line, but he never usually had much trouble dropping off. This last year though, although he had never admitted it in any of the barrage of psychiatric interventions Cowley had ordered since losing Doyle, he had found sleep more elusive. Well, not sleep exactly, that had still come easily enough, but peaceful, out like a light, sleep. Sure enough, not long after he had closed his eyes, the dreams began. This one started off pleasantly enough, Doyle, grinning triumphantly, with his hair blowing in the breeze, driving an open topped sports car. At first he seemed to be beside Doyle, sharing his partner’s elation, but then his perspective changed, so that he had a bird’s eye view, and he was looking down on Doyle. He could see the sniper targeting Doyle, but no matter how hard he shouted and tried to attract Doyle’s attention, no sound emerged and Doyle remained oblivious.
The scene continued to unfold in silence except for the shot, which rang out like a bell, Doyle lost control of the car and it left the road, skidding across the pavement and smashing through a shop front. Bodie strained to see if Doyle had survived, but no matter how he changed his line of sight, Doyle was always obscured.
Just as the impotent frustration prickled behind his eyes, the scene changed. He and Doyle sitting in Doyle’s flat, Doyle was listening to classical music, though there was no sound from the turntable, his head tipped back, his eyes closed, one leg crooked so that his ankle rested on his knee, the cowboy-booted foot bouncing in time to the silent music. Bodie was seated somewhere nearby, smiling to himself at Doyle’s total abandonment.
The billowing nets at the window fluttered like a bride’s veil revealing the barrel of a rifle, Bodie lept to his feet, too late, the rifle shot rang out like a bell. Doyle slumped in his seat. Bodie reached out to catch him, but his hand went right through Doyle, as if one of them was already a ghost. Bodie clawed desperately for purchase, but Doyle slipped away and the scene changed again.
Doyle standing in a car park, watching a small hatchback drive away. Bodie was high above, in a building, watching Doyle. Bodie was already anxious, he knew how this one ended. He began to beat his fists against the glass, even though he knew it was futile, even though he knew he would stop at any moment and grab a chair to put through the window, even though he knew that too would be futile, bouncing off the glass.
Doyle finally looked up, eyes bleak as midwinter, giving silent voice to a single word ‘’Why?’’
Bodie shouted back desperately ‘’Listen’’, but his voice was no less silent than Doyle’s.
Doyle shook his head and turned away.
Bodie beat desperately on the glass, shouting silently and ever more desperately ‘’Doyle, listen. Doyle, just stop and listen. Doyle, will you just stop and listen.’’
But Doyle kept on walking, fading away, until he was nothing but a faint impression against the bricks and mortar of the surrounding cityscape.
Bodie jerked awake, shaken and shaking. Breathing hard.
Cowley opened the passenger door and slid in beside him, looking directly ahead.
Bodie pulled himself together and reached to turn the key in the ignition. He pulled out of the car park, heading out of London, for the coast.
Cowley had his briefcase on his lap, resting the file on it and leafing through the pages with apparent absorption ‘’Have you reported them?’’
‘’You know I haven’t, sir’’ replied Bodie, his own eyes glued to the traffic.
‘’Yeah’’ admitted Bodie.
‘’Have you had anything like them before?’’ asked Cowley.
‘’Yeah’’ Bodie admitted again ‘’But they don’t normally hang about.’’
‘’You’ve been having them since Doyle left?’’ enquired Cowley.
‘’No’’ said Bodie ‘’Started when we scaled back the search. I can’t seem to shake the feeling I’ve missed something. ’’
‘’Have you?’’ asked Cowley.
‘’No’’ conceded Bodie.
‘’Maybe we all have’’ suggested Cowley.
Bodie gave a curt shake of his head, eyes still fixed on the road ahead ‘’But we haven’t, have we? I dunno, maybe I am cracking up.’’
‘’Maybe we all are’’ observed Cowley.
Bodie shot his Controller a hard look ‘’You too?’’
‘’I’m maybe not sleeping as easily as I might’’ admitted Cowley.
‘’Like me?’’ asked Bodie, not certain how to test such uncertain ground.
‘’No, Bodie’’ said Cowley ‘’Not like you, my problem is getting to sleep. There’s a limit to how many sheep a man can count.’’
‘’Have you reported it?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’I’m not sure that’s any of your business, Bodie’’ replied Cowley.
‘’No, sir ‘’said Bodie ‘’Sorry, sir.’’
‘’Let’s just say we both have a case to answer’’ allowed Cowley.
‘’Yes, sir’’ said Bodie.
Doyle shaded his eyes against the brilliant, silver-blue light of the sun, the sun itself had been reduced to a pinpoint pupil of yellow. This summer hadn’t been as good as last, more chill days like this one, but it hadn’t rained much and, although the sun may have been less disposed to share its warmth, it had been bountiful with its light.
The sea glittered as if strewn with diamonds to the far horizon. The sky was the colour of a Ceylon sapphire and the water below shot through with jade. Doyle felt at peace, truly at peace. Filled with it, until it overflowed and spilled out of hm.
He hadn’t been in a fight since he got here.
He shifted the board he was working on. He specialised in water colours now, it was easier to afford the paint and decent quality paper. At first he had used sea water from necessity, now it was his trademark. It subtly changed the quality of the paint and left artefacts in the paper when he stretched it on the board before painting.
The woman at the post office had suggested making a feature of it after a customer had bought one of his paintings solely on the strength of it. Doyle was somewhat ambivalent about the anecdote, he knew he was no Picasso, but he would have preferred that the painting had sold on its artistic merits, rather than its novelty. That had been in the early days, before his watch had stopped working, now he just cared that they sold.
The watch had been a good one - too good. The battery was beyond his current means to replace. At first he had hung on to it out of a sense of masochistic sentimentality, but when the ubiquitously helpful Charlie had expressed an interest in it, he had sold it for a combination of cash and one of Charlie’s cast off clockwork wristwatches.
He liked having to wind his watch again and it kept pretty decent time. In that respect his new life had some unsuspected parallels with his old, time hadn’t meant much in CI5 either. He worked when Cowley said he should, slept when he could and never seemed to have any time of his own.
Only now, time didn’t mean that much because most of his time was his own. Spent at his own discretion. He daubed a few green flecks into his seascape and then squinted back out to sea to judge the veracity of the effect.
Last year, once Charlie had expressed himself satisfied with the condition of the tent, he had talked the owner into throwing in a hurricane lamp and turned to Doyle for payment. Doyle had obliged, coughing up the cash and helping pack the tent back into its bag. Charlie had driven him back to the hotel and he and Doreen had found a quiet hour to spend together happily road testing the tent by putting it up on the patch of grass overlooked by Doyle’s room.
The tent had indeed been a bargain. An expensive toy bought and played with for only one summer, until the owners had discovered caravanning, abandoned in its turn when they had found sailing. By the time Doyle had seen it, it was just a nuisance taking up room in the garage.
The post office in which Charlie had seen the card advertising the tent wasn’t a main branch. In addition to the postal services it provided, it sold an eclectic selection of postal and seaside essentials. Rolls of sellotape, balls of string and sheets of brown paper jostled for space with post cards, greetings cards, sticking plasters , aspirin, diarrhoea remedies, sun tan lotion, hair slides, combs, sun hats, sticks of rock and other sweets, packets of tea and coffee, baked beans and other tinned foodstuffs, longlife milk, disposable nappies, dummies, waterwings and other inflatables, women’s tights and children’s socks, flip flops, cheap sunglasses, souvenir gifts, and now, thanks to Charlie’s offices, Doyle’s paintings.
Somehow, Charlie had become a friend, not as Doreen had, who it had to be admitted he now loved like a surrogate big sister, but a friend nonetheless.
Charlie knew all the bylaws and rights of way, and - more helpfully - common and available land. It transpired that the canny directors of the railway company had bought pockets of land all round the town. Some with a view to development, which they had sold when the fashionable passenger interest had been distracted elsewhere, but also a strategic salting of bijou plots, too small to develop in their own right, but which could be used to hold other developers wishing to develop the surrounding land to ransom.
In the intervening century or so, most of the plots had been absorbed one way and another into local developments, but there were still a few unmarked and isolated plots that had never been sold. Of course, Charlie knew exactly where they were.
Most of them were just curiosities now, a small patch of scrub behind the fish and chip shop, an area in front of some council garages, which the council hadn’t bothered to purchase, but had concreted over anyway, to absolutely no one’s dismay, and - among the rest - a tiny, misshapen plot on what had become a small headland, since a terrible storm at the beginning of the century had caused the land on either side to collapse into the sea, along with half the original plot.
Technically, the plots which had remained with the railway company should have devolved to British Rail, the company’s eventual inheritors. But the plots had been considered so worthless they had pretty much fallen off the land registry, having never been included in any subsequent sale. They occupied a legal limbo, which no one had troubled themselves to rectify.
The practical upshot of this was that the council couldn’t evict Doyle, and neither could anyone else. So here he sat, his tent pitched in the shelter of an outcrop of the rock, whose solidity had saved the land from falling into the sea all those years ago, adding the final touches to his latest masterpiece.
He’d pitched the tent after he’d had to leave his hotel room. He could have moved back in over the winter. Doreen had suggested it more than once, even offering to negotiate a lower rate on his behalf. But he needed to be near the sea. It cleansed him in ways Doreen could never understand, made him fit to live among the ordinary mass of humanity.
In the winter, Charlie had often dropped by to see how he was doing. At first he wasn’t doing so well. It was cold and he was fearful of his tent being blown away. But the outcrop of rock shielded him from the worst of the wind and weather. And after a while Charlie had pointed out that he could do pretty much as he liked with the land, so they had constructed what amounted to a turf wall around the tent. After that it was warmer. Doyle had even begun to wonder about purchasing the worthless land, although Charlie had advised against it. It might not do to draw official attention to his occupancy. Anyway, the last of his CI5 money, his only savings, had run out.
Charlie also told him the storm which had carried away the land either side of him had been unusual, coming directly onto the land. Usually storm fronts took a more oblique path, he was more exposed than the town and the harbour, but tucked in against the shelter of the rocky outcrop, and protected by the earthen wall, his tent should survive all but the very worst of the weather.
In the spring Charlie and he had planted the earthen wall with some of the surrounding grasses and wild flowers, encouraging them to bind the clumpy turfs together. It was still a work in progress, but his little home was coming together. It would be better this winter than last.
The paintings had really been Charlie’s idea, more accident than design. There weren’t many able-bodied men with free time in the day, and Charlie had dragged him off to the community centre to help out with a pensioner art class. Charlie himself had taken early retirement from a managerial position in a plastics factory. He had moved to the town some years ago, continuing to commute to work by car and train. He had time and income, but was older than both Doyle and Doreen and, from what Doyle could tell, although he had always been active, had never been exactly athletic. As a result he had drafted Doyle in to shift the tables and easels and generally provide muscle where it was needed.
The class already had someone to take care of the teas and Doyle had found himself at a loose end, so he had entertained himself drawing a sketch of his new home on the headland. One thing had led to another and now, thanks to Charlie, his pictures were in the post office window. After the cost of materials, he was turning enough of a profit to buy the odd non-essential. Like a birthday gift for Doreen.
He had also invested in a bucket, sponge and chamois so he could wash the cars of the day trippers in the municipal car park. Given the ever present menace of the gulls, this was also starting to turn a small seasonal profit.
He had lost some weight and gained a beard, the swings and roundabouts of life, but he was finally satisfied with his lot.
The hardest part of working in the kitchens over the winter had been the walk home. The kitchens were warm and light, even in his little corner. Leaving that for the biting cold of dark streets after the buses had stopped running, and the long walk to his tent, had tested his resolve in ways the privations of CI5 had never done.
Doreen had grown more and more concerned, as well as trying to persuade him to move back into one of the rooms, she had begun insisting that he have a warm meal before he left.
The warm meal had been welcome, especially as Chef had seen its wholesomeness as a means of ingratiating himself with Doreen, and neither of them had seemed disposed to charge him for it.
Although the job was now acknowledged as his, and he had been in it long enough to attract some rights of employment, he was still on the casual payroll, which suited him just fine, he’d had a bellyful of small print.
He barely resembled the man who had limped into the hotel just over a year before. Whippet thin, skin weathered by wind and sun, a shock of untamed salt-caked curls and a wiry thatch of beard. Doreen sometimes openly lamented that his light was now hidden under such an unkempt bushel.
The community centre had given him somewhere to go, if he felt the need for company, or the chill got into his bones, but he habitually spent most of his day alone. Sitting outside his tent, painting what he saw, the wide expanse of sky, the ever changing sea. Sometimes he painted a gull, or the hardy flowers bobbing in the wind. Sometimes he simply captured the colours in abstract shapes and designs.
When the weather was good enough, and he had money enough to buy the shampoo, he took himself off to the car park, filling his bucket with water from the standpipe by the public conveniences, a boon to parents with sandy-footed children and errant entrepreneurial CI5 agents alike, and spent the day washing the birdmuck off the daytrippers’ cars.
He usually treated himself to an ice cream from the van on the front on those days. Living without refrigeration rendered some commonplace luxuries unobtainable.
When he got to the hotel that evening, Chef was in an exuberant mood.
‘’What’s up with him?’’ Doyle asked Doreen.
‘’Some food critic apparently ate here last week’’ replied Doreen ‘’And now they want him to do a spot on the radio.’’
‘’What, the food critic?’’ clarified Doyle, sure he’d missed a step.
‘’No’’ said Doreen ‘’The food critic belongs to some club, they went back and said how good Chef’s duck à l'orange is. Turns out some producer for the BBC is a member and now they want Chef to do a bit on the local radio. You know, dial in with your questions. Mr Malcolm’s chuffed to bits.’’
‘’Sorry I’ll miss that’’ said Doyle.
‘’Why?’’ asked Doreen ‘’Where will you be?’’
‘’No radio’’ shrugged Doyle.
‘’Why don’t you come in here’’ suggested Doreen ‘’Listen in my office?’’
‘’Okay’’ Doyle readily agreed ‘’When’s he on?’’
‘’Tomorrow at two’’ replied Doreen ‘’Now you’d better skedaddle, or Chef’ll be sending out a search party.’’
‘’Thought I was housekeeping?’’ teased Doyle ‘’Do I detect signs of an Entente Cordiale ?’’
‘’Skedaddle’’ grinned Doreen, shooing him in the direction of his post.
Doyle allowed himself to be shooed and went willingly to work.
By the ancient alchemy of custom and practice, Doyle’s winter meal had become simply Doyle’s meal. Doreen still harboured concerns regarding Doyle’s weight, and Chef still seemed convinced that the route to Doreen’s heart lay through Doyle’s stomach. Consequently, the warming broths and stews, fortified with aromatic dumplings and mopped up with freshly baked bread rolls, had become fillets of grilled fish accompanied by new potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
The days of traipsing off to the wash house being long gone, Doyle still relied on the hotel laundry to keep his clothes clean, and Doreen’s generosity in letting him slip into vacated hotel rooms before the chambermaids got to them, to keep himself clean. He was equally restricted in his larder, unable to store anything that wasn’t bottled or tinned for more than a few days.
He had very few overheads, but his meagre income still struggled to cover them. Hair and beard left to grow as they would, his personal grooming costs now only extended to deodorant, soap, shampoo and toothpaste. He had a fair bit in the way of assets, a tent and a watch, clothes and shoes, his lamp and his rucksack, camping utensils for his meals, but now his CI5 money was gone, replacing things would be a lot harder than their original purchase had been.
He spent most of his disposable income on food. He generally ate at cafés, or got food to take away. It wasn’t the cheapest way to eat, but living out of tins and jars had limited long term appeal. He supplemented this with fresh fruit bought at the shops and in the autumn had picked blackberries from the brambles.
His new lifestyle had another parallel with his old, in that it left him constantly busy, but there all comparison ended. It was a strange irony that when he’d had a mirror, his reflection had shown him nothing he wanted to see, but now that he had none, he could look himself in the face.
Chef’s exuberant mood extended to Doyle’s evening meal. Normally Chef simply left a tray for him and he ate alone. Then he would wash up, leaving everything neat and clean, before making the trek back to his tent.
But this evening Chef opened a bottle of wine and sat with him while he ate.
‘’Why do you choose this life?’’ Chef asked Doyle.
‘’Suits me’’ replied Doyle.
‘’Are you on the run?’’ asked Chef.
‘’If I am, I’m not getting very far’’ observed Doyle.
‘’Ha!’’ exclaimed Chef ‘’That is a good answer. Tell me, my friend, what do you think of Doreen? A good woman, eh? Too good for you.’’
‘’I’ve given up’’ said Doyle.
‘’With Doreen?’’ enquired Chef uncertainly.
‘’With women’’ clarified Doyle.
‘’Ha!’’ Chef exclaimed again ‘’Another good answer. Tell me, my friend with the good answers, what do I do? ‘’
‘’About women?’’ queried Doyle.
‘’About Doreen’’ answered Chef ‘’One brief encounter and it was all over, pouf, like flambé.’’
‘’You and Doreen?’’ clarified Doyle.
‘’My first Christmas’’ agreed Chef ‘’You remember there is a party here at Christmas, you do not attend, my hermit friend, but you remember? The staff and the guests? The guests like it, most of them come back every year. It’s nice, like family.’’
‘’And you and Doreen?’’ prompted Doyle.
‘’We danced’’ said Chef ‘’And there was mistletoe, but in the morning the mistletoe was gone.’’
‘’Did she say why?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’No’’ said Chef ‘’She says I’m a nasty great brute.’’
‘’I know’’ grinned Doyle ‘’Do you know why?’’
‘’Yes’’ conceded Chef ‘’My wife.’’
‘’Ouch’’ said Doyle ‘’How did she find out?’’
‘’I told her’’ said Chef ‘’I said my wife doesn’t understand me.’’
‘’Original’’ observed Doyle.
‘’She understands me better now’’ Chef assured him.
‘’Think you’re off script there, mate’’ suggested Doyle.
‘’We are divorced’’ said Chef ‘’We were very young, we argued all the time.’’
‘’Why did you get married?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Our families expected it’’ explained Chef ‘’It is not the best of reasons. I wanted to be a chef, but she wanted to go dancing. She was young, young girls like to dance. But when everyone is dancing, chefs are working. So we argued all the time.’’
‘’Does Doreen know you’re divorced?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Many years’’ said Chef ‘’But I am still a nasty great brute.’’
‘’Have you tried flowers? ’’ asked Doyle.
‘’To no avail’’ lamented Chef dolefully ‘’Even my blue roses, she does not want.’’
‘’It wasn’t the roses, mate’’ said Doyle.
‘’She did not like the cake?’’ gasped Chef in consternation.
‘’The cake was fantastic, mate’’ said Doyle ‘’Sticking her age on it, wasn’t.’’
‘’But her age is no secret’’ protested Chef ‘’She has been here many years.’’
‘’I didn’t say it made sense’’ said Doyle ‘’I just said that was the problem.’’
‘’Women’’ lamented Chef ‘’It is so much easier with a recipe, then one knows what will be the results. But with women, you sprinkle them with sugar and all you taste is vinegar.’’
‘’It’s not just women, mate’’ said Doyle ‘’Life’s like that, one minute you’re on solid ground, the next you’re up to your neck in quicksand.’’
‘’I think, one day, you and I should get drunk’’ said Chef.
‘’Yeah’’ agreed Doyle ‘’But not tonight, eh? Tomorrow, your public awaits.’’
‘’The damn arrogance of the man’’ protested Cowley, all but throwing down Bodie’s transmitter ‘’Can’t possibly see us before two o’clock.’’
‘’And we’re letting him get away with that?’’ objected Bodie, eyes still on the road.
‘’Yes we are’’ said Cowley ‘’No matter how much it sticks in the craw.’’
‘’Why?’’ demanded Bodie.
‘’Because one of the nationals has got wind of it’’ said Cowley ‘’And the damn fool has agreed to talk to them.’’
‘’And we can’t crash the interview without making headlines’’ comprehended Bodie ‘’No chance of a D-notice?’’
‘’Demonstrable public interest’’ dismissed Cowley in frustration ‘’It’d never get off the ground.’’
‘’So what do we do now?’’ asked Bodie ‘’Twiddle our thumbs on the prom?’’
‘’No’’ said Cowley ‘’We get onto control and find out where they’re meeting. If our dishonourable member thought I’d meekly sup tea in his parlour, awaiting his pleasure, he’s in for a rude awakening.’’
‘’You’d think he’d have the sense to keep his head down’’ observed Bodie ‘’ What’s he hope to achieve, talking to the press?’’
Cowley ignored him, barking into the transmitter ‘’Control, re last message, find out where they’re meeting.’’
‘’I mean, they’ll make mince meat of him’’ continued Bodie ‘’Chew him up and spit out the pieces.’’
‘’Bodie’’ instructed Cowley ‘’There is a certain type of blind arrogance that can lead a man to believe he is invincible.’’
‘’But he’s not invincible, is he, sir?’’ replied Bodie ‘’He got caught.’’
‘’Not yet, he hasn’t’’ corrected Cowley.
‘’Eh?’’ said Bodie.
‘’The whips know what he’s been up to, the PM knows what he’s been up to’’ continued Cowley ‘’But, as yet, the police do not.’’
‘’Oh, I get it’’ said Bodie ‘’Before they throw him to the coppers they want to make sure he pleads guilty.’’
‘’Just so’’ agreed Cowley ‘’A trial is the last thing anyone wants, weeks of the papers picking over the juicy details, questions in the House, the idiot may even try to contest his deselection.’’
‘’Wouldn’t have much choice, would he?’’ said Bodie.
‘’He’s likely to get slung out of the House, whatever happens’’ replied Cowley ‘’But the idiot may think it makes memoir material.’’
‘’What?’’ said Bodie ‘’My life at Her Majesty’s pleasure?’’
Bodie’s transmitter picked that moment to interrupt, Cowley snatched up the handset as a clipped, disembodied voice informed him ‘’Sir, we got onto the editor. He squawked a bit about freedom of the press, but he’s agreed to get hold of his reporter. Will confirm location when we have it.’’
‘’See that you do’’ ordered Cowley unnecessarily.
‘’We turn off in a bit’’ said Bodie ‘’Do we keep heading for his house, or hole up somewhere until control get back to us?’’
‘’How good is your homing instinct?’’ asked Cowley.
‘’Eh?’’ said Bodie.
Cowley made a display of checking his watch, in spite of the readily readable dashboard clock ‘’Lunchtime, don’t you think, Bodie?’’
Bodie grinned and kept his eyes on the road.
Forty-minutes after the turnoff, Bodie pulled into a pub car park. The building itself had nothing to recommend it, but it was bedecked with a profusion of gaily planted hanging baskets and exuberant tubs of busy lizzies.
Bodie made a beeline for the garden, Cowley followed him without demur. Once Cowley had settled himself in, Bodie went to the bar, returning with a malt for his Controller and a shandy for himself.
Cowley pointed dismissively at Bodie’s transmitter on the table ‘’The editor got back to control. Damn fool hasn’t even got the sense to meet them in the privacy of his own home. They’re meeting in the reporter’s room, over room service, would you believe.’’
‘’Better than the restaurant’’ said Bodie.
‘’By a slim margin, I grant you, Bodie’’ conceded Cowley ‘’But the sooner this idiot is brought to heel, the better.’’
‘’One good thing’s come out of it, sir’’ remarked Bodie.
‘’And what would that be?’’ enquired Cowley.
‘’This place has jugged hare on the menu’’ said Bodie.
‘’If you’ve ordered a ploughman’s, Bodie’’ threatened Cowley ‘’I’ll ensure they bring back the cat.’’
Bodie grinned devilishly, but while he was at the bar, getting a second round in, Cowley was served his jugged hare. By the time Bodie returned to the table, Cowley’s mood had improved considerably.
Indulging an unsuspected case of nostalgia, Bodie had also ordered the hare for himself. The two men ate companionably in silence. The warmth of the day, and the abundant display of flowers, filling the air with bees and butterflies.
‘’Do you ever think about jacking it in?’’ asked Bodie, when he had finished his meal ‘’I mean retirement?’’
‘’You’re a way off that, Bodie’’ observed Cowley, with no hint of irony.
‘’Yeah’’ said Bodie, stretching comfortably ‘’But days like this, makes you wonder if you’re doing the right thing.’’
‘’The right thing?’’ queried Cowley.
‘’Working’’ said Bodie ‘’Consider the lilies in the field, or in this case, the busy lizzies in the tub.’’
‘’I despair of your soul, Bodie’’ said Cowley, pushing his plate away in sated contentment.
‘’Me too, if I had one’’ agreed Bodie ‘’Lucky, it’s more AWOL than Doyle.’’
‘’Have you ever been idle?’’ asked Cowley.
‘’You have me record’’ said Bodie.
‘’Records don’t contain everything’’ observed Cowley ‘’Not even CI5 records.’’
Bodie leaned forward, intently clutching his almost empty glass ‘’Had some time in Africa, once. Made a bit of money, didn’t have a job lined up.’’
‘’And?’’ prompted Cowley.
Nearly blew me brains out with boredom’’ replied Bodie, leaning back in his seat with an air of petulant finality.
‘’Don’t ever get old, Bodie’’ urged Cowley ‘’You wouldn’t like it a bit.’’
‘’You’ve got my record’’ reiterated Bodie, simultaneously draining the dregs from his glass and rising to return to the car ‘’Does it look like I ever intend to?’’
‘’And if Doyle were around?’’ asked Cowley as he followed Bodie back to the car.
‘’He’d bloody save me’’ replied Bodie, climbing into the driver’s seat ‘’So where’s this hotel, then?’’
‘’Just take the road into town’’ said Cowley ‘’Control says we can’t miss it.’’
‘’Famous last words’’ groused Bodie without malice ‘’Last time I followed directions from Control, I ended up in a gravel pit.’’
Bodie diligently followed the road signs leading to the coast, Cowley had returned the report to his briefcase and spent the rest of the journey placidly allowing the scenery to wash over him.
As they neared the coast, Bodie started looking for the hotel. He was happily relieved to discover that it was the first prominent building the town had to offer. He checked the clock on the dashboard.
‘’Quarter to two’’ he queried ‘’Pull in and wait?’’
‘’We’ll wait in the hotel’’ said Cowley grimly ‘’I’m not having the blasted fool slip through our fingers and lead us on a wild goose chase over half the constituency.’’
‘’He wouldn’t be that stupid’’ said Bodie.
‘’He’d be that arrogant’’ retorted Cowley ‘’I want him cut down to size.’’
Bodie’s opinion of his present duties lifted considerably at the prospect of watching someone other than himself catching the sharp edge of Cowley’s tongue.
‘’Right, sir’’ he acknowledged, turning seamlessly off the road and into the driveway of the hotel.
The hotel had been built with the requirements of the carriage trade in mind, or at least to flatter the pretensions of those who aspired to the association, and consequently the grounds had adapted comfortably to the rise of the horseless carriage.
Bodie had no difficulty in finding a parking space, gliding to an uncharacteristically graceful halt.
As they made their way to reception, Cowley eyed the clotted-cream coloured masonry with disdain, as if it were directly culpable for the misdemeanours of the residents within.
Bodie followed dutifully in his wake.
They presented their IDs to the politely awestruck receptionist, who suggested they take a seat in the restaurant while they awaited the conclusion of their quarry’s appointment.
Cowley glanced behind him to the two armchairs snuggled in an alcove, created by the architecture of the entrance porch. Between them was a small occasional table, upon which a selection of leaflets advertising the local attractions had been artfully fanned. The rest of the leaflets were filed neatly in a mahogany hued rack mounted on the wall behind. If it hadn’t been for the incongruously garish nature of the leaflets, the whole arrangement could have been transported directly from the Belle Époque.
‘’We’ll wait there’’ Cowley informed the receptionist tersely, his strategically deployed charm notable for its lack of deployment.
Bodie made up for it with a good natured wink, and received an appreciative smile in return.
Doyle stretched and yawned contentedly, the sun was streaming through the fabric of his tent, echoing his internal glow of contentment.
Chef had insisted on sending him home with a bottle of the house red, and Doyle had sipped it sleepily by the light of his hurricane lamp, listening to the absolution of the sea and the nocturnal denizens of his neighbourhood going about their unseen business.
He had fallen asleep as the first faint light of dawn had begun to leaven the velvet darkness of the night, and had awoken in time for lunch, a comfortable keenness in his belly. He revelled in the simple certainty of knowing his appetite would be met, the uncomplicated assurance of survival. Below, the sea rolled in its bed, the sound of the rhythmically heaving water mingling with that of the breeze and the gulls.
He shut his eyes and tried to bring to mind the last time survival had seemed tortuously complicated. The last time it had torn at his soul, the last time it had clawed at his heart, the last time it had left him questioning its value. The memories darted away as he reached for them, like the minnows of his childhood fishing expeditions.
He let them swim away, the sea had done its work. It had scrubbed him clean, sanitised him as he had known it would. Like the wave tossed glass he sometimes found on the shore, all his dangerous edges had been worn away, they no longer had the power to wound him.
He stretched again, luxuriating in his untroubled mind, its placid contentment with life. A word crept into the tranquil space, a word he had only ever grasped at, a word that he had never used without caveat, a word he still dared not voice aloud, afraid the miracle would wither like a bloom in the frost if he named it. He was happy. Infused with it. To the point that he could barely remember what it had been to live as Raymond Doyle. To be Raymond Doyle.
The wonder of it had moved him to tears when he had first realised his manumission. Like a bird habituated to its cage, he had never thought to test the door, assuming his prison was a part of him, would always travel with him, and now it lay shattered and barely remembered at his feet. The ruins robbed of the power even to compel his attention.
Doyle reached for his watch, he needed to get moving if he was going to make it to the hotel in time to hear Chef’s stint on the airwaves.
His pyjamas hadn’t had much use since the warmer weather had returned. He slept in his underwear now. He had tried sleeping naked, but his home sometimes required immediate maintenance, and dashing out to effect an urgent remedy had sometimes led to an awkward early morning encounter. The local dog walkers were much more forgiving of inappropriate attire than they were of no attire, and he had no wish to precipitate the attention of the authorities.
He pulled on some jeans and yesterday’s t-shirt, stuffed a set of clean clothes on top of the toiletries residing in a smart wash bag, which had suffered some fading in a window display, and had therefore been reduced in price, stowed in the bottom of his tie-dye rucksack. Then he grabbed a couple of apples and munched his way through them with gusto as he walked to the hotel, discarding the cores amongst the roots of the trees planted along the streets.
Upon reaching the hotel, he strode purposefully through the staff entrance and popped his head round the door of Doreen’s office.
Doreen barely glanced up ‘’Room forty-five’’ she dismissed him ‘’And be quick about it, we all want to be free at two.’’
‘’Ten minutes’’ promised Doyle, heading for room forty-five. He wanted to be free at two himself, and showered with deft efficiency, reappearing in Doreen’s office still towelling his hair dry.
‘’Make sure that finds its way to the laundry’’ instructed Doreen by way of welcome.
‘’Have I ever absconded with a towel?’’ asked Doyle good naturedly.
‘’You could probably get half a dozen in that rucksack’’ accused Doreen.
‘’I grant you means and opportunity’’ agreed Doyle ‘’But what’s me motive?’’
‘’Do you ever miss it?’’ queried Doreen ‘’Being a copper?’’
‘’Funny you should ask’’ said Doyle, peering at the paper work on Doreen’s desk ‘’I woke up this morning thinking about just how much I don’t miss it, what’s all this?’’
‘’It’s something Mr Malcolm wants us to do’’ answered Doreen ‘’You remember that conference ‘e went to?’’
Doyle nodded, thinking about his stomach.
‘’Well, ‘e wants us to renumber the rooms’’ said Doreen.
‘’Why?’’ asked Doyle ‘’Are we expanding?’’
‘’Not exactly’’ answered Doreen ‘’Although, it’s going to sound like it.’’
‘’Why?’’ repeated Doyle.
‘’Because the rooms on the first floor will all be a hundred and something, and the ones on the second floor will be two hundred and something…’’ said Doreen, allowing her repetitive explanation to peter out unfinished.
‘’We haven’t got that many rooms’’ said Doyle.
‘’I know’’ pondered Doreen thoughtfully ‘’But that’s not me problem, I can see some sense in renumbering, me problem is, we still have some guest rooms on the ground floor, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what to call them.’’
‘’G something?’’ suggested Doyle.
‘’I’m leaving that one for Mr Malcolm’’ pronounced Doreen decisively ‘’It’s ‘is idea, he can sort it out.’’
‘’I thought we didn’t change things round ‘ere?’’ said Doyle, recalling his first encounter with Doreen.
‘’Not for the sake of it, we don’t’’ confirmed Doreen ‘’But there’s some sense to this, and when there’s some sense to it, we think about it.’’
‘’Right’’ said Doyle, adding speculatively ‘’And Chef? Is there any sense to thinking about him?’’
‘’Just remember who’s side you’re on, me lad’’ retorted Doreen.
‘’Me?’’ queried Doyle impishly, as his neglected stomach growled for attention ‘’I’m on the side of the angels.’’
‘’Well, me cherub’’ observed Doreen, conspicuously checking her watch ‘’Unless you’re intent on starving yourself into joining the angels, and sometimes, looking at you, I’m not sure you’re not, you’d better feed that stomach of yours and get back ‘ere, pronto. It’s twenty to.’’
‘’Sorry’’ apologised Doyle ‘’Overslept, didn’t have time.’’
‘’Shoo’’ ordered Doreen amiably.
Doyle hurried to the kitchens. Despite Doreen’s territorial assertions, he’d acquired a semi-official standing among the kitchen staff, and now bought his supplemental meals as they did, grabbing what he needed and throwing his contribution into the staff tin. The permitted choices may have been more limited than the official menu, but it was also cheaper.
In spite of his haste, Doreen’s Lilliputian office was already crowded when he got back. He lounged against the door jamb, his attention more concentrated on his lunch than the blizzard of squealing static Doreen was busy negotiating. Suddenly Doreen hit pay dirt, as the airwaves cleared and what Doyle presumed was the theme tune to the preceding programme played out. The excited murmuring in the room fell silent as the next programme was introduced and Chef’s guest appearance was announced.
Doyle continued to munch, but his attention was now firmly on the radio. Raymond Doyle had always enjoyed cooking, he’d let that go with everything else, but today Phil Foot could indulge Doyle’s interest without indulging Doyle’s ghost.
Chef turned out to be a natural, Doyle wished he had a better view of Doreen. All he could see through the crowded room was the top of her head, but he suspected that Chef was doing himself no harm whatsoever.
Chef answered all the questions put to him with humour, kindness and authority, no question too foolish, none too difficult. The room followed the ebb and flow of the callers, by turns flummoxed, impressed and amused. Doyle joined with the rest, his brow puckering at the questions, his head nodding sagely at the answers, the miracle of his newfound happiness bursting from him as he laughed, without hesitation or caution, at the humour.
By the end, Doyle was convinced that Chef was wasting his talents stuck in the kitchens of a provincial hotel. He wondered if Doreen was reaching the same conclusions he was.
The host thanked Chef with what sounded like genuine warmth before moving on to the next item, Doreen turned off the radio as her cramped office resounded to enthusiastic applause.
Doyle stood to one side to allow the other staff to leave the room, and then he entered and put his empty plate on Doreen’s desk, leaning over it to stare into her eyes.
‘’Opportunity, means and motive’’ he intoned ‘’Chef’s still here - I reckon that’s opportunity - and, after listening to that, I’d say he’s working beneath his talents - let’s call that means - want to take a stab at motive?’’
Doreen held his gaze ‘’You’re not a copper any more’’ she reminded him stonily.
‘’Maybe not’’ conceded Doyle ‘’But one thing I’ve learned, the only thing worse than being in prison, is being too afraid to leave.’’
‘’Shoo’’ ordered Doreen stubbornly ‘’And shut the door after you.’’
Doyle grinned, picking up his plate and making a game of flipping and catching it as he left Doreen’s office, shutting the door behind him. He continued his game, whistling jauntily, as he made his way to the kitchens to load his plate into one of the dishwashers, one less for that evening.
Bodie stood with his arms folded, leaning against the wall, feeling fed up and not particularly disinclined to show it.
Cowley had commandeered the manager’s office and Bodie was standing guard, making sure no curious ears, journalistic or otherwise, got close enough to put a metaphorical glass to the walls.
He could hear the rise and fall of the muffled voices within, the MP must have had a kamikaze sense of denial, because Cowley’s voice seemed to rise sharply at every other riposte.
After a while, the novelty of not being the focus of the Controller’s ire had worn off, and now Bodie was bored, and - since this was CI5 - he was under no obligation to pretend otherwise.
In fact, sometimes, he even suspected Cowley encouraged it. Doyle had accused him on more than one occasion of looking like a brooding thug when he was bored.
He had pointed out that it was better than looking like a gormless golly, but Doyle had never seemed particularly stung by the comparison.
It was times like this that Doyle’s absence bit most keenly. If Doyle had been present they would have spent the time keeping each other alert, mucking about or talking in hushed, serious tones. They didn’t often talk seriously, not when it wasn’t about the job, but just knowing they could lightened the load. No matter how much they pushed each other away, like a couple of magnets, they were never more than an argument away from being pulled back together.
Had never been.
They were apart now, and the polarity hadn’t flipped. Nothing had brought them back together. Bodie had gone over that last day a hundred thousand times, a hundred million, but no matter how much he churned the waters, the answer had never come floating to the top.
He had spoken to the nurse, gone back and spoken again, until she had run out of ways of explaining that Doyle had said nothing, had seen her home, had kissed her as if he was already gone, and had simply disappeared. Until he had seen the light of pity in her eyes.
He had spent long evenings with Trixie, who had listened with her unique, down-to-earth wisdom, had held him, kissed him, slept with him, lover and friend. Never telling him to let go or carry on. He’d fallen a little bit in love with Trixie. She’d left, sad eyes acknowledging the nature of the world, when she’d fallen a little bit in love with him.
Something pricked at the back of his eyes and he blinked it angrily away. Bloody, Doyle. He’d never cried for another man. Hadn’t cried for this one, until the anger had failed him, one night in Trixie’s arms. Another bloody thing he hadn’t told the shrinks.
The sounds of Cowley’s muffled carpeting of the crooked MP continued to act as a backdrop to his thoughts. Other sounds in the hotel serving to provide accent and contrast. He could hear some kids running around outside, their squeals of excited laughter telling him their parents were checking in, not checking out. No concern there, the manager’s office was tucked well away, behind and to the side of reception, along a short few feet of corridor. The morés of the past serving the considerations of the present.
There was a petrol driven lawnmower going somewhere, someone keeping the grounds in order, and, drifting in from one of the corridors, a counterpoint to the children’s laughter, the sounds of adult mirth.
He wasn’t used to a working environment bookended with the sounds of happiness, it must be strange, he thought, to have laughter as part of your daily routine. To dismiss it as commonplace, as he did the weight of a gun, or the iniquity of human endeavour.
He wasn’t a man much given to introspection, his instincts had always served him better. He’d never understood Doyle’s struggles to find himself, he’d always known who he was. He hadn’t always liked what he’d known, sometimes it made him self-destructive, sometimes he’d discovered the path to redemption, but no part of him was hidden from himself. That gave him the confidence fools mistook for arrogance. Doyle accused him of it sometimes, but didn’t believe it.
Hadn’t believed it.
This mourning that wasn’t mourning ate at his soul, or at least whatever he had in place of one. If Doyle had died, he could have worn his grief, but the selfish sod had simply resigned. If it had been another bloke whose partner had abruptly gone AWOL, he’d never have given it a second thought. Get another partner, move on. You’re not married for Chris’sake.
Except they were. What else could you call it when someone’s domestic routines became your own, when your every decision factored that person into account, if only to give them the two fingered salute. When your thoughts converged with theirs, until you were no longer sure whose thoughts they were, until they were just ‘our’ thoughts. We think. When everyone looked behind you when you entered a room, expecting him to be there, surprised when he wasn’t.
It had nothing to do with who you had sex with, that was just religion sticking its flaming oar in and mucking things up, making everyone miserable, so it could peddle its snake oil. It was about what you would put up with, what you would forgive, when you’d flatten any other bloke who tried it. Because, even now, the sad truth was, he missed the buggar, would take him back without a qualm, maybe give him a piece of his mind, he wasn’t that much of a pushover, but without a qualm and stuff what anyone else thought. And, if that didn’t pass as some kind of marriage, he’d like to know what did.
He had a right to grieve.
Another unsettling gale of laughter drifted in from the corridor, they must really be enjoying themselves, that lot.
Without warning, the door he guarded was pulled open, revealing Cowley, bleached white with constrained fury.
‘’This gentleman, Bodie’’ the Controller announced tightly ‘’Will be returning to his home, whereupon he will write a letter directly informing the leader of his party, that is, the Prime Minister, of his desire to spend more time at that home. If he has any sense, he’ll not stick his nose outside of it before Doomsday.’’
‘’Right’’ said Bodie brightly ‘’Shall I get the car?’’
‘’If you would be so good, Bodie’’ confirmed Cowley in wintery tones.
‘’Right’’ repeated Bodie cheerily, hurrying away with a countervailing spring in his step. It wasn’t just the prospect of the end of a boring assignment, something had him feeling on top of the world. Maybe it was the lunch with Cowley. He had an appreciation for the Old Man’s company, which Doyle had often struggled to share. Doyle respected the Old Man, even liked him sometimes, but Doyle seldom drew as much from the Old Man’s company as he did. Too many compromises made at the Old Man’s bidding. Or maybe it was just the sound of all that ambient laughter, didn’t hear much of that in his line of work.
No, Bodie, you don’t …wake up.
The lightness in his step suddenly rushed to his brain, knocking it into a tailspin, as his instincts gave up on the subtle approach. His saintly, blessèd instincts. He only ever got into trouble when he ignored them, or someone else ignored them for him. Okay, maybe not ‘only’...but it never bloody helped.
And this time, if Cowley ignored them, he could damn well pay the price.
Christ, he had to get this right.
Oblivious to Bodie’s blinding epiphany, Cowley emerged with the MP, who looked a lot happier than the Controller. The part of Bodie’s brain that kept him alive, when the rest of it was running around inside his skull like a headless chicken, wondered exactly what kind of cretin you had to be in order to look that unfazed by a dressing down ordered by your own Government and delivered by its most implacable enforcer.
Bodie opened the rear passenger door for the MP, murmuring absently as he did so ‘’Whose been a naughty boy, then?’’
Cowley climbed into the passenger seat and Bodie took the wheel ‘’Know where we’re going, sir?’’
‘’Follow the road out of town’’ instructed Cowley ‘’Our passenger will direct us from there.’’
‘’Right’’ acknowledged Bodie, biding his time.
Twenty minutes later, he pulled into the drive of a substantial cottage, no thatch - not in this part of the world - but the picture of chocolate box perfection anyway.
Cowley got out of the car unaided, but the MP actually sat patiently and waited for Bodie to open the door for him. Bodie’s floundering mind found the time to be convinced that the man would have stayed there, wasting away, rather than open it himself.
Little went unobserved by Cowley, and the observance did nothing to improve the Controller’s mood.
‘’Stay with the car, Bodie’’ ordered Cowley.
‘’Right’’ acknowledged Bodie, more than content to obey.
For once in his life, he was actually glad of some mundane time on his hands. A lifetime of discipline had kept him acting his part, but his mind was a maelstrom. His instincts had heard what his ears had not, winnowing out the chaff and leaving him with the radiant prize.
Somewhere within that clotted-cream edifice, the man he still thought of as his partner had been laughing. Full throated and carefree. He’d never heard Doyle that happy, there’d always been an edge. Now, away from CI5, away from Cowley, away from the fight Doyle had always fought, that had defined the man he knew, Doyle sounded happier than he had ever been.
That was a kick in the guts he hadn’t been expecting. Doyle dead, he’d prepared for, never admitted, even to himself, but slowly and surely prepared for, his instinct for survival surreptitiously seeking to heal the wound before it was inflicted.
But Doyle alive and happier than ever, that he had built no defences against.
Cowley emerged from the cottage a short while later, checking his watch and looking, if possible, even more dissatisfied than he had before.
‘’Damn fool’’ snapped Cowley, not waiting for Bodie to open his door or get behind the wheel.
Bodie scrambled to catch up, sliding hurriedly into the driver’s seat and slamming the door, turning the key in the ignition.
‘’Keep up man’’ ordered Cowley ‘’I don’t have all day.’’
‘’Where to?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’I have a foul taste in my mouth’’ Cowley informed him ‘’Take me back to that hotel, let’s see if they can come up with a decent malt.’’
‘’Right’’ said Bodie, his stomach wringing itself into knots as he turned out of the drive, heading for the hotel.
‘’Damn fool’’ repeated Cowley.
‘’No letter?’’ guessed Bodie.
‘’No, we have that’’ replied Cowley with bleak satisfaction, patting the area of his jacket under which the inside pocket sat.
‘’But?’’ prompted Bodie.
‘’He’s spilling his guts to the papers’’ spat Cowley contemptuously ‘’Every blasted detail.’’
‘’Nothing we can do?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’No’’ said Cowley grimly ‘’Nothing we can do.’’
‘’And we’re leaving it at that?’’ pressed Bodie, uncertain whether his whirling mind had failed to grasp an important caveat.
‘’Not quite’’ said Cowley.
‘’Anything you need me for?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’Yes’’ replied Cowley ‘’You can buy me that malt.’’
‘’Right, sir‘’ said Bodie, his mind racing ahead.
Cowley seemed content to stew in his own steam for the rest of the journey, so Bodie spent the time calculating an angle of approach.
Bodie’s instincts were on overdrive as they neared the hotel, every sinew alert for the presence of his partner.
He pulled into a parking space on autopilot, trailing into the hotel after Cowley in much the same state, no conscious thought left for anything but Doyle.
The receptionist greeted Cowley with detached efficiency. Cowley dismissed Bodie, charging him to procure his whisky, and demanded the use of a private telephone.
Bodie headed for the hotel bar, paying scrupulous attention to every passing face, every glance and expression. Searching for any ripple of Doyle’s presence, any clue that he was recognised.
Once at the bar, he ordered a double of the best malt they had and then beckoned the barman in closer, presenting his ID.
‘’Sorry, mate’’ the barman shrugged ‘’No discounts, I could maybe do you a beer, but spirits is more than my job’s worth.’’
Bodie pulled a tenner from his wallet and tucked it into the top pocket of the barman’s shirt ‘’Not after a free drink, I need some information.’’
The barman shook his head in sorrowful comprehension ‘’Family run hotel, mate. You want company, you’d be better off down on Harbour Street.’’
‘’Not after that, either’’ said Bodie ‘’I’m after a bloke.’’
‘’Look, mate’’ replied the barman earnestly, fishing Bodie’s tenner out of his pocket and pushing it back across the bar ‘’I’m a live-and-let-live sort of fella, but you want that kind of action, ask someone else.’’
‘’CI5’’ reminded Bodie patiently, pushing his ID and the tenner back across the bar ‘’This is official.’’
‘’Oh’’ panicked the barman apprehensively ‘’Look, I didn’t mean anything by.. .I mean… No offence, eh, mate? You can have the whisky on me’’ he added hastily.
‘’Why don’t we start again?’’ suggested Bodie reasonably, pulling another note from his wallet ‘’This is for the whisky, and I’ll have half a lager, and this’’ he continued, raising a wry eyebrow and indicating the tenner ‘’Is for the information, we all straight now?’’
‘’Right’’ said the barman sheepishly ‘’What do you want to know?’’
‘’That’s the spirit, mate’’ approved Bodie ‘’The bloke I’m looking for is about my height, about your build, and will have turned up sometime around this last year. Ring any bells?’’
The barman frowned in concentration ‘’Foreign?’’ he asked contemplatively.
‘’Not the last time I saw him’’ said Bodie.
‘’Only we get a lot of foreigners working here’’ continued the barman.
‘’Any of them fit the description?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’How old is he?’’ enquired the barman.
‘’About my age’’ said Bodie ‘’Why? Got something?’’
‘’Nope’’ the barman shook his head ‘’We get a lot of temporary staff, most of them are younger than that. Anything that would make this bloke stand out?’’
Bodie put his fingers to his face, mapping the extent of Doyle’s damaged cheekbone ‘’Bit bashed about here’’ he said ‘’Not like a scar, but you’d notice it.’’
The barman shook his head dispiritedly ‘’Like to help, honest I would, but I don’t know anyone like that.’’
‘’Look, mate’’ said Bodie ‘’I’m sure this bloke is about here somewhere, I just need to know where.’’
‘’Tip off, is it?’’ asked the barman, perking up.
‘’Something like that’’ agreed Bodie for the sake of expediency.
‘’Could he be in disguise?’’ asked the barman.
‘’Maybe’’ experimented Bodie, in the hope of shaking something loose from the barman’s memory, though he doubted it. The reports he had pored over since his partner had disappeared hadn’t suggested that Doyle would have been thinking clearly enough to construct a coherent cover story. Certainly not one that wouldn’t have come apart by now.
‘’Could he be here as a guest?’’ asked the barman.
‘’Not according to his bank account’’ said Bodie ‘’Got any cash only guests?’’
‘’No’’ conceded the barman ‘’Reception would know for sure, but I think they all pay by cheque, or maybe credit card. We’ve got one of those machines now, you know, with the carbon, so you don’t have to keep copying out the details. Never heard of anyone settling up in cash, think some of the foreigners pay by travellers cheque, but don’t suppose that helps, if he’s not foreign. Some people don’t even pay cash at the bar, they charge it to their rooms, especially if they’re on expenses.’’
‘’Okay’’ suggested Bodie, convinced that Doyle’s noisy conscience would have frustrated any attempt to forge a bank account ‘’Forget the description, has anyone turned up around this last year who only uses cash? You’ve never seen them use a cheque book or a credit card? Anyone at all, doesn’t matter what they look like?’’
‘’No’’ shrugged the barman ‘’Like I said, none of the guests are like that.’’
‘’What about staff?’’ reminded Bodie ‘’Grounds man, maybe? Thought I heard a lawnmower earlier today?’’
‘’No’’ repeated the barman, shaking his head ‘’Pete’s paid like me, we both have bank accounts, he cashes cheques at the bar sometimes. Besides, I’ve known him for years. Only the casual staff are paid in cash.’’
‘’Okay, the casual staff’’ tried Bodie ‘’Exactly how many are there, you said ‘a lot’? How many is that? How many of them never use cheques or credit cards?’’
‘’We hardly have any casual staff’’ corrected the barman ‘’Doreen’s allergic to students, she’d rather have the temporaries. Mr Malcom only hires students for the kitchens and front of house, and that’s only when he has to, you don’t want to upset Doreen.‘’
‘’So the temporaries are different to the casuals?’’ said Bodie, suddenly sensing a lead.
‘’Yeah’’ agreed the barman ‘’The temporaries have proper contracts, they get paid like we do. The casuals get paid weekly in cash.’’
‘’Right, so how many is ‘hardly any’?’’ pressed Bodie.
‘’Dunno’’ replied the barman ‘’They’re casual, see? They can start and leave while you’re still away on holiday.’’
‘’Okay, so who do I ask?’’ said Bodie, pocketing his change and his ID, picking up the whisky and his lager, and looking round for a table.
‘’Mr Malcolm would know, he’s the manager’’ replied the barman ‘’Or you could try Chef, he’s in charge of the kitchens, and the restaurant staff too. Only Chef was on the radio today, so who knows when he’ll be in.’’
‘’Okay, thanks’’ said Bodie, no further forward, but inexplicably content that he was getting somewhere.
Bodie had just set Cowley’s whisky down on a table and taken the seat opposite when, employing his customary necromancy in such matters, Cowley appeared exuding a grim contentment of his own.
‘’Thank you, Bodie’’ said Cowley, seating himself ‘’A result, I think.’’
‘’What kind of result?’’ enquired Bodie, sipping his lager without interest, eager to be away.
‘’I have let it be known that any paper running that idiot’s story, will be persona non grata at the Palace until the Thames freezes over’’ Cowley informed him.
‘’Can we do that?’’ said Bodie.
Cowley smiled a smile that would have given the Mona Lisa a run for her money and said ‘’Let us just say that, if pressed, Number 10 will not be moved to deny it.’’
‘’Think that will be enough?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’Level playing field for every Royal event, or a five minute wonder on that non-entity?’’ asked Cowley ‘’Would you risk it?’’
‘’MP, forty-four, sentenced today’’ said Bodie.
‘’Just so’’ agreed Cowley.
‘’Look, sir’’ ventured Bodie, setting down his lager ‘’If that’s it, I mean, if we’re all wrapped up, I need some time off.’’
‘’How much time?’’ asked Cowley evenly.
‘’Not sure’’ admitted Bodie ‘’Few weeks?’’
‘’And at which point did you assume that CI5 had become a holiday camp?’’ asked Cowley.
‘’I have the time owing’’ persisted Bodie stubbornly.
‘’You have owing exactly what I say you have owing’’ snapped Cowley ‘’And not a second more.’’
‘’It’s important’’ pressed Bodie.
‘’How important?’’ demanded Cowley.
Torn between his loyalty to Doyle and his loyalty to Cowley, Bodie said nothing, afraid that once he’d found his partner, Cowley wouldn’t allow him to let him go, if Doyle convinced him that’s what he needed.
‘’Denied’’ said Cowley emphatically ‘’Finish that dishwater and drive me home.’’
Bodie put down his glass ‘’I need this time, sir’’ he said steadily ‘’And I’m asking you to trust me on my reasons.’’
‘’Trust you?’’ charged Cowley ‘’Do you think you’ve earned that? How many times have you gone off on some damn fool crusade?’’
‘’This isn’t a crusade, sir’’ replied Bodie quietly ‘’You have my word on that.’’
Cowley glowered at him, visibly balking at questioning Bodie’s given word, but raging against the consequent impotence of his position.
‘’There’s nothing on at the minute, sir’’ argued Bodie ‘’That’s why you stuck me with this job in the first place.’’
‘’And tomorrow?’’ demanded Cowley ‘’Or have you developed a case of second sight? Do you intend to predict every operational requirement from now on?’’
‘’Half the squad is twiddling its thumbs’’ protested Bodie ‘’They could start world war three, and we wouldn’t be pushed to cover it.’’
‘’Denied, Bodie’’ reiterated Cowley with finality.
Slowly and deliberately, Bodie put his gun and his ID on the table between them.
‘’Do you intend to resign?’’ asked Cowley.
‘’If I have to’’ replied Bodie ‘’It’s not the play I want to make.’’
’’I won’t be bluffed’’ warned Cowley.
‘’No bluff’’ said Bodie.
‘’No’’ rejected Cowley, reaching for Bodie’s ID and gun ‘’No bet. Your severance pay will be with you at the end of the month, less any deductions. I assume your transmitter is still in the car?’’
‘’One less deduction, then’’ observed Cowley, rising to leave ‘’I’d expected to bury you.‘’
‘’Me too’’ agreed Bodie ‘’I’m sorry.’’
Slipping Bodie’s ID and gun into his jacket pockets, Cowley moved to lean briefly on Bodie’s shoulder ‘’That’s one privilege I’ll not regret forgoing’’ said Cowley ‘’See you keep your tail down.’’
‘’Yes, sir’’ said Bodie.
Cowley left him without a backward glance.
Bodie finished his half a lager and wondered exactly what he’d just done.
’Getting soft, Old Lad’ he told himself silently, ‘No’ something in him replied ‘Just getting old.’
Feeling more than the share of his years, Bodie got up and headed for reception, hoping that no one asked to see his ID again before answering any questions about the casual payroll.
As he neared reception he nearly collided with a smart looking man barrelling in through the hotel’s entrance.
‘’Sorry, mate’’ he said ironically.
‘’You were wonderful’’ the receptionist gushed, addressing the man ‘’We all listened, even Phil came in early to hear it.’’
‘’And is my hermit friend still here?’’ enquired the man exuberantly.
‘’If he is, he’ll probably be in Doreen’s office’’ the receptionist informed the man ‘’You know those two are as thick as thieves. She’ll probably be trying to feed him up again.’’
‘’I know’’ said the man ‘’She accuses me, she says he starts to look like his dish mop.’’
‘’Well, he’s certainly got the hair for it’’ agreed the receptionist cheerily ‘’And he was so nice looking when he first arrived.’’
‘’Women’’ despaired the man, turning to Bodie for some male solidarity ‘’How does a bit of hair change a man?’’
Bodie shrugged, out of his depth.
‘’Oh, I am sorry, sir’’ apologised the receptionist, realising that she had been neglecting Bodie ‘’It’s just Chef was on the radio today, and we’re all a bit excited. We never normally see much of him out of the kitchens, but Mr Malcolm has told him to start coming in through the front entrance so the guests can see him. Mr Malcolm is paying for him to have his photo taken as well, so we can put it in the restaurant. We’ve already had extra bookings on the non-resident side. Will you be wanting a table for tonight, sir? Only, I noticed the other gentleman left.’’
‘’Yes’’ said Bodie ‘’He had to get back to London.’’
‘’Is that where you’re from?’’ asked the receptionist ‘’I’ve always wanted to go there, see the Tower and everything.’’
‘’Not any more’’ smiled Bodie ‘’I need some information about your casual staff, who would I talk to?’’
‘’You should talk to Chef’’ replied the receptionist ‘’Phil’s the only casual we have on the books at the moment.’’
‘’What does this Phil look like?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’Oh, he’s not in trouble, is he?’’ worried the receptionist ‘’I know he’s a bit odd, living in a tent on the headland and all that, but everybody likes him. They say he had a bit of a breakdown, but Doreen wouldn’t let him in the hotel, if he wasn’t alright.’’
‘’My height?’’ asked Bodie urgently.
‘’Yes’’ nodded the receptionist uncertainly ‘’But he’s not built like you, he’s really skinny.’’
‘’His face’’ asked Bodie, indicating his own cheekbone ‘’Does it look damaged here? Maybe a long time ago?’’
‘’Not really sure’’ admitted the receptionist ‘’He’s had his beard for so long, it’s hard to remember what he looked like without it. Good looking though, I remember that.’’
‘’Curly hair?’’ tested Bodie.
‘’Yes’’ nodded the receptionist ‘’Doreen says he looks like a poodle and, if he’s not careful, she’ll tie a bonny blue ribbon in it. Is he really in trouble?’’
‘’Yeah, love’’ said Bodie kindly ‘’I think he really might be, but not with me. Where do I find him?’’
‘’Doreen will know’’ the receptionist assured him ‘’The corridor’s roped off, but it’s easy enough to unhook, just go past the sign that says ‘staff only’, you can’t miss it.’’
Bodie leaned across the counter to plant a fleeting, chaste kiss on the receptionist’s cheek, and then hurried down the corridor.
Once he reached it, Bodie decided that you’d be hard pressed not to miss Doreen’s office, if the door hadn’t been open, he’d have mistaken it for an airing cupboard.
‘’Can I ‘elp?’’ enquired Doreen, a cigarette welded to her lipstick as she sat behind her desk, intently studying a floor plan.
‘’I’m looking for Phil’’ explained Bodie ‘’I’ve come down from London to see him.’’
‘’Is he expecting you?’’ asked Doreen warily.
‘’Yes’’ lied Bodie.
‘’Only ‘e never said’’ continued Doreen, sounding unconvinced.
‘’Must’ve slipped his mind’’ Bodie dissembled ‘’He was rabbiting on about wanting to catch some Chef on the radio, when I last spoke to him.’’
‘’How did you speak to ‘im, then?’’ asked Doreen.
‘Good for you, love’ thought Bodie, adding to the sum of his lies for Doreen’s benefit ‘’He ‘phoned me.’’
‘’Why didn’t you ‘phone ’im?’’ persisted Doreen ‘’If you wanted to speak to ‘im so bad?’’
‘’He lives in a tent’’ replied Bodie, playing his ace.
‘’Well, he’s not here’’ announced Doreen ‘’Beggared off home again, probably dabbling with one of ‘is daubs.’’
‘’Right’’ said Bodie, buoyed now by adrenaline ‘’I’ll be off, then.’’
Retracing his steps at speed, Bodie dispensed with the need to unhook the ropes across the corridor by vaulting them like a national winner and sped out of the hotel as if the hounds of hell were on his heels.
He dashed down the drive, exceeding the cautious pace of the vehicles it was designed for, and came to an abrupt halt by the bus stop outside, realising he had no idea where the headland was.
‘’Come to your senses?’’ demanded a familiar voice.
Bodie stood his ground, as Cowley’s car drew up at the bus stop.
‘’Get in, man’’ ordered Cowley impatiently.
‘’I’ve resigned’’ Bodie pointed out irritably.
‘’You resign, when I tell you, you can resign’’ snapped Cowley ‘’Now get in the car.’’
‘’I’m not going back’’ protested Bodie.
‘’No one’s asking you to, you damn fool, now get in the car’’ insisted Cowley.
Bodie pulled open the rear passenger door and got in behind Cowley.
‘’I take it you’ve found Doyle’’ said Cowley, addressing the steering wheel.
‘’How the f…Never mind, what do you want?’’ asked Bodie wearily.
‘’I presumed that if you didn’t resign when we lost him’’ said Cowley ‘’That the only thing, which might induce you to do so, was finding him. Am I correct in my presumption?’’
‘’They used to hang people like you round here’’ said Bodie.
‘’Am I correct?’’ pressed Cowley.
‘’Yeah’’ Bodie capitulated ‘’I think I have.’’
‘’What do you mean ‘think’?’’ demanded Cowley.
‘’There’s a bloke been working as chief bottle washer in the hotel, fits Doyle’s description’’ said Bodie.
‘’Where is he now?’’ asked Cowley.
‘’They reckon he’s got a tent pitched down on the headland, but I don’t have an exact location’’ said Bodie.
‘’I see’’ said Cowley ‘’You try railroading me again, and I’ll have your gun, your ID, and your hide, in that order, understood?’’
‘’Yes, sir’’ sulked Bodie petulantly ‘’So do we get Doyle or not?’’
‘’We do not’’ replied Cowley decisively ‘’I put a call into Control, there’s a car on its way. You will find Doyle, Bodie. You will get him in that car, and you will have him in my office tomorrow morning.’’
‘’And if he refuses?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’See that he doesn’t’’ said Cowley.
Smiling gently to himself, Doyle squinted out to sea, turning the board upon which he’d taped his sheet of paper to dry, stretching it, so that it hadn’t puckered as he’d washed his watercolours across it.
He’d started experimenting with inks recently, using them to superimpose discordant geometric shapes or swirling curlicues on the paint, scattered with blots and stars and other fantastical forms of punctuation.
His confidence and ability had grown from his first hopeless attempts, he’d even sold a few of his latest efforts, but this one was special. Over the jades and blues he drew a lovers knot, stylised but recognisable. Each stroke now penned with a practised hand.
His own happiness, now being so complete, filled him with the desire to share it. Where Chef’s flowers and cakes hadn’t worked, he hoped his painting might.
For all Doreen’s ferocious reputation, he suspected insecurity lay at the heart of her continued refusal to accept Chef’s advances.
He believed Chef’s declarations to be genuine, and suspected Doreen only needed the right excuse to believe it too.
Chef was just too effusive. Doreen was more the sort to woo with a pot of tea than a champagne supper. The more Chef tried to impress, the more Doreen suspected his motives.
Doyle had decided it was time to act, and this latest painting was part of his masterplan. Doreen wouldn’t take kindly to being bulldozed, she’d just dig her heels in, but she was accessible to reason. He’d already begun the groundwork, but he needed Chef to get on board too.
Of course it hadn’t helped that Chef had been less than transparent about his marital status when he had first joined the hotel. Instinctively, Doyle sympathised with Doreen’s suspicion. Raymond Doyle’s life had ended with the biggest lie of them all, his new found happiness nothing but a dream until he’d started living honestly.
But he had escaped the lies, and he believed Chef had too. He had found a home at the hotel, and he had learned a lot of its secrets in the time he had been there. People confided in him, maybe it was his outsider status, maybe it was his lack of ambition, or maybe it was something that had always been there, simply waiting for the cocksure noise of Raymond Doyle to be silenced, in order to flourish, but people instinctively trusted him, spoke their hearts to him.
Chef’s misstep with the cake may have been the first incontrovertible sign of his affections, but the longer serving and more perceptive members of their happy band had long suspected the depth of the attachment.
Even the constant bickering bound them as a single unit. They fought with the easy confidence of those who expected to repeat the exercise. More sparring partners than enemies.
Doyle was convinced that he had to act, he saw in the cake a sign of Chef’s increasing despair. No more flowers that could be explained away as celebrations or apologies, no more gifts scrupulously adhering to the respectable conventions of birthdays and Christmases. Chef had wanted the cake to be seen for what it was, a cry from the heart.
They were in severe danger of mucking it up, the pair of them. Raymond Doyle might be dead, but he still wanted to fix the world.
Doyle set his board down on the grass to dry, not certain if the picture was complete. Sometimes, when he returned to a painting, he could see the empty spaces waiting to be filled, other times it was an illusion, a trick of the paint, and they were gone when he next took up the board.
He yawned, arching his back and stretching his limbs. Then disappeared into his tent, where he had installed a small hanging larder, and returned with the rest of the bottle of wine Chef had given him and some bread and cheese. He laid his picnic out on an old tablecloth Doreen had given him and cut the cheese with a knife as he ate, drinking the wine straight from the bottle.
The afternoon had born out the promise of the morning, and he settled back on the grass and closed his eyes, content and sleepy. He drifted in the twilight between dozing and wakefulness, never quite asleep, never really awake, his senses respecting dreaming and reality with equal regard.
He paid little heed to the shadow passing over the sun, a cloud between him and the life giving light, both his conscious and sub-conscious recognising the transient nature of the intrusion. Little heed, that is, right up until the cloud spoke…
Doyle sat bolt upright, adrenalin pumping through his system, all his nightmares made manifest.
Bodie dropped to his haunches, taking in the feral, wild eyed creature before him.
Even under the ill tailored clothing, it was obvious Doyle had lost weight. He had kept an aura of scrawny strength, but he was nothing but sinew and bone. Every vein and artery stood out where the flesh had retreated, every plane and angle of bone. He looked just this side of starving.
A grim horror crept through Bodie and he grabbed one of Doyle’s arms, pulling it cruelly, looking for the confirmation of his fears.
Enraged, Doyle yanked his arm back, eyes glittering with anger and betrayal.
‘’I’m clean’’ he growled, caught between fury and tears.
‘’I’m sorry’’ apologised Bodie, inwardly berating himself for being so clumsy.
‘’Where’s Cowley?’’ demanded Doyle bitterly.
‘’On his way to London’’ smiled Bodie in conciliation ‘’It’s just you and me, Butch.’’
‘’Expect me to believe that?’’ snarled Doyle.
‘’It would make life easier’’ admitted Bodie.
‘’Yeah, I bet’’ spat Doyle contemptuously ‘’What do you want?’’
‘’You know what I want’’ said Bodie steadily.
‘’Never’’ insisted Doyle vehemently ‘’Understand that, Bodie. Because it can’t happen, Raymond Doyle can never go back.’’
‘’Look, Ray’’ Bodie tried to reason ‘’You know how this works. I have to take you back. If you want to leave afterwards, well, that’s up to you, but right now, you have to come back.’’
Doyle winced at the use of the dead man’s name, asserting defensively ‘’Why? So Cowley can ship me off to have me brains carefully washed?’’
‘’Thought you said you weren’t on anything’’ accused Bodie in frustration ‘’That’s just bloody nonsense, and you know it. No one says you can’t resign, but you haven’t signed anything. You can’t just walk away from an outfit like CI5.’’
‘’You actually believe that, don’t you?’’ demanded Doyle with incredulous wonder ‘’You actually think that Old Bastard will let me go.’’
‘’Of course he’ll let you go’’ insisted Bodie, trusting now that this was true ‘’Bloody nearly resigned meself today.’’
‘’Okay, you win’’ Doyle abruptly capitulated ‘’Only, I need to pack me stuff’’ he added, eyeing Bodie’s jacket speculatively ‘’You armed?’’
Bodie shrugged ‘’Like I said, almost resigned’’ he replied ‘’Old Man’s still got me gun. Pick it up tomorrow, when I take you in. Think he’s worried it’s catching.’’
Doyle eased himself to his feet, tidying up his picnic, and then set about putting his tent to rights.
‘’Need any help?’’ asked Bodie, relaxing a little. Almost believing that, after everything, it really was going to be this easy.
‘’No’’ said Doyle, allowing just the right amount of time to pass before contradicting himself ‘’Actually, yeah. Could you pick up my painting before you stick your ruddy great hoof through it?’’
Bodie cast about for the picture, spotting the board drying on the grass ‘’You do this?’’ he asked as he picked it up.
‘’Yeah’’ answered Doyle from within the tent ‘’It’s for Chef and Doreen, they need a nudge.’’
‘’You always were a romantic sod’’ said Bodie, the coil of concern in his stomach unwinding a little more as he placed the painting on top of the earthen wall surrounding Doyle’s abode.
‘’Do me a favour’’ replied Doyle, emerging from the tent ‘’Make sure they get it.’’
‘’Don’t start that again’’ said Bodie, still admiring the picture ‘’Tell you what, if you’re so worried the Cow is going to clap you in irons, we can drop it off on the way out of town.’’
‘’Okay’’ agreed Doyle placidly, turning away from Bodie and beginning to pace round his tent, apparently intent on securing his home.
Something in Bodie’s stomach began to curdle ‘’Doyle, what are you doing?’’ he asked cautiously, not wanting to blunder into another clumsy accusation.
‘’It’s Phil’’ corrected Doyle, disappearing behind the outcrop of rock sheltering his tent, the sound of his voice in line with the orbit of his travel.
‘’Yeah, I heard’’ said Bodie, listening intently, uncomfortably aware that the conversation had taken on a slightly surreal air.
‘’Phil’’ continued Doyle ‘’That’s like you, William Andrew Philip. I wasn’t thinking too clearly, so I said Andy first, lucky Doreen kept me straight. ‘Andy Foot’. Get it? Sounds like a joke.’’
Doyle’s voice had stopped moving, out of sight, somewhere behind the rocky outcrop. Bodie stooped to pull a hefty stone from the lumpy earthen wall surrounding Doyle’s tent.
‘’Thing is, Bodie’’ Doyle resumed talking ‘’Raymond Doyle can’t go back. Not ever, because Raymond Doyle is dead.’’
‘’Okay’’ conceded Bodie, careful not to move until he had finished speaking ‘’You got me there, Sunshine. How did he die?’’’
‘’Not sure’’ admitted Doyle ‘’He just did. So he can’t go back. Not ever. And I don’t want to. I have to be near the sea, it’s the only thing keeping me sane.’’
Bodie took a few steps to the side, away from the tent, giving him an unobstructed view of the headland.
‘’Thought you were going to come quietly’’ he accused ’’You said, I’d won.’’
‘’Where are you?’’ panicked Doyle ‘’You’ve moved.’’
‘’Just stretching my legs’’ lied Bodie.
‘’Liar!’’ screamed Doyle, suddenly breaking cover and making a headlong dash towards the edge of the headland.
Without hesitation, Bodie took aim and hurled the stone at Doyle with unguarded force, instantly racing after it, hoping its impact would be enough to startle Doyle, slow him down the fraction he needed to be sure his flying tackle would bring Doyle down, and not just leave him hugging Doyle’s legs as his mule-footed partner kicked himself free.
But rolling off his partner, he realised it had done more than that. Doyle was unconscious, a swelling already starting to grow under the tangle of hair at his temple.
Cursing under his breath, Bodie took his pulse. It wasn’t the robust thud, thud he expected of his partner, Doyle’s emaciated state probably accounted for that, but it felt steady enough.
Bodie patted himself down, trying to get his rattled brain to remember in which pocket he’d stowed his transmitter. Bloody civvy street, and its haphazard pockets.
Doyle groaned and opened his eyes as Bodie located the transmitter, and demanded to know where Cowley’s promised car was.
Assured by control that it was only twenty breakneck minutes away from the hotel, Bodie instructed it to make straight for the headland.
Doyle made a feeble attempt to sit up. Not wishing to lose his advantage, Bodie shoved him back down again and knelt on his arm.
Doyle’s eyes rolled towards him in mute protest.
‘’Going to try that again?’’ demanded Bodie.
To Bodie’s horror, Doyle’s eyes filled with tears as he rolled his head away, sniffing manfully, and wincing in pain.
Bodie fished about in his pockets again and found a pair of handcuffs, ‘cuffing his partner’s wrist to his own, he took his knee off Doyle’s arm.
Doyle struggled to right himself, like an overturned tortoise, seemingly satisfied once he was sitting in a defeated heap, weeping gently to himself.
Uncertain how to proceed, Bodie reached out with his free arm. Doyle turned into the shoulder to which he was effectively shackled and sobbed uncontrollably for minutes on end. Bodie held him, feeling distinctly uncomfortable, and checking his watch every few minutes, hoping twenty minutes would somehow concertina into five.
But as the tide of tears receded, Bodie found himself wishing the opposite. Hoping the car would be delayed as it navigated its way through the streets leading to the front. Hoping he’d have a few more precious minutes with Doyle. Enough that he could finally ask what he needed to know, enough that Doyle could finally answer him.
Doyle sniffed manfully again, stemming the last of the tears, and said ‘’Sorry, Bodie.’’
‘’Should ’ope so’’ said Bodie, still cradling his partner ‘’Hate a weepy date.’’
Doyle grinned weakly and repeated ‘’Sorry, Bodie.’’
‘’If I take these ‘cuffs off’’ said Bodie ‘’You gonna do another runner?’’
Doyle shook his head, wincing slightly.
‘’Word?’’ persisted Bodie.
‘’Yeah’’ agreed Doyle wearily, his head nodding more from exhaustion than agreement.
Bodie grabbed a handful of hair and pulled the sleepy head back ‘’No, you don’t, Sunshine’’ he instructed severely ‘’Whose word?’’
‘’What?’’ mumbled Doyle.
‘’Yours or Phil Foot’s’’ demanded Bodie ‘’Only, he might be a decent bloke, but I don’t know Phil Foot from Adam.’’
‘’You don’t know Raymond Doyle either’’ protested Doyle.
‘’I trust his word’’ said Bodie more gently ‘’You can fill me in on the rest.’’
‘’Even if he’s a murderer?’’ persisted Doyle.’
‘’Yes’’ said Bodie, without hesitation, and with complete honesty.
The ghost of a remembered smile formed on Doyle’s lips ‘’I did murder someone, Bodie.’’
‘’What happened to Phil Foot?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’Not sure, does it matter?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’Not really’’ replied Bodie ‘’Not if you’re finally going to tell me what all this is about.’’
The smile came back, this time stronger but more wistful ‘’I killed Paul Coogan.’’
Bodie held his tongue, he’d paid too high a price for gainsaying Doyle last time, now he let Doyle speak without argument.
‘’Cowley knows’’ continued Doyle ‘’He’s always known.’’
Bodie frowned, concerned that Doyle was simply constructing another illusion to hide in. That Phil Foot had stepped into the wings only to allow this new fantasy to take the stage.
‘’It was after the circus left town’’ said Doyle ‘’Only the clowns left behind.’’
‘’Doyle?’’ queried Bodie, this time handling Doyle’s hair with tender care, lifting it out of Doyle’s eyes to examine the clear wide orbs.
‘’Don’t worry, Bodie’’ Doyle reassured his partner ‘’We’re the clowns, I’m the clown. Cowley’s the ringmaster.’’
‘’Meaning?’’ pressed Bodie.
‘’You or CI5?’’ prevaricated Doyle ‘’If it came down to it, which would Cowley save?’’
‘’Okay’’ allowed Bodie cautiously.
‘’If seeing me go down for murder would have saved CI5, I’d still be serving time’’ said Doyle.
‘’Not if you were innocent’’ said Bodie ‘’The Old Man’s not that much of a bastard.’’
‘’Isn’t he?’’ asked Doyle ‘’I’m guilty, and Cowley has the proof.’’
‘’Eh?’’ said Bodie.
‘’The pair of them’’ spat Doyle contemptuously ‘’Both riding so high on their horses the truth got trampled under their hooves.’’
‘’What are you talking about, Ray?’’ pressed Bodie.
‘’I overheard them’’ said Doyle ‘’At the college, Cowley and the pathologist.’’
‘’What pathologist?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’I was looking for some nurse who’d been giving me the eye’’ Doyle rambled on ‘’I heard Cowley on the blower to Control, I knew you were outside, so I ducked out of the way, before he got any ideas about my evening off.’’
‘’Cheers’’ said Bodie.
‘’You’d do the same for me’’ smiled Doyle, peering up from Bodie’s chest, where his head had somehow come awkwardly to rest.
‘’C’mere, Goldilocks’’ relented Bodie, working to unlock the handcuffs so he could make Doyle more comfortable. Doyle sighed as the ‘cuffs were released, butting his head further into Bodie’s chest and wrapping his arms round himself.
‘’Okay, Sunshine’’ comforted Bodie, now free to deal with his partner as Doyle needed, cradling the dazed bundle of bones in his capable embrace, and remembering Trixie’s cathartic commonsense approach to his own troubles ‘’Reckon it’s nearly all out now, might as well tell me the rest.’’
‘’They were talking, Bodie’’ replied Doyle desolately.
‘’Cowley and Control?’’ asked Bodie, dismayed that he had so easily missed the clue to his partner’s vanishing act in the records he had pored over.
‘’No, I told you’’ said Doyle ‘’Cowley and the pathologist.’’
‘’Coogan?’’ guessed Bodie.
‘’Yeah’’ sighed Doyle ‘’Coogan. Remember how everything collapsed at the last minute?’’
‘’You saying it was fixed?’’ asked Bodie, his own world ready to tilt on its axis.
‘’No’’ replied Doyle, rocking his head in miserable denial ‘’I’m saying, I’m guilty. They just needed more time to prove it.’’
‘’You sure?’’ asked Bodie.
‘’Yeah’’ said Doyle, raising his head to look into Bodie’s eyes ‘’You were there, you remember anyone giving a damn about the facts? All they cared about was winning. Cowley’s had a second report for years, one they didn’t have to rush because no one cared anymore.’’
‘’Before your punch?’’ probed Bodie.
‘’He was hurt’’ said Doyle ‘’Bad enough to put him in hospital, even if I hadn’t hit him.’’
‘’And maybe kill him?’’ persisted Bodie.
‘’Yeah’’ sighed Doyle in defeat ‘’And maybe kill him, but there’s a difference between maybe and likely. And it wasn’t likely, Bodie. My punch took it from maybe to likely, and Cowley’s known that since the second report came in. All those years just sitting in my file, waiting to be used, until he needed to press the right button.’’
‘’Still not beyond reasonable doubt’’ assessed Bodie ‘’Hurt bad, either way.’’
‘’Really think that’s how it would go?’’ asked Doyle ‘’If it ever got to court? One that didn’t give a damn about the future of CI5?’’
‘’You gonna be able to live with it?’’ asked Bodie, not caring that their privacy was about to be invaded by the driver Cowley had sent, making his way along the path, towards the headland.
‘’I’m a murderer, Bodie’’ said Doyle ‘’And only Cowley can make me pay for it.’’
Bodie gathered his partner in closer as he replied ‘’You’ve never asked me to be anything I’m not.’’
‘’I’m sorry for the way I did it, Bodie’’ answered Doyle ‘’But I’m not sorry I left.’’
‘’Forget it, Goldilocks’’ replied Bodie, looking towards the driver as he approached them ‘’All I need to know now, is whether you’re ready to come home.’’
Bodie eyed the purple tie-dye rucksack with sardonic disdain.
‘’This going with us?’’ he asked Doyle.
‘’They wouldn’t recognise me without it’’ replied Doyle cheerily.
Bodie took in the bundle of lithe energy flitting around Doyle’s flat, checking the locks, probably for Bodie’s benefit, and making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything else, and had to concede that Doyle might have a point. This man had little to do with the man he had discovered living as Phil Foot, which, Bodie also conceded, was probably a blessing in disguise.
Literally, since he had barely recognised the hirsute bag of bones, dozing fitfully on the headland, as his partner, and because neither had Doyle’s enemies, his very vulnerability making him invisible.
They’d all be on the alert now, but then so was Doyle, back in the bosom of CI5.
It hadn’t been an easy path, Doyle had spent a lot of it at his ratty best, see-sawing between rage and self-recrimination. He’d made several attempts to give Bodie a black eye, almost succeeding as his fitness improved, and Bodie had spent an uncomfortable night freezing on a fire escape, banished by Doyle, and afraid to leave him alone.
But the hardest times had been when the rage and self-loathing had deserted Doyle, and he been left to watch Doyle gluing the fragile pieces back together, neither of them certain they would hold.
Still, all in the past now, things were definitely back to normal. If anything, they were closer than ever, old bonds renewed, new bonds forged.
‘’I only have one question’’ said Bodie as he turned out the lights in Doyle’s dingy hallway and waited patiently at Doyle’s side for him to lock his front door.
‘’Oh yeah?’’ said Doyle, leading the way to his car ‘’Go on, then.’’
‘’How come, we aren’t taking the girls?’’ complained Bodie as he climbed into the passenger seat beside Doyle ‘’Puts the birds right in the mood, a wedding does.’’
‘’Do you want to spend all night explaining why everybody is calling me Phil?’’ asked Doyle rhetorically ‘’No, neither do I.’’
‘’Just promise me the next do we go to, you’re going as Doyle’’ grumbled Bodie.
‘’I’m going as Doyle to this one’’ argued Doyle ‘’Only they remember me as Phil, it just kind of stuck - and, now I’m back among the land of the living, I sort of like it.’’
‘’It’s my name’’ protested Bodie.
‘’Dunno what you’re moaning about’’ objected Doyle ‘’You never use it.’’
‘’Not the point’’ sulked Bodie.
Doyle felt his spirits rise as they approached the coast. His confused mind had developed a love of the sea, still with him, which the sailor in Bodie had felt compelled to debunk at every available turn.
Doyle had tuned the radio to a local station, revelling in nostalgia.
‘’It’s alright for you, Goldilocks’’ groused Bodie ‘’I thought you’d carked it.’’
‘’You gonna be like this all day?’’ asked Doyle.
‘’I am if I don’t get a drink’’ said Bodie.
‘’Doreen’s got us a room’’ replied Doyle ‘’You can fall flat on yer face, if you like.’’
‘’That’s another thing’’ grumbled Bodie ‘’Cowley’s not paying for this one - how come we’re still sharing?’’
‘’Because it’s my old staff room’’ said Doyle ‘’The place is packed out for the wedding, you’re lucky we’ve got twin beds. It was a double in my day.’’
‘’Aye, aye, sailor’’ smirked Bodie.
As Doyle had struggled to find himself again, Chef’s star had also risen. After more successful guest appearances, the local radio station had offered him a permanent slot. He appeared every week now, and was even beginning to get some national coverage.
Doreen had stayed in touch, fussing over Doyle, never registering his transition from underfed waif to elite agent. Bodie had enjoyed it all far too much, hearing Doyle being berated for not eating his greens or forgetting his scarf. Doyle had never heard the ‘phone calls, the nights when Doreen had mothered Bodie as he struggled to bring his partner back from the edge, the lifeline of assurance that he was treading the right path. He’d never considered the fact that Bodie had received an invitation in his own right.
The ceremony had been conducted at the register office, located within the civic offices, a rather dull modern building, in which the council seemed to have invested quite a bit of misplaced pride, judging by the postcards in the foyer.
But there were flowers and tears, and confetti in the car park, before the usual happy bartering about who took which guests back to the hotel. Bodie bagged a couple of spare bridesmaids, Doreen had settled for five, for fear of offending her workforce, and somehow everyone had ended up back at the hotel without getting lost.
The kitchens had done Chef proud, and Mr Malcolm, who Doyle had discovered was related to the family who ran the hotel, a favoured nephew to be precise, had donated several cases of champagne with which to toast the happy couple.
As they toasted the bride and groom, Bodie had leaned in and asked him whether he had any regrets. He could have kissed Bodie for that, no one else recognised that he had given something up, a life as real as the one he had left behind when he had first joined CI5 - and one with far fewer regrets. Phil Foot had taught him to pick up his paints again, to put aside his cynicism, to trust in Cowley’s lavender and roses. All the things CI5 corroded, all the things Cowley found suspect and wanting.
The reception descended into all the clichés sneered at by the sort of people Bodie despised, and Phil Foot had forever saved Raymond Doyle from turning into, his vision of himself so much clearer now. His old pretensions undercut by self-awareness.
He would never acquire Bodie’s epic levels of self-belief, but Bodie had his own daemons, and Doyle was content with the gift of peace Phil Foot had given him.
After she and Chef had taken to the dance floor, upholding tradition, Doyle had claimed the evening’s first dance with Doreen. To his surprise, Bodie had claimed the second, until Chef had decided to cut in, and he and Bodie had waltzed drunkenly round the dance floor to hoots of outraged laughter.
Despite his earlier grousing, his partner was enjoying himself, and Doyle was humbled to realise it was the first time he’d seen Bodie truly carefree since the day he had abandoned him. Proof, if he had ever needed it, of what Bodie had no words to speak, but daily declared. He was loved.
In his despair, he had run the wrong way. Bodie had deserved better - and would never hold him to account.
Bodie caught his eye, grinning conspiratorially, as he used his brief notoriety on the dance floor to ingratiate himself with the gaggle of Doreen’s giggling bridesmaids. Doyle grinned back, raising his glass in silent salutation ‘Don’t ever change, Bodie’.
The old day was spent and the new one begun by the time Doyle manhandled his tipsy partner back to their room.
Bodie seemed to have forgotten his objections to sharing a room, and happily prepared for bed. Doyle followed suit, the tie-dye rucksack proving not to be his only nod to nostalgia, as he donned his forest green pyjamas.
From the refuge of his own bed, Bodie regarded the outfit with placid bewilderment, announcing as Doyle bedded down ‘’I only have one thing to say about those, mate’’ before plunging the room into darkness.
Doyle grinned, snuggling into his bedding, more than ready for sleep.
For a while, a comfortable silence descended, punctuated only by the sounds of Bodie fidgeting in his bed and the muffled noises of the hotel settling down for the night.
Then, unexpectedly, Bodie spoke, cautiously observing ‘’Been thinking, it’s a long time, since Coogan.’’
Doyle said nothing, the noise of his own breathing, suddenly loud in his ears.
‘’That second report’’ persisted Bodie, against the hardening of Doyle’s silence ‘’Like you said, the Old Man buried it.’’
‘’Wrong night, Bodie’’ warned Doyle bitterly.
‘’Maybe’’ conceded Bodie ‘’But it wasn’t Scotland Yard he sent after you.’’
Doyle couldn’t raise the energy to argue, Bodie always did give the Old Bastard too much credit.
‘’On the other hand, if we do end up on the run’’ continued Bodie ‘’I get to choose the clobber.’’
Despite himself, Doyle couldn’t help smiling into his pillow. Bloody Bodie, if the Cow did hang him out to dry, Bodie would fight to hang right alongside him.
And just maybe, if he had any sense at all, that was enough.
‘’Go to sleep, Bodie’’ he instructed.
‘’Race you, Goldilocks’’ Bodie replied.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.