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Hostages to Fortune

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Chapter 1:

The cough hit without warning as Doyle plodded his way up the stairs, bringing him to a faltering unwilling halt on the landing. He leaned against the wall, doubled over by the force of it, the two carrier bags he'd been holding slipping unnoticed from his hands as he dug a fist into his chest, trying to massage away the constriction. It was one of the harsh, dry useless coughs he hated, doing nothing to clear his chest but nevertheless going on and on until he saw dark spots at the edge of his vision. Left without enough breath even to swear, he felt his knees shake, then give way entirely, and he slid down the wall to land on his arse in a graceless slump.

There'd been three rounds of pneumonia since he'd been shot, the first while he was still in hospital. This last one had set him back at least two weeks by the time he'd fought off the infection, and it didn't take a medical degree to see he'd been maybe one bad day from landing right back in that hospital bed.

Somewhere inside, a place he let nobody see—not Kate Ross, not Cowley, certainly not Bodie—he was beginning to wonder if the damage done was irreversible. Constantly aching, weary and short of breath, he was all too conscious of how far he still had to go to return to what he had once been, and increasingly afraid that no matter what Bodie and the doctors said, the return would never be possible. There were too many nights made restless by aches and coughs; too many moments, just like this one, when things he'd never even thought about before suddenly seemed like insurmountable obstacles. Three flights of stairs, two carrier bags, one fucking cough, and he was done for.

Considering what the alternatives were, Doyle supposed it was miserably ungrateful of him to feel resentful that his recovery was so slow and uncertain. You could be pushing up daisies right now, mate, and don't you forget it, he admonished himself, for what felt like the millionth time. Instead of Bodie spending his evenings and days off playing a combination of drill sergeant and nursing sister, he could be visiting Doyle's grave and pouring out a lager on Doyle's headstone to keep him company.

And wasn't it just fucking typical that he should resent that too? Bodie could be the encyclopedia illustration for 'good mate' and 'loyalty', and Doyle all too often wished him to the devil.

Or at least John o'Groats.

Doyle took a cautious breath, and then a deeper one, bracing himself for another round of wheezing and hacking. The cough, however, seemed to have finished with him for the moment, and he gathered himself for the next steps.

Get up.

Retrieve the shopping that had bounced and rolled across the landing and down the steps.

Drag himself and the bags up another two flights of stairs until he could finally collapse inside his temporary home.

For a moment it was just too much. Not even the thought of someone coming across the drooping lump of him in the stairwell could galvanize him into action. He drew up his knees as far as he could and let his head sink down. In that illusion of shelter, he could admit that he felt every bruise, every stitch, every wound he'd ever had.

I'm beat, he thought wretchedly. Sod Cowley, sod Bodie, sod them all. I'm finished.

"Here, you all right, mister?" a voice said from above him.

Wearily, Doyle raised his head, blinking to clear his blurry eyes. Two steps above him stood a boy, watching him with a look of intense suspicion on his narrow face. Seven years old, Doyle knew, though slight enough to seem younger, with a head of carrot-red curls and enough freckles to make him look almost piebald. His right forearm was strapped in grimy plaster and his face masked by fading green and yellow bruises.

Doyle couldn't quite hide the jolt of adrenalin that flushed through him, and hoped the kid was too young to read it as anything except natural surprise. With almost a dozen families in the building, what were the odds that the person who caught him unawares would be one of the ones he was supposed to be keeping an eye on?

He could imagine the report: While incapacitated by a coughing fit on the stairs, agent 4.5 was surprised by surveillance subject and suffered a heart attack from sheer chagrin.

Not that he had any intention of making heart jokes around either Cowley or Bodie any time soon. Maybe once Bodie stopped getting white around the mouth every time he thought Doyle was flagging, and Cowley got back to bellowing at him down the corridor instead of asking after his health every other day. Maybe in ten years or so.

"Yeah, I'm okay," he said, straightening up. "Just need to catch me breath. Make yourself useful, will you, and pick up those tins."

"Can't." The boy waved the plaster in the direction of Doyle's head.

"Got two hands, don't you?" Doyle grumbled as he slowly heaved himself to his knees. He'd been right: tins of beans and lager were scattered haphazardly on the landing, along with the bacon and cheese. At least it looked like the apples and bread weren't smashed flat among them.

With a grunt, he scooted forward to scoop up the apples, deciding it was just too much trouble to get up only to bend over again. The boy scrambled down the steps past him and started randomly shoveling tins back into one of the bags.

Doyle recoiled awkwardly as a small grubby hand shoved a packet of Horlicks under his nose.

"You drink this?" The word "shit" clearly hovered on the tip of the boy's tongue, held back only out of fear of adult reprisal.

"Good for you, that is. Lots of vitamins."

Doyle tucked the Horlicks into the bag, took one last look to make sure everything was gathered up and began the process of levering himself upright against the wall. He'd managed to get his feet under him and was just reaching for the stair rail to pull himself the rest of the way up when one handle ripped loose, scattering most of the bag's contents back on the landing.

"Fuck!" Doyle snarled, and swung the remnants of the bag savagely against the wall, taking a grim pleasure in the dent in the dingy wallpaper. "Bastard!"

He whirled, overwhelmed by helpless fury, ready to aim a kick at the remaining bag lying on the landing. From the corner of his eye, he saw the boy flinch back, the plastered arm going up to shield his head.

Doyle froze. That reflexive defensive move brought back memories of all too many Saturday nights in uniform. Brought back a memory of Syd Parker, normally the most genial of men, roused to a black fury at the sight of a cowering child.

"Steady on, son," Doyle said, lowering his hands and consciously gentling his voice. "Not going to hurt you."

The boy set his back against the newel-post, his arm up now not so much for defense as for battle. The bleak, world-weary look in those too-old eyes, the hard set of that young mouth, told Doyle this wasn't the first time the kid had readied himself to stand his ground against hopeless odds.

Let it lie, Doyle thought. Best thing all round. Hell, the only thing, Cowley would say. The primary objective of his obbo was surveillance on a potential IRA threat, not whether that terrorist's kid was getting knocked around.

Trying to make himself appear as unthreatening as possible, Doyle stooped and swept up the scattered shopping again, ignoring the wrenching pain in his chest and back. Clumsily he gathered the carrier bags to his chest and was about to continue up the stairs when he heard a clatter of footsteps from below.

"Devlin! Where are you? Dev!" A man's voice, the strong Irish accent not hiding the thread of panic. As the speaker came into view, he caught sight of Doyle and pulled up abruptly.

"Here, pa." The boy stepped cautiously around Doyle, never taking his eyes off him, and scuttled down the steps, tucking himself tightly against his father's legs. A gangly little girl, hair as bright red as her brother's, crowded close behind him, her eyes fixed firmly on the floor in front of her. The toddler in her arms was the image of her Black Irish mother, if the pictures Doyle had studied were anything to go by.

Portrait of an IRA clan, Doyle thought, holding back a slightly hysterical chuckle. All they need is Mam at the back, holding the petrol bomb and rocking the baby.

"Sorry if he's been pestering you." The man's hand rested on Devlin's head, ruffling his curls lightly. The boy squared his shoulders and met Doyle's eyes, a look not so much defiant as measuring.

"He's no bother," Doyle said. "I dropped my shopping and the lad—Devlin, is it?—helped me pick up." He leaned back against the wall with a weak cough so he would have an excuse to keep looking down.

Steve Donovan. Husband to one IRA terrorist, son-in-law to another. Spotted purely by chance coming into England, and followed on Cowley's hope that he might lead them to his contacts.

The surveillance pictures of Donovan had shown a classically handsome young man, better looking even than Bodie. Doyle had to admit the pictures hadn't done him justice: they hadn't captured the rich texture of the red hair, or the indefinable quality of charm in his smile. But face-to-face, Doyle could also see those good looks were mainly surface. The soft pout to his mouth, the lack of definition in his bone structure that made Donovan look boyishly beautiful in his late twenties would make him seem unfinished in another ten years. What made the real difference, however, was in his eyes. In the surveillance footage they'd been a brilliant light blue, giving him a constant air of excitement and energy. Now he was haggard, eyes darkly smudged with exhaustion. The nihilist gunman could have been any miserable prole stuck with three young kids and a life of drudgery.

"Are you needin' a doctor? Should I call for help?" Donovan made the offer with gritted teeth, but only slight hesitation.

The thought of Cowley's reaction to the interference of well-meaning officialdom made Doyle choke in earnest. "No," he got out. "Just a rotten cough. I'll be okay."

"He sounds like Uncle Keith with the new-mooni-ee," the boy piped up. Two pairs of wide eyes fixed on him. "He gonna die?"

"Devlin!" Donovan swatted his son lightly on the bum, a movement which Doyle noted didn't cause so much as a shiver from any of the children. "Sorry, mister, lad's got cheek."

"But pa—" the boy protested, and Doyle broke in hastily.

"I did have pneumonia, but they took me to the hospital and gave me medicine and I got better."

The entire family gave him a look of blatant disbelief.

Unsure whether he was going to curse his own weakness or howl with laughter at the absurdity of the situation, Doyle smiled as best he could and started on his prepared cover story.

"Last work site was a right hole, cold, dirty, never could get properly dry. Took the bronchitis, and it turned into pneumonia. Then the boss gave me the push, said I'd missed too much work. So now—"

"Dave?" A familiar voice sounded from above, and Doyle caught a glimpse of a dark head leaning over the banister before a dragging step started its way down.

Doyle managed to turn a heartfelt sigh of relief into another short cough as all eyes turned upward to watch Bodie's halting progress. From the corner of his eye, Doyle saw Donovan slip a hand into his front jacket pocket. He reached into his own pocket, the flick-knife sliding into his hand with reassuring weight.

Bodie paused a few steps above them all, leaning heavily on the stair rail and his cane.

"You okay, mate?"

Doyle nodded. "Just a coughing spell. Need a minute to catch me breath." He carefully pushed off from the wall, letting himself waver slightly. "You sure you should be up and around?"

Bodie tilted his head one way and then the other. "Could be worse."

Technically that was the truth: Bodie had been unable to walk for nearly a week, so being able to hobble along on a cane was an improvement.

Unshaven and uncombed, in jeans and jumper that had seen better days, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, Bodie was miles from the dapper agent who needed only a dinner jacket and a smile to pass for some minor relation of the aristocracy.
As always, Doyle felt a little kick of excitement in his stomach at the sight of Bodie-the-yobbo. The world might prefer the smooth glib surface Bodie usually displayed, but Doyle knew there was far more underneath. Scruffy, Bodie looked at once younger and tougher, the vulnerability somehow more visible to Doyle through the layers of hard experience.

"We're your upstairs neighbours, in three-six. I'm Mark Layton, he's Dave Bentley." Bodie grinned ruefully. "We're both a bit crocked up right now, so we're sharing digs. Helps to stretch the money a little."

"I'm Sam." Donovan hesitated and then said firmly, "Sam Dunn. This is Devlin, and Annie, and the little one is Ruth." He took the toddler from her sister, gently stroked the dark head nestling against his shoulder.

"Not long in London?" Bodie let his Scouse come out.

"A week now, and a hard place it is to be findin' work," Donovan said bleakly. "Don't like leaving Annie to manage the little ones, but it's cash I'm needing, or we'll be on the street. Never knew—"

He stopped abruptly, a look of mingled fear and shame on his face.

Never knew what, Doyle wondered. How hard it was to get by without stolen money and a group of armed men at his back?

Which, as always, brought back the question of just what Donovan was doing in London in the first place. What target was he sussing out for the IRA? Who were his contacts? Seeing Devlin and Annie huddle up against their father made another question even more urgent. Why the hell had Donovan brought along his children?

"Be easier once you get the little 'uns in school."

"School." Donovan's expression of horrified dismay almost brought Doyle to laughter again. "Yeah. Need to get on with that too." He rubbed his forehead. "Come on, then, you lot. Nearly time for tea." He nodded in Doyle's general direction, and shepherded both the older children back along the hall in the direction of their flat.

Devlin looked over his shoulder as his father opened the door, a look of fear and distrust once more twisting his young face.

Bodie watched them out of sight, then clumped heavily down the last steps to the landing.

"Need some help, sunshine?"

Doyle cursed inwardly and hauled himself upright. "Take one of these, will you, mate?" He held the carrier bag out. "Think I need to get my head down a bit."

 

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Notes on Analysis of Surveillance Tape 1392-Alpha: Analyst EW

"In your opinion, does the encounter between 4.5 and the subject of observation compromise the operation?"

"There is a high probability it will not. 4.5 and 3.7 have established themselves as part of the subject's environment; it was unreasonable to expect that they could completely avoid interaction for the length of the operation."

"Would you recommend their withdrawal?"

"Not at all. Breaks in patterns are far more noticeable than patterns themselves. If they were to suddenly disappear after this meeting, the subject's suspicions might be aroused. Better to allow them to carry on as simple neighbours."

"You have been given access to the medical records. Are they capable of carrying out their duties?"

"It might have been more useful to ask that question before sending them into action. I assume that Major Cowley had a good reason for deploying them?"

"Major Cowley has not shared his reasoning with us."

"I see. Well, they are strong-willed and determined young men—bloody-minded, I'm tempted to say. Their mission objective is monitoring and secondary surveillance, not direct engagement. I'm uneasy about 4.5's health but provided that does not deteriorate any further, my recommendation would be to leave them in place."

 

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Chapter 2

By the time they reached their door Doyle had most of his breath back, and the pain through his side and chest from the coughing fit had subsided to a dull ache. Bodie hadn't spared him a glance as they made their slow and painful way up the stairs, and he shouldered the door open with a force that spoke of barely leashed fury.

Door safely bolted, Doyle leaned back against it and watched Bodie dump the shopping unceremoniously on their rickety table. The room was chilly, and Doyle couldn't prevent a shiver, hard as he tried to hold it back.

The bedsit the two of them were sharing was a step or two above the squat Bodie had inhabited once, but not by much. At one time the old building must have held only twelve spacious flats, but as the area went downhill, they'd been cut into smaller and smaller sections. Their lone window looked out onto an alley fronting what would have been the mews in better times, and its frame was so warped the damp October wind seeped through constantly. In keeping with their cover as out of work navvies, they held back on feeding the gas meter and let the room get as chilled as they could stand before popping in another coin.

During the day they put on layers of clothes, hiding warm socks and thick jerseys under scuffed shoes and shapeless threadbare jackets. Bodie, however, had put his foot down at freezing nights, insisting that in Doyle's still precarious health he couldn't risk another bout of pneumonia. When he unpacked his haversack the first day they'd settled in, he'd pulled out first a set of flannel sheets and a pair of thick woolen army blankets, all worn but still serviceable. Doyle's contribution had been his duvet, disguised with a stained and ragged cover bought from an East End car boot. Between those and the endlessly supply of hot drinks Bodie produced from the gas ring, they were more comfortable than their surroundings would indicate.

Doyle had hoped to hide how cold he suddenly felt, but Bodie seemed to have developed a sixth sense since Mayli Kualo had come into their lives. He turned from the table just in time to catch Doyle rubbing his hands along his arms.

"Right, that's it." Bodie's face was set, his eyes dark with fury. "I'm pulling the plug."

"You're what?" Doyle grabbed his arm. "Who the hell put you in charge?"

"Look at you!" Bodie snarled. "You're coughing, you can barely stand—"

"It was a put-on for Donovan, you idiot!"

"—and you're white as a ghost." Bodie caught Doyle's hands in his. "You're freezing even with your jacket on. I'm not seeing you in that hospital again. I'm not." His voice broke a little on the last word, and he swung around sharply to stand staring out the window, one fist thumping rhythmically against the frame. "I'm not."

Doyle rubbed his forehead. This was more than Bodie getting a little white around the mouth. If he didn't handle it properly, Bodie was like as not going to contact Cowley, and the thought of it made Doyle cold in a way the October weather could not.

"Bodie," he said gently. "Look at me." The dark head stayed stubbornly averted. "I'm all right. Not up to par, not by a mile, but I'm better than I was last week, and the week before. That coughing and moaning was all to keep Donovan distracted so he didn't pay us any real attention." With a little twinge of superstitious dread he crossed his fingers behind his back. "And to keep him from noticing that little pop-gun you've got tucked in your jacket."

The side of Bodie's face twitched in a small smile, and Doyle relaxed a fraction. Bodie took a boyish pride in the improvised holster he'd sewn into the jacket lining. Unable to go openly armed as they normally would, they'd used their experience to contrive other weapons as well. In addition to Bodie's gun and Doyle's knife, Doyle carried a sock half filled with metal washers, and Bodie's cane was weighted with lead.

No match for an Armalite, but even badly off their game, Doyle would have put money on them both against most opponents.

"I'll put some money in the meter, okay? Even a pair of yobs like us have to have money sometime. Warm the place up a little. And I'll, I'll . . . " He trailed off, a little bewildered. How to reassure Bodie when he was only voicing some of Doyle's worst fears? "I'll get in bed. Nice warm flannel, remember? And you can make me a hot drink."

"I can, can I?" Bodie turned at last, a wry grin on his face.

"Brought some Horlicks." He ignored Bodie's grimace. "Think it's in with the beans."

"How you can stomach that . . . " Bodie shuddered, but began digging through the bags.

"You and young Devlin should get along just fine."

"Devlin." Bodie paused, Horlicks in hand. "Did you see his face? Somebody stitched him up good and proper."

"Yeah, and I'll lay a fiver I know who it was," Doyle growled.

"Bastard. You'd think he'd get enough of violence fighting the Orangemen, without doing his own."

"Ah, but the reports say Donovan keeps himself very much out of the "direct action". Strictly a distance man, our Steve."

Bodie made a sound of disgust and clattered the saucepan onto the gas ring. While he sorted through the tins in the bag, Doyle went to the meter, slipped in a shilling and turned the tap decisively.

"Right. Let's get this place warm."

Bodie nodded. "Tomato soup do you? And a sarnie?"

"Good enough."

They worked quietly together, Bodie stirring the soup, Doyle slicing bread and layering it with ham and cheese. Neither of them would touch margarine, so he generously ladled on pickle.

The soup was hot and comforting, the warmth easing the ache in his chest with every spoonful.

"Good stuff," he said, slurping contentedly, and Bodie preened as if he'd made the soup himself from fresh tomatoes and stock.

"Think we held up our cover?" Bodie took a second sandwich.

Doyle thought back on the encounter with the Donovans. "We look the part. And with me just about fainting at his feet, he shouldn't see me as a threat." He took an angry bite. "Felt wrong, just walking away and leaving the kids with him. Especially the girl. You saw she never looked up at us, not once? Syd would've had me guts for garters."

"Syd—your old partner?" Bodie's voice for once didn't hold its usual mocking lilt when referring to Doyle's days as DC.

Doyle nodded. "Couldn't stand seeing kids get hurt, Syd. Used to drive him round the twist, when we'd go back two or three times to the same place and nothing ever changed. Some people ought to be neutered at birth, he'd say, and after a while I agreed with him."

"Funny, they don't seem afraid of Donovan. You'd think—"

"They hide it," Doyle said bitterly. "Parents tell 'em it's their own fault, if they just behaved nobody would have to hit them. They say the family will be split up, tell the kids they'll get locked up in orphanages. Kids learn fast to pretend everything is normal, no matter what it costs."

"Christ." Bodie's voice was hard. "At least my parents just drank and shouted a lot." He forced a shadow of his normal grin. "Wouldn't have wanted to stand out from the neighbours, would they."

Doyle reached across the table and squeezed Bodie's forearm, about as much comfort as Bodie was willing to accept outside the bedroom. They finished their meal in silence.

While Bodie wiped his bowl clean with the last of his bread, Doyle rinsed the saucepan and poured in milk. Bodie could scoff all he liked, but a good mug of Horlicks had been a comfort ever since Doyle had been younger than Devlin Donovan. The smell always brought back memories of toasted cheese in front of the fire and a warm mug in his hands, while his father read aloud from The Wind in the Willows or The Hobbit, stumbling occasionally over the longer words. A man without much education, Joseph Doyle, but determined to offer his children a glimpse of something better than a foundry-worker's life. Doyle sometimes wondered what his father would think of CI5, of the dangerous and ambiguous life his oldest son had made for himself.

A buzz from the corner broke into his thoughts.

"I'll get it. Keep stirring that milk."

Balancing himself awkwardly with one hand on the table, Bodie pulled aside the curtain by the bed to reveal a shelf of equipment and a set of headphones. The tape recorder was already spinning, starting automatically when any telephone in the building was in use. Bodie put on the headphones and opened the dog-eared notebook beside it, pen at the ready.

Watching Bodie set up, Doyle wondered, not for the first time, what the real purpose of their assignment was. The phone taps could automatically record anything that was said far more accurately than even an agent's recall. If Cowley truly felt the need for human scrutiny, the equipment in the buggy-boo would have been more efficient. Yet he'd insisted from the beginning there had to be direct undercover surveillance of Donovan as well.

Bodie, ever pragmatic, had shrugged it off as Cowley being both efficient and frugal. He had two agents unfit for real active duty, who still had to be paid and maintained. Instead of keeping them trapped in the file room, why not use them as a redundant listening post? The worst that could happen was boredom, and there was always the chance a human ear could catch an inflection, some tone of voice that a machine would miss.

Watching his saucepan begin to bubble, Doyle tried to squelch the rising uneasiness that had plagued him all week. Bodie could be right—probably was right, though putting both of them out so unfit was without precedent. If either of them had had to square off against Donovan on the stairs earlier, it might have been a disaster. On the other hand, Cowley was notorious for not letting the left hand know what the right was doing. Just because Doyle didn't know of any agents sent into the field while medically compromised didn't mean it hadn't been done before.

Doyle poured the milk into two mugs, stirring briskly as Bodie lifted the headphones.

"The Greek grannie on the first floor. Calling her daughter to complain about the rates again."

"Could it be code?" Doyle was only half joking.

Bodie chuckled. "My spanakopita thinks the weather in Athens is lovely. Yes, but only if you have six red carnations on the windowsill."

"You—" Doyle found himself laughing as well. He pushed one mug into Bodie's hand. "Here, drink this, and don't whinge. You need fattening up as much as I do."

Bodie made a face but sipped obediently.

"Right then, we've had our tea and Horlicks. Let's get you under the covers, shall we?"

"It's not gone eight yet!" Doyle protested, and then had to laugh again. "God, I sound like I was still in short pants."

"I mean it, Doyle." Bodie looked at him somberly. "You didn't see yourself on those stairs. I've seen sturdier looking scarecrows. You need some real rest and warmth."

"Both of us do," Doyle retorted. "I'll get settled if you let me have a look at that knee," he added.

"Blackmailer," Bodie said indulgently. "Go have a wash and then we'll see to it."

Doyle gathered up his towel and washbag and trudged off down the hall. The loo was even chillier than their little room, and like everything else in the building grimy with age and neglect. Doyle gave the tub one wistful look—he'd never take a hot bath for granted again—and made do with a lukewarm wash-up in the basin. He scrubbed one damp hand through his hair with a grimace; he needed a haircut as well.

The things we sacrifice in the name of CI5, he thought as he struggled back into his shirt and sweater. All his clothes were still loose on him, which was probably to the good. Gave more room to hide an extra layer.

He met no one on the way back to their room, though he got a strong whiff of curry as he passed one door, and heard the tinny sound of a radio playing something Caribbean. According to their background briefing, most of the flats in the building were occupied, but the residents of the upper floor seemed to take pains to stay out of each other's way. Perhaps it was caution—Doyle had smelt marijuana wafting from under more than one door—perhaps simple shame at being brought to the edge of destitution.

An ideal place for someone like Donovan, Doyle mused. People fiercely minded their own business and probably wouldn't call for help unless the building was actually on fire. You might gossip about strangers to your flatmate, but turn a blind eye on the stair.

In contrast to the corridor, their room felt comfortably warm when Doyle returned. Bodie washed dishes and saucepan in the sink, setting them neatly on the tea-towel in the shelf to dry. He was moving more slowly than he had earlier, his leg noticeably dragging, tight lines of pain around his mouth.

"Leave it, and come to bed," Doyle said. "You need to get off that leg."

"Yes, mum," Bodie replied, but Doyle noticed he was quick to obey.

When Bodie had removed his trousers and was stretched on the bed, bad leg propped up, Doyle couldn't help a wince at the sight. The knee was still swollen and misshapen, discoloured in vivid shades of purple and green. Bodie had removed the strapping hours after he left the hospital, insisting that it didn't give support in the right places and was too tight everywhere else.

Crossing to the bedside, Doyle set his hand on Bodie's thigh just above the bruising. "You should be getting physio, not messing about here," he said fiercely. "If Cowley's mad notions get you crippled, I'll gut him."

"Relax, Doyle," Bodie responded. "I told you, they said no physio until the swelling's gone down. Another week at least. As long as I don't fall on it or wrench it again, everything's ducky."

"They meant for you to be resting with your leg up, not clambering up and down these stairs a dozen times a day."

Doyle ran his hand carefully along the injury. Part of him wanted to insist that Bodie pack it in immediately, and he knew that Bodie would resist the idea just as fiercely as he had earlier.

"We're a pair, yeah?" he said ruefully.

"A pair of what?" Bodie grinned cheekily.

"Well, it doesn't feel any harder or softer or hotter or colder than it did this morning. Guess you'll survive." Doyle gave him a firm pat on the leg.

"Thank you, Dr. Doyle." Bodie sat up and pulled off his poloneck. "Bed for you as well, my son."

Tempted to protest, Doyle thought better of it. Being close to Bodie, even under these conditions, was always preferable to being away from him.

Despite the room's warmth, Doyle still made quick work of undressing. Usually unwilling to sleep in more than a t-shirt, he slid gratefully into flannel pajamas and bundled himself under the blankets and duvet. Bodie was only a second behind him, having paused to switch off the light.

Cocooned in blankets, his back to Bodie's chest, Doyle felt truly warm and comfortable for the first time since morning. Bodie rested his bed knee on Doyle's thigh, and splayed his hand over Doyle's chest. Doyle wondered if Bodie was aware that his hand always covered the scars, as if his flesh could act as a shield against bullets.

Maybe in dreams they did; Doyle knew he always slept more soundly with Bodie tucked against him.

Still he couldn't relax, replaying their meeting with Donovan over again in his mind.

"We need to set up a meeting," he murmured. "I want to have another look at the reports on Donovan."

"Thought Cowley was the last person you wanted." Bodie ruffled his hair. "Warmer now?"

Doyle nodded, but was not ready to be distracted. "There's something off about him. Something's wrong."

"He's a bloody terrorist, that's what wrong with him," Bodie growled.

"Not that. Something's different."

"Different how?"

Doyle closed his eyes, leaning back to savour some of Bodie's warmth. In his mind's eye, he pictured the man he had seen on the stairs, comparing him to the images from the surveillance videos they'd watched.

"It is Donovan, isn't it," Bodie said, suddenly stiffening behind him. "They didn't lose him somewhere along the way for a substitute? Christ, Cowley'd do his nut!"

Doyle shook his head. "No, it's the same man. It's—" He broke off, closing his eyes again. "He's not moving the same," he said slowly. "In the films he was the cock of the walk, cat with the canary. Now he looks . . ." He trailed off, unable to explain the tickle of intuition.

"Still think we should've just picked him up."

"Cowley hopes he can lead us to the bigger fish. You know what it would mean if we could get our hands on Seamus Reilly or his daughter."

"Not as much as Cowley thinks," Bodie said. "IRA is like a hydra: cut off one head, and you get three more back. With extra added aggro."

"What I still can't understand is, why bring the children? What can he do with them around all the time?" Doyle began to squirm in frustration, but halted at Bodie's hiss of pain. "Would he drag his own kids into an op? Use them as cover?"

"In a heartbeat," Bodie said wearily. "I've had kids Devlin's age pitch petrol bombs and rocks at me in Belfast. They could be carrying detonators back and forth in their schoolbags for all we know."

Doyle gripped Bodie's hand more tightly, but said nothing. He drifted into sleep with the memory of Devlin's battered face turning back to watch him, eyes dark with a terrible knowledge.

 

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Notes on Analysis of Surveillance Tape 1392-beta: Analyst EW

"Is it your opinion that 4.5 and 3.7 have become too emotionally dependent on each other?"

"It was my understanding that Major Cowley developed his concept of teams precisely so that the agents would become close. He wants them to be able to understand their partner's thinking instinctively, react without having to discuss, be supernaturally aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses in all situations. It is completely unrealistic to expect that this kind of closeness can be turned on and off like a faucet."

"You believe Major Cowley's methods to be unsound, then?"

"I believe Major Cowley's methods have proved themselves in the field. I simply make the point that once people have been conditioned to follow certain thought processes, it is difficult to prevent that conditioning from spilling over into other aspects of their lives."

"Would you recommend splitting up the team of 4.5 and 3.7? Partnering 3.7 with 6.2, for example?"

"Certainly not at this time. I've had access to some of the other surveillance records; the subject is close to a state of paranoia as it is. Any change in his environment now could put him on the run, and we would have to start from scratch.

"Besides, you underestimate the concern 3.7 has for 4.5's health. Partnering him with anyone else at this time would put the other agent at risk."

"Cowley's training methods will have to be reassessed at some point. It needs to be made clear that agents' first loyalty must be to CI5, and not each other."

"Good luck with that."

 

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Chapter 3:

"Get back here, you little bleeder! Here, stop him! Thief!"

Bodie watched as Devlin Donovan darted frantically across the road, hurtling towards the safety of the front stoop where Bodie slouched, cigarette in hand. An old Vauxhall blared a warning and swerved, the driver bellowing something profane out the window as the car barely missed the boy. Behind him, Anson, still shouting and waving his arms, was careful to move just slowly enough that Devlin reached the steps a few paces ahead of him.

As Devlin stumbled on the first step, Bodie rose and caught hold of his shoulder.

"Let go!" Devlin's voice was a breathless scream. He tried to pull away, but Bodie tightened his grip.

"Thanks, mate." Anson puffed to a halt. "You hold him, I'll call the police."

"Why don't you bugger off instead, and leave the lad be?" Bodie growled.

"What?" Anson gave an excellent impression of an outraged citizen. "He tried to pick my pocket!"

"I didn't, Mr. Layton, honest, I never!" Devlin's eyes were wide with terror, and Bodie could feel him trembling, thin shoulders heaving.

"Well, there you are. Boy says he didn't." Bodie shrugged, and lifted his cane slightly. "This isn't the kind of neighbourhood where you want to call a kid names. Especially not when you're all alone."

Anson glanced around and visibly deflated, as if he'd only just realised exactly what part of town he was in, and then glared up at Bodie and Devlin.

"I'll have the law on the whole pack of you," he snarled, and stamped off down the street, looking back once or twice with another curse.

Bodie resumed his seat on the stoop, biting back a curse as a burning knife-edge of pain grazed through his knee. Devlin sank down beside him, still shivering and panting.

"I really didn't take nuffink," the boy said quietly, when his breathing had steadied.

"But you tried, didn't you?" Bodie said. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Devlin shudder and bite his lip. "Fat-arsed bastards with money to burn, while the likes of us scrape by on sixpence."

"Our Ruthie's hungry," Devlin burst out. "Me 'n Annie try not to eat so much, but Dad just can't . . ." He trailed off. After a deep breath, he went on. "Bloke had a fiver hanging out his pocket at the newsagents'. I thought he might think he dropped it, like. Never thought . . . "

"Them as has money holds it fast. My gran used to say that, and damn if it isn't true. Come on." Bodie hauled himself to his feet, setting his cane carefully on the stair. "Let's see if Dave and I can't scratch something up."

As he hobbled up the stairs after Devlin, Bodie kept his satisfaction carefully hidden. Doyle, bless his keen copper's nose, had noticed how skinny the Donovan kids were, and ferreted out from the surveillance reports on Donovan senior how meager his shopping excursions were. Cowley had called it a long shot, but allowed a few random agents to frequent the newsagents' at the end of the road, and be careless with their change as they left.

Their original idea had been to tempt Donovan to try a hold-up, but Bodie thought young Devlin might be even better. Winning over the kids ought to ease the father's suspicions.

Devlin was silent all the way up the stairs, and Bodie let him be. He'd seen enough damaged kids in Biafra to know that pushing too quickly for trust would only drive the boy away. For the moment he'd accepted Bodie's protection, and they'd build on that.

At their room, Bodie gave a quick code knock and entered, urging Devlin in ahead of him. Doyle looked up from his tea and Daily Mail, eyebrows raised. All evidence of their surveillance equipment was out of sight, and the place had the same look of desolate poverty every other room in the place held.

"Food, Bentley," Bodie said cheerily. "There's two starving men here."

"Christ, not even noon yet," Doyle said, heaving himself to his feet with a sigh. "Suppose you mighty hunters didn't bring anything for the pot, did you?"

Beside him, Devlin went dead still, and Bodie saw his narrow face suddenly pale, orange blotches of freckles standing out along with the bruises.

"There's things I can—" the boy began, and reached for the hem of his shirt.

"No!" Bodie took hold of his wrist, feeling the fragile bones and racing pulse just beneath the skin. He forced himself to make his tone offhand, and let go before he sent the boy into a panic. "Don't be daft, you've got nothing we want. Wash your hands and sit down."

He looked at Doyle across Devlin's head, and saw the same rage and shame in his partner's eyes as he felt himself. The offer he'd only just kept the boy from making had come so easily, and yet with such obvious dread. Bodie felt sick to his stomach.

No matter what Cowley said or did, Donovan was going to die before this was over, Bodie promised himself.

Devlin looked back and forth between them, his face a picture of mistrust and worry. He sidled to the sink, half-turning so he could watch them even as he cursorily ran some water over his hands.

Doyle took a plate and cutlery from the drainboard with a clatter, while Bodie rummaged in the cupboard. At least yesterday's shopping had brought some decent food in.

"Sit down, boyo," Doyle said briskly. He'd turned away so Devlin couldn't see his face, but Bodie still read the outrage in every line of his back and shoulders.

Devlin approached the table hesitantly, and looked at what Bodie had hastily dished up: a chunk of cheese, a wedge of pork pie and pickled onions. Devlin stared at the plate, eyes wide, and pressed a hand to his mouth. When he looked up, the raw hope and hunger in his eyes made Bodie flinch.

The boy scrambled onto the chair, and looked down at the plate again. Bodie could see his hands trembling slightly. Then, he picked up the knife and carefully divided the cheese into three bits. He did the same with the pork pie. Pulling a dirty handkerchief from his pocket, he wrapped up two of the portions and set them aside.

The flush of shame and fury left Bodie, leaving him feeling numb and cold. The division of food had been precise and methodical; Bodie was willing to bet the three portions were absolutely equal. For an instant he was overwhelmed by the memory of the stench of a refugee camp, the endless lines of bone-thin children waiting under the sweltering sun for food that never came.

Doyle leaned across the table and reached for the handkerchief. Devlin's hand flew up to cover it, teeth baring in small snarl. With a terrible little sigh, he pushed his own plate across toward Doyle.

Doyle jerked back as if he'd been struck. "There's more, son," Doyle said gently, and pushed the plate back. "We're skint, not starving. Eat up, then, there's a lad."

Devlin fell on the food, cramming the pork pie into his mouth, barely pausing to chew. When Bodie brought a mug of tea over, he gripped it with both hands, gulping the milky liquid as if he'd never get another drink.

While Devlin ate, Doyle filled a carrier bag with half a loaf of bread, the rest of the cheese, a small jar of marmite, three slightly withered apples and the remnants of a packet of ginger biscuits. He and Bodie had argued when they'd come up with the plan—Bodie wanted to add ham and cake and some tinned soup—but Doyle held firm. Enough food for a meal was one thing; poor as Layton and Bentley appeared, they could probably spare that. Any more might arouse Donovan's suspicions.

Still, when the plate was clean, Bodie cut more pork pie and slathered two slices of bread with jam. Devlin's hands had finally stopped trembling and he ate the second lot more slowly.

"Better?" Doyle said, sitting down with his own mug of tea.

Devlin nodded vigourously. "Thanks," he said, through another mouthful of bread and jam.

"Your father's not finding work, then?" Bodie made the question as casual as possible.

Devlin shook his head. "He's not . . . ma says . . . " His voice trailed off.

Not much for work, Bodie filled in mentally.

"Your mum still at home?" Doyle asked.

Devlin froze, and the last bit of bread dropped from his hand. His usual expression of guarded misery closed over his face like a shroud.

"Remember when I was a kid, my mum got sick, and dad was hopeless too. Mum swore he never did the washing up long as she was in hospital." Doyle tried to cover, but any gain they'd made had been lost, Bodie could see it.

Devlin pushed the plate away and jumped down, sidling toward the door, eyes darting between Bodie and Doyle.

"Easy, Devlin. We're not going to hurt you." Bodie held out the carrier bag. "Take some nosh home, eh? That pork pie won't stretch far."

Devlin snatched the bag of food and shoved his handkerchief packet on top.

"Thanks," he muttered, and skittered out the door as if expecting at any second to be hauled back and have his prize ripped out of his hands.

**

A soft rapping on the door woke Doyle just after dawn. He sat up sharply, a tug of pain through his chest making him wince even as he pushed himself to his feet. Bodie's eyes shot open, instantly alert. The greyish early light was not kind to him, darkening the shadows under his eyes and catching silver in the stubble on his cheek.

"Whazzat?" he grumbled.

"Door," Doyle murmured. Bodie rolled sideways and levered himself clumsily to his feet, fumbling for his cane. Doyle palmed the knife from under his pillow and held it behind his leg as he padded across the room.

"Who is it?"

There was no response.

Bodie hissed softly, gesturing Doyle aside from the door. He'd retrieved his pistol, and positioned himself to cover the entrance from behind the curtain. In the gloom he was barely visible even to Doyle, who knew exactly where he was.

Doyle stepped aside, looked at Bodie once more, and then eased the door part-way open.

Steve Donovan slumped against the wall by the door, his children huddled behind him, Annie gripping his shirttail desperately with one thin white hand. Donovan's eyes were bloodshot and shadowed, and Doyle noticed the knuckles of his left hand were raw.

"Look, I know we don't know each other an' all, but I need a favour," Donovan burst out before Doyle even had the door fully open.

"And good morning to you too," Doyle grunted.

"Could you watch the kids for me for a bit?" Donovan went on as if Doyle hadn't spoken. "I have to go see a mate, for a job . . ." His voice trailed off as his eyes flickered back and forth between Doyle, the children, and the corridor. Doyle thought bemusedly that Donovan had to be the worst liar he'd ever seen. "Yeah, a job, and look, I don't like to leave the kids on their own. If it was just Dev and Annie, but Ruth's only two . . . " He faltered to a halt again. "Unless it's too much trouble, with yourself not bein' well."

"Please, pa," Annie whispered. "I can take care of Ruthie. Please don't leave us here." She flicked one wide-eyed look up at Doyle, and immediately dropped her gaze back to the floor.

Donovan bent down and lifted her chin with one hand. "Annie, luv, look at me." Reluctantly the child met his eyes. "I don't want to go, but I have to. And I can't leave you alone. I might . . . I might be gone for a bit. Mr. Bentley here's a nice man, he'll make sure you're okay."

The quavering voice might have belonged to someone ten years younger than Donovan, and Doyle found himself wondering just how someone this soft had managed to rise in the IRA in the first place.

"It's all right, Annie," Devlin piped up. "They've got jam." The look of mistrust hadn't left him entirely, but the prospect of food had done a lot to raise his opinion of Bodie and Doyle.

"You 'n your mate were good to young Dev, and there's not a soul I know in this god-forsaken place. They'll be no trouble, they're good kids."

"No trouble," Bodie said from behind Doyle. He leaned against the doorframe, partly to hide the gun still in his hand, and partly to take the weight off his leg, Doyle noticed.

"Yeah, we can just postpone our meeting with the queen," Doyle grumbled. "Here, you want a cuppa before you're off?"

Donovan looked both startled and humbled, as if being offered tea by strangers was a kindness he'd never expected. "No, I need to be on my way. You all behave now," he directed at the children. "Mind your manners, and no chattering." He gave each of the three a fierce hug, and then nearly pushed them at Doyle.

His steps faltered at first, but as he went down the hall Donovan moved more and more quickly, as if he had to push himself to keep from turning back. By the time he reached the stairs he was nearly running.

"Right then. I'll get the kettle on." Bodie gathered the kids up and shepherded them into the room.

"Loo for me—and for God's sake put a shilling in the meter, will you? Can't have them catching their deaths."

As soon as the door closed, Doyle hurried after Donovan, trying to keep as quiet as possible on the creaking steps. His stealth was wasted. Donovan fled down the stairs and barged out the front door without even a backward glance. As Doyle came to a halt on the stoop he saw Jax climb out of a car further down the road and set off after Donovan at a casual lope. Behind him, Sally started her engine and pulled out in the opposite direction, to make a loop around the block and reach the next bus stop before Donovan got there.

Satisfied that there were agents on Donovan's tail, Doyle went back inside.

Now would come the hard part.

In their room, Bodie had obviously thrown all the covers back on the bed in haste. The kettle hummed smartly, and Bodie was looking with bemusement at their only two mugs. Devlin and Annie had taken the kitchen chairs, while Ruth toddled around the room, examining everything.

"Milk do for the little'un?" Doyle asked.

There was dead silence.

"Take what she gets, just like us," Devlin said eventually.

"Yeah, but what does she like?" Bodie asked.

"Ruthie don't like coffee," Annie said in a very small voice, never lifting her eyes from the table.

"Milk it is."

Bodie poured a splash of milk into one of the mugs. "Here you go." He bent to offer the mug to Ruth. She glanced over at her sister, and back at the mug, obviously torn.

"Just milk, see?" Bodie took a sip, and held the mug out again.

Doyle's heart twisted at the smile he gave her. Some said Bodie was a ruthless bastard with no scruples or feelings, and often they were right. Cowley had little use for choirboys. But Bodie's immediate response to children undercut that every time.

The smile seemed to reassure Ruth. She held out her arms, and gave Bodie a brilliant grin that lit her small face like a floodlight.

"Up you come, princess." Bodie scooped her up.

As he lifted her, Doyle saw the instant the weight settled wrong. Bodie gritted his teeth against a grunt of pain, and tried to shift his balance, only to stumble when the bad knee wouldn't hold him. With a smothered curse he managed to direct himself so that he landed on the bed without dropping Ruth. Oddly, the halting swaying motion didn't faze her at all; she giggled and bounced in Bodie's hold, as if she'd been on fairground ride.

It was the first truly normal reaction they'd had seen from any of the children, and it surprised Doyle enough to momentarily temper his concern for Bodie.

"All right, mate?" he asked nevertheless.

"Yeah. Stepped wrong. It'll sort itself out in a minute." That was Bodie talking, not Mark Layton, and Doyle relaxed a bit.

"Sod it, you still should see a doctor."

"Nothing a quack can do but tell me to sit still and rest," Bodie repeated the argument they'd already been over.

"What happened to your leg?" Devlin said abruptly.

"Got in a fight and fell down some stairs." Bodie was just as laconic. The boy nodded, unimpressed, but Doyle had to hide a wince. The fight had been a brutal punch-up with an underworld hard man who'd outweighed Bodie by at least fifty pounds, and the fall a head-long plunge down a rickety fire escape. The only thing that had saved Bodie from worse injury was that his opponent had landed on the bottom.

"What happened to your arm?" Bodie continued.

Annie made a small sound of distress, and Devlin's mouth tightened. It was a terrible expression on someone so young, aging him to a tiny frightened old man in the blink of an eye.

"Fell off me bike," he muttered.

The Donovan line bred true, Doyle thought: Devlin lied just as badly as his father.

"What I always tell this plonker," Bodie said, as if he'd noticed nothing. "Keep riding those broke-down Suzukis and you'll finish up ruined."

"Suzuki?" Devlin's eyes lit up, attention diverted. "You got a motorbike?"

"Not now." Devlin's face fell. "Used to fix them up, though, back in the day. I'll get back to it, soon as I shake this bleedin' cough."

Devlin nodded bleakly, like someone who understood that 'some day' usually meant 'never'.

Doyle poured tea into the remaining mug and set it on the table. "You'll have to share. We're not set up for company."

Annie pushed the mug to her brother. "Go on, Dev," she whispered.

Doyle leaned against the cupboard and kept an eye on a surprisingly homely scene: Devlin and Annie trading their mug back and forth, Bodie holding Ruth in his lap while she drank her milk. But it was a scene from a silent film. In his own childhood, there would have been teasing, laughter, squabbles over whose turn it was at the tea. The Donovan children were eerily quiet. And Doyle noticed one of them was always looking at Ruth.

When she yawned, Bodie took the milk and set it aside, shifting her more comfortably in his lap. "Too early for you to be up, eh, princess?"

Ruth snuffled softly, and tucked her head against his shoulder.

"I met this perfectly marvelous girl, in this perfectly wonderful bar," Bodie crooned, rocking Ruth gently as he swayed back and forth.

"Layton!" Doyle found himself torn between indignation and an impulse to drag Bodie, child and all, into his arms. "She's a little young for that, isn't she?"

"Doesn't understand a word, do you, sweetheart?" Bodie bounced Ruth lightly.

"Inna bar!" Ruth announced cheerfully, waving her arms in time to Bodie's humming.

 

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Notes on Analysis of Surveillance Tape 1392-gamma: Analyst EW

"Having observed the interaction of 4.5 and 3.7 with the subject's children, are you willing to finally entertain questions about their fitness?"

"On the contrary. They took advantage of an unexpected opportunity to build a connection with the subject. The children's affinity for 4.5 and 3.7 will make him less likely to view them as a threat, and make their surveillance more effective."

"Emotional involvement is dangerous. Given his background, 3.7 especially cannot be trusted to be impartial when it comes to children."

"That may or may not be a drawback in this case. If the children trust 3.7, they will be more likely to confide in him. Perhaps even to respond to casual questioning about the subject's actions and goals."

"And if 3.7 bungles it because he cannot be objective about the risks of the operation for the children?"

"That is precisely why 3.7 will be more careful, to avoid those kinds of risks."

"You're grasping at straws, Miss Walsh."

"We have very little else to grasp. The subject has made no connections in London so far, we have no idea who his contacts are or what they intend to do. The only people he has established any relationship with at all are 4.5 and 3.7.

"I recommend that you leave them alone to get on with it."

 

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Chapter 4:

Two days later, Bodie was ready to explode with frustration. There had been no further contact with Donovan, or any information on what he was up to.

Donovan had returned in the late afternoon of the day he'd appeared on their doorstep, gathered up his children and disappeared into his own flat with only a muttered word of thanks. Whatever had driven him out that early morning, he'd spent his time since behind his own door, not even venturing to the corner shop or newsagents'.

Despite Bodie's and Doyle's reports practically begging Cowley to do something, the old man remained unmoved. Unless there was some sign of absolutely imminent danger to the children, or some clue as to what the IRA was up to, nothing would interrupt the op.

Bodie cursed his aching leg, the raw damp, the op and everything else. He couldn't shake the feeling he was complicit in a nasty form of child sacrifice.

"You know what I don't understand?" Doyle said suddenly from his post at the eavesdropping gear. "Why doesn't Donovan have any money? Reagan wouldn't have sent him here with nothing. He'd need the readies to buy materials, pay off contacts. He should be rolling in it, not keeping his kids short on grub."

"Maybe it's a double-cross. One of his contacts took the money, and now Donovan can't go ahead, and doesn't dare go back. I damn well wouldn't want to be the one telling Seamus Reagan I lost his money."

"But none of the surveillance teams saw Donovan contact anyone. Christ, I wish we were out there!" Doyle threw his book at the wall and swore. The look of thwarted fury he gave Bodie should have set the cupboard behind him on fire.

"Look on the bright side, angelfish. We're not the ones out there cocking up the surveillance, with the old man breathing fire down our necks. Cozy hovel, cups of tea . . ."

"Prat." Doyle's tone was still sharp, but an unwilling half-smile creased his cheek. "So where's my tea, then?"

Bodie shook his head and pushed himself up, steadying himself for a moment against the table. He reached into the cupboard for the tea tin and missed his grip as his knee twinged sharply. Catching himself on the shelf just in time, he felt something slip under his fingers and fly out to land on the floor. There—

The microphone was tiny, just a rectangular metal button with a dull grey mesh covering one side. If he hadn't been trained to recognize such things, he might have brushed it aside as nothing more than a stray piece of cupboard fastening.

Bodie took two steps back from the cupboard, his eyes never leaving the bug.

"Oi, what's the holdup?" Doyle grumbled.

Bodie turned with a hiss, finger pressed hard against his mouth, his other hand pointing at the floor. Doyle got up, his eyes following Bodie's outstretched finger. He stiffened, mouth dropping open and then closing with an audible snap. For a moment he simply stared at the bug, his expression unreadable.

Then he stepped forward and very deliberately ground the microphone under his heel. When he raised his foot, tiny shards of metal and plastic were all that remained.

Bodie sank back into his chair, feeling sick to his stomach.

Betrayal.

Again.

Worst was the small part of him not roiling with anger and fear that wasn't even surprised. Somewhere inside he'd expected—not exactly this, but something. He hadn't really expected their luck to hold.

"What's Cowley playing at?" Doyle's voice was soft but fierce, and Bodie heard the pain behind the fury.

"It's a set-up," Bodie replied tonelessly.

"Come off it! Cowley wouldn't play games with the fucking IRA. Especially not this lot. Catching Seamus Reagan is too important."

"It's nothing to do with the IRA. It's us. Cowley knows about us. He saw something, or put two and two together—God knows how often or how long he's bugged us. And we've given him the evidence."

Doyle's shoulders slumped and he stared down at the crushed microphone on the floor between them.

"At least they won't have heard anything really incriminating," he said finally.

"Yeah. Never thought I'd be grateful for hurting too much to be randy. Still—how much did we say?"

"That we don't say in front of God and everybody any day of the week? Who knows?" Doyle sat down as well, a hard weariness shrouding him. "Doesn't make any difference anyway. The small print says whatever Cowley wants it to. If he claims we're a security risk . . . " Doyle's voice trailed off.

He reached across the table, and Bodie flinched.

Doyle snatched his hand back, and for a moment Bodie thought he might get a punch instead. "What's this, Bodie? You gone off me this quick?"

"No. I just—" Bodie faltered. "I just thought of it: I won't be able to go back to the regiment." Bodie felt a vague sense of vertigo as that thought struck home. "Major Nairn—"

"When I gave evidence against Preston," Doyle said carefully, "there were a lot of the lads who thought I'd let down the side. That exposing what he'd done was some kind of betrayal. I always thought it was cutting out the rot before everything festered, but they just didn't see it that way."

"So you're saying we're going to be cut out?"

"I'm saying I know what it's like to be beyond the pale. You feel shunned, adrift. You're mates aren't there any more. Everything you've done doesn't mean a thing."

"So what did you do?"

"All there is for it is to find a new pale."

Bodie nodded. "Except this time there won't be Cowley riding in to offer us a chance at fame and glory and a quick death. No mob we'd want to be part of will have us. And I'll tell you this, mate, I wasn't planning on spending the rest of my life as a hairdresser in Hampstead."

Doyle's face paled. "So we're through." His voice was flat and lifeless.

"It might let us salvage something, if we repent and promise to be good boys from now on."

Doyle's eyes were full of misery. "Would be the smartest thing to do. Cowley might take you back if I'm not in the picture."

"You think I'd go?" Seeing Doyle drained so swiftly and suddenly of hope was like a bracing slap across the face. Cowley, Nairn, disgrace, rejection—all that was in the future. The present was Doyle, his partner, his friend—yes, say it, Bodie, show some backbone—his lover, looking stricken to the heart.

To the heart.

At the thought, Bodie shuddered. He'd seen Doyle take a bullet there already.

The choice was easier than Bodie would have imagined.

"Ray. Sunshine, look at me." When Doyle lifted his eyes, Bodie said easily, "I saw you bleeding out on your own floor. I saw them cut you open on that table. I'm not giving you up without a fight. God help me, I'm not. Cowley can do as he pleases, but you're what I want. But you . . ." He shrugged. "I think Cowley had plans for you. If I've buggered your life up . . ."

Doyle gave an unwilling snort of laughter. It wasn't much, but it was better than that wretched silence. After a moment he drew in a huge breath and let it out again. Wary as if reaching for a bomb trigger, he reached out again and laid his hand on Bodie's arm.

Bodie gripped it fiercely.

"Right then." Doyle gave his eyes a quick swipe with his free hand. "Priorities?"

"Save ourselves, save the kids," Bodie said promptly. At Doyle's protest, Bodie raised his hand. "I know you, Doyle. Whatever we feel about each other, we couldn't live with ourselves if we left those kids to be beaten and messed with by their old man. It would end us, sooner or later."

"Yeah. Guilt makes bad seasoning."

Encouraged, Bodie began ticking off on his fingers. "One: see the op through. That means we have to double-think Cowley, and pretend we didn't find that little toy."

They looked down at the crushed remnants of the bug. "Could have done that better." Doyle shrugged ruefully. "Me and my temper. So, one: see the op through, and hope Cowley pretends we didn't find his little toy."

"Done. Then once Donovan's safely locked up, we tell Cowley we want out."

"Done." Doyle hesitated. "I still think there's something wrong about this op. Too many things just don't fit."

"Let's hope Cowley isn't double-thinking us. Maybe he's keeping us in the dark because if things go pear-shaped he'll have two scapegoats who can't argue the point."

"It's worse. Try triple think," Doyle said with bleak fury. "How long has it been since someone's seen to your leg? Since I've had antibiotics? What makes you think Macklin will ever pass either of us as fit again, no matter what kind of refresher he puts us through?"

Bodie laughed bitterly. "Or this: Cowley puts his pair of crocked-up poofters out as bait for the IRA and then just lets us twist in the wind when Donovan's pals come to call."

"Do you really believe that?"

"I don't know what to believe any more."

Doyle's hand tightened on his to the point of pain, and Bodie suddenly felt both frightened and relieved. The props might have been knocked out from under his world, but Doyle was still there. Stubborn, loyal, righteous to a fault. There was a foundation they could build on.

"So what do we do?" Doyle asked after a while.

"Treat it like an Operation Susie. We're on our own, hung out to dry, and our own people are as likely to snuff us as the villains. Our primary objective now is survival."

"What about Donovan?"

"To hell with Donovan, and Reagan as well, if it comes to it. Get the kids out in one piece, get us out in one piece."

"And Cowley?"

Bodie gave that question the thought it deserved. Cowley had owned his loyalty for a long time, and Doyle needed to be able to trust his answer. In the end, this wasn't a hard decision either.

"To hell with him too."

 

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Notes on Analysis of Surveillance Tape 1392-delta: Analyst EW

"Has there been any indication during past operations of an unsanctioned relationship between 4.5 and 3.7?"

"When this question was first raised, I randomly selected surveillance tapes from six of their past operations. It will take a more in-depth analysis than I've had time for, but at first glance, I cannot make an assessment one way or the other."

"Not make an assessment? I would have thought this would make things glaringly obvious."

"Why would you assume that they are any less professional in this than in anything else they undertake? They are trained agents, after all."

"And their attitude to Major Cowley now? If they do not trust him, why will they obey him?"

"All beside the point. Our real concern should be, how much damage have they done to the operation?"

"None whatsoever. All surveillance on the subject has continued as it should. Why would you think otherwise?"

"Men of their inclinations—"

"Please, gentlemen, I haven't swooned in decades. Let us be frank: 3.7 and 4.5 are apparently engaged in a homosexual relationship. Your question assumes that their sexual behaviour is adversely influencing their actions and judgment in other aspects of their lives. Based on my analyses, I cannot support that assumption. They have behaved impeccably in the previous operations I have analysed and I can see no reason to assume they have done otherwise in this one."

"So you condone their behaviour?"

"Their behaviour is not my concern. What you have brought me in for is to examine the efficiency and competence exercised in this operation. If you have a different axe to grind, I suggest you find another analyst."

 

BDBDBDBD

 

Chapter 5:

One of the things Doyle had always hated about stakeouts was the uncertainty. No matter how well thought out the plan, nothing could prevent blind fate from taking a hand without any warning. He'd once spent weeks shadowing a drugs ring, only to have the whole operation collapse when their inside man dropped dead of a heart attack.

CI5 tried to train its agents to prepare for any contingency, but it was impossible. No one could maintain constant vigilance and preparedness for any length of time. Being in teams helped, but ultimately even the best wore down.

Yet Doyle found himself feeling oddly cheerful and steady, far more than he had in a long time. The op was probably going to be a cock-up one way or the other. Both he and Bodie were far less than their best physically, and it looked very much as if whatever they were in the middle of was at least partly a set-up to betray them.

But he and Bodie were all right.

Whatever the future might hold, he and Bodie were all right, and they would manage, somehow.

Doyle stretched carefully against the pull of damaged muscles in his chest. Another day of nothing: no sighting of any IRA men, no word of Reagan. The few random phone calls for them to monitor were barely enough to keep them awake.

"Something doesn't happen soon, I'll be gaining weight," he grumbled to Bodie, dumping another luke-warm cup of tea down the sink. "We need to move further than from the kettle to the headphone rig."

Bodie, who had just set the phone gear aside, grinned back. "Be a while before I'm running through Brompton again, but yeah, I get you. We need some fresh air and—"

He broke off, staring down through the window.

"Bodie?"

Doyle moved to the other side of the window and risked a quick glance out. Below them, Steve Donovan was just easing the rusted alley gate shut behind two small forms, shepherding them out into the mews.

"Who's watching the back?" Doyle demanded.

"3.9. Selbourne." Bodie glanced at Doyle, then back down. "Go."

"But—"

"I can't keep up." Bodie's fist thumped against his leg in frustration. "Go! Wait." He drew his gun and tossed it to Doyle, who caught it more by reflex than thought. "Move, sunshine."

Doyle slipped the gun into his pocket and bolted for the stairs.

The building's back stairs were even dingier and steeper than the front, the lighting so poor that even mid-afternoon was gloomy enough to make Doyle watch his steps. The landing at the back door was nearly dark as night. Easing the door open, he surveyed the area, but saw nothing.

When he reached the gate, he saw that the lock, once rusted shut and useless, had been doused with something greasy and crudely levered open. Cursing under his breath, he wondered just how long that access point had been breached. Young Selbourne was in for a bollocking. Cowley didn't forgive oversights like that.

The alley doglegged only a few steps past the building, and in the shadows a darker lump lay nearly invisible against the stone foundation. Doyle dropped to his knees, and turned the still form over.

Joss Selbourne had never seen his attacker coming. The back of his head was smashed in, a pool of blood on the ground beneath it. Swearing, Doyle reached automatically for an RT he didn't have. For a split-second he dithered: back out to the street to signal the team on duty, or keep going and assume Bodie would follow? Then cold logic asserted itself. There was nothing he—or anyone—could do for Selbourne. Catching up to Donovan was the only chance to salvage anything.

Hastily, Doyle pulled out Selbourne's RT, and blipped his emergency code. It was the best he could do. He glanced along the alley, and growled in frustration. There was no line of sight; Donovan could be lurking at the next building, or streets away. The only hope was that he couldn't have made it far with the kids in tow.

Doyle rounded the dogleg and sprinted along the alley, feeling his breath already beginning to catch in his chest. Fury at his own stupidity for giving Donovan even the slightest benefit of the doubt fueled his run.

Suddenly from ahead came a noise, a thin high squeal like a small animal under the claws of a hawk. Doyle slowed, easing out Bodie's gun. He set his back to the wall, dropped to a crouch, and scuttled to the next turning. As he peered around the corner, another faint wordless cry echoed.

Donovan stood at bay in another curve of the alley, the children sheltered between his body and the wall. It was Annie making those terrible little noises, burying herself against her father's back as if trying to slip under his skin. From under Donovan's arm, Devlin glared at the man facing the family. Little Ruth huddled at her sister's feet, hiding her face against her legs.

Seamus Reagan wasn't a big man. Passing him on the street, a glance would have showed a greying middle-aged man, perhaps a bit fitter than most, but unremarkable. He might have been anything from a tradesman to a bookmaker, lived in any one of a thousand small towns. Until he spoke, there was nothing notably Irish about him. Doyle had watched surveillance footage of him over and over, and still wondered if he'd recognise him.

In this moment, that mask of bland normalcy was gone. The man facing Steve Donovan was the ruthless IRA planner and murderer, watching his prey with a look of unconcealed cruelty and menace. The gun in his hand was aimed not at Donovan, but down at Ruth instead. Donovan was paper-white, and Doyle saw the arm he had around Devlin tremble and jerk.

"Whatever were you thinking, boyo? Running away and frightening your loving family so?" The scorn in Reagan's voice was palpable.

Donovan's mouth worked, but he said nothing.

"You surely weren't thinking I'd be letting you take my grandchildren away?"

Donovan's grip on the children tightened convulsively. "Monster!" he burst out. "I know what you did."

"It took you long enough." Reagan spat on the ground. "Why in the hell Maggie ever wanted you is beyond me. You've a pretty enough face, but I could find a dozen like you on any street in Dublin. You're a spineless, brainless fool. Not worth the bullet to put you under."

"Brainless, yes, and blind and weak with it, too." The self-loathing on Donovan's face was raw as acid. "God forgive me, I didn't see what the pair of you were like."

"You didn't have the guts to look, you miserable edjit. You put both hands over your eyes as if walking past it in the dark meant it wasn't there."

Donovan nodded. "God forgive me," he repeated. "I told Father Tim what I saw, and he said to go. He said the church wouldn't blame me for putting my kids first, even if divorce is a sin."

"Father Tim, was it?" Reagan's smile was a cruel thing to see. "The good father may need a reminder about sticking to his rosary and his parish meetings, and not getting between a man and his own blood."

"Monster." Donovan's voice was heavy with hate.

Doyle shuddered, feeling as if a kaleidoscope had suddenly turned, pieces falling into a different picture so quickly it disoriented him. Things that had made no sense were sharp-edged and clear.

"You've outlived your usefulness, boyo," Reagan said. "Maggie will make a fetching widow, and I'll find another pretty fool for her soon enough."

Even as Reagan raised his gun, Doyle was on his feet and in motion.

"Reagan!"

The gunman jerked in surprise, and fired off a shot. Doyle pulled the trigger twice, and watched with satisfaction as Reagan crumpled to the ground, a bullet between the eyes.

The screams snapped his head around, even as he hobbled to Reagan's body to kick the gun away.

Donovan was down as well, settled in a heap against the wall. All three children clung to him, sobbing. A splotch of red already spread high on his chest.

Almost exactly where I got it, Doyle thought. For an instant time seemed to telescope, and he was looking at his own body, on the floor in a puddle of milk.

"Help him!" Devlin shrieked, and Doyle shook himself out of his fugue.

He went to his knees, gently pushing Annie aside. "Out of the way, luv, that's a good girl. Take your sister away, she shouldn't be seeing this." Even as he spoke, he ripped Donovan's jacket and shirt open, and swore at the wound he saw.

"Doyle?" A shout from down the alley drew his attention for a moment. Anson, from the sound of it.

"Back here! Reagan's dead, Donovan's down! Call for an ambulance."

Doyle shoved a wad of Donovan's shirt against the bullet wound, pressing down hard. Donovan groaned, eyes fluttering open.

"Bentley?"

"Yeah, keep still. You're hit."

Donovan tried to lever himself up with one hand. "Dev?"

"Pa." The boy was still crouched against his father, clutching at his arm. "Annie and Ruth are okay, pa." His voice was thin but eerily calm.

"Good lad," Donovan breathed out on a bare puff of air.

"Be still, both of you," Doyle said. "Help will be here in a minute. Reagan's dead, you're all safe."

"You shot . . . .You're . . . copper," Donovan wheezed.

"CI5," Doyle responded. He felt his own chest begin to tighten, and forced back a cough. Donovan's shirt was already soaked through, and he couldn't afford to let up the pressure.

"Doyle!" The shout this time was a command, and Doyle allowed himself to relax a fraction. A sideways glance showed Anson, Lucas and Cowley hurrying toward him, Bodie limping along just behind.

That split second of inattention shouldn't have made a difference, not in the condition Donovan was in. Doyle had seen men with far less severe wounds unconscious and helpless. For a moment he didn't even recognise the pressure he felt against his side. It wasn't until he looked down that he saw the gun pressed to his stomach just below the ribcage.

"Back off, copper." Donovan managed to raise his voice enough to carry. "Got a gun."

Cowley and his men stopped dead, barely six feet from Doyle and Donovan. Doyle saw the look of fury on Cowley's face, and couldn't blame him. With the position Doyle was in, half-shielding Donovan's body, and the three children still clustered too close to both of them, the odds of getting a clean shot on Donovan were poor at best.

"Be sensible, man," Cowley said. "You're badly hurt, you're trapped here. You've got no chance to get away. Give up while you can."

"You promise me something. You give your word, copper. You promise me and I'll let him go."

"We don't deal with hostage takers," Cowley began.

"Shut up!" Bodie said in a voice Doyle had never heard from him before. He pushed past Anson, avoiding the other agent's grip neatly, and walked out into the open space, hands wide open at his sides.

"Layton?" Donovan said hoarsely. "What are you doing here?'

"I'm part of this mob too. What is it you want?"

Donovan coughed, and a bubble of blood broke on his lips and trickled down his chin. "God Christ, is everyone in this against me?"

"You're with the IRA, son, what do you think?"

Donovan was silent so long Doyle began to wonder if he'd passed out. The gun against his stomach didn't budge, though, and Doyle kept himself rigidly still.

"You do get yourself into things, don't you, Raymond?" Bodie said with a slight smile. Under that careless façade was a deep well of affection and concern, and Doyle drew on it for the strength to keep from coughing.

"Got Reagan, didn't I?" he replied, matching Bodie's casual tone. In this together, he thought, and kept still.

"Want a promise from you." Donovan said abruptly. "Right here, right now, and I drop the gun."

"What is it?"

"Promise." The childish intensity in Donovan's tone was overlaid with desperation, and Doyle knew Bodie heard it clearly.

"You've got my word, Steve."

"Promise?"

"Word of honour."

Doyle felt Donovan nod jerkily. "The kids." His voice was broken and weary, and Doyle noted with alarm that the gun against him was twitching, as if Donovan could barely keep hold of it. Any spastic movement might be enough to pull the trigger now. "Don't let that wolf-bitch I married get her hands on my kids. Promise me."

"That's it?" Bodie demanded.

"I . . . didn't know. Swear . . . never knew." Donovan's breath caught. "Don't let her have them."

"Donovan. Look at me." Bodie looked over Doyle's shoulder, blue eyes burning. "Donovan! My name is William Andrew Philip Bodie. I'm a sergeant in the SAS. You know what that means?" Doyle felt Donovan's arm shake, and the gun slipped another fraction.

"One . . of . . .them?"

"Yeah." Bodie's gaze never wavered. "You know what that means, and what I can do. So hear me. On my honour—you hear me, Donovan? On my honour, nobody will hurt those kids again as long as I'm alive. They'll be safe. I promise."

Doyle felt a hitch in Donovan's chest, a faint spray of warm liquid against his cheek. "'Till death—"

"—do us join," Bodie said. "On my honour."

This was it. Bodie had either won him over or not. Donovan's raspy liquid breathing drowned out every other sound.

Donovan let out a gurgling sigh. "Good enough." His arms dropped and the gun fell with a clatter that seemed louder than any of the shots before.

Suddenly free, Doyle threw himself forward and rolled, surging to his feet with hands ready to strike, only to watch Donovan sink back to the ground, blood pouring from his mouth.

By the time Doyle got his hand on the man's neck, there was no pulse left.

 

BDBDBDBD

 

Notes on Analysis of Surveillance Tape 1392-epsilon: Analyst EW

"This operation has been, quite frankly, a disaster from start to finish."

"A set-back, at least. Certainly any opportunity to obtain information from either Reagan or Donovan is now gone."

"I'm surprised at your agreement, Miss Walsh."

"Really? You thought, because I am an older woman, I would be overcome by sentimentality?"

"Your consistent defense of 3.7 and 4.5 has caused me to wonder if you were still focused on the wider picture."

"The wider picture is very often revealed in attention to the details."

"Nevertheless, I feel that we can now at least agree on the inadvisability of retaining 3.7 and 4.5. Their performance has not inspired confidence."

"I will respectfully disagree. Given that they were essentially the targets of an operation inside an operation, they still managed to eliminate two terrorists, save three children, and come out with their partnership intact. Perhaps unorthodox, but not unsound."

"They passed up several obvious opportunities to gain advantage and apply leverage. They are too soft."

"Am I to understand then that your concern is not that children have been mistreated, but that 4.5 and 3.7 were kind to them?"

 

BDBDBDBD

 

Chapter 6:

Safehouses, in George Cowley's opinion, were often more trouble than they were worth. They had to be guarded, they had to be supplied, and every movement around them established a pattern that sooner or later led to them becoming a trap. Nevertheless, he was grateful for the moment that there was a place to store his inconvenient agents, and the even more inconvenient Donovan children.

There had been no question of separating them. The children clutched desperately at Bodie and Doyle, mostly silent, but sobbing and struggling when anyone touched them, even the doctor who wanted to examine them. And both Bodie and Doyle looked prepared to do unmeasured violence, even to their fellow agents, at the first miserable tear.

In the end, Cowley had ordered everyone out of the room, and now sat in an armchair watching them all. The girls, naturally, clung to Bodie. He had claimed the settee, and held the younger one in his lap, her thumb firmly in her mouth, tears still blotching her cheeks. The older one huddled at his side, one hand holding a corner of his jumper in a death-grip. The boy sat with Doyle in the other armchair, his eyes blind with hero-worship. Cowley had seen men look at their commanding officers that way, after a battle won against all odds.

Loyalty earned at that price was almost impossible to break.

What surprised Cowley was that Bodie and Doyle seemed as much in tune as they had ever been. He was a firm believer in trial by fire: steel that had not been tempered could not be trusted. Given their characters, he had felt certain there would be cracks in their unity. The stress and pain of their physical limitations, and the added psychological uncertainty about exposure and disgrace should have made them turn on each other in confusion and distrust.

Instead, they seemed to understand each other as well as ever.

"You overplayed your hand, sir," Bodie said casually, as if they were simply resuming an interrupted conversation.

"Did I indeed?"

"Yeah." That was Doyle, a nasty little grin showing his chipped tooth. "If you'd partnered us with other people, or sent one of us out and left the other behind, the jealousy and worry might have done the trick for you. But putting us into the crucible together?"

"But you really didn't care whether you broke us or alloyed us, did you?" Bodie picked up. "Because either way, we're finished."

"Finished? I'm the person who wrote the small print. If I say you're still valuable agents, who do you think will contradict me? Some Whitehall quango made up of armchair warriors? No, Bodie, you're finished when I tell you you're finished."

"Doyle and I are lovers, and I'm going to be looking after Annie and Devlin and Ruth," Bodie said, still in that conversational tone. Doyle nodded, looking neither surprised nor displeased. For two men who'd had little time and no privacy to deal with their decisions, they were volleying back and forth smoothly as ever.

Trial by fire indeed.

"I'll go through the proper channels, submit my resignation formally. But I will go," Bodie said." With a sigh, he rubbed the swollen knee that strained the seam on his trouser leg. "Not that I'd have a choice anyway."

"Your resignation is not accepted, Bodie." Cowley's voice was uncompromising.

"For once, I'm the one who's read the small print, sir." Bodie's voice was just as hard. "Agents with children may apply for release from their contracts, and unless you intend to bugger up every married agent out of spite at me, you'll let me go and be glad to see the back of me."

"They aren't your children."

"I've got a half-dozen witnesses who heard Donovan leave the care of his children to me. Me, not some government agency, not some well-meaning do-gooders who won't understand what they've been through. I gave my word, and my word stands."

Cowley folded his hands. "And what do you propose to do about Doyle?"

"Doyle, sir?"

"Me, sir?"

"Yes, Doyle!" Cowley snapped. "You partner, and let's lay our cards on the table here, your lover. Are you going to abandon him? Because, mark my words, laddie, no child care agency is going to turn them over to a homosexual couple, let alone one without a trace of blood relationship to the children."

"You could fix that," Doyle said. "If you wanted to."

"I canna wave a wand and change the laws of the land." Cowley scrubbed his hands over his eyes, feeling unutterably tired. "They'd drag you into the courts and you'll lose."

"You could get false papers for them. Make Bodie their uncle or something. You've set up new identities for defectors that have held. We get out of the country, nobody would think to question them or be able to prove they were false."

"And why should I wish to do that, if it would mean the loss of two of my best operatives?"

"Because if you don't, Bodie will leave anyway. He takes his promises seriously, you know that. If the kids go to some foster parents, Bodie will take the fight back to the IRA. He'll go after Maggie Reagan, and anybody else he thinks might be with her and he'll take them out or die trying.

"Or he'll keep guard here until they come after the kids, and take care of her then."

"Don't be melodramatic, Doyle. Reagan may be evil, but her first love and commitment is to the IRA. She's hardly likely to endanger the greater cause by searching for children she's done nothing but abuse."

"That's why she'll do it," Bodie said. "Donovan took her toys away, and she'll want them back. She hasn't finished playing."

"Bodie's right," Doyle said. "I've seen it, when I was with the Met. Some, they get the idea a woman or a kid belongs to them, and they don't care what they have to do. Heard it: if I can't have you, nobody can."

"Don't make us go back to ma," Devlin suddenly said in a wobbly voice. "Please. She—"

"Quiet, Dev," Annie hissed. "Grandad said—"

"Don't care! Don't care if they put me in the Maze!" His voice rose, and he began to twist in his seat.

Doyle put an arm around the boy's shoulders and squeezed gently. "Easy, son. What do you mean about a maze?"

"Grandad said if we ever told anybody the British soldiers would come and put us in the Maze."

Cowley felt a cold fury such as he had seldom known sweep through him. He forced it down with an effort of will. Neither rage nor sentimentality would help the children now. His stomach clenched.

Keeping his voice casual by an effort of will, he said, "You're what, laddie, eight? Nobody will lock up somebody that young. Too much aggro with your teachers and school."

"Really?" Annie's voice held an agonizing note of hope.

Bodie put his hand over the one clutching his jumper. "Promise." He met Devlin's eyes steadily. "They won't put you away."

The boy kicked savagely at the chair. "You're English. You'd say that."

"Ah, but Mr. Cowley, here, he's Scottish." Doyle's voice held an undertone of amusement. "The only people he locks up are criminals."

Devlin still looked doubtful, but he kept his eyes fixed on Cowley. "Don't make us go back," he repeated.

"No, you'll not go back, that much I can promise. We'll find you a home, somewhere she won't think to look for you, where you'll be looked after properly."

"She'll find us," Devlin said darkly. "She can see in the dark, and hear the wind, and smell us like a fox. Granddad said."

"And where's your granddad now?" Doyle asked quietly, squeezing Devlin's shoulder.

Cowley found himself gaping at his agent. He would never have said such a thing himself to a child, had never pictured Doyle doing so either. It seemed like nothing but another senseless cruelty to pile on the scrawny young shoulders. Yet Devlin looked marginally relieved, almost as if he'd forgotten for a moment what he'd witnessed only hours ago.

"A foster family's no good," Bodie said. "Not as long as she'll be out there."

"I can make enquiries about retired agents. You two are not the only people who can manage self-defense, you know."

"Are you prepared to bet Devlin, Annie and Ruth's lives on that? Not to mention the lives of whoever takes them in? Because that's what you'll be doing. A pair of civilians wouldn't last five minutes against Maggie Reagan."

"And you would, I suppose? The requirements for a parent are a little more stringent than being able to field strip a rifle or set a successful ambush."

"I learned to do those things, and I can learn to do other things too." Bodie looked at Cowley pleadingly. "The kids need me. They need to talk to somebody about what happened to them, somebody who can listen to them without vomiting, who won't judge them or think they'll grow up to be monsters because of what their parents were and what they did. Somebody who'll believe them."

"And you, Doyle?"

"Where Bodie goes, I go. Two guns are better than one."

"Ah, yes. Well, suppose I say that my price for arranging it all—false papers for the children, Bodie allowed to resign without prejudice, an escape hatch for all of them—is that you remain with CI5, and that you keep away from Bodie? That the children not be influenced by your . . . unnatural predilections?"

Cowley nodded with satisfaction as Doyle paled, and Bodie flushed. Bodie opened his mouth, and Doyle shook his head, just a fraction of movement, but it was enough. Bodie subsided. When Doyle turned back, his eyes blazed, but he was otherwise composed.

"Bodie keeps his promises and so do I. Are you sure you want someone at your back whose first loyalty is elsewhere? You can make me stop seeing Bodie, but you can't make me stop loving him."

The quiet sureness in Doyle's voice, the calm acceptance on Bodie's face—for the first time Cowley wondered if he really had lost the gamble he'd set in motion.

With a sigh, Cowley got to his feet. "Enough. We're all worn out by the day, and in no condition to make these kinds of decisions. Go to bed, all of you. I'll speak to you when you're more inclined to listen to reason."

 

BDBDBDBD

 

Notes on Analysis of Surveillance Tape 1392-zeta: Analyst EW

"This situation is becoming more of a farce by the moment. I strongly recommend that Major Cowley be immediately over-ruled, and that both 3.7 and 4.5 be placed in custody."

"On what charges? Must I keep repeating that neither of them have broken any laws?"

"They are security risks. And their open defiance of Cowley is not an argument is his favor either!"

"They are all correct in one thing: Margaret Reagan will not simply resign herself to giving up her children. My analyses of her previous behaviour indicate that the more she is thwarted, the more reckless and dangerous her actions are likely to become."

"Dr. Ross is of the opinion—"

"Dr. Ross was not aware of the extent of her abuse of the children. Or of what appears to have been an unholy alliance in sadism between Margaret and Seamus Reagan. The woman is dangerous."

"If I can bring your attention back to the main point? These two homosexuals are seriously demanding that Cowley hand over those children to them! Is no one but me listening to these recordings?"

"They aren't just demanding, they're blackmailing. You set this in motion, didn't you, Miss Walsh? You're going to see Cowley hoist by his own petard."

"If Major Cowley is hoist by anything then he's not nearly the man I believe him to be. As for 3.7 and 4.5, you're going to have to accept that they have made choices that you disagree with."

 

BDBDBDBD

 

Chapter 7:

Nearly four in the morning, and the safe house sat in the quiet dark of the side street, shades drawn and doors barred. There were two agents watching from across the way, Bodie down the hall in the kitchen, and Doyle in the second bedroom, sitting by the bedside.

The three small figures tucked under the covers were barely visible, even to Doyle's dark-adapted eyes. Devlin and Annie had Ruth cuddled between them, each with an arm thrown across her. Even in sleep, Devlin looked defensive, ready to lash out.

Wearily Doyle wondered how long it would take before any of them had peace of mind. Before Annie actually looked at someone when she spoke, before Devlin's first instinct would not be a defensive snarl.

Would he and Bodie be good enough? Be enough at all?

The RT gave a single chirp, and Doyle got up and went to the door. He could barely make out Bodie's form in the dark hall.

"All right?" Bodie's voice was a breath.

"Sound asleep, all three. They were as knackered as I feel."

"Won't be much longer," Bodie said. "Dark before morning, that's when the predators come out. If she comes at all."

"She'll come. She knows Cowley can have them away out of her reach if she waits. And she wants them back. If anything Donovan and Reagan said is true, she'll be so dead set on finding them she'll think of nothing and no one else."

They leaned against the doorframe at right angles, Doyle watching the bedroom, Bodie the hall, the warmth of their arms pressed together in the dark the only sign of their closeness.

"I saw people sell their kids in Biafra," Bodie said in the stillness. "Sell one child for food enough for three others. Saw people do things you'd never credit humans could. But this . . ." His voice trailed off.

"Some people are just born wrong," Doyle replied. "No rhyme or reason. And how do you tell? I thought Donovan was a bomb-making thug with a heavy hand. Instead he was . . . what?"

"Thick as two planks, poor bastard. Believed me when I made a promise."

Doyle froze for an instant. "Yeah? I should be doubting your word too?"

"Wouldn't dare. Fifty years from now, you'll gut me if I leave the milk out."

It was so typical of Bodie that Doyle had to clap a hand over his mouth to stifle a laugh. Then, as Bodie's words truly sank home, he felt warmth spreading inside, easing the tight muscles in his chest slightly.

Fifty years.

"We're out, then?"

"Christ, yes," Bodie said with heart-felt relief. "Even if we weren't together, even if it weren't for them." He jerked his chin at the dark bedroom. "CI5's a meat-grinder, and it just spit us out the other side."

"I won't get back to full strength," Doyle said abruptly. Here in the dark and quiet, Bodie's solid warmth against his side, the fear that had seemed so enormous suddenly was manageable. "I can feel it—in my lungs, in my chest. I'll get better, but I'll never meet Macklin's standard again."

"Neither will I." Bodie made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "I don't want to look at my knee right now, and neither do you."

They stood in the hall for a long time, alternately watching the windows and halls, a deep but comfortable silence between them. Decisions made, die cast. It was, Doyle thought, what peace might feel like.

The quick chirp of the RT was loud in the quiet.

"Yeah?" Bodie said softly.

"Cowley. I'm coming in."

Doyle drew his gun without even a thought, and felt Bodie do the same beside him. He eased partway back into the bedroom, looking to make sure the children were still asleep. A moment later came the sound of the door being unlocked, a series of clicks and thumps that seemed very loud in the silent house.

The door became a grey rectangle against the black as it opened, then swung silently shut again.

"Bodie?" Cowley said. "Do you have any light?"

"We'll stay dark, sir," Bodie replied. He'd moved a few feet down the corridor, putting him in position so that he and Doyle could cross-fire anyone approaching.

"No need for that now. It's all over."

"Really?" Bodie said. "Perhaps you'll put a light on yourself then?"

Cowley said nothing, and Doyle felt himself tense. Was this it? Was Cowley a hostage, with a depraved madwoman standing behind him practically in arm's reach?

There was a sigh, and a click. A table lamp went on in the sitting room, and Cowley stepped, alone into the hall. He limped heavily as he came toward them, and Doyle truly saw his age for the first time.

We've all come out of this for the worse, he thought.

"Are the children asleep?" Cowley said.

Bodie nodded. "Knackered, poor brats. Went out as soon as we got them settled. It won't last: tomorrow they'll be screaming their heads off half the night." At Cowley's sharp look, he shrugged. "You know what I've seen."

"Aye." Cowley rubbed a hand wearily over his eyes. "Best get some sleep, then. You'll have a lot to cope with."

"Who's on guard?" Doyle glanced at the window again, then down the hall. "Who did you bring?"

"I said it's over. A constable doing his rounds out in Greenwich earlier this evening found Maggie Reagan's body It appears she's been dead a day at least."

"Sure it was her?" Doyle demanded at the same moment Bodie asked, "How did she die?"

"Her neck was broken. And, yes, I just came from the morgue myself. There's no question who it is."

"What a pity," Bodie drawled. I was looking forward to doing that myself."

"Don't suppose Donovan just happened to slip his surveillance sometime in the last few days, hmm?" Doyle's words dripped acid. "Or that the records would show it even if he had?"

"The man's dead, Doyle. I canna be digging up his corpse to charge him with murder, now can I?"

Doyle made a wordless sound of disgust. "You won't have to. A quiet word here and there will do the trick just as well. All loose ends tidied away."

"Margaret Reagan is no loss to anyone. Especially not those three." Cowley jerked his chin in the direction of the bedroom. "It may also interest you to know that Father Timothy Ryan, Donovan's parish priest, is cousin to a man highly placed in Sinn Fein."

"And good Father Tim broke the seal of the confessional?" Doyle clicked his tongue.

"You ruthless old bastard," Bodie said with admiration. "Suspects scattered the length and breadth of Ireland."

"I cannot help the conclusions people choose to draw." Cowley grinned like a shark at both of them. "And I'm still not old, Bodie."

He turned to go, and Bodie caught his arm.

"Thank you, sir."

"I didn't do it for you," Cowley said shortly. He gestured toward the children sleeping behind them. "I did it for them. Their final memory of you and Doyle should not be that you killed their mother."

"Thank you anyway." Bodie halted. "Final memory? You said—"

"I said we were in no condition to make decisions. We still aren't. Go to bed, both of you. I'll leave the team outside on guard. My office, tomorrow at noon. Bring the children, and we'll see what's to be done."

Bodie stood silent for a long moment. "Will we have a chance to say goodbye to them?" he said heavily.

"It might be kinder not to."

 

BDBDBDBD

Notes on Analysis of Surveillance Tape 1392-eta: Analyst EW

"So, to sum up, the operation has been brought to a successful, if untidy, conclusion."

"Successful? Untidy? Good God, man! A dog's breakfast, beginning to end. Major Cowley has, not for the first time, attempted to juggle too many variables at once."

"As I said, untidy. But no casualties on British soil, nothing requiring messy use of D notices, and two fairly highly-placed IRA operatives permanently taken off the board. Not unsuccessful, can we agree?"

"Too many unnecessary risks, too many attempts to be clever for the sake of being clever. Cowley was lucky."

"Major Cowley makes his own luck. I would have thought that was obvious by now."

"And you will support him, I suppose, Miss Walsh? And those two pups of his?"

"As far as it goes, I shall. But I'll remind you, we are not quite at the conclusion."

 

BDBDBDBD

 

Chapter 8:

"You planned this all along."

Less than twenty-four hours and here they were, back in Cowley's office. Battered and bruised, Bodie's knee once more strapped despite his protests, Doyle with a packet of antibiotics in his pocket, and instructions for both of them to stay off their feet.

To Doyle's surprise, Elizabeth Walsh was already seated in one of the chairs in front of Cowley's desk. She smiled, and greeted them, but Doyle felt in little mood to be civil. With a bare nod to her, he pointedly elbowed Bodie into the other chair. It was an indication of how much Bodie hurt that he sank gracelessly into the seat and stretched out his swollen leg without more than a grumble of protest. Doyle braced himself against the back of Bodie's chair and stared across his partner's head at Cowley, hoping he was able for the moment to keep the contempt from his eyes. He ached with weariness; neither of them had slept more than a couple of hours. Still, it was his clear-burning anger keeping him on his feet more than the sturdy wood.

"I always have a plan, 4.5." Cowley sounded weary as well, but smug, as if he'd had the entire op handed to him tied with a bow.

"You knew about Reagan and his daughter." Bodie's voice was bitter. "You knew what they did, and you put us in blind to see how we'd react. Why didn't you trust us? What exactly did you think we'd do?"

Doyle could barely hold in a snarl of rage. "You thought you had a pair of poofters you could either blackmail into turning a blind eye to it all, as long as the op got done to your satisfaction, or who'd be so inclined on their own account." He slammed his hand against the chair. "The only thing you never even considered was that Donovan was innocent. That he'd die for his kids."

"Ach, don't try to triple-think me—"

"It's not triple-think," Bodie broke in. "Just cold tactical logic, isn't it? This unholy mess was always all about us. You put us in what you thought was an impossible position. You wanted to see how low we'd go, how far down you could drive us.

"And now you know. We won't hold with beating and buggering children. Not even for CI5."

Cowley flushed. "At no time did I ever think that of either of you!"

"Someone did." Bodie turned his head. "Didn't they, Miss Walsh?"

"No." Elizabeth looked down at her hands for a moment, and then met his eyes with a smile. "I did not, and neither did Major Cowley. We've read your files, we've seen you in action. Both of you behaved exactly as I predicted you would."

"Then why didn't you tell us the truth from the start?" Doyle demanded. "We could have contacted Donovan right off, taken him and the kids to a safehouse. I mean, Christ, Donovan was no angel, but if we'd guaranteed to protect his kids he'd have told you anything you wanted to know."

Cowley divided a glare between them. "Did the pair of you listen to the speech I gave the day you first came here? You've heard it often enough since. 'Fight fire with fire.' 'Do unto them before they even think of doing it to you.' Have I ever given you cause to think I didn't mean it?"

"Us, yeah," Bodie growled. "But kids?"

"What choice did I have, man? Margaret Reagan's children, or God knows how many of ours."

"Except that wasn't the choice."

"And I had no way of knowing it, and neither did you. Have you thought for a moment of what could have happened if Donovan's run for freedom had all been part of the plot? If old Seamus Reagan had planned the whole thing, used his own grandchildren as a distraction while he planted bombs or staged a kidnapping?"

Bodie tensed, and Doyle put a firm hand on his shoulder.

"The best I could do was put you two into the game. I knew if anyone would carry out the assignment and protect the children, it would be you."

"You gambled—"

"And won, Doyle. Don't forget that."

"Success covers a great many sins?" Doyle sneered.

"Aye, it does. I took a chance on you two, and don't ever forget it. If you'd failed, I would have gone down with you."

"So what happens now?" Bodie demanded. "What happens to Devlin and Annie and Ruth?"

"They'll be taken care of." Elizabeth said gently. "Arrangements will be made for a home, schooling, whatever they need. Dr. Ross will arrange for them to be seen by competent therapists and specialists. She feels it will be best for them if they have as few reminders of the past as possible."

"Like us." Bodie's words fell heavily in the silence.

"Your affection for them does you credit, Bodie. Far more than you realise. But the answer is no. Now there's no longer any danger to them, I can't justify fostering them to you. Not for any reason."

Bodie surged to his feet. "Then I'm out. You want to lock me up, then try it, old man."

"Please try," Doyle snarled, moving to stand beside him.

"Bah! The pair of you are as much use to me now as teats on a bull. Go on—turn in your passports and ID to Betty, and take your weapons back down to the armory. I'll deal with the rest once I've finished my talk with Miss Walsh."

"Sir, Doyle didn't—"

Cowley cut him off. "It's no matter now who led and who followed. Your loyalties are compromised, as surely as if you'd taken a pay-off. I'm finished with you. Get out."

Bodie pulled himself erect and saluted crisply. Leaning heavily on his cane, he limped to the door.

Doyle looked from Elizabeth to Cowley and shook his head slightly. "That's Bodie. This is me." He stuck two fingers up in Cowley's face, and walked out. The door slammed behind him so violently the frame rattled.

Cowley drew in a deep breath and rubbed his eyes. When he looked up, Elizabeth was watching him with a calm questioning look he knew all too well.

"Well, Miss Walsh? I can see from your expression you have something to add."

"You forgot the rest of your speech. The part about keeping this island smelling, ever so faintly, of roses and lavender."

"And your point being?"

"Bodie and Doyle did nothing wrong. In fact, they managed an extreme situation with courage and intelligence and grace. And whatever their parents were, those children did nothing wrong either." She removed her glasses and looked at Cowley with unforgiving eyes. "There are times, it is true, when it's necessary for those in power to be unjust, in the service of a greater good. A time when sacrifices must be demanded of those who do not deserve the burden. But this is not one of those times.

"Reconsider, George. Reconsider."

Cowley threw his spectacles onto the desk in front of him. "And what would you have me do then?" He rose to limp restlessly back and forth. "I had hoped—"

"Yes, and you know it could never have happened. Not the right schools, not the right backgrounds, not the right services. And, I might add, not the right temperaments."

The looked at each other in silence for a long moment, and then Elizabeth nodded and said, with great compassion, "You sometimes forget that I knew Annie Irvine too."

Cowley swung to face the window, his back rigid. Elizabeth watched him calmly, waiting out the pain and anger. Whatever memories George Cowley faced at this moment, he would not thank her for an intrusion.

When Cowley turned back to her, the storm had passed without a trace. He clapped his hands briskly together.

"Doyle was correct the other day. Things can be arranged. Documents provided, pensions paid, references discreetly made to the right people. They won't starve."

"And the help Dr. Ross recommends for the children."

"That as well."

"Excellent." Elizabeth got up and moved to the door. "I'm sure everyone will be relieved."

"Not so fast." Cowley moved ahead of her. "Allow me to retain a little dignity while I surrender."

Cowley flung the door open, obviously about to shout something inappropriate at his rogue agents—and startled back at the sight of an empty ante-room. "Betty! Where are Bodie and Doyle?" He glanced around the waiting room. "And where are those children?"

Betty looked up from her typing, eyes wide. "They've gone, sir. Bodie said you gave permission to take them for an ice cream, so they could say goodbye while you thrashed things out with Miss Walsh. They left straight away."

Cowley's face was perfect study of outraged surprise.

"I did warn you, George," Elizabeth said, biting back a smile. "Loyalties cannot be abused indefinitely." There was a trace of pity in the look she gave him, but only a trace.

"They can't get far, not with three infants. I'll have them horse-whipped, trying something this cloth-headed."

Elizabeth's mouth quirked slightly. "They have a fifteen minute head start. If that isn't enough for Bodie and Doyle, then they aren't the men you trained."

Cowley slumped against the doorframe, and put his hands over his face. After a moment, he looked up, and to Elizabeth's surprise, he was chuckling ruefully.

"Bodie and Doyle with children in tow? I should let them get away with it, just to teach them a lesson."

"It may not be the lesson you intend."

"Has anyone ever told you that your Sphinx-like pronouncements can be remarkably irritating?"

"Frequently. Usually immediately after saying I'm right."

"Bah!" Cowley threw up his hands. "On your head be it, woman. Betty, I want a message put out immediately through all the usual covert channels. Message as follows: Come home at once. All is forgiven. Grandfather."

"Sir?"

"Yes, Betty. Grandfather."

He looked up to find Elizabeth staring at him. "What? Bodie will understand."

"You never cease to amaze me, George."

"Coming from you, I'll take that as the highest compliment." He turned to the liquor cabinet. "May I offer you a sherry while we wait for the prodigals to return? I'm sure you have a great deal more advice to give."

 

Notes on Analysis of Surveillance Tape 1392-theta: Analyst EW

"Having examined all of the reference materials available, Miss Walsh, have you reached a conclusion?"

"Yes. It is my recommendation that Major Cowley continue in his position as controller of CI5."

"Even given some of his, erm, unorthodox methods in this operation?"

"Major Cowley has proven his ability to make difficult decisions, adapt quickly to changing circumstances, and accept outcomes he would not prefer. He's also demonstrated a surprising capacity to recognize good advice, and take it when offered."

"And the two young men?"

"Their resourcefulness is impressive, I must say. I'd support their reinstatement on your recommendation, Miss Walsh."

"Out of the question! It is—"

"Please, gentlemen! Mr. Bodie and Mr. Doyle are fully aware that they have no future in the intelligence services. Like Major Cowley, they are ruthless pragmatists.

"However, that does not mean I will be unable to use them for my own purposes at some future time."