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"Why are we doing this?" Bodie sighed at the traffic on the M23 and at the rain which was falling steadily with a particular partiality, it seemed, for the windscreen of the Capri.

"Because Cowley said." Doyle's reply was typically laconic and perhaps unhelpful.

"And if he asked us to jump out of a plane without parachutes we would, would we?"

"Probably. Probably trust him to have angels waiting to carry us to heaven, or wherever he thought we might be useful." Doyle stretched, not very far or usefully, in the passenger seat. Silence fell, and reigned for a few miles, the sort of silence that was underlined by the swish of tyres on the wet road and the swoosh of traffic passing. Bodie was not in a hurry to reach their destination.

"But we don't need to jump anywhere," Doyle offered. As an olive branch, it was less than gratefully received.

"Except apart. Me to Eastbourne and you to Brighton. He doesn't usually split us up. Bisto kids: that's us. Together."

"I'll be in Eastbourne before you can turn round. Knocking at your door. We’ll be together all right."

"Landlord and lodger. Strangers."

"But still watching each other's backs. Well, you watching mine, anyway."

"I'll watch it, sunshine, but I don't have to like it."

"Why not? I'll have you know it's a very nice back."

"Aware of that. Seen you in the shower, haven't I?" Bodie swerved round a small VW Beetle that was going even slower than he wanted to go, and then went on. "Don't have to like being your minder or contact or whatever he's calling it this month. Don't like you going into a situation without me there. Don't like you going undercover at all, come to that."

There was another rain-filled silence, then Bodie said, "Handler," in a voice that suggested he was having some kind of eureka moment.

"What?" Doyle, who had been watching sodden fields and trees, was not on the same page.

"Handler. That's what I am. Your handler."

"Ruff ruff." Doyle's attempt to sound like a dog was half hearted.

"Nah, not like that. Though if it was animal handling I think you're more like a circus lion than a police dog."

"Which would make you a tamer, not a handler. And either way, I bite."

"Spies have handlers. I think. And we're a bit like spies, really. Only inside the country rather than in foreign parts. And I'll handle you right, don't worry. You'd only bite me if I wanted you to. Which I wouldn't." Bodie risked a quick glance at Doyle who knew he must be looking offended, entertained and surprised in equal measures. "Watching your back, you see," he finished.

 

Doyle mused for a while, watching the rain on the window. "Didn't say anything when he gave us the assignment."

"Course I didn't. The old man doesn't take too kindly to criticism. Or what he thinks of as a lack of team spirit. But I don't like it, all the same."

"What can possibly go wrong?" This query was met by a snort and Doyle, undaunted, continued. "It's not a terrorist situation. No corpses. I doubt if they're even carrying. I can take care of myself, and I'll have you in the background. At home. Waiting for me." He sounded cheerful, jaunty, even.

"Wondering if you'll make it back to the door in one piece. And as to carrying, Cowley thinks they're connected to some pretty nasty pieces of work. Thinks they're a threat to his roses and lavender. If he's right about the smuggling, they won't be without the odd firearm."

"But I'll just be gathering intelligence, not threatening them. And they're not likely to suspect that anyone at all is going to infiltrate their little coterie."

"Keep telling yourself that, sunshine, but keep your eyes open, too. You won’t even have your gun and before you say anything I know your hand-to-hand skills are up to date. Just… be careful."

Doyle shrugged. He was already thinking himself into his undercover role, and as Brighton drew nearer he went over the details in his head again. For the umpteenth time. They would both be undercover, himself as Rob Deacon, newcomer to the south coast, with a job in local government, looking for right wing political groups to join in his spare time, and Bodie as Will Benton, owner of a large terrace house in Eastbourne, looking for tenants who would help with the mortgage and stop him rattling around in his mausoleum. The house had been, it seemed, left to him by a relative, and he had decided to move in and work from home, commuting to the office in London when he really needed to. Something in the financial world.

Their cover stories were impeccable, of course. Nothing else would do for Cowley. And it would be up to Doyle to penetrate the murky goings on of a group of right wing enthusiasts who were publishing a rather unpleasant newspaper that had come to Cowley's attention. The attention of the Prime Minister, he gathered, too. There were rumours of shady financing, smuggling as a means of raising money, ties with foreign neo-Nazi groups and some pretty ugly scenes in bars and on beaches. Definitely not smelling of anything as pleasant as either roses or lavender. It was up to them to get enough information to put the ringleaders at least out of print if not out of circulation in the personal sense.

And now Bodie was grumbling at the thought of them working separately. Well, they'd see each other often enough, and that would have to do. Ray didn't think there was likely to be any violence. You never knew, of course, but really, a bunch of political weirdos with a small printing press? Bodie had no need to worry.

"Here we are, then." Bodie broke into his thoughts, drawing up on the approach to Brighton Main Railway Station. He got out with Ray and together they got Ray's bags from the boot, a heavy canvas holdall and a lighter backpack. Standing on the pavement, ready to go into the station, Ray looked hard at Bodie.

"Bodie, I trust you with my life, you know," he said, softly and a little awkwardly.

"I know. And I intend to take very good care of you. See you soon, in Eastbourne, Mr Deacon. You've got the address, haven't you?"

"Of course." Doyle patted the breast pocket of his jacket. "But don't worry, Mr Benton; I'll wait till it's in the small ads. See you!" And with that he picked up the luggage and turned away, never looking back as he was swallowed by the darkness of the station entrance, partially screened from Bodie's sight by the queue of black cabs.

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Bodie got back into the Capri and sighed again. He hated this case, the need to be strangers to each other, the need to live in a town they didn't know well, the whole situation. But he was Cowley's man, his agent, one of his top team, and he headed the car for the main coast road and Eastbourne. He would do his duty and he would do his best. Mostly, he would watch his partner's back. Wherever. And whatever it took. He checked the address of the house he would take over and braced himself.

 

The house, Bodie decided, could only have belonged to someone's Great Aunt Maud. Not his, because he owned no such relative, dead or alive, but definitely someone's. He wondered for a moment whose family had sold - or perhaps donated - the place to the security services. They must have been glad to be rid of it. It was huge, three stories and a cellar, with a privet hedge that cut out most of the light and any view of the sea down at the end of the road. Inside, once he'd negotiated the steep stone steps to the dark green front door and managed to turn the key at just the right angle in the unwelcoming keyhole - a defence trick he thought could be useful if locksmiths could just get the hang of it - he was overcome with depression. The house was not only dark because of the hedge, it was dark because of the décor. The hall was cavernous, with steep stairs leading to heaven knew where. The bottom half of the walls was a dulled gloss brown and the top half a bilious green.

There was an almost black dado rail separating the two paint colours. The lower brown area had some kind of embossed surface with a pattern that created extra shadows. He supposed it had been considered, either by Aunt Maud or her decorator, practical. It certainly looked as if it might be there to stay, as if any attempt to cover it with lighter tints would end in failure as the deep hues leached back through. The floor was even more practical. Linoleum, in shades of dark green, brown and black, gave a cursory impression of tiles then the slight give as he walked showed its true identity. It would be very forgiving, he thought. Show almost no dirt, whatever people trekked through on their shoes in inclement weather. Quiet, too, almost as quiet as carpet but easier to keep clean. The only furniture was an old fashioned umbrella stand, one with a place for umbrellas and walking sticks, a small rack for really muddy boots and a little cupboard above that with no obvious use except to provide a flat upper surface for putting post, keys or perhaps a telephone. He wished he could share his impressions with Ray and then realised that Ray would be sharing the space soon. As Mr Deacon, but still. He thought of Ray's smile, and his green eyes, lifting the atmosphere to something warmer, something glowing.

The rest of the house was the same. Dark paint, more dado rails, picture rails, heavy sash windows that resisted being opened, no views, and very little furniture. But there were beds, a double in each of the four bedrooms on the first floor and singles in the three rooms in the eaves, accessed by a narrow staircase outside the bathroom.

The bathroom. It reminded him of some kind of sea monster, waiting to swallow the unwary swimmer. A huge claw footed bath, a gas geyser that looked poised for murder, deep turquoise linoleum and a washbasin of serious proportions. It was probably the kind of thing a museum would love, if they could only transport it somehow, intact. Bodie thought it would be wonderful if they could. The only saving grace, given that this monstrous chamber had to be shared between all the bedrooms, was that the W.C. was in a separate room next door, a massive beast with a cistern near the ceiling and a heavy chain that ended in a porcelain handle. Bodie contemplated pulling it, shuddered, then realised that eventually he'd have to pull it, and shuddered again. Something further to be thankful for was that all the porcelain was white. He sighed, and went back down to the ground floor.

The reception rooms were perhaps a little more welcoming than the bedrooms, with comfortable leather couches, standard lamps as well as three-armed ceiling lights, and a well-polished dining-table with matching sideboard and chairs. The kitchen, to his dismay but hardly to his surprise, was as old-fashioned as the rest of the house, with an elderly gas stove as well as a kitchen range, a central, well-scrubbed table, and cupboards, painted a dark sea blue, daring him to open them and put away groceries from some upstart Tesco or Sainsburys. Behind it lay a small scullery with an enamelled sink and beyond that, a coal house and an outdoor W.C., both of these last opening onto a very private yard with walls at least as high as the first story of the house and a door or gate onto a back lane.

It would be obvious to anyone why he wanted lodgers. The place needed a radical overhaul and only the money from some regular rent could help provide more than maintenance and utility bills. The neighbours, who had been vetted very discreetly, were in the same boat. An apparently genteel street of large, owner-occupied houses was now groaning under the weight of multi-occupancy, all the tenants contributing to the upkeep of the outward appearance and inner comfort of the once stylish turn-of-the-century homes.

Sparing a brief curse for his employer, Bodie settled in one of the couches and started a list, including on it food, fresh and long lasting (an offering to the cupboards), bedlinen, towels, and alcohol. The last might, he thought, be the most important. He added some kind of large paper - a sketch book or even a flip chart - and a pack of markers. He would have to have notices in the window. But they wouldn't be visible until he tamed the privet so he added a pair of hedge trimmers and realised he'd need a garden centre as well as a supermarket. Well, Eastbourne would almost certainly boast both, probably in profusion. People came here to retire or to wind down, and they most often brought their gardening habits with them, or their gardening aspirations if they'd come from city apartments. Eastbourne allowed them to follow their dreams, even showing solidarity with a floral clock on the seafront. And the gardeners, or strollers along the promenade, would have to eat. It was a place for the middle classes, not the rich, or for that matter the poor, and Bodie thought there would be few good restaurants, in the winter at any rate. And winter was on its way.

He was well into his list when the doorbell rang. It wasn’t quite Big Ben but it would certainly summon anyone from any nether regions. He almost ran to answer it and stop whoever stood on the doorstep from ringing again.

A woman who looked at first glance about his own age stood there, holding a plastic container with what looked like small cakes. Then the sun caught her face and he realised she was older, wearing heavy make-up to cover age lines. It was less than successful. Her figure, however, showed that she took good care of herself.

"Hello," she said, a bright smile accompanying the greeting. "I'm Rosemary and I live next door. I brought you some buns as a welcome present. I saw you arrive. You are Mr. Benton, aren't you?" She thrust the container at him and advanced into the hall, clearly not about to wait for an invitation. Bodie followed her into the living room, clutching the buns and wondering whether he was expected to make tea.

Evidently not. "Don't make any fuss," she said. "I expect you've got your hands full. Oh silly me, of course you have." She snatched the container again and deposited it on a side table. "But I meant I expect you're busy getting ready to let." She looked expectant and Bodie nodded, not totally sure what she was talking about. "Just be careful, that's all. We've been through it all. Make rules." She looked stern. "Make sure they know when they can use the bathroom and what time you lock the front door at night. And above all, make sure they can pay." At Bodie's continued silence, she looked dubious. "You are going to let rooms, aren't you? The gentleman who was dealing with your aunt's will and wanted to know about the potential in the area seemed to think..." Her voice trailed off and Bodie realised he hadn't spoken a word to her yet.

"Will Benton," he said, not bothering to shake hands. He rather thought the bun exchange had been enough of an introduction. "And yes, I'm going to let rooms. It's the only way to keep the place, and I rather think I want to stay. It's quieter than London. And the sea air..." He stopped. He was babbling. But she seemed to understand.

“As I said, we’ve been there and done that. Still do for that matter though we’ve got a couple of nice long term lodgers now and we’re used to each other’s ways. My hubby was in the army and got retired with an injury. Northern Ireland.” She obviously thought no further explanation was necessary and of course it wasn’t. Bodie tried to look interested and sympathetic. He didn’t mention his own army days; those were not part of Benton’s character.

“So you came down here?” He hoped that was sufficient to keep her happy and chattering. Not that he was anxious to make friends but he needed to be on good terms with his neighbours.

“We did, and we never regretted it.” She sounded almost triumphant, as if Eastbourne was a victory. Perhaps to her, it was. “Sank Keith’s lump sum in a property that would be big enough to have lodgers once the teenagers left the nest, and here we are. You'll have to redecorate of course. But there's no hurry. You can have a couple of lodgers straight away if the plumbing works." At Bodie's nod she continued. "We had to repaint throughout." It sounded like a matter of some pride. "Ours was like yours, all dark gloss paint and strips of wood round all the rooms. Now it's all magnolia. Everywhere. And we went for avocado in the bathroom - so modern and refreshing."

Avocado, yes, thought Bodie, remembering some of the refurbished flats he and Ray had had recently. Ghastly. And that was the colour of the upper area of paint in the hall - he knew it reminded him of something gruesome.

"We have some magnolia left over, if you want to make a start?" Rosemary was clearly expecting a response and Bodie muttered something about professional decorators.

"Well, suit yourself, but my Keith's a dab hand at a bit of painting and I'm sure he'd help you. Lend you his trestle and steps and so on, too, I dare say."

He thanked her. What else could he do? And resigned himself to at least one room ending up magnolia. Maybe the hall. It would be light, anyway.

"I don't suppose," he heard himself say, "you have some hedge trimmers I could borrow?" He had noticed that the houses to either side were less imprisoned in greenery than his own.

"Of course we have." She was beaming now, able to shower largesse on the newcomer and show herself in a neighbourly light. "Keith'll fetch them round first thing in the morning. We're both retired, you know. I worked a bit till the kids left home. Something to do, really. A few hours in a beauty salon.” She touched her hair as she spoke. “Then I gave it up to put all my time into the lodger idea. We didn't do the makeover till the family had gone, then we found ourselves rattling around in the place, and we knew if we could make a little bit of money it would add to Keith's pension and that had been at the back of our minds when we bought the place, anyway. So lodgers it is. Anything you need to know about lodgers, come to me, Mr Benton. I can tell you a thing or two. And keep you from making too many mistakes."

With that ominous promise she was gone, out of the door and down the steps, then, heels clicking, up the steps of her own house. Bodie carried the buns through to the kitchen and opened the container. Coconut, which he hated, and by the time Ray was here, they'd be stale. He hoped Keith didn’t ramble on as much as his wife; he was unsure just how long he could remain polite in the face of such quantities of unnecessary information and advice. He closed the container again and sighed. All he had to look forward to was the magnolia. And the hedge trimmers in the morning.

 

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Doyle bought a magazine to read on the train: Private Eye would amuse him while the rather dull south coast line meandered to Eastbourne. On arrival he found a tourist office and booked into a small hotel. He didn't even try to make himself at home as he would only be using it as a base while he waited for Bodie's ad. After a good night's sleep he ate the somewhat greasy 'full English' offering in the hotel dining room and set off for work. He thought, really, that being undercover was work enough without having to put in a day at the office, but he supposed there was some kind of necessity to make himself a believable member of local society so he reported to the council offices as instructed.

Mr Anstruther, the gentleman from Personnel who greeted him, showed some enthusiasm.

"I believe the London office have spoken very highly of you, Mr Deacon, very highly indeed. We are lucky to have you here. A change from the cut and thrust of the city, is that what you're looking for? You'll find we have a very forward looking staff here, Mr Deacon, but we are more concerned with the happiness and comfort of our summer visitors than with the demands of the metropolis." He rubbed his hands together in satisfaction and did not wait for a reply which was just as well because Doyle couldn't think of an appropriate one. It wouldn't matter if he was considered to be quiet, even reserved. In fact, that could suit Mr Deacon's personality quite well.

Anstruther led the way to a large room at the back of the building. No sea view for the workers, Doyle noticed, though the big council chambers and the reception area looked out over the channel. There were a number of people in the open plan area, all busy, or pretending to be busy, at desks that some had tried to personalise with pot plants or photographs. They were all studiously not speaking to each other, though one or two were talking on telephones, softly, though whether to soothe their listeners or to refrain from disturbing their colleagues was a moot point. There was an empty desk near a window that looked out onto a brick wall, and Anstruther gestured Doyle to it with a smile.

"Here you are, Mr Deacon. Here you are. And I'm sure we all hope you'll be very comfortable here. Someone will show you where everything is, I'm sure, and there will be files later, definitely files. For now, just relax and settle in." Again, he didn't seem to expect a response and simply drifted away, glancing at one or two people as he left but speaking to no-one.

Doyle sat. The chair was comfortable enough and the desk was large. What he would be expected to do at it he had no idea. And why any office in London should have sent him with such a glowing recommendation was beyond him too, except that it must have something to do with Cowley. Files sounded ominous, something like the pesky things agents had to contend with if they were incapacitated but not in need of bed rest, or if they were unaccountably missing their partner, or if Cowley was displeased. Files always sounded like punishment, or at least misery. He hoped this job wouldn't be his for long.

A red haired young man at the next desk looked up once Anstruther had closed the door.

"Jack Calvert," he said, holding out his hand, which Doyle shook, introducing himself for the first time as Rob Deacon. "I'll give you a quick tour. Toilets, coffee making, that sort of thing." The tour was indeed quick. There were 'cloakrooms', ladies' and gents', off the corridor where Doyle had entered the room, and then, at the back, a sort of kitchen, with a lot of stained mugs lying around, a jar of cheap instant coffee, a box of teabags, some sugar with a spoon that had clearly been used indiscriminately for sugar and coffee, and a small fridge where Jack said there should be milk. "But by the end of the day there isn't usually much. Some of us have learnt to drink everything black," he said, and Doyle thought, but didn't say, that he might learn to do without the drinks facility altogether, maybe bring a flask or some bottled water or something.

"Thanks, Jack," he said as they returned to their seats. "Any idea what I'll be doing? London have transferred me here, but without much information."

"We're all mostly dealing with requests for building approval - modernisation and such. Lots of people wanting extensions, extra bathrooms, separate entrances for lodgers, that kind of thing. Just keep on top of the filing and send new requests through to the office across the corridor. We don't do the actual approvals, just keep track of the requests and then whatever happens to them." He clearly expected Doyle to understand the entire task from that and indeed, it didn't sound too difficult. And he must get used to thinking of himself as Deacon. And answering to that and Rob.

The files arrived and he saw that Jack and others didn't seem in too much of a hurry to get things done so he worked slowly and methodically and got through three or four before lunch time.

At about 12.30. Jack stood up and stretched. "Pub lunch?" he asked, and Doyle nodded and stood to join him. Might as well get friendly with his new colleagues; they could be a source of information, too. A couple of other young men followed them out of the door but he saw most of the women had little boxes of salad or cottage cheese at their desks.

Jack led the way to The Green Head, a modern-looking pub with a huge sign showing a badly painted picture of the cliffs at Beachy Head. There was a table in the window that seemed to be the usual destination of the group and then there was some shuffling and indistinct talk before Jack suggested a pie and a pint, and Doyle, Deacon, nodded and tried to look excited about the idea.

"It'll have to be a quick one, though," he said. "I want to try to get a local paper, see the small ads. I'm staying in a hotel and I can't afford that for longer than I have to. If I leave it to this evening everything worth looking at will be gone." He mentally crossed his fingers that none of his workmates would offer accommodation, but thought he could deal with the problem if it arose by needing something special - space to practice the trumpet, perhaps, or to paint. Painting might work best as he had never played a trumpet and could not start to talk about one if his life depended on it. To his relief, there was just general consensus that it wouldn't be hard to find something and a lot of the bigger houses were being divided up into flats or into rooming houses. Jack winced at the thought of a hotel's prices, and Ray, no Rob, remembered he would have to appear to live on an office worker's salary.

The pie was good - pastry that melted in the mouth and tender pieces of beef. The pint was good too. The landlord clearly kept a well-tended cellar. There was little conversation while people ate. And then he left money to cover his share with Jack and left them all chatting to go in search of a newspaper. The local one should be out by now, even if it was theoretically an evening paper. There was a kiosk across the road on the promenade, and he found exactly what he needed. So, back to his desk, and half an hour spent looking at advertisements for all kinds of things from cars to prams with lodgings somewhere in between before the others returned and the room settled to work again.

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Engineers had connected the phone or rather reconnected it. It was an old fashioned one, firmly fixed to the wall at the foot of the stairs. Bodie supposed it allowed for privacy in the days when it wasn't possible to wander from room to room with a cordless handset. It allowed the person phoning or being phoned to sit on the stairs, too, assuming the call was long enough to warrant it. At the moment it was ringing stridently in the empty hall and Bodie hurried from the kitchen to answer. He hoped it was a query about his ad for rooms to let. A few extra coats hanging in the hall might muffle the echoes and make the place seem less like a tomb.

"B-benton," he said, cursing himself for almost forgetting his cover name.

"Deacon here," came the response, with laughter skipping through the words. "I saw your ad for a room and wondered if it was still available?" More half hidden laughter and they'd have to work on that if they got any other lodgers.

"Yes, it is. I have more than one room, actually. Would you like to come round and have a look?"

"I would indeed. I've been looking at ads all week and this is the first time I've got there before the place is taken. Would this evening be OK?"

"Any time you like. I'm in now and I'm not going out this evening. You know how to get here?"

"Yes. A colleague lent me an A-Z. I'm new to the town but I'm sure I can find my way all right."

"See you later then, Mr Deacon."

"Later." Doyle rang off and Bodie sat on the stair tread sighing with relief. He would see his partner again. The week had seemed long and very worrying. He had trimmed the hedge, courtesy of Keith's machine, done a great deal of shopping, placed the ad in the local paper and put a sign in the front bay window knowing it would now be visible from the pavement.

He put the kettle on, with extra water now that he knew there'd be company, and set the teapot to warm.

He didn't have long to wait. Doyle, no, Deacon rang the bell only fifteen minutes later, and his curls and green eyes were the most welcome sight his partner had seen all week.

"Come in." They shook hands on the doorstep for the benefit of any neighbours watching. And then when they were safely inside they grinned and settled in the lounge with cups of tea and some shortbread biscuits.

"Should I demand to see the rooms or shall I just take whatever you give me?" Doyle was still grinning around his teacup.

"You'll have the best, of course, apart from mine, that is, but none of them are up to much. I'm half hoping you might help wield a paintbrush at the weekend."

"Nah. Not worth it for the time we'll be here."

"But it would add to my cover - the idea that I was here to stay. And that you were, too."

"D'you think I'd help the landlord after a few days? Not sure that goes with Deacon’s character. And I might be busy at the weekend."

Bodie raised an eyebrow. "Getting somewhere already?"

"Not sure. I'm filing applications for extensions."

"For what?"

"Extensions. For houses, not hair or, or, whatever you thought." He frowned at Bodie and then grinned again. "Anyway, one came in from some people called Olowayo and I assumed they must be foreign. Pretended not to know how to pronounce it and asked around whether we got many of 'those kinds'. Most of the lads who work near me just shrugged but Jack Calvert said, "Too many," rather quickly and asked what it was like in London. I pretended to be less than enamoured about the number of immigrants and he took the bait. Suggested I join him on Saturday at a meeting and a march of some sort. In the park near where he lives. He's a nice enough bloke - very friendly and showed me round when I first got there, but he's clearly some kind of Little Englander so it might be a lead."

"Lucky somebody took you up on it."

"Yes, but if they hadn't I'd have tried something else. A male couple, or a woman on her own. Something to draw someone out of the woodwork. And if not, then asking about political clubs locally might have been the way to go."

"Good work." Bodie stared at his partner. Doyle was adept at getting information out of people without them realising that he was doing it. It sounded as if he was off to a good start here. "So you'll go along on Saturday?"

"Definitely, unless it's raining. I've already suggested I might be a bit of a fair weather supporter. Didn't want to seem too keen."

"And do you want to move in here before then?"

Doyle thought for a moment. "Probably not," he said, eventually. "If I join them and they ask for an address I'll give the hotel and explain I'm looking for somewhere. After just a week it might seem a bit too easy to have found this place, if anyone ends up having any suspicions about you."

"Why should they?"

"Because you're a suspicious character.... No, seriously, because you've just arrived and you're letting rooms straight away and if we seem to have arrived together, well..."

"OK. We'll plan for you to move in next week. You have to be desperate to get out the hotel, after all. And I'd have you know, I'm not suspicious."

"No?" Doyle grinned again, and they sat drinking their tea in a companionable silence. Afterwards, they braved the bedrooms and Doyle admired the new candy-striped sheets on the rather forbidding bed in the larger back bedroom. He admired Bodie's room, too, the imposing front room with the bay and the sea view if you craned your neck. They solemnly agreed a rental figure that would never be paid but that would be what Doyle would tell anyone who asked, whether at work or if anyone else came after the other rooms. He used the WC and shuddered theatrically at the sound the cistern made. Then, to Bodie's delight, he slid down the bannister, landing up against the heavy newel post with a giggle that was almost teenage in its high spirited enthusiasm.

 

"I don't think Aunt Maud would approve."

"Who's Aunt Maud?"

"Old biddy I've made up to explain this place. Or that Cowley made up. No idea if she was real but the neighbours seem to think there was an aunt. The Cow just said ‘a relative’ so I embellished the story."

"Right." Doyle gave a mock salute. "Cheers, Aunt Maud," he said. "We've just taken over, but if it all works it will be in part thanks to you." He headed for the front door and Bodie saw him out.

"See you next Monday, Mr Benton," Ray called as he swung the gate open and Bodie gave him a small wave and went back to his lonely lounge. Nothing to do but worry - and nothing really to worry about yet. Not until after Saturday.

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The park was sunny. Formal flowerbeds were resplendent with red salvias, blue lobelia and white alyssum, all still in full bloom at the end of summer. The iron railings kept dogs firmly on the pavement outside, where they belonged, and the bandstand was an uncompromising shade of dark green, though empty of any band.

Standing on one of the steps up into the bandstand was a rather surprising man. He was pale, tall, and incredibly aristocratic, blue-blooded, Doyle thought, or maybe just thin-blooded, with skin that resembled some kind of delicate porcelain and white blond hair that was just a little too long to be conventional and just a little too short to be truly rebellious.

"Our speaker," said Jack. "Jeremy Featherstoneheugh, pronounced Fanshawe of course. People refer to him as Fanny, but not in his hearing. Or in the hearing of his bodyguards." He gestured to two men who stood on the ground rather than the steps but otherwise to either side of the speaker.

"He needs bodyguards?" Doyle was surprised. Eastbourne had not so far struck him as a violent place, but who knew? Maybe there were disgruntled retired colonels or unemployed punk rockers waiting to take a pot shot at Jeremy.

"He thinks he does, anyway. It makes him look important. And of course they're muscle, if needed for other things." Jack stressed the last two words and rubbed a finger on one side of his nose. Doyle decided to pretend to understand and nodded sagely. "We call them Bill and Ben but I think they're really Andy and Chris," Jack finished, without saying which was which. Maybe he didn't know.

The speech was a hotchpotch of strange and tired ranting. England was suffering from an influx of foreigners, not just the immigrants who worried the likes of Enoch Powell, but visitors and students who brought their cultures with them and disturbed the English peace. There had been cases of Arabs slaughtering sheep in their back gardens for their religious holidays, reports of respectable women being accosted by tourists in search of who knew what, and even sightings of men holding hands. They, the speaker's flock, as it were, were the vanguard of the defence against this kind of thing. They must be vigilant and remember that this was their country, as true blue as the flowers in the bed over there. They should read his little paper, and some of his people would have free samples to give away but of course after that there would be charges for each issue, to help fund printing and distribution.

He had barely finished and was smirking at the muted applause from the crowd, when a young man entered the park. He was clearly one of the foreigners Fanny had declaimed against, having the look of an Arab or Indian, and equally clearly a student, young, with a couple of books in his arms. Perhaps he had come to read in the park. Perhaps he was just enjoying the fresh air on his way from the library.

Doyle saw Featherstoneheugh nod, ever so slightly, and Bill and Ben or whoever they were set off towards the unaware student. Their movements seemed casual but with a clearly co-ordinated walk past they managed to nudge him first one way and then the other and then, Doyle saw, he was down on the grass and the two thugs were putting the boot in. The most sickening part, Doyle thought, was that nobody stopped them, nobody even spoke, and he himself could not break cover to protect this young man from the vicious and mindless racism of this group. When the lad was curled in a ball, trying to protect his face, the books were carefully trodden into the flower bed, forming an inharmonious blur in the planting. And the bodyguards simply sauntered back to their leader's side, smiling as they came. Doyle wondered if it had been the same in Hitler's early days in Germany. He glanced at Jack, who looked approving, and who looked back at Doyle with a smile.

"That'll show him. Think they can use our parks as if they'd paid for them," he said. "Use our women, too, mark my words."

"But we don't know..." Doyle had every intention of making some kind of stand and then realised he couldn't. Jack had brought him here to listen to a racist bigot, and he would have to pretend to go along with whatever he heard or saw.

"...whether he's understood? Well, he might not know exactly why they showed him their feelings, but he won't come here again, will he?" And that seemed to be the general consensus of opinion. The park was once again safe for Englishmen, and perhaps women, this sunny Saturday.

The crowd milled around. They had heard words of inspiration, seen deeds of righteousness and been seen to have attended. There was probably nothing more in the offing. But there were a couple of girls handing out what looked like newspapers and Doyle made sure he got a copy.

"'The Eastbourne Defender',” he said, looking at the masthead, huge curlicued font in unrelieved black.

"That's right," said Jack. "Comes out every week. I get a copy delivered. All you need is to give them your address. Oh, but of course, you're still at the hotel. Still, hang onto that and you can order one when you get fixed up with lodgings. Meanwhile, come and meet Fanny. There's a book you can sign to show you're interested and I'll make certain you know when the next meeting is. Sometimes they're less, well, public, you know?"

He grabbed Doyle's wrist and pulled him across to the bandstand where Bill or Ben was holding a ledger and a pen.

"A new friend," he said cheerfully. "Not new to the ideas, mind, just to the area. From London," he added, before taking the pen from the bodyguard and holding it out to Doyle. Doyle took the book and signed himself into what he thought of as hell. He was careful to sign as Rob Deacon, and gave The Prince Albert as his current address. When Featherstoneheugh, who was watching, looked askance at him he explained that he was looking for accommodation but thought he had something lined up, and would let Jack know as soon as it was a sure thing.

And then they strolled across the park, warm in the sunshine, rid, now, of foreign invaders, and reflecting, in its floral colour scheme, the aspirations of the group they had just been part of. There was no sign of the student who had presumably managed to get to his feet and flee, but the books were still an untidy promise of the rage of a certain type of Englishman.

####################################

"...and so," said Ray, having told Bodie about Saturday in great detail, "that's all of it. And that's why I still feel sick."

Bodie looked carefully at his partner, no great hardship with a partner as good to look at as Doyle. He wished he could console him, not just with some well-chosen words but with a hug, or, well, more than a hug. But that would not be the way to go, since he had no idea how his advances would be taken, and he really needed to give the verbal consolation that might stop Ray looking quite so lost.

"You realise you're under cover exactly to stop this kind of thing."

"Of course, and I also know I couldn't have broken cover, and that it's all for the greater good, etc. etc. but that doesn't make it any easier, you know. I still watched while it went down, and I was part of that crowd."

"But not quite part. Or a very different part. A part dedicated to bringing their smug little world toppling around their feet and their floral clocks."

"But Bodie, that's the problem. I mean, yes, I hope we can get the evidence to let Cowley move in and stop Featherstoneheugh and his thugs, and to close down the printing press. And I know my evidence about the lad in the park will help. But suppose they're put away. Suppose that nasty little rag vanishes. What then? Someone else will take their place. That crowd was full of wannabe Hitlers with a penchant for torturing innocents."

"Let's face that, or let Cowley face it, when it happens. Meanwhile, we'll have struck a blow for right. Not the far right, but the honourable right. And even if there's someone wanting to follow in Featherstoneheugh's footsteps they won't be too quick to do anything if the police and security services have been all over the place, if they see someone arrested. Also, don't forget it takes money to start a paper, even a small one like this." Bodie looked at the copy of the Eastbourne Defender that Ray had brought.

"Unless arrest just makes them see him as a martyr." Ray's voice was even gloomier than his face and Bodie wanted to smooth out the worry lines, bring a lilt back to the speech, do anything that would help return his normal partner to him.

"Then it's our job to make sure they see him as nothing but an unpleasant small-time criminal, however posh and impressive he might seem at the moment." Bodie's no-nonsense approach was having an effect but Doyle was still serious and sunk in contemplation. Bodie sighed. Ray could contemplate for England and it usually didn't involve anything either of them could influence one way or another. He wondered for a moment whether grabbing the man and kissing him might at least give him something else to think about but dismissed the idea as being too uncertain.

"And," said Doyle, who was evidently still contemplating and getting his money's worth out of it, "I have to sit at the next desk to Jack Calvert all week, and make him think I'm his new best friend."

"Just be thankful you found a source of information so quickly, because the sooner you're heavily in with them and have real information for Cowley, the sooner you're out of here and the sooner they're dealt with." Ray gave him a half smile, and turned to sit in one of the overstuffed armchairs, slurping the tea Bodie had made as if it would wash away his sins, or at least the sins he perceived himself as having in his Deacon persona.

"Yes, Mum," he said. "I'll count my blessings, Mum. Honest, I will."

Bodie grinned. The inappropriate endearment suggested Ray was moving back to normality. Meanwhile, he had also brought his luggage and finally moved into 37, Jevington Road and that was a plus. Bodie could keep an eye on him better here, and hear all about everything almost as soon as it happened.

"There's just one possible fly in the ointment," he said, picking up his own mug of tea and warming his hands on it. "I have another lodger already. This town must be bursting at the seams with homeless elements or unwilling hotel guests. He's taking one of the small rooms on the second floor. But Ray, there's a problem. His name's Boyle. Anthony call-me-Tony Boyle, and it's a name all too easy to confuse with yours, so we'd better make sure we use our cover names at all times."

"So no whispered secrets at midnight where I call you Bodie?"

"And absolutely none where I might call you Doyle. But really, no whispered secrets at all. We'll have to check that he's out before we say anything. I'm thinking of instituting a rule that people leave their keys on the hallstand before going up to their rooms. That way, if their keys aren't there, neither are they. Think it sounds too draconian?"

"Mmmm. Not sure. A bit seaside landladyish, but then you're a seaside landlord, now, so it should be OK." And now, at last, Ray smiled, and for Bodie the world became lighter and warmer. "And I'll try to avoid having to whisper secrets in your shell-like." Another grin, and Bodie felt better than he had since Ray arrived with his luggage and his tale of woe. Although he had to admit, in the inmost recesses of his mind, that having Ray whisper anything to him would be a pleasure.

"Right," he said. "Let's get your bags upstairs and get you settled in. I can't remember whether we said whether I'd provide any meals."

Ray was looking at him as if he had grown two heads. "Only if I cook them, mate," was all he said.

#######################################

Having Jack at the next desk was not what Ray would have chosen if he had actually intended to make a career in the department, but under the circumstances it was, he thought, a blessing in disguise. The disguise being Jack's arrogant intolerance that he now felt able to display to Deacon at any and every opportunity.

"Hey, Rob. We've got a right one here. Woman on her own, bought a house down near the sea front. Wants to convert it into flats. Women shouldn't be in any kind of business, let alone the letting kind. Think she means to use it as a brothel?"

"I doubt it." Ray barely looked up from his own work. "She wouldn't want separate flats if she did."

"Argh, you're no fun today. Thought you'd help me speculate!" Jack's freckled grin was almost contagious as he tossed the file to his neighbour. Doyle looked through it and had to be careful not to gulp. The woman, a Mrs. Nightingale, had ticked the box for 'widow' under 'marital status'. So, he thought, poor woman, trying to use whatever insurance she'd got when her husband died to make some kind of life for herself and for her kids. Two, according to the 'dependents' box, under sixteen and living at home. And because she was female, Jack thought she was fair game for his sexism.

"Nothing wrong with her, that I can see," he said, handing the file back, careful not to say too much or seem too interested.

"Maybe, but we have ways of dealing with monstrous regiments of women," said Jack, blissfully unaware of Ray's involuntary shudder at the incorrect quotation. He placed the file at the bottom of his in tray. Ray knew, with a sinking feeling, that that was where it would stay, or, if it surfaced, it would return, until the time on the application had run out. The Nightingale family were not going to get their planning approval and there wasn't a thing he could do about it. Although, if this case was wrapped up quickly, he mused, he could alert Cowley and get something done. But there would be other Mrs. Nightingales and other fatherless kids needing their mother to make the best living she could.

"You got something against women?" He asked the question idly, or so he hoped.

"Not in their place, Rob, not in their place. Not at all."

"And their place would be?"

"At the kitchen sink, of course, or in bed. In between, should be seen and not heard."

"Well, don't let any of the women in here hear you say that."

"No, well, don't fancy arsenic on the pastries when it's someone's birthday. I'm not stupid. But these lasses are just here to while away time while they find a fellow. They might even find me if they're extremely lucky. What about you, Rob? Seen anyone you fancy?"

"Not really. There was someone in London and I'm still half hoping to get her to come down here, maybe apply for a transfer." It was the only thing Ray could think of to stop Jack's clear line of reasoning. He had no desire to add birds to the undercover mix.

"Oh? At the office, was she? What's her name?"

Blast. Jack might have contacts with the London office Ray was supposed to have come from and although Cowley would have made sure any queries would turn up a Rob Deacon who'd just left, there might be some eyebrows raised at a young woman who didn't exist.

"No, met her at a club. She was out with her mates. Felicity, her name is and she works in a big bookshop. Dunno if there's a branch here or not. Or if she'd want to move. Early days, Jack, early days." He hoped that would do the trick, stop Jack asking too many questions but at the same time stop him trying to introduce his new friend to local birds.

"OK, but if it all goes pear-shaped I'm your man for finding the best clubs and pubs around here." Jack sounded smug, and Doyle gave an inward sigh of relief.

The relief lasted till lunch time. He joined Jack's group as usual, and the conversation in The Green Head turned to work. This was not usual, and Doyle listened carefully, unsure how many of the others shared Jack's views. Some of the young men were from their office, but not all. There were, he knew already, a couple of solicitors, not yet at the dizzy heights of partnership, a few other council employees from different departments, and at least one, Simpson if he remembered correctly, from a local estate agency.

"Got one for the bottom of the pile today, all right," said Eric, a pale young man with sticking out ears that made him look like a cartoon character. So far, he'd been a very quiet member of the little crowd, but the others all fell silent as he spoke so they obviously respected his opinion.

"What's that, then?" Jack was the one to ask, to encourage sharing.

"Couple of men wanting to extend their house. Bold as brass, wanting a master suite over the garage. Just the couple of them living there, too."

"Bottom of the pile indeed." Someone sniggered and Doyle wasn't sure who, or who had spoken. But there were smiles all round and a few of the men raised their glasses, as if to toast the sentiment. Another case of innocents betrayed by the very people who should be working for them.

"They're legal now, you know." That was Ollie Simpson, big and jovial. A born peacemaker, Doyle thought, and probably trying to smooth a few paths but not too concerned if he failed.

"Yes, but we don't have to let them have master suites." There was the snigger again and this time it was clear it was Matthew. Doyle didn't know his surname but knew the man was an unpleasant piece of work, as likely to take a colleague's cup of coffee or borrow a couple of quid with no intent to repay as to deprive a couple of their dreams.

"So as I was saying," said Eric, "they're at the bottom of the pile, where they belong." And this time there were guffaws all round.

He wanted to tell Bodie when he got home that evening, but the lounge seemed remarkably full of Tony Boyle, a languid young man with longish dark hair and interesting eyes, who would definitely never qualify for a master suite extension in Eastbourne.

###################################################

 

Conversation was strained. Tony seemed both reserved and yet unwilling to retreat to his room. Ray must feel frustrated at not being able to talk about work because if he did, in anything other than the most general terms, things could get difficult. No other topic presented itself. Bodie felt exasperated with a situation that meant he had to share his house with a stranger so as not to draw attention to his relationship with Doyle. Also, he could feel Ray's concern and wanted to comfort him or at least listen. Plus, Tony was an irritation in himself. He was neither friendly nor sufficiently unfriendly to get out of their way. And his whole demeanour reminded Bodie sharply of what he would so very much like to introduce into his relationship with Doyle but would never dare seriously consider.

Of course, Tony might simply be effeminate without being in any sense homosexual. Bodie had known a number of men who seemed almost girlish until you met their wives and kids, usually hordes of the latter. But somehow, he thought Tony was not one of these.

"Are you new to Eastbourne, like me?" Ray was doing his best to break the ice.

"Yes, but I grew up just along the coast from here."

"And you've moved for work?"

"Yes, I'm a trainee supermarket manager. They try to keep us in our own region but beyond that they send us wherever they can to get experience."

"And have you started the new post yet?"

"Yes."

Well, that was all informative enough but at the same time lacking in substance. Further queries would smack of interrogation and there was no sign of Tony continuing the conversation by asking about Ray's job. Rob's job. Bodie mentally smacked himself around the head. He was the handler. He had to take care and get it right every time. He had to protect Ray, protect Rob at all costs. Not just for Rob's sake but for the sake of ridding Cowley's England of the growing stain on the south coast. He thought he could guard his tongue though not his brain.

The only thing left to do was to switch on the television and hope everyone would just watch whatever was on offer. He got up and switched the set on. The local news was just finishing and then there would be one of those interminable magazine shows followed, no doubt, by a soap of some kind. The other channels would be just as bad and if either Ray or Tony wanted to change then they could.

"I'll get some tea ready, then, shall I?" He ignored the surprised look on Ray's face. He could cook a few things if he wanted to, although he usually didn't, and in any case, he had garnered a supply of ready meals that simply needed to be heated in the oven. Plus a salad. He thought he could manage a salad. Nobody declared themselves unwilling to eat so he left them in front of the box and headed into the kitchen.

When the macaroni cheese was ready and the salad tossed, he took them and the plates into the dining room and called his lodgers. They came readily enough. The television clearly held no charms.

"Good, this." Ray actually sounded enthusiastic.

"Mmm." Tony might be less thrilled or perhaps he was just busy eating.

"So no more aspersions about my cooking," he said, looking at Ray. Tony looked startled but Ray grinned.

"I've been teasing him about seaside landladies and their reputation for poor meals," he said. "He must have taken it to heart."

"I'm a landlord, not a landlady, if you don't mind," said Bodie, "and while we're on the subject, I wanted to tell you both to leave your keys in the hall when you come in. That way I know whether you're in or out. I can hold a meal back, lock up at night, that sort of thing." Both men nodded agreement and he caught a glimpse of another grin on Ray's face.

He had opened a tin of fruit, and another of cream, and put the contents into glass dishes. He brought those and dessert dishes in once he'd cleared the first course, and his lodgers seemed happy enough with his choice. Tomorrow, he thought, he might buy a swiss roll. A chocolate one. Or even one of those ice cream ones. He had a feeling Ray was reading his thoughts, and he smiled to himself. At least as partners, working partners, they were very close.

At last Tony excused himself, saying he had some management stuff to read before the next day, and they heard him go upstairs. They heaved a simultaneous sigh of relief.

"This is going to be hard." Ray sounded as frustrated as Bodie felt.

"If he insists on joining us every day like that, yes. But if he goes off to study every evening we can work around that. Keep anything we need to say till he's gone. And you seem to have plenty to say tonight." He looked enquiringly at his partner who was only too ready to spill the tale of the lunchtime observations at his feet. He told him about the fictitious Felicity, too, and explained his reasoning.

"I don't want Jack Calvert to try finding me a girlfriend, or even a bird for the night. Not sure I'd like the sort he'd come up with."

"But that might mean you going without while you're down here." Ray wasn't, Bodie thought, the type to go without for long.

But Ray shrugged. "Rob Deacon has a girl in London. He doesn't need one in Eastbourne." And somehow, Bodie thought he meant it. "Jack would want to know the far end of everything, and I'd be totally unwilling to tell him whilst at the same time totally obliged to in order to maintain cover. Easier to go without for a while. What about you?"

Bodie wandered what he'd say if he admitted that having his partner close was enough, although he'd like a lot more, but was not fool enough to say it. "Rosemary next door has invited me to dinner on Sunday," he said. "I have a feeling she has some poor girl lined up for me. She was talking about me rattling around in here with just you two for company, and there was some mention of a woman's touch. Magnolia, I assume. And you two will have to make shift for yourselves." Which was, he thought, just as well, as roast dinners did not appear on his limited repertoire.

"I could always ask Tony to go to the pub with me. Or I could cook in your kitchen if that's OK."

"I think you'd better plan on cooking. If one of your colleagues sees you with him, well, they might not believe any protestations that he's just a fellow lodger."

"Hmm. He's pretty obvious, isn't he? Although maybe not." Ray had clearly had the same reaction as Bodie. "I'll do my best not to be seen with him. I shouldn't think he'll invite my company anyway. Seems quite a reserved type."

Bodie refrained from saying that reserved or not, Tony was unlikely to be immune to Ray's all too obvious charms. He was sure, however, that in this respect his partner could take care of himself.

#################################

"Here, have a look at this." Jack sounded smug and proud as he threw the latest copy of "The Eastbourne Defender" on Ray's desk. It was open at the central pages and an article had been ringed in pencil.

'The Place of the Modern Woman. Musings by Calvin Jackson.' Ray skimmed the article, finding it to be as he expected, a mishmash of rubbish about how it was all very well for young women to do suitable office jobs while waiting for matrimony but that once wed they should support their men and see to their children's education. He was about to ask what they should do if they didn't marry or if their husbands lost their jobs or one of a number other scenarios occurred but Jack was clearly waiting for him to look up.

"That's me, that is. My by-line, they call it. I wrote that." He was blushing, a look that went poorly with the red hair and freckles, and Doyle felt sorry for him. The publication of his silly article was evidently the greatest event in his life so far.

"Congratulations." He could say that without lying. Anyone could be congratulated on having their work published, even in a rag like this if that was what they wanted. "But why the pen name?"

"That was Fanny's idea. He thought it would make me sound mysterious, maybe a Londoner or from somewhere else, anyway, and show that people beyond Eastbourne were taking an interest. He wants to show off to possible investors, you see. Like those." He reached across and pointed to an advertisement below his article. It was for a concert, a rock concert, at one of the pubs just outside the town.

Ray looked carefully. "This is a German band," he said. It was something he'd heard of vaguely, Donner und Blitzen, a new group. They were one of the growing number of bands from Germany in particular that sang mediocre rock music with lyrics that couldn't be mistaken for anything but neo-Nazi sentiments.

"Yeah, and there are backers connected with them who'll give us money, not just to place ads for their gigs but to show solidarity. They've given Fanny a few tickets for the concert and he gave me a couple. Want to come? It's on Sunday night." The last statement was unnecessary; the ad gave the date as prominently as the location.

"Why not? Should be good." Ray heard himself answer with a sinking feeling. He would hate the music and he would have to appear to like it. He rather thought he hated this whole case. "Only thing is, I was going up to the Smoke this weekend, see if Felicity was free. But I haven't rung her yet, and in any case I could be back for the gig."

"It'd be worth it, man. You won't get a chance to see them very often. They do come to these shores but they tend to stick around Dover or go up to London." He hesitated, perhaps realising that he was speaking to someone with wider horizons than his own. "Maybe you and Felicity could get to see them up there some time. Consider this to be in the nature of research."

Ray nodded and mentally prepared himself for a very boring evening. He'd have to leave Eastbourne either Friday evening or Saturday morning, too, in case anyone noticed him or phoned him or... Still, he could perhaps go and spend part of the weekend in his flat, see if Bodie wanted anything bringing back, perhaps call Murphy and go out for a drink.

"Any other backers?" he risked asking, unsure whether he should show so much interest. But Jack seemed delighted.

"Some Frogs. Said they were something to do with that Le Pen bloke. He's Fanny's equivalent over there, you know."

Ray knew nothing of the kind. Le Pen was a much bigger name than Featherstoneheugh would ever be, especially if he and Bodie had anything to do with it. But he ought to display some general knowledge.

"He has a daughter, hasn't he? Marie or something."

"Yeah, she's a goer." Jack sounded enthusiastic and Ray raised his eyebrows.

"But she's going into politics, like her old man. I didn't think Calvin Jackson would approve of her."

"She's supporting her dad, yes. That's OK. I expect she'll meet the right kind of man that way. Someone like us. Only French, maybe." Jack conceded the possibility of Marie le Pen marrying a Frenchman rather than himself rather dubiously.

Ray was leafing through the paper, wondering how to get hold of one himself. It would add to their solid evidence. He started to hand it back to Jack who waved it away.

"Keep it. Enjoy it. Show Felicity. I've got more copies."

"Thanks, but I ought to buy one. You won't make much money if you give the stuff away."

"No, but we will if everybody who sees a copy tells their friends. And if we get the backing from abroad."

This was the news that would worry Cowley most of all. Some kind of far right pan European grouping getting a toehold in England, investing in a group that espoused thuggery as well as unpleasant ideas. He would tell Bodie tonight and he could pass the information back to HQ, although it was hearsay at the moment and Ray hoped he could get close enough to Fanny and the backers to get more solid evidence. He sighed as he turned back to a file concerning an application to build a small group of detached houses near the main coast road. He was beginning to see why Cowley was so concerned and he wondered if the new houses would have English lavender and rambling roses in their gardens.

#####################################

"That," said Tony, "is an obscene publication. Only fit to light fires."

Bodie looked up from the copy of The Eastbourne Defender which Ray had left on the coffee table in the lounge. "It doesn't have any sex in it," he said, knowing perfectly well what Tony meant but wanting to hear him say it.

"It's disgusting. Racist, sexist, homophobic trash."

"I haven't really looked at it yet. Rob left it down here. I can't very well burn it for you as it isn't mine, though if it's as bad as you say I might just manage to put it in the pile.” He indicated a sheaf of old newspapers near the fire.

"It's bad. I've seen a few copies, mostly in Brighton, ones that were left in pubs. It's nasty and it's dangerous - giving people ideas as if they didn't have enough already."

"Such as?"

"There have been beatings, chases, things like that. And the editor of that rag not only condones that kind of thing, he cheers the perpetrators on." Suddenly, Tony was less languid than usual, and for a moment Bodie wished they could let him know their secret, enlist his help. But someone untrained could only be a liability and all he could do was distance himself from Ray and give his partner a chance to do his job. With his help, of course.

Bodie was about to say something, anything, to calm Tony and show him that whilst the rag in question was indubitably in their lounge it was not necessarily welcome there, at least to the landlord, when Ray came into the room and sat down in one of the armchairs. He glanced at the paper in Bodie's hands and spoke.

"Right, Mr. Benton. I gather you've seen it, then? My colleague's piece," he said, turning to Tony to include him in the conversation.

"You have a colleague who writes for that?" Tony's voice dripped disgust.

"Hey, we don't get to choose our colleagues, you know. But I brought it home to see what Mr Benton thought of the writing, not the content. Wondered if I should encourage Jack or not."

“This Jack of yours is Calvin Jackson, is he?" Bodie tried to keep his tone neutral.

"Yeah, though he's not mine, exactly, except that he's at the next desk so I can hardly avoid him. Seems a nice lad, in any case." Ray threw a warning glance in the direction of Tony who was vigorously poking the fire, clearly wanting to cast the offending paper into the flames. "He's taking me to a concert on Sunday, by the way, so I won't be around to cook after all. And I'll be off after work on Friday - back home, to see Felicity."

Bodie swallowed hard. He knew there was no such person but he also didn't like Ray being out of his sight all weekend. They'd have to discuss this later, after Tony had, hopefully, gone off to study. Maybe it would work out and Ray could report in to HQ. But they'd have to take care."

"It's a pretty rubbish article," he said, throwing the paper at Ray as he got up to go to the kitchen. "I wouldn't encourage him to think himself a journalist if I were you."

"Nobody who writes for that thing could call themselves a journalist." Tony was spoiling for a fight and Bodie hoped Ray would control his reactions.

"I wouldn't know. I didn't really look at it." He heard Ray denying at least full knowledge of the Defender. "But the concert we're going to's in there, too. Donner und Blitzen. Heard of them?"

There was a snort and Tony banged the door on his way out of the room.

"How to make friends with your fellow lodgers," said Ray, rising and strolling into the kitchen where he leaned against a worktop, distracting Bodie who was trying to open a can of beans. Sausages were easy, and some of that instant mash, Smash, or whatever it was called, would go down a treat with a tin of Heinz. Basic and simple. He had never pretended they would get haute cuisine.

"I expect you've put him off his dinner," he said, but when he called up the stairs to say it was ready Tony came down as if nothing was the matter, though he made no conversation during the meal.

As was becoming the norm, he left them immediately after desert, slices of the ice cream roll Bodie had become almost addicted to, with the excuse of needing to study.

"What do you think he studies?" Ray sounded curious and Bodie considered.

"The Grocer? The Financial Times? Ice Cream Weekly? How should I know? I'm just glad he does."

"Yes." Ray spoke with feeling. "I need to tell you about the weekend."

"You most certainly do."

"The thing is, I've got this concert with Jack on Sunday and I said - not sure why - I wasn't sure I could go, because I was going up to town and seeing Felicity. I think I thought it would make me sound normal. Not suspicious."

"Why would you sound suspicious?"

"Dunno, really. I've been asking questions. Going along with whatever he suggested, making myself pretty easy."

"But that's what we want." Well, not exactly. He didn't want Ray to be easy, or at least not for others.

"Not if they realise. I don't fancy my chances much if that lot take a dislike to me."

No, and Bodie couldn't be with him all the time. He could listen to him, let him offload both concerns and evidence, advise him, be there when he came home, but he couldn't attend the concerts or the speeches. They needed Ray's attendance at those to firm up the picture they were building.

They chatted for a few moments about the German and French connections that Jack had let slip, and Bodie knew he'd need to call those in to Cowley the next day.

"But they're only potential backers," he said. "Where have they got the money from for the press as it is now? Is Featherstoneheugh rich? We need more on his background. I've asked, but nothing's come through yet. Always the same - the ground troops are the last to know."

"I'll try and find out. Not immediately, but perhaps on Sunday. Anything you want in London while I'm there?"

"Nothing I can't get here." Bodie mentally included his partner in that unspoken list. "But you could take that copy of the paper. I mean, Cowley can probably get hold of issues but that's a particularly useful one, what with Jack's article and the concert ad. Phone Murphy or one of the others. Have a drink for me and give him the paper."

"Will do." Ray smiled, and they dropped the subject, turning to the television and the 10 O'clock News.

Later, when Ray had gone up to bed, Bodie noticed the paper was still on the coffee table. He left it lying and in the morning found Tony folding it and putting it on the pile by the fire.

"You won't be needing that," he said, instead of a morning greeting.

"No, but it'll add to the kindling later on," said Bodie.

However, when Ray got home that night the paper was in his room, ready to be packed for its journey to Cowley.

#################################

"I saw Felicity," said Ray. "Gave her that copy of your article. You never know, it might get some interest going up in town."

"Give her anything else, did you?" Jack winked and nudged him, and Ray had to be careful not to move sharply away. They were already in their seats at the concert venue, and it would be all too obvious if he didn't allow Jack to be over familiar.

"She's not that kind of girl," he said, thinking of Murphy taking the paper as he spoke.

"Holding out for marriage?"

"Maybe, but she'll have to hold out for a while yet. I can't afford to marry just at the moment. I enjoy her company though and if that lasts, well..."

"Need a pay rise, don't we?" Jack laughed and turned his attention to the stage.

The concert was dire. The music was derivative and played with more attention to volume than accuracy. The lyrics were in German but there was a brief spoken summary before each song, in English. Jack was clearly thrilled with the entire performance. Ray thought it was a good job Bodie was having an evening with Rosemary and Keith so that he wasn't being deprived of time with his partner. He did feel deprived, on this job. Unnecessarily so, he thought. There didn't seem to be any imminent danger, at least not if you were white, male and heterosexual. He himself was at least two of those and Bodie was probably all three. They could have investigated together and suffered the concert together. They couldn't very well have taken jobs in the same office but surely Cowley could have arranged something better than this landlord and lodger situation, with Tony thrown into the mixture to boot.

"Aren't they great?" Jack's voice broke into his thoughts.

"Yeah, fantastic." Ray forced himself to smile.

There was a great deal of clapping and yelling, and some kind of standing ovation from the front row where Featherstoneheugh and his tame thugs were sitting. Well, they'd have to appear to admire the music to get the money, he thought, even if they weren't actually thrilled. Who would be thrilled with this lot? Perhaps the lyrics made up for everything else. They certainly seemed to have won Jack's heart.

The concert was in the upstairs meeting room of a pub, The King George, and afterwards everyone spilled down into the bar. Ray found himself with the favoured few clustered round Featherstoneheugh listening to him going on about how the lyric writer had it all right and how they needed more groups like this in England. How they would be able to sponsor young men who wanted to start a band if their fund raising paid off.

"What about the paper, though?" he asked. "Isn't the funding to keep that going?"

"We have other ways." Fanny seemed about to confide in him but stopped at the last minute.

"You don't smoke, do you?" Jack again, with a parcel now, half unwrapped and clearly containing cartons of cigarettes.

"No, but Felicity does." Ray transferred his mental image of Felicity from Murphy to Anson and tried to look interested. This was some kind of test or new information and he needed to find out what. "Sometimes, anyway, though I wish she wouldn't." He recalled stake-outs with an ash-strewn car and made a face.

"OK, but if she does, you could do yourself a favour here. These are special, and dirt cheap. Get her a few boxes and she'll think the world of you, and you won't really have spent much at all."

"Fallen off the back of a lorry, have they?" Ray thought he could risk being inquisitive.

Jack scowled. "Not at all. Bought all legal and everything. Just, not here, if you take my meaning."

So these were the smuggled goods. Travellers could bring in duty free cigs, of course, or duty paid in the EU, but only enough to convince customs they were for their own consumption and not for resale or for the entire extended family. If Fanny's men were selling smuggled fags they could be making a tidy profit. He produced his wallet and expressed enthusiasm. Cowley would need at least one pack as proof. Jack talked him into buying three and Ray made a mental note to charge Cowley. They were cheap but he didn't see why he or Bodie should fund the purchase of evidence.

"How d'you get them in, then?" He hoped he sounded casual, admiring even.

"Boat," said Jack, rather uninformatively.

"Well, yes, I assumed so, but how d'you get them past customs?"

"They don't go past customs. They come in on a dark night."

So a further piece of Fanny's operation slotted into place. And this one, unlike the unpleasant but legal co-operation with German and French rightists, was not only against the law but was likely to get Ray into trouble if he tried to investigate further on his own. He knew when to shut up, and did.

"So tell me, Deacon, how you're finding Eastbourne." Fanny's upper class voice cut into their conversation. He had remembered Ray's name, or maybe Jack had reminded him. Murphy had handed over some research which Ray had read on the train. He knew the man was from an aristocratic family who denied all knowledge of him. No family money involved. The foreign backers and the smuggling would be the bedrock on which his campaign would be built. Unless he'd earned money elsewhere and put it all into the paper. That seemed fairly likely as he had no wife or children, and didn't seem to have any vices, not even smoking the smuggled cigarettes. He was sipping a tonic water with ice and lemon.

"I'm finding it very much to my taste, sir," he said, hoping his use of the word 'sir' wasn't coming on too strong.

"You like our little group, do you? Jack says you're a kindred spirit."

"Everyone's been very friendly," said Ray. "Jack in particular. He was showing me the article he wrote for you the other day. Nice piece of work."

"Yes. We like to put a bit of work in the way of our sympathisers." Fanny was looking keenly at him and Ray didn't think he meant paid work. Or journalism, come to that.

"I'm willing to help, if I can," he said, feeling faintly sick but elated at being accepted here so quickly.

"I'll bear you in mind next time we need some deliveries organised." Deliveries? That sounded like either the paper or the smuggling. Either way, Ray would get closer, be able to tell Cowley more.

"Thank you," he said, hoping he sounded sincere.

The conversation around him had moved to the band, and their gigs elsewhere. Andy - or Chris - was saying it was a pity they couldn't have the same kind of post-concert activities as in Germany. The occasional march with a few poofters and wogs left with a bit of a kicking would be just the thing for Eastbourne. It seemed the German police often turned a blind eye to such things. Either that, or the lads were able to choose their dates and times and places so that there'd be little police intervention. Maybe the odd fire set here and there to get the local fuzz off the main streets...

Ray listened avidly. This was what Cowley needed. Fanny was smiling agreement with Andy and the others, including Jack, were hanging on every word. Ray hoped and assumed that his own eagerness to hear more was put down to enthusiasm for the cause. Hearing the way the men described the beatings reminded him again of early Brownshirt activities, and he was glad, suddenly, that Cowley had ordered him to have his hair cut before coming down here. His usual luxuriant curls had been reduced to a short covering. He couldn't help the way the hair twirled and twisted but he was pretty sure any more length would have marked him out as an undesirable, Fanny's hair was slightly unconventional but then Fanny was the leader and perhaps allowed eccentricities. If ‘Deacon’ had looked even slightly effeminate Jack would probably not have associated with him in the first place. Not that he was effeminate but...

He stopped, wondering why he liked having his hair long. Bodie liked it, he knew, and had commented favourably. Various birds had tangled their fingers in it. A stray thought suggested Bodie might like to do that, too, and he shook his head, trying to rid himself of treacherous thoughts. Ones he should not be having at all, but certainly not in this company.

"You up for helping one night, then?" Jack was clearly talking about smuggling and not newspapers.

"Yeah," he said. "Count me in." He couldn't wait to tell Bodie how much he'd learnt, and the horror of the music faded into insignificance beside everything he'd heard.

He pleaded tiredness after his weekend away, and left the pub, hoping Bodie would be back from his dinner when he got home, and that Tony would not be in the lounge. He was rewarded on both counts.

"Don't be daft." Bodie listened to Doyle's musings about how they might have worked better as an investigative team. "If they're into smuggling in a big enough way to finance that rag, they're not to be trifled with. You need me in the background, just in case. Once you know when you're 'helping' I can follow either in the car or on foot, and armed."

"Armed? We can't catch them red-handed, Bodie. There are only two of us and quite a lot of them."

"Not to arrest them. Just to protect you if necessary. Sometimes, Ray, you need more than a handler, you need your head read. They're dangerous, this lot."

"They're nasty, and they're dangerous enough to some sections of the population, but..."

"...but you need someone to watch your back, and that's final. And the only way I can do that is if they don't know I'm there, see?"

"All right. I'll let you know as soon as Jack says something. I assume it won't be going down straight after work."

"Not at this time of year. It's still light when you get home and then for a while."

Home. Strange that Jevington Road was becoming home, but perhaps not so strange since Bodie was there with him.

####################################

A couple of weeks passed with no offer of night 'work' from Jack, no other group meetings and no issue of the Defender to read or review. Bodie was lulled into a sense of security. Ray seemed to be safe for the moment and his only concern was Cowley's growing annoyance over their lack of ammunition for disbanding the Featherstoneheugh Irregulars as they had come to call them in a kind of joking shorthand.

"We've got the paper itself and its air of menace. We have Ray's word for the German and French connections. We know about the incident in the park, and no, the young man never reported the attack. We hope to uncover the practice of placing applications Jack and his cronies dislike at the bottom of the pile, but that's only going to reflect on the council. We can't pin it to Featherstoneheugh. We need the smuggling, Bodie. Get Doyle onto it, as fast as he can."

"He's trying, sir. He's waiting for an invitation."

"Waiting for Christmas, more like." There was an inelegant snort as CI5's controller made his displeasure known. "Can he not hurry things along?"

"I doubt it, sir. Not if he's to maintain cover. And I'm sure the invitation will be forthcoming eventually."

"Aye, well... Eventually is a long time coming, laddie. I don't like what this man is up to. The foreign connections and the law breaking and the menace to the local population add up to something very nasty indeed. He has to be stopped, d'ye hear?"

"I do indeed, sir, and we both agree with you. But you wanted us to do it this way. Are you changing our instructions?"

"No, no, not at all. It's just my impatience speaking. Carry on as before. And Bodie, take care of Doyle. They aren't amateurs, this lot, or at least not when it comes to violence."

"Noted, sir, and I'll have his back, as always."

As he put the phone back on its stand Bodie mused that it was quite difficult to have Ray's back. Undercover work with handler and front line man was not something he relished. He'd rather be somewhere in a dark alley with a gun in his hand. Instead, he was in a dilapidated Victorian seaside mansion with erratic opportunities to talk to his partner, and the ever present possibility of Tony walking in on them.

Tonight was unusual. Both his lodgers had told him not to expect them for dinner. Ray was eating with Jack and his friends at The Green Head, and Tony was, it seemed, meeting some friends from Brighton who had decided on an outing along the coast for some unfathomable reason. Possibly to see My Beautiful Launderette which was showing at the art cinema just along the front on one of the main parades. Though why they would come to Eastbourne was beyond Bodie. The film had been shown on television not so long ago. Maybe they just enjoyed viewing things in a group. Certainly Tony had suggested they might be going there and then out to a Chinese restaurant before the majority of the party had to get back to Brighton.

He made himself some scrambled eggs on toast. No point wasting any of the more elaborate meals on solitary dining. Then he treated himself to a miniature chocolate swiss roll, sitting by the lounge fire to unwrap it, anticipating the treat and letting his teeth just break the chocolate coating, splitting it into shards, before biting down. He wished Ray could be there. He would frown at his partner giving in to his sweet tooth but his company would be more welcome than the roll. Could he, he wondered, have developed an addiction to Ray? A kind of Ray Doyle tooth that needed to be assuaged from time to time? It wasn't being alone that concerned him and he would not have welcomed Tony's face or even one of his other friends like Murphy. Ray, though...

Lost in a day dream about his partner he finished the swiss roll without really tasting it and only just heard the phone ringing in time to rush out to the hall and answer it. He was half expecting Rosemary. His neighbours were full of advice and friendly overtures. Cowley would not ring; he knew Bodie would make sure the coast was clear before phoning HQ. He would expect a phone call most days, of course, but would not put his agents' cover in danger.

It was Ray. An almost incoherent Ray who was evidently ringing from a phone box. Bodie wished they could use RTs under cover but of course that was an impossibility.

"You have to help. I can't do it alone. I need something sharp, a heavy knife or scissors. You have to, Bodie. I can't just leave them. I've told Jack I'm going to the bog but I came out to phone. I'd better get back. But please. Hurry. I'll make some kind of excuse and leave. But just come."

"The Green Head?" It wouldn't help if he turned up in the wrong place.

"Yes. Quickly. The tide..." The pips went and Ray's voice went, too.

Bodie had no idea what he was in for, what he might find. He gathered a heavy but short kitchen knife, some secateurs, and his gun. And his car keys.

It wasn't far but he wanted a quick getaway and from a car he could observe without being noticed. What on earth was Ray mixed up in? It sounded serious.

As he drove, he passed the art cinema with its posters about the film Tony had been looking forward to. There were no groups of young men around but Bodie began to feel a kind of premonition. This was the way they would have taken to the station, he thought, or to one of the main car parks or even the restaurant. And they would have had to pass The Green Head.

He pulled up just beyond the pub, careful to stay away from lamp posts and keep the car in as much shadow as possible. A soft knock on the passenger window told him Ray had found him and he leaned over to wind the window down.

"Thank God. Did you bring what I asked?"

"Of course. Have you managed to get away from them? And what's going on?"

"They think I'm feeling queasy and I've decided to walk home. I headed that way then doubled back on this side of the road." Ray glanced down at the beach which gleamed silvery beyond the flower beds and railings. It was lit fitfully by both the street lamps and the moon. "They're down there. Hurry."

"Who?" If Ray had walked out of the pub leaving Jack and his friends drinking then who on earth was on the beach?

"How should I know?" The mystifying reply seemed to echo in his ears as they headed for the nearest steps down to the sand.

Then Ray put out an arm as a barrier and pulled them both into the shadows. From where they were, Bodie could see at least four figures on the beach. There were a couple of stakes, possibly metal, from the occasional reflections, near the waterline. Come to think of it, a few of the uprights of the railings where they were standing were missing. Two of the figures seemed to be attached to the ones by the sea in some way and also to be either kneeling or half buried in the sand. The other two were flashing knives or something and he could hear soft cries. There was no suggestion that anyone needed help, more that he and Ray were the cavalry who had arrived too late to effect a rescue that was already in progress.

They melted back into the shadows and then poured themselves into the car and sat watching as four young men came up from beach, two of them helping the other two who could barely walk. One of the rescuers whistled, loud and long, not in the least like any kind of sea bird or night bird and more, Bodie thought, as a kind of command. A group emerged from the shadows and joined the little party, helping to support the youths who had, presumably, been tied on the water's edge, and all talking vigorously to each other.

"How did they get them if their friends were close enough to see what was going on?" Bodie
whispered the question. The car windows were closed but it seemed a good idea to be as quiet as possible. Besides, leaning over to whisper made it look as if they were parked for the sake of each other and nothing else. It wouldn't do for the good guys to break their cover.

"They were in twos and threes. Jack's lot were a group of about a dozen and they were armed. Well, not armed, but they were brandishing sticks and chains. They seemed to know when the film would be over and they were waiting. I didn't know what they were going to do until... I thought they were just going to shout insults, maybe have a bit of a tussle. It's a public promenade, after all. A main road. Then they whipped out all this stuff from behind their coats and those who didn't have anything were welcome to share. Andy gave me a chain." Ray stopped for a moment as the enormity of what had happened seemed to sink in after the adrenaline-fuelled aborted rescue. "I wouldn't have used it but I was on the outskirts of the crowd, which is how I knew what was going on. Jack and Chris and a couple of others took the pair they caught down to the sand and they grabbed rails or something on the way. Jack said he knew where the perfect stakes were. And somebody must have had rope. They were laughing themselves silly when they got back to the pub and that's when I said I didn't feel so good and was leaving. I think I made it sound OK. Not too close to the return or anything."

"You know you should have stayed."

"And you know I couldn't have." When Bodie raised an eyebrow Ray raised his voice a little, anger seeping through. "I know, I know, I'm under cover and I need to know all there is to know about this lot of tossers. But I already know their names, where most of them work, and what they did tonight. I also know I couldn't live with myself if I let someone die or be seriously injured by my undercover work. That's where Cowley and I part company. What about you?"

"Calm down." Bodie whispered his response. "I know you couldn't and I wouldn't expect it of you. But you took a huge risk. Why didn't you just phone me and go back in - say you'd chucked up your supper over the railings and felt better?"

"I thought we might need to..."

"Well, we didn't. And why you didn't think their friends were around, I don't know. In fact, your lot must have known they'd be rescued so there wasn't much danger, really."

"Not my lot. Never that."

"You know what I mean."

"Yes, but... Never mind. I thought their friends might be too far away to realise, or to get there in time. It might have escaped your notice but the tide was coming in. And I'm not so sure either the attackers or the victims thought there was no danger."

Bodie wasn't, either, judging by the looks on the faces of the lads who had come up from the beach leaning on their rescuers. He started the car and moved out into the road, heading further along the sea front.

"This isn't the way home." Ray sounded confused.

"Of course it isn't. Turning round near The Green Head wouldn't be so clever, would it? Not if they saw their victims had unaccountably vanished. I'll carry on and then turn inland and we can double back and get home from there."

There was silence in the car until Bodie spoke again.

"You don't think they'll try it again tonight?"

"No. The tide'll be in and they won't want to get their feet wet, even in the cause of rampant homophobia. And the lads are all together now, and on their guard so they'll be harder to catch out."

Bodie let out a small sigh of relief. He wanted this lot stopped but he didn't want to break their cover till they had Featherstoneheugh firmly in the picture. He wanted to comfort Ray but wasn't sure how. He knew how his partner felt about innocent members of the public, wanting to protect them at all costs. Well, the cost here could be the suffering of far more people further down the line. They had to get this sorted. Going to the police wouldn't help. It would just put Jack and his cronies in trouble and leave the ringleader unassailed. Besides, the police might not be particularly helpful. Eastbourne wasn't Manchester, but Anderton's policy on gays was admired and copied elsewhere, and Bodie wasn't sure what the local bobbies were likely to do or be told to do.

"What d'you think? Will the lads report to the local cop shop?" He was thinking aloud, really, but he wanted to know what Ray considered likely.

"Probably not. Nobody's actually seriously injured, though goodness knows what mental torture those two went through. The coppers round here are more likely to send them on their way with a warning to stick to the lights of Brighton." He snorted indignantly.

"What about you? Do you think they should stick to Brighton?"

"What? Go back where they 'belong'? Like the Asians and the others Jack and company don't like? No, I bloody don't. People should have the right to go to the cinema and walk down the street anywhere. In England. Anywhere else, too, but England's the only place I can have any influence in."

"I take it you don't agree with Jack over gays any more than over immigrants or feminists, then?"

"Of course I don't." Ray sounded surprised that Bodie had even considered such a thing.

"Just checking."

"Why? Bodie, you don't agree..."

"No." It came out even more forcefully than he'd intended. "You know that quite well, after that other undercover thing we did." He wondered what Ray would make of his reply but they were nearing the house on Jevington Road and he started looking for somewhere to park.

###################################

Ray sat in the lounge while Bodie made a pot of tea. He considered his partner's reaction to his suggestion about Bodie's sympathies. He did know, or thought he knew, that Bodie was basically tolerant, though sometimes he voiced thoughtless but popular stupidities about women or coloured immigrants. Homophobia might be a different matter. Yes, he had seemed happy enough to work to suppress a particularly nasty police chief, but that was surely due to his innate sense of justice and his loyalty to Cowley. It didn't actually tell Ray anything about his personal convictions. He hoped they were similar to his own, but he had never been able to start anything like a serious discussion on the issue.

The tea was welcome. Although his excuse of queasiness had been just that, a ruse to get him out of the pub and away from the group, he felt slightly sick and rather shaken by what had occurred. He was used to violence but it most often concerned criminals or spies. When the general population became involved and acts of terrorism were planned, everything seemed to move onto a different plane, with stake-outs, armed response and thrilling chases, not sitting in pubs and then watching one set of young men torture another. But Cowley wanted more evidence and more evidence he would get. Whatever he had to witness to get it.

As he finished his drink and put the cup back on the coffee table, they heard the front door open and then suddenly Tony was in the lounge, shaking with some strong emotion and glaring at Ray.

"You! You were there! You were with them! You brought that rag here and I thought you'd just picked it up by accident, but no, you're one of Featherstoneheugh's thugs!"

"No, I admit to being there but I tried to stop them."

"Rubbish. Nobody tried to stop anybody. You were one of that group and you're all as guilty as sin. If Gerry and Hal had been drowned..."

"What's this then?" Bodie interrupted, pretending to no knowledge of the evening's events. After all, he was not supposed to have been on the front at all, much less in Ray's company.

"That gang of louts, the ones Featherstoneheugh encourages with his rag, they knew we were coming from the cinema. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Rob here was the one to tell them." He directed a glare at Ray and then continued. "They rushed out of the pub and caught two of our lot. Some of us were ahead and some behind. Nobody near enough, anyway, and they had weapons. They manhandled them down to the beach and tied them to stakes. The tide was coming in." As he spoke he lunged at Ray and Bodie was forced to hold him still. He struggled but was not a match for the agent.

"So your friends were treated badly but it sounds as if they were rescued and all's well?"

"No thanks to this one. He was part of the pub group. I saw him clearly and he said he was going to The Green Head, round about when I said I was going to the cinema."

"Did you see him attack anyone?"

"No, but..."

"Then calm down. He might well have tried to stop whatever was going on."

As they argued, Ray got up and headed for the door. Bodie didn’t try to stop him. . It would probably be a good idea to put a couple of doors between himself and Tony, and let Bodie sort things out, forbidding any fighting on the premises, or something like that. He wished he could tell the truth.

"Don't just walk away! At least face up to your actions! Just what have you got against us, anyway? Pure mindless homophobia, eh?"

"You aren't willing to listen so why should I say anything at all?" He headed for the door again but Tony, although still restrained by Bodie, had his feet free and kicked out, tripping Ray, who stumbled and ended up measuring his not inconsiderable length on the carpet, his head perilously near the coal scuttle.

 

"Ray..." Bodie attempted to step towards him, then seemed to realise he might allow Tony to do further damage and stepped back, dragging his prisoner behind the couch.

"Ray? Why do you call him that? His name's Rob."

"A nickname. I called him a ray of sunshine when he arrived here on a sunny afternoon. It stuck." Bodie was quick witted as usual. Tony looked suspicious but seemed to accept the explanation.
By now Ray was on his feet again, looking, and if he was honest, feeling almost as murderous as Tony seemed to believe him to be.

"I have no intention of discussing the matter other than to say that I disliked what went on and tried to talk them out of it," he said, his voice full of ice and disdain. He had never liked injustice and the fact that Tony couldn't know what had really happened was not helpful to his state of mind.

To his and Bodie's surprise, Tony seemed to sag, leaning against the back of the couch.

"I suppose it was partly my fault in any case," he said.

Both men just stared at him. This was incomprehensible.

"Your fault?" Bodie was clearly determined to find out how the convoluted thinking was going. "Your fault that a group of your friends were attacked? How could it be your fault, unless it was you who told the pub group about when you'd be passing? And it couldn't have been you because you accused Ray, I mean Rob, of that."

"I knew when I suggested they should come to Eastbourne. I mean yes, we wanted to see the film but I knew about that right wing gang. I should have told everyone to be more careful but... "

"But?" Bodie was clearly sensing there was more to this and Ray enjoyed the way he pushed Tony.

"I half hoped there might be some kind of scuffle, something we could report perhaps, though the police here probably wouldn't help, but something we could take to the press, not the Defender, the real press. And maybe we could give as good as we got. But I mishandled it and Gerry and Hal..."

"...are apparently safe, so stop beating yourself about the head. And in future, don't get involved in half-hearted attempts to change something like that. If you'd all stayed together you might well have had a scuffle and then someone might have been seriously injured." Ray spoke without thinking, anger pouring out of him, the stress of the evening taking its toll with this new evidence of idiocy.

"And why would you have cared?" Tony was sounding belligerent again and Bodie sighed.

"If I let loose, will you agree to sit down and discuss this without any physical stuff?" As Tony nodded, Bodie let him go and he made his way round to the front of the couch and sat down. Bodie sat beside him, ready to grab if necessary, and Ray sank into one of the fireside chairs.
"Now," said Bodie, "you saw Rob with a group of men some of whom attacked your friends. Did you see him with a weapon?" Tony shook his head. "Did he go down to the beach?" Another shake. "So all you can say he's guilty of is having some unpleasant mates. Hardly a good enough reason to send him flying into the coal scuttle and certainly not a good enough reason for this to escalate. This is my house and you're both living here. If you want to leave, fine, give notice or pay rent in lieu, but if you don't, shake and make up." He watched, for all the world like a headmaster, as Ray and Tony shook hands. "And Rob, I think you could promise not to bring that paper here again." Ray nodded.

"But I can't promise not to see that group of men. Half of them are my colleagues at work. So I'm sort of stuck with them. I can only promise to try to stop them if anything like that goes down again," he said.

Tony gave a grudging assent, or at least voiced a noise that could be taken as assent.

"Did you ever get your meal?" Bodie wondered if he'd have to feed the man after all.

"I grabbed a sandwich at the station when I saw some of the others off. I'll go to my room now. I think I need to lie down." And without more ado, he left them.

Bodie and Ray looked at each other for a long moment.

"Well," offered Bodie, "that went better than it could have done."

"I wish we could tell him. But he's as opinionated in his own way as they are in theirs, and as for a crack-brained idea of letting some kind of gang fight happen, well, it shows his intelligence is limited to say the least."

"So we leave him in unhappy ignorance. Fine. But watch yourself, Ray. I wouldn't put it past him to try to make life miserable for you. Salt in your tea, that kind of thing."

"I'll watch, and I imagine you will, too."

"Of course. I've got your back here just as much as on the street, and being your partner covers protection at home too."

Ray smiled. "What about another cuppa then? I think I've deserved it."

"Me too,” said Bodie. “I mean, I've deserved one too. But yes, I'll make it. Switch the telly on. I think there's a match somewhere tonight."

As Bodie headed once more into the kitchen. Ray smiled again, to himself this time. A cup of tea, a match, and his partner for company. A good end to a difficult evening. Maybe he could relax for an hour or so, and enjoy some home comforts. He stretched to iron out the tension caused by the fall - such a greenhorn mistake but he wasn't used to being threatened on his home ground. Having Bodie around made everything better. Much, much better.

#######################################

"I hear you've had trouble." Rosemary was leaning on the fence between their gardens, ready to gossip and unlikely to move. Bodie wanted to tell her to mind her own business but couldn't bring himself to be rude to the neighbour who meant well and who probably thought she could give advice in this situation.

 

"Trouble?" He repeated the word as a guarded question. No sense telling her anything she didn't already know.

"One of your young men, that Tony, told me the other one's a right bastard. Helped stake one of his mates on the sands at high tide."

Bodie let his eyebrows raise as far as they would go. "I think he's exaggerating for effect, Rosemary. Rob wouldn't do anything of the kind, though he does seem to have made a few rather dubious friends. Still, as he says, they're his colleagues and it's hard to avoid them."

"Waved the Defender in your faces too," said Rosemary, as if he hadn't spoken. "Mind you, we quite look forward to the Defender. Some weeks it's interesting and that editor, Featherstoneheugh..." She pronounced the name as it was spelled and not as it should be said. "...he's not wide of the mark about a lot of things. Me and Keith have often said he knows a thing or two about how some issues are getting out of hand around here."

"So you agree with the Defender's policies?" Bodie was cautious. He knew his neighbours were basically right wing but there was a huge difference between supporters of dyed-in-the-wool Tories and fans of Featherstoneheugh's brand of intolerance.

"Not all of them. Not by a long chalk. I'd never support any kind of violent solution so don't go thinking I would. But we could do with a few politicians looking at things like immigration and poofters. But if your young man is into knocking people about then you'll have to evict him. I don’t hold with poofters, but I don’t hold with vigilantes, either."

"Rosemary, he isn't my young man," said Bodie, wishing desperately that he was, that he could claim him, protect him. "Neither of them are anything other than lodgers who pay the rent on time and unless they stop doing that, they're both staying. But I've told Rob not to bring that paper home again. No sense setting Tony off." He wasn’t sure whether Rosemary recognised Tony as one of the ‘poofters’ she despised.

Well, if you're sure you can handle him." Rosemary's face was creased in a doubtful frown. To Bodie's relief Keith called her from inside the house and she left him there, deadheading roses. That was why he was outside to begin with, helping actual roses to flourish in Jevington Road so that he would look like a houseproud landlord and maintain the cover than enabled him to handle Ray in a quite different way to the one that his neighbour meant.

And quite different from the way he'd like to handle him, he thought, viciously snapping a dead side branch from an inoffensive plant. But that was out of the question so he would stay here protecting Cowley's roses. When he phoned HQ he would tell Cowley all about the previous evening but he would also tell him all about deadheading, whether he wanted to hear it or not. The things he was willing to do for England. Or for Cowley. Or perhaps just for Ray.

Rosemary's easy defence of the Defender worried him. The paper was obviously gaining quite a readership, locally at least. And he thought it might do well in parts of London. The main articles would appeal to most people who held generally right wing views, and they could be gradually led down the path of thinking those views could be extended with help from neo-Nazis, German and French. They were unlikely, perhaps, to condone the smuggling that was funding the press, but then again, he was unsure. People resented customs and excise tax. They would happily buy cheap fags and booze in a pub. It wasn't as if the items themselves were illegal. They wouldn't dream of approving drugs, he thought. People-smuggling was probably beyond the pale. And they might think twice about illicit trade in things like tortoiseshell or ivory or ancient artefacts. But everyday luxuries - turning a blind eye to their illegal entry to the country was likely. And if Featherstoneheugh and his men went to prison for the offence not everybody would regard them as real criminals. Best nip everything in the bud at the same time, paper, smuggling, foreign intervention and localised violence. He would talk to Cowley. Maybe they needed more manpower down here. Maybe what seemed like small-time criminality and some way out political views had wider ramifications. Trust Cowley to have spotted the problems in good time.

It turned out that Cowley was glad Bodie had seen the wider picture, not particularly concerned for Ray who could, he said, look after himself, especially with Bodie in the offing, and knew more about deadheading than Bodie had dreamed possible. The unwilling landlord returned to the garden, his head buzzing with the names of different kinds of roses, knowing he had passed on all the information they had and that there would be no further help coming. Though if Ray got involved with the smuggling, Bodie was to tell Cowley straight away and there would be back-up in place within the hour.

He looked up from his gardening to see Ray coming through the gate. Not many weeks until the hour would go back and it would be dark when his lodgers got home. Tony was due soon, so he abandoned the roses for the day and led the way into the house.

#####################################

"Over your stomach bug, then?" Jack sounded friendly enough. Ray had continued to complain about nausea the day after what he mentally referred to as 'the stakeout', and had even gone without lunch to make his problem seem plausible. Today he had eaten. Most stomach complaints were over in about twenty four hours or were serious enough to merit sick leave.

"Yeah, thanks." He smiled, able to do so because he was glad Jack believed him. "Still no idea what caused it but at least it's over."

"Started after that meal at the pub, though nobody else was affected." Jack frowned.

"Too soon after. More likely to have been something I had for lunch or breakfast."

"I'd be sick if I had to share lodgings with a fag like that." Jack's comment took Ray completely by surprise and it must have shown because there was an immediate explanation. "I was delivering the Defender to the house next door to yours. Straight after work one night. Saw you go in, in fact, and waved but you didn't see me. Then I saw that little pansy... "

"He's all right. I only see him at breakfast and occasionally if we both have a meal there. Otherwise, he might as well be almost anywhere else."

"No nasty meetings on the landing then? Know what I mean?" Jack was smirking, and Ray shrugged.

"Not yet. Though I'd tell him where to go if he tried anything, obviously."

"Still, not nice having to share a space with someone like that. Might be catching." Jack laughed uproariously at what he thought was an excellent joke. "But we've bigger fish to catch, Rob. Fanny wants us to help with a delivery tonight, and I don't mean of the Defender." He rubbed one finger down the side of his nose in what he must have thought was some kind of secret signal though Ray had no idea what it was supposed to signify other than that the delivery would be by sea, which was pretty obvious from the words, in any case.

"What time?" He hoped he would have time to contact Bodie first.

"Late. Late-ish, anyway. About 10.30.pm. Dunno if that's interfering with your beauty sleep but it's only this once. They usually come in on Saturdays and we go after the pub."

"O.K. Where do I meet you?"

"At The Green Head. It doesn't look odd for blokes to meet for a drink and we can set out as if we were going home. Not that long before last orders anyway."

Ray walked home that evening in a strange mood. He was pleased that he'd been included in the delivery group, glad his stomach bug had been accepted, and generally relieved that the case was to some extent progressing. But he felt unaccountably upset by the way Jack had talked about Tony. True, he thought the man was a fool, a danger to himself and his friends, and a nuisance in the way he got between Ray and Bodie simply by being there, but other than that he didn't find him particularly unpleasant, or even very obviously queer. He wondered what Jack had seen. Maybe he'd spotted Tony among the cinema-goers on the fateful evening. And why were the right wing group so virulently homophobic? After all, homosexuality was legal now, provided it was between consenting adults in private. The Nazis had been similar, and yet they had had homosexuals in their ranks, quite high up ones, too. Some kind of inability to accept aspects of their own thoughts? Some weird attitude to having to be a 'real man' to defend your country? He puzzled over it until he turned into Jevington Road. He would like to discuss it with Bodie, but had no idea how the whole topic would be received. And yet Bodie had a background in spheres where he must have encountered both queers and queer-bashers. Ray knew he was unlikely to raise the subject. He didn't want to find out Bodie's innermost thoughts on the matter. Provided he didn't know, he could dream.

Tony reached the gate at the same time as Ray did, from the other direction. He scowled at Ray and grunted when he was greeted with a cheery 'good evening'. Ray smiled to himself, wishing Tony could read his mind and see how far off the mark his assessment was.

They were both eating 'in' and a smell of stew met them in the hall. Bodie was practising his cooking skills to some effect and Ray quite looked forward to whatever was on tonight's menu.

It was a huge tureen of meat and vegetables swimming in brown gravy. The meat, Bodie assured them, was mutton, and he had skimmed the fat off as advised by the cookery book. The vegetables included potatoes, carrots and turnips as well as onions and a stick of celery.

"Turnips?" Tony expressed the incredulous dismay that Ray felt but did not mention. "I thought they were cattle food?"

"Not the little ones. And you're thinking of some kind of beet or something, anyway. Turnips are fine. So are swedes. Though those are nicer mashed, the way the Scots do it with haggis."

"Since when did you become such a culinary expert?" Ray could have bitten his tongue off the moment he'd spoken.

"Since when do you know so much about what Mr Benton does or doesn't know?" Tony sounded just as suspicious as when he'd heard Bodie use the name 'Ray'. They really would have to be careful but it was so easy to relax once the front door was between them and the outside world.

"I told him when he arrived that I couldn't cook," said Bodie, easily. "But with you two growing lads to feed and a house to run I've started to learn. It's not difficult. Just needs time and a cookbook or two. I borrowed one from Rosemary."

They settled down to the stew, which was quite good, turnips included, though they would never be Ray's favourite vegetable. Still, they were filling and cheap and he supposed Bodie was playing the part of the seaside landlord perfectly. He just hoped he'd have time without Tony, to warn him about tonight's delivery expedition. He had no idea where the delivery was to take place and would have to rely on Jack to deliver both of them to the correct beach. Bodie, he thought, would want to follow in the car and would need to be stationed outside The Green Head in good time. Perhaps he could give him a lift part way. He tuned back in to the conversation Bodie was having with Tony.

"I'd have thought your supermarket would stock turnips. Surely the point of those great places is to stock everything."

"They might do. I'm more in the accounts area. Things like that are just listed as root veg."

"Studying accountancy, then?"

"Yes."

So that explained the long evenings at his books in his room. It must be tedious but no doubt would further his career. And it would further their ability to talk, so Ray wasn't going to say anything at all.

True to form, Tony left them soon after the meal was over, citing the call of his books, and the agents were left in peace. Ray quickly brought Bodie up to date on the evening's plans and as he'd thought, his partner wanted to follow him.

"Just make sure you aren't seen."

"As if."

"They aren't total amateurs, or at least Fanny's minders aren't. And I shouldn't think he is, either."

"I'll remain invisible."

"Mind you do."

Ray set out in advance, walking out towards the sea front but not hurrying. Soon enough he heard the car pull up and sank gratefully into the passenger seat. Walking almost the whole parade twice a day was becoming boring and a third traverse would be even worse. It wasn't as if he could run and enjoy the feel of his muscles straining and strengthening. He couldn't very well arrive at work sweaty and panting.

"Didn't think a walk would bother you." Bodie's voice was teasing. He knew perfectly well why Ray was fed up with the route.

"I miss running. When we get back..."

"Yes, they say running's addictive." Bodie was amused now.

"Good for you though. Helps with stamina and so on. Muscle control."

"I, my friend, have plenty of muscle control. Especially where it counts."

"No need for innuendos." Though Ray rather liked the idea of Bodie controlling his reactions. And controlling his, Ray's, reactions too, for that matter.

"No innuendo. Just fact." Bodie sounded smug.

The pub was in sight, the signboard swinging in the slight breeze. It was dark, but the street lights and the light spilling from the pub itself made the white cliffs on the picture glow. Bodie turned the car sharply and parked in a road at right angles to the front. He was near enough the main road, and particularly the pub car park exit to monitor Ray's group, and he settled down to wait while Ray closed the car door quietly and headed into the bar.

#######################################

It wasn't hard to follow the two cars that swung out of the car park with Ray and presumably Jack among their passengers. They were sticking to the main road nearest the sea and Bodie was able to keep them in sight despite the darkness, memorising their number plates and makes, and staying well back in the general traffic. There was plenty of that, and would be more in a few minutes at pub closing time. He hoped they would reach their destination before then as it would be harder to stay on their tail with a road full of half inebriated drivers heading home. For now, there was no problem and he simply made sure they hadn't turned off.

And then they did. Down a small road leading to a dip in the cliffs, somewhere with a beach where there was a possible landing place for a boat from France. Bodie followed for a minute and then parked in a farm gateway, one with overhanging trees that he hoped would deter the curious. Maybe anyone who saw the car would assume it was off the road for a lovers' tryst. He had a fleeting picture of himself with Ray in the half-hidden vehicle and then firmly closed his mind to such inappropriate images. He was following the real Ray, supporting him if necessary, and figments of his imagination could wait till he was off duty. Although he supposed that when they were undercover he was never off duty.

He got out and stretched. He would have to walk but he had checked all the maps he could get of the coastline and he knew it could not be far to the beach. He was wearing unrelieved black garments, a leather jacket, shirt, and cord trousers, plus soft soled black shoes which let him walk almost noiselessly down the lane. Not that the smugglers would be listening for walkers. A car would worry them but if they heard him they would think him a farm worker heading home after a night's drinking. Or so he hoped.

When he reached the beach he found himself on a slight incline. There were miniature cliffs here, nothing like the huge beauties at Beachy Head and The Seven Sisters, just a child's version of the grown up majesties to either side. Vaulting quietly and quickly over a gate he crossed the corner of a field and lay down in the grass. He could see the beach but could not be seen. To his relief he could see Ray's group, and the small boat they were gathered near. They were just below him and he could hear every word.

"Merde. You 'ave not tell me there is so much stairs to ascend." The Frenchman, presumably the boat's owner or at least captain, was looking at the steps from the beach, with a box in his hands. It looked heavy, if the way his shoulders were sagging was anything to go by.

"Don't worry, Jean. We'll do the lifting and carrying. Ray, this is where you come in. Jack, you too."

Bodie saw Ray, his curls clear in the moonlight, take the box in his arms. His shoulders did not sag.

There were quite a few boxes and Bodie got cold and stiff watching, lying still and almost flat on the field above the work in progress. There was very little talking but what there was seemed harmless enough. There was nothing to suggest that Ray's presence was anything more than it seemed - an extra pair of strong shoulders. Bodie had felt a wisp of concern that someone might have had suspicions about Ray but there was nothing untoward in the few snatches of conversation, just directions to put things here or take them there and a few laughing teases about weight lifting and how it would define their muscles, make them harder for the girls to resist.

"Does Felicity like muscles?" Bodie heard one of them directing a query at Ray and from the familiarity with the name of Ray's fictional girl he assumed it was Jack.

"Yes," he heard Ray say. "Or at least, she does on film star hunks. I've never really been into body building so I don't know how she'll react. Well, I hope. Though I don't suppose one night's work will give me an excess of muscles."

"It won't just be one night, Rob. You're one of us now." Jack sounded pleased with himself. He had brought another man into Fanny's fold, and a good worker at that.

Suddenly the boat was slipping out into the currents and the car engines were starting. Time to get home then, or first to follow and check that they really were delivering Ray back to town. But there was another stop, this time at a biggish house on the outskirts. Bodie could not see the house number in the dark, but the street name made him think it might belong to Featherstoneheugh. The boxes were unloaded and taken into a garage with a roll-up door. Bodie watched from behind a hedge, hardly daring to breathe in case he was spotted. Then the cars filled again and he melted into the shadows until they had passed, only then going back to his car and following, hoping they were heading back towards the front and maybe The Green Head.

They were, and somewhere along the main parade they stopped again and this time most of the occupants spilled out onto the pavement. Bodie saw Ray's curls and broad shoulders and watched him wave a cheery goodnight to the others then set off in the direction of Jevington Road. He took a circuitous route himself; no sense alerting anyone to a possible follower. They met on the steps to the front door, both unharmed, with more evidence than ever.

"So what was in the boxes? Did you get a look?"

"Nah, they didn't open anything. I thought they might check but Jean is obviously a trusted friend. They were talking about fags though, and nothing seemed heavy enough for booze. I might try to get information out of Jack tomorrow. Show normal curiosity. What d'you think?"

"Just be careful."

"When am I ever anything but?"

Bodie gasped at the effrontery of that, but carried on through the lounge into the kitchen, intending to put the kettle on. Then he stopped. Tony was sitting in the lounge, ostensibly reading, but it was obvious that he had heard every word.

“Not exactly all you seem to be, then?” Tony sounded strained but curious.

“Oh hell.” Bodie’s reaction was instant. There was no point pretending. If Tony had heard them, which he obviously had, then they had better make the best of a bad job and bring him up to date. Better that he should know the whole truth than be left to make sense of bits and pieces.

“So you heard us.” Ray was behind him and had picked up what was going on.

“I certainly did. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, you know. But you weren’t whispering and…”

“…and it’s our own fault for assuming you’d be safely tucked up in bed,” said Bodie. “You’d better know all of it, then. We work for a government agency. That’s both of us, by the way. Ray here, not Rob, as you’d already realised, is undercover infiltrating this gang of right wingers. I’m holding the fort here, back up and a line of communication to London. We’re on your side, if that matters to you, or at least on the side of law and order. Real law and order, not the kind Featherstoneheugh would like to see.”

“And I accused him of being one of them. Sorry.” The apology was perfunctory but Bodie thought it was sincere.

“No problem.” Ray sounded equally sincere. “If anything, you confirmed for us that my cover was good. But now we’ve blown it.”

“I won’t tell anyone.”

“Too right you won’t.” Bodie could hear himself beginning to sound threatening and forced himself to regain some kind of control. “We might just have to invoke the Official Secrets Act and make you sign it, or take you into protective custody while we’re at work here.”

“I’ve told you, I won’t tell anyone. I promise, and I hope you’ll accept my word.” Tony had blanched at the idea of protective custody. The threat to his job was clear. Bodie knew he was being high handed but suspected Cowley would back him if necessary.

“I think a signature might be in order,” he said. “And yes, we accept your word, but we’re not the ones in charge.”

“I’ll sign,” said Tony, adding after a moment, “and at least I won’t have to live with the idea that I’m sharing lodgings with a racist, sexist homophobe.” He grinned at Ray, who grinned back.
They ended up giving him a brief summary of their mission. There was a lessening of tension. Now he would be less likely to misinterpret their words or behaviour and as he was one of the kinds of people Fanny's lot were likely to target, he would presumably approve of their intentions. He had apologised again, more profusely this time, for his previous behaviour to Ray and seemed to appreciate not only what they were doing but also the chance to have a ringside seat at an important attempt to stop Featherstoneheugh's activities.

“I really hope you catch him breaking the law,” he said. “It couldn’t happen to a better bloke.”

#####################################

Ray slid into the chair at his desk the following morning feeling less confident about his plan to pump Jack for information. Somehow, he felt uneasy. He wasn't sure if it was just that someone other than themselves now knew they were undercover. It might be nothing to do with that. He could have picked up some vibes at the delivery last night. Whatever it was, his gut feeling was that there was something off, wrong, and his gut feelings were usually worth noticing. But for now, he thought he should go along with the plan. Play it by ear and see how Jack reacted.

"So, is Fanny pleased with the delivery?" He asked the question casually, opening a new file on his desk as he spoke and making it clear he was about to read, hardly waiting for an answer. Sometimes he thought Cowley should arrange drama lessons for his agents.

"He certainly is." Jack sounded satisfied, smug even. "We'll start distributing this weekend. A few here and a few there. We'll have some for The Green Head if you're hoping to buy any." His voice rose in a kind of question.

"Not sure. Not convinced I want to encourage her." Ray assumed Jack would understand the reference to Felicity and smoking. It sounded as if the consignment was cigarettes all right.

"Well, if you make your mind up, get in quick. They'll be gone by Sunday, I should think."

"We carried more than that up those steps." Ray thought back to the toil of carting the boxes from the beach to the car.

"Ah, but they aren't all for here. Fanny sends them along the coast to any supporters who think they can sell a few. Safer than having them all in one place, see." Ray saw, and was not sure how to find any further information.

"How far afield do we have supporters, then?" He was proud of the 'we' in the query. "I thought with the paper being The Eastbourne Defender things must be pretty local."

"Not at all. We're getting known all along the coast. Brighton, Sleaford, Newhaven, Bexhill. Especially Bexhill. I'll be famous - except that nobody knows me because of the pen name." He looked pensive and for a moment Ray felt sorry for him, with his pretentious journalism and his right wing delusions. Only for a moment until he remembered Gerry and Hal on the beach.

Cowley would have to hear about the other towns, send someone to monitor pubs where cheap fags were on sale, follow the purveyors and find out if they were Fanny's lot. Ray and Bodie couldn't cover the entire South Downs, not even the coastal section.

He concentrated on his work, letting the conversation lapse. No sense alerting Jack to his intense interest. He had enough information for now. Instead he kept his head bent over his desk but although he went through the motions of sorting through planning applications his mind was not on the job and he wondered vaguely if his inattention might do as much damage as Jack's spite. He hoped not.

The whole case was beginning to seem bigger than they had thought, and perhaps uglier. He and Bodie couldn't necessarily deal with it on their own. Even Cowley's finest were part of a larger team. He and Bodie... His mind wandered further into a daydream where the partnership grew to fulfil some of his dearest fantasies. The next thing he knew, Jack was shaking his shoulder and suggesting lunch.

Over pies and pints (and the odd ploughman's) the main topic of conversation was an item that had aired on the morning's BBC news. Ray never bothered with breakfast television and had missed it. A young Frenchman, apparently homosexual, had been severely beaten and left to die on a beach in Brittany. There were further lurid details of dismemberment which delighted Jack's crowd.

"Serves him right."

"Serves his family right, too. They must have done something to make him like that."

"Wish we could do the same here."

"We could, you know."

"Nah. Too many coppers around here. This isn't the wilds."

"Brittany isn't exactly the wilds; it's just a few miles across the channel."

"But he was found on a deserted stretch of coast, and you can't describe anywhere round here as deserted."

"There's always the option of pushing them off Beachy Head. Assisted suicide. After all, they must want to die... I'd want to die if I was like that."

There were guffaws and Ray found himself feeling queasy. It was too soon after his last bout of sickness to claim problems. Instead he claimed a need to nip to the shops, not vouchsafing any further information. There were about a dozen of them in the pub and nobody seemed concerned about his departure. He breathed in the sea air and set off in the direction of the nearest shops, trying to think of something to buy in case Jack asked him to justify himself. Aspirin, he supposed. Or maybe something like a light bulb or some batteries for something at his lodgings.

He went with batteries, supposedly for his bedside radio. The package was prominent on his desk when Jack came in a few minutes after him. Then there was an innocuous discussion of favourite radio programmes. Not all interactions with Jack centred round Fanny and his gang.

When he got home, yes home, because it had Bodie in it, he told his partner about the information for Cowley and then about the lunch time nastiness. It was a relief to speak to someone who knew his real personality and would sympathise at least to some extent with his reactions.

#####################################

"Assisted suicide?" Bodie knew he sounded shocked and hoped Ray would realise just how horrified he was. Whatever either of them felt personally they were at one in their intolerance of homophobia and he was glad to know that.

"That's what they said and I don' think they were joking. I mean, they were in one way because they knew, or I hope they know, they'd never get away with it, but in another way they meant the sentiment, at least."

"What did you say?"

"Nothing. What could I say? I'm supposed to one of them, Bodie, one of their horrible little gang of thugs. And yes, yes, I know it's for the greater good, but that doesn't make it easier."

Bodie heard the misery in his partner's words and watched him carefully. Sometimes, he knew, undercover agents got so carried away by the part they were playing that they went native, started to believe in the role they were inhabiting. That wasn't going to happen here. On the contrary, Ray was going to be hard put to it not to betray himself and he, Bodie, was all that stood between him and disaster.

"At least you can come and tell me about it." He spoke gently, hoping Ray would hear the support offered.

"If I couldn't, I'd go bloody mad." That was heartfelt.

"I can't protect you from it, but I can listen when you get back, and if you really can't stand it any longer I can talk to Cowley."

"And tell him what? That I'm a weak link and will let him down? You won't have to do that, mate. I'll keep going. For Cowley, and for all those poor bastards like Gerry and Hal." Ray flung himself onto the sofa with a sigh and glowered at the blank television screen.

Bodie switched it on. The news was due any minute and maybe there'd be something to cheer them up, though good news was never in great supply.

The first few items were political then there was a view of the Brittany coast from a boat, all pretty coves and wild headlands. The voice-over told the story Ray had just relayed, about the young man who had died on the beach.

Ray's voice sounded broken. "If they knew, it must be because he had someone - maybe someone who loved him. How must they feel, now? Terrified? Grief stricken? Angry? How can they stand it? How can anyone?"

"You don't know that, Ray, that he had someone, I mean. He might have tried to chat someone up, or maybe they just didn't like the look of him. But if he did have a partner..." As Bodie spoke the TV presenter seemed to interrupt.

"We bring you Monsieur Pierre Bernard, father of the victim's partner. Antoine Bernard is understandably prostrated with grief and cannot speak to us at present."

Monsieur Bernard was a tough tanned fisherman, pale blue eyes surrounded by crows' feet. He spoke in French and an interpreter quickly translated the gist of his speech - that whoever had done this to his child and his child's lover should themselves be left on a beach to die. Then a spokesman for the French police was saying that no stones would be left unturned and that someone would know who was responsible and so on.

Bodie turned to look at Ray, who had tears in his eyes. Without thinking he put an arm around his friend's shoulders, hugging him in an attempt to give comfort. He didn't expect Ray to lean into the hug but he welcomed the closeness.

"What if it had been one of us, Bodie? What would I do if I lost you?"

"Ray, nobody is likely to think I'm anything other than a professional partner."

"You say that, but you know how much teasing we get at work. What if someone took it seriously?"

"We can take care of ourselves. This lad couldn't."

"But what if...?"

Bodie did think this time, but only for a second, the second it took to understand what Ray was not quite saying, and the fear he was expressing. He pulled him closer and dropped a kiss on the curls that came to rest on his shoulder. Daring, he cupped a chin that rose willingly and dropped a more forceful kiss on Ray's lips. Then, aghast at his own temerity, he simply sat, frozen. Until Ray's hand came up and touched his cheek and they were kissing again.

There was a certain amount of rather disjointed conversation along the lines of 'I thought' and 'But you never' and 'How long?' But most of that was only semi-audible as they moulded themselves to each other and he found his face buried in Ray's curls while Ray's face was muffled by his, Bodie's, chest.

"We can't..." Ray sounded tentative and slightly distressed.

"...do anything about it. No, not now, not here. But when this is over..." Bodie tried to sound confident and comforting.

And then they just had time to pull apart and tidy themselves before Tony came into the room, not announcing himself, but then why should he? He lived in the house, like them, and they had encouraged him to make himself at home. He would, Bodie thought, be sympathetic, but perhaps not necessarily discreet, and there was no point taking the risk that someone else such as Rosemary should guess. Also, while he was Ray's handler he should act the part and protect his partner, his undercover agent, from the slightest hint of anything that might make his life difficult.

They would both find it difficult; he knew that. But with the promise of some kind of relationship after the case, Bodie thought he could cope meanwhile. He thought Ray could, too.

How strange, that they should both have hidden their feelings so well. Yet not really strange. In the world of agents and spies and dissembling it was often easier and more appropriate to act as others expected rather than according to personal wishes. Even partners would be supposed to have expectations and certainly they'd fallen into that trap. They'd each assumed the other could not possibly be anything but completely straight. Well, they knew better now. He headed for the kitchen to make a meal, glancing at Ray as he went. Ray was concentrating on the flickering screen of the television and didn't so much as look his way.

###########################################

Jack was not talking. He was scowling at the papers on his desk and the air round him had all the aspects of a thundercloud. Ray knew better than to interrupt a man in that frame of mind and simply got on with his own work. He couldn't help wondering, however, and was glad when it was lunch time and Jack got up, gesturing with a movement of his head. So they were going to the pub, as usual.

The whole group could just as well have been a funeral party. They were drinking, deeply for lunch time. As a rule no-one had more than a pint, taken in two halves, but at least two of the party had shorts as chasers, and Matt, one of the more assertive of them, had a bottle of wine in front of him, half empty.

"Something going on?" He spoke quietly, hoping not to offend or intrude but needing to know the reason for the long faces. It was within the character of Rob Deacon to ask, anyway. He was, after all, seen as one of them.

"Last night." Jack started and stopped again.

"You remember Barry? Baz? Dark hair and appalling taste in ties?" Matt sounded half angry and half satisfied.

"Yeah. What did he do?" Ray didn't like the past tense implied by Matt.

"Jumped."

"Off Beachy Head," Jack clarified.

"Pushed," murmured someone else in the background.

"Turns out he was a journalist. Very much not with the Eastbourne Defender, I'm afraid." Now that he'd begun, Matt was almost chatty. "Told us he worked for Logan's, the solicitors down the front a half mile or so. Joined us every day for a year. Every weekday, anyway."

"I never trusted him." Jack again, his voice dark with some kind of misery.

"We know that, Jack, but the rest of us did, and in the end Fanny did, too." Matt sounded almost reasonable. "Then Alvin saw him going into the newspaper offices. Followed and got the girl on reception to admit he worked there."

"I don't understand. Why would that make him jump?" Ray couldn't quite see the late Baz as a spy or as an investigative reporter, but who knew? In any case, if he was rumbled, why not just bow out gracefully and return to his usual job?

"We told Fanny. Chris and Andy came here last night and took him out to their car. They told us later what had happened. They convinced him that jumping was the best thing all round." Matt looked smug and Ray recognised, belatedly, that the funereal expressions were for the infiltration of the group rather than its late member's fate. "So, Rob, as you weren't here last night you wouldn't have known. But enough of us were. Jack wasn't. I phoned him afterwards."

Ray shuddered but remained outwardly calm and dealt with his nerves by going to the bar, ordering his usual ploughman's and a half of lager. When he got back to the table he felt in control again. They were certainly more dangerous than he'd thought, these south coast thugs. He was sorry he hadn't known Baz was on his side. He assumed he had been. Although maybe he was just doing a job. Poor guy. Neither journalists nor agents had any contractual obligation to believe in whatever their masters were commanding. Though in this case, he did, very much so.

It was good news that not everyone had been here. He couldn't be suspect for having failed to come to the pub if Jack had been absent as well. He put on a suitably grave expression and ate his lunch in silence.

Inside, his thoughts were heaving. He was wildly excited by his new, his very new, status with Bodie. That was something to celebrate and of course he couldn't. Maybe when they got back to London. But while he and Bodie had been altering the course of their lives, Chris and Andy had been altering the course of Barry's. Curtailing it. He had no intention of asking whether the push had been physical or simply threats. It was horrendous enough, whatever happened.

And then he wondered. The other threats, the ones about making sure homosexuals jumped to their deaths like Baz; were they just the hot air he'd thought them, or could they be actual intent? He would have to do something about this lot. Soon.

Jack's voice broke into his musings. "Delivery Saturday OK with you, Rob? Not going up to London this weekend, are you?"

"Here all weekend and at your command," he replied. "Can't let Felicity think I'm at her beck and call." He essayed a small grin and was relieved to see Jack smile faintly in return. "Same arrangement as last time? Meeting here?"

"Yeah, same as last time." Jack got up to go, returning to the office earlier than he normally would. Ray walked back with him but they didn't talk.

When he told Bodie about it later, his partner frowned.

"I know you'll be careful, Ray, but maybe we ought to back off a bit. Let them think you're not that keen on hauling boxes around. Not that zealous. They won't fault you for that and it might draw suspicion away."

"But they're not suspicious."

"How do you know? They might be. And Ray. If anything happened to you..."

"...you'd avenge me. My knight in shining armour." Ray laughed lightly.

"Fat lot of good shining armour would be if you were dead, you numbskull."

Ray looked at him carefully. "You really care," he said, in a voice full of wonder.

"Yes," said Bodie. "I really do."

That evening the local news was full of the suicide of a respected local journalist, Barry Clayton, and the note he had left in his car admitting to falsifying reports for bribes. Perhaps when the case was over they could rehabilitate his memory. Meanwhile, there was nothing they could do apart from tell Cowley and be careful. Very, very careful.

##################################

Saturday was altogether too close, and Bodie felt as if he was walking on hot coals. Ray would be in danger, however much he might make light of the situation. Cowley agreed, and Bodie would make sure he was following the smugglers as before. This time, he would have an RT and there would be a back-up team in place on the main road. He assumed the handover would be in the same bay.

Then there was their new relationship. He wanted, so badly, to take things further. The kisses had begun to seem like a hallucination, but he wasn't about to try anything with Tony around, and even when Ray got home earlier it wasn't often by much. They had taken a risk already and despite the knowledge that Tony was theoretically on the same side as them, Bodie had no intention of endangering Ray either with Fanny's group or with CI5. Same sex relationships might well be legal but he thought Cowley would take a dim view of the matter, at least partly because agents were expected not to consort with other agents, of either gender. The thinking was that it could alter their reactions in an emergency. But in the current case, surely his feelings for Ray could only help?

He was musing as he lit the fire and laid the table and was suddenly aware of Tony standing watching him.

"Mr Benton, I won't be in for tea tonight. In fact I won't be back until tomorrow night."

"Got a hot date, then?" Bodie tried to sound interested.

"No." Tony blushed. "I have to go to our store in Brighton tomorrow and public transport being what it is I need to stay there overnight to get an early enough start. A friend's putting me up."

"Part of your management training, is it?" Bodie was definitely interested now. An evening alone with Ray was a delicious prospect.

"Yes, they like us to see how different stores tackle the same basic procedures. It's only one day, but I might have to go to Bournemouth next week and that will mean at least two nights away."

Bodie hoped his face wasn't expressing his extreme gratification at this news. "Thanks for letting me know," was all he said.

A few minutes later he made sure he was in the hall, ostensibly doing something to the fuse box near the front door, when Tony came downstairs with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and left, calling a cheery goodnight and whistling on his way down the path. It sounded as if the friend whose hospitality he was going to take advantage of might be more than just a convenience.

Meanwhile, Ray was due home and tea was perhaps necessary as a prelude to the evening.

He found the tin of tuna he had planned to open and considered it. Somehow, he wanted something more celebratory. Few of his meals were really special but perhaps he could make something a little different. He'd been practising his cooking recently, and he still had Rosemary's book. It had a section on last minute dinners from the storecupboard and he studied it intently. He had the tuna, so a starter with some kind of salad would be easy. Then he had pasta, and a tin of tomatoes, and he knew there was an onion at the back of the rack and some elderly hard cheese in the fridge. It would be a vegetarian sauce but Ray wouldn't mind that, and with the fish starter as well... And for dessert he had some ice cream and a tin of fruit. It wasn't cordon bleu but it would show he'd tried.

By the time Ray's key turned in the lock everything was ready apart from the pasta, and Bodie had water simmering ready on a low flame.

Ray looked startled at the extra cutlery in his place setting and the lack of a place for Tony.
"What's going on?" He sounded only vaguely curious. Tony was sometimes very late home and rang to cancel any catering Bodie might do. Then he would come in with fish and chips in a newspaper wrapping and eat them in front of the fire.

"Tony won't be in. Well, obviously, but I mean all night. He's gone off to Brighton." Bodie could see Ray process the information and then realise what it might mean.

"So it's just us?" He sounded shy, subdued, not like Ray at all.

"Just us, Sunshine. And tea's ready." Bodie carried in a bowl of tuna salad. He didn't think it was quite Salade Nicoise, but it was a good attempt and it looked tasty. Ray looked tasty, too, his brain told him, quite inappropriately. He was determined they should eat before he said or did anything further. Then, he had a hazy fantasy of sitting by the fire together on the couch, and...

Ray was happily tucking into the salad and making appreciative noises. "Nice, this," he said when he'd finished his portion. "You could make a bigger one as a main meal."

Bodie grinned happily and went to fetch the pasta. It met the same heartfelt approval and he was glad he'd made the effort. The ice cream and fruit rounded the meal off nicely and then he brought coffee into the lounge. No alcohol. They weren't making a habit of drinking with or after their meals - no sense risking lowering their guard - and there was nothing in the house. Pity. He could have done with some guard-lowering, or just with the atmosphere that beer or wine would add to the occasion. They could go out and drink at a pub, of course, but that would ruin the evening's plan. Suddenly he was desperately nervous. Would Ray want to go further? Would he take the risk, since they were alone? Bodie took a deep breath and got ready to persuade his partner, only to find him sitting back on the couch, shirt open by about three buttons and showing a pleasing expanse of chest, with a provocative smile hovering on his lips.

It seemed no persuasion was going to be necessary.

#####################################

They made out on the couch like teenagers and Ray felt as if this was his first time ever, as if his skin was burning with impossible need, his head buzzing with inexplicable want. Suddenly Bodie, his partner and his best friend, was in his arms, or he was in Bodie's, or both, and it didn't matter which. He had a moment of startled wonderment that took in the kisses, the fingers tangled in his curls, the other fingers questioning the zip of his trousers, then the hotness of Bodie's erection digging into his thigh, obvious despite the layers of fabric between them.

"Upstairs." He managed to gasp it, whether as an invitation, an order, or merely a suggestion he wasn't sure.

"I suppose so. I don't want to move. To break the mood." Bodie was more articulate than he was and Ray could understand that moving, leaving each other's arms, leaving the room, and climbing the stairs might be a kind of estrangement, but the reward at the end would surely be worth it?

"Windows," he said. It appeared his brain was only capable of one word utterances but Bodie understood.

"I didn't even draw the curtains, did I? And if Rosemary came round she might look in. Come on then." He got up and pulled Ray to his feet.

Somehow they got upstairs, Bodie with his hand on Ray's arse, never letting the touch drop. They chose Bodie's room, or rather, they stumbled into the first room on the landing, which was Bodie's. They didn't draw the curtains here, but there was no need. The houses opposite were too far away and the windows were not directly aligned so it would need a desperate peeping tom with pre-knowledge of what might transpire and good binoculars to spy on them. And it was dusk. The sky was still a faded blue-grey that leached colour from the world but allowed them to see in the room without a light. Lights, Ray thought, would not be needed.

He lay on the bed, collapsed on it, rather, and watched Bodie strip efficiently, admiring the military bearing and the controlled movements. Then he shivered in anticipation as Bodie turned his attentions to his partner's clothing. He tried to help, to lift his shoulders and then his hips as his shirt and his trousers were removed. He felt somehow more naked as he lost his shoes and his socks. He was wearing cotton briefs that were becoming infinitely too tight, and Bodie had shrugged off his own similar pair along with his jeans. Ray's fingers crept to the waistband of the offending garment but Bodie pushed his hands aside.

"Don't. I like - unwrapping you. Like a birthday present."

 

 

It would be Ray's birthday in a few weeks and he had a stray thought about how perfect it would be to spend the day with Bodie, how the only gift he wanted was his friend's company, preferably naked, like this, and then his briefs were off and they were lying close to each other, cock to cock, and lips to lips. He made a kind of attempt to immerse himself in Bodie, to get inside his skin by some magical version of osmosis, and was surprised when he failed. This was perhaps as close as they were going to get, unless...

"Bodie, fuck me." Three words, this time, but very important ones.

"You sure, Sunshine? I mean, you can be the one to..."

"No, later. I need you. Now."

"Or there are other things we can do."

"Bodie. Shut up and fuck me."

"OK, but I thought I'd offer. I'm going to need some kind of oil or something. In the army we used hand cream. I've got some Vaseline in the bedside drawer." He was talking quietly, almost to himself, and moved, lifting his weight from the bed and his skin from its contact with Ray. Ray moaned. "Just a sec. I really do need this. Or you do. Or we do." There was a slight creak as he opened the drawer and then the muffled sound of a lid being taken off a container and placed on the surface of the small table. Ray moaned again, very impatiently, and in the twilight he could see Bodie grin.

He was glad Bodie had experience, in the army, whether in the SAS or in Africa didn't matter. He'd had a brief affair himself, in art school, and he was pleased they weren't going to have to stagger through a mire of virginal ineptness and shyness. He lay back and raised his legs, ready to clasp Bodie to him. Preparation didn't take long, even though it was some years since he had done this. He wanted Bodie so much, and his body seemed to understand and relax accordingly.

In the end it was too short. Ray came almost as soon as Bodie's cock hit his prostate whilst his hand encircled Ray's erection. As he shuddered through his orgasm, Bodie came too, gasping his name over and over again as he withdrew and collapsed onto Ray's chest.
"Sorry." Ray heard him through a fog of pleasure.

"What? What are you sorry for?"

"Wanted to make our first time slow and romantic."

"That was never going to happen. We were both too desperate. Next time, eh?"

"So long as there's going to be a next time." Bodie sounded unsure of himself and Ray was quick to reply.

"All the next times in the world," he said, and then, deciding that he liked being in bed, or more correctly on the bed, with Bodie but had only a limited ability to cope with the weight pressing down on him, he rolled Bodie onto his side and snuggled up close.

"Going to stay then?"

"If you're sure Tony isn't coming back tonight then you bet I'm staying."

"He's in Brighton."

"Best place for him. Wouldn't want to upset his innocent susceptibilities." They both chuckled, and then Bodie looked at his watch.

"You do know it isn't bedtime, don't you, love?"

"Wasn't planning on going to sleep yet."

"Let me go and lock up and then we can do whatever you planned to do, then." Bodie wrenched himself out of Ray's embrace and padded downstairs, stopping to grab a bathrobe as he went, and Ray heard him drawing curtains, banking the fire, and arranging the guard then bolting the front door. It all seemed to take for ever but at last he was back.

The sky was still not quite dark, that strange blue-black-violet colour that heralds true night. Bodie drew the bedroom curtains and took off his robe.

"All right," he said. "I'm all yours, love." And Ray welcomed his lover back into his arms.

#####################################

Bodie was still feeling shell-shocked by the combined thrill and amazement that his dearest wish had come true. In the end, it had been almost prosaic, sheer lust overwhelming both of them, and romance having to wait its turn, which might, he thought ruefully, be a long time coming. They hadn't talked much, at the time or later, and not only because of the worry of Tony overhearing them when he returned the next day. There didn't in fact seem to be much to say. They wanted each other. That both of them should want the same thing still filled Bodie with amazement and profound gratitude but other than that there was nothing that needed to be discussed. Whilst they were here, they would be together whenever possible, even if that was rarely, and when they returned to London then they would work something out. He knew, absolutely and deeply, that this was no passing affair and that whatever they worked out would have to be something that would last.

For now, they were still in Eastbourne and still on the trail of these right wing menaces. Ray was shrugging off all hints of danger, saying he was only collecting information and that a B team of agents could have done the job. But Barry Clayton had only been collecting information for his newspaper and the task had earned him a dive off one of the most notorious cliffs in England. Bodie had discussed the matter at some length with Cowley and was happy about the back-up and the RT. He had mentioned his fears again to Cowley in his Friday afternoon call, worried about sounding like a mother hen but equally worried about his partner.

"Laddie, he's got you on his tail and you've got the others and a means of communication. What more d'ye think we can do?"

"I don’t know, sir." Bodie really hadn't known, had just wanted to share his formless dread with someone who might understand. "I'm just wondering if we need him to go to this drop. What can he find out that he didn't get for us last time?"

"We could do with knowing whether this Jean is connected with right wingers in France or is just a common or garden smuggler. I'm hoping Doyle can initiate some conversation, get a handle on the man. It might not be possible, of course, but it's worth a try. It's the French and German angles that are the biggest worry. Pan-European thuggery." Cowley almost spat the last words and Bodie half-smiled at their ferocity. Cowley was not one to waste criticism and if he really thought this lot were bad news for more than their local misdeeds, then perhaps he and Ray were well employed getting all the information they could.

"And I wondered, sir." He knew he sounded tentative but didn't care. Ray's safety was at stake out there and he would explore every lead, even those that were not necessarily his business. "The newspaper Clayton worked for. Did they have anything already? Any notes he'd made?"

"Aye, lad, but nothing much more than Ray has got us so far. I wish I'd known about that young man earlier but it can't be helped and we can't very well ask the press to keep us informed of all their investigations."

Bodie sighed. He'd half hoped there might be some evidence, something that would let him pull Ray back.

"Don't sound so downhearted, Bodie. We have a great deal and tomorrow might see the end of this phase of the case."

"It might see the end of one of your agents," muttered Bodie, but he wasn't sure if the Cow had heard him, as he ended the call with some meaninglessly uplifting words and a reminder to let him know as soon as possible what Ray found out. As if he would wait. Their recall from this job couldn't come soon enough.

Ray seemed cheerful when he got home, though he'd had, he admitted, an excruciating time at work, trying to act the part of a right wing sympathiser when he was tired at the end of the week.

"You know," he said, "I think some of the worst aspects are not being able to keep running, keep up the fitness, and so on. I daren't let Jack and co ask any questions about me, so I have to pretend to be a bored and lazy so-and-so. The inactivity's getting to me and I'm pretty sure I'll be sent on a retraining course when we get back."

"Which means I'll be sent with you." Bodie glowered at him.

"Yes, but you've been up and down ladders with your magnolia or out with your hedge trimmers."

"Rosemary's trimmers, or Keith's." And he must return them soon.

"Whatever. But you've had more exercise than me. I'm tired through sitting still so much of the week. Walking to work and back isn't enough, or rather it isn't far enough. I wish the house had been further out of town."

"You can do press-ups in your bedroom, you know." He enjoyed imagining it.

"I can and I do, but it still isn't sufficient."

"And I offered you the chance to help with the painting."

Ray shuddered dramatically. "I'll survive, thanks. But I'm tired by Friday night and it feels stupid to admit that when I haven't really done anything."

"You've been acting all week, and that has to be stressful."

"Not all week. Not on Thursday night." The words were spoken very softly but Bodie smiled as he went to get their meal ready. Tony was just coming through the front door, so they would revert to innocuous conversation, despite his knowledge of their real jobs here.

Saturday came and Bodie woke with a feeling that the world was against him. First of all they'd run out of milk and he had to drive to the nearest shops before breakfast, and for that matter before he'd had a cup of tea. His own fault, of course, but that didn't help. Then the weather was miserable, a grey sky lowering at them beyond the trimmed hedges and occasional spatters of rain flecking the bay window. Tony was off to work as usual; supermarkets didn't stop for Saturdays like offices did. And Ray was prowling like a big cat, shedding vibes of nerves and impatience around the house. He was short with Bodie when the latter tried to make conversation, and eventually buried himself in a newspaper and gave every evidence of being completely shut off from the world.

Bodie couldn't blame him, of course, because tonight would be hard. He'd passed on Cowley's request for more information on Jean and was unsurprised that Ray was less than impressed by the idea. He could not, he said, start interrogating the man while he was carrying cartons of fags up a rocky road, or even while they were taking said cartons from the man in question. It would sound decidedly fishy - at this point they had both laughed, perhaps nervously, at the unintended reference to the sea - and he wasn't going to do it. If anyone volunteered any information or engaged Jean in conversation, he would, of course, report. But he would be aware of what Cowley needed and that it might be the last piece in the jigsaw; the piece that would let them go home.

##################################

The Green Head was busy. Saturday nights were busy in any pub and a seafront one was not an exception, even after the summer season. Besides, Eastbourne catered to the genteel retired holiday makers who deliberately chose to take their seaside breaks after the chaos of school holidays was over. Ray waited fairly patiently at the bar while a group of grey haired men bought beers and Babychams (and one Snowball) and argued good naturedly about the prices. Then he slipped in front of a couple who seemed to be arguing about whether they could afford G&Ts or should stick with lager and blackcurrant, and smiled at the barman, who knew him, at least by sight, by now.

His purchase of a half of pale ale from a guest beer on tap took only moments and then he was threading his way through the crowd to where he thought he had seen Jack at their usual table. But the space was taken by strangers and he had to look around quite carefully to spot the men he was meeting. They were near the back wall, and didn't look particularly happy about it. The Green head was their local, after all, and they probably felt they should have first choice of seating. But at least, Ray thought, they couldn't grumble about the customers, all white, mostly middle aged and definitely English.

Exactly the kind of inhabitants of Cowley's mythical world of roses and lavender that he was sworn to protect, in fact. Except that Cowley at least wanted to protect them from the results of intolerance and criminality, not from immigrants or different lifestyles or the advances of feminism. He was glad his leader's thoughts on the matter coincided with his own. Bodie's, too. And Bodie, of course, was waiting outside in a car with a gun and an RT - and a back-up team not far down the road.

He grabbed a spare stool from another table and sat beside Jack, setting his drink on a beermat that bore the same picture as the inn sign hanging outside.

"Evening," he said, but didn't really expect much response from the group. Some of them nodded and Matt raised his glass in his direction but the talk continued as if he hadn't just arrived. They were talking about Brighton and how disgusted they were that there were a couple of pubs there known to be welcoming to queers.

"They'd better not come here," said Matt, looking round with a satisfied expression as if to say 'they' would suffer if they dared trespass on Eastbourne's hallowed ground.

"Better not come at all," said someone else, and the group laughed uproariously at the joke.

The rest of the conversation was similar in tone, and Ray sat quietly, hoping no-one would notice if he didn't join in. He made himself smile from time to time and thought that might be enough. Then it was getting towards closing time and the landlord shouted for last orders. The group of young men didn't avail themselves of the offer but instead rose, almost as one, and headed for the door.

Ray intended to ask Jack about Jean, the captain of the boat. He intended to bring the conversation round to the French right wing, to the corpse on the Brittany beach, to the German bands. He intended a lot of things.

What actually happened was that as they stepped out onto the pavement a familiar figure passed them, hand in hand with a stranger. Well, familiar to Ray, and perhaps to Jack, because it was Tony. Ray had a fleeting thought about the foolishness of handholding outside a pub known to be a hotbed of right wing thugs, then Jack had placed himself squarely in front of the couple and Matt was blocking their escape from the rear. A steady stream of Saturday night traffic effectively pinned them on the pavement.

"What have we here?" Jack's voice held mockery and hatred in equal measures. "Don't you know we don't hold with that kind of thing round here?"

"We know you think you own this town and this parade but if you try to obstruct our free passage along the street we hope it'll come to the attention of the press, the real press, not your rag." Tony's voice was genuinely outraged but his nerves were obvious in the way he had a tendency to squeak and his eyes flitted from side to side. Just what he needed, thought Ray: another half-baked attempt to provoke Fanny's men. No thought for what he and Bodie were doing. No thought at all, as far as he could tell.

Then there was no time for anyone to think because Jack punched Tony in the stomach and Matt cuffed the other man's head from behind and after that it was a free-for-all of the kind more often seen outside pubs in less salubrious parts of London.

Ray had no desire to help 'put the boot in', the action some of the group were calling for, but nor did he wish to display his sympathy for Tony. He hovered on the edge of the scene, trying to look as if he wanted to join in but couldn't find room, and winced involuntarily as someone landed a crunching blow to Tony's cheekbone. Unfortunately, he caught Tony's eye.

"Ray. Ray, help me, help us!" Matt swung round, then Jack, and it was all too clear which of the group had attracted the appeal.

"Rob?" Jack sounded unsure.

"Yes, I mean Rob." Tony added to his problems. "Rob, you know you can't let them get away with this!"

Chris and Andy were somehow on the pavement behind him and his arms were grasped firmly. He squirmed in the way he knew that kind of hold could be broken but Fanny's two minders were too much for him. And the entire group were looking at him now. Jack's face was a picture of horrified realisation.

"So, Rob, or Ray, or whoever you are, you're a friend of these lads, are you?" Andy's voice was coldly menacing.

"Tony's just another lodger at my digs," said Ray, in a very forlorn attempt to bluff his way out of the situation.

"Seems to think you might be a sympathiser, though," said Jack. "Knows you by another name, too. Don't suppose you're a friend of Barry's too?"

"Didn't know him." That was a mistake. They'd all known him.

"Can't take the risk, you see," muttered Chris. "The Frogs won't like it if we have some kind of fifth column helping with deliveries. Be better all round if you went over the edge, like Baz."

"Can't do that. Too soon after and they'd start putting two and two together," said Matt, and Chris nodded, a gesture Ray saw from the corner of his eye.

"OK," said Andy. "Here's what we'll do. It's a problem for the Frogs, right? So we hand him over to Jean and he can drop him overboard on the way across or take him to France with him and let the lads there sort him out. Into your cars, everybody. We've spent enough time out here as it is."

He said nothing about Tony or Tony's friend, and Matt automatically stepped away from them as Andy's order reached him. They turned and ran, melting into the night, turning a corner before anyone thought to check on them and find out what they had heard.

"They're running scared," said Jack. "We know who they are, and even where one of them lives. We can pick them up later. And if they tell anyone what they heard we just say they got a garbled idea of what we were talking about. Rob's been looking forward to a trip to France, haven't you?" He looked straight at Ray as he spoke and Ray realised, finally, that these were not merely troublemakers. They were vicious and unprincipled thugs, and he was on his way to the beach with them, to be handed over to Jean, who was probably little better and might be much worse. So much for all his confidence. He was unarmed, and any struggle here would be in their favour, particularly with the constant traffic at one side. No sense in breaking free only to be pushed into the path of an oncoming car. And that's exactly what they'd do. He was outnumbered ten to one and even Cowley's finest had to know when they were beaten, temporarily at least. Maybe when they reached the beach, or the parking place at the top of the stairs to the beach. But at least Bodie would be on their tail.

################################

When Bodie heard someone hammering on his passenger side window his first thought was that an irate resident objected to a strange car parking for so long on their street. They must get overflow often enough: the pub car park was small. Then he realised, as he wound the window down ready to apologise pleasantly and give a kind of non-explanation, that it was Tony knocking. Tony, looking scared and angry and guilty in the light of the street lamps.

"Mr Benton...they know...about Ray...so sorry..." It sounded like rubbish but the key words leapt out at Bodie.

"Calm down and get in the back. Now. And then explain." He tried to sound calm, firm and authoritative himself and thought he succeeded.

Certainly Tony got into the back seat, followed by another man, and Bodie felt ready to explode.

"Who the hell...?"

"Sorry, Mr Benton. This is David. We were together when we saw Ray with them and I called him by the wrong name."

"We didn't just see them," David broke in. "They were trying to beat the shit out of us and you begged Ray, or whoever he is, to help."

As they told him the whole story, words tumbling out first from one then the other, Bodie saw some of Ray's group leaving the car park exit a few doors down. He recognised the car, and then, with a tightening of his throat, Ray's curls silhouetted in the rear window. He started his own engine and followed, listening to Tony and David but driving as fast as he dared, keeping the other car in sight. As fast as he dared was faster than the average sedate Eastbourne driver was used to and he was cutting round other traffic in a manner more usual for car chases in parts of the capital. He could only hope his unexpected passengers were belted in.

At least Tony had seen and known his car. At least he had had the sense to tell him. And as for the idiocy of risking walking past The Green Head hand in hand, well, they could make up for it now by either lying low in the back seat or helping at some point. He hardly cared which. He had to assume that Ray was in danger or would be once someone had processed the name change. He ignored the chatter from behind him in which Tony was trying to justify his attempt to provoke the nutcases in the pub. He ignored everything except the car in front of him. No point contacting the support team till he knew where it was heading. Not Beachy Head. He kept muttering that as a kind of mantra. Not Beachy Head.

When the car, a Volvo estate, turned down the narrow lane to the beach, Bodie heaved a sigh of relief. He followed and parked as previously in the field gateway then grabbed the RT and gave as much information as he could to the back-up team. Then he gave Tony and David their orders - stay still and quiet and be ready if he needed them for anything, anything at all.

"You've dropped Ray into a hell of a lot of danger, you've compromised a serious investigation, you knew about it and still you went off half-cocked. Now you can bloody well stay out from underfoot and be prepared if I need you for first aid or anything else."

They were silent, and Bodie thought they might be faintly ashamed of themselves. He hoped so. Amateurs. Civilians. Still, the whole case was centred on protecting their interests. He sighed as he got out of the car.

He walked silently towards the place where he knew he'd have a good view of the shore and when he got there lay down, first easing out his gun from his shoulder holster. He hoped he wouldn't have to use it - too much danger of hitting Ray - but it was as well to be prepared for all eventualities. He was in luck that it was a full moon and everything was visible, made even more so by the light that seemed to be reflected from the calm sea.

The little band of smugglers were at the bottom of the steps. Ray was held firmly between two beefy types and it looked as if someone had tied his wrists. He was making life hard for his captors and clearly wanted to wrestle himself free but his bound hands were making that unlikely and every time he moved other than to walk forward one of the men kicked him.

However, he was very much alive and they hadn't diverted to the cliff tops, so it seemed he might stay that way for now.

The boat was rocking gently in the waves and Jean had waded ashore. Bodie could hear every word they said.

"Good evening, mes amis. I have for you the usual delivery, and aussi a message from our group in Bretagne."

"What's that, then, Jean?" Bodie thought Chris was speaking but wasn't sure enough of their voices to be certain. Ray would know, of course, but that hardly helped, now.

"After the - how you say it? self-killing? - from your cliffs and the body on our sand, they want you to remain in the shadows for a little time. Not to draw the attention. It is bad for our political leaders. Not that they can be linked to us, you comprehend, but the newspapers, they can make troubles."

"Suits us. But we have a problem, as you can see."

"The new helper? But you have 'im tied up. Why is that?"

"Some kind of spy. Probably a newspaper or maybe a political opponent. Whatever, we don't want his sort snooping around. So we thought you could arrange a little trip to France. Or to the bottom of the channel."

Ray heaved his shoulders more violently than before and succeeded in dislodging at least one grip on his elbow. Then a twist and the other guardian was flung sideways and Ray was running back towards the stairs, his fastened arms making him more vulnerable but not affecting his pace.

Bodie fired a warning shot onto the beach, hoping to get Ray those few precious moments he would need to outstrip any pursuit. Ray was fit, despite his complaints about recent inactivity, and would manage the stairs without any problems, but there could be fast movers among that lot.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion: Ray's bid for freedom; the way the group froze at both the escape and the shot, startled and unsure of what to do; a large young man Bodie later learnt was Matt throwing himself after Ray but mercifully tripping on the first step. The support team were there, black-clothed shadows, reaching to grab Ray from the stairs and get him to safety, but one of the gang, Bodie couldn't see his face, grabbed from below and had a knife. It gleamed white-gold in the moonlight, going straight for Ray's ribs. Bodie shot again, wishing he had Ray's perfection with a handgun but needing to take the risk regardless. There was a crack then a spray of darkness, and the knife fell away, a slight clatter on the stone stairs marking its journey. Someone, presumably the wounded man, screamed.

Ray simply continued his climb. Hands helped him at the top then men were jumping down to arrest the men below, guns ready, faces, especially Murphy's, alive with the knowledge of danger and reprieve and a job well done. Bodie could see them clearly and scrambled down to join them. They rounded up the smugglers, none of whom seemed to be armed with anything more than knives, then what seemed like only moments later Bodie was at the top of the stairs, at Ray's side, trying to undo the ropes that still bound his wrists.

“I can’t…” He bit his lips and tussled with the unforgiving strands. “Ray, I can’t, just hold still a minute. We’ll soon have you free.”

Someone pushed him out of the way and released Ray efficiently and rapidly with a knife that this time brought help and not a threat.

Bodie grabbed Ray’s shoulders, stopping himself in the nick of time from hugging him, holding him closer than their fellow agents would see as normal.

“Ray…you’re OK…thank god…” He knew he was babbling but that was to be expected. They were all close to their partners, to the entire team for that matter.

“I’m fine. And the danger of ending up in the drink seems to have abated for now.” Ray sounded amused but Bodie knew that covered deep emotion. “Wrists hurt, though,” Ray added, rubbing them and moving out of the protection of Bodie’s semi-embrace. He thanked the man with the knife. Anson, Bodie thought but was unsure in the shadows. The only person who was clear to him was Ray. A shaft of moonlight showed him green eyes centred on him, not on the others, full of warmth, relief, and gladness to be alive.

Now Bodie was certain his partner was safe and sound he turned to the group of agents and prisoners. He could see that all the gang were under some kind of control, handcuffed or at gunpoint. Except Jean, who in the immediate chaos had slipped back to his boat. An outboard motor was purring and there was a pale wake on the water.

#######################################

Ray had known Bodie would rescue him, known it deeply in his entire being as well as knowing intellectually that his handler would do his very best. Still, it was good to breathe the night air without fear of a knife in the ribs, or a boat trip to a watery end. He couldn't deny that he had been frightened. Only fools pretended not to feel fear.

He joined the rest of the team who were loading their catch into a van. Murphy, who seemed to be in charge, was talking to the local police by RT, explaining that CI5 had some special prisoners for the Eastbourne nick and that Cowley would be along to oversee interviews in the morning. He glanced at the men in the van; not so cocky and confident now. Matt was seething, of course, trying even at this stage to use bluster to state his case. Chris and Andy were silent, probably considering how to keep Fanny out of things. There were half a dozen others, all of whom Ray knew from the pub and from Jack's introductions. Jack...

He couldn't see Jack and when he told the agents guarding the van what he feared they let him look closer. Jack wasn't among the captives. So had he joined Jean on a trip to France? Or had he got away along the beach. Nobody seemed quite sure and he hoped it was the first. The French right wing were welcome to him and if he managed to get back to English soil, perhaps in Jean's boat, there'd be a warrant out for his arrest. If he was on the beach, he could still make a nuisance of himself tonight though maybe he'd think twice about trying to effect the escape of his colleagues. He'd probably warn Fanny, which would not be to Cowley's liking. He told Bodie, and they contacted Cowley.

"Doyle's safe, sir, and most of the group are under arrest. But the Frenchman got away, and Doyle's immediate contact either went with him or is still at large on the coast here."

"So either way he could warn Featherstoneheugh. Dammit, laddie, we wanted to surprise the man. But I suppose he'd know something was wrong when the delivery failed to turn up on his doorstep. We'll just have to bring forward the plans to interview him. At least he's been deprived of his minders."

They knew there was no chance of tying Fanny to anything more than the smuggling charge in any case, and had to hope that publicising his connection with the gang and their methods of dealing with anyone who got in their way would be enough to reduce his popularity and that of his publication. The French and German friends of the group would draw back, too, once there were legal proceedings against some of Fanny's supporters and the smuggling was shown to be a way of financing The Eastbourne Defender.

Chris and Andy would face murder charges in connection with Barry’s apparent suicide, and attempted murder in Ray’s case. Hopefully, whatever was said at their trials would implicate Featherstoneheugh, at least by association. The smuggling would not be held against him by his supporters in Eastbourne, but it would give the foreign associates pause for thought.

"We'll need to convince him that his future as a newspaper editor is less than rosy. The whole affair should warn the neo-Nazis from the continent away. A qualified well-done, Bodie, though I could wish we had them all."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Ray didn't comment, even to his partner, on the fact that Cowley had ignored the first remark about his own safety. Bodie had only been doing his job, after all.

"I'll see you both tomorrow, Bodie, when I come down to liaise with the Eastbourne police. You can start packing to leave and I'll expect your reports on my desk during the next week."

No rest, then, and not much time to extricate themselves from Eastbourne. They'd need to find somewhere else for Tony to stay... He mentioned it to Bodie who smacked himself on the forehead.

"I'd forgotten them. Still in my car, aren't they?"

"Who are?" They were walking along the lane in the direction of the road where Ray assumed the car was parked.

"Tony and his mate. Something beginning with D. Can't say I really listened to the introductions seeing as Tony was telling me at the time that you were outed to the gang and I could see one of their cars exiting the car park."

"So what on earth are Tony and wassisname doing in your car?"

"Couldn't just leave them on the street, could I? They looked pretty shaken, and besides, couldn't trust them not to try some Sir Galahad tactics on their own. Daft enough, if you ask me."

"So you brought them with you?"

"Yeah, but I left them on the back seat with strict instructions not to move and to be prepared to offer first aid if needed."

At this point they reached the car, but it was empty. There was a note on the driver's seat, scribbled on the inside of a chocolate bar wrapper. There was no sign of the contents."

"I was looking forward to that chocolate," said Bodie while Ray read the note aloud.

"'Thought we'd be better out of your way so we're walking back to town. Might hitch a lift. I'll stay with David overnight. Good luck. See you tomorrow. Tony.' Seems your little birds have flown, Bodie. But they can't do much harm now."

"We'll probably pass them on the way back. It's long way if you're walking. Told you they were daft."

"Innocent, more like. Not like us."

"Suppose so. Anyway, Cowley can find Tony some more lodgings at short notice."

"You don't think Rosemary..."

"Nah. She and Keith are closet cases of homophobia. Right wing sympathisers though I don't imagine they'd approve of the treatment meted out to you. Or to the plans for further disposal."

"Didn't approve myself, really."

“Nor me, sunshine. Nor me."

They wouldn't talk about it again. Their close partnership gave rise to implicit trust and their job made them treat even life-threatening experiences lightly. That was the only way to cope. But they also both knew that now they had even more reason to trust each other.

They passed Tony and David on the road back to Eastbourne but Bodie didn't stop.

"Not going to offer them a lift, then?" Ray sounded amused.

"A bit of a walk'll do them good, Ray. Tony could at least have called you Rob when he saw you."

"Yes, they'd have accepted that; Jack knew he was a fellow lodger. It was the use of my real name that threw the cat among the pigeons."

"So he started tonight's mayhem and all he gets is a long walk home."

"And a beating before that," Ray reminded him.

"I'd have beaten him myself if I'd had time."

Bodie might have done, at that. Ray chuckled. Meanwhile, it sounded as if they would have the house to themselves tonight and after the adrenaline-fuelled time outside the pub and on the beach Ray needed to wind down and relax. He knew exactly how he intended to achieve that, with Bodie's co-operation.

################################

There was no gentle or genteel making out on the sofa. They went straight to the bedroom, not needing to talk. They were both well aware of how life and death situations brought extreme arousal in their aftermath and had often gone in search of birds together after particularly hair-raising finishes to operations. They were also aware that this time there was no need to look to outsiders for gratification.

Clothes were stripped off quickly. They stumbled a little, each trying to hasten the other's removal of some offending garment, and then they were naked.

Bodie took a second, not more because he couldn't afford more, to take in his lover's appearance. His Ray. He could still hardly believe it. He had put the bedside lamp on and the soft glow showed Ray's finely muscled body to perfection; shadows marked a sculpture honed by hours of training, and there were highlights, too, shoulders, hips, chin and cheekbones.

 

He kissed the cheekbones, unable to help himself. If Ray thought he was being overly sentimental he didn't really care. Then he got down to the serious business of making Ray melt with want. He stroked the hips so invitingly thrust towards him and then the shaded ribs, paying attention to the nipples that stood proud at his approach. He shivered slightly at the memory of the knife approaching those ribs and Ray's arms caught him in a tight embrace. There was a feather-light kiss on his ear. So Ray could be sentimental, too.

Thighs next, the sensitive inner surfaces making Ray the one to shiver.

"Want to explore everywhere but I need..." He began to explain but Ray was quick to interrupt.

"We both need it wild and fast," he said.

"I promised you slow and romantic."

"You did, and I'll collect on that promise one day. Not now. Not after what happened tonight."

"And I said you could..."

"Same thing with that. Let's go for tried and tested for now."

Bodie grabbed the jar of lubricant and twisted the top off, dropping the lid on the floor. They could clear up later. He took a huge fingerful of the grease and used his other hand to part Ray's thighs. He managed to find the place he wanted without getting the stuff on the bed or elsewhere on either of them; it might be good as hand cream but for now he had a very different use in mind. Ray gasped as Bodie's finger breached him and then gave a small sighing moan of acceptance and anticipated delight.

Somehow, just as they partnered each other perfectly at work, they came together in movements co-ordinated like a dance. With, Bodie thought, an excellent choreographer. Ray raised his legs, welcoming Bodie between them, and used his hands to hold himself wide open and ready. Bodie in turn sank between Ray's thighs and worked at preparing his lover for invasion. It didn't take long. Then he was in, in that impossible heat and tightness, connected to his Ray as if they were one person, Ray's lower legs resting lightly on his shoulders and his hands now on Bodie's hips urging him on. He found time to kiss Ray's throat and collar bone, tiny biting kisses, fierce and loving. He clasped Ray's erection and managed a few strokes then Ray was falling apart, coming, coming, and yelling his name.

Dizzy with pleasure he let his own orgasm overwhelm him and then they were lying prone and sated. He remembered to roll over and relieve Ray of his weight and then they simply lay together, skin sliding slightly on skin, the world reduced to each other.

Until they heard a noise downstairs.

"Tony? I suppose it doesn't matter now." Bodie threw himself off the bed, nevertheless, and started to dress, throwing Ray's clothes to him as he found them mixed with his own. "But I'd rather not..."

Ray was frowning. "Not Tony. Whoever it is is being very quiet and they're alone. And they don't seem to be coming upstairs yet, or if they are they're being extremely careful. He wouldn't want to wake us, but still, it isn't that late and he wouldn't see any need to be all that cautious."

A floorboard on the landing creaked and Bodie remembered thinking he'd have to fix it. It would be Cowley's problem now, or some other security service's, and he was glad he hadn't got round to doing anything about it. Definitely not Tony, then, because the board was outside Bodie's room and why would...

The door burst open just as Ray's last button was fastened and Jack was there, fury wrinkling his features. He'd evidently decided to come straight to the first room where a light showed under the door.

"You! Rob, or Ray, or whatever your real name is. You effing played me for a fool."

They should have realised he would have found that impossible to stomach. He couldn't have called on Fanny first, because they'd posted surveillance and they would have arrested him, but he might have phoned. Then he'd come here, which took some nerve, Bodie thought, in a search for revenge.

"We were doing our jobs. Keeping the south coast and the rest of England from being played like fools by you and your friends." Ray sounded calm but Bodie knew it was an effort for him, that he'd hated the undercover work and hated the friendship he'd had to pretend for Jack.

"I suppose this is part of your job?" Jack was sneering and he'd obviously immediately sensed the situation. At least they were dressed.

"Discussion with my partner after tonight's incident? Yes."

"In his bedroom? I don't think so. You can arrest me, I suppose." Bodie had moved towards him but Jack stood his ground. "But what will your bosses say when I tell them you're more than work partners? Don't tell me the police or whatever you are approve any more than we do."

"What are you going to tell them?" Ray was almost laughing, trying not to because if Jack got any more worked up things could get even nastier than they needed to. "That we were having a discussion in a bedroom rather than the lounge? Out of the other lodger's possible hearing?" Jack couldn't know that Tony wasn't in and wasn't expected. Or, for that matter, that there weren't other tenants or guests.

"That you're pansies, poofters, the pair of you. Should be ashamed of yourselves. Should be shot or, or, sent to prison, or at any rate sacked." Jack clearly recalled that homosexuality was no longer a crime.

"But there's no evidence, you see," said Ray, silkily, "and we'll deny it in any case. You can believe what you like, but the only thing you actually have against me is the deception I practised on you, and that, of course, was most definitely part of my job. You can ask my boss tomorrow," he added kindly.

Jack was clearly at a loss. He must have expected to find Ray alone and had perhaps intended to attack him. He could not have realised he was up against CI5's finest. And now, with two opponents, he had no idea what to do although Bodie saw that the man had some courage. He was not about to turn tail and make a run for it. He might have done that on the beach but only in order to escape arrest and carry out this plan.

"I'll tell him..."

"Whatever you tell him," said Bodie, "he'll believe us rather than you. We're his top team, you see."

Jack's face fell, collapsed rather. "You mean you're both in this?"

"We most certainly are. Ray's been undercover here and I'm his handler. And I can assure you that if you try to go back downstairs we'll catch you at the bottom. So you might as well come quietly, as the saying goes."

They didn't read him his rights. They left that to the uniformed constable who responded to their telephoned explanation that they had an intruder who was also part of a gang arrested earlier. They were holding the man for the local police.

They seemed, to PC Hargreaves, to be holding him by willpower alone, all of them in the lounge, Bodie and Doyle each guarding one of the doorways. Bodie had left the front door open for the police to come in as soon as they arrived. The intruder was sitting on a large sofa, a mulish expression on his face, but he was making no attempt to get away and he was silent when Hargreaves charged him. The policeman had of course no idea of the firepower in the holsters beneath the smart jackets the two agents were wearing. But after the beach, Jack had, and he had bowed to the inevitable.

It was over, and they finally went upstairs. Bodie noticed that it wasn't much past 1.00. a.m. He'd thought it was near dawn at the very least. They entered Bodie's room and Ray started to undress straight away.

Bodie stood watching him for a moment then copied him and at last they were back on the bed.

"Where were we, then?" Ray asked. "Do you remember?" And expressed no surprise when Bodie showed without a single word that he had total recall.

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End.