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Chapter One

- - -

Standing in warm sunshine, optimism is all too easy.

Bodie caught himself as his spirits lifted, and tried to slow his breathing, to centre himself and feel as little emotion as possible; nothing quite so dangerous, to mind or body, as hope.

The clear blue sky reflected in the sparkling water all around as the vaporetto he’d boarded made its ponderous journey across the Venetian Lagoon towards Piazza San Marco. Wherever you stood on deck, the view was a panorama of the island city, a perfect illustration of the serene and sublime.

Casting round his head for any thoughts except those that had circled it all night, Bodie reckoned that somewhere, not too far away, the Venetian tourist board had to have noticed the perfect weather and be scrambling a photographer to do the beauty shots for the postcards.

Stepping back a little from the first surge of passengers, Bodie waited as an endless stream of people scrambled off the afternoon service of the Linee Giracitta’ from the island of Lido. He’d endured the company of most of them for the whole journey, and several were even familiar from his hotel; the young couple on honeymoon looking unhappy, the American family with triplets and of course the ebullient party of Scottish school children. Although he’d resented the noise that morning during the breakfast he’d had to force down – and he could count on the fingers of one hand the previous occasions that he’d been too nervous to eat – they’d at least distracted him from running over a plan he’d already refined a hundred times.

And from the images in the dreams he’d woken from, shaking, at four in the morning.

Eventually exiting the vaporetto stop, he saw the distinctive dome of St Mark’s Basilica rising ahead, towards which most of the crowd were pressing like ants on a sugar trail. For his part, giving it barely a second glance, he turned immediately westwards, walking against the flow of tourists and street hawkers, his gaze on the paving stones, his focus on keeping his progress slow and steady rather than the run he longed to break into.

Dressed formally in a cream linen suit from an expensive Italian designer and carrying a briefcase, he was clearly identifiable as one of the few foreigners who had come to the tourist centre of the city to do business. It was of no account to him if the weather was idyllic, or his surroundings beautiful.

Which was fortunate really, he reflected, as he spied in front of him the square-jawed grey concrete of the Bauer-Grünwald Hotel, unapologetic alongside the dreamy pastels and uneven lines that gave the rest of the city its character.

Bodie had never thought he himself would care much for Venice; it seemed obvious and artificial, an elaborate wedding cake of a place and he’d been quite happy to dislike it sight unseen.

Ray, of course, had said that was ridiculous of him.

And now was certainly not the time to start thinking about Ray, not if he wanted to stay cool and calm, not if he wanted to leave hope and fear out of it, but the memories kept spilling out anyway, just like the pictures had, that day almost a year previously when Ray - yielding after some persuasion and not a little red wine – had retrieved a battered portfolio of watercolour and pencil sketches, cascading peach and pink and burnt umber across Bodie’s lap.

“They’re all horrible,” Ray had apologised, looking poised to pick them back up again. “Horrible. If you ever saw the place for real you’d realise these are just... chocolate box pictures. Millions like ‘em out there, every damn art student in Europe and beyond has had a try. But Venice, it’s... it’s like nowhere else, honestly, it’s just...” and he’d shrugged, smiling, charmingly drunk and at a loss for words that could bridge the conceptual gap between them.

Raymond Doyle, frustrated art student, dressed no doubt in all the worst clothing the sixties ever spewed forth and no doubt looking better in them than anyone had any right to. Bodie could imagine him, idling along these streets filled with wide-eyed wonder, sketchbook and paints under his arm, worrying about perspective.

Unbidden, his own teenage self rose to walk beside the spectre, treading in step along the same pavements as if miraculously plucked from the original heart of darkness. Dirty fingered, starved of vitamin C, a machine-gun round for a belt and a knife that never left his side.

He would have laughed at Ray Doyle, then. A boy who’d been the toughest blade on his block and chosen to pack it in for culture and then a uniform? The young Bodie would not have understood it, much less felt respect for the decision.

“It’s all sinking, you know,” Ray had said, the day they’d looked at his paintings. “That whole city is sinking into the mud, some of the most precious art in the world and why? Because they’re sucking water from the lagoon for the factories. That’s humans all over, we can’t make one good thing but we foul it up.”

We were all going direct to heaven,” Bodie had misquoted in response. “We were all going direct the other way.” And he’d let the moment hang, staring at Ray, mock-serious, more than slightly tipsy himself, and Ray had stared back, affectionate and confused, and they’d both fallen asleep open-mouthed on Ray’s sofa because many things take a long time to understand.

But if now was not the time to start thinking about Ray it was certainly not the time to start thinking about that, and, taking a deep breath, forcibly clearing his mind, Bodie pushed through the main doors of the Bauer Hotel and into the gleaming glass and marble of the Reception.

Wherever he’d worked, he’d always had a reputation as a cold bastard, and he had not survived what he had in life without being able to wrestle down his emotions. But in the two months since Raymond Doyle had disappeared, he’d realised with startling clarity how far away from that deadened, vicious teenager the man had really brought him.

- - -

“Fierstron? Si Signore, che vi aspettano,” the girl at the Bauer’s front desk informed him. She was young and attractive, her black silk blouse gathered into ruffles at her neck, spilling invitingly from fashionably tanned skin and she was smiling at him with perhaps more than her duty’s worth of welcome.

Tensed for what had to come next, every one of Bodie’s instincts wanted him to be moving forward, getting on, going to see, going to find out. But this was not the moment to appear anything other than collected and at his ease, confident about events, bored even. He took a moment to meet her smile with one of his own: “Grazie mille.”

She blushed prettily and Bodie allowed the encounter another second of his time before letting his feet spin him round and heading to the stairs, which were thickly carpeted in maroon with gilt runners, the kind of thing American billionaires thought the crowned heads of Europe favoured, and of which Bodie thought mostly that it would be hard to hear a footstep ascending them.

Third floor, the girl had also told him. Room 305. They’re expecting you.

As he climbed, Bodie’s heart rate was accelerating far in excess of what meagre exercise the activity necessitated. He was aware that his left hand – gripping the handle of the case – was cold at the fingertips and that there was an unsettling tightness to his gut.

He had not until now and would not at this moment let himself consider the idea that he might be mistaken.

Two flights of stairs, three... finally he reached the third floor landing, automatically taking in his surroundings: lilies and ferns arranged in a tall gold vase, lampshades of curlicued marble paper, a scuttling French family, elegantly dressed and likely to be too hot in the sun, one child already crying, bereft of some item it did not want to be parted from.

Heading along the corridor, he counted room numbers automatically. Before arriving he’d taken the precaution of studying the building’s floor plans, and so knew now that Fierstron’s suite was the largest on the floor but by no means one of the grandest or most expensive in the whole hotel – no doubt the man wouldn’t want to draw that kind of attention.

- - -

Frederic Fierstron, so said the meagre dossier to be found in the CI5 archives, which in a few snatched moments Bodie had memorised more thoroughly than any he’d ever laboured hours over, had obtained his current position in life by avoiding attention of almost all kinds. For a man with a criminal network alleged to cover many countries, there was surprisingly little on any record about him and whilst his photo was held by officials in most major police forces, it was a poor image at a bad angle. His name never came up when the plankton at the edge of various criminal fraternities were caught, interviewed and tossed back in the hope of something better. He enjoyed a quiet, solid, discreet reputation. He was rarely seen in public and when meetings had been known to have occurred they always had a peculiar lack of surviving witnesses.

- - -

Standing outside room 305, Bodie raised a hand and knocked, horribly aware that his mouth had gone dry.

He might, of course, be completely wrong. Once the door opened some scene might greet him, private, personal or otherwise, that utterly confounded his expectations. Everything might, after all, be exactly how it appeared – he might have attributed to the situation too many levels of subtlety, or possibly not enough.

The door opened.

Bodie stepped across the threshold, his face carefully blank, already determinedly fixed in his expression; the single most dangerous thing he could do now, whatever he saw, was react.

But despite his preparation, it was harder than he had expected to be still. Not to say something, not even to move his mouth as the emotion pulled at it, most of all not to reach out and know the truth under his hands, to grab and hold and hold fast, certain.

Focusing hard on keeping his breathing steady, he met the gaze of the man who’d opened the door for him and allowed himself one brief, polite, distant smile, before he spoke, brisk and businesslike.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr Fierstron.”

With a face like thunder, Raymond Doyle stared back at him.

- - -



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Chapter Two

- --

“Ready for the off, then?”  Bodie had asked from the doorway.

The day had finally come, Ray’s discharge from the Cardiothoracic Unit at the Royal Free Hospital after six long weeks of recovery.

Technically, on the medical notes, Ray’s heart had been ripped clean through by the bullet, but as far as Bodie was concerned, May Li had broken it – probably would have done even if all her shots had gone wide instead of just the last one.

Ray had looked well, that was what Bodie had thought as he stood at the entrance of the small side room that had become so familiar to him. Silhouetted in the evening light coming through his window, packing up the various possessions Bodie had ferried to his bedside over the course of his stay – the well-thumbed paperbacks, the deck of cards, the novelties and amusements Bodie had tried to seek out to alleviate the tedium of endless, slow healing – it would have been possible to believe that none of it had happened.

But then, looking up and seeing him standing there waiting, Ray had smiled, warm and welcoming.

Not wanting to make him move, Bodie had crossed the room to his side, lifting a hand to guide him in for a kiss, cheekbones under his fingers gone slightly sharper than usual with illness and hospital food.

Oh yes, since the shooting, some things had undeniably, indelibly changed.

“I am straining at the bloody leash,” Ray had said after a while, drawing back and stepping away, at a point where Bodie had more or less forgotten his purely rhetorical question; Ray had after all been scheming his discharge for days, making endless of lists of things he wanted to do, in most of which Bodie had been included; they’d planned a lot of it together, with the happy anticipation of those who believe that, finally, they have all the time in world.

“Yeah, can’t wait to see the back of this prison,” Ray continued, going back to the bed and his bags – he was talking too much, that’s what Bodie had thought afterwards, when he’d been thinking and rethinking the scene, trying to remember each nuance. “Bet you can’t either, at that. Your stuff’s over there, by the way, get a bag for it if you want to. If you think I’m putting anything that’s been on this floor in with my nice clean clothes you’ve got another think coming.”

Bodie had only stayed on the floor – ‘slept’ would have been inaccurate – during the first fortnight or so, but he’d left his old army sleeping bag and the scrubs he’d managed to scrounge as makeshift pyjamas (not something he otherwise believed in) in Ray’s bedside locker without really thinking about it, and since then had never quite wanted to take them away – it would have been tempting fate, like asserting that Ray was too mended to worry about any more.

He’d found that whether or not he was within sight of Ray, the dreams would come. Sometimes he would see himself arriving at the flat too late, time ticking and blood dripping away as he stumbled over and over on the stairs, unable to reach the door. Sometimes he dreamt that May Li had been braver or crueller and had done what he himself would have done, if he’d been sent on a kill, and put the second bullet clean through the brainstem.

A confused young woman, an activist for peace, turned by grief and exploitation to murder – Bodie had heard the psych breakdown, the excuses; he’d even felt an unsettling gut empathy for her, hoping she’d found a kind of peace in hearing that Ray was still alive.

After all, in dying, she removed any need for him to want to kill her, and for that he was in some ways thankful.

Down a long dark corridor of memory, deep into the stuff of nightmares, Bodie stood looking down into Trauma Theatre 3, clenching a railing so hard his hands ached and watched – helpless, useless - as Ray’s heart stopped beating.

He had thought of nothing, analysed nothing. In such times, no one could. There was only fear.

And if its intensity had betrayed other emotions underlying it, he’d not been able to feel them. A strange numbness came with the stark terror, and for at least twenty-four hours he’d found it easier than he might have expected to keep a surface cool, hearing his own voice talking to Cowley, making calls, giving orders as if nothing had happened, at least for as long as it might conceivably benefit or at even avenge Ray.

But with May Li gone, out of reach of justice, interrogation and forgiveness alike, Bodie had had no further interest in whatever web had ensnared her, in fact no further interest in anything beyond Ray’s bedside where eventually he’d collapsed, still too afraid to feel his exhaustion, still too afraid even to show his fear, not wanting to eat or drink or do anything that would take him away for one more moment.

Before the first two hours of that were through he’d already told a nurse, the Sister and two doctors what they could do with their suggestion that he go home and sleep, and all without even looking at them.

Then the door of the side room had opened once more and he’d heard Cowley talking to the nurse on duty. Bodie had looked up then, bracing himself to fight his ground.

But Cowley had just stood there, a solid dark mass of overcoat framed in the light from the corridor, studying Bodie across Ray’s bed before speaking quite softly - lightly, as if he’d heard an interesting anecdote he wanted to share.

“You know, Bodie, in Catholicism they have a belief in penance. For a certain sin – be it of omission or commission – there is a penance that can be found and once that is served there is pardon. Absolution. A ticket out of purgatory.”

Cowley had keen, observant eyes; in the dim light they looked hooded like a bird of prey’s: “You know, you won’t absolve yourself for not having been there to protect him then by staying here now.”

“I caught your assassin, sir.” Bodie’s own eyes had been heavy and aching with tiredness, his clothes spotted with blood, Ray’s and May Li’s together, his mouth dry as he tried to speak. “And now I’m off duty because fuck knows I’m not fit to be on duty, sir, and I’m not going anywhere else.”

George Cowley had nodded once; a recognition, perhaps a salute of a kind. “I’ll tell the staff to leave you be.” He turned, and then paused, looking back: “It wasn’t your fault he was shot, and it won’t be your fault if he dies. But then you can’t believe that, can you?”

Coming around the end of the bed, Cowley had stepped up to where Bodie sat and had gripped his shoulder, one quick, awkward, supportive touch and – to his horror – Bodie had found himself starting to weep. An instinctual human response to overwhelming emotional intensity, generally considered a healthy one – Dr Ross would no doubt have approved and commended him - but it had mortified him at the time and still worse when he recalled it afterwards.

Thereafter, he had avoided Cowley as much as possible, certainly avoided talking in private with him, and intended to for at least another month, but he knew the man had also been visiting the ward on occasion, out of hours – apparently even Sister didn’t get to apply visiting restrictions to the controller of CI5 – and had assumed that he and Ray were working something out for the end of Ray’s sick leave involving a desk job.

Now Ray, eyes down, methodically packing, spoke again. “The thing is, Bodie, the Cow’s just told me he’s organised a thing, a... recuperation placement for me whilst I can’t work in the department.”

Bodie had laughed. He remembered that quite distinctly, sensing that something was wrong and laughing, because nothing ought to be wrong now, it was over, healed, done, finished, time to sail off into the sunset.

“Well don’t worry, I’ll come and bust you out.” He mugged a boxer pose: “They ain’t built the cage that can hold me yet.”

Ray had stiffened slightly, lifting his head not to look at Bodie but to gaze out of the window at the well-worn view of brick and glass, the steaming vents on the roof of the next building and beyond that the outline of the tower blocks; the wallpaper of the past weeks, of the strange little one-room world they’d started building. In a sensation like a sudden falling, Bodie had realised how fragile it was.

“Yeah, thing is, I have to do this bit alone, Bodie. Clear my head up a bit, that kind of stuff.” Ray had sighed, heavily, hands twisting in the drawstring of his rucksack, the same hands that minutes earlier had clawed up the back of Bodie’s coat, grabbing fast and hard. “There’s a couple of things I need to work through before everything starts up again, and I need to focus on the physio, get my game back together – not that there’ll be any privacy there either, and it’s not like...”

Bodie hadn’t waited to hear more, didn’t want to, found he couldn’t bear to. He’d muttered something about needing to pick up a suit from the dry-cleaners – an obvious, stupid lie – and had made for the door, not even turning to look round as he muttered a goodbye.

And that had been the last he’d seen of Raymond Doyle.

- - -

“And who the fuck are you?”

Doyle’s reaction was note perfect – Bodie couldn’t fault him on that – his face giving off a mixture of mild confusion and deep, innate irritation. You had to know the man very well indeed to note the tiny tics of anxiety where his fingertips rubbed together at his hip, the angry surprise behind his eyes. He was speaking, Bodie noticed with a slight German accent, precisely as the Fierstron file described.

“Hello, Mr Fierstron,” said Bodie, much more distinctly, holding Doyle’s gaze.

The urge to touch still plagued him, the impulse to lift his fingers and have just an instant of contact.

These were the crucial seconds. It had not escaped his notice that his actions were putting them both in danger, and no doubt half of the emotion banked up behind Doyle’s facade was a sense of betrayal.

Faith had brought Bodie here, and he willed Doyle to understand, to meet it with his own.

“I was to have a meeting with you regarding seed exports?” Bodie continued, voice level, lifting his briefcase by way of illustration.

Doyle folded his arms, lips thin and voice laden with threat. “I was told I would be speaking directly to Werther. I asked, and I will not ask again:  Who the fuck are you?”

Bodie did smile now, a reptilian grin of triumph that he knew Doyle hated. “Werther got held up in some territory war over acres of godforsaken sand – business booms, as they say. But he wouldn’t abandon a valued customer such as yourself, so here I am. Second in command, let’s say. I speak for him and you speak to me.”

A raised eyebrow: “Oh I do, do I?” Doyle was stepping backwards, gesturing him inside with mocking courtesy.

Over the threshold, Bodie could see more clearly the four other men within the hotel room, looking up at him from the low coffee table around which they were seated, apparently playing poker for a pile of cigarettes.

To the side, in an elegant, gilded chair placed within the ensuite bathroom and therefore visible only when one was properly inside the room, a fifth man – young, pretty, with a mop of golden hair - was bound and gagged, tear tracks down his face alongside a trickle of crusted blood from a cut to his head. As Bodie walked forward, two of the poker players rose and lifted the chair further into the bathroom before closing the door on the boy’s imploring face.

All information on Frederic Fierstron concurred that he was not a kind man; his proclivities were somewhat better documented than his business affairs. Bodie had suspected a similar scene might present itself, and had thought he had braced himself for it.

Turning his attention forcibly to the task in hand, he opened his briefcase, laying it onto one of the twin beds and clicking the catches to display a neat interior of leather pockets containing a notebook, a fountain pen in a case with an exclusive Italian maker’s stamp and a spotless 1928 Venice Baedeker. Removing these and placing them carefully on the bed, he peeled away the fake lining and exposed the snugly packed weaponry underneath.

“Obviously for the market you’re targeting a standard range, cheap and simple, is a sensible choice,” he began, instantly to the point. “I’ve brought some sample semi-automatics of the price bracket you and Werther talked about, the kind of thing we can do in bulk and at some good discounts depending how high you’d like to go. The Walther PP Super is – as you can see – handy enough, but in terms of your profit margin the imitation might do just as well.” He chuckled, a dark joke between men of the world: “Not like they can return it with the receipt.”

As he continued the patter – arms talk came back to him all too easily – he saw Doyle take up a position leaning against the wall behind the poker players, arms folded, body one leonine slash of anger, watching him through narrowed eyes.

“I say let the idiots blow themselves up,” one of the poker players pronounced – a fat man with a comb-over, wearing green and yellow two-tone shoes - laughing as he spoke. “They’ll only need more guns the sooner if the bloody things jam.”

Pushing himself off the wall in one quick move, Doyle was in front of the speaker, looking daggers at him. “And blow up my reputation with it? I want to orchestrate the lion’s share of the supplies to the parties in this region, gentlemen, and that means giving people what they want and what these people want is what everyone wants – is it not so - to have their enemy dead rather than themselves.” He met the gaze of each of the seated men individually, asserting his authority.

Chastened, Two-Tone nodded deferentially as did his companions. “Just like you say, Fierstron. This is your racket. It was just a thought.”

“Well stop thinking.” He flashed a glare at Bodie. “Carry on, then.”

Straightening his shoulders, Bodie picked up the next gun and began to describe its features, followed by the pictures mounted on card of the rifles and grenades. There were few further interruptions and, after some minor re-negotiation of terms, he accepted a second briefcase, this one filled with crisp twenty-pound notes.

As he counted – every stack, taking his time, he was no amateur – he was aware that the four poker players were talking amongst themselves in Italian, seemingly making plans for the evening, arguing over the relative merits of various restaurants and the casino. One seemed to be suggesting bringing Bodie along in the finest business tradition of hospitality.

Doyle, however, was turning each idea down flat and there was a cautious teasing in response.

“Your young man, remember he needs to be able to see his way home, yes?” one laughed, pointing at the bathroom. “Otherwise you will never be rid of him and he will be like a wife! No man deserves a wife!”

Doyle offered a cold smile. “I assure you gentleman, I have no plans to ever be in possession of such an object.”

Young Men, Disappearance Of, was one heading within the Fierstron dossier. Once Bodie had begun to understand what it referred to, he’d seen the genius behind the idea, but no good idea ever left everyone unharmed, and situations like the one in the en suite only proved it.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, Bodie thought ruefully.

He stole a glance towards the bathroom door, wondering how far the young man within had already been drawn into the game.

“I agree with you on that point, though,” he heard Doyle saying, loudly, and on turning realised that his contemplation was being observed. “Our genial salesman does need further attention. Needs to feel part of the family. You all go and eat your ravioli and meringues or whatever horrors you prefer, and he shall dine with me here.”

Perhaps looking a little relieved, the gang of four agreed.

Doyle strode towards the bathroom door and opened it. Bending to retrieve a knife strapped to his ankle, he swiftly cut the young man’s bonds and yanked the gag from his mouth, releasing a ragged moan of fear.

Bodie watched, unable to tear his gaze away, as, grinning, Doyle leant in, kissing the boy deeply and violently before standing back, raising a hand to cuff his face and laughing.

Something like pain lanced through Bodie’s abdomen, and a shiver took him; he folded his arms and gritted his teeth.

Doyle’s voice had gone low and teasing: “You run home and eat your supper too, foolish boy, and let this be a lesson not to try stealing from your tricks again. They might not be as forgiving as me, eh?”

Tear-stained, gulping, looking as if he could scarcely believe his reprieve, the young man bolted, not even pausing to zip up his trousers or lace his shoes.

Doyle turned to his audience, still smiling, shaking his head. “Why is it always the ones with the best mouths that turn out bad? I don’t know, I really don’t - what is the world coming to? Next time you gentlemen buy me an evening’s entertainment, aim for some more class, eh?” Then, suddenly frowning: “Well? What are you all staring at? Scram!”

The poker players scurried away like cockroaches in the wake of the boy.

The door slammed behind them, and Bodie turned, finally able to stare as long as he wanted to.

- - -

Doyle looked tired, that was Bodie’s first impression. Pale, although he’d been pale two months ago, with his eyes still red-rimmed, dark shadows underneath - the ones that had finally gone by the end of the hospital stay returned with a vengeance.

And furious. Also utterly furious.

“What the hell..?” Cutting himself off, Doyle bit his lip, clearly struggling not to shout, stepping forwards, hands raised, body taut as wire.

It would have been safe enough, now, to reach out, to finally touch him. To trace again the contours of a face Bodie knew he would never have enough of kissing, to meet the ache in himself with the warmth of Doyle’s body in his arms and seek out if an answering ache needing mending.

But Bodie could feel such a thing was still impossible, and his hands hung awkwardly at his sides.

“I promised I’d stay with you,” he said now, softly, feeling suddenly tired himself, tired and worn-out and run down, every bit of energy he’d borrowed to get here, to this moment, paying itself back at once. “Maybe you don’t remember, but I said I would. And I meant it.”

For a moment they were frozen together, staring, and then Doyle sank onto the nearest bed, one hand to his temples as if they ached.

“No, I remember, I just... Surely Cowley told you not to..?”

Bodie had to fold his arms now to keep them from reaching out. “Yes, well, I disagreed.”

- - -



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Chapter Three

- - -

“Sir, he’s barely even recovered! They’re only letting him out of hospital in the first place because he swore blind he’d rest!” Having barged into the office despite the protestations of the secretary, Bodie pushed past a stuttering, offended man in a suit and smacked his hand down onto George Cowley’s desk.

From behind it, the man rose, strong and silent, staring him down.

“Wait outside, 3.7.”

“Just tell me where is he, tell me you’ve got him on some stupid decoding camp or document filing or three weeks paid holiday with a telephoto lens or...” Bodie ran out of breath, gasping.

He’d tried to go back to the hospital barely hours after he’d left, determined to get to the bottom of what was happening, and had found only a uninterested nurse explaining that Mr Doyle had been discharged a day early – some friends of his, some of his work people probably, men in overcoats, had come and driven him away.

Ever since then Bodie’s heart had been pounding as if he was still running down that corridor to the flat; he was not going to lose him, not after all this, not now, not when he hadn’t even...

“Outside!” Cowley didn’t raise his voice, didn’t have to, the steel in it was clear enough. And then, relaxing ever so slightly the set of his shoulders. “Wait, Bodie, till I’ve time to tell you.”

Once, he would have snapped then, not able to stand the order, taking the gentleness as an insult. But now - thanks not least to the man who now ordered him - he had the control to just about manage to get back through the door and wait impatiently in the passageway, drumming his fingers on the cold walls.

“An assignment appeared two days ago,” Cowley had explained, fifteen minutes later, having gestured Bodie to the seat recently vacated by the other man (“Minister for Transport, Bodie, I think you rather frightened him”), sitting down himself on his desk’s edge, leaving nothing separating them. “An assignment in another department for which Doyle was requested for secondment.”

“I’ve told you, sir, he’s not fit for it.”

“I have been given to understand it’s within his current physical capacities, but you must understand, Bodie, the choice was up to him. He volunteered. I can’t tell you more than that.” Cowley frowned. “For the purposes of his cover he is at the Primrose Physiotherapy Unit in Islington, and having you barraging around the hospital like Action Man did not help validate that. I’ve had to make several phone calls excusing you. Didn’t he tell you any of this himself?”

Bodie shrugged, helplessly. “Told me he was going for rehab, sure, but not...”

“And so you instantly assumed he’d been - what? Abducted?”

“Not unreasonably, sir, given his track record.”

Cowley contemplated him a moment, then shook his head, smiling. “I told the department in question, when they came to me with the paperwork, that if they didn’t have him back in one piece, I would be the least of their worries. I think I was correct.” Then, leaning forward, more serious again. “I think he’s glad to be doing something practical at last, remember that, Bodie. It’s hard for a man like Doyle to be laid up and nursed. I was surprised, I admit, that he did accept the job, but since he has it’s somewhat out of my hands.”

“He’s your agent, isn’t he?” Bodie stood up, leaning forward, desperation in his voice that he didn’t even try to restrain. “Your Bisto Kid? You own us, him and me, or you might as well. Maybe you’d lay us out for the job, and that’s the way it goes, I’d trust you to call it. But only you.”

Cowley’s eyes widened, and Bodie felt heat rushing to his face. Joke all you damn well liked about The Cow and the Kids, but Cowley had no children and Bodie had no Dad worth mentioning and that counted for something whether you ever intended it to or not, and sometimes he knew they both felt it.

Licking his dry lips, he spoke more softly. “I’m not leaving him, sir. You know I won’t.”

If he’d been another man and he was watching himself, he’d thought, he might be laughing – what an idiot to be so upset – but no amount of cold logic, no amount even of embarrassment could lessen how it felt to know Ray was out there, alone, in danger, being yet again taken away from him.

- - -

From the first dreadful moment when Bodie had seen him lying on the floor, in a pool of far too much blood, the time at Ray’s side had begun as very particular hell. One that Bodie, veteran of not a few long dark nights of existence, had found new and astonishingly horrible.

The awful hours of watching Ray struggle for each breath, watching the wriggling lines on the cardiac monitor through his sore, blurring eyes, unshakeably convinced that if he were to lose concentration they’d drop away altogether.

Willing Ray to keep living, when Ray himself was seemingly uninterested in the matter.

Helpless, pointless next to him, too late to be of any use.

It had been very difficult to get Ray’s heart beating consistently in a normal rhythm, or at least that was more or less how the doctor had explained it, Bodie struggling to understand through a fog of despair. He’d rapidly become used over the first few days to alarms ringing out and staff rushing into the room to gabble numbers and demand drugs whilst studying Ray’s monitors with looks of frustration. Over time, he began to understand more of the language of the heart trace, to frown with the doctors as the peaks once more became irregular or the baseline fell into a sawtooth flutter and bite his lip with the nurses as yet another round of medication was administered, watching the trace with them to see the effect.

“You are the next of kin, I understand?” a senior doctor had asked, one particular night that Bodie could barely remember for exhaustion, but could still dream about after and wake up in a cold sweat.

Bodie had nodded mutely. Too late now to ask what the situation actually was with Ray’s family – he’d been sure he had some still – but the legal documentation was quite clear. Another time it might have floored him, made him uncomfortable, but now he only thought it made sense.

Why the fuck shouldn’t I be? Bodie thought, standing there just outside the room, the doctor raising an enquiring, intrigued eyebrow at him. I would take that bullet for him in a second if I could, that qualifies me.

But whatever conclusions the doctor had reached, they didn’t prevent him calling for a cup of tea from the nurses and leading Bodie with something close to gentleness to a small room along the ward, sitting him on a cheap sofa and leaning forward to give a highly gestured explanation.

“His heart is not playing ball,” the man began, straight to the point. “We can’t go on like this, he’s not moving fluid properly so we’re struggling to hydrate him safely and his kidneys are under a lot of strain. If we carry on down this road, we’ll have to consider organ support with a machine. That’s why I think, now, we have to try electric cardioversion. There’s a risk involved, a significant risk, it’s a pretty new procedure, but if we can’t get a better output from him it’s no win.”

Bodie had never felt so absolutely drained, so cold and or so small.

“What do you want me to sign?” he asked, knowing he must look blank and cool again, all his feelings retreating deep within him.

The doctor produced the consent form, handing him an elegant fountain pen. Later Bodie learnt that it had been three in the morning at the time and the doctor was a Consultant who’d been called out of his bed to come in and do this, but no detail seemed important at the time.

“Any questions?”

Bodie shook his head, hands at his mouth, biting at the sides of his fingers but unable to feel the pain. No point asking for numbers and likelihoods, no point in seeking hope.

The doctor took the form and the pen, screwing the top back on carefully.

“I’m taking him to Theatre for this immediately. Come and see him first if you want to.”

Bodie took a quick, sharp breath, and then nodded, standing up, needing it not to be this moment any longer.

“I’m going to do my best to bring him back to you,” the doctor had said, gently, opening the door. “I can’t promise much, but I promise you that.”

He’d understood, Bodie eventually realised. The doctor had understood things he himself hadn’t and it hadn’t mattered to him, and later that seemed important in making Bodie think none of it was wrong.

But at the time there’d been nothing like self-consciousness, only the waiting, a long, dark two hours during which he’d paced the ground floor of the hospital like some kind of starving animal, buying cups of coffee from vending machines and then leaving them on windowsills to go cold.

And then, back on the ward again, with no memory of getting to the room, only seeing Ray in the bed, awake, eyes open and focussing right onto him, chuckling a little, dry and weak, on seeing him, and like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, things had begun changing.

- - -

Still slouched on the hotel bed, Doyle looked up at him. “And so you just decided you come along and watch, did you?”

There was something in his manner and tone that Bodie struggled to place. It seemed bizarrely like guilt.

“Look, I’ve got my job, I’ll do my part, I’m not about to endanger either of us more than you’ve already done.” Bodie retorted, “What the hell is going on here and why did you agree to it? ‘Gentle exertion’, the doctor said – since when did this racket ever involve gentle exertion?” Without meaning to, he shot a glance sideways at the ensuite bathroom.

“You don’t know why I’m here?” he heard Doyle repeating slowly, and brought his gaze back to him – there’d been something, something in his tone...

But Doyle was sitting up straighter now, continuing: “You understand about the Fierstron thing, though?” His manner had changed entirely, brisk and businesslike.

Bodie moved to sit on the bed opposite him. Closer, he could imagine he detected the scent of Doyle’s hair, the echo of slow afternoons of affection, memories that for two months he hadn’t let himself visit.

“Cowley put me on the eyes-only list for the dossier. Didn’t say anything, didn’t mention it to me, I just got the memo in a stack of paperwork one day. Very clever set up, this person that any man can be, providing they tick all the boxes that everyone remembers, the awful clothes, the accent, the predilection for twinks.” Bodie kept his voice light, affecting snobbish approval – a Whitehall clerk impressed with a backroom grunt. “Send off your preferred agent with more or less the right vital statistics to be a man no one has a photograph of and let him do whatever undercover job you want. I hope whoever dreamed that up got a pay rise. Anyway, I put two and two together.”

Doyle’s eyes widened. “That wouldn’t tell you about this job, though.”

Bodie nodded. “So I broke into a few filing cabinets, so what? Security ought to be better, and the coding system certainly needs improvement – alphanumeric with a three letter shift is not going to cut the mustard in this day and age.”

Doyle shook his head – Bodie could hear the disapproval as clearly as if it had been spoken – but all he said was: “And Werther?”

Bodie felt a ripple of pride and allowed it to show in his grin. “Safely apprehended and deposited with a very nervous policeman in Rome who promised to ship him back to the UK on the next flight. Minus briefcase and arsenal, of course.”

Doyle rolled his eyes. “Oh, of course.” He gave a quick laugh. “For heaven’s sake, Bodie...” and he drifted off into a smile.

Despite the questions still jostling in his mind, it was more than Bodie could do to break the moment of peace between them. He’d tried not to imagine how the reunion might go, tried not to think about what might happen for many reasons, but he’d never pictured this silence, the two of them miles apart like teenagers at a school disco.

They’d never talked about the things that had happened, that had changed between them. Now he had no vocabulary to mention it, even if he felt able to, but as the moment stretched out, as his pulse once again beat faster under Doyle’s gaze, he wondered if the other man might now – as so often – find the words he lacked and show him what he’d been trying to say.

At length, Doyle took a deep breath:

“Well, now you’re here, we’re going to have to keep playing this game.” A shadow passed over his face. “And it’s no fun, so consider yourself an idiot for joining.” He stood up, brushing past Bodie as he moved. “We should really go down to dinner now, having said we will. Those men are less stupid than they look; they’re probably watching the room.”

“And our charming friends are?”

“Local gangsters doing the hospitality thing – had to let them know all this was kicking off on their turf. Very eager to get in the good books of a man like old Frederic. Come on, we need to talk about tomorrow.”

Bodie frowned.  He’d seen from the dossier that Fierstron was in Venice to be the intermediary in an arms deal rather than the end buyer, but he was none the wiser as to the specifics of the mission, since there had been a strange lack of a case-plan and outcomes list, as if the file had been partially emptied, though the contents list hadn’t shown anything missing.

Certainly, there had been nothing to explain why Doyle should have agreed to be involved.

- - -

Bodie found it somewhat surreal, walking to one of the hotel’s luxurious restaurants with Doyle at his side. Despite his confusion, he felt a relief, a kind of excitement, a kind of slow-burning joy he struggled to keep from his expression.

To be together; that was everything.

They were escorted by the head waiter to a table for two near a window that offered a view across the nearest waterway, which at that hour of the evening was starting to log jam with tourist gondolas, each occupant staring balefully at the others for ruining their supposedly peaceful and romantic experience. Occasionally a motor launch cut through noisily, invariably containing a young man with a girl at his side. The water surged and rippled under the volume of craft, opaque with pollution, the setting sun glinting off rainbow slicks of diesel.

Set in his character, Doyle waved away the menu, ordering sharply for both of them in accented Italian, then frowned at the wine as it was poured, testing it carefully before accepting the bottle.

Sitting back in his chair, Bodie turned his attention from the window and watched him. They must have sat across from each other at a thousand tables in their time, but never just the two of them at dinner in a place like this.

It was the kind of scene he might have hoped for, if he’d allowed himself to do so, whilst sitting at Ray’s bedside all that while. Except that in his mind they would not have leaned back so cautiously from each other, so much unanswered hovering between them.

“Is that how you used to trade guns back in Africa?” Doyle was asking, quiet enough to avoid the next table overhearing, whilst expertly taking apart a lobster. He’d explained that in the fish city one expected seafood but the local water quality was so poor that most was imported from Spain or the Baltic area. “Like a vacuum cleaner salesman?”

“Clean up the rubbish either way – not much difference, is there?” Bodie shrugged. “I was an odd-job man in Angola, I didn’t do anything on a regular basis.”

“Odd-job man?” Doyle raised an eyebrow, more challenge in his expression than Bodie had expected. Disconcerted, he took a generous sip of his wine with an involuntary murmur of approval as he tasted it, and then turned some attention to the delectable seafood risotto Doyle had picked for him.

After an interval, Doyle continued briskly. “You need to come back here tomorrow morning, nine o’clock. We’re going over to see the fixer.” He sighed, putting his knife and fork down and pushing the still mostly full plate away, preoccupied with something.

Bodie had fully expected to be told he was crazy, and had been quite resigned to the prospect of a scolding, but not this, not this indifferent melancholy. Having known Doyle would be facing some sort of dangerous assignment, Bodie had assumed he’d be glad to have his partner at his side for it, rather than a strange and dubious arms dealer.

Now Bodie leant forward, aware as he spoke that raw feeling was all too evident in his voice.

“I just want to help, you know.”

“I know you do.” To Bodie’s surprise, Doyle answered him softly, meeting his gaze without anger. The exhaustion in his eyes was more than simply distressing to see – if he hadn’t been sleeping, hadn’t been resting properly, the strain on his system might be serious. “I know you do, I just can’t...”

Suddenly, he caught sight of something or someone past Bodie’s shoulder and Bodie saw his whole body tense and the moment of softness disappear, Fierstron’s sneer and commanding body language returning. Doyle swigged the last of his glass of wine and threw down his napkin as he stood.

“Eat something in your room, please?” Bodie hissed at him, whilst he had the chance.

Doyle blinked – evidently his health requirements had long slipped from his mind – and muttered only, “See you tomorrow, then,” before striding off, Fierstron to the core.

Bodie forced his unseeing gaze to rest back on the view of the water rather than Doyle’s disappearing form – no one watching would expect him to be that interested in his client – and saw that the scrum of vessels had abated slightly, boats of all kinds now gliding back and forth at regular intervals. One gondolier was singing for the delight of two Japanese tourists in his craft who sat gleefully under an imitation lace awning, a plastic vase with a plastic rose in it super-glued to the prow in front of them.

There were set pieces and props to romance, and Bodie knew it; that was how you got most birds after all, a good knowledge of the uses of chocolates and flowers and aptly quoted poetry, masterfully combined with sunsets and the scent of the air after rain or an impromptu wood fire on a long, cold walk.

None of the blood and pain Bodie had found inextricably tied to the concept made it onto the cards. But then maybe, in a way, after all they did. The old, poetic idea that you gave someone your heart. What could that mean but that you had decided their existence meant more than yours did? That if their heart broke inside them, yours would go down in pieces alongside?

He beckoned the waiter for another bottle of wine and set his gaze firmly on the view, determined for once to think of nothing but architecture.

- - -

Making his way out of the hotel, having taken advantage of the tab to get a good dessert – ‘eat like you never know where your next meal will come from’ was always good advice on assignment – Bodie noticed Two Tone and one of the other poker players sitting at the bar. Possibly the reason that Doyle had made a quick exit, although they looked as if they were just arriving, one still removing his coat.

Slowly, he wandered back through the streets to the San Marco vaporetto stop.

It was a long, chilly ride back across the murky waters to his own hotel on the island of Lido; he stood at the stern rail of the boat, watching the lights of the city draw away, thinking of Doyle and everyone else in it slowly and inexorably sinking down into the mud.

We were all going straight the other way.

He hadn’t asked for this, he remembered that clearly enough. Had, back at the start, rather fiercely asked not to be partnered with Raymond Doyle. He’d wanted to keep working alone, not trusting the idea of some policeman, who’d probably never carried a gun before the start of CI5 training, watching his back. He’d worried – and knew now he’d been correct in the hypothesis although perhaps not in fearing it – that such a man would still be hung up about things Bodie himself had long ago learned to accept and ignore.

He’d had no conception of working with, of knowing, someone who could assume a greater importance in life than his own skin. He’d not been afraid of that because he hadn’t known it was possible, even if you thought someone was attractive, even if they made you laugh, he hadn’t understood that it could get you here, to this thing, this heavy feeling that drew you back, and back, and back to them.

Perhaps he’d never had the right priorities, perhaps he’d never really been quite sane, but he knew for certain that all that was good in his life was to do with Ray Doyle, and whatever it turned out to involve, he had no intention of leaving the man to face the darkness alone.

- - -



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Chapter Four

- - -

Precisely when it started, Bodie wouldn’t have been able to say. No one ever could in such situations, probably, but what was quite distinct in his mind, because of how much it had shaken him, was the memory of the first time he’d consciously realised that he had feelings he shouldn’t have about Raymond Doyle.

It didn’t happen during a job – in their work emotions always ran high, life and death jostling alongside at the brink together, moments of intense fear and triumph creating a combat intimacy, a disregard for personal space and a familiarity with how another man slept, ate, smelt and faced death.  It was not a feeling that generally translated into the real world; you could risk your life for someone in the field, share that instant with them with all the brilliance possible, and then find them boring in the pub afterwards and only long to get away.

If you even got as far as finding that out, of course. Bodie had never been one to take up offers of a quick pint down the road with the lads, not that offers had exactly flown his way. If he was wary of showing himself, then people seemed to have an equal instinct to avoid him.

It had been entirely Ray’s fault that they had started to socialise together outside the job. Ray got invited to every damn thing going and he had apparently taken it as written that he should invite Bodie after him.

Before he’d known Ray, Bodie had tended to pick up his women (and indeed his men) at the end of the night in a bar, both of them drunk, and then wave goodbye to them the next day. But Ray didn’t have pick-ups, he had girlfriends and dates and sometimes they had female friends who wanted to go double and Bodie had seen the benefits of someone you met more than once and who often might cook you dinner at some point between hello and, maybe in another world, love.

Except it never had worked out with those women, not a single one of them, and Bodie wasn’t so much a fool not to know why.

Ray hadn’t been boring in the pub. Ray hadn’t been boring at all. He seemed to accept Bodie, not because didn’t understand him, but because he did, and unlike so many didn’t recoil from what he saw.

And one day, just spilling into the Tanner’s Arms, at the end of a rainy jog, the hundredth time, Sunday, nothing much to do, in one of those strange empty lapses between cases, pushing through muggy, tobacco-laden heat, peeling off jackets and scarves and feeling water drying off his skin, Bodie had gently jostled Ray into a booth, sliding in next to him and Ray had turned, laughing and smiling and smelling of mud and grass and familiarity, and Bodie had felt it, right there and then, the first time, the flash of lust and more-than-lust he was not ever supposed to have for someone he worked with.

He’d stayed next to Ray that whole afternoon – usually they mingled a little, chatted to some of the other regulars or to the barmaid or found a girl or two, or three, but that day he’d been unable to make himself budge, just talking contentedly, wondering if Ray felt the warmth too, the strange energy between them. 

Bodie had driven home in the autumn gloaming, and when he’d dropped Ray off he’d tried to find some kind of words that would say enough without risking everything. Naturally, nothing had come; it was an emotion he barely understood, let alone one he could express in subtleties.

So he’d gone for a run on the Heath in the dark until his limbs ached and his vision blurred, and then when a lithe young man had stepped out of the bushes wearing a tiny t-shirt and a welcoming smile, he’d tried to pretend the resulting encounter slaked all the needs he had.

There was more than one occasion after that when it had been almost more than he could bear not to try his luck with Ray, but more and more he’d thought that the status quo was good, maybe the best his life had been; that they were good together, and that if he fucked it up what he really wouldn’t have been able to stand would have been splitting at work and letting some other person watch Ray’s back, because the idiot didn’t know how not to get hurt.

But then even with him there, even with everything Bodie could do, Ray had been hurt anyway.

- - -

“What use am I going to be now, eh?” had been a common theme of Ray’s conversation, by the end of the second week in hospital, when it was already getting hard to believe that he’d been so silent for so long. “They say I can’t possibly do active duties for six months, maybe not ever, you know that? I can’t stand the idea of sitting at a desk whilst the rest of you dash about, I don’t want to make the flipping tea, I don’t want to hear you getting yourself shot at over the radio...”

“Who says you were any use to begin with?” had been Bodie’s usual retort, hiding behind sarcasm and generally also at least a newspaper, which generally got the response it deserved.

Sometimes, though, Ray had spoken slowly, lying back in bed, sighing, staring out of the window.

“It’s so easy to think you don’t like something when you’ve still got the choice.”

Bodie, in the chair at his side, hadn’t wanted to answer, hadn’t wanted to start them down that route, the one where you made real statements instead of monosyllabic code, the one where words had to be found.

“You don’t like the job?”

“Parts of it I like.” Ray had shifted to look at him. “And sometimes I can’t imagine anything better, but Bodie, it’s...” He’d gestured helplessly. “And the worst thing is I’m damn good at it. Used to be damn good at it.”

“You’ll be as good again.”

“Bodie, you heard the doctor. By anyone’s standards I’ll be healthy, better than healthy. Anyone except CI5.”

“You can’t just...”

“Would you want to face Macklin alongside me, the way I am now?”

I didn’t want to face Macklin with you the first time, Bodie had thought, so clear and distinct he’d remembered it perfectly afterwards, because it been one in  long line of revelations, a thought he’d had for months but never heard himself think. I couldn’t bear watching someone hurt you that I wasn’t allowed to hunt down afterwards.

Macklin had known: Not enough hate. Too much of the other, eh Bodie? He’d known what had taken the berserker edge out of Bodie’s fight, what had stayed his hand, made him care too much.

“I’ve had enough death to last me a lifetime, Bodie,” Doyle had continued, voice low again, eyes wide and deep and dark. “Fuck if I know what I’ll do, but I won’t be sad to give it up. At least as long as...”

He’d started coughing then, a sure sign he needed to rest, and Bodie had passed him some water and switched on the TV, the two of them sitting in silence watching some inane quiz-show, words still hovering in the air between them.

Bodie had started bringing in the games to avoid the conversations. Whilst neither of them were particularly good players – at least at first – chess suited them well, and Bodie had found that the small, square wars – the board balanced across Ray’s lap, their heads leaning over it in shared contemplation – maintained a comfortable silence. They knew each other too well to be easily fooled in strategy and the competitiveness was delicious.

And of course once Ray had been more firmly on the road to recovery, the long haul of rehabilitation had helped fill the hours. The little side room had started to see triumphs; Ray sitting out in his chair for most of the day, then Ray getting out of bed, walking a few steps whilst shouting down the nurse warning him to take things slowly.

Afterwards, Bodie had too often found himself remembering the heavy pressure of Ray’s hand gripping his arm, using Bodie as a support in the way he wouldn’t initially use a crutch; Ray’s slow, uneven gait on weak, bed-addled limbs dragging the pair of them from side to side of the ward corridor as if they were drunk, Bodie feeling like maybe he was, lightheaded with relief, with pride, with the inescapable demon of hope.

- - -

Bodie’s second lagoon crossing to San Marco was in similarly idyllic conditions to his first. The heat had set in for a few days at least, the radio had announced that morning in his hotel breakfast room, and all the gaggle of guests around him had repeated this endlessly to each other as if, despite every iteration, it was still news.

He’d been in a poor mood to tolerate it; sleep had not come easily. Finally having found Doyle, it was hard to be away from him, to lie there knowing he slept across the water alone and tangled in something Bodie still couldn’t understand.

And, when the edges of sleep had blurred his reality, one memory had kept rising, too new to be fully suppressed, that of Doyle kissing the rent boy, the violent intensity of it, the sound, the slight sound of his mouth rising, lips bruised with pressure.

Bodie had not slept well at all.

- - -

He found Doyle waiting for him in the lobby of the Bauer-Grünwald

Doyle was looking, Bodie noticed, if anything more strained around the eyes than on the day before, but he walked out and along the street briskly, his own case in hand, a monogrammed black leather thing of a hideousness matching that day’s suit and tie, speaking with clipped determination.

“We’re going to Cannaregio now, there’s a place there the fixer’s organised. Unfortunately they’re already expecting me to bring the arms wholesaler with me as a sign of transparency and I made a big fuss about how it showed I was in control of you – well, of the dealer. Otherwise I’d lock you in the damn hotel room. But after today, you’re going home.”

Bodie made only a non-committal murmur in response.

Just walking down the street with Doyle was pleasing, the man’s familiar stride beside him, light and energetic. He had clearly continued to recover fairly well despite the interruptions to his rest cure and for that at least Bodie was grateful.

After taking a few streets very rapidly, Doyle slowed to buy an ice-cream from a wrinkled little vendor who had propped his barrow in the corner of a wide, paved square, protecting his wares from the sun with a striped umbrella and resting between customers in a deck-chair of matching fabric. Each flavour was denoted by a colour of lurid intensity and Doyle selected a bright red purporting to be strawberry. From the way the little man greeted him, Bodie had the impression this was a daily ritual.

Idling next to the barrow whilst Doyle counted his lire, Bodie looked around at the shop fronts and the small church squatting in the square’s centre. A tall blond man was the only other person visibly out and about, having stopped in the doorway of one of the ubiquitous pharmacies, seemingly to read the instructions for some medication he’d just purchased, no doubt scribbled and in Italian.

Thinking nothing of it, Bodie strode quickly after Doyle as he pressed on to catch the vaporetto that would take them up the Grand Canal to the district of Cannaregio. But as they stood waiting at the stop, along with the first of the day’s pickings of tourists eager to pass under the Rialto bridge, he frowned and gave Doyle a light nudge.

“Three o’clock. That man’s following us.”

Doyle looked up from licking the remains of his gelato, his tongue now red with dye. “Yes, I know.” He took a bite of the cone and mumbled through it. “Don’t worry, we expect him to be there.”

“Is he yours? Fierstron’s?”

Doyle raised an eyebrow; he seemed to be back in a stubborn mood: “I’m not sure you’re cleared for that information.”

“Oh good, because I enjoy guessing if someone is about to start shooting me,” Bodie hissed back. In front of him, a lady in a floppy green sunhat turned and stared at him, looking rather disconcerted, and edged to the other side of the queue.

Doyle rolled his eyes at him. “You’re part of this now,” he whispered, when she was out of earshot. “You’re playing a part too, we both are. So play it till it plays out.”

The boat drew up to its pier and they climbed aboard with the other passengers before setting off at a leisurely chug along the wide canal, avoiding gondolas and barges by inches, forming a part of the surroundings which, from every window they passed, people seemed to be leaning out of to photograph.

“Do you remember showing me those paintings?” Bodie asked, presently. They’d managed to get a seat in the front, something about Doyle’s fiery stare most likely, and before them he could see precisely the view that Ray Doyle, art student, had been so unsatisfied in capturing.

Doyle’s face relaxed a little, he gave a wince and then a grin. “Like I could forget! However did you manage to convince me to do that? I remember it and cringe – they were awful, I was awful, belly-aching about my use of shadow and my problems with pencil sketching.”

Bodie looked at the sunshine playing on the water, sparkling on the shimmering reflections of the buildings lining the canal. “Recognised the scene, didn’t I? They weren’t terrible. Should have kept it up.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I should have done.” Doyle sighed and rubbed a hand over his face, a cloud coming over the sun. “Bodie, honestly, you shouldn’t have come here. I can sort this out - I just need to sort this out.”

“Listen, you don’t have to tell me what’s going on. I’m on leave, took two weeks before I came out here, I’m on my own time. I’m not cleared to know what’s happening here and I don’t care what is and if you’re really better off without me, I’ll go. I just want to help you if I can.”

Doyle frowned, and seemed about to answer, but at that moment the water bus pulled into Ca’ d’Oro and an elderly lady embarked who seemed very certain that they were in her usual seat. As they moved back to the main part of the boat, the thick crowd separated them until their own stop.

They were almost alone in alighting in Cannaregio; everyone else who’d made it that far apparently holding out for the train and bus terminals further round the loop. This was, Doyle observed, the area of the island with the highest concentration of long-term Venetian residents, and as they made their way through the streets Bodie did notice the presence of grocers and butchers, with a commensurate decrease in sellers of imitation plastic gondolas, carnival masks, postcards and glass, although here – as everywhere – there seemed to be a pharmacy on every other street.

Eventually, after a good fifteen minutes walking, Doyle lead the way into an unimposing apartment building with a series of brass nameplates by the doorbells that gave nothing away, being too worn to read.

Inside the marble hallway it was cool, with a faint smell of damp, each wall showing clear high water marks from the acqua alta of winters past. From an unoccupied niche in the wall, a marmalade cat crept forward, looking up at them with mild indignity before sliding through the open door.

“Frederic! A pleasure to finally meet you!”

Bodie turned around swiftly at the sound of the voice and saw that the door to what must be the ground floor flat had opened, revealing behind it a wide-set black man dressed in an immaculate polo shirt and chinos, a gold bangle flashing at his wrist next to a Rolex.

“Kevin, my friend.” Doyle stepped forward, smiling. “This is Mr Phillips, he’s the associate of Mr Werther’s I told you about on the phone last night. Mr Phillips, this is Kevin Nbuti.”

“Mr Phillips, so pleased to meet you.” The man called Kevin gripped Bodie’s hand firmly.

“It’s Andrew,” Bodie replied. “Or Andy if you like.” He heard Doyle stifling a sound and kept his face carefully blank, pleased with the reaction.

“Andy, then. Do come through.” Kevin lead the way through into the apartment, and Bodie took in a wide open-plan room, all in the same white marble as the hall, with a sleek but bare kitchenette in one corner and in the centre four immaculate white couches arranged in a square around a mosaic-topped table, giving a slightly Roman effect. A tray on the table bore a cafetière and five cups.

“Arabica, freshly-ground, of course,” Kevin commented, sitting down and clapping his hands. A young woman with long black hair flowing freely over a loose orange dress appeared at another door. Carrying a plate of thin biscuits, she placed them on the table as she knelt on a cushion to pour. She looked Italian herself, and kept her eyes – delicately lined with kohl – demurely averted.

“Kom in nou!” Kevin called out, and two more men came through the same door as the girl. Ray rose to stand again and Bodie followed his example.

One of the men was also black, dressed quite at odds with the rest of the scene in jeans, a heavy-metal t-shirt and a camouflage jacket. The other, white-blond and sunburnt, favoured shorts, sandals and a neatly ironed shirt of an alarming checked pattern, its short sleeves revealing a large tattoo across his right forearm of a burning dagger.

“This is Mr Kwanbe and Mr Reginalds,” Kevin explained. “And these are Mr Fierstron and Mr Phillips.”

Miss Scarlet in the Venetian Palazzo with the coffee machine, Bodie thought to himself as they sat down again.

“Pratt jy Afrikaans?” Mr Reginalds asked, picking up a cup. “Dankie Helena.”

“I’d prefer to speak English,” Doyle answered firmly. He and Bodie were sharing a sofa and Doyle had sat back, extending his arm along the back, an assertive posture, suitable for Fierstron in every way. It left his hand inches from Bodie’s neck and Bodie felt a shiver travel down his skin.

Kevin was still smiling, gracious as a geisha. “As you wish, as you wish of course. How are you? I hope you still enjoying...”

“I am here to discuss the trade,” Doyle snapped, cutting him off. He looked around the small group with cold eyes. “If nobody has any objections?”

“Yes, to business.” Mr Kwanbe leant forward with a grim smile. “I agree. Excellent.”

- - -



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Chapter Five

- - -

“So it is clear, then,” Kevin was saying, drawing back from the notes he’d been scribbling throughout the past two hours of discussion. “Six lorries will come to the border, identifying themselves as affiliated with certain British charitable NGOs – our friend Frederic will see to all that. And –with the kind assistance of Mr Werther and his representative, at the prices Frederic has arranged – the cargo of the lorries will be as stated on the list Frederic has provided, which Mr Kwanbe has approved.”

There were genuine board meetings, Bodie mused, conducted with less precision than this. For all his smiles, there was an iron certainty about Kevin.

“Mr Kwanbe’s organisation,” Kevin continued, “will be ready to receive the goods and escort them into the country. The lorries will later be found burning at the side of the road - another regrettable instance of banditry - should anyone come for them.”

The men around the table nodded, Doyle still sitting back and scarcely moving, Mr Kwanbe rocking his whole body back and forth silently as if in a religious trance and the blond man giving a grunt; he looked rather unimpressed, Bodie thought – no doubt once they left he’d be urging his companion to try for another or better deal.

Whilst Bodie had known from the start that Fierstron’s business venture in Venice involved negotiating a gun-running contract, and - as soon as he’d found Werther - that it was for Angola, he hadn’t really thought about it until this meeting.

He never thought about Angola at all, if he could avoid it. Hundreds of miles, and more than ten solid years away from it, it scarcely seemed that such a place could have existed. Now, sitting in this neat, white room, it was hard to look at a page of scribbled papers and connect it to all that blood and heat and ooze.

It wouldn’t be real at all to Doyle, of course, though the man had to have done his research to pull this whole thing off. Nothing made that kind of endless waste real unless you saw it and Bodie... Bodie had seen too much. He suppressed a shudder.

Doyle’s hand came forward, resting lightly on his shoulder, as Doyle looked at him in silent enquiry.

Not a very Fierstron thing to do; Bodie stood up, clearing his throat. “Sounds like we’re done then.”

And indeed, after a few more pleasantries from Kevin, who Bodie now understood to be the fixer Doyle had mentioned, and with agreements to meet again for payments in two days time after everyone had further considered their positions, offers and ability to bargain, it was over and they could change the box of sofas for the maze of streets outside.

Doyle, who’d been monosyllabic throughout much of the meeting, was looking worn out and Bodie eyed him with some concern. It had been too hot in the apartment – the woman called Helena had wandered in at one point to plug in an electric fan, but that had only whirled the hot air around the room – and the rich coffee carried far too strong a kick for a man who’d been having open heart surgery mere months earlier.

As for organising dodgy arms deals for third world countries, enabling yet another warlord to rise – how could that possibly sit with Doyle’s conscience? Doyle, who could feel guilty for evils he’d had no part in, how could he face being involved with this?

“Like you’ve never got muck on your hands for the job,” Doyle muttered in reply to his tentative questions, bitterness in his tone. “You’ve done your share of ‘odd jobs’ in Angola, haven’t you?”

There was something in his tone that made Bodie want, for once in his life, to pursue the meaning of the question, maybe even answer it.

Turning to better assess Doyle’s expression, he caught sight of a figure some way down the street behind them.

“That man’s still following us, you know,” he observed, levelly. “He won’t have been able to overhear the meeting though, not in that sweatbox.”

Doyle grunted.

“Unless of course he already knew what we were saying...” Bodie was running out of patience. “Doyle, just tell me will you?  Or I’ll shoot the wrong person in the end.”

Sighing, Doyle glanced up the street at where the tall man was now affecting a great interest in a stand of imported newspapers.

“He’s CIA. Can’t you tell from his idea of tracking? I checked it out with HQ when he arrived, which was two days before you did. We think they got wind of the deal; they know Fierstron’s a cover now, had to tell ‘em, but they’re interested in the action in that part of the world. Under instructions not to interfere with this, of course, but since they’ve not been told why I can understand that he’s twitchy. Hey, if it’s bothering you I’ll lose him for once.”

Grabbing Bodie’s arm, he moved quickly away to the left, rounding a corner and ducking through a narrow arch into yet another square, one side of which was predominantly the frontage of a small church. Churches, Bodie reflected, might even outnumber the pharmacies in this city.

Lifting the heavy metal latch on the church door, Doyle stepped inside and Bodie followed close after.

The air within was pleasantly cool and dry, and as Bodie’s eyes adjusted to the gloom he became aware of the scent of incense overlying that of old paper and hot wax. Shining out in the darkness of each alcove were rows upon rows of votive candles, clipped in their holders and burning away prayers under an unattractive Victorian oil-painting of the Ascension.

In a side chapel, the art that was for the aesthetes more than the theists could be lit up electrically if you put a coin in a box. Bodie noticed the marble floor in front, words set into stone and only partially obscured by the base of the sign banning stilettos and asking men to remove their hats.

Gloria in Excelsis Deo et in Terra Pax

Doyle had gone to sit in a pew, resting his chin on his hand, staring at the rose window over the main altar. Bodie sat down next to him and leant back, hearing the wood squeak raucously as he moved.

There was no one else in the church but the plaster saints, and they too were silent.

After a while Bodie noticed that Doyle’s eyes had closed and took the opportunity to study him; the pale skin, the dark-rimmed eyes, the small marks on the back of his hands where the needles had been, still just perceptible. An instinct, deep and powerful, made Bodie long to just bundle him up and take him home, push him onto a plane and take him away from this maze, these masks, this city and this mess.

If things could only be as they were between them in the isolation of the hospital room, safe from the outside world, then so be it. Life was hard, and happy endings were scarce; all Bodie cared about was Doyle getting his.

Looking about himself, Bodie saw across the aisle an aged fresco on an old theme: the division of the souls, the wicked cast down into the pit where a series of devils who looked to be having more fun than anyone else in the painting speared them with their pitchforks.

Jump one way, or jump the other; but life wasn’t like that.

There was a pressure on his shoulder and he looked round. Without realising it, he’d draped his arm over the back of the pew and so when Doyle had really fallen asleep he’d keeled into his side, and now Bodie’s arm was around him.

Trying to relax, Bodie let his hand come down on Doyle’s forearm, shifting his muscles to make a better cushion of his shoulder, relishing the feeling of weight and heat against his skin.

Bodie wasn’t going to let him fall; he held tighter and allowed himself to tilt his own head in, resting on Doyle’s, filled with the scent of his hair and the sound of his steady, peaceful breathing.

- - -

One day, around the four week mark of Ray’s recovery, Bodie had come to the hospital room as usual after work – they’d reached the point, by then, of Bodie being back at the job and just about able to focus on it, as sure as he could be that Ray would be safe and waiting for him afterwards.

There had been such a pleasure in knowing he was coming to the room, whether the day had been long and dull with waiting or hard-pressed and breathless, running and fighting. In knowing that Ray – petrified with boredom otherwise – would smile up at him in greeting even if he went on to be in a foul mood.

None of it had made Bodie feel anything he hadn’t felt before – what it did do was bring it all dangerously close to the surface.

And despite his best attempts with board games and work gossip and the TV and being a drill sergeant for the physiotherapists, Bodie hadn’t been able to stop them crossing that boundary. Even at the time he’d worried, because it wasn’t real life, where they were, the bubble they’d fallen into. Ray was a complicated, independent, prickly man with a dance card full of girls and a football team of mates and a chip on his shoulder about his strength, and if he needed Bodie now, it would only be for now.

“I ‘m winning,” Ray had said, that day, as they sat leaning over the chess set, about half an hour into the game. Bodie’s day had been of the fast, running kind and he was more tired than he cared to admit, but although part of him had just wanted to go back to his flat and collapse, the need to see Ray had been stronger.

Now Ray was looking up at him across the board, eyes sparkling with smug pleasure. “I’m going to win in four moves no matter what you do.”

Ray had been sitting in his chair, in a t-shirt and slacks and a hideous pair of striped socks. He had a cannula stuck onto the back of his left hand; apparently half his drugs still had to be intravenous, and he was at his thinnest, burned out with struggling back from the brink.

Bodie had sighed, and, frowning with concentration, had tried to study the board and make out if Ray’s assertion was true, but his head ached and his brain resisted and he found himself yawning and shrugging; for all his wish to win, in the end, it didn’t really matter.

“OK, if you say so. What’s that leave us? Twenty-four to twenty?”

“Twenty-five. Hey, are you alright?”

Bodie stretched out, leaning back in the stiff plastic visitor chair as best he could. “Just tired. Long day.”

“Well, have a nap here.” Ray gestured at the bed.

“Oh no, mate.” Bodie shook his head, widening his eyes in exaggerated fear. “Sister’ll kill me.”

“My room, my bed, my rules. Get your shoes and jacket off and sleep on top, get yourself a good hour before you drive home.”

Laughing, Bodie had obeyed, standing up to move across to the bed, and had leant over to ruffle Ray’s hair, a familiar gesture from a thousand days. “You take good care of me, eh?”

“Yeah.” And Ray had looked up and Bodie had moved down and just like that, instinctively, quickly, easily, and for the first time, their mouths had met in a kiss.

Bodie had been ready to say anything as it finished, heart pounding, real fear freezing him up, stupid jokes and violent denials racing to his lips.

Ray had looked calm, pleased, giving Bodie a gentle shove towards the bed. “Go to sleep, then. You need it.” There had been tenderness in his smile, understanding; that was always the thing with Ray, the understanding that cut through Bodie’s bluster and bullshit, through every last line of defence.

Obediently, he’d laid down on the bed, sure that now the last thing he would be able to do was sleep, but he really had been exhausted and was aware of little more before drifting off.

He’d woken to Ray’s hand nudging him gently, it was dark outside and the room was lit only by the bed-lamp, a thin beam of light falling down to Ray’s chair and book. “Hey, sleepyhead, time to go, my dinner’s coming soon.”

Confused with too-short sleep, thick-headed and drowsy and warm, Bodie had found Ray’s hand with his own, purely because he felt the wish to, incapable of formulating a purpose.

Ray seemed to know, though. Leaning in, he’d kissed him again, and this time it was lazy and slow, mouths pressing soft and soothing and reassuring and natural.

Ray let their foreheads rest together. “Time to go, Bodie.”

And in a blissful daze, Bodie had left him, for once letting irresistible, encroaching, all-encompassing joy swamp the voice of experience that warned him to count on nothing.

- - -

Doyle slept for almost two hours in the church, Bodie smiling and nodding as a few other visitors wandered through and eventually spotted them, generally with a look of faint alarm.

Waking, blinking, clearly ready to be embarrassed, Doyle had smiled gratefully when Bodie had simply risen himself, moving them some distance apart and saying quickly: “Right, my stomach says it’s definitely lunchtime now.”

There was no further sign that Bodie could see of their CIA tail. Wandering south, having crossed at Rialto, in close step together but without speaking, they eventually squeezed themselves into a tiny, bustling osteria, standing at the counter to receive toasted ciabatta oozing with mozzarella, followed by delicate Torta di Ricotta cut into the shape of stars and sparkling with sugar.

Wiping his mouth, Doyle’s eyes closed and he let out a groan of satisfaction. “Of all the places to be sent, at least it’s got food like this.”

“Not sure it’s what was on your diet sheet,” Bodie pointed out, teasing, licking his own fingers clean of sugar unashamedly, each making a wet pop as it came out of his mouth.

Looking up, he saw that Doyle was watching him, his eyes dark.

People were packed in against the counter, locals and tourists and undercover secret agents all squashed together indiscriminately, and so tiny was the space behind the counter that they were all also almost nose to nose with the genial bar owner and his buxom barista, but at that moment Bodie felt precisely aware and only aware of the two of them, of where, shoulder to shoulder, they almost touched.

“Didn’t you think I’d worry?” Bodie heard himself asking softly into the small pocket of air between them, the question forcing its way out at last, plaintive and foolish. “Didn’t you think I’d care what had happened?”

“Don’t be an idiot...” Doyle’s voice was low, pained. He darted a glance to either side, then rummaged in his pocket and dropped a handful of coins on the counter before starting to make his way through the press of bodies to the door.

Pushing after him onto the street, heart pounding, Bodie grabbed his arm, dragging him aside into a small alley that lead from the winding street abruptly back to the nearest waterway, a dark and murky channel barely three feet across that lapped at the edge of the bricks, leaving them slick with oil and weed.

Doyle twisted away from him, hissing. “If you think for one minute I didn’t worry about...”

“You were gone, Ray!”

Bodie had never yelled at him during his recovery. Never said the things he’d wanted to since the first hours – Why didn’t you lock your door? Why didn’t you check your room? Why didn’t you duck better, move better, fight better? – it was funny how in caring about someone you could hate them for making you hurt with them, and if you looked at it like that, he’d hated Ray intensely enough to punch him, had wished with all his being that he’d been the one May Li had shot, because no pain could possibly be as bad as watching Ray suffer.

The dark, twisting underbelly of love – call it love, for all it was a stupid, anaemic, inadequate word – and not the kind of thing he’d wanted to talk about, not in the sweet, soft moments of the hospital, not in the gentle approach to each other that had been so unexpectedly perfect.

But that had ended and he’d been left, empty arms and empty room, and now he felt the horror of the past two months and all that had gone before pouring into his words, wrenching in his guts and across his face uncontrollably.

He pushed Ray against the nearest wall, wanting as much as anything to pin him down, to make him stay put. “I went to your flat, that day you were meant to come out, because I couldn’t find you in the hospital, I went and there was no one there, just that fucking bloodstain and I...”

Ray’s arms were going up, pushing back against him, fire in his tired eyes. “They came to me at the last moment, OK? I didn’t know this was going to happen until just before I was discharged, I thought about telling you but...” He took a sharp breath, closing his eyes, then began again. “And what did you think, anyway? Did you think I’d just spend six months on my arse doing the crossword? Did you think I needed help? That my nerve had gone? Did you?” They were almost wrestling now, anything but gentle. “Did you think for one bloody second that I might want to tell you and not be able to, that you should just trust me?”

Bodie’s heart was pounding; he tightened his hold, lowering his voice, holding Ray’s gaze, using the words he only hoped Ray remembered as clearly as he did:

“Since when did you handle anything on your own?”

For a moment they stared at each other, then all the fight went out of Ray’s body and he lowered his arms, leaning back against the wall. He was breathing harshly.

“I can’t... Bodie I can’t tell you. But I didn’t forget you, OK? I didn’t...” He took another shaking breath, clearly trying to compose himself and Bodie grabbed his wrist, feeling the radial pulse in alarm.

“You’ve gone into an irregular rhythm! Fuck, Ray, we’ve got to take you to the hospital – where is it? Do they even have a hospital here?”

“Nothing... to worry about,” Ray leant his head back, breathing normalising now. “It happens occasionally, it.... goes away by itself, I’ve got.... some o f those red tablets if it doesn’t.” He gave a short, bitter laugh. “Feels like fucking shit though.”

“I shouldn’t have...”

Ray stepped forward now, and rested against him for a moment, half a support, half an embrace.

“You’re not supposed to be here, I don’t bloody need you, but I have missed you, you stupid bastard. And I’m fine now, see?”

He held out his wrist and Bodie felt the regular beat with relief, timing it against his wristwatch until he was satisfied.

The weight in Bodie’s chest dissolved into warmth, into something more than relief. “OK. OK.”He licked his lips, breathing again. “OK, let’s go back now.”

- - -



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Chapter Six

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Walking into 305 the second time, Bodie noticed at once that the various chairs that the previous day had littered the floor had vanished, all the last night’s activities wiped clean away.

The twin beds were clearly freshly made, fluffy, white towels neatly folded on the counterpanes, the coffee table adorned with a plate of neatly stacked chocolates and pushed back against a wall.

Ray had not chosen to leave his possessions lying about – the room might as well have been unoccupied - and this, coupled with the entire building’s lack of character, meant it could have been a room anywhere, some swanky road in London or a tree-lined boulevard in Paris, a skyscraper hotel in New York or Los Angeles or any new glittering city. All the rooms in the world that Bodie had never been to, all the soft, rich, privileged places he’d never known in the shining, official, daytime world he was scarcely used to living in.

“No bugs,” Ray said, and for a moment Bodie thought he was joining him in the comparison, also thinking of the stinking shanties and the scuttling insects, the dented saucepan to boil all the water in, shared between five men, the latrine shared between twenty.

But Ray was putting away the gadget that detected electronic recording devices, sliding the case into a bedside drawer before slumping down onto the side of the one of the beds, groaning happily as people do when first sitting after many hours on their feet.

From the moment the previous day when the door of this room had opened, and Bodie been able to see Ray again, he had been waiting for the fear to abate, for the anxiety humming in his brain to ease off, and perhaps it had a little - some parts of it at least.

But he still didn’t really understand, and that made him wary. It still made no sense why Ray had left so abruptly, why he’d agreed to do this or what he was really doing. He believed Ray to be a better person than one who would push him away whilst claiming he wasn’t, to run away rather than take his leave, but he couldn’t think of a good reason for him to have acted as he had.

Aware suddenly of the weariness in his own limbs, Bodie sat down on the other twin and began taking off his shoes.

“How are you feeling now?” he asked as casually as he could.

Ray gave him a tolerant grin. “I’m fine. Honestly, Bodie I’m fine. I don’t get any pain and those arrhythmias don’t do anything but catch my breath for me for a few minutes.”

Folding his arms, Bodie raised an eyebrow, demanding more and Ray rolled his eyes, sighing but still smiling. “OK, listen, no chest pain on exertion, right? No swollen ankles even in this damn heat and I don’t have any problems breathing when I lie flat, I get the palpitations maybe once a week and they always go away – I’m fine and I’m damn lucky.”

“What if you have to run?”

“I’ve been building my fitness up, you know that. I’ll not be in any marathons any time soon but I could get away if I had to, which I almost definitely won’t have to. Everything is just going to... happen.” He waved his fingers to illustrate, a butterfly flying off to cause a tornado.

“And then I’m going back to good old Blighty, back to this Primrose Physio place and then I’m finally going home, picking up the milk bottles, doing the laundry, vacuuming the – well, actually, probably replacing the carpet,” he chuckled, grinning and Bodie with him. “And none of this will ever have happened.”

As if to draw a line under this pronouncement, he leant back across the bed, sprawling bonelessly, bracing his elbows behind him, his legs falling slightly apart.

Bodie had a sudden, vivid vision of last night’s bruised rent boy on his knees on the sliver of carpet between the beds, Ray braced back just like this and the boy’s head between his legs, moving, Ray closing his eyes, probably, grimacing with agony and guilt and pleasure all tangled together, the way you did when sex became part of the work.  Fierstron’s twink habit was intended to be part of the cover – men disappearing after an encounter were generally defecting agents, a clever piece of misdirection – but Ray couldn’t have been the only man to play the part and find himself with a lap of the real thing.

During those hospital room days, Bodie had seen Ray’s body in a way he hadn’t before. It had been fragile, transient, a piece of delicate and poorly functioning equipment that belonged perhaps mostly to the nurses and doctors fine-tuning it, a list of numbers more than anything. Not something to be touched, and, even after he began to heal, when that became more possible, not quite right for lust.

But the renter he saw in his head would have gone to that skin, to the heat and the beating pulse where Ray was most alive, feeding on him, moving with him before – what? Pulling away? Spitting him out? Disconnecting from him again, not caring about it, looking only for money, treating Ray in his own way like an object.

Ray was grimacing. Bodie was jolted from the pictures in his mind, noticing the frown of pain and the sudden stiffness of all the muscles on Ray’s left side.

The lower scar burning, had to be.

“What were you saying about not having any pain?”

“It’s just from the walking.” Lying back properly on the bed, Ray rolled onto his right side, rubbing at his ribs. “Just aggravates it a bit.”

“Yeah, the fact that I slammed you into the side of a wall has nothing to do with it.”

Ray sighed. “I’m fine, Bodie.”

“Shall we just accept that I’ll never believe you when you say that?”

Ray twisted his neck to look across at him. “What was I saying about something being aggravating? Well, help then, if you’re going to be like this about it.”

And, turning away, he shifted slightly on the bed, moving his arms to leave his tense side accessible.

For a moment Bodie didn’t move, uncertain what was being offered.

But within seconds his whole skin was warming, humming with anticipation of the touch.

He moved to sit behind Ray, hand reaching out slowly.

The wish to ease him, to meet his distress with his own body, with all he could offer; it was familiar and blindingly strong.

That was why he’d never, ever been the one to suggest this, always having waited for Ray to ask, or more often just to roll over, as now, wordlessly demanding. It seemed to soothe both of them, seemed to meet some need Bodie had never tried to examine and it always felt to him like an expression of all he didn’t dare promise aloud.

In the months without Ray, he had fought not to remember these moments, fought not to think that they must have after all meant nothing, not precious at all.

Sometimes, more angry, feeling the anguish more acutely, he’d sworn to himself that he’d never do such a thing for anyone again, that when he found Ray he’d be a partner, a friend, nothing more, never again set himself up for such a fall.

 “Bodie?” Ray whispered, voice ragged at the edges, uncertain, and Bodie was lost.

He rested his hand down slowly; Ray had taken his jacket off and was in a turquoise shirt about as hideous as the rest of his outfit. Through the fabric, Bodie could feel the heat of his skin and the vibration of his ribs with each heartbeat, each regular heartbeat clear and strong.

Ray hissed and Bodie took his cue to press down; the pain in Ray’s back, the doctors had explained, was related to nerves the bullet had severed that now malfunctioned, sending a spurious feeling of raw burning from the skin, and the only way it could be soothed was by creating other sensations to override it.

Bodie massaged the region with firm pressure, feeling the tension in the muscles twist, crest and dissolve under his fingers. Just under his hand, he knew, were scars and then under them the rows of stitches, the deep muscle ties they’d used to put Ray’s torso back together after surgery, the ones that would never go, part of him now.

Ray gave a little groan as Bodie worked over his shoulder-blade. Gradually he was relaxing into the bed, and Bodie could see the muscles of his jaw loosening as he was able to stop gritting his teeth against the pain. He only wished he could see the whole of his face and have some chance of divining what Ray was thinking.

He’d felt himself harden when he’d first thought of Ray and the rent boy together, and now he was stiff and aching, his cock straining in his trousers, his whole body heavy with lust and longing, his skin warm and desperate, a hunger beating through him for more than he could comprehend.

He’d always known this, from the first moment he’d seen Raymond Doyle amble towards him all lean thighs and green eyes, but that hadn’t mattered, because in honesty Bodie found a lot of people attractive.

He’d never imagined that any road could have taken him here; the series of events, the moments in time, each nothing in itself, which built into how this felt, here together in such a twist of pleasure and pain, wracked with every emotion he’d scorned and thought himself immune to.

Shifting a little, but not moving his hand, he lay down on his side behind Ray, careful not to let their bodies meet, bridging the gap only with his outstretched arm – he swore to himself just to do that – and then, without thinking of it, unable to stop himself, curling forward and pressing a kiss to the back of Ray’s neck, to the very spot May Li hadn’t shot, to the other heart, the self, that hadn’t been taken from him.

Ray sighed and shuffled, pushing back towards him, just a little, perhaps only reflexively, and for a few moments, as they lay cleaved together, Bodie experienced a sensation close to perfect contentment.

“Bodie,” Ray said softly, and Bodie closed his eyes, bracing himself for what might come next.

“Bodie, promise me you’ll leave tomorrow.”

Not, perhaps, the first thing he’d feared hearing but it made a cold pain settle in his stomach all the same.

“Ray, I’ve told you, I’m not leaving.”

“Bodie, please. Please, promise me.”

Dragging himself away, Bodie stood up, walking away from the bed, pacing the room and shaking his head. “No, I won’t. You know I won’t.”

Ray was sitting up now too, looking at him in exasperation. “What happened to the man who told me he didn’t want a partner, eh? Who called me a millstone round his neck? Who told me to look after number one? Listen, I don’t need you for this job, alright? I don’t want to drag you into this, I don’t want you to...” he trailed off, shaking his head, biting his lip.

“Ray, I don’t care what you’re doing. I don’t care about whatever deal you’re doing with those men for whatever government, I don’t care what happens if you do or don’t go through with this, but you shouldn’t be doing something that’s making you hate yourself this much!”

Coming to sit once more opposite Ray, he lowered his tone. “Your heart’s breaking over whatever you’re going to do. Don’t think I can’t see that. I’m not leaving you alone.”

Ray’s mouth opened, he took a deep breath, as if about to answer him, then he looked away, letting his eyes close.

“Tell me, Ray? Eh? Just tell me what it is, why you don’t want me here?”

Ray kept frozen still, not shaking his head, not opening his eyes, as if willing the question unasked.

A long silence passed, then Bodie sighed, trying to tell himself it was better at least than a lie.

“Look, we’ve got a whole day before you have to go back and meet the three wise men again, right? Well have a shower, get to bed, rest yourself before you fall down. Tomorrow’s ours, we can do whatever you want, and you can bloody well keep trying to convince me if you like. But rest now.”

Opening his eyes to roll them, Ray did nod resignedly, and then yawned; he was all too clearly exhausted and Bodie wondered for the hundredth time what kind of insane agency wanted to use a man barely out of hospital.

“Fine. A shower sounds good at that.”

“Right, well...” Bodie stood up, “I’ll let you get on.” He made his way towards the door.

“Bodie?”

Ray was still sitting on the bed; when Bodie turned he dropped his gaze, flushing.

“Come back here? I mean, you can... there’s two beds after all and in the night it’s...” He looked up again, shrugging, apologetic. “I don’t like this room. I don’t like what I’ve done here. It’s been...” He closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed a hand over his face. “It’s been a long time in someone else’s skin.”

Bodie nodded, biting his lip. “Got to beat the hospital floor, any road,” he pointed out, trying to raise a smile.

Ray’s eyes went distant. “I remember that. Don’t remember much from just after it happened, but I remember that. I woke up – night or day, wasn’t sure – covered in sweat, feeling sick as a dog, my whole body hurting. I’d been dreaming about these lights... I kept seeing these red lights, and... Well, anyway, I couldn’t figure out where the hell I was or what had happened or anything, so I was in a pretty state.”

A smile was creeping over his face now, as he stared into space, reliving the memory. “And then I heard you snoring, and I looked over and there you were, asleep in that awful stinking bag of yours and I just thought ‘If he’s here, I’m alright, it’s all alright’ and I went to sleep again.”

The heaviness in Bodie’s chest was intensifying but he grinned. “Can’t have been me, officer, I don’t snore.”

Ray laughed. “You keep telling yourself that, sunshine. Look, it’s early yet, you go out for a bit and come back if you want, I’ll give you the key. You’ll want dinner too.”

- - -

Bodie spent the rest of the afternoon taking the tour of St Mark’s Cathedral with what felt like a million other people, being shepherded carefully from one unique and interesting sight to the next and – after two hours – when he sank down into a pew, everything he’d seen was a blur, because all he’d been thinking of had been Ray Doyle.

Ray smiling, Ray asking him to stay, Ray pushing back into his embrace, the heat and scent of him, the way his voice caught. Ray still fighting him, still fighting him with every tired bit of willpower do whatever the hell he’d come here for, still burning so bright despite everything.

Making his way out, he passed one of the many racks of prayer candles, row after row of glimmering hopes for who knew what dreams and fears. He got as far as getting the pennies out of his pocket before he stopped himself, irritated at having been hypnotised by the idea for even a minute.

In a place so vast and beautiful, in flickering, soft light, with hushed whispers all around, the divine seemed tauntingly possible. But he’d seen the world outside, the world that crawled beneath rich tourists and rich churches and all the soft, daytime world, and no one could drag you from that hell but yourself.

Or, maybe, just maybe, a friend.

- - -

Letting his feet lead him idly down the streets – left, left, right, left – whatever seemed interesting, Bodie eventually found a place serving cheap pizza and good beer and lingered over the meal, listening to the conversations at the small tables packed around his rather than letting his own thoughts fill his mind.

The bar at a hotel back near the Bauer occupied him for another few hours; he slowly nursed a Peroni, and firmly turned away the two women who in quick succession came to sit next to him and chat. In his head, he imagined going back to room 305 and saying – and doing – any number of things, but after he had left it long enough his eyes ached and drooped, and he was able to simply tiptoe in and slide into the second bed in most of his clothes and from there to a kind of oblivion.

- - -



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Chapter Seven

- - -

The glare of morning sunshine brought Bodie out of his sleep, blinking his eyes, aware of Ray chuckling as he pulled the other heavy curtain back before moving to the phone to call room service in his sternest Fierstron accent, which he maintained well despite Bodie throwing the complementary chocolates at him in revenge.

By the time Bodie had stumbled to the bathroom, showered, and emerged in a towel, a smiling hotel porter had arrived with a fresh set of clothes for him and a trolley laden with breakfast, and if the man found it odd that Fierstron had a semi-naked man in the room with him, he clearly had the training not to show it.

“Presumed your sizes hadn’t changed,” Ray muttered, indicating the clothes laid out on the bed.

“Haven’t really checked recently,” Bodie answered, going over and changing rapidly – it seemed stupid to go back into the steam of the bathroom with the clothes just to be behind a closed door, but it felt odd as it never had before to be naked in front of Ray.

Or at least, naked in the same room as him – rather than watch, Ray had turned his back and was setting up the breakfast on the table with studied concentration.

“Since we’ve got the day,” Ray remarked a while later, sipping his cappuccino, having finished a bowl of what Bodie could only describe as rabbit food, “I was thinking of visiting the Accademia.”

The hotel did something called a ‘Full English’ but Italians employed by a German hotel evidently had lost something in the translation; Bodie had been disappointed by two limp slices of bacon and a rather pallid egg which he now pushed mournfully around his plate as he answered.

“That’s the art gallery, right?”

“Only one of the most famous in the world, yeah.”

“I could look at art, I suppose.”

“Well don’t strain yourself.”

Bodie frowned. “That’s where you sketched those figurines of Hermes,  wasn’t it? The ones in the portfolio, sort of...” He made a waving gesture in the air. “Smeared.”

Ray raised an eyebrow. “Pastels, you mean?” He grinned, looking rather flattered, “Yes, they were there at the time, although I think they’re usually kept at the Doge’s Palace. Now that’s a beautiful place, and you’d like it – full of secret rooms and listening tubes and spy holes. And Casanova, come to think of it.”

Bodie shrugged with affected modesty: “Sounds like my average day, yes.”

- - -

The Gallerie dell’Accademia in Dusodoro was, when they reached it just after ten, already fairly busy. Not deterred, guidebook in hand, Ray began to lead the way round, pausing before each painting and staring intently as if transfixed.

“What was the Art School thing about, anyway?” Bodie asked as he came up beside him. Ray was looking at a painting that Bodie at once recognized as of the view from the lagoon of the Piazza San Marco; looking at the information card, he was amazed to see that it was from 1547. “Knife crime, Art School, Police Cadet; not what you’d call logical progression. Or was it all for these nice foreign holidays?”

Ray frowned. “I was eighteen. I wanted to live in this world for a bit. Thought maybe I could. Surely that’s easy enough to understand?”

And indeed, Bodie was surprised how pleasing it actually was, immersing himself in the gallery; there was something exhilarating in the images, the epic scope of some works that covered entire walls and the neat intricacy of others.

Certainly, the experience seemed to be draining the tension from Ray better than anything else had over the last days; Bodie kept the rest of his questions to himself, just smiling to himself as he watched Ray enjoying the paintings. As he approached some, his eyes widened in delight – “I remember this, you know, but I’d forgotten it as well, I’d forgotten that it looked this wonderful.” Others, he studied more solemnly, drinking in each detail.

Ray stood so long in front of one painting that Bodie walked back to join him, looking with interest at the small oil he’d given barely a passing glance, drawn to a massive canvas further along.

The card at its side attributed it to an unknown sixteenth century artist, and described it as ‘depicting the Greek Myth of Orpheus, who went into the Underworld in search of his beloved wife Eurydice, who had been killed by a snake bite. He charmed Hades and was allowed to lead his wife back to the surface on the condition that he never turned to see her following him. Together they set off, but Orpheus, beset with doubt , turned around just before the Gates of the Underworld and in that instant she was swept away into the darkness, lost to him forever.’

The picture showed a man, twisted in anguish, reaching out for the translucent half-shadow of a female figure who was disappearing, slipping through his fingers.

“Did he doubt Hades, or did he doubt her?” Ray asked the air, softly, still staring at the painting. “That’s what I always wondered. I used to think, either way, he was a fool.”

Bodie waited, biting his lip, but no more was forthcoming, and Ray continued to look straight forward, face a hard blank, and eventually Bodie left him, making a fast pace back across the parquet floor to what seemed to be the hundredth Madonna con Bambino, resplendent in gold leaf and turquoise and things he was reassuringly certain had no relevance to him.

- - -

Having left the gallery, after ambling through the streets a while, they settled on a restaurant on the Dorsoduro waterfront for lunch, looking out across to the island of Giudecca - another view Bodie recognised as one Ray had captured all those years earlier, and indeed from some of the morning’s paintings.

That part of the attraction of the city, he felt he was starting to understand, that you could go and see something that a visitor would have seen five hundred years earlier. Everyone could rely on it being exactly as they’d left it, and what else in the world was there of which you could say that?

The waiter who attended them had an excellent patter about how no traveller had truly been to Venice until they had tried the famous squid pasta, so Bodie surrendered and ordered two; it arrived hot and fragrant and delicious.

“Must get you the recipe,” Bodie half-joked, although judging by the look on Ray’s face he was enjoying it just as much and it was nice to think of having it again, even more to think of Ray back in his kitchen cooking up his dinner parties. Bodie had never before known a man who took pride in being able to cook – had barely known anyone who’d been able to – and any mocking he’d initially planned had got lost when he’d first tasted the output.

They moved around so much on the job, place to place, flat to flat. But Ray’s particular cooking equipment, the china rolling-pin, the small heavy saucepan that apparently had to be just so for béchamel, the much-burnt wooden spoons, the nutmeg grater, those all went around with him and provided a pleasant continuity as they went on shelf after shelf. Bodie could remember days when, amidst another round of upheaval, encountering Ray’s familiar crockery was enough to make the world seem sane and level again.

And all that normal life was just sitting in cupboards, waiting to be picked up again. Bodie looked out across the rippling water and saw it in his mind, the inventory of ordinary: the job, the games of darts, the weekends at the pub and evenings with a takeaway and odd drive to the country, all the girls he’d said he’d call. This could all be an aberration, right from May Li’s bullet to this plate of pasta, and they could pretend nothing had changed, because what they’d had before had been damn good and a hell of a lot less scary.

Maybe, in the end, that was what Ray had wanted, and what he had sought by leaving.

Bodie shivered; the wind seemed to have picked up.

“You alright?” Ray asked, as he put down his fork on a plate scraped completely clean. “You seem a bit distant.”

“You’re one to talk!” Bodie sat forward in his chair, levelling an accusing finger. “You were struck dumb at the nineteenth Tintoretto! Yeah, yeah, see, I do read the cards at the side too, I’m cultured just like you.”

“Yeah, cultured in a petri dish.”

Bodie threw his napkin at him.

They talked for while as the waiter served them another round of Torta di Ricotta, this time e cioccolato and accompanied by small glasses of port wine. Having wolfed his pasta, Bodie lingered over small forkfuls of the dessert, enjoying just chatting and laughing about nothing again, the same meandering conversations they’d always had, irreverent and teasing, reminiscences and anecdotes mixed with jokes for the joke’s sake, each trying to get the other to laugh, smug when they achieved it.

This – just this – was damn good indeed.

Finally getting up from their seats, leaving a generous tip, they walked along the waterfront a short way. Bodie spotted a young man tying up a boat with a small outboard and ran over to talk to him, producing a roll of cash to help make his argument.

“You’re insane,” Ray pointed out a few minutes later, climbing in.

“That’ll be ‘you’re insane, Captain’, thank you very much,” Bodie corrected, turning with glee to the motor’s rip cord.

He steered them right out of the Canale della Giudecca and across the choppy waters of the lagoon, crossing paths with water taxis, ambulances, buses and private motor launches until they cleared the busiest routes and were heading anti-clockwise round the main city, towards where the smoking chimneys of the glass workshops marked the island of Murano.

“What’s that place?” Bodie asked, pointing at another, walled island coming up before them, thick with Arcadian evergreens, a strangely melancholy sight against the skyline.

Leaning back against the side of the boat, Ray was watching the vista in front of them, the same calm about his face that he’d shown in the art gallery; Bodie smiled to himself – whatever it was about beauty that made him suspicious, guarded in his reactions, it made Ray contented and peaceful.

“San Michele,” Ray answered now. “The cemetery. You want to get buried in Venice, you get buried there. They’ll take anybody – well, anybody Christian, but being non-denominational was a big deal back in the day. Island of the dead.”

This was not the mental path Bodie had wanted to set them along; he could have kicked himself.

But Ray was still relaxed, turning to point out other features on the horizon, talking about the history of the city, of rise and fall and conquest.

Rocking with the motion, Bodie kept one arm on the steering valiantly as Ray started to move about in his enthusiasm, ignoring all commentary about hard it was to keep the boat afloat and going in the right direction with certain people wriggling about like toddlers, until after one more remark, Bodie suddenly found himself dripping with the impact of two cupped handfuls of lagoon water.

Gasping with indignation, he fought back manfully with one hand, trying to make up in tactics what he lacked in volume.

It ended with an angry blow of the horn from an oncoming yacht and they collapsed back onto their seats, waving their apologies, doubled over with laughter.

“This is so bloody juvenile,” Ray pointed out between gasps; his hair was plastered to his face, sleek with water.

Bodie grinned smugly. “Just because you lost.”

“Says who?”

“Oi, look out, there’s a police boat coming this way. I call ceasefire till we’re back on land.”

- - -

Ray was still chuckling as they moored up and disembarked, even as he tried to shake out his sopping hair, leaving a trail of wet splashes on the white gravel. Bodie held his hands up to defend himself and laughed with him, happy in the simplest of ways.

He let Ray lead the way back into the heart of the city, through the winding streets on the way towards the Bauer. The air seemed clearer than before, somehow, the light softer, the water sparkling, pure and tranquil, even the crowds streaming past them on the streets and canals were only so much background noise.

Bodie wasn’t letting himself think about what might be to come; they’d been granted one day’s grace from existence, it seemed, and he wanted to appreciate every moment of it.

He hadn’t been paying much attention to their route, but when the current winding street led out into an open square, Bodie realised it was familiar and, sure enough, in one corner sat the ice-cream seller with his striped umbrella, Ray pressing ahead to secure what seemed to be his daily fix of strawberry gelato.

“Hey, listen!” Ray was turning in his steps, calling back to him. “There’s a little grocery place over there beyond the church – could you get some stuff for sandwiches? We could have a picnic in St Mark’s Square tonight.”

Grinning at the suggestion, relaxing ever more into the pleasant ease between them, Bodie turned to make his way to the small shop, which was easily identified by the plywood crates of gleaming vegetables stacked outside it.

Chatting to the shopkeeper in the best Italian he could muster, he made a selection of cold meats and cheese from the wealth of wares on display behind the counter, and was just about to move onto wine when he stopped, opened his wallet and, having surveyed its meagre contents – he’d paid for lunch and bribed the boatman, and so Ray could just about stand dinner – he offered his apologies and turned to retrace his steps and demand some cash.

From the shop, the view of the stall was obscured by the church in the centre of the campo. It was only as Bodie rounded the building that he was able to see that Ray, not yet holding an ice-cream, was still standing by it.

And that beside him, talking to him, was the CIA man.

Something was being transferred between them, the man passing over a package wrapped in a blue plastic bag and Ray taking it, putting it carefully in his inside pocket.

Bodie became suddenly aware of the chill of the water still seeping through his clothes, and his shoulders tensed; a weight momentarily lifted had been dropped back onto him, the more painful for being unexpected.

Standing quite still, in clear view, he waited.

For another few, endless minutes, he watched Ray and the other man talking, agreeing something.

Then Ray looked up, a quick, cautious sweep of the area, and saw him. His eyes widened for a moment, guilt or fear leaving them raw, only to harden, staring Bodie down, as Ray gave a slight shake of the head: Don’t interfere.

Bodie didn’t move. He wasn’t sure he could. Ray clearly wasn’t in any immediate danger and just for the moment he didn’t feel he had an emotional reaction left in him.

The conversation seemed to conclude, and the man offered his hand. Ray pointedly kept his own at his sides. The man laughed, shrugging, and spun on his heel, grabbing a wafer cone from the stand without paying and munching it as he walked away and into a side street.

For a moment, Ray was motionless. Then Bodie saw him giving the vendor some coins before turning, and walking slowly across to him. There was defiance in his expression, a defensive anger already rising; he had his hands in his pockets, but his shoulders were set straight, proud.

“Ammunition, I suppose?” Bodie heard himself ask as Ray drew near, voice cool, as if he were taking a purely theoretical interest, as if no part of him felt a response to the realisation. “Dirty ammunition, I dare say.”

Ray said nothing.

“A day earlier than planned, too – it is going to be today now, isn’t it? High risk strategy like this, meeting your handler, whoever he really is, in broad daylight, even if this square is your usual drop box – must mean time is short.”

He couldn’t have said why it seemed so important to spell it clearly for Ray, to prove so conclusively that he’d figured it out. They both knew he’d been deceived, almost successfully, and nothing would mask that now.

Taking a deep breath, he continued, clenching his hands at his sides, wrestling to keep his voice level. “What were you going to do? Slip out when I had my shower? Or send me away to sightsee again, leaving you the run of the telephone and whatever else?”

“What I do on my own time is my business. It’s a job, Bodie, and you’re not cleared to know about it, I don’t see the problem.”

Bodie shook his head, stepping closer, feeling his own pulse rise in his neck. “Don’t give me that. Don’t act like it’s not obvious what you’re going to do, because you know damn well if it was anything else you’d just have told me, and damn the Official Secrets Act.” He was right next to Ray now, and he let the next words fall quietly into the space between them.

“Which one do they want you to kill?”

Ray had been holding his gaze, but at the question his eyes closed for a moment, wincing from the words.

Nonetheless, his answer was dull, brittle: “It’s not important, Bodie. Look, it’s Kevin, alright? But it’s just a job. An odd-job in an odd job.”

No justifications, no moral stance to say it was OK; Ray was too self-aware for any of that bollocks.

Bodie could scarcely breathe. “Not for you. Not you.”

“Whatever moral line you’ve got in your head between us, your head is the only place it exists!”Ray’s lip curled. “What is that about anyway? Do you think if you keep me from doing one random job in all the crap I’ve been part of, it somehow makes up for some of what you’ve done?”

Bodie gasped, staggering back from the words as if from a gut-punch.

And then, in the space of a blink, Ray’s face was softening. Somehow, at some point Bodie couldn’t recall, they’d raised their hands, holding each other by the shoulders, tight like a slow dance, and now Ray’s fingers were digging right into him.

“Trust me? Please?” Ray was saying urgently, pleading. “Bodie, what you think of me...”

Bodie began to protest, tried to move, breaking Ray’s grip...

And then Ray was kissing him.

Violent, rough – it felt more like a blow than anything, Ray’s mouth pressed so hard to his that his teeth cut his lip, Ray’s hands going now to either side of his face, anchoring him in place, firm.

Not the time, not the place, not something he should ever be allowing himself again, Bodie knew all that, but it was hard to think, hard to distance himself, hard to do anything but grab hold and press in and breathe him.

“Ray, I can’t...” Bodie whispered, words from nowhere, when they stopped, gasping.

Ray didn’t answer, and was leaning in again, mouth seeking his once more and it was a bad idea, it was going to hurt like hell and it was more than Bodie could do to stop him.

“I’ve got to...” Ray murmured as they pulled apart a second time. He cast a glance over his shoulder. “I’ve got to go now. I’ve got to go, Bodie, and you mustn’t follow me.”

Bodie found he had a hand to his mouth; it came away streaked with blood.

“Look, Ray, nothing is worth it. Do you understand? Yes, I’ve killed in cold blood and I know that it eats you, it eats part of you that you don’t think you have till it’s gone. Nothing is worth it - they can’t make you do this. We could both leave, Ray.”

He was laying it all on the line now. He’d never recover from this sort of wound. But if Ray needed it he’d do it.

“We could just pack up and leave - no one is supposed to know you’re here, they’ve hidden this job deep enough to show they don’t want it discovered. I’m sure Cowley will let us cook up some fable about you being recognised or something, even if it means the boot, I don’t care. We can just go and...”

Reaching out a hand to touch Ray’s cheek, he swept the pad of his thumb over the fractured cheekbone, the first part of Ray that ever got broken. “We can go and try this again, somewhere.”

For a moment, Ray’s expression wavered, and for a brief second, Bodie almost thought he’d turned the balance.

But then Ray’s features set, resolute, into a look Bodie knew all too well. He pulled away, pushing off Bodie’s touch.

“I have to, Bodie.”

Bodie stepped back, trembling.

“Then go. Go and fucking do it. It’s your fucking life, not mine.”

Ray opened his mouth, looking about to speak again, only to close it unused. He began to move, walking backwards a few steps, staring at Bodie, before turning round and moving quickly – almost running – out of sight.

Bodie’s legs didn’t seem able to keep him up any more after that. Sliding down the rough stone wall of the church, he sank down to the ground, tilted his head back and closed his eyes.

- - -

“Well, why shouldn’t she have killed me?”

They’d been in the hospital room, Ray sitting on the side of the bed, fiddling idly with the dressing on his hand, Bodie in the chair, leaning forward.

“Why shouldn’t she?” Ray had asked again. “I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve shot. It’s all fair game by now isn’t it?”

That pedantic, provocative, conscience, waiting for Bodie to slip up and not understand, say the wrong thing so that Ray could take some comfort in self-righteousness; Bodie didn’t always begrudge it.

Bodie had wanted to say: But, everyone you shot was a bad person. But, you’ve got a licence to shoot people.  But, you never broke into someone’s home in broad daylight and assassinated them.

Only problem was, some of that wasn’t true and for the rest, he wasn’t sure Ray would understand the difference. And explaining would mean stories he had no wish to tell.

“Well, put it this way,” he’d said instead. “If Cowley had told you that she was dangerous, or that she’d caused someone with the same political views as you to die, and that he wanted you to go and execute her, would you have done?”

“No!” Ray grimaced, horrified. “I wouldn’t work five minutes for someone who expected that.”

“Well, that’s why. That’s why it’s not a fair game, because we’re not all like you, playing it.”

He’d reached out to bat Ray’s hand away from the bandage – the nurses would kill both of them if it had to be redressed – and wound up pushing Ray’s hand down to the bed, his own covering it gently.

Slowly, Ray had moved his fingers, gripping Bodie’s hand, and both of them had sat like that a while, silent, watching how they fit together, Ray stroking his middle finger over Bodie’s knuckles slow and sweet and aimless.

- - -

Once, Bodie would have said that he’d grown up quickly, would have reflected with a level of quiet pride on that teenager who could do a man’s job, fight a man’s fight, bleed and bruise and wound like a man.

Once, that would have been how he’d measured what a man was, what constituted growing up in itself.

Once, he would said that there was nothing left for him to learn but skills, that he’d seen it all, felt it all and, more importantly, learnt with precocious swiftness how to be blind and numb, impervious.

And he would have been proud, saying it, because he’d known that feeling things only made you vulnerable, and he’d assumed that once you’d learnt that lesson nothing would ever be able to make you break all that down and get hurt.

- - -

If it would have been easy enough for the two of them to run, Bodie thought, still slumped at the base of the church wall, sun a too-bright red haze through his eyelids , it would be still easier for him alone to do so, to walk away right now, go back to Lido, pack and head for the airport, spend the rest of his annual leave anywhere from Finchley Park to France, let Ray sort himself out or fuck himself up as he chose, if he was so damn keen to.

If Ray had had to the take the job, if for whatever reason he couldn’t explain it, if he was going to kill someone; none of these things mattered all that much in the end. What Bodie couldn’t stand, what he couldn’t bear to watch, was Ray tearing his own soul apart in the process. If, before, Ray had teetered on the brink of not thinking he deserved to live, where would this leave him the next time he had to fight to survive?

If he’d thought for one second that it would ease Ray’s guilt to offer to do the job himself, Bodie would have done so without question.

It was a hideous thing, not to be able to save someone.

The echo of Ray’s touch still lingered on his mouth, the scent of him on his clothes, the heat on his skin.

And, worse, the memory of Ray’s smile, his laughter, the day that had passed, glorious and perfect like nothing ever really could be.

The stones of the church wall were hot and sharp against Bodie’s skin. Above his head, a small statue blind with erosion leant over him solicitously, a stump of weathered arm all that was left of a gesture of blessing, and, above that, the wide, blue sky, still as falsely reassuring as it had been on his first day, crossing the lagoon with the long-cherished hope only of seeing Ray, only of knowing he was safe.

And that was what it came to, really. Bodie rested his face in his hands, sun-glare flashes filling his vision. That was the truth of it, rightly or wrongly, whether foolish or sensible, whether either of them deserved it, no matter what.

 Wherever Ray went, whatever darkness he disappeared into, Bodie would follow him.

Standing up, dusting himself off, not so much praying as willing that he’d be right about where Ray had gone, he started moving, running off and towards the Grand Canal.

- - -



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Chapter Eight

- - -

It had seemed to Bodie to take forever to make the journey back to Cannaregio, even though, rather than hunt down the vaporetto stop, he’d leapt from the bank directly onto a hotel’s private motor-launch, ignoring the protests of the passengers and slipping his last bank notes to the driver with an injunction to speed on and call it a bit of unscheduled sight-seeing.

Not waiting for the boat to moor up, he’d jumped ashore and instantly into another run, and although at several points he’d been afraid that he was hopelessly lost, he finally found himself back in the narrow street with the thin, white apartment block. Slowing his pace, trying to control his breathing, he walked to the front door, carefully pushing it open, stepping as silently as possible into the mildewed marble hallway.

The marmalade cat was back in its niche, sitting on its hindquarters and staring at him dolefully, tail twitching by its side.

The door of the ground floor flat was closed. Bodie moved cautiously closer to it, straining to hear anything at all, if only to confirm that he was in the right place. Ray could so easily have reorganised the location as well as the timing of the meeting, leaving him with no clue to work from whatsoever.

He had not formulated a clear idea of whether he would intervene in anything that might be happening or simply wait for its conclusion, ready to help Ray pick up the pieces. He’d assumed events would make the decision for him, and indeed, as he pressed his ear to the door, he heard from within the apartment the unmistakeable sound of a shot ringing out.

Driven by instinct and adrenaline, and without a second thought, Bodie squared his shoulder to the door, leant back to gather momentum, and burst through, trying to take in the whole scene at one encompassing glance, and giving up entirely at the first thing he saw.

There was blood on the wide, white floor, a pool of too much blood, and Ray collapsed in the centre of it.

Too late again.

Standing over his body was the Italian woman who’d brought them coffee, the shy, demure one called Helena, with the revolver she held in her right hand aimed at Ray’s back, and what had to be Ray’s own gun in her left.

For Bodie, the next moments were a blank, what the psychologists liked to call a white-out, although all he could ever remember seeing was red, blood red, and the eggshell blue of Helena’s dress, with the matching scarf round her thin, fragile, neck.

The taste of bile in his throat, blurring and stinging in his eyes, his heart pounding in his ears; he barely registered her barked warnings to him as she pointed Ray’s gun in his direction, keeping the other trained directly on Ray. He wanted to get to her, to get her, only just less than he wanted, needed, to be at Ray’s side, to find his pulse, to try and find his pulse...

The first thing he was properly conscious of was that his hands were sticky with streaks of blood, and that he had Ray cradled, leaning back against one of his arms, eyes open, looking up at him, talking a long steady stream in a low voice that Bodie tuned into half-way through, suddenly aware of his relief, acute, almost painfully intense, like a blood coming back to a limb.

“I’m OK, it’s OK, just stay here, stay still. She just grazed my head, knocked me out for a second. Hurts like fuck, but it’s fine, it’s OK, stay still. Don’t think she meant to. Crap shot.”

Snapping fully back into himself, Bodie became aware that he was panting, almost snarling, teeth bared with rage like an animal.

Licking his lips, not trusting himself to look anywhere else yet, he studied Ray’s head; the wound was hard to find, under hair matted with blood, but it was indeed a shallow laceration to the temple that would probably continue bleed like crazy but seemed unlikely to do lasting damage

“On the contrary, I think you’ll find Helena always achieves precisely her aim. No, gentlemen, please put your weapons away, it isn’t necessary.”

The voice; smug, male, strangely courteous even now, came from across the room, the part of the scene Bodie hadn’t even noticed. Looking up now, he saw that Kevin was seated on one of the low-backed, white sofas, smiling calmly. Next to him, an open suitcase of money suggested that Ray had begun the negotiations before drawing his weapon. On the second sofa, Mr Kwanbe and Mr Reginalds were both holding their own guns, looking at each other before resentfully putting them away again.

Ray had to have hesitated. Had to have done. Ray was quicker on the draw than anyone Bodie had ever worked with; if he had taken the shot, Kevin would be dead, no doubt of it.

But Kevin looked utterly unruffled, steepling his fingers in front of him, speaking as if they were still in the midst of polite conversation.

“Though some would cite natural deficiencies in the gender, I’ve found Helena to be the best bodyguard I’ve ever had. Efficient, effective, very tidy. A feminine disdain for mess, is that perhaps the key to making a good killer?” He shrugged. “And now, she’s going to dispose of both of you permanently. Business partners who play me false are a mess I don’t care for myself.”

With an inclination of his head, he signalled to her, and she brought both guns to bear again, holding them low in a professional stance, her gaze quite clear now, and unblinking.

“Get up, both of you. Move over there.” She indicated the door. Keeping her eyes fixed on her prisoners, she addressed her employer. “Should I take them down, sir?”

“Well naturally! There’s enough to clean in this room for you as it is, and some of the furniture will just have to replaced before we hand the keys back to the landlord.” Kevin sighed theatrically. “You see, gentlemen, I had hoped this trip would be relaxing... Perhaps I can offer you some refreshment in the meantime, to improve this disappointing afternoon?”

Bodie had watched as Ray made it to his feet, evidently starting to feel the effects of the head-injury, staggering slightly as he rose, as if struggling to balance. Now, as Helena pushed them on towards the apartment’s door, Bodie tried to reach out a supporting arm.

“No you don’t,” she snapped. “Keep your hands above your head. You too, Fierstron. Walk into the corridor, then turn left. Now, open that door in front of you, the metal one.”

Bodie had to exert some effort to move the heavy door, which was partially rusted at its hinges and screeched as it scraped over the weathered marble.

It opened to reveal what at first was only darkness. Helena ordered them forward and slowly Bodie’s eyes adjusted, letting him keep an eye on the stone steps he was descending, warning Ray when the treads began to be coated ever more thickly with seaweed, and keeping a constant watch for anything – even a loose stone from the walls – that might be used as a weapon.

They were going down into a kind of basement, down to what was below street level on the entrance side of the building but leading down the point at the rear where the canal water lapped at the walls, the steps ending in a thin jetty around a square pool of water with a rotting motor launch tethered to a ring in one corner. The only light came through the grille gates separating the pool from the canal, presumably to help keep the resident’s boats safe at night. Obviously frequently submerged, the whole place was slick with vegetation, layered with washed-up rubbish and stank like a drain.

Reaching the bottom of the steps, Bodie looked back at Ray, who was clearly fighting not to wince at each movement and looked nauseous even before the stench visibly hit him. Bodie could see that the likelihood of him being able to assist in a struggle with an armed opponent was low, and the likelihood of him getting hurt, far too high.

But they were going to be killed – what options were there?

If he could just draw Helena’s attention; knock her down, keep her from firing long enough to let Ray try to escape, even if it was only an attempt...

Bodie turned to address her:

“So, you just shoot us now? Leave us to rot down here? Is that why the water quality in this city’s so bad? It’s an irreplaceable piece of art history in peril, you know.”

She raised an eyebrow. Then, slowly, she lowered Ray’s gun and put the safety back on the other, though she kept it aimed squarely at Ray as she spoke.

“Just keep calm, William Bodie. Oh, yes, I know who you are. You and your partner. Kevin knows too. MI6 have seriously fucked this one up.”

Her voice, as she spoke now, sounded distinctly American. She gave a short, dry laugh. “Kevin Nbuti is a double agent for the CIA. He’s going to help us prevent our Mr Kwanbe adding to the list of major twentieth century genocides.”

Not taking her eyes off Bodie, she now slowly lowered the gun as she continued.

“It’s a long game, I’ve been playing it since it started, and I don’t take kindly to set-backs. Layers of security, layers of double agents, undercover IDs, all of that, and they seriously can’t keep the paperwork straight enough to prevent this happening? I guess the Agency didn’t tell the British enough – whatever - you just be glad some guy finally figured this shit out and gave me a call. You tell your handler, next time they want to get someone assassinated, do the fucking research.”

Turning, she raised her gun and shot twice into the murky water.

“There. You’re dead. You’ll have to swim out.”

Bodie clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms to keep from trying to shake her. “And you shoot all your allies in the head, do you?”

She shrugged. “He’ll be fine. As Kevin said, I’m a goddamn good shot.”

Her expression was a cold blank, unfeeling, with an air of superiority next to his own emotion that Bodie shivered to recognise. He didn’t think she could be more than twenty-five.

“You’ll remember all this,” he said, keeping his voice low, even as he moved to support Ray, who instantly pushed him away with a mumbled, “I’m fine, Bodie” that made him if anything more worried. “You think you lock it all away, so far down inside you can’t see it anymore, but it’s there.  It’s waiting for you. You’ll see.”

Something moved across her face then – anger? But Bodie turned away, no longer caring, and knelt, assisting Ray down into the water, which was stinking, slimy, oily and the last thing in the world he would have wanted near an open wound.

Pushing open the grille gates, Bodie swam out into the canal. Here it ran between two close-packed streets, directly along the backs of the buildings with no footpath, and it took a good ten minutes of swimming before there was a gap in the houses, the dead end of a side street that they could climb up onto.

On dry land, Ray turned back, knelt down, and vomited into the water. Crouching beside him, rubbing his back, Bodie wondered where the hell they could go next; little as he liked Helena and Kevin, their cover now rested in no small part on Fierstron being dead, and turning up at the Bauer like drowned rats would blow that wide open.

Soaked tourists had to be a relatively common sight on these streets, Bodie reckoned, but the sooner they dried up and became unremarkable the better. And Ray was injured, wet, cold and almost certainly concussed – somewhere close, they had to find a place to rest.

Navigating blind, he took one narrow street after another, Ray following behind him, keeping pace despite the unsteadiness that betrayed how dizzy he still was.

Eventually, Bodie found the sort of thing he was looking for; an apartment block mostly boarded up, signs nailed to the front advertising it for sale or rent, lone scaffolding poles in a half-hearted formation over the facade, the legacy of some project half-completed or possibly abandoned.

Shimmying quickly up one pole, hindered only a little by his soaking clothes, Bodie casually wrenched one shutter open, then kicked in the glass behind it, taking care to make as little noise as possible. Once inside the first floor apartment it was easy to break open the apartment’s front door and make his way down the stairs to open the main door of the building and let Ray inside, leading him back up again and depositing him on the clapped-out, abandoned sofa that made the apartment’s sole piece of living room furniture.

“Right, sit up on that and keep talking to me.”

Ray gave a weary sigh. “It’s a head injury, Bodie, I know bloody well not to go to sleep. And my vision’s fine and I was only sick because we just swam through what all the rats – and probably half the tourists – use a public toilet.”

“Yeah, alright, Superman, just do me a favour and humour me.” Bodie made a quick survey of the other rooms, the bedroom yielding a set of heavy cotton curtains which he tore down and carried back to the living room. The small bathroom had a claw-footed bath in its centre, fed by large taps encrusted with limescale that nonetheless turned when he forced them.

“The water’s working!” he called out. “Hot, too!”

“Oh good, water,” Ray muttered deadpan, coming into the room having already shed his jacket and shirt, unzipping his sopping trousers as he stepped through the door. “Here, found this in the kitchen, looks like the builders used it for their coffee breaks.”

“Apple scented washing-up liquid?”

“Do you see any other soap? Well there you are, next time, when it’s your bullet wound, you can be picky, I prefer clean.”

He stood, naked, hands on hips, his face a mess of blood, reeking of canal, every last scar on him visible, annoyed and tired and defiantly independent. Beautiful and so very much himself. Bodie couldn’t help grinning.

Whoever had been using the kitchen had left most of a packet of polystyrene cups, and Bodie took them through to the bathroom to help get the water to the right places as – missing any kind of plug – the bath wouldn’t fill. He carefully worked the blood out of Ray’s hair, the water streaming bright red down the plughole, and then cleaned the wound whilst Ray hissed at him under his breath at the sting of the soap. Having rinsed it twice, he moved on to wash Ray’s neck, pouring the hot water over his back just to hear him groan with bliss.

“I’m alright, Bodie,” Ray said softly, but there was no anger in his voice now. He looked subdued, preoccupied, the groggy haze that had followed the injury had now clearly faded, leaving him in just as much possession as Bodie of all that had happened that day.

Bodie rested his hand on the back of Ray’s neck, stroking with his fingertips; no point pretending it could still be possible for Ray not to know how he felt, so he might as well indulge it.

“Just let me, Ray, please?”

Ray bit his lip, and looked up at him with such sudden tenderness that Bodie caught his breath, and said, softly. “Fine.”

Carefully, Bodie washed each last piece of Ray’s skin, rubbing on the suds with his fingers and rinsing clean with the cups of water, taking account of each part of him, letting himself believe and see him to be there and whole under his hands, only stopping as the water began to run lukewarm.

Once Ray had climbed out and begun drying himself, Bodie stripped, leapt in and washed himself quickly; a cold tap and a supply of soap, he’d done worse in his time. Then, wrapping himself in the second curtain, he went to join Ray in a bundle of fabric on the sofa.

“You hungry?”

Ray shrugged. “Not particularly. Couldn’t be bothered to get it, anyway, and there’s nothing in the kitchen here but some scrapings in the coffee jar. We can get a good breakfast tomorrow.”

It was starting to get dark now, and none of the bulbs in the apartment worked. Bodie had pulled the shutter closed again to prevent people in the street noticing the break-in, and now only minimal light filtered in through the slats.

Bodie leant against the back of the sofa and closed his eyes, letting go of some of the tension that had kept his body ready to run for what seemed like the whole day. And what a day it had been; blissful moments combining all too quickly with ones he never wanted to be reminded of.

“Aren’t you going to ask me again?” he heard Ray say quietly, into the darkness.

Bodie sat up straighter, trying to make out his expression. “Ask you what?”

“Why I agreed to kill Kevin Nbuti. And I was going to. I would have done it, if that girl hadn’t been tipped off to stop me.” He sighed. “I wish I could say I couldn’t believe MI6 got it all wrong, but...”

Bodie nodded. “But you easily can, and even then you wonder if maybe they just don’t agree with the CIA on this one, and thought they might get away with it by pleading ignorance? Yeah, me too. Hell, Angola’s a mess, been a mess for decades, probably will be for years, picking sides might as well be throwing a dice. Kwanbe’s probably a bad thing, but is he the worst? Kind of thing I never used to worry much about.” He cleared his throat, stopping that trail of thoughts.

“So yes, Ray, I do wonder why you agreed to throw your oar into it all, but you were right in what you said earlier, it’s your business, and just so you understand, I don’t...” He waved his hand in the air, struggling for the words. “I just didn’t want you to hate yourself.” He tried to laugh, failing miserably. “Puts you in a right mood.”

“Two days before I was due to leave hospital,” Ray began, after a deep breath, speaking slowly, “a man came to visit me late one evening, after you’d gone. He said he was from Six and that he had clearance from Cowley to approach me, because he needed me urgently for an undercover op. He said I fitted the physical profile they needed, and someone else had had to drop out at the last minute. He said the job had to go ahead on schedule, because it was vital, Queen and Country etc etc.”

Ray sighed, shifting on the sofa, Bodie thought he was staring up at the ceiling. “And the first thing I thought was, ‘great, back in the field, away I go, sign me up.’ Then he starting telling me the specifics - that the assignment was a kill. And I said, no way in hell. And that was when he brought out the folder labelled William Andrew Philip Bodie.”

Pausing, Ray turned to look at him, his eyes glinting in the darkness. “Bodie, do you have any idea how many war crimes charges they’ve managed to claim you were involved with?”

Bodie felt a horrible sensation, as if he’d stepped through the doors of a lift, only to find the floor wasn’t there. Shifting awkwardly in his cocoon, he tried to stand up, to break away.

Ray’s hands caught hold of him, drawing him back down, turning his head to force him to meet Ray’s gaze, whilst his voice kept going, inexorably. “It wasn’t news to me, OK? I knew you did some bad stuff out there, you’ve hinted it often enough, introduced me to your charming friends in gun running and the mercs; I didn’t think you spent your time trying to teach the rest of them the bloody piano.”

Bodie’s chest felt tight, he was frozen, scarcely breathing in case he missed one subtlety of what Ray was telling him. He was sure, now, already, of what had happened next and the hideousness of it was beyond what he felt able to grasp.

“This man, he said a formal charge had been filed by his superiors, in case I needed persuading, and that if I didn’t go along with the job, they’d have no choice but to extradite you. To Angola. Into the hands of one of the armies you weren’t fighting for all that time.”

For a moment, all Bodie could hear was own heart. He wasn’t sure which part of him it was that was hurting so much, only that it was dangerously close to breaking him.

“For me?” It was his voice, but he barely recognized it, ragged and thin. A child’s voice, an old, unused one, uncertain in the darkness, with no thought of being valued. “Even after you saw that file, you wanted to..?”

Ray was close to him now, and in the tangle of fabric at some point their arms had come loose, and Ray was holding his left hand and his right forearm, warm skin against his own, pulse beating strong and true and regular.

“Bodie, you got sucked into that hell when you too young to be anything but an idiot, and God knows I tried my best to do the same thing as a kid. Where you are now, where you’ve clawed yourself back to, from what you were? It’s amazing. You’re what gives me hope, Bodie. You’re what makes me able to believe there’s some point in my life, that it’s worth living. That’s why I wanted to tell you all this, not to make you feel guilty but to make you understand, because I don’t think you get it; you’re worth more to me than myself. And when I tell you not to follow me on a mission in case you get yourself killed, I bloody well mean it.” He took a deep breath, his voice was shaking. “Fuck, this is so much easier to say when I can’t see you laughing at me being a sap.”

Bodie moved forward, shifting his hand to touch Ray’s face. “I’m not laughing.”

He leant in, and Ray mouth’s was there, meeting his own, a warm, firm press of lips and then opening to each other, moving, their hands seeking hold after hold, bringing each other close; Ray had broken through the layers of cloth between them, Bodie realised, or maybe he’d done it himself without thinking, but either way there nothing left separating them, skin cleaving to skin, hot and strong and perfect.

Bodie let himself be pushed back into the sofa, pulling Ray on top of him, barely breaking the kiss to breathe, a million intoxicating things that they could do together, but right then all he cared about was this, mouth to mouth, chest to chest, their legs intertwined and in the centre the pulse of them, the throbbing in his groin, the beating of his heart, the rhythm of his breathing and Ray’s right alongside as they rocked together in synchrony.

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Epilogue

- - -

Early morning in Venice, the sky still streaked pink with dawn behind the towers and turrets that intruded delicately as clouds on the horizon.

Bodie licked his fingers clean of the last specks of his raisin croissant and sat back in the chair, looking out across the lagoon and back at San Marco; the most serene and sublime view in the world, and would probably be forever, no matter what seethed beneath it.

Having spent the night in their nest on the abandoned sofa, they’d taken the day’s first vaporetto back to Lido in the early hours of the morning, and Bodie had gladly changed his partially-dry clothes for fresh ones from his luggage in his hotel room, lending Ray the best-fitting options he could manage. Now, after some minutes of concentrated eating, they were sitting by the window sipping their second pot of coffee.

Ray put his cup down, smiling. “Been thinking about what you said, about how no one at HQ can call us back, not after the fiasco this has been, and you’re right. Which just leaves the question of what to do with our week’s holiday.”

Bodie took a moment before he answered, pouring himself another cup and adding plenty of sugar. “Who says it has to be a week? We don’t have to go back at all, you know, not after this, they’d probably be glad if we resigned. We don’t owe them anything.”

Even as he said it, he saw Cowley’s handwriting putting him on the eyes-only for the Fierstron file. Who really had been the ‘guy’ who tipped off Helena who they were, and probably saved their lives? He had a funny feeling it wouldn’t have been MI6.

Ray rolled his eyes. “You’ll go back. It’s your life.”

“Is it? I’m not getting any younger. Alright, even if I do, I need to... I don’t want to be doing this in ten years. And what about you, anyway?”

Ray shrugged. “That one’s easy. Go to this physio place, probably, maybe try to drive a desk for a while, or get into the training, or do something else entirely. But wherever you go, I follow.”

Bodie stared at him. “Is that so?”

Ray held his gaze. His eyes sparkled, teasing, but underneath that was something else, something very solemn and important.

It was hard, Bodie found, to believe this feeling in the daylight, to believe that it would last, that it could come with them, back to the everyday world, and persist.

Ray took his hand, reaching across the table, bringing it into his own and then guiding it up to his mouth, kissing the pad of each finger, slow and tender.

Bodie knew it all had to be written on his face, how he felt, and for the first time he was glad of it. He was aware that maybe he’d never quite say what he meant, what he feared, what he hoped for, but maybe Ray understood it all anyway, Ray who could always see what no one else had.

“So, then, if I walk over to the bed, for example?”

Rolling his eyes, Ray opened his mouth and bit the end of Bodie’s finger, white teeth flashing quick and sharp, a sudden thrill of sensation that pushed Bodie from desire to burning in an instant. “Well I dunno, Bodie, give it a try, eh?”

Laughing with sheer pleasure, Bodie stood up slowly and made his way across the floor to lie down, skin humming in sweet anticipation, heart pounding with something even sweeter, and, true to his word, Ray stayed with him all the way, through all of it, always.

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