When the first shot rang out through the still night air of Long Ditton it went unnoticed by the local residents, put down no doubt to nothing more than a car backfiring. The shot, or backfire, came from a bungalow sitting snug behind a tall hedge fence in Rectory Lane, a rather innocuous but picturesque little Tudor house with climbing roses and ivy clinging to the front and a sharply angled roof complete with attic window. The loud arguing voices that followed the shot went likewise unremarked in the dormitory town. It was the eventual fusillade of gunfire that drew everyone’s attention, including that of the local constabulary.
PC Jenkins was convinced at first that the incidents reported by the residents of Rectory Lane were nothing more than some drunken revelry, or perhaps caused by local children who had got their hands on some fireworks, although what self-respecting parents allowed their children out at such a late hour he didn’t know, as he told his wife while dragging his bicycle from the shed attached to the quaint cottage that served as Long Ditton’s local police station.
By the time he had pedalled his bicycle furiously from the police station and all the way up Rectory Lane to reach No. 24, there was little left to see other than a black car hastily exiting the driveway and a body lying clearly visible on the grass in front of the picturesque house.
Being a rather brave policeman, or perhaps just a foolishly naive one, PC Jenkins attempted to prevent the escape of the occupants of the car by the simple method of placing his bicycle, and himself, in the way. Needless to say the method failed and Jenkins suffered a particularly painful and indignant landing on the mercifully soft grassy verge when the vehicle ploughed through them both without hesitation. His bicycle, unfortunately, suffered a worse fate under the tyres of the escaping vehicle, left a mangled wreck in the middle of the driveway, the front wheel upright and spinning uselessly.
Undaunted, PC Jenkins managed to note the number plate of the escapee from his prone position as it vanished into the night. Climbing painfully to his feet he made a cursory inspection of his slain bicycle before hurrying over to the body on the grass. Another brief inspection and PC Jenkins realised there was nothing he could do for the poor soul other than close the wide staring eyes. Reaching for the radio strapped to his belt he was grateful to discover it was miraculously still in working order and called for reinforcements in the shape of his commanding officer, Sergeant Beckman.
It took no time at all for the sergeant to arrive on the scene, quickly followed by a plethora of detectives direct from the Met, called in in turn by Sergeant Beckman after a cautious inspection of the scene revealed several spent cartridges, broken windows, smashed furniture, another body – a gun beside it - and a surprising scatter of gleaming stones.
They were still there as dawn rose over the usually sleepy town. The house had been cordoned off by police cars and curious residents gathered outside the perimeter watching proceedings with some interest. It was around that time that the last official visitor arrived in a midnight blue Ford Granada driven by a very smartly dressed young woman. The car was expertly manoeuvred through the cordon of police vehicles and halted next to the ambulance that had arrived for the removal of the deceased. Both the woman and her passenger stepped from the vehicle and were met by the DI in charge of operations at the scene.
“Evening, Sir, or I should say, ‘good morning’?”
“Aye, good morning, Inspector. I hope you’ve brought me all this way and at this hour for something more than a couple of dead bodies and a domestic squabble,” the man said, looking at the two blanket covered forms laid out on stretchers by the open back doors of the ambulance. He was slightly less than average height, with thinning gingery hair, a distinct Scottish tinge to his speech and a commanding manner that made the DI straighten both his tie and his spine.
“Diamonds, Mr Cowley. Rough, uncut diamonds,” the DI told him, holding out a plastic bag containing a collection of small objects. The man the DI had called Cowley took the bag and examined the objects in the rays of the morning sun.
“Genuine?” he queried.
“Can’t be sure until the experts get a look, but it seems likely.”
“And they were found where?”
“In the house. Scattered near the back door.”
Cowley drew his attention away from the diamonds and looked quizzically at the DI. “Now who would leave a pile of diamonds by the back door, Inspector? Unless, of course, they were dropped?”
The DI nodded. “We’re going on that assumption at the moment, Sir. Whoever was carrying them probably didn’t even notice they were gone.”
Cowley moved over to the blanket covered stretchers and crouching down pulled the cover away from the first, revealing the face of a young man, his obvious good looks marred by the bullet hole in his head and the blood covering his face. “Any identities on these two yet?”
The DI flipped open his notebook “According to a neighbour this was one Andrew Jamieson, a flight attendant. He moved into the house about three month ago, along with a young girl, his sister, Roberta. A quiet couple, kept to themselves. Roberta is sixteen and attends the local grammar school.”
Cowley nodded and turned to the next stretcher. This man was older, tougher, the unmarked features heavy, although in death the rougher edges seemed to have smoothed somewhat, relaxed into an acceptance of permanent sleep. The idyll of repose was at odds with the garish red bloodstain that had spread out across the shirt-covered chest.
“Tony Reynolds,” the DI told him. “A petty crim with delusions of grandeur.”
“He doesn’t have those any more, Inspector. What about the young girl, Roberta? Any sign of her?”
“We have a witness who saw her running from the back of the house after the shots were fired. It seems likely she may have been the one who dropped the stones. We’ve alerted the local police to start a search for her.”
“Aye, though she’ll be long gone by now. But we need to find her. She’s probably the only person who can tell us exactly what went on here. And whoever was after her brother will be after her now, especially if they believe she has what they want.”
“The rest of the diamonds.”
“Exactly!” Cowley rose from his crouch by the body and looked at the plastic bag he was still holding. He seemed to come to a decision, walking briskly back to the car. The DI stayed where he was while Cowley spoke quietly on the car radio. When he was finished Cowley beckoned him over.
“Right. I want your men out of here, Inspector. My agents will take over as of now. But let me know immediately if they have any success with the missing girl.” Cowley turned to the young woman, who up until then had remained silent as she followed her boss.
“Susan, start a search of the premises. 3.7 and 4.5 will be joining you; when they get here fill them in. I’ll drive myself back to H.Q.”
“Yes, Sir,” she said, as Cowley closed the car door and started the engine. They watched as he drove away, manoeuvring out through the attendant vehicles with the same efficiency Susan had used bringing them in, then taking to the road with a squeal of tires.
“Quite the commander, your boss. Don’t think I’ve ever had a case removed from my care quite so effectively before.”
“You don’t know the half of it, Inspector,” Susan told him as she turned towards the house.
The girl ran through the dark streets and residential areas, slowing only to get her bearings, keeping away from lights and main roads, looking behind her with swift nervous movements. She could smell her own fear. It was rife, pouring out of her in waves, making the t-shirt she wore stick to her skin in damp patches despite the chill of the morning air. Her chest was tight too and she gasped for breath, feeling choked from exhaustion and grief. But she kept on. To stop could bring disaster.
When she reached Portsmith Road she stopped, checking both ways. The dim rays of dawn were just penetrating the sky but the headlights of the approaching car were brighter. She pulled back into the shadows offered by trees and bushes. The car swept past, black or maybe it was a deep blue, she wasn’t sure. A fancy car, but not the one she’d seen before in her driveway. She watched the retreating tail lights until they disappeared then hurried across the road and over a football field, finally getting close to her destination, but always looking over her shoulder and starting at shadows that seemed to jump out in front of her.
Finally she was there, could see the longed for sign for Thames Ditton station through the tears that welled and streaked her face. She hesitated in the forest-like foliage that hid the station from the road but all was quiet so she hurried up the walkway leading to the station proper. The station was almost foreboding in the dim light of the street lamps and hazy morning sunshine, apparently deserted but with edges and corners that could hide shapes … and guns. There was cover in the bushes by the station entrance so she stayed there until the station staff arrived to open up.
People began to drift in, early morning commuters and students wanting the first train into London. She trailed in behind them, just another student amongst the many. When the train arrived she jumped on first and found a seat by a window, watching as the other passengers boarded. When the train moved off she leaned back against the headrest and closed her eyes, trying to stop the tears that trickled under her lashes.
Waterloo was crowded when the train pulled in but she found an empty phone box and hastily searched her jeans pockets for change. She had just enough for one phone call and onward travel. The voice that answered was husky and sweet to her ears, full of promise of safety and hope.
“I’m at Waterloo. I’m in trouble, they’re after me. Andy’s dead. I don’t know what to do,” she choked on the last words.
“Come now. Catch the tube, I’ll be waiting.”
The phone went dead but she held onto the receiver for a moment, calming her breathing and holding onto the lifeline it had offered her. Then she replaced it in the cradle and turned towards the tube entrance.
Left a good job in the city,
Workin' for the man ev'ry night and day,
And I never lost one minute of sleepin',
Worryin' 'bout the way things might have been.
Big wheel keep on turnin',
Proud Mary keep on burnin',
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river.
Dragged from their beds in the early hours of the morning and faced with a drive through morning traffic to the outskirts of London, CI5 Agents Doyle and Bodie were not happy. Their humour wasn’t improved by the fact their early start had meant not enough time for breakfast or even a cup of tea to set them on their way. That Susan met them at the door of the house in Long Ditton holding a steaming mug of coffee in one hand and a sandwich in the other didn’t improve the collective mood any.
“Got one of those for us?” Bodie asked, eyeing the mug held aloft in delicately manicured fingers and the sandwich.
“Of course,” Susan assured him. “Kitchen’s down the end of the passage. Help yourselves, only Cowley’s going to be here soon and he’ll be wanting some results, so you’d better be quick.”
Bodie tried a pleading look, the one he knew women found it hard to resist, but Susan ignored him and headed back inside, munching as she went.
“Bad luck, Sunshine,” Doyle commiserated, but he was grinning too. “C’mon. I’ll put the kettle on anyway. You never know, we might get finished here in time for lunch.”
But when Cowley came striding through the front door two hours later they had gone through the house and every nuance of its occupant’s lives with a fine tooth comb with very little to show for their efforts.
“Nothing!” Bodie snorted, looking behind the last of the picture frames on the wall of the study before coming to stand behind Doyle, who was sitting at a desk sorting through bills, letters and other odds and ends emptied from a drawer. Susan had finished in the bathroom and the girl’s bedroom and was currently checking the late Andrew Jamieson’s room.
Bodie picked a photo up from the desk and studied it. “Nice looking kids,” he said. It was a family portrait, the subjects looking slightly self-conscious and stiff under the penetrating eye of the camera. But the closeness of the little family was obvious, the man standing with one arm around his wife, the other resting on the shoulder of the good looking boy in front of him while the woman held the little girl close into her side. The boy was holding his sister’s hand, smiling into the camera. The little girl was pretty, her long blonde hair sweeping over her shoulders, the fringe accentuating nicely spaced blue eyes that looked out at the world with a startling directness. There was a disconcerting brownness around the edges of the photo and it took Bodie a moment to realise it must have been badly scorched at some stage. He replaced it on the desk. “Nice looking family. No diamonds though, or guns, or evidence of anything unusual here. The search has been a waste of time.”
“There has to be something!” Cowley fumed. “Something to indicate what was going on here and where the girl has run to.”
“Why does CI5 need to be involved in smuggled diamonds anyway? The Met could have handled this just as easily as us. It’s not exactly political or anything to do with the British Government, is it?” Doyle was looking questioningly at his boss but Bodie was the one who answered.
“Siaka Stevens made it very much a political problem in Sierra Leone, props his government up with the illicit diamond trade. And now the rebels there and in other African countries like Angola are getting into it, mining them to use as collateral for weapons. Diamonds are big business in terrorist factions these days.”
Cowley took over the conversation. “Bodie’s right. And The De Beers Diamond Trading Company, the Diamond Corporation, is one of London’s greatest broker services, a huge money earner for Britain. The illegal trade in rough diamonds has cost the British Government millions over the past decade. It’s very much a concern to our Government, on more than one front, and your Met has instructions to inform me of any hint of smuggling activities.”
“So, what exactly do you expect us to find here, Sir?” Doyle asked.
“Something of interest, Doyle.” Cowley’s tone was acerbic. “Andrew Jamieson was a flight attendant whose route covered West Africa. He has had several scheduled flights through Liberia in the past twelve months. Diamond smuggling from the Sierra Leone diamond fields via Liberia has become endemic since independence. It’s a very tempting trade for any would be smuggler, the profits are high and the risks acceptable.”
“Unless you decide to cut out the middleman and go into business for yourself,” Bodie commented.
“Yes, exactly. It must be very tempting to hold back one or two gems from every shipment and easily done. Diamonds are small enough to hide, easy to get rid of through illegal channels.”
“Until your ‘employer’ catches on.”
“You think that’s what Jamieson was up to?” Doyle asked, ripping open an envelope and studying the contents.
“Almost certainly. It explains the scatter of stones by the door, the gunfire.” Cowley shook his head. “Whoever shot Jamieson didn’t get what they came for, otherwise those stones wouldn’t have been left behind. Whether or not the girl knew what her brother was up to isn’t important. What is important is that whoever he was working for knows that she must have the diamonds now. She is in very grave danger indeed.”
Doyle looked up from the letter in his hand. “I think I may have found something,” he announced, laying the envelope and the note it contained gravely down on the desk so the others could see it. “Looks like Jamieson didn’t get time to post it.”
Cowley and Bodie crowded around him, reading the contents of the note, it was brief but all too clear.
Everything’s gone wrong. I’m going to try and get away tonight. Please, look after Roberta for me.
The envelope was stamped and had an address: Riverboat Queen, Nine Elms Pier, Wandsworth, but no name on it
Just as they finished reading Susan appeared in the doorway, a flight bag in her hands and a bright smile on her face.
“Look what I found,” she said, holding the bag up. She brought it over to the desk and carefully pulled at the stitching on one of the handles. As she did a small recess was revealed, concealed by virtue of the handle seam being folded over onto itself and loosely restitched.
“Well done, Susan,” Cowley told her. “Crude but effective. I think we can safely say this is how Jamieson smuggled the diamonds out of Liberia and into Britain.”
“And why he was killed,” Bodie confirmed.
“Yes. It’s imperative we find that girl before the dealers do. Doyle, Bodie, I want you to check out this Riverboat Queen, see what you can find out, set up some observations. If Jamieson was looking for help for Roberta it’s more than likely that’s where she’s headed. Be careful though, we don’t want to tip our hands too quickly. It’s possible “Teri” was working hand in glove with Jamieson, the girl could even be walking into a trap.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?” he queried when his agents still hadn’t moved.
“Yes, Sir.” Doyle jumped up from his chair, grabbing the family photo as he did so; it might come in useful.
“Running all the way, Sir,” Bodie added as they headed for the door. So much for lunch, he thought.
“That it?” Doyle queried, casting a jaundiced eye over the paddle steamer moored tightly up against the embankment at Nine Elms Pier but set away from the few other vessels at the pier, almost as if it were ostracised from the mainstream of river dwellers residing under the looming towers of Battersea Power Station. Even from the Capri, which they’d parked down a side lane that gave a view of the pier, it could be seen that the once stately vessel they were staring at had seen better days. Chipped and peeling paintwork was obvious and Doyle had no doubt that a closer inspection would reveal signs of mildew among the cracks and seams. But she would have been impressive in her day, ferrying passengers across the stretch of treacherous water between Hull and New Holland – well, that was according to the records they’d managed to uncover about the vessel – her paddle wheels churning the water, the huge chimney set above the forward deck, standing proud and tall. Now she just looked a little forlorn.
“Has to be, got Riverboat Queen written on the wheelhouse covering,” Bodie said, eyeing the gangplank connecting the vessel to the edge of the embankment, the openness of the area and the darkness of the alleyways leading to the pier. They would stick out like sore thumbs if they tried to set up an obbo from the car and the surrounding buildings were equally unlikely observation points, all being occupied and part of an industrial estate. “So, what’d we do now?”
Doyle shrugged. “We do what Cowley told us to do.”
Bodie lifted a questioning eyebrow and Doyle continued in a fair imitation of their boss’ Scottish brogue, “Get in as close as you can, use your imagination, laddie,” nodding towards a sign plastered on a wooden noticeboard set to the side of the gangplank.
“Nah, it’s worth a try innit? And you make perfect bouncer material, with a mug like yours.”
Bodie gave him a sour look but opened the car door and followed his partner without complaint. The gangplank shook alarmingly as they made their way across it to the main deck. Bodie glanced below and shuddered at the nearness of the dark, greasy water. Safely aboard, Doyle spotted the faded notice across the top of the pilot house doorway that proclaimed it to be the office and headed up the steps, knocking politely on the door, opening it to the shouted “Come in”.
They both entered, Bodie crowding up behind as Doyle strode in first. Once inside they stopped, taking in the chaos contained within the long, narrow room and the large windows that stretched across the front and sides letting in the bright light and giving them a spectacular, if slightly depressing view of the towers of the Battersea Power Station and Chelsea Bridge. The interior was crowded, a large desk, stacked with books, folders and loose paper, taking up almost a quarter of the space. A kitchen table, also inundated with papers plus piles of dirty cups and plates, was set at the far end. A man wearing a blue navy jacket and cloth cap sat on one of two rickety looking chairs at the table, reading a newspaper. Overflowing filing cabinets filled the space between desk and table. The rear wall was bedecked with posters and framed photographs.
The woman sitting behind the desk, concentrating on the papers in front of her, glanced up as they squeezed inside and Bodie found himself staring into a pair of large brown eyes set in a pretty oval face and framed by short dark hair.
“Yes, what can I do for you, gentlemen?”
“We’ve come about the notice, down on the dock, for the bartender,” Doyle told her.
“Experienced?” the woman asked.
“Very,” Doyle answered. “Worked in pubs all over.”
“Yeah,” Bodie agreed. “All over. Done quite a bit of security stuff too.” He hesitated for a moment. “Got qualifications in bouncing too."
The women didn’t say anything for a moment, she seemed to be taking their measure and Bodie had a distinct feeling of being found wanting. “The job's live-in, which means the pay’s basic wage. That suit you?”
Doyle was the first to respond. “Yeah, that’s fine. We had to move out of our last digs, need somewhere anyway.”
Bodie looked around at the posters on the wall and the framed photos of Judy Garland and ABBA. Something niggled at the back of his mind but he dismissed it.
“And I had one bartender slash bouncer in mind, not a double act. Which one of you is applying?”
"We come as a pair," Doyle told her.
"Yeah, cheap at half the price," Bodie added.
The women eyed them both. "Half the price is what you'll get then. And as a pair you won't mind sharing a cabin, we have limited staff accommodation on this boat."
Before Bodie could comment Doyle jumped in “Yeah, that’s okay. We’ve shared before. And, well, we need the work.”
The woman seemed to be thinking hard as she continued to examine them both. Bodie was starting to feel uncomfortable under the intense gaze. Finally she spoke.
“Okay, I’ll give you a week’s trial. See how it works out.” She pushed her chair back and stood, holding out her hand. “My name’s Teri and I’m the owner of this,” she hesitated, then continued, “club.”
“Ray Doyle,” Doyle told her as he shook her hand. “This is Bodie.”
She lifted a delicately lined eyebrow at Bodie when it was his turn to shake hands and he felt compelled to clarify, “Yeah, just Bodie.” Her hand was warm and dry, the handshake firm.
“Okay, Ray Doyle and Just Bodie, welcome aboard.” She turned to the man seated at the table. “This is Sidney, our head barman and security manager.” Sidney nodded and turned back to his paper, appearing disinterested in proceedings.
“We open at 10.00pm, close around 2.00 in the morning and have a show on Fridays and Saturdays. Mondays we’re closed,” Teri continued. “As you’re both so experienced you can take turns as barman and bouncer. We’re strict on membership so you’ll need to check everyone coming through the door – that’s the bouncer’s job. You’ll take orders from Sid about the bar and security. Otherwise you’ll take orders from me. Any problems with that?”
Receiving no objections Teri continued with more instructions and Bodie’s eyes and attention wandered. He wished he could work out what it was that was bothering him.
“Right, you can start tomorrow. Be back here by 5.00pm and you can settle in before the show starts.” Teri’s words pulled Bodie back and he joined Doyle in uttering their farewells.
“We’re in.” Doyle muttered as they made their way back down the gangplank and headed to the waiting Capri.
“Yeah, we’re in,” Bodie agreed. He just wasn’t sure exactly what it was they were actually into.
Cowley was pleased, more than pleased, when they reported in at HQ.
“Good work, lads! That couldn’t have been easy, given the circumstances.” The tone was magnanimous and the fine malt he handed his operatives equally so.
“What circumstances?” Bodie asked and Ray watched his partner’s face closely as their boss was speaking.
“The circumstances of the ‘entertainment’ aboard the vessel,” Cowley clarified. Only from Bodie’s expression it wasn’t clarity at all.
“Do you have anything yet on the owner, Teri?” Doyle asked, shifting his attention back to his boss and leaving his partner to stare perplexedly into the smoky depths of his drink before lifting the glass to take a swallow.
“Yes.” Cowley put his glasses on and opened the file in front of him. “Terrence Bradley, born 1950. Father a shipping magnate, Sir Joshua Bradley. Apparently father and son are estranged. Mother died when Bradley was ten. No known criminal associations and not much else to report on him.” He paused and looked up at Bodie, who was making strange choking sounds. “Something wrong, Bodie?”
Bodie tried to swallow the scotch that was stuck in his throat. “Sh…she’s a he?” he spluttered.
“Yes, Bodie, it seems the cause for the estrangement between father and son was young Terrence’s penchant for dressing in women’s clothing. I have all the information we’ve acquired on Bradley and the vessel, the Riverboat Queen, here. I suggest you take this file, and the one I’ve compiled on the Jamiesons – not that we have much on them yet - with you, and study them.”
Bodie had stopped choking by now but he was looking a little pale. Cowley set the file back down on the desk and looked at each agent in turn.
“You’ll be on your own once you’re inside the club, we can’t risk you taking in radios or any overt contact. However, an agent will be assigned to liaise with you. I’ll give you the details tomorrow.”
“How long do you think we’ll need to be under cover?” Bodie asked.
“For as long as it takes, Bodie. I expect you both back here first thing in the morning and we’ll go over the details of the operation,” Cowley’s dismissal was final.
As soon as they were out of the office and out of earshot of their boss Bodie rounded on his partner.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“Don’t get cute with me, Raymond. You knew didn’t you?”
Doyle shrugged. “About it being a drag club, yeah. The Judy Garland and ABBA posters were a dead giveaway – I thought you’d notice. About Teri being a transvestite, no, not at first. She’s good.”
“He, not she, Raymond. You could have warned me, you know.”
Doyle stopped in his tracks. “What’s wrong with you, Bodie? What’s the problem? Are you scared it’s catching, that I’ll suddenly start singing soprano and wearing a skirt? Or worse, that I’ll ask you to wear the skirt? We haven’t been cornered into doing a drag act you know. And anyway, what have you got against trannies”
“Keep your voice down!” Bodie took a hasty look up and down the passage, but it was deserted then he sighed. “I don’t have anything against trannies, as such, Ray. It’s just too close to home. I don’t like it. I don’t like having to play at being gay.”
Doyle raised an eyebrow.
“You know what I mean! Working undercover is one thing, being undercover in a drag club is something else. What if they … Teri, catches on?”
“She’s probably already decided we’re queer. What does it matter, mate?”
“Only that Cowley might work it out. Then we’re for it. I like my job, I don’t want to lose it because some trannie’s let the cat out of the bag about us.”
Doyle shook his head and reached out a conciliatory hand. “You’re jumping way too far ahead, Sunshine. C’mon, I’ll drive you home, cook you dinner then we can settle on the couch and watch the game.”
“Just watch?” Bodie asked, inching a little closer to his partner.
“Play your cards right and there may be a cuddle involved,” Doyle told him, herding him down the passage.
Doyle knew it would take time to convince Bodie that his fears were groundless, that working
undercover in a gay club wouldn’t compromise them, no matter what anyone in the club thought or believed. But Doyle considered it would be time well spent.
By unspoken mutual consent they left all discussion until after their meal. Doyle, true to his promise hunted in the fridge and discovered he’d be able to make a sauce for spaghetti and there was enough cheese that hadn’t gone mouldy to sprinkle on top. They ate sitting on the couch, plates balanced on knees, watching the lead up to the game. When they’d finished and he’d scoffed the last of the swiss roll Doyle had also found, Bodie cleared the plates and washed while Doyle dried.
Finally they settled again on the couch close, comfortable and at peace, watching Liverpool and Arsenal proceed to a goalless draw. Bodie draped his arm along the back of the couch and began playing with strands of curly hair and rubbing gently at the back of Doyle’s head. Doyle relaxed into it, letting Bodie’s skilful fingers play havoc with his senses.
“It’s just a job, you know.” he said, closing his eyes and sighing at the exquisite feelings running down his back.
Bodie knew what he was referring to straight away, like he always did. “Yeah, but it’s what I’m good at, what we’re both good at. Can’t imagine doing anything else. Can’t imagine you wanting to do anything else either. Dunno, it’s just a bad feeling I’ve got about this job.”
Doyle knew he was right. Although he sometimes hated what they did, were forced to do, he believed it was necessary, that they made a difference, that the words Cowley had used in a court of law not so very long ago were true – they brushed away the dirt, not all of it but some it. The thought of doing anything else with his life was unthinkable.
“This job is not going to be any different from any other undercover op. And it’s not as if we’re totally inexperienced at being gay, is it?”
“Which is precisely the point!”
“Hmm, it would make a change though, not having to pretend.”
“How far would the pretence have to go? It’s not as if we can act the part for a few hours and go home, we’ll be living it, living there. They’ll be watching. Sure we can convince them it’s for real. It’s when it’s all over and questions start being asked.”
“Then we’ll answer the questions. Honestly, Bodie, it isn’t going to be a problem. We’re undercover with Cowley’s full approval. He knows we have to act the part, even be the part while the op’s on. It’s like you pretending to be a drug addict or me selling fruit and veg off a barrow in the market. No difference in it, mate.”
Bodie looked unconvinced. So Doyle used distraction. Turning, he leaned into Bodie’s shoulder and started playing with the buttons on his shirt, undoing and doing them up again, his fingers sliding across the solid chest, scraping over nipples. When he knew he had his partner’s full attention he looked up into the blue eyes, licked his lips and smiled. It worked, Bodie laughed and bent forward, accepting the invitation. The kiss was sweet to start then hungry and needy. Clothes were pulled and pushed, disarrayed with determination until access gained. Naked at last they ran their hands and lips over each other and Doyle made sure that Bodie’s thoughts were on things other than their latest assignment.
They were at HQ early the next morning, after a detour to Bodie’s flat so he could pack some gear. Cowley had no further information for them but plenty of advice.
“I know this will be awkward for you both,” he told them, “but I expect you to carry it through as you would any other operation. There is no difference, after all, in working undercover in a gay club to a so-called straight club.”
Doyle grinned at the echo of his own words. Bodie just rolled his eyes.
“And as you will be going in as a couple you should have no problems on that score.” Cowley’s choice of wording did make Doyle pause, and wonder. Bodie did a distinct double take. But their boss seemed unaware of any double meaning in his words or undercurrent in the room and continued. “Maintain contact as best you can in the meantime. With any luck we can wrap this whole mess up quickly. However your prime concern must be the girl. Any questions?”
There were none. Well, none they could safely ask.
The young man leaning against the wall of the pilothouse was staring. Bodie was staring right back. Doyle was starting to wonder who would blink first.
Not that Bodie hadn’t blinked when they’d boarded the paddle steamer to find the androgynous apparition watching them as they walked up the gangplank. He looked about twenty, but was probably older; his longish hair was blond but probably bleached; his blue eyes were heavily lined with eyeliner, the lashes so black they had to be mascaraed; he was wearing ridiculously tight jeans and an equally ridiculous bright orange shirt decorated with white flowers, the edges tied in a knot at waist level; and while Teri, who was standing next to him, was watching them both the young man’s attention was fixed solidly on Bodie, studying him with undisguised interest – from top to bottom. Doyle could feel Bodie’s discomfort as those blue eyes measured and lingered, obviously liking what they saw.
“I didn’t think you’d come back,” Teri said, and Doyle turned his attention back to her, leaving his partner to carry on the staring competition.
“Took the sign down, didn’t you?”
“So I did. And here you are, bag and baggage.” She turned to the boy. “Billy, this is Ray Doyle and Bodie. Show them around the boat then take them down to their cabin, let them settle in.”
Billy smiled and straightened up. “My pleasure,” he said, throwing a come hither look over his shoulder. “Follow me.”
Bodie rolled his eyes and Doyle grinned but they followed dutifully in his wake.
“We call this the clubroom,” he told them, stepping though the door of the forward cabin and waving his arm with a flourish making the bracelets on his wrists jangle.
The room was large with a bar extending down one side, three large comfortable looking booths with accompanying tables on the other. Across the centre of the room were several rows of not so comfortable looking straight backed chairs, all facing towards a stage set at the rear of the room. “We hold all our performances here.”
“I’m sure you do,” Bodie muttered.
Unperturbed, Billy flashed a smile, battered his eyelashes and leaned towards Bodie. “I can always arrange a private showing, just for you, dearie.”
Bodie’s flush made Doyle grin. It was fun watching his partner squirm but probably unfair.
“Teri said the performances were Friday and Saturday,” he said by way of distraction.
Billy straightened, leaving Bodie in blessed peace for the moment. “Yes, the place is full of drag queens twice a week. Archie and I are a double act, you’ll meet him later.” He posed prettily and turned a pirouette. “We’re known as the Pointless Sisters, no doubt you’ve heard of us?”
“Er, no,” Doyle told him.
Billy looked disappointed. “We’re very popular on the drag circuit you know.”
“We’re new around here.” Bodie had at last found his voice.
“Obviously.” Billy pouted for a moment then with a toss of his head made for a heavily curtained partition beside the stage.
“The sound and lighting systems are back here and the galley,” he said, reaching out to pull the curtain aside. “We serve chicken in a basket to the patrons most evenings and you can help yourself to the leftovers – but you’ll have to beat Archie to it, the boy has hollow legs. If you…” He got no further as a small dynamo exploded from the other side of the curtain and collided with him full force sending him staggering back into Doyle and Bodie.
“And this,” Billy continued, regaining his balance and glaring at the bundle of arms and legs sprawled at their feet, “is B.J, who doesn’t believe in walking sedately anywhere, never mind through a doorway.”
“Didn’t know you were fuckin’ there, did I?” the figure remained on the floor for a moment, obviously waiting for a hand up. When none was forthcoming the figure, that Doyle now realised was a boy even younger looking than Billy, climbed to his feet and glared at the three of them. He too was dressed in jeans but they were nowhere near as tight as Billy’s, and his t-shirt was loose and long.
“Now, now, B.J, mind the language please,” Billy tutted. “This is our new barman, Ray Doyle and our new bouncer, Bodie. Or maybe that’s our new barman, Bodie and new bouncer, Ray, I’m not sure. They’re probably interchangeable.”
It was quick, the sudden look of fear that slid into the boy’s eyes concealed a second later by the flop of hair that fell across his forehead from under the baseball cap he wore as he ducked his head. But Doyle had seen it and wondered. A quick glance at Bodie confirmed his partner had noticed too.
When the boy looked up again the fear had been replaced by studied indifference. “Teri said someone was startin’. You can use the galley but make sure you clean up after,” he said, before turning abruptly and hurrying away through the clubroom. They watched until he had vanished from sight.
“You’ll have to forgive B.J, he’s young,” Billy sighed, “and he’s had a rough time of it lately.” Turning back towards the galley and without further explanation he carried on through the doorway, “This way, dears.”
“Teri’s quarters are through there,” he continued, waving airily at a closed door beyond the galley. “Of course no one goes in unless invited.”
There was another hatchway opposite, leading out onto the open stern deck and Billy ushered them through then down another stairway to the lower deck. It was dark and musty below deck, a single light illuminating the long narrow passageway that ended at the solid wall of the bulkhead. Several doors led off the passage. Billy opened the first one so they could see inside. Mirrors, set above a long bench covered in bottles, pots, powder puffs and other object, glinted back at them.
“The dressing room for les artistes,” Billy told them, closing the door again and moving along the passage to the next door. “The bathroom. It’s a little small for hunky men like you,” he simpered, “but I’m sure you’ll cope.” Billy wasn’t exaggerating. The room contained a toilet, wash basin and curtained shower all crowded together in one compact package. Doyle wondered if he’d be able to get the door closed once he actually got inside.
The next door was larger than the others. “This leads to the engine and boiler rooms. Obviously not in use any more. Sid potters around in them a bit but otherwise it’s kept locked.”
Billy pressed on past the next door two doors, pointing to each in turn. “B.J’s cabin, my cabin - I’ve had to share with Archie since … well, since Teri told me to.”
“Which cabin is Sid’s?” Doyle asked, risking Billy’s curiosity at his question.
But Billy didn’t seem perturbed. “Oh, Sid doesn’t sleep on board. He’s got digs somewhere on the docks, no one knows where. Bit of a mystery man, our Sid.” They stopped in front of the last door before the bulkhead. “And this, gentlemen, is your cabin.” He opened the door with a flourish.
The cabin was bigger than the bathroom, but only just and Doyle caught Bodie’s shudder in the corner of his eye as they stepped inside. There was a wardrobe, a small desk with a straight backed chair, a washbasin and a bunk – a very narrow bunk.
“You’re joking!” Bodie muttered. “And, pray tell, how are we both going to fit in that?”
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll manage,” Doyle tried being pragmatic.
“Not the way you spread yourself out,” Bodie grumbled. “I’ll be lucky to fit my big toe in once you’ve settled.”
Aware that Billy was leaning against the door frame and watching them closely, a smirk on his face. Doyle dropped his rucksack on top of the table, walked over to the bunk and sat on it.
“This is fine, Billy. Thanks,” he said.
Billy kept his eyes on both of them as he straightened up. “Glad you like it,” he said, before turning his attention back to Bodie. “It should be very … cosy for you. Do let me know if you need any help settling in, dearie.” Then with a sly smile and a wink he was gone, the door closing gently behind him.
Doyle waited for the explosion. It wasn’t long in coming.
“Bloody hell, Doyle!”
He was in front of Bodie in seconds, laying a finger across his lips and whispering, “Ssh, not so loud.”
“Why?” Bodie whispered back, looking quickly around the cabin, dislodging Doyle’s finger in the process. “Do you think it’s bugged.”
“Nah, wouldn’t have to bug it, mate. You seen the how thick these walls are? Nothing more than plywood. One of us farted they’d hear it all the way down to the dressing room.”
Bodie grinned. “We’d better not fart then.” Then his face fell. “Better not do anything else either. Why do I have the feeling we’re more under surveillance than they are?”
“Maybe we are.”
“You think they’re on to us?”
Doyle shrugged and began to unpack his rucksack, alternately hanging clothes or stacking them on one of the shelves in the wardrobe. “Dunno. Could be just natural caution. Can’t help but feel there’s more to Teri than meets the eye though.”
Bodie looked at him as he began unpacking his own clothes. “You’re right there, Sunshine. Much more than meets the eye.”
Doyle shook his head, “Not what I meant. And Billy was more than interested in us … or rather, you. ” He grinned. “Think he fancies you.”
“Fancies me! I thought he was going to eat me.”
“Don’t worry. He’d pretty soon spit you out once he found out how sour you are.”
“Very funny! Anyway, I don’t fancy him. And I’m not used to be looked at like a piece of meat.”
“No, you’re more used to doing the looking. Dunno why you’re so upset, you should think of it as a compliment.”
“That kind of compliment I can do without, thanks.” Turning to the bunk he examined it critically then dropped his now empty rucksack on the floor and threw the small case he’d also been carrying onto the far too small bunk.
“What about this?” he said as he opened it and threw the couple of shirts it contained onto the bunk before lifting the false bottom to reveal their own personal weaponry, Bodie’s Magnum and Doyle’s Walther.
Doyle moved back to the wardrobe and opened it. “Stick it on the bottom, throw the rucksacks on top. Should be okay.”
“Unless someone does a thorough search of the cabin,” Bodie remarked. But he did as Doyle suggested. The case was all but hidden by the hanging clothes and the two rucksacks. As concealment it was less than desirable, but would have to do under the circumstances.
“Well, ready to face gay abandon and Billy’s interest?” Doyle queried when all was in order in the cabin.
“No,” Bodie answered, heading for the door. “But as you’ve got us into this fine mess, Stanley, I suppose it’s up to me to get us out.”
The figure stood motionless in the centre of the stage as the curtains open, microphone hanging loose in her hand, hair combed flat - urchin style, spotlight picking up the glints in her halter necked, floor length gown. As familiar music began to play softly from the speakers set to either side of the stage Teri lifted the microphone to her mouth
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, Wilkommen meine Damen und Herren, welcome to the cabaret.”
Then the music to Cabaret got louder and she began to sing, slowly at first then faster as the song speeded up. Her voice was strong and slightly husky, with a light tone that hit the high notes well. She swished and swayed in cunning imitation of a buoyant, sexy Lisa Minnelli, playing to the crowd, and they loved it.
”Quite something, isn’t she?” It was Sid, standing beside Doyle behind the bar. He’d arrived at the paddle steamer around the same time as the other drag acts - a flamboyant mix of queens in elaborate frocks and high heels and suave looking men in tight trousers, blazers, silky shirts and cravats - who had disappeared into the below deck dressing room in a haze of feathers and perfume. He and Bodie, who had been busy helping Teri and B.J with the setting up of the club at the time, gazed with some amazement tinged with amusement at the procession.
“She is,” agreed Doyle grabbing the opportunity to find out a little more about their employer. The clubroom was crowded, nearly every chair occupied and the booths along the side wall filled but the start of the entertainment had brought a brief pause at the bar. “Have you known her long?”
“A while,” Sid told him, wiping at the bar counter. “I was skipper of the Riverboat Queen when she was running the Humber estuary out of Hull. Only she wasn’t the Riverboat Queen then, was the Juno. Her boilers went bust in ’70 and they reckoned she was too expensive to fix so she was laid up, goin’ to be scrapped. Only Teri bought her. Had her towed down here. I was out of a job by then, not much need for paddle steamer skippers any more, so she took me on.”
“What about Billy and Archie, she take them on then too.”
“Nah, they’ve only been around a year or so. Needed somewhere to live. You could say Teri is a collector of waifs and strays. Doesn’t turn anyone away as needs help.”
“Is that the story with B.J as well?”
“B.J is Teri’s cousin,” Sid told him, as the subject of their discussion appeared through the doorway next to the stage, arms full of small wicker baskets that Doyle assumed contained snacks for the patrons.
“He’s a bit young to be in a place like this isn’t he?” Doyle was more curious about B.J than anyone else. The boy had barely spoken during the set-up of the club, answering questions in monosyllables as he helped with chairs, sorted through tapes for the huge sound system behind the stage and checked the spotlight.
“Probably, but Teri’s took him in after some sort of family ruckus and he’s better off here than on the streets.”
Billy and Archie were next on stage and they were all glitter and glam, tight figure hugging mini dresses and elaborate wigs, as they mimed their way through their act. They had met Archie earlier in the evening. A small, wiry man with dark hair and skin who was the antithesis of Billy, until he donned his wig and make up.
Doyle couldn’t decide if he was more fascinated by the entertainment or the exoticness of the audience, a strange mix of gender-bending and crazy hair, of the young and the stylish and of Bowie clones and leather men, a culture at once familiar but also strange. Doyle took it all in his stride. He hoped Bodie was doing the same. Glances in that direction put his mind at some rest. His partner was acting the bouncer to the hilt. Checking memberships, questioning everyone who wanted entry or standing at the back of the room with his arms folded across his chest in typical Bodie fashion, looking the hard man. But Doyle was never fooled by the face Bodie showed the world. Yes, he was a hard man, cold, almost, at times, with a deadly sense of humour that mocked himself as much as others. But Doyle knew what was under the surface - the softness , the vulnerability that made up the strange and sometimes complex mixture that was William Bodie. No, his Bodie didn’t fool him one little bit. As the evening progressed he found himself watching his partner more and more, taking in the lines of his body, the way his clothes clung to those lines in just the right places. It was strange, this new found freedom to watch and admire where everyone else was doing the same.
Business at the bar was brisk enough to keep both Doyle and Sid busy but not run off their feet and Doyle had time to keep an eye on every face, check every customer over trying for a clue that would tell him he had found what they were looking for, that someone was out of place, but it was an impossible task, how could you tell in this mix of hybrid humanity who was out of place?
It was near closing time when Doyle glanced up from washing glasses to spot Bodie standing by the door of the clubroom, apparently involved in an altercation with what looked like a half dozen young skinheads, judging by the shaven heads, jeans and tattoos.
“Looks like your friend’s got a bit of trouble.” Sid nudged him, nodding towards the scene at the door.
“Nothing I’m sure he can’t handle,” Doyle responded. But he came out from behind the bar anyway and dodged his way past chairs and standing patrons to come up beside Bodie’s shoulder. Bodie acknowledge his presence with a sideways shift of his eyes but his full attention remained on the skinheads.
“I’ve told you to clear off, now turn around and go back where you came from.”
“You can’t do that, we got our rights, yer hafta let us in.” It was their obvious ringleader who spoke, a tough with a clenched fist tattooed on his neck.
There was a chorus of “Yeah, you tell ‘em, Whitey"s but Bodie ignored them and kept his focus on Whitey.
“I don’t have to do anything,” Bodie spoke with careful enunciation. “This is a members only club, and you’re clearly not a member. And you’re probably under-age.”
“Am not.” The tough was indignant as he dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out a wallet, which he opened and pushed close to Bodie’s face. “See!”
Bodie peered at the offered licence and shook his head. “Exactly as I suspected,” he sighed. “Too young to play with the adults. It’s sad what they let out on the streets these days, isn’t it, Ray?”
“Yeah, that it is,” Ray agreed.
Whitey seemed to register Doyle’s presence for the first time and he looked from one to the other, sudden uncertainty in his face.
“You’re winding me up, you are.”
Bodie finally turned to Doyle, an expression of mock incredulity on his face. “Now, would I do that, Ray?”
“’Course not, Bodie.
He turned back to Whitey, all patience lost. The look on his face made Whitey take a step back.
“I’m going to tell you once more. Clear off before I take that licence off you and shove it up your arse. And take your little friends with you.”
Whitey backed up a few more steps, his followers falling away behind him.
“Didn’t wanna see a bunch of faggots anyway.” Whitey was trying for bravado now.
“No, you wanted to make trouble and it’s not happening. Push off.” Bodie took a step towards the skinheads, forcing them back another step.
“Fuckin’ faggots, all of you. Don’t see if I get you one day, fag,” With this last piece of repetitive bravado Whitey and his cronies piled back down the gangplank, throwing two fingered gestures in their wake.
“Right little charmers,” Doyle pronounced as they vanished into the night.
“Yeah, and erudite with it.”
With the annoying disturbance of the skinhead invasion safely taken care of Doyle turned his attention back to matters at hand.
“Picked up any information yet?”
“Not a dickey bird. I’d lay odds there’s not a diamond smuggler amongst this lot though. What about you, any joy with Sid?”
Doyle shrugged. “Not much better. He’s been on board, literally, since Terry bought the paddle steamer. Billy and Archie have been working here for months. And B.J is Teri’s cousin. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it.”
“Yeah. Thanks for the backup, Sunshine.”
Doyle grinned. “Couldn’t let you have all the fun, could I?”
Bodie’s chuckle followed him as turned back to the bar and Sid, who greeted him with a thumbs up when he arrived.
“Nice work, about time those arseholes got sent off with a flea in their ears.”
“Had trouble with them before have you?”
“They’ve been hanging around for a few days, making a nuisance of themselves. First time they tried coming on board though.”
The bar got busy then, people wanting to get in before last drinks were called so Doyle didn’t have a chance to question Sid any further about the skinheads. He looked for Bodie later, after the club closed and while they cleared the bar, stacked away the chairs and Sid had left, but couldn’t see him anywhere. Lazy sod’s probably in bed already, he thought. But Bodie wasn’t there when he made it to the small cabin, and the last he’d seen of him he was still standing guard by the clubroom door. Still, he was bound to turn up sooner or later, it wasn’t as if he could go very far after all. With that conclusion Doyle slipped out of his clothes and slid into the bunk
Bodie watched as the last of the patrons disembarked and headed off through the gloom of the street lamps. The skinheads who’d tried to enter the club earlier were now standing in a tight group on the embankment near the lane that led to Five Elms Road, smoking and delivering cat calls to anyone who passed their way. The straggling patrons dodged past them in huddled collections, hurrying down the lane, seeking the comparative safety of the more brightly lit main road. Bodie started down the gangplank intending to see the yobs off once and for all.
“Leave it. They’ve been hanging around the last few nights, the cowards won’t do anything but throw insults while they can be seen.”
The voice startled Bodie, which it shouldn’t have. He should have been aware of Teri’s presence but she seemed to have the uncanny knack of creeping up on people. He looked around at where she was standing by the clubroom entrance. She’d changed out of her drag queen costume and was wearing jeans and a flowered tunic top. She looked strangely young and vulnerable in the moonlight.
“Could be trouble. Might be worth calling the cops, get them moved on,” he advised.
Teri looked at him, surprise and scepticism crossing her features. “You really are new around here, aren’t you? We call the police and the only people they’ll move on are my customers. They might even throw a raid of the club in, just for the hell of it.”
Bodie felt like he’d been caught out and to cover his confusion he bent to the task of pulling in and securing the gangplank.
“Here, let me give you a hand with that.” Teri moved to the other side of the gangplank, grabbing hold of the rope and together they pulled in the heavy wooden plank, slid it into its storage position and secured it. When they were finished Teri brushed her hands down her jeans to get rid of the dust and looked Bodie in the eye.
“C’mon, Just Bodie,” she said with a smile. “I’ll buy you a drink, you deserve it. You and your boyfriend have done well this evening.”
She led the way to the aft deck and through the doorway to her private quarters. They were spacious but plain; a lounge suite and television set holding centre position, a small desk and chair against the far wall, a mini bar with two barstools standing in front of the large square window and a curtained alcove that Bodie suspected was the bedroom.
Teri moved behind the bar and drew the curtains across the window then turned to the array of bottles on the bar top. “Scotch?”
“Yes, thanks,” Bodie told her as Teri poured a generous shot into two glasses and handed him one.
“Good work with those yobs,” she said. “You just may have frightened them off permanently.”
“Been a problem, have they?”
“Some. No doubt there’ll be others to take their place.” Teri looked into the depths of her glass before speaking again. “Tell me, Bodie. What’s a man like you doing in a place like this?” She was smiling at the reverse cliché but Bodie knew her question was serious and that she wouldn’t accept anything less than a reasonable explanation so he decided on some half-truths.
“Like Ray told you. We were looking for work and saw the sign. Been drifting around since leaving the military, picking up jobs here and there. It seemed like an opportunity for some steady work.”
Teri nodded. “So, army men, then. What is it about men in a uniform that makes them so attractive?” She smiled when Bodie laughed then carried on. “How long have you and Ray been together?”
Bodie answered almost automatically, “Five years, three months,” then realised how that had sounded and added, “that is, we met up in the army five years and three months ago. Nice set-up you have here,” he continued, needing to move away from the current subject, namely him and Doyle.
Teri glanced around the room. “Yes, my father gave me all this”
“Generous father you’ve got.”
“Oh, it was a very special going away present. When he finally realised that the son he had was actually more of the daughter he didn’t have, or want, then he wanted shot of me, forever. That cost him.”
“That must have hurt.”
Teri shrugged and downed another sip of scotch, then smiled. “It was no more than I expected by then. My father was… is a bigot and a homophobic old bastard. He’s also very rich. He made my life a misery for the hell of it, to toughen me up, he said. I hid my real self from him for most of my life, or maybe it was more that he just wasn’t looking. But when finally he did notice, he didn’t like what he saw. He couldn’t wait to see me off.”
“What gave the game away?” Bodie asked, impressed by Teri’s bland recounting of what must have been a difficult time for her.
“I’m not sure. It could have been the sequins. Or maybe that lamé dress and feather boa I wore to one of his board meetings, the one that was supposed to introduce me as the heir apparent to his shipping empire.”
Bodie laughed, he couldn’t help it and Teri joined him, “You should have seen his face.” She was smiling broadly now. “It was a picture. And the board members didn’t know whether to sympathise or cop a feel.” She shook her head at the memory.
“So he paid you off and sent you on your way.”
“Yes, with instructions never to blight his life again. I took the money, it was part of my supposed inheritance anyway, and found the Queen. I was my father’s greatest disappointment but we did have one thing in common, we both loved the sea and ships. I used to watch the paddle steamers coming into harbour at Hull and dreamed of one day piloting one. I’ll never do that now, but at least I have the next best thing.”
“Some dreams are worth pursing,” Bodie said, whose own dreams had been of freedom, adventure and escape from authority.
“Very true. I’m proud of what I’ve got and I’ll do a lot to hang onto it.”
Bodie thought the words were more than just a statement of fact. A warning perhaps? Or to be taken whichever way Bodie wanted to take them
“So, Bodie. What made you leave the army?”
“This and that,” Bodie was deliberately evasive. It wouldn’t hurt to let her do some guessing too. “Didn’t really suit me in the end. Too much discipline; too many people telling me what to do.”
“You don’t seem to be the type of person to take discipline lying down.” Her wicked grin made Bodie flush. Then he wondered why she had the ability to make him uncomfortable with such an obvious innuendo. “You’re not used to someone like me, are you, Bodie?”
Bodie looked at her and made a decision. “No, I’m not. But I dare say I will get used to you, in time.”
This time she laughed outright, “Honesty. I like that in a man. I think you and I will get along just fine, Bodie.” She drained the last of her scotch and put the glass down on the bar. “But now, it’s late and it’s time to kick you out. Your boyfriend will be wondering where you are.”
“Ray’s a big boy, he can tuck himself into bed,” Bodie told her. But he downed his own drink anyway and put his glass down beside Teri’s empty one. “I’ll check around before I go down though, make sure everything’s quiet.”
“Thanks,” Teri said as she walked with him to the door of the cabin. “Although I don’t expect it will be necessary, I’m sure those troublemakers got the message.”
Bodie didn’t quite have Teri’s confidence but kept the thought to himself as he let himself out, stopping in the doorway for a moment to look at Teri in the dim light of the passageway. Her features were softened by the shadows and he realised just how beautiful she was.
“’Night, Teri,” he said. “Thanks for the drink.”
“You’re welcome, Just Bodie,” she answered and closed the door behind him.
He waited in the passage for a few minutes, watching the light under the door of the cabin until it went out.
It was the early hours of the morning by the time Bodie had walked a quiet tour of the upper deck then stumbled into their shared cabin. A dim brightness coming from the small porthole emitted hardly enough light to see by and only managed to cast grim shadows into the corners of the room. He could just make out the mound in the bunk that was Doyle, already in bed and taking up all the available room in the narrow bunk.
“Trust him,” Bodie muttered, starting to undress, cursing as he cracked his shin against the edge of the bunk while trying to take off a sock. Finally he was naked, now all he had to do was somehow squeeze himself into the bunk beside his partner. He studied the situation. Doyle was lying half on his side but mostly on his back, one arm flung up on the pillow. The moonlight that streamed in through the porthole bathed his face in soft light, accentuating the planes and angles and making the hollow under the misshapen cheekbone seem deeper than it really was. The sheet was tucked at an angle across his body, leaving most of his chest exposed and revealing the dark tangle of hair at its centre. Bodie felt an insane desire to run his fingers through it, but he resisted.
Sighing at the difficulty of the job ahead of him Bodie, perched on the edge of the bunk and lifted the sheet. Bending forward he whispered, “Ray, move over. Let me in.” All he got in response was a snuffle and a snore. Damn, this was going to be harder than he thought. But sleeping on the floor was not an option. He tried again, this time pushing on the slightly raised shoulder as he swung his legs up and onto the bunk. “Come on Ray, move over.” Surprisingly, after a mutter and snort Doyle obliged, turning his body towards the wall. Bodie went with him, his own body sliding in to fit perfectly along Doyle’s back, groin comfortable against rounded buttocks, chin resting in the mass of curls. Doyle sighed and snuffled again. All was quiet. Content, Bodie snuggled in and pulled the sheet over both of them, letting his arm slide over his partner’s waist. He immediately started to drift off into sleep and his hand slipped a little lower of its own volition, his fingers encountering springy curls then soft, flaccid flesh. The feeling was nice and he subconsciously began to stroke.
“Don’t start anything you can’t finish.” The voice was drowsy but firm.
Bodie sighed and moved his hand back to Ray’s stomach. “And why, exactly, can we neither start nor finish?”
Ray shuffled slightly in Bodie’s arms, the movement causing a friction Bodie didn’t want, not if he were being denied relief. “One, because we’re actually on duty and we’ve agreed there would be no congress, which means hanky-panky to the ignorant, while we’re on the job.”
“Spoken like a true copper. This job is a little different though, you have to admit that.”
“Which brings me to reason number two. Sharpen your ears up, Sunshine. Do you want to give Billy any more reason for those smirks and innuendo? Not to mention what he’d say to Cowley if we end up having to bring them in.”
Bodie groaned. The sounds coming from the next cabin were clear, if innocuous. Snorts, sniffles and low voices. Billy and Archie appeared to be quietly arguing about the night’s performance. The acoustics were remarkable.
“Dunno, mate. This lot just don’t seem to be your regular illegal diamond smuggler material,” he said, making sure to keep his voice low and his lips near his partner’s ear.
Doyle wriggled again, managing somehow to turn himself around in the narrow bunk until they were lying face to face.
“Maybe not, or maybe Teri’s found another way of financing the club. Must have cost her a bit to set this up in the first place. Must take a bit to keep it running.” He stopped and sniffed. “You’ve been drinking!” he accused.
“I cannot tell a lie. Some fine malt scotch, compliments of mine host and our current employer.”
“Oh, hobnobbing with the boss now, are we?”
“Yes, invited in for a nightcap I was, special privileges.”
Doyle eyed him speculatively, “And?”
“It seems that not only are Sir Joshua and Teri estranged, he actually gave her a good price to get out of his life forever, enough for her to buy the Riverboat Queen anyway.”
“Ouch! That’s harsh. So, how come Teri is suddenly showering you with family secrets?”
“Well, you know me. Handsome, irresistible...”
“And engagingly modest,” Doyle finished for him. “Yeah, you keep telling me that and one day I’ll actually believe it.”
Bodie gave his partner a short, sharp dig in the ribs, then moved his legs out of the way so that Doyle’s retaliatory kick completely missed his shin.
“She’s quite something though, paid the old man back in his own coin, really thumbed her nose at him.”
“That’s exactly what Sid said about her, that she’s quite something. I think he’s in love with her.” Doyle looked Bodie in the eyes. “Hey, I’m not losing you to a sexy transvestite, am I?”
“’Course not. Why should I go for a luscious brunette who looks great in a dress when I’ve got a snarly, hairy butch like you?”
That earned him another kick that connected this time but Bodie repaid him with a quick kiss.
“Had the feeling she was sussing me out as much as I was trying the same thing on her. I think she may have scored more points than me though.”
Doyle propped himself up, trying to peer into Bodie’s eyes. “She’s really getting to you, isn’t she? Think she’s suspicious?”
“That note says she at least knew that Jamieson was up to something. And the chances are she knows where the girl is, has her stashed somewhere. By now she probably knows all about the diamonds. I don’t just think she’s suspicious, I know she is. Oh, and you’re ex-military, not ex-police, if the subject ever comes up.”
“Coming down in the world, am I?”
Bodie dug him in the ribs again but Doyle didn’t even bother trying to retaliate.
“Something else is bothering you. C’mon, what is it?”
“Those skinheads this evening. They’re building up to something, they were still out there at closing, harassing the customers. Teri won’t call the police though, said it would just get them into more trouble. What gives?”
“She’s right. Homosexuality’s legal but only in very restricted circumstances.” Doyle wriggled again until he had both hands free, then ticked off each point on his fingers as he was making it. “Both parties have to be over twenty one, not in the armed forces, and get themselves into a self-contained hotel room, house or apartment with nobody else present in the building. So, gays can be arrested for 'importuning for an immoral purpose' anywhere considered to be a public venue. The police are just as likely to raid the club, hoping to catch the punters at it, which would be illegal and can look good on an arrest record. Chasing after the skinheads is unproductive, unless they actually break the law, which they haven’t.”
Bodie thought about that for a while. “So public homophobia is legal but public homosexuality isn’t.”
“Yeah, something like that,” Doyle whispered against Bodie’s neck. “Us here, being in bed together like this is technically illegal.”
“Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb then,” Bodie said, adjusting his hold on Doyle’s waist and rolling, pulling the slim body underneath him until they were chest to chest, stomach to stomach, their cocks hardening against each other.
“Bodie! What the …?”
“Shh! Remember our listeners.” Bodie nudged his nose into the lush curls at Doyle’s neck, then sucked gently on the exposed skin, feeling Doyle shudder underneath him.
“I’m not the one forgetting!” Doyle whispered hoarsely. “They’ll hear us!”
“Then I’ll just have to think of a way to keep us quiet, won’t I,” he retaliated, covering Doyle’s mouth with his own, stifling the sounds his partner was making. Doyle opened to him almost instantly, his lips warm and soft as they always were. Bodie loved kissing Doyle, feeling the pliancy of his lips, the way his tongue would slide against his own and the way he sometimes tasted of coffee or toast and jam but always the rich essence of Doyle.
He pushed deeper into the kiss, taking everything Doyle could give him and giving back everything he had. When he’d finished with Doyle’s mouth he lifted his head slightly and attacked his neck again, cutting off his lover’s moans by the simple method of placing his hand over his mouth. Doyle’s tongue came out immediately, licking at his palm as his hands slid down Bodie’s back and found his arse, squeezing and rubbing, probing, forcing Bodie to push his mouth harder against Doyle’s neck to stop his own moans from escaping into the now silent air.
They moved together, as one within their own universe, cocks slipping and sliding against each other and breathed their cries into each other’s mouths until finally they exploded, as always, together.
Panting, sated and trying to control his harsh breathing Bodie collapsed for a moment on his partner before rolling onto his side to take his weight off Doyle, and landed with a resounding crash on the floor.
He lay there for a moment, stunned, unable to understand what had happened.
There were sounds of shuffling from the next cabin then a shouted “Quiet in there! People are trying to sleep!”
A curly head appeared over the edge of the bunk “Bodie! What the bleedin’ hell are you doing down there?” came the loud whisper.
“What do you think I’m doing, playing tiddlywinks? Fell out of the friggin’ bunk didn’t I? Banged me bleedin’ head too.”
The light shining through the porthole was just strong enough to illuminate Doyle’s face and he could see the sod was grinning, confirmed by a stifled giggle. Then a hand appeared and he grabbed it as Doyle hauled him up and onto the bunk again.
“Pillock,” Doyle said affectionately as Bodie rolled in on top of him again. So Bodie gave him a hard kiss, then shuffled over slightly but kept his arm wrapped around his mate. If he was going on the floor again, Doyle was coming with him.
Doyle settled with his head on Bodie’s chest, his hair tickling Bodie’s nose. It wasn’t long before the snuffles and snores came. Bodie lay awake for a while, thinking and enjoying the warmth of his lover’s body against his own. Then he let the sound of Doyle’s soft snores and the water lapping at the side of the boat lull him into sleep.
Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis,
Pumped a lot of pain down in New Orleans,
But I never saw the good side of the city,
'Til I hitched a ride on a river boat queen.
Big wheel keep on turnin',
Proud Mary keep on burnin',
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river.
Sunlight shafting across his face woke Bodie the next morning. He was lying in the middle of the bunk and there seemed to be no one sharing it with him. He blinked and double checked. No, definitely no Doyle. How the heck had the wormy arsed bugger managed to crawl out of the bunk without waking him.
He lay there for a moment, wondering where his partner had got to and what time it was but his watch was on the desk on the far side of the cabin and it suddenly seemed too much effort to get out of bed and look. Judging by the angle of the sun he guessed it must be late morning. He closed his eyes again but the sun prodded at his eyelids, setting up little motes of darkness and light against his retina.
Stifling a moan he gave up and threw the covers aside and sat up on the edge of the bunk, scratching at the sticky flakes that clung to his belly, a reminder of their activities last night, and that made him smile. Doyle’s clothes made an untidy heap on the floor, his own discarded wardrobe resting near them. Slipping off the bunk he checked his watch and was surprised to discover it was after midday. Grabbing a towel from the rack next to the washbasin and wrapping it around his waist he opened the door and stuck his head out. All was quiet. Further investigation revealed that the bathroom was empty and he sneaked in quickly, dodging his way through a line of drying tights and other distinctly feminine undergarments to reach the shower cubicle.
Showered, shaved, dressed he followed the tantalising aromas that were emanating from the main deck, hoping he’d find his elusive partner on the way. He found both the source of the wonderful smells and Doyle, with B.J next to him, in the galley. They were both at the stove.
“’Bout time!” Doyle said, waving a whisk in his direction. “Knew the smell of food would bring you out of your pit.” He turned back to the eggs he was scrambling. “These are just about done, how’s the sausages coming on, B.J?”
“They’re done.” The boy was dressed as usual; jeans and a loose shirt, baseball cap in place. He was poking a spatula at a half dozen or so sausages sizzling in a pan. For once he was smiling, mainly at Doyle.
“I don’t have to ask if you’re hungry, do I?” Doyle directed the question at Bodie.
Bodie grinned at him. “I’m starving, all that for me?”
“Not likely, mate. Here, make yourself useful.” Doyle shoved the platter of bacon and fried tomatoes and mushrooms he’d just retrieved from the warming drawer into Bodie’s hands then picked up his own platter of scrambled eggs, checked that B.J was ready then led the way out of the galley.
They were out on the aft deck, Teri and Archie sitting at one of the table and bench sets nearest the clubroom entrance, drinking coffee and reading magazines. A brightly coloured umbrella had been fastened to the table, offering some shade from the sun. Billy was stretched out on an inflatable mattress next to the deck railings, sunbathing in a pair of skin tight shorts and floppy sleeved crop top that didn’t quite meet the top of the shorts. A broad brimmed, flower bedecked straw hat that covered his face completed the ensemble.
“Grub’s up.” Doyle shouted as he and B.J set their platters down on the middle set of tables.
“He cooks as well!” Teri said, collecting a plate from the stack already set out on the table. “This one is definitely a keeper, Bodie,”
“And he’s definitely being kept, going by the noises coming from their cabin last night,” Archie sniggered, filling his plate with food.
Bodie’s eyes widened slightly and he could feel the blush steeling up his cheeks which he tried to hide by ducking his head to find a place for his own platter of food. Doyle, damn him, hadn’t batted an eyelid.
Billy lifted the hat off his face, blinked into the sunshine and looked towards the group at the food table. “Well,” he drawled, “that was before a certain someone came down to earth with a thud. Never mind, Bodie, when Ray dumps you on the floor again, there’s always me.”
They were all smiling now and even Ray seemed amused by the conversation, Bodie not so much. But he smiled as well, as charmingly as he knew how, and wrapped an arm around Doyle’s waist, bringing him close against his chest. “Thanks for the offer, Billy, but I think I’ll just hang onto him for now and risk the dumping.”
He felt Doyle stiffen imperceptibly for a second before leaning back into the embrace. Billy watched the manoeuvre with sharp eyes, as did Teri. So Bodie added to the moment by pushing his nose into the curls at Doyle’s neck.
“Sorry, Billy,” Doyle said, smiling and looking a challenge at the young man. “He’s all mine.”
Billy pulled a face, got to his feet and pretending to ignore the general laughter at his expense, began helping himself to sausages and eggs.
Bodie planted a kiss on Doyle’s head, just to seal the matter, then let go of him and started heaping his own plate with sausage, bacon, egg. Doyle shook his head and carefully selected a small portion of bacon, some egg and the tomato. They settled down at a bench by the railing on the other side of the deck, giving them some space from the others and a view of the Thames and the power station towers.
“You’ve changed your tune, haven’t you?” Doyle queried, keeping his voice low as he buttered some bread.
Bodie pulled a face. “Give the people what they want,” he said, then continued with a grin. “Besides, it’s got Billy off my back, hasn’t it?”
“For now,” Doyle conceded. “Don’t think he’s the type to stay down for long.”
“Then I could end up decking the annoying little sod.”
But the annoying little sod had decided to leave them alone for the moment, seeming to prefer to argue with Archie and B.J over a trip to the cinema. They could hear the three of them bicker, their conversation drifting on the breeze.
“I’m not going to the cinema with you if you’re going to go wearing that!” B.J, indignant.
“What’s wrong with it?” Billy, even more indignant.
“You look like a Piccadilly rent boy, that’s what’s wrong with it,” from Archie.
Doyle grinned at him. “Punching out the help isn’t going to get you brownie points with the new boss, now is it?”
“No, but it would involve a certain amount of personal satisfaction.” Bodie frowned at his empty plate and speared the last piece of bacon on Doyle’s. Doyle let him.
“Speaking of bosses, think it’s time to give Uncle George a call, don’t you?”
“Yes, I’m sure he’s missing us. It’s time we let him know how we’re getting on.”
Doyle slipped away in the late afternoon, long after the three boys had left for the cinema and while Teri was ensconced in the pilothouse office with Sid, apparently discussing the next week’s drag acts. Bodie stayed behind, catching the last rays of the sun on the forward deck and the activity that was going on in the pilothouse, not that much was happening there beyond phone calls and conversation. He’d have given a lot to be a fly on the wall.
After a while Sid came down from the bridge with two bottles of lager in his hand and, sitting down beside Bodie, handed one to him.
“Hear you’re ex-army,” he said conversationally.
“Yeah, para’s,” Bodie told him, seeing no harm in supplying the information. “Did some time in the Merchant Navy before that.”
Sid’s eyes light up at the common interest. “Served in the Merchants during the war,” he said “Got my captains papers after and went on to the paddle steamers in the estuary. My dad was a fisherman, was at sea all my life until they took the Queen out of service. Been with her for ten years when her boilers packed in.”
“Ray told me she was towed here from Hull.”
“Yeah. Must have cost Teri a pretty penny too, but she was determined to have the Queen, or Juno as she was then. Was glad Teri asked me to help out, couldn’t leave her on her own with strangers.”
Bodie wasn’t sure if he meant Teri or the Queen, both seemed to be of equal importance in the man’s life.
“Been working on the boilers off and on, reckon I can get them going too. There’s still life in the old girl yet. Having trouble with the engine though, can’t seem to stop the leaks.”
“Could be the bushes gone, or the O rings, and they’re a bugger to get to when they go.”
“Aye, you’re right there. Had half the darn thing stripped down and still couldn’t get at them.”
The discussion on boilers and turbine engines continued for some time until, fresh lagers in hand, they adjourned to the engine room, Bodie considering it safe to leave Teri on her own and unobserved in the pilothouse, sure in the certainty she wouldn’t be leaving it any time soon.
Doyle skirted around the edges of the warehouse buildings fronting onto Tideway Walk and the pier then down one of the lanes that led to Nine Elms Lane, which in turn ran on to Battersea Park Road. He finally found a phone box not far from the Dogs' Home and put a call through to HQ. When Cowley answered he gave him the list of crew members for The Riverboat Queen.
“Sorry, Sir,” he finished. “No last names. The boy, B.J, is apparently Bradley’s cousin and Billy and Archie have a drag act under the name of The Pointless Sisters, that might help identify them. Sid told me he was captain of The Riverboat Queen when she was still the Juno. He doesn’t live on board either, it might be worth checking where he does live and set up a watch.”
“Good, I’ll get Susan onto it,” Cowley told him, then reported on his own findings. “It appears that the Jamiesons suffered a family tragedy some twelve months ago. The family home in Brighton was burnt to the ground and both Mr and Mrs Jamieson died in the fire. Roberta was not home at the time and Andrew, of course, no longer lived there. Roberta went to live with her brother in London after the tragedy and then they both moved to Long Ditton three months ago. Andrew Jamieson had a good record with the airline he worked for and, up to now, appears not to have been involved in any illegal activities.”
“Well, the fire explains why there wasn’t much in the way of personal items in the house when we searched it. But not why Andrew decided to go in for diamond smuggling.”
“We may never have the answer to that question,” Cowley sounded disgruntled. Doyle knew how much he disliked missing pieces of a puzzle. “You’re sure Bradley hasn’t left the boat at any time?”
“Positive, there’s no way she could leave without us at least hearing her.”
“All right then, keep Bradley in your sights, she will have to lead us to the girl sooner or later.”
“Yes, Sir. Any word on the identity of the shooters?”
“No, not yet. But the licence plate for the vehicle involved has been traced to Tony Reynolds.”
“The guy who ended up dead on Jamieson’s lawn?”
“Yes. The vehicle itself was found at Reynolds’ house. His wife claims to know nothing about his activities or who he was with on the night of the shooting. We’re looking into his known associates now.”
“Right, Bodie and I’ll just keep hanging in here, then,” he sighed.
“Yes, carry on as you are. You’ll be contacted tomorrow night.”
He hung up the phone and headed back towards the pier, stopping on the way at a chippy; Bodie was bound to be hungry again by now. By the time he got back he discovered his partner and Sid happily elbow deep in engine oil and lagers discussing the intricacies of replacing O rings. Both seemed happy as pigs in shit.
Dusk had fallen and Billy, Archie and B.J hadn’t returned from their cinema outing. Bodie and Doyle were playing a game of snap that Doyle was winning. Teri and Sid were again in the pilothouse, although every so often Teri would venture down to find out if the boys had come back. Bodie could tell she was getting anxious.
It was the cries and angry shouts that alerted them to the fact that something was wrong, very wrong. But it was the high pitched scream that galvanised them into action and gave Teri confirmation of her worst fears as she hurried down the pilothouse steps.
“That’s B.J. Something’s happening out there.”
Bodie was already moving, heading to the paddle steamer’s railing. Doyle, inches from his back, swung round to shout, “Stay there,” as Teri and Sid made towards where the gangplank lay.
Using his hands to propel himself, Bodie vaulted the rail and landed with a steady thump on the solid ground of the embankment, Doyle landing next to him. They took off at a run down the walkway, turning into a narrow cut between the estate buildings, the shouts and screams louder now as they were drawing closer to the source. They found what they were looking for in the deserted car park at the end of the cut.
Billy, Archie and B.J were all there; so were the skinheads of the previous evening B.J stood a little to the side, his hands to his mouth. He was crying, the tears spilling down his face. Archie struggled in the grip of one of the skinheads, being held back from the group that were crowded around Billy. Two of the skinheads were holding Billy’s arms forcing him down to the ground while a third was in front grabbing at his legs; they were all grinning. Whitey stood before the tableaux, advancing with intent, his hands at his belt. There was a bright red mark on the side of Billy’s terrified face and his lip was bleeding. He was repeating over and over, “No, no please, don’t.”
“C’mon you little faggot, let’s give you what you want, see how you like it from a real man.” Whitey took another step forward, pulling at his trousers. Archie, still struggling and kicking uselessly, screamed out, “Leave him alone you fuckin’ moron. Get away from him.”
Whitey spared a moment to turn on Archie and hit him across the face. “You’re next, homo, so shut the fuck up.”
They didn’t waste any time talking. Bodie took on Whitey, pulling him around and slamming his fist into the leering face before the man had a chance to realise what had hit him, then he hit him again for good measure. Doyle’s kick to the one holding Billy’s legs landed squarely on the man’s nose and the scream that accompanied the crack of breaking cartilage was loud and satisfying. Blood spurted and he went down clutching his face.
Using the advantage of distraction, Archie twisted out of his assailant’s grip and planted a solid kick to his shin. The assailant’s shriek joined the screams of broken-nose as he hopped on one leg, gripping the wounded shin in both hands. B.J, in the meantime, threw himself onto the back of one of the two remaining skinheads, gripping with his knees and hitting him around the head with his fists. The man dropped Billy’s arm and swung round, trying to dislodge his unwanted passenger – straight into Doyle’s fist. He went down without a sound.
Then there was only one skinhead left standing and Bodie advanced on him, ready to take him out but he backed up a step, hands held up in surrender, shaking his head. Bodie dropped his fist and stepped back.
They looked around at the carnage. It had taken seconds. Whitey was still unconscious, lying on the car park tarmac like a pathetic broken doll, his arms and legs out flung, his penis poking through the unzipped trousers. Broken-nose was sitting, huddled on the ground, the blood pouring down his face. The one Archie had kicked sat next to him, still moaning and holding onto his shin. Doyle looked a question at Archie, who grinned.
“Steel capped boots,” he said. Doyle grinned back, the man would be lucky not to have a broken shin, at the very least he would be well bruised. The last skinhead Doyle had taken out was stirring, starting to rise. He didn’t look as if he would be causing any trouble.
Doyle turned his attention to the only undamaged skinhead. “Right, zip him up” he said, pointing to Whitey “And get him and the rest of this garbage out of here.”
The skinhead glared at him, sullen and confused, as if his pet dog had turned on him and bitten him, but did as he was told, helping his friends up then, leaning over Whitey, hastily adjusted his clothes before hauling him to his feet.
“Don’t bother coming back,” Doyle told them as the skinheads retreated into the darkening night, dragging a now groaning Whitey between them. “Next time we’ll get serious.”
Once they were out of sight Doyle turned back to where Bodie was now crouching over Billy, who had slid to the ground and curled into a foetal position, shuddering and retching. B.J and Archie were next to them, anxious, unsure what to do.
“It’s okay, Billy. It’s over.” Bodie’s voice was gentle as he reached out a hand and touched Billy’s shoulder. Billy shuddered again then turned and clutched on to Bodie’s shirt, his face streaked with tears.
“I was so scared. They were going to…” He didn’t finish, just put his head into Bodie’s chest and sobbed. With a helpless look at Doyle, Bodie gathered the weeping form into his arms as B.J and Archie touched and patted with shaking hands, trying to bring some comfort.
Then Teri and Sid were there, Sid holding a baseball bat, murder on his face, Teri taking in the scene in front of her, expressions of relief at finding them whole and fear of what might have happened flicking across her features, before running to Billy’s side. He had quietened by then, his crying reduced to hiccuping gasps and together they helped him shakily to his feet.
“What happened?” Teri asked, although from her expression she plainly guessed at least part of it.
“Whitey and his gang, that’s what happened. I told you they were trouble,” Bodie was ready to rage against the obvious idiocy of underestimating an enemy as feral as the skinhead gang, but Doyle shook his head and Bodie subsided.
“They were waiting for us, they were going to hurt Billy … and us.” B.J was sheet white and trembling almost as much as Billy. Teri put a comforting arm around his shoulders.
“If it hadn’t been for Ray and Bodie they would have succeeded too,” Archie told them, describing quickly what had happened, how the gang had come out of one of the side alleyways between the buildings and what had started as catcalls quickly escalated into something much worse when Billy gave back as good as he got.
“Never can keep his mouth shut,” Archie finished, giving his friend an affectionate hug. Billy started crying again.
“Always are too talkative aren’t you, son?” Sid’s face was full of compassion. “Didn’t deserve this though. Come on, let’s get you home.” He slid his arm around Billy’s waist and started walking him back towards the paddle steamer. Teri, Archie and B.J kept pace, making a tight huddle around Billy, a shield against the world.
Bodie followed them at a short distance, Doyle close beside him. “The poor little bugger didn’t deserve it. What a bloody mess. Think they’ll be back?”
“Dunno, maybe. Didn’t think we’d have a gang of skinheads to deal with though, could really cock things up.”
“Too true. What we need is a plan, you got one?”
Bodie sighed. “Guess we’ll just have to wing it then.”
Doyle grinned. “Don’t we always?”
The plan, as such, was simple. But the players wouldn’t play.
“So, you won’t call in the police, have them charged?” Bodie tried the argument again, not expecting a result. They were in the clubroom, Billy leaning back on the couch in one of the booths, clutching an icepack to his swollen and bruised cheek while B.J fed him medicinal brandy and Archie alternated patting his hand with refilling the icepack. He didn’t look annoying any more, just sad and vulnerable.
Bodie, Doyle, Teri and Sid were in a huddle at the bar, also partaking of medicinal spirits, only theirs was fine malt scotch, the best in the house.
Teri was adamant. “No, I won’t. There were no witnesses and there’s no profit in it. The cops will probably think Whitey and his gang were doing the ratepayers of Wandsworth a favour, clearing the streets of queers.”
“But they were going to rape Billy. And they had the same planned for Archie and B.J as well. At least you could get them charged with assault.” Doyle tried being reasonable.
Teri smiled. “I think the police would consider the assault more on our side, judging by the damage you two did.” She took another swallow of the scotch. “Look, I’m grateful for what you did, more than grateful. But the best we can do now is leave it. After the thumping you gave them they’ll steer clear.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Bodie told her. “Arseholes like that don’t learn, they’re too stupid or too ignorant.”
“Bodie’s right,” Doyle said. “That kind don’t give up easily. They were given a pasting but that doesn’t mean they won’t come back for more, you need to protect yourselves.”
“How do we protect ourselves, Ray? You of all people should know that the only sure method of protection for people like us is to stay locked away, hidden, let the world pretend we don’t exist. I don’t intend doing that.”
“But you won’t call the authorities.”
“What good would it do? Believe me, I know. And in any case, I don’t want the police around here.”
Sid, who had been quiet up to now suddenly proved an unexpected ally. “Maybe the lads have a point, Teri. Maybe the police should be involved, in everything.”
Teri looked at him, the expression in her eyes unreadable but there was a softness there. “No. I know you’re concerned about us, Sid. But I’ve made up my mind. No police.”
“I am concerned, Teri. I don’t want to see you, or any of the boys, hurt. Just think about it, will you? Think about letting the police know what’s happened.”
Bodie watched the play of emotions slide across her face, watched as she looked away from Sid and over to the three lads on the couch and wondered if there was more to their conversation than was obvious on the surface. Finally Teri brought her attention back to them.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll give it some consideration.” Then her smile encompassed Bodie and Doyle. “But I don’t think those skinheads will come back. Our knights in shining armour have seen them off”
“Some knights.” Doyle muttered but he was smiling back at her. Sid reached over and patted her hand. Bodie just worried that she was completely wrong.
“There’s blood on your hand,” Doyle said as they made their way to the lower deck after everyone else had retired - Archie leading a still silent Billy by the hand, B.J trailing along behind - and Sid had returned to his own flat, wherever that was. Teri had refused his offer to stay on board for the night, pointing out they had adequate protection in the form of their new barman slash bouncer, a statement that Doyle found facetious in the extreme, but Teri had won out, of course.
“Must’ve caught my knuckle on Whitey’s teeth,” Bodie mused, picking at the bits of dried blood marring the skin of his knuckles.
Doyle took hold of the wounded appendage and examined it critically before dragging Bodie past the dressing room and into the bathroom. “Better get it cleaned up, don’t want you catching anything nasty.”
Bodie grinned. “Whitey does bear a striking resemblance to a rabid dog,” he said.
“Did you know that the human mouth contains as much bacteria as a dog’s? Catching rabies is probably the least of your worries,” Doyle said as he held Bodie’s hand over the sink and turned on the taps, letting the water wash over fingers and knuckles. Carefully and very gently Doyle rinsed away the dried blood. Then, turning the taps off, he grabbed a towel from the nearby rack and just as gently dried off Bodie’s hand, working the cloth over the now clean scrapes. He studied the hand carefully as he worked, turning it this way and that until everything was clean and shipshape.
“Satisfied?” Bodie queried, his eyes full of amusement, and something else that sent a slight shiver of desire down Doyle’s spine.
“Nearly,” he replied. The fight with Whitey and his gang and the knowledge that Teri was probably right about the uselessness of appealing for legal justice had left a bad taste, made him feel fouled, dirty and now he wanted to wash away the nastiness if he could. “Fancy a shower?” He didn’t wait for an answer but began stripping off his jeans and t-shirt. In seconds he was naked and reaching for the shower taps, the sound of the straining pipes and spurting water momentarily drowning out Bodie’s protested “Ray!”
He slipped under the spray as it settled into a warmish steady stream letting the water sluice down the front of his body and ease away the tension of the night before turning so that his back got the same attention. Bodie hadn’t moved. His expression was bemused now, his eyes wandering the length of his partner’s body making that shiver wriggle its way down Doyle’s back again, so he winked and held out his hand. It took Bodie about a second to make up his mind and begin to strip off.
“You’re crazy, you know that?” he said as he slid out of his black cords, jacket and shirt already crumpled on the floor. “What if we’re caught in here together?”
Doyle shrugged. “It’s only you and me still up and I need to get clean.”
Bodie nodded as he slipped into the shower cubicle and closed the curtain around them. It was close in the confined area, starting to get steamy, and there was no space between them. Doyle manoeuvred around slightly trying to give Bodie a bit more room but the curtain caught his back, clinging and cold like an unwanted lover, forcing him forward with a gasp, onto his warm and wanted partner. Bodie grinned again and grabbed for the soap. They lathered and soaped each other clean and let the water run through their hair and over their faces until Doyle’s curls were tendrils and Bodie’s hair was plastered flat to his head.
It was when they had finished and were dripping onto the bathroom floor they realised they had nothing to dry themselves with, the towel Doyle had used on Bodie’s hand a short time ago too tiny a scrap to make any impression on their wet bodies.
“Put our clothes on and get them sopping or run for it?” Bodie asked.
“Run for it,” Doyle decided, opening the door with a rush and haring down the passage like a greyhound, clothes clutched to his chest, leaving wet footprints on the deck, Bodie one step behind. They were both breathless when they tumbled through the door of their cabin, Doyle throwing his clothes on the floor as soon as they were inside, then leaning back against the wall, to give vent to his urgent need to giggle. Bodie’s laugh added harmony. Their giggling fit lasted only a few seconds before Doyle realised that Bodie had stopped and was staring at him, his eyes dark, the damp lashes looking even longer and blacker than usual.
“Make love to me?” Bodie’s question was a surprise, although perhaps it shouldn’t have been. They were alone in a cocoon of privacy all their own but the walls were flimsy and those same walls had ears perhaps sharper than Cowley’s.
“Why?” his own question was out before he thought about it, the “why” being more of why, when you know we’re probably being listened to and that seems to worry you more than it does me.
Bodie read him as easily as he always did. “Because I want you, need you inside me,” he told him, his mouth close to Doyle’s ear. “And I’ll be very quiet while you’re doing it.”
Doyle smiled. “Of course you will,” he said, pulling Bodie to him and sliding his hands through the short wet hair before tipping his head forward and capturing Bodie’s mouth with his own, playing with the warm lips, taking his time to decide what way of kissing them felt the best. When he was finished he pulled back and pushed gently, the space between wall and bunk small enough that Bodie only had to back up a step or two to come up against the bed. Doyle was right with him, lowering him down onto the mattress then covering the long body with his own, delivering kisses to forehead, rough stubbled jaw and finally that sensuous mouth again. When he was sure Bodie was almost inarticulate, incapable of anything other than short moans and gasps, he did what his lover had asked him so nicely to do and made love to him, hands moving in delicate strokes over limbs and musculature, lips exploring again the curves and hollows he knew so well. This was theirs: their time to be themselves, to love shut off from a world around them that might object, and it was precious so they would make the most of it and maybe he could make Bodie forget his inhibitions and insecurities.
Carefully he worked his way down Bodie’s torso with his mouth, licking and sucking at the moisture that still clung to the soft skin, sweeping his tongue and teeth over the erect nipples, then pushing Bodie’s thighs apart to reach into the creases where hip and groin joined before moving further down to the cleft between his cheeks. Finally, when Bodie was a suitable writhing mess beneath him he moved to the hard, weeping cock, intending to finish off his handiwork but he was halted in his progress by Bodie’s voice, soft and needy but determined. “No. Fuck me.”
Doyle looked up at him. His partner was flushed and sweaty, his arm pressed against his mouth, being used as a gag.
That wouldn’t do, not at all. He pulled up and settled himself between Bodie’s legs so they were groin to groin. Bodie’s moan was stifled as their cocks met but the next one came out clearer when Doyle forcibly removed Bodie’s arm from his mouth only to become muffled again when Doyle kissed him. The moans grew louder though, and unfettered, a few minutes later when Doyle was looking into his partner’s eyes as he moved deep inside him, his still damp stomach sliding along Bodie’s cock with every thrust, causing a delicious friction. But by then Bodie didn’t seem to care.
There was no entertainment in the club the next evening. No live entertainment that was. But there was a disco. Flashing coloured lights and two go go dancers in the form of Billy and Archie in skimpy shorts and spangled tops gyrating at opposite ends of the stage to the taped music. Billy seemed to have recovered from his ordeal of the day before but he was still subdued, the bruise on his cheek a vivid reminder of what had happened and what might have been.
Doyle was on the bar again and Bodie patrolled, acting bouncer to the hilt in black trousers and black roll neck jumper, Doyle thought he enjoyed the role perhaps a little too much. He looked good though. Which seemed to be the general consensus amongst the clientèle, judging by the number of admiring looks he got and gropes he seemed to have become expert at dodging.
Murphy showed up at around 11.00. Doyle didn’t notice him at first, busy as he was with a sudden rush of customers while Sid was on a break. It was only after the bar had cleared that he saw the tall figure dressed all in leather standing in the shadows at the far edge and even then he didn’t recognise him.
“What can I get you, pet?” he asked, clearing away empty glasses and giving the bar a wipe with a damp cloth.
“Whatever you’ve got, sweetheart,” was the response and Doyle did a double take.
“Murphy?” he asked, trying to peer under the peak of the biker hat pulled down over the man’s eyes. He looked like one of the Village People.
“As ever was. You play the part very well, Doyle.”
Doyle gave Murphy a slow, provocative wink and dropped his voice to a low husky drawl. “So do you, darlin’.”
Murphy laughed. “Uncle George sent me,” he said. “Told me the ambiance here was not to be missed. I think he was right.”
“Uncle George is always right,” Doyle told him with certainty. “What’ll you have, Sunshine?”
“Give me one of those pretty little drinks, the one with the umbrella in it.”
“Certainly, Sir.” Doyle set about putting the drink together and slid it over the bar to Murphy. “That’ll be 80p”
Murphy looked askance at the drink “80p. Bloody hell. For that little thing, that’s highway robbery!”
Doyle didn’t say anything, just held his hand out for the money and, still grumbling, Murphy dug deep into the pocket of his tight leather trousers and handed it over.
“How is the old codger anyway?” Doyle asked after he’d added Murphy’s change to the cash register.
“Uncle George? Fighting fit, as usual, but missing you two. Asked in particular how things were getting on, made me promise to give him a full report.”
Doyle shrugged. “Nothing new since last time I spoke to him. Well nothing he’d be interested in anyway.”
Murphy nodded. “Thought as much. He’s found out that our friend, Andrew…,” he paused. “You remember Andy don’t you?” then continued on Doyle’s nod. “...and a certain lady who's not a lady went to the same school together.” He paused again for dramatic effect. “What’s more, his name happens to also be on the deeds for a certain vessel, namely the Riverboat Queen.”
“Isn’t it just? And, the stones Andrew was so fond of definitely have their origin in the Dark Continent.”
“We expected that, didn’t we?”
“Yes, but it’s nice to have confirmation.” Murphy tried to take a sip from his glass while dodging the little umbrella; he didn’t seem to succeed so Doyle reached over and removed the offending object, dumping it in a convenient ashtray. “Thanks,” Murphy told him, ignoring his grin. “There’s something else. Ever heard of Jamil Abdulla?”
Doyle shook his head.
“Born in Sierra Leone of an African mother, Lebanese father,” Murphy recited in a low monotone. “Believed to be the financier behind many of the gangs of illicit diamond diggers operating in the country. He has since become a key advisor to President Stevens in the control of the nationalised diamond mines. It is also believed he is responsible for the smuggling of Sierra Leone diamonds through Liberia, although we can’t prove it of course.”
“So?” Doyle questioned.
Murphy dropped the official file quotation tone he’d been using. “So, it seems Mr Abdulla arrived in London from Freetown two days ago. Co-incidence? I think not, neither does Uncle George.”
“He’s our man then?”
“More than likely. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to trace him since his arrival. But we’re on it.”
Doyle hoped so. The more he thought about this Jamil Abdulla though, the less he considered that Teri and the crew would be in any way involved, there just didn’t seem to be any connection between them. He’d wait for his own break and give this latest information to Bodie. At least now they would both have something else other than a wayward teenage girl to keep their eyes open for.
Murphy finished off his drink and stood, ready to leave. “I’ll tell Uncle George that things are status quo then shall I?”
“Yeah, starting to wonder if we’re not on a wild goose chase.” Doyle was thoughtful for a moment. “Murph, can you do me a favour?”
Murphy sat down again and looked at him steadily, suspicion obvious. “So long as it’s nothing to do with nefarious schemes that will cause me any disruption with our favourite uncle,” he said.
Doyle grinned. “Nah, would I?” Ignoring Murphy’s continued look of scepticism he carried on. “There’s a gang of local skinheads about. Gang’s leader goes by the name of Whitey. Seeing as he’s got dark hair his last name’s probably White. Shouldn’t be too hard to find.”
“And what do you want me to do once I’ve found him, and them?”
“Nothing too drastic. A forceful word in their ears about changing their wicked ways should do it. Maybe point out the advantages of keeping their distance from certain entertainment venues.
“Giving you trouble, are they?”
Doyle nodded. “Some. They need seeing off before they cause any real problems.”
“Consider it done.” Murphy drained the last of his drink and set the cocktail glass back on the table.
“Thanks, mate. Give my love to Uncle George when you see him.”
“That I will,” Murphy told him then leant over the bar and pursed his lips. “Give us a kiss before I go, Sweetheart.”
“Piss off,” Doyle told him amiably. Murphy grinned and was gone, weaving his way through the crowd of dancers.
Finally the night was done. It was closing time, the disco lights turned off, the music stilled, the lights in the clubroom turned down low, the gangplank drawn up after Sid had followed the last of the customers from the boat. Perhaps that’s why they were caught unawares, lulled by the stillness and quiet of the earliest morning hours. Afterwards Bodie thought they should have anticipated the attack when it happened and judging by Doyle’s expression he thought so too. But as it was they were totally unprepared.
Billy was the first to see him - the ugly, pock-faced man in the doorway of the clubroom, holding an even uglier pistol in his hand, its snub-nosed roundness pointing straight at them. He let out a shriek and dropped the tray of empty glasses he was holding, causing the others to swing around to find out what the commotion was about and what had caused the look of horror on his face. The man stepped further into the room his pistol steady and trained on them. Doyle made a movement towards him but Bodie quickly laid his hand on his arm, stilling him. Terri and Archie had been clearing off around the booths but now stood frozen to the spot, the same horror etched on their faces as on Billy’s
“Good evening.” Giving lie to the prize fighter face and looming bulk, his voice was smooth and cultured, his accent slight but unmistakable. He glanced around the room, noting the position of everyone there. His gaze slipped over Archie and Billy but lingered on Bodie and then Doyle, as if assessing a potential threat, then he focussed on Teri but his words were addressed to the room in general. “I won’t detain you good people very long. I believe you have some … articles that belong to me. If you would kindly hand them over I will be on my way.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Get off my boat before I call the police.” Teri had found her voice. It was a little shaky but determined.
“Oh, I don’t think you’ll do that, my dear. You’re hardly in a position to make any demands.” His voice suddenly became hasher, more menacing. “Tell me where the girl and the diamonds are and I’ll forget you and your friends' involvement in all this.”
“What girl?” Doyle took a step forward, deflecting attention away from Teri. Bodie edged a little nearer as well but they both stopped as the gun was turned in their direction.
“Don’t be stupid. Stay where you are,” the man said, sparing them a glance but then fixing his attention back on Teri. “Mr - or should I say Miss? - Bradley knows exactly who I mean, don’t you?”
Teri shook her head but said nothing. “I’ll remind you then, shall I?” he continued. “Roberta Jamieson, sister of the late Andrew Jamieson, your associate, the one who reneged on a deal we had about some diamonds. Roberta seems to have vanished, along with my goods."
“I don’t know where Roberta is. I haven’t seen her for months and I certainly don’t know anything about any diamonds, so get off my boat.”
Bodie was measuring the distance, it wasn’t that far, maybe worth the risk, there was only one of them after all, and one gun. He cursed their own missing weapons, locked in a suitcase buried under rucksacks in a wardrobe that might as well have been on the other side of the moon instead of in the cabin under their feet. He risked a sideways glance. Doyle was staring straight ahead, concentrating on the scene between the man with the gun and Teri, but a slight tightening around his mouth told Bodie he was ready. He tensed, then backed down as their opportunity disappeared when a second man entered via the galley.
He was as menacing as the first and with the same method of persuasion in his hand, only his pistol was pointed at B.J’s. temple and his arm was firmly around his neck as he dragged the boy into the clubroom.
“Found this one back there, Jamil,” the man said, indicating the galley area. “It’s just this bunch of fairies on board, no one else.”
Bodie exchanged a look with Doyle. It seemed Cowley had been right and the crime boss they were seeking was Jamil Abdulla. The knowledge wasn’t much comfort at the moment.
“You’re sure?” Abdulla hadn’t moved but all the attention was now directed at the new arrival.
The man nodded. Keeping his grip on B.J and his gun to his head, he was grinning. “Positive. Should see all the stuff down below, it’s like a whore’s bedroom. The only thing we need to fear from this lot is a powder puff on the loose.”
The boy had lost his baseball cap and blond hair stood up in tufts and peaks, his fringe falling forward over his forehead. He was clearly terrified, his eyes wide and trained on Teri, pleading. Teri looked back at him with the same look of terror in her own eyes.
Bodie felt the palpable connection between the two, saw something in the boy’s face, something he’d somehow missed before and then it all clicked and fell into place in his head. But there was no time for further speculation as the ugly man spoke again.
“All I want is my merchandise,” he repeated. “Tell me where the girl is.”
“I’ve told you already,” Teri was pleading now. “I don’t know anything about any diamonds or where Roberta is.”
“Oh, I think you do,” he sneered. “But I’ve got no time or patience for games.” He switched his attention back to the man holding B.J. “Rafik, take the boy to the van,” he ordered.
“What are you going to do with him?” Teri was desperate now.
“Don’t worry, he won’t be hurt, so long as you co-operate,” the ugly man assured her, his voice suave. “You have two hours to get the girl and the diamonds. Do that, and the boy will be returned. If you don’t, then the poor lad might just come by an accident.”
B.J’s captor began to back towards the clubroom doorway, dragging B.J with him, his gun now held lower, no longer pointing at the boy’s head. Teri made as if to intervene as they passed but was stopped by Archie, who grabbed at her, restraining her. Everyone’s attention was concentrated on B.J and the man called Rafik; even Abdulla followed their progress. And that slight loss of concentration on them was all Bodie needed to make his move, Doyle right with him.
He went for Abdulla, Doyle for Rafik, both moving fast and in concert. Neither of them counted on the presence of the third man, the one who had come from the galley just seconds before on soft-soled shoes that were silent even on the wooden floor. The first Bodie knew of it was when he felt the blow to the back of his head. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was Doyle on his knees, Abdulla’s gun held against his temple.
When Bodie came to his senses seconds, minutes, hours later, he had no way of knowing, it was to find himself on the floor, propped on Billy’s lap while Billy stroked his forehead. Teri was leaning over him, her face swimming disconcertingly in and out of focus. There was no sign of Doyle or B.J.
“They took them, Bodie. They took B.J and Ray.” Billy was shaking, Bodie could feel the tremors that ran through the slim body.
He squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them again, trying to regain focus, trying to work out what the hell had happened.
“Who hit me?” he asked.
“The friggin’ big giant who walked in from the galley,” Billy said. “His hands were like meat platters. That’s what he used by the way – his fist.”
Bodie grimaced, a giant was all they needed, but at least Billy was sounding a little less freaked out. “How long?”
This time Teri answered. “A few minutes ago. You weren’t out of it for long. The boss, whoever he is, left with a warning about what would happen to them if I don’t produce the diamonds they want, with or without Roberta. He’s sending one of his men back in two hours. If I give him what they want B.J and Ray will be released. If not ...” She left the rest unsaid. “What are we going to do?”
“Get them back of course. And the boss is Jamil Abdulla, not the sort of person you need for an enemy,” Bodie said, starting to struggle up, ignoring Teri’s look of concern and Billy’s light restraint on his shoulder. Teri shrugged and helped him. His head felt muzzy and his stomach roiled but he made it to his feet without throwing up or passing out again, which was a plus. Now all he had to do was get his gun and find Ray and B.J. Simple really, three armed gunmen weren’t insurmountable odds after all – if he could stay standing that was, and if he could find them. Shit his head was spinning, but the thought of B.J jogged a memory.
“And, yes, about B.J,” he looked Teri in the eye. “He, she is Roberta Jamieson, isn’t she?” Teri’s nod was a mere confirmation of what was now certain knowledge. He noticed that Billy hadn’t batted an eyelid. “And you know about Ray and me, don’t you?” Again the nod, and again no reaction from Billy, except for a slight lifting at the corner of his mouth. It seemed he and Ray had been had, good and proper, but all he could think to say was, “Why?”
“It was the best way I could think of hiding her. Right out in the open.” Teri looked away, biting her lip, guilt on her face. “Now they have her and they don’t even know it.”
It was only a partial answer but it would have to do for now. “Do you have what they want?” Bodie asked.
“No, I don’t. I have no idea where Roberta hid these diamonds those men want, she didn’t even tell me she had them.”
There were a thousand things that could -- should have been said, a thousand questions that needed to be answered but there was no time, not if he was going to get them back. That was when he realised someone else was missing.
“He followed them,” Billy explained, then hurried on when he saw the expression on Bodie’s face. “He waited until they were off the boat and out of sight.”
“Shit, that’s all I need! The idiot will get himself killed.” Bodie exploded, ready to tear a strip off someone, anyone. But there was no need as Archie, flushed and out of breath, barrelled in through the clubroom doorway.
“They’re at the power station, I watched them going in,” he panted, then added when he noticed the expression on Bodie’s face, “Don’t worry, they didn’t see me.”
Bodie didn’t waste any more time. It took him seconds to hurry down to the lower deck and a few seconds more to retrieve the suitcase from the bottom of the wardrobe. He didn’t realise that Billy had followed him until he heard the gasp from behind him as he opened the hidden compartment of the suitcase.
“You really are police,” he said.
“Not quite,” Bodie told him, checking both his and Doyle’s pistols before slipping on his holster and sliding the Magnum in place. “CI5, subtle difference.”
He pushed Doyle’s Walther into the waistband at the back of his trousers, pocketed spare clips and was out the door again before Billy had time to blink.
“Are we going to go after them?” Billy was hard on his heels.
That made Bodie pause. “I’m going after them, you’re staying here.”
Billy looked like he was going to argue but Bodie didn’t give him time, hurrying back to the clubroom instead. He had one more thing to do before he went to find his partner. Scrabbling around behind the bar he came up with what he wanted. Teri, Billy and Archie were all watching him wide eyed. Grabbing Teri’s arm he used the pen he’d found to write a number on the back of her hand.
“Call this number,” he told her. “Speak to George Cowley. Tell him everything that’s happened. Tell him I’m going after them and need backup. You got that?”
Teri looked down at the writing scrawled across her hand then looked up at Bodie and nodded. Bodie studied her for a moment, trying to assess if her reluctance to have anything to do with lawful authority would get in the say of her obeying his instructions but her gaze was steady. Satisfied, he dropped her hand.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get them back,” he told her. “Stay here, wait for Cowley.”
“Be careful,” Billy muttered as he headed for the door.
Bodie grinned at him. “I always am, Sunshine.”
It didn’t take him long to hurry down the walkway that ran along the river edge and past the warehouses and businesses of the industrial estate to the wall separating the estate from the power station. It was a high wall but he didn’t want to waste time searching for an opening somewhere or an easier access point so he jumped, and managed to grab a hold on the top then use the toes of his shoes to gain a purchase and scrabble up and over. It wasn’t elegant, and he scraped his ribs, but it worked.
When he dropped to the other side the station towered over him, its huge white chimney stacks reaching up into the night sky, the brown brick building beneath dark and brooding, its large square windows glinting with reflected light from the spotlights surrounding the building. A low thrum could be heard coming from Station B, the only part of the complex now still in operation, and a steady plume of steam rose from the roof of the boiler rooms. The scene had its own macabre fascination, the building cathedral-like and the rising steam and darkness giving it an almost Dante-esque appearance.
Shrugging off the sudden shiver of apprehension that slithered down his spine Bodie set off in search of his quarry.
The third gunman was a surprise, an unpleasant surprise who had taken his partner out almost before Doyle realised what was happening. Then he was down too, tripped by the ugly man because he’d been distracted, and the barrel of the man’s gun was at his temple and the man’s face was full of rage. Time stopped and Doyle closed his eyes waiting for the bullet that he was sure the man would release. But nothing happened and when Doyle opened his eyes again the man had dropped the barrel of the pistol slightly and was studying him objectively, his face now controlled and neutral.
“I told you not to be stupid,” he said, then carried on, his tone thoughtful. “I should just shoot the two of you but maybe you’ll be more useful alive, for now.” He turned to the man who had struck Bodie. “Solomon, help Rafik with the boy and take this one too.”
Solomon pulled Doyle to his feet and both he and Rafik began to jostle him and B.J to the clubroom door. Doyle chanced a look back as they were pushed out onto the deck. Bodie was beginning to stir and Doyle felt relief wash over him, then they were forced over the boat railing and onto the pier.
It was dark and gloomy outside with a mist swirling up from the river, giving everything a sad and melancholy look. Even the lights from the distant street lamps only added to the atmosphere, so dim was the light they shed. There was a half-moon shining, adding fitful brightness when it wasn’t obscured by the passing clouds.
“Keep moving,” Rafik told them, indicating they should proceed along the embankment. Doyle sized up his options. The two gunmen were holding their pistols steady, aimed directly at him and B.J Even if they were unarmed he doubted he could take the two of them on, Rafik alone was a possibility but Solomon was another matter. The man was huge, his body a wide, solid bulk that matched his long, broad face, and he was silent. Not a word had escaped the rubbery lips so far and none did now. It made him seem all the more formidable.
Wisdom won out and Doyle did as he was told, keeping as close to B.J as he could, offering himself as a bulwark between the boy and the gunmen as they were prodded down the walkway and then through a lane to the car park where Billy had been attacked the night before.
The car parked there was a Rover. Solomon opened the rear door for them then climbed in after, the pistol in his ham-like fist looking oddly like a child’s toy. Rafik took the driver’s seat. The fit was tight, with B.J in the middle and Doyle wedged into the back corner but they didn’t have long to wait before Abdulla had caught up with them and taken the front passenger seat. Rafik took off with an unnecessary squeal of tires and scattering of gravel. The journey was a short one. After a few twists and turns down the back streets of Tideway industrial estate they were driving through the open gateway of the Battersea Power Station.
Rafik negotiated his way through the deserted grounds, past the disused coal towers and empty, derelict outbuildings, dodging abandoned equipment that littered the grounds, heading for the south side of the station. He pulled to a stop beside a watchman’s hut set between the railway tracks of the Brighton main line and the power station. Light from the station’s spotlights and from those of the nearby gasworks tower cast an unearthly glow across the grounds, throwing ghostly shadows
Doyle didn’t see who it was that yanked open the door and hauled him out of the car before planting a fist in his face, not until he was flat on the ground and Whitey was kicking him and screaming out his rage.
“Told you I’d get you, you fucking bastard! You and your mate.”
A kick landed in his belly and Doyle tried to roll away raising his arms instinctively as another kick was aimed at his head.
“Stop!” The barked command from Abdulla was sharp and clear in the night air, but Whitey’s rage would not be contained and he lashed out again, catching Doyle a glancing blow on the arm as he rolled, ending up by the corner of the hut. Then Solomon stepped in, grabbing Whitey by the scruff of the neck and dangling him in mid-air for a moment before tossing him at Abdulla’s feet. For the moment Doyle was forgotten as all attention was focussed on Whitey and Abdulla. He lay still, assessing the damage. His ribs hurt where Whitey had landed a solid kick and his jaw was a little sore but that was all, he’d managed to dodge most of the blows. B.J was still in the Rover, staring at him wide-eyed. Doyle motioned to him and he nodded, getting out of the vehicle and hurrying over. Rafik saw the movement but ignored it, concentrating on the far more interesting confrontation between his boss and the skinhead instead.
“We are not here for your personal vendetta, Mr White,” Abdulla was telling the skinhead as he struggled to his feet.
“That’s one of the bastards what did this!” Whitey roared, pointing to the black eye and bruised cheek that added bright colour to his pale features.
“Vengeance can wait for later. Right now I need these two so you will do exactly as I tell you.”
“I could get into a lot of trouble if anyone found out I’d let you in here, you know.” Whitey’s defiance had abated a little but his voice had a distinct whine.
“You are being well paid for your assistance and your information. Do not push me, Mr White.”
Whitey glared for a moment throwing a venomous glance at Doyle, who was halfway to his feet, being helped by B.J, but backed down in the face of Abdulla’s ire and the man’s pistol pointed at him. That was when the gunshot shattered the back window of the Rover.
The effect was instantaneous, the racketeers scattered for cover beside the Rover, bobbing up to attempt a return of fire but the darkness outside their circle of light made them uncertain as to where the shot had come from.
Doyle seized the moment and ducked to the side of the hut, pulling B.J with him before risking a look around the corner. He was in time to see Bodie rise up from behind the lowest of a row of shipping containers no more than twenty yards away and with a fierce yell begin firing. Then he was running, dragging B.J by the arm, relying on his partner’s cover fire to see them to relative safety.
Whitey had seen them run and screamed a warning, but it was too late and they were behind the cover of Bodie’s shipping containers.
Bodie kept up the steady rapid firing until Doyle and B.J had tumbled down beside him. Then he ran out of ammunition. He ducked back down as the opposition took the opportunity to return fire, the bullets kicking up dirt and sending splinters of wood flying from the top of the container. But the shooting was sporadic, as if the gunmen were still uncertain of the line of fire and Abdulla’s voice could be heard shouting questions at his cronies. Pulling Doyle’s Walther from his belt Bodie tossed it to him before starting to reload his Magnum. There was a moment of eerie silence as the shooting abruptly ceased. They sat with their backs against the crate, checking their weapons.
“Took your time getting here, didn’t you?” Doyle said with a grin.
“Came as fast as I could, Sunshine. Had to arrange a call to Father first didn’t I? 'Sides, didn’t want to get in too early and spoil your fun,” Bodie responded, relieved at seeing his partner in one piece.
“I hope Father doesn’t waste any time getting here!” Doyle half stood, fired a couple of quick shots in the direction of the hut and the car before sitting down again. “Keep ‘em honest,” he said with a wink.
B.J sat between them, breathing in quick gasps. Bodie looked at her for a moment. She looked small and scared, her hair spiked and sticking up all over and he wondered how upset she’d been at having to cut it like that.
Then he spoke to her, trying to keep his voice gentle. “Roberta, listen to me.” The girl looked at him in surprise, a surprise that was momentarily echoed in Doyle’s widened eyes.
“You know?” the girl whispered.
“Yes, but that doesn’t matter now. I’m going to tell you what you have to do and I want you to promise me you’ll do it, without question.”
Bodie’s look silenced her and he carried on. “In a couple of seconds Ray and I are going to start shooting.” He spared a glance at his partner and Doyle nodded. “When we do I want you to run like hell, use the cover of the coal tower. Get back to the Queen. You got that?”
She nodded but looked like she was going to say something. Bodie didn’t give her a chance, standing and firing in one fluid motion; Doyle joined him then looked down at B.J, still firing.
“Run, B.J. Run,” he shouted.
With a last despairing look at Bodie and Doyle B.J obeyed, making for the coal tower, a flash of colour disappearing into the darkness.
“The kid’s getting away.”
Bodie thought it was Rafik who shouted but he wasn’t sure.
“Leave him for now, get the other two.” Abdulla’s voice was unmistakable.
The exchange of gunfire continued and Bodie wondered how it was that no one seemed to be hearing it but then he realised that the industrial area surrounding them might as well be a wasteland and whoever was in the still working station B of the power station stood very little chance of hearing gunshots through the thick walls and over the noise of the turbo generators and boilers.
They were on their own.
The girl ran, the echo of her previous flight not so very long ago a terrible reminder of the violence and loss that had started this horrible nightmare. But she ran as hard and as fast as she could. She ran to one corner of the coal tower and dodged behind then kept on running, past old and rusting equipment, jumping over discarded boxes, slipping on the oil and water soaked ground. The fear was pouring out of her in waves but this time it wasn’t just fear for herself that haunted her, this time it was for the two men who had been kind, had saved them before and were now fighting for their lives, and hers and it was all her fault. And all the time she could hear the gunfire, the rapid exchanges that echoed in the otherwise still night air.
She was sobbing as she reached the wall. She knew where there was an easy exit point, a box set handily up against the concrete wall that she could use as a stepping stone to the top and then it was a simple matter of dropping down on the other side. She’d done it before when she and the boys had explored the station, in the days when Andy was alive and staying on the Queen was like a holiday. The box was still there and she was over the wall in seconds. Reaching the muddy edges of the river she made her way along the walkway to Nine Elms pier. Finally it was there, the lights of the Riverboat Queen. Teri was there too, with the boys and Sid waiting on the pier beside the boat, their faces anxious. She fell into Teri’s arms gasping out what had happened.
They kept firing, sending a fusillade of bullets into and around the Rover, smashing another window and pockmarking the bodywork of the vehicle but they couldn’t keep it up for long before they would run out of ammo. And Abdulla had marshalled his forces now, they were returning fire with more certainty, the huge bulk of Solomon presenting itself from the other side of the watchman’s hut. Bodie took a shot at him but he moved just in time and the bullet whizzed harmlessly over his head. Abdulla himself, along with Whitey, had taken refuge behind the Rover, bobbing up to fire before ducking down again. Worryingly, there was no sign of Rafik.
“We’ll have to move, we’re too exposed out here.” Bodie was reloading again.
Doyle nodded in agreement, continuing to shoot. “Any suggestions?”
Bodie glanced towards the empty ground between them and the power station, and the bronze doors that led inside. “Always wanted a look inside that monster.”
“Thought you might say that,” Doyle muttered. “You going to play tour guide?”
“If you insist.” He clicked the ammunition clip into place and stood. “Don’t hang around here too long, Sunshine. Place isn’t good for the health.”
“You just make sure you get that door open, mate.” Doyle told him with a sardonic, chip-toothed grin.
Bodie, the grin imprinted like an indelible seal on his mind, hurried to the end of the row of containers. Doyle was still firing, albeit more judiciously now, but enough to keep the gunmen occupied. He waited a second, until the sound of the return gunfire was at its height, then he ran, sprinting for the door, praying that it wasn’t locked or too stiff to move or so old and rusted like everything else in this deserted industrial graveyard that it screeched its protest at being disturbed to the world. But it didn’t do any of those, instead it opened easily to his touch, swinging inwards with barely a whisper of sound.
He slipped into the shadowed depths then turned at the threshold to give his partner cover and Doyle was there, running, not more than a foot away. Rafik was there too, materialising out of the dark at Doyle’s back, his gun raised. He must have circled around the watchman’s hut and come in behind them. Bodie shouted a warning, his own gun raised and ready but he had to sidestep to fire past Doyle and the delay was fatal. Rafik’s shot rang out first, Bodie’s a close second, and he could see the shot was off, hitting the target but Rafik only staggered, the bullet crazing his arm. Doyle didn’t stagger, but he jerked in a way Bodie didn’t like then stumbled across the threshold as Bodie slammed the door shut, causing Rafik’s hastily fired bullets to thud uselessly into its solid bulk. There was a key in the door and he turned it. A locked door wouldn’t hold them off forever but it gave them breathing space.
They were in an entrance hall, a single dull light high on the ceiling showing up the extravagant marble floor and elaborate wood features on walls and doors and the rubbish and rubble that lay strewn everywhere. But Bodie wasn’t looking at the former luxury of the surroundings or evidence of previous glory, he was beside his partner, grabbing hold of him as Doyle leant with one arm against the wall of the entrance hall trying to keep his feet, his face ashen, his gun held loosely by his side. There was blood on his shirt.
“Ray, you okay, mate?” Bodie asked, seeking reassurance but knowing there was none.
“Been better,” Doyle managed to gasp, leaning into Bodie in a horribly boneless way. Bodie gathered him in, holding onto him for a moment before taking the gun from the slack fingers and guiding him gently to the cold floor, propping him against the wall, then kneeling beside him. Doyle sighed and closed his eyes and Bodie’s heart skipped a beat. But he opened them again.
“’m tired, Bodie. Cold.”
“Yeah, I know, Sunshine. Just hang on for a bit. Okay?” Bodie’s hands were busy; checking the pulse beat – too slow, sliding around Doyle’s back, coming away blood-stained, the bullet having gone right through, leaving him with an entry wound low at his back and an exit wound just under his ribs and to the side at the front. Then he was looking around for a towel to staunch the flow, but finding nothing in this rubbish strewn room – and the déjà vu hitting, making him reel. He’d done this before, watched as Doyle’s blood spread across the floor and his eyelids flickered … closing, so close to never opening again. No, no not again, it couldn’t be happening again.
“Ray, hold on. You hear me!” Bodie shouted, suddenly desperate
“Not deaf,” Doyle’s voice was weak but his eyes fluttered open again and remained so and he looked at his partner. “Don’t worry, not leaving you either … daft sod.”
“Better not.” Bodie’s voice was breaking in relief at both the jibe and reassurance. He tore at his own shirt, ripping off a couple of strips. He folded them into pads, pressing one against the wound on Doyle’s side. He tore another strip off his shirt and applied that to Doyle’s back, then undid his belt and pulled it off, using it to wrap around Doyle’s torso and hold the two makeshift dressings in place. Doyle was sweating and shivering and choked back a scream by biting hard at his lip as Bodie tightened the belt. Bodie blanched and loosened it off a bit, then took his jacket off and wrapped that around him too, hoping to ward off the chill, make his lover warm again.
“Love ya, Bodie.” It was almost a whisper, a breath of air against Bodie’s check as he tucked the jacket in around Doyle’s shoulders.
“I know, Sunshine. So do I.”
“Conceited prick.” Doyle’s soft laugh turned into a gasp and a cough.
“Meant I love you too.” Bodie’s voice was affronted, but his eyes were tender as he brushed the damp curls from Doyle’s forehead.
“’ad to say it, just in case … you know.”
“Not listening, Doyle. You’ll just have to tell me all over again when we’re out of here, deal?”
Doyle didn’t answer, just smiled a little as his eyes closed again.
It was silent now in the room; the noises at the bronze door that Bodie had heard before, the thumping and voices, were gone but he knew Abdulla and his men were still out there. Bodie looked around, assessing the wrought iron spiral staircase opposite the main door, the lift next to it. There was another door at the far end that he assumed led out onto the turbine and boiler houses.
He considered the situation. There were two possibilities. They could wait it out here, hope that Teri had, indeed, called Cowley and maybe backup would arrive in time to save their skins and in time to stop Doyle bleeding to death. Or he could take matters into his own hands to get them the hell out of here and Doyle the help he needed now, not in the maybe.
He reached up to cup Doyle’s cheek. “Ray, listen. I’ll have to leave you for a bit, okay?”
Doyle’s eyes opened in understanding and he nodded. “Careful,” he whispered. “’member the deal.”
“I will, Sunshine.” He leant forward and kissed Doyle on the forehead. “Guaranteed.”
Doyle nodded again. “Gun?”
Bodie picked Doyle’s Walther from the floor where he’d left it and curled Doyle’s fingers around the butt. When he felt Doyle’s grip tighten he gently lowered the hand into his lap, kissed him again, then rose and headed for the bronze door, his own gun held ready. He didn’t look back.
The key turned noiselessly in the lock. He stood with his back against the wall and taking a deep breath eased the door open a crack, peering cautiously out. It was lighter outside now, the rising sun chasing away the darkness. He could see Solomon standing about 100 feet away with his back to the door, his attention seemingly distracted by the figure advancing steadily towards him. It took Bodie a moment to realise the figure was Sid and he was advancing on the giant with military precision, holding a British Army issue Lee-Enfield rifle in his hands.
Things happened very quickly after that. The shotgun blast was loud in the quiet morning air as Sid didn’t give Solomon time to raise his own weapon but fired at him from the hip. Solomon screamed and went down, clutching at his stomach. At the same time Bodie tore the door open, searching frantically for the location of the other gunmen before they found Sid. But he was too late, Teri, Archie and Billy had beaten him to it. Abdulla was cornered up against one of the shipping containers he and Doyle had taken refuge behind, looking desperately from left to right, seeking escape from Teri and Archie, who had surrounded him both brandishing a plank of wood. He was clutching his wrist; his gun lay on the ground in front of him.
In the meantime Billy seemed to have purloined Sid’s baseball bat and was heading at Whitey. Someone had given the skinhead a gun, but he didn’t seem to know how to use it, or maybe the safety catch was on because he was pulling uselessly at the trigger but nothing was happening. Billy’s grin was stretched across his face, feral and slightly manic.
“Bunch of fairies are we? Just a load of queers!” he screamed, bringing the wood down on Whitey’s arm with a crack that made Bodie wince. “We’ll see about that, won’t we?”
“Billy,” Bodie shouted. “Don’t kill him!”
“Why not?” Billy seemed to think it was a reasonable question as he raised the baseball bat again.
“Because I said so!”
The bat dropped to Billy’s side as he gave Bodie a disappointed look. Whitey didn’t notice, he was too busy writhing on the ground, again. Abdulla had decided discretion was the better part of valour and had raised his arms in surrender, still clutching his broken wrist.
Shit, where was Rafik? Bodie swung around, looking for the missing gunman, but he was nowhere in sight. Shit, shit, shit, Ray!
Then he was hurrying back to where he’d left the man who mattered most to him in the world. Rafik was standing at the open door leading to the turbine house, his gun raised and levelled at Doyle, who was to slowly trying to lift his arm, point the gun he was holding.
Rafik spun as Bodie’s bullet took him and Bodie knew he wouldn’t be getting up again. Doyle was always telling him he needed to use lower calibre bullets. Right now he was glad he never listened.
Time stood still for a moment, before Bodie realised that Doyle’s eyes had closed again and that he was slumped, fallen sideways now so he was mostly on the floor. It took Bodie a second to reach him, to kneel beside him and ease him up and into his arms, to cradle him gently. His face was wet, he could feel it, feel the tears that streaked his cheeks and dripped from his chin onto Ray’s face, only to become red-tinged as they hit the blood on his partner’s mouth and slid away.
Teri was kneeling too, touching Ray’s face and feeling at his neck. Bodie wanted to scream at her, tell her to go away and leave them alone… in peace. But the only sound coming from his throat was a low, inarticulate moan.
She spoke then, low insistent, reaching out to touch his face as she had touched Ray’s. “Bodie, Bodie, listen to me. He’s alive. He’ll be okay, you have to believe that. All right?” Her eyes held his, compelling him to acceptance. He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded, holding his lover a little tighter, a little closer.
She patted his cheek, “Good boy,” she said and rose, shouting something to Billy and Archie who were hovering anxiously in the doorway. Their voices faded and there was a blessed silence for a few minutes until the siren wail of the ambulance.
Then there were hands pulling him away. He resisted, until he head the calming voice of his boss. “Och now lad, let them do their work.” He let go, but not before he whispered into Ray’s ear about deals and holding on because he loved him. Then he watched the sure, efficient hands that assessed and administered and after that there was the long ride to the hospital, willing his partner to keep breathing. It wasn’t until much later that he wondered how much Cowley had seen and heard in those brief seconds, but by then he didn’t really care anyway.
If you come down to the river,
Bet you gonna find some people who live.
You don't have to worry 'cause you have no money,
People on the river are happy to give.
Big wheel keep on turnin',
Proud Mary keep on burnin',
Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river.
Writer: John Fogerty, 1968
He didn’t want to be at CI5 headquarters, he wanted to be at the hospital, waiting for Doyle to come out of surgery. But Cowley had insisted.
“There’s nothing you can do for him here, man,” Cowley had told him as he paced the waiting room. “And I have one dead suspect, another one in this same hospital with gunshot wounds to the stomach and two others at headquarters, one with a broken arm. As well as a lot of unanswered questions.”
So here Bodie was, in this airless interrogation room with its single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, leaning against the damp wall while Whitey, his broken arm in a plaster cast and sling, threw him frightened looks and whined his story out to Murphy. He’d been hired by Abdulla not to intimidate or attack, no that had been his own idea entirely, but to watch the Riverboat Queen and report on that bunch of fuckin’ queers. Which was when Murphy had been forced to back Bodie up against the wall to stop him taking a swipe at the skinhead.
Whitey knew nothing of any importance, that was obvious, and Bodie resented his enforced inactivity when he needed to be somewhere else - even if it was amusing to throw ferocious scowls at the skinhead and watch him quiver. So when the phone on the wall rang he was almost grateful to hear Cowley’s voice and his command to “Come to my office, now.”
Teri and B.J were already there when he arrived, both sitting across from his boss, but their attention immediately riveted on him when he entered.
“Ray?” Teri said, her eyes worried, questioning.
Bodie shook his head. “No word,” he said.
B.J was frowning, biting on her lip. She was still wearing jeans and a t-shirt but seemed to have permanently lost the baseball cap and had made an effort to tame the wild hair into something resembling a short bob. At the moment she was wilting under the sharp gaze of George Cowley. Teri, on the other hand, was giving off her own sharp gaze. Bodie idly wondered who would be the winner in that potential confrontation.
“I’m sorry, Bodie. It’s all my fault.” B.J was sobbing now, the words tumbling out through hiccupping breaths. “They killed my brother. They were coming to the house and they had guns. Andy had one too, didn’t know he had it. He shot one of them and he told me to run, then they were inside and they shot him. So I ran. Ray told me run too and they shot him.” Teri slipped an arm around the girl’s shoulders and hugged her as she looked at Bodie through her tears. “I’m so sorry, Bodie,” she repeated.
Bodie was at a loss, knowing his “It’s okay, B.J” was inadequate. Doyle would know what to do, what to say, he was much better at things like this than he was. But Doyle wasn’t here and he didn’t know what words to use to comfort her in the face of her anguish when he felt no comfort in his own anguish. It was Cowley who came to his rescue
“It’s no one’s fault, Miss Jamieson … B.J,” he said gently. “Ray was doing his job, the job he’d been assigned to do by me. You did the right thing to run, in both cases. And you were able to lead me and my men to where Bodie and Ray were. Now we need to make sure that the people who killed your brother and injured Ray are put where they belong.”
B.J nodded and swiped at her tears.
When he was sure he had their attention again, Cowley continued. “Bodie has given me his report. And I’m satisfied that neither you nor any members of the Riverboat Queen crew had any involvement in the diamond smuggling. However, all this might have been resolved earlier, if Miss Bradley had seen fit to contact the authorities.” Teri bristled at the words and glared at Cowley, but remained silent. B.J looked like she was going to say something but changed her mind.
“What’s happening with Abdulla and Solomon?” Bodie asked.
Cowley frowned. “Solomon is expected to recover fully from his wounds. Abdulla is claiming both self-defence in the death of Andrew Jamieson and diplomatic immunity.”
“He’s not!” Bodie was incredulous.
“Mr Abdulla has informed us he is in the country on a diplomatic mission on behalf of President Stevens,” Cowley told him. “We need to tie him in with the diamonds to disprove that.” He turned to B.J again. “B.J where are the diamonds your brother had?”
B.J looked at him in confusion. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know anything about the diamonds. When those men came I was upstairs. It was late but I had a test the next day so I was studying. I heard glass breaking. At first I thought Andy had dropped something, then there was this loud bang and shouting. I looked out my window and saw a big black car parked in our driveway so I went downstairs to see who it was and Andy was there in the lounge, he had a gun and something else in his hand … a small bag. He just shoved the bag in my hand and shouted for me to run. So I did, I ran down the passage to the kitchen back door.” She stopped for a moment, her face haunted. “I - I looked back and I saw those men come in and - and they shot him. One of them saw me, he started coming down the passage but I ran out the back and climbed over the fence. Then I just kept running.”
“What did you do with the bag Andy gave you?” Bodie asked.
She shrugged. “I threw it away. It’s what they wanted though, isn’t it? These diamonds everyone keeps talking about? They were in it weren’t they? That’s what they killed Andy for?”
Bodie nodded. B.J just looked infinitely sad.
“Do you remember where you threw it, Miss Jamieson? Could you take us there?” Cowley asked her.
She considered for a moment. “Yes, I think so. The bag was sort of thin and lumpy, I think it had a hole in it and whatever was inside. was digging into my hand. So when I got to the end of the street I threw it in some bushes. I’m sure I know which ones because I thought I’d go back and find it again when it was safe.”
Cowley looked satisfied. “Right, Bodie, you can take Miss Jamieson. to the site, see if you can find the bag.”
“No.” The refusal flat and non-negotiable. “Susan or Murphy can do it. I’m going back to the hospital to be with Ray. It’s where I need to be right now.”
Cowley studied him for moment. “Aye, that’s true enough,” he said. “I’ll accompany Miss Jamieson. Contact me the minute you have any news about Doyle’s condition.”
“Yes, Sir,” Bodie agreed, wondering again just how much Cowley knew or suspected about him and Doyle, how much he’d put together in that triple-think mind of his. No doubt they would find out soon enough and if it meant they were out of CI5 for good then so be it, so long as he had Doyle with him.
He was just about to the door when Teri laid a hand on his arm.
“Do you mind if I come with you, keep you company?” she said.
Bodie hesitated for a moment then glanced across at Cowley and B.J Cowley was non-committal but B.J smiled and nodded.
“No, I don’t mind,” he told her.
The waiting room was silent and empty. No anxious relatives waiting for news of loved ones, no bustling nurses or orderlies – just Bodie and Teri sitting on the hard backed chairs sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups, making conversation when they wanted or being quiet when it was too difficult to say anything. Bodie was glad she was there, it made the waiting just that bit easier.
“You knew all the time we were CI5, didn’t you?” he asked after a particularly long but easy silence.
“CI5? No, but I suspected something like that. We had that sign up for months, then suddenly two very butch and very capable guys show up practically begging for the job. Bit too much of a co-incidence.”
“So why did you give us the job? Have us live in?”
“There’s that saying, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’. I thought it appropriate at the time.”
“We weren’t the enemy.”
“No, you weren’t,” she agreed. “But I didn’t know that then. Andy was dead and suddenly everyone was after B.J. I had to keep her safe, for him.”
“Did you love Andy?” Bodie was curious now, about what had prompted such a loyalty in Teri
“Love? What’s love, Bodie? Yes, I loved him. He was my confidante, my protector from the school yard bullies and my refuge when things got too hard to endure. It was very easy to love Andy. We were never lovers though. He was a straight boy.” She grinned at him. “Straighter than you and Ray.”
Bodie laughed a little at that. It was so easy to be natural with Teri, be unconcerned about not-so-well-kept secrets.
“You know about the fire? About Andy and B.J’s parents?” she continued. Bodie nodded. “They lost everything in that fire, not just their parents but their lives as well and Andy was left with a teenage girl to take care of. It was hard for him because of his job – he was away so much. B.J was a bit of a handful as well, getting into trouble at school. I tried to help out, had her stay with us on the Queen when he was away. I suppose he thought the smuggling was a way out, a way of making enough money to set them up properly.” She stopped again, her face sad.
“He wasn’t a bad person, Bodie. He just wanted to do right by his sister.”
Bodie took her hand and held on. “I know he wasn’t, Teri. He ended up being caught up in something that was too big for him to handle.” He knew he would show her the letter Andy wrote to her, the one he never had a chance to post. She would be happy to know that at the last Andy had entrusted all he had left to her. The thought of B.J brought on another question he had been wondering about.
“Why B.J when her name’s Roberta?”
Teri smiled. “Her name is Roberta Joanne. When she was little Andy called her Bobbie Jo, which ended up being shortened to B.J.”
“Ah,” Bodie sighed. “That now makes perfect sense. She wasn’t even really hidden, we were just too blind to see her.”
“Gender bending is a bitch, isn’t it?” Teri grinned at him and Bodie smiled in return, acknowledging his and Doyle’s lack of acuity with good grace, wishing Doyle was right there now so they could tease each other about it.
Teri had noticed the darkening in his eyes. “Tell me about him, about the two of you.”
So he did. He told her about their first meeting, how they’d rubbed each other up the wrong way on sight and how he’d resented Cowley teaming them up because he was someone who preferred to work alone and certainly didn’t want to work with the ratty-tempered, annoying Ray Doyle. But on their first real assignment they had come together like a well-oiled machine, complemented each other perfectly without even thinking about it and he was forced to reconsider his solitary existence and his attitude to his new partner. That he gave as good as he got, laughed at Bodie’s sometimes macabre sense of humour, bouncing back with his own quirky comebacks, and that he had come to trust Bodie implicitly and in turn Bodie learned to trust Doyle with his life sealed their friendship, their partnership and finally their commitment.
“Ray is my conscience, he’s what keeps me from the jungle,” he finished.
“You’re a good man, Bodie. So is Ray. You were very lucky to find each other. He’s going to be all right, you know that don’t you?” she told him, squeezing his hand. He remembered her telling him that before as he was holding onto his partner on a cold marble floor. He wondered if she had some special psychic knowledge, it wouldn’t surprise him. Whatever the cause, he trusted her and nodded, not able to speak because of the sudden lump in his throat.
They waited in silence then, until finally there was a white coated figures with a stethoscope around his neck calling Bodie’s name from the doorway.
Ray Doyle opened his eyes three times. The first time everything was blurry and he couldn’t see any details of where he was, just hear a loud jangling that hurt his ears and he wished whatever it was making the noise, someone would turn it off. Bodie was there, looking anxious, talking to him but he couldn’t hear him over the jangling. Just as he was closing his eyes again he remembered a deal they had made. He wasn’t too sure of the details any more but a deal was a deal so he supposed he’d better keep it, no matter how enticing the thought of just letting go and drifting away felt.
The second time there was whiteness everywhere, so glaring it almost made him blind. There were still noises too but these were of a gentler kind; a quite hiss and slow steady beeps that somehow seemed important they continue. And of course there was Bodie, clear in the white haze and looking a little less anxious but red eyed and tired. He tried to say his name, tell him he looked awful and why wasn’t he resting, but nothing came out. Bodie smiled though, and that was all that mattered.
The third time everything was still white but the glare didn’t hurt his eyes as much, although he opened them cautiously at first. It was quiet too, only muted sounds of activity creeping through in whispers. He stayed still for a moment, trying to work out where he was. Memories came rushing in when the whiteness of his surroundings hit the right chord and he realised the high bed he was lying in was standard hospital issue. That determined, he began his own physical stock take. He could move his toes and his legs a fraction, good. The fingers on his left hand responded to his commands, good. However his right hand was encased and unmoveable, damn. He moved his head slightly to look down. There was a dark head resting on the mattress next to his arm and the reason he couldn’t move his fingers was because they were gripped tightly in a large hand. Slowly, carefully he lifted his left hand and brought it down on the short dark hair, running his fingers carefully through the strands.
His Bodie was sleeping.
Bodie had brought grapes this time, and another book for him to read.
“Hope this is better than the last one,” Doyle griped, checking the cover of the Jack Higgins novel Bodie tossed at him. After a quick appraisal he discarded the novel and leaned back against the pillows. “I’ve seen the movie.”
“Book’s better,” Bodie told him, helping himself to a chair by the bedside and the grapes. “What’s the latest word from the docs, when can I spring you out of here - get you home, fill you up with chicken soup?”
“Chicken soup! Haven’t got a cold, Bodie, I was shot, remember?”
“Not likely to forget, am I? You just about gave me a heart attack. Cures everything, chicken soup does, me old nan used to say, even bullet holes.”
“I’m sure your old nan didn’t say anything about bullet holes. And anyway it’d just leak out of the holes. And, don’t blame me for your heart attacks. Told you often enough it’s bad eating habits 'll do it for you, nothing to do with me.” He picked up the grapes and moved them to the bedside cabinet on the opposite side of the bed, out of Bodie’s reach.
“Oi,” Bodie was indignant. “What’s wrong with eating grapes?”
“Nothing. They’re mine, you can get your own. And why aren’t you at work?”
“Cowley’s given me time off while you’re incapacitated.”
Doyle looked at him with dawning suspicion. “What? The whole time I’ve been here?”
“Just about,” Bodie confirmed. “Been doing some paperwork and research but the Cow’s let me spend most of my time here and getting things ready for when you’re to be discharged. When’s that likely to be? You haven’t said yet.”
Doyle ignored the question and supplied one of his own, though he suspected he already knew the answer. “He knows, doesn’t he?”
Bodie had the grace to look discomforted. “Um, yes, well. I may have given the game away a little there.”
Doyle stared at him. “And how, exactly, did you manage to let Cowley in on that part of our personal lives?”
“You were bleeding all over me, Ray,” Bodie sighed. “I probably got a little more emotional than I should have.”
“Oh,” Doyle’s sense of guilt and responsibility clouted him harder than usual at the look on Bodie’s face. “What’s he said?”
“Nothing, that’s the worrying bit. Just told me to make sure everything is taken care of and to take as much time as I needed to do it.”
They shared a look of concern. A considerate Cowley was something to be wary of. But there wasn’t anything they could do about it at the moment, other than wait out their boss and see what he said.
Two days later Doyle was discharged from hospital.
Any hopes for a respite, a chance to gather themselves before the inevitable Cowley storm, were short-lived, they were to report in the minute Doyle left the hospital.
He was waiting for them in his office, cold and official behind his desk, stacks of files and papers spread out in front of him. He wasted no time getting to the point as Doyle settled himself into a chair and Bodie took up a protective stance behind him.
“Doyle, from tomorrow you will be assigned light duties until such time as you’ve been assessed as medically fit to be back in the field again. At which point you will both spend time with Macklin for some retraining.”
“What about me, Sir?” Bodie asked.
“I’ll need you for clearing up any last details on this diamond smuggling case, Bodie. Especially as you have been involved from the start.” Cowley told him pushing a thick file towards the edge of his desk. “The very quiet Solomon has decided it is time to speak, which might have something to do with our threat to extradite him back to Liberia, where he’s wanted by the authorities in relation to some rather nasty anti-government activities. He’s singing like the proverbial canary. His evidence and the retrieved diamonds should be enough to convict Abdulla. Murphy has been in on all the interrogations, you can work with him gathering the last pieces of evidence.”
Bodie picked up the file and tucked it under his arm. “I gather Abdulla’s attempt at diplomatic immunity didn’t pay off?”
“It did not!” Cowley’s delight was evident. “Being caught more or less red handed by British authorities with diamonds smuggled out of his own country was cause enough to have his diplomatic status waived. No, he’ll be charged with both the murder of Andrew Jamieson and the diamond smuggling. And we will have broken up at least one diamond smuggling route out of the sub-continent.”
Cowley seemed to have finished with official business so Bodie made a bid for a quick exit.
“Will that be all, Sir?” he said. “If so I’ll get on it as soon as I’ve taken Doyle home,”
“No, Bodie. That will not be all.” Cowley studied them both for a long time without speaking, so long in fact that Bodie was forced to relieve his parade attention stance lest his feet go numb. He could feel the tension radiating off Doyle and he longed to rest his hand on the hunched shoulder but daren’t, not with Cowley’s attention focused so heavily on them.
Finally Cowley spoke. “How long have you two had this… arrangement, you seem to have developed?”
Bodie tried to start speaking but Doyle broke in before he had a chance.
“We’ve been lovers for two years,” he said, all bristling aggression, almost spitting out the belated, “Sir.”
Cowley was unimpressed. “You are aware of course that homosexuality is banned in the Police Force at this time?”
“This isn’t the police force,” Doyle responded
“No, indeed it isn’t,” Cowley agreed. “And I suppose if I told you to cease this association I would be wasting my breath?”
“Yes, Sir. You would,” Bodie responded for both of them and Doyle nodded.
“I thought so,” Cowley said, “Very well. I see no reason to change anything at this stage.” He held up his hand to forestall interruption. “However, I will expect discretion from the two of you. And, there seems to be no reason why the CI5 budget should be wasted on two separate sets of accommodation for you both, given the current circumstances. You can decide between yourselves which CI5 flat should be vacated.”
“You mean, you’re telling us we have to share a flat?” Doyle demanded.
Cowley looked at them both over his glasses, eyebrows raised. “I was under the impression that’s what lovers did.”
They sat there for a moment, stunned, not quite knowing what to say. Cowley solved their dilemma for them.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Dismissed.”
“Yes, Sir,” they chorused and fled out of the door so fast they completely missed the amused look on their boss’ face.
Once safely in the passage Bodie leaned back against the closed door and stared at Doyle, who looked as disconcerted as Bodie felt.
“Well, that was…” Bodie started
“...weird,” Doyle finished.
“Think he’s okay?”
“I mean, you don’t think he’s lost it, do you. Going soft?”
“Soft? Cowley? Nah! He’s managed to do us out of a flat and make a considerable cut to CI5 expenses, that’s not soft, mate. More like he’s trying to put us off the scent till he thinks up some other way to make us suffer.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Still, maybe we’d better leg it before he changes his mind.”
Doyle nodded and Bodie lifted himself off the wall. They were down the passage and standing beside the Capri in record time.
“So, which flat should we give up?” Bodie asked as he started the car.
“Not mine! Took me ages to get that one. Nice location, good views.”
“Yeah, great views – of the sewage works.”
“That’s only out of one window!”
“Mine’s got two bedrooms.”
“Don’t need two bedrooms.”
“Have to be discreet, don’t we? Cowley said. Two bedrooms’re more discreet than one.”
The argument lasted all the way to their newly designated shared flat.
The Queen bobbed restlessly on the water as if anxious to be set loose from her moorings and take to the waves again, not caring that her engines were long silenced and her boilers dry and unworking. She was Queen of the river and even her dilapidated state couldn’t change that. Bodie admired her defiance, a defiance that was echoed by her owner and crew, they fit well together, this proud paddle steamer and the equally proud people who had made her their home.
The sign was there again, the one that advertised for the services of a barman/bouncer. Bodie grinned when they passed it, raising a questioning eyebrow at Doyle, but he just grinned back and shook his head as they started up the gangway.
“It’s about time you two showed your faces around here again.” The voice came from the doorway of the pilot house. Teri was smiling as she moved to meet them.
It was Monday so the clubroom was deserted, the chairs packed away, the bar closed for business. But the crew were there, Archie and Billy, B.J and Sid, crowded around a table that had been drawn up into the middle of the room and decorated with balloons and food, a “welcome home” banner hanging from the front. And strangely enough Bodie did feel at home as they hugged and kissed him and Ray, Billy handing them glasses of fine malt scotch from Terri’s special stock with the comment “Here, this will put some lead in your pencils.” Then adding with a sideways, saucy look at Bodie and a suggestive wink, “Not that you would need it, I’m sure.”
Bodie sighed, it seemed some things hadn’t changed.
“Billy!” Archie’s voice had a commanding edge to it as he sauntered up to them and put an arm around Billy’s waist. “Leave Bodie alone.”
Or maybe they had.
Billy rolled his eyes. “S-o-r-r-y,” he said, adding with a mutter. “Some people are just so possessive.” But he didn’t seem to mind it all that much.
B.J hovered, pressing cakes on Ray and filling Bodie’s glass with even more scotch.
“Thought you were off at boarding school,” Bodie said, managing to move his glass away before she made his drink a double triple.
“Am,” she told him. “Got a special pass to come home for the weekend, don’t go back ‘till tomorrow.”
“I’m surprised they let you in at all, it’s supposed to be a school for young ladies after all.”
B.J poked her tongue out at him. “Can be a young lady when I want to,” she told him. Bodie looked sceptical.
“We have your Mr Cowley to thank for getting her into the school,” Teri told them. “I’d never have been able to find the money to send her there if he hadn’t found out about the special scholarship they had.”
Bodie smiled, wondering what strings Cowley had pulled to bring about the newly established scholarship for the prestigious girls' school B.J was attending.
“Trouble is, we’re stuck with her during the holidays,” Billy’s affectionate look was in slight contrast to the teasing words. “Teri’s gone and adopted her, hasn’t she!”
B.J glared at him. “Not adopted, you nit, she’s just my guardian until I’m eighteen,” she said exasperation tingeing her voice. Billy just grinned at her and reached out a hand to ruffle her hair, now grown to almost shoulder length.
“Here, I have something that belongs to you,” Ray said, holding out the photograph he’d picked up from the Jamieson house that day not so long ago when the world had changed for B.J again, changed for everyone.
B.J took the singed photo, studying it for a moment, her eyes tinged with sadness. “Thanks,” she said. “I’d wondered what had happened to it. It was the only thing Andy and I had left of our parents. ”
“You have us now,” Teri reminded her. “And the Queen. She’s part yours, Andy’s share goes to you.”
“It’s going to be a good investment too, when we turn her into a floating restaurant,” Sid gloated.
“You got the engine leaks fixed didn’t you,” Bodie accused, grinning.
“Sure did,” Sid told him.
“Now, Sid,” Teri interrupted, seeming determined to deflate some of Sid’s enthusiasm. “One fixed engine leak and boilers does not a working vessel make, at least not one that can take on the role of ferrying diners up and down the Thames. And we’d need a lot of capital to set it up, capital we haven’t got.”
“Pity you threw away those diamonds, B.J” Archie laughed. “They’d have come in handy right now.”
B.J pulled a face at him. “Didn’t want the bloody diamonds then and wouldn’t have them now for all the trouble they caused.”
Bodie couldn’t have agreed more, diamonds hadn’t been Andy’s best friend and had nearly cost Doyle his life. He’d sooner do without them too.
Drink and good food, as well as the discussion on plans, hopes and dreams for the Queen and her crew followed, but finally they had to leave, there was work in the morning – crims to catch, leads to follow, Cowley to placate and obey.
The crew saw them off as they walked down the gangway, invitations to come back any time issued and accepted. They paused at the bottom, for a final wave and Bodie looked out across the slowly flowing Thames, at the rubbish strewn muddy banks. Then he looked at the man beside him, the man he had come so close to losing. They had the chance of a life together, thanks to Cowley’s turning a blind eye. Maybe not a completely open life yet but at least one that wasn’t built on deception – a new beginning, new opportunities. Maybe it wasn’t too soon to think of a future that went beyond just survival as Cowley’s bisto kids.
“What’d you think of Sid’s plans for the Queen,” he asked suddenly.
Doyle considered for a moment. “If anyone could make a go of it, Teri could.”
“Fancy an investment?”
“What? In a floating drag club? Thought you wanted to keep that part of our lives secret.”
He partner was smiling at him, waiting for his answer. Billy had leaned over the railing of the Queen and was shouting down at them, a typical Billy smirk on his face, “Your cabin’s free for whenever you want it.”
And Bodie gave Doyle his answer by wrapping his arm around the slim waist to draw him close. Then, leaning in and before god and country, but mainly the cheering, clapping crew of the Riverboat Queen, he kissed his lover soundly on the lips.