La Belle Dame sans merci
By John Keats
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
A weathered stone castle reared up from the rocks at the edge of the sea, waves foaming and hissing around the base. It was not a romantic castle, with turrets and arched windows, or graceful, pointed roofs. This had been built to repel invaders and weather equally, with little architectural decoration that did not incorporate a defensive element, and a plain, sturdy bridge connecting it to the mainland. Not far from this bridge someone had built a lodge. Surrounded by a high wall, this too had a forbidding aspect, cold and unwelcoming, with only one light showing dimly in a window to the side. In the wall, rusted iron gates backed by rusted iron sheets were closed firmly, with pallid weeds reaching up around the base indicating that there was little traffic to disturb the inmates, if any.
A car rolled quietly to a halt at the lodge gates. In the silence after the engine died the seagulls cried, and the waves crashed on the shore in the distance. After a moment, the driver got out of the car, shut the door and leaned against the dusty wing. Nothing moved. The driver wandered over to the gates and contemplated the chain binding them together. He shook them, then observed the small side gate under the pine tree bent by the sea gales. Letting himself through, he glanced back at his car before moving down the track leading away from the lodge towards the castle.
‘Not so fast, mate.’ A man was barring his way.
‘Evening!’ The driver assessed the other man. Of middling height, broad-shouldered, curly-haired – yes, this was the man he’d come to find.
‘Lost your way?’
‘Not exactly, no.’ He tried a sunny smile. ‘Ray Doyle, isn’t it? The artist?’
The smile had no effect. ‘Who’s asking?’
‘The name’s Bodie. You might have heard of me.’ A pause and a breath, ‘I’m a writer.’
‘No.’ An uncompromising flat stare.
‘Ah. I’ve come a long way to find you.’ Silence. ‘Look, can we at least talk? I could do with a drink, and it’s getting late. I don’t fancy that road back in the dark.’
‘Should’ve planned it better then, shouldn’t you?’ An exasperated stare met the silent plea. ‘Oh, all right. Never say we’re not hospitable up here.’ Bodie’s smile was enough to light up the space between them. ‘I’ll get you a drink of water. But then you get back in your car and go.’
Bodie’s eyebrows shot upwards.
‘Bloody hell, if that counts as hospitable, I’d hate to think what unfriendly looks like.’
‘Wait here,’ and Doyle disappeared around the corner of the house into the gloom, the white checks of his shirt fading last, like the Cheshire Cat’s smile.
He came back with a glass of water and an apology. ‘Look, I’m sorry. We don’t get many visitors, and I don’t know why you’ve come looking for me.’ He proffered the glass.
‘We?’ Bodie queried, as he took the water. Doyle had a solitary air about him, and there was no one else obviously in the vicinity. The hiss and clatter of the surf as it murmured on the beach below echoed eerily round the cliffs, and no birds sang in the soft chill of the spring evening.
‘Yeah, the old – never mind.’ Doyle’s eyes turned towards the castle, brooding on the edge of the sea.
Bodie didn’t know which lead to follow up. “The old” – he had a good idea who that was, but decided to stick to his main purpose and see if he could persuade Doyle to talk. He sipped his water.
‘You’re a long way from W8.’
The aggression in Doyle’s voice was clear. He swung round and snatched the glass out of Bodie’s hand, spilling the water in his haste. ‘Right, you’ve had your drink. Now get back in your car and piss off.’
‘Hey, steady on! I only wanted to ask a few questions, find out how you’re doing, after the –‘
‘After the disaster that fucked my life up?’ Doyle was facing him, chest heaving. ‘Well you can sod off. I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘You were lucky to get out alive.’ Bodie regarded him solemnly in the dim light.
‘Lucky? Oh, yeah, lucky that every bloody bit of work I’d done was destroyed, the visiting Rodney Gladwells all disappeared – presumed destroyed, ha! – lucky that the insurance covered most of it but not quite all, lucky that not many people died. Including me. Is that what you mean by lucky?’ He took a long stride forward. ‘Were you there? Is that why you’re here now?’
‘No, I wasn’t there,’ Bodie said quietly. ‘I’m a writer, not a journalist. And art galleries… not really my thing, y’know?’
Doyle regarded him, full mouth downturned. ‘But the explosion was?’
‘No, that’s not what I meant at all!’ Bodie threw his hands up, exasperated by his own inability to get through to Doyle.
‘Look, I really don’t want to talk about it. Just get back in your car and go away.’ Doyle turned back towards the house, slipped around the corner, and was gone.
Bodie stood for a moment, considering. Perhaps there was somewhere he could stay in the nearest village, although ‘nearest’ was putting it politely, considering it was a fifteen-mile drive over some of the worst roads he’d found in the UK. If this could still be counted as the UK. He returned to the car and started to turn it around in the narrow space, his mind more on the conversation than with what he was doing. It took several backward-and-forward efforts, shunting over the bumpy ground, until Bodie was facing back in the direction he’d come. He glanced in the mirror at the lodge, now only visible as a hulking dark shape against the dark sky, and determined that he’d be back soon.
Some little while down the track, that promised to be even sooner than he’d thought. As slowly as he was travelling, the car’s engine started to whine, and the needle on the temperature gauge started to rise. He swore, and stopped the car. Releasing the catch for the bonnet, he fumbled with the torch under one arm, lifting the bonnet clumsily before getting the retaining arm into place. A cloud of hot, oily steam enveloped his head and he burned his fingers on the engine block, dropping the torch in his haste.
‘Damn.’ Then he tilted his head, considering, and a small smirk crossed his lips. Even Doyle couldn’t refuse him now. The smile faded. Could he? Optimistically, he took his overnight bag out of the boot and turned back up the track.
Arriving at the lodge, Bodie made his way through the small gate and round the side of the house where he’d seen Doyle disappear. He knocked on the door, then when there was no answer, turned the handle. The door was unlocked. His lips curved again. He opened the door gently.
‘Hello?’ No response. ‘Doyle?’
He hadn’t gone to bed, surely, and if so, he wasn’t a heavy sleeper. Or he hadn’t been.
‘Doyle!’ Bodie stepped into the hallway. It was lit by one dim lightbulb, no lampshade, showing a narrow corridor crowded with a bookcase and a console table, both of a dark wood. The walls were painted a dull sludge colour and the floor was parquet. It was a dark, unprepossessing place.
No, there was no one here. Which left just one place to look, reasoned Bodie, ignoring the outbuildings which no doubt cluttered the neighbourhood. No, there was nothing for it but to cross over to the castle and enquire there. After all, he thought virtuously, it wouldn’t do to bunk down here without asking.
He waited outside the door for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the light. Then he set off down the track towards the castle. It wasn’t as dark as he’d thought. There was still a clarity in the sky which was reflected back from the water. He was conscious of the low parapet of the bridge, and kept carefully to the centre of the track, a wry awareness of his exposed position giving him an itch between his shoulder blades. The door to the gatehouse was massive, wooden and iron-studded, with a smaller entrance cut into the larger door. On the wall to the side was a handle, rusted from the sea air. Bodie pulled it, hearing a faint clang from afar,
He dusted his hands together, trying to remove the faint grit, and looked up to see Doyle framed in the doorway.
Bodie was rueful. ‘Car’s knackered.’ He spread his hands. ‘Can’t see what the problem is in this light. Can I have a bed for the night, and I’ll look at it in the morning?’
Doyle sniffed. ‘A Capri’s a stupid car to bring up here anyway. You need a Land Rover for these roads.’
‘Yeah, there’s not much clearance. It was a bit bumpy turning her around.’
There was a sigh from the gloom. ‘Can’t you sleep in the car?’
‘Oh, come on!’ Bodie exclaimed. ‘What’s the problem, you guarding the Queen or something?’
A pause. ‘No. No, it’ll be all right. It’s just… No, come on.’
Bodie grabbed his bag and they walked in silence across the courtyard. Just before they arrived at the internal door, Doyle barred Bodie’s path with a strong arm.
‘Look…’ he hesitated, ‘there’s someone else in the castle. My… um. He’s an old guy. He’s a bit confused at times.’
Bodie nodded, then realised Doyle probably couldn’t see him.
‘Only I don’t want you to go upsettin’ him.’ Doyle’s tone was fierce.
‘Okay, sunshine. No problem.’ Bodie was quick to reassure.
‘He tells some good stories, but they get a bit mixed up,’ Doyle continued as they approached the entrance. ‘Just don’t – don’t laugh at him, right?’
Bodie wondered privately the stories could possibly be about, then a sandy little man in a kilt appeared. Bodie bit back a snigger. Doyle held his position in the doorway, one arm braced against the frame, watchful and reserved.
‘Welcome, welcome! What have we here?’ The little man batted Doyle’s arm away and advanced towards Bodie with a smile, and the sharpest eyes Bodie had seen for a long while.
‘Good evening, sir. My car has broken down and I was wondering if I could ask for a bed for the night? Just until I can see what the problem is in the morning.’
The man’s ‘Yes, certainly!’ clashed with Doyle’s ‘I said we don’t normally take in strangers,’ and Bodie flashed a swift glance from one to the other.
‘Cowley. Cowley’s the name. And you are?’
‘Bodie, sir.’ He put out a hand, which was seized and shaken vigorously.
‘Don’t tell me – a military man?’
‘Yessir. Sergeant in the Paras, then seconded to the SAS.’
‘Ah, I knew it! I can always tell! No, stop fussing, Doyle, we’ll be fine with Sergeant Bodie here.’
He led the way further into the keep, talking all the time over his shoulder.
Arriving in a Victorian baronial hall, all tapestry-covered stone walls, dim brown pictures and massive furniture, Cowley bustled over to the fire to poke it into life from its dim embers.
‘So, Sergeant, what brings you here to Adhar a ’tuiteam?’
Lost, Bodie looked to Doyle for help.
‘Skyfall. Or Falling Sky, really, if you translate it literally.’ Doyle was amused by Bodie’s mild panic at the syllables.
‘It’s just Bodie now, sir. I was actually on the trail of Doyle, here.’ He shot a bland glance at Doyle, who was watching him from across the room.
‘Doyle? Why’s that, eh?’
‘I wanted to know where he’d gone. And if he was still painting.’ Out of the corner of his eye he caught Doyle’s wince, hastily suppressed.
‘Painting? Aye, he’s got the old gallery, haven’t you, lad? Better light than in your gatehouse, isn’t that right?’
‘Yes, sir. It’s good of you to give me the room.’ Cowley’s eyes met Bodie’s, briefly.
‘Well, there’s plenty of space here. Plenty of space.’
‘It’s beautiful. Is the castle very old?’
‘Aye, it’s originally fifteenth century, but parts of it have been knocked to pieces in the past, and parts have fallen down, and of course the Victorians got hold of it, as you can see.’ He gestured at the tapestries and the panelling that clad the walls to head height, and the forest of antlers above them.
Doyle straightened up. ‘Right, you two keep chatting, but I’d better get cooking, if you’re staying. Italian suit you?’
‘Great.’ Bodie watched as Doyle left the room, and turned his attention back to Cowley.
‘So, sir, how long has Doyle been with you?’
They chatted desultorily until the faint strains of Vivaldi, punctuated by the clattering of pans, were audible in the distance.
‘Well, Bodie. I understand there may be some trouble?’ Cowley’s shoulders squared and his voice became more clipped.
‘So Heron thinks. Has Murphy already checked in?’
‘Aye, I’ve seen him in the distance, him and Anson.’
‘How have you been keeping, sir?’ It was understood that Bodie’s question was as much to establish Cowley’s fitness for any coming unpleasantness as it was a polite enquiry about his previous boss’s health.
The older man’s smile was tired. ‘I’m all right. I’ve seen the plan, and I’ve made a couple of suggestions. I think we’ll manage.’
‘Depending on who they send, and how determined they are.’ Bodie hesitated. ‘And Doyle.’
Cowley nodded. ‘Indeed.’ His glance at Bodie was piercing. ‘You can’t count on him, laddie.’
‘How’s he been, sir?’
‘He’s doing well, Bodie. We lead a quiet life here. He enjoys his painting, and he brings all the focus to it he used to bring to the job. I think it satisfies him.’
‘And his health?’
‘He has bad headaches. His chest troubles him in the winter. All the dust from the explosion at the gallery, and the problems with the ribs, lying in the damp until they dug him out, it compromised his breathing and he can feel it when the weather closes in. But he manages. Still keeps fit, as you see.’
‘And you, sir?’
‘Och, I’m fine, Bodie. Just fine.’
‘This painting of his. That’s incredible, that he’s become an artist. I mean, I knew he went to art school, but he rarely touched a brush when we were in the squad, you know?’
‘The power of suggestion, perhaps. He was found in an art gallery, in terrible conditions. Perhaps his mind rejected violence at the end, and all we stood for, and saw a chance to get out. Who knows? The psychiatrists tried, but after all, he stepped away and into this persona.’
Bodie nodded. ‘He still doesn’t remember me, does he?’
‘No, laddie. I’m sorry.’
Cowley watched the face of his ex-agent. It was a closed face, showing nothing of the emotion he knew was contained within, yet the tight line of the lips, the downcast lashes, the flared nostrils all told a story. In the ensuing pause, wondrously appetising smells drifted faintly in from where Doyle was now whistling along to the Gloria.
‘Why?’ Bodie blurted out. ‘I can understand Ray wanting to leave CI5, forget the violence. God knows the number of times he beat himself up about whether we were doing the right thing. But how could he forget me, sir?’
Cowley reached out, but before his hand made contact the door banged open and Doyle burst in.
‘Right, I think we’ll eat downstairs if that’s okay. Too much faff to bring it all up here.’
Pushing forwards hastily, to give Bodie a chance to recover himself, Cowley coughed.
‘An’ what have ye cooked up for us this evenin’?’
‘Can’t you smell it? It’s Spaghetti a la Benny. Haven’t made that for a while, don’t know why now. Anyway, it’s all ready. Come on!’
He took Cowley’s arm to escort him out of the room, and never noticed Bodie’s white-knuckled grasp on the back of the chair.
The night air was sea-scented, full of salt and wet sand and tumbling surf.
‘That was a great evening!’ Bodie wandered gently across the bridge, head tilted up to look at the sky. ‘’Zat the Milky Way? Wow!’
His companion was less expansive. ‘Yep.’
‘That Scotch was incredible!’
‘I didn’t recognise the bottle – and let me tell you, sunshine, I’m reckoned quite a connoisseur of malt whisky! Is it a local malt?’
‘I dunno. He must have liked you, he doesn’t often get that one out. He trots off down to the cellars and brings out a bottle occasionally.’
‘Well, it was amazing.’ There was a pause. ‘You all right?’
This penetrated the comfortable fug of Bodie’s alcoholic armour. He made a grab for Doyle’s arm but, his judgement being slightly impaired, missed and caught the other man’s shirtfront instead. A nipple sprang to attention under his nail and Doyle drew a sharp breath in. They both stopped and stared at one another.
‘Sorry, mate.’ Bodie was shaken by his own reaction. His senses were on overload: the hiss as the ever-present wind rustled over the grass stalks, the scent of salt from the sea and the tang of peat from the cottage fires inland, the shimmer of light from the moonlit sea.
‘No problem.’ Doyle’s voice was higher than normal.
They walked on in silence, a large gap between them. Few more words were exchanged while Doyle showed Bodie the bathroom and spare bedroom. Soon the lodge was in darkness, and all was silent.
Two days earlier…
Bodie flashed his ID at the two guards on duty and took the stairs two at a time, more out of habit than enthusiasm for the day ahead. Jax was already in the VIP Lounge, filling the kettle; he nodded to Bodie and indicated the chipped mug with raised eyebrows. Bodie nodded back, shoving a ratty pullover and yesterday’s paper off the settee and onto the floor so he could lounge full length. Allison, lowering his paper, looked over to say, ‘I wouldn’t get too comfortable. Heron wanted to see you when you got in.’
‘Any idea what he wants?’ Allison shook his head and retreated behind his paper again as Bodie headed for the door.
‘Ta, Jax. Catch you later.’
Heron’s secretary waved him straight through, and as he tapped on the door and entered, Heron was frowning down at a file on his desk.
The head of CI5 looked at the man in front of him. One of his best agents, but a maverick, and one who was rapidly running out of time in the department. Reckless, brutal and unapproachable, there were fewer and fewer operations he could trust Bodie with. It was hard to pair him with other agents, and Heron found it difficult to believe the stories told about the legend that was 3.7 and 4.5. Under his aegis CI5 was changing, and although Bodie was currently useful, it remained to be seen if he could adapt to the new political climate.
‘Take a seat. Some difficult news, I’m afraid.’
Bodie dropped into the chair in front of the desk and sat, upright and waiting, mind determinedly blank.
‘Your former head of department. Mr. Cowley. There’s information a foreign power is looking for him.’
The eyes narrowed slightly. Was there a slight tension in those shoulders?
‘I need you to go up to Achiltibuie and make contact with Cowley. 6.2 is already in the area, using his previous cover. He’ll be there if you need help.’
‘Do you not care about Cowley? Do you want to see him taken?’
‘Why would they want him?
‘The previous head of CI5? Even one who retired some time ago? There’s a lot he could tell them. They’d not be gentle.’
Bodie considered this, then gave a short nod.
‘And 3.7…’ Heron was watching him carefully now. ‘This means, of course, that you will meet Doyle again.’
There was not a trace of emotion on the face in front of him, the downcast lashes making shadows on the smooth cheeks.
The lashes lifted, and those violet-blue eyes met him full-on.
Now the eyes were blazing at him. He experienced a quiet satisfaction, mixed with a moment’s slight concern that the fury and intensity might be turned against him.
‘According to Mr. Cowley’s last report, his memory has not returned.’
Bodie nodded, accepting the truth of this.
‘If Murphy is already established in his cover, why do I have to go in? Why can’t I back up Murph?’
Heron cleared his throat, raising his eyes from the file in front of him. ‘In view of your previous partnership, it is thought that your visit may perhaps bring some memories to the surface.’ He viewed Bodie with some sympathy.
‘Didn’t do anything last time, did it?’ Bodie said bitterly. He’d suspected that Ross had been aware of their relationship, but this had never been confirmed. Well-disciplined, his mind shied away from the last time he’d seen Doyle, grateful to the man who’d pulled him from the wreckage of the art gallery, polite, and utterly unaware that he’d lost his memory, his job, and his partner.
‘You haven’t seen him for two years, correct?’
Bodie looked at him steadily. ‘The last time I saw Doyle was in Repton. He had no memory of who I was, or what he had been. He’d recovered from most of his injuries, but he didn’t understand why he was in a psychiatric hospital. I couldn’t help him, because he didn’t know me.’
Heron nodded slowly, considering. ‘We should put one more agent in the area as well with 6.2. Do you have any suggestions?’
‘As a climber?’ Bodie shook his head. ‘In this mob, I’m the next best, then… Anson, I suppose, although he’d hate me for saying it. Or Macklin!’ he grinned suddenly, thinking of Macklin’s indignation if he were to be hauled away from his derelict warehouses and sent up to the north of Scotland.
‘No, I don’t think we’ll disturb Macklin. Anson it is, then.’
‘When do I leave?’
‘Immediately. Mr. Cowley is expecting you. 6.2 is stationed about two miles north of the castle. Take 5.3 with you and leave him with 6.2. Requisition whatever you think you may need from the armoury, and from Supplies. And good luck.’
Bodie accepted the hand held out to him, turned on his heel and left.
Back at his flat, Bodie emptied the fridge, put out the rubbish, turned off the heating and packed his bag. Jogging down the stairs he paused, and returned, unlocking the door, turning off the alarms, and heading back to his bedroom. At the back of the wardrobe, he pulled out a suitcase. Swearing under his breath, he trotted back to find his keyring, came back and unlocked the suitcase, and pulled out a smaller case. Unlocking this too, he revealed Doyle’s Browning Hi-Power, meticulously maintained over the last two years, nodded, re-locked the case, added it to his bag, reset the alarms, locked up again, and headed back downstairs to the car.
Bodie stuck his head out of the window. It was a beautiful morning. The air was knife-bright, clean and sparkling, and the sea was glass-smooth, with just the long rolling waves moving the surface, like muscles moving smoothly under skin.
Bodie could hear no sounds of his reluctant host moving around so he made quick use of the ancient facilities and headed outside. Even the castle looked picturesque in the sunshine, set against an opalescent sky and framed by a turquoise sea lapping gently around its base. He drew in an appreciative lungful of salt air and wandered down the track to his car. He patted the wing as he went past: it was a pain that he was stranded, but at least he had been able to talk to Doyle. And with a bit more luck, he could carry on the conversation this morning. Meanwhile, to find out what was wrong with the car…
He’d been working on it for a while, shirt off to disclose his white undershirt, no longer quite so white, when Doyle joined him, bearing two cups of tea.
‘Milk and two sugars, right?’ Doyle frowned as Bodie froze, hand outstretched. ‘What? No sugar?’
‘Cheers, mate, how did you guess?’ Bodie recovered and took the mug.
Doyle’s mouth quirked. ‘Dunno. You look like a milk and two sugars man.’ Bodie nodded glumly. ‘How’s it going?’
‘I reckon it’s the sump, although it’s hard to tell here. Need to get her up onto higher ground, or ramps, if you’ve got them?’
Doyle’s gaze raked insolently over the other man’s body, tight white t-shirt clinging damply to every well-defined muscle. ‘Yeah, you’d find it hard to squeeze into tight spaces, I can see that.’
‘Beautifully built and in the peak of condition, that’s me. Unless you’re insinuating I’m fat?’
‘Not fat, no, but I bet you’re not cheap to keep.’
‘Tall, dark and beautiful – and engagingly modest, of course, that’s me.’
There was silence, and Bodie twisted around from his inspection of the engine to see a frown on Doyle’s face. ‘You okay?’
‘Yeah… yeah, fine.’ Doyle shook his head.
Bodie finished his tea and turned back to the engine, asking Doyle about his life at the castle.
Doyle’s responses had been becoming briefer and briefer. ‘Back in a mo,’ he said in a hoarse voice, and fled back down the track to the house. Bodie looked after him from under one arm. Odd, but perhaps he’d been caught short. That spaghetti last night had been delicious but spicy, and maybe Doyle had a more delicate stomach now after all his medical issues. He worked on in silence.
Fast footfalls pattered back towards him, and Doyle threw himself down on the grass.
‘All right?’ asked Bodie.
‘Stay exactly where you are. Don’t move.’
‘What’s up?’ Bodie twisted around in alarm.
‘No, don’t move!’
From where he was Bodie could just see a large white object and Doyle’s hand moving rapidly. ‘What?’
‘I said – oh, you’ve lost it. Go back to where you were before, with your left hand on the engine block and your right arm up on the top of the bonnet. Twist a bit more – yeah, that’s it, lovely… mmm, yeah, wonderful definition…’
‘It’s okay, don’t tense up. You can still breathe, y’know.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘Sketching you, of course. You don’t mind, do you?’
Bodie didn’t know. Did he mind? It felt very personal, especially with the noises Doyle was making.
‘Sketching me? What for?’
‘What do you mean, what for? I’m an artist, you know that, right? That is why you came here, after all.’
Bodie hunched his shoulders. There was a yelp from behind him.
‘Don’t do that! Ah, I’ve lost it again.’ There was a clatter as Doyle threw the sketchpad away from him, and then he rose and came to Bodie’s side.
‘What, are you embarrassed? A big lad like you?’ A faint flush came to Bodie’s cheekbones, and Doyle smiled directly into his eyes, all flirtily-lowered lashes and pouty lips.
‘You’ve got a fantastic body. Will you model for me, properly?’
Bodie stared back. ‘If you ask me properly, instead of coming on like a cheap tart.’
The sea-grey eyes narrowed. ‘Bastard.’
‘Tell you what, sunshine. I’ll do you a deal. I’ll model for you, if you’ll tell me why you’re hiding up here.’
‘I’m not hiding. And you know what happened.’
‘No, all I know is that you vanished. You’ve never exhibited anything.’ Doyle was silent, his head turned away.
‘Why did you leave London?’ Bodie asked gently.
Doyle whirled around and was off back down the track. Bodie leaped to follow him, catching him by the wrist and hauling him to a halt. Panting, Doyle turned to him and snarled, ‘Fuck off! Just leave me alone!’
He pulled himself free and disappeared into the castle.
Bodie followed slowly. He came across Cowley, reading in the library.
‘Hello, sir. Have you seen Doyle?’
There was a rustle as Cowley lowered the paper.
‘No, but I heard the bang of the door a wee while back. Problems?’
Bodie shrugged. ‘Does he never mention London?’
‘No. Don’t push him, Bodie. You know very well I would have contacted you if there had been the slightest sign of his memory returning.’
‘He won’t even talk about it,’ Bodie muttered.
The old man regarded him out of faded blue eyes. ‘He takes things hard, lad. He’s an idealist, is Doyle.’
Bodie gave a short laugh. ‘No change there.’ He looked up. ‘Mardy sod. I upset him, and he’s sulking somewhere.’ He saw his companion’s eyebrows twitch. ‘Oh, I know. I need to sort it out.’
Cowley nodded sharply. ‘Good. Now away and find Doyle. Stop him brooding, eh?’
Bodie needed no more encouragement, but set off upstairs to find Doyle.
The grand wooden staircase gave onto a wide wooden landing, where the walls were set with displays of ancient weaponry. Bodie gave a respectful berth to a suit of armour and nearly fell over a mop and bucket, propped neatly against a console table. There was a stone spiral stair in the corner of the landing, and Bodie headed for this, remembering that Cowley had mentioned that Doyle needed light for his painting, and reasoning that this was likely to lead to whatever room Doyle was using as a studio. The stair was dirty and dusty, however, and led merely to a barred oak door set in the cold stone wall. Bodie turned back down, brushing at his shoulders as he emerged back on to the landing.
‘Whit hae ye been doin’ stravaiging around up there?’ demanded a voice. He whirled around. ‘Ach, will ye juist luik at yersel’?’ A hand seized him firmly and brushed him down, lingering slightly around his buttocks.
‘Oh, Morag! I’m sorry, I was looking for Ray.’
Bodie disengaged and turned his back to the wall.
‘Aye, weel, he’s in yon stoodio of his.’ She nodded encouragingly towards the other side of the landing. He smiled at her.
She folded her arms under her comfortably upholstered bosom. ‘Hmph! Him and his whigmaleeries!’ she said austerely, but there was a twinkle in her eye. ‘He was looking fair wabbit when he cam’ through here.’
‘I’ll sort it,’ said Bodie. He had no idea what she’d just said, but headed in the direction she’d indicated.
At the far end of the landing was an imposingly framed doorway. He pushed it open enquiringly, and gasped as it opened up to reveal a huge space, lit from above, and cluttered with all sorts of things. He could see statues pushed into corners, a faded tiger skin rug with mournful glass eyes, huge blue and white vases, the seemingly obligatory stags heads and weaponry on the walls, and in the middle of the room, a couple of easels. There were some canvases propped casually against the walls and in one case against a stuffed boar. It took Bodie a few seconds to locate Doyle in the muddle, leaning against one of the arched windows.
He ignored Doyle’s scowl. ‘Wow!’ He took a few steps in and looked around, grinning. ‘Wow!’
Reluctantly, Doyle mirrored his grin. ‘I know. Bit over the top, innit?’
‘You can say that again! What was it?’
‘Gallery, collection, junk room.’ Doyle pushed himself off the wall. ‘Look.’ He moved over to the wall where a small table had been covered with a cloth, which he folded back to uncover a glass case. Bodie leaned in to inspect it, and recoiled. He was looking at an intricate schoolroom scene featuring a stuffed cat dressed in an academic gown and tiny mortar board, lecturing a group of stuffed mice dressed in sailor suits. He couldn’t quite make out what was chalked on the blackboard.
‘Urgh. That’s horrible!’
‘I know. Revolting, isn’t it? Victorians. Funny lot.’
Doyle threw the cloth back over the case, and turned back to Bodie.
‘So. You gonna pose for me then?’ Doyle’s stare was challenging, but Bodie could sense the nerves behind the request.
He squirmed. ‘I suppose so.’
Doyle grinned, a quick flash of relief. ‘Great!’ He observed Bodie’s tense shoulders. ‘What?’
Bodie shrugged, looking away. ‘Makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, like.’
Doyle laughed. ‘Did you know you sound all Scouse when you’re embarrassed?’
Bodie’s head came up. ‘I do not!’
‘You do, you know!’ He grabbed Bodie’s arm and tugged him over to a corner filled with odds and ends: a gilt chair; a spear; an urn; a rather motheaten stuffed owl and other bits and pieces. He tugged a woollen plaid blanket out of the muddle. Bodie regarded it dubiously, but it appeared to be fairly clean and not too full of moth holes. Doyle let go of Bodie’s arm and cast the blanket down on a raised dais. He grabbed one end and muttered, ‘Never a pin when you need one,’ hunting through a small dish feverishly. ‘Aha!’ He pinned one end of the blanket to a rough piece of wood nailed to the wall, creating a tent-like effect as it sloped down from the wall to the rug on the floor. Bodie watched all this activity wondering if Doyle had some naff idea of him hiding under the blanket.
Doyle frowned. ‘Hmmm. Try it, and we’ll see.’
‘Erm – try what, exactly?’
Doyle waved his hand at the construction. ‘Lie down. As you go you take the blanket with you and it creates more natural folds. Oh – you’d better take your clothes off first though.’
Bodie boggled. ‘Take my clothes off!’
‘Well, yeah.’ Doyle’s eyebrows lifted. ‘You said you’d seen my work before.’
‘Well, yes, but - Can’t you do some preliminary sketches or – or something?’ Bodie had a hunted look on his face.
‘These are the preliminary sketches.’ Doyle was patient. ‘What’s up? You’ve got a great body.’
‘Which I don’t normally put on show.’
‘But you said you’d model for me. You agreed.’
‘Naked? No one said anything about naked!’
Doyle shrugged. ‘Didn’t think I needed to say it, mate.’ He smiled suddenly, that slant-eyed look that turned Bodie’s knees to water. ‘Ah, go on. Promise I won’t tell anyone.’
Bodie spluttered. ‘You won’t need to bloody tell anyone! It’ll be – oh, very funny.’ He glared at Doyle, convulsed with laughter. ‘Bloody hell. The things I do.’ His hands went to his collar and he started to unbutton his shirt. Doyle’s laughter tailed away, and he watched Bodie intently.
‘What?’ demanded Bodie.
Doyle shook his head. ‘Nothing. You just carry on like that.’ Deliberately, Bodie turned his back. He finished unbuttoning his shirt. It hung loose as he undid the buttons at his cuffs. His hands went to his waistband and he undid the button of his cords. The small ticking sound of the zip was loud as he slid it down. He bent to unlace his boots and heard a hiss of indrawn breath behind him. Straightening, he kicked off his boots one by one and removed his socks by stepping on the toes and pulling them down and off. Slowly, his hands went back to his hips. He dropped his cords, taking his pants down at the same time, and kicked his way out of them.
‘Go on,’ Doyle’s voice was hoarse.
Bodie turned. The fine cotton of his shirt fluttered cool against his flank. ‘You want this off as well?’
Holding his eyes, Bodie shrugged the shirt back over his shoulders so that it dropped down his arms, pinioning his wrists. Doyle swallowed. Bodie bit back a grin, remembering how Doyle had loved these moments. He freed himself slowly, taking his time.
‘Okay. What now?’
Doyle’s pupils were dilated, and he licked his lips. His breathing was rapid. Bodie dropped a quick glance to his groin and was gratified to see a substantial erection. He glanced back up innocently, content to wait for Doyle to take the lead.
Doyle took hold of Bodie’s wrist, his hand hot against Bodie’s cooler skin. Leading him to the blanket-draped platform he nudged Bodie until the backs of his calves were against the edge of the dais, sparking memories that travelled directly to Bodie’s balls.
‘Okay, you’re gonna sit, then swivel so you’re on one hip, then relax back down, one arm behind your head on this cushion. I’ll bring your other arm around, and your leg.’
Bodie did as he was directed. Inevitably, with Doyle close and manipulating his body, his cock started to rise.
‘Sorry,’ he said gruffly, unsure how Doyle would react.
‘Don’t worry,’ Doyle said with a bright grin, ‘I don’t mind. Might leave that detail out for now though.’
There was silence for a while as Doyle sketched. He worked rapidly, with little glances from Bodie to the paper, hand moving fast and freely.
‘Mmm. Okay. Let’s try something else.’
Bodie sat up cautiously. Doyle tugged him to a standing position and then further, over to the window. He leaned Bodie against the stone jamb with one hand stretching up to the lintel, so that the light struck cool reflections on his skin and the shadows emphasised the muscle definition.
‘Oh, yeah, lovely,’ muttered Doyle, eyes half closed as he retreated backwards, hand groping for his pencil. Bodie could hear the faint scrape of pencil on paper but could see nothing.
‘Okay, stay as you are, but turn your head towards me - keep your left shoulder down though, and keep that twist through your waist. I want to see your cock and those gorgeous thighs. That long line down your quads is fantastic. Oh yes!’ The last was almost a shout, and was prompted by Bodie’s expression.
‘When you scowl like that you look like a thug,’ Doyle said cheerfully as he reached for a larger pad of paper to capture the tension in the heavy shoulders, the outthrust lips and the lowered eyebrows. He threw down his pencil in disgust as Bodie fluttered his eyelashes and blew him a kiss, then laughed and scrabbled frantically for a stick of charcoal.
‘Hold it! I’m going to draw you just like that!’ and the session continued until the light faded and Doyle was swearing that he needed another few minutes, only another few lousy minutes, and Bodie was laughing at him again, and it was so like old times Bodie almost missed Doyle’s easy movement over to the window into his space.
He could feel Doyle’s breath warm on his cheek, and his hands at waist and neck. He turned his head and met Doyle’s lips seeking his.
It was their first kiss again, it was their last kiss again, it was Paradise, it was heart-breaking, it was breath-taking. He had memorised the touch of those hands, fantasised about them, but feeling them on his skin after so many long, lonely months sent Bodie’s blood fizzing incandescently around his body. He released Doyle and raised a hand to stroke down the damaged cheekbone tenderly, gazing into those well-loved, wide-set eyes. They had never taken much time for tenderness, had shied away from demonstrations of affection, content to know that they loved and were loved in a hard world, but this was a moment of hope for Bodie.
Doyle gave that wicked, chip-toothed grin. ‘Not bad,’ he said. ‘Wouldn’t mind some more of that.’
It had meant nothing to him at all.
The days turned into weeks, and Bodie fitted himself into the easy rhythm of life at the castle. He spent his time modelling for Doyle, who was so focused on his painting that he never noticed Bodie didn’t write anything, and talking to Cowley, developing, to his surprise, a more balanced friendship with his previous boss.
The weather was kind, and he and Doyle swam in the cold sea when it was calm, and walked or drove to fetch the supplies for the week from the boat from the mainland, operated by one of the local lads.
He made the acquaintance of Morag and Mhairi, two ladies from the local village who came in daily and kept the castle spotlessly, ruthlessly clean.
‘Don’t get caught in the linen cupboard with either of them,’ Doyle said with a grave wink. Morag shrieked with laughter and flapped at him with the tea-towel.
‘I should be honoured,’ Bodie said, with a bow, engendering more raucous hilarity before the door shut behind the dusters and the mop and the bucket and the chuckles and the faint smell of lavender soap and disinfectant.
He saw how the local fishermen ignored Doyle with good humour as he sketched them while they worked on the boats, and how, without fuss, they helped with any heavy work around the castle for Cowley and Doyle, neither of whom was now able to stack peat or coal.
He watched Doyle fuss over the rose in the pot in a sheltered corner of the keep, and whistle as he cooked, and swear in his running battle with the hot water boiler in the gatehouse. He saw old behaviours and new, rejoiced when Doyle turned to him as of old and clenched his jaw when his tentative questions provoked no response.
He talked with Cowley as Doyle banned him from the studio, capturing the aquamarine and umber and sage of the coastline in skeins of translucent paint, laid down across huge areas of pristine canvas. He posed again for Doyle, and their relationship rapidly developed into a physical one of uncomplicated, happy lust, or uncomplicated on Doyle’s part, at least.
‘It’s funny, I keep feeling like I’ve forgotten something,’ Doyle remarked as he was painting Bodie again.
‘Commando again, sunshine?’ said Bodie from his position astride a chair, back towards Doyle.
‘Pillock. It’s probably just déjà vu. Only I keep thinking I’ve been here before… or something.’ Doyle rubbed his head, frowning.
Bodie craned his head over his shoulder. ‘You okay?’
‘Yeah, my head’s aching a bit, that’s all. I’m probably doing too much. We’ll take a break tomorrow, okay?’
Bodie lay awake for a long time that night, listening to Doyle’s quiet breathing, and wondering if he were doing the right thing.
‘Hey, Bodie! We’ve got visitors!’ Doyle’s shout echoed around the stone staircase.
‘Bo-day! Oh, there you are!’ Bodie arrived in the hall to find Murphy and Anson shedding their outerwear.
‘Bodie, meet Murphy, Steve Murphy that is, and Geoff Anson. Murph is a teacher, and comes up here to climb whenever he can, has done for years. Geoff’s joined him this half term. Guys, this is Bodie, no first name, the poser. He’s a writer, he got stranded here a while ago and seems to have stuck with us.’
‘Ray Doyle, social etiquette consultant and artist, available to enliven any gathering,’ said Bodie with a shake of his head to Doyle’s flicked V-sign. ‘Nice to meet you both.’ They all shook hands.
‘I’m going to go and heat some soup up. I’ll find Cowley and send him in, okay?’ Doyle left the three agents together.
Bodie nodded at Anson. ‘Geoff. How’re you doing?’
‘I’d be better without this lunatic.’
Murphy gave a sunny smile. ‘Ah come on, it’s a classic! You loved it when you were up there.’
Anson glared and pushed past him to the fire. Bodie raised an eyebrow at Murphy.
‘We were climbing Stac Pollaidh. A nut pinged out. It was fine,’ Murphy shrugged.
‘I told you, we don’t actually have to climb anything!’ Anson’s back was rigid with disapproval.
‘Undercover, Geoff. We wouldn’t want anyone to wonder why two climbers aren’t climbing, would we?’
Murphy winked at Bodie. They shared a quick grin, unseen behind Anson’s back. Murphy mimed shaking knees, and Bodie shook his head tolerantly. He knew Murphy’s style of climbing.
‘Hey, how’s Doyle?’
Murphy’s question sobered Bodie. He didn’t want to talk about this, but he knew he would be unable to avoid it with these men who had worked with Doyle as teammates. ‘No change.’
‘I’m sorry, mate. I’d hoped seeing you might kickstart some memories into life, y’know?’
Bodie shrugged. ‘Nope.’
Murphy studied the downbent head. ‘Ah, well. Let’s see if we can get through this nice and quiet, eh? Then it’s back home, and we can leave everyone in peace.’
The door banged open and Doyle came in carrying a tray on which reposed a large tureen and a loaf of bread. Cowley followed with a selection of mugs.
‘Right, soup’s up! Murph, can you go and get plates from the kitchen? Bring the salt and pepper back as well, you know where everything is.’
‘In my pocket, laddie,’ said Cowley, unloading his burden onto the table.
‘Butter, Murph!’ yelled Doyle through the doorway.
As Doyle took the butter from Murphy on his return, Murphy’s hand shot out to capture Doyle’s wrist.
‘Oi! That green stuff on your thumb! Not going to poison us all, is it?’
‘Probably not,’ said Doyle, slanting a smile upwards.
‘It hasnae so far,’ Cowley said dryly, limping around the table to his chair.
‘Extra protein, you’ll be fine!’ said Bodie.
‘Mmm, that smells good!’ Anson helped Doyle organise everything and soon the five men were tucking into the meal. As it progressed Murphy watched Bodie’s performance, for such it was; witty, polished, amusing, this was Bodie undercover at his best. He joked with Doyle, deferred to Cowley, pretended interest in Murphy’s and Anson’s climbing exploits, and exhibited a lack of knowledge of the same that had Murphy biting his lip at times. His stories of his supposed writing career skated close to his life prior to and within CI5 and Murphy couldn’t help but glance at Doyle to see if anything prompted a reaction, but his former colleague was unmoved.
For himself, Doyle demonstrated the same irreverent, prickly, thoughtful characteristics as ever. He and Bodie were trading insults, banter and laughter as if nothing had ever changed. Yet for all his comfort, he showed not one sign of recognition.
It was late in the evening, and the three CI5 men were gathered round the fire in the library.
‘It’s a right sod, Doyle not remembering anything,’ Anson said gloomily. No one responded. ‘Is there nothing?’
Murphy glanced at Bodie, and when there was no response, he stepped in. ‘I’ve been coming up most Bank Holidays,’ he said. ‘The Old Man says he’s never given a hint of recognising me.’
‘Yes, but you’d think seeing Bodie’d jog his memory!’ protested Anson.
‘They did say it was possible he’d never remember,’ said Murphy gently, watching Bodie from under his lashes.
Anson glanced at Bodie. In an attempt to lighten the atmosphere, he said, ‘I remember when I first met him. The git put one over on me, all right.’
Bodie smiled. ‘I’d forgotten that. Were you there, Murph?’
Murphy shook his head. ‘I joined CI5 the year after you lot.’ Sensing a story, he said, ‘Go on then. What happened?’
‘Picture the scene. The Brecon Beacons, in February. Two teams, one made of up recruits for CI5, Five, Six and the like, plus a rag tag of the army’s finest sent to retrain. Bloody hell, they were big bastards.’ Anson paused, looking at Bodie. ‘Some of your old mob in there, weren’t there, as well as mine?’ Getting a nod of acknowledgement from Bodie, he continued.
‘Anyway, there’s ex-Detective Constable Doyle. He’s not the biggest of us for starters, and he’d been run ragged through a bog. He’s sitting at the entrance to his tent, he’s got his boots off, and he’s painting his feet with some purple stuff. You can imagine the stick he was getting. “Painting your toenails, sweetie? Getting ready for a night out with your boyfriend?” All that sort of thing.
And he just gives them this slant-eyed look – you know.’ Murphy nodded, and Bodie smiled faintly, ‘”Very important, feet,” he says. “Gotta look after your feet.” Well, you can imagine. They were pissing themselves laughing, prancing around like ballerinas and the like. And Doyle just sits there.’
Murphy was incredulous, remembering some of Doyle’s more spectacular outbursts. ‘An’ he just let it go? You didn’t have to hold him down?’ he asked Bodie.
‘We hadn’t been partnered more than a few weeks. I didn’t know him that well, but I had a feeling something might kick off.’
Anson snorted. Murphy turned to him. ‘Well, go on. What happened?’
‘Well,’ said Anson judiciously. ‘To be fair, I’d not exactly leapt to the lad’s defence.’
‘You were an arse as well, you mean,’ interposed Bodie.
Anson sniffed. ‘It’d been a long day, and we were all thoroughly knackered.’
‘Bloody hell, Geoff, get on with it! The bad guys’ll be here before you finish this story! Bodie, you tell it.’
Bodie sat up. ‘What Geoff isn’t saying is that whereas I’d kept quiet, he’d joined in with some of the hazing. So our Raymond thought it was only fair that he shared in the punishment. Like he said, it had been a shit day and we all slept like rocks, except Doyle. When we all crawled out of our tents in the morning, every one of those buggers had a purple splodge on the end of his nose. Doyle had crept into all the other tents with his gentian violet and put a dab on every nose. Crane and Nairn could hardly stand up.’
Anson was laughing. ‘It was bloody brilliant. We all wanted to kill him, but Nairn said if we didn’t wake up when someone came into our tents, we were useless, and sent us all back to redo the course. Another two weeks, that cost us.’
Murphy was laughing with Anson, but Bodie was quiet. This Doyle seemed so determined to deny the past. How could he not recognise the team he had worked with, and his partner and lover of so many years? What would it do to him if he did?
Bodie was posing for Doyle against the moss-coloured velvet curtains. The pose this time was standing, shoulders back, one hip twisted suggestively forward, one knee slightly bent, face looking directly towards the artist. Bodie had seen the initial pencil sketches and the implicit sex and cocky humour boiling off the pages caught his breath.
They were chatting casually about football, Bodie bemoaning Liverpool’s recent dismal performance and teasing Doyle about the Rams’ latest signing, when a helicopter clattered past the window.
‘What the hell?’
Doyle ran for the window and hung out, gesticulating furiously. The helicopter appeared to be hovering. Doyle was yelling but realised the futility of this and turned and headed for the door. ‘Come on!’ he shouted. Bodie was scrambling into his clothing.
‘Yeah, hang on a minute, mate. I’d rather not be stark bollock naked if it’s all the same to you!’
Doyle, however, had disappeared down the staircase. Bodie caught up with him at the entrance to the castle, where he was waving at the helicopter to stand off towards the gatehouse. It was a Bell, he noticed, automatically marking it as transportation rather than armoury, and wondering what merited an official visit, for such this must be.
He followed Doyle over the bridge to the only flat spot in the surrounding landscape, admiring the skill of the pilot even as he assessed the two people descending from the helicopter. As soon as they were clear it rose and sheered off inland.
‘Hello, Ray’ said the woman in the lead.
‘Who are you?’ Doyle’s stare was unwelcoming, but there was an edge of puzzlement in his gaze.
‘My name’s Susan Fischer. This is Jax. Can we come in? We need to talk to you about Major Cowley,’ said the woman.
‘Why?’ Doyle was uncompromising. ‘Is there a problem?’
‘No problem – yet.’ Jax smiled and moved forwards.
Doyle rolled his eyes. ‘It’s like Piccadilly Circus round here these days. First ‘im, then you.’
Jax’s gaze switched directly to Bodie.
‘Hang on, you two know one another?’ Doyle’s frown switched between the two of them.
‘Just visiting.’ Bodie’s tone was bland.
‘Let’s take this inside, shall we?’ Fischer motioned towards the door.
Once inside, Susan smiled. ‘That’s better. Is the Major here?’
‘He’s resting. Look, what do you want?’ Doyle was leaning on the wall by the door, arms folded over his chest.
‘Tell you what, I’ll make us all a cuppa, shall I? Just point me at the kitchen.’ Jax rose gracefully from the chair he’d seated himself in.
‘I’ll come with you,’ Bodie wasn’t sure quite where he wanted to be in the ensuing conversation, so he elected to let Susan do the initial hard work in the hope that he could smooth things over afterwards.
Returning with mugs of tea and some of Mhairi’s shortbread, he found Doyle on his feet and berating Ms. Fischer.
‘I was lied to! You let me think this was a straight house-sitting job!’
‘Ray, it is. It has been, and it will be again in the future. You couldn’t think we would just let you disappear.’
‘So why are you here?’
‘When Major Cowley retired from CI5 we believed we had made it clear to all interested parties that all information he possessed had been superseded, and he was therefore no longer a person of interest to any foreign agency.’
‘For what that’s worth,’ interposed Jax gloomily.
‘Hang on a minute,’ said Doyle. ‘I think I’m missing something here.’ He rubbed his forehead. ‘Look, I know – I know, because all the shrinks kept telling me – that I used to work for your mob. But I don’t remember. But you say Mr. Cowley did as well? He’s retired, but he used to be the head?’
‘Yes?’ said Fischer, puzzled. ‘We work for Charles Heron now. Jax here heads up Ops and I deal with Strategy.’
‘And our Minister,’ murmured Jax, ‘who may yet make an appearance.’
‘Jax…’ Fischer caught his eye and the two of them exchanged minute signals.
‘Mr. Bodie. I understand from Mr. Doyle that you say you’re a - journalist.’ Fischer got no further before Bodie’s interruption.
‘It’s just Bodie. And I’m a writer, not a journalist. There’s a difference.’ Bodie hastened to cut Fischer off before she blew his cover to Doyle, feeling that Doyle had enough to cope with without realising that Bodie too was not who he said he was. He frowned at her, trying to convey this.
She smiled, although the smile didn’t reach her eyes.
‘Bodie. As I’m sure you’ll understand, there are many things that happen in the world that never reach the press. I’m putting a D-notice on this operation. This means that you cannot speak or write about any information you find, hear, read or otherwise come across while you are with Major Cowley. Do you understand?’
‘A D-notice? You can’t do that!’ Bodie spluttered.
‘I think you’ll find I just did.’
‘But I came here to talk to Doyle!’
She regarded him narrowly. ‘Submit what you write to me or Jax and we’ll let you know.’
‘What?’ Bodie was indignant.
Doyle had been following this with interest.
‘We’re living in a fascist state, my son. They slap a D-notice on you, they dig into my background and pay my wages without telling me who they really are – Big Brother lives! Or Big Sister, should that be?’
Fischer’s answer was drowned out by the growing noise of a helicopter.
‘Bloody hell,’ moaned Doyle. ‘Now what?’
Jax and Fischer looked at one another and winced. ‘The Minister,’ they said together.
‘If we’re lucky it’ll be our Minister, but if not it might be the HS,’ said Fischer briefly.
‘I don’t understand any of this,’ said Doyle. ‘What do Ministers have to do with Mr. Cowley?’
‘The Major headed up CI5. We report into the Home Office. Ultimately, we come under the Home Secretary who is one of the Cabinet Ministers. This one didn’t know him back in the day so with a bit of luck it’ll be Henley, our Minister. They had a good relationship, let’s just leave it at that.’
Doyle had his head in his hands.
‘You all right, mate?’ Bodie put a hand on his back, concerned.
‘I need me pills.’ Doyle’s voice was muffled.
‘Tell me where they are and I’ll get them for you.’
‘No. I need to lie down for a bit. I’ve got some in the studio.’ He got to his feet and stumbled to the door.
‘Will he be okay?’ Jax asked Bodie.
‘Dunno. First time I’ve seen him like this.’
Jax and Fischer exchanged glances. At Fischer’s nod, Jax left the room.
‘Okay. We’ll deal with Henley, if it is him. You go and see to Doyle. Don’t worry about the Old Man, we’ll find him.’
‘Ta, Susie love, you’re a brick.’ Bodie passed her on the way to the door with a grateful pat on the shoulder. ‘Although that D-notice stuff was bollocks,’ he added.
‘Then learn to think before you come up with a cover story you could drive a tank through,’ Fischer said sharply. ‘How are you going to explain it when you never write anything?’
‘Detail, detail,’ Bodie said airily before slipping through the door and running lightly up the stairs to Doyle’s studio.
The studio was dim and quiet. Peering through the door, Bodie made out Doyle sprawled on the couch, in a pose vaguely reminiscent of a Victorian maiden, with one arm flung over his face and the other hanging down by his side. The bottle of pills on the floor under his open hand, and the spilled glass of water, made the visual story all the more telling.
‘Go away’. Doyle’s voice was muffled.
‘How d’you know it was me?’ Bodie asked lightly.
‘I always know it’s you. Leave me alone, Bodie, me head’s killing me.’
‘Just wanted to make sure you were okay, that’s all.’ Bodie hesitated. ‘You are okay?’
‘No.’ Doyle heaved himself upright with a groan, and promptly retched.
Bodie made a grab for a nearby vase, and proffered it. ‘Here.’
‘Nah, I’m okay.’ He sat with his head in his hands. ‘I need to sleep it off, that’s all. But seriously, what the hell is going on?’
Bodie gave the shoulder nearest to him a comforting rub.
‘Let’s talk about it when you’re feeling a bit better, shall we, sunshine?’
Doyle subsided onto the couch again. ‘I feel like crap an’ these pills knock me right out.’ His speech was slurring slightly. Bodie looked around for a blanket with which to cover him, but there was nothing in sight except a heavy, dusty rug on the floor. ‘But as soon as I wake up I want some answers!’
‘Sure, Ray,’ Bodie said soothingly. ‘Tell you what, you’d be a lot more comfortable in a bed. Let’s get you settled while you can still walk, eh?’
Within a few minutes Doyle was tucked up in the nearest bedroom, which was sparsely furnished but pin-neat, and Bodie smoothed the candlewick cover over the bony shoulder.
He trotted down to find that Fischer and Jax had already departed, leaving instructions with Anson and Murphy for Cowley’s protection. Cowley himself was frowning and snappish, and Anson and Murphy disappeared with apologetic looks in Bodie’s direction.
‘I thought I was done with all this nonsense.’
‘He had to go for a lie down, sir. His head was hurting.’
‘Hmph.’ The old man stumped off towards the kitchen, but as he later called Bodie down for one of Morag’s casseroles, left heating in the range, Bodie reckoned he’d been forgiven.
Bodie woke from a light doze as his radio blipped twice, the signal from Anson and Murphy. He slipped down in the creaking darkness to the library where he found Murphy securing a rope through the window.
‘They’re out there. You wanna wake Doyle?’
‘I’ll get Cowley first. Let’s get Geoff in though.’
Within a few minutes Anson had eased through the window, swearing under his breath, and Murphy was coiling the great length of rope again.
Bodie patted Anson on the shoulder. ‘Nice climb, mate.’
‘Fucking lunatic!’ Anson spat.
There was a soft chuckle as Murphy padded past them back towards the window. ‘At least you had the rope,’ came the whisper as he eased it closed.
Bodie cocked an eyebrow at Murphy, who shrugged. ‘Well, one of us had to come up first.’ Bodie was impressed. He wouldn’t have cared to tackle the cliff and outside wall of the keep as a free climb, especially not at night. He nodded at Murphy.
‘You swore on your grandma’s budgie that you wouldn’t take Geoff out to play – oh, here we go.’ His jocularity was interrupted by Cowley’s entrance. ‘Sir.’
‘Gentlemen. I gather our friends are outside?’
‘Yes, sir. I’m just going to go and get Doyle.’ Bodie hurried up to the bedroom and squeezed Doyle’s bicep, their old signal. He came awake instantly.
‘Wake up, sunshine, there’s trouble.’
‘Trouble – what?’
‘Can you get yourself down to the scullery and lock yourself in, quickly and quietly? We’ve got visitors.’
‘What? Who?’ Doyle demanded.
‘They want Cowley, but they won’t discriminate. Come on, up,’ Bodie said, tugging at Doyle’s arm, anxious to get him moving so he could get back to his colleagues. ‘Damn.’
Two shots rang out, followed by three more.
‘Stay here.’ Bodie ran for the door. He heard Doyle shouting ‘What’s happening? Bodie!’ behind him, but only had time to shout back, ‘Stay there!’ as he headed for the source of the noise.
There were several people milling in the hall. Every sound was fraught with meaning in the darkness. Arriving late on the scene, Bodie wasn’t sure who was who, and hesitated to fire before flinging himself into battle. He came to the rapid decision that they needed to see what was happening.
‘Squad! Lights!’ he yelled and threw the switch.
There was a cry from a figure in black who had a night sight on his head. Bodie marked him as probably temporarily blinded but put a bullet in him anyway. He noted Anson sheltering Cowley, but then there were three other figures in black closing in and it began to get busy.
The flat blat-blat of Murphy’s Walther, the sharper rat-tat of Anson’s Glock, were all punctuated by the deeper blam of Bodie’s own Magnum, but there were more dark-clad figures, and Anson and Cowley were cut off. Murphy was covering their retreat towards the kitchen stair but had run out of ammo and was trying to reload. Bodie was firing steadily, trying to cover him, but two of the enemy had split up and he couldn’t keep them both occupied. One was down and he whirled, aiming for the other, peripherally aware that Murph had reloaded, but now there was another who had reached Anson and Cowley. Anson was sheltering Cowley – Bodie couldn’t see what had happened, and Anson was in his line of sight, so he dived and rolled to the side, aware of Murphy tangling with another black-clad figure – how many of them were there, for God’s sake? – but here was Doyle, diving down the staircase towards Anson, tumbling over the figure of yet another invader who he’d obviously encountered on the upper floor.
‘Doyle!’ bellowed Bodie, and, taking a chance, rose to his knees, pulled Doyle’s Browning out of his waistband and threw it across to him. Doyle caught it mid-air with his left hand, turned, and placed two shots neatly dead centre in the heads of the two advancing assassins.
Doyle sat rubbing at the bloodstains on his hands, on his jeans, on his t-shirt, watching the comings and goings of a variety of different personnel, some of whom nodded to him as they passed. One came back with a wet rag.
‘Here you go, Doyle,’ he said, handing him the cloth. ‘That’ll get rid of it,’ with a nod to the blood on Doyle’s hands. He carried on towards the waiting Land Rovers.
Murphy jogged past, then stopped abruptly when he saw Doyle. ‘All right?’
Murphy approached warily.
‘Who was that? How does he know me? You, Anson, Bodie, you’re not who you said you were. Hell, who am I? How did I know how to do those things?’
Very fine tremors were coursing through him.
‘Look, Ray, you’ve been through a hell of a thing. Come to the hospital and get checked out. You can see Bodie and Cowley –‘
‘No. I don’t want to see them.’
Murphy regarded him sympathetically. ‘You can’t stay here, mate. They’ll be cleaning up for a while.’
‘Then I’ll go to Morag’s.’ The tremors had increased to a noticeable shiver. Murphy frowned.
‘Are you hurt? You weren’t injured?’
Murphy reached for Doyle’s arm, but the other man shook him off and lurched to his feet.
Doyle turned and vomited into the grass. ‘Sorry.’ He wiped his mouth with the cloth. As he lifted his arm, Murphy noticed a fresh bloodstain on his shirt, red and damp rather than dry and rusty like the others.
‘Oi, is that yours?’
Doyle looked down at his chest vaguely. ‘Dunno.’
Murphy approached and pulled at his shirt. Doyle batted at his hands.
‘Mate?’ He was just in time to catch Doyle as he subsided gently to the ground.
Bodie nodded at Allison, on duty outside Doyle’s hospital room, and paused at the door. Doyle was awake, but was lying staring at the ceiling.
Doyle’s gaze turned slowly towards him. Without its normal animation, his face seemed thin and desperately tired, the skin pulled tight around the bones.
‘What do you want?’
‘Came to see how you were.’
The room was dim, and smelled of the normal hospital antiseptic and disinfectant Bodie associated with his own uncomfortable stays. There was nothing to entertain or amuse: no magazines, no papers, not even a radio. The walls were painted an uninspiring faded green, and the limp curtains were patterned with an erratic design of pale orange dots and dashes on a bile-yellow background.
‘You’re doing okay though? They gonna let you out soon?’ Bodie’s voice seemed too loud and hearty, even to him, in the desolate little room.
A twitch of a shoulder, and a wince. ‘Suppose so.’
Bodie pulled up the orange plastic chair next to the bed and sat down. ‘Can I bring you anything? A magazine? D’you want your sketch pad?’
There was an uncomfortable silence. Doyle’s thumb was rubbing ceaselessly against the knuckles of his other hand, over and over.
‘Why didn’t you tell me who you were? Who you all were?’
‘Would you have believed us? You didn’t before.’
‘But you lied to me.’
‘Sometimes we have to do things we might not want to do.’
‘Hell, everything was a lie! Looking after Cowley – ha, that’s a joke! He was keeping an eye on me, wasn’t he? Old Murph. Just popping in on his holidays. And you! A writer! All lies, Bodie.’
His head fell back against the pillows and he closed his eyes.
Bodie wondered if he’d fallen asleep again in the way of the recently injured. He leaned forward, and Doyle’s eyes flew open.
‘Where did this come from? Who am I?’
‘You were a bloody good agent. My partner.’
‘But I don’t remember!’
Anger flared suddenly. ‘You don’t want to remember.’
‘It’s all a blank, Bodie. And then you chuck me a gun and I’m blasting away like – like –‘
‘Like you’d never been away,’ said Bodie softly.
‘I’d come to terms with it. I was happy. Well, y’know. Life was okay.’
‘But there’s a gap of nine years, Ray! How do you forget nine years?’ And me! Bodie’s whole body was demanding, how could you forget me?
‘It hurts. It hurts to remember. I get these really bad headaches, like my skull is splitting. So I don’t think about it.’ Doyle sighed.
Bodie clasped his hands together tightly and regarded the knuckles as though they belonged to someone else.
‘When you were shot, it took you a long time to decide to live. You died on the operating table. You made a great recovery, but then the next year or so was tough. We’d had a few hard ops. We’d not had a break for months, we lost two of our team and one of our bomb squad experts, then we went straight from there into the gallery set up with you undercover. No real time to plan the op. The doctors said after the explosion that you might have decided to forget everything this time, just get out. The more they pushed you, the more agitated you got.’
Doyle looked up, but Bodie wasn’t looking at him.
‘They told me that the head injury caused most of the problem, but I should recover my memories from that, most people do. When I didn’t, they told me I was probably deliberately blanking it all out. That I should try harder.’ Doyle’s mouth twisted.
‘I couldn’t get through to you, Ray. Seeing you in hospital, then in Repton, I couldn’t understand why you were denying me.’ Bodie looked up. ‘Us.’
Bodie held Doyle’s gaze.
‘Yeah, us. We were partners, Ray. Not just on the job.’
‘So what happened – when you were modelling – that wasn’t…new?’ Doyle’s words came slowly, his eyes fixed on Bodie, his brow furrowed as he struggled to take in what Bodie was telling him.
Doyle took a breath, outraged. ‘That makes it worse! How could you not tell me?’
‘I kept hoping it would all come back to you.’
Doyle’s hands were fisted tightly into the thin blanket. ‘You know what?’
Bodie looked up at the question, and Doyle continued. ‘I was starting to fall for you. I really thought I’d found someone I could care for. Someone who understood about the accident, my memory, all that, but didn’t coddle me. But it was all some Government lie. Just a sham.’
‘No!’ Bodie protested.
‘I don’t want to see you again.’ Doyle turned his face to the wall. ‘Go away.’
Bodie froze, everything in him shrinking, numb and petrified. Then, his jaw clenched so tight he felt his teeth might shatter, he turned on his heel and marched out of the room.
His one thought was to get to the car and get away. Where didn’t matter, just away, out, gone. He didn’t notice the trolley in the corridor, didn’t even register the voice coming from the patient until one of the porters caught him by the arm. The disengagement was automatic, smooth and violent, causing panic from the nurses and protest from the patient from the trolley.
‘Bodie!’ It was a weak echo of the old man’s former bellow.
He halted, more as the ingrained response of nine years’ obedience than in any conscious willingness to hear what Cowley had to say.
‘Bodie. You will not disappear. D’you hear me?’
‘Mr. Cowley, we need to get you to theatre.’ The nurse stepped forward, one eye on the dark, dangerous man who was causing her patient to try to reach out.
‘Bodie! Wait! Wait until I’m done with this – will you let me alone, woman! – Come and see me, after. Bodie!’ He sank back onto his pillows, panting, and the porters wheeled him away.
Bodie limped up the final flight of stairs to his flat and unlocked the door, dumping the bag of shopping in the kitchen. The unseasonably warm weather had made the small rooms feel stuffy and overheated, so he opened the window in the sitting room, and went back to switch on the kettle in the tiny kitchen. As he waited for it to boil, he put his meagre shopping away, managing the necessary hitch to close the sagging cupboard door without conscious thought.
He cast himself down carefully on the single armchair and reached for his tea. The fresh air coming through the window bore the song of the blackbird perched in the tree opposite. Bodie closed his eyes for a minute. The ache in his hip was deep and grinding.
There was a loud knock at the door. Bodie ignored it. His rent wasn’t due for another two weeks and no other visitors troubled him here.
The knocking came again. Then the whole door rattled. ‘Bodie! I know you’re in there! Open up!’
Bodie’s eyes flew open. He recognised that voice.
‘BODIE!’ An exasperated thump against the door, shaking it in its ancient frame. Carefully, Bodie prised himself out of the armchair’s clutches, making his way towards the door. He could hear metallic scratching and a counterpoint of muttering. Reluctantly, he opened the door, knowing that Anson would have the door open in a few more seconds.
‘How did you find me?’
‘How d’you think?’ Anson pocketed the lockpicks and bent to collect a bundle from the floor. ‘Move over, I need to hang this up quick before it gets all creased.’ He pushed past Bodie, pausing briefly in the tiny hall to check the doors.
‘Huh.’ He grunted on seeing that there was no separate bedroom, and hung the package he was carrying on the door of the bathroom. ‘That’ll do for now.’
He turned and regarded his former colleague, looking him up and down.
‘You’ve lost weight.’
‘Why are you here?’
‘The Old Man sent me. He’s in the car outside.’ Bodie glanced involuntarily at the window, but couldn’t see down to the road below. Anson continued, ‘His orders are, shower, shave, dress and meet him downstairs as soon as you can. I’m to help if needed.’ A wary sympathy showed on his face.
‘What’s going on?’ Bodie hadn’t moved from his defensive brace against the kitchen door frame, but his leg was hurting now and he needed to take the weight off it before it gave way. Anson snorted, and moved forward to catch him under the arm.
‘Just do as you’re told, mate. He’s not supposed to climb stairs so let’s not have him up here raising hell, eh? Bathroom?’ He steered Bodie towards the bathroom, taking in the tatty fixtures with a comprehensive glance.
‘This work?’ He reached into the shower and turned on the controls.
Bodie stood with his back against the wall. ‘Geoff.’
Twitching the threadbare towel from the rail, Anson turned to Bodie. ‘Come on, chop chop.’
Anson winced. ‘I know. I’m sorry, I am, really. But Cowley’s in the car downstairs and you’re supposed to have a shower and gussy yourself up and get down there, and I’m supposed to help if you need it. Ours not to reason why. So d’you need help or not?’
He managed the shower, but he did need help, to fasten the top button on the crisp white shirt and to tie the silky black bowtie. In his uncertainty he couldn’t think where his cufflinks were, and Anson silently fished a pair out of his jacket pocket and inserted them for him, the solid gold weighing heavy on the plain cotton.
‘Do you have crutches? A stick?’
Bodie shook his head. It was a point of pride that he had dispensed with the crutches as soon as possible, although his physiotherapists had warned him that it would impact his recovery.
They made it down to the waiting Jaguar and Bodie fumbled his way into the back seat next to Cowley. He met his former boss’s eyes with a mixture of reluctance and defiance, determined not to ask any questions. ‘Sir.’
‘Bodie. Drive on, Murphy.’
Anson rustled the paper he had been reading before Bodie’s collection, and had now resumed.
‘Listen to this. “His landscapes are the essence of once upon a time, translated into the here and now. The longing, the wistfulness, breaks through to the bankers, the accountants, the lawyers, and reminds them of the fairy stories their nannies used to tell them, when good triumphs over evil, and all will be well.” What a load of twaddle.’
‘Where are we going, sir?’ Never mind not asking questions; Bodie’s gut was twisting.
‘Doyle gave me some tickets for his exhibition.’
‘Ah, no, sir.’
‘It will be a nice evening out, Bodie. I understand you’ve been fairly solitary recently.’
‘I’m the last person he’ll want to see there.’
‘He gave me four tickets. He would guess I’d bring you, Murphy and Anson.’
‘If he hasn’t got the guts to ask me directly then I don’t want to see him.’
‘It’s not a request, 3.7.’
‘Yeah, well I’m not 3.7 any longer, am I? Now pull over and let me out.’
‘Drive on, Murphy.’
Murphy’s shoulders hunched defensively, but he kept driving. Anson folded his paper as quietly as possible. They arrived at the gallery in brooding silence.
As they passed through the double doors at the entrance an elegantly dressed young woman greeted them, discreetly checking tickets and offering a drink and a catalogue before ushering them through to the anteroom. Here they were confronted by panels of information, and one solitary, dramatically lit figure study.
Shattering the quiet murmur of the other guests, exclamations from the three agents caused heads to turn.
‘Get an eyeful of that!’
Arriving in a rush, a nervy Doyle confronted them.
‘Oh, very nice, how to lower the tone. Do come in, won’t you,’ he snapped. He tugged at his hair and glared at them all impartially.
‘That’s me!’ Bodie hissed.
‘Of course it’s you!’
‘Quite a lot of ‘im, as well!’ remarked Murphy cheerfully.
They all contemplated the larger-than-life-size portrait of a recumbent and splendidly naked Bodie.
‘Very artistic,’ Cowley commented. ‘Shall we continue, gentlemen?’
The late afternoon sun lit up the clerestory windows and illuminated the high, bare rooms with refracted golden light, sparking glints from the pale gold of the champagne circulating on trays borne by shirtless, muscular, long-haired waiters in kilts.
‘Fancy,’ commented Anson, snagging a glass in passing.
‘Sir?’ murmured the waiter. ‘Erm… never mind,’ Anson said in some confusion.
Doyle had been diverted by an older man with a steely glint in his eye accompanying a well-dressed lady with a catalogue. They stopped in front of a large painting, of Bodie framed in a window, looking out towards the sea. The sunlight caressed his muscles and lit the tulip in his hand, resting lightly by his semi-tumescent cock. The older man’s voice rose and fell confidently, and the lady’s head nodded as she fanned herself with her catalogue. Doyle looked resigned.
Bodie turned to a small portrait on the wall beside them. He caught his breath in recognition. It was a pencil drawing of Mhairi, the lines and wrinkles rendered with such detail that Bodie felt he could almost reach into the paper and take the old woman’s hand. Simply framed, she looked out of the drawing into Bodie’s eyes, and he wondered what she would make of the exhibition, and her portrait hanging here for all to see. He thought she would probably cackle to hear the comments made, much as she cackled when he sneezed at the polish she used. He was still gazing when Doyle and the other man caught up with them.
‘Here you are.’ Doyle had a slightly hunted look on his face.
‘Good evening, gentlemen, and welcome to – good Lord! You’re the model!’
‘Roger, this is Mr. Cowley, and my friends Murph, Geoff and Bodie. This is Roger Finch. My agent.’
‘I say, this is wonderful! We must have a photograph! Splendid publicity!’
The flat denials came as one from Bodie and Murphy. The agent’s mouth fell open, and he took a step backwards. ‘Well, really!’
Murphy stepped in. ‘If I could just have a word, Mr. Finch?’ He ushered the other man into a corner.
‘So what happened to you?’ Doyle asked, gesturing at Bodie’s leg.
‘Had a bit of an accident.’
‘Ray?’ One of the elegant assistants rushed up. ‘Sorry to bother you, but can you come to room three? Lord Carsington is extremely interested in the Simmer Dim series.’ She glanced between the two men. ‘Sorry.’
‘Sure, Pippa, on my way.’ He turned back to Bodie. ‘Don’t go anywhere, will you?’
‘I’ll be here.’
Bodie watched Doyle’s back view as he made his way across the room, and thoughtfully signalled a waiter for another glass of champagne.
It was a little while later when Doyle made his way back to Bodie’s corner.
‘Oh, good, you’re still here.’
‘Said I would be.’
‘Give me that.’ Doyle grabbed Bodie’s glass. ‘Eurgh – it’s warm!’ He waved at a passing waiter.
‘Did Lord Carsington come through then?’
‘What? Oh, him. Yes. Although it’s going to look very odd in his Mayfair flat.’ He waved his glass impatiently at Bodie’s frown. ‘You remember. It’s that long flat series of the twilight. It needs a hell of a lot of space. Anyway, forget that. I want to know what happened to you.’
Bodie shrugged. ‘Fell off a roof. Broke my hip, knackered my knee. That’s it now, I don’t think I’ll get back on the squad.’
‘Oh, mate.’ Doyle reached forward, but his movement was arrested by the loud intervention of an aging hopeful with purple hair and an orange trouser suit.
‘Mr. Doyle! Do come and tell me all about this darling landscape! Mr. Finch tells me you paint only in Scotland? I adore Scotland!’
‘Go on,’ Bodie said with a grin. ‘See you later.’
He picked out another couple of portraits he recognised, this time of two hulking young fishermen, hands already twisted by their work on the nets. Looking at the catalogue, he realised that Doyle’s work prior to their recent meeting had all been landscapes or seascapes. The portraits and figure studies were all recent.
‘Bloody hell,’ said Doyle as he flopped down into the armchair beside Bodie again. ‘I hate these things.’
‘The people, the events, the places?’
‘All of them. Forget that, you were telling me about what happened to you.’
‘Not much to tell really. I was out on an op, things got a bit hairy and I fell off a roof.’
Doyle surveyed him suspiciously.
‘You weren’t distracted because you were thinking of me?’
‘For fuck’s sake, Doyle!’ Heads turned at his raised voice. Bodie glared. ‘For your information, I’m perfectly capable of keeping my mind on the job.’
‘Sorry.’ Doyle spread his hands out placatingly.
‘I didn’t have back up. Control said they’d send someone as soon as they could. They made me, there were more of them than me, I – oh, what now?’
He was interrupted by the arrival of Anson.
‘Bodie. We’re leaving soon, the old man’s done enough. You want a lift home, or are you going to get a taxi?’
‘I might as well go with them, it’s impossible to talk here.’ Bodie could see Finch hovering over Anson’s shoulder. ‘You’re wanted again, look.’
‘And your leg’s hurting.’ Doyle bent a searching gaze on Bodie. ‘Can we talk? Later?’
‘If you want.’
‘Okay. But tell me,’ Bodie fixed Doyle with a fierce glare, ‘why the change of mind? Last time I saw you you never wanted to set eyes on me again.
‘Ah, mate. I wasn’t thinking straight, was I? I’ve had time, since, and I’ve been talking to Kate. I’m not saying everything’s all roses and lavender,’ He broke off at Bodie’s sharp intake of breath. ‘What?’
‘You keep doing that. You say you don’t remember, but you say things you used to say, or something from the Squad, or you make my tea how I like it. What?’ This last was directed with menace at Finch, who had approached to tap Doyle on the shoulder.
‘I say! I don’t think that’s very acceptable.’ Finch appealed to Doyle. ‘Ray, you’re supposed to be mingling. People want to meet you.’ He turned back to Bodie, thin shoulders squared. ‘I know you’re the model, but if you’re causing Ray trouble, I think you should leave.’
Doyle extended a hand placatingly. ‘I know, Roj. It’s okay, honestly. And thanks. He might look like a lout but he’s okay.’ He exchanged a long glance with Bodie, before escorting his agent back to the gallery.
For the first time since moving into his squalid little flat, Bodie went to bed feeling hopeful about the future.
They met a few days later, at Bodie’s flat. Doyle’s taxi pulled up outside the block and Doyle jumped out carrying an overnight bag. He looked up dubiously at the dingy stairwell, with its flaking paint and damp, crumpled circulars piled in the corners of the entryway, and Bodie withdrew to the side of the window where he had been keeping watch since daybreak, in an agony of worry and frustration that Doyle might not, after all, turn up.
Doyle looked around with some disdain.
‘This your place then?’
‘It’s somewhere to sleep.’
‘It doesn’t look very comfortable.’ He was prowling around, checking out the kitchen and the stingy little bathroom. ‘Seriously, what does your physio say about those stairs? And this bed sags.’ He was bouncing on the side of the old single bed which did double duty as a couch, and did indeed sag. It took Bodie a while to unkink his back and his hip in the mornings, but he wasn’t going to admit that to Doyle.
‘I do all my exercises. Look, never mind me.’ Bodie was impatient to find out what was in Doyle’s mind. ‘You said we could talk?’
Doyle ceased pacing around the small room and went to the window. Bodie noted that he was still thin, and that the grey in his hair was more noticeable. His back to the light, Doyle asked,
‘What are your plans? Will you go back to CI5 when your leg’s better?’
Bodie realised he had assumed that Doyle was aware of his circumstances but that this was not the case, and furthermore, that Doyle was on edge.
‘Ray, come and sit down.’ He motioned to the armchair, and sat down himself on the edge of the bed.
‘Why, you got bad news for me or something?’ Doyle was frowning again.
‘No, but I can’t talk to you properly while you’re pacing around like a tiger. Sit down, dammit, please!’ He waited until Doyle perched on the armchair. ‘I’ve left CI5, that’s why I’m here.’ He gestured around the shabby bedsit. ‘I know you can’t remember, but my previous gaffs were a bit more elegant than this!’
Doyle ignored this. ‘What are you going to do then?’ His eyes were fixed hungrily on Bodie’s face.
‘Well, that rather depends, doesn’t it?’ Bodie’s heart was beating faster.
Doyle clenched one fist, and rubbed his other thumb over the knuckles. ‘Is there any future for us, Bodie? Because I was happy as I was, and I’d rather go back to that than be messed around again.’
Bodie blew out a breath.’
‘Strewth, sunshine, you still don’t pull your punches, do you?’
‘Don’t mess me around,’ Doyle said impatiently. ‘There’s been enough of that. There’s been lies and half truths until I don’t know which way is up – but so help me, I was falling for you, and you said we were partners before, so presumably it can work – although I still don’t know how we worked and lived together. Must ‘ave been like a pride of lions,’ he said, looking Bodie up and down.
‘You were one of the toughest blokes I knew. A thoroughly irritating bastard, mind,’ he added, eliciting a matching grin from Doyle. ‘And yes, we were Cowley’s top team for years, and we were partners off the job as well, although most people didn’t know that. I was shattered, bloody devastated, when you forgot me,’ he said, blue eyes blazing into Doyle’s.
‘I’ve been seeing a shrink. Kate Ross. Again.’ He shrugged. ‘I still can’t put the two halves together, you know?’
Bodie frowned. ‘But you know there are two halves? You remember CI5?’
‘No.’ Doyle saw the infinitesimal droop of Bodie’s shoulders. ‘I know there’s a blank. I remember everything up to walking the beat and ending up in hospital with this,’ indicating his face. ‘The next thing I remember is the explosion and then those days under the rubble with Sheila dying and Becky and Victor dead next to me. One of the reasons I left after getting out of hospital is because I couldn’t believe what the shrinks were telling me. About CI5. They kept showing me stuff an’ I’d just shut my eyes. It wasn’t – it couldn’t be true, because I didn’t remember.’
Bodie shook his head. ‘They said that it was the head injury. You still get headaches, don’t you?’
‘Yeah. Damage to the temporal lobe. But they think – Kate thinks – that some of it’s psychological now.’
‘Ray.’ Bodie put a hand on his knee. ‘Never mind that. The point is, do you think we have a future together? Do you want a future together? Because believe me, there’s nothing I want more than to be with you.’
Doyle flung out of his chair.
‘Yes, of course I do! Haven’t you been listening? Didn’t you see my paintings? Bloody hell, how else do I say it?’ He was half laughing as Bodie grabbed him for an enthusiastic kiss.
They surfaced for air, and Bodie looked into the sea-grey eyes so close to his.
‘I thought you were going to tell me you were going back to Achiltibuie. That you needed to be on your own.’
‘Well I am going back to Achiltibuie. But I’d be a fool to go without you, wouldn’t I?’ Doyle grinned at him. ‘I can’t drive, and it takes forever by train.’
Bodie wrapped one arm around him, and scrubbed the greying curls with his free hand. As Doyle wriggled and complained, part of Bodie was watching as if detached from the scene. He was amazed, and felt as though his blood was fizzing, as though it had been replaced by golden, sparkling champagne, yet at the same time knew his life had made an abrupt, although deeply longed for, turn.
Fifteen minutes later, they were standing on the pavement, with Bodie’s key possessions in two bags joining Doyle’s on the ground.
The sun breaking through the mist combined to give the pale stone an insubstantial glamour and elegance, and the silence of the early morning was as if this small area of London held its breath for a moment.
‘If only I could paint that,’ Doyle said, waving his hand and narrowly missing Bodie, who was now juggling the bags and fumbling for his car keys. ‘Reminds me of Turner.’
‘What, our Turner? 7.1?’
‘No, J.M.W., you – oh, yeah, very funny!’
Bodie smirked at having successfully baited his partner, then looked up the street towards the river. He privately admitted that although it was pretty, there was nothing about this neighbourhood he would miss. He turned to Doyle to reassure him of this, but Doyle was frowning again.
‘Bodie - I might never remember.’
‘I can’t be who you want me to be.’
‘You are who I want. You’re Ray Doyle. That’s enough for me.’
Doyle regarded him in exasperation.
‘Look, Ray. You don’t remember CI5. Us. You get headaches. My knee’s knackered and I’m gonna get arthritis and at some point I’m going to need a new hip. But I think we can still be good together.’
Doyle frowned. ‘You don’t like the smell of paint.’
The corner of Bodie’s mouth twitched. ‘S’right. Makes me sneeze.’
‘You’ll get fat on Morag’s scones.’
‘I’ll burn it off.’
‘We still have to look after Mr. Cowley. They’re still paying me, you know that?’
‘Yeah, that’s quite funny.’ Bodie grinned, thinking of Heron’s recent pained comments when he realised that Bodie was hoping to live with Doyle and Cowley.
‘You’ll miss the city. All this.’
‘We can come back every so often. We’ll have to for you to do more exhibitions.’
Doyle winced. ‘Don’t remind me.’
He looked over at Bodie. ‘Seriously. No second thoughts?’
Bodie’s eyes crinkled as he smiled.
‘This is my second chance, sunshine. No second thoughts.’
Doyle smiled back. ‘Nutter.’
Bodie crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue.
‘Yeah, okay, my nutter. No one else will have you. Come on.’ He moved around to the passenger side of the car.
Bodie flung the bags into the boot of the car, then eased himself behind the wheel. He looked over at Doyle in the passenger seat, one hand up on the grab handle, one booted foot on the dashboard.
‘Yep.’ Doyle looked across and patted him on the thigh. ‘Let’s get out of this lousy town.’
Bodie’s heart lifted. The Capri’s engine gave a throaty roar as he revved away from the curb. He was smiling as he pointed the nose of the car towards the North, and home.