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Tipping Point

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Tipping point

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Chapter 1

I shivered as the wind whipped around me, swirling up an old chip wrapper and a browned leaf. Where did that come from? There's not a tree in sight and it's not proper Autumn yet. Sinking my neck deeper into the fur collar of my flying jacket and jamming my fists deeper into the pockets did little as a defence against the bitter elements as I walked. At least it's not raining. The sky, an ominous shade of charcoal and full of competing clouds, reflected my mood. Thoughts racing through my head and not one of them cheerful. Serves me bloody right. I'd known something was wrong well over a year ago. Nothing I could put my finger on, just that there was a whiff of something not quite right. Of course, I'd ignored it at first. I'd felt off, but had carried on with the daily routine of the madness of life in CI5, pushing it to the back of my mind. Stakeout and then, to break the boredom, back to mine or Bodie's for a take away and a beer over a footie match; and then the next day, a shootout and then down the pub to wash away the stresses of taking a life. Pretty much every day, either of those accounts would come to pass, and we'd never know which until the moment was upon us. Putting the early symptoms down to the aftermath of all that adrenaline repeatedly pumping round my veins, I'd then realised that the debilitating warning signs were there whether the adrenaline was existent or not. Waking up with them should have been the moment of realisation, but no, I'd deluded myself. And it was only when I'd realised that the physical symptoms were impossible to hide, that I'd finally admitted that there may even be a problem, although was still not willing to properly deal with it. Tried to ignore it. Thought I could deal with it. Handle it, sort it out. And then shortly after that, I'd nearly got my partner killed. That had certainly woken me up. 

Going back to Derby was a mistake, I know that now at least. The way Mum'd shrugged when I'd told her. "You're your father's son," she'd said, "Weak, just like him." Her sneering tone still cut deep. What I'd expected instead, well that was idealistic. Bodie would have put me right. Can hear 'im now "However much you want it to be, the world's not full of unicorns and rainbows, Raymond, my son." I shook my head in disbelief at my foolishness. Mum was never the warm, cuddly and supportive sort. Not close, are we. Swap cards at Christmas, that's pretty much it and best that way. At least I'd had the sense to turn around and walk right out again.

That humiliation had been nothing compared to my last meeting with Cowley, though. I'd been sweating and shaking when I went in, feeling sick with nerves and could barely string a sentence together, so keyed up I'd been. And he’d brushed it all under the carpet. 'Sometimes these things happen.' I'd persisted though, repeating over and over that it hadn't just been bad luck. And then he'd changed tack. 'A few difficulties in the field, under performing here and there, happens to the best from time to time.' I'd got angry then. The shakes getting worse, if anything. And the old man, true to form, had poured us both a generous nip of scotch, despite it only being nine-thirty in the morning.

Doyle Whisky 1.png

Cowley had supped his slowly, savouring it. I'd been well beyond that, knocking it back in one before sitting there clutching my glass, waiting for the tremors to stop.

It had done the job though, and I'd been able to explain. Told him the problems I was having. And he could see the change, I could tell it in his eyes. Gave me a look that could etch diamonds. He'd understood. And let me go. Six months off on half pay. The only condition that I keep him updated with where I'd be stayin'. And then the old bugger had come through. When I'd first rung 'im to tell him I was settled, he'd told me to ring him in a week. So of course I had. Could 'ave knocked me down with a feather when he'd told me he'd organised treatments and counselling. And considering everything, he's been pretty decent. It's altering my attitude towards the job and helping me understand why it all went wrong. I've never been one to accept help easily, but the….what's it called? That's it! Cognitive behavioural therapy. Yeah, that's helping change m'negative thought patterns too, despite me thinkin' it was all mumbo jumbo.

'M grateful to the old sod. Givin' me a chance to get better and agreeing not to tell Bodie why and where I'd gone. I sighed. Not sure Bodie'll ever forgive me, though. The two people I respect most in the world and my body's let them down. The voice in my head sternly corrected itself. I've let them down.

A feeling of being watched caused me to lift my head, dragging my eyes away from the hypnotic repetitiveness of the cracked, grey paving slabs beneath my feet. Looking about, the street was empty. Not surprising. The weather wasn't exactly encouraging people to leave the sanctuary of their homes. The somewhat lacklustre British summer was now merely a distant memory and the recent spate of rain and Siberian winds had driven people off the streets days ago. The back of my neck started to prickle, so I kept my head up and as I reached the community centre, the itch moved down to between my shoulder blades. With a last look about the deserted street, I pulled open the wooden door and went in; the institutional smell of old mop and disinfectant stinging my cold nostrils. The door clanged shut behind me and I loosened my jacket as I made my way to the hall. This was the eighteenth support meeting I'd been to. And they still weren't easy. But they helped. And it was getting to the time when I had to make a decision as to what was next. Maybe I'll think about that tomorrow.

When I came out, pushing through the door, I saw him straight away. Leaning against the Capri, arms folded over his chest and left ankle crossed casually over right. I stood for a moment, my guts tightening reflexively and he straightened, looking across at me.

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I slowly crossed the deserted street, my heart hammering in my chest, drawn to my partner like a moth to a flame. I wanted Bodie to get it over and done with. I knew with certainty that he'd never forgive me. I'd been fooling myself that he might. Best friendship I've ever 'ad, and I've wrecked it. And on the job. Trust. That’s what we had. Mutual trust. And I’ve fucked it up.

He spoke first. "Hello Ray." and it was almost sheepish.

I was taken aback. I'd expected him to thump me for walking out on him. Or for nearly getting him killed. Or for any of the various transgressions I'd been guilty of. Maybe he's just biding his time.

I tentatively smiled back at him. It was bloody good to see him, I’d missed him, but I was self-conscious. Didn't really know what to say.

"Cowley told you," I said, resignedly.

Bodie shook his head vehemently “No, broke into his desk”

"Bloody hell mate, he will rip you in two when he finds out," I swiftly rejoindered, surprised by Bodie's blatant admission. "And he will you know."

Bodie gave a shrug of his shoulders, “Possibly." Seemingly unconcerned by the prospect.

"Definitely," I said, firmly. On sure ground, now. "You should know, mate. There are three things guaranteed in this life. Death, taxes and Cowley finding out.”

He shrugged again. "Look, Ray. Can we go somewhere?"

I nodded. There were things I needed to say. "There’s a pub round the corner."

Bodie's eyes widened slightly. "Okay," he said, still oddly hesitant. Biting his lip, he turned to the car, nodding to the passenger side, before getting in himself.

I shrugged. Good a place as any. And with a bit of luck Bodie won't thump me in the middle of a strange pub when I tell him the truth.

Chapter 2

As he drove, I studied him. I'd lost track of the days those first couple of weeks while I was sorting myself out. It had taken all my diminished energy. Before I'd left London, I'd asked Cowley to keep me updated on his progress, and the old man had obliged.  I'd at least waited until Bodie was out of surgery before leaving the hospital. Until I’d come to Oxford I hadn’t really appreciated how much time we spent in each other’s company. Up to that last operation, Bodie and I had lived in such close proximity, although not only because the job demanded it. Whilst on duty we were invariably together, of course. But it was all the off-duty hours. Down the pub. Having a beer while watching Match of the Day and bickering over whether the ref needed glasses. Pulling birds. We'd made it a team sport.

Being without my partner for so long had been like losing a limb. Does Bodie feel like that too? Is that why he's come looking? Too much to hope for.

The pub was one of those cheerful, inviting ones. A hearty fire crackled in the hearth and warm lighting pooled in every corner. Sparsely populated tables all dotted around, somewhat haphazardly, with an array of mismatched wooden chairs, giving the place a homely feel. Cosy. At the other end of the bar, a pleasantly plump, middle-aged barmaid was busy serving one of the few other patrons. It's midweek. Never goin' to be packed.

I looked to Bodie, who rubbed his hands together, grinning as he did so, one eyebrow raised towards the wall behind the bar.

"Waddya want?"

 Nodding at the lager tap, he said, "I'll have a pi… " and then he faltered. "Erm, just a lemonade for me, mate."

Turning away from him, leaning casually on the bar, my mind whirred.

Standing in the pub.png

"Sorry," he mumbled. And there it was. That gentleness in Bodie that he showed the weak and vulnerable. Small children, little old ladies and defenceless animals. And he was showing it to me. I don't want your bloody pity. My temper flared with overwhelming feelings of resentment. "Don’t," I snarled.

Bodie's usual easy charm faltered. And there was an element of shyness, awkwardness. Not a trait I'd ever have labelled him with, it certainly wasn't the smug confidence that he normally exuded by the bucket load.

I shook my head in annoyance, It's a pointless argument anyhow, but I don’t like to think of myself as weak, whatever the reason. Probably completely bloody irrelevant to everybody else though. The net effect's the same, letting down my colleagues and friends. I winced internally. Although, he can't hold me solely responsible for my flare of anger. Bodie doesn't apologise. Ever. So it's out of character. Unexpected. He'll just brush aside any lapses on his part, small or otherwise, with a blithe comment and a cheeky grin.

Wanting to put things back on safer ground I asked “D'ya want summat to eat?”

“Mmm, may as well” he said, eyes scanning the extensive menu on the black board behind the bar. “I'm famished," he said, mournfully, "You?”

It was just so bloody familiar and I felt the tension leach out of me. Although I hadn't eaten, I was too intrigued by how he’d found me and what he knew to think about food, so I shrugged indifference. Besides, it was, at best, merely a temporary reprieve. He’d save skinning me alive until after we'd eaten.

 “Course, the main symptoms are aggression and being off your grub, so I was at a disadvantage,” he said, eyes still fixed on the blackboard, a small smile appearing. Can’t keep the daft lummox down for long.

And despite everything, I chuckled. I had to give him that one. So he knows. Well that explains a few things. What had Cowley told him? I wanted to know, because the old bastard had said it would be confidential.

Bodie gave a nervous lick of his lip. Or maybe he's just thinking about his dinner. Yeah, that's more likely.

I turned back to the barmaid who had made her way down to our end of the bar. "Good evening, gents. What can I get for you?"

"A pint of Carlsberg and a lemonade, please love."

Again, Bodie's eyes widened slightly, but just like before, he said nothing, still appearing to be immersed in viewing the menu board.

"Ice and lemon in the lemonade?"

I nodded. "Could we order some food as well?"

The pint was placed on the bar first, and Bodie didn't make a move towards it. Does he think it's mine or is he just being polite? Maybe he doesn't know after all…

As soon as the lemonade was served by the landlady, I put a hand to it. "Cheers, mate." And took a large slurp. Bodie gave me an understanding grin before reaching for the lager. "Cheers, Ray."

Nah, he knows.

I paid for the drinks and food, wincing slightly as I handed over my last fiver, which under normal circumstances would have easily lasted me until I got paid again.

Once we were settled at a table, I asked him about what Cowley had said. Absolutely zip was Bodie's quick answer. Is he defending Cowley? I wondered. No, Bodie doesn’t lie. Paranoia's still an issue, then. Maybe I'm not quite as well as I think, even though I'm sitting in the middle of a pub and I'm feeling okay.

“Eh?” I said, knowing Bodie had just spoken, but too engrossed in my thoughts to have heard him. Bodie gave a patient smile before repeating himself. “Knew something was up when the old man ditched the scotch in his office.”

Is that gloomy edge to his voice real or is he joking? “He did what?”

"Glenfiddich sales 'ave plummeted," he said, "Betty's wearing a groove into the carpet between his office and the kettle."

I paused, taken aback. “Bloody ‘ell”

Bodie nodded. “There’s a new section on the CI5 medical assessment form too. How many units of alcohol do you drink a week. They had to make the box bigger for most of us,” he said, thoughtfully.

"So, the others know" I felt a familiar sting of shame in between my shoulder blades.

"Nah, it's none of their business. Besides, they're all wondering why you've been lumbered with a solo op from the old man and who agent 9.2 is. So am I, come to that. Board said you were on assignment with 'em. Who is 9.2?"

I frowned in confusion.

"The ops board says Doyle, 9.2, Cowley, Oxford."

The crafty old bastard. I chuckled. Nothing like hiding in plain sight.

Bodie didn't push it when I didn't explain. Poor sod's trying so 'ard. He's normally about as restrained as a headbutt.

I tried again. "So Cowley told you?"

It was Bodie's turn to look confused. He shook his head. "Nah, told you, the old man hasn't said a word. Although, I think he's worried about you."

"How so?"

"Well, he… er sort of gave me the idea to break into his desk."

I raised my eyebrow. Cowley was very protective of his antique desk, guarding it against even the slightest risk of a scuff and he would tut disapprovingly when even an empty glass was placed directly on its wooden surface.

"Well, I trust you didn't damage it."

Bodie snorted into his pint. "More than my life's worth."

"So what was in the desk?" I said, patiently, Bodie's always like this. Trying to get any information out of him was like getting the proverbial blood from a stone and it was yet another thing that was familiar and somehow reassuring.

Bodie looked surprised that I didn't know. "Oh. The name of your counsellor chap. Clive Bridges."

"So, how exactly did you find me?"

Bodie shrugged.

So the old man's got transcripts of my sessions, has he? He'd told me Bridges was security cleared, but he'd promised that the sessions would be confidential. I just thought he'd realised we all held back with Ross. None of us wanted anything officially put on our records that could come back and bite us. Although I bet my problems are all on file now in black and white. I sighed. What’s done is done.

"So he's getting reports from Bridges?" I concentrated on relaxing my fist that had clenched under the table at the thought of Cowley and Bodie knowing all my innermost thoughts.

Bodie looked at me and obviously saw how tense I was despite my efforts to conceal it. Calmly, he said, "Don't think so. There was only Bridge's card in there. I just guessed you'd do everything in your power, so I started checking out all the support groups."

I was always impulsive, reckless. Not thinking things through. Bodie was always telling me. Should've known that the supposed anonymity guaranteed by the support group wouldn't stop CI5 from tracking me down. And then I recalled that I'd felt that prickle of being watched as I'd approached the community centre. Bodie's calm demeanour gave me a mental kick that I needed. I'm bein' unfair to Cowley. The old man's word is good. Always has been anyway. Can trust 'im. Or at least can trust 'im when Ci5 isn't in the equation. Then he's about as trustworthy as…….Anyway, Bodie wouldn't lie. Nah, he likely just got lucky finding me and I'm just bein' paranoid. Gotta trust Bridges. Might just ask 'im though. Make sure he's not reporting back to Cowley.

“We’ll make a detective out of you, yet.”

Bodie grinned, “Learnt from the best, didn’t, I.”

Me? Cowley? Could be Dixon of bloody Dock Green for all I know.

I pushed the thoughts aside and concentrated on my partner. He looked okay. No evidence that I'd nearly got him killed five months ago but I wanted to hear it from him. "How's things been?"

Bodie gave a typically laconic run down of the last five months, "Been with Murph on and off and before that, spent some time in records." That reminded me again of the why. Because the poor sod had been shot in the shoulder.

"What about you?" Bodie’s tone conveyed interest, not accusation.

"Went up north for a bit, didn't stop long, just went back to see the family. Then came down here. Got some digs and started to sort m'self out."

"Are you coming back?" he asked, casually. "I want to know whether it’s worth taking the flak from the old man about his desk." Bodie said, with a smile in his voice, trying to take the sting out of his question. Pictures of the last op bombarded my mind. Bodie has a right to be furious with me, but there's no indication that he feels any anger towards me at all. And it's the million dollar question isn’t it. Despite all the mental anguish it causes me, I like the bloody job.

"I want to," I said, cautiously. Although, even that wasn’t exactly true. I’m no quitter, but I don’t want to let Cowley down again and more importantly, I don’t want to let you down again. And I don't know whether I can cope with the job any more.

"I’ve missed you, mate," Bodie said, quietly. And before I could even respond, the barmaid came bustling up to our table with our grub. One large plate for him, overflowing with chips, and a smaller plate, with a sandwich and a handful of crisps arranged on the side for me.

He smoothly dismissed the barmaid with one of his most charming smiles and she toddled back to the bar with an exaggerated sway of her hips. Bodie watched appreciatively before focusing his attention on the plateful in front of him.

Bodie didn’t attempt to nick anything off my plate. Normally, trying to stop Bodie from eating my grub was about as effective as bailing water with a sieve. Not one to waste an opportunity. I brazenly pinched the largest chip from his plate, just to reassure him that my appetite was back. And to annoy him of course. And then dug into my own sandwich.

I’ve bloody missed you too. Sitting beside you while you're demolishing a large plateful is heartening. The days and evenings have been very long without your company, sunshine. But there's also too many memories of nights spent drinking. Relaxing, a few pints after work to unwind or to numb the anguish from a failed op or the death of an innocent or a colleague. And association is one of the things the counsellor's talked about. Not bloody Bodie's fault though, is it? Or should he be shouldering some of the blame? He freewheels through life, like he doesn’t have a care in the world and his scruples've got as much slack in 'em as me old Nan's knicker elastic. And maybe some of those moral mazes that I send myself spiralling headfirst into are because of Bodie. His blasé attitude towards killing, 'Them or us, sunshine' with never a twinge of guilt. Or at least he never shows me if he does feel anything. And his dips into sexism and racism. Although never now in the old man’s hearing. Maybe I need to balance it out. Hmmm, maybe I should talk to the counsellor about that next session. Need to find out how much is getting back to Cowley first. Not bloody fair on Bodie otherwise, is it.

What the fuck am I doing? Trying to shift the blame onto my best mate. It isn’t his fault. Nah, Bodie's a damned good partner and he deserves someone who can properly cover his back. He certainly doesn’t deserve the blame to be shoved at his door. And no, Bodie doesn't have a blithe disregard for life. He's got a conscience, he just handles it better, that's all. A flippant quip for every occasion and he forgets and moves on. Level headed. My fault, my problem to solve. Ashamed of my resentment, I slid the crisps from my plate onto his empty one.

Bodie looked down at the crisps, a frown creasing his expressive brows. "If you want out, Ray. Then we’ll get out."

"We?" I asked in amazement, choking slightly on my lemonade. The way I felt at that moment, Bodie was the only truly convincing reason to go back. I owed him.

"My partner, my responsibility," he said, firmly.

I can't do much else apart from manual labour, if I leave CI5. Let's face it, the well-trodden route of ex copper turned publican is probably not a sensible career move for me. Bodie's got a few more options, though. Some of his ex-squaddie mates've got businesses that would take him on like a shot. They'd likely pass on taking on an alcoholic, though. Understandable, that.

"Can we get out of here?" I asked, hoping the desperation I was feeling didn't bleed into my voice. Although I might have failed on that score based on the worried expression that passed fleetingly across Bodie's face.

Abandoning his pint, Bodie immediately stood up, not wasting any time.

I wasn't sure I was ready to return to active duty, but my period of leave of absence was nearing its end. Maybe I never would be. The thought depressed me. My immediate future was destined to be a lonely one and I didn’t want to be without the comforting presence of my partner quite yet. Besides, I still had things I needed to say. And if I went home by myself I’d just sit and stew. As we walked out of the warmth of the pub into the chill of the autumn night, I ventured, “Wanna stay at mine? You can have the bed, mate”

Bodie shook his head. "No."

The disappointment welled up inside me and I almost missed what he said next.

"I've got a better idea, Angelfish. Come on."

He walked to the car, just assuming I'd follow. Which I did after I'd absorbed what he'd said. He unlocked my door from inside the car and I got in, looking across at him for any clue as to his intentions. I had precious little to go on, his face was revealing nothing.

Christ. How can I tell him that I don't feel strong enough to go to another pub or a bloody nightclub.

"Bodie."

"Hmmm?"

"Where we goin'?"

"Got a hotel I’ve been staying in."

"What do you mean staying in? How long have you been here?"

Bodie gave a dismissive wave of his hand. "Since Monday. Drove up first thing. Staked out Bridges' office."

"You've been staking out his office every day since Monday?"

He shrugged and unnecessarily changed down a gear as an indication that as far as he was concerned it wasn't worth discussing any further.

I haven't the heart to tell him he must have missed seeing me by minutes. I'd had the first appointment of the day on Monday, leaving there at nine thirty prompt. And would have the second of my twice-weekly sessions, tomorrow morning. Bodie doesn't like stake outs at the best of times. And sitting staring at Bridges' door, alone, for hour after hour for the last three days must have been bloody murder for him.

He swung the wheel and we pulled into a car park, a modern building down one side of it, a large blue and white backlit logo along its length, shining forth into the dusk.

My normally calm and collected partner was exuding tension in waves. "Travelodge," he said, unnecessarily, "New fangled budget motel chain from 'merica."

I raised an eyebrow at him. "Cowley stumped up for this?"

Bodie shook his head. "Nah, I'm on m'hols, so thought I'd give it a go."

Christ! Bodie's given up his leave. And he's shelling out for a hotel. And I know he doesn't usually like cheap and cheerful. Likes the finer things in life, he does. Although I'll bet it's an improvement on what the old man would have paid for on an obbo. And even if it isn't, it's still bound to be better than my digs, however cheap it is.

"Well at least you've had the evenings free."

Bodie harrumphed, "You have no idea how many support groups there are round Oxford do you, sunshine. There's two or three a night. Five nights a week.

Bodie reached round his seat and produced a carton of milk, raising it in the air like a trophy. "For tea," he said as he opened his door. "As Monty Python said, make tea, not war."

I opened my door and climbed out the car, waiting while Bodie locked up and then followed him as he ambled into the hotel. What's that saying? A cup of tea solves everything? If only that were true.

Chapter 3

Following him down the corridor he stopped outside a door and unlocking it with a key, held it open. "In y'go, Goldilocks."

I grinned at him as I sauntered in through the door, a built in wardrobe on my left. A lamp in the left hand corner was radiating a soft glow which provided sufficient illumination to fill the space with a low level of light. A door to the right was ajar, and pushing it open revealed an en-suite bathroom. Looking around, I nodded approvingly. Definitely better than my digs. The main room had a double bed and a generously wide sofa-bed ran along the far wall, under a window.  Opposite the bed, a desk-come-dressing table had a chair tucked underneath it and on its top, a small kettle and two upturned mugs on a tray, all reflected in the large mirror behind them.

"S'alright this, innit," I said, turning back to Bodie.

He stood in front of the now closed door, still clutching the milk in his left hand, nervously spinning the room key on the forefinger of the other hand. The tension, the strain, showed on his face. The furrowed forehead and deep lines round his eyes were further evidence that he wasn't comfortable.

I stood there, waiting for him to say something. Why's he all tensed up, what's going on?

"I'll put the kettle on," he said, as he walked over to the desk. Abandoning the milk before grabbing the kettle, he disappeared into the bathroom and I could hear the sound of running water. Sitting down on the sofa-bed, I waited. That's why he's uncomfortable. Normally one of us'd produce a bottle of scotch from a bag and we'd both have a drink. Can't do that now, can he.

He reappeared, walking past me, avoiding my eye and plugged the kettle in, before starting to fiddle with the mugs.

I looked at his back, the shoulders still visibly tense under the beige fabric of his jacket.  I transferred my gaze to the mirror to look at his face, but his head was steadfastly down, as he started ripping open packets and sachets.

I leant back on my hands, the sofa gently sinking behind me and tried to think of something I could say to lighten the mood.

Bodie turned suddenly. "Ray, I'm sorry, mate," he said, looking straight at me.

"Run out of teabags?"

He shook his head. "No," he replied, vehemently. "I mean, I'm sorry about before."

"Bodie. I don't know what you're on about. You're gonna have to explain what you mean by before."

With a soft gusting sigh of acquiescence, he sat down on the bed, facing me, the tea now apparently forgotten, and I gave him an enquiring look.

Bodie said softly "I let you down, mate."

I cut him off before he could say anything else. "What the hell are you talking about? You let me down? How the fuck do you work that out? I was the one that nearly got you killed. You should be bloody furious with me."

While I blustered, almost shouting at him, he sat there, slowly shaking his head from side to side, waiting for me to finish expelling all my frustrations. I fell silent and looked at him, trying to see what he was thinking.

I studied his face and his eyes were earnest and unusually dark. And it wasn't just down to the room being shadowy. The customary glint, that accompanied him finding the humour in even the most dire of situations, wasn't there.

He's bloody serious.

"You're not even the slightest bit angry?" I asked, bemused now.

He shrugged. "I was." He exhaled, slowly. "At first. I was…," he paused, "…peeved when you didn’t come to the hospital. And then I found out from Murph that you'd disappeared without a word. An' then I was."

It's an unwritten rule collecting your partner after a hospital stay. But it’s unwritten, so it can’t be held against me. No, it was a shit thing to do, doing a vanishing act on 'im. No getting away from that.

He momentarily paused. "The old man came to collect me, took me home. Told me that you’d stayed all night when I was first taken in and gave me some food for thought."

"So he did tell you," I said, gleaning some strange sense of satisfaction that my suspicions had been proved right after all.

"No!" His sharp tone caught me by surprise.

"So what did he say to you if he didn't tell you?" I challenged, somewhat cynically.

Another shrug accompanied his reply. "He just got me thinking that was all. Told me to think about how you were feeling. Said that I shouldn't just be thinking 'bout me. And asked me how you'd been over the last few months. Told me to really think about it. And I didn't have anything better to do while I was laid up at home, so I did."

I waited, interested in what he was going to say. Thought I'd been covering it all up quite well. Was handling it. Though course I didn't know what 'it' was, did I. Or that I was actually just foolin' meself.

"Realised that you'd changed. Nothing big. Nothing fast. Just a slow, steady change. Little things that the others in the squad wouldn't notice, but I should've."

"Like what?" I, asked, wanting to know what he'd seen, even if only in hindsight.

"A while back. Last year after that business out in Ealing. Well you were quieter, um, subdued I guess. I mean, that firecracker of a temper you've got, well it had shrivelled into a damp squib if I saw it at all. And more often than not you went straight home after a shift."

Was that the tipping point? After the Campbell debacle? The girl. She shouldn't have died. Wrong place, wrong time, poor kid. That bastard, Campbell, killed her. He didn't have to do that. If we'd got there in time. Would it have made a difference? And I still don't know. And when I'd raised it at the time, Bodie'd listened patiently to my speculative opinions for days. Eventually, eyes glowing with impatience, he’d vehemently cut me off, mid-stream, “If, if, if. Ifs are bloody pointless. If your Aunt had bollocks, she’d be your Uncle. What's done is done. She was mixed up with him. Her choice. It happened. It's sad, but she chose to be there. Move on, Doyle.

What'm I doing? Trying to blame 'im again?

 I sighed internally and focused back on my partner.

"And when you did come out down the pub, you used to go off home after just one round rather than stay longer like you used to. I didn't think that much about it. Didn't think to ask if you were okay. It's something I feel bad about. Not realising." Bodie frowned. "I should have seen it," he said softly. "Should’ve helped." He looked down, away from my steady gaze and fell silent.

I don't think even I knew I wasn't okay, mate.

"Then you turned into the life and soul. Out most nights you were. Drinking a lot. No more than some of the others mind," he said, hastily. "But you were doing it most nights, I think. Judging by the comments made in the squad room, you were drinking a lot more than you used to."

I hadn't really given much thought about how any of it started. Perhaps I should have. A couple of random squad room comments from around that time came back to me.

'Bloody 'ell Ray. For a skinny 'un, you can certainly pack it away.' That'd been Jax, his admiring comment had been accompanied with a hearty slap on my back. And McCabe, a few days after, his voice full of wonder. 'You drank Lucas under the table last night. He felt like shit first thing and still does. He's hidden himself in records on a pretext. How come you're so bloody bright eyed and bushy tailed?' If only they could see me now.

"Then a couple of months later, everything settled down again. But you didn’t come out much. Just thought you had a new bird on the go."

I remember Bodie asking me about my bird, back then. And I'd played along. The perfect smoke screen it'd been. The truth was that I'd developed an unquenchable thirst for alcohol. And drinking had become very much a solitary pursuit. Dates had been off the menu by then. Ever since my n on-performance with that bird I picked up in Camden at the all night drinking den. That had been embarrassing.

Always coy about anything personal, Bodie was struggling. His habitual reticence meant this was a whole new space for him. An overwhelming feeling of affection welled inside of me as I observed his fumbling explanations and earnest expression. I sat back, willing to wait.

Bodie put his hand up to the back of his neck and rubbed it firmly before sighing. "Ray, I know I'm not very good at stuff like this. But, promise me, if you need to talk in the future. Ever. I'll listen. I just want you to know, you mean a hell of a lot to me. You’re my partner, my best mate and my brother. When you hurt, I hurt. You're…" he paused, reflectively. "…you're damned important to me. And I'm sorry you felt you couldn't tell me. That you got so desperate that you hid everything away."

Anson and some of the other agents always teased us about the closeness of our partnership. But me and Bodie have never really talked about it, despite being such a tight unit. Or at least we were.

I sighed, unsure what to say.

Bodie waiting as if for judgement, said gently, "So I’m sorry, really sorry, that I didn't understand."

Feeling embarrassed and foolish, my temper flared again. "You're just upset because I didn’t tell you. You, who’s so tight lipped about pretty much everything, are miffed 'cos I didn’t tell you my dirty little secret."

"No," he protested, then quieter, "It wasn’t that. I failed you 'cos you felt you couldn’t tell me. That’s what hurts, sunshine."

Jesus, that's a hell of a declaration. Especially from 'im.  Shuns any emotional involvement, he does. Never thought he truly didn't give a damn, though and let's face it,  he does have a vested interest in the state of my well-being as I'm the one s'posed to be watchin' his back, but I thought if I'd ever made any emotional demand he'd be off faster than a runner in the 2.30 at Chepstow. And here he is, apologising for it. Christ.

My silence unnerved him further and he stuttered. "I'm really sorry."

"Bodie," I said firmly, "You have nothing to apologise for. I let things get to me. And there were plenty of people I could have talked to. Ross. Cowley. I could've talked to any one of 'em if I needed somebody. It doesn't just fall to you y'know."

"It does," he said, followed by a stubborn jut of his lower lip. "I'm your partner, dammit. I should know if there's something wrong."

What the fuck's wrong with him. This isn’t like him at all. So bloody cocksure all the time and here he is sounding almost like he's pleading for forgiveness. This isn't right. He isn’t Bodie without his light-hearted, frivolous chatter and that innate cockiness. P'raps I can goad him. That'll sort 'im.

"Like I did with King Billy, you mean?" I asked, slyly.

Bodie snorted. "That was different."

"How so?"

"Because, that was personal, not CI5 and I didn’t know you so well, then. Besides, do as I say, not as I do," he said, followed by a disarming grin.

Poor excuses, mate. Was obviously one hell of an undercover role I’d played. And the loser? You, you poor sod who nearly ended up six feet under. You're the victim in all of this. It's that big yellow streak down my back. You've said it in jest before. But you're not being vengeful now, despite me taking the coward's way out. All the way down the bloody line.

"I let it all get to me, got caught in a downward spiral. Then didn’t have the balls to admit there was a problem and to sort m'self out."

He stood up and walked back to the previously abandoned kettle. "Takes inner strength to give it up and stick at it."

I snorted in derision.

He turned round, hands on hips, his eyes sparking with conviction. "You’re not weak, mate. You went to Cowley too. That took real guts."

You're wrong. It was pure fury that prompted me to go to Cowley. Pure fury that I'd allowed you, my poor unfortunate sod of a partner, to be unnecessarily endangered.

He handed me a mug full of tea. "If we need to change our priorities, we can."

Absentmindedly clutching the mug, I sought out the warmth still leeching through the porcelain and I wrapped my hands around it, thankful for the steadiness of them. It was a relatively new phenomena, after all. In truth, I was still reeling from his uncharacteristic declaration. The fumbled and stumbled words. 'I failed you.'

"We?" I questioned.

He nodded, emphatically. "Yeah. You, me, we're the Bisto kids, Ray. Doesn't work if there's only one of 'em, does it?"

Mr Self-contained and solitary as a squirrel, promising to stick by me, come what may.

I don’t know whether I should be forever indebted to Cowley for instigating your visit or absolutely furious with the old bastard for putting the guilts on you. Although, seems I still have your complete and utter trust. Far more than I deserve. But, misplaced or not, I've got it and I'm determined I'm not going to let you down twice.

Bodie looked discomfited by my lack of reply, and in a brisk tone changed the subject. "I'm gonna finish m'cuppa and then I'm gonna pour m'self into bed. I'm knackered. You'll be alright on the put-me-up? There's sheets and stuff in the wardrobe." Bodie settled onto the large bed, staking his claim. I've left it too late. The pause while I digested his declaration had been noted and misunderstood.

I nodded. I've slept in far worse places. Like the bed at my current digs for one. And sharing a bed with Bodie is like having a kip in the path of a snow plough. Slowly but surely, he spreads out, pushing everything in his wake to the side. The number of times I've woken up when we've had to bunk up together, teetering on the edge of the bed. God knows how his birds put up with it. But then that's 'im innit. A force to be reckoned with in pretty much every way, he is. Is he putting the tiredness on? I looked across at him. Nah, he looks knackered. Stakeouts can do that to you, though. The inactivity. The boredom. And Bodie doesn’t handle either of those well.

The juxtaposition of whether I could handle it all again played on my mind. I missed the job. The feeling of doing something good and worthwhile. I missed those highs of adrenaline filled action too. And I missed my partner most of all. Bodie's the victim in all of this. He's all any bloke wants in a best mate. Loyal, true, steadfast, entertaining, dependable and trustworthy. And I've so very nearly thrown it all away.

Despite the relative earliness of the hour, I was tired too. Going to the support group sessions was emotionally exhausting. We finished our tea in silence and Bodie disappeared into the bathroom with the mugs, rinsing them before putting them back next to the kettle. I closed the curtains before he disappeared again and the noise of the loo flushing, followed shortly after by the sounds of him washing and cleaning his teeth found their way through the closed door as I looked for the bed linen. Finding it, I grinned to myself at the row of neatly hung clothes in the wardrobe. After making up the sofa bed, I stripped down to my boxers and swapped places with Bodie in the bathroom. By the time I came out, Bodie was settled, the bed clothes up to his neck, the small bedside lamp next to him providing another pool of yellow light. I sauntered over to the sofa bed, turning the corner lamp off as I went.

As I settled in, I heard a weary sounding "Night, mate," as a click and the resulting darkness signalled his lamp going off.

As I lay there, listening to Bodie's steady breathing, pictures of the last op we'd been on bombarded my mind. The job was supposed to have been a simple obbo. And then it had all blown up in our faces. Trying to think of anything else to chase the images away, I concentrated on the aftermath. When I'd first settled in Oxford, I'd spent the first week asking myself if I was truly addicted to booze, whilst of course still drinking.

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Arguing with myself that it was more that we merely had a very committed relationship and it was just the job that was the problem. The first stage of addiction. Denial. With my self worth and self respect at rock bottom, I'd tested my theory. Stayed off it completely and had learnt very quickly that going dry was a very unpleasant experience. All the symptoms that I'd previously had; anxiety, shaky hands, headaches and nausea. Well they came back tenfold in the first afternoon, less than six hours after I'd put down my glass for the last time. Accompanied by vomiting, insomnia and sweating. And all of that, as I'd subsequently discovered, were the mild symptoms. The next two or three days had been worse. Much worse.  I'd started to see, feel, and hear things that weren't there, although they'd felt very real at the time. Just as well I'd handed my gun over to Cowley, God knows what I would have done if it had been within my reach. It hadn't helped with the paranoia though. Used to having strong locks and being armed. I'd felt especially vulnerable without either. The DTs had started two days in. Vivid hallucinations and delusions, along with a racing heart and a fever. Heavy sweating and confusion. Took me a week to see myself through that. After, I'd just felt numb, tremors all over, not just my hands. Nervous exhaustion on top of withdrawal. And then I vowed I wouldn't ever go through that again, so no booze from that moment on. And I'd succeeded. So far. Not sure that's inner strength, whatever Bodie says. More like stubbornness.

The summer had been lousy, raining most days. So to keep myself occupied, in the ensuing weeks, I'd haunted the second hand book shops. And then I'd joined the library. It was dry and the books were free. Besides, I've probably read more books in the last few weeks than most of the second-hand book shops have on their shelves. I yawned, widely.

Not surprised I'm tired. When I've not been reading, I've spent my time running for miles. Despite everything, my body wasn't used to inactivity and I'd needed to get out. And running's been the healer. I'd needed it, though. I'd let everything slip. Macklin would've made mincemeat out of me if we'd been sent for a refresher before I'd got Bodie shot. And when I go back to CI5, it's the first place Cowley'll send me.

When I go back. Not if. Well, that's one decision made, maybe?. Pleased with the thought that I could even consider going back, I felt a wave of cheerful optimism rise up through me. I'm feelin' better than I have for weeks. I relaxed into the mattress, limbs loose and heavy and let sleep overtake me…

Chapter 4

I woke to Bodie looming over me as he scraped at the ice that was starting to form on the inside of the windscreen. A gloved hand swiped at the window, momentarily revealing the world before the glass clouded over again.

The shakes were pronounced and I hid my hands under the blanket to conceal the tremors, all the time complaining about the low temperature and cramped conditions of the Capri. Bodie grinned at me, thrust his flask at me and said “This’ll take the chill off your cockles. My turn to get tea.”

Bodie hauled himself out of the car, pushing the door to with the gentlest of touches before heading to the greasy spoon in the next street.

Shifting my body, I wiped a corner of the window to clear the icy condensation so I could watch his departing back in the side mirror before reaching into my bag down by my feet. Hands shaking almost uncontrollably, I grasped for the hip flask I’d carefully packed, filled with extra proof vodka. This was the third night we'd spent watching the house of one Fergus Moore, a small time crook. Bodie had made his feelings very clear that he considered it a complete waste of time, and I agreed with him, even if not out loud. It suited me, though. Bodie's discovery of the truck stop café that never seemed to shut and that was just round the corner had meant he was forever nipping out of the car. If Cowley caught him, he would be skinned alive. But that's Bodie's problem, not mine.

By the time Bodie was back, clutching a lard-spotted brown paper bag and two Styrofoam cups of tea, the trembling in my hands was barely perceptible. I stretched under the blanket, cramped muscles protesting.

Bodie settled himself back in the car, the two teas on the dash burning through the condensation on the inside of the glass, a corona of clear windscreen forming above them. I felt bold enough to reach out from under the blanket and took the nearest cup. "Anything going on?" asked Bodie, nodding towards the house we'd been staking out all night.

I shook my head, not willing to admit that I had barely looked at it since waking up. I leant forwards, dragging my arm across the fogged glass. "How the old man expects us to see anything in this weather," I grumbled. "Bloody windscreen immediately fogs up again when you clear it." 

The windscreen showed me up to be the liar I was, but Bodie didn't comment. Keeping half an eye on the house, he offered me the brown paper bag, his eyes twinkling with mischief. "Bacon sarnie?"

I looked daggers at him and shook my head, Bodie grinned and taking the bag back, opened it, allowing a waft of greasy aroma to fill the Capri. "Love bacon," Bodie said dreamily.

I retreated back under the blanket.

Bodie turned the ignition on, bringing the heater blowers to life and opening his window a crack, reached for his tea. I sat there grimacing as the cold air shot across my blanket covered knees.

"On a cold and frosty morning," Bodie warbled before making a series of happy noises as he rummaged for the contents of the paper bag and started to demolish the sandwich in large bites, interspersed with gulps of tea.

I clutched my cup, eking its paltry warmth, scowling at the world. What's he got to be so bloody cheerful about?

A satisfied sigh accompanied the screwing up of the empty paper bag as he fastidiously tucked it into his door pocket. As I drained my cup of tea, Bodie muttered, "Someone's up bright and early." I was just about to give a sarky reply when I saw the grey Corolla, out of the corner of my eye, driving past. It went up the street and stopped right outside the house we'd been watching. I grabbed the radio and called in the registration number. Control acknowledged, and then I relayed the information, that Moore, our target, was out of his door and in the car.

Cowley's voice crackled across the airwaves "You and 3.7 follow it, 4.5, and keep me up-to-date with your location."

Bodie gave me a sideways grin, and as the grey car disappeared around the corner, he pulled smoothly away from the kerb, accelerating fast to keep pace.

Reaching the T-junction, I spied the Toyota to the left and Bodie peeled out, accelerating effortlessly, reducing the distance between us and the Corolla, but maintaining sufficient distance not to spook its occupants.

We followed them for several miles, weaving our way across town, with me feeding back our location to the old man at every turn.

As we neared the docklands district, swathes of recently bulldozed wasteland came into view. The empirical evidence that the long ago promised regeneration of the poverty stricken and derelict neighbourhoods was finally happening. The soaring cranes towered over the remaining Victorian slums that had never benefitted from gentrification and that would soon be forever banished to the history books.

The radio crackled and Cowley's voice came over the airways. "The Toyota is registered to one Simon Campbell. Paul Campbell's brother." Bodie whistled in response. "How does the old goat do it, eh?" his eyebrow quirked in question as he nipped through an amber traffic light.

"Less of the old, thank you, 3.7. And I think you'll find that you are the only Billy around here."

Bodie scowled and I grinned at the radio, purposely not looking at Bodie and kept my finger firmly pressed on the open button in case Bodie had anything else to add.

The sparse traffic, due to the earliness of the hour, was making it harder and harder to keep a low profile and perhaps inevitably and without any warning, the Toyota accelerated hard before disappearing round a corner. Bodie followed suit, gunning the throttle and the three litre engine responded. Bodie pulled the wheel to the right and with a squeal of tyres, the Capri slid round the same corner, barely losing any speed, despite the fishtailing rear end.  I caught the merest glimpse of the Toyota as it vanished down a side street. We were now in the depths of Docklands, the area as yet untouched by the bulldozers. Tiny roads that weaved in and around the urban decay that pervaded every nook. Large warehouses, long ago abandoned, and relics of old machinery rusting and smothered with weeds, scattered amongst the rotting buildings. As we raced through the back streets, we caught the odd flash of the Toyota's bumper as it disappeared around another bend, the only clue that Bodie was keeping chase.

As we turned down one more street, pursuing the car ahead, the old East India Dock wall blocked any escape on our left and the Toyota veered off to the right with a screech. "Yes," I exclaimed. Bodie swung the wheel in behind them, a screech of tyres announcing his arrival into the Blackwall causeway that led only to a long ago abandoned shipyard next to the Thames, and with no way out.

I shouted into the radio. 'It's a dead end. We've got 'em cornered. Blackwall's Yard"

The Toyota was slewed across the other end of the plot, both front doors open and its occupants running full pelt towards their closest building. Bodie slid the car across the entrance to the yard, effectively blocking the one and only vehicular exit. He leapt out of the car, sliding over the bonnet to run after Moore and his accomplice. Stupid pillock, not waiting for me. But of course, he'd caught me on the hop. I'd had to disentangle myself from the blanket. Not my fault, I've been monitoring the radio. I ran after him, arms pumping. My lungs were burning long before I caught up with him and with no small amount of relief, I threw myself against the wall on the other side of the doorway where we'd last seen our quarry.

Bodie, his eyes glittering with the thrill of the chase to come, grinned at me. His sidearm already out and poised. I drew my gun too. We nodded our readiness and then, the manoeuvre as natural to both of us as breathing, went through the door in our established sequence. Me first, then Bodie covering my back. The building was gloomy and dank. The light shafted through the broken, grimy windows high up in the walls, creating strange shadows on the guano and debris littered floor. Bodie tapped me on the shoulder, pointing upwards. I nodded my assent and we made our way, as silently as we could, to the stairs.  Again, we automatically knew our positons as we ascended the stairs, fully in synch with each other. Alternating at each landing return, the leader sweeping the stairway, one of us always ahead, the other covering below.   

A noise from above confirmed we were on the right path, and we increased our pace, closing in. Two flights more, and a pigeon, its peaceful sanctuary disturbed, flew past my head, wings flapping wildly. I ducked instinctively, my heart thumping in my chest. Bodie smirked as he dashed past me, his teeth glistening in the half light. Mad bastard!

A shot rang out, a muzzle flash lighting up the top of the stairwell for a split second and both Bodie and I automatically pressed ourselves up against the wall, guns poised as we both crept forward and up towards the smell of cordite. A tremor ran down my right arm into my hand and my gun wavered in accord. Adrenaline. Campbell appeared on the floor above and shot downwards, a warning shot. "Stay back!"

I called back up to him. "We can't do that, son. Throw the gun down and we can talk about it."  

All I got in reply was another loose shot and a scrabbling sound as Campbell disappeared. Then both of them appeared, rushing forward and firing in unison. Fuck! I was in the wrong position. I'd been caught napping.

Bodie got a shot off and Moore went down. Campbell dashed towards the top of the stairs. My awkward position meant I could barely see Campbell, a tiny sliver of a target, but enough that I saw him raise his gun, aiming at Bodie and as if in slow motion, I fired a shot. And missed. At the edge of my vision, I saw Bodie be flung back against the wall by the force of the bullet and then with a grunt, he collapsed to the floor.

I got Campbell with the second shot, but too late. Bodie was hit and was down. I tore up the stairs, pistol first, kicking the weapons away from the two motionless bodies, and the sightless eyes confirmed they were both dead.

I rushed back down to my partner. He was slumped in the corner of the landing, a bright red sea already leaching across his chest. Spreading faster than I could have thought possible. Shit! I pulled my RT from my jacket pocket, yanking it as it caught on the pocket lining, as I simultaneously felt for his pulse. "Get an ambulance. Bodie's down. He needs it now!" His pulse was there. Reedy and irregular but it was there. I pressed on the large wound on the edge of his chest, but the blood just bubbled through my fingers pooling down towards his armpit.

Bodie. Bodie! Come on, mate. Ambulance is on its way. Come on. Stay with me.

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Bodie! Bodie! I resisted the urge to shake him. Blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth and his pulse faded away from under my finger tips. No!

Chapter 5

 

I woke to Bodie looming over me, shaking my shoulder and I came to with a gasp, my heart beating wildly.

"Ray, it's okay. Just a bad dream, mate."

I slumped back onto the bed and ran my hand down my face. I hadn't had that dream for a while, but it had haunted me for weeks when I'd first settled in Oxford. Then, several times I'd needed to phone Cowley on a pretext for confirmation that Bodie was on the road to recovery. Now, standing right next to me, framed by the light from his bedside table, I had the unqualified confirmation that he was indeed alive and well. It certainly made the nightmare's aftermath easier to process and my heart rate slowed to a more modest level.

Bodie, crouched down by my bed, "Okay now?" he asked, obviously concerned.

Dressed only in pyjama bottoms, his chest bare, my eyes automatically went to his shoulder. I could see the shiny white, puckered skin where the bullet had left its mark, along with evidence of the ensuing surgery. But there was another scar, a darker pink, suggesting a more recent medical intervention.

"What's that?" I said, pointing to the jagged line that ran in a shallow curve across his shoulder.

Rising to his feet, Bodie shrugged, "They just needed to do a bit of hoovering," he said dismissively, as he padded back to his own bed.  Bodie's never responded well to comfort and consolation.

I sat up, not willing to let it go as easily. "When?"

Bodie climbing back into bed, waved a dismissive hand. "A couple of months ago. I think the surgeon left some biscuits in there. Used to crunch a bit when I moved it."

He grinned at me, and windmilled his arm. "S'all sorted now, though. See?"

 "Christ, Bodie. I am so sorry. I fucked up badly on that obbo."

"Nobody could have made that shot," he retorted firmly.

He still has 110% faith in me and I've unequivocally let him down. He doesn't get it. Times change. I've got the answer to your question, sunshine. Since when do you miss? Since I've downed three quarters of a bottle of vodka before breakfast, mate. I need to tell him.

Bodie switched out the lamp. "Night, Ray."

Fuck! "G'night," I mumbled, my mind whirring with this latest resolution.

A deep sigh from across the room interrupted my musings and before I could say anything, his bedside lamp clicked on again. "Sorry, mate. I'm still getting the hang of this. D'ya wanna talk about anything?"

Well, I said, drawing out the word to try and delay the inevitable.

I sat up in bed and looked across at him. He was sat up in bed too, looking at me, somewhat sheepishly, but also open and expectant, willing to listen, and I took the plunge.

I told him my side of the story and Bodie patiently heard me out before talking me through the events as he remembered them. His unrelenting certainty that my position on the stairs had been the right one with Moore's location unknown almost had me convinced, that at least from his point of view, I had done nothing wrong. Didn't really assuage the guilt, but perhaps it explained why Bodie didn't hate me.

How do I know I'll be abIe to cope with the job if I come back? How can he trust me again after letting 'im down so badly? With his history, it's a wonder that he trusts anybody at all. I'm the volatile one. Bodie's a bloody brick. Solid. Dependable.  I told him my fears for the future. And Bodie took it all in his stride appearing unconcerned, showing absolute faith. With quiet sincerity, Bodie said, "I trust you with my life, sunshine." The daft bugger still doesn't get it. I need to make him understand.

And when I said, quietly, "Bodie, I'm an alcoholic. I won't ever be an ex-alcoholic." He nodded sagely. "And we'll deal with it together, my son. I'm not saying I'm gonna be a teetotal for the rest of my days, but we can find different ways to wind down after the job than working our way through a bottle of scotch. And if we can't, we can get out of Ci5 and go and grow lavender and roses in the countryside."

I snorted with amusement. I couldn't think of a more unlikely pursuit for Bodie. Or me come to that. But it was an unspoken promise from my partner that I was stuck with him, come what may. And by Christ, that means a lot.

When he finally switched the lamp off almost an hour later, I laid down and tried to analyse it all, grateful to the man across the room that he had indulged my need to talk it all through.

Bodie, overprotective at the best of times probably wouldn’t ever suggest that I hadn’t done my job properly. It all comes down to the fact that I'll never know if I could have taken out Moore with the first shot if I hadn't been three sheets to the wind. And I'll have to live with that.

Bodie's right, though. I let too many things about the job get to me. Get under my skin. Death and violence are an almost every day occurrence and somehow he takes it all in his stride. In the early days I'd thought him amoral and unscrupulous. Coasting through life, freewheeling. I've learnt since then, neither are true. I know the dumb crud has a walloping great sense of personal loyalty, though. He's bloody proved that over and over. T'is that old dilemma isn't it. Nature versus nurture. Was Bodie born with his coping mechanisms already honed or is it down to his time in Africa? His history? Has he seen so many atrocities over the years that he's become immune? No. I know that's bullshit. He just buries them so deep they never resurface. Can I learn to do that too?

With two bouts of surgery and recovery time, sounds like he can’t have been out on the streets much. Although he would've been itching to get back out there before the anaesthetic'd barely worn off. Cowley would have kept him on a tight leash, I bet. I’ve been trying not to think about him being partnered with someone else. If he'd been injured or killed because his new partner wasn’t as atuned to him as I am. Or his new partner wasn’t good enough or quick enough. Nah, all of the squad are good. A few of the new ones are a bit green, but still good. It's just they won't know how Bodie works like I do. I know when he'll zig and when he'll zag. Just as he knows me. Well, any of it doesn’t bear thinking about. All of it's my fault and thinking about it's enough to drive me to drink on its own. I'm still letting you down every single bloody day. The consequences of me fucking up again are too abhorrent to even consider. No! I won't let it happen again. And I'm not quitting without you, mate.  And I'll not let you quit because of me.

With my mind made up about the future, and what I needed to do, my thoughts finally slowed. With the gentle rhythmic breathing from the other side of the room providing a soporific soundtrack, I felt myself relax into the warmth of the covers as a veil of sleep finally claimed me once more.

Chapter 6

The sound of splashing and cheerful whistling from the bathroom lulled me to consciousness. Even at the best of times, a bright and breezy Bodie was not easy to take first thing but it was better than an impenetrable and headstrong lone wolf of blank inscrutability which was the other facet of my partners make up. And it was a damned sight better than no Bodie at all.

14 weeks away from him and I’ve forgotten how bloody cheerful he is first thing, that's all.

I tried closing my eyes against the noise, which of course had no effect whatsoever.

An ebullient bouncing Bodie, all unprickable buoyancy came strolling out of the bathroom, a towel around his middle and him rubbing his hair vigorously with another.

He somehow knew I was awake. "Morning, sunshine."

I grunted in reply. Bodie had no business sounding that upbeat.

He went over to the kettle and flipping the switch, the water started bubbling. He'd obviously already boiled it once and within moments, it was steaming energetically. He filled two mugs and adding several sachets of sugar to one, he plonked the other on the side table alongside the sofabed and near my head.

I pulled my hand from under the covers and patted around the table until I found the hot mug. And with a passable impression of David Attenborough, Bodie started. "The first sight of the elusive Raymond as it emerges from its den after hibernation. The first thing it searches for is liquid refreshment."

He doesn't mean anything by that. Don't be so bloody sensitive. He's talking about the tea, that's all. It's just his childish humour and bloody atrocious cheerfulness.

I glanced at him, saw his eyes glittering with mischief and knew there was more piss-taking to come.

I sipped at the tea, burning my tongue, and winced.

Placing the mug back down, I pushed myself up onto my elbow, and ran my fingers through my hair, before swinging my legs out, and sitting up properly. I reached for the mug again and drank more slowly this time.

"The Raymond's fur always looks unkempt after hibernation. The grooming ritual starts almost upon waking and will continue periodically throughout his waking hours."

I groaned, staggering to the bathroom, taking my tea with me, and shutting out the inane Bodie bonhomie, closed the door. I helped myself to Bodie's shaving gear and as I scraped the foam from my face, I looked at myself in the mirror. The starting hint of an alcoholic's florid complexion had gone several weeks ago, maybe all was not lost. Despite my disturbed night, I felt more full of buzz and fizz than I had for months. Was that down to Bodie bein' 'ere? I eyed Bodie's toothbrush, and with a metaphorical shrug grabbed it to clean my teeth. Bodie would go spare if he knew, he was strangely particular about things like that, but what he didn’t know wouldn't hurt him.  Once finished, I climbed into the shower, turning it up to prickling hot and relishing the water's strength and heat. A far cry from the dribbling and tepid spray available in the communal bathroom back at my digs. It was also nice knowing I wouldn't be disturbed by one of the other tenants hammering on the door wanting the bathroom.

I stood under the water for ages until a familiar thumping stirred me into awareness. "Oy, Doyle. You fallen down the plug hole?"

Not knowing whether to laugh or scream I settled for a moderate 'Piss off' before quickly shampooing my hair.

Rinsing off, I stepped out of the shower, grabbing the two towels left on the rail. I dried off before wrapping one round my hips and rubbing my hair with the other one, I exited the bathroom. "Worried I was getting pissed on yer mouthwash?" My voice was harsher than I’d intended. A bitter edge to it. Was meant to be a joke. Or am I trying to test the waters and see whether he'll trust me ever again?

Bodie's face fell, and the sparkle of humour in his eyes died away. "Anyone ever tell you that you can be particularly caustic first thing in the morning?" he said, quietly. And he walked round me, into the bathroom, closing the door with meticulous care behind him.

Normally he lets me get away with murder and up to now, by God I've taken it all for bloody granted. 'is easy going nature. I sank onto the sofa, feeling an absolute shit. Dragging my hands through my still damp hair I pondered the last thirty seconds. That closed off look that he'd had as he'd walked past me. The expression that showed I'd abused his trust and friendship again and scored a direct hit. I hate it. Hate that I've caused it.

I retrieved the hair dryer from the wardrobe where I'd seen it last night, and started to dry my hair, pulling it into shape with my fingers. I'd let it grow even longer than normal and it was starting to look decidedly shaggy.

Bodie came out of the bathroom, his face still shuttered and his washbag under his arm. Dropping it into his bag, he went over to the wardrobe and pulling out a flash silver suit, started dressing.

So much power to bloody hurt. So much goodwill and understanding given to me and I throw it back in 'is face by being a bad tempered arse.

My hair now dry enough, I started to dress too. "What did you want? Earlier?"

Innocent eyes looked at me from the other side of the room. "Was just hungry. Wanted breakfast," he said, accompanied by Bodie's little boy lost look. That may work on women, mate, but I've seen it too many times to fall for it.

"When do they stop serving then?"

"They don't. Some 'ave a Little Chef next door apparently. Not this one though," he said, sadly. "So I'd give the optional breakfast a miss if I were you. I got a loofah shaped like a croissant the other morning."

Oh bugger. Can't even make it up to 'im that way.

"Ah, not sure I can afford to take you to breakfast, mate. Bit short on readies till I get paid."

Bodie shrugged, "Don't worry about it." He turned back to the mirror, smoothing his suit jacket.

Trying to lighten the mood, I blurted, "Do you know what they call a Scouser in a suit?"

He turned his head towards me, a rakish eyebrow raised in question.

"The accused." I guffawed loudly at my own joke. Bodie shook his head in mock disappointment as he straightened his tie in the mirror. "You, my son," pausing as he gave his Windsor knot a final waggle, "have no appreciation of style. Look at you. Like tumbleweed on a beanpole," he said, a humorous glint in his eye.

I thought that a bit harsh. Wasn't my fault I was wearing yesterday's clothes. But I grinned back at him, glad that he'd got over my earlier snit. "Listen, mate. Could you drop me back at mine? I've got an appointment with Bridges this morning, and I'd like to change before I go."

I didn't know what plans Bodie had for the day, but perhaps oddly, I wanted him to see my digs. Maybe it was just simply that I didn't want him to leave quite yet, but didn't know how to tell him, so kept quiet. I wandered outside while Bodie went via the reception desk to check out and I stood by the Capri, head back, letting the early morning sun soak into my face. It's gonna be a nice day for once.

The click of the boot lock made me turn and my partner, soft footed as always, lifted the boot lid, and placed his holdall in, before shutting it away, out of sight beneath the parcel shelf.

Once we were both settled in the car, Bodie turned the key in the ignition and the Capri burst into life. Sitting back, one foot on the dash, relishing how normal it felt, I pointed out towards the road. "Turn left out of the car park, Jeeves."

Bodie obliged and following my directions, drove towards Oxford town, and my home for the last five months.

As we neared the city centre, the stretches of Victorian terraces of bedsit land lined both sides of the road, nestled between shops that symbolised the broad spectrum of nationalities that lived in the vicinity. Bodie dodged round yet another cyclist, muttering under his breath.

"The bicycle is King 'ere, sunshine," I said, smiling at Bodie's impatience.

"They should have their own roads," he muttered, "although that one's got a nice arse." He nodded towards a rather pert rump atop a bicycle and we exchanged a grin.

With my recently acquired local knowledge, I directed him off the main road into a side street, and we weaved our way through the back roads to where there would be ample on road car parking in the dead end just behind the building that housed my bedsit.

With Mr Khan's newsagent on our left, Bodie swung into a space before switching off the engine and we both jumped out, Bodie joining me on the pavement. The young West Indian lad who'd been lounging against the wall outside the newsagents stood upright, eyeing the Capri speculatively. I felt Bodie bristling beside me. "Down Shep," I muttered.

With a smile, I acknowledged the lad. “'ello, Winston”

"This yours, Mr Doyle?" he asked, nodding to the Capri.

"My mate’s," I said, jerking a thumb at Bodie. "Will y'keep an eye out?"

Winston stared at Bodie in curiosity, and Bodie, in typical Bodie fashion, put his hands to his ears and twisting the top of them forwards, stuck his tongue out and went boss eyed.  

I gave him a sharp dig in the ribs and he let go of his ears and to my relief, grinned at Winston, who grinned back before nodding, and I flipped him my last 50p.

Winston caught it with a one handed flourish and disappeared into the newsagents, no doubt to buy some sweets to eat while he stood guard. Bodie frowned. He’s bloody funny is Bodie. He's spent time in some bloody awful places in the world, but he's never comfortable in places like this. Hates the East End too. Me, it’s like home from home.

I led Bodie through the alleyway and we came back out onto the main Cowley Road. When I'd left London all my anchors had been cast adrift and this area had naturally drawn me in. Whether there was some subliminal reason I'd settled here because of the street name I had no idea. But the ethnically and economically diverse population was the same as the East End back in my beat days, and it had also meant cheap digs.

I'd been completely disengaged from reality those first few weeks. I'd roamed aimlessly after leaving Derby, subconsciously looking for an anonymous bolt hole and Oxford had been anonymous and yet had felt right. Close to my boss, albeit on name only.

Turning a sharp left, I bounded up to the peeling red front door next to us, and pushing it open, jerked my head, inviting Bodie to follow. Jogging up the stairs to the first landing, I pulled my key out of my pocket and opened the door to my bedsit.

Once we were inside, I shut the door, pushing the catch down and said, "Welcome to Flat 2, number 9, Cowley Road."

Bodie snorted. "You’re kidding!"

I shook my head. "Nope. Agent 9.2 is a figment of your imagination, sunshine."

"The crafty old goat," he said, with a hint of admiration in his voice.

I watched Bodie and waited for his reaction as he eyed the small room.

"Christ, mate. Got the sack cloth and ashes hidden under the rug 'ave you?"

I'd felt I needed to make amends. Retribution not rehabilitation. Retribution for putting my partner's life at risk - not rehabilitation for my crimes. Which was odd. For many criminals, I thought the right approach was the opposite.

And so absolution for my wrongdoings was the increased misery of living in a poxy bedsit with no creature comforts. Alone. It was all I deserved. Bodie, of course, would be angry at my self-flagellation.

Nah, prison's the right place for many of the criminals who we've brought to justice over the years. Although I'm not in prison as I've still got my liberty, I've been given a life sentence. My punishment's gonna be to survive on the outside with the temptation of pubs and off licenses all around me.

"It's cheap," I said somewhat defensively.

I looked around the room through Bodie's eyes. A single bed against the wall in one corner and a scratched and faded 1930's wardrobe in the other. A grimy window in between, covered by a moth eaten and greying net curtain, framed with curtains that could only be described as muddy green.

The faded rag rug on the floor covered the bare floor boards for the majority of the space and the back wall was given over to the kitchenette. An old fridge in the left hand corner stood under the chipped formica worktop which ran the full length of the wall and had shelves underneath for storage, with a two ring electric hotplate on its top. The far corner housed the sink and in front of the sink was a small table with a wooden chair tucked underneath it.

There was no getting away from the fact that the room wasn't anywhere near a home from home. It was a bare bolt hole, devoid of all personal belongings. None of the jumbled clutter that covered the shelves in my Ci5 flat. But then I'd wanted that. Didn't want it to be home. Not really. It's spotlessly clean, though, but that's pretty much all it's got going for it. The mismatched furniture and the tired faded décor added to the general air of despondency.  

"At least it's tidier than your CI5 flat usually is, sunshine."

Well, that's a tactful statement to make considering what he could have said about it. I grinned at him. "Yeah, well the landlady regularly knocks on the door to inspect before greedily demanding the rent with outstretched talons."

While I busied myself finding a change of clothes, I left Bodie prowling around the small space, knowing it was only a matter of time before he gravitated towards the kitchenette and the under the counter fridge.

And sure enough, before I'd finished rifling through my meagre wardrobe, he'd already opened the fridge and was down on his haunches, peering inside. "Oy, Doyle. There’s things growing in your fridge."

The half pint of milk in the door was the only item other than his focus of attention and I looked at where he was pointing. "That’s lucerne you clod."

"Eh?" he said nonplussed. "You’ve given mould a name?"

"Also known as alfalfa sprouts. You should try em. Good for you. Lower cholesterol an' all sorts."

Looking at the greenery with distaste, Bodie visibly shuddered before closing the fridge with a mournful sigh.

I left him poking about amongst the kitchenware on the undercounter shelves and considered it inevitable that he would query the lack of food. I knew exactly what I had. The counter top had a canister on it containing half a dozen teabags. The second shelf down held one small tin of Spam, a tin of tomatoes and a small tin of kidney beans and he'd know well enough that we didn’t get paid until the end of the month which was still five days away. Bodie won't see the potential in those ingredients, will he? He's not much of a cook. That's the makings of a vegetable chilli, right there. And means I can save the Spam for another day. The greengrocers down the road'll have a few bruised or damaged veggies that they'll give away for pennies. Might just have enough to buy some rice to go with it. I sighed internally. Shelling out rent for this dump an' being on half pay means I've had to get very good at making the pennies stretch. After swiftly changing my clothes, I sat on the bed to redo my shoelaces and looked up to see Bodie watching me carefully.

I let my frown morph into a glare, daring him to criticise the meagre contents of my larder. The steady blue eyed stare faltered and then he raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Have you got anything for breakfast without Spam?”

Cheeky bastard. If he expended even half the energy he dedicated to learning poetry and Monty Python jokes on reading case files instead, he'd probably have memorised three quarters of all the files down in records by now.

Bodie’s voice had held a smile and I chuckled, deciding to play along. “Well, spam, egg, sausage, and spam – that’s not got much spam in it. Although, you may have to forego the sausage and egg. Haven't had a chance to go shopping. Sorry, mate.”

I looked at my watch, checking the time. Shit, I'm gonna end up bein' late. "Mate, I know you're just about to pass out from hunger, but can you drop me off at Bridge's place? I'm due there in 15 minutes."

Bodie just looked amused, "Come on then, Curly Top. I'm sure I can survive for a bit longer. Besides, I know where I can get a decent brekkie if we go over there."

Grinning, I led him back to the car. Might've known Bodie would know where all the eateries were if he'd been hanging round Bridges front door all week.

We made the journey in companionable silence, Bodie slid to a stop outside Bridges' door at exactly five minutes to.

"Do you have to get back?" I asked, concerned that he wouldn't wait.

"Not till later. So I'll be over there when you're done," he said, pointing to the other side of the road.

I looked over towards where his finger aimed, only seeing an up market coffee shop that hailed its fair trade and ecological credentials in large letters across its expansive window and surprised at his choice of venue, I hazarded, "Not sure you'll be able to get any grub to suit your tastes in there, sunshine."

Bodie's smug expression made me rethink my assumption and deciding that he was more than capable of sourcing a breakfast that suited his palate, merely said, "I'll be just over 45 minutes, mate. Okay?" He nodded and I slipped out the car and trotted up Bridges' steps. As I put a hand up to ring the bell, I heard the Capri pull away up the road.

Chapter 7

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At exactly quarter to, I pulled Bridges' door closed behind me. Jumping down the steps, and giving a quick glance left and right, I broke into a long bounding stride to cross the road and dodged a slow moving bus before reaching the other side.

Pushing open the coffee shop door, a bell tinkled somewhere above my head. A waitress with a ring through her nose and a vibrant pink fringe bustled past and smiled "I'll be right with you, love." I smiled back and with a nod started to cast my eyes over the various tables. Bodie had his head down, concentrating on mopping round the near empty plate in front of him. I sauntered over to him, grinning at the sight of him swabbing up egg with a forkful of fried bread and sausage. Pulling the chair out opposite him caused him to look up and as I sat down, he grinned before shovelling in the last mouthful and chewing on it with vigour. Neatly placing his knife and fork together on the near spotless plate, he swallowed and then sat back with a contented sigh. I glanced at the large menu board that boasted a broad range of plant based dishes and noted the absence of a full English breakfast. "Finally realised the delights of a vegan sausage, have you?" I asked, slyly.

Bodie beamed at me. "Nah, Kiera and I are of the same viewpoint. And Monday's her quiet day, so we talked an' she took pity on me."

Before I could respond, Kiera bustled over, gathering up his plate. "Tea and toast, Bodie?" and turning to me, with a smile almost wider than her face, said "And what about you, love? Tea and toast too?"

Nodding mutely, I grinned back and she trotted away to prepare the promised refreshments.

"Did you know that vegetarians live up to nine years longer than meat eaters?"

"Nine horrible, worthless, baconless years," he replied sorrowfully and then, assuming the toff, patronising tone that he used when he wanted to be particularly annoying, added "Bacon is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

I shook my head at him, feigning disappointment. "You are what you eat."

"That's odd, I don't think I've eaten anything tall, dark and engagingly modest, today."

I chuckled, perversely glad that Bodie had reverted to his normal obtuse, annoying, childish self. Deciding I'd wind him up a bit more, with mock severity, said, "The owners are probably devout vegans. She could lose her bloody job, you know."

Bodie grinned, unrepentant. "Nah, more likely guaranteeing her employment, actually. T'was dead in 'ere on Monday. Veganism's all very well, mate, but serving up a full English doubled her takings for the entire day. She offered to cook me anything my little heart desired and so I considered it my duty to let her. That's entrepreneurship, but then that's frowned upon in The Guardian, innit. Besides, her aunt owns the café and Kiera's off to Uni in a week."

I shook my head slowly and muttered, "Trust you to turn it into a transport caff."

"Not at these prices."

Ah, Christ. "I'll have to owe you for mine, mate," I said, embarrassed. My sorely depleted funds probably wouldn't stretch to cover a cuppa let alone toast as well.

Bodie shrugged, "You need fattening up a bit, Goldilocks. Besides, y'bought dinner last night, so we're quits."

Kiera appeared at the table with a laden tray holding a pot of tea with all the accoutrements and a large stack of the promised toast.

"There you go," she said, unloading the tray's contents onto the table, placing a plate in front of each of us. "Are you a marmalade man like Bodie, Ray or would you prefer jam?"

"Marmalade's fine, thanks, love." And with another nod accompanied by a wide smile she trotted off to deal with her other customers.

Taking a slice of toast, I waited until Kiera was a fair distance away before glaring at Bodie with a look that could have melted ice and said acidly, "Sounds like you had a good long chat with her."

Bodie had the grace to look contrite for a moment, but then nodded cheerfully, "On and off. She kept an eye out for me when I had to go to the little boy's room, that's all. Just asked her to keep an eye out for a skinny, scruffy bloke with a curly noggin. "

I'll let 'im off the hook. Not 'is fault all the birds fall for his questionable charms, is it. I grinned at him. "Cause and effect of swilling tea all day, that is. An' if you've been shovelling your face in 'ere for a week, I think we should go for a jog after. How's about it? 'Ave you got your running gear with you?"

Bodie groaned, "You wouldn't think I'm on m'olidays, would ya'. Might have to forego a second round of toast if you're gonna make me run bloody miles."

I gave a throaty chuckle. When Bodie greeted the suggestion of any exercise with anything approaching enthusiasm, I'd know that something was seriously wrong. His back-handed acceptance was a pretty standard response and he and I both knew he would enjoy it once he got going. "It'll clear all the cobwebs and cholesterol away, sunshine."

Only partially satisfied with the outcome of our verbal sparring, and in return for his supercilious retorts, I decided to yank his chain a little more. In between bites of toast, I noisily slurped my tea, enjoying every single one of Bodie's pained expressions.

Chapter 8

After two mugs of tea and us both devouring another mountain of toast, provided by the surprisingly efficient Kiera, I finally managed to persuade Bodie to move. Whilst settling the bill, he thanked Kiera for looking after him so well, laying on the innate Bodie charm, and finished by giving her a smacking kiss on the cheek. As we went out the door, we said our goodbyes and Kiera looked on wistfully after Bodie, no doubt pondering on what might have been.

Going back via my digs to change into our running gear, I directed Bodie out to the edge of town and the large cemetery that I'd discovered on a particularly long run one day. We parked in the deserted carpark, and letting ourselves in through the wrought iron gates, we stretched out, preparing ourselves for a lengthy jog. Initially, we loped around the perimeter, getting our bearings and then started doing rough figures of eight, navigating between the rows of headstones.

running.png

As I ran alongside him, I pondered the irony of choosing a graveyard as a location. Although we'd often used the large churchyard in town, that was more a matter of necessity. The local parks were always full of kids, joggers and dog walkers, making a relaxing jog anything but. The job means that death, either ours or somebody else's, is never an abstract concept, s'always hanging over us. Well, maybe that's why. We're so used to it, we just see it as a place to have a quiet run without having to dodge round all the slow coaches. But then we don't think about it much either, do we. Or at least Bodie doesn't. Bad medicine, he calls it. Bridge's session this morning was interesting. Got me thinking about the job again. I told 'im Bodie had turned up. Asked him if everything was confidential or if it was getting back to HQ. Told me nothing went outside the room. Got no reason not to believe 'im, 'ave I. He asked me why I did the job, why I'd become a copper. Well that was easy. Wanted to save the world didn't I. Hadn't ever thought of myself as a crusader before. Although Bodie's told me as much enough times over the years. And I've learnt you can't change the system. Even from within. Despite Ci5's unlimited powers, some things can't be changed. And those unlimited powers are only held in check by our own moral standards. Ours and Cowley's. Is that why I'm so righteous and high minded? 'Cos I want to balance out the Bodies and the Cowleys of Ci5's world? You are a pretentious prick, sometimes Doyle! What makes you think you've got any moral high ground over Cowley? Or Bodie come to that. I don't. I just don't like the any means necessary edict. They just accept it. Sometimes it's the only way. And I know deep down it's true. Doesn't mean I have to like it, though. Sacrificing one for the many. Not much bloody comfort for the one, is it?

This was an argument that I wasn't going to solve now. I had till my next session with Bridges to sort it out in my head and I wanted to enjoy my partner's company while I had it, so I focused on keeping perfect pace with Bodie as we loped through the long grass.

The early afternoon sun was surprisingly hot. And after a good 90 minutes of steady jogging we were both lightly sweating, our T-shirts had matching dark patches. Without any communication, we both simultaneously slowed to a stop and started stretching out our limbs. S'a good feeling. That oneness with Bodie. Feeling complete. Just from being with 'im. I've missed it.

"That's me done, sunshine," he said. "Need to start thinking about getting back." My heart sank, although I'd known it was inevitable. I nodded, keeping my feelings to myself.

After limbering down, we ambled back to the car park, the gentle breeze welcome after our exercise.

Rifling for his keys in the pocket of his jogging bottoms, Bodie opened the car and we both gratefully sank into it. Bodie reached behind his seat and produced a large plastic bottle of mineral water. Offering it to me, I drank deeply, and with a satisfied sigh, handed it back to him. "Cheers, mate."

Bodie took a long drink too and as he put the cap back on the now half empty bottle, chuckled. "Bloody daft idea, really, innit. Putting water into a bottle, when there's perfectly good taps about. Handy sometimes, though."

I snorted, "Yeah, doubt it'll catch on."

Bodie tucked the bottle back behind him and with an exuberant dab on the throttle, left the still deserted carpark, leaving a small cloud of dust in his wake.

Before I knew it, we were pulling up on the main road outside my digs. "Did y'wanna come in and clean up at the sink?" I asked.

"Ta, mate, but no. I'll get off. Should beat the traffic if I get on the road now. I can grab a shower when I get back."

I could see the sense in that, so I nodded, understanding his reasoning, careful to keep any disappointment from showing.

A worried frown carved into Bodie's forehead and his eyes, honest and sincere, looked straight at me. "You have my support, Ray. Whatever you decide. Whither thou goest and all that. Keep in touch, yeah?"

I felt uncomfortable under the scrutiny. I didn't want Bodie to have to choose between me and the old man and it strengthened my resolve to go back and reclaim my rightful place. Watching Bodie's back in Ci5.

Before I could even reply to him, Bodie suddenly leapt out the car, calling over his shoulder. "Nearly bloody forgot." He went to the back of the Capri and opened the boot. I followed suit and wandered down to the rear of the car towards him. He slammed the boot closed and thrust two bulging carrier bags at me. "What's all this?" I asked, puzzled.

Bodie grinned at me as I peered inside the top of the bags. "Picked you up a couple of bits." He waggled a finger at me and added sagely, "Even I know that a man cannot live on Spam alone, Raymond."

"Thanks, mate." I started to heft the bags into one hand so I could extend a free one. Feels so inadequate, that. Hope he knows that's not just for the bloody shopping, that's for everything.

"Not just for the shopping, you know. For…………"

Bodie waved my gratitude away, stepping back round to the driver's door. Shit, now I've made 'im uncomfortable.

He gave me a beaming smile. "Let me know yer plans, alright, Goldilocks?" and he disappeared back into the Capri with a wave of his hand. He peeled away from the kerb with a squeal of rubber and a hoot and I waved at the shrinking exhaust of the Capri as it disappeared up the road. Transferring the weighty bags to my other hand, I squeezed my fingers into a fist to bring them back to life where the bags' handles had cut into them. Bloody heavy, these are.

I trundled up the steps to the front door, groping in my jeans pocket for the key and then with one bag in either hand, made my way upstairs as a wave of misery overtook me.

Once inside the flat, I dumped the bags onto the formica shelf and half-heartedly started pulling items out. Bodie had gone to town. There were tins of soup, stew, fish and baked beans. Under those were bread, rice and pasta, and a random collection of root vegetables and greenery. The other bag held a similar assortment and in amongst the loose potatoes and carrots there was salad. Radishes, cucumber, lettuce and somewhat crushed, tucked in the corner, was a large plastic tub full of alfafa sprouts. Bloody lunatic!

And I laughed out loud.

End