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Where the Jungle Begins

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There are four men in the mud-covered jeep slogging its way along the rutted forest track. Benny's driving, riding the clutch a bit on the downshifts the way he always does, making the motor push harder than it has to. Krivas is in the front shotgun seat, his flat dark eyes moving restlessly back and forth, scanning the trees on either side. Whenever the jeep slows down in a mud hole or on a slope, he half lifts his rifle, readying himself to send a burst of fire into the underbrush. His mouth is set like a rattrap under his mustache, and something in the rigid way he's holding his shoulders signals trouble to come for somebody.

In the back, Marcellus, the big Namibian, is stretched out across three-quarters of the seat, cradling an M16, and the kid they call Phil is on the mounted gun. Phil's not really a kid—he's almost nineteen and he's been kicking around the merc companies for a couple of years already. But he's got skin like cream, which never seems to take a tan no matter how much time he spends outside. His eyelashes are the longest any of them have ever seen, over eyes as dark blue as the sapphires Krivas extorted out of one of the local bigwigs for protection. Phil's pretty enough there's places he'd be in a lot of trouble, but where Krivas has got them camped, there's been enough killing, looting and displacement that there's plenty of women desperate enough to do anything for eating money, even if it's with some of the white men who did the killing and looting in the first place.

The track meets up with another, wider one, and Benny turns the jeep onto it, nearly getting stuck in a mud wallow and ruthlessly gunning the engine until the wheels skid sideways and through in a spray of sticky reddish earth. From there, the ground starts to rise, and gradually the track smoothes out. As they climb, the air gets cooler and the vegetation thins a bit, turning from the real lowland jungle into a temperate forest that's no more open, but a lot less oppressive.

When they start seeing the first signs of settlement, Phil's taken by surprise. Those civilians who survived the first round of fighting have mainly run for refugee camps near the border or huddled into the squalid slums around the towns, hoping for safety in numbers. Here, there's still some farming going on. Just little plots of corn and vegetables and cassava, but that's more than he's seen in a couple of hours' travel.

When the jeep emerges into a clearing, he's even more surprised. There's a village here, and it's obviously suffered at least one attack, but instead of running for it, these people have dug in. Burned huts are being re-thatched and repaired, and the gardens are newly planted and being tended by crowds of kids. In Phil's experience, when you show a spade a gun, he'll scuttle, howling, so he's not sure what to make of this place. However, he's learned during his time in Africa that things he doesn't understand are usually dangerous, so he tightens his hold on the gun and watches the sides of the road carefully. Not that there seems to be any threat: the women glance up quickly and then put their heads back down over their washing or corn grinding; the kids watch the jeep with big dark eyes, but none of them run after it begging or screaming with excitement.

Phil risks a quick look over his shoulder at Krivas, and he sees the man's neck has gone red, and he's clenching his fist on the rifle stock so hard his knuckles look like bolts. Krivas isn't liking what he sees, Phil thinks, and wonders why. To him, it's the first place he's seen in God knows how long that looks even halfway normal.

Up at the end of the village the road widens into a half circle. On one side, there's a three-storey building that once must have been a planters' mansion, or maybe the headquarters for a mining outfit. It's been half burned as well, and there's a bunch of women working on one wall, putting together scavenged cinder blocks and bricks with some kind of thick grey mortar they're sloshing around in a battered wheelbarrow. In the front yard, two men are hammering out bits of sheet metal and hoisting them via a rope and pulley up to the roof.

Benny wheels the jeep around and brings it to a stop across from the big building, in front of a much smaller western-style house, a place that Phil figures would have belonged to the foreman in the old days. Half the front porch is gone, nothing left but some burnt timber stubs, and a black scorch mark covers most of the wall, but other than that it looks in reasonable shape.

Benny cuts the engine. Phil looks around to see that all work has stopped: the female brick layers have drawn back to the corner of the building, and the amateur roofers have put down their tools and are watching the jeep. These are the first people Phil's seen who look like they could be an active threat, and he angles the mounted gun slightly in their direction.

Marcellus puts one big hand on the barrel, and when Phil looks down at him, shakes his head firmly.

"The Colonel's game," he says quietly.

Phil's confused. Krivas hasn't told him anything about where they're going or why, just pulled him away right after breakfast and barked at him to get in the jeep. The commander has a short fuse and a nasty edge; it only took Phil a day or so to figure out the safest thing to do around him was to keep his mouth shut and obey orders. Phil's also started thinking about cutting loose and getting out while the going's good, but until they get back to a town big enough to have a transport link, he's stuck here in the jungle.

Marcellus shakes his head again, and lowers his voice even more. "Keep still and let it play."

Phil doesn't like taking orders from a spade, but Marcellus has been with Krivas a while, and he's got a tattered insignia on some of his jackets that tell Phil he was a captain in somebody's army once upon a time. In Phil's book, that makes Marcellus a survivor, and while he may not feel too trusting about black men, he can trust survival instinct. Phil nods, a little shortly, but he doesn't relax, and his hands don't move an inch on the gun.

Krivas gets out of the jeep, and leans back against the front fender. He's trying to look cool and calm, but his shoulders are still stiff and he hasn't loosened his grip on the rifle, even though that made scrambling out more awkward than it needed to be. It suddenly hits Phil that Krivas might be scared.

"Woodruff!"

It isn't until Krivas yells that Phil realises just how dead quiet it's gone. There isn't a sound anywhere, not even a chicken clucking or a baby bawling. Phil's figured out a few constants about Africa—it's always hot, every bug's nastier than the last one, and it's never quiet—so the silence unnerves him more than anything has yet. He glances around quickly, half expecting some kind of an ambush, but the natives are all standing exactly where they were, hands empty, faces expressionless. He's seen those expressionless faces too often in the past few months. It's the look of people who are waiting with an utter lack of surprise to see their world end. Or maybe to see what form this particular ending of their world will take. It's a look the other mercs don't even seem to notice, but something about it drags at Phil's stomach more every time he sees it.

That's another reason why he's starting to think about cutting loose.

"Woodruff!" Krivas bellows this time.

When the door opens, Phil jumps a little. If he thought there'd be any answer at all, he assumed it would come from behind one of the big wooden shutters over the windows flanking the porch. Nobody with sense would leave the shelter of the walls to come out and face Krivas.

When he sees who comes through the door, Phil's jaw drops.

It's a woman, a white woman. She's short, stocky, maybe Krivas' age, or even a little older. She's wearing khaki trousers and a man's olive-drab undershirt that clearly shows she's got the kind of muscles you get from hard work, day in and day out. There's a sidearm and a knife at her belt, and an Uzi on a sling across her shoulder, the barrel resting across her hips, just a finger-flick from pointing at Krivas.

"Krivas." She moves forward and stops at the top of the steps leading down to the dust. For a moment, her gaze glides across the jeep, and Phil feels a chill down his back as her ice-grey eyes meet his.

"I was expecting to hear from you," Krivas says. "I'm disappointed."

"I warned you back in town: the government's regaining control in this area." Woodruff's voice is calm, even polite, but the steel behind it is no more hidden than her machine pistol. "They've put you and your gang of thugs on the shoot-on-sight list. Nobody here's going to hand over so much as a bag of mealie maize while I've got anything to say about it."

"And you think you're going to have anything to say about it? The government's still a long way off. And things can change fast out here. You may find you've backed the wrong pack of wogs." Krivas lowers his voice with obvious effort. "It doesn't have to end badly. You're getting paid. As long as we leave you alone, why should you care if we skim off a little extra? All I want is access to the mine."

Woodruff shakes her head. "And you're not getting it. Use your head, Krivas. The mine was played out twenty years ago. D'you think the people who built this place would have abandoned it while there was anything left worth digging up?"

"Then why are you so set on keeping us out?"

"Because I don't like the way you asked." Woodruff's voice is a level snarl. She has an odd accent; her voice is flat, with a slight lift at the end of sentences and she draws the vowels out more than Phil's used to. It doesn't sound like the Yanks he's met, or the South Africans, but it's definitely not English or Irish. On the other hand, he's still having trouble getting his head around the fact of a woman handling an Uzi, let alone staring down Krivas. It wouldn't come as a surprise to him to learn she's from Mars.

Krivas smiles, not a pretty sight. "You know, I don't believe you. I think there's plenty left in the mine. I think that's what these kafirs are paying you with. And you're going to hand it over."

"There's only one thing out of a mine we'll hand you, and that's lead." Woodruff matches Krivas' smile tooth for tooth. "In refined form, of course." She raises the Uzi's muzzle slightly.

Krivas raises his weapon as well. "I've always wondered if the day would come when I'd have to shoot you."

"Today's not that day, Krivas!"

The shout comes from up above and behind. Phil whirls, but it's already too late to get the gun around. There's a sharp crack, and the bullet kicks up dust right beside Krivas' foot. On the roof of the big building across the way, Phil can see a flash of blond hair above the parapet, and the muzzle of a rifle. Whoever's behind them has the high ground, and a clear field of fire.

Fish in a barrel, he thinks muzzily, and braces himself for the hail of bullets.

When there are no further shots, Phil sneaks a look to see a broad grin on Woodruff's face. He carefully starts shifting his weight, thinking that if he can get enough leverage behind it, he might be able to swivel the mounted gun in one movement and sweep the whole roof off the building opposite.

"No wonder you have to loot the natives, if this is the best you can come up with in the way of tactics." She points the Uzi directly at Krivas. "Drop your gun." Her eyes flick across the jeep again. "And you, boy, lift your hands, now. Kate can write her name on the wall at 500 yards. Unless you're better than that, you haven't got a chance."

Phil raises his hands from the mounted gun. His mouth is dry, and he can feel a click in his throat as he swallows. The rest of him is pouring sweat, and he thinks that might even be funny if he weren't so very close to dying.

Krivas lets go of his rifle, obviously having to force each finger loose separately. His face is a mottled shade of red and Phil can hear his teeth grinding in rage.

"Some day, I'll find you without your blonde bitch to back you up, and then we'll see what you're really made of." He's spitting as he forces the words out, and Phil hopes desperately he's not so far gone with anger he'll do something to get them all killed.

"Yeah, well. Today's not that day either." Woodruff steps back, the Uzi still trained right on him. "Climb in and get out of here. And spread the word. This part of the country isn't up for grabs any more."

Krivas leans down as if to pick up the rifle, and freezes as another bullet whistles over his head and hits the lowest step of the porch.

Woodruff throws a singularly disgusted glance up toward the roof. "Not the stairs!"

"Oops!" The cheerily unrepentant tone in the reply grates on Phil; he can only imagine what it must be doing to Krivas.

Krivas clenches his hands, and just stays bent over for a moment, trembling. Then, moving as if every muscle hurts, he straightens up and climbs back into the jeep. His face is now yellowy-white, and there's something in his eyes that makes Phil think of a dog gone rabid.

Woodruff steps to the edge of the porch, never lowering the Uzi, and her eyes move from Benny to Marcellus and finally rest on Phil again.

"Listen, all of you! There's a truck convey to the coast, runs through the valley south of here about every six weeks. If anybody wants to leave, we can put you on it. No questions asked."

"You trying to steal my men?" Krivas voice is rough, barely controlled.

"Just pointing out the options." Woodruff steps back, flicks the safety on the Uzi back and forth with a small but definite click. "Move out, Krivas. Don't come back."

Benny cranks the starter, and slams the jeep into gear the second the engine catches. They roar out of the village in a cloud of dust, and the last Phil sees of Woodruff, she's standing out in the middle of the street, the Uzi up across her shoulders, looking after them like the seraph guarding the gates of Eden.

**

One morning about six weeks later, Ellie Woodruff steps out the door at dawn and almost trips over a lanky body curled up on what's left of her front porch. He's young and fast, but she's awake and experienced, and the tangle ends with her flat on her back, him crouched on hands and knees with her Luger six inches from his right eye.

Slowly she inches backward on her ass, the gun never wavering, until she's out of arms' reach. By the time she's scrambled to her feet, she can recognize him in the grey half-light.

"You were with Krivas when he came up to try and railroad us, eh?" she snaps. "What d'you want?"

"You said you could get somebody on the convoy to the coast, no questions asked." His voice is sullen, and there's a hard shadow in his blue eyes that tells her she's dealing with somebody with the potential to be a lot more deadly than Krivas. Woodruff isn't sure if it's because he got out-manoeuvered by a woman or because surly is his natural state.

As she looks closer, she sees that the kid's looking rough. He's unshaved and past skinny, with most of his exposed skin covered in bruises and bug bites. Despite the sulky tone and the glare, his lower lip's shaking just a little, but she doesn't let that fool her. She's not afraid—there hasn't been a man alive in twenty years who can frighten Ellie Woodruff —but she's got the common sense to tread carefully when it's wise to do so.

She doesn't ask what's happened to him, or why he's here, just nods casually and says, "We can do that. Next run through should be in about ten days, unless the situation upcountry goes totally to hell."

The kid nods, but looks gutted for a second before his face turns blank again. "I'll be back then."

"Stay here." At his look of surprise, Woodruff shrugs. "Put in your time helping us with some of the rebuilding, and we can stake your passage. Deal?"

She can see the kid wants to take the deal, wants it badly, but he hesitates, looking for the trap. She shrugs again. "Up to you."

The kid nods, slowly, reluctantly. "Won't have to stay with them spades, will I?"

Woodruff clamps her teeth together, and for a moment considers driving the little bastard back into the jungle. But there are too many enemies out there as it is, and maybe this one's still young enough to learn by example.

"You'll stay with us. And if you want to keep your balls, you won't let my partner hear you call anybody a spade." Woodruff smiles like a shark. "She's touchy that way." She lets her smile say, very clearly, and so am I.

The kid flushes a bit, which Woodruff considers a good omen, and nods jerkily.

"Come on, then." She holsters the Luger and pulls open the door. "What's your name?"

There's silence behind her, and when she turns, she sees the kid looking at her with renewed distrust and suspicion.

"Thought you said no questions asked."

Woodruff holds up her hands. "I don't care if it's your real name or not. I'm just not yelling 'hey, you' across the compound for the next week."

The kid looks down at the boards under his feet for so long Woodruff is pretty sure he's going to bolt. Finally he raises his eyes.

"Bodie," he says slowly. "Call me Bodie."

 

**

When the door buzzer sounded, Doyle started fighting in earnest against the cuffs holding him to the kitchen chair. There was only one person it could be at that time of day.

Bodie.

Trying to attract as little attention as possible, he twisted and pulled, hoping he'd be able to work a little bit of slack into his bonds. They'd used his own handcuffs on him, pulling his arms diagonally across his body, right wrist to left chair leg, left wrist to right armrest. The position was brutally uncomfortable, would become agony if they left him in it too long, and gave him essentially no leverage. His own weight was the anchor holding him in place. Frustrated, he wrenched his wrist sharply.

He felt the thin skin tear, and a trickle of blood ran down into his right hand. Hastily, he cupped his palm to stop it dripping to the floor. The great escape attempt would get cut off pretty smartly if his captors noticed a puddle of blood spreading around his feet.

Tipping the chair would be the last resort. Deliberately going to the floor was always a bad option; it left you at the mercy of the other side's boots if they were so inclined, and this kind usually were. He'd do it, though, if Bodie came up. The noise would at least give his partner warning, keep him from walking into the tiger trap Doyle's flat had become.

He swore miserably into the cloth stuffed in his mouth. There had been no hint of warning earlier, either from the alarm system or his own senses. He'd been coming out of the shower, thinking about the day ahead, about the job and Bodie, and he'd been caught like a total fucking amateur. Whoever these bastards were, they had to be damn good if they could slip into a CI5 flat without setting off the alarms. Doyle shifted his head slightly, hoping to get a better look. Only two of them, and that really rankled; he was supposed to be trained well enough that two on one would be no contest. But these two—

Very smart, very tough and very fit, despite their age. That was the insult on top of the injury. Except for his brown eyes, the big dark one could have been Bodie's much older brother—or very young father: the same thick dark hair, the same carelessly handsome looks, the same air of flippant arrogance covering competence and threat. But Doyle suspected it was the other one, the lean blond, who was truly dangerous, if only because he had been so careful to make sure Doyle never got a good look at him.

The buzzer went again, this time more stridently. Doyle jerked violently, willing to break his wrist if it would get him loose, but nothing gave way. Helpless, he craned his neck sideways, watching as the dark man went into the entry hall and released the door locks.

"Ease up, kid," the blond said from behind him. It was the first time either of his captors had spoken. "You're not getting loose, and there's no point hurting yourself. We won't get rough with either of you, unless you try playing hero."

Doyle noted the American accent with dismay. A Yank? After them? He racked his brains, trying to remember the last American they'd tangled with.

No. After Bodie. If it was only him they wanted, he'd be dead already. The trap was for Bodie.

The dark man returned and stood behind Doyle.

"Don't move," he said with quiet emphasis. A small circle of cold metal pressed hard at the back of Doyle's neck. "Don't make a sound. We don't want your buddy missing breakfast, do we?" Another Yank, Doyle thought grimly, and wondered with sudden anger which piece of Bodie's shadowy past had come to kick them both in the goolies this time.

He heard the door open.

"Doyle?" Bodie called from the entrance.

In the silence, Doyle could Bodie grumbling under his breath before slamming the door closed. Footsteps came down the hall to the lounge.

"Doyle, what're you playing at? We're—"

Bodie appeared in the doorway. He took in the scene in a split second, and his hand flashed under his jacket, knees bending to send him into a dive for cover. The man behind Doyle cocked his gun. The sound seemed to reverberate through the bones of Doyle's skull.

Bodie froze.

"Wise move," the blond said.

Bodie straightened slowly, but the hand under his jacket stayed where it was. "You all right, Ray?" His voice was as calm as if he'd been asking about another round in the pub.

The cramped and twisted position made nodding hard, but Doyle twitched his head once, ignoring the gun's pressure on his scalp, and shot a quick glance at his partner. Expressionless, Bodie returned the nod. Pushing back his anger and chagrin, Doyle relaxed, preparing himself for the moment when he could be useful. There would be time later to indulge in emotion; now he needed to be ready to back Bodie as well as he could.

Bodie looked past Doyle at the blond. His eyes widened slightly; Doyle wasn't sure if it was genuine or calculated surprise.

"I've seen your picture in the watch lists," Bodie said thoughtfully. "You're . . . Wilson. No. Wiley. Jake Wiley. You do contract black work for the CIA, and anybody else who'll pay for it."

The blond—Wiley—chuckled ruefully. "I guess my retirement notice got misplaced."

The man behind Doyle laughed out loud. "Told you they'd have your picture up in post offices for the next fifty years."

"Haven't seen your picture in the mug line-up, though." Bodie put just a light touch of contempt into his voice. "Mean with the hired help, are we?"

Doyle felt the gun against his neck press more firmly for an instant. He closed his eyes, hoping this wasn't the one time Bodie's tactics backfired completely.

"Sam Dwyer." Wiley's voice was still gently amused. "A good partner, provided there's no women or money involved."

"And with you in charge there usually aren't, by the time the smoke clears."

"You know, Sam, you really need to get over Afghanistan."

"And as soon as I get my fifty thousand dollars, I will."

"And Cowley says we're a music hall act," Bodie muttered. "What d'you want with us, Wiley?"

"Your name's Bodie. You spent some time in Angola." Bodie nodded. "You owe a debt. I'm here to collect."

"Debt?" Bodie shook his head. "I've never set eyes on you before in my life."

"The debt's not to me."

A photograph floated past Doyle to land at Bodie's feet. Without taking his eyes off the men in front of him, or moving his hand from his gun, Bodie crouched down and picked it up. He eyed it for a moment, then shrugged.

"All this proves is you found a picture." His voice was indifferent, but Doyle saw the tightening around his mouth, the change in his eyes.

With a flick of his wrist, Bodie skimmed the photograph back across the floor. When it landed face-up by Doyle's feet, he craned his neck again to see it. It was an old photo, in black and white, with the scalloped white border and square shape he was used to seeing in his parents' photo albums. Two middle-aged women, one a tall blonde, the other a chunky brunette, stood in front of a decrepit looking building surrounded by lush vegetation that had never grown anywhere in England.

Between them stood a very young Bodie.

It took Doyle a second to process what he was seeing. The Bodie in the picture was in his late teens at most, gangly compared to his present solid muscularity, dressed in badly fitting cammo, his hair even shorter than Bodie wore it now. Baby Bodie, thought Doyle, with a wild flicker of amusement. The amusement faded as he studied the picture. There was no youthful softness to that boy's face, and no innocence either. The two women were smiling, partly at the camera and partly at each other, but Bodie's smile was small and forced. He looked gaunt and haunted, and dangerous in a desperate way.

"Don't damage it. It's the only one I've got here."

Doyle realised he'd missed something, as another photograph sailed by him. Bodie reached for it, and this time his reaction of shock was completely unfeigned. He looked from the photograph to Wiley and then over Doyle's head to Dwyer. Slowly, he shook his head.

"Seventy-seven. In Dakar." Wiley was answering whatever question he could see in Bodie's face.

Bodie continued shaking his head. "They were—"

"Some things changed, and some things didn't. Believe what you want, boy, but don't judge us by the laws they make here."

Bodie looked at the picture again, and then nodded.

"Let Doyle go. We'll talk."

There was a long moment of silence, then Wiley said, "Okay, Sammy. Cut the kid loose. Hey," he snapped, as Bodie turned away, "my picture."

Bodie slipped the photograph into his pocket. "When Doyle's loose."

The gun left Doyle's head. He felt hands fumbling at his right wrist, and then the metal circlet clicked open. In the same motion Doyle dragged his hand through the cuff bracelet and drove his elbow backwards as hard as he could. He felt it connect solidly with something soft, heard a grunt of pain. The follow-through was instinctive: up on his feet, whirling, fist ready to slam into Dwyer's throat as he struggled to bring up the gun.

"Doyle!"

"Sam!"

The two shouts overlapped. Bodie's didn't stop Doyle, but the chair still attached to his left wrist did, slowing him down enough that Dwyer was able to lurch back out of reach of the killing strike.

Ripping the cloth from his mouth, Doyle croaked, "Shoot, Bodie!" and dropped behind the chair in a half-crouch to give Bodie a clear field of fire. Not that the chair would be much more protection than a sheet of newspaper if it turned into a real gunfight, but at least the illusion of being out of the way meant Bodie wouldn't hold his fire to avoid turning his partner into a sieve.

"Doyle! Stop!" This time Bodie's voice sounded brittle.

Slowly, Doyle straightened up. Bodie had his gun drawn, but was holding it pointed at the floor. Dwyer, looking somewhat dazed and winded, was pointing his gun at Doyle, but in a stance that was obviously defensive rather than preparatory to shooting. Only Wiley hadn't moved from his position in the armchair.

"Back off, Sammy," Wiley said firmly.

"Little shit clocked me," Dwyer grumbled, rubbing his ribs and wincing a bit theatrically.

"Yeah, and I warned you they'd be good. You're lucky both our heads aren't rolling around on the floor."

"Bodie?" Doyle could hear the fury in his own voice, and made no effort to suppress it. "You want to tell me what this is all about, mate?"

"He's right," Bodie said heavily. "I owe. I owe enough to hear him out at least."

Bodie's eyes dropped to Doyle's torn and bloody wrists, and for a moment Doyle saw the same haunted, dangerous look the boy Bodie had worn in the photograph.

**

"Ellie, wake up."

"Nuh."

"C'mon, girlfriend, open your eyes for me. Can't sleep with a concussion, you know that."

"Can't stay awake forever either."

"You don't have to. Just until Jake and Sammy find us. Now hang onto my hand, keep your eyes open and damn well stay awake."

"Shhh. Don't let 'em whistle you."

"Ellie—"

"'at's not right. Can't . . . hear. Tha's it. Don' let 'em hear you."

"All right, lie still, I'll be quiet. Just stay awake, okay?"

"'kay."

****

Woodruff leads Bodie down the interior hall of the house, towards the sound of rattling pans and a wonderful smell of food. His stomach cramps so violently with hunger that he has to stop for a second, hunching over and bracing an arm against the wall. He can't remember the last time he ate, and is only aware of a huge hollow inside him, a hollow that seems to be making him light and insubstantial as a balloon. His legs feel too long and he's not sure where his feet are at all.

He pushes himself upright, fighting his body's urge to sway, and takes a few more steps. Then everything seems to tangle up, and he's floating toward the wall, unable to halt his progress, watching it come closer with mild bemusement and no real idea of what to do. The thump as his shoulder smacks into the wood is muffled, as if it were happening to someone else entirely.

Bodie suddenly realises he's sitting on the floor, feeling a vague pain in his upper arm, and another in his rump. Neither strikes him as particularly important. He leans his head back against the wall, and closes his eyes. The darkness is comforting, and he feels himself drifting towards sleep, towards a place where the emptiness in his middle and the memories he's carrying can all just fade away and leave him in peace.

He's almost gone, almost safe, when something jostles at the bruise on his arm. He scrambles sideways, snarling, clawing for a gun he no longer has, and his body slams into the wall again. This time there's no protective daze. In itself, the pain isn't that much, but on top of everything else it's come to the breaking point. His eyes smart with tears and all the fight goes out of him. The floor is cool, and he decides he'll just lie there and let the darkness do whatever it wants with him.

What the darkness does is pull him upright. He's leaning up against something that's both hard and soft, but warm. It feels comfortable enough that he lets himself sag against the warmth. If he still believed in things like that, it might feel like safety. Somewhere above him, there's a rush of air and a "woof" noise.

"Heavy for a skinny drink of water, eh?" The voice is a little strained. "C'mon, young fella, hold some of your own weight now."

"Change of plan," says a different voice. "Let's get him compos mentis before we try moving him. Here, I've got his arms, let's . . . that's it, nice and easy, down we go."

The hard/soft warmth is gone, and he's vaguely aware that he's down on the floor again. Bodie feels his eyes stinging. He hadn't really expected to be allowed to stay with warmth and comfort, and he curses the momentary illusion of hope he was stupid enough to allow. He yearns for the darkness.

A gentle patting at his cheek pushes the darkness away. There's no help for it: Bodie braces himself and forces his eyes open. Woodruff is crouched down at his right side, a huge brown earthenware mug in one hand. She touches him on the shoulder, very cautiously, and holds the mug to his mouth. He takes a sip, and feels the liquid drain down into the empty hole inside him, hitting bottom with a thump that's nearly solid. It's tea, without milk, but hot and strong and very sweet. He gulps at the liquid greedily, desperate to have that emptiness inside him filled.

"Easy there." Woodruff's voice is commanding but kind. "Won't do yourself any good if you toss it all back up again."

Bodie's been hungry enough often enough to know she's right, and he doesn't fight when she takes the mug away. He leans his head back against the wall and waits for the sugar to take effect. The rag of stubborn pride left inside him somewhere won't let him stretch his hand out until he's sure it won't shake.

"Ellie?" A blond head appears around the doorframe at the end of the hall. "How's our young fella doin'?"

"He'll be okay. Just give us five minutes." Woodruff holds out the tea mug. "Think you can handle this on your own now?"

Bodie nods, though he's not quite sure. The mug's heavy, and the roughly solid feel of its unglazed finish in his hand is very real, more real than anything's been in what feels like days. He finishes the tea in careful sips. He's still hungry, but the sugar is holding the shock and weakness at bay for the moment. The world is coming back into focus, and he uses the cover of draining the last of the tea to take a quick recce of where he is.

Woodruff is squatted down on her haunches across the hall from him, shoulders casually back against the wall. She's watching him with a carefully assessing gaze, and he notices without surprise that her right hand's on her Luger. In her place, he wouldn't have let himself into the house.

The house itself is pretty standard colonial stuff, from what he can see: plain wood floors and whitewashed walls, big screened windows and ceiling fans. It's spotlessly clean, but sparsely furnished; what furniture he can see is mismatched and shabby. In a lot of ways, it resembles the houses he knew in his boyhood, where women without much money put their pride into making do.

"Think you can get up?" Woodruff interrupts his examination.

Bodie nods, and levers himself up carefully, using the wall to make sure he doesn't tip over again. To her credit, Woodruff doesn't try to help him up, doesn't even hover over him, just makes sure he's upright before she heads on to the kitchen. The tea's done him good, and he's a lot steadier on his feet now.

The blonde's standing over a hissing paraffin stove, a spatula in one hand, a Kalashnikov leaning against the counter beside her. She's about six inches taller than Woodruff, a raw-boned woman with sunflower-bright hair cut very short. She turns as Bodie makes his way to the table, dark eyes raking him up and down, then grins and waves the spatula at him.

"Bodie, this is my partner, Kate Bannister. Kate, this is Bodie. He'll be staying with us until the convey comes through again."

"Morning, young Bodie." Her voice is just as cheerful as when she was shooting at Krivas from the roof. "Join us for breakfast?"

Bodie's stomach cramps again. He grits his teeth and makes himself say "Yeah," in as indifferent a voice as he can manage.

"Excuse me?" Woodruff snaps. "You born in a barn?"

Bodie looks up to see them both staring at him, flint grey and coffee brown eyes clearly expressing disapproval.

He glares back, and another wave of hunger and weakness nearly buckles his knees. For a moment he can't figure out what's wrong with them, and then he realises. Drawing a deep breath, he forces his voice into the best imitation of the BBC he can remember and drawls out,

"Yes, please, ma'am. I'd like some breakfast."

Bannister flashes him a grin and a thumbs-up gesture. Woodruff shakes her head, and points to a chair.

Bodie sinks into it gratefully, not sure how much longer he could stay on his feet, and desperate not to pull another faint in front of these two. Bannister slides a plate onto the table in front of him, and Bodie starts shovelling in the food like a starving dog. There's eggs–real eggs, not reconstituted powdered—a fry-up of yams and onions and tomatoes, and some meat that tastes smoked but isn't bacon.

When Woodruff places a hand on his shoulder from behind, Bodie hunches down over the plate, barely able to hold back a snarl.

"Don't eat so fast, you'll be sick," she says mildly. "There's more when you finish that."

Somehow, her matter-of-factness reassures him, and Bodie manages to eat the rest more slowly. Bannister refills the plate and adds another mug of black tea. Bodie grimaces as he takes a sip.

"Is there any milk, ma'am?"

Woodruff shakes her head. "We don't have any way to keep milk these days. When the guerrillas fired the hospital, they blew up the generator too."

Bodie chews and swallows quickly. "Cross the road, that's a hospital?"

"Used to be," Bannister says grimly. "One doctor, two nurses, a midwife, and real electric power a couple of hours every day. Not bad for the ass end of nowhere in this part of the world."

"The guerrillas stole everything that wasn't bolted to the floor," Woodruff takes up the story. "Killed the doctor and the midwife, raped both the nurses so badly one of them's still—" She makes a twirly motion beside her forehead. "And they blew the genny, which means no more refrigeration."

"Which means no more vaccines. Polio, typhoid, tetanus—pfff." Bannister makes a tossing motion with her right hand.

"Wasn't our mob." Bodie can't help sounding defensive.

"No, I'll give Krivas that much," Woodruff says with a shake of her head. "He can't be bothered to steal anything he'll have to work to get rid of."

**

"You gonna tell me what this is about?"

They were in Doyle's bedroom, Doyle seated on the bed, Bodie kneeling in front of him with the first aid kit open at his feet. He grimaced and shifted as Bodie carefully wiped antiseptic over his shredded right wrist. In the heat of the moment he hadn't noticed just how much skin had torn when he'd pulled his hand through the half-open metal cuff. It wasn't a crippling injury by a long chalk, but the sting of the antiseptic on raw flesh increased his irritation.

"Bodie?"

"It's about Africa." Bodie didn't look up, his eyes firmly fixed on the gauze he was now winding around Doyle's wrist.

"Krivas?"

Bodie shook his head. "No. Yes."

"Do I flip a coin?" Doyle demanded. "Bodie, for fuck's sake, those two broke in here without setting off the alarm! If they'd wanted us dead, Cowley'd be phoning me dad this time tomorrow. So if you've got a story here, tell me!"

Bodie put down Doyle's right hand, picked up the left. The skin there wasn't torn, but the weight of the chair pulling on the cuff had left an ugly bruise all around the wrist, spreading down over the back of the hand nearly to the knuckles. The whole hand was swollen and sore. Bodie lowered his head and touched his lips very lightly against the bruise. Doyle sighed and brought his other hand up to gently cup the nape of Bodie's neck.

He knew that if Bodie looked up, he would see deep, urgent hunger in those dark blue eyes. If they'd been alone, Bodie would have had him stripped and flat on his back by now and his wrists would go hang until other urges had been taken care of. Not that he was any better; his own fingers were itching for the touch of naked skin to the point that the need almost rivaled the pain in his wrists.

Bugger it, he thought savagely, and slid his fingers down inside the neck of Bodie's jumper, relishing for a moment the feel of smooth warm skin over powerful muscles. Almost involuntarily, he found himself leaning forward, wanting to taste as well as feel.

"Uh-uh." Bodie drew back, a regretful little smile on his face. "Those two are too sharp to miss your whisker rub."

"So why are we leaving them on their own out there?"

Bodie shrugged. "Any harm they wanted to do, they've done, and anything they wanted to nick is already in their car boot. Cowley'll have you out of here and this place off the books as soon as we report in."

Doyle pulled away and jumped up, wincing as he ran his sore hand through his hair. "What's with you, Bodie? You said you've never seen them before, all they've done is show you two pictures, and you're handing over to them like they were your old mates! Christ, we gonna have another Keller on our hands?"

Bodie stiffened and pushed to his feet. For moment Doyle thought he was going to walk out, then he took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders sideways. With a shadow of his usual grin, he demanded, "You implying I've got bad taste in friends?"

"I'm saying I deserve some answers. And I'm not the only one who'll be askin' for 'em, so you damn well better get your story straight here."

"It started with Krivas." Bodie pulled the photograph from his pocket and held it out for Doyle to see. There were four people in it: the same two women as in the one he'd seen earlier, and the two American mercs. "That's Kate Bannister." He pointed at the blonde woman. "The other one's Ellie Woodruff. I stayed with them for a bit after I got shut of Krivas."

Doyle studied the picture. The women were definitely older, and they both wore long dresses—Woodruff's soft orange, Bannister's pale blue. Each carried a small bouquet of bright tropical flowers. On either side of them, Wiley and Dwyer wore the formal dress uniform of some military service. It was, quite obviously, a wedding portrait.

"Is one of them—"

"What?"

"I was gonna say, is one of them the girl Krivas killed, but that can't be right, not if—"

Bodie laughed out loud, without the slightest trace of humour. "No, sunshine, that's not it. They weren't girls, they weren't beautiful, and Krivas couldn't take either of them on the best day he ever had." He sobered. "They took me in. Hadn't been for them, I'd probably be sittin' in the cell next to Krivas right now."

"No." Doyle was positive on that. "You wouldn't."

"Could've gone either way for a bit back then." Bodie's voice was mocking, but there was a dark awareness in his eyes that worried Doyle. "Had the makings of a right bastard in me, and don't say I didn't. You know me, Ray."

Doyle nodded, slowly, reluctantly. "You've got the potential. So do I. Cowley doesn't recruit choirboys. But he wouldn't have taken you on if he didn't know that you know where the lines get drawn." Doyle paused, struck by a sudden uneasy thought.

"Bodie, we are sure Krivas is still sitting in that cell?"

Bodie cocked an eyebrow.

"Well, that's your only connection with these two, right? Krivas knew their wives. Their wives knew you. Krivas knew you. Don't like the way that circle's closing itself."

"We'll check. Later. But for now, you're right. It's time somebody told us a nice bedtime story."

"I'll go make some cocoa, shall I?" Doyle said wryly. He pulled his shoulder harness on, wincing as he buckled it. The stiffness in his hand was going to be a nuisance for a couple of days, and he chalked up another black mark against the two Americans.

"Might go better with a stiff whiskey all round."

Doyle started to laugh, and then realised Bodie was only half joking. "That bad?"

"It's about Africa." Bodie shrugged, his face hardening.

To his annoyance, Doyle found his uninvited guests had made themselves at home. Wiley was still settled in the armchair, but Dwyer was prowling the lounge, a cup of coffee in one hand. Two more steaming mugs sat on the coffee table, along with a plate piled with rather dark toast.

"You didn't want egg and sausage as well?" Doyle snarled.

"Couldn't find the Spam," Dwyer replied, raising his cup in salute. Behind Doyle, Bodie choked back a snicker. "Sorry, kid, but I figured we owed you breakfast at least."

Doyle subsided onto the settee and snatched up one of the mugs. "Let's get this over with," he muttered. "If we're late, our boss will be ringing up or sending someone round, and them you won't take off guard."

"Yeah," Bodie said in a deceptively mild voice. "Let's hear it." He took a mug, and two pieces of toast, but stationed himself across the room, leaning against the wall.

Triangulation, Doyle thought, and hid a smile behind his cup. Whatever debt Bodie thought he owed wasn't enough to blind him to tactics.

Wiley nodded. "Fair enough. We met Ellie and Kate in Dakar, in seventy-seven. We were on a job, and no, you don't need to know what it was. Doesn't have anything to do with what happened after. Five weeks later, Ellie and me decided it was time to quit dancing around." He grinned. "Thought for a while this idiot would run out on Kate, but in the end she brought him round. We got married."

Bodie took out the picture again and looked down at it. Shook his head.

"I could—maybe—see why Ellie'd pick you. But him and Kate?" He gestured toward Dwyer.

"Hey, I clean up pretty good." Dwyer interjected.

"We did okay," Wiley said impatiently. "We settled down, got clean passports and respectable jobs. Everything was copasetic." He stopped, and ran a hand over his face. "Then a few weeks ago, hey, it's anniversary time. The girls had never been to England, so we decided to make it a holiday. Got here six days ago. Had a great time doing the tourist stuff. Then—" he stopped, face twisting.

"The day before yesterday, Kate and Ellie went off to do some shopping on their own. They never came back."

"What?" Bodie straightened up so sharply coffee splashed over the side of his mug.

"When they didn't show up for supper, we started looking around. Yesterday we went to the cops." Wiley shook his head. "Lot of fucking use that was."

"Grownups can do what they want, see." Dwyer took up the story. "And if the girls wanted to take off for a little holiday without their husbands, well, that's not police business. They wouldn't even look for forty-eight hours. We tried tellin' the boneheads that the girls didn't know anybody here, they'd left their passports in the hotel, we were going to meet for a show—nothing registered."

"That's not all, Sammy," Wiley said wearily.

"Hey, look, man, we don't haveta spill—"

"Yeah, we do. Or there's no point wasting their time. The cops figured maybe the girls took off because Ellie got tired of me."

"And just why would they think that?" Doyle couldn't help the resentment he felt. Did all mercs think coppers were a bunch of useless wallies sitting around drinking tea?

Wiley put his hands on his knees, and tugged at his trousers. The cloth slid upward a few inches to reveal dark socks and then, not skin, but metal and plastic. Doyle felt his stomach drop, and he set his mug down hastily, hoping he'd schooled his expression quickly enough.

Bodie stepped forward, looking down clinically at the prostheses.

"Landmine?" he said, as casually as if he were asking about the weather.

"RPG." Wiley let the cloth fall back into place. "I was damn lucky. I was alone in the jeep, and most of me got blown clear before the fireball went up." His smile was brutally honest. "Lucky I had enough money salted away I could afford some first rate gimp work.

"I can walk. Not all day, but I can get around. What I can't do is run, and I can't fight."

"So that's the bitch." Dwyer's voice was tight with fury. "Your cops aren't taking this particularly seriously. They took one look at Jake's legs and figured Ellie probably couldn't handle living with a cripple any more and ditched him."

"It's plausible," Doyle said.

"No," Bodie said with total conviction.

"C'mon, Bodie, people do it. Saw that enough when I was—"

"Yeah, yeah, when you were with the coppers. Saw a lot, you did. But I knew Ellie Woodruff, okay? She . . . well, she wouldn't. She didn't know the meaning of give up."

**

"Kate?"

"I'm here."

"Lissen, okay? You go."

"Go where, Ellie?"

"Out. Get away. Leave me an' . . . you know. Out."

"Leave you? Are you out of your f'in' mind? What do you think will happen to you if I leave you?"

"Same thing's if you're here. Die."

"You're not dying!"

"Got a dent in my skull you could put your fist in. Feel myself . . . losing my words. Y'know?"

"No. Ellie, no."

"Yeah. Go. Save . . . jus' go. 'kay?"

"Nope. Jake would kill me if I left you."

"Oh, God. What a pair. Jake on sticks and me with brain damage."

"You don't have brain damage! Now shut up and stay awake. Sam and Jake will be here soon. Just hang on."

**

"Boh-dy! Boh-dy!"

Bodie puts down his hammer with a groan and looks over the edge of the hospital roof. Down below, Xavier is waving his arms and pointing at a bundle of metal pieces on the ground beside him. Bodie stifles another groan and gives him a thumbs-up. A few seconds later, the pulley rattles and squeals, and with a lot of thumping and laughter from below, the roofing material is on its way up. Xavier starts to sing in the local lingo, something Bodie can recognise as a work song without actually understanding a word, and the rope sways and jerks in rhythm with the tune.

It's Bodie's eighth day staying with Woodruff and Bannister. For the first thirty-six hours he did nothing but eat and sleep. Woodruff put an old foam mattress and a couple of thick rugs on the floor of their screened-in rear porch, and Bodie was out the second his head touched the pillow. He hasn't said so, but it was the most comfortable place he'd had to sleep in months. He figures the whorehouse in the capital didn't count, since he hadn't really had any sleep there.

True to their word, the women have asked no questions, except is he hungry (to which the answer is invariably yes) and how does he feel (to which the answer is invariably okay, even when he isn't really sure about that). For the first few days, he'd felt odd, disconnected, as if he were seeing everything from behind a slightly dirty pane of glass. He'd get flashes when things would seem very real, like the moment Woodruff put that first cup of tea into his hand, but a lot of the time, he wouldn't have been surprised to wake up and find himself back in camp, lying in the tent he shares with Tub Weston and a couple of Rhodesians, hearing the clatter from the mess tent and the endless rumbling of motors. He's put these weird feelings down to the effects of hunger and weariness, hoping like hell that he hadn't picked up some exotic bug that would flay out his insides.

That distanced feeling has slowly faded, and he's more or less back to normal now. Young as he is, Bodie's developed the habit of making quick decisions and then living with the consequences, so he doesn't waste any time in worrying about what he's doing. Sometimes he wonders about what could happen if Krivas were to show up. Sometimes thinking about killing Krivas with his bare hands is the only thing that will let him get any sleep.

He doesn't let himself think about what might happen to Woodruff and Bannister if Krivas did show up.

On the morning of the third day, they'd put him to work on the hospital rebuilding. It turns out he's a hopeless bricklayer, but he has no fear of heights, so he took over the roof patching job. To Bodie's surprise, the work isn't just physically demanding, but requires a lot of attention, since he's working with odd shaped pieces of metal that don't match the random holes and charred spots in the roof. He's started to look at it as a giant jigsaw puzzle; he's made it a personal challenge to see how few times a day he has to rip a piece loose and start again. The fact that some of the support beams don't look particularly trustworthy just adds an extra touch of spice to the game.

Bodie concentrates fiercely on the work because if he lets himself think, he's right back to imagining his hands wrapped around Krivas' throat. He's already broken one hammer and doesn't want people to start thinking he can't be trusted with tools.

When the bundle of metal screeches to a halt at the top of the rope, Bodie swings it over onto the roof and whips a double loop around the anchoring spike. He's careful with the knot: on the first day, his second bundle slipped loose and cascaded back down to the ground, whanging and wailing like a galvanized thunderstorm. He really didn't need to be able to understand a word Xavier said.

Bodie inspects the new metal pieces and maps out his strategy. There's a jagged triangular hole at the roofline that's just slightly too big for any of the pieces he's had to work with so far, and he starts to consider ways he can use two of them to make an overlapping patch, and shore up some of the charred edging as well. He doesn't have a ruler or measuring tape, but he's always had a fairly good eye, and after a couple of scrambles up and down—and a few thumps on the surrounding wood to see just how much of it has been weakened—he thinks he's got a plan.

He loses himself in the work to the point where he's not aware of the sun beating down on him, the sweat soaking his shirt and curling his hair, not even the minor cuts the edges of the metal leave on his bare hands. He empties his mind of everything except the solid impact of the hammer on metal, and the next place where he has to put his hand or his foot.

"Boh-dy!"

The shout jerks him out of his trance so sharply that he nearly loses his grip on the hammer, and then nearly loses his balance trying to snatch it back. Swearing loudly, Bodie leans over the edge of the roof to see that the place is deserted, except for the older woman he's heard Woodruff call Mrs. Lulua. Mrs. Lulua gabbles out a sentence containing a couple of words that Bodie's come to interpret as 'lunch', and gestures down the dirt road, where the rest of the women are heading back toward their houses, a gaggle of bright skirts and head wraps. The villagers keep trying to invite Bodie to join them for the noon meal, but so far he's found reasons to refuse. He's not exactly afraid of them, but the idea of sitting there, surrounded by so many dark faces all jabbering away at him in their liquid sounding words, trying to eat . . . something . . . well, it just makes him feel uneasy.

Bodie's picked up a few words of the language and says what he hopes means "Two more," and raises two fingers. Mrs. Lulua shakes her head and looks down at the ground for a moment, then turns and trudges away, her back very straight and her scarlet and green head wrap bobbing back and forth.

Bodie's turning back to work when he hears a loud slam from down below. When he looks down he sees Woodruff leaping down the stairs of her house, and stalking across the road. She moves without her usually easy stride, every line of her body tight.

"Get down here. Now!" Her voice is tight too, and the thread of true anger in her voice takes Bodie by surprise. He descends the makeshift scaffolding beside the pulley in long careless jumps, sometimes tethered only by the rope he's looped around his arm.

"What's happened?" Now that they're close up, he sees Woodruff isn't angry, she's furious, her cheeks flushed and her mouth a thin white line. The fact that she has to crane her neck to look up at him doesn't appear to intimidate her one bit.

"What the hell's the matter with you?" she snaps. As Bodie opens his mouth, she makes a sharp cutting gesture with one hand, and steamrolls right over him. "These people take hospitality very seriously. Refusing an invitation to share food is an insult. And considering how little they've got in the first place, you might as well have slapped her face."

Bodie shrugs. "Don't feel like it. 'Sides, who knows what kind of muck they'd feed me."

"Pretty well the same muck you've been downing a couple of plates full of every time I put it on the table."

"Look, 'm not comfortable with spades, all right? Never can tell what they'll do, how they'll act. They can't be trusted."

"Really?"

"Oh, c'mon! You live here, you know what they're like. Stab you in the back soon as look at you, can't take their word for nothin'. Got no liking for our kind, and don't have the guts to come out with it like real men."

"You miserable little bastard! Why should they? People like Krivas, yes, and you, come here, you rob and rape and kill and then you wonder why they don't welcome you with open arms? You think the colour of your skin gives you some kind of a free pass? Think again, boy!"

"It's a job!" Bodie snarls. "And who do you think puts up the cash for Krivas, huh? Some of their very own brothers are footing the bill, so don't give me that shite about how they're all innocent exploited natives gettin' the boot in from the big bad colonials. You want to know whose fault all this is? Go down to the capital and see how the other side lives!"

"Why do you think we're up here?"

"Same reason Krivas is. Money."

Woodruff opens her mouth, but doesn't get anything out before there's an interruption.

"Ellie. Tone it down, girlfriend."

Bodie jerks back. He's been so engrossed in his shouting match with Woodruff that he hasn't even noticed Bannister's approach. Unlike Woodruff, whose face is red and whose voice had risen steadily to match his, Bannister looks coolly amused.

"They can probably hear you half-way to Ndalalando," Bannister continues, a warning tone in her voice.

"Too bad I'm not getting through two feet that direction," Woodruff snaps, gesturing at Bodie.

"What did you expect, eh? Some gutter rat kid, running with the likes of Krivas, you thought he might actually have some sense?"

"What d'you mean, gutter—" Bodie starts hotly, more stung than he wants to admit by her words. He stops as the amused look on her face deepens. As what she's done sinks in, he can feel the blood rising in his cheeks.

"Look, it's not. . . I'm not . . . It's what I've seen, dammit!"

"Most of what you've seen really is because of the war." Woodruff's much quieter now, and there's a wry twist to her mouth that tells Bodie she's embarrassed as well. "These are normally good people, Bodie. Deprivation and desperation are a bad combination."

"And you oughta know it," Bannister adds. "Now, we can't change the way you think, but we can change the way you behave. So this is the way it works, young fella. Under our roof, you live by our rules. You will mind your manners and you will show respect."

"Or what?" Bodie sneers. He feels a fierce pleasure rising up in him at the thought of a fight, of being able to hit somebody, hurt something. Even though there's a part of him that's appalled at the idea of beating up a woman—and he's got no doubt at all right now that he can handle Bannister—the mindless fury he's been choking down since he ran is swamping every civilised instinct that's managed to survive inside him.

"Or this." Woodruff makes a half-turn, her arm sweeping out to encompass the ruined hospital and battered village. "This is what you get. You're too young to be part of all the tearing down. Why not build something?"

The notion staggers him. He feels the anger draining away like an emptying bath, and grabs at it, trying to hold onto what's familiar. Nothing in his life so far has suggested that he's any use at anything except destruction.

"I dunno how." It's the basic truth he's learned about his life, about his world.

Bannister grins at him. "You're not doin' too bad up on the roof there. So how about we stretch it a little further, eh?" She takes his arm and turns him firmly in her direction. "Let's go have lunch."

His brain still struggling to get around the concept that he might be able to build, Bodie allows her to lead him down the road in the direction of Mrs. Lulua's house.

**

"I'm pleased to see that your understanding of the small print has improved in recent years, 3.7." Cowley took off his glasses, tapping them lightly against the folder on the desk in front of him. The glance he gave Bodie was sharply assessing.

Bodie straightened to attention. "Only need to put a gun to my head once, sir." His smile would have looked open, maybe even smug, to an outsider, but Doyle could see the effort it cost him.

"I shall keep that in mind for future reference." Under the acid tone there was amusement in Cowley's voice, and Doyle noticed Bodie's smile droop before he deliberately settled into a slouch.

The four of them were in Cowley's office, Wiley and Dwyer seated in the visitors' chairs, Doyle leaning against the wall, Bodie propped on the windowsill. Under the harsh office lights, the two older men's strain and weariness were clear. Military discipline and fear for their wives might keep them going longer than other men, but the toll was beginning to show in the tight lines of their mouths and darkness under their eyes. Despite having accepted two aspirin and a glass of whiskey, Wiley was grey under his tan, his hands white-knuckled on his canes. Hard men, yes, tough and fit, but worried and all too clearly closer to Cowley's age than Doyle's.

Cowley turned that assessing gaze from Bodie to them. "So, gentlemen. I assume you've given some thought as to what activities you've engaged in recently that might have brought you unwelcome attention?"

The two mercs gave him identical looks of bland incomprehension.

"Come, come," Cowley said impatiently. "You're either concerned about your good ladies, or you are not. Since you've gone so far as to involve Bodie in this—and allowed him to bring the matter to me—quite obviously you are. The time for cold feet is well past."

Wiley shrugged. "Still not sure this is the right way to go. Maybe if we'd paid a little more attention to what your CI5 outfit is, we'd have given him a miss."

"Not like you cops been givin' us the glad hand, either," Dwyer added sourly.

"CI5 is not the police. Our powers are considerably wider, and if I do say so, our resources better utilized. Bodie thinks this is important enough to involve me, therefore I intend to take the matter seriously. And, if it's a concern for you, what you've done elsewhere is of no interest to me unless it affects the security of this country."

"That's the bitch of it," Dwyer said. "We retired when we got married. None of us has taken a contract since then."

"We didn't leave a forwarding address," Wiley added. "No contacts with the past. Just another bunch of ex-pats living quietly and legally in Namibia."

"Six years is a long time for mercs," Bodie said. "If they dropped out of sight, most would just assume they went on one mission too many and never made it back."

"On the other hand, it could just be bad luck," Doyle couldn't resist playing devil's advocate. "Middle-aged ladies do get mugged in the big city."

"Plausible, I suppose." Cowley leaned back and eyed them all. "Except that, by Bodie's account, Mrs. Wiley and Mrs. Dwyer have spent nearly their entire adult lives as professional soldiers in one way or the other. Do you really think some teenage purse snatcher would get the better of both of them?"

"Remember Liz Walsh?" Bodie said with a fond grin.

"All right." Doyle ran a hand through his hair. "So if we rule out random crime, and we rule out something you two have been doin' that you shouldn't, what's left?"

"Old scores to settle?" Wiley shook his head. "But that doesn't make sense either. A lot easier, and safer to do that in Namibia than here. The nearest police station out there's two days drive, assuming the road's passable. Why do it here, with a cop on every corner?"

"Opportunity," Bodie said. "Somebody who's been holding a grudge happens to be in London, sees you, maybe while you're lookin' round the Tower or whatever, and decides to take advantage. Follows you to your hotel, Kate and Ellie go off alone, and Bob's your uncle."

"Nah, same problem," Doyle broke in. "They wouldn't go down easy, and anybody from the past would be their age too, right? Somebody'd have noticed a bunch of OAP's brawlin' down on Oxford Street, surely."

Wiley's mouth tightened. "Look, Doyle, I know you've got a hard time gettin' your head around this, but Ellie and Kate are good, see? They're fast and tough, and smarter than all of us put together." He darted a look at Cowley. "Well, maybe not you, Major, but you get the idea."

"I'm fast and tough too, and it didn't do me much good this morning, did it?" Doyle snapped.

Cowley tapped sharply on his desk. "Are they armed?"

"These two are," Bodie said.

Doyle bit back a grin as he saw Wiley and Dwyer glance at each other and then look sourly at Bodie. Neither of them replied.

"Well?" Cowley demanded. "Need I remind you of what I said about my priorities?"

Dwyer sighed. "We carry. All of us, all the time. Ellie's eyes are going a bit, but Kate's still sharpshooter material."

"Writes her name on the wall at 500 yards." Bodie's voice was softly admiring. At Cowley's look of surprise, he smiled. "Saw her do something pretty damn close."

Cowley's brows rose. "How long were you with them, Bodie?"

"Thirteen days." Doyle could practically see the shutters rising.

"And during that time did either of them ever mention exactly what was in that mine they were guarding?"

"The mine?" Bodie looked nonplussed. "Wasn't anything in it. They said it was played out. I asked once. Ellie said something like, 'Answers to prayers. Hope. All the things they can't find.' Or something like that."

"And what did you think?"

"Diamonds," Bodie replied promptly. "That whole area, Congo down into northern Angola, is lousy with kimberlite deposits. That's how the UNITA kept their revolution going all these years, when they took control of the diamond mines."

"Can't be." Dwyer's voice was sure. "Kate and Ellie weren't hurting for money, but they weren't rich when we met. Not 'we've got a diamond mine tucked away' kind of rich."

"Do you trust your wife? Or, perhaps more to the point, are you sure she trusts you?"

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"

"You married five weeks after you met. Perhaps Mrs. Dwyer and Mrs. Wiley were not quite sure that you could be trusted with that kind of knowledge so soon into your relationship."

"Not bad," Wiley said, with a chilly grin that came nowhere near his eyes. "Put a little aside in case the divorce gets messy, that the idea? Only problem is, we've managed to hang on for six years now. I'm assuming you don't think we're that patient."

"The thought had not crossed my mind." Cowley's face and voice were utterly unrevealing. Doyle saw Bodie suddenly blink and look hard from one man to the other.

"Look," Dwyer said wearily, "the mine was before our time. And that whole area of Angola is right up shit creek again. If somebody thought there was something worthwhile there, they wouldn't need Kate and Ellie. Anybody could probably just waltz in and help themselves."

"I see." Cowley's tone of voice said clearly that what he had heard left much to be desired.

"What about Krivas?' Doyle asked.

"Krivas himself is still in prison. However, there may be some loose ends in that matter, and it can do no harm to make sure they are well and truly tied." Cowley reached for his desk phone. "Betty? Who's free at the moment?"

After a moment, Betty's voice crackled over the speaker. "Ruth, sir. Oh, and Jax just came in a few minutes ago."

"Very well. Have Miss Pettifer escort our two guests to interview room three. Send down to records, and have them access all the files relating to the Krivas affair. Mr. Wiley and Mr. Dwyer are to be given complete access."

"Files?" Wiley half-rose to his feet and then froze with a grimace of pain. His face paled even further, and he clamped his teeth viciously into his lower lip.

Dwyer was up a second later, sliding his arms around the lean waist, angling his body to support most of the other man's weight. "Easy, buddy," he said soothingly. "Gonna let you down, okay? Shift your ass back when you land, that's it." Without any fuss he settled Wiley back into the chair and straightened his lower legs.

"Do you need a doctor?" Cowley's hand hovered over the phone.

"No." Wiley's voice was strained and faint, but determined. "Just gimme a couple minutes."

Dwyer looked down with a faint smile, and squeezed Wiley's rigid shoulder. "Looks like it's files for us, pal."

Wiley glared up at him. "Have one of the hot shots stay here, and you go."

"Not a chance," Doyle snapped.

"I know this is difficult," Cowley said, "but Bodie and Doyle have contacts and experience here you can't match. You've asked for help; now let us give it." He looked from Bodie to Doyle and back. "Well? On your bikes, you two. Or should I send one of you to files with Mr. Wiley after all?"

Bodie instantly levered himself to his feet and headed for the door, Doyle only a step behind him. As they reached the corridor, Ruth Pettifer came around the corner, nearly running into Bodie, who gallantly took her arm and steered her out of the way with a smile. Doyle rolled his eyes and was about to step around them when Cowley came up behind him and touched his shoulder,

"Doyle, a word."

Doyle turned reluctantly and followed him a few paces down the corridor, out of earshot of the others. The old man looked tense and Doyle felt a sudden urge to check his gun. Cowley never gave away anything he felt without a reason. He regularly sent them into danger without a twinge of conscience; that something in this situation worried him gave Doyle an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability

"Sir?" he said, when Cowley made no effort to speak.

Cowley frowned and then shook his head ruefully. "Probably nothing but nerves. I want to be certain you're going to watch Bodie's back."

A cold flush of anger and disbelief brought Doyle close in. He lowered his voice, but couldn't help its roughening with anger. "Excuse me? Sir? What the hell else do you think I do?"

Cowley raised his hands soothingly. "I don't like this, Doyle. Don't like it at all. Bodie has few loyalties, but the ones he has, he holds very dearly. Nothing else can override his survival instinct, except danger to you."

"Like he said, he's learned his lesson. We are here, after all."

"Would he be here if those two hadn't chosen you as their bargaining chip? If he hadn't had to factor you in from the start?"

Doyle pressed his lips tightly together to hold back another burst of anger. The words he could have used to refute Cowley's implication choked his mouth, but couldn't be said.

Cowley nodded and smiled thinly, obviously assuming he'd made his point. "You'll need to supply the common sense, lad. Because I'll not have those old loyalties used against him again."

Doyle brought up short, anger suddenly cooling under a rush of apprehension. "You think this is about Bodie? That Wiley and Dwyer are using the connection to get at him?"

"And perhaps Mrs. Wiley and Mrs. Dwyer are sitting comfortably in a hotel in Knightsbridge, drinking tea and waiting for their next move. This is more than just a simple kidnapping. And I'm damned if Bodie's going to end up being the ransom."

Allowing himself his own grim smile, Doyle patted his holster. "Not to worry, sir. Bodie's got us right behind him. And I don't owe any of them anything."

**

"Oh my God. Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"Help. Please. My friend's hurt. Help us."

"But how did you get here? Is that—oh, God, it's blood!"

"Please. No wait, don't go! Help us!"

"Ka'? Who's 'ere?"

"Shh, it's all right. I don't know, a girl. Just a kid."

"Help?"

"Sorry, girlfriend, I don't think so. All the blood scared her off."

"Knows."

"Eh?"

"Somebody knows. Not alone."

**

"You keep givin' me looks like that, Mandy, and people will talk." Bodie's voice is teasing, but the only answer he gets is a giggle and a firm tug on one trouser leg. He sighs with exaggerated exasperation. "Right then, trouble, up you go, and mind me ears."

Bodie's not quite sure how it's happened, but lunch at Mrs. Lulua's has landed him with an admirer, in the form of the old lady's five-year-old granddaughter. He doesn't quite get her name, but the liquid collection of m's and a's sounds something like Amanda, and she'll answer to 'Mandy' for him. She's a cute little thing, all huge dark eyes and round cheeks and dimpled smile, and she's taken to following him everywhere, trotting along behind him or sitting watching quietly while he's working. Bodie's not used to kids, and is a bit uneasy at this unabashed adoration, but he's started to consciously slow his steps so her short chubby legs can keep up with him. Digging into the few good memories he has from his own childhood, he's discovered that all kids apparently enjoy a rousing game of Who's Got Your Nose Now, or Piggy Gone to Market. Her absolute favourite, however, is Giddyup Bodie, and it's made him wish for the first time that he had longer hair.

As he swings her up onto his shoulders, she chortles gleefully and the instant she's settled makes a grab at the sides of his head.

"Ears!" Bodie says firmly, and moves her hands down to his shirt collar. Once he's sure she's got a good grip, he continues up the track toward Woodruff and Bannister's house.

The convoy to the coast hasn't come through yet. According to the tinny sputtering shortwave Bannister and Woodruff tune up at night, there's been renewed fighting to the east, with high casualties. Bodie's learned to discount all government reports of ground gained and enemy killed by at least half, if not two-thirds, but the bottom line nevertheless is that the situation is too dangerous for anything short of an army column to travel anywhere.

To his surprise, Bodie doesn't mind. He doesn't want to admit it to himself, but he's come to like this peaceful little enclave and he's dreading the day when his time here is over. Woodruff and Bannister are a pair of odd ducks, but they've shown him more sustained kindness than he can remember receiving from anyone in his life. Too bad it can't last.

Woodruff's sitting cross-legged on the half-burned porch, Uzi and cleaning kit spread out in front of her. From his taller vantage point, Bodie can see strands of grey in her dark hair, and a bullet scar running smooth and shiny right across her shoulders, clearly visible despite her tan. Her blunt hands are quick and competent on the gunmetal; Bodie has a sudden vision of her stripping the weapon blindfolded so often it's become a part of her automatic nervous system, like being able to breathe.

She looks up at him with a smile. "Hey, Bodie. Hello, sweetie pie." Mandy chatters happily and makes another grab for Bodie's right ear.

"You're going to look like Prince Charles before she's done with you," Woodruff laughs.

"Not me. I was born tall, dark and beautiful."

"Not to mention engagingly modest," Woodruff says dryly. "Girlish attention's going to your head."

Just then Mandy's hand fastens on his hair, and Bodie bites back a yelp as he carefully untangles her fingers. "Ha bloody ha."

"Language, Bodie."

"She can't understand me," Bodie protests.

"It's the principle." Woodruff's got a school teacherish tone to her voice. "What brings you two up here so early anyway?"

"Looks like the roofing metal's run out. Can't make out what Xavier's saying, but nothing's left down below and the way he's waving his hands, doesn't look I'll be going back up today."

"Hmm." Woodruff closes her eyes and stretches back. "We'll have to head over to the mine tomorrow. There's a couple of sheds still standing we can rip apart."

"The mine?" Bodie carefully keeps the interest out of his voice. "What's in the mine, anyway? Krivas never said."

"Air." Woodruff shrugs. "Probably a lot of rotten support timbers and some rusted out machinery, but that's about it."

"Well, then what's Krivas want with it?" Bodie's honestly puzzled.

"What do men always look for in something like that?" Woodruff's eyes are fixed up on the sky. "Answers to prayers. Solutions to problems. Hope for the future. All the things they're not going to find."

Just as Bodie opens his mouth, there's a sharp report of a gunshot. Without any conscious thought he's down, rolling into the shelter of the steps, Mandy's body tucked between his chest and the cement. When he raises his head cautiously so he can peer over the top step, he sees only Bannister sprinting along the track, running as if the hounds of hell were behind her.

Woodruff leans down and snatches Mandy out of his arms. She whisks the child across the porch and practically throws her through the front door into the house, shouting after her. By the time Bodie's scrambled to his feet, Bannister's arrived at the steps, and Woodruff's locking the last piece of the Uzi in place.

"Krivas," Bannister gasps and braces her hands against the porch, chest heaving.

"Shit!" Woodruff slams the clip into the Uzi. "How many?"

"Three jeeps." Bannister swipes a hand across her face. "Just luck I saw some movement from down by the bridge."

"Twelve," Woodruff mutters.

"Probably fifteen," Bodie says, feeling a chill settle under his ribcage. He's known this was all too good to last, but somehow he's let this little oasis of sanity fool him into forgetting what things are really like out here.

Without another glance at each other, the two women dash into the house, Bodie trailing behind them, feeling stunned and bewildered. Now that the moment is here, it's happening so fast he can't keep up.

By the time he catches up to Woodruff and Bannister, they're at the pantry they use as an arms locker and are hauling out ammo boxes and spare weapons.

"Not even Krivas will fall for the same trick twice," Woodruff says. She's slipped into a jacket and is loading up magazines for the Uzi, filling her pockets as fast as she can.

"Maybe he'll think that too." Bannister turns to Bodie. "How're you at distance?"

"I'm good." It's a flat statement; they've never asked and Bodie's never explained to them exactly what he's done for Krivas.

"Time to prove it." She leans into the locker and lays a long, wrapped bundle on the floor between them. When she flips the canvas open, Bodie sees the ugly efficient lines of a Heckler and Koch, the faint blue of oil sheen on the metal. It's heavy and warm when he picks it up.

"You got a plan?" Woodruff's slung the Uzi over her shoulder, and is checking the holster for the Luger, sliding the handgun in and out.

"He'll be expecting a crossfire, eh? So let's give him a three-sided box. You're on the porch. Young Bodie's across on the roof. I cut through the woods and come up from behind them."

"What about the fourth side?" Bodie asks.

"Anybody who wants to run off into the jungle is welcome to do it." Woodruff's voice holds a tone of grim anticipation. "Xavier and the others may not be able to stand up to machine guns, but one on one out in their own territory? Krivas better pray I shoot him first." Woodruff gives Bannister a sharp glance. "And it's your turn on the porch, m'dear. Krivas knows I'm not the sharpshooter; it'll get his guard down."

Bannister nods. "Done. Here." She pushes some ammo into Bodie's hands. "She pulls maybe half a minute to the right, not that it'll make a difference at this range. Go on, young fella, move it. Won't be much of an ambush if Krivas sees you climbing the scaffolding, will it?"

If he weren't so used to the snap of orders, Bodie would probably just stay standing there, mouth open. As it is, he makes one try at sanity.

"Fifteen to three?" He can hear a bleating tone in his voice he doesn't much like.

Woodruff shrugs. "It can be fifteen to two, if you'd rather head for the hills."

Bodie clamps his mouth shut, wheels and heads out of the house at a dead run. He's halfway up the scaffolding on the side of the hospital before it really sinks in just what he's doing.

He keeps climbing.

It's a job, he tells himself. Just a job. He concentrates on where to put his hands and feet, empties his mind, refuses to think about what could happen in the next few minutes.

Just a job.

The blank detachment lasts while he settles himself on the roof, while he checks out the H&K and loads. It's not the newest, but H&K builds to last and like all the women's weapons, it's well cared for and ready to use. He sights down on the porch below, wishing he had the opportunity for a few practice shots.

He hears the jeeps before he sees them, growling like a pack of wild dogs as they churn their way up the trail, gunning the engines before settling into a semi-circle in the dirt in front of the house. He was right: it is fifteen. Bodie can see Krivas beside Benny in the lead jeep, big Frenchy Laparge on the right flank, Tub on the left. He shifts the scope from one face to the other, seeing familiar features up close, in vivid detail. He doesn't let himself wonder if any of those faces will be the last he sees.

Just a job.

When Bannister steps from behind the door, Kalashnikov at the ready, Bodie shifts the scope to her. She takes another step forward, right into the target circle.

He squeezes the trigger.

**

Woodruff's already in place by the road when she sees Bannister go down. Training takes over. She doesn't scream, or stand frozen, or make a suicidal charge across open ground toward the jeeps. She takes one deep desperate breath, and then melts back into the bush, cold and invisible as glass. The instant she's out of sight, she starts to run, and five minutes later she's on a game trail and heading up into the thicker jungle.

Firmly, deliberately, she doesn't think about a spray of blood across her front door, about the cry that followed on the shot, about odds that have changed with horrifying speed from fifteen to three to sixteen to one. Calculating trajectories, visualizing fields of fire and choke points, balancing range against stopping power, she closes her mind to everything except the moment.

By the time she's settled under a tree upslope of the village, she knows it's possible.

Not survivable, but possible.

**

Doyle heaved himself out of the driver's seat of the Capri, arching his back and twisting his shoulders. His wrists and hands throbbed rawly and his muscles felt knotted and stale, an ache building behind his eyes from too many half-begun pints in too many smoke-filled rooms. They'd spent the day tracking down old contacts of Bodie's, moving from pool hall to pub to back rooms in places even Doyle hadn't seen in his days with the Met, and was for the most part thankful he'd missed.

And all of it for nothing. Most places, Bodie had asked questions; to a select few he'd showed the wedding picture. A few of the men, usually ones who'd spent time in southeast Asia, recognized Wiley or Dwyer; several had heard that one or both were dead. Even fewer had recognized either Kate Bannister or Ellie Woodruff; the consensus there seemed to be that they had dropped out of the game years ago. If anyone was hiding guilty knowledge, Doyle's well-trained nose couldn't sniff it out.

Doyle stretched again, and shivered slightly as Bodie's hand settled on the back of his neck and kneaded the stiff muscles there.

"Gonna try for a job at that last massage parlour, are you?" He tilted his head slightly, leaning back into the welcome warmth.

"Have to keep you in the style you're accustomed to somehow." Bodie gave a last squeeze and let go.

Doyle looked over his shoulder and grinned, a smile that dimmed a bit as he took a good look at Bodie. The day had been hard on him as well. His partner looked unusually tired, pinched around the eyes and mouth in a way that made him seem both older and harder. A fierce rush of protective tenderness mingled with resentment at the toll this brush with the past was taking, and before he could stop himself he reached up and ran the back of his hand down Bodie's cheek.

"Dyin', am I?" Bodie summoned up an answering smile, his cheeks turning slightly pink.

Doyle could feel a slight heat in his own face. Teasingly mock-affectionate gestures were one thing, but hiding their true feelings had been too much a part of their lives to take the genuine article lightly.

"Wish Martell didn't always pick the damnedest places to meet," he grumbled, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets with a grimace and trying to put a note of normality into the proceedings.

"That's why he's still in business." Bodie looked around at the deserted children's playground. "Just our luck some copper'll run us all in as potential child molesters."

"Couldn't happen to a nicer fella," Doyle said sourly.

"Ah, Marty's not so bad. As long as you never turn your back on him and only believe half of what he says. Or doesn't say."

"And speak of the devil—" Doyle gestured along the path.

Carrying a briefcase in one hand, Martell approached them briskly, looking every inch the respectable city man on his way home. He hadn't changed much, Doyle thought, since their first meeting. Lean, neat, he was the most self-contained person Doyle had ever met, all blandly reflective surface, any depths carefully hidden.

When he reached them, Martell stopped and turned so he was facing away from the street into the open ground. Though his voice was barely audible, there was no mistaking the annoyance in his tone.

"Was it really necessary to call me, old chap? My time's not entirely my own."

With Martell, Bodie didn't bother with any lead-up. "Anybody seen anything of these people? Or been asking about them?" He held out the now dog-eared photo and, with a sigh, Martell took it. He glanced casually at the picture, then halted, brows rising.

"Wiley and Dwyer? Now there's two I haven't heard of in . . . let's see, must be seven, eight years. Heard once Wiley got killed, but that never went further than the bush telegraph."

"Well, that's the, what, fourth confirmation of his death we've had today?" Bodie snorted. Looked like even Marty Martell wasn't completely up to date. "What about the women?"

Martell raised the picture and took a closer look. As he lowered it, he shook his head and gave Bodie a reproachful look. "Oh please. No real villains for CI5 to chase these days? Nothing better to do than go after the Brazzaville choir girls?"

"Brazzaville choir girls?" Doyle said, bewildered by both the words and Martell's attitude.

Martell gave a dry chuckle. "Some time when you're in the mood for a laugh, ask Bodie here how much a dose of penicillin costs on the black market."

"That's relevant?"

"Oh, very much so." Martell leaned back on his heels, once more at ease. "Congo, 1962. The days before I had the sense to let the work find me."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means find some other songbird. I've got nothing to say."

Bodie stepped forward and grabbed Martell's arm. "Look, it's not like that."

With an ease that surprised Doyle, Martell twisted free of Bodie's grip. "You're stepping over the line, Bodie. Even with our past." His voice was icy.

"They're here, in England. And they've disappeared." Bodie half turned away, and ran a hand across his hair. "For Christ's sake, Marty, I owe them as much as you do. All we want is to get to them before whoever has them doesn't have any more use for them."

"Disappeared? Those two?" Martell straightened abruptly. "They're probably dead, then. Never did understand the meaning of surrender, either of them. It's much too dangerous to keep them alive." There was real regret in his voice. Doyle's eyes widened slightly; as far as he could recall, it was the first genuine emotion he'd ever see the arms dealer display.

Bodie jerked, his face turning stone hard. Doyle crowded in against him, sliding an arm across his chest, for once too concerned to worry in the least about what anyone might see. Ordinarily, when Bodie wore that dangerous look of his, Doyle was content to let him go to work, but this time a whisper of warning told him Bodie was nearly as close to the edge as he was pretending to be. He tightened his grip until he was sure he had to be leaving a bruise. Bodie took no notice.

"What do you know, Martell?" Bodie's voice was soft and deadly.

"What's it worth?"

"What do you want?"

Martell smiled thinly. "Your life and your sacred honour?"

Doyle stepped forward with a snarl. "Bodie's life belongs to me, and his honour belongs to Cowley. You know something, talk."

Something changed in Martell's eyes then, and for a moment their usual chill was replaced with a look of rueful affection. Two real emotions in one day, Doyle thought. Marty's slipping.

Martell looked out across the deserted playground again, and then sighed. "If it was anybody else, I'd tell the pair of you to sod off. But you're right, you're not the only one that's got a past."

"And?"

"I've heard about something. It may not even be connected."

"That'll be for us to decide."

"There's a job going in Angola. High stakes, high pay. And with the situation there now, with Cuban troops involved, and SWAPO too, it's got to be damn high. Wouldn't surprise me if the South Africans send in troops."

"Spare us the politics," Bodie grunted. "What's the job?"

Martell shrugged. "Very hush-hush. Only the ones that get hired find out. And so far they've only picked the top of the line. Right up your alley, Bodie, if you didn't already have alternative employment."

"You got any guesses?"

"None whatsoever. The chap doing the hiring is an intermediary for the money man, and everything's being played very close to the vest."

"But you know who's doing the hiring?"

"Oh, yes. I'm surprised you haven't heard already. It's an old friend of yours, Bodie. Benny Marsh."

**

Doyle entered the interrogation room with a tray of coffee cups just in time to hear Wiley swear violently and shove the stack of files in front of him to the floor.

"It's got to be them!" He pushed himself upright and hobbled a few steps towards the door, then wheeled around. "Angola. And Benny Marsh leads right back to Krivas." He swayed, and then caught himself. "What in the hell could anybody want back there now?"

"Here." Doyle shoved a cup of coffee into his hand. "Sit down before you fall."

"We don't have time to—" Wiley's voice rose sharply and he hurled the cup at the wall.

"Hey!" Dwyer, who'd been lounging back in a chair on the other side of the table, jumped up and grabbed him. "Enough, man. Cool it."

"Goddammit, Sammy, that's my wife out there!"

"And my wife too." Dwyer didn't release his grip. "Now will you cool it? Before they lock us up?"

Bodie, Doyle noticed, hadn't moved at all, hadn't even looked up from the same sheet of paper he'd been staring at before Doyle left for the coffee. The worry that had started to prickle inside him while speaking to Cowley in the morning was well on its way to becoming a fierce bite.

You'n me need to have a talk, sunshine, Doyle thought. You might be able to pull the wool over the old man's eyes, but I'm fucked if you'll do it to me.

A tap at the door broke the strained silence, and Ruth poked her head in.

"Any results?" Bodie finally looked up.

"There's no record of Benny Marsh entering the country since he was deported. Whichever way he came back, he didn't use his own passport to do it."

"High pay, false passports—this will be big money." Bodie laughed softly. "Too bad Benny knows me, or I could try for it meself."

"That's an idea," Dwyer said in a considering tone. "I could surface, let on I'm job hunting. I had a pretty decent rep in the old days."

Doyle shook his head. "If Marsh does have your wife, he'll know about you, right? He'll either ignore you, or snatch you too."

"At least I'd be with her." The raw savagery in Dwyer's voice said everything that needed to be said.

"And used against her?" Bodie asked quietly.

The silence lengthened again.

Finally Doyle sighed. "Look, we've done all we can for today. Bodie and I planted a lot of seeds, but I doubt anything will sprout before morning. Might as well get some rest."

"Go and sit in the hotel all night?" Wiley said wearily. "I'd rather stay here. At least we can pretend to do something useful."

"All night? It's coming on one in the morning!" Bodie snapped. "Doyle's right: we need some rest. And I want to get his hands seen to."

"Don't fuss, Bodie." Doyle carefully put some annoyance into his voice. It took a very delicate balancing act to manoeuver Bodie without him realising it; if he got the slightest idea that Doyle was concerned about him, he'd push himself too hard regardless of consequences.

And Doyle was concerned. The day spent among old mercenary and fighter acquaintances had drained Bodie brutally, more than anything Doyle had seen in years. So Doyle had deliberately but unobtrusively rubbed his wrists when he was sure Bodie would notice, and manfully compressed his lips when he picked up a cup. Bodie responded exactly as Doyle had hoped.

"'m not fussing. You're no bloody use as backup if you can't shoot, are you?"

Doyle opened his mouth as if to snap back, then meekly shook his head. "Guess you're right," he muttered grudgingly. "What about them?" he jerked his head toward Wiley and Dwyer.

"Mr. Cowley's made arrangements for our guests to stay at a safehouse," Ruth said. "He also left orders you're to stay with 3.7 until further notice."

"Christ. No mercy for the afflicted?"

"You're homeless at the moment, remember?" Bodie summoned up a cheeky grin. "Don't worry, mate, I'll take you in. You can pay the rent somehow," he added darkly, waggling his eyebrows.

Doyle put the back of one hand to his forehead. "Oh, please, sir, spare my virtue."

"If it's virtue I wanted, I'd be takin' our Ruth home." Bodie flashed a seductive smile at her, and she rolled her eyes.

"Trust me, Bodie, if you took me home, you'd be very virtuous." She made a quick snip-snip motion with two fingers.

Bodie's smile widened and he poked Doyle firmly in the back. "Lucky I got Doyle then, innit? C'mon, shift it, sunshine."

Doyle took a last look at Wiley and Dwyer, both still standing looking at the piles of paper around them with empty eyes. "Go on," he said firmly. "You're too worried to think and too tired to be any use. Get some sleep. We'll let you know if there's any word."

Bodie was already on his way out the door and Doyle followed him, suddenly feeling a wave of exhaustion sweep over him. If his hands hadn't been throbbing, he probably would have fallen asleep leaning on the wall next to the lift. Bodie led the way to the car park and unlocked the passenger door of his Capri without a word.

Doyle practically fell into the seat. With a sigh, he leaned his head back, closing his eyes. "Home, Bodie. Lower Hobbiton awaits us."

Bodie's current flat was a ground floor hovel with low ceilings, narrow windows and an amazingly cramped bath, along with erratic heating and a smell of must and mildew that no amount of Vim and hot water got anywhere near. The only attraction it held, as far as Doyle was concerned, was that Bodie lived there. Even the pocket handkerchief garden that came with it was an overgrown mess of weeds and crumbling paving stone.

After listening to Bodie moan about the place for a week, Doyle had taken out his water colours and pens and carefully lettered a sign, in beautifully illuminated calligraphy, that read, 'Lower Hobbiton: the nasty end of the Shire'.

Bodie had it framed and mounted on the back of the door.

Usually riding home with Bodie was an opportunity to relax. Bodie was a showy driver, but smooth, and Doyle had often enough fallen asleep to the purr of the engine and the very low music Bodie preferred on the radio. But tonight, the nagging worry over his partner kept him awake, watching through half-closed eyes as the alternating bands of darkness and streetlight passed over his set face. Now that they were alone he wasn't bothering with any kind of façade. That tense, closed-off look was one Doyle had seen before. Bodie always wore it when the past came back. The look of a man braced for a blow—or betrayal.

Bodie suddenly glanced sideways, and caught Doyle watching.

"Still awake?" He smiled, and for a moment all the hardness dissolved, and Doyle saw the essential Bodie shining through.

"Too wound up yet," Doyle replied, and raised his right hand with a questioning look. Bodie nodded, and Doyle reached over to rest the hand on Bodie's leg, just above the knee. He petted once, and then just left his hand there, feeling the muscles relax slightly under his touch. A few minutes later, Bodie began to hum softly as Wild West End came on the radio.

"Walkin' with your wild best friend," he murmured, and gave Doyle's hand a slight squeeze between shifting.

They made the rest of the journey in comfortable and connected silence.

As Bodie dealt with the locks, Doyle stripped cautiously out of his jacket. He was fumbling with the snap on his holster, cursing under his breath, when Bodie's arms enfolded him from behind. Smiling, he leaned back into the embrace, taking hold of Bodie's forearms and pulling the other man closer. With a sigh, Bodie rested his forehead against Doyle's shoulder. Doyle ran his hands gently up and down the powerful arms, feeling the tension in the long body pressed against his back. The concern came back full force, pushing his own weariness aside. Bodie was wound up so tightly he was close to vibrating.

"Got any food in?" Doyle asked quietly, keeping up the gentle caresses.

"Think there's a half chicken pie," Bodie muttered. "Not hungry."

"Devil's wearin' ice skates, is he?" Doyle managed a chuckle.

"Want you more."

The admission sent a kick through Doyle's stomach. He could feel Bodie's erection pressing against his rear, but hadn't been sure how much of it was due to actual desire and how much to the tension shaking his partner.

Bodie pressed a bit closer and rubbed his cheek on Doyle's. Doyle felt the unexpected heat there, heard a touch of uncertainty in the whisper. "Want you inside."

Doyle's hold tightened involuntarily. They didn't fuck often, not the actual prick-up-the-arse stuff, and when they did, Doyle was almost always on the receiving end. He didn't mind: it wasn't particularly earth-shaking, and messier than he really liked, but Bodie enjoyed it quite a bit and had never hurt him yet. After the first few times, he'd done some reading; finding out that both enjoying and not enjoying it were perfectly normal reactions, he'd decided not to worry one way or the other. Bodie never pushed, and knowing it was his own choice made the giving easy.

Bodie, on the other hand, didn't seem to like getting it at all; that he'd gone so far as to ask for it tonight cranked Doyle's worry up yet again. For a moment, he was tempted to refuse outright. But something about the way Bodie was holding onto him told him anything that sounded like rejection or disapproval would hurt his partner in a way he wasn't prepared to risk.

He turned his head slightly, hearing the slight rasp of whiskers between them, and brushed an awkward kiss against the angle of Bodie's jaw.

"Right then," he murmured. "Drink and bed."

Bodie shook his head slightly. "See to your hands first."

"All they'll need is a bit of how's-your-father and they'll be fine."

Bodie shivered suddenly, violently. Doyle tried to turn, but Bodie's arms tightened even more, holding him in place.

"Ray? What would it take to make you leave me?" Bodie's voice was so soft Doyle could barely make out the words.

"A bullet in the head might do it." With a sudden deceptive twist, Doyle broke Bodie's hold and reversed their positions. "Is that what's got you all in a knot? You think we find these two old birds and they'll tell me something nasty about young Bodie and I'll scarper? That it?"

"Could be."

Doyle gently tapped his knuckles on Bodie's forehead. "Brains of a rocking horse. Now you hear me, mate. We've been partners damn on nine years now. I've seen you do things for George bloody Cowley that would make most people think you belong in prison. Or an asylum. And I'm still here, ain't I?"

Bodie gave a jerky nod.

"Right, that's settled then. Drink and bed."

Bodie laughed softly. "Anyone ever tell you you're a bossy little bastard?"

Doyle took him by the shoulders and turned him firmly towards the bedroom before going in search of Bodie's scotch. After a moment's thought, he poured a single glass. The intimacy of a shared drink might help to relax his partner a little more. He pushed down the temptation to take a quick gulp and refill the glass. Shared, yes, but he needed to stay sober.

Lounging against the bedroom doorframe, Doyle savoured the sight of his partner undressing. He suspected not many people would have found Bodie's brisk and efficient stripping erotic, but to Doyle it was intensely arousing. The hard-muscled frame displayed its elegant power with every movement, the low light warming the pale skin to gold satin, making the dark hair shine almost blue-black in contrast. Bodie turned his head slightly, just enough to acknowledge Doyle watching. Lips quirking slightly, he stretched and flexed, the heavily muscled back and shoulders bunching and relaxing in a way that made Doyle's fingers itch to stroke and explore.

It could have been innocent, except for the knowing smile. That Bodie, who never sat with his back to a door and wore long sleeves in any and all weathers, would lower his barriers like this just to show off for him, gave Doyle a deep visceral jolt every time. The sweet heat ran through him and he shivered slightly.

"You're a pricktease, mate," Doyle said softly, holding out the glass.

Bodie took it from him, eying Doyle over the rim as he sipped the scotch. "Pricktease implies I won't come across. You know me better'n that." He settled back on the bed, a fluid graceful sprawl.

Doyle made his own undressing a little slower, consciously turning it into the tease he'd joked about, very aware of Bodie's eyes on him. He could feel goosebumps rising on his arms and back, and wasn't entirely sure if they were from the chill in the flat or from the avid way Bodie was watching him.

Bodie's hands and mouth were all over him the moment he stepped into reach, stroking and licking, tugging him urgently close so Bodie could rub himself along his torso. It was, Doyle thought, a bit like being welcomed home by a very enthusiastic and very large dog. Not that he had any objection to as much skin contact as humanly possible; Bodie's skin was lovely to look at but even better to touch, warm and sleek, firm over muscles. Not even the scars were a turn-off.

Doyle turned his partner's head up, and met the welcoming lips with his own, tasting scotch and Bodie in equal measures. Whatever else they did in bed, the kisses were always long and warm and thorough, and tonight was no exception. He nibbled Bodie's lips and tongue gently, getting a muffled grumble in return, and hands stroking down his back to cover his rear.

Usually their different patterns of arousal worked in Doyle's favour: Bodie was slower to get going, and tended to move ahead at a rush once he got started, while Doyle lit up faster but could drag it out longer. But tonight the difference was going the wrong direction. Bodie was nearly ready, but not close enough, and it took less than five minutes for Doyle to realise it wasn't going to work. Despite the scotch and his own earlier arousal, Bodie was tense, tight muscles refusing to relax under Doyle's fingers. Every kiss and touch told Doyle that Bodie was trying to push himself over the edge through sheer willpower, and the harder he tried, the less accommodating his body became.

Finally, Doyle had enough.

"Give it up, Bodie," he sighed, and slumped down on his partner's back. "Be easier trying to fuck a keyhole."

"Ray—" Bodie reached back blindly. "'M trying."

"Hush." Doyle slid down to lie beside him and tugged him into a firm embrace. "Just cuddle for a minute, okay?"

Bodie pulled away and flopped face down again. "Get on with it."

"No." At Bodie's protesting growl, Doyle dragged him back into his arms. "Use some sense, would you? You're strung up tight as fuse wire. I shove anything inside you when you're in this state and I'll be takin' you to surgery on me way to work in the morning."

Bodie's head fell back against the pillow, and he pounded a fist against the mattress. "Why does this have to be so fucking hard?"

Doyle looked down at the two half-wilted erections between them, and barely managed to stifle a snort.

"If you're laughin' at me, I'll slap it off your mug, I swear," Bodie warned without opening his eyes.

"'M not laughing, you loon. Look, we can do something else. Doesn't need to be this."

Bodie sighed and shook his head. "I feel . . . hollow, Ray. You're warm."

Doyle felt the quiet words like a kick in the gut. The responsibility of being lover as well as partner had lowered Bodie's walls a bit, in the same way it had tamed Doyle's temper slightly; still, it had taken Bodie a long time to get over making a point of being self-sufficient. But actually admitting to a need without making a joke of it was rare.

He swallowed hard. "Right. But we slow it down, then, okay?"

Bodie nodded reluctantly. "I want you, Ray. Swear I do. But it's the thinkin' about it that gets to me—"

Doyle put a finger to his lips. "Then I'll have to give you something else to think about."

With a grin, he settled himself flat on his back, arms outstretched.

Bodie rolled onto his side. "Well, I think you make a very fetching hearth rug. But how's that getting us anywhere?"

"Gonna try something different. You in the driver's seat."

Bodie's eyes swept up and down Doyle's body. "Sitting on you?" There was distinct doubt in his voice.

"You're worried about thinking too much. Maybe you need to think more. This way you've got what Jack Crane calls 'time consistent control of the tactical situation'." Doyle touched Bodie's cock lightly.

Bodie hesitated long enough that Doyle had time to seriously regret the whole idea. When Bodie suddenly laughed out loud, Doyle nearly jumped. Still chuckling, Bodie scrambled to his knees and then moved to straddle him.

"Next time Jack starts bellowing about target acquisition, I shall probably end up with a rupture," he said, still grinning.

"Right then, love. You call the shots."

Doyle ran his hands slowly along Bodie's thighs and up to stroke the reviving cock. He could still feel the tension fizzing under the skin, but tempered with his partner's normal humour and courage, and Doyle gave himself a mental cheer. Bodie moved slowly, carefully, his face squinched up in concentration, while Doyle fondled and murmured encouragement.

The position felt odd, and giving Bodie complete control over their movement was both frustrating and exciting. But—and Doyle had to admit he'd had his doubts—it was working. Bodie's expression was still that of a man approaching a live grenade, but his body was easing, welcoming now instead of grimly accepting.

"Feels . . . different," he panted.

"Good?" Doyle held himself still by force of will. It was good, tight warmth caressing him, Bodie's cautious but steady movement both pleasure and torture.

"Yeah." Bodie steadied himself, and eased down the last inch. "Feels like a cock, not a fire log. Wanna move?"

Doyle nodded, and tilted his hips slightly.

"I said, move, Ray." Bodie raised himself slightly and slid back down. They both groaned. "We can do it."

We. Doyle felt a deep flow of warmth that had nothing to do with his cock and everything to do with the confidence and trust in Bodie's eyes. The rhythm they settled into was easy and gentle, a waltz rather than a driving disco beat, but the very ease of it gave them time and patience to explore and test. Bodie came first, a long shuddering rush into Doyle's welcoming hand. Watching Bodie's face, feeling his body's deep uninhibited response, was enough to send Doyle over the edge as well.

When his ears stopped ringing and his eyes finally opened again, Doyle found himself plastered to the mattress by Bodie's dead weight. His partner was still shaking a little, and Doyle gently brushed his hair back.

"Okay, mate?"

Bodie stretched, squirmed and shifted.

"Are we quite comfortable?" Doyle grumbled, stretching his legs and doing some squirming of his own until elbows and knees were properly arranged.

"Fuckin' great," Bodie announced cheerfully, and wriggled until he was comfortably situated. "We could probably do that again some time."

"Shall expect it regularly," Doyle replied in the same off-hand tone.

Bodie's eyes fluttered closed, and the next breath was a snore. Doyle grinned at him, aware he probably looked like a fool and not caring, and eased out of bed. A quick wash and wipe made him feel better, and he finally allowed himself that gulp of scotch. He brought the glass and a damp towel back to bed with him.

Bodie was already awake again, and he reached for the scotch with alacrity.

"Ey, you've had your share!" Doyle held the glass teasingly out of reach.

"Oh yeah, and don't think I didn't notice. Tryin' to get me drunk and seduce me. For shame, Raymond." Bodie grabbed the towel instead, while Doyle plumped pillows and rescued the covers.

Cocooned in the blankets and pillows, they passed the scotch back and forth, trading a few kisses as they settled in together.

"Knots all worked out?" Doyle said lazily, snuggling into Bodie's warmth.

Bodie's arms tightened for a moment and he sighed deeply. "I never told you much about the girl Krivas killed, did I?"

"Said she was beautiful. Said you loved her." Doyle tried to keep his voice totally neutral. This was, after all, what he had been waiting for. Now that he had Bodie relaxed and finally ready to talk, the last thing his partner needed was a prod with a needle of jealous anger from him. He suspected Bodie was still awake enough to feel the point of that needle anyway.

"Yeah. And you were right, what you said about why I was so knotted up. Before we find Kate and Ellie—if we find them—I need to tell you about her."

**

"Ellie, wake up."

"Please, girlfriend. Don't die"

**

Bodie stands facing Krivas on Woodruff's front porch, with most of the inner crew lounging around them. The satisfied smirk on Krivas' face grates on him, so he lowers his eyes and focuses instead on the money Krivas is counting out. It's a mix of currency—dollars, pounds, francs, rands, even some schillings; the notes are creased and dirty from being passed round and gambled over at the campfires. Benny and Tub have clapped him on the shoulder and told him he's done a good job, but Bodie has an uneasy feeling that, smirk aside, Krivas isn't much pleased with the way things have turned out.

Bodie's pushed his own feelings about the way things have turned out as far down as they'll go.

It's a job.

When Krivas finally finishes his counting and holds a handful of money out to him, he deliberately doesn't pick it up.

"That's not even half," Bodie says evenly. He knows Krivas and he knows the smart thing is not to get the man's back up.

He doesn't feel like being smart.

"One's escaped and one's still alive. How much should I give you?" Krivas shrugs and tucks the handful of money back into his breast pocket.

"A dead body won't tell you anything. And where's Woodruff got left to go?" Benny demands.

You have no idea, Bodie thinks. None of you do.

Frenchy Laparge is leaning against the wall, playing with his knife, and he twirls it out of the air with a low laugh. There's a kind of admiration on his brutal face that makes Bodie's skin crawl. "Sergeant Woodruff could walk barefoot from here to Matabeleland with nothing but this, and survive."

"But that's not what she's gonna do, is it?" Benny says eagerly. "She'll stick around. She'll try to play hero, and then we'll have her too."

"And how many of us will be dead before we get her?" Tub snaps. "We have to find that mine! Do you want to be sitting here after dark, with those wogs out in the bush and Woodruff with them?"

"She's one woman with one gun. And we have her partner. We have bait and we have a trap. We'll use it." Krivas' voice is confident, but Bodie notices the sweat on his upper lip and thinks, just as he did before, that Krivas is afraid of Woodruff. At least by now he understands why.

"Phil, you're going to have a talk with our prisoner. Persuade her to see the error of her ways."

"Sending a boy to do a man's work, Enrico?" Frenchy flips the knife again, and licks his lips.

"When I get my money." Bodie ignores Frenchy and focuses only on Krivas. He knows he's balanced on the edge right now. If he backs down, his place in this vicious hierarchy will drop. Maybe far enough that he won't survive.

"Half now, half when I see some results." Krivas doesn't budge.

Bodie holds out his hand. Krivas opens his pocket, very slowly, and hands the money over. Bodie wants to smash his face; instead he snatches the money and shoves it down inside his jacket. The greasy feel of the used notes makes him want to wipe his hand on his trouser leg.

"Go on. Earn it."

They've left Bannister tied up on the floor in the kitchen. Someone, probably Frenchy, tore her shirt half off while they were manhandling her in, and the bruises are coming up dark and ugly around her breasts and ribs. Since nobody's bothered to bandage the bullet wound on her left arm, there's blood drying all over her clothes and the floor. She must be in pain, wounded and tied like that, but since that one scream she hasn't made a sound, not even with Frenchy mauling her.

As Bodie enters the room, she looks up at him with a satisfied little smile that's almost the echo of the one on Krivas' face, and everything Bodie's been pushing down erupts in one furious roar.

"You lied to me!"

"Damn good thing for me I did, isn't it?" Bannister is very pale, almost grey around the lips, but her eyes are clear and her voice, though strained, is perfectly calm.

"How did you know?"

She shrugs slightly, and hisses a breath through set teeth. "I didn't. But I thought to myself: the worst that can happen if I'm wrong is you'll miss your first try at Krivas. The worst that can happen if I'm right is you'll kill me. So, a little fib about which way the rifle pulls, and I'm still alive."

"For now." Bodie pulls in a breath, and tries to get himself under control. "Krivas wants you to take him to the mine."

"No." Calm, flat, absolutely certain.

"Dammit, you lost!" Bodie leans down and practically snarls in her face. "You did your best, but it's over and you lost!"

"I lost?" Bannister laughs, and then groans softly. "I'm not the one with thirty pieces of silver in my pocket."

Bodie can't help the flush rising in his face.

"If you don't talk, Woodruff will."

"You'll have to catch her first." The satisfied little smile is back. "And she's not just better than you, she's better than me, so good luck."

"We'll get her. And she'll talk. Or they'll tie you to a post out in the middle of the road and Frenchy—the big bloke with the eye patch? He'll start carving pieces off you and roasting them over the cook fire."

"Ellie won't let you hurt me." The serene confidence in Bannister's voice rocks him.

"That so? No matter how good you think she is, she can't get all of us."

"She doesn't have to. All she has to do is get me."

It suddenly hits Bodie exactly why Bannister is so calm. She trusts her partner with her life, totally and completely, a trust so absolute that, live or die, she's prepared to hand herself over blind to someone else's skill and judgment. The knowledge makes him feel hollow inside, a hollowness even deeper than any he's felt from lack of food.

She's not alone, he thinks, and it makes him tremble.

His weakness angers him, and he grabs what's left of her shirt and gives her a shake, forcing out another groan.

"You don't have to die! Just give Krivas what he wants, for Christ's sake. All he wants is the mine; he doesn't care what happens to you."

"Oh, Bodie." The look Bannister gives him is suddenly one of pure pity. "Of course he does. Haven't you got it yet? Ellie and I have been dead since the second you put your finger on the trigger."

And this is the thing Bodie's been trying hardest not to think about. Everything Krivas said to convince him it was a dead easy job for good money, was, if not exactly a lie, not all the truth either. Because for Krivas this is personal, and Bodie's known it all along.

The sound of a shot outside is followed by a moment of deadly silence, and then shouts of fury, and a volley of fire from several different guns.

Bannister laughs out loud. "Let the games begin."

**

Whatever his other faults, Krivas is efficient and deadly. Fifteen minutes after Woodruff's first shot took out one of his Rhodesian explosives men, every one of the natives who wasn't able to run away in time is gathered in the space between the hospital and the house. It's almost all women, children and old men; as Woodruff had predicted, the men have vanished into the bush, and Bodie isn't the only one determined that nothing will make him set foot anywhere outside the clearing.

Frenchy and Marcellus shove the last of the women into the open, and Bodie sees Mrs. Lulua is among them. Even though her headwrap is disheveled, she's hung onto her dignity, and is supporting one of her daughters, who's crying and wiping blood from her mouth.

When it all goes pear-shaped it happens so fast that afterwards Bodie can't remember everything exactly. The first thing he's aware of is a scuffle among the women and suddenly a tiny form is streaking across the open ground towards him, shrieking his name through hysterical sobbing. He's got less than an eye blink to recognize it's Mandy, and to understand what he has to do. His hand's already come up to swat her away, when from the corner of his eye he sees Tub step up beside him, his foot pulled back.

Bodie's body takes over.

He lunges in between the child and the merc, and Tub's boot connects hard just below his right kidney. Even though the moving angle of his body deflects most of the force, the pain is shattering, and Bodie staggers, unable to hold back a harsh sound. The level of pain tells him without any doubt that if the kick had connected with its intended target, Mandy would be dead.

He snatches the girl up and her arms go around his neck tightly enough to cut into his breathing. She's trembling violently, and he can feel tears soaking through to his shoulder instantly. He pets her back awkwardly, and murmurs something soft.

When he looks up, Krivas is staring at him from the porch and his guts curl up as he realises he's made a terrible mistake.

"Got a little girlfriend, have you, Phil? Bring her over here and introduce us." Krivas beckons to the open space left in front of the stairs.

"C'mon, Krivas, she's a kid." Bodie puts all the effort he's got left into sounding cool and indifferent, but he can't stop his hands from pulling the shaking little body closer.

Krivas shakes his head with mocking pity. "Divided loyalties can be dangerous in this business."

"Nothing's divided," Bodie says, searching wildly for any plausible reason to keep Mandy out of Krivas' hands. "Hurtin' a kid's just asking for trouble. You get these people mad—"

"Bring her here." Krivas cuts him off harshly.

And that quickly, Bodie's mind is made up.

"No."

It's the first time he's ever disobeyed a direct order from Krivas.

He can never remember afterwards if there was any signal, any kind of warning at all. All he consciously remembers is a sense of blank darkness. When that lifts, he's lying on his face in the dirt, a terrible pain in the back of his head. He can't see or move; a fuzzy muffled wailing noise hovers at the edge of his hearing, as irritating and elusive as a mosquito. His first thought is that he's been shot, that Woodruff, somewhere up there in the jungle, has taken the opportunity to make him her second kill.

There's something wrong with that though, and he vaguely grasps that if he really had taken a long-distance bullet to the head, he'd be dead. Despite the crushing pain, he manages to twist his head slightly, and the fuzzy wailing noise suddenly clarifies into screams and sobs.

The sense of something being wrong becomes even more urgent. He still can't move anything else, but with an effort that forces a groan out of him, he manages to get one eye open. Even though his vision is blurred, from this angle he's got a perfect appalling view.

Mandy is lying on the porch, the little body limp as wilted leaves; Bodie prays as he never has before in his life that she's unconscious. Krivas is crouched down by her, stroking the barrel of his handgun back and forth along her cheek in an awful parody of tenderness.

Krivas raises his voice. "There's a price for divided loyalties. And everybody pays."

Bodie tries to scream, tries to get his arms or legs under himself, to move, to do anything. But he's stunned and dizzy and the pain won't let his body obey his desperate commands. He can't even twitch a finger as Krivas presses the muzzle of the gun directly in the middle of Mandy's forehead.

**

Doyle felt as if he'd barely managed to close his eyes before an all too familiar thin bleeping noise had them open again. He groped blearily at the bedside table, searching for the source of the racket, his fingers finding nothing except the base of the lamp and the clock. He rolled over, forcing his eyes open a bit more, to see Bodie standing by the bed already, naked except for his r/t in hand.

"3.7"

"Top of the morning!" Even across the airwaves, McCabe's voice held a smug cheerfulness that put Doyle in mind of someone prodding a sloth. "Passing on a message just come in for you."

Bodie straightened sharply, and Doyle sat up, all traces of sleep gone.

"Who from?"

"Said his name was Cusak. He wants to meet."

"Where?"

"You're invited for breakfast."

"Breakfast?" Bodie echoed blankly.

"That's what he said. Says you know where. Central out."

Doyle heaved himself out of bed, and padded into the kitchen to put the kettle on. The usual morning routine when they were together was for Doyle to have the first shower so he'd have a few extra minutes to dry his hair, while Bodie made tea and started breakfast. Since food appeared to be on hold, he swirled hot water around the two cleanest mugs he could find, dumped two teabags into the pot and decided everything else could wait until they had more time.

Bodie wandered in, scratching his head and stretching, taking the cup held out to him with a smile, and a quick kiss on the cheek as he passed. He was moving easily, Doyle noted with satisfaction, and while he looked as tired as Doyle felt, the pinched and shadowed look he'd worn yesterday was gone.

"Thought you said Cusak pretty well packed it in after the fun with Krivas," Doyle said, doctoring his own tea.

"Yeah. Funny bloke. Didn't have a problem with selling guns and God knows what, but when he found out about the plutonium, that frightened him off."

Doyle nodded. "Somebody like Cusak never really retires, though, does he?"

"More of an elder statesman these days, though. Wish he hadn't invited us for breakfast, though."

"Bad cook?"

Bodie reached over to ruffle his curls. "Fancied a few minutes lie-in with you."

Doyle leaned into the caress, feeling a return of last night's warmth.

Bodie's teasing smile dimmed. "Cusak's a bit old-fashioned. He doesn't share bread and salt with just anybody. Puts us under obligation, y'see."

"Y'mean we can’t bust him, then." Bodie shook his head. "Takes all the fun out of my morning," Doyle complained, and went to wash and dress.

Cusack's old yellow brick house looked much as Doyle remembered it, though perhaps a little shabbier around the edges. Only made sense though, he thought, if Cusak wasn't bringing in the cash the way he used to.

Bodie gave the door a light push, and looked almost comically offended when it resisted. "Now he locks up?"

"Doorbell?" Doyle said with a grin.

"Or you could kick in a window for us," Bodie grumbled, but obediently pushed the bell.

The wait stretched out until Doyle was close to taking Bodie's window-kicking suggestion seriously. He had his hand raised to pound on the door when it swung open and his fist stopped just short of a plump grey-haired woman's face.

"Yes?" If she was at all surprised or upset at nearly being bashed at her own front door, it didn't show.

"CI5. I'm Doyle, he's Bodie. We're expected."

"Ah, so you're Bodie?" The little woman smiled. "You look like you'd appreciate a cooked breakfast. And you," she turned the smile on Doyle, "look like you need one." The two men exchanged raised eyebrows. "Come in, come in. Trevor's in the kitchen and breakfast's nearly ready."

She swung the door wider and bustled away along the twisting narrow hallway toward the back of the house. Bodie sniffed appreciatively and mouthed, "Bacon," before leading the way after her.

In contrast to the rest of the gloomy warren, the kitchen was bright, clean and full of delicious smells. Cusack, as rumpled and unremarkable as ever, was seated at the table, a pot of tea in front of him and The Telegraph in hand.

"Bodie," he said as they entered. "Been a while."

"Well, you have been a good boy, Cusack. Krivas must have had a salutary effect on you."

"For what it's worth, if I'd known what Krivas was up to, I'd have called the coppers the minute the door shut behind him." Doyle snorted softly, and Cusack shot him a hard look. "I was in Hiroshima once, when I was still in the army."

"Yes, dear, and we won't talk about that before breakfast. It'll upset everyone." The woman was taking cups from the sideboard as she spoke, and Bodie turned to help her, with that smile he reserved for women of a certain age.

"Yes, love," Cusack said fondly. "You've never met my wife, have you? Jenny, these are Bodie and Doyle. CI5."

"Mrs. Cusack," Doyle said. "Here, let me." This as she bent and took plates from the warmer.

The breakfast served up was the stuff of Bodie's dreams: eggs and bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes, piles of toast and marmalade. They tucked in hungrily, while Mrs. Cusack poured tea. When she finally sat down, she toyed with her teacup for a moment and then said firmly, "No point in putting it off, love."

Cusack nodded. "Show us the picture."

Bodie handed the photograph across. Cusack looked at it for a long moment, then passed it to his wife with a sigh. She gasped softly, one hand going to her mouth.

"Kate and Ellie. God save the mark." She looked up at Bodie. "What's happened to them?"

Bodie shook his head slowly. "We thought that's why we were here." He cocked an eyebrow at Cusak. "I'm assuming you didn't just want to feed us breakfast."

Cusak nodded. "You'd best go out for a while, Jenny. I need to talk business with these two."

"Trev, you promised—"

"It's all right." Cusak patted her arm. "On the side of the angels this time, God's truth. Now go on, love. This won't take long."

Doyle managed to curb his impatience until the kitchen door closed. Then he leaned in.

"So what do you know?"

"Benny Marsh is recruiting—"

"Yeah, yeah, we already heard that," Bodie broke in. "Recruiting for Angola. We were hoping you'd know something we didn't."

With a smile that was close to a smirk, Cusack tapped the side of his nose. "Ah, well, you see, old son, I know what he's going to be doing there. Or at least I can make a good guess."

"What?"

"Benny came by yesterday with a somewhat unusual equipment request. He wanted me to find him some radiation suits."

"Radiation suits?" Doyle said blankly. "What the hell could he need radiation suits for?"

"Radiation suits," Bodie repeated, scowling. "That makes it something nuclear."

"Uranium. Radium." Doyle's voice slowed. "Plutonium?"

"Where would he get—Sinclair? Simon fucking Sinclair!" Bodie snarled, jumping up. "Benny went right back to—No. Can't be."

"Why not?" Doyle jumped up as well, a rush of certainty and excitement bubbling through him. "You're right. Sinclair set up that plutonium job with Krivas. Really just bad luck it didn't work out for him. So he's going to try it again."

"Except there are no nuclear reprocessing plants in Angola," Bodie snapped.

"No," Doyle said thoughtfully, feeling a triumphant grin spread over his face. "But I'll bet there's at least one uranium mine."

"Oh my God." Bodie sat down hard. "Oh my God. So that's why they worked so hard to keep everybody away from there."

Doyle's r/t bleeped. He yanked it out of his jacket.

"4.5 here."

"We found it!" Even the poor reception could not hide the elation in Wiley's voice. "I know what it's about."

Bodie grabbed Doyle's arm and pulled him closer. "Simon Sinclair hired Benny Marsh to take over a uranium mine in Angola."

"How the fuck—?" Wiley spluttered. "How did you figure it out?"

"Help from an old friend." Bodie gave Cusak a nod. "You?"

"You've got good files." Wiley sounded reluctantly admiring. "We cross-checked back and forth, and the only two involved with Krivas last time who aren't in jail or dead are Marsh and this Sinclair guy. Who started the whole mess off trying to hijack plutonium. And speaking of that, why isn't his ass in jail?"

"It's truly amazing what a lot of money and a good solicitor can do for you. And like you said, most of them are dead. Corpses make bad witnesses."

"Bodie, Doyle!" Cowley's voice cut into the transmission.

"Sir?"

"Return to base. I think it's time we paid a wee visit to Mr. Sinclair."

"Right. 4.5 out."

Bodie held his hand out to Cusak. "Thanks, mate. We owe you for this one."

Cusak shook his head. "This one wasn't for you."

"The Brazzaville choir girls strike again?" Doyle asked wryly.

Cusak chuckled. "Yeah, you could say that. There's not many in this business—" He stopped, shook his head again. "Well, let's just say they're good girls."

They were almost at the kitchen door when Cusak called them back.

"Bodie. Be careful. Benny's changed. Reminded me too much of Krivas for me to be really comfortable around him."

Bodie nodded. "I'll keep it in mind."

"Just a word of warning. If you don't find the girls soon, you may not find them at all."

**

"Hello?'

"You again? Did you get help?"

"I can't. I can't get to the phone without someone seeing."

"Listen, kid, my partner's in a coma, and I'm not sure how much longer I can hang on either."

"Look, I've brought you some—"

"No. Take it away."

"But—"

"And how do I explain it the next time Marsh comes in here? The only thing you can do to help is tell somebody."

"Is she really going to die?"

"We're both going to die. She'll just be first."

*****

When Bodie finally comes round properly, hours have passed, judging by the position of the sun. His head hurts terribly, a sharp throbbing that beats through his whole body like a vile pulse, out of synch with his heartbeat. He's nauseous and dizzy, and extremely thirsty, and forcing his eyes open causes the pain to spike so sharply into his forehead his vision blurs.

Concussion, he thinks blearily. He's been bashed on the head twice before, but never this badly.

When he tries to move, he can't; something's got his hands trapped. The effort he makes to pull himself free sends the nausea over the top and he folds sideways, retching helplessly into the dirt, terrified he'll choke on his own vomit if he can't get his head round far enough. Eventually the heaving stops, and the whirling sensation dies down. He manages to focus his bleary eyes enough to see that he's sitting propped against the hospital scaffolding, his hands tied to one of the support beams. A sudden gust of wind envelopes him in smoke thick with burning petrol fumes, and for a moment his stomach rebels again.

When he's got himself back under control, his eyes search the compound for the source of the smoke. One of Krivas' jeeps is a smoldering hulk, and Bodie feels a bleak flash of satisfaction. Woodruff must have scored a direct hit on the fuel tank. The satisfaction lasts until he looks toward the rest of the jeeps. He can't stop a shudder shaking him as he sees that Krivas has once more outplayed her: he's got three or four villagers tied on and around each vehicle. Unless she's willing to sacrifice them—and she won't, he knows that without the slightest doubt—Krivas still has an escape route.

He won't—he can't—look at the house at all. Won't let himself think about Mandy's body on the porch, on the blood that must even now be dried into the planks. There's a bitter, grim hatred growing inside him, hard and spiky as a starfish. Most of it is directed at Krivas, but enough of those spikes are digging into his own soul to make him drag against the ropes around his wrists without concern for the pain.

When a long shadow falls over him, he looks up warily to see Frenchy leaning up against the wall above him, slipping his knife nonchalantly from hand to hand. Bodie freezes, immobile against the rough wood at his back. Against any of the rest of Krivas' men, he's reasonably sure he can hold his own, but Frenchy's more than a little crazy, and his taste for knifework is only too obvious.

Frenchy looks him over, a cool assessing insolent look. It makes him feel dirty, but Bodie won't look away, despite the way his balls are trying to crawl up inside his stomach and his hair keeps trying to rise on the back of his neck. Animals respect nothing except nerve, and right now it's all he's got left.

"Shouldn't have crossed Krivas," Frenchly says idly, his fingers never stopping their busy play with the blade.

Bodie shrugs. Better to be thought slightly crazy than weak, and there's nothing he can think of to say that won't sound weak or childish here, not in front of a man like Frenchy Laparge.

"Bad juju, killin' kids." Frenchy's voice is so casual that Bodie doesn't get it for a moment, and then with that same casualness the big man leans down and swipes his knife in one hard stroke across the ropes holding Bodie's wrists.

Bodie fumbles his hands loose and scrambles up, half-expecting the next stroke to aim for his gut.

"Now what?" he demands, hands up defensively.

Frenchy shrugs. "Now, you go back to work." At Bodie's disbelieving look, he shrugs again, and flips the knife in his hands over. One easy flick of his wrist leaves the knife buried in the dirt at Bodie's feet. "If you decide to gut Krivas, mon ami, make sure to get it right the first time."

Bodie doesn't make a move toward the knife.

"Thought you and Krivas went back a ways," he says unable to hide his bewilderment.

Frenchy laughs. "Oh, I don't think you can take Enrico. You're not that good yet. But it will be an amusement to watch you try." Without another word, he ambles off. Bodie notices with dim revulsion that even though he's no longer carrying the knife, his hands still keep moving.

Bodie's aching arms drop limply to his sides, and he stands there, looking after Frenchy, sick, weary, head still throbbing, dazed almost to the point of tears.

Go back to work, he thinks, and the picture in his mind is of Bannister, tied and bleeding on the floor in the same kitchen where she fed him breakfast. He's got a pretty good idea of the kind of work Krivas will be expecting from him. For one wild moment, he considers just grabbing his kit and buggering off down the road on foot, away from all this. But then common sense kicks in and he remembers he's got nothing of his own here, not even his weapons. Everything he's managed to scrape together in the past three years in sitting back in the base camp. All he does have is a pocket full of money.

Thirty pieces of silver, Bannister's voice comes back to him.

In the end, there's nothing to decide. Or, maybe, the decision got made the first time he lifted Mandy onto his shoulders instead of chasing her away. Bodie leans down, fighting dizziness, and pulls Frenchy's knife out of the dirt. It's a good blade: clean, razor-sharp, with perfect balance and grip, yet something about it still feels dirty, as if Frenchy's never really wiped all the blood off it. He wants to throw it down but knows he doesn't have the luxury of leaving a weapon behind just so he can feel clean. Instead, he slides the knife into his belt, and wipes his hands on his jacket.

Bodie scans the area through the last wisps of smoke, and can't see any of Krivas' men around; there's glints of weapons from a couple of windows above him, and he figures that Krivas has decided to wait Woodruff out, on the assumption that she'll run out of ammunition before he runs out of bodies. Based on her performance so far, Bodie feels inclined to tell Krivas not to hold his breath.

With probably less caution than he should, Bodie makes his way across to the house. He avoids the porch, and tells himself it's because he doesn't want to risk Krivas deciding the safest way to deal with him is to shoot him in the back before he gets under cover. He's not sure who's more likely to shoot him, Krivas or Woodruff, and that spiky starfish inside him doesn't much care.

The side door to the kitchen is hanging lopsided off one hinge. Bodie flattens himself against the wall and peers cautiously through the crack between the wall and the door, holding his breath and trying to blank out any background noise. He focuses on the choked breathing and little grunts he hears coming from inside, his mind supplying enough nasty pictures to make his blood run cold. He doesn't move. Drawing on all the patience he's learned, he waits, two minutes, five, letting himself become completely attuned to the sound and the feel of the rooms, fixing the layout of the kitchen in his mind.

When he moves, it's a running dive that slams the door back on its remaining hinge. He rolls up to one knee, and sees Marcellus bending over Bannister, twisting her wounded arm up over her head, his boot in her side pinning her to the floor. Marcellus jerks upright, and Bodie whips the knife out and lets it fly, straight and true into the big man's throat. Bannister yelps with pain as the full weight of his body comes right down on her, bending her arm back even more brutally.

Bodie's on his knees beside her immediately, shoving Marcellus' body away without a glance and yanking the knife out in a spray of blood. He saws the bloody, tacky ropes loose, and hauls Bannister upright, ignoring her second yelp of pain, muscling her towards the door. Now that he's actually got her loose, his patience is flooded out in a sudden rush of panic. All he can think is that if somebody heard or saw or suspects, it'll all be for nothing.

The sudden sharp pain as her fist catches him on the ear rocks his head. The dizziness and nausea come back in force, and he folds over with a helpless moan, desperately fighting off the black spots and streaks at the edge of his vision.

"What the hell are you doing?" Bannister digs her heels in. Bodie blinks at her furiously, grabbing her uninjured arm and trying to haul her with him. Unable to force her any further in his weakened state, he stops to glare at her.

"Rescuing you, you stupid slag," he croaks. "Will you move? Or d'you want more of the likes of him?" He jerks his thumb at Marcellus' body, bleeding out on the floor behind them.

"No, I think we've both had enough of you."

Bodie's breath catches in shock. Woodruff has ghosted in through the broken kitchen door. Smeared head to foot with earth and green plant mash, she looks like some kind of jungle demon. In the dirty mask of her face her pale eyes burn like gas flames. The Luger in her hand is pointed directly at Bodie's head.

"Took your time, girlfriend," Bannister pulls away from Bodie and hobbles to stand beside her.

"Thought you were dead," Woodruff replies without glancing at her. Bodie sees her finger tighten on the trigger, and thinks blearily, oh, shit.

"Ellie, don't." Bannister lays her hand on Woodruff's wrist. It's not an effort to take the gun, more of a way to try to get her attention.

"He tried to kill you!" Woodruff's voice cracks sharply. She doesn't take her eyes off Bodie, but the terrible fire in them dims as little under her partner's touch

"Yeah, well, I'm alive. And you're not a murderer. Not yet."

"Tell that to the men I shot in the back today."

Bannister shakes her head slowly. "There's a difference between murder and self-defence." Her voice hardens. "C'mon, sergeant, pull it together, one way or the other."

"Is that an order, captain?" Woodruff nearly sneers.

"You know it's not. If this is what you need to do, I'll help hide the body. But first, be sure it's what you need."

Woodruff's hand trembles for a moment, and then she lowers the gun.

"Get out," she whispers, shoulders drooping.

Bodie feels the words like a knife in his gut.

"But—" he protests feebly. "But I came to help!"

"Help?" Bannister laughs, not a pleasant sound at all. "You've helped enough, thank you very much. You sold us to Krivas, young fella, and we don't have the money to buy ourselves back."

"Fuck the money," Bodie growls out. "He killed—" His voice breaks and he falls silent. A part of him knows it's stupid: he's seen plenty of death and killing, and a lot of it worse than what happened to the child. Yet even the thought of saying it out loud makes him want to howl.

"Who?" Bannister's voice has gone very cold.

"Krivas shot Mandy," Woodruff says, the half-mad light back in her eyes.

"Jesus m'lord." Bannister sinks back against the wall with a moan.

"I was too far away," Woodruff snarls, the grief and fury making her voice tremble. "I knew I couldn't make the shot."

"Give me the gun." Bannister holds out her hand, and now her eyes are like screaming night as she looks at Bodie.

"No."

"Ellie—"

"Who's not a murderer?" Woodruff says gently. "For all it's worth, I think he tried to help her." She glances at Bodie." That is why that big guy smashed your head in, isn't it?"

Bodie nods. "Should've stood aside. If I hadn't let Krivas see—" His voice locks up again.

Bannister leans her head back and blinks her eyes fiercely. "The divine sense of humour could use some work."

"Ain't that the truth." Woodruff's laugh is ragged. "All right, then. Odds back on, eleven to three. We've got two guns, two knives, and two walking wounded."

"Piece of cake." Bannister pushes herself upright with a dry cackle of laughter. "Bodie, watch the door. Tie up my arm, girlfriend, and then let's see if they've left anything in the armoury I can use with one hand."

"Hostages first," Woodruff says, as she rips up a kitchen towel and bandages Bannister's arm. "We give Krivas time to think of putting them inside the hospital, and it'll be impossible. We can't fight room to room if they've got human shields."

Bannister bites back a groan as Woodruff tightens the bandage. "Optimist."

"I can do it," Bodie says." When they look at him questioningly, he shrugs. "I'm with them, remember? Nobody's gonna look twice if I check out the jeeps."

"Krivas won't trust you again. Not now you've crossed him."

Bodie's laugh is sour. "It's not trust. Frenchy thinks they already broke me. Pretty well dared me to go after Krivas, laughin' all the way. If they think I've gone soft, that just might give me enough time before somebody starts to shoot."

**

The plan, such as it is, goes off about the way Bodie's come to expect any military plan to: half smooth as silk, and the other half royal arse-up.

Oddly enough, the smooth-as-silk part is getting the hostages loose. Not that that has anything to do with either planning or skill: it's due entirely to old Mrs. Lulua's iron backbone. Bodie saunters around the jeeps, keeping one eye on the hospital windows to see if anyone's paying attention to him. Under the cover of the jeeps' sides, he starts slashing at the ropes, hoping like hell that he can cut through enough so the hostages can pull themselves free. One of the women squeals as he comes close, but a barked command from the old woman freezes everyone where they are.

That gives him an idea. Bodie sets his face in a lascivious smirk and chucks the girl under the chin, then quite openly starts undoing the rope around her. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Tub and Benny watching out an upper floor window, smirking with contemptuous approval, and most importantly, their guns laid aside as they take in the show.

Let them think I'm just looking for a lay, he thinks urgently. Just give me two minutes and this could bloody work.

Mrs. Lulua says something else, and the girl starts to struggle and shriek. From across the compound it probably looks very convincing; the bulk of the jeep hides the fact that she's flailing rather than punching, and her kicks aren't actually connecting. Under cover of the commotion, Bodie passes the knife along, and the ropes loosen around more and more people.

At the last moment, it goes wrong. One of the women wrenches herself free as soon as the rope around her falls away and bolts headlong for the bush. Mrs. Lulua yells, and then everybody's struggling and running madly. Bodie grabs the girl he's been pretending to maul and tosses her towards shelter, scrambling along behind, shoving people ahead of him toward the trees.

Only a few seconds, only a few seconds . . .

The impact of the bullet sends him stumbling forward to collapse on his hands and knees. There's a moment of huge tearing pressure in his right side, and then white-hot pain that has him gasping helplessly for breath.

Hit, he thinks. They say you never hear the one that gets you.

Gritting his teeth, he flops over to see Krivas standing in the doorway across the compound, raising his gun for a second shot. Bodie's got no doubt this one will take him right between the eyes.

Tried, he thinks wearily.

Sorry.

However, the shot, when it comes, is from behind him. Krivas jerks, screams as the gun flies out of his hand, and curls over himself, wailing and cursing incoherently. Frenchy darts out and tackles him back behind the wall just as another bullet slams into the doorframe.

"Shit!" Bannister snarls above him. "Missed the bastard." A hand twists into Bodie's shirt collar and levers him to his feet. The movement sends more pain ripping through him, and he does some wailing of his own.

"C'mon, young fella! Move!"

Everything after that is chaos.

At some point Bodie becomes aware that he and Bannister have become the de facto rear guard of the fleeing group. The fucking expendable rear guard, if the shouting and shooting drawing ever closer behind them is any indication. They're both bleeding steadily, and from the look on Bannister's face, it's only panic and determination keeping her upright. Since that's pretty well his own state too, he can't much blame her.

They take turns sending the occasional shot back, just to keep their pursuers cautious, but it's a waste of effort. Krivas has to know how limited their resources are, and he's pushing hard. There isn't even any point in one of them trying to make a suicide stand; they don't have enough ammo for a life to buy any meaningful amount of time.

"Where?" he manages to croak out as they slow on an uphill.

"Bridge," Bannister gasps. "Mines."

The answer makes no sense, so he just keeps running.

Their flight seems endless, though afterwards when he thinks back logically, it can't have been more than ten minutes, fifteen at most. Neither he nor Bannister could possibly have stayed on their feet for the hours-long trek it felt like. All he's conscious of is the pain in his side and head, the growing weakness and dizziness that make it harder and harder to put one foot in front of the other, the roaring in his ears that gradually drowns out the sounds of pursuit.

When his feet suddenly hit wooden planking instead of dirt, the contrast is so abrupt he staggers and nearly goes down. A hard shove to his back sends him lurching along across the swaying wood surface, Bannister's voice urging him onward. It's when he reaches the other side that he finally goes down. His feet slip out from under him on the muddy slope, and he lands on his injured side. A long white burst of pain short-circuits everything, and even though he's still conscious, he can't control his arms and legs enough to climb any further.

He looks back to see Krivas and Benny emerging from the bush on the other side of the bridge. Bodie tries to pull himself up, but there's nothing left. All his strength is running out of him, soaking the side of his shirt and trousers, puddling on the ground underneath him.

"Kate!"

The shout above him draws his eyes to Woodruff, as she tosses her Uzi down from where's she's sprawled at the top of the bank. There's something terribly wrong with the way she looks and it takes a second for Bodie to realize that the entire left side of her face is a mass of fine wood splinters and torn flesh.

Bannister catches the Uzi with her injured arm and cries out with pain. Sobbing, she drops to her knees beside Bodie and contorts her upper body around to fire a burst into the middle of the bridge.

Waste of ammo, Bodie thinks muzzily. Can't do any—

The world in front of him goes up in a shrieking red explosion of timber chunks and smoke.

Oh. That kind of mine, is Bodie's last thought before he passes out.

**

When Bodie's finally really conscious again, he's lying in a field hospital on the outskirts of Ndalalando. There's been fighting back and forth all through the area, and with so many patients coming and going, nobody's quite sure anymore how he got there, or even who he is. He backtracks through his memories and what he can gather from conversations around him, and figures he's been out of it for around six days.

He's got nothing left, of course. The wad of Krivas' money is gone, along with his belt and boots. He literally has nothing except the tattered and bloodstained fatigues tucked under his cot, which are obviously in bad enough shape that nobody's desperate enough to steal them. He has an almost hysterical laughing fit when he realises that he's even worse off now than when he jumped ship a few years ago.

An orderly comes by in the late afternoon and tells him that, now he's awake, he'll have to leave in the morning. There are too many casualties coming in for the hospital to keep a bed for anyone who can walk and isn't actually bleeding. Bodie doesn't argue, just nods. He knows reality when he sees it. He wonders what will happen to him the next time Krivas and his remaining men get to town, and decides that's too far down the list of possible problems to even think about right now.

He gets dressed and wanders out onto the veranda, taking a perch on the railing, feeling the evening sun warm in his face as he leans back and closes his eyes. He's got no idea what he's going to do with himself now, and wonders for the first time in nearly five years if it might not be a good idea to try to find some way to get back to England.

The thought makes him shudder. Bad as it was for him, it's for most people a softer place, with too many illusions. A man like him, with a brittle starfish-shaped hole inside him, doesn't belong there.

At least not as long as Krivas is still alive.

"Cigarette?"

Bodie opens his eyes to see a man propped on the railing next to him. He's dark and dapper despite the afternoon heat, with a lean, ferrety look to him, and he's holding out a very handsome silver cigarette case. A dangerous man, or one with a lot of protection, if he's willing to show something that valuable here.

"Thanks." Bodie helps himself.

"I hear you might be looking for work," the man says, lighting his own cigarette and blowing a plume of smoke.

"Yeah? What kind of work?" Bodie takes a long drag and holds the smoke in his lungs.

"Do you care?"

Bodie thinks for a minute. "Yeah," he says, in a tone of mild surprise. "Think I do."

Oddly enough, that produces a smile. "The name's Martell. I've been thinking of starting a little business venture across the border."

**

Bodie and Doyle ended up at the head of the small convoy of CI5 vehicles streaming southward along the B road towards the country home of Simon Sinclair. Cowley had made the decision not to involve the local police, and Doyle for one had been relieved, even knowing it made their job harder. The list of police casualties during their last contact with the mercenaries had been far too long.

"Tell me," Bodie said as he downshifted and slid the Capri around a sharp bend, just missing both the hedgerow and an approaching lorry, "why do the villains always have digs miles away from anywhere? Can't be a nice anonymous penthouse right in town, oh, no. Has to be some big posh mansion out with the cows, no cover for miles around."

"Makes it easier to hide the dungeons, I guess," Doyle responded. "And it's easier to bury the bodies when you don't have to dig up all that nasty tarmac."

"Point taken." Bodie's voice was still light, but Doyle could hear the sudden edge, and he mentally kicked himself. Talk of burying bodies was not what Bodie needed right now, he thought angrily.

Not that anybody would have guessed to look at Bodie. Doyle spared a quick sidelong glance at his partner. No one seeing the casual hardness, the cool, almost insolent air of danger this man projected, would have believed for a moment he was capable of anything else. This was Cowley's Bodie, 3.7, all warrior. And the man who watched his back. Doyle felt a fierce little rush of pride.

As they rounded another bend too fast, Doyle caught a half glimpse of a slender figure running towards them along the verge, almost hidden by the trailing branches at the roadside.

"Look out!"

"Bloody hell!" Bodie wrenched the wheel violently, slamming on the brake, and the car went into another skid, coming to a stop with its bonnet inches from the girl pressed flat against the bank on the other side of the road. Even from where he sat, Doyle could see her whole body shaking.

He pushed open the door, and got out. "Miss? Are you okay?" he called.

The girl stared at him with huge frightened eyes and suddenly shrieked, "It's you!" She darted around the car and flung herself at him, sobbing out over and over, "It's you, it's you."

Doyle awkwardly put an arm around her shoulders. "There, there," he muttered, "Not hurt now, are you?" There was something oddly familiar about the voice and the soft fall of golden hair, but he couldn't place it.

Bodie got out of the car, smirking at him across the roof, and tugged a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket. Doyle rolled his eyes as he handed it over, mouthing, "Get a move on, Ray," waving his other arm impatiently in the direction of the road.

"Right then, pet," Doyle said soothingly. "Come on, dry your eyes, let's see if you're okay."

The girl raised her head. Five years hadn't made that much of a difference. Even with swollen eyes and blotchy red skin, the face instantly fell into place.

"Miss Sinclair? Cynthia Sinclair?"

She nodded, sniffled and then blew her nose energetically. "Yes," she said. "And you're the men from CI5. I remember you. Mr. Doyle and, and . . ."

"Bodie." His partner was suddenly at his side, weapon drawn, eyes raking over the hedgerow and up and down the road.

"But how did you know I was going to call you?"

"You were going to call us?" Bodie was using that deceptively smooth deep voice that sounded almost like a caress to people who didn't know him.

"Yes, from the call box in the village. I didn't dare try to use the phone at home."

"Now why would that be?" Bodie casually brushed a curl back from her ear, his fingers less than an inch from her windpipe. Doyle reached behind the girl and gripped Bodie's arm firmly.

Cynthia's eyes filled with tears again. "Daddy," she whispered. "Daddy's done something awful."

"Done something? Done what?" Doyle shook her gently. "What did you see?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. Not really. But it's like it was before. Awful men with guns in the house, and Daddy always shutting himself in the study with them. And trying to keep me out of the way all the time." She took a deep breath. "And he's got two ladies locked up in the cellar."

"Two ladies?" Bodie's voice went even softer, and Doyle tightened his grip.

"Yes, and they're hurt. She wouldn't let me help. Just said I had to tell somebody."

Bodie took the tattered picture out of his pocket and shoved it under her nose. "These two?"

Cynthia examined it for a moment. "This one," she pointed at Bannister. "The other one, I don't know. Her face is all swollen, and she's covered in blood." She wiped her face. "I was going to try to help them, but she said, no, that if anybody noticed I'd be in trouble. Nothing would help but to get them out. So I decided to go to the village and call for help. I thought you might—" She choked back another sob. "Like before."

Bodie nodded. "Right, then. Into the car you get. We'll go see 'daddy', shall we?"

"What—"

"Shut up and move!"

"Bodie!" Doyle said sharply. "She came to help. Benny could've caught her, y'know."

Bodie's mouth tightened down hard, and he climbed behind the wheel without another word. Doyle put Cynthia into the back and climbed in beside her.

"3.7! What the devil are you two doing up there?" Cowley's angry voice sounded through the radio.

"Stopped to pick up a bird." Bodie flashed a wild grin into the rearview mirror.

"Bodie!"

"Sorry, sir. It's young Miss Sinclair. She's apparently not got the stomach for what her father's doing and, having fond memories of her afternoon with us, was coming to look us up."

"Indeed." The anger was replaced by satisfaction. "Well, find out what she knows. The fewer surprises the better."

"Right. Out."

"Mr. Cowley's right," Doyle said. "The more we know, the better prepared we'll be and the less likely things will go wrong. You don't want your dad getting hurt."

Cynthia shook her head slightly and wrung her hands. "He will, though, won't he? He'll go to prison this time."

"There's a difference between going to prison for some general GBH and for murder," Bodie said.

Cynthia took one deep, deep breath, and squared her thin shoulders. "The leader's called Benny. He's gone a lot; I think he goes up to the city to look for more men. There were five of them there this morning, in the kitchen having breakfast. Benny and four others. I think they're all still there. None of the cars is gone."

"And your father?"

"He's home as well." She stopped, gulped. "You won't . . . you won't shoot him, will you?"

Doyle felt the lie stick in his throat, and looked helplessly at the back of Bodie's head.

"If he doesn't try to shoot us, we won't try to shoot him." Bodie's voice was kind. "But, sweetheart, the husbands of those two women are in the last car behind us, and I can't make any promises for them."

Cynthia shuddered.

Earlier on, they'd all pored over the ordinance survey maps for the area, and decided the best approach was a footpath leading from a side road to the stables, much of it under cover of either a hedgerow or woods. Ruth organised the back-up squad, making sure all access roads were blocked, and extra agents in position.

As they listened to her report to Cowley, Bodie shook his head and murmured, "Tenner says we'll be working for her in five years."

Doyle choked back a snigger. "Don't make me laugh, Bodie. Three at most."

Before they moved off down the footpath, Bodie leaned back into the car. "Now, listen, sweetheart. You stay right here, and don't do anything silly, get me? You come after us, and you might get killed, or get somebody else killed. Lot of paperwork, when that happens. Makes us all cross. You just sit quiet and be a good girl." He gave the roof a thump with one fist and slammed the door.

As mansions went, Sinclair's wasn't in a league with the stately homes, but it was a big solid brick building that nothing short of a commando squad could have stormed successfully against a disciplined and determined group of defenders. The whole strategy of the raid, as laid out by Cowley, was that the defenders were to be hit so hard and fast that both discipline and determination would be knocked out of them before they even knew they needed it.

Pure luck gave them an advantage right at the beginning. Two men, big bruisers who couldn't have been anything but part of Benny's crew, were sitting in the stable yard, smoking and idly admiring the Rolls Royce Sinclair's chauffeur was washing. All three were in such a state of shock when the CI5 agents surrounded them that not one even thought to squawk before they were hustled into the building, and cuffed to a sturdy length of water pipe.

That was the last piece of luck they had.

As Doyle ran across the yard from the stables toward the house, a shot rang out, and a bullet struck the ground just inches from him. Dodging, twisting as best he could, he picked up the pace, trading stealth for speed and managed to dive into the cover of the back door a split second before another rattle of gunfire split the paving stones.

After that it was the usual mix of adrenalin and caution, the feeling that every sense was working at one hundred and ten percent, the odd sensation that time moved in uneven increments, seconds passing like hours and minutes like seconds. They worked their way through the ground floor, finding nothing but unarmed and terrified house servants and a dignified and outraged butler.

On the first floor, there was resistance. Jax and Lucas cornered another fighter in a bedroom, and after a brief but intense exchange of fire, brought him down.

Bodie, Doyle and Jax met on the stair landing.

"If the girl's right, that leaves Benny and another," Jax said, reloading quickly.

"And Sinclair," Doyle added.

"He won't be trouble," Bodie said surely. "Too long since he broke any heads himself. Hasn't got the stomach for it."

"Rather not bet my life on that." Jax slapped home the last bullet and started up the stairs.

The second door they encountered was locked. From behind it, they could hear frantic sounds of scrabbling, a long protesting screech of metal and wood, and then silence. The three of them exchanged glances. Jax flattened himself against the wall, Doyle dropped to the floor across the hall, gun trained on the door, and Bodie took one running step forward and kicked the lock in. He tumbled through the smashed remnants, and over his head, Doyle saw the open window.

While Jax covered them from the door, they cautiously made their way to the window and looked down. A rope ladder dangled down to the ground, and Simon Sinclair was just jumping off the bottom.

"After him!" Bodie gave Doyle's shoulder a shove. As Doyle opened his mouth, Bodie said in a low savage voice, "Benny's mine."

Doyle nodded, gripped his wrist for a bare fraction of a second and then swung himself out the window, groping for the ropes and swearing under his breath as the ladder swayed and knocked against the bricks.

He was still swearing as he reached the bottom, having let himself down far too fast, and feeling the strain in his wrists again. Sinclair was heading towards the stables at a gangly knock-kneed run, his suit coat flapping awkwardly around him.

"Stop!" Doyle sprinted after him.

Sinclair flung a terrified look over his shoulder and leaped off the path into the garden, dodging around bushes and flower beds, still trying to head toward the stables. Whether his actions were simple panic or some attempt at evasive manoeuvers, they did nothing but slow him down. Doyle simple bulled his way forward, crushing plantings heedlessly until he was close enough, then threw himself forwards in a full-body tackle, and brought Sinclair crashing down in the shrubbery. Bodie was right: for all his criminal past, the man was no fighter, and Doyle had no trouble blocking his awkward kicks and struggles. Within seconds, Sinclair was on his face in the leaves, hands secured behind him.

Doyle was about to haul him upright when a movement beside the stable caught his eye and he sank back into concealment. A second look had him swearing viciously at the sight of Cynthia Sinclair edging around the corner, pausing uncertainly as if not sure whether or not to leave the dubious concealment of the wall.

"Should've handcuffed the silly bitch to the steering wheel!"

Sinclair heaved under him, and Doyle clouted him sharply over the back of the head. "You keep still."

The sound of running feet from the direction of the house brought Doyle's head around, gun at the ready. To his relief, it was Bodie. He drew to a halt at the sight of the girl and shook his head.

"Told you to stay put, didn't I?"

She shook her head, face crumpling miserably.

"C'mon, then, don't cry. It's all over."

"Not quite, Bodie." Benny's voice was overly loud as he pushed Cynthia forward just far enough that Doyle caught a glimpse of a gun pressed to her neck. "Drop the gun and back off." His other hand tangled in her hair and he pulled her head back, making her shriek.

"CI5 doesn't do hostages, Benny," Bodie said, raising his gun. "I'll blow a hole through her to get you, and you know it."

Benny shook his head wildly. "You won't. I know you, Bodie, remember? Soft on kids. You'll do what you have to so she doesn't get hurt. Now drop the fucking gun!"

Bodie didn't move. Benny jerked Cynthia's head back further and she made a strangled little sound of pain, pulling weakly at his arm.

Sinclair moaned, and tried to break free of Doyle's hold. "Stop him!"

Doyle tightened his grip, swearing under his breath. From this angle, there was no way to get a shot that didn't run the risk of doing exactly what Bodie threatened. If he moved, Benny would see him, and almost certainly panic. If he didn't, Benny would shoot either Bodie or the girl or both.

"Please," Sinclair whispered. "It's not her fault, she's just a child—"

"Shut up!"

Doyle looked back and forth, calculating angles once more. Nothing. Sheltered by the stable wall on one side and the girl's body on the other, Benny was home free, unless Bodie was prepared to kill Cynthia.

Sinclair pulled at Doyle's hold again, and suddenly an idea hit.

"You do it. Distract him," Doyle hissed.

"What?" Sinclair's eyes were blank with shock.

"Show yourself! Distract him. Or Bodie'll have to shoot them both, and I won't have it."

Sinclair's pale face went even whiter, and he jerked himself out of Doyle's loosened hold. He levered himself upright, and stumbled out into the open.

"Marsh!" His voice was a harsh croak. "Marsh, let her go!"

Benny pivoted to face Sinclair, the gun wavering. "Keep back!"

"I've got money, Marsh," Sinclair babbled, "a fortune. We can get away, nobody has to be hurt, just let her go, please.'

Benny's eyes flickered crazily between Bodie and Sinclair. "Keep back," he repeated, backing away, dragging Cynthia with him.

Bodie matched him step for step, face set. "It won't work, Benny. You're not going anywhere."

"Shut up! He'll kill her!" Sinclair screamed and leaped forward, grabbing at one of Cynthia's flailing hands.

Benny dragged her sideways and fired pointblank into Sinclair's chest.

"Daddy!" The girl shrieked. Her struggles pulled Benny off balance, and in the instant he was vulnerable, Doyle leaned out of concealment and pulled the trigger twice. Benny jerked and then tumbled to the ground, limp as dead grass.

Still screaming, Cynthia flung herself to the ground and crawled to her father, rocking the silent body in her arms.

Bodie hadn't moved, gun still pointed at Benny's body where it lay.

Doyle made himself walk over to the body, kick the gun away and check for a pulse before he looked at his partner. To a stranger, Bodie might have looked absolutely normal, except for the working muscle in his jaw.

"Thanks, Ray" he whispered, and finally lowered the gun.

"You okay?" Doyle moved to stand in front of him, searching his face. "Benny didn't get a shot at you?"

Bodie shook his head.

"Easy, now," Doyle murmured soothingly, rubbing his hand along Bodie's arm, feeling the muscles trembling and tight as iron "She's alive. All over now."

"I could've . . . just like Krivas." Bodie's voice was bleak.

"Not a chance, mate. That's why I'm here, remember?"

Bodie sagged suddenly, as if all the strength had run right out of him. His forehead sank onto Doyle's shoulder, and one hand clenched on his forearm hard enough to bruise. Doyle put one arm around the broad shoulders and held him, talking softly, rubbing his hand back and forth across Bodie's back, while his other hand never loosened its grip on the gun.

They finally got back to the front drive just in time to see Wiley and Dwyer carry their wives out of the house.

**

Hospital waiting rooms had to be the damnedest places on earth, Doyle thought. You'd think that with the people there scared and upset as it was, that there'd be at least some thought put into comforting them a little. But no. Walls the colour of mouldy cheese, and chairs no human being could fit into comfortably, always placed where you got either roasted by hot air from the vents or frozen in the draft from badly-fitting windows.

He shifted again, hoping to find some position he hadn't tried yet. The tea he'd gotten a while ago was cold sludge, and the magazine hadn't held any interest to begin with.

He'd let Bodie go off by himself to look in on Bannister and Woodruff. The doctors were being their usual inscrutable selves, unwilling to commit one way or the other except to say that things were "grave, very grave". Doyle could personally have wished for a different choice of words.

They'd already been to two funerals in the past three days.

Benny Marsh had been hurried into the ground in the back of a churchyard near Chelmsford. Outside of Bodie and Doyle and the vicar, the only other people there had been Benny's woman and a thin pale-haired boy who looked too hard and tired to be as young as Doyle knew he had to be. After the perfunctory ceremony, while the vicar had been going on about details with the widow, Bodie had taken the kid off to one side and squatted down to talk very quietly and seriously for several minutes. When the missus had noticed, she'd squawked and yanked the boy away, of course, practically dragging him out behind her and cursing Bodie with her eyes.

Bodie had met Doyle's questioning look with some embarrassment.

"He doesn't need to turn out like Benny. Or me."

Doyle squeezed his shoulder. "He could do worse," was all he'd said, but Bodie had smiled slightly and the two of them had driven back to London in better sorts than when they'd left.

Simon Sinclair's funeral had been much more lavish, but the final effect had been the same. Cowley had sent them along ostensibly to keep an eye on Sinclair's underworld connections, and see if any more of Benny's crew might crawl out of the woodwork. Shivering in her black dress, her face the blue-white of skim milk, Cynthia Sinclair was abandoned in the vestibule, as people who'd called on her father for favours and invited him to their clubs walked by her without a second look.

In the end, Doyle snarled, "Sod this", and slung his overcoat around her shoulders. He and Bodie had hustled her off to a tearoom, where they'd managed to coax half a bowl of soup and a cup of tea into her while she explained in a polite brittle little voice that she was to go for an interview to "assist the police with their inquiries" and expected to be arrested shortly thereafter.

They'd exchanged a look over her bent head, and without a word Doyle went out to the call box. Another cup of tea later Betty had arrived, and taken the bewildered girl firmly under her wing.

"Don't worry, dear. Mr. Cowley will see to things. He's arranging an appointment with a solicitor for you, and she'll manage the police very nicely. As for you two," she looked severely at Bodie and Doyle, "you're to go back to the work he's paying you for and stop nursemaiding."

Doyle chuckled. Cynthia Sinclair might not be one of the Cow's calves, but she'd risked her life to help when it counted, and that made her close enough to at least merit adoption. Between Geraldine Mather and George Cowley, the police didn't stand a chance.

Bodie's quick-march stride on the tiles brought Doyle's head up, and he gratefully rose and tossed the cold tea. The smile Bodie gave him was half-hearted at best.

"How are they?"

Bodie waggled his hand back and forth. "Kate won't lose the arm. Never be right again—never shoot again—but she'll manage."

"And Ellie?"

Bodie's eyes dropped. "No change. They opened up her skull to ease the pressure, and the swelling in her brain's started going down, but she's still out. No way to tell when she'll come round. Or if."

"Hell." There didn't seem to be much else to say. "How are Wiley and Dwyer holding up?"

"Not good. Be easier somehow, if there were somebody left alive to hate," Bodie said.

"Yeah, know what you mean. When all you can do is sit there and wait—" Doyle shivered.

"Yeah." The look they exchanged said it all. Bodie straightened. "C'mon, then. Let's have a drink. A toast to the unlamented departed."

"Nah. Let's toast the ones still here. I've got just the thing for it, too." Doyle gave him a hopeful look.

"That what we're calling it now?" Bodie's smile became a little more genuine. "Let's go then."

Out on the steps, Doyle found himself taking a deep, cleansing breath, trying to draw in enough clean air to get the subtle taint of the hospital out of his lungs.

Bodie looked back up at the façade for a moment. "Someday, that'll be us."

"Someday?" Doyle said in disbelief. "It already has been, you clot. Both ways, in case you've forgotten."

"No, I mean—" Bodie broke off. To Doyle's surprise, there was a pink flush in his cheeks.

"What?" Doyle asked, more touched than he'd admit by a bashful Bodie.

"You know. Older. Grey hair, wrinkles. Christ, Kate really does look old enough to be my mum," he added sheepishly.

Doyle grinned. "Guess we will, if we live that long. I've already got a touch here and there."

Bodie waggled his brows. "More there than here, if memory serves." He waited for Doyle to sober before he said, "You know what I mean. Older, greyer, still together."

Doyle nodded. "You can bet Cowley's pension on that," he said firmly. Bodie's arm securely around his shoulders, they ran down the steps toward the car park.

The End