The folders that Cowley slid across the desk were devoid of the glossy surveillance photographs usually clipped to the front cover, and Doyle counted down the seconds until Bodie said it. He had to say it. He had better. Five, four, three...
Bodie lifted his eyes from the folder to meet Doyle's. His lips parted in that smug, wicked smile that Doyle knew was for his benefit alone, but his voice, directed at Cowley, was the blandest of bland.
"Are we looking for the Invisible Man, sir?"
Doyle obligingly cracked up, and Cowley scowled at them both. It was good to see Bodie in such high spirits; he hadn't quite been himself for a few months now, and Doyle could never bring himself to ask about it—but perhaps it was all past, and now Bodie could be his usual irreverent self again. He hoped so.
"In a manner of speaking, 3.7," said Cowley, after they had quieted down.
Bodie merely quirked an eyebrow, silent, and settled back in his chair to listen as Cowley steepled his fingers in front of him and began the briefing in earnest.
"Have either of you heard of Plokhoi Volk?"
Doyle glanced over at Bodie. His face furrowed briefly, but he said nothing. Probably didn't know either.
"Russians, sir?" Doyle volunteered finally, hesitantly. Bodie smirked.
"Yes, Doyle, Russians!" Cowley practically snapped at him. "Apart from that?"
Bodie—still smirking, the bastard—was at least good enough to take his turn at the Cow's ire. "No idea, sir."
"I suspected as much," muttered Cowley, probably to himself. "Och, my best team..." He shifted his glasses to rub at his eyes, the very image of a long-suffering saint.
"Sir?" Bodie asked again. "Plokhoi Volk?" He stumbled a little over the unfamiliar sounds.
Cowley looked up and seemed to recall his original purpose. "Plokhoi Volk are a group of assassins. Very old, very secretive, and very deadly. We have received intelligence, reliable intelligence, that they are planning assassinations here in the near future. In the very near future. In ten days, one of their number will arrive on these shores armed and ready to carry out his mission. This is where you two come in."
"Easy," said Doyle instantly. "Put out a description, the usual alert, and we'll nab him as soon as he sets foot in the country. Then in your gratitude, you give us a week's holiday."
He raised his eyebrows at Bodie, who grinned back.
"I agree, sir."
That earned them another glare. "I'm afraid it's not that easy. Our informant provided us with every detail—except a name or description. We know how he's getting here, we know when he's getting here, we know what he plans to do. We even know where he is at this very moment. But we do not know who he is. We haven't any idea."
So much for an easy assignment.
"So we are looking for the Invisible Man," Doyle grumbled. "Well done, mate."
Bodie ignored the jibe, sitting up straighter. "If we know where he is now, send someone to find him in Russia. MI6's business." Considering how much Bodie loved his work, even after eight years partnered it was still a continual mystery to Doyle why the bloke kept trying to pawn it off on other people.
"He isn't in Russia. And, due to the circumstances," Cowley smiled a little, closed-mouthed, a bit of flattery, "we are in need of someone with your particular talents, Bodie."
As Cowley looked down to sort through a pile of photographs in his hands, Doyle took the opportunity to stage-whisper at Bodie.
"Better let me seduce the birds, eh?"
"Have at it. Age before beauty, sunshine." Bodie's reply was quick and biting, as usual, finished with yet another smirk. The wit was typical Bodie—but turning down birds? Maybe there was still something wrong with him.
Cowley finally slid a photo across the desk. "This is where he is and will be for the next ten days."
The picture was angled towards Bodie, but from what Doyle could see it looked like... a boat. Probably a ship, not that he'd ever been clear on the difference. It was big, and it looked like a cruise ship, all pale and gleaming. Well, if the assassin was hiding out on a boat, they probably wanted someone with nautical experience. Like Bodie. It made sense, Doyle decided, but then he looked up at Bodie and suddenly it really didn't at all.
Bodie's mouth opened, slackly, then closed again. "That's never—"
"S.S. Arcadia," Cowley said, quietly, and his voice was oddly gentle. "Her captain is still Thomas Llewellyn."
All the colour drained from Bodie's face.
Wordlessly, Cowley pulled open his desk drawer, setting a glass and a bottle of single malt on the desk in front of Bodie. It was, Doyle realised in dawning envious horror, Cowley's best single malt. What was going on?
"Bodie? Hey, mate?"
If Bodie heard him, he gave no sign as he poured himself a more than generous amount of scotch with shaking hands, downed it in one gulp, and poured another. He left this one sitting on the desk.
"I can't," Bodie said, addressing, it seemed, his glass, because he certainly wasn't looking at either of them. His tone was—terrified? Terror? From Bodie? What was this about?
"You can," came Cowley's reply. "You can, and you must. It has to be you."
Bodie took a sip of scotch and shut his eyes. When he opened them, he looked a little steadier. "I see that. It's just a bit of a shock, that's all."
"Before you ask," Cowley said, "he knows we're sending two agents, but he doesn't know who. You'll be introducing yourself to him as CI5 when you get there."
Bodie swallowed. "I—all right."
"Good lad." Cowley smiled faintly at him; Bodie was still sitting ramrod-straight and pale-faced.
What the hell was going on? He'd have to get the story out of Bodie sooner or later. Hopefully sooner, because this was beginning to make him nervous, and not just nervous for his partner's well-being.
Doyle cleared his throat, and Bodie and Cowley both jumped a little as they turned to face him, like they had forgotten he was there.
"I take it we're going on a boat?"
It was Bodie who answered. "A ship. That ship." His voice was raspy. "The Arcadia."
Cowley nodded. "She's currently at Cape Town, or rather, she will be when you get there tomorrow morning. It's a passenger trip, so there'll be no problem adding an extra passenger. Luckily for you it's not a cruise. She's not stopping again until Southampton, except once to refuel, so you have ten days to find our mystery assassin."
Despite Bodie's strange and upsetting mood, Doyle was beginning to warm to the idea. It was almost a holiday after all. He opened the folder in front of him, and two small packets of paper slid into his hands. Airline tickets to Cape Town. A reservation—thankfully made out to one Raymond Doyle—for a berth on the Arcadia.
"First class!" Doyle whistled appreciatively. "No aliases, sir?"
"Not this time." Cowley nodded over at Bodie, who was finally opening his own folder. "Bodie can't, so we won't waste one on you, either. You are, naturally, a civil servant returning from holiday."
"Naturally," Doyle said, with relish, then, "Hey!" Bodie was turning over the contents of his folder, slowly, thoughtfully, and Doyle saw a small folded packet of paper in his hand, next to the airline tickets, rather than a reservation slip. Doyle's folder didn't have one of those. "You don't have reservations for the bo— ship, Bodie?"
Bodie finally looked up into Doyle's eyes. He held up the booklet, and his face wore a smile that was not at all happy and certainly didn't extend to his eyes like his real smiles did. It was the sort of face one might show the executioner. "Merchant navy passbook, sunshine. I'm crew."
Surprised, Doyle turned back to Cowley.
"We don't know," Cowley was saying, "whether the assassin is a passenger or a crew member. So, as you see, we need to cover both. Bodie, you'll find that they need another cabin steward. One of theirs seems to have met with an unfortunate accident. Your job, both of you, is to investigate. Mingle. Meet people. Find our man."
Bodie looked aghast. At least it was better than terror. "The Arcadia carries 1400 passengers, sir. And 700 crew."
"I think you'll find the numbers reduced," said Cowley. "Sea travel is much less popular than it used to be. And you're not just looking for the assassin; you're looking for his accoutrements. Guns, rifles, bombs, grenades, plans of attack. Our source says he's travelling with a great deal of equipment. He can't keep all that in his cabin. It would be noticed."
Doyle understood. "He's keeping them elsewhere on the ship. We find his things, we wait, we find him."
Doyle frowned. "Then what?"
"As soon as you've identified him, contact me immediately. Details are in your folders, along with all the information we have on the target. Don't break cover, either. Other than Captain Llewellyn, no one is to know of your mission. And no guns, please, gentlemen. We have no jurisdiction in international waters, and it would be a shame to provoke an incident with your usual... exuberance. Your goal is to point the assassin out to us so that we can take him in the minute you reach Southampton."
Doyle nodded. Bodie wasn't going to like having no guns. Clearly Bodie wasn't going to like anything about this, anyway; he was back to staring at the—what had he called it?—passbook.
Cowley stood up, and Doyle did as well. Briefing over. Beside him, Bodie drained his second glass of scotch and raggedly struggled to his feet, a beat late.
"Good luck. You have the rest of the day off to prepare. Your flight leaves from Heathrow this evening."
"Thank you, sir," said Doyle, then he turned to leave. Bodie said nothing and followed him. They were almost out the door when Cowley called out.
Bodie stopped and turned back. "Sir?"
"You'll need to be—convincing. Do I make myself clear?"
Doyle couldn't see Bodie's face, but from the way Bodie's back stiffened he was sure it wasn't happy.
"How convincing are we talking about?" His voice was barely more than a whisper.
Cowley stared back evenly. "As convincing as necessary, Agent 3.7."
Bodie's voice was tight, and he turned again. Doyle caught a glimpse of wide, panicked blue eyes as Bodie brushed past him and out of the office, almost running, and the only thing Doyle could do was follow.
Bodie had broken into a dead run as soon as he had left Cowley's office; Doyle, not having expected anything of the sort, had been a fraction of a second too slow and had lost him as soon as he turned a corner. Whatever it was, now clearly wasn't going to be the time to talk about it.
Doyle slowed to a more leisurely walk as he headed to the car park, to his car. He had better start packing. Bodie would be fine—he always was, wasn't he, Doyle told himself firmly, ignoring the voice nagging at him that Bodie was much more rattled than he could remember seeing him in a long while. And eventually he'd warm up, tell him what was the matter; they had a long, long flight to Cape Town ahead of them tonight, and that would be plenty of time that surely even Bodie wouldn't want to spend in terrified dead silence. Assuming Bodie didn't get himself killed in his car on his way home, that was.
He moved on autopilot, without thinking—his car, onto the streets, the motorway, his exit, a parking spot outside his flat—so disengaged from the reality of it that he couldn't have told you how he got from one place to the other and wasn't really aware of doing any of it until he pulled his keys out of the front door and shut it behind him. The pocket-knife on his key ring jingled against the keys, bringing him back to his senses. Home. This month's home, at any rate. It wasn't bad. Dangerous business, for an agent to be so unaware of his surroundings—and here he'd been worrying about Bodie. Sloppy work, 4.5, Doyle chastised himself. He locked the door, then locked the door, then locked the door again. All three locks.
To make up for the lapse, he drew his gun and did a thorough inspection of his flat. No intruders. Not that it made him feel better about his laxity. The inspection ended in his bedroom, whereupon he pulled out the largest suitcase he had and set it on the bed. Doyle considered it thoughtfully. He would pack lightly, himself, but Raymond Doyle, civil servant on holiday, would bring everything he owned. The image of an annoying tourist. That Ray Doyle had probably been in South Africa for a month, gawking at tigers. Lions. Whichever the fuck they had there. Maybe both. Bodie'd know. He'd have to ask him—and then he remembered Bodie's behaviour anew. Probably not right this minute, then. It was a little disconcerting how much he took Bodie's presence for granted.
Why shouldn't he? A voice in his head whispered, almost coaxing. Bodie had been his partner for eight years; surely it was natural to get used to having the bloke around. But he might not always be there, another voice chimed in, and Doyle was shocked by the sudden pang of real loneliness that ripped through him at the mere thought, raw and heart-sick...
But it was best not to think about that. That got you nowhere. Ruthlessly, he stamped down on the feeling, suppressing, repressing, as he began to throw a mostly random selection of clothing into the case. Jeans, t-shirts, socks, pants, swimming trunks, his favourite plaid coat. Pair of boots. Dinner jacket, of course. First class necessitated it. After a minute spent contemplating the state of his wardrobe, he added a couple of his nicer shirts and a dressier pair of trousers. You never knew; he might need those. Doyle threw in his current reading material from the bedside table, a ridiculously improbable mystery novel, and pronounced himself satisfied.
He meandered into the bathroom, grabbed a carrier bag and filled it with the usual necessities. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, electric razor, comb, shampoo, soap, cologne. The only thing that gave him a moment of pause was the top drawer, whose contents he had to consider. Was it worth bringing? Sure, the impulsive part of his mind told him, and he grinned to himself as he swept the condoms and lubricant into the bag. There'd be birds, wouldn't there? Course there'd be. There always were. And it was best to be prepared. Especially with the lube, which many of his birds had appreciated. Then they'd be pleased with his thoughtfulness, and that was always gratifying.
Doyle's last stop was the hall cupboard, and he hadn't quite been sure he was going to bother until he found himself standing in front of it. Cowley had said no guns. But he'd only discussed not firing them, Doyle argued with himself. He'd said nothing about not actually bringing them. Though, of course, that was probably what he'd meant to say. Cowley'd also said nothing about gun permits, and as such this was going to be more than a little illegal. But they couldn't very well not have any weapons whilst chasing down an armed assassin, could they? He'd have a gun if he needed one, and if he didn't need it, well, who would know? What harm could it do?
He unholstered his favourite gun, put it in its hard-sided locked case from the cupboard, then carried the whole thing over to his suitcase, tossing in his shoulder holster atop the pile. He felt bizarrely guilty about obeying the letter but not the spirit of the Cow's decree. But it would make Bodie so happy to have a gun with them, wouldn't it? Anything was worth it for that. And Bodie was probably packing much lighter than he was—Bodie might not be able to bring one himself. That reminded him...
Back at the cupboard, Doyle reached for his second-favourite gun, sitting neatly in its identical case. It got much less use, as he did so enjoy his favourite, but he wished he used it more. Bodie'd bought him the Browning for Christmas last year—no, two years ago—and he'd looked so pleased with himself that Doyle had realised it was one of those situations where you buy your best mate the present of your dreams and ask to borrow it once in a while. Yeah, Bodie'd appreciate this one. He grabbed an extra holster and some bullets, and with a little leaning he managed to make everything fit in the straining, over-full suitcase. Done.
Doyle made his way back downstairs and stretched out on the settee, not intending to sleep, just to rest a little...
He awoke fast and badly, startled out of a dream he couldn't remember by an insistent knocking on the door. Reflexively, half-awake, he went for his gun, but he touched only his side. Oh, right, in the suitcase. Doyle shook his head to clear it and sat up, briefly dazzled by the sunshine that had somehow become the muted light of late afternoon while he was asleep.
The knocking came again.
"Who is it?" Doyle called, still muzzy.
"It's me." The reply was, as ever, singularly unhelpful, but it was Bodie's voice and Doyle's heart leapt at the sound of it.
He got to his feet, fiddled with the sets of locks, and the door swung inward to reveal Bodie on his doorstep.
Bodie looked only a little less shocked than he had a few hours ago, still pale and quiet. But he was steady on his feet, and—Doyle sniffed suspiciously—didn't smell a thing like alcohol. He hadn't spent the intervening hours in a bottle, then, thank God. Bodie shifted his weight, looking uncomfortable as he slung a small duffel bag onto his other shoulder.
"I finished packing," Bodie said, unnecessarily. "All set." His voice was hoarse. It couldn't have taken all that time for him to pack only that small bag, but Doyle wasn't going to push him on it. At least he was here. "Can I come in?"
Doyle smiled his best, most encouraging smile, the one he saved for Bodie. "Course you can."
Bodie stumbled in, and it was a mark of how out of sorts he was that he didn't even protest as Doyle neatly relieved him of his bag and settled him down on the recently-vacated settee.
"There you go, mate."
Something small and dark flashed into Bodie's hand and then out of it, flung toward Doyle. Doyle put up a hand, caught it without looking, and then uncurled his fingers to see his prize. Bodie's CI5 ID.
"Not thinking of resigning, are you?" Doyle asked carefully, trying to make a joke of it. "'Cause if you are, you've got the wrong person."
Bodie seemed to take the question with deadly seriousness. "No," he said, after a long pause, and Doyle let out the breath he was holding. "Not today. Just thought I'd give it to you now before I forgot. I'll have absolutely no privacy once we get there, and I don't want to chance anyone finding it on me or in my things. You, on the other hand, will have a stateroom with a safe and luggage that locks."
"Fair enough, mate." Doyle tucked the ID into his pocket, nestled against his own. If Bodie was going to be that concerned about an ID, no way had he already packed a gun.
There was a long silence between them. Bodie put his head in his hands, then looked up at Doyle, stony-faced, brave, as if he were facing a firing squad.
"I suppose there was something you wanted to ask me," Bodie said. It wasn't a question.
"Of course," Doyle said. Bodie only looked more miserable.
"Go on, then."
He took a few steps back, toward the kitchen. "Have you eaten?"
The life came back into Bodie's face. Surprise, amusement, relief, and gratitude all played across his features in quick succession. "Not yet."
Doyle smiled at him again. "Want to? I've got loads of stuff in the fridge I can cook. Be a shame to waste it all by letting it go bad."
"I'd be delighted," Bodie said, and something in Doyle's chest clenched with unexpected warmth.
Doyle ducked into the kitchen and inspected the contents of his refrigerator. It'd have to be stir-fry; at least that would use up the most of the perishables. He hummed a wandering melody to himself as he pulled out a pile of vegetables, then lost himself in the mindless precision of chopping, frying, measuring out water for the rice, mixing a sauce. He knew what to do, and he did it. If only everything could be that easy.
When he stepped back into the living room holding the food he'd carefully portioned out into two steaming bowls, he wasn't particularly surprised to find Bodie hadn't moved from his seat in the twenty minutes that making the meal had taken. He handed one of the bowls to Bodie and sat down not on the settee, but on the coffee table opposite Bodie, and was promptly struck with an eerie feeling of déjà vu—except that this time, their positions were reversed.
"Ta," Bodie said, without looking up, and dug in.
They ate their meal in silence, Bodie offering words neither of praise nor condemnation. Doyle was quite proud of his culinary efforts, and Bodie most of the time at least said something. It was another thing about today that upset him, especially as Bodie had long made his hatred of aubergines clear, usually loudly and vociferously. But this time, not a word of complaint as he ate them. He didn't even pick the pieces out of his bowl and push them to the side for Doyle to pick them off, or try to steal Doyle's broccoli. Considering what else the man ate, he'd never have pegged Bodie as having a secret broccoli fetish, but he did, all right. Man of mystery. And never more mysterious than today. Inwardly, Doyle sighed.
The fork rattled against the empty bowl as Bodie leaned over to put it on the table next to Doyle's impromptu perch. It was the only sound in the whole flat, the noise almost startling.
"Thank you," said Bodie again, and this time he looked up.
Doyle locked his gaze with Bodie's as he too set his bowl down. "For dinner?" He knew that wasn't all of it, but he wanted Bodie to say it first.
"Not just for dinner." A pause. "For not asking."
"You're welcome," Doyle replied. Then carefully, carefully, gently. "I want to ask, you know."
"You don't have to tell me, mate," said Doyle experimentally, to see if saying it made it true.
A dry, humourless laugh. "No, Ray, this I have to tell you. Sorry to say."
"Doesn't have to be now, does it?" Maybe a delay would make Bodie feel better. Doyle stood up, took their bowls to the sink.
Bodie snorted. "I'm not waiting to have this conversation on a full aeroplane, so, yeah, it does."
Doyle picked up a bottle of wine. "Need a drink first?"
A slow shake of the head. "You couldn't offer me enough to make it easier to say, and in any case I'd rather be sober. Might come out wrong if I weren't."
"Okay." Doyle put the wine back down and returned to his place across from Bodie. "Go on."
Bodie swung his feet up on the settee, leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. After a long while, he said, "You know I left school and ran away from home when I was fourteen."
"You joined the merchant navy."
A slow nod. "Yeah. You've probably figured out by now I was on the Arcadia. My first and only ship."
Clearly, the name had been significant to Bodie, but first and only? Doyle was mildly stunned. "I always assumed you were on a few freighters."
"S'what I like people to think. I was fourteen, Ray, a scrawny, scared fourteen. The good freighters won't take you on unless you've got some muscle, and the other ones—well, I can't say personally, but from what I've heard I'd recommend against them."
"So the Arcadia?"
"Only ship that'd take me. And if you tell anyone about this," Bodie's eyes opened, flashed fire, and he didn't complete his threat. He didn't have to.
"Wouldn't dare," Doyle breathed, meaning every word.
"Llewellyn's a good man," Bodie said, and a strange emotion moved across his face, too quick to identify. "Took me on even though I'd not done it properly, not gone to school like I ought to have done. He helped at the end, too, when I was leaving. Could have got me listed as a deserter. He probably should have done. I wouldn't have been able to join the army then, so I suppose I owe him a lot."
"I thought you jumped ship in Dakar, over some fight about the captain's bird," Doyle protested.
Bodie's mouth crooked. "Do you seriously believe every last word of what I say, sunshine? I'm touched."
"You don't lie to me," Doyle was astonished to find himself saying.
"Ah, but I never said it to you, did I?"
"Touché," said Doyle, remembering how he'd pored over the trial transcripts.
A pause. "It was Dakar. April 1964. I was seventeen, almost eighteen. Dakar's a passenger ship port, too, you can look it up. No bird, though. That part was a lie." His face was guarded, shuttered, and Doyle could tell that more information on Bodie's departure was not going to be forthcoming.
"Was it that bad a ship, then?" Doyle ventured, kindly, and Bodie looked at him as if he were shocked Doyle would get that impression from the way he was talking about it, the way he'd looked when he heard the name.
"No, actually. It was—it was great," and that was the last word Doyle had ever expected him to use, and he was actually smiling. "Wonderful. I loved it. Every last minute of it. Well, up until the bitter end."
Doyle shook his head in disbelief. "Then why don't you ever talk about it? You'd hardly even know you were there, to hear you talk, and you've got loads of Africa stories..."
"These aren't the kind of stories anyone wants to hear." Bodie shut his eyes again briefly, scrubbed at his face with a free hand. "I was a different person then. And it's not the sort of person I thought I'd ever get to be—have to be—again."
Maybe that was why Bodie had been so upset. Just his past, coming back to haunt him, reminding him of a life he'd left. Doyle nodded, even though he didn't quite understand.
"So, what did you do on the Arcadia? It's a cruise ship, yeah?"
"Bellboy," Bodie said promptly. "Only job a fourteen year old could have. And don't laugh, or I'll punch you up the throat." The faintest hint of a joking smile.
Doyle quelled his laughter. "Only a bellboy? You spent three years being a bellboy?"
"Few other things, as I got older. But that's what I was first."
Doyle considered his next question. The mission. "So, this Captain Llewellyn, d'you think he remembers you?"
Another unreadable expression. "Probably. I can jog his memory. If he doesn't, there's undoubdtedly plenty of others who do, even twenty years later—a lot of the crew, once you've found a ship, got your mates there, that's where you stay."
"That's probably why MI6 couldn't find anyone to do this. It has to be me."
Doyle frowned. "I don't follow."
Bodie stared at him directly, almost challenging. "How much do you know about the merchant navy?"
Doyle tried in vain to recall something other than dirty sailor jokes. "Not much more than what you've told me," he admitted.
"Let's just say, if I weren't me, I wouldn't take this job," Bodie said. "And, even though I am me, I almost still wouldn't. It's a very close community. Everyone knows everyone else's business, and not just because they're living in each other's pockets all the time on board. They're nosy buggers. And even if you've come in from another ship, someone'll know who you are. Someone had better. They're very suspicious of outsiders. And they'd know right away if someone came in who didn't know port from starboard, or some other foolish mistake. You've got to be perfect."
Doyle was beginning to get it. "So, because they know you, because someone will remember you, you'll have a chance."
"Exactly. They'll trust me. Or, at least, I'll have a better shot at earning their trust back. Did I mention that crewmen are generally united by a deep-seated hatred of law and government? Spies definitely included." Bodie tossed off the question that wasn't really a question as if the implication didn't concern him.
"Charming." Doyle exhaled, hard. "Don't slip up, then."
"I'll try not to," Bodie said. There was a long pause, and as he looked at Doyle his face was almost apologetic. "There are—there are ways I can behave that will make it less likely for them to suspect me, and I'll—I'll do that, but it's going to be harder with you there."
"Me?" Doyle was confused. "What have I done?"
"Nothing, but—how were you thinking we'd handle the investigation, without breaking cover?"
"Well." Doyle hadn't really thought about it. "I suppose I could try to, you know, talk to my fellow passengers. Presumably you'd be talking to the crew and some of the passengers. But we'd have to work together, compare notes. Maybe you could get me access to the rest of the ship, so we could look for the weaponry together. And I've got me own room, right, you could come by and we could discuss what we'd got."
"Very reasonable. Just what I'd think of. Only thing is, if you're a suspicious-minded nosy sailor, what would you think if you saw the two of us doing that? Two people who ought to be strangers, spending odd hours together, roaming around parts of the ship they shouldn't be in?"
"Right." Doyle swallowed. "Spies."
"What are we going to do about that, then?"
A strange, almost mournful look from Bodie. "I've got a plan. But you won't like it."
Neither of them spoke for a moment or two. The sunlight outside was growing dimmer; it would probably be time to leave for the airport soon. Bodie tilted his head to stare out the window. Sunbeams illuminated his face unevenly, patterns of light and shadow. Chiaroscuro. It was beautiful. Doyle was seized with the insane desire to paint him.
"Well then." Bodie still hadn't told him his plan, and therefore it was up to Doyle to make a joke of it. "Suppose you'll be running around solving our mystery while I enjoy the sun, fresh sea air, and the company of women, up in first class."
Bodie laughed, suddenly, and it was an ugly, cruel sound. "Oh, no, no, no, mate. No birds for you. Not this trip. Off limits."
"All nuns on the ship, are they?" Doyle said lightly, but Bodie stared through him like he hadn't even heard.
"What sort of people, Doyle," Bodie said, voice very slow, even, almost angry, "do you think spend their lives working on the cruise ships?" Doyle had the oddest feeling he was being tested, and he didn't know the answer.
Bodie stared at him. "Mostly not. Guess again."
"Er. People who love the sea?"
"No." His voice was hard. "Guess again."
"People who love helping other people?"
A mocking laugh. "Wrong. Guess again, ducky." Bodie's voice was high, now. It was almost the voice he used to make those campy, queer jokes, but those were only jokes, and this was cruel, cutting, too real.
Suddenly, Doyle understood. Oh God.
"Bingo." And if the voice was emotionless, at least it was Bodie's own again.
Doyle gaped at him, numb. He felt—he felt like Bodie had looked this morning, in Cowley's office. Bodie had known this ever since he'd seen the picture.
"It's the perfect cover," Bodie continued. "Happens all the time; sailors are always having it off with the passengers. Not the lady ones, mind you; that would be unthinkable. But there's always someone who meets a nice enough bloke, goes back to his cabin, keeps him company a few nights, or more, long as he wants, long as they both want. Maybe more than a few someones. The crew expect it—they know you'll be sneaking into his room, they know you'll be hiding him below decks in out-of-the-way places for your, ahem, trysts. If they like you enough, they'll all cover for you."
It was a good cover, the small part of Doyle's brain that was being rational conceded. It would in fact fit their desired activities perfectly. But —
"Bodie. I'm not gay." And this wasn't pretending to be gay like carrying boxes of Gay Youth pamphlets, this was really, truly gay.
"I know that." Bodie sounded tired. Weary. "You don't have to be gay."
"You just said—"
"Not gay. You just have to be gay enough."
"What do you mean, 'gay enough?'" It didn't make any sense. You were either gay or you weren't, right? And he, Ray Doyle, certainly wasn't. Loved women. Loved 'em.
"There's lots of blokes sleeping with sailors who aren't gay. Wife and kids, everything. Doesn't make you less of a man. When you're at sea, it's like the rules don't apply. It's special. You can be someone you're not. You can be someone you've always wanted to be. And then you can go home to your lovely wife and never tell a soul. Sometimes the sailors do it too—even the queens can hang up their stilettos and find birds. It's usually not the queens, though." It was strange how Bodie's voice got a little ragged. "I'm not asking you to wave a pink flag with me, mate. All you have to do is flirt a little. Promise I'll never tell anyone, if you like. Well," he amended, "except Cowley, but he knows anyway."
Dazed, Doyle managed to come up with something to say. "The Cow knows about your plan?"
"Course he knows. What d'you think 'be convincing' meant?"
"I don't know!" said Doyle, exasperated. "Are you sure that's what he meant?"
Bodie rolled his eyes.
"Fine," said Doyle, quickly, before he could finish talking himself out of it. "I'll do it, I'll do it. What do I have to do?" A horrifying thought occurred to him. "You don't mean we should actually—"
"Of course not," Bodie said, instantly, and Doyle's stomach relaxed. "You'll be safe as houses with me. Just a bit of flirting, nothing more. But it's got to be real flirting. Just like how you'd chat up the birds."
Lamely, Doyle offered, "Can't we just be how we normally are?"
Bodie shook his head. "We're best mates, Ray, and we act like it. Not lovers. They'd suspect something was fishy in a minute. Besides, I'm not planning on being how I normally am, so you'd find it a bit tricky."
"How are you planning on being?"
"Fabulous, darling!" Bodie struck a pose that was so outrageous Doyle had to laugh, and as soon as he did Bodie dropped it, and laughed with him for a bit. "But you won't be laughing tomorrow. It'll be my serious camp, it will. Don't think you'll like it much."
"I'll manage," Doyle said, and he'd have to, wouldn't he? At any rate, it sounded like it was going to be harder for Bodie. How did Bodie know so much, enough to fool a ship full of queens at their own game? The question he couldn't bring himself to ask hung between them, unspoken. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Bodie checked his watch. "We should be off now, shouldn't we?" He stood up.
"Just about," Doyle agreed, then headed upstairs to grab his suitcase.
Once they were in the car, the hours passed in a blur of check-in counters, bureaux de change, security checkpoints, gates, planes, more gates, and more planes. There was apparently no such thing as a direct flight to Cape Town, or at least none that CI5 would pay for; Doyle was still surprised they'd put him in first class accommodations on the ship. He set the part of his mind that was good at dealing with the logistics of travel to doing so, while the rest of his mind tried frantically not to think about what he'd agreed to do with Bodie.
Bodie, for his part, seemed to be remaining calm. You'd never know he was the same man who'd spent the preceding afternoon sitting panicked on Doyle's sofa. He was cool, collected, the same face he wore for any of their jobs. It was just a job. That was all it was going to be. Once, Doyle thought, he had almost slipped—as they had taken off from Heathrow, Bodie had met his eyes and looked almost afraid again, but then he'd slid the mask back on and said something unflattering about the air hostess.
It was mostly boredom, punctated by the occasional moment of fear as a security man ambled their way and Doyle worried that this time, someone had found the guns that he'd so ridiculously decided to bring. So much for impressing Bodie; he was going to look a prat if he got himself held indefinitely at some godforsaken airport in the middle of nowhere and couldn't bribe his way out. Not that he'd ever imagined he would be the bribing sort. First time for everything, he guessed. Especially these days.
So it was a good thing his luck held. He finally was able to stop sweating when they boarded the last plane, the smallest, as the next day's dawn broke over the horizon, and no one had called him in yet. He was going to be all right. At least about the guns. As for the rest of it, who knew? He'd try.
As their final plane of the day cleared the runway, Doyle looked over at Bodie, whose calm demeanour had become distinctly more bleary-eyed. Doyle had no problem sleeping on planes and had in fact done so through most of the journey. Every time he'd woken up, though, Bodie had still been awake, he belatedly realised.
He nudged Bodie with his leg. "Trouble sleeping?"
"Oh, now you figure it out, sleepyhead?" Bodie retorted, fidgeting again with his tiny pillow's placement on the seatback. "Can't get comfortable."
Everywhere he was trying to put the pillow seemed to be deliberately as far away from Doyle as possible. It was mad, almost like he didn't want to accidentally touch him. Why would he—Oh. Bodie must have thought—that he thought—which was really mad. They were mates, right? No matter what the job was.
Doyle grabbed the pillow away from Bodie and plopped it on his own shoulder. "Try this."
Bodie stared at him, unreadable. "You sure?"
"I'm sure," he said, and Bodie relaxed, finally leaning against him.
"If you insist," Bodie mumbled, pressing his face into Doyle's neck, already half-asleep.
And it wasn't that bad, really, Doyle thought as he himself drifted off to sleep again. It was only Bodie, after all. He could do this.