Stephen Murphy had always come across as being the most utterly polite of men. That cut no ice with Bodie however who could always tell when his former colleague was after something. Sitting in the snug of his Dorset home, Bodie was convinced that the man on the other end of the line was about to talk him into something that he really didn’t want to be talked into.
“Come on, Murph out with it, what do you want?”
“Oh don’t be like that, Bodie! You know how important it is for old friends to keep in touch.”
“Normally when you want to ‘keep in touch’, you just land here unannounced, expecting bed, board and five star service, so why the call?”
“Out with it, Murphy, I’ve got a litter of puppies to sort before I even THINK of getting any joy out of ‘Him Who Must Be Obeyed’, so my patience is already wearing rather thin.”
“Well, the thing is, Bodie, you remember my lovely deputies Sam and Chris, don’t you?”
“Curtis and Keel, I remember them, yes. What about them?”
“Well, they’re undergoing a weapons testing exercise down in your neck of the woods next week.”
“And that interests me because?”
“Well I can book accommodation for them for two weeks but to be honest I’m only expecting the exercise to last for about three or four days.”
“I’m still waiting to discover why that news should hold any fascination for me.”
“Well, the thing is, Bodie they’re booked on this for two weeks. They’re good marksmen and they know their way around a weapon. If they can squeeze two weeks’ worth of evaluations into three days then they will do. For the rest of time they could be frequenting every wine bar on the South coast with me footing the bill and that wouldn’t play out too well for me if Malone was to hear of it.”
“Why don’t you call your puppies to heal then, Murph? Bloody hell that’s what Ray tells me I have to do every time a twelve pound dog gets the better of me. They’re your men, tighten the leash!”
“Oh come on, Bodie. How many times did we celebrate every time we got one over on Cowley? They HAVE to attend this and I have to allocate them the time for it. I just don’t want ‘em to enjoy it too much.”
“Okay, what do you want?”
“Um, put them up for me, when they finish the exercise? If they know that they’ve got to stay with you when they’re done firing guns, they’ll either eek the course out for all it’s worth or learn something about living off the land.”
“Oh come on, Murph, you know I don’t want CI5’s business brought down here, this is our home for Christ’s sake!”
“I wouldn’t put you or Ray in danger, Bodie, you know that.”
“That bloody woman’s not expecting to come is she?”
“Oh no, Tina’s on special leave, getting married apparently. It’ll do my lads good to be without her backup for a while.”
A strangled whine came from the kitchen.
“Look, Murphy I’m gonna have to go, these pups are really starting to create. I’ll run it past Ray, but if he say’s ‘No’, then it means ‘No!’ understand?”
Bodie terminated his call and went through into the Aga-warmed kitchen. Four puppies stretched towards him hopefully, whilst their frightened mother looked at him with trust in her eyes. The dreadful people who had owned the tiny bitch were not even interested in rehoming her until Bodie had shown the colour of his money. Far too young to be a mother, she wasn’t producing enough milk and round the clock hand feeds had become the norm. That was easy compared with keeping the other gentle but interested animals away from the new family and Bodie and Doyle were exhausted.
As he finally managed to fill the last little dog with formula milk, Bodie smiled as his bath-warmed partner silently entered the kitchen.
“How they doin’?”
“Yeah, they’re okay, Ray, feeding well, though Mum’s still a bag of nerves.”
“She’ll come good, Bodie. We’ll get ‘er spayed in a few months and then she can start to really live her life. Did I hear the phone go earlier?”
“Oh yeah. Murphy wants us to put up his underlings for a few days.”
“Sometime next week.”
“We don’t need any trouble, Bodie.”
“Murph swears not. I said I run it past you.”
“That bloody woman’s not expecting to come is she?”
“Nope she’s on special ops of her own, it’s just Curtis and Keel. Alpha 2 seems to think they need a few lessons in the real world.”
“What muck and silage rather than muck and bullets?”
“Something like that. It’s up you, Ray, makes no odds to me if you’re not up for it.”
“Long as we’re safe and everyone else is safe, it’s fine by me. They’ll have to work though, Murphy must be aware how busy it’s gonna be?”
“I think he’s counting on it, Ray.” Bodie chuckled.
Ray Doyle treasured the fact that his closest family were no longer threatened by the hatred that had chased him as a homosexual Government agent. It had taking some doing. Losing his beloved partner back to the clutches of the SAS. Living for years under the guise of Chief Constable Alan Cade. Spending weeks in the unbearable limbo of immobility. Bodie had brought him back to life and together they had built a lifestyle together that they loved. Pensions and pay outs had bought them a draughty but durable four bedroom house with enough land to accommodate Ray’s menagerie of animals, and they quietly lived their lives in the obscurity that they had always craved.
Doyle didn’t readily desire the presence of strangers in his home, but Curtis and Keel seemed good enough sorts and spare hands were always welcome at haymaking time. He just hoped for their sakes that they would bring some working clothes with them.
On a scorching Wednesday afternoon, Doyle found himself rather unceremoniously holding the rear end of a goat. With a final snap of the cutters, Rick, Doyle’s vet disentangled the stringy testicle from his fingers and flicked it into the grass. A skinny lurcher jumped upon the prize and swallowed it whole, causing Doyle to wince slightly. Just as Doyle was offering tea and niceties to his old friend, a sleek black car swept up the driveway at a higher speed than was strictly necessary. Doyle was perplexed for a moment until he suddenly remembered Bodie’s offer of hospitality to CI5’s finest.
“Oh, dear God, Rick, looks like Miami Vice just turned up! Escape whilst you can unless you wanna see a couple of grown men cry. Stick this on my bill and I’ll call you next week.”
“Sure, Ray, I’ll leave you to your visitors. Treat them gently, won’t you?” Rick winked.
Doyle looked upon the newcomers with dislike as Rick drove his Land Rover away. Even the disgruntled goat seemed to show them more interest than Doyle would have given the creature credit for. The practised hostility seemed lost on the agents however. They seemed far more intent on tearing strips from each other.
“Jeez, Sam I can’t believe you’re blaming me for this!”
“All you had to do was follow a bloody map, man!”
“Well what the hell happened with the GPS?”
“You can’t always depend on GPS! We were told that this place was virtually off the radar and now we know that the intel was correct!”
“It’s only thirty miles from where we were before!”
“As the crow flies, yes. As the map reads, maybe. As the damn odometer on the cars shows, it’s actually another hundred miles from where we last were, you dumb fu …”
Curtis and Keel looked towards a figure who to all intents and purposes was imitating the harbinger of death. Years before, Doyle had donned the floppy hat and workers blues when observing as a leaf sweeper. Now they largely made up his normal attire and propped on a pitchfork which could double as Satan’s Prong, he was as intimidating to Curtis and Keel as the devil himself.
Doyle mentally cursed Bodie. ‘Fixing the Aga’ was much the same as ‘tinkering about’ in Doyle’s book, these were Bodie’s guests and as such he should be out here seeing to them. When Doyle turned his back they seemed inclined to follow him however and allowed himself a small smile.
In no way, shape or form was Ray Doyle going to be out done in his own home by two flashy gits in suits. Therefore, when Bodie showed his ugly mug which was happily disguised as a Victorian chimney sweep, Doyle grimaced. Bodie’s face lit up at seeing Curtis and Keel arrive and leaving his partner to his self-inflicted plight, Doyle hurried off to find something interesting to do with his chickens.
An hour later, Bodie approached him in the run.
“Come on, Ray, you can’t avoid them forever!”
“They’re your bloody guests!”
“No, they are OUR guests, you agreed, remember?”
“I don’t remember agreeing to greet people at the same time as having to castrate a fucking goat though, do you? And what the fuck were you doing? Pissing about with the fucking Aga! God knows, Bodie, if those pricks think that we’re Neanderthals, then on your head be it!”
“Don’t you fucking ‘Sweetheart’ me …”
“Ray come on. The Aga’s fixed so at least we can offer them hot water. If we couldn’t do that then we really would appear to be hopeless then wouldn’t we? Ray?”
“How’s the goat?”
“Oh the bloody goat’s as right as rain, just a pound or two lighter just like Rick said he would be.”
“Well that’s alright then. Are you gonna come in?”
“Why should I?”
“’Cos there’s casserole and puppies and Glenfiddich indoors.”
“Which you can’t hope to impress or intimidate all the time that you’re sulking out here.”
“I stink like a chicken run.”
“Well go and have a bloody bath then! They’re here for another eleven days, Ray. As I said, you can’t avoid them forever. Besides, we’re haymaking, we can’t afford to fuck about.”
As always, Bodie had the last word as Doyle expected and wanted him to. Doyle entered the house from the rear and went up by the back staircase. An hour later he levered himself into the front room and Bodie had to swallow the chuckle in his throat. Doyle was giving it his all. Though his clothes weren’t bespoke they fit his frame like skin on bone showing off his every asset. Doyle was the sort of man that made clothing look stunningly good and whilst that meant little to him, he still seemed to know and revel it. His guests looked on with on with just the right amount of unreserved envy that he had hoped for.
Up to his eyes in hay, heating and goat’s bollocks, Doyle was soon persuaded into eating Bodie’s offerings and drinking enough to mellow himself into companionship. Curtis and Keel found themselves directed to the most unexpectedly exquisite rooms where they rested like the frazzled agents they were.
At six the next morning, Doyle looked up at the sky. There was a heat the air that already seemed to banish any thought of rain. Bodie appeared by his side.
“We could do this in a day if we can get those two lard arses up, Ray.”
“We could do it without them as long as they wouldn’t want feeding. Why struggle though? They’re being paid. I say we send Shadow in.”
“Well, she IS itching to help out …”
“What do you think, girl?” Doyle asked of the tiny whippet at his feet. She had dispatched rats that were bigger than herself and looked completely ready to enforce a couple of CI5 agent’s morning call.
Sam Curtis was in heaven. As a CI5 operative he had probably enjoyed more swish hotel rooms than he was entitled to but this was something else. The bed was the most comfortable thing he has ever laid upon and that included a few rather well built women. The partly open fan light let in just enough warm summer air and gentle birdsong that he half wished that he could indeed die and stay there forever. As nestling lips met his own, he thought that his dream might have been granted until the lips became more demanding and started to yelp. The yapping gradually increased into insistent barks until he tried to brush the irritation away. Shadow was having none of it and dragged the eiderdown from the slumbering man baring her teeth as though she intended to savage him at any moment. Curtis got up.
Chris Keel didn’t really get the English countryside. Nothing much seemed to happen in it. It was all very small and very green and what the fuck was he doing here anyway? Bodie was some sort of has-been and Doyle was some sort of lunatic. Murphy must have been on a good screw to send him and Curtis here. Keel had far too many demons to cope with to concern himself with people like Bodie and Doyle. His uncomfortable surroundings had given him little room for sleep and he was all too ready to get back to London. As he once again strove to get comfortable underneath the duvet, a whirling dervish altered his world. The tiny white dog was as insistent as a hurricane. He could no more ignore her urgent murmurings than he could Malone’s orders. She was as barking mad as Doyle was and Keel fell in love with her instantly. He tried to grasp her teasing snout but she evaded him every time. He had seen pictures of dogs like her but never realised that they made them that small. Intending to ask his odd hosts about her, Keel got up.
The CI5 agents somehow managed to find themselves in the kitchen. To their surprise the formally surly Doyle was suddenly all business.
“Right you guys. This is probably the most important day of the year for us and you two have the pleasure of being our hired help. Our hay has been cut for two weeks. It’s laying out there in the field just waiting for us to pick it up. We have the use of a tractor bailer for one day only. If we don’t bale the hay today, it won’t get baled. If the hay gets rained on today, it will spoil. The hay MUST be brought in today. The hay WILL be brought in today. It absolutely will be.”
“Er, Mr Doyle, Sir?”
It didn’t even occur to Doyle to correct the over formality from Keel. He had far too much to occupy his mind with.
“Yes what is it?” he asked abruptly.
“Um I was wondering if it might be okay to take a shower or something? Before we er, begin to pick up your hay?”
“Mr Keel have you ever harvested before?”
“Uh no, Sir.”
“Well within the next two hours, you’re gonna be hotter and dirty than you’ve ever been before. Sweat and dust are going to get into bits of you that you were never aware of. Your pants will get so wet that you’ll wonder if you’ve actually pissed in them. Your skin will feel like it’s been rubbed down with wire wool, your head will feel like it’s gonna burst and you’ll feel so thirsty that you’ll think you’re in a desert rather than in Dorset. Now wear old jeans if you’ve got them and long sleeve shirts. Make sure you drink plenty of water and you should probably be alright. I’ve just got to finish off these breakfasts and we’ll be off, okay?”
Curtis and Keel brightened considerably with the mention of breakfast. When Doyle thrust baby bottles into their hands they both almost admitted defeat. Bodie tried to hide a giggle, almost daring himself to wait and see if Keel attempted to suck from the bottle himself. Taking pity on the visitors, he handed a puppy to each of them, checked that the dogs were feeding properly and bent to stoke the Aga.
“How come you light your stove even in the summer? Do you English people really feel the cold that much?” asked Keel in all innocence.
“It’s lit every day for at least a little while, that’s why the kitchen’s always so warm. In the winter we switch the radiators on and it heats the whole house. In the summer it’s just on for a few hours in the morning and that provides us with all of our hot water.”
“Wow that’s pretty clever!” remarked Sam, impressed.
Doyle knew just how long Bodie could wax lyrical about his beloved Aga and was starting to get impatient.
“Right I’m just gonna let the birds out and then we really do need to get going!”
“Don’t mind Ray.” Bodie said apologetically. “He’s just nervous about today that’s all. Once we’ve got a few bales in he’ll calm down a bit. This is the fourth time we’ve done this and it doesn’t get any easier. I promise that after today we’ll try and make your stay a little more comfortable, and the sooner we’re finished, the sooner we can be in the pub. Now if you’re ready, gentlemen, let the challenge begin!”
If there was any sign of Doyle calming down once they were out in the fields then Keel couldn’t see it. It was a surprise that the man didn’t give himself a heart attack, but wisely, Keel kept that thought to himself.
“Right, Bodie and I will alternate driving the bailer and we can all take turns in taking the pickup. All we have to do is gather the bales roughly into groups, stack them on the truck until it’s full, drive them back to the yard and then get them stored in the barn. If you two think that you’re up to that, let’s get started.”
Doyle tossed gloves to his new apprentices and Curtis wondered what all the fuss had been about. Though manual labour wasn’t his preferred pastime, he’d certainly show these two country bumpkins what CI5 was currently made of if it killed him. By eleven o’clock, it very nearly had. Doyle hadn’t underestimated any of awful sensations that Curtis was feeling. It wasn’t even midday and the sun was roasting them all. The hay bales weren’t particularly heavy but the constant hoisting of them onto the truck likened the job to a workout in hell. Both Curtis and Keel could only be impressed by watching Bodie and Doyle working together. The smaller man was completely unstoppable. His slender frame disguised strength and stamina which left the two apprentices in slightly jealous awe. At eleven thirty, Doyle joined Keel in the pickup for one of the many journeys back to the yard. When Keel arrived back unaccompanied, Curtis felt a stab of selfish pride that he had seemed to outlast at least one of the old boys, and he couldn’t help but rub it in.
“Doyle having a bit of a lay down then is he?”
“Oh, give him half an hour or so, he’ll be back.” Replied Bodie jovially.
Sure enough at noon, Doyle strolled back looking fresh as a daisy, swinging a huge picnic basket under one arm.
The basket contained enough foil wrapped bacon sandwiches to feed an army and two huge flasks of strong tea. The visitors fell on the spoils like a plague of locusts and Curtis instantly regretted his previous uncharitable thoughts.
As they sat on the shaded side of the truck, Keel thought he’d attempt another question.
“So what do you guys need all this hay stuff for?”
“It feeds all the animals in the winter.” Bodie replied kindly. “England doesn’t always look lovely and green like it is now. In the winter months, it’s cold and muddy, the grass doesn’t grow and much of the time the animals are kept inside. The stuff we’re collecting now will feed them from September through till April.”
“How many animals do you have?” Curtis asked.
“Best ask Ray that one, I lost count a long time ago!”
Doyle replied as if reciting from a mental inventory.
“There are usually two cows, though more often than not one of them has a calf with her. That way they keep on producing all our milk for us. There are four or five goats about the place. They also give milk but that tastes like shit so I make cheese out of it which we can sell. There are two horses, though we only own one of them, the other’s here on a sort of permanent loan arrangement to keep Flash company. There were fifty chickens at last count though they don’t eat hay obviously. There are two groups of ducks, Aylesbury’s and Indian Runner’s. There’s four dogs, well no five actually if you count that one in the kitchen and then there are her pups - well make that nine dogs then and somewhere around there are three cats.”
“God, that’s not a small holding, that’s a full blown farm!” replied Curtis in admiration.
“Not quite, Sam, in The States there are farms which stretch across thousands of acres!” Added Keel undiplomatically.
Bodie glanced at his partner slightly alarmed, but Doyle seemed to be taking the unintentional snipe rather well.
“Well gentlemen, we might not have ‘thousands of acres’ but we’ve still got about ninety bales of hay to pick up so I suggest that if you’ve finished feeding your faces, we get on with it, don’t you?” said Doyle acidly.
The suggestion brooked no argument and the unlikely team were back to work within minutes.
Doyle let his mind drift as he battled on through the tedious job. Despite the obvious irritation of his mere presence, Doyle was becoming quite taken with Keel. The man seemingly didn’t have a sensible thought in his simple head which gave him a vulnerability which Doyle rather liked. He still wasn’t sure about Curtis. The man was too flash by half and though he was obviously starting to hurt, he was trying his damnedest to hide it. Such shows of masochism didn’t impress Doyle in the least. If you were suffering, then you moaned relentlessly about it, it was a very simple equation in Doyle’s book.
Bodie smiled to himself as he once again mounted his tractor. There was so much testosterone flying about the field, the ground would probably be well fertilized for years. Doyle wasn’t likely to let him forget the agent’s invasion for a long time even if the visitors had halved the hay collection time for them. Yes Bodie would probably be making things up to his irascible partner for a VERY long time to come. The thought made him whistle happily as he started up the ancient engine.
By three thirty the last of the bales was stacked high in the barn. The excitement coming from Doyle was palpable. Bodie understood and shared his mate’s happiness. Once again they had beaten the elements and provided the precious sustenance that would be needed by their brood in the harsh months to come. They closed the heavy doors on their treasure and went in search of the hapless CI5 agents who they had dispatched to the quiet calm of the kitchen. Curtis and Keel were sprawled on the settle looking ever so slightly dazed. Doyle brewed tea for them all and hunted out a laundry basket.
“Right you two, you know where the main bathroom is. If one of you goes through our bedroom, in the corner, you’ll find the en-suite. Go and get a bath or shower the pair of you. If you do it now then you won’t be quite so stiff tomorrow. Chuck your gear in this and I’ll stuff it in the wash with ours. It’s s’posed to be sunny tomorrow afternoon, so it’ll dry by tomorrow night.”
“We uh, we don’t want to take all your hot water, Sir.” mumbled Keel tiredly.
“Unless you fall asleep in there, you won’t, we’ve got gallons of the stuff. Now Bodie and I still have a few things to do yet, so if I were you I’d get to it whilst the offer’s there.”
Curtis looked down sadly at his filthy clothes. The idea of handing them over to Doyle to wash rankled him greatly but he was simply too exhausted to argue.
Bodie finished milking Celeste and joined his partner in the laundry. Doyle was laughing to himself as he sorted through the clothing.
“What’s tickled your fancy then, dearest?” Bodie enquired, amused.
“Hey, Bodie come and have a look at this, it’s priceless!”
Bodie came over and looked at the label that Doyle was studying.
“Oh dear!” Bodie snickered.
“Who the hell wears a Gucci shirt to drag hay in?” chortled Doyle delightedly.
“Er I guess that would have been me.” replied a scrubbed, downcast Sam Curtis who appeared behind them.
“Generally, Mr Curtis, harvesting isn’t improved any by the wearing of high end fashion.” Doyle commented haughtily.
“Well you told me to wear long sleeves and it’s the only long sleeved shirt I had with me!” Curtis retorted exasperated.
“Well you should have asked! I’m sure Bodie has something old he could have lent you. He used to like his posh clothes too once upon a time. He was soon persuaded out of that silly notion once we moved here.”
The normally suave Curtis looked almost ready to give up and cry, fingering the treasured garment regretfully.
“Oh give the bloody thing here and I’ll see what I can do with it.” Doyle snapped.
Curtis slumped onto the settle, scooped up a puppy and a milk bottle and started to feed the little dog without being asked.
Keel bounced through to the laundry looking much recovered after a soak in the bath.
“Hey, I didn’t know you guys had all this!” he exclaimed looking at the high tech washer dryer that Doyle was fiddling with.
“What, did you think we scrubbed our clothes on stones in the river?” Doyle replied sarcastically.
“No … no, gee sorry I didn’t mean to insult you, it’s just I didn’t realise the kitchen had this extra bit, that’s all.”
“He’s joking, Chris. We’ve all got the day off tomorrow after today’s exertions and you can have a tour of the whole place if you’d like. In the meantime, grab a pup and feed it, Ray’s gonna get the birds in, I’m taking a quick shower and then I suggest we all go to the pub.” said Bodie diplomatically.
Relations improved considerably within the walled garden of The Barley Corn. The delicious menu sated even the most selective of palates and the beer hit all the right spots.
“They sure don’t get beer this good in the The States.” Keel bemoaned.
“They don’t even get beer this good in the next county, mate.” Doyle replied.
Rather reluctantly, the fussy Curtis had agreed to Doyle’s suggestion of the Eggs Benedict starter and was now secretly pleased that he had.
“I must say, those are the best eggs I’ve tasted in rather a long time, Mr Doyle.”
“Oh please call me Ray! It may stop me resorting to having to kill you. As for the eggs, you’d better get used to them. There are hundreds more where they came from and you’ll likely be getting them for breakfast tomorrow.”
“Oh wow, are these your eggs, Mr Doyle … er Ray?” asked Keel.
“Well I can’t give claim to actually laying them, I leave all that rather unsavoury business to my girls, but we do supply the pub with eggs, yes. You’ll also find our goats cheese in their salads. We walk a few of the said goats down here for one or two nights a week in high summer and they mow the grass in this garden. It all usually provides us with a few free pints a week.”
The talk varied between haymaking, food, animals and cars. Little was said about CI5 and Bodie and Doyle were relieved. That part of their lives was long over and though they had stories of their own which would cause the young agents hair to curl almost as much as Doyle’s, they were happy to leave such tales in the past where they belonged. They had fought long and hard over the years to preserve the sort of lives that they were now living and had no wishes to be dragged back into those old memories.
As they left they left the pub in the twilight, Doyle looked to the skies, a broad smile breaking on his face.
“Look, mate!” he nudged his partner.
“Oooh yeah! Beautiful aren’t they!”
Curtis stared upwards wondering what the hell the weirdos were talking about now, but somehow, for once, Keel seemed to know exactly the right thing to say.
“In America, we call those thunderheads, Mr Doyle.”
“Indeed, Mr Keel. We call them exactly the same thing over here. And we beat the fuckers!”
The foursome were back in the farmhouse long before the storm broke. So it would seem were lots of animals that Curtis and Keel hadn’t seen before. Three cats seemed to make themselves instantly at home around the ever warm Aga, unhampered by the slender dogs that looked resignedly on. Curtis thought the dogs unusually thin and commented on it as many always had and many always would. Once again however, Chris Keel seemed to get it, earning even more respect from Doyle.
“They’re meant to look like that Sam, they’re running dogs and that’s the way they’re built.”
Bodie raised an eyebrow at Doyle who shrugged in surprise. Keel sensed that he had spoken well and as Shadow screeched into the kitchen like a whirlwind he couldn’t hide his pleasure.
“Oh and here’s their baby greyhound!”
Doyle’s shoulders slumped and Bodie sighed. It could be a long ten days.
The storm was a stinker. Directly overhead, it seemed like the lightning bolts were going to burst right through the roof and split the bed in half. Doyle allowed himself to be hugged tighter into Bodie’s warm embrace. Satan could try and piss him off as much as he liked but Doyle wasn’t biting. His hay was inside and that was all that mattered.
When he woke, Doyle instantly knew that Bodie had let him sleep in. The sun was far too high and only Shadow’s claws were digging into his buttocks. There would normally be at least three dogs trying to push him out of the bed if there wasn’t a human pottering about in the kitchen. Praying that he wasn’t the last up (for that would never do), he quickly washed, dressed and raced downstairs trying to look like he’d been awake for hours.
“S’okay, sweetheart they’re still both dead to the world.” greeted Bodie as Doyle rushed into the kitchen.
Doyle relaxed and went over to push the plunger on the cafetiere. Bodie came up from behind and gently circled his arms around the slim man.
“Give ‘em a break, mate they saved us at least four hours yesterday.”
“Yeah I know they did, Bodie, I just wanna get back to normal, that’s all.”
“Yeah I know. It’s not for long though is it? It’s those blokes keeping US safe now, you know? Keeping our little bit of England smelling ever so slightly of roses and lavender.”
“Yeah I know that too. Don’t have to be so fucking young and smug about it though, do they?”
“You wanna swap places with ‘em?” asked Bodie as he started to nuzzle Doyle’s neck.
“Never.” agreed Doyle as he started to respond with interest.
Curtis and Keel both rose late, their hosts letting them sleep on for as long as they needed. Doyle was sipping his third coffee of the day by the time they appeared but even he was too weary for sarcasm.
“Hi.” greeted Keel rather groggily. “Wow did you guys hear that storm?”
“Sure did. Bit of a bitch wasn’t she?” replied Bodie cheerfully.
“You’re amazing, you know?” Keel addressed Doyle like he was some kind of deity. “How the hell did you do that?”
“What cause a storm? The righteous around here might tend to think that would be God’s doing rather than mine.” replied Doyle who was now getting rather fond of Keel’s gaffes.
“No I mean, you guys seemed to know that the rain was coming in! That’s what the urgency was for about getting the crop in, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. We get these amazing things called ‘weather forecasts’ over here. They’re sent telepathically to us by ancient weather seers, though Radio Four would much rather have you believe that they actually come from the Meteorological Office in London.”
“Oh … you! I just can’t believe how fine you cut it, that’s all.”
“Nah, it didn’t even start raining till an hour after we piled out of the pub. You two on your own could have got the hay in before then. You did okay though yesterday, the pair of you, we’re grateful. Now who wants eggs?”
After a sumptuous breakfast, none of the four particularly wanted to move far but in the afternoon as promised, Bodie and Doyle gave them a thorough tour of their property.
Curtis didn’t really think it would be his thing and was quite expecting to be bored witless. He had seen African elephants grazing on vast open plains and very much doubted that he was likely to get excited about a few cows and chickens. The bird run breasted an entire side of the house. There didn’t seem to be many birds in it considering Doyle’s boasts of having fifty chickens and Curtis struggled to look the slightest bit impressed.
“They’re all out at the moment.” said Doyle as if reading his mind. “The vast majority were hatched in the run and they’ve never, ever been fed anywhere else but inside it so when I want them in, I just call ‘em for their tea and they all come running. Foxes are an issue and it took the wiles of two ex CI5 agents to outwit them. There are nuclear bunkers which are less secure.”
Keel looked thoughtful for a minute and somehow Bodie just knew that he was going to come out with one of his splendid observations. The man didn’t disappoint.
“Do you guys eat the chickens?”
Doyle spluttered, turned pale and for a moment was struck completely dumb. For a brief second, Bodie wondered about the overall health of Doyle’s heart.
“No, Mr Keel, we do NOT and never will, EVER eat the chickens.” said Doyle in a strangled voice.
Satisfied when Doyle looked capable of sustaining life, Bodie attempted to explain.
“We keep around seven different types of chicken. All the breeds were specifically selected for their laying capabilities and some, being unusual in this country were not particularly cheap to acquire. It’s become a labour of love to us and we have a close relationship with the birds. Most chickens would be pretty inedible at the end of their egg laying days, but the idea of killing them for food, to us, is quite unthinkable.”
Curtis grimaced. He adored Keel but the man sure had a mouth on him which seemed to run wild at times. Not for the first time, Curtis wished that he was still on his ballistics exercise. This had been Murphy’s stupidest idea ever. Bodie and Doyle obviously didn’t want visitors here and the cautious camaraderie that had built the night before in the pub seemed to be crumbling rapidly.
Suddenly, a hurried scrabbling noise broke the quiet. Curtis and Bodie both instinctively reached for non-existent holsters whilst Doyle calmly turned his head. Keel was still intently staring into the chicken run hoping that showing interest might somehow exonerate him from his latest faux pas. The poor man never knew what hit him. One minute his was on his feet and the next he was on the bones of his backside. For a minute there was a deathly silence. Only for a minute however. In the next thirty seconds, birds were frightened from trees by the screams of laughter that came from the yard. The bemused goat stopped in its tracks, looking back at the stupid humans before tossing its head and carrying on its way. Keel stared around him confused and Doyle did his best to help the man up through his tears of mirth.
“Oh Jesus, Chris, I’m so sorry!”
Keel frowned. Doyle didn’t really sound that sorry and the other two didn’t seem too apologetic either. Doyle tried again to explain, but his uncontrollable laughter caused him to sink to his haunches where he could address Keel levelly.
“Oh God, Chris, I AM sorry really! I should have thought about how pissed off that goat must be, but what with the hay and everything …”
Keel was becoming annoyed. He seemed to be the object of ridicule and he didn’t really know why. Bodie stepped in past the incapable Doyle and hauled Keel to his feet. Bravely, Doyle attempted to speak with a straight face.
“We really ARE sorry, Chris honestly! Two minutes before you two rolled up that goat had his balls chopped off. Normally, haymaking time is too stressful to call out vets in all but the direst emergency. That fella had decided to go wandering the day before however and caused rather a scene in the local post office. I knew then that I had to get him done pretty quick. I guess he was just trying to get a little payback and you just happened to be there. You’re not hurt are you?”
“No I’m not hurt for Chissakes!”
Keel secretly hated the goat with a passion and wished every conceivable hurt upon its bristly head, but he was wasn’t too upset to have been butted by it. The gathering ice had once again been broken between the two generations of agents and after giving a final hard frown, he smiled along with the rest and indicated that the tour continue.
Still sniggering to himself, Sam Curtis’s breath was suddenly taken away as the walk took in the two cows. A leg man at heart, Sam wasn’t averse to a pretty set of eyelashes. He’d admired them on the elephants, Christ he’d even noticed them on Bodie but when faced with the sublime faces of the Jerseys, Curtis melted.
“Oh my God, just look at them, they’re gorgeous!” he exclaimed. “What made you get Jerseys, Ray?”
“Bodie did. I sent him off to the sales to get some nanny goats I had my eye on and that’s what he came back with.”
“They were gonna go unsold, Ray! They probably would have been sent to slaughter after a hideous trip for hundreds of miles if I hadn’t taken them, you know that!” protested Bodie.
“Anyway,” sighed Doyle, “The moral of the story is, if you get a tooth ache on auction day, don’t send anyone else to do your bidding for you. I never got my goats and now our cholesterol levels go up a hundred percent every time we have a cup of tea.”
All the same, the three onlookers could easily see how much Doyle adored Celia and Celeste as he batted his lashes at the pretty creatures in return.
The walkers passed by Doyle’s fractious horse who Keel couldn’t help but comment on.
“Is that what you’d call a ‘cart horse’ here? I’ve heard of them.”
“He can pull a cart yes. If he heard you calling him a carthorse however, he’d probably try to trample you to death.”
“Well he is kinda hairy and I thought that’s what your carthorses were meant to look like?”
“Flash is a Welsh Cob stallion. He can look the part when he feels like it, he just chooses his own time for feeling like it.”
The horse sniffed at Keel and then completely ignored him, unimpressed. He lunged towards his master and Doyle breathed forcefully down his nose at the animal. Flash flared his own nostrils, tossed his head and took off at a gallop. Coming to a sudden halt, he changed direction and tore off towards the other side of the paddock. At full pelt, the men could admire the pure beauty of the stocky little horse. His mane and tail streamed like banners around him and his eyes were constantly checking to assure him that he was being admired. Finally he came to a stop as if announcing that his party piece was over. Doyle smiled fondly at him and after a brief look at the duck pond and its amusing residents, the four returned to the house.
Without consultation the men all went in different directions when they got in. Doyle went through to the laundry picking up chicken feed on the way. Keel went to the pantry to find the meal needed to make up formula milk. Curtis collapsed on the settle scooping up a puppy as he did so and Bodie headed for the fridge collecting cold beers for all of them. None could relax until the chickens were all called to roost and when Doyle had counted to his satisfaction they all breathed a sigh of relief. Finally done for the day he searched out a can for himself dropping something into Curtis’s lap as he did so. Sam looked down at the object with disbelief. His shirt was not only completely spotless, it was pressed to crispness and smelt of fresh country air. He has seen lesser specimens in exclusive boutiques and looked up at Doyle in amazement. Doyle absently waved Sam’s thanks away and in half an hour they were all sat down to dinner.
Over the next few days, the new agents seemed to naturally pair off with the old. Keel’s Navy Seal background echoed Bodie’s history with the SAS and though Bodie wouldn’t be drawn on many of Keel’s questions, the pair found enough to talk about to keep them pleasurably occupied.
Curtis had a new found admiration for Doyle. The man never seemed to sit still and if he wasn’t tending to the animals or his vegetable garden, he was cleaning the house or preparing the most delightful food. Though there seemed to be an endless stream of ducks, chickens and dogs wandering through the kitchen, the whole place was rarely anything less than pristine.
“Have you always been this domesticated, Ray?” Curtis enquired.
“Oh God no!” Doyle laughingly replied. “For years it was Bodie that was the neat freak what with his army training and all. It used to drive me up the wall! I could be a right lazy slob at times, but not many CI5 flats were really that worthy of cleaning. I brushed up my act a bit when I lived in Eastland but I never stayed in the house much there. This place is different. We’ve got to keep on top of things, it would turn to rack and ruin before our eyes if we didn’t.”
“How does it all work then? I mean it’s a nice place, I guess it wasn’t cheap? How the hell do you guys survive if you don’t work?”
“Ah. Well having a good pension advisor helped. Me and Bodie had two pensions each. Well me, Bodie, Cade and Skellen had one each anyway,” Doyle winked.
“Was that even legal?”
“Probably not. Both Cade and Skellen had given their all to Queen and country however and paid into funds for years. Those policies would have been worth more had they reached maturity but just in case anyone did get a bit nosy, we took out all the money, bought the house and closed the accounts. When we reach sixty five and are too old and decrepit to chop logs and milk cows, our CI5 pensions kick in and we can put our feet up. In the meantime, the property does largely pay for itself. A place like this has to.”
“Yeah more or less. We do have savings and they buy us things that we can’t produce ourselves like electricity, diesel and lager. There’s still a healthy bartering system here in the countryside however. We supply free range eggs to the bakery and butcher which in return supplies our bread and meat. We take bones and scrag ends that the butcher can’t use and that feeds all the dogs. Have you seen the pine forest on the ridge at the back of the property? Twice a year we walk and ride the perimeters that vehicles can’t get to, checking the boundary fences for the Forestry Commission. In return we’re allowed to cut enough trees to fuel the Aga which provides all our heat. We might not work for anyone else anymore, but we still work, Sam probably harder than we ever have before and we love every minute of it.”
Doyle had probably told Curtis more than he should have done but he wasn’t overly concerned. He wanted to like and trust the young agents. When compared to his and Bodie’s day, they didn’t really know they were born but they now had their own issues and problems to face. The weapons they had been overseeing would probably blow Doyle’s mind and their enemies were now far more complex than anyone Cowley had ever had to deal with. Progress happened in all walks of life including the criminal element and Doyle was grateful to be out of it. He was surprised that Murphy had stuck with the service for as long as he had. Few people knew how Bodie and Doyle had come into their relative wealth. Fortunately, Curtis was bound by The Official Secrets Act and if he told any tales then Doyle would be sure to sue the arse off of him.
Keel enjoyed fishing with Bodie. He had changed his opinion on Dorset somewhat. He missed his flat and he missed pizza but there was something pure about this place that he knew he would also miss when he left it.
“Mr Doyle doesn’t really like us much, does he?” he asked Bodie a little sadly.
“What Ray? Course he likes you! You wouldn’t be here if he didn’t. Look, sorry, Chris I keep forgetting. The last time you really met Ray he’d been unconscious for weeks.
He was probably a bit more amenable then wasn’t he?”
“You really do love that guy, don’t you?”
“Why, you thinking about trying to nick him off me?”
“Oh, Bodie, course I’m not!”
“Darn, I thought I might have got of rid him there for a moment!” Bodie chuckled. “Seriously though, yes I do love him … very, very much. He can be the most irritating, argumentative little sod imaginable but he’s the only one for me so I’m afraid we’re stuck with each other.”
“Did you always prefer men?”
“Oh God no! Years ago, Ray and I used to try and pinch each other’s birds all the time. We were such renowned Lotharios that no woman was safe!”
“So was Ray the first guy you ever … well you know, went with?”
“Er, well no, not exactly, but he was the first one that I ever imagined having a relationship with. I’d always fancied him but I didn’t act on those feelings for a long time.”
“So what happened?”
“Well I chanced my arm with him, didn’t I? It was a risk of course, he might well have decided to kill me rather than kiss me back but fortunately he didn’t and once we’d made that first move, there was no going back for us. What about you? I heard that you were married once?”
“That uh, that didn’t work out so well for me, Bodie.”
Bodie had vaguely heard that there was some sort of tragedy surrounding Keel’s life and the slight strain in the man’s voice didn’t encourage Bodie to pry, but Keel seemed to want to talk.
“My wife died, Bodie.”
“Oh Jesus, I’m so sorry, Chris!”
“No, no not at all. I’m kinda beyond all that now, I have to be so it’s something I don’t try to dwell on. I’ve had to kinda reinvent my life a bit since losing Teresa, but I’ve got there, I think. Trouble is, though I do still like and appreciate women, I don’t see me having any sort of future with any of them.”
“Well that’s probably understandable after what you’ve been through. Someone may well come along though, one day. Someone who can heal your heart.”
“Oh someone already did. Trouble is, he just doesn’t know it yet.”
“Oh! Oh I see! This knight in shining armour, wouldn’t happen to be anyone I know by any chance, would it?”
“Is it wrong to fall for your partner, Bodie?”
“Well I wouldn’t say it’s wrong exactly, but I wouldn’t say it’s easy either. Firstly I guess you have to consider what the partner thinks about it. Then you have to consider the fact that you’re doing a very dangerous job together and could so easily lose each other.”
“Bodie, I find myself considering those things all the time.”
Ray Doyle was laughing so hard he couldn’t safely continue to cut puppy claws.
“Dear God, even Cowley wasn’t this bad! I hate to think how much ‘The Smurf’ is getting paid to babysit you two!”
“It’s just bloody ridiculous, Ray, he doesn’t trust us an inch!”
“Well far be it for me to say that you might give him reason, but I’d imagine there are much bigger matters of international importance than you two blowing his budget whilst on expenses!”
“Bloody well phoning to check that we’re still here, it’s just an embarrassment!”
“And twice at that! Well you can’t say the man’s not thorough!”
“Ray can I ask you something?”
“What’s that? If I have the number of a hit-man maybe?”
“When did you know that you were in love with Bodie?”
Shocked, Doyle snapped his clippers and the disgruntled ‘yip’ from the puppy made both of the men jump.
Settling the little dog back down into its bed, Doyle looked thoughtful.
“I guess I always knew,” he said quietly.
“Did you both know that each other was gay?”
“Bloody hell, in those days, we didn’t even have such a word to describe it! It wasn’t nearly so easy then as it all is now.”
“Easy? I don’t see that what I’m going through is easy!”
“Why, what exactly are you going through? Sorry I’m a bit lost here, I don’t really know what you’re talking about.”
“Keel is what I’m talking about!”
“Is it wrong for you to fall for your partner, Ray?”
“Well that depends on a couple of things. Does he know?”
“I haven’t had the guts to tell him outright if that’s what you mean, but somehow, yes I think he knows.”
“In that case then, it all depends on what you really want. If all you’re after is a quick tumble beneath the sheets then you’d better decide in all honesty if it would be really worth it. You’re both in a dangerous job and sex can blur the lines between partners.”
“No it’s more than that for me, a lot more.”
“Then you’d better tell him, hadn’t you?”
“Like it’s that easy? It’s okay for you and Bodie …”
“No! No I’m not having that! Me and Bodie have had it FAR from easy! We were forced apart for seven years and made to live as other people because of it, so don’t you even think that we’ve had it easy! What we’ve got now is a result of hard bloody work, the worst kind of heartache and sheer damn luck.”
“I’m so sorry, Ray. Murphy told me a bit but I never knew the whole story. Would you tell me about it or just tell me some of it? Please?”
Doyle let out a huge sigh before deciding to continue.
“Bodie and I were lovers for years before the trouble started. We never advertised the fact, we never let it influence the way we worked and George Cowley knew everything about it. It wasn’t always an easy life, but we coped, together. Then, out of the blue, I started getting threats. That wasn’t necessarily unusual for an agent but then my family started being threatened as well. Bearing in mind most of them live in Derbyshire that was a bit surprising. At first it was just filth painted on walls, you know, typical queer bashing stuff, but then a car was fired and a window was put through all in the same week. A hand delivered note stated that the next fire would be coming through a letter box. I’ve got a big family, Sam and there was no way of protecting them all. It was too much for Bodie and when Cowley gave him a back out plan, he took it, re-joining the SAS under the guise of Captain Peter Skellen.”
“Are you telling me that Bodie bottled out?”
“God no! Bodie’s got the heart of a lion, there’s no one braver, but he wasn’t gonna have the safety of my family on his conscience. Poor Cowley had no leads and Bodie and I knew that if anyone was hurt because of us, it would smash us apart anyway. A short announcement was made about the regretable death of Government agent Raymond Doyle and a few weeks later, Alan Cade threw his hat into the ring for the post of Eastland’s Chief of Police. I had to jump through a few political hoops and gained myself a brand new daughter, but Cowley somehow made sure that the post became mine.”
“My God, I thought that sort of thing only happened in books!”
“Well times may well have changed, but it happened more than you might imagine back in those days, people coming back from the dead with new identities. The CIA were rather famed for it. Even though Cowley had always told us he couldn’t support us if the shit ever did hit the fan, he still looked after us. We were both gainfully employed and the threats to my lot stopped overnight. Cowley never stopped digging though and eventually the aggro was identified as an inside job.”
“Inter-departmental. The whole thing was designed to bring down CI5 itself rather than simply me or Bodie. Cowley only really found out the truth when other agents were targeted but that’s how the perps got hold of such sensitive info as my family’s addresses. Cowley was livid. Heads rolled, people were sacked and one went to jail. It was too late for me and Bodie though.”
“How so if the problem had gone away?”
“I’d heard that Bodie had got married which completely broke my heart but I couldn’t complain seeing as I was a husband myself by then. Cade needed to be seen as a family man, so he was.”
“Wow! Did your wife know that you weren’t really Cade? Was she in on it too?”
“No, there was nothing to be in on. I WAS Cade. I really had changed my identity and had a different life by then. I couldn’t ever think about being Ray Doyle anymore else I would have cracked up completely. As it was I was always unhappy, serious and unwell. I hated that post with a passion, but what else did I have?”
“Jesus Christ, Ray I had no idea! Chris has been through the worst shit I’ve ever heard about but this comes a close second and you say that you had luck involved?”
“Yeah well most people would say getting hit with a baseball bat would be pretty unlucky. Not me though. Getting whacked brought Bodie back to me. I never would have come back from that beating as Cade, I had no reason to. It seemed like a dream for weeks, Bodie talking to me as his partner, but I fought and struggled to make it real until it finally was.”
“That’s just incredible, Ray. It certainly puts my problems into perspective!”
“Says the man who almost welled up over a shirt!”
“Shut up, it was Gucci!”
“Which would be the equivalent of two weeks’ worth of household bills for me!”
“I normally wear Hugo Boss, but you’ve got to have just that one piece to impress!”
“I’m sure the tractor was mightily thrilled!” Doyle giggled.
The heavy mood was broken and Doyle knew that completely against his will, he had somehow made a friend for life.
An Indian Runner suddenly bolted through the kitchen as though the Hounds of Hell were after it. Both men looked nonchalantly at the duck recognising its antics as a perfectly normal occurrence. They turned to each other, a flare of recognition passing through them and both burst into hearty laughter.
Dinner was strained. Though nothing had been said, all four men knew that things had been spoken of. Finally the undercurrent was enough to make Doyle’s teeth itch.
“Look, how many times has Murphy called now?”
“Twice!” replied a disgusted Curtis.
“And it’s Friday. When are you two due back at work?”
“Monday morning, Sir,” interjected Keel.
“Right, well if I know Murphy he’ll do anything to avoid working a weekend. You’ll finish this wonderful meal that I prepared for you, you’ll ignore that rather fine cognac on the sideboard that I’ve seen you eyeing up, you’ll get in that flash gas guzzling car of yours and fuck right off to a room somewhere. You can think or talk or fuck or whatever you want to do, but we absolve you of all your farmhand duties. You’re free to go!”
Doyle tried not to see the shy looks between Curtis and Keel, if anyone needed a good push then it was those two.
“You’d better keep those cell phone things of yours turned on in case anything breaks,” said Bodie wisely.
“And you WILL fuck off and leave us in blessed peace, soon as, won’t you?” added Doyle.
Taking the hint Curtis and Keel wiped their mouths and ran off to pack.
If anything, Doyle was even worse at farewells than he was at welcomes. He unsuccessfully avoided hugs from both Curtis and Keel leaving him feeling most undignified. Doyle noted that Bodie actually seemed quite upset about their visitor’s departure, but then Bodie could be funny that way. Bodie and Doyle smiled at each other as their guests started the engine.
Propped on his pitchfork as if it might guard him against any further sentimentalism, Doyle reluctantly called out some final words.
“Call on us next year if you fancy haymaking again!”
Curtis pushed the shades further up his nose after giving Doyle an incredulous look.
As the car swept away, Doyle admired it.
“Mmm, Nissan 200 SX, quite tasty that!”
“Well I tell you what, my sweet,” replied Bodie, “If you like it that much, then I’ll take you down to the showroom tomorrow and buy you one.”
“From what I heard the other day, we need to buy a new clutch for the tractor first.”
“Well we’ll buy one of those too and sod the cost! Do you think they’ll make it, Ray?”
“No idea, mate. If they can make each other as happy as you make me then I really hope so. Everyone deserves happiness. Might have taken us a bit longer than anyone one else to get it, but we still did, in the end.”
“Yep we did. The birds are all in aren’t they?”
“Yeah course they are, why?”
“Just wondered if you fancied an early night?”
“Bodie it’s half past six!”
“Well we’re not getting any younger are we?”
“No I guess we’re not, you sweet talker, you!”
Hand in hand the two entered their house. Fate had brought them together, fate had forced them apart and fortune had brought them to where they were now.
Years of history echoed with their every step. Tears of pain were constantly quelled and hopes for the future relentlessly chased. They both hoped the best for the young agents. If they could have such luck then they would be happy men the same as Bodie and Doyle now were.
With a last look over their property, they closed the door on the world outside. With eyes only for each other, they shut out everyone else as they always had done and always would do. Time meant nothing to them, their time was the here and now and be damned with the past or the future. They had now. Having now and having each other in it was all that mattered. It was all that had ever mattered and all that ever would.