Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise
The Professionals, updated to October 2010. Crossover with Lewis.
“and some Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;” Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Bodie glanced around the flat, raising an elegant eyebrow at the décor. “Swanky address, sunshine. Come here often?”
“Rather I hadn’t come at all,” Doyle said sourly, adjusting the hood of the
Tyvek bunny suit he donned before walking into a crime scene. Bodie was wearing the same, although somehow the shapeless white suit accentuated his muscular physique. “How’d a pair of college students afford this place?” The Apartments at Sloane Club, no less. No typical London flat or bedsit, the fully—and luxuriously-- furnished rooms were basically an extended-stay hotel.
“Daddy’s pocket, my lad.” Bodie sunk into a plush aqua coloured settee, waving a hand at the once flawless black and white circular dining table. “Over two thousand pounds a week, and look what they’ve done.”
The table bore gouge marks and myriad burns across the surface. There were snippets of wire, blobs of solder and a sprinkling of undetermined grayish powder all over. Two people from CI5’s lab, fully kitted out in Tyvek, were placing trace samples in evidence baggies. The woman held up a small vial. She rolled it gently between her gloved fingers, the liquid inside turning a bright purple.
“Kelly?” Bodie asked in a wheedling tone. “Got som’thing for us?”
“Yes, and that’s Dr Rees to you,” she said archly. “Suspects were definitely working on a bomb here on a Jacopo dining table. A shame to waste such a—“
“Didn’t know you were so knowledgeable on furniture,” Doyle cut her off. “Care to fill us in on the residue?”
Kelly fixed him with a stare that could have burned a hole through steel. “Cyclotrimethylene trinitramine,” she pronounced each syllable as if biting lemons.
“Commonly know as RDX,” Bodie added with a twist of his lips.
“An explosive widely used by the military in the second world war,” Kelly continued as if he hadn’t said anything. “More powerful than TNT, but quite stable at room temperature.”
“I love it when she leaves the good news for last, don’t you?” Doyle said. Her condescending tone always reminded him of Kate Ross at his yearly psych evaluation. Why in heaven had two students needed that kind of explosives? He shuddered to think. More than ever, he hated investigating British citizens radicalised by the deadly wrath of Al Qaeda.
“It’s the quality I love most about our Kelly.” Bodie stretched as he stood, the Tyvek pulling tight over the bulge at his groin.
Going back to her work on the dining table, Dr Rees didn’t give him a second glance. Doyle couldn’t help but admire Bodie’s masculinity. That was as close as he was going to get to his partner’s cock any time soon, the way this obbo was shaping up.
“Yet, there’s more!” Bodie gave a mock bow, winking at Doyle. “RDX requires a detonator. Doesn’t go off without one.”
“That is good news. No unintentional bombing, then,” Doyle said, shoving his hands in his pockets to stifle the urge to palm Bodie’s groin. “Got any dabs, Joseph?”
The other lab technician held up his mobile as it gave a lovely chime. “Just this moment,” he declared, peering at the screen. “Michael Ahmadi and Japhia Dawson. Both have been all over the flat.”
“Fantastic, used his own name on the booking for the flat. The bloke we’ve been focussed on,” Doyle agreed. If that didn’t get his mind on his work, nothing would. “He’s posted anti-British rhetoric on pro-Al Qaeda websites and went to Kharistan last year, supposedly to visit relatives. We believe he has ties to extreme, militant fundamental Islamic groups, and met with them.”
“British citizen or recent immigrant?” Dr Rees asked without looking up from her perusal of the tabletop.
“Born in the UK, of a British mother. Father is a Kharistani national,” Bodie answered, pulling the photos of the suspects out of his pocket. Ahmadi was a slender, good looking lad with wavy black hair and the shadow of a beard on his narrow cheeks. Dawson was ravishingly pretty despite blue and purple streaks in her long dark hair and multiple piercings in her right ear. “We suspect that Ahmadi’s the ringleader in a local radical cell. Most of the time, these groups are separate, with possibly one unifying person who remains outside the cell, but seems to have dealings with multiple cells in several cities.”
Joseph, listening closely, nodded his understanding.
“We’d really like to know who Ahmadi gets his orders from,” Doyle continued, considering all that they’d learned about the young man so far. “He’s been attending a college at Oxford, but we’re centring in on his associates.”
“Joseph, not telling you how to do your job, but you’ve accounted for housekeeping staff, have you?” Bodie asked, wandering around the well-appointed lounge without touching the furniture, even with latex gloves on.
“First thing.” Joseph nodded. “Only two women cleaned this level in the last week, and our luck, the company keeps their dabs on file.”
“Good enough for me.” Doyle grinned at him. Dr Rees had high standards for her underlings, and Joseph Quo was top of the class. “Ahmadi’s been a suspect for quite a while, but this Japhia’s a new one.”
“Girlfriend?” Rees ventured. She straightened after carefully dropping trace evidence into a baggie. “His sort would always be looking for new prospects—not only to prove his ability to recruit, but to increase the might of the cause. Many of the girls who’ve recently flown to the Middle East are not are going there to fight as much as marry the soldiers.”
“What a waste.” Bodie shook his head.
“Barbaric, subjugated by their husbands, pregnant constantly,” Rees said angrily.
“It’s the culture,” Bodie put in. “Even raised here in a free country, some girls’ve been taught that their only worth is to marry and produce sons.”
“I, for one, cannot abide such cruelty.” Rees packed the baggies into her hold-all, slotting her equipment into side pockets. “We have to find new strategies to keep these girls safe—were you aware that Britain has the highest rate of female genital mutilation in Europe?”
Doyle grimaced. Didn’t have to be a woman to find that horrifying. He’d never really liked Dr Rees but her point was valid. Why would a young girl, assumedly raised in England, be interested in a life like that? Working for CI5, he was more than aware how easy it was to penetrate the thin veneer of civility and discover the nastiness and disease perpetrated by humanity.
“Ray,” Bodie called, staring at a book on a small desk with the distinctive flowing script. “You’ve been studying up. What does that say?”
Skirting the settee, Doyle came close enough behind Bodie to brush his wrist against the curve of his partner’s arse. Bodie shifted his weight very slightly, pressing back against Doyle. His need to touch his love mollified in the immediate, Doyle examined the title of the book. He didn’t have to puzzle out the unfamiliar first word, the name of the author came to him in an instant.
“Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” he read confidently. All those hours of learning Perso-Arabic script was paying off. It no longer looked like a line of connected curves and loops, but actual individual words.
“Wake, for the Sun, who scattered into flight the stars…” Bodie said from memory, twisting around with a flippant smile at Doyle. He fished a plastic bag out of his pocket and slipped the book inside. “Very raunchy, some of that poetry.”
“That all you think about?” Doyle said out of the side of his mouth. It wasn’t very politic to be flirting so outrageously at a crime scene. Luckily, their colleagues were used to the banter between he and Bodie, and none considered it unusual. Nor had anybody sussed out their real relationship—at least he hoped not.
“Not much else to do on those tramp steamers, my lad,” Bodie answered flippantly, leading the way to the vestibule. “Lots of time to memorise poetry and dream of the romances to come.”
Walking past, loaded down with a bin full of gear, Joseph heard the last. “Always wanted to run off, get involved in some kind of adventure.”
“And here you are, investigating potential terrorists,” Doyle said, flicking a hand at the room behind them.
“Not quite the same as shipping out to a war ravaged country to fight for freedom,” Quo countered, stepping into the main corridor of the building.
“It’s nothin’ like The Dangerous Book for Boys,” Bodie scoffed. “Mostly a mixture of boredom punctuated by visions of innocent villagers caught up in terror, small children with blood running down their faces…” He’d gone inside himself in seconds, revisiting the horror after a decade.
Quo sucked in a dismayed breath, clearly not expecting the answer he’d got. “Erm—“
“No bomb here, then?” Doyle said steadily, addressing Rees. He moved one inch over so that his arm was pressed against Bodie’s from wrist to shoulder. A stabilising touch, central to both of them. He felt Bodie inhale, a bit shaky, but present again.
“This Ahmadi worked on the device there—only on the table,” she said, climbing out of her bunny suit to reveal sensible twill trousers and a utilitarian pale blue t-shirt. She finger combed short brown curls into place before donning a dark blue tailored jacket. “The bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom had none of the chemical residues we were watching for, although it was clear they’d used those rooms.”
“So if it ain’t here,” Bodie spoke up, still bleak. “Where is it?”
“The question we must all ask ourselves.” Kelly Rees beckoned Quo to carry their bundles to the lift. “I’ll text my initial conclusions to Cowley, the rest will have to wait until we return to the lab and dig in.”
“Cheers,” Doyle said, waiting until they’d gone. There was no-one else on the third floor. The manager had told them earlier that the flat opposite was vacant. “Oi.” He tapped Bodie’s breastbone with his forefinger, grasping the zip of Bodie’s Tyvek suit to pull it down. “Chase those demons out.”
“Only Puff the Magic dragon,” Bodie scoffed, his blue eyes boring into Doyle’s. “Fever dreams of a begotten age.” He captured Doyle’s hand, giving it a squeeze before removing the crinkly coverall.
“We’ve a bomb to search for,“ Doyle said, reaching up to take off his own Tyvek hood.
“Hold on, your earring’s caught.“ The back of Bodie’s hand brushed Doyle’s cheek as he unhooked a tiny thread from the small gem in Doyle’s left lobe.
“You mean your earring?” Doyle retorted with a grin. Bodie had given him the smooth garnet for his January birthday two years earlier, right before taking him to the piercing shop. Bodie claimed it made him look like a pirate.
“Mine, yours, a little of both, I’d say.” Bodie pushed the hood back, ruffling Doyle’s curls. “Let’s go find our bomber before he gets himself plastered on the front page of the Times.”
“Keen eyed American tourists spotted a rucksack near the Aquascutum shop in Canary Wharf as it opened this morning,” George Cowley said without preamble when Bodie and Doyle walked into his office.
“Ahmadi’s?” Bodie blurted out, although he sounded like a right berk, even to his own ears.
“That is the assumption, from the components of the bomb inside, aye. Dr Rees and her team have it now.” Cowley gave him a sharp look, waving them to chairs. “CCTV caught images of a young man walking through the mall before shops were open and placing the rucksack, but face recognition proved it was neither Ahmadi or Dawson.”
“So we do have a picture,” Bodie said. That was good news.
“Not in the National database.” Cowley sighed. “Interpol and the Americans’ Homeland Security will get a chance to examine the image, pronto.”
“Was the rucksack made by Gap?” Doyle asked, slouching down in the seat on the right of Cowley’s large desk. “There was one at the flat. We brought it in for trace evidence.”
“Excellent. Then the lab can compare the two.” He took off his glasses, fingering the temple piece. “While you were at the Apartments, the bomb disposal unit was able to defuse the device before it exploded—“
“Can only imagine the carnage had it gone off in that mall, with shoppers packed in like sardines,” Doyle murmured with a grimace.
“Just so.” Cowley used the earpiece of his glasses to stab the air. “It could have been far more devastating than the Underground bombing in ’05.”
“Was the bomb detonated or deactivated?” Bodie asked. He’d learned rudimentary bomb disposal techniques when he was with the SAS. Never enough to feel confident when faced with a live weapon, although he had been forced by circumstance to defuse a few himself.
“Deactivated,” Cowley said. “I expect an update from Dr Rees in a few hours. We’ll be able to glean some of their secrets, at the very least.”
“Is there a lead on where Ahmadi could have obtained the RDX?” Doyle barely looked up from contemplating his navel.
“Exactly my question, 4.5.” Cowley nodded briskly. “I’ve got 6.2 and 5.3 canvassing sites that stockpile the chemical.”
“The American Army base?” Bodie suggested, “not to mention our own military installations.”
“Quite.” Cowley’s mobile phone bleated urgently and he picked up the latest Apple iPhone. “Yes?”
Bodie glanced at his partner, anxious to catch a break in this case, but Doyle’s eyes were closed. He had his arse half off the chair, feet braced on Cowley’s desk, which made his slender, jeans clad legs look like they went on forever. His hands were folded on his concave belly and chin resting on his chest, as if taking a kip during the interval.
Bodie sighed, envying Doyle’s ability to shut down. Felt like they’d been chasing one Al Qaeda sympathiser or another for years now. Almost made him yearn for the “good old days” of the IRA terrorists the older agents went on about when bladdered at the pub. It never ceased to amaze him that men—and women—could cast aside decent values such as honour to Queen and country, and set out on a destructive path that laid waste to what they’d been brought up to cherish. Of course, many could show a public face to their neighbours and friends, and harbour deep, subversive thoughts cultivated by family and colleagues intent on altering the very nature of democratic society. That went for both IRA supporters and Al Qaeda extremists.
“Thank you.” Cowley frowned and tapped his phone with a certain amount of irritation.
Doyle sat up so abruptly that the legs of his chair squeaked on the parquet flooring.
“Morning, sunshine!” Bodie said brightly, casting off the dark thoughts. He grinned at Doyle’s surly expression. Had Cowley not been there, he would have run a hand through his partner’s hair.
“That was Marquand from Passports and Immigration,” Cowley said, scribbling a note to himself. “We were too late in getting Ahmadi’s name on the no fly list—he and Miss Dawson flew out, bound for Istanbul in the wee hours last night.”
“Bugger.” Bodie slammed a fist into his hand. “Less’n twelve hours.”
“Ahmadi prepared the bomb but handed it off to someone else,” Doyle mused gloomily.
“Clear thinking, 4.5.” Cowley nodded with renewed interest. “More members of their cell to hunt down. In all probability, other students from Oxford, unless I miss my guess.”
Which very rarely happened, Bodie thought.
“Then we go forward with the operation as planned?” Doyle said, sounding resigned.
“Aye, laddie, as stands.” Cowley rested an elbow on his desk thoughtfully. “Since another student has emerged radicalised from the same college, we have to bear down on those involved.”
Bodie’s heart sped up. He hated the idea of Doyle going undercover alone, and had already aired his views on the subject more than once. Ahmadi was not the first ideological young convert to Al Qaeda that they could trace back to a college at Oxford University, and the department on Oriental studies. This was exactly why Doyle had been studying Persian for months. He was registered at St John’s College, beginning next week. The preparation had to be done in advance with the proviso that if they arrested a senior member of the radical cell prior to Doyle leaving for Oxford, he could drop out without ever taking a class.
Curious thing was, Bodie was well aware that Doyle was rather keen on the option of reading Literature at Oxford. He’d often mentioned how he wished he’d gone to Uni to study the classics instead of art college before changing over to the criminology studies that led to him joining the Met.
“Sir, we found a book in Ahmadi’s lounge that is on the list of required reading for the Persian Literature course I’ve enrolled in,” Doyle commented.
“Good catch, 4.5. With Professor Behrouz Sharif?”
“Spot on,” Doyle said. “There didn’t seem to be any writing in the margin from what we could see after the lab had checked for trace, nor proof that is was bought for that class, but a receipt tucked inside was from a WHSmith in Oxford, bought last March.”
“Ahmadi was Sharif’s class, was he?” Bodie asked. He’d looked over the boy’s file before the morning raid on his residence but hadn’t read every scrap, more’s the pity.
“I’ve got his school timetable here.” As always, Cowley seemed able to put his hand on the most obscure item required in a matter of seconds. He slid on his glasses to read over the class listing. “He was a top student, good marks. Had Persian Literature with Professor Sharif in the spring.”
“Then we’re definitely on the right track.” Doyle reached out to take the sheet of paper from his boss.
“Sharif has been high on our watch list since June, but thus far, we’ve had absolutely no proof that the man has ever got so much as a parking ticket,” Cowley lamented. “We can’t specifically connect him to any of the troubling incidents and we need to dig deeper.”
“It’s more than suspicious that three former students from the same department have been involved in pro-Al Qaeda rhetoric, not to mention making bombs,” Bodie said dryly. In June, a young woman called Beatrix Chambers, also studying at St John’s College, had convinced her special needs sister Deirdre to join her in a suicide bomb. A far more sensible minded sibling had alerted the police before destruction could occur, but it had been a near thing. The two were already outside a popular Oxfordshire pub called The Lamb and Flag when they were arrested. This was what had focussed CI5 on the College, and the Oriental studies department. It wasn’t until Michael Ahmadi began posting vitriolic fundamental Islamic comments on Twitter and Facebook that their investigation took shape. Now, he’d flown the coop just ahead of CI5’s crack-down. “Do you think Ahmadi was aware we were on his tail?”
“Does look that way.” Doyle rubbed his forehead with a grimace. “D’we know when he purchased his tickets?”
“First thing you two will be looking into, as well as more investigation on this Miss Dawson,” Cowley said decisively. “As for you, 3.7,” he went on, “once 4.5 is undercover, you’ll be—“
“A writer doing a travel type book on Oxford,” Bodie repeated dutifully. He’d already thought of a title: Oxford Bound. Sounded a mite smutty, which appealed to his sense of humour. “I can ask questions, poke around without looking like a right prat.”
“I’ll refrain from commentin’ that you always look like a—“ Doyle began with a wry twist of his mouth.
Bodie held up a threatening finger. They shouldn’t flirt in front of Father, but it was damned fun, especially with their separation looming.
“Proper berk,” Doyle finished.
“As you’ve both descended to the level of college students already, we’ll get down to brass tacks.” Cowley peered at them as if he’d never seen their like before. “Your accommodations are in St John’s College’s new building, Kendrew Quad, 4.5, so you’ll be able to mingle with other students.” He handed over a thick packet of papers. “Everything you will need for your assignment.”
“Cheers.” Doyle set to sorting through the paperwork, muttering to himself.
“You’ll be staying in a bed and breakfast a few streets away,” Cowley addressed Bodie, holding out a buff coloured A4 document wallet. “As well as your fact finding, I’ve arranged for you to meet with the local constabulary, D I Robert Lewis on Monday. I was acquainted with his former governor, D I Morse, and there was never a finer detective.”
This was the first Bodie had heard that he’d be liaising with the Oxfordshire police. He bit his tongue before asking whether it was wise to involve the local Bill with an investigation of this magnitude. “What will be the nature of their involvement?” he asked cautiously, seething inwardly. The red trainer clad foot Doyle brushed against Bodie’s own plimsoll only slightly tempered his ire.
“Departmental cooperation, nothing more,” Cowley said, his pale blue eyes not telling whole truths. “They’re familiar with the territory, and aware of low level stirrings in the student population.”
Bodie could well imagine the behind the scenes discussions that must have set these ducks in a row. Cowley preferred to reign over his patch as a benevolent but ruthless dictator. He rarely took suggestions from the lower orders.
“You believe that Cowley wants us to make nice with those Oxford bottles?” Bodie groused, bypassing the lift for the stairs down to the street level of CI5.
“What’ve you got against coppers?” Doyle asked mildly, bumping his hip on Bodie’s, as per usual when they were walking side by side. His years in the Met had been fraught but he held no grudges except to the tainted Vice coppers who’d perpetrated all manner of graft and corruption in the name of the law.
“Nothing at present,” Bodie quipped, eyeing the bulge in Doyle’s skin tight jeans. “But I’d like to have a chance grind my …axe, shall we say, in the municipal body?”
“You’re terrible, you are, and here when we’ve got to talk with Japhia’s family first.” Doyle side-stepped Bodie’s grab at his arse and swung around the stair railing to the lobby.
The Dawson flat was one of dozens in a low cost housing block on London’s east end. Far down in status from The Apartments at Sloan Club. Small children played in a grassy yard between the buildings while their hijab wearing mothers and grandmothers hung clothes on lines strung between spindly trees. The area was largely Middle Eastern immigrants mixed in with a smattering of new arrivals from other war torn countries in Africa. It was like the Tower of Babel on a smaller scale.
Doyle heard snatches of familiar words or phrases in various tongues as he and Bodie walked toward the south block, most of them in the realm of “police” or “look who’s here.” His spoken Farsi was rudimentary, he could read the language far better. Bodie had French from when he was fighting in Republic of Congo.
He snickered as they climbed the stairs to the third level.
Doyle cast him a look, hoping there was something to improve his mood. He didn’t like rousting people, particularly those who were frequently suspected because they were easily identifiable as other than commonplace Anglo-Saxon.
“The layabouts in front of the western block were telling naughty jokes in French,” Bodie explained. “Difficult to translate exactly but along the lines of Ikea had built a woman. The buyer didn’t want to follow the instructions in Swedish. He simply jammed his male – “
“Tool?” Doyle supplied
“Into the female bit—“
“Just as every other yobbo does,” Doyle finished, grimacing. “Flat number 307, up the stairs.”
“Ever wonder why we’re required to submit to Macklin’s abuse every six months?” Bodie groused, mounting the steps. “We’re up and down nine times a day. Should count as cardiovascular exercise, don’t you think?”
“What about the hand to hand combat?” Doyle asked, well aware he was playing straight man.
“Got you for that, petal, at home.” Bodie mimed jerking off before turning down an open passageway toward the doors marked 305 to 310.
“Not what Cowley has in mind, is it?” Doyle smirked.
A girl of about twelve or thirteen opened the door at Bodie’s knock. She was dressed as nearly every other 21st century child: pink and purple flowered leggings and a t-shirt bearing the image of David Tennant as Doctor Who.
“Wotch y’want?” she asked in broad Cockney.
“Is Firoozeh Dawson in?” Bodie asked politely, holding up his warrant card with the CI5 identification.
“Mum!” the girl shouted, still staring at them with eyes far too suspicious for one so young. “You’a copper?”
“Not me,” Bodie said staunchly.
Doyle had the urge to kick him.
“He was once, though.” Bodie waggled his thumb at Doyle. “May we come in?”
“Not half,” an older voice said.
Doyle had expected Japhia’s mother to be one of the typical Muslim women they’d seen in the courtyard. So much for pre-conceived notions and his own distaste of racial profiling. She was as tall as Bodie but broader, dyed blond hair pulled into an frowsy ponytail, and wearing a similar outfit to her daughter’s, only with the Tardis on her t-shirt. The blue and green striped leggings were stretched to the utmost around thick thighs.
“I’m Farie Dawson, lemme see you h’identification,” she slurred, her breath reeking of booze.
“Raymond Doyle,” he said, holding his ID up next the Bodie’s. “CI5.”
“Well, ain’t we all ‘igh and mighty.” She rolled her eyes. Blue and green eye-shadow, to match the leggings, had been applied with an unsteady hand. “Queen Lizzie asked me t’tea, ‘as she?”
“We goin’ to Buck’ng’ton Palace?” the younger girl asked.
“Sefra, go on with you,” her mother said roughly, giving her a swat about her head. “Got the Doctor queued up on the DVD. I’ll jus’ be a tick with these gen’l’men.”
Sefra pouted, rubbing her ear. Casting one last distrustful look at Bodie and Doyle, she went back into the flat.
“You have a daughter called Japhia?” Bodie asked.
“Yeah.” Farie shook a fag out of a squashed box and lit up, blowing smoke into Doyle’s face. “Not here just now. Wot she done?”
“Does she have a male friend called Michael Ahmadi?” Doyle added, trying not to cough.
“Oh, ‘im.” Her lip curled up as she took a drag. “The bleedin’ sheikh, ‘imself. Was gonna get ‘er knocked up, I reckoned. That’s why I’ve sent her to her gran’s, in Kharistan. She’ll be studying there for a year.”
Doyle’s belly tightened, even though they’d already known Japhia was out of the country. “He went with her,” he said tightly. “They left last night for Istanbul.”
“No, she left three days ago.” Farie tossed the fag onto the walkway.
Doyle ground it out with his heel.
“When was her flight?” Bodie asked.
“Fifth of October,” she answered, some of the bluster gone out of her. “M’brover took her to Heathrow. How’d you know she ain’t left then?”
“Passports and Immigration registered her leaving last night,” Doyle said gently. “You called Ahmadi “the sheikh”. What did you know about him?”
Farie glanced nervously around the walkway, waiting as a woman in full black veil sailed past carrying laundry and dragging a small boy by the hand.
“You’d best come in,” Farie growled, holding the door open wider.
His left eyebrow canted even more sharply than usual, Bodie held out a hand for Doyle to proceed him. Inside, Doyle could hear the distinctive wheezing sound of the Tardis landing from an episode of Doctor Who. Despite the mundane surroundings, it was always a dangerous gamble to walk into a flat unawares. Should he suspect an ambush, or had they sufficiently ambushed Farie already? He was glad Bodie was behind him.
Bypassing an untidy lounge piled high with clothes, newspapers, old mail and mouldy food where Sefra and a younger boy were watching the telly, Farie led them down a short passageway. Doyle took a quick look at the photos on the walls. The most recent showed three kids; the two he’d just seen plus Japhia, flashing brown eyes and dark brown hair without the purple and blue highlights.
Farie went into the bedroom. There were three beds crammed into the tiny room, each clearly designated for one of the three children.
Doyle guessed which was Japhia’s without being told. Sefra’s bed had a pink Hello Kitty spread, the boy’s featured Transformers, and Japhia’s blue and white striped duvet was still bunched up in the middle of the mattress. A poster of Justin Bieber was taped to the blue sprigged wallpaper above her pillow and girl’s clothing spilled onto the floor. Half hidden under a silver sequined dress that seemed far too small for a teenaged girl, Doyle saw the glint of something far more enticing than a party dress.
He prodded Bodie with his elbow. Bodie nodded, glancing around the room. He remained by the door.
Farie dropped onto Sefra’s bed, hands limp in her lap. “Goin’ to that hoi-polloi college was a mistake from the beginning, weren’t it?”
“What college?” Doyle questioned, although he already knew. He itched to open the computer and search out Japhia’s files. Would there be Al Qaeda secrets or simply homework and Youtube videos on her bookmarks?
“Our Japhia’s got brains, she has,” Farie said, looking down at her own worn and callused hands. “Didn’t want her t’ave to work in a laundry like I always done. She studied ‘ard, got a scholarship to Oxford, of all places.” She shrugged, life beating her down once again. “I couldn’t believe it. And then she was taking up with that boy—he weren’t no good influence, I’ll say that much. Taking her to the mosque…”
“You don’t go to the mosque?” Bodie asked, relaxing enough to sit on the pink Kitty spread opposite Farie.
“We’ve never been religious, not even when I was a girl back in Kharistan. Me own mum and dad come here because he got a job in 1983—and I liked livin’ in London. Freer, you know? We didn’t cover ourselves, nor leave off drinking a pint at the pub.” She fisted her hands together, grimacing, but there were tears in her eyes. “I’d kill for one right now. I thought Japhia’d get over this sudden interest in Allah and all that. Move on, but when he kept on at her…she act’lly wanted to go to Kharistan—never been before. Get a sense of ‘er roots, she said.”
Disturbed, but keeping a straight face, Doyle nodded sympathetically. “Did you know she was living with Ahmadi in a Sloane Square flat?”
“Blimey.” Farie shuddered. “She’s knocked up, I know it.”
“We think she may have had more—radical leanings,” Bodie began. “Did she talk about the superiority of Islam or inciting harm, anything like that?”
“Like them militants on the news?” she scoffed, picking at torn and ragged cuticles. “Not likely. She was just—passionate, about the culture, y’know. The literature. Loved taking that class on Persian stories, readin’ ‘em in Farsi, like we ever spoke that in our ‘ouse.”
Passionate enough to work on a bomb with Ahmadi?
“Besides Ahmadi, did she have any other friends at St John’s?” Bodie asked casually, as if he were making polite conversation. “We need a list of students who knew them both.”
“She’s mentioned a few t’me. Not many. Acted all ‘igh and migh’y, like I wouldn’ understand her new life.” Farie screwed up her face, thinking. “Yazmin were one. She called ‘ere once when Japhie were home on holiday.”
“Would you know Yazmin’s last name?” Doyle leaned closer to her, hopeful for any kind of a clue to Japhia’s whereabouts.
“Erm, she did pal ‘round with me brover Khal’s son and daughter.”
“Khal?” Bodie prompted.
“Khalid Rouhani. His son’s Mohammed, like me da was—and me ex-husband. His girl’s named for me, poor lamb, saddled with Firoozeh. Calls herself Beyonce, instead.”
“Takes some hubris.” Bodie chuckled. “Can you give us their address and phone number?”
Farie pulled a battered Android phone from the waistband of her leggings and showed Bodie the information. He copied it into his contact list.
“She took Persian Literature from Professor Behrouz Sharif, yeah?” Doyle pointed to the laptop on the bed. “Is that hers? Do you know why she didn’t bring it with her to Kharistan?”
“Mystery t’me. The whole thing’s a mystery to me. I don’ know me own daughter no more.” Her face hardened. “Her da was the same way. No use for praying on his rug all day long and suddenly, two years ago, he’s off and moved back to Kharistan, to be closer to his God. Haven’t heard a lick from the sod, not got a bloody twenty p, either.”
“So her father lives there?” Bodie sat up with interest. “Mohammed, you said?”
“Ain’t that a crock?” she snorted derisively. “Most calls him Mo. Mo Dawson, his da was an Irishman, his ma were from some place in the Middle East, not Kharistan.” She spread her hands helplessly. “I dunno his address, he don’t write to me nor the little ‘uns. We could use the dosh, let me tell you.”
“Was Japhia in contact with Mo?” Bodie pressed.
“Just said I ain’t heard from ‘im, didn’t I?” she retorted with a hint of real anger.
“We’ll need the names of the relatives your daughter was going to stay with,” Doyle said, glancing at Bodie. They had a job to do, but both of them were generally good at reading a witness. Farie didn’t have a clue what had been going on while her daughter was at Oxford. “As well as that computer.”
“She’s washed ‘er hands of me, I’ll do the same.” Farie clenched her jaw tightly, her fleshy chin quivering slightly. “I got enough on me plate with those other two.” She shoved aside the sparkly dress and hefted the laptop. “I never even used one before. I can wash clothes, that’s all I know.”
“It’s an important trade,” Bodie assured her, gently taking the computer. “We’ll have our experts look it over, hopefully discover what she’s got herself into.”
“Just—“ Farie looked around the messy room as if seeing it for the first time. “I don’ wan’ t’know if she’s killed anyone.” She raised her finger to her mouth, biting down on a broken cuticle. “Don’t call me unless she’s dead.”
“Makes you take a look at your own family in new light, doesn’t it,” Bodie said philosophically when they were back in their blue Ford Focus. He turned the key in the ignition. “Me gran and I never had a lot, but we got by.”
“You left soon enough, much like Japhia,” Doyle pointed out.
He chuckled, navigating through the congested streets of London. “That’s what teens do—leave the nest to find something supposedly better. In my case, I doubt my gran liked me haring off to join up with mercenaries any more than Japhia’s mum does.”
“Quite dangerous, I’d say,” Doyle said dryly. “Even if you didn’t get religion.”
Bodie shifted his eyes left to look at his partner. They were both fagged out, needed food, if not a break in the case so that Doyle wouldn’t have to go off to Oxford and that bloody professor. “Something to that. All that we’ve learned about Ahmadi, he’s a persuasive speaker, seductive—he made her feel like she’d missed something vital without Allah in her life.”
“Yeah.” Doyle squinted in the October sun and slid on his sunglasses. “You ever feel like that?”
“Went to church about four times in me life, willingly.” Bodie paused, staring at a gaggle of uniformed schoolgirls in the zebra crossing. All wore the requisite gray skirts, white shirt and gray blazers of their local school. Two girls also sported dark scarves tied over their hair, marking them as Muslim. London was a much more—what was the right description? The city had always been cosmopolitan, a cross-roads of the entire globe, but the old stand-by, the Church of England, was not the mainstream religion any longer. Increasingly, Muslims, Hindis and every other belief system prayed cheek and jowl with Anglicans. He liked the diversity—it was the distrust, resentment and prejudice that he abhorred. All in the name of worship to a God he wasn’t entirely sure he believed existed. “Wouldn’t have done that much, except those were funerals.”
“Surely you had to attend chapel at school most mornings?” Doyle asked in surprise.
“I said went willingly. Weekly chapel was required, but I skipped as often as possible without getting tossed out of school.”
“Went to the Catholic school, when me da could afford it.” Doyle crossed himself in a perfunctory manner. “Missing chapel was a mortal sin.” He pulled a face, sticking out his tongue like the school boy he’d been.
“Do you still believe?” Bodie asked, slipping the car into a parking spot down one street from headquarters. He had a feeling he knew the answer all ready. Doyle had a philosopher’s head and the heart of a poet. He was much more apt to go for the quiet, abstract belief of the divine. Bodie needed concrete thought. Actions were what he understood.
“There’s the question.” Doyle climbed out of the car, leaning on the bonnet. “I want to. I was raised to. I want to feel that there’s a superior being, not who controls things so much as helps. Sometimes to fight, sometimes to heal.”
“March seven times round Jericho blowing a horn?” Bodie teased. As if defeating the enemy—whomever that might be—could be that easy.
“So you have read the Bible.” Doyle grinned and cocked his head toward Bodie’s favourite fish and chips shop down the way. “Feeling peckish?”
“Again I tell you, long voyages on ships are ultimately boring unless there’s something to read.” Bodie elbowed him in the ribs. “You buying?”
“Apparently.” Doyle rolled his eyes. “And if we’re lucky, Jax and McCabe’ll have returned from poking into Ahmadi’s past by the time we’ve pigged on vinegar soaked chips.”
Robbie Lewis strode down the corridor of the police department, catching sight of his sergeant. He didn’t often get a chance to unabashedly watch James Hathaway from afar. He indulged himself, taking in the endless long legs, clad in sensible gray trousers that elegantly hugged his slim arse.
Robbie Lewis, you old letch, he admonished himself ruefully. The lad is in your bed most nights, yet you act like this is the first time you’ve laid eyes on him.
“James,” Lewis called out to prevent Hathaway from thinking he had sneaked up on him.
“Sir,” Hathaway said in that sly, mocking tone, his neutral expression giving nothing away.
Lewis could read him like a book after all this time and saw the twinkle in blue eyes, the tiny quirk of his upper lip. They both had reason to be glad to shake the dust of the department off their shoes today. The most recent case hadn’t been all that difficult to solve, nor as devastating to the spirit as some were, but it surely ranked high in both stupidity and grief. An idiot seventeen year old boy had texted nude photos of his fourteen year old girlfriend to all and sundry, including—accidentally or on purpose, Robbie was not yet sure--to the girl’s da. Said father had slugged the boy in the chest, directly over his breastbone. Caused a pericardial effusion, something neither Robbie nor Hathaway had previously known anything about. They did now. The membrane around the heart swelled, squeezing the heart muscle to a stop. The boy died in hospital two days later. The father was in jail, charged with murder.
What an utter waste. So many lives ruined.
Mind, Robbie could well imagine doing something similar had anyone sent out naked photos of his Lynn.
“Well, bonny lad, what do you have planned for this free weekend?” He fell in step beside Hathaway, enjoying the feel of the sun on his face. Being early October, the wind had a damp chill. It was still fantastic to be able to walk beside James, feeling that all was, if not right with the world, then at least better for them having policed their little patch of Oxford.
“After a pint?” Hathaway lifted a wry eyebrow, leading the way into their favourite pub. “Got a gig with the band.”
Waiting until the overworked girl at the bar to fill a glass for another customer, Lewis ordered two pints. He and James picked up a glass, threading through the throng of football fans watching a game on the telly over the bar. Lewis claimed the table next to the river. A brisk wind was coming off the water, ruffling Hathaway’s longer than usual flaxen hair.
“Where are you playing?” Lewis tasted his brew with a satisfied nod.
“Abingdon-on-Thames,” Hathaway said, naming an ancient town not far from Oxford.
“Thriving metropolis, that,” Robbie said. “Heaving with music lovers, is it?”
“I believe—“ Hathaway took a long drink before he continued speaking. “I understand, anyway, that this will be a benefit to support the legalisation of marijuana in England.”
“Oh, well, having a copper playing might be a detractor for those using?” Lewis asked, chuckling. “Yet, on the other hand, could be seen as an endorsement on the part of the Thames Valley Police.”
“Sir, I promise not to inhale, but I doubt the contact high from the cloud of fragrant smoke will interfere with my finger work on In a Godda da Vida.” Hathaway smirked, ducking his head over his beer. Under the table, he pressed his leg from ankle to knee up against Lewis’. “Are you interested in tickets? I could get you front row.”
“Regrettably, I also have a prior engagement this evening.” Robbie couldn’t help smiling at James’ smooth, smug face. He hid so much and yet he had such an undercurrent of private amusement. “Laura’s got season tickets to the opera. Rigoletto.”
“Could sing you an aria, if you’re in the mood,” Hathaway proposed.
“After, fiend.” Robbie kicked him under the table.
Hathaway’s blue eyes went wide in astonishment. “Might not, now,” he said with a sniff. “I’ll be off, then, skinning into my jeans on my own.”
Now there was an image Robbie would have all during the opera. “Oh, forgot to tell you, Innocent’s saddled us with a liaison with an agent from CI5 in the morning.”
Hathaway lowered his empty glass. “Spies in Oxford?”
“My lad, I never took you for naïve.” Especially as James had been approached by MI5 during his university days to work as an agent. Robbie tapped him on the arm simply for the chance to touch him publicly. “With the shenanigans those college ruffians get up to, I suspect there are spies living full time in our patch.”
“Boggles the mind, sir,” Hathaway murmured. “I’ll ring you before leaving Abington.”
“I’ll put me mobile on vibrate,” Lewis promised.
“Safely tucked away in your front trouser pocket?” Hathaway threw over his shoulder, walking toward the river to his rarely used flat.
Robbie guffawed while swallowing and the beer went down the wrong pipe. Luckily, Laura Hobson arrived in time to pound him on the back.
He only hoped she hadn’t overheard the exchange that caused his coughing fit.
“Think there’s a way to sneak into your lodgings at the college for a late night tryst?” Bodie whispered in Doyle’s ear when he had him completely naked in their bedroom. Technically, it was his bedroom. CI5 operated on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. He and Doyle had separate flats, several miles apart. They alternated where they spent their time, and on the odd occasion, invited women over, for the appearance of heterosexuality.
“Think of my reputation!” Doyle retorted, back against the wall. “There must be—“ he hitched a breath as Bodie pressed a line of kisses down his neck to his collar bone. “R-regulations about that sort of…”
“Fraternisation?” Bodie finished, biting down, very gently, on his victim’s right nipple.
Doyle howled, grabbing hold of the first thing he put his hand on—Bodie’s cock.
“You’d better have plans for that,” Bodie warned, the sensation of Doyle’s warm palms against his sensitive flesh doing wonderful things to his libido. He braced his stance when Doyle moved to the left, still holding on.
“What did you have in mind?” Doyle asked with a dazzling, slightly crazed, smile.
Clearly he was pleased that Bodie was no longer biting his nipples. This called for retaliation—as soon as Bodie climaxed, that is. He wasn’t quite there, but he could be, if Doyle would only--
Doyle tugged very gently on Bodie’s manhood, using it like a leash.
That hurt! Bodie took a step to relieve the pressure building up in his groin, groaning when Doyle flicked Bodie’s balls with his pinkie. The fleeting contact sparked the fire in Bodie’s core. He’d been aroused; now he was unable to wait. Risking his own flesh, he countered Doyle’s side step, hooking his foot around his partner’s. Caught by surprise, Doyle tumbled, releasing his hold on Bodie’s cock, and fell to his knees.
“Think you’re the clever lad, don’t you?” He chuckled, licking the full length of Bodie’s cock.
“Oi,” Bodie chided, trying unsuccessfully to sound angry. God, he’d miss this when they had to maintain a distance from one another. Sometimes these bloody undercover ops could take weeks. “Get to it, you. Haven’t got hours, you don’t.”
“Could take hours,” Doyle murmured, peering up through his lashes.
The angle accentuated the misalignment of his right cheekbone, but somehow, he’d never looked more beautiful. Those blue-green eyes sparkling with mischief and joy, his lips parted enough to show the chipped tooth. Bodie loved him truly, madly, passionately. He grabbed a handful of curls, pushing his fingers into Doyle’s scalp, and sat on the edge of the bed.
Doyle purred like a big cat, leaning forward to suck Bodie’s cock into his mouth. The first plunge into that warm, wet cavern was something Bodie could never get enough of. Skitters of lightning zinged through his chest and down his legs, and he was glad he wasn’t standing any longer.
“Take your time, sunshine,” he murmured, knotting his fingers in Doyle’s hair.
Doyle came off just long enough to mutter, “say that now, you do.” He closed his lips tightly around Bodie’s cock, alternating between sucking and swirling his tongue around the length.
Bodie closed his eyes, leaning back on his elbows as all his strength went into his lower regions. Sublime. His balls tightened, especially when Doyle wrapped his left hand around the entire sack, applying the right amount of pressure. Bodie exhaled, wanting to extend the exquisite sensations for a few moments longer but his body betrayed him. The gathering explosion couldn’t be contained. He orgasmed; Doyle’s rhythmic suction draining him dry.
Shuddering, Bodie collapsed onto the bed, savouring the tiny detonations still going off throughout his body.
“Put you through the mangle, yeah?” Doyle said smugly in his ear, stretched out behind him, chest against Bodie’s back. Both of them lay across the middle of the bed instead of head to foot.
“Washed, wrung out and ready to hang on the line,” Bodie said, completely relaxed. He tucked up his knees, calves bracketing Doyle’s legs. “Ta. Time for a kip.” Pillowing his head on one arm, he closed his eyes, knowing Doyle would retaliate immediately.
“Selfish git!” Doyle latched onto Bodie’s foot, fluttering his fingers across the insole.
His most ticklish spot. Bodie rolled over automatically and kneed his assailant, deliberately missing the groin. He grinned evilly at Doyle’s outraged expression. Wrapping his arms around Doyle’s narrow waist, Bodie swiftly flipped them both. They landed with Doyle flat on his back, Bodie astride his hips, as he’d planned.
“Like to have you this way every day.” He had to banish the dark thoughts that disturbed his psyche when he was alone. Their separation would not endanger Doyle. Just because previous students in the Persian Literature class had constructed bombs and pledged to follow Al Qaeda didn’t mean there were any more of them. Doyle’s poking around did not mean he would be targeted for death.
Even so, Bodie couldn’t stop himself from running his forefinger along the visible scar on Doyle’s ribcage from the surgery that had removed bullets in his chest less than two years ago.
“You’re teetering too close to the cliff, and we can’t have you fallin’ in the pit,” Doyle chided gently, reaching up to stroke Bodie’s neck. With Bodie’s weight on his middle, he couldn’t bend forward very well but he arched his neck until he could kiss the closest wrist.
Bodie shivered, surprised at how turned on he still was, and inhaled, scooting back onto Doyle’s thighs. “Got a bridge over the cavern, I’ll have you know,” Bodie whispered, running his fingers delicately along the underside of Doyle’s cock. “It’s you, cretin.”
Doyle exhaled in a noisy rush, his arms falling limp at his sides. “You’re the rope I cling to,” he stated, closing his eyes to everything but the sensation of Bodie’s fingers.
Bodie completely understood. The analogy of falling down a precipice was far too apt, not only for the sex but for their jobs. It was so easy to cover up the fear and ever present danger with rough humour. But they’d been partners for years, and lovers for almost that long, and both understood the banter was a stand in for those words that were difficult to say. Love. Devotion. Commitment. Those were their touchstones—and each knew that they would always return to one another in the end.
Enough of the maudlin. He interspersed the feather light strokes to Doyle’s cock with a sudden crush of the scrotum that nearly levitated Doyle off the mattress. He glared at Bodie, those changeable eyes glittering with challenge. Bodie only had to lick the stiff cock one single time to reduce Doyle to incomprehensible begging.
Chuckling evilly, Bodie hollowed his cheeks, slurping Doyle in like he was swallowing a 99 flake. Doyle howled and came, pumping his seed. Bodie pulled off, catching the majority in his hands. He didn’t like the flavour but that didn’t mean he didn’t love reducing Doyle to boneless relaxation.
Wiping up with the towel kept on the bedside cabinet for that purpose, he drifted off, cuddled into Doyle. Only to wake up less than ten minutes later chilled to the bone. Damned radiator that didn’t come on unless the temperature dropped below a certain level. Which was generally far too cold for Bodie. He tried to slip out of Ray’s embrace—although vacating the warm spot left him even colder than before—but Doyle protested sleepily.
Bodie stood reluctantly. “Need a shower,” he said, leaning into the small WC to turn on the light.
“Don’t use all the hot water, and I’ll take one after.” Doyle sat up, pulling the coverlet around his naked body. “I should get back to my own flat and stuff the last of me most disreputable jeans into a duffle. Have to play the part of the starving student.”
Showers were had and toast was laid on. Bodie was peckish, despite the earlier fish and chips. He’d poured two cups of tea when Doyle emerged from the bedroom, yanking Bodie’s new blue jumper over his head.
“Oi!” Bodie objected irritably. “Thought you said disreputable. Bought that this week.”
“Something borrowed, something blue?” Doyle said with an inward smile, taking up the tea cup and blowing across the surface. Steam enveloped his face.
“That’s for weddings.” Bodie swatted at his arse without making contact. He was touched that Doyle wanted to have something of his, but wasn’t about to say so.
“I’ll text once I’ve settled in.” Doyle slurped the tea, head ducked over the cup. “Decided what you’ll call yourself yet?
“Randy and lonely in Oxford.” Bodie finished off his toast with a loud crunch of the crispy crust.
“Fancy you’ll be right popular with the ladies, git. Who’ll you be when you’re at home?” Doyle retorted.
“Going back to Kilroy,” he said.
“William or Phillip?” Doyle guessed, dunking his cup in the sink.
“Haven’t given it a thought.”
“Phillip suits you. PK. Mind you, may just use Randy--”
This time, Bodie did smack Doyle’s fine arse.
Doyle danced away and picked up his jacket from where it had landed on the floor when they’d come in earlier. “I’m off. Actually looking forward to studying the Rubaiyat of Omar K., but that advanced class in Farsi will be a bear.”
“Keep up your grades, old son.” Bodie used his forefinger under Doyle’s chin to raise his head until he could see his eyes. The eyes that could see right through him and understood that he was worried. “Already made your mum and me proud just gettin’ into Oxford.”
“Gerroff,” Doyle snarled, teeth bared in a half grin. “I’ll be at the Lamb and Flag at half past seven Monday, having a pint. Don’t be late.”
Kendrew Quad was the brand new accommodations for older students attending St John’s College. Very modern, with none of the elegant, gingerbread-tinge stone, ornamental carvings many of the buildings in Oxford sported. The street was heaving with students all unloading parcels, bundles and suitcases to stuff into their new quarters.
After driving round for ten minutes, Doyle manoeuvered the ancient Capri he’d checked out of CI5’s garage into a place by the kerb. It had been years since he’d had to move himself into a new flat. Generally, that was done by a dedicated moving team who swapped an agent’s belongings out of the old digs and into new ones whilst said agent was away.
Doyle sighed, casting an eye up at the building. It certainly looked brand new—wide glass windows shining as if they’d been polished that morning. Reddish wood slats across all the windows lent it a strangely prison-ish air, but maybe that was simply his paranoia taking hold. He had a job to do, and first order of business was to trundle his bedding, clothes, laptop, and other paraphernalia into his new place, on his own.
Many of the students around him had helpers in the form of parents or friends. Kendrew was supposed to be for the more mature student, but Doyle felt ancient when he spied a fresh faced teenage girl unloading a van and chatting with a man who appeared to be in his late thirties. That is, until Doyle realised that the student moving in was the man. Perhaps he wouldn’t look out of place, at that.
Deciding to take his computer with him rather than leave it in the car, Doyle shouldered his duffle stuffed with clothes and followed the trail of newcomers into the building.
It was chilly enough that he was grateful for Bodie’s jumper over his thin t-shirt and the well worn jeans with the patch on the bum. After the momentary fear that he would look too old or out of place, he could now see that he fit right in. Many other students sported earrings, long shaggy hair and scarves around the neck just as he did. He’d pulled his curls into a messy tail, as well.
A harassed woman wearing a scarf in the style of a Kharistani Muslim directed traffic. “Name?” she asked briskly the moment Doyle crossed the threshold into a wide courtyard.
“Duncan,” he replied, shifting the duffle to hold out his registration forms for Kendrew. “Raymond.”
She consulted her clipboard, ticking off his name. “You’re in the right place. I am Adeleh Bashir, residential advisor. You’ll pick up your room assignment and keys in that queue.”
“Ta.” He nodded as she turned to another student coming in. Doyle walked a few feet farther to stand behind a man perhaps only a couple years younger than himself. Might as well make friends—who knows what he could learn right off. “This is my first term, is it always like this on the first weekend?” he asked.
“More or less.” The tall, dark eyed man turned around. His accent was standard received pronunciation, British through and through, although his heritage was clearly eastern European or Arabian. He had dark hair, as glossy as a raven’s wing. “This chaos is mainly because Kendrew is new and we’re all moving in at once.” There was something incredibly intense about him. He looked Doyle up and down like a UK Border agent assessing his worth to be allowed into the country. “I’ve been at Oxford for years.”
“Good to know in case I get turned ‘round.” Doyle stuck out his hand. “Ray Duncan.”
“Shahin Najafi,” he said over his shoulder as he moved closer to the head of the queue.
That name pinged in Doyle’s memory. He’d seen it before, but where? Picturing the paperwork he’d pored over in the last few days, Doyle almost clicked his fingers. Najafi was Professor Sharif’s teaching assistant. This was opportune! All the more when he discovered that he and Najafi were next door neighbours on the third floor of the building.
“Guess I’ll be seeing you fairly often.” Doyle held up his key with a grin.
“As long as you don’t play your music too loudly, we’ll get along fine.” Najafi punched the button to the lift, waiting until Doyle got in.
Compared with some of the old buildings where CI5 had housed Doyle in the past, Kendrew Quadrangle was a palace. The lift was silent and quick, the carpets unsullied and even the wood in the hallway smelt new.
“You prefer Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C major or Beethoven’s fifth?” Doyle asked lightly.
“I prefer silence when I pray five times a day,” Najafi answered with fervor.
His burning intensity was nearly overwhelming. Doyle was used to powerful men, but this guy seemed to fill the small lift. Made him almost want to take a step back. Doyle held his ground. “You pray five times a day?” he repeated. “Then you’re Muslim?”
“Exactly. I pray before dawn, noon, mid afternoon, sunset and before bed.” Najafi waved a hand toward the corridor when the lift doors opened. “if you have any prejudice to my religion, you’ll have to take it up with the board of the college. I do not apologise nor hide my belief in Allah.”
“No, on the contrary, that’s why I’m here, at St John’s,” Doyle exclaimed, juggling his duffle and computer to find the key he’d stuffed in his pocket. Damned tight jeans. “I am really fascinated by Islam. I wasn’t raised in any church, but found Allah a few years ago. I really want to delve deeper—I plan to study Persian Literature, immerse myself in the culture, the language, the religion.”
“That’s a promising start. We should get together, talk,” Najafi said, far more friendly than he’d been before. “We welcome converts. There is an Oxford University Islamic Society, and a group of us often meet for prayers and discussion.”
“It’s so volatile lately,” Doyle said apologetically, stopping by room 303. “I’ve been reticent to discuss my interest in converting, even what I want to study, because of the bombing in the underground five years ago. Friends of mine are extremely anti-Muslim.”
“None of us at Oxford are radicals who renounce all Christians as infidels,” Najafi explained. “We embrace those who believe and want to read the Koran, pray to Allah. It’s difficult to know whom to trust. But I assure you, if you come to one of our sessions, your eyes will be opened.”
“This is even better than I expected,” Doyle gushed. “Will we be in any of the same classes, as well?”
“I do most of my post-graduate work with Professor Sharif.” Najafi slid his key into 301 and opened his door.
“I’m taking Persian Literature with him!”
“We’ll have many opportunities to talk, then, Duncan.” He disappeared into his room.
Doyle stood inside his new lodgings, a chill running down his spine. He couldn’t place exactly why he had such a sense of distrust. This was far too easy, meeting Najafi literally moments after he stepped on campus. He wanted to see this as a positive sign, but the paranoia that had been tweaked earlier was raging strongly now. Would opening himself to a person well connected to the main suspect turn out to be an asset or a curse?
Giving himself a shake, Doyle dropped the duffle and computer on the plain mattress and went out to the car to get the rest of his possessions.
Bodie spent Saturday morning at the CI5 gym, besting Murphy in a fencing match, even after a six mile run and fifty laps in the pool. He had to keep Doyle out of his brain, at least for the present, or he’d constantly fixate on what Doyle was doing. This was the stress of undercover work. Not only was there the ever present fear of being found out but the added worry from the partner not under that he would lose contact with his friend and never find out what had happened.
He and Murphy had fenced for drinks—the loser had to pay. There was a pub in the ground floor of the CI5 building, all panelled with dark wood as if it had been there for a century instead of less than a decade. Bodie was just tasting his ale when his mobile vibrated against his hip. Always gave him a bit of a thrill. He swallowed the beer and fished the phone from his pocket. A text message.
“Doyle?” Murphy inquired.
Bodie nodded, cherishing any morsel of a connection. “He’s in his room,” he read, “and met Shahin Najafi. Wants more info on him.”
“Working on a Saturday? The injustice to the working class bloke.” Murphy pretended to sigh dramatically, taking a healthy swig of beer for his troubles.
“Najafi and Ahmadi must know each other. Need to uncover exactly how well,” Bodie mused. “Oy, you ever suss out where Ahmadi got the RDX?”
“Yeah. You don’t read the reports I send out? Open up your laptop once in a while, would you?”
“I’ve been with you these last two hours, you could have told me any number of times without all the aggro,” Bodie retorted. He flicked his eyes to the text before shoving the phone in his pocket. He hadn’t expected a personal message, and why would there be? Doyle was on assignment. Bodie was acting like a sentimental fool, the lover left behind to pine the hours until he saw his amour once again. “A theft at an Army base?”
“Duval Chemical. French company owned by a Middle Eastern consortium. They operate a lab outside of Birmingham. Reported a break-in about four months back.”
“In June? And we’re only hearing about it now? They produce RDX, yeah?” Bodie asked, frustrated. Felt like he was pulling the information out of Murphy.
“How much went missing?”
“Enough to make one hell of a bomb. More than what was in the knapsack found at Canary Wharf.”
“So there’s still some unaccounted for.” Bodie swore under his breath. “Why weren’t we informed?”
“Reported to MI5—and they’ve never shared much with our lot, have they? Not to mention, guess who is the senior vice president of the corporation?” Murphy grinned, clearly pleased with himself.
“Not playing twenty questions with you, berk.”
“Spoilsport.” Murphy curled his upper lip. “Ahmadi’s da, Omar Ahmadi.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. Have you spoken with Ahmadi senior?”
“Not in the country just now. Visiting his holdings in Kharistan,” Murphy reported. “Could be his son is in contact; we’ve no way of finding out.”
“Need a warrant, mate. Difficult to obtain on a Saturday.”
“This’ll get Interpol involved. Just what we need,” Bodie grumbled, emptying his mug. “I’ll leg it upstairs, get a current photo on Najafi and read your report, shall I?”
“Reckon I’ve already put in my time for Uncle George.” Murphy signalled the bartender for another beer. “I’ll be working on me bar tab.”
Bodie found more than Murphy’s report on his desk. Jax and McCabe were bursting with news of their interrogation of the Rouhani siblings. He followed the sound of their voices into the restroom. Surprisingly, Cowley was seated at the table with them.
“Khalid Rouhani, the father, is a fat old git. Worked for BMW these last twenty years,” Jax reported, stirring his tea vigorously with a large spoon that clanked against the edges of the mug.
“You’ll have time for your tea afterwards,” Cowley interrupted grumpily. “I’m expected at my club in less than an hour to talk with Sir Jasper Sikes of SIS.”
Who undoubtedly didn’t stir in sugar with a soup spoon, Bodie thought uncharitably.
“Mohammed Rouhani is sixteen years old, skinny as a beanpole. Took one look at the picture of the bloke with the rucksack at Canary Wharf and gave up his mate Geordie McClure,” McCabe said with disgust. “Lived the next street over from the Rouhanis. Nicked him immediately.”
“Good work,” Cowley said proudly.
“Rouhani banged on about the promise of paradise for those who fight for the new Islamic state—what’d he call it?” McCabe plucked a Cadbury’s chocolate biscuit from a crumbled packet on the table.
“A Caliphate,” Jax pronounced carefully as if he’d recently memorised the word. “Not sure what it means exactly.”
“Exactly what you just said,” Bodie spoke up. He’d spent most of his time as a mercenary in the second Congo War in ’98, but had been in the Middle East more than once. He’d picked up a lot of what used to seem like useless trivia about the region. Funny how things came around. “A Caliphate is an Islamic state led by a caliph, a political and religious leader. A bit like the Queen if she were also a successor to the prophet Muhammad.”
“Thank you, 3.7.” Cowley gave him a tight smile, sounding impressed.
“Well, certainly ain’t going to happen here in England,” McCabe snorted. “C of E and Ol’ Liz are good ‘nough for me.”
“RDX needs a detonator to go off,” Bodie observed. “This McClure didn’t hit the switch?”
“Reckon it didn’t fire? He was carrying a burner mobile, which Dr Rees says was the switch,” Jax said. “Our Geordie wasn’t putting out for the likes of us.”
“Lucky for him.” Bodie took a biscuit, crunching the choccy goodness. “Or he’d be up for murder as well as terrorism.”
“Thus far, we still do not have a current location for Mr Ahmadi,” Cowley said, no longer looking pleased. “Were you able to find anything from his friends on his plans once he got to Kharistan?”
“He’s taking this Japhia as his wife, according to her cousin,” Jax said, dunking his biscuit in his tea. He even ate noisily.
Just as Kelly Rees had feared. Bodie snatched the last biscuit in the pack before Jax ate every one.
“The extremists apparently want to recruit as many converts as they can—don’t have to be of Iranian or Saudi descent,” McCabe went on. “That way, customs authorities are less likely to suspect them when they arrive in the Middle East.”
“There’s been far less co-operation between countries on the no fly list,” Cowley said. “The US and UK will add on a name, but other countries will either get the list too late or not refer to it at all.”
“Similar names are another problem,” Bodie munched his chokkie, trying to do it as quietly as possible. “Endless Mohammeds.”
“Quite true.” Cowley nodded. “Have you spoken to the computer analysts regarding Japhia Dawson’s laptop?”
“She must have been coached by a real pro.” Bodie said. “There was nothing of much use. And she certainly didn’t purchase her ticket online with that device.”
“Ahmadi probably bought them in cash,” McCabe said. “His family has bundles, and less likely to be traced to a credit card or bank.”
“Callum and his team are going through her emails to compile a list of friends and acquaintances,” Bodie explained, “to see if we can match them to any of the students Doyle will meet at St John’s.”
“You can’t always trace the sources back on Skype and instant messaging,” Jax said, staring at the Cadbury’s packet as if he wanted more. “More luck with Facebook and Twitter.”
“Any links between the perpetrators will get us one step closer to stopping these bombers,” Cowley said with finality. “Keep at it, gentlemen.”
Doyle toured Oxford on Sunday morning. He’d been to the University city a few times as a visitor, but didn’t know much more than the highlights. St John’s was an ancient building, of reddish brown stone, very close to the city centre. There were extensive grounds and beautifully cultivated gardens.
Services were just beginning in St John’s chapel when Doyle slipped inside. Sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows created a rainbow of patterns on the checkerboard floor and music from the huge organ filled the chapel with joy. The congregation was small but made up for it with enthusiasm on the hymns. Doyle was about to turn and flee, but a friendly woman beckoned him to sit beside her in the last pew.
He settled into the hard wooden seat, watching a youthful priest go about his duties. Although he’d been raised Roman Catholic, the worship services were almost identical. The prayers were familiar, the ritual calming—he felt at home. He knew when to cross himself, when to stand and when to kneel. The sermon wasn’t anything special, certainly themes Doyle had heard before: Jesus’ ministering to the poor and the sick. His welcome to those considered unclean or different.
Considering the case Doyle was embroiled in, this took on new meaning. One religion’s definition of the worthy varied so widely from another’s, and yet weren’t all religions basically worshiping the same God? Countless intelligent minds had pondered this eternal question for hundreds of years, but the elemental arguments plagued humanity. It seemed impossible to come to a consensus when factions couldn’t come to a common agreement on doctrine in a single denomination, much less different religions. Even the venerable Church of England had strife with its American cousin, the Episcopal Church. This summer, the British Church had voted down allowing female priests to become bishops, despite the fact that the current presiding Episcopal bishop of the entire United States was a woman. If these two wings of the same church couldn’t agree, what hope was there of Christians, Jews and Muslims finding common ground?
Doyle barely paid attention to communion, his head stuffed with opposing thoughts. He didn’t agree with the view held by many Brits that the people emigrating from the Middle East were coming to the UK to steal jobs and live off the dole. He was fascinated to learn about the Muslim faith and was eager to start Persian Literature. He hadn’t been lying about that.
Like any society, there was a darker side to the Persian culture than beautiful architecture, long history of poetry and remarkable inventions. This current wave of militants intent on subjugating the indigent, wiping out whole countries and seizing power by controlling gun running and drugs trafficking was horrific. Rape, murder and pillage seemed their watchwords, not real devotion to religion. Destroying priceless historical artefacts and UNESCO world heritage sites with brazen disregard to international condemnation seemed calculated to cause unrest.
The practice of recruiting innocents to bomb cities in Europe and the US was vile, beyond comprehension. Doyle couldn’t deny that the West was culpable of some terrible crimes against humanity, but the steady march of Al Qaeda through the Middle East was frightening. Doyle could only police his own patch as best as he could and stem the tide one criminal at a time.
He walked out of church in a daze. He hadn’t attended Sunday worship in a long time, but the lovely old hymns, Bible quotations and prayers grounded him despite the length of time since he’d been inside a church. So why did he feel caught in the middle, neither Catholic nor C of E. Not to mention other faiths. If there was a higher God, where did all this discord stem from? God or man?
Doyle didn’t have to take a theology class to suss that one out. Pausing in the bright sunshine, he glanced at the chapel in time to see a familiar looking man walk up to talk to the young priest, Father Tristan. Doyle had memorised the photos of their prime suspects and recognized the man as Professor Behrouz Sharif.
So Sharif knew the priest. In light of Doyle’s depressing train of thought, he was vaguely cheered that an Anglican and a Muslim could talk peaceably. In fact, they appeared to be close friends.
He strolled towards the Thames, his stomach rumbling. Something to eat, then study Farsi for a few hours before a meeting with the Islamic Society that evening. Amazing how far from the life of a CI5 agent he felt already.
The river was teaming with life on a Sunday afternoon; rowing teams having friendly competitions, a couple floating leisurely along, gazing into each other’s eyes, and a family of ducks avoiding the boats. Doyle inhaled, the earthy, natural scent of the water and trees was so much better than the grit and smog of central London. He’d love to live here, in the embrace of green growing plants so very near academia.
He came upon a river side pub and ordered their lunch special with a pint of beer. The sun was hot on his back but there was a chill in the air when sitting down. He was about to pay the bill and hike back to his lodgings when his mobile pinged. CI5 had provided him with a phone for his Ray Duncan persona devoid of any information that could link him back to his real name. He’d given the number out to Najafi so that he could text Doyle the directions to the Islamic Society. And of course, he’d already been in contact with Bodie on Saturday.
Dunc, my mate Bodie had texted, read up on the new subject you needed for class. Interesting stuff. Mind your backside.
Doyle chuckled. Indeed. Simply reading the words brought the warm caress of Bodie’s large palm against his bum. So he’d found out something on Najafi—good. Too bad he wouldn’t be able to communicate what it was before Doyle spent the evening with the bloke. Even on a protected phone with encryption, there was only so much he was willing to trust to texting. Bodie would have included more if Najafi were known to be dangerous.
He arrived at the Islamic Society just before maghrib or sunset, as instructed. Some of his afternoon studies had been on the somewhat complicated rules about praying five times a day. These times were obligatory but had much to do with the position of the sun in the sky, as well as other factors. At this time of year, there was still light in the afternoon, with sunset right after six pm.
“Duncan!” Najafi greeted, waving a hand at the assembled students all getting out small prayer rugs. “Right on time. You can observe from the back while we prepare for prayers.”
“Thanks.” Doyle nodded, watching while he and several other men went through a cleansing ritual. They were all barefoot, shoes and socks stacked neatly inside the door. All were rolling up sleeves and trouser legs and taking turns washing their faces, necks, arms and hands.
“Have you attended prayers before?” Najafi asked.
“Yes, once,” Doyle said truthfully, although it was a long time ago, when he and Bodie had been searching for a known extremist with clear ties to multiple crimes.
“It’s nearly time, I’ll talk to you later.” Najafi took his turn to cleanse himself.
“If you want to leave before we’re through,” a young man with laughing blue eyes said, “Just make sure you don’t walk round the front. We’re meant to face Mecca, and it’s—“ He pointed almost south, exactly the orientation of all the prayer rugs, “That direction.”
Within minutes, the men had knelt to begin their prayers. Unlike when Doyle was in the Anglican church, he felt out of his element. He was pretty sure the devout would consider it blasphemy to have a non-believer basically spying on their worship. He had no real desire to convert. Through his studies, he’d read enough about the prayers that Najafi and the others were repeating silently to themselves to know the supplications to Allah were very similar to Christian ones to God. Another question to ponder—if we all worship similarly, why the conflict?
There was the expected segregation of men and women during prayer, but once that was complete, everyone joined together for a friendly potluck supper.
Falafel, lamb with rice, kabobs, and several things Doyle didn’t recognise graced the table. All were excellent, and he enjoyed meeting the other students. Some of these people were taking the same classes he was.
Wandering around the room introducing himself, Doyle noticed a bulletin board. Most of the notices tacked on the cork were for get-togethers and rallies—all from last term, plus a travel brochure to spend six months abroad in Kharistan. What interested him most were the photographs, obviously of past Islamic Society potlucks and parties. He recognised Michael Ahmadi standing shoulder to shoulder with Najafi, both holding up sodas in a salute, while Japhia Dawson looked on in rapture. Her hair was covered by a headscarf, as all the girls did in the Islamic Society. Japhia’s scarf was pink and purple, and Doyle wondered if she had the purple and blue streaks in her dark tresses underneath.
He had a clear connection between the three main suspects. The person missing was Professor Sharif. Maybe he didn’t mingle with the students after lectures?
“Those were taken in June,” a young man said from behind him. He was the friendly bloke with the bright blue eyes. He wore a taqiyah, a small blue embroidered cap over close-cropped brown hair. “Borzoo Saleem.” Borzoo stuck out his hand.
“Ray Duncan,” he said, clasping Borzoo’s hand. “I think I know that girl, or rather, I’ve met her mum, Farie.” Doyle pointed at Japhia’s photo. “Lives in London.”
“Japhia? She’s gone off to study in Kharistan for the year.” Borzoo tapped the brochure. “Along with Michael Ahmadi. He’ll be missed. He was the leader of this group last term. Shahin Najafi’s only filling in until we vote on a replacement.”
“You in the running?” Doyle asked with a smile.
“No, no—not my cuppa. Shahin’ll probably win the post.” Borzoo shrugged, but there was something in his expression that said he wasn’t Najafi’s biggest fan. “He can really stir up the crowd when he gets going.”
Interest piqued, Doyle waved at the electric kettle on the nearby table. “Speaking of, do you want one?” He poured two mugs, mixing in sugar and milk before handing one to the younger man. “What do you mean, Najafi can stir up a crowd?”
“Ta.” Borzoo blew over the hot liquid. “He’s really—“ He took a drink thoughtfully. “Dynamic. A force to be reckoned with. I couldn’t begin to match his level of commitment, to the cause, to… I dunno. I go out with my mates to the pub, once in a while. Not strictly a teetotaller.”
“The cause?” Doyle questioned softly.
Borzoo glanced around the room, although no-one appeared to be eavesdropping on them and the twangy Arabic music playing from an ipad was fairly loud. “I’ve got to go—an early tutorial tomorrow. See you around.”
“You, too.” Doyle toasted him with his mug, intrigued. Najafi was definitely someone to keep his eye on. And Borzoo was scared of him.
Sipping his tea, Doyle sat on a cushion to observe the rest of the group. Borzoo was saying his goodbyes to the other five men and three women.
Even without Borzoo’s confirmation, Doyle could tell that Najafi was the leader. His good looks and magnetic, intense personality drew the others to him, particularly the girls. Not all were of Middle Eastern descent. Some, like himself, appeared to be British stock interested in exploring a new culture and means of relating to God. All appeared to sincere, open and dedicated to deepening their knowledge of Islam. It seemed almost sacrilegious to suspect that someone in the group had ulterior, calculating, motives.
One girl in particular, Sara Ludwig, clearly had the hots for Najafi. Had this been a Japanese anime cartoon, there would have been enormous hearts in her large brown eyes. She and Najafi sat in the corner together, chatting quietly. Another girl, Yazmin was seated only inches away, watching them and fingering the fringe on her green and gold head scarf. Doyle didn’t get the sense that Najafi was radicalising either one.
On the contrary, when he strolled over to say good night, Sara nodded to Najafi, saying “—Wellington Square, Thursday next, yeah.“
A date, then.
“Thanks for inviting me,” Doyle said.
“Welcome any time, Duncan. We want more converts,” Najafi said, his eyes hooded. “We have formal prayers here three times a week, and many gather at other prayer times when they can. We would be glad to coach you in the basics so that you can begin study with an Imam.”
“What will I need to do?” Doyle asked curiously.
“Convert to Islam, of course.” He curved the sides of his mouth, but it was hardly a friendly expression. “We hold discussions on relevant topics and Koran study nearly every day. Check the posting by the door.”
“See you soon!” Sara waved cheerily.
Doyle wasn’t about to suspect a man of being a fundamental Islamic terrorist after two hours of knowing him, but something still stirred in his gut when he looked back at Najafi one last time.
Bodie drove into Oxford Monday morning, his mind on Ray. Would he be in the tutorial now? Bodie had a copy of his partner’s college timetable, but it was under a pile of other paperwork he’d brought with him. Once he’d dropped his suitcase at a decent but not particularly noteworthy bed and breakfast quite close to St John’s College, he headed for the police department. Time to get into the good graces of the local coppers and ferret out if they suspected anything specific about Professor Sharif.
He’d spent much of the weekend collecting all the disparate bits of information CI5 had on Ahmadi, Dawson et al into one—hopefully—concise report so he wouldn’t sound like a daft fool talking to the Thames Valley Police. Unfortunately, CI5 didn’t have much new intel—far less than they’d like to have at this juncture. The one useful fact that had been gleaned from Interpol was that Japhia’s father, Mohammed Dawson, now went by the name Mohammed al Kharim. With the radicalisation of his daughter, he had jumped to the top of the most wanted list—not that CI5 or Interpol had any specific crimes to charge him with. But the assumption was that Japhia was either using his new surname, and he would know her whereabouts, or she was married to Ahmadi. And no-one had found him. The boy had disappeared like a genii somewhere in the Middle East.
Doyle’s identification of the teaching assistant, Shahin Najafi, had opened a whole new avenue of inquiry. For some reason, no agency had yet focussed on the bloke. Bodie had uncovered that he was born in Liverpool. Ironically, in the same hospital a young William Phillip Andrew Bodie was born thirteen years earlier. Najafi’s parents still lived in the area, and were apparently well liked in their community. Bodie wasn’t sure if CI5 had enough man power to monitor the various people involved. He could understand why Cowley had resorted to asking for help from the local bill.
DI Robbie Lewis turned out to be a man in his mid-fifties, hair still youthful brown, with a face like a Basset Hound, and intelligent, “nothing gets past me” eyes. He sat at his desk, arms crossed, listening astutely while Bodie gave his spiel.
To his right, holding up the wall, was a tall, thin, impeccably dressed drink of water with the blondest hair Bodie had ever seen on an adult. Sergeant James Hathaway had a smooth, elegant face with an absolutely implacable façade. He barely batted an eyelid while Bodie explained his mission.
“Your man is already enrolled at St John’s?” Lewis asked finally, his Northern accent far stronger than Bodie’s.
Bodie nodded. “We’ve had the man under surveillance but nothing’s come of it.”
Hathaway ducked his chin almost to the Windsor knot of his silk tie, his glacier blue eyes sliding left to his superior’s. It was the first sign of life Bodie’d seen from the man.
Inhaling slowly, Hathaway dug his hands into his pockets as if searching for something, his glance at Lewis lingering a shade longer than necessary. “We’re certainly aware of the suspicions towards Professor Sharif due to the two young women who were prevented from carrying out the bombing—“
“However, as your lot discovered, Sharif comes off squeaky clean.” Lewis finished Hathaway’s sentence without losing a beat. “Others in St John’s, possibly have more…” He steepled his fingers, squinting into the near distance, “motive seems the wrong word. If there is a pro-Al Qaeda cell in that department, I’d set my sights on a few others.”
“Names?” Bodie asked with renewed interest.
“There hasn’t been an official investigation into the Islamic Society, but I’d start there.” Lewis eased back into his chair.
“Do you know of a Shahin Najafi?” Bodie asked.
Hathaway pursed his lips. “Heard the name,” he said brusquely. “Your Ahmadi was in the Islamic Society, and I believe Najafi was his right hand man.”
“Or vice-versa,” Lewis put in. “We keep the group on the perimeter of our radar because I don’t want to be accused of racial profiling or any of that fash—and not one of them’s proved to be a bother. Could change, of course.”
“Thanks for your time,” Bodie said, disheartened. “Keep me—and CI5—in the loop if anything pings your radar.” He rather liked that analogy, if he did say so himself.
“We’re more often preoccupied with murder, most times,” Lewis said, cocking his head towards Hathaway as if sharing a private joke. “We endeavour to aid your investigation in any way possible.”
“Preventing bombings is always a priority,” Hathaway said in that dry, deadpan manner of his. “No matter whose hand is on the detonator.”
Bodie almost wondered if the man was teasing him, but the tall sergeant didn’t look to have a sense of humour.
He was glad to get out of the confines of the police department and wander the streets of Oxford. The weather was spectacular for a chilly October day. Not a cloud in the bright blue sky.
There was no doubt about it—the University city was breathtaking, stuffed with ancient architecture, impressive statues and narrow winding lanes. Not to mention crowds of tourists taking photos of every corner and befuddled students on their first day of classes, lost in the labyrinth of stone archways and hidden courtyards. Bodie even helped a couple of visiting American students who’d got completely turned around searching for St John’s College.
Leading T’ffanie and La’Tondrah around towards St Giles Street, Bodie wanted to tell them to look up Ray Duncan and give him the message that Randy Kilroy says hello, but of course he didn’t.
“You’re a life-saver, Mr Kilroy!” T’ffanie, the more effusive of the duo, flipped the rope of long pink and black braids over her shoulder and gave him a one armed hug. “We’d have been lost forever without you.”
“I’ll have to mention you in my book, Travel Bound: the Oxford Tourists Don’t See.” Bodie grinned. Didn’t hurt to admire a pretty bird, practically young enough to be his—sister. Even if he was more into slender blokes with green eyes and luscious arses.
“C’mon, Tiff,” La’Tondrah said, consulting her class log. “Our Introduction to Archaeology is starting in five minutes.”
“D’jou think Indiana Jones will be teaching this year?” T’ffanie giggled as they walked through the elegant portals.
Bodie chuckled, gazing at Doyle’s college. He had no legitimate reason to hang about in front of the place like a lovelorn Lothario waiting for his—well, not Camilla of Don Quixote fame, but perhaps intrepid Sancho Panza. He needed to get the lay of the land, so to speak, without tilting at windmills. And get the bleeding Spanish novel out of his head. He was already spending too much time on his own.
So where did this Islamic Society meet? At one of the several mosques in the city? He’d need to Google that. There were hours before the arranged meeting at the Lamb and Flag Pub at 7:30, and he’d best make the most of them.
Joining the throng of students heading for the College, Doyle felt a surge of excitement that had nothing to do with being undercover. It had been a very long time since he’d done anything for himself—indulged in something non-political and satisfying. As much as this was an assignment, and he should be thinking of the ultimate goal and not his own needs, he wanted to study literature, steep himself in academia. Maybe spend an afternoon at the Bodleian perusing old books. Secretly, he hoped he’d get at least a week or two with Persian Literature before he had to drop out.
The tutorial was held at Professor Sharif’s study, a warm, well lit room. Bookshelves went floor to ceiling on three walls, with the fourth wall mostly mullioned windows. There was a large table set in the centre with chairs enough for the eight enrolled students. Doyle had obtained the names of the other seven and mentally tried to fit names to faces as they all sat down around the table. He recognized Sara Ludwig immediately; the woman Najafi had monopolised at the Islamic Society the night before. She wore a blue scarf decorated with silver stitching today. The rest were an eclectic mix of ethnicities and cultures from not only England but Germany, France, Japan. the US and Ireland. He also remembered Yazmin Zadeh from the Islamic Society. The others were new to him.
Professor Sharif gathered a stack of papers from an untidy desk in the corner of the room and turned to face the students. He was tall, probably over six feet, with dark, smiling eyes, a nose like a predatory eagle’s beak and very long black eye lashes. He had black curly hair and a neatly cut Van Dyke beard. “Good morning and welcome,” he said, holding his arms out as if embracing the entire group.
There was a chorus of greetings from the students.
Doyle pulled his chair closer to the table when Sharif walked forward, and got the residual sleeve of the short black gown required of Oxfordian students caught on the edge of the seat. A young man sitting next to him sniggered and helped him unsnag the fabric.
“Still getting used to it?” he asked. His Asian features and accent proved he must be the student from Japan, Ryo Tanaka.
Doyle mouthed thanks, turning to face the professor.
“Welcome to Persian Literature,” Sharif said. “I don’t wish to bore you all with the minutiae of rules and procedures of the course. You’ve all showed up, on time and-“ he cast an eye around the table, “with the first required text in hand, so you clearly want to be here.” Sharif paused and patted his own copy of The Rubaiyat fondly. “We’ll jump right in. I prefer that we read in the original text, but if you need a copy in English, that is certainly allowed.”
The woman on the other side of Doyle sighed, biting her lower lip. Since she was the last of the three women in the course, she had to be Marie Bonville from Paris. Not a Farsi speaker, then?
Sharif handed out a sheet of paper. “These are the other books we will be reading and studying. I will be focussing on the Rubaiyat, as well as Shahnama, and my teaching assistant, Shahin Najafi, will be leading you through the poetry of Teimuraz and Khaghani.”
A red haired bloke raised a hand. “Sir, do you expect essays and critiques written in Farsi?”
“Patrick O’Shea, is it?” Sharif asked with a fond smile. “No, Mr O’Shea, English works quite well. If you can use Farsi, please quote text in the original language.”
“When will Shahin begin his lessons?” Sara Ludwig asked, glancing at the door as if expecting him to walk in at the sound of his name. There was the hope of a maiden waiting for knight in shining armour to return in her voice.
“Not until November, Miss Ludwig,” Sharif said apologetically. “Now, with the minimum out of the way, let’s start in on the magnificence that is The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” He slid on a pair of half-glasses to glance at the class ledger. “Mr Duncan? Would you start us with the first stanza?”
Startled, Doyle took a deep breath, opening the book to the first page. The looping, curving Persian script swam in front of his eyes for a moment, but he’d practiced. He could do this. It suddenly felt far more adventurous that forging into a gunfight. As he read, his brain automatically translated the text into English and he could hear Bodie’s voice quoting the words when they were in Ahmadi’s flat. “Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight, The Stars before him from the Field of Night.”
Doyle came out of Sharif’s study with the glory of a Persian night swirling through his core. He shook off the vestiges of the poetry, forcing himself back into the mindset of a competent CI5 agent. His gut instincts told him that kindly, cerebral Behrouz Sharif could not be a terrorist. Doyle was generally a good judge of character. He couldn’t envision the man who’d read the lines, The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop, The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one, with tears in his eyes, forcing an innocent woman and her special needs sister to bomb the famous pub. Professor Sharif seemed to be an honourable man, dedicating his life to education.
So what about Najafi? Doyle wished Shahin had joined in today. Najafi was so different than his mentor; intense, with a current of rage underneath the devout exterior. If members of this particular department were emerging as radicalised Islamics, could it be Najafi drilling new converts? Could he have romanced Beatrix Chambers earlier in the year, and coaxed her to strap a suicide bomb vest onto her teenaged sister with Down Syndrome? It was horrific to imagine what he must have done to convince Beatrix. No paradise in the after world was worth that.
Beatrix and her sister had been detained and questioned numerous times since June. Doyle doubted he could get to visit and glean any more information from Beatrix. He could probably bring up the incident with some of the students he’d befriended. Surely they would remember what happened?
Doyle sat down opposite the chapel to tap a few notes to himself into his phone. Father Tristan walked out, taking a deep, satisfying breath and smiled, raising his arm in a wave to someone behind Doyle. Seconds later, he and Professor Sharif met, giving each other a hug before walking off, talking animatedly.
So they were very good friends, apparently off to an early lunch. Doyle had his Advanced Farsi course first before he got anything to eat. Glancing the time on his mobile, he realised he’d best hurry or he’d be late.
Bodie glanced around the crowded pub. The place was crawling with Oxford students and tourists enjoying their ales and lagers. Ideal for a clandestine meeting with Doyle since no-one would look twice at two blokes chatting at the bar as if they’d only met for the first time.
He ordered himself a Guinness and watched football on the telly for about ten minutes, waiting patiently. Doyle arrived as Manchester United’s Michael Owen kicked the ball down the pitch with Turkey’s team racing to block the play.
“Palmers Best bitter, please.” Doyle shoved up against the bar rail, his elbow digging into Bodie’s side.
That pointy elbow was sharp as a blunt knife, but Bodie welcomed the contact. Reminded him of time spent in bed with bony Doyle. Three days sleeping alone felt like long ago, curled up on his bunk on the tramp steamer simultaneously homesick and raring for adventure.
“Crowded here,” Bodie said in a bored but friendly tone. “D’you want to share a table? I see those people leaving.” He caught Doyle’s eye and pointed to a table in the far corner of the room.
“Be glad to get off my feet.” Doyle picked up the glass the barman had given him.
Bodie led the way through the crush of bodies, ducked a badly thrown dart, and staked his claim on the table. The previous tenants’ old glasses were still there as well as a half empty packet of crisps. Salt and vinegar-- he was in luck.
“Ta.” Doyle said noncommittally, taking a large swallow of beer as he sat down.
“Kilroy,” Bodie said by way of introduction. “Interviewing students and people living in Oxford for a travel book.”
“Just arrived Sunday to study Literature,” Doyle explained, slouching in the booth.
“Had a tutorial today, did you?” Bodie asked as if he didn’t know.
“Persian studies,” Doyle answered. “Professor seems a nice enough chap and we dove into the book right away. Don’t know about his teaching assistant.” He frowned, eyes flitting right to take in the room and then settling directly on Bodie. He dropped his voice almost to a whisper. “Concentrate on him going forward. I don’t see the professor advocating violence. Could be wrong…”
“But you seldom are.”
“Went over to his corner of the universe just before sunset, as well,” Doyle continued, his eyes still watching the room more than his beer. “But he weren’t there, which apparently is unusual when it’s time to pray.”
Bodie dug into the crisps, savouring the sharp flavour and the gift of spending time with his partner. Not that he’d ever admit that to Doyle. “Know where he went?”
Doyle shook his head. “I talked with a couple of the others, asked casually about Beatrix and Deirdre Chambers.”
“Your frenemy,” Bodie raised his eyebrow with a slight smirk, “is a fellow scouse, raised round the corner from meself.”
“Apparently, your new mate’s quite the charmer with the birds. Takes a shine to the newer ones, casts his shadow over them—“ He trailed off, mouth twisted in disgust.
Bodie took in the new information, chewing on it with the last of the crisps. “We’ve been looking at the staff members from the wrong angle,” he said sotto-voce. “Met with the local coppers, they say the same.”
“Expected as much.” Doyle traced a finger down the moisture on his tankard. “From what I understand, even though our mate who left the country suddenly had a girlfriend, teaching assistant may have chatted her up, as well. And he’s got a new victim, Sara Ludwig.”
“You think you can get her to talk?”
“Haven’t tried yet. She’s quite wrapped up in him. She wasn’t there when I checked in before prayers, but there is a Koran study group later. I may drop by.”
“Mind your backside,” Bodie said, his chest tight. He didn’t want to let Doyle anywhere near this Najafi, but that wasn’t how they worked. Both of them had learned to repress the fear, the concern deep inside and pretend they were double-07, freewheeling spies racing around the countryside in their tricked-out Aston-Martins with a bird on each arm. It was expected. It was their reality.
“That all you think about?” Doyle joshed.
“You wouldn’t have it any other way,” Bodie retorted with a grin that warmed because of the gleam in Doyle’s eyes. “I’ve got plans for that arse, particularly in light of the fact that we’ve located where the explosives came from. Worse than that, there’s more to come—the bomb found at the mall was only a fraction of what was stolen.” He filled Doyle in on Ahmadi’s father’s company.
“Brilliant,” Doyle said, his grim expression at odds with the sentiment. “Murphy find any CCTV footage?”
“Apparently Duval Chemicals prefer to keep their investigation into the security breech internal due to the highly sensitive nature of their governmental contracts,” Bodie curled his fingers into air quotes. “Eyes only sort of rubbish. They do not wish to share interdepartmentally.”
“Cowley can’t force the issue?” Doyle sucked down his Palmers.
“Not at this juncture,” Bodie said in his posh voice.
“There’s no way Ahmadi could have got that much RDX out of the UK in his suitcases.”
“Not by commercial airlines.” Having finished the crisps, Bodie was still peckish. He decided on a gammon steak and chips, despite the ragging he would get from Doyle.
“So we’ll have to assume it’s still in England.”
Doyle seemed to be absently watching the dart game but Bodie knew he wasn’t really seeing the attractive brunette thrusting her breasts forward as she threw. The wheels in his brain were turning, puzzling out the case. Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance faded into the background noise, mingling with the jeers by the darts players and the calls for more beer at the bar. Bodie let the din flow over him, treasuring the moment alone with Doyle.
Until his stomach rumbled. “Fancy some pub grub?” he asked.
Doyle’s eyes focussed on him, as if he were coming out of a fog. “Cheers. Cheese sarnie, if they have one.”
“You got a fiver?” Bodie grinned with all his teeth, to wind Doyle up because it was plain fun. They’d have to part soon enough.
“Your publisher not give you an advance, travel book writer?” Doyle curled his lip, digging into his front jeans pocket to find the dosh. “I’m a student with loans to pay, mind you.”
“Uncle George will send you a few bob. You’re his favourite nephew.” Bodie winked at him, walking over to the barman to give his order.
Regretfully leaving his partner, Doyle took his cheese sandwich, munching as he walked out of the Lamb and Flag at quarter past eight. He felt off-kilter without Bodie striding along beside him, making bad jokes. Here, away from those that knew them well, they might even have indulged in a bit of hand holding or a brief kiss in the shadow of a building. The minor contact of his foot against Bodie’s ankle under the table in the pub hadn’t been near enough.
Already lonely, he glanced up at the crescent moon, aware that he was late for the Koran study group. He’d even gone over the passage for the evening, in Chapter 60. “God does not forbid you to be kind to those who have neither fought against your faith nor driven you out of your homes."
He appreciated the sentiment because it went against the assumption by some British Christians that the Muslim community as a whole was determined to slaughter those who didn’t believe as they did. He had always known that the fundamental Islamics—like fundamental Christians—were a small subset of the entire group, but they made up for their minority status by being a destructive, angry mob bent on annihilation.
Doyle slipped in the back of the room as Borzoo said, “I still don’t quite understand how you can take that position when the Koran clearly—“
There were four others seated in a semi-circle around Najafi; Sara Ludwig, Yazmin, a young man named Mustafa whom Doyle had met briefly Sunday evening and a massive, dark-skinned bloke wearing a black knit cap and a t-shirt with Einstein on the front. Doyle sat down in the farthest chair, next to the stranger.
“Interpretation is key. We strive to dig below the surface meaning of the words,” Najafi said passionately. “The Holy Writings also say that God guides whom he will to his light and to avoid the ignorant.” He turned his back on Borzoo, leaning towards Sara Ludwig with a smile. “Sara, did you have something to add?”
“Sometimes, what is underneath the meanings speaks so loudly,” she said in a single breath, as if parroting back something she’d memorized. “Saying what the heart knows.”
“Exactly!” Najafi cried, jamming a finger in her direction. “Sara understands, which is vitally important for our future. We have to form a common core of understanding to reach out and change the worldview of others. We are stronger together, able to forge forward and have our message—no, Allah’s message heard by all who can listen with their hearts.” He closed the pointing finger into a fist, pounding on his chest. “Their souls. Without commitment, there is no faith. Without faith in Allah, there is no hope.”
Doyle’s belly clenched, threatening to dispel the sandwich he’d just eaten. Najafi was careful, his rhetoric wasn’t totally unreasonable, but it did sound inflammatory. And it had nothing to do with the chosen text as far as Doyle could see.
Borzoo and Mustafa frowned, clearly unhappy with the way the conversation was going. The third man stroked his short beard, glancing back at Doyle without greeting him.
“Doesn’t this passage advocate friendship between religions?” Doyle asked, trying to sound dim and a bit ignorant. “I’ve noticed that Professor Sharif is good friends with Father Tristan from the chapel, surely this would—“
“You’ve only been at College one day, Duncan,” Najafi said coldly, his eyes hard and smooth as onyx marbles. “Avoid jumping to erroneous conclusions.”
“I’d like to get back to kindness,” Mustafa rushed into the gap, fingering the small trimmed beard on his chin. “God does not forbid us to be kind to—“
“You’ve hit the nail on the head,” Najafi tapped the open book in his lap, excitement cancelling the brief anger. “He did not forbid us, but neither does he condone prejudice and hatred—“
“That’s not what this passage says at all,” Borzoo interrupted.
“We have to be the stewards of our way,” Najafi continued as if Borzoo had not spoken. “The guardians, barring the mosque from those who challenge our belief system. We have to take back what has…”
“Been denied us,” Sara said with him. Yazmin’s voice joined in a beat late as if she’d forgot her cue.
“Take a step into the light of Allah, showing us the way.” Najafi raised up both hands, tightly fisted. “And all will be ours.”
The man beside Doyle had a transfixed expression but he didn’t say a thing.
“It’s within our grasp,” Sara said hoarsely, as if she’d been shouting a moment ago. “The mission to show the world what Allah has to give is mine to accept.”
“Truly.” Najafi nodded.
“Shahin,” Borzoo said unhappily, getting to his feet.
“Our time is up for today. Unfortunately, I have to pull an all-nighter to get my post grad dissertation sorted before the review that is coming up far too quickly,” Najafi explained, closing his Koran.
“This was inspiring!” Sara chirped brightly, pushing a lock of dark blond hair back under her blue head scarf. “Yazmin, shall we walk back to the Quad together?”
Looking as if she didn’t really want to be near Sara, Yazmin shrugged and followed her out.
“Fascinating discourse. I’ll have to ruminate on your interpretation of the text,” the bloke in the Einstein tee-shirt said, reaching out to shake Najafi’s hand. “Etom Tinibu. I am most interested to return, learn more.”
“Welcome, then!” Najafi said expansively, smiling with his mouth but not his eyes. “We’re an inclusive group.”
“Only as long as you agree with his highness,” Mustafa muttered so softly Doyle was sure only he and Borzoo could have heard. “I need to study.”
“I need a drink,” Borzoo said just as quietly. “Ray, you coming?”
“Another night, sorry,” Doyle said regretfully. He’d have enjoyed getting to know Borzoo Saleem better. “Like Mustafa, I need to dig into my studies whilst I’m still ahead of the classes.”
Stalling until the group left, Doyle began stacking chairs against the wall as he’d seen them the previous day. That left the centre of the area free for individual rugs during prayer.
“What did you think?” Najafi asked sharply, pushing the last chair into place. “Your first time?”
“Sorry I was late,” Doyle answered with a grimace. “I’m fascinated that people can read the same passage so differently.”
“Watch out for Saleem and Nabib.” Najafi held up that finger again, as if he and only he knew the truth. “They sow seeds of dissent to destroy my credibility.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Saleem wants to be elected leader of the Islamic Society.” Najafi led the way to the door.
“Borzoo told me the last leader, Ahmadi, went to Kharistan. That he didn’t want the job,” Doyle commented.
“He will do anything to undermine my authority. I’ve studied here for years, I know the players and who is on my side.” Najafi tipped his head, looking straight down at Doyle. “Are you?”
”I freely acknowledge that this is all new to me, but I do not want to offend or antagonise anyone,” Doyle replied as if cowed by Najafi’s forceful stance. “May I ask a question, though?”
“We are a democracy,” he said in a mocking tone.
“I remember reading about these two women, Beatrix and her sister, strapping on a bomb. Japhia’s mum told me they were part of this group, that Japhia was Beatrix’s friend.” Doyle rattled on as if he were gossiping rather than digging for information.
Najafi’s handsome face went stone cold. He smoothed the dark fringe over his forehead as if calming himself. "We can never really know why or what motivates a person to do something that on the outside might appear—“ He paused as if considering his words. “Beatrix was a particular friend of mine. I loved her dearly, but she made her mistakes and now has to atone for them.”
“What about her sister? An unfortunate?”
Najafi’s mask slipped momentarily, anger and hostility glowing from his eyes before he flipped off the lights in the room, throwing them into utter darkness. “You’d be wise to keep your nose out of business you don’t understand, old man,” he said.
Sounded like a threat.
“Heard you loud and clear.” Doyle took a step back, pretending submission. “Are you going back to Kendrew?”
“As I said before, I have an all nighter ahead of me. Off to the library until it closes and then my office.”
Which, if true, gave Doyle a perfect opportunity to do some investigating into his neighbour’s room. He was well aware that Bodie would not approve of him going there alone, but it had to be.
In his role as a free-lance travel writer, Bodie checked out the pub directly across the road, The Eagle and Child. Since, like the Lamb and Flag, it was owned by St John’s College, the clientele was mostly university students.
Sitting at the bar with a bottle of ginger beer, to reduce the amount of actual alcohol consumed, he chatted with the locals and tourists alike. It wasn’t difficult work, not at all, but he missed Doyle with a physical ache. After an hour or so, he wasn’t getting anything substantial—neither for his fictitious book nor about increasing radicalisation of Muslim students in Oxford. Mostly the stories were about Tolkien, CS Lewis and their ilk discussing their novels around the table with pints of beer. Put him in the mood to rent the Lord of the Rings DVD again soon. He should really toddle back to his digs and write up a report of some sort for Cowley.
Bodie walked outside, appreciating the mild weather. Clouds were gathering in the night sky, wafting over the bright curve of the moon, hinting at rain in the morning. He started down the pavement lost in thought when a dark figure wearing a hoodie over his head burst out from St John’s and hurried up the street.
As the man passed under a street light, he glanced up at the college and Bodie caught sight of his face. He’d seen Shahin Najafi’s photo—in the St John’s staff registry as well as Najafi’s Facebook page-- often enough to recognise the teaching assistant. Now where was he going?
There was no chance of tailing him. With only a few people on the street at nine fifteen on a Monday night, Bodie couldn’t walk closely enough to follow him without being noticed. Najafi passed right by Bodie—he’d sense if Bodie changed course abruptly. The only thing Bodie could do was pull out his mobile and pretend to make a call, watching Najafi until he’d turned onto Pusey Street. As dark as it was, the quick photo he snapped wouldn’t be worth shit.
A muted buzz roused him from sleep. Eyes firmly closed, James Hathaway groped at the bedside table for his mobile, hoping it was a wrong number. Except there was no vibration under his fingers when he located the device. Yet the insistent buzzing continued unabated.
Robbie’s mobile, then.
The mattress dipped toward Lewis’ side as he moved to answer. “Lewis,” he responded gruffly.
James was close enough to hear Innocent’s voice, clipped and direct, spilling from the mobile. “Bodies found in the residence of Father Tristan Vaughn—“ she was saying, “Dr Hobson’s on her way.”
“I’ll ring Sergeant Hathaway,” Lewis said wearily, sitting on the edge of the bed to poke Hathaway in the ribs.
James rolled away with a snort of amusement. A glance at the screen of Lewis’ phone told him what the barely risen sun half peeking through the curtains confirmed. It was too bloody early—just gone five in the morning and already there was a murder to investigate.
“You heard?” Lewis asked with a slight smile. “I’ll get a quick shower first.”
“If we keep our hands off one another,” James allowed himself one leer at Robbie’s arse heading for the bathroom, “we’ll save time doing it together.”
Lewis glanced over his shoulder, eyes twinkling. “Well, come on then, bonny lad.”
Kisses were exchanged under the warm water, but with the first responders and SOCO waiting, they couldn’t dally. Not to mention Laura Hobson. Whilst she frequently arrived at a crime scene before they did, she would not be best pleased if they were fashionably delayed. Even if she did suspect the true nature of their relationship. The flirting Laura and Lewis engaged in, particularly when there was an audience, was a great deal of their cover.
It was not yet six am by the time Lewis and Hathaway arrived at St John’s College.
Despite grey clouds and spitting rain, there were already students milling around the quad. James had no doubt that word would spread like proverbial wildfire once news got out that there had been a murder in the priest’s rooms.
“D’you know this Father Tristan?” Lewis asked when the porter let them through to the priest’s quarters.
“Why is it that you assume I am acquainted with every vicar from here to Cambridge?” James groused gently, wiping rain off his face.
“Because generally you’ve either met up with the lad or taken classes in seminary.” Lewis eyed him, going into a narrow passageway. Down the corridor, two constables guarded the rooms Father Tristan had used.
James had to admit that was true more often than statistically probable. “No, haven’t met the man,” he said.
He and Robbie suited up in Tyveck. As Hathaway zipped up, he suppressed a sigh when his fingers brushed his groin and he thought back to their communal shower. Robbie had run the soap down his cock a single time—that would have led to all sorts of play, when they were not needed at a crime scene. He inhaled and set his mind to the investigation.
“Innocent said there were bodies, plural?” he asked, wishing for a cigarette. The smell of smoke helped alleviate the aroma of decomp. He walked into what was once a nice study, a place to read and reflect.
Before Lewis could speak, Dr Laura Hobson stood up from her perusal of the corpses. She spread an arm as if to take in the room. The walls, bookshelves and settee, not to mention a bottle of whiskey, two glasses and a tray of dried fruits were liberally splattered with blood. “Good morning, glad you two could take time out of your busy schedules to come down.”
“I was asleep when Innocent called,” Lewis said in his defence, looking down at the bodies. “Father Tristan Vaughn, I presume.” He pointed to the young man with sandy brown hair wearing a priest’s collar. “And that is—“ the other body was positioned face down, one arm curled around Tristan’s waist.
“Professor Sharif?” James hazarded a guess from the distinctive profile and black, curly hair. Curious, the man found dead only a day after they’d discussed him with that agent from CI5.
“Him you know?” Lewis asked in surprise, peering at the composition of the two men. He looked pensive.
“Heard him lecture. He’s an expert on The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” James shrugged. Sharif had been shot in the back, covering his partner in blood, making it difficult to see what had killed the priest. Tristan’s face was calm in repose, a slight smile on his lips. “Wine and nosh. Mates discussing literature or were they…” He stopped.
“A jug of wine, loaf of bread and thou was not to be.” Laura glanced back down at what could be two men embracing in death with a frown. “Not common gossip in town, at least that I have heard.”
Lewis snorted. “And here I thought you were up on the latest tabloids and innuendo.”
“It is a worthy goal, one I have not yet attained,” she riposted. “Did read up on David and Victoria Beckham throwing a party in Hollywood before going to bed last night.”
James went into inspection mode, sussing out the particulars. It wasn’t too difficult to work out that someone had stood outside the window, only feet away from the victims, and shot them. There was a neat bullet hole in the glass. “Probably a pistol, not long range, suspect stood in amongst the plants outside?” he asked.
Laura nodded, tracing her index finger from the window to the corpses. “Atrial spray consistent with Sharif being shot through the back and the bullet hitting the aorta. The same bullet actually pierced the sternum of Father Vaughn because they were standing so close together, facing one another.”
“Possibly armour piercing bullets?” Lewis mused.
Dr Hobson gestured at one of the SOCO techs taking samples and evidence on the other side of the room. “Sharif was found with both arms around Vaughn.” She faced Lewis, placing her hands up to his shoulders to demonstrate. “Marty had to help me shift the professor off the priest,” She let her right arm drop to Lewis’s waist when he gave her a stern look. “Once he’d photographed their original positions. I had to get a good view of what killed Vaughn, they were so close together. Their hearts must have stopped beating within seconds of one another.”
James’ heart raced for a few seconds. A well respected Muslim expert on Persian Literature, and a priest from the Church of England together—what were they doing? Could it be a one night stand?
What was the killer’s motive? Religious ideology? Or something less obvious?
“When do you reckon they died?” Lewis asked soberly.
“Between eight and ten last night,” Laura answered. “I’ll know more after—“
“You get him onto your table—“ James and Lewis chorused with her.
Doyle showered early. He’d already learned that, as in any large block of flats, the hot water didn’t last very long in the morning. He had a thought to jog around the campus to get his blood flowing. Didn’t do to neglect his exercise regime simply because he was undercover. He’d known Bodie to start smoking, drinking at all hours of the day and night, and even indulging in illegal substances to—as he claimed—stay in character. Doyle didn’t consider himself quite so motivated to give up all willpower.
The only other person in the Kendrew lobby was the residential advisor,
Adeleh Bashir. She was tidying up the bulletin board next to the main doors.
Doyle slowed to read the flyer she was securing with a drawing pin. Clip art of dancing Germans wearing lederhosen and a busty girl holding out beer steins decorated the paper.
“Good morning, Ray,” Adeleh greeted, smiling. “There’s to be an Oktoberfest in Wellington Square. Will you be coming?”
“Could be a lark,” Doyle said, grinning back. She had to be a fairly secular Islamic woman or she wouldn’t have such a public job, but he couldn’t presume. He knew that even in 2010, there were still some Muslim women in Britain who could only go out accompanied by a male family member. “Do you drink beer?”
“No, alas, I’m strictly a teetotaler, but I do love good bockwurst.” Adeleh rubbed her belly. “I shouldn’t talk about it before I’ve even had morning prayers or breakfast.”
“I was planning to jog over to the Islamic Society to pray this morning.” Doyle cast an eye at his mobile to the prayer time reminder app he’d downloaded. The pre-dawn session would start very soon. He’d better hurry. “Do you go there?”
She pursed her lips apprehensively, with a glance around the empty lobby. Adeleh tugged on the blue patterned scarf covering her hair, clearly considering her answer. “No—I…let’s simply say that I have differences of opinion with some who go there and I prefer to pray in private.”
Doyle was struck by her honesty. “Thank you for trusting me.”
“I don’t want to offend, or cast judgments.” Adeleh tapped a slender finger on her lips as if intentionally gagging herself. “It is a close knit community and I do have friends who go to Islamic Society.”
“But some of them have definitely fundamental, possibly extreme, ideals?” Doyle said bluntly.
Her breath whooshed out in what sounded very much like relief. “I don’t need to say any more,” she said, her voice pitched low.
“Is there anyone in particular you stay away from?” Doyle asked.
Adeleh went pale and shook her head. She looked down at the tub of drawing pins in her hand as if she’d forgotten why she even had them. “Better put this away. Don’t want anyone to step on one.”
Aware he wasn’t going to get anything more out of her, Doyle said, “Maybe I’ll see you later.”
He jogged through misting rain to the large room used by the Islamic Society inside the St John quads, arriving in time to see Borzoo and Mustafa kneel on their rugs. A recording of a muezzin was playing to prepare them all. Etom and two other men were already on their knees. The chanting prayers drowned out the tiny thought in the back of Doyle’s mind that Adeleh had said something he was meant to pay more attention to.
He still felt awkward with Muslim worship, like he was doing something wrong just by attending, although praying was praying wasn’t it? He didn’t generally give thanks to God five times in a twenty-four hour period, but maybe he should start. Taking time out of the day to be grateful, to be still and mindful was not at all a wasted effort, no matter what language he did it in. He wasn’t mocking Allah, far from it. The ability to find common ground with another culture, to contrast the similarities instead of condemning the differences was special. He just hoped that most of the people he met on this obbo felt the same.
“Is this the usual crowd before dawn?” Doyle asked.
“Shahin is usually here,” Borzoo said with slight raise of his shoulder. “Your room is right next to his, isn’t it?”
Mustafa nodded in greeting, pouring tea from an electric kettle.
“Didn’t see him come in nor out, last night or this morning,” Doyle said honestly. To be really truthful, he’d actually searched Najafi’s room the night before. Nothing to find whatsoever. The layout of the furnished room was the mirror opposite of his own. Najafi kept his clothes, toiletries and a few books for the classes he taught—Doyle had recognised the name Khaghani on a Persian language book sitting on the desk—but nothing that could connect him to anything illegal. Frustrating and illuminating at the same time. Najafi was keeping things very close to his chest. Did he keep his laptop with him?
Doyle had tried to recall if Najafi had been carrying a computer when they left the Islamic Society room together, and concluded that he had not been. So where was it? No modern college student went anywhere without a laptop.
“I’ll see him later, most likely, in the tutorial,” Doyle said, giving a friendly wave to the men leaving. He accepted a cup of steaming tea from Mustafa and stirred in milk. “So saying, I’d better cram my Rubaiyat so I don’t look like a complete prat later on.”
The rain had stopped but the atmosphere around St John’s was strained and gloomy. Doyle walked from the North Quad on his way to Sharif’s offices in Canterbury Quad with growing concern. Knots of students spoke in low, worried voices, a few gesturing at the chapel. Coppers guarded a passageway, and as Doyle stood watching, two men dressed in Tyvek carried a stretcher bearing a body bag down the stairs.
Spotting Sara Ludwig, Doyle walked over. She was standing with Yazmin, Marie Bonville and Colin Patterson talking in nervous whispers.
“What’s going on?” Doyle asked. He could read a crime scene easily enough. Someone had died.
“Murder,” Colin answered, in a mixture of horror and excitement. “People are saying it was Father Tristan and another man.”
“That’s his rooms, there,” Sara explained, pointing to a window partially obscured by one of the few trees in this quad. Blue police tape was looped around the tree trunk.
“When?” Doyle asked, his mouth going dry. Could this impact his investigation if he had to contend with so many coppers on campus?
“Last night, I think,” Yazmin said quietly.
Doyle’s mobile buzzed in his pocket. He moved away from the group, watching the attendants cart another body to a morgue wagon parked outside the entrances. A SOCO team was taking samples on the window sill of the priest’s quarters, and several more police hurried into the building.
“Where are you?” Bodie asked without preamble.
“Near the chapel, watching…” Doyle swallowed, affected more than he’d expected to be. Father Tristan had seemed like a kind, religious man. Who knew what lay behind his public persona? “Bodies go by.”
“Bloody fucked up, this is,” Bodie said heartily. “Can you get into the chapel?”
“I’ve got to be in Sharif’s tutorial soon.” Doyle frowned. “What do you know that I don’t?”
“Don’t worry about the lesson. I’ll meet you there in five. Introduce you to my new friends.”
“See you there,” Doyle said, mystified, ringing off. Bodie must be on St Giles Street to get here that fast. He pretended to check his phone for texts, watching his fellow students walk reluctantly through the passageway to Front Quad. Good, they wouldn’t see him going into the chapel.
A tall, blond haired man in a overcoat, smoking a fag, strode away from the cordoned off area. One of Bodie’s friends from the local coppers, then? Blowing out a cloud of smoke, he stubbed the cigarette out on the stone walkway and went into the chapel.
Bodie saw Inspector Lewis talking to the St John’s head porter and walked through, glad that he could get in easily during public entrance hours. Limited access was the one drawback of not being an enrolled student.
The Quad was teaming with constables and forensic investigators. Bodie had got a call from Sergeant Hathaway midway through his Costa Coffee breakfast: coffee with a cheese and onion toastie. Hearing the news that Sharif was dead, he’d stuffed the toastie down his throat with a last drink of scalding coffee and run all the way to St John’s.
Was the murder a colossal coincidence, or a potentially dangerous angle that could put Doyle directly in harm’s way?
The inside of the chapel was dark, with few lamps lit. A small perpetual flame over the altar at the far end did nothing to dispel the gloom but Bodie could make out Hathaway and Doyle standing together.
“We’ve met already,” Doyle said angrily, jerking a thumb at Hathaway as Bodie approached. “You couldn’t tell me Sharif was shot on the blower?”
“Keeping radio silence is always optimal,” Hathaway said formally. “Particularly when you were in the midst of students who attend his tutorials. We need to keep this contained as long as possible to question students without external biases and—“
“Ta for the back-up,” Bodie waved away his lengthy explanation. “We just need to know how this affects our investigation, yeah?”
“Do you have viable suspects?” Doyle demanded.
“Viable?” Hathaway’s impassive demeanour gave nothing away. He held his palm up as if weighing invisible options. “However, my governor texted me that he’s spoken with the porter, Mandrake. No-one except students, educational staff, scouts or religious personnel came into St John’s after nine pm last night. He’d seen a few students leave earlier, but no-one at all past nine.”
“That’s when he died?” Bodie dropped into one of the chairs, the cheese and onion not sitting well after running full tilt down the street.
“Preliminary according to the medical examiner,” Hathaway answered. “There is one thing—a party in the common rooms nearest Father Tristan’s quarters was apparently quite loud. More than one student trying to study complained.”
“Which is why no-one heard the shot,” Doyle surmised gloomily. “Bugger. We’d already deduced that he wasn’t our terrorist cell leader, but who the hell would want him dead?”
“It may have nothing to do with the Al Qaeda angle,” Hathaway said, glancing up at the altar with an enigmatic expression. “From all appearances, they were quite possibly involved—a couple.”
“Bloody hell, that does put a different spin on it.” Bodie chuffed an astonished laugh. “Shagging a priest, eh?”
“I could tell they were friends, and I’ve only been at college three days,” Doyle said.
“They were apparently keeping their relationship extremely quiet, I’m sure due to the increased unrest between Islamics and Christians, not to mention University politics.” Hathaway shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’ve keep you in the loop. I want assurances that if CI5 uncovers anything that pertains to our murder investigation, you give us the same courtesy.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Of course.” Doyle put out a hand. “Co-operation.”
Hathaway shook Doyle’s hand and then Bodie’s. “Best get back to running down a viable suspect,” he said with the first glimpse of humour Bodie had seen.
“Compare notes?” Bodie asked when Hathaway had left. “Doubt you’ll be missed at Persian Literature—“
“I should make an appearance, or that will be noticed,” Doyle shot back. “Lunch in two hours?”
Bodie had the irrational feeling he shouldn’t let Doyle out of his sight but he nodded. “I’ll be past peckish by then. Text the address,” he said, looking up at the gorgeous stained glass windows depicting revered saints. Not often Doyle left him standing at the altar.
The other seven members of Sharif’s tutorial were crammed into the corridor in front of his office. As Doyle walked up, Sara Ludwig dashed over, mobile clenched in her fist.
“Where did you go?” she demanded, as if she was in charge of his schedule. “It’s past time to begin and Professor Sharif isn’t here. The door is locked. Do you know something?”
“Why would you think that?” Doyle asked, pretending confusion.
“First, the murder out there and now the Professor hasn’t begun,” Yazmin said worriedly. “We saw you get a call on your mobile. Sara thought perhaps the College sent out an alert but no-one else received a text or call.”
“Family problems, money.” Doyle had planned the cover story. It worked to explain why he was late, as well as why he would probably leave Oxford before the end of term. “I may have to leave school. We’re trying to sort it.”
“Sorry, man, that’s rough,” Colin said, clapping a hand on his arm.
“Have you tried the financial department?” Ryo Tanaka suggested.
Somehow, Doyle’s announcement had diverted the groups’ attention away from their professor’s absence. Doyle found himself bombarded with suggestions and consolations. With the others facing him, he was the first to see the wooden door swing open. Shahin Najafi stood, framed in the portal, anger coming off him in waves.
“If you’d all come in, I have news--“ he started.
Sara pushed to the front of the group to be closest to the teaching assistant. “What’s going on, Shahin?”
Najafi’s face twisted momentarily with hatred. He bit his lip—hard—from Doyle’s perspective, and stepped aside to let them all file inside.
“Has something happened to Professor Sharif?” Patrick O’Shea asked, his Irish brogue thick.
“He’s dead,” Najafi said flatly, gripping the chair where Sharif had sat the first day as if about to break it in half.
The entire group seemed to exhale en masse. All peppered Najafi with questions. Sara and Marie burst into tears.
Doyle watched the young man’s body language. He didn’t show any of the classic signs of falsehood or obfuscation. His eyes didn’t shift to the left and he confidently held up a hand to silence the chatter. The underlying sense of fury remained, suffusing his entire being.
“Behrouz Sharif was found in a compromising position with a Christian priest,” Najafi explained, baring his teeth in disgust. “He put this on himself.”
Doyle’s first question should have been: how do you know so much and how did you find out so soon? Had Lewis or Hathaway already informed him of the murder? If so, why hadn’t Hathaway told he and Bodie? He kept silent, waiting to hear what else Najafi knew.
“Are you saying the professor was gay?” Leo Fischer, the German student, asked.
“Fornication with another man is against all tenets of our religion,” Najafi snarled. “This is an affront against Allah, particularly because he was consorting with an infidel. That Sharif purported to respect and worship Allah is an abomination—“ he paused to take a breath, his face flushed with anger.
“May he rest in peace,” Doyle said quietly. He didn’t cross himself.
“Insha’Allah,” whispered Yazmin.
A few others echoed her blessing, sniffing and weeping filling the room. None of them seemed to find Najafi’s rant startling. Maybe most assumed that he was blowing off steam. Doyle was unsettled by his vehemence, like pulling aside a mask and taking a peek underneath. There had to be a way to get Najafi out of circulation as soon as humanly possible, to avoid another potential bombing. Or another British citizen fleeing to the Middle East to join Al Qaeda.
“The man will rot in his grave, bound for hell for this insult against Allah,” Najafi said through clenched teeth. He was ramrod straight, every muscle taut with wrath.
Marie Bonville and Leo apparently couldn’t take it any longer. They somberly walked out. Patrick and Ryo stood near the door, talking quietly to one another. Yazmin watched them silently, her lips pursed but she remained in her chair.
“Shahin,” Sara said tentatively, as if uncertain whether she should step in. She gazed up at him adoringly, wiping tears from her eyes. “What will happen now? Will you be taking over the lessons?”
She got through to him in a way none of the others had. He heaved a breath, shoving his black hair off his forehead. “Sara, my good companion,” Najafi said after a moment. “Thank you for restoring me to a place of peace. Of course, we will continue to study the greatest literature ever produced.” He looked around, noticing for the first time that students had left the room. “There will be a few days’ hiatus, to—“
“Grieve?” Patrick suggested, sarcastically. “You sound like you’re glad he’s dead, Shahin.”
Sara gawped, staring at Patrick. Doyle got the feeling she was more shocked that O’Shea had crossed swords with Najafi than the sentiment.
“Behrouz Sharif chose his path, turning his back on all that I hold sacred. I realise belatedly that I did not know him as well as I thought,” Najafi answered. “If you feel differently, O’Shea, dropping this class is always an option. Especially so close to the beginning of term.”
“Gladly.” Patrick glared and walked out.
Colin and Ryo followed him. Colin glanced back as if expecting Doyle to join them.
Doyle acknowledged his concern but shook his head slightly. As much as he’d like to shove Najafi against a wall and punch him in the face, he still had a job to do. Which meant burying his own emotions to make nice with a man he hated more with each passing day.
“What about you, Duncan?” Najafi asked astutely. “I saw the way he looked at you. You in league with the enemy?”
“I don’t consider either of you the enemy,” Doyle answered, stressing the last word. “I came here to learn more about the Middle East, to convert to Islam, but…” he trailed off, unable to say what was on his mind. “I want to study, full stop.”
“Good.” A smile lifted his cheeks without reaching his hard, dark eyes. “That’s what I want to hear. We’ll start with Khaghani on Thursday. Same time—here.”
The one book he’d had on his desk. Did that show pre-meditation? Or was Doyle finding connections where there were none?
“P-professor Sharif’s rooms?” Yazmin’s voice quavered.
“Why not? He won’t be using them anymore.” Najafi shrugged cheerfully.
“What do you have so far?” Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent crossed her arms over her chest, waiting to be impressed.
Robbie taped the last of the photographs up on the white board, facing away from his superior. Catching his eye, Hathaway ducked his chin to his shirt collar, his lips twitching. No-one else would have recognised it for a smirk, but Robbie knew his sergeant very well indeed. In his own way, James was all but laughing out loud.
Hathaway cleared his throat. “Father Tristan Vaughn, priest at St John’s Chapel, was found dead in his quarters on campus at five am.” He tapped the black and white photo of a handsome young man with light brown hair and smiling eyes. “The assistant rector, Father Edward Schoenberg arrived, to prepare for Matins, or morning prayer, as was his custom, and discovered Vaughn and Professor Behrouz Sharif dead on the floor. They were so close together, it appeared they were embracing.”
Robbie pointed a forefinger at the second photo of Sharif in full professorial garb for some Oxfordian ritual. The final picture was a group shot of several priests, in their vestments. “This is Father Edward,” he indicated the portly, middle-aged man in the centre. “He was at Christ Church Cathedral at a round robin symposium with clergy from several other churches in the area on Monday evening.”
“Do you know when both were killed?” Innocent asked, studying the board.
“Dr Hobson says approximately nine pm. She is in the midst of her autopsy as we speak,” Hathaway took up the recital again. “As far as she could ascertain on preliminary, a single bullet went through Sharif’s back—probably piercing the heart or lungs, exited his chest and entered Vaughn’s chest, killing both instantly.”
“Was that the same bullet that killed President Kennedy and hit that governor what- was-his-name as well?” Innocent asked with a definite sarcastic edge.
“I believe Kennedy’s assassin was much farther away, on the sixth floor of the book depository,” Hathaway answered without a hint of a smile.
Robbie could feel his DS’s humour all the way to his bones and had the sudden, and very unlike himself, urge to kiss Hathaway in front of Innocent. Surely she was aware of their not all that subtle flirting? She was an intelligent woman, although she mostly had her nose in paperwork and interdepartmental politics.
“A rifle or a pistol?” Innocent frowned. “This isn’t London, we get so few shootings in Oxford.”
“Footprints established that the killer stood outside Vaughn’s quarters and fired a single shot through the window pane,” Lewis explained. “Not difficult to conceal what we are assuming was a pistol inside a rucksack or a purse.”
“And unlike the Bodleian or Ashmolean,” Hathaway sipped from a cup of coffee he’d been holding since they came in, “there are no guards or metal detectors at St John’s.”
“Judging from the shootings we hear about at colleges in the US, I’m beginning to wonder if we need them,” Innocent said crossly. “Until we get word from ballistics, we’ll refrain from speculating on the weapon.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He rubbed his eyes, fatigue showing from the early morning.
“Any idea how long they had been in the priest’s flat? Did they go out together and were followed home?” Innocent asked.
“What we have so far is that Father Tristan had Compline service at seven,” Hathaway read from his notes.
“After which, he retired to his rooms to work on a sermon, according to Father Edward,” Robbie went on. “All we know of Professor Sharif is that he had a late afternoon private tutorial with a student—one Mustafa Nabib. The department secretary, Mary Osborne, said Sharif had a sandwich at his desk after the meeting. She saw Nabib leave, but she went home at six and Sharif was still there.”
“So if Compline ended by eight, there’s approximately one hour unaccounted for the good priest,” Innocent surmised.
“And as much as three for Sharif,” Hathaway said with a faint nod, flipping the page on his notebook before stowing it in a jacket pocket. “We’ve still much to do.”
Innocent peered at the diagram of St John’s North Quad as Hathaway explained that the loud music at a party in a nearby room probably prevented most around the area from hearing any shots.
“What about CCTV?” she asked. “Any one seen outside St John’s?”
“Oxfordshire traffic division has been contacted and they will be bringing over pertinent footage for the times involved within the hour.” Hathaway spread his arms in a what-can-you-do gesture. “Although, with only one entrance open at that hour, any individual coming in or out would most probably be a member of the College.”
Robbie bobbed his head, recalling a quick phone call from the CI5 agent. “We did get an eyewitness who had been at the Eagle and Child. He saw Shahin Najafi walking out of the college at quarter past nine.”
“I say he gets a ranking on the suspect list,” Hathaway insisted.
“Our suspect list is every person who knew or worked with both men,” Robbie complained with a groan. “We haven’t eliminated anyone yet.”
“Logical question, then,” Innocent said, turning around with her hands clasped behind her back. “Did either man have enemies?”
“Exactly what we are working on now, ma’am,” Robbie answered quickly. “We’ll be talking to those that knew them, fellow clergy, students in Sharif’s classes. Vaughn had only been here a few months—since June. He was previously at a church in London, so we’ll contact Scotland Yard, as well.”
“Professor Sharif seems well respected, at least on the surface. No wife nor immediate family in England,” Hathaway explained. “One last thing.” He glanced over at Lewis, a question in his eyes.
Robbie inclined his head in agreement. If Innocent didn’t already know, she should.
She beat him to the punch. “Have you spoken with the CI5 operative who came by yesterday? He was meant to be asking about radicalised students in the Oriental studies department, such as that young woman last June--”
“Beatrix Chambers and her sister, Deirdre,” Robbie said. What a horrible, sad situation. Neither he nor Hathaway had told William Bodie the whole story: that they’d been integral in stopping the Chambers sisters. Of the six daughters in the Chambers family, Beatrix and Deirdre were the two youngest. Martin and Shelagh Chambers had raised their girls in a strict no-nonsense Christian fundamental church which advocated corporal punishment such as flogging with a belt for misbehaviour. They’d been horrified to have a daughter with Down syndrome and had basically ignored her for most of her life. Her sisters had raised her, but as the older ones married and moved out, there was no-one but Beatrix to protect Deirdre from her parents’ cold condemnation.
It was little wonder Beatrix sought a different path once she entered college. Although extremely bright, she was exactly the downtrodden sort to be seduced by these black-hearted extremists. They’d undoubtedly promised her special significance if only she would do as they asked, no questions. Luckily, her older sibling, Marian, found a suicide note stating her intentions and called the local police. Because the note had not specified where she was planning to detonate the bomb, the report had taken time to get to Oxford.
Lewis and Hathaway had been in St Giles after questioning staff at Balliol College on a completely unrelated matter. Robbie could still remember seeing Beatrix and Deirdre, both wearing bulky coats buttoned to the collar on a warm June day, directly in front of the white painted Lamb and Flag. Beatrix had flung open her coat to reveal the bomb, announcing that she was going to paradise.
Whilst he called the bomb squad and DI Peterson’s action men, Hathaway had intercepted the girls, talking in that gentle, compassionate voice of his. He’d been the soul of calm. Redirecting, negotiating, cajoling until the sisters had allowed the bomb squad close enough to disconnect the wires from the detonators. Beatrix had never revealed the name of the man who seduced her nor where she had obtained the explosives. It was always assumed that the real criminal was still in Oxford, possibly involved in the University. Professor Sharif had been an early suspect.
In Robbie’s opinion, little Deirdre had had no clue of what she’d nearly been a part of. Beatrix’s grief had been hard to fathom. He still wasn’t sure what had possessed her to strap a pound of plastique and RDX onto herself and her impaired sister. The mere thought that the bomb could have gone off, killing not only the Chambers sisters, but Hathaway, had the power to send chills down his spine. He hadn’t known Sharif personally, but from what he’d gleaned, the professor was not involved. Oxfordshire Police had never been given the go-ahead to investigate fully because the entire case had been sent up the line to CI5 and MI5.
“I received a call from the operative’s superior, a Major George Cowley,” Innocent said. “I always wondered when the government’s finger would point back at Oxford on this matter.”
“Actually, he was our single eyewitness,” Lewis said.
“Name’s Bodie. He’s involved in an ongoing investigation into connections between others in the Persian Studies department and local fundamental Islamic cells,” Hathaway put in. “Since this directly impacted his investigation—“
“We felt it was necessary to include him in ours,” Robbie concluded. It had been his decision, ultimately. If Innocent objected, fine. He and James had butted heads with her in the past.
Her face went stormy, eyebrows slanting toward her nose in consternation. After a moment, she nodded with a frown. “Unorthodox, to be sure, but it is possible there are tie-ins between the two cases.” She huffed a breath. “Did he give you any specifics?”
“I got the impression they’d only recently swung away from Sharif and were looking into Shahin Najafi.” Robbie located his coffee mug on the clutter around his desk. Empty, of course.
James shoved his hands into his trouser pockets with that wistful expression that meant he was longing for a fag. Really should stop smoking, Robbie thought for the millionth time, and refocussed on his boss.
Innocent waggled her finger at him and Hathaway, school teacher-like. “Do remember I am your superior and I need to be kept abreast of every element of your investigation. Clear?”
“As crystal, ma’am,” Robbie said, straight-faced. As if he’d forget that.
Despite his glum reminiscence, Lewis burst into laughter at the look Hathaway tossed his way. After Innocent was out of earshot, of course.
Bodie turned down a street and nearly tripped over a trio of tables set out onto a wide part in the pavement. Doyle was sitting in a metal folding chair, eyes closed, face turned up to the weak sun peeking through the gunmetal clouds. Bodie regretted his clumsiness. The chair he’d run into toppled over onto its brethren with a loud clatter.
Doyle jerked upright, his blue-green eyes wide in alarm, one hand going for the gun that usually would have been strapped under his left arm. He glared at Bodie, relaxing on an exhale.
“No Al Qaeda assassins sneaking up on you, mate,” Bodie said, only half in jest. While he’d relished the chance to wallow in Doyle’s physical beauty while he was asleep, the more rational side of him was horrified that Doyle had left himself so vulnerable. “Not like you to take a kip on a public street.”
“Meditating,” Doyle corrected, straightening the blue jumper he’d borrowed from Bodie. “Didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“And why would that be?” Bodie shivered. Wasn’t exactly the day to be eating al fresco, with rain imminent. “We going in?”
“Yeah.” Doyle stood, leading the way into Cornflower. “Let’s order first before we talk. Also didn’t eat anything yet.”
No wonder he was so stroppy. Doyle may not be the foodaholic Bodie was but even he needed to eat three times a day.
They sat down at a tiny table slotted into the far corner of the restaurant. There were only half a dozen other tables, most occupied by University students chowing down on salads or disgusting—in Bodie’s opinion—looking fry-ups. Generally he approved of fry-ups: bubble and squeak. Or sausage, bacon and eggs. But there didn’t appear to be a single piece of meat on any of the plates. He couldn’t believe that all the diners had eaten their sausages before he arrived.
“This is a vegetarian restaurant!” he announced in a loud whisper.
“Quite observant of you, mate,” Doyle said sarcastically, poring over the menu.
“I wouldn’t have come if—“ Bodie broke off, catching Doyle’s eyes above the laminated card. He’d capitulate in a heartbeat just to be able to look into those eyes every single day. Not sleeping together was turning him into a romantic nutter.
“You like minestrone.” Doyle pointed to the specials board propped against the counter. “As well as quiche or cheese and onion omelette.”
“Had cheese and onion toastie for brekker,” Bodie answered. “Sounds ponce, but I’ll try a melted Brie, apple slices and fig jam sarnie, chips on the side.”
Doyle snorted as if to say, you’ll never change, and ordered a quiche from a waitress with pink streaks in her hair and a septum piercing.
Bodie really hated septum piercings. He always found himself staring up their nostrils. “Now give me the details.” He poked Doyle’s bicep when Pink Hair had departed. “Tell me you weren’t cramming for a test this early in the year.”
“You won’t like it.” Doyle squinted at him.
“Try me.” Bodie shrugged, wishing he could leave his fingers there on Doyle’s arm but the waitress was returning with glasses of sparkling water.
Doyle didn’t speak until she’d gone back to the gap between the dining room and the kitchen to retrieve some other customer’s omelette. “I searched the room of the bloke on the right of me in the dorm last night.”
“On your own?” Bodie exploded, barely managing to keep his voice quiet. “Have you gone mental?”
Holding up one hand, Doyle fended off his fury. “No joy. Bugger all that would link him to Al Qaeda or the bombs,” he said soberly. “No laptop in his room. Couldn’t test for chemical residue, of course.”
Despite his frustration and anger that Doyle had done something so dangerous, Bodie nodded. Wouldn’t do to express his fear that Doyle could have been killed invading possible enemy territory. “How about a Gap rucksack?”
Doyle kicked him under the table.
“He wouldn’t keep anything incriminating in such an accessible place—anyone could walk into his room. Does he have a desk in Professor Sharif’s office?” Bodie mused.
“I’ll try to search there, but this morning, the rooms were locked to students,” Doyle answered, sipping his water. “Could attempt to wangle a key from one of the scouts. Pretend I’ve left my notes or something.”
“Always were a hit with the birds,” Bodie said, feeling suddenly indulgent.
“Ta.” Doyle rolled his eyes. “Your mates from the police will be getting a warrant to look through Sharif’s belongings, in any case.”
“I’ll ping them.” Bodie pulled out his mobile to text Hathaway and Lewis. “Strange the way this turned into a murder case right in front of our eyes.”
“A feeling in me gut says the possible gay angle is obscuring something else goin’ on,” Doyle said pessimistically.
“I have a confession to make, as well.” Bodie said, once he’d sent the message. “I was in St Giles Street at quarter past nine last night.”
“Did you see something?”
“There were a few people walking about—from both pubs.” Bodie waved a hand in the general direction of St Giles. “I did see your mate. Whilst you were burgling his room, he was coming out of St John’s.”
“You’re going to want to tell that to the police,” Doyle observed.
“Already have done. Thing is, without any evidence to link him to…” Bodie shrugged, “what happened at Father Tristan’s, he had every reason to be in the vicinity. He works there.”
“Yeah. Therein lies the difficulty.”
The waitress delivered their food and trotted off as a couple of diners hailed her from across the room. Bodie smelt the strong aroma of marijuana on a student at a table near them, although nobody was actively smoking.
“Where’d you find this place, anyway?” he asked, tucking into his chips. Lovely, crisp, greasy and salty. The novel sandwich was surprisingly good. Despite the vegetarian fare and contact high, he was quite satisfied.
“Notice tacked up on a board in Kendrew…” Doyle trailed off, a forkful of quiche hovering halfway to his mouth. He lowered his arm, setting the morsel on his plate and twisted around, gazing at the front of the restaurant. He pointed at an array of flyers stuck by the window with cello-tape. “Lots of places advertise with flyers—I’ve seen them all over college.”
“On telephone poles,” Bodie agreed. “If you need pin money, I’m sure you could get a job posting them.”
“There’s an Oktoberfest this Thursday.” Doyle indicated another flyer decorated with generic German drawings. “Since you like your German brews.” He finally took the bite of quiche, but there was clearly something niggling at him.
“What’s on your so-called mind?” Bodie splashed vinegar on his chips and ate a handful.
“Something I should remember but can’t.” He shook his head, poking at a green salad next to his quiche and eating some. “It’s not possible to just cart the RDX around in a satchel. Our suspect must have a lock up close by.”
“Would be a great place to keep the chemicals and other equipment he’d need. The question is where? I’ll look into addresses for local places.” Bodie considered ordering dessert. There were some pastries on display under a glass dome. “And on a lighter note, been trolling the web lately. Setting up me status on Facebook, checking tweets.”
“Social media, the pablum of the masses,” Doyle said straight-faced. “Friend anyone?”
“Saw posts from several of your classmates, including some former students you and I got to know in London.”
“Japhia?” Doyle mouthed.
Bodie nodded. “She hasn’t been on in more than a week—and no updated status. Me and Murph’ve been instant messaging all day, trading links.” He beckoned Miss Pink Hair and nose ring. “An éclair for me and my date, with two forks.”
“Your date?” Doyle echoed, a hint of laughter spicing his mock outrage.
Pink Hair giggled, sliding the French pastry onto a pink plate. “Fresh today. Me mum makes ‘em.”
Bodie sampled her wares. The pastry was buttery light, the custard inside smooth as silk and the chocolate on top perfection. “Tres bon!” he congratulated with a bow.
“I’ll tell her you said so.” She turned, acknowledging two new customers.
“Busy place,” Bodie commented. As expected, Doyle took a single taste. He wasn’t one for sweets most of the time, so Bodie was gratified to see Doyle licking the chocolate off his fork. “You can find all manner of things on Facebook,” he said. “Your teaching assistant is quite chatty in his posts—goin’ on and on about the superiority of the Middle East. I’ll send a link to your mobile.”
Locating Shahin Najafi online had been the work of minutes for CI5’s computer analysts. They had gained access to his pages on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, as well as some Islamic extremist sites where he posted quite frequently. He had one email account with an Oxford student URL, one on Gmail, and another through British Telecom. The latter used encrypted software and was routed through multiple proxy servers to decrease the likelihood of being intercepted. CI5’s Cyber Crimes division was working to decode the emails in the hopes of discovering Najafi’s contacts. They were also tracing links to the dark web to check for Najafi’s electronic presence.
“Must have a laptop hidden—with a secure place to post from. He can’t be using a device at the Bodleian, or any of the other smaller libraries in Oxford,” Doyle mused. “Not to mention an internet café or Costa’s.” He tapped his mobile in the side front pocket of his jeans. “Could do some things from his phone, but—“
“Murph sent excerpts from some of his private emails,” Bodie confided sotto-voce. “For the most part, those are unremarkable. Uses different addresses for family and friends, and what appears to be top level encryption for the rest.”
Doyle stuck his fork in the remaining portion of éclair, scraping a layer of chocolate straight off the top.
“Knew you liked eclairs more than you let on.” Bodie smirked, rescuing the squashed left over pastry and popping it into his mouth. “Think you can get in your mate’s good graces? Pay for a round at the pub?”
“Bodie, he’s Muslim. They don’t drink.” Doyle gave him a withering look from around the fork he was sucking.
The image was so erotic, so enticing that Bodie had to glance away to cool his racing jets. What he would do to have Doyle in his bed right now. There was the obstacle of his nosy landlady at the Clarington Bed and Breakfast, but he and Doyle were both trained agents. Surely they could out-manoeuver one old biddy.
“The lovers drink in your Rubaiyat. Have drunk their cup a round or two before, ” Bodie quoted after adjusting his trousers.
“You should have been the one taking the bloody tutorial,” Doyle shot back, pulling out his mobile to check the time. “I best get back to College—check in with some of the other students. It’s been a rough day.” He blew out an explosive breath. “I didn’t know Sharif long, but he seemed like a genuinely nice fellow. Sincere, and really devoted to introducing new students to the Persian classics.”
“What about a memorial service?” Bodie suggested. “Read more of the Rubaiyat together. Get some of the other students to talk about the last time they saw him—and his teaching assistant.”
“Bodie, I won’t say this often, but you’re a genius.” Doyle stood, pulling his tartan scarf out of his back pocket to wind around his neck.
“Modest and handsome, too, yeah?”
“You flatter yourself enough.” Doyle rubbed his knuckles under his chin. “I can’t question Sara, she’d report back to Najafi, if she actually knows where he might be hiding things.”
“Beatrix Chambers!” Bodie said abruptly. “She’d know.”
“What’re you banging on about?”
“The woman who was stopped from bombing the pub in June,” Bodie said quickly, his brain going a mile a minute. “We’ve discounted her completely.”
“Yeah, because she’s been interrogated by the police, and is in prison,” Doyle countered.
“No harm in taking a drive out to Bronzefield, visiting with her.” Getting up, Bodie tucked fifteen pounds under his tea cup for the meal and walked out of Cornflower with Doyle at his shoulder. “We’ve got far more knowledge about what happened than the coppers did then. Could get her to open up.”
“More’n sixty miles one way.” Doyle looked interested, nonetheless. “Ask her if old Shahin chatted her up—“
“She had an explosive vest. Surely she had some idea where it came from.” Bodie snapped his fingers with a grimace. “Duval Chemicals reported a robbery of RDX in June…to MI-5.”
“The original source.” Doyle nodded. “Took enough for future bombs, as well, did he?”
“We’re shutting his production down as soon as we can,” Bodie said grimly.
James had to admit, he’d been surprised when the collaboration with CI5 paid off so quickly. After Bodie called to tell him that he’d seen Shahin Najafi in the street around the same time of the murder, they’d had sufficient reason to add the teaching assistant to their suspect list. Bodie’s later text that they specifically include Najafi’s laptop to their search warrant parameters had been a boon.
A search of Sharif’s small off-college flat proved conclusively that he and Tristan Vaughn were a couple. There was a photograph of the two of them at the seaside and texts on Sharif’s phone which corresponded to those on a mobile found in Vaughn’s bedroom. Although they’d clearly been trying to keep their relationship quiet—undoubtedly due to potential censure from Oxford University as well as the Church of England--they seemed to be completely in love.
Standing in Sharif’s St John’s office with a pretty view of the gardens below, James flicked his eyes to Lewis going through paperwork on the professor’s desk. He and Robbie were very careful—never actually spending every night together. Always trying to arrive at the police department at different times. He suspected some of their colleagues knew they were a couple. But even in 2010, having a same sex relationship would quite probably mean a reprimand from Innocent and the end of working together. Something he could not imagine. He loved Robbie Lewis and wouldn’t have changed anything, although there were considerably easier ways to conduct a love life.
He wished he’d met Sharif after the lecture he’d attended, known him better. The professor must have felt so confined by social conventions—not to mention that he and Vaughn held very different religious beliefs.
Having to keep a huge part of his life private was alienating, and James’d had far too much of that in childhood.
“What’re you looking at?” Lewis asked with a half smile.
“Reflecting on how much we all hide in life,” James said, melancholia settling in.
“Our Lynn knows about us,” Lewis reminded quietly, opening a drawer in the professor’s tidy desk.
“My family would not be best pleased,” James said pragmatically. Frankly, his sister Nell seemed put out by many of his life choices. She’d been so keen on him going into the priesthood. Had she wanted him celibate? Now that was an unsettling thought. “Any thing of merit there?”
“So much paperwork, I don’t know where to begin,” Lewis said. “What about that contraption?” He indicated a Dell PC squat in the middle of the desk.
“That computer’s old enough that I could log on without a password.” James hit a few keys in proof. A number of files and icons popped up on the desktop screen. “More work for Gurdip.”
“His diary confirms that he’d met with Nabib,” Lewis held up the leather bound book, “and he was supposed to meet with Najafi at half six.”
“Whether or not that happened is anyone’s guess?” James asked. “We’ll have to schedule our own meeting with him.”
“Najafi’s desk must be in the ante-room.” Lewis pointed.
The desk in question was crammed into a tiny space that had once been a closet. It was overflowing with teaching plans, notes for future publications on Persian poetry, and newspaper cuttings on Islamic uprisings. Many were from local papers focussing on Beatrix Chambers’ aborted bombing attempt. Not incriminating on their own, although their presence proved interest in the subject. Lewis and James found nothing that could link Najafi to his superior’s murder, nor specific radical Islamic rhetoric.
They did not find his laptop. A few odds and ends that may—or may not—prove fruitful were dutifully bagged as evidence and tucked into a large sack that James carried away with him. SOCO would go over the room later, to confiscate Sharif’s computer and whatever else could give insight into the life of the murdered man.
Lewis brushed the back of his hand against James’s as they closed Sharif’s office door, the closest they would ever get to a caress while on duty. James let Robbie’s warmth shore him up against future bouts of depression concerning the state of their romance. At least both he and Robbie were alive and able to carry on as they had been doing.
Emerging from the building into Canterbury Quad, James stared up at the grandeur of St John’s Chapel. He dug cigarettes out of his coat pocket. Using the actions of lighting the cancer stick and settling it between his lips, he crossed himself, sending a small prayer for Tristan and Behrouz. Technically, if he still called himself a Roman Catholic, he wasn’t quite the same denomination as either of them. Yet, they all shared the same God.
“Come on, bonny lad, lunch,” Lewis said affectionately, waving to the copper on guard by the cordoned-off crime scene. “Let’s find something to fatten you up.”
“You think that’s possible?” James allowed himself to be jollied into a better mood. There were worse alternatives.
“We both need a good pasty, something filling to face questioning this mysterious Najafi,” he muttered.
Bodie sat behind the two way mirror looking into the interrogation room.
This was the first time he’d seen Shahin Najafi up close, in daylight. The boy was film star handsome, with lush black hair and long, inky dark eye lashes. Wasn’t his type in the least but Bodie could see how Najafi would be able to wrap any young, vulnerable woman around his little finger in seconds.
Najafi sat with his arms crossed over his chest, playing bored to the hilt, with a uniquely ‘I’m far superior’ demeanour. He had none of the usual nervous ticks many suspects display when cooling their heels alone in the drab room. He didn’t tap his fingers or wander anxiously, waiting for his interrogators. He’d clearly done this before—most notably barely four months earlier when Beatrix and Deirdre Chambers were arrested with bombs strapped to their chests.
Bodie appreciated that Lewis and Hathaway had allowed him to be present for the interview. He’d asked them to steer away from questioning Najafi on his online Islamic rhetoric unless it came up naturally in the course of the discussion. However, he yearned to jump in and grill the bastard on his knowledge of the recent spate of near explosions in Oxford and London. Even if Najafi turned out not to be the ring leader, he most certainly had his finger in the pie. Bodie could feel it in his bones.
After ten minutes, DI Lewis walked in carrying a folder. He looked over his shoulder, waiting until DS Hathaway joined him, before paying any attention to Najafi.
Najafi rolled his eyes in contempt and glanced at his watch.
Lewis turned on a tape machine and identified who was in the room for the record.
“Am I under arrest?” Najafi asked as if he had other things to do and places to go.
“Were you read your rights?” Lewis countered.
“Nah, your lackey here,” Najafi flicked a finger at Hathaway with contempt, “came to my college and collected me. No answers, only questions.”
Hathaway, leaning against the side wall, didn’t blink an eye at the insult. “You hadn’t returned any of my phone calls,” he answered mildly. “Difficult man to get hold of.”
“I am not a slave to my mobile as some,” Najafi said with a slight shrug. “I prefer to concentrate on a higher power and give all my devotion to Allah.”
“A noble endeavour.” Hathaway bowed his head. “If your motives are pure.”
“I pray five times a day. I doubt you are so devout,” Najafi replied hotly.
“You’d be surprised,” Lewis intervened, with an inward smile. “Back to the subject at hand. Your superior was found at five am this morning in Father Tristan Vaughn’s quarters.”
“What’s the word? In flagrante?“ Najafi shifted in his wooden chair, a flicker of emotion crossing his handsome face like he was fighting an urge to curse them both.
Even from the other side of the glass, Bodie got an overwhelming sense of anger but Najafi schooled his features instantly. Lewis, with his back to the mirror, didn’t move, not even to open his file or write down a note.
“Dead?” Hathaway said after a long pause.
“It’s still a shock,” Najafi said theatrically. “I’ve got a lot of responsibilities now. I’m in charge of two of his tutorials. Have to coordinate with the dean on how to move forward…”
“Indeed,” Lewis said dryly. “Then we’ll get started so that you can be on your way promptly. I’m sure you’re aware that we’ll be asking all the staff about their interactions with Professor Sharif before the murder—“
“You’re sure it’s a murder?” Najafi interrupted. “What proof do you have?”
“We cannot discuss the particulars,” Hathaway intoned, finally stirring from his resting place. He perched on the edge of the table to Najafi’s right. “However, a good place to start would be your whereabouts before and after nine pm on October eleventh.”
“Yesterday,” Lewis added helpfully, turning his head to his sergeant.
Bodie felt the easy give and take between the two of them, much like he and Doyle. They knew what the other was thinking and played off one another well. A good partnership.
“Every moment of the day?” Najafi asked sarcastically. “I do prayers before sunrise. I was in my room. The bloke who lives to the left might have heard, don’t know.“
“His name?” Lewis persisted, pen poised at the ready.
“New student—and he’s in one of Behrouz’ classes, Persian Literature,” Najafi said, as if handing them a suspect. “Ray Duncan.”
Even though he’d been expecting to hear Doyle’s name, it was still discomforting. Bodie clenched his fists with the urge to throttle Najafi.
“Can anyone verify that?” Lewis continued, jotting down the name.
Najafi shrugged. “I ate breakfast in my room, and set out on some early morning errands. Cash point machine, bought some stamps...”
“When did you learn about Professor Sharif’s murder?” Hathaway interrupted what sounded like it would be minute by minute recitation of Najafi’s day.
“Mrs Osborne, Behrouz’s secretary, rang me. She was crying.” He pursed his lips, dismissing her weak, feminine behaviour. “Told me to come straight ‘round. There were coppers everywhere.”
“How is it that you avoided speaking to each and every one of them?” Hathaway asked, one eyebrow slanted with speculation.
Behind the glass, Bodie laughed. He was beginning to get a feel for the lanky sergeant’s style. There was great depth below his outwardly innocuous surface.
“Luck?” Najafi matched his poker face. “I was horrified. Holed up in my office for two hours to gather my thoughts before the students arrived for his ten am tutorial.”
“He didn’t have any meetings or lectures previous to ten?” Lewis questioned.
“Not on Tuesdays.”
Lewis finally flipped open the file, swivelling in his chair. Bodie could see crime scene photos. “Do you recognise him?”
Najafi flicked his eyes to the picture and back up to Lewis contemptuously. “Anyone who defies Allah’s law deserves to die. He consorted with another man.”
“Can you identify him?” Lewis reworded his question.
“That is Behrouz.” Najafi said with loathing.
“You were aware that he and Father Vaughn were friends?” Lewis asked, tapping the close-up of the priest’s face.
“Friends is not exactly the word I would use.” Najafi crossed his arms over his chest. “They had…relations.”
“How did you know?” Hathaway asked. “Had you witnessed Sharif and Vaughn together?”
“A sin against all I hold holy,” Najafi spat without explaining his reasoning. “He professed to be a Muslim, to read the Koran and teach Persian when all along he was—“ He curled his lip, eyes narrowed. “I am ashamed to have considered him a true believer.”
So much for avoiding religion in the discussion. Bodie scowled, listening carefully. His investigation might get some inadvertent benefit.
“How did you know they’d had relations?” Lewis parroted his words. “Sergeant Hathaway asked if you’d seen them together.”
Najafi avoided his gaze, staring straight into the two way mirror. Bodie felt like Najafi was looking directly at him.
“I overheard telephone calls, saw them about a week or so ago. In a coffee shop.” He stiffened as if he could still see the two of them together.
“Is that why you shot him?” Lewis jabbed his finger at the accused, his voice hard as rock.
Bodie had suspected the older man had a core of steel.
“You think me capable?” Najafi put on a show of innocence, one hand raised as if appealing to a higher power. “I would not sin to—“
“You just said Sharif’s actions were a sin,” Hathaway interjected. “Do you feel it is your duty, your right, to rid the world of such people?”
“The Koran says that it is unlawful for a believer to kill another believer,” Najafi recited, almost mocking the two police officers. “Deal firmly with infidels.” He had the smile of a crocodile, all teeth. “I follow the Word, and fit my life to Allah’s.”
“And yet, you just claimed that Sharif was not a true believer,” Lewis pointed out reasonably.
Najafi didn’t rise to the bait, checking his watch again.
“Doesn’t the Koran include a passage to strike off the heads, and the tips of the fingers, of infidels?” Hathaway asked, cocking his head to one side to keep Najafi looking at him. “And that grievous punishment awaits him?”
Najafi stared angrily at him. “You take the Holy Word out of context.”
“If anyone killed another not in retaliation of murder, it would be if he killed all of mankind,” Hathaway quoted softly, but confidently. “Is that out of context?”
Najafi flushed with anger, his fingers closing into fists, but he didn’t attack.
Bodie wondered if Hathaway had expected one? His deadpan expression revealed little.
“All that is well and good,” Lewis said to establish peace. He slid the crime photos back into the file and took out a list. “Religious quotations aside, Mr Najafi, I need a verifiable alibi for the time of Professor Sharif’s death.”
Najafi exhaled noisily and forcibly flattened his hands against the table. From his side of the glass, Bodie leaned forward to hear every word.
“You have no reason to hold me here,” Najafi ground out between clenched teeth. “I did nothing wrong. I see now that Sharif and I had nothing in common beyond a love of Persian literature. I was in our offices until late—“
“You had a meeting with the Professor?” Lewis ran his finger down the printed list. “At half six? We obtained his daily itinerary from his diary.”
“We were putting the final touches on schedules for all of the classes that I am his teaching assistant,” Najafi said with a curt nod. “A productive meeting between colleagues. We discussed nothing of a personal nature and he left—“
“When?” Hathaway asked.
“Half seven? I didn’t check the time. I spent the rest of the evening in seclusion, translating passages for the students not proficient in Farsi.”
Bodie noticed that Najafi’s English, which wavered between RP and Scouse as his own, got increasingly formal the more he had to explain. Many children of emigrants retained a flavour of their parents’ non-native manner of speaking, even when they’d been raised in England. His father had probably used that slightly stilted, reserved language when dealing with authority. CI5 hadn’t investigated the senior Najafi—a possible new angle? Bodie sent a quick text to Murphy. Could be a blind alley, but you never know.
“I left the Quad sometime after nine,” Najafi reported when Bodie tuned back in to the interview on the other side of the one way glass.
“That’s what Mandrake, your porter, said as well.” Lewis nodded, standing. “Thank you for your time, Mr Najafi. You are free to go.”
This caught Najafi off guard, as if he’d expected to be grilled for the rest of the afternoon. He stared at the detective inspector for a beat before standing, tapping his watch with impatience. “You’d best catch whoever done this,” he drawled, the Liverpudlian suddenly strong. “And leave innocent folk to their own lives.”
“Are you innocent?” Hathaway’s lips barely moved, but the question infuriated their suspect.
“Of course I am!” Najafi snarled, leaning toward Hathaway.
The sergeant never moved, tall enough that he had to tuck his chin and lower his eyes to see the other man. Which only fueled Najafi’s righteous indignation. “You have no right to hound me into a corner and pin such a crime on me simply because I am Muslim and subject to discriminatory practices by this Christian legal system.”
“If you have a problem with your treatment at any time in this investigation, lodge a formal complaint with the department,” Lewis said, with a hint of reprimand, with almost an impressively bland exterior as Hathaway.
Bodie had to bite his bottom lip to refrain from laughing out loud. He missed having Doyle around to play similar games of cat and mouse with a suspect.
“We strive to get as much information—and refine our investigation in the first twenty-four hours,” Hathaway explained. “Which is why we greatly appreciate assistance from the public, and people who knew the victims.”
Although he didn’t look mollified, Najafi turned and marched to the door, putting a hand on the knob.
“I do have one last question,” Lewis spoke up, clicking his fingers.
Najafi looked over his shoulder. Hathaway had his hands behind his back, his eyes still lowered, like he was tuning them out, but Bodie could see the tension in his body. No matter how meditative the tall blond appeared, he was very aware of his surroundings.
“Do you own a gun?” Lewis opened the file again, reading off a paper. “Specifically, a FN Five-seven?”
“That’s against the law.” Najafi bit off the word. “May I leave now?”
“Please.” Hathaway stepped to the right and opened the door, letting him out.
Bodie had a dozen questions piling in his brain: things he would have asked and things he wondered why Lewis and Hathaway had omitted. He waited several minutes, to ensure that Najafi had left the corridor before he came out. Lewis and Hathaway beat him to the punch, entering the observation room together.
“You didn’t do a paraffin test on the arsehole?” Bodie exploded. “He didn’t even answer whether he owned a gun or not. Sure—“
“Unfortunately, Mr Bodie, we haven’t the…” Lewis paused, “leeway you in the intelligence sector do. We have to abide by the law, and—“
“We’ve no concrete proof he was involved.” Hathaway scowled, no longer hiding behind a smooth mask.
“Then prove it. He’s behind the bombings, I can feel it. Hiding in plain sight,” Bodie fumed. “Acting like the wronged victim. Fuck this!”
“Touche,” Hathaway agreed. “Najafi does have motive but we’ve no dabs, no gun, no witnesses—“
“Traffic cameras?” Bodie suggested.
“An officer is watching them now,” Lewis said quietly. “But we already know Najafi was at St John’s, and it’s verified by two witnesses when he left. As you yourself were one, that gives us nothing. Until there’s more definitive proof, we need to keep open minds. Who else had reason to kill those two men?”
“Neither had money,” Hathaway put in, propping up the wall. “Bodie, when you saw Najafi, did you see anything to suggest he’d just murdered two people?”
Bodie shook his head, thinking back. “At the risk of sounding like any other daft witness, it was dark and only saw him for a few seconds. Tried to take a snap with me mobile, but he was already too far away.”
Despite his announcement to widen the search, Lewis listened with interest. “He was standing outside the window. He wouldn’t have got any blood spatter.”
“Foot prints?” Bodie asked. “It was raining all night.”
“We got a casting of the prints outside the window—but they’re poor quality.” Lewis removed a photo of shapeless muddy prints from the file. “Too long between the murder and when the tech took the prints, and too much rain. Appear to be standard issue, probably brand new Reeboks.”
“Point in his favour,” Hathaway said, like he was commenting on a tennis match. He patted his pockets, coming up with cigarettes and a lighter.
“No love,” Bodie said, in kind. “No joy.”
“No love at all,” Hathaway said with a hint of a smirk, and a sideways glance at Lewis.
Borzoo and Yazmin, two people Doyle hadn’t expected to work together so seamlessly, took his suggestion of a memorial reading of Rubaiyat, and ran with it. They got the word out in an astonishingly short span of time—social media did have its uses. By Wednesday morning, nearly the entire group from Sharif’s tutorial, and many others who’d taken courses from him in other years, had gathered in an unused room off Canterbury Quad.
Doyle helped by handing out copies of Omar Khayyam’s classic—in either English and Persian—to those who needed one. Marie Bonville arranged donated baklava, chocolate digestives, and other goodies on a side table. Borzoo set out chairs, not in rows, but a large circle to encourage coming together as a community. The mood was subdued; imbued with a sense of purpose after their shock the day before. The students and a few other teachers had come to share their grief and feelings of helplessness.
A noticeable absence was Shahin Najafi. Doyle hadn’t specifically invited him, however, with all the tweets and announcements on Facebook, there was no doubt he knew of the gathering.
“Ray?” Yazmin said quietly, offering a tray of dried fruits.
Doyle selected one of the super sweet delicacies. He really didn’t like dates, but the figs weren’t bad at all. “How are you holding up, Yazmin?”
“I’ve known more than my share of loss…” Yazmin ducked her head, biting on her bottom lip. “Death. I shouldn’t… talk to you. We hardly know one another, but Borzoo says you are trustworthy.”
“Nice to know.” Doyle chewed the fig, getting seeds in his teeth, and no way to dig them out politely. “I consider him a friend.”
“He says that you have—reliable bona fides.” She glanced across the room nervously and then down at her tray, never meeting Ray’s eyes. “You know Japhia Dawson’s family?”
“I do.” He thought quickly, wanting to gain her trust but not scare her off. Did Yazmin have something she needed to get off her chest? “Her mother is really worried about her. She left without any word to Farie. You were friends?” he asked as if he didn’t know the answer.
Yazmin nodded. She looked miserable —sad and worried about more than Sharif’s murder? “I—“ Yazmin sucked in a startled breath and took a step back, looking toward the door. “May we speak later? After maghrib prayers at the Islamic Society?”
“Yes, of course.” Doyle turned to see what had scared her off.
Sara Ludwig had arrived. Most of the group were taking last minute snacks and settling into chairs. A few stopped to greet Sara although her expression didn’t invite friendliness.
Running his tongue around the back of his teeth seeking out stray seeds, Doyle walked across the room. “Sara, so glad you could join us.”
She frowned, arms crossed over her chest, both hands clutching the opposite arm as if she was freezing. The weather had been beautiful, sunny with a slight breeze, so Doyle knew she couldn’t be that cold. She looked like a spy advancing into the enemy camp.
“I came to honour Professor Sharif,” she said tightly. “I can’t stay long—have other…studies to get to.”
Reporting back to Najafi, then, are you? Doyle thought uncharitably. He’d have loved to get her in an interview room and Najafi in another, see who broke first. What was Najafi’s hold on her? Doyle’d had an all-too brief chat with Bodie the evening before, and heard about Lewis and Hathaway’s talk with Shahin. There had to be something they could find. The missing laptop would be brilliant. Not to mention the gun used in the murder.
Much as he’d love to pin Sara down and unravel her devotion to Najafi, he was certain any force would send her straight back to her Svengali. Najafi would just go into hiding.
“Thanks for coming.” Doyle nodded to her. He grabbed the last chair in the circle as Borzoo stood up.
“We’ve come together to remember Professor Behrouz Sharif, a good man who helped us, one and all,” Borzoo announced, holding out his arms to the group. “I only took some of his classes because I enjoyed literature—it isn’t exactly on the list of requirements for Engineering.“
There was a titter of laughter, breaking the ice. Doyle noticed that the mourners began to relax, some opening their books, others nodding or murmuring comments about the Professor.
“But he always encouraged me, even though my Farsi was rusty.” Borzoo laughed with a shrug. “My dad encouraged maths over language. He used to say, You were born in England, speak English. So I’ll be reading from a British version of Sharif’s favourite work of poetry, but if you can, do read in the original language. The sounds, the phrases wash over me, and I can hear Sharif so well.”
“Yes,” several people called out at once.
“He’d have loved this,” another said.
“Would anyone like to go first?” Borzoo looked around the room.
Surprisingly, the first hand up was Sara Ludwig. She had tears in her eyes as she started to read.
The opening paragraphs were now so familiar to Doyle that he could have recited them with his eyes closed. He did shut his eyes, letting the eloquent, lyrical poetry swirl around him, evoking another time, another country but with surprising similarities to his own world.
Others took up the poem, reading in English, then Farsi, and English again.
Phrases jumped out at Doyle, lodging in his brain. He’d forgotten that Moses was mentioned in the poem, and directly afterward the words, “Jesus from the ground suspires.”
Were there conflicts between the Muslims, Jews and Christians even then?
He opened his eyes, hearing sobs and muffled crying as each member of the group read and then passed the poem on to the next person.
Doyle traced his finger down the book as the tale moved on, clearing his throat when it was his turn to read: The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one. Ah, my Belov'ed fill the Cup that clears
To-day Past Regrets and Future Fears.”
Weirdly apropos to his own life. He thought of Bodie, of past regrets that got in the way. That he and Bodie had spent too long circling one another before they let go of their fears and came together. His father had derided gays, hurling taunts and cruel names, banishing Ray’s teenage interest in other men to a hidden part of his soul. He’d let that part of himself out a select few times. One of the earliest was the beating that had smashed his cheekbone. A good reason to keep his deepest desires hidden. Only Bodie had pulled those needs, those wants, into the light.
He finished his section and let it pass to the next reader. People had arrived during the recitations—more people than Doyle had expected. Most stood quietly in the back, or munched the snacks, listening respectfully to the Rubaiyat.
A centuries old poem, read by a variety of students of all religions, celebrating a man whom all had just discovered was gay. Having an affair with a man of the cloth. It seemed incomprehensible yet here they all were, students, teachers and probably a few people who’d heard him speak or simply wanted to acknowledge a good man.
The last section of the Rubaiyat was read in Farsi, which seemed fitting. Those with English versions could follow along, “And when like her, oh, Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass.”
Doyle inhaled, feeling an overpowering rush of love from everyone there. It gave him such hope during this heavy obbo. The world could be full of hatred, prejudice against others different than themselves, but there was also acceptance, love and kindness around every corner.
He mingled with the crowd, chatting with his new friends Borzoo and Mustafa.
“This was truly amazing!” Borzoo raised his glass of Coke. “I really didn’t expect it to go off so well.”
“Ol’ Sharif always said literature was the way to a person’s soul,” Mustafa said. “He gave me confidence to accomplish things I never thought possible. My father came from Saudi Arabia. We never had much here and it was really difficult to get past Brit’s perceptions of a –“ he raised his fingers in air quotes, “coloured bloke.”
“He counselled lots of us.” Borzoo nodded. “I am surprised, with all he did for so many, that he was able to keep his private life so quiet.”
“Did you know about him and Father Tristan?” Doyle asked, sipping lemonade.
Borzoo frowned, shaking his head. His small cap was grey with blue stripes today. “I can understand why he wouldn’t confide in students. He had a reputation with the college to uphold. Being a Muslim, he’s going against the teachings, and few in the faith are going to support his choices.”
Fears, Doyle thought. At least Sharif found his love when he could, and they died together, holding on. Future fears haunted him all the time. What would happen if either he or Bodie died? “And yet so many came out for the memorial, despite the headline in the newspaper.” One sensational rag had blared: Priest and Prof Boffing!
“Really surprising after the coverage,” Mustafa agreed, scratching his jaw.
“I hope they were happy, for the time they had,” Doyle said softly, the idea of never seeing Bodie again scaring him deeply.
“As much as I respect and admire him, I can’t…” Mustafa paused with a frown as if hearing the hypocrisy in his own words, “condone a same sex relationship. I know it sounds backward, and wrong these days, but it’s how I was raised.” He held up his palm, perhaps weighing the evidence. “He makes me want to—“
“View it differently?” Borzoo finished raising his shoulders in a half shrug. He was watching the crowd drifting out the door, but Doyle could tell he wasn’t really seeing the people there at all. Visualising Sharif and Father Tristan, perhaps?
“I guess.” Mustafa looked decidedly troubled. “I just can’t, not yet. It changes… everything.”
“That you’re even considering the idea is a step forward.” Doyle patted his arm. “The world is going so fast right now and in such different directions. In the US, states are already allowing gay marriage, yet in African and Middle Eastern countries, it’s a crime punishable by death.”
“He must have had that on his mind,” Borzoo mumbled. “Who would have done this? Even if you don’t agree with gay men, murder is just such a horrible reaction.”
“Did he have any enemies?” Doyle asked. Borzoo had given him a perfect lead-in. He could ask the probing question in a casual way without sounding like an investigator. “Who knew about him and Father Tristan? Because the Muslim community, as well as the College community, seems so supportive, no matter what he was doing when he died.”
Borzoo exchanged a meaningful glance with Mustafa, and sucked on his bottom lip. “Listen, you didn’t hear it from me, all right?”
“Sure.” Doyle held up his fingers in the Boy Scout’s salute. “I know so few people here, who would I tell?”
“Shahin is an arsehole, which I am fairly certain you’d figured out by now.”
“Yeah,” Doyle answered sarcastically.
“He was after Sharif’s job, and as much said he’d go to any lengths to discredit him,” Mustafa said somberly. “Thought that the professor pandered too much to the Christian establishment.” The air quotes were audible around the last two words, even if Mustafa didn’t crook his fingers in illustration.
“If Shahin knew the truth about Sharif and the priest, that alone could have discredited the professor,” Doyle said, his heart speeding up. This was—at the very least—motive, although circumstantial and in no way conclusive. “Are you saying you think he—?“ He glanced around the now nearly empty room. Yazmin was tying off the top of a garbage bag. She sketched a wave and toted the bag outside. He waved back.
“I dunno.” Borzoo looked miserable, watching Yazmin leave, as well. “You know he’s not my mate, but to accuse a person of murder.” He huffed a sigh. “Unconscionable.”
“He hasn’t acted any differently than the blow-hard he usually is,” Mustafa put in, pulling at the small tuft of beard under his bottom lip. “Wouldn’t a murderer seem—changed?”
“I’d think so,” Doyle said honestly. He’d killed, more than once. Each experience had changed him in ways he wouldn’t be able to explain if he’d tried for a thousand years, and he’d always done so legally, in pursuit of a suspect. He’d never been able to fathom how a human being could convince themself that murder was a reasonable solution. Particularly someone as outwardly devout as Shahin Najafi. Was his religion all for show? “Yazmin did all the clean up. I’d meant to help her,” he said to change the subject.
“That’s the way she is.” Borzoo smiled slightly, grabbing a chair to fold it and stack it in the corner. “Always nurturing, helping everyone, even though she’s so sweet and shy.”
Doyle took another chair, folded it and passed it to Mustafa. He handed the chair over to Borzoo, and they finished the job in no time.
“Borzoo has his eyes on Yaz, but she considers him too worldly,” Mustafa confided with a grin. He winked over at his friend. “She’ll come round, if I have to get my sister Malakeh act as a chaperone for your first date.”
“You wouldn’t!” Borzoo groaned good-naturedly. “Your sister is eleven.”
“Still counts.” Mustafa raised his eyebrows in a classic “who understands the old ways, but we follow them” gesture.
“So that’s how you roll.” Doyle felt surprisingly at home with these two. It wasn’t often that he made friends so easily. What would they think of him once they found out he was undercover? “I could put in a good word for you. She’s been friendly to me, probably because I know her mate Japhia Dawson’s family.”
“Networking always helps,” Mustafa advised, bobbing his head.
“Poor Japhia. Those two manipulated that girl into something I don’t think she was at all prepared for,” Borzoo said, then froze with his hand on the door handle. He flushed, waving his right hand as if erasing what he’d said. “Never mind, I spoke out of turn.”
“I know Japhia went to Kharistan with Michael Ahmadi.” Doyle leaned on the other half of the double door. Not preventing either of his friends from leaving, but a subtle barricade, nonetheless. “Her mother is beside herself—thinks Japhia might be pregnant.”
Borzoo flicked his eyes to Mustafa and swallowed audibly.
“She wasn’t going over to visit her da, was she?’ Doyle pushed. “Did Ahmadi radicalise her? Claim she was meant to serve the cause and go to paradise or some such rot?”
“Since you know half the story,” Borzoo conceded. “Michael and Shahin would spin the birds around until they weren’t sure which way was up—half romance, half radical Muslim. Told ‘er she’d be a confidant to the Caliph.”
“Concubine, more like,” Mustafa said sourly. “Her mum’s probably right, she’s preggers by now. Helping build Al Qaeda one nipper at a time.”
“Is that what Shahin is doing with Sara?” Doyle asked, stepping aside to push the bar on the large door.
“You’ve noticed.” Borzoo nodded with a frown. “He’s relentless. Always the girls—encouraging them to spend a year in Kharistan—a hop, skip and a jump away from oblivion, you’ll never see jolly ol’ England again.”
“Have there been others?” Although he’d already suspected as much, Doyle didn’t have to pretend his horror.
“He horndogs the weak-willed ones, who fall for his so-called charm,” Mustafa answered, putting on a pair of sunglasses although the sun wasn’t bright. “I know Beatrix was one of his harem. I’ve never been in the inner circle. I don’t know what he does, or why the poor girl went off the deep end and tried to bomb the pub.”
“Beatrix?” Doyle wrinkled his brow as if he didn’t know who she was. “Wait—the girl who brought her Down Syndrome sister with her? You mean Shahin helped with that? With a bomb?”
“Haven’t a clue how the girl got a bomb.” Borzoo looked supremely unhappy. “She was a nice girl, smart, and whatever the bloody hell he got her to do, he ruined her life.”
“But you don’t know for sure?” Doyle turned on the pavement to face them. “Who would?”
“Why?” Mustafa sounded wary, suspicious.
“Because it’s a crime!” Doyle persisted. “He’s a criminal if he’s convincing these women to help a terrorist organization. Should be stopped.”
“Ray, we shouldn’t even be talking about this, don’t go spreading rumours,” Borzoo said sharply, waving a hand to indicate students going by only a short distance away.
“Sara didn’t stay long,” Doyle said instead. He’d seen her walk out midway through the memorial. “Do you think she’s reporting to Najafi?”
“More’n likely.” Borzoo crossed his arms protectively over his chest. “Exactly why this subject is closed. Coming for a pint, Mustafa?”
Doyle knew when he’d been shut down.
High Street in Chipping Norton was bustling on a Wednesday afternoon, and to be honest, James Hathaway was more than happy to be out of Oxford. Wasn’t as if Chippy was that much different than Oxford, albeit smaller. There were still old fashioned houses, elegant churches and stone pubs that various kings from previous centuries could have visited, along with a highwayman or two. It was simply that they’d had a drive out of the city, passed green and pleasant land—to quote William Blake. And had a chance to touch, hold hands whilst driving. It made a nice change.
“You ready for this?” Lewis asked lightly, brushing the back of his hand over James’ before shifting the car into park.
Talking to a bereaved family member about a loved one’s death was never easy, but it would not be the first time. James curled his lip with a single nod and then smoothed his face into the customary bland, polite expression he gave to the public at large.
He didn’t like letting people in; guarding his damaged and wounded inner self at all costs. Robbie had been the first in literally years James had opened up to. When they’d got past the initial bloom of their passion, finally allowing each other to express the love they both felt, they’d begun to talk. Really talk, about life, dreams and old hurts. Robbie’s pain at the loss of his beloved wife, Valerie, had come first, because it was always so near the surface.
Later, in fits and starts, James had admitted to the sadness of his childhood. First his father’s—not neglect so much as disappointment--at having such a sensitive son. He and his dad had worked to get past that when he’d grown to be a man, but he was never quite sure it would ever be gone. He didn’t tell Lewis about his abuse at the hands of the Lord Mortmaigne until a few months ago. Going to Crevecoeur Hall, where James lived as a child, had ripped scar tissue off the old wounds. Investigating murders and uncovering even more abuse, as well as shocking cruelty, had been almost more than James could bear.
Robbie’s horror at that revelation, and subsequent compassionate embrace had gone a long way to healing some of those wounds. James was still dealing with his memories of Lord Mortmaigne’s exploitation, in a more mature way than he’d ever been able to do in the past. He freely acknowledged it was because of Robbie’s love and his own recognition that he was gay—not because of Mortmaigne—but because that was part of who he really was.
He got out of the car to grab a couple puffs on his fag before they talked to Daffodil Vaughn, older sister of Father Tristan Vaughn. As Lewis pressed the key fob to lock the car doors, a woman with sandy blonde hair stepped out of the front door in a row of identical attached houses. She shaded her eyes with one hand, the other bunching up the fabric of her blue and red flowered skirt.
No daffodils in the pattern, James noted, stubbing the butt of his cig on the pavement.
“Daffodil Vaughn?” Lewis asked, holding out his warrant card. “DI Robert Lewis of the Oxfordshire police.”
James followed in his stead. “Sergeant James Hathaway.”
“Please come in,” Daffodil said with a jerky nod. She had tears in her light blue eyes and blotchy red marks on her sallow cheeks. Had clearly been crying for a while.
“We’re so sorry to intrude when you are dealing with a loss,” Lewis said sincerely.
James had heard him say that phrase dozens of times, and yet each time he truly meant it. Valerie’s spectre was always most evident on days like this.
“I expected you…” Her bottom lip quivering, she sucked in a breath and indicated the open white door. “Please go into the lounge, I’ve put out a fresh pot. Our local constable, Jerome Ludd, came round yesterday to tell me…” she waited until James and Robbie had walked past, “about Tris, and said—“ She took a shuddery breath, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, I’d thought I was done weeping.”
“S’all right, you’ve had a rough go,” Lewis murmured, enveloping her in his arms.
She had to be about the same age as his Lynn, James thought, giving them a moment to grieve. He glanced around the tiny room, absently sniffing the warm aroma of good tea and plain digestives. The lounge was decorated in a homely, comfortable manner with a blue checked couch that faced a telly, and a rocking chair beside a basket full of wool. Family photos hung on the walls and clustered over the surface of a book shelf crammed with romance novels and mysteries.
He immediately saw two familiar faces: Tristan and Behrouz Sharif, arms around one another, joyful grins on their faces.
“That was a month ago,” Daffodil said quietly, touching the frame. “We had the whole family over, including my uncle, who is also a priest. Everyone was so pleased to meet Behrouz and welcome him into the family.”
“He was accepted then?” James asked gently.
Daffodil nodded, picking up the framed photo to hold it against her when she sat down. Lewis was being mother, pouring out three cups of tea. He stirred in sugar and doled out milk with a deft hand, as if he and James were there for a visit instead of questioning Daffodil on her brother’s relationship.
“We all loved Behrouz. A really kind and wonderful man,” Daffodil said, taking a sip of tea. “Ta. I’ve barely been able to do anything since I heard the news.”
“You’re doing fine,” Lewis assured. “How often did you speak with your brother?’
“Quite often. I’d rung him Sunday evening. He and Behrouz were really excited because of the Anglican priest in the US, Gene Robinson—“ she paused, thinking, “It’s Episcopal in the States, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” James murmured, drinking his tea. Good on Robbie, he’d left this cup devoid of sugar and milk. “I’ve heard of Robinson. He’s the first openly gay elected Bishop in the church. Here in England, that is still completely unheard of.”
“I had no idea,” Lewis commented.
“Keep up with the times, old man,” James said affectionately out of the side of his mouth.
“Yes! Exactly,” Daffodil exclaimed with more colour in her cheeks than she’d had since they arrived. “Tris wanted to go to America, get married. I think it was in Vermont. Then, even if it wasn’t yet recognised here—and he said it will be someday soon, they’d have been through a legal ceremony.”
“They’d thought it all out,” Lewis smiled wistfully, as if he liked the idea of marriage.
“I was under the impression they’d only been together a short while,” James commented. “Your brother began at St John’s a few months ago—at the end of the last term?”
“That’s correct,” Daffodil said, picking up a biscuit. She didn’t eat it. “He’d been at a large church in London until then, but really was anxious to have a parish of his own. He met Behrouz at a welcome to the college mixer the same week he arrived in Oxford.” She smiled. “They clicked. Tris called me the next day, so happy.”
“Did their different faiths cause a rift?” James asked, aware that he was treading on delicate subjects. But that was what coppers did—bring up sex, religion and politics, even when it wasn’t politic. He took a drink of tea to give the whole conversation more of a casual feeling.
“I suppose some might have objected, but Tristan has always been completely open- minded.” She regarded the biscuit quizzically, as if she hadn’t realised she was holding it and placed it on her saucer.
“He was openly gay when he began the priesthood?” Lewis questioned; his eyes on James.
Without reacting, James acknowledged his regard. Yes, that was one of the many reasons he’d quit the seminary. That his friend, Will McEwan, had admitted that he was homosexual whilst James was in seminary had scared James to the core and he’d scorned the young man. A past failure he was not proud of.
“Yeah.” Daffodil pressed her fingers against her bottom lip to stop the quivering. “Tris come out just before. Talked to my parents. They were surprised, of course, but had been quite the rabble-rousers in their day, knew gays back when. They –we all—embraced his honesty with love.”
“Wonderful to hear,” James said quietly. “What about those in the C of E? His Bishop, superiors?”
“No. He wasn’t that honest.” She gave him a bemused smile, looking down at the photograph. “I think he was going to tell the bishop after he and Behrouz came back from the states.”
“What about Professor Sharif’s friends and colleagues?” Lewis asked, drinking from his cup.
“That I cannot say. I’ve never met any of them. Oh.” She tapped the air with her index finger, “I do remember that he mentioned having some— squabbles with his teaching assistant. That it was giving him a headache, but not the person’s name.” She bit into the biscuit, washing it down with tea.
“Can you think of any motive why anyone would have wanted to kill either your brother or Professor Sharif?” Lewis pressed gently. “Even the smallest reason?”
“No.” Daffodil burst into tears, accidently tipping her cup onto her skirt. Tea spilled across the flowers. “That’s what makes this so bloody awful!”
“Thank you for your time.” James stood, picking up the cup and hurrying to the kitchen to locate a tea towel. When he returned, Lewis already had Daffodil in hand, talking quietly to her. James left the towel on the side of her chair and went into the front garden. He had a spasm of guilt at leaving Robbie to comfort her yet again, but quashed it savagely by lighting a fag.
In the midday glare, the glowing end of his cigarette was barely visible. James pulled pungent smoke into his lungs, feeling that good nicotine buzz that mellowed out all his aggro and intensity. He let out a cloud of smoke, thinking. Finally confirmation that Sharif had problems with Najafi. That bore further investigation.
Being a cog in the wheel of a governmental intelligence agency could sometimes grind him into the ground, but on the other hand, Bodie relished the occasional perks. Such as they were. He’d got authorisation to interview Beatrix Chambers at Bronzefield in record speed.
While waiting for Cowley’s consent, he’d spent most of the morning reading all he could on her case. He was quite interested to discover that DI Lewis and Sergeant Hathaway had been instrumental in dealing with Chambers and her sister. Why hadn’t they mentioned that?
In previous interrogations with police, including Lewis, not to mention several Intelligence agencies, Beatrix had refused to reveal who coerced her into the suicide mission. She’d repeatedly insisted it was her own idea, so that she could find peace for herself and Deirdre in paradise. How she obtained military grade explosives was still under investigation without any relevant evidence. No wonder the case had stalled at the local level. Of course, Bodie was fairly sure he knew where the RDX came from. The Duval Chemicals robbery. Pieces of the puzzle were all coming together. He had the edges done, now all he needed was to fill in the centre to create the entire picture.
Beatrix did admit to having friends at Oxford, including the Islamic Society—the same organisation Doyle was mixed up with. In only a few days, he’d uncovered that all the people recently implicated in recent bombings had emerged from the Islamic Society. Yet two different studies, by MI5, of all people, had concluded that the Islamic Society was simply a college religious group, like the Oxford University Catholic Society or the similarly named OU Jewish Society. No-one could investigate a religious group without due cause—that would be construed as prejudicial and—what was that popular phrase used in American media? Racial profiling. Not to mention that old cherry, freedom of religion.
Which was exactly what Doyle had said when he and Bodie talked by mobile last night. Ninety-nine per cent of the students attending Islamic Society prayer services and Koran study groups were exactly what they claimed to be; students at Oxford who also happened to be Islamic, or at least interested in Allah. Just like all the students who had gone to St John’s chapel to hear Father Tristan preach or to the Oxford Jewish Synagogue for Yom Kippur a month ago. Devout, interested in a higher power.
Bodie wasn’t all that sure he believed in such a thing. That so many others did seemed to weigh the scale on the side of God, but there sure were thousands of non-believers in England. Hell, the world at large. Considering all the myriad arguments for and against God, Allah, Yahweh made his head ache.
And got him nowhere except for the glaring fact that two women—that he knew of—had gone to the Islamic Society, met Shahin Najafi, and ended up leaving bombs in their wake. Was two a statistical anomaly or a trend? Doyle had related his conversation with Saleem and Nabib about Najafi’s string of women. Could this Sara Ludwig be headed for another suicide mission? That was an important consideration.
England had always been a target for terrorists: the IRA had reigned supreme for decades with their bombings. More recently, members of al Qaeda and their ilk had toppled IRA’s throne.
The 2005 Underground bombing had been horrific. Bodie had literally signed his employment contract to join CI5 the previous week. Still shackled to agency training videos and hand to hand combat sessions with Macklin—which he’d aced after years in the SAS and working as a freelance merc—when the bomb detonated on July seventh, Bodie had been pulled into the field. Along with every other able bodied agent at the time. Doyle had been a plod, but his intelligence and bravery during the investigation and round up of those involved had brought him to Cowley’s attention. He and Bodie hit it off almost instantly.
Which still brought Bodie no closer to any answers on how to deal with Beatrix. He heaved a sigh, glancing over at the heavyset receptionist guarding the entrance to the Bronzefield visitor’s room. She was talking on the phone but would glare at him every so often to remind him of his place in the pecking order.
He’d been cooling his heels for half an hour while his paperwork was verified. So much for interdepartmental government reciprocity. Bodie had to try a different tactic with Beatrix—to get her engaged and off the defensive. All her other interrogators had tried to hammer her down with the same questions over and over: who forced you and why?
According to everything Doyle had learned, they knew who, and possibly why. So where had the RDX come from? She’d claimed she’d bought it off the internet, but no purchase was ever found in her browser history. Could Najafi have told her that as a cover story?
“Mr Bodie?” A slender woman with short black hair twisted into dozens of spirals all over her head beckoned.
He stood, feeling the stiffness in his hips from the long drive and sitting for thirty minutes. Was he really getting too old for this shit? “Can I see Ms Chambers now?”
“The guard has gone to get Beatrix.” The woman stuck out a hand. “I’m Sandra Kincaid, her case worker. I wanted to give you the lay of the land, so to speak.” She led the way down a drab, beige corridor to a metal door.
“You want to make sure I’m nice to her?” Bodie reinterpreted, bristling.
“She’s a traumatised young woman who has been repeatedly hounded by your lot,” Kincaid said candidly. “I’m not saying there may, or may not, be good reason to reopen the case. I just want ground rules.”
“Ms Kincaid.” Bodie deepened his voice, going for forceful. “I have new information I want to ask her about. No thumbscrews or water boarding kit.” He leaned into her. To her credit, Sandra Kincaid held her ground.
“Ever since your ilk raked her across the coals, she’s been reticent to discuss anything about the incident,” Kincaid said, her jaw firm and dark eyes daring him to justify her calling security and having him ushered out. “Which has stalled her recovery.”
“Weren’t my ilk, love,” Bodie said with a grin. “Got even less love for MI5 than you do. On my honour, I’ll treat Beatrix like she were my own sister.”
Kincaid nodded, apparently satisfied and pulled out a key for the locked door behind them.
Beatrix Chambers was tiny, particularly standing next to a female guard who had to be Bodie’s height. Her long brown hair was pulled into a messy plait down her back. Bronzefield didn’t have an official uniform, giving her the limited freedom to wear jeans and a Doctor Who t-shirt. She wasn’t handcuffed or chained.
Bodie recognised Beatrix from all the articles he’d googled, but he wasn’t prepared for how vulnerable and childlike she seemed. He’d like to pretend that his heart was hardened against first impressions, but he couldn’t help but feel compassion for her.
“Beatrix, I’m Bodie, CI5,” he said, holding out his ID. “I’d like to talk to you about Shahin Najafi.”
Under normal circumstances, Beatrix’s complexion should have had the bloom of an English rose, but at the sound of his name, she went fish belly pale. “H-how do you know him?” Beatrix stammered.
He’d got her attention on the first try.
“Professor Sharif’s teaching assistant,” Bodie supplied, glancing at the silent guard. The name on her breast pocket said L Beiste.
“I’ll be right outside,” Beiste said, opening the door with a key. “Knock twice if you need anything.”
“Thanks.” Bodie nodded. “Beatrix, I don’t want to intimidate you, but it’s important for a case I am working on that I find out all I can about Najafi.”
“Why?” she asked, clearly reluctant. She closed both arms around her chest, like she was hugging the Tardis on her shirt. “Charging me with something else now, are you? Should I call my solicitor?”
“Not at all.” Bodie sat in the chair by the table to make her more comfortable. There was one other chair, but Beatrix made no move towards it. “Because I think you were manipulated, and that Najafi should take all the blame. I want him in prison.”
Tear spilled down her cheeks as sudden as a flashflood but Beatrix never made a sound. She dropped into the chair as if strings holding her upright had been abruptly cut, and covered her face with both hands.
If there was one thing Bodie didn’t know how to handle, it was a sobbing female. Give him a bomb to defuse, a gun wielding criminal, he was in his element. What would Doyle do? He was the sensitive, intuitive one. Bodie gave Beatrix space, waiting until she heaved a shuddery breath.
“Not my intention to make you cry,” he said by way of apology. He should have brought tissues, or a clean hanky like his gran always told him to.
“Haven’t cried in a long time,” she said savagely, clearly angry at the weakness. “Years, most like. Since I was a girl.”
Since he knew from her files that she had recently passed her nineteenth birthday, Bodie refrained from mentioning that she was still a girl. “You knew Najafi well, then?” he asked instead.
“Thought I’d forgotten how to cry.” Beatrix closed her eyes, squeezing her fingers in her lap, twisting until it had to be painful. “No-one ever suspected him, did they?”
Since she was talking, he kept his mouth shut. Didn’t do to remind her that she could have implicated him at any time in the last few months.
“Nobody talks to me here. They probe, dissect, interrogate. ’S what you’ll do, isn’t it?” She gulped, the tears thick in her throat, bitter but oddly philosophical. “I already confessed, which wasn’t worth a penny. Didn’t cleanse my soul. My parents think I’ll rot in hell, but I’m already there.”
Beatrix swiped at her face, and Bodie noticed the color of her eyes, an almost eerie shade of blue. She bit her bottom lip, blinking. “You’re different in a way I can’t figure out. How’d you get on Shahin’s tail?”
“Process of elimination,” Bodie said carefully. He hadn’t been prepared for how bright she was, how intuitive. Was it simply because she’d been interrogated by all and sundry or had her attitude shifted along the way? “Did you hear that Professor Sharif was killed?”
“Tragic. Horrible.” She chewed her lip, then licked it. Her face was blotchy from the crying, but there was righteous fury peeking through. “He was really kind to me. I’d never done much light reading. Mostly medical and scientific journals, so I wasn’t used to poetry. He encouraged me to take his tutorial anyway. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” She closed her fingers into a loose fist as if reminding herself not to twist, but started the nervous habit moments later. “In English, not Persian. I should have done it for myself—, but I did it because Shahin was there. To be near him.”
Bodie nodded to keep her talking.
“I’d never had a boyfriend. Ever. I holed up in my room studying DNA and biology. My parents always said boys would take advantage.” She exhaled loudly. “He did. I see that now. I thought he loved me.” The light glinted on the last drops on her lashes, and the colour in her eyes seemed to vanish altogether. “I’d told him about Deirdre, told him I wanted a better life for her when in the end, all I did is cock it up.”
“You tried, and that’s all any of us can do,” he replied. Trite possibly, but he could almost see Doyle giving him that patented glare that he was being inconsiderate and he’d better change his tune.
Beatrix actually looked like she was mulling over what he said. She inhaled as if every movement hurt, but she’d stopped twisting her fingers.
“How did you meet?”
“Japhia, Yazmin. My friends.” There was almost a smile on her lips. “I went to St John’s to study the human sciences, possibly get into research or even med’cine. I wanted to know more about Down Syndrome. Why, you know? Why does the twenty-first chromosome duplicate?”
“And you met Japhia?” he put in to stop her quite understandable quest for information on her sister’s condition.
“She was in my biology lecture. Japhia hadn’t decided on the direction of her studies, either. We were mates instantly, going out for tea or just texting each other half the night. Watching Doctor Who.” Beatrix was relaxing, memories of her former life comforting. “She told me about the Islamic Society. I was…” she raised her shoulders once, an uncertain shrug, “searching, I guess. The God my parents forced on me was angry, critical and cruel to my sister—“ She spread her hands wide, encompassing more than the small room they were in. “Japhia said she’d never prayed as a girl, but discovering her Muslim side was life-changing.”
“And you wanted that, too.”
“Wouldn’t you?” she said rhetorically. “A whole new world. College opened my life so much. I got a job—I was going to bring Deirdre to live with me, escape our family.”
“You worked at Starbucks?” He knew this for a fact, but it never helped to sound like he’d ferreted out every aspect of a suspect’s life.
“Yeah, not much pay, but something. Money of my own.” Beatrix looked across the room, her thoughts far away. “Japhia and I were going to share a flat. First time I went with her to the Islamic Society, she introduced me to Shahin. Fell for him like the bloody stupid cow I was.”
“When was that?” he asked quietly.
“November? I guess. He put a spell on me, couldn’t remember my own name when he was talking. I wanted to be with him always.” She grimaced, twisting her fingers on the tabletop. “I dove into Islam, studied everything I could. Nearly failed my biology ‘cause of him. Didn’t go home at Christmas—because I was going to be Muslim. Which means, you don’t celebrate the birth of Christ. I believed.” The anger was back, visibly hating what she had done. “Believed that I could make a difference. Even began tutoring Deirdre on the Koran—which was when Shahin told me how I could give her paradise. Give her what I always wanted for her.”
“Life free of hatred,” Bodie summed up. He’d come here believing her a puppet under Najafi’s influence. While that was certainly true, he hadn’t really considered her reasons for falling for him in the first place. A weird freedom from what she’d had.
Beatrix gave him a fierce stare, emphatic. “If you’d no control in life, and he tells me I can be the change. Says I can get to paradise, of course you’re going to want to be part of that. Take control.”
“My parents didn’t—love, didn’t appreciate how wonderful Deirdre was. They saw her as broken, wrong.” She jabbed her forefinger into the table with such force Bodie could feel the vibrations on his side. “In paradise, she’d be whole. No Down Syndrome. No bleeding judgment from my parents that she was damaged goods.” Beatrix hitched a breath, shutting down vulnerability.
Bodie knew the feeling. Recognised his own ability to shunt aside pain to put on a strong face, and he’d had far less reason to do so as a child.
“I was so empty inside. No love. I latched onto Shahin and let him fill me up. I stopped going to the pub, covered my hair, prayed five times a day until I told him I was ready, to fulfill my destiny for Allah.”
“What did he do?” Bodie hadn’t written anything down, had deliberately kept his questions low key. He’d been lucky so far, but would she tell him anything he didn’t actually know?
“Took me out to this little place north of the University.” She flipped her hand vaguely as if able to point the way from Bronzefield. “A lock-up where you pay by the month or year to store your crap.”
This was it! Bodie wished Doyle were there to share in the triumph. “Do you remember the address?” he asked as casually as possible.
She shook her head, frowning. “Had a U in it. Like texting speak. U Store, perhaps?” Instead of twisting her hands, she stretched both palms, pressing them together. Not praying, more of a yoga pose Bodie had seen Doyle do. “He was telling me about his beliefs. I was so…caught up. Enthralled. He told me we were special, part of an elite group called…” She curled her fingers into fists, her knuckles going white with the force of her grip. “Salafi. That we had a special unity with God. That my—“ Her voice broke and she struggled to regain control.
Having acknowledged how similar he and Beatrix probably were, Bodie didn’t attempt to pat her shoulder or offer sympathy. She’d been through the fire and emerged, if not victorious then stronger. She might appear tiny and girlish but there was indomitable fortitude underneath.
“My sacrifice,” she snarled with brittle anger. “My sister’s sacrifice for the glory of Allah would turn us into martyrs.”
“What did you do?” Bodie mentally repeated the word Salafi. It was similar enough to Najafi that he could make a little rhyme in his head. Najafi was Salafi.
“I’d never thought of being a martyr before. Maybe that would make us special—protected.” Beatrix compressed her lips, poking her forefinger against the bottom lip. “All I ever wanted to do was protect Deirdre.” Her pale eyes glinted, recalling the passion, the challenge. “He went inside, came back with a box—with the bomb vest inside.”
Bodie inhaled as quietly as possible, afraid she’d come to her senses and stop talking when they were so close to the truth.
“Heard him talking to someone inside, but I stayed where he’d left me. Preparing myself. I didn’t think past that moment.” She shrugged. “Maybe I was in shock, or in a fugue state. Do you know what that is? Studied it, before I stopped paying attention to anything but him.” She traced a heart on the tabletop and then wiped it out. “Shahin kissed me that day. Outside the storage facility. I thought he loved me. That I was his perfect girl.”
“Difficult to see past something like that,” he offered gently. God knows he’d castigated himself for many of his past failings. In the end, she hadn’t killed anyone, whereas he’d shot far more people than he ever wanted to admit.
“We drove out to my old home. I knew my parents would be at work.” She’d gone back to twisting her fingers, the skin on her hands red and raw. “Collected Deirdre.”
Beatrix stopped, fighting her inner demons, the play of emotions across her face difficult to watch. Her voice was so soft Bodie had to lean forward to hear.
“She was so excited to have an outing—especially sneaking out so quietly.” The memories were clearly overwhelming her and she sank her teeth into her bottom lip hard. ”Puttin’ on the vest with all the wires and explosives scared our Deirdre, and she starting crying when I made her wear her woolly coat in June.”
“You left a note?” Bodie spoke as quietly as possible, to avoid breaking the spell she’d created. Intentionally left out the word suicide.
“I wanted someone to know,” Beatrix answered bleakly. “Marian found it later and called the police.”
She’d run out of steam, the momentum lost. Beatrix hunched over, abused fingers clasped tightly over the blue phone box on her shirt.
Bodie reached out, placing his hand on her shoulder, light as a feather in case she objected. Neither moved for a long time.
“He lied.” Beatrix said with determination; her voice firm. “I think I knew that from the moment he left us in the street and drove away. But I couldn’t turn on him, not then. It was private—too revealing.”
“You kept your word for months,” Bodie said.
Beatrix gave him a cynical smile without an ounce of humour. “I’d hurt all I loved. They took Deirdre away from me. But they also took her away from my parents, so in a way, she won. I’ve had a letter from her. She’s happy in a home for others with Down Syndrome.”
“How did you manage to keep Najafi out of it? Why?” Bodie persisted.
“I accepted what I’d done. What do you call it? Atonement.” She focussed on the opposite wall. Maybe seeing herself hand in hand with Deirdre, walking to the pub with their winter coats on to cover the bomb vests. “I’ve been studying religions—all of them. The Jewish people even have a day of Atonement. A month ago. I thought about—“ She shook her head. “I’ve had enough. It’s over.”
“He gave you the explosives,” Bodie said, indignant for her sake. She’d been used and yet the weasel Najafi had slipped away scot-free.
“I could have told him no,” she answered simply and raised one shoulder, letting it fall with such inner sadness. “That’s not true. Now I could have said no, but not then.”
“If I write up a quick summary of your statement, can you sign it?” He needed to be on his way, kick the investigation into high gear. Contact Lewis and Hathaway.
Beatrix nodded, the fire in her pale eyes dimming. The wealth of emotions she’d felt over the last hour must have exhausted her. “I’ve been so empty since June. Thought I’d found a God I could believe in, but he’s gone, there’s nothing left. Trying to find him for myself, I read up on every faith. Looked up Salafism—it’s even more conservative than what my Christian parents pounded into us. I needed to hold onto something, so I kept back his name. To prove to myself that I still had control. He didn’t completely take that away.”
Her jaw tightened, and Bodie could see her inner grit resolving to keep fighting.
“I thought—if I atoned, if I proved I can forgive…him, God would come back to me. Maybe it’s wrong, but I can’t.” The last word ripped out of her throat. “I’ve changed a lot in four months,” she whispered. “No more sweet, little Bea. No more. He was so very, very wrong and I lost my Deidre. She was all I had.” She steepled her fingers, palms aligned perfectly. “I want to find…hope.”
Maybe that was prayer, after all.
Bodie knocked on the door to get some paper and a pen from Beiste, a crazy idea forming in his brain. What if he could get her off? Beatrix Chambers was currently classified as a terrorist—a danger to British citizens. What if he could get her less restrictive housing, and a chance to see Deirdre?
If pigs could fly, yeah?
The small reading room in the back corner of the library had several advantages. It was the least popular, due to the location behind the dictionary shelves, it was too tiny for any more than two or possibly three people to cram into, and had a defective bulb, making it too dark to read in.
These were all advantages from Doyle’s point of view. Fewer prying eyes. Fewer people to see he and Yazmin together. She was old fashioned enough to be concerned about her reputation if she were alone with a man. Because of that, Doyle had roped Adeleh Bashir to come with them. Adeleh knew Yazmin. More importantly, she had known Japhia. Doyle was beginning to realise what a small world the Oxford Islamic community really was.
“It’ll be wonderful to talk to Japhia,” Adeleh said brightly as if trying her hardest to project some levity into the gloomy room. “Learn more about Kharistan.”
“I don’t think that’s why she went,” Yazmin said harshly.
Yazmin was nervous. Doyle could see it in the way she fiddled the tassels on her red and white striped head scarf. With a nervous exhalation, she clicked on the icon for Face Time on her computer.
“You think it was more to do with Najafi and Ahmadi,” Adeleh said with a disapproving frown, “than connecting with her father?”
“You don’t?” Yazmin shot back.
“Ladies—“ Doyle started to intervene. To say what, he wasn’t sure. The outward appearances: Japhia disappearing without speaking to her mother, the proof that she had been in Ahmadi’s flat while he was constructing the bomb—all led to the conclusion that she had been radicalised and gone to join the terrorist organisation. What if the evidence was leading them down the wrong path?
“Yazmin!” Japhia cried when her image appeared in the Face Time window.
“Du;st, my friend,” Yazmin murmured, tears glinting on her black eyelashes. “How are you?”
Doyle sat back out of the computer’s camera range to watch their interactions. He didn’t want to scare Japhia off right when he had a chance to learn more about what she was involved in. She looked different than the happy, smiling girl he’d seen in pictures both at her mother’s house and on the bulletin board at the Islamic Society. It had only been six days since she flew out, although she’d been with Ahmadi in London for three days before that. Her face seemed narrower, drawn and pale as if she’d been sick. She wore a dark blue head scarf, and what appeared to be a matching coat or long sleeved cover-gown. Doyle couldn’t remember what those all encompassing outfits were called.
“I’m so frightened, Yaz,” Japhia moaned, scrubbing her left eye with one hand. Had she been crying? “I want to come ‘ome.”
It might have been a trick of the poor lighting on the computer—she either hadn’t been sleeping well, contributing to dark circles under her eyes, or she’d been hit in the face.
“Oh, lovey, what’s happened?” Yazmin stretched her fingers towards the screen as if she could touch her friend.
“Michael’s married me,” Japhia whispered. She glanced over her shoulder, clearly nervous. “I can’t leave. I dare not be talking to you.”
“He married you?” Yazmin squeaked in alarm. “So quickly?”
“Right after we got ‘ere,” Japhia confirmed.
“Without your mother there?” Adeleh asked, but there was more sadness and tacit acceptance of her culture’s norms.
“Who’s that?” Japhia gasped, pressing a hand to her chest.
She was so anxious, Doyle didn’t really want to scare her more but there were things he needed to know. Her address would be fantastic. A way to get her out would be even better. He suspected that sort of planning would be up to him—and CI5. A married woman in a Middle Eastern country would not be easy to liberate.
“Adeleh is here,” Yazmin said quickly, pulling the other woman close so she could be viewed on screen. “As well as a new, male student at Oxford called Ray Duncan. He knows your mum.”
“Mum!” Japhia gulped reflexively. “She never liked Michael. Told me he’d get me knocked up. That’s his plan, he’s told me so.”
Doyle wasn’t sure how long it took for a woman to know she was pregnant, but had to be more than a week. “I’d like to speak with her, if I could.”
“Is that all right?” Yazmin said gently. “He’s got your best interests to heart, lovey.
“Michael will be home any moment.” Japhia peered over her shoulder again, fear wavering with the need to reconnect with friends. “He doesn’t allow me out—all I’ve got is my phone.”
“Does your father know what he’s done?” Adeleh demanded indignantly.
“He was there,” Japhia sighed. “He’s changed so much, ranting pro-Al Qaeda rhetoric. Don’t remind me that there was a time that I did the same. I see the error of my ways, believe me.”
“Japhia,” Ray said. Adeleh moved so he could be seen in the frame. “I’ve talked to Farie—your mum. She’s worried about your safety. Wants you home.” That was a bit of an exaggeration but under the circumstances, Ray doubted that Farie would turn Japhia away if she were rescued. “I have means to help you—my Uncle George works for Her Majesty.”
Yazmin eased back, either to let him talk to Japhia one to one, or to avoid such close quarters with a man. Doyle didn’t know and didn’t really care.
“The Queen?” Japhia clarified. He’d caught her attention. “Who do you work with?”
As if there was anyone else with that title in England. “My Uncle George, not me,” he insisted. “He needs to know where you are. Are you with your da?” he asked carefully.
“No, we didn’t stay. Moved to Tophar,” she replied, barely above a whisper, not the least bit embarrassed to be talking to another man without her husband’s consent. Good old British upbringing. “Michael’s out with his mates—soldiers and thugs.”
At least they were still in Kharistan, Doyle mused. There was a British embassy in Qwill’ran, the capital, which would make it far easier to extricate her than if Ahmadi took his wife into neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Tophar was too close to the border of Saudi Arabia for Doyle’s taste. They could slip across in less than an hour. “Do you really want to leave?” he asked.
“Yes.” Her jaw tightened and she touched her left eye again. “They hit me—and—used me, like a –“ she faltered for a moment, “like a slut. All of ‘em.”
Yazmin and Adeleh moaned with sadness, holding each other’s hands.
His heart went out to her. He’d charge into Tophar himself if Cowley didn’t give the go-ahead for a formal rescue mission. She was a British citizen, held against her will, no matter her consent for leaving the UK.
“Listen carefully, “ Doyle said. “Yazmin will give me your contacts. I want you to memorise my mobile uncle’s number.” Her mum had said she was clever. “He needs a way to get hold of you.”
Yazmin watched him, wide eyed, as if seeing Doyle for the first time. Adeleh nodded approvingly.
Ray rattled off the number CI5 reserved for specific emergency cases. Japhia nodded and repeated it back perfectly. He’d already had Cowley’s consent, and there was an operator set to monitor the calls until they heard from Japhia. “Text once and then erase the response, and don’t put it on your contact list. Nothing for your husband to find.”
“’Course not.” Japhia looked horrified at the idea.
“Anything else, contact Yazmin, yeah?” he said. “I don’t know when Uncle George can get a plan into action, but it will be soon. Very soon.”
“Michael wants to go to Iraq, to Tikrit,” Japhia said without hope. “To join the main group in battle.”
“Try to convince him to stay in Tophar,” Doyle said urgently. “What’s the address there?”
Yazmin crowded in close to Doyle again in order to see Japhia, apparently no longer worried about social decencies.
“I hear someone in the hall!” Japhia gasped, turning away from the screen momentarily. She hunched forward, her whole face filling the computer window. “There aren’t any house numbers in this bloody town. It’s a blue building, flats, on Molodeh Street, second floor.”
“Be safe, lovey.” Yazmin touched the screen with her fingertips.
Japhia did the same, as if they were on two sides of a mirror. “Please, help me get out,” she begged one last time and clicked off.
Adeleh gasped when the picture faded away. “What’s going to happen to her? How could you give her false hope?”
“It’s not false hope,” Doyle ground out, his belly churning with acid. “I really do know people who can infiltrate the country, get her out. As long as they stay in Kharistan where we have decent relations with the government. If he takes Japhia into Iraq—“ Doyle shook his head, grim. “I have to talk to—“
“Who are you?” Yazmin demanded angrily, surging to her feet in confrontation. “Been here less’n a week, you don’t act like a student!”
“It’s safer for all of us if I am,” Doyle said obliquely. “I really did come to learn from Professor Sharif. Leave it at that, Yazmin.” He nodded to Adeleh. “Thank you for coming with us. I think you both understand that it is vital that you don’t talk to any one—“ He scanned their faces. Yazmin’s was a mixture of confusion and anger, but Adeleh’s expression was far more complex. He already knew she didn’t agree with Najafi’s tactics. He had to trust them. They were already privy to more than he cared to burden civilians with. “No-one can know—“
“Especially Shahin Najafi,” Adeleh said with contempt.
“Yes. Don’t even tell your closest friends that we know where Japhia is. It’s imperative for her safety,” Doyle stressed the last word.
“Not even her mum?” Yazmin hunched her shoulders as if suddenly cold. “Wish I could call Beatrix.”
“She was friends with Beatrix Chambers?” Doyle asked. Why hadn’t he known this? Or, more logically, suspected this? They’d all been part of the same group in the spring term—it made sense that they might have banded together. There were far more men in the Islamic Society than women.
“They were besties,” Yazmin said sadly. “We’d hang out together, Japhie, Bea and me, but they were like two peas in a pod, always going on about Doctor Who.”
“We had a Doctor Who party in Japhia’s room at St John’s, last May,” Adeleh acknowledged wistfully. “We argued over who was the best Doctor, Matt Smith or David Tennant.“
“Tennant,” Doyle said with a smile. If only all life were as simple as either or.
Yazmin managed a smile in return. “If you can help her, I’d be grateful. In the end, we couldn’t help Beatrix but maybe—“
“I’ve spoken my Uncle. That’s as much as I can say right now. I will keep you two informed.”
Both women nodded solemnly.
“Until then, everything as usual, right?” Doyle opened the door to the study room. “See you in class for Najafi’s first day of teaching tomorrow, Yazmin?”
“I’ll be there,” she agreed, obviously troubled.
Bodie parked near the Spice Lounge on Banbury, his belly rumbling from the scent of curry and naan wafting around the building. Lewis and Hathaway had recommended the place. He’d texted the address to Doyle only half an hour ago, hoping his partner could take a late supper. Bodie’s thumbs were aching from all the texting he’d done that day. He hadn’t been out of Bronzefield for more than a minute before he’d sent a message to Hathaway about the storage facility. One to Cowley, as well, regarding the need for a warrant. Could kill two birds—investigations, to be precise—with one stone.
The consensus had been that he, Doyle and the Oxford detectives should all get together and combine their information. If there was any chance of charging Najafi with the murder of Tristan Vaughn and Behrouz Sharif, they had to make a strong case. With all luck, CI5 would come out a winner and find the remaining RDX to stitch up Najafi as a terrorist, as well. Cowley would have to co-ordinate with the Oxfordshire police on this one.
Cowley would also be footing the bill for the pricey restaurant. Bodie grinned, imagining the charm he’d have to lay on the Cow to explain putting the Spice Lounge on his expense account. Made up for the plain but adequate bed and breakfast he’d spent very little time in.
Spotting Doyle on the pavement as soon as he climbed out of the car, Bodie crossed the road. “Fancy meeting you here,” he greeted, taking his fill of his lover when all he could do was look. “What’ve you been doing?”
“Chatting up a bird in Kharistan,” Doyle said with a smirk.
“You randy lit’le git.” Bodie rolled his eyes. “Can’t leave you alone for an hour. Always knew I was nothing but a stop on the way for you.”
“Nah.” Doyle bumped him-- no accidentally about it-- as they walked through the door of the restaurant together. “You’re the last station for this train.
Bodie barked a laugh, going warm and happy inside. Made it easier to deal with all the shit of this obbo knowing that he had Doyle’s heart. “I wouldn’t buy a ticket for anyone but you, sunshine.”
“They got here before us.” Doyle jerked his head across the Spice Lounge.
Lewis and Hathaway were sitting at a corner table. Bodie caught Hathaway’s eye and headed across the room with Doyle.
The place was elegantly furnished with leather upholstered chairs set at tables spread with white tablecloths. There were the obligatory pictures of Indian deities on the wall, but all and all, it was classier than anywhere Bodie would have usually gone to in London. A waitress dressed in a blue and silver sari gave him a smile as he and Doyle sat down with the Oxford detectives.
“Now that your friends are here, Inspector Lewis, are you ready to order?” she asked politely. “Or more drinks?”
“Not just yet, Lakshmi.” Lewis smiled genially at her. “We’ve already got our pints. Beer for you, lads?”
“Works for me.” Doyle nodded. “Since this heathen hasn’t an ounce of civility, I’m Ray Doyle.”
Bodie snorted inelegantly. “Watch yourself.”
“Robbie Lewis,” Lewis said, reaching out to shake Doyle’s hand. “You’ve talked with James previously.”
Hathaway raised his glass in silent salute. As usual, he was immaculately turned out in a well cut gray suit with a nearly invisible gray pinstripe complete with waistcoat, and a lavender tie. Bodie had dressed as nicely, once upon a time, but undercover operations—and, if he was honest with himself, laziness due to Doyle’s less than sartorial splendor—had reduced him to wool trousers and a polo neck most days.
“It was all quite respectable, inside a church.” Doyle leaned back in his chair, the gold earring in his left lobe glinting in the light from the small candle globe on the table.
Bodie had to remind himself to breathe. Maybe it was being away from his partner for several days, but Ray was radiant: his curls tousled from the wind, his eyes bright with the intrigue of the investigation. He was in his element, and Bodie would have taken him on the tablecloth if they were alone.
“The chicken biryani here is excellent,” Hathaway said, glancing at Bodie as if he could hear what he was thinking and wanted to distract him. “I usually go for yellow curry chicken, myself.”
Lakshmi returned with beers for Doyle and Bodie. She took all four orders efficiently, promising to return with a basket of poppadums and naan.
“I take it you two have uncovered some important evidence,” Lewis said, taking charge of the meeting. He drank some of his brew, glancing at his sergeant. “A day spent investigating the background of our main suspect?”
“I’ve been at Bronzefield,” Bodie said, although he’d already told them by mobile earlier. Ray had not heard the latest. “Spoke with Beatrix Chambers this afternoon. Wish I’d know your involvement in her—“ he tapped his beer glass, the clink oddly loud in the otherwise noisy restaurant. “Situation?”
“James had the larger role.” Lewis pointed over at the quiet blond man. “Kept that poor lass distracted until we could get bomb disposal in.”
“She was scared. We prayed a bit,” Hathaway said, self-effacing. “She had the presence of mind to calm Deirdre. I couldn’t figure Beatrix out. Seemed intelligent, and—for the situation—oddly rational, but stuck to her guns all this time without giving up who convinced her to strap on the bomb.”
“She has done now,” Bodie said, proud of his accomplishment but disturbed nonetheless by his encounter with the young woman.
“You’ve had a confession?” Lewis responded quickly, his eyes boring into Bodie.
“I think she’d come to the decision on her own,” Bodie thought back to the interrogation, if he could call it that. “Didn’t have to pull the name out of her.”
“Najafi?” Doyle’s ankle pressed up against Bodie’s under the table.
“On the nose,” Bodie said, shoring up the love coming from that brief contact. “He convinced her that bombing the pub would send Beatrix and her sister to paradise where Deidre’d have no more Down Syndrome.”
Doyle shook his head and Hathaway had a rare expression of utter disgust. He looked sideways at Lewis, covering his display with a long drink of beer.
“Goes a long way to setting a foundation for our case against Najafi,” Lewis mused, rubbing his chin. “And will possibly help reduce the charges levelled against Beatrix, but it doesn’t go far to pinning him with the murders.”
“She’s given me an approximate location and name of a lock-up where she said he kept the explosives,” Bodie added.
“Now you tell us?” Hathaway groaned.
“Holding out, you were,” Doyle chastised under his breath.
“She couldn’t recall the exact name. Possibly U Store,” Bodie said. “North of Oxford.”
Hathaway clicked his fingers. “I know the place. U Store-all, where A34 and A40 intersect.”
“Clever lad.” Lewis grinned. “Right then, we’ll request the warrant straight away.”
“Cowley’ll grease the skids for you,” Doyle said, beaming. “Joint operation with CI5 and Oxfordshire to cover all contingencies.”
“Open sesame,” Hathaway murmured, bringing out his mobile. “Be like opening Aladdin’s treasure and Christmas, all rolled together. I’ll nip out, text Innocent and have a cig.”
“Bad for your health, that,” Doyle said.
“Police work’s bad for my health, but I keep on doing it,” Hathaway said over his shoulder.
“I’ve told him the same,” Lewis commented to Doyle with a “what can you do” shake of his head. “You have some information, as well?”
“More like collaboration that our Shahin ain’t a nice boy.” Doyle paused when Lakshmi returned with the basket of warm breads.
Bodie snagged a piece of naan, redolent with garlic. He took a heavenly bite, listening as Doyle gave them an overview of how he’d got to talk to Japhia Dawson.
“Using your resources wisely,” Lewis complemented, taking one of the crispy poppadum and dipping it into the red onion chutney.
“Japhia’s scared out of her mind that she could get pregnant, and she’s clearly Ahmadi’s prisoner,” Doyle finished. “Again—it doesn’t bring us any closer to proving Najafi committed murder, but it does tighten the noose around him as a son of a bitch who preys on women and coerces them into extremist Islamic practices.” He curled his lip, regarding the Indian delicacies as if he couldn’t stomach anything at the moment.
“You ask her about the bomb they made in his flat?” Bodie asked.
“Not enough time—and there was only so much I could reveal in front of Yazmin and Adeleh,” Doyle said, obviously frustrated. “I’ve contacted Cowley, t’see how quickly he could get her out of Kharistan before Ahmadi drags her over the border and she’s lost to us.”
“She’d be a strong witness,” Bodie mused, washing down the naan with beer. “Could give her immunity. Especially since there’s no actual proof that she helped make the bomb, and she certainly didn’t bring it into Canary Wharf.”
“We need more.” Lewis finished his snack. “Can’t fathom how this Najafi wasn’t a suspect previously.” He wiped his sticky fingers on a napkin thoughtfully. “He’s a crafty one, manipulating the women—and this Ahmadi—into doing his dirty work.”
Lewis caught sight of Hathaway across the length of the Spice Lounge seconds before Bodie did, and his face lit up. Bodie spread red onion chutney on a piece of naan, keeping his eye on the Oxford duo. Still waters ran deep with those two. They didn’t give up anything more than they had to.
Hathaway sat down, smelling of Rothman’s cigarettes and a fresh wind. “Your Cowley’s been palavering with our Innocent already. Politics at work. Used his connections with a London judge from his club, to confer with a judge in Oxford willing to put the warrant through in a late session.” He latched onto the naan, taking a quick bite. “Only thing we’ve got to get straight is who pays for the damned storage facility.”
“What do you mean?” Lewis asked.
“Not under his name, is it?” Doyle said gloomily, kicking the leg of Bodie’s chair.
“What took me so long. There’s a night manager, Callahan,” Hathaway confirmed, chewing with gusto. “Says no Najafi on their books.”
“An alias?” Lewis considered. He held up a hand as their waitress returned carrying a tray laden with food.
Dishes piled with chicken and vegetables redolent with the scents of curry and Indian spices were handed out. All four ordered second beers before tucking into their meals.
Bodie forked up vindaloo and caught Doyle’s eyes, reading a sudden revelation as easily as if Doyle had sent him a text. “Michael Ahmadi,” he said.
Doyle grinned, a heart stopping, angels singing in the heavens version that Bodie wanted to remember for the rest of his days.
“Ahmadi?” Lewis questioned.
Hathaway hadn’t been privy to their discussion but he put two and two together faster than Bodie expected. “Najafi’s a player—and a user. He doesn’t do anything by himself. He delegates.”
“Ask your new mate if Ahmadi’s name is there. Per’aps paid a year in advance,” Bodie said. “His father is loaded.”
After scarfing a couple bites of his chicken curry, Hathaway quickly connected to the U Store-all night manager. “Mr Callahan?” Hathaway said, “DS Hathaway here. Would you check your list for the name Michael Ahmadi?”
Bodie glanced over Doyle, watching him eat a samosa as if he had all the time in the world. He smiled, catching his partner’s eye and got a slow tip of the head, a hint of green out between Doyle’s lashes. Right there, in the middle of the restaurant, Doyle was toying with him!
“Cruel, you are,” Bodie muttered.
Lewis looked expectantly at Hathaway, waiting for the information.
Suddenly Hathaway grinned, triumphantly giving a thumbs up. “Mr Callahan, you have provided an important piece of evidence for the Oxfordshire Police.” He rang off, nodding. “The unit was rented in May of this year, under Ahmadi’s name.”
“So they were planning this even before Beatrix,” Lewis mused.
“Appears so.” Hathaway forked more of his curry as if the call had increased his hunger. “Question is—did they have Beatrix in mind as the expendable mule, or were there more than one tethered goats?”
“Mixed metaphors,” Lewis commented, forking more rice onto his plate.
“We should go on the premise that the Duval Chemicals heist was an inside job, possibly at the say so from Ahmadi’s da, the CEO,” Doyle put in, taking a long swallow of beer. “Our lads will question the employees.”
“I’ll ring Cowley and cc in Murphy. He loves that sort of thing,” Bodie said, happy to dump any part of this obbo on the other agents. The premonition he’d had to stay as close to Doyle as humanly possible, despite their disparate undercover roles, was stronger than ever. He was quite aware that Doyle would consider his concern completely unnecessary.
“With everything pointing to Najafi’s manipulation of his female admirers, we would be well advised to investigate Sara Ludwig,” Doyle said abruptly.
“Ludwig?” Lewis leaned forward, interest clearly piqued.
“She’s his current project,” Doyle continued. “She’s infatuated with him. The other main woman in the Islamic Society, Yazmin, Japhia’s friend, looked at Najafi as if she wanted ‘im as well, but she’s seen the light in the last few days.”
“And you reckon he’s marked this Sara for his next strike?” Lewis asked.
“Don’t know what his plan is yet,” Doyle said.
Bodie could tell he was troubled by the way he clenched and flexed his fingers around his beer glass.
“They’ve got a meeting set on Thursday, I heard them set it up, which I first assumed was a date. Now I worry that it’s something more sinister. Got this feeling in me guts that he’s good for the killing—“ Doyle muttered.
“Without specific proof, we can’t pick Ludwig up.” Hathaway rubbed his fingers together thoughtfully.
“We could, simply couldn’t hold her long. She was on the list of Sharif’s students we were meant to question,” Lewis interrupted. “As were you.” He smiled, levelling a finger at Doyle.
“I think you have me confused with an Oriental studies student called Ray Duncan,” Doyle retorted with a smirk. “Was thinking if the search warrant was expanded to Najafi’s financials and phone records, we’d probably snag a back way into Ludwig’s phone records, too.”
“Always knew you were Father’s favourite,” Bodie muttered, impressed nonetheless. Doyle could do that double and triple think almost as well as Cowley. Find the backdoor and a creative way to hang the suspects.
“Father?” Hathaway cocked his head, waiting for the punch line.
“Our pet name for Mr Cowley,” Bodie answered. “And much like the Queen, he would not be amused to have it said in his hearing but—“
“Definitely knows about it,” Doyle finished. “Looking back on Najafi’s success with his women, he could probably get Sara to do anything he wants her to—including carry a bomb. I’ve seen the way she moons over him.”
“Which makes it imperative that we get inside that storage facility,” Hathaway said. “And stop them.” He finished the last of his curry and drank down a swallow of beer. “Has anyone tallied the amount of RDX stolen to what was used so far in the two bombs—“
“The bombs we know about,” Bodie put in gloomily, realising that Najafi’s extremist cell could have used some in other parts of the country. “You’re asking how much RDX is left?”
Hathaway nodded. To his right, Lewis gave a proud smile.
“Not sure it’s actually been calculated,” Doyle said. “But I’ll wager it’s enough to make at least one more device. We’ve been damned lucky thus far, the rucksack at Canary Wharf was found before it went off, and you were able to prevent Beatrix from detonating her vest.”
“Appalling how the obsessed pursue their narrow-minded goals at the horrific expense of innocent lives.“ Hathaway sat back abruptly, crossing his arms over his waistcoat. He stared at the bustling restaurant as if not seeing the waitresses and diners. “Some for the Glories of This World; and some sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come,” he quoted softly.
Doyle blinked in surprise. “You’ve read the Rubaiyat.”
“’E’s read just about everything,” Lewis drawled affectionately. “Theology student, he was.”
“Sir,” Hathaway said through his teeth, clearly displeased.
“C of E or Roman?” Doyle asked.
“Long time past,” Hathaway answered, waving a hand to relegate it to history, “Roman. But I gave it up for Lent.”
“Easter was ages ago,” Bodie commented, amused. Hathaway had layers. “like an onion,” he mentally quoted using the movie ogre Shrek’s Scottish brogue.
“We’re all repenting for something,” Hathaway said, biting his bottom lip.
James glanced up at the sooty purple clouds hanging about a meter above his head. Although his mobile informed him that the sun would rise at 6:38, there was no evidence of that celestial orb appearing in the sky any time soon. Rain, lashings of it, was far more likely, even if his weather app claimed the storm would blow out to sea by midday.
An unceasing roar of cars from the two nearby motorways, combined with the damp cold, made U Store-all a dismal location at any time of the day. The warehouse-like building, divided into several dozen little units, each with its own garage door, echoed the dismal sky. Gray building, bruise coloured doors.
Taking a last drag of nicotine laden smoke, James stubbed his cig on the macadam, waiting as Robbie drove up in his car. They’d left their warm bed at different times, in two different vehicles. To his mind, the subterfuge was exhausting, and simply increased air pollution. A waste.
Bodie arrived in a Ford Focus at almost exactly the same time as SOCO’s enormous SUV, crowding the small car park almost to bursting.
The night manager, Callahan, watched the proceedings from the comfort of his miniscule office, a scowl writ large on his jowly face. Jonesing for the man’s portable electric heater, James stomped his feet to keep warm and nodded to his governor.
Exactly on cue, Lewis held up the warrant with a grim smile. “Delivered by a CI5 agent personally, this is a joint operation between our department and theirs,” he said to the assembled group. “We are looking for several items, including but not limited to explosives, a laptop and a pistol. Any electronic devices. This may take hours.” There were a few muttered comments from the audience, which Lewis took with a weary smile and a nod. “I want everything tagged and booked to protocol.”
“Aye,” one of the techs, a slight Asian man called Saechan, said. He hauled a large case out of the back of his truck, giving out orders to the other four on his crew.
“G’morning,” James greeted Bodie. The agent looked as miserable in the chill as he felt. “You couldn’t have ordered up a spectacular dawn along with the warrant from your London judge?”
“Not my London judge,” Bodie replied. “Cowley’s gentlemen’s club network. I just do what I’m told.”
Because he’d spoken to Callahan the night before, James got the loathsome task of presenting the warrant to the night manager.
Callahan grimaced. “The bloke works days’ll be in straightaway. Can’t he--?”
“I’m afraid we’ll have to take a statement from you first, sir,” James explained as patiently as possible. He’d really have liked to be there as the metal door was lifted to reveal what was inside the lock-up. As it was, he foisted the job of recording Callahan’s—and Veshny Patel, the day manager’s—statements onto a junior detective sergeant who arrived in the nick of time.
Sending an on-the-fly grateful prayer to the Almighty, James hurried around the corner of the building. The lock-up wasn’t full to the bursting, but there plenty of boxes to keep SOCO and CI5’s forensics team busy for some time to come. Lewis was peering avidly into a box of automatic weapons whilst the techs catalogued other findings.
Bodie was sat on a box, a Microsoft laptop perched on his knees. He had the rapt expression of a hacker preparing to infiltrate a governmental firewall.
“Any joy?” James asked, seeing Saechan industriously bagging evidence in the far corner.
“Abounding,” Bodie quipped, waggling his latex clad fingers. “Not that I’ve unlocked the password yet, but our Cyber Crimes division is made of sterner stuff than the likes of Shahin Najafi. Likely to be some juicy secrets hidden in his files.”
“Found more than secrets,” Lewis said grimly, rubbing the back of his neck. “A bit of RDX, according to our Paddy here.”
Padraig O’Shea nodded, supervising as one of his underlings transferred a small container marked with—to James—mysterious numerals on the side into a SOCO bin. “CI5 sent over a list of the stolen RDX identification codes. Those numbers there correspond to the specific lot that was taken from Duval,” he explained in his lyrical Irish accent. “No question at’all.”
“So we’ve got him on the bombs, and possibly the theft, or to the very least, illegal stockpiling dangerous substances.” Hathaway rubbed his cold hands together. Now they were getting somewhere. “What with the rest of this, we’re sure to uncover something else.”
“Thing is,” Paddy went on, “not much explosives in here. A dab of RDX—no’ ‘nough for a bomb the size of the one left at Canary Wharf. There’s a bit of wire, some solder and such. According to CI5, there should be more.”
“He has constructed another bomb. We should roust the bastard now!” Bodie demanded, closing the laptop so that O’Shea could slip it into a bag and mark it with an evidence sticker.
“I don’t want to step on Mr Cowley’s toes,” Lewis cautioned. “But I’d prefer not to tip our hat too soon to young Mr Najafi. I want more substantial proof of his crimes.”
“What if while you’re waiting, sitting on your hands, he detonates the device?” Bodie asked savagely, jumping to his feet.
He’s worried about Doyle. James glanced over at Lewis warily. Exactly how he’d feel if Robbie were in very real jeopardy.
“We’ll put eyes on him,” Lewis said stubbornly.
“I’ll do it on me own,” Bodie retorted belligerently. “He’s sure to recognise most of your lot, but Najafi hasn’t seen me. And I know where he’ll be come ten this morning.”
James could feel Robbie’s annoyance at Bodie’s challenge, but Lewis remained relatively calm.
The only outward sign of irritation was a tight jaw. “Right then.” Lewis nodded brusquely. “You’ll clear it with your Cowley?” He studied Bodie’s agitation for a moment, as if giving him time to reconsider the rash act. “I understand your need for action, mind, but I’ve got a responsibility to find the weapon that killed two men.”
Bodie started out of the storage facility at a run. At the turning into the car park, he yelled over his shoulder. “Check that brown case!”
James cast around the corner where Bodie’d been sitting. There were several small carton, including one with Reebok on the side, which he put away to check out next. Finally, spying a flat brown leather box with hinges on one side, he pointed, because he wasn’t wearing latex. “There.”
Saechan retrieved the case, touching the small lock with one gloved finger. “Does look like a gun case, but there’s no key. Can’t open it here.”
“Now how’d he know?” Lewis asked, rubbing his chin.
“Got one just like it?” James hazarded. If the box yielded a FN Nine-Seven with Najafi’s prints, they had him stitched up.
Doyle came half awake to a low, menacing hum that vibrated his back teeth. What the hell? He tried to drop back into dreamland but the bloody vibrations made relaxation impossible. It took his sleepy brain nearly thirty seconds to realise that his mobile—under his pillow—was signaling a phone call.
Fishing it out, he mumbled, “’Lo.”
“Where the bloody hell have you been?” Bodie shouted.
“Asleep,” Doyle answered, sitting up. From the position of the sun, he’d missed pre-dawn prayers. Damn. There went any chance of catching Najafi early. His alarm setting must have a glitch.
“I reckoned you’d be at the Islamic Society meeting room,” Bodie said. “Didn’t see you come out with the rest of them.”
“You’re there?” Doyle asked incredulously. He mashed the speaker phone icon and cast about for his jeans. Best get dressed now that he was wide awake. “Was Najafi?”
“No. He in his room?”
“No X-ray vision, Superman,” Doyle retorted. “And I didn’t hear him last night when I got in. Lewis and Hathaway find anything at the storage facility?”
“A veritable gold mine.”
Bodie gave a run down of the contents, particularly the explosives, while Doyle pulled on a flannel shirt and Bodie’s blue jumper. He added a tweed jacket and his tartan scarf. Even a glance out the window told him it must be cold.
He stopped with one sock half on when Bodie informed him that he would be tailing Najafi for the remainder of the day. That is, if their suspect revealed himself.
“The Cow know what you’re up to?” Doyle asked as casually as he could manage under the circumstances. The idea that there was a bomb, somewhere, in Oxford was scary enough. That Bodie might confront Najafi was all the more terrifying.
“I’ve made contact with headquarters.”
Which meant, like as not, Cowley was not on the up and up. Bodie’d probably spoken to Betty or his pal, Murphy. “If Najafi shows up for the tutorial, as he’s supposed to, we must tread lightly,” Doyle cautioned. “He wouldn’t bomb St John’s.”
“How d’you know?” Bodie asked, his breath noisy over the mobile receiver.
“He may be a crazy arse terrorist, but he’s keen for the prestige. He wants Sharif’s job,” Doyle said, finally donning the other sock and his shoes. “I agree with Lewis.”
“You would. Like Cowley, always playing the angles!” Bodie growled in frustration. “We should swoop while he’s reading some ancient poem and nick ‘im.”
“What if he can lead us to the bomb?” Doyle reasoned. In the back of his brain, something pinged but he couldn’t get a bead on the fleeting thought. This was Thursday—the day Najafi and Ludwig had a date. Maybe tailing them would bear fruit after all? What time had they agreed to meet?
“Doyle?” Bodie said irritably from the phone’s speaker.
Jerked back to the present, Doyle nodded before remembering that he was talking to his partner by mobile. “I’m walking out the door, Bodie,” he said, snatching up the device. “Got to keep up my cover, suss out where our Shahin has gone.”
“Which means you’ll need food. Strong cuppa, at the very least,” Bodie wheedled in a more normal tone. “Meet you at Costa’s for brekker?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there presently. Want to poke about first.”
“I’ve got grass to water. Order me that cuppa and read your Times while waiting.” Doyle tucked the mobile between his shoulder and chin, swinging the door shut.
“Rather read The Sun,” Bodie retorted. “Page Three girl always wakes me up in the morning.”
“Still Randy and Lonely in Oxford?” Doyle laughed, ringing off. If he was lucky, Adeleh would be around. She didn’t quite have her finger on the pulse of the entire University but she kept her eyes open.
He glanced at the door of number 301 as he walked down the corridor. He hadn’t actually seen—nor heard—Najafi in his room since Sunday. Where was he staying? If he had other digs in Oxford, why hadn’t CI5 been able to track him down?
Couldn’t be with Sara. She had rooms in North Quad with other second and third year students, and Yazmin lived next door to her. After bonding with Yazmin and Adeleh while on Face Time with Japhia, Doyle was certain Yazmin would have told him if Najafi were staying with Ludwig. Doyle simply doubted Najafi would jeopardise his potential standing as religious leader and honoured lecturer by rooming with a woman, Muslim or not.
Were there other members of a pro-Al Qaeda cell in Oxford? Najafi could possibly be staying with friends that CI5 wasn’t even aware of. More digging to be done. With all luck, the laptop found in the storage facility would open up more avenues of inquiry.
Could Najafi sense the scrutiny he was under? Did he actually have the hubris to show up for the Khaghani tutorial? Probably, since keeping to an established routine was better than rabbiting.
Going down in the lift with fellow students, Doyle listened to their excited chatter about the morning lectures and the Oktoberfest that afternoon, feeling older than every damn one of them. He wasn’t, but there were days when knowing about men like Najafi, the black hearted beasts who roamed the Earth, took him to very dark places. He wished that the only thing he had to be concerned with was reading literature and uncovering something new to say about an ancient text.
Should he take initiative and walk into Najafi’s office in St John’s, on the pretence of asking about the new assignment?
Not finding Adeleh in the lobby, Doyle was about to leave Kendrew when the lift opened again, discharging Adeleh and another woman. He vaguely remembered seeing the second woman, stocky, with close shaved black hair and multiple piercings, on moving-in day.
“Good morning, Adeleh.” Doyle waved.
“Salam, Ray,” she replied pleasantly.
“Have you seen Shahin? I wanted to ask him about the Khaghani we’re reading this morning,” Doyle lied smoothly.
“He hasn’t been here in a few days,” the other woman answered.
She had to hail from Derby, unless Doyle’s ear for accents was off entirely. Sounded like any number of his old schoolmates.
“Ray Duncan, this is Rose Bush,” Adeleh introduced with a slight smile.
“That name must’ve got you some ribbing on the play yard,” Doyle commented, nodding to her.
“It’s my married name, luckily.” Rose laughed good-naturedly, rolling her eyes.. “But the name I was born with was just as bad. White.”
“Ah, you’re a story book princess, then.” He should be on his way to meet Bodie, but he rather enjoyed the joking around.
“Just look at me, Snow White in the flesh.” Rose raised her arms with a little flourish. “Shahin comes into the caff I work in, most nights. Serves Middle Eastern food, mainly vegetarian. He were in last night so I asked him where’d he’d been hiding himself.”
Bloody hell. Why hadn’t he got this sort of intel from his own agency? “He had a secret rendezvous?” Doyle joked.
“Mates, you know. And a serious game of World of Warcraft.” She shrugged. “Never would have thought him the sort t’go in for online war games, but it’s popular.”
“Innit it?” he validated. “What’s the name of your caff? I’d like to try that.”
“Nooshe Jan, which means have a nice meal, the Canal Street,” Rose said. “There’s even a small breakfast menu. I only work the dinner hour.”
“Brilliant.” Doyle nodded. “Cheers, ladies.” He charged out of Kendrew, texting Bodie on the run. Chuck Costa, meet me Nooshe Jan, Canal St.
The place was even tinier than Cornflower where he and Bodie had met on Tuesday. Two long tables ran the length of both side walls with a counter at the far end, and nearly every seat was full of hungry students, many of them wearing Middle Eastern head scarves or taqiyah prayer caps. Doyle sniffed, his belly rumbling at the scent of cinnamon, coffee and toasted bread.
Scanning the crowd eating their morning meals, he didn’t spy Najafi’s sleek wing of raven black hair, but easily found his own partner.
Bodie had scored two chairs at the end of the table on the right, close up against the counter. There were two cups of tea in front of him.
“You do find the most interesting places to meet, sunshine.” Bodie saluted him with one cup, then drank deeply. “Have something against Costa’s, do you?”
“Nah, simply indulging in the culture of Oxford.” Doyle sampled his own drink. Divine. Rich and creamy, heavy with the natural spicy sweetness of cinnamon and cardamom.
A waiter balancing more plates than physics could easily explain deposited two in front of Bodie and Doyle, moving down the table to deliver to other customers.
“I took the liberty of ordering for you,” Bodie announced in his faux upper class Brit voice. “The special. Lavosh bread with feta and quince jam. Walnuts and dates on the side.”
“Ta,” Doyle said, crunching the crispy bread.
“I take tending to your grass bore fruit?” Bodie asked lightly, grinning.
Doyle almost choked on his mouthful. That delighted smile did things to him. Things that made him want to drag Bodie out of the building and ravage him against a brick wall, trousers down around his knees. Wouldn’t happen, but he could dream. He sucked down half of his tea and ended up choking again.
“Forgot how to swallow, did you?” Bodie raised his left eyebrow.
“Adeleh’s friend Rose works here, and told me Shahin takes his tea here. As recently as yesterday,” Doyle managed to say. “Which begs the question—are there others in his cell in this area?”
“There you are, proving there are brains under that mop.” Bodie sucked a smear of jam off his finger before pulling out his mobile to text Murphy.
“Thought you could might stake out this place for a few hours while I’m at the tutorial,” Doyle suggested. “Cyber Crimes’ve compiled a list of suspected Islamic members in the area. Download it to your mobile, get some coffee, see if any of ‘em drop by.”
“He who should not be named is not here now.“ Bodie’s eyebrows descended, hovering like storm clouds over his blue eyes. “You need watching. He needs watch—“
Doyle cut him off. “Nothing could possibly happen whilst he’s in his study, with eight students, reading poetry.”
“He could have already—“ Bodie began to argue then stopped himself, glancing at the couple next to him loudly discussing the latest episode of the vampire programme, Being Human. “Hidden something.”
“And risk it being found while he’s at College?” Doyle argued, brushing crumbs off his hands. He dropped a couple of quid onto the table in payment. “Have Murph send a list of known extremists in Oxford and keep your eyes open.” He’d hoped to leg it over to St John’s in time to chat up other students, maybe even take Sara aside to question her. He doubted she’d give Najafi up, but maybe he could persuade her to provide some information. CI5 and the Oxfordshire police would soon have enough evidence to arrest Najafi, but did they have enough to make the charges stick?
“Wait, I’ll walk out with you,” Bodie said, grabbing Doyle’s arm. “Murphy’s gone to Betty for some additional information. We’ve got a mo.”
Nooshe Jan was so popular that two young women, one wearing a blue striped scarf over her hair, the other bare-headed, sat down the moment Bodie and Doyle left.
Bodie guided Doyle around the corner, behind the building. There was an open gate with a large sign announcing all the houses on the narrow close would be renovated, beginning the following week. Every house was boarded up; no prying eyes to see the two agents.
“What are you--?” Doyle asked curiously when Bodie suddenly shoved him against the brick wall, mashing his mouth into Doyle’s.
His head swimming from the unexpected assault, Doyle went limp, soaking up everything Bodie could give him. It had been far too long since they were intimate and every fibre of his being needed the close contact.
Bodie clearly had the same desires. His lips felt hot against Doyle’s, his slick, moist tongue darting into Doyle’s mouth to tickle his palate. Bodie’s cock, hard as a copper’s baton, dug into Doyle’s upper thigh, igniting his own erection. If they went much further, they’d be arrested for indecent exposure.
Panting, Doyle surged against Bodie for another kiss, sucking ferociously on his lower lip. Their teeth clacked together and Bodie slid his hands up under Doyle’s t-shirt, onto his bare skin.
“Bugger!” Doyle jerked back, smacking his head on the brick wall. “Your hands are cold!”
“It’s eight degrees,” Bodie said loftily, as if he knew the temperature off the top of his head. He lowered both hands to clasp Doyle’s waist. “My jumper looks good on you.”
“Keep your cold mitts to yourself,” Doyle declared, leaning in for a final kiss. Bodie had his eyes open the whole time, so Doyle could see a blurry version of his own eyes reflected in the blue. “I’ll text you at half past eleven, when we’re finished with bloody Khaghani.”
“You do that.” Bodie waggled a finger. “We keep in touch today, yeah? Every hour on the hour.”
“No worries,” Doyle said. “It’s Thursday. What happens on a Thursday?”
Returning to St John’s took longer than Doyle had expected and he was left with very little time before Persian Literature began. In the corridor outside Sharif’s old study, Sara was hunched over her mobile, her posture practically shouting leave me alone. Doyle propped himself a foot away, opening Facebook on his own device. Maybe he could find a funny meme, laugh, and get her attention?
Chastising himself for acting like a teenage boy trying to impress a girl, Doyle watched her out of the corner of his eye.
Sara was tense, there was no doubt about it. Her usual sweet, open face was guarded, and when she raised her hand to tuck a lock of blonde hair underneath her green scarf, he could see that she was trembling. What was the reason?
“Sara?” Doyle began, giving up all pretence of scrolling through his phone.
At that moment, Najafi opened the door to the study. “Welcome!” he said.
Sara turned towards him like a flower desperate for the sun. She went to his side without saying a word, standing with her head ducked.
Submissive or subservient? In the end, did the semantics matter? Najafi clearly had her under his thrall. For what reason, was the question. Was he planning to have her carry a bomb like Beatrix, or send her to the Middle East as a reward for some soldier who’d served his cause well? Both outcomes were equally sickening. The one thing Doyle was sure of was that the manipulating bastard did not love her.
The group of students filing in was significantly reduced from the original eight. Colin, Leo, Patrick, Ryo, and Marie had not returned, leaving only Doyle, Yazmin, and, of course, Sara.
“I see who are loyal—“ Najafi said, his gaze sweeping over the three of them, “to knowledge.”
To say the air felt thick with tension was an understatement. The hair on the back of his neck prickled and it seemed difficult to breathe. Doyle sat down across from Sara, and Yazmin chose a chair on his side, with an empty seat between them.
“Their loss,” Sara chirped, as if suddenly switched on.
“Could you give us a little background on Khaghani?” Doyle asked, to provide some semblance that this was an actual tutorial and not some forced meeting of Najafi supporters. He knew why he and Sara were there, but why had Yazmin returned?
“Scholars believe that Khaghani was the most important talent of his generation, and of all Persian poets,” Najafi said, his chest puffing with pride. “In fact, my father traced our family line all the way back to his in 1190, Iran. This is why I always knew that I would eventually study—and get my Ph.D., focussing on this master. I plan to go back to our homeland, to praise his poetry.” Pausing to look directly at each student, he smiled, but there was no joy in his dark eyes, only a glitter of fanatical pride. “He writes from the heart, about matters only a true Muslim would understand.”
Najafi finished his visual circumference of the table, gazing longest at Doyle as if judging whether he could be trusted.
Doyle refused to bow under the pressure of Najafi’s stare. He wanted to point out that since Najafi had been born in Liverpool, Iran could hardly be called his homeland. But he didn’t.
“May I make a comment?” Yazmin asked, in a soft voice. She was obviously nervous but putting up a brave front.
“Of course, we all share in the conversation,” Najafi said with a snide expression that showed he didn’t mean a word of it.
“You said that only true Muslims would get his poetry. Yet,” Yazmin paused, as if shoring up confidence. “Khaghani is well known for using Christian imagery in his poems.”
“Outright lies,” Najafi said savagely, planting both hands on the table and leaning in as if to bite her.
His attack was so vicious, so uncalled for, that even Doyle reared back. Yazmin flushed but tightened her resolve by defiantly crossing her arms. Doyle glanced over at Sara. She was watching Najafi with what could only be described as adoration without concern for his fury.
“I read that—“ Yazmin started.
“Wikipedia or some other schlock website?” Najafi sneered, his face flushed with high colour. “I’d strongly advise that if you want to continue your academic career in this department, Ms Zadeh, you’d do well to confine your research to accredited, scholarly journals.”
Shot down, Yazmin lowered her head.
Glad he’d taken a few moments the night before to actually look up the poet, although he’d done a Google search, Doyle stood. He may not be as tall as Najafi, but he was male and -–in the hierarchy of the patriarchal Middle Eastern society—on equal footing with the other man. “Does the Encyclopedia Britannica meet your criteria, Shahin?” Doyle emphasised his first name to demean Najafi’s status in front of the women. Potentially quite dangerous. Good thing Bodie wasn’t there to see it.
“Defending her honour, Ray?” Najafi scoffed. “She’s not worth the effort.”
Yazmin gasped angrily. “Clearly this is not an atmosphere of discussion. It’s the don’t- question- Shahin- Najafi tutorial.” She glared at him, gathering up her books and purse. Without another word, Yazmin walked out the door.
Sara looked like the cat who’d lapped up all the cream, a tiny smile tipping the corners of her mouth.
In for a penny, in for a pound. Since he was fairly sure he’d be pulled out of this assignment by nightfall, Doyle let loose his temper. “If you want to continue your academic career in the Oriental Studies department, I’d strongly advise you to avoid antagonising your students,” Doyle said pointedly. He wouldn’t get anywhere by slugging Najafi, but a few more barbed words wouldn’t hurt. “A bit more research on your behalf would best serve if you want to be respected in your chosen field.” The outraged look on Najafi’s face was satisfying, if dangerous.
“If you leave, you’ll never sit in another tutorial in this department!” Najafi threatened.
“I leave with a clear conscience.” Which was not entirely true. Even with the evidence against Najafi piling up, Doyle had a sinking feeling that Cowley would have his guts for garters. Probably demote him and punish him with deadly dull stake-outs for the next decade if Doyle mucked up Najafi’s arrest.
He shoved open the door, cursing under his breath.
“Bye!” Sara said automatically, left alone with Najafi.
Doyle wondered what he would say to her, in private. If something was going down, would it be soon?
“Prepare to be dazzled,” Hathaway said, a twinkle in his blue eyes enhancing his inscrutable expression.
“Prepared,” Jean Innocent said dryly, perching a hip on the nearest desk.
“The storage facility was a gold mine,” Robbie said, very satisfied by the raid. There had been so much stuff in there it would take days to sort it all. “Explosives, paraphernalia for bomb making, and the piece de resistance--“ He waved at his sergeant like a game show host.
“This pistol, a FN-Five Seven,” Hathaway held up a photograph of the weapon. “Found in a locked case.”
“Fingerprints?” Innocent asked.
“All but wiped away,” Robbie answered grimly, taking the picture to attach it to his white board with all the other information pertinent to the case. “There is one partial which SOCO is trying to match to Najafi, but it’s less than half a print.”
“We’ve also found a muddy, but otherwise brand new pair of Reeboks.” Hathaway handed the Chief Superintendent a photo of high top black trainers with white soles, the lower half liberally splattered with mud. “Size ten and a half. Sole pattern match the print we obtained, but the muddy ground that morning made size difficult to prove.”
“Najafi’s size?” she asked, passing the picture to Lewis.
“Yes,” Hathaway murmured. “Need DNA to prove they’re his.”
“Are you ready to charge him, then?” Innocent braced herself on the desk, taking her weight off one black high heel.
“For the murder, possibly,” Hathaway hedged. “We’re still waiting on forensics. Any of the other crimes…”
“Unfortunately,” Robbie continued, “the facility was under Michael Ahmadi’s name. He’s no longer in the country—and his father is CEO of Duval chemicals where the RDX was stolen from.”
“Thus technically, this Ahmadi had possession of the stolen property, and there is proof that he manufactured the bomb found at Canary Wharf,” Innocent said, proving she’d done her homework. “Where is he now?”
“Kharistan.” Hathaway taped a map of the small Middle Eastern country next to the picture of the gun, along with a photograph of the young man in question. “Which has a government not unlike Great Britain, with a ruling family as well as a prime minister. We do have an extradition treaty with them, and a British embassy in Qwill’ran. However, so far, no-one has eyes on Ahmadi.”
“His wife is a different matter,” Robbie picked up the narrative. “She contacted Bodie’s partner, Ray Doyle, and asked to be rescued from an abusive relationship— she says was forced to marry Ahmadi and then detained in Kharistan.”
“I take it she is a British citizen?” Innocent folded her arms, taking in all the evidence on the white board.
“Exactly. CI5 is working with the embassy there,” Robbie added. “If Japhia Dawson Ahmadi is returned to the UK, she may well have vital information about the terrorist cells in both London and Oxford.”
“This is getting us quite far afield from our primary murder investigation.” Innocent frowned. “You have the weapon. I take it we have ballistics from the single bullet?”
“Yes. That pistol killed both,” Hathaway said, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets. This only served to slide them down his narrow hips by half an inch.
Robbie turned slightly to avoid the tantalizing sight. “From a legal standpoint, we have absolutely no proof that Shahin Najafi had anything to do with the other crimes, but he’s our prime suspect for the murders—he was aware of the relationship between the two men and considered it blasphemy.”
“Tell SOCO to move heaven and earth, and identify that print,” Innocent said firmly. “I want to solve the current case, first and foremost. Do you think the laptop you found is Najafi’s?”
“That had his dabs.” Hathaway widened his eyes as if surprised the man had been so careless. “We haven’t cracked the encrypted password—“
“CI5 is sending an agent to take the computer back to London,” Robbie said. “So that is on hold—but we’re hoping they’ll be able to unlock the names and addresses of the members of local terrorist cells, as well as any vital correspondence with them.”
“Bringing us ‘round to our old case, who gave Beatrix Chambers the bomb vest,” Hathaway pointed to the photograph of the Chambers sisters from June. “Bodie got her to talk. She says that Najafi took her to the storage facility, but she never went inside. She did hear him speaking to someone.”
“Ahmadi?” Innocent asked, leaning forward with interest.
“Expect so, but remains to be seen what we will uncover,” Robbie said.
“I say bring Najafi in.” Innocent declared.
The benefits of a University city, from Bodie’s perspective, was the abundance of coffee bars, printing shops and internet cafes. He used all three in the space of the hour after Doyle left. Still tingling from his lover’s kisses, Bodie downloaded a list of the people Callum and his merry band from Cyber Crimes had cross referenced from various sites Najafi used. He also had the names of Japhia’s cousin, Mohammed, and his mate McClure’s online acquaintances. Three names had come up repeatedly: Bashir Al-Fadil, Mohammed Abdullah, and Alf Smith. No proof they actually knew Najafi, but all three claimed to live in the Oxford area, according to their Facebook profiles. Neither CI5 nor Interpol had addresses for them. While printing out their photographs, Bodie kept his eye out on the street. It would just be his luck to be looking down when one of the men walked by.
He actually didn’t have a great deal of faith that he’d see any of the suspects; the odds of Doyle’s plan working seemed remote. However, staking out Nooshe Jan on the off chance that Najafi—or any of his cohorts-- came by for food wasn’t the worst way he’d spent a morning.
Bodie bought a coffee and sat down at a bus stop with the photographs tucked inside that day’s edition of The Sun. The Page Three bird, in a teeny bikini, was quite distracting, but Bodie put his mind on his task.
Alf Smith had actually been arrested for participating a pro-Islamic demonstration that turned violent when police waded in. He looked like any other British bloke, blue eyes, thinning brown hair and a droopy chin. Most notably, he had training in explosives and chemical warfare from his time in the British Army.
The images of Al-Fadil and Abdullah were from Oxford University IDs. Neither was currently enrolled at College, and no longer resided in student housing. Al-Fadil had been pursuing a degree in International Security and Terrorism.
Brilliant, so he’ll know all the tricks of the trade.
Abdullah had been a lackadaisical student in chemical engineering but he’d undoubtedly know his way around a blasting cap. Both had full, bushy beards and were dressed in western clothing, with small, round caps on their heads. Looked like countless other Middle Eastern blokes in England.
Sipping the cooling coffee, Bodie folded the paper, getting sleepy after three quarters of an hour. He flicked his eyes around the road, pretending to scroll through his mobile. There was only so long he could lounge at the bus stop before pedestrians noticed that he had passed up the last two buses.
An old blue Deux Chavaux drove by, the thin metal of the car so corroded it appeared to be held together by rust alone. The driver stopped at the corner, disgorging two men. Bodie recognised the first as Alf Smith. Almost too astonished to know what to do first, he glanced at the number plate.
“BD51 S…” he muttered to himself, holding up his mobile to snap a series of photos.
Fairly certain the other man was Abdullah, Bodie couldn’t believe his good fortune.
Even more amazing was that Smith had a Gap rucksack over his shoulder. There were millions of the items sold in every Gap store across the globe. Could mean absolutely nothing. Hell, he’d seen dozens carried by students at Oxford. Bodie had owned one himself a few years back, but the coincidence of seeing a potential member of a pro-Al Qaeda radical cell toting a rucksack was overwhelming.
Smith and Abdullah chatted amiably as they walked into Nooshe Jan. Bodie waited until they’d gone inside before walking to the far end of the road where he’d parked his car. He could just make them out through the front window of the restaurant. This would do for the short term, and he could tail them for a while if they walked through Oxford, but eventually they would notice him. Unless they had another car, following them in the Focus was useless.
He tapped his contact list to pull up Murphy. 6.2 was supposed to be driving up from London to Oxford to retrieve the computer found in Ahmadi’s storage facility. If he was already in the area, he’d be the perfect back-up.
Bodie got a single emoji, a valiant thumbs up, in reply to his texted request.
His stomach rumbling, even though he’d eaten earlier, Bodie emailed the most recent pictures of Smith and Abdullah to CI5, as well as the number plate, feeling like he’d earned his pay. Some of the questions that swirled through his brain were—did Najafi know them personally—or were they simply online ‘friends’? Was this innocuous restaurant a meeting place for local members of an extremist cell, or was this a complete fluke? Not bloody likely, but stranger things had happened.
Settling back to wait for Murphy, Bodie checked on the two men eating at Nooshe Jan. They’d only just been served. He had time to ping Doyle, see how he was faring.
Doyle dropped down onto the green lawn in Canterbury Quad, exhausted. Tilting his face up the sky, he sought out the sun playing hide and seek with the clouds. He really should get more sleep, but he’d been restless all night long, sure that something was due to happen sooner rather than later. Something bad. He cast back to the fevered encounter with Bodie—their bodies pressed together, hearts thudding in time to a rhythm only the two of them could hear.
He craved more of Bodie. William Andrew Phillip Bodie spread naked across the sheets of their bed, his cock heavy against his belly, as Doyle sucked on his balls. The room would be hot, the air scented with the aroma of their lovemaking, Doyle’s anus pleasantly aching from the reaming he’d just received.
Doyle ripped himself out of the daydream when Sara Ludwig came out of the building, her green scarf flapping in the chilly breeze.
Glad for a reason to get off the damp grass, Doyle bounded up, his black gown swirling out behind him like a short cape. He’d been worried that he might have missed Najafi and Ludwig because he had walked with Yazmin part of the way back to her room. She’d had questions—most he couldn’t answer, but had been able to assure her that CI5 agents were already on the way to Kharistan to get Japhia to the British Embassy.
“Sara!” he called out.
She whirled around, clearly angry. “You’ve ruined everything!” she shouted, stabbing a forefinger at him. “This was supposed to be the start of a new era—a change. You’ve mucked it all up.”
Were she and Najafi really planning something violent? Another bomb? His heart jumped into his throat. “What’d you mean?” He ignored the insistent buzz of his mobile in his jeans pocket. This was more important.
She regarded him with scorn, baring her teeth. “For Shahin—as a teacher. For me. We’d be able to announce that we are together, once he’s a full professor.” She looked over her shoulder, to the second floor where Sharif’s office was. “He feels betrayed by all who should have supported him at this crucial time.”
Did she truly believe that or was she completely deluded by Najafi’s lies? “Sara, I doubt that he can publically announce he’s with one of his students,” Ray said carefully. ”I’d really like to talk to you about—“
She shook her head so rapidly the scarf slipped backward, revealing her dark blond hair. Grabbing the fabric, she yanked it into place, which only made her hair stick out in all directions. “I always knew Yazmin’d be the loose link. She lives in a fantasy world, as if she is the only one with all the answers.“ Sara exhaled, looking around as if worried someone overheard.
Groups of students crossing the lawn barely glanced her way, most staring down at their mobiles.
Doyle took the interruption to walk closer to Sara. “What is Shahin planning to do?” he asked very quietly.
“Leave me be!” she repeated wildly. “I’ve got to get to Wellington Square.” She brushed past him, retying her scarf with agitation.
Wellington Square, Thursday next-- He legged it to catch up with her. “What’s going on there?”
“The Oktoberfest?” she replied as if he were daft. “If you must know, I’m to help out at a booth with my friend.”
Should he admit he’d heard her talking to Najafi that first evening? Try to persuade her to change whatever was going to happen?
“Has Shahin asked you to do anything that made you feel uncomfortable? That seemed wrong?” he asked as they walked out onto the street. “Suggested you take a year in Kharistan?”
She swung around to slap him but Doyle danced out of range. “Shahin loves me! He doesn’t want me to leave. Why would you even suggest such a thing? ”
Doyle shrugged, unable to admit why he knew these thing. “I’ve only been here a short while but I notice the women in the Islamic Society don’t stay very long. Especially Najafi’s girlfriends.”
“You mean Beatrix? How’d do you even know? Ancient history,” she scoffed, buttoning up her puffy jacket against the chilly wind. “They weren’t a couple. She was delusional.”
“I know the Dawson family, I’ve made no secret of that. Beatrix was imprisoned for wearing a suicide vest. Japhia’s gone—“ He had the overpowering feeling that something was going to go down, today. Trying to rationalise with Sara was pointless because she wasn’t about to trust him.
“Japhia was an idiot,” she retorted. But she didn’t run away. “She, Beatrix and Yazmin were all mates, see what that got them. They all had their eyes on Shahin, but he chose me, in the end.”
“Think about it. He wants to be seen as a religious leader, and educator, and yet everything he says, his views on being a Muslim, on praising Allah, are driving away his friends and students,” Doyle stood quietly. Attacking her wasn’t working. “Has he gone to pray at the Islamic Society recently?”
Sara scowled, tucking her hands under her armpits as if suddenly cold. “Stay away from me,” she implored. “Stay away from the Islamic Society, and especially from Shahin, do you hear?”
Defeated, Doyle let her leave, watching her practically run down St Giles. All he wanted right then was a drink—Cowley’s whisky—to get him totally plastered. This was getting him nowhere. He still had no firm evidence that the Oktoberfest was a target. Thousands of students gathered together in the revered University city. Al Qaeda would have a field day if a bomb went off here, particularly because their last bomb had been discovered before detonated. They’d want a solid hit this time.
Slumping against the wall, Doyle pulled out his phone when it alerted him to yet another text. His inbox was bursting to overflowing, most from Bodie. Scanning the information, bordering on shock, Doyle tapped in a quick response. Najafi at St John’s. Ludwig –Wellington Square.
Bodie’s answer came back in seconds. Stay with Najafi. Murph and me got others covered.
“Mr Najafi left soon after his tutorial,” departmental secretary Mary Osborne said, her eyes flicking back and forth between Hathaway and Lewis. “I assumed for lunch. I heard him preparing to do his prayers in his office right before he was gone.”
“And you don’t know where he’s gone?” Lewis asked, frustrated.
James was more than frustrated. According to Bodie’s partner Doyle, Najafi had not come out through the main entrance onto St Giles. There were far too many exits from the College. With the arrival of the Oxfordshire detectives, Doyle had left in a hurry. “You’re his secretary. Does he have anything on his schedule for the afternoon?” he asked, possibly a tad too disdainfully judging from the withering glance Lewis sent his way.
“No other tutorials or meetings, if that’s what you mean?” She put a hand to her nose, sneezing. “Sorry, allergies. Has he done something wrong?“ Mary looked past the cop guarding the door, her voice going to a whisper. “I don’t really like Shahin. He’s not at all kind, the way Professor Sharif was. Not at all.”
“Can you be more specific?” Lewis asked.
James wanted to be off, find the bloody weasel. They now had absolute proof that he’d fired the gun, killed two people in cold blood simply because they were gay. SOCO had pulled up fingerprints from the bullet magazine—the one place no murderer ever thought to wipe clean.
Mary shook her head. “No respect, no sense of…community. That we’re all here for learning and teaching. He thinks he’s far better than everyone else, including dear departed Professor Sharif.” Sneezing again, she cast about on her desk for a box of tissues half hidden under a pile of papers and knocked them onto the floor. “There's so much sensitivity to his cultural norms. I'll show you a bastard who shows none for others!”
Somewhat amused at her vitriolic, James bent down to pick up the scattered papers, and set the untidy stack back on Mary’s desk, next to the tissues. She grabbed one to blow her nose.
“Did others share your opinion?” James asked, looking down at the poster for the Oktoberfest on top of the stack. Doyle had mentioned that Najafi possibly had something planned for today. A festival, a soft target, packed with students vulnerable to attack would be a definite coups for Al Qaeda.
“Not something we discuss in front of him, is it?” Mary said tartly. She plucked up the poster and put it in his hand. “You can have this. I don’t go in for such foolery.”
James folded it into his pocket, unsettled. Could be well off the mark, but after Beatrix Chambers’ bombing was thwarted, the local extremists could be keen to try again in Oxford.
“If you think of anything,” Lewis said, the hope that this would resolve quickly dying in his eyes, “do give us a call.”
“So many of the students are going there for beer and sausages, I suspect they’ll bunk lectures this afternoon.” She pressed her lips together thoughtfully, plucking another tissue from a squashed box to swipe at her nose. “Speaking of the Oktoberfest—“
Turning towards the door, James felt like they were grasping at straws. Najafi kept slipping out of their reach.
“I do recall Mr Najafi speaking with one of his students.” She tossed the tissue into a waste paper basket. “Sara. A lovely girl, far better than him, if you don’t mind me saying so—“
James slid his eyes over to Robbie. Lewis could be the soul of patience with a reluctant witness but even he appeared peeved at her dithering. “He was speaking to this Sara?” James prompted. “Do you know her surname?”
“Oh, Ludwig, of course,” Mary said. “She was to help out frying sausages, raising money for the College charity. He was to meet her there.”
“Thank you!” Lewis cried triumphantly.
“Care for a German beer, sir?” James quipped, his longer legs outpacing Robbie on the way back to the car.
Trotting down Pusney, Doyle turned right onto St John’s Street towards Wellington Square. He wasn’t the only one. Students and Oxonians alike streamed into the fenced in park, all intent on wiener schnitzel, German beer and oom pah pah. Not Doyle’s favourite by half, but he had far more to worry about than overly loud tuba music.
The entrance fee was £15. Doyle grimaced, diving deep into his pockets to find the notes. He should have made Bodie pay for breakfast. He had exactly enough, four pound coins, a tenner and five twenty pence pieces.
The ticket salesgirl looked at him askance as she counted out the change. “Danke,” she said dutifully with an appalling German accent. “Guten tag.”
A ubiquitous security guard stood beyond the gate, peering into purses, rucksacks and cases with a decidedly perfunctory style. Doyle sighed, waiting in the queue. At least there was security, even if he was doing a piss poor job of it. Unfortunately, there was probably another opening Najafi could sneak in through, just as there were too many exits out of St John’s. He could castigate himself all day long for missing Najafi, but it was too little, too late now.
Stalls selling German food, booths with handmade crafts, and music stages crowded the usually quiet urban green. There was a large tent for the traditional beer garden and even coconut shies for those of more British sensibilities. How the hell was he supposed to find a single person in this chaos?
Should have asked Sara specifically what she was doing at Oktoberfest. Doyle had no choice but to slow down exactly when he wanted to dash through the entire fete, shouting that one and all should evacuate. There would be horrific consequences if a bomb went off with this many bodies in close proximity.
As he walked through the broil of people cheek and jowl, he noted that most were clutching a clear plastic cup of beer. Doyle didn’t have any more money to spend on alcohol, no matter if he’d kill for a good pilsner. Priority one was find Sara.
He recognised many people he’d met at St John’s. Adeleh and Rose walked by arm in arm. Colin Patterson, Patrick O’Shea and another bloke raised their beer steins high in front of the bier garten, and Leo Fischer presented a pretty brunette with a plate of German style donuts.
His mobile buzzed and he swiped the screen. Suspects heading to M40, Murphy behind> Bodie texted. U?
Oktoberfest. Searching for Sara. Meeting SN? Doyle typed, trying to read his mobile and scan the masses at the same time. Backpack?
Gone. Bodie replied.
WTF? Doyle headed to a line of food stalls. As a practising Muslim, Sara would not be drinking—or selling—beer, however, he remembered Adeleh saying she would be there for the bockwurst. U come to Oktoberfest. Still reckon this is N’s target. Try food stalls.
N J. Waiter says suspects talked to an African. Bodie sent back. OTW
On the way. Finally he’d have some back up, although he would have welcomed the entire mob from CI5. Due to the milling throng, it took him upwards of twenty minutes to cross the green to the eating area. Every stall had a long queue—the organisers knew what they were doing to open the venue in early afternoon when most students were ready for lunch.
Variations on a theme: three sausage stalls, two more for regular fete food such as pork pies and burgers, and two specializing in Bavarian pastries. He peered vainly at each, but the drapery and plastic sheeting covering all except an opening for the cashier made it nearly impossible to see those behind the counter. Doyle was bumped, jostled and had his toes stepped on before he made it to the last sausage stall. This had to be it—otherwise, he didn’t know where else to look.
Combined with hundreds of sweaty people and the hops-y scent of beer permeating the area, the smell of roasting meat was nauseating this close to the source. Music from two different brass bands was nearly deafening. What about other Germanic music? Something soothing like The Blue Danube?
“Ray!” Borzoo hailed him from a table set up under a huge tent. He was sitting with Mustafa, and two other men Doyle had seen at College. “Join us.”
Apparently he’d been forgiven for the etiquette breach of the day before.
“Brilliant. I fancy a banger,” Doyle called, waving. “Looking for Sara first. Seen her?”
“She’s cooking.” Mustafa held aloft an enormous sausage covered in sauerkraut, on a thick roll. “Delicious. In the back of the blue stall.” Borzoo and the two others had similar meals in front of them.
He’d overshot his target, unable to see those toiling at the stoves from so far back in the queue.
“Cheers. Talk to you in a mo.” Doyle sidled around a clump of students already drunk, arguing over the best beer on offer. He sent a quick text to Bodie, hoping that his partner would be there soon. It didn’t feel right diving into a dangerous situation without Bodie by his side.
The stalls were close together, but there was a gap between Best Wurst on the Planet! and Rhone River Kuche. With so many people partying, few would pay any attention to one man skulking behind the tarp dividing the two stalls.
He hadn’t even gotten all the way to the rear of the structure when he heard Sara’s voice. The blast of a tuba from the nearby polka dance stage obliterated whatever she was saying.
Doyle strained to listen, hidden against the rough canvas sides. He choked, smoke from the grills thick enough to induce coughing. Clamping his lips together to stifle the impulse, Doyle automatically reached for the gun he usually had holstered under his left arm. Bugger, it was at his flat—in London.
Another two steps and he could see around the edge of the stall. Sara was in profile, facing someone concealed by the high sides of a large metal skip. From her expression, she was upset, possibly even frightened.
Without a plan, Doyle called, “Sara!” As the second syllable came out, he was slugged violently in the side and knocked to the ground. The air wheezing out of his lungs, Doyle attempted to get his feet under him, but a heavy boot caught him between the ribs.
Coughing raggedly, he curled on the grass, unable to breathe much less think. Who? A second kick smashed against his forehead, knocking his head back. Doyle groaned, dazed.
The polka music ended with a crash of cymbals, and in the relative silence, Doyle heard the cacophony of voices from the food stalls, requests for sausages and pickles. Shouts of joy from the coconut shy.
“Sara’s suddenly all cut up about our mission,” Najafi said coldly. “Afraid to hurt so many people.”
Doyle raised his head, the pounding inside in opposite rhythm to the jarringly cheery beat of another polka tune.
“Shahin—“ she started, sobbing. She dropped to her knees, covering her eyes as if prematurely mourning a death.
He levelled a stiff finger at her. “I had high hopes for you, my girl. You were to be the one. The best of them.” There was almost a gleeful smile on his handsome face, tempered with the light of unholy righteousness in his eyes. “However, we have a new recruit, about to discover whether, even after betraying the cause, he can become a martyr. Duncan’s always been so keen, until today. What changed, traitor?”
Wary of whomever he sensed standing behind him, Doyle drew in a lungful of air. His chest ached miserably. Cracked ribs, if he wasn’t mistaken. Had them before.
How would he get out of this? Surely Najafi didn’t mean what he was implying? Doyle would carry the bomb? “You pervert the name of God, Allah, whatever he’s called. Spread hatred, war –“
“Heard your shit already, haven’t I?” Najafi scoffed, shaking his head. “Etom?”
The African Bodie’d mentioned! Halfway between elated that the mystery man had been identified and sure he was about to meet his maker in Heaven without sufficient preparation, Doyle sent up a single prayer.
A giant hand plucked Doyle from the ground, hauling him to a stand. “I brought the vest,” Etom said seductively into his ear, his beard scratchy against Doyle’s cheek. “Was made for Sara. Be a bit snug on you, ‘though you’re a wisp of a lad. We’ll go together.”
“You can’t be serious!” Doyle struggled to free himself, staring at Najafi.
“Deadly.” Najafi shrugged as if it were all out of his hands. “Etom has pledged his eternal vow. Sufficient is Allah as a Witness,” he quoted with manic zeal.
“Insha’Allah,” Etom murmured piously.
“Since I am aware your Farsi is spotty, he said, Allah’s will,” Najafi translated. He glanced down at his mobile with a shake of his head. “Going on half past one. Busy, must dash. Just stopped to visit my sweet Sara, but she’s failed in her true mission.”
At his feet, Sara sobbed uncontrollably.
There’d be no help from her. “What do you expect to prove?” Doyle challenged. He had nothing left to lose. “You think this is the way to gain prestige at St John’s? To be some big shot with Al Qaeda?”
Etom shook him like a rat, wrapping one long arm around Doyle’s neck and stabbing a finger below his left ear.
Even knowing what his assailant was doing didn’t diminish the fear welling inside. He was going to die. More importantly, half of the people in Wellington Park were going to die if Najafi got his way. Doyle managed to open his mouth to shout no, but the sound didn’t come out. Doubtful, with the accordion accompanying the clarinet and tuba on the stage, that anyone in the crowd would have heard him.
Blinking, Doyle twitched, trying to escape the pressure against his vagal nerve, and the enervating sense of being drawn into oblivion.
Parking the Focus was a bugger. Oxford streets weren’t big enough for the usual number of cars on an average day. With the fete, there wasn’t a space for miles. After the last text from Ray, Bodie was certain his partner was in imminent danger. He abandoned the Ford on a zebra crossing, running down the road towards the entrance to Wellington Square. The thrumming beat of the music made his head ache.
Would Najafi be there? The guy was a manipulator, a deceiver. He wasn’t about to endanger himself. Bodie recalled reading the reports of Beatrix’s failed attempt to blow herself and her sister into paradise. There had been a sidebar column, the reporter getting reactions from friends and colleagues. Najafi had claimed to know nothing of her plans and opined that she’d always been a troubled soul. She clearly didn’t understand her place in Allah’s world.
What a bloody fucker. If, in fact, Doyle was correct—that there was to be a bomb at Oktoberfest, and Bodie very much suspected he was--then wouldn’t Najafi would be at his office, far from the epicenter? He’d be waiting for reporters, as if unaware of the horrific tragedy. He’d be shocked, saddened at the state of the world, and how Islam was viewed.
Grimly, Bodie texted Hathaway. Then, holding up his warrant card, he cut in front of the queue into the garden, ignoring the complaints that scattered in his wake.
The answer was almost immediate. Najafi not at office. Going to Oktoberfest.
His pulse already galloping, Bodie swore under his breath. That meant it was going down, and very, very soon. Najafi was somewhere in this square.
The place was heaving with people. Bodie scanned the festive crowd, desperate for a glimpse of the borrowed blue jumper Doyle had been wearing only a few hours ago. Adrenalin blazed through his veins, and he clamped down on his emotions. This was war—or something very like. He had to be stealthy, sure. Seek out the most likely places to hide explosives.
Trouble was, there were far too many sodding places. Under the music stage? In one of the coconuts, set to go off when hit by a tossed ball?
The RDX couldn’t explode on its own. It needed a detonator. A mobile phone was the most obvious choice. Something carried by every single person crammed inside the fenced in garden.
Bodie started for the food court, the last place he’d heard from Doyle. That had been a good half hour ago, but he couldn’t simply stand mid centre of the Oktoberfest and hope that Najafi walked by.
Bloody hell. Catching sight of the familiar wing of black hair topped by a gold and white striped taqiyah heading away from him, Bodie changed direction. He could feel the predatory senses he’d honed as a mercenary and then in the SAS slotting into place. Najafi was towing a woman, presumably Sara Ludwig, by one arm. Keeping his eye on his prey, Bodie swiped the mobile to send a text exactly as one popped into his message box.
Here in Wellington. Where U? Hathaway sent.
Bodie shoved past a cluster of men outside the beer garden, giving Hathaway his location as he did so. Up ahead, he recognised Doyle’s mates Borzoo and Mustafa. The other wonder of mobiles—earlier in the week, Doyle had sent snaps of the students he’d met at College.
The momentary distraction was enough; Bodie lost sight of Najafi. He stopped in his tracks, visually searching the area, but there were so many people. Bodies buffeted him on both sides, heading for the food court, returning to the tent for more beer or just polka-ing in long lines. Heartsick, Bodie turned back to the duo he’d recognised. Maybe they’d seen their instructor?
Three things happened almost simultaneously, stretching Bodie’s nerves to the limit. Doyle staggered out from behind a sausage stall, shoved forward by a tall black man.
A woman screamed.
Hathaway and Lewis ran up, flanking Bodie.
“Doyle!” Bodie cried. He couldn’t help it, couldn’t stop from taking two steps towards his partner—his lover—before registering what was strapped around Doyle’s upper body.
“For Allah,” the black man intoned. “Glory to my God—“
“A bomb!” someone shouted from the crush of festival-goers. The cry went up from all around, people panicking at the sight of a wild haired man wearing a suicide vest. “He’s got a bomb!”
Life seemed to stretch and slow to a crawl, giving Bodie time to examine Doyle. His eyes were unfocused, blood trickling from a small wound on his temple, curls around his face damp with sweat and flattened against his skull. The borrowed jumper was almost obliterated by a vest wired with explosives. Bodie had a desperate awareness that the next few moments were vital. He had to defuse the bomb. If he didn’t, thousands would be killed. Including Doyle.
That was not going to happen.
As festival goers fled the park to escape death, Bodie analysed his options. He’d dealt with enough bombs to know this was a complicated one. Not the sort where a single snip of a red wire could deactivate the entire thing.
The black man chanted unceasingly in several languages—English, Persian and some African language Bodie’d heard in his distant past but couldn’t place. The African seemed no longer in this world but halfway to Mecca or wherever the hell he planned to die.
“James,” a familiar voice said almost directly behind Bodie, penetrating the terrified screams. “Inspector Sands in operation, now.”
Lewis. Bodie thought with the one per cent of his brain not fixed on Doyle. Inspector Sands—the code for action, fire. Lewis would take charge of the crowd, call in more coppers, a bomb squad, leaving him free to negotiate. He had to set aside his emotional ties.
“Steady on!” Lewis announced loudly into the din caused by hundreds running to safety. “Walk to the exits as quickly as you can. Walk.”
Not sure why he was doing so, Bodie drew his pistol, shoring up strength from his grasp on the barrel.
“Mind how you go!” Hathaway yelled, herding the crowd. “Single queues through the gate!”
Doyle raised his head as if it were too heavy to lift and stared straight at Bodie. “Shoot,” Doyle slurred, his eyes burning with intensity. He didn’t fight the huge man’s tight hold, as if barely able to stand on his own feet.
Shoot him? And risk hitting Doyle? Would that set off the device? Long ago memories of Doyle charging after him when he’d been outfitted with a bomb almost derailed him. Doyle had endangered himself to save his partner. Bodie could do no less.
Caught in the beam of Doyle’s gaze, Bodie let the world fall away, marginally aware that the area around them had cleared. He was expendable. He’d known that since he joined CI5.
Innocent civilians were not. Bodie had to stall long enough to evacuate the square. He flicked his eyes to the man holding him. He should know his name—seemed like he did. “Oi,” he called out.
“Etom,” Doyle said as if reading his mind.
“Insha’Allah,” Etom said, repeating his prayer in the African dialect.
“This doesn’t have to happen, Etom.” Bodie slid to the left, deliberately putting himself directly in the man’s line of sight. Ignoring the people sobbing in the distance, the shouts of constables and whoop-whoop of sirens converging on Wellington Square, Bodie tried to find the right words. “You can stop this—“
“Bo-die.” Doyle hit the second syllable hard, forcing Bodie’s attention. “Shoot it.”
He jerked his head urgently towards his captor’s left.
“Glory to my God, the most praiseworthy…” Etom was oblivious to the turmoil he’d caused. He clasped Doyle close against his body, clearly prepared to share in the imminent sacrifice. In his left hand, he held a mobile phone.
RDX didn’t explode without an external trigger.
Raising his arm, Bodie sighted along the barrel of his pistol and pulled the trigger.
If the announcement that there was a bomb hadn’t compelled the crowd to escape, the single gunshot finished the job. Hathaway was still on the blower, calling in reinforcements, when a gap opened in the crush of darting festival goers. He saw a man with smooth black hair dragging a frantic young woman wearing a head scarf by the arm. Shahin Najafi!
A group of frightened students surged across the lawn, bashing headlong into the couple. Najafi tripped, his gold and white cap fluttered to the ground, crushed under the feet of people running toward the gate. As he fell, the young woman broke free of his grip and joined the mass exodus.
Punching the screen to end the call mid word, James took off. Track had never been his event; he was a rower. However, he had momentum on his side, and the fact that Najafi had to get to his feet.
James never let him. He tackled Najafi as he was rising, like an American football athlete going for victory.
“Lemme loose!” Najafi twisted, lashing out.
Pinning his prey to the ground, James avoided flailing limbs as best he could and yanked handcuffs from his pocket to snap around Najafi’s right wrist.
“This was not Allah’s plan!” he protested, jerking his arm. “Sara got away.”
Without a thought for his suit trousers, James slid his knees on the slick grass, pulling Najafi half upright. “You do not have to say anything,” he said by rote, pausing to get his breath, “but it may harm your defence if—“
“May Allah’s wrath strike you down,” Najafi growled, gathering both feet under him to bolt. “And all around you perish in the blast.”
Hanging on fiercely, James dragged them both to a stand, using the movement to swing Najafi’s arms together. Najafi was strong but James was taller. Panting, he shoved his prisoner hard against a tree, maintaining his hold and locked the second cuff around the left wrist.
“We’re still amongst the living,” James informed him, glaring. “Bomb’s being taken care of. And so are you.” In the back of his mind, all he could think about was Robbie, but he didn’t move until two uniformed cops took a snarling Najafi off his hands. He hadn’t even finished the arrest statement. “Keep a watch out for a Sara Ludwig,” he told them as Najafi was carted to a waiting panda car. “She’s at the very least a material witness, if not involved.”
James turned, fearing what he might see. Who had pulled the trigger? What about the bomb? He had to find Lewis.
The shot sounded like an explosion. Abruptly released, Doyle dropped to his knees, warm, wet spraying him in the face. Pain surging through his bones and he tasted blood. This couldn’t be death—he’d had that once before, or near enough. He was alive. Right?
A raucous clash of screaming, sirens, loud hailers and overhead helicopter clatter assaulted him.
Alive—but for how long?
Doyle wheezed, bracing himself on the earth. The damned vest was so tight that his chest was constricted, breath locked in his lungs.
He kept himself still while all around seethed with action, peripherally aware that Etom was no longer holding him up.
Where was Bodie?
Claustrophobic in the close-fitting vest that reduced him to a human bomb, Doyle looked down, frantic to tear the wires loose. He’d been half conscious when Najafi buckled it on, unable to put up a fight. Now, his first impulse was to run—get away. Rationally, he didn’t think it would detonate, but that didn’t assuage the spiralling fear. He had no idea what would happen if he so much as touched a single connection or removed the soldered relays from their junctions.
“Ray.” Bodie crouched beside him, grabbing Doyle’s wrist before he could close his fingers around a wire.
Doyle held back a sob, beginning to shake. What if that set off the RDX? “Bodie, go,” he begged, stark dread clawing at his guts. He jerked his arm free, prepared to die as long as Bodie remained alive.
“Not your time, love,” Bodie whispered, his blue eyes soft. He pointed across the nearly deserted park. Two men, kitted out in bulky bomb disposal gear, climbed stiffly from a van parked on the lawn.
“D’you shoot ‘im?” Doyle asked, willing his voice to steel. Couldn’t fall apart here, in front of the entire constabulary of the Oxford police. There were AFOs everywhere in full riot suits, face masks like Darth Vader, carrying semi-automatics.
“Put a bullet in his mobile,” Bodie said, matching Doyle’s tone. “May have inadvertently removed a few digits in the process, mind.” He wriggled his own fingers before capturing Doyle’s with both hands. “You’re covered in his blood.”
Doyle had the completely inappropriate urge to laugh. “You pick now to listen to me?” He tipped his head, seeking Bodie’s love like a flower turned to the sun. He didn’t look, didn’t think when the bomb crew erected a blast shield around him—around he and Bodie.
Robbie wearily ushered the last of the finally subdued crowd out the gate at the front end of Wellington Square and swung the wrought iron gate shut. No-one but authorised personnel inside from now on. The entire park was a crime scene--multiple crime scenes by his guess.
Pawing his mobile to check in with headquarters, he scanned the garden, taking in the detritus left by people as they fled. Stalls smashed, shoes and rucksacks left where they’d been dropped, the pervasive stench of beer.
They’d been damned lucky. No detonation. No loss of life.
Once the bomb crew got that vest off Bodie’s curly haired partner, his mind could rest. A few people had sustained bruises and—apparently, two sprained ankles—but those were all from the mass hysteria of the people bottlenecked at the gate and trying to push their way out.
Didn’t help push his thoughts away from James. They’d been separated in the crush, both trying to stem the tide and provide steady guidance. With all the police presence, he would have been informed if Hathaway were hurt in any way. And James always carried a mobile—which he’d been using when he disappeared into the crowd. Was there reason to—what was it the students all said—ping him?
Odds were that he was simply busy. Robbie needed to see him.
His mobile chimed. “James? Where are you?” he responded, perhaps a trifle faster than was professionally correct for a D.I. speaking to his sergeant. For two lovers, exactly right.
“I can see you,” Hathaway answered, the faint amusement in his voice like a balm on Robbie’s soul. “Turn around.”
Shifting to the right, Lewis caught sight of James striding around the blast barrier. Hathaway was uncharacteristically rumpled, his suit stained with grass and dirt, his lips so tight around his cigarette, he must be sucking the nicotine directly out of the tobacco.
Robbie raised an arm to hail him, realising instantly how idiotic that was since they were still on the phone. “Any joy?” he asked into his mobile, all the while watching his sergeant.
Hathaway’s tension lessened as he blew out a long trail of smoke, the corners of his mouth turning up. “Quite possibly.” James was so close they could have raised their voices to talk, but he still spoke into the phone. “Najafi’s been nicked.”
“You found him?” Ringing off, Robbie absently shoved the mobile in his pocket, keenly aware they shouldn’t be standing here nattering. Things to do, reports to file, press to interface with.
And there was the bomb crew, awkwardly inserting the vest into a reinforced bin for disposal.
“I may have run into him,” Hathaway said, drawing one last puff off his cig. “Forcefully.”
“Good on you, lad.” Robbie grinned.
The Oxfordshire police incident room was hot, the air heavy with sweat and stale cigarette smoke. As far as Bodie was concerned, there were too many bodies clustered around a monitor for the Skype call with Cowley. Half the constabulary, a local Parliament member who happened have gone to Oktoberfest with his daughter, not to mention himself and Doyle. Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent was deep in discussion with Cowley, knitting together the disparate charges against Britain’s most wanted, nicked by one James Hathaway.
Shouldn’t someone be interrogating the prisoner? Not him, no—he’d have smashed a fist into the little git’s film star nose without remorse. Not Doyle—would that be conflict of interest? Best leave that to other professionals. Bodie shifted, giving Doyle the lion’s share of the edge of the desk they were sitting on. Doyle cradled a cup of tea, but he’d drunk little.
There was a weirdly celebratory atmosphere amongst the people in the room, part giddiness at averting a major catastrophe, part jubilation at the arrest of a major player from Al Qaeda, who’d murdered a professor and a priest.
On the whole, he’d rather have left the paperwork, clean up, and debriefing to Lewis, Hathaway and their cohorts. Tucking Doyle into a bed, preferably in hospital but alternately his own bed, was first on his agenda.
Ever since the crew had removed the bomb vest, he and Doyle had been firmly attached at the hip. Doyle had refused all but the most rudimentary first aid, although from his stiff position—a far cry from his usual languid slouch-- Bodie had diagnosed a broken rib or two. He and Doyle frequently dismissed scrapes and bruises as part of the job, but there was macho posturing and there were sensible precautions. That he’d been hit hard enough that Najafi had time to strap on a bomb without a fight warranted a doctor’s examination.
Bodie had zoned out through the to and fro between Cowley and Innocent. When Doyle shifted uncomfortably, his sharp elbow digging into Bodie’s midriff, he resurfaced to the present.
“Through mutual co-operation we can keep Britain safe,” Cowley said gravely, looking around as if speaking to each and every person in view. “Capturing Shahin Najafi decimates not one but two Al Qaeda extremist cells, in London and Oxford.” He nodded with satisfaction. “We were able to arrest two key players whilst they were driving toward London.”
“Murph called in the mob, rounded up Najafi’s mates before they made it to Kensington,” Bodie said quietly to Doyle. His partner seemed unfocused and far too quiet. Not his usual sarky self at all. “How’d the head?”
“Still on me neck,” Doyle answered curtly, his jaw tight.
“What of the other one? Ahmadi?” Bodie asked his superior. He wasn’t keen to catch the Major’s eye, but Ahmadi seemed to have got away scot-free.
“Aye,” Cowley responded. “Michael Ahmadi’s been placed on the terrorist watch list. As of now, he is known to be in Kharistan, and our men are closing in on his location.”
Innocent beamed triumphantly. “We could not have accomplished so much without excellent assistance and support from CI5,” she said. “Your men were exemplary.”
“As expected.” Cowley fingered his glasses, unerringly locating Bodie and Doyle in the crowd with his laser like pale blue eyes. “What they are trained to do.”
Bodie didn’t flinch, feeling Cowley’s critical judgment to his toes, all the way from London. Doyle glowered.
“As were your men, I’m sure. Due to the wide media and social network coverage of this—“ Cowley cleared his throat as if disavowing any real participation in the aborted, and undoubtedly, in his mind, botched prevention of the bombing, “event, however, there is an unexpected bonus. Mr Broderick, you have an announcement?”
Parliament member Vincent Broderick stood, pulling his peaked, flaxen haired daughter up with him. He stroked his gray flecked moustache, nodding grandly to his audience. “In view of what happened today—that, two people—possibly more, were forced against their will into potential suicide bombings, it is time to re-examine the Beatrix Chambers situation. I will be spearheading evaluating her case as information from Shahin Najafi’s conspiracies—particularly pertaining to young women— come to light.“ He hugged his daughter against his shoulder. She looked as if she would have liked to be anywhere else but there. “We must be vigilant against invasion from fundamental Islamism.”
James Hathaway raised an eyebrow in silent mockery.
Bodie suspected he had not voted for Broderick in the last election. “As if he had sod-all to do with it,” he said under his breath.
Doyle wrapped both arms around his middle. “Sucking back Heineken in the biergarten, in all likelihood,” he put in belatedly as if he’d had to search for the words.
“Aye,” Cowley said from the Skype window, folding his hands. “Once Mr Najafi is interrogated and possible involvement in other active cases is resolved, preliminary inquiries will begin with Miss Chambers’ solicitors. We have her testimony against him, and it looks promising that the charges will be reduced or retracted. She may be released from Bronzefield.”
“To be reunited with her sister?” Lewis asked, leaning in to look Cowley in the eye. He clearly recognised who had the power.
“Deirdre was always her main concern,” Bodie spoke up, feeling quite protective of Beatrix. That surprised him a bit. He used to pretend to be the hardened merc, more attached to the job than the people involved. Now here he was cosseting Doyle and worrying about a woman he’d met once.
“Never mind Innocent,” Doyle muttered drowsily, as if he could barely stay awake. “I’m keen to see Lewis and Father square off.”
“DI Lewis, is it?” Cowley said, as if he wasn’t aware of the name, rank and life history of every person in the room. “If Miss Chambers proves to be as exploited as she claims, I believe her sister would have no finer champion.”
“No act of mercy, no matter how small, is ever wasted,” Hathaway quoted into the knot of his tie.
“Sophocles?” Bodie guessed.
“Aesop,” Hathaway corrected with a hint of smug.
“And Sara Ludwig?” Doyle asked loudly.
“She was collected from her room in St John’s and has already been put under a physician’s care,” Innocent put in. “Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to even speak with her—some sort of breakdown, it seems. This apparently applies to the other man, Tinibu, as well. He’s incoherent.”
“I expect we will converse regularly over the next few days as more information comes to light,” Cowley said by way of ending the session. “Doyle, Bodie, I’ll speak with you in my office tomorrow.”
James stepped out of the bathroom starkers, rubbing the towel over his wet hair. He’d often felt vulnerable, unprotected without clothing. Ridiculous, that—so very long ago, he’d been buggered while wearing most of his school uniform. A layer of fabric did nothing to protect the soul. In front of Lewis, he could bare all.
Robbie sat in what James referred to as the comfy chair when in a Pythonesque mood. Robbie’s gaze; long, slow and penetrating, sought out his damaged places, healing more than any supplication in a confessional ever would. This was James’ peace, their bedroom, with the world held at bay outside their four walls. No violation, murder, or bombing allowed here.
James perched on the edge of the bed, knees almost touching Lewis’. Robbie hadn’t even undressed beyond pulling off his tie and discarding his suit jacket. He looked patient, serene, waiting for James to finish his ablutions.
To dry his damp legs, James put his left calf on his right knee, patting the last of the water off his skin.
“What’s this then?” Robbie asked, examining the purpling bruise on his left shin.
James had no recollection that any of Najafi’s kicks had connected, but there was the proof that he had done. He shrugged, savouring the way Robbie closed his fingers almost all the way around his boney ankle. He felt grounded, loved.
“I didn’t put that there,” Lewis said, with evident disapproval at a flagrant breach of protocol in his tone.
“No, sir,” James replied, anticipation blossoming under his breast bone. He smiled, ducking his head. “You did not.”
“Muslim funerals are commonly held a day after a death,” Yazmin explained, quietly, her eyes bright as she watched the lecture hall fill with mourners. “Professor Sharif has no family. We were worried that we couldn’t do right by him because of the murder investigation.”
“So we decided to arrange the ceremony ourselves. Once the police released the body, we had him buried quickly,” Borzoo continued, his eyes only for her. “Early this morning.”
“No embalming allowed,” Yazmin added, pressing one hand to her heart in mourning. “Father Vaughn’s sister was there, too, since they were buried side by side.”
This would not have occurred had Sharif’s relatives been present, traditions, customs and, most unfortunately, prejudice being what they were. Doyle sent up a silent prayer of blessing for the lovers. God, Allah, didn’t matter what he was called, approved of love. It was humanity that fought so hard to divide.
He’d spent a wretched morning going over the events of the day before. That he couldn’t remember specific details—actually not much at all—had not been viewed favourably by the coppers, nor would Cowley be best pleased.
“I’ve noticed that the two of you work well together,” Doyle remarked. Maybe it wasn’t quite proper etiquette to feel a lightening of the heart, but he could see a change in his friends, in only a single day. Despite the sombre nature of the occasion, this seemed more of a celebration of life—of two lives bound together-- than the memorial reading of The Rubaiyat had been. “Short notice is no obstacle with you and Borzoo on social media.”
“I’ll never look at Facebook and Twitter the same way,” Yazmin admitted, glancing shyly at the man by her side.
“You have a gift, Yazmin,” Doyle said. “You’re a born organiser, and people listen to you.”
“No.” She shrugged self consciously, tugging at the edge of her gold and green scarf. “But when there’s motivation, anyone can make something important happen.”
Mustafa pushed past a group of mourners, greeting his friends. “Is that so, Miss Zadeh? Then you’d best consult with the delivery firm. We’ve not enough chairs.”
“I—“ Yazmin looked momentarily fazed, as if asked to deliver a speech in front of an audience. Then she squared her shoulders and marched off.
“You cleaned up well after yesterday,” Mustafa said, eyeing Doyle.
“You were there, too?” Doyle fingered the bruise at his temple. Ached worse than a sore tooth and every loud noise bounced around his head like an out of control tennis ball. It was barely midday and he was already exhausted after giving his statement to Lewis and Hathaway. There’d be another round with Cowley tomorrow.
All for naught, at least at the present. The concussion had scrambled his brains well and good; he had no clear recollection of being at Wellington Square, or for about an hour or two beforehand. Random flashbacks teased his brain, particularly when he’d tried to sleep Thursday night. Bodie had taken the bull by the horns and threatened either hospital or a decent hotel with a double bed where he could keep his eye on Doyle’s health. Should have worked a treat except for the thudding in Doyle’s head and the raw bursts of fear every time he began to dream and remember. Actual memories were kept annoyingly out of reach because Bodie had roused him every two hours to check for blown pupils and such rot. Bodie had watched far too many episodes of the TV programme, Casualty.
As Doyle had suffered through the aftermath of probably four or five head injuries, without ever once falling into a coma, he wasn’t particularly concerned with that. The mild nausea and transient dizziness he could deal with, and more importantly, hide. He was keen to remember the roughly half hour when he’d worn the bomb vest, but concentrating only made his headache worse.
Cowley had wielded his power and influence in an attempt to confiscate all recordings of Doyle wearing the device, but anonymous sources had posted pictures online and on the news. There was no escaping the camera phone video in the twenty-first century.
Watching the footage shown on CNN, gleaned from students’ mobiles, had done little to jog Doyle’s memory. Those shaky images of him, explosives strapped around his torso, held up by Etom Tinibu, did provide fodder for future nightmares. How could he not conjure up a single memory?
“It’s all a blur,” he confessed. “Knocked on the head.”
“Don’t remember?” Borzoo asked sympathetically with a grimace. “Took a cricket ball to me head last year during a match, and can’t recall a thing to this day. We won, as well!”
“Little wonder you’re failing Statistics,” Mustafa teased, smacking Borzoo’s arm with the back of his hand.
“Feels like a cricket bat.” Doyle didn’t mention his other aches and pains. Ignoring them hadn’t worked so far, but he was optimistic. “I’d been to Najafi’s tutorial, but after…” His last solid memories were of Bodie kissing him, their groins jammed together. Doyle swallowed hard to shove the erotic images to the back of his brain.
“We were sat, eating sausages. You came round, asking after Sara,” Mustafa said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Horrible. I mean—Shahin was a right arse, but I’d never…”
“Can’t get my head around it. Bombs, for pity’s sake,” Borzoo muttered softly, his gentle face stricken. “It was there in front of us, with Beatrix, and Japhia, poor lamb.” He pointed an accusatory finger at Doyle. “You saw through him, didn’t you?”
Doyle shrugged, going for average insight rather than eyes-only intel. He disliked having secrets from these two good men, but CI5 was keeping a lid on his role in Najafi’s capture. Had he not been forcibly conscripted into the martyrdom army of Allah, Hathaway would never have arrested the terrorist. Something good had come from all of it, right? He wanted to believe that he’d contributed, but he felt like a bloody pillock. “Najafi played a good game, but underneath—“
“Fucking arsehole,” Mustafa murmured, shaking his head. “He was going to kill all of us—by proxy. Rumours say that he’ll be charged with the murders, too?”
“Rozzers must have found evidence against him,” Doyle said tightly, really wanting to shut down this discussion before he revealed more than he should know. He released a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding until the pressure against his broken rib flared to very painful.
“Proper send off, that.” Borzoo waved a hand at the other end of the room.
Doyle nodded, following them to get a closer look.
Three enlarged photographs, propped on easels, dominated the elevated stage. The picture on the right was Behrouz Sharif holding a large book and gesturing with his right hand. Obviously teaching, with a gleam of delight in his dark eyes. The photo on the left was Tristan Vaughn, in full vestments for a high church service, both hands raised in supplication to the Lord. The most personal, and poignant, was the one in the middle: both men in casual t-shirts, arms around one another and joyful grins on their faces. Two men in love.
Mourners filed past the pictures, leaving small tributes; bouquets of flowers and votive candles.
“Sharif was a good bloke. And I’d met the priest, actually. A good person.” Mustafa rubbed the trimmed beard on his chin. “Still feels—un-Muslim…but I’m trying t’get me head around the idea.”
“There are gay Muslims,” Borzoo said with a shrug. “Read a post on Tumblr, about all these men, in Kharistan, who meet privately—like a club. If they’re getting together where it’s completely illegal…”
“Where they could be killed for having sex with another man.“ Doyle caught sight of Bodie coming in with Hathaway and Lewis. “How much better was it for the professor, that he could at least be with the man he loved in his own home?”
“And be killed?” Mustafa said, clearly troubled.
Consumed with grief, Doyle looked over at his partner, allowing himself a moment to indulge in Bodie watching. He looked marvellous, dressed in an elegant dark suit that was every bit as well tailored and fashionable as Hathaway’s. The deep blue of the suit complimented the blue of Bodie’s eyes. He was meant to grace the pages of GQ or Vogue for Men.
“You’re here, Mustafa.” Borzoo slung an arm around his friend’s shoulders. “That counts for a lot.”
Yazmin scurried up, stashing an invoice in the pocket of her loose, Asian style jacket. The colours of the graceful flying cranes printed on the fabric matched her green and gold head scarf. “That’s sorted,” she said briskly, all efficiency. “There were extra chairs in the lorry, but I’ve convinced them that the Professor’s service requires chairs far more than a dance party at Ruskin College.”
Borzoo burst out laughing, spreading his arms in mock surprise. “Brilliant. I’d kiss you—“ He stopped abruptly, shutting his mouth with an audible snap. “Cheers, Yaz.”
She smiled, her dark eyes seeking his as she primly clasped her hands. “Could you fetch me a lemonade from the drinks table?”
“Anything for you,” he said good-naturedly with a wink. “I could do with something myself. Didn’t get any breakfast before the funeral.”
“You without a coffee in the morning?” Mustafa teased, following him. “Never heard of it.”
“All right then, I had a coffee,” Borzoo said. “Had to stay awake, didn’t I?”
“Any Perrier on the table?” Doyle started after them, planning to head off Bodie.
“Ray?” Yazmin spoke softly. “Have you heard anything from your—“ she paused, obviously still trying to sort through exactly what he had to do with the government. “Uncle? About Japhia?”
He’d spoken to Murphy on the phone earlier. The agents had made it to Kharistan and safely spirited Japhia out of the flat in Tophar. “What I heard is that she should be in England in the next day or two. She’ll be detained and questioned, I am sure. You may be able to text her, though.”
“Insha’Allah,” Yazmin said reverently. “Thank your…Uncle.”
Borzoo and Mustafa came back with drinks, including a fizzy water for Doyle, which did help quell his dicky stomach.
The seats were filling up, Middle Eastern music coming softly from an iPad set up at the edge of the stage. Doyle caught Bodie’s eye but a group of students passed by before he could say anything.
“Who’s she, then?” Doyle asked, as a woman of about thirty wearing a deep blue dress and her sandy blonde hair in a neat chignon, made a beeline for the Oxford detectives.
“Father Tristan’s sister, Daffodil,” Yazmin explained. “Isn’t that a beautiful name?”
“You’re both flowers,” Borzoo said gallantly.
Doyle smiled, mentally wishing them well. He wanted something lasting to come out of this—that he possibly had a hand in bringing them together.
“DI Lewis!” Daffodil Vaughn cried. “Sergeant, thank you for coming.”
“Call me Robbie,” Lewis said, shaking her hand and introducing Bodie.
Hathaway stood silently by Lewis’ side. Doyle hadn’t had enough contact with the sergeant to know him well, but his usually aloof expression was heartbreaking in its stillness. Peering past a clump of woman, clearly members of Tristan’s flock, weeping in front of his photograph, Doyle tried to keep Bodie in sight.
“Hang on, that’s the bloke who shot off Etom’s hand.” Mustafa pointed at Bodie. “Seen him in all the videos.”
Doyle jerked, feeling phantom blood splatter across his face and rapidly schooled his reactions. Least he was remembering something. “Name’s Bodie.”
“How’d he get a gun in past the guards?” Borzoo wondered aloud.
“Have to ask him, mate,” Doyle said dryly, curious to know what Bodie would make of his new friends. “Met ‘im in a pub, he’s writing a book about Oxford.”
“Thank you all for coming!” a voice called out from the stage.
A Christian priest, Doyle noted. Presumably, Father Edward Schoenberg, the man who’d found the bodies. Dressed in Anglican vestments, he was portly with the natural tonsure that male pattern baldness provided, and very bright blue eyes. Standing beside him was a Muslim cleric beckoning the stragglers to their seats. The Middle Eastern music segued into a spectacular recording of Bach’s Mass in B minor.
Doyle claimed a place next to Borzoo and Mustafa, leaving the chair on the end of the row vacant. He twisted around, summoning Bodie with a look.
Taking the indicated seat, Bodie raised an eyebrow haughtily. “Not your lap dog,” he said with pretended offense.
Caught between an inappropriate chuckle and abrupt arousal at the thought of Bodie in his lap, Doyle glared at him. This was not the time nor the place—his heart went out to the lovers gunned down by hatred and cruelty. He glanced back to acknowledge Lewis and Hathaway sitting behind them. Yazmin sat down beside Borzoo, watching as members of the Vaughn family filed into the front row. All around, the mourners quieted their chattering, respecting the solemnity of the occasion.
“We want to welcome you, to what may be a fairly unusual service in the memory of two beloved and respected men,” the Muslim said. He had gentle eyes, an impressive black beard that flowed onto a long black robe, which was remarkably similar to Christian vestments, and a small white taqiyah on his head. “I am Ghadir Hussain of the Oxford Mosque Society.” He held out a hand to the priest. “Father Edward and I are members of an interfaith community whose purpose is to foster diversity and harmony among all people—“
“Regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs,” Father Edward continued without a beat, clasping Hussain’s hand. Both of them faced the audience. “We were attending a round robin symposium with clergy from several other churches on Monday evening, discussing how to cultivate more activities and worship services that would merge our diverse members when our friends...” He choked and cleared his throat, overcome.
Bodie pressed his knee against Doyle’s in silent sympathy.
“This day, tragically, was not what we had in mind,” Hussain said quietly, looking out at the many people who’d come to this lecture hall at St John’s to honour Sharif and Vaughn. There was a great sorrow in his eyes. “While we were trying to find new solutions to old problems—our two friends, Behrouz Sharif and Tristan Vaughn—“
One of the Vaughn family began to sob, and Daffodil leaned over to put her arms around the older woman.
“Found a unique way to straddle the divide that splits our community,” Hussain went on with a look of intense sadness. “I will admit, when I first heard that Tristan and Behrouz had fallen in love, I was conflicted—“
“Tristan admitted his love of Behrouz to me only a week before their deaths,” Edward said, his voice thick with emotion. “The Church has said that homosexual acts do not fit into our doctrine—quite similar to the view the Muslim faith accords.” He regarded the Vaughn family with a deep sigh. “Myself, I had already made a decision after much prayer, and had aligned with the American Episcopals in this regard. Love is love.”
“Love is all abiding.” Hussain nodded. “And we have not come to compare religious teachings, ideals or theology. We can agree to disagree on the subject of homosexuality, but that is not the purpose here. We are gathered to celebrate Behrouz and Tristan, who embodied love in all that they did, and found a path to express their love forever.”
“In each other’s arms,” Edward added. “They are now in Heaven. Paradise, as we are taught in both the Bible and the Koran.”
“Blessing to Behrouz—“ Hussain said, turning toward the photographic shrine. He murmured prayers in Farsi. “And Tristan.”
“Bless Tristan,” Edward added, reciting a long prayer in English. “And Behrouz.”
Doyle was struck by the nearly identical wording of the supplications. He added his own prayer, exhaustion beginning to hit hard. He rubbed his aching head, hoping Bodie didn’t notice, much, because Bodie had the eyes of a hawk.
Doyle couldn’t help but compare the relationship he had with Bodie to that of Sharif and Vaughn. Each had to hide a vital part of themselves, yet continue to work and live in their communities. He recalled seeing the two of them together barely a week ago, on Sunday morning, their happiness as brilliant as the sun. Yet few had realised that they were in love.
Except Najafi, who’d seen their romance as even more of a threat than what he considered a Holy War. The man who’d delegated nearly all of his evil deeds onto others had taken this job in hand and shot two men in cold blood. Doyle bowed his head. Accustomed to violence and murder, he was more disturbed than usual at Najafi’s cruelty and complete disregard for human life. Here was a man who claimed to value Allah’s teachings but had only used them to further hatred and dissention. It was difficult enough to find truth and a firm foundation of trust in this life. Najafi had perverted that most essential of rights: freedom to choose, freedom to worship, freedom to believe in something, be it a higher power or straight science.
Doyle sat numbly through the eulogies, grateful for Bodie’s warmth close along his left arm and leg. He could hear Yazmin’s muffled weeping and the soft comments from the mourners. The people who’d come here had rejected Najafi’s pestilent rhetoric and cherished a notion of decency, kindness and most important—love. In the end, Christians, Muslims, Jewish and maybe even agnostics had joined together to revere two lives lost.
An older man with a strong resemblance to Tristan, wearing a priest’s collar and black tunic, but otherwise not kitted out in ecclesiastic vestments, walked over to the lectern. “Peace be with you, my friends. I am Tristan’s uncle, Felix.” He smiled at a hum of comments. “Yes, for those in Tris’ weekly student group, I am that Uncle Felix.” Laughter peppered through the audience. “I was privileged to meet Behrouz when he and my nephew came for a family supper. A wonderful man who fit Tristan in every way possible. There were no secrets in our family, both admitted their love openly. I could see the connection between them, knew that they’d planned to go to the US and get married as soon as they could.” He clenched his jaw, fighting emotion, and swiped at his eye. “It didn’t come soon enough for them, but I plan to devote my efforts to promoting freedom to love who we love. This is a basic tenet of life.”
The room echoed with applause, pulling Doyle out of his stupor. Was there really this strong support for same sex couples? He’d been with Bodie for so long, he’d given up expecting the world to see them as “normal”. Hell, with the job they did, they’d never fit into the normal category anyway. Racing around, investigating high level crime had never lent itself to regular telly watching or newspaper reading, so he’d not kept up with the change in public opinion. Or maybe this was just the sentiment in Oxford?
“Quite enthusiastic,” Robbie Lewis said, sounding surprised.
“A hot button topic at the moment,” Hathaway answered. “Like legalisation of marijuana.”
Lewis chuckled. Doyle assumed it was an inside joke, and turned to his lover. Bodie tilted his head, clearly taken aback at the idea of legalising pot. As ex-military, he would. Doyle focused once again on Father Felix as chatter around them died down.
Felix looked to the left and right, at Schoenberg and Hussain, including them in his statements. “Worshipping the creator was— always--for me, at its heart, a pure expression of love and devotion. It has become so complicated, so dividing. How did our world muck up religion into something so perverse and mean spirited?” He clasped his hands, bowing his head briefly. “We, here, in this room prove that whether you attend worship, whether you regularly pray, we can be of one mind, one heart, and not just grieve the passing of our dear friends Behrouz and Tristan, but be grateful that they were in our lives, if only for a short time.” He pulled a small volume out of his suit jacket pocket. “Few of you will be surprised to learn that Behrouz gave our family each a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam when he visited.” More laughter and fond words popped up here and there. “I’d like to read a passage, if I may.”
“Please!” Yazmin called out, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Please, do.”
Doyle closed his eyes, wishing he’d been able to hear the whole poem read by Professor Sharif, and visualising him reading to Tristan on that last fateful evening.
“Not quite the final stanza, but one which fits, I think.” Felix donned a pair of glasses, running a finger down the page. “Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would not we shatter it to bits--and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!”
Bodie grasped Doyle’s hand, squeezing as if he’d never had a chance to touch him in public before. Doyle inhaled with odd bliss, squeezing back. No-one was looking, no-one pointed a finger. Most of the mourners were clapping, laughing and crying at the same time, remembering their Behrouz and Tristan.
Father Edward stood, putting arms around Felix and Ghadir. “I was helping Daffodil clear out her brother’s belongings this morning,” he said. “And came across notes for Tristan’s weekly student group that he’d decorated.” He held up a piece of paper decorated in brilliant colours and a gleam of gold. “He liked to imagine himself a monk in a tower illuminating manuscripts,” Edward said with a poignant smile. “Tristan wrote: Be the example you want the future to know you by. Amen.”
Amen was echoed by everyone in the room.
“Back to the hotel, you. Been a long day.” Bodie used their clasped hands to haul Doyle out of the chair and immediately regretted it when a flare of intense pain crossed Doyle’s face. He never made a sound, not with the crush of people in the room.
“Bloody hell,” Doyle ground out through clenched teeth. “Give us a minute, yeah?” He hunched over, protecting his broken rib. “Go eat. Didn’t think you’d ever leave a do without raiding the drinks cart and foraging through the hors d’oeuvres.”
Gutted, Bodie teetered between apology and the black humour they usually relied on. He went for neither. “Quite a bit of drinking in t’Rubaiyat,” he said, forcing good cheer and dismissing the table laden with food for the mourners. “Puts me in mind to stop at the off-license for a bottle. Wine or whisky, good sir?”
Doyle gave him a twisted smile by way of reply.
“That from his Vintage rolling Time hath prest,” Hathaway quoted, standing, eyes on his governor. “Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before.”
Having only committed a few refrains to heart, Bodie had to admit he was impressed the way Hathaway could pluck the words out of the air so quickly.
“Care for a pint, sir?” Hathaway asked casually, his fingers brushing Lewis’ sleeve as he turned.
“Just what I’m in the mood for,” Lewis replied, eyes twinkling. “Join us, lads?”
“Cheers, but another time, I think.” Doyle stood slowly, leaning on Bodie’s arm when he straightened. “Knackered.”
“I shouldn’t wonder,” Lewis clucked sympathetically. “Aye, tuck him up, Bodie.”
“What are partners for?” Bodie rolled his eyes. “Wouldn’t be able to find his way back to London on his own.” He stuck out a hand, shaking Lewis’ and then Hathaway’s. “Debriefings and paper work will last the month, if not longer, so odds on we’ll meet up again.”
“As long as we chuck the Spice Lounge on the expense chit.” Doyle grinned. “Good working with you both.”
“You’re done in. Ready to leave?” Bodie asked after the Oxford detectives had walked away. Most of the crowd had congregated over by the refreshments, leaving them relatively alone. He couldn’t wait to shuck Doyle out of the shabby student clothes he’d worn for the last week. Not that what he generally wore was much of an improvement. As long as his jeans fit snugly over his arse, Bodie was happy. He’d decided that the blue jumper suited Doyle far better, too. It had come through the whole affair remarkably well. “The bed in that Holiday Inn beat out me old B n’B in Randy Kilroy’s travel guide to Oxford.”
“Thought your proper name was Phillip Kilroy?” Doyle countered. “Or was it William?”
“Who can remember in these trying times?” Bodie pressed a hand against Doyle’s back, savouring the warm wholeness of him—and the softness of the blue jumper against his palm. “I’ll need a refresher course on memory aids.” He slid his fingers down until they rested just above the waistband of Doyle’s best trousers, not his usual patched jeans, more’s the pity.
“Randy never did have an opportunity to come up to my room,” Doyle said with mock innocence that chased away the drawn fatigue on his face. “Fancy a butcher’s?”
“Best invitation I’ve had all week.” Bodie grinned. “Aren’t we meant to drive back to London?”
“Have to collect me things, don’t I?” Doyle retorted, walking to the door. “At the very least, turn in my key.”
“Could have Father’s movers come in, as we usually do,” Bodie reminded, content to stroll through the beautiful college grounds with Doyle by his side. That Doyle might not have survived Thursday had been a very real thing Bodie did not want to think about.
Instead, they had a gorgeous day, a brisk, bright wind reminding them that colder weather was on the way. Quite possibly, if Cowley was in a good mood after the successful capture of a terrorist, he might reward them with a free weekend. Could be worse. He sensed a melancholia in Ray, who could be morose on the best of days. Always had been Bodie’s job to jolly him out of those moods.
The walk was short. Having just gone one in the afternoon, most of the inhabitants of Kendrew were in classes or studying. The place seemed deserted except for the driving beat of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance coming from an open window on the first floor.
“I want your everything, as long as it’s free…” Bodie sang the raunchy lyrics into Doyle’s ear.
Doyle almost leapt away in alarm, going pale.
“What the hell?” Bodie raised both hands, recognising fear when he saw it. Doyle was panting with both arms wrapped around his aching ribs, sweat beading his forehead. “You remembering somethin’?”
“Delayed reaction, yeah?” Doyle gave him a rigid attempt at a smile. “Odd bits come back to me. I could—feel Etom leaning into me.” He scratched at his ear, carefully turning his head left and right as if to get rid of the sensation. “Don’t need this right now. I Googled retrograde amnesia.”
“That what you reckon you’re suffering from, then?” Bodie asked, tucking away the concern for one of those lonely nights when he couldn’t sleep anyway. “I figured all that studying had muddled your brain.”
“You ever thought of going on stage with that routine?” Doyle poked Bodie with his elbow, the nervous reactions draining away. They took the lift to his floor. “You’d be perfect for the pantomime circuit.”
“Me natural charm and wit,” Bodie proclaimed. “You didn’t forget my name or my face, did you? Like those TV detectives who get their heads bashed in?”
“According to Wiki, I’ll never walk again.” Doyle sighed dramatically, opening number 303 with the key. “And may have to have intensive therapy on me willie.”
“You’re in luck!” Bodie laughed, much encouraged that Doyle, no matter how battered, was in the mood to play. He glanced around; the usual furnishings for a college room, bed, desk and chair. Doyle hadn’t taken the time to personalise it in any way. “I’m a specialist in that field. I’m available for a consultation right now.”
“Best to examine me, form a diagnosis?” Doyle suggested, removing his jacket as he sat on the edge of the bed. He looked down at the blue wool jumper before carefully manoeuvring one arm out of the sleeve, only gritting his teeth once. “But with the rib being what it is, I can’t raise my hands over my head to take off the—“
Bodie had the jumper off in one move, with a minimum of jostling to the rib. The white button down shirt underneath was easier to manage, but it revealed the mottled display along the left side of Doyle’s chest. Bodie winced. He’d known about the bruises, of course, he’d guarded his partner all night. Yet, because of his worry over Doyle’s confusion, he’d discounted the other injuries. With the tendency of bruises to brighten in colour before fading, the current effect was astonishing.
“Looks like one of them garish prints from Liberty, all purple and red,” Bodie said softly, running his fingers lightly across Doyle’s chest, stopping short of the damage. “Maybe—“
“No,” Doyle whispered, laying on his uninjured side and tugging Bodie with him. There was a persistent sadness, almost desperation about him. “It’s been too long, I want this.” He closed the small gap that separated them, pressing into a kiss.
Bodie surrendered without a white flag. Feeling himself grow hard, he relished the chance to kiss Doyle. This is what he’d dreamed of all week, in his narrow cot at the Clarington B & B. He was erect in an instant, his whole being primed to join with his mate.
Doyle chuckled against his lips, obviously aware of the log jutting into his groin.
“Needed this,” he said softly, inserting a finger into the Windsor knot of Bodie’s tie to pull it free. “Needed you.” He angled himself toward Bodie and froze, breathing raggedly. Pain flared across his face, no matter how he tried to hide it.
“Oi,” Bodie said to distract him. “Need a scheme.” He sat up, tapping his temple. He had to analyse the situation, as they would during an obbo. “A method to make this work for both of us.”
“A method to your madness?” Doyle touched Bodie’s face, tenderly tracing the line of his cheek to his mouth. “I’m willing to give it a go.”
“I reckon.” Bodie took down Doyle’s flies. He wasn’t completely erect, as Bodie was, but there was definitely some interest. “You have the tool for the job, at the very least.”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way?” Doyle peeled off his trousers and pants before pushing up to sit against the wall.
“Convenient there are some who’ve called me Will.” Bodie helped Doyle shove the two pillows behind his back, concentrating on making him comfortable. The last thing he wanted was to hurt Doyle more.
“I never.” Doyle smirked, watching him as if memorizing him anew.
Alert for Doyle’s emotional state—and level of pain, Bodie shed his suit jacket and draped it over the back of the desk chair. He slowly began to unbutton his shirt.
Exactly the right move, judging from the way Doyle’s cock swelled. Giving in to his hedonistic nature, Bodie swiveled his hips, snatching up the tie to slide it provocatively between his legs. The friction was arousing, but he’d enjoy the sensation even better with his trousers down. He wanted to be skin to skin with Doyle, flush with desire.
Doyle applauded, whistling enthusiastically. “Always knew you could have worked as a stripper.”
“That’s an erotic terpsichorean to you, cretin.” Bodie trailed his fingers down his bare chest, circling one nipple and then the other. Finally, when Doyle was salivating he took down his flies ever so suggestively, then rapidly peeled off his trousers.
“Come over ‘ere.” Doyle beckoned with a bent finger. “And me without a quid in m’ pocket.”
“Got no pockets that I can see.” Bodie admired Doyle’s long, angular torso and slender thighs, all framing his fully erect penis. Discounting the bruises, he looked gorgeous. Doyle had always had a mixture of menace and vulnerability that attracted Bodie. “I’m game to search, though.” He knelt against the bed to cup Doyle’s heavy, warm sac.
Doyle sucked in air, encouraging him without a word.
Stroking his palm underneath Doyle’s balls, Bodie felt them throb and tighten at his touch, the vibration in his groin endorsing the move. Made him want to thrust and plunge into his partner’s body.
Had to slow the action down to accommodate both their needs. Bodie wet his lips, gently sucking the crown of Doyle’s penis. Desire swept through him, leaving him light-headed.
Doyle gasped, surging forward into Bodie’s mouth. “Primed and ready.”
Engulfing the pulsing cock, Bodie explored, using his tongue to swirl around the thickness. He crushed his nose into the wiry hair curling at the base, rolling Doyle’s balls between his fingers. Doyle’s breathing came fast and light, both hands latching on to Bodie’s shoulders to keep him in place.
“Take it,” Doyle urged, his voice an octive higher than usual.
Bodie pulled back enough to look up at his victim, assessing Doyle’s readiness in the way his head was thrown back, long neck exposed and vulnerable. He knew how adrenalin fed the body, decreasing the pain, fuelling lust.
“Bo-dee,” Doyle complained, humping his cock against Bodie’s bottom lip, seeking entrance again.
Kissing the tip, Bodie slurped Doyle in, scraping his teeth along the tight ridge on the bottom side.
Doyle cried out, going taut as a guitar string. He came, shooting his load into Bodie’s mouth. Bodie swallowed reflexively before letting the rest splatter onto his chest. Felt like warm rain in the spring.
Doyle’s eyes fluttered closed momentarily, but he forced them open, gazing steadily at Bodie. “Managed to get the bastard out of my brain for the first time in days.”
No need to ask who the bastard was. “Still banging on about ‘im,” Bodie pointed out, anger rising in his gut. Bloody Najafi. He resented that the sodding terrorist was intruding on this precious time with Ray.
“He was good, Bodie.” Doyle pulled his knees under his chin, going inward. “Best I’ve seen at twisting words around until—if you didn’t think rationally-- his version of paradise was just beyond your fingertips.”
“D’you reckon, if you hadn’t suspected his agenda, you would have been seduced?” Bodie crowded up next to Doyle, back to the wall. The knot in his belly released when Doyle leant into him, head lax on his shoulder.
Doyle laughed bitterly. “Seduced? That’s your job, Prince William Phillip.” He flicked his fingers across Bodie’s open palm, writing secret code into his skin.
Bodie felt Doyle’s fear of what he couldn’t remember, his awareness of how easily the whole thing could have gone south. The bomb could have obliterated everything good in their lives.
“He had such rage, such contempt for humanity,” Doyle gazed at the wall opposite as if watching vids of the last week. “Haven’t crammed my psych profiling homework lately, but he’s a sociopath in my book. What if I hadn’t read him correctly? All those innocents caught up in his subversive theology—“
“You may be a shirty git with the morals of an alley cat, but you saw through his shit the immediately.” Bodie felt the rhythmic wave of Doyle’s breathing against his body. His own respirations automatically synchonised with Ray’s, as so often happened when they were on assignment. Made Bodie want to pull Doyle inside, merge their bodies to rid him of any vestiges of Thursday’s near disaster.
“I can’t justify the—hatred and prejudice, but I can understand where it comes from,” Doyle confessed wearily, rubbing his head as if erasing thoughts. “I want God to be pure—that belief and faith can sustain us. But it never has been simple—people’ve been fighting since Cain killed Abel. Add thousands of years of conflicting religious ideology, combine that with a vicious arsehole with no conscience, and you’ve got a recipe for the fucking mess we’re in now.”
“We’re all in the war. It’s our job to take sides.” Bodie moved just enough to kiss the misaligned cheekbone. “You and me, we’re on the side of right. There’s no Christian or Muslim God here. We’re trying to protect those innocents.” He slid his arm around Ray’s shoulder, avoiding his ribs. “He was advocating jihad, which validated murder. Entirely different level of violence—taking out the whole world.”
Doyle didn’t say anything, mulling over Bodie’s explanation. “None of his bombs ever exploded. D’you notice that? Not one.” He inhaled and hissed through his teeth, bracing his left side with his forearm. “I know we won this round, don’t have to convince me, but I wonder…by stirring the pot, did I change the outcome for better or worse? How would events have played out if I’d not been there —“
“Daft sod. Hundreds survived. Najafi nicked. Japhia found.” Bodie kissed his smooth, well shaved cheek, moving down his neck to feel the strong, steady pulse under his lips. “Got a reprieve for Beatrix. Maybe we’re not the best of men,” he found Doyle’s lips and kissed him hard, “but we were on the side of the angels this time.”
“Seduce me,” Doyle said plaintively, turning into the curve of Bodie’s arms. He breathed against Bodie’s breastbone, nipples going hard with the contact. “I want you inside me.”
“You’ve always been my angel,” Bodie whispered, threading his hands through Doyle’s wild hair to cup the base of his skull. Made his cheekbones stand out in bas-relief, stark responsibility for the fate of mankind visible in his pari-coloured eyes. Doyle had always shouldered guilt when he’d had nothing to do with the original sin. “Not some little ponce guardian in a white dress, but the fiery kind, charging into battle with vengeance.”
Startled out of his despondency, Doyle laughed, drawing back to peer at him. His face was all shadows with the window behind him, the early afternoon sun capping his mop of curls with a glowing halo. “There is no evil angel but love,” he quoted.
“Bible?” Bodie guessed, grateful for this time, this moment.
“Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost,” Doyle provided provenance, and something seemed to shift in him, lighten. “Played Armando when I was thirteen, didn’t I?”
“You a Renaissance swain?” Bodie scoffed, but he could easily see it, almost more than the avenging angel. Doyle resembled those old fashioned portraits in the National Gallery. He’d fit right in with the ringlets, the asymmetrical face and fae eyes, clad in doublet and hose.
“How’re we going to do this?” He wasn’t going to insist, but if Doyle wanted it up his arse, Bodie was all in. The mechanics of getting into position always took some time, but the end result was worth the effort.
“I’d think you knew by this time, old son.” Doyle ran his index finger up Bodie’s already throbbing and very erect cock.
Bodie hissed at the contact, electric shocks exploding under his skin. He could have come right then and there. By curling his toes, he banked his immediate arousal. It smoldered, preparing for the conflagration to come.
“Put the male tool into the opening,” Doyle said, low and throaty.
“This like that Ikea joke?” Bodie snorted, laughter bubbling up inside. They’d survived once more. This was his place, this was who he was meant to be with, now and forever after.
Avoiding the primed cock and balls, Doyle caressed Bodie’s thighs, pushing them wider. “Take the pillows, lay back,” he instructed, pressing his elbow tight against his chest. “I’ll come in from above, yeah?”
Like an angel, Bodie thought, lacing his fingers through Doyle’s. “Got lube?”
“Drawer in the desk.”
Which wasn’t that far from the bed in the small room. Tethered to Doyle by their linked hands, Bodie stretched and hooked his fingers around the drawer knob. He yanked it open, locating the squashed tube usually kept by their bed in London by feel.
Doyle put out a hand to take the lubricant.
“I’ll do it,” Bodie gasped, edgy with need. The simple contact of Doyle’s leg moving against his was stoking the arousal higher. “I’m too close as it is.” Anticipation gave Bodie the shakes. He fumbled the tube and had to search around in the rumbled bedclothes to find it.
“Should have packed me gun oil.” Doyle snickered, wincing.
“Head or ribs?” Bodie asked without looking at him, squoshing a dollop of ointment onto himself. They didn’t dwell on the pain, but if Doyle hurt too much for sex, Bodie would back off. Not coddling so much as practicality.
“You make me dizzy, is all.” Doyle pressed two fingers into the webbing between his thumb and first finger. “Nothing new. What’s taking so long?”
Acupressure point. A headache then. Bodie filed away the information, slicking his cock as if it took all his concentration. Even the friction of his own fingers against the taut, swollen flesh was too much. Wouldn’t last long at this rate.
“C’mere.” He tented his knees, waiting while Doyle scooted around to face him, so in love he wanted to shout it from the rooftops. They didn’t do that; they were blokes. Doyle knew how he felt, didn’t he?
“Love you,” Doyle said, the half smile playing on his lips like a blessing.
“I know.” Delighted, Bodie looked down at his cock extending slick and straight against his belly. No more patience, no more waiting. Now. He bracketed the base of his cock with both hands, providing a stable target.
Doyle raised up, guiding Bodie inside with a low moan. Not pain; lust. They’d done this many times before. Clumsy groping and awkward manoeuvring was a thing of the past. They knew each other intimately.
Entering Doyle’s body was like coming home to a tight, perfect embrace. This was give and take, a balanced partnership establishing their mutual trust and devotion.
Doyle closed his eyes, surrendering with a shudder as he was penetrated deeply.
Bodie thrust into his lover, his heartbeat fluttering in his ears and echoing in the throb of his cock. He was enveloped so securely inside Ray, each inner contraction reinforcing their bond with one another.
Sliding his feet up toward Bodie’s ears, Doyle steadied himself, driving the shaft even higher, causing skittering vibrations down Bodie’s length. Felt like he was flying. Bodie caught at Doyle’s hips to anchor himself and stared up into those marvellous blue-green eyes.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it. Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
“Hence it comes about that all armed Prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed Prophets have been destroyed.” Niccolo Machiavelli
“Violence arises out of fear, weakness, ignorance or restlessness. To curb it, what is most needed is freedom from fear. To gain this freedom, what is required is a change of outlook on life and recrimination of the mind. Violence is bound to decline when men learn to base their faith upon reality and investigation rather than upon ignorance and supposition.” B.K.S Iyengar
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Koran or Qur’an