Doyle knew that there was trouble when the Old Man called them into his office at half past four. He glanced at his partner, and saw his own thoughts mirrored in the blue eyes.
"Do you reckon we forgot his birthday or something?" Bodie asked facetiously.
Doyle shook his head.
"We haven't done ANYTHING wrong - finished the reports, haven't cheated on our petrol claims. He's probably wondering if we've found religion, or something . . . " He pushed open the solid wooden door, and entered, shadowed by Bodie.
The controller was seated at his desk, a file open before him, though it was obvious that he was not working. He regarded both the agents gravely, his gaze lingering a fraction longer on Bodie, Doyle noticed.
"I've just been speaking to the Minister," Cowley announced. "As you know, a delegation of Arabs was due over here in three weeks' time, to discuss the state of Anglo-Arab relations . . ."
"There has been a breach of security - the meeting has been brought forward, and the venue changed, to one of OUR safe houses in Hampshire. We have been asked to provide additional man-power to cover the shortage in the S.I.S. team, and I've selected you to liaise with the agents who will actually be guarding the President when he arrives."
Bodie had gone a shade paler.
"With respect, sir," he addressed the controller with icy courtesy, "I'd like to be taken off this case."
Doyle's brows shot up, and he gaped at his partner.
"Request denied, 3.7.," Cowley replied shortly. "I'm not unaware of your reluctance to work with certain members of the Intelligence Service, but I'm ordering you to put aside your personal prejudice, and concentrate on the job in hand. You can settle any quarrels after we've seen the President safely on his way four days from now."
"Sir - "
"The matter is not open for discussion."
Bodie's eyes dropped, and Doyle's curiousity was well-roused. It was rare for his partner to raise any real objection to the assignments they were given, no matter how dangerous or dirty. This was to be a routine baby-sitting job - they had done hundreds of similar tasks before in the three or four years that they'd been teamed, and this was the first time Bodie had baulked at a direct order.
His partner made one last attempt.
"Sir, I - "
"You have your orders, gentlemen. You are to meet with your counterparts at 14.00 hours tomorrow. This is the address. Don't be late, Bodie."
"No, sir." Bodie's voice was a harsh whisper.
Doyle felt a pang of sympathy for his mate, and was truly intrigued. He knew he would have to root out the cause of Bodie's uncharacteristic rebellion, before it became a serious problem and endangered the operation.
He didn't get the chance: Bodie made straight for the motor-pool, leaving him outside the controller's office, feeling suddenly bereft.
Let him go, he told himself. Bodie had to calm down before he could be made to talk - and he WILL tell me, even if I have to beat it out of him.
Bodie went straight home. He knew that sooner or later he would have to tell Doyle why he would not - COULD not - work with the Secret Service agents.
And just how he would find the way to tell his partner that he had lost his lover to a trigger-happy S.I.S. agent? That his lover had been a pilot in the R.A.F. and that for the first time in his life, Bodie had let his heart rule his head; that he had had to pay the price for that one mistake every hour since?
Bodie poured himself a drink and stretched out on the couch, staring blankly at the ceiling of his living-room. Every time he looked at Doyle, he was haunted by the image of Doomer - the likeness was uncanny . . . he shivered at the memory.
Perhaps that's why I fell for him, he thought wistfully. I always fancied Ray, from the moment I first saw him . . .but you can't proposition your partner if I had, Doyle would've killed me . . .
He sipped his whisky, lost in reverie, wondering how it might've been with Doyle: would he be like Larry - strong, ruthless, dominant - or would their friendship carry over into bed with them, sharing and . . . he cursed vehemently, knowing that it was an impossible dream, one that he should live without: it had cost too much already.
"I need Bodie." Major Nairn requested Cowley's assistance. "We're infiltrating a terrorist organisation, and he has enough verifiable history to make him a 'must' for them . . ."
Cowley had handed over his agent with certain reservations, but Bodie was glad to get back to a military operation after working for a civilian for a year or so. He was happy enough at C.I.5. and had made some good friends, but he was having emotional problems with the man he had been teamed with, ex- policeman D.C. Doyle.
Ray Doyle had the kind of body that artists have raved over through the centuries, and Bodie had secretly lusted for it. There were, however, strict rules about that kind of behaviour, and Bodie was finding it more difficult to suppress his feelings towards the irksome little masterpiece . . .
Doyle openly oozed sexuality, flirting with birds, forgetting that his only-human partner was usually present to bear witness . . . Doyle tormented him, firing his day-dreams with forbidden thoughts . . . a spell away from him might be what Bodie needed to calm things down, and enable him to deal with his runaway emotions rationally . . .
The operation went well. Bodie was accepted by the gang, and passed on his information to Major Nairn's waiting anti-terrorist squad. There was little time to think about his partner - until that fateful night in North London.
As part of his cover, Bodie had rented a seedy bedsit in Islington. Bored, and waiting for further instructions, he'd gone to the local pub for a drink. Only a half, he promised himself, then he would go home, and sit by the phone.
He walked into the bar, and there he was - Doomer - Ray, but not Ray . . . The pilot had looked up, smiled - Bodie was hooked.
They stood together at the counter, and afterwards, they went back to Bodie's flat. Doomer was no novice, and Bodie let himself be used, imagining it was Doyle who was making love to him. . .
The phone woke them. Bodie's contact gave him a list of the armaments and equipment they required, which he repeated. When he hung up, a hand had gripped his wrist.
"You're an ordnance man?"
"The best outside anyone's damned army," Bodie replied.
"How much are they paying you - I've got a proposition for you . . ."
Bodie was interested. From a personal point of view, it meant more contact with Doomer, but professionally . . . He knew he should report to Major Nairn, and let his people follow it up . . .
Larry wanted to know how to defuse a missile, so Bodie taught him, and went to set up his terrorists, before rendezvousing with Doomer at his house in Buckinghamshire.
They had their time together, but Bodie was conscious of Doomer's detachment. His mind was always on something - or someone - else, even when they were in bed, and that hurt. Bodie asked only once, and was firmly put in his place: Larry never shared his thoughts with anyone.
The last time he saw Doomer was at the clearing they had chosen as the launch-site for the stolen missile. With Morgan present, Bodie had been unable to say what was really in his heart, and he had settled for an inane remark about working together in the future. Larry had insisted on staying to watch the thing go off.
Bodie intended ditching his accomplice as soon as possible, and returning for him before it was too late . . .
The S.I.S. took Bodie into custody and held him for twenty-four hours. It was Major Nairn who arranged for his release, and that would have been the end of the affair - until they told him how Larry Doomer had died.
His behaviour was put down to fatigue and pressure of work - Bodie was returned to C.I.5 and Cowley had him committed to Repton for a fortnight before he was cleared and reunited with his partner.
Doyle welcomed him warmly, but Bodie had learned his lesson. He worked hard to keep his colleague at arm's length.
The flat was in a quiet mews - a cobbled cul-de-sac with barely enough room to swing a cat. Bodie was careful lining his Capri up to park, and as he got out, he hoped that Doyle would be able to find a space when he eventually deigned to arrive.
And thinking of his partner, Bodie frowned.
He had assumed that they would drive over together to meet with the S.I.S. agents. Bodie had secretly wished there could be a way to delay his colleague long enough for him to compose himself to face these people, but now he was alone, he missed Doyle's solid presence beside him. He prayed that his partner wouldn't be kept long: 'a quick check in the records' had been known to last for several hours . . .
Bodie approached the newly-varnished door and knocked. It swung back to reveal one of the most attractive women he'd ever seen. The fair hair was cut into a practical bob, and her eyes were an indeterminate shade between blue and grey - or maybe even green, though he wouldn't swear to it. There was something - vaguely familiar about her . . .
"I'm Bodie - C.I.5."
"Purdey." her voice was well modulated.
She held out a beautifully manicured hand and when they touched, her grip was cool and firm. She stood aside to let him pass, and Bodie stepped into the flat.
The living-room was neatly furnished, functional but feminine, he decided. Purdey directed him to the sofa, and drifted over to the drinks cabinet.
"Are you allowed?" She held up a bottle.
"Whisky, no ice." Bodie favoured her with his most charming smile, and the corners of her mouth lifted in response. There was a trace of sadness in her eyes, masked so quickly that he wondered if he had seen it.
"I thought we were being assigned two agents," she remarked as she approached with the glasses.
Bodie took the proffered drink, and waited until she had seated herself in the armchair opposite.
"My partner was delayed at Headquarters. He'll be here soon." In the meantime, Bodie decided, I could get to work here . . .
"My colleague will be arriving soon. He's at a final briefing with our boss," she explained.
"Mr. Steed," Bodie nodded. "He has a good reputation."
"So does your Mr. Cowley," Purdey complemented in return. She was about to continue, when the noise of an engine outside drew their attention. Purdey looked up sharply, and smiled.
"That's him now."
Purdey's partner let himself in with a key, and both Bodie and the girl got to their feet to greet him. The C.I.5. man got the impression of speed and strength as the other agent closed the door and turned to face them.
For Bodie, time stopped.
Dark-haired, blue-eyed, the newcomer matched Bodie for height and weight. He was every inch an officer and a gentleman - and a murderer.
Bodie had stepped forward - was dimly aware of Purdey introducing them: Bodie, Gambit; Gambit, Bodie - and she brushed past to go out. There was something about the vehicles in the street. Bodie's unblinking glare was fastened on the figure before him.
Gambit was moving forward, extending his hand, but his eyes were wary.
"I know you from somewhere," he spoke quietly. "Haven't we met before, Bodie?"
"You killed a friend of mine," Bodie told him icily.
Gambit stopped, frowning, trying to remember. His hand dropped.
Outside, a car engine kicked into life.
"I don't -- "
"Larry Doomer - Squadron Leader Doomer." Bodie advanced another pace. "Remember? You shot him."
"KILNER!" Gambit reached for his gun, but never made it.
Bodie leapt at him like a jungle-cat and took him crashing to the floor. Gambit rolled them over, and they began to struggle in earnest - hard blows, designed to hurt, lethal if they'd had the room to build power.
Gambit scrambled free and grabbed the nearest weapon - a table- lantern - which he smashed against the side of Bodie's head. The glass cut the pale skin - first blood to Gambit - but Bodie didn't care.
He thought that he could hear Purdey shouting - was kneeling over Gambit with his hands at the man's throat, bent on choking the life from him.
Purdey tried to drag him away, but he shook her off, obsessive in his desire for vengeance. Another, stronger pair of arms came round him, fingers locking at his armpits and HAULED him bodily backwards with a couple of obscene expletives.
Still burning with rage, he fought his new opponent, only to be twisted over a sturdy leg and thrown onto the sofa, which had, against all probability, stood firm during the scuffle. Doyle took hold of his shirt-front, dragged him to his feet, and began shaking him back to sanity. He yelled at Bodie from the depths of his helmet.
"You frigging idiot! What the hell are you up to, Bodie? Cowley'll have your bloody hide for this!"
Bodie put a trembling hand to his temple. His head was aching badly, and he looked past his partner to see Purdey tending Gambit. The S.I.S. man was still wheezing, but none the worse for his experience.
"Bodie!" Doyle tugged the helmet off one-handed, still clinging to his partner. "You'd better have a bloody good excuse for this!" He shoved Bodie back hard, and turned to the others. "Is he alright?"
"I think so," Purdey answered. She was trying to undo Gambit's tie, but he kept pushing her hands away, and was struggling to sit up on the bloodspeckled carpet. "How's Bodie's head?"
Doyle glanced back at his partner. Bodie had his handkerchief up against his temple, staunching the flow. He looked paler than usual - Gambit had struck hard, fighting for his life . . .
"He'll live," Doyle announced, scowling at his mate. Until Cowley finds out, he added silently. They both knew the consequences of getting involved in brawls: instant dismissal meant just that. "Have you got something I can clean him up with?"
"I'm alright!" growled Bodie, glowering at the floor.
"Keep out of this, you!" Doyle snapped back. "Do you need a hand, Miss - " He turned his back fully on Bodie to go to the other operatives' side, holding out his hand to help the S.I.S. man up.
"I'm fine," Gambit insisted huskily. His throat ached like hell, and he knew that he owed his life to the newcomer. "I didn't know that C.I.5. employed psycho-" His eyes widened as he took in Doyle's appearance for the first time.
Bodie's partner was clad in jeans, and trainers, topped with a cream- coloured jersey under a brown-leather bomber jacket. He was finger-combing his hair where it had been flattened by the helmet.
Doyle frowned, wondering what he had done to make the other agents stare at him the way they were. The girl, kneeling at her partner's side, had gone a ghastly pale colour and was gazing at him in horrified fascination. She was clutching Gambit's shoulder, as she studied the familiar features, scarcely able to breathe - Larry Doomer stood before them, alive - except, this wasn't Larry . . .
Gambit recovered first, and he held out his hand for assistance. He started visibly as his fingers met warm, firm flesh, as Doyle hoisted him to his feet.
"You sure you're okay?"
Gambit nodded. They both reached down to help Purdey stand. She clung to Doyle's hand, still transfixed.
Gambit broke her hold gently, and with a curt nod at the C.I.5. man, steered her towards the bathroom, quietly closing the door behind them.
Doyle returned to his partner's side.
"You've got some explaining to do, sunshine." Doyle budged his mate along the seat. "Let me see that." he put his hand over Bodie's red-flecked one.
"Lay off, I'm alright. 'S just a scratch."
"It might have glass in it."
Doyle had noticed the remains of the lantern by the chair. He slapped away the obstructing wrist. Bodie's face was set in a sullen mask. Like a little kid who's trying not to cry, thought Doyle fleetingly, and he smiled in spite of everything, as he inspected the wound. It appeared to be clean enough, but would probably scar.
"You'll live," he concluded. "I'll scrounge a plaster off the girl - "
"Purdey," said Bodie quietly. "Her name's Purdey."
"Very nice," Doyle approved.
The bathroom door opened, and the others emerged. Gambit had taken off his jacket and tie, and Purdey seemed to have regained her composure.
"How's the head?" she asked Doyle.
"Still on his shoulders," Doyle assured. "How's the throat?"
"Bruised, nothing more," Gambit replied. "We haven't been introduced properly. I'm Gambit, nominal leader of this team - " he scowled at Bodie, and sank into one of the armchairs opposite.
"Ray Doyle," Doyle responded, inching forward to act as a barrier between the two protagonists. He pulled his helmet from behind him, to put it on the floor, but Purdey took it from him, her eyes never leaving his face.
Bodie caught sight of her expression, and with a jolt, he realised where he'd seen her before . . .
"Would you like coffee?" Purdey asked abruptly. Anything to break the uneasy silence that had descended on them.
"Please," Doyle smiled.
In the chair, Gambit relaxed a little.
"When we're all settled," he began, still regarding Bodie balefully.
But the C.I.5. man was watching Purdey, and she only had eyes for his partner. The girl took the helmet into the kitchen, and Gambit started the briefing.
Bodie's head was throbbing badly by the time they were finished: all he wanted was to curl up on the couch and sleep it off. He was already leaning against Doyle for support.
Doyle doubted whether his partner was fit to drive home. He felt Bodie's weight gradually sagging towards him during the afternoon, and wasn't surprised at the glassy look in the blue eyes. He would have to take his partner back in the car, and come back for his bike. The President's plane wasn't due in until the evening - he could collect his vehicle in the morning, if Purdey was willing.
"My garage is at the end of the mews," she informed him. "It'll be quite safe there."
Doyle smiled his thanks, and got to his feet, dragging his partner with him. Gambit stood and moved to Purdey's side.
"You ought to see a doctor about that headwound," she advised Bodie.
"Don't worry, I'll make sure he does," promised Doyle.
"I don't want any foul-ups on this operation," Gambit declared, his eyes fixed on his erstwhile attacker.
Bodie met the look evenly, and was about to speak, when Doyle butted in.
"Don't worry about us, just make certain your side of the house is in order." And grasping Bodie's elbow firmly, he guided his partner into the gathering dusk.
Purdey stood at the door, watching as Doyle backed the silver Capri past Gambit's XJS. A glimpse told her that Bodie was already out for the count . . . She was aware of Gambit's brooding presence behind her as the C.I.5. men drove off.
"I wouldn't have believed it," Gambit murmured, "if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes - Purdey, where are you going?"
The girl had stepped into the street, and was heading towards the garage.
"Don't say it, Gambit," she warned. "Don't say another word. Help me get Ray's bike inside."
Gambit swallowed with difficulty, and did as she asked, pushing the large Suzuki in beside her Honda.
"Purdey - " he tried once again, his tone softer now.
"Just go - please?" she begged. "I'll be alright."
Gambit nodded, and closed the garage door before walking to his Jaguar.
"I'll see you in the morning," he promised.
Doyle rolled over, and opening his eyes, he scowled at the digital display. Two o'clock - exactly thirteen minutes since the last time he checked. Bloody hell, what do I have to do to get some sleep!
He lifted himself half off the bed, punched the pillows as if they were personally responsible, and lay back, contemplating the invisible ceiling in the soft red glow. . .
He had driven his partner home, where Bodie had insisted that he would be fine. Somewhat reluctantly, Doyle had left him, and walked back to his own flat, which gave him enough time to consider the briefing - and the S.I.S. agents they were teamed with.
The question foremost in his mind was why Bodie had tried to kill Gambit. There was no doubt that his colleague would have succeeded had Doyle not arrived when he did. Bodie had been hell-bent on murder . . .
Doyle shook his head. Bodie was not a man to bear grudges against anyone. Unlike himself, he added wryly. So, whatever Gambit had done - or not done - was something cataclysmic . . . And there wasn't anything Doyle could think of that fell into that category.
He turned his attention to other events that day, hoping for more clues.
Take the agents' reaction to his arrival, for instance: both Purdey and Gambit had looked at him strangely. They hadn't been able to take their eyes off him all afternoon. Afraid I might vanish and leave them to deal with Bodie along, he mused? Hardly!
He chuckled softly: it WAS quite flattering to have an attractive woman pay him that much attention - but Gambit had been as bad.
Doyle shifted uncomfortably. He had heard some funny stories about John Steed's lot, but the thought of Gambit eyeing him up as a potential bedmate. . . He shook his head. Gambit wasn't his type - far too macho and arrogant . . . Like someone else Doyle could name, although in fairness, Bodie had improved a lot since the days they were first teamed. Got to know him a bit now - and that, Doyle recognised, was part of the problem: he knew Bodie well enough to see that he was hurting, but not well enough to know where to look for the cause.
A case, perhaps? But all the cases Bodie worked on were his cases. We've never been that much apart - except for the month or so that I was working with Benny on the drugs ring while Cowley farmed Bodie out to the S.A.S. again . . .
But that was an anti-terrorist organisation - the Secret Service wasn't involved - at least, not as far as I could tell from the files I pulled this morning . . .
He yawned suddenly, and blinked gritty eyes. Purdey . . . it might be worth asking her a few questions . . .and he had a tailor-make excuse to see her again before the op. got under way . . .
Drowsily, he set the alarm to wake him half an hour earlier so that he could call on Purdey before he went round to check on Bodie. Then, he slid down under the duvet, and fell asleep.
The buzzing at the door summoned him from the bedroom, where he had just donned his jeans. Doyle raked through his still-shower-damp hair, and went to answer it. If it was Bodie, he would give his partner a fright, and bend his ear about the ungodliness of the hour . . .
"I hope I didn't wake you," Purdey apologised, as she removed her helmet. "I thought I'd bring your bike back for you."
Surprised, and delighted, Doyle offered her breakfast.
Purdey followed him to the kitchen, hovering at the doorway, watching every movement. It was uncanny - Doyle had the same economical graceful ways as Larry. The differences - that he was younger, more muscular - hardly mattered. The essence - the spirit, was the same . . .
Doyle turned to face her and smiled, revelling in the attention.
"Coffee and toast?"
"Y-yes, please," stammered Purdey. The same green eyes - Fate could be so cruel . . . "I had to come and talk to you."
Doyle coaxed her into the lounge, and Purdey folded herself onto the sofa.
"About the op." Doyle placed his mug on the table.
"In a way."
"About Bodie and Gambit yesterday," Doyle guessed. "What did Gambit do to make Bodie want to kill him?"
Purdey lowered her eyes, and took a deep breath.
"Gambit shot - a friend of his a couple of years ago."
Doyle did a rapid mental calculation.
"Bodie was working deep-cover for the S.A.S. infiltrating a terrorist group . . ."
"Larry wasn't a terrorist. He - was obsessed with revenge." She looked up to meet the familiar green eyes, part of her mind still wondering why she had to speak when he surely already knew what had happened. . . "His father was killed in the Middle East by the President's soldiers. They said that he had been spying - but he was an oil prospector. Larry swore to have the lives of the men responsible. . ."
Doyle reached for his coffee.
"So, how did he get involved with Bodie?"
"Larry needed someone who could arm a missile for him - and he found Kilner - Bodie. He planned to fire the rocket at the President's party at Westminster . . ."
"But that's ridiculous!" Doyle protested. "Bodie would never've gotten involved with - " He stopped: HE knew that his partner had probably sabotaged the rocket, but there had been no mention of any such action in the files he had been able to find.
An incident of any such magnitude would have been subject to an internal enquiry, and, therefore, masses of paperwork. The absence of any substantial documentation had already aroused Doyle's curiousity.
"Are you saying that my partner was on the take from Doomer?"
Purdey's eyes dropped.
Doyle was on his feet, glaring down at her.
"I don't know," she replied. "Gambit thinks so . . ." She looked up then, and Doyle caught the bright glitter of tears. "I didn't want this assignment, Doyle."
"Neither did Bodie." Doyle was thinking aloud and realised a little too late what he had said. The implication was there, and he knew that, partner or not, HE couldn't ignore it. "Cowley wouldn't've kept him on if there was the slightest chance that Bodie was crooked."
Purdey heard the note of doubt in his voice.
"I shouldn't have told you about it."
"I'm glad you did." Doyle sank into his chair, and took a mouthful of lukewarm coffee. "I had my suspicions about Bodie's reluctance to work with you, so I pulled a few files yesterday, but they were incomplete. Major Nairn's reports were cross-referenced, of course, and so was Bodie's psychological file, which nobody but the medical staff can access."
"There was no mention of Larry at all?"
Doyle shook his head.
"Mind you," he conceded, "I wasn't sure what to look for. Now, at least . . ." He sat back, pensive, his hands cupped round the mug.
Bodie, working for Doomer - no, he wouldn't - not BODIE! He HAD BEEN a mercenary, but there were some things that meant more to him than money, despite all the jokes and protestations to the contrary: Bodie would never double-cross Cowley - he had too high a regard for the Old Man . . .
And there was the matter of Bodie's pride in his former regiment. Even if someone had managed to suborn him with C.I.5., Bodie would rather die than be disloyal to his fellow soldiers.
So, if Bodie couldn't be bought, why had he thrown in his lot with Larry Doomer?
Co-ercion? The thought of anybody being able to physically intimidate his partner was almost laughable. Apart from Macklin and Towser, nobody at C.I.5. could better his partner: if Doomer had, he must've been built like a tank. . .
Blackmail, perhaps? But personnel were automatically PV when they joined C.I.5., and every six months thereafter. If Bodie had been blackmailing fodder, Cowley would have ousted him ages ago.
"I'm going to get to the bottom of this," Doyle vowed. He met Purdey's gaze squarely. "I can't believe Bodie could turn rogue - " I don't want to believe it " - but I'll need your help, Purdey. Can you access the records for me?"
Purdey was shaking her head.
"I can't, Ray. Steed won't let me near the files on Larry."
"Why not?" Doyle demanded angrily.
"Because," she swallowed noisily, "Larry and I were lovers."
Bodie checked his watch and, with a faint scowl, depressed the transmit button on his R.T.
"3.7 to 4.5. The others have r.v.d. with the President. Standby."
Doyle clicked his set in acknowledgement, and prayed that the transfer from the airport would go smoothly. If not, the C.I.5. men would have to go into action - and that would mean Bodie crossing Gambit's path again sooner than he would have like. Purdey and he had done a good job keeping them apart all day.
"3.7 to 4.5. They're on the way. Out."
Doyle started his car, and joined the motorcade as it passed his observation point. Bodie would be somewhere further back, co-ordinating the withdrawal of the agents dotted around the terminal. His partner would return to Headquarters, make a brief report, and then join him at the hotel.
I can't see Bodie turning bad, mused Doyle. He's my mate - if anyone knows him, I should - and Cowley. If there was the slightest indication that he had sold out - for any reason - WE would know. Wouldn't we?
Doyle followed the President's car in to the City, up to the hotel entrance. The handover went like clockwork - Gambit looked cool and menacingly efficient at the Premier's side, speaking with the foreigner's own head of security. Inside, waiting with Steed, and out of Doyle's sight, Purdey would be ready to greet the man who had been the cause of her lover's death . . .
Gambit gave him a brief thumbs-up as the entourage disappeared through the doors, and Doyle swung his vehicle away to park, breathing a sigh of relief. The reception was expected to last into the small hours, and the S.I.S. agents were to play a high-profile role. C.I.5. were to be on stand-by status only for this function: if they were lucky, he and Bodie might scavenge a meal and be able to get some sleep. . .
Doyle drifted unobtrusively into the suite where the Presidential party was busy munching its way through the buffet. He glanced round, and his eyes found Purdey, chatting amiably to Henderson, the President's own security chief. Nothing in her demeanour gave any indication of her reluctance to be involved in the operation.
He became aware of a presence at his elbow, and spun on his heel to face Gambit who, at close quarters, wasn't as calm as Doyle had first thought.
"Has your partner arrived yet?" he asked, eyes raking the crowded room.
Doyle shook his head, and Gambit relaxed a little.
"Have you eaten? Better grab something now - if anything happens tonight, you may not get a chance later . . ." Gambit pushed Doyle in the direction of the food, and instructed him to get on with it.
Doyle loaded a plate, and found himself a relatively quiet corner where he keep a discrete watch over the company. A familiar dark head caught his attention, and he willed his partner to see him. Bodie wove his way through the throng, and frowned at his mate.
Doyle offered him the last of his sandwiches, but Bodie refused.
"I don't know who's responsible for the in-house security," he grumbled, "but I'm not happy with it."
"I'll go and speak to Gambit," said Doyle, watching as the face before him set in an unreadable mask.
"Yeah," grunted Bodie, then, "Ray?"
"Be careful round him, sunshine."
Doyle nodded, and Bodie drifted away to merge with the crowd.
Doyle tracked Gambit to a small group by the door, and relayed his partner's message. The darker man excused himself, caught hold of Doyle's sleeve, and tugged him into the corridor.
"Where's Bodie now?"
"Checking the place over," Doyle guessed, knowing his colleague's mind.
Gambit chewed at his lip.
"You stay here. I'm going to have a word with Steed about the arrangements. I'll send Henderson up to look over the rooms. . ." and he was gone before Doyle could protest.
He reappeared ten minutes later with a very irate security officer.
"I thought you said your people had this place watertight," he snarled at the S.I.S. man.
"It is," the agent replied. "All the same, I would feel happier if you check the President's suite - for your own peace of mind."
Henderson glared balefully at both operatives.
"If anything happens to the President while he's in your country - " he left the threat dangling in mid-air, and stalked off towards the lifts.
"I'll go with him," Doyle offered.
Gambit shook his head.
"The arrangements have been changed. It's now to be one of yours on with one of ours from now until the Premier flies home . . ." With that, he turned his back on Doyle, and headed back in to the party.
Seething, Doyle followed slowly: Gambit had made it quite clear that he didn't trust Bodie, but the worst of it was that he had sown seeds of doubt in Doyle's mind, too.
"That's them settled for the night," Gambit sighted, as he loosened his tie, and undid the top button of his shirt.
In the softly-lit sitting-room of the President's suite, Doyle glared at him.
"How long have you known Bodie?" Gambit dropped the question into the silence that had fallen between them.
"Since he joined the squad. Cowley teamed us then, and we've stayed partners." Doyle sat up in the chair he was occupying. "You don't like him - and it isn't just because he tried to throttle you."
"I don't know him,"Gambit corrected. "But he did make a bad impression. . ."
Doyle could see the livid bruises on the other man's throat.
"If you hadn't pulled him off when you did, I would've had to kill him."
Doyle doubted very much whether Gambit had the ability, but tactfully refrained from saying so.
"Why did he go for you?"
Gambit swallowed uncomfortably.
"Have you asked him?"
"I'd like to hear your side of the story," Doyle countered.
"He accused me of murdering a friend of his."
"For God's sake - Doomer had a gun on Purdey! What was I supposed to do?"
Doyle was aghast: Purdey hadn't told him THAT.
"Well?" snapped Gambit.
If someone had trapped Bodie that way, Doyle knew he wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger.
"How did you know he would shoot her?"
"I didn't - " Gambit's voice became huskier. "I only met the bloke once before - I just couldn't take the chance. He was armed - I shot first."
"Didn't you explain what happened to Bodie?"
Gambit shook his head, thinking back to the day: Kilner and Morgan had been dragged into custody, where Steed had separated them pending interrogation. He had taken the ex-soldier for himself, leaving Gambit to tackle the other man. From what he gathered at the time, Kilner had been prepared to do a deal with Steed, and was to be released, something that Gambit had protested vehemently at the time.
"I didn't get the chance," he recalled.
As he was being escorted away, Kilner had asked about Doomer. Gambit had broken the news that the pilot had been shot.
"I told him that Doomer was dead - he went berserk. Took a couple of the security men ten minutes to get him under control. They sedated him, and that was the last I saw of him - until yesterday."
Bodie - going crazy when he learned of Doomer's death, and bearing a grudge all this time? His supercool, UNEMOTIONAL partner . . .Except, of course, Doyle had seen through the facade. That's all it is - a front, a show put on to fool the world into thinking that he's a hard man, and can't be hurt, while inside. . .
And the thought that Bodie HAD been hurt badly by the flyer's death sparked two feelings in Doyle: the first was compassion, because he could understand the pin of such bitter grief. The second, he was unprepared for: Larry Doomer obviously was special to Bodie - and Ray Doyle, quite simply, was JEALOUS. . .
A tap on the half-open door announced her. Bodie looked up and forced a smile as Purdey came to sit on the edge of his bed.
"Ray and Gambit are settling down in the President's sitting room. They've said they'll leave us some food," she reported. When Bodie didn't respond, she sighed. "Ray told me you didn't want this assignment."
"Doyle had no right to tell you that." Bodie glared up at her. "No, I didn't."
"Gambit had his reasons for doing what he did."
"I'm sure they're very commendable," Bodie remarked softly. "Look, would you mind, it'll be a long day tomorrow, and I'd like to get some sleep. . ."
Purdey unfolded from the bed, and Bodie couldn't help admiring the long legs. Beautiful girl, he thought absently. . .
"I thought it might help to talk, that's all." She crossed to the door and disappeared into the next room.
Bodie sighed: he hadn't needed to be rude to her, and he knew he was taking his anger out on the wrong member of the team. He hadn't wanted the job because he had known - some sixth sense had warned him - that he would have to face the intelligence agent again. Bodie admitted that he would happily have strangled Gambit the previous day - but it wouldn't bring Larry back, however much it was justified . . . He rolled onto his side, closed his eyes, and silently cursed Doomer for his hellish obsession . . .
The soft sound of Bodie's voice brought Purdey fully awake. She listened hard, but couldn't make out the words. Hurriedly, she slid off the bed, and stole into the sitting-room.
Bodie's door was half open, and she tip-toed into his room to find him shifting restlessly, in the throes of a dream. His face bore an anguished expression, as if what he was seeing was too much to bear.
"Ray, come with me . . . please, love. He'll shoot you if you stay . . ."
Purdey crept to the bedside, and sat on the edge of the mattress. She began to stroke the dark hair, and murmured softly to soothe him.
With a groan, Bodie flung himself across the bed, reaching for his lover.
"LAR-RY?" Bodie asked sleepily.
Purdey went rigid, and Bodie's grip tightened as he opened his eyes.
"Purdey!" he gasped as he came awake properly.
Suddenly she was free, rubbing her arms where Bodie's fingers had dug into her flesh, shivering though the room was warm.
Bodie pushed himself up and flicked on the bedside lamp, catching the disbelief and pain in the girl's eyes.
"Did I hurt you? I'm sorry - let me see . . ." He took one delicate wrist and pushed up the silk sleeve, wincing when he saw the marks he'd left.
Purdey allowed the inspection, in something of a daze: her mind was busy making strange suppositions about the man before her. Kilner and Larry Bodie - and Doyle ...
"That must have been quite a nightmare," Purdey remarked quietly. "You were calling out to Larry . . ."
A flush spread across the pale cheeks, and Bodie kept his eyes down, his hold tightening as she spoke his name.
"Bodie - " Purdey's free hand cupped his chin, and tipped his head so their eyes could meet. "Tell me about Larry."
Bodie's colour deepened, and he closed his eyes, wishing she would leave him alone.
"I want to know," she insisted. Her nails were beginning to hurt his jaw where they were pressed. He opened his mouth to lie - deny his involvement, when she said gently,
"You loved him, too."
He nodded awkwardly.
"How long were you - together?"
"Few days," he replied huskily. "It didn't mean anything - not to him " He wanted to reassure her. "I'm sorry. It shouldn't've happened."
Purdey took both is hands in hers.
"It's because of Ray . . ."
Bodie heaved a sigh.
"He's - " he bit his lip. "Thought I'd never get involved with anyone," he confessed. "But Ray's - you have to work with him to know. It's - different." His voice faltered.
"You never told him?"
Bodie shook his head.
"How could I?" I'd lose everything if he ever found out."
"And how long do you think it will be before he does? He isn't stupid. He may already suspect how you feel about him - "
"No." Bodie shook his head. "He doesn't know. He wouldn't hesitate to bring it up if he thought there was something wrong."
Purdey squeezed his hands.
"I think you should tell. Ray has a right to know - "
"NO!" Bodie was appalled. "I - can't!"
"Is it so difficult to tell someone that you love them?" Purdey asked softly.
Bodie laughed sadly.
"I don't usually go around proclaiming undying love to people I work with."
Purdey smiled, and leaned forward to kiss his cheek, but at the last moment, Bodie turned his head, and their lips met, each offered a kind of comfort to the other.
A sharp intake of breath from the doorway caused them to part quickly. Doyle was watching, his face unreadable, eyes dark in the subdued light. His voice was pure ice.
"This is supposed to be official duty."
"Ray - it's not what you think - " Bodie began, realising how it must appear.
"Gambit wondered whether you'd join us for a meal, but I can see you've got other plans," he spun on his heel.
Purdey unfolded from her place on Bodie's bed.
"We'll be along in five minutes," she promised.
Doyle threw them one last look over his shoulder and left.
The atmosphere the following morning was tense. Bodie's observation the night before, and Gambit and Henderson's disagreement over the details led to the latter's electing to stay behind to assure himself of the security of the hotel for the President's return after his meeting. Without his presence, the Arab body- guards were reluctant to obey anyone's orders, although it had been explained repeatedly - that whatever Gambit said, went.
Bodie had put in his tuppence-worth with a few choice Arabic phrases, and the temperature between the visitors and the British dropped by several degrees.
Purdey noticed the filthy looks being directed at the C.I.5. man and asked Doyle what his partner had done to deserve them.
"Probably just being his usual charming self," Doyle replied.
He excused himself curtly, and went in search of Gambit, who was still finalising details with Henderson. Purdey watched him go, and a small smile quirked the corners of her mouth: unless she had missed her guess, Ray Doyle was exhibiting the classic signs of jealousy. . .
Doyle couldn't afford to be angry this morning. Tempers were already frayed at the eleventh hour revision of the security arrangements. He couldn't afford to think of the words he'd heard last night when he entered his partner's suite - Bodie's declaration of love to the girl - nor the scene that had greeted him as he walked through the door. He was on duty, and would conduct himself professionally until the end of this operation. Afterwards, he would lay down the law to his thick-headed, bollock-brained partner. . .
They started out over an hour late, and paid the penalty, getting caught up in the commuter traffic. Bodie was driving the Mercedes that contained the President, one bodyguard, and Purdey, whilst Doyle had two other minders and Gambit.
At least, thought Doyle angrily, Bodie had his hands too full of steering wheel to play around with the girl. It annoyed him to find that he felt hurt by the incident, though he didn't stop to wonder why.
The radio interrupted his thoughts.
"3.7 to 4.5."
"Just wanted to make sure you're still with us."
Doyle didn't deign to answer.
They cleared the city limits, and the mini motorcade picked up speed, rolling southwards through Surrey towards Hampshire. A pale sun shone down on what threatened to be a reasonable day, weatherwise, and inside the second car, the tension eased a little.
Up front, however, Bodie was aware of a nagging sensation that all was not well, and he wished - not for the first time - that it was Doyle at his side, instead of Purdey. He had personally checked and double-checked on the security of their travel arrangements, but it still didn't alter the fact that they were only four agents, and three body-guards between the President and any would-be assassins. He glanced in the mirror - Doyle was a comfortable distance behind. Watching our backs. . .
Doyle had sounded off-hand when they had spoken: he couldn't believe that there had been anything between him and Purdey . . . As soon as they reached the safe-house, he would take Ray to one side and explain what had happened - or, on reflection, maybe he wouldn't. Doyle wouldn't be satisfied with basics, he'd want all the details, chapter and verse . . .
"4.5 to 3.7. I think we've picked up a tail. Take the next exit, and we'll find out."
Bodie obediently swung the car onto the Basingstoke road, and the suspect vehicle continued on its way down the M3. A glance in the mirror showed the bored expression on the Premier's face, and the disquiet on the guard's. At his side, Purdey twisted in her seat to look back at Doyle's car, and Bodie saw her smile as Gambit gave her a thumbs-up. Just one big happy family, thought Bodie sarcastically.
The radio crackled.
"Stay on the A30," Doyle instructed.
"Roj," Bodie acknowledged shortly.
He pulled himself together mentally. It didn't do to worry about personal concerns at a time like this. He was on duty, and he would behave in a professional manner until this operation was over.
Using the less-frequented roads that traversed the New Forest, they were within twenty miles of the safe-house when they ran into trouble. The Presidential Merc developed a flat tyre, and Bodie was forced to pull off the road before he could attempt to change the wheel. Doyle drew in behind, so they could transfer their valuable passenger between vehicles, and radioed in their location. The foreign bodyguards took the opportunity to stretch their legs. One wandered into the woods, presumably to relieve himself. Gambit and Doyle stayed on watch while Purdey helped with the tyre. Bodie glanced up, frowning as he noted the guards' absence.
"Oi, I hope one of you's keeping an eye on those A-rabs. Don't want to lose them out here!" he snapped.
Gambit glared at him.
"They're in sight, Bodie."
"The C.I.5. man grunted disapprovingly, and returned to his task. Doyle signed to Gambit that he would fetch their errant guests.
The soft sound of silenced shots intruded on the breeze. Bodie dropped the jack and reached for his gun. Two of the Arab bodyguards lay dead further up the road, and Gambit had dragged Purdey down in the lee of the car. Doyle was nowhere in sight.
A belt of fire peppered the off-side of the second Merc, taking out both tyres and the windows. The president made haste to slide through the rear door and join the agents crouching there.
"How many d'you make?" Gambit breathed.
"Four," Bodie replied. "We've got fuck-all chance here against rifles. If I give you cover, can you get his Lordship into the trees?"
"One hand-gun against four automatics?" Gambit snorted.
Bodie tugged open the passenger door of his car, and brought out an S.M.G. He allowed himself a smug little grin.
"Personal insurance policy - evens things up a bit. When I say go, you run like hell!"
The S.I.S. operatives spared each other a glance, and a nod.
"Okay?" Bodie checked the mechanism. "GO!"
He shot to his feet and sprayed the greenery on the other side of the road with automatic fire. There was a sharp yelp, and the sound of a body falling.
Two shots ran out from behind him, then Doyle whistled.
Bodie grabbed the second machine gun and the spare clips from the front of his vehicle, and sank again as more shots winged his way. Bodie loaded both weapons, waited for Doyle to signal, and gave him the necessary cover.
A second later, Doyle was beside him, slightly winded but otherwise undamaged.
"One down, three to go," Bodie informed him with satisfaction. "The President?"
"Making away." Doyle slung the rifle-strap over his shoulder. "You go, I'll cover."
"No, you go, I'll cover. You can't run fast enough to catch a cold!" Bodie snorted disparagingly. "Shift, Goldilocks!"
He rose and fired again as Doyle fled for the cover of the trees. As soon as he was in position, he signalled his partner, and Bodie dived headlong for the woods.
They worked their way deeper into the forest in the wake of the President and the S.I.S. agents.
"You know that we were set up," Bodie remarked quietly. "Nobody outside the security people knew this meeting had been brought forward, or that we were using an out-of-town venue."
Doyle had come to the same conclusion himself.
They plunged on through the undergrowth. If Gambit had any sense, thought Bodie, he would find somewhere defensible, and dig in. There must be places where they could wait out the night until the squad came to rescue them, as they surely would. They were already overdue at the safe-house, and when Headquarters couldn't raise them on the radio . . .
"You brought you hand-set?" Doyle was obviously thinking along the same lines.
Bodie shook his head.
"Left it in the car."
"Fine bloody agent you are!" Doyle snapped.
"So where's yours?" Bodie demanded.
"Dropped it when I came back for you."
"And you've got the gall to - "
Bodie stopped, sensing movement ahead. A twig snapped underfoot, then they heard Gambit's voice, as he appeared from the shadows.
"You should've kept going," Bodie told him.
"The President can't move very quickly. He's up ahead with Purdey and his other minder."
"Let's get under cover," Doyle suggested. "I feel a little bit vulnerable."
Gambit led them to their protege who seemed to think they were personally responsible for the current situation.
"Get him up," Bodie ordered. "We've got to keep moving until we can find a place we can defend."
The President lumbered to his feet, and spat a comment in his native tongue at all the agents. Bodie's nostrils flared, and he replied in the same language, his eyes smoldering with anger. The surviving guard leapt up, and made to draw his weapon. Bodie brought the machine gun to bear, and smiled nastily.
"Just try it, mate!" he invited.
Doyle stepped between them and pushed the barrel of the rifle down.
"Stop pratting about, we've got enough trouble as it is!"
"Right!" agreed Gambit. "Purdey, you'd better stay with the President and Abu. Doyle, scout ahead, Bodie - you can watch our backs - let's go!"
Doyle caught his partner's eye, and a look of understanding passed between them. They had a job to do, and that took precedence over everything else at the moment. Bodie sidled up to his mate, and handed over a couple of spare clips.
"You know what else you forgot," said Doyle tucking them into his belt.
Bodie shook his head.
"You left your sarnies in my car."
For the first time that day, Bodie showed serious signs of distress.
"Doyle!" Gambit called them apart.
Bodie ruffled the tousled curls briefly, the only display of affection he ever permitted himself, and Doyle buffeted his arm lightly.
"Keep your had down," Bodie breathed.
Doyle went, without a backward glance.
It was almost dark when they came upon the house. Judging from the lack of vegetation inside it, it had only recently been gutted. The exterior walls were still intact, and a little exploration revealed that a part of the upper floor was still sound enough to take a couple of men's weight. It made a fair vantage point.
"We'll have to stay here for the night," Gambit announced to the rest of the team. "The President can't go on."
The Arab had grumbled and grouched since they set off, more concerned with missing his meeting than the prospect of losing his life.
Gambit sent the bodyguard upstairs to take the first watch, while he checked the others' observation positions. He came to Bodie last.
"Your lads should be out looking for us by now," he said quietly.
"They'll find the cars," Bodie agreed, "but the New Forest is a bloody large area to comb. One of us ought to try and get out and give them an exact location."
"And how far d'you think one man could get with that lot out there there's no guarantee that they haven't got re-inforcements in."
"It's better than waiting here to find out," Bodie countered.
"And you're volunteering?"
"Well, I'm the logical choice. You can't go, and Ray's got to stay and look after C.I.5's interests . . . I'll leave you the machine-gun."
Even in the darkness, Gambit's anger was visible.
"Give me one good reason why I should trust you."
Bodie's lip curled into a sneer.
"I don't care whether you do or not, I'm going. I'll tell Doyle and Purdey, and you can tell the A-rabs."
Bodie picked his way carefully to where his partner was keeping watch, and spoke softly to Doyle before handing over his SMG. Then he clambered over to Purdey's position, and whispered to her.
"I'm going for the cavalry."
Purdey slid an arm round his neck, and set her mouth against his.
"For luck, Bodie."
The C.I.5. man grinned.
"Look after - him - for me."
"You know I will."
Bodie ducked out of the gaping doorway and was away. From where he stood, Doyle strained his ears to listen as his partner disappeared into the night.
Bodie's unerring sense of direction took him through the midnight forest towards the road they'd been on earlier. He moved at a steady pace, confident that in his dark clothing, he would blend well with the murk beneath the trees, but constantly alert for any noise that might betray either his own presence or that of the enemy: they WERE here, he could feel them, pressing in closer to their hiding place.
For a moment, it crossed his mind that he ought to go back and take a stand with the others, but he dismissed that thought almost instantly. It would take the squad hours to find his colleagues - time they didn't have. Bodie pushed on.
He made good time, and had about a hundred yards to go when he heard the sound of rustling in the undergrowth. A muted curse told him that these were the hunters, and they were between him and the road. He stopped and merged into the forest, holding his breath as the others approached.
They trod past him, and he counted eight, all armed with rifles. Gambit and the others were in serious trouble . . .Bodie crossed the track, and paralleled the road from within the treeline. Sooner or later there had to be a vehicle, or a house - or even a phone-box. . . He prayed silently to the God he didn't believe in, and his ears detected the distant rumble of an engine. It was coming towards him. He inched closer to the road. The headlights scythed through the night, and risking life and limb, Bodie leapt onto the verge, and bounced onto the tarmac carriageway, waving frantically.
The driver stamped on the brakes, and hauled the car towards the hard shoulder. From somewhere behind him in the woods, came the sound of shouting . . .
Bodie wrenched the door open with one hand, gun poised in the other. Two shots rang out, and Bodie dived into the vehicle as a burning pain started in his right arm, and the sound of the third report faded.
The driver looked at him, rigid with fear.
"Drive, just drive!" Bodie ordered, galvanising his rescuer into action.
The wheels spun and the gearbox grated as the car lurched forward. Bodie was thrown against the seat, landing on his wounded shoulder. He winced in agony.
"You're hurt," The middle-aged man spoke uneasily. "Do you want a doctor?"
"Phone - get me to any phone," Bodie gasped.
"There's a house a mile or so down the road." The driver gulped, one eye on the highway, the other on the gun in Bodie's hand.
The man nodded.
"What's the name of the burned-out house back in the trees?"
He eased off the accelerator, and swung the vehicle into a darkened lane. Bodie saw the glimmer of light through the trees, and was dizzy with relief and pain by the time they came to a halt. He motioned the man to get out, and followed him to the front door, where he put the weapon into his jacket pocket, and said menacingly.
"I'll use it if I have to."
The older man rang the bell.
Footsteps within heralded the arrival of an elderly woman. She peered round the door at them.
"What on earth - "
Bodie shoved past, and made a bee-line for the phone that stood in the hallway. He was dimly aware of his rescuer trying to explain what had happened, while he dialled the C.I.5. Headquarters.
The house-holder turned to face him angrily, only to encounter the business end of Bodie's hand-gun. One look at the bloody hand holding it, and the grim expression of its owner effectively silenced any comments.
The duty room answered almost immediately.
"Tell the Cow we've been hit. The others are dug-in at a ruined house called Amberley, but the opposition are closing in fast."
"Bodie." Cowley himself. "Where are you now?"
Bodie glanced at the dial of the phone and told him.
"Stay there. I'll send the security unit from the safe-house."
"I'm going back. They need help." Bodie insisted stubbornly.
He hung up and motioned to the man with his gun.
"Is there another way up to the house?"
The driver nodded.
"There's a back road, and some fields . . ."
"Okay. I want you to show me . . ."
Doyle flexed his fingers, alternating hands. Away across the house, Purdey was doing the same, he knew Gambit was upstairs and the two Arabs were in the most sheltered corner of the ruin dozing fitfully.
They had all heard the distant gun-fire two hours before, and Doyle was plagued with visions of his partner, alone in the forest, pitting his wits and old skills against this new enemy. Bodie would get through, he told himself. I know him. Gambit was not happy with the situation, but he had been left with the choice of waiting for rescue, which may not reach them in time, or sending a runner. It was a calculated risk on everyone's part . . .
In the night, with nothing to do but watch and wait, Doyle's mind began to revise his theories as to why the S.I.S. man distrusted his partner. He analysed the known facts, and tried to fit them into a plausible synopsis.
Bodie, a.k.a. Kilner, had been working to help break up a terrorist cell. THAT part was well-documented, and had included a reference to the effect that his colleague had suffered a minor breakdown due to the pressure of working such deep cover.
Doyle snorted: Bodie wasn't the kind of man to go to pieces under fire pressure or not, he always kept his head, and the only way to tell he was affected was by his jokes - they usually got worse. No, there had to be more . . .
Larry Doomer, Purdey's boyfriend. How had he recruited Bodie persuaded him to take part in that mad-cap scheme to blow up the man they were guarding tonight. The reports said that Bodie had confessed to instructing Doomer in disarming techniques, and that added up to complicity in Gambit's book. To Doyle, the most suspicious aspect of the whole affair was Bodie's failure to report it to either Major Nairn or Cowley. Even allowing for the short notice, Bodie could still have contacted his go-between. . .
Something had happened in those few days - Doomer had conned his partner somehow into going along with the plan . . . But what could possibly have turned Bodie . . . Doyle had already discounted physical co-ercion and blackmail: it was down to bribery.
He forced himself to look at the situation from Gambit's point of view: the S.I.S. man knew that Bodie had been in collusion with Larry Doomer, and undoubtedly, he had been given access to enough of the C.I.5 men's files to know that Bodie had once been a mercenary. Mercs were only loyal to the highest bidder - Doomer must have paid him well.
Every instinct in Doyle screamed that it could not be: Bodie had many faults, but his loyalty was unquestionable. He would go to almost any lengths to help a mate in trouble. Had Doomer somehow appealed to Bodie's better nature (the one that everyone, including Bodie, swore didn't exist)? If he had - Doyle felt a sharp pang of anger. If Doomer was so special to his partner - somebody Bodie was prepared to break the rules for . . .
A muted curse announced Gambit's approach. Doyle kept his eyes on the forest.
"Your mate's taking his time," said Gambit. "Are you sure he's not lost?"
"He's not lost," Doyle replied with confidence. "Bodie's an old hand at jungle techniques."
"Is he now?" Gambit murmured. "I've done time out in Africa, but I wouldn't say I'm an old hand."
Doyle reacted to the words.
"How long were you out there?"
"Seven months - adviser to the Government Forces."
Doyle smiled and couldn't resist a smug grin.
"Bodie was in Angola for two years." Top THAT, you bastard!
"Mercenary," said Gambit disparagingly. "I should've guessed."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"The only motive a mercenary needs is money. In case it hasn't crossed your mind, Doyle, someone's sold us out."
"It wasn't anyone in C.I.5, I'd stake my life on that!" Doyle seethed at the implication, despite her personal doubts.
"You already have - "
"Look to your own people first, MATE!" Doyle advised acidly. "There was a leak long before we got involved!"
"Our security is - "
The rapid shots from the far side of the house brought them to full alert.
"Machine-gun," grunted Gambit as he scrambled over fallen timbers to a better vantage point.
"We're surrounded," Purdey observed calmly.
Doyle checked the magazines on the S.M.G. and his own hand-gun, took a deep breath, and focused his attention on his immediate field of fire. His senses opened to his fellow defenders and to the hunters beyond.
Gambit snapped a couple of shots of ammunition, and desperation leant them a deadly accuracy as they made very bullet count. Doyle estimated that the opposition numbered about a dozen, all armed with automatic weapons: it wouldn't be long before they were overcome . . . He felt the anger welling in him - at these men; at whoever had paid them for the assassination; and he was mad at Bodie, for not being where he belonged, and for kissing Purdey. . .
There were light coming through the trees - Landrovers - and the thunder of rotorblades overhead. A swift glance upwards told him nothing: his line of sight was terminated abruptly by the house-wall, but above him, the Arab guard was yelling.
Their sanctuary was suddenly lit by a powerful spotlight. A couple of bursts of gun-fire from the surrounding forest, followed by several single shots, then -
"THIS IS THE POLICE - THIS AREA IS SURROUNDED BY ARMED OFFICERS AND C.I.5. PERSONNEL. THROW DOWN YOUR WEAPONS - " The chopper wheeled above them.
"He made it!" breathed Doyle. "Bodie bloody well made it!"
The President emerged from the shadows where he'd been forced to take cover. Gambit advised him to stay down until they were certain all the enemy operatives had been accounted for. In the semi-dark, Doyle could see Purdey's face clearly enough to read the look of relief there. He grinned at her, and she smiled in return. The Arab guard had scrambled down from the first floor, and went to join his master.
People were approaching the house. Doyle raised his gun instinctively.
"Hey, in the house!" yelled Lucas. "I'm coming in!"
The S.I.S. agents glanced at one another as Doyle slid the safety-catch on.
"Advance, friend!" he replied, as he stowed his weapon. "Is Bodie with you?"
Lucas clambered through the doorway, silhouetted by the headlamps and the spotlight on the police helicopter as it swept by on its final pass.
"He's not here?"
Doyle shook his head, then Gambit stepped forward to introduce himself.
"Is it safe to move the President now?" he asked.
Lucas smiled cheekily.
"Yeah, we've rounded up the ones you missed."
With an audible sigh of relief, Gambit turned back and went to speak to the Premier. Purdey stepped over the fallen beams to join them.
Doyle interrogated Lucas in an undertone.
". . . said that he was coming back. I assumed that he would've been . . ." Lucas' voice tailed off at the scowl on Doyle's face.
"When you find him, tell him I want to talk to him."
"The Cow's on his way down with the head of the Intelligence Department," Lucas informed him. "Backsides will be kicked for this, I can guarantee it."
Purdey appeared at Doyle's elbow, smiling, and relaying the President's request that he be taken to the safe-house as soon as possible.
Lucas eyed her with interest, and nodded.
"We can have a car ready for him and his escort."
Gambit and the Arab guard were supporting the President as they made their way over the charred wreckage.
Doyle gave his colleague a shove and followed him through the doorway with Purdey. Gambit came next, guiding their protege by the arm, and leading him over the now-slippery path towards the cordon of cars whose headlamps provided more than enough illumination for them to walk in safety.
A single shot rang out from the darkness beyond
It happened so quickly that for a vital instant, everyone was paralysed with shock. The President crumpled at the knees, his free hand clutching at his chest, the other clawing Gambit's arm, and dragging the agent down with him.
Doyle roared, and sprang into a sprint towards the trees, drawing his gun as he ran. Behind him, Gambit fought clear of the death-hold, and pushed through the crowd to follow. Purdey dropped to kneel at the President's side.
The man ahead of him knew how to move fast in wooded country, and Doyle could hear one of the other agents coming up behind him. What wouldn't he give right now, for Bodie to be there: he and his partner could have stalked this killer, and brought him down.
A small part of him had a grudging admiration for the audacity of the crime - bringing the President down in the middle of a secure zone was . . . His brain clicked into gear. HOW had he done it? How could someone sneak past the police and C.I.5. personnel to take a pot-shot at their charge?
Ahead of him, Doyle heard the assassin break into a run - he'd probably hit one of the tracks. . . must be heading for the road. Seconds later, Doyle was out of the trees and started to race after him. He called out.
A bullet whined past his head -- Doyle loosed a shot in reply, but the gunman kept moving.
Gambit had reached the track now, and was pounding along, overtaking Doyle in a desperate bid to nail the murderer. He fired twice, and a moment later was knocked off-balance as the assailant fired back. In darkness, Doyle knew there was little hope of either hitting the man or catching him, but he emptied his magazine into the night in sheer frustration, before going to tend the S.I.S. agent. If Bodie had been there . . .
Gambit was sitting on the rainsodden ground, nursing an injured arm. Doyle holstered his weapon, and knelt beside him. Away through the trees, he could hear voices, and the steady tramp of many feet as others came to look for them.
Gambit was reluctant to let Doyle tend him at first, but the C.I.5. man was insistent the bullet had taken the agent in the big muscle in the upper arm, and there was no sign of an exit wound. Gambit had pressed a handkerchief over it keep the temporary dressing in place.
"D'you think you could stand if I help you?"
Gambit struggled to his feet, and a hand under his elbow made sure he stayed vertical. Doyle improvised a sling with his own belt. Further down the track, Purdey and Lucas emerged and came jogging up.
"What happened?" demanded Lucas.
"Gambit caught a bullet," Doyle replied tersely. "The bastard got away."
Purdey took charge of her colleague, and Lucas ushered them back towards the house and transport, leaving Doyle to stand alone in the forest, gazing into the shadows. Slowly, he began to walk, following the assassin's flight-path. He broke into a jog, his footfalls muffled by the mossy ground, and as he paced, he cursed the fact that he had used up all his ammo. Hunting a killer in the dark whilst unarmed was plain lunacy, he knew, but his anger made him reckless.
He ran on, keeping his senses alert for any other presence, hearing and seeing - feeling - nothing. Bodie would've been better at this - night-stalking brought out the panther in his partner. . .
Where WAS Bodie? If he had told Lucas he was coming back, nothing short of an atom bomb - or Cowley - would've stopped him. Unless - Doyle's stride faltered.
Unless Gambit was right.
No! Not Bodie - And yet . . .
Bodie was the one who spoke Arabic - Doyle had never asked why or when he had learned, it was just - and Bodie had VOLUNTEERED - - to go for help; any one of the others might have gone, but Bodie had elected himself their life-line, knowing that the enemy was in the woods. . .
But he had called Central, had summoned re-inforcements, Doyle argued.
And was told to wait for back-up. Instead, he SAID he was coming back to us - and nobody's seen him since
He couldn't - he wouldn't. . .
Not only could, but would and quite probably had betrayed them. . .
Their assassin was used to the terrain, had known which way to run to escape - Bodie had an infallible sense of direction . . . Doyle slowed to a walk.
Once a merc, always a merc, his subconscious taunted mercilessly. He's sold us out - Bodie, possibly working in collusion with Purdey - his mind returned to the scene at the hotel - contracted to kill the President, and then ran. The shot itself was perfect, and had all the hallmarks of Bodie's absolute cheek, being performed under the very noses of his colleagues.
Bodie, avenging Doomer, and making money into the bargain. Would his masters let him live?
The muscles in his gut tightened at the thought - once the job was over, Bodie would be expendable: these were big boys, the international league, and they played power politics. What was the life of a minion . . . if Bodie had gotten himself into that kind of trouble, he might be dead already. . .
Doyle's foot connected with something hard, not a root or branch, something alien to the forest floor. He bent down and peered at it in the gloom, then he pulled out his handkerchief and lightly covered the weapon before picking it up. A sniff told him that the gun had been fired recently. He heaved a sigh. The killer had ditched the murder weapon, and he didn't hold out much hope of any decent prints. Wearily, Doyle abandoned his futile pursuit, and started back for Amberley.
Cowley slapped the flimsy folder down on the table top, and took off his glasses to rub his eyes. Before him, awaiting interrogation by his chief, Doyle spared a glance for his surroundings in the library at the safe-house.
"How did Bodie seem to you?"
Doyle knew what was going through the older man's mind: Bodie hadn't wanted this assignment, and would have tried almost anything to get out of it. HAD there been any sings that his partner had gone AWOL?
"He was angry about our being cornered, but - " he shook his head.
"And he never told you what he intended to do after he made contact with us?"
"He couldn't have been certain that he WOULD break through their formation . . ."
Unless he had known the dispositions of the attackers . . .
Cowley felt sure that Doyle wasn't telling him the whole story: maybe Steed had had more luck with his operatives. He curtly dismissed Doyle, with an instruction to get some rest.
Gratefully, Doyle escaped, and made for the first floor where he and the other agents had been assigned accommodation. It was half past two when he fell into bed.
Sleep eluded him, and he lay with his head pillowed on folded arms listening to the rain as it beat a persistent tattoo at the window. Somewhere out there, Bodie was on the run, or lying dead with a bullet through his skull. His heart didn't want to believe, but his brain insisted that it was so, and when he finally succumbed to his exhaustion, he dreamed of darkness, and Bodie, and thirty pieces of silver. . .
The local police were out in force at first light, combing the woods for evidence. The heavy overnight rain had made the clearing a quagmire, and had put a damper on everyone's spirits.
At the safe-house, Doyle woke to a hasty breakfast and shower, and a pensive Purdey.
"Gambit discharged himself from the hospital this morning. He's on his way here." She met his green gaze levelly. "There's still no word about Bodie. . ."
"No." Doyle averted his eyes.
"We can stop at Amberley on the way back to London," Purdey suggested. "As soon as Gambit arrives - "
"What about Steed and Cowley?" Doyle asked.
"They left right after breakfast," she sighed.
Undoubtedly to answer several awkward questions from high-ranking officials. Doyle wouldn't have traded places with either of them.
"I hope someone told them to leave us a decent car," he grumbled, although he acknowledged that their lack of transport was the least of his worries at them moment.
"So - your partner still hasn't shown up." Gambit sat back in the rear seat of the Mercedes, watching Doyle watch him in the driving mirror.
"My guess is that he probably won't." Gambit could admire Doyle's loyalty to his colleague, but the C.I.5. man had to be made to face the truth, however unpalatable. "He's sold us out - I'm sorry," as Doyle's knuckles whitened on the steering wheel, "but it does happen. He's on the take - probably the same people who were backing Doomer - "
"Larry was acting alone," Purdey interrupted. "I doubt that he even considered the political implications . . . "
Gambit ignored the edge in her voice, and pressed on relentlessly.
"Doomer couldn't've done what he did without some help. There has to be more to it than revenge."
Doyle swung the car off the road more abruptly than was necessary, jarring Gambit's injured arm in the process.
"IF Bodie sold us out, he would've had to have a bloody good reason," Doyle growled as he put the Mercedes down the track dangerously fast.
"He's a mercenary - " Gambit winced as they hit a pot-hole.
"And once a merc. always a merc, huh?" Doyle snapped.
"You said it!"
"Bodie didn't sell us out," Doyle stated flatly, wanting desperately to believe it.
He turned the car in through the now-defunct gateposts, and drew up in the clearing that had once been the front garden of Amberley. In the cold grey light of day, it looked pitiful and forlorn. Hard to imagine that it could have offered enough shelter to save their lives last night. . .
There were several uniformed police present, and Doyle located the senior officer, who was waiting by one of the Range Rovers. The agents dutifully trudged in his wake to the house, listening at his report.
"We've had to draft men from the next county to cover the area between here and the road. The rain last night. . ."
Doyle went to stand at his vantage point: there would have been a lovely view of the garden form the sitting-room, he mused.
"And the far side?" he asked. "We heard gun-fire from that direction before they hit us."
"We're doing a systematic sweep of the forest between here and the track that leads up to the back of this property. . ."
The radio crackled, and the chief superintendent frowned.
"Say again, over," he ordered.
"We've found a body, sir - "
Doyle felt his heart lurch, and he leaned against the wall for support. It MIGHT be one of the assassins - there had been enough people charging round the woods last night after all . . . But something inside told him that they had finally found his partner.
"Christ, how much longer?"
For the hundredth time since they'd arrived, Doyle was on his feet pacing the corridor between the reception desk and the waiting area. In contrast, Purdey sat quietly as Bodie's life hung in the balance. . .
Doyle's jeans were still wet with mud from where he had gone down on his knees in the sodden undergrowth beside his partner's body. Bodie had been face-down in deep cover, with three bullet wounds in his back, and a bloody tear in his shoulder. At first, they thought he was dead, his injuries and the night having taken their toll, but he was still just breathing. . .
As soon as Doyle confirmed his identity, the message was relayed to Headquarters. Cowley had ordered up the helicopter, and had his operative flown straight to London, while Doyle floored the Mercedes in his wake. Gambit had discretely disappeared, leaving Purdey to wait with Doyle at the hospital.
"How much longer?"
The C.I.5. agent spun on his heel, and returned to sit by Purdey for a minute until the tension got the better of him and he began to prowl again.
Cowley appeared at five o'clock and ordered Doyle away to draught his report.
No lover of paperwork at the best of times, Doyle protested angrily.
"You've already had my verbal report."
"And now I want it on paper, by eight o'clock tonight." And as the younger man opened his mouth to argue further, "I'm sure the doctors can manage without your help, 4.5."
Doyle glared at the controller, but the ice-blue eyes never waivered, and it was Doyle who looked away.
"If anything happens. . ." If Bodie died. . .
"Bodie will be fine," Cowley assured him. "He's in good hands."
Doyle wrote up his account of the incident in record time, anxious to return to the hospital to see for himself that his partner was still alive. In the event, he wasn't allowed to see Bodie who was in Intensive Care, and so he turned homeward wearily.
Purdey was waiting for him, and from the expression on her face, he knew that something serious was afoot.
She folded down onto his sofa, while he went to pour the drinks.
"Gambit has gone to Steed with his theories about Bodie selling us out. He wants to access all the files relevant to Larry and your partner."
"Bodie is no traitor. He thinks too much of the Old Man - he should be looking elsewhere.."
"I told him that, but the case against Bodie is looking pretty black."
"D'you think that I don't know that? Alright, so, Bodie had the means and the opportunity. What about his motive? And don't - " he warned, "don't trot out that old chestnut about 'once a merc, always a merc, he did it for the money'. Bodie does have some principle."
"His loyalty to a friend being one of them," Purdey remarked quietly, as she sipped her drink.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Doyle demanded angrily.
Purdey stood and moved gracefully to the drinks cabinet. She returned with the whisky, and proceeded to top up her host's glass.
"Do you remember telling me that some of the paperwork was missing from the files when you went to check them?"
"There was no mention of Doomer anywhere, just Major Nairn's account of the anti-terrorist infiltration, and a cross-reference with Bodie's psychiatric report at Repton."
He took a mouthful of whisky, and was startled when Purdey poured more into his glass. He regarded her quizzically.
"You know why, don't you?"
"Yes." Her eyes dropped.
"Well?" demanded Doyle, and when she didn't answer immediately, he sighed heavily. "You may as well tell me - " He swallowed noisily. "Bodie might die at any time - I have a right to know . . ."
Purdey didn't disagree, especially after the conversation she'd had with Bodie at the hotel; and knowing that the C.I.5. man would probably never say anything to his partner, she made her decision.
"Bodie was in love with Larry."
"WHAT!" Doyle stared at her blankly.
"Bodie loved Larry." Purdey repeated.
"You're saying that my partner and Doomer were - sleeping together?" Doyle laughed suddenly. "No - I don't believe it!"
"It's the truth," Purdey told him quietly.
Doyle took another large mouthful of whisky, trying to accept this latest bombshell. If Bodie cared for Doomer, it would certainly account for his partner's grief when the pilot was shot. It would also explain why Bodie had attacked Gambit. But would he then have wanted revenge on the man who had ultimately been responsible for Doomer's demise?
"You're saying that Bodie could've shot the President because he is avenging his - boyfriend." Doyle's voice was hoarse as he spoke his thoughts aloud.
Purdey finished her drink before she replied.
"Larry meant a lot to your partner."
Doyle was stunned. He put a hand up to his unkempt hair and scratched his head.
"Bodie never lets anyone get that close to him." He peered into his glass. "God knows," he added softly, "I've tried!"
He started to pace the floor, but came to an abrupt halt.
"That's why the papers are missing, and if Gambit - "
"If he gets hold of the files, he'll unearth the whole story. Your Mr. Cowley has gone to a lot of trouble to keep this from everyone."
"Can't you stop him - after all, he's your partner?"
"I've been trying to get Steed, but he's busy with the foreign delegates, and making assurances to other embassies."
"And Cowley's tied up with the investigation. He's hoping to have the final forensic report through tomorrow. Ballistics are checking the bullets they took out of Bodie - " His voice cracked again. "They wouldn't let me see him."
"He'll be fine," Purdey told him. "The surgeon says his chances are very good."
She set her glance down on the coffee table, making ready to leave.
"I'll speak to Steed in the morning about Gambit."
Doyle went to see her out, pausing at the door.
"Thanks for telling me, about Bodie . . ."
Purdey smiled a little sadly.
"I'll see you tomorrow," she promised. And with a swift parting kiss to his cheek, she was gone.
Morning found Doyle bleary and weary: his dreams had been of Bodie and the faceless Doomer . . .
A brief glance at the alarm clock reminded him that he was due at work early. More importantly, he wanted to see his partner.
A quick shower, and a hasty breakfast, then Doyle drove to the hospital. He flashed his I.D. card to forestall any argument, and was directed to the Intensive Care Unit.
He crept into the private room. Bodie was alone, wired to a monitor, and hooked to a couple of drips. His face was ashen, matching the matt-white dressings that covered his wounds. Doyle swallowed uncomfortably, seeing his wilful, boisterous partner hovering between life and death . . .
"Bodie?" His voice was too loud, strange and intrusive. "Bodie-mate?"
He glanced at the monitor, which showed that Bodie's heart was beating regularly. Doyle moved up to his bedside, and felt for his friend's hand. Even in the heat of the room, it was cold. He began to stroke it, trying to restore the warmth. He knelt, and pressed his cheek against the waxy fingers.
"Bodie, sunshine. . . Wish you would wake up so that we could talk . . ."
But there was no movement, beyond the rhythmic rise and fall of Bodie's chest, and Doyle felt a tear spill and trickle down his face, damping the back of his partner's hand where he held it. Doyle kissed it away, rubbing himself against the chilled flesh.
"I know about you and Doomer. I know why you didn't want this assignment. You flaming idiot, you should have told me . . ." He got to this feet. "When you get out of here, I'm going to kick your arse so hard you won't be able to sit down for a week."
He gave Bodie's hand a final gentle squeeze, then on impulse, he leaned over and kissed the pale brow.
"Stupid bugger," he breathed. "Don't you dare die on me!"
He let go and walked to the door. He looked back once and smiled sadly.
"In case I don't have the nerve to say it again, sunshine, I love you."
Cowley was waiting for him when he arrived, and he sped through his report of the incidents in the forest, expecting at any moment to be interrupted. Instead, the controller opened the folder on his desk.
"Ballistics reports on the bullets from the President, Gambit and Bodie. The bullet from Gambit's arm, and the President were fired form the same weapon. Bodie's gun was undoubtedly the murder weapon, and his prints were all over it. The bullets from Bodie's back, however, were fired from one of the hand-guns we confiscated from the hit-squad." The older man looked up. "Apparently, 3.7. was shot and left for dead before the assassination. From traces of blood further along the pathway, it seems he dragged himself into cover, where he was found."
"He was still trying to get back to us," Doyle murmured.
"It looks that way. I'm going to the hospital now. I want you to go to Hampshire. Henderson is going down to pay his respects to the President. The body will be flown home tonight for a state funeral at the end of the week." The controller closed the file slowly. "What a shambles!"
Doyle could only agree.
The drive to Southampton was undertaken in frigid silence. Henderson clearly blamed the British security for the death of his employer, and sat sullenly beside Doyle staring out at the English countryside. Doyle was too busy thinking of Bodie to bother much.
At Southampton, he collected the remainder of the reports, while Henderson completed the documents that would release the Premier's body to him.
Doyle was deep in conversation with the constable who had found Bodie when Henderson emerged from the office after the formalities were over.
"The President will be on his way tonight," Henderson announced sourly. "We can head for home now."
Doyle nodded, and turned to take his leave of the young copper.
"And thanks again, mate."
"All part of the service - hope he makes a good recovery."
"We'll let you know," promised Doyle.
Henderson was waiting by the door, impatient to be away.
"What's that all about?" he asked sharply, as they started for the Capri.
"Bodie's in hospital." Doyle was equally curt.
Henderson looked shocked.
"I didn't know. Is it bad?"
A wave of despair hit Doyle at that moment, and he bowed his head.
"They don't know."
Henderson laid a hand on his arm, and squeezed gently.
"I didn't know," he repeated softly.
Doyle pulled himself together.
"Goes with the job. . ." He opened the door, and about to slide in behind the wheel.
"MR. DOYLE!" The young constable dashed out of the building towards them. "There's a phone call for you!"
Doyle executed a swift about-face and raced into the police station. Henderson followed at a more sedate pace, and took the opportunity to make a call of his own while Doyle was tied up.
When the C.I.5. man reappeared, his face was a mask of fury. He was cursing Gambit loudly.
"I should've let Bodie strangle him."
Henderson arched an eyebrow, but didn't ask. He had enough problems of his own.
There was a nagging pain in his head, a burning in his stomach, and ached all over. Bodie would've been happy to drift away into the void again, but something was drawing him up through the mists of sleep into uncomfortable awareness.
The first signs of dawning consciousness were registering on the scope, and Bodie's eyes flickered open for a second, blurry, dream-dark, and disorientated.
He was in a hospital, that much was obvious when the indistinct shapes slowly resolved themselves into a nurse and a doctor. How the . . . last thing he remembered was that Ray was going to be shot . . .His mouth felt dry. Where was Doyle?
"Is it alright to question, Doctor?"
A third figure, sombrely dressed, appeared as the pretty nurse moved aside.
"Five minutes - don't tax him," Cowley was warned.
"Bodie - what happened out there?"
Bodie closed his eyes and licked his lips.
"Could I have a drink?" His voice sounded feeble and broken: he was disgusted with himself.
"Bodie, tell me!" Cowley's tone hardened.
The nurse damped Bodie's mouth with a cloth. It wasn't enough.
"3.7. - "
"Mr. Cowley, I must insist - "
Bodie opened his eyes again, and looked directly at the controller. Slowly, he began his account from the time he finished the call for help to his return to the forest.
"The bastards took me by surprise. . ." he concluded wearily.
"Think, Bodie, was there anything they said, any clue. . ."
"Their leader - knew I speak Arabic, knew I was C.I.5. Thought it was Henderson . . ."
Cowley frowned: Henderson, the inside man, in the perfect position to betray his master.
"You did well, laddie. We'll bring him in for questioning. . ."
Bodie closed his eyes once more. He felt so tired. There was something else - something he'd meant to ask Cowley, but he couldn't think, he was so tired. . .He was asleep before the older man reached the door.
Gambit was not at his flat, nor was he at Steed's home or the office, although he had been to the latter, in an attempt to access the files on Doomer.
Steed would be with the Arabian officials for the best part of the day, and had more important things to worry about than his agents' whereabouts.
In desperation, Purdey contacted C.I.5. Headquarters, wondering if her partner might be with Doyle. The answer was an emphatic negative: 4.5. had left for Southampton to finish off the paperwork with the local force.
Purdey telephoned the police station, and was lucky enough to catch Doyle before he and Henderson left.
"Have you spoken to Gambit at all today? He's been trying to access the files on Larry."
Doyle hadn't seen, or heard from the S.I.S. agent, and Purdey apologised for disturbing him, each promising the other that they would call when they had located him.
Purdey hung up, and thought for a minute, before coming a decision. Arabs or no, she was going to have to speak to Steed.
He recognised the car at once. Doyle couldn't be too far away: Gambit prayed that he would be in time. Drawing his hand-gun, he walked quickly, knowing that at any moment, he, too, might become a target.
The voice came from up ahead.
Gambit took a step forward. And another. . .
"You shot Bodie," Doyle stated, his tone flat, and Gambit would have sworn, emotionless.
Henderson laughed mirthlessly.
"Oh, yes. But don't worry - by now, he'll be dead, and you're about to join him."
Through the branches, Gambit could see the security chief raise his weapon and level it. Gambit brought up his own gun, and squeezed the trigger twice. The kick jolted his injured arm badly, but the pain was of secondary importance: there were two bodies lying a few yards from him.
Stepping into the glade, he made certain that Henderson was dead first. The bullets had taken the man in the back, smashing his breastbone and a rib on exit. Blood was soaking into the sodden ground, and the half-open eyes gazed beyond him. Gambit closed them gently.
Doyle was face-down, where he'd twisted as he fell. Gambit rolled him over, and found his jacket grabbed firmly, before the C.I.5. man put him on his back.
"Doy - ooph! Bloody hell!"
"What're you doing here?" Doyle demanded, his anger successfully covering his relief and surprise.
Gambit struggled into a sitting position, wincing as he probed his injured arm.
"Saving your life!" he snorted. He re-arranged his coat, and flinched again. "I was going through the files, and backtracked on Doomer's personal history. His father worked for an oil company, and guess who was the chief of security at the firm?"
Doyle got to his feet, reached out a hand to help the other man.
"Doomer's father was shot by the President's men on suspicion of spying. . ." Doyle recalled.
"What's the bet that matey Henderson," Gambit jerked his thumb at the body, "was up to his elbows in espionage?"
"Christ, what mess!"
Gambit surveyed his handiwork, and agreed. Doyle punched him lightly on his - uninjured - shoulder.
"Reckon I owe you one."
Gambit shook his head.
"We're even - I owe your partner an apology - "
"My God - Bodie!"
Gambit didn't question it: he leapt into a sprint, following Doyle to the ears.
"Henderson's Arab friend never made it past the reception desk," Purdey informed them, as they met at the hospital.
"How did you know?" asked Doyle. "Gambit only found out this morning - "
"Your Mr. Cowley - he's been trying to reach you since you left Southampton, to warn you."
"But how did HE find out?" demanded Gambit.
"Bodie told him."
"WHAT?" Both men looked incredulous and, in Doyle's case, extremely pleased.
"He came round briefly this morning. He'll probably be able to have visitors later today." The smile deepened further. "And Mr. Cowley would like to have a word with both of you, as soon as it's convenient . . ."
The two men glanced at one another.
"Sod it - let's get it over with," sighed Doyle.
"'Once more unto the breach. . .' I suppose," agreed Gambit.
"You have nothing to add, 4.5?" Cowley raked his eyes over the dishevelled men before him.
Doyle was on edge, keen to be gone. Gambit's face was pale - that arm was aching badly and he wanted to make certain he hadn't started it bleeding again.
Behind them, a knock at the door announced Steed's arrival.
"George, I've just been over the - " The S.I.S. man stopped as he caught sight of the two operatives. "Good GOD!"
He stepped up to Doyle, and gazed at the younger man's face for a moment.
"I'd never have believed it."
Gambit nudged Doyle subtly.
"Er, if that's all then, sir," Doyle was floundering, desperate to escape.
Gambit came to his rescue.
"Doyle's offered to drive me to the hospital - " He indicated his arm.
The controller nodded, a small smile quirking the corners of his mouth.
"Aye, you may go."
Needing no second bidding, they made to leave, Doyle conscious of Steed's eyes on him, as they went. The door was swinging to behind them when he heard the S.I.S. man speaking.
"Do you know, he's the image of Larry Doomer. . ."
Doyle scanned the lounge critically. Everything was neat, just the way Bodie like: his partner would have no worries the following day. Grinning, Doyle recalled how the dinner-party had gone. The evening had been perfect, with a truce in operation between Gambit and Bodie, a suitable welcome home from the hospital.
Bodie had been surprised, and had made the effort to eat the food placed in front of him, but, three weeks on from the shooting, he still tired easily, and a discrete nudge from Purdey alerted Gambit to the fact that Bodie wouldn't hold out much longer. As soon as they could, the S.I.S. agents politely bid the C.I.5. men good night, and left. Doyle saw them out, before returning to tidy up.
Bodie was lying on the sofa, one arm thrown across his eyes. Doyle shook him gently from his doze, and sent him to bed.
"What about - " Bodie indicated the littered table.
"Leave it to me."
Doyle pushed him towards the bedroom. Bodie went, too weary to argue.
Doyle made short work of the chores. When he had finished, he checked his watch, shocked to find how late it was. He ought to go home, he knew: but equally, he felt he should stay. It was Bodie's first night out of the hospital. . .
A quick look showed that his partner was sleeping, curled on his right side. Doyle could see a bare arm and shoulder, but Bodie's face was in shadow, because the lamp was still on. Doyle tiptoed across and turned it off. He lingered at the bedside, watching for a few minutes . . .
Bodie and Larry Doomer.
Doyle had had three weeks to get used to the idea that his partner had gone to bed with another man. He accepted it now, but it didn't stop the pang of jealousy every time he thought of Doomer holding Bodie - touching him, loving him. . .
Had Bodie been fit, Doyle would've beaten the shit out of him for letting it happen. . .
He sobered swiftly: had Bodie not been shot, he would never have found out . . .
Face it, he told himself, Bodie is MY partner, and I resent anyone meaning more to him than I do. What did Doomer have that I don't?
Bodie rolled over whimpering, lost in some dream.
Doyle sat on the edge of the mattress and stroked back a straying lock of dark hair.
"He'll shoot you - "
Dreaming of Doomer, Doyle assumed bitterly.
"Come with me, Ray. . . We belong together. . ." Bodie shifted under the caress, seeking more contact. "Love. . ."
"Shh, I'm here," crooned Doyle. "It's okay now, Bodie."
Bodie wriggled closer so that his face was pressed against his partner's denim-clad thigh, and he settled under Doyle's touch.
Doyle eased down the mattress a little, and leaned over to brush his lips lightly against Bodie's temple. He kicked off his boots, and unbuttoned his shirt.
Bodie slept on.
There was a murmur as Doyle got off the bed to finish stripping, but a soothing finger traced over his forehead silenced the protest.
When he was naked, Doyle padded round to the other side of the bed and slid between the sheets, running a tentative hand over his partner's shoulder and ribs, half-afraid Bodie would wake. Cautiously, he explored lower, coming to rest at Bodie's thigh.
There was a deep contented sigh, then Bodie rolled over, and burrowed close, demanding to be held. He wasn't disappointed.
Doyle wrapped his arms round the newly-healed body, and breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whichever deity had kept his friend from dying. He closed his eyes for just a moment. . .
The sound of the dawn chorus brought him round. Bodie was snug in his arms, sleeping peacefully. Doyle cuddled him gently for the sheer pleasure of it.
You're right, he told Bodie silently, we do belong together. Think I've always known it, deep down. I'm sorry that it took nearly losing you to realise. If I'd been honest, I would have admitted it to myself when you came back from Major Nairn's op.
Would you have listened to me then, if I'd told you how much I missed you? Would you have said anything, about Doomer? Probably not.
Would you WANT to be involved with me? Loving Doomer had almost cost Bodie his sanity, and Doyle couldn't make any promises for the future. It was down to Bodie to choose. . .
The dark head moved against his chest, and Doyle slid his fingers into the silky hair, combing gently. Bodie took a deep breath and woke, raising his sleepy head and blinking at the man who held him still.
Doyle drew him into a kiss, setting his mouth against his partner's.
"Ray?" Bodie tried to push away, confused, unhappy.
"Larry Doomer is dead," Doyle reminded him softly. "Will I do?"
Bodie couldn't believe that he wasn't still dreaming. Everything he wanted being offered to him so - casually. He remembered that first morning when he had woken up with Doomer . . .
"Bodie?" Doyle called him back from his memories. "If you don't want to, just say so, and I'll leave."
"I do want - " Bodie whispered. "I lov - " He stopped, terrified that he's said too much, and that it would be all snatched away.
Doyle kissed him once more.
"That's good, because I found out that I feel the same about you. Must've done for quite a while now. I'm just sorry that you had to get so badly hurt before I could admit how much you mean to me."
Bodie's mind was spinning - he couldn't think of anything beyond his partner's unexpected, often-wished-for, never-dreamed-of confession. He settled tentatively against Doyle, unsure of how much he was being offered. The heart that beat beneath his cheek was pounding. He rubbed his face against the sparsely furred chest.
"Daft sod," Doyle teased tenderly, as he hugged Bodie closer still.
Bodie heaved a contented sigh: Larry had had no time for affection or friendship. His relationship with Doyle had been founded on both - already they had the makings of something special. . .
Doyle felt the tension drain from the body that covered his, and knew that Bodie had fallen asleep again. He smiled at his soon-to-be-lover: this was hardly the most romantic start to an affair, he decided, and he would have words with Bodie about it. . . just as soon as he woke. Then, glancing down at the man who lay so peacefully in his arms, he sighed, and closed his own eyes. They would have a lot to talk about - later. . .
-- THE END --