by Brenda K
At least he's on time.
As I go to answer the door, I still don't know why I agreed to see him when he phoned this afternoon. It's gone through my mind a dozen times since he called that I should have told him to go elsewhere. I didn't, so I'm stuck with him now.
I'm definitely getting older and not much wiser as time passes. The man could be a psychotic sociopath inclined to violence for all I know, but something in the way he spoke made me doubt that. He has a pleasant voice, although I could hear both strain and diffidence in it.
Usually, I try to make the best of my patients, who are mainly rich, spoiled women and their equally rich, stupid and often unfaithful husbands. Women with divorces, lovers and other such problems. Often utterly bored with their shallow lives and obsessed with the major decisions they have to take. Would it really be worth selling the Volvo to get a Land Rover? As if I cared.
Then this Doyle man goes and calls when I'm wallowing in self-pity because I'm a sixty-year old psychologist who doesn't give a damn any more. At a time when all I seem to do is take cash from well-manicured fingers and listen to people with petty little problems.
I'm old, a little disillusioned and I'm as bored as they are. What's more, my son and his family are in Australia and I miss them like hell.
He stands on my doorstep looking as though he's not the only one having second thoughts, but he does rake up a smile from somewhere and I manage to offer one back. We're sizing each other up.
What does he see? A fairly well preserved woman in a rather expensive suit and discreet jewellery, showing an extremely neutral manner. He doesn't see the boredom, or the loneliness, because that's too well hidden.
As for myself, I'm looking at a young man with a mop of curls and green eyes that are quite remarkable except for dark rings round them. He's dressed in a way that at best could be called casual. Young, I suppose, is relative. He must be in his mid-thirties or so.
As I show him in, I wonder why he was so insistent to see me at seven-thirty tonight and even more adamant that next week was no good at all. Wife or girlfriend problems? I don't know why, but I don't think so. Work problems? Maybe.
I always wonder what brings a patient to see me when I first set eyes on them. It's like a game and I'm often right. Mind, my usual gaggle of women wearing too much makeup and dressed up to the nines for their appointments with me frequently present me with an entire shopping list of problems, not just one. It's like a sort of one-upmanship. The more pretexts for having a psychologist the better, it would seem. Sometimes it's a long way from how I imagined my profession, or indeed how it used to be.
For a moment, I'm glad I didn't go for a cosy, feminine look to my consulting room as that would probably frighten him off. I'm starting to decide I don't want him to turn and run after all. He looks pale and there's a haunted look in those remarkable eyes that's reaching out to me. A rare event indeed.
He looks around and frowns.
"Am I supposed to lie on that thing?" His tone is more embarrassed than aggressive.
I explain that some of my patients like to have a couch, but that it's just up to him. He immediately sits on the chair opposite my desk, reading my diplomas because it's easier than meeting my eyes. As far as that goes, he's not much different from some of the others who come here for the first time.
I wait for him to speak and wait longer than I'm used to, while the expressions on his face range from stubborn to impatient to just plain tired. Then he lets out a short sigh and starts talking about confidentiality. When he finally looks me in the eyes I see a sort of desperation there.
"Confidentiality is taken as read, Mr. Doyle. I presume you've never seen a psychologist before?"
"No. Yes." He pauses. "Well, there's this woman at work - a psychiatrist."
"Have you talked to her about what's on your mind?"
"No. She's... connected to work. It wouldn't be a good idea."
I digest that while I ask him the usual details, but he doesn't seem very happy about it. He's a civil servant, he says. The address? Again, he hesitates and I remind him that I don't exactly publish lists of my patients in the local paper. He grins a bit at that and confesses he lives in the building opposite.
"More a case of whoever was nearest than a recommendation, then," I murmur, not unkindly. He's honest enough to nod. He might as well know I'm not entirely stupid.
I'm about to ask him what brings him here when he suddenly tells me doesn't want any sort of drugs. Hypnosis is out, too, apparently. I raise my eyebrows and am about to explain a few things about the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist when he shakes his head.
"I'm sorry. This probably isn't a good idea."
"That's just up to you, Mr. Doyle."
"Yeah." He drops his eyes to the desk and thinks for a moment or two. Then he starts to speak, flatly and factually, obviously having decided to go ahead.
He works for CI5, he says. In the field. Have I heard of them?
I nearly tell him I'm not entirely senile, but think better of it, as he's getting into his stride now. I nod.
He sees violence and killing all the time, he says, voice a little more emotional suddenly, and now he's losing sleep over nightmares.
Now we're getting somewhere. If he's expecting me to look shocked, though, he'll be disappointed.
"A lot of the squad get them. Miss Ross - that's the psychiatrist we have - even said it was normal. I've had a few iin the past, but only now and then after a difficult job. We're supposed to be able to deal with them, apparently. I thought I had until now."
He sounds bitter and frustrated. This is somebody who doesn't like admitting to weakness.
He's brief and to the point again. His partner was nearly blown up a couple of weeks earlier, with explosives strapped to his chest. He wasn't, though, because he, Doyle, had run after him and ripped them off, with seconds to spare. No, it wasn't heroics, he half-grins before I say anything - which I didn't intend to - but his partner would have done the same thing.
He stops for a moment, waiting to see what I'll say, so I offer the logical conclusion.
"And you dream you don't get there in time?"
He nods. He dreams it over and over again. They've been partners for years, trust each other. Watch each other's back. Apparently the fact that his partner's cover was broken and this all happened is Doyle's fault - there was some sort of a faked shootout where he gave the game away and his partner was taken hostage. His eyes meet mine again, troubled.
"I'm losing sleep. Getting sloppy. I don't think Bodie's noticed much so far, but he soon will. I invented a stomach bug this afternoon," he admits, sheepishly. "So I've got three days off - tomorrow plus the weekend. I need to get over this, or I'll either lose my job or get somebody killed."
I'm starting to understand.
So you're expecting me to come up with a cure by Monday?"
He has the grace to give me a rueful grin. At least he's honest.
"And this psychiatrist at work? Isn't she there for this kind of thing?"
"Yeah. Well, if you knew Miss Ross... she'd have me by the b... - sorry, she'd probably react rather strongly."
He stops short and I can't help myself smiling.
"Asking a lot, aren't I?" he says, almost to himself.
He is, but I'm intrigued. Whoever this Ross woman is, he doesn't like her much. His partner, however, he likes a lot. And at this moment, he's awash in guilt and self-recrimination, he admits quietly.
I find myself interested. Really interested, for once. He's already analysed the whole thing himself, to some extent. When I point this out he says, with a wry twist to expressive lips, that he's had enough psychological assessments for his job to last him a lifetime. He's surprised at himself for subjecting himself to more, he says, but he couldn't see any other way out.
I, in turn, am inwardly surprised at myself for genuinely wanting to help someone who is - for me - such an unusual patient.
I remain silent, waiting to see what comes next.
He tells me that he has a hard time accepting the violence, but that he's good at what he does. I don't doubt that, somehow. He may look slightly built and a little on the bohemian side, but behind that is a highly perceptive mind and probably a remarkable level of physical fitness. A body tells its own tale and Ray Doyle is like an alley cat on the prowl, albeit a tired and mixed-up one.
Suddenly, he's talking in less abrupt phrases, less factually, letting long fingers express his feelings as he speaks. I watch, fascinated, as he starts to turn from factual to more abstract ways of repeating what he's told me.
It's all about making a difference, he says, even though sometimes it feels like losing an ongoing battle. But now he's scared he can't carry on, because he nearly let his partner down. The fact that he's tired and below par, as he puts it, is becoming dangerous. A session with this Miss Ross - who he not only dislikes but who, as he so bluntly puts it, "scares him shitless" - is out of the question. So he's decided to come and see me in the hope that he can patch himself up mentally. That way he might just avoid failing his next assessments, be able to keep the whole thing under wraps and above all keep watching his partner's back.
Well, at least he's admitted he needs help, and the entire trendy "my analyst" aspect is light years from his mind. Now that he's opening up, I find myself thinking furiously of how to take things from here.
Eventually, he stops and looks at me again. "Can you help me? Or would I be better to quit my job now, if I'm losing it?"
"That's jumping the gun", I point out and he grins at the allusion.
And then it's my turn to start asking some questions.
The time goes by quickly for once. When I look over at the clock it's after nine and Doyle notices as I do so. He looks embarrassed, suddenly, and apologises for keeping me. I wave that away, most uncharacteristically, as he gets to his feet.
"Can I come back? Tomorrow?"
"If you would like to. Same time?"
"You're on." He grins.
For the first time in years, I spend every spare moment of the next day researching. I look at post-traumatic reactions, male interaction, male bonding, nightmares and everything else I can think of. I even come across a couple of articles by a Ross. K. that capture my attention. She's factual and interesting on paper and seems to be an expert at all I'm facing with Ray Doyle. She is almost certainly more qualified to handle this sort of case than I, at least these days, but then Doyle can't bring himself to take his problems to her. I find I'm rather glad he didn't.
In fact, I shave minutes off some of my regulars and find myself concentrating on them even less than usual.
Doyle arrives on time, looking a little less strained. He tells me even before he sits down that he had a better night's sleep, and thanks me.
This time our session is just as long, but he's starting to respond to the line I'm taking.
He isn't too happy talking about his childhood. He even tries to steer me off it, making a few comments about that being irrelevant, adding that he knows "you psychologists love to relate everything to that." I don't comment, digging a little deeper and slowly he thaws again slightly.
He's starting to analyse his needs and reasons for doing the job in words, realising - as I do, listening to him - that they are complex and full of paradoxes. He loves it and fears it, as he once loved and feared his parents. He wants to be accepted, yet he's a loner, rarely finding a soul mate. He thinks about it all too much, or maybe not enough. He despises violence, yet he's an expert at it. He'd like to shut off his feelings and his conscience as completely as his partner does at times, but he can't.
So we move almost imperceptibly on to his partner, this famous Bodie, and he finds it hard at first to express his feelings about their relationship. I don't push him and slowly he finds the words. Partnership. Friendship. Understanding. Sharing, but with limitations. They're men and there are some things men don't talk about, he tells me. Then there's admiration, mixed with a little frustration and a touch of disdain. He looks surprised at himself when he slowly comes to a halt.
Once again, it's late and this time he forgets to be embarrassed about it. He reminds me he has another two days off work and looks at me hopefully.
"Do you work Saturdays?"
I do now.
Saturday evening comes almost too quickly, because I've been delving deeper into all the journals and books I've amassed but so blithely tossed aside for years. I skim through articles from cases concerning fighting men of all kinds. I read about the army, the police, hostages... the jargon's a whole new ball game these days from what it used to be, but not so long that I can't remember some of my first cases. I'd only just qualified when the war ended - but it suddenly feels like yesterday.
When he arrives, he looks even better than he did the previous day and I feel I might be achieving something. The lines of strain are less marked and even something in his walk looks a little more relaxed. The prowling alley cat is a bit more like a self-assured tomcat today, but the wariness isn't far beneath the surface.
Today, I gently steer the conversation towards women. He's slightly diffident about discussing his sex life and keeps giving me quizzical glances with those rather unsettling green eyes. I'm tempted to tell him that being sixty doesn't mean I'm either ignorant or over the hill, but don't.
Again, after a while, he relaxes. He enjoys women, does Ray Doyle, but his job and his hours don't help much. He has no problems finding a girlfriend, but plenty keeping one. They don't take kindly to being let down regularly, nor to seeing him either exhausted, injured or simply absent. They never understand what he does and besides, he can't talk about it much.
"I've got a lousy temper sometimes, as well," he admits. "Can be moody at times, as well. Bodie's about the only one who puts up with it. He can even be a proper nursemaid. He cares..."
So we go back to his partner again.
Bodie, apparently, looks after him when he's hurt or when he's feeling down. Bodie is good at coping with violence and is more of a happy-go-lucky type, better at staying detached from it all. Doyle admires all that, adding that maybe it comes from a colourful past as an ex-mercenary, not to mention a spell in the merchant navy and the paratroopers. It's a past filled with experiences that are often in sharp contrast to Doyle's years as a copper and yet there are parallels, too.
This leads Doyle to pull himself up and defend his own compassion and skills and explains how the he and Bodie complement each other. Then there's another swing back to his shortcomings as he tells me, once again, that he let Bodie down.
There, I stop him.
This is tricky. I draw on all I've read and all I've done, nudging and prodding and then let him go over it again. He weighs up a thing or two, thinking at times and talking at others. Suddenly his self-condemnation slides further into the background and he's starting to see a great deal of things in a more balanced perspective.
Finally, he leans back in the chair, grinning openly and pointing to the clock. It's nearly ten.
I glance at it, surprised myself.
"I'm sorry." He looks as though he means it. "But thanks. It feels - better. Now I've put it into words."
"I'm glad," I say, then add with just a touch of irony. "Apparently that's what we psychologists are here for."
"Tell that to Dr. Ross," he says, bitterly. He doesn't feel any differently about her, it seems.
He runs a hand through his hair, then shakes his head.
"I know you don't work Sundays. So I suppose this is it."
I consider this for a minute. Much as I'd be happy to see him, he's got to go and work it out now. I think he's finally on the right track, but he needs to find a way of staying on it.
"Why don't you come back in a couple of weeks? Tell me how you're getting on?"
"I'd like that." He smiles again, face suddenly taking on the boyish look that's been slowly creeping through. The green eyes are full of life, now.
We make a date and he rises to go.
On the way out, he looks at the photographs on the table in the hall.
I nod. "My son. He's in Australia. Moved out there for his work."
Why did I tell him that?
"You know what it's like to be lonely, then, as well."
Considering he's been the one we've been working on, I'm more than surprised at that remark. Not stupid, this young man. His own loneliness is one of the keys to it all and he's recognised that along with a lot of other things. Bodie fills a void in his life and his death from those explosives would not only have left Doyle very much alone but the guilt would have been overwhelming.
If and when something does happen to Bodie, though, it occurs to me that this could shatter the composure and balance he's carefully building up right now, particularly if there's no-one else around to care about this remarkably complex character. Right now, though, Bodie offers him stability and cares for him amid what is obviously a lonely, hard profession.
I find myself wishing I had a Bodie of my own.
I'm actually looking forward to our next appointment and often wonder how he's handling the jumble of emotions inside him. Now that I know he lives opposite, I catch sight of him going in and out just occasionally, my eyes drifting to the window while I'm listening to the latest in a long line of trivia. I realise I'm hard on some of these women and try to concentrate on them, feeling a little guilty at my neglect.
One day I see him get out of a gold Capri and go into his flat with a slightly taller, heavier-built man. The very way they react to each other - even seen from across the road - spells complicity. They're laughing and joking and all seems well with the world.
The night he's due, however, he doesn't appear at seven-thirty and I feel oddly disappointed. Nearly an hour later, the doorbell rings and when I open the door, he's standing there looking like a ghost.
All the lines of strain are back and in surprise I see blood on his collar. As he starts apologising that he's been on a job and couldn't let me know he'd be late or unable to come, I realise he's swaying on his feet, voice thick with exhaustion.
I hold the door open and steer him not into the consulting room but into my living room. He stares at me, frowning.
"You look like something the cat brought in," I tell him, not unkindly and he nods, absently, watching me walk over to the drinks cabinet.
"You don't have to see me now," he says, not very convincingly, but there's something in his eyes that tells me that he needs company of some sort, even if it's mine. I don't react with words, but pass a couple of fingers of whisky over, point to a chair and then pour one for myself.
He takes a swallow, slowly, then puts the glass down.
"Thanks. I was only coming to ask for another appointment... I was just on my way home. I should have phoned but I saw your light on."
He's lonely all right.
"So you didn't even have that looked at?" I indicate the ugly-looking welt on the side of his neck that has bled onto his shirt.
He starts to shake his head and obviously regrets it and without bidding starts to speak. They've been after somebody who had a contract out on an innocent man with a cause - one that disturbed some dangerous people - and they'd finally got those who were behind it. He doesn't give me any details, of course, but I can see he needs to talk and needs it badly.
As is often the case, there have been deaths. One of them is from their own squad - and that's upset him a lot.
"He was just a kid. It was a stupid bloody cock-up."
I can see the pain in his eyes and his voice shakes a little. Instinct wants me to comfort him, but I let him talk, because there's more. Two stupid kids went joyriding in a car they stole - a car that had an unconscious Ray Doyle in its boot - and crashed it. They died when the car exploded. Doyle shudders, reaching for the glass again.
He glances up and sees me raise my eyebrows, but he's still talking. A girl was murdered, too - probably not as innocent as she could have been, but she hadn't deserved to be killed for it.
His voice trails off and he drinks some more. He's sickened by it all and he closes his eyes. Probably re-living it all just as he re-lived his partner's desperate situation a few weeks before.
I start wondering to myself why the famous partner who nursemaids him isn't with him or hasn't been around for him to talk to. I ask if he's been working with Bodie on this and he tells me he's been on his own, at least until the final act. This leads him to answer my unspoken question.
Bodie has made some sort of throwaway, stupid comment about the dead girl and Doyle can't come to terms with his partner's lack of compassion somehow. Not this time. So after it was all over, he'd stopped off only to pick up his own car at HQ and driven home.
I refill his glass.
He's hurting - physically and mentally - and Bodie has let him down. He doesn't say so, but it's in his eyes as he opens them again. He takes another sip of the whisky, leaning back against the cushions and sighs.
"No more nightmares, though. I wanted to tell you that, at least."
I nod, slowly, sipping my own drink. "Good."
"Unless I start dreaming about car boots and cars exploding in flames. But I don't think so." It's a weak attempt at a joke and falls flat. He looks gaunt and ill. I think he'd be better in bed before long and tell him so.
He acknowledges that, drains the glass and makes to stand, but his legs aren't too co-operative about it for a moment or two and he grabs onto the chair, trying to disguise it but failing. He's fine, he assures me. Just the alcohol and the tiredness, plus the bang on the head... nothing he's not seen before.
Even so, I follow him to the door and then out of it. He looks at me in surprise.
"You should have said you were going out. Went and spoiled your evening, now."
No, he hasn't. But I'm not going to be responsible for him passing out on his way up to his own flat, I inform him. He gives me another of those strangely expressive looks and grins slightly.
He winces as he gets into the lift in his block of flats, although he tries to hide it. I mention that lying unconscious in a car boot probably isn't the most pleasant of experiences and he even chuckles. He doesn't pass out, for which I'm grateful, but he looks dead on his feet and extraordinarily vulnerable.
As he puts his key in the lock he tenses, hand flying under his jacket and the gun out almost before I notice. He glances at me, the eyes different again - a cat ready to attack, all claws ready to strike - and motions at me to get back against the wall.
He looks very dangerous indeed. I obey, instantly.
One slim hand slowly turns the handle - I can see him out of the corner of my eye, my heart beating painfully fast. He's about to fling the door open, gun up and ready, when it jerks open and he stumbles forward. I freeze, waiting for a shot to be fired and look away in horror.
"What the fuck?"
I don't recognise the voice, but I look around instinctively and do recognise the face. This has to be Bodie, who I've only seen once, from across the street. Doyle is slumped against the bigger man's shoulder. For a second, I fear he finally has passed out, or is close to it, but he quickly straightens up.
The first thing I notice is the man's eyes, whose deep blue frowning gaze is torn between myself and Doyle. Doyle finally speaks, gun dangling now. He sounds surprised and angry and pleased all at the same time.
"You bloody stupid prat... I could have shot you."
"Nah. You still know the difference between me'n the bad guys, sunshine."
Bodie is still looking at me, frowning, as Doyle turns round, remembering I'm there. Somehow, I gather my wits.
I start to twitter about Doyle offering to check my locks, adding that I'm his neighbour and since he's in security or something it had seemed a good idea. Except that when he'd come round as promised he'd not been feeling well.
Doyle's eyes widen in astonishment, which is rapidly replaced by gratitude. So I babble on, repeating myself. I've heard plenty of that in my time to know how.
"I'm Hannah - Hannah Nicolson from across the way ... he was feeling a bit dizzy so I thought I'd come up with him - make him a cup of tea..."
Doyle's eyes twitch with mirth now as he catches on to my game, but he's quickly in control, sliding the gun back where it came from and motioning to Bodie to do the same.
I turn to go, not quite sure if I need to churn out any more inane comments.
Bodie is solicitous now, explaining to this dear little old neighbour that he works with Doyle and was worried about him. He'd seen the Capri parked outside, but when there was no answer he'd let himself in, since he had a key. He'd wondered where Doyle had got to, and had decided to wait for him.
I'm delighted he did.
"So come in and let's have that cuppa."
Definitely a charmer, this one. I hate tea, but meekly I take a couple of steps forward. Bodie is looking at Doyle, who goes over to sprawl on the sofa, weariness still there but relief, too. The anger has vanished and both men have relaxed completely from the scene only seconds before.
Bodie tells me to sit down while he puts the kettle on, then wonders if I'd like something a bit stronger.
I would, but I'm not going to say so. Doyle will be out cold if he has much more. And damn me if I can't resist a chance of observing this famous partner for a little longer.
"Tea would be lovely."
The hard part is going to be playing the little old lady scared of her own shadow, but I started it and have only myself to blame. Besides, it's in a good cause.
Bodie is still looking at Doyle, who grins ruefully.
"I told... " Doyle pauses a second, then remembers, "Hannah..."
Good. He only fumbled it slightly.
"... I was feeling a bit off colour. She's as bad as you, Bodie. Fussing."
"Yeah. Well. Had a bit of a bad day, didn't you." Bodie grins, pats Doyle's shoulder absently and heads for the kitchen.
Doyle manages to mouth a "thank you" and I return it with a wink before Bodie returns with painkillers and a glass of water, pointedly waiting until Doyle swallows them down.
The tea is produced, and I offer a few more disjointed phrases about armed burglars and violence in general. I'm rather enjoying this role after all. Mustn't overdo it, though.
"Want me to have a look at your locks, love, while he's taking it easy for a bit?"
Oh, dear. Serves you right for overdoing it, Hannah. One look at my discreet brass plate on the door and the game's up. I assure him I wouldn't dream of it, insisting it's not urgent at all and can wait until Doyle is feeling better.
Doyle has tensed a fraction at Bodie's offer, but it dissolves again as he breaks into a relieved grin, out of Bodie's range of vision.
I scuttle away, flatly refusing offers of being walked to my door and giving Doyle instructions to look after himself. Bodie assures me that he'll make sure of that, and I'm absolutely certain he will.
As I leave them, Doyle is starting to look like a contented, domesticated cat after a bowl of cream.
Back home, I feel ridiculously pleased with myself as I settle back for another good shot of whisky. Bodie's got a protective streak all right. Doyle might like to pretend to him - and the world - that he doesn't need looking after, but his eyes tell a different story. Both Bodie and I know different.
For once, I sleep soundly. I don't have nightmares, but I do dream about my son.
When I wake, I start thinking of going to Australia - at least for a visit. Maybe it's time to admit to my son the loneliness I feel and to do something about it. Time to rediscover what caring and being cared for is all about.
Bodie and Doyle, in their own way, have found it. Now it's my turn.
-- THE END --