by Brenda K
I don't say it loudly, because Steff has ears like an eagle. Or an elephant. Or whatever Doyle used to tell me it was.
It's that music again. Coming to add to the morose mood that's coming over me in waves.
"You were young once, Bodie."
My wife has that 'I am not amused look' on her face. She heard me, then.
"Yeah, I was. But I'm not any longer."
She ignores me, having heard this before.
So what's wrong with trying to get some peace late on a Sunday afternoon, and why are teenagers totally incapable of listening to music without super-mega-bass and what have you? I bought her earphones, for Christ's sake.
Thump. Thump. Giggles. Okay, so she could be hanging around street corners picking up blokes instead of listening to music with a mate - female - from school.
Be thankful for small mercies, Bodie.
Teenage daughter. Pouring rain. Boredom. I feel like taking something out on somebody, but even that seems like too much trouble.
"Bodie, stop brooding. And that doesn't mean eyeing up what's in the fridge, either."
"So what's new?"
I give her the pathetic look. It usually brings her around a bit, but she's not even watching. Too busy rattling away at the computer keyboard.
"What you writing?" I say, trying to show interest. I can't hear the telly, my stomach thinks my throat's cut, and it looks as though rain's going to stop play in Liverpool anyway. Perfect.
"Nothing you'd like," she says mildly. "You said you don't like what you kindly called 'that psycho-babble stuff'".
Okay. Enough said. It's just that she has to go and analyse her characters until you can virtually see any of them as being budding schizophrenics. They're all repressed or have Dark Secrets or they're agonising about love and marriage and stuff. The one time I did look at one of her stories, I really blew it. I went to sleep. Then she sulked for days.
The hell of it is, she reminds me of Doyle sometimes, although she most certainly didn't when I popped the question. Doyle had waggled that irritating finger of his now and then when we were first going out and said she was a closet intellectual, but I admit I'd been more interested in the... well, in other sides of her nature. But he'd liked her, which had helped.
The mega-bass and this nasal voice drones on and on and I feel like fetching earplugs and putting my feet up.
But I don't. I sit and brood, wishing things were different - at least with Doyle.
No regrets, they don't work.
I promised myself that when I finally quit CI5 and again when the two of us broke off diplomatic relationships.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Bodie. Just look at you."
I'd rather not, thanks. I sort of gave that up for Lent. Besides, this is usually Steff's cue for a running commentary on my paunch (which is of course a wild exaggeration), the grey hairs on my chest (only a few) and the fact that physical exercise doesn't get too much of a look-in any more.
I try the glowering look and defiantly fetch a beer, daring her to comment. Then I pick up the remote and flick channels, wondering if anything can drown out the banshee screaming coming from upstairs.
Great. Re-runs of Starsky and Hutch. Steff rolls her eyes.
Okay, so say it. I'm a big soft kid that never grew up. Gone to seed.
She does - at least the big soft kid bit - but I'm not listening any more, watching the two guys make a total cock-up of a shoot-out. But Hollywood forgives where real life doesn't.
Suddenly, I'm back in the eighties, running around playing the big shot with a nice shiny gun. It wasn't all like that, I know, but Doyle was with me.
Shit, I miss him. I often think we were having the time of our lives, but then I admit that for the last couple of years I've only been thinking about the good parts anyway.
No regrets? Who am I kidding?
It pisses me off that we never see each other, Doyle and I. But Steff can't stand Olivia, Doyle's... companion, as he always introduces her. I thought she was okay, to be honest, but Steff said she was a stuck-up, self-opinionated cow.
They don't have kids, and Doyle's still running around playing the hero - albeit deskbound - back at the Met. Of all the things, I didn't think he'd go back there, but he did. I expect he's still saving the world from itself and I suppose Olivia's saving whales or pandas or something.
We had one, huge, godawful row one night - must be twelve years ago. Doyle was in a filthy temper - which was nothing new - and I suppose I was being condescending. Worse, the ladies were there and compared to our snarling, they went at it like fishwives.
Worse still, I can't even remember what it was really about.
What I do remember was that it was a bad time - the company was struggling, Steff had just got Linda over measles or something, and Doyle was on a tough case. Olivia, at the time, was sitting in trees and preserving England's heritage.
Now I think about it, I do remember. It was the trees versus childbearing that really got things going, and then there was that final, magnificent cut-and-thrust. Olivia accusing the Bodie family of caring more about deep pile carpets than innocent saplings, and Steff retorting that Olivia should try and handle a kid with a temperature and a part-time 'real' job before being quite so intense about eating sodding bean curd and hand-dying her skirts.
Ouch. Even thinking about it makes me go and fetch another beer from the huge, American-style fridge in the spotless kitchen, cleaned twice a week by our friendly Portuguese cleaning lady.
Things have changed hereabouts, and I wonder what Doyle is doing now. I do that about ten times a week.
The grapevine says he's respected. If he's got his temper in check, I don't doubt it for a minute. He's way too proud to make the first move and call me - even if he wanted to. And I suppose I just couldn't be bothered at first. Initially because I was fighting so hard to make a living and later because I was too scared. Time had suddenly slipped past.
I made plenty of money in the meantime, though, and invested it wisely. These days my security company doesn't really need me except as a figurehead. People run it, it makes a fortune, so I do other things. Like making even more money from the contacts I once had. And being a slob on Sunday evenings.
I'm lucky. Just that there's something missing and it won't go away. I don't even like admitting to myself what it is.
Steff spent a few years 'finding herself', she said, after giving birth to a daughter, giving up secretarial work and dabbling in fitness clubs - and seeing me rake in the means to keep her in luxury. Okay, she's fit and trim and happy, and basically doesn't really need me any more except for a few basic needs, like cash and sex. I think she's faithful, but I suppose I wouldn't blame her if she wasn't.
She's nice, Steff. I suppose she frightens me a bit with the writing, but I suppose I don't blame her. I didn't give her much time when we were younger, so I can't really complain now if she's busy and fulfilled and whatever else makes women tick.
What makes me tick? I really don't know. Doyle used to try and figure that one out, and he got uncomfortably near the truth now and then. A hedonist. An opportunist. I used to tell him that at least I didn't bear the guilt of the world on my shoulders. And we'd end up laughing - most of the time.
Oh, wow. Starsky's been shot, and Hutch is bending over him, obviously panicking.
Been there, sunshine. Thought I'd lost Doyle like that as well, and it wasn't just a question of ending the day's shoot and going back to those chairs with your name on while they write a bit more of the script.
I sigh, heavily. Look at the empty beer bottle and wish another one would materialise from the fridge.
I stir myself.
She swivels round suddenly, and looks at me.
"You've been doing a lot of that lately."
What am I supposed to say? Deny it? She's living her own life. Linda's sprouted curves and discovered boys, and I'm bored and pissed off.
"Can we talk?"
Oh, God. I hate that little phrase. Usually, I fold the newspaper deliberately into a neat oblong, cross my arms, and look at her so intently she dries up immediately. So I try it.
"Not going to work, Bodie. I mean it."
"Bodie, I've done something behind your back."
I don't even look surprised, because I'm not. Funny thing is, she's grinning.
"Oh, it's not that, then?"
She actually laughs.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Bodie. I always told you I knew when I was onto a good thing, although I should have known your cholesterol instincts would get the better of you in the long run."
I stare at her, not particularly happy by the way this is going. What's she done, booked me into a health farm?
I ask, with a little trepidation.
"Well, it wouldn't hurt you. But no. I just want you to humour me and get changed. Shaved. We're going out."
"On a Sunday?"
"On a Sunday. You know I met this agent. For my stories..."
"You've got a publisher?" This is much better than carrot juice and exercise.
"Well no, not exactly. But I ran into somebody at the agency - an old friend who also writes, and she's invited us to dinner. Now I know you don't like the whole literary crowd..."
"Never met any of 'em, except this peculiar ex-bird of Doyle's once..."
"Well, this one's nice. A bit unusual, but I think you'd like her, and her boyfriend."
I would? Okay, I would. I'd make the effort.
Halfway through shaving, I have this horrible suspicion.
"She's not called Ann Holly, is she?"
Good. The idea of seeing her again wouldn't do much for me.
"And she's not into pandas and whales?"
"Not that I heard. She's more into accounting, actually."
Good again. That's another suspicion neatly put away.
Then it rises up again, uglier than ever. Steff is wearing that look.
"But it is Olivia, right?"
"Right. But she's changed. Like you have and I have."
"And you're going to tell me Doyle has, as well."
"I have no idea, Bodie. But you miss him like hell, and apparently it's the same for him. All this no regrets stuff you're always saying is just a bloody alibi."
I cut myself, and swear loudly. Look at myself in the mirror and don't like what I see. Instinctively, I pull my stomach in, square my shoulders, and Steff catches me through the open doorway, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"If it's any consolation", she says, "apparently Ray has short hair, wears glasses and suits and has been known to keep his temper for more than twenty-four hours at a stretch."
"Does he know it's us? That's going?"
"She was going to tell him, yes."
I'm caught between excitement and fear. Steff's still grinning.
A bit later, the telephone rings and I know almost before I pick it up that it's Doyle, to tell me not to bother.
It is Doyle, but he starts fairly neutrally.
Well of course it's me. I live here with two females, three cats and a goldfish, don't I? I'm about to use that as a retort, but think better of it.
"It doesn't matter," I say coolly.
"You thick-headed prat," he says cheerfully, and the years fall away. "I just thought you'd like to know how to get here. The ladies exchanged phone numbers, but I don't think Liv gave Steff the directions."
"Bodie, are you listening, or sulking?"
He hesitates, and then laughs. That rich, throaty, laugh I haven't heard for so long.
"OK, so I'm a prat as well. Hope you still like bean curd."
"You have to be bloody kidding. I'll call in at MacDonalds on the way."
"Nah. Clogs your arteries."
"They're already clogged," I say, in a rush of honesty. "Hey, Doyle, I was watching Starsky and Hutch this afternoon..."
"Yeah, so was I. And if we're prats, what are they?"
"Old as well. And probably also a bit thicker round the middle. And did you see the way they took that warehouse..."
"Bodie." Steff's voice cuts in sternly. "And they say women gossip. Get a move on."
I can hear Doyle chuckling on the other end, and growl at him.
"Downtrodden," he sighs. "Me too. But to be honest, no regrets. Well, maybe one. And if you can just get your act into gear..."
I put the receiver down, feeling myself grinning.
Steff looks like the cat that swallowed the cream, and she gives me a brief hug.
I nod, then a horrible thought hits me.
"Steff... you don't think they really eat bean curd, do you?"
She's about to answer me when the stereo starts thumping out again.
I glance over at my wife, grin at my child's door, and grab my jacket.
"I'll take my chances. Anything has to be better than this."
I almost jog down the stairs. Looking forward to hearing that laugh again in person and deciding I'm a lucky sod. Even if I'm the wrong side of fifty, my waistline isn't quite what it used to be and I'll never play Starsky to his Hutch again.
"Big soft kid. You're both as bad as each other. You're lucky to have me, you know. No regrets?"
"None," I tell her. And this time I mean it.
-- THE END --