(Another 'combination' story: Macklin, gun (and handcuffs too), gym.)

I think Macklin's losing it. Really I do. I'm not just some ignorant sidekick, and I do have eyes as well as muscles.

One of these days I'll have to talk to Cowley, or at least if things get much worse. In fact, I'd maybe have done it by now if it wasn't for my own little secret.

I'm scared Macklin would shop me or use it against me if I gave him away, if he knows about it. I don't want to end up in some sort of crappy fitness club working on flabby bodies and would-be weightlifters. Or worse.

I don't think he does know, but with Macklin you can never be sure. In any case, I've not risked packing anything risky in my bag for months, even for the longer jobs - ever since I realised what he was up to, in fact.

I suppose, really, I've decided he's as much entitled to his habits as I am, and am hoping that if he's discovered mine that he'll think the same way. So I've ignored the bottles of whisky and the little tubes of pills he stashes away and simply kept my nose clean.

I only came across them by accident. I'm not nosy, and I think he knows that after five years. One night, though, when he was out I twisted my ankle and I knew he had a first aid box in the cupboard.

When I found the stuff he'd hidden there, I decided I'd be better off hobbling. Like I said, I'm not stupid.

These days I've noticed that he's not even bothering to hide it as well as he once did - I've even seen a bottle among his clothes on this job, when he gets something out of his holdall. Sloppy, that. Almost as though he knows I know. Maybe he's even virtually flaunting it because he knows that I'm too scared to say anything, and why.

It's just that sloppy isn't like him. Hell, he even irons his T-shirts.

He's not sloppy about his work, at least. He still enjoys waving that knife around and doing his masochistic thing a bit too much for most people's liking, but then that's Macklin for you. His aim's still as good as it ever was and so are his combat skills, so you can't fault him on that. I've never even seen him drunk, either, or even high on those uppers, so he's careful about most things. Like me.

No, it's just... something about him that's changing and I think the booze is the result, not the cause.

He was looking gloomy just earlier, so I tossed in a most uncharacteristic 'you all right, boss?' without really thinking, and he just shot me one of those looks that say 'mind your own bloody business.'

I must say he's not the sort of guy you ask about his personal life at the best of times so I very rarely do, letting him to the talking when he feels like it.

With me, he's all right. Cool and distant and professional, and that suits me fine. So if I start asking too many questions now, it's only likely to make him smell a rat.

I make a mental note to be careful about that, too, and carry on thinking. What else is a guy supposed to do in a semi-derelict warehouse of an evening, eh?

At first, I thought it must be money or women behind it all, but over the last few days I've got another theory - not that philosophy's really my scene. Or is that psychology?

Deep stuff, anyway.

He always says he's doing all this for the good of the cause, helping Cowley's people stay alive. Lately, though, when he gives that carefully-rehearsed spiel of his about why he's here and not out there with the rest of them there's a weird glint in his eyes: one that looks a bit like he's angry and frustrated and has a chip on his shoulder like the rock of Gibraltar. Or has he always been like that and it's taken me until now to notice?

No, I'm not imagining it. I used to think he'd come to terms with this 'lost my nerve' stuff, but the more I think about it, I'm definitely a bit less sure these days.

He's always taken it personally every time one of the lads gets killed, as though every poor bugger who ends up pushing up daisies has let him down somehow. More recently, he even gets peculiar when he hears about one of them even getting hurt or having a close call, as though it's an insult to his skills.

I sigh, watching him over in the corner polishing that bloody knife of his. At least he hasn't drawn blood on either Bodie or Doyle this time. Not yet, anyway, although it's not for lack of trying.

I don't think he ever forgave Doyle for getting shot last year, for instance. If Macklin's reminded him to be on his guard and sharpen up on this job once, he's told him a dozen times.

I bet they'll be glad to get out of our tender care; Macklin seems even more obsessed with making them suffer than usual if that's possible, quite apart from all the warnings.

They're still good - very good, even. Sure, they're a bit older. Bodie's a shade thicker around the middle than he used to be and Doyle's probably skinnier than ever after the shooting, but what the years have taken away, experience has probably made up for.

They seem to read each other's minds, those two, as well. That's what gives them their edge as much as anything else, or at least that's my theory.

This time around, they've both been working with an icy calm, putting up with it all, even the usual hail of insults and jibes, with barely a word. Maybe they're getting wiser as well as older, although if anything it just makes Macklin even more determined to push them to the limits than ever.

Doyle in particular seems to be getting the worst of it. Bodie isn't exactly coming off lightly either really, although he's the one that seems to be stopping Doyle from losing that temper of his. I've seen him glancing over at his partner when it gets particularly nasty, as though he was warning him not to explode and encouraging him at the same time.

Neither of them seems overly impressed by Macklin's little speeches on sharpness any more, I must say. When we finished for the day, just earlier, he couldn't resist one last reminder, telling them that they'd thank him for it all afterwards. Although neither of them commented, Doyle's expression spoke volumes and Macklin didn't miss it.

Judging by the sight of them when I stuck my head around the door half an hour ago, seeing them sleeping the sleep of the utterly exhausted on two elderly mattresses, I decided they might be rather reluctant to express their undying gratitude for all this any time soon. Knowing Macklin, he'll have them up at dawn or before, so I don't blame them for kipping down this early.

"You want an hour off, Towser?" Macklin says suddenly. "Feel free. I can babysit."

Opportunities like this don't come often, so I nod. It's only just after ten, and a pint or two would be welcome. So would other things, but I hardly have time to indulge myself in such a short time even if I'd had anything with me.

Oh, well, only another couple of days to go, so for now I just head off to pick up some cash and leave the broken-down place with a sigh of relief.

The trouble is, the pub just down the road - the one that Bodie gave longing glances at during their runs until he was too tired to even care - is closed, so I'll have to take the motor if I'm going to get there before last orders. Stupidly, I didn't pick up my keys so I'll have to go back for them.

When I go back into the room that Macklin and I use I realise he's not there and there's only Bodie, snoring gently, in the other one. Strange, that. I thought the idea was to get rid of me so's Macklin could hit the booze in peace instead of waiting until he thinks I'm asleep. But no, when I check the bottle's where it usually is nowadays, tucked among the T-shirts in his bag and all but empty.

Where the hell are he and Doyle, then? Have they nipped out to the off-licence for supplies? Hardly. Hypocrite that Macklin is, he forbids anybody we're working on to drink anything but water or orange juice.

I'd better look for them. I feel uneasy about this for some reason and have a strong suspicion about what's going on. One of his little 'special sessions.' Those aren't new, but I think they'ree getting more frequent too.

I'm not wrong. They're over in the corner of what serves as a gym, fighting. Or rather Doyle's taking a bit of a pounding by the looks of it and doesn't look steady on his feet. The next punch tumbles him, and Macklin starts hurling insults.

This seems a bit off to me. He and Bodie already had a long day, finishing up with yet another run. Making them fit is one thing, but human bodies aren't machines. I'm not happy about this at all, and I'm very tempted to say something.

Should I? Will it be disastrous if I do?

At this rate, judging by the way he's going at Doyle, it's starting to look like it might be disastrous if I don't, so I step forward and Macklin catches my eye.

"Get out, Towser. Don't need you here."


"Out," he bellows as Doyle tries to get to his feet, sweat splashing from his hair onto the mat.


"'s okay," Doyle mutters, breathless, and I catch a glimpse of fury mixed with the obvious pain on his face. "Leave us to it, Towser."

"See?" Macklin says almost triumphantly, but his expression is weird. "Knows what's good for him, Doyle does. Nothing wrong with a little extra effort."

There's extra effort and bloody stupid ideas, I feel like telling him, watching Doyle finally get upright. He looks like shit.

I feel like breaking this up right now and head closer, but once again Doyle shakes his head, tensing as he faces Macklin.

They start over, and for a minute or two Doyle seems to be holding his own. He's good, Doyle. Always was, but right now he's exhausted and hurting, and it shows.

I watch, fascinated, but predictably enough he loses the upper hand again and Macklin sends a vicious chop to his solar plexus - one far harder than it needs to be - and he staggers.

Macklin glances across to me.

"He'll thank me, y'know. Now leave."

I'm not convinced, particularly when I see Macklin reach over to his towel and pull the knife out from under it. From the look in his eyes, I half think he'd use it on me if I tried to do anything.

I need to get Bodie, I realise, and cross the old building fast.

When I shake his shoulder, Bodie wakes immediately and groans.


I tell him, including a brief reference to the booze and the pills, and he frowns.

"Didn't hear a thing. You really think he's off his rocker? C'mon, let's go." Bodie's reaching into his bag as he speaks, and is on my heels as I rush back to where I came from.

Doyle's down again and Macklin's standing over him, grinning, hefting his knife from one hand to the other. I can't see any blood, at least.

"That's enough," Bodie says carefully. "Back off, Brian."

"Nah, we're not through yet."

"You're most definitely through," Bodie says, still quietly, but his gun's in his hand now. "Get over against the wall."

Macklin just laughs. It's a weird sound. He doesn't move.

"Drop the knife, Brian, and do it."

He does nothing of the sort, but turns on me, which I really don't expect.

"Stupid bastard, Towser," he snarls, fury on his face. "Can't leave well alone, can you? Looking for a fight yourself?"

He steps forward, and instinctively I know what's coming as he lunges at me.

Jesus, he's strong. I can smell the whisky on his breath, and he's waving that bloody knife. I don't like this one little bit.

In the past, he'd always win when the two of us were fighting, but this time he doesn't. I'm so bloody angry and scared I manage to get him to the floor, knocking the knife out of his hand at the same time.

By the time I've got him up against the piping, well away, Bodie's over by his partner. Doyle's not moving, which worries me. He's still lying where he was when we came in, in an untidy heap on the mat, face down.

"Towser," Macklin snaps at me, "let me go. This is part of the training, you arsehole."

"Not any more it isn't," Bodie says quietly as I kick the knife over to him. "I'm going to get on the blower and get an ambulance, then call Cowley and tell him what's happened."

"Doyle...?" I ask, my mouth dry.

"Out cold. You bastard, Macklin. What the hell were you playing at?"

Macklin shakes his head, sadly.

"Bloody useless, all three of you. What you going to do, Bodie? Shoot me?"

"Don't tempt me," he snaps back, still bending over Doyle who grunts and shifts.

Obviously relieved, Bodie takes a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket - thinks fast, he does. Didn't see him pick those up. I daren't loosen my grip on Macklin to go and get them yet, though, because it's taking me all my strength to keep him still, strong as I am.

"'Bout time, sunshine," Bodie says, relief making his voice gruff as Doyle comes round properly, wincing.

"'m all right," Doyle mutters thickly as Bodie helps him to sit up.

"'course you are," Bodie says cheerfully but giving his partner a close visual once-over all the same.

Doyle takes in the sight of me with Macklin in an armlock and then yelps as he shifts to get a better look, cradling his belly and ribs.

"Doctor, Ray," Bodie says, frowning at the tight face. "I'll call one."

"Don't need one, ta," Doyle says obstinately. "And typical. You lie there snoring while I get the crap beaten out of me, Bodie, and Towser just legs it."

Fair's fair. I remind Doyle that he did tell me to get out in no uncertain terms when I tried to put a stop to it just before.

"You did?" Bodie shakes his head at his partner and comes over with the handcuffs. "Prat. Put these on him, Towser."

Macklin, who's said nothing for a minute or two, seems to have admitted defeat so I let go of him and reach out for the cuffs.

He chooses that moment to make a break for it, and I don't see it coming, meaning if there's a prat around, it's me.

I find myself off balance and stumble as he pushes me against Bodie and we both topple.

Dammit, he's still as fast and as crafty as he ever was. Worse, I see his hand snake to his sock as he gets a few steps away and realise what's going on at the same time as Bodie does.

The bastard's got a second knife, and Bodie's gun's on the mat where he put it down to help Doyle. Bodie makes a dive for it and whirls.

He fires in the same millisecond that I see the knife flash, fly, faster than I can yell a warning. Doyle cries out in pain and surprise.

Then there's silence.

"Christ." Bodie speaks first as I take in the sight of Doyle with a knife in his left shoulder and Macklin on the ground with a hole in his chest. "Ray?"

"I'll live," Doyle says tightly, eyes closed.

Bodie spares Macklin the barest glance and goes to his partner. I go over to my boss, half-sure he's dead, but he isn't.

"Sloppy," he whispers to me. "I was sloppy."

Blood starts to trickle from his mouth. I stand there wondering what the hell I can say, and then he frowns at me.

"Towser," he gasps. "Careful. Don't ever let them know about you and your..."

Oh hell, he knows.

I'm finished.

He can't get the rest of the phrase out and his eyes close, but I know enough.

It's bad, I can see that, and I'm reaching for his pulse as Bodie calls to me.

"Phone for ambulances, Towser," he says crisply.

The phone's over in the corner behind a partition and I head towards it, fear making my heart thud.

I start to make the call and then hear Bodie change his order to one ambulance and one meat wagon just as I'm giving instructions.

"He's dead," he adds as I come back out again, and I half-wonder for a split second if he means Doyle and not Brian but no, Macklin's eyes aren't closed any more. They're staring up at nothing and Bodie's sitting beside his partner, propping him up against the mats.

I'm safe, I realise as relief washes over me. They won't find out about me now, but Jesus, what a mess.

Bodie mentions the booze and the pills, and this makes Doyle grimace. Then he bites his lip, swaying a bit against Bodie's shoulder but gets a grip again after a minute.

"Didn't see that coming," he mutters.

"Nobody did," Bodie says softly.

I take my tracksuit jacket off and Bodie nods thanks, getting it around his partner's shoulders but taking care to avoid the knife.

Doyle tells him to stop fussing, and tries a grin. "Good thing it wasn't a few inches lower, eh?"

Christ, Macklin wasn't actually aiming to kill, was he? Surely not, although Bodie suddenly looks shaken.

I was just going to admit I knew about the whisky before tonight, but this floors me.

"No," Doyle shakes his head, realising what his partner's thinking by the looks of it. "I'd prefer to think it was the sight of the handcuffs that put the wind up him and he panicked."

"Sure," Bodie says bitterly. "You'll be calling yourself sloppy next and say you should have ducked or I shouldn't have even tried to stop him. I did try to just wing him."

"He was moving too fast," Doyle says sympathetically. "Surprised you got 'im at all, but you didn't have much choice but to shoot, I'll give you that much. Not when you saw 'im going for the knife."

"Suppose so," Bodie sighs. "Although it does make me wonder if shooting him was the only thing that spoiled his aim this time. You know how good he is. Was. I think I hit him just as he threw it."

"Like I said, I think you're wrong, Bodie. And we're not gonna suggest anything different to the Cow. Right? Far as anybody's concerned, neither of you intended to do any serious harm."

"I wish I had hadn't damn well offed him, for what it's worth. Then we'd have maybe known."

"Don't you start doin' guilt as well," Doyle warns. "That's my speciality. You didn't have a choice. You'll beatin' yourself up for playing Sleepin' Beauty when he crept up on me and woke me up and dragged me in 'ere next. I'd have woken you up if I wanted to. Didn't mean it, what I said before."

Bodie flashes his partner a look that spells gratitude mixed with regret. Doyle's obviously reading his mind again.

It's strange seeing them both with their barriers down a bit, without the jokes and the banter. Then again, if you've got a knife sticking out of your shoulder or you've just shot your trainer I suppose that's hardly surprising.

"The Cow's gonna love this, though," Doyle mutters, changing the subject. "Shades of Barry. That's two of 'em who've lost it now. Better get on the bloody blower, Bodie, and tell 'im."

"In a minute. You going to pass out?"

"Course not."

"Sure? Come and prop him up, Towser, would you."

Doyle glares at him, although I wouldn't take any bets about the passing out stuff by the looks of him. He's swallowing hard and shivering now despite the bravado.

"I'm sorry", I say, unable keep quiet any longer although I've been too shaken to say anything earlier. "It's probably my fault as well. Should have said something sooner when I realised about the booze. I didn't expect him to make a break for it, either."

"Nah," Doyle says weakly, through chattering teeth. "I was daft enough to play 'is little game tonight, and Bodie was daft not to let me blow me top about stuff the last couple of days when I said 'e was actin' even odder than usual. Nobody expected him to react like that, so we were all daft. All blind. Right?"

Reluctantly, Bodie nods, still reflective.

"Got a point there."

"Course I have. So are you gonna call Cowley or hire a carrier pigeon?"

"On my way," Bodie sighs, starting to get up and beckoning me to take his place. Before I get there, though, Doyle starts to say something and finally keels over. Bodie grabs him, worry written all over his face.

I tell Bodie I'll go and call Cowley myself and he doesn't argue.

"Where's damn ambulance anyway?" Bodie snaps as I reappear.

As if on cue, I hear the sirens in the distance and warn him that wrath is also on its way in the form of an elderly Scotsman. I somehow think that's going to be my pleasure and mine alone once he gets here, as I can't see Bodie leaving Doyle.

We sit in silence for a minute.

"You know what's funny?" Bodie says suddenly. "We'll never know why now, but I could almost think he wanted me to shoot him or he wouldn't have thrown the bloody knife in the first place."

He could be right. I tell him about my theory about Macklin's frustration and he nods, looking down at Doyle in his arms. He looks sadder and more thoughtful than I've ever seen him.

"Sounds logical. Just a shame he chose Doyle when he finally came apart."

"He'll be all right," I say, trying to sound reassuring.

"Sure he will. Tough little bugger, he is." There's a trace of pride in his voice as well as affection. "Too soft for his own good about Macklin, though."

"He wasn't all bad, Brian wasn't." I say it to my own surprise, but I mean it.

"Maybe," he admits. "But like Doyle said, first Barry, now Brian. One that turned bent and one that never got over the shame of losing his bottle - and tried so hard to make sure we didn't lose ours or get killed he lost his marbles over it. So don't you go and get into trouble or develop any bad habits, eh?"

The last comment throws me. He doesn't know my secret does he? Surely not...

I must be looking scared, and he half-chuckles.

"Was only kidding. You're as white as snow, or as much as anybody your colour ever gets, my lad, we know that. Bit of a philosopher as well, I'd say."

I grin a bit more enthusiastically than I should, probably, but it's put my mind at rest.

The ambulance is here, and as the crew come in Doyle comes round again, grumbling that he can walk and doesn't need a stretcher. Bodie grumbles back at him, telling him he does. Bodie gets his own way in the end, but not without a struggle and only when it turns out that Doyle's legs won't carry him.

Bodie might say Doyle's the soft one, but I have my own opinions on that from what I've seen tonight. I don't suppose they go for the emotional stuff very often, either of them. But like I always said, I do have eyes and I'm not as stupid as I look. Wouldn't go quite so far as to say philosophical, maybe, but whatever.

Bodie pauses to ask me if I don't mind waiting for Cowley and the meat wagon. I tell him I'll be fine, and then I'm there on my own, staring over at the body.

It seems callous to think about my own relief when Macklin's lying there dead, but I can't help it. At the same time, I'm trying hard not to let myself think about the whole idea of 'everything goes in threes' out of my mind.

But no, I'm not like Barry Martin or Brian Macklin.

I'm not as white as Bodie thinks I am either, I'll admit, but I'm not greedy for money, and I'm not obsessive or guilt-ridden.

Well, not really. Not very obsessive and not really ashamed of my own little skeleton in the cupboard.

I'll have to be a lot more careful in future though, I suppose. Make sure nobody else tumbles me. Make sure I'm not sloppy.

Sloppy, yeah. Now I even sound like the dead guy whose shoes I'll soon be stepping into if I play my cards right: I'm even a bit excited as I starting thinking about taking over, but that's also callous.

I've at least learned plenty from the poor bugger, there's no doubt about that. I know how to get results, particularly when it comes to training people in filthy old warehouses. I also know the cost of being found out if I don't want to end up on the scrap heap myself. It might not mean a bullet in my case, but it'd be bad enough.

I owe Brian. Owe him a lot. I'll probably even miss him in a weird sort of way.

It's amazing, really. Even though he did know about me and my ways, the crazy bastard ended up trying to warn me rather than shopping me in the end. Who'd have though that?

I wonder when he realised about me? Had he rifled through my bags on one of the few occasions when I'd brought stuff along? Was he looking for something to use against me in case I ever discovered his own secrets? Maybe.

Or was the fact he'd never grassed on me some warped way of protecting me, just like he tried to make Cowley's squad invincible?

Well, I'll never know now, but that's what I like to think.

Some things just can't be answered, I suppose, and maybe shouldn't be. Now that is philosophical.

I think when all this is cleared up it'll be high time to go home, alone, and drink a silent toast to poor bloody Brian Macklin, God rest his soul.

Yes, I'll need a good strong drink first of all. I deserve that. Maybe I'll put some music on as well. Something soft and soothing. I suppose half of the squad would laugh at me if they knew I liked stuff like Piaf and a few other obscure French women singers, but that's also my business and mine alone. That, at least, is hardly anything they could hold against me, even if a muscle-bound fitness trainer likes something that weird. It'd be a whole lot less shocking than if they knew what'll come next.

After a decent shot of whisky, it'll be time for a shower, and a shave. A very close shave, being careful to leave my skin smooth. After that it'll be time to rub in the moisturiser and finally to move over to the chest of drawers.

What will it be tonight? The burgundy lace or the wispy satin? The stuff that snags so easily if my body's the slightest bit rough?

Not sure. Although the new shoes are a must: the patent leather ones with nice, spiky heels. The ones that make your calf muscles work.


I hear Cowley's voice and mentally file that away.

"Hell of a business," the old man says softly as he walks over to Brian's body. "Of all the people I'd never have thought..."

We all have our secrets, I think to myself. Even me.

-- THE END --

September 2002

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