by Brenda K
"You heard me," Cowley peered over his glasses. "Less bad language. Is that understood?"
Bodie smiled sweetly.
"Delighted to oblige sir. After you, Raymond my boy."
"Oh no, after you Bodie," Doyle smiled and gestured his partner to go ahead. "Shall I make you a quick cuppa and throw in a few cucumber sandwiches?"
"Only if you learn how to crook your little finger properly," Bodie informed him politely.
"Go," Cowley said, with forced calm before picking up the report again with an ill-disguised sigh of distaste.
Didn't the woman have anything better to do between her assessments and her research? Was it really necessary to draw up this sanctimonious, stupid, unnecessary document and - what was worse - send a copy to the Minister?
Even the title made Cowley shudder: "The implications of crude language within a working context of high risk and danger."
Stupid bitch, Cowley thought to himself resignedly. Bodie's very eyebrow movements had spelled out, as if in large neon letters, just how much he thought of it all. Doyle had flicked through the few pages of text with a slight smile, remarking that she'd missed a few of the choicest epithets but probably couldn't bring herself to dictate those to Betty or another sweet, innocent typist.
Apparently, said the conclusion to it all, although swearing was a form of catharsis that under certain circumstances could be justified if not condoned, CI5 was not endearing itself to the public by overusing it. For instance, agents who tended to call the local police services 'you bloody stupid pillock' while executing their duties was detrimental to the overall image of such an elite squad.
Cowley's lips twitched as he imagined Bodie striding up to one of the local plods and exchanging pleasantries of a less vulgar nature while somebody got themselves shot rather than reacting with a little more immediacy.
Then his expression changed back to one of irritation as he noted the Minister's scrawled comment on the corner of the report: 'George, see what you can do. We don't need bad publicity, so make sure she doesn't publish the damn thing anywhere.'
Dr. Ross, when Cowley had tentatively raised the latter subject, had smiled that infuriating smile of hers and actually dared barter.
Her contract allowed her to publish her findings as long as they infringed no security or confidentiality requirements, she had insisted. Surely the fact that CI5 agents saw fit to act like uneducated dock workers was not vital to national security? She was, however, willing to postpone submission of her article to psychiatric journals if a little more restraint was applied.
She was unbelievable, an arrogant cow of a woman, Cowley concluded, tossing the document into a drawer. Unfortunately, she was also good at her job so a few compromises would have to be made.
Equally unfortunately, the air in the rest room would probably be blue very shortly, once Bodie and Doyle had pinned up a copy of the instructions he had just issued.
Deciding to check it out, Cowley rose from his desk and headed in that direction, only to stifle a chuckle. A sheet of white paper had been taped over the sign opposite: it no longer read 'Men', but 'Gentlemen'. He left it there and pushed open the door to the shabby room whose title had also been changed to become the "VIP lounge".
Well, making a joke of it was probably one solution.
Doyle was sprawled in the armchair as usual - how did the man achieve the impression of being boneless like that?
"Afternoon sir," Bodie smiled brightly. "May we offer you a little light refreshment? Where'd we put the fine china, Doyle?"
Cowley shook his head, wondering what Murphy and Anson were doing with yet more wide-tipped markers and sheets of paper. Perhaps it would be better not to know.
"Actually, sir," Doyle said, sitting up a little, "we just had an idea. I think you might like this one."
Kate Ross knew - was absolutely certain - that something was afoot but couldn't put her finger on it.
Of course she'd been in favour of non-field staff undergoing some sort of training in basic skills, she'd assured Cowley. Naturally it would give her some in-depth experience that would no doubt be invaluable.
At this moment, however, she was a little less enthusiastic, particularly since her chosen mentors were Bodie and Doyle. Betty, of course - silly little woman that she was - seemed delighted with everything from the weekend at the training centre to a somewhat unexpected taste for climbing up some things and jumping off others.
Dignity, she told herself. That was all it took, despite the mud caking her extremely ugly camouflage suit and the blisters on her hands. If they thought she was going to be ruffled, however, they were wrong.
She'd handled it brilliantly, she reminded herself. Handling a pistol was really not quite in the same league as writing a thesis and thanks to many years of fairly assiduous tennis and swimming she was hardly some soggy little office worker.
Perhaps she was just being over-suspicious, however, because not only Bodie and Doyle - previously the worst offenders - but even the others had been polite and courteous for a good couple of weeks. The worst case of swearing she'd heard, if she remembered correctly, had been Susan uttering a brief (but quickly apologised-for) 'bugger' when she knocked her shins on a filing cabinet. Excellent.
Even the training sergeant on this so-called 'course' - a muscle-bound ignoramus if ever there was one - had added 'please' and 'thank you' as she'd been required to haul herself through the obstacle course.
"So, Dr. Ross," Bodie said. "Ready for some more exciting action?"
What did he expect? Fear? Tears? Oh, Mr. Bodie, you do not know what this woman is made of, she decided smugly. It was perhaps a shame that it was drizzling a little, but any fool could read a map and walk from A to B. She supposed that other stupid, muscle-bound men would try to leap out of bushes along the way, but she had good hearing and quick wits so that would not be a problem either.
The rendezvous with Betty gave her ample time for the few miles it involved, she decided, and marched off, head high. A little British moorland, a wood, a village and the final destination at an old farmhouse. No problem.
This, however, was not taking into account the fact that the rain had turned into heavy mist and the moorland was in fact rather more rugged than it looked. However, like all good ex-Girl Guides with their orienteering badge, all it needed was a compass to make things easier, right?
Except the compass wasn't in the pocket of the suit any more - had the bastards taken it? Was this what the game was all about? She'd give them hell, but she wouldn't be beaten. Being of superior intelligence, she could still read the map, although a plastic pouch for it would have been extremely useful. They should have reminded her of that, of course, although once again they were obviously trying to make things harder.
Good, she concluded as the edge of the forest came into view. Now for the ambush party, no doubt, so she'd skirt around it a little to fool them. Eat your heart out, James Bond.
A rustle gave whoever it was away, and she slid the gun out of its holster, enjoying the feeling of power it gave her. Even better was the moment when she saw the figure emerging and shouted to him to stop or she'd shoot.
Oh yes - she was starting to see just why they all found this such fun.
He was trying heroics, was he? Ignoring her? Well, she'd learned about that too. She wasn't going to be put off by him trying a standoff, waving his arms around inviting her to some sort of unarmed combat. Did they dare presume she wouldn't shoot and prefer to wrestle around in the mud?
Her finger tightened on the trigger as she challenged the balaclava-clad figure yet again. In fact, she hoped the soft rubber pellet would hurt, particularly given where she was aiming for. To hell with Doyle's advice on grouping and body parts to hit by preference.
Maybe this was Doyle, so she could then apologise for a slight miss with total insincerity, reminding him politely that she was hardly supposed to be an expert shot, unlike himself.
Perfect. The figure collapsed with a scream of agony, which was fairly satisfactory although it seemed a little overdone for something she'd been told would at most sting a little. Cautiously, she stepped forward and her heart nearly stopped when she saw blood flowing freely from the man's chest.
Oh God. Oh, God...
She bent over, horrified, and in doing so found herself airborne, landing messily in a mud-filled rut with a beaming figure standing over her.
"Keep your gun out and aimed until you know the victim's dead, madam," the sergeant said pleasantly. "You seem to have forgotten that."
"You ba..." she stopped herself angrily, despite the shock and fear that were making her voice tremble.
"Not to worry - it's not real blood."
She almost wished it was.
"That was a little dirty," she managed to rake up. "Not to mention unfair. You knew da- perfectly well I didn't expect to see blood."
"That was the point - expect the unexpected. And what if somebody had changed your weapon from the pellet gun to a real one? Did you check that?"
She glared at her weapon, lying a few yards away, unable to find an answer to that one.
"Not to worry, darling," the cheerful voice let a little condescension creep in. "It's still a pea shooter, but at least you get a Brownie point for firing it in the first place. Here, let me give you a hand. Not hurt, are you?"
"Of course not. And I do not need a hand."
"Fine, then you can go on. Here, take your weapon."
Ross stuffed the gun back in its holster with what she hoped was a little nonchalance and tried to smear the mud from the map. Of course they were trying to trick her, but they wouldn't get her down.
Not far to go now - and she was doing a magnificent job of keeping close to the stone walls in the field around the tiny village. The farmhouse was only a few hundred yards further.
Dammit, that was another camouflage-suited moron over there. She pulled the weapon out again, flattening against a wall and crouching. The temptation just to fire a few pellets was almost overwhelming, because he hadn't seen her.
The gun didn't fire.
She looked at it in horror, because it wasn't even her gun - she knew that because of the tiny sticker on the barrel that on closer inspection read: 'I don't work.'
The bastard by the wood had swapped it.
She'd have Bodie and Doyle strung up for this, she fumed, even as she realised the figure was now pointing a very realistic-looking gun straight at her.
No, they couldn't... wouldn't dare...
Stupid. Now they had her captured, holding her roughly and marching her towards the farmhouse.
And then, with a surge of triumph, she found a perfect line of defence. They simply weren't playing fair - tactics were one thing, but doing this on purpose just to humiliate her was quite simply childish. So she'd play along and tell Cowley exactly what she thought of it all - with a copy to the Minister.
How long would it take them to let her out of the farmhouse cellar, she wondered? Well, when they'd had their fun, of course. Except she'd still have the last laugh and had the pack of rations with her so could wait it out with a full stomach.
She felt quite serene in a strange way, unwrapping the packet. Or at least until she found the three bars of plasticine with a little note that said: 'check everything.'
Damn them. Damn them to hell. Well, she'd sit it out for as long as it took.
Perhaps, she decided after an hour, she was supposed to find a way out? Did her desire to prove her superiority make that worthwhile, or was she just going to sit there and treat them with disdain once they decided they'd had enough? Yes, that was the line to take - refusing to play along any more.
Two hours later, it was getting dark and she was no longer quite so sure that this was the solution. The torch, of course, didn't work. What a surprise. Better have a look around before it got too dark to see, although they were bound to let her out before it did.
Ah, this was obviously the clue - a loose stone in the wall. It took considerable effort and two broken fingernails to prise it out...
... to reveal yet another note saying 'there's a key in here somewhere'.
She hated CI5 more than she believed possible after scrabbling around the bare cellar and finding nothing that remotely resembled a key.
The bloody liars.
Many years of studying behaviour during critical situations meant she knew perfectly well what to do. Remain calm, concentrate on blocking out fear, and develop a plan.
Yet another other eternity later, alone in pitch darkness, she was terrified, wet, and cold. They were stringing this out far too long, and she didn't have any plan except to murder both Bodie and Doyle with her bare hands.
No, she reasoned, of course they couldn't have forgotten her in there, could they? And the bollocking she'd give them would be all the greater.
If only she could see her watch hands.
Then she heard gunfire outside, which was all the more frightening - what did it mean? What if somebody had killed off her rescuers? For real?
That, she chided herself as she tried to battle against the frantic heartbeat and dry mouth, was downright ridiculous. This was an exercise - the farmhouse was hardly supposed to be surrounded with real terrorists...
They were playing with her nerves, and she wouldn't give in.
Except she did.
Kate Ross was suddenly gripped with near-panic as she got to her feet, groping for the door, grazing her knuckles on the rough walls as a last straw.
She wanted to get out, and right now. This was enough. She screamed out her frustration.
The light went on, and a key turned in the lock only seconds later.
Doyle was smiling serenely as he escorted her upstairs to the comfortable living room where Bodie was already ensconced in an armchair sipping what looked like a glass of whisky.
"Tea, Dr. Ross? Or perhaps a drop of the hard stuff?" Bodie asked politely. "Looks like you could use it."
"If you think..."
"Don't go and get angry," Doyle said mildly. "Must have been unpleasant down there, though. Reminds me of when we were locked in that cellar, Bodie, and you found a way out."
"Right," Bodie beamed.
Doyle passed her a towel, which she snatched from him, finally and grudgingly accepting the glass Bodie handed over.
"I shall make a report on this. Childish tricks..."
"No," Doyle shook his head ruefully. "All the things that went wrong were things you were supposed to have learned. Betty, for instance, is already tucked up in bed because she checked her equipment - even realised the guy swapped her gun but I must say she did fall for the blood just like you did..."
Betty, Kate Ross thought uncharitably, had probably never even set foot on her own march in the first place and was all part of the conspiracy, because that was what it was.
"Yeah," Bodie added. "She also managed to hold off the second ambushers and ended up eating something a whole lot nicer than plasticine - the pub sent a nice meal in. Pity you missed it."
Kate Ross swallowed back her fury.
"Never mind, though," Doyle said appeasingly. "Question of experience - each to his own, sort of thing. I'd probably not be quite as talented as you when it comes to drawing up reports."
"You're ridiculous," she snapped, trying not to gulp down the whisky too fast. "Besides, if you're so clever, why wasn't there a key in the cellar? Maybe I could have spotted the change of guns or the plasticine, underhand though it was. But there was no key..."
"No key?" Doyle raised his eyebrows.
"Unless you planted one there," she half-spat. "I wouldn't put it past you."
"Us?" Doyle's eyes widened. "Would we do anything like that?"
"Yes you bl... yes you damned well would."
"Ooooh, swearing," Bodie tutted. "As a matter of fact there was a key."
Half of her wanted to see it for herself, but the other half wanted to be out of there, away from these lying, cheating cretins.
"I shall still stress that your conduct was completely out of line."
"If you say so," Doyle grinned. "Although you might thank us, love, we've had your car brought here."
"Thank you? You have to be joking."
She stalked out with all the dignity she could muster, snatching her keys from Bodie's hands.
It was only when she put the key in the ignition that she saw the cassette sticking out of the player, with yet another neatly-typed note.
'I'm a key. Play me', it said, and in even tinier letters: 'Your personal copy. Original on file.'
Who had put it there? Her heart almost stopped, even if her suspicions were straying from anyone from Betty to Anson even as she pushed it in and pressed the button with trembling fingers, half-knowing what would be on it.
Her voice echoed in the cellar, the fury and fear crystal clear.
"You fucking bastards. You pathetic wankers. I'll have you all by the sodding balls for this, you crowd of bloody arseholes. I swear it."
George Cowley smiled politely at his psychiatrist as she handed him her latest batch of reports with slightly less than her usual smug self-confidence.
"An interesting course then, Doctor?"
"Fascinating," she said neutrally. "I was able to gain a great deal of insight into a few minds, I can assure you. Perhaps even a little grudging respect that they are not quite the badly educated apes I took them for from some aspects."
"Aye," Cowley nodded. "I can imagine."
Well, the woman wasn't exactly apologising, but neither would she be publishing the report on bad language he'd cheerfully consigned to the shredder only that morning. He felt quite sure of that.
Once Ross had left, he permitted himself a more genuine, broader smile, which rapidly dissolved as he skimmed the title of what she'd just brought him before pressing the intercom.
Both men who rapidly responded to his summons had spent the entire day looking extraordinarily pleased with themselves, although out of respect mingled with admiration Cowley had thrown the cassette and its rather extraordinary content away too.
"Good job, lads," he nodded to them, pointing to the bottle and glasses.
"Thought you'd approve," Bodie gloated.
"Indeed. Although you might be interested to know that the good Dr. Ross has a new subject for research in mind, after her recent obsession with swearing.
Doyle rolled his eyes, and picked up the proffered sheet of paper.
"Possible regression into infantile behaviour within a working context of high risk and danger."
"Oh, now that sounds serious," Bodie said. "Have to work hard on that one."
"Well just bear it in mind," Cowley informed them both. "Behave yourselves. And remember that Dr. Ross does have her uses."
"Definitely," Doyle agreed. "Quite agree, sir. We'll work on it."
"Promise," Bodie nodded.
Cowley gave the matter little thought until he left the building, a great deal later in the day.
Brand new signs were already in place.
"Potty training" was neatly tacked to the toilets, "Playroom" adorned the restroom door, and a large notice announced a game of hide and seek to replace the following day's briefing.
What amused him most, however, was very smart brass sign that had replaced the former one and which itself bore witness to highly adult resourcefulness and rapid thinking.
No longer did it read "Dr. K. Ross, PhD", but "Katie's nursery and play group."
Then, Cowley had a thought and retraced his steps rapidly.
They'd been very quiet - or had Betty distracted him while they did it? But sure enough, they'd been busy there too.
"Uncle George's early learning centre: free drinks and games", it read.
Cowley hesitated for a moment or two, but then went back into his office. Taking an indelible marker from his desk, he neatly crossed out the 'free,' catching the rapidly suppressed grin on two faces peering around the Playroom door.
"Have this taken down by tomorrow," he told them with mock severity. "But only after Dr. Ross has been in to see me at eight. Get Betty to send her a message to that effect, if you wouldn't mind? And consider yourselves reprimanded - I shall of course confirm to our good doctor that I have meted out suitable punishment... which is...."
Doyle laughed out loud. Bodie smirked.
"...A decent bottle paid for out of your own pockets," Cowley informed them. "And before you start double-guessing me, Ribena* will not do the trick."
"Wouldn't dream of it, sir," Bodie assured him. "Have a pleasant evening."
Yes, Cowley thought. He would.
-- THE END --
*Ribena: part of British childhood. A nice, healthy blackcurrant drink with lots of vitamins.