The Art of Horsemastership and Related Skills
Raymond Doyle let out a long, slow wolf-whistle as his partner finally succeeded in fastening up the skin-tight riding breeches. Bodie glanced up and favoured him with a withering look. He'd been in an evil mood since Cowley had given them the job of baby-sitting Jan DeGroot, a horse-jumping fanatic who just happened to be the son of one of the most controversial white South African politicians.
Bodie left Doyle in no doubt as to whom he considered responsible for landing them with the assignment. Wasn't Doyle the one always running off at the mouth about his skills as a horseman? Bodie had gone on at great length about the basic unfairness of his being involved just because his partner fancied himself to be another David Broom.
He had gone on, that is, until Cowley had delivered the coup de grace.
"You're not afraid of horses, are you Bodie?"
And he left his victim dead in the water.
"Eh...no Sir, of course not," Bodie spluttered.
"Very well." Their boss handed him the file. "Be about your business."
That was the matter closed.
Three hours later found them in the hallowed sanctum of Nelson Brothers of Bond Street, being kitted out for the parts they were to play. Bodie was at least deriving some satisfaction from the fact that the clothes he was trying on didn't have a price tag. That would get right up the Cow's nose, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it because you couldn't pick up the togs needed to unobtrusively hang out with the Badminton crowd in 'Man at C&A'.
"No question about it, mate," Ray told him, authoritatively, "you've got the thighs for them."
"Will you cut it out, Doyle," Bodie was rapidly running out of patience. "Why don't you wait outside?"
"What, and miss this show?" his partner asked. "If it wasn't free I'd pay to see it."
"You pay?" Bodie snorted. "That I'd like to see. And if you're staying keep your comments to yourself."
He reached over to remove the fine, cashmere polo neck from its hanger and caught the lecherous grin of his partner in the changing room mirror.
"You'd better cut that out if you don't was to get us arrested," he warned as he slipped the sweater over his head and settled it comfortably on his body. Its warm beige tone complimented the Harris tweed hacking jacket that completed the outfit. The assistant appeared with tan knee-high riding boots just in time to thwart Ray Doyle from moving in on his suddenly irresistible partner.
"Try these sir. If necessary we can measure your foot and have a pair custom-made."
"I don't think that will be necessary," Ray stepped in when he saw the light in Bodie's eyes. You could push the Cow just so far. He had no intention of finding their pay docked at the end of the month.
"Mr. Bodie needs these things straight away."
The assistant helped Bodie fit on the boots. The left one pinched a little. Bodie remarked upon it and the eager salesman disappeared to obtain a wider fitting. Bodie stood back to get the whole effect in the full-length mirror. Ray was right, he did look good. Through not as good as Ray had looked in his outfit, a vision of which was accurately recorded in 3.7's excellent memory. He adjusted the collar of the impeccably cut jacket and enjoyed the feel of the expensive clothes. He like the good things in life, did Bodie.
Ray had noticed his reaction. "You see, this job's not going to be as bad as you thought," he assured him.
"Huh, I'll bet this is as good as it gets." Bodie was determined to be stubborn.
"Oh, I don't know, the horsy crowd likes to eat well. Plenty of fine old Scotch malt, I shouldn't wonder. Maybe pick up a tip for the National next year. And then there's the other perk...." He cast the line.
Bodie swallowed it, hook and sinker, as well as line.
"It's a scientific fact, mate, a good hard gallop puts you in the mood for a good hard--"
The curtain swished back. "I'm sure it will fit perfectly, sir," the salesman told his flustered customer, as he held out the replacement boot. Bodie put it on ignoring as best he could Ray's strangled laughter and then stood to pace the fitting room.
He beamed at the clerk. "How did you know?"
Bodie's new buoyant mood lasted until they reached the stables late that afternoon. When he opened the car boot to remove the newly acquired finery Ray halted him.
"Uh-uh Bodie, that's only for show." Instead he handed his partner his sports bag.
"I threw together some stuff for us both. You'll find your wellies in there too. Let's go get changed."
Bodie slammed the boot closed and as he turned towards the reception area the unmistakable aroma of horse assaulted his sinuses, causing him to sneeze. From then on it was all downhill.
He trailed after Ray and was introduced to their instructor, a robust, cheerful woman called Helen who worked strictly on a first name basis and didn't like the idea of calling anyone 'Bodie'. She was greatly intrigued by the notion that they were here to learn everything there was to know about horses in two days.
"Can't be done," she told them. "Quite impossible, so we'll just have to do the best we can. We have a reputation to maintain. This stable is recognised by the British Horse Association, you know."
"That's why we chose it," Ray assured her, acknowledging the significance of the statement.
"Well, we'd better make a start. Ray you will be riding Tetley, the bay in the third stall. Eh...Bodie, you will be on Katie, the grey mare two stalls on down. She is 16.2, but don't be worried, she's very settled. I've put you on her because your office said you were inexperienced. She'll take care of you."
Bodie's sour expression curdled further. "Wonderful..." he said, sarcastically.
"Hmmm..." Helen was unimpressed by his attitude. "Let's go get the tack," she said.
Arms filled with the saddle and bridle Bodie walked along the stalls looking for Katie. He couldn't find her. He struggled back to his partner who had already fitted his horse's saddle.
"I can't find it, Ray, there's only a white horse down there."
"That's the one, you prat," he was told impatiently. "There's no such thing as a white horse. Don't you ever look at those nags you bet on?"
"Forget I asked," Bodie snapped back and stalked off. He managed, with difficulty, to open the horse-proof latch that almost proved to be Bodie-proof, and sidled into the stall. Katie cast a baleful eye on him, which he returned in kind, before he dropped the bridle to the floor.
"Bodie!" Helen's tone expressed extreme displeasure. "We never allow the bridle to touch the ground."
She entered the box and picked up the offending article. "Have you ever put tack on before?" she asked him.
"Then we'll start at the beginning."
After forty-five minutes Bodie had learned enough about 'snaffle bits', 'martingales' and 'webbing girths' to last him a lifetime. Not that he'd learned very much, it was all a bewildering haze of straps and buckles, nearsides and offsides, withers and hock.
Helen left him to fold and put away the rug and instructed him to lead Katie down to the outdoor school, across the yard and down the lane. It seemed that Ray was already there. There was a definite implication in her tone of voice that said even he couldn't get that wrong.
He lifted the reins over Katie's head and tried how to figure out how you put a horse into reverse gear, for she was facing away from the stall door. Giving up on that idea he began to turn her round. A large horse in a small space is, unfortunately, not conducive to movement and she managed to get herself wedged against the far wall. Even more unfortunately, Bodie found himself caught between the horse and the wall, stuck solid.
In terms of strength, a mature horse of 16.2 wins hands down every time and after five minutes of struggling unsuccessfully he was forced to call out for assistance. To his immense relief the reins were firmly grasped and the recalcitrant Katie was led out of the stall. Bodie paused for a moment to enjoy the sensation of air returning to his lungs before he followed in her wake.
Once outside he was mortified to find that his rescuer was a little girl who appeared to be about seven years old. She regarded him condescendingly and offered to tie up her pony, "Huggy Bear", so she could lead Katie for him. Bodie thanked her as graciously as he could and declined the offer. Gathering what remained of his dignity he headed towards the lane.
It was very overgrown and in between patches of heavy mud, the kind that sucks you in and holds on, it was very stony. It took him a quarter of an hour to negotiate the five hundred yards of its length. By then, exhausted and very, very muddy he was disgusted to find Ray happily trotting round a large sandy arena, looking crisp and totally in control.
"Ah Bodie..." Helen called over, "I was just about to go looking for you...."
At that point she suddenly realised where he'd emerged from and rushed over to them both but ignored Bodie and began a minute inspection of Katie's legs. When she finished, apparently satisfied with their condition, she rounded on Bodie.
"What on earth possessed you to come down that way?" she asked.
"You said to walk her down the lane...."
"That is not the lane, that's an old stream bed. Can't you tell the difference?"
By this time Bodie was beginning to lose the rag.
But fortunately he got no further for Ray, who had dismounted and walked over to them, intervened smoothly.
"That was my fault, Bodie. I should have waited for you. I was a bit keen to get started. But anyway, no harm done. Right Helen?"
"No, but just remember, Bodie, no foot, no horse," she told him with great conviction and led Katie to the enclosure gate.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Bodie muttered under his breath.
Ray simply shrugged his shoulders in that wonderfully unconcerned way of his and followed her. Once inside the school they lined up both horses in the centre and Helen ran down the stirrups.
"Now Bodie, which way do you like to mount?"
Much to his annoyance the innocent question took him unawares and he blushed faintly as he said, "In the conventional way I suppose."
"Want a leg up, mate?" Ray called over.
"No thank you," he was told firmly as Bodie placed his left foot in the stirrup and reached up for the saddle.
Suddenly Katie began to resemble the north face of the Eiger. A discovery that, in itself, didn't bother him at all. What he didn't care for was that, while mountains generally remained in one place when you tried to climb them, Katie was skittering about all over the place.
After three abortive attempts Helen stepped in.
"Just a moment, please. This is a very sensitive animal. She is sensing your unease and it's disquieting her. Try to calm down, and try again while I hold the stirrup on the far side. And remember...do not bounce into the saddle, ease into it."
She disappeared around to the other side while Bodie tried to decide which of the two mares he'd like to shoot the most. With renewed determination he got into position, counted inwardly to three and heaved himself up into the saddle with as much grace as he could muster.
"Well done!" Helen.
"I've done something right?" he mouthed over to Ray with incredulity.
Helen regained his attention by slapping him hard on the thigh.
"Take your feet out of the stirrups and relax your legs."
She adjusted the length of the leathers to suit him. Then the lecturing began again.
"Elbows tucked in and bent at forty-five degree angle, hands together and thumbs on top, heels down..." and on and on. He hadn't experienced anything like it since he'd last been on a parade ground.
At long last she was satisfied with his 'seat' and they were ready to begin. It was Ray who was chomping at the bit by this stage with frustration. Once given the command, he took delight in smugly showing off his prowess in every skill he was asked to demonstrate. Twenty minutes into the lesson and Bodie was beginning to wonder to himself what it was he had ever found to love in his so-called partner, and he was rapidly learning that, although there were many things he could do with facility and style, this was not one of them.
He was used to being 'good' at things, especially those of a physical nature. The harder he tried, the tenser he became.
"No, Bodie, watch how Ray moves in the walk. You've got to stay with the rhythm of the horse. Listen to the pattern of hoof beats, one-two-three-four-one-two...."
As he passed Ray, who was obviously enjoying the rare chance to seeing his partner at a disadvantage, he heard the little sod mutter, "You never have a camera when you need one."
Bodie gritted his teeth and vowed a moment of sweet revenge.
"That's...okay," Helen decided at last. "We'll proceed on to sitting and then rising trot. Opposite sides of the school, on the left rein, go large and gently away...T-ROT!"
Helen's commanding tone instantly evoked a reaction in the two voice-trained riding school horses. They came alive and stepped up a pace into a brisk, extended trot. The only fair and accurate description of what happened next is that Bodie panicked.
He had lost what little control he had over the situation and didn't know how to regain it. He pulled hard on the reins at the same time as digging in his heels, and Katie just didn't know what to make of the confusing signals. She finally settled on the leg signal and obligingly moved up into a canter. This brought a strangled howl from Bodie who held on even tighter with his lower leg.
'Gallop?' wondered Katie, 'so near to the end of the paddock?'
But then she knew humans were strange creatures so she picked up the pace once again, and Bodie realised he was lost. A good hunter in her younger day, Katie had never been daunted by a fence and this was a pretty insignificant specimen. She sailed over it with ease, while Bodie still sitting bolt upright went in the other direction.
Ray did not actually see him hit the ground but he heard the thud. Cantering to the end of the school, he scrambled frantically over the fence.
His partner lay very still in a tangle of coniferous shrubbery. Ray threw himself down beside him to assess his injuries, afraid to move him in case he worsened them.
"You gonna give me the kiss of life?" Bodie asked shakily as he opened his eyes.
"Thank God...are you okay?" Ray asked anxiously as he helped Bodie to sit up and then held on tightly.
"We're not alone..." his partner warned.
Ray turned round to find not only Helen's concerned gaze upon them but also Cowley's.
"Sir...Bodie fell off," he remarked, at a loss for something else to say.
"So I noticed, 4.5." Cowley cast his steely eye on the victim. "If you're sufficiently rested 3.7, I think you should get back to work."
Helen, reassured that her pupil was uninjured, went off in search of Katie.
"Aw Sir, I..." Bodie began, but didn't get very far.
"I've seen you take worse falls in Macklin's gym and then get up and take an opponent apart."
Bodie allowed Ray to help him to his feet and then straightened up melodramatically. He was obviously uninjured but he was going to milk this situation to the full.
"Maybe Bodie shouldn't go on, Sir," Ray ventured. "I mean, I can ride with the target and 3.7 can stay at operations."
"And who will cover your back while you protect the subject? Maybe we could ask any potential assailants to wait until your backup arrives." Cowley told him sharply. "I don't team my operatives without good reason, 4.5."
"Point taken, Sir."
"Sir," Bodie agreed.
"There have been some developments. I'll need to talk with you both when your lesson is over. Carry on," their boss ordered and strode off to the far side of the school.
"Sadist! You really okay?" Ray asked.
"I'll live. I may not be happy about it tomorrow, but I'll live."
"Life's a bitch, Bodie," Ray told him affectionately, "and then you die."
"You always say the right thing, partner."
"Do my best."
They both clambered over the fence and walked back to the waiting horse.
Five hectic days later they handed over responsibility for Jan DeGroot to Murphy who was to accompany him to the airport. The operation hadn't been so bad. It had been a change from some backstreet hovel. Jan DeGroot lived the good life and so did they, for five days anyway, during which absolutely nothing happened. Bodie's aches and pains had receded to a dim memory and as he sat down on the bale beside Doyle, stretching his muscles cramped from the brisk rub down he'd just given his horse, he sighed deeply, even beginning to appreciate the sweet smell of hay.
"Gonna miss all this," he told his partner as his gaze drifted over the stable, drinking in the sights and sounds.
"That's just like you, Bodie, isn't it? Last week wild horses, if you'll ignore the pun, wouldn't have dragged you in here, now you're getting all misty-eyed about it."
"I wouldn't go that far, Doyle. I'm just saying I've enjoyed it." He looked away. "Kind of liked being out here with you. Didn't seem like the job, somehow. Like us being together this way."
"Actually we haven't been 'together'," Ray corrected, "but I know what you mean. I've enjoyed it too. No reason we shouldn't do things together like this in our off-duty."
It was the first time Ray had volunteered such a commitment since their relationship had developed beyond friendship, and Bodie beamed in response to it.
"You wouldn't want to go riding though," Ray considered aloud, "could try hill-walking or...."
"I'd love to do this again," Bodie interrupted him. "I really enjoyed that last run today and then of course what you said is true...."
He made a grab for his partner and tumbled them both back into the bed of rustling hay. Ray trapped beneath him lay winded and unresisting. "Huh...?"
"You know, what you said about a good hard gallop...?"
"It is the traditional setting, isn't it?"
And he ended further discussion of the matter by bringing his mouth firmly down on his lover's. Not that Ray had any intention of contesting the issue. He'd fought the good fight for five days and had managed to keep his hands off Bodie. But no longer, especially when his partner smelled so...stimulating, and as for that cashmere...his hands stroked along it and then found a way under it to revel in the silky skin beneath.
Bodie had managed to open his shirt and was working his way down to the hollow of his collar bone to begin an in depth exploration there, when Ray remembered something important enough to over-ride the sensations his body was experiencing.
"Bodie..." he murmured softly.
"What do you think?" his partner growled.
"Just wanted to say I'm sorry for the way I treated you that first day at the stables. Was stupid, you could have been hurt. I don't want you hurt Bodie, even in fun."
Bodie's irritation melted. Two milestones in one day, that wasn't bad. No matter what the provocation though, he wasn't going to be the first one to say it. He couldn't or wouldn't speak the word 'love'.
The love between them was there all right, precious and sometimes frightening, but until the proper time he'd have to find other ways of saying it. He looked down at Ray and, now genuinely misty-eyed, he turned his not inconsequential skill at lovemaking to doing just that.
-- THE END --