The cottage stood at the end of an untarnished - and unsurfaced - country lane. Bodie stood at the living room window gazing out over the tiny overgrown lawn. He sighed heavily, and checked his watch again. An hour overdue. Of course, it could be the traffic: it would be rush-hour in London now, and travelling from the city...
He turned away from the view and set about tidying the already-perfect room. He had been here since Wednesday night, having told Kirstie that he was out of town on a special assignment. She hadn't seemed too upset - and that was odd, now that he came to think about it. Kirstie was so insecure, so very DEPENDENT on him that he even had to assure her by phone from work. It had become quite a joke, but the humour had gone for Bodie, and it was nothing more than a chore now. Still, the doctor had told her to take things easy, now that she was expecting...
Bodie abandoned the housework, and threw himself down onto the comfortable old sofa, scowling at the prospect of permanent disruption to his batchelor routine. Trust that stupid bitch to forget her pills! Probably some deep psychological reason for it - like trying to hang on to me. Domesticated, me! I'm not cut out for parenthood.
Not like Ray...
The corner of his mouth twitched into a bitter little smile. Ray was the ideal family man: good steady job, nine-to-five, no more bombs, guns, potentially fatal situations, not for Mr. Ann Holly. Marriage had put a net over that particular eagle...
Ironic, really, Bodie reflected: Ray, your average workaday scruff paired off with Miss Oh-so-perfect, while he had landed the starry-eyed Kirstie - life was so bloody unfair...
His introspection accounted for another fifteen minutes, during which time his mind wandered down familiar pathways - how he would tell Kirstie that he didn't want to marry her; that he had never really wanted her but was going through the motions because it was expected of him in the wake of his partner's wedding. He didn't want to hurt her - he'd never made any promises, but she had taken him for granted. She was stifling him...thank God there were - other distractions in his world!
He could remember the day that Ray had phoned him at the office, breathless with delight.
"Bodie, I'm going to be a father! Ann's just had the results of her tests! "
Bodie had made suitable congratulatory remarks down the line, his gut churning: he had known two days before, because Ann had broken the news to him on their last afternoon together. The only question that concerned Bodie was which of them was the father...
Christ, he sighed, what a bloody mess. My best mate's wife may be having my child, and my girlfriend is pregnant...
He got to his feet, restless at the delay. Maybe he should call, find out if - but what if someone recognised his voice and mentioned it in all innocence... There would be time enough to face trouble later. For now, he told himself, just let it be that they could spend these few precious moments with one another - Bodie had already decided it would be their last weekend together. There could be no more. If they met in public, they would, of course, be polite but aloof, and nobody would be any the wiser. He would go back to Kirstie, and Ann would have her husband...So simple...
The sound of wheels on the gravel brought him out of his reverie quickly, and he darted to the window. The white Escort - Ray had bought it at auction after he'd left the squad. Bodie could see the driver silhouetted against the windscreen. Why the wait? What was wrong?
Bodie hurried to the kitchen to put the kettle on. Nothing could be so awful that they couldn't discuss it over a warm drink...
He heard the latch, and the soft tread on the parquet floor as his visitor crossed to the kitchen doorway. Bodie didn't have to look round - the long-remembered scent assailed his nostrils... but he did start when his guest spoke.
"I've got something to say to you, Bodie, and you're not going to like it."
Jesus Christ, he knows, thought Bodie. Ann's told him about us... Slowly, he turned on his heel to meet the troubled expression on his former colleague's face.
"Let's have it then. " Ever practical, Bodie wanted to get it over with. If he was going to lose this man as a friend after so long, he wanted it done quick and clean - no time to brood on how he'd gotten himself into this web of deceit...
"I -" Doyle stopped, shook his head. "I -"
"Come on. Ray," Bodie snorted . "What's wrong?"
After all these years, it was the first time that he had seen Doyle lost for words. It couldn't be easy for him, having to accuse his so-called best mate of adultery with his wife.
"Kirstie - phoned me today," Doyle began awkwardly.
That was a good start.
"She - er, was upset. Said that she was worried about you - all these odd trips you were making for Cowley..."
"She said she thinks there's someone else..."
Bodie regarded him steadily.
"That's remarkably perceptive of her, " he replied without thinking.
"Bodie!" Doyle's temper flared. "She doesn't need you to bugger her around. If there's another woman - some bit of fluff you're seeing on the side - "
"That' s bit rich," Bodie yelled back. "Coming from you!"
"Yeah! I know you, PARTNER. Who disappears off to quiet little security meetings on Thursdays, eh? Ann's called me on a couple of occasions to ask if I've seen you - I lied through my teeth, and said you'd been with me and Murph. God help you if she ever finds out where you really get to... "
"You know?" Doyle gulped. "She told you then."
"Who told me what?"
Bodie stepped across the compact kitchen and grabbed the bony shoulders.
"TOLD ME WHAT?" He shook Doyle hard.
"Kirstie - and me..."
"What about you and Kirstie?"
"Kirstie - " Doyle had to clear his throat " - I've been seeing her... "
"Yeah," Doyle repeated defiantly. "I'm the one your girlfriend's been seeing - if you hadn't found yourself some other woman, she wouldn't have turned to me..."
Of all the things that Doyle could have come to say - the irony of the situation didn't escape Bodie. He let his hands fall, and turned away from the other man.
"Bodie - the baby - Kirstie's baby - is -"
"Yours," Bodie guessed. "I should have known, when she told me she was pregnant..."
"I'm - sorry" Doyle sounded genuinely remorseful. "I couldn't go on - not without you knowing the truth. "
Bodie's stomach tightened as he continued.
"We've always been honest with each other, about the important things. It just got out of hand - and I'm -"
"Forget it," Bodie said simply. "You're right, these things do happen. It was my fault as much as yours - I'm not the man she needs - think I've known that all along." He turned to face Doyle again, noticing for the first time the extra lines around the green eyes. "Let's admit it, Ray, neither of us is cut out for this family business. We're both bachelors at heart."
Doyle nodded sadly.
"Ann's asking for a separation. She - there's someone else... "
Bodie gritted his teeth, waiting.
"It's ironic, isn't it?" Doyle said haltingly. "My wife is having an affair with another man - you've got yourself a bird, and Kirstie and I ..."
"Ironic, " Bodie agreed ruefully.
"Kirstie doesn't love me," Doyle assured him quickly. "I think I was - a convenient shoulder to cry on - don't blame her, Bodie..."
"I wasn't about to," Bodie answered. "I suppose that's what Ann needed and I couldn't give her... "Doyle added wistfully.
"Yes," Bodie nodded. "I always said she was wrong for you.
"Well, thanks friend," retorted Doyle. "You still agreed to be my best man!"
"That was my first mistake," Bodie sighed. "Not talking you out of it."
"What was the second?"
Bodie met the green eyes levelly and said nothing.
"It was YOU!"
Doyle took a step towards him.
"My wife - Ann - and you!" His hands folded into fists automatically.
Bodie awaited his execution.
"I trusted you! I thought you were my friend - and you go and seduce my wife behind my back - you BASTARD!"
The punch flung Bodie across the kitchen to impact with the table. He went down sprawling, knowing he ought to defend himself: Doyle was a vicious swine when he got started.
He was advancing now, murder in his eyes - but Bodie made no move to retaliate, relying on an older instinct to carry him through.
"Get up!" Doyle ordered.
Bodie shifted, leaning on one elbow, and shook his head gingerly.
"I said, get UP!" Doyle kicked him.
Bodie grunted in pain, but stayed where he was. Doyle's foot drew back once more, but this time, Bodie was prepared. He caught Doyle's ankle and twisted it sharply, throwing the other man off-balance against the table. Bodie hauled him the rest of the way to the floor and rolled on top of him.
"Alright, so I'm a rotten, conniving, treacherous bastard - but you knew that from the moment Cowley first teamed us. You know my credo -look out for number one - I'm self-centred," Bodie snarled. But Ann called me - she needed someone to talk to. She wanted to know how to hold your interest - "
"So you started this affair with her," Doyle struggled in vain beneath the heavier body, "hoping that I'd find out and get jealous, is that it?"
"No. " Bodie made certain of his hold on the other man, sitting astride his hips, and pinning the bony shoulders with both hands. "I knew how you'd react - your trouble is you're always putting your women on pedestals, and you're always disappointed when they don't come up to your expectations. If Ann hadn't decided to go for a separation, you would have, eventually." He paused for a moment. "I wasn't trying to make you jealous -"
"Then, why, Bodie?" Doyle stopped squirming long enough to ask.
"Because," Bodie's troubled blue eyes met the furious green gaze, "because I was jealous - of her. She took you away from me - and I want you back, Ray. "
Doyle stared at his mate in disbelief.
"You really mean that? I'm that important to you?"
Bodie nodded solemnly, but his voice faltered.
"You always have been - always will be. I just can't take - sharing you anymore." He sat back on Doyle's slender hips, ready to deal with the inevitable cataclysmic result of his confession.
"You're a bastard," Doyle told him. "I ought to punch the shit out of you and then castrate you... But then," he reached up to stroke one dusky cheek, and a smile softened his voice, "what would I play with on all those long winter nights after Ann and Kirstie have gone?"
-- THE END --
dedicated to Jilly and Herald.