Discovered in a Hatstand
by The Hag
"I always fancied a proper electric train set." Doyle looked wistfully at the elaborate track layout that formed the Christmas centrepiece, winding its way through a landscape of glittering gifts. "We had an old clockwork one that used to be my dad's, but it only went in a circle."
Bodie picked up a teddy. "Look at that. Pink. I ask you. Mine was a decent brown."
"White, mine was," Doyle recalled. "Well, dirty grey. One of my brothers had it first. Mum chucked it out when the second leg came off."
"Mine got given to the church Christmas jumble sale when I was nine. Too old for it then."
"They said, eh?" Doyle gave him a sideways grin.
"Well." Bodie shrugged and set the teddy back on the display, uncharacteristically lacking a riposte, setting off one of the increasingly frequent tugs of tenderness at Doyle's heart. "One more go of 'Silent Night' and I shall get noisy. It wouldn't be so bad if it was the real thing, but all tarted up and jingly--"
Doyle nodded and yawned. "Nearly nine," he observed. "If our boy Lansford's going to take advantage of the late shopping opportunity he'd better get a move on."
This year the run-up to Christmas had been hectic. All the madmen seemed to be in full spate, threats and rumours everywhere. Sleep had been a matter of grab it when you can and no chance of the luxury of company.
And suddenly there was the nervous tedium of this slow-paced day, staking out Harridges, maintaining constant alertness amidst the crowds of shoppers but still with time to brood.
He set off on yet another tour of the entrance hall, ostensibly admiring the displays, peripheral vision at full alert, making use of every reflective surface. He paused by one mirrored column, guiltily taking a moment to study Bodie's reflection as his partner lounged against the wall near the main door. Desire shivered through him and he forced himself to turn away. Work, he reminded himself. And anyway...
The music changed. 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.'
Tidings of comfort and joy.
Security had handed over a box this morning, its festive wrapping rather the worse for wear.
"Surprised they didn't check it by mouth." Doyle fished out the bottle and held it up to the light.
"Scotch?" Bodie asked hopefully.
"Nan's homemade elderberry and... Hang on, no, it's not." He peered at the hand-lettered label. "Comfort and Joy. That's a new one."
Bodie lost interest. "Come on, Ray, let's get moving."
Doyle threw the wrappings into the waste paper basket and read the card:
Not quite the usual. I finally unearthed Great Aunt Hetty's recipe book. This is supposed to bring comfort and joy if you share it with the right one. Some of the herbs were quite difficult to get hold of. A merry Christmas to my favourite grandson. Love, Nan.
The right one, Doyle thought. Sleeping with Bodie on and off this last year had left him sure by now who the right one was, but whether Bodie felt the same way was another matter.
Again and again he had woken with Bodie beside him and resolved to bring matters to a head. And always the words had choked in his throat. He despised his own cowardice in fearing to gamble and lose, clinging to what was probably only a delusion of growing closeness.
He tossed the card onto the desk, stashed the bottle in a drawer, and followed his partner out.
The music changed. "Ah, here come the good old shepherds washing their socks by--oi oi! That's not the Angel of the Lord on his way down the escalator, is it?"
With casual but deadly precision they went to round up their quarry.
"Still at it, lads?" asked Charlie sympathetically when they stopped off at his little den in hopes of a cup of tea, Lansford safely deposited in other hands.
"Every lead must be followed up," Bodie quoted in his best Cowley tones.
"Or down," Doyle added sourly. "Last Christmas he had us chasing a bunch of maniacs through the sewers."
"Did you get them?" Charlie handed over two mugs.
"Naturally." Bodie spooned sugar generously into his mug. You could trot a mouse on Charlie's tea, but it was hot and comforting.
"On the turd day of Christmas, you could say," Doyle offered. And afterwards we went back to your place because my electricity was off and we were larking about and arguing who'd have the first shower and got in together and somehow...
Charlie opened a cake tin. "Fancy one of our Jenny's gingerbread men? She baked a whole lot for a party tonight and forgot to take this batch with her. The wife's slimming and they're too sweet for me so I thought I'd bring them along."
"You're not usually here this late, Charlie," Bodie remarked.
"Been waiting for a delivery for the Major. He asked me to see it safely in since it's a valuable antique. They just dropped it off ten minutes ago. It's in the VIP Lounge temporarily since the Major's office is locked, so don't go being rough with it."
"Another desk at the taxpayers' expense?"
"Not at all. It's a hatstand, a legacy from his Uncle Hamish. The Major says he's always been meaning to have a look at it. Been in a warehouse in Edinburgh these twenty years, but they're closing down to make room for an office block, so the Major decided to have it sent along to replace that one in his office he never liked."
"Has anyone had time to get the VIP tree yet?" Doyle inquired.
"No tree this year," Charlie said. "The Major didn't care for last year's effort. Gratuitous vulgarity, he called it."
"No tree?" Bodie was indignant. "If it was the fairy doll--"
"The knickers," Charlie elucidated.
"That embarrassed him in front of the Home Secretary's wife." Charlie's tone was disapproving.
"What was she doing in the VIP Lounge?" Doyle wanted to know. "I suppose she's a bit of an antique an' all."
"Nosy with it," Charlie agreed. "Dropped in to pay a gracious visit to the Major and wandered off to the loo and snooped around all over the shop." He offered the cake tin again.
"Mind you," Bodie said, "he's never at his most cheerful around Christmas, is he? I'd swear visions of workhouses and treadmills dance in his head."
"We tried to cheer him up a bit last year," Doyle recalled.
"We visited him with three spirits," Bodie said. "Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie. All the very fanciest presentation bottles, done up nice with Royal Stewart ribbon--"
"Clan McScrooge it should have been," Doyle muttered. "Grated out that's very kind of you, lads, and flushed us off down the main drain. And he kept the bottles."
"Ah, well," Charlie said pensively, "that would have reminded him of his great sorrow. One ordinary bottle might have passed, but three presentation..."
"What great sorrow?" Bodie demanded. "Whisky's about the one thing that's guaranteed to cheer him up."
"Just before Christmas, twenty years ago, it was," Charlie reminisced.
"What, Uncle Thingy kicking the bucket?"
"It was the will, you see." Charlie shook his head sadly. "The whisky collection."
"Cowley's uncle collected whisky?" Doyle refused a third gingerbread man. Bodie was halfway through his fourth.
Charlie nodded. "Couldn't drink it because his liver was dodgy, but it seems he loved to buy it, particularly the special reserves and presentation bottles. The Major told me his good lady strongly disapproved of alcohol, so he may have done it to get up her nose a bit."
"Like collecting books but not reading them. Sad." Bodie shook his head. "Left it to somebody else, did he?"
"It might have been easier if he had. No, he left it to Major Cowley, all right, but when the solicitor sent someone along to collect it, there it was--gone. The cellar was empty. It always weighs on him at this time of year."
"Enough to give anyone the terminal Bah Humbugs," Bodie agreed sympathetically. "Come on, Ray, we'd better get our reports done and perhaps we'll be in time for a drink before the pubs shut. Thanks for the tea, Charlie. And the--"
"You may as well take them with you. Let me have the tin back when you've finished them."
"About five minutes, then, with old Hollow-Legs here," Doyle said.
Bodie rapped him on the head with the tin and after an exchange of seasonal good wishes they set off for their office in a familiar state of amiable squabble.
"Here, what about your granny's plonk?"
"What?" Doyle looked up, distracted.
"The dandelion and burdock. Could use a swig of that, help the reports along. Got a corkscrew somewhere." Bodie rummaged in his desk. "Here we go."
The right one. Feels right when we're in bed, but other times I don't know what he's thinking, who he's seeing.
Okay, Nan, let's see if Aunt Hetty knew anything useful.
Doyle passed the bottle over.
It was a warming brew, and they took turns while they laboured.
"Not a creature is stirring," said Doyle thoughtfully, flinging his report into the tray on Betty's desk. "All gone home. Down the drains." He picked up a snow-scene paperweight. "That's pretty." He shook it. "Look."
"You don't go for...usually...Ray?"
"Pretty." He put it down. "Let's see if the Home Sec's wife is with us before we go." He prowled off in the direction of the VIP Lounge. "There she is. Still got her coat on." Doyle surveyed the tall object swathed in padded wrapping with disapprobation. "She won't feel the benefit when she goes out again."
"Ray, I'm feeling a bit..."
"Now you mention it...I wonder what those herbs were? Someone needs a word with Nan. Will you tell her, missus?" Doyle appealed to the shrouded antique.
"Help her off with her coat first, Ray," Bodie chided. "What herbs?"
Doyle tugged at an edge. "Won't let go of it. Not one of your scrubbers. Nan's card said..."
"Pardon this lout." Bodie swept a courtly bow. "If Madam will just permit me--whoops!" He spun away trailing wrappings. "Naked as nature inten--"
Bodie regained his equilibrium. "Naked. So she is!"
"I've never seen a--"
"What, a pair of tits?"
"Not on a hatstand."
Bodie thought about it. "No. And I've never seen a hatstand with a dancing satyr on top, either. Is that what you'd call priapismic, Ray?"
"If you asked me nicely. It's a good bit of carving, this." He patted the unclad nymph appreciatively.
"The Home Sec knows how to pick 'em."
"I'm not sure I fancy the snakes much," Doyle confided.
"The hooks, look, they're...not snakes, are they?"
"Trouser snakes," Bodie said soothingly. "One-eyed."
"Oh. Mine doesn't bend like that. Eh-up, that wine's gone to me knees!"
"Yours bends to the left a bit. Comes of reading The Guardian. I've missed you the last couple of weeks, you know."
"Mmm. Me too. You. Need a nice sit-down." Doyle sank to the floor and tried to arrange his legs in half-lotus. "Need a nice lie-down." He sprawled, propped up on one elbow, staring at the base of the hatstand. "Yours just goes straight on till morning. Here, Bodie, there's all little carvings. Nymphs and shepherds and...nymphs and nymphs...and..."
Bodie crouched to see. "The Cow's got a nerve," he said, "putting the kibosh on our tree because it had the decency to keep its knickers on, and here he's got a pornographic hatstand right out where anybody's wife can see."
"Not right." Doyle explored one of the vignettes with a fingertip. "Drawers," he said dreamily.
"Needs 'em. Decorations, cover up the naughty bits."
"No, look. There's a drawer. You have to look close--with Nan's special vision. Where's the handle?"
Bodie pondered for a moment. "I bet it's that poor lonely shepherd wanking all on his own there. Give him a pull."
Doyle did. A semi-circular section slid out of the base. "There's a letter for the Cow." He fished it out. "Might be important."
"Lovely bit of craftsmanship, that." Bodie reached over and closed the drawer again. "Where are the decorations, then?"
"In the cupboard," Doyle said, and heaved himself to his feet while Bodie hauled out the carton where the Christmas accoutrements languished between seasons.
"These fairy lights aren't lighting." Bodie produced his Swiss army knife.
"Here's good old electric Rudolph." Doyle disinterred a plastic reindeer. "Does he still work?" He plugged the cord into a socket. The nose began to flash on and off. "Blue?"
"His bulb broke last year," Bodie recalled. "Murph borrowed one from this lot. Probably what screwed them up. Are the paper chains still there?"
"Squashed. There's some holly and stuff in the computer room. They won't mind. I'll swap them some gingerbread." Hugging the tin he drifted out, humming 'The Holly and the Ivy'. Returning a few minutes later naked to the waist, using his shirt as a makeshift holly bag, he was just in time to appreciate forty-nine tiny pops as the fairies registered their opinion of Bodie's comfort-and-joy-augmented electrical skills.
"You'd've done better asking us all to clap our hands." Doyle fanned at the faint blue haze.
"You've got mistletoe stuck in your hair."
Doyle squinted upward. "Didn't want it mixed in with the holly."
Bodie slung the lights in the direction of the dartboard. "Hang some of those glass balls on the snakes, shall we?" he suggested, apparently oblivious of the invitation.
"They've got balls already." Doyle swallowed disappointment.
"Can't have too many. Here, drape this round Mrs Home Sec a bit." He dropped a coiled tinsel garland on top of Doyle's shirtful of greenery. "Better put the holly round the bottom. Round her bottom too. Sellotape a bit on in front."
"Lot of bare bottoms down here." Doyle dropped his burden to the floor, grabbing the tinsel. "They'll get pricked by the holly. Shepherds. Pricked." He looked at the garland with fascination.
"Get some tinsel over those tits," Bodie admonished him. "Not yours, hers. Don't prat about, Ray." He dropped the box of glass ornaments. "Bugger."
"Shepherds." Doyle looped the garland around the nymph's ample chest. "Come away, come, come, come, come, come, come away."
"Too many comes." Bodie found another garland and draped the finial satyr. "No, can't have too many of those either."
"We've had a few." Doyle sat down and began to sort holly sprigs. "In between birds."
"Fancy trying that sometime, what those shepherds...?" Bodie stretched out a finger and touched one of the twigs threaded through Doyle's hair.
Doyle bent his head over the holly, his breath tight in his chest. "That's a bit...serious... I don't... Stop mucking my mistletoe about."
"You fancy--well, settling down a bit?"
"A satyr like you, settle down?" Doyle looked up into blue eyes that astonished him with their sudden intentness. "Not being between birds?"
"I want...it's been good, this last year, Ray." Bodie stroked his finger down an evening-rough cheek. "Hasn't it?"
"It's just Nan's comfort and joy talking, you know."
"It's me talking, Ray. Like the card said, the right one."
"How do you know what--?"
"Left it on your desk. Yeah, nosy sod, that's me. But, Ray--"
"Run, run, as fast as you can, you can't catch me..." Doyle twisted the end of the tinsel garland round his fingers. "You're the gingerbread man."
"You've caught me, Ray. If you want me."
"Christ." Doyle stared at him helplessly. "You know I bloody want you. But I won't...I can't stand it if you're going to muck about, Bodie. It's got to be--"
"Me muck about? Can't say I ever noticed you being ardently celibate." Bodie tugged the garland, relieving it of bra duty. He twined it round his arm, looping the silver glitter to bind his hand to Doyle's. "There. Handfast. Time we both stop running." He caught his breath and shook his head. "Bloody hell, what are those herbs your granny's dishing out?"
Doyle tugged gently at the bond. "Does it scare you?"
"You don't know how much." Bodie's gaze was unmistakeably sober.
"All right, then." And Doyle suddenly knew it was going to be all right. Joyful and triumphant, he leaned forward and his mouth claimed possession. "But I'm not chasing you, ever."
"Not even to eat me?"
"Dirty sod. Let's go to my place and come upon the midnight clear or something."
"Joy to the world." Bodie disentangled the garland. "I'll buy you a train set tomorrow if you're good. Put your shirt on. Where's the Cow's letter? Hope it's something to give him a bit of joy as well. We can shove it under his door."
Where Cowley discovered it the next morning.
"Ah." A smile that was positively benevolent greeted the startled Betty. "After all these years." He waved the paper triumphantly. "The secret location of Uncle Hamish's collection, prudently concealed from Aunt Morag. It seems she joined the Militant Temperance Tabernacle, locally known as the Smashers. Well, Betty, ask Charlie to arrange for the hatstand to be fetched along here, please, and we can finally be rid of our monstrosity."
And, until the advent of the Home Secretary's wife, graciously prepared to forgive past insults, coincident with the arrival of several helpful members of the B Squad in a state of raucous amusement bearing the hatstand, he spent the morning happily dreaming of a tight Christmas.
-- THE END --