Dust and Secrets
"The Cotswolds?" Doyle looked from the sheet of paper in his hands to his Controller in bewilderment. "You're sending us to the Cotswolds?!"
"Winchcombe, to be precise." The Scot's voice was ultra-dry. "I trust that is not a problem, 4.5?"
"But Conroy's mob... You can't..." stammered the agent. He glanced to his right for support. Bodie had not said a word since Cowley had dropped his bombshell, but the fierce scowl twisting the handsome face was proof enough of his feelings. Heartened by this show of solidarity, Doyle hotly protested, "You can't take us off Conroy now---we're just closing in on that drug-dealing bastard!"
"I can, and I am doing so," Cowley announced flatly. "Johnson and Elliott will be taking over; you can brief them before you leave London."
Bodie deemed it was time he entered the verbal fray.
"What's in Winchcombe?" No happier than his partner about the situation, the dark-haired man still had no wish to spend the rest of his life in Records. Considering the words that were obviously trembling on Doyle's full lips, Bodie reckoned that would be the least of their punishment. Ignoring the green-eyed glare scorching him, the younger agent focused on their boss.
"Carlisle Castle," replied Cowley. "You will be met there by the SAS. Your assignment will be to ensure the security of the castle and its environs for the next fortnight."
"Carlisle?" Temper somewhat diverted, Doyle frowned. "Isn't that in private hands now? Why do they need us?"
"Because we've been asked by the Foreign Office to render any aid possible." Cowley leant back in his chair, taking off his glasses and swinging them by one horn. "You are correct in that Carlisle is in the private sector, Doyle. The current mistress is Lady Judith Wenham-Davies. She is an American who inherited the estate when her husband died five years ago. CI5's assistance had been requested because, on Monday, Lady Wenham-Davies is expecting a visit from an old school chum."
The two top operatives exchanged a puzzled look.
"So who's the chum, then?" Bodie asked. "Must be someone fairly important if the Foreign Office is getting all twitchy about it."
"You may be correct, Bodie."
Both agents tensed. When Cowley got that plummy tone, an unpleasant secret was about to be revealed.
"I understand from Lady Wenham-Davies that she is quite looking forward to the visit from her old friend, Barbara Nash."
"Barbara Nash? Who the ruddy hell...?"
Continuing on as though Doyle had not spoken, the Scot ordered, "You two, however, will address the lady by her proper title should you have a need to speak with her: Her Majesty, Queen Yazeia."
There was several seconds of silence, then a mumbled, "Oh, bloody hell," came from Doyle. A look of intense disgust was on his face. He subsided once more under a piercing glare.
Again in total agreement with his partner, Bodie nonetheless bit his tongue. King Khalil of Mustar was not popular with his Arab neighbours. A strong advocate of the Middle Eastern peace process, the potentate was scheduled to take part in a meeting of Israeli and Egyptian leaders in Cheltenham starting the coming Monday. When they'd heard of the conference, Bodie and Doyle had been grateful--for once--to be stuck on surveillance.
"Ruddy perfect," sighed the ex-merc. "Now, not only will we have half the fanatics in the world trying to blow up London; we'll have the other half trying to turn Gloucestershire into a battle zone."
"That is precisely what we're trying to avoid, 3.7!" snapped Cowley. "King Khalil is well aware of the potential for violence during his visit. Consequently, he has encouraged his wife to visit her friend while they're in Great Britain. He believes any assassination attempt will be aimed at him, but to cover all bases, has asked for added protection for his wife. The Foreign Office thought that wise and, frankly, so do I."
"I can see his point," Doyle agreed reluctantly. "That explains the SAS. Where does CI5 fit in?"
"Because the king specifically asked for our involvement. It appears Sheikh Achmeia of Murani has given us a glowing recommendation."
The agents shared another glance then, giving a half-shrug, Doyle turned back to Cowley. "Our fame if spreading," he said resignedly. "What time do you want us down there?"
"By 0900 tomorrow. That will give you all of Friday and the weekend to set up the necessary arrangements. You will have two full SAS squads to assist you; the sergeant major in charge has been instructed to take his orders from you. I know it will be impossible to secure the entire estate--the parkland sprawls for miles and is unfenced--but you should be able to provide competent protection for the immediate grounds.
"For the remainder of the afternoon," Cowley glanced at his watch, "you can usefully employ yourselves in getting your reports completed, briefing Johnson and Elliott on the Conroy operation and familiarising yourselves with the layout of Carlisle Castle." He handed a thick file to Bodie.
"Equipment?" asked Doyle, looking over Bodie's shoulders as the younger man flipped through the file.
"Draw what you will need from the Armoury. Any other questions?"
Taking the tart query in the spirit intended, Bodie said crisply, "No, sir." Closing the file, he ushered his scowling partner from the office.
The silver Capri ladened with enough firepower--they hoped--to repel a small army, the two agents were on the road before dawn the following morning. Peering at the grey and lowering sky, Bodie irritably predicted that it would probably rain the entire trip down. Lounging in the passenger seat, his white knitted jacket open despite the coolness of the early April morning, Doyle let the stream of complaints wash over him. During the seven years of their partnership, he could never remember a time when Bodie had been happy about being rousted out of his bed before the sun was up. Thoughts meandering, it was some time before he realised that his partner had stopped grumbling and was glaring at him.
Bodie's look of exasperation increased. "Don't you think you should do up your jacket?" he repeated with heavy patience. "It's bloody cool out and you know the heater doesn't work all that well."
"It's not that cold out," argued Doyle.
"Cold enough we have to use the de-misters! What're you trying to do, Ray--catch pneumonia? Didn't know you liked being in hospital that much."
Temper rising, Doyle said evenly, "I hate being in hospital, as well you know. I'm fine; don't fuss."
Bodie ignored the warning signals. "You ought to at least cover your chest. Remember what the doctor said..."
"I said, pack it in!" snapped the curly-haired man. "You're not my mum, and you're not my keeper!"
Several minutes into the icy silence, Doyle heaved a sigh and faced his partner once more. "Look, mate; I'm sorry..." he began.
"No need to apologise, Doyle," responded Bodie levelly. "Was my fault; shouldn't have nagged at you. None of my business, is it."
Stealing another look at the set face, Doyle sighed once more. Some of the partners' most spectacular fights had been over what Doyle felt was an excess of coddling on the part of the dark-haired man. Unable to do much about the pampering and fussing during his recent convalescence from MayLi's bullets, Doyle had only hoped that his partner would ease off upon his return to the Squad. To his intense annoyance, the older agent had discovered that Bodie was showing little inclination to reduce the cosseting in the six weeks since Doyle's re-qualification. That he actually quite enjoyed it was something the ex-copper refused to admit, even to himself. Seeking to ease the tension, Doyle reached into the back seat of the Capri and retrieved the flask of the tea he had prepared earlier. He poured out a cup and handed it to the other man, inwardly relieved when Bodie took it with a small nod of thanks.
"Looks like the clouds might be breaking up," the slender agent announced, peering up through the windscreen. "Maybe we won't be slogging through the mud with the SAS, after all."
"Thank Christ for that!" agreed Bodie. "Was never my favourite thing to do even while I was in that Mob. Have absolutely no intention of ever taking up that pastime again if I can help it."
"Might have to," warned his partner. In response to the perplexed look he received, Doyle cautioned, "Who knows if that sergeant major can tell his head from his arse? We might end up doing his job, and ours, too."
Grimacing, Bodie handed back his empty tea cup. "Be just perfect, that." Voice gloomy, he asked, "We have any idea who it is?"
"Yeah, just a tick." Quickly finishing his own tea, Doyle screwed the lid back onto the flask before replacing it in the back seat. He then pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket and scanned through the list. This information had been included in the file Cowley had given them the previous afternoon, but the partners had decided the list of personnel could wait until they got to the castle so they could put faces with names. "All right, what have we got here," muttered Doyle. "Caretaker, butler, housekeeper, indoor staff, outdoor staff...ahh, here goes--SAS. Sergeant Major Eric Lindstone; know anything about him?"
The car swerved slightly.
"I'll take that a yes," Doyle said wryly. Eyeing his partner speculatively, he queried, "How much trouble are we going to have?" After several minutes, of silence, he prompted, "Bodie?"
Cursing his momentary lapse, Bodie said curtly, "We aren't going to have any trouble."
Having heard the faint emphasis on the first word, Doyle just waited expectantly.
It was Bodie's turn to sigh. "I mean it, mate. There's nothing for you to worry your head about."
"Nothing for me to worry about, eh? Guess that means you'll be the one doing the worrying, then."
"Look, Doyle; just drop it, okay? 'S not important--just that Lindstone and I have never gotten along all that well. But he's a good enough bloke and he knows his business."
When Bodie got that mulish look on his face, Doyle knew it would be useless to push any further at this point. Mentally resolving to keep a close watch on Sergeant Major Lindstone, he gave a nod of acceptance. "Hope those blueprints of the castle are correct. If not, this whole thing could fall apart before we ever get started."
Grateful for the change in subject, Bodie shrugged. "The date on 'em was fairly recent. Should be able to cover everything if we just follow the plan."
The two men had spent five hours the previous night at Doyle's flat, mapping out the best positions to set up the portable outdoor lights, debating effective placement of the SAS contingent and counting the number of motion detectors, cameras and alarms they were going to need. The figure they'd arrived at was dauntingly high. Reaching for the phone, Doyle had then spent the next ten minutes arranging for a team of six electronics experts to follow them down the following day to install the devices. Upon being informed that all electronics needed to be in place and working before nightfall Friday, Malcolm had balked. He'd insisted it was impossible; his team was busy with other matters and could not even leave for Gloucestershire until late Friday afternoon. Doyle had invoked Cowley's name without a qualm and bluntly threatened dire circumstances. Giving in ungraciously, Malcolm had agreed the team would be at Carlisle by 1000 the following morning.
Bringing his mind back to the present, Bodie said, "Could be worse, mate. At least there are very few outbuildings. Just the castle itself, the chapel and Banquet Hall ruins in the back."
"Yeah," agreed Doyle tartly. "Wonder whose bright idea it was to schedule the visit down there? Lady Wenham-Davies is sure to have a place in Town; would've thought that be easier to secure."
"Maybe it's a case of one-upmanship."
"On Lady W-D's part," Bodie elaborated. "Y'know, telling her old schoolmate: 'You might've married a king, but look what I've got' sort of thing."
Doyle snorted, shaking his head. "You're probably right; more's the pity. God, who'd want to live in a bloody castle, anyway? Huge, drafty buggers, impossible to heat, expensive to keep up..."
"Dust and secrets," Bodie declared disgustedly. "'S all they're good for anymore."
"You said it, mate."
By that Sunday evening, both CI5 men, for vastly differing reasons, were more than willing to brave Cowley's wrath and request a return to London. Within five minutes of meeting Sergeant Major Lindstone, Doyle had come to the conclusion that, if he and Lindstone were to survive this op, they both could not be in the same place at the same time. From Bodie's attitude in the car, he had been braced for open warfare between the two men. He was quickly disabused of that notion.
Climbing out of the Capri upon their arrival at Carlisle, the lithe agent had watched with narrowed eyes the stocky, khaki-clad figure hurrying toward them. Short, brown-eyed, with sandy hair cut in a military burr, the welcoming smile on the unprepossessing face did little to improve Doyle's initial impression. His opinion took a further downward turn when Lindstone rushed past him as though he were invisible.
"Bodie-boy!" the sergeant cried delightedly. "You look terrific, mate. God, it's good to see you again!"
Out of the corner of his eye, Doyle saw Bodie wince, then pin on an affable expression. "Good to see you, too, mate." Doyle wondered if the other man had heard the sarcastic undertone. Judging by his continued beam, either Lindstone hadn't, or had chosen to ignore it.
"When old Murtaugh told me you were going to handle this operation, I had to volunteer," Lindstone stated, giving his ex-colleague a hearty slap on the back. "Rounded up some of the best lads I could find. Only the best for you, eh, mate?" He gave Bodie a confiding wink that sent Doyle's teeth on edge.
Almost hearing the grinding teeth, Bodie said smoothly, "Too right, and my taste has only improved. My partner, Ray Doyle." With a nod, Bodie drew the sergeant's attention to the tense figure on the other side of the car. "The Foreign Office wanted CI5's best on this, and we're it." Emphasising the collective, he went on carelessly, "Ray and I have handled more ops like this than you can count, Lindstone. Just leave it to us and don't worry about a thing."
Inwardly wincing, Bodie saw suddenly wary amber eyes study Doyle's rangy form as his partner strolled over to stand casually at his shoulder. Hoping against hope that Doyle hadn't seen the fleeting look in Lindstone's eyes or had misinterpreted it, Bodie made a belated introduction, "Ray, this is Sergeant Major Eric Lindstone. We were on the same simulation team before I joined CI5."
The noncommittal tone made Bodie give a mental groan. He should've known better--those sharp jade eyes missed nothing. Calling down numerous curses on Cowley and the Fates, he listened with a sinking feeling as Doyle acknowledged the other man.
"Sergeant Major. Bodie mentioned that he knew you; I can see he didn't tell me the half of it."
"Well, that's Bodie, isn't it?" Lindstone replied with a tight smile. "He prefers to keep his private life...private."
"Really?" There was a faint surprise on the exotic face that didn't reach the hard eyes. "Funny, I've noticed it's only the bad times he doesn't like to talk about."
Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted, Bodie thought wearily. He affected not to notice the quick anger which flashed across Lindstone's face. Instead, he turned to his partner and said calmly, "Well, sunshine, being as it's only 0815, how about a quick tour of the grounds, see if we need to make any changes in our plans? Malcolm and the lads won't be here for almost another two hours."
"Good idea. Annoy him no end, it will, if he shows up to find us sitting back and having a cuppa." The hardness in the emerald eyes eased slightly. "Start outside?"
As Bodie waved him ahead with a familiar courtesy, Doyle gave a small grin and started off. Waiting until Bodie was in his usual position--just slightly behind and off to one side--Doyle called sweetly, "Aren't you coming, Sergeant Major? We'd be lost without you." His grin widened at the sigh from behind him.
Not surprisingly, the weekend had gone downhill from that promising beginning. By the time the CI5 electronics team had arrived--thirty minutes late--Doyle and Bodie had managed a superficial recce of the castle's immediate grounds and interior. True to Doyle's prediction, Malcolm had been less than pleased to find the two agents having tea with the caretaker, Peter Connors, in one of the staff drawing rooms.
Irritated, the electronics expert had then insisted that Doyle accompany him while the motion detectors, cameras and alarms were being installed. A sinking feeling in his stomach, Bodie had watched them leave the room. He didn't have to be a psychic to know the reason for Doyle's rigid back and stiff stride. Since the older agent would be busy for an unknown length of time with Malcolm, that left it to Bodie to ensure placement of the outside lights and SAS contingent. By necessity, Bodie would be working very closely with Lindstone and Doyle's views on that situation were obvious, even though no words had been spoken.
Tired after a long day of fending off the sergeant major's less than subtle advances, Bodie had greeted with relief the departure of the CI5 team. Even the sight of his partner's set face with its poorly concealed suspicions had had little effect on his sudden good humour. Winking one cobalt eye, he proposed testing the new security system using the off-duty SAS troops as terrorists. Quickly mapping out a dozen different scenarios, Bodie dispatched a grumbling Lindstone with his orders. Once the soldier was out of the room, Bodie had then gleefully sent for a maid.
For the next three hours, as daylight faded and a steady rain began, the SAS troops slipped in the increasing mud, fought prickly bushes in attempts to enter through windows and in one poor soldier's case, fell several feet into a cold puddle as the trellis he was climbing gave way under his weight. Throughout the exercise, the two CI5 agents had murmured encouragement over the R/T, reset alarms as they had gone off and made minor changes in their plans. Bodie wasn't sure that the best part of the day wasn't when a dripping-wet Lindstone staggered into the room they'd designated as security headquarters to find Doyle and himself relaxing amongst the wreckage of a five-course meal sent up the cook, a cheery fire dancing in the huge fireplace. The wide smile on Doyle's face as they'd parted outside their respective bedrooms Friday night stayed with Bodie as he settled for sleep.
That bit of by-play turned out to be the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal weekend.
The rain which had begun on Friday evening showed no signs of letting up as the weekend went on. Consequently, except for brief checks on his men, Lindstone had spent an inordinate amount of time in the castle proper, almost taking up permanent residence in the security room during Bodie's shifts at the monitors. Drawing a chair up close to the ex-SAS sergeant, he would sit chattering for hours, endlessly encouraging Bodie to remember the 'good times'. While Bodie freely admitted there had been some, he had been unable to find as many as Lindstone seemed to think existed and the dark-haired man had said as much. Oblivious to all such hints, Lindstone had just smiled and continued on.
Alternating between amusement and annoyance at Lindstone's heavy-handed seduction technique, Bodie was rapidly becoming just plain narked at his partner. While he hadn't expected Doyle to just laugh off Lindstone's clumsy attempts, neither had he anticipated Doyle's manifest resentment. Since walking into the security room Saturday morning to find Bodie and Lindstone, heads close, in apparent intimate conversation, Doyle had retreated behind a punctilious professional mask. Run to ground later that day in the castle's library, Doyle had calmly listened to Bodie's exasperated explanation that he and the sergeant had merely been examining the same monitor, both having thought they'd detected a blind spot in camera placement. When Bodie had finished, Doyle's only comment had been to ask if the blind spot had been corrected.
Thus the tone had been set for all further dealings between the two CI5 agents. Punctual whenever it was his shift at the security monitors or for checking the outdoor placement of guards and cameras, Doyle was otherwise conspicuous by his absence. Irritation growing hourly, Bodie had, by Saturday evening, ceased trying to placate his sullen partner. Sunday mid-morning found Bodie at the monitors, listening to Lindstone's ramblings with steadily-decreasing patience. The call from the guards at the front gate was received with sincere thankfulness from the dark-haired man. He could easily imagine Cowley's reaction if he'd given in to impulse and removed the SAS sergeant's head from his shoulders. According to the guards, a Major Abdullah Khafi was at the gate, requesting entrance. Recognising the name of the head of palace security for King Khalil, Bodie had quickly granted permission. With Lady Wenham-Davies and Queen Yazeia due to arrive the next morning, he had been expecting something like this.
Somewhat to his surprise, he'd discovered Doyle already outside, greeting the tall, lean Arab and filling him in on the security arrangements. After introducing his partner, Doyle had then volunteered to show the major around. Hanging back just long enough to rake Bodie with scornful eyes, the older agent had then hurried to catch Khafi up. Wondering just what the hell he'd done now, Bodie had turned to head back to the security room, only to practically trip over a closely-hovering Lindstone. The smug smile on the craggy face was the last straw. Brusquely, Bodie had suggested the man find somewhere else to be for the remainder of the day. He had then strode off down the back hallway, leaving Lindstone to stare, slack-jawed, after him.
Several hours later, Doyle had appeared in the security room to inform Bodie that Khafi was satisfied. The major would stay at Carlisle that night in order to greet his queen upon her arrival, and then he would return to London. Greeting this information with a grunt of total indifference, Bodie had continued to watch the monitors. Strangely, in view of his behaviour for the past two days, Doyle had seemed in no hurry to leave once he'd imparted his news. Turning toward him suddenly, Bodie had caught his partner staring at him with an unreadable look in his darkened eyes. He'd thought the slighter man had been about to speak when the maid, bustling in with tea, seemed to startle him. Doyle had simply stepped around the girl and vanished.
Undressing that night in preparation for bed, Bodie was uncertain which man he most wanted to thump: Lindstone or Doyle. He could think of several excellent reasons for both, and had just about decided to make it a double-bill when a knock came on his door. Sighing heavily, he reached for his robe and shrugged it on, wondering what so-called emergency had sprung up now.
Yawning widely, Doyle gratefully relinquished his spot in front of the security monitors to the fresh-faced SAS corporal. Boot heels noisy on the uncarpeted wood floor, he set off down the corridor to the back staircase. Shoulders hunched against the chill, he deliberately did not hurry his pace and forbade himself to even consider turning back to look behind him for, by this time, he knew there would be nothing there. Nothing but shadows and the pale light of the waxing moon shining through the high-set windows. Pausing momentarily at the foot of the stairs, he resisted the almost-overwhelming urge to turn. Then, giving a snort of self-disgust, he started up the stairs.
God, but he hated this place! Huge, and drafty as only a Tenth Century castle could be, it was too full of dim corners for Doyle's peace of mind. He had only been in Carlisle for a few hours before he'd become aware of the strange tingle in the air, the all-pervasive feeling of being constantly watched. Not that he could ever catch anyone at it and Bodie obviously did not feel the same strangeness. Not that he would, Doyle thought in abrupt vindictiveness, rounding the landing. Too busy playing goo-goo eyes with Lindstone, isn't he!
Reaching the first floor, Doyle turned in the direction of his room. All weekend, he'd been conscious of how near to the surface his temper lay. Battered by the roiling of emotions he was reluctant to put a name to, Doyle had spent hours trying to analyse his confusing feelings. Distracted by the quick anger which came over him whenever he caught Bodie and Lindstone together, unsettled by the brooding atmosphere in the castle, he had made little headway.
Lost within his thoughts, the CI5 agent was almost at his door before he realised that the door opposite his, Bodie's, stood open a crack, letting light stream out into the dim hallway. Coming up quietly, he had just put a hand on the doorknob when he recognised Lindstone's clipped tones. Breathing heavily from the swift rush of annoyance and something else he didn't take the time to identify, Doyle pushed wide the door. What he saw did little to restore his equanimity. A bare-footed, bare-chested Lindstone, back to the door, stood less than a foot in front of his partner.
Under his terry-cloth robe, it was obvious Bodie was naked.
Attention caught by the sudden draught of cool air, Bodie glanced up to see Doyle apparently frozen in the doorway. Shock, disbelief and anger all fought for supremacy on his partner's face. Fucking great, Bodie moaned mentally. Just what I need now!
Lindstone recalled his attention with a plaintive call of his name. Temper perilously close to snapping, the dark-haired man regarded the SAS sergeant through narrowed eyes. Lindstone seemed not to have noticed they were no longer alone, and Bodie gave no indication of this as he said coldly, "I'm not in the habit of repeating myself, Lindstone. What I said eight years ago still stands."
"But, Bodie, why?" The burly man appeared unable to leave the subject alone. "I know you; we were close once..."
"Close!" Bodie gave a harsh laugh totally devoid of humour. "Only in your own mind, you bastard. Get this through your thick skull--I didn't want to sleep with you eight years ago, and I for sure don't want to sleep with you now. In fact, I would have a hard time making it with you if you were the last warm body on the bloody planet. Now, get the fuck out of here. I don't want to see you again unless it has something to do with the job."
Trembling, face scarlet with rage and humiliation, Lindstone swung around. Freezing momentarily at sight of Doyle, he recovered quickly, brushing past the CI5 agent so ruthlessly that Doyle staggered. Regaining his balance, he took a couple of steps into the room, regarding the bigger man with unfriendly eyes.
"Sorry, mate." Sarcasm fairly dripped from the husky voice. "If I had known you were entertaining, I would've knocked."
"Leave off, Doyle," Bodie said wearily.
"Luckily, it was only me. Someone else might've jumped to the wrong conclusion."
As Bodie turned his back to pull back the duvet on his bed, Doyle snapped. Temper flaring hotly, he stalked over to the rigid figure, grabbed the wide shoulders and forced his partner around to face him.
"You crazy bastard!" he yelled. "What the hell d'you think you were doing? What if I had been Khafi or one of the troops? Have you lost all sense in that pea-brain of yours?"
Mouth set grimly, it was clear Bodie was only just holding on to his own temper. "It wouldn't have made any difference," he stated evenly, "as there wasn't anything to see. You know that, Doyle."
"What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Just that I don't know what I'm supposed to think when I find a half-naked bloke in my partner's bedroom!"
Lapis eyes gave off sparks. "I'll say this only once: There is not now, never has been, nor ever will be, anything between Eric Lindstone and myself. Now, will you kindly leave so I can get some sleep? It's going to be a long day tomorrow."
Confused by the unfamiliar emotion still raging in him, Doyle now wanted only to escape to the privacy of his own room. He needed to think on this incident, needed to figure out just why it had disturbed him so.
"Sure thing, mate. See you in the morning, eh?" Hand on the doorknob, he said lamely, "Sorry, Bodie; didn't mean to go off like that. Don't know why I did, even."
"Good night, Doyle." Back turned to him once again, Bodie meticulously fluffed the pillows.
Stung, Doyle bit his lip and nodded. "Good night, Bodie." Halfway through the door, the lingering remnants of chaotic feelings gave voice to intemperate words. "Best lock this after me if you don't want to wake up with an uninvited bed-mate."
A bitten-off expletive, then the older agent found himself jerked back into the room, face to face with a coldly furious partner. Shutting the door by the simple means of leaning against it, Doyle studied the ex-merc through wary eyes.
"I have had enough of your sly cracks and innuendo," hissed Bodie. "You're not leaving here until you tell me what worm has taken root in your twisted brain!"
Doyle welcomed the familiar surge of anger. "Don't threaten me, Bodie," he said coolly. "You know damn well what the problem is."
Bodie's rejoinder was succinct and crude.
"It's the truth, damn it! If you started thinking with your brains instead of with your cock, you'd see it, too. Ever since we got here, that little prick has been fawning all over you, kowtowing and simpering, practically begging to be fucked every time he looks at you." Doyle was completely unaware he was shivering, his voice low and intense. "And you...you're eating it up! Little pats on the shoulder, spending all your time with him... God, Bodie, it's disgusting!"
For a few minutes, there was a deadly silence, then, "You sanctimonious bastard," breathed Bodie between clenched teeth. "I haven't spent one second more with Lindstone than the job requires, and that only because you've been doing your famous disappearing act."
"So you're telling me you haven't enjoyed all those little tête-à-têtes?"
Bodie drew himself up to his full height. "What's the matter, Doyle," he sneered. "Don't like somebody else muscling in, eh?"
Doyle could feel himself trembling, feel the fury building. "Shut up, Bodie," he warned shakily. "Just shut up."
Blind with rage, Bodie failed to see how tenuous a grip his partner had on his temper. "Didn't know your ego was so fragile..."
"What's the matter, mate--jealous?"
It was with a sense of the inevitable that Doyle felt his right arm draw back, felt a dislocated thud as his fist impacted with Bodie's jaw. Curiously divorced from the proceedings, he watched his partner fall hard against the heavy bedside table, knocking it askew and bringing several knickknacks crashing to the floor with him. Breathing ragged, Doyle stood there for several seconds, staring at the immobile form before turning and leaving, slamming the door after him.
Several hours later, Doyle gave up even the pretense of sleeping. Punching up his pillows, he settled heavily against them. While he'd not done much sleeping the last few hours, he had done a great deal of thinking and, like it or not, knew he must face the conclusions reached. It was not so much those conclusions that kept him still dithering in bed, as his partner's possible reactions to them. Considering the way Doyle had ended their earlier confrontation, Bodie would most likely be highly suspicious of any overtures. Sighing, Doyle threw back the duvet and rose from the bed in one, smooth movement. Lying there, worrying, accomplished nothing; he had to see Bodie. Had to apologise and, if need be, beg for a chance to explain. He tightened the belt of his robe about him, then slipped from his room.
Four quick steps took him across the hall to Bodie's door. Not giving himself time to hesitate, he slowly pushed the door open, calling out softly, "Bodie? 'S me, mate; we need to talk." When there was no reply, he peered across the room, trying to make out the bed in the dim moonlight coming in the window. The moon gave off little light, throwing the bed, and most of the room, into deep shadow.
"Bodie, c'mon, mate," cajoled the ex-copper, moving away from the door toward the bed. "Know you're mad, but we need to...oof!" This last came as he tripped over something on the floor and fell heavily against the bed. Boy, Bodie must've been really narked; he went to bed without picking up the stuff from the table. Gathering his courage in both hands, Doyle reached for the light above the bed, saying, "We are going to talk, Bodie. Watch your eyes."
He flicked on the light. Blinking in the sudden brilliance, it was some moments before he realised what his eyes were telling him. The bed lay undisturbed, pillows and linens smooth and pristine. What the hell? Initial surprise gave way to abrupt rage. If I find that bastard with Lindstone, I'm going to have his balls! Swinging away from the bed, his foot again stumbled over the debris on the floor. Swearing, he glanced irritably downward and stiffened, heart freezing in his chest.
Lying amongst the cracked and broken porcelain were two blanched, muscled legs. Bodie lay where he'd fallen, his toweling robe rucked about bony knees. But it's been hours, Doyle thought numbly. He shouldn't still be out; I didn't hit him that hard.
Trying to swallow through a throat swollen tight with fear, Doyle sank to his knees. "Bodie?" His voice small and uncertain, he reached out a tremulous hand, hesitating for a moment before lightly setting shaky fingertips on the half-averted face. The skin was as cold as the marble it resembled. "No..." he mumbled, fighting the growing realisation, the mounting sickness. "This isn't real...'s not happening..."
Sliding his other hand under the stubborn jaw, he gently turned Bodie's face to him. Two glassy sapphire eyes stared unseeingly past him. "No, Bodie, no." Hands tightening on the dark head, distraught malachite eyes unwillingly took in the bloody hole where a fragile temple had met unyielding wood. A wave of nausea and terror crashed over him, knocking him into a bottomless well of grief.
Eyes squeezed shut in agony, he screamed out, "Bodie...Bodie...!"
"Oi, take it easy." The deep voice was achingly gentle. "C'mon, sunshine; I'm right here."
Doyle gave a convulsive shudder and forced his eyes open. Glancing wildly about, he barely took in his night-darkened room, focusing instead on the solid figure perched on the side of his bed. He reached for the shadowed form, then halted.
"Bodie?" he whispered harshly, throat raw.
"Yeah, 's me. You were really making a meal of it, mate. Could hear you clear across the hall."
"God!" Throwing himself forward, Doyle wrapped both arms around the familiar warmth, pulling it fiercely to him. Uncaring of the tears pouring from his eyes, or that his partner could feel how badly he was shaking, Doyle tightened his grip and sank his head onto a broad shoulder.
Considerably startled, but not protesting, Bodie returned the fervent embrace, murmuring soothingly into the nearest curl-covered ear. He unconsciously rocked the smaller form as though he were a child. It took several long minutes before the shudders racking the thin frame ceased.
When Doyle showed no sign of raising his head from its hiding place, Bodie asked softly, "That same dream again? The shooting?"
A few quivering breaths, then, "N-No, wasn't 'bout that." Doyle's voice was thick and slurred. "Dreamt..." Bodie heard him swallow. "After I thumped you--you fell against the table, hit your head wrong..."
Unseen in the darkness, Bodie gave a small, tender smile. "Well, that didn't happen, now did it," he remarked quietly.
"No." Embarrassment scalding through him, Doyle pulled away. Unsettled, he tried to explain. "Didn't even realise I'd gone to sleep. Thought I'd been awake the whole time, thinking." Surreptitiously attempting to wipe away the remaining moisture on his cheeks, he found a large, capable hand already there.
"Reach any earth-shattering conclusions?"
Grateful for Bodie's matter-of-fact attitude and the continuing darkness, Doyle admitted, "One or two." He sniffed, then fell silent.
Prepared to wait until his partner felt ready to speak, Bodie settled himself more comfortably. While he sternly counseled himself to be sensible, he couldn't quite suppress the small flare of hope. Needing to see Doyle's face, he turned on the bedside light.
Carefully not looking at his partner, Doyle began tentatively, "Bodie, don't get mad or anything, but I've got to know..."
Doyle still would not look at him. "When you said you weren't interested in sleeping with Lindstone...was that the truth, or only 'cause I was standing there?"
Patience, Bodie lectured firmly. Unclenching his back teeth, he said mildly, "Truth. Would've said the same even if I hadn't seen you in the doorway."
The curly head finally swung around to face him, jade eyes questioning. When Doyle spoke, however, all he said was, "Okay."
"Ray, why does the thought of Lindstone fancying me bother you so badly?" Bodie studied the quickly averted face with its downcast eyes. "You know I'm bi; you've known that almost from the day we were partnered. You told me once it wasn't important. Have you changed your mind?"
"Haven't!" Doyle denied vehemently. "Isn't important, Bodie. Really." Staring down at his white-knuckled hands clasped in his lap, he said obscurely, "Didn't have to have it, y'see, and when I copped this..." He fingered the battered right cheekbone. "...decided that was it. No more."
"Again--in English!" demanded a confused Bodie.
Glancing up, Doyle gave a brief smile. "Sorry, guess I was thinking aloud. Forgot I never said: You being bi isn't important, Bodie...'cause I am, too."
Thoroughly flabbergasted, it was some minutes before the ex-merc could get his mouth to work. "What?! When?"
Doyle had gone back to considering his hands. "Always knew I liked it both ways; fooled around enough with me mates, didn't I. Nothing too heavy, though. Then, in art school, it was pretty much expected of you. Swapped back and forth between the male and female models so often that I sometimes forgot who I was with. Didn't matter; as long as it felt good, I did it."
Very much aware of his keenly-listening audience, he gave a half-shrug. "Then, one of the younger instructors propositioned me. He was big and good-looking--a bit like you--and I was flattered. Some of the other blokes whispered he liked to play a little rough, but I wasn't worried. Could take care of myself, couldn't I. And I did...up till the night he demanded more than I was willing to give him."
Jaw tightening, Bodie reached over and laid a palm over both of Doyle's cold hands. "Don't, Ray."
Tossing his head dismissively, Doyle stated, "Was a long time ago, mate. Everything's scarred over now."
"So what happened?"
"I fought him, of course. Didn't make much difference in the long run. After he'd gotten his rocks off, he took a good look at me and panicked. Thought he'd killed me 'cause there was so much blood. So he threw on some clothes, hauled me down to his car and drove the pair of us to hospital. He spun everyone there a story of how a group of wild kids jumped us on our way out of a pub--he had a fair number of bruises of his own, I tell you! The sod gets his ribs taped and a few stitches put in, and I spend the next three months in bloody hospital recovering from him and the four surgeries it took to put my face back together. And, no, I never denied what he'd said had happened; not to the doctors, not to the police."
Becoming aware of the quality of the silence, Doyle glanced up. Seeing the steely glint in the midnight dark eyes, he declared with his usual asperity, "You can get that look off your face right now, mate. Took me a bit after I got out, but I finally tracked him down. He'd left the school, y'see. But I found him and when I'd finished, he wasn't quite the man he used to be."
His smile pure malice, Bodie said, "Good."
Shaking his head over him, Doyle continued, "Joined the Met soon after so it was no hardship giving up the fellas. You know gay sex has never made a difference to me. I just wasn't...interested...anymore, that's all."
"Can see why."
Hearing the imperfectly concealed pain, Doyle rushed on. "You were right, y'know."
"Hmm?" Jarred out of his dreary thoughts, Bodie asked, "What are you on about, Ray?"
"Earlier tonight." It took a visible effort of will, but Doyle met the bewildered eyes. "Was jealous of Lindstone...bloody jealous. Don't like you spending so much time and attention on someone else. Haven't for a good bit."
For the second time in less than ten minutes, Bodie was reduced to speechlessness. Finally regaining his normal aplomb, he regarded the other man with abruptly suspicious eyes.
Shivering, Doyle realised it was now or never. "Love you, Bodie."
When that declaration was met with a stoney silence, his heart sank. Still, he'd gone too far already and his partner was entitled to know the whole story. "D'you remember what I said to you that day outside the bailey?"
Flustered by the quick change in topic, heart and mind racing madly from the other man's prosaic announcement, Bodie was slow in following the conversational twist. "What day? Oh."
Face tightening, he gave an abbreviated nod. The image of Doyle striding away through the fallen leaves was engraved in his memory. Unbidden, another vision floated before his mind's eye: Blood pooled everywhere; the lithe form sprawled limply on the carpet; precious, life-sustaining fluid welling out with each tortured rasp of air... Drawing a deep breath, he forcibly shook off the memories.
Watching with rounded eyes as the handsome face blanched, the cobalt eyes going black and unseeing, Doyle realised with a shock that MayLi Kuolo's bullets had almost claimed two victims that traumatic day. Hurriedly reaching out, he gently stroked one finger along the tensely-working jawline.
"'S all right, sunshine--all over now." When Bodie blinked at him, he said quietly, "I needed some time to myself, mate, to do some heavy thinking. Been dreaming about you for a good while by then, and it confused me. Hadn't thought I'd ever be able to fancy another fella again, but I guess you sneaked up on me." Almost dizzy with relief at the small smile lighting the intent eyes, Doyle gave a wry grimace. "Was a bit scared, too. Knew you cared about me, just wasn't sure in what way. By the time I'd dropped off the laundry, I'd made up my mind. That's why I had those groceries--was going to fix you a home-cooked and then seduce you."
Bodie stood up, untied his toweling robe, dropped it, then crawled in beside his partner. Casually bringing the smaller man into a firm embrace, he planted a tender kiss between the wide eyes before asking, "Why haven't you said anything before now?"
Snuggling closer, Doyle threw a possessive arm and leg over the sturdy body. Pausing to kiss the strong shoulder under his head, he confessed, "The shooting changed things, Bodie. I had to wait."
"Afterward," explained Doyle, "seems all I could do was concentrate on getting better quickly so I could return to the Squad and watch your back again. Was worried sick the whole time I was off; never knowing if, one day, I'd find Cowley on me doorstep..." Voice going hoarse, he didn't complete the sentence. After several minutes of a large hand rubbing soothingly up and down his spine, he went on.
"Promised myself I was only postponing things, that after I got back, we'd have that meal." With a lightning change of mood, he propped himself up on one elbow and glared at his partner. "So what does Cowley do? Right off, he sends you up to Leeds undercover and dumps me in Kent baby-sitting some brain-dead politico! Wanted to wring his scrawny neck more times than I can count. Then," he grumbled, "we get stuck on bloody twenty-four hours obbos..."
Chuckling, Bodie drew the irate man down again, re-settling the mahogany curls onto his shoulder. Stretching out a long arm, he turned off the light. "You're still going to fix me that home-cooked." A non-committal grunt was his answer. Feeling the body in his arms growing heavier with encroaching sleep, he whispered, "Love you, too, Ray."
Delivering a soul-deep sigh, Doyle inched impossibly closer and went limp.
From their perch, high in Carlisle's central tower, Doyle and Bodie watched through powerful binoculars as the small motorcade made its way along the winding drive. Lifting his R/T, Doyle pressed the transmit key. "Doyle to Lindstone."
The response was prompt. "Lindstone."
"Motorcade consists of three cars; ETA three minutes. Parkland clear. Maintain status."
"Message understood." Faultlessly correct, the SAS sergeant's voice was also frigidly cold. "All teams report situation normal."
"Acknowledged." Lowering the R/T, Doyle grinned at his partner, saying, "Does the sergeant major sound a bit tetchy to you this morning?"
"Yeah; he does, at that," answered Bodie, continuing to observe the approaching cars. The sarcastic banter was familiar and easy. "Wonder what's gotten into him?"
"More like what hasn't," returned the other man just as the cars came to a smooth stop in front of the waiting reception committee. Grin broadening at Bodie's choke of amusement, Doyle used his binoculars to peruse the two passengers being assisted by Major Khafi from the silver Rolls Royce. He gave a small whistle. "Not bad for the over-fifty bunch."
"Been telling you for years, my son--breeding always shows."
Glancing downward himself, Bodie silently admitted that Doyle's assessment had been more than fair. Diametrically opposite in physical appearance--one tall, blonde and voluptuous; the other much shorter, brunette and petite--both women had, whether by surgery, cosmetics or sheer good luck, managed to hang onto much of their youthful beauty. As Khafi smilingly handed the ladies over to Peter Connors and retreated to speak with the men from the lead car, Bodie raised his glasses to again check the surrounding countryside. Everything seemed quiet and peaceful. His sense of danger was not yet aroused; however, the ex-merc acknowledged a surge of tension. Now that their royal visitor had arrived, there was all the reason in the world to expect things to get out of hand fairly rapidly. Glancing over, he saw Doyle was also feeling the heightened awareness. Not readily apparent to the casual observer, there was a sense of increased alertness about him, an extra brightness to the eyes. Although...
Giving an inward chortle, Bodie smugly took credit for a portion of the extra bounce in Doyle. Awakening slowly that morning to the feel of soft kisses drifting over his swollen jaw, Bodie had stretched thoroughly before opening his eyes and smiling at the attentive face so close to his. Without a word being spoken, he had gathered the lanky form to him, initiating a kiss so deep that both men were gasping and lightheaded when it broke. Moaning softly, Doyle had then started a comprehensive oral exploration of the pale body, from the oddly-shaped eyebrows to the arching tumescence and heavy testicles. Bodie withstood the exquisite torture of tantalising, open-mouthed kisses and light licks interspersed with nips from strong teeth for as long as he could. Then, abruptly surging upward, he'd flipped the other man onto his back and staged his own assault. Homing in on the beacon of velvet-smooth hardness, he tried to swallow his partner whole, attempting to assuage a hunger that was years old. Biting off a cry, Doyle had frantically reached for his lover and manhandled him into position, fervently repaying the favour.
Eons later, both men had gradually become aware that the ringing in their ears was not only the result of intense orgasms, but also Doyle's travel alarm making its presence known. Reaching out, Doyle had sedately turned it off before returning to bestow another lingering kiss on his partner's sensuous lips. One thing led to another, and so it was two rather breathless agents who had come down to breakfast in the staff's dining room just as the maids were beginning to clear the buffet. Effortlessly exerting his formidable charm, Bodie had managed to wrangle a hot breakfast for them both from the slightly exasperated cook.
Chuckling, Doyle was pouring them both a cup of the excellent coffee when movement caught his eye. He glanced up to find himself impaled on a poisonous brown-eyed glare. Maintaining a bland face, he nonchalantly stared back at Lindstone in the doorway until the other man had whirled and left. Busy chatting with the cook, Bodie had not noticed the silent exchange and Doyle did not bring it to his attention.
The slamming of car doors announced the departure of the security escort. Glancing downward once more, Doyle saw the two women had already gone into the castle and the staff were starting to disperse back to their usual duties.
"That's that," proclaimed Bodie, lowering his binoculars. He rubbed a slightly sore jaw. "Want to make a quick check of everything?"
"Sure," Doyle replied absently.
Hearing the other man's abstraction, Bodie looked over. "Something wrong?"
Flushing slightly, Doyle shook his head. "Nah." He turned toward the stair door. "Let's go."
Inspiration struck. Shaking his own head, Bodie said, "Ray." He waited until Doyle had stopped, then he walked over to him. "Look at me."
Reluctantly, Doyle pivoted to face him. The open love in the sparkling cobalt eyes took his breath away. "Bodie?"
"Stop it, Ray." The order was soft and filled with affection. "Stop feeling guilty about thumping me. We both acted like berks last night."
"Know-it-all," Doyle countered weakly. He finally managed to drag his gaze away from those incredible eyes. Sighing heavily, he glanced upward into the bare beams before shaking his head again. He gave a wry grin. "You can't say it didn't bruise beautifully." A genuine chuckle escaped. "You and your tender, white skin."
"Tender!" snorted Bodie in mock-outrage. "Says who?"
"Says me," asserted Doyle, heading for the door again. Graciously, he gestured his partner through, following close behind. "Don't argue with your lover." He punctuated his point with a deft grope of the firm arse.
"Doyle!" yelped the dark-haired man, voice higher than normal. He shot a glare over his shoulder as he came to the bottom of the winding stone staircase.
Laughing quietly as they turned the corner toward the servant's stairs, Doyle said, "At least we'll never have to explain it to Cowley. Who's going to tell him...the servants?"
"Thank god!" agreed Bodie gratefully, clattering down the stairs beside him.
Upon reaching the ground floor, they were met by Carlisle's caretaker. "Ah, there you are, gentlemen."
"Is there a problem, Mr. Connors?" queried Doyle.
"Oh, no; everything is entirely in order," reassured Connors. His greying blond hair glistening in the sun coming through the high windows, he beamed at the CI5 agents. "I've been asked to enquire if you have the time to meet with Lady Wenham-Davies and Her Majesty."
"Meet with....?" echoed Doyle, horrified eyes on his partner's bruised jaw.
For his part, Bodie looked none too sanguine at the idea.
"If you have the time." A small frown appeared in the older man's hazel eyes. "Good heavens, Mr. Bodie; what's happened to you?"
Bodie gathered his scattered wits. "Fell over a chair, didn't I." He managed a respectable smile. "You have quite a few dark corners in your humble establishment." As Connors smiled back, the agent went on, "We mustn't keep the ladies waiting. Lead on, Mr. Connors."
"I'm glad you weren't seriously injured in your fall, Mr. Bodie." Guiding them to one of the formal parlours, Connors stopped before a set of wide oak doors. "I do hope Katie hasn't been mucking about with the furniture again." With that, he flung open the doors, announcing, "The gentlemen from CI5, Your Ladyship."
Concealing their puzzlement at the cryptic remark, both men hurriedly pinned on their best professional faces as they entered the massive drawing room.
Connors was speaking again. "Gentlemen, may I present Lady Wenham-Davies," indicating the brunette, "and her most-honoured guest, Her Majesty, Queen Yazeia of Mustar," nodding at the blonde. Both women were seated on a long, plush settee. "Mr. William Bodie and Mr. Raymond Doyle."
Bodie hid the wince at the use of his given name.
Smiling, Lady Wenham-Davies rose, extending her hand. "Which is which?" A trace of southern American accent coloured the amused voice.
Bowing over her hand, Doyle grinned. "I'm Doyle; he's Bodie, Your Ladyship." Straightening, he turned to bow to the queen. Bodie followed suit.
"I wanted to thank you gentlemen for being so discreet with your precautions," said Lady Wenham-Davies. "While I completely agree with the necessity for increased security, I'm quite relieved to find it so...unobtrusive."
"We do our best," replied Bodie, smiling. "We'll be there if one should have need of us, but Her Ladyship and Her Majesty should never be aware of their guards."
"Thank goodness for that!" The twang was still strong. A decidedly non-royal wink took the sting out of the words. "I get enough of that at home!" Pausing, the blonde then eyed both men intently, eyebrows rising. "Although," she continued thoughtfully, "I can't say I wouldn't mind tripping over one or both of you. What do you think, Jude?"
Chuckling, Lady Wenham-Davies took pity on the flustered agents. "You'll have to forgive Babs," she consoled them. "Thirty-five years of Mustar haven't been able to rub out twenty-one years of Texas. I doubt anything ever will." She stopped and considered the younger agent gravely. "You seem to have been doing a fair bit of tripping on your own, Mr. Bodie."
Giving a feeble grin, Bodie excused himself, saying, "Dark corners and chairs don't mix all that well, Your Ladyship."
"Somehow, you don't seem like the stumbling sort to me," mused the brunette.
Wriggling under the continued scrutiny, Bodie shot a silent plea for rescue at his partner. Grimacing, Doyle gave a half-shrug, then returned to contemplating the middle distance. The ex-SAS sergeant was starting some mental re-vamping of the Doyle family tree when Queen Yazeia abruptly said, "You're right; he doesn't look the sort. Oh, lordy, Jude--you don't think all this hullabaloo has upset Katie, do you?"
Doyle had just opened his mouth to demand--politely, of course--an explanation of this bizarre statement when a knock sounded, and Mrs. Simms, the housekeeper, stepped into the room. "Your Ladyship, the baths have been drawn."
Catching his partner's eye, Doyle gave a minute jerk of his head. "If Your Ladyship will excuse us..."
"Oh, my, yes." Starting out the doors, Carlisle's chatelaine stopped just long enough to gather up her friend. "Come on, Babs. How does a long, hot soak sound?"
Bodie waited until the women's voices had faded away completely before asking in bewilderment, "Just who the bloody hell is this Katie they're all talking about?"
"Beats me, mate," said Doyle. "I don't remember a Katie, or any variation thereof, on the list that Cowley gave us."
"Okay. That's two, then," decided Bodie.
"Things we have to do. First, we take a quick look over the security arrangements; then we find Connors and find out just who this blasted Katie is!"
An hour later, having ascertained to their satisfaction that the SAS guards were remaining alert, the CI5 agents were ambling through the courtyard toward the caretaker's entrance. The closer they got, however, to the door half-hidden by the rambling ivy, the more Bodie was struck by a bizarre oddity: Doyle was plainly reluctant to re-enter the castle. It's like he's nervous about going in, ruminated Bodie. Almost as though he's...what? Scared? Dismissing the fantastic thought immediately, he was nonetheless determined to discover the reason for his partner's peculiar hesitancy.
"Something wrong?" Bodie asked for the second time that morning.
"Hmm?" Doyle gave a guilty twitch. Damn, didn't realise I was being that obvious. Still, he didn't know why he was so surprised that Bodie had picked up on his unease. At times, the ex-merc possessed an uncanny knack of knowing what Doyle was thinking almost before Doyle himself.
"Don't give me that, mate," reproved Bodie sternly. "C'mon, spill all to your Uncle Bodie."
Grinning sheepishly, Doyle shrugged and led the way to a marble bench below a towering ash. Once seated, he canted a look upward through his lashes. "What d'you make of Carlisle?"
Frowning slightly at the question, Bodie dropped onto the bench beside him as he answered, "Big and drafty, with far too many corners and rooms. Well-maintained, unlike some, and at least it's kept spotless. Connors' staff know their onions. Do wish, though, that whoever it is with the apple scent fetish would ease up. Place positively reeks of it at times."
"You've smelt it, too?!"
"'Course, I've smelt it!" Bodie was at a loss as to why his partner had gone so pale. "Be ruddy hard to miss it, the way it's tossed around."
"Thought it was just me," muttered Doyle, gazing at nothing. "Checked with Mrs. Simms after I noticed it a couple of times." He watched Bodie out of the corner of one eye. "Mrs. Simms said the maids don't use room scent when they clean. Lady Wenham-Davies doesn't like it, says the fresh air is scent enough."
Blinking at this news, Bodie questioned, "Where does it come from, then? There's no apple trees about."
"Don't know." Doyle shrugged again. "She just gave me this funny look when I said the same thing, and told me she had to get back to work. Practically ran down the hall away from me."
Studying the other man speculatively, Bodie asked quietly, "Ray, what's bothering you about Carlisle?"
"You'll think I'm crazy," sighed his partner, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his thighs. "Can't say that I blame you."
"I don't like Carlisle, Bodie, because it makes me uneasy. Ever since we walked into the place, it's felt as though somebody's been watching me. Only there's never anybody there. At times, the air feels electric, like there's a storm brewing...and I don't mean the gentle rain that fell this weekend. Thought the apple scent was all in my head because, the few times when I've mentioned it, all I got were wide-eyed looks." He sighed again into the heavy silence. "Now, go ahead and tell me it's all in my imagination."
"You don't have that sort of imagination."
The answer was decisive, giving Doyle the courage to look up. "Then what's going on? 'Cause it's bloody silly to be spooked by a pile of old stones and, no, before you ask, I don't believe in ghosts."
"Never said you did," Bodie said equably. "But, just for your information, there's been more than a few times I've looked over my shoulder these past three days."
Startled, Doyle shot a look at him. "You have?"
"Uh-huh. Never been anything there, either." Regaining his feet, Bodie put out a hand to help Doyle stand. "Let's go find Connors for that talk. Maybe he can shed some light on things." He started for the door only to be halted by a tug on the hand Doyle still held. He shot an equiring glance over his shoulder.
"Bodie, thanks." Doyle was serious. "For believing me." The resulting shy smile caused Doyle to catch his breath and severely lecture his overactive hormones.
At the knock on his office door, Peter Connors looked up from his paperwork. He waved the agents in. "Hello, again. Is there something I might do for you?"
Atypically, it was Bodie who showed no hesitancy with the strange subject matter. "Yes, Mr. Connors. You can tell us if Carlisle is haunted."
Somewhat to Doyle's surprise, the caretaker did not launch into immediate denials. Instead, he leant back in his chair and gave a broad smile. "I believe this will take some time. Have a seat, gentlemen." Pressing a button on his desk console, Connors asked for some tea to be sent in. That done, he surveyed the agents with a slightly worried look. "I can't understand what's making Katie take on so. We've had numerous security functions and receptions at Carlisle over the years and she's never been like this. Usually, she just gets very quiet--leaves us to it, I guess."
"That's the third time someone's mentioned a Katie." Doyle strove to keep the annoyance out of his voice. He didn't like mysteries. "Just who is she?"
"Queen Katherine Paar."
As the CI5 agents were picking up their respective jaws, a maid knocked and entered, carrying a tray of scones and the tea service.
"Thanks, Polly love," said Connors.
"Sure thing, Mr. Connors." The young girl gave the men, sitting stunned in the office's comfortable chairs, a bewildered smile as she left.
"Help yourselves to everything," urged the big Irishman, after pouring tea into three large mugs.
Some minutes later, sipping on the tea Doyle had automatically prepared for him, Bodie asked mildly, "Care to explain, Mr. Connors?"
The caretaker swallowed the bite of scone he was chewing. "I assume you both know the general facts about Katherine Paar."
As Bodie was stuffing his own mouth, it was left to Doyle to say, "Yeah. Last and only surviving wife of Henry the Eighth. Didn't she marry Thomas Seymour soon after the king died? Now that I think of it, I remember she moved to Carlisle after the marriage and died here not long after."
"Essentially correct, Mr. Doyle." Connors paused long enough to take a drink of his tea. "Now, let me fill in the blanks. Katherine Paar was widely known as a sensible and intelligent woman, even by her political enemies. However, she had one big weakness--she was in love with Thomas Seymour and it's been well-documented just how power-hungry he was. According to one set of historians, Katherine was in love with Seymour even while she was married to Henry. However, not being suicidal, she kept it well-hidden. It all came out in the wash four months after Henry's death, when Katherine and her Thomas were wed on the sly. So infatuated was the widowed queen, that she refused to believe the rumours that said Seymour had first proposed marriage to both her step-daughters--Mary and Elizabeth--in an attempt to get closer to the throne.
"It was Seymour's brother, William, Duke of Somerset, who was regent to the young King Edward and Thomas had always been intensely jealous of his elder brother's favour at court. Through Katherine, he would have an 'in' with the child-king, for the former queen remained on excellent terms with all her step-children. Thus, her friends tried to warn her that only harm could come of the marriage to Seymour, but she wouldn't listen. In April 1547, she and Seymour were married and the newlyweds retired to Carlisle, which was held by Seymour at the time as a reward for past favours to Henry.
"All was relatively serene for a period of time; then lo and behold, it was announced that Katherine, aged thirty-five, was pregnant with her first child. To everyone's additional surprise, the pregnancy was uneventful and on 30 August, 1548, Katherine gave birth to a healthy daughter they named Mary. Just as the celebrations were gearing up, Katherine fell ill with puerperal fever. A week after the birth, she died. Thomas wasted no time; the day of her funeral, he was on his way to London. This time, he focused exclusively on young Elizabeth, but his shenanigans cost him. Less than a year later, on 20 March, 1549, Thomas Seymour was beheaded for treason to the Crown."
Caught up in the ancient drama, Doyle's face was grim. "So what happened to little Mary?"
Finishing his tea, Connors sadly shook his head. "Initially, after Katherine's death, the poor, wee thing was sent to live with her uncle, the Duke of Somerset, and became part of his household. When her father caught himself a neckache, however, William decided it wasn't politically expedient to have her around, so he shipped the lass off to a friend of Katherine's, the Duchess of Suffolk, as the Crown had confiscated all of Thomas' properties upon his conviction of treason. Unfortunately, the good lady soon began complaining of the expense of trying to raise the daughter of a former queen and kept petitioning Somerset for more money. Shortly after that, more to shut up the Duchess than because of any pangs of conscience--at least in my opinion--all of Seymour's lands were returned to Mary and the poor kid was again shipped off, back to Carlisle this time, to live all alone with her nurses and maids. There was mention made in a letter to Somerset of 'the childe, Lady Mary, being of two years of age at month's end'."
"And?" prompted Bodie, curiosity powerfully aroused.
"And that was it." Connors gave a shrug. "There was no further mention of the child; none that has ever been found, at least. No one knows what happened to her."
"You mean she just disappeared?" Doyle shared an incredulous look with his partner.
"From the historical record, yes. One school of thought says the girl died young of one of the many illnesses so prevalent then; another discounts this and maintains that Mary grew up here and went on to wed a local squire and raise her own family. Unfortunately, there's been no definitive proof for either theory."
"Oh." Doyle mulled this over for a few moments, then asked, "Why does everyone believe it's the ghost of Katherine Paar who haunts the castle?"
"Circumstantial evidence, I believe you would call it." Connors shrugged. "Every now and then, a baby can be heard to cry in the castle nursery. It's soon joined by the sound of a woman sobbing her heart out. Over the years, castle staff have reported glimpses of a tall, auburn-haired woman in a green Tudor-style dress--it was reputed to have been her favourite. The ghost never seems to do much: Walks about the nursery, occasionally plays with the furniture if she doesn't like where it's placed, or sometimes, she's seen at one of the gallery windows just staring out at the grounds."
"Her favourite scent wouldn't happen to have been apple, would it?" Doyle asked sourly.
Connors grinned at this. "As a matter of fact, yes. I gather you've had several run-ins with our Katie, Mr. Doyle."
Bodie made a tsking sound. "Know you've always claimed you were irresistible to the birds, mate," he said, deadpan, "but isn't this going a little too far?"
Chuckling, Connors said, "I'm sure he's not doing it on purpose, Mr. Bodie. Although, I have to admit, I've never heard of Katie focusing in on one person this way."
"See, sunshine?' Bodie beamed at the other agent. "Now, don't you feel special?"
"No," Doyle retorted evenly. Rising, he poked Bodie in the ribs. "C'mon, you. Mr. Connors has work to do, and we've put off ours long enough."
Shutting the office door firmly behind him, Doyle set off for the security room, Bodie beside him. Turning a corner, he asked, "So, what d'you think, Bodie? If it is a ghost, why is she picking on me?"
The dark-haired man's shrug was uninformative.
Doyle was slightly irritated. "D'you believe in ghosts?"
"Beats me, mate. Know I saw some queer things in Africa..." Bodie shrugged again. "But I'll tell you one thing for free: I don't think you have anything to worry about."
"What makes you say that?"
"For some reason, she's watching you and hanging about. Don't worry about it until she starts chucking things at you."
The rest of the Monday, and the next three days, passed uneventfully. To the gratification of the SAS guards, the clouds continued to stay away, leaving behind bright blue skies and pleasant temperatures. To the gratification of the CI5 agents, Lindstone also continued to stay away, turning up only for the morning briefings and nightly security reports. From overheard remarks, Doyle knew the sergeant major was driving his men crazy with impromptu exercises and drills, but he had not attempted any unofficial meetings with either Bodie or himself since Sunday night. Doyle could not find it in himself to be upset over this. As for Bodie, it seemed he had all but forgotten the other man's presence.
Since their talk with Connors, the agents had not discussed the supposed ghost of Katherine Paar. But while their speculations might have remained unspoken, the manifestations of the so-called spirit were still very much in evidence. Doyle had lost count of the number of times he'd found himself enveloped in the rich smell of apple flowers, or felt the hairs on the back of his neck shiver under the sense of being watched. He'd stopped worrying about it, however, for it seemed Bodie was correct. Now that his mind was no longer distracted by jealousy and resentment, he could tell it was a benign observation. All in all, he reasoned, if one had to be haunted, at least it was best to be haunted by a nice ghost. And he had always liked the smell of apples.
But poor Bodie... Since commencing his affair with Doyle, he was now blessed with frequent ghostly phenomenon. What made this a rather dubious honour was the discovery that he was violently allergic to apple blossoms.
Walking down the back corridor late Thursday afternoon, Doyle was chuckling as he remembered the previous night. He and Bodie had been tucked into the big bed in Bodie's assigned room. Events had taken an interesting turn when, suddenly, the room was filled with the odour of fresh apple flowers. By the time the ex-merc had been able to stop sneezing, Doyle was a crumpled ball beside him, scarlet-faced, breathless and incoherent with laughter. He would no sooner start to get control of his diaphragm when he would catch sight of his lover's red nose and streaming eyes and off he'd go again. Noisily blowing his nose, Bodie had grumbled that it was obvious Katie--as he'd also taken to calling her--was a mother; she always showed up at the most inopportune times. Doyle knew it was probably only his imagination, but he'd thought he'd heard faint laughter then and the ethereal smell of apples had vanished.
His mind on the rather pleasant epilogue to the encounter, Doyle at first thought the faint sneezing was only a mental echo. As he opened the door to the security room, though, he was greeted by one of his partner's better efforts, and the now-familiar scent. Sniggering, he leant against the door jamb and folded both arms over his chest.
"What's the matter, sunshine?" he asked solicitously. "Catching a cold?"
His dignified glare spoilt by another gargantuan blast, Bodie gave a moan of pure self-pity and reached for his handkerchief. "C'mon, Katie, be a love, will you?" he pleaded pathetically, addressing the room. "I told you Ray was around here somewhere. Go bother him now, all right?"
As his partner finished speaking, Doyle felt a cool blast of apple-scented air caress a cheek. In seconds, the room was clear. Going over to the stricken man, he laid a soothing hand on the dark head.
"There, there, love," he crooned softly, stroking the silky hair. "Better now?"
Bodie eyed him disgustedly and blew his nose one last time. "Easy for you to laugh," he mumbled. "You're not the one whose eyes feel like there's sand in 'em." Feeling a light kiss on the top of his head, he craned his neck backward and smiled. "You're not so uptight about the idea anymore, are you?"
Planting another kiss--this time on the tip of the abused nose--Doyle then came around to the desk and hitched one hip against it. "Nah." He shrugged. "Like you said--at least she's not throwing things."
"Don't think she's that sort of ghost, mate." Bodie gave the security screens a casual glance. "This one's got class; a real lady, if you know what I mean."
"Yeah." Sinking into an over-stuffed chair close by, Doyle was quiet for several minutes before asking curiously, "Bodie, have you seen her yet?"
"Seen who?" Bodie was only half-listening as he switched the monitors to give him a different perspective of the grounds.
"Katie. Connors said some of the staff have seen her about before. I haven't; just wondered if you had."
A faint frown pulling at his brows, Bodie flicked a glance his way. "No, I haven't," he said thoughtfully. "Bit odd, don't you think? Considering the way she's been following you about."
Doyle gave another shrug and sank deeper into the chair. "I reckon she has her reasons."
Eyes snapping open, Doyle peered about the dark bedroom, trying to place what had awakened him. A sharp movement came from beside him and Bodie was also wide awake, leaning on one elbow.
"You, too, eh." The younger agent's voice barely broke the stillness.
"Yeah. Don't see or hear anything, though." The return whisper was laced with frustration. "Must be getting nervy..." There was a full five seconds of silence, then "Bloody hell!"
It was his lover's tone as much as the words that made Bodie whip his head around.
"What?" He could see nothing amiss.
"Over there--by the door." The sleep-husky voice was taut.
Blinking his eyes, Bodie peered in the indicated direction. Nothing there, just a little misty; although how the room can be misty when it's so sodding cold in here...
Jaw dropping, he echoed the other man's sentiments. "Bloody hell."
The mist was slowly taking form. Before their astonished eyes appeared a tall, slender woman, lit by a bizarre glow that obscured her face but outlined the apparition's body and flowing green dress. A pale hand took shape; reaching out, it beckoned to them.
Bodie found his voice first. "Katie, what do you need?"
The ghost continued to beckon at them. Ridiculous as it seemed, Doyle was convinced there was a sense of urgency about her. That conviction gave him the courage to say, "There's something wrong, isn't there?"
Nodding her head, the spirit gestured at the window, then beckoned once more. Almost against their wills, the two agents climbed from the bed and dressed quickly in their cast-off clothes. Glancing up as he hurriedly zipped his cords, Bodie saw the spectre had vanished. He grabbed his gun and followed his partner from the room.
Taking the stairs downward two at a time, Bodie noted off-handedly, "No apple scent, this time."
"Yeah." Doyle reached the bottom of the stairs and set off for the security room at a brisk jog. "She doesn't want you sneezing your head off, does she. Must be bloody important." He didn't slow upon reaching the room, but barreled on through the door, greatly startling the SAS man on duty.
"What's happening?" Bodie demanded, coming up to glare over the other man's shoulders.
"W-Why nothing, sir," stammered the young corporal. "See for yourselves." He gestured at the monitors.
"Certainly seems peaceful enough," murmured Doyle, standing at Bodie's right shoulder. "D'you think we misunderstood her?"
"Maybe." Bodie continued to stare at the screens, brows lowered. "But, somehow--I don't think so."
"Me, either," confided Doyle. "My spine's itching like mad."
He was filled with the same urgency he'd sensed emanating from the ex-queen. Going over to the windows, he lifted the heavy drapes and peered out into the night.
Bodie was still frowning perplexedly. Giving a dissatisfied grunt, he picked up an R/T. "Bodie to Sector One." He called the guards at the front gate. "Report."
The response was swift. "Sector One to Bodie. All clear."
"Understood. Sectors Two and Three, report."
The guards patrolling the castle proper gave the same reply, as did the men stationed around the old chapel building and the two teams in the Banquet Hall ruins. Bodie had just called the men stationed in the topiary garden when the security room door opened and Lindstone walked in. Doyle guessed he had been called by the corporal. The observation was borne out when Lindstone showed no surprise at seeing them there in the middle of the night.
"Problems?" the sergeant asked.
"Unclear." Doyle shrugged. "Could be nothing."
"Could be something." Bodie lowered the R/T and looked over at them grimly. "Sector Seven isn't responding."
Doyle came up to him immediately, but Lindstone was shaking his head. "No need to worry," the stocky man said condescendingly. "There's a perfectly logical reason; I canceled that watch this afternoon. The position was redundant."
"What?!" exploded Bodie. Stalking over to his ex-squad mate, he grabbed the other man by the throat and pinned him against the wall. "Who the fuck gave you the authorisation? We sure didn't!"
Both hands gripping the steel vise around his throat, Lindstone gasped and choked. "N-Nothing's happened, has it?" Face turning florid, he wheezed, "Christ, there's four men out front, eight men covering the chapel and ruins out back and the lights make everything as bright as day... Bodie, let go. I can't breathe!"
But the pressure must have increased, for the frantic brown eyes bulged even further from the purpling face.
"Let him go, sunshine," Doyle said contemptuously, eyeing the quivering figure with deep scorn. "We've got bigger fish to fry. Besides, once we report this, his career will be over."
Bodie tightened his grip just a fraction more before tossing the sergeant aside as though he were weightless. "Yeah. Let's get out..."
A loud explosion drowned out the rest of his words. The castle, itself, seemed to shudder and suddenly the air was filled with the bedlam of men shouting and the sound of automatic gunfire. Stopping only to glance at the monitors to find the source of the attack, Doyle bounded through the door.
"Corporal!" snapped Bodie. "You're in charge here until further notice. Detail six men to round up the staff, then put everyone--including Lady Wenham-Davies and Queen Yazeia--into one of the upstairs rooms. Keep everyone away from the windows!"
Orders given, he bolted after Doyle, barely hearing the younger man's crisp, "Yes, sir!"
Ignoring the frightened voices of the milling staff, Bodie pelted along the back passage toward the Long Gallery on the east side of the castle. According to an inside camera, one of the small rooms used by the staff had been the victim of a rocket grenade. Rounding a corner at a full run, he staggered from the effect of another explosion. Through the R/T still held unconsciously in his left hand, came a familiar terse cry.
"They're in the castle! Repeat, Security Control--armed raiders in the castle!"
Bodie's heart seemed to stick in his throat. The last grenade had hit close by and he was choking on the cordite and smoke. From a room ahead and to his left, came the well-known sharp retorts of a Browning Hi-Power. Plastering himself against a wall, Bodie edged toward the door. Before he could reach it, two dark-clad figures burst into the corridor, moonlight gleaming dully on upheld weapons.
Instinctively bringing up his own gun, he fired off several rounds. Stepping over the crumbled shapes, he shouted, "Ray! You all right?"
"Yeah!" More gunfire was exchanged. "Shit!"
Taking a deep breath, the younger agent dived into the room. His forward roll fetched him up against the plump arm of a settee. Cautiously raising his head, he spied several bodies littering the floor and squinted, trying to find his partner.
"Where are you, sunshine?"
"Over here, behind the chair." Doyle's voice was grim, but unstrained. "I'm out of ammo. Got spare clips?"
"Yeah. On the count of three." Counting slowly, Bodie abruptly popped up from his hiding place, showering the demolished window with covering fire. A quick dive and Doyle was beside him. "Jesus, how many are there?!"
There more dark shapes were crouched against the far wall, another one was still climbing through the wreckage.
Hurriedly re-loading, Doyle was sharply aware of the ongoing gun battle. A blistering curse from Bodie brought his head up--the movement left him eye to eye with the menacing muzzle of an Uzi. The futile sound of Bodie's weapon clicking on a misfire echoed through the suddenly silent room.
A heartbeat, two, then there came a blast of fury-driven arctic air; the overpowering, cloying odour of apples suddenly boiled in the small room. With dazed eyes, the two CI5 agents watched as the non-comprehending terrorist was lifted bodily into the air and flung viciously head-first into the nearest wall. A dull crack sounded and the man slid bonelessly down to the floor. The avenger was plainly not finished: From their frozen crouch behind the settee, Bodie and Doyle heard Arabic voices calling out in terror and high-pitched screams. The sitting room echoed with sickening squelching sounds, and then a deathly quiet.
It took some moments, but eventually the agents clambered to their feet and surveyed the charnel house which had once been the quaint sitting room. The man who had been thrown at the wall lay where he'd fallen; three more unmoving forms lay around him. Bemused eyes took in the fireplace pokers rammed through the chests of two of the men; the third man's head lay at right angles to his body. Eight more terrorists lay scattered about the floor, blood dripping from the almost-prosaic bullet holes.
There was the merest whisper of apple-scented breeze wafting through the room. It ruffled Doyle's curls, then was gone.
Bodie gradually became aware of the squawking R/T lying abandoned on the floor. As he bent over to retrieve it, he distantly noted the absence of gunfire.
Pressing the transmit button, he answered the urgent summons. "Bodie."
"Sir!" The tension-filled voice of the young corporal filled the room. "Are you and Mr. Doyle all right?"
Only then daring to meet the stunned jade eyes, Bodie released a long breath. "Yeah, we're fine. Report."
"I think we've got them all, sir. There's five enemy dead, seven wounded, one of them seriously. We sustained no casualties, but have two wounded. Neither appear life-threatening."
"Thank god for that," breathed Doyle, abruptly finding his voice. Leaning over, he said into the R/T, "We've got more dead raiders back here. How are the civilians?"
"Not a scratch on 'em," assured the corporal. "In fact, Lady Wenham-Davies has the cook making tea and sandwiches while she and Her Majesty are in one of the upstairs parlours, bandaging our wounded men. It seems they both trained as nurses when they were young."
"Hooray for them," muttered Bodie. Taking a deep breath, he said, "Doyle and I will be there shortly. Carry on."
He flicked off the R/T in the middle of the affirmative.
For a long moment, there was silence. Then, Doyle asked quietly, "Why, Bodie?'
"Why what?" Sinking down onto the settee they'd been hiding behind, Bodie leant his head back and sighed deeply, willing his hands to stop shaking. At that range, there was no way that bastard could've missed Ray...
"Why did she do it?" Doyle frowned unseeingly down at his partner. "She's such a gentle ghost. Why did she do...this?" A waving hand took in the carnage.
"Are you complaining?" Peering upward, the dark-haired man declared, "I, for one, am exceedingly grateful to the lady for her assistance."
"So am I," his partner said decisively, reliving the terror-filled seconds when he'd been positive that he and Bodie were dead. Laying a still-trembling hand on the cropped head, he continued, "I just don't understand why she did it, that's all." He frowned once more upon seeing the tender smile on Bodie's long mouth.
"Don't you see, sweetheart?" Bodie prompted softly. "She had to do it. Couldn't stand by and let you get hurt, now could she."
Doyle slid down to slump beside him. "Bloody hell," he mumbled resignedly. "Doesn't anybody think I can take care of myself?"
ONE YEAR LATER
Stifling a yawn, Bodie urged his partner down the stairs at CI5 headquarters. "C'mon, sunshine--shift it or Cowley will find something else for us to do. I don't know about you, but sixty-three hours on duty in one go are more than enough for me."
"Getting old, are we?" jeered Doyle, although his speed noticeably increased. Not slowing upon reaching the bottom, he was halfway out the outer door, Bodie on his heels, before he realised that the guard at the security desk had called his name.
Braking so abruptly the ex-merc slammed into him, almost knocking him over, Doyle said wearily, "What now, Bill?"
Grinning broadly at the two disheveled men--Bodie was swearing loudly and creatively--the guard waved a large, white envelope in their direction. "Now, don't be like that, 4.5; got something for you, haven't I? Came by special messenger yesterday afternoon."
Exchanging a puzzled glance with his partner, Doyle ambled over to retrieve the indicated object. "For me?" He eyed the packet dubiously. It was a standard legal-size envelope; judging by its thickness, there were several pieces of paper inside. His name had been typed on the front, along with the notation 'In Care of CI5 Headquarters--London'. "I wasn't expecting anything."
Coming up beside him, Bodie gave the parcel a suspicious look. "Has this thing been through the scanner, Bill?"
"First off," reassured the guard. "Nothing but paper inside."
"Oh, well." Shrugging off the mystery for now, Doyle shoved the envelope inside his jacket and resumed his escape from CI5. "You planning on taking up residence here, mate?" he called back over his shoulder.
"Don't be bloody ridiculous."
Forty-five minutes later, collapsed on the settee in Doyle's flat--at their Controller's insistence, they still maintained separate flats for appearance's sake--Bodie reached up and gratefully took the drink held out to him. He took a restorative mouthful as his lover dropped beside him with his own drink. As Doyle took a sip of his scotch, Bodie nudged him.
"Why don't you open that letter now, eh?"
"Anyone ever tell you that curiosity killed the cat?" remarked Doyle, although he obligingly stretched out an arm to snag his jacket from where it lay on the opposite end of the settee. He pulled out the envelope and slit it open, taking another drink before setting the glass down on the coffee table in front of him.
"Meow," quipped Bodie, draping an affectionate arm around the bony shoulders. "Who's it from, then?"
Automatically leaning into the warmth next to him, Doyle looked up, frowning. "'S from Peter Connors." At his partner's blank look, he reminded, "You remember, Bodie--the caretaker of Carlisle Castle?"
The younger man gave him a startled look. "Oh, yeah. Why's he writing to you?"
Doyle returned to the missive in his hand. "Says he thought we might be interested in something. Seems Lady W-D took it into her head to do some redecorating on the nursery floor, so the walls between the nursery proper and the rooms on either side were knocked out. The workmen found a tiny priest's hole no-one knew about."
"Fascinating," admitted Bodie, "but why tell us?" His eyes widened at the sudden look of excitement on the exotic face.
"My god, Bodie--inside the space was Lady Mary Seymour's journal!" He glanced up, jade eyes sparkling. "She lived, sunshine!"
"As least long enough to be able to do a journal," Bodie amended realistically. "So go on, Ray; what was in it?"
"Mmm." Doyle read on rapidly. "Connors says he photocopied the last page and sent it on." He flipped over another sheet of paper. "Here we are."
Taking a sip of his drink, he began to read out loud, hampered by the faint, spidery handwriting:
...If God continues to be with me, this shall be the last. I do so pray to Him that my deliverance, and my joy, is at last to hand. By the time the cock crows on the morrow, my Beloved and I shall be far away from this accursed and lonely place. No more to be watched with jealousy and suspicion, to see the disappointment in my Lord Somerset's eyes when he finds I have not yet succumbed to some fever that is ravaging the countryside.
Well do I know what they will say of me when my flight is discovered; they will shriek and be outraged at the dishonour of it. Then they will shake their pious heads, saying, "What else shall we expect of her?" As if my Father's crimes against the Crown were made with my knowledge e'en though I was but a babe in arms when he plotted his schemes! God will deal with all of them, the whisperers and gossip-mongers, who fill the Court with such maliciousness. Have they so soon forgotten the good and beautiful Katherine, my precious Mother?
I must not be vindictive and should follow the wise counsel of my Beloved to leave all to God. The world looks at him and sees naught but a dusty stable hand. I look at him and see Life, itself, for so he is with his beautiful eyes and gentle smile. I shall thank the Good Lord every day left to me that he gazed upon me and saw, not Lady Mary Seymour, but a maid on the verge of womanhood; a maid who was desperate to love, to be loved.
Now that I have reached my fourteenth summer, there is nothing that shall keep us apart. I have no doubts there shall be no pursuit, only poorly hidden relief and much joy at my supposed disgrace. When we reach Cahirciveen on Eire's coast, my Beloved has promised that we shall be wed by the same village priest who attended his Christening, and that his humble family will open their arms and hearts to me. If this be true, then it is one more reason for which to give Thanks. And, now, I must close this record. From this moment onward, there will no longer be Lady Mary Seymour and Miceal, the stable hand. From this moment onward, there is only Miceal and Mary Doyle.
Anno Domini 1562
Outside, car horns honked and children shouted, but inside the CI5 flat, the silence of eternity held sway for long minutes. Ashen-faced, Doyle had to clear his throat several times before he could speak.
"Connors also says," he went on in a tight voice, "that there hasn't been any sign of Katie since that night. No apple scent, no baby or woman crying in the nursery, no nothing. Everyone is baffled." The papers in his hand shook slightly.
"Doesn't surprise me," declared the dark-haired man. Bodie's own face was paler than normal, cobalt eyes darkened to midnight, but his voice was under control.
"How d'you mean?"
"No reason for Katie to be hanging about any longer, is there," commented Bodie gravely. He tightened the arm around Doyle's shoulders, drawing his trembling lover into a fierce embrace. Planting a tender kiss on a curl-covered temple, he whispered, "She finally got what she was waiting for, didn't she. Now she can finally rest--she knows her child is safe and loved."
-- THE END --
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 17, Whatever You Do, Don't Press! (Agent with Style), 1997