by Brenda K
The stained glass threw a gaudy blur of colours onto the flagstones, and there was that almost-silence you only heard in churches: a mixture of muted voices, echoed footsteps and faint organ music. No sweet, lingering smell of incense here though, Doyle thought. That was the big difference from the churches he remembered. Here, there was just a faint impression of mustiness and dust.
As if on cue, Bodie sneezed. Bodie and dust were not good friends. Bodie and the KGB weren't good friends either, and Cowley's regular 'chats' with them weren't his favourite occupation. They always seemed to take place in dusty places, as Bodie never failed to point out, a pained expression on his face.
Doyle and churches weren't good friends for that matter, but he didn't fancy thinking about all that. It was history.
Westminster Abbey, mind -- Cowley's choice this time -- was at least different to the abandoned warehouses or draughty station halls favoured by the Russians. Cowley usually preferred museums or parks, or on one memorable occasion had opted for a racecourse, which had for once brought a broad grin to Bodie's face. Cowley had reluctantly agreed to have a flutter when the meeting was over; Bodie had lost five quid, Doyle had broken even, and Cowley had splashed out in the bar with the ten he'd won. That had been one of their earlier meets and one of the better ones.
"Oh my," Bodie muttered softly. He was leaning on a pew, ostensibly giving the two dark-suited, miserable-looking Russians the benefit of his best 'impassive verging on smug' look. Doyle followed his eyes, and took in the neat line of Japanese tourists, festooned with cameras and led by a guide holding up some sort of flag.
"Muslims," Doyle told him, eyeing the visitors with a frown. "They've got the best idea. Don't let non-believers in."
"Dead right. Including Russians."
"Think this lot can lip-read?" Doyle asked him. "Our Russian friends, I mean?"
"Dunno. So, gentlemen? Fancy a full-blown orgy tonight then? If we organise the ladies?" Bodie said, under his breath. Doyle thought he saw the taller of the two men's eyebrows twitch slightly, but maybe that was just his imagination.
Cowley and his KGB chum seemed to be finishing up at last. Cowley beckoned them over. Head Honcho on the Russian side did the same. Doyle felt a bit like a Japanese tourist as the four of them moved in two neat pairs, following twin guides.
"It is a beautiful place," the strongly-accented voice came into earshot. "Not like some of our cathedrals, of course. But it has a certain attraction. The gargoyles are most fascinating."
Doyle immediately looked upwards.
"Ugly things," Bodie said.
"Those aren't gargoyles. They're grotesques," Doyle said. Cowley heard him and whirled.
"What was that, Doyle?"
"But mum, they called me Doyle the gargoyle."
"It still wasn't a reason to give one of them a black eye, Ray. That's no way to behave on a school trip."
"Who wants to see churches on school trips anyway? They've got a funfair in Matlock, and a zoo, and the teacher had to drag us in there."
"And you had to lose your temper. What am I going to do with you?"
"Make it so I don't look like a gargoyle. They all call me that now. It's not fair."
"Life isn't. It's unkind and thoughtless of them, but..."
"And I have to write an essay on gargoyles as a punishment. I don't know where to start."
"Go and ask Father O'Dougherty. He'll have books on that."
"Nothing, sir. Sorry."
"Continue. Please." The Russian was staring at him. Cowley nodded. Doyle took a deep breath.
"Gargoyles are rainwater spouts, and they're always outside buildings. It comes from the French word to gurgle. Inside, they're called grotesques. Nobody really knows why they're there -- the architects having a bit of fun, or a warning about the perils of evil, or just caricatures of people."
"That one with 'is tongue out definitely reminds me of somebody," Bodie said cheerfully. "Can't think who, though."
Doyle clenched his teeth until he realised Bodie was looking at the uglier of the two Russian bodyguards.
Cowley seemed about to put Bodie in his place, but a smooth voice cut in.
"My word, George. You are hiring intellectuals these days rather than field agents, it would seem."
Bastard, Doyle thought but the words were said lightly, with a smile on the square face, and a part of him almost wanted to smile back.
"Oh, my men are all-rounders," Cowley shot back, although still managing to sound mild. "So, Mikhail - your choice of venue next time."
"I shall be in touch."
The Russian trio set off down the nave. Cowley threw Doyle an appraising glance.
"Wait for me by the door. I'll be along in a moment."
Bodie pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose loudly as they strdoe out into the sunshine. Doyle found himself staring up at the roof and the gargoyle on it.
"Very impressive, professor," Bodie said. "What's betting they find somewhere with icons next time, so we get a lecture in return? How long d'you think Cowley's gonna commune with God? I presume that is what he's up to?"
"Well, he's a Baptist or something, so at least he won't be dropping in at the confessional," Bodie said. "Dammit, all that takes me back. Doyle? Oy -- you listening or perfecting your knowledge of architecture? How come you knew about gargoyles anyway?"
"School project," Doyle said curtly, hoping Bodie wasn't about to launch into the third degree.
"So they called you a gargoyle, eh?"
"Yes, father. Mum said you might have some books, but I can come back later."
"No, no, Raymond. Why don't you sit down? Would you like a chocolate biscuit? And how unkind of those boys. Beauty takes many different forms. Lost your tongue, young man?"
"No, not there. Come and sit beside me. Now, where was I? Ah yes, beauty..."
Doyle jumped. He could almost smell the incense that lingered on the Catholic priest's clothes. What had Bodie said? He looked blankly at his partner.
"Didn't do that sort of interesting stuff at my school. Unless you count finding ways to sneak a fag behind the bike shed, or how to ogle the girls from the school next door in their gym gear."
"We did that as well," Doyle grinned slightly. "I used to dream of mixed schools. Would have made it far easier."
"Nah. Would have ruined all the fun. Nothing like a challenge."
"Gargoyle," Bodie said suddenly. Doyle felt his fingers curl into a fist. But no, Bodie was looking up at the roof, not at him. Besides, he didn't know why he was still so touchy. Not now. Not about the damned gargoyle nickname at least.
"They're ugly. But appealing in a way. And that one in there did remind me of somebody."
Doyle's fingers tightened again.
"Nah." Bodie was still peering upwards. "Although if you stuck your tongue out and pulled your mouth open..."
Doyle tried to wither his partner with a look. A mental image of Bodie in choir robes and ruff, however, drained a little of the tension away.
"Choirboy. Should have known. Boy soprano?"
"Boy piss artist." Bodie corrected him cheerfully. "Got kicked out for -- I quote -- 'creating havoc in the ranks'. Start of a career trend, that was. Quite enjoyed the singing though."
"You know, there is beauty in all things, Raymond. In the sound of a choirboy's voice. Or in the youthful grace of a body. A shame you don't sing, but I'm sure -- certain, even, that you have other talents. Sit a little closer, won't you?"
"Father, can I just have some books on gargoyles? I don't think I --"
"Your looks may be unusual, son. But the unusual can also be highly attractive. Let me show you..."
Doyle tried to push the images away, shuddering slightly, but it didn't work. They came anyway, washing over him.
He remembered getting to his feet, the china plate and the chocolate digestives falling to the ground almost in slow motion. The shock of fingers touching his face, then that lightest of touches on his thigh. The sweat trickling down his back. His stuttered words about going to the library instead. The insistent hand pulling him back onto the shabby settee.
And then the confusing, frightening, yet strangely exciting exploration. The musky smell of the priest's open fly, the sight of his erection, the shock of a hand other than his own working him, caressing and gripping... and then the release, the stickiness on his own groin. The strange light in Father O'Dougherty's eyes as he'd climaxed and as he watched Doyle getting his breath back. Then the surreal minutes that had followed: drinking orange squash and talking about gargoyles as though all the rest hadn't happened.
"What's up?" Bodie was staring at him again.
"Nothing. Cowley's here."
Cowley barely slowed his pace as the two men fell in behind him. The fact they would end up in a pub was a given after meeting with the Russians these days, and Doyle wasn't complaining. A couple of whiskies might be a good idea in his present frame of mind.
"Got teased, did you?" Bodie said quietly. He paused, then: "You don't look anything like a gargoyle, you know."
"No worse than other nicknames kids find for each other," Doyle said, trying to keep it light and cursing Bodie's mind-reading capacities. "Drop it, would you?"
"Raymond, of course Father O'Dougherty isn't strange. You're just being stupid."
"But mum... "
"He was just trying to be kind. Now you go back there and let him teach you something. That's what Catholic priests are for. You don't want to get into any more trouble at school, now do you? He's expecting you after tea -- says he's got some more exciting things to show you."
"Nah. It's nothing. History," Doyle said.
"Fair enough. I was just thinking. We need to find Cowley a more suitable venue for next time it's our turn to choose," Bodie said. "Somewhere with less dust."
"Strip club? You could be really informative about those. Impress our KGB mates no end. Could be hard persuading the Cow, though."
"Yeah." Bodie threw Doyle another glance. "You all right?"
"Why shouldn't I be?"
"Looked like you'd seen a ghost for a minute."
"Reminded me of... one of one of my history teachers." Doyle told him. "Met with a bad end."
"Raymond, Father Dougherty died today. It's terrible -- he fell into Blackheath Pond and drowned. It's such a shock. I just can't believe it."
"Well of course. Who would want to hurt the poor man? The police say he had a heart attack or a stroke. The funeral's on Friday -- I know you seem to hate church these days, but you should come. He really liked you, you know. He always wanted what was best for you."
"Yeah? The one who knew about gargoyles?"
"Yeah. Bastard deserved it," Doyle said fiercely.
Bodie looked at him. "Gave you bad marks, did he?"
"Something like that," Doyle told him, as they caught up with Cowley.
As they reached the car, he paused for a second and sketched out a final salute to the gargoyle on the roof. Bodie was already negotiating with Cowley about whose turn it was to pay for the drinks. That particular glint in his eyes -- the one that always wanted to make Doyle grin -- probably meant it'd come out of Doyle's pocket. Even so, Doyle would get his own back later, somehow. The present, and Bodie, suddenly seemed a lot better than history.
-- THE END --