The gardens had an unkempt, unloved feel about them. Amongst the remnants of an elaborate scheme of flower beds and ornamental shrubs, a rectangular pool cradled chunks of brick and broken statuary, beer cans, cigarette packets and soggy fish and chip wrappings. Doyle's boots scuffed along a path littered with the rotted corpses of autumn leaves and damp with melted snow. A few flakes of white fell through the air about him.
Ahead of him, Bodie pointed to the right, where a different path led through another stretch of winter-barren garden. They turned and walked along it, past a brick wall which sagged towards them at an impossibly steep angle. It seemed to stay upright through sheer determination and, in doing so, somehow made itself into the most vital thing in the place. Doyle found himself very much in tune with the ambient mood. It fitted with the way he'd been feeling lately, struggling with the world in general and CI5 in particular.
"So we're called out to the middle of nowhere, we don't know why, and there's no sign of Cowley. Bloody typical."
Bodie paused, allowing Doyle to catch up with him. "He'll be along soon enough."
Was this confidence in Cowley or fatalism, Doyle wondered. His reliance on his partner was as great as ever but occasionally now, especially off duty or when they weren't threatened by immediate danger, Bodie seemed distant. It was as though Bodie had indicated that right hand path, but Doyle had taken the left.
Maybe the problem was his, not Bodie's. It was close to a year now since he'd been shot and almost died. He'd spent weeks in hospital and months in rehabilitation and retraining. Bodie had been there through it all, had watched over him in hospital and joked and cajoled him through rehab. Stopped him strangling the physiotherapist on one particularly bad day. Another time, weeks later, Bodie had been the one to tell him he had a three day refresher with Macklin to look forward to once the cardiac specialist had given him the all clear. He'd had no doubts about Bodie's friendship and loyalty during those times.
But then they had been caught up in that Operation Susie. Afterwards he knew he was drawing in on himself, disengaging from the squad. There were days when quitting seemed the only sensible thing to do and only a lack of an alternative plan was keeping him in CI5. Where did that leave Bodie and the loyalty Doyle owed him? Irritated with himself, he walked over to a brass plaque that was fixed to the wall near an entranceway and started to read the inscription aloud.
"Well Hall Pleasance. Site of Well Hall Manor, home of William Roper and Margaret Roper, daughter of Sir Thomas More, in the 16th century. The land was sold to Sir Gregory Page in 1733 and a new hall erected, which later became known as Well Hall House. Until its demolition in 1931, Well Hall House was also home to E Nesbit, the author of the children's book, 'The Railway Children'."
Bodie came up and stood by his side, close enough for Doyle to feel the warmth of his body. "It would have been a different world back then. Sunshine and roses, maypole dances and hobby horses."
Something inside Doyle thawed, just a little. "Well Hall's a dance," he remarked. "Had a girlfriend a few years back who liked folk dancing and that was one of the ones she knew. Always wondered where the name came from."
"As I said, maypoles and hobby horses. Apple cider and girls in white dresses." Bodie was murmuring in Doyle's ear.
"With green grass stains on 'em!" Grateful for the chance to share a small joke, Doyle turned towards his partner and caught his breath. Bodie looked like a Lord of the Dance himself this late afternoon, despite the wintry air: a supremely fit, beautiful man in a black polo neck jumper and leather jacket, pale skin glowing in the chill air, darkness and light combined. His blue eyes were smiling and he was leaning in towards Doyle as though about to issue an invitation. Doyle felt himself sway towards Bodie in response.
He stopped, momentarily perplexed. Strange, strange thoughts. Bodie was his mate that was all. Still, unhealthy to be too caught up with one person, even when that person was the best partner a man could have.
"When is Cowley going to show up?" he growled, suddenly anxious to be getting on with things. He turned and saw the upright figure of the CI5 controller walking towards them from the street. Cowley gave them a brief nod before motioning to them to follow him further along the path to a large brick building. The lower part of the building housed tearooms and before long they were inside, warming themselves by a fire and working their way through a pot of hot tea and scones while Cowley briefed them.
"Do either of you know Eltham Palace? Bodie?"
"Yes, sir. Army Educational Corps headquarters, about a mile from here. I was there for a course when I was in the Paras."
"There was a conference there last week. Training methods, the usual thing. A low key affair which should have been nothing to worry about. But someone had the bright idea to invite Prince Hasan Al-Haddad -- and you know what that means!"
"Middle East politics," Bodie replied. "He's on our side -- or we'd like him to be."
Cowley nodded. "Aye. It was a diplomatic gesture, but not unwarranted. He was an overseas cadet at Sandhurst after all. The conference is over and the Prince and his party were supposed to spend a few days at Eltham as the guest of the C. O., but we've received intelligence of an assassination attempt."
"So? Shouldn't be a problem. The Army lads can handle it. Or move the Prince out." Doyle spoke brusquely and then felt like kicking himself. If Cowley said it, CI5 was involved and he was wasting his breath as well as courting trouble. Absorbing an icy stare from his boss, he settled back to listen.
"We'll be moving the Prince to a safehouse, but we need time. It's too risky to shift him very far tonight. In case you haven't been listening to the weather reports or using your eyes, Doyle, it's likely to snow heavily and the roads are already clogged with people trying to get home for the weekend. You'll go in to the palace, bring the Prince and his party back here. The move to the safehouse will take place tomorrow."
Tomorrow, Doyle thought. Christmas Eve. It didn't matter. His mum was soaking up the winter sun in Greece with a gaggle of her bingo hall mates -- he'd catch up with her in the New Year -- and Bodie wasn't about to visit his old man in Wormwood Scrubs anytime soon. As Cowley doubtless knew. Doyle glanced over at Bodie.
"Hope we finish before Christmas Day, then. I've got a ham in the 'fridge, Bodie. You can come and share it, if you like." It was a casual offer. He knew his partner had little in his cupboards that wasn't in packets or cans. All the same, Doyle felt exceedingly pleased when Bodie smiled and nodded, the idea of good food and company never failing to appeal.
"Whatever plans you might have are on hold for the duration," Cowley reminded them. "It's likely we are facing more than one assassin and there may well be an inside informant. That's why we are meeting here and not at the palace. The Prince has been advised and is anxious to cooperate with us in order to root out any traitors, but his safety is paramount. Do you understand?"
They acknowledged their orders. Cowley continued, "The army will provide cover around the house and grounds. You'll have back up here, but you're on your own for the rest of it. Good luck, lads."
Here we go again - lay on and be damned, Doyle thought, as they headed for Eltham Palace.
Walking through the grounds some time later, he began to appreciate why the move was required. The house was impossible to secure properly. It was an art deco mansion, built on the ruins of an old medieval palace, with entrances everywhere. The wings of the building lay in two directions, like a bird with her legs spread, and the exterior was a jumble of massively planted gardens and old ruins.
The old Tudor Barn housing the tearooms was a much better building for a minding job, Doyle decided. Built tall and fairly rectangular, with fewer windows, heavier doors, and a brick wall enclosing a moat that covered two sides, it would do. This wouldn't. He passed through a narrow tunnel between two ancient walls and up a handful of steps to the south garden. Bodie met him at the corner of the house, outside the conservatory windows.
Bodie was frowning in concentration, "I count at least three ways into this place without being spotted, once it gets dark. Here…" he gestured to the tunnel behind Doyle, "…up from the base of the south timber bridge, and across the moat on the eastern side."
"And once they reach the house, there are probably another four or five ways in and up to the suites, including climbing the ivy. Great place for entertaining your friends, lousy for security. It's going to be dark in about an hour. And I reckon it'll snow soon after that," Doyle added, looking up at the mass of black clouds overhead. "Best get inside and meet the Prince."
"Who's keeping the tea rooms open?" Bodie wanted to know.
"Anson and Murphy drew the short straw. They'll keep the kettle on until we get there."
As they walked around the corner towards the main entrance, Doyle's eye was caught by a bronze statue in an alcove set high in the wall. The figure, in classical mode, was a naked man with a sword, bearing a round shield aloft. At his feet lay the head of a strange, monstrous beast, a long, curling tongue lolling from its mouth. Doyle paused and then shivered.
"Cold?" Bodie asked, pausing.
"A bit. But not as much as him," he gestured upwards.
Bodie looked. "Ah, you mean St George!"
"St George? Nah, this one's Greek. Or a copy anyway. I know my art, Bodie."
"Maybe. But I've been here before, remember. The man who built the house loved classical art, but he didn't have a problem with borrowing a bit of this or that if he liked it. Besides, the real St George was Greek, or close enough. Eastern Roman Empire. He was a legionary before they chopped his head off."
Trust Bodie to know another soldier's story. Doyle found himself shivering again. True, his eye had been caught by the classic beauty of the statue and he'd automatically used his old training to read its proportions. But in doing so he'd found himself giving the statue flesh; the heavy thighs, the solid calves, the muscular arms and torso morphing in his mind's eye from green-shaded metal into something much more familiar.
Disturbed, he turned away and trudged towards the main entrance, Bodie stepping along beside him, not letting him off the hook.
"Doyle? You know these art classes you used to go to? The life classes. Did you ever have male models?"
"Well, did you ever think, there goes something I could fuck? Did you?"
Oh, shit. One of Bodie's favourite pastimes was baiting Doyle about his artistic inclinations. It wasn't as though he had ever wanted to paint as a career, but he had enjoyed the classes. And it was true that some of the models, both male and female, had caught his eye. He would die before letting Bodie know that.
"I keep telling you, mate, it wasn't like that. Besides, I preferred girls."
"Preferred girls, eh," was Bodie's mirthful reply. "Well, so do we all."
Reflexively, a smart rejoinder appeared in Doyle's mind, but for once he kept his silence. The two of them walked up to the entrance together.
Colonel Barrett, Eltham's senior officer, led them up to the first floor landing, through a circular anteroom into a chamber with pale, curving, wood-lined walls which was furnished as a bedroom/lounge. In addition to a soldier standing guard, there were four people in the room. The Colonel introduced each of them.
Prince Hasan was easy to pick out. A tall, lean man dressed in western style slacks and jumper, he appeared to be in his mid to late thirties. His skin was a warm blend of pale cinnamon and honey, and his features were definite but not overly heavy. He reminded Doyle of a sleek tom cat. Lying relaxed on the bed when they entered, he rose swiftly and moved with supple grace across the room to greet them .
"I am very pleased to meet you, Mr Doyle," he said as he shook his hand warmly. "We feel like sitting ducks cooped up in here. I trust that you have seen how impossible our current situation is." He looked intently at Doyle, who felt a little uncomfortable under the close scrutiny.
"We'll be talking to all of you in a minute," he said, remembering at the last minute to add, "…sir".
He saw just enough evidence in the slight upturning of Hasan's mouth and a deepening of the crinkles in the corner of his eyes to convey that he hadn't been offended. "Good," the prince said briefly, before moving on and taking Bodie's hand in the manner of someone very experienced in the royal rituals of meet and greet. Bodie clearly held none of Doyle's reservations about Hasan and within a couple of minutes the two of them were talking amiably, one military man to another. Doyle left them to it and turned to look over the other inhabitants of the room.
Hasan's young son, Ali, sat at a low table opposite his nanny, a young mousy-looking woman named Claudette. A backgammon set lay on the table between them, counters deployed for a game. Faisal, Hasan's cousin and confidential secretary, was a man of about fifty, dressed in traditional Arab clothing. Doyle gave him a nod which was returned coldly. He also smiled at the boy, who smiled back, and at Claudette, who looked at him, startled, like a rabbit caught in headlights. Satisfied, he turned back to Hasan and Bodie who were still talking.
"Excuse me, sir, but we need to start your briefing. Bodie, you want to do the honours?" Doyle grinned at his partner. Serve Bodie right for trying to get him going before. His partner might be good at casual chat and one-liners, but he generally avoided speech-making. The pained look he got in return was very satisfying.
"Right then." Accepting his fate, Bodie stepped into the middle of the room. "If I could have your attention, please… As you already know, we have information that there's been a threat to Prince Hasan's safety. We're going to escort you from here to another place that will offer you better protection. Don't ask. I can't tell you where that is. You'll need to obey any instructions Doyle or I give you to the letter. And from now on, no-one leaves this room by themselves. That includes visits to the bog…. I mean toilet. Are we all clear on that?"
Doyle noticed that Claudette had turned red. He hastily added, "Of course, we will be mindful of your privacy. We're only interested in a possible outside threat." And an inside one, he thought, but we won't mention that, will we.
"Mr Bodie," Hasan spoke. "I can use a pistol and so can Faisal. It would be more useful to have four of us armed."
"Sorry, sir, " Bodie said, actually sounding regretful to Doyle's surprise, "our regulations don't permit that. And while you may be covered by diplomatic immunity, we have to follow our boss' instructions."
"Utter nonsense. What happens if you are killed?"
"Then you will rely on Doyle and the other agents to protect you."
Hasan locked eyes with Bodie; for an instant, the exchange became extraordinarily intense. Both men appeared poised, ready - like a pair of cats about to fight, Doyle thought.
"Any more questions?" he said, interrupting them before either could pounce.
Pulling away from Bodie's gaze and looking frustrated, Hasan shook his head. Instead of feeling relieved, however, Doyle was worried. Hasan's reaction had been… unusual. Granted, Bodie had said no to him, which might have got up his nose a bit more than Doyle's mild disrespect had. He decided Hasan was just not used to being a passive participant or being obliged to follow orders from unranked secret agents. Put one would-be dominant male like that in the same room as another and you were guaranteed to get some sparks.
He realised he had forgotten the other people in the room when he heard Ali's young voice talking softly to Claudette in French.
"Là tirera-t-il ?"
"Aucun mon cher, ces hommes n'essaye seulement de nous protéger. Tout sera bien."
"Ali, speak English, please," Hasan instructed.
"Sorry, papa." This was said with a mixture of guilty chagrin and amusement. Hasan walked over to his son and knelt down beside him.
"Ali," Hasan said, "we are not very safe here, and these men will take us to another place, soon. You must do as they tell you. Promise me this."
The boy nodded solemnly, meeting his father's eyes with a look of complete trust. The kid obviously loved his father. And Hasan's affection for his son was equally clear. Doyle relaxed a bit. Hasan probably wasn't all that bad. Still, the man irked him. He wasn't sure why.
The group settled down to wait. As previously arranged, Doyle left the suite and accompanied the Colonel to his office where they spent over an hour examining the plans for moving Hasan's party. It was going to be tricky. With the weather closing in there was no possibility of providing support or surveillance from the air. The army would set patrols to cover the grounds and all exits, but they were short on manpower as the Training Centre normally closed down over Christmas. They decided to keep as many men as possible on duty during the remainder of the evening. A display of strength, they hoped, would keep the enemy at bay for a few hours, although it was most likely that any attack would come in the early morning if they stayed in the palace. The most dangerous part of the operation would come when the actual move took place, when Hasan and the agents would be most exposed. Doyle went over the details again and again until he was satisfied they had done all they could to ensure success.
He smiled to himself as he walked back to the suite. Time was, Bodie would have insisted on doing this part of the op himself. It showed something of the depth of their partnership that he would now entrust this role to Doyle. As he could now trust Bodie to deal with the police without -- most times -- getting up their noses any worse than Doyle would himself.
He entered the bedroom and saw that Claudette was still playing backgammon with Ali. Faisal was busy sorting and packing documents into a briefcase. Bodie stood over by the window table talking to Hasan. The prince had an arm casually draped around Bodie's shoulders. He was speaking loudly and gesturing at a book of maps that was lying open on the table.
"This is an excellent volume," Hasan said. "It shows the different kingdoms of Arabia for the past one hundred years. Look at all those straight lines, Bodie. That is no way to describe the length and breadth of a country! The lines should follow the contours of the land, as in Europe they follow the rivers and mountains. But we are starved for rivers and other natural boundaries and as a result we have suffered from squabbles over territory for generations."
Bodie pored over the map. "True, but until they started drilling for oil, it was the trade routes that were most important. And everyone had something invested in keeping those open, unless they were making a play for control of more territory. To some extent the same applies today."
Hasan stared at Bodie. "You have some experience in the area?" he asked.
"I was there for a time, yes. Got to know some Bedouin - and a lot about the underbelly of some of the towns."
"Hah! Then you are ahead of most of your countrymen in understanding us." Hasan paused. "But I need to go to the toilet. I suppose you have to accompany me?"
Bodie smiled. "Afraid so."
Doyle was at first bemused and then stricken by the sight of the camaraderie between the two men. Only a little while ago Hasan and Bodie had been at each others' throats. Now Hasan seemed intent on courting Bodie's good will. What was going on? And why did he feel alarmed by what he saw? What did he want to do, get in between them?
Bodie and Hasan went into the en-suite and Doyle heard the sound of the lock snicking closed. He thought about Hasan opening the zipper on his trousers, pulling aside the fabric as he freed his prick to pee. He imagined Bodie, leaning against the sink or the window-sill, not watching but still aware of Hasan's movements. In a little while he heard the toilet flushing and over that the sound of Hasan's voice as he moved closer to the door.
"I think we have a lot that we can offer each other, Bodie. I would like to talk with you again after this business has finished. Are you interested?"
"Yeah, I think so. I'll make sure I get in touch."
As his partner and Hasan came back into the room, resentment kindled inside Doyle. What sort of offer did Hasan have in mind? What was Bodie playing at? Was he looking for an exit from CI5 after all? Maybe his own earlier fears had some basis in reality. Bodie had said before that he was in it for the money. Maybe Hasan would make him an offer he couldn't refuse. If that was what it was about. There was something in the way Hasan was looking at Bodie, something that was predatory, possessive. And Bodie was responding to it. That was obvious.
"Bodie," he called. "Need to talk, mate."
Bodie followed him into the anteroom, but instead of telling his partner about the plan that had been worked out, Doyle let loose some of his simmering frustration and gave him an earful.
"For Crissakes, Bodie, we're supposed to be guarding the man, not arranging dates with him. What the fuck is going on with you?"
Bodie looked startled, then amused, "What's it to you, Doyle? Jealous?"
Doyle collected himself, barely, aware that he was one step away from appearing to be a complete fool. But he was too much on edge to let it slide entirely.
"I'm sorry. I don't know what you think you're doing though, and we don't need any complications right now. So will you just pack it in for the moment?"
"Don't know why you're so worked up either. But as you wish. OK, what's the plan?"
Doyle outlined the scenario that had been worked out. Bodie nodded agreement.
"We'll go at 11:30. Still worried about the possibility of an inside job, though. You've noticed nothing?"
"Faisal's the coldest bastard I've ever seen, but if he's the leak I've seen no evidence. That leaves Claudette and Ali. Nothing going on there, except Claudette can't play backgammon for toffee. Ali beats her every game. Maybe Cowley's intelligence was wrong."
"Maybe. Keep an eye out anyway."
Harmony restored, they went back to wait. Bodie seemed to take Doyle's reproof to heart. He kept away from Hasan, who seemed also to recognise that things were on a different footing and buried himself in a book. Doyle attempted to strike up a conversation with Faisal but gave up after receiving nothing but contemptuous looks and three word replies. From time to time he wandered out to speak with Colonel Barrett, checking on reports from the army patrols. From the windows of the Colonel's office he watched the snow falling down on the sill outside . After two hours there was a small drift of white pressing upwards onto the glass.
At 11:00 they started to get ready to leave. In turn, each member of the group went with either Bodie or Doyle to their bedrooms. Once there, they packed whatever essential items they needed, then went through a show of preparing for bed by turning the bathroom light on and off and turning the bedroom light off before leaving. Doyle accompanied Faisal and took the opportunity to make the man open his briefcase for inspection. The case held nothing except papers. He also went with Hasan who merely picked up a warm overcoat and allowed Doyle to go through the ritual of the lights without comment.
At 11:20, Doyle walked down the hall to Colonel Barrett's office for the last time. At his signal, the Colonel left his office to order the final preparations.
Ten minutes later, the party moved down to the entrance hall. The lights were low to mask their movements. In the semi-dark a pair of ancient warriors decorating the room's wooden panelling were a smudgy blur. Outside, the Capris were drawn up on the turning circle, engines running, a soldier standing guard beside each one. A third car, an Escort with another soldier behind the driver's wheel, was lined up behind the CI5 vehicles, its motor also ticking over. The air was full of swirling flakes of snow, the driveway under the engine exhausts wet from their melted remains. Away from the building the ground was white except for the black outline of old walls and trees. It was bloody cold.
Doyle wasted no time, moving quickly to the first car and climbing in on the driver's side. He watched as the rest of the group followed Bodie into the other Capri, then pulled away, driving over the north stone bridge and through the main gate. Emerging onto the public road, he looked carefully for signs of other vehicles. All clear. He saw the other two vehicles line up behind him before going on. The car slipped down the dark, tree-lined street, the others following.
They came to the intersection with the main road. Despite its being Friday night there was little traffic about. A group of cars passed, heading away from Eltham, and then the street was empty. Doyle drove forward, hugging the edge, allowing Bodie to overtake. This was part of the plan, talked about only between the two of them. If anyone had been watching them leave, they would expect Hasan to be in the middle car. Doyle could run interference just as well from behind as from in front, and it might give them that indefinable edge they might need to succeed.
They drove on, crossing the High Street. As he passed the intersection, Doyle saw a heavy black shape hurtling towards him, no headlights showing. Accelerating, he almost won free but the other vehicle struck the Capri's back end. He worked the wheel, going with the force of the collision, trying to maintain control. But the roads were slippery with melt water and oil. The Capri started to aquaplane. It slewed ninety degrees and spun out across the roadway. Just as he felt the wheels begin to grip again, he saw a set of car lights swinging erratically across his passenger side. The Escort, caught in the same trap. Fuck. He braced for the impact and a second later it came, accompanied by the sound of crumpling metal and breaking glass.
The Capri lurched sideways and forward, slamming up against the high gutter edge. Doyle's head struck the door frame. Pain exploded behind his eyes. He struggled to pull his gun, to open the door and throw himself from the car, only partially succeeding. Slipping down onto the road, he heard the sound of gunfire and shattering glass moments before everything went black.
Doyle became aware that he was lying on the ground and that the right side of his jacket was wet, a chill starting to spread across his whole body. He could hear the noise of traffic in the distance. He tried to move, pushing himself up on shaking arms, but a lance of pain through the back of his skull put him down again. Dizzy, gasping for air, he braced himself for another try. Then there were hands tugging at his clothes, pulling at him, hauling him upright through a world of tearing agony. He let out a groan.
"Can you hear me? How do you feel?" An older man's voice, high and anxious-sounding.
Doyle tried to answer. His words came out in a faint croak.
"Yeah… gimme minute… stop hauling on me, will you," the last said with a bite as he felt unsteady hands take hold of his face, thumbs probing, pulling at him with less than expert coordination. He batted them away, shuddering at the pain.
"Don't… How long was I out?" he asked. Realising he was holding his eyes shut, he tried opening them. It felt a little like somebody had glued his eyelids closed but slowly they peeled open and he could see, blurrily. He wiped at his face and encountered a sticky dampness. Blood, congealing.
"A couple of minutes, I'd say," the man said. He leaned forward, allowing Doyle to see him without lifting his head. An ordinary man, perhaps a bit younger than his quavering voice had suggested. Now he knew he didn't have a corpse on his hand, his voice steadied and dropped several tones, "I was just shutting up when I heard you crash. And then the shooting started. Lucky I was at the back. If I'd walked straight onto the street, they might have shot me."
Two minutes. Could be worse. Bodie and the others would be at the Tudor Barn by now, if they got there. And where was the third man? He needed to get back onto his feet -- but just for a minute it was easier to lean here against the door frame.
"What happened?" he asked. "There were other cars in the accident. Where did they go?"
"Only one other that's still here. I haven't been over to it yet. You were closer. There was a Range Rover driving off when I came out, going down the hill."
"Give me a hand up," he ordered. He'd spent enough time here. The man looked doubtful. "I'm from CI5 and I'm on a case. Now help me to stand."
Rising to stand was slightly less painful than sitting up and he took that as a good sign. His head was throbbing and his neck was stiff, but the bleeding had stopped and the rest of his body appeared to be unharmed. Turning, one hand on the car roof for balance, he looked about.
The Capri was a mess, The passenger side was caved in and the front wheel rested against the curb at a very wrong angle. Over the top of it, through the drifting snow, he saw the Escort with its front end bashed in. There was a body bent over the steering wheel. He walked around to it. There were bullet holes in both vehicles. The driver of the Escort was dead. He, on the other hand, was OK. He had been very lucky.
Exhaling harshly, he thought about his next move. Then, walking away from the wreckage, he tried to orient himself. Downhill, he thought, the Tudor Barn was downhill. Bodie would be there, would be counting on him for support. Staggering a little, he set off.
One thing which never failed to amaze him was the way CI5 could conduct an operation right in the middle of suburban London without attracting a lot of attention. Here was another case in point. North of the High Street he ran into a few late commuters making their way home. They strode off the ramp from the railway station, newspapers and umbrellas carried like medieval swords and shields. Avoiding him, they walked away to the next junction in the road and then, within the space of a few yards, they disappeared completely. God alone knew where they went. Somewhere warm and friendly, filled with laughter and family love he hoped.
He reached the entrance to the gardens. Plunging forward in too much haste, he felt another surge of pain hit his neck and drive up through the base of his skull. The snow was falling heavily now. Although he knew where he was headed, he couldn't see well and his eyes were having trouble focusing. There were several patches where the street lighting was blocked by trees and garden walls, and while the cloudy skies gave him reflections from incandescent city lights, they robbed him of the moon and stars. He thought about going back and approaching from the street, then decided against it. Too visible. Coming alongside the sagging brick wall, he leaned against it for a few moments, drawing fortitude from it, before going on.
The bulk of the Tudor Barn appeared, black against the snow. He paused on the footbridge, uncertain about his next move, until a quick flurry of shots coming from the building decided things for him. Dragging his Browning out of its sodden shoulder holster he moved forward, searching ahead. He saw a figure in black cross the open yard ahead of him, running towards the building. The figure drew back an arm, holding something that looked like a large can. Wasting no time on conjecture, Doyle fired. His target jerked once, and fell into the snow, the canister falling beside him. Several seconds later, a dense white pall of smoke arose around the body.
Doyle swore to himself. The smoke grenade presented an opportunity but also posed a problem. It would give him maybe two minutes of cover in which he could move fairly freely across the open space, but he couldn't go near the building. If he approached now Bodie and the others would be unable to recognise him and he might be shot as a presumed threat. Well, no sense in hanging about, dithering. The adrenaline had taken hold of him now, obscuring his hurts and lending him some temporary energy. Use it or lose it. Crouching low, he darted across to the fallen man, coughing a little as the acrid smoke touched his throat. His victim was still alive, blood soaking through his overcoat at the junction of neck and shoulder, leaking out onto the snow. He struggled to rise as Doyle approached. Having no time to waste on niceties, Doyle hit him hard on the jaw, knocking him out. He searched the unconscious body quickly, relieving him of a knife and a handgun before handcuffing him and leaving him on the ground. One for Cowley to question later, he thought callously, if the cold didn't get to him first.
He started to rise again, intending to make for the far side of the yard where the moat ended. There was a path there which needed checking. But as he did, he turned, and found himself staring up at another man who held a gun pointed directly at him, whose face wore an expression full of hate and who was squeezing the trigger. He reached for his Browning, knowing it was too late. There was a double echo of a shot. A burning blow struck his rib cage like a slap from a hot poker, and he fell over into the snow.
He was still alive. He knew because he was cold again, but this time he couldn't move. Far away, he heard more shots and footsteps running. He was floating on a white sea, and the waves were rolling him back and forth, rocking him. He felt nauseous. He heard Bodie's voice calling his name just before the sea turned stormy and he passed out.
Doyle hated hospitals. He particularly hated hospitals where, instead of patching you up and sending you on your way, they insisted on rousing you every few hours, shining bright lights into your eyes and asking inane questions. Yes, he knew who he was. Yes, he knew he was in hospital but no, he didn't know where because he'd been passed out when they brought him in. He thought he remembered asking whether there had been any news of Bodie but didn't remember if he had been given an answer, so he asked again. No, there had been nothing, but what did he expect? It was six o'clock in the morning.
"Try to rest, Mr Doyle, I'm sure there'll be news eventually."
Get some rest. Right. That was a joke.
Eventually, of course, he did fall asleep, only to be woken by the lunchtime trolleys clattering down the corridor.
A doctor came to look at him in the afternoon, poked and prodded him a bit, asked him a few questions and told him that he would be staying in over Christmas Day, "because you don't have anyone at home to keep an eye on you." Doyle would have liked to be able to say he had Bodie, but there was still no news from CI5. As his neck still ached, and his ribs were sore where he had been stitched and taped up, he was forced to admit he might be better off where he was for another day.
Finally, around tea time, one of the nursing staff popped in to tell him that Mr Bodie had rung and left a message. Everything had gone well, but Mr Cowley had him busy at headquarters tying up loose ends. See you when you get out, was the rest of it, making it sound like he was in prison instead of hospital.
The next day, Christmas Day, he was allowed out of bed on his own. He called CI5 headquarters and managed a brief exchange of greetings with Bodie before his partner was called away. By the middle of the day he felt as though he really was serving a sentence. The neurological obs had reduced in frequency and he'd had a reasonable night's sleep, so he was becoming increasingly impatient with being cooped up. There was only so much fun to be had from eating roast turkey and Christmas pudding. He pulled crackers with some of the nursing staff. A local church group came by to sing carols -- badly -- and hand out small gifts. They gave him a bottle of cheap aftershave which he decided was not going to be discharged with him. He read every remotely appealing looking story in the pile of women's magazines he'd found on a table in the visitors area. In the end there was nothing to do except think.
He thought about the op and found himself feeling rather satisfied with the way his plan had worked. They'd drawn the attackers after the wrong car and, as a result, Hasan was safe.
He thought about CI5 and wondered how long his luck and health would continue to hold. That started the now familiar yearning for a future in which he was not just a highly trained yet expendable puppet.
And he found himself thinking yet again about Bodie. He knew without a doubt that Bodie had saved him by taking out the second attacker. Bodie always saved him. But maybe not any more. Because there was no denying that Bodie had been interested in Hasan and what he had to offer, whatever that was. Maybe a job? Someone with Bodie's skills could find himself a very nice earner in an advisory role for a Middle Eastern ruler. The fact that he had prior experience in the area would make him even more valuable.
Doyle felt cold all over as he realised that his partner had become so central to his life, in CI5 and out of it, that he could not imagine being without him. He'd avoided this fact, this utter truth, for months, and realised that in doing so, he might have brought the worst of all possibilities on himself. Taking Bodie's presence for granted he'd let the man's expressions of loyalty and generous affection crash unheeded on the walls of his own self absorption, time and time again. Now, to Doyle's horror, he understood that Bodie had almost had enough.
Time to have a talk with Bodie, Doyle decided, before falling asleep. One way or the other, time to find out the truth. His rest was plagued by dreams in which he ran down endless CI5 corridors looking for his partner without finding him.
The next morning he suffered through the normal hospital routine until he was discharged. Once freed, a quick call to CI5 told him Bodie was meeting with Cowley but was expected to be finished by the afternoon. He left a message, then called for a taxi. He doubted whether he would see a replacement for the Capri before the new year, and obviously no-one could be spared today to give him a lift home. Feeling rather glum, he climbed into the cab and was driven to his flat through streets lined with the mucky remains of the previous day's snowfall.
His flat was damp and cold. The first thing he did was turn the heating on. The second was to check the 'fridge for food. The large ham sat there accusingly, and he remembered he'd asked Bodie to come over to help him eat it. Well, it would keep for a while. If Bodie was still caught up at headquarters he would just get some takeaway.
He rang CI5 again and learned that Bodie had left the building but not where he'd gone. Next, he tried Bodie's flat, but the call went unanswered. He was just about to look for the number of Bodie's most recent girlfriend when his doorbell rang. Answering the intercom, he heard Bodie's voice: "It's me."
His mood lifted immediately. He went to the door and opened it. Outside, Bodie was leaning on the frame, proffering a large bag full of spicy smelling containers.
"Good King Wenceslas bearing gifts", Doyle said, smiling. "Come on in, Bodie."
"Shouldn't that be one of the three wise men?"
"Nah, it's Boxing day, innit. Feast of St Stephen."
"Oh. Well then, I have food," as he hoisted the containers onto the kitchen bench, "wine or something like it," he placed another bag containing half a dozen cans of lager in the 'fridge, "but I can't do much about the pine logs. Christ, it's cold in here."
"I only got home half an hour ago," Doyle said. "The heating's on, but it'll take a while."
"Need to warm these up a bit anyway," Bodie said. He took charge of the stove, lighting the oven, turning the heat to low and putting the foil containers inside. "I called the hospital and they said you'd been discharged. Thought you wouldn't be up to cooking for yourself quite yet," he offered as he put the kettle on to boil. "Sit down and I'll fill you in on what happened after you crashed."
Doyle went into the lounge and sat down, a little too fast. His neck protested the sudden movement and he grimaced. Bodie was at his side in a trice. "Still sore, Doyle?"
"It's my neck. Must have put it out when I hit my head on the car door. It'll pass."
"Well, I was going to make you a cup of tea," Bodie said with a smile. "How about I give you a neck rub instead?"
After being shot by Mayli, Doyle had been troubled by frequent back aches and Bodie had massaged him several times. He was very good at it too, and Doyle would normally have jumped at the offer, but he remembered his dreams of the previous night. This very substantial, very real Bodie was someone who could disappear like smoke at any time.
Bodie spoke before Doyle could say anything.
"You've got a bar heater, haven't you? I'll put it on in the bedroom It'll be warmer in there."
Accepting that Bodie was going to take care of him whether he wanted it or not, Doyle nodded.
"It's in the hall cupboard. Thanks."
By the time Doyle had manoeuvred himself off the couch and walked the short distance to his bedroom, Bodie had the heater on and a towel spread on the bed. The bottle of massage oil he had brought round months ago was sitting on the floor and Bodie had his sleeves rolled up, his hands liberally coated with the stuff. Doyle stripped to the waist and obeyed Bodie's instructions to lie face down with his head at the foot of the bed.
Bodie started with sweeping strokes, spreading the oil over Doyle's upper back and neck. As he worked, he started to tell Doyle about the parts of the operation he had missed.
"They planned it pretty well," he said, stroking his thumbs downwards on Doyle's neck muscles, "put road works barriers up on both sides of the High Street to keep the traffic down, and had men watching all the routes. If we didn't go north, they had another lot waiting to tail us from the golf club."
Bodie seemed to be spreading the story to match the massage. He was silent for a short while, then continued when his technique changed. It was little circular motions now, up and down Doyle's spine, penetrating the stiffness.
“The army patrols nabbed the second lot. But their whole plan was dependent on the traitor."
"Mmmm… yeah?" Doyle was starting to feel good. The heater had efficiently warmed the whole room, and he was a little drowsy. "So who was that… no, let me think… Faisal?"
"That's what I thought at first. But no, it was Claudette. She had a bug on her, so they pretty much knew what we were doing the whole time."
"Claudette? Why? She had no reason to hurt Hasan or Ali."
Bodie was working away at the back of his head now, massaging up into his scalp. Firm yet gentle pressure, pushing away the pain. His fingers slid through Doyle's hair, pulling at the roots and skin, deliciously. Doyle almost cried out from the pleasure and warmth spreading from his touch.
"Her brother worked for Hasan's father Ali as a pilot. He died in the same plane crash that killed Ali, and Hasan's enemies made sure Claudette believed Hasan was responsible. When Hasan offered her the job as young Ali's nanny, they encouraged her to take it as a means to get revenge."
Doyle attempted to follow, although the repetitive sweep of Bodie's hands on his skin was making concentration difficult.
"They told her that with Hasan dead, Ali would be Prince and they would ensure he was properly looked after."
Bodie didn't need to fill in the next chapter for his partner. Ali would have been quietly 'removed' within a couple of years, Claudette a whole lot sooner.
"Yeah. Not too bright. But she can sing a pretty song, one that will get rid of some of Hasan's opposition for a very long time."
Downstrokes again now, out across the trapezius muscle to his shoulders. Good and deep these strokes were, biting into the binding tension.
"Murphy did the report about what happened. We put Hasan and the others safely upstairs but Anson and I were in the bottom room, on watch. That's when I saw you were in trouble. I got him, Ray. I just wish I'd been faster… Anyway, Claudette had a gun. She saw the attack was going to fail, so she pulled it out and tried to shoot Hasan. Faisal put himself in the way. He was hit, but he'll pull through. Then Hasan jumped her before Murphy could get there."
"Surprised he didn't kill her."
"Wasn't too gentle getting the gun out of her hand, by all accounts. She'll have a few bruises. But Murphy said that afterwards he was almost kind. Like he knew she'd been set up. Brave man, Hasan, and smart as well. He'll go far, if he manages to survive the opposition. Sorry, is this hurting?"
Bodie's admiration had been evident, and Doyle tightened as he felt a panicky, gut-wrenching feeling rise inside him. He pushed that feeling firmly away and tried to relax back into the rhythm of the massage with a muttered "No." Bodie didn't say anything more, all his effort going into the fingers that were kneading the knots out of Doyle's muscles. Gradually Doyle relaxed again. A long, heavenly time later, Bodie stopped.
"Bloody marvellous. Can you bottle it? I'll have a dozen." Doyle sat up cautiously, stretching his head from side to side. "Feels much looser." He pulled his shirt and jacket back on.
"I've never had a complaint. Missed my calling most probably. Anyway, where was I? You are officially on sick leave until the doctor clears you to go back and get your head thumped again in the name of Queen and country. Just as officially, Cowley wants you to write up your report as soon as possible, before you damage any more of your few remaining brain cells. And I would be on three days off, except Cowley's arranged for me to meet Hasan tomorrow for lunch. "
And there it was again. That pit of the stomach grab of fear. Of jealousy.
"Cowley wants me to brief him on how CI5 does certain things -- with important exceptions, of course. Hasan's going to be his country's intelligence chief when he returns and we're doing him a couple of favours that we'd like him to repay some day -- probably with interest." But there was something about the way Bodie said it, the way he didn't look at Doyle as he spoke, that alerted the other man. This time Doyle didn't push the feeling aside.
"What's the real story, Bodie? There's something you're not telling me. About Hasan."
Bodie looked at Doyle. "It's complicated," he said. "Let's have dinner and talk about it afterwards."
Doyle was about to object. But Bodie was looking at him, sad eyed and solemn now, and so he gave in.
He retrieved the hot curries from the oven and brought out plates and utensils. They sat down at the table to eat. Doyle ate little, but Bodie had his normal appetite and the contents of the trays started to vanish rapidly.
Bodie picked out and ate a piece of tandoori chicken. He teased chunks of meat from the bone with knife and fork, and once everything that he could harvest in that way had been devoured, he picked up the bone itself and nibbled and sucked the remnants of flesh into his mouth. Doyle watched, entranced. A sliver of desire touched him, shockingly. He wondered what it would feel like to have Bodie's mouth on him. He wondered why he was wondering. It felt surreal, bewildering and yet very erotic. Bodie lifted his head up, meeting Doyle's eyes. He smiled. Lost for words, Doyle smiled back, and then turned his attention to his plate, forcing himself to eat.
After Bodie declared himself full, Doyle picked up the plates and empty containers and took them into the kitchen. His thoughts were spinning and he was almost trembling with tension and unbidden longing. When Bodie came up behind him and touched his arm, he started, spilling leftover rice over the worktop. Without looking at his partner, he grabbed a cloth and started to clean up. Bodie's hand came down on his, making him stop.
"Ray…," Bodie whispered. "Stop it. Look at me."
He turned around, not quite meeting Bodie's eyes.
"I'm not sure how to say this, Ray, but you have to know. Do you remember when we were back at Eltham, and I asked you if you'd ever seen a guy you could fuck?"
"Yes, I do. But…"
"Ray, no buts. Actually, Angelfish…" Bodie laughed a little, "I have seen a guy I could fuck. He's a little shorter than me, bad tempered as a snake, and has a lousy habit of getting in the way of bullets. He also has the most gorgeous arse I've ever seen on man or woman and a way of moving that would make a sinner of a saint. And he's the best partner I could ever have wished for."
Doyle was staring at his partner now, not believing what he was hearing. Bodie flashed him a weak smile, then continued.
"Now, I'm meeting Hasan for lunch tomorrow. I know he's going to make me a very good offer, one that will be hard to refuse. No hard feelings if I do, of course, and I can just stick with Cowley's plan. But I'm tempted. I'm tempted because I'm sick of seeing you get hurt and not being able to tell you how I feel. I always thought that if I did, you'd break my jaw, but I kept hoping. Until now. I know you've been thinking about leaving the squad. I can't stop you, but I won't stay on without you. And if you do decide to stay, now you know, you have to tell me. Do you want me to stay with you? Or go? It's up to you."
Doyle looked into Bodie's eyes. His turbulent feelings made it impossible to speak, but something that needed no words passed between them. And suddenly he knew that there was nothing he could deny this man. They had danced with death together, had touched skin to skin in the aftermath of battle too many times for there to be any barrier between them. Tomorrow was the time to talk about futures, about getting out of the firing line, not tonight. He moved forward and rested his hands on Bodie's shoulders.
"I'll stay… if you will. I'm not as quick a learner as you, mate, but I get there eventually."
They were both taut with expectation as they moved together and kissed for the first time. Doyle tasted the hint of spices on Bodie's lips as he wrapped his arms around him, pressing him against the kitchen worktop. He opened his mouth and welcomed Bodie's tongue, lapping at it with his own. He could feel Bodie's erection through his trousers and he pressed his own hard flesh into Bodie's leg. His hands found their way under Bodie's clothing, exploring freely, sliding over Bodie's back, his chest, his arse. Bodie was doing wonderful, delicious things to his chest and stomach, teasing his nipples, dipping a hand under his belt to stroke the skin over his hip bones. Doyle kissed Bodie everywhere he could find bare flesh, and he wanted more. Breathless, he pulled away slightly, looking at his partner, meeting his impossibly sweet and shy smile with a lascivious, questioning look.
"Bed?" said Bodie.
"Right," said Doyle.
So they went into Doyle's bedroom. Bodie undressed Doyle with tender care, tracing the outline of the bandage on his ribs with delicate fingers, pressing him to lie down on the bed before removing his own clothes. He loved Doyle's body with his hands and his mouth, and when he saw that Doyle was hurting from the strain of trying to lie still while he was being sucked, he ordered him to move. And Doyle did -- arching and writhing, caught in a whirlpool of sensation, until he came, harder than he thought possible. Bodie caught the first spurt in his mouth, letting the rest of it run down over his hand; then, after Doyle was quiet, he used the same hand to stroke himself, taking only a few quick beats to spill his own seed over them both.
Doyle lay replete, curled up on his uninjured side, one arm loosely draped over Bodie's middle. His happiness was almost complete. But he still had one question to ask.
"Mmmm… yes, Ray?"
"Hasan… are you sure it was just a job offer he had in mind? When he wasn't trying to stare you down, he was all over you. Didn't like it," he admitted.
Bodie stretched lazily. "Not sure. It's a cultural thing, getting up close and personal with someone you like or want to do business with. Think he was just testing me. Doesn't matter now, does it?"
"No. Doesn't matter at all."
They rested together, touching without speaking. There was no need. They had found each other, and they would be all right.
-- THE END --