"You've been what?" Maura stared at the man across the table from her.
"Seconded to CI5." Bodie sat back in his chair, lager in hand and smirk on face.
Maura shook her head. "You're just like a cat, aren't you? You land on your feet every time."
"Luck of the half-Irish."
"Luck of the devil. Who's helping you, then?" Maura took a swallow of her beer, and slid an appreciative eye over Bodie. He'd cleaned up well, now that he was out of army fatigues.
"You're supposed to be. What's the news?"
She looked at him narrowly. "So this is only temporary?"
"Let's just say it was an opportunity I couldn't refuse."
"I'll bet it was." She studied her beer for a moment, then met his eyes. "From what I've heard of George Cowley, you won't be able to play the games you did under Nairn."
"Maura! Is that concern I hear in your voice?"
"Only because you're a profitable placement, William."
"I'd never endanger your fee, Maura Cathleen." He toasted her with his glass. "No, don't worry about it. I've already told Marty I'm out of the business--for now. It worked out rather well, really. He still owes me. It might come in handy one day."
She smiled. "Always checking your escape routes, aren't you?"
"That's why I'm a profitable placement."
"Among other reasons." She finished the beer in her glass. "I haven't got anything that would suit you right now--certainly not as well as CI5 will."
He raised his eyebrows. "Do you really believe CI5 will suit me?"
"Cowley's irregulars? Yes, I do. For the time being. You'll see enough action to keep you out of trouble, you'll have some authority, and you'll have fun with all the toys. What more could you want?"
"Money. The pay's worse than in the SAS."
"Mercenary. I'll see what I can find for you."
"Do." His tone of voice brought her eyes to his. Oh, yes, he was serious about this. He wanted out. Disillusion with the side of the angels? It was about time he learned idealism was a waste of time and talent.
"There'll be something."
He gave her a charming smile. "You're looking lovely tonight, Maura. Are you meeting anyone later?"
"That depends on what you have in mind."
"Ah. And to what do I owe the honour of claiming your company for the evening?"
She stood, and he followed, after finishing his lager. "Call it the luck of the half-Irish."
"Nothing yet? What's happened to all your contacts, Maura?" Bodie frowned at his beer.
"There are any number of wars you could fight in, but I didn't think that was what you were after." She shifted next to him on the bench, watching the afternoon regulars in the pub.
"No. Well, not unless the money's right."
"I take it CI5 isn't to your taste."
He snorted. "I can't believe CI5 has survived as many years as it has. Cowley's brilliant idea is to eliminate rank, pair off everyone on the Squad on a--get this--equal basis and hope we accomplish our missions without inconveniencing Joe Public. He's a nutter."
"You're in training, aren't you? It has to be different once you hit the streets."
He shook his head. "Not according to the current Squad members. Cowley believes in differing perspectives. He pulls recruits from all the services--SAS, army, police. We've got bloody PC Plods weighing us down, acting like they know more than anyone else because of their street experience. Bloody hell. As if pulling over old age pensioners for speeding is experience! Unarmed police. They may have been trained in weapony, but they've no experience. It's a farce." He drank more of his beer. "Our so-called training is in 'investigative techniques'. Bloody useless, if you ask me. It's pussy-footing around. Just go in and get the job done. It works for the SAS, what's so different about CI5?"
"You'll be investigating crimes, won't you? And they must be doing your sort of training, too."
"Next week. I'm looking forward to that. We'll see who talks loudest then. Bloody-minded, opinionated, stubborn, cocky little...." He buried his face in his glass.
She tilted her head. "Your PC Plod?"
"Yeah. A sodding know-it-all." He gestured with his empty glass. "Want another?"
She shook her head, eyebrows rising. "I just got these."
He looked at her blankly for a moment, then his face softened to a genuine smile. "I'll treat the next one with more respect." He made his way to the bar, filtering through the crowd.
Watching him, she admired the flow of muscle that the fashionable clothing couldn't hide. He was a jungle cat set loose in London. He didn't belong here, even in officially sanctioned employment.
When he returned, she got down to business. "I've heard of a job that might suit you. It's just a rumour, but I believe it and I'm following it down. It will mostly involve providing training, but the money is very good."
"Sounds interesting. Where?"
"South America." She noted his grimace. "Yes, but it's getting harder to place Westerners in some places. Unless you want to go back to Africa?"
"I'll let you know if I hear more. Don't kill anyone during training."
He smiled. "If I do, it won't be my fault."
"I was expecting mud, at the least." She grinned at him as he joined her at the table, beer in hand. It had rained every day for over a week.
"The wonders of modern plumbing." Bodie sank into a chair with a long sigh. "Do you have anything in a desert climate?"
"Yes, but I'm not going to tell you about it."
"It's a suicide mission."
"That sounds lovely just at the moment."
"I'd miss you. How did your PC Plod do?"
"He's gone quiet on me."
He looked at her reproachfully. "You told me not to kill anyone. I always listen to you, my dear Maura."
"You wouldn't be in the mess you're in right now if that were true. Is he washing out, then?"
"Why the curiosity? He's a very dull PC Plod."
She smiled. "Very few people get under your skin."
"He gets under everyone's skin. I'm surprised Cowley let him in." He drank his beer. "He did all right; I'll give him that much. And he didn't complain like the rest of them. He just got on with it. Competitive bugger. Mind you, he's still a bloody irritating, bloody-minded bastard." He gestured with his glass. "And stubborn with it."
"You both passed, then?"
"So, what happens now?"
"Now we get paired off. The great day approaches. Mated for life." He raised his glass to her.
"That should be interesting. I've seen the broken hearts left in your wake."
"Not my fault. I never promise anyone anything."
"No, I know." After a pause, she said: "You don't give anything away except on your own terms, do you?"
He raised his eyebrows. "And you do?"
"I've been at this longer than you, my dear."
"One day I shall get you drunk and hear your life story."
"And lose my allure?" She shook her head. "Don't you know it's best to hide the truth?"
He smiled. "Please get me out of CI5, Maura. You can see I don't belong."
"Buy me dinner, then."
"You've heard more about that job?"
"Yes, and I think you'll like it."
"That's the main drawback; it's not for a few months yet. Still, I can trust George Cowley to keep you out of trouble that long, I suppose." She stood, and laughed at him as he helped her with her coat. "As long as he doesn't team you with your poor Plod."
"God forbid. Even Cowley's not that mad."
"...stupid, fucking bastard. It was sheer luck he wasn't killed." Bodie took a long swallow from his beer, the first since he had started in on his complaint, after she'd asked how he was.
"So Doyle is your PC Plod, is he?" She sat with chin in hand, watching him.
"Yeah. Well, no, that's not the most accurate description of him. Bloody-minded fits him. So does stubborn. And arrogant. And smug."
"If he's incompetent--"
"He's not. He's self-righteous. And judgemental."
"Is there anything he's good at?"
"Anything else?" She drank some of her beer.
"He knows London. That comes in handy." She raised an eyebrow and he shrugged. "All right. He's quick. You don't have to explain things to him. He works bloody hard; doesn't complain. He's fair, if bloody-minded. And he's good with a handgun."
"Class A marksman." His tone was grudging. "He worked undercover in Drugs."
"Did he?" She injected innuendo into her voice.
"How disappointing. For you."
He looked at her. "I meant he's not on the take--he's not bent--" He grinned. "Oh, bloody hell, you know what I mean."
She laughed at him. "How long have you been partners now?"
"We're not. We work together in a team. Bloody Cowley. The Old Man has the idea that it's best to team up across services, to share skills. How he expects me to work with a copper.... Abrasive--there's another word to describe him."
"Well, it won't be long now."
He put his beer down. "The job?"
"It's Colson who's running it, and doing the hiring. You remember him?"
"Yeah. I met him once in Algiers. He has a good reputation."
"The best in our line of work. The job is in Colombia, providing training for a private army. If you become a more...essential part of their organisation, you'll get more money."
There was a pause. "Working for the drug lords?"
The tone surprised her more than the words. "Does that bother you?"
It was only as his face closed that she realised how open it had been. "Money's money."
"They're paying very well. They want the best and they've got the assets to get it. And they want it quickly."
Lashes veiled his eyes as he looked down at the table. "When?"
"You've got a week to decide." She waited through a pause, wondering at it. "Think it over. However, there are others who are interested in it."
He smiled. "But you want me." Arrogant bastard. He was right, though. She wondered how PC Doyle would describe him.
"You were eager enough before."
He looked away for a moment. "Yeah. How much are they offering?"
"Eighty thousand--dollars--for the first three months. Yes, I told you they'd pay."
He nodded, glanced at his watch, and finished his beer. "I've got to go. I'll let you know." He stood.
"I thought we might spend another night reminiscing. You have other plans?" She gazed at him, sure of his attraction to her.
He leant forward and kissed her lingeringly. "Let me make a phone call. Are you part of the tour package?"
She smiled. "For the first month, just to make sure you've settled comfortably."
"Inducement. A definite inducement." He flicked her nose and headed for the telephone.
A single word, but one she had rarely heard from him. "Why not?"
He shrugged, and moved his glass over a half an inch. "It wouldn't suit me. I don't like drug money."
She raised her eyebrows, but her voice was mild. "Scruples?" He drank his lager, face unrevealing. "Well, I always heard that Cowley could change the leopard's spots. I didn't believe it."
"You should meet him."
"I'd rather not. I'm content as I am." She tilted her head, eyes narrowing, wondering if she hadn't known him so very well, after all. "You're turning down a great deal of money."
He shrugged, and glanced out the window by their table. The street outside was busy with early evening traffic.
"You're leaving me in a bit of a bind."
"You said you had other possibilities. I'm sure you'll manage."
"I won't enjoy his company as much." She watched him for a moment as he drank his lager. "He really got to you."
"He's a good man to work for. Fair. And the job needs doing."
"Practicality, Maura Cathleen." He drank more of his lager. "I leave the moral side to my partner."
She raised her eyebrows. "Your PC Plod?"
He grinned. "I'll have to introduce you to him sometime."
"Only a week ago you were complaining about him. What changed?
She thought he wouldn't answer. His eyes were on his glass, and then a smile flickered across his face. "We were working a case, trying to stop a group of home-grown anarchists. You know the type--down with the establishment; kill anyone in authority; etcetera. Somehow they think that's going to lead to a better world."
"That's idealism for you."
"Boredom, more like. An idealist sees the rot and finds a way to work through it to the good."
"So I've heard. Anyway, Doyle got a tip from inside the group--an old friend of his who said he wanted to get out when they started talking about bombing shopping centres and the like. He went to meet him, but it was a trap. The bastard betrayed Doyle to the lot of them."
"I got Doyle out, and we got them all--and their supplies." Another smile appeared, a brief, rueful look. "It just fell into place. Us. Working with him...it's like moving from a single-action gun to a semiautomatic. Together, we're smooth, efficient--nothing can touch us."
"That's it? That's the change?"
"We could be the best team in CI5, if we keep this up."
"You want that?"
He shrugged, eyes on his glass again.
She took in a breath. "Bodie, you're not seri--"
"He listened to me."
"That mate of his, they'd been close. Doyle trusted him. But he listened to me about backup." He lifted his eyes to hers. "He needs me. I'll keep him alive."
"That's important to you?"
He looked away. "It's important to Cowley. I told you, we could be the best."
Loyalty. It was his Achilles heel. She'd thought that need of his to belong had been burned out of him. George Cowley, apparently, had found something in the ashes. She'd lost him. For now, at least. "I'll be leaving in the morning, then."
He nodded. "Look me up when you get back."
She studied him for a moment. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yeah." He sounded positive, but she saw the flicker in his eyes.
"Don't forget all you've learned."
"As if I could." He looked out the window again, then stood up. "Take care of yourself, Maura." He leant down and kissed her. "So you won't forget me," he whispered.
"Bastard. You remember there's a way out--when you want it."
He smiled, stroked her cheek with his fingers, and left.
The entrance to the pub was onto the street outside the window. Maura watched as Bodie emerged and walked towards an old-model E-type Jag that was double-parked. He was laughing, and gesturing at the car. She looked at the driver, but all she caught was a glimpse of short, curly brown hair, and the flash of teeth in a smile, before the Jag pulled away, taking Bodie with it.
Madness. Loyalty was the one thing he would give away. How many times did he need to re-learn the same lesson? He left himself open to betrayal, to disillusionment. CI5 was not so different from any of the other groups he'd joined. He'd be calling her in six months, just as he had before. She only had to wait.
She was keeping an eye on the door, waiting for Teager to show, if he dared. She should never have let him think they were more than distant associates. But then, there were many things she ought not have done, starting with going to South America, then staying far too long. She'd come back to a mess in London.
Two men entered the pub, and she caught her breath as she recognised Bodie--as handsome as ever, and the devil still in him. The man with him was of a slighter build, with curly brown hair--his partner? It had been nearly three years since she'd been in London; three years for Bodie in CI5. Both men scanned the room before heading for the bar. She knew Bodie had seen her, although his face hadn't shown it. She took a swallow of beer.
Three years. She'd changed in those years, and trying to grasp the fraying threads of her former life was proving difficult. She'd do it, though. It was all she had, and all she wanted. Declan was gone, and those dreams were buried, as they ought to have been from the first. She was a long, long way from Ireland these days.
A full glass was set down next to hers, and she looked up into Bodie's blue eyes.
"Bodie." She picked up the beer he'd brought, sat back, and gestured for him to sit. "Thank you."
"My pleasure." He pulled out a chair, and set his glass on the table.
She looked behind him, noting the man he'd come in with at the bar. Nodding in his direction, she said: "Is that your PC Plod?"
An easy smile appeared on his face. "I'd forgotten that. Yeah, that's Doyle."
"It's about time you introduced us, don't you think?"
She smiled. "Afraid of what I might say to him?"
"I like keeping my life compartmentalised."
"You're a long way from Africa now, aren't you?"
"It depends on the day. You've been gone a long time."
"Still in the recruiting business?"
She raised her eyebrows. "Are you asking for personal reasons or professional?"
He smiled, leaning back in the chair. "Both."
"There's still a way out for you."
"I don't need it."
"They've civilised you, have they?"
"Something like that."
Over his shoulder, she saw Doyle approaching. "What about your partner? If he's as good as you say he is."
He grinned. "You can try, but I wouldn't recommend it."
"Recommend what? Hello, I'm Ray Doyle." Doyle slid in on the bench next to Maura.
"I thought you were watching for Jax," Bodie said.
"I can watch the door from here. And you were monopolising the prettiest woman in the pub."
She smiled. "I'm Maura."
"Hello, Maura." Doyle's smile transformed his face.
"So you're the PC Plod he's been landed with, eh?" She saw Bodie wince out of the corner of her eye.
Doyle glanced at Bodie. "You'll pay for that, sunshine. In fact, why don't you toddle off and buy us all another round?"
"You're not finished with that one. I told you she's an old friend."
"Not so much of the old, please." She let her eyes travel over Doyle. "I can see he did you an injustice."
"All the time. He spent too many years with soldiers and thugs."
"Careful, Ray. She is a mercenary."
Doyle gazed at her. "I may need to revise my opinion."
"I'd like to help you with that."
"I am still here at the table, you know," Bodie said. "And I knew her first." The tone was light, but there was no amusement in the eyes that met hers.
"Off with the old, on with the new--that's my motto." But Doyle's attention had shifted to the door. "There's Jax." He turned his head to look at Maura. "Another time?"
She glanced at Bodie before looking at Doyle. "Bodie knows how to find me."
"I'll make sure he tells me." Doyle stood.
"I'll be there in a minute," Bodie said. Doyle nodded and left. She and Bodie watched as he returned to the bar, greeting a black man there. Bodie turned back to Maura. "You're playing with fire, love. I wouldn't."
"Is he so dangerous, then?"
"Don't underestimate him. Or me."
And she could almost see the wall that stood between them now. A wall of his own building--marking off the side of the angels. "I overestimated how well you'd learned the lessons of Africa and Belfast. Loyalty is a weakness. It will blindside you. It has before."
"Not when it's a two-way street."
She laughed. "Do you honestly believe George Cowley would put you before CI5? You're letting him make you fodder for his vision!"
"It's better than having no vision. But, no, I don't believe that." He leaned back in his chair, watching her, a gleam in his eyes.
She stared at him. Then she glanced behind him at Doyle and the man he was with. "Him?"
"A two-way street?" She shook her head. "I can see why he needs you, but...."
He looked at his glass for a moment. "Remember Krivas?"
"Of course." He was a toad of a man, with delusions about his own intelligence.
"He tried a job in England--his usual racket. CI5 got onto him."
"You killed him."
"I put him in prison."
She nearly laughed, although unamused. "They've pulled your teeth." Her jungle cat was tamed, and in a cage of his own choosing. The rewards of freely-given loyalty.
"You go by their rules. How is that a two-way street?"
"Doyle was angry when I got into a fight with Krivas."
"I didn't kill Krivas. I thought about more than revenge." An odd expression crossed his face, and was gone before she could interpret it. "Doyle expects better from me. Regardless of what he thinks of mercenaries and of my past. He doesn't even know just how close to the truth he is. But he expects better from me."
"He sees through the rot to something good."
A feeling like acid hit her stomach, leaving her queasy. "And that's why you've stayed? It won't last."
"It doesn't matter. I have it now."
"If you want to call it that."
"I could disabuse him."
He looked at her, and she saw something of the jungle in his gaze. "You won't."
"He doesn't know, does he?" The lack of expression on his face told the tale. "You're a fool, Bodie. Head over heels." She looked behind him. "And he's coming over."
Bodie turned his head, and stood, as Doyle arrived. "We're leaving?"
"Yeah." She saw the black man--Jax?--waiting by the bar. Doyle smiled at her, but his focus was elsewhere.
"Right. Take care of yourself, Maura." Bodie finished his drink.
She watched as they left; watched as Bodie's hand guided Doyle, although he never touched him. What the hell was Bodie doing, grasping at dreams? What happened to the man who lived, and loved, on his own terms?
They gathered Jax on their way to the door, all three faces hard and purposeful. On the job. But as they left the pub, Bodie said something that brought Doyle's attention to him. She saw his face clearly, as Bodie passed him on his way out the door; saw Doyle's expression when Bodie couldn't. And, Christ, it was a two-way street, after all.
She turned away, grabbing her glass and taking a long swallow of the beer. It wouldn't last; it couldn't. Disillusion; death--one or the other would come for them. And then she and Bodie might again have something in common. The thought brought her no comfort.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Roses and Lavender 6, Allamagoosa Press, February 2007