Sequel to No Strings
Trapped by the possessive warmth of a muscled arm, Doyle lay staring upwards, his unblinking gaze fixed on the ceiling, a frown drawing his eyebrows together.
Sated and comfortable, Bodie was drifting in the blissful state somewhere between animal repletion and sleep, secure in the knowledge that the alarm wasn't due to go off for another eighty minutes. Saturday, Sunday, Monday and here he was Tuesday morning with Doyle still lying next to him. He had difficulty believing it, wary of what the future would bring - or whether they even had a future. Early days yet, he reminded himself, his grip on Doyle tightening a little. Squinting downwards he discovered he was unable to see his companion's expression.
"You're quiet." His voice was rich with post-coital satisfaction. "What are you thinking about?"
"Benny," replied Doyle flatly, dislodging the arm encircling him as he sat up to hug his knees.
"Oh. Yeah. Benny." His voice flat, Bodie's gaze was on the curve of the spine presented to him. Euphoria quenched, his paramount emotion was that of irritation. What had he expected - Ray murmuring sweet nothings in his ear?
"You do remember him then?"
"Don't use that tone with me, mate. You know bloody well I do. What about Benny in particular?"
"I want whoever topped him."
"I got Conroy," Bodie reminded him patiently, having recognised the cold edge to his partner's voice, even as memory played him false, replaying the throaty rasping sounds Doyle had made earlier while on the brink of climax, like a cheetah on heat.
"Yes, I do."
"You're certain of that, are you?"
"Of course I'm not bloody certain. Look, in case you've forgotten, Cowley's taken you off the case."
"And written Benny off at the same time - all for the price of a departmental wreath. Once they take him out of cold storage, of course."
"Oh, my gawd," groaned Bodie, slumping back against the pillows, quelling his sudden urge to stifle Doyle with one of them. "Come off it, Ray, you know the Old Man better than that. If he's closed the book on Benny there's a good reason for it."
"Course there is. I saw the pathologist's report yesterday."
Knowing better than to ask how Doyle had gained access to that while he was off the case, Bodie sighed. "And?" He was irritably conscious of the rumpled stickiness of the bed and himself.
"He was thumped to a pulp," continued Doyle, oblivious to subtle undercurrents. "Pathologist reckoned there were at least two blokes, one of them left-handed."
"That narrows the field down. So? Conroy employed some hired muscle. Nobodies."
"Not any more. I want them," said Doyle, turning.
Staring into the cold venom of eyes that didn't even notice him, Bodie battened down his own anger. But it made him ask: "And do you always get what you want?" His bitterness surprised him.
There was a moment's silence.
"Obviously not, or I'd be planning my honeymoon rather than lying here arguing the toss with you, wouldn't I?" Before Bodie could react Doyle had left the bed and the room.
Staring at nothing in particular, it was a moment before Bodie realised Doyle had returned to perch on the bed. Bodie didn't try to interpret his expression; he got it wrong too often.
"Come back for second helpings of second best, have you?" he asked.
"I didn't mean that the way it sounded," said Doyle, narrowing the gap between them.
"No," said Doyle truthfully, "I didn't. Just words, my mouth running away with me the way it does when I'm pissed off. I've got in the habit of taking things out on you - old habits die hard. Besides," his troubled gaze lingering on the brooding face opposite his own, he shook his head, his expression softening, "you and Ann haven't got a thing in common. You're not a substitute, mate." Intended as reassurance, it served only to fuel the flames.
"No, you've made that quite plain." Shrugging free of the arm that would have encircled him Bodie disappeared off in the direction of the bathroom.
When he returned, scrupulously showered and shaved, it was to find the bed changed and Doyle conspicuous by his absence.
Early days, all right, thought Bodie, blank-faced. His first instinct was to go after Doyle. He quenched it. If he went after Doyle he would have to be sure what he wanted. The last three days had left him unsure of his own needs, let alone Doyle's.
The day stretching emptily ahead of him, Bodie forced himself to go out. Due to the physical constraints imposed by his injured arm, his hours at the gym did little to relieve his tension. Arriving back at the flat he leapt on the ringing telephone but it was only Murphy asking if he felt up to a pint with some of the lads. Bodie agreed anyway. It might give him the courage to go round to Doyle's place; he would work out what he would say when he got there.
Making his way through to the crowded bar of the Red Lion he was drawn into a circle of familiar faces and wasted no time in catching up on the latest gossip. As his nerve returned, Bodie began to relax. It was with little real surprise that he turned to find Doyle standing beside him, a spare glass in his hand, even less of a surprise to find himself accompanying Doyle out of the pub an hour later and back to Doyle's flat.
Nothing ensued to disturb the surface unity. The next morning Doyle went into work wearing a shirt fastened to unusual heights while Bodie gave the gym a miss, not wanting to account for the new bruises he had acquired as unvoiced tensions found a safe outlet.
" - be the Old Man's blue-eyed boy but I don't know how Doyle puts up with him. Two days of it was enough for me." Turner stared with spurious sorrow at the hand he had been dealt. At this rate he and Molly would be able to afford something special for his next free weekend - Venice, maybe?
"Bodie's all right," said Anson stolidly, less in defence of the absent 3.7 than in automatic contradiction of Turner. He nodded to Lucas, who was dealing, and allowed himself a small smile as he glanced at the two cards he had been dealt.
"Compared to what?" returned Turner derisively, rightly ignoring Anson's look of confidence. "He made me feel about as welcome as a dose of the clap."
"You are about as welcome as a dose of the clap," drawled McCabe, who had been losing steadily for the last two hours and was therefore predisposed to sympathise with anyone unfortunate enough to get lumbered with Turner as a workmate. He flicked an absent glance at his own partner, Lucas wearing what he fondly imagined to be a poker face. The poor man's Clint Eastwood, thought McCabe, resigned to his lot in life. Though anyone beat being stuck in a car with Turner for twelve hours at a stretch. Bodie had taken the temporary switch in partners remarkably well, leaving Turner with all parts functioning and as objectionable as ever.
"Up yours," replied Turner, unperturbed. This was his first stay in London for almost three years; he hoped it would be at least the same length of time before he had another. He enjoyed working solo, high-tech industrial espionage a specialty of his. Having been dragged back to HQ for no better reason than the fact Cowley was short-staffed, he had been less than thrilled to find himself babysitting a cold-eyed 3.7 - when he wasn't lumbered with tail jobs or surveillance details. Even that work had tapered off. Eleven days he'd been stuck down here, and with no work to speak of for five of them. Still, with what he was making at the card-table, not to mention London-rate expenses, the financial rewards almost made up for being pulled off the Robomix case.
"Call and raise you a fiver," he announced, the nonchalance with which he added to the crumpled notes in the centre of the table endearing him to no one.
Lucas grinned and set his hand face down, fumbling for his wallet with the certainty of a man who knows he's on to a good thing.
A soft sound of anguish rent the air. "Forgot to collect my bloody expenses," he moaned.
"Probably the pressure of work we've been under," growled Anson. He had found himself betting on which fly would find its way out of the window first earlier today and had yet to recover from the shock.
Lucas ignored the interruption. "Mac, lend me -?"
" - not a chance," interrupted McCabe heartlessly but he knew better than to look up - Lucas had conned him too many times. "It's bad enough losing on my own account, never mind yours."
"I'll pay you back."
McCabe spluttered on a mouthful of tea. "The only man tighter than you is Doyle, and even he doesn't - "
"Someone want me?" inquired a familiar voice from the doorway.
"No," said Anson, beating the others to it, "so go away." Unsurprised, he watched Doyle plant himself against the doorjamb.
"You're a miserable, tight-fisted git," Lucas told his other half without heat.
"Broke, too," agreed McCabe, unregenerate.
Recognising the truth when he heard it, Lucas abandoned hope. Tossing in his hand with a fortitude that betrayed its lack of strength, he got up to pour himself some long-stewed tea. Adding what he hoped would be enough sugar from an almost empty bag he abandoned the resultant syrup to hunt for a teaspoon.
Pushing himself away from the door jamb, Doyle drifted in to appropriate the beaker and watch the game.
"What are you doing here anyway?" asked McCabe idly. "I thought you were supposed to be off at six. Don't tell me some work's come in?" he added, trying not to sound too eager.
Correctly interpreting a certain bitterness in Doyle's tone, McCabe gave an unsympathetic grin. "Teach you not to let sleeping Cowleys lie, won't it. What's he had you on today then?" Yesterday had seen Doyle babysitting a Minister's wife around the social whirl. Unappreciative of the honour, Doyle had been mid cogent appraisal of Cowley's state of mind when Cowley had entered the room. The rest was history.
"Bloody Archives," announced Doyle with gloom.
McCabe's grin widened, Archives rumoured to be a bottomless pit which had engulfed many an agent in disgrace. "Well you can't say he didn't warn you to steer clear of the Holly case. And don't start in on me. I'm only repeating what he said, not saying he's right."
"He is, of course," offered Anson, with an absence of malice.
Everyone had the odd case which got under their skin; the Holly case had turned into Doyle's bête noire, costing him an old informer and a new girl. News of his involvement with Holly's daughter had been slow to break, travelling like wildfire thereafter. Since her appearance in a CI5 corridor and rapid, if tearful, exit, hotly pursued by Doyle, speculation had been rife and ribald. This was the furthest anyone had come to questioning Doyle directly.
"Save it," Doyle advised him shortly. Seeking refuge in the beaker of tea he had purloined, he re-emerged with a look of disbelief. "Not only is this half cold but you've emptied the bloody sugar bag in it," he told Lucas, pained.
"I like lots of sugar," Lucas replied, allowing Doyle to get away with the theft this once. "Let it rest, Ray. Cowley's got half the Squad busy tying up the loose ends of the Holly case as it is - blokes you can trust."
"You can be an irritating prat sometimes. Come on, give that tea back if you're not going to drink it."
"No one could drink that," said Doyle loftily. Plugging in the kettle, he ignored McCabe's comment of "Knock out the sometimes."
"Sometimes what?" inquired Murphy sleepily, his head appearing over the top of the sagging settee.
"Go back to sleep," Doyle told him, pushing him out of sight again.
"What you need," said Murphy, "is someone to anchor you down, keep you in your place. When's Bodie due back?"
The casual query concealed a very real curiosity, Murphy one of the few who had seen Bodie go after his partner. While both men had been off-duty that weekend, only Doyle, with a face like thunder, had appeared Monday morning, Bodie's name taken from the active duty list to appear on the sicklist. Not that he'd looked sick on Tuesday night, Murphy reflected.
"He'd be back on light duties if there were any. As it is, Cowley told him to stay off till his medical on Wednesday."
"Jammy sod. How'd he do his arm in the first place?" asked Anson, rashly committing another two pounds to the pot.
"In the gym. He's OK," Doyle dismissed.
"Fall over his own feet, did he?"
Busy drinking his freshly-made tea, Doyle didn't reply.
"Bloody good timing," grumbled McCabe. "If something doesn't happen soon I'm going to become a Master Criminal. The Napoleon of Crime," he added wistfully, ignoring Lucas' derisive snort. "Bodie won't take kindly to finding himself banished to Archives with you, you know. Try and keep out of the Old Man's way for a bit."
The cause of Doyle's initial fall from grace was no secret. Finding himself with a non-existent workload, Doyle had initiated his own inquiry into Benny's death. The investigation had survived for the three hours it had taken Cowley to get wind of it. Since then Doyle had been out of favour and Cowley's temper on a shorter leash than usual. The two facts were not necessarily connected. As was the way of things, with a full complement of healthy staff - Bodie excluded - Cowley had work to occupy only two-thirds of them. The unoccupied and over-trained troupes, with little to divert their attention, were growing restless.
Doyle's glare to the back of McCabe's head went unnoticed, everyone's attention back on the game.
"Turner, you devious..."
"Bloody card sharp."
The winning hand smugly revealed, Turner beamed around the table. "Natural talent will always tell," he said pityingly. In search of fresh meat, he glanced across to where Doyle was leant against the wall. "D'you want to sit in?"
Doyle shook his head, his introverted expression deterring even Turner from pursuing the point. Resigned, Murphy left the settee to try his luck again.
Oblivious to the resumption of conversation around him, Doyle perched himself on the edge of the littered table, wondering if his new self-consciousness showed. He knew it couldn't be deliberate, but over the last few days everyone seemed to lead the conversation round to Bodie, as if he and Bodie only had existence when they were together.
It was dangerously close to the truth at the moment. With few distractions at work he was spending all his time mooning about the bastard.
How fucking naive could you get? There were always strings to any relationship, no matter how simple it might be. What he and Bodie had was far from simple.
It still seemed incredible that he should have ended up in Bodie's bed, dry humping him like some spotty adolescent. Their technique had improved no end over the last week.
Terrific. That didn't make up for all the things that were slipping away from him: Bodie, for one.
He was beginning to think he must have imagined the look in Bodie's eyes; glimpsed once, never seen since. Not that the novelty had worn off. If they got any hotter for it there'd be spontaneous combustion. No, Bodie still wanted him but he had the impression that maybe, for Bodie, the fantasy of having him had been more satisfying than living with the walking, talking, reacting original.
Ann had certainly thought so, and she hadn't even tried to live with him. He'd tried to explain about Ann, needing to make Bodie understand something he only half understood himself; Bodie changed the subject every time. Anyone would think the smooth bugger hadn't had his own fair share of birds in the past, thought Doyle, suddenly aggrieved that the effort he had been making should have gone so unappreciated.
What effort - remembering to use the right fork?
Christ. Time was when he and Bodie hadn't had to make any effort. Now...
Tension clawing at his gut, Doyle admitted his one fear - that whatever he did, he was going to lose Bodie.
Only then did he become aware of dampness, the remnants of his tea leaking over his fingers from the crumpled beaker. With some relief he heard the distraction of a shrill ringing in his ear.
"'Phone's going," he announced, tossing away the beaker and wiping his hand down the back of his jeans before anyone should notice his unnecessary show of strength.
"So answer it," said Murphy, tousle-headed and irritable, having lost five pounds in as many minutes.
"'M off-duty," Doyle reminded him.
With a mumbled obscenity, Murphy, who wasn't, left the card table to grunt unenthusiastically into the receiver.
"'S for you," he told Doyle a moment later, poking him in the ribs with the receiver. "A DS Collier." Exhausted by the effort required of him, he sank back into his chair.
"Who? Oh. Cheers, Murph. Incidentally, I shouldn't go raising on that hand, Anson. Not with what Turner's holding."
"You've just lost me a fortune," growled Turner with menace.
"Shouldn't gamble then, should you," Doyle pointed out piously. Ignoring the ensuing debate about his origins he took up the receiver, turning his back on the card players.
"Ray Doyle. Yeah, it has been a while. You know how it is, Dave. Right, what have you got for me? Course it's off the record. Yeah. Bottle of the best," he added, resigned.
"Get that in writing, Dave," Turner advised him, in a bellow that carried halfway round CI5, never mind down the telephone receiver a scant yard away.
Doyle thrust his foot back, accurately finding the bottom rung of Turner's chair. Slewed round in his seat by the force of the kick Turner shot out a hand to save himself, knocking the dregs of his beaker of milk over the playing area amid loud complaints.
"Sorry, I didn't catch that, Dave. It's a bit noisy in here," Doyle added pointedly, ducking to avoid the box of paperclips sailing in his direction. The box hit the wall, paperclips cascading everywhere, to be followed by an empty milk carton and a half-eaten cheese roll.
"Oy, d'you mind!" Lunging in vain to save his snack, McCabe knocked the remnants of his tea into Anson's lap.
Cowley walked in, unnoticed, on the ensuing melée. It was the work of moments to dispatch his supposedly senior staff to tasks of monumental tedium, leaving himself listening to an engrossed 4.5, all Doyle's attention on his telephone conversation by this time. Overhearing enough of the one-sided call, Cowley's expression was one of arctic disapproval.
"...that's all? Christ. No. No, I know. Look, you don't have to convince me, mate, I've been that route. A copper's life has never been easy. It just seems that no one's busting a gut to find out who was behind - No, I suppose he wasn't worth much bother if you look at it like that. Only you never used to.
"Oh. That's Ramsden's view, is it? No, I can see it would make life difficult. How d'you rate Ramsden, tighter than Dexter used to be, is he?"
The reply that elicited was a lengthy affair, concluded by no more than Doyle's murmured, "Really?"
Recognising what lay behind that thoughtful acknowledgement, Cowley's look of interest was submerged at what he heard next.
"Holly's chances? Who's Holly? Oh, him. Sorry, mate, I couldn't say, it's not my case. Nah. Just that Benny and me go back a long way. He would've been one of my first collars if it hadn't been... But that's old history. Fact remains, he was a good kid and I want whoever topped him."
Standing halfway across the room, Cowley heard the indrawn breath, the flat, tight note of anger.
"Maybe I am. Time was when you'd have been beside me. Yeah, times change. Don't they just. No. No, I wouldn't go back. Yeah, well it pays the rent. Yeah, you should write in, chance your arm. Right, thanks Dave. Yes, we must. Sometime. See you."
"A personal call, 4.5?"
Tensing as he became belatedly aware of his audience, Doyle replaced the receiver with more care than the small task warranted before he turned to face the Scot. "Old mate," he agreed vaguely.
"So I gathered. From your days pounding the streets?"
Wary, Doyle nodded.
"You'll find yourself wishing you were back there if you carry on in this vein. I wasn't aware that CI5 were in the habit of trading favours with the police."
Doyle gave a snort of disbelief, aware that Cowley would trade-in his granny if the price was right.
"Who were you speaking to?"
The door burst open before Doyle could reply, Jax and Lewis teetering on the threshold. One look at Cowley's expression caused them to backtrack smartly.
"I'd rather not - "
"I'm sure you wouldn't," Cowley agreed. "Well?"
"A DS Collier, attached to B Division under DI Ramsden out of the - "
"I'm well aware of the location."
That alone gave Doyle pause. Discovering that his jaws were clenched to the point of pain, he tried to relax, icily aware that he was in trouble.
"What information were you after?"
Self-preservation - just - stopped Doyle from prevaricating. Knowing he was in the wrong had never improved his temper. "Dave is handling the backup work on Benny's murder. I wondered what progress they'd made. I know Benny is - was - " he corrected himself angrily, "- only a small-time grass but - "
"That will do, 4.5. One more word and you'll find yourself on a two-week suspension. If I discover you're continuing to place personal considerations above your work you'll be off the Squad so fast your head will spin. Do I make myself clear?"
His face pinched with temper, Doyle's eyes narrowed. The hypocritical old bastard could take his fucking job and -
"Do I make myself clear, 4.5?"
"As crystal, sir."
While the glare was pure Doyle, the intonation of the insolent acknowledgement owed much to Bodie. Recognising as much, Cowley out-stared the younger man with ease before beginning a succinct outline of his opinion of Doyle's recent behaviour.
"...repeat this once, and once only - your involvement in the Holly investigation is over. Any outstanding matters are being handled by other members of the Squad to my complete satisfaction. Or do you doubt my probity?" Cowley demanded acidly at Doyle's change of expression.
"No one's above suspicion in CI5," Doyle reminded him, smarting from the tongue-lashing he had received.
"Including Ray Doyle." Cowley gave an abrupt smile of faintly malicious comprehension. "Ah, so that's what rankles, is it. If you can't stand the heat..."
"It has nothing to do with - " Doyle's protest faded. "Is that why I'm off the case?" he demanded, meeting the older man's eyes and, as usual, learning nothing from Cowley's expression.
Relaxing, Cowley gave a half-smile. "Och, rest easy. If I had any doubts on that score you wouldn't be standing here arguing the toss with me. You're off the case - for no better reason than the fact I say so. What did Collier have to say about Ramsden?"
"Why not ask - ?" His mouth compressed, Doyle counted silently to four before continuing more moderately. "Not much, beyond the usual moans. Sounds like a bad case of personality clash with a senior officer," he added with a pointed emphasis.
"So how is the investigation into - er - Benny's death proceeding?"
"It isn't. Ramsden's giving the case a very low priority - some spic kid caught on the fringes of a big drugs op, let Conroy take the rap as he's dead."
"Would Benny have involved himself, had he been asked?"
"Benny? No, not Benny," said Doyle softly. "Too scared for one thing. He learnt to run fast at an early age, and to swallow insults. He had to. I've got to admit, he didn't have much going for him."
"Any trouble with women?"
"Chance would be a fine thing. He was a bit backward, was Benny. More interested in the centrefold of Penthouse than the real thing - but only if he couldn't get The Beano. As for any involvement with drugs, forget it. Benny was straight as a die."
"You knew him well."
"Enough to know he didn't deserve what happened to him."
"Few people do," Cowley reminded him dryly, in no mood for over-dramatisation. He met Doyle's glare head on, making a mental note to pack the younger man off to Macklin if this unwarranted lull continued. If Brian couldn't rid Doyle of his preoccupation with private concerns no one could.
Finding himself with an almost full complement of bored and increasingly argumentative agents - half of them over-trained to a dangerous degree, others in the process of being 'refreshed' - Cowley was irritably conscious that he was almost willing disaster upon the nation. Doyle's present manner couldn't be solely attributed to such a simple cause as the current lull, however. The Holly girl had hit him hard; it sounded as if the fast and furious affair was now burnt out. The dismal, preoccupied ashes stood in front of him, looking distinctly hard-done-by.
Yes, he would give Doyle to Brian to unravel, Cowley decided; he could go down with Bodie. That combination should sort Doyle out. A preoccupied agent was a dead agent, worthless to CI5. Until Bodie was fit enough, however, he could do something to redirect some of Doyle's surplus energy; he should have told the lad earlier.
"Benny supplied you with information, snippets of gossip. Did he ever share them with anyone else, do you know - another beat copper?"
Looking faintly surprised at the query, Doyle leant back against the wall. "They wouldn't have been interested. Benny never had much worth hearing. Besides," recalling another time and place, Doyle gave an involuntary grin, "he didn't go much on the police, reckoned they were all bent."
"What made him believe you were any different?"
"Incontrovertible proof - according to Benny's code of ethics. Not only did I turn down a free cuppa in the Market but then I refused a 'Rolex' with only one previous owner. Fact I didn't nick him when I could've done probably helped too."
"Why didn't you?"
Doyle shrugged. "No need. He was just a lonely kid with nothing better to do but try and earn some respect from the local yobs. He thought nicking fruit from the stalls would do the trick. I kicked his backside, told him otherwise. Mind, I could never convince him that the locals weren't on the...take," Doyle concluded lamely, staring at Cowley as he made a belated connection.
"Is that it? Police corruption? Is that why you had us tailing Conroy in the first place? You never did say why we were after him."
"At last," said Cowley, satisfied. "That's exactly why you were tailing him."
"But how does - ?"
"Stop looming over me and sit down," Cowley told him with an impatient gesture of his hand, relieved to see that Doyle's brain had reactivated. "We came to the case late. It began with a series of accusations about Ramsden. The initial investigating team found themselves unable to clear Ramsden or substantiate the allegations of corruption. However, they did uncover some interesting social contacts, supposedly made through the local golf club. In view of the position of some of those concerned, and the difficulty of discovering the extent of the web of coincidence, CI5 were called in. There was a possibility that one of the investigating officers was also implicated - he has since been cleared, as has Ramsden. Other, more senior trails, are still being pursued. When you and Bodie stumbled onto Conroy's drugs operation I left you to concentrate on that. It is, however, far from over."
"How big's the investigation?"
"To the Home Office itself. The keyword of this operation is discretion - which is why I won't have you within spitting distance. For your own protection as well as CI5's," Cowley added tartly as Doyle's head shot up.
"So why tell me now?" he asked finally, stunned to realise how much had been going on behind the scenes in the last week that he should have spotted.
"In the hope of discouraging you from ringing any more 'old mates'," replied Cowley acidly. "I tend to forget your local connections. Remiss of me. Are you still seeing Ann Holly? You do remember her?" he prompted as Doyle just stared at him.
Sweet-breasted and hard-eyed; the ache in his balls, the confusion in his head. "Vaguely," agreed Doyle.
"Don't push it, lad, or you'll find yourself busier than you'll care for. The relationship is over?"
"Dead as a dodo," Doyle confirmed with blank-faced flippancy. Ann seemed a very long time ago, as remote and unreal as the moon. He had no intention of explaining further.
Well, you see, sir, I'm fucking Bodie now, so I don't need anyone else. He completes me.
As Cowley continued to stare at him, Doyle knew a moment's doubt as to whether he had inadvertently spoken aloud. Like Cowley had said, the keyword was discretion until he and Bodie got themselves sorted out; save any announcements until then. Permanence, commitment...the concept, wholly new, was terrifying in its implications for himself. If he gave Bodie that much of himself... If?
"I'm glad to hear it," said Cowley.
Doyle blinked at the odd look that accompanied the announcement. Why the hell the Old Man should have turned Cupid, always harping on about Ann... Realisation dawning, he closed his eyes in self-disgust. No wonder Cowley had been so stroppy about that call to Dave: CI5 lived by their reputation for incorruptibility. Coincidence rarely struck twice without something else behind it. Never mind being off the case, he was lucky not to be off the Squad. He still might be.
"When will I be cleared for active duty?" he asked abruptly.
"In case it had slipped your attention these last few days, you have been on active duty since you returned with Holly's photograph," Cowley reminded him dryly.
"I'm not under surveillance then?"
"Is there any reason you should be?" countered Cowley, wondering what was wrong now. He didn't often have trouble from Doyle; when he did... Garnering his patience, he waited, making a mental note to ask for repayment of that forty pounds.
Doyle looked up at that. "No, sir." Vehement and unequivocal, this time he held Cowley's gaze.
"Then why should you suppose you might be?"
Doyle became aware of how tired he felt. "Because ringing Dave Collier makes my second link with people on the fringes of this investigation. I only found out he was with B Division this morning - not that I can prove it," he added realistically.
"Should it become necessary, I can. Your conversation will be on tape," said Cowley urbanely.
"You've bugged the rest room phone?" said Doyle with disbelief, wondering how many dates it must have recorded over the years.
Cowley gave an exasperated snort. "Use what few brains you have, 4.5. All the phones are tapped - but in this instance I wasn't referring to those within CI5." Phone-tapping, even on a small scale, was difficult to arrange. He watched Doyle absorb the significance of what he had been told.
"The investigation's that big?"
"Point taken, sir. I'm off the case. Just as well you mentioned it," Doyle added lugubriously. "God knows who I'd've come up with next."
"I've already had two connections with this case, things have a habit of going in threes."
"I didn't know you were superstitious."
"Neither did I," admitted Doyle. "It crept up on me about five minutes ago. For what it's worth, I'd say Dave was clean. He didn't give me a thing," he added.
"No doubt he has his own loyalties," Cowley pointed out, noting the intent light in Doyle's eyes. In five minutes he would be worrying the problem like a bone, in ten he'd be angling to get himself in on the investigation.
"Mine aren't in question, sir."
"No," agreed Cowley, "I know. Och, you can tell me what little Collier did have to offer in comfort, over a drink. This room's a disgrace," he added with a disparaging look around.
"Yes, sir." Inured to the tawdry delights of a rest room the size of a rabbit hutch, Doyle ignored the common complaint.
"Then what are you waiting for, unless there's a bottle of malt stashed in here?" snapped Cowley. Turning at the door he noticed the hint of anxiety on Doyle's face. So the lad wasn't done with CI5 yet. "Take the next two days off - get yourself fit. Wednesday you'll see Brian with Bodie. You'd better tell 3.7," he added absently.
Doyle's look of horror was reward in itself.
"How do you fancy a pint and game of darts for what's left of the evening?" Doyle asked, his morose gaze on a water-slick back.
Pearled with water, Bodie switched off the shower and turned. "Oh. Hallo. I'd given up on you. I half thought Cowley might have found some real work for you to do," he added mendaciously, having been convinced that Doyle, quite simply, had had enough. He said nothing of that, however; it wasn't part of their unspoken contract. No strings.
"Worse," said Doyle, handing him a towel. "So how about it - or are you off out somewhere?"
"Like this?" said Bodie, shocked. "How about what?"
His expression a fraction less gloomy Doyle repeated his proposal for their evening. Bodie would have eaten already or he would have added a meal to the list. They would be safer going out. After an hour and a half in Cowley's company and an exceedingly large Glenlivet on an empty stomach, he was in no state to weave his way through a conversational minefield. By the time the Old Man had finished with him he'd felt gutted - his sudden pang of jealousy when he had thought Bodie might be going out hadn't helped.
They were going to have to talk about women - or a lack of them. Later, he promised himself tiredly. What he wanted now was to unwind, escape his growing tension which had little to do with Benny or the lack of work. What he had -
Absently following Bodie's every move as he dried himself, Doyle propped himself against the door jamb, his appreciation of the view unimpeded by hunger, tension or the exhaustion induced by doing fuck all.
On second thoughts, what he had would do, he decided hazily, when Bodie stretched, all limber muscle and smooth skin, body hair seeming shockingly dark against its pale background. He had a good body, did Bodie. A lick of heat rising sweetly from his groin, Doyle realised he hadn't appreciated quite how good.
"Oy, are you listening," Bodie demanded. "I said - why not."
"Mmm? Oh. Great."
Bodie's gaze flicked back to his limp-looking partner before he briskly continued drying his legs.
That eye-y look meant Ray was more tired than he wanted to admit; the effect of George Cowley at close quarters if he read between the lines correctly. Only Ray could think the Old Man wouldn't pick up on the fact that one of his men had decided to pursue an independent investigation. Besides, Ray hadn't been sleeping well; neither of them had.
"On the other hand," he suggested smoothly, "there's snooker on the box till eleven, then a horror film with that blonde you always fancied." As Doyle looked unimpressed, he added the clincher. "I'm starving and it's your turn to buy me dinner. Alternatively, there's some steak in the fridge."
A realist, Bodie shopped to accommodate his self-imposed culinary limitations. With a decent cookery book and the right equipment the sky was the limit, but he had never seen the point in wasting that much time and effort when London was full of good takeaways - or when you could con someone else into cooking for you. The steak was his fallback for the rare occasions when his charm let him down.
"You got any wine?" asked Doyle absently, watching the wriggle as cream cords were drawn up over powerful thighs.
Doyle raised an acquiescent hand. "Great. Steak is defrosted, I suppose?"
By way of an answer the towel landed neatly over his head, Bodie strolling kitchen wards, resigned to his role of chef. It didn't occur to him that a little over a week ago he would have left the task to Doyle without a thought.
It occurred to Doyle as he stood with the Bodie-damp towel between his hands. If it didn't matter so much he would have found it funny; two grown men trying so hard to please. Trouble was, they were trying at all the wrong things and he didn't know how to stop any more than Bodie did, spontaneity crushed under the weight of uncertainty. What the hell had they talked about before - it couldn't have all been about their current birds, they weren't the sort. Nor were they that besotted with work. Now every conversational channel seemed blocked by their wariness that it would lead them to dangerous ground.
Bodie had long since become closer to him than anyone else, living or dead. That hadn't changed but it seemed ironic that, with Bodie's semen slick on his belly, or smoothly coating against his tongue, they should have come to seem so very far apart, Bodie infinitely strange to him.
So close the gap, Doyle told himself with a brisk impatience.
Slinging the towel over the rail to dry, he wandered out to the kitchen. Taking one look at Bodie's unenthusiastic profile he gave a wry grin and nudged him to one side, taking over with the ease of long practice. He had never minded any of the stages involved in preparing a meal, actively enjoying most of them. It was the washing up he hated. Even Kate Ross had approved his outlet for stress. Idly, Doyle wondered if she would approve of Bodie, swung around to share the joke and thought the better of it.
Noticing that sudden constraint, Bodie wondered in his turn and busied himself finding a corkscrew.
Courgettes and tomatoes prepared, squinting as he chopped onions, wondering why - no matter which trick he tried - he always ended up crying, Doyle began to volunteer details of his day between increasingly moist sniffs.
"Oh my gawd. Use a - Oh, you can't. Here, blow," commanded Bodie, holding a piece of kitchen towelling to Doyle's nose.
Doyle looked damply at him, blew obediently and found his nose being gently wiped. Knife poised, he watched bemused as Bodie disposed of the soggy towelling with the same lack of fuss before he resumed his hunt for the corkscrew.
Who else would have done that for him? Who else would he have allowed to do that?
The remnants of an onion in one hand, knife in the other, Doyle left the chopping board, nuzzled the back of Bodie's exposed neck and then resumed his chopping.
"What was that in aid of?" asked Bodie warily.
"Irresistible impulse," Doyle told him, busy turning the steak, but he smiled across the small space between them. After that it was no problem to finish his recital of the day's tribulations, Bodie picking up on the corruption angle faster than he had.
That saw them safely through the consumption of the meal, both of them resigned to the fact they were unlikely to learn the outcome of the investigation unless any aspect of it made the news.
"Have to watch for any resignations," said Bodie. "The Cow give you a bad few minutes did he?" he added shrewdly. His elbows on the table, his eyes on Doyle's face as he enjoyed the play of light across it, he bit into an apple.
"I wondered if the boot marks showed. Put it this way, I won't bother asking for a rise just yet. Dave Collier was probably the last straw."
"Pig-headed, that's your trouble," remarked Bodie wisely, spitting pips neatly into his cupped palm.
"Oh yeah?" Mellowed by food, wine and Bodie, Doyle gave an accepting grin. "Maybe at times," he conceded. "But... Ah, I dunno. Benny... The dumb kid was my responsibility and I let him get himself killed."
"It wasn't your fault."
Something in the flattened voice made Doyle refocus sharply, noting the veiling sweep of dark lashes and drawn-in mouth, the small lines around the eyes. Too much tension, he recognised.
"No, I know," he agreed gently, reaching out to cover Bodie's hand. "It just doesn't help very much at the moment. You know how he liked to keep in touch. I keep expecting him to ring. Stupid."
"Not stupid, just very much in character. He was family. Besides, losing Ann so soon afterwards can't have made it any easier." Bodie turned away to dispose of the apple core before opening a second bottle of wine, making the task his excuse not to turn back into the room. Ann Holly was one of the many subjects he had forbidden himself.
"Ann?" It was a moment before Doyle recognised what he was being asked. Getting up, he took the bottle from Bodie and set it down on the table. "It's got nothing to do with Ann. She was never family." He waited until Bodie looked up. "I wouldn't lie about it to you. You do know that?"
Bodie gave a reluctant smile, brushing the corner of Doyle's mouth with his index finger; the tenderness of the unpremeditated gesture was its own answer.
"That's all right then," said Doyle gruffly, more moved than he was prepared to admit. "As for family... What the hell do I need a family for? I've got you haven't I?" he added, with an unconscious possessiveness that offered its own reassurance.
Momentarily speechless, Bodie stared at him, visibly relaxing.
"Come on," ordered Doyle hastily, "we'll miss the horror film at this rate and I like watching you look all superior. You can wash up tomorrow."
Finding himself hustled from the kitchen and sentiment to TV and snooker, Bodie let it happen, oddly content to share sofa and wine with a rumpled Ray Doyle, blind to everything but the man next to him.
"I've got tomorrow off," Doyle offered, mid sip of wine.
"What's the catch?" asked Bodie, familiar with the ways of their revered leader.
"You and me are being packed off to Brian."
A warm weight draped itself consolingly around him. "Stick with me, kid, I'll look after you."
Bodie grinned, then stared down at the head propped against him. "You mean that, don't you?" he said on a note of discovery.
Staring up into the pale, grave face, Doyle nodded. "Yeah." Long fingers twined in Bodie's shirt, coaxing him to bend, Doyle nuzzling gently at Bodie's mouth with affection rather than desire.
"Just one thing," he murmured as capable hands tightened around him.
"You can forget that 'no strings' crap. It could never work like that."
"No," agreed Bodie dreamily as his fingers slid past Doyle-warmed cotton.
"Just like that?" asked Doyle, faint but pursuing.
Bodie lifted his head then, actively concentrating. "Well you didn't seriously think that I was going to let you walk off whenever the fancy took you, did you?"
That unthinking arrogance made Doyle smile, one hand cupping the side of Bodie's face. "I suppose not," he conceded.
"I can see I'm going to have trouble with you," said Doyle, finding himself half-naked and in danger of falling off the sofa altogether.
Sure and competent, Bodie knelt above him. "Nothing you can't handle," he said confidently, absently caressing the thin-fleshed curve of a raised flank.
Busy fingers stilled. "You know, I reckon you're right for once," Doyle told him, surprised. As his fingers had begun to move again by this time, Bodie decided to postpone his reply.
Sated, and very, very comfortable, Bodie lay sprawled along the sofa. "You know," he said drowsily, one eye on the blonde heroine's improbable bust, "I always thought that it would be more romantic than this."
Doyle gave a tiny wriggle, burrowing into Bodie-warmth. "You complaining?" he mumbled, absently tonguing a tiny pink nipple.
"No, just that it's a bit of an anticlimax, you know. None of the grand declarations you read about, none of - "
Doyle's first snore interrupted his contented monologue.
His expression softened with love, Bodie smiled and accepted his allotted role of cushion. Doing nothing that would disturb the sleeper draped half over him he sat through the remainder of the horror film, late news bulletin and weather, sipping the by-now warm wine while he toyed with a fat brown curl.
Fantasy was something he had lived with for some time. Reality was Ray Doyle, face buried in his armpit, snuffling in his sleep while he cut off the circulation from Bodie's left arm.
It would do, he decided, giving his new-found security an absent caress. Fifteen minutes later he was asleep himself.
They would probably have spent the night in cramped bliss before the blank-eyed television screen if Bodie's lax hand hadn't tilted in sleep, tipping the remnants of his wine over Doyle.
It took the smoothest talker in CI5 only two minutes to persuade Doyle to let him lick it off.
-- THE END --
Written September 1985
Published in Uncharted Waters 12, Crevichon Press, 1995
Revised edition published in HG Collected 2, Doghouse Press, 2002