Fairy Tale


(An alternate version of this story is "The Cow's Christmas")

It's been said that farmers are the world's biggest optimists because they always believe that the crops will come up and thrive despite the vagaries of Mother Nature. I've heard the same applied to sales people, who go out every day convinced they will make the deal. But what of CI5 agents -- and their controller?

Bodie looked up over his newspaper, the nub of a pencil gripped firmly in hand, a partially completed crossword puzzle before him. He was sprawled on the floor, leaning against the settee in Doyle's flat, a well-laced eggnog at his side. "What's a five letter word meaning skeptic?"

Ray spared him a glance from the telly, balancing his own drink on his flat stomach, supine on the settee above his partner. "Try Bodie."

Bodie ignored the jibe. "Has to start with a 'c'. And Cowley's too many letters."

"Cowley's not a skeptic."

Bodie raised both eyebrows. "You must be joking. The Cow's the biggest cynic I know. All that double-think and triple-think...."

"Not so," Ray argued. "There's no way he could keep at it if he didn't believe we make a difference."

"That's you, Ray, not the Cow. And what if he doesn't?"

"How do you mean? What would be the point of it all then?"

"What if he doesn't think he matters -- that it would all go on fine without him -- that he's just a tiny little cog in a big greasy wheel?"

"Well we won't know, will we?"

Bodie shrugged. "Guess we won't. So what's this weepy thing you're watching?"

Doyle knuckled his fingers against Bodie's head. "A Yank film -- It's a Wonderful Life."

"S'at the one with the big rabbit or the fairy?"

"Angel, Bodie. It's the one with the angel."

"Oh ta. And the bell -- something about getting fairy wings?"

"When you hear a bell ring, it means an angel has got his wings."

"Sort of sad, that."

"Big softie. Give us a kiss."

"You'll miss your movie."

"Seen it before."

Across town, George Cowley sat in his office, papers scattered before him on his desk, two fingers of single malt whisky sitting idly in the glass in his hands. He pushed away from the desk and walked to the window, staring out into the growing darkness. Outside, snow flakes fell, wisps of lace making their own tablecloth on the street below.

The news was grim -- despite his best efforts and those of his agents, crime statistics continued to rise. They were battering their heads against a solid wall and nothing seemed to make a difference. The Minister was again threatening to cut CI5's funding, wondering at its purpose and the benefit of millions of pounds being used for such a seemingly unproductive and generally unsympathetic cause.

Cowley leaned against the window frame. His leg ached with the cold dampness of winter. He poured some of the liquor down his throat and waited for the familiar fire to warm him. As if something could.

Where was the young man who had taken Annie to movies and the opera? Who had eagerly awaited orders for the front line, ready to defend country and honour? When had he cultivated enough cruelty to badger a witness or threaten a man with drug addiction, or worse? What was the point of this all now when the villains were showing victory? How many more good men would they lose to the bad? How had his heart become so hard? When had he become so damned tired?

Among the neatly typed papers on his desk was his resignation -- dated and ready to be signed. It was time for a younger man to take over. One with more energy. One with fresh ideas. One who could really make a difference.

Cowley limped back to the desk and set his drink aside, taking up his pen.

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

Startled, Cowley looked up sharply, glancing around the empty room, confirming no one was there. He eyed his glass of whisky and the nearly empty bottle beside it and then shook his head. Too damned much to drink. He leaned over again and this time a hand stayed his own -- he thought for a minute he could feel it, warm and real against his flesh. He jerked his hand away.

"You won't be able to take it back, you know."

Cowley closed his eyes and then opened them. Quiet. Ah, better.

"Oh, I'm very real."

Cowley allowed himself a sideways glance and his eyes widened. Tommy MacKay. Crazy Tommy.

"You're dead, MacKay."

"I am."

"I've had too damned much to drink."

"True enough, but that's a whole separate issue. Seems the big man thought I was a bit too vengeful in my last op and says I need to do one last good deed before I can get the final assignment in the sky. Sent me down to help you."

"Help me? Ach, this is ridiculous. Talking to myself now." Cowley shook his head.

"You do make a difference, you know," Tommy told him, gently taking the pen from Cowley's hand and setting it aside on the desk. "Things would have been very different had you not started CI5." Tommy snapped his fingers and a file appeared in them.

Cowley snorted. "Isn't that a bit dramatic?"

Tommy smiled -- it was still that feral, slightly insane grin, but something about it was starting to reach his eyes now and soften them. He handed the file across to Cowley. "Take a look at what's inside."

It was a news clipping. And a photo. A grisly image. Cowley picked them up, one at a time. Reading the article. Studying the photo. It was a young girl. Kidnapped and brutally murdered. Cowley recognised her. Sandy Copeland.

The room swirled and changed and Cowley found himself watching a funeral. Two grieving parents. A group of girls, the same age as the dead girl, crying, confused, the safety of their young world shattered with this horrible act perpetrated on their friend.

As the clergyman finished, the mother of the girl took the proffered shovel and tried to push a bit of dirt into her daughter's grave, falling to her knees in the process, unable to cope with it all. Her husband helped her up.

Cowley turned to Tommy. "This is not how this happened. The girl lived. Doyle got there in time. He found her at the farm."

Tommy laughed, a bit of madness still evident. "Doyle was not there. There was no CI5. You never started it -- remember? The Met and MI6 had couldn't act quickly enough. The father panicked and paid the ransom -- gave the villains the information he'd stolen from Apex on the new defence weapons. Oh they were caught eventually, and the girl found -- a week later -- dead."

Tommy pointed off toward the road at the cemetery exit. "Look there."

Cowley gazed in the direction Tommy was pointing and abruptly found himself standing at the gate to the cemetery, watching a traffic copper as he allowed cars out from the funeral, stopping traffic on the cross street.

"At least Ray still has a job," Tommy noted, mimicking the hand signals for a moment.

"Doyle, a common traffic copper?" Cowley shook his head. "I don't believe that. He was far too good an officer."

"He was contentious, refused to play the party line and wouldn't go along with the corruption. It was this or take a hike."

"What about MI5 or MI6?"

Tommy snorted. "What would they want with a hotheaded copper? So one more kid dies -- what's the big deal. Tell me it really matters in the overall picture."

"Every person matters. Every victory matters." Cowley was fierce in his avowal.

Tommy grinned. "So you told us. We just thought you believed it, too."

"I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe...." Cowley stopped short.

"If you didn't believe that CI5 makes a difference? That every now and then, you can save a young girl's life? Because the villains don't always win?" Tommy snapped his fingers. "Let me show you something else."

Red blood. Everywhere it seemed. The red blood of the Greek stained the seats and the stand and clothes of those who had been sitting nearest him. It was an ugly counterpoint to Wimbledon. Point. Game. And Match. All over.

Cowley lifted a hand to his brow and turned to look up and distant from the viewing stands, to where he knew the bullet had come from, so many miles away.

In front of him, the once-sophisticated wife sat on the hard concrete, her husband's head in her lap, her nylons torn, her dress ruined, none of that important save for the loss of life.

"We stopped this," Cowley said angrily. "There was no reason...."

Tommy shook his head. "No reason for it not to happen. You stopped nothing. You weren't there."

"But Bodie -- "

"Wasn't there to measure out the distance and give you the target. Wasn't there to deflect the long rifle of that barrel. You think the police could find that needle in a haystack? They never tied any of it together -- the motorway copper, the golfer, the old poacher. Everyone just concentrated on their little bit of ground. No one looked at the bigger picture. No one sorted the pieces and put the puzzle together. That was your job."

Cowley looked on in a mixture of sympathy and horror as they led the diplomat's wife away, her face mottled with tears, her once perfect make-up streaked and ruined, her life been changed in this one shattering instant.

An SAS guard appeared and positioned himself by the politician's body and Cowley reflexively stepped aside before he remembered he was not in the way -- he was not even there.

"You'll get used to it," Tommy assured him. "Anyway, you're just visiting. But take a look at that SAS man -- look familiar?"

Cowley looked. Bodie. Bodie with hard, unfeeling eyes. Bodie so used to death that this death was simply another in a long list. Bodie already dead himself in so many ways.

Tommy walked around Bodie and back to Cowley. "Looks different, doesn't he? He never did really fit in -- had too many of his own ideas. So they sent him off -- had him spend a few tours in Belfast. A couple of years of seeing kids blown to bits hardens a man right up."

"Surely he had other options?"

"Go back to being a mercenary? Sell himself and his gun to the highest bidder? Anyway, the world can do without another politician -- bad as solicitors."

"We can't let them win."

"We? Did I hear you say we?" Tommy looked up at the sky and then turned back to Cowley, smiling. "Is that the royal 'we' or are you maybe ready for a bit of advice?"

Cowley grimaced, but nodded. "Go ahead."

"First..." Tommy snapped his fingers, "...let's go somewhere more comfortable."

Cowley's office materialised and Tommy gestured for the controller to be seated, pushing through the papers on Cowley's desk to clear a spot to perch.

"First, we both agree that CI5 is a worthwhile organisation? That it makes a difference?"

Cowley nodded. "Go on."

"Well what do you think will happen if you just walk away?"

"The world will not stop turning," Cowley replied dryly.

"So who's going to run it?"

"The Minister will appoint someone. I thought Murphy would...."

"Murphy. Yeah, right. Let's cut the crap here -- what's the real problem? You feel unloved today? In need of a hug -- so to speak? So didn't these little demonstrations of mine make a difference? Show you how much you're needed around here?"

"There was never a question of dissolving the organisation."

"Hell, George -- may I call you George? You are the organisation. Don't you get that? Heart. Soul. Conscience. You go. It goes. You want to kill it off. Fine. Kill it off. Just remember -- there are going to be more kidnapped kids, more politicians in the line of fire, more differences that won't be made if CI5 isn't there to make them. And more good men like Bodie and Doyle who are wasted."

Tommy pushed off the desk and hopped to his feet. "Now I'm not allowed to force your hand in this -- just show you the light -- so to speak. So I'll leave you now to think about it all. And I trust you to do the right thing. See you later, George."

Cowley lifted his head from his arms and blinked, catching sight of the neatly typed resignation. He picked it up and studied it and then looked around the room, half expecting he didn't know quite what, but there was nothing there save for the familiar walls of his office. Rubbing his neck, he tried to shake off the odd dream of his nap, but wasn't quite successful. Something still nagged at him. Taking the resignation in both hands, he tore it neatly in half. "Must be getting soft in my old age. Quit, indeed."

Across town, Bodie stretched out next to Doyle on the bed, drawing swirls and circles on his lover's bare chest, one leg looped across Ray's thigh, enjoying the feel of Doyle's heat. "Ever wonder what we would do without CI5?"

Doyle lazily opened an eye. "What brought that on?"

"Dunno. Was just the thought in my head...."

"We could open an eggnog shop."

"A Snog and A Nog," Bodie teased, pleased with himself. Then he raised an eyebrow as the sound of a tinkling bell echoed in the room. "You hear that?"

"Must have left the telly on -- end of that film."

"No. I turned it off. I remember."

Doyle turned onto Bodie, straddling him. "Then it must have been an angel got his wings."

Bodie wriggled, moaning as Doyle pressed against him. "Ah, Ray, 's a wonderful life."

-- THE END --

Published in Motet Opus 3 in B and D, Keynote Press, October 1999.

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