The second canister of film arrived within two days of the first and in the same condition--no note, no distinguishing marks on the tidy paper-wrapped package, string neatly tied, not one thing to identify its owners or origin. Immaculate conception and delivery. A gift from the gods. Dropped from thin air. Dropped almost literally into the waiting arms of a man who waited for redemption of a very different sort, a man who had lived each of the last six days with the knowledge of a job gone very, very wrong, and of a partner whose continued existence had become an endurance race, for them both.

Bodie stared dully at the waxy white paper that encased that canister, then closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the headrest of the Capri. Who would win? Ray's survival was Bodie's survival. Ray's death was simply unthinkable, if nothing else for the fathoms Bodie had to swim to get free of the idea once his mind approached it.

The package resembled a beefsteak ordered up from the butcher and all packed neatly for transport home. Home. Where the sleeves and collars and fabric of Bodie's shirts were intermingled with those of Ray's in their wardrobe. Where Ray's scent still clung to the bedsheets. Where body had lovingly covered body, hands had entwined, lips had met. Where the remains of their breakfast from nearly a week prior still sat on the table--bread crusts hard, egg yolks so stuck to plates that the china would have to be discarded unless someone really made an effort with it.

Make an effort.

Reach for the RT.

Bodie opened his eyes and leaned forward, grasping the car RT. "Three-seven to Alpha."

"Cowley here."

"I just got another delivery. This one was on the seat of the car."

"Bring it in."

"Yes, Sir." Bring it in. Delivery boy. Bearer of bad news. "Oh Christ, Ray." Bodie's expression turned fierce as he dared himself not to let go, willed himself to bear up, to hold on. And he did, hold on--to the package--to the only tangible, terrible physical link to the man who had been his partner for 6 years, his lover for the past two months.

"Fuck it," Ray had said, mercurial temper flashing like a silvery storm as he threatened yet again to leave CI5 to its own devices and take his conscience elsewhere.

"No, Ray, fuck me," Bodie had countered, grabbing his partner's arm and shoving him back into the room. And they had fucked. Fucked against the door in the filthy squat they had been using for observation on an obbo just gone sour. The sex was as harsh and furious and ill-tempered as the two men themselves in that foul moment. It was release, but no relief, and both grew hard again.

Bodie found his erection growing and his blood racing just at the thought of that first ferocious coupling and the not-much-gentler one, which had immediately followed. He blinked and then swore, swerving to miss on-coming traffic. Where the hell had he been? The cold hard feel of metal between his thighs reminded him of the canister, as if he needed reminding... Ray was in the hands of some kind of sadists and here Bodie had been going through a mental scrapbook and getting a turn-on in the process.

"You can be a fucking cold sod, Bodie."

"Gets me by, Ray."

He didn't bother with propriety, simply pulled the Capri up onto the pavement outside CI5's current offices in the disused building, pulled the key from the ignition and stepped out, slamming the car door behind him.

Package in hand, he took the steps up to the door two at a time and bullied his way into the lobby and up the stairs to Cowley's second floor office, not caring who he manhandled or left shaken in his wake.

The controller's door was open to the hall and Bodie marched in and pushed the paper-wrapped canister into Cowley's hands. There was something akin to pleading, something akin to rage, something akin to fear in Bodie's eyes, and he turned away from Cowley, a man searching for his bearings in a tempest-tossed sea, writhing waves matching clenching gut, he was pitched and shaken, legless.

When Bodie turned back, Cowley was carefully opening the parcel, untying the string, slipping one finger beneath the small square of sellotape, allowing the paper to fall open on his desk.

"Christ." "Dear God." It didn't matter which man had voiced which oath.

The round metal canister was labelled this time. A bloody mark identified the contents. Neither man wondered whom the mark belonged to. They had watched as Doyle's thumbprint was literally cut from his finger in the last reel. Episode One--in which Ray Doyle loses part of his identity.

It had never been a soft thumb--Ray spent too much time with armament, too much time tuning up his motorbike, too much time trying to keep their ancient plumbing working in the flat for the thumb to be soft. But it had been tender. When it teased across the tip of Bodie's weeping cock, when it smoothed down Bodie's cheek from temple to jaw, when it pressed between Bodie's lips and teeth to tangle with his tongue--it had been tender.

Now Bodie reached across and slid his fingers over the bloody mark, holding hands with Ray, offering comfort, comforting himself.

"We'll get him back, lad." Cowley's words were meant to encourage, but could not. Only Ray could console him. Only that which he was denied could give him succour.

"Thank you, sir." It was an automatic response from a man running on automatic.

The end of the film whipped about as it was released from the reel, snapping with furious futility against the air. Bodie's fingernails had cut into his palms. His face was stone. Impassive. His eyes were rimmed in red. A bull seeing the very blood pounding from heart to head. Life's blood. Pouring out of Ray.

There is a particular sound a man makes when he is being tortured. It is unlike any sound he makes while playing, making love, even unlike any sound he makes when injured in an accident. Deliberate pain induces involuntary reaction.

Doyle stiffened. Screamed. The celluloid should have burned for the agony it was imparting on the innocent, not-so-innocent, bystanders in the briefing room.

Ray lay on his stomach amid human filth on the concrete floor, his arms outstretched to either side, his wrists chained to the walls, padlocks bigger than his hands binding metal to metal, another kind of flesh to flesh, another kind of `til death us do part.

His feet were bare and the soles were being met by an equally bare wire, slashing into the skin as he bucked and begged. They had got that far. Found the human in the agent. Were torturing him now. Knew their odds had improved considerably.

They had taken Ray four days before the first film. This was day six. They had started with humiliation, forcing him to sit and sleep in his own faeces and urine, allowing him no more than a two metre by two metre chamber, depriving him of light and sound, telling him nothing, asking him less.

Bodie now knew what the term "beside yourself" referred to--the unreality of a situation you could neither control nor change nor understand, but which threatened you with madness all the same.

Then Murphy saw it, in the third viewing of the second film, the repetitive and unmistakable jerk on the chains binding Ray's right hand. Fist opening and closing in a deliberate pattern. Morse code.

"Fucking Morse code," Murphy exclaimed. "Run it back. Run it back."

It took another two days, required the delivery of two more slick silver canisters, cost Doyle the rest of his thumb from tip to joint, took another two days to track down the disused warehouse near Greenwich.

It was empty. Not entirely. A silver film canister sat on a chair by the door. That was empty.

A man can manage for a long time without sleep given the liberal use of amphetamines and the will not to rest, given a target worth the effort, given a worthy, unworthy opponent. The world is not round. It is a plate with determinable boundaries. Bodie was near the edge of that flat world, ready to step off.

His boot heel slipped into a crevice in the rotting flooring of the warehouse and he tugged to get it free, shining his torch into the opening to see how he was stuck and succeeding in releasing the heel after more effort than he knew he had left to give. Then, with shaking hands, he holstered his gun and knelt down to see what had glittered in the solid beam of light.

Two teeth. One chipped distinctively along one edge. Torn out by the roots so that gum and blood still clung to them. The day's take.

"NO!" Rage ripped the boards from the floor. Rage tore strips from Bodie's hands. Rage lowered him into the grave-sized pit. The sight of Doyle gentled him, made him respectful once again. Prioritised emotions.

Masking tape bound Doyle's arms and legs and chest and legs to arms to chest. Masking tape was both blindfold and gag. Masking tape criss-crossed the soles of his feet--the blood cementing it to flesh. And all of it was lined with red--a thick marker rolled down the centre of the tape. Red. Tape.

When does conscious life fade and memory replace it? It is an elite community, one that requires licence to enter, licence that requires licence. Bodie pulled his lover/partner/lover into his arms and shifted him up so Murphy and Anson could raise Doyle from his tomb.

Cowley was already on the floor, hand at Doyle's breast, fingers at his throat, probing, while Murphy immediately started to cut the tape and then abruptly sat back on his heels, hysterical laughter threatening. Cutting through red tape. They were cutting through red tape. Ray had been bound by bureaucracy. Finally a message. At least they had a message. Of a sort.

Ray sat up in the bed, pillows cushioning back and head and feet. He was home, cleaned and stitched and bandaged, his hair cut short by necessity to remove the tape from his head, and what was left of the hair, greyed overnight.

At his side, well-relaxed into the pillows and bedding himself, Bodie was peeling grapes, or so it looked--removing the pips, actually, and then sliding the fruit one at a time into Ray's waiting mouth.

"All I could think of was how fucking good a grape would taste," Ray had said in the first days after the ordeal. "Was so thirsty. Drank my own piss until they chained me."

"Didn't want a pint?" Bodie had wondered.

"Nah, grapes. Just them."

So Bodie fed them to him. Would have done anything for him. To keep him safe.

And after a bit they both fell asleep--breathing soft and even.

Bodie was shouting, outraged, carried away by that illogical fury that only dreams can produce. It was Ray, not him. Ray, who was tied day and night. Ray, who had to endure the soles of his feet flayed to shreds. Ray, who lay disrespected amid his own body waste. Bodie screamed his partner's name as the dream imprisoned him, unable to wake from it, flailing with manacled hands. "No! Ray! No!"

Doyle forced himself to watch the film. The fourth reel had shown up in their hands only an hour earlier. In his hands. Blood on his hands--in a way. And they were no closer than they had been before. Seven days since Bodie had disappeared. Had been taken. Ray would find him. He would find Bodie. He was cooler than he had ever been in his life. He wore his outrage inside and it protected him like an overcoat--overriding all emotions.

Now Bodie was awake, the reality of this unreal situation settling over him like a blanket that smothered, rather than warmed. Steel bit into his wrists and ankles and tied both together at his back. There was blood on forearms and hands and calves and thighs from the pressure, from the constant, rubbing pressure of the metal on his skin. And he was nude. Bodie never was an exhibitionist.

"Aw, Ray. What is it about that damned club?"

"Like to watch your arse move, lover."

"Yeah, well I feel like a right berk on that dance floor."

"That's because you don't know how pretty you are." And Ray had patted Bodie's arse to enforce his point. And just to feel the curves and promises beneath his hand.

So Bodie had snorted and picked up his jacket and followed Ray out the door and to the club, grumbling good-naturedly all the way there, and all the way home, until Ray pushed him back onto the bed and screwed his lovely arse into the bedsheets.

Bodie was handling his own cock as Doyle's cock sang like Excalibur inside him, it was almost like masturbating them both; Ray pushing his cock into Bodie's waiting arse, Bodie pulling slower, faster, faster in a rhythm matched only by the pounding of their hearts. Then Doyle came in panting, gulping breaths, his mind and body jerking. A different kind of jerking-off. His cry walking the tightrope of pleasure and pain and sending Bodie rocketing from the wire, the cold softness of semen warming his arm as he collapsed into Ray.

Doyle stared at the newly delivered parcel, so weary that exhaustion had passed from the physical to the mental and then been relegated to some compartment without access to light or air or thought. He caressed the white paper as if it was the whiteness of Bodie's chest, smooth and hairless, muscle and sinew beneath alabaster skin.

Day eight. Episode five--in which Bodie?

A paper clip. They used a paper clip. It was irony itself that something as pedestrian and apparently harmless as a paper clip, could inflict so much pain and suffering. Small, metallic useful object. Useful tool. Useful weapon. Straightened into a piercing arrow, but flat-tipped, it met resistance for but a second, piercing Bodie's ear drum as Bodie's exhaled sob pierced Doyle's heart. Cupid's arrow, devil sent. The blood flowing from Bodie's ear took a circuitous route, bypassing Bodie's face for Doyle's soul, dripping anger and rage like an IV, blood transfusion from one man to the other.

One soft word. "Water." Whispering. Hushed. A boot found Bodie's face, kicked Ray in the teeth and stomach with its force, slammed Bodie against the wall, shook Ray to his foundations as he reeled from Bodie's revelation. It had not been a plea for fluids, but a clue. Somewhere on the water.

Bodie was cosied up in a warm rug, snuggled down into the depths of their comfortably lumpy settee with Ray wrapped around him, security better than any lock or alarm or armament could buy.

It had taken three days before the houseboat was located. Two more reels. Two more days without reprieve. Two fingernails ripped from Bodie's hands. Two years off of Ray's life.

They had found Bodie bobbing in the water, tied to the stern of the boat, floats around each leg at knee-level so he couldn't quite keep his face out of the bilge and bile of the dirty mess that passed for water in the docklands.

In the weeks since, he'd developed a somewhat charming habit of turning his head to hear what was being said, though it was born of necessity rather than intent to beguile, and as the ear healed, he would hear again from it.

Doyle fingered the diamond ear stud that he'd given his lover as both prize and brand, tongue following fingers, lips following tongue until Bodie turned his head and met lips to lips and tongue to tongue and heart to heart.

"Knew you'd find me. Knew you'd work it out," Bodie had panted, gasping for breath and life as he was pulled into the patrol boat and given the kiss of life by someone other than the man whose kisses gave him life.

Gifted with the perfect vision of a man who knew too well what had been hanging in the balance, Doyle pulled Bodie tighter into his arms and both drifted off to sleep.

Cowley stiffened as he saw the canister on his desk.

"It was on the seat of my car," Murphy said quietly, the dark circles under his eyes attesting to nearly two weeks of no sleep, ten reels of film. How long could two men hold on under such conditions? Why were there so many "why's" and no answers to a single one?

The film unwound and played across the screen. Two men, matted, dirty, naked, bloody. Doyle had lost a thumb, Bodie his hearing. Strips of flesh had been torn from Doyle's feet and now Bodie was receiving the same treatment.

Cowley slipped his glasses from his face and blinked. A seemingly simple operation. How had it all turned out so wrong? "I am so sorry, lads," he whispered. "I am so very sorry."

Yet in the seconds before the tormenters turned off their camera and left, there was one last image recorded on the film.

Lying on that floor, one arm manacled to a ring imbedded in a fieldstone wall, his other arm chained by bar and link to his partner at his side, Doyle extended his hand and brushed the tips of Bodie's fingers, that hand already outstretched, already reaching for a lifeline, even as he was offered up the same--water for the parched, preserver for the drowning. Lost though they might seem, they actually had salvation firm within their grasp.

-- THE END --

Originally published in More Priority A3, IDP Press, 2000

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