Sunshine After Rain


Sometimes you hit the wall so hard, you don't even feel it. There is no bounce-back.
All that remains is reverberation.

George Cowley moved slowly around the bed, arranging the sheets and single blanket with military precision, exactly folding the corners and tucking them carefully under the mattress, shaking out the pillow and centering it beneath the polished wood headboard.

It was an effort made more difficult by the plastic and metal prosthetic which had replaced his own leg two years before, but he was nothing if not determined, and certainly married to his tasks this day.

He smoothed the surface of the coverings one final time and pronounced the task complete.

With equal deliberation he made his way to the closet, sifting through the scant assortment of clothing, his fingers and gaze lingering a moment on the kilt so carefully protected within the plastic cleaning bag. Unable to resist, he reached beneath the bag, eyes fixed on the plaid. There was longing in the gaze. And regret. And decades' and centuries' worth of history exchanged between the fingers and the fabric. His hand slid away in a final caress, a lover's loss, and he replaced the covering and moved on.

Locating his brown tweed suit, he pulled it from the closet and carefully arranged each of the garment's three pieces on the trouser press near the bed. Then using a roller of sticky paper, he removed imagined lint from the jacket, trousers and vest. Methodically. Carefully. Each surface was inspected and the buttons checked as well. One button on the sleeve showed signs of impending loosening and he opened the bedside drawer to find his sewing kit. Military issue. Carried in his pack, on his belt, tucked in his shirt - once, when the shirt was all he had as pack and bed and coat.

Tan thread. Through the eye of the needle. Even up the strands. Knot the end. No hurry. Just absolute precision. Pulling the needle through and out, in and out, he secured the button, tidied his kit and replaced it, slowly closing the drawer, his expression framing far flung memories of far off lands and long lost lads. Another chapter closed.

He stood awkwardly and went to the dresser. Second drawer. Left side. A new shirt. Newly cleaned and pressed. Fresh from the laundry. Still wrapped. He pressed it to his nose, indulging himself in the luxury of its fragrance, and then he separated the wrapper and arranged the shirt carefully on the bed, ready to be claimed.

Disposing of the wrapper, he returned to the dresser. Socks. Pants. Both new as well. Only one sock to be used this day. A single when he should have rightly needed both the pair. Still, he left them together and these joined the shirt on the bed. All was nearly ready.

The new limb ached and he gave into a moment's impulse to rub the join where composite met flesh, his hand reaching beneath his robe where once there had been thigh, moving higher, finding the warmth of skin and giving it some ease. The effort helped, afforded momentary relief. All one could expect. Perhaps ever could expect. A moment of relief.

Rearranging his robe, he shifted back to the closet and selected a tie. Sedate. To match the suit. To match the occasion. To match the man. He draped the tie over the jacket on the press and then left the room.

The lounge of his flat was as austere as the bedroom. Every item a purpose. Every purpose defined. Anything without use, without value, without utility, had been eliminated. Like his leg. Amputation.

He checked the mantel clock. Still a bit of time. There was one bottle of single malt scotch on the table that served as desk and bar. One glass. Both set neatly on a tray to keep moisture from the surface of the desk and prevent the wood from being marred.

He uncapped the bottle and poured the amber liquid into the clear glass, gauging with unwavering accuracy when two fingers' worth had been met. He took a deep breath. And sniffed. And inhaled the bouquet of a whisky that defined perfection in his life. That some days defined his life.

He sat then -- staggering off pitch for one second, grabbing the arm of the settee, finding it, regaining balance. The prosthesis stretched out before him, a road taken, a choice not given, but made. At the end of the false limb was a brown shoe, tied and tidy, a sock above it.

Cowley stared at them, blinked, and then sipped the whisky. It fired down his throat, soft flames caressing with their heat. Another sip. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cushions of the settee. Rain sputtered on the window, calling attention to itself.

There should have been sun this day. Rain was too melodramatic. A movie special effect. Special effects to fit all occasions.

He opened his eyes and took another swallow of the whisky, catching sight of the clock. Still all right. Still on schedule. He was a man used to structure. Structure afforded security. Everyone needed to know their place in the world. Cowley was no different. Even Cowley was not immune.

The rain picked up a staccato beat, adding a rhythm section, more depth and purpose. Driving intent.

One last sip. For auld lang syne. We'll drink a cup of kindness.

He felt relaxed. The ever-present rawness in his stump seemed to leave him. The electric jolts of irritation calmed. He touched his groin. Cupping. Feeling the fullness of his testicles, the flaccid length of his penis. Committing manhood to memory. No erection -- the prostate cancer had extracted its pound of flesh earlier that year, but he could still ache for that throbbing feeling of arousal and release. It was reminiscence no less real for its lack of current possibility. No less real than the messages his brained received from his phantom leg.

Using the arm of the settee to brace himself, he stood, gained his balance and returned the glass to the tray on the desk. Two outgoing letters were propped against the table lamp and he picked them up and washed his fingers across them before setting them down again.

Now he was ready.

He returned to the bedroom and stripped off his robe, hanging it neatly on the hook inside the closet door, the ties tucked tidily inside the pockets. Then he sat on the bed and unstrapped the prosthesis and tugged it from the stump that had been his leg. There were lines in his skin. A mark from the false limb and its braces, like the indentation a chair leg leaves after sitting in a carpet month after month. And then the scars. His fingers found them, traced them. Still raised. Still red. Some people lost their scars easily. Some wore them like badges of honour or reflections of courage. Some merely tolerated their presence in absence of an alternative.

Pushing the prosthesis beneath the bed with his foot, Cowley pulled on his pants and separated the socks, picking one, wondering at the choice, rolling the other into itself and setting it aside to take up the shirt.

He unbuttoned each button, methodically, down the front and those on the sleeves, and pulled the shirt onto his shoulders, pushing his arms through and refastening everything he had just opened. Then he rose and, using the bed as a walker, moved closer to the butler and drew the trousers to him. He put them on, one leg at a time. One. Leg. The shirt was tucked and he fastened the zip and button at top of the trousers.

Now was the more difficult task.

Bracing his good leg against the floor, he leaned down and began to fold up the empty trouser leg. He might have done it before putting them on, but he needed the symbolism here. He needed the reality. Emptiness folding in upon itself. Showing how neatly there could be nothing. As he neared the stump with the folded fabric, he reached into the bedside drawer and brought out a set of three safety pins, all strung together. Patiently he separated them, setting them on the bedstead, and with the care of a seamstress or a mother diapering her child, he made a last neat fold and tuck and pinned a straight row.

The stump strained against the fabric as an erection against the tight pull of groin. It was a grotesque imitation that did not escape him. But one did not escape unscathed.

Reaching across, he pulled the vest and suit jacket from the press and shrugged into the first the vest and then the coat. The tweed proved as warm a friend as he had known it would and he spent a moment revelling in that, straightening the lapels, putting shirt sleeves to right from cuffs. Then he took the tie and rose, using the butler, closet door and dresser to get himself to the mirror, leaning his slight weight against the furniture as he put his tie to rights.

Satisfied with the knot, he straightened up as best able and examined his reflection in the mirror, taking up a silver-backed brush and smoothing down his hair.

One last task.

The doorframe helped him into the bathroom. He was prepared. There were towels lining the bathtub and he used the showerhead to pull himself over and in on top of them -- it was no small feat and he grunted with the effort. Leaning against the back corner of the tiled walls, he dropped gracelessly into a seated position, pulled the service revolver from a shelf meant for shampoos and soap and then without evidence of hesitation or regret, dragged the shower curtain shut.

Bodie got the call in his office in the New Scotland Yard building. Top floor. Near the top anyway. Top shelf. Near enough the ivory tower. Bright. Shiny. Concrete. Glass and steel replacing flesh and bone. A monument to modern times. To new days. To new ways. The new FBI. A new director. A new world.

Bodie listened. He replied. Mechanical. How could he be mechanical? About this? Tin man. He pressed the now silent receiver against his temple, closing his eyes. Would the agony be invisible in the dark? Would it flutter against the shuttering of his lids - the end of a film reel flapping in the machine? Waiting for someone to turn it off. Could he blind himself? It would be blind leading the blind.

The handset fell from his hand. Hit the floor.

"Oh Christ, NO...."

He pressed his palms against his eyes and ground them tight. Whispers. "No. No. No."

He would have upturned his desk. He would have cleared the surface with the swipe of one arm. He would have raged.

Instead he sat. Wondering where the breath went when it was sucked from you leaving only vacuum in its place.

I'd give my right arm. I'd give my right arm. Let me change this. Let me change it all.

The door to his office opened, a slice of life and noise and human experience exposed from without. All most too much too bear. Contrast rich in irony.

Bodie lifted his eyes. Murphy.

"I just heard." Murphy stepped into the room. "Are you going to...."

Identify the body? Forget? Forgive? Understand? Anger. Denial. Grief.... The litany. Holy Trinity.

"Need a lift?" Murphy finished.

Bodie shook his head at his second. "No. Thanks." He glanced down at the receiver, stark against the tiled floor, message rejected, killing the messenger.

He glanced back up at Murphy. They all needed closure. "Sure. Come along with me, Murph. Give me a minute, will you?"

Need to call. Ray. Have to call Ray.

Murphy nodded. Backed out. Closed the door.

Bodie recovered the handset and dug about on his desk for a slip of paper in a familiar scrawl. Ray in Paris.

Ray Doyle excused himself as the phone rang and got up from the conference table, walking across the plush office to his desk. His boots were soundless on the thick carpet, his ever-present jeans a dramatic contrast to the rich surroundings. He picked up the phone and faced the window, a view of Paris stretching beyond him. Alien landscape. No matter how friendly. No matter how fluently he now spoke the language. No matter that he was in Paris often. It wasn't London. It wasn't home. His bed was empty save for himself and he worked as many hours as possible to fill the days and finish the job.

The three men around the table took the break to discreetly move across the room, ostensibly filling their coffee cups at the service bar, but actually allowing Ray some privacy.

He picked up the phone. "Doyle."

"Ray, it's me."

Ray's face softened, his eyes warming. He leaned his rear against the desk and crossed one boot over the other, unconsciously relaxing, body language moving from French to English.

"Bodie. Hello, mate. I'm in conference; just about have the security worked out for the concert. Think it was the bloody PM, not some pimply faced rock star. Remind me not to take any more projects like this one. I mean the money's good, but Christ, they even dictate the colour of Smarties in the bowls. Not sure if I want the new airplane this much. Okay, I do...."

"Ray..." Bodie interrupted and Ray could hear the strain in his partner's voice.

"Bodie? What is it?" He could hear Bodie pause. Inhale. Exhale. Silence. Then there was breath again.

"Cowley's gone and offed himself."

Ray's hand slid down to his chest, the receiver still held tightly in the warm grip of his fist. "Oh Christ." He blinked. Breathed. Pulled the phone back up. "When?"

"Not long ago."

"Have you...?"

Seen the body? Do you know what happened? How did he do it? Twenty years of partnership both personal and professional telegraphed cross-continent, meaning and intent precisely sent and received. One mind grown of one heart. Intuition. Acclimation. A blending.

And when Bodie replied, Doyle could picture him as clearly as if they were facing one other, breath warm on the other, bodies electric with the proximity.

"I've not been out yet. Shot himself apparently. Knew just how."

"Didn't we all?" Doyle dropped his head back. Christ. "No possibility of it being chance? Or someone with a grudge?"

"No." The reply was terse and then Bodie hissed, grief and anger co-mingled. "Shit. Bastard. Stupid bastard."

Doyle could see the clench of fist, the hurt in his eyes, the tension in his back. Oh Bodie, love. Hard isn't it? Try being here. The wrong tower showing out the window. The wrong river. Job half-way done that can't be left. Shit.


"Still here, Ray."

"I need a couple more days on this job. Will cut it short as I can."

"No need to rush home, mate. No point in it anyway, is there?"

"No." No point. "Christ." Doyle picked a bit of lint from the front of his sweater, put his hand in his jacket pocket and pulled it out again. "Need a drink."

"Share that with you, mate."

Doyle closed his eyes. Bodie took a sip of whisky and rolled it across his tongue. Passing it to Doyle. Mouths open, interlocking. Was that so long ago? How many nights -- three? Four. And this job was a short one. Ray glanced back at the trio waiting to continue their meeting.

"So, you'll keep me posted?"

"You know I will."

"I'll be thinking..." about you. About how it feels to know you need me there with you and I'm half a continent away. About why this happened. About what you are going to see. About a world without Cowley in it.

"Same here."

"Call me tonight. We should be done by ten or so and I'll be back at the suite. You'll know more and I can talk then."

"I'll call."

"And watch your bloody back, you bastard. Who knows what this was about."



Bodie put down the receiver, his hand still atop it - a caress across the channel. Which was the worst -- leaving or being left? He and Ray went through that every time Ray's job as a high-dollar security consultant called him out of England, which was often. Easier to go. You're gone. Harder to watch the sky.

He let go of the phone set and stood, pacing to the window, white shirt and braces, navy linen trousers to match the suit jacket arranged neatly across the back of his chair. Vest open. Heart on sleeve.

So what was it he and Ray were looking for? What that they didn't already have? Flat in town, house in the countryside. Nice toys -- very nice if you like fast cars and motorbikes and a small twinjet that both men had licence to pilot. And they did. Like the toys. It was why Ray was in Paris arranging to protect some spotty-arsed brat from hordes of knicker-throwing adolescents. It was why Bodie sat in an office too near the clouds to be in touch with the streets.

Yet it was the cottage in the country that beckoned them -- that both called home when they used the word. A lounge with a cooker and a single bedroom. Bed that had seen too much and not enough use. Bathroom they had built on themselves. Hot water if you heated it. Heat if you cut the wood or shovelled the coal. Escape. Isn't that what everyone worked for? Isn't that why you paid your debts?

Is that what Cowley had been doing? Paying his debts? Escaping?

Bodie pressed his forearms against the darkened glass of the window and leaned hard as if answers would fly into his fingertips when he didn't even know the questions yet. It wasn't the loss, it was the waste. It wasn't the waste, it was the loss. It was facing the certain knowledge of Cowley's lonely death alone.

He turned to a knock at the door, stepped from the window and took up his suit jacket, cell phone, day diary and public façade, nodding at Murphy as the man stuck his head around the door.

"Let's go then."

Doyle had showered, changed into comfortable gym clothes and poured himself a glass of wine when the phone rang. Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony erupted from the CD player and turning the volume down, he walked over to the table where the cordless phone sat in its cradle and picked up the handset. The hotel suite was not opulent, but it was luxurious. Ray always travelled first class when the client was paying -- and he always made sure they did.

"Ray Doyle."

"It's Bodie."

Lifelines. Names. Phone numbers. Faces. Memories. When had Cowley's lifeline broken? Why hadn't they seen the need to toss him a preserver?

"You okay, mate?" Doyle pictured Bodie in the armchair by the fireplace, straight up glass of single malt scotch on the side table, or held loosely in his hand against the broad arm of the stuffed chair. In his hand. Shirt open, necktie just two strips against the white of his shirt, shoes toed off in the hallway, briefcase beside them.

"I was sick, Ray. I mean really sick to my stomach. First time I've chucked it up in as long as I can remember. Used his trash bin for Christ's sake. Nearly fouled the crime scene."

"Bad, was it?" That bad?

"Blew his fucking head off. Most of it anyway. Jesus, Ray." There was a gulp - swallowing. Bodie was drinking -- at least half the glass sucked down.

Ray sipped his own wine. "You going to tell me about it?" Tell me what? What is it I want to know? Clinical. Criminal. Personal.

"Yeah. Sorry. Christ, I'm tired. I think I got older than you today, sunshine."

"So was anything amiss?"

"No. Door locks fastened. Flat neat and tidy as a pin. Looks like he planned the whole thing. Found out he'd arranged to have the electric shut off this afternoon. And he waited until his neighbour had left for work."

"So who found him?"

"The neighbour was taking sick leave -- she'd gone to the chemist's and just come home. Heard the shot and called the locals. Funny thing...."

"What's that?"

"Odd more than funny, I guess. He wasn't wearing his leg. Had kicked it under the bed. Had on his suit -- the tweed one...."

"The one he wore last week when we took him to dinner."

"Yeah. Pinned up the empty leg of his trousers."

There was silence on both ends.

Doyle sighed. "Maybe he didn't want to take it with him. The leg, I mean."

"You make it sound like he went to Valhalla or someplace."

"White Lion pub."


"Where we went for supper the other week. Did you think he seemed different?"

"He was quiet - I told you so that night. Thought he had the 'flu bug or something. Or his leg hurt. Why?"

"It was the last time we saw him." And we went home and made love. Left him at his flat. Duty done. Not duty. But duty of a sort. We all have obligations to those we have connected with, who've touched our lives or been touched by us.

"Yeah. It was the last time. Been thinking that myself."

"He laughed at your stupid joke about the girl and the alligator."

Bodie chuckled and protested. "Hey mate, that was my best joke in weeks."

"I miss you."

"Yeah. Channel's bigger than it was yesterday, isn't it? Listen, Ray. I'm going to fax over the preliminary report."

"So you do think something was amiss?"

"No." Certainty. "I don't."

Ray walked over the portable fax and checked the connection. "I'm set here. Send it through when you're ready."

He heard Bodie rise and could see the path through their flat from lounge to office where their fax sat on one corner of Ray's desk. There was an audible shuffling of papers and the sound of keys being touched. Ray always stayed at the same place in Paris and had the number taped to the top of the fax.

"On its way. It's just basic forensics. We won't have autopsy until tomorrow."

The paper began to come through the machine. Three pages. The familiar format of an official report was somehow a comfort, a means of communication both men could relate to -- objective, unemotional. It was insulation against the cold, cruel world. It gave them leave to pick up their masks of professional detachment and find composure there. A way to disengage from the horrors of reality.

Bodie's voice came back on the phone. Weary. World-weary. "The last page is the photo. It's a bad scan. Consider yourself lucky. Listen, Ray, I'm for bed. How about we reconnect in the morning?"

Reconnect. Across a distance more than miles or space or water. Pick up a phone. Voices shaking hands and making love. The players only used to make the call.

Ray nodded, eyes on the second page of the report. "Fine by me. I have another hour's worth of work and I'll look at this as well."

"G'night then."

"Night, Bodie. Cheers, lover."

"Yeah. Cheers."

Bodie pulled off his tie, tucked up his jacket on one finger and walked in stocking feet up the steps to the bedroom, the half glass of whisky still in hand. He hit the light switch with his knuckles and the overhead came on. The bed was unmade. It had been made but a few times since they moved into the townhouse, save for changing the sheets or if company was expected. What was the point, both reasoned; only going to use it again that evening.

Bodie sat on the edge of the bed and put the drink on the bedside table on top of the copy of Le Monde Ray had brought back his last trip to gay Paree, the week before. He dropped the jacket next to him and pulled off his socks, tossing them towards the hamper and missing. Then he dug his elbows into his thighs and rubbed his eyes with his palms. Christ, he was tired.

Standing, he unzipped his trousers, slid them down and hung them with the suit jacket and vest in the closet, his side of the closet, but their clothes intermingled, unexpected intimacy. The shirt followed the path of the socks with equal accuracy and Bodie stood naked save his underpants and then stripped them off as well.

He walked into the bathroom, rubbing the lint from his navel and automatically adjusting his testicles and cock. The lid was up on the toilet and he pissed mechanically, shook himself off and flushed. His hand stayed on his cock as he walked back into the bedroom and he found himself picking up the phone and dialling Paris once again.

The line was busy.

He found his drink and propped back against the pillows, stroking himself. He spread his thighs wider and pulled the foreskin of his penis down and back up again and then rubbed the length of his cock, finally drawing it into his fist. It was passionless masturbation, impersonal as the act can be, a need for release, a primal urge. He reached down to the floor and set the glass on the carpet then used his other hand to caress his testicles, to enhance the urgency, to get the job done. Feeling the pressing rush of orgasm, he bucked twice, groaned aloud, used a handful of kleenex to wipe the mess, tossed the tissues toward the trash can and then found his drink again, downing the small remains.

Turning off the light meant getting back out of bed, meant expending energy he wasn't sure he had, nor the will to try, so he didn't, instead pulling the sheet up to reach across the king-sized expanse for Ray's pillow, tucking it against his chest as he curled on his side and closed his eyes. It was comfort he didn't recognise or acknowledge, but comfort all the same. Acknowledgement isn't necessary for validation, simply acquiescence.

Ray paced the floor of his suite, re-reading the report as he walked, walking off nervous energy. The account of Cowley's death was horrific, the picture, poor scan as it was, was too revealing.

Don't tell me that much. Keep that professional distance. Walk away. Pace away. Not too close. Too close for comfort.

He had followed the wine with a cup of tea and a sarnie, the privileges of late-night room service, ordered with practised expertise after normal delivery hours. A call to the night manager, used to Ray's unusual hours and pleased with the regular business and generous tips. Such a different world. So distant from the streets, yet all the elements the same, just the circles higher, faster, richer. Hard to keep perspective. Hard to keep balance. Walking a tightrope between the fantasy of reality and the reality of fantasy.

Ray finally sat, dragging one leg up onto the settee and keeping the other firmly planted on the carpeted floor. He propped the report against his bent knee and took the picture up in hand again.

So alone. The man had been so alone. He knew Cowley's bathroom. White tile leading down the walls unbroken into a white tub and white fixtures. A mosaic of tiny white tiles on the floor. Sterile.

What did it take to reach the level of loneliness that would make a man take his life? Or was it simple expedience? Relief from pain. Problem. Solution. A clean act of bravery.

Do you offer pity or praise, live with guilt or acknowledge the singular isolation of the act that could beg no companion or accomplice. Or do all?

Reaction wasn't thought. It was important not to confuse the two. Good police work insisted upon thought. Thought was not reflection either, but could demand it. Puzzling through the pieces to find the whole. Premeditation and motive. Motive and opportunity. Opportunity and means.

Ray looked at the picture again and then dropped the three fax sheets to the floor beside the settee, stretching out the length of the cushioned sofa. He crooked an arm beneath his head and rested back, closing his eyes to the empty expanse of luxury that surrounded him.

Sometimes you sit alone in a room and sometimes you sit in a room alone. The difference is solitary imposed or enforced. The difference doesn't matter.

Bodie struggled awake, wiping the drool from the edge of his mouth with the back of his hand and yawning widely. Reaching out blindly, he knocked Le Monde and the empty whisky glass to the floor while grappling for the phone. He found the cradle empty and cursed, scrambled some more with his fingers, finally made contact with the cordless handset, ticked the talk switch and found it dead. He cursed again. The other phone was downstairs.

He got his robe from the top of the hamper and alternately gripped the railing on the steps and struggled into the garment, realising it was Ray's robe, not his, while the phone still sang.

The other cordless was on the hall table and he grabbed it up, checking the time on the small desk clock at its side. Six am.

"Bodie." It was a growl more than a greeting.

"It's Ray. Did I wake you?"

Bodie yawned again and padded into the kitchen to find coffee. "Yeah. And the damned phone was on the hall table. Christ, Ray we've got two cars, two houses and an airplane, and only one bloody phone works in this flat at a time."

"And," Bodie paused as he pulled a jar of instant coffee from the refrigerator, "I will have you know I am wearing your robe and going to fart in it right now."

Doyle chuckled. "Did you sleep?"

"Whisky and wanking. Works every time. You?"

"Fell asleep on the settee. Could have used a friendly hand myself."

Bodie measured out a healthy spoonful of coffee and then touched the hot tap for instant results, filling his cup and stirring it together. "Sorry I wasn't there to oblige. I did try to phone again. Not too long after."

"I was ordering a sarnie."

"Your loss, old son. Hope it was worth it. You read the report?"

"Yeah. I read it. Pretty much straightforward I would say. Lonely old pensioner with one leg decides to take matters into his own hands."

"Except for one small detail - we happen to know this old pensioner. This old pensioner used to be our boss. And our friend. We took him to fucking dinner once a week, told him jokes, worked with him for 15 years." Bodie pushed the coffee away. "Christ."

Every week for two years they had taken Cowley to dinner or had him over. They had visited him when his leg was amputated. Encouraged him when he sweated harder to succeed with the prosthesis than Macklin had ever pushed them in their years of active service. Sat in the waiting room while they operated for the prostate cancer. Took him groceries. Stopped by the chemist. Asked his advice. Lived their lives and let him live his. Separate, but equal. Is there a line where separateness equates to loneliness? The mathematics of relationships helped define them.

Bodie sighed. "What did we miss, Ray?"

"I don't know, mate."

"Well there must have been something." How could there not have been something? A warning sign. Some gesture of farewell. Something to pin their guilt on, something to take the blame for missing. Something they overlooked that would help make sense of it all.

Bodie could hear Ray breathing. Did he exhale France through the phone and inhale air from London? They had breathed together for twenty years. Shared the air even as it got rarified.

Ray finally spoke. "The report mentions two envelopes."

"One for each of us. Isn't that smart? One for fucking each of us." Anger. Righteous anger that had no rights. No recourse. Simple reaction. Nothing simple about it.

"Did you open yours?"


"Bodie, I'll get out of here the day after next, maybe sooner if I run rough over these lads."

"Always liked you a bit rough, Ray." Rough. Soft. Any way at all. Weak spot. Strength. Balance.

He heard Ray snort in amusement. How odd they could tell jokes when Cowley had just died. Where was the sense of right in it all? Where were the black armbands and hushed tones? Why did life go on when life didn't go on?

"Come home, Ray." Come home from the job. Come home from the glitter and glamour. Come home from too many nights away. Come in from the cold. Come bring me in from the cold. Give me shelter. Let me shelter you.

Doyle's voice was soft. "I hear you, lover. Will do."

Ray walked into the suite and tossed his keys on to the table by the door, slipping out of his jacket and draping it across the back of the couch. It was dark outside, the lights of Paris glittering through the picture window, the beckoning wave of a casual friend, but no personal invitation to soften the greeting.

He had left a lamp lit by the desk and could see that the fax machine had spewed out a small stack of papers while he was out at the concert site. Most of the documents were simply confirmations, finalizing plans for the concert, advising of timing and other details - he thumbed through them, making neat stacks of work completed, work to be done, more of the former, fewer of the later. Things were nearly set. He'd work as long as he could this evening, sleep, pack, finish in the morning and head home.

Pouring a glass of mineral water from the bar, he turned on the radio and picked up the phone to call room service, ordering something more substantive than the handful of crisps he'd had out at the concert site. Soft pop music drifted from the radio - a foreign tongue, voices making love. Alien. Alienating. Lacking the comfort of his mother tongue. Lacking the warmth of his lover.

Waiting idly for room service, he stared out into the Paris night, a stranger in a strange land. Down below lovers and revellers made their way among the streets; hands were held, lips touched, tongues met and entwined, lives became entangled, passion flared and burned. Such a complex dance for something so basic as lust and love. Something so primal. Something so essential. Life choices. Choices about life.

"Do you believe in fate?" Bodie's voice as clear as if 20 years ago were today. The water in his glass shifting to gin. The tattoo of their hearts the only music in the cramped CI5 flat. The heat compelling. Snow falling outside the steamy window.

"What you do mean?"

"Fate, Ray. That certain things are meant to happen."

Fate. Life. Death. Love. Lover's lips pressing. Backs arching. Fingers slipping buttons open. Hands finding flesh. Things meant to be. Things you could not stop had you the way. Or the will.

"Like stopping a train, sunshine. Can't do that. Can't stop fate. Can't wish for what isn't. You've gotta to take what life gives you. Make the most of it. Make the best of it."

Ray picked up the phone. 011 44....

Four rings. "You've reached 226 544. Please leave your message and your call will be returned as soon as possible."

Bodie must still be at the office.

"It's Ray. Thought you might be home. I'm back at the suite. I'm watching out the window just waiting for dinner. Long day today. For you too, I reckon. Any news from the coroner? Not that it will change anything.... Maybe I'll try you out at the Yard. Coming home tomorrow."

Ray started to dial again when a knock at the door signalled the arrival of room service and he put the phone aside to answer. As he signed for his meal, the fax kicked into life. He set the tray down, picked up a carrot stick intended as garnish and reached for the first sheet coming out of the fax. It was the final details of surface parking for caravans and service lorries at the concert site. Everything looked in order.

Reaching for the phone again, he punched up Bodie's number at the Yard.

Bodie dialled in to their home phone as he pulled his tie loose from his neck and leaned back in his desk chair. It was the not quite end of a bloody long day marked by department meetings that lead nowhere save to frustration for the time spent. He hadn't even been to his office long enough to check his mail or faxes and both were neatly stacked on the blotter before him. Dinner had been catered in, eaten the length of the meeting table while budget cuts were argued and debated and his stomach kicked back fiercely.

He popped the top from a bottle of stomach tablets and chewed a handful of the chalky pink and yellow and green antacids as he listened to the three messages the day had brought to their home phone -- the friendly sales call from the local milk company, a reminder about a charity party he had promised to attend and finally Ray's voice.

He found himself replaying the last message once heard. Silly. Just nice to hear your voice, Ray. Don't mind that you're feeling a bit sad and weary. Same myself. Glad the glitter is just darkness outside the window.

Finally setting down the receiver, Bodie poked through the faxes on his desk until he found the familiar letterhead of the coroner's office. He read through the short, though detailed report, closed his eyes, saw Cowley in the tub and quickly opened them up again. Nightmares don't always come when you're asleep. They are inconvenient guests who show up uninvited and overstay their welcome.

No need to call Ray about this tonight, right? What was the point? Coming home tomorrow. Yet it was hard to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Even if it was just the weight of your own world pressing down. Hands across the water. Water. The refrain of the Beatles's song echoed from the back of his mind.

He picked up the phone and started to dial when he heard a voice repeating "Bodie? Hello?"

"Ray? Is that you, mate? I was just dialling you."

"I was just dialling you. Must be fate."

"Yeah. Fate." Bodie settled back into his chair, feeling comfortable for the first time that day. His own all-weather, weather-all dome.

"I left a message at home. It probably didn't make much sense."

"Glad you tried here. You sound good, Ray."

"Flatterer. I'm knackered and still up against four or five hours work."

"No, I mean you sound good, Ray."

"Yeah." Doyle paused. "You sound good, too. I wanted to hear your sexy voice. Paris is a lonesome place to be alone."

Bodie snorted sympathetically. "Interested in some hot phone sex?"

"Why you have a good number for me to try?"

"I was thinking 69."

Ray laughed bawdily. "Christ, I miss you."

"I miss you, too."

"And whose fault is that?"

"I offered to be a kept man. You wanted me to be respectable for some reason."

"You couldn't turn down Cowley."

Bodie sobered. "No. I don't suppose I could."

Murphy knocked once and entered.

Bodie looked up at his second, read the upset behind the exhaustion and pulled the receiver back from his mouth. "I'm on with Ray, what's up?"

"Sorry. We've an incident at Victoria Station. Level A-1 emergency. Bombers caught the late train."

Bodie groaned. "Christ. I have to go, Ray. We're knee deep in shit. Remember that number, would you?"

"Committed to memory, lover."

"Good, there'll be a test when you get home."

"Bet I score well. Take care."

Bodie allowed himself a chuckle. "Bring a treat for the teacher. Cheers, mate."

Ray set the phone down and shifted to ease the pressure of his cock against his jeans. It wasn't enough. He popped the button and eased the zip down part way, reaching inside his pants to adjust himself. His hand felt cool against the warmth of his groin, his palm soft against the hard press of flesh. He remembered the last time Bodie's mouth was on him. The last time he was in Bodie's mouth. The gliding tip of his tongue. The pressure and suction of cheek and teeth. The fingers teasing between the cleft in his rear. Bodie masturbating at the same time. Feeling the pulse of wet on his thigh and hearing his name revered in love and lust as Bodie came.

Pushing the food tray and faxes aside, he walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower. Steam filled the small room and Ray slipped from his clothes into the warm sheeting water. His hand found the soap and he made himself slick, stroking up and down the length of his cock, his other hand on his testicles. All the right motions. No passion, simply sex. He leaned his forehead against the tiled wall. Tiled wall. Glistening white tile. Towels neatly arranged on the floor of the tub. An old man with one leg in his best tweed suit.

Ray's erection faded and he turned his back to the wall and sank against it. Water pulsed onto his hair and fled down his neck and he dropped his head back and let it wash across his face, as if it could cleanse him, as if it could offer some kind of baptism that wasn't of fire.

"You'd take the blame for the invention of gunpowder, Ray."

"We're all our brother's keeper, Bodie."

"That's clichéd idealist crap, Ray, and you know it. Most of us can hardly keep ourselves alive."

"So what's the bloody point? We should just give up and get out?"

"You thought about it in hospital."

"Yeah, well I didn't do it, did I?"

"You can't. Self-preservation is our strongest instinct."

"What if we preserve ourselves by giving up and getting out?"

"Then the other guys win."

"What other guys?"

"The ones who invented the gunpowder."

Death is a greater surprise to those who think life cannot surprise them any longer. Ray had thought the world was done surprising him, but he was wrong. The water grew tepid and he found the taps and turned them off.

Bodie watched with feigned impassiveness as the small twinjet landed smoothly and taxied into its assigned space on the rain-streaked tarmac. Its engines were cut, wheels blocked and after a pause, the pilot deplaned, leather briefcase in hand, carryall and garment bag over his shoulder, walking through the slight mist into the small building that served the private airfield.

Ray's gait had neither slowed nor lost its sway in the twenty years since the two men had been paired. He moved easily, hip and groin married to thrust and parry, strength and seduction and masculinity evident in every motion. The pull of his jeans eased and tightened with each step, an unintentional tease, an open invitation. Bodie felt his cock twitch and was glad for the protection of his overcoat. Here was life and breath to wash away the taste of death, to cut through the fog of disbelief and alienation, to chase off the madness of mobs killing innocents, of blood in the bathtub.

Bodie smiled and extended his hand to take Ray's garment bag. "You look good enough to eat."

"Yeah, well I might be if you like your meat raw - I kept at it until 3 a.m., finished up at eleven and then packed up and came home. Glad you got the message. Glad you're here. Your mess is cleared up then?"

"I happen to like my meat raw, Ray, and I'll have you know I have an erection the size of the Eiffel Tower under this jacket. And yes, things are in hand. Though not the hand I'd like."

They stepped out the front door of the flight office and into the surface lot where Ray had left his car. Doyle pulled the keys from his jacket pocket, tapped the anti-theft device on the key fob twice and the interior lights lit and the doors unlocked.

"I had Murphy drop me," Bodie explained as they hefted Ray's bags into the boot of the small sports car. "I did my duty for Queen and country and we're going back to the flat together."

"Was it a bad scene?" Ray tucked behind the wheel and stuck the keys into the ignition.

Bodie slid into the passenger's side and immediately dropped the seat back so it was partially reclined. Stretching his legs, he sighed heavily. "Yeah. It was bad. Some nutter wanted to call attention to the plight of the unemployed. It was messy, Ray. Very messy. Five dead. Five or six more likely to die. Station a wreck. The bugger used regular boring old dynamite. He wasn't creative, just demented."

Doyle started up the car, his hand on the gear shifter ready to back from the parking space when Bodie reached across and covered Ray's hand with his own. It was as close to public affection as they dared. Ray splayed his fingers and Bodie married flesh to flesh.

I, William Andrew. I, Raymond. Reconnection. Reaffirmation.

"Missed you, Ray."

"Missed you, lover. Good to be back."

"So it's officially suicide." said Bodie flatly, his voice devoid of emotion, as if discussing any case, any report, any man. He was sprawled across their big bed, drink in hand, shoes kicked off, shirt pulled from his trousers -- both partly unfastened, legs crossed at the ankles. Three of their four pillows were scrunched behind his back as he watched Ray unpack.

"Yeah, well that's not a surprising verdict." Ray turned from the closet and took in his partner in a long unrepentant glance; a thirsty man finally allowed a drink of the only elixir that would both quench and burn at the same time.

"No. Not surprising," echoed Bodie, studying his glass. "The old man's prints were on everything. No signs of a struggle. Angle of entrance and exit wounds confirmed it was self-inflicted." As if confirmation was needed. Yet it was. For closure. On every level.

Ray fished the last item from his suitcase, pushed the jacket into the closet and set the bag aside. "So that's that, I reckon."

"That's it. Except why, of course. And we may never know that. Not really. Forensics returned the two letters. I have them downstairs."

"They might tell us something. Wonder when he wrote them?"

"Christ, does it matter when, Ray? Does it change a bloody thing? He's still gone, isn't he? Still blew his fucking head off. There's still a funeral tomorrow. So what does it matter when he wrote the bloody letters?"

Oh, Christ, Bodie.

Ray walked the short distance to the bed and crawled on top, carefully straddling his partner. He unbuttoned his own shirt first and then finished the job on Bodie's, unfastening the cuffs and then the lower buttons and pushing the fabric aside and finally off. Then he undid his own jeans and Bodie's trousers and removed those garments along with his own y-fronts and Bodie's shorts and their socks. They were naked now. No hiding. No untold revelation. Their erections were poised like fencers awaiting leave to start. En garde. No need to be on guard.

Taking the glass from Bodie's hand, Ray sipped the last of the scotch, rolled it in his mouth and swallowed before pressing his lips to Bodie's, life and breath sliding back and forth on teasing tongues.

They ground together slowly, hips and thighs and groin merging in the ritual of reconfirmation. Stoking their own humanity, stoking the fire that fed their lives and fanned their flames. It was something more than proving they were alive, something more than defining themselves as lovers, something more than forgetting there was a universe beyond their bed, even something more than physical need; yet it was all of those things as well.

Ray reached forward and restrained Bodie's wandering hands, needing his own pace, knowing that who lead and who followed, who was the top and who the bottom at any particular moment was some other pair's philosophical issue, not theirs.

Bodie responded by relaxing his arms and hands and gliding his hips against Ray's pressure, urging him to finish, feeding on his vitality. "Go ahead, Ray. Go on, lover. Let yourself go. Let me feel you. Wanna feel you come, Ray."

Doyle threw his head back and howled as orgasm hit him with a pounding force that belied his own exhaustion. Bodie stroked his lover's hair and back as Doyle shook, still on hands and knees, panting.

"Christ, Bodie. Bloody hell. I needed to come like that."

"Yeah, well catch your breath and return the favour."

Ray rocked onto his heels. Adonis on the half-shell. The image stole Bodie's breath away and he sat up and rolled Doyle over, sliding his partner onto his back and covering him. Now there was urgency and passion. Gone was deliberation. Bodie was rushing forth to the future, racing to bury the past, greedy for deliverance from the evils of the world. This was high mass, all the tributes and formalities in place. Choir singing. Benediction. Confirmation.

"Love you, Ray. Love you. Love you. Love you...." Bodie spilled his seed slick and wet against Doyle's thigh, yet continued to pump for a few seconds more, unwilling to give up the feeling, so caught in the moment and movement, cleansing blood from his hands and purging images from his mind.

He collapsed next to his partner, one leg hooked over Ray's thighs, his arm flung across Ray's chest, his face buried in Ray's neck and hair. "Love you."

Ray eyed the lax form of his lover with indulgent affection, both possessed and possessing, connected on every level. This was contentment. The stuff dreams are made of. The stuff life is made of. Something you strain to hold on to in the everyday world, a tooth and nail fight for the survival of the soul. It was a battle Cowley had somehow lost. Cheated life? Or cheated death? As if the results could be distinguished.

"Love you, too, Bodie."

They lay in indolent luxury, lazy in the post-coital haze of love made and spent.

Belatedly Ray fumbled over the side of the bed and found fabric -- Bodie's pants -- and pulled the garment up to swipe at the drying semen on their bellies and thighs.

Bodie was slack in Ray's arms and he snuffled and licked Ray's ear contentedly. "Missed you, sunshine. Missed this."

Is it worse to live alone or die alone - or is each a different kind of death?

They had already lived longer together than many had planned or thought possible.

Bodie awoke with a start, sweat-soaked, bedding drenched. He blinked and found the sun creeping in the window - daylight. He grabbed the clock and examined the dial. It read 7 am. They had slept through the late afternoon and night. His breathing slowed and the already forgotten dream receded. The space next to him was empty but he could hear Ray downstairs, puttering in the kitchen, the teakettle banging under the tap, the CD player and Bach harmonizing with Ray's off-key humming. They were sounds that told him his universe was in order, that the sun would rise, that tides would flow.

He yawned and stretched and pushed his nose against the pillows, breathing in Ray's sweat and shampoo and aftershave, feeling more rested and alive than he had for days.

Sitting up, he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. His cock was lazily erect, more the result of early morning involuntary reaction than anything else, as valiant an effort as he was likely to manage after the night before. The days of being twenty-five and having erections with each breath were long gone, and although a part of him mourned that loss, the rest of him was content.

He rolled back into the bed. It was warm in the flat and he felt lazy and unmotivated, even to make the short walk to the toilet. He willed himself not to think about it and using his foot to manipulate the sheet, he dragged the covering up. He was nearly asleep again when Ray came up with a tray - coffee, toast and two envelopes. It was time to face the day.

The funeral procession wound towards the cemetery where Cowley's remains were to be interred. There would be no service - Cowley had been quite specific in his requests. As the cars slowed, Bodie reached across the seat of the limo and found Doyle's hand already stretching toward him. Their fingers twined against the leather, cushioning life's calluses, sunshine after rain.

Love comforteth like sunshine after rain.
W Shakespeare

-- THE END --

Originally published in Motet Opus 3 in B and D, Keynote Press, October 1999

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