Whistling in the Dark


There are times when you wish you could just die quietly, but don't have the guts to do it. I don't think I had ever really appreciated the word 'trauma' before that time in the summer of '85 when, for a few days, it looked as if everything was over. To lose Ray would be the end of me, but I've known that for a long time -- years before he allowed me to be close, to touch and hold, and love. I'm not fooling Cowley with this brash exterior, I know; it's as if the old man has x-ray vision, or maybe it's just that an old soldier can appreciate how it feels to lose a mate. Or a lover.

At first no one was concerned -- Ray was just absent from the proceedings. Shopping, I thought, or visiting family, though it would be strange for him to disappear for most of the day and not at least tell me, if not Cowley, where he was going. Security depends on one half of a partnership knowing exactly where the other half is, at any given moment. The last I had seen of him, he was stuffing laundry into a carrier bag -- a necessity, since our machine is on its last legs and was still waiting for a service call. He went out at one in the Monday afternoon.

And that was the last anyone saw of him. It was his afternoon off. I was working with Murphy and Brady, sorting through old military records in search of a common denominator that would point us at the source of arms thefts from under the nose of the authorities. Boring, but it's better if you get three old army men to do the paperwork. Ray could have waded through it, but there are little things, inconsequential matters, that an ex-copper might not see, and that an ex-army bloke would. Or that was the theory.

By five, I was bleary eyed from looking at a VDU, and nursing a niggling headache. I was looking forward to escape; a quick jostle home through the rush hour jam, and then a closed door, and a warm lover with a glass of something potent and a good meal in the oven. Love on the hearthrug and a long, soothing shower, followed by seven hours of decent sleep and a whole day off to follow.

Except, the flat was empty, the oven was cold, and Ray's car was still at the kerb. I swallowed the first scotch without tasting it, standing at the window and debating about using the R/T; but it'd be embarrassing to bleep him in the middle of a shop or somewhere, if he had met his sister or Frank, his brother, and gone off for an innocent gossip. He has his own life and one of these big, sprawling families; and I can be paranoid at times. At times. And at others, my nose for trouble is at least as acute as Ray's is. It was itching as I stood there at the window drinking whisky I couldn't taste, which was a waste, and looking at his car. At first I just ignored my instincts -- a mistake, but in the long run it made no difference. I was waiting for the phone to ring. Praying it would ring, Ray calling from Christine's place, to say he would be home late. Anything. I waited until ten past seven, and then I knew there was trouble. No way would Ray worry me like this -- and he knows how I like to fret over him. It comes naturally, like loving him. It was Cowley I called, catching him on his way home from work, and there must have been some chime in my voice that rang like a warning bell, because he rerouted and was on the doorstep of the building where Ray and I have lived since '83, no more than ten minutes later.

"You've searched for notes, I suppose?" He asked, giving the flat a cursory once-over glance. Liking what he saw, I know. We spent quite a lot of money on nice things, art and ornaments, furniture. Things that have our personal mark on them. Being around Ray's things while my nerves began to knot up tighter than a Scotsman at New Year was pure torture, but I kept a straight face, hoping to conceal my natural paranoia from Cowley.

Some hope. The way he understands the relationship Ray and I share, you'd almost think he has shared something very similar himself, in the past. And then there's the fact Cowley never married. Oh, he was besotted with Annie Irvine, but that was a lot of years ago, and there's no law says a person can only fall in love once. Or with a person of the opposite gender.

He was looking at me levelly, and I knew my face was betraying everything I felt, denying every effort I was making to hide it. "There's no notes," I said stiffly. "And he would have called. I know he would."

He just nodded, frowning at the phone. "Have you called his family, asked if he's with them?"

"That would mean letting the cat out of the bag, that he's missing," I muttered. "They might be better off in the dark until it's sorted out."

And so it began. The central dispatcher had not heard a word from him, and by midnight we were really warming up, waiting for some communication from the outside. A ransom demand, perhaps, terrorist demands, an exchange of prisoners or intelligence. It wouldn't have been the first time, and I was thinking back all too vividly to the day I had been the one in the hot seat. Wired as a human bomb with a radio detonator; and Ray had been there, chasing me, getting the bloody satchel off me and flinging it away just in time.

Oh, Christ. How long can you go on pushing your luck before it all comes unravelled? Murphy was a brick, doing the rounds with me as we retraced the steps Ray must have taken. Down the road to the lights, across to the little shopping center, where the old lady in charge remembered him well. A jar of coffee, a pot of mustard, fresh tomatoes, a dozen eggs, and he had left the shop, standing at the lights again, waiting for the traffic. She had seen him there, and I knew what she meant about hardly being able to miss him... He does a lot for a pair of jeans, does my Ray.

The man at the coin-op launderette remembered him too, and there was the receipt stub in the book for our washing. Sheets, of course. We tend to mess them up regularly. God knows what people think! I'm years past caring about that. I've never been ashamed of what I am, and if people don't approve, there's no law says they have to -- but there is a law that requires them to live and let live, so long as people like Ray and me are discreet.

So he had been to the shops, and dropped off the sheets... And had not made it home. Murphy looked at me with that little frown of his, guessing half of what I was going through. There's always the fear, that one day one of us will come home in a thousand bits, missing a limb or otherwise chewed up. Or not come home at all. But you get long stretches, months on end, when there's nothing particularly hazardous in the job, and no one gunning for you, and you get complacent. Like the time Ray had gone out shopping, and left the security locks off his front door. That was the incident that began all this, the shooting. It hacked through what defences and reserve I had left until I must have been telegraphing it to him. A blind man could have seen it. 'I love you, let me help, let hold you.'

Murphy has always known, and, in his way has been quietly supportive. An ex-army soul would understand. Which can be said of Cowley also, and goes a long way to explain the old man's paternal behavior toward me in those three terrible days before we received the taped phone message. How I survived, I shall never know. I didn't go home, except to pick up clothes and shaving gear; I slept at the office, a little bed in the corner of the infirmary, and Murph scavenged for enough food to keep body and soul together, most of it junk but edible. I was going through more paperwork -- reams of it, all of it filed by a busy, energetic young copper, DC Doyle. Looking for a name, a date, anything that would cross reference with computer files, producing an explanation for Ray's sudden disappearance. It had been a hunch that paid off the time we 'lost' the laser 'scoped machine rifle.

But not this time. This time, there was nothing and nobody; and I was at my wits' end. Ray's brother Frank phoned me at work, wondering why he and Christine had not been able to get hold of anyone at our flat the night before, no matter how late they called. Belatedly, I remembered that we had all been going out, a show in the East End, and we were supposed to have the tickets. I put Frank off with a garbled excuse of being on standby and not getting home till the early hours. He bought it, but Murphy was giving me hard looks as I hung up.

"You're going to have to tell them, sooner or later," he said quietly.

"Later," I growled. "When there's something to tell." I could imagine the agony his family would go through, wondering and speculating. Was he dead? A prisoner? A hostage? They were fears that haunted me. I kept seeing him bruised and bleeding, the way he had looked when the Empire Society had finished with him; I kept seeing him shot; and raped. I don't think I slept at all, the two nights I spent on the little bed in the corner of Doc Johnson's infirmary. It was useless even trying.

By the third day I looked like something out of a Dracula film, bloodshot and pale. Cowley was frowning at me, and the next I knew I was on Johnson's examination table, confessing to my sins. No, Doc, I haven't been sleeping. No, Doc, I haven't been eating. My penance was to drop my pants and collect a rump full of vitamins and minerals, Cowley's orders. If it comes to a choice between swallowing them and getting them by injection, I would sooner take them orally, but I won't complain, because they brought me back to life fast. Fast enough for me to be on my feet and alert when the taped message came in.

The accent was Mid-Eastern, linguistics placed it as Lebanon. That shortened the list of suspects to the odd few dozen known Lebanese extremists loose and at work in this country. And they had Ray. He was alive.

Relief was like a bucket of cold water tipped over me, and I sat down abruptly as Ray's voice came out of the speaker. Muffled, high pitched, sharp, but strong. "I'm in one piece," he said. "They want --" But they cut him off, fast, before he could divulge their nasty intentions. It was a woman they wanted, and at the mention of her name Cowley's mouth tightened to a thin line, compressed in anger. Moira Riyadh was a British girl married to a Moslem lunatic; she had taken part in some of the most senseless killings I have ever seen. A bus full of Jewish shoppers, children, old people, in Jerusalem in '79. Captured by the Mossad, traded in a prisoner exchange for a plane load of Europeans at Athens Airport, '82. Out of Greece into Turkey, and somehow, into England, where she and Riyadh must have accounted for I don't know how many political targets before CI5 put her away and shot her husband dead, in '84. She had been in a high security prison for ten months; and she had friends.

Friends who knew exactly who to grab. Ray and I had been on the operation that finished Riyadh's cell; and, please God, none of the terrorists who had taken Ray knew that he had put two of the lethal bullets into the Arab. The other two came from my gun, and the fifth from Jax's.

Cowley listened with a stony face as they set out the demands. Moira, and a plane. Surprise. I watched the old man pace from desk to window and stand there, looking out, hands absently fiddling with his glasses. There was a tension about him that I took for indecision, and I was furious.

"You're wondering if the exchange is worth it?" I demanded. "You're weighing Moira Riyadh's life against Doyle's?" I was hard pressed to believe it.

He gave me a disapproving look. "Sit down, Bodie." I stayed where I was, on my feet. "For your information, 3.7, the life of one of my agents -- any of my agents -- is worth ten of Riyadh's. But that doesn't stop me being angry. We lost a man to take that woman. With her at liberty, Prescott's life was thrown away. How do you think his partner feels?"

I sealed my mouth and studied the carpet, knowing what he meant, appreciating every word. Freddy Prescott had never been a friend of mine, but we had worked together on various jobs, mainly over the R/T. Ray had known him slightly better from their days on the Drugs Squad; he had been quite cut up when Freddy was killed; Riyadh's death was more of a vengeance job than Cowley knew. I glowered at Cowley's white shirted back as he studied the map. There was a little airfield, a private field, once in the service of the RAF, just outside the village of Broughton. They had chosen it specifically, we knew, but for the life of me I couldn't think why.

Ten minutes later we were in the car, Murphy and I, and Murph was driving fast, heading north and cutting east toward the coast. We ran through the village at eight in the morning, a couple of hours after I had heard Ray over the phone, and there was the airfield. Long, a grass strip that ran slightly uphill, it was a deathtrap, surrounded by thick woodland. Thick forestation that could hide an army.

"Oh, nice," Murphy said as he parked on the road by the rusting gateway. "They know their airfields, don't they?"

I grunted in agreement. "And if we bring up a squad, they cut Ray's throat. Oh, Jesus." I rubbed my face hard, trying to think straight, which was a monumental feat in my state of mind. Cowley's right. Agents are better on a personal level if they don't get involved. And if they happen to fall in love? You learn to live with it. Somehow.

The set-up granted us by the terrorists was a simple, even a classic one: we bring Moira Riyadh out of prison, get an aircraft out here, and meet face to face. Exchange our people, the plane departs, and I get Ray back in these two arms of mine, which is where he belongs. I was on the R/T as Murph and I sat in the car on the road by the airfield. "It's deep in woodland," I was telling Cowley. "They could be here, and looking right back at us, right now." It was true. They could be in the woods, with Ray confined to a vehicle, and be looking in Murph's Escort through field glasses -- maybe looking at my bleak face. "There's no way to tell -- and we don't dare get the dog squad out to drag the woods, sir."

It could be the end of Ray, and Cowley knew it. He made affirmative noises, and told us to head back. Murph turned the car around and we were back on the motorway in a few minutes. The only means of communication between 'us' and 'them' was the phone, and that only at odd moments when they would contact us, always for times too brief for us to trace the call.

We've been through it all before -- too often. I remember the time we had a crew from the workshops put together a hightech battering ram and shove me through an upstairs window to rescue an Israeli captive, a scared old man who had been targeted by British terrorists. Somehow, you never think of terrorists as coming from your own country. They're always foreigners -- a Greek assassin, an Irish extremist, a German bomber. And then you run into Moira Riyadh, lately Moira Hogarth. Born in Belgravia, educated at the same schools that turned out the likes of Princess Anne, sent to 'finish off' in the culture centres of Europe. Which was where she met the son of an oil millionaire -- a poor little rich kid out to punish the world in general and the Jews in particular, for his father's fortune. What the devil the Jews had to do with his old man being an oil baron is beyond me; but then, rationality is not something you expect from maniacs.

Moira had the eyes of a maniac. She was a beautiful woman, really beautiful. Skin like honey, eyes like a fur seal, big and limpid and dark as night. Full mouth and lovely nose. I might have fancied her in years gone by, before Ray became the whole damned world to me. Ten months in prison had stripped the flesh from her bones, though; Cowley had her brought to Central where we held her in our own security lock-up for the sake of quickness (we were taking no chances; not with Ray's life), and I couldn't believe the way the doe-eyed young beauty had changed. Thin, the eyes blazing, the nose now a little too large for its face, the mouth thinned away. Still striking, but -- mad.

And for this, they took my Ray from me. I could have killed her in the first few moments after she was brought out of the Police van and taken up to the security lock-up. She recognised me, of course. Ray and I had gone into court on the conviction. I just prayed that her friends, the ones who had Ray, did not know exactly how her husband had died. If they did, although we would get my Ray back alive, they would have beaten him up, maybe broken things. Personal things. Valuable and cherished things that made me shudder as I thought of their being damaged.

Cowley had a friend in government and swung a Piper Cheyanne without any trouble at all. It was fuelled for a short dash over to Europe and placed at our disposal, and then we waited for the phone to ring. I was in Cowley's office when it did, just sitting there, drinking his whisky and listening to the old clock tick, the clack of typewriters in the next office, the shuffle of papers from his desk. There was no way he could stop, and even though I knew he was feeling the loss of one of his best men, a man he had by then known over a decade and come to call a friend of sorts, he could not give the case priority. That went to the death threats aimed at the Prime Minister -- Mrs. Thatcher's life comes before Ray Doyle's in anyone's accounting. Except mine. Maggie T is nice, but I'm not in love with her.

It was the Lebanese again, checking up on us. "We have your plane at Broughton," Cowley told him baldly, "and we have your associate in our own cells. When will we do it?"

"Midnight," the thickly accented voice told us. "On the stroke of midnight, not a minute before or after -- and remember, we have you under observation. If there is the slightest deception, your man is dead. I shall kill him myself."

I believed him. I swallowed the last of the whisky I'd been cradling in one gulp, focusing on the way it burned my gullet to distract me, because Cowley was looking right at me as the terrorist told him the conditions, and I knew my heart must be almost visible, hammering in my chest. Cowley's eyes are very pale and oddly expressive at the strangest moments. For just a second I saw compassion there, a slight smile, sad and genuine, an expression of sympathy I will always cherish. It made me wonder again about his past, his terrible loneliness now. Who was there who kept him warm, when he was young and needed it? Did she -- or he -- die? If it was a girl, why isn't he still married to her, or, if he was ever married, why isn't it on record? He never married, ever. Which is strange, and makes you wonder...

All that fled through my mind in one split second as the Arab hung up and the office was quiet again. I was shaking, now that it had started to come up to the simmer. I clasped my hands so it wouldn't show, trying to slow my heart down, but the knowledge that I would have Ray back at midnight was like a shot of speed. Have him back alive; but in what condition? That day was about a thousand years long, and I wondered how Ray had coped, the time I was the one missing, to be exchanged for a girl. He had been pale and tense, I remember, and he took off after me to get the satchel of explosives off me so fast, I knew he had been running on nervous tension. Hiding what he felt, I suppose -- we were both trying to deny our feelings then, as if trying to maintain the status quo -- for Cowley's sake? Seems a waste, in retrospect. All those years.

We went out to RAF Broughton in Cowley's car, a security van carrying the woman, and the Piper Cheyanne was already at the airfield, in the care of a pilot-mechanic, a volunteer from the Police. We hoped to get him out. The terrorists had not asked for a pilot so it was reasonable to assume they had one of their own, someone at least capable of handling fixed-wing, multi-engine.

The night was quite warm, overcast, and away from the town the darkness was impenetrable. I had a vision intensifier, the kind of night 'scope they tag onto weapons systems, and I was looking at the airfield in its weird, distorted phosphor-green colouration as midnight rolled around. Cowley was standing by the bonnet of his car, the girl was handcuffed beside him, and Murphy had the girl under control, one hand on her shoulder. I saw a vehicle, an old Land Rover, and I scanned its interior looking for Ray.

All I saw was a cap of curls and a handkerchief blindfold, and the image was unclear at that. Maybe I was too relieved to be here, I don't know, but I bought it. Three men got out of the Land Rover, and I flanked Cowley and the girl while Murphy stood on the blind side of the car, the only bit of cover available, and kept an eagle eye on the whole pantomime.

The tallest of the three spoke up, and we recognised his voice -- the Lebanese on the phone. "You man is in the car," he said, and you could hear the contempt in his voice. "My associate here has a grenade launcher trained on the vehicle, you will see." How could you miss it? Blood great rifle grenade sticking out of the barrel of an FN. "You will wait until we are on the aircraft and have begun to taxi, and then..." He smiled. "He is all yours."

We had nothing to bargain with, no choice but to let it go, and Cowley let him have the girl. We stood like three statues, Cowley, Murphy and I, until the plane was on its way, and then my feet unglued themselves and I ran. I was the first at the Land Rover; the first to discover the duplicity. It was a life sized human dummy wearing a wig, a handkerchief tied over its face. It was then that I could have died. My bone marrow seemed to ice, and I think my blood pressure must have gone through my boots. Dizziness, nausea. I gripped the open door of the vehicle, stalling the threatening faint while Cowley swore and Murphy muttered obscenities. I was sure Ray was dead, so sure I was ready to jump into the hole after him.

And then it was Murphy who saw the tape recorder in the foot well by the dummy's plastic feet. He picked it up gingerly, half expecting a booby trap, but it was clear, and that Lebanese voice I had come to hate was coming off the tape a moment later. "You British are the only race on Earth who believe honour to be your sole property. You misjudge us -- we also are honourable. If you have found this message, you will have watched us fly out by now. We have had our side of the bargain, Cowley, you may have yours. Bradgate."

That was all. Bradgate. What the hell did that mean? A person? A place? A code word? Something out of Cowley's muddled past? If we had tricked them, believing that we could con them into a shooting match, kill them and take back the woman, that rifle grenade would have burned the car, and with it, the tape recorder. My heart began to beat again as I realised we still had a chance to make this work. "Bradgate?" I echoed as Cowley brought out his R/T, signalling base. "What the hell is Bradgate?"

"I don't know," Cowley admitted, "but we can find out... Give me 2.5," he said into the radio as the dispatcher answered. 2.5 is a woman. I'd say girl, but she's 45 if she's a day, a lovely little thing, tiny and pert, very petite, with a head of blazing red hair and eyes as green as Ray's. There's a quality of vitality about her that belies the fact that Sue Francis is a Professional Bookworm. She did her training with RAF ciphers, served with BOSS and was a Police librarian, coming to Cowley's attention very early in the formation of the department, long before Ray and me. She was in the first batch of recruits, along with Macklin and Crane and the 'oldies'. I always thought she had a thing for old George, but he's never encouraged her, even though they're on a first name basis. He had a job for her at that ungodly hour, and I knew by the tone of his voice that we would sit there in the dark at that bloody airfield until she came up with the answer. Who, or what, was Bradgate?

"It'll take a while, George," she told him drily. "A genius I am, a magician I am not."

"Take as long as you like," Cowley said acidly. "You've got an hour."

In fact, it took less, but if I was any judge of the time, it was a year. I looked at my watch every forty seconds and jumped out of my skin when the R/T bleeped for attention. Cowley dived after it, betraying the state of his own nerves. Cowley cares, really cares what happens to his men. And I like to think that Ray and I have been under his wing for long enough now to have earned that care. People say he has more of a soft spot for me than Ray, but I can't see it. I remember a day when he had me by the shirt front because I 'd said three words in the wrong direction... The time Ray was missing, undercover as that South African assassin, van Niekirk. I was having kittens that day, no less than the night we sat in the red Ford, waiting for Sue Francis to make sense of the puzzle we had been left.

"Cowley," he barked. "What have you got, 2.5?"

"It's a house," she said. "It's the only listing for anyone or anything under the name 'Bradgate' in your area. You want the Broughton road as far as the A140 bypass, turn left and watch for a mansion of some description on your left."

"Right." Cowley shut down, and then demanded the dispatcher, ordering up a backup squad to rendezvous with us at the house. That came as no surprise; but what did astonish me was the urgency with which it was treated: he ordered the squad to chopper up, fast. I must have looked suitably startled, because he gave me a terse little glance as he closed the frequency. "Argyleshire, 1972, before your time, Bodie. A set up very like this, with a hostage left at a pick-up point. Only they booby trapped the house, on a timer device."

He said no more, nor did he need to speak, and I settled in the back of the car, checking my sidearm. I was carrying a Smith & Wesson that night, and a lot of spare ammo, and a sneak gun, a Browning in a calf holster. Cowley started the car, wheeling up the length of the airfield to the road, and put his foot to the floor, roaring through the village at well over the limit. We made the bypass a little after 1.30, and I was listening for the sounds of a chopper. Our helipad is on the roof, and we can have a squad in the air in a matter of minutes. Times have been when life and limb depended on it.

"You think we need a bomb squad?" I asked as Cowley slowed, looking out for the house called Bradgate.

But he shook his head. "If it's a bomb squad job, it's too late already. They don't leave little games, they leave death traps. If Doyle is alive, they're probably making a moral point -- proving to us how honourable they can be; or they're using him as bait, behind a device intended to kill us." He gave me a hard look, a glance over his shoulder. "And who would leave a live lamb on the stake?"

So, if it was a booby trap set for us, Ray was dead. My guts twisted and my blood iced as Cowley spotted the house and pulled over. Then we waited for the helicopter. It came churning up out of the south-west fifteen minutes after we stopped, and set down in a paddock, startling a few sleepy horses. In it were a few friends of mine and Ray's, all of them wearing bleak faces. Jax and Anson, and the new lad, Dawson, a recruit from the airforce, small arms champion and athlete. Bradgate was a mansion that had seen better days; its gardens were overgrown, its woodwork in need of painting, and it was set. I realised, back into the same woods that, on the other side of the forested area, skirted the airfield. Perfect. And we had sat there for an hour waiting for the answer to the puzzle. By now, the Cheyanne would have put down in France or Germany, hopping in under the NATO radar, and it would be gone, and Moira with it.

I wished the whole lot of them in hell as we went through the garden, scouting the grounds thoroughly before we approached the house. The entire place was in pitch darkness, not a light showing anywhere, and Murphy smelled the same rat I did. We broke a window to get in, on the ground floor. Glass shattered away from the butt of Murph's gun, and I went in first. Sweeping is an art you learn; almost like a dance form, room to room, searching, stalking. Hunting, maybe -- but hoping not to catch.

We found the servants, two women and a man tied to the legs of an antique table, gagged and blindfolded. And frozen with fear. There was a hysterical episode from the younger of the two, a maid, but the older woman, who could only be the cook, was calm enough to be furious. I untied her, helped her stagger to a settee while Murphy looked after the girl and the older man, both of whom were in pretty poor shape. The cook was in a great deal of pain -- arthritic joints protesting their confinement, and cramped muscles, after having been tied on the floor for god alone knew how long. But the pain seemed to make her all the angrier.

"Are the owners at home?" I asked, watching Murphy get the maid onto her feet.

"Upstairs somewhere," the cook told me. "I heard banging about upstairs. Knocking, like they're trying to call for help, so I know they're alive."

"And the hostage?" I held my breath. "They brought a hostage here when they took the house?"

"The curly haired lad," She said through teeth gritted against the pain of her abused joints. "Dunno what they did with him afterward, but they shoved him into the wine cellar three days ago. I haven't seen him since."

I shot a glance at Murphy, somehow finding my voice though I knew I sounded half strangled. "Get a doctor to look at these people, and let Cowley know. The owners are upstairs, knocking on the floor. Send Jax."

"Get after Ray," Murphy told me shortly, giving me a dismissive look as he brought out his R/T.

I didn't need telling twice. I was guessing that the way down into the wine cellar would be behind the main stair well -- it's the pattern a lot of older buildings take. The door was locked, but there was enough nervous energy in me to power me through a marathon and I never noticed kicking it in. I had the gun in my hand as I fumbled for the light switch and snapped it on. The first sound I heard from inside was a muffled cry. Oh my God. Ray. I went down the stairs into the cellar without a thought for things like broken legs, peering about in the yellow electric light.

And there he was, tied to a wine rack, gagged and twisted, his face against the sleeve of his green jacket, his face creased as if in pain. "Ray?" I shoved the gun away and was on my knees beside him a moment later. "Ray? Love?" My hands shook until I was too clumsy to make short work of the ropes holding his wrists and ankles, and I resorted to my pocket knife, slicing through them and then lifting the gag out of his mouth. He whimpered, both hands covering his eyes as I got my arms about him, weak with relief and crushing him against me. He hid his face against my chest and at first I thought it was relief, the same emotion racking me. Then I realised it was distress, and I caught my breath. "Are you hurt? Ray? Ray!"

"My eyes," he muttered, "my eyes -- the light, Bodie. Turn the light out." He gasped as I tried to lift his head from my shoulder. "Please!"

I moved to obey, climbing the stairs like an automaton and feeling my way back to him. "Are you hurt? Ray! For God's sake, love, will you say something?"

"Just -- cramped," he panted, clutching onto me. "They tied me up bloody hours ago. Oh, Bodie. How long?"

"Three days, closer to four." I kissed his hair, needing to feel him out, feature by feature in the dark. "Have they hurt you? I can't see."

"Just bruises," he admitted. "I'm sore from head to foot, but nothing's busted." He lifted his mouth to mine, I felt it searching across my cheek, soft lips, eager tongue, wanting me. I crushed a kiss to his lips, sucked his tongue into my mouth and smothered him. I tried to stir at last, moving away, but he caught me. "Where're you going?"

"Put the light on, so I can see you," I told him breathlessly.

"No, not yet. Please." He gasped in a breath and his hands held me tightly enough to hurt. "I've been in the dark all the time. Pitch dark,. Can't stand light."

"It's night outside," I told him softly. "Come on. Get used to it gradually, eh? Can you stand?"

He was unsteady -- cramped, I guessed. He let me lift him and leaned heavily on me. "Slowly does it, Bodie. Let me get the feeling back in my feet."

The blood rushed back in, hurting him, and he leaned on the wall until the worst was over, letting me prop him up as we went up the stairs. The house was still in darkness, but his sensitised eyes even hurt in the glare of moonlight from a window. We could hear Cowley's voice, talking on some floor above, to Bradgate's owners; and Murphy and Anson, talking to the servants. There was the whoop of a siren on the road, and the crunch of tyres on gravel as an ambulance pulled into the driveway. I lifted Ray's bearded face, fingertips caressing while I had the chance -- I knew they would take him away from me soon. First, to check him over medically, and then Cowley would spend all day debriefing him. "Anything you need, love?" I whispered. "Before the ambulance men and the Cow get here? Want to use the loo, get a drink? You've been tied up for hours."

He nodded, turning his face into my palm and rubbing his cheek against it. Silk one way, sandpaper the other, his beard felt bloody wonderful, so masculine. So Ray. He smelt a little strong after the days of neglect, but again, everything my nose told me had Ray stamped all over it, and I didn't have a bone to pick.

"Bathroom," he whispered, hiding his face from the bright moonlight and letting me lead him upstairs. The big, plush bathroom was on the back of the house and I closed the door, watching him stand unsteadily by the loo to relieve the most urgent of his needs; and then he washed hands, face, neck, and drank about a gallon of water. A gag in your mouth for hours on end doesn't actually dry you up, but it makes it feel that way. He zipped up and dried his hands and face, and I opened my arms, wanting to hold him again before I had to relinquish him to the ambulance men and Cowley.

"Oh, you feel good," he told me. "Never thought I'd ... I thought I was dead, you know? I really thought this was it. Been getting maudlin, realised I've never written you a letter in case..." I heard a sniffle, realised he was fighting back tears, and held him tighter. It's the best safety valve for shock and trauma I know.

"Hey, let it out," I crooned into his hair, smelling the scents of a body I loved. "Come on, let go. You're safe, I've got you."

But he pulled away from me. "Later. Got to face the Cow first. And get these bloody bruises seen to." He was holding his ribs and I realised how much he was hurting, how weak he was.

"You been fed?" I asked shrewdly, guessing.

He shook his head, turning away toward the door. "At least they untied me every so often, gave me a drink. Beggars can't be choosers," He opened the door and the moonlight hit him in the face, making him gasp.

Four days in the dark, tied hand and foot, unfed, thinking he was about to die at any moment. Christ. Ray's a stoic little sod -- then again, he's had to be. He's been hurt again and again in his life and he's come through it with style, carrying his scars (and he's covered in them) like battle honours. I supported him as he made it down the stairs and called out to Murphy. "I've got him, Murph. Where have the ambulance men set up?"

"He's hurt?" Murphy was at the living room door, a spill of yellow light from inside the room, and Ray had his forearm over his eyes.

"Bit bashed," I said tersely. "Needs looking at." I could hardly trust myself to speak.

They had set up in the downstairs parlour. The maid was sedated, by the looks of her, the cook already moved out to the vehicle where she could lie, take the stress off those arthritic joints of hers. The man who had been tied with them looked steady now, a glass of something amber in his hands as he watched the uniformed men work, packing up their gear. Jax was lounging by the mantle, his eyes glued to Ray, who stood behind me in the passageway outside, bowed and hiding his face from the light. The look on Jax's face was a picture. Fury and unease.

"The owners are okay," he told me. "They found them in a cupboard, locked in a closet upstairs. They're shaken up, but nothing's broken. Cowley's still with them... Uh, Ray?"

"Needs looking at," I told him as the older of the two ambulance men looked up at us. He didn't need prompting, and I went out to the vehicle with them, watching Ray strip to display a set of magnificent bruises. One was a footprint, another looked like a rifle butt. They were every colour of the rainbow, the bones beneath them bruised also, but as he had told me, nothing was broken. He was silent, his eyes squeezed shut in the dim illumination as the men switched down the lights, after I told him the trouble. I saw Ray's pallor, the big blue rings under his eyes, and I was fit to kill when Cowley appeared in the gardens behind us. He stood at the rear door of the wagon, surveying 4.5 with a hard, bleak look about his eyes, but he said nothing to Ray, calling me away while the man worked on him, to give some brief report.

What could I say? I gave him all I had and he had to be satisfied although he was far from happy. It was Ray's report that would put a lid on the terrorists, if anything would. Eyewitness descriptions, snippets of dialogue overheard. Names, dates, places. Not that Ray was in any fit condition to start that game. The ambulance man was clucking over his ribs, and I knew they needed to be x-rayed.

An hour later we were rolling, heading back to town to deliver the ailing to Casualty. I rode with Ray, unable to do more than smile at him, because the cook was there, every jolt of the vehicle giving her hell. Thoughtless gits; they just don't care. Tie a woman with arthritis?

But they had locked Ray in the dark until he was as good as blind. His eyes were still narrowed but slowly easing, and his pupils were so dilated, you'd have sworn he'd been shot up with something. Just the narrowest rim of green about a pupil as black as jet. Soft. I'd never seen eyes like it, so beautiful that if they hadn't been the product of confinement and neglect I would have been breathless. He looked up at me, tired and drawn, like an orphan in a storm. Woebegone, whiskery and unkempt, he brought out every paternal instinct I had, and as the cook surrendered to her pethadin, or whatever they'd given her, and dropped into a fitful sleep, I had to touch him. Just touch him, to be sure he was real, and there, and mine. He kissed my palm as I stroked his face, and closed his hand over mine as I caressed his chest, finding his heart.

"I love you," he whispered, too softly even for me to hear, properly. I wanted badly to kiss him but did not dare, and in minutes more we were at the hospital, sitting in a garishly bright Casualty department, waiting for a radiologist. He had his eyes closed and one arm over them, but it was better even now, I could tell. He was tired and sore, but the x-rays were just a formality.

They kept him in and I hung around, pretending that I didn't know whether I ought to wait there for Cowley or what, when in fact all I was waiting to do was sneak into his room. I shouldn't have been there, but what the hell. He was restless, tossing, holding his ribs as he moved, and as I appeared at the door he sat up with a yelp. "It's you! Oh, love. Shut the door, before someone sees."

"They're all busy," I told him, and closed the door anyway. You need privacy to do what I wanted to do. I sat on the bedside, holding him, hands under the ridiculous hospital gown he wore, exploring his velvety skin, his skinny ribs, his gorgeous, ripe peach buttocks. His beard rasped against my neck as he kissed me there, tongued my ear and then lifted his head to look at me in the near darkness. He could see perfectly, I knew, and I smiled softly, tried to let my face say it all, because words eluded me utterly. I touched his hair, finding it matted, even though he had tried to comb it. "When can you come home, sweetheart? Tomorrow?"

"Or I'll know the reason why," he affirmed. "Cowley wants me on the mat as soon as I can see straight."

"I want you in bed," I told him. "Flat on your back -- and before you say anything, I mean I want to see you sound asleep and getting strong."

He manufactured a crestfallen look, pouting, and I had to kiss him. If half the nursing staff had walked in at that moment, I still had to have that mouth of his. He tasted of coffee and peppermints and was warm. I nuzzled the new beard, four days' growth, wirey and irresistable. I've never seen Ray wear a beard and hope he doesn't start, but in the dark I couldn't resist the feel of it, even if it did make my lips a little sore. He held on tight, acquiescing to anything I wanted to do, and a long time later I reluctantly drew away. I don't think I was capable of becoming aroused; all I wanted, now, was to lie down and sleep for a century. "Got to go, haven't I?" I whispered.

He nodded, lying back into the pillows. "Yeah. They said they were coming back to look at me some more when a specialist comes on duty."

"Specialist? What kind of specialist?" I asked. "The x-rays didn't show any breaks."

"Nah. Relax. He's -- Christ, I hope it's a man -- just a proctologist."

I did a double take. "A what? A bum doctor? What --" I swallowed my adam's apple and began again. "What have they done to you? Ray!"

"Shh, don't get worked up." He took my hands, and kissed them. "I wasn't raped, if that's what's you're worried about. But I was a bit bothersome to them the first couple of days, and they made certain threats, what they'd do, and gave me a little practical demo." As he spoke his voice went from reassuring murmur to chill whisper, and he was shaking. I didn't know what to say to prompt him, but I had to know -- and he knew. "They said they'd kill me, obviously. That didn't worry me. Threats are cheap. Was the way they offered to do it that fazed me. How would you like to have a revolver rammed up you, and be blown apart from the inside?" He shuddered. "I didn't take them seriously -- crude threats are even twice as cheap." He turned his head away. "So they made sure they put the fear of God into me. I thought they were going to do it. It was so dark, I couldn't see, could just feel, while they pulled my jeans down and -- you can guess the rest." He stirred, shaking himself hard. "After that I started taking them seriously. I kept thinking, how you'd find me. I didn't want you finding me like that. Not like that."

I was ice by that time, except for my face, which was burning. I wanted to kill, someone, anyone, so long as I could strike out, and strike hard. There was a rush of adrenalin, the signal to fight, but there was no one to expend it on, and I just sat there holding his hands, couldn't even find my tongue for a long time. He started to draw away, as if he thought he'd sickened me, disgusted me, until I didn't want to touch. I put a stop to that train of thought, crushing him until his ribs were hurting and laying claim to his mouth again. It was then I discovered my face was wet, and I buried it in his tangled hair, not daring to make a sound until I had my voice under control. "It could have been worse," I whispered then. "They could have done it. They could have reaped you, instead."

"No gays among 'em," Ray said quietly. "Luckily. But they were a bit rough with the gun, and I've had a couple of pains, so I thought I'd mention it to the doctor. Can't be too safe." The last was said darkly, and I let it go, knowing how bloody embarrassing a session with a proctologist can be. What you never seem to remember is that he's seen more bums than you've had hot dinners, and he had to have a kink for backsides in the first place, to even want to qualify in proctology. So he was in for a cheap thrill, because my Ray has a bottom that is, in a word, perfection. I wished the bloke much joy. I wished Ray would kiss me, and he did, before he said, hoarse with emotion, "go on. Scram before they walk in on us and Cowley's giving me the sack tomorrow."

I stood up, taking my hands off him with real disappointment. "I'll get a taxi home, and come back out for you in the morning, okay?"

A nod, and he relaxed again, clearly dopy with something administered along with his coffee and peppermint biscuits. I had to smile; even now, there's something about Ray that is definitely part of the Peter Pan syndrome. Doesn't matter if he gets grey and wrinkled as a prune (which, God forbid), he'll never grow old on the inside. And with luck, the outside will endure. I hope. I love everything about him.

I snuck out of the room unseen and caught a taxi on the road, returning to base rather than to Central. Cowley was waiting for me, as if he knew exactly where I had been, and solid, dependable Murph had got the report three quarters finished. All I had to do was add my 10p's worth and initial it, and it was on the Cow's desk before we were cleared to leave for the night. I slept badly, as tired as I was; it was the spectre of the things Ray had been saying that needled me, I couldn't put them out of my mind. I've seen a lot of cruelty in my time, things the average person can't imagine and wouldn't want to, but it's long in the past now, and time has buffered off the edges. To have it foisted on my family is too much; would I turn into a killing machine? Give me a reason, a good one, and I couldn't guarantee not to. Not where Ray's concerned.

He was on the phone at eight in the morning, calling to talk he had breakfast, and I began to relax properly as he told me what the proctologist had had to say. There was no damage, just a bruise where it would cause a bit of strife. The prostate is very, very sensitive and does not take kindly to that sort of treatment. "I'm better today," he said, yawning. "All colours, and aching, but better. Ought to be able to come home after lunch. Pick me up? Call Cowley and tell him, too, will you? I'm out of change."

And he looked miles better, ten years younger for a start, when I arrived. He had showered, shaved, washed his hair, had a couple of good meals, and though I wouldn't say he was bright eyed and bushy tailed he was my Ray again. The shadows were fading. I bundled him into the car and headed back to Whitehall with the traffic, holding his hand most of the time, unless I had to change gear. Had to touch him, I think; I needed the physical contact, it was so long since I'd been able to touch. Four days might not sound like a year, but it felt like one. We haven't been apart for that length of time more than two or three times since the day we met. Strange, when you put it like that. A decade is a large slice out of a person's life.

He dozed most of the way from the hospital to the vast glass and concrete building CI5 calls home these days, pleased to hold my hand down between the seats, or stroke my thigh. I wished I could head for home and slam the door on the world, but Cowley came first, and I knew Ray would spend the rest of the afternoon debriefing. In fact, Cowley was waiting in one of the interview rooms when we got in. There was a fruit cake on the table beside the tape decks, and a tea tray, minus tea pot. Ray smiled at the old man and begged off for a moment. "Can I have five minutes, sir? I've been in these clothes for days, I've got a change in my locker."

"There's no hurry, Doyle," Cowley told him very civilly. He was shuffling papers,crossreferencing the reports and jotting notes, pertinent points he would be raising with Ray. I decided to stay; this was, technically, a rare day off for me, but if I had to choose where to be, it would have been with Ray, wherever that was. And if it was at work -- what the hell. I followed him to the locker rooms, watched him change and stuff his clothes into the bag with his running shoes. There was a bottle of Old Spice in there, and he used a lot of it, as if he still felt scruffy. He looked delectable, all fluffy hair and heavy eyes, but he was pounds thinner, which was all too obvious, and the bruises were black and purple. For once I was not sorry when he put his shirt on. As a rule, I make a face when he dresses: my way of letting him know he's adored. He laps it up, and if I was lavishing affection on him in the hopes of producing an embarrassed reaction, I'd have a bloody long wait. Ray thrives on it. So do I, if I tell true; perhaps everyone does, but most have to make do with what they can get out of life!

Betty brought in the teapot. There was a squeeze for Ray's shoulder as she went by, a quick 'glad to see you looking well, 4.5'. She was recruited in the same batch of agents as Macklin and Sue Francis and has known Ray and me since the day we were drafted in. She's watched us go from raw recruits to rookies, to the best Cowley has and now, to very senior members of the squad, with the youngsters just coming in calling us 'sir'. That makes my day, when a new boy calls me 'sir'. I pulled up a chair, slicing the fruitcake as Cowley tripped the recorders and Ray poured three cups of tea.

A debriefing is like a friendly interrogation. If the questions were hammered at you sharply and there was a light in your face and a gorilla with a rubber hose standing behind the chair you were tied to, it would be called torture, but when the interlocutor is wearing a congenial expression and you're lounging there drinking tea, it's not unacceptable. Often, it's productive too. Ray began by saying he didn't know much, but Cowley put some pointed questions to him and I literally watched his memory jog. That's the way it happens.

There were five men, and three of them were English. Of the British, one spoke with a very slight accent that could have been Geordie or Tyneside, perhaps Newcastle. Ray is from Derby and various other Midlands towns, so he would be fairly good at placing accents -- telling Middlesborough from Liverpool and Manchester is not easy unless you're local. The two foreigners were both Arabs, but not from the same country. The man on the phone had been Lebanese, but Ray was guessing the other as a Palestinian. The accent of Israel on an Arab, and it sounds peculiar.

"Names?" Cowley prompted.

I watched Ray frown, digging through his memory. "There was one called Matt, one of the English. The Arabs, I don't know. They spoke their own language most of the time with each other, and I couldn't tell names from gossip. The Midlander was called Pip, but that's going to be a nickname. The other man never came near me after I was locked up, sir. I never got a name."

They had spoken of wives and girlfriends unguardedly, too, perhaps not realising how acute the hearing of a blind person becomes. And Ray had been blind. I was watching him as he spoke to Cowley and the machines; his eyes were still vastly dilated, partly due to the sedatives they had given him, mostly due to the confinement in the dark. Huge, soft eyes looked back at me. God, so beautiful, and betraying love, if Cowley cared to see it. I don't think Ray was up to hiding behind the social mask we have to wear just then. Not well enough, not alert enough. If Cowley saw, he said nothing, and wormed the whole story out of him in a minutae of detail Ray would, at the outset have sworn was impossible. Cowley has a real talent for this kind of thing. The men had grabbed Ray off the street on the shortcut home, and to do that meant they had followed him for some distance, waiting for their chance. So, it was plausible that a passerby might have seen them. Perhaps the old lady grocer who had watched him standing at the lights, no more proof against gorgeous legs in faded blue denim than the rest of the human race. There are files of mug shots in our library, thousands of photographs; it was possible the men were in there.

But, offered the books, Ray shook his head. "I only saw one face, and that was for an instant, sir." He closed his eyes. "Pale skin, red hair and freckles, blue eyes and a scar on the upper lip, like he'd been hit in a fight by a guy wearing some kind of ring. Celtic heritage, skinny, hairline going back a bit, and deep lines in the cheeks. They were behind me, I took a blow, turned quickly, just in time to see that face before it was all over. The lights went out, and when they came back on again I was in some kind of vehicle, a van probably. Couldn't really tell, because they'd blindfolded me." He dropped his voice, and I saw him shudder even if Cowley did not. "I never saw light again until Bodie..." He looked at me, and there was no colour in his face.

"They took you to the wine cellar and tied you," Cowley prompted.

"Yeah, after they belted me around," Ray said drily. "I got in a few. I think one of them's hurt, because I nearly kicked his knee into the next room. Would surprise me if he didn't have to get a doctor to look at it."

"One of them was limping when they went for the plane," Cowley mused.

Was he? I hadn't noticed that -- which is a measure of how bloody stressed I had been that night. All I cared about was getting to the Land Rover and getting Ray out. Shows you the kind of toll stress can take; it can kill you.

Ray nodded. "That'd be him. Didn't you see faces in the exchange, sir?"

"At midnight, in the middle of a field?" Cowley shook his head. "These old eyes are not so keen, laddie. Bodie?"

"No, sir. Too dark. And the vision intensifier distorts the image too much. Still, we've got three Englishmen, one with a damaged knee, one with a face Ray's described, one with a Midlands accent. Now, if they're all the same man, we're in with a chance. What about RAF radar when the plane left?"

"It was under the radar," Cowley said regretfully. "Still, it could only have gone to France, Germany, perhaps Holland, Belgium, and we alerted their security services at once. With this information of Doyle's they'll at least know what they're looking for. I couldn't get a word of sense out of the owners of Bradgate, or the servants. Just hysterics."

"It's too late, isn't it?" Ray sounded blue. "The plane would have landed, what, twelve hours ago?"

Cowley nodded in agreement with the calculations. "But the Police have not found it yet, which means it must be in a remote area. Now, unless they switched to helicopter, they'll be travelling by road, and at this time, at the peak of the tourist season, they'll be slow."

"They also have the crowd to hide behind," I added pointedly. I worked for almost a year with GSG-9, the West German antiterrorist squad, and I can tell you, when the tourists descend en masse, you could lose a regiment of extremists among them. Tourists come in all shapes and colours and sizes; so do terrorists.

"Mm." Cowley sat back in the chair, going over the notes Doyle had given him. "And they made threats?"

I felt Ray stiffen from where I was sitting, but his voice was level. "They said they would shoot me, sir. I... believed them." The old man looked at him over the top of a sheaf of papers. "I imagine you did. I got the medical report this morning." Ray coloured and looked away. "You're not hurt, but you're going to rest for two weeks, 4.5. Is that clear? Rest, I said. And with a guard on your flat."

"A guard?" Ray shot a glance at me, and then twigged. "Oh. They knew to grab off the street -- which meant they knew I was heavily involved with the case when we took their boss. Now they've got Moira back, she'll tell the bloody lot, won't she? I shot her husband."

"We shot her husband," I corrected. "And Jax put the fifth bullet in him." I gave Cowley a shrewd look. "And what would you like me to do, sir?"

"Stay on your toes and take part in the security op," Cowley told me. "I'll have surveillance outside, who better than yourself to fill that role inside?" He considered me perhaps a little shrewdly for a moment then reached over to turn off the recorders, shuffled his papers into a stack and stood. "That's all, gentlemen. Stay in contact by R/T, and try not to lose your tail, won't you?"

They gave us Murph, to start with, in a mousy brown Cortina, instantly forgettable. It was behind us all the way home, and parked three doors down the street. I gave Murph a wink and followed Ray in. Home. I had not been here for days; there was no fresh milk, the heating was off, the place was a muddle, but I didn't notice any of it. I was too desperate to hold and be held, too eager for Ray's hands on me, needing to feel him against me. There are times in the dead of night when I can wake up, still, and wonder if it's all been a dream, something I've imagined; that what Ray and I share is too good to really exist. Oh, it's real. He kissed me quite savagely, fingers clenching into my backside until I knew I'd be bruised, and I let him do it, rising to the occasion fast. He drew back to breathe at last, and his mouth was swollen, red as strawberries. "You mind if I stand under a hot shower? I feel lousy."

"Don't mind a bit," I admitted. "Might even come with you."

"Oh, do, do, please." He pecked me on the nose and headed for the bathroom, where I undressed him, unwrapping him like a present and cursing as I saw the state of him. He yelped and grunted as I slid his jeans off, and I saw the footprint on his hip. A good, solid kick had landed there.

"The Cow would approve," I said glibly, trying to paint a careless veneer over my churning innards. "You're Tartan. McGreggor, by the look of you."

He considered his hip with a frown. "Hunting Stewart," he corrected, looking down at me, where I knelt at his feet to unfasten his shoes and get the tangle of clothes off him. We laughed a little; shaky and insecure, but healing. We were together, nothing else mattered a damn now. I abandoned the clothes for a moment and hugged him around the hips, face pressed against his abdomen. He held my head, stroking my scalp, and I kissed him, one kiss each for navel, testicles, and his cock. Then I turned my attention back to his clothes. I had him out of them without fuss and stripped myself as he set the water.

"Ooooh, that's good." He wallowed in comfort under the shower, getting pink, then scarlet, as the hot water eased his aches and pains, and slowly, slowly responded to my fingers as I washed him. I love the way lather works up in his hair. Chest, belly, below. I could play happily for hours, if he would let me; he seldom will, but that day it was as if he was hungry for affection and I gave him the lot, waiting for him to grow aroused. When he didn't I began to worry, and paid special attention to him, cradling his balls and stroking his cock. At least he caught my hands, holding them to his belly to still them. "I'm just too tired, too strung up, too dopy on the stuff they gave me. I can't."

"Oh." I looked up, kissing him instead. "Later."

"Later for me," he agreed. "But you've got yourself simmering, haven't you?" He caressed the length of me, holding me between his fingers. "What would you like?"

I wanted him to suck me, but it was not particularly feasible. First, he was in no shape to kneel, not with that bruised hip. And he would get his hair wet under the water that way -- and I wanted him to go straight to be and sleep for a year if need be, and you can't do that with wet hair. I kissed his forehead. "Turn around, love." He turned, and I nestled behind him, rubbing in his cleft for as long as I could last. Coming was acidly sweet, and a little painful; I was still tense and I hadn't made love to him in days which, for us, is a long time indeed.

When I could hear and see again, I saw the frown on his face. "I thought you were going to do me," he said quietly.

"When you're so tired you can't get it up?" I demanded. "I'm not a user, Ray. I thought you knew me better than that."

"I do -- that's not what I meant." He pressed against me and kissed my ear. "I'm sorry. I've got to lie down, Bodie. Going to fall over soon."

I towelled him when I was capable of it -- I was still shaking and weak after coming, and he was in bed in another minute. I closed the door on him and he was asleep before I had gone back to the bathroom to tidy up. There was nothing in the house to eat and I checked into Central to tell them I was going shopping. They put Anson on to shadow me while Murph watched the house, and I stocked us up with the whole grocery shop, everything we like. Popcorn and frankfurters, chocolate cake and oven chips for me, and that organic glop of his which I refuse, as a rule, to touch. A man cannot live on soybeans alone.

He was still asleep when I got back, and it was getting late. I had made it to the shops just before closing time, and set about dinner while Ray slept on. I doubted he had slept any more than I had since being pulled off the street, and the probability was that he had not slept at all before being dosed with something or other at the hospital. I stood in the doorway, watching him sleep while rice boiled for chicken supreme and a bavarian cream confection thawed. I'm not a cook, but I can manage when I have to.

It was almost seven when he stirred; I was standing there, watching him in the evening sunlight, loving what I saw very much. He held out his arms, and I went to lie on him, separated from him by the bedding and my clothes. "Dinner's about done. Reckon you could manage chicken supreme and a chocolate cream bavarian?"

He smacked his lips. "You're not kidding. I've lost a few pounds, you know," he admitted.

"Tell me about it." I peeled back the bedding to expose his ribs. "You could play a tune on these." I helped him sit up, but he was clearly a thousand percent better. He's very fit and healthy, which means he heals as rapidly as a kid -- it's one of the inestimable perks of being a health fiend. I watched him swing his legs off the bed and stand, carefully stretching before he headed off to the loo, naked and tartan. At the door he looked back at me, just smiling, not sultry or provokative but soft and loving. I wonder if he knows how that turns me on faster than the sultry streetwalker act he pantomimes for me when we're playing outrageous games?

We play a lot, teasing and joking about, and the kinkier the games get the more incapable we are with laughing. He did the 'leather boy' thing once; naked, except for leather jacket and studded leather belt, and his jewellery. I bought it (in other words, my eyes dropped out) until I noticed he had added bicycle clips and purple socks to the costume, and that finished me. I was sick with laughing, and so was he once he saw he had got me. We didn't get around to making love; we just couldn't. It's the way he is when he isn't playing at all that most inflames the cockles of this old heart. Trust and sharing. Love. It shone in his eyes as he stood there at the door, looking at me, and I wished I could have thought of something to say, but I was too choked up and in imminent danger of disgracing myself as my eyes prickled. The smile widened, drowsy and warm, and then he was gone, my last glimpse of him an impression of beautiful bare backside; but the sight only reminded me of what had been threatened and, indeed, what had been done to him, and when he returned I grabbed him by the hips, demanding concessions.

"I want to look at you," I said in a tone that wouldn't be argued with.

"You are looking," he said reasonably. "I haven't got a stitch on."

"Want to see this." I trickled my fingers through his cleft. "Want to know for myself you're okay."

"Doctor Bodie to the rescue?" He chuckled. "Oh, go on, then. It's not as if you haven't seen it before." He bent, giving a slight 'oof' as he doubled about bruised ribs, and I spread him, turning him to the sunlight. "See? It's fine. It was days ago, love, and they only did it the once. I got the bloody message fast enough!"

"I'll bet you did. The doctor was thorough, was he? I mean, he's sure there's nothing wrong inside?"

"Bruise on my prostate," Ray said offhandly, reaching for his robe. "Gave me some pains which is why I mentioned it, otherwise, believe me, I'd have kept shtum! Was no bed of roses letting him have a go at me, but I wanted to know I was okay because -- Christ. If you're going to do me, I don't want to give you the impression you're responsible for hurting me. It's not your fault." He pulled on the robe and kissed the top of my head. "Now, feed me, will you? I'm starved."

That was an understatement. I don't think I've ever seen Ray eat so much in one sitting, and he dropped off to sleep while we were watching television, dozing through a current affairs show while the summer evening turned into twilight. I woke him with a glass of whisky and shooed him to bed again, following him this time. It was only nine o'clock but I was tired, and the lure of warm lover and cool, clean sheets was too much unspeakable delight to be resisted.

Summer days are long; it doesn't get dark until late, and it was still faintly daylight as we settled down. I wanted him badly now, and I went over his chest an inch at a time, dealing with each bruise, each rib, both nipples and the pulse point amid sharp collarbones, knowing how this always aroused him. Or, it always had in the past; tonight he had not stirred when I lifted back the bedding and knelt beside him. I was sporting a hard on that must have glowed in the dark with heat and urgency, but Ray was still soft, and he would not look at my face. I cupped one hand over his genitals, pressing slightly. "You still tired?" He shook his head. "No. I just... don't think I can."

"You've been tense enough to kill a camel these last few days," I said soothingly. "That's all it is. Just relax, you'll see." I sucked him then, able to accommodate the whole length of him, massaging his balls and waiting, and he twitched once or twice. Not much reward for minutes of efforts. I lifted my head, and when I looked back at his face I saw it was twisted. "Ray?"

"I just can't," he whispered. "Not since..."

"Not since you were treated to a revolver," I finished. "Not exactly a caress to delight you."

He took a deep breath. "Yeah. Every time you start to get to me, I feel that. Cold and hard." He shuddered. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry? What the hell are you sorry about?" I moved up, kissed him slowly, and gathered up his right hand, depositing it on his belly. "Go on, do it yourself, only you knows how to make it a hundred percent."

He shot a startled glance at me, and swallowed. "Hold me, then."

So I held him against me, kissing his face while he used his hands; twice he managed half an erection, but it did not last, and he was cursing by that time. "I -- can't! Goddamn it, Bodie, I just can't."

"Yes, you can, we're just not doing this right." I sat up, considering his body soberly. His cock was rosy but barely swollen. "There's nothing physically wrong, so it's just a mental leftover, isn't it?" He nodded miserably. "What you need, my lad, is an amnesia pill. But since we haven't got one, we'll have to do this another way." I kissed his nipples and reached over him into the top drawer of the chest by the bed. I put the tube onto his belly and looked down into wide, worried green eyes which caught the last glimmers of daylight. "Trust me?"

"I love you," he said huskily. "Course I trust you. What have you got planned?"

"We're going to bury the past so deep it stays buried," I told him. "And you're going to do most of it yourself. Best kind of therapy is to face it and beat it." He swallowed, closing his eyes, and nodded. "Take the cap off the tube and sort yourself out, then," I whispered. His eyes flew open and he was breathing hard already. "Go on, love. You think I'm out to hurt you or something?" In fact, that is a physical impossibility for me. Just knowing he was in this bloody predicament had robbed me of over half my arousal; the urgency was gone.

He wrinkled his nose at me, one of those lovely little expressions of affection, and did as he was told. Gel squeezed out onto his fingers and he regarded it dolefully as I recapped the tube and put it away. "Which way do you want me?"

"Just as you are." He was on his back, and I watched him spread his legs and lift his knees to put the gel where it was supposed to go. His mouth was twisted, his face taut, and as he attended to himself I began to stroke, kiss, tease, toying with him while he lay still, fingers servicing himself. He relaxed slowly, and I gave him a tissue as he lifted his hand away. "You used plenty?" He nodded mutely, cleaning his fingers. "Turn over, then." He was still barely stirring but I was suddenly aware I had him half hypnotised, that he was utterly subject to whatever I wanted. It was terrifying, arousing me afresh as I watched him turn over onto his stomach. "Kneel up." My voice was croaky and I was aching; I didn't lay a finger on him yet, but he knelt obediently, and I saw the glistening film of gel. "Spread a bit wider, love. That's right." I put one palm on his left buttock, stroking lightly. "Hips a bit higher." He lifted up, and I stroked down the soft inner thighs, widespread now, as if imploring. The sight was enough to give a man a coronary and my voice must have sounded peculiar. "Tell me you love me." A muffled sound answered me and then he said, "I love you. Christ, I -- I love you. Touch me, Bodie. Please." The words were no more than a groan.

Denying him was torture. "What do you want, Ray? Tell me. Say it." There's something deliciously erotic about enunciating one's desires. "I love you, Ray, tell me what you want." I was stroking him fleetingly, and those narrow hips were rotating as he came to life, focused on me, on us, and shutting out the past.

"Do it to me," he whispered. "Put it in me. Do it now." He was trembling.

"Be sure," I told him. "This?" I let my cock graze the sensitive skin that had been insulted by the barrel of a revolver; I was hot and hard, and he gasped in a quick breath. "Say it, love." Speaking focuses your thoughts -- it's why kids read aloud and people mutter while they add up. One of the tricks of the human mind. There was nothing physically wrong with Ray, but I knew all too well how much bad experiences can sour the future, and that was not going to happen to us, not if I could help it.

"Ah -- God," he breathed. "Please, I'm sure. I want -- Bodie!" His voice rose sharply, almost shouting. "Do it to me!"

He was demanding now, and I slipped a loving hand between his legs, finding him very much aroused. It's the position that works half the trick; you don't stand an earthly of resisting, your glands have a life of their own. Tantric yoga and so forth, it's practically involuntary in health people. Ray had needed that little bit more to get past a mental block, but, at risk of faux pas, it was all behind him now. He was wild as I entered him, and I damped down on my own needs, wanting to drive him as far as he could go. I touched his prostate with part of me, bigger, hotter than the object that had bruised him, days before, and it was all I could do to hold him as he began to thresh about.

The bed was a disaster area the next time I was aware of anything outside of the two of us. Climax had been savage, long and racking, exhausting me until there was no chance of my wobbling legs taking me to the bathroom for a cloth to do him the honour of cleaning him after the incredible experience he had given me. Heavy, glassy eyes blinked up at me, dark and smiling as he got his breath back, and a leaden arm went out to put the bedside lamp on as twilight became night. He stretched, arching slightly, and I palmed the genitals that had begun by being unresponsive and ended in cataclysm. He winced, still too sensitive for comfort, and I kissed him. "So?"

"So..." He drawled, and yawned deeply. "God, that was good. That was so bloody marvellous I dunno what to say to you."

"You could tell me I'm wonderful, and beautiful, and you adore me," I said indifferently, inspecting his bruises.

"Take it as read," he husked, and there was no hint of teasing in his voice. He pulled me down to lie on him, and hooked a foot into he quilt to pull it up around us.

"You ought to make a pilgrimage to the bathroom," I suggested, but he made noises of derision.

"You've got to be joking -- after that? Chuck the sheets in the washer tomorrow."

"It's still busted," I told him. "Wasn't here when the repair man called, so it didn't get fixed."

"Chuck 'em in the bin, then, and buy new ones." He put his head down on my chest and closed his eyes. "Bodie? Thanks mate. I really needed that. Where d'you learn how to psyche out a person that way?"

I had been waiting for the question, and I hesitated, wondering how to say it. "Africa. Of course. I watched a lad go to pieces after a raid, watched him put back together again by a trick cyclist from Joeburg. It wasn't much of a spectator event, but I'll never forget it."

He yawned, a warm, damp gust across my chest, tickling. "What kind of raid would bust a lad up that bad?"

"Tribal thing," I said evasively. "The camp was attacked when most of us were out, when we got back they'd gone through the lot of them. You'd be surprised the inventive uses an asagai can be put to. Billy was too young to see the kinds of things he saw; all you had to do was show him a knife after that, and he'd faint. Out cold. I mean that. It's a mental trigger, you see, you can't help it. But he was a sniper, one of the best in the business, and we needed him, and Duggan, the leader of the unit I was with, had me take him to the Cape to see an old mate of his at an army hospital." I wrapped my love up in arms, legs, quilt, kissing his hair. "He used suggestion, and incidents out of the past as related by a bright young thing called Bodie, led Billy around in circles until he thought he was fighting to keep a pack of bastards off his kid sister."

"And the only weapon available was a knife." Ray stroked my chest. "Clever. Make you want what's been frightening you..." He lifted his head, looking down at me out of wide, soft eyes. "I wasn't scared of it, Bodie. Never been scared of it with you, not ever, but --"

"But every time you thought about making love, you couldn't help thinking about the last time you... Yielded. Is that a good word?"

"Very proper and correct," he teased. "Very delicate. Thanks. It wasn't particularly nice at the time."

I yawned, hugging him, and reached over to turn the light out. The room plunged into comfortable, companionable darkness, but I felt the tension return to his body in moments. "Now what is it?"

"That's --" He gasped in a breath. "The other thing. I couldn't, that is, I didn't say anything, but..." He sat up, and put the light on again, and I watched him draw away from me, sitting hunched against the pillows. "It's darkness, Bodie. Can't stand it."

The enormity of what he had just said took a long time to percolate through my somewhat befuddled mind, but when it did, I was wide awake once more. I sat up, rubbing his shoulder. "Doesn't surprise me much. When did you find this revelation out?"

His voice was a hoarse whisper. "Hospital, last night. They turned the light off, I turned it back on, till dawn, before they came back." He was wearing a shamefaced expression, his mouth twisting with bitterness. "It's good, isn't it? 4.5 is afraid of the dark. Cowley's going to love this one."

"You haven't told him --"" He gave me a mocking look. Of course he hadn't told him. You could say you had VD, had killed a dozen pensioners by accident, had defected to the KGB, were a secret Ananda Maga member -- anything but the simple little fact that, suddenly, you were terrified of the dark. It was the truth, it was achingly sincere, and it was so ludicrous that they would look at you as if you were insane.

Ray was rocking back and forth, arms closed about his chest. "Aren't you going to laugh?"

"What would I want to laugh for?" I asked quietly. "You find it funny?"

He shook his head slowly and pressed his face into his hands. "I tried, Bodie, really tried to stand it. It's not what you think, not the kid's thing, with bogie men under the bed and monsters behind the door."

"Did I say I think that?" I tugged him against me. "Go on, then. Tell me."

"It's worse." He gave a sharp bark of laughter, an ugly sound. "You ever wondered what it's like to be blind? Sensory deprivation. I found out. It was stifling in the cellar, airless, silent. And I was blind. Nothing there. The dark smothers me, Bodie. Can't breathe, can't think. Can't help it."

It was all too easy to picture it, and I wished I knew what to say. Lots of people are claustrophobic -- I'm one, so I'd be the last person to laugh at Ray. I know Jax has an irrational fear of birds, goes back to a family pet that almost blinded him as a baby. And here was Ray, clinging to me, desperate and afraid of the future, because darkness suffocated him now. I lifted his chin, made him look at me, and the anguish in every line of his face hurt me to see it.

"Bodie?" A whisper as he got up his courage and looked me in the eye. He cleared his throat, finding his voice. "You know any magic routines to fix this one?"

"One thing at a time, sunshine." I licked his lips tenderly, fluffed the pillows and settled him. "Sleep now, worry about it later." "But it's the end of me," he said bitterly. "You can't employ a bloke who's out of his half the time. Cowley'll send me to Ross." He turned his face away. "I'd sooner resign than let her have a go at me."

"Sleep on it." I pulled up the quilt, settling beside him. "It'll probably sort itself out, and you've got three weeks' leave coming anyway. In addition to which --" I turned over and pulled him on top of me "-- I've got the job of riding shotgun on you until all this is over. They saw this beautiful face on the street and knew it, and snatched you. As soon as Moira tells all, about who killed hubby, they'll be kicking themselves, that they didn't waste you when they had the chance."

"And they'll be back to finish the job." Ray's teeth closed on my shoulder for a moment. "Soon?" He settled, I could feel him willing himself to relax. "Or it could take years."

I was not prepared to think about the distant future. One thing at a time, as I had told him. Like running a hurdles race; you can't jump the lot at once. Phobia is a funny thing; I've seen lads so scared of the water, or of heights, they're useless. And I've seen them beat it. I had no doubts that Ray would beat it, and I told him so, earning a kiss before he surrendered to exhaustion and slept at last. I was wide awake now, and remained so most of the night, but I was asleep when he woke. It was dawn, the sky lightening a little, and he turned out the lamp, slipping away from me and going to open the window. He was silent and subdued now that the truth was out; waiting for me to say something? Perhaps he thought I would try to make a joke out of it, to tease him out of it.

I might have, if I wasn't nursing a nice little phobia of my own. It's small, tight spaces I can't stand, which is one of the reasons I jumped ship after running away to sea. It goes back to my childhood, same as Jax's phobia about birds, and is probably incurable because it's so deep seated. I was locked in a cupboard by accident by my drunken sod of a father; I can still remember the taste of fear, the feeling of suffocation, the humiliation of wetting myself in terror. I was four. By contrast, Ray's trouble was probably not much more serious than the momentary impotence, but I knew what he meant about Ross. She doesn't much like men to begin with, and she likes men like us even less. Always pushing, probing, looking for weaknesses. She's good at her job, no one could argue that, but she's a hard nut, and I'm not sure she knows the meaning of the word 'compassion'. I admitted my claustrophobia when I filled in Cowley's papers back in '75, and he has been good enough to bear that in mind when handing out jobs.

But how could you get around a bloke who's nuts in the dark? You can't. So you have to cure it. "Ray?" I watched him turn back from the window, and he came back to bed, sliding into my arms as if he needed to be close. Hard and thin, whiskery, he was all over me, loving me half to death, and I noticed he was aroused quickly, perhaps not quite as swiftly as usual, but there was certainly nothing ailing him physically this morning. He brought me off so smoothly I was away on Cloud Nine. Beautiful feeling as he lay on me and rocked, the perfect start to any day. He came seconds after me, long bursts of semen, hot on my skin before he was exhausted and lay pillowed on me to rest.

I stroked his hair. "You're feeling better, my son."

"Yeah. Much." He heaved a sigh. "Thanks -- for taking me seriously. I was half afraid you'd make a joke of it."

"You mean, certain bodily functions being under par, or a sudden phobia you've got yourself into?"

"Both." He kissed my throat, below the line of whiskers.

"Waved your magic wand over me, last night, didn't you?" He stroked my cock as he said it, and I had to chuckle. English is a funny language. But he was sighing again, and I knew what was coming. "It's too bad you can't put the other thing right the same way."

"Facing it's the only way out," I said. "Take Murph, for a start. Know why he climbs mountains? He's terrified of heights."

He lifted his head, looking down at me speculatively, but I wasn't having him on. "How do you know?" He muttered, taking his weight on his elbows, one on either side of my chest. "He told me." I laced my fingers at his nape, rubbing there soothingly. "While I was getting him down from that bloody chimney, years ago. What, 1980, was it? We were up there for half an hour, you know, waiting for a chopper to get us down, and he was hurting. Christ, with a bullet in you, you tend to! There was nothing I could do but talk, and keep him lucid, and I got a lot of his little secrets and foibles. Yeah, Murph started climbing to get over an irrational terror of heights. And then there's Jax, and he never has managed to beat his phobia about birds."

"I know about that," Ray said thoughtfully. "We worked together years ago, you know, under cover in slum gutters for the Met. We were partners for a few months, before I moved on. It was a parrot, nearly pecked his eye out, and he hasn't been able to stand birds since."

"And then there's me," I added meaningfully. It was a secret I had never told anyone other than Cowley. The main reason I just couldn't beat the Merchant. The people were fairly decent, the food was okay, the sea was fantastic; but in rough weather you're confined to your cabin for hours on end, and often, if it's an inside berth, there isn't even a porthole, just a little room about four by nine by six, and it starts to assume the qualities of a coffin. I knew exactly what Ray meant when he had said it was like being suffocated, because I've felt the same thing myself. And it's enough to fossilise you from the bone marrow out. He was looking at me, waiting, holding his breath as he guessed I was about to spill a revelation. "I'm claustrophobic," I said evenly. "I go off the deepend if you shut me in small spaces for long."

"I..." He opened and closed his mouth, searching for words. "Since when?"

"Since I was four," I confessed, and gave him the whole drama. A drunken layabout of a father, a skinny little kid trying to play games, attract some attention, a slammed cupboard door, and fear. Darkness. The smell of rubber boots and old newspaper, the prickly feeling of hessian and wickerwork; the closeness of the air as I breathed it out. The sheer terror as the child I was imagined death; panic and surrender, wet shorts and screaming, both quickly mended by my poor, long dead mother... And damage she couldn't mend. I don't think anyone can -- I can't think what would make me face my personal bogie; I wouldn't do it for a million quid. Irrational? Absolutely. Ray was rapt, hanging on every word as I told the little tragedy, and when I was done he just looked at me, as if he'd never seen me before, his features gentled and very loving.

"I didn't know." He climbed off me and turned away. "I'm sorry. I'm making a mountain out of molehill, aren't I?"

"Did I say that?" I rubbed his back, feeling tense muscles and bumps under the big, blue bruises. "Want a bath, while I fix breakfast? Then we'll get on these other problems in good time. Eh? Nothing's unfixable, Ray. Not if you're strong enough."

He was relaxing slowly and turned back with a kiss before deserting me. "Thank God I've got you," he said flatly. No frills, no candy coating, just a plain, straightforward statement that hit me in the solar plexus like a doubled fist. I made a silent 'oof' as he hit me with that and left me to it, and didn't move a muscle while he ran his bath, called Central by R/T and slid into the hot water with a moan of pleasure. Whispered nothings are wonderful, tender or erotic as they may be, and we've got over the stage where we're embarrassed to say what we feel, ask for what we need. But flat out, candid statements in the cold, blue light of day can hit you hard. It was a tidal wave of love that swamped me as he said those five short words, and I felt myself drown. Oh, he's 'got me', for life, his captive, his slave, bonded in chains, whatever he wants. Does he know? I think so, because he's as possessive and protective of me as I am of him, and although we can still have an argument I can't remember the last time we snapped or snarled at one another, trying to hurt. We breakfasted, shaved, and met Anson and Susan Fischer on the street. They were doing routine legwork, asking shopkeepers on the corner where Ray had been snatched if they had seen anything, and Cowley had had a sketch made up per Ray's description of the face he had seen. There must have been someone who saw them, but no one was speaking and Anson was disgusted, chain smoking, to Susan's even greater disgust. He gave Ray a hard look. "Aren't you supposed to be resting or something?"

"I am." Ray stuffed his hands into the pockets of his sports jacket. "Just out taking my constitutional. Breathing deeply, you know." He coughed expressively. "What now?"

"Back to the office," Susan said, fanning at Anson's smoke with her hand, "and a thrilling morning of pushing papers around."

"We'll come with you," Ray said, restless and fidgeting. "I might have a look at those mug shots after all."

Cowley was surprised and not at all pleased to see us on the premises, but he called us into his sanctum and pushed a couple of whiskies at us. "We just got word from the West German Police. They've found the Cheyanne. It landed in a field, an outlying EEC farm south of Frankfurt, and was abandoned. I gave them the information that one of the men has an injured knee, and at this moment they're going through hospital casualty records in that area." He watched Ray dispatch his drink and, surprisingly, refilled his glass. "And how are you this morning, 4.5?"

"Me, sir? I'm fine. Just a bit stiff." Ray was not exactly lying. In physical terms he was pretty good, nothing you wouldn't expect after you've been belted about. Mentally? He was calm, only I knew he was hiding feelings of selfdoubt, fretting about the future. Cowley would never know, unless it came to his resignation, because neither Ray nor I will lie on Ross' couch unless we're a hundred percent operational. In which case, why bother? Once a year they do the big psychoanalytical tests and everyone, bar none, goes through her clutches, there is no escape. But she comes last down the list, after Macklin and Crane and Williams on the firing range, and Lee on demolition procedures, and Tigh on motor vehicles. 'Stunt driving' is an art that does not teach itself, and you can get sloppy. Only then, when you're riding high on success, do you go to Ross.

In Ray's current predicament, Ross would catch him at an all time low, and make mincemeat out of him. So, the less Cowley knew, the better. We stayed at the office until lunch, then ate at Gino's, which is not far away and never busy at noon. Table for two in a secluded corner, ravioli and crepes, coffee and cheese biscuits, while I watched Ray brood. At last, I nudged his leg under the table with my knee. "Oi, that's enough, mate. Cheer up. Tell Uncle Bodie what's wrong, will you."

He smiled, and I felt his hand on my knee, a quick pat under the table. "I'm just trying to figure out what to do if I quit the squad."

I gaped. It was that bad? Then again, how would it be for me, if I was regularly subjected to claustrophobic episodes, stuffed into a broom cupboard and locked in there for hours, as par for the course? I shuddered and scraped back my chair. "Let's get out of here. Let's walk."

We didn't talk much -- there was nothing to say -- and we walked for miles, down to the river and as far as the warrens of Whitechapel, back the way we had come, and up the Chelsea sidestreets. Home. It was already midafternoon and I made tea while he sprawled out on the hearthrug and contemplated life after CI5. I was trying to be rational in the midst of seeming absurdity, honestly considering that he might very possibly be resigning on personal grounds. So he would take another job, be home before me at night, I would keep the CI5 flat for the sake of security, and life would go on as normal, with one exception: I would be without a partner, because I won't work with anyone else. And Cowley knows.

The same thoughts must have been buzzing about Ray's head, because he was blue when I brought in the tea and sat down on the footstool beside him. "Face it, beat it," he said, eyes squeezed shut. "I'll buy it."

"Too soon," I told him. "Let yourself start to forget first."

But he shook his head. "Mistake, love. If I forget what started it, suffocating in the dark will get to be a normal part of life. Could be twice as hard to break the habit if I wait." He took a deep breath and held out his hand. "Help me?"

"Course I'll help you," I said gruffly. "I love you, you berk."

That won me a smile and he tugged me off the stool onto the rug, initiating a wrestling match that might have led to lovemaking if the phone had not rung just as I got him unzipped. I muttered some words I never heard at home and picked it up, hearing Cowley's dry voice. "Tell Doyle he has efficient feet," he began cryptically. I shot a glance at Ray and had to chuckle. He looked like a leprechaun, sitting cross legged on the rug, looking up at me from beneath a fringe that was beginning to straggle. "The man whose knee he injured went to a clinic in Badratsburg, and the doctor who saw him remembers him well enough to have given GSG-9 a good description. Now we have three of them -- Doyle's face, and this one; plus Moira Riyadh. That's enough for Interpol and the Mossad to work with, and we're crossreferencing now."

"I'll tell him," I said, and hung up.

"Tell me what?" Ray got stiffly to his feet, one hand cupped to the ribs that had been battered before he zipped the jeans I had unzipped moments before. The mood was broken.

I gave him the details and he gave a grunt of satisfaction for which I swatted his rump. "With the whole cell under wraps, we can relax. And put our other problems straight."

"Right." He bit his lip and frowned. "I remember a kid, when I was at school. He was quite an athlete, great potential, but he fell badly over a hurdle and nearly broke his neck -- the stupidest accident you ever saw. Just about swandived at the ground. He never ran again."

We were silent for a few moments, and then I took him by the hips and pulled him against me. "He never faced it, then. You get back on the horse after you fall off it, don't you?"

"What about you, then?" His eyes were wide and clear, their pupils back to normal, looking at me with sincerity, sobriety. Speculation.

I shrugged. "I never faced it, never had to. How do you force a four year old to do that? Stuff him back in the cupboard and tell him to bloody well stay there till he's sane?" Ray shuddered. "And besides, no one knew I had the problem until I was grown up and gone. I never admitted to it. Then -- Merchant Navy, little closet sized cabins, and I nearly went spare. Use to stand on deck in a Force Nine, anything just to stay out of it." I smacked his mouth with a sloppy kiss. "Doesn't matter anymore, I never get myself into situations where it matters, do I?"

"No," he admitted thoughtfully, "you never do. I was locked in the boot of a car once. That would have worried you, would it?"

"Would have had me in bits," I admitted. "I hope I would have found a way to cope. If not, I guess I'd have yelled your name and prayed a lot."

"You, pray?" He punched my arm mockingly. "Make me laugh." He sobered at once, collecting our empty cups and going to put the kettle on again. "Got any bright ideas? How I can do it?"

"Face it?" I sat down at the kitchen table. "Just do it, Ray. Turn the lights out and breathe, relax, think, divert your attention. Same as Murph and heights. He says he thinks about anything and everything while he's climbing; sex works like a charm, apparently."

He glanced at me sharply, as if suspecting a tease, but I was not kidding. It was what Murphy had told me. He's a lad for the ladies, and when he's climbing he focuses on his pitons and lines and lets his imagination roam. Birds with big breasts and long legs, so he told me, big, pink nipples and luscious lips. Each to his own. My fantasy was leaning against the sink unit wearing tight, faded denim and a sweat shirt that was faded to almost white now. The chain around his neck was gold, the sun making his hair red, his skin berry brown, and his hips were on that provokative tilt, flaunting his manly charms. My Ray is every inch a man, and then some. Both of us still like watching women, very much the same type of women as Murphy enjoys, I expect; but we don't play anymore. Home to me is a Chelsea flat with a big double bed, and a beautiful, very masculine body in it, aching to be loved; and Ray would use the identical terms, I know. I ache, sometimes, wanting him. Needing. But it's not a fretting kind of ache, with worries about losing what I've come to need; Ray's mine, I'm in no doubts about that.

He dispels my doubts a dozen times a day in little ways; and not so little ones. He cooked me dinner, curry and apple cake, and took me to bed; and he screwed me half way through the cake, and took me to bed; and he screwed me half way through the mattress in the midevening sunlight until I didn't know which way was up and couldn't have remembered my name. The feel of him, inside me, drives me wild. I was yelling his name, love curses, earthy and explicit, while he rode me, and then we just lay together while it got dark. He was silent and taut but he was not about to surrender, not tonight. Last night had been too fraught, with the fear of impotence in addition to the suffocation of darkness, but tonight he was in command. I hoped. I slid out of bed and his hand on my arm drew me back. His voice was very small in the gloom. "Where are you going?"

"Going to draw the curtains," I told him. "Got to do it right, love. If it's going to be dark, let's make it dark. All right, Ray?" I gripped his hands tightly.

"All right." His fingers slipped out of mine and I went to draw curtains at the window. The room plunged into impenetrable darkness and I could barely even see the bed, let alone him. I felt my way back and sat on the side of it, hands on his breast, feeling the quick rise and fall of shallow breaths, the hammer of his heart.

"Breathe deeply," I said quietly. "It's just dark, Ray. And you're not alone, are you?"

"All -- right," he said hoarsely. "So blind, Bodie. Say something. Talk to me. Bodie!"

"I held him, pulling him up into my arms. "You talk. Focus on something else, come on. Talk to me. Come on, honey."

"Talk? 'Bout what?" He was breathing harshly but deeply, and I had him against me, stroking his back.

I took a leaf out of Murphy's book. "Sex. Talk, Ray. I'm listening."

He groaned, fingers digging into my shoulders. "Can't breathe. Yes -- yes I can. Sex?" He was forcing his tongue around churning thoughts, I knew, and trembling with sheer effort. I waited, and he got a breath in. "I love the smell of you, when you get going. And the taste, when you come in my mouth. Tastes of you, s'how I think of it. Bodie taste. Sweet and salty and musky." He gasped in another great breath. "You're so big, so heavy when you lie on me, sometimes I can't move, but I love it -- like you're a blanket that's alive. Hot. All muscles. Love your muscles, love touching them. Kissing them. You've got a beautiful chest." His voice was husky and low, but his breathing was steady now and I pressed him against me, seeking to divert him, filling in the gap left in visual sensation by providing what tactile sensation I could.

"I'm listening," I prompted as he ran down, but it was difficult to speak. I don't know what I'd expected to hear, but the litany from the lips against my ear took my breath away. "Sweetheart, you okay?"

"Okay." He was regulating his breathing, less harsh, but his skin was damp, waxy and chill. I lifted the quilt, wrapping it around us, hoarding my body heat to share it. "You make me wild sometimes," he confessed. "The way you stand. Your legs are incredible, love those cream slacks. Always wanted to pinch you when you wore those. Bottom's like a melon. And then I'm inside you, right in -- can't believe how tight you are, and so deep. Take all of me." He rubbed his face against my shoulder, beard stubble scratching, tickling. "I love you."

Murphy was right. He was thoroughly distracted as I held him, whispering secrets. It made the darkness seem less like a cage than a confessional, companionable, not so threatening. "Oh, Ray," I muttered. What could I say? I echoed everything he had told me, and then we were kissing furiously, needing to take as much as to give. If we had not already made love we would have been aroused again, but as it was the tension of the situation and the satiety left over from round one conspired to beat us both. I just held him as he calmed, and when he whispered that he wanted me to lie on him, I did, pressing him into the bed and delighting in the tickle of his chest, which is one of his most beautiful features.

At last, when I could feel his heart running slowly, I knew he was calm. "You're better," I said quietly.

"I can do it," he murmured. "Still feels like I'm drowning in mud, but I can do it."

"Want me to put the light on?" I asked, wondering if he had had enough.

But he shook his head, curls rustling on my shoulder. "No. It's all right, just -- don't let go. Tomorrow night'll be better."

"It will." I kissed his face, mapping his features with the tip of my tongue; his eyelashes fluttered and he wrinkled his nose under the tickling, and then he opened his mouth and there was a kiss, long, deep, gentle where we had been frantic before.

Part 10

A long time later, he yawned, burrowed in between me and the pillows, and I felt him surrender to sleep. It had been an enormous effort; anyone with a phobia will understand. Birds, heights, water, small spaces or open spaces, there are lots of phobias, and you feel such a bloody fool for them. As if you're the only person in the world who's suffering, and, so isolated, you figure you must be insane. What you don't realise is, there's thousands of people in the same trouble. Jax and Murph and me could attest to that. And Ray.

We slept late and were woken by the phone; Ray groped for it and checked in the Central, hanging up again, and only waking properly when the call had been made on automatic. He rolled over, burying his face in the pillows, and I peeled back the quilt, surveying his bruises in the dimness of closed curtains. "You're not so tartan this morning. Feel better, do they?" He answered with an eloquent groan, and fought his eyelids open. "And what about you?" I asked meaningfully. "How's the other thing?" "The other thing?" He turned onto his side and glanced down the length of his body, where his genitals were quiescent on one lean thigh. Teasing. "Oh, the other other thing!" He allowed a faint smile. "I managed. You were there."

"My pleasure," I purred, one finger stroking about his pelvis, which is as narrow as a boy's below a hollow belly.

"What worries me," he said acidly, resisting my caresses, "is what happens when you're not there?"

There was no answer to that and we let it go. I threw open the curtains, chased him into the bathroom to shower while I sorted out the sheets, which were a mess. The repair man would be on the doorstep to mend the washer some time in that morning, so we were home free. Heaven help us if we were still trying to use coin-op machines; two blokes spending half their lives at the launderette, washing sheets? It's a bit transparent.

Two check ins to Central, lunch at home and an afternoon on the river, sculling with the current, a bit of gentle exercise Ray insisted he needed to work the stiffness from his body. He was much better already, pale and still holding the ribs that had been x-rayed, but otherwise quite well.

It was two days later when I realised he wasn't sleeping. He lay still, pressed against me like a limpet, and I was sleeping like a log -- sleeping off his lovemaking for the first half of the night. But every time I stirred, he was awake; he was awake when I dropped off, and awake when I stirred in the morning, and as his bruises began to fade he started to look ragged around the edges, napping in the afternoon when he could get the chance. I broached the subject on the fourth morning when he was much too wide awake at six to have recently come to. He. sighed as he heard me out. "I thought you wouldn't notice. D'you want me to sleep on the couch? I'm keeping you awake?"

"No, you're not keeping me awake, and no I don't want you to sleep on the couch," I said, exasperated. "But what good's insomnia? You look like you're burning the candle at both ends and in the middle as well!"

"Can't sleep," he said with absurd simplicity. "Too tense."

"Too tense in the dark," I concluded. "Like --" Light dawned. "Like, your body has the idea that it's going to suffocate if it goes to sleep."

He made a face. "Could be. I'm trying, Bodie. Leave me to my own devices for a bit. What d'you want me to do, go and ask for sleeping pills?"

Sleeping pills are the ultimate no-no in our game. You pop your knock out drops at midnight, and something big breaks at two; Cowley yells all hands on deck, and suddenly you're in the hot seat, with a gun in your hand. A moving target that's dopy is dead in the water. "You've got another week's sick leave," I mused aloud. "Wait and see, eh? It might get better."

"It might, but..." He shrugged despondently. "We'll see."

In any event, he had an idea which proved out in all ways except one, and in the short term, in the interests of sanity, I was not about to complain. The summer nights were long and comparatively warm, and we took to jogging at twilight. Running is a pleasure, when you get used to it; a little painful at the outset maybe, but it pays dividends, especially when you run with congenial company, or have a running mate like mine, who wears tracksuits snug fitting, and will jog ahead of you, let you watch his bunny's rump for the pleasure of it. He knows -- I'm not fooling him for an instant, and he just indulges me. We ran for miles, getting fitter than ever and returning home tired

Tired enough for Ray to manage a shower, a cup of tea, and then fall into bed and sleep... And it played bloody hell with our love life. I like making love in the mornings, but there are drawbacks. First, you've got a face full of whiskers. Second, you've got to get to work on time. Third, nature often calls at the most inopportune moments. And those three considerations can make loveplay a hazard or a frustration. Or both.

Ray knew what it was doing to us three days after he got back to work, and on the fourth we didn't run. We stayed at home and, for the first time in what seemed like a year, we vandalised each other within an inch of our lives. But he was awake again at midnight, and yawning his head off in the car all the next day. It was far from over. He could control the terrible suffocation complex while he was awake, but his body had accepted it as a trigger and just wouldn't sleep unless it was knackered. Making love exhausts you, but not enough; and an evening's marathon run might get him a night's sleep, but our love life when straight out of a window.

We made the most of our mornings but gave up trying to do it properly. I won't say 'fuck', because all that does is belittle the whole act. It's nothing even remotely as coarse as that; thank goodness! Bed became a place to sleep, hold and kiss; not that it isn't wonderful to simply hold and be held, but we've always been a trifle more hot blooded than most. At last, I took to tumbling him the minute we were through the front door, before we had eaten, showered, watched the television news or even thought about going out running. Loving was something that took place on the settee or the hearthrug, and absurdly, there was a greater sense of spontaneity now than ever, so we relished it that much more. Or perhaps we were just sex starved wildcats by that time?

Once, he had had me on the boil for hours before we got home. It had begun innocently, Ray rummaging in the back seat of the car, displaying his rump to me without stopping to think what he was doing. I fondled it, and he jumped out of his skin, and suddenly we were panting, and it was only four in the afternoon. He was driving, we were in the gold Capri, which is getting along in years now but still nippy through the London crush. How he managed to drive I shall never know, because he was so turned on the jeans must have felt three sizes too tight. I wasn't much better; but then, I wasn't wearing my slacks that tight. There are prices to be paid for dressing the way he does. He paid one of them on the way home, mouth compressed, nostrils flared as he drove and kept his mind on the road; he paid another of them three yards through the front door when I dumped him on the settee and sorted him out. The whole deed took about a minute, neither of us had a shred of willpower or control, and he yelled his head off, loving it.

We settled down to a routine that was tolerable, and I just hoped to heaven that the insomnia would fade away as the panic reflex wore off. Trouble was, darkness and having a revolver shoved into him had, in his subconscious, become all too closely associated. Darkness and terror, the certainty that he was dead, and that I would arrive five minutes later and find him pulverised by a .45 round from the inside. Consciously, he could control that fear; unconsciously?

He was dreaming, in the few snatches of proper sleep he managed when the exhaustion of a marathon jog wore off. He would thresh, wake, mumble apologies and doze until dawn. There was nothing I could do, just hope and pray it would wear off like old paint. Or tip off the charming Doctor Kate Ross, and ask for professional advice. No way in the world was I going to betray Ray. He was fighting through it in his own time, and the least I could do for him was be patient and supportive. There was little excitement at work. As one lovely lady once said, "it's very boring, it's all paperwork." We tracked down the Marines sergeant who was thieving SAM missiles and Claymore mines, and we nailed a syndicate magnate, an old Vietnamese with a long history of terror, neither case amounting to much in the danger stakes. Long, uneventful days spent in the car, watching this and that building, listening to telephone bugs, tailing a van, a lorry, a Roller, until we were thinking of joining the local PTA for some excitement and getting complacent about our pensions.

GSG-9 had never found Moira Riyadh's cell. The Piper Cheyanne was sent back to England, Ray Doyle was safe, and the security services of England and Germany had to be satisfied with that. And then, one day in early August, seven weeks after I had found my lover in a wine cellar, there were two messages incoming for Cowley that set our nerves on edge again. The first came from the Jersey Police -- Bergerac's mob, if you watch that much television. They had seen Moira and a red haired, pale skinned young man but failed to make contact, losing them in the harbour at St. Hellier, where they could old have been headed for France. The next was from Paris, where a security camera shooting an image every three seconds had taken a series of photos of a woman that might have been Moira Riyadh.

Might have been. The video image was grainy and blue, she was wearing a head scarf, and she had put on a great deal of weight, as you would expect after she had been released from a prison that was eating her away day by day. The clincher was that she was accompanied by a swarthy young gentleman with a walking stick. When Ray saw the pictures he muttered some blistering comments under his breath, and luckily Cowley was out of earshot. Airport security had sent us a copy of the flight schedule coinciding with the pictures, and passenger lists for those flights. Three were headed for Gatwick and Heathrow, just domestic short hauls, widebody jobs shuttling holidaymakers home and daytrippers over for duty free shopping in Paris.

And those flights had landed the day before. Heathrow has its own security cameras, and Ray and I went out there as soon as we received the message from France, meeting a very charming officer and drinking a gallon of coffee while we went over the tapes. It's amazing the way a woman can change her appearance, or, indeed, how life can do that to her. When I saw Moira in our own cells, she had looked like a teenage zealot from a famine zone, huge eyed, skeletal and pale. Now, she was plump and brown, looking like a capable housewife in that headscarf, well fed and well bedded, if I was any judge. The swarthy, limping man with her was the factor that decided us we were right, because the woman herself had changed out of all recognition, there was only the beautiful features left to tip you off. It was pure luck that a sharp eyed security bod in Paris had seen her at all.

Heathrow was only too happy to assist; their security is tight as a drum, but not tight enough and often they call on us to augment their efforts. In return, when CI5 needs them, you can trip over the red carpet as it goes rolling out to meet you. I've lost count of the number of altercations Ray and I have had there... '75, we shot it out with Ramos, and missed him, didn't put a lid on that nasty character for two more years. '77, we were conveying a prisoner for deportation, and there was Benny Marsh, large as life, which was your guarantee Krivas was in the country. '79, and I was chasing Pete van Niekirk along the wing of a Boeing 707. '81, and we were setting up 'Ulricha and her merry men', the mob who hung the rich man's son for a traitor. '83, we were back again, and there was a shooting party, CI5-3, IRA-1. Murphy's partner was killed. That's the second partner Murph has had shot out from beside him and he doesn't want another one. Would I?

I was watching Ray as we went over to the Air France desk to talk to the girls working there -- had anyone spotted the people in the video image? What would I do if Ray was killed? It's a question I answered to the best of my abilities in 1980, when he was shot during the Lin Foh episode. I'd die. I knew that then, I know it now. There's an empty place inside me that he fills, and if he wasn't there to fill it, it would swallow me whole. I don't say I would deliberately take my own life -- I think I owe Cowley a better deal than that; but I wouldn't last long. And Cowley has known that for a long time, as long as he's known about all Ray and I share behind closed doors.

There were two cute little kids working on the desk, two girls who couldn't have been twenty yet, all fresh makeup and blow waves, batting their eyelashes at us, and we flirted for ten minutes, chatting pleasantly and enjoying it. Girls are wonderful creatures, nothing else in the world like them, and you can't help being charmed by a pretty face and shapely figure. "Nice," Ray said appreciatively as we left the desk with our information. I cast a glance back at the kids. Very nice indeed. Also young enough to make me feel like a bloody geriatric. I'm not into cradle robbing; and Ray was stretching as we went back to the security office, scratching his ribs, which pulled open his shirt and displayed a breadth of brown, bare chest, downy and beautiful, inviting my eyes and my fingers. I had to keep my hands to myself, but there's no law against looking.

The Air France girls had noticed the couple, Moira and her escort, and gave us the names they were travelling under. Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin. They had come in with only overnight baggage and had vanished into the great, grey, formless mass of London. "Pushing their luck, aren't they?" I mused, rummaging for a shortbread as Ray brought fresh tea to the desk where we had been watching the videos. "I mean, it's a hell of a risk coming back to England."

"Is it?" He perched on the edge of the desk. "She's so different to look at she's betting no one picks it up. And the man? Oh, I dunno. This country is their own home turf. No matter how wanted you are, you feel safer at home than away -- and speaking of being wanted, they're just as wanted on the continent! They'll pass themselves off as Mr. and Mrs. Average a damned sight easier here than in France or Belgium or somewhere. Probably been masquerading as tourists this far. Which brings us to the next question."

"Why are they here?" I brought out the R/T as Ray demolished a shortbread, calling Cowley with the data. Predictably, he was not amused, and ordered us back to base, pronto. I shut down the radio and gave Ray a nudge. "Home, James. The boss wants us, you heard." He slid off the table, collected our papers, and went through his pockets for the carkeys.

The ramifications of the terrorists being back in England were mixed. They could be here to hit a political target, they could be coming home because they missed the rain and soccer matches; they could be out for revenge. You can get paranoid in this job and start jumping at shadows; but just because you're not paranoid does not mean there's no one shooting at you! Cowley was wearing a bleak face as we ambled into the office and were waved to seats, and he was there before us; cute is the Cow. Cute as a bag full of monkeys -- one reason he's still alive at almost double our ages. If we're half as cute, we'll collect the pension. He had a document on the desk in front of him, a circula passed around between Britain's security services, very hush hush, eyes only. A calendar of upcoming events, people coming through, potential targets. Even the movements of royalty and government members. It was detailed for months in advance, and was the first point of reference whenever a known terrorist group was suspected to have entered the country.

But there was no name on the list that would in any way interest a Palestinian group. "So," Cowley finished, toying with his glasses as he rubbed at a stiff neck, "are they here for the sake of being at home, or setting up a deep cover? Or are they here to hit some target not on this list? Not a diplomat or royal, but a personal target."

"Us," Ray said darkly.

"Aye." Cowley leaned back in the chair; the springs squealed and he regarded us shrewdly, like a man buying a used car from a disreputable yard. I didn't know whether to be insulted now or wait till later. "If it's a deep cover, and we've already lost them, they could stay lost for months. Until the next calendar is plotted, and some Israeli politician or sympathiser arrives here. That's a matter for the future, I prefer to look to the present. And I'm playing percentages. Odd, Bodie? That you and Doyle are the target."

I regarded my lover's profile darkly. "If they hadn't made a point of grabbing him to trade for Moira, I'd have said four to one. As it is, they know who we are, and where we are, and what we've done. If I was in Riyadh's place, I might be gunning for the people who hurt me." Ray shot a glance at me, eyes wide and unblinking; I looked right back, stony and resolved. If he doesn't know by now that not only would I die for him, but I would kill for him, he never will. Cowley is already well acquainted with that small fact: Ross laid it all out for him eons ago. Slowly, those beautiful, almond eyes softened and warmed and he looked away, lashes fanning downward, an oddly demure expression.

"So we play a hunch," Cowley was saying. I forced myself to listen. "If she's here to kill you for revenge, we can use that. Bait a trap."

"With us as the sacrificial lambs?" Ray demanded. "Oh, thanks." "And with the Seventh Cavalry poised to come charging to the rescue," I added aridly. Cowley appreciated the humour, a faint smile crossing his face for just a moment before it was gone again. "When, sir? They won't wait long. Longer they put it off, the more the odds stack up against them, and they're not fools. If they were, they'd be locked up by now."

"We'll set up a scenario overnight and put it into operation tomorrow," he said thoughtfully, frowning at Ray. "Go home, get some sleep. Doyle, are you quite well? You look tired." "Oh, it's just -- sinus," Ray said quickly, tapping his nose. "Dust."

"Plays hell with your hooter," I agreed, getting my feet moving and ushering him from the room. Outside, with the door closed, I said quietly, "he's onto you, sunshine. How much are you sleeping these nights?"

"Couple of hours," Ray admitted. "Best I can." He yawned at that point, which made us both grin although it wasn't in the least funny. "It's late. You want to eat out or go home?" "Go home," I decided without delay. We were in the lift then. "Straight home. Shut the door, rip the clothes off you and -- shall we say, improvise?"

"Sounds kinky," he said, managing a creditable leer.

"Very," I assured him. "We're going to do it in bed like real people, with the lights turned off and everything." God knew how long it had been since we had done that.

"Oh, kinky, very kinky," he agreed. "Problem is, it'll be light till eight or so, so you wouldn't have the light on in any case."

"Shut up, Raymond," I told him sweetly as the lift stopped.

We picked up takeaway Chinese and white wine, and ate the lot in the living room before abandoning the debris and ducking under the shower. The sensual little creature was hot for it, hungry for me, which makes me feel like I own the world. I own the one bit of it I prize more than anything else, anyway. I went down on him, kneeling at his feet under the water and sucking him until he was gasping, and as he started to come, put my fingers into him, which he loves. Who doesn't, come to that; it's a caress that'd raise the dead. A week after the funeral. I was simmering, standing and pressing against him as he weakened after coming, his back against our blue and green tiles; I waited for him to get his strength back, and when he did, he took me in those slender, gorgeous artist's hands and did everything to me. The shower was running cool and climax turned me inside out. I let him towel me dry and shove me into bed, and he could have done anything he wanted to me, I wouldn't have raised an argument.

He wanted me again, but he was patient, letting me catch up, encouraging me with the kind of skill they write books about. I lay flat on my back, watching his face as he sucked me, cheeks hollowing as his head lifted and fell, taking me up and up, sensations you couldn't describe, unless it was as a rainbow of feelings, a spectrum flaring through your nerves like tactile colours. When he lifted his head the last time he was panting, his skin shining with effort, and I spread myself for him. Needing to feel him inside me again. We take it in turns without ever intending to do that -- it just happens. Neither of us is particularly dominant; it just depends on the day, the hour, the mood. I can be boisterous, so can he; and I can get to feeling so sweetly submissive after a good meal, fine wine and a lot of foreplay, that I'll just lie back and wait for him to do me. I sometimes wonder what would happen if we both got into that mood at the same time. We'd just lie back, smile drowsily at each other and come, I think. Which would be wonderful too. Anything is wonderful with Ray.

He hooked my legs around his neck and gave it to me right where I need it most. He had used a lot of lubricant and all it took was a little shove and he was inside, I was so relaxed. Then a long, slow slide until I had every inch of him, safe and mine. Taking him into me is not much like submission; I get protective, possessive feelings, as if I can keep him safe, keep him warm and happy for as long as he'll let me. Submission comes next, if at all, and he's so seldom rough that it's more of a two way sharing of the act. He never makes me feel used; I feel like a prince, in fact. The Tantra will tell you, a woman's body is an altar to be worshipped upon, but they've got that wrong -- gender doesn't matter. It's the body you love, irrespective of its gender. He rested, letting me lock my legs around his waist, and I got my breath back in great gasps, getting used to him again, the bulk and heat, the steely hardness of his cock stretching me and holding the small of my back immobile, which is where your backaches come from afterward. His eyes were not glassy but dark, deep and clear, and he kissed me before we began to move together, invading my mouth as he invaded the rest of me. It's a feeling of belonging that overwhelms me.

And a craving for the kind of love only another man can give, I suppose. I'd have loved Ray even if he'd chased me for my life that day in 1980 when I betrayed myself, let him see the way I wanted him, and I'd have been happy with my girlfriends.

Happy, but not complete. The loving of a man is very precious too; and when that man is the heart and soul of you, you're lost, don't want to be rescued. I was groaning in rhythm to what he was doing to me and he paced himself, knowing every sound I make, able to gauge what I was feeling with the ease of long practise, so that he made us come very nearly together.

We collapsed for long, companionable, exhausted minutes, and then I chuckled as he tickled me, cleaning me and giving me a swab of cool antiseptic in case he'd made me sore. He hadn't really, but I've never been one to refuse fussing, it's one of life's little luxuries. He was awake most of the night again, holding me, and slept in the early morning, the hours between dawn and our recall to business. There were smudges under his eyes and he was yawning, but I watched him stand at the kitchen window with a cup of tea, doing his breathing routine as hammered into us by Brian and the dreaded Towser. Brian's okay -- he's nearly fifty and mellowing, and we've got his measure because of the age gap. Towser, however, is only two years older than Ray, and has been a professional athlete all his life; he's a holy terror and his joy in life seems to be inflicting pain. Still, he knows his job, and the breathing exercises are helpful, especially if you've got a lot of physical work coming up, or are bushed. If it was yoga, which I sometimes indulge in, if I can manage it without a critical audience, I'd call it 'prana'. Can't do yoga in front of Ray; the little sod is so supple he decides he'll join in for fun, and then we compete, and I invariably pull every tendon in my entire body, which is stupid. Makes you slow on the job, and that could be the end of you.

Cowley was on the doorstep at ten with a sheaf of papers, and we gathered at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and eating the remains of last night's chocolate cake. The papers were a detailed account of the scenario that had been set up overnight, and going by the bags under old George's eyes, he had spent half the night at the office, working on them.

It was gloriously simple, like tying a goat to a stake, with a pit dug in front of it, and waiting for the tiger to fall in. CI5 was gaffing the whole show, staging an event, well away from any innocent bystander, as if Cowley fully expected there to be shooting. Murphy was the centerpiece, and at that I groaned. "Why does it have to be Murph? If there's going to be shooting, his luck is as stretched as ours!"

"Murphy is the right type," Cowley said almost indifferently. "Also, he is a very competent operative and well able to take care of himself -- to make his own luck. He will be playing out a role, that of a visiting diplomat from the government of Israel. You and Doyle will be his bodyguards, and we are arranging a controlled security leak."

Ray shot a glance at me, and I glowered back. "That means you'll be leaking it to the terrorist circuit?" Cowley nodded. "So all and sundry will know about it?" Those pale, killer blue eyes of Cowley's looked right back at me, and I put my hands up as if at gunpoint. "Okay, it isn't as if it's a first time, is it?" That was true. Back in '78, we were set up royally, me, Ray, Charlie, and that smashing girl of Ray's, and Tinkerbell and his brother- in-law. The whole lot of us were set up; it cost Tinker his life, and the girl came out of it with a scar, and Charlie was in hospital for two months. Unlike Ray, he never made it back to operational status, but works with instructors now. Not that he's complaining; he's one of the lucky ones. It's good money, regular hours, position of responsibility out of the firing line; he'll collect his pension, and he's got a wife and three kids to think about now.

I've never had a family to speak of -- Ray's family is all I have. My lover, his brothers, sister Christine, his Mum, Chris' kids. In particular, Stephen, whose broken shoulder was long healed as we sat at the kitchen table going over the plans with Cowley, and whose interest in boys had not waned as he grew from a skinny ten year old to a twelve year old with a deepening voice and a chest getting hairier by the month. He was going to be so much like Ray, curls and all; if he wants men, they will be there by the legion, all he'll have to do is choose which he wants. I wish him all the best, and I don't think Christine minds a bit about his preference; the set-to with his father taught him a thing or two, most importantly, to be bloody careful.

"The venue is a private house in Sussex," Cowley was saying, "and there are to be talks about the Palestinian problem. Murphy will be an Israeli soldier lately turned politician, with hard line views. Something to the effect that Palestinians should be seen and not heard."

"That's going to get Riyadh's blood up," Ray said drily. "And Murph is going to be the bull's eye. What about us though? If we're really unlucky, everybody but Moira Riyadh's group will be down on us like a load of wet cement, and she'll let them have it, and come after us a week later!"

"The security leak will be more specific," Cowley told him. "It will include the names of the agents who have been sent to arrange matters at the venue, and who will be guarding Mr. Epstein."

"So if Moira and her friend on the stick are plugged into the intelligence circuit, they'll at least see the bait." I sat back, frowning at the plans of a country estate. "Thing is, will they take it?"

"You kidding?" Ray muttered. "Put yourself in her shoes, mate. Would you?"

Would I? My body was still well aware of what he had done to it last night. I was tender, inside and out, for all his gentleness and the lubricant, and my back throbbed just a little, reminding me every time I moved of the way he had impaled me, so deep, so hard, so sweet. I shivered every time I became aware of the leftover pangs, and almost turned on again, remembering. Would I go out gunning, if I was Moira Riyadh, and I had waited a year to get even with the men who had blown my lover away?

"She'll take it," I said blandly, looking at Cowley.

He nodded in agreement. "I believe so." He gathered his papers and stood. "Go out to the house and do the real work today, all of you. We'll leak the plans tomorrow, and the whole circus begins on Saturday."

He left then, and we stood in the kitchen listening to the sounds of the suburban environment, regarding each other bleakly. So it began. I offered him my arms, wondering if he would accept them, and he did; there's no law against men needing comfort and reassurance, even if we have set ourselves up with the macho image we like to project. Murphy was on the R/T minutes after Cowley left, cheerful and energetic, setting up a rendezvous with us, so that we would arrive at the estate together.

It was a little after noon when we pulled in through the gates. Ray was driving, but we were still in the silver Capri, as we had not gone back to central since the day before. There are four similar cars in the garage, and two gold ones; you check out whatever you fancy that the mechanics have finished with, and bill the department for petrol; and hope Cowley doesn't check up on your slate, because if he took the trouble to correlate miles driven for CI5 against petrol consumption, he'd find out the number of personal jaunts he's financing! Murphy was driving the white Escort that year, tall and lanky, feeling those long legs into the small car, which earned him odd remarks about giraffs from people who, like Ray, don't have the blessing and affliction of height. Being tall can be a nuisance, as Murph would confess.

The house was Regency, run down but with great potential, and it had recently been bought by someone in Whitehall. It was on loan to us, and so long as we didn't actually blow it up we would be forgiven. A squad was there before us, installing cameras, electronic eyes, bugging the place. We were treating it as an exercise, a dummy run for the real thing, on the theory that there's nothing like practise. There is substance to that; the simulations we run in training sometimes make the real thing look tame, and if you've been through the worst they can throw at you in practise you'll manage the real thing with the odds stacked in your favour.

Anything for decent odds. I was thinking back to the Parsali set up as we went through the estate. Bodyguarding for 'Mr. Epstein' would be like a cross between that job and Cowley's blind run of '78, which cost Tinkerbell his life and Charlie his field career. Just so long as this circus, as Cowley had it, did not cost Ray or Murph any skin, I was agreeable. I don't like seeing Murphy made a target; he's been with the department since '78, just three years less than Ray and me, and his luck is stretched tight as a dowager's corsets, same as ours. But it's part of the job, and luck is a subjective notion in any case. Every time I get to figuring percentages, I think of young Tony Miller. Cookie. And I think again. You make your own luck in this trade -- you have to.

The house was well chosen; plenty of shoot holes, lots of defensive potential for the sacrificial goat. Goats, I corrected as we took a break, refreshing ourselves with thermos tea and ancient ham sandwiches in a room on the upper floor of the house. The furniture was all under dust covers and Ray was sitting on the window ledge, looking out at the gardens, limned by the afternoon sunlight, heavy eyed. Tired, because of the unending insomnia. Murph was lounging at the door, watching me watching Ray, and after a few moments we took his sandwiches and melted away, leaving us in solitude. Smart lad is Murphy. Jax was in the gardens below; I saw him from the window as I went to stand beside Ray. He was on the R/T probably talking to Anson, his current partner, or Susan Fischer, who was in charge of the squad setting up the cameras and listening devices. I put one hand on Ray's shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and said, "want to cat nap for an hour? There's nothing else to do and a sofa over there. Cowley won't be here till five, and we've been through the security with a fine toothed comb."

"Oh, yeah." He rubbed his eyes as if they felt gritty. "It's no good, is it? I can't go on like this. Can't sleep at night, can't stay awake during the day -- you realise, we're due for the physicals in November. That's three months, and if I'm in this condition, I'll fail. Ross will smell a rat from a mile away." He was right, but I was not prepared to look on the dark side before we had to. "Getting even with one or more of the people who belted you around might work wonders," I suggested as he got up, stretched, and went to lie on the sofa.

"Might." He looked away. "It was the Midlander who shoved the gun up me. Pulled the hammer back. Double click in the dark, and cold right in the middle of me." He shuddered visibly -- he had forgotten nothing. "I feel that every night, dreaming."

"You know, Ross might be able to help," I said carefully. He glared at me but I persisted. "She's a bugs doctor by trade -- and let's face it, she'll probably already know what happened with the gun, because it's part of her job to review medical reports that come in. Bet you forgot about that when you asked for a proctologist at the hospital!"

"Wasn't thinking too clearly," he admitted. "I did forget. Didn't even think about Cowley seeing the report, if it comes to that. All I was thinking about was going home, and wanting you, and knowing you'd want to make love, and imagining the look on that boat of yours if I went green and yelled for mercy for the first time."

I knew what he meant. Hurting him is not part of my philosophy of life, and if I ever do it by accident I feel like a louse for days. He was half asleep now, and I set on the arm of a nearby chair, watching him, listening for footsteps coming up the stairs, so that I could wake him before his secrets were out. But Murph had gone to join Jax and Anson, and there was almost an hour of peace and quiet before I heard tyres scrunching on the drive, heralding Cowley's arrival. I shook him awake, watched him yawn, sit up, stretch and straighten his hair. Delectable; deserving of a kiss, and receiving one. He chuckled and gave me a push. "Soft article," he accused, and then held me back. "Come here again." A nuzzle for my ear, the nip of sharp teeth, and we stepped apart, going down to meet the boss.

Cowley likes to give his personal attention to every set up, and I respect that. He takes the final responsibility onto his shoulders. If, God forbid, Murphy, or Ray, or I, were to be killed, it would be Cowley writing to the next of kin. Not that it would cost him a stamp in my case; my records quote Ray as my next of kin, and have since we settled into the same accommodations.

We followed him around the property, he ratified the whole operation and bestowed his blessings, and then we were heading for town and a restaurant. A decent meal, half a bottle of wine, and the world looks a better place. Ray was quiet, very subdued as we ate steak and salad. "Nerves?" I prompted as he switched to cherry cream dessert.

"Hm? No, just remembering. Wondering, if you must know, how many of them are back in England. We spotted Moira and the guy with the limp, but the Midlander, and Matt, and Pip, might have been back for weeks. If they came in on a private boat, we'd never know, would we? Not until they do something rash, come to our attention." He sat back and looked at me speculatively. "Just feeling my mortality a bit. There but for the grace of God, and all that."

"Go any of us," I finished. "Hey." I beckoned him closer, across the table, so we could drop our voices and speak privately. "When you're ready to quit, we quit. Cowley's had his pound of flesh out of us time and again, we don't owe him anything."

He took it seriously but said nothing, and we let it go at that. We'll know when the time comes when we just can't push our luck any further. In any event, one hurdle at a time. The leak would be made tomorrow, Wednesday, and the show started on Saturday. Just enough time for a terrorist organization to scramble an attempt together, not enough time for them to do it well, but the temptation would be to do it anyway. It was an invitation to ineptitude, and we were in control of everything for almost the first time since Cowley's dummy run that set up Ray and me in '78.

I don't think I slept any more than Ray that night, and we moved out to the house the next afternoon. Murphy was getting into the part, dressed to kill in a beautifully cut suit and dark glasses, three assorted hand guns hidden about his person. Handsome and self assured, he stalked about the house as if he owned it, seconded by Susan, who was in the role of his secretary and would be with him in the Roller laid on to ferry him to and from Heathrow.

Bedrooms had been opened up for us and we made ourselves comfortable, knowing as we did that we were safer there, behind one hall of a security net, than on the street. It isn't often you know you can relax totally, but surrounded by a CI5 brick wall, you're as safe as the Queen Mum at home. No ceremony, no deceptions; the room assigned to Ray and me had one big double bed. We never lied to Cowley, the paperwork is totally honest, and there isn't a chance of blackmail because of that. But the way British law is set up raised a real puzzle.

Two men making love is only legal if it takes place in private. 'In private' means that only two individuals are present in the room or, by extension, the house. It isn't legal in hotels, motels, or anywhere else -- or even in a private house if a third person is in the building, although it'd take a right berk to force the law in the last case. God knows what they think of threesomes or foursomes! And here we were, legally permitted to be lovers by CI5, which meant we were assigned the same room and bed.

But British law, on the face of it, wouldn't allow me to kiss my Ray in said bed!

We stood looking at the big, plush piece of furniture, with its mauve duvet and its brass rails and big, polished knobs, and then we looked at each other. Ray knew the law; I imagine he must have been called on to enforce it now and then, once upon a time! And we laughed. "I'm going to bed," I told him, "and bugger the law. If someone wants to press charges, they'll have to prove we didn't spend the whole night on opposite sides of the mattress with our backs turned to one another, and unless there's a spy camera in here, they're up the proverbial. Gum tree, that is," I added in the interests of clarification.

He gave an earthy snort of laughter and was in bed before me. We didn't spend it on opposite sides of the mattress; but neither did we make love, so even the legal eagles wouldn't have a case against us, unless you can take two men to court for holding each other -- in which case, all-in wrestlers are in big trouble. We weren't in the mood for making love, and were up before at dawn, long before the breakfast call, dressed in gaudy scarlet tracksuits and jogging around the perimeter. Five miles was easy, we had done so much running in the evenings to ensure Ray a few hours' kip. Back for a shower -- separately, the very souls of discretion, and then we were the first in the dining room and got the pick of the breakfast. Kippers, kedgerie, croissants, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, toast.

The day was a repetition of the one before it, just a prowl of the grounds, checking everything. The Roller was laid on, and Heathrow was alerted, and the security leak was a deluge. Cowley breezed through in the afternoon, bringing the news that terrorists were crawling out of the woodwork to buy guns. What they don't know is that our sources can pinpoint the movements of weapons almost down to the last peashooter; we know when something's brewing, even though we might not know the target.

Another night in that confounded bed would have been a bother, but we were at Central, saved by incoming data from the Met, who were on the lookout for the face Ray had described -- red haired, blue eyed Celtic type, perhaps in the company of an Arab. He was seen and approached by two coppers on the docks. The fool could have talked his way out of it, but he panicked, ran like a rabbit, which is your guarantee of guilt. We were on our toes like greyhounds sniffing the lure. There was mass of intelligence flooding in. All kinds of terrorist cells were on the move, Palestinians, Syrians, anyone with a grudge against Jews in general or Epstein or his politics in particular. Cowley was enormously satisfied with the proceedings, knowing he was about to kill half a dozen birds with one stone. Ray, Murph and I were slightly less sanguine. Saturday morning was cool, raining, and we were in Ray's car, heading out to the Airport on the tail of the Roller. Murphy was with Anson in the white Escort, leading the limousine, and would do a quick change routine aboard an El-al Boeing kindly put at our disposal by the company. He would walk on board as Murphy, dressed in white slacks and leather jacket, and walk off in the expensive suit and dark glasses, get into the car with Susie Fischer, and drive into the lion's den.

Heathrow's own security men were waiting for us, flanking the car on its way in under the road bridges, two BMWs with spinners. There was a slight drizzle and we were aware of that crawling sensation as we sat in the car at a discreet distance. We were being watched, no doubt about it. You get an instinct for these things. Ray checked that Browning 9mm of his, reflexive, perhaps a little anxiously, though we knew they would not make an attempt at the airport. Terrorists are mad, not stupid -- there is a fine line of definition there. The Roller pulled into the VIP carpark, Murphy got out of it and boarded the El-al jet with us, and we hung around waiting for him to change into the suit, which a steward had carried on board in a brown case, as if it were lost luggage.

When we left the jet, it was a diplomat and two CI5 men crossing the aerobridge, and from that moment on, we were prime targets, literally for every terrorist group with an axe to grind with the state of Israel. There are more than you would think; Palestinians, Nazis and neo-Nazis, and anti-Semitics that don't seem to be interested in politics, geography or religion, and hate Jews anyway. If it makes sense, I could never see it. Susan was holding open the door of the limousine, a briefcase in her hand, playing the part of the secretary; and Anson was driving the Roller, looking uncomfortable in a chauffeur's jacket and cap. We would rib him unmercifully about it, later, and he knew it, giving us a filthy look as we slid into the gold Capri and pulled out ahead of the Rolls.

>From Heathrow to the estate was the drive of a quiet couple of hours. We had half expected there to be an attempt on the road and had set up a lookout system. We were never out of sight of a support squad, and the chopper was up. Cowley was taking no chances, not when there were five lives on the line, and each one represented a senior agent. Me, Ray, Murph, Anson, and Susan, who is the baby of the bunch at thirty-two.

The gates swung closed behind us, Murphy stalked regally out of the Roller, and we began to breathe a little easier. There was a cup of coffee and confectionary, while Jax's group spelled us. It's not that the work is physically difficult, but you're living on your nerves and your 'crisis energy' spends itself quickly, leaving you physically pent up and mentally knackered. A change is as good as a rest, and in an hour we went back on, bringing Jax and company into the house while we prowled the exterior.

The chopper spotted the first group outside the estate's wall, three assorted Lebanese and Palestinians with a ladder and heavy rifles; they didn't make it up the ladder. Lewis and Matthews dropped two from the copter and wounded the third as he tried to run. I gave Ray a grim look. One down. Cowley was in his element, in charge of the circus, ringmaster of it, overseeing the whole show from the video room where Ruth

Pettifer and Michelle Scott were monitoring twenty cameras. There was no blind spots that we were aware of, and the next group to try it was seen by the girls in the shrubbery behind the glasshouses. Jax's squad took them, two Paraguayans whose politics and personal beliefs did not exactly make pleasant Sunday reading.

There was an Arab sniper, Wasim Hafeez, who did better than the others. He went over the wall under cover of the oak trees by the road and was half way into the house by the servants' entrance before Ruth Pettifer's sharp eyes spotted him. Ray and I were inside at the time, and fired simulateneously, two heavy calibre rounds making rather a mess of the body. We were like cats on hot bricks. It was already late afternoon, and though the operation had been a rousing success from Cowley's perspective, with a sizeable bite chewed out of the terrorist population of this country, from our own point of view it was a washout. It was Moira Riyadh's people we wanted, or our own predicament remained dire. We would leave the estate targets, as we had arrived there.

It got dark early because of a thick overcast coming up, and it was unseasonally cold. Britain's weather can be unpredictable like that. We were strung up like piano wires by evening, ready to snap and snarl at the slightest provokation. Murphy got his head chewed off -- I was the culprit, and apologised a moment later, and Ray sank his fangs into Jax, rendering up sheepish apologies five minutes later. We can both be hard to live with under pressure, but it goes with the job. Murphy was no saint, snarling at Anson.

There was the delectable aroma of frying sausages from the kitchens and we ate quite well, considering the staff was not on. The operation curtailed at midnight, and we knew that with nightfall the hazards really began. It's easier to trick your way around visual monitoring systems in the dark.

Or, if you've got a lovely little diversion.

At nine, all hell broke loose. The first sign that it had begun was the reeking, gasoline yellow fireball as a car ploughed into the wall of the estate and went up, rigged to blow with a generous charge of plastics. The compunction is to run in that direction like lemmings heading over a cliff, as if a bright light in the darkness has to be the center of the action. Often, the reverse is true. Cowley was sharp; he sent Jax's group out to the explosion, but before they were at the scene Ruth was on the R/T with the news that a sniper had taken out four video cameras on the south wall, diametrically opposed to the blow up. Divide and conquer? We were blind on one side and short handed with half our people heading in the wrong direction. Murphy pulled his Webley, he, Susan and Anson letting the farce evaporate and returning to duty without being asked. Ray and I were out and running, covering the grounds fast in efforts to intercept the intruders, but we knew they must be over the wall before we got there. We didn't see them and Ray wasmuttering the kind of words that crisp old ladies' hair. "They could have gone down behind the glasshouses," he guessed. "It's the shortest route to the house."

We were crouching in the cover of a tool shed, the glasshouses about fifty yards away, reflecting the moonlight. "And if they've seen us and gone to ground, we'll be sitting targets if we move out," I growled. "What --"

And then the lights went out in the house, which meant they were inside already, because the main fusebox is in the scullery. I was up and moving without pausing to curse, Ray right behind me. There was no way to tell if it was the Riyadh cell or not, we were shooting in the dark, literally. And it's dangerous; you can shoot at shadows and hit one of your own. We let ourselves in by the french windows, and it was as the drapes fell into place behind us that I heard Ray's breathing become laboured. In the excitement I had forgotten and felt a stab of guilt. It's not the kind of thing I of all people should have overlooked. I put a hand on his shoulder. "You okay?"

"I -- no. Yes." He was whispering. "Forget it, Bodie. Come on." Gunshots clipped off his words and we moved as we heard Murphy's voice yell, shock as much as pain. More shots, and Jax's voice; "Murph? Murph!"

"I'm hit," Murphy hissed into the darkness. "It's not bad, just my arm, but it's the right." Which meant he'd had it as far as accurate shooting was concerned. "Don't know which way they went."

Then, Susan Fischer: "come on, Michael, move yourself. Get out of here!" She was manhandling Murphy, which was no mean feat, given the physical size of the lad, and she had the R/T in her hand. "9.7 to Alpha!"

Cowley was in the upper levels, where the video system would have turned into a dead duck. He took her report and barked for Ray and me. "Split up. Doyle, get the power back on, fast. Bodie, get after them."

There was the fusebox or an emergency generator in the shed outside; which was used depended on damage done the fuse box. Ray was gritting his teeth, moving through the alien environment of the house that had become a killing field in darkness that was like the womb. It would be enough to suffocate him, I knew, and I just prayed he could hold it together. If he couldn't, he would be out of CI5 in the morning. If he survived. Splitting up from him was little less torture for me than him, but Cowley was right. Jax's group was still outside, Susan had her hands full with Murphy out of commission, and it was a bloody big house. Ruth Pettifer is not an 'active' operative; she and Michelle Scott are in administration and support. They were armed for their own defence -- and Cowley's -- but they were better off right where they were, waiting for the power to come back on so that the video system would be working again.

Anson met me in the hallway as Ray vanished into the darkness. He took the front of the house, I took the back, close enough to hear Ray fall over something, find the fusebox and curse fluently as he discovered damage. His voice was taut, strained, but he was keeping himself on a tight leash, breathing by willpower. I turned right, scouting the rooms behind the downstairs parlour and the stair well. And then, with such suddenness that even now I could not attest to where the blow came from, my own lights went out.

How long was I down? I don't know for sure, but it could not have been more than a minute. I came to as a door slammed, felt myself being hauled into the pit of darkness behind said door, and I could smell that telltale aroma of fermentation, dust and old cork. The wine cellar. There were voices, speaking over my head as they went over me in search of my sidearms, and I stiffened as I heard the lighter of the two, because it spoke with a broad Midlands accent that could have been Geordie and maybe held a touch of Scots about it.

Bullseye. It was the Riyadh group, it had to be. "You bloody fool," the Midlander was snarling. "You should have waited -- taken Epstein if you wanted to later, it's the bodyguards Moira wanted! Doyle. Bodie."

"Stuff the bodyguards," said a voice with a thick Lebanese accent, a voice I knew so well. It had spoken over the phone, telling Cowley and me that Ray was dead unless they got Moira in exchange. And with him was the man who had shoved a revolver into my lover's body and threatened to gut him the easy way. I saw red -- a tide of scarlet before my eyes as anger, sheer bloody fury, eclipsed whatever fear there had been at coming to as a prisoner.

They were arguing amongst themselves now. "It's Moira's show," the Midlander growled. "Epstein is not the target!"

"Moira and her blood hunts," the Arab spot. "Bugger the woman's fetishes. This was a political front not a bleeding hearts club. So Riyadh bought it --"

"Shh!" The Midlander hissed. "What's that?"

They were listening to feet on the stairs. Susan's or Anson's, I guessed -- not Ray, not Jax, the tread was too heavy for Ray's, too heavy for Jax's. "Christ, we've blown it," the Geordie muttered. "We just get out. Do it later. Doyle and Bodie will keep."

"Kill the one you've got," the Arab suggested glibly. "Can't afford noise, use the knife. You might get lucky, it might be one of them."

Luckier than you know, I thought feverishly. Come on, Ray, get the lights on, sunshine! To that point I had not allowed them to know I was awake; I was totally blind -- but then, so were they, and their only advantage was in the fact they were armed. A fat lot of good that does if you can't see the target! I was squirming away before they knew I was mobile, and behind the solid oak wine racks two seconds later.

The Midlander flung obscenities after me, but they were just a measure of his frustration and helplessness -- sticks and stones. It was a waiting game. They were prowling, searching, all I had to do was listen, move silently, and keep well out of their way. The wine cellar was a labyrinth and there was plenty of cover, and they did not dare use the guns, or attract the attention of half of CI5. The lights stayed off and I guessed the generator must be acting up; the things can be bitches, like any petrol engine. I was backed into a corner, sweating, listening to the men on the prowl, when I heard Ray's voice, not far away, muffled through the door.

"Nah, it's not going to work, sir." He was on the R/T. "They took the fuses out of the fusebox and threw them away, and the generator is as old as the hills. Won't start for me. Anson's having a look at it." Cowley's voice was too faint, and too distorted for me to catch a word of what was being said, but Ray responded, "yes, sir, they can't get out. They're in the house somewhere, but we've turned it inside out already." Cowley again, then Ray, a peculiar little catch in his voice: "cellars? I -- don't know." The boss once more, and my lover said, "will do," in a strange little voice, resigned and brittle. Cowley had just given him his orders, sweep the cellars.

Make or break, kill or cure, Mack and Towser would call it, and I held my breath, suffering it out with Ray. It's like running; there's a threshold where you think you can't go any further, there's a stitch creasing your side, your legs are aching, you're getting into an oxygen debt. You'd pay money for the privilege of stopping, but you're competing with the clock, or your running mate, or your instructor, or a record book, and you go on, and on. And then, suddenly, you're out the other side, the stitch is gone, the legs don't hurt, you feel that 'high', and it's over. All you have to have is the guts and determination to do it. We do it every year in the weeks before the physical; and Ray had the same obstacle course to scramble over that night. The door burst inward, bouncing back on its hinges, and an eye-destroying light swept once about the cellar before it was doused in under a second. That second is your margin for error, because of the sheer startlement of the light; after that second, the light becomes a target, and you with it. Feet came down the steps and I could hear Ray's breathing. I reckoned I had the advantage on the intruders: it was Ray they would be worried about, not me. "They're here," I said quietly, "I'm not hurt."

"Bodie!" A hiss of relief. "You armed?"

"No, they took everything I was carrying. To your left, Ray. Two of them, hiding behind the racks in the corner, unless I'm much mistaken."

I knew I was approximately right, and I could literally feel every move Ray made as he ducked under the cover of a work bench and positioned the flashlight. Same procedure, on and off so fast you don't make a target of yourself, and then get up and move a few yards, so they don't just lay down fire in your old position. This kind of work requires a mental agility that is enormous, and it's this very job that Kate Ross' computer tests are in aid of. How fast can you think? Act? React? How fast can your eyes relay data to your brain? How fast can your brain process what it sees and translate it into signals coming back to your arms and legs.

I was petrified. With Ray's difficulties with darkness he would be under par, I knew, and I wished we'd never heard of CI5 as the light flashed on, off, and the shooting started. He was moving, I could hear him, shoes, knees, hands, on the floor and racks, the cellar lit up with muzzle flashes from three weapons. Then a target went down, screaming curses in a thick Mid- Eastern dialect, and the Midlander spoke up. "Habib? Habib! Where are you hit, man?"

I heard Ray catch his breath, recognising the voice. "You hear that, Ray? It's the one who had you."

"I heard." Ray's voice was low and resonant, and with the diversion of action, and now the sudden realisation of who else was in this cellar, the darkness was no longer uppermost in his mind. "You know me?" He demanded, raising his voice, mocking, taunting. "You know me, course you do. Your mate's down, isn't he? My mate's loose, and so am I this time. What'll I do? What d'you reckon you deserve, Geordie? Can you think of anywhere I could ram this gun?"

A volley of shots echoed him, and in the glare of muzzle flashes I saw the man clearly, not ten feet from where I was crouching, close to the ground as ricochets whanged over our heads. And there was a bottle of wine on the bench beside me. It broke over the man's shoulders with a satisfying impact, the sweet, fruity smell of its contents mixing with the reek of cordite.

"Bodie? Bodie!" Ray's voice echoed back off the walls, and I realised he didn't know who had hit whom, because there was a thin, cutting edge of fear in his tone.

"S'okay," I drawled, very pleased indeed with myself. "I let him have it with the Riesling '69. Terrible waste of good wine, but still... Where are you, Ray?" We found each other by instinct, and I had his face between my hands, touching his mouth with my thumbs. He was shaking, but that was the result of thinking I'd just been laid out, and as I coughed on the cordite fumes the shakes lessened and were gone. "You okay?" I asked very quietly. "I mean, the other thing. It's godawful dark in here."

"I'm... okay," he whispered, and his hands closed on my wrists, while I cupped his face. He took a breath, two, and raised his voice."I mean that, Bodie. I'm okay -- it's over. I think it's over." He was hoarse, with relief, emotion, the chemical stink from the gunfire, but I could hear the strength in his voice and I took the opportunity afforded by the total blackout to plant a kiss on his mouth and squeeze his buttocks, a gesture of celebration he appreciated.

The lights came on half a second after I released him, a flood of yellow illumination cascading down from the open door at the head of the steps, and we took a look at the damage as I looked for the light switch. The Arab was conscious but out of his skull, a bullet in his chest, and the Midlander was flat on his face, out cold in a puddle of wine. Not a bad night's work, I decided as Ray brought the R/T from his pocket. "4.5 to Alpha. We've got two in the cellar, both alive, but we need an ambulance. Bodie's okay, but there's been a breakage."

I expect Cowley was thinking in terms of bones, and I was gratified by his concern before Ray made some droll remark about a bottle of wine. It was over, barring the shouting. There was an ambulance through the gates before we had left the cellar, since Susan had sent for it on Murphy's behalf, and I stood with Ray on the doorstep to watch Murph and the two intruders loaded onto it. Cowley was still busy, R/T in hand, co- ordinating a tailchase, copter against Jaguar, as one of our spotters picked up a vehicle retying to get out of the area too fast. Panic is a weapon you can use against the opposition. We listened as if to a radio drama as the chopper dogged the car through twisting English lanes, and a sniper blew its back tyre. It ploughed into a ditch and the occupants surrendered in the glare of the chopper's searchlights. Two men and a woman... A swarthy gent with a walking stick, a beautiful if rather plump lady with blazing eyes, and an Englishman whose name had to be Pip, because the Geordie who had abused my Ray was the one called Matt.

It was midnight when we had waded through the report, and although we knew we would spend the next day debriefing we felt let out of prison. The heat was off, the operation had mopped up a whole clutch of wanted gunmen, Cowley was smiling, Murphy was only nicked in his right arm and would be out of hospital the next day. As a blind run it had been a resounding success for the department; and on a personal level, it was at least as wonderful.

We got home at one in the am, pent up, hungry for sex to dispell the nervous energies. I had him first, perhaps a little violently, really letting him have it hard as he knelt on the foot of the bed, but it was what he needed. Must have been, because he was writhing and heaving with me every foot of the way and came after I did. Then we showered, had a drink, went to bed and he had me, equally as energetically, deep and hard and satisfying. Christ, I knew I'd been done when he was finished with me, and all we wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep off a day that had been about a hundred years long.

I woke first, and it was barely dawn. Ray was sound, flat on his face, mouth open, not quite snoring; and he was so deeply asleep I knew he must have been out for hours. So it was over. I hadn't meant to disturb him, I just wanted to look at him, and I lifted the bedding out of the way, content to simply watch him sleep for a time before that nut brown skin drew my fingers and, alas, he woke under my caresses. Sleepy eyes blinked at me, dreamy, dark, beautiful, and he smiled at me, the kind of smile you'd pay a fortune for if such things could be bought -- which they can't. I kissed him as he turned over, allowing me to play across his chest, and arousal was there again, natural and mutual.

I lay on him, rubbing slowly, as gentle as the night before had been hard and active, and he hugged his legs about my hips, head tipped back into the pillows, exposing the long, vulnerable line of his throat. I kissed him there, licking down the jugular, feeling the pulse of his blood, a quick, steady beat as his body met mine. If only every day could begin that way. Most of them do, but too often the job intrudes and spoils it. You learn to make the most of what you have, when you can grab the chance.

We came a little apart, which allowed me to watch his face as he came, eyes squeezed tight, anguished, delighted, needing so much, mouth open to gasp as he got close, nostrils flaring, and then, over the edge, a release of tensions and desires, hot splashes on my belly. I kissed him deeply as he got his breath back, feeiling his cock soften against my belly. He wriggled comfortably, arching his back under my weight, and went limp. "You're okay, aren't you?" I asked, smiling. "I mean, everything's okay, Isn't it?"

"I'm fine," he told me, fingers lacing behind my neck to pull my head down to his again. "I'm wonderful, if you must know. It was going into the cellar that did it, and hearing you there, and then him. It felt like -- I dunno, as if I was back in charge. Back in control. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah, it does." I tried to get up off him but he wouldn't let me, so I surrendered and let him hold my whole weight. He took it with an exhalation, a deep sigh, and closed his eyes.

"Love the feel of you," he confessed.

"Love your chest," I added, rubbing my own on his fur, which tickles, trying to match us nipple to nipple, for his pleasure. He's so beautiful in the vulnerable moments after loving that if he asked me to go and hijack the crown jewels, I think I'd take a crack at it. I couldn't refuse him anything. Not even breakfast in bed, which is probably even more absurd than Her Majesty's knickknacks.

We got out of bed minutes later, sticky and messy, and noticed the mess we'd made of the sheets the night before. It was my mess, not his, admittedly -- I was the one who had come all over the linen while he was inside me. I stripped the bed off without a complaint, discovering him standing in the bedroom doorway, watching me when he was supposed to have been running us a bath. I made some remark about voyeurism, which he answered with an angelic smile. There were still smudges beneath his eyes, the legacy of so many almost sleepless nights, but it was finished now, and everything was back to normal. Our professional lives, our love lives, everything.

The physicals came up in three months' time, two weeks of fun and games with the best instructors in the business, and I was relieved that Ray had beaten it his own way. Ross, Cowley, Crane, Macklin, none of them would ever known that 4.5 had gone through his own private purgatory, and there was nothing in his file to show for it. Mine shows the claustrophobic tendencies, Murph's show that he beat his fear of heights -- and well beat it, all honours are due there. Jax's file carries the little secret that birds give him the shakes.

I keep wondering what will happen if or when I'm called upon to face my own fear of tight little spaces, how I'll react, how I'll beat it, or even if. So long as Ray is there to help, I like to think I can do it. It's the goblin that has been one step behind me since I was four years old, the reason I chose Africa over the Merchant, and the Paras over the submarine service. The mere thought of submarines makes me shudder.

We spent the day debriefing as expected, a friendly interrogation as the whole thing was reduced to tape, and from tape, to transcripts for the files. Cowley was wearing a cat that swallowed the canary type smile. Moira Riyadh was back in prison, we had flushed a lot of nasties out of the woodwork, and with the exception of a nick in Murphy's right arm, we had suffered no casualties. We got off very lightly indeed.

The debriefing was finished at four, and we went over to the hospital to collect Murphy, ferrying him home with five stitches in his arm. He was up for a fortnight's leave and then physiotheraphy. It's a good thing he fancies the physio -- a gorgeous little blond with blue eyes and a turned up nose, tasty little lady with a warm heart and a sensual nature, if the stories told by her old boyfriends can be trusted. Murphy would be in good hands there. She winks at me and sighs over Ray, but it's just a pantomime, teasing us, because there's no secret about Ray and me. They rewrite the nonfraternisation rule in '81, and we were the cause of that. Now, agents can pair off, and there have been several marriages in the department. For years, Murph and Susie Fischer shared a flat, splitting up just last year and remaining close friends even though their affair is over.

I can't imagine splitting up with Ray. I don't have that kind of an imagination, or I'd have been a novelist. I shepherded my lover home, fed him Indian takeaway and had him for dessert in the bath. We were still celebrating our return to the status quo, and Ray was as eager for loving as ever, sprawled in the tub with the hot water turning him scarlet while I made a meal of him. In a week the smudges betraying sleepless nights were gone and we noticed that he had not dreamed since Cowley's blind run, no more waking up in a cold sweat with the phantom sensations of a revolver where it had no right to be. When November came around, and Ross was let loose on us, she would see only that 3.7 and 4.5 were operating very close to their optimum levels.

In every sense of the word, I thought drily, some Sunday morning when I was in a particularly beatific mood and Ray was having his evil way with me. He was at his best again, and I would say we're both the better for the experience. It was a time of learning, and learning is the only way you can grow. Cowley watches us, I know, and now and then I'm sure there's a trace of envy in those eyes as he sees how happy two people can be together. Perhaps it's too late for him now; perhaps Ray and I are just plain lucky.

But then, we always were.

-- THE END --

January 1988

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