Forget That I Remember, and Dream That I Forget
by Pamela Rose
(Swinburne -- "Rococo")
"Bodie, are you asleep again?"
A mock snore told Doyle that his comment had been heard. Doyle grinned and flicked down the switch on the r/t. "4.5 here. No sign of Odell yet. Not that we can see much in this bloody fog. Out."
Cowley's voice came back irritably, "Stay on it, 4.5. It should be any time now."
"Yeah," Doyle replied dryly, "an' if we see Jack the Ripper, we'll let you know."
He stuck the r/t back in his pocket and pulled his coat around him tighter. Bodie had settled on a window ledge, collar up on his plaid jacket, chin burrowed down, looking like a hedgehog curled up for the winter.
"I'm glad to see you're nice 'n' cozy, mate."
Bodie grunted acknowledgment without uncurling. "See if you can block that drip that keeps fallin' on me head, there's a good lad."
"The only drip I see is you --" Doyle broke off, pressing back against the wall. "He's here."
Bodie was up and crouched by Ray's shoulder, gun in hand, in less time than most men would be able to take in the words. "Sure it's Odell?"
"Suppose so. He's just standin' there by the phone box."
"Buggied, I take it, like the one in his hotel room?"
Doyle spared him an exasperated look. "Were you dozing in brief as well? How'd you think we knew where to go, you dolt?"
Bodie ruffled the back of his curls. "You're just jealous, Raymond."
"Father lets me get off with more than you."
"'Course he does. He knows you're a great lump --"
"Hush, he's gettin' a ring."
They watched as the man looked around, then ducked inside the box and picked up the receiver. In less than thirty seconds he was out again and moving rapidly down the street.
"4.5 to Alpha 1. He's taken a call, now he's heading off. Orders, sir?"
The r/t crackled back, "Pick him up."
Bodie took the left pavement, Doyle the right. They paced the man for a block then, with a signal from Bodie, they narrowed in.
"We've got Odell's contact now, but he's just one of the small fry. It's the main source we want, and we couldn't count on finding him by tailing Odell. We need a man inside." Cowley sat down behind the desk, straightening his leg with a wince of pain. "Damned damp weather; it's been givin' me fits."
Doyle toyed restlessly with a pen. "Has Odell talked at all?"
Cowley shook his head. "He's former SAS. We'll get nothing out of that one he doesn't want to spill. But he's here to take a job, that much we do know. It's not the job we're interested in, it's the people who will give it to him. Supplying mercenaries is only a sideline for them. Guns and munitions are their main business, and that's what we're concerned with stopping. The PM's tired of Britain being the central clearinghouse for other peoples' wars -- not to mention making it easier for terrorists to get their hands on firepower right here on home ground."
"I talked to Odell," Bodie commented. "He's not a bad chap."
Doyle tossed the pen on the desk. "Come on, Bodie! The man's a mercenary; a pound for penny killer."
The blue eyes turned on Doyle, suddenly cold. "Last I heard, you took a salary, Doyle. Don't be so bloody superior."
Before Doyle's temper could snap, Cowley broke in, "Odell isn't important. He was a means to an end and perhaps he can still be useful to us, in a manner of speaking. He's been out of the country until very recently -- El Salvador. Rumor has it he was working for the American CIA."
"Damned Nazi's," Doyle mumbled, throwing another dark look at his partner. He was already beginning to regret his remark about mercenaries, however. Bodie picked the oddest times to get touchy.
"That's not our business either, Doyle," Cowley said pointedly. "We want to get the person or persons managing this supply network. Thanks to Odell, we've now got the name of the first contact and the meeting place. Now all we need is someone to make the meet." His gaze fell on Bodie.
Bodie smiled lazily. "Yeah, I'll do it."
Doyle stood. "Wait a minute, sir. Why Bodie? For all we know they're familiar with Odell. If they think it's a setup, they'll shoot on sight."
Bodie shrugged. "It's unlikely they know him. When he left the SAS about three years ago, he took a couple of brief jobs in Jordan, then went straight on to South America. He wasn't even in the business when he was here, and this is his first time home in three years. No reason for them to know his face, only his reputation -- which must be good or they wouldn't be givin' him the time o' day. We know that much about this mob; they only deliver quality."
"Okay," Doyle agreed reluctantly, "I admit the odds are pretty good. But why should Bodie go in? I'm the usual undercover man."
"Not this time, 4.5," Cowley said sharply. "You don't have the necessary background. Bodie's former SAS," a pause, "and former mercenary. He knows how to deal with this lot, you don't."
Bodie smiled beatifically at Doyle. "And we're both Liverpool Irish."
"Oh, terrific. Makes all the difference."
"In any case," Cowley continued, "we'll go with Bodie on this one. I'll make sure all the identification gets altered tonight. We'll be keeping Odell in custody until this is all settled. Doyle, you'll be backup -- but from a distance, mind. A good distance. If this fouls up because of your carelessness -- either of you! -- I'll have your hides, understand?"
"Yes, sir," Doyle responded somewhat glumly.
"Yes, sir, " Bodie grinned triumphantly at Doyle. He was exceedingly weary of cold, damp alleys, of waiting nervously for Doyle's cover to fall apart, of wondering if his partner was alive or dead. Better to be inside for once, with only himself to worry about. "When do I start?"
"The meet was set for tomorrow evening. Report in the morning for briefing and to pick up your ID. From noon tomorrow, you'll be Ashly Odell. Reservations will have to be made at a different hotel on the chance the desk clerk or maids notice the change in Mr. Odell's appearance. Nothing too suspicious in that. In Odell's line of work, one is hardly known for stability. That's all for now. Oh, and Bodie --"
Bodie turned back from the door. "Yes, sir?"
"You'd best get all your affairs settled tonight. This may last for some time."
When they were out in the corridor, Bodie rubbed his hands together eagerly. "Well, what's on for tonight then, mate? A bit of pub crawling? Want me to ring up a bird of mine and see if she has a friend available?"
Doyle remained silent.
"What's wrong, mate?"
"Nothing. I don't feel like going out tonight."
"What? Hey now, it's eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we --"
The taller man stopped and put his hand on Doyle's shoulder. "Tell me, mate, what is it really? Did it get up your nose 'cause Cowley gave the job to me? That's not like you, Ray."
Doyle shook his head. "No, of course not. It's not that. I just don't like the whole setup. Got a bad feelin' ..."
"Oh come on, Ray. This is a piece of cake. A regular picnic compared to some jobs we've drawn. Don't beg for trouble, mate."
Doyle smiled. "I suppose you're right. Let it go then."
"That's the spirit." Bodie's eyebrows wriggled suggestively. "What about tonight then? Gonna send me off right, ain't you? Might be my last chance to get pissed for a while."
"Thought Cowley said for you to get your affairs settled."
"Which affair? Sharon? Marie? Cynthia?"
Doyle laughed. "You ass. You know what he meant."
Bodie shrugged. "Not much to settle, is there? I've never had a lot to tie me down. Where do you want to start, the Red Lion?"
"...never a lot to tie me down." The words echoed in Doyle's mind, free, light and airy. So unlike his own practical, earthbound existence.
Summoned from his reverie, Doyle smiled. "Whatever you say, mate. Red Lion it is."
They returned to Bodie's flat quite late, neither moving on perfectly steady legs. Doyle switched on a light and settled on the sofa with a relaxed sigh. Bodie insisted on pouring out still another drink.
"We've had enough," Doyle commented. "If you're playin' Odell tomorrow, you'll need your wits about you -- what few you have."
"Bloodshot eyes and a bit of booze on the breath is perfectly in character for an Irishman, Doyle. Or hadn't you heard what lushes we are?" He handed Doyle a glass and dropped down beside him. "We should've taken up with those three birds from Kent."
"One o' them had orange hair," Doyle pointed out.
"And a 'D' cup," Bodie added. "All cats are grey in the dark, Raymond old son."
"Somehow I think that one would've glowed like neon. No thanks." Doyle took a sip and leaned his head back. "Bodie?" he said after a minute.
"Yeah?" Bodie had also mellowed out. He'd pulled off his tie and unbuttoned his shirt halfway down his chest. He stretched out, legs sprawled, eyes closed.
"Did you really want a bird tonight?"
"Nah." He opened his eyes and turned to look at Doyle. "Why'd you ask?"
"Dunno. Just didn't want to get in your way is all."
Bodie blinked in surprise. "Get in me way? How's that? Since when've you been in my way?"
"Well, I wasn't in much of a mood tonight ..." he trailed off, taking another drink.
Bodie patted his thigh. "Ah, Raymond, I use you as bait, you see."
"Eh?" Doyle looked at him fuzzily.
"Yeah. Tie a line around you, toss you out on the dance floor, then reel you in with birds nibblin' all over you. The sport's in the catchin', even if you throw 'em back later."
Doyle started giggling, and Bodie took the drink back before it could slosh on his sofa. "Bodie, you're rotten. Low class, hed-- hedonistic, uncouth, chau...chav...chauvin --"
"Chauvinist?" Bodie finished helpfully.
Bodie nodded solemn agreement. "And I despise dogs and small children."
Doyle laughed again. "Nah ... you like kids. Don't you like kids?"
"Most of 'em, yeah, I guess."
Doyle retrieved his glass and took another large gulp. "You want any? Kids, I mean?"
Bodie considered it. "Maybe. Haven't thought about it much. You?"
"Don't think so. With Ann I mighta --" He broke off and waved the thought away. "Never mind. Where was I?"
"Shredding my character."
"Oh yeah ... well, 'spite of all that ... you bein' a louse, I mean ... I like you, Bodie."
"'Fess up, Ray -- it's because I'm a louse."
"No, I'm serious, Bodie. You're a good friend, bes' mate, you are."
Bodie studied his glass. "Ta, mate. But you was always a bad judge a' character, wasn't you?"
Doyle ignored him, concentrating fuzzily on the next thing he had to say. "I wish you wasn't goin' in tomorrow. Don't like it. I know it seems safe enough and all, but this mob is hard going. Big money, lot o' power. Crossin' them could get --"
"We're not goin' over this again, are we?" Bodie cut him off. "It's just another job, Ray. You're makin' too much of it." He looked Doyle over with slightly unfocused eyes. "An' you're drunk."
"Who's not? You wanted to get pissed, you said. I'm not allowed?"
"Not and be serious at the same time. Some kinda law, I think. Besides, you get maudlin."
"I do not," Ray said, offended.
Bodie grinned. "Yes you do. Weep all over my sleeve. Seen it more times than I can count."
Doyle started to retort hotly, but thought better of it. Instead, he said, "I'm not now. Just worried, is all."
Irritated, Bodie sat his glass down on the table with a thunk. "And you don't think I do, you sod? What about the times you're inside, eh? What about that bit where you played the South African bloke ... VanNeeKirk, wannit? Thought you'd bought it for sure, I did. It was no day o' joy for me either, you know. Worried sick, I was. Had a blow up with the Cow over it, too. It cuts both ways, son."
Ray regarded him blearily. "You were worried about me, Bodie?"
"'Course I was. What'd y'think?"
"You never said."
"Well I wasn't about to go blubberin' over your shirt front, was I? It all came out a'right."
Ray's eyes were wide and glowing, his face suddenly lit with something almost incandescent. Bodie found he couldn't look away. He noticed absently how long Doyle's hair had gotten, how soft it felt against his hand where it lay on the back of the sofa. Their gaze held for a very long time, the room suddenly crackling with an unknown electricity.
"Bodie," it was hardly a breath. He reached out to touch the flushed cheek. "What are you thinking?"
Bodie swallowed painfully, knowing he couldn't say it, didn't dare. "What are you thinkin', sunshine?"
Doyle's eyes didn't waver. "Dunno. Haven't figured it out yet."
Bodie stood up abruptly, breaking the trance. "When you do, be sure to let me know, eh? Time to hit the hay. You can kip out on the couch, if you like. Blankets in the cupboard."
"I know." A long pause. "Bodie?"
He halted but didn't turn. "We're drunk, Ray. Let it go for now."
"Thanks for tellin' me."
"Telling you what?"
"That you worried."
"You never knew? Christ, how could you not know?"
"I just didn't. Didn't think about it, I suppose."
"So now I know."
Bodie started to go into the bedroom, but Doyle stopped him again.
Exasperated and a bit unnerved by his partner's strange mood, Bodie turned to face him at last. "What?"
"Goodnight." Doyle smiled, the eyes shadowed and incredibly catlike.
"G'night." Bodie escaped to his bedroom before Doyle could decide what he was hunting.
From his car across the road from the pub, Doyle watched as Bodie exited and moved purposefully down the street. He gave a signal, subtle but readable, and Doyle spoke into the r/t. "He's got some information, but not what we need. Probably the job for Odell. He wants more time. Should I make contact and get more of a report?"
"Negative, 4.5. Hold back. If there was anything important, he'd contact us. It looks like the first step was successful. I'm taking the watch off the hotel."
"What?" Doyle stared at the r/t accusingly. "You can't do that; it'll leave him wide open."
"4.5, if they're considering Bodie for more than hired muscle, they'll be watching him closer than ever. We can't take the chance of being spotted. He'll have to be on his own for a bit. He can handle it." Cowley's voice narrowed to a warning tone. "Report back to HQ."
"Yes, sir," said through clenched teeth. He signed off but remained where he was a moment, watching Bodie's departing figure. The man moved surely, purposefully. If Doyle had been called a cat, then Bodie was a wolf. His tread more heavy, powerful.
Doyle pulled the car out slowly, ducking in behind a lorry so he could keep his speed down and watch his partner.
Unsurprisingly, his thoughts returned to the previous night. The memory wasn't as sharp as he'd of liked it to be, but the feelings were perhaps even stronger; he'd had more time to consider them. He still didn't care to put a name on the feelings; they were too new, too unsure. But, for the first time in the years he had known him, he was certain of how Bodie felt toward him. Ray acknowledged to himself that he'd never been the best judge of character, nor exactly quick on the uptake in cases like this, but looking back on it now, he could hardly conceive of his own blindness. Bodie had always treated him with velvet gloves, customarily sweet tempered and wonderfully understanding of his partner's various and unstable moods. But what Doyle had never really considered was that this was a condition extending particularly toward him. Bodie cared for him. Certainly he'd never said it outright, but he had made no special secret of it either.
When he looked back, it seemed that Bodie was always there, supporting, comforting, teasing. Usually judging his partner's mood and needs flawlessly and offering up the suitable panacea.
Tallying up the flip side, Doyle realized with a flush of guilt that he came up sadly lacking. Bodie always put on such a show of being so bloody independent, he'd just taken for granted that he preferred it that way. But would Bodie come out and say differently? Perhaps it was time to look a little closer.
He did so as he passed him now, giving him a crooked grin. Bodie acknowledged his presence with a flicker of lashes, but kept his face expressionless. Doyle turned off at the next road, moving in the direction of headquarters.
When this was all over, they had a lot to talk about.
When Bodie left the restaurant it was late, but he decided to walk back to his hotel. Although it was damp and the mist was even heavier than it had been the night before, the hotel wasn't far and he thought the cold air would clear his mind.
The job was going well up to this point. Pearson, the contact he met earlier, had not doubted his identity, had given him the job and an envelope stuffed with cash. Attaining access to someone higher in the organization was trickier. The plan, as most good plans, was simple and direct. Bodie did a convincing song and dance about having an American associate who wished to sell a large supply of American issue armaments. Knowing Odell's contacts with the CIA, this brought immediate interest. Bodie then explained that any deal would have to be much more private than this; he would only make an information exchange with a top man. Pearson had been unhappy with this, but understood the need for caution. He'd promised to get in touch once he checked with his superiors.
Bodie had come out of the meeting feeling very pleased with himself. He'd noted Doyle across the street and had given the signal for him to stay clear. But he'd felt the green eyes follow him for the next two blocks. It was irritating, although safe enough at this point. He knew what disturbed him more was the way Doyle was watching him.
Bodie was no innocent. He recognized that look quite well; had seen it on many faces. In the army, in the SAS, in public school for that matter. Any place where men suddenly started favoring men -- through choice or necessity. The expression was a strange combination of unwilling admiration, awe, lust, and frightened revelation that the feeling could happen to them. But he'd never, in his darkest most secret dreams, imagined he'd see it in Doyle's eyes.
Taking Doyle to bed and having it off presented no problem. God knows the situation had been a standard fantasy for the last couple of years. It was the aftermath he dreaded. Ray Doyle was a self- consciously macho little bastard at the best of times, overcompensating perhaps for his size and his sensitive, artistic nature. Homosexual experimentation wasn't in his books, and Bodie was willing to bet his expense chits that it never had been. Not that Doyle was a prude or unopen to new ideas. Far from it -- he was probably the least prejudiced person Bodie had ever met. Still, with something as volatile as this, it was impossible to predict the results, and that was what worried Bodie the most. The backlash to such a situation could be painful. Doyle meant a lot to him; too much to risk on this. He had to be very sure of what Ray really wanted and why before it went any further.
Bodie stepped off the curb to cross the street to the hotel, his chin tucked down against the cold drafts. The street held an unnatural quietness, the secretive muffling common to a fog-laden night. The sound of an approaching car registered dimly, but before he could react, it was upon him.
The screeching of brakes on wet pavement alerted him to jump back, but not quite quick enough. The mudguard clipped him in the side, throwing him back into the gutter, the side of his head striking the edge of the pavement.
Through a building wave of pain, he heard sounds. A car door slamming. Footsteps. A voice, ridiculously young, breaking in mid-sentence.
"I think he's dead. Blimey, you've killed 'im!"
Another voice, farther away. "Get back here, Joe! Get in, quick!"
"I told you not to switch off the headlamps ... I told you ..."
"Get in, you bloody ass! Let's get outa here before someone sees --"
The sound cut off like someone switching down the volume on the radio. Only his heartbeat remained, painful thuds against his chest. He could feel wetness gather on his face as time passed and the mist settled on his skin. He couldn't see, couldn't move, couldn't hear except for the ocean roar in his head, louder and louder, covering his world in a cold blackness.
It was the cold that woke him finally. He shivered violently and his ribs cried out in protest at the movement. Groaning, he lifted his head. He couldn't see for a moment, his eyes refusing to focus. The grey and black world finally settled down to the blurred glow of a street lamp, the light vainly trying to cut through the fog. As he tried to sit up his head throbbed wildly. Instinctively putting his hand up, he brought it back sticky and wet.
Searching in his coat pocket for a handkerchief to wipe off the blood, he came up with a key. He stared at it for a moment. Hotel Chelsea.
He struggled to his feet, his side and head both aching unbearably. Across the road he caught the pale neon flicker of the sign. The H and the L were both burned out, but it looked familiar. He made his way unsteadily across to it and went inside.
A man moved forward quickly as he collapsed against the front desk.
"Mr. Odell! Are you all right, sir? You're bleeding! What's happened?"
"I ... A car ... I don't know ..."
"I'll call the police --"
"No." He caught the clerk's arm. "I don't like coppers."
The man hesitated. "A doctor then. Maybe you should go to hospital?"
"No ... I think I'm okay. Just a bit stunned." He dropped the key on the desk. "Just help me ... to my room."
By the time he reached the room, the blackness was closing in again. The desk clerk practically carried him the last steps to the bed.
"Sir, I really think you should have some attention --"
"No, just let me sleep."
"Thanks for the help ... I just need some quiet ... some rest ..."
As he trailed off, the clerk stood there uncertainly. But he had had ample time to see the gun strapped under the man's armpit. He wasn't disposed to argue with that. He shrugged and left, locking the door carefully behind him.
The next time he woke, it was the late afternoon sun hitting his eyes through a chink in the shade. He rolled over, trying to ignore the pain by slipping back into unconsciousness. Sleep stubbornly eluded him. He turned back over, looking at the sunshine. The old man will be pleased; the weather's changed. But he didn't stop to think how it had changed or what old man.
He did feel marginally better, though. He found he could sit up, make it to the bath, and splash water over his face. He saw the blood crusted on his forehead and wondered vaguely what had happened. The headache was at least bearable now, not as painful as his side at least. Although he couldn't remember his head hurting quite this badly --
He stopped abruptly, staring in the mirror.
What was the thought he'd just had? He couldn't remember a headache this bad ...
He couldn't remember a ... Christ, he couldn't remember.
Shaking, he leaned against the wash basin, panic inching in.
Couldn't remember. Couldn't remember.
The face stared back at him from the mirror, obviously just as lost as he was, and totally unhelpful.
"This is crazy," he muttered to his reflection. "Crazy." The face in the mirror seemed to agree, but was only vaguely familiar.
He turned away, switching on the shower full force, refusing to deal with this. He pulled off his jacket, unsnapped the gun harness, and jerked off the remainder of his clothes without paying much attention to what he was doing. When the water was steaming, he stepped under the flow, letting it wash over him. He inspected his ribs; the side was discoloring brilliantly, but nothing felt broken. While lathering his short hair, he discovered a painful lump above and to the back of his left ear.
He remembered fog then, and pain, and voices saying he was dead.
"I was run down," he mused aloud to the shower nozzle. "The little bastards hit me and left me layin' in the gutter." He shut off the water angrily and stepped out. He dried off, furious. "The bloody, careless brats ..." Then halted, eyes caught again by the semi-familiar reflection in the mirror.
"Christ, what's happening?"
The voice was barely a whisper and frighteningly unknown. The panic came again, and this time refused to be shunted aside.
"Who the hell am I?"
He almost gasped as the question came out of himself. How can I not know?
Back in the bedroom, he opened the bureau. The clothes he put on fit perfectly. His clothes, of course. Why wouldn't they fit? But everything seemed foreign, felt new.
He found a valise on the floor of the closet and dumped its contents on the bed. A thick envelope fell out, along with a plastic folder and a flutter of loose papers. He picked up the envelope first. It was full of money. He counted it. Nearly four thousand pounds. He opened the folder. It contained a passport, release papers from the army, a photostat of a resignation form from the SAS, a crumpled newspaper clipping on a guerrilla war between Libya and the Republic of Chad. He turned over the passport. The picture matched the reflection he'd seen in the mirror. Ashly Odell, Liverpool, GB.
His nose crinkled distastefully at the name. Ashly? Ridiculous. Didn't feel right at all. But perhaps he only used the one name. Odell. It sounded better. Odell, Liverpool. Liverpool Irish ... A strong note of familiarity rang in his mind. Yes.
He sorted through the other things. Army ... yes, that too. He remembered the army. Boring, bleak ... Belfast and 'keeping the peace' ... The SAS. Sharper memories stirred. The rush of old excitement, challenge ... it all fit precisely in some corner of his mind. But it dead- ended there.
Frustrated, he shuffled through the rest, found the plane ticket. London to Tangier, the 24th. Again a rustle of memory. He knew Tangier ... knew Africa. Was that his home now? No, not home. But there was something ... What?
Recalling that he hadn't checked the pockets of the clothes he'd been wearing, he went back to the bath and investigated, finding his purse. Not much inside. More money, a driver's license issued in El Salvador, two names and addresses scribbled on a scrap of paper. Another newspaper article; this one in Spanish, more faded and older than the other. He couldn't read it.
He returned to the bed and picked up the other one. Several lines of print were underlined heavily.
ALTHOUGH THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT DOES NOT OFFICIALLY CONDONE THIS OPERATION, THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF CHAD IS RUMORED TO BE HIRING PROFESSIONAL MERCENARIES TO ASSIST IN THEIR EFFORTS AGAINST THE INCREASING INCURSION INTO THEIR TERRITORY BY LIBYAN GUERRILLAS. FOR THE LAST THIRTEEN YEARS CHAD HAS BEEN TORN BY AN INTERNAL CONFLICT BETWEEN MUSLIM AND CHRISTIAN FORCES ...
He glanced at the envelope of money, then reread the names and addresses he'd found. The first address was in Tangier; the second was a Colonel Vandemeer in Fort Lamy, Chad.
He picked up a packet of French cigarettes from the bed table, lit one and inhaled deeply. So what now? Everything seemed familiar ... yet not familiar. He was no longer frightened, but the confusion remained. The plane ticket, the money, the addresses all added up to one obvious fact. He was being hired as a mercenary. Why else the clipping? And it felt right, felt like something well known to him. But other pieces of his life were blank. There was more, much more. But what?
Another stab of pain from his head reminded him that he still felt like hell. He crushed out the cigarette and brushed everything off the bed, too tired to think about it any longer. He laid down and buried his face in the pillow.
"Left the country?" Doyle stared at Cowley as if he'd grown two heads.
"That's what I said, 4.5. This morning on the 10 o'clock flight to Tangier."
Doyle waited a moment, trying to take it in. "Why would he do that?"
"I don't know. I just got word from Customs an hour ago. I was hoping you might have a thought on the matter." Cowley tossed a folder down on the desk violently. "What's he up to, Doyle? It doesn't make sense!"
"You're sure it was Bodie?"
"He used the Odell passport. He's checked out of the hotel."
Doyle hazarded, "Maybe he's following up a lead --"
"Outside of the country? Don't be daft! What good would that do? We want the men here! What the bloody hell does he think he's doing?"
Doyle had no answer, still trying to absorb the shock.
Cowley remained silent for a long time. Finally, he picked up the phone. "Get hold of 6.2. Tell him to locate the contact 3.7 met last night at the Blue Boar Tavern. Name of Pearson. Yes, as quickly as possible. Track him down and bring him in."
Doyle looked up, even more confused. "But if you do that, the whole operation will be blown. You said yourself that Pearson was - --"
"A small fry, yes." Cowley slammed his fist down on the desk in frustration. "Wake up to it, Doyle! The case is already botched! We'll not get another man in there now, not as things stand. Bodie's ruined our chances of getting closer to the target."
"Bodie ..." Doyle trailed off, shaking his head. "I don't understand."
"Nor do I, lad." He hesitated. "We can't disregard the possibility he sold out."
Doyle straightened in his chair. "You can't be serious. Bodie?"
Cowley made an impatient gesture. "Och, man, do y' think I want to believe that? But it must be considered. It's not a pleasant thought for either of us, but I've had men go bad before."
"Not Bodie," Doyle said stubbornly. "I know him. He wouldn't --"
"We both knew Martin as well," Cowley cut in angrily. "I knew Colin Meridith. Do you think it was easy to believe it of them, either? And I knew them both a hell of a lot longer than you've known Bodie."
"I still think you're jumping to conclusions. We've no proof -- "
"Aye, I know that. And I also know there was no reason for him to go tearing off on his own like this. He's picked a time when he'd have a good head start on us, too."
"You're not sayin' he planned this, surely?"
"At this point I don't have enough facts to say anything for certain. Except that we must have him back, one way or another. He knows too much."
"Knows too much?" Doyle repeated caustically. "Since when do any of us know any more than we have to just to get by? Bodie doesn't know any state secrets! We're the bottom of the pole, the muscle men. Now you're talking like he's another Philby."
"Nevertheless, what he does know would be extremely useful to ... say the IRA. Procedures, methods of operation, codes ... how much would certain groups pay for that kind of information, Doyle? Whatever he's up to, he must be stopped."
Doyle's eyes widened. "This is Bodie you're talking about, sir. You're not meaning t.w.e.p., are you? That's insane!"
Cowley's gaze met the younger man's levelly. "We hope it doesn't come to that."
"We hope?" Doyle said bitterly. "You aren't suggesting it's a real possibility? I don't believe this."
Out of patience, Cowley stood and limped to the window. "What would you do in my place, Doyle? It must be considered! Even if neither of us damn well likes it!" He quieted. "We don't know all the facts yet. Nothing is definite."
"But it looks bad, doesn't it?"
"I'm afraid it does."
Doyle studied his hands. "So what do we do now?"
"Find Pearson; get what information he has."
Doyle was thinking of something else. "Why Tangier?"
Cowley shrugged. "It's a good place to lose oneself. A good place to hide. We've not many operatives there; Bodie knows that."
"But maybe that's not it at all," Doyle mused.
Doyle shook his head. "Maybe nothing. It's just ... if he wanted to get clear away, there must be better places. Places where a British citizen would be less noticeable -- South Africa, Hong Kong, even America. Perhaps our assumptions are all wrong, and he's not running at all."
"I'm not following you. Say what you mean, man."
"All right. Listen, sir, Odell was a mercenary. Pearson was setting him up with a job, right? What kind of job would it be? Tangier is close to a lot of action. The Middle East, Lebanon, Syria --"
"You think he's taking up the job Odell was given? That's senseless! Why, in the name of heaven, would he do that?"
"I ..." Doyle's eyes dropped. "I dunno. It does seem pointless. But he wouldn't be doing that if he sold out, would he? He'd skip for someplace it'd be harder to trace him."
"In other words," Cowley returned sarcastically, "you prefer to believe he merely deserted. Went back to his old line of work without bothering to give notice."
Doyle couldn't help but smile at the outrage in Cowley's voice. "Well, sir, it's not the army, is it? I mean, we could do that, if we wanted."
"Not without a debriefing! It's --"
"In the small print, yes, I know," Doyle finished ruefully. He looked thoughtful. "That's not really what I meant, anyway. There'd be no reason for him to go off like that, would there? I mean, if he just decided to chuck it all, why use Odell's name? Why not go as himself?"
"So we're back to the first point again."
Doyle's face hardened. "I don't believe he sold out, sir. I can't believe it. There's another answer. There must be."
"Aye, I think the same. With luck, Pearson will know something. If he will talk."
"Oh, he'll talk," Doyle said quietly.
Odell stared out the dirty plane window, trying very hard to think of nothing.
The plane was a former Aussie military transport, a Gooney Bird C-47, held together with masking tape and determination. One engine sputtered ominously, but Odell wasn't concerned. He'd flown these birds before, and had confidence in their ability to cough and sputter their way anywhere and never give up. This particular plane had probably flown supplies to Tunisia and Tripoli in the Second World War, and was doing the same thing now for a very different war.
The Aussie pilot nudged his arm and grinned. "Loaded the old girl a bit tight back there, mate. Want to jump out an' give us some altitude?"
Odell smiled back. "With or without a chute?"
"Oh, with, of course. You think the blokes that hired us are purse-pinchers? You can use my hanky."
"Thanks just the same, but I'll wait a bit. Figure all your hot air will keep us well up."
The Aussie laughed. "That's right enough. Odell, isn't it?"
"Didn't have much time for introductions before the wheels were up. Guess you figured I'm Gibson, though. Call me Gib."
"This your bird, Gib?"
"In a manner of speaking. No one else would claim her, certainly. Made a deal with a officer chap right before we bugged out of Saigon. Didn't figure the ol' girl would make it out. I thought she would; Mabel has heart, y'know. Anyway, if I got her up, she was mine. If she crashed, she belonged to the bloody government again. Fair trade, we reckoned."
"Sounds so. Nobody missed it later?"
Gibson waved an airy hand. "Blamed it on the Yanks, most likely. Always losin' things, don't y'know? Couldn't keep track." He glanced over at his passenger. "You been in Africa before?"
Gibson whistled. "Ugly time there. Used to fly a few irons and biscuits there from time to time. Didn't care to stay long. 'Course where you're headin' now is no Sunday picnic, either. Lot o' black blokes dressed in sheets fightin' a passel o' Arabs comin' down from the north with cutters clenched in their nasty teeth."
"You make it sound so charming."
"Not my style at all."
Bodie fell silent, looking back out the window.
"Angola, you say?" the gregarious pilot continued. "Thought they'd told me you were some other place over across ... some bloody little country in South America or somewhere. No, Central America, it was. El Salvador, wasn't it?"
The pain twinged again above his ear. He closed his eyes, waiting for it to pass. "Yeah."
"Pretty senoritas, eh?"
A curious inner blankness mocked him. From the blankness rose a flash of memory, '...probably thinks Latin America is a place where they speak Latin...' and an answered voice, 'Well, 'tis, innit?' but it was too dim to catch and hold, and the effort sharpened the pain in his skull.
"What d'ya say, Odell?"
"About the birds! Good, were they?"
"Like anyplace, I reckon. Birds are birds."
"Well, here you get only dark meat. Doesn't bother you, eh?"
Again a wisp of memory, nastier this time. '...get a taste for the dark meat, did you? Little ravers, some o' them, aren't they?' This one he pushed away; there was something distasteful behind it.
"Drop it, will ya?" he said flatly. "I want to get some sleep."
"No offense, mate."
"None taken. Just got a bit of a headache, is all."
"Late night in Tangier, was it?"
"Yeah, somethin' like that."
"Four thousand pounds, an airline ticket to Tangier, and the name of the contact to meet him there." Cowley lifted his gaze from the notepad. "That's all Pearson knows -- or all he's telling. None of which explains why Bodie took that flight."
"The four thousand pounds?" Murphy suggested. "It is a bit of flash."
Doyle's strained temper snapped. He had the agent by the collar and up against the wall before Murphy could react.
"What are you saying, Murphy? That Bodie's bent? That he took the friggin' money and ran? You --!"
"Doyle, stop it!"
Doyle took a deep breath and released him. Murphy straightened his coat, the outburst making him sympathetic rather than angry.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I like Bodie, too, you know." He looked over at Cowley uncertainly. "But I thought ... well, I took it for granted that ..."
"You were quite right, Murphy," Cowley broke in. "All the possibilities have to be discussed. And Doyle, if you can't keep in line, get out. Throwing tantrums won't help the situation."
"Yes, sir," Doyle replied sullenly, but his face unclenched. He threw an apologetic look at the other agent. "Sorry, Murph."
It had been nearly a week since Bodie's disappearance, and more than enough time for Doyle's nerves to reach a breaking point. It had taken that long to locate Pearson. As someone had pointed out early on, Bodie's sudden bug-out had probably spooked Pearson into making himself very scarce, and making the job of tracking him down that much harder. What time Doyle hadn't spent searching for Pearson, he'd been violently defending his partner against speculation, innuendo, and worse from inside the department. It had been a very unpleasant week for everyone.
Cowley waited for Doyle to sit down before continuing. "At least we know 3.7's final destination. Fort-Lamy."
Doyle looked up. "Where's that?"
"The Republic of Chad. There is an undeclared war between Chad and Libya, with increasing Libyan raids. The drought there has escalated the fighting. The government -- unofficially aided by France - -- has been hiring mercenaries to help train their forces and lead counter-attacks against the Arab guerrillas. A minor war, nothing to make more than the back pages of the Sunday supplements, but a nasty one, nonetheless."
"You think that's what Odell was being hired for?" Murphy asked.
"According to Pearson, those were the instructions he gave Bodie. Odell was to meet a man named Gibson in Tangier."
Doyle jumped in, a bit too eagerly. "Perhaps that's it. Maybe Bodie thought this Gibson fella knew something about the mob here."
Cowley shook his head. "I've been in touch with the French OAS. Their man in Tangier knows Gibson. He's an Australian pilot that does free-lance work, mostly for the French. He does a bit of smuggling from time to time, some gun-running for the Lebanese, but nothing too heavy. Never been caught at it, in any case. In this instance it's no more than a simple cargo run -- not even remotely illegal, since the weapons and supplies he carried were bought from the French government, all on the up and up."
"And Odell was merely part of the cargo," Murphy put in. "Or Bodie, rather."
"We know for a fact, that Bodie did get on that plane and did go to Fort-Lamy. There's certainly not that much air traffic in and out of that city lately. It looks as if Doyle was right, and Bodie is taking Odell's place all the way. But we still have no reasons."
Doyle stood up. "So when do I leave, sir?"
Cowley's eyes snapped up. "You? Don't be daft, man. I won't send you."
Doyle's face flushed at the tone. "Why not?"
"Be sensible, lad. You've never been off this island in your life."
"I'll manage. I'm hardly helpless, am I?"
Cowley sighed, knowing the stubborn look far too well. "Do you speak French, Doyle? Arabic?"
Doyle's expression was wary. "A bit of French. Enough to get by, maybe." He saw the look in Cowley's eyes and exploded, "So what if I don't? It doesn't exactly trip off Bodie's tongue either, y'know! And it's been years since he was out of the country."
Murphy snorted. "You could set Bodie down in the middle of the bloody jungle and he'd be playin' cricket with the baboons within a week."
Doyle scowled at him. "I don't see it makes a difference. Not every man they hire can have experience in Africa, can they? What the hell does Bodie know of Central America for all that? Yet he's convinced them he's Odell, hasn't he? Give me my due, sir, I'm no bloody amateur at this game!"
Cowley took a deep breath. "I know your qualifications better than you do, 4.5, but this simply isn't in your league. Whatever Bodie is playing at, those men he's with in Chad won't be in on it. They think he's Odell, if they find out different, it might be his death warrant, and yours too if you go blundering in there. Bodie is ex-para, ex-SAS ... ex-mercenary, as well. He knows the ropes. You're --"
"Nothing but an ex-street cop, I know," Doyle broke in sharply. "But I was good enough for CI5, wasn't I? Or has that changed?"
That stopped Cowley for a moment. "Nevertheless, MI5 has more --"
"MI5?" Doyle cut in again. "I thought you were the man who cleaned his own doorstep? You're farming it out now?"
For the second time, Cowley was brought up short. The blue eyes flashed dangerously. "For that matter, I've got better qualified men available in CI5 than you are for this job, Doyle."
"Those other men don't know Bodie!" He hurried on before Cowley's Scottish temper could blow. "Hear me out, sir. Whatever Bodie is up to -- whatever his reason for doing this ... even if he has sold out -- who's the person he's most likely to talk to? Anyone else goes after him will likely end up with their brains blown out ... especially if he has gone bad."
"And you're so sure he won't do that to you?" Murphy asked quietly. "Bodie isn't exactly the most predictable chap we know."
"He won't kill me," Doyle said with conviction. He bit his lip. "At least he'll think twice about it."
Cowley's blue eyes bored into Doyle's. "The bottom line is --"
"The bottom line," Doyle leaned forward, both hands flat on the desk, facing him off furiously, "is that, send me or not, I'm going. With or without your approval ... sir."
Cowley stood. "You've done this before, Doyle; gave me an ultimatum. It's not something it's safe to make a habit of."
Doyle backed off a bit. "Sorry, sir. I didn't mean it quite that way. But you must see I'm right about this." His chin lifted. "I was right the last time, wasn't I?"
The old man studied the young man thoughtfully. "So you were." He turned away. "All right, we'll go with it then. You'll obviously be no use here until this is cleared up. Go on down to Documents and see about getting your papers in order. I'll get you a line with French Intelligence -- if they're willing to help us on this. Their man in Tangier might be useful."
Doyle felt relief wash over him. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
When he'd left the office, Murphy moved over to the desk. "Do you think this is wise, sir? I've never seen Doyle so ..."
"Aye. But we've not a lot of choice. He's right about one thing. He's the only one with a chance of bringing Bodie back -- whether he wants to come or not."
Murphy looked doubtful. "But will Doyle make it back?"
Cowley had no answer for that.
Raul Arbiand, the French OAS man in Tangier, was friendly but cautious. Cowley had warned Doyle to expect this. While diplomatic courtesy dictated that the Intelligence organizations assist each other, there was more than a little uneasy shuffling taking place. There was no getting around the fact that the French still held psychological claims to a great deal of northern and central Africa, just as the British did in the south. This whole situation could be construed as intrusion on their particular territory. And France and Britain had seldom been on more than coldly polite terms at best.
Arbiand motioned for Doyle to sit. "Your Monsieur Cowley has spoken with me. He tells me you have ... misplaced one of your people, no?"
Doyle's jaw tightened, but he kept his composure. "Not exactly. I'm here to find out what happened, actually. According to your reports, Bodie left for Chad with a pilot named Gibson."
"A man calling himself Odell was a passenger on that plane, yes. It departed for Fort Lamy ten days ago. That is the extent of my knowledge, monsieur."
"And how did you know about that particular passenger?"
"It is ... how do you say? ... my business to keep an open eye for such things. It is your business as well, no? In any case, Monsieur Gibson is a friend I have."
"A friend? How well do you know him?"
The Frenchman's eyes sharpened. "It is always to one's advantage to know men who work for so many different people. One learns much, yes? Gibson likes to talk; me, I listen. As to how I know him --" a gaelic shrug. "We drink together when he is in Tangier. He is a pleasant companion."
"Where is he now?"
"That, I do not know. I have suspicion that it is perhaps a ..." he searched for the word for a second, "... shady deal. But it is not shady toward French interests, so I do not look so closely." He shrugged again.
"But he returned from Chad?"
"Oh yes. He does not stay there long. Only short cargo flights." He smiled, flashing very white teeth. "Very legal. What he does now is further east, not south."
Doyle thought a moment. "Do you know why he was taking Bodie to Chad?"
The Frenchman's face closed up. "I do not ask that, either."
Doyle leaned forward impatiently. "He was signing on as a mercenary, wasn't he? What do you know about that? You must know some contacts there; where he would go." When Arbiand didn't answer, Doyle continued sharply, "The French government is backing the operation, that's obvious. Chad couldn't pay the kind of money they're offering."
The brown eyes were hard now. "You know that as a fact, Monsieur? You have proof perhaps?"
Doyle sat back, taking a deep breath. "Listen, I don't give a bloody damn what your government is up to. I'm just interested in finding Bodie. I need a way in."
Arbiand relaxed a trifle. "What do you intend to do?"
"Follow him, find him. I'll take it from there."
"Into the mercenary camp?"
"Do you have a better suggestion?"
The Frenchman looked doubtful. "You think this wise? I know enough of these men to be certain they would not like being fooled. If they find who you are, they would most certainly kill you."
"So they won't find out."
The other man remained silent for a time, turning over a piece of amber on his desk. "Very well, Monsieur Doyle. I will see what I can do for you. When my friend Gibson returns, I will provide transportation with him. It will give you a better start than if you went there another way. The men you are looking for have much dealings with him."
"How long will this take?" Doyle asked.
"That I cannot say. A week or two. Perhaps longer. Monsieur Gibson's schedule is somewhat erratic, you must understand."
"Two weeks ..." Doyle bit his lip worriedly. He'd lost so much time already.
The Frenchman spread his hands. "This is the best I can do for you. Chad is a very big country, Monsieur Doyle. And not so many people speak the English. It will be better for you this way."
Doyle nodded reluctantly.
"Return to your hotel, Monsieur. I will telephone you when I have news."
Doyle's first sight of Gibson's plane nearly made him reconsider the importance of finding Bodie after all. He wasn't enamored of high places at the best of times, and "Mabel" looked like she'd come down a lot quicker than she went up.
The pilot came from behind one wing, wiping oil from his hands on an even oilier rag. He grinned as he caught Doyle's stricken expression.
"Beauty, ain't she?"
"Does it fly?"
"Been known to when the wind was right. You Ray Doyle?"
"Yeah," Doyle held out his hand, but then thought better of it. "You're Gibson?"
"Gib'll do. Sorry for the grease. Been doin' some repairs."
"Good," Doyle said fervently. "How long before you'll have it fixed?"
Gibson's blue eyes twinkled. "Oh nothin' wrong with the ol' girl. Mabel has heart, I always say."
"But does she have engines?"
"Actually, that's what I was just fiddlin' with. One caught fire over Cairo last week."
Doyle swallowed. "Eh?"
Gibson laughed loudly. "Just havin' you on, mate. She's better than she looks on the outside."
"Christ, I hope so. When do we leave?"
"Soon as I fill her with petrol. Got 'er loaded last night. Just hang about a while, and we'll be off." He grinned again. "Feelin' lucky?"
Doyle looked back at the plane and didn't have the heart to reply. He returned to the hangar and sat down glumly. Bodie had better appreciate this.
He spent the next hour listening to the Australian alternately curse and conjole "Mabel" as he worked to get her ready for take-off. It was far from encouraging, but Doyle had wasted nearly three weeks waiting for Gibson's return, and he was still the best chance of finding exactly where Bodie had gone.
Before Doyle was quite ready for it, however, they were up in the air. Mabel did fly better than her appearance indicated, and after a while, Doyle managed to relax.
He looked over at the pilot, who was humming happily to himself. "Do you do a lot of business in Fort Lamy," he began awkwardly, wondering how much Arbiand had told the Australian.
"Ndjemena, you mean."
"That's the name of the capitol, mate. Changed it after the Frogs left. 'Course most of the map-makers haven't got 'round to noticing that fact." He paused to light a cigarette, offered the package to Doyle who declined. "Been there quite a bit in the last year or so. They've a nice airport, even if rest of the place is a bloody stretch of nothin'. Souvenir from the Second War." He regarded Doyle curiously. "You figuring on signing up with the Colonel?"
"Vandemeer? He's the leader of the mercenary force, isn't he?"
"Yeah. Cold bloke, eyes like steel. But I hear he's a fair one." He stubbed out his cigarette, half smoked. "You don't look much like a merc. But then, I've seen all sizes and all kinds." He studied the other man another moment, as if trying to decide whether to say something. Finally, he grinned. "Reckon you know what you're doing, chasing after this Odell chap?"
"I know what I'm doing."
Gibson shrugged. "He went with Vandemeer's lot, if that's your next question. But if you're after Odell an' you're the law, I'd keep shut about it."
Doyle evaded the issue. "Odell's a mate of mine. I just want to catch up with him, is all."
Gibson let it go. "He seemed a right enough, bloke. Not too chatty though."
"Did he seem ... okay?" Doyle asked lamely.
"What d'ya mean?"
"Did he act all right ... or like someone who's on the run?"
"I wouldn't say so, no. Slept most of the flight, actually. Had a bit of a hangover, I reckon. Mentioned that his head hurt 'im anyway."
"These supplies you're bringing in, are they for Vandemeer?"
"Some of it." He glanced at Doyle. "You want an intro, is that it?"
Gibson thought a moment before nodding. "Okay, old son, you've got it. I can't guarantee it'll do any good, but I'll see you have a chat with 'im."
Several hours later, Doyle was stirred from an uneasy doze by the faint, grumbling sound of thunder. He blinked groggily at the blue skies that surrounded the plane.
"We heading into a storm?"
The Australian favored him with another good-natured, infectious grin. "Welcome to Chad, Doyle ol' chap. Ndjemena's about two miles to the right of us there."
Doyle glanced out the window to the dusty brown and grey terrain, and the jumble of adobe buildings in the distance, eyes widening as he saw the plumes of smoke peppering the city.
"Bloody hell! It's under fire!"
Gibson looked casually at his wristwatch. "We'll circle for a bit. It's nearly tea time."
Doyle's head swung around to stare at him, then turned back to the window in time to see the side of a building crumple to ruin. "But ... they're blowin' things up down there!"
"Mortar shells. From across the river probably," Gibson said blandly.
"Mortar fire?! We're not about to land in that, are we?" Doyle said in astonishment.
"Don't worry, mate. They'll stop presently. Very civilized about the whole business actually."
"Christ," Doyle whispered.
Gibson just looked amused. "There's a civil war on, you know. What's a war without a bit of fireworks, eh? Nothing to get upset about. It's been going on for months now. Ah, see? They've stopped. I can take her in now."
"They stop for tea? What kind of war is that?"
"And lunch and dinner. They're not fanatics about it, are they? Everyone needs a bit of break now and then."
Doyle let out his breath slowly. "Is it safe to land?"
"Oh I imagine so. Usually don't aim for the airfield. It's too important to both sides; otherwise there'd be a terrible bullet and bomb shortage, wouldn't there? The Frogs keep it open, actually. Got a few troups dotted around; moral support for Habre', don't y'know?"
"Habre's the Defense Minister, innit he?"
"Yeah; in fact it's his lot that's hired Odell and friends, although I imagine the Frogs picked up the tab for it."
Doyle's knowledge of the situation in Chad was sketchy at best. Actually no one seemed to know exactly what was going on. The best he could follow from what he'd picked up in Tangier, was that Habre' had helped oust the former President Malloum, a Christian, and replace him with Oueddei, who was Muslim. Habre then did a complete turnaround and became pro-French against President Oueddei who was being supported by Libya. It all seemed a bizarre and pointless chessgame, and Doyle couldn't fathom Bodie's involvement in it.
Gibson had circled around to come in for landing. "Best take a firm grip on something, lad. Might be a bit bumpy when 'er wheels are down if a stray shell was chucked on the airstrip."
Doyle clenched the seat with a white knuckled hold, but the landing was relatively smooth. Gibson taxied slowly back toward the group of hangars.
"There's a decent inn not too far from the airfield, if you want to come with me," Gibson offered. "A lot of Yank businessmen and diplomat types stay there. Bit safer than closer in town."
"Yeah, sure. When will you see Vandemeer?"
"Likely he'll turn up this evening after supper. Unless he's out in the bloody desert somewhere." He gestured toward the back of the plane. "You can leave your gear here, if you like. Be safe enough. Let's go have a brew, shall we?"
Except for an occasional distant spatter of machine-gun fire that evening as Gibson and Doyle waited at the airstrip for Vandemeer, the night was otherwise quiet. Doyle, accustomed to the subliminal and eternal sounds of London, found it unsettling. There wasn't even the chirping and creaking noises of the country, for the persistent drought had driven most wildlife and even insects farther south or closer to Lake Chad, fifty miles to the north.
He watched with interest as the Australian tinkered with Mabel's engine. "Are you sure he'll show tonight?"
Gibson concentrated on tightening a bolt. "He'll be here. I've a special box for the Colonel."
The sound of motors caught their attention. A transport truck and a land rover pulled up outside the hangar. Gibson grinned and laid his spanner down on the bench. "Right on time, ain't he?"
Three men got out, and Doyle straightened, thinking one of them could be Bodie.
"Do you have my order, Gibson?"
"Do you have my cash, Colonel?"
"But of course." The man offered an envelope to the pilot, and Gibson stuck it in his coveralls without counting it.
"It's on the left, Colonel, along with the other lot you wanted."
"Tommy Lee, bring the crate out. Texan, start loading the truck."
The other two men moved to follow the order, and Gibson beckoned Doyle closer.
"Got someone to meet you, Colonel. Wants to sign up with your outfit. This is Ray Doyle."
Grey eyes so pale they were almost colorless looked Doyle over coldly. Vandemeer was not a large man, he was no taller than Doyle and even thinner. But the line of his long face was ruthless, and there was a power there that would prevent anyone labeling him small. His hair was nearly white, although Doyle would put him at no more than forty-five.
"How did you know of me?" he demanded.
Doyle shrugged. "News gets around. I heard in London you were paying well."
The thin lips narrowed to a smile. "Only when the man comes highly recommended. No advances to volunteers. Unsolicited volunteers. You have references?"
Doyle's chin came up arrogantly. "I figure I can recommend myself."
"You have confidence. That is good perhaps. Perhaps not. But you have done this work before, correct?"
Doyle hesitated. "Close enough. I can handle it."
The man called Tommy Lee came around the plane carrying a wooden crate. He dropped it on the concrete floor with a thud. "You're not thinking of taking this little bit of a thing on, are you, Colonel? The boys'd chew him up and swaller him the first day."
"Careful with that, you fool!" Vandemeer snapped. Both his manner and his slightly South African accent contrasted strongly to Tommy Lee's American southern drawl. "Find a lever to open the crate."
Doyle's teeth had ground together at the American's derisive comment, but he studiedly ignored him. Vandemeer turned back to Doyle.
"So you come all this way, without references, without assurance you will find employment ... without experience even. You must be very confident, indeed to do this thing. But why do you want it?"
"It told you. Money."
"And I have told you I do not pay for nothing. You may be nothing; why should I risk this?"
"Tell the little bastard to head on back to his momma and his faggy country," Tommy Lee grunted as he pried up the boards on the crate. The tall man who had answered to Texan, had returned from loading the truck and moved over to give him a hand, chuckling.
"Gee, Tommy Lee, I never heard you say that to the Limey back at Camp. Not since Odell straightened your teeth for you anyhow."
A tingle shot up Doyle's spine at the sound of the name. So Bodie was still here and was with Vandemeer's group. It was now imperative that he be included. The muscled southerner seemed his best bet to prove that appearances were deceiving.
"Hey there, Yank," Doyle called out snottily, "you got somethin' against the British, have you? Not very bright, that. But then you Yanks are never much in the brain department, are you?"
Tommy Lee stood up. "You talkin' to me, shrimp?"
Out of the corner of his eye Doyle noticed Vandemeer stiffen. Being small himself, he obviously didn't like the term being applied to anyone else either.
Gibson tossed Doyle a sympathetic look, and went back to working on his plane. The Texan looked startled, then amused. Tommy Lee just look furious. And Vandemeer simply waited.
Doyle moved forward. "Are you deaf as well? Who else would I be bloody well talking to, eh? Unless there's another bleedin' baboon in the place."
The southerner laughed. "Okay, you asked for this you little son of a bitch!" He charged, but Doyle neatly sidestepped. The other man was quicker than Doyle expected, and swung around, clipping Doyle a glancing blow to the shoulder. Doyle kicked out like lightning, and Tommy Lee went down. A bit stunned, he came up again, and this time managed to get a grip around the smaller man's waist, lifting him up. It was a serious mistake. Doyle's elbow came back sharply into the solar plexus, following it up with a knee to the gut, and Tommy Lee went down gasping for breath.
Doyle stepped back to the sound of the Texan's guffaws.
"Got ya there, didn't he, Tommy Lee? Chew him up and swaller him, huh? Looks like your 'little bit' bit first, don't it."
Tommy Lee shook his head groggily, caught sight of Doyle again and started to rise, but Vandemeer stopped him.
"That's enough. Go check the plane again; be sure everything is off." Before the other man could argue, he repeated warningly, "Do it -- now!"
Still breathing heavily, he got to his feet and headed back around the plane, throwing a malevolent glance back at Doyle.
"So you can fight, Mr. Doyle. But can you shoot?"
At this Doyle smiled, knowing he was home free. "Well enough."
"Let us see." Vandemeer tugged off the last board, fished through the excelsior packed in the crate and came up with an automatic rifle, a Belgian-made FN 7.62. He loaded it and tossed it to Doyle.
"What do you want killed?" Doyle asked sarcastically.
"Texan, give our eager young lad here a target."
The lanky American crossed to the rubbish bin and came up with a Pepsi can. "This do?"
Gibson's head came out of the engine. "Don't go potting away in here, mate. Might ricochet and hit Mabel here. Not ready to put the ol' girl down just yet."
Doyle raised an eyebrow at Vandemeer. "Do I shoot in the dark then?"
"Sometimes one must. In any case, there is moonlight."
They went outside and the Texan tossed the can as high as he could. It gleamed momentarily against the moon and three shots rang out -- eerily echoed by more machine-gun fire a few miles away.
Doyle lowered the gun. "The sight's off. Only hit it twice."
Texan located the tin and retrieved it, handing it to Vandemeer with a grin. "This son can shoot."
Vandemeer noted the two holes in the can without comment. He pitched it to one side, and regarded Doyle piercingly. "Very well, Mr. Doyle. I will take you on for now. One thousand francs advance, no more."
"One thousand francs!" Doyle protested, thinking of the four thousand pounds Bodie -- or Odell rather -- had been given. His miserly soul was horrified. "I just proved I was worth ten times that!"
Vandemeer smiled. "To shoot a can is simple. To shoot a man takes something more than a good eye. I will wait and judge for myself what you are worth."
Doyle had no intention of killing anyone if he could help it. And he reminded himself that he certainly wasn't here for the money, only to find Bodie. It was the principle of the thing that irritated him. There was also the fact that seeming too eager might make Vandemeer suspicious of his motives -- which already seemed shaky enough.
"Do we have a deal?"
Doyle hesitated. "I'll get more later, when I've proved myself, right?"
"I believe a short probation is in order, under the circumstances. But, yes, if you are valuable you will be paid for your value."
"Okay, I'm in then."
The pale, cool eyes surveyed him for another moment, as if weighing his decision again. But he waved his hand toward the other man. "Texan, you take him with you in the truck. I have business to settle before I return to camp."
He nodded at Gibson who was standing at the door of the hangar, then went to the land rover and got in with Tommy Lee, taking the passenger side. They roared off and the night seemed even more silent and ominous, though the gunfire from the city had ceased.
"Com'on, boy, let's hit it," Texan said, going to the back of the truck to secure the tarpaulin.
Doyle went back to the place to pick up his rucksack. He stopped by the Australian. "Thanks, mate."
They shook hands. Gibson, for once, looked serious. "You sure you want to go with these blokes? You can come back with me, y'know. Looks like you've got on the sore side o' that Tommy fella already."
Doyle shrugged. "I can handle him."
"Right you are." But he still looked uneasy.
"What is it, Gib?"
"I'm not one to buy bad times, mate, but I don't think I'd tarry around this place too long. It might not be quite healthy."
"That's what I said when we were still up in the air," Doyle replied dryly.
Gibson shook his head. "Nah, this is nothing. I mean that something bigger's rumbling up north. I was up there last week, and I heard some things ... rumors y'know."
"Libya?" Doyle thought about it. Libya's president Gaddafi had been making noises about the situation in Chad for some time, but invasion? "Just rumors. They'd never risk getting France stirred up, would they?"
"Just the same, it could get pretty hot here."
"Ta for the warning, Gib. I'll keep it in mind."
Texan was already waiting in the truck with the motor running. He put it in gear as soon as Doyle got in.
"How far is the camp?"
"Eighty-ninety miles north. Near the lake."
Doyle settled back in the seat as the truck jostled over the uneven road. "How long have you been here?"
"Six or seven months, I reckon. Can't keep track no more. Been with the Colonel a coupla years, though, one place or 'nother."
"You're from Texas?" Doyle asked to keep the conversation going.
The other man spat tobacco out the window and grinned. "Quick, ain't ya? Figured that out all by yourself, huh?"
Doyle smiled back. "Yeah."
"Well now, I am from Texas sure enough, but if you're fixin' to ask me if I'm a cowboy or anythin', don't bother. Born and raised in Houston. Never been on a horse in my life."
Doyle laughed. "You've ruined me whole image of the West."
"That's awright. Tommy Lee, now, that one's a reg'lar redneck. Sharecropper folk from Alabama. That's why what you said about his smarts didn't set too well. He quit school real early and joined the army. Ended up in Viet Nam. Shook a few screws loose, I reckon. It don't pay to cross him."
He glanced over to Doyle's side of the dark truck. "You took him by surprise this time. Don't count on doin' that agin. He's a mean one."
"I'll stay out of his way, if he'll stay out of mine," Doyle replied grimly.
"Sometimes that ain't so easy with this bunch. We're kinda thrown in each other's company, you might say. 'Lesson you speak the lingo or are partial to niggers and Arabs, that is."
Doyle had no answer for that. They remained silent for a few miles before he asked, "How many men are working for Vandemeer?"
"Lessee ... we just lost Charlie --" He broke off and looked at Doyle. "That's probably why the Colonel decided to take you on, bein' another man short and all. Riley bugged out on us a coupla weeks ago, too. Anyways, 'sides Tommy Lee, there's the Canadian, MacKenzie. Everyone calls him Mac. He's been around three or four months now. Just a kid, no more'n twenty even if he does try 'n cover it up with all that bush on his face. And there's Steiger; he's the translator. Knows most of the jabber they speak around here, and what he don't know Oddy does. Oddy's a nigger from somewheres south of here. He's really part of Hebre's bunch, but he's lent him out to the Colonel so's we can train some of their soldiers."
"Well, he's got some African name, but nobody but Steiger can pronounce it. 'Bout everybody winds up with some moniker or another. Like I'm Texan. My real name's Calvin, but nobody's called me that since I left the States."
Doyle was still waiting to hear about the man he'd come to find. "Is that everyone at the camp?" he prodded.
"There's Wesley. Everybody calls him Preacher 'cause he's always prayin' an' talkin' to hisself." Texan's grip momentarily tightened on the steering wheel. "He's one I wouldn't want to meet in no alley. As soon blow your head off as look at ya. Squirrelly. Spooky as all get out. But he can handle a knife like no one I ever seen, and that's a fact. The Limey is pretty good, but he don't hold a candle to Preacher."
Doyle bit his lip. "The Limey?"
"Yep, English feller, like you. Been around about a month or so. Odell's his name." He grinned. "Now you're here, I guess we can't call him just plain Limey no more without it gettin' confusin'."
"What's Odell like?"
"Oh, he's okay. A pretty nice guy as a matter of fact. He got into a hassle with Tommy Lee when he first showed up, but he took care of that real fast. He don't take no shit off'n no one -- but he don't give none neither, so it works out real well. He's a good soldier. That just leaves Ramassy, Bacon and me. Those two and Preacher have been with the Colonel longer than anybody. Worked with him in Angola a few years back." He paused. "Sure do wish he'd dump that Preacher though. He gives me the willies."
Doyle wanted to ask more about Bodie, but didn't know how to approach it without seeming obvious. The Texan concentrated on a particularly bad stretch of road for a few minutes before turning back to Doyle.
"You've never done this kinda stuff before, have you?"
"No, " Doyle replied honestly. He hesitated. "What exactly are we being paid to do?"
"Figured you looked a mite green. But you took Tommy Lee down quick enough, and that ain't easy. You got balls, kid." He spat out the window again, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "What are we gettin' paid for? To show these niggers how to shoot Arabs mostly. And whatever else the Colonel wants us to do." He guffawed suddenly. "Or show the Arabs how to shoot niggers. 'Round here, damned if I can tell 'm apart." Even in the darkness of the truck, his teeth showed up tobacco stained and grey. "More than anythin' else, you jest try 'n stay alive, kid."
Doyle didn't relish being called 'kid', but he found he liked Texan in spite of that. He looked out the window at the arid landscape. The bright moonlight showed it up in sharp relief, the few trees casting shadows far too long across the brittle grass. He felt a pang of homesickness for London -- for crowds and noise and the greasy smell of fish and chips. He'd trade a lot for just one simple underground bomber case.
There was a bleak loneliness about the landscape that echoed painfully inside of him. He realized with something akin to amusement, that he missed Cowley. Missed his advice, his unshakable certainty, even his cutting ability to make one feel barely out of nappies in the face of his vast experience. Father figure, indeed. What would Bodie think of that? But maybe Bodie missed him, too.
Doyle started to ask Texan something, but changed his mind. He'd see Bodie soon enough. That thought made him shiver with a mixture of anticipation and dread. It had been over a month since he'd last seen his partner. The last strong memory of really talking to him was of that strange, drunken night when both too much and not enough had been said.
He stared out the truck window at the black and silver land and saw Bodie's comically stricken face as he'd ducked into the bedroom that night. Doyle knew he'd confused Bodie terribly -- confused himself as well. But not enough to drive him away, surely?
He pushed the thought aside easily, although it was not the first time it had occurred to him since this had begun. He knew Bodie too well for that. Whatever else Bodie was, a coward wasn't part of it. If he'd been worried what Doyle felt for him, or vice versa, he'd of told Doyle to go to hell and that would've been the end to it. No more, no less.
Whatever had made him tear off like this, it couldn't have had anything to do with that.
He hadn't yet considered what he would actually say to Bodie once he'd faced him. Didn't want to think about it. Didn't want to consider the consequences if Cowley and a dozen other people had figured right and Bodie wouldn't want to see him at all. Doyle had a healthy respect for his partner's anger, for his ruthlessness if crossed. But he also had an almost mystical faith in Bodie's basic humanity. If possible, Bodie would always talk first, shoot later. It wasn't part of the facade he liked to present, but Doyle had known him too long to feel differently.
The truck jolted to a stop before Doyle realized he'd been asleep for a long while.
"Here we are," Texan said. "Jump out and give me a hand with this crap."
Doyle got out of the truck and looked around. There was an assortment of goatskin tents fanned out on one side of a large, smoldering campfire. On the other side, in a slightly neater line, were several modern canvas tents. Two men emerged from one.
"Hey, Steiger, Ramassy. Come give us a hand with this junk!"
Ramassy was slightly older than Doyle, and easily six inches taller. His blond hair gleamed as he tossed some dried chips onto the fire to brighten the light. Steiger was heavy-set and older, probably in his forties.
Texan spoke as he pulled back the tarp from the truck. "This here is Doyle, a new man. The Colonel just took him on. That's Steiger there, and Ramassy."
Steiger nodded and went to help unload. Ramassy stopped beside Doyle and looked him over with a grin.
There was an uncomfortable silence wherein Doyle couldn't quite pin down the vibrations he received from the other man. They were not hostile, but neither were they particularly comfortable.
"Let's get this shit unloaded," Texan said irritably. "I want to get some shut eye."
"Where's the Colonel and Tommy Lee?" Ramassy asked, still looking at Doyle.
"Back in Ndjemena. Must be talkin' to Habre."
"Think something is up?" Steiger asked.
"Maybe. Where's the rest of the bunch?"
Doyle had given up trying to label the accents. Steiger sounded faintly British, perhaps Rhodesian. Ramassy had an unusually neutral voice, like a UN announcer, accent bordering between American and upper class Brit.
"Bacon's sleeping off another drunk, is what," Steiger said grumpily. "That makes twice this week. The Colonel will rip his fat hide for it, too."
Ramassy took a box from Doyle and stacked it with the rest. "Mac, Odell and Oddy went off on patrol. Oddy found a guy who says he knows where the supply routes are coming through. They're checking it out. Should be back before dawn."
"Don't know. Haven't seen him since yesterday."
"Maybe we'll get lucky and he won't come back," Texan said.
"Oh he'll turn up when the Colonel does. Crawl out from under his rock like always. Nutty bastard."
"That's all of it," Steiger said, jumping down from the truck. "Good," Texan said, "I'm ready to hit the sack." He gestured to Doyle. "Com'on, kid, I'll find you a place to bed down."
Doyle picked up his rucksack, swallowing his disappointment that Bodie wasn't here. He almost ran into Ramassy who blocked his way. Doyle looked down at the hand on his arm, then back up at Ramassy, puzzled.
"There's room in my tent, Doyle," he said with a strange smile. Doyle caught Steiger's quick look and the Texan's frown. He automatically moved away from the touch.
"Stow it, Rammy," Texan growled. "It's too late at night for fun and games anyhow. This way, Doyle."
"What's wrong, Texan? You got dibs?"
"Don't push it." There was steel in his tone.
Ramassy looked back at Doyle. "I'll wager Doyle's good at games."
While Doyle might reluctantly admit he wasn't always the best judge of character or quick to pick up on emotional undercurrents, he was no fool either. And he definitely didn't like the feelings flowing between the three men. Nor was he ignorant of the fact that he was the focus.
He swung his pack up on his shoulder. "Looks like Steiger is already bunking with you," he said casually. "I'll go with Texan for now. I'm proper wiped, I am. Jet lag, probably."
"In Gibson's plane?" Steiger remarked, and it broke the sudden tension with a laugh.
"I'll see you lot in the morning then." Doyle followed Texan to one of the tents. Texan lit a battery-powered lantern and sat it on a folding table in the center.
"You can bunk over there. Used to be Charlie's place until he bought it."
"What happened to him?" Doyle asked curiously, tossing his things down on the cot.
"Got careless," Texan answered evasively.
Doyle sat down and began pulling off his boots. "What was going on out there, anyway? What's with that Ramassy chap?"
The Texan shook his head. "You are new at this, ain't you, boy?"
Doyle stopped, still holding one boot. "What d'you mean by that?"
"Boy --" he shut up abruptly, shaking his head again. "Jest take my advice and stay clear of Ramassy." He laughed. "And Tommy Lee, too, now that I think of it."
"Seems I've had quite a start," Doyle said ruefully.
Texan flopped down on his cot and stretched out, not bothering to undress. "Wouldn't worry about it, kid. I've got a feelin' you'll do jest fine."
When Doyle awoke the next morning, his first thought was of Bodie. He sat up in the cot so quickly he nearly turned it over. The tent was empty. He dressed quickly and went outside. The camp was stirring busily, natives bustling by carrying water, supplies, and what must have been camel chips to add to the pile by the fire. Off to the right, he could see a line of Chadians engaged in rifle practice with Ramassy and Steiger as instructors.
He found a pot of coffee over the fire and poured a mug. Texan came up behind him, making him jump.
"No tea, partner. Most of us are coffee drinkers."
"That's okay," Doyle answered. "I like it well enough. Did the other blokes get back?"
"Mac and Odell? Yeh, I think so. Down at the lake, I reckon. Yep, here they come now, matter of fact."
Doyle spun around, heart pounding double rate, coffee splashing over his wrist. He didn't even feel the burn.
Bodie came toward the camp, his arm slung loosely around another man's shoulders. Both were shirtless; Bodie had his tied around his waist. His companion had dark brown beard and hair that fell in wild curves to nearly his shoulders. They were laughing.
Doyle's mouth felt dry. He took a quick gulp of coffee and seared his tongue. He remembered how he'd planned to play this. Cool, careful, slow. Neither of them were in a position where they could afford to speak out. But everything seeped from his mind except the sheer delight of seeing him; it felt like coming home.
He waited for his partner to come closer, drinking the sight of him in hungrily. A month could be a very long time when you were accustomed to seeing the person every day of your life, sometimes eighteen hours a day.
His first impression was that Bodie hadn't changed. Then he noticed the longer hair, curling a bit on his neck. His shoulders were still peeling a little from the first sunburn, but the darker shade of his usually pale skin, made the blue eyes flash lighter in contrast.
Texan called out jovially, "Hey, Odell, got another Limey here. Just signed on. Shoots a hell of a lot better than you do. Saw him murder a pop can last night."
Bodie stopped in front of them, releasing the other with a light punch to his arm. One thing definitely hadn't altered: he still had that beautiful, too-pleased-with-himself smile.
"If you mean he's British, say so," he grinned. "Limey's in bad taste, an' if you're Liverpool Irish, it's almost an insult."
"Irish, English, what the hell do I know," Texan chuckled. "Y'all talk funny. This here is Doyle. I think we oughta call him Little Bit, though."
Doyle's gaze had been riveted on Bodie, but that made him glance at the Texan with irritation.
Bodie's eyes twinkled as he regarded Doyle. "Why's that, Texan?"
"You shoulda seen him last night. Tore into Tommy Lee like a mean coon on a hound dog. And after Tommy Lee figured he could take a big chunk outa him. He figured wrong. The little bit can bite back."
"Glad to hear it. Tommy Lee needs taken down a peg." He smiled at Doyle. "How's it goin', mate?"
Doyle looked him straight in the eye, and there was no change of expression, no flicker of recognition. Doyle had known Bodie in all conditions, under all types of cover, but there had always been something -- some spark, some acknowledgment of the game they were playing. There was nothing to read there now but good humor and natural friendliness.
In spite of himself, he couldn't help it. "Bodie?" it was a hoarse whisper.
Doyle held Bodie's eyes for a full minute, searching them for something ... anything. "Don't you know me?" he said softly, unable to believe it.
"Should I?" Looking slightly more wary, Bodie stepped back a pace.
"You really don't know me?" Louder now, with a touch of astonishment and total disbelief.
Bodie's companion spoke now. "What's this about? You owe him money, Odell?" There was a fond, teasing note in his voice.
Bodie held up his hands. "Listen, mate, I don't think I'd skip out on a debt, but ... Poker game, was it?"
"No ..." Doyle swallowed. "It was London."
"I was in London a few weeks ago, but I honestly don't recall you, mate. Do I owe you money?"
An entire foundation of Doyle's life crumbled. He believed it now. Bodie really didn't know him. He was a good enough actor, but not this good. No one could be. Doyle flailed about for a moment, trying to recover his composure. "No ... I mean, maybe you do ..." Owe's me a quid from that cricket match at Webley, he thought crazily. "No ... maybe I got you confused with another bloke. You look something like."
Bodie/Odell patted his pockets absently. "Happen to have a fag on you, mate?"
"Here you go, Odell." Texan tossed him a packet of cigarettes which Bodie caught deftly. "Picked these up in town last night."
"Ta." He lit one while Doyle watched. He'd seldom, if ever, seen Bodie smoke.
Texan clapped Doyle on the shoulder heartily. "The other one there is Mackenzie, the Canadian feller I was tellin' ya about."
Mac smiled, friendly and open, still standing close to Bodie. "Hi, Doyle. Welcome to the wonderful world of Chad. Complete with hot and cold running natives. Not so bad, though, once you get used to it."
Doyle's gaze hadn't wavered from Bodie. "Yeah?"
Bodie's eyes were a little harder now, more uneasy under Doyle's continued stare. There was a split second where Doyle recognized confusion in the blue eyes and a clouded dash of pain, but it was gone again and Bodie moved away, mentally as well as physically.
"Come on, mate," he said to Mackenzie, "let's 'rustle up some grub', as ol' Texan here would say."
"Good havin' you around, mate," Bodie tossed off to Doyle as they walked away.
Doyle realized that he'd dropped his cup and that the Texan was staring at him curiously.
"You okay, kid?"
Doyle knew he was shaking inside, but hoped it didn't show. "Yeah, sure. Just clumsy." He picked up the cup and poured another, amazed that his hands were as steady as they were.
Bodie couldn't remember. Bodie had amnesia. It should be funny, but he didn't feel like laughing. It certainly explained a lot. And it wasn't like it hadn't crossed his mind during the last few weeks. There had been times when it seemed the only possible answer. But amnesia was the fodder of fiction, the delight of the telly. It didn't touch reality.
Except now, when it did.
"You do know him, don't you, son?"
He'd forgotten Texan was there, and he jumped again, startled. Christ, my nerves are shot. "Odell? Nah, he just looked like someone I knew in London. Gave me a bit of a start, is all."
Texan picked up one of the canvas chairs and swung it around. "Sit down, Little Bit. You look like your momma just died."
Doyle sat down, wondering how to cover his slip. The lanky Texan saw far too much. He'd never done such poor undercover work in his life -- certainly if he had, he'd of never been alive to worry about this one. But it'd been years since he'd looked in Bodie's eyes and saw a stranger. The sheer incredibility of it -- and the hurt -- was more than he could hide.
Texan got some coffee for himself and pulled up a chair beside him. "You wanta tell me what's goin' on? Or maybe I oughtn'ta ask?"
Doyle opened his mouth, then closed it again. Texan stopped him before he could try again.
"Listen, Little Bit, it ain't none of my business, but nobody looks at somebody the way you looked at the Limey without somethin' goin' on. Maybe it's better if I don't know what it is, but I do have some more free advice, if you're interested in hearin' it."
"Yeah," Doyle said weakly. "I could use some advice."
"Men come over here for a hell of a lot of different reasons. But somethin' most all of us have in common is that there's things we don't wanta talk about ... maybe not even remember. Nobody asks too many questions about the past around here. If home had been all that fine and dandy, we wouldn't be here, now would we? If you've got something to pick with Odell, leave it back where it happened. It don't hold no water here."
"It's nothing like that," Doyle assured him. "I'm not here to cause trouble. I thought I knew him, and I was wrong, that's all."
The Texan nodded. "Okay, son. No problem then." He grinned. "Seems like I've been jawin' at you since you got here, don't it? Well, don't pay me anymore mind than you want to. Walkin' into a setup like this cold --"
"Any coffee left?" Ramassy broke in. His hand came down lightly on Doyle's shoulder.
"Check for yourself," Texan drawled.
"Steiger, pour me a cup, will you?"
The hand moved slightly on Doyle's shoulder, slipping over to rub his neck. It was an unobtrusive gesture, overtly friendly, but Doyle didn't like it. Still, it was a situation that was difficult to get up and walk away from without causing offense.
"Texan tells us you're quite a marksman, Doyle. Maybe you could give me a hand later with this group we've been trying to train. I don't think they could shoot fish in a barrel. Sometimes I wonder if they know which end the bullets come out of."
"Better wait and see what the Colonel has lined up for him." Texan suggested blandly.
The fingers were now beginning to comb through the curls at the base of Doyle's neck. Ramassy leaned down close to Doyle's ear. "Oh, I don't think Doyle'd mind giving me a little friendly assistance. He's probably good at all kinds of things."
This time, Doyle pulled away and stood, tossing his coffee off to the side and setting the mug down on a flat rock by the fire. "Think I'll take a turn around the place, check it out a bit."
Ramassy smiled. "Good idea. I'll show you around."
It wasn't what Doyle had in mind, but he didn't know how to gracefully avoid it. He looked over at Texan, who seemed absorbed in studying the grounds in the bottom of his cup. "Want to join us, mate?"
"Texan's got to fix that fan belt on the jeep, don't you, Texan?" Ramassy cut in smoothly.
The other man didn't look up. "Yeh, reckon I'd better get on it before the Colonel gets back." His expression was unreadable, and he didn't look at Doyle.
Doyle shrugged. "Okay, then. I'll catch you later."
As they started off, Texan called after him, "Jest keep an eye out for snakes, Little Bit. They're every place you look around here."
Doyle caught the double meaning in the words, but didn't know quite how to take it. He followed Ramassy down a small embankment away from the camp.
"Where we going?"
"Thought you might as well have a look at the lake. It's not much, but it's a good place to cool off and wash up."
They walked on in silence for a while, Doyle's thoughts returning to Bodie, wondering how this crazy situation had ever come about. That was something he might never know, however. Right now he just had to decide the best way to deal with it as it stood.
They walked for nearly a kilometer before Ramassy spoke. "So the Texan's found a name for you already, huh?" He slowed to walk beside the smaller man.
"Yeah, it looks like."
"Little Bit. It suits you." His arm slipped across Doyle's shoulders. "I like it."
Doyle jerked away reflexively, his voice sharpened. "Don't like it too much, mate. It's not healthy."
The smile deserted the other man's face. "It didn't seem to bother you when Texan called you that."
They had both stopped and were facing each other. Doyle suddenly became conscious of the emptiness around them and the fact they were well out of sight of the camp.
"He doesn't mean any harm by it. I'm not so sure of what you mean."
Ramassy's smile returned, but there was an edge to it. "What do you think I mean, Little Bit?"
"Why don't you tell me," Doyle smiled back, eyes just as hard, "so I'll know whether to kick your bloody teeth in."
"Think you can?"
"I think I can try."
Ramassy chuckled. "Hey now, we don't need to go through all this shit, do we? We both know the score. Why make a big deal of it?"
Doyle didn't answer.
Ramassy stared at him. "Jesus, you really don't know, do you? I didn't think anybody could be that green." He stepped closer and Doyle refused to give ground. "Did you really expect to walk into a place like this with that fine, tight ass of yours and not have anyone notice? You didn't join the boy scouts." His hand moved to slide into Doyle's curls behind his ear. "Just relax and enjoy it, okay?"
"If you don't move your hand," Doyle said calmly, "I'll break your friggin' arm."
Ramassy took his hand away and stepped back. "You want it the hard way, huh? You want the game. Okay, I'll play."
Doyle spat out a curse and started to turn back to the camp. Ramassy caught his arm and spun him around.
"Maybe you don't understand the game, Doyle. Is that it? It's simple really. We have a little fight. If you win, you fuck me." He smiled ferrally, "If I win, I fuck you. Understand?"
"Haven't you people ever heard of checkers?" Doyle's heartbeat had speeded up considerably, but he wasn't about to let his panic show.
Ramassy laughed. "Come on, Little Bit. As you British say, let's have at it."
Doyle took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "All right then." He moved swiftly, landing a neat kick to the other man's jaw. Ramassy went down.
"Why, you little motherfucker." He felt his jaw gingerly. "Think you're pretty good, don't you?"
"Yeah." Doyle kept his distance, watching for another opening as Ramassy stood. He could tell by the way the man moved that he was a different case altogether from Tommy. He was a big man, tall and leanly muscled, but he had finesse. and he fought coldly, intelligently. No roaring charges or clumsiness here.
They circled each other warily, and Ramassy struck several very accurate blows. Doyle managed to get in a strong kick to the stomach, but it didn't take Ramassy down this time. Instead, he returned a kick of his own that dropped Doyle like a rock. Ramassy's weight was on him in an instant, pinning him down.
It was the worst thing that could happen to a fighter of Doyle's style. His slight frame needed room to work, distance that would let him use his quickness and agility to advantage. Muscle to muscle fighting took his chances down considerably. Ramassy outweighed him by three stone or more. He looked down into Doyle's face and laughed.
"Good try, Little Bit. You're no pansy, that's for sure. But, either way, you lose." His mouth came down hard, covering Doyle's.
Common sense told Doyle he was fighting out of his weight; that he hadn't a chance of winning now that he was pinned. He'd been in enough fights to have some experience with losing. But he'd never been fighting for his virtue before either. He'd find the situation hilariously funny if it wasn't so deadly serious.
Fury, desperation, and a large dose of adrenalin, gave him a new spur of energy. He clamped his teeth down on Ramassy's lip, and the split second of diversion gave him the time to get one hand free and slam it against the man's ear with enough force to nearly pop his eardrum. He followed it with a fist against the side of the ribcage. At this range, he couldn't get enough force behind it to do any real damage, but it was enough to cause Ramassy to gasp and release his hold. Doyle scrambled free and sprang to his feet.
As Ramassy tried to rise, Doyle administered a knee to the chin that sent him sprawling back to the sand, following it up with another kick to the head that put his adversary out cold.
Doyle stood bent over him with hands resting on knees, breathing heavy, but feeling immensely satisfied.
Odell pushed the hash around on his plate pensively.
MacKenzie watched him for a moment. "I thought you were hungry?"
Odell looked up, then grinned. "Reckon this glop put me off, didn't it? Give a lot for a nice plate of sausage and tomatoes."
The younger man wasn't fooled. "Did you know him?"
"Who? Oh, you mean the new bloke. Nah, don't think so. Probably reminded me of somebody I've seen on the telly. That mop of curls, I suppose." Odell took a bite of the food, chewing slowly. His fingertips could almost feel the softness of those curls, springy and even silkier than they looked.
Yet he felt uneasy, unsettled by it. The strange blankness of his past returned to haunt him again. He'd pushed it aside for weeks now, suppressing the anxiety it caused him. There hadn't seemed much point in fretting over it, after all. What could he do about it? There was a vague emptiness inside him that told him something important was missing. Someone important? But if that was true, why had he signed on to come here? It seemed logical to assume that he had wanted to get away; that maybe he didn't want to remember. In any case, it had been easier to go along with the flow and ignore the problem. He certainly didn't trust anyone enough to admit any kind of vulnerability -- let alone the fact that his life before a month ago was a virtual blank with only occasional unrelated flashes filling in the gap. Luckily his lack of memory didn't extend to guns or how to hold a knife, or any of the other necessary talents by which he presently made his living. On the whole, he'd managed quite well, and had even reached the point where he seldom thought of it at all.
But now this Doyle fellow had made him aware again of just how much he didn't know about his past.
But, on the other hand, neither had Doyle pressed the matter, so it couldn't have been anything too important, could it?
"Got another headache?"
Odell realized he'd been rubbing his temple. He'd become so accustomed to the occasional throb of pressure in his head, he hardly noticed it anymore unless it was particularly bad. "Yeah, a bit. I told you about those little buggers that ran me down in London." Oddly enough, the cold fog, the teenagers and the car blue ... license 346KG seemed clearer to him now than anything else. "Still bothers me, I reckon."
"Maybe you got a concussion or something. It wouldn't hurt to have it looked at."
Odell shook his head. "Nah, it'll pass. Hasn't bothered me so much lately." His eyes twinkled. "Don't worry, mother."
Before MacKenzie could reply, Texan came in the mess tent. He picked up a plate of food and joined them at the table, beginning to wolf down the eggs and hash.
"Where's the new guy?" MacKenzie asked.
"Went off with Rammy. Up to the lake."
Odell's eyebrow lifted. "Ramassy didn't waste much time, did he? Does this Doyle fella know the score?"
"Nope," Texan replied between bites. "Green as a gourd."
Odell felt an inexplicable wave of misgiving. "You didn't warn him about Ramassy?"
The Texan shrugged and continued eating. "Don't let his size fool ya. That little pecker can take care of hisself. He'll have to, sooner or later. Might as well find out now."
Steiger ducked his head in the tent. "The Colonel's back."
Texan shoveled in the last of his eggs and stood. "Better see what's up. Got a feelin' there's something on."
They all left the tent and headed for Vandemeer's.
Steiger spoke to Texan, "Preacher's back, just like clockwork. The Colonel gets in, five minutes later, there's Preacher."
"Spook's got bloody radar," Odell muttered.
"He was cleaning his knife again," Steiger said. "Wonder what he carved up this time?"
"Or who." Texan kicked a rock to one side with particular force. "Shit."
"We don't know for sure it was him who offed Charlie," MacKenzie pointed out. "Vandemeer says it was one of the natives."
"Yeh, well he would say that, wouldn't he? It's his dog, after all. 'S long as Preacher comes to heel, what's he care?"
"There comes the new guy," Steiger commented. "I thought he was with Ramassy."
Doyle approached them, looking tired but none the worse for wear.
"Where's Ramassy?" Steiger asked.
"He'll be along," Doyle replied vaguely. "Might be a while, though." His gaze was on Odell again. "Anyplace I can get some food around here?"
MacKenzie jerked his thumb back in the direction of the mess tent.
Doyle nodded his thanks and headed for it without further comment.
There was a moment of silence among the group.
"You don't suppose he took Ramassy down, do you?" Steiger asked in disbelief.
"They said he whipped Tommy Lee," MacKenzie watched Doyle's departure with equal amazement.
"Tommy Lee ain't Ramassy either, is he?" Odell commented. "Still, he don't look like a man who's just had a rough tumble. Not comin' out on the bad side of it, anyway. Still cocky enough."
Texan just grinned.
Tommy Lee appeared at the opening of Vandemeer's tent. "The Colonel wants to see everybody. Find the rest and get 'em over here. New orders."
"Everybody?" MacKenzie asked. "I'll go see if I can drag Bacon out. Somebody ought to go find out what happened to Ramassy."
Steiger headed off toward the lake after Ramassy. Texan glanced at Odell. "Better go fetch Little Bit and tell him what's up. I've gotta finish up on that jeep."
Odell found Doyle polishing off the last of the hash.
"Rotten stuff, eh?"
Doyle put down his fork. "Not so bad. I've had worse."
Odell felt a sharp pang in his head. "...special. Cheese 'n onion." "On white?" "Sort of grey." "I'll pass." ... Odell sat down suddenly. Doyle looked at him curiously but didn't say anything.
Nothing else came to Odell, and he couldn't link the quick flash with anything else, so he refused to let it bother him. It was just another shimmer in the jumbled collage of memories. He brushed it off.
"Vandemeer's back. Wants to see everyone."
"Steiger went to find Ramassy." He waited for Doyle to say something about that, but the other man just smiled slightly.
"I've time to finish up me coffee, then."
The green eyes were fastened on him again, with that peculiar, puzzled expression, as if he were somehow disappointed in Odell's reactions. Annoyed by the uneasy feeling it gave him, Odell said crossly, "Why d'you keep lookin' at me like that, then? I don't know you from Adam."
The green eyes dropped back to the cup he was holding. "Yeah, you've made that pretty clear." There was a note of chagrin in the voice that exasperated Odell even more.
"You'd best watch it, mate, or I'll reckon you fancy me."
"Let's go," Odell said shortly.
When they reached Vandemeer's tent, everyone was already there, including Ramassy -- complete with a nasty cut on his bottom lip. He glowered at Doyle who ignored him. Vandemeer was talking to an extremely heavy-set man.
" -- once more, and I will shoot you myself. Your vices are your own business until they interfere with mine. Is that clear, Baconni?"
The other man nodded sheepishly and slunk off to the corner.
"That's Bacon," Odell whispered to Doyle. "A real lush. He's been going on benders lately. Dropped off on guard duty last night."
"I take it the skinny one's Preacher then?"
"Yeah. A right nutter, that one is."
Vandemeer spoke, holding everyone's attention. "We are breaking camp immediately. We will be moving north by nightfall. President Ouddeui has been obtaining supplies and weapons directly from Libya. Even more than usual. Much of it is Soviet issue, incidentally. In any case, Gaddafi is taking too much interest in the situation here, and Habre wants that supply route cut off, or at least temporarily slowed." He turned to a native who, unlike the other natives in camp, was dressed in camouflage similar to most of the other mercenaries. "Oddesikna, have the trainees and bearers return to their outfits. We're traveling light, using only the land rovers. Load only essentials. Extra water and petrol. Enough ammo to handle anything we might run into."
Oddy nodded and left the tent.
"It's a big desert, Colonel," Ramassy commented. "How are we going to outguess their direction?"
Vandemeer unfolded a map. "There are certain places they must stop. The oases are marked here. We must keep checking until we find which ones they use -- then we can wait for them. We will set up base here." He pointed out a section on the map. "From there we will check the surrounding area within a night's distance. The NATALOF worked out of the Kufrsa oasis; perhaps they still use that route."
"NATALOF?" Doyle asked softly.
"National Liberation of T'Chad. An old revolutionary force that worked out of Libya a few years back," Odell explained.
"And if they don't?" Steiger asked.
"Then we move our base east, toward the Tebetsi mountains." He folded up the map. "They will be traveling at night, as we will. It is the cooler season, but trucks still overheat at 100 degrees."
"They'll be traveling in a convoy," Steiger pointed out. "We'll probably be outnumbered."
"Yes," Vandemeer agreed unblinkingly.
Steiger looked away uncomfortably. "I just meant ... perhaps we need more men. We could use the Chad troups we have --"
"We want to move quickly. Hit and run. You do not do that with an army." He looked around the tent, surveying each man, summing them up. "Get your gear together. We leave at dusk."
As they drove northwest, the dried grass and scrubby bushes gradually gave way to barren stretches. Within a few hours they were traveling through the desert, all sand and rocks. Doyle rode with Texan in the second land rover. Vandemeer, Preacher and Oddy were in the first, Ramassy and Steiger in the third, followed by Odell and MacKenzie. Bringing up the rear was Bacon and Tommy Lee. They kept moving all night, stopping only to refuel and switch over driving.
The sun was up a couple of hours before they located a small oasis to camp for the day. It was very small and dusty, hardly more than a cluster of date palms and a jumble of rocks, but it afforded some shade, and Vandemeer considered it defensible if someone had noticed their passage and planned an ambush.
They parked the vehicles circled around the oasis and covered them with the white canvas to reflect some of the heat.
Made drowsy by the monotony of the desert, Doyle tossed his bedroll down by a convenient palm and tried to sleep. His mind kept working feverishly, however, trying to find a safe way to bring Bodie back. The last thing he had wanted to do was to get farther away from civilization, but unless he wanted to abandon Bodie, he'd had little choice but to come along. There was no way he could tell his partner the truth until they were alone, and except for that brief conversation in the mess tent, they had never been alone. MacKenzie was practically Bodie's shadow, and Doyle thought ruefully Bodie didn't seem to mind at all. There was also the question of whether Bodie would even listen to him once he did get him alone.
While breaking camp the night before, the blue eyes had caught Doyle watching him a few times -- and they didn't look pleased. In fact, he seemed to be actively avoiding Doyle for the most part.
What bothered Doyle the most was that Bodie didn't act like a man suffering from amnesia -- not that Doyle was quite certain how one was supposed to behave. But he was positive that put in the same situation, he would have gone crazy trying to find answers, would have worried the problem like a terrier with a rat until he discovered who he was and how it had happened. Obviously Bodie thought he was Odell, but that was little more than a name and an occupation. How could he bear not knowing the rest? But, then again, it was certainly in Bodie's character to avoid or ignore anything he couldn't explain or understand.
It had occurred to Doyle more than once, that if Bodie didn't believe what he told him, there was no way to prove it -- not here and now. And, after the trouble he'd already had with Tommy Lee and Ramassy, he didn't like to think of the consequences of them knowing he was not what he professed to be. He had his suspicions that some or all of them were wanted by various and sundry government agencies. If they discovered he was CI5 -- well, he would simply have to be careful that they didn't find out. Which meant being extremely careful with Bodie as well ...
The dream had a smoky quality, blurred around the edges. The voices echoed strangely, as if speaking through a tunnel. He was in a pub, crowded with faceless people with empty eyes. Only Bodie's eyes were real, sitting on the stool beside him with that complacent, irritating smile.
"... careful, mate. Got t' be careful. Don't hurry, don't let yourself be pushed, y'know. If I've told you once, Raymond, I've told you a thousand times -- nothin's important, you can't let it eat at you. What'll it all mean in a hundred years, eh? Who'll care then? Just take it easy and don't worry about it."
"It's not so simple, Bodie. Why do you make it sound so simple? Something has to be important to you. You can't go through life not caring about anything, can you?"
"I care about myself, mate. That's about all I can handle. You take on more, you buy trouble. You think the world's goin' to care if you carry it on your skinny little shoulders, Doyle? Do you honestly believe anybody gives a bloody damn?"
"Yes. I think you care."
Bodie shook his head sadly. "You're a chump, mate. A real chump. I'm disappointed in you, son."
"All these years with me, I figured you'd learned something."
"I have. I've learned not to believe you when you say you don't care."
Bodie's smile became wicked, darkness flashed behind the eyes. "Are you so sure of that, Doyle? Or is it just what you want to believe?"
The smoke was thicker now, it tasted like nerve gas, it was choking him, cutting off his air. But he couldn't leave ... not without Bodie.
But Bodie was gone, swallowed up by the smothering mist.
"Bodie! Don't leave me ... Bodie!"
Odell lay on his bedroll looking up at the sparkle of sunlight through the palm leaves. MacKenzie lay sleeping a few feet away, his face looking absurdly young beneath the beard. He could hear Ramassy and Tommy Lee bickering listlessly over their card game. Bacon had set up a sterno stove and was dumping a can of beef stew into a pot. Texan was on guard, moving in that lanky, boneless amble around the inside perimeter of the oasis, watching the desert for trouble.
He couldn't sleep, although his eyes burned and he'd been up most of the last two nights, on patrol and then driving last night. His eyes moved back to Doyle, who twitched and muttered restlessly in his sleep several yards away.
Odell knew him now. At least he was positive he had known Doyle before. But the one film clip his mind had given him had been so bizarre, he had no idea what to make of it. He saw himself giving Doyle flowers. "I've never had to use flowers ..." That was all. Nothing else. But the image was very strong, and the feeling with it was strangely good. Happy.
He rolled over in disgust. Flowers yet!
His head was throbbing again, worse than usual, and he covered his eyes with his arm to keep out the light. Mac was right; he should have had it seen to while he had the chance. It wasn't getting better at all. He had no doubts that what happened to him in London was the root of his problem; the loss of memory, the pain. But he'd been sure it would all fade in time, that the missing pieces would fall in place. And they were, in a way. He did get these flashes, puzzle bits of past. It was the fitting them together that caused the problem.
And now there was Doyle.
Involuntarily, he turned over again to look at him. That round face, that flattened cheekbone, the reddish brown curls ... all were familiar to him now. Too familiar. They drew him and drove him away at the same time, and he had no idea of why.
He knew Doyle and Doyle obviously knew him. So why the silence? Why was Doyle pretending he made a mistake at first? What was he hiding?
As if feeling the eyes on him, Doyle mumbled something and began to twist and turn on the bedroll. "Bodie!"
Odell was up and at his side in a second, shaking him hard. "Wake up, Doyle. Com'on, you'll have the bloody Arabs down on us, makin' all that racket."
Doyle's eyes snapped open, his hands gripping Odell's wrists. "Christ! I must've been dreaming.
Odell released his hold and sat back. "Yeah, I reckon you were, mate. Not a good one either, was it?"
Doyle rubbed his eyes groggily. "Always feel like hell when I sleep during the day."
"So who's Bodie then?"
The green eyes flickered up, suddenly wary. "What?"
"You were yelling Bodie. I wondered who it was, that's all."
"Oh ... a mate of mine," he paused. "We used to be partners."
"What happened? He buy it? Is he dead?"
"No," Doyle answered slowly. "I don't think so. I hope not."
Odell didn't like the expression in the other man's eyes, cautious but hopeful. Hopeful of what? He had the impulse to ask Doyle to tell him what was going on, but he found he couldn't. Not yet. What would he say, after all? How'd you like the flowers?
Doyle glanced around the camp. "Isn't somebody missing?"
"Yeah. Vandemeer and Oddy took one of the land rovers to look for Preacher."
"What happened to him?"
"Went on walkabout again while everyone was sacked out, didn't he? Does it all the time. I don't think the bastard ever sleeps."
"He went out in the desert? On foot?"
"What d'ya expect? He's a nut-case. The sun couldn't cook his brain more than it is already. Anyway, Oddy said there was another oasis bigger than this one about fifteen kilometers to the east. Preacher might have headed there."
"But why? What's wrong with him anyway?"
Odell smiled. "Don't try giving sane motives to a nutter, Doyle. You'll just drive yourself crazy."
"Is there any grub?" Doyle asked. "I'm starving."
"Yeah, Bacon has some stew on the fire." Odell hesitated. Part of him wanted to ask, part of him didn't, but he began, "Listen, I think I --"
"Hey, Little Bit!" Tommy Lee called over, cutting him off. "Ramassy here tells me y'all like to play games. Says you quit just when it gets interestin', though. What's wrong, Little Bit? Can't folla through?"
Odell looked at Doyle in mild surprise. "What happened with you and Ramassy? You didn't --"
"You hard of hearin', Little Bit," Tommy Lee taunted. "Can't you hear me talkin' to ya?"
Doyle and Odell stood. "Christ, not again," Doyle muttered, face set grimly with a mixture of impatience and irritation. "I hear you," he said flatly. "What d'you want?"
Ramassy said something to Tommy Lee and laughed. Tommy Lee stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned forward belligerently. "Your ass maybe, pansy boy."
Doyle flushed a little and stepped forward furiously. Odell's hand on his arm stopped him.
"Don't let him rush you into anything, Doyle. Lay back. Just let 'im talk. It's harmless."
"You didn't take a shine to Ramassy here, maybe you want different meat, it that it, boy?" Tommy Lee continued. "You just teasin' for it?"
Doyle's temper snapped. He shook off the restraining hand and moved forward, but Odell caught him again.
"Doyle! Don't do it. It's not worth the trouble. You hurt his pride back at the airstrip, and Ramassy's egged him on. Let it go."
"Would you take that?" Doyle snapped.
Odell didn't answer, but neither did he let go of Doyle's shoulders. "Listen, sunshine, if it comes down to a real brawl and you lose, you know what'll happen, don't you?"
"Maybe he'd rather hump the Limey," Ramassy suggested loudly with a leer. "Mac wouldn't mind, would you, Mac?"
MacKenzie had awakened at the first shout from Tommy Lee. Now he stared down at the ground, remaining neutral. Texan was standing off to one side, holding the rifle, but staying out of it.
Doyle turned around to look at Odell, eyes wider. "Christ, is everyone a pervert around here?"
Odell smiled wryly, suddenly irritated by the fury in Doyle's eyes being directed at him as well. "Depends what you mean by pervert, mate. It's a long way from a decent pub and a willin' barmaid. If you mean will Texan or Bacon or Oddy jump your bones, I very much doubt it. As for the rest of us ..." the grin widened and he shrugged. "That's what you get for being such a cute little gollywog."
Doyle stared at him for a moment, for the first time since they'd met he truly looked as if he'd never seen him before. "You son of a bitch," he whispered hoarsely. "You're no better that they are!"
..."What makes you any different than him?" "Because I do it, but I don't like it ..." Odell's grip tightened reflexively on Doyle, shaken by the sudden memory.
"Come on, Doyle." Tommy Lee goaded. "What are you waitin' on?"
Doyle pulled against Odell's hold. "Let me go!"
"No. The state you're in, he'll eat you alive. Wait until you cool off."
"I can handle him!"
..."Since when did you ever handle anything on your own?" "When did you? ... Odell let go of him suddenly, as if burnt by the touch. He stared at Doyle, heart pounding faster. "Go on then, you sod. Handle it."
Doyle was too furious to notice the confused expression on Odell's face, or to wonder why he was released so abruptly. He advanced toward Tommy Lee, anger clearing enough to make him cautious. The rest of the men stood back in a rough semi-circle, watching.
Tommy Lee pulled out a knife and flicked it open. Doyle paused, eyeing it.
"No blades!" Steiger yelled.
"Shudup," Tommy Lee growled, moving toward Doyle.
Odell watched with the rest, but unlike them, he somehow sensed each move Doyle would take before he took it, as if he'd choreographed the steps himself. Knew the feints, the kicks, the blocks, the agile fluid movements, as if he'd watched him fight dozens of times before; knew his style as well as Doyle himself knew it.
Doyle jarred the knife out of the man's hand on the second kick. Doyle's rage was gone now, his actions cool and calculated, intent on proving something. Tommy was careful at first, too, but became increasingly frustrated at being unable to get a hold on the smaller man. A third of the way through the fight, everyone but Tommy Lee knew who the winner would be. Tommy Lee was stubborn, and had his own degree of cunning, but Doyle's style of fighting was too good, too sophisticated for him to match. In brute strength, Tommy Lee was far superior; in intelligence he came up lacking.
It took a while, but Tommy Lee finally went down and stayed down, laying on his face, panting heavily.
Odell was staring at the scene blindly, seeing ... hearing something else entirely. Another quick, disassociated flash of memory, real but too removed to connect it with anything else. He could feel Doyle's body straining against his as he tried to hold him down, just as he had a short time ago. " ... little David like you smashing a Goliath like that ... blow your cover, won't you? ...
The rest of them stood around expectantly, waiting for Doyle's next action. He looked around the circle, puzzled, wiping the streak of blood from his nose. "What is it, then? Anyone else want a try?"
When no one answered, he returned to his bedroll and picked up his canteen, drinking heavily, then washing the blood from his face.
Texan continued on his patrol, with another lazy grin. The remainder of them busied themselves with other things. Except for Odell, who was still staring at Tommy Lee as if in a trance. MacKenzie touched his elbow.
"Hey, what is it, man?"
Odell blinked. "Ah ... nothing." He shook his head. "Nothing."
"Why do you think he didn't finish it up?"
"How d'I know?" Odell snarled. "I don't know anything about the little bastard!"
MacKenzie's eyes widened. "Jesus, what's got into you?"
Odell rubbed his forehead tiredly. "I dunno. Sorry, Mac."
"S'okay," MacKenzie replied, but he looked at him strangely.
Odell returned to his bedroll and dropped down on it, pressing his fist against his head as if the pressure outside would relieve the pressure inside. The words ran over and over in his mind like a broken record. Blow your cover ... blow your cover ... blow ... cover ... What was it from? What did it mean?
He took it from a different angle. Who went under cover? The answer came immediately. Police. And directly after came another flash, shorter but clearer than the last one. Doyle. In a uniform. Doyle. A cop.
His teeth clenched together, and he jumped up and went searching for Doyle. He found him by one of the land rovers, talking to Texan.
The tone of his voice made the other man spin around, hand moving as if to reach for a gun. But the hand dropped quickly. "What?"
"I want to talk to you."
Texan looked from one to the other; saw the anger in Odell's eyes, the wariness in Doyle's.
"Now wait a minute here, fellers. We just got done with one row; don't start up another."
Odell ignored him. "You're a copper, ain't you?"
Doyle stiffened. He started to reply and couldn't. He swallowed. "You remember?" he said softly.
"What are you doing here? Who are you, anyway?"
The hopeful expression in Doyle's eyes fell. "I was a cop. Years ago. I'm not now." His mouth twisted bitterly. "What d'ya think? I came all the way out here to nick you for traffic tickets?"
Odell hesitated, suddenly unsure of himself. He had expected Doyle to deny it, lie, anything but admit it so matter of factly. He felt indecisive, and hated the feeling. "What are you doing out here?"
"The same thing you are," Doyle replied firmly, but Odell could read something else in the green eyes, something that came very close to scaring him. Because you are here, the eyes said. For the first time in Odell's relatively short memory, he was nervous. Apprehensive of that look in those eyes and what it might mean -- just another piece of that vast blankness behind him. Only this time his past was standing right here in front of him, and he realized that he really wasn't sure if he wanted to know it.
He stepped forward, poking his finger into Doyle's chest. "Well you just stay clear of me, understand? I don't like coppers -- even ex-coppers. What d'you think this lot'd do if I told 'em you was the law?"
Doyle didn't back off, his gaze didn't waver. "Why don't you tell 'em then, and find out?"
Odell paused again, uncertainly. His eyes met Texan's, who only raised an eyebrow. "They'd tear you to pieces," Odell said sharply. "Don't be a fool!"
"Doesn't seem to bother Texan," Doyle replied calmly.
"Texan's not wanted for murder in two countries like Tommy Lee is; or for rape like Steiger. God knows what some of the rest of them have against them. Whether you're a cop now or not, they'd kill you for the joy of it."
"What about you?"
The question startled Odell. He didn't answer.
Doyle persisted. "Why doesn't it bother you then?"
"It does," Odell snapped. "I told you, I hate coppers!"
"Then why're you willing to keep it from the rest?"
Somehow the entire conversation was going in the wrong direction. Odell felt on the defensive. He made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Just stay out of my way, that's all!"
He walked away, feeling foolish and a little lost. Why didn't he tell the others? Why was he so sure Doyle was telling the truth about no longer being a cop? He realized he probably had as much reason to want to snuff a copper as any of the rest. God knew what crimes were hanging over his head -- certainly, he didn't know.
He felt furious with Doyle for disrupting the peaceful cocoon of ignorance he'd wrapped around himself. Furious but strangely protective at the same time. He might feel the urge to wop the little bastard's head against a palm tree, but he didn't want to see him hurt.
He vaguely remembered on some deeper level having seen Doyle hurt before -- and not being able to bear it.
Just before sunset, Vandemeer and Oddy returned sans Preacher. No one was particularly surprised or saddened by this, but their respect for Vandemeer kept them silent.
By the next morning they reached another oasis. This one was much larger and held several adobe and clay houses alongside tiny, carefully tended garden plots. It was deserted.
"Where do you suppose they went?" MacKenzie asked.
No one had an answer to that, but it was apparent that if they were driven off, they'd had sufficient time to pack all their belongings first. The inside of the houses were stripped.
"This will be our base," Vandemeer ordered. "Two groups will go out to scout the surrounding area; the rest will remain here to secure the base. Tonight MacKenzie will go with Baconni to the east. Oddesinki, Texan and I will go north. The first man to spot the definite route will receive a bonus."
"If we live to collect," Steiger grumbled.
"Where is MacKenzie and Odell?" Vandemeer asked.
"Probably out humping on a sand dune," Ramassy laughed, eyeing Doyle.
"They had a bad tire on their jeep," Bacon offered. "They're fixing it."
Doyle managed to keep his expression blank, but he was shocked. He knew he shouldn't have been after the things Bodie -- no, Odell -- had said the day before. And MacKenzie's hero worship of Odell was obvious.
He found a chance to talk to Texan later in the day. "Texan, what Ramassy said earlier ... about Odell and Mac ... was he just sayin' it, or is there ..." He trailed off, not knowing exactly how to phrase it. "Bloody hell," he said at last, "are they havin' it off or not?"
Texan spat out tobacco juice into the sand and surveyed Doyle doubtfully. "Well, now, that don't rightly seem none of our business, does it?"
Doyle's face reddened, but he demanded, "Is that yes or no?"
"Why're you so interested in knowin'?"
Doyle wasn't sure how to answer that, even to his own satisfaction. "Are you going to tell me or not?"
Texan scratched his head. "I jest can't figure you out, kid. You know Odell but you don't know him. You were a cop but you're not a cop. You came lookin' a long way for this job, yet I have a notion you'd rather be almost anywheres else but here. You tell me, Little Bit, what's goin' on in that curly head of yours?"
Doyle sat down on the rock beside him. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Texan. I don't believe it meself."
"But it's all wrapped up with Odell?"
Doyle bit his lip. "Yeah. But I don't mean him any harm, y'know."
"I didn't reckon you did." Texan thought a moment. "I know you weren't expectin' what happened with Tommy Lee and Ramassy, were you? I shoulda told you maybe, but there didn't seem much point. It wouldn'ta stopped it happenin', and I had a good hunch you can handle it good enough. Looks like I was right. You gotta understand this kinda stuff goes on out here. Happens other places, too -- jail mostly. But it's different here. There's some sort of rules that are just taken for granted. When Tommy Lee pulled that knife on you, he was breakin' one of them."
"I don't know what you mean."
Texan sighed. "There's probably some big, long-winded term for the whole thing, but I reckon it just comes down to peckin' order, who's got the biggest and meanest dog in the pack. When a new dog comes in, there's a hell of a lot of shufflin' goin' on. Either the new mutt gets his ears chewed up and slinks off with his tail between his legs, or takes a good chomp out of a couple and they learn to leave him alone. Now MacKenzie's not much more'n a pup, and by the time Odell showed up, Tommy Lee figured he had his own personal collar on the boy."
"You mean --"
"MacKenzie was his punk. You oughta know what that means, since you were a cop."
"Yeah," Doyle said grimly. "And that's what they were tryin' on with me."
"Anyhow, Odell shows up and didn't care for the way things was setting. That was the tussle him and Tommy Lee had that I told you about. Tommy Lee let MacKenzie be after that. So did Ramassy and the rest. And they left Odell alone, too. Even dogs stay clear of a wolf. He don't make no big show of it like the rest of 'em, but that's what he is ahright. Him and the Colonel both. Wouldn't tangle with either of them on a bet."
"Are you saying that Mac is Odell's ... punk now," Doyle said hollowly.
"No. It's different. I can't tell you what they do or if they do, and I don't reckon that matters. What matters is that the boy ain't scared of Odell, and he was scared shitless of Tommy Lee."
Before Doyle could ask something else, Texan stood. "Gotta get movin'. Looks like the Colonel's ready to pull out. Take it easy, Little Bit."
Ray was becoming accustomed to the quiet. He still missed the noisy bustle of life, however; the silence made him feel very alone. He was aware that there were all types of living things in the desert, but if there were, their life sounds must be hushed, a whisper not a shout.
He sat on a jumble of rocks just at the edge of the oasis, looking out into the desert. There were more stars than he could ever recall seeing, and for a moment, he was glad to be here, alone with the stars and the whispers. It was beautiful, and there hadn't seemed to have been much beauty in his life lately -- or perhaps he'd simply been too busy to look.
Doyle sat and watched the desert and let his mind wander. Lawrence of Arabia ... Rommel ... Sheiks ... caravans ... the Foreign Legion. He thought of everything but Bodie. In fact, he was bloody tired of thinking about Bodie. Sick of worrying and hoping and watching for some sign that he remembered something ... anything about the past. Even if the sod had lost his memory, he should have remembered him, damn it all!
Doyle was so occupied not thinking of Bodie, he didn't notice Ramassy until he heard the chuckle behind him. He spun around, reaching for his gun, but Ramassy's was already aimed, and he decided against it. Tommy Lee and Steiger were with him. Doyle didn't like the expression on any of their faces. He recalled what Texan had said. Dogs. No, not dogs -- hounds. Hounds at the kill.
"What's this all about?" he asked evenly.
"I reckon y'all can guess," Tommy Lee answered in a purposely slow drawl.
"This is gettin' bloody silly, innit?" Doyle stood, very conscious of the automatic trained on his heart. "What do I have to do to make you blokes see I'm havin' none of it?"
Ramassy leaned back casually against the trunk of a palm tree, but the gun remained steady. "Well, you see, Tommy Lee and me have figured out what your problem is, Doyle. We figure that you really want it, but you like it rough. Really rough. You've just been playing hard to get, ain't that right, Tommy Lee?"
Tommy Lee grinned. "Yep, sure looks that way."
"We went easy on you before, seeing how you're such a little fellow."
"Sure you did," Doyle said scornfully. "That's why there's three of you now, innit?"
"You're tough," Ramassy said, "I'll give you that. Not exactly what any us of expected. But it's not going to do you any good. Not this time."
Doyle looked from one to the other, seeing the heat and excitement in their eyes. It was the power of it more than the sex, the sheer domination of the act. Ramassy was getting off on the idea more than the others; with Tommy Lee it was more the need to humiliate and hurt Doyle; Steiger was just the type that followed where others led. But all of them were eager to carry through with this, he could see that.
He moved back a step and Ramassy lifted the gun a little.
"You try to get away and I'll blow you away."
Doyle froze, hearing the truth in the words, knowing Ramassy would do it with very little provocation.
"Vandemeer won't like this, y'know," Doyle said calmly. "He hired me because he needs the men; he won't like bein' one short, will he?"
"It's never stopped him from keeping Preacher on. He might be a bit peeved at first, but he'll get over it. Tommy Lee, get his gun."
The Southerner took the automatic from Doyle's holster and stuck it in his own belt.
"Okay, hot stuff, strip 'em off."
Doyle didn't move.
Ramassy fired off a shot, kicking up sand a few inches from Doyle's foot. He jumped a bit, but still made no motion to undress.
Ramassy sighed. "You have to make it hard on yourself, don't you?" He handed the gun to Tommy and went to Doyle. His hand moved up to rub his knuckles across the smaller man's cheek. "Just take it easy, and maybe we'll take it easy, huh?"
Doyle's answer was an elbow in Ramassy's gut. Tommy Lee was there before Doyle could do any more, and struck him with the gun butt. Doyle went down, dazed and foggy with pain.
Ramassy recovered swiftly and retaliated by administering a kick to Doyle's stomach. Doyle doubled up with a gasp of agony. The blood from the pistol-whipping ran down into his eyes, blinding him.
"Get him up," Ramassy ordered.
Hands jerked him to his feet, pinning his arms behind him at an angle that was torment on his shoulder blades. The blow on the temple had left him groggy, floating in and out of consciousness, his knees buckling weakly. Someone slapped him hard, dragging him back to reality. Doyle blinked the blood from his eyes, but his vision still blurred. He felt the cold steel against his chest as his shirt was cut away. It snapped him back to awareness. Struggling just increased the pressure on his arms, so he held still.
The splash of desert moonlight gave the scene a nightmare reality. Ramassy's eyes were hungry, hot. Farther back, Steiger looked vaguely uncomfortable but eager at the same time. Tommy Lee's grip on his arms was like iron, biting into his flesh.
Doyle realized then, with an overwhelming wash of terror and helpless fury, that he might not get out of this. That he was going to be gang-raped out here in the middle of nowhere. It was such an outlandish, unbelievable situation, he felt hysterical laughter build inside him. He'd faced death how many times? But he was more scared now than he'd ever been then. How did it go? Death before dishonour? He was so terrified, he couldn't take it seriously. Raymond Doyle, sex object. Honestly, Your Honour, I didn't ask for it.
They shoved him face down in the sand and tugged off his trousers. There were two of them now, holding him down. He heard the metallic sound of a zipper, then felt hands on his ass.
"Christ," he whispered desperately, "Please ... don't ... please ..." There was sand in his mouth and tears were washing the blood from his stinging eyes.
"That's enough, Ramassy."
The hands left his ass and he could feel a new tension in the air.
"Stay out of this, Odell. It's nothing to you."
"Oh, I dunno. You know the British -- all fair play and proper table manners. This don't look quite fair to me, does it? I mean, three against one? Bit much, innit? Especially since he's already thumped two of you right enough. No, I reckon you oughta pack it in. It's bad form, this."
"What is it, do you want a piece, too? Is that it?
Doyle closed his eyes, heart sinking. Christ, Bodie, have you changed this much?
"But then, I won't need anyone to hold 'im down for me, will I?" Odell's voice was light, but there was steel behind it.
Steiger let go of Doyle's arm and stood, moving back.
"Very good," Odell said sweetly. "Now you, Tommy Lee. Let him go."
"Go to hell, Limey," Tommy Lee snarled. "You got the other kid; why don't you keep your fuckin' nose outa this?"
There was a nearly inaudible whooshing sound and Tommy Lee screamed. He released his hold and Doyle turned over. Tommy Lee was clutching his leg and moaning. There was a knife neatly embedded in the fleshy part of his thigh.
"You bastard!" Tommy yelled. "I'll get you for this!"
Odell's face was grim. "Yeah, you probably will. But not tonight, eh?" He looked up. "Steiger, I thought you were put on watch?"
Steiger looked nervous, nodded.
"The sound of a gunshot carries a long way over the desert. Whoever the idiot was who fired it off, we could have a mob of very nasty people down on our necks if it gave away our location."
"There's no one around," Ramassy put in angrily.
"You'd better hope not. Just in case, see to Tommy Lee then get on guard yourself."
Ramassy's jaw clenched. "Nobody put you in charge, Odell. I don't take orders from you."
"You do now," Odell replied coolly. "Unless you feel up to challenging that. All by yourself, too. Tommy Lee won't be much help, will he? And I don't think Steiger there wants to get involved."
Steiger hurriedly picked up his abandoned rifle and left.
Ramassy hesitated. "Don't push it too far, Odell. I thought we were pals. It was Tommy Lee you couldn't get on with, not me."
"How's it go? With friends like you ... Let's just leave it, shall we? Better all 'round."
Ramassy glanced at Doyle, then back at Odell. He didn't seem to think it was worth the price of a confrontation just yet.
"Better see to Tommy Lee before he bleeds to death," Odell suggested lightly.
Ramassy shrugged and moved to assist the injured man.
"You okay, mate?" Odell asked quietly, as Doyle located his trousers and pulled them on.
"Com'on, let's fix up that head of yours. Looks nasty."
"I can take care of it."
"Don't be an ass, you're still half out on your feet."
Reluctantly, Doyle permitted Odell to help him back to one of the huts. Doyle dropped down on a bedroll, holding his head. Odell returned with a medical kit. With gentle hands he cleaned the blood from Doyle's face. Doyle winced as the cut was dabbed with antiseptic. After applying an elastoplast, Odell sat back, admiring his work.
"Mum always wanted me to be a doctor," he remarked with a grin.
"Did she?" Doyle's eyes searched the other man's face. "Did she say that?"
Odell blinked in surprise at the question. "Only an expression, mate."
"You don't remember her then? Your mother?"
Odell stood, obviously uncomfortable. "Sure ... who doesn't remember their ol' mum, eh? White-haired old soul baking cookies in the kitchen and slappin' your hands for playin' with yourself." He put the medical kit back in a bag. "How's your head, sunshine?"
Doyle sat up a little. "Why'd you do it?"
"Why'd you stop them out there?"
Odell shrugged. "Couldn't let 'em do that to a fellow countryman, could I? The Queen'd never forgive me. Blow my chance for knighthood, wouldn't it?"
Doyle was silent for a moment. "You told Ramassy that you might want to do it yourself. Is that why you stopped them? Are you going to try it on next?"
The other man turned around, startled. Then he grinned. "Don't need to go in for rape, mate. Got enough willin'."
Odell's face hardened. "What do you think y'know about that, eh?"
"Enough maybe. You got Tommy Lee off him, too, didn't you?"
"Leave Mac out of it, okay? He's a good kid."
The tone of his voice left no room for discussion. "No offense. I just wondered how he handled ..." Doyle broke off, his breath catching suddenly. He found he was shaking and couldn't stop. He knew it was reaction, and was furious with himself for not being able to control it. He clenched his teeth together to keep them from chattering.
Odell knelt on the bedroll beside him. "It's okay, sunshine. It's over now."
"I know that," Doyle snapped, wrapping his arms around himself. "This is bloody ridiculous. MacKenzie may be a kid, but I'm not. Shouldn't take on so ..."
Odell touched him then, palm flat against his cheek, warm and sweet. "It was close, sunshine. Too close. There's only so much you can take before somethin's got to give. Don't worry about it. I've been there meself."
Doyle looked up, still shivering. "Yeah?"
Odell's eyes looked clouded in the lantern light. "Had a bad time of it in Angola, years back. Hardly more than a lad meself, but I don't think age makes much difference. It's not pretty whenever it happens, is it?"
Distracted, Doyle asked quickly, "You remember that? What else do you remember? There must be more."
The hand pulled back, Odell frowned. "Sure I remember -- I just said, didn't I? Hey what is this? I was just tryin' to make it easier for you, and you start up a cross examination."
Doyle took a deep breath. "Sorry. And thanks."
The surliness disappeared. "S'okay. Don't let that mob bother you. Ramassy is the only one with any real grit, and he'll keep his distance now." He grinned. "Or maybe not. He's taken quite a fancy to you y'know."
"Terrific," Doyle muttered. "I'm very flattered."
Odell stood and stretched lanquidly. "Well, you look knackered, son. I could use a bit of sleep meself. The Colonel will probably have us out scoutin' tomorrow evening. Better kip out while we can, right?"
Doyle started to get up, but felt dizzy.
"Just stay there," Odell ordered. "Mac won't care if you use his bag tonight."
Doyle's head was spinning too much to argue, although he resented the implication that he needed Bodie's protection. Then again ...
Too exhausted to worry about it, he dropped back down and was asleep in minutes.
Doyle was driving the land rover, with Odell slumped down in the other seat, lightly snoring. Oddy, the Chadian soldier, was in the back also asleep -- which wasn't surprising considering that the native had been out on patrol nearly every night since Doyle had been with the group. It was almost a necessity, since only Oddy and Steiger understood most of the native tongues. Steiger had gone with Ramassy and Tommy Lee toward the south, while they were checking out the area immediately to the northwest.
Doyle didn't mind being the only one awake. He wasn't sleepy and, all things considered, he felt pretty good. He had a lot to think about, and it was somehow comforting to have Bodie nodding off beside him in what looked to be a ridiculously uncomfortable position. It was very much a Bodie he knew.
In spite of what happened the night before, or perhaps because of it, Doyle felt strangely optimistic. Bodie had helped him and, while he might have done so in any case, there had been moments when Doyle was sure Bodie knew more than he was saying. Not everything, certainly, but enough to give Doyle hope that it wasn't all gone, that there was some spark of memory left. And if there was that much, the rest could return.
Doyle still didn't dare come right out and tell him; Odell/Bodie didn't quite trust him enough yet. And he was obviously shying away from the fact that he wasn't in total control of his life -- or at least of his past. It was understandable in a way. Even the old Bodie was hesitant of admitting vulnerability of any kind; he preferred to handle problems on his own. This Bodie seemed even more prickly about it.
Still, things looked more promising than they had two days ago.
Compared to the searing heat of the day, the night air seemed chilly. He glanced over at Bodie, wondering if he was cold. The wind was blowing back the short bangs, making his face seem unusually open and quite young. The eyelashes were dark smudges in the moonlight.
Doyle's thoughts were cut short as he spotted the line of men and camels coming over the ridge ahead. He slowed the jeep and nudged Bodie's shoulder. "Hey, mate, we've company."
"Eh?" Odell blinked and sat up. "What's this then?"
"Dunno. Should I give 'em a wide berth? They've already spotted us, but there'd be no problem to outrun them on their kind of transportation."
"Stop a minute will you?"
Doyle pulled the vehicle to a halt.
Odell spoke to the man in the back, "Oddy, what do you make of it, old son?"
Odell sighed and repeated it in French. Oddy looked over the approaching group, then answered rapidly.
"He says these look like Toubouri," Odell explained. "They're nomads. Seems these lads don't have much use for the Arabs at all, so they might be willin' to help us out. It's worth a try."
Doyle noticed that most of the men carried rifles, nothing fancy, but rifles nonetheless. Most had their faces covered, giving them the aspect of bandits. "You're sure we ought to let them get any closer? Even at this range they could pick us off, if they wanted to."
Odell hesitated. "Nothing ventured, Doyle, my son. If they know anything, it could save us a lot of time. I reckon they're safe enough; Oddy here generally knows what he's talkin' about."
In a few minutes, the group had reached them and formed a circle around the vehicle. Unless they ran over a camel, they'd have to stay put. They got out and faced the man who appeared to be the leader.
"Tell him we're friends," Odell instructed Oddy. "Not Arabs, not French, we're Englishmen. Like Lawrence of Arabia."
Oddy looked confused.
"I keep forgetting how poor his English is."
"Maybe he just doesn't know who Lawrence is," Doyle suggested dryly.
"Um. Just tell 'em we're neutral. Find out where they stand." He repeated it in French, and Oddy spoke to the leader for several minutes. The leader in turn answered in even greater length, with many hand motions and other indications that he was far from pleased.
Finally Oddy relayed the information to Odell in French.
"Bloody hell," Odell growled. "I don't believe it."
"What is it then? I thought you said this mob was friendly."
"Well there's friendly and there's friendly. The only thing they've got against us is that one of their group was murdered night before last."
"What's that to do with us?"
"There was a witness. He showed up a bit too late to nab the killer, but he saw him right enough. Said he was one of our bunch. And that he nicked a camel and some supplies before he took off."
"But no one was missing --" Doyle stopped at the look in Odell's eyes. "Oh. The nutter. Preacher."
Odell nodded. "Yeah. We're probably the only white men for five or six hundred kilometers any way you'd go. It was Preacher right enough. The mad bastard's gone and killed somebody else."
"Somebody else?" Doyle asked, but Odell spoke to Oddy again, who turned back to the nomads.
"I told him to try to explain, but I don't know how much good it will do."
Doyle was careful to keep his hand far away from his gun. The black eyes that surrounded them seemed to need very little excuse to open fire. As Oddy talked to them, there was much shaking of heads and fists tightened on gun stocks.
Oddy turned back to Odell, looking very worried.
"What's he say then?" Doyle asked anxiously.
"They know it wasn't either one of us that did it, but we're to be held responsible just the same. They're demanding the gororu."
"What the devil's that?"
"According to Oddy here, it's what's known as the blood price."
"You mean you can pay off murder here?"
"Don't look so shocked, son. It happens all over, y'know. Even in jolly ol' England you can sometimes get away with murder if you've enough flash. Maybe they're just a bit more honest about it here. Anyway, they're givin' us a choice. Pay up -- one way or another." He made a slashing motion across his throat and grinned weakly. "Guess you can figure what the other way will be."
"What's the price supposed to be?"
"Usually ten camels -- eleven, if we count the one Preacher must've nicked."
Doyle looked around the circle of half-hidden faces. They looked as much curious as angry. "So what d'we do?"
Odell shrugged fatalistically. "What else? We give'm the jeep."
"What?" Doyle stared at him.
"Unless you happen to have half dozen camels hidden in your pockets, I don't see we have a hell of a lot of choice, have we?"
"Left'm in me other trousers," Doyle mumbled. "Are you seriously saying we give them the jeep? How'll we get out of here?"
"Listen, son, if they don't take the jeep, we won't have that problem to worry about, will we? We'll be too full of holes to care very much. We'd just better pray they get off on the smell of petrol fumes."
It seemed, however, that the Toubouri were quite agreeable. Even the primitive life style they lived didn't preclude their understanding the marvels of modern civilization -- or the fact that they could trade the jeep for far more than the value of eleven camels.
"Vandemeer will love this," Doyle muttered as one of the younger nomads climbed in the land rover and drove it off, popping the clutch a bit, but seeming to manage quite well. Oddy and Odell had some more discussion with the others for a short while longer, before they, too, began to disperse and follow the fading trail of the jeep.
"Now what?" Doyle asked grumpily. "This is another fine mess you got us into."
"Thank you, Ollie. Cheer up, it's not as bad as you think, sunshine. And they were quite happy to grass on those snotty Arabs."
"What d'you mean?"
"Told Oddy here where the supply route is coming through, didn't they?" He patted the native on the back, and Oddy grinned and chattered out in French.
"What's he sayin'?"
"Just that this mob had been tryin' to figure a way to knock over the caravans themselves, but they had too much firepower and they didn't dare. They've been watchin' 'em go by for months, an' hating every minute of it. They're hopin' our lot'll take care of it for them."
"That's just wonderful," Doyle complained, "but how do we get back to camp to tell Vandemeer all this? You've just pawned our transportation."
Odell shouldered one of the three packs they'd been allowed to remove from the jeep. "We walk, my son."
"Terrific. It must be fifty kilometers."
"Sixty probably. Take a couple of nights -- unless the Colonel sends someone out after us. He might." Odell looked at the sky. "Better not start now; it'll be daybreak in three or four hours. According to our sheeted friends, there's an oasis a few kilometers north of here. We'll go there and make camp for the day, and start out tomorrow at sunset."
Doyle grumbled a bit more, but picked up his pack and followed Odell's lead. Oddy did the same.
Nearly an hour later, they topped a rise and sighted the line of palm trees cutting blackly into the starlit sky. Ten more minutes and they reached the oasis. It was even smaller than the first place the mercenaries had camped in the desert, but there was a tiny pool of water surrounded and protected by a wall of rocks.
Doyle sat down on the edge and began dumping sand from his boots. Oddy, in the process of filling his canteen, suddenly screamed. Without stopping to think, Doyle grabbed his gun and shot the snake that slithered rapidly back toward the hole in the rocks. Odell's gun echoed Doyle's as he spotted another one. Doyle stumbled back, dropping his boot and gripping his gun tighter, searching the nooks and shadows for movement.
He managed to kill three more before it was over; he had no idea how many Odell hit.
Odell picked up one of the dead snakes to examine. He pitched it away from him furiously. "These were planted!"
"What?" Doyle asked shakily.
"They're not native to places like this. They were imported, mate, just for this purpose. Keep trespassers away from the water -- or make them very dead, if they didn't." He laughed humorlessly. "Watch snakes."
"Does it matter? Arabs, Libyans, or our friends with the camels."
Oddy was moaning feverishly. Already his skin was a sickly shade and his breathing had shortened.
"Help me move him back."
They carried him away from the pool, and Odell crouched beside him.
"Are there any more of them?" Doyle asked.
"Could be. I think the shots scared them off for now. We'll have to watch it when we get water."
"How is he?"
Odell didn't answer. Oddy clutched at the other man's shirt and gasped out something in French. Odell's face froze, but he nodded and took hold of the native's hand, squeezing it tightly. He took a deep breath, and took his gun out with his other hand. He pressed it against the back of the man's skull. Before Doyle could react, he pulled the trigger.
Oddy jumped once and was still.
"Christ ..." Doyle whispered hoarsely, "You killed him. Bodie, you killed him!"
Odell didn't seem to hear. He held the man's hand for a moment longer, then laid it down, very gently, across his chest. He said something softly in French, and stood.
Doyle stared at him, wide-eyed. "You killed him," he repeated blankly.
Odell looked back at him, finally realizing what Doyle was saying. The blue eyes burned. "Yeah, well what would you suggest? Let him go through hell for the next twenty minutes, is that what you wanted? Have you ever seen anyone die like that, Doyle? Have you?"
"No ... It's just ... Wasn't there something we could do for him?"
Odell closed his eyes tiredly. "He'd taken three bites, two in the upper thigh. There was too much venom in his bloodstream to do anything for the poor bastard but put him out of his misery. Even if we'd had the antidote, he hadn't a chance --" He broke off and turned away.
Doyle looked down, ashamed. He should've realized. "What he said to you ..."
"He asked me to do it ... begged me to ..." Odell swallowed audibly. "He knew what was in store. Oh hell, it's over." He straightened. "Give us a hand to bury him, will you. Can't leave him layin' here."
Doyle helped him. They used stones from around the pool to cover the sand grave and prevent the wind from blowing the sand away. They watched for more snakes, but it seemed that if any had survived the massacre, they were now hidden so deep in the rocks, they no longer presented a problem.
Neither of them were religious, so they had no words to say when it was finished.
"He was probably Muslim anyway," Odell offered. "Wouldn't rest easy sent off with some quote from The Common Book of Prayer, would he?"
"Then let's hope Allah is with him," Doyle said quietly.
It was nearly dawn by the time they settled their bedrolls down as far from the pool as possible. But neither of them could sleep.
Doyle lay and watched the stars fade and the sky slip from black to grey. It was the strange half-light of not-quite-morning. A waiting time, as if the world had stopped for a moment, unwilling to go forward or back.
"It could've been one of us, y'know," he said softly, almost to himself. "As easy as not. It didn't have to be him."
Odell was a few yards away, turned on his side, back to Doyle. "Yes, it did. It's always blokes like him that buy it."
Doyle looked over at him, startled. The voice had been harsh, as hard as the rocks they had made into a cairn for Oddy.
"Why do you say that?"
The shoulder moved slightly, a half-shrug, a dismissal. "Forget it."
"No, tell me."
"Because it's true, that's why. He was harmless. Could hardly pull the trigger on his own bloody pistol, did you know that? I doubt if he could've even killed the damn snakes."
"That doesn't explain why it had to be him. Why not one of us?"
"Because we're survivors, mate. We live, they die. That's the way it is. The way it's always been."
"That doesn't make sense. We've both almost died before. What's the difference?"
"The difference is, we didn't."
Totally baffled by this train of thought, Doyle rolled over to stare at the tense back. "You don't really believe that, do you? You wouldn't have survived this long if you thought you were immortal or some such rot."
"That's not what I said. It's blokes like him that die first, is all." There was an impatient movement. "Sod off, will you? Let me get some sleep. He was just a bloody spade. Drop it."
Doyle felt a strange ache inside him, and he suddenly, ridiculously, felt like crying for Bodie. For Odell. For whoever the man was who lay curled up like an armadillo, protecting his tender side from anything that might possibly hurt him.
"Will you stop it, damn you! I'm fuckin' tired of it!"
Odell rolled over to face him, startled. "What?"
"Just for once will you stop pretending you're so bloody hard that nothing gets through. Stop hiding!"
Odell sat up, eyes narrowing. "What are you goin' on about?"
"I saw you after he died. You felt it, damn you. You always feel it, but push it back because you're scared to feel it. Come out of your shell, you bloody coward! Just once, admit it!"
"I said to drop it, Doyle. Don't push your luck."
"Are you saying you didn't feel anything when you blew the back of that poor bastard's head off? When you saw him hurting and knew he was going to die? Who are you trying to fool, me or yourself?"
"What I feel is my business," Odell said carefully.
"It didn't touch anything in you, eh? Cold, hard, killer -- right?"
"That's enough, Doyle."
"No, it's not. If you're so hard, why did you help MacKenzie, eh? And why'd you stick your neck out for me? Give me a reason, damn it!"
Before Doyle knew what was happening, Odell was beside him, hands pressing his shoulders back into the sand beneath the sleeping bag. The blue eyes blazed inches from his own. To Doyle, it was Bodie now, all thoughts of Odell gone; he was trying to reach something in the man he knew before.
"Maybe you were right the first time, Doyle," Bodie hissed, "Maybe I just fancied you myself, eh? Maybe I'll finish up what Ramassy started."
Doyle's heart was thundering, Bodie's hands burned beautifully on the bare skin of his arms, scorching him with a sensation so removed from the pain he should have felt it took him a second to identify it. He realized with amazement that he had one hell of an erection.
"Go on then." He was surprised he had a voice.
The blue eyes flickered, all arrogance and anger fading, replaced by confusion. Bodie sat back trying to cover it. "What, and have my teeth kicked in, too? You're too scrappy for me, mate."
But Doyle held his gaze by sheer force, and Bodie seemed unable or unwilling to look away. A sliver of morning sunlight slipped through the palm fronds to illuminate the moment.
"I ... don't think I'd fight," Doyle whispered, feeling both exhalted and bewildered.
Their gaze remained locked.
"Christ ..." Bodie said breathlessly, and lowered his mouth to Doyle's.
The kiss was like a bolt of lightning igniting underbrush. It raced through them like flashfire, impossible to contain. One of them moaned, but Doyle wasn't sure if it was him or Bodie. Their tongues dueled wetly, and neither seemed to have the strength to do more than clutch at each other for the moment, riding the first crest of amazing pleasure.
Soon it wasn't enough; hunger drove them to reach for more. They stripped each other with shaking hands, caressing heated flesh, swallowing down each other's panting breaths like hits of oxygen or some strange, exotic drug.
Bodie's tongue rasped over Doyle's hardened nipple and Doyle cried out and spilled his seed like an oversexed teenager. But before he could regret it, Bodie was arousing him anew by licking it from him, murmuring his excited delight. Doyle stretched under the feel of it, sliding his fingers through the short, dark hair, and texture of it as silky as the devouring tongue. It reached his cock and circled it teasingly, lapping the last drops from the head, sinking down on it with exquisite slowness. Doyle's fingers traced over the beautiful face, the short perfect nose, feeling the cheeks hollow as the mouth slowly sucked him into the throat.
Doyle's head tossed in agonized delight, his hair at the edge of the sleeping bag became coated with sand. He was hard again and aching, but he wanted Bodie now, wanted to taste what he had to give. It was a crazy thought; once it would have been impossible to believe that he would want to feel another man's sperm on his tongue. But this was now, and it was far removed from any feeling he'd had before. There was only Bodie now, and the fact that his nerves were on fire.
Bodie didn't want to relinquish his prize, but Doyle insisted, rolling him over, laughing at the protest, tugging him up to capture his mouth again. They kissed for long moments, until Doyle saw that Bodie was lost, so on the edge of explosion it was nearly pain. He slid down the smooth body and took the hard cock in his hand, admiring its strength, its power. But he didn't want to tease, it was past that. Bodie needed release -- his hands were begging for it, tangling deep in Doyle's sand-dusted curls, yet still wonderfully gentle, no note of force. Just asking, pleading with fingertips and breathless moans. Doyle took him in his mouth, learning much in a moment, using instinct and his own desires to guide him. He picked up Bodie's rhythm and rode with it, impatient to taste the result. With a gasp, Bodie came, bucking helplessly. Doyle swallowed, savoring the special taste, finding it amazingly pleasant, not at all as he'd imagined -- quite different from his own.
Bodie's explosive release triggered his own, without even a touch. He collapsed beside him, their ragged breathing seemed almost like music in the silent desert morning.
After a few moments, Doyle moved up to lay even with Bodie, propping his elbow up so he could look down at the other man's face. Bodie's eyes were closed, and there was a familiar smile on his lips.
"It's a wonder the birds don't cut it off, if you smile at them like that after," Doyle commented, tracing his index finger over the pouting mouth.
One blue eye opened suspiciously. "What's wrong with me smile?"
"Nothing at all. Just looks smug enough to've won the Irish Sweepstakes."
The smile deepened. "Feel's if I did."
"It was good, wasn't it?" Doyle asked, strangely shy, but needing to know.
"My rating system doesn't go that high," Bodie murmured. "Yeah, sunshine, it was good."
His eyes were closed again, but Doyle didn't think he was falling asleep. Doyle was content to watch him, memorizing the face he already knew. He was happy, soaringly happy, totally content. This would've happened in London, he knew that. It would have happened anywhere. It had been building for a very long time. They had been on the verge of it for months perhaps. He wondered now if it would have taken longer if they'd remained in London, or if he'd been ready for it all along.
The blue eyes opened, suddenly serious. "You called me Bodie."
Doyle's heart sank. He'd managed to put aside their primary problem, but it obviously wasn't going away. His gaze met the other's squarely. "Yes."
"It's not the first time you've called me that." A pause. "And when you came, you called me Bodie."
The other man was silent for a long moment, eyes strangely sad. "You said once that he was your mate. Your best friend."
Doyle's throat tightened. "He was. He is. More than that, I think." He could hardly believe it, but there seemed to be the glisten of tears in the blue eyes.
"That's me, isn't it? I'm ... Bodie."
Maybe the tears were just his own, blurring everything else. "Yes," he choked out. "You're Bodie."
A hand touched his face, exploring it. "I should know you. There's something inside me that ... I should know you, but I don't. Do you understand that? I don't remember." The hand cupped his cheek, thumb tracing the dented cheekbone. "It ... hurts not to remember."
Doyle shut his eyes, swallowed the painful lump. "Ah, Bodie ..." He covered the hand with his own.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I can't remember. I can't --"
"You've remembered my name," Doyle cut in, smiling.
"You didn't know that before. It's not been mentioned. No one's called me that since London."
"It's not enough though, is it? Just another bit."
"It's enough for now. The rest will come."
Bodie looked thoughtful. "There've been pieces, nothing I could hold onto or make sense of. I suppose it scared me. Like a ship without a compass or an anchor. I'd catch sight of port, then drift away, and there was nothing I could do."
Doyle smiled. "So now you have an anchor. Or maybe just a millstone, eh?"
The hand slid up into his hair and pulled him down into a kiss.
After a long, satisfying moment, Doyle raised his head. "Do you want me to tell you? About everything?"
He could feel the pace of Bodie's heart quicken against his chest.
"No! I ... No, not now."
"But why, Bodie? There's nothing to worry about, mate. There's --"
Bodie pulled away abruptly. "Just leave it for now. I can't ... Hearing about it all won't help, will it? Won't make it seem real."
"It might," Doyle protested.
"No, it'll just be stories about someone I hardly know. Maybe that I don't want to know."
"He's a damn sight better than Odell," Doyle said firmly.
"Is he? I'm Odell, Ray. At least, I have been for over a month - -- maybe longer; I don't even know for sure when all this began." He pressed his fingers against his temple and squeezed his eyes shut, as if trying to block pain. "How the hell did this happen anyway?"
"I'm not sure. What is the first thing you do remember? Do you know?"
Bodie shook his head. "A hotel. Papers. A passport. An envelope of money ... hell, Ray, I don't know. I can't think any more."
"That's okay; don't push. It'll come back in time. All of it will."
Bodie looked up. "Will it?" And what if it doesn't?"
Doyle touched his hand. "I thought you were the one who didn't believe in worrying? You're right; let's leave it for now."
They settled down, Bodie's head against his shoulder, and Doyle felt oddly protective for once. He'd never seen Bodie let his defenses down quite this much. It was a bit unsettling, but he wouldn't have exchanged this moment for anything.
They were both tired and emotionally drained. It wasn't long before Doyle felt himself drifting off.
"Were we ... did we ...? Have we ever had it off before? Together, I mean. Like this?"
Doyle smiled sleepily at the near-embarrassment in Bodie's voice. "No, sunshine, we didn't ever. More's the pity. Why?"
"Then why the hell did I give you flowers?" He sounded disgruntled.
"Flowers?" Doyle was startled totally awake. "You never gave me flowers."
But Bodie was already asleep.
A cool trickle of water on his forehead brought Bodie awake. He blinked away the drops on his lashes and looked up. Ray was standing over him with a dripping canteen, a wicked smile lighting his features.
It was late afternoon. Bodie squinted at the reddish sun, then put his forearm over his face. "Go 'way, will you? Can sleep for another couple hours yet."
"You need a wash, Bodie," Ray commented cheerfully. "Been sweating all day, haven't you? Not to mention our activities this morning."
Bodie's mouth curved into a satisfied smirk beneath the crook of his arm. "Ummm. You run along now, son. I'd rather sleep. But give the snakes a kiss from me, if you're playin' in the pool."
"No snakes. 'Least I didn't see any -- and believe me, I checked. Maybe we got 'em all, eh?" Bodie didn't stir. Ray nudged him with his toe. "Com'on, Bodie. The snakes are dead -- or run off anyway. We can keep an eye out for each other."
"You know they're gone, maybe I know they're gone ... but do the bloody snakes know they've gone?" Bodie rolled over and buried his face in his arms. "Be a good lad and go play in the traffic, will ya? I'm sleepy."
"You're always sleepy," Ray said petulantly.
"You always had this cleanliness fetish, Doyle? Nothing wrong with a bit of good, honest sweat."
Ray seemed to surrender the idea. He sauntered away, but returned again in a moment. "Okay, mate, you don't fancy baths? How about a shower then?"
"Hey!" Bodie yelped as a pan of water was pitched over his naked body.
"How's that feel?" Ray asked sweetly.
Actually it felt very good, but a little retribution still seemed in order. Doyle noted the gleam of battle in Bodie's eyes and took off at a run. Bodie was after him in a flash and tackled him, throwing Doyle to the ground.
They wrestled for a few moments, but Doyle was laughing too hard to put up much of a fight. Bodie had him pinned on his back with his heavier weight full on Doyle, the thin wrists captured securely above the curly head. Doyle was still laughing, gasping for breath, feeling happier than he had for many weeks. But he sobered when he noticed the other man's expression -- tender, possessive.
"Bodie --" he whispered.
"Yes," Bodie answered, eyes very soft. "That's who I am, innit? Sounds right now. Feels right. But the rest of it ..."
"Don't worry about the rest," Doyle put in quickly. "Not now."
Bodie's smile was worth traveling half-way around the world. "And you say we'd never --?"
The blue eyes ate his face up hungrily. "Christ, what self- control I must've had."
Doyle's eyes widened innocently. "Oh, didn't I say? You'd taken a vow of chastity. Totally celibate for years, you were."
Bodie laughed. "You'd drive a saint to sex-crimes, Raymond."
His lips came down and Doyle's mouth opened eagerly. They explored the territory anew, exhaling and drinking each other in. Doyle tried to free his wrists, but Bodie held him tight, moving down his throat, biting gently, lapping at the hardening nipples. He was forced to release his hold as he moved farther down the slender body. Doyle's hands slid up to caress and clutch at the wide shoulders.
"Bodie ..." Doyle sighed, lost again and willing to be lost forever.
Bodie came back up to kiss him, then pulled back, cupping both hands around Doyle's face. There was a question in his eyes. "Ray?"
With a sudden jolt, Doyle realized what was being asked of him. He felt a pang of anxiety. It was farther than he'd imagined taking this, but he could feel Bodie's cock throbbing hotly against his thigh and his own was pulsing with need. The idea frightened him, but the alternative bothered him more. He wasn't prepared to set limits on this. It meant too much.
"I've never ..." he began shakily.
"Shhh," Bodie kissed him. "It'll be good, luv. Trust me."
Then he was gone. Doyle took a deep breath, trying to slow his racing heartbeat. Bodie returned quickly and Doyle saw the plastic bottle of sun oil.
Bodie grinned ruefully. "Had a terrible burn the first week I was here. My lily-white skin, y'know. Didn't help much, but now I'm glad I kept the stuff."
Doyle swallowed nervously and nodded.
"Hey, relax," Bodie soothed, tracing a lazy finger down Doyle's chest. "This will make it easier. I won't hurt you, Ray." He lowered his head and licked the tip of Doyle's cock, creating a gasp of reaction. Blue eyes held green. "If you don't want to --"
Doyle reached for him, too stubborn to voice his fear, too curious to really want to. He figured it must have its good points, or the practice wouldn't be so popular. And at the moment he was aroused enough to be willing to try anything.
Bodie kissed him for a long while, working him to a fever pitch. Caressing him, teasing him, making him beg for more. He took his time, judging the steps flawlessly, knowing when Doyle was truly ready.
When he'd entered, he paused, reading Doyle's expression. There was a wince of discomfort, but Doyle relaxed immediately, lips parted to draw in quick breaths. There was no evidence of real pain.
Doyle shifted his hips a little, and Bodie was forced to clamp down on his natural response to thrust in return -- it was agony to hold still.
"Go on ..." Doyle whispered hoarsely.
Bodie pushed in further, trembling with the effort to be careful when every nerve in his body screamed for him to take what he needed. But in a moment he was deep inside, and he was raking his teeth across Doyle's shoulder, moaning at the sheer beauty of the sensation. Doyle echoed his moan and slipped his legs over Bodie's shoulders.
Bodie quickened his pace. There was no resistance at all now, and Doyle's hands were biting into his arms, urging more. He thrust hard, losing the last of his control. He felt the hot splash of semen on his belly, and Doyle's cry of ecstasy sent him rushing forward to his own climax.
They lay panting, sticking sweatily together, weak from the power of their orgasms. Doyle was the first to recover. His breath was soft against Bodie's ear.
"Glad to see your amnesia is selective, mate."
Bodie rolled from him, still breathing hard. "Yeah, must be like bikes."
"If you do it right once, you never forget." He brushed at his damp skin. "God, we're coated with sand."
Doyle chuckled. "Lucky for me there wasn't any sand in one place."
"Oh, I was very careful, mate."
They smiled at each other.
"Yeah you were," Doyle said softly. "It was good, Bodie."
For a second Bodie looked vaguely uneasy, then he switched the subject. "Looks like you were right about that wash-up. We really need it now, don't we? Or else this sand'll itch like the very devil."
They took turns standing watch for movement near the pool while the other splashed off in the tepid water. They shook the sand out of their clothes the best they could, and dressed.
"You hungry?" Bodie asked when they were finished.
Bodie dug in the packs. "We'll have to eat out of a can. Oddy brought along some stuff to cook in -- I notice you found the pan -- but we had to leave the sterno in the jeep. Don't fancy the idea of huntin' up camel chips or whatever as a substitute."
"Doesn't matter. Too hot as it is."
"It'll cool off soon. Sun's nearly down."
They ate in companionable silence, sitting crosslegged on the sleeping bags.
"So how do we get back to Ndjemena?" Doyle asked finally.
Bodie looked at him strangely. "We're going back to the base."
"Oh, I know that -- at first. What I mean is how do we get to the city from there? Vandemeer isn't going to let us go very easily. He hardly gave pin money to me, but he paid a bloody fortune for Odell."
Bodie was silent. He pulled a cigarette out and lit it, inhaling deeply.
"You don't smoke," Doyle said absently, wondering at the suddenly uneasy tension between them.
"I said that Bodie doesn't smoke."
Bodie took another drag and blew it out slowly. "I do." There was a warning glint in his eyes, almost a defiance.
Doyle let it drop. "Well, what d'you think, mate? Since we've lost one jeep, you reckon he'll trust us with another? If we stash enough petrol, we could get --"
"What makes you think we're going back?" Bodie cut in smoothly.
Doyle stared at him. "'Course we're going back. The Cow is probably frantic by now --"
"Yeah, Cowley. He --" Doyle paused. "Oh ... sorry. He's our boss --"
This time Doyle really noticed Bodie's expression. It was closed, hard, wary. He began again, haltingly, "Listen, Bodie, when we get back to London, things will be better. There are doctors and --"
Bodie stood and turned his back. "No."
"No? What do y'mean? We have to go back."
Bodie spun around. "I don't have to do a bloody thing, Doyle. None of this means crap to me, do you understand that? I know what I am here, what's expected of me. Do you really think I'm going back with you like some tame lamb and let'em poke around in me head 'til they pull out something that suits them? No thanks, mate. I'll pass."
Doyle stood, too. "Bodie, we don't belong here. We have to go home."
"What home, Doyle? As far as I know, I don't have one. You go where you like. I'm sticking with what I know."
"That's stupid," Doyle said hotly. "This isn't our war!"
"Since when are wars owned, Doyle?" Bodie returned sarcastically. "People fight for reasons, and I reckon I have the best reason of all. Four thousand pounds, remember? I was paid to fight this war."
"Odell was paid," Doyle shouted. "You're not Odell, damn it!"
Bodie turned away; lit another cigarette. "Is that right? Well, I know Odell a damn sight better than I know this other chap, y'see."
Bodie looked up, face torn with conflicting emotions. "Yeah, well I may be Bodie, but that's the end of it, innit? That's all I know and it's not enough."
"And what about us, then?" Doyle demanded. "That's not enough either?"
Bodie's eyes dropped. "Listen to what I'm saying, Ray. I know my place here, I know who and what I am. I'm not ready to be led around by the hand and have bits of my life pointed out to me. Not even by you. It's not worth it."
"You're scared," Ray accused.
Bodie tossed the cigarette down on the sand. "Think what you like. I don't give a damn."
Doyle's temper exploded. "And I didn't come all the way here and go through all this crap just to walk off and let you go on playin' mercenary. You passed all that rot years ago, and I'm not lettin' you fall in it again!"
Bodie's eyes flashed. "Just how do you plan to stop me, mate? I appreciate all this sacrifice on my behalf, but you can drop it now, okay? I'm doin' just fine."
"If you liked it so bloody well, why'd you leave Africa in the first place then? Ah, Bodie, dammit!" Doyle stopped and took a deep breath to hold down his frustration. He knew he was taking the wrong tack here; one didn't make Bodie do anything. Doyle wasn't very good at placating, but he began again in a reasonable tone, "Let's just talk this over, eh? If you will just see --"
But the other man ignored him, busy packing up the bags. "We've got to get started. It's nearly dark."
Doyle sighed and copied him, realizing it was useless to talk to him now.
Ten minutes later, they were on the desert. The moon was waning and it was more difficult to see. Doyle trudged along behind Bodie, wondering how they had managed to reach this impasse. The sex had been so damn good, he'd automatically fallen into the cliche of believing the rest of their communication would be as smooth. He should've known Bodie better than that. He had all of his walls up, protective coating in place, and it would probably take dynamite to get them down again.
For over an hour Doyle followed him, brooding, temper rising. As more and more sand sifted into his boots, more and more self-pity colored his thoughts. He'd been through bloody hell for Bodie! Almost got kicked out of CI5 for insubordination ... traveled half-way round the bloody world ... nearly got himself raped because of the ungrateful bastard. As far as that went, he'd let Bodie fuck him! That thought was accompanied by a twinge of guilt -- it had been a very mutual fuck, if he was honest.
In any case, Bodie hadn't exactly made any of it particularly easy except for the fuck, which had been beautiful and he felt very ill-used that Bodie didn't seem to appreciate any of it in the least. How much was he expected to take after all?
"How much do I take of this?" he asked aloud.
"How much farther?" he amended hastily.
"Christ, Doyle, we've only come five or six kilometers."
"Do you even know where you're going?"
"'Course I do; I've a compass, don't I?"
"Terrific," Doyle muttered. "A boy-scout mercenary. What more can I ask?"
They walk on a while longer, then Doyle stopped and dropped down to sit on the ground. "Wait up. Let me empty me boots, will ya?"
Bodie came back impatiently. "What's wrong with you, Doyle? I don't have sand in my boots."
Doyle looked up nastily. "Maybe you have a daintier step than me," he snarled.
Doyle tugged his boot back on angrily, but didn't get up.
"Well, what're you waiting on, Goldilocks?" Bodie said snottily. "A limousine?"
"Goldilocks, eh?" Doyle stood. "If you can remember that, you stupid crud, why can't you remember anythin' else?"
"Never mind." Doyle glared at him. "I've just been wonderin' all the time me boots were busy gatherin' sand there, why you're so set on hangin' around this wonderful, scenic country."
Bodie crossed his arms over his chest, looking amused. "And?"
"Is it MacKenzie?"
Bodie stiffened slightly, but his smile widened. "Why, Raymond, I think you're jealous."
"Is it?" Doyle demanded.
Bodie slipped his pack off and dropped it to the ground. "No, sweetheart, it's not that." He chucked Doyle under the chin, and Doyle felt like flattening him.
"If it's not him, what is it then?"
"I already told you. Let it drop, will ya?"
"I'll drop you, if you don't start makin' some sense! What's between you and MacKenzie. Just tell me that."
Bodie shook his head. "Are you serious? You really want to know?"
Doyle nodded, feeling embarrassed, but suddenly it seemed very important to know.
"Nothing? But --"
"Listen, Ray, I told you, he's just a nice kid. I like him. He's sharp, he's got a good sense of humor. He's a mate, that's all."
"That's not the feeling I get from him."
Bodie hesitated. "He's a bit screwed up right now. After Tommy Lee and that bunch, he thinks he has to pay for everything. If someone is kind to him, he thinks -- oh, hell, you know. He's havin' to learn all over that it doesn't have to work like that."
"But he wanted to have it off with you, didn't he? I can tell he's hot for you."
To Doyle's amazement, Bodie actually blushed. Even in the pale moonlight, he could see the quick change of color.
"Well, I didn't, okay?"
Bodie laughed. "Good god, you're nosey. Because I happen to like birds, all right? Fella's ain't in my normal line, and I hadn't been here long enough to be that hard up."
It was Doyle's turn to blush. He turned away, shocked at the sudden ache inside.
Bodie touched his arm. "Hey, I didn't mean it that way. It was ... I dunno ... different with us. Does that make sense?"
Doyle found he couldn't resist the touch; he turned into the arms. "Maybe it does. I don't understand it either. But it felt good, Bodie."
Bodie held him for a second, face pressed against the curly hair, then released him abruptly. "It doesn't change anything. Don't push me, Doyle."
Doyle started to answer, but there was a strange, booming sound to the right of them, low and threatening.
"What the hell is that?"
"The natives call it 'singing sand'. A billion grains of sand sliding at once. Like a slow surface avalanche."
"It's bloody eerie. What caused it?"
Bodie shrugged. "Vibrations, earthquake ...? It's not dangerous. It's just a sand crest shifting."
Doyle moved closer to him. "Guess I'm a bit nervy lately, eh? Not a lot of avalanches in London, y'know."
Bodie's arms went around him hesitantly, and Doyle felt like throwing off his pack and fucking out here in the desert. At least they understood each other horizontally.
Another rumbling sound pulled Bodie back. "Hear that?"
"It's a jeep."
Bodie ran up the slope of a dune. At the top he waved his arms, then looked back down at Doyle, grinning. "They've spotted me. Told you the Colonel would send someone for us, didn't I?"
"For four thousand pounds," Doyle muttered disgruntled, "I'd bloody send someone, too."
Doyle reached the top as the jeep pulled up. Texan and MacKenzie were inside.
"Need a lift?" MacKenzie laughed.
"As a matter of fact, yes," Bodie grinned, climbing in. He tugged teasingly on the long hair. "So good of you to stop. Run down to the bottom of the hill there and pick up me pack, will ya? There's a good lad."
Doyle climbed in on the other side of the jeep.
"Where's Oddy?" Texan asked.
Bodie and Doyle exchanged a glance.
"Dead," Bodie said. "Someone's idea of a surprise at the waterhole. Vipers."
There was a silence, then MacKenzie put the jeep in gear and drove down the slope to pick up the abandoned backpack. He turned the jeep around and headed back toward the base.
"What happened to your jeep?" MacKenzie called over his shoulder.
"Jeep?" Bodie asked innocently. "Did we have a jeep, Doyle?"
"The thing with four wheels without sand in its boots," Doyle replied.
MacKenzie and Texan both looked back at him.
Bodie grinned. "We lost it, didn't we?"
"You're grinnin' like an egg-suckin' hound dog, Odell," Texan commented. "How could you lose the blasted thing? Forget where you parked it?"
"He traded it in," Doyle said sourly. "They'll deliver the Roller in a day or two."
"What're you two talkin' about?"
"It's like this, Texan," Bodie said solemnly. "They made me a deal I couldn't resist."
There was no more comment the remainder of the trip to the base.
The Colonel was waiting when they arrived. He spoke before the jeep had hardly come to a stop. "Odell, report."
Bodie threw a glance at Doyle and followed Vandemeer back to his hut. Texan swung up Doyle's pack and headed for a hut in the other direction where he and Doyle had set up quarters. Doyle trailed after him, unable to protest. "Hey, Texan, I'm screwin' the Limey now; put the gear in his tent." Sure.
Inside the house, Texan tossed Doyle's backpack down and turned up the lantern. "Okay, Little Bit, what all went on out there?"
Doyle sat down tiredly. "Oddy was getting water and ... it was a booby trap, I suppose. Bodie says the snakes were planted. Anyway, it happened too fast to do much about it."
Texan nodded. "I've seen it happen before. Lots of places. Damn it all, Oddy was a good joe." He looked at Doyle. "What happened with the jeep? When you didn't get back, the Colonel figured you'd been bushwhacked. Almost didn't send anybody out after you until Preacher showed up on a damned camel, no less. Steiger recognized the trappings on the ugly beast and said if you'd run into them the same as he did, you might be all right. They'd've robbed you blind, but probably wouldn'ta kilt you."
"Preacher's back?" Doyle asked in amazement.
"He always comes back, the sonovabitch. Don't know how he did it this time, though. Must've been -- hell, how many miles twixt him an' us? Shit, the good lord looks after loonies, as my grannie used to say." He looked down at Doyle. "Did you run into them camel drivers? Is that what happened to your jeep?"
"Yeah. That tribe -- Toubouri or whatever it is they're called - - - blamed us for the murder of one of their men. If they were telling the truth, it must've been Preacher. It looks rather like they did, since he turned up on one of their camels, don't it? He really is crazy, isn't he?" Doyle went on to give all the details that he knew, and Texan's face became grimmer by the minute.
"Goddammit. This is enough," Texan said at last. "That crazy bastard has pushed enough."
Doyle had never seen Texan so furious -- hadn't realized the easy going man was capable of it. "What is it, Texan?"
"He killed Charlie," Texan replied harshly. "I knew it was Preacher, but I didn't have no real proof, so I let it be. Shoulda done something then, damn it all!" He paused, his fist clenching. "I found Charlie, you know. What was left of him, that is. Practically skinned alive. The Colonel swore one of the natives done it -- pissed off at us white folk butting in here. I knew better; why the hell didn't I stop it then? It wasn't like it was the first time either. There'd been others before that. Never really caught him at it, though ... but everybody knew ... We just let it ride, 'cause it was easier than tryin' to talk sense to the Colonel. Well, it's gotta quit now -- right now!"
Texan left the hut, and Doyle followed him, confused. He'd never imagined Texan getting so worked up about anything. And there was still no solid proof; it was all circumstantial evidence. Doyle was too much of a cop to want to go with anything but hard facts.
When they entered the hut, Vandemeer and Bodie were bent over the map, with Bodie pointing out what he knew about the supply route.
"-- Steiger and Tommy Lee scouting in that area. When they return, we may know for certain."
Preacher was over by the wall, sitting with his knees pulled up under his chin, polishing the blade of his knife on his trouser leg. Doyle had paid little notice to the man the first time he'd seen him, but Texan's fury and accusations made Doyle look closer this time. Strangely enough, by appearance alone, Preacher didn't look particularly crazy. He was clean, his clothes were in order, his hair neatly combed. All in all, he definitely looked tidier than Doyle, who'd been in the same clothes for nearly three days -- and felt it. But when the man looked up, Doyle knew exactly what Texan meant. The eyes were quite mad.
Texan didn't bother to wait for Vandemeer to notice him. "I reckon Odell told you what that wacko sonovabitch done now."
The Colonel looked up from the map. "You have something to say?" he replied coldly.
"You're damn-sure right, I do. Did you tell him, Odell?"
Bodie nodded. "He knows."
"So what're you gonna do about it this time, Colonel?"
Vandemeer tossed down his pencil. "What do you expect me to do?"
"Get rid of that crazy bastard before he cuts up somebody else! I've told you --"
"I know what you have told me," Vandemeer cut him off. "My position has not changed. We need him --"
It was Texan's turn to break in. "Need him? You mean you need him as your goddamn insurance. Keep us in line, right? Or maybe some night you'll send him round to cut our throats in our sleep."
Vandemeer stood. "That is enough."
Doyle watched Preacher. The man seemed totally oblivious of the fact he was being discussed. At least it seemed so until he turned his wild eyes on Texan. Doyle almost shivered. There was a malevolence in the expression that was frightening -- far removed from normalcy. There was cunning there, but no anger or even hatred. Rather there was judgment, condemnation; the look one would see in an executioner's eye.
"Texan," Doyle said warningly.
Texan turned and caught Preacher's eye. It shook him as well. "Stop starin' at me like that, you fuckin' fruitcake, or I'll stick that knife of yours up your ass!"
"Wesley," Vandemeer said quietly, "Go outside."
Preacher held his gaze on Texan for a moment longer, then turned slowly to the Colonel, expression changing to a collie-dog devotion.
"Go on. I'll call for you later," Vandemeer prompted.
Preacher unfolded his long legs and left. Vandemeer looked back at Texan. "There is no proof that he has done anything at all. It is merely because he is ... different that you wish to blame him. I will not have it."
"Jesus H. Christ! How much proof do you need, damn it! You know better than any of us what he's turned into. You're not doin' him any good either, you know. In another month he'll be a gibbering idiot."
Vandemeer took a deep breath and walked away a few steps, turning his back to the other. "Yes ..." he said softly. "I know."
"I'll be damned," Texan said in amazement. "You're afraid of him, too, ain't you? Afraid of what he'll do if you try to get rid of him. He'd cut you up same as the rest of us, wouldn't he?"
"You do not believe that is the reason I hesitate, do you?" Vandemeer retorted, his voice hoarse.
"No ... I know it's not. I reckon it'd be just as hard for me to admit, if I was in your shoes." Texan straightened. "But just the same, I say we shoot the poor devil -- put him out of his misery. Before he kills somebody else."
Bodie and Doyle exchanged startled glances. Only Vandemeer seemed unshocked by the idea.
"It may well come to that," he said sadly. "If it does, I shall do it myself." He spun around. "Do you understand that? I shall do it. Not you, not anyone else."
Texan nodded. "That's okay, then. As long as you don't wait too long, Colonel." He turned on his heel and left the hut.
With a parting look at Bodie, Doyle followed. He ran after Texan, but the long legs had put him far ahead.
"Hey, Texan! Wait up, mate!"
The other man didn't slow. Doyle quickened his pace until he caught up with him. He caught Texan's arm. "Texan?" His eyes widened in alarm as he stared at the tears that coursed down the weather-roughened face.
"What is it?" Doyle demanded gently. "Tell me what's wrong."
Texan stopped and wiped his sleeve over his face, grinning sheepishly. "Damn fool thing, ain't it, Little Bit? Hits me at the oddest times."
Texan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Hell of a world, you know that? It's jest one hell of a fucked up world."
"Yeah, seems like that at times."
Texan found the nearest rock and sat down wearily. Doyle perched uncertainly beside him. Texan was the last person he'd ever expected to be emotional -- he'd seemed like a man who'd rather be horsewhipped than be found crying.
"I knew Charlie Hernandez for nigh onto ten years, did ya know that? Knew him back when he lived in San Antonio. A decent guy for a spic. We were pals. Oh, we had our differences; a few rip- roaring brawls, even, but he was somebody from home. Somebody who knew what I was talkin' about when I spoke about Texas chili or the Oilers. He didn't deserve to buy it that way -- not Charlie ..."
"You sure it was Preacher?"
Texan sighed. "Oh yeah, I'm sure. Had to be somebody downright loco to mess him up that bad." He ran his hand over his face, rubbing his eyes. "I reckon it don't matter much how you go, dead is dead ... but what was left of him wasn't even hardly recognizable. It got to me, ya know? I've seen some nasty sights in my time, but that turned my stomach bad as anything."
Doyle didn't know what to say.
"Poor bastard," Texan said quietly.
"Yeah, Charlie. But I was thinkin' of the Colonel. Maybe about Preacher, too."
"What d'ya mean?"
Texan looked over at Doyle. "Guess you don't know much about it, do ya, kid? Not that it makes much difference, but I suppose it'd be easier to understand." He stared out at the desert, eyes narrowing. "The Colonel knows what's goin' on with Wesley right enough, but he just can't bring himself to do anything about it. Can't blame him, I suppose. Preacher means a hell of a lot to him. I shouldn't made those cheap shots back there. Wasn't really true nohow - -- oh, some of it was. Preacher'd slice up anybody that looked cross- eyed at the Colonel, that's true enough. But the Colonel's never needed anybody to back him up. He can stand his own ground."
"I'm not sure I understand," Doyle said hesitantly. "You mean Vandemeer and Wesley are ... or were ..." he trailed off, unsure of how to word it.
Texan glanced at him, suddenly amused. "Hell, you sure do jump to conclusions, Little Bit. They're brothers, you asshole."
Doyle blushed. "Oh."
"Well they don't look much alike, that's true. But they're kin jest the same. All the family either of them got left, I reckon. They had a farm down in South Africa years back. Something happened and they ended up losing the whole shebang -- maybe all that black-white trouble a few years back. I never heard exactly what it was. They both joined up with the army, and after they got out ... well, one thing led to another and they ended up in this business. No place else to go, I guess ... like a lot of us. They were good, I know that much. I worked with them in ... well, never mind where. Wesley was fine then; sharp as a tack. Mighta been a mite softer than the Colonel, slower on the trigger. But he knew what he was doin'. He was an okay guy."
"What happened to him?"
Texan pulled out a small black cigar and lit it. "There was this job that went real bad. Everything screwed up that could've. We weren't even supposed to be in that country. Anyhow, Wesley got hisself captured. They held him six or eight weeks. Don't know why they finally left him alive -- unless it was to warn the rest of us off. They hadn't left much of him, and that's a fact. Pitiful is a kind word to put to it. He was never the same after that, even after he healed up. His body got okay, but his mind just kinda closed up. Like somethin' mean was chewin' on it inside."
He ground the cigar into the sand with his boot heel and a curse. "That's when everyone started callin' him The Preacher. Used to walk around spoutin' prayers and givin' sermons and singing all those old time hymns. It was weird, but we all knew what he'd been through, and figured that mighta been what kept him alive in there, ya know? Everybody gets religion if you hurt bad enough. He kept getting worse, though, never better. Got to where he never talked at all, unless it was maybe to the Colonel. Poor bastard."
Texan looked at Doyle. "That's what I mean, Little Bit. Ain't a one of us worth piss in a bucket, but I don't think none of us deserves some of the shit that goes down sometimes. Yeah, it's a hell of a world, Doyle."
Doyle started to speak, but Texan stopped him. "I can see you're all ready to give me some fine speech about how it's not all that bad. I appreciate the effort, Little Bit, and I know you're only wantin' to cheer me up some, but it jest ain't no use. I'm older than you by a long shot, and I been around it all more n' once. It don't seem to get no better. I reckon I jest started off in the wrong direction in the beginning and it's too damn late to change now."
Doyle felt the burning of tears in his own eyes -- he and Texan had something in common that way it seemed. He held them back with an effort, knowing Texan wouldn't appreciate that kind of sympathy. It just seemed terribly sad at that moment. The man had been very kind to him from the very first, without asking anything in return. In some ways he reminded Doyle of a mellow Cowley. Protective and fatherly to a certain extent -- but willing to let the other person make his own mistakes. He wished there was something he could say or do to make a difference in how he felt.
The older man looked thoughtful. "You know, Little Bit, I don't think you oughta stay around this bunch too long. You're different than the rest of us. You don't need this kinda shit. I've thought the same thing with that Odell fella. You two are connected in some way, ain't you?"
Doyle nodded, unable to explain even now, and sorry that he couldn't.
"Figured that. You two oughta get shed of all this. Go back home -- England or wherever. Got more to you than this mess." He patted Doyle's shoulder awkwardly. "Shoulda stuck to being a cop, Little Bit. Cops ain't so bad sometimes."
Doyle looked down at the ground, wondering what Bodie would think of that. But also wondering if CI5 was so much better than what the mercenaries were doing. Taking orders, doing what they were told, fighting battles when you didn't always know all the players, let alone the reasons behind it. Was it so very different? Maybe Bodie had been right those many weeks ago. Where did he get off feeling so superior?
Texan stood. "I'm gonna sack out for a while. Thanks for hearin' me mouth off, kid. Good to get it off'n your chest every now and then."
"It's okay, Little Bit. I've got a handle on it now. You just look out for yourself, okay?" He smiled sadly. "'Round here, that's about what you've gotta do, ain't it?"
Doyle watched him leave, then buried his face in his arms, suddenly feeling very tired and depressed.
He lifted his head at the sound of the familiar voice. Bodie sat down beside him.
"Are you okay, mate?" Bodie asked.
"Yeah. Just homesick, I guess." He looked at him. "Are we going home, Bodie?"
The other man was silent for a moment. "I told you to go when you liked."
"I'm not going to leave you, Bodie." A pause. "Not ever. Does that sound stupid?"
Bodie concentrated on his boots. "Maybe." Then, harsher, "Maybe I'm not worth the effort."
"That's for me to decide."
Their eyes met.
"Ray, I can't --"
"It's okay, sunshine. I'll wait 'til you're ready."
For some reason that seemed to infuriate the other man. He stood and took a couple of steps away. "You're not ready for sainthood, Doyle. And I'm not ready to burn at the stake along with you. Stop calling me Bodie, dammit! If someone hears, we'll both be cooked."
"I'll be careful," Doyle replied, subdued, "I'm not a fool."
"If you wait around on me, mate, that's exactly what you are!"
Doyle's shoulders slumped. "Oh hell, maybe you're right. What's the point?"
There was a long moment of silence, then Bodie returned to sit beside him on the rock.
"No, I think you're the one who's right," he admitted softly. "I am scared. I don't even know why, but I am."
Doyle smiled ruefully. "You've never been one to trust easily. It can't be easy for you."
"I trust you, Ray. I have to."
There was another silence between them that stretched out awkward and long. Doyle wasn't sure if Bodie meant that he would go back with him or if he meant something else entirely. He didn't feel up to asking and perhaps starting up another argument. He just felt tired and empty and sad. Ridiculously, he wished Bodie would put his arm around him. Impossible here -- probably just as impossible back in London. As Texan so aptly put it: Hell of a world, wasn't it?
Bodie put his arm around Doyle. "Hey, I hate being serious."
The tension in Doyle began to fade. He smiled and leaned into the embrace gratefully. "I know. You always did."
He could almost feel the warmth of Bodie's smile.
"Ray Doyle, I think we have a definite problem."
"Another one? What's that?"
"Everytime I look at you, I want you."
"'S right? It'll pass, I'm sure. It's just a phase."
"Think so, eh?"
"Just new, is all. Be old hat in no time."
"That's good to know. I'd hate to walk around with a perpetual erection."
"You do anyway, so what's new?"
Still another silence, this one strangely sweet and comfortable. Bodie finally took his arm away. "Enough of that, mate. I love to cuddle you, but we'll cause talk."
Doyle's eyes gleamed. "So?"
Bodie looked amused. "You don't care? I thought you were flaunting your machismo."
"Only to keep off the riff raff," Doyle grinned. "But I suppose you're right."
Their eyes met again, on the edge of laughter, but wonderfully aroused.
"Is it really? We can be discreet."
"Not with the noise you make, mate. They'll think a camel's in heat."
"I'll wear a gag."
Bodie shook his head, laughing. "Your place or mine?"
"Mine's occupied. What about yours?"
"Well Mac's on watch. Should be empty."
Bodie touched him. "You sure?"
"Don't tease, Bodie. It's not becoming."
They adjourned to the hut and Bodie pulled the flimsy door shut. "Nothing like privacy. Keeps my tattoo secret."
"You didn't notice?" Bodie asked, crestfallen.
Doyle stopped in the midst of unfastening his pants. "You really have a tattoo? You have to be joking."
"I never joke about art, Doyle. Figured you would've noticed it."
"I was a bit occupied with other things. Give us a look then."
With an equal degree of pride and embarrassment, Bodie pulled off his shirt and indicated the mark an inch below his nipple.
"I thought it was a mole," Doyle teased, inspecting it. "It's a bloody clover leaf!"
"A shamrock," Bodie elucidated primly. "Seemed like a good idea at age fifteen. I was in the merchant's, y'know. Ever seen a sailor without a tattoo?"
Doyle dropped down on the sleeping bag, laughing. "And that's the best you came up with, is it?"
"I considered the Queen Mary, but me skin was too tender."
"Oh, yes, I can see that."
Doyle came up to his knees, sliding his hands up the muscular thighs until he reached the fastening of Bodie's trousers. "Any others I should know about?" He asked, dipping his tongue into the navel. "I hate surprises."
"No," Bodie replied breathlessly. "Hurt too much the first time, didn't it? Very sensitive, I am."
"Umm. I can tell."
"Can't talk with me mouth full. Not in the mood for conversation anyway."
"Don't want to talk, want to kiss you."
He dropped down on the bedroll and Doyle obliged. It was hot, sweet and promising. Bodie ran his hand up Doyle's side beneath the shirt, feeling the resultant quiver.
The door opened suddenly. "Odell --"
They both sat up.
MacKenzie looked at them, surprise fading to a careful blankness. "Sorry." His eyes met Bodie's. "Didn't mean to interrupt. I can see you're busy." MacKenzie left even more abruptly than he'd arrived.
Doyle shrugged. "I suppose the proverbial cat's out of the bag now, innit?"
Bodie reached over and dug in the pocket of his discarded shirt for a cigarette. "Mac will keep quiet."
Doyle looked at him curiously. "You sure about that? Didn't like it much, did he?"
Bodie lit the cigarette, not answering. He rubbed his fingers over his temple absently.
"What's wrong?" Doyle asked. When the other man didn't reply, he touched his shoulder. "Bodie, you are all right?"
"Eh? Oh, yeah. Headache."
Doyle burst out laughing. "I thought we was supposed to be married a while before that started up." Bodie didn't look at him. "Hey, does it bother you that MacKenzie saw us? Is that it?"
"What? Oh, don't be daft." Bodie lay down flat, pulling his arm over his eyes. Doyle grabbed the cigarette before it burned a hole in the bag, stubbing it out.
"Bodie -- what the hell's wrong with you? You meant it about your head, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Sometimes it's worse than others. It'll pass off in a minute."
Doyle regarded him worriedly. "How long has it been like this?"
"Dunno. Long as I can remember." The arm lifted, his smile was rueful. "Which isn't so very long, is it?"
"Haven't you ever thought this might be the cause of all of it," Doyle said quickly. "The amnesia, I mean. It might be all connected. Did you get a knock on the head or --"
"Come on, Ray. Bit melodramatic, what? It's not all that bad."
"Well, something has to've caused it, didn't it? Have you seen a doctor at all?"
"I dunno. I think so ... when I was in Tangier. Gave me some tablets. Didn't help much."
"Did he take x-rays, or --"
"Ray," Bodie's teeth were gritted, "I can't think very well right now, okay? If I just lay quiet for a spell, I'll be all right."
Doyle smoothed back the tangled curls on Bodie's forehead. "Okay, mate. You sleep for a bit then."
Doyle headed back to his own hut, planning to discuss the problem with Texan. Perhaps he would have a suggestion on how they could get out of here with the least amount of trouble. It was beginning to look important that they waste as little time as possible. Whatever the accident that created the original problem with Bodie, it was obviously still plaguing him. He needed medical treatment, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
Doyle hesitated. It didn't seem like such a good idea to throw another problem on Texan right now. He was loaded with enough troubles of his own. It would be better to give him more time. His stomach growled suddenly, and he realized he was hungry. He detoured over to where Baconni had set up a sterno stove outside one of the huts.
"What's cookin'?" Doyle asked. "Enough to go around?"
"Sure, grab yourself a plate." He looked around cautiously. "Got some pretty decent booze, too, if you're interested -- and can keep your mouth shut about it. I hate to drink alone."
"Mum's the word," Doyle assured him. "I could use a drink about now."
Bacon winked and slipped off to one of the huts. Doyle dished up a portion of stew into a plate, but discovered his appetite wasn't as good as he'd thought. His mind kept turning back to Bodie, wondering how serious the situation was, whether he would be able to convince him to go back for that reason, since nothing else seemed to work.
Doyle looked up as he heard someone approaching. MacKenzie sat down across from him, rifle across his lap. Doyle found it impossible to read his expression. Uncertain of what to say, Doyle took another bite of the food, then sat the plate to one side.
"Still on watch?" he asked lamely.
"No. Ramassy took over." The brown eyes studied Doyle carefully. "Where's Odell?"
MacKenzie nodded. "His head again, I'll bet. Gives him fits sometimes."
Doyle's eyes sharpened with interest. "It does, does it? For a long time now?"
"Since he's been here. Off and on. He tries to cover it up, but I think it hurts him damn bad sometimes. Too stubborn to do anything about it, though. Told me he got hit by a car right before he left London. Hit and run -- carload of kids. He didn't think he was hurt bad enough to go to the hospital, but I've got a suspicion he picked up a nasty concussion or something like. It shouldn't be hanging on this long otherwise."
"So that was it," Doyle said to himself. "All this because of ..."
"Never mind, just thinking out loud. Want some coffee?"
"No." MacKenzie fell silent for a moment, meditative. "Sorry about barging in on you earlier. I didn't know that ... well, you know."
"S'okay," Doyle said uncomfortably. "It doesn't matter."
MacKenzie looked up. "You think it bugs me, don't you? You and Odell."
"I dunno." Doyle took a sip of the coffee. "Does it?"
MacKenzie smiled wryly. "Maybe it does. But don't worry, I'm not about to make anything of it. Wouldn't be any point, would there?" He looked belligerent for a second. "I'm not queer or nothing, you know."
"I know." Doyle stared into his coffee cup. "I never figured I was either."
MacKenzie flushed. "I ... sorry. Didn't mean that. Things are ... different out here, you know?"
"I'm beginning to wonder about that," Doyle said softly. "Maybe it's just easier to be honest about some things."
The younger man shrugged. "I just didn't want you to think I was ... jealous or something sissy like that. What Odell does is his own business."
Doyle couldn't help but smile, remembering his own pangs of jealousy toward MacKenzie. Sissy. He hadn't considered it in that light, but it had certainly been ridiculous. Suddenly he didn't feel much older than MacKenzie, although there was probably ten years difference in their ages.
"Anyway," MacKenzie continued awkwardly, "I owe him a lot -- I guess you know that. Enough to back off if that's what he wants."
Doyle wasn't sure what to say, what MacKenzie wanted to hear. It wasn't surprising that the boy had a crush on Bodie under the circumstances, and at that age, it could hurt a great deal. At any age, he corrected himself.
"He likes you, Mac. A lot."
MacKenzie waved the idea aside. "Nah. He's a loner. He told me that."
Doyle felt a tightness in his chest. "He did?"
"Yeah, one night he was in a really strange mood. Started quoting poetry --" MacKenzie's teeth flashed white. "Did you know he liked poetry? He can spill it out for hours ... it was kinda neat. Anyhow, he had this favorite -- Kipling. 'Who travels fastest travels alone' and stuff like that. I guess I knew he wasn't going to stick around long; not with things like that on his mind."
MacKenzie stood. "Just wanted you to know there wasn't any bad feelings on my part. They rib me about being a kid, but I know the score."
"See you around, Doyle."
He walked off, leaving Doyle to consider what he'd been told.
The coffee suddenly tasted bitter.
Bacon returned with the whiskey and Doyle emptied the cup on the ground so he could pour in the liquor. He took a drink, letting it burn slowly down his throat.
"The Colonel says we're pulling out in a couple of hours," Bacon commented. "Since Odell found out where the supplies are coming through, he wants to cut it off before another shipment goes makes it to Ndjemena. Soon as Tommy Lee and Steiger make it back."
Doyle glanced at his watch. It was barely after one a.m., but he felt exhausted. "Terrific," Doyle muttered, "Never a dull moment." He drained the cup and stood. "Better try to get some sleep while I can then. Thanks for the drink."
He headed toward the hut Texan had taken his bedroll, wondering if Texan was still there or was taking his turn on watch. At the door of the hut, he stopped suddenly, some sixth sense screaming at him not to open that door. There were soft sounds coming from inside, a nearly inaudible humming -- but barely human. The back of his neck prickled eerily.
Pulling his gun, he pushed open the door cautiously. "Texan?"
The smell of blood struck him first, before anything else could register on his senses. His stomach lurched uncontrollably, and the gun wavered in his hand as he fought the instinctive urge to run from the scene.
Preacher was kneeling beside what was once Texan, the blade of his knife flashing busily, red and silver, as it continued slashing.
Doyle backed up against the door, mouth too dry to speak. He swallowed convulsively. "Hold it!" He aimed the gun. "Wesley! Stop it!"
Preacher was oblivious to Doyle's entry or the voice that called to him. He kept on working at the corpse, humming some strange off-key melody."
From the waist up, there was little left to identify the man as Texan. Preacher's arms and chest were washed in crimson, it spattered on his face, and he paused a second to wipe a drop from his eye.
"My God, stop it!" Doyle yelled. He fired off a round at the earth near Preacher's feet. "I'll shoot, do you hear me? Get away from him! Please, god, get away from him!"
Preacher looked up almost absently, but the feral gleam in his eye alerted Doyle to the knife's changed position -- it was poised to throw.
Doyle shot him. The force of the explosion threw Preacher back against the wall, and he remained there, propped in a sitting position, the top of his head blown away.
The gun fell to Doyle's side, his eyes closed. "Christ ... oh Christ ..."
The sound of the shots brought the others. They pushed in the door, shoving Doyle to one side.
"What the hell --!" Ramassy took in the scene at a glance. "Holy Jesus!" MacKenzie and Bacon followed him in. None of them said anything, momentarily stunned.
"Doyle, you okay?" Ramassy asked.
Doyle nodded but didn't open his eyes.
"What is all this?" Vandemeer pushed past the others angrily, then stopped cold. "Wesley?" He walked slowly to his brother's body, as if unable to believe it. Then he turned to Doyle. "You? You did this thing?"
"Hey, wait a minute, Colonel," Ramassy put in hastily. "Preacher must've flipped. Look what he did to Texan! Doyle just --"
With a roar of grief and rage, Vandemeer lunged forward. Ramassy and Baconni jumped to block him before he reached Doyle.
"Get the hell out of here, Doyle!" Ramassy shouted, trying to hold the man down.
Doyle blinked. "What?" Once his eyes had opened again, they froze on what was left of Texan, all the color draining from Doyle's face as the sight imprinted on his mind.
MacKenzie shoved Doyle toward the door. "Run, you fool, while they try to get the Colonel calmed down. Go on!"
Doyle was still stunned, his gaze still on Texan's torn body. "But --"
"Get him the fuck out of here, Mac!"
MacKenzie pushed him out of the hut, but once outside, Doyle's instincts screamed at him to run, to flee the pictures in his mind, the smell of blood, the intense sweep of grief he felt for Texan. Leave it all behind and find someplace clean. He ran and continued running, ignoring MacKenzie's call for him to wait. He heard MacKenzie yelling for Odell and ran even faster.
Odell's not here, Doyle thought crazily, He's in a jail cell back in London. Lucky Odell; he doesn't know how lucky he is ...
Doyle ran. He didn't pause when he reached the edge of the oasis. He ran on, out into the desert, breathing in the cold night air in huge gulps. The soft sand slowed his pace, but he pushed on, afraid to stop and face the images that chased him. But he couldn't outrun them. They caught him finally as his legs gave out and dropped him weakly down in the sand.
Texan ... no face ... no eyes ... I blew his brains out ... Texan's dead ..."Get out, Little Bit ... Too late for me" ... there was blood in Preacher's hair ... blood on the walls ... I'm a cop, I've seen worse ... no I haven't ... never worse ... I'm sick, Bodie ... I want to go home ... "Go when you like" ... never leave you here ... you'll die ... I'll die ... Texan's dead ... please stop ... leave him alone now ... I'll shoot ...
Doyle was violently sick; the whiskey burning his throat all over again on the way back out. He couldn't stop retching even long after he was empty and hurting with it.
A voice called to him, but he could hardly hear it over the sound of his own sobs.
Go away, he thought fiercely. Leave me to fall apart in peace ...
"Ray ..." A hand touched his shoulder.
He wanted to stop crying, felt like a fool, but there seemed to be a bottomless well of pain inside him, and now that it had started he didn't seem to have the strength to choke it off.
Bodie's arms went around him awkwardly. "Hey, mate. It's okay ... shhh."
Doyle clutched at him. "Did ... you see ... him? Did you ...?"
"I saw," Bodie said grimly. "I'm sorry, sunshine."
"I tried to stop him ... he wouldn't stop ... Christ, he just kept hacking away ... I shot him ... he just ... wouldn't ... stop ...."
Bodie's arms tightened. "You had to, Ray. For god's sake, don't blame yourself. The man was mad as a hatter."
"No .. could've just ... wounded him ... my god ... I shot him in the face, Bodie ... blew his brains out ... more blood ... why didn't he stop?"
Bodie shook him a little. "Snap out of it, Ray! You did what you had to, and that's that. Leave it go."
The nightmare scene was still too clear to Doyle. "He was ... humming. Bodie, if you'd of heard him ... humming!" Doyle laughed, harsh and hurting. "I know what it was ... he was humming. Wanta know, Bodie? 'Washed in the Blood of the Lamb' ... remember that? Blood .. my god ..."
"Ray! Stop it! It's over now!"
Doyle took a deep breath, still shuddering, pulling himself together, but the sobs had stopped. He looked at Bodie. "It's always so ... so bloody easy for you. You can ... just walk off and forget it ..."
Bodie stiffened. He pushed Doyle away and reached in his pocket for a handkerchief, pouring water over it from a canteen. He wiped Doyle's face as one would a child's. "Not always so easy as you think," he said quietly.
Doyle jerked away, grabbing the cloth. He rubbed at his burning eyes, another sob fighting its way out. "Christ ... Texan ..."
"Texan's dead," Bodie said suddenly, harshly. "Like a lot of people. There's nothing to be done about it now."
Doyle stared at him, almost hating him in that instant. "Damn you, Bodie. You can go to hell, do you hear me, mate? I've taken enough -- too much. You had one thing right, though. You're not worth it!"
"Why?" Bodie returned viciously, "Because I don't bawl my eyes out every time someone buys it? Well, maybe I've had enough, too, Doyle. Did y'ever think of that, eh? That I did all my cryin' long ago -- enough to last a bloody lifetime. That I learned if I tore meself up over everyone I cared about and lost, there'd be nothing left of me! Oh hell, what's the use --" Bodie turned away, head lowered.
Doyle sat back, a little stunned by the outburst. All of that was inside Bodie? Abruptly he remembered something Bodie had told him, not so long after he'd first met him. One of the few bits of Bodie's past he did know. "Krivas killed her ... close range ... she was beautiful ..." And how many others had he lost -- friends, family, lovers -- that he'd never brought himself to talk about? How much pain did a person take before they taught themselves to survive with it? I'm still learning, Doyle thought sadly. Bodie's had a head start.
He reached out. "Bodie, I'm sorry."
The other man didn't look at him. "Maybe that's the problem, Doyle. Maybe I've remembered enough to know I'd rather not have the rest. Easier to walk away from it ... easier to forget it all, eh? That thump on the head might've been a blessing."
"No. Not when you forget the good things, too."
Bodie turned, the old smile almost back in place. "An' you're one of the good things, I suppose?"
"You'll have to tell me that -- when you remember."
"You're so positive I will, aren't you?"
"You have to." Doyle took a drink from the canteen to wash the sour taste from his mouth. He felt better. "I feel like a bloody fool. Running off like a scared kid." He handed the canteen back to Bodie. "What's happening back there?"
"They were burying Texan and Preacher."
Doyle pulled a shaky breath. "Yeah. How's Vandemeer taking it?"
"I went after you before I saw, but I imagine he's calmed down by now. He'll know there was nothing else you could do. I'd steer clear of him for a while just the same, though."
Bodie was silent for a moment. "We'd better get back then."
They were piling rocks on the shallow graves when the two returned. Doyle stood for a moment beside them, realizing he had no idea who was buried where. Not that it mattered a lot. He jumped when Ramassy touched his shoulder.
"Listen, Doyle," the man said quietly. "Texan was an all right guy. I know you and me have -- well, you've got good reason to hate my guts, I suppose." He smiled crookedly, "I don't take no for an answer very easily."
"So?" Doyle stepped back warily.
"Texan liked you a lot; everybody knew that. I think he would've wanted you to have this. He wouldn't have seen any sense in putting it under the ground with him."
Ramassy handed the object to Doyle and walked away. It was a pocketwatch, old and tarnished and dented, but just as obviously cherished. The engraving on the back was nearly worn smooth. "To Calvin, aged 10, 1943."
He looked at Bodie. "Yeah?"
"I really am sorry, you know?"
Doyle took a deep breath and stuck the watch in his pocket. "I know. It's just --"
The roar of a jeep as it tore into camp cut off his words. It skidded to a stop and Tommy Lee jumped out.
"We've gotta bug out right away! There's a fuckin' army on our tail!"
The rest of them ran over and Vandemeer appeared from one of the huts.
"What is this?"
"I just told you! We gotta get movin'! They're only a couple miles behind us, dammit!"
"He's right, Colonel." Steiger climbed from the jeep. "It is an army and they're headed this way."
"Colonel, would we make this shit up?" Tommy Lee kept shifting nervously, eyes very wide.
"Did they see you?" Vandemeer demanded tersely.
Steiger shook his head uncertainly. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Gaddafi is invading?" The older man looked thoughtful. "Odell, get as high as you can and see if you can spot anything. Doyle, Steiger -- break out the automatic rifles and ammunition. There are grenades in the pack in my quarters."
Bodie grabbed a pair of binoculars and scaled one of the palm trees. After a moment, he called down, "It's too dark to see much ... no, there are lights ... a lot of them ... headlamps ... moving this way."
"Can you get an idea of the numbers?"
The voice was rueful as Bodie answered, "Not sure I can count that high, Colonel."
"I suppose we can stop worrying about cutting off the supply routes now that we've got the whole Libyan army to stop," Ramassy commented dryly. He looked at Doyle. "Got your sling-shot, David?"
"We will move out, of course," Vandemeer said curtly.
"Oh, good choice, Colonel."
Vandemeer ignored Ramassy's sarcasm. "Load arms, ammo and water. Nothing else. All of you!"
They all moved to obey, as Odell dropped down from the tree.
"Odell, could you pick out any armaments?"
Bodie shook his head. "Not from this distance and in the dark. But I could make a pretty good guess. Probably some tanks with them ... heavy artillery -- I imagine they're planning on taking the capitol. No other reason for such force of numbers."
"What is your estimate?"
Bodie shrugged. "Hard to say. Four or five thousand men maybe. Habre doesn't have a damn thing that could hold this mob back. Even the French won't do it. No time for them to gather forces, even if they wanted to -- which I doubt."
Vandemeer swore in Afrikanaars. "It is over then. The best we can do is to return to Ndjemena and warn Habre --"
"Jeeps. They sent scouts ahead ... must have spotted Steiger and Lee."
"They were running without lights, or I would have seen them."
They had both grabbed for their guns and were loading them as they spoke; the rest of the mercenaries were doing the same.
The first shot rang out and with beautiful purpose, hit the gas tank of one of the land rovers -- it went up in an explosive blaze of light.
"Lucky shot," Bodie muttered, rolling across the sand to the cover of one of the trees. "Colonel! They're coming in on two sides!"
There was a staccato burst of machine gun fire and someone screamed. The blazing vehicle blackened the shadows outside its circle of brightness, making it difficult to see. There were more shots, and Bodie picked off an unfamiliar figure making its way around the corner of one of the huts.
He felt rather than saw Doyle slip out of the doorway of another hut, inching and sliding his way to better cover. When he was closer, Bodie stage whispered: "Doyle!"
The curly head came up, outlined against the fire.
"Get your head down, you ass!"
But instead Doyle aimed in his direction and fired. Bodie spun around as a body collapsed a few yards behind him. With a quick sprint and a leaping roll, Doyle was beside him.
"Now who the bloody hell are you telling to keep their head down?" Doyle demanded, teeth flashing whitely in a grin. "Watch your own ass."
Bodie grinned back at him. "Yeah."
Doyle reloaded his gun.
"Why don't you have a rifle?"
"Didn't have time. Besides, I can move quicker with this. How many of them are there, do y'think?"
"Can't be too many. Ten, maybe twelve tops."
"That means we're outnumbered."
Bodie fired again. "Not any more."
"Nope. You missed."
"I did not."
"Did too. You're a lousy shot, mate. Always were."
"You're makin' that up. I don't believe a word you say, Raymond."
It was Doyle's turn to fire. "Now we're not outnumbered. Didn't I tell you what our line was back home?" he asked conversationally.
"No, don't believe you did. Trashmen, is it?"
"Something like. No, we're secretaries, actually. But only during the day. At night I'm a gigolo and you're my pimp. Or is it the other way round?"
"Now that sounds familiar. And on holidays you're Tonto and I'm the Lone Ranger, right?"
"Very good, quemo sabe."
Another spatter of machine gun fire, too close for comfort, had them hugging the ground again, heads ducked instinctively.
"Christ," Bodie said with all reverence. "Almost got your curls trimmed, sweetheart. I hate to break up this little chat, but we're too obvious a target like this. We'd better split up."
"Right. Remember, Father's expecting us for tea later. Don't be late." Doyle rolled over, took another dive and disappeared behind a jumble of rocks.
"Keep your head down, Doyle," Bodie whispered to himself. "Please ..."
The sporadic fighting continued for another ten minutes, and then there was silence except for the popping crackle of the burning jeep.
Vandemeer called out, "Tommy Lee?"
"Yup, I think we got 'em all."
There was no answer.
Vandemeer continued with the call until everyone had answered except Baconni and Ramassy. The rest of them came out of their cover cautiously. In the firelight an occasional lump indicated bodies.
"Ramassy's dead," Tommy Lee said quietly. "He was the first to get it."
"Dead," Steiger said.
"There's one jeep and one of the land rovers left," Odell commented. "I think we'd better move while we have the chance."
"It'll be dawn in an hour," Steiger pointed out. "How long will they last in the heat?"
"Long enough to get us to the next oasis, if we are lucky," Vandemeer said. "But the Libyans will stop also. For a time, at least. Carry as much water as we can for cooling the motors."
Bodie moved over to where Doyle stood, the green eyes wide, the round face flushed with the excitement of the battle. Bodie felt like kissing him.
"For a secretary, you're not bad in a pinch, mate."
Doyle grinned. "Had experience, ain't I? You should see me at the office parties."
"Odell and Steiger will come with me in the land rover," Vandemeer directed. "We will follow the rest of you in the jeep."
"See you around, sunshine," Bodie said, going toward the land rover.
"Yeah ... oh, and tell Vandemeer I expect my raise now!" Doyle called after him.
The land rover had started up and was on the desert heading south before a half dozen flashes of memory assaulted Bodie. "When's the overtime coming through?" "I'm going to ask Cowley for a raise .." "I shall want that pen back ..."
It was still only disjointed bits, but it suddenly seemed hilariously funny and totally fitting that Doyle, of all people, would ask for a raise with the Libyan army on their ass.
Steiger stared at him in confusion as Bodie went off into whoops of laughter.
It was an exhausting, dusty, nerve-wracking journey. They were forced to travel part of the way during the daylight, when the sun turned every bit of metal on the vehicles red hot and searing to the touch. Twice they spotted a cloud of dust on the horizon that told them their tail was not far behind. They had no choice but to halt at a small oasis during the hottest portion of the day -- both radiators were on the verge of boiling over, and their water supply was dwindling from constant replacement.
Doyle was put on watch while the rest of them grabbed a couple hours sleep in the meager shade. Then they pushed on before the sun was fully down.
It was nearly dawn of the next day before they reached Ndjemena. They'd been obliged to siphon petrol from the land rover's larger tank for the jeep. Every village they passed was deserted.
"They've had some kind of warning," MacKenzie commented. "They've all bugged out."
"Where would they go?" Doyle asked.
"Where we're heading, asshole," Tommy Lee spat out. "East, across the border into Cameroon."
"Lay off him, Tommy," MacKenzie said edgily. "You've been trying to goad him all night."
"Shut up, bitch! The Limey ain't here to babysit you all now, is he?"
MacKenzie subsided into silence, and Doyle felt like bashing Tommy Lee's teeth in. He held back his temper; a moving jeep wasn't the best place to start a brawl -- especially when five thousand unfriendly people were only a couple miles to the rear.
Tommy Lee threw a dark look at Doyle, daring him to respond to the challenge, but Doyle refused to rise to the bait. They were on their way out of this crummy country, and he'd put up with Tommy Lee or Adolf Hitler as long as they kept moving.
They finally reached the edge of the city. It was also nearly deserted. A few panicky natives pushed carts filled with their belongings down the dusty streets. There was some evidence of looting, but no looters in sight.
"God, this place cleaned out fast enough," MacKenzie remarked. "It's like they knew they were coming."
Doyle remembered the Australian pilot's warning. "I think a lot of people knew they were coming. Except the French maybe. And us."
An explosion sounded to their right.
"What the hell?" Tommy Lee jerked the wheel over, narrowly missing a falling section of plaster. "Mortar fire! Shit, they've already set up the guns! They're gonna bomb the fuckin' place to bits before they come in!" He speeded up the jeep, and behind them the land rover followed suit.
There were more explosions, coming closer together now. Some parts of the street were becoming blocked with rubble as buildings collapsed. Doyle turned to look back just as a mortar came down near the land rover. The force of the blast flipped the vehicle neatly on its side.
"Stop! They've been hit!" Doyle grabbed his arm.
"I'm not stoppin' for anythin' -- it'll be us next!"
The muzzle of Doyle's automatic nudged Tommy Lee's side. "You stop the bloody jeep now, or it'll be you next!"
He had barely slowed to a stop, when Doyle jumped out and ran back over the rubble to where the land rover lay. He could see Vandemeer's body crushed beneath it; inside, Steiger lay with his neck at an impossible angle.
"Bodie!" Doyle screamed, and scrambled around the loose bricks and dirt to the other side. Bodie had been thrown clear, but was laying very still. Doyle turned him over gently, put his ear to his chest and closed his eyes at the wonderful thumping beat. "Bodie, you gorgeous dumb crud, I thought you were finished this time," he choked.
Another mortar pounded into a nearby building, and Doyle lay over Bodie to block the fall of dirt and stone.
Tommy Lee had backed the jeep up closer. "I told you they were dead!" he shouted.
"Doyle, come on!" MacKenzie urged.
"No! He's alive!" Doyle shouted back over the thundering sound of shells that were blessedly falling farther away now. "Help me with 'im!"
"You must be crazy!" Tommy Lee laughed. "I told that sucker I'd get him for knifing me ... owe you too, I reckon. When them Arabs show up, I s'pect they'll give you a harder time than even I could think up. Don't like white folks much, do they now?"
Doyle pulled his gun and aimed it at Tommy Lee. "You help me with him, or I'll blow you away right now."
Tommy Lee laughed. "Sure Doyle. Do that. Go ahead. Let's see you shoot me down in cold blood. It's not the same as if I was shootin' back at you, is it? Go on, pull the trigger. Just like you did on Preacher, right?"
Doyle's finger tightened on the trigger. "I'll do it ... I swear."
"Go on then. You think I'm scared of dyin'? Shit."
Doyle felt his hand waver. It was true; he'd never shot a man in cold blood. Never had time to think about it first. And now that he did...
The gun dropped. He looked at MacKenzie, pleading. "Help me with him."
MacKenzie started to move, but Tommy Lee caught his arm. "Sit still, kid. You get outa this jeep an' I'll leave your ass, too. You wanna die with the likes of them?"
MacKenzie looked back at Doyle and then down at Bodie. "Tommy --"
"Do you know what them Arabs do to pretty little white boys like you, son? It's a hell of a lot worse than anything we coulda thought of. What is it? You want your balls chopped off, huh?"
MacKenzie sat back down in the jeep, head lowered.
Doyle looked down at Bodie's unconscious form, panic hitting him. "Mac, you're not goin' to leave 'im like this, are you? Not you?"
MacKenzie didn't answer, and Tommy Lee laughed and put the jeep back in gear. "Have fun, boys."
Doyle sat for a moment, holding Bodie's head in his lap, stunned at the realization that that was their last chance out.
The momentary silence was shattered by a closer explosion. It made it clear that they couldn't remain laying here in the middle of the street. Not that he could think of any safe shelter from this. Still, anything had to be better. He didn't know much about mortars or the patterns they followed, but they seemed to be targeted in a type of grid, a systematic coverage back and forth. Judging by the last shell, it was coming back their way.
He checked Bodie over for injuries before he tried to move him. His right leg was turned at an awkward angle, broken at mid-calf. His thigh was also bloody where shrapnel had pierced him. While very pale, his heartbeat seemed regular and strong.
Bodie moaned as Doyle started to move him, reacting to the jerk on the broken leg. "Sorry, sunshine," Doyle murmured. He half- dragged, half-carried the unconscious man into a doorway that afforded shelter on three sides at least. Inside, the room was blocked by fallen beams and bricks, so Doyle took him no further than the entrance, propping the limp body against the wall, bracing his own shoulder against him to keep him from slipping over.
Outside, a shell landed in the center of the street, and Doyle blocked the shower of dust and debris. A shard of glass grazed his cheek, and he wiped the blood away shakily.
"That was a bit close, mate. One more like that, an' we'll be hittin' those pearly gates together, eh?"
He carefully wiped away the dirt from Bodie's face, brushing it from where it clung to the long lashes. "Hey, com'on, sunshine ... wake up, will ya? Always sleepin', ya dumb crud ... Bodie ... Bodie ... Christ, what do we do now, eh?"
Doyle leaned back against the wall, flinching everytime a shell exploded. His ears were ringing, and the continuous thundering noise made him want to scream, gave him no time to think.
This was nothing like the training sessions for CI5; this was no simulation, this was real. No wonder Bodie had always been so bored by the interminable 'refresher' courses. He'd been through this for real, and there was no way to fake the terror of it. Doyle had been around bombs enough, but those bombs had always sat still -- they didn't come looking for you. And this was war, real war. He'd always figured it was exaggerated, that it couldn't be worse than some of the fixes he'd found himself in before. But they'd never mentioned the helplessness of it; the fact that, if you were stuck in the middle of it, there was no place to run.
He looked down at Bodie. Bodie couldn't run anyway, so that settled that, didn't it?
At least the shelling had moved farther away again, although each explosion still had his heart leaping to his throat.
"It's probably like thunder, y'know," he commented to the unconscious man, "Y'never hear the one that gets you, do ya? It's just a bloody lot of noise 'til then, eh?"
A mortar struck near the building they were in and timbers caved in behind them; the top of the door jamb above them shook loose and dropped inches from Doyle's foot. He clutched at Bodie, squeezing his eyes shut.
"Christ ... Bodie, I'm scared ..." His mouth was too dry to swallow. "Me teeth is chattering." He lifted his head cautiously, but ducked again as a shell hit across the street. "In a moment I shall disgrace me pants, mate," he whispered into Bodie's ear. "What would you think of that, eh?"
He tried to think of a prayer, but nothing came to mind, so he cursed instead. He was very methodical about it, careful to leave no one out. He cursed the Libyans, the French, Tommy Lee, himself, and Bodie. He saved a special curse for whoever was lobbing the mortars at them. Then he moved on to careers, and cursed CI5 and Scotland Yard.
"Shoulda stuck to painting, I shoulda," he said fervently. "Made a pound or two sketching kids with big eyes or some such rot."
"Nah, mate. You'd of just went balmy and slit off yer ear or something like."
"Bodie --? You're awake!"
"Christ, I hope not. I feel like bloody hell. What'd you hit me with?"
The shelling moved farther away, and Doyle figured they had about five minutes before it came around again. He took a deep breath. "I'm glad you're awake; I hate talkin' to meself." And I'm not so scared with you to talk to, but I can't tell you that, can I?
Bodie tried to move, then bit his lip to stifle a cry.
"Don't move, you ass. You've a broken leg."
Bodie winced. "Terrific. Bad, is it?"
"Bad enough. You've some nasty metal in your leg, as well."
"What the bloody hell 'appened, anyway?"
"Your motor was hit. You were lucky enough to be tossed out on your arse, sunshine."
"Lucky, he says." He closed his eyes, paling again as the pain washed over him. "I don't know what's worse, me leg or me head. Must've banged it again, too." The blue eyes opened. "Mortars?"
"Yeah, can't you hear them? They've moved away a bit."
Bodie smiled wanly. "If you had my head right now, you wouldn't worry about a little pounding outside it."
Doyle tried an uncertain smile. "I don't think I fancy war much, mate."
Bodie's smile, if possible, was even shakier, but now that he was conscious, the pain was hitting him badly. "Just when you were about to get your raise, too. Pity."
"Vandemeer isn't going to be giving any raises any more," Doyle said grimly.
"Dead is he? And the rest?"
"Tommy Lee and MacKenzie probably made it out."
"Mac --? Good. I was hopin' he'd make it."
Doyle bit down on his reply. Bodie didn't seem to be wondering why they were left here, and it didn't seem the time to tell him about MacKenzie's cowardice. Knowing Bodie, he'd probably expected it all along, and just accepted it. It was more than Doyle felt the charity to do at present.
Bodie was listening. "They're moving away from the sound of it. Mortars are poor men's artillery, Doyle."
"Oh yes. Well, I'm satisfied with 'em. Do the trick, don't they?"
Bodie shifted slightly, sweat beading on his forehead at the pain. "They'll no doubt stop soon, is what I mean. If they really wanted to trash the place, they'd've used something bigger. This is just to run the snipers out before they move in."
Doyle leaned back against the wall. "Wonderful. If they don't get us this way, then we just have the entire Libyan army to fight -- with my handgun and your hunting knife. And there I was worried for a minute."
The shelling sounded more distant now, and Doyle wondered if they'd changed their pattern.
"Ray ..." Bodie's voice was weaker, and Doyle looked at him in alarm.
"Bodie, what is it?"
"I feel a bit fagged out is all; there's a spin on things. Just ... if I pass out on you ..."
Doyle's throat tightened painfully. He knows how scared I am, the lovely, stupid lout. Doesn't want to leave me alone with it. "Shut up, Bodie. You just want to take another kip. I know you too well mate." He glanced over to the tilted land rover. "Hang on ... I'll get you some water, if I can find the canteen."
Bodie clutched at his arm. "Don't leave me, Ray --"
Doyle stared at him. He's scared too. It was somehow comforting to know. Impulsively, he kissed him. "Now you're over the edge, mate. If I left you, how'd I ever get back that five quid you own me, eh?"
Bodie relaxed his grip, smiled weakly. "Right."
Doyle touched his cheek. "Be back in a jiff."
He slipped past the fallen beam and into the street. The dust was floating serenely in the bright sunlight, the thundering of shells in the distance seemed more like an approaching storm. He had to push Steiger's body to one side to reach the canteen. He found a first aid kit strapped beneath the seat. The barrel of one of the rifles had been bent by the impact, but he located another and picked up some extra ammunition that had scattered in the street.
He returned to Bodie, and it took a second for his eyes to adjust from the glaring sunlight to the comparative shadows of the alcove. He knelt down beside him, shocked again at his lack of color.
"You're white as a ghost, mate. Here, have a sip of this." He lifted Bodie's head while he drank thirstily. "Better?"
"Compared to what?" Bodie croaked.
"Let's have a look at that leg." He took Bodie's knife and slit up the trouser leg. He winced as he saw the swelling, the calf was darkened and bluish. He'd lost some blood from the wound on the thigh, but it wasn't quite as bad as he'd expected.
Bodie levered himself up to look at it, gasping as he did so. "Just lovely," he said between gritted teeth. "Listen, mate, you'll have to set it, won't you?"
"Ah, com'on, dammit," Bodie said peevishly, "it's not gonna hurt much more than it does already, is it?"
Doyle didn't answer. He explored the break gingerly, and Bodie's breath caught sharply. "I don't think it's splintered ... a clean break."
"Get on with it then." The blue eyes were very wide, every line of his body taut.
Doyle picked up the leather sheath from Bodie's knife he'd removed before cutting the pants leg. "Bite down on this."
"... and think of England, yes, I know." Bodie took it from him and closed his eyes. "Just do it before I lose my nerve."
Doyle took the leg in his lap, bracing his own foot against the stone wall. He paused, steeling himself for it as much as anything, then jerked hard.
There was a muffled whimper that went on for several seconds, he could feel the body trembling against him. The leg was straight again; he only hoped it was right.
Bodie spat out the piece of leather and gasped for breath. "Christ, I was ... hopin' I'd pass out ... They always do in ... the pictures, don't they." Tear lines streaked through the dust on his face.
Doyle swallowed, tears stinging his own eyes. "Always looking for the cushy way out, Bodie." He located something to serve as a splint and used the roll of gauze from the first aid kit to hold it in place. Then he turned his attention to the shrapnel wound.
"You feel up to any more? I won't muck around with it -- couldn't get out all the little pieces anyway. But it needs cleaned up."
Bodie nodded. "Go on with it. It's a lovely show."
"Hang on, the dancing girls are next, mate."
Doyle took out the antiseptic, hesitating. "Sorry, sunshine, but this'll hurt, too." Bodie jerked as the liquid hit the open wounds.
"You're a psychic as well as a surgeon," he gasped.
Doyle made a pad and covered the injury. "Hurt, did it? Well it's finished now."
"You sure? I've a bad tooth you might wanta have a look at."
Doyle smiled. "This is the gratitude I get? Next time call a vet."
"Put me out of my misery at least. Ray?"
He closed the kit and moved up to pull Bodie's head into his lap. "Better now?"
"Yeah, it's passing off a bit. Thanks, mate."
Doyle could tell by the strained look that he was lying, but he had done all he could think of. He put his cheek against the other man's forehead. "How long do you think we have, Bodie? Until they come in?"
"Dunno. The shelling's stopped now. Not so long, I guess."
Doyle lifted his head, realizing that he was hearing silence. He'd been too absorbed in Bodie's pain to notice. It was the eye of the hurricane quiet, and when it did end, it would probably be over for both of them. Strangely enough, he wasn't really scared anymore. He'd passed that point.
"You could still make it out, y'know," Bodie said quietly.
Doyle looked down into the blue eyes. "We couldn't. Not without transportation. I haven't seen a bloody taxi, have I?"
But the blue eyes were very serious. "You could make it, Ray."
"Oh yes. And how many miles to the border, eh? They've probably blocked it by now anyway, haven't they?"
"You could still do it. You're good enough to slip through by yourself."
Doyle slid his hands into the sweat-damp hair. "You tryin' to get rid of me? No chance."
Bodie's eyes shut and a stubborn set came to his mouth. "Damn it all, Ray, my leg is on fire, my bloody head feels like it will burst, and I'm not up to fighting with you. You've done all you can for me, right? I can manage from here."
"Sure. You'll give 'em your famous smile, eh?"
The blue eyes opened, pleading. "I don't want you to die, Ray. Not because of me."
"I'm not so keen on it myself, sunshine. But I told you before that I wasn't leaving you. Now just shut up about it."
Doyle bent his head and stopped the mouth with his own. He put a lot in that kiss, saying things it was impossible to speak. And Bodie answered in kind.
When he finally raised his head, he knew he was crying again, was disgusted at himself for it, but didn't really give a bloody damn, either.
Bodie smiled at him, then looked puzzled. "Why do I owe you five quid?"
"Hey now, wait a minute," Doyle protested. "you can forget me, you can forget George Cowley, you can even forget the bloody Queen, but you're not goin' to weasel out of that, mate! It was a fair bet, it was."
"Ah, you're makin' it up. I wouldn't make a sucker bet with a golly like you."
"Oh, no? Well let me tell you --"
Doyle broke off at the rumbling sound approaching.
Their eyes met. "They're coming."
Bodie nodded. "Yeah. Hand me your automatic. Don't think I can handle anything bigger right now."
Doyle checked it and handed it over, reaching for the rifle for himself. He flattened against the wall, and peered out. "Hey Bodie, you remember that Yank picture, Butch Cassidy and Sundance?"
"Yeah. Who'd you fancy being?"
"The one that lives through it."
Doyle glanced back at him, grinning. "Neither of 'em lives through it, you dolt."
"Oh. Well, then if it's all the same to you, I'll be someone else, mate."
Doyle laughed. He was feeling strangely euphoric. Too much fear, too much adrenalin. He didn't want to die, didn't want Bodie to die -- but on the other hand, nobody lived forever.
Then again, maybe they did.
"Jesus Christ, it's MacKenzie in the jeep!"
Relief made Bodie slump back against the wall, breath escaping slowly. "I don't care if it's Christ driving the bloody jeep, let's get the hell out of here."
"Doyle!" MacKenzie called out.
"Over here!" Doyle tore out of the doorway to greet him. MacKenzie climbed out of the jeep and came toward him.
"In here." Doyle looked at MacKenzie for a second, noting the fact that one eye was nearly swollen shut and his nose was still bleeding a little. "You came back. Why?"
MacKenzie shrugged. "We don't have much time. They've got tanks coming in on the west side."
Bodie had managed to pull himself to his feet -- or one foot, rather -- but looked on the verge of falling back down. They both took hold of him and carried him to the jeep.
"You better drive, Doyle," MacKenzie said, "My eye keeps giving out on me."
"You're lettin' him drive?" Bodie said plaintively. "He'll run us into a lamppost."
"Shut up, Bodie," Doyle growled. "Haven't they cut off the border yet?" he asked MacKenzie as he put the jeep in gear.
"Yeah, I barely got back in. That's okay, we're not going there. Head for the airstrip."
Doyle did as he was told. "I'd've figured that was gone, too."
"A lot of it is. But Gibson's plane is okay. He promised to wait as long as he could before he took off."
Doyle grinned. "The Aussie's there?"
"Yeah, he happened to come in about a half hour before the shelling started; couldn't put her up until it stopped. And he wouldn't leave her there."
"Desert Mabel? No, he'd not do that, would he?" Doyle saw that Bodie had slumped over against MacKenzie who was trying to hold him steady. "He passed out?"
"One jolt too many on that leg, poor sod. Best thing that could happen, though."
Doyle drove rapidly through the streets, dodging the fallen debris and small craters left by the mortars. When they reached the airstrip, Mabel's engines were already running. Gibson stuck his head out the door.
"Get a move on, chaps!" he shouted.
They'd barely got Bodie on board and settled in the back when the plane was moving.
"Best 'ang on to 'im back there," Gibson yelled over the noise, "the strip's a bit bumpy at the moment."
It was, indeed. For a time Doyle didn't think the wheels were going up at all. He clung to Bodie, who was still unconscious, trying to keep the broken leg from jarring more than necessary. Then Doyle's stomach lurched as the air current picked up the plane. Gibson gunned the engines and took her up at a vicious angle.
"That's a girl, Mabel," he called out cheerfully. "Don't want our wings clipped, do we now?"
After a few moments, he leveled off and Doyle risked a look out the window. He could see nothing but clouds.
Gibson seemed to read his thoughts. "No, not clouds. Dust and smoke from the shelling. We'll be out of it in a sec."
Doyle went back to Bodie. He didn't think he really wanted a last look at Chad in any case. He was just glad to be out.
MacKenzie was sitting in the back, as well.
"Your nose is still bleeding," Doyle pointed out. "What happened to you, anyway?"
MacKenzie wiped his nose on his sleeve and grinned, then winced and touched his mouth. "Got into it with Tommy Lee. This time, I won."
"You got across the border, didn't you? Why'd you come back?"
The younger man looked away uncomfortably. "I don't know. I just couldn't --"
"You couldn't leave him there, is that it?" Doyle asked gently.
MacKenzie shook his head ruefully. "You got it wrong, Doyle. It wasn't just Odell -- though God knows I owed him that. No, I honestly don't think I'd have left anyone." He laughed. "I swear, I think I would've gone back for a pussycat."
The brown eyes raised to meet Doyle's. "I was scared; really piss-assed scared. I shouldn't have let Tommy Lee leave you in the first place, but I was just so damned terrified. Scared of what was happening, scared of Tommy Lee. But then, the farther away we got, the more I ... shit, I just got mad. Maybe I was just trying to prove something to myself." He looked thoughtful. "For the first time in my whole life I knew exactly what was right, and I had to follow through with it. You understand?"
"Yeah, I think so. And Tommy Lee didn't take to the idea, eh?"
MacKenzie chuckled. "You could say that. Once we got over the border, I told him I was going back and taking the jeep. He really didn't think I'd do it. Knowing him, he's probably still sitting on his ass in the middle of that road not believing it."
Doyle squeezed his shoulder. "Thanks, MacKenzie."
He blushed a little. "They kept telling me it was every man for himself over here, and I guess that's true ... but, scared or not, I guess I didn't have the stomach for it. Doesn't make me much of a mercenary, does it?"
Doyle looked down at Bodie, then thought of Texan. "I dunno about that, mate. I've met some pretty decent fellas who were mercenaries."
MacKenzie shook his head. "Well, I've had my fill of it. I used to read Soldier of Fortune magazine and crap like that. Sounded so neat, you know? Lots of action, adventure." He chuckled. "What a lot of crap."
"How'd you get in it then?"
"Met this guy named Riley and talked me into signing up with this British outfit that was hiring men for Africa."
"Riley's the one who left, wasn't he?"
"Yeah, the bastard split after about two weeks. Wished to hell I had." He smiled. "I think I'm going back to Toronto and work in my uncle's shoe store."
"Sounds good," Doyle replied. "How's he feel about immigrants?"
The remainder of the journey was a blur to Doyle. They reached Tangier and had to go through the tangled red-tape mess of being two British nationals without passports -- MacKenzie had kept his with him, but both Doyle's and the phony Odell passport were lost somewhere in the desert of Chad. Doyle got in touch with the French OAS man, who smoothed the situation over and managed to get Bodie into a decent hospital. At that point, it was Doyle's main concern, for Bodie had never regained consciousness.
He finally put in a call to London when the doctors took Bodie out of his hands. Cowley had, of course, heard about the Libyan invasion, and sputtered and bitched furiously for several minutes on how Doyle should have got them both out of there long before it happened. In other words -- more words that would never be spoken aloud -- the old man had been worried silly about them.
It took even longer for him to buy the amnesia. It was a bit unbelievable, Doyle admitted, but he pointed out to Cowley that it wouldn't be such a cliche, if it didn't sometimes really happen. Cowley was not impressed by the thought -- nor was he pleased to hear they weren't coming straight home.
"Listen, sir," Doyle soothed, "I'll give you a full report as soon as we get back, but Bodie can't be moved just yet. I'm waiting to hear his condition right now. Yes, sir, I'll be in touch as soon as I know anything. Goodbye, sir."
Doyle hung up the phone and turned back to MacKenzie. "I know the old bastard. He's climbing the walls 'cause he's not here. He loves the stupid sod, though he'd rather face a gallows than admit it."
"Have you heard any more about Odell ... sorry, I mean Bodie." MacKenzie was finding the situation a little confusing.
"No, nothing yet. They've taken hoards of x-rays and EKG's and all that rot. Problem is, I don't speak French or Arabic, and I can't understand what they're sayin' 'alf the time."
"I know French," MacKenzie offered. "I lived in Quebec when I was a kid. It's a little different than what they speak over here, but I can understand it well enough to translate for you -- as long as it's not technical."
"Fantastic! I'm supposed to hear from the doctor any minute - - -"
"Monsieur Doyle?" A nurse appeared in the entrance. "Doctor Raynaud wishes to speak with you, pleez."
They followed her to an office where two men waited. One was Doctor Raynaud, the other was a neurosurgeon named Doctor Rashid. They were delighted that MacKenzie knew French, for neither of them could speak English to any large degree.
Doyle waited impatiently while they explained things to the Canadian. Finally MacKenzie turned to Doyle.
"Well, they hit me with a bunch of technical jargon, but it boils down to something called a subdural hematoma -- it's kind of like a blood clot on the brain. When he got hit by the car, it didn't do that much damage on the outside, but it bled inside and the pressure of it was pressing against the nerves."
"What's that mean?" Doyle asked anxiously.
"They had to drill a tiny hole in his skull to release the pressure. He's going to be okay now, but it had went on so long, it's difficult for them to know how much damage was done."
"You mean they can't fix it?"
"It's not a question of that. They're sure he'll be all right, just not to what extent the damaged nerves will repair themselves. But it looks good." He smiled. "By the way, his leg's fine. They compliment you on your technique. They didn't even have to reset it."
Doyle smiled back with relief. "Missed my calling, I reckon. I can see him now?"
MacKenzie asked them, then answered Doyle. "He's still unconscious, but they'll call you as soon as he wakes."
"How long before we can go back to London?"
"A week, maybe less. He'll have to go to a hospital there for a while, though, for observation. Oh, they want to warn you that when he first wakes, he's going to be confused. Something about trauma."
They completed the conversation with the doctors, then went back down the corridor to the waiting room.
"I guess you're staying here," MacKenzie said.
"Until he wakes up, at least. Then I suppose I'll find a room somewhere and pass out myself for a day or two. I don't think I've been so fagged out in me life." He looked at MacKenzie. "What about you?"
"Oh, I've got a plane to catch in a couple of hours. I just stopped by here to make sure he was okay before I left."
Doyle hesitated. "You sure you want to leave right now? I'm sure Bodie would want to see you --"
"No," MacKenzie cut him off. "It wouldn't make any difference, would it? Besides, I think I've finally got my head straight." He laughed. "In more ways than one. Seeing him might mess that up. No, I'll go home while I've got the chance."
"Okay, then." Doyle held out his hand. "Thanks again, mate - - - though that seems a bit weak for all you've done for us."
MacKenzie gripped his hand, grinning shyly. "Take care of him, Doyle." He turned and walked away.
Doyle watched him leave, then went to sit on the hard wooden bench to wait.
Bodie was on the outer edge of consciousness -- and holding. Light and reality beckoned to him, but there were decisions to be made there, so he tarried in the comfortable blankness. But he couldn't hide forever, and the choices came to him ...
The landscape was all black and white, two dimensional like a photo negative. There was a chasm in front of him, bottomless and dark, crossed by a swinging bridge. The wind was making it pitch and toss.
Doyle was beside him. "Go on, mate. We have to cross it."
"It won't hold. It's not strong enough."
"It'll have to, won't it? He's waiting for us."
Very dimly on the other side of the chasm, he could see a man waiting, but the darkness behind him seemed hardly better than the pit - - - unfamiliar and terrifying.
"No, I can't go. Why risk it?"
Doyle put his foot on the bridge. "It's time to go home, Bodie. We don't belong here."
Panic swept him. "You promised not to leave me!"
"I have to," Doyle said regretfully. "Make your own choice."
He watched as Doyle inched over the bridge, wanting to call him back, needing him so much it was an ache in his stomach.
"Wait!" he called out just as Doyle reached the other side. He stepped onto the bridge, feeling it shiver under his weight. As he approached the other end, the ropes snapped and he desperately clung to the edge of the cliff, legs swinging out over emptiness.
"Bodie! Reach for my hand! Bodie!"
He looked up into Doyle's face, the outstretched hand just inches beyond his grasp. "I can't reach!"
"Try! Bodie! Try!"
Painstakingly Bodie loosened the grip of one hand and reached up. Their fingertips brushed, caught ... then slipped away --
And he fell helplessly into blackness ...
The Sister called Doyle in and instructed him to stand out of the way while the physician questioned his patient. Bodie had just regained consciousness and it was necessary for the doctor to determine his alertness and rate of recovery.
The surgeon spoke quietly, "Comment vous appellez-vous?"
Bodie blinked groggily, his hand going up to his bandaged head. The nurse took his arm and pulled it back down gently. The doctor repeated his question.
This time he was answered. "Oui, Bodie."
"Votre nom et prenoms," the doctor demanded.
Bodie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Uh ... William Phillip Andrew Bodie."
"Tres bien. Ou demeurez-vous?"
Doyle straightened from his slouched position against the wall and nudged the nursing sister at his elbow. "Shouldn't he speak English? Bodie's French isn't --"
The woman shook her head. "Ze surgeon does not speak ze Englez, monsieur."
"Oh. Maybe I should talk to him --"
The doctor continued questioning Bodie. "Connaisez-vous Ray Doyle?"
Bodie tried to sit up. "Ray? Oui ... Est-il ici?" Hands held him down and he didn't seem to have the strength to struggle against them. "Is Ray here? Where is he? Let me --"
Doyle couldn't stand it any longer. He moved forward to stand beside the bed. "Bodie, I'm here. It's okay, mate."
The blue eyes found his face and Bodie relaxed back into the pillows. "You didn't leave me."
Surprised, Doyle touched his shoulder. "Don't be daft. I'd never do that, would I?"
The long lashes drooped and a breathless sigh escaped him. "I thought ..."
"Well stop thinking," Doyle said lightly, "you're not equipped for it, mate. Just take it easy. We're safe now, and you're going to be just fine, you hear me? Before long we'll be back home with ol' George chewing our behinds for all the wasted time and --"
Doyle's words chopped off abruptly. He looked over at the doctor and then back down at the confused blue eyes. "Cowley, mate," he said softly. He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. "You remember that old goat, don't you, sunshine?"
Before Bodie could reply the physician spoke again. The nurse translated to Doyle. "The patient needs rest now, monsieur. You may see him again tomorrow."
Reluctantly, Doyle stepped back. "I have to go now, mate. I'll be back very soon."
But Bodie was already asleep.
Doyle followed the doctor out of the room. "Well, is he all right, then? What's happening with him? I figured you'd cured him. That subdural whatever. I thought you cleared that up, didn't you?"
He waited impatiently for the nurse to interpret.
"It is to be expected that the patient be confused. The surgeon is pleased with his status at this point."
"But he will remember now, won't he?" Doyle insisted anxiously. "It'll all come back, won't it?"
"Impossible to say, monsieur. You must have patience."
A week later, Doyle's patience was still holding but Cowley's was running out. He wanted them both home as quickly as possible. Doyle finally received the release from the surgeon for Bodie to be transferred to a London hospital the next day.
Doyle entered the room clutching a large, somewhat untidy, bouquet of flowers. Bodie looked up from picking at his lunch tray, his lips quirking into an ironic smile.
"You again, eh?"
"Can't keep away from you, beautiful," Doyle grinned. "Must be your fetchin' new hairstyle."
"'ave a heart. It's growin' back, innit? Besides, I figured you'd loan me a bit of yours. God knows you've plenty enough for both of us." He reached out to tug on the long curls as Doyle slipped down in the chair beside the bed.
"How you feelin'?"
Bodie shrugged. "Feel fine, I suppose." He grimaced at the tray in front of him. "Other than starving to death." He jerked his fork toward the flowers. "What's this then? I'm touched, mind. But I'd rather have had a snack."
Doyle leaned over conspiratorially. "Well, actually I figured you'd rather have a bit to drink. A drop to celebrate as it were." He dug into the flowers and pulled out a thin silver flask. "Had to sneak it in. They frisk for contraband like right pros."
Bodie's face brightened. "All right then. This is more like it, innit? Grab us some cups on the table there."
Doyle poured a portion into two paper cups and handed one to his partner. "Cheers, mate."
"Cheers. What are we celebrating, by the way?"
"Your release from this joint."
Bodie grinned in delight. "Oh yeah? When?"
"The patient's always the last to know. Well, I'm not complaining. I'm sick enough of hospital."
Doyle cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well you're not exactly clear of that yet. What I mean is that you're being transferred to Mercy General."
The cup stopped halfway to Bodie's mouth. His eyes met Doyle's. "Where?"
Doyle looked down. Bodie had been in that hospital more times than he cared to count -- so had Doyle for that matter. "In London, mate," he finally said with more casualness than he felt.
Bodie sat his cup down on the tray and pushed it back. "Why?"
"Why am I being transferred? Why not simply released? I'm well enough now."
"Ah, com'on, mate. You're no doctor. What you had was pretty serious from all accounts. You're lucky you --"
"I'm lucky I have even half a mind, is that it?"
"Forget it, Doyle. It won't wash. I know as well as you why they won't let me out yet. And it's not because I'm not well enough. They haven't unscrambled all the pieces in me head yet, have they?"
"Listen, Bodie, they said it might take time for it all to come back. That's no surprise, is it? It's better now. Some of it's come back - -- you've said that yourself."
Bodie's jaw tightened with frustration. "Yeah, but not enough." He lashed out suddenly, flinging the tray and the table across the room with a clatter. "It's bloody enough!"
Doyle took a deep breath and stooped to clean up the mess. One of the nurses stuck her head in the door to check on the commotion, but Doyle waved her off. "Just a little accident, sister. I'll take care of it, thank you."
She looked doubtful, but left. Doyle sat the table back up and turned back to the man in the bed. "Make you feel better, did it?"
Bodie refused to answer. Doyle sat back down by the bed. "What's it hurt going back to London, Bodie?"
"What's it going to help?"
"Maybe everything. You don't know, it might all come back to you once you're back on home ground, mightn't it? It's worth a try at least."
Bodie looked at him hard. "That's what you really believe, isn't it? You've talked yourself into believing it."
"And you've talked yourself out of it! You don't really want to stay here, do you? Not now."
Bodie shook his head. "I dunno. Maybe."
Doyle sighed. "Well I suppose I could always go back to being a copper again."
"Eh? What do'y mean by that?"
"If I was to show up without you, mate, Cowley would kick my butt off the squad so fast and hard I'd have his boot print as a personal momento forever. Listen, Cowley's chewin' nails to have us back. We were his best team --"
"Were his best team. What are we now, Doyle? What I remember of all that could just about be jotted down on a bloody postcard."
"You remember more than you did a week ago, don't you? Maybe next week --"
"And maybe nothing." The tone was flat. "Listen, what difference does it make anyway, if I go back or not?"
"It makes a difference to me!"
"Does it?" Bodie's gaze shifted to meet Doyle's. "Why's that?"
"You can't be serious." Then the green eyes twinkled. "I've just spent a fortune on booze and flowers."
The devilish eyebrow crooked upward and Bodie chuckled. "You little bastard."
Doyle grinned. "Yeah."
"Okay, give us another drink then."
Doyle relaxed and did as he was bid, feeling tremendously relieved. "You'll see, sunshine. We'll get home and before you know it everything will come right back to you." He snapped his fingers. "Like that."
Bodie swallowed down the shot of whiskey, but had no answer.
Doyle was furious. He pulled up outside his flat with a screech of tires and slammed the car door when he got out. His temper was hardly improved when he saw that Cowley's car was also there. He muttered a curse under his breath as he pounded up the steps.
He stuck the key in the lock, refusing to turn around.
Cowley came up the steps much slower. "Doyle, I'm glad you're back. Betty told me you'd reported in. I thought I could catch you here."
Doyle opened the door grimly. "Yes, sir. But I'm heading right out again as soon as I catch a shower, sir. I do have days off now, sir. It has been over a fortnight, after all."
"Yes, of course, Doyle. But you can spare me a moment or so, can't you. If I may come in?"
Doyle ushered him inside, gritting his teeth to prevent the response he wanted to make. "If you'll pardon me, sir, I'd like to make a quick phone call --"
"To hospital, I suppose?" Cowley headed directly to where Doyle kept his whiskey. "You were going to offer me a drink? Yes, I thought so."
"Yes, to the hospital ... and do help yourself, sir," Doyle said sarcastically.
"Don't bother with the call, son. I can tell you all you need to know. I've just come from there."
Doyle dropped the receiver back into the cradle. "Yes?"
"Oh Bodie's fine -- no need to look so worried."
Irritated, Doyle turned to face the older man. "It has been a while since I've heard, sir. Over two weeks, as you well know."
Cowley poured out two drinks, took a quick sip of one, then brought the other to Doyle. "Yes, I know. It was necessary."
"Necessary!" Doyle was outraged. "You could've sent anyone on that assignment. It didn't have to be me. You knew I wanted to stay close until Bodie recovered."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that I made the decisions as to where you're needed. Here, drink your drink."
Momentarily chastised, Doyle took the glass meekly. "Yes, sir."
"I know you didn't want to be away this long, Doyle, and I realize why. I needed you on this job. You did well, incidentally."
"Thank you, sir. I just don't --"
Cowley cut him off. "I had another reason for sending you, however. It was suggested to me that it might be a good thing to have you out of the way for a bit."
Doyle nearly choked on his drink. "What? Whatever for? Who requested it?"
Doyle seemed temporarily speechless, so Cowley continued. "She's been assisting the physicians working on Bodie's case -- on CI5's behalf."
"Oh terrific. She's so very fond of Bodie, after all. Just thinks Bodie and me both crawled out from under a particularly nasty rock. Why her, sir?"
"Because she's good. She's the best we have. Keep that in mind, Doyle."
Doyle swallowed the rest of the whiskey and grimaced. "I'll try to. So why'd she want me out of the way then? Or can't I guess?"
"No, perhaps you can't. She kept you away -- or asked me to - - - for Bodie's sake. In his best interests. And I agreed with her reasoning."
"What?" Doyle stared at him, flushing angrily. "That's insane, sir. Bodie wanted me here with him. I wanted to --"
"Whatever either of you wanted might not have been the best thing at the time."
Doyle sat the glass down on the table. "Do you honestly think I'd do anything to hurt Bodie?"
"No, of course not."
"Then I don't understand --"
"Bodie has been under a lot of pressure, Doyle. And most of the pressure was coming from you. Doctor Ross felt there might be improvement if some of that pressure was removed."
Doyle sat down limply on the couch. "From me? I wasn't --"
"Let me finish." Cowley picked up the glasses and refilled them. "It was very important to you for Bodie to remember, wasn't it?"
"Certainly it -- What kind of question is that? Of course I want him to remember. Don't you, for god's sake?"
Cowley ignored the question. "You told me you had a bit of trouble convincing him to return to London at all."
"Yeah," Doyle replied suspiciously, "what of it? He came back, didn't he?"
"Did you never wonder why he was so reluctant? Logically it would seem he would be eager to seek help for his problem."
Doyle shrugged uncomfortably. "You know Bodie, sir. He hates to admit he needs help at all. Hates to lose control of things."
"Yes, that may be partially the answer. But not totally."
"So what is it then?"
"You were very sure that his return would bring back his memory, weren't you? Convinced of it, in fact."
"Yeah, well ... it seemed ... I mean, it's likely, isn't it? It is coming back, isn't it? The week before you sent me up north he was remembering .."
"Very little. It was more a case of discovering exactly what it was that he did not remember."
Doyle shied away from what seemed to be Cowley's point, returning to the original subject. "So Ross figured I was putting pressure on Bodie to remember and it was making it harder for him, is that right?"
"He knew how important it was to you for him to remember, yes. It also seems likely that it was the reason he was hesitant about returning home. He was afraid of failing you."
"No, it's not. On a subconscious level it can be a very inhibiting force."
Doyle shook his head ruefully. "So you're saying that Bodie's amnesia was clearing up because he was afraid it wouldn't? And it was my fault?"
"I'm saying that was one of Doctor Ross's theories, and it seemed worthwhile to explore that possibility."
"And get rid of me to take the pressure off." Doyle picked up the refilled whiskey glass and downed it in one burning gulp. "Damn. Sounds like a lot of jargon to me. Well, did it work then? Was I the problem?"
"Unfortunately?" Doyle looked at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Cowley stared down into his drink. "Bodie's being released tomorrow. There's no reason to keep him any longer."
Doyle swallowed nervously. "That's good, innit? It must mean --"
"It means there's nothing further the doctors can do for him at present. There's been very little if any change in the last couple of weeks."
The younger man stiffened. "What are you trying to say, sir?"
"Chances are that Bodie's memory loss is permanent."
Doyle jumped to his feet. "I don't believe it! Why should it be? They fixed the problem, didn't they? I know it might take a while, but --"
"No, Doyle. There are a great many things he's never getting back. There's no way around that, I'm afraid. Certain cells were damaged and destroyed by the injury. It no longer just seems like a question of trauma or even damage that might eventually heal itself. It's impossible to determine the extent of the loss at present. From the tests that have been administered, his intelligence level is unchanged, as is his reflexes and physical motor responses."
Doyle had stopped pacing and stood by the window, looking out, back to Cowley. "Does he know all this? That he's not going to remember?"
"Yes. But I believe he has always suspected as much. Sensed it perhaps."
Doyle was silent for a time. Then he pulled the drapes shut and returned to the couch. "What about CI5? Where does he stand there, sir?"
"It might be dangerous for him if he remained on the squad. You must realize that, Doyle ... You've both made a lot of enemies; people that have scores to settle. In Bodie's case, he might not know who they are, who to watch for."
"That's my job. To watch his back."
Cowley met his gaze. "And his to watch yours. He may not be able to do that now."
"I'm willing to chance it." Before Cowley could protest, Doyle hurried on. "Listen, sir. When we joined CI5 there was a lot both of us needed to learn. There's no reason he can't learn again. I know he hasn't lost any of his skill. I saw that in Africa."
"I think it may be Bodie you'll need to convince, Doyle." Cowley stood and fished a set of keys from his pocket. "The keys to his flat."
Doyle took them, puzzled for a second.
"You'll have to pick him up at hospital tomorrow. He won't know his way home, will he?"
Doyle felt a chill run through him. He clutched the keys tightly. "No, I suppose not."
"I'll be in contact, lad. Be careful how you go."
Doyle sat unmoving for a long time after Cowley had left. It was becoming real to him finally; the Bodie he had known was gone. Forever. It was no longer temporary, something to be waited out, to be accepted until the old Bodie woke up like in some fairy tale. It wasn't coming back. Not ever.
A chasm opened up in Doyle, empty and cold. So much was lost. So many shared memories and experiences were now only the property of one. The laughter, the crazy dates, the heartstopping danger, the times when their adrenalin had seemed to flow from one source. Gone now for Bodie, as if none of it had ever happened. He could tell Bodie about them, of course, but it wouldn't be the same. Never the same.
Suddenly he was angry. He felt cheated. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. In the last chapter, didn't they always remember? In the last reel wasn't there always the blinding flash of revelation? Why couldn't it work that way for them? Why did it always go the hard way for them? It wasn't fair.
The anger faded after a moment, when he realized the absurdity of it. There was nowhere to direct that anger -- except perhaps toward the driver of the car that struck Bodie. But that was rather pointless at this juncture. It wouldn't change anything.
Besides, they were both still alive, weren't they? What right did he have to complain. During those last few hours in Chad, he wouldn't have wagered much on their chances for survival at all.
So the anger and resentment faded, but the sadness remained. The waste of it depressed him unbearably. He knew he was being horribly selfish in his feelings -- considering the fact it was Bodie, after all, who had lost those memories. But he felt strangely robbed of them as well. All those lovely, drunken nights when he'd poured his soul out to Bodie, his fears, his private thoughts, his hopes. All right, now that he considered it, perhaps there hadn't been as many of those as he'd first thought. Both of them were pretty cautious with their barriers, even with each other. But there had been a few, and losing them hurt -- perhaps because they were so few.
Doyle toyed with the keys, wondering how Bodie was accepting all this. Ross was right about one thing, he wasn't helping Bodie one bit. It was as if the Bodie here and now wasn't quite good enough. How must that make him feel?
And Doyle remembered something else. A morning on an oasis when he'd held Bodie while he slept, vulnerable, trusting, more open than he'd ever dared be before. Had something new been born of all this? Something better even? Were there possibilities now that might never have opened before?
He tossed the keys up in the air and caught them, making a decision. No more mourning the past. It was a dead end. The future was open.
He thought again of his drunken confessions, and this time felt no sorrow for their loss. He could tell Bodie it all again, couldn't he?
And this time he might not even have to be drunk.
"Where we going?" Bodie said sullenly, staring out the car window.
Bodie didn't look around. "Oh, yeah? Who's?"
"Yours, sunshine. Probably needs a proper dusting after all this time. I'll give you a hand with it, shall I?"
"You didn't have to pick me up. I could've got a taxi."
"Nope," Doyle replied lightly. "Don't know the address, do you?"
Bodie's head jerked around, blue eyes flashing. "Nicely put. Don't know my own home address. Doesn't bother you at all, does it?"
"No," Doyle said, undisturbed, choosing to ignore the bitterness in the other man's voice. "As much as they move us around, mate, you're lucky I remember it. Did I tell you about the time I lost me car?"
In spite of himself, Bodie had to ask, "You mean it was nicked?"
"No, I lost it. For a whole day. Parked it at my previous flat, went off with a bird, and couldn't for the life of me remember where I'd put it the next day."
Bodie chuckled. "Christ, you must've been pissed."
"No, just horny. You ragged me about it for the next three months."
Bodie was grinning, more relaxed now. "Well I would, wouldn't I? Who could resist? Sure you're not making it up?"
"Believe me, son, when I make up a story I'll put myself in a much more favorable light. Here we are." Doyle pulled up to the kerb and shut off the motor.
The smile had left Bodie's face. He looked up at the building grimly. "If you're expecting some reaction, forget it. It could be bloody Whitehall for all I know, couldn't it?"
"Well it's not that, mate. Nor Buckingham Palace. In my humble opinion, you've got tacky taste in furnishings. Wait 'til you see the picture of the dancin' girls. Pure camp."
Bodie got out of the car and stood there indecisively. "Thanks for bringin' me over." He hesitated. "Do you ... Would you want to come up?"
Doyle grinned. "I've got the keys, mate."
Bodie flushed. "Oh, yeah. I didn't think --"
"I keep telling you that thinking was never your strong suit." Doyle took his arm and pushed him toward the steps. "Come on, sunshine."
Once inside the flat, Bodie walked around cautiously, picking things up gingerly.
"Ring any bells?" Doyle asked quietly.
"I dunno. It feels weird ... like sleepwalking. I can't explain it."
"So don't try. Sit down. I'll put a kettle on, shall I? I could use some tea. How about you?"
But Bodie followed him into the kitchen, as if unwilling to be left alone. Doyle put the water on, then hoisted himself up lightly to sit on the counter. Bodie was leaning against the cabinets opposite him. They looked at each other.
Bodie spoke first. "They told me you were up north on an op."
"Yeah. Bloody Cowley had me chasing a wild goose."
"Did you ever nab it?"
Doyle smiled. "As a matter of fact, yes. Not sure it was worth it, though."
Bodie looked down at the floor, and Doyle felt uneasy.
"Hey, mate, I didn't want to go, y'know."
"Sure about that?" The blue eyes remained fastened to the tile floor. "Wasn't much point in hangin' around, was there?"
"Hang about! What's this then? You couldn't have thought I volunteered for that op? Listen, sunshine, only wild horses and George Cowley could have dragged me away from here."
Bodie looked up, saw the truth in the round face, and seemed satisfied. "It's just that ..." He trailed off, biting his lip.
Doyle's eyes softened. "That I was the only thing you knew for sure, is that it?"
Bodie nodded, suddenly embarrassed and unable to meet the other man's eyes. "I told you it'd be a bitch, didn't I? Havin' to lead me around by the hand all the time."
"You'll pick it all up again, soon enough," Doyle said quietly. "I'm not complaining."
Bodie took a step forward. "Ray --"
The whistle sounded loudly on the kettle and Bodie turned away. Doyle shut off the burner, cursing it. He fixed the tea and brought it out into the sitting room where Bodie was standing by the window.
Doyle sat down and poured some milk in Bodie's cup. "Come sit down."
Bodie didn't turn. "I should've stayed in bloody Africa. At least I felt in control there."
"Is it so bad here then?" Doyle asked softly.
"Bad? Yes, it's bad. It's enough to drive a man mad. Everything's familiar but not familiar ... and when I try to catch something solid in me head ... it slips away. It's like living in a hellish deja vu ... how would you handle day after day of that, eh?" He laughed harshly. "Did y'know I was even afraid to come up here. My own place and ... Christ, I don't even know where I keep my spare razor blades."
Even from this distance, Doyle could see that Bodie was trembling.
"Bodie, stop it! It doesn't matter! We'll work it out!"
Bodie spun around. "Doesn't matter? You're a fine one to say that, aren't you? Who was it said, 'come home, Bodie. It'll all come back to you like that'?" He snapped his fingers. "Didn't quite work, did it, Doyle? Well, it's not going to happen, is it? So what do you say to that, eh?"
Doyle looked at him calmly. "Come sit down. Your tea's getting cold."
"Christ!" Bodie rubbed his hand over his face and took a deep breath. "You're unreal, you know that?" Then he laughed again, humorlessly. "What am I sayin'? Everything's bloody unreal."
He finally came to sit on the couch beside Doyle, taking out a cigarette and lighting it. "I shouldn't be taking this out on you, I suppose. I'm sorry."
Doyle sipped his tea thoughtfully. "You know neither of us was in much control of anything that last day in Ndjemena. It might have seemed easier to deal with in Africa, but it all would have caught up with you eventually."
Bodie took a long drag on the cigarette and let the smoke out slowly. "Yes, I know. You're right." He looked over at Doyle. "And I haven't thanked you for getting me out of there."
"No point in thanking me, mate. It was MacKenzie who did that. And the pilot. But I should give you my medical bill for setting your leg for you. They said I did right job of it, too."
Bodie smiled. "What I should really thank you for is coming after me at all. It was mess all the way around. You risked a lot."
"Oh, it had its moments." Doyle smiled back, eyes lingering on Bodie's face. "There were compensations."
"Yeah." Suddenly Doyle reached out and took the cigarette from Bodie's fingers, stubbing it out in the empty ashtray.
Bodie stared at him in amazement. "What the hell?"
"You don't smoke."
Bodie stiffened and started to speak, but Doyle cut him off. "You don't smoke, and since I'm planning to kiss you presently, I'd just as soon taste you rather than tobacco."
Bodie had no answer for a moment, but his mouth curved into the old familiar smile. "Should I go clean my teeth?"
"I reckon I can bear up this time. But keep it in mind for the future."
Doyle leaned forward and brushed Bodie's lips with his own. Bodie's hands curved around the curly head, pulling him closer, deepening the contact. I was even better than Doyle remembered. The heat switched to high at the first touch of that tongue teasing his bottom lip, and he realized he'd been on simmer since he'd picked Bodie up at hospital. So now he knew for certain that it hadn't just been a one-off, merely a product of the situation and environment. Judging by his racing heartbeat, he was well and fairly addicted -- and he didn't regret it for an instant.
His arms slipped over Bodie's chest to meet across the broad back, pressing nearer, feeling breathless and burning. He lured the tongue further into his mouth, moaning deeply as it brushed the roof and explored the chipped tooth with a curious sensuality.
Bodie's fingers were tangled deeply in the long curls, and abruptly he used this hold to break the kiss, tugging Doyle back almost painfully. The greedy eyes were clouded with arousal, a little confused by the sudden interruption. Bodie's eyes were sadly serious, looking over the flushed face solemnly.
Doyle blinked, coming back down to earth with a thump. "What? What is it, Bodie? What's wrong?"
Bodie untangled himself and moved back. "Nothing. Let's just not start up with this, okay?"
Doyle took a deep breath, trying to slow his thundering heartbeat. His body still hadn't received the time-out message. "Don't know about you, mate, but I've already started. I'm like to bust me britches with it."
Bodie looked away. "Sorry."
Doyle sat up. "Sorry? What's with you, anyway? What's wrong?"
"It's just not a good idea, is all."
"Whyever not? It was all right a moment ago. What put you off?"
Bodie moved out of reach of Doyle's hand. "Drop it. Go home, Doyle."
Doyle felt terribly frustrated; his temper and patience was therefore accordingly shortened. "You must be joking. What the hell is wrong with you, Bodie?"
"I don't need your bloody pity, Doyle!"
"Pity?" Doyle stared at him, aghast. "Is that what you think it is?"
Bodie didn't answer. He stood and moved away, his back toward Doyle, his shoulders stiff. Irritated, Doyle followed him, grabbing his arm to swing him around.
"What's wrong?" he repeated furiously.
Bodie's mouth twisted sardonically. "I'm brain damaged, remember?"
"Christ, I'm beginning to believe it!"
Bodie jerked out of the grip angrily. "Go to hell!"
Without thinking, Doyle belted him. It was a beautiful punch, landing squarely, catching the other man totally off guard. Bodie landed on the carpet with a thump, too amazed to even get up.
"Okay," Doyle said, a bit surprised himself, "that's settled. Let's get on with it then." He began unbuttoning his shirt.
Bodie stared up at him, completely lost. "What are you doing?" he asked lamely.
"I'm going to have sex with you," Doyle replied blandly, slipping off his shirt and tossing it to one side. "It's better if you're naked."
Bodie's eyes widened. For once his urbane exterior was totally flustered. "Wait a minute --"
"Shut up. Pity? You stupid ass. I've felt a lot of things toward you, but that was one that hadn't occurred to me. And unless I end up havin' to beat the crap out of you, it won't be." Doyle unzipped his jeans, pushed them down and kicked them off with a flourish. "You started this, dammit. You finish it."
Bodie looked up the naked body, unable to miss the demanding erection. He levered himself up into a sitting position. "One kiss did that, did it?"
Doyle shrugged. "So I'm easy."
"You're beautiful." Bodie smiled at him. The eyes were still sad, hurting and confused, but asking, too.
Doyle dropped to his knees beside him, eye level. "Whatever is wrong, we'll make it right. Whatever is missing, we can fill it."
Bodie grabbed him then, a desperate hold that took Doyle's breath away.
"You're all I've got, Ray," Bodie whispered into the curly hair, "the only thing I'm sure of. It scares me. It's not fair to you."
Doyle closed his eyes, holding him back hard. "You may not believe this, mate, but I think that's been the way of it for a while now. Maybe it's taken this for both of us to see it, eh?"
The clench gradually lessened, and Bodie pulled back to look at him. "It doesn't matter to you ... that I'll never remember?"
Doyle met his gaze softly. "Is that what worries you?"
Bodie didn't reply, didn't need to. Doyle traced the line of the chin, the unconscious droop of the mouth with a loving finger.
"It's not easy for either of us, is it? But why lose what we have as well? Doesn't seem very bright to me, mate. We've opened a box of tricks I've taken quite a fancy to. Don't know if I can go back to forgetting them." He leaned forward to touch his lips to Bodie's. "Where you're concerned anyway."
Bodie reached out to cup the other man's face in his palm, thumb tracing the battered cheekbone. His mouth turned up to the old Bodie smugness. "So you want me for my body not my mind, eh?"
Doyle leaned into the caress joyfully. "Well, you're mind's never been such great shakes, sunshine. We take what's available."
Bodie kissed him then, and nothing else mattered. They fed off each other for long moments, holding breath, holding each other, shaking with the intensity of it. Bodie's hands stroked down Doyle's sides, raising excited goosebumps in their wake. Doyle tugged off Bodie's shirt impatiently, wanted to feel the smooth skin against his chest.
What was good before was better now. What happened before on the oasis had been sudden, expected. This time Doyle had been anticipating to a painful degree, wanting it, needing it. It made more difference than he'd imagined.
Doyle pulled back with a gasp. "Let's go to bed, Bodie."
The blue eyes were hot, but he retained enough control to grin cheekily. "It would be a change, wouldn't it?"
Somehow they made it to the bedroom, but by that time Bodie had also lost his last thread of control. He pressed Doyle's body down on the mattress, letting his mouth and teeth taste the smaller man's skin. Doyle yelped as those teeth buried in the hollow of his throat.
"Hold off -- I'm not sirloin, y'know," he protested, getting his own back with greedy hands between Bodie's legs.
"Ummm ... rare ..."
"Bodie ..." Doyle stretched out under the assault, nerve endings singing, content to let him take the initiative. He was determined it wouldn't always be like this, but for now Bodie needed to be in control of this with everything else in his life so shaky. It wasn't exactly a hardship; Bodie was damn good and knew exactly what he was at. He was quite content to lay back and let him have at it.
Bodie seemed quite satisfied as well. He went down Doyle's body as if on inventory of parts. Somewhere in the vicinity of the navel he paused. "You're a sexy little bugger, aren't you?"
Doyle's response was incoherent, urging the dark head lower. Bodie complied, licking over the quivering cock, fingers teasing along the softness of inner thigh making the legs open for him. He sank down on the hardness, taking it into his throat, forearm pressing ruthlessly across the flat stomach to control the bucking hips. One finger touched Doyle's ass and pushed in slowly; the slender body stiffened then relaxed with it, adding another moan of pleasure to the symphony.
Bodie sat back then, looking down the length of the sprawled body with hungry eyes. "Turn over," he demanded hoarsely.
Doyle's muscles felt like warmed elastic, but he managed to roll onto his stomach, waiting eagerly for the next touch. He'd expected Bodie's weight on his back, instead it was a butterfly caress down his spine, making him arch like a cat. Then incredibly gentle hands lifted the mass of curls at the nape of this neck and lips nuzzled there, creating shivers of delight. Fingertips, the weight of feathers, traced down his sides, curved over his ass to lightly stroke his testicles. Doyle squirmed, pushing his erection rhythmically into the bedding, groans of arousal smothered in the pillow. Bodie's mouth was against his ear, breath warm and tingling.
"I want you, Ray. I want to take you ... be inside you ... part of you ..."
The words brought back images: heat and sand; fear dispelled by trust, pain that melted into pleasure. His already burning nerves caught fire at the mind-pictures those words conjured.
He turned his head to one side, until his mouth nearly touched Bodie's. "Yes," he whispered. "Please."
Bodie's tongue reached out to outline Doyle's mouth, letting Doyle capture it and suck it inside for a moment, then he moved back and took hold of the smaller man's hips, pulling him into a kneeling position. He parted Doyle's legs and moved between them. For a time he simply pressed close, melding his flesh against the other, the sheen of sweat on their skins sliding smoothly as they moved. Doyle pushed back desperately, hungry for the rest of it.
"Go on," he choked, "do it."
Bodie kissed his shoulderblade, one hand toying with the jumbled curls, the other slipped around to grasp Doyle's erection, pumping it slowly. He began to enter with agonizing caution until he brushed the secret nerve. The jolt of electrified pleasure made Doyle cry out, gave Bodie the signal he was waiting for. He thrust in harder, letting his own controls fall away. They were both crazy with it now, mindlessly searching for that final peak, directed only by the fire in their loins, the driving need to quench it in the flesh of the other. Doyle reached it first, shuddering wildly as he pumped into Bodie's tightly clenched hand, spilling over to splash against his chest. Then Bodie froze above him, silent in his coming, but totally lost in that split second of perfect ecstasy.
They collapsed together, chests heaving, hearts thundering, their skin still alive and tingling with the fading sensations. After some moments, Doyle regained a degree of composure; he stretched luxuriously, feeling wonderfully lanquid and complete. A sudden burst of euphoria made him turn to his side to look at his partner.
Bodie was laying on his back, lashes down over the wicked blue eyes, devilish eyebrows crooked to match the slightly smug smile.
"Pleased with yourself, aren't you?" Doyle accused teasingly.
The lips pursed arrogantly, then the eyes opened, flashing blue so dark and sultry they were nearly sapphire. "Pleased with you."
Doyle slid a lazy finger down the slick chest. "Will it always be that good, do you suppose?"
"Dunno. One way to find out. Keep doin' it."
"Oh, we shall. Don't know how to stop it now."
Bodie looked at him, suddenly serious. "Would you want to?"
Doyle refused to let his bubbly mood go flat. "Only if I get an offer from Nastasia Kinski, mate," he said lightly.
The blue eyes turned up to the ceiling. "This hasn't solved any of the problems, y'know."
Doyle licked a bead of sweat from Bodie's collarbone. "What problems?"
"CI5 for one."
Doyle sat up. "Don't see it's a problem. You mean about us havin' it off? What of it? Nothing for them to say about it, is there?"
"Cowley won't like it."
"Cowley can do the other thing, can't he?"
"So you're staying in then?"
Doyle propped his head on his hand, puzzled. "'Course I am. You are too."
Bodie shook his head. "Don't be daft, Ray. It wouldn't work. I've lost too much. Cowley would never accept --"
"Sod off, Bodie! You've always been the old man's fair little lamb, whatever the old bastard says out loud. He'd twist his knickers in a knot to keep you on. Oh, he'll give you a tough time; put you through training sessions 'til you drop most likely. But he'll take you back with bells on."
Bodie didn't reply. Doyle touched his shoulder. "Don't you want to come back, Bodie? Is that it?"
Bodie swallowed, throat muscles working painfully. "I dunno, Ray. How can I know? It's like trying to hold water in your palm; it leaks out through your fingers and you're just left with a wet hand. It's all leaked away from me, and what's left isn't enough."
"But there is some?" Doyle prodded gently.
"Yeah. There's bits and pieces -- more than before. But it's not ..." He trailed off, eyes clouding. "I remember camping out in an empty house with you talking about heaven."
Doyle remembered, too. He laid his face against Bodie's chest, recalling the bitter taste of fear in his mouth that night and how Bodie had joked it down to acceptable levels. "Yeah," he whispered, "we were protecting Parsali. It was close ... too close."
Bodie's hand came up almost shyly to touch Doyle's hair. "What do you want me to do, Ray? You know the score. Do you really want to chance it?"
Doyle shut his eyes tightly. "Yes," he said simply. Then he smiled. "Besides, you'd make a lousy insurance salesman."
"Ah, Doctor Ross, come in please." Cowley couldn't honestly say he was glad to see the woman, as useful as she was on occasion. This particular day he was subconsciously dreading what she might have to say.
Ross came in the office, clutching her precious clipboard with the air of someone very cognizant of their own importance. It was an attitude that always set Cowley's teeth on edge. She sat down in the chair by his desk, arranging her skirts nicely.
"I take it you've received the reports from the other departments on operative 3.7," she began, going directly to the point.
"Yes." Cowley said cautiously, "And all of their reports concur; 3.7 is in excellent condition."
"Physically," Kate Ross put in quickly.
Cowley held his irritation in check. "Aye, physically." He moved to the liquor cabinet and took out a bottle. "Care for a drink, Doctor?"
She shook her head, and he almost smiled at her obvious disapproval, thinking that it was a pity such an attractive young lass should be such a sour puss. He poured his own drink and returned to sit at his desk. "Doctor Buerer tells me 3.7's injury is completely healed, no more headaches, no troubling side-effects other than the limited memory loss. Perhaps not so great as we'd first expected. The intelligence tests rival his previous scores, and according to his training officer, Master Bodie still excels at combat techniques and tactics. 'A bloody genius at dirty fighting' were the exact words he used, I believe." He took a satisfied sip of the scotch, and looked Ross over warily. "But judging by the prim look on your face, Miss Ross, you've come to burst the pretty bubble, eh?"
"I've come to give you facts, Mr. Cowley. That's all."
"Aye, and your facts generally tend to be unrelentingly bleak, Doctor."
The brown eyes snapped angrily. "You're the one who asked me to review the case. If you're not interested in my findings --"
"On the contrary, Doctor, I'm most interested. Proceed."
Ross opened the chart, temporarily mollified. "I am quite aware that the operative in question is passing all the required tests with blazing colors. With a particular fervor, I might add."
"Enthusiastic, is he?" Cowley hid his smile.
"Manic is more like it. He's desperate to return to duty."
"Perhaps he likes his job, Doctor Ross."
"Perhaps he likes his partner, Mr. Cowley."
Cowley stiffened, hardly liking the innuendo. "If you've something to say, get on with it."
Ross flipped through her papers, realizing she may have come to the point quicker than she intended to, without laying the proper groundwork. "I believe there is an emotional problem here, quite aside from the amnesia. I have had my doubts about 3.7 continuing to work for CI5 with such a handicap, but I have been overruled on this point -- and perhaps rightly so. The chances are that problem can be dealt with and maintain an acceptable safety margin. But I also believe this other situation predated the accident."
"Explain yourself," Cowley snapped. "What other situation?"
"Surely you've noted the change in the unit 4.5/3.7 My psychological profiles for over the last year have indicated an unstable - --"
"I've read your reports, Doctor," Cowley interrupted impatiently. "And they are as consistently vague as ever. I'm a busy man, I'd appreciate a bit more straight talk and less hazy analysis."
"This is hardly an exact science," she said huffily.
"Exactly. An' I'll treat it for what it's worth. Continue."
She was flushed by this time, angered at his tone and his open disdain for her findings. "You cannot ignore the facts, sir. Take Doyle's attitude for instance. His tearing off to Africa after Bodie, when there was obviously more qualified personnel available to --"
"4.5 was sent on my authority, Doctor Ross," Cowley cut in sharply. "Are you questioning my judgment now?"
"No sir, but you must see there is more in play here than mere loyalty. And 3.7's frantic desire to return to active duty is directly the result of a potentially dangerous emotional commitment on his behalf. It is 4.5 he wishes to rejoin, not CI5."
Cowley took another drink of his scotch, undisturbed by the thought. "I know you consider me sadly myopic, but I am aware of that fact."
"Then you must also be aware that it has probably developed sexual undertones at this point, if not an actual physical relationship."
Cowley drained his glass and looked at her hard. "Are you prejudiced, Doctor?"
She blinked, startled by the question. She'd expected a very different reaction from the normally prudish Scot. "You made the nonfraternization rule. I am merely pointing out that these two may be disregarding it."
"I made that rule, yes. And believe me, when I deem it necessary to invoke that particular line of small print, I'll do so."
"When it suits you," she said sharply, face reddening. "Otherwise, you'll ignore it."
"Very perceptive of you. Now, if you'll excuse me, Doctor --"
"So you're disputing my findings?" she demanded.
"On the contrary, I believe you may be right. Do you have any other reason for objecting to 3.7's reinstatement -- other than your disapproval of their ... uhm, emotional ties?"
"I ..." She trailed off, slightly flustered. "Listen, Mr. Cowley, I realize that William Bodie is a personal favorite of yours. Your fair- haired boy. But to blithely ignore an unhealthy --"
"Doctor Ross," Cowley stood, blue eyes flashing dangerously. "3.7 has black hair, and not a lot of it, as I recall. I appreciate your efforts on this case and will keep your opinions in mind. Good day."
She also stood, jaw clenched furiously, clipboard pressed against her breast. But as she reached the door, Cowley spoke again.
"I'm sure your psychological profile on myself reveals my fondness for cliches; I have one for you now; perhaps you're familiar with it."
She stopped and looked back.
"Hell hath no fury like --" The door slammed behind her. "-- a woman scorned." Cowley poured himself another drink and leaned back in his chair. "I suppose she's heard it."
Bodie entered the rest room, dressed as immaculately as usual, looking cool and cheery. He sat down on the edge of the table and helped himself to the tea and a swiss roll. Murphy quickly rescued the remainder of it.
"Hey, watch it! My mum made that!"
"An' a darlin' woman she is," Bodie said between crumbs.
Doyle grinned up at him. "What are you at then? I thought Macklin was putting the finishing touches on your destruction."
"Ah, poor Macklin," Bodie said sympathetically, "he's past his prime." He winced as he reached for another roll, which Murphy darted out of reach.
"So I see. Sore, eh?"
"I'll live. Besides, it's the last day. That sadistic prat has seen the last of me for a while."
Doyle's eyes looked hopeful. You've passed?"
Bodie ruffled the brown curls. "'Course I passed."
Murphy put on a long face. "Does that mean you're divorcing me, sweetheart?"
Doyle's eyes twinkled. "I never led you on, Murph. You know it couldn't last. Just remember the good times, luv."
"Oh, yes. Like laying in that muck for six hours waiting for Marks to show at that hunting lodge. Very memorable." He grinned at Bodie. "You're welcome to him; he's too keen for me."
"You just don't know how to handle him, Murph. You have to be firm with these ex-coppers."
"Oh, get off," Doyle said impatiently, "Are you coming back or not? Is it official?"
Bodie hesitated, pouring a generous dollop of milk in his tea. "Dunno. Haven't heard from the Cow yet."
"Ross was in his office earlier," Murphy remarked.
Blue eyes touched green, then Bodie looked away, trying to cover his unease. "That sounds ominous," he said lightly. "The computer queen meets the iron glove. She's been trying to shrink me down to size for years."
"It's worked with all but the head," Doyle said cheekily, trying to hold on to the flippant mood. He saw that Bodie was worried, and he was too, as far as that went. Ross was the last hurdle; and the most tricky one. She could shoot it all down as easy as not. Neither of them had yet cared to deal with the possibility of Bodie no longer being CI5. Doyle wanted to stay with it, knew that Bodie would never let him quit for his sake in any case. But Doyle also had the sinking feeling Bodie wouldn't stay on long in London if he was off the squad. He could see the determination in the blue eyes and it bothered him. There would be no reasoning with him if it happened, he was sure of that. Whether it would be back to the SAS or the army or even further afield, it would be away from Doyle. Bodie would not stand by and watch his partner risk his neck day after day without being allowed to guard his back. Doyle understood that too well; it didn't have to be spoken.
The door to the lounge opened and Cowley stood there with briefcase in hand. "What are you all loitering around here for, eh? It's late. Murphy, you're on with Taggert tomorrow."
Murphy stood hastily. "Yes, sir." He tossed a glance at the other two, grabbed up his coat and hurried out.
"As for you two ..."
"Yes, sir?" They answered in chorus, both on their feet now, eyes fixed on the old man's face.
He almost grinned, wondering how long they could hold their breaths. "You'd best get some rest. You're off to Dover tomorrow. Be in here for details at 0600 hours."
"Dover, sir?" They said in unison.
He turned back in mock irritation. "Are you siamese twins now? Or have you taken to sharin' the little minds you both possess? You'll get the details of the op tomorrow morning. Try to stay out of trouble 'til then, if you please." He shut the door solidly behind him.
They looked at each other.
"I guess that means I'm back," Bodie said, stunned at the ease of it.
"Looks that way." The green eyes glowed happily. "We'd better take the old man's advice and get home to bed, what d'you say?"
Bodie's smile was blinding. "Your place or mine?"
"Whatever's closest, sunshine."
They walked out the door and down the corridor. Doyle began musingly, "Y'know I was tellin' Murph about my time in Africa - - -"
"Oh Christ," Bodie moaned, "I've created a monster."
-- THE END --