by Pamela Rose
"In three minutes we shall destroy the Houses of Parliament and there's nothing you can do to stop it!"
Doyle struggled against the ropes that bound his wrists. "What good will that do your cause? You'll murder hundreds of innocent people--"
"Innocent! You fool. No one is innocent. It is people like you who brought our world to the brink of destruction. The act of heroism we undertake will prove the justness of our position!"
"You're mad," Doyle spat, disgusted by her and her cause. Had he once thought her beautiful? Now her face was twisted and vicious and her eyes glittered with the insane light of a fanatic. "You'll never get away with it."
She kicked him in the stomach. "Shut up, pig!"
Curling in a ball on the concrete floor, Doyle tried to catch his breath while he racked his brain to find a way to escape. From the corner of his eye he caught a movement in the blackness beyond the dirt-streaked windows.
Bodie. It had to be Bodie.
Despite the pain from their torture and the incredible danger still to be faced, some part of Doyle relaxed. He could always count on his partner to come, swift and deadly, to the rescue. For his part, he would have to find a way to distract his captors while Bodie made his silent entrance into the ruined warehouse.
"Oy, bitch!" Doyle called out cheerfully, "You on the rag or wot?" He gained her undivided attention easily enough, painfully so. Then the windows crashed in and bullets--
"Mr. Dibble? Mr. Dibble!"
He blinked and looked up vaguely, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "Yes, Miss Fliskett?"
"Miss Holly is on the phone, sir. Shall I take another message?"
He signed. "No, I'd best talk to her. Thank you, Miss Fliskett." Marking his book carefully with a scrap of paper, he steeled himself and picked up the receiver. "Hello, Ann."
"Raymond, I've been trying to ring you for simply hours!"
"I'm sorry, m'dear. I've been ... busy."
"Well, if shelving books is more important to you than speaking with your fiancée--"
"Actually, we have assistants for that," he replied mildly. "A head librarian is more concerned with--"
It was strong language for Ann; she was more annoyed with him than he had thought. He wondered what he had done now. "I was going to return your call as soon as I ... uh ... finished my ... uh ... research."
He hated it when she "ummmed". It reminded him of the sound his stepmother made when he was a teenager while changing his bedsheets; knowing precisely what he had been up to but far too well-bred to acknowledge it, let alone disapprove. A sort of neutral distaste for however be might occupy himself outside her austere presence. He eyed the rather lurid cover of the paperback, feeling a twinge of guilt. Ann's disapproval of his choice of reading material was hardly less extreme than his stepmother's silent condemnation of his adolescent self abuse. A form of mental masturbation, as it were.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Was there something important you wanted to speak to me about?"
"Of course! I had to remind you of Daddy's dinner party tonight. I know how impossibly absent-minded you are, and it would be just like you to--"
"See, you did forget!" Slightly mollified by being proved right, she continued in a less astringent tone. "You know how important this is. We've talked about it a dozen times. Major Digby will be there, and you know there's an opening in his office."
"Ann, I've told you that I'm not interested in--"
"Nonsense. It's a marvelous opportunity. I refuse to stand by quietly and let you waste your potential."
"No. I'm not interested." There was a finality to his tone that silenced her for a moment.
Her voice became sweetly reasonable. "Raymond, darling, please don't be obstinate. The least you can do is be civil for my sake. He's a very influential client of Daddy's. And it won't hurt for you to keep an open mind. I'm only thinking of our future. You don't want to remain a librarian for the rest of your life, do you?"
Actually, he rather enjoyed being a librarian. Most of the time. It was peaceful and quiet and he could daydream for hours, filling out the missing gaps in his favorite mystery and spy novels. And if it was occasionally dull, well, it still couldn't be worse than working as a stock analyst for some pseudo-major who had been exempted from national service for flat feet. But perhaps Ann had a valid point and he was being selfish. He couldn't, after all, really expect her to be happy on a librarian's salary forever.
"All right," he sighed, resigned. "But I'm not promising anything--"
"That's fabulous, darling! Just you wait, everything will turn out much better than you expect."
Ann chattered on, describing at length the wonderful things Major Digby could do for his career and financial prospects if Raymond would merely give him a chance.
He tuned her out and surreptitiously opened his book, scanning the next few paragraphs, eager to see how Bodie was going to foil the terrorist plot and rescue his partner.
"Yes? What? I'm sorry, dear, we must have a poor connection."
"I said, I want you to pick me up at eight sharp and wear your dark grey suit with the striped tie. You know, the one I picked out for your birthday."
"And don't forget to stop by the jewelers for my chain."
She sighed loudly. Actually more of a gusting monsoon of condemnation than a sigh. He hated that more than the ummms. It didn't remind him of his stepmother; it was simply Ann at her most intolerant of his myriad imperfections. They had been engaged for almost five years and those sighs has escalated from one or two a month to an almost daily occurrence. In his darker moments he sometimes wondered why she bothered with him at all.
He took off his spectacles and rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling the ominous stirrings of a migraine. "Oh yes, of course. The chain to your locket."
"At least you've remembered that much. After all, you're the one who broke it when--" She stopped and sniffed. "Well, we won't discuss that."
Jesus Christ, he hated her sniffs worse than anything, even compared to her ummms and sighs. It was her delicate way of reminding him that she was far above his level and was selling herself cheaply when there were beaus of her own class readily available. Ones who wouldn't break expensive gold chains in the heat of passion ... ones that probably wouldn't inflict the heat of their passion upon her in the first place. Although, truthfully, his performance in bed was one of the very few things she had never complained about. Not that she would stoop to speak of something so animalistic as sex.
He quickly cut off the subversive thought.
"I'll pick it up from the jeweler today, I promise."
"Well, I hope so. It's been ready for two weeks. I'd like to wear it with my blue dress tonight. And for heaven's sake, don't lose it."
"I won't, dear. I'll put it in my pocket--"
"Like your keys? And your chequebook? And your wallet? How many times have you lost those in the last six months? I swear, Raymond, you are becoming more scatterbrained every day."
"Yes, dear. I'll be very careful."
"And Raymond, don't you dare bring one of those dreadful novels with you! I was utterly mortified when you were reading some ghastly paperback under the tablecloth at Mummy and Daddy's last Friday."
"Only between courses," he protested lamely.
"That's no excuse. It was awfully rude. It made Mummy positively faint and Daddy gave me such a talk about it. You know they haven't totally accepted our engagement, and you shan't change their opinion if you continue to--"
"Yes, dear, you're perfectly right," he admitted hastily. "I simply wasn't thinking. I'm sorry."
"So you should be! Daddy was totally insulted! Not to mention the fact you came down to dinner in running shoes! Mummy was quite shocked."
"But I explained about that," he said weakly. "I went for a run after work and I must have put them back on without thinking--"
"With your dress clothes? Honestly, Raymond. It's precisely what I've been saying all along. Your head is always in the clouds--or in one of those beastly thrillers you insist on poring over all the time. Perhaps once we're married, I can teach you better behavior...."
He sighed and tuned her out once more, waiting until she wound down her habitual lecture. What she considered his pedestrian taste in literature was one of her favorites; she could go on for a solid ten minutes without taking a deep breath.
On this occasion, he was able to finish up the chapter....
"Bodie, you dumb crud! Where the hell have you been?"
The dark haired man tossed him a raffish grin. "Been waiting long have you, sunshine?"
"Oh no," Doyle snarled, wiping the blood from his mouth before catching the gun Bodie tossed him. "It's just we had such a lovely tea party earlier. Hated for you to miss it."
"So I see. Are you okay?"
"Just shut up and let's go. There's still two of them out there somewhere. Why you let them slip away--"
"Silly me. Should've let the bitch rearrange yer face with her spiked heel."
"Well, Cowley won't love you for the sentiment." Green eyes met blue ones for a tense second. "But thanks, mate."
Bodie shrugged, helping Doyle to his feet. "I'm too beautiful to be seen around town with scarface for a partner. Puts the birds right off, that does."
He surveyed the bloodstained clothes worriedly. "Sure you don't want a quick buzz to hospital?"
"Shut up, Bodie. Let's go."
He had started the second chapter, wondering why Doyle was always so nasty to poor Bodie and why Bodie consistently let him get away with it--sublimating possibly, although Dibble was a trifle vague on what they were sublimating--when Ann finally wound down her speech.
"Well, enough said. I should think I've made myself abundantly clear on this subject."
"Yes, dear," he said absently, then replayed her words and realized she was finished for the moment. "Uh...I hate to rush off, but I still have to go over my notes for the selection meeting on Monday."
"I must run as well. Mister Raoul was able to squeeze me in at the last mo. He's the one who does Di's hair, you know," she added archly. "It's quite an honor."
"You mustn't keep him waiting then, love. Goodbye."
"Raymond! Just one minute. Speaking of haircuts, you should get one today. I know you like to put it off until the last moment, but you've become terribly shaggy. Grooming is everything in the business world, and the Major is quite conservative."
Dibble felt his hair and discovered to his surprise that it was over his collar in back. For once, Ann had a valid point. "Yes, dear. I'll stop at the barbers."
"And my chain--don't forget!"
"Chai--Oh. No, dear."
"And don't be late!"
"No, dear, I won't."
She rang off abruptly.
He hung up the phone, feeling drained, and looked at her photo in the silver frame on his desk. She was smiling in the picture, but even the smile possessed an aloofness and little real warmth.
He shook himself mentally. Ann was a lovely woman and he was well aware of his good. fortune. She was high class, intelligent and had a very rich daddy. She only wanted the best for him--for both of them. He should thank his lucky stars to be engaged to such a woman for five years.
Five very long years.
Again, he pushed away the traitorous thought. Looking out the window at the grey afternoon, a tiny ripple of dissatisfaction welled up somewhere in the region of his stomach. It wasn't anything dramatic or striking; it nibbled rather than gnawed. But he was all too familiar with it.
He wasn't unhappy, per se. He was comfortable. Had a comfortable flat in a comfortable neighborhood, a comfortable second-hand car, and a comfortable, if not taxing job. And sometime in the next few years he would have a wife and 1.5 children. (Or perhaps more since Princess Di was making pregnancy so fashionable.)
No, he wasn't unhappy. But he wasn't happy either.
Vaguely depressed, he picked up his book again, aware it would dispel his obscure dissatisfaction as nothing else seemed to. Bodie and Doyle's world of danger, exhilaration and black humor never ceased to delight him, whatever their questionable literary merit. To him, the characters were alive and vital. Bodie, in particular; the cold, classically handsome exmercenary, who concealed a heart of sweet-cream butter and obviously adored and protected his bad-tempered ex-copper partner.
He was deeply into the next chapter when his secretary interrupted him again.
"Mr. Dibble, it's after three. You haven't forgotten your dentist appointment, have you?"
"Dentist? Uh..." He touched his jaw, but for once the troubling molar was quiescent. "Actually, I was thinking that could wait. I have some errands to run--"
"Oh no, you don't!" Miss Fliskett was firm. "You've been putting it off for weeks and I just confirmed your appointment. Dr. Chauncey is expecting you. It won't hurt a bit. Honestly, you men are all alike. Such babies about a little pain."
"But I have to ..." He trailed off, trying to remember what it was he was supposed to do.
"Whatever it is can wait until after you've had that tooth filled. Now, go on with you!"
He smiled at her shyly, that particularly sweet smile that always melted her just a little. "You're quite right, Miss Fliskett. As usual. I can't remember exactly what else I was..."
"Didn't you have to meet your fiancée this evening?" she prompted gently. Having been his secretary for two years, she was conscious of his lapses--and even more aware that most of them related directly to the said fiancée.
"Oh lord, yes!" He jumped up and grabbed his coat.
"Well, first the dentist. It's Dr. Chauncey on Bond Street."
"Chauncey on Bond, yes. Thank you, Miss Fliskett. You're a treasure."
She blushed prettily. "Oh go on. Here, don't forget your hat and your brelly."
"Thank you. Have a pleasant weekend."
"And you, Mr. Dibble." She shook her head as he left, came back again for his briefcase and then once more for his umbrella which he had laid down when he picked up his case, offering her a vacant smile of apology.
She was very fond of Raymond Dibble, despite his minor flaws. He was the most sweettempered boss she'd ever had. He was easily pleased and, while often scatterbrained, he never failed to treat his subordinates as people, quick to notice a kindness or job well done.
He might even have been a terribly attractive man if he wasn't so painfully shy and didn't plaster his hair down with tonic and wear such undistinguished, dreary suits. And the heavily framed glasses hid his rather splendid green eyes. He wasn't a man anyone would look at twice, but she had the opportunity to observe him every day. There were moments when he moved a certain way, or his eyes were dreamy and introspective that she had actually felt a little thrill of lust. Of course, two minutes later he generally knocked over a pencil box or sneezed explosively into his handkerchief (Mr. Dibble was victim to a variety of allergies), dispelling the illusion.
Still, the man had promise, if only someone could convince him of that fact.
Having met the someday (when-the-moon-turned-blue) Mrs. Dibble, she was convinced that snooty bitch was probably ninety percent of the problem. It was infuriating that dear Mr. Dibble couldn't see how Ann Holly affected him. But men weren't the most perceptive of creatures and Raymond Dibble was hardly the most assertive of the breed.
Shaking her head sadly, she began tidying his desk and checking through the mail he had forgotten to open.
One letter from a publisher puzzled her for a second. While it wasn't unusual for heads of libraries to receive mail from publishing houses, this one seemed of a more personal nature.
Dear Mr. Dibble:
We are delighted by your interest in W. Philip Andrew's series of novels, 'The Professionals'. As you may know, there are now sixteen volumes and we expect a new one in the spring. We enclose a listing price for hardcover editions, with a special pricing allowance for libraries, of course.
Unfortunately, your request for an address on Mr. Andrew must be taken into consideration. Some of our authors are extremely private individuals, and Mr. Andrew falls into this category. We cannot furnish his home address through the mail. However, if you wish to come to our office we would be pleased to arrange an interview with Mr. Andrew for the library circular you mentioned.
Once again, I thank you for your interest and hope to hear from you at your earliest opportunity.
G. Cowley, Managing Editor Crimson Ink Publications, Ltd.
Slightly bewildered, she clipped the letter to the rest of the stack and left it in his inbox to read on Monday. She was familiar with Crimson Ink only because they published a series of historical romance novels she was inordinately fond of. In fact, most of their writers were of the more sensational variety; the Harold Robbins type. Hardly the thing for the Head of a respectable London library to be handling personally. While these books were a necessarily a part of the collection, they were generally dealt with by others.
The phone rang and she picked it up, forgetting the matter.
Raymond Dibble was a very ordinary bloke. It would have been difficult to pick him out amongst the other very ordinary blokes on the double-deck bus. It was the ones with blue hair and safety pins through the nose that drew attention. Another mousey fellow in a brown threepiece suit and briefcase was like a another bush in a thicket. He had never caused any kind of fuss or bother in all of his twenty-eight years.
After his mother died, he had a very brief, bright moment of sheer, glorious rebellion. At age fourteen, he became a very small, very mean terror. It only lasted six months or so, but during that time no bully or tough dared to tackle him one-on-one (or sometimes even two-on-one) because the lad was literally crazy. Mad as the proverbial hatter. He had no conception of his size or his limitations and he was very, very vicious. He developed a fondness for switchblades and leather jackets and hard rock music. He learned how to pick pockets and shoplift better than any pro in the East End.
His father, never having paid much attention during the previous fourteen years, found it even more irritating to have to focus on his son now. He was busy with his up and coming career in the postal service and romancing half the female staff and had no time to spare for his delinquent offspring. Instead, he sent him to a social worker. And a psychologist. And a psychiatrist.
It was the psychiatrist that pinpointed the personality change. It was a form of intense role playing, she tried to explain to the bored father. "He thinks he's James Dean. Rebel Without a Cause. Or something of that nature. The child has obviously always had an overactive imagination and a rich fantasy life. The trauma of his mother's death has pushed him into actually becoming some character he admires. That is apparently preferable to admitting the pain of loss he feels. Perhaps if the father would let him open up and express...."
Patrick Dibble's temper and impatience were hardly less extreme than his son's and he wasn't in the least interested in any of that mumbojumbo. He just wanted them to fix the kid and fast. It was embarrassing having to go down to the police station every few days because of Raymond's increasing troublemaking. He figured he had a better way of dealing with it.
So he went home and beat the holy shit out of his recalcitrant son, inadvertently putting him in the hospital for a month.
The homemade cure definitely worked. By the time Raymond was released from the hospital and met his new stepmother, every bit of rebellion was leeched from him. He was perfectly polite and very obedient. He got straight A levels in school and never gave them another moment's worry.
Patrick Dibble often lectured his co-workers on the way to handle kids.
One could hardly argue with success.
No one ever asked what Raymond thought of the method.
He became what was expected of him. Well behaved, polite, industrious. His grades brought him a government sponsored education, and if his father ever bothered to notice that his choice of a career was less than it might have been, he never said. What he did call it was "wimpy" and "faggotty". But neither did he particularly give a damn. He had two other kids by his new wife to think of at that point.
So Raymond Dibble became the invisible man. Competent, never a ripple in the fabric of polite society. The term wallflower had been used to describe him on occasion--when anyone bothered to describe him at all. He was honest and hardworking, but not exactly an aggressive chap, even for a librarian.
They had managed to stifle his personality, but his imagination was far from dead. It took him through those years of grayness, the sail of his secret fantasy catching a new wind with each new book that caught him up. For days or weeks, he, would be lost, ninety percent of his mind in another world, the other ten percent functioning efficiently, if absent-mindedly.
He was not unhappy. When you live so much of your life in a world of your own choosing, you cannot be unhappy. But you cannot be truly happy either.
At age twenty-eight, he was only belatedly beginning to realize that.
"And I owe y' both a drop o' pure malt scotch!" Cowley told his boys, more than pleased with their efforts--although he would never tell them that.
"Just a drop?" Bodie demanded cheekily. "Surely we've earned a fifth. We just saved the Houses of Parliament--"
"Och, y've done yer job an' nothin' more! An' badly, too! Y' should've caught them afore they left the warehouse, 3.7, an' well y' know it!"
"That was my fault, sir," Doyle put in stiffly. "Bodie was only--"
"Do na give me excuses! You nearly made a botch o' it between you."
"Yes, sir," Bodie said bleakly. Doyle opened his mouth and Bodie stepped on his foot to shut him up.
Mellowing again, Cowley gestured toward his car. "But all's well that ends. An' it's ended now. Come on, the pair of you. Y' need a drink."
Doyle shook his head, remembering the redhaired terrorist and how he had been fooled by her high class beauty. And he also remembered putting a 45 caliber bullet between her eyes. "Nah, you go ahead."
Bodie watched him leave, noting the depressed hunch of his shoulders. "I think I'll pass, too, sir." Starting to follow Doyle, Cowley caught his arm
"Leave him be, Bodie. He must work his salvation out for himself."
Bodie stared at the older man, and strangely enough then was almost pity in his eyes. "Did you ever have a partner, sir? A real partner?"
Startled, Cowley stared back. "No ... not the way you mean, I think."
"Alone is the last thing he needs, " Bodie said softly. "I know him, sir. We'll work it out together. Like we've always done."
"Aye," Cowley admitted. "You could be right. It's been a difficult few days. Undercover is seldom easy, and this was.... See he has a doctor look him over. We do na know what all they did to him."
Bodie regarded him bleakly. "No, we don't. That's the whole problem, isn't it?" Cowley watched him go, running a little to catch up to the limping Doyle, eager to be beside him again.
No, he'd never had a partner like that.
Cowley, limping a little himself, his leg giving him its usual pains that he'd almost come to ignore, levered himself into his car. Bodie would sort Doyle out come Monday. He always did.
But who would sort out Bodie?
Finding no satisfactory answer to that, Cowley started his motor and went to drown his doubts in a pure malt scotch.
Raymond closed the book with a sigh and tucked it back in his briefcase.
He had fallen upon "The Professionals" series by accident, sorting through the discarded paperbacks from his library, caught immediately by the passion and electricity of the characters. Being a librarian, he had little trouble tracking down the others in the series. While he had no qualms in admitting that W. Philip Andrew's writing was in no danger of winning any literary awards, he was still entranced. The first dozen or so were wonderful--oh, perhaps the style was basic and less than subtle, but the author had a gift for making his characters live and breathe, and his plots were always exciting, if more than a bit implausible.
Raymond was well and truly hooked before he came to the last few of the series and the quality began to drop. The characters of Bodie and Doyle were still sharp and well-defined, but there was a weariness about them, and the plots were becoming slightly more predictable, as if the author himself was bored.
It was the first time Raymond had ever thought of the author as a person in his own right, someone who created these very real and urgent characters. For some insane reason he had felt an overpowering need to write to the author, to tell him where he was going wrong, where he was missing the perfect track and losing the momentum of the novel. He still found it hard to believe he had actually written the publisher in hopes of contact with this mysterious W. Philip Andrew, because he had no idea what he would say to the man if he ever did meet him. It all seemed very childish now. He wasn't some silly, giddy fan looking for an autograph.
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, indulging his favorite pastime--mentally writing the unwritten scenes. Despite the problems with the plot, this gave him a lot of interesting holes to fill up with his fantasies. Those terrorists for instance. They never found out for certain who they were working for or what their real agenda was. They weren't IRA or Iranian or Palestinian. But he felt there was someone else, someone higher directing their motives, using their fanatical disgust of government and the bomb to promote their own cause. The Russians? The Chinese? It left it very open. Perhaps Andrew planned to continue it in the next book. But that was months away. Raymond wanted answers now.
And there was also the tension between Bodie and Doyle in this book that was missing in the earlier work. It was unusual for the novels, which generally had them joking around and going off for a pint or seeking out some willing birds to drown their tension. This time Doyle's only notice of women had been the flicker of interest in the nasty redhaired bitch--typical for him, he had no sense when it came to birds--and Bodie had ignored women totally during the entire novel, focusing his attention on Doyle. That in itself was odd. Or perhaps not so odd. Bodie repeatedly took more of an interest in Doyle's sex life than his own. Morbidly so at times, even though the books kept stressing how gorgeous the dark haired agent was; far more so than his sloppy, jean-clad partner. But this was the first time Bodie's preoccupation with his partner was so evident.
He remembered a descriptive paragraph from an earlier novel and wondered what caught Bodie's fascination.
Ray Doyle was an alleycat of a man. Skinny and sleek, quick and sharp. His hair curled wildly, hopelessly mussed at times, brown with ginger-red highlights that caught the eye unexpectedly. The green eyes were even more catlike than the lithe body; wide and tilted exotically in the piquant face, they were both eternally suspicious and ingenuous all at once. Like the proverbial alleycat, expecting either a saucer of milk or a kick, no inbetweens in his life. All kindness or sudden rejection, with no possibilities let for middle ground. There would be no taming him fully, because for all his naive optimism, he would never trust enough to accept more than crumbs before darting away again.
No, Dibble couldn't perceive Bodie's total acceptance of his partner's off-and-on again affection, laying it rightly to the author's partiality. Certainly most of the books were full of Doyle. His likes, his dislikes, his bad temper and his wide idealistic streak. Always it was Doyle undercover, Doyle being hurt and tortured and falling in love with evil women and being hurt, with Bodie left to pick up the pieces of his partner's shattered heart and battered idealism.
The author, very obviously, favored the Doyle character, but Dibble strongly disagreed. It was Bodie that fascinated him. The author gave little of Bodie's history except for hinting at the dark, terrible years as a mercenary and equally bad times in Ulster. Bodie was set up as darkly handsome, tough and cool, but everything else that escaped about his personality was almost despite the author. It was Doyle that W. Philip Andrew lavished description on, Bodie was shorted considerably. It was annoying, since Dibble wasn't sure he even liked Doyle sometimes. He could be such a moody bastard. Especially to Bodie who only wanted to help.
Okay, that was the way the author wrote the characters, but it didn't prevent Dibble from wishing Bodie would punch Doyle in the nose on occasion.
However, it also made the between-the-lines fantasizing that much richer. He could give Bodie his due in the safety of his own dreams. His favorite invention had Doyle saving Bodie from a terrible fate, comforting him in the pain and .... well, the rest of the fantasy was strangely cloudy.
The bus passed a street sign--Chauncey--and Dibble sat up abruptly, coming out of his reverie. The dentist. Chauncey. Impulsively, he got off at the next stop. He could hardly face his secretary Monday, if he cancelled out again. He walked back up the street, having forgotten the dentist's name. Now, what was it? He came to a discreet sign and the name fell into place. Yes, Dr. Bond on Chauncey street.
Oh, and he had to remember to pick up Ann's chain. It was dead important he not forget that. Absent-minded he might be, but this was a matter of self preservation. Ann would kill him.
Gleeson sat behind the battered metal desk and glowered at the other two men. "Awright, somebody better explain how this whole mess started and what the samhell is going on."
Baxter cleared his throat. "Well, sir, we were simply following orders. It all started when You Know Who wanted to raise some extra cash for You Know What."
"Listen, son, I'm from Texas. Speak plain."
"We were selling Star Wars plans to the KGB, sir."
The silence was so intense you could hear a pin drop. A pen did drop, in fact, with a clatter. The Texan took a long moment to pick it up and then began doodling the word "assholes" on a notepad. "You want to run that by me again, son?"
"Not real plans--phony ones. But that was okay, because the Russians knew they were phony and they were planning to sell them to the East Germans because they needed extra money to beef up the effort in Afghanistan. Glasnost has screwed the hell out of their military budget, too."
"Okay, so we were selling shit to the Russkis so they could sell it to the East Germans who are idiots. Correct? Exactly what were we selling?"
"Just some schematics the boys in Washington sent over to look good under a microscope--they had it on a microchip."
"And the Russkis knew it was crap?"
"And the East Germans?"
"Well, they might've figured it out, because they backed out of the sale at the last minute. So the KGB decided to peddle it to the Israelis who really only wanted it to leak to the Iranians as part of a package deal with the arms thing. Kind of like a commission on the sale."
"But the Israelis didn't know the U.S. knew about it, right?"
"Well, that's hard to say. They don't like dealing with the KGB at the best of times, and they sure as hell hate the Iranians, so they could've been double-crossing them. There's some evidence they were going to pass it to the Iraqis at the same time." He shrugged. "You know how it is."
Gleeson shut his eyes, too long in this game to become actually dizzy by the merry-go-round of modern espionage, but still nauseated by sheer stupidity. "So what happened?"
"Then everyone decided to back out of the deal because of all the recent ... uh ...fuss in Washington. So we were instructed to pick up the chip and destroy it. Except ..."
"Except what, dammit!"
The two agents looked at each other nervously, then back at their superior who wasn't noted for his patience with total incompetence. Oddly enough, neither of them were incompetent agents--on ordinary days. And oh did they long for ordinary days of hostages and bomb threats and imminent world annihilation.
"It's missing, sir."
"What's missing?!" Gleeson roared like one of his beloved Texas longhorn bulls.
"The chip, sir. It's .... well, it's no longer in our hands."
"But I thought it was garbage. What difference does it make?"
Again, the panicked exchange of looks. "Well, sir, those schematics might not be as harmless as we were led to believe."
"And why do you think that?"
"Because someone else wants that chip--badly."
If he had been the inimitable ex-Met detective, ace CI5 super-agent Ray Doyle, he would have sensed trouble in the thick London air. Unfortunately, the less-than-perceptive librarian, Raymond Dibble, was oblivious to anything more threatening than Ann's fury if he should happen to lose her chain. He did not, therefore, spot the two men shadowing him as he left the jewelry shop and absently stepped out into the crosswalk against the light. He didn't even spot the on-coming taxi until it screeched to a halt two feet away. Offering a shrug of apology to the cursing driver, he continued on his way, too wrapped up in his fantasies to notice how close he had come to permanent dreamland.
"You sure that's the one?" one of his shadows said doubtfully. "He's a right prat."
"Must be him. He was at the right place at the right time, wasn't he?"
Reaching the bus stop, Dibble absently tucked his paper under his arm and tossed his umbrella in the trash.
"You can't be serious. Him?"
"Shut yer yap. It's gotta be him. Lissen, we're gettin' paid for a simple job. Now let's get on with it."
Dibble sat down on a bench, fingering the chain around his neck. It felt strange. He wasn't one to go in for jewelry, but this seemed the most logical way to make sure Ann's necklace was safe. He felt a bit self conscious about it, however, and tucked it under his collar.
He wasn't looking forward to the evening and was wishing something would happen to give him a good excuse to miss it. Appendicitis, perhaps.
As was his habit, he avoided thinking about it by continuing his Bodie and Doyle daydreams. Now if he had written the book, he would have had--
"Pardon me, guvn'r, d'ya 'ave the time?"
Dibble looked up. "I believe it is ..." He trailed off as he noticed the gun pointed at his face, partially concealed by a folded newspaper.
"What say you tell me about it in the alley there, eh?"
For a man with such a vivid imagination, Dibble was finding it difficult to cope with reality. He blinked owlishly at the man. "I say, you don't intend to actually rob me, do you?"
The man glanced around nervously. "Shut yer mouth. Get up an' get movin'."
"Well, if you insist. But I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. I never carry much cash." He got up and moved obediently toward the alley. "I think I've only got about ten pounds--"
Shoving him forward, the mugger growled, "I told yer to dummy up, runt."
Dibble's face flushed angrily. "There's no need to get personal about this. If you want my wallet, just--"
"Watch his 'ands, Sammy." Another man stepped out from the dimness of the alley. "He could have a shooter."
"I'm watchin', I'm watchin'!" He pushed Dibble up against the brick wall and began searching his pockets and patting him down while the other man went through his briefcase. When the search became somewhat personal, Dibble protested and received a backhand slap. "Okay, where is it?" Sammy demanded.
"Oh, very nice," the accomplice snickered. "Sure, he's gonna tell you all about it. Dinnit you listen to anythin' the man said? This feller's a professional. He won't talk."
"Well, did you find anything in the case?"
"No, but I'm not sure exactly what we're lookin' for. What's this dingus look like anyhow?"
In all the years he had lived in London, Dibble had never even been mugged let alone robbed at gunpoint, but the stage of stunned disbelief was fading rapidly. He tasted blood from the cut on his lip, and the coppery flavor infuriated him. What was he after all? A man or a mouse? He stepped away from the wall, refusing to be intimidated. "Now, see here--"
The fist impacted his stomach like a sledgehammer, and he doubled up, emitting an airless little squeak.
Definitely mouse, he decided, wondering if his lungs would start working before or after he threw up. Amazingly, it didn't even hurt much, except for the odd sensation that his bellybutton was plastered to his spine.
And then--"Ohmigod..." The pain rushed in, swamping him, owning him. Red dots flashed before his eyes as he dropped to his knees.
Not content with such minor damage, Sammy began putting in the boot, kicking him repeatedly. "Try an' jump me, do ya? Just try it agin... Just try--"
"Oh, leave off," the other man said irritably. "You'll 'ave the coppers on us with that racket. We don't have time to mess about. Let's just take everything an' let the boss man figure it out."
Sammy offered another stomp for good measure. "Wot about him, then?"
"Whad y' think, ya dumb lout? Do I have to do all the bloody thinkin'?"
They're going to kill me, Dibble thought numbly. He tried to move, but discovered that even lifting his head was an effort. The pain was so intense it was like an overwhelming burden weighing him down.
It occurred to him that Ray Doyle would have figured a way out of this--or at least count on Bodie to come to the rescue.
Suddenly his sense of aloneness was almost more of an agony than the physical injuries.
And then Sammy smashed the gun butt against his skull and a quiet, unassuming man named Raymond Dibble faded away forever.
Gleeson leaned back in the creaking wooden chair and looked at the one tiny window the basement room possessed, watching as a fly rhythmically beat its brains out. He knew exactly how it felt. "Let me get this straight. This--probably useless--microchip is missing and the only reason you're worried is because somebody else is hot on its trail?"
"But you don't know who?"
"Not really, sir, no."
"Not the KGB?"
"Not the East Germans."
"Or the Israelis?"
"We don't know, sir."
"You don't know a hell of a lot, do you? So how do you know this was important enough to pull me off vacation on my ranch? Sounds like a load of bullcrap to me! Are these fuckin' plans Star Wars shit or not?!"
"No, sir, we're pretty sure they're not that."
"Then why is everyone's jockey shorts in a knot? What are they?"
"Actually, that's the trouble. We're not sure what they are. It seems there was a slipup in Washington. Basically, when this started they just called up the patent office and told them to dig up some unregistered electronic plans from the stacks and transfer them to microchip. They did. But they have no record of what they sent. I think the file was ... uh ... shredded, sir. You know ... when the unpleasantness over Colonel Nor--"
"I get you," Gleeson growled. He sighed heavily. Damn Ollie North; the man had the smarts of a headcheese at the best of times. "So what you're saying is that chip could inadvertently contain some very vital information."
"Yes, sir. We think it could be serious."
"And the KGB have figured out that we lost it?"
"Well, they cancelled our weekly dart match."
Gleeson shook his head in disgust. "You fellas have been in Limeyland too fuckin' long." The agents looked properly chastised, but Miller spoke up in their defense, "Face it, sir, things have been pretty slow since Gorbachev started all this glasnost shit. And England hasn't been a hotbed of international conspiracy since Philby took a powder. How were we supposed to know?"
"IT'S YOUR GODDAMN FUCKING JOBS TO KNOW, YOU SHITHEADS!"
Brave, bold men who wouldn't have flinched under communist torture melted into cringing puddles.
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
Their superior grunted and lit a cigar. The smoke hung in the unventilated room in a grungy blue haze. "Okay, from the top. When did you first smell something sour about this asshole operation?"
"Last night, sir. Dibbins was set to pick up the chip at the regular drop, but.... well, he got sick."
"Diarrhea, sir. Bad curry at this Indian restaurant ... Anyhow, he was forty-five minutes late at the pickup point. There was a mixup and the middleman screwed up the courier's instructions. There was a 4:30 appointment for Dibbins and ... he ... uh... gave the chip to someone else by mistake."
"Jesus. What happened? A sellout? Did the Russkis get in there first? Or the Arabs?"
"Uh...no, sir. We think it was a librarian named Dibble."
He woke up with the most appalling headache. When he sat up, he let out a little yip of pain and clutched his head, encountering a stiff bandage. He groaned and blinked, trying to get his bearings. Although everything was fuzzy, he could tell he was in a hospital ward; the bed to his right had a man hooked to an amazing number of tubes and the chap on the other side was sucking oxygen through a mask.
A nursing sister the same color and approximate size of Mt. Fuji came bustling over to his beside.
"Now, you put yerself back down agin. You've had a nasty crack on yer head and the doctor wants to keep you for observation."
"What happened? Where am I?"
"You just be still. We wanted to ask you that, love, when you feel a tad better. A bobby found you in an alley near the entrance to the Underground, plucked naked except--" She took something from the bedside table and handed it to him. "You were wearing this. They removed it before they did the x-ray."
He took the chain from her and stared at it blankly.
She pushed him back deeper into the pillows and straightened the bedclothes busily. "Poor lamb, you've bruises all over. Robbed, were you? Oh, the world is nastier every day. Wot's yer name, then, love? We've not been able to contact yer family yet. They have to be worried sick."
"Name?" He blinked again, still looking at the chain. "Uh... Ray... Raymond..." He groaned again as his head throbbed wildly.
"Oh, you've got a whale of a headache, I've no doubt. A concussion, the doctor said. Not so bad, but hard enough, mind you."
She picked up the chart and scribbled on it. "Ray Raymond, you say? What address, love?"
"I..." He rubbed his eyes dizzily. "How long have I been here?"
"Since yesterday evening around seven. Is there someone I can call for you?"
"I'm not... that is... I'm sorry, I can't think clearly right now."
"Poor lad. A good thump like that can scramble a body's wits for a time. You just rest. We'll see what the x-rays show. Here's something for the pain. The doctor will be by on rounds in an hour or so. Rest now."
The incredible pounding in his head gave him no other option.
Gleeson glowered at the hapless agents. "So you're telling me this ... this librarian just walks in and picks up a top secret microchip and walks out again."
"Uh, yes, sir. His name is Dibble, you see, and that was so close to Dibbins .... Well the courier has a speech impediment anyway, so the middleman didn't catch the name very clearly, and then this Dibble waltzes in at the right time, saying that he was expected and all, and he ... well he looked so ... incredibly ordinary and average, the middleman just assumed it had to be our man--undercover, you see. He said nobody really looks that mundane and mousey unless they--"
"I get your point. So he gives him the chip."
"So who is this Dibble?"
"Raymond Patrick Dibble. We don't have a file on him, but it was easy enough to trace him, because he filled out the patient chart with his name and address and place of business--the works. And they actually checked out. We spoke to his secretary, a Miss Amelia Fliskett, and she told us that Dibble did have a dental appointment at 4:30, only it was with a Dr. Chauncey on Bond Street. Not Dr. Bond on Chauncey. He's a harmless civilian from all accounts. A regular milksop type."
"But this harmless librarian walked away with top secret military information?"
"Uh...it seems that way, sir. At least, we have to believe so because of the interest the other intelligence agencies have suddenly taken. From all reports, they're buzzing like flies. Everyone from the KGB to the BOSS."
"But you don't know why?"
"No, sir. Unless .... well, whoever shredded the file originally ... a spy, sir? Was this a double-blind?"
"Thank you, Baxter," Gleeson said sarcastically. "You've enlightened my slow wits by this brilliant observation. Why do you think you're wasted in fuckin' Britain?"
Baxter felt his six foot frame easily reduced by several inches. Gleeson wasn't a particularly cruel man, but his compassion was severely limited at the moment. "So where is this librarian, dare I ask?"
Wishing he had drawn duty in Greenland--and positive it was a gloomy certainty before the week was out, Baxter responded, "He's vanished, sir."
"Naturally. Why should life be simple? What else do you know about him?"
"Not much, I'm afraid," Miller spoke up reluctantly, accepting it was his turn to take some heat. "After he left the pickup point, he disappeared. Didn't return to his flat or the library or show up at his girlfriend's. Her name's Ann Holly, from a very respectable family. Lots of money, from what I've uncovered. Father influential in Whitehall through business contacts, but nothing vaguely fishy about it. She checks out clean as a whistle. Dibble does, too, except for a few minor juvenile offenses. Lower middle class background; his father's retired from the post office. Also clean."
"So our red friends picked him up?"
"No, I don't think so. It wasn't until after we lost him that they began to get interested. The same with the other agencies. And once the Israelis twigged something was up, all hell broke loose. Now, everyone with a diplomatic dog license is out combing the streets for the lost lamb. And I'd swear none of us fucking knows why."
"You're wrong," Gleeson said flatly. "Somebody knows."
"But we don't actually know for sure the chip has any information worth chasing," Baxter commented.
"Obviously you're not willing to take that risk, or I'd be back home barbecuing spare ribs, correct? Well, you listen, you two bags of shit, you'd better find this Dibble fast and first. If somebody else has him, you grab him back, whatever it takes. Otherwise you're gonna find yourselves sitting in a CIA post in Paducah doin' wire taps on Brownie troops!"
This time when he woke his head was clear, if still aching. It was more like the distant rumble of thunder in his head than incapacitating pain. He could function with the pain. A man learned to deal with it in his business. It came with the territory.
He lay very still on the bed and scoped out the ward with narrowed eyes. It was quiet except for the sound of various apparatus and the clink of a bedpan at the far end of the room. He was in hospital, but he couldn't remember how he came to be here. Still, wasn't hard to figure. The villains got to him. But had they found what they were after? And what was it? As he moved, something tickled his arm and he looked down. A gold chain was caught in his fingers and trailed down his wrist.
Ah ... this was it. It was important. Somehow he knew it was. He couldn't afford to lose it. Life or death.
Ann would kill him.
A bolt of black pain shot through his head and he whimpered just a little, covering his eyes. When it passed, all he could remember was the importance of the chain.
He had to protect it at all cost until Cowley told him where to deliver it. He thought idly about swallowing it, but idea of the retrieval process didn't appeal. Instead, he opened the clasp and put it around his neck. Obviously, the enemy didn't realize its importance or they would have taken it when he was helpless.
His first priority was to get out of here and find Bodie. His cover was obviously blown. Maybe Bodie's was as well. He could be in danger.
There were no clothes in the cupboard beside the bed; further proof they had taken everything and left him for dead.
Well, Raymond Doyle was bloody hard to kill.
The urgency to find Bodie got him up out of the bed. Across the aisle was a teenager obviously in for a drug OD, and Doyle borrowed his gear without a qualm. After all, he was working for Queen and country. It was theft in the line of duty. Let the guilt come later as it always did.
The jeans were almost too tight, but the t-shirt and the leather jacket fit well enough, and the sunglasses helped his headache. His vision was still blurred, but that was typical for the bang on the head he must have suffered. He reckoned it would clear up soon enough. It had to.
He had a job to do.
Gleeson saw the look on Baxter's face and was almost afraid to ask. He shut his eyes, already resigned to the fact this was going to be a fuckup from the word git-go. "Awright, spit it out, son. You've lost him, again?"
"Yes, sir. It seems the subject was picked up by a London policeman in an alley and taken to a Good Samaritan Hospital as a John Doe. He was naked, stripped clean. And unconscious, sir."
"Well, it's a busy hospital, sir. Mostly derelicts and drug overdoses. They tend to lose track of patients rather easily it seems. Most of them are John Does. Both coming in and going out."
"And he went out."
"Under his own steam apparently. The chart says he had a severe concussion, although not life threatening. Somehow he got past three nursing stations without being spotted. A nurse says he gave his name as Ray Raymond. That's all they have."
"And the microchip?"
"Whoever attacked him could have found it," Baxter said bleakly. "But I don't think so."
"Why? If they stripped him clean, they must've looked the obvious places."
"Just a feeling, sir. And there's still too much action. Too many people beating the streets."
"And the even curiouser question, where did Dibble disappear to? And why?" Gleeson asked absently.
Baxter was far too smart to answer. He might want to have children one day after his duty in Iceland or Antarctica was complete.
Gleeson chewed on his cigar for a moment. "I think you're right, Baxter. I don't think they got it. This little Limey librarian still has it. I don't know how or why or who he's working for, but he's slicker than catshit."
"So it's a deep cover," Baxter mused. "Whoever he's working for. Very deep. We can't find a fuckin' bleep in his life to account for it. Except for that stuff when he was a kid, he's been the most incredibly boring guy imaginable. I mean, we can't even find traces that he's rented porno films."
The older man scowled. "We have two possibilities. Either he's an innocent dupe, or he's been saved all this time for something very, very big. Which means that microchip could contain something far more vital than either you or I ever dreamed. And somebody else knows what it is and thinks it's worth blowing a cover this deep and solid."
Interested, Baxter stared at him. "What do you think, sir?"
"I think we can't take a chance either way. We find him."
Gleeson looked surprised. "And kill him, of course. Then take him apart very slowly. The worst that can happen is that Britain is out one librarian. Maggie Thatcher won't lose any sleep over it."
W. Philip Andrew stared at the page in front of him and frowned. If he stared at it long enough, he was sure something would materialize. But it was becoming harder and harder. Not because he didn't have ideas. Those he had in plenty, but the actual writing was becoming a real bitch. Mostly because it had occurred to him that he wasn't a particularly good writer.
It hadn't bothered him much in the first few years. Ignorance is bliss, and he had been incredibly blissful. It had seemed so simple to churn out a book every two or three months, letting his imagination and bits and pieces of his varied life pour out on a page. An easy and surprisingly lucrative way to make a living. Far superior to actually dodging bullets and sleeping in mud-soaked ditches.
Unlike a lot of writers, he truly did write from experience. He just carefully kept the reality from reaching the pristine pages of his books, aware that would kill every pretension of romance and glory. There was nothing in the least romantic about being shot at by total strangers--even less about being hit. And small glory to peeing your pants in sheer terror when a grenade blew off just about three feet away from taking you out too. Or the smell of corpses lying two days in the African sun, bloated with gas and filled with happy green flies.
Oh, yes, he wrote about what he knew. And knew what not to write.
Easy, tidy villains, and nice clean bullet holes and the white hat riding off in the British sunset. A little twist of uncertainty, perhaps, to keep the liberals happy. That was his Doyle character's job and he did it so very well. Exquisite guilt, almost sensually attractive angst and scads of remorse. Agonizing over the grey areas, and looking so marvelous while he did it. Those scenes almost wrote themselves, Doyle being his favorite character and so easily swayed into maudlin outbursts, complete with a glisten of tears in the cat-green eyes and the listlessly drooping curls.
But no one wanted to read the real truth, the real blackness, and Philip didn't blame them in the least. From personal experience he knew reality sucked.
So for four years he had churned out the glamorized version. A little blood, a few drips of gore, some carefully choreographed guilt trips for generic wallowing--racial hatred, terrorists with a cause, nuclear weapons, drug addicts with no hope, kiddie porn, struggling third-world nations, IRA, gangsters, mobsters, and back to fuckin' terrorists. He'd run the gambit, and what was the latest popular boogieman? A threat on the Royal Family? Jesus Christ.
He pushed his chair back and lit a cigarette.
It was so much easier before he realized what a crummy writer he was. Before he had actually tried to do something that was "good". Well, that novel died a very natural death. He'd discovered the hard way that trying to write for real was a hell of a lot tougher than spewing out stories like he had around a campfire--a talent quickly learned out of self defense to keep the hard boys off his back. Keep them amused, laughing, interested. Strange how it worked, but it did. Once you told someone a story, they were less likely to beat the shit out of you or do even more unpleasant things. It set you apart from the pack for some reason. Either because they thought you were quicker or more clever, or because they wanted another story. Amazing how terror could sharpen your wits--at least it had his.
But after four years of safety, the residual fear had faded and he was beginning to run dry. Worse, he was beginning to look back on the things he had written and recognize what drivel it was. It had set him up very nicely financially, enabled him to leave the SAS with dignity intact without ever admitting he had lost his nerve. But now that he knew he was incapable of writing anything decent, the other well was running dry, too.
Cashing his royalty checks from the earlier novels didn't make him unhappy. But it didn't make him happy either.
He was bored.
Halfway through his newest effort--started after his abortioned attempt at a "real" novel--he lost interest. Even his favorite character, Doyle, was snapping with much less fervor at his ox-like partner. Doyle was obviously bored, too.
Unfortunately, Cowley was expecting the completed manuscript--last week. And he had already spent the miserly advance the Scot had given him as a down payment on the secondhand Ferrari sitting in his garage.
He put out the cigarette and moved his fingers back to the keyboard. If he was feeling rotten, he'd let Doyle take it out on Bodie. That always made him feel better.
Ray Doyle's blurry vision could only pick out the overlarge "C" and "I" and the number "5" on the door that read:
Crimson Ink Publishing, Ltd.
The pretty receptionist looked up as he entered.
"Hullo, Betty. I've got to see the old man right away. Is he in?"
Startled, she just looked at him. "Pardon me? Do you have an appointment with Mr. Cowley?
"Of course I don't have a bloody appointment! I've been undercover. Listen, if he's tied up, all I really need is the address of the safehouse Bodie's using. I've lost my RT and I have to get in touch with him."
He leaned on the desk, looking cool, calm and vaguely threatening. "Listen, sweetheart, I don't have time for games. This is important. Where is Bodie?"
"Bodie?" Being a temp, she was momentarily flustered. The man obviously knew what he wanted and she needed this job very badly. "Uh ... wait, there's a note here about setting up an interview with Philip Andrew for a Mr. Dibble. I know he writes those Bodie and Doyle books, doesn't he? Are you Mr. Dibble, from the library? Is that what you've come about?"
Doyle chuckled richly. "Is that the name he's using? Philip Andrew? Oh, very droll. So what's the address, darlin'? I don't have all day."
"You are Mr. Dibble, then?"
He looked her up and down, very male, very predatory, like a hungry tomcat.
As a temporary, she wasn't quite sure of the proper procedure, but this man looked nothing at all like a librarian. "I'm not sure if I ... Mr. Cowley's at a luncheon. But he should be back in a half hour or so--"
Doyle straightened with blinding speed, all sun-warmed languor vanished. "I don't have time to bloody wait! I need that address!"
Eyes very round, she dug out the file and handed it over timidly.
Doyle snatched at it and then--oddly enough--squinted at the letters. He rubbed his eyes angrily. "Dammit!" Then thrust the file back at her. "What's it say? I'm still all blurry. Come on, Betty, snap it up!"
She swallowed and read the address to him, wondering if life in the publishing world was always so fraught with tension.
Doyle's sudden grin was chip-toothed and charming. "Very posh. Lucky Bodie. Thanks, love. Tell Cowley I've picked up the merchandise and we'll call in as soon as the coast is clear. I think they're onto us though. Transport to point C may be tough going. And we don't even know where point C is yet."
"My name isn't Betty, it's Irene. Did you say your name was--?" But he was gone.
She felt a lingering pleasurable tingle. He was a little scary perhaps, but oh so sexy. Those jeans were practically indecent, and the knowing, hot look in those wide green eyes doubly so. It had all happened so quickly, she'd hardly had time to take it in, but now her memory replayed the sensual movement of his lithe body, the exotic face and the tangled, somewhat greasy mop of curls.
Irene began to hope this temporary job would last long enough to see him again.
Philip almost welcomed the door buzzer. At least it got him away from the uncooperative typewriter. Maybe he should switch to a computer? Perhaps a blank screen would be less intimidating than a blank page.
"Come on, sunshine, it's me."
"Open the fuckin' door!"
Philip stared at the grillwork of the speaker as if it would explain the last sentence. "What did you say?"
"Oh, Jesus, I don't know the friggin' password this week. Come on, mate. You know it's me. I'm tired and I hurt like hell. Just open up, okay?"
Philip opened his mouth to speak, then shut it, realizing he had no idea what to say. Or even what to ask. This was the most totally bizarre exchange he'd had in years. "Who is this?" he asked warily.
An expressive groan emitted from the speaker, and the disembodied voice finally answered. "Who am I supposed to be? Uh ... oh shit ... Dibble, right? And you're ... Andrew." A nasty chuckle. "That's right. Philip Andrew." For some obscure, reason, he gave the name "Philip" a very campy twist.
Confused, irritated and intrigued, Philip took another moment to gather his thoughts. "Who did you say? Dibble?"
"Christ on a crutch! It's starting to rain out here, you know. Let me the fuck in." There was a tense silence, then the voice sharpened. "Is something wrong, mate? Is somebody with you? I'll go around back."
"Back?" He was on the third floor with nothing but a balcony and a straight drop to the street in back. The man was obviously a lunatic. He made a face and started to switch off when the voice came through again
"Bodie! Are you okay?"
Philip's hand stopped in mid-gesture. Bodie? Could be a coincidence, of course. But the name Dibble did ring a bell. Some shithead librarian Cowley was pissing on about who was mad about his books. Cowley was hoping for some big buy, no doubt envisioning all the libraries in England purchasing grosses of hard-bound copies of the entire series. Philip thought it was a load of rubbish, but Cowley had said something about the man wanting an interview. This surely couldn't be the man--or could it?
"You're Dibble, that librarian chap?" he asked cautiously.
A gusting sigh. "Yeah, that's me, Raymond Dibble, have library card will travel. Bodie, will you stop pissin' around."
Shrugging, Philip unlocked the door. At least it shouldn't be boring. "Push."
"Thank you so much," came the sarcastic reply as the door buzzed open.
Three minutes latter came a thunk at the door. Philip opened it and the intruder brushed by him, furious and wet.
"You wanner tell me what that was in aid of? I thought you were in trouble up here. It's not funny, Bodie. We've got trouble here and we don't have a lot of time for your friggin' practical jokes."
"Mr. Dibble, I presume?"
"Oh, bugger off," the other man snapped. "My head is killing me and I ache all over. I'm going to have a hot shower and some clean clothes. We can fill each other in on the details later. Ten minutes, okay?"
Before Philip could do more than open his mouth, the man had located the bathroom and slammed and locked the door. Two seconds later the water sounded and a voice began singing a very flat rendition of Rolling Stones' "Get Off'a My Cloud".
He had never had his bathroom commandeered before and wasn't entirely sure what to do about it. Breaking down the door seemed a tad extreme. Dibble (or whoever he was) couldn't stay in there forever, after all. Just to be on the safe side, he went to the desk and retrieved his faithful Walther PPK. He hadn't used it for more than target practice in four years, but a nutter was a nutter. They usually weren't violent, but one could never tell. Bemused, Philip waited.
Ten minutes later, the man appeared from the steamy bath wearing Philip's dressing gown, his curls dripping water. The green eyes raked over his host without emotion. "Good, you're tooled. Hope you've an extra. They nicked mine when they jumped me. No, don't say it. I know I was lax. But I didn't know they were this close, did I? They must've blown my cover. Cowley'll have my balls on toast. Still, looks as if you're safe. I eyeballed outside for at least an hour and didn't see anything shaky. I think you're still clean, sunshine. Though not for long. If they twigged me, they'll find this place soon enough. We'd better move house."
"Who the hell are you?" Philip finally managed to get in.
He was ignored as the other man opened his closet and rummaged through his clothes. "Nice wardrobe. Why do you end up with all the cushy jobs while I end up playing a librarian in polyester? The ol' man's blue-eyed boy you are. Jeez, these trousers will swallow me. Well, I can make do with the jeans I suppose." He darted back to the bath and returned wearing the skin tight jeans, and pulled on one of Philip's more expensive silk shirts. He tucked it carelessly into his jeans and helped himself to clean socks from Philip's dresser.
Philip had kept the gun trained on the man the entire time, but realizing it didn't even faze him, he ruefully let it fall. This had to rate as one of the strangest afternoons of his life--even including Africa--but he had to admit he was no longer bored.
"Would you please stop ruffling through my drawers long enough to tell me who you are?" he asked politely.
The teasing grin thrown his way surprised Philip. Not only was it engaging, there was a sultry touch to it as well. "Since when have you needed a formal introduction for someone to go through your drawers? I've known you to encourage complete strangers." He waggled his eyebrows. "If they're built."
Philip looked at his gun and looked back at the man whose head was now buried in a towel, briskly fluffing his wet hair, oblivious of the weapon's threat. If this joker really was Dibble, Cowley had a lot to answer for giving a screwball his address. Now he just had to figure how to get rid of him without upsetting the poor sod.
He headed for the phone in the living room. A nice padded wagon with nice whitecoated attendants would be in order about now.
Hand on the receiver, he froze, gripping the gun tighter as he turned.
The man leaned against the door frame, giving a last swipe before tossing the wet towel aside and shaking loose his damp curls. "Better not use the phone. Might be tapped. RT would be safer."
Philip stared at him and suddenly something clicked into place, like a crazy lock or an insane puzzle piece. The red-brown curls, the brilliant green eyes, the tight jeans and careless looseness of wiry muscles, the sensuous mouth that smiled at him with lazy pleasure.
"Bloody hell! You're Ray Doyle!" He wasn't sure how the words escaped, because his throat closed up immediately thereafter, leaving him speechless.
"Oh very amusing." Doyle snapped. "I know you thought it hilarious when the Cow made me trim me hair and slick it back. Well, it was okay for a while, but the cover's blown now, so I might as well be meself again."
Philip sat down limply on the couch, eyes glued to his creation come to life. But Ray Doyle wasn't real. It was his fantasy. A creature of print, not flesh and blood.
The logical answer came to him and he was suddenly both inexplicably angry and oddly disappointed. "Okay, very nice joke. Murphy set this up, didn't he? Well, you've done a marvelous job. But enough's enough. Drop the act."
The green eyes turned to him, cold and the jaw was set angrily. "That's not funny either, Bodie. Murph's dead."
Philip blinked, stunned for a minute until belatedly remembering that he had killed off Murphy's character in his last book--being irritated with his agent at the time and finding it a painless and satisfying revenge. Cheesed Murphy off no end. He swore he'd get him back. So this was it. Murphy had never been less than thorough.
"Listen, this was a great joke. You can tell him it worked a treat. Now give me back my shirt and beat it, okay?"
For a split second the other man looked confused and his hand went up to his head, wincing as if in pain.
"Are you okay?" Philip asked, concerned despite himself.
"I... yeah ... fine. They really did a number on me, mate. When I woke up in hospital, I wasn't even sure who I was for a bit--" And abruptly, almost gracefully, he slid to the floor, out cold.
Philip reached him in an instant, feeling for the pulse. It was strong and regular, but the face was pale. He picked up the slight figure and moved him to the sofa. Whatever was going on, he was beginning to believe it wasn't a put on. As he looked more closely now, he could see a darkening bruise nearly hidden under the curls at the temple, and another on his arm. Pulling up the shirt revealed even more. None of them seemed serious, but Philip was familiar enough with these type injuries to see the man had been beaten rather severely sometime during last 48 hours.
He got a wet cloth from the bath and put it over the young man's forehead, trying to decide what to do. He should call an ambulance, he supposed, although he had no idea what he would tell them. That a madman burst into his flat claiming to be a character from a novel, took a shower and then passed out on his carpet?
The idea of this being a practical joke had evaporated with the faint. That wasn't acting, and neither were the bruises. Whatever was happening here was serious.
So it was back to the nutter theory. But looking down at the defenseless face, he found it strangely difficult to call for someone to cart him away to the funny farm. Perhaps it was no more than ego, but it was oddly flattering that someone would choose one of his characters to adopt in his madness. And Philip couldn't quite dismiss that first rush of adrenaline he had felt when he recognized this as his Ray Doyle.
Poor, mad boy that he was, he was still so amazingly close to everything Philip had envisioned as Doyle. Even more curious, all the things he hadn't even thought of were here now, fleshed out and total. He hadn't invented the chipped tooth in front or the uneven cheekbone, but now that he saw them, it was Ray. His Ray. And the mental picture he had unconsciously cherished for years was suddenly solid and wonderfully real. Even if Philip called for the ambulance and they took him away in a half hour, this would now and forever be his image of Ray Doyle.
The man stirred slightly on the couch and murmured something unintelligible. Then the green eyes flickered open. Seeing Philip, he smiled, easing back again.
"Uh...Bodie... M' sorry. Passed out on you, didn't I? Christ, my head hurts."
"It's okay," Philip told him soothingly. "I'll call a doctor." His wrist was caught before he could move toward the phone.
"No! Don't be stupid. I'll be all right in a minute. We can't waste any more time. We've got to get out of here before they find us."
Philip took the urgent hand from his arm and unconsciously held it, feeling an odd melting inside as he looked into the bright green eyes. Poor little bugger. Sick and lost and confused. It must be horrible.
Philip had never thought of himself as a particularly soft hearted man--quite the opposite, in fact. But sympathy and pity swelled up in him now, and he wished more than anything that he could help this man. This boy. For he hardly looked much older than that, so pale with hair curling wildly, eyes far too large in the fine-boned face.
Irritated at the unfamiliar wash of sentimentality, Philip pulled away and went to the phone. Time to get someone else to take charge of this pretty dimwit.
Before he took in what was happening, the phone was knocked from his hand to the floor. "I told you, we can't afford to use it! Don't you ever listen to me! It might not even be wise to use RT at the moment. I've got the chain, but until we know who and where to deliver it, we can't afford to take chances. I think we're on our own on this one."
Philip took a deep breath, trying to maintain a sense, of calm. "Listen .... uh ... Ray, I think you need help, okay? Just let me call for an ambulance and you'll--"
"Bodie, will you use your brain for a minute. I know I'm not okay. Christ, I can't even see straight--everything's all fuzzy. But we can't afford to worry about that now." He located his leather jacket and jerked it on. "Let's get out of here first, okay? Cowley's playing this very close. They wouldn't even acknowledge me at headquarters. It's got to be an Operation Susie."
"I beg your pardon?"
Doyle (or the incredible facsimile thereof) put his hand to his forehead, the pain obviously still intense. "Bodie, I didn't want to tell you, but I can't remember a whole lot about the op. I was hoping you knew more, but I guess Cowley kept you even more in the dark than me. Bloody typical. Still, I know we've got to keep running until Cowley gives us the signal. Or until we know who's safe to deliver the baby to."
"Signal? Baby? Susie who? Listen, Ray, sit down. You need to rest--"
"Don't you think I wish I could afford to?" Doyle snarled, jerking away. "Bodie we've wasted enough time."
"You're safe here," Philip said comfortingly. "Now why don't you just--"
There was the ping of glass cracking and a low thwummping sound. Doyle pushed him down flat on the floor.
"Jesus, that was close. I told you they would find us," he said ruefully. "I just didn't reckon it would be this quick."
Numb, Philip noted the bullet-size hole in the balcony glass, fanned all around with cracks. Then he turned to survey the matching hole in the paneling no more than a foot from where he had been standing.
"I don't believe this. Someone just shot at us."
Doyle spared him one sarcastic glance. "Thank you for the news flash." Then scrambled over to the coffee table on his stomach and seized the discarded gun.
It took only a second for Philip's own instincts to kick in. He reached the weapon an instant after Doyle. For a moment they tugged for possession.
Doyle relinquished it reluctantly. "Dammit, don't you have another gun?"
"No! And keep your bloody head down!" Philip rolled over and grabbed for the lamp cord, jerking it out of the wall. While it was still late afternoon, the storm had dimmed the natural light outside and accentuated targets in the brighter light. The action was so automatic, Philip didn't even think about it.
"Good move, mate," Doyle approved. "We might even make it to the door."
Philip glared at him in the dimness. "And go where the fuck? I don't even know what's going on."
Doyle considered it. "There must be a service entrance to these swanky flats, yes?"
"Yeah ... but--"
"So we take the stair down a couple of flights, duck in the service elevator and make our escape through the boiler room."
Forgetting how bizarre the whole situation was, Philip nixed the idea. "They could be watching the back. Bound to be. Front, too."
"And sides. So what's left, eh?"
Another bullet tore through the room and they both scrunched down.
"Whatever it is," Doyle commented sourly, "we'd better do it soon, or they'll just march on in here. You're not putting up much of fight."
Philip held his temper with an effort. "Gee, sorry about that. What do you want me to do? I don't even know who the hell I'm supposed to shoot at, let alone why."
"So let me have the friggin' gun, dammit. I'm a better marksman than you--with small arms anyhow."
Appalled, Philip protested angrily, "What the hell makes you think that? You have no idea what kind of shot--"
The next bullet--or series of bullets--dissolved the window in a shower of glass. "The roof," Philip decided suddenly. "The building to the east is close enough. We can jump."
"Oh, that's just peachy. You know I hate heights. Okay, let's go."
Thirty minutes later, W. Philip Andrew found himself sitting in a filthy alley filled with high smelling garbage and trying to catch his breath.
His companion was doubled over trying to do the same.
"You think we lost them?" Doyle asked, pushing back rain-soaked curls.
Personally, Philip welcomed the rain, certain that the rubbish they were sitting in would smell far worse without its dampening effect. As his heart slowly returned to a semi-normal beat, he faced the other man.
"Who the bloody hell are you?"
"Listen, mate, I'm sorry they tracked me. You're right, I shouldn't have come to the safehouse. But I didn't think I had a lot of choice, see? Like I said, we're on our own on this one."
Philip turned his eyes heavenward, wondering what he had done to deserve this. The man was mad as a hatter. He thought he was Ray Doyle. He thought he was Bodie, for god's sake. Neither of which were real people because, damn it all, he, W. Philip Andrew, had made them up in his own tiny mind. Okay, that was all perfectly reasonable. The man was mad and mad people had delusions.
But unfortunately that didn't explain the unavoidable detail that someone really was shooting at them. Philip knew this for a fact because he had been shot at before and hadn't liked it any better than he did now. It pretty much summed up why he tossed over the soldier business and became a writer in the first place. Being shot at was a bitch.
So maybe it wasn't Doyle (or the Doyle-like person) who was crazy. Maybe he was hallucinating. Or dreaming. But dreams didn't smell this bad. And if he had flipped, he was certain he wouldn't be shivering in the rain with a cuts on his arm from glass shards and a weak ankle from landing badly jumping over a bleeding rooftop.
It was too much like the old joke--yes, I'm paranoid; but there really are people out to get me.
"Do you know what I reckon?" Doyle offered thoughtfully. "There must be some kind of code engraved in this chain. Rendezvous points, targets, somethin' like that. They risked coming out into the open because they know we're onto them. But why didn't Cowley brief us? It doesn't make sense, mate."
Philip let his head fall back against, the wall and began to laugh, and couldn't stop laughing. He knew there was a hysterical edge to it, but he couldn't help it.
"Well, I'm glad you find it amusin'," Doyle sniffed. "I, for one, am bloody tired of being a chump for CI5."
Still chortling, Philip looked at him. "What's this chain you keep talking about?"
Doyle hooked his thumb under it and pulled it out of his collar. "It's got to be the key to the whole thing."
Philip sobered abruptly. Perhaps it was at that. If nothing else, it might be a way to trace this pathetic fellow's identity. "Do you remember where you got it?"
The green eyes narrowed in concentration. "I think ... yeah, this jeweler on Bond Street."
"Well, that's a good place to start." Philip stood and reached his hand down to help the other up.
Doyle looked puzzled. "But why...? Oh, I get it. Backtrack, right?" He tapped the side of his nose knowingly. "Very smart, mate."
Philip sighed. "Just come on."
They stopped at a pub first, Philip needing the fortification. The barkeep eyed his wet form doubtfully. "Still pouring down, is it?"
"'Fraid so. Two pints and a couple fingers of whiskey."
"Right-oh, mate." Juggling the drinks, Philip moved toward the table at the rear. The Doyle-person grinned at him happily, as if they'd done this a hundred times before. Doyle slid one of the pints toward him and made a grab for the whiskey glass. Philip stopped him.
"Oh no, son."
"What d'you mean, no? I'm of age."
"Just barely. Cheers." Philip downed it in two long swallows, and made a face. "Ah, that's better."
"So what about me?" Doyle demanded irately. "I'm cold an' wet and--"
"You've a bang on your head," Philip cut him off. "Terrible thing for a blow on the head, liquor. The beer's more than enough. Shut up and drink up."
Doyle grumbled and slurped at his glass, wiping away the froth with his shirt sleeve. "Cheap bugger. Who made you Dr. Kildare?"
"Necessity. Now listen, you say you got the chain from a shop on Bond Street, yes? Who was the man who gave it to you?"
Doyle looked thoughtful. "Another agent, I'd say."
"The look in his eyes, kinda shifty."
"So not one of the good guys?"
Doyle glanced at him. "God, Bodie, everyone in our business has shifty eyes. Just look at you."
"Thanks. I think." He patted his shirt pocket and came up with a half-crumbled and soggy packet of cigarettes. "Shit. I'll be back in a sec--"
"Excuse me." A man came up to the table, dark haired, dark eyed, with a definite Israeli accent. "May I speak to you please?"
Doyle looked him up and down rudely. "What do you want?"
"Maybe we can do a deal, you and I?"
"What kind of deal?"
Philip started to speak and Doyle held up a hand silencing him. "Spit it out, chum. What do you want?"
"You know what I want. It is only the price we must discuss. I will pay well."
Philip looked from one to the other, bewildered. It was the strangest pickup he'd ever seen. He had to admit that Doyle looked a bit like a hustler at the moment, with the wet, skin tight jeans, the brown leather jacket and the half-open silk shirt (his shirt!) that displayed the rather nancy-looking gold chain and an expanse of sleek chest hair. The green eyes were witchy and seductive as they slid over the Israeli. "You must want it pretty bad."
"It is ... of interest, yes. Others may not ask so nicely."
"Like the blokes coming through the door now?" Doyle responded, acidly sweet.
The Israeli swung around and uttered a word in Hebrew that even Philip understood. There were three men at the door, all of them superficially resembling their companion in coloring, but something screamed a totally different nationality. Arab.
They approached the table and the Israeli lifted his chin. "Yusef, I heard you had been recalled. Your preoccupation with pretty white teenage boys, wasn't it?"
"It is your sense of humor that will be the death of the Jews," the biggest one grumbled. "What is it you want here, Malichai?"
"What else, Yusef? Merely a peaceful drink. And you--of the Moslem faith--what can you possibly want here in a pub?"
"Information." His gaze shifted to Philip and Doyle. "A small talk with these two--" Doyle interrupted everything by turning over the table and delivering an elbow into Yusef's muscled midriff and tripping Malichai onto the other two.
Philip, trapped deeper in the booth, wasted an entire half second gaping at the resulting havoc. The falling Arabs had landed in a pile of out-of-work foundry men, who didn't care a lot for foreigners at the best of times. Apologies in Arabic didn't quite cut the mustard. The fists began swinging and the melee increased geometrically. Only the Israeli had the presence of mind to slither under one of the tables and catch Doyle's arm as he darted toward the rear exit. Only a few steps and a couple of right crosses behind him, Philip caught part of the exchange.
"Don't be a fool! They'll find you."
"Not till I want them to," Doyle snarled, and twisted the man's arm in a classic hold and tossed him back into the rabble. "Come on, Bodie!"
Watching the Israeli fly across the room with an almost artistic grace, Philip's eyebrow lifted. There was a lot more to this Doyle-like man than met the eye. But so there also was to the Doyle of print. That had been part of his charm.
More confused than ever, Philip followed him out into the alley. If was empty except for more garbage. It was still raining listlessly. The overcast sky made it difficult to see in the shadowed dimness between the buildings.
"'Ey! Where are you?" He felt a twinge of anxiety. He didn't particularly want to lose the little madman. Not until had some answers to what was going on anyway.
"Pssssst." A curly head appeared around a dumpster. "What's wrong with you, Bodie? The coppers will be here in--"
The distant sound of sirens proved his point.
"Move it, dammit. We can't afford to waste our time answering questions. Particularly since I don't have my I.D. Do you?"
"Do I what?" Philip asked blankly.
"Your CI5 I.D., you berk! Did you leave it back at the flat?"
"Silly me. Yeah, didn't think to pick it up when we were being shot at. Maybe if we clap our hands real hard Tinkerbell will bring it, eh?"
Irritated, Doyle started to speak, but his expression changed in a flash and he grabbed Philip and shoved him down behind the steel barrier of a large trash bin. The ping on metal was unmistakable.
"Jesus. That's twice you've saved my life."
"Hold yer thanks for later, sunshine," Doyle said grimly.
"I wasn't thanking you, damn it, I just want to know who the hell's shooting at us!" Another bullet ricocheted off the alley wall and landed uncomfortably near his feet. He inched back up against the dumpster. "Who the fuck are you?! What do they want?"
"They want the chain, what else?"
Another bullet impacted the brick wall a few feet from Philip's head. "And inside, the Israeli? That's what he wanted? I thought he was making a pass at you!"
The look Doyle gave him was scathing. "Bodie, are you sure it wasn't you got the lump on the head?"
"I'm beginning to wonder," Philip mumbled, as another bullet clanked against the dumpster, reminding him of their situation. "So if that's all they want, give 'em the bleedin' chain already! This is insane!"
Doyle eyed him ruefully. "Oh very funny. What would the Cow say about that, eh?"
"He doesn't exist! It's part of a book. There is no George Cowley or CI5 or--"
They both ducked as rust and shards of metal scattered around them.
Doyle was amused. "Sell the story to him, mate. He seems a reasonable sort." Another barrage of bullets sent a protruding mass of garbage falling over their heads, chopped into confetti.
"Okay, that's it. Now I'm pissed." Philip wiped limp lettuce from his hair and drew the gun from his waistband. He motioned for Doyle to move over to give him a better angle. Doyle hesitated.
"Give me the gun, mate. There's only one of them from what I can tell. On the roof opposite. I can take him out."
Philip studied him doubtfully. Still, from the elevation and trajectory of the bullets, it made sense. The sniper had a clear view of the alley. They were helpless behind the trash bin and it was only a matter of time--and the sniper's ammunition--before they were plugged.
"Who is he?" Philip asked, not really expecting an answer.
"Russian, I'd bet," Doyle replied, flattening himself even more against the dumpster. "Russian-made weapon, anyhow."
"What?" As far as he was concerned it was some bloke trying to put a hole in him; he hadn't been particularly concerned about his nationality or the make of his weapon. Another barrage of bullets made him stop and pay attention. Doyle could be right. It did sound like a AK-47. Russian? Jesus, what the hell was going on?
"Give me the bloody gun, Bodie," Doyle gritted out, "before it's too late."
It didn't make a lot of sense, giving a madman a loaded weapon, but then again none of this was exactly sensible.
Hell, why not? Doyle might be nuts, but he obviously had a better handle on the circumstances than he.
Philip handed over the Walther with an ironic bow. "Be my guest."
The next thing he knew he was being showered with glass from the sign over the delicatessen above them. The neon A in EATS was history. Thereafter followed the destruction of two streetlamps and a window.
He grabbed for Doyle. "Give me that damn ... gun ... back!"
Doyle let it go reluctantly. "My eyes .... geez, my sight's still all screwed up."
"No kidding," Philip grumbled. "Exactly how much can you see, anyway?" He pointed to the opposite wall and the faded sales bill proclaiming a local punk rock group called "FLYING PIGS" in large scarlet letters. "How much can you read of that poster?"
"Oh lord, and I gave him a gun," Philip groaned. "Okay then. So we hang tight and wait for the coppers to handle it."
"Christ, Bodie, before they make it out here, he'll have got at least one of us. You know that!"
This was a distinct possibility. Every shot was inching closer and the gunman was zeroing in his ricochets. And a spent bullet could kill a man as sure as a direct one. The assailant seemed inordinately patient about it, obviously realizing there was nowhere for them to run. Sooner or later they would either have to make a break for it, or he would luck out on a side-shot. The coppers would spend too much time clearing up the fight in the pub. And odds are they wouldn't be armed anyway. They were ruddy sitting ducks.
"Oh fuck it." He pushed Doyle to one side and waited until the target took another potshot. Cleanly, sharply he narrowed on the shooter and pulled the trigger. There was a cutoff screech and a dark form dropped two stories to the littered floor of the alley.
"You got 'im."
Philip stared down at his gun, stunned. "Yeah, I got him." Oh yes, he got him. He remembered the feeling. Oh, God, what have I done?
He turned to one side and threw up.
Several seconds, or several minutes, or several years later, he felt gentle hands on his shoulders.
"Bodie, we have to move. The coppers'll be out any minute. We've gotta get away from here."
Pulling out the edge of his shirttail, Doyle wiped Philip's mouth, steadying him. "It's okay, sunshine. Come on, we don't have time to mess about."
Philip looked at him, feeling empty, physically and mentally. "That's my shirt."
Doyle chuckled. "You're okay. Come on." He pulled the other man up and they made their shaky way out of the alley into the wan sunlight.
Philip couldn't remember when it had stopped
The next time Philip could think clearly, he found himself in a very nasty hole-in-the-wall cafe. "Why are we here?" he asked listlessly. "Where are we?"
"I was hungry. And so must you be."
"That's a first," Doyle teased, then his smile faded at the distraught expression in the blue eyes. "Hey, mate? What is it?"
"I killed him. Don't you understand?"
Doyle was puzzled. "Of course you did. He was trying to kill us. No big deal, Bodie."
"No big deal? Are you mad--no, you are mad. And so am I, obviously." He buried his face in his hands.
"I don't get you. This is hardly the first--"
"No, you're right," Philip cut in blackly. "It's not even close to the first. But I thought I'd done the last, y'see. I thought that was over and done with. Years ago..."
"Years ago?" Doyle's expression was even more bewildered. "I don't understand."
Philip waved a hand in dismissal, finally beginning to get a grip on himself. He kept forgetting who he was dealing with. "Never mind. Let it go. I know you can't understand--"
"Not unless you tell me, no!" Now the green eyes were angry. "You always say I won't understand, and how can I when you don't tell me jackshit? Did you know him, Bodie? Is that it? Was it someone from your old mob? Or ... Africa?"
Philip wondered idly if there was something to that old adage about getting up on the wrong side of the bed. What about the wrong side of the Twilight Zone? "No, Ray," he said patiently. "I didn't know him. He was a complete stranger. I just don't happen to get a kick out of shooting people, okay?"
"Bodie, stop it. It's me that always worries about this kind of thing, not you!"
Philip looked up at the distressed man across the chipped formica. "Oh, yeah. That's how I wrote it."
Ignoring the words, the other man reached out his hand and touched Philip's. "Don't do this to yourself. He would have killed us. You know that."
Somehow his hand turned until their palms met and fingers interlaced. For a long time they looked at each other, their hands holding tight.
"I know it bothers you, Bodie. I've always known that. I'm sorry I've been so cold about it but sometimes you have to be or it'll eat you alive. That's what you've told me all these years, isn't it?"
Philip didn't answer. He just stared into a face that seemed so uniquely familiar to him it was as if he had known him for a lifetime.
Then the waitress appeared bringing tea and sausage sandwiches and they jerked apart self-consciously.
They left the cafe and stood on the corner waiting to flag down a taxi. One pulled up across the street and Doyle darted out to catch it, saved from being turned to pudding by Philip's quick hand on his collar jerking him back only inches from a passing bus.
"Listen, let me lead the way, okay?" Philip pleaded, his heart still in his throat.
"Why? What's wrong?"
Philip sighed. At this rate, bullets were only a minor hazard. "Never mind, Mister Magoo. Just stick close, please?"
They entered the cab and Doyle instructed the driver to go to Bond Street.
"Maybe we should just go by my garage and pick up the Ferrari," Philip wondered aloud.
Doyle snorted. "Yeh, but let's swing by and check up on my Maserati first."
Philip opened his mouth then shut it. Being at a loss for words was becoming a chronic condition this afternoon. But then he'd never dealt with a madman on a personal basis before. He leaned back in the seat, deciding to let the situation evolve at its own speed. At least until he discovered Doyle's true identity.
They rode in silence a couple of miles until Philip felt an itchy sensation at the back of his neck. He glanced around. The car behind them was unfamiliar, but some instinct told him they were up to no good. He told the driver to make a couple of turns. A few minutes later, the black sedan reappeared. A little farther back, but unmistakably the same car.
"Trouble?" Doyle murmured.
"Maybe." Philip leaned forward and told the driver to speed it up and turn right two streets up.
The driver shrugged and obeyed. Their shadow stuck to them faithfully. Philip leaned back and considered the situation. Whoever was following them probably didn't want his autograph. What they wanted was Doyle, or the man who thought he was Doyle. After two gun battles, it was a bit difficult to maintain disbelief. Whoever this fellow really was, he had obviously made a lot of nasty enemies. The most logical step to avoid trouble was to ditch the troublemaker.
Toying with the idea of getting out and leaving the other man to deal with the consequences, Philip came to the reluctant decision that he couldn't abandon him just yet. The man thought he was Doyle and that presented Philip with the responsibility (however esoteric) of keeping him safe. At least until he could relinquish custody to someone more capable. "Turn left and then right," he told the
"Wha's up, guv'nor?"
"A big tip, if you do as you're told," Philip snapped.
"Right-oh!" And he gunned it, making the cab lay rubber and endanger sensible traffic patterns. When they still didn't lose their persistent tail, Philip set his jaw tightly. "Okay, pull over here." He tossed a wad of bills at the cabbie and pushed Doyle out. They pelted down an alley and up a fire escape, the sound of squealing tires and slamming doors following them as the other car came to a sudden stop.
Doyle glanced at Philip, then used his boot to kick out the glass of a window. They crawled through into an empty flat and ran past the missing door into a hallway of peeling wallpaper and the smell of old urine.
"Downstairs," Doyle suggested, and they ran down the rickety steps and out the back. The back alley wasn't much different than the side except it contained more rubbish. They could hear footsteps thundering on the stairs.
Philip gestured, and Doyle melted back against the wall, waiting.
The man that came through the doorway was beefy and breathless from his quick climb. Philip put him down with a quick flip and punch.
The second man confronted Doyle, who whacked him in the jaw with his fist, then stared at his crumpled hand in consternation.
"Ow!" Doyle looked back up at the man towering over him, who was holding his jaw and looking peeved. He swung at Doyle. Doyle ducked. A brick wall turned out to be even more painful than a jawbone.
The accent was German, the words unrepeatable in mixed company. He went after Doyle again, but the smaller man was too quick to catch, leaping up to catch the fire escape and landing a swinging kick squarely in the chin.
Philip paused in his movement to intervene, watching as the man hit the wall and slipped down it wearing a dumbfounded expression.
Philip was almost as amazed. He stepped over and looked down at the two unconscious men. "That was pretty good. Where did you learn to--"
Doyle wasn't listening, already busy searching the pockets. "Just like I thought, East German, right?" He squinted at the I.D., then shook his right hand, wincing.
Philip took the I.D. and inspected it. This was the first tangible evidence he had of how deep they were in the shit. "I don't believe it. East German, diplomatic bloody immunity. So what the hell's he doin' chasing us? Chasing you." He looked at Doyle. "Israeli, Arab, Russian, now East German. What are the hell are you into, sunshine?"
Doyle was still nursing his bruised hand, sucking on the scraped knuckles. "I told you, it's bigger than we thought."
Philip let out his breath and dropped the wallet. "Oh yeah, that's fairly clear." He took another deep breath and tried to think logically. "Okay, let's trace this back as far as we can. You think it's the chain they're after. Let's find the place you got it."
"That's it, across the way." Doyle peered around the corner. "The shop near the hairdressers."
"Okay, let's go talk to the proprietor." Philip started to move and Doyle caught him suddenly and thrust him flat against the alley wall.
"Wait! Jesus, I think that's one of them. I know it is!"
"What are you talking about? Who?"
"That bird, see? The redhaired one going in."
Philip peered around the corner of the building. The woman was petite, with a pretty but sharp face and a Sloane Ranger style of dress. She looked very put out. "One of whom?"
"One of the terrorists. I remember her." His face was bleak and troubled. "She'll know me.
"This from the man who keeps walking into traffic? How can you possibly see her from this distance?"
"Not her face... the way she walks. The way she--" He broke off and took a shaky breath. Philip was surprised to see that Ray suddenly looked very afraid. Even more so than when they were being shot at. "I just know her, Bodie. She's trouble. Trust me."
"Okay, but she don't know me," Philip assured him calmly. "Will you stay right here while I check it out?"
Doyle seemed ambivalent.
"Ray, promise me? Stay right here, okay?"
"Okay, but be careful."
Philip crossed the street and entered the jewelers, wondering why the hell he didn't call the nearest bobby and point out the madman in the alley. Well, he might just do that. After he found out a bit of information. Like who the hell this Doyle fellow really was and why somebody--hell, everybody--was shooting at him.
The redhead at the counter was being extremely obnoxious--typical to the species of bitch he recognized.
"I told you, I'm Ann Holly and my fiancé was supposed to pick it up Friday afternoon. He's disappeared and now you're telling me you neither have my property nor any record that it was collected. What kind of establishment is this?"
The clerk was leafing through his files, looking harassed. "I'm so sorry, Miss Holly. But we don't have anything--"
"I'll have you know my father is a very important man, and you will be more than sorry once--"
There was a screech of tires outside, a crash of bullets that smashed the plate glass window, and then a thud of something solid hitting the counter and bouncing off, rolling with an uneven thump toward the back of the shop. Philip had dropped to the floor at the sound of the car, yanking the girl down with him in reflex.
Now he stared at the small pear-shaped gift and what little breath he had left was used to scream the word, "Grenade!"
He grabbed up the hysterical woman and shoved her out the front door and down behind a parked car. The explosion blew out the last fragments of glass in the windows and most of the rear of the shop. Nearly deafened, Philip shook the debris from his hair and sat up.
Ann Holly was screaming shrilly and he was very tempted to slap the shit out of her. Instead, he tried to ask if she was hurt. Her answer was another wild-eyed scream.
Luckily his hearing was muffled.
He didn't hear the sirens approaching either.
"I've told you, my name is William Philip Andrew. I'm a writer. I don't know anything more about the explosion than I've already told you."
"Yes, indeed. A writer. And one of your characters has come to life. Very gratifying, I'm sure." The Scotland Yard detective smiled at him across the cluttered desk. Detective Sergeant Delaney had just been promoted three months ago, and this was the most interesting thing that had occurred so far. "Does this happen often?"
Philip slumped back in the hard chair and rubbed his face, wincing as he brushed over a scrape on his cheek from the blast. "Like I told you before, this fellow thinks he's a character from my books. I don't think he is. I think he's sick. And in trouble. And he's still out there somewhere."
"But instead of taking him to hospital, you decided to visit a jewelry shop where a terrorist bomb just happened to blow?"
"It wasn't a bomb, it was a grenade. I've told you that, too. That lady--the one in the shop. She must've said--"
"Miss Holly is under sedation at the moment. From what little we've made out so far, you used her rather brutally."
"I saved her life! There wasn't a lot of time to be a gentleman about it!"
"Ummm." Delaney wrote a note on the file then got to his feet and leaned heavily against the desk, staring down at the other man.
"You don't happen to have a cigarette, do you?" Philip asked hopefully.
"Perhaps, if you would give me some straight answers."
Philip chuckled. "Christ, what incentive do your lot use with hardened criminals? Hold out bathroom privileges?"
Delaney frowned and jerked out a desk drawer. He offered Philip a cigarette and lit it for him. Philip nodded his thanks as he inhaled deeply, his eyes amused.
"Okay, I confess. I killed the Kennedys and Bambi's mother."
"Good. That Bambi case has been open for years."
Philip blew a smoke ring, his amusement fading. "Do you really think I'd make up a story like this?"
"Well, you are a writer and writers are .... fanciful. Would you believe it if you were in my shoes?"
"I dunno. I guess not."
"You keep insisting it was a grenade, not a bomb. We don't have the forensics reports yet. So what makes you so sure, eh?"
"I saw the bloody thing!"
"Of course you did."
Philip was very glad he hadn't mentioned anything about the shooting in the alley. Somehow he didn't think they would buy his point of view on the matter. Oddly enough, no one had asked him about it. Perhaps because they didn't connect the two events or ... because the body had been swiftly removed by someone who wanted the incident kept private.
"Why, Mr. Andrew, does a writer have the need for the hand gun we found in your possession?"
"I have a license for that."
"Yes, indeed you do. Interesting."
Not for the first time, Philip was wondering exactly what kind of mess he had fallen into. "Listen, I've been here for four hours and we've been around this a dozen times. Just call my agent--no, he's in New York. Call my publisher, then. George Cowley. He'll tell you who I am."
"Oh, we know who you are, Mr. Andrew." He picked up a file and leafed through it. "CID came up with quite a bit of information on you. Obviously, you are very familiar with grenades. And guns. And bombs. In fact, you used to make your living killing people for money, isn't that correct?"
Philip froze. "I wasn't an assassin, if that's what you mean."
"But you were a mercenary at one point--what, eight years ago?"
"Ten years, actually. And my record is clean. I was also in--"
"The Paras and the SAS, yes, we know. And left rather abruptly to pursue ... other interests."
Grimly, Philip repeated, "I'm a writer. I've told you everything I know."
"Yes, all about this crazy person who thinks he's a some kind of supercop and is being chased by unknown assailants. Forgive me if I sound skeptical."
"You can't hold me."
"Hold you, Mr. Andrew? Tut-tut. Surely a public-minded private citizen like yourself will be happy to cooperate with the authorities. It seems MI6 would like to have a word with you as well. They're sending over a man to pick you up."
"I've said all I have to say until I have a lawyer present." He stubbed out his cigarette in a paperclip dish on the desk. "I want a phone call as well."
Delaney's eyes narrowed in irritation at the action, but was too much of a professional to let it push his temper. "But you're not under arrest, Mr. Andrew. Not yet, anyway. Not until you give up these fairy stories and present us with some--"
He was interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come!"
A sergeant stuck his head in. "The MI6 bloke is here, sir."
"Well, send him in."
A second later an oddly familiar voice made Philip stiffen in his chair. "Is this the suspect?"
"Yes, uh ... is it sergeant?"
"We don't have rank in MI6." Doyle flashed an I.D. "Name's McCabe. Have you got any information out of him yet?"
The detective looked puzzled. "But I thought MI6 did have rank--?"
"New policy," Doyle snapped. He looked Philip up and down. "He looks peaceful enough. Any trouble?"
"No, sir. But he's been telling some pretty tall tales."
"They all do," Doyle replied laconically.
"Now wait a minute," Philip interjected. "You don't understand. This is the man I was--"
"May I have the file?"
"Yes, sir. It's all here."
"Will you listen to me!" Philip demanded. "This is the man I've been telling you about--"
"Now, don't give me any trouble, son," Doyle warned darkly. "I don't wanna have to use the cuffs."
Philip looked from Doyle to Delaney and buried his face in his hands. "I don't believe this. I just don't fuckin' believe this is happening."
Doyle snapped his fingers impatiently. "Come on, I don't have all day."
"You'll need to sign this," Miller held out a clipboard.
"Of course." Doyle scribbled on it. "Thank you for your cooperation, Detective."
"Our pleasure, sir. Anything else we can do, just let us know."
Philip was laughing again and didn't have the strength to protest when Doyle levered him out of the chair and out the door.
"Be careful of him," Miller warned. "He's an odd one."
Doyle nodded wisely. "I'm always careful."
As the taxi moved away, Philip asked weakly, "Where next? Oz?"
Doyle leaned forward and directed the driver to Victoria Station. They were silent for the rest of the journey. Philip didn't even bother to ask where they were going. At this point, he wasn't sure he even cared. He was tired to the bone, his bruises ached and he was sure his clothes were starting to mildew. By his watch it was only a little after 11:00 p.m., but this strange day had lasted an eternity already.
They got out of the cab and Doyle looked at him expectantly. "Pay the man."
Philip patted his back pocket. "Uh...they still have my wallet at the station."
"That's just great," Doyle growled, going into his own pocket for the brown wallet he had flashed at the Scotland Yard man earlier. "You owe me, mate."
Philip didn't have the energy to answer that. But he did have a question. "Okay, what are we doing here?"
"We have to hide out somewhere, right? I thought we'd play with our trains a while."
"Trains?" Then he remembered and groaned. "Jeezus, that was just a bit in a friggin' book! My friggin' book! You don't honestly expect to spend the night in an abandoned railcar, do you?"
But Doyle was already crossing the empty tracks toward the dark warehouses. "Come on, and watch yer step. It's black as shit out here."
"Listen, why don't we just go back to my place, eh?"
"Don't be an ass. They'll have it staked out."
"So let's get a hotel room. I'd sell my soul for a hot bath, dry clothes and some food."
"Stop thinking of your stomach, Bodie. You don't have any money, remember? And I don't have a whole lot." He wrenched open a rusty door of an abandoned car. "Here, this one looks okay."
Eyes adjusting to moonlight through dirty and cracked windows, Philip followed him down the narrow passage. Doyle kicked open a compartment door. "Here, first class. Just your style, mate." He dropped down on the torn vinyl seat and let out a long breath. "I don't know about you, but I'm knackered."
Philip sat down across from him. "Where the devil did you get that I.D.?"
"After you were stupid enough to let yerself get nicked after the blast, I followed them to the station. Once I knew where they were holding you, I nipped over to Whitehall and picked a few pockets until I came up with something useful. I tried calling Cowley from a payphone first, but I got a disconnect reading. They must've bugged out of the old HQ. Something's up, mate. I think it's bigger than either of us figured."
"Picked pockets? At Whitehall? Well, you should have plenty of money."
"No, I gave the ones back I couldn't use, of course. Told 'em they dropped them. Very grateful, they were."
Such selective honesty seemed about as reasonable as anything else had that day. "How did you know you'd come up with MI6?"
"I didn't. Actually, I was hoping for some kind of diplomatic card or some kind of military credentials. But I got lucky with MI6. Didn't need to adjust my wardrobe much, and that saved some time."
"I take it you also made the call alerting them to the pickup?"
"Of course. They would've been a lot more suspicious otherwise. This way, they practically breezed me through. Glad to see the back of you, I'd imagine."
"Thanks," Philip replied sarcastically. "So now I'm a fugitive from Scotland Yard thanks to you."
"How can you be a fugitive? They never formally arrested you, did they?"
Philip had to concede that. "But they thought I was a fruitcake when I told them about you. So at the very least they'll be looking for me with a butterfly net."
"Told them what about me?"
The moonlight spilled over the uneven cheekbones, accentuating the perfect nose and soft curve of his mouth. For a long moment Philip just stared at him, feeling again that peculiar softening in his gut.
"Nothing. Nothing at all," he said softly. Then, "I take it your head is better?"
"Yeah ... well, mostly. It comes and goes, and I still can't see for shit. You should've seen me trying to make out the print on those I.D.'s I lifted. If this keeps up, I'm gonna have to get glasses, mate."
"Ray," Philip asked gently, "how much do you remember?"
"Of what?" The response was suspicious, wary.
"Of anything. Of who you are. Who I am. All of it."
There was a moment of tense silence, then Doyle let out his breath. "You know me too well, don't you? Okay, so I'm a little confused at the moment. That bang on the head, I suppose. There are ... pieces missing." He paused, troubled. "But I know you, Bodie. Better than anything, I know you."
Surprised at the answer, Philip wanted to know, "But why Bodie ...I mean me ... specifically?"
"I dunno. Jeezus, do we need to talk about this now? I'm knackered. We need to get some sleep. Tomorrow could be rough." Doyle curled up on the seat, using his arm for a pillow. "Goodnight, Bodie."
Philip had no idea what to do now. He couldn't think clearly, and the sudden ache in his throat made it difficult to speak. Finally, he whispered, "Goodnight, Ray," and lay down himself. Things had to make more sense in the morning--they could hardly be more bewildering.
Morning brought little enlightenment, but at least Philip thought of a place they could go. Getting out of the City for a while seemed a good idea. He didn't want to face a repeat of the previous day.
"My aunt lives in Kent. A little village not far from Epping. Do you have enough money to get us there by train? We could walk from there."
"I think so. I didn't know you had an aunt, Bodie."
"Bodie doesn't," Philip said irritably. It was 6:30 a.m., his clothes were dry but stiff, his bruises were developing bruises and his stomach was sure his mouth had gone on strike. "Philip Andrew has an Aunt Elizabeth with a country house in Kent, okay? She's a tad eccentric, which considering our current state of affairs is a distinct plus."
"Ah, another safehouse. Terrific."
Philip rolled his eyes and surrendered to the inevitable. "Well, let's move. The next train's in a half hour and they're liable to pick us up as vagrants the way we look at the moment."
"Now, Miss Holly," Gleeson said kindly, "Tell us everything you know about your fiancé."
"There's nothing to tell. He's a librarian. I don't understand any of this. He just vanished in thin air. He was supposed to pick me up Friday evening and... Well, he sometimes forgets things, but not this badly. And then I find out that they've given my lovely gold chain away to maybe an utter stranger--it goes to a locket my Daddy gave me on my 21st, you see--and that Raymond didn't even go home that night. No one has seen him since he left work at 3:00. I'm really very worried. This simply isn't like him at all. And I have no idea who claimed my chain, if it wasn't Raymond--"
"Tell me, Miss Holly, has Mr. Dibble ever offered any views on communism?"
"What? No, don't be silly. Goodness, he voted conservative in the last election. What's that got to do with--"
"Has he come into any money recently?"
"This is ridiculous! If you know where Raymond is--"
"That's just what we're trying to ascertain, Miss Holly. Please be patient. This man who saved you from the bomb blast, a Mr. William Philip Andrew, had you ever seen him before?"
"I should say not. A very rude man, if you ask me. I have a dreadful scrape on my arm where he pushed--no THRUST me to the pavement. My doctor tells me it might even leave a scar."
"That's a real pity, little lady," Gleeson said absently. "So you had no knowledge of this man prior to this incident?"
"No! Now when are you going to find my Raymond? And my gold chain?"
"As quickly as possible, I assure you, thank you for your help."
As soon as the door shut behind her, Gleeson propped his boots on the desk and looked ruefully at Baxter. "Lordy, what a bitch-on-wheels. Enough to turn any man a commie. I'm almost beginnin' to feel sorry for this Dibble feller."
Before they reached the station, Philip made a decision. While he had no idea what was going on, if the chain Doyle kept talking about was so important, the most logical move was to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
To which purpose he expended some of Doyle's ill-gotten gains, purchasing envelopes, stamps and the rental price of a locker at the station.
"Give me the chain."
"Are you sure--"
"Give me the bloody chain."
Doyle handed it over reluctantly. Philip put it in an envelope and stowed it in the locker. He presented Doyle with the key. "You, however, may keep this ... for the moment. Give me some change."
"More? You've already--"
"Oh, please. I know I wrote you as tight, but a few p. won't--"
Glaring, Doyle slapped some change in his hand. "I'm not tight, I'm careful."
"Thank you, Mr. Exchequer."
"You're welcome. Just remember where you got it. What're you going to do?"
Doyle sighed. "About time. Do you think he'll give us any answers this time?"
"Not that Cowley--Oh, never mind. Stay here, okay?" He went into the kiosk and shut the door, keeping one eye on his unpredictable madman.
"George? Listen, I don't have much change, so I've gotta speak fast. I'm in trouble. There's this feller that thinks he's Ray Doyle and--"
"Philip, is that you, man?"
"Yes, it's me. Just listen, dammit. I told you, I'm in trouble. There are people shooting at us. I can't explain it now, but I'm sending you something by post. It's a key. I don't know if it's important or not, but keep it to yourself, all right? Put it in your safe until I tell you different. I don't know what else to do with it."
"Philip, what are you talking about? What's going on?"
"I've no idea, except that it... Well, I simply don't know at the moment. But when you get that key, put it in your safe, okay?"
"This is very irregular, Philip. I think you should--"
The pips sounded in the receiver. "I've gotta go. I'll call you when I can and explain ... as much as I can--"
The line cut off.
Philip hung up the receiver with regret. Cowley had been his only link with sanity--which was a sad state of affairs when he thought about it. The man was still living in the Empire. Still, Cowley was the best bet he had of any real help since Murphy was out of the country.
"What did he say?" Doyle asked brightly as Philip came out of the kiosk.
"Give me the key."
"Give me the key to the locker."
"We're sending it to Cowley." Leaning against the booth, Philip scrawled the address on the envelope. He tucked the key inside and dropped it into the nearby mailbox. "Okay, we're free of it now. If it's the chain they're after, we're clear of it."
Doyle looked at the mailbox, then looked at Philip. "You think it's something else? Not the chain?"
Philip grinned. "I think I should've put you in an envelope and mailed you to Cowley."
"Oh, you're a riot, Bodie," Doyle grimaced.
"Aren't I just. You should see it from the other side of the mirror, Alice."
"Never mind. Come on, we'll miss the train."
It was a long walk from the village to Aunt Elizabeth's country house. Philip had forgotten that. Or actually, he never knew it because he'd never been forced to walk before. Now his feet hurt and the gloriously blooming countryside didn't appeal in the least.
Doyle seemed to agree. He sneezed explosively at least a dozen times, and his eyes were watering.
"What's wrong? Hay fever?"
"Don't be stupid. I don't have-- ACHOOOOO"
"Silly me," Philip mumbled. "What can I have been thinking?"
"How much further?" Doyle demanded grumpily, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
Philip made a face. "Do you have to do that? It's revolting."
"Just answer the question, Miss Manners. Where the hell is this house?"
Philip stopped and pointed. "There. You can see the roof over those trees. Maybe another mile."
"Cowley better give us a payrise for this," Doyle complained, taking the opportunity of the halt to remove a pebble from his boot.
Philip patted his empty pockets mournfully. "Christ, I wish I had a cigarette."
Doyle glanced up frowning. "Since when did you smoke?"
"Since when--?" Philip shut up, surrendering once again to the inevitable. "Never mind. Just hurry up, will you?"
"Sod off," Doyle growled, struggling with his boot.
Philip stared down at his companion who was sitting on his behind in the middle of a country lane, curls tumbling over his forehead and a look of total concentration screwing up his face as he tugged off his tight boot. His shirt was open, revealing an expanse of lightly furred chest.
Despite himself, Philip grinned. "Gawd, you're cute when you're pissy."
The green eyes tossed up a few daggers. "Pleeeze, it'll go to me head, all this flattery. " He shoved the boot back on and reached up. "Com'on, give us a hand."
Philip helped him up, holding the arm a minute longer than necessary, feeling the wiry muscles and the warmth of the skin.
I wish I knew who you really were, he thought suddenly, wistfully.
They continued down the lane and Philip pushed the idea from his mind. The man was balmy. He couldn't forget that. The trouble was, the more time they spent together, the harder it was to remember. Doyle was the most comfortable companion Philip had ever known--and these were hardly comfortable circumstances. But he found himself losing track of those circumstances, falling into an easy, homey relationship with man as if he'd known him for years.
Ridiculous. This idiot thought he was Bodie. And treated him like Bodie--or the Bodie he envisioned in the strange workings of his troubled mind, because Philip couldn't remember ever writing Bodie that clearly. While he'd used his own life experience as a skeletal background for Bodie, he'd seldom went into detail of it, finding it either too boring or too upsetting to dwell on. But this man seemed to see so much more than had ever made it to paper. He didn't know how or why, but time and again Doyle would say something that would draw him up short in amazement because it was right on the mark, going dangerously beneath any surface gloss he had given Bodie and directly to W. Philip Andrew himself.
Even more unsettling, he found it impossible not to be drawn to this man who was Ray Doyle. He embodied everything Philip had ever wanted in a friend. Why shouldn't he, after all? The blueprint was there in the books and he was faithfully following it. Irascible, tenacious, snappish and sarcastic--all salt to season the rock-solid goodness of the Doyle character. And all window dressing to conceal the depth of loyalty and affection that both the characters books found difficult to express. Or that Philip had been unable to express in his own life. And he felt it now, coming from this stranger. An intangible warmth and sweetness that melted some long frozen core inside.
It was a disturbing thought, and he shut it out ruthlessly. Once at Aunt Elizabeth's, he would call in a doctor and have Doyle--or whoever he was--taken care of. And then he could figure out who was trying to kill them. Or kill Doyle rather. Perhaps he got mixed up with the mob; a bad gambling debt or something.
But the mob didn't generally use grenades.
They reached the house before Philip came to any definite decision on his course of action.
"Nice," Doyle approved.
Elizabeth was working in the garden at the front and was delighted to see her nephew. She was a very tiny lady with carefully styled hair with only a hint of blue in the white-rinse. She had the face of an angel, and big dark brown eyes. "Philip, it's been ages, dear! What brings you out here?"
"It's a long story, Elizabeth. This is ... uh... Ray Doyle. Friend of mine. We're in a spot of trouble."
Her eyes lit up. "How exciting. What kind of trouble, dear?"
"I wish I knew. I was hoping we could spend a night or two and figure it out."
"Of course. How do you do, young man?"
Doyle smiled sweetly. "Fine, thank you ma'am. Do you work for Cowley then?"
She looked at Philip quizzically.
"I'll tell you about it later," he advised. "Ray, this really is my aunt. Well, not literally. I mean, she was the sister of--"
"My sister was his foster mother for a couple years," Elizabeth stepped in easily. "Madge and Philip never really got on, but he and I understood each other very well. Such a ravishing boy he was at fourteen. Not a spot. Lovely complexion. And those killer blue eyes and sinfully long lashes. And you've never lost them, have you, dear? Very pretty."
Philip blushed. "Aunt--"
"I would've taken him on myself when it didn't work out with Madge, but my third--or was it the fourth, Philip?--husband didn't take to him at all. And he ran off to sea not long after--Philip that is, not my husband. I think Gerald died of a stroke, or perhaps it was kidney failure. No, that was Marvin. Well, never mind. Philip and I didn't meet again until he returned to England years later."
"At a weapons convention," Philip offered ruefully.
"Yes, I do so love guns. Don't you?"
Doyle looked at Philip and for once he was the one who seemed at a loss. "Pardon me?"
"Guns. Rifles, handguns, howitzers. They're all so marvelously loud and primitive. I've tried to get a permit for an Uzi, but they're being very difficult about it."
"Aunt is a very good shot, Ray," Philip commented, delighted to see the other man silenced for once. "In fact, she taught me how."
"Why don't you two go upstairs and get cleaned up while I fix something to eat. You both look worn out. And your clothes are a mess. Toss them down the stairs and I'll put them in the wash. There's a closet full of clothes in the spare bedroom. Take your pick. There's a variety of sizes. My husbands ran from six foot one to five foot five."
Inside, on the way up the stairs, Doyle caught Philip's arm, a little concerned. "She's really batty, isn't she? I mean, she's nice an' all, but I hope there's someone to look out for her."
Philip bit his lip hard to suppress a hysterical laugh. He would have said something about a pot calling the kettle, etc., except that he felt on pretty shaky ground himself at the moment. Insanity was obviously the flavor of the week.
"She's harmless," he finally managed to choke out. "Don't worry."
Doyle seemed unconvinced, but went on up the stairs. "Well, at the least we can borrow a couple of pieces. I think we're gonna need them. I hate to run around naked like this."
Philip had almost forgotten about that. But giving Doyle a gun hardly seemed a good idea.
Philip took the first turn in the shower, luxuriating in the hot water and feeling clean again.
Doyle emerged looking brighter himself. They rummaged through the huge closet, finding clothes that dated as far back as the 1940's.
"Good god, where the hell did she get all these?" Doyle asked, bemused as he held up a pair of bell bottoms.
"Ex-husbands. She's had five."
"Did she shoot them all?"
"No. Twice divorced, three times widowed. She wears them out, I think. Very energetic, is Auntie."
"Hurry up, I'm starving."
"So what have we got on this Andrew character?"
"A lot, but nothing to tie him to Dibble, except for his appearance at the jewelry shop. He was a hard boy in his time. Some real nasty stuff in Angola and Biafra in the early seventies. He was only a kid then, too. No more'n nineteen or twenty. Everything after that's pretty straightforward though. Army--paras. And then SAS for two years."
"So why did he get out?"
"No information. He just resigned. Written a bunch of books since. Not exposé type stuff, just novels. Super-cops and robbers kind. They sell pretty well."
"I can't believe it was just a coincidence him being there when the shop was attacked. There's a connection somewhere. Have you got a line on who pulled it off?"
"Arabs. Iranians probably--possibly Libyans. Although we didn't think they were in this."
"Why not, everyone else is! Why the hell did they blow the place up anyway? It doesn't make sense."
"Excuse me, sir, I thought you asked why Arabs blew a place up. Do you seriously want an answer?"
"Point taken. Why the hell can't these people be logical?"
"I think they are--just on a different plane of logic than us. I guess they figured the information came from there originally and since they couldn't get hold of it, decided to trash the place on general principles."
"Okay, I still think this Andrew joker is the key. He disappeared from Scotland Yard with some mysterious MI6 agent. If that's not fishy, I don't know what is. MI6 isn't exactly being helpful in the matter either, except to unequivocally state it wasn't one of their men. I think their noses are out of joint because they weren't apprised of the situation."
"Well, it is their country," Baxter mumbled, then shut up at the glare he received. "What about Andrew's known associates?"
"No living relatives. He was an orphan at age seven. Raised in foster care. Ran away at age fourteen. Merchant marine probably. No other record until he was eighteen and working with the group in Africa. Has some ties with guys in the army and SAS. But those all look clean. His agent is overseas at the moment--fellow named Murphy. Ex-army. His publisher, George Cowley, was once an intelligence officer himself. Spent time in Spain, Korea, you name it. Cowley was wounded and honorably discharged. Worked off and on with MI5 until the late sixties. He's definitely clean as a hound's tooth. Vetted good enough to be trusted with the crown jewels--and I'm not talking about Prince Charlie's balls neither."
"Very funny. What's he have to say about Andrew?"
"Not a lot. And he's not somebody who's easily intimidated. He does back Andrew up, however, and threatens us with lawsuits up the wazoo if we push the issue any further without proof of conspiracy."
"Marvelous. The whole idea is to be subtle, Baxter. Not stir people up."
"You haven't talked to this Cowley. He's a touchy old bastard. It don't take much to stir him up."
Gleeson waved his have. "All right, all right. Keep digging. Even if he's teamed up with Andrew, this Dibble has got to be somewhere. Even fuckin' James Bond leaves a trail! Find it!"
For the first time in two days, Philip was full, dry and comfortable. It felt wonderful. He leaned back in the easy chair and enjoyed the warmth from the fireplace. Even his various contusions and cuts had stopped hurting.
Doyle had stretched out on the couch and was fast asleep, the dark circles under his eyes showing he was still in worse shape than Philip.
"Who is he?" Elizabeth asked softly, handing him a mug of tea.
Philip sighed. "I don't know. Somebody in trouble."
She sat down in the opposite chair and sipped from her own cup. "I remember you as a child. You brought home that stray kitten. It was all beaten up and ugly. A dog had been at it or something. Madge didn't want any part of it."
Philip smiled, remembering. "And you took it in."
"Yes. Best cat I ever had. You never saw such a mouser as that one. And it would bring them all to me like a prize. Earning its dinner, I called it. I would've fed the poor thing anyway of course, but the odd thing was, if it didn't bring me a mouse, it never came for its milk either. Never knew such a conscientious cat."
Knowing her, Philip waited.
"Something else about that little cat you found. Wasn't the affectionate sort. Didn't want a lot of petting or fussing--but every time I was feeling a bit low, there he was, stropping my legs, sweet as pie. Purring and lovable. A good friend, that cat was. Better than four out of my five husbands, to tell the truth."
"What are you saying, Liz? Come on, spit it out."
"You're thinking of calling somebody to take him away, yes?"
There was a silence except for the crackle of the fire.
"I don't know." Philip shook his head. "I really don't know what's right anymore. He's in trouble, he's hurt. His mind ... it's not right."
"Why, because you say so?"
"Liz, he thinks he's Ray Doyle. What would you call it but crazy?"
"And what's so wrong with being Ray Doyle? From what I can tell it's a very good man to be. You should know. You made him."
"But it's not real, dammit!"
"'Reality is overrated', and I'm quoting you."
"This is different. He's not well."
"Maybe. But he's happy. Didn't you notice that? He seems very happy being Ray Doyle."
"I might be happy being the Queen of Sheba, too, but somebody would have to straighten me out sooner or later!"
She was quiet for a long time. "Don't be in such a hurry to make him sane, Philip. Give him some time first."
"Time for what, Liz? Somebody is trying to kill him. He's not imagining that. The only way I know to protect him is to figure out who he really is and why they're after him."
She nodded and stood. "Do whatever you think best, Philip. You were always a sensible boy. I'm going to bed. You two can have the spare room, of course. I'll see you in the morning." She paused by the couch, looking down at the sleeping man. "A good mouser, this. And a good friend, too, given the chance."
Philip watched her leave, no more decided on what he should do than he was last night. His resolve to protect the man, however, was a given. He wasn't even aware when the instinct had turned to necessity.
Wearily, Philip got up and knelt by the sofa. "Wake up, mate."
The man murmured something and turned his head toward Philip, opening his eyes sleepily. "Whas' happenin'?"
"Nothing. But you'll be more comfortable in bed. Come on. Get up."
Doyle protested irritably, but followed the other man's lead, groggily holding his arm for balance as they mounted the stairs.
In the bedroom, Philip, began to undress, too tired to think of anything but the bliss of sleep in a clean, dry bed.
Of like mind, Ray beat him undressing and grabbed the lion's share of the bed, curling up and beginning to snore in minutes.
Smiling, Philip pulled the covers up closer around the other man. "I'm sure Shakespeare must've have had some kind of line about sweet, helpless madmen, but I can't remember it. Goodnight, Ray."
Philip came awake reluctantly. "What... what is it?"
"Are you crazy--excuse me, you are crazy. I forgot. What the hell is it?"
"I was just thinking."
"What time is it anyway?"
"About five, I think."
"Oh god." He yawned widely, feeling his jaw crack at the strain. "Is somebody shooting at us again?"
"Then can I go back to sleep, please?"
"Everything I suppose. All the times I've been so rotten to you. I never meant it. Or mostly I didn't."
"You mean other than waking me up at five in the morning? What are you rabbiting on about?"
"It's just, this is a bad situation. I can feel it. It's quiet now, but they're gonna find us sooner or later, and this might be the last chance we have to really ... I dunno ... talk."
"Talk about what?"
Philip raised up on his elbow and eyed the figure doubtfully. "It's not even dawn. I'm trying to get some sleep, do you mind?"
There was a hurt little silence. "Sorry. Forget it."
Philip turned over and settled back in the pillow. But he could feel the rigid body only inches away. He turned back fitfully. "Okay, spit it out. What the hell's wrong?"
"Nothin'. You're right. We need to sleep."
Clinging to his patience, Philip said, "I'm listening now. What is it?"
"Like I said, I just wanted to apologize for ... a lot of things over the years. You should've beat the crap out of me lots of times, but you never did."
"Not yet," Philip muttered, only partially aware but his senses were strangely quickened. He rolled to his back and stared up at the ceiling, the movement of the lace curtains throwing moonlight in patterns of watered silk. Half asleep, he found it very beautiful, the breeze a soft whisper over the casement and his bare skin.
"Why, Bodie? All these years, why have you put up with me?"
Dreamily, Philip watched the flowing patterns and answered the dream image, "Because you're you. Because you're important to me."
The bed shifted as Doyle turned to him. "You've never said that before."
"Did I need to?"
"No, I guess not."
Philip's eyelids drooped shut, drifting again on the edge of sleep.
"I know how you feel."
"I think ... I feel the same way. I just never knew how to say it. But now ... well, we might not have another chance, and it's stupid to be scared, right?"
"Don't do that!" Doyle snapped.
Philip's eyes flew open. "What? Do what?"
"That ummm sound. I hate it."
"Oh. Okay." He settled back into the pillows.
"Sorry, don't know why it bothers me. Didn't mean to snap at you."
"S'okay. Go to sleep."
"Not just yet."
The slender hand on his bare thigh brought Philip wide awake at last, like a dash of cold water. Freezing, he wasn't sure exactly what was going on. His eyebrows darted up to his hairline as the hand inched up, very far up--too far for misunderstandings.
Philip's mouth fell open, then snapped shut, feeling his face flame with heat, more embarrassed and offended than he had been in more years than he could count. Okay, the man thought he was Ray Doyle, but where did the little bleeder come off thinking Bodie was a fairy?
He had never written anything remotely like that. As a matter of fact, he would be drawn and quartered and flayed alive before he wrote anything like that!
With difficulty, he overcame his first instinct--to knock the little bastard flying. Perhaps he was misinterpreting things.
He turned his head and looked at the face only inches from his own. In the moonlight, Doyle's eyes were very wide and dark and a little frightened.
"You're important to me, too, Bodie. More important than anything or anyone. I love you, dammit." His voice was unsteady. "Should've said it a long time ago. But I've been scared. Scared you would think I was being stupid or soppy or ... I dunno."
Philip's sense of indignity melted even quicker than it was born. Spurning a pass was one thing, but this was something far different.
"Ray...?" Touching the bare shoulder, he found it was trembling.
Doyle laughed shakily. "Silly isn't it? I'm scared shitless. Terrified you're gonna tell me to go to hell. So go on, say it. I don't deserve any better."
Whatever Philip had ever believed he would say or do in a situation like this was discarded instantly. He pulled Ray into his arms and held him close.
"No, I won't do that, sunshine." He shut his eyes tightly, feeling the fragile warmth, the smooth skin and muscle and bone in the narrow back. "God help me, I think I love you, too. And I don't even know who the hell you are."
Doyle pulled back enough to look in his eyes. "You know me, Bodie. You've always known me. Always."
Totally lost, Philip whispered, "Maybe. Maybe I have."
Doyle kissed him then and if Philip thought he was lost before, he discovered a new definition for the term. There was nothing left of himself that he wasn't willing to give to this mysterious, bewitching stranger. In all of his life he had never felt so open or vulnerable with anyone, man or woman.
He didn't know how or why it happened, he just basked in the reality of the moment. He, the man who shunned reality, who hid himself in the pages of his books because he found the cutting edge of life too sharp to bear. Now there was nothing he wanted more than this one real moment of time.
And sometimes even reality contained romance. They had the moonlight after all, and the smell of lavender from Elizabeth's garden below. The arousal Philip found, that he had never dreamed he could feel for another man, rose like a new sunrise, bright and warming by the moment.
They kissed forever, drinking each other's breath and rolling with increasing passion in the tangling sheet, until one of them kicked it away. Revealed, they moved down the expanse of mutual bare flesh, hungry for the taste and feel, drunk on the freedom to touch and caress.
"You're fantastic," Doyle moaned, nibbling a line down the lean stomach.
Philip was too entranced in the muscled curves of the other man's rump to pay any heed. He turned him a little and sought out the eager cock with his mouth.
Doyle cried out at the feel of it. "Yes ... please ... yes ..."
His reaction was intoxicating and Philip soared with it, thrilled by the sensual and helpless movement of the captured body. Somehow, deep in his subconscious, he had known his Doyle would be like this. Wild with need, responsive to every touch, sizzling from every nerve ending like a sparkler on Chinese New Year. It was a heady feeling to offer so much pleasure and have it accepted without disguise or restraint.
Is this what I wanted all along? he wondered, dazed. All those books... is this what I wanted?
He sucked Doyle hungrily, and felt the arch and moan of helpless response.
"Oh yes ... that's so good ... don't stop ... please ... don't ever stop... oh, Bodie ... I love you ..."
A twinge of sadness darkened the moment. He was jealous of his own creation, wishing he could somehow really be this Bodie the man loved so passionately. And on the heels of that came the suspicion that he was taking advantage of Doyle. Of the man who believed he was Bodie.
This wasn't right. It couldn't be right.
They were making love to strangers. Pale copies of who they really wanted.
It was too late to back out now, however. Doyle came with a torn cry of ecstasy, and despite himself, Philip came as well with nothing more than the touch of the other man's hand, the pleasure so intense he thought he was drowning.
As he caught his breath, the sadness clung to him and for the first time since he was a child he felt like crying. The regret for what could never be caught in his throat and burned like acid.
He was a fool. For letting this go so far. How much removed was this from rape, after all? Whether he started it or not, he was the one who was supposedly in his right mind. Doyle (he shook himself mentally) the man-who-believed-he-was-Doyle was helpless, unbalanced.
Philip had done a lot of terrible things in his life; he had killed people who were trying to kill him. Fought people who were fighting him. But never once had he hurt anyone who was less than capable of hurting him just as much, nor taken advantage of someone who was less than his equal. In the run of things, it might be a simplistic code, but it was one he had taken to heart.
Now he felt he had violated it.
Doyle moved up in the bed until they faced each other. "Are you all right?"
The slender hand cupped his face. "That was incredible. Better than ... well, I suppose it's trite to say it was the best ... but I think it was. I thought was flying and burning all at once." His hand slid down over Philip's chest teasingly. "Are you always this good? Now I see what the birds rave about."
"Stop it." Philip pulled away. "Just stop it, please."
Philip shut his eyes tightly, fighting the urge to pull Doyle into his arms and kiss him and tell him how fantastic it was for him as well. How much he loved him. How he knew he must lose him soon, and that none of this was right and how it terrified him to know that nothing else had felt so right in all his life.
The Doyle-who-thought-he-was wouldn't understand any of that. It would only confuse him more. At the moment Philip felt confused and guilty enough for both of them.
But he had forgotten his Doyle character's tenacity. "Bodie, what is it? Don't turn away, dammit. Are you sorry? You liked it, damn you. I know you did! Don't do this to me; it's not fair."
Philip steeled himself and turned to face him. Dawn was beginning to lighten the room, and the colors were flushed with a new brightness, illuminating Doyle's troubled expression.
"Yes, I liked it. Yes..." He couldn't look in those eyes and lie. "...I love you. But it won't happen again, okay?"
Torn between being pleased at the admission and stunned at the pronouncement, Doyle just stared at him.
"But why? What did I do wrong?"
"Nothing...." He grabbed lamely for an excuse that would make sense to Doyle and found it once again in the comfort of his own creation. "Cowley wouldn't like it."
"Oh." Doyle considered that a moment, unable to refute the logic of it. "No, I suppose not." Then he started up again as certainly as Doyle would have done. "But he--"
"Go to sleep, Ray. Please. We've got a couple more hours of rest before things start up again. You said so yourself."
"Yeah, you're right." He lay down, but his hand slid over to touch Philip's, back wistfully. "We'll talk later, okay?"
"Later," Philip grudgingly agreed, locating the sheet and pulling it up to his chin, knowing he would never sleep, but needing the time to think.
He did sleep, in spite of his unsettled state of mind, and woke to an exquisite summer morning.
Philip was alone in the bed. He stretched and yawned and propped his head on his arms, relieved that the previous day's aches and pains had faded. Perhaps he wasn't as old as he thought.
It was one of those days that should be put in stasis and replayed when the weather turns fickle. A special bright day when the sunlight is warm but not too hot, the breeze is playful and fresh and the sky is royal blue dotted with cotton fluff clouds.
Lazily Philip lay there and watched the zephyr wind tease the white lace curtains, smelled the flowers from the garden and a more distant tang of new-mown grass, and felt obscurely happy. It was a day that made you believe Rodgers & Hammerstein knew what they were talking about when they had folks bursting out in song left and right.
Before he had time to wonder where Doyle had got to, a fragment of a song drifted from the bath down the hall--a muffled and dreadfully off-key rendition of "Stout Hearted Men".
Philip grinned. He felt a bit like whistling himself, although he didn't know why. He just felt happy and it didn't happen often enough to risk spoiling it by examination. The sensation was all too fragile.
"Oh, hullo." Doyle appeared around the door wearing a ghastly purple satin robe circa husband number three. "I thought you were still asleep."
"Good morning. Just woke up."
"Elizabeth was up earlier. She's fixed us some breakfast, but had to leave. Something about target practice and then luncheon with the garden club."
"She has a membership in the sports club in Bixby. Shoots there most mornings to keep her eye in. No, don't ask me for what. Personally, I don't want to know."
Doyle smiled and picked through a stack of folded clothes. "She did our laundry for us. I'm afraid your shirt's pretty much done for, though." He held up a wrinkled and somewhat splotched wad of silk.
Philip shrugged. "Ah well, she was never exactly domestic."
"I never should've picked that one. Knew it was expensive. I'm always--" He was forced to pause as he tugged on the jeans, sucking in a little to do the button and zip. Philip watched, fascinated at the way the fabric molded itself to the slender frame. Unsurprisingly, fresh from the wash they were tighter than before, and to Philip's new perspective, even more provocative.
"I reckon I was tryin' to get up your nose, you know," Doyle finished. He glanced toward the bed, then away. "I'm sorry."
"It's only a shirt, Ray," Philip replied mildly, still watching him and enjoying the view.
Doyle's jaw clenched as he turned to sort through the closet. "Is it?" His voice was muffled, but Philip caught the tone well enough; uncertain, even shy.
"What?" Doyle selected a soft green cotton shirt. He put it on and was forced to unbutton and unzip in order to tuck it in, still avoiding looking directly at the other man. His face was flushed.
"What's wrong?" Philip asked, sensing Ray's uneasiness had little to do with the ruined shirt.
"Nothing. That is..." He stood, looking miserable, staring down at the hardwood floor and his bare feet. The toes scrunched nervously against the polished floorboards, making a tiny squeaking noise. "It's just that I'm always doing things like that... taking your best shirt... to nettle you, see how far I can push. But mostly to make you pay attention... notice me. Only now I know why I do it."
He looked up then, and their eyes met. Philip held his breath, reminded like a slap of what had happened between them last night. Not that he had forgotten, oh no, but he had purposely set aside the implications. He had no idea what to say.
Doyle let out his breath in a sigh, and Philip realized he wasn't the only one coming to grips with some startling revelations. Philip at least had thirty-two years of experience to draw on and give him perspective. Doyle had only a few badly written novels as a blueprint--none of which could be of much help for this particular situation. No wonder the poor sod was upset and a little anxious. He had run out of script.
"Bodie, if you're giving me one of your smoldering glares, you might as well save it. I can't see you that well." Doyle's voice was tight and controlled, but his face was hot with embarrassment. "I know you hate mushy scenes, and don't worry that's not what I'm doing. But we do have to talk about it."
My god, he's blushing! Philip thought, curiously pleased. It didn't match up with the character of Doyle at all, who could have walked stark naked around Piccadilly without a blink. This bashfulness, poorly concealed behind the pugnacious Doyle-parody, must come from the man underneath, and Philip decided it was a man he very much wanted to discover.
"Well?" Doyle demanded, hand on hip and cocking his chin up resolutely. Somehow Philip sensed that the stubbornness was a trait that wasn't peculiar to Doyle. Despite the red cheeks, the green eyes were very determined.
Suddenly he knew exactly how to answer. When fitted in Bodie's shoes, answer as Bodie.
"So you're afraid you've been ragging on me for years because you've fancied me, is that it?"
Doyle shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know as I'd put it like that.... But, yes, maybe."
"Forget it, sunshine. You've been difficult because you're an aggravating little toad. It's your nature. No more, no less."
"But why do you put up with me?" Doyle needed to know.
Philip grinned. He could write this dialogue all day. Same song, different verse. "It's my penance. I was very wicked in my last life."
That drew a reluctant smile and a twinkle of mischief. "I'd lay bets on it. You were a nun with a bad habit, right?"
Philip groaned. Actually Doyle wasn't bad at the dialogue either. He might've written that line himself. "I'll cure you of those rotten puns one day. Now why don't you go keep my breakfast warm while I take a shower?"
Starting for the door, Doyle hesitated and looked back, unsatisfied. "About last night--"
"Listen, Ray, forget it, okay. We were stressed out from the last couple of days. Adrenaline does funny things to you. It was a fluke, that's all."
Doyle shook his head doubtfully, "We've been in worse spots. Why now?"
"Who knows? Maybe just because we were both randy and it seemed a good idea at the time. No harm done." Philip sat up on the edge of the bed, wishing Doyle would drop the subject before he grabbed him and pulled him back into the rumpled bed that still smelled faintly of sex and sweat and some ancient lilac sachet Liz put under the pillow cases. It was tempting. Doyle was leaning against the door frame, washed in morning sunlight, hair still curling damply from his shower, the lush green of his shirt complementing the enticing, exotic eyes.
Feeling his penis twitch with anticipation, Philip snapped, "Come on, Ray, you don't think we've suddenly turned queer, do you?"
"No!" That answer was emphatic enough. In fact, Doyle was obviously appalled at the very idea.
"Well, there you are," Philip forced a heartiness in his voice. "A fluke, like I said. Forget it. I have."
Doyle didn't seem convinced, but he nodded. He glanced down at the floor, then up again, and said very softly, "But don't forget the things I said, Bodie. I meant every word." Before Philip could respond, the doorway was empty and he could hear Doyle taking the stairs two at a time, whistling.
Philip smiled, surprised to find the happy hadn't gone away for either of them.
"Did you get the key?"
"Yes. There have been some questions asked about your whereabouts, Philip. Extremely rude chaps, too. I put them in their place, you can be sure. Now will you tell me what this nonsense is all about?"
"I wish I could. Just hold on to that key and don't let anyone else know about it. Listen, George, you've gotta trust me on this one. These blokes who talked to you, do you know who they were?"
"American. CIA, I would imagine. They were arrogant enough."
"CIA! Bloody hell. Them, too?"
"Philip, if you've done something illegal--"
"George, listen to me! I haven't done anything." He shut eyes tightly, remembering the body falling into the alley. The receiver began to shake in his hand and he gripped it tighter, taking a couple of deep breaths. I had no choice, he reminded himself grimly.
"I've done nothing wrong. Neither has Ray ... at least I don't think so. Maybe it's a case of mistaken identity or--Hell, I don't know! None of this makes much sense and I know how crazy it sounds, but I'm with a fellow who thinks he's Ray Doyle. He needs help, George. We both do. Something is going on and you're in a position to find out for me. Do you still have ties with Intelligence?"
"Of course. But--"
"So contact someone and find out if something is going on in that quarter. I can't figure out what else it could be that would draw in Arabs and Germans and god knows who else. And now you say the Yanks are in on it. All I know is that a whole lot of unsavory characters are after him. And I think they want to kill him."
"Ray Doyle ... I mean the chap who thinks he's Ray Doyle."
"And who is that?"
"What do you mean, who is that? Ray Doyle! From the books, Ray Doyle!"
"You mean, your books?"
"Of course my books!"
"Well, how am I supposed to know? You don't actually think I read that rubbish, do you?"
The remainder of the conversation was less than cordial, but Cowley did agree to check on a few pertinent facts.
Philip found Ray in the kitchen burning scrambled eggs. He tossed the pan in the sink, cursing as he turned on the water and the disposal. There was a plate on the table with blackened toast and several incinerated strips of bacon.
"Yam, yam," Philip said. "Liz's cooking has improved."
"No, I'm afraid that was me." Doyle admitted ruefully. "I put the plate in the oven and... well, I must've set it too high."
Checking the stove, Philip chuckled. "525 degrees? Nah. Just toasty like."
"Anyhow, since I ruined that, I thought I'd fix some eggs, but that didn't work very well either." He looked puzzled.
"So you're a rotten cook." Philip shrugged, going to the fridge for more eggs and popping a couple of slices of bread in the toaster on his way.
"I'm a terrific cook!" Doyle was insulted. "You know that!"
"Of course you are," Philip soothed, hiding his smile. Another bit of the real Ray. The poor sod must live on Chinese takeaway, Philip thought gleefully. And then another, less pleasing explanation occurred to him. Or maybe he's married. Oh christ, maybe he's got six kids. He shoved the possibility away. There was no tan line on Ray's ring finger, and even if that wasn't always a dependable sign, he didn't want to think about it right now. The day was too lovely, he was too content, and he simply wasn't in the mood to worry about any of it. Tomorrow at Tara, Scarlett, he told himself mockingly.
Scrubbing out the burned pan, he dried it and turned up the heat on the stove, adding butter. He cracked an egg with one hand and dropped it in the pan with efficient skill. He'd worked as a fry cook in Johannesburg for six months and become quite good in the more basic culinary arts.
"How many eggs do you want?"
"Eggs are full of cholesterol," Doyle said grumpily, sitting down at the table and propping his chin in his hands.
"Yes, I know. How many?"
"Three. No, four. I'm hungry."
Philip nodded smugly.
They ate breakfast peacefully, talking on a variety of topics from world affairs to rival football teams. Philip steered the conversation to subjects that Doyle of the novels had never discussed. So it was the real Ray (as Philip thought of him now) who unconsciously expressed his own opinions and viewpoint. The man was obviously quite intelligent (certainly more than the mythical Doyle) and extremely well read (to Philip's chagrin, far more so than himself). He was jarred back to the present when Doyle asked suddenly, "When do you think the Cow will be in touch?"
"Hard to say," Philip replied warily. "But we sit tight until he does. Those were the orders." Picking up the last slice of toast, he tried a weak diversion. "Is there any marmalade in the cupboard?"
Doyle got up to check and ran into the edge of the table. "Ouch! Goddammit!" He rubbed his leg. "I'm bloody tired of being blind as a bat!"
"Yeah, we need to do something about that," Philip mused.
"What would you suggest?" Doyle retorted. "You know I can't pop off to see a quack now. Cowley could call at any time. Besides, they might trace us--"
"No," Philip waved him off. "Not a doctor." He had already decided Ray's vision problem had nothing to do with his head injury. There were no other symptoms for one thing; no more headaches, no nausea. No, he was convinced the myopia belonged to Ray, not Doyle.
Abruptly, Philip got up and went to a large breakfront cabinet and began pulling out drawers.
"What the devil are you up to?"
"She used to keep--Ah, here they are." He tugged out the entire bottom drawer and upended it on the table. There was a wide collection of disparate items to sort through. Watches with broken crystals, buttons, tie clasps, cuff links, a few odd earrings (from the fourth husband who fancied himself an artist and who was really no more than an over-the-hill hippy), rings, and even a set of false teeth. And at least six pairs of glasses.
"What the hell's all this?"
"Liz used to call it her endowment. Except for the clothes upstairs, this is all any of them left her. She never married for money, you see, only good looks. Luckily she inherited money of her own, so she's aways been well off."
"And this is all she has left?" Doyle picked up a tarnished belt buckle. "That's sad."
Philip laughed. "Are you kidding? She's had a fantastic life. We should have so many wild memories, mate. Anyhow, she's not finished yet. She's got her eye on this Pakistani chap who minds the fruit stand in Bixby. He's about 25 and has--according to her--the 'most dreamy black eyes'. I expect him to be number six."
Doyle chortled. "God, what a character. Are you sure you're not blood relations?"
"Here, give these a try." Philip handed him a pair of glasses.
"Are you serious?"
"Why not? Give it a shot. Anything to keep you from running into more walls."
Reluctantly, Doyle put them on, then jerked them off immediately. "Forget it. Useless."
"Okay, try these."
Doyle was on the fourth pair before he blinked and looked surprised. "Eh, these aren't bad. Not perfect, but much better." He tried the last pair, discarded them and went back to the wire frames. "Yeah, I can see pretty well with these. Do you think Liz would mind my borrowing them?"
"Nah. Particularly that pair. They belonged to her least favorite husband. The 'flower child'. They never really got along--he didn't take to her gun fetish, you see. But, again quoting Liz, 'he had long blond hair and was marvelous in the sack'. His real name was Bernard, but he had it legally changed to Skylark."
Doyle made a face. "Sounds like a cheap American car."
"Well he was a cheap American, so you're partially right."
"Terrific," Doyle growled. "But at least I can see." He turned away from the window toward Philip. "So how do I look in specs?" His eyes widened suddenly as he focused on the other man.
Staring at each other, they didn't speak for a moment. Philip was startled at how the archaic glasses suited Ray, but he had to admit he was no longer unbiased about anything concerning this man. And since he suspected the real Ray wore glasses, he was predisposed to find it charming. It was more than that--it was sexy as hell, giving the irascible Doyle a softer, more vulnerable appearance.
Doyle was still gaping, his expression one of wide-eyed amazement. It occurred to Philip that this was the first time Ray had ever really seen him. The poor fellow was so nearsighted his vision was probably limited to a foot in front of his nose and the only time they had been that close was... But it had been dark then.
"What's wrong?" Philip asked gruffly. "Do I have egg on me chin?"
Doyle blinked. "Oh, ah...no. Sorry. It's just..." Now he seemed bemused. "All these years you've been tellin' me how bloody beautiful you were, and I guess I just never noticed until now."
Philip fought the urge to squirm in his seat. He could feel his cheeks getting hot and discovered to his dismay that he was still capable of blushing. Christ, he hadn't done that since he was sixteen.
In self-defense he fell back into the Bodie persona. "Well you'd only break the odd mirror or two yourself, sunshine." He swept the various odds and ends back into the drawer and replaced it. "And speaking of breaking, give us a hand with the washing up, will you?"
Strangely compliant, Doyle did as he was told.
"Well," Cowley demanded impatiently, "what have you found out?"
Macklin hesitated. "How well do you know this Andrew?"
"Well enough to know when he's telling the truth," Cowley barked. "I've listened to him lie to me for four years about when his manuscripts would be ready. He's not a very good liar."
"So you believe his story, about this Doyle chap?"
"Yes. And I also believe what he says about the poor fellow being addled. Philip's a shrewd judge of character. It's about the only thing that makes his books worth reading. Not that I'd admit anything of the kind to him. Too egotistical by far as it is. But I'd lay good odds on his being able to spot a phony. Whatever this Doyle person is up to, it's not an act. He's in trouble. And obviously so is one of my best-selling authors."
"More trouble than you know, George. I think he should come in for protection and bring Dibble with him."
"Dibble?" Cowley pounced on it. "Did you say Dibble?"
"Yeah, that's the fellow's name. He's a librarian--"
"Yes, I had a letter from him. He wanted to meet Andrew. Liked his books. And that's the man who's with Philip?"
"It seems so. The CIA are keeping pretty close-mouthed about the whole affair, but they had to tell us that much or I wouldn't give them access to our files. See here, George, if you know where they are, you'd best have them come in."
"Certainly not to turn him over to the CIA! And not until we have a better idea of what's involved. Philip can take care of himself," Cowley protested. "Until we have some answers to all this--"
"Didn't Andrew ever tell you why he resigned from the SAS?"
"No. What has that got to do with--"
"To be perfectly candid, I don't think he's up to this. I know he was good once. One of the best, in fact. We did some cross-training with the SAS a few years back, and I remember him specifically. But that last operation soured him. It happens sometimes."
"What are you talking about?"
"I read his file. There was a raid on an IRA terrorist base. He was in charge. It went like clockwork. They cleaned out the entire nest."
"And Andrew blew the face off a thirteen-year-old girl."
"Oh my god."
"She wasn't an innocent by any means. She had an Uzi pointed straight at him and from all accounts was already a seasoned pro in terrorism. Her dad liked to use her to plant bombs. Andrew knew that, he also couldn't afford to be careful since there were three other terrorists pouring in through the doors and windows. But according to the psych report, it was six weeks before he could pick up a gun without his hand shaking like jelly."
"Do you? I don't think he can handle this, George. I think your boy's in more trouble than you know."
It was late afternoon before the bizarre circus started up again. Cowley rang not long after lunch and told Philip that the situation was even more complex than they had thought, and for them to stay put for the time being. He had a man in MI5 looking into the problem, but they needed more information. Cowley then added crossly that he hoped Philip didn't think all this nonsense had made him overlook the fact the new manuscript was overdue--or the outrageous advance bordering on extortion that he had already collected.
Philip hung up on him.
Around five Liz called to say she wouldn't be home that evening and that she hoped they had everything they needed. She was taking Hajai to a dramatic reading of the Kama Sutra in London and they would probably be staying over in the city.
Hearing the news, Doyle demanded, "Are you sure you're not related?"
"Only spiritually," Philip replied loftily. "The Kama Sutra's a classic, you know."
"So's Hajai, apparently. Although at 25, he just squeaks under the wire."
"That's cars that're classic at 25."
"Well, after Skylark maybe she's confusin' the two."
They were in the back garden, enjoying the lazy close of an enjoyably lazy day. There was a small pond with a weeping willow and they sat on the grass near the water and watched the shadows lengthen in companionable silence.
"I always forget how lovely it is here in the country," Doyle remarked. "Peaceful."
"You grew up in the city then?" Philip asked, interested.
Doyle tossed him a puzzled glance. "Course I did. You know that."
"Oh, yeah. But you never talk about it." He felt on safe ground here. He had purposely kept both Bodie and Doyle's past somewhat murky for several reasons. It gave him plot twists to fall back on when necessary; instinctively realizing that fleshing out a character's background too much painted you in a corner. But mostly he avoided the topic because he found childhood traumas incredibly boring, being of the opinion people should play the cards they're dealt without a lot of moaning about it. Dwelling on past hurts was stupid and pointless. Or so he had always told himself.
Now he was curious and eager to find out more about Ray. So far, there were several times Ray seemed to unconsciously mix his own personality and experience with what he knew of Doyle's. He was less and less a caricature of Doyle as time passed and more himself.
It was rather like one of those trick pictures where you have to look close or turn it upside down to pick out the hidden images. They were just as real once you finally saw them. The horseshoe in the flowerpot; the teacup in the lady's hat; the real person behind the Doyle facade.
Ray flicked his wrist, skipping a stone across the water. "I know as much about you as you do me," he said cryptically. He didn't seem happy about it. Sourly, he added, "I didn't even know about Elizabeth."
Philip would have been amused at the absurdity of that, except that it was obvious the other man's feelings were bruised. Inexplicably he felt the need to apologize. "I'm sorry. I guess I reckoned you wouldn't be interested."
Ray's expression lightened. "S okay. As long as you know I am interested. Funny, I never pegged you as a country boy."
"Oh, I'm not. I lived a couple years with Madge, Liz's sister. She's got a house in Bixby. But the rest of the time I was in Liverpool and Manchester and London."
"Jeez, they moved you around a bit, didn't they?"
"Oh, they didn't so much," Philip replied, "I kept running away, you see. Wherever I was when they caught up with me, that jurisdiction took over. The last time, they didn't catch me."
"Where were you running?" Ray asked seriously.
"Oh ... just away." For some reason his mind flashed on a dozen places--North Africa, Angola, South Africa, Lebanon, Belfast, and finally his old typewriter in his London flat, the paper so jammed with words the type spilled over the margins. "Sometimes I think I've never stopped."
"How old were you?" Ray asked softly. "When your folks died?"
Ray's hand on his arm was warm, comforting. Instead of snapping him out of his reverie, it sent him in deeper, allowing him to think of it for the first time in years. Oddly enough, he didn't even recall that he had started this in order to get Ray to talk.
"It was just my mother. Never knew my dad. I was about seven, I think. She loved me, I reckon, but never had a lot of time for me. Too many boyfriends. I used to have a photo of her. A real looker, my mum. A very popular lady." He tossed a pebble into the pond, absently gratified that he matched Ray's skip record. "Not that she was on the game or anything. At least, I don't think so. She had a regular job as a waitress; I remember her pink uniform and the little lace handkerchief pinned to her pocket with her name on it--Marie. We had enough to get by, but not much more. I've thought about it since, and I figure with her looks if she was sellin' it, she would've made a bundle." He smiled sadly. "I remember she always smelled like talcum and roses. She may have been a tramp, but she was a tramp with class, me mum."
The grip on his arm tightened. "What happened to her?"
"One of her boyfriends bashed her head in. She was done with him, but he wasn't done with her. One of those kind of things. Crime of passion, et cetera."
"Christ," Ray whispered hoarsely.
"Don't worry; I wasn't present. Only heard about it later when they were trying to figure out what to do with me."
"I was fourteen when my mum died," Ray offered suddenly. "Pneumonia, I think. I remember being so bloody angry."
"At her for dying?"
"Yeah. And at dad for not caring enough. And at meself. And at the world in general. I was so full of. ... rage .... I didn't give a shit what I did, least of all to myself. I went a little crazy, I think. But dad beat that out of me quick enough."
Philip brushed Ray's cheek with his finger. "Is that how you got this then?"
"Yeah. Don't get me wrong, my dad wasn't some kind of sadistic nutter who got his kicks bashin' his kids. On the contrary, he hardly even noticed me most of the time, unless I got up his nose about something. Nah, he didn't mean it to go that far, but I made the mistake of trying to fight back, imagining I was tough enough to take him at fourteen. Like I said, I was a bit insane at the time. My dad's six foot one and built like a ruddy dockworker." He smiled wryly. "I take after me mum."
"So what happened?"
Ray shrugged. "I straightened up. Didn't have a lot of choice, did I?" He looked blank for a second. "That's funny, I don't remember much after that. About growin' up I mean. The only other time I can remember arguing with him was about school. He wanted me to go into accounting or insurance or something, but I wouldn't back down on that one. I wanted to...." He trailed off, perplexed. "Now that's odd, I can't remember...." Then his brow cleared. "Ah, it must've been art school."
Philip sat back, a little disappointed. Art school was part of the Doyle résumé; he doubted it belonged to Ray's past.
"What did you do after school?" Philip asked, hoping something else would leak.
"Oh, like you know. I gave it up and became a copper. The rest is, as they say, history." He tossed another pebble into the water.
Philip's eyebrows lifted, impressed, as it skipped five times before sinking. "Are you sorry?"
"That I didn't finish art school? Nah, I never had a lot of talent. I've never told anyone this but ... I think I always kinda wanted to write."
"Write?" Philip stared at him, startled. "You wanted to write books?"
"Or stories. Something." Doyle flushed. "Stupid, I know. I don't have a lot of ideas of my own, but I read books and sometimes I think..." His eyes were dreamy and clouded. "...sometimes I think I can see where they went wrong, what they missed. So I write the missing stuff in me head. All the scenes that should've been."
"And what was missing in mine, Ray?" Philip asked softly.
Ray blinked. "What?"
"Never mind. The sun's going down. Look."
Ray surveyed the red and gold sky for a long moment, then turned to the other man. "Bodie, what happened last night..."
"I thought we sorted that out." He threw another stone but it landed in the water with an angry plunk. He wasn't sure why he was so piqued except that Doyle kept popping up just when he thought he was learning about--About the man I'm falling in love with. The thought made his jaw clench. It was ridiculous. One didn't fall in love with madmen. Not even pretty, clever, sensual and extremely loveable madmen. Unless you're mad yourself.
"Bodie, I think we ought to talk about it. I really do."
"You would. Of course you would. Never let anything go. Keep chewin' away at it until--"
Philip looked at him.
Doyle spoke quietly. "I'm sorry. We'll drop it if you like. But sooner or later we will talk about it."
The lowered glow of the sun had burnished Ray's hair with red light and his face was open and vulnerable and obstinate all at one time. Philip reached out his hand and traced the cheek and jaw with one finger. "Why couldn't I have made you shy and modest and agreeable? Is that what you really are, under it all?"
Helplessly, he leaned forward and kissed the impossibly appealing mouth.
Doyle pulled back after a second, confused and ruffled. "First you tell me to forget it. And then you do that. All I suggested was talking about it--"
A car had stopped on the road near the house. Near it. Not on the drive or right in front.
"What is it?" Doyle whispered.
"I'm not sure." He grasped Doyle's arm and pulled him under the concealing fronds of the willow.
A few moments later a man appeared around the side of the house, gun in hand. He moved toward the back door, looking about cautiously. There was a loud thud and the sound of breaking glass, and then, responding to the signal, the man on this side kicked in the back door, too.
Doyle started to move, and Philip pounced on him. "No. Don't move."
"Come on, this way." Philip stood and pulled the other man up, directing him around the pond and toward the low wall dividing the property from the fields beyond.
"Bodie, we should've got some of Liz's guns while we had the chance. We could still take them--"
"Shut up," Philip growled, vaulting over the wall. He had one of Liz's Berettas tucked in the waistband of his trousers--the only weapon he could get to without actually breaking into one of Liz's gun cabinets--but he had no intention of telling Ray that, or of letting him have a gun of his own. Even with the new glasses, he wasn't about to trust Ray with a gun. He suspected the man had never had one in his hand before yesterday. Not that it mattered. Philip wasn't going to shoot anyone else if he could help it. The Beretta was life insurance, no more.
Doyle followed on Philip's heels across the beet field, jumped the next wall and paced him as they ran through a pasture. They paused at the other side of the next stone wall to rest. Philip leaned back against it, trying to catch his breath. He simply had to give up smoking.
"We should have tried to take them," Doyle said, angry. "There was only two of them. We could've killed them."
"You think. How do you know there wasn't more? What are you trying to prove?" Philip glanced at him curiously. There was something wrong, off key about Ray's reaction. Even the Doyle character wasn't this bloodthirsty.
"We might've got information," Doyle replied sullenly.
"Not if we'd killed them. And information on what? They had guns, Ray. They broke into the house. Obviously they're unfriendly. That's all the information I need."
"How about who they were working for?" Doyle snapped back.
"I don't give a shit. Nobody wants fireworks if they can avoid them, clear? I don't want to get killed and I don't want you killed, okay? So we run."
Ray was silent for a moment, pale and tense. "Okay, where?"
Philip took a deep breath and his bearings. "There's another road about three miles in that direction. Maybe we can hitch a ride or steal a car, I don't care."
"Okay," Doyle replied, suddenly amiable. "Let's go."
Twilight faded to night as they continued to travel cross country. Luckily there was a nearly full moon, but the going was still tricky.
Philip walked on, his mind filled with worry, wondering what they really wanted with Doyle, what would happen if Liz came back home unexpectedly. Or what would happen if they were found; what would happen to Ray. What his next move should be.
His next move was to step in a hole and find himself face down in a beet field. "Are you all right?" Ray asked anxiously. "Bodie?"
Philip sat up, nursing his throbbing ankle. "Wonderful, just fuckin' wonderful!"
Gentle hands inspected his leg and slid down to his foot. "Is it broken?"
"No, I don't think so. But it hurts like hell."
"Sprained then." Ray felt the ankle bone. "I can't tell. Could be a sprain."
Irritated, Philip hitched himself up. "Help me. We've got to keep moving."
"Bodie, you shouldn't walk on it.
"Sod off! Help me up!"
Ray did so reluctantly. "Can you make it over to the wall?"
"Of course I can!"
Hobbling, with his arm around Ray's shoulders, he did. There was the stubble of a wheat field beyond with dark, rounded humps of haystacks.
"I think the road is close."
Ray observed him doubtfully. "I'm not sure if you--"
Again they started across the moonlit landscape, Philip hobbling on one leg, steadying himself on Ray's shoulders. The view was surreal, black and silver and a million shades of gray. Fireflies lit up the hedgerows in tiny warm glimmers.
Philip's bad foot inadvertently landed on the ground and he cried out. Ray stopped. "It's more than a sprain, it's broken."
Philip gritted his teeth. "No it's not. Keep moving."
"No. We've pushed it enough."
"Damn it, we can't--"
"Bluster all you want, Bodie, you're hurt. Maybe it's only sprained or maybe a bone is broken, either way you can't go on like this. Stop being a bloody hero!"
"So what do you suggest?" Philip snapped.
"Come on." He put his arm around him, urging him forward to a huge pile of straw. "Sit down."
Philip let go, settling into the soft mound. "What are you going to do?"
"I'll go over to the road and flag down a car. Get help."
Philip felt a surge of anxiety. He didn't want to be separated from Ray now. "Don't be stupid. It's a country lane, Ray. No one's going to be traveling at this hour."
"It's not that late. Somebody might--"
Philip caught his arm. "You're not going anywhere without me."
Ray looked down at him. "You didn't really think I would leave you, did you?"
Ignoring the question, Philip reached down and began tugging at his shoe. Ray knelt and helped.
"It's already swelling," Ray offered worriedly.
"No kidding," Philip snarled. "Christ!" He winced as it was jerked off. He nursed the damaged ankle, while Ray scrambled up the stack, knocking bits of straw down on Philip's head.
"What the hell--?"
"Just checking," Ray called from the top.
Philip cursed under his breath, massaging his ankle and foot. If it had been one of his books, it would've been Doyle with the broken ankle. He suffered so much better, pain drew out the martyr in him. Of course, Bodie would never have been stupid enough to step into a hole. Or at least he would have been noble enough to soldier on. Philip was not martyr material and soldiering had bored him years ago. It just put him out of temper at being helpless.
"I think you're right," Ray observed mournfully. "I can't see a glimmer of headlights from either direction. I don't even see lights from a farmhouse. We may be stuck until morning."
"I didn't say we were stuck," Philip growled. "We can keep moving. I just wouldn't count on a ride."
Ray gave a jump and bounced, coming down the stack like a kid on a slide, almost smothering Philip in the resultant landslide.
"Don't do that!" Philip yelled, spitting out straw
Ray grinned, his teeth flashing in the moonlight. "It was fun. Always wanted to play in a haystack." He sneezed explosively.
"Strawstack," Philip corrected. "Haystacks are sticky and prickly. This is a wheat field. This is wheat straw, you cretin."
"Well, pardon me all to hell. Whatever it is, it's kinda neat."
"I'm so pleased you're enjoying yourself. Can we get going now?"
"Go where? How? Bodie, you can't walk."
"Bullshit, I can--"
"You can hobble. Sorry that won't work. You know our best bet is to stay here until morning. There'll be some traffic then, taking in produce. There's better concealment here. It's either that, or I go off on me own to fetch help."
"Well, that's settled then. We spend the night in a haystack."
"Strawstack!" Philip bellowed, feeling trapped and insecure and totally out of patience.
"Okay," Ray was agreeable. "Whatever."
"And if they start looking for us out here?"
Ray shrugged, still grinning. "Needle in a haystack--pardon me, strawstack. How will they find us?" He turned and started digging out a tunnel. An avalanche of straw fell over him, hiding him completely.
Doyle poked his head out of the straw. "It's terrific, Bodie. You can build a cave inside, y'know. Watch." He buried himself back in the straw.
Philip sighed and shook his head, rubbing his aching foot and wondering what he had done to deserve this. Five minutes later, Doyle emerged, triumphant. "Come here!"
Curious, Philip scooted over. Ray had tunneled out a small cave in the stack, packing in the loose straw tightly to form a roof and walls.
Impatiently, he pulled Philip in beside him into the soft bed. "Lovely, isn't it? And if we want to hide, we just kick the top and the straw falls over to hide it. It's only straw, so we'll still be able to breathe. Great, yes?" He sneezed again.
"You want I should award your brilliance?" Philip retorted acidly.
There was a long silence and Philip cursed his stupidity. Ray was doing the best he could in the circumstances--and actually pretty damn good, considering the situation. It wasn't like he had a better idea to offer in the alternative.
"You're right," Doyle said, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "I'd best go on--"
Philip caught his arm. "No. You're right, I can't walk right now. But I don't want you to leave."
"Cowley would expect me to leave you and report in," he replied, voice torn. "But I can't. I can't, Bodie."
"Good. Fuck Cowley."
"Now there's a thoug--" He sneezed.
"Ah, Jesus." Philip dug out his handkerchief. "At least use this, will you? Are you sure you don't have hay fever?"
"Posit--" Following a brief eruption of several sneezes in succession, Doyle blew his nose on Philip's handkerchief, and seemed momentarily better. He grinned cheekily. "Besides, this isn't hay, it's straw, right?"
"Just wipe your nose."
"How's your leg? Hurting bad?"
Actually it had settled into a kind of numbed, low-key throb. Ignorable if he didn't move the wrong way. "I'm okay."
Doyle settled into the cradle of straw beside him and they stared up at the night sky, spread in a purple-black canopy above them, stretching from horizon to horizon, studded with a diamond spray of stars. The moon was off to one side, a huge white globe with shadowed mountains and valleys, so close one could almost reach out and trace the textured surface.
"It's beautiful," Ray said softly.
"The stars are never like this at home in the City."
Ray took off his glasses and tucked them carefully in his pocket. "I'm sorry I got you into all this."
Philip turned his head. "What?"
"I should've stayed away from you. Once I knew they were onto me. I should've stayed away."
So it was Doyle again. Philip fought the surge of disappointment, and dredged up another Bodie line. "We're partners, aren't we? Since when have you done anything on your own?"
The response didn't come as he expected.
"Why am I so scared, Bodie? I shouldn't be so afraid, should I?"
He touched the shoulder inches away and found it was trembling. "Ray?"
"It's been worse for us, I know it has. So why am I so afraid? At first it was okay ... kind of fun, even. Being chased and all. But now ... Back at the house, when they showed up, I--"
Instinctively, Philip pulled the man into his arms and held him very tight. "It's okay, Ray. I'm scared, too."
Ray clung to him, shaking. "I know I shouldn't be like this. I don't understand what's wrong with me. Part of me knows why they want to kill us ... another part can't ... it doesn't make sense. What's happening to me, Bodie?"
"I'm Philip," he replied gently, brushing a kiss on the disheveled curls. "My name is Philip."
Ray pulled back to look at him, his eyes large and dark in the moonlight. "Philip."
"Don't worry. I'll take care of you. Somehow I'll take care of you, I swear it."
"No," Ray was fierce, "don't promise that. You can't. You shouldn't. We take care of each other, like always. The only thing I want is..."
"What?" Philip was ready to promise him the moon and stars but they were already there in Ray's eyes.
"Just hold me."
Philip combed his fingers through the tangled curls, tilting the other man's face up to the moonlight, reading the intense and exquisite expression. "Oh yes, I can do that."
Ray smiled. "And what about Cowley?"
"Fuck Cowley." Philip brought his mouth down to Ray's, forgetting his good intentions, forgetting their precarious situation, forgetting everything but the emotion that had carried him to this point. He loved this man--mad, insane, crazy, he didn't care anymore. He only knew that he wanted him, loved him, and had to have him...
(sex scene here)
Those words were suddenly emblazoned in his mind. That was the way it would happen in any self-respecting romance novel. Moonlight, haystack (okay, strawstack), escaping fugitives desperate for affection and reassurance.
Philip pushed Ray away firmly.
Well it was not about to happen. No matter how much he wanted Ray Doyle, he wanted Ray-behind-the-Doyle more. Either way, this was not the time or place or manner he wanted to consummate a love affair. Call him romantic, call him sentimental, but it shouldn't be done in a pile of cow bedding. He'd much prefer a hotel with tiny little soaps and room service.
"No? I don't--"
"No." Philip repeated flatly.
Fortunately Ray looked a good deal more pissed than hurt. "You just kissed me, dammit!"
"Yes, I did. You're very attractive, a good mate, and I'm sure a marvelous dancer--but we are not, I repeat, not going to get our jollies off this evening, Officer Doyle."
Extremely miffed, Ray sat up and put his glasses back on, glaring at Bodie. "But you kissed me! On the mouth!" He seemed obsessed with this point.
"So I did."
"And that's it?"
"That's it. Go to sleep."
"So why do you keep on doing that if--"
"Because you're bloody irresistible--to a point."
Doyle's anger faded and he lay back in the straw, sighing deeply. "You're right, of course. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push."
Philip chuckled appreciatively. "Nice try, but it won't work, sunshine. I invented that melancholy mood of yours and I know ninety percent of the time its about as sincere as a used car salesman."
Doyle sat up, irate. "How do you know this isn't the other ten percent?"
"And that's it? Just 'no'? No explanation? No good night, Ray, sweet dreams'?"
Philip was obliging. "Good night, Ray. Sweet dreams."
"Well I'm randy now, and it's your fault!"
"My fault? All I did was bloody kiss you. Don't tell me every time you get kissed you get an erection?"
To Philip's surprise, the younger man considered the question earnestly. "Most of the time ... yeh, I think I do."
"You're not serious?"
A tense silence ensued.
"Well, I'm sorry about that, but nobody dies from blue balls. Go to sleep." Philip rolled over onto his side, wincing at the protest from his ankle.
There was a furious, profound silence. Philip could almost hear the gears creaking over.
"So at least tell me why."
"No, you won't tell me why not, or no you won't tell me why you won't tell me?"
Philip masticated that in his mind for about three seconds. "No to all of the above, and if you dare take it one convoluted step further--"
"I know what it is," Ray pronounced, with as much satisfaction as the first Greek who yelled Eureka. "You're afraid you're queer."
Philip groaned. "Oh Christ. Go to sleep, Ray. Please."
"That's it, isn't it? Admit it."
"Yes, Ray! I confess! In fact, it's starting to keep me up nights worrying about it. It just keeps nagging away at me, this raspy little voice in my ear."
The sarcasm went over Ray's head like a Boeing 727.
"That's silly, Bodie. You're not queer. I mean, it bothered me a little too, at first. Until I figured it out."
Now this he had to hear. He turned back over. "Oh, please, enlighten me."
"It's simple," Ray told him happily, "I don't want to have sex with a man. I want to have sex with you."
Spit took a suicidal dive down the wrong pipe and Philip choked and sputtered until he regained his breath. Wiping tears of laughter from his eyes he finally managed weakly, "Gee, I can press that and a couple of pansies in my diary tonight."
"You know what I mean. It's not fellers in general, it's just you. Otherwise, I'd get turned on by other goodlooking blokes and I don't. I mean, you're very nice, but you're not Mel Gibson or anythin'. And he doesn't do anything for me."
"Oh, I dunno," Philip camped, "did you see Mad Max? Pecs to die for--"
"I'm serious, dammit!"
Philip shut up and really looked at him. Ray was serious. He was struggling to work through his confusion, and doing a practical, sensible job of it actually. Philip had jumped that hurdle already and had come to pretty much the same conclusions.
It was the larger barrier of the Doyle persona he couldn't manage to cross. He knew what Frankenstein must have felt, yearning for his creation to have a life of his own. While there were cracks in the wall separating him from Ray, he didn't think they were wide enough to let him touch the man.
"Enough, Ray. Good night."
"You're just going to leave me like this?"
"That's right. Sweet dreams."
"Not now, thank you. I have a headache."
If nothing else, that sealed it. "Bodie" wasn't available. He could talk like Bodie, but he'd be damned if he would fuck like Bodie. "I said goodnight, Ray." He turned his back.
"Fine, then. I'll take care of it meself."
It took a couple of minutes for the subtle movements and rustle of the straw to register on Philip as more than the other man settling in for the night.
"What the devil are you up to?" he demanded, rolling over and almost yelping at the resultant pain from his swollen appendage (or one of them).
"Whad y' think?" Doyle snorted, sounding a little breathless.
The moon chose that moment to slide behind a cloud, so Philip had only the briefest impression of a busily moving hand and an expression of moonlit bliss.
The little bugger's wanking off!
While he had created Doyle to be sensual and shameless about it, this was extreme even for him. And yet ... there was something attractively primitive in it. Basic and raw and honest.
Not to mention incredibly arousing.
Philip gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the muffled sounds.
The movement stilled. "You could always lend a hand," came the throaty suggestion.
"I could smother you, too," Philip snapped. "I can't believe you're doing that--"
Doyle snickered and resumed the action, slower, drawing it out, teasing. Against the backdrop of crickets and distant bullfrogs, Philip could hear the tangible whisper of flesh stroking flesh. Could almost feel it.
It was driving him crazy and Ray bloody knew it.
Doyle turned his head toward him. "You stop it."
"At least have the decency to move to another bloody haystack!"
"Strawstack," Doyle corrected smugly, and moaned a little at his own pleasuring.
The clear air brought the faint whiff of male musk to Philip's nostrils and his already iron-hard cock twitched--if it possessed vocal chords, it would have whimpered. He shut his eyes very tight and tried to think chaste thoughts.
Saint Philip The Pure. They'll erect a statue and eunuchs the world over will come to marvel.
"Ray ... please ..."
"That's what I said." There was a glint of white teeth, and the moon reappeared, glowing wantonly upon a scene of glorious debauchery.
Philip surrendered the battle, positive Hannibal and his elephants would have been defeated if faced with Ray's sensual alps.
"You little son of a bitch!" He grabbed Ray and released his own restrained passion, the pain in his ankle swallowed whole by a larger urgency. A few minutes of hastily discarded clothing and ripped buttons resulted in Philip on top of the smaller man. "All right, you want Bodie so much, you can bloody have him."
"Bodie, wait!" Ray freed his hands to cup the other man's face. "Don't... I want you, but..."
Philip halted his movement and stared into the wide dark eyes. "Do you want me to stop?"
"No.... Don't be angry with me, please. I know you didn't want this. Don't punish me for wanting it."
Curbing his passion, Philip took him slowly, gently, loving him so much he was sure he would finish before he began. If he hurt Ray, and he must have done no matter his care, the pain was not as intense as the pleasure that followed.
Both were more than satisfied with the result.
The sun in his eyes woke Philip. It was still very early, the light just passing the horizon, glinting in narrow streaks through the hedgerows. The meadow was hushed, even the sparrows were silent for the moment, and sunlight prismed a carpet of brilliant sparkles over the dewed stubble.
There was dew on Ray's hair as well, as his head lay tucked against Philip's shoulder. They had dressed sometime during the chill of the night, but their clothes were damp now and Philip shivered, disturbing the sleeper. Ray made a protesting noise in his throat and curled his limbs tighter around Philip.
Philip had always wondered what it would be like to wake up with someone he was madly in love with in his arms. And madly was definitely the correct adverb. Waking up damp and uncomfortable in the middle of a wheat field with a pile of bird doo within smelling distance pretty much topped off the romantic fantasy. But no, the final whimsical touch was the fact that the bird dropping smelled just that much better than the man in his arms.
Still, somehow Ray retained his charm, even if he did have gunk in the corner of his eye and his nose was running. A lover could overlook these little human frailties, even rejoice in--
Ray sniffed and rubbed his wet nose against Philip's shirt.
Philip pushed him away heartlessly, another case of romance murdered by reality.
Ray grunted, sneezed violently and woke up, wiping his nose on his hand. He looked blearily at Philip, beard-stubbled, his hair a tangled mess, the green eyes puffy and bloodshot. "Jeez.. . wha' time's it?" He patted around in the loose straw until he located his glasses.
"You were ravishing in the moonlight, Cynthia, but in the unkind light of day--"
"Oh, sod off, Bodie," Ray snarled, rubbing his face. "You look like a road kill yerself."
Philip fell over in the straw laughing. "God help me, I think I do love you."
Ray yawned until his jaw crackled. "Until I've had my tea, I don't care if you've taken a fancy to the bleedin' Pope." He sneezed again. "You don't 'appen to have a handkerchief--?"
"No, or trust me I would have given it to you long since. In fact, I did give it to you. Last night."
Ray shrugged, putting his shirt sleeve to use. "Must've lost it."
"You are the most disgusting person I've met in years," Philip told him fondly.
"Great. Do I get a prize?" He eyed Philip soberly. "How's your foot?"
Ray checked for himself. "Marvelous technicolor. And if it was a squash, I'd enter it in the county fair."
"I know it's swollen a bit, but it doesn't hurt as much as it did--"
"Oh yes, tell me another one, mate. It's broken, and you know it."
Philip sighed. "Yes, I think it is."
"So we'll hitch a ride into town and get it fixed. Maybe they've stopped looking for us by now. Sooner or later, somebody'll come along the road. I'm going for a pee." He slid down and disappeared around the strawstack. A short time later he called out. "'Ey, I see a couple of cars on the road coming this way. Maybe there's more traffic on this road than-- Uh oh."
"What is it?"
"They're stopping." He scrambled back around, still tugging on his zipper. "Damn, it's stuck."
"Two cars, you said?" Philip flattened himself and inched forward until he could see around. "I've got a bad feeling about this."
Ray was still fighting with his zipper. "You saw Star Wars, too?"
"No, I missed the sequel."
"Oh, very droll. What's happenin'?"
"If you'd stop playing with your crotch and get over here, you could see for yourself. They're getting out of the cars. Looks like three, no four of them."
The teeth finally caught and Ray joined him. "What's the chance of it being Farmer Brown checking out the rutabagas?"
"No joy. Not driving black sedans--one of which I'm pretty sure was tailing us the other day."
"The East Germans? Well, this time I aim for the goolies; they've got jaws like bloody concrete."
Philip slid farther out of sight, pulling Ray with him. He lay back, trying to think.
"How the hell did they find us?" Ray wondered. "They don't have bloodhounds, do they?"
"They haven't found us yet."
"No, but we can't exactly make a run for it, can we?"
Philip's ankle yelped at the very thought. There wasn't a chance in hell of getting his shoe on over his swollen foot. "No, but you can."
"Make a run for it."
Ray turned and regarded at him steadily. "Leave you, do you mean? Oh certainly. Last night when the coast was relatively clear, I stick around. Now that they're breathing down our necks, I cut out. Seems logical. Yeah, I'll do that. Why not? Are you out of your fuckin' mind--"
"Okay, okay. Lighten up, Luke Skywalker. It was just a suggestion."
"Well, I should hope so. I mean to say--"
"Will you shut up and let me think? Those storm troopers of yours are going to be here any minute. All right, let's go with your idea."
"Last night, you twit. Pulling the straw over us, don't you remember?"
"Oh, yeah. Well, that was before I remembered all those spy movies and what happens after they hide in the hay."
Busy rebuilding the demolished hideaway, Philip mumbled, "What's that?"
"Pitchforks, that's what! They always use pitchforks. I don't particularly want a pitchfork up my arse."
"They don't have pitchforks."
"Bayonets, then. Didn't you ever read A Tale of Two Cities? Whenever the nobles were escaping the city in haycarts the soldiers--"
"Come back to the twentieth century, Raymond. All they have is big, nasty guns."
"Oh, well that's very comforting, thank you." But he helped and a few minutes later they were concealed in a very stuffy, very dusty, very small space, behind a loose wall of straw.
"Do you hear anything?" Ray whispered in Philip's ear.
"No. But they started at the end of the field. There was only four of them. It'll take them a few minutes to get this far--unless they saw you. They didn't see you, did they?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. They were pretty far away. This is a bad idea, Bodie."
"Well, it was your idea."
"No, it wasn't."
"Yes, it bloody was!"
"Well, it was your idea to take my idea. So that makes it your idea, right?"
"Dear God," Philip whimpered with sincere reverence, "give me patience."
They could hear voices now--German voices--calling to each other, still some distance away.
Ray sniffed, then muffled a violent sneeze in his hand. "Yuk." He wiped his hand on his jeans.
"Be quiet," Philip hissed.
"I can't help it, can I?" Doyle hissed back, sniffing again.
"Don't you dare," Philip warned. "I knew you had hay fever!"
"I don't have hay fever," Doyle maintained, eternally quarrelsome. "It's the dust. I jus...ju...jus ahhhh--"
Philip clamped his hand firmly over Ray's mouth and nose, succeeding in muffling the sneeze, but also receiving the damp results of his heroism.
"Ugh, Jesus." He also wiped his hand on Doyle's jeans.
"Well, that's not very nice, is it?" Ray said prissily.
"One more word and I'm going to throw you out of this bleedin' haystack!"
There was complete silence, and then Ray whispered meekly, "Strawstack."
Philip clamped his hand over his own mouth and bit his lip hard. The hysterical laughter bubbled up irrepressibly and he could feel Ray's shoulders shaking, too.
This was hardly the time or place for levity. The men who were after Ray were deadly serious. Philip was scared to death and he knew Ray was probably even more frightened than he was. But he had been in situations like this before and knew the humor did help, it grounded him, calmed him, and kept the fear at bay.
Philip felt for the Beretta tucked in his pocket, aware it would be nearly useless against the firepower these men undoubtedly carried. Still, it was all they had, and he thought he could use it if he had to.
For Ray, he could use it.
The sound of voices faded away and there was another sound, even more distant.
"What was that?" Ray whispered under his breath. "Car doors? Are they leaving?"
With the faint noise of engines, Ray sighed in relief, then stifled another explosive sneeze. "They're leaving. Maybe they were just checking for footprints or something. Trying to see which direction we went."
When Doyle started to rise, Philip held him back. "Lay still. Those blokes wouldn't know footprints from apple strudel. I don't like this."
"Come on, Bodie, they're gone. They had no reason to think we were still here, did they? They couldn't know about your ankle. I think they were just trying to figure which way we headed. Listen, I'm getting claustrophobic here."
"Shut up." Philip's instincts were screaming at him, but he didn't know why. He knew what he would do if the situation were reversed, but he wasn't sure if the German mind was as devious.
Doyle sneezed again, then began to cough. "Bodie... please..."
He could feel his own nostrils clogging with dust. They couldn't stay hidden much longer anyway or they'd probably choke to death. "All right, but let me go first." He moved some straw away cautiously and listened. Nothing. He pushed the rest away and rose to his knees, careful of his protesting ankle, gun in hand, looking around. Still nothing.
Ray came up beside him. "You didn't tell me you had a--"
"Gun." An accented voice finished the sentence. "You vill drop it down most carefully. Please to be putting your hands behind the head."
Philip let the gun fall and did as ordered. Doyle reluctantly followed suit.
Ray met Philip's eyes. "I'm sorry, Bodie."
Philip shrugged. "We gave it a shot. It was a good idea, Ray."
"But ve haf outguessed you," the German said gleefully. "Tricked you, ja?"
"Gee, I guess this means you get an extra helping of sauerkraut for dinner tonight," Philip mocked. "Lucky you."
"Be silent. Both of you, get down. Mach schnell!"
"He can't walk," Ray snarled. "His ankle is broken."
"Then let him crawl down," the German sneered. He reached forward and yanked on Philip's arm. Losing his balance, Philip fell forward, his leg twisting as he struck the ground hard, jarring the fractured bone. The agony was so intense, he nearly blacked out.
But Ray leaped at the man from his higher vantage and managed to knock him down. They wrestled for possession of the gun as Philip ignored the screams of his leg and moved to help. Another man appeared and struck out viciously. Unable to block the attack, Philip went down in a heap, his leg twisting again and he screamed, the pain flashing strobe lights behind his eyes.
Panting and sick to his stomach, he looked up to see Ray being dragged to his feet, nose pouring blood and looking dazed.
"Don't hurt him," he said, looking up at the man who stood over him. "Please, don't hurt him. He doesn't know.... It's not his fault, none of this."
Philip was yanked to his feet and cried out as his weight landed on his damaged foot. Cursing, the man dragged the uncooperative figure to the wall and shoved him over. Ray was already at the car. They tied their hands and shoved them roughly in the back.
Ray looked only semi-conscious, his head lolled against the seat. His glasses were missing. One eye was swelling shut and his nose was still bleeding sluggishly. Philip leaned close to him, fighting the pain that washed up from his abused leg.
The man on the passenger side swung around to glower at Philip as the car sped down the county road. "Save your breath, your delicate little schatsie is unconscious. Poor little bubie."
"Listen, Fritz, whatever you think we have, you're wrong. This is a mistake."
"Oh yes, large mistake, you make. Sell something worthless to schootpid East Germans. So schootpid. So dummkopf. Vell, ve know better, ve know information is important. It is you who make the mistake."
"What is it you want?"
"You tell us where is the chip, and you tell us now. Then vielleicht you die quick."
"Chip? What kind of chip?" Philip stared at him in disbelief. "Oh my god, a microchip? Jesus, even I wouldn't have written something that hackneyed. The microchip plot went out years ago! You've got to be kidding."
"Kiddink? Oh no, it is very serious ve are. And ve vill make you talk, ja?"
Philip began to chuckle helplessly. "Forgive me, but I used to think my books were melodramatic. You're priceless, Fritz."
The German backhanded him sharply, and Philip felt Ray stiffen beside him, proving that he had been aware all the time. Philip licked at his split lip and glanced over in time to see Doyle's clenched jaw relax.
He looked back at the German, determined to keep his attention from an unpredictable Ray. "Can't take a compliment, eh?"
"You mind your tongue, English. You vill talk soon enough."
The driver motioned impatiently and said something in German. The other man glared at Philip, then turned back to the front and switched on the radio. Opera, naturally.
Philip winced, finding that nearly as unbearable as his ankle. He leaned closer to Ray. "You okay?" he asked under his breath.
A green eye opened and observed Philip from the corner. "Yeh, peachy. You?"
"Your mouth's bleeding." There was an ominous glint in his eye. "God, I hate Nazis."
"That's not Star Wars."
"No, Raiders. Great movie. Did you see it?"
"Good." Ray picked his foot up, got it over the seat and managed to kick the driver squarely in the head in one smooth move. The car veered wildly, smashed against a cement culvert, spun half-around and landed in a ditch. The man on the passenger's side went through the windscreen, and the driver met the steering wheel with an impact that left him moaning and unable to function. Then he fell forward and was silent.
In the back seat, Philip and Doyle were only slightly better off. Ray untangled himself from a pretzel-like position, having strained a few very vital muscles. He turned to Philip, who was lying half in the floor of the car. "Bodie, are you okay?"
Philip groaned and straightened a little. "If it wasn't broken before, it certainly is now. Not to mention every other bone in my body. Do you have a death wish or something?"
"Sorry. It seemed the best option at the time." Somehow Ray had managed to free himself from the ropes.
Observing this, Philip blinked blood out of his eye from a cut on his forehead and demanded, "How'd you do that?"
"Didn't you ever read about Houdini? Tighten up your muscles when you're tied up? Works a treat." But there was blood and rope burns on his wrists as he untied Philip.
Philip stretched out, amazed to discover there wasn't a whole lot more damage than bruises and his already mangled leg. "Are you all right?"
"Pretty much, yeah. Com'on, let's get out of here."
"What about those two?"
Ray leaned forward and checked. "Hans is down for the count. Fritz...well, he's just down. For good."
Surprised, Philip replied, "We weren't going that fast."
"Fast enough. That'll teach the Nazi buggers to wear a seat belt during a violent abduction." He found the guns, gave one to Philip, and tucked the other in the waist of his jeans.
The car was at a crazy angle in the ditch and Doyle had to kick the door open. He helped pull Philip out into the road and they lay there, getting their breath back.
"Now what?" Philip asked.
"How should I know?"
"You're the one with the plan."
"Plan? What plan? I just didn't like those bastards."
"Marvelous." He smiled ruefully. "You're right. I didn't like them either." Callous it may have been, but they had meant them no good, and Philip couldn't dredge up much sympathy. Especially for dear, departed Fritz.
Ray stood unsteadily and looked around.
Philip sat in the middle of the dusty road and wondered what charming plans fate had in store for them next. He had been in worse pain, he supposed. He'd suffered a knife in the back in Angola. Had a bullet kiss him in the Sudan. Some nasty burns from a bomb in Ulster. And he'd been beat to a pulp more times than he liked to remember. But hurting worse then wasn't much comfort now. He wanted to cry with as much passion and intensity as a ten-year-old with a skinned knee. Pain was relative. He'd never liked it much or suffered it well.
"Bodie, you're white as a sheet. Are you okay?"
Philip shoved him off angrily. "No, I'm not bloody okay!" Meeting the worried eyes, he was abruptly embarrassed. Ray was hardly in much better shape than he was. His nose had stopped bleeding, but his shirt was splattered with blood, there was a bad cut on his chin, and he was limping.
The cracks in the wall were gaps now, yet amazingly the man looking out at him was terrified but calm. He could hardly ever look less appealing than he did now, smudged with dirt and grease and sweat and blood. Philip wondered how anyone could ever be more dear to him.
"Ray, I'm sorry. You did good."
Ray smiled, his face lightening, glowing through the muck. "I'll flag down a car. We'll get out of this. I promise."
"I thought I was suppose to take care of you," Philip mused.
"Oh no," Ray was suddenly very intense. "No, it's my turn. I'll make it right, Bodie. Somehow, I'll..." He leaned down and kissed Philip with a blazing intensity.
Philip looked up at him and felt tears burn at his eyes, unsuccessfully telling himself they were due to the sting of his cut lip. "I'm Philip, Ray. Not Bodie, Philip."
But Ray was looking down the road. "There's a car coming." He pulled Philip up, helping him to the edge of the road. "Here. I'll flag them down--" He shut up abruptly as the car rounded the curve.
"Oh shit," Philip murmured.
It was the second black sedan.
There was nowhere to go, no way to run, and no time to get in a defensive position.
"You will lose your weapons, please. And raise the hands most carefully. Danke."
One man held a gun on the two of them while the other checked out the wrecked car. "What happened here?"
"Accident," Philip informed him brightly. "Forgot which side of the road to drive on, didn't he?"
The other man called out, "Klaus!"
Without taking his eyes from his captives, he asked a question in German. His comrade answered grimly, "Pieter is unconscious. Es geht ihn nicht gut. Adolf is dead."
Philip exchanged a look with Ray. Adolf?
"Adolf," Philip murmured, "who could have dreamed?"
Ray had that wide-eyed pinched look of I-know-it's-a-funeral-but-I'm-going-to-bust-a gut.
"You think this is funny?" Klaus snarled.
"Funny? No, no, not at all," Philip said quickly. "I guess we got to know him so well in such a short time and... well, no offense, but whoever christened Adolf was right on the mark."
Ray made a kind of chuuffing sound, rather like a dying steam engine.
"Oh yes, you English are fond of the black humor, ja?"
Philip sobered, belatedly snapping to the fact that he was dealing with someone far more threatening than they had faced previously, and it went beyond the gun in his hand. There was something, a look in his eyes, the way Klaus carried himself, that told Philip the time for humor, whatever color, was past.
The other man returned to the car carrying the unconscious driver. With difficulty, he put him in the back seat. Klaus unlocked the trunk of the sedan. "Up, both of you."
"No," Ray said. "He's got a broken ankle. He's not going in the boot."
The man studied Philip, then Doyle. "Okay, you. You go in."
"It's okay, Bodie." He stopped beside the German. "I'm warning you, don't hurt him. If you do, you'll get nothing out of either of us."
The man tied his hands and gestured impatiently. "Get in."
Ray climbed in the boot and the lid slammed down and locked. Klaus looked at Philip and motioned for him to move. Philip levered himself up, but knew there was no way he could make it to the car on his own steam. Hopping on one leg was neither very dignified nor practical. He'd undoubtedly fall on his face after about five feet.
"I can't," he told the man flatly.
Shrugging, Philip gave it the old team try, and sure enough he wound up tasting dirt in short order, and worse, feeling the bones in his fractured ankle grinding together as he fell, the shattered ends tearing even further into his flesh. He cried out, then lay very still, clenching his teeth to fight back whimpers that wouldn't win him any popularity awards in this crowd.
Philip knew that for the next five minutes or so until the pain crested, that would be totally beyond him, no matter the impetus. He couldn't even speak, let alone move.
Klaus stood over him. Philip felt his presence. He couldn't see him, but he sensed it as a cold wave of animosity, a gale of ill-will directed at him. Even before he felt the impact, he knew the blow was coming.
Klaus kicked him brutally, cursing in his native language.
"You think it was funny? You laugh. This is funny, ja?" He ground his heel viciously into Philip's broken ankle.
Through the red haze of agony, there was the sound of frantic banging on the boot lid, and a muffled, enraged voice, "You son'va bitch! Leave 'im alone ... I'll kill you...!"
The man brought his fist down hard on the top of the boot, denting the metal. "No! You make large threats, but we will see what happens about them." He returned to Philip and flipped him over onto his face, digging a knee into the small of Philip's back as he retied his hands. He jerked him up and pushed him into the back seat beside the limp form of Pieter. Then he shoved the muzzle of his gun in Philip's ashen face. "I vill kill you. One move, and I vill kill you most happily. How do you say? No more mister nice guy?"
Although his mouth was dry, and the pain had turned him inside out and still sparked like ugly firecrackers behind his eyes, Philip dredged up one more smart remark. "Glad y' warned me. I'd never 'ave guessed."
"Shut up, you!"
Philip shut up. He hurt too much for one thing. He was too scared for another. Frying pan and firewise, things didn't look in the least promising.
It was a long drive back to the City. Philip had expected them to stop for medical attention for Pieter, but they pressed on grimly. Pieter groaned a few times, but remained unconscious. Philip spent his time trying to keep him out of his lap, wishing he had the seat to himself so he could lie down. In the early part of the trip, he just wished he would pass out himself. Christ, he hurt.
They had reached the outskirts of London when Philip began to hear strange noises from the boot. He wasn't particularly worried that Ray was suffocating--few cars were that soundly made. And he didn't think a hour or so of gas fumes would do more than make him dizzy and sick to his stomach, although he could acutely envision the blackness and lack of fresh air Ray was experiencing.
No, the noises were more purposeful, almost rhythmic. And, very, very circumspect. Complete silence at stop lights and traffic slow ups, and careful, steady creaks when the engine covered the noise.
When Philip realized what it was, he nearly laughed out loud.
The little devil found the jack!
In total darkness, half asphyxiated, he was prying himself out of the damn boot. Of course. They hadn't expected to use it for a prisoner. So much for German efficiency. It hadn't even occurred to the idiots that they had left in the jack.
For the first time in his life, Philip was proud of his writing. He had put that in his last book, and Ray remembered it. Ray was fucking using it. And he was remembering all the nuances, to be careful when he used the lever so the motor covered the clacking noise and the sound of the hinges springing on the boot.
It was even louder than Philip imagined--a sharp squeal of metal and a loud clank as the lock broke.
The driver glanced around. "What vas that? Did you hear?"
Before Klaus could turn, Philip drooped his head and pretended to be unconscious.
"Did you hear?"
Klaus responded in German, but it sound placating. Philip could feel eyes on him and didn't move.
"These English. Bad road, ja?"
The other murmured agreement.
After a few moments, Philip opened his eyes. Both of the men were facing forward again. He tried his bonds carefully. Ray was right, it did work, to a point. They were looser, but not loose enough to slip off. He began working at them, careful not to draw attention to the back of the car.
They came to a stop light, and he held his breath, ready to give a diversion while Ray escaped.
The light changed, they moved on.
Puzzled, Philip glanced back. The boot lid was wobbling very slightly. It was loose, being physically held in place. So Ray was free. Why didn't he get out?
The answer was obvious and utterly infuriating. The heroic little berk wouldn't leave him.
He sent a pungent mental bulletin to the man in the boot, telling him in graphic terms about his parentage, his prospects and his total lack of common sense. Unfortunately, however much they were in tune, they were not telepathic. Ray's brain would have been seared by the message, any case.
Philip had never felt more helpless in his life; aware Ray was planning something and having no idea of what or when.
The Koran said Allah protects fools and madmen, and so far, Ray had lucked out. Amazingly so. Ray wasn't Doyle, but he was far from stupid on his own account. Nor did he lack guts. Philip wasn't sure even the fictional Doyle would've had the balls to kick the driver in the head. Then again, that was a pretty crazy move. And crazy was precisely what Ray was. There was a basic wildness, a fierceness in him that didn't belong to Ray Doyle at all. It was something much deeper, something you didn't want to push too far. The facade might be Doyle, but the power and the anger were drawn from another source that was far more real and dangerous.
Philip could feel that rage, radiating from the boot behind him. Telepathic, no. But empathically, he could feel it as clearly as anything in his life. And he could understand it, because he had felt that rage himself a few times. It scared him a lot more than the Germans. He knew their agenda. Ray's he could only guess at.
They had reached London proper and the traffic was beginning to tighten up. So was Philip. At every slow down, his muscles tensed, waiting for Ray to make his move, knowing it was coming. He wouldn't just slip out of the boot and run away as logic dictated. No, there would be something else, and Philip had to be ready to back him up.
Compared to the torment in his leg, it was easy to dismiss the minor pain in his wrists as he worked the rope free. He concentrated on one and ignored the other.
Once loose, he sat very still, waiting, speculating how much help he could be unarmed and half-crippled. Top that with a half-blind man with a literary fixation, and they were definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Oh boy, wouldn't want to meet up with us in a dark alley.
For some reason, every time Philip was convinced things were deadly serious he felt the bizarre urge to laugh. It had given him trouble in every place he'd been, from Africa to the army to the SAS. Sometimes life was just too bloody absurd.
Yeah, you pop out of that boot, mate, an' we'll take 'em all on. What do they have that we don't? Government backing? Sound, unbruised bodies? Big guns? A will to live?
Subconsciously sensing the imperceptible increase in tension, Klaus looked back suspiciously. Philip met his eyes with a peculiar gleam.
"You're making a mistake, you know. We don't have anything you want."
The German snickered. "You say that, of course."
"I'm telling you the truth. This is a waste. One of your friends is already dead. What's the point of this?"
"Point, what is point? Ve do as told, ja? You do as told. Is name of game."
"It's a stupid game, haven't you thought that?"
"Stupid, not stupid, who cares? Get paid the same. You shut up now, ja?"
"Ja, I shut up," Philip muttered, giving it up. More than ever he felt like Dorothy riding the cyclone to Oz. Wherever they landed, fuck it.
They stopped at a light and Philip felt, more than saw the careful lift of the boot lid. He tensed.
A second later Ray yelled, "Down!" and demolished the windscreen with the jack handle.
In the next second the side window was smashed and Ray yanked up the lock and dragged Philip out and behind the paltry concealment of a mailbox, hardly enough for one, let alone two. There was the sound of a collision and horns blowing and the two Germans erupted from the car, guns drawn.
Ray stood up, arms spread wide, like Superman ready to deflect bullets off his chest, his face blazing with anger. "Go on, shoot me! With all these people watching. Go on, do it! Oi, people, watch, he's gonna shoot me!"
Startled by their sudden notoriety, both men stopped, frozen, glancing around nervously. Sure enough, there were witnesses galore, in cars, on the pavements. Although none of them looked inclined to intervene, still too startled to understand what was happening, their attention was certainly captured.
Philip took advantage of the agents' momentary startlement to kick out with his good leg, catching one of the men soundly in the shin and making him lose his balance. Philip seized his gun as it clattered to the pavement and whacked him over the head with the butt, pushing himself to his knees and turning his aim on the other man, all in one graceful, instinctual movement. Like riding a bicycle, he thought with grim satisfaction. "Drop it."
Klaus' gun had been focused on Ray, and it wisely stayed there, deducing the psychological advantage. "No. You drop it. It is a how-do-you-say? A stalemate."
"Don't be a fool." Philip held onto the mailbox and pulled himself painfully to his feet--or foot, rather. "The coppers will be here soon."
"He vill be dead before they come."
"Then so will you."
"Perhaps. I haf less to lose than you. Consider the facts, comrade. You kill me, you go to prison. I kill him, nothing. I haf the diplomatic immunity. Vhat do you haf? Who is the foolish one, eh? You drop gun now, ja? No wait for polizei. Now, or I kill him."
"He's bluffing, Bodie," Ray said. "Don't believe it."
"You be quiet, little man. Do not pray for death so loudly. You may get your hope."
Philip wanted to kill this man. More than anything, he wanted to kill him. The hunger was so strong his hand was beginning to shake. He tried to hold it, but the muscles in his arm rebelled, quivering and fighting the red haze of primal fury.
Ray was right. The man was bluffing. Every instinct he possessed knew that, but he couldn't, couldn't pull that trigger. And all the bluster he owned was falling apart. As one predator could smell the weakness of another, the German sensed the internal conflict. The contest was already lost.
Smiling ferally, the man glanced at Ray. "Get in the car. You're the one they vanted. Get in!"
Ray looked at Philip. If his expression had been disappointed, if there had been even a crack in his confidence, Philip would have remained frozen. But it was trusting. So damn trusting.
Fantasy was good sometimes. It had its place.
Philip slowly smiled.
Bodie wouldn't have let Ray down, and neither could he. He would be Bodie now, for this one last time.
The grip on his gun firmed. "Oh no, you bastard, he's not going anywhere. I didn't think I could kill you, but surprise, surprise, I can. In fact, right at this moment there's nothing I'd like better than to blow a fuckin' hole through you, because now you've really pissed me off."
Klaus's eyes widened, and his nostrils flared as he sensed something new, that his opponent had somehow switched gears, regaining that elusive predatory edge. He backpeddled, "I told you, ve haf diplomatic immunity--"
"That's good, son. Then you want to be very careful now. Because it's either a case of being transported back to the fatherland, or reaching Valhalla real quick. Your choice--I am not in a patient mood. Drop the fucking gun NOW."
He did. It clattered loudly on the street and Ray grabbed it immediately.
He grinned at Philip. "Gad, you're beautiful when you're angry, Cynthia."
Philip nodded modestly. "Yes, I know."
Then the coppers showed up and explanation was totally impossible.
The police were hardly less gentle with them than the Germans. In fact, probably worse, once Mister Diplomatic Immunity started flashing his credentials.
Philip was very quiet about it all, still wondering if he would have shot the man. Being very certain he would have done didn't bring him any peace.
What no one had ever understood was the fact he knew he could kill. He had wanted to kill that German so much the blood lust was still in his mouth, soured now, but unforgettable. He understood Ray's anger because he shared it. They thought he was afraid to kill. Somewhere in his records, he was sure it listed that. And he was happy to let it stand. Because the truth was a whole lot uglier. He wanted to kill too much. It was too bloody easy. And that scared the hell out of him.
There was only one person he could talk to about it. Only one person whose anger was buried even more deeply than Philip's.
Ray's repeated and furious demands finally got Philip medical attention. And he refused to leave while it was performed, grimly holding Philip's shoulder while the shattered bone was set. The prim doctor explained that it was a compound fracture with complications and would require a surgical procedure to put it right. But this wasn't the time or place to do it and it would have to be postponed.
They had been taken from one building to another, from one office to another for hours, and eventually they ended up in a basement. It had one narrow window with a casement full of dead flies. There was a large, dented metal grey desk and three rickety wooden chairs.
Philip's leg was in a temporary splint and he was graciously helped into a chair.
Ray stood over Philip protectively. "He needs a doctor. They did a lousy job. His ankle is broken and they--Just get a real doctor in here. And call Cowley. CI5. George Cowley."
Fighting another wash of pain, Philip reached up and took Ray's arm. "I think we're among friends, Ray. They'll do what they have to do."
"Actually, we do have a George Cowley here," their escort said kindly, his accent American. "My name is Baxter. My boss wants a word with you before we move you to a hospital."
"I want to see Cowley first," Ray demanded.
"All right. Oh, would either of you like anything? Coffee, cigarettes?"
"We don't smoke," Ray answered for both of them, then caught Philip's expression. "What's wrong?"
Philip smiled grimly, "Nothing. I was just about to say I would kill for a cigarette, but I think I've finally kicked both bad habits."
Doyle looked puzzled.
Baxter shrugged. "Okay. Wait here."
The door closed and Ray moved over to kneel beside Philip's chair. "You haven't said much of anything. Are you all right? Really all right?"
"Yes." He looked down at Ray and his throat closed up. He was at a low ebb. Too much had happened too quickly, and he wasn't sure how to deal with any of it. He reached out and touched Ray's hair. "Thanks, mate."
Ray shut his eyes tightly and leaned into the caress, a tear streaking down his cheek.
"They hurt you. I couldn't stand hearing them hurt you. I wanted to kill them."
"Yes. And I wanted to kill him, Ray."
Ray looked up. "I know. But you didn't."
"Do you understand, Ray? Really understand?"
"I think so. I hope so." He hesitated, eyes clouding. "I wanted to kill someone once. A very long time ago. No one understood what it cost me not to do it. But I wanted to ... oh so much." I
"Your father?" Philip asked softly.
"Yes...yes. Instead of killing him... I think I killed me." Ray looked startled, his gaze clearing. Some long-secret pain flooded in, shaking him with the force of it.
Philip stroked his hand through the tangled curls, soothing him without words.
Weathering the truth and finding it bearable, Ray sighed and rested his cheek against Philip's thigh.
The tightness in Philip's throat grew, knowing this was the real Ray at his feet, the man he loved so desperately and was fated to lose, and he could feel tears on his own face. God, when had he cried last? Really cried?
"I know, Ray. I know. It hurts, it hurts a lot."
Ray lifted his head and looked at him. "No, that's the worst thing of all, isn't it? If I'd killed him, I'm not sure I'd be sorry. Not for him, certainly. Just for myself; for what it would've done to me."
Philip's head dropped, ashamed. "But ... I have killed people, Ray. Can you accept that? What you couldn't do, I have done. Too many times. What do we do about that, eh?"
"Just what you did today. I know you. I trust you to have had a reason. It's in us all, isn't it? It's all in how we cope with it."
"But I would've killed him, Ray. For you."
"Not for me. You would have killed him for you. That's the whole point, isn't it? And that's why you couldn't do it."
Their eyes locked and held. Something calmed deep inside Philip, like salve on an old wound.
"Do you know, you're the only who's ever understood the truth?"
"Maybe I'm the only one who cared enough to offer their own truth."
"Or was brave enough," Philip whispered. "Christ, you're a brave little bastard."
A wicked light came in the green eyes. "I thought you were the bastard."
"Oh, thanks very much--"
The door opened and they both looked up. Ray stood awkwardly.
The dapper, grey haired man took off his bowler hat and tucked his umbrella under his arm. "Well, Andrew, you've caused a bit of a stir, haven't you?"
Philip leaned forward, relieved. "George, thank god. Can you tell us what's going on? Where the hell are we? They won't tell us anything."
"Temporarily leased to the CIA. A few of the basement rooms, at least. They are, unavoidably, our allies after all." He made it sound like a distasteful necessity.
"The CIA. How are they involved?"
"Up to their eyebrows. From what I gather, they were the instigators of this mess. They do, however belatedly, take full responsibility for it."
"Responsibility for what? What about the microchip? Was it on the chain?"
"Oh yes, here is the key and the necklace. MI5 took the liberty of tracing down the locker and retrieving it for you. I preferred they do it than the CIA or MI6. The necklace is totally innocent, I'm told. A case of mistaken identity, as you surmised. The microchip was a sham. To use a tired metaphor, a red herring. Or so I'm informed."
Ray, who had been very quiet during the exchange, came forward, suddenly belligerent. "What happened to your accent?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Understanding Ray's confusion, Philip interjected. "He expects you to have a Scottish accent."
"I was born and raised in Sussex, why should I--?"
"I wrote you with a Scottish accent."
"You wrote me?" He was horrified. "You mean to tell me that I'm supposed to be the Cowley in your dreadful books?"
"You have read them," Philip exclaimed, delighted. "I thought as much."
More confused by the minute, Ray demanded, "Will somebody tell me what the hell's going on."
Philip reached out and caught his arm. "It's okay, Ray."
Cowley was dismayed. "Do you mean he really thinks he's--?"
Philip glared at him. "Thank you, Mister Cowley, we'll carry on."
Cowley looked at Philip then Ray, and raised his eyebrows. "Ah, yes. Well, I'll speak to you later." He hesitated at the door, scowling at Philip. "The Cow? Indeed!"
"What did he mean, mistaken identity?" Ray queried as soon as he left. "Bodie, what's going on?"
Philip picked up the chain and handed it to Ray. "Here, this is yours."
"Mine? I don't understand."
"Neither do I." He stared at Ray, waiting. "Does it mean anything to you, Ray? Anything at all?"
Letting the cool links slide through his fingers, Ray concentrated on it. "It's ... important. Isn't it?"
Some part of Philip wanted to yank it away, tell him to forget it. But the more honest, generous part of himself wanted Ray to know, to remember. To be the man he really was. Philip knew that also meant he would undoubtedly be cut from Ray's life--but, hey, that was love, wasn't it? And that was why love sucked.
"Ray, why is the chain important?"
"Because.... I dunno. Because."
"Because why, Ray?"
Ray dropped the chain on the desk suddenly, as if it was too hot to hold. "I don't know! It's...." ,
There was a soft knock on the door and Baxter peeked his head around. "There's a lady out here that's throwing a royal fit. Somebody let her know that Dibble was here and she's demanding to see him."
Philip's breath caught in his throat. Dibble? You're really Dibble?
"Who is she?" Philip asked.
Baxter shrugged. "Says her name's Holly. Ann Holly."
Ray made a strange sound, a mixture of grunt and muffled cry, as if the name was a blow in the pit of his stomach.
"What is it, Ray?" Philip asked anxiously. "Do you know her?"
Baxter surveyed both of them curiously before adding, "Anyway, you're both free to leave when you want. Orders from up top."
"But what about--" Philip's own questions obviously weren't going to be answered.
Ann Holly entered the room and stopped dead still, staring at her fiancé. "Raymond! Where have you been? What have you done to yourself?"
"Raymond?" Philip glanced from Ann to Ray. "His name really is Ray? He really is Raymond Dibble? The librarian Cowley told--I don't believe it."
Having drawn her attention, Ann glared at him. "I know you. You're the one who knocked me down! What have you done to my Raymond?"
"Your Raymond?" Philip asked warily.
"Of course! He's my fiancé."
"Your--" Philip broke off, finally noticing Ray's reaction. He had quietly backed himself into a corner of the room, his face deathly pale, eyes wide with shock.
"Ray? Are you all right?"
"Raymond, darling, what's wrong? What have they done to you?"
With both their attention focused on him, Ray looked around wildly, like a trapped animal, his hands splayed against the wall. "No.... no...."
Philip stood up, bracing himself between the table and chair, wincing as his leg protested the abrupt movement. "Ray?"
"Raymond! What is all of this? What is wrong with you?"
He cringed from the pair of them, eyes wild, every tendon in his body knotted and frozen. He glanced apprehensively from one to the other, and pressed himself closer into the corner. Ann took a step forward and he cried out, "No ... don't! Bodie...help me."
"Leave him alone," Philip ordered.
"Well, I never! He's my fiancé, after all. And just who are you?"
"His friend. Just leave him be for a minute. He's confused. Hurt."
"Hurt? Hurt how?" She regarded Philip accusingly, "Did you hurt him?"
"Oh, I hope not. Dear god, I hope not. Ray ... can you hear me? Ray..." He reached out his hand, but Ray flinched away from that as well.
He was staring at Ann Holly as if she were the devil incarnate. But it wasn't her he saw, Philip knew, it was himself. Who he really was. Philip thought suddenly of Don Quixote and the Knight of Mirrors. But he'd never thought to witness the scene in reality.
"It's okay, Ray," he soothed. "You're still you. You haven't lost anything. Believe that. You're safe, Ray. Please, Ray--"
"Bodie...?" Then he looked at the woman. "Ann...?" Torn between two disparate versions of himself, he threw his hands over his face and stood there, shaking.
Aching for the confusion and pain Ray was experiencing, Philip felt helpless. He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Ray, listen to me, you're safe. Please let me help you. Let ... us help you."
"Raymond, darling, don't you know me?"
Ray dropped his hands and pushed himself back even farther, his eyes no longer quite sane.
Ann turned her fury on Philip. "What is this all about? What's wrong with him? Who are you--"
"Shut up. It doesn't matter who I am. It's who he is that matters, and he's confused about that right now. He's terrified. Can't you see he needs help? If you're his fiancée, if you love him, help him. Help him, damn you."
She glanced from Ray's panicked expression to Philip, plainly at a loss. "And what do you expect me to do--kiss him like in a fairy tale?"
"Not a bad idea. It's what I'd do." It's what I want to do.
"Don't be ridiculous."
But before they could argue it out, Ray came out of his corner exploding with fury. "Don't talk about me like I'm not here! I'm here!" He picked up a chair and smashed it into splinters against the wall.
"You don't even know who you're talking about!" he blazed. "You don't know me! Neither of you know me!" He hesitated, staring blindly at the opposite wall. "I don't even know--"
But the birth trauma of the new Ray Dibble was too much. His eyes rolled up in his head and he slid to the floor, unconscious.
Philip waited outside the hospital room. The only other person in the corridor was in a chair three down from his. She was in her forties, very plump with a rather homely, friendly face.
She glanced at Philip. "You're here to see Mister Dibble, ain't you? I brought 'is spare specs. 'E left 'em at the libr'ry. Can't see a bloomin' thing without 'em, poor dear."
Philip nodded and smiled at her.
"I mean to say, she don't care, does she? She's kept 'im blind to a lot of things for years, 'asn't she?"
"You know ... her." She motioned at the door and presumably Ann Holly. "You a mate o' Mr. Dibble's, are you?"
"I thought as much. I'm Mary. I clean 'is house on Tuesdays and Fridays. Six years now, come September. 'E's a sweetheart, 'e is. A'ways remembers Christmas an' holidays. His secretary, now, Amelia, she's a lovely one as well. Gave me 'is specs to bring down to 'im an' all. Miss Amelia's that upset. She knows ol' missus uppity-up won't let 'er in, y' see."
Mary pursed her lips. "Well, it's not for me to be tellin' tales, but I reckon Miss Amelia's just that much too fond of Mister Dibble, if you catch my drift. And 'er royal highness figures so, too, an' is takin' no chances."
"But they'll let you in?"
"Oh, no. Not a chance, luv. But maybe they'll give 'im 'is specs."
"Give them to me," Philip asked. "I'll make sure he has them."
"Oh, will y'luv? That's good, because me bus is in fifteen minutes. An' I hate to give 'em to 'er bloomin' ladyship."
"What about his family? Why aren't they here?"
"They live in Fulham, I think. Never seen 'em though. Not in six years, not so much as a ruddy postcard. Not that I go through 'is mail or nothin'. But still, there you are. Poor lad, I fancy 'e's pretty much on 'is own except for Miss Prissy."
"You don't like Miss Holly?"
"Not for me to say. But no, now that y' ask, she's a cold bitch, right enough. Never even give me a nod in passin'. Thinks she's just too-too for the likes of me. Not like darlin' Mister Dibble at all. That's just between the two of us, an' not for repeatin' you understand."
"Of course. I'll see he gets the glasses."
"Ta, luv. You're a peach." She gathered up her things and hurried off to catch her bus.
So Ann Holly is a bitch.
Despite everything, Philip didn't want to believe that. After all, Ray loved the woman--had proposed to her. He didn't like her much, himself, but she couldn't be that dreadful. Beneath the flint and iron, he sensed there was compassion. Ray wasn't a total fool.
And that was the real barrier he couldn't trespass. Ray had chosen her. Ray loved her. It was his decision, and Philip couldn't love Ray and not respect that decision.
If he dismissed it, he would be admitting that it wasn't the real Ray he loved, only the fantasy that lived for those few days they were together. And he couldn't believe that. He had touched something very real and he refused to let that reality go. Even if it meant ultimately losing Ray. It was no more than he had expected anyway.
Ann Holly came from the room and stopped, seeing Philip.
With difficulty, he rose and limped to stand near her, using his crutch. "How is he? May I talk to him for a minute?"
She observed him disapprovingly. "He's very tired. He needs rest."
"They told me he asked for me," Philip said steadily. "I'm asking you if you'll let me see him. I don't think I really need your permission, but I am asking for it. Do you understand the difference?"
Something about her face softened, and for the first time Philip saw what it was that appealed to Ray. There was a woman there, beneath the flinty surface. No, she wasn't so hard at all. She was only what her life had made her, as were they all. And perhaps she wasn't completely happy about it.
"Whatever you think, I do love him," she said suddenly, as if anticipating attack. Their eyes held and there was a strange understanding between them.
She blinked and moved away.
He looked from her to the door, then moved toward it, still finding the crutch very awkward.
The room was like most hospital rooms, cold and white and sterile. Ray was propped up in bed, with a few stiff flower pots around him. His curls were limp and looked more tired than the dead flowers. His face was very pale, and he reminded Philip poignantly of when he had first seen him, except for one very important difference. The hope was gone.
He remembered what Elizabeth had told him. He's happy as Ray Doyle. Don't make him sane too quick.
Philip didn't think he was happy now.
He looked up, startled. "Bo--" He blushed and corrected himself, "Forgive me, Mr. Andrew."
Ray glanced at him then away, studying the bedclothes. "It's kind of you to come."
"Kind...? Ray, I--"
"I wanted--needed to talk to you. To apologize. I know what I put you through. I'm most dreadfully sorry."
"You're not to blame for any of it."
"Maybe not. But... it is my fault you were involved. I remember it all, you see."
"All of it?"
Ray's hands tightened on the covers. "Yes, all of it, and I know how... how unpleasant it was."
"Unpleasant. I see." Philip's mind was whirling, wondering what he could say, what he could afford to say. This wasn't just Ray--it wasn't even just Ray Doyle. It was Ray Dibble. A man with his life already mapped out.
But god, Ray looked so alone in that bed, so lost, so uncertain. All he wanted to do was grab him and hold tight, finding himself no more immune to that lost, frightened look than he had been before.
Ridiculous. Stupid. Undoubtedly Ray was looking like that because he was uncomfortable. Unpleasant, he had said. Yes, the last few days had been unpleasant by most people's judgment.
But Philip had been happy. There had been fear and pain and worry, but most days brought those in one degree or another. What they never brought was the contentment he had found with Ray.
"I have your glasses. You secretary sent them with Mary."
"Thank you. That was thoughtful of them."
"Don't you want to put them on?"
"No, not right now."
He laid them on the table, wondering if that meant Ray didn't want to look at him; preferred not to see him clearly. The glasses had heavy, dark frames and Philip wondered what they would look like on Ray. Not as good as the borrowed wire-frames, probably. But it wouldn't matter. It was Ray that mattered.
"They're very worried about you."
"There's no need," Ray said tightly. "The doctors assure me the concussion wasn't severe. No permanent damage. Certainly nothing to warrant my... delusions. That was all my own doing, or so they tell me. The blow on the head was just an excuse to let myself go crazy."
"In other words, I don't even have a sound medical reason for what I put you through. Just my subconscious having a picnic. Pathetic, isn't it?" There was a brittleness in his voice, as if, like glass, it would shatter.
Philip didn't want to break his hard-won composure, appreciating the effort it took. "Don't," he said gently, "I'm not sorry it happened. Any of it. I'm not sorry I know you, Ray"
"You're very generous. But I remember what they... did to you. I remember--" He broke off.
"What else do you remember? All of it, Ray?"
Ray turned away, his face, impossibly, becoming paler.
Philip put the brakes on his emotions. He had swore he wouldn't push. It was Ray's decision. It was Ray's life. But still, he couldn't quite give up the hope....
He touched Ray's hand and felt it flinch. Heartsore, he started to turn away. "Philip!"
He looked back.
"I meant everything. Everything."
He smiled. "I know. I know you did. So did I." He turned back toward the door.
"Don't leave. Please."
"What else can I do? What do you want me to do, Ray?"
A tear trickled down Ray's face and he wiped at it hastily with the back of his hand. "I don't know. How can I know?"
Philip considered it, wanting to go to Ray, hold him, but knowing if he touched him the decision would be his and not Ray's. "Goodbye, Ray," he said softly. "Be happy."
The library was closing.
Philip hung around in the stacks, in the curling shadows of the iron steps, keeping his eye on the frosted window that said DIRECTOR.
He watched as the skinny secretary knocked on the door, went in and then came out, looking concerned. She removed her coat from the hook and put it on, glancing back worriedly at the door.
Philip took a deep breath and came forward. "Excuse me, is Mr. Dibble available?" The woman looked up, startled. "I'm sorry, sir. The library is closed." She glanced at her watch suspiciously. "Ten minutes ago. Perhaps you should--"
"I'd like to see Ray."
Her eyes widened and she looked at him closer. "You're... are you Mr. Andrew? The writer?"
"Yes. Listen, if he's really busy, I won't disturb him. But... I wanted to know how he is. Is he well?"
"Yes, he's well." She sat down and put her purse on the desk, regarding him thoughtfully. "He's a very good man, Mr. Andrew. Do you know that?"
"Oh yes, I know."
"So why haven't you come to see him? It's been nearly two months." Surprised, Philip wasn't sure how to answer.
"Oh yes, I know what went on... well, a bit of it anyway. Enough to realize he was terribly fond of you."
Slightly uncomfortable, Philip asked, "He's spoken of me?"
"No, not really. Except to ask if you've called. Every day for a month he asked me that." There was a faint accusation in her voice. "And then, he stopped asking. Did you know that he's broken off his engagement with Ann Holly?"
"No..." Truly startled, it took him a second to readjust his thoughts. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. That was the best thing that's happened."
Philip looked at the closed door and then at the woman. "Tell me, please. It matters to me if he's unhappy."
"No, he's not happy, Mr. Andrew. I can't tell you why; I don't know. It's not my place to know. I'm only his secretary. But I don't believe it's because of Ann. He's different now, since he returned to work. I'm not sure.... He's just different. Stronger in a lot of ways. But, no, I don't think he's happy."
Philip remained silent.
"He's tendered his resignation, you know," she added.
"What? Why? What is he going to do?"
"He hasn't said. I don't think he knows, actually."
She rose and gathered up her purse and umbrella. "You should've come sooner. Good night, Mr. Andrew."
"Good night." He watched her leave, watched as lights dimmed all around the building. Tried to decide whether it was wiser to leave now, or knock on that door.
It wasn't Ray Doyle in that office, it was a man he had only known bits of. But it was a man he missed very much.
This time, neither of them had a script.
Nevertheless, he found the courage to tap on the door. "Come in."
The office was small, cluttered. At the moment it was lit only by a small desk lamp, and the light reflected off Ray's glasses as he looked up. He froze as Philip entered.
"Hullo, may I come in? Are you busy?"
Ray's mouth opened, then closed and he swallowed audibly. "No...no, of course. Please, come in."
"I should've called first."
"No... this is... How is your ankle? I see you're out of the cast. Are you well? Please, sit down. I have a hot plate, would you like some tea? No, perhaps not. I'm afraid I don't have any--"
Ray stumbled to a halt in his nervous rambling. "No." He smiled weakly. "I was going to say coffee, actually. Unlike, Ray Doyle, I don't drink during working hours."
"Yes, a book in a drunken man's hands is a dangerous thing."
Philip grinned. "You're making fun of me."
"No, not really."
"But you do think my books could use some improvement. They drink too much, yes?"
Surprised, Ray stared at him. "Is that why you're here? For a critique?"
"Of course. Why else?"
"I'm not a writer, Mr. Andrew. Or an editor. Perhaps you should--"
"Ray, stop it. You know why I'm here. Because I've missed you. Because you're my friend."
Dibble stood and moved to the window, his back to the other. "I can't be your friend, Philip."
"Why? Because I'm not Bodie?"
Ray laughed bleakly, but he didn't turn. "Oh, but you are Bodie, didn't you know that? And Doyle. And everything and everyone else you wrote. It is all you, Philip." He sighed. "I, unfortunately, am not Raymond Doyle."
"I know that. I knew that when we were together."
"Yes, and you were very good to me. I shall always be grateful for that."
"Grateful? I don't want gratitude."
"What do you want?"
"I came here because..." Cowardice won out. "Because I missed you. Why can't we be friends?"
"Like Bodie and Doyle?" The tone was mildly caustic.
"No, like Philip Andrew and Ray Dibble. What's so difficult about that?"
Unsurprisingly, it was Ray who was honest. "Because, damn it, it wasn't Ray Doyle who fell in love with you, it was me!"
"Oh, that's good." Philip got up and walked to the window, putting his hands on the rigid shoulders. "Because it was never Ray Doyle I fell for either, was it?"
Ray turned slowly, gaze meeting the other's levelly. "You can't mean that. I'm not.... I mean, I can't be anything like him..."
"I want you, Ray Dibble. I want a man who knows the Dewey Decimal System like the back of his hand."
Ray stared at him wide-eyed, then burst out laughing. "Now, that's better, isn't it?"
Still chuckling, Ray wiped the tears from his eyes. "You're mad."
"Please, let's not start that again! Or break into any choruses of 'I've Gotta Be Me'. I've heard you sing in the shower, and it's not pretty."
Ray sobered. "So what is it you do want?"
"You, I think. A four-eyed librarian with knobby knees and very little common sense."
"Enough common sense to need to understand why, Philip. You don't even know me."
"I think I do. A little bit, at least. Enough to want to know the rest. What are you so afraid of?"
"Nothing. Everything. You. Me."
"Well, that just about covers it. Do you want to tell me--"
Tensing, Ray pulled away from him and moved away.
"Listen, it was you walked away from me in hospital."
His green eyes were wary, resentful. "You walked out on me, didn't you? I wasn't enough then, so what's changed?"
Stunned, Philip just stared at him. "You had Ann. You were engaged to be bloody married, weren't you?"
"Well it wasn't exactly a match made in heaven, was it?"
"How was I to know? Do you think it was easy, leaving you? I thought I was being honorable. Noble. Unselfish. Self-sacrificing."
Ray made a face. "Oh, give it a rest. You were duckin' out. Running like you always run when the answers aren't easy enough to suit you."
Amazed and totally delighted, Philip dropped down in a chair and began to laugh. "Oh, god, here I thought it was Ray Doyle who was the sarky little bitch. But it's you, isn't it? It's really bloody you!"
"Listen, if you don't like it you can just--" He stopped abruptly. "In hospital ... you didn't want to leave? Truly?"
Entirely serious, Philip met his eyes. "I didn't know what else to do. You were... confused. I didn't want to make it worse. Ann was there and... I couldn't be sure what was best for you. I didn't trust myself to even be around when you made the decision." He thought about it honestly. "Running? Yes, maybe you're right. I was scared, too, Ray. I've never been good at trusting myself with another person's life. And I discovered that you don't have to have a gun in your hand to feel the responsibility."
Ray considered it, unsatisfied. "It's been weeks. Why now? What's changed?"
Philip shrugged. "I reached my limit, I guess. Couldn't think of anything but you." He turned the attack neatly, "Why'd you break off with Ann?
Dibble ran his hand through his hair, mussing its careful waves. "I woke up, I guess. I'm not the man I was before. Not the man she agreed to marry anyway. It wasn't fair to her."
"Are you sorry?"
"Yes," Ray replied candidly. "Of course, I'm bloody sorry. I loved her. It hurts, dammit. Even if I am different, do you imagine five years mean nothing?" Before Philip could answer, he shook his head, "No, I'm sorry. It's my decision, my fault."
"And your job? Your secretary said--"
"I've had enough of this, too. It was a good place to ... hide. But it's not me. I'm not sure it ever was."
"So what will you do now?"
"I don't know. For once in my life I'm not being practical."
Philip leaned back in his chair, reading the emotions on the other man's face. "And you say you're nothing like Doyle, eh? That avalanche of guilt sounds oddly familiar." He counted mentally, and sure enough at the count of three, Dibble spun around, furious.
"You think I'm still crazy? Is that it? Well, I'm not. Do you want a certificate?"
"Yeah, do you have one?"
Ray's lips twitched, fighting a smile. "You bastard."
"I think we already established that fact." Philip smiled. If he'd ever worried about mixed identities, it was over now. The feeling--the yin-yang of tension, the humor, delight--between them hadn't changed, whatever they called themselves. What was important had never been pretense.
Becoming serious again, Philip said quietly, "No, I don't think you're crazy. I think Doyle touched something in you that you'd lost. Something that was really you. And you responded to it. Lived up to it. Don't you see, Ray?" He paused, trying to find the right words. "You didn't become Doyle... Doyle became you."
Surprised, Dibble faced him. "I don't understand--"
"No? Then why are you running away from me now?"
Dibble was backing away as Philip stood and approached. "It isn't Doyle I want to kiss. It never was. And if I kiss you, you'll lose it, won't you? All that careful control, mister uptight librarian. You want to be kissed. That's all it will take. One kiss..."
Dibble laughed shakily and moved around the desk. "You're crazier than me."
"One kiss. We both know what it'll do. That's not Doyle, that's you. Stand still for thirty seconds and tell me it's not true."
As Philip reached for him, Dibble darted around the corner of the desk. "Now, wait a minute. Let's be adults about this...."
The blue eyes gleamed wickedly. "I've always wanted to chase someone around a desk. Do want to be my secretary? Can you type?"
"No, and I can't take shorthand either. Philip... Philip... stop this! I'm warning you! Now, let's discuss this rationally... from a distance..." The silliness of the situation was infectious, but despite the laughter, he was able to avoid the grasping hands and dance just out of reach.
"Okay, you won't be my secretary. How about my partner?"
They both stopped still, regarding each other across the desk. "What?"
"I'm serious, Ray. You want to write. Help me. I haven't been able to do shit since you left and Cowley's breathing down my neck. Help."
"I can't write," Dibble protested weakly.
"But you want to try."
"That was Doyle--"
"Bullshit. That was you. You want to write, so help me. Help me, Ray..." Somehow he had inched around the desk and managed to put his hands on the other man. He pressed him back against the wall, murmuring, "Help me, Ray..."
Once the demanding mouth covered his, Dibble put up only a token resistance. It was pleasant to know another person's Achilles' heel and this was definitely Ray's. A bit of artistic passion, a little tongue, and he could feel the knees weakening (and his own) and taste the sweet moan of capitulation.
Oh, this boy will be putty in my--
The door burst open and two men came in with guns drawn.
"Oh god, not again," Philip protested. He looked at Dibble accusingly, "Raymond, what have you been up to now?"
"Don't you make no fancy moves," one of the men instructed grimly. "This time I won't be so nice."
"Do you happen to know these gentlemen, Raymond?" Philip asked mildly.
Ray was staring at them with amazement. "I ... You're the ones... You're the ones that mugged me in the alley. In the beginning, you hit me in the head--"
"Shut yer yap or I'll hit you other places, too. Both of you, get moving."
Dibble stepped forward, outraged. "How did you get in here? This building is government property! How dare you--"
"Use the cloth," Sammy directed, bored. "Or mouth here will talk us to death."
The visible threat of guns and the use of chloroform achieved the requested silence from both captives.
Dibble woke with a nasty headache and a lingering sweet smell in his nose. He sneezed, groaned and looked around blearily. Automatically searching for his glasses on the bedstand, he amazingly found them. He put them on and looked around.
It was a splendid room. Lushly carpeted, satin comforter on the bed, heavy brocade draperies at the windows. And bars. Burglar bars, of course. But they served the purpose, whichever side one was on.
He was even less surprised by his unconscious companion. At this point, it seemed inevitable. The handsome face was half-buried in the champagne-colored pillow case, too perfect to be believed. Lashes sinfully long, complexion perfect, hair tousled just enough to be boyish and sweet.
Dibble wasn't truly appreciative of any of it.
Well, maybe just a little. Instead of jerking off the covers as he intended, he tucked them in a bit closer and smoothed down the ruffled hair.
But why the hell did it have to be Philip? Hadn't he caused the man enough trouble already?
All right, he'd had enough private fantasies in the last few weeks to know that if he'd found someone like Philip--no, be honest--Philip in his bed at any other time, he might have been more appreciative. Right now, his head hurt, and he knew trouble was coming.
The first sign came from his stomach.
He managed to make it to the adjoining bath before he threw his guts up. Of course. He had read about the after-effects of ether or whatever it was they used on them.
Once his stomach was empty, he felt stronger. He washed his face and brushed his teeth with one of the toothbrushes thoughtfully provided by the management of this marvelous hostel. He supposed if one had to be a captive, there were worse prisons. It wasn't very romantic, though--not a cockroach or rat in sight.
His main feeling was irritation. All in all, he figured he'd been pretty patient with this secret spy type stuff. But enough was enough. He hadn't opted into any of it, and they were pushing him beyond willing acceptance. He had never liked to be pushed.
Well, it could be worse, he supposed. At least they were still dressed and for once they weren't tied up.
Without much expectation, he tried the door. Locked. And it appeared to be a particularly sturdy door, not easily kicked open. Not that he'd ever actually kicked a door open, but it always looked easy on Starsky & Hutch.
He observed the man on the bed sourly. I'll bet he's kicked in dozens of doors ... hundreds! Machismo blazing.
The macho man in question chose that moment to wake. He opened soft, sleepy gray-blue eyes, smiled sweetly at Ray, then turned a curious shade of green. He barely made it to the bath.
Dibble was unkindly gratified by the retching sounds. But his better nature won out and went into the bath and wet a cloth.
"Thanks." Philip wiped his face, looking a little recovered, while Ray filled a glass of water.
Philip drained it and poured another. "Feel better?"
"Yeah. Thanks. How about you?"
"Oh, I'm fine," Dibble said guilelessly.
Philip eyed him with suspicion. "You're not sick?"
"Never mind," Ray consoled, "Some people just have weak stomachs."
Philip gave him a crooked grin. "You puked your guts up, too, didn't you?"
"If it makes you feel better to think so," Ray agreed, patting his arm solicitously.
Philip chuckled, "Lying sod."
Back in the bedroom, Philip moved to the door. "Forget it. I already tried."
Naturally, Philip tried it anyway.
"What, am I talkin' to myself here?" Ray asked the ceiling.
"Okay, what about the windows?"
"There are bars on the windows, Philip," he pointed out patiently.
"I can see that, twit. I mean, what's outside? Where are we?"
"Oh. I didn't look."
Nobly, Philip didn't respond to that. He looked down into the street. "Looks like Hyde Park. Impressive." He studied the way the burglar bars were fitted, and chewed his lip thoughtfully.
"Do you think we can get out?" Ray asked, hope rising at Philip's casual air of experience.
"Nah, not a chance."
Ray dropped down on the bed in disgust. "Well, why were you looking like that then, for pity's sake?"
"Looking like what?"
"Like you knew the answer to life, the universe and everything. And if you say forty-two, I'll thump you."
"Christ, don't you ever watch the telly?"
"Actually, I was just wondering if they were going to feed us breakfast. I'm starving."
Right on cue, a key rattled in the lock and a bolt was drawn. Sammy and his mate entered, one carrying a tray, the other brandishing a gun.
"Now you two just keep back by the window like good lads. I'd hate to damage the goods before the boss gets here."
"And who is the boss?" Philip wanted to know. "And why are we here?" Ray added.
"Don't you mind about that. You'll find out soon enough." He put the tray down. "Here's some eats. It'll 'ave to last until the boss gets 'ere tonight. I'm takin' no chances on you two. That door stays shut and locked up 'til then. So don't be tryin' nothin' funny like settin' a fire or som'at, 'cause me 'n Willie'll just let you burn. The boss says we 'ave to treat you careful or I'd 'ave you roped up with bags on yer 'eads. I still might, if you get too keen."
Before they could ask anymore questions, their captors left and the door was locked and bolted.
"So what now?" Ray demanded.
"Breakfast." Philip pulled the cover off one of the plates. "Looks good."
"Don't you have any ideas?" He seemed disappointed.
"Well, I did have one." Philip picked up a slice of bacon.
"Houses like this always have alarm systems. Breaking a window would trigger it--"
"...and the coppers would be here in a flash," Dibble finished jubilantly. "That's a fantastic idea!" He searched for something to use to shatter the glass.
Philip took a bite of toast, chewed and swallowed, before advising, "Don't bother."
"What? Why not?"
"Because they've shut off the alarm."
"How can you be sure?"
"Because those two might be amateurs, but whoever arranged this isn't."
Ray seemed doubtful. "We could still try."
"You'd look cute with a bag on your head. No, Ray, I think our best bet would be to wait for the 'boss'. It's clear he left strict orders that we not be roughed up. That's interesting. Personally, I'm curious. Come on, your breakfast's getting cold."
Reluctantly, Dibble joined him. Now that his stomach had settled, he was hungry himself.
"I thought all of this was over," he grumbled, slurping tea.
Philip winced at the noise. "You'll be drinking it out of the saucer next."
Ray made a face and slurped louder. "It's hot. What do you reckon they really want? And why me again?"
Philip looked faintly indignant. "Why are you so sure it's you they wanted? I've made a few enemies in my time. Maybe they just followed me to the library and--"
"The same two blokes who bashed me in the head in the first place?"
"Oh. I forgot you recognized them. You're sure it's the same--?"
"Yes, Philip, I'm sure. I may have had a temporary lapse of memory, but it's all back now, thank you very much. I'm not liable to forget where old Sammy kicked me."
Philip winced sympathetically. "Yes, well, seems as if you're still flavor of the month." He put down his napkin and surveyed Dibble, a smile growing. "Come to think of it...."
Ray squirmed a bit under the intense scrutiny. "What are you staring at?"
"You. I just noticed you got new glasses. Very fetching. Those heavy dark frames wouldn't have suited you."
Dibble was blushing, trying to think of a comeback but finding it very hard to concentrate under the warm glow of Philip's so-blue eyes.
"And I was just remembering what we'd started last night," the deep voice continued, lowering to rough velvet and sending a tingle up Ray's spine.
"Ah... yes... You were talking about writing together. Well, I'm still not sure if--"
"We haven't started that yet. It's the other I mean."
Nervously, Ray put his cup down and stood. "You're positive about that window trick? If nothing else, we could yell out the window and maybe somebody would hear us."
"What do you plan on yelling? Rape?"
Ray shot him a scornful look. "Don't worry, Philip. I'll control myself."
Philip laughed. "Touché." He stood up himself and walked toward Ray. "Seriously, according to Sammy, we've the whole day ahead of us and not a dart board or chess set in sight. Whatever shall we do to while away the hours?"
"Have you checked the drawers for cards?" Dibble retorted crossly.
"Come on, Ray. Why so coy? You were keen enough last night." Philip flicked a glance toward the silken bed.
Ray backed up. "Oh no. Not here, not now."
Helplessly, Ray glanced up at the ceiling. "They could have cameras or microphones, or anything..."
"So? Blackmail can't possibly be on their agenda. I'm a writer and don't care what they have on me. And you've already resigned as librarian. They have to know all of that. Why would they bother?"
The green eyes widened. "Oh no."
"Come on, Ray. Please."
Philip starting laughing. "Deja vu."
"Doesn't this remind you of another conversation? In a haystack maybe? Only it was your idea then."
"Strawstack," Dibble growled, "And no, it's nothing like that. I'm not Doyle for one thing."
"I'm not so sure it was Doyle I fucked."
It wasn't the most brilliant thing to say. Philip realized that almost as soon as it escaped his mouth.
"Oh, so that's what it was?" Dibble said coldly. "Pardon me. I was confusing you with Bodie for a minute. He's crude, but at least he isn't stupid."
"And I am," Philip snapped. "You'll have to live with it."
"Oh no, I don't have to. In fact, I won't!"
Philip sat down on the bed and stared at the floor. "I'm not Bodie. I can't be Bodie. Worse, unlike Bodie, I can't rewrite my fuckin' dialogue. What I say gets said. It's out there and I can't fix it. Just like ordinary people, Ray. You screw up. You make mistakes. You say dumb things. And sometimes... you can't take them back."
Ray stopped his pacing and regarded him steadily. "And if you could rewrite, what would you say?"
Philip kept his gaze on the carpet, then closed his eyes tightly. "That it wasn't Doyle I made love to. That I hoped desperately that it wasn't Doyle. That I needed it not to be Doyle. Not for your sake, for mine."
He looked up suddenly, "But no, I'm not going to shy away from the word. I wanted to fuck you. And I did, and it was wonderful. And I'd be an idiot if I didn't want to do it again. It's a good old anglo-saxon term, Ray. It doesn't have to have an unsavory connotation. It's a passionate word. A strong word. I'm not afraid of it. Are you?"
"And if I want to ... fuck you?"
"Is that a challenge?"
"It's a question, Philip. I can't just be..."
"That's stupid. I'm too old to be anybody's boy. But I can't be your ... shit, I don't know what they call it...."
Philip fought his urge to laugh at Ray's expectant look. "Don't look at me. I don't know what they call it either. Whatever you think, I haven't done a deep and intensely serious study of the subject. I'm not exactly well versed in homosexual nomenclature either."
Ray glared at him, but his mouth was misbehaving, struggling to keep a straight face. "Don't make me laugh. I know what you're doing. If you get me laughing--"
"If I get you laughing it's just like kissing you ... you'll love me."
Ray looked at him helplessly. "I love you anyway, don't you know that?"
All it would take was one quick movement. He could have Ray on the bed and the entire issue would be settled. For now.
Philip held himself it check.
"I can't give you guarantees, damn it. I want you. I want to fuck you. Do I want you to fuck me? No, not right at this minute. Honestly, it might be a little tough for me to accept. I don't know why, macho pride, my past ... I dunno. But I'm not ruling it out either. Call me an old fashioned guy, but I'm not big on discussing bedroom acrobatics before time. I prefer impulse to analysis."
Philip paused, searching for the right way to profess his feelings. "Listen, in all my life, no one has turned me on more than you. No one has meant more than you. I swear that, Ray. Do you really want, with that said, some kind of assurance that you'll be able to seduce me into doing however and whatever you want? It seems pretty obvious. What else do you need to hear?"
The green eyes were dangerously liquid. "Nah, I think you pretty much covered it. Except for one thing."
"Do you love me, Philip?"
"No, of course not. You're a passing fling. A fancy. I've ten more lined up after you."
Philip remembered that chuffing, stalled-engine sound from an earlier time. "You're not laughing are you?" he asked severely.
"Oh no. As long as this isn't serious."
"Oh no, of course it isn't. How can it be serious? I say we call it off after fifty. years or so. No need in letting these things get out of hand. Serious, nah ... I just want to suck your cock in long, slow slurps--"
Dibble fell across the bed giggling.
"What's wrong?" Philip asked innocently. "I mean, we're not queer or anything." He pulled Dibble's robe to one side and began kissing up his thigh.
"No, not at all..."
"This is extremely distasteful, you know. I hardly know how I'm bearing up."
"Think of England," Dibble advised him, sighing.
"Oh, I am, I am." He hesitated. "It looks a lot more like Italy, though." Dibble was laughing so much, he rolled off the bed.
Philip propped his elbow on the bed and observed the chortling man sternly. "You know, at this rate, I would've had better luck with Murphy."
"Oh, are you interested?"
"Not in the least. He's prettier than you, but I've never had his snot in my hand."
"Well, that means we're engaged," Dibble said firmly as he pulled himself back onto the bed.
Dibble giggled again. "I sneezed into your hand, didn't I? Didn't you ever see Star Trek?"
"No," Philip said, immediately leery.
"Well, that means we're bonded."
"Oh yes. In eternal monogamy."
Philip looked startled.
"Relax, Conan. I'm kidding."
"Don't you ever read either?"
"I thought you were talking about TV."
"I was. Oh, I need to educate you..." The mouth traveling down his throat gave him a different impression. "...about some things."
"What was it you asked me?"
"About what...?" Ray whimpered and his hips moved helplessly. If it had been a new dance, he would have been the champ. "Oh, god... Philip... don't stop... please..."
"I think it was something silly like ... if I loved you."
Dibble clutched the pillow case and felt spirals of pleasure moving down, down, down ... so close to his center, he couldn't think of anything but the sensation.
"I do, you know." Philip said conversationally before continuing his labor.
At this point, it could have been Idi Amin giving him a blow job.
Once the searing rush of pleasure had cleared, the words came back, echoing and enfolding him like a warm blanket.
"Do you? Do you really?"
Philip was very quiet. His own power had vanished when Ray had climaxed. There were no more aces to draw from his sleeve. Ray Dibble was a sensual being and easily swayed when aroused. But once you had thrown your top card, it was over. The cards were all face up now, and the decision rested with the Joker--the Wild Card.
"Do I what?" Philip asked tiredly.
"Do you love me?"
"I never thought Ray Dibble was a hearts and flowers type feller."
"You're right. You're the romantic."
"Bodie is, you mean."
"No, you. W. Philip Andrew. (What's the W. stand for anyhow?) I just like to know where I stand."
Philip turned to him. "William. I'll put it on a billboard if you like."
"Now that's really Bodie. That's part of you, that obsession, that extremism. But it's not the only part I love."
He made his own trip down Philip's torso. "This part is nice," Ray murmured. "And this...and this..."
"Ray, you don't have to..." he trailed off, gasping.
"No? Then I'll think of England...and Italy...and other foreign parts..."
Philip discovered that Ray Dibble's tongue was as clever as the rest of him.
They finally got out of bed again around sunset. When Philip emerged from his turn in the shower, he found Ray staring moodily out the window.
Sitting on the bed to tie his shoes, Philip watched him out of the corner of his eye. "Don't worry so much, Ray. We'll get out of this somehow. We made it last time, didn't we?"
Dibble let the curtain fall and sighed. "To tell you the truth, I wasn't even thinking about that. All of this... you and me, I mean... it kind of made me forget about the trouble we're in. Thanks for reminding me."
"Then what were you looking so melancholy about? Don't try to tell me you didn't enjoy it."
"Of course I did. Too much."
Philip straightened, frowning. "You're not getting cold feet on me now, are you?"
There was a discreet knock on the door and they both jumped a little. The bolt was drawn back and three men entered, two of them all-too familiar. The third man was Japanese. He smiled beatifically at Philip and Ray and bowed deeply. "Please to be accepting the most gracious apologies. This entire matter has been unforgivably confusing to us all."
"Who are you?" Philip demanded. "What do you want?"
The man bowed again. "Bodie san, correct?"
Philip bristled, "No, that isn't correct! I'm Andrew. Philip Andrew!"
"I was misinformed. Ah, yes. I see now. You write the books... yes, most enjoyable. I have read. My most high regards, Andrew san." He turned to Ray. "But you, you are Raymond Dibble san, yes?"
"Yes," Ray said cautiously. "Who are you?"
"My name is not important. You may call me Yoshi. But I feel need to express distress if my..." he glanced at the two bully boys, "...associates offered you undue discomfort. This has never been my Company's intention, I assure you."
"Company? It was you who ordered the mugging in the alley?" Dibble asked.
"Ah so." He bowed again. "My subordinates exceeded their instructions. I am so very much sorry for your difficulties, Dibble san."
"So what is it you do want?" Philip demanded. "We don't know anything about this microchip, if that's what you're still after. They told us it was a scam. That it didn't exist."
"The truth, like heron in flight, is fleeting. What is important to one, is soon trivial to another, yes?"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"The microchip was of no interest to your government--or to any government. It has no military applications. It is... how can I put it... of economic interest of a more corporate kind."
"Just so, honorable sir."
Dibble sighed, "But we've already been searched a dozen times over. We don't have any microchip."
"Do you perhaps recall a visit to a dentist, Dibble san?"
"Dentist?" Dibble's hand went to his jaw, remembering. "I had a filling--"
"Indeed, yes. And the content of that filling is of great interest to us."
"So that's where it was all along?" Philip ventured. "Not the chain, in his tooth!"
"Now wait a minute..." Dibble backed up nervously. "What's supposed to be on this microchip anyway?"
"It is most vital, I assure you. An American inventor came up with a combined ultracomponent digital audio-video imager."
"I beg your pardon?" Philip asked weakly.
"It's a VCR. A bloody VCR," Dibble snapped. "All this? Being chased? Shot at? Chloroformed? For a--"
"Far more than a simple video-cassette recorder," the man broke in. "This is conceptive breakthrough. One the American government--because of lobbying pressure--was willing to refuse patent to honorable inventor. He worked for RCA until company was reluctant to develop new product. They had most regrettable backlog inventory on laserdisc and 2-head VHS--"
"And who do you work for?" Philip demanded.
"I prefer to avoid specifics. Suffice it that my Company will happily develop the commodity in question. We do not suffer the labor problems of the Americans, you understand. A major turn around of work force and equipment is not so constricting. We can job-out short term in Korea, if necessary."
"This is crazy," Dibble said, stunned. "You're telling me all of this...everything we went through was for some fancy electronic gizmo that nobody gives a shit about except--"
"My god, Ray, you've got a fuckin' VCR in your mouth!" Philip was no less appalled, but Dibble recognized the growing twinkle in the blue eyes. "At very least I figured it was some kind of secret 007-type laser or guided missile plans. But a VCR?!"
"As Buddha would say, every tiny blossom is a raindrop--"
"Oh pleeeese!" Dibble sat down limply on the bed, his hands covering his face. His mortification had reached impossible new dimensions. Not only had he caused Philip all this pain and trouble and aggravation, it was for the most trivial of reasons. They hadn't been protecting a new secret weapon for the free world--it was a fuckin' family entertainment center.
As expected, Philip was laughing. In fact, he was almost rolling out of his chair. The man was literally hopeless. He probably got a chuckle out of the ruddy Hindenburg, Ray thought grimly. "I'm so glad you're amused."
Yoshi pulled a pair of pliers from his pocket and Philip's diversion shut off like a faucet. "What are those for?"
Dibble looked up at the stress in Philip's voice, and his own eyes widened. "Now, hold on a minute..."
"I am most incredibly sorry, but retrieval of the information is very important."
Horrified, Philip jumped up, ignoring the guns the two henchmen still brandished. "You can't mean to--"
"I would wish there was a more civilized method. But the microchip could be deep within the tooth and the only sure manner of retrieval is to remove the object in question. Primitive but effective."
"Oh no, you're not touching him--"
Some unknown time later, Philip found himself face down in the carpet, groggily coming to his senses. He hadn't even sensed the guy behind him. Christ, it was a good thing he left security service when he had.
He groaned and turned over, listening intently. He could hear the low drone of voices from the adjoining room. Faint, but audible.
Recalling the situation, he leaped up, holding a table for support against the resulting dizziness.
The door was locked, of course. He dropped to his knees. This was a luxurious house, but it was an old fashioned one. They had a real, genuine key hole. He couldn't see anything, but he pushed his ear against it.
He couldn't have been out long, they were still busy trying to tie Dibble to a chair. He must have given them more of fight than they bargained for, because one of the Englishmen was cursing viciously.
"The little git bit me! Let's kill the bastard, then you can take the tooth with no trouble!"
"Be silent. As little violence as possible, I've told you that. There was no need to disable his companion either."
"Are you balmy? Do you think he'd have stood by all sweet like while you yanked this ponce's molar out by the bloody roots? No pun intended, gov'nor. I mean to say, these two are twitty as two canaries. When we broke in to the library they was sucking each other's ruddy tonsils."
There was a brief, cold silence. "This is relevant?"
"Well, you asked me if I 'ad to put the bloke down is all. You're payin' the freight, but I've had one too many pansies put more than their bloody purse upside me head. They're an odd lot, no mistake, an' that feller in there is not good news. Fairy or no, he'd rip me head off as easy as look at me. I'm not for taking chances."
There was a tiny cracking sound and Philip found himself holding half of the glass doorknob. Obviously "fairy" was a term he would have to learn to deal with in a less destructive fashion.
"Very well. Let's get on with this. Hold his jaw."
Philip's blood ran cold, imagining the glint of the pliers, the hands holding Ray down, like every dark nightmare visit to every dentist in existence, the total helplessness....
He wasn't sure why it should seem so much more brutal and painful than so many other things he had witnessed--except it was Ray, except that anything and everything that affected Ray affected him, almost from the first minute they met. It drove him insane, unable to see--his imagination running rampant.
Philip pounded on the door with his fists. "Stop it! Stop it!" He grabbed a chair and smashed it against the door. Then a table. Then another chair. Eventually running out of furniture, he paused.
There was absolute silence.
For some reason, that frightened him even more. What if Ray had fought them? What if they had decided it really was easier to remove it from a corpse?
For the first time in his life, since his mother was killed, Philip faced what it would be like to lose someone who truly mattered to him. He had been so damn careful not to let anyone matter so much. It had been almost a religion with him. Even his friends had become characters. Murphy, Cowley, McCabe. They could be written off--written out of his life with minimal emotional disturbance. Their reality ephemeral. Reality was overrated. Reality sucked. It hurt too much.
But Ray was real. Too real.
Somehow by becoming a character in his book, Ray had forced Philip to make some decisions he had side-stepped for years. He had run for so long and so hard, it had taken the brick wall of Ray Doyle to stop him. And in finding Ray Dibble behind it, he just might have found himself as well.
Ray was real now, and he might be dead. And that was the reality he had fled from the beginning.
Before he could understand any of it, the door swung open.
Dibble stood there, looking distinctly peeved. His shirt was torn, blood was on his chin, and he was holding his jaw.
"Goddammit, do you know how many years I tried to save this damn tooth? Now look?" He held out his hand. Sure enough, there was a ratty looking bit of bone and blood in the palm. "I mean to say, I had this thing filled four times! Now just look!"
Philip stared at him, relief rushing through him with such power, he thought he might faint. He glanced through the door. The two henchmen were out cold and Yoshi was groaning and trying to sit up.
"Are you okay?" he finally asked shakily.
"No, I'm not okay! Have you ever had a molar pulled without anesthesia? It hurts like hell!"
Philip started to reach for him, but Dibble flinched. "No...watch it! I think I've a couple broken ribs as well."
Too amazed to say more, Philip gathered up the two handguns which Ray had neglected to notice.
"Oh, yeah. I forgot those, didn't I?" He winced again, one hand holding his side, the other his mouth.
"How... I mean... what... How did you do it?"
"Jeez, Philip, they pulled my fuckin' tooth! Was I supposed to just sit still for it? It made me mad, dammit!"
"Ah... yeah... I mean, I see."
Dibble looked embarrassed. "Christ, I don't know how I did it! I just got mad! Those guys were easy... they weren't expecting it." He pointed at the semi-conscious Japanese man. "He's the one who broke my ribs!"
"Where did you learn all this?"
Dibble shrugged, a trifle amazed himself now that it was over. "Well, I've had a few lessons at the Y, and it really was a lucky kick. Remember in your third book, Takeaway, when Doyle kicked the Chinese guy in the gambling club--?"
"Never mind," Philip sighed. "You're incredible, you know that?"
Dibble sat down carefully in a chair. "I think I'm going to be sick. Oh, god, Philip..." He clutched at his ribs and rocked, moaning.
The door to the suite burst open. It was far too late for either of them to be surprised by such an intrusion.
"Just answer me one question," Philip called out, in a defensive crouch, gun ready. "Do you quote Buddha, Allah or Mein Kampf?"
"Well, Mark Twain once said I never met a man I didn't like."
"That was Will Rogers, " Dibble put in. "It's okay, Philip. They're for real."
"Only American Intelligence would misquote themselves so badly. They have dreadful public education."
"Oh." Philip straightened. "Oh yes, I remember you. You're ... Baxter, wasn't it?"
"Yes." He glanced around. "We were coming to rescue you, actually."
Another man swept into the room, taller, lankier, craggier. He could have been the epitome of a cowboy star, boots and all.
"Got it under control, have you?"
"Actually, sir, they pretty much--"
"That's good." He surveyed the disordered room with narrowed eyes. "Rough ride." He focused on the Japanese man who was only now regaining consciousness. "Well lookey here."
Yoshi looked up blearily. "Most honorable sir, I beg you to notice this is--"
"Oh, shove it, Josh. Me and you went to Texas A&M together, don't you remember? You were born in fuckin' Beaumont."
Josh sat up, rubbing his shoulder and looking embarrassed. "Oh, it's you, Wally. Well, it works great with the locals, you know. A taste of the mystic orient keeps them on their toes--"
"Yeah, yeah. You still working for Toshiba, or is it Sony?"
"Sony. Who is that little Limey shithead, anyhow? He just about dislocated my jaw."
"A librarian," Gleeson pronounced with satisfaction, "and don't that make you wish you hadn't given up working for Uncle Sam to go to the economic sector?"
Josh rubbed his chin. "The paycheck's still better."
Philip watched them with disbelief. "I take it you know each other?"
"Oh yeah, son. Me an' Josh go back a long way. We're both Aggies. Didn't know it was him, of course. We had to follow up to see which way the dog's tail wagged."
"I take that to mean you wanted to use Ray as bait to catch the real culprit? So you let Ray go back out, knowing he was still in danger?"
"We were watchin'. Had to find out who really had their eye on that there microchip, didn't we? Sooner or later the real hombre would pop up, sure as fire."
"You could have warned us...him...that it wasn't over."
"Well, we couldn't rightly do that, all things considered. Had to make sure we caught the interested party, as it were. Even after we knew it wasn't a military matter. Can't go lettin' the chips fall where they may." He guffawed at his own joke.
Dibble stood up painfully, holding his side. He dropped his bloody tooth in the American's startled hand.
"So now you have it."
"I'm sorry about the tooth, son. We had the chip a long time ago, back when you was unconscious. It's safe back in Washington weeks ago."
Dibble just shook his head. "Naturally. Is it over now? Really over?"
"Yup. That wraps it up, nice and neat. We appreciate y'all's help."
Ray stared at him for a moment longer, then walked away.
"How could you let this happen?" Philip began furiously. "They could have killed--" He glanced around.
Ray had slipped out the door and was gone. "Where is he? Where's Ray?"
Gleeson shrugged. "Not our business now. We've got the people we wanted. You can be proud. Old Josh is gonna spend some time in jail contemplating the errors of industrial espionage. Thanks to you, we've caught them red-handed."
"I don't give a damn about that. Where's Ray?"
But when he reached the street, Dibble was nowhere in sight.
Philip stared at the computer screen. It was blank. No, it didn't matter if it was paper or bitsy electronic dots--a blank page was a blank page.
Slowly, painstakingly, he wrote a sentence:
"Bodie, watch out!"
There now, that was better. Now what?
He sat back in his chair and pondered the significance of those three words. Ten minutes later he leaned forward and typed furiously:
Bodie stared at his partner, amazed to find them both in one piece. It had been a near miss. As it always was in their business. He looked deeply into the startled green (emerald) (glowing) (catlike) eyes and said, "Ray Dibbxucxxxiosybn
His fingers stuttered on the keyboard as soon as he realized the name he had started to type.
"Dammit!" He rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. He backspaced carefully and started again:
like) eyes and said, "Ray Doyle, you are a real... (genuine) (certified)
The door buzzer sounded and Philip jumped, inadvertently striking the wrong key. The screen went blank.
"What? No. NO!" He took the computer screen in his hands and shook it. "You can't do this to me!"
The door buzzer went again.
"I'll kill them!" he vowed, darkly. "I'll fuckin' kill them!" He went to the door and slapped his hand on the button. "Who the hell is it?"
"It's me. Open up."
Philip froze, his heart leaping to his throat. "Ray...?"
"Let me in, dammit. They're all looking at me like I'm a Fuller brush salesman."
Philip released the lock and tried to pull himself together. He had to be cool about this. He couldn't get his hopes up. Couldn't assume that--
There was a sharp rap on the door. Philip smoothed down his hair, took a deep breath, and opened it.
Ray came in carrying two very large suitcases. He dumped them on the carpet and looked around curiously. "I see you fixed the bullet holes."
"Remind me to pay half for the repairs--unless you had insurance, of course."
"You got a computer! Great! These things are fantastic. We had one at the library." He sat down in front of it eagerly. "This is a nice one. What size hard drive do you have?"
"I've had no complaints so far," Philip retorted, beginning to be irritated. This wasn't the kind of romantic reunion he had envisioned.
"Ha bloody ha." Dibble was digging through his desk drawers, looking for brochures on the computer. He found one and studied it avidly.
"As a matter of fact," Philip said tersely, "you just made me lose what was undoubtedly the most brilliant thing I've ever written. Poof! Up in smoke. It could've won a Nobel prize. Inspired someone to find the cure for cancer..."
"Nah." Ray glanced up at him over the brochure, eyes twinkling through the glasses. "We haven't written that yet."
"We?" He glanced at the suitcases then back at Ray. "Do you mean it? You're going to stay?"
The green eyes were vulnerable now, wide and uncertain. "If you still want me, Philip. Do you?"
"Do I? You lousy little bastard!" He ripped the paper from his hands, snatched him up into his arms and kissed him hungrily. It was several moments before he came up for air. "Why did you do this to me? I thought I'd lost you for good. You wouldn't answer my phone calls... you left your flat... your job... I didn't know where you were... maybe you were in more trouble. I was so worried, I could kill you." He kissed him again before he could answer.
Ray was finally able to push him away, looking dazed. "Keep that up, and you'll manage it. Let me breathe, okay?"
"Sorry," Philip said, abashed. "But where were you? God, Ray, you just disappeared."
"I had to have time to think, Philip. This wasn't what either of us had planned for our lives. Hell, I'm just beginning to figure out who I am. I had to be sure."
"Now I'm sure." This time the kiss lasted so long both of them were gasping.
"I can tell right now," Philip murmured, chewing on an earlobe. "You're going to be more trouble than Doyle ever was."
Ray leaned back his throat and moaned. "Mmm, I've been thinking about that, actually. I may have misjudged the situation."
"How's that?" He was unbuttoning Ray's shirt and licking the bared skin as he undressed him.
"Doyle was much more...patient...with Bodie than he... deserved. He was... oh yes, that's nice..."
"...ahhhh... he should've been... god, Philip, that's lovely... yes, again..."
Coming up from the kiss, Doyle looked dazed. "Bodie, why now? After all this time?"
"I guess because I didn't know myself. Does it matter? I know now."
"I guess we both do."
They kissed again and Doyle melted, his knees water, his heart pounding wildly. It felt so good. He had trusted this man for so long, and now he would trust him with everything else. His heart. His soul.
Some sanity surfaced and Doyle pushed him back, "But what about Cowley?"
"Fuck Cowley," Bodie growled, and pulled Doyle back into the haystack.
"Nah, Cowley will never buy it."
Ray considered it for a minute, kicking the covers loose at the end of the bed. "Maybe you're right."
"Of course, I'm right," Philip said, pausing as he nibbled down Ray's throat. "Bodie and Doyle queer? Nah, no way."
"Okay, then, I've another idea." He ran his fingertip down Philip's spine, smiling at the resultant shiver of pleasure.
"What if Doyle gets amnesia--"
"That old chestnut?"
"No, this is great! Just listen! What if Doyle gets hit on the head and thinks he's this mousey librarian--"
And so it goes...
-- THE END --