The party was in full swing by the time George Cowley arrived. He had fully intended to arrive late, knowing that the majority of his men would be well oiled and past caring that the Old Man himself was watching. It wasn't often that he was able to observe most of his men enjoying themselves at the same time and place.
He scanned the room, seeking them out as they stood, sat, danced or talked in groups throughout the packed room, which was filled with music, chinking glasses, the hum of conversation and, now and then, outbursts of raucous laughter. Yes, he thought to himself, he'd timed it just right.
After being offered numerous drinks and engaging in polite conversation for a while, Cowley then drew back from the crowd to watch his men more carefully. He had stopped being amazed at how much he learned about his men, simply by watching them relaxing, long ago.
On the dance floor he saw one of his 'little problems'. Murphy was dancing closely with the attractive computer operator from the Control Room. The couple were dancing very slowly, oblivious to the fact that everyone else was jumping around to a very lively beat. Watching them together, Cowley realised that the rumours were probably true: Murphy and Carol Manzie were very much in love. If they were to marry, Cowley knew he would lose a good man. CI5 men were not good matrimonial risks. Cowley sighed, then turned his attention onto another problem, who was currently giving his all on the dance floor. Ray Doyle. Cowley watched closely as Doyle moved in time to the music. Although he went for a more sedate form of dancing, he could appreciate the fact that Doyle was an excellent dancer. In the time he'd been there, he had seen Doyle exhaust three ladies, and it looked as if the fourth, a fairly new addition to the typing department, was also on the way out. The record finished and a slow number came on. Even at this distance, Cowley saw the typist's eyes light up, only to be disappointed when she saw that Doyle was already moving away from the dancers, heading for the bar where Bodie was holding up a drink for him.
From the other side of the room, he watched them. Doyle drinking deeply to refresh himself after his efforts on the floor. The two men turned to look back at the dancers, then put their heads together to speak quietly before bursting into laughter at a shared joke. Cowley watched as they both saw that the little typist was snapped up by another of his agents, Lewis, and he saw Doyle give an exaggerated motion, which across the packed room, translated itself as "Wow, that was a close shave.'
His top team had been troubling him for some time now. Until recently, it had been nothing he could put his finger on, just a feeling. It was only now that all the odd pieces of information had begun to fit together. And George Cowley wasn't too sure that he liked the picture he was getting.
It had started after the Parsali protection affair. As a team, they had always been good, but since that time, they had almost been perfect, virtually anticipating each other to death. Macklin had sown the first seeds of doubt in his mind, but he had been unconvinced. Then, one by one, the facts began to present themselves.
Their rapport and quick conversation had become even more cryptic and intense, leaving anyone caught in the middle positively drained. After four years of working as a team, Cowley had not been expecting them to improve on what had appeared to be a perfect working relationship, but he'd been wrong.
Then, a few days ago, he'd had reason to check their personal files, a normal CI5 procedure, and he had noticed a marked drop in the number of girlfriends each man had reported. He'd examined the files more closely. There had been no new names on either file since the Parsali affair. Bells began to ring in Cowley's head. He didn't believe in coincidences and he was already over half way to coming to his own conclusion that Macklin had been right when he overheard the conversation between Lewis and Murphy earlier this afternoon...
"...flogging a dead horse there. He's already found the light of his life. She doesn't stand a chance."
"Took them long enough to get round to it."
"There's none so blind and all that."
"Isn't love wonderful. Think, if true love can turn Bodie into a Human Being, what could it do for the Old Man?"
At that point, someone else had come into the room, and Cowley had heard the shuffling of furniture and papers. The conversation in the room became casual and Cowley had been about to move away when the newcomer left and the interrupted conversation resumed.
"Do you think the Old Man knows?"
"About them two? I guess so. There's not much that old buzzard misses."
"I'm surprised they haven't been chucked out. They must be laying themselves open to blackmail."
"No Way. You can only be blackmailed if everything is a secret. They must know that we've guessed, and even if Cowley doesn't know, they still wouldn't give in to blackmail. They're too good at their jobs. I can't see Old George giving his top team the big E just because they've fallen for each other."
Furniture was being moved in the room as Lewis got up from his desk.
"Haven't you finished that yet? Come on mate, I want to get off home to change for the party."
The conversation had continued, but Cowley had heard enough. It would explain everything, but Cowley still found it hard to believe. Bodie and Doyle had caused the Department more than one headache, trying to keep up with their girlfriends, but to actually turn to each other - No, they were too fond of women, and neither had shown leanings in that direction before. It couldn't be true - could it? Cowley decided then that some in depth investigating was called for, but he was unwilling to delegate the task - supposing he was wrong - supposing he was right? He never liked setting his men to check up on each other unless he really had no choice. It was something he'd have to do for himself. The alcohol he'd consumed was also having a relaxing effect on him, and pushing Bodie and Doyle to the back of his mind, he began to join in the party atmosphere.
It was the shrieks and cat calls from the dance floor, rather than the music, which attracted his attention. As far as he could tell, someone was doing a solo act, for all the dancers were standing still, facing the centre of the floor shouting encouragement to someone. Through the shouts, Cowley identified the strains of the 'Striptease', someone was obviously acting the role. Curious as to who, he shouldered his way to the front of the crowd. After all, he was The Boss. He deserved a front seat. He stopped short. There were two performers: Carol Manzie and Ray Doyle. Carol had unbuttoned a few inches of her dress and was slipping it on and off her shoulders, but was obviously unwilling to go any further. Doyle, however, didn't seem a bit embarrassed by his audience. In fact, he had his eyes closed and was seemingly lost in the bump and grind of the music.
His shirt was unbuttoned to the waist and he was running his hands down his sleeves to unbutton the cuffs. Cuffs undone, he began to bare one shoulder at a time, exposing a fair amount of tanned chest. The girls squealed and the men shouted obscenities. Now that he had his audience's attention, he tugged and teased his shirt loose from his trousers, and then, still in time to the music, slowly lifted it over his head to a great cheer and shouts for more.
On the opposite side of the small circle surrounding Doyle was Bodie, watching his partner closely. The crowd were still screaming for more, and only Cowley saw the tiny smile and nod Bodie gave his partner - everyone else was watching Doyle.
Having received the OK to proceed, Doyle's hand moved to unfasten his belt. Pulling at it with one hand, he tugged it free of the belt loops an inch at a time. His hand then moved to the button on his trousers. A deafening cheer went up as it was undone, and his hand moved to the zip. Slowly, with each small tug accentuated by a twist and thrust of his hips, Doyle eased the zip down.
The crowd was going wild. The party had come to a complete standstill as Doyle continued the impromptu cabaret. He began to pull his trousers down over his hips. Cowley thought the roof was going to come off, the noise was deafening. After a few moments, Doyle began to tease his fingers around the waistband of his snug fitting briefs, but then moved his hands back to the waist of his trousers and slowly pulled them back up over his hips, again tugging at the zip, a bit at a time until it was closed, and then refastening the button. He retrieved his shirt form the floor and, still gyrating in time to the music, replaced it over his head and tucked it back into his trousers. He replaced his clothes much quicker than he'd taken them off, but the crowd didn't seem to mind. The record finished and Doyle completed his performance by bowing to the thunderous applause, fully dressed except for his belt.
The crowd broke up. Everyone turned back to their interrupted conversation and the dancing started again. Cowley watched as Bodie and Doyle moved to the back of the bar, laughing and joking.
George Cowley was very aware of the fact that Doyle had asked for, and received, permission to continue the strip. Why should he do that unless - Cowley's attention was caught by a glint of something around Bodie's neck. He was curious. He'd never known Bodie to wear jewellery before. He looked closer. Like everyone, Bodie had been suffering from the heat, and had undone the first few buttons on his shirt. There, resting around his neck, was a silver chain. To confirm his suspicions, he looked at Doyle's neck: it was bare.
So, he smiled to himself, it was true. It could be the only explanation as to why Bodie had Doyle's chain around his neck. Realistically, he knew that their relationship was bound to cause problems in their work, and of course, vice versa - but he had faith in his men. Any problems could be dealt with. He'd have to have a chat with them soon though. They should have told him!
Problem solved, Cowley turned away and joined in the party conversation that was flowing around him.
Few people saw the two men leave as they quietly slipped out of the door, but not before Bodie had crept over to the pile of records by the D.J. and discreetly removed one from the pile before joining his partner.
-- THE END --