The Grand Mating Dance
(Story 4 in the Building to Last universe)
My first thought was that the Cow had really dropped us in it this time. He'd timed the posting of the Revised Policy on Fraternization Within CI5 Ranks for maximum exposure to the night and day duty shifts. Most of the agents from both shifts were milling about the restroom in an ever-changing series of debates on the meaning of life, the universe and George Cowley's new policy.
When I saw the policy posted on the bulletin board it made me feel like I'd suddenly dropped my trous in public. Not to put too fine a point on it--I felt exposed. I could only imagine how Bodie was going to feel about the whole thing. It seemed obvious to me that the new policy was directly addressing Bodie's and my new relationship. I felt like the Cow'd announced to the world (or, at least, to CI5) that his top team was queer for each other.
When I got over almost wetting myself in panic and I took a good look at what the bulletin actually said, I realized that most people at HQ still didn't have a clue that Tall, Dark and Perfect was more than just my partner and best mate. They couldn't know that Bodie and Doyle were now a couple as well as a team. All the announcement really said was that it was no longer beyond the pale for CI5 personnel to form romantic liaisons within the organization, provided that such relationships were reported to the head of CI5. In other words, the lads and lasses of CI5 could have it off with one another as long as they confessed all to Uncle George. That was shocking enough--a complete reversal of the non- fraternization policy that Cowley had established when he first organized the Action Squad. What was even more shocking was the section implying that no distinction would be made between homosexual and heterosexual pairings as long as discretion was maintained and the liaison was reported.
I knew that the new policy was George's way of bestowing his blessing upon Bodie's relationship with me. I was aware that it was done more for Bodie's sake than my own.
After I got used to the idea that most people still couldn't know just why the new policy was being put into effect, the whole situation became very amusing. I could hardly wait to see the look on my partner's face when he finished his little talk with the motor maintenance staff and came searching for me, only to find out about Cowley's little announcement.
While I was waiting for my lover, I poured a mug of tea and sat down in the middle of the restroom so that I could eavesdrop on as many conversations as possible. It looked like CI5's reaction to the new policy was going to be more entertaining than The Eastenders, Coronation Street and The News at 10 combined. I saw Anson quit smoking his ubiquitous cigar. He abandoned it, and his partner as well. As he left the restroom, Anson made some comment about trying it on with some bird in the typing pool.
Most of the female agents were looking speculatively at the male agents. Most of the male agents were looking right back at them. There were exceptions. A few of the married agents, like Jax, were not participating in the furore. Oh, they were talking about the new regulation, but they were also discussing their football pools, the latest IRA bombing and alternative routes around the traffic backups on the M1.
Young Kennedy, who had recently lost his wife to cancer, was sitting quietly in the corner of the restroom. He hadn't said much to anyone since he'd returned from the leave he'd taken to nurse Jennifer through her last illness. Kennedy was one of a small handful of agents who weren't eyeing the on-premises talent or speculating about the effects of the new directive upon themselves and other fellow CI5 employees.
I had no intention of participating in this autumnal outbreak of spring fever. Bodie and I were very happy together. Instead, I just sat there and enjoyed the sight of my fellow agents running amok.
Most of the comments I overheard were positive, practically enthusiastic, about the new policy. The few negative remarks generally came from new personnel, like Roger Danforth.
Danforth, a fairly recent intake from the Metropolitan Police, was too handsome for his own good. And he bloody well knew it. He reminded me of a smarmy salesman or a particularly oily type of conservative MP.
At the moment, Roger was confining himself to indistinct rumblings. The general tenor of his remarks had to do with hints that perhaps the Old Man had finally lost it and vague comments concerning the inappropriate wording of the new regulations. Most of the people in the restroom were ignoring him. I decided Danforth wasn't worth my attention, either.
While I waited for Bodie, I saw more flirting and heavy cruising than I usually see in my local on a Friday night. I was so interested in trying to overhear what Lucy Martin was saying to Davy Briscoe (the poor lad turned beet-red) that I didn't notice I was being stalked. It only came to my attention when someone sat down on the arm of my chair. I looked up into the china-blue eyes and Devon cream complexion of Ginger Barnes.
"Hullo, Ginger." I was a bit wary, because I could see more than just matey comradery in her expression.
"What d'you think about the new regs?" she asked me.
"I think it's a good idea. The old non-fraternization regs were honoured more in the breach," I replied
"Are you busy this evening?" Ginger wanted to know. "If you're not, perhaps we could get together and explore some of the finer points of the new directive."
"I'm sorry, luv," I said as regretfully as I could. "But I'm already spoken for, and it's an exclusive arrangement."
Ginger gave me a wry grin and sighed. "Ah, well. I suppose it's all for the best. After all, just think what the children would be like." She fluffed her flyaway, fiery curls, then tapped lightly on my shoulder and said, "Take care," before she moved off towards another part of the room.
It was stupid of me, but I hadn't even thought about the possibility that I'd be on the receiving end of a sexual pass from one of my fellow CI5 agents.
Seemed to me that it must be evident to everyone that I'd finally found the perfect mate and settled down to domestic bliss. I was flattered that Ginger was interested in me. If this had happened before I'd discovered that I loved my partner in more than a brotherly way, I might have taken her up on her offer-- even though I don't usually go for redheads.
I wondered how Bodie would react when I told him about Ginger. It wasn't that I wanted him to exhibit a bad case of the green-eyed monster, but I didn't I want him to laugh off Ginger's offer, either. Finally, I decided what I really wanted was for my lover to feel a bit sorry for Ginger missing out on becoming better acquainted with me, and glad that he'd pipped her at the post.
By this time, my mug was empty, so I got up to refill it. As I walked over to the tea table, I overheard Jerry Davis--one of the few blacks on the Squad-- asking Jax how he felt about the announcement. Jax was facing away from me so I couldn't see his expression, but Davis was half in profile and I caught the subtle come-on he was giving the older agent. Jax must have seen that Davis was more than a little bit interested in him, because his answer was that he agreed with the new regulation, but that, "...it won't affect me, because I am very happily married."
Davis grinned at Jax, shrugged his shoulders and said, "You can't blame a man for trying."
He moved away from the tea table and left Jax there.
Jax turned around towards the tea urn and met my gaze. He looked a bit stunned after his last encounter.
I shrugged at him. "Mating fever. I've just been propositioned myself. Feel like walking around HQ with me bum to the wall."
Jax was recovering, because he grinned at me. "Wouldn't help, a sexy little bugger like you."
I gave him a pained look. "Don't tell me you've gone bent!"
"Nah," Jax replied.
"I'm very happy with Janine and the kids. But I keep my ear to the ground. It's not just the typing pool who talk about what those tight jeans are covering."
"I'm shocked, I am," I said with exaggerated tones. "Next thing you'll be telling me is that our George is lusting after my tender young body."
We both cracked up at the very thought of the Cow panting after one of his senior agents. When we finally sobered, we each poured a cuppa and separated, after warning each other to be careful of the lustful hordes.
As I returned to my chair, I saw Bodie entering the restroom. He looked skittish as he came towards me. My partner had a decidedly strange look on his face as he dragged another chair over to where I was sitting. His eyes nervously panned the room as he spoke out of the corner of his mouth, "Has everyone gone mad?"
"What d'you mean?" I asked him.
"I saw Anson in the hall," Bodie said. "He was almost necking with Fern from the typing pool. Bloody Carstairs groped me in the loo. Did someone spike the tea with Spanish fly or am I suddenly cracking up and spawning delusions?"
I sniggered a bit at the thought of Billy Carstairs groping Bodie. Carstairs was another recruit from the latest intake--a slight, pimple- faced youth who didn't look old enough to drink, let alone be in CI5.
"You're not having delusions," I told Bodie. "Your sanity's safe, even if your virtue isn't." I took pity on his look of bewilderment and pointed him toward the bulletin board and the newly-posted regulations. "Mr. Cowley has revised the non-fraternization regs. And, as he suspected, it's started a Grand Mating Dance." I gave the phrase my best Scottish roll of the R. "It's over on the board."
Bodie gave me the sort of skeptical look he usually reserves for when I'm telling him lurid tales of my time on Drugs Squad, but he got up and went over to the board to read the notice. I saw several emotions chase each other across his face, even though he's usually very good at controlling his expression. I'm the only person other than the Cow, or possibly Murph, who would have recognized them as appalled disbelief, acute self-consciousness and an almost hysterical amusement. As Bodie came back to his seat, I could see the sternly-suppressed remnant of the latter expression lurking about his mouth and eyes.
"At least he didn't come right out and announce why he's changing the regs," Bodie said gratefully.
"Ah," I said in mock sorrow. "But that means that the Billys of the world will feel free to keep groping you in the loo and the Gingers of this world will keep propositioning me in the restroom."
"Barnes actually made a pass?" Bodie said.
"Yeah." I acted just the least bit smug.
"What'd you say to her?" Bodie asked. I could hear just a hint of insecurity in his voice as he dropped his eyes to the carpet and his absurdly long lashes covered his eyes.
"Told her that, alas, I'm already spoken for and that it's exclusive," I replied.
"You did?" Bodie looked up at me. I could see that my answer pleased him.
"Yeah," I repeated. "What'd you do to poor Carstairs?" I wasn't concerned that Bodie might be interested in the lad, but I did have a few qualms at Bodie's possible reaction to a male pass.
"Told him that propositioning strange men in the bog could still get him arrested," Bodie said primly.
"I hope you didn't scare the poor sod," I remarked.
"Me?" Bodie said in mock-shock. "I was the soul of discretion. Practically the Dutch Uncle." He gave me a wounded look at my lack of faith in his propriety.
I looked at him skeptically.
"Okay," Bodie said and relaxed into his more normal, cynical self. "I also gave him a warning about what happens to young lads who get clapped in the nick on charges of sexual solicitation. Someone needed to tell him," Bodie continued defensively.
"Did you really see Fern necking with Anson in the hall?" I asked Bodie, as much to change the subject as to get an answer to my question. I was having trouble keeping a straight face at Bodie's oh- so-typical response to Carstairs.
"As God is my witness," Bodie said solemnly. He grinned. "Only I said almost necking. There is a difference."
"Yeah," Bodie answered. "He had her leaning against the wall and he was standing so close to her, he was almost behind her."
I grinned at the thought of the cigar-smoking Anson practically having it off in the hallways with Fern. Never did a name so belie character. Fern was neither frothy nor fragile. The best you could say for her was that she was solid and built to last, both in her character and in her body. Fern liked to mother people and had a soft spot for my partner. I think that Bodie reminded her of a younger brother who came to a bad end. She wasn't Anson's usual idea of a one- off. His tastes ran more to blonde birds with more looks than brains. Perhaps his tastes were improving. Mind you, Fern was too good for him. Maybe she'd manage to make him give up those rotten cigars.
The Cow soon sent Bodie and me out to pick up a witness to the latest IRA atrocity. The Provos were beginning the Christmas bombing season a bit early. We hadn't had Guy Fawkes' Day yet this year. Bodie and I spent the rest of the day escorting innocent bystanders to and from HQ where other agents patiently and sympathetically questioned them as to what they might have seen that might give us a clue as to which particular branch of the Irish Trouble we were currently trying to track down.
I got the distinct feeling that Mr. Cowley was deliberately keeping Bodie and me away from HQ until the first reactions to the new regulations had run their course. The old bastard was doing us a favour, deliberately or not. I'd as soon play taxi driver as have to listen to the poor victims describe the mutilation and horror left by the bombs.
Our last pickup of the day was an elderly lady by the name of Grace Evans. We found her in her gardening tweeds, doing hand-to-hand combat with a Rosa Alba. (My mother used to grow old roses and I was quite familiar with the old girl.) At first, Mrs. Evans was suspicious of two young louts turning up unexpectedly in her small garden.
But even she melted when Bodie turned on his half-Irish charm. For all that she must have been 69 and old enough to know better, the old bird practically fluttered as she went into her cottage to change into something that she wouldn't mind wearing while meeting with our controller.
Cowley himself questioned Grace Evans. He and Betty were bustling about with the tea and chocolate biscuits when I left Grace in their care.
Bodie was in the motor pool having words with the maintenance staff concerning his favourite Capri. We'd been driving an old Cortina all day long because my Capri had finally given up the ghost and been junked; and his Capri was burning oil as if it owned a North Sea oil rig.
When I saw Bodie, he was in a bit of a mood, so I thought I'd tease him out of it. "Can't understand how so many birds can have so little taste," I commented to my mate as we started down the hallway towards the restroom. "Every time you smile at one, she turns into a lovesick girl. We must register your lips as a lethal weapon."
"'S not the birds I worry about," Bodie said with a scowl. "If one more fella tries it on with me today, I may take him apart!" For all his anger, Bodie was keeping his voice low, so that it wouldn't carry down the corridor.
"Is this about Carstairs again or did something else happen, as well?" I asked.
"Sodding Havelock down in the motor pool!" Bodie whisper-shouted. "Went to check on the Capri and the man had the gall to wink at me and ask me if I was interested in a bit of the other--with him!" Bodie was looking hounded at this point.
I was having a tough time of it trying to keep a straight face. I could well understand someone wanting to try it on with my lover and it was very nice that he wasn't at all interested in any of my competition. But I didn't want to hurt Bodie's feelings, so I quashed the incipient snicker that wanted to escape.
"He's not a bad looker." I couldn't help the comment. It just slipped out.
"He's a fella!" Bodie objected.
"So am I," I pointed out mildly.
Bodie turned to look at me. "You know damned well that the only male I'm interested in is you!"
I smiled up at Bodie from under my eyelashes and softly said, "I love you, too, sunshine." I know that expression always gets to my partner; that and the gentle pat on the bum that I gave him.
Bodie groaned in frustration and rolled his eyes back in his head. "Are you trying to get me going?" he asked softly. "Because you're doing a good job of it. If you don't stop behaving like that, I'll likely rape you right here in the hallway."
I grinned at him, then leered suggestively. "I know a quiet broom cupboard up on the third floor..."
I knew that I'd succeeded in calming Bodie down when he smirked back at me and replied, "I may have to take you up on that, but if you'll behave yourself, we can save that experience for another day." I could see him filing the idea away in his head.
As we rounded the corner of the corridor, Bodie and I came across Susan Fischer and Roger Danforth having a chat. Perhaps argument would be a better description for what was going on. It almost looked like Danforth had Susan cornered.
"...But what would it hurt to go out with me?" Danforth demanded.
"I've tried being polite, but since you don't seem to understand the Queen's English, I'll spell it out for you. I...AM...NOT... INTERESTED!" Susan enunciated each word in a loud, precise tone.
"What's the matter, a simple CI5 agent not good enough for you?" Danforth sneered. His voice was taking on a very nasty tone. "I've seen you hanging round Cowley's office. Have you got your eye on the boss? Is that why you won't go out with me?"
Susan looked Danforth straight in the eye and said, "It's not Cowley I'm interested in. He's the wrong sex and so are you."
Danforth looked blank. I could feel my own jaw drop a bit in astonishment and I heard Bodie give a small gasp.
"I don't sleep with men," Susan explained, just so that no one was in any doubt of what she meant.
Danforth went white, and then red with anger and humiliation. His jaw worked soundlessly. Finally, he spluttered and nasty words began to shoot from his mouth. Words meant to wound and shame. Words like whore and dyke.
Susan was a bit red about her ears and her lips were compressed in anger. Very likely, she would have handled Danforth with the greatest of ease--she was, after all, one of CI5's finest--but she didn't get the chance.
Bodie loomed up off of Danforth's right shoulder and he directed his best glare at the young sod as he said, "The lady said no. Now, bugger off like a good lad or you may have a regrettable accident."
Roger opened his mouth. It was a very bad move on his part as just a few more words from him would shove Bodie over the edge. My partner was barely hanging on to one of the greatest rages I've ever seen come over him.
I spun Danforth around and slammed him against the wall. Giving him my very best scowl, I told him, "Sod off!" I didn't want Bodie being made redundant for dismembering an arsehole like Roger Danforth.
Danforth finally took the hint and left. His being grossly outnumbered probably had a lot to do with that.
Susan looked narked, embarrassed and half as if she were either going to laugh or break into tears. "I could have handled him, you know," she said gruffly.
"We know that, luv," Bodie said as he leaned one hip and shoulder against the wall, crossed his arms on his chest and gave her his sexiest come- hither smirk.
"But you shouldn't have to handle that sort of thing in CI5," I added as I stood next to my lover and put my hands in my back pockets. "We're supposed to be Cowley's finest. Well, all I can say is that someone isn't doing his job on the background checks. Danforth doesn't belong on the Action Squad."
"He isn't the only one in the department who doesn't like homosexuals," Susan said quietly. "It looks like Martinson and James are going to break up their team because Martinson is interested in his partner and James can't handle it."
"That's James' problem," Bodie said. "But even if James can't handle being the object of his partner's affections, I'll bet he isn't going round telling everyone that it's a pity that gays aren't thrown in the nick. But that's just what Danforth's been saying all day."
"Yeah," I agreed. "The man is a bigot."
"And we don't have any room for bigots in CI5," Bodie said with finality.
"You did hear what I said to Roger?" Susan asked warily.
"About preferring birds?" Bodie asked innocently.
Bodie gave her a blinding smile and said, "Sure. At one time, so did I."
"At one time?" Susan echoed blankly.
Bodie stood up and put one arm around my waist. The smirk on his face was downright lecherous as he looked into my eyes. "Yeah," he said softly. "Right up till the moment I realized I was in love with the bionic golli here."
I think I was almost as shocked at Bodie's actions as Susan was. Bodie has never been comfortable with birds that tried to hang all over him in public. I'd never expected him to tell anyone about us--other than the Cow, that is. And I'd certainly not expected him to hug me in public. And he didn't even blush!
I made up for it by turning red enough for the both of us.
Susan glanced from Bodie to me and said, "You and Ray?" She sounded intrigued.
"Yeah," Bodie confirmed as he grinned back at her. If he'd been a cat, I would've seen feathers hanging out of his mouth.
I decided that I'd get him if it took the rest of my life. I also decided that I'd have a try at matching his openness about our relationship. Looking directly at Susan, I put one arm up on Bodie's shoulders. "We're the reason Cowley posted the new directive. We told him we're committed to each other."
Susan looked thoughtful for a moment. You could practically see her mind working away till she came to a decision. "Half the reason," she said firmly. "Betty and I are the other half."
"You're a couple?" Bodie asked gently. Susan grinned. "Uh-huh."
"Congratulations!" I told her. "You must be the only agent ever to succeed in dating the Cow's good right hand." Susan's news also explained Danforth's comment about her hanging about the Cow's office. "Sometimes, the best man for the job is a woman," Susan quipped. It was a well-known fact that most of the male agents had tried dating Betty at one time or another. None of us had ever succeeded.
All three of us turned and continued down the hall to the restroom.
"Maybe some time the four of us can have dinner together," I suggested. "Celebrate the new directive."
"That'd be nice," Susan replied. "I'll talk to Betty about it."
When we got to the restroom, Susan and Bodie sat down together while I got tea for the three of us. I felt a bit better about the new directive now that I knew that Bodie and I were not the only reason for it--just the latest excuse.
We were deep in a discussion of our favourite restaurants when I noticed Roger Danforth enter the room. It would have been easy to miss him as the room was packed with agents checking in for the night duty shift and other agents waiting to go home after the day shift.
Almost immediately, Danforth began making himself objectionable. He took a stance in the middle of the room--a bit like a Sunday anarchist on a Hyde Park soapbox. "Homosexuals are sick people," Danforth declaimed piously. I could practically see Mary Whitehouse standing behind him and pulling the strings, though his script sounded more like a very bad skit on Benny Hill.
"I don't understand how Cowley can let queers into CI5. I don't understand how he can let them work with decent people!" Indignation was giving Danforth a bit of colour. He almost looked human for once, instead of his usual shade of pale.
"I say it's time for Cowley to resign so that someone with morals can take over
CI5!" Roger continued.
I felt like putting my boot into the bigoted bastard. I've always hated irrational, narrow-minded people. It was even worse when I belonged to the minority that was being maligned. But before I could jump out of my chair, someone else quashed the gadfly--or at least, made a try at it.
"That's Mister Cowley to you," Jax said in a voice that would have frozen anyone not heated by religious zealotry. "And, in case you haven't been told, homosexuality is no longer illegal."
I could see that Jax was trying to use his four inches of greater height and his black skin to intimidate Danforth. Roger was evidently as anti-black as he was anti-gay, so it almost worked.
Unfortunately, Danforth was too fired by moral indignation to be truly cowed Religious fervour brightened his eyes as he declaimed, "It should be illegal and it is certainly immoral!"
"What is immoral, 8.7?" Cowley's icy voice cut through the buzz of conversation in the restroom. The head of CI5 was standing in the doorway behind Danforth.
Roger turned around--to face Cowley. "Homosexuality is immoral, Mr. Cowley," the agent said fervently.
Cowley surveyed the young agent with all the enthusiasm of the faint at heart examining a particularly nasty insect. "We have no room for bigots in CI5, Mr. Danforth," the controller said coldly. "If you find that you cannot reconcile your personal beliefs with CI5 policy, you had best report to personnel and they will take care of processing your separation papers." His voice became even more icy as he looked over the restroom and continued. "And that goes for any agent who finds that his prejudices interfere with his duties."
"You can't make me redundant..." Danforth began.
"Oh, yes. I can." Cowley nailed Danforth with his cold, pale blue eyes. "I still head this unit and, in my opinion, your attitude is a liability to CI5. You have two days in which to decide. Monday morning, I expect either your resignation on my desk or an example of your changed attitude towards others. Now, either remove yourself from this building or I'll have you escorted off the premises."
Jax looked as if he would be only too happy to provide this service and he wasn't the only person in the room who wanted the honour of playing bouncer. Danforth finally realized that most of the people in the room sided with our George. He left quietly, but in a hurry. None of us expected to see him back in CI5 come Monday.
After Danforth left, the atmosphere in the restroom became considerably more relaxed. Cowley ordered Meredith and Baxter to accompany him to his office as he wanted a word with them.
Soon after the controller left, the room returned to a more normal level of chaos. Practically everyone was interested in airing their opinion concerning The Firing of Roger Danforth. I expect that it will turn into one of the epic tales of CI5.
Bodie and I had said good-bye to Susan. We were just getting ready to leave when Murphy came in, shaking a light rain out of his dark hair. He saw us and began making his way in our direction.
"Oi!" Murph said when he was within speaking distance. "D'you fancy a pint at The Hoof and Claw?" He named a cozy, semi-quiet pub located part-way between Murph's current abode and our new flat.
"Are you buying?" Bodie asked.
"The first round, I am," Murphy replied cautiously.
Bodie looked at me and I nodded back. "All right," he told Murph, "We'll meet you there. I just hope that the bloody Capri is fixed and that flaming Havelock is gone!" The last sentence was muttered under Bodie's breath and I doubt that Murphy heard it.
"About ten minutes, then," Murphy said and strode off toward his locker.
"You want me to come along and guard your back, love?" I asked Bodie softly.
"Guard me arse, more likely," Bodie muttered darkly. "I swear, Ray, if that bastard tries to grope me..."
"I'll break every bone in his hand," I finished for him.
Bodie looked at me inquiringly. I smiled back, trying to put a lot of reassurance into it.
Suddenly, the whole situation began to tickle Bodie's black sense of humour and he sniggered vulgarly. I grinned back at him.
When Bodie had regained control of himself, he put his hand in the small of my back and began to urge me toward the door. "Come along, sunshine. You can protect me manly virtue while I do hand-to-hand combat with the motor pool."
It was a bit of an anticlimax when it turned out that Havelock had gone home for the night.
Fortunately, the Capri was again in working order and no longer belched black smoke at every verse end. We beat Murph to the pub by a good 30 seconds. But, since the first round was his treat, we waited for him at the door.
Bodie and I bagged a nice booth in a dark corner while Murphy ordered a round of pints. When he brought the mugs over to the table, Murphy found Bodie and I sitting side by side on one bench, so he took the other.
"Cheers," Murph said.
We finished the first pint while chatting about the Arsenals vs. Hammer match on the telly the other evening. When Bodie got the second round, I took a moment to take a closer look at our friend. I realized that something was bothering him.
"Murph?" He looked up at me. "You need to talk about something?"
The brown-haired man grinned at me in relief. "Yeah. I do need your and Bodie's advice."
Bodie arrived with our pints about then. "What's up?" he asked, noting the change in the atmosphere.
"Murph wants to ask our advice," I replied.
"Oh?" Bodie looked first at Murphy, then at me.
"Yeah," Murphy said as he twisted the mug in his hands. "But not here."
"How about our flat?" Bodie suggested.
Murphy agreed. When we'd finished the second round of drinks, he followed us back to our place.
Bodie and Murphy went right in, but I took a moment to look around for Raven. Without success, I might add. He must have been out pursuing other interests.
Bodie'd poured small scotches all around and he handed me one when I sat down next to him on the settee. Murph was tensed up in the armchair across the rug from us.
"What was it you wanted to talk to us about?" Bodie asked.
Murphy looked down at his hands and twisted the whiskey glass he was holding back and forth nervously.
He looked up hesitantly. "The two of you are living together, aren't you?"
"Bit obvious, innit?" Bodie said with a grin.
"I don't just mean that you two live in the same flat," Murph went on. "I mean, you're really living together." He seemed to be finding it difficult to find the right words.
I decided to help him out. "If you're asking are we lovers, the answer is yes," I told him. I didn't think that Bodie would mind me putting it that way, Murphy being one of our best friends and all, but I was very relieved when I felt him put his arm around my shoulders in a visible confirmation of what I'd just said.
"What's it like?" Murph asked, his voice slightly hoarse with an intensity that told me just how much the answer meant to him.
"Murph," I said and waited until he looked directly at me. "It would help if you could tell us what this is all about. Otherwise, I'm not sure exactly what you're asking us."
Murphy looked down at his hands again, and then looked up at us. I could see him swallow with nerves. "You've met Chris Atwood, the fellow who transferred in from MI6?"
"Yeah," Bodie replied and I nodded.
"Well, he's made it pretty clear that he's interested in me and I think I'm interested in him that way."
I guess one or the other of us looked surprised because Murphy's mouth quirked a bit and a tinge of humour edged his voice. "I guess I must be good at hiding it, but I'm bi," he said.
The brown eyes looked down again. "I've fooled about a bit with other fellas, but I've never been serious about any of them. I think I'm serious about Chris."
"What do you want to know about us?" I asked. "I still don't understand how that fits in with you being interested in Atwood."
"I've had live-in birds," Murphy said as he looked at me. "But I've never lived with another man. Is it different? How do you know when it's the right person?"
We could both see that Murphy was deadly serious about this. The problem was, neither of us could figure out exactly what to say to him.
"Murph," Bodie began, "I really don't know what to tell you. With Ray and me, it just sort of crept up on us. Something set us off thinking about each other and it just seemed right. We fit together. We belong. Ray makes me feel good even when he's being an utter bastard..."
"And I feel better when Bodie's around, even when he's moaning about something," I continued.
"It's a bit different than living with a bird," Bodie said. "I guess I'm a bit of a chauvinist. When I had a girl living with me, I let her do all the domestic bits. Ray and I split most jobs--we each do what we feel most comfortable with and take turns with the rest of it."
"And as for the sex, you said you'd experimented with homosexual relationships..." I half-asked Murphy and he nodded. "Well, you know the mechanics of it, then. As for the rest of it, love is love. It doesn't matter what body it's wrapped up in. When you find the real thing, if you're smart, you hang on to it. You work at it day by day and nurture it like a small child. If you're lucky, it grows into something beautiful... But it takes two people working very hard to make a good relationship. I'd be very sure before I started something like that. and I'd make sure that my partner was very serious about it, as well."
Murphy looked thoughtful. Then, he asked us, "Did the two of you sit down and talk it over before you...?" He groped for some way to put it.
"Became lovers? Yeah," Bodie grinned unselfconsciously. "Though our libidos almost had their way first. We almost consummated it on the settee." He snorted in amused remembrance.
"Yeah," I added. "But one of us invoked the name of our revered leader and we both managed to cool off long enough to talk it over before we went to bed together."
"Someone mentioned the Cow?" Murphy repeated incredulously. "Right in the middle of a steamy scene of sex and passion, one of you mentioned Cowley?"
"Don't look at me, mate," Bodie shook his head. "It was the bionic golli that invoked our George. Always felt like maybe it was his Catholic conscience trying to save him from the sin of sodomy."
I looked at Bodie and discovered that he was half-serious about that. Decided that we needed to have a little talk about it later on. Then, I looked back at Murphy. "Well, you know how your mind wanders when you're feeling good... Besides, I suddenly got this picture of how he'd react if he could see what his two best agents were up to..."
"And we were up, too," Bodie sniggered.
"I don't know if we've helped at all," I concluded lamely.
"You have," Murphy assured us. "At least, you've given me a lot to think about." Our friend began to look positively shy as he added, "You don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but did both of you swing both ways before you got together?"
I looked at Bodie and he looked sheepishly back. Then, we both looked at Murphy.
"This may sound strange," Bodie began. "But neither of us had ever been interested in other men. We're still getting used to the fact that we're both bisexual. It's rather strange after having been convinced we were straight-arrow heterosexuals for all our lives."
Murphy started to laugh. "I can't believe it," he said. "I would have I thought at least one of you would have done a bit of experimenting." I shrugged. "We didn't, though. We didn't know until we suddenly discovered we fancied each other something awful."
"I'm sorry," Murphy said contritely. "I guess I'm too used to being bi. I've known since I was a teenager that it was good both ways."
"Some of us are just late bloomers," Bodie told him. He was taking this better than I was and, for some reason, that surprised me. I guess I'd always I thought of Bodie as a bit of a prude when it came to sex.
"I think it's romantic," Murphy said wistfully. "It's like you were saving it for the right person."
"Yeah," I agreed. "We're learning it all together."
"Murph," Bodie said.
"Is Chris bi, too, or is he gay?"
"I think he's bi," the brown-haired man answered. "But I guess I'd better ask him about that."
He finished drinking his scotch and stood up. "Thanks, you two, for being so candid. Thanks for the advice, as well. I will talk to Chris before we decide anything. See you."
We both said our goodbyes and watched Murphy leave. He looked as if he knew what he was doing, his stride sure and purposeful as he left.
After we finished our scotch, I put together a light supper of soup and sarnies. Raven came home while I was putting it on the table, so Bodie fed him before we sat down to eat.
It was still early when we finished supper, but we curled up in bed with the cat and a couple of good books. Bodie was reading military history and I was reading a recent biography of Picasso.
We were just beginning to get drowsy and think about going to bed (I said bed, not sleep), when I finally asked Bodie about the something that had been nagging me since our chat with Murph.
"Did you really think it was my conscience or my fear of gay sex that made me mention Cowley that first time when we were making out on the settee?"
Bodie looked up in surprise. "No, I didn't. I was thinking along pretty much the same lines myself.
I figured that it was sheer funk--that what will the neighbours say sort of thing that passes through your head, even when you don't give a tuppenny damn about what your real neighbours think."
"Oh." I snuggled downwards in the bed.
"Did it bother you, my mentioning it to Murph?"
"Nah," I said in dismissal. "Just surprised me, that's all."
"Yeah. But then, you've surprised me several times today."
"First of all, when you practically hugged me in front of Susan; and then when you told her you loved me. You surprised me again when you told Murph the same thing."
"I love you," Bodie said softly. "Sometimes, I feel like I want the whole world to know about that."
"I know," I told him. "Sometimes, I feel the same way. But you've always been so proper in public with your birds and all. It kind of surprised me that you could be so demonstrative with me. Me being male and all."
Bodie thought for a moment. "Was I always so proper with me birds?"
"Yeah," I grinned. "In public, not private. I can remember you getting up to all sorts of things when it was just you, me and the odd bird or two."
"I guess it must be because I love you," Bodie said slowly. "I don't think you ever saw anyone I really loved, because I can get very soppy, even in public."
"No," I agreed. "Only one I know you loved was Marikka and I didn't see much of that."
"I wasn't really in love with her by then," Bodie said. "It was more that I remembered how it had been to be in love with her. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, I'll stop feeling you up when we're in public."
"Doesn't make me uncomfortable," I denied. "It just makes me worried. It's still illegal to do it in public. In private, I want you to feel me up as much as possible." I moved over and licked the corner of Bodie's mouth.
"Okay," Bodie agreed when I let him take his lips back. "I'll be a bit more careful in public, but only as long as you let me work my wicked will on you behind closed doors."
"Work away, love," I murmured, flopping over onto my back and kicking the covers off my naked body. "I intend to have my way with you every time I possibly can."
Bodie dropped his book off the side of the bed, then turned over to drag me into his arms. As we slid down deeper into the mattress, I heard Raven protest that we were crowding him off the bed. By that point, I didn't care what the furry little voyeur saw. All I was interested in was getting as close to Bodie's suede-soft skin as possible. He was warm and slightly sweaty; and I was becoming hotter by the moment.
The kisses started off softly. We gently explored familiar territory. As we became more aroused, Bodie clutched my bum in the palms of his hands and I wrapped my legs around his waist, trying to pull him closer than was physically possible.
Our mouths opened to each other and our breathing became more and more erratic as we slipped our genitals against each other in the erotic dance that is older than recorded history.
Tonight, neither of us felt like being the aggressor. We were partners in pleasure. Our loving was gentle and slow to begin with. As orgasm neared, the rhythm changed. We were hot, frantic and ever so slightly rough with one another as we raced to see who could make the other come first.
I don't know who won the race. It didn't matter. Orgasm was a pinwheel of bright lights behind my closed eyes and a pleasurable, if almost painful, spasm in my guts. When, at last, I spiralled down into the afterglow, I found myself held safe in my lover's arms, even as I held him in mine.
Bodie and I cuddled and kidded; exchanging compliments and pet names till our semen became uncomfortably cool on our bellies. We then bowed to the inevitable and crawled out of bed to do a spotty clean-up in the loo. By that time, we were both yawning. We sprawled back into bed and turned of f the lights.
As Bodie snuggled up against my back, I wondered again at his openness around Susan and Murphy. I finally decided that his instincts for people had been working again and that, subconsciously, he'd known that his display of affection for me was the only thing that could have put either of the other two agents at their ease. It just proved that I didn't know everything about my lover of six months. I knew it was going to be fun learning all that I possibly could in the time to come. It was my last coherent thought before I fell asleep in Bodie's warm embrace.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 3, Whatever You Do, Don't Press!, 1989