DISPATCHES

 

 


The first time Bodie killed was in Tangiers.
The first time for money was in the Congo,
and the first time for fun, in an Angolan valley.
Killing for mercy nearly broke his heart,
but killing for duty had an edge that left him unable to look his CO in the eye.
Though killing in hate was somehow familiar, revenge was something else entirely.
But the hardest--worst--first time, and the one he'd thought never to experience, was killing for love.

 


Tangiers, 1960

Gazing out over a bustling dock sweating under a cobalt sky, Will felt the urge to pinch himself. Fifteen years old and the world was his oyster. As he stared down into swirling clouds of colour and scents, choking mundanity seemed a lifetime away. This was why he'd left. Weaned on a diet of Boy's Own adventures and romantic poets, the grey tones of The Wirral could never have held his interest, could never contain one quarter of the promise of Africa's uncounted square miles. Here was what he had dreamed of nights, tucked up in his single bed in his parents' semi. Here was the heat, the life, the sweet scent of spices, the chanting song.

"Loading tomorrow, lads. No forgetting. And try not to get yourselves into trouble, heh." Frankie, the first mate, glared at the crew lined up for a quick inspection for he let them go ashore. He was a small man, but burly with it. As bald as a coot with a beard that would give your average sparrow inclinations towards taking up residence, he reminded Will of a pirate. All he needed was a pegleg and parrot on his shoulder and Long John Silver would be walking again.

Lurking behind the others, Will kept his head down hoping the watching Captain wouldn't notice his presence. He hadn't been given explicit permission to go ashore here, but neither had he been given a duty watch, so he reckoned it was worth a shot. When the rest of the crew began to disembark, Will went with them, skedaddling down the gangplank aiming to lose himself in the alien cries of the souk before anyone could call him back. After six weeks aboard ship, shore leave was not something to be taken lightly. Heavy physical labour and long hours had come as a shock to Will after the dull but pampered routine of suburbia. For the first week it had been all he could do to stay on his feet and during the second, he'd seriously considered jumping ship at the first port. Now, a month later, muscles hardened and skin rougher, he was ready for the next challenge.

Floating on dreams and promises, and ignoring the first mate's bellow to watch his bleedin' arse, Will pushed his way between hordes of white clad men in search of that elusive something that would set him apart from the masses and put him on future's path. It was here somewhere, he knew. If he could just find it.

Immediately, a crowd of small children surrounded him, each holding out a hand and begging for a penny. He ignored them and pressed on. They gave up soon enough, a couple of the older ones throwing curses after him as they turned their attention to some other unsuspecting traveller. Surviving the encounter left Will feel pretty bloody good about himself. His mates at school, when he'd told them of his plan to run away to sea, had all taken the piss. Teddy had given him a week before he was crying for his mum and wanting to be back home. Well, that hadn't happened.

Will ran his fingertips over the calluses on his palms, put there by the heavy cleaning equipment he'd spent the past month hauling around, and grinned. He'd done it. He was a sailor, an adventurer. Immersed in the jabbering of a thousand tongues and every shade of skin colour, he had truly arrived at the start of the rest of his life.

"...un petit joli...."

A hand on his arm accompanied the words and Will pulled up short to stare down at the crinkled walnut face of the woman who'd accosted him.

"Pardon?" he said.

"Petit joli garçon ."

This time the hand reached up to caress his face, her gnarled fingers tugging at his overlong curls. He flinched away. The old woman smelt strange and her palms were orange, where they weren't grey with ground in grime.

"I'm sorry. I don't understand." It was French, that much Will understood, but his grasp of the language was tenuous at best. He'd gleaned a working knowledge of Spanish and Dutch from some of the others, but the only French speaking member of the Maria Tam's crew was a giant Congolese cook whom Will had given a respectably wide berth.

"Come, come." The woman was insistent, her fingers plucking at his shirtsleeve to get his attention. Will was curious, and she was so old that surely she couldn't be a danger.

"All right. Keep your hair on."

His hand clasped in hers--warm and callused--he followed in the woman's wake across the marketplace. Bodies shoved and lurched around them, voices raised in complaint at the pale skinned stranger barging his way through. Faces that had seemed benign from the distance of the ship now took on a menacing cast, springing in and out of focus as he was hurried past them.

"Sorry, sorry," he muttered, wondering where the hell the woman was taking him. And thinking that maybe, possibly, following hadn't been such a grand idea.

Finally they stopped by a stall selling sweets and the woman, her broad smile showing stained crooked teeth, pressed something sticky into his hand. A honey cake. She wanted to give him honey cakes?

Will nibbled it hesitantly, waiting for the taste to suffuse his mouth, and when it did, he devoured the rest in a couple of bites, sucking his teeth as the gooey stuff clagged his jaws.

It was the one thing he really hated about being on ship; the food was bloody awful and there was never enough. The more experienced hands stocked up in port and supplemented the galley's stews and curries with their private stash. Not having the funds to spare, Will hadn't been able to follow suit, so the cakes tasted better than the finest his mum had ever baked.

"You like? Yes?"

"Good," he mumbled and returned the woman's grin when she held out another. That disappeared the same way and was just as excellent. It was the third that landed heavily in his stomach. Feeling queasy, Will glanced up, swaying as the world tilted. He felt dizzy, like he had when the doctor had put him to sleep when he had his tonsils out. "What...?" he began, but got no further as the rocky ground rushed up meet him.

 


"Will? Will, lad, wake up!" Someone was shaking him.

Will blinked open heavy eyelids and tried to focus on the hazy face floating above him. Dark fuzz topped by a bald brown head. Frankie. Come to drag him out of his bunk, probably.

"Bugger off. Ain't time to get up yet," he muttered and rolled away. As he turned, his stomach churned, lurched, then spasmed as he threw up everything in it. "Oh, Christ!" It came out as a half-choked cry. He hurt. There wasn't a part of him that didn't. Every muscle, every joint. Even his sodding toenails hurt as he curled round his belly and fought back the retching.

Something stank. For a moment, Will thought it was him. It should be since he'd just puked his guts up. But this was worse. And it came along with a whimpering noise that set Will's teeth right on edge.

Wincing, he lifted his head off the floor and peered in the direction of the sound. It was a man--about forty and white--tied to a chair. His shirt was ripped to shreds and, though the man's head was lowered against his chest, Will could see the blood dripping down the front of him. His trousers might have been smart beige slacks at one point, but now they were stained scarlet and brown. Behind him loomed two of the sailors off the Maria Tam, standing with their arms folded across their chests.

"What the hell...?" Will began, pushing himself upright. A supporting hand helped him up and a glass of some amber spirit was placed in his hand.

"Drink this," Frankie was saying. "Clear your mouth out, it will."

He took it, hands shaking as they closed around the smeared chipped glass, and swigged it back, gasping and almost vomiting again as the cheap alcohol hit his stomach. As he struggled, Frankie started speaking again, his voice low and quiet so that only Will could hear him.

"Now listen, you did a bloody stupid thing going off like that. 'Specially round here with the types populating this city. And, as a consequence, you've gone and got yourself caught. Well, you ain't the first it's happened to and I dare say there'll be more after and all. But right now it's you I'm worryin' about. 'Cause I've seen this kind of thing before, Will, and it ain't pretty. Can turn a bloke's head getting done over by a perv and I'm not wanting to see you go that way. You're a good lad, Will. Got your whole life ahead of you and I don't wanna see that pissed away just 'cause this pansy's done what no self-respecting Christian should have."

Will listened to the words, the meaning escaping him. After the old woman in the marketplace and the honey cakes, his memory got hazy, not much more than flashes. He remembered voices gabbling away in some language he couldn't understand. He remembered being stripped of his clothes and hands grabbing at him. He remembered someone putting something in his mouth and urging him to inhale. Then nothing. Not until Frankie woke him.

His fingers drifted to his leg and pinched at the gauzy material that covered it. They weren't his trousers. His were serviceable linen. These wouldn't last five minutes on ship. The room had a gauzy feel to it as well. Rugs and cushions littered the floor and the walls were draped with brightly coloured hangings. Will stared around abstractedly, only half listening to what Frankie was saying. Yet slowly, the meaning of the words penetrated his muzzy brain. The man--the one tied to the chair--had kidnapped and raped him. Rape. Not a word Will ever expected to associate with himself. For one thing he wasn't a girl, so it'd be a bit difficult wouldn't it?

One of the other sailors yanked the man's head up and he let out a short, cut off, yell. Frankie nudged Will's arm. "We've started it off for you, Will. Now it's your place to finish it."

The glass was taken from his hand and something cold and hard was put in its place. Will glanced down and his stomach lurched again. It was a gun. Dark grey black and heavy. So heavy that his hand sagged, the knuckles colliding with his knee.

'What's this for?' he wanted to ask, but inside he already knew. He remembered at home once, back in the Wirral, a girl from a couple of doors down got raped. Folks whispered about it, real quiet, throwing looks her way and saying she brought it on herself by being a tart. A couple of months later she killed herself; slashed her wrists in the bath. That had been the talk of the estate for months.

And now that was what Will was supposed to do. Only he didn't get a knife and warm water. He got cold metal and the dark, unflinching eye of a barrel.

Frankie's hand covered Will's as he raised the gun to his temple. "What are doing, lad?"

Will blinked at him. "Finishing it. Like you said to do."

A grin ripped across Frankie's face, splitting his beard in two and revealing wet pink lips. "You daft bugger." He tugged the gun away from Will's head and pointed at the man in the chair. "That's what you're finishing. Now get over there and show him what a real man can do."

 


Congo, 1964

"Bloody hell!"

Will ducked behind the stack of tea chests and flinched as splinters flew in time with the thumping of guns. Sixty rand was not enough to end up in this situation. It had sounded like a walk in park when Jeffers had suggested it, back in the smoky civilisation of the Miami Nightclub. Just act as escort for a load of guns from Lobito to Kolwezi, the man had said. Their contacts with the Simba rebels would take over from there. Should be a piece of piss.

Course that reckoned without the company they'd attracted. As far as Will could tell, there was at least eight ANC soldiers outside the goods wagon and, including him and Jeffers, only five inside. Buggering hell. He was too beautiful to die young.

"Bodie," Jeffers hissed across the narrow gap between them.

When Will glanced over, the older man gestured to the chest he was sheltering behind. The label told Will that it contained FN-Mags. If Jeffers was suggesting what Will thought he was, then at least one of the guns was about to see action before its time.

Taking a firm grip on the barrel of his revolver, Will shifted round and knelt up, careful to keep his head as low as possible. A burst of covering fire allowed him to wrench the chest nearest him over sideways so he could pry off the top and get at the light machine guns inside. Only three, and no ammo. Where the hell was the ammo?

A thunk at his feet alerted him to the arrival of a belt of ammunition and he grinned over at Jeffers as he ripped the waxed paper off the Mag. In an ideal world, he'd take the time to strip it, but with the way the other blokes were firing off rounds, the soldiers must be getting in close. By the time he was sure the thing was road worthy, they'd all be dead anyway, so he might as well take the risk. Now if the others could just hold off the opposition long enough....

With a sinking heart, Will suddenly remembered the spare clips for their handguns were packed away neat and tidy in the other boxcar. All their supplies were. Including Will's own carryall with a change of clothes and his passport. The passport he'd needed to get into Angola. The passport that would identify him, even if he was lucky enough to get out of this. An identification which, if he was stupid enough to kill any of these attacking troops, would mean his job back in Dakar was going to someone else. Someone who hadn't been so stupid as to get caught up in a war with one of Senegal's allies.

Fuck. Talk about creeks and paddles.

"What the hell you waiting for, boy," Jeffers snarled at him. The South African was an ugly little chap, all teeth and sun darkened skin.

Will glared at him and tossed the Mag towards him. "Only paid me to be an escort, mate," he said, "not to end up bollock deep in a civil war." Added to which, if he gave himself up now, there was a good chance of getting repatriated. A British passport still carried some weight, even in this part of the world.

That brought Jeffers up short. Obviously about to retort with something unsuitable for mixed company, the gunrunner narrowed his eyes then tossed the gun back. "Call your fee double. And ten percent of the profits if we get out."

A hundred and twenty rand. That was over two hundred quid. Will wasn't sure what prices were like back in the home country, but when he left it was more than enough to see him comfortable for a few months.

"Just make sure you get all the bastards."

In Dakar, he could live like a ruddy king.

"Righty-o." After loading the belt as quickly as his nervous fingers would allow, Will braced himself against the tea chest and stared pointedly at the others. If he was going to do this, they had to get the timing just right.

As if on cue, the others ceased fire.

From outside a voice called out in French. "Throw down your weapons and stand up."

A few thuds indicated that one or two of the, no doubt empty, handguns had been chucked towards the door, and Jeffers and the three other lads rose slowly to their feet, their hands in the air.

Will peered round the chest, squinting towards the door and trying to make out anything against the moonlight outside. Not easy to see them, black against black. If it weren't for the glint off their guns and their eyes, it'd be an impossible task.

Slowly, several figures appeared. Will held his place, counting the soldiers as they stepped up into the wagon.

One.

Three.

Six.

Eight.

Only when he had all of them in his sights did he roll to his feet and open fire, cutting a swathe of bullets across the line of soldiers at chest height. Screams filled the night, the injured men falling like wheat before a blade. Will didn't let up. Continuing to fire, he strode forward, the machine gun bucking in his hands, his every muscle straining as he fought to control a weapon designed to be fired from a prone position. Close to, he stopped and watched, fascinated, as the bodies leapt and twitched under the impact of the bullets.

After about thirty seconds, the PPS overheated, the belt jammed, and the night returned to silence.

"Nice one," Jeffers said, a hard slap on Will's shoulder coming along with the congratulations. "Now let's get the bloody hell out of here before any more of the bastards turn up."

 


Angola, 1966

Dragging deeply on his half-smoked joint, Bodie leaned back against the tree and relaxed. The heat was making him sticky, but stripping off the layers would be foolish. He'd learned that lesson the hard way, losing half the skin on his back to severe sunburn when he'd first been aboard ship. His skin hadn't toughed up any either. Not for him the tanned hide that some of the other mercs boasted. Nope. Bodie just went scarlet and peeled very unattractively. It was his colouring they said, so he just made sure he stayed covered, even if it meant sweating out half his body weight each day. On the upside, he didn't get eaten alive like the other blokes. Mosquitoes didn't like the taste of him, apparently.

Right now, he'd give his right arm for a bath. This latest tour had been a bastard and about six weeks too long, in Bodie's opinion. Even the local dope was losing its appeal as a way of chilling out. They were scheduled to leave when the rains really set in, but they'd arrived early this year, only to peter out after a month leaving conditions perfect for a few sorties against FNLA controlled diamond mines. Not something any of the mercs were about to pass up since filling your pockets with uncut stones was par for the course. By the time he got of this game, Bodie was aiming to have a very nice nest egg, thank you very much.

But any action wasn't going to happen for a day or two yet and he was bored. So bored that any minute now he was going to end up doing something stupid like writing a letter home. His mum'd have a fit getting two letters in one year from him.

Eyes closed, he cast his mind back to his last visit to England; the only time he'd seen his family in five years. Given him up for dead, they had, bloody idiots. His mum's face when she'd opened the door and seen him stood there in a smart suit--well, she looked like someone had smacked her bum for her. Gave 'em a bit of a shock when he'd handed over three hundred quid and told them to take their Susie on holiday.

He smiled. Good times.

A chorus of bellowed laughter drifted across the camp. Bodie pried one eyelid open and glared in the direction of the river. What the hell were the lads up to now?

He could, he supposed, go and see, but that would involve moving and the sun was still intense enough to make anything resembling running around hot and sweaty. Not a state Bodie liked to end up in--unless he was getting paid well for it.

It was probably just an animal. Bloody amazing what could entertain the morons. Little things and little minds and all that.

Yawning, he took another puff on the joint, enjoying the warming buzz that flushed through him. It was good stuff this. Home grown rather than bought in, thanks to Dutchie and his green fingers. Was worth every strained muscle from hauling the pots around between camps.

"Hey, Bodie! Get your lazy ass over here! You're missing out on all the fun."

Ah, the dulcet tones of Mickey O'Hare. New Yorker by birth and Irish by nature, the man was alternatively the bane and highlight of Bodie's existence. This was their third contract together and if he never had to suffer to that fishwife's mouth in the morning ever again, Bodie would be a happy chappie. Given the choice, he'd rather wake up with Mickey's dick up his arse. That he could sleep through.

"What they got then, Mick?" he called out, refusing to stir so much as a finger without a bloody good reason. Before he got an answer a high pitched scream rent the air. Bodie sighed. "Not another baby gorilla. Sodding silverback nearly trashed the place last time."

"Kinda. But it's not gonna be a silverback comes after this'un" Mickey dropped into a crouch at Bodie's side.

Bodie deigned to open his eyes and gave Mickey a level glare. "So?"

"Caught themselves a couple of banditos tarts, haven't they."

"You what?" Now that sounded like something worth shifting his arse for. Birds were few and far between around here, even dark meat.

"Thought that might get a reaction." Mickey leapt to his feet. "Better move if you don't sloppy seconds."

Three hours later, Bodie wasn't bored anymore. He wasn't entirely sober either. With a bottle of local rotgut in one hand and yet another joint in his other, he was lounging in the shade enjoying the sated feeling that follows a ruddy good shag. Around him, the other lads were equally content, conversation at a buzz level with just the occasional rousing cheer as one of the girls tried to crawl away.

Tough birds, they were, Bodie reflected as he swigged a drink before the bottle got swiped. Had taken on all of them and the whimpers had pretty much stopped after the first hour or so. He couldn't imagine any white women standing up to that kind of treatment. Not that he knew much about them. Hadn't bothered while he was home and most of the women he'd had over the years were prossies.

Mind you, only one of the girls was on her knees. The other one hadn't moved at all. Not since Mickey suggested that maybe she fancied something bit bigger than any of their dicks and told Bodie to fuck her with his gun. He had too. Stuck it inside of her. She didn't seem to get much out of though, just a fluttering of her eyelids and a slight parting of her bruised lips. They'd left her alone after that. Wasn't much point screwing something that didn't move.

Didn't move.

The one girl was crawling across the grass to her friend and when she got there, Bodie could see the tears on her cheeks as she dragged the limp form into her lap and curled over it, rocking like a mother with its child.

Was the girl all right? For a second Bodie considered getting up to go and check, but then Mickey passed him the bottle and he decided it was too much like hard work.

 


Nigera, 1968

Bodie was halfway up the road when he heard a gun fire and Gretchen start screaming. Chucking the bunch of wilted flowers to one side, he sprinted up the street and barged open the front door, just in time to see Krivas lining up for another shot.

For a second, he stood rooted to the spot. Despite three years as a mercenary seeing things that most people paid good money to avoid, he could make neither head nor tail of what he was looking at. Gretchen was naked and tied to her bed, that much was clear; but the blood? Where was all the blood coming from?

Like a gunsight snapping into focus, the picture suddenly became clear. The scarlet flood drenching the sheets was pouring from between Gretchen's legs; the rest was leaking from blown out guts that hung in translucent shrouds across her belly and chest. She'd been turned inside out and she was still screaming.

Unable to articulate anything beyond a feral roar, Bodie launched himself onto Krivas' back and sending the man staggering forwards, his.44 shooting off wildly. But Krivas hadn't survived seven years in the jungle with no tricks on his side. Without warning, he dropped to his knees and before Bodie could regain his balance, he was being thrown, high and hard, to land with a whoomph of expelled air on his back on the concrete floor. Krivas' elbow followed, aiming for Bodie's solar plexus. If it connected, it would kill him as quickly as a bullet in the brain. At the last possible second, Bodie managed to twist and the blow skidded across his ribs, cracking at least two and leaving him writhing in pain.

'Well done, old son,' he thought as Krivas slipped in and out of focus above him. 'What do you do for an encore? Shoot yourself in the foot?'

Something large and hard was pressing against his spine. Had to be some kind of ornament, not that Gretchen kept stuff like that around the surgery. Maybe a bottle of medicine, or maybe....

Shoving back the pain in his chest, Bodie rolled to his knees, grabbed the gun that was beneath him and levelled it at Krivas' head. "Right, you fucking bastard," he said. "Want to see what it feels like getting your guts blown out?"

Turning pale, Krivas raised his hands and backed away. Bodie grinned, probably more of a rictus than anything resembling humour. He had him. Right now, he had the little shit precisely where he wanted him and nothing--nothing--was going to stop Bodie taking his pound of flesh.

Krivas lurched into the bed and Gretchen screamed. Torn between revenge and fear for the woman he loved, Bodie dropped his guard. When he looked back, Krivas was gone, the bedroom door slamming behind him.

The gun clattered to the floor as Bodie threw himself on the bed next to his girl, his fingers fumbling on the knotted tights that held her tied to the frame.

"W-Will...." Her voice was so quiet Bodie almost missed it. After freeing her hands, he slid down the bed and held her carefully.

"Shush, I've got you," he whispered. "You're gonna be all right, promise." It was a lie, no one could survive the type of injury Gretchen had sustained, but Bodie couldn't bring himself to tell her she was dying. He didn't have to; she told him.

"Liar," she wheezed and then gripped his arm tightly, her face twisting in pain. For a second all Bodie could hear was his own mind screaming denial. This couldn't be happening. Not to Gretchen. Not to this wonderful, beautiful, generous woman who'd thrown half her life away to come and help the civilians down here. Not to the woman he planned to give it all up for.

"Will?"

His name came again. Bending closer, Bodie tangled his fingers in her straight blonde hair and blinked back the tears. "Yeah, love?"

"End it. Please."

He opened his mouth to argue and saw Gretchen's eyes harden. She wasn't going to accept no for an answer. As the only medically qualified person in a hundred square miles, she knew that death was inevitable. If not through shock and blood loss, then through septicaemia. A gut wound like this was definitely fatal.

"Please, Will."

Nodding, but still half in denial, Bodie leaned forwards and pressed his lips to hers. She kissed him back, as well as she was able, and, he hoped, never heard the click of the safety before he fired a bullet through her brain.

 


Northern Ireland, 1972

They were fucking everywhere, he could hear them outside the pig; the air as full of bricks and bottles as it was hoarse yelled invectives. Waiting for the order to unload, Bodie kept his eyes fixed on his rifle. Something felt different here today. There was an electricity, a deep seated resentment built on the back of weeks of rioting and killings. He'd heard--and been part of--conversations in the barracks where some of the lads reckoned it was time for a bit of pay back. 'Only good provo's a dead provo.' Not hardly original but apposite considering.

For himself, Bodie wasn't sure. The blood hungry part of him, the part that had revelled in Angola and Biafra, the part that thrived in the rush of taking another life, thought it was a bloody wonderful idea. Craved it even.

But the other bit, the man who had held Gretchen as she died and had finally acknowledged that everyone was someone's lover or mother or brother, wasn't so sure. Would taking the battle to the Provos really do any good? Or would it tar them--the ones who were supposed to have honour on their side--with the same brush?

He sighed and thumbed the safety on his rifle. He'd thought his days as a paid killer had been left behind in Africa.

"Okay, lads. Time to ship out," the Corporal carolled, slamming open the back doors.

Bodie was first out, leading his firing team, all of them shifting their gear and settling it comfortably as they waited for the others to debus. Then they were heading deeper into Bogside, at the double and following the sarge's directions.

The crowds fell back in front of them, but that wasn't going to stop the platoon's advance. Bodie remembered the briefing; 'They think it's their patch, lads, and it's time we took it back. Show them who's really running the streets.'

Gesturing his men to head right, Bodie set them up in a slowly advancing pattern, each covering the next as they moved from street corner to street corner. There were still random civilians all over the place. Men and lads, a couple in robes that said they were priests. Didn't seem to matter. They were all fucking yelling and the bricks were still flying. One caught Bodie on the helmet and for a second he saw stars until he could shake it off.

"You all right, Lance-Corporal?" The Colonel. At the front, as per usual, the mad bastard.

"Fine, sir." Or he would be in a second. His helmet, or maybe a bit of brick, had cut into his forehead and a trickle of blood seeped into his left eye. He wiped it away.

"Then get a bloody move on, man."

"Yes, sir."

And they were off again.

Gunfire from in front. Had to be IRA, shooting from the flats across the huge empty space yawning ahead of them. Wasn't going to be an easy cross, not with bullets flying. And not just from the provos now, either. A steady rattle of rounds were coming from their side an'all.

Bodie crouched down, searching out targets. There! A cluster of men gathered around something. Fuck, he couldn't be sure. Could be a casualty. Could be a nail bomber.

As he watched, the small group parted and a man appeared, his arm drawn back about to throw. Not stopping to think, Bodie raised his gun and fired. The thrower jerked and spun, falling to the ground. The men around him scattered for a second and then regrouped, dragging their comrade back towards the grey looming building.

The team advanced, using everything from walls to the empty pigs as cover. And they weren't the only ones. Never had Bodie experienced anything like this in the Army. The mercs, yes. It was standard procedure when taking a town. But not in the Paras. This was live fire, not plastic bullets. This was taking ground, not controlling a riot.

This was different. And Bodie wasn't entirely sure he liked it.

"Yer fucking murdering bastards!" Yelled at them from gangs of black clad men. Bodie couldn't decide if he wanted to throw up or kill them. Maybe both.

Keeping strict control over his trigger finger and only opening fire when he saw something that looked like a direct threat, he kept his team moving forwards. Closer and closer to the flats. An ambulance to their right loading up with a casualty. Had to be a civilian. The locals wouldn't bother if it was one of the soldiers. In fact they'd probably finish him off.

"Here!" The sarge, calling them over. Bodie set off at a trot, feeling the rest of the team after him. A small group of men had been cornered and were now against the wall, arms spread high and being searched.

"Take over, here, Lance-Corporal. Get them processed and off the streets."

Bodie had never been so happy to get sidelined in his life.

 


Oman, 1975

Three days ago, he'd shared a fag with some of those men. Kicked a ball around with them. Like Hakim, Mohammed's boy, just fifteen and itching to get involved. He reminded Bodie of himself at the same age; eyes always focused on the distant horizon, his head full of dreams of glory.

"Take me back to England with you," he'd asked one night, the campfire casting his eyes in flames. The kid had such potential.

"Don't be daft, son," Keller had answered. Careless of other's feelings was Keller, but his heart was in the right place. Closest thing Bodie had to a mate. You learnt not to get emotionally involved with this crowd. Trust, admire, respect; yes. Affection and involvement, though, that was frowned on. It was too dangerous. Could effect performance. So the walls stayed up. Everything superficial, nothing allowed to touch the man beneath.

But those walls could be breached so bloody easily. Sheltering here under this bush, keeping his head down as mortars pounded the Adoo's caves, Bodie's walls crumbled. In front of him, cut down by a spray of bullets and now lying not twenty feet away and bleeding out. Hakim, his arm reaching towards Bodie's position, his gaze fixed on his friend's face. His mouth, pink tinged spittle dripping from his lips, opened gasping in a breath. "'ab."

Father.

Catching Keller by his collar and dragging him to his feet, Bodie slammed back the safety on his FAL and charged.

 


England, 1977

"He's dead."

"Hmmm?" Bodie spared half an eye from his newspaper to arse watch as his partner sauntered over to the kettle.

"Krivas." Doyle glared over his shoulder. "Injuries sustained while resisting arrest, according to the official report."

"Nasty lot, those boys in blue," Bodie said, nonchalantly turning a page. What was that tip he'd got for the three thirty at Doncaster?

A full mug appeared in front of him. Bodie took it without comment, not wanting to start Ray off again. Not that that strategy had worked in the past. Didn't this time either.

"Don't be bloody daft. It wasn't the police and you know it."

"Could have been. Steep stairs in some of those stations. Especially for the bloke that gunned down, how many coppers was it?" Bodie paused dramatically.

"Yeah, yeah, all right. So he had it coming. But that doesn't change the fact that you did it. Or most of it."

The sound of tea being enthusiastically slurped told Bodie that, for now, he was off the hook. Doyle mostly concerned himself with innocents and by no stretch of the imagination could Krivas be called that.

Jax and Cooper came and went, leaving Bodie and Doyle still sitting at the table, Krivas' death unanswered questions between them.

"Was it the bird?" Doyle asked eventually.

Bodie sighed, pointedly folded his newspaper, laid it on the table and stared at his partner. Doyle was looking even more like a battered pug than usual with his forehead creased up in thought.

"Not gonna let this rest are you?"

Doyle shrugged and drained his mug. Unfortunately his silence was more eloquent than any words. Bodie met his gaze, and considered his options. He could refuse to say anything, but then Ray would probably sulk. Not that he'd ever admit to doing anything so childish. Oh no. In Ray's world, everything needed to be gutted and analysed and if you refused to go along, he took it as a personal affront. And that, apparently wasn't sulking.

Alternatively, Bodie could tell him what he wanted to know and hopefully Ray's copper's nose would stop twitching and let the matter lie. He might even get a round or two out of it, if he gave the tale just the right amount of pathos.

Deciding that confession was probably good for his soul, as well as his pocket, Bodie crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. All the better to glare down his nose.

"What do you want to know?"

"Who was she? Local girl?"

Bodie snorted and relaxed. Typical. "Her name was Gretchen and she was Swiss."

"And?" Doyle said after a moment's silence.

"And...." Faced with having to relay the actually facts, Bodie's stomach twisted. "And Krivas killed her." Or might as well have done. Ripped her apart from the inside out in such a way that Bodie had had no choice but to finish it. Breaking Krivas' neck would have been justified, but smashing his ribs and giving him severe concussion had been as far as Bodie could go, and still keep his job.

"What was a Swiss bird doing in Africa?"

More digging. There were times when Bodie hated this side of Ray. "She was a doctor. Took it on herself to come and help out the victims of the war."

Doyle's face lit up. "Was she the one with the...." He gestured, miming someone listening to his heart.

"Yeah," Bodie said, grinning as he remembered hot nights lying in Gretchen's bed as she pressed her stethoscope to his chest, her face faux serious but soon succumbing to a smile and then laughter. Fun, that was the best way to describe Gretchen. She enjoyed life, and had shown Bodie how to enjoy it too. Until Krivas--

"Musta been a bit of a goer if she was seeing you and Krivas at the same time."

Bodie's hands tightened into fists. Ray didn't know whole story. He wasn't saying anything personal about Gretchen. Not really. And he definitely didn't deserve to get his face pounded in, despite how the comment made Bodie feel.

"She never 'saw' Krivas. He wanted her and she wouldn't give him the time of day." Which proved her downfall in the end. You didn't turn Krivas down, not if you knew what was good for you. "Krivas had set himself up as a local lord of the manor, and he reckoned the only white girl in the territory belonged to him. When she turned him down, he got it into his head that she was some kind of nun. Put it about that she was to be left alone."

"But Cassanova Bodie had other ideas."

"She was twenty four, blonde, with legs that went from her arse to her ankles. What else was a healthy lad like me to do." They'd met when he got shot. Fallen in love over dirty bandages and consummated it amongst bottles of antiseptic. At twenty-two, Bodie had never been in love, had never had a relationship that went beyond fucking. Gretchen had swept him away, given him something to live for beyond money. And Krivas had taken that away.

Bowing his head, Bodie blinked furiously, refusing to show his partner how much the memories were getting to him. He needn't have worried.

The scrape of chair legs across lino indicated Ray had stood up and the briefest of pats landed on Bodie's shoulder. Then a breezy happy voice said, "Dunno about you, mate, but I fancy a pint. I'm buying."

Bodie relaxed completely. He should have known Ray would understand.

 


England, 1983

Angelfish. Stupid bloody name but it suited Ray, especially since they'd renamed Ojuka, Mr Guppy. If Bodie remembered his lessons correctly, angelfish were predators, despite looking like the prettiest things in the tank. Appearances, as Bodie well knew having been partnered with Doyle for eight years, could be deceptive.

But all of Ray's internal toughness wouldn't stop a bullet. Mayli proved that.

Lurking behind the wall, his concentration fixed on Avery's house, Bodie was doing his best not to panic. They'd had Doyle in there for nearly half an hour. Christ only knew what they were doing to him. He could be dead already.

That thought, the one Bodie had actively been doing his best to avoid thinking, rose with behemoth-like proportions in his brain. Ray, dead.

It was like the sun going in. Yeah, Ray could be an irascible bastard, but he was Bodie's irascible bastard. Without Ray, there would be no one to wind-up and point at some unsuspecting victim. There would be no one to chortle with when the Cow was busy shredding someone else's performance. No shared piss-ups, no double dates, no one to drive him home and pour him into bed when he was rat-arsed.

He'd made the decision before he activated the RT. "3.7 to Alpha. Avery's arrived. It looks like a helicopter pickup for Ojuka. I'm going in."

"Stay put, Bodie. That's an order."

Ignoring Cowley's words, Bodie slid the RT into his pocket. He needed to find somewhere that overlooked the front door so he could see when they brought Ray out. And they had better bring Ray out. Bodie wouldn't let himself consider the alternative--until he heard a gun firing inside the house. At that point, he had nothing left to lose. If they killed Ojuka, Cowley would rip Bodie's balls off and feed them to him for breakfast, but Bodie didn't care. There was no way in hell these bastards were going to get away with it.

Opening fire, he kept them pinned behind the car and managed to take out the pilot at the same time. Grounded, but not out, Avery's thugs kept shooting back. Stalemate, advantage them; since Bodie only had two spare clips and they had more guns. Still, Bodie wasn't going to let that stop him. When the cavalry turned up, they'd either find Avery taken or Bodie dead in the attempt.

He was six shots down and starting to think about reloading when someone started firing from behind the house. Bodie's heart leapt into his mouth. Ray. It had to be. The sneaky little bastard had gone and escaped again! Houdini had nothing on Raymond Doyle.

One of the thugs dropped and Bodie spotted a curly head appear briefly from around the corner. Idiot! Couldn't he see there was more of them?

The bloke holding Ojuka shoved the Colonel to the ground and Ray, obviously thinking he had the time, broke cover. Then all Bodie could see was a beige-jacketed back, the man's arms raised as he prepared to fire. And directly in his sights, unmissable from that range, was Ray.

Bodie was suddenly moving in slow motion, his brain kicking three jumps ahead of his body.

In his mind's eye he saw Ray fall, a bullet through his chest piercing his already damaged heart. Bodie felt his own shatter.

No more tight, jeans-clad, backside to ogle, or better yet, grope, on the way up the stairs. No untidy hair to ruffle. No warm smiles. No stupid jokes that had Ray cackling and Bodie rolling his eyes.

No Ray to watch his back. No Ray to jolly along, to tease, to love, to ultimately seduce-- Christ, he was going to lose him before they'd even had a chance.

Their weapons fired simultaneously--the thug, one shot; Bodie two. Arms thrown into the air, Avery's man fell and Ray was still standing. Probably hadn't even been worried. Which was exactly the way it should be with Bodie protecting him.


In due deference to their performance, the Cow let them off baby sitting the Colonel and sent them home. Bodie, still strung out from the action, filled the journey back to London with inane chatter and worse jokes. But all the while his mouth and the car motored, his thoughts were elsewhere, wrestling with that disturbing insight. It wasn't that he hadn't thought it before. For god's sake, he was only human and that bum wriggling away in front of him day in, day out, was enough make a monk break his vows.

But this felt different. This time Bodie knew he was actually going to do something about it. Or at least try. If not tonight, then in the very near future.

Beside, Ray was fidgeting like he had something to say. Finally he asked, "You got plans for tonight?"

"Not a thing, mate. Supposed to be on duty, remember."

"Drop us off at home then, will you? Then you can pop to the offy and pick up a few bottles. There's a match on later."


As he climbed the steps to Ray's flat, beer clanking away in a plastic bag, Bodie had the horrible feeling he about to sign his own death warrant. But that was stupid. What was the worst that could happen? Ray punching him out and demanding a new partner, or leaving CI5. But he wouldn't, would he? They were mates. Best friends. Would die for each other without a second thought. It wasn't such a huge step Bodie was proposing to take.

Leaning on the buzzer, Bodie closed his eyes. He had never been so terrified in his life.

 

The End

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