Nothing Written in stone

 


“Sir?” Cowley didn’t slow his pace in the slightest and Doyle was forced to jog a couple of steps to catch him before he reached his office. “Sir?” he tried again.

Glancing up from the file he was reading, Cowley fixed him with an over-his-glasses glare - not the most encouraging start and enough to make Doyle hesitate.

“Well?” Cowley snapped. “I don’t have all day.”

“Yeah, no. I know that, sir, it’s just that…” Taking his life in both hands, Doyle plunged on. “I was wondering if there was any chance of an advance.”

That attracted the old man’s attention. The file was closed, the glasses swiped off and Doyle was now on the receiving end of an unfiltered, direct stare. He shifted, uncomfortably aware that Cowley was capable of reading him like yesterday’s racing results. After an excruciating twenty seconds or so, Cowley waved his glasses towards his office door and said, “In with you, laddie.”

Going to be like that, was it? Head down, Doyle proceeded the old man into the room and slumped into a chair. Cowley took the seat opposite and they were back to silence.

Sitting still had never been Doyle’s strongest point. He had a tendency to fidget, as Bodie often pointed out. Right now though, he was too nervous to do more than breathe. Thankfully Cowley didn’t make him suffer for long. After a couple of minutes, he stood up, went to the cabinet and Doyle heard the telltale sound of clinking glasses. He was to be given a drink. Maybe the old man wasn’t going to lynch him after all.

A double was placed on the desk in front of him and Cowley lowered himself into his chair with a quiet groan.

“Leg bothering you, sir?” Doyle asked automatically.

“No more than you are,” Cowley answered. “An advance, you say.”

“Erm, yes, sir.”

“Two hundred pounds enough?”

Doyle perked up. He’d had his excuse all prepared - his mum needing help with a few bills run up when his sister got married and he’d offered to help her out. But that was moot since it looked like Cowley wouldn’t even ask. “That’d be smashing, sir, thanks.”

Cowley pulled a piece of paper out of a drawer and scribbled a few things down on it before holding it out. As Doyle went to take it, Cowley’s face hardened. “Tell me one thing,” he said. “What’s the young lady’s name and are we going to get a repeat performance?”

Bugger.

Collapsing back in the chair, Doyle covered his eyes and reorganised his thoughts. Across from him, Cowley waited, showing no inclination of backing down from his question, more was the pity. Finally Doyle said, “It’s not mine, sir. She’s…” How to explain this? “She’s an old girlfriend who’s fallen in with the wrong sort and-”

“Knows a soft touch when she sees it?” Cowley’s voice was gentle, almost teasing. Doyle glanced up and saw that he wasn’t mistaken. A glint of humour hovered in the old man’s eyes.

“Something like that, sir.”

“As well as a touch of ‘there but for the grace of god’, I should imagine.”

Doyle’s faced flushed and he rubbed his nose. Was too insightful by half, was Cowley. “Yeah. That too.”

“In that case…” The form was ripped through the middle and thrown into the bin. “An advance’ll bring you naught but more trouble next month.”

There was no arguing with that but Doyle’s heart sank. With Christmas coming, he had to help Gracie now. If she didn’t get it done privately, it would be too late by the New Year. “So what do you suggest? I can’t just leave her…” The rest died in his throat at the old man’s expression.

“Did I say a word about not helping?” They were back to the cut glass stare.

Doyle’s mouth flapped for a second and then he subsided. “No, sir.”

A second’s pause confirmed Doyle’s good behaviour then Cowley continued, “I’ve been approached by the Minister to provide a couple of volunteers for a special assignment.”

“What sort of assignment?”

“The sort of assignment that requires you to be quiet and listen. Something that should be within your capabilities, 4-5.”

Hells, the number. For some reason, Doyle always got the same creeping feeling from Cowley using that in general conversation as he did from his mum bellowing Raymond Philip up the stairs. “Right, sir.”

“Aldermaston has come up with something that could prove extremely helpful in the long term, but right now they need it tested. And in this case, the volunteers will be eligible for an immediate cash bonus.”

Doyle opened his mouth to ask what sort of testing, and closed it again when Cowley said, “For security reasons the details will be withheld until the subjects sign the relevant paperwork. All I can say at this point is that no lasting harm will come to yourself or 3-7, is that clear?”

“You want Bodie in on this as well?”

“If you want the money.”

“Does he know?”

The glasses went back on and Cowley opened a file. “I thought I’d leave that up to you, 4-5. If you want the bonus badly enough, I’m sure you’ll persuade him.”


*

“Damn!” Bodie closed the newspaper and tossed in on the table. “Don’t know why I bother. Be better off giving it away on street corners.”

The disgusted expression marring his partner’s normally sunny disposition gave Doyle a clue as what had happened. That, and the fact that they’d taken a detour to the bookies yesterday. Maybe this was the chance he’d been looking for. “Came in last, did it?” he asked disingenuously.

Bodie snorted. “Didn’t even finish. Guess it serves me right for taking tips from Heavy Harry.”

“That retired jockey living up Bethnal Green way?”

“The one who got busted for falling off once too easily? Yeah, that’d be him.” With another glare of disgust at the paper, Bodie got up and headed for the kettle.

“Gonna put a bit of a crimp in your holiday plans, innit?” Doyle said. “Weren’t you planning on a week in Wales with Sarah.”

“‘Were’ being the operative word,” Bodie answered over his shoulder. “Be lucky if I can afford a sheep and mud hut at this rate.”

Rather than jump straight in, Doyle let his partner stew for a few minutes, listening good-naturedly to Bodie’s rambling complaints. It certainly sounded like a bit of extra dosh would go down well, especially if it put Bodie back in good standing with his latest bird. Not that Doyle wanted to encourage that sort of thing. Especially not with Sarah. Tall, leggy and blonde, she was just Bodie’s type. Bodie was already showing an unsettling interest in her, and from what Doyle had seen on their few double dates, she was just as smitten with Bodie. If he wasn’t careful they’d be getting exclusive and then where would Doyle’s plans be. Right up the creek, that’s where.

Six months he’d been working up the courage to tell Bodie how he felt and now he was ready, his idiot of a mate was busy chasing after Miss Right. He’d been better off when it was just lust. That he could ignore, he was grown man for god’s sake. But then feelings had crept in, sentimental feelings that made him dream of halcyon days - and lecherous nights - spent with his partner and best mate. They were never specific, those dreams, but they left Doyle pining for something he thought he could never have. Until he worked up the gumption to ask, anyhow.

He was pretty certain Bodie wouldn’t brain him for it.

“The thing about Sarah is,” Bodie was saying, “she likes her luxuries. Makes her an expensive date, but Christ is she ever worth it in the sack.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just like every other bird you go out with. You ever pick ones that lay there like a sack of spuds?”

Bodie treated him to a broad grin round the biscuit he’d dug up from somewhere. “Only the once, old son, only the once.”

Doyle returned to the file he was studying. He ought to say something about the testing job. If he didn’t then he was going to end up in serious trouble before the end of the month. December/January was always tight at the best of times, being a long time between pay-days, and he had to give Grace the money soon or it would be too late. But that wouldn’t leave him enough for utilities let alone food. Doyle was starting to have visions of starving in a dark freezing flat over Christmas.

The clock on the wall slowly moved round to five thirty and Bodie began packing up. With things quiet there was no reason to hang around longer than their allotted shift, though they’d be on call until ten. If he didn’t say something now, it would be tomorrow and who knew what might come up between now and then.

“Bodie?” Doyle spoke before he could talk himself out of it.

His partner turned to him with one eyebrow raised quizzically.

“If you need some money…” His courage stalled along with the words.

“You’re willing to lend me some?” Bodie’s face was a picture. Fake concern dripped off him. “Hang on a tick.” A warm hand was pressed to Doyle’s forehead and strong fingers gripped his wrist. “No sign of a temperature. You sure you’re not going down with something?”

“Daft sod,” Doyle growled and yanked his hand away from the disconcerting touch. “And no, I’m not offering to lend you anything. You’ve still not given me back that wrench set you borrowed last month.”

“Wrench set? Wrench set?” Bodie screwed his face up in his ‘I’m thinking deeply’ expression. “That the one I sold to Jax for a tenner?”

“You better not have done, you bastard.”

The grin was back, lighting up Bodie’s eyes in a way that made Doyle want to kill him. Or possibly kiss him. “Nah. It’s in the cupboard. I’ll bring it in tomorrow if you want.” Grabbing a chair by its back, Bodie spun it round and sat astride it. “So what’s this about money, then?”

Here it was. Hit or miss. “Cowley’s got a job he needs doing and he’s willing to pay a bonus.”

Silence. Then, “Okay, now I know you’re sick. The Cow only pays bonuses in your fondest dreams. Or during months with an zed in them.”

“No, seriously. He told me earlier. And he wants us to do it.”

Another silence then Bodie frowned and said, “Who does he want killing?”

That possibility hadn’t occurred to Doyle. It was enough to make him pause for a second before he dismissed the idea. “Nothing like that. Just something Aldermaston needs testing.”

“Like that gas or something?” Bodie was looking unhappier by the moment.

“Or something.” Admitting defeat, Doyle decided to come completely clean. “Look, he didn’t say exactly what it was, but he did say that it wouldn’t harm us. And, to be honest, mate, I really need the money.”

Maybe it was the desperate note in his voice, but Bodie’s expression softened. “Yeah, all right. You’ve talked me into it. Where do I sign?”

Thank Christ! Doyle leapt to his feet, unable to stop the relief he was feeling from showing. “Haven’t a clue, but give us ten minutes and I’ll find out.”

*


Outside in the Capri, Bodie fiddled absently with the radio. Despite his efforts to distract himself, his thoughts steadfastly refused to move on further than his partner’s expression when he’d spoken about the job. There’d been a real desperation there, something that, in all the years they’d known each other, Bodie’d never seen in Ray’s eyes. It worried him. What the hell could have put it there? Debts? That didn’t seem likely. Ray was tight-fisted with money. Not a miser but careful. He didn’t gamble, or certainly not enough to land him in trouble. He only drank socially, and his opinions on drugs had been honed and hardened on London’s streets. Apart from a stream of girlfriends that rivalled Bodie’s own, Ray was one of the most clean living blokes Bodie had ever known. But something had put him in a situation where he needed money quickly.

Blackmail? Was there some deep dark secret in Raymond Doyle’s past? Something so bad that it could reduce a trained agent to gleaming eyes of gratitude when his partner agreed to play guinea pig for a few readies.

If it was blackmail then the reason had to be something that would ruin Ray’s career. Nothing else would make the man bend.

The main door swung open and Ray jogged out of the building. He was wearing those jeans again, the ones that had made Bodie retreat to the loo for a quick handjob the first time he’d seen them. It wasn’t so much the fit, though they were tight enough to leave no doubt about the ample basket Ray was packing, it was that bloody patch. The one that Bodie’s cock seemed to think was a bulls-eye stitched on just for him. Nestling between two perfectly tight arse-cheeks, that bit of embroidery drew more than the ladies’ eyes, as Bodie could testify. He’d even seen Jax take a step back and cast an admiring glance after it and as far as Bodie knew, there wasn’t a queer bone in Jax’s body.

It was almost as though Ray did it on purpose. The rangy posing in doorways, the way that chain pulled the eye to fuzz peeking from the top of a barely clad chest, those boots thrusting his hips forward, that arse…

Bodie tapped the steering wheel thoughtfully. Nah. Surely not. Not Ray. Not Mr. Five-dates-a-week Doyle.

Cover? Possible. Bodie had to look no further than himself for that explanation. But when he did get an itch only a man could scratch, he made damn sure it was eased out of London and well away from anywhere he might be recognised. Cowley had reinforced that when Bodie had come clean with him. The old man didn’t much care who his agents bedded, so long as it was carried on privately and away from prying public eyes.

Had Ray been careless? Being revealed as queer in this business would be as good as a death sentence. If it hit the papers, Ray could kiss both career and pension goodbye. He wouldn’t get an honourable discharge.

The passenger door opened and Ray hopped inside. “Next Tuesday, over at the training centre.”

“And?” Bodie looked at him, hoping for some answers, and put the car into gear.

Doyle shrugged. “Jack Craine’ll fill us in. You seeing Sarah tonight?”

“Yeah.” He wasn’t, but the alternative was having a drink with his partner and Bodie wasn’t in the mood. He had some thinking to do, some considering and putting his thoughts in order, and he didn’t want company while he was doing it.

“Drop us off at the Bull on your way home then.”

Bodie did as asked - the Bull being a common stomping ground for the lads - but, as he stopped for a red light at the next junction, he glanced through his rear-view mirror just in time to see Ray flag down a taxi and climb in.

Curiouser and curiouser. Why would Ray asked to be dropped off at the pub, only to move on before he’d even had time for a pint? It didn’t make sense and just added to Bodie’s growing unease. Doyle was up to something; something he hadn’t seen fit to share and made him desperate for cash. Just what the hell it was, Bodie determined to find out.

Swinging suddenly left and almost coming a cropper in the process, he took a long enough detour to come back out on the main road behind the taxi and settled in to tail his partner. He couldn’t get close. Even if Doyle wasn’t expecting it, he would notice a car following if Bodie wasn’t careful. Luckily the road was busy enough that Bodie could stay a few cars back and avoid being obvious.

A few minutes later the taxi pulled up outside the NatWest. Doyle jumped out and gestured back at the taxi, presumably for it to stay put while he quickly used the cash machine. Then they wound their way through the rush hour traffic down through the city, suffered the bumper to bumper streets around Vauxhall Bridge onto the South Circular and finally turned into a residential street in Lewisham. And it wasn’t one of the areas being done up either. No, this was one of the old roads with terraces that butted straight onto the pavement, where black teenagers playing music at full volume populated the kerb and scruffy kids kicked balls around under flickering streetlights.

Bodie kept his distance until he saw the taxi pull over. He followed and overshot, knowing from experience that a car driving past was less likely to draw attention than one stopping behind you. A few yards down the road he pulled into a space and glanced in the side mirror.

Doyle was paying the cabby, his attention not attracted by the Capri - one of the benefits of a popular model. Once the taxi had left, he exchanged greetings with a gaggle of dreadlocked Rastafarians and headed for one of the houses. A young black woman opened the door, yellow light streaming out past her onto the pavement, and a moment later Doyle was inside, the door closing behind him.

Bodie hopped out of the car and hurried back along the pavement. He needed the house number at least, if he was going to investigate further. The curtains in the front room were still open and from across the road, Bodie stared into an unfamiliar domain. It looked unloved. A bare bulb hung from the ceiling and, even at this distance, large patches of damp were obvious.

The woman stood in the middle of the room, her braided hair spilling down over a brightly patterned dress. Doyle was by the door and, as Bodie watched, his partner took a wadge of cash from his jacket pocket and handed it over. The woman took it, her face proud and haughty in way that only blacks could achieve. Bodie knew that expression well - he’d seen it on villagers and kings alike.

Bodie’s heart sank. Blackmail, it had to be. Why else would Doyle be creeping out here and passing out that kind of money to a spade?

Tight-lipped, he made a note of the house number, returned to the car and drove on to the end of the road where he parked again opposite a bunch of kids.

“Oi,” he called out, gesturing to one who looked in his direction. Within moments they all surrounded the car window, dirty faces peering past him into the interior.

Seeing the RT, one of them asked, “You a copper?”

Bodie ignored him. “Who lives at forty-three?”

“Dunno,” the gang leader, a lanky kid of about twelve with hair that made him look like a pineapple, answered. “Rented innit. New people all the time.”

Bugger. That wasn’t the answer Bodie wanted and if the place was rented out, the electoral roll’d be no help either.

“Okay, thanks,” he said and wound the window up. The kids melted away, returning to their game of football. All except one, a small boy in jeans and a zip top, who stood a few feet away from the car and stared wide-eyed at him. For a few minutes Bodie did his best to ignore him, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on number forty-three through the mirror. But it was disconcerting, being the object of such unwavering fascination, and when glaring at the kid didn’t work, Bodie tried another approach. He crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out.

The kid’s eyes grew wider, so Bodie did it again, adding fingers in his ears for extra effect. This time the kid broke into a grin, showing startling white teeth. But he still didn’t leave. In fact he crept closer, until his hand rested on the bonnet.

Slowly, so as not to spook the kid, Bodie wound the window down. “Hello,” he said. “Something you want?”

Huge eyes stared at him without blinking until Bodie’s were watering in sympathy, then, “It’s a lady.”

“What’s a lady?”

“Living in that ‘ouse.” A grubby finger pointed in the direction of number forty-three.

“You know what she’s called?” Bodie asked.

“Grace, me mum calls her.” The boy crept closer. “She came to our ‘ouse once. She’s pretty.”

Curbing the instinct demanding he grab the kid and interrogate him, Bodie called on the charm he usually used on the weaker sex and said, “Pretty is she? Young then?”

“Nah. She’s a growed up. But she’s got pretty hair. All plaited with beads.”

Well, that answered that question. The woman he’s seen through the window was probably Grace.

“Don’t suppose your mum said what her last name was, did she?” It was a vain hope, but Bodie couldn’t pass it up.

“Grace Finley, me mum said she was called.”

A name. Perfect. Now he could start looking into this woman and what she had on Doyle. After tossing the kid a fifty pence piece, Bodie slipped the Capri into gear. Next stop, HQ and the computers. With luck, no one would ask what the hell he was doing there past eight o’clock at night.

*


He hit paydirt on the name almost immediately. There were three Grace Findley/Finley’s of the right age and race on the system. Since printing out the data was safer than studying it on the screen, he dumped the information through to the print room and went to make himself a cuppa. Twenty minutes later he stuck his head round the door and Anita handed over the paperfold with a flirtatious smile. Bodie grabbed it and blew her a kiss as he left.

Back at his flat, whisky in hand and fire turned up full blast, he settled on the sofa and began flicking through the print out. The fold of paper slid off his lap, leaving him holding one end. He sighed. Damn, he hated these things. One day they’d actually get computers to print out separate sheets. That would make life easier.

The first woman on the list he dismissed after a couple of seconds. Yes, she was the right age and race, but since she was currently residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure, it was unlikely she was the one Doyle had met in Lewisham.

Both two and three were candidates and, since he had to wait until tomorrow to dig any photographs out of records, Bodie concentrated on memorising the details of both.

Grace Findley, one. DOB 21/7/54, which made her 25. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, and the only child of Wilbert and Marsha who immigrated in 1958. Presumably her parents brought her over with them. Nothing in her records until 1973 when she joined the English arm of the Black Panthers. Since then she’d been arrested several times, on each occasion for affray or ABH at some radical demonstration or another. In short, she was a troublemaker with dangerous connections. And in Bodie’s experience, that made her capable of blackmailing a CI5 agent.

The second woman - Bodie dubbed her Gracie Two - was just as political, but she was more socialist than radical. One of three children, born in Kenya of mixed parentage. Parents John and Salima Maiyani. A graduate of Cambridge university, she was a member of the Communist Party - not actually an offence - and had visited both East Germany and the Soviet Union in past five years. The possibility of recruitment by the KGB was mentioned in her records. Most interestingly from `75 to ’78 she was married to Willie Finley - self-proclaimed author of the people.

Taking a sip from his whisky, Bodie leant back and considered his findings. Maybe he was over-reacting? Maybe Doyle was just dating this girl and she wasn’t either of the Grace’s he’d found in the computer. Then again, maybe not. Ray could be in serious trouble. But without photos, Bodie could prove nothing. And with no proof, he couldn’t do anything to help.

The clock said ten minutes to midnight when he went to bed, not an early night for a man planning on getting to work before his partner the next day.

*


Doyle was late.

Taking the front steps two at a time, he cursed and pushed open the front doors. His watch said nine-fifteen. He was gonna kill bloody Bodie. Half an hour he waited for the bastard before giving up and taking the tube, only to find the northern line closed and everything backed up for bloody miles. Finally he’d had to take a taxi. Now he just wanted to find his partner and kill him. Slowly and painfully.

The briefing was coming to an end when he slipped into the back of the room and Cowley’s summing up made it sound as if there was nothing urgent happening. Good. All the more time to hunt Bodie down. And he might need it since, looking around the room, his partner was conspicuous by his absence.

“4-5?”

“Sir?” Doyle pushed his way past the other operatives who were busy packing up and leaving.

Cowley was unpinning photos from a corkboard at the front of the room. “You’ll be teaming with Anson. 3-7 has requested a week off for personal reasons.”

“Personal reasons?”

Cowley looked at him askance. “Problem?”

“No, sir, just… He didn’t say anything about it to me.”

The photographs got shuffled into a tight pile. “It has occurred to you that 3-7 might not tell you everything.”

There wasn’t much Doyle could say in answer to that. Of course Bodie didn’t tell him everything, just like he didn’t tell Bodie everything. If he did then he’d have told his partner that he’d wanted to screw him silly since the first time they met. And where would that have got him? Partnerless and out of a job, probably.

Leaving the briefing, he headed to the break room and Anson, finding his temporary partner chatting to Lucas by the kettle.

“Morning,” Doyle said. “The Cow says we’re working together.”

“File room. If your lordship thinks he can cope not being the centre of attention for a few days.”

Biting back a sarcastic comment, Doyle pushed the button in on the kettle. Anson wasn’t a bad agent; in fact he was a bloody good one; it was just his attitude. Like he thought himself better than everyone else. Bodie said it was Sandhurst that did it. Doyle thought it was probably a class thing.

The rest of the day was spent doing data entry. Computers were useful but transferring all the paper files onto punch cards was a thankless task and, despite Anita’s charming company, by five, Doyle was ready to throw the damn thing through the window. Still it did mean he could get off work with enough time to pick up a few bits before he went to see Gracie. Today was the day and he’d promised to be there for her after the fact, even if he couldn’t go to the hospital.

Flowers didn’t seem appropriate, nor did a box of chocolates. What did you buy a woman who’d just terminated a pregnancy, however unwanted? There was a Jamaican bakery in Brixton and Doyle stopped off there to pick up some bits he hoped would tempt a failing appetite.

Gracie looked awful when she opened the door, her eyes bruised, her lips thin and tight.

“You okay, love?” Doyle asked as he went in.

She shook her head and wrapped her arms around herself. He didn’t press, just closed the door, put the plastic bag down, and held his arms out. She came to him with a strangled cry, grabbing the front of his jacket and holding on, her whole body shaking. He ran his hands up and down her back, murmuring comfort. Telling her she wasn’t to blame, that she’d done the right thing, that that bastard had had no right doing what he’d done to her. It was doubtful that she heard him, but he said it anyway. It was balm to his soul as much as to hers. When Gracie had turned up on his doorstep, traumatised and desperate, he’d done the same thing. What else could he do? She’d refused to press charges and anyway it was too long after the event.

“Hey.” The worst of the sobbing was past. Doyle tucked a hand under her chin and gave her a querying look.

She sniffed and scrubbed at her nose as she released him. “Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for.” He picked the bag up. “I picked up a few bits on the way over. Thought they might help.”

Her smile when she opened it was watery but well worth waiting for. Doyle followed her through to the kitchen and they sat on flimsy chairs at the small chipped formica table and stuffed themselves on gizzadas and sugar cakes, slurping hot tea and exchanging gossip.

“I’ll pay you back,” Gracie said suddenly, apropos nothing.

Doyle shook his head. “Don’t have to do that. Call it an early Christmas prezzie… Shit.” She’d started crying again. Putting down his mug, he reached across and took her hand. “I’m sorry, love. That was a rotten thing to say. Course it’s not a present.” Insensitive prat.

“No, it’s me being stupid. I shoulda got over this weeks past. Knew it was coming.”

“Yeah, but that’s not the same as it happening.” He paused, thinking. “Tell you what, how about we call it belated repayment for getting me out of trouble.”

She frowned up at him for a second, and then her face cleared and she reached up to touch his cheek. “I was still not quick enough to stop this.”

Capturing her hand, Doyle kissed the palm. “It would’ve been a sight worse if you hadn’t pulled that bloke off when you did. He was really putting the boot in.”

“It’s what we did, back then. I don’t think any of us stopped to think the pigs were people too.” Gracie’s face took on a haunted cast. “Now we’ve done turned on ourselves.”

“Hey, none of that. Tell you what, I can’t stay long tonight, early start tomorrow, but we could go out Thursday. There’s a pub in Soho where you can admire the scenery.” He leaned forward, and whispered, “And I don’t even mind getting me bum felt up. Not for you.”

She laughed and batted at him, but agreed to the outing all the same.

*


Another two days in files put Doyle in the perfect mood for a night out. He picked Grace up at eight and they stopped off for a meal before going on to the pub. It put an extra strain on his finances but he only had to hold life and soul together for another few days and then he’d get that cash bonus. The electric bill would just have wait.

The King’s Head in Soho was somewhere Doyle went occasionally when the urge outweighed the risks. It was a quiet place, not as well known and popular as some of the others, and so perfect for an off duty copper or CI5 operative in search of some mutually amicable company.

Gracie seemed relaxed as they arrived and Doyle was so wrapped up in her that it took him a couple of moments to register the frigid atmosphere their entrance engendered.

“You two together?” a woman by the door said. She was small with blonde cropped hair and looked butcher than Bodie.

“Why, not welcoming straights anymore,” Doyle said, bristling at her attitude. He hated when people jumped to conclusions about him.

“Leave it be, Ray.” Gracie pulled him further into the pub and Doyle realised that he was in the distinct minority. It didn’t seem to faze Gracie though, and that was why they were here. A noticeboard draped with tatty tinsel by the bar shed some light on the subject. Apparently Thursdays was now women’s night, which went a long way to explain why Doyle had two too many balls to be comfortable.

“What you having, then,” he asked Gracie as the barmaid appeared in front of them.

“Vodka and tonic.”

“And a G&T, please, love.”

“Sexist pig. Do you call all women you meet that?” a voice came from behind him.

Doyle sighed and turned round. It was the same woman. She must have followed them. “Look, I’m just here for a drink. I’m sorry I’m the wrong sex, but there’s not much I can do about it, so if you don’t mind…” He gestured to the barmaid who was returning with the drinks.

The woman glared at him, snorted and stormed away, a chorus of complaints following her path across the pub.

It was tempting to leave. If he’d been alone then there would have been no second thoughts, but this was Gracie’s night. After the rape, she’d cut herself off from everyone, friends and family alike, only coming to him when she found out she was pregnant.

It was strange in some ways that she had chosen him. Although they’d stayed in touch over the years, they’d never been close. Their lives were too different as their short affair had proved. She was a radical through and through, and he was a copper walking the beat where she lived. There was nowhere they could go and be accepted, no friends they held in common, and no way for family to accept their choices. Eventually the strain had proved too much and they parted company, promising to remain friends. Surprisingly they had, if sporadically. Doyle could only guess that it was this distance that allowed Gracie to turn to him for help when she most needed it.

Right now, the subject of his thoughts was deep in conversation with a woman to her left and, when Doyle nudged her to hand over her drink, she smiled at him and immediately returned to talking. Doyle took his own glass and retreated to the corner, content to watch from a distance. She seemed happy, chatting animatedly with an attractive blonde woman wearing tie-dye dungarees. He smiled. This was exactly what Gracie needed. Other women - other lesbians - for company, not an ageing CI5 agent who didn’t even have the guts to tell her he fancied his male partner. Of all the people in the world he should be able to confess to, it should be her.

“Looks like we chose the wrong night to come out, if you’ll excuse the pun.”

Doyle glanced up at the man speaking, his brain doing the usual ‘notice and assess all details’. There were times when he wondered if he’d ever be able to go back to treating strangers without suspicion. This one looked harmless enough though. Late twenties, medium height, non-descript brown hair, casual jeans and check shirt. One of those blokes you’d walk straight passed in the street.

“I’m not-” Doyle started, about to explain that he wasn’t looking for company.

The man cut him off. “Oh, I’m not trying to pick you up. Just looking for company that doesn’t have tits.” He paused and narrowed his eyes. “You don’t have tits do you? Tell me I’m not coming onto to someone who’s had the op.”

The expression of distaste on his face made Doyle laugh. “Nah, one hundred percent titless,” he said. “Just here with a friend.” A wave of the hand at the bar could have indicated any of the women, but the man didn’t seem interested. He put down his pint and took a seat.

“I’m Paul, by the way, and it was the hair that made me ask. A little out of style but very attractive all the same.”

Doyle ran hand through it self-consciously. People always seemed to think it was permed, but it wasn’t and he had it as short as he could without ending up looking like a bovver boy. The trouble was, it grew so fast. Give it a couple of months and it would down past his collar again. Then Bodie would start up, playing with his curls and ruffling it, which he never did when it was short. Not that that was why Doyle grew it long. Course it wasn’t. He sighed. One day he might stop lying to himself as well.

“Who is he?”

The question brought Doyle up short. His head jerked up and he said, “What?”

“You sighed. I’m an expert at sighs and that sigh was an unrequited love sigh, believe me.”

*


The van was an unmarked one Bodie had borrowed from a mate. It went like a bomb but the heater was useless, sporadically gasping out gusts of lukewarm air into the frigid interior. Outside, the wind danced bits of rubbish up the road, collecting them against walls and streetlights. There was no snow, but it was cold enough to freeze your knackers off even so.

Bodie blew on his hands and rubbed them together. If he’d known he’d be sat for bloody hours, he would have worn gloves, but he wasn’t about to give up now, not after records proved that the woman Doyle was with was none other than Grace Findley one, radical troublemaker.

Seemed a bit odd though, going for a drink with someone who was blackmailing you.

Up the road, the door of a fish and chip shop opened and a couple spilled out, along with the promise of hot greasy food. Bodie’s stomach rumbled. He’d not eaten since lunch and it wouldn’t hurt just nipping along and picking up a sixpenny’th of chips. He could check that Ray was still in situ on the way back.

A few minutes later, holding a steaming cone in one hand, he was peering in through the pub’s misted up window. And immediately flinching back.

Bugger! Ray was sitting directly inside, talking to a bloke. Bodie didn’t think he’d been seen but for a few seconds his heart pounded in expectation of his partner barging outside and demanding to know what Bodie was up to.

And to be honest, Bodie didn’t even know himself. If he really suspected Ray was being blackmailed, he should tell Cowley. But if he was wrong… It was that which stayed his hand. To bring disaster down on Ray’s head when it wasn’t deserved was unforgivable.

Somewhere in his mind, Bodie knew that was a lousy excuse. His duty was to CI5, to Cowley, to Queen and Country, not to Ray Doyle. But still, he couldn’t do it, and if there was one thing Bodie had always excelled at, it was going his own way.

More carefully this time, he approached the window again. Doyle was still there, side on to the glass and deep in conversation with a young bloke wearing jeans and a check shirt. Of the woman Ray had arrived with, there was no sign. Maybe she’d gone to the loo.

A minute later he was proved right. Findley appeared from the back corner of the bar and immediately came over to Ray. She didn’t sit down, just put her hand on his shoulder. Bodie couldn’t hear the exchange, but he understood from their body language that she was apologising for not staying with him. Ray waved her away and Findley went, joining a gaggle of women in the opposite corner.

And weren’t they an interesting bunch.

Over the years, Bodie had developed a nose for people plotting and conniving and those women were definitely plotting and conniving. They sat in a tight group, leaning forwards and talking, all with determined expressions on their faces. Occasionally one of them would gesticulate wildly, only to be restrained by one of the others.

A radical in a pub involved in that sort of conversation while Doyle sat in the same room and kept an eye on her. It had all the hallmarks of an op, except Bodie knew that Doyle was on no such op, so it had to be private. A private job? A private baby-sitting job? Did he need the money that badly? But if that was it then why would Doyle be paying the woman instead of the other way around?

Bodie retreated to his van; his head hurting from trying to think his way round the convoluted circles this job invariably produced. Normally he let Ray do that bit and just went along with whatever he came up with. It was easier and Bodie never claimed not to be bone-idle.

An hour or so later, the pub door opened, filling the street corner with steamy breath and stamping, chattering people. Ray wasn’t with them. He was standing to one side, his gaze sweeping the area in a cool professional manner. As though he was on a job.

Bodie ducked as that gaze moved past him and, when he looked up, Ray was halfway down the street, arm in arm with Findley. The rest of the group was heading in the opposite direction and, after a moment’s thought, Bodie opted to follow them. He already knew about Grace Findley, now he needed to know about her friends.

They lived in Brixton, in a communal house as far as Bodie could tell. They were also queer. Either that or incredibly friendly, since at least two of the women had peeled off from the group on the way home and vanished into an alley. Only to reappear a few minutes later looking hot and bothered.

Had the pub been a queer pub? He’d been too busy trying not being spotted to notice the demographic. Probably should go back and check at some point. Tomorrow maybe, during lunch would be best, he thought. At least Ray would be at work and it was unlikely he’d run into anyone he knew or that knew him. In the meantime, he memorised faces, strained to overhear names - Salome and Helen - and took a note of the address. Where the hell all this was going, he didn’t know, but the longer it went on, the unhappier he was getting. It was starting to look horribly as though Doyle was in over his head.

*


Early the next morning, after sneaking into the CI5 building under the cover of needing to pick something up from his locker, he was even more convinced that something was going on. The address in Brixton was flagged up as being under observation by MI5 for possible involvement with seditious publications and at least one of the women had a conviction for possession of marijuana.

It was getting to the point where Bodie knew he was going to have to take everything he’d found to Cowley, even if it did mean Ray getting into trouble.

“Morning. Thought you were off living it up.”

Bodie glanced up guiltily from the computer screen, hitting a key to clear the data and losing hours of work in the process. “Thought I saw Alfie Marlowe down Fulham Road and thought I’d better check up,” he improvised. “Turns out the old bugger’s still inside though, so I must’ve been seeing things.”

Doyle nodded at him, apparently accepting the explanation and took a seat at the terminal next to him. “You all finished then?” he said. “Or you gonna be hanging about?”

“Why?” Bodie asked, instantly suspicious.

Doyle gave him a startled look. “Was just wondering if you were gonna be around at lunch time. Thought we could go and have a pint.”

‘With your new pals?’ The question hovered on Bodie’s lips but he managed not to ask it. Ray looked so normal, so usual, that for a moment Bodie thought he must have imagined everything. Then he said, “My treat. Even buy you a pub lunch if you like,” and Bodie’s doubts collapsed. Less than a week ago, Doyle had been desperate for money and now he was offering to buy lunch as if he had money to burn. The only way things changed that quickly was a sudden windfall, and windfalls too often came at an extortionate price, as Bodie well knew.

His guts twisted up as he watched his partner hunched over the keyboard. Ah, Raymond, old son, he thought. What have you gone and got yourself mixed up in this time?

He was outside Cowley’s door with his hand raised to knock, before he really thought what he was doing. Going in there and telling the old man what he knew would mean an indelible mark against Ray’s name. Even if he was cleared, any sort of official enquiry would end up on his record and Bodie didn’t want that. He stood for a moment considering his options then walked away. The least he could do was go look at the pub in Soho. He owed Ray that much, at least.

*


The place was damn nearly deserted when he walked in. Only one corner was occupied, by a couple of Japanese tourists, complete with bemused expressions and cameras slung round their necks. Lost presumably, since the Japs weren’t known for slumming it. And anyone who wandered the streets of Soho was certainly slumming - if they weren’t after the facilities.

Bodie leaned gingerly on the damp bar and pushed away a half-full ashtray. By the smell of stale tobacco, not emptying the damn things was a habit in this pub, along with not cleaning up properly.

“Yeah?” the barmaid said, pushing a straggle of mousy hair back behind her ear.

“Pint, please, love. And a packet of peanuts.”

As she was pulling his drink, he wandered over to a tinsel decorated board covered in bits of paper. It didn’t take an idiot to work out from its contents that he’d been right in his guess last night. Along with information on poetry readings, private clubs and an advert for the interestingly named ‘Lashings of Leather’ there were several leaflets for London Gay Switchboard. This was a queer pub - or at least queer friendly. So he was back to wondering what Ray was doing hanging out here.

He snagged a copy of the Switchboard leaflet and returned to where the barmaid was waiting.

“Sixty pence,” she said, sticking out her hand.

Bodie fished out the money and took the seat by the door where Ray had been the night before. Hanging around was probably a waste of time but walking out without having at least one drink would look suspicious. After giving the leaflet a once over, he took a sip of his pint and grimaced. Watney’s Red Barrell. What a bloody rip-off. The stuff tasted like heated over cat-piss.

“You didn’t just ask for a pint did you?”

“What?”

The new arrival pointed at Bodie’s drink. “If you just ask for a pint in here, Cheryl pulls Watneys. I think it’s a way of keeping the tourists out.”

“Right.” Bodie gazed sadly at his drink. “Guess I should’ve asked for a pint of best then.”

“It does help. You want one?”

Bodie looked up and almost did a double take. The check shirt had been swapped for a suit and tie, but this was definitely the same bloke Doyle had been talking to last night. “You offering?” his mouth said automatically.

He got a considered look for his trouble, then the man shrugged. “Actually I only dropped in to pick up messages, but if you don’t mind…”

“Knock yourself out,” Bodie said and pushed the chair opposite out from table with his foot. “Be nice to have a bit of male company for a change.” Not exactly subtle, but he hadn’t got time for that. He needed facts and fast.

The bloke was back in couple of minutes, carrying pints that smelled strongly hoppy. “Shep’s Best,” he said as put them down. “I’m Paul.”

“Andy,” Bodie replied and took a sip from his new drink, sighing happily when it turned out to be drinkable. “That’s better. Next time I get a tip-off about a pub, I’ll make sure and listen to all of it.”

“You know about this place then?”

Long fingers were busily dismembering a beermat, a sure sign of nerves. Was Paul the official greeting committee or something?

Bodie sat back and folded his arms. “I dunno. Should I?”

Their eyes met, exchanging a challenge as to who was going give in first. Paul lost. Somewhat flustered, he reached out and tapped the leaflet lying by Bodie’s elbow. “Look,” he said, “if you were in here in the evening, I wouldn’t think twice, but lunch time is different and if you’re here to cause trouble then I just want you to know that we don’t stand for that kind of thing.” His gaze, when he met Bodie’s eyes again, was scared but determined, his cheeks a little flushed. “We are capable of defending ourselves, you know.”

So Paul thought he was a thug scoping out the place. Not inconceivable, but in this case, completely wrong. Bodie shook his head and forced himself to relax. “I’m not here to cause trouble, mate,” he said. “Just looking for a few like-minded blokes, if you see what I mean.”

“That’s okay then.” Paul relaxed a little, leaning back in his chair. “Look, I’m sorry about giving you the third degree, but sometimes we get the fuzz in here doing the pick-up routine. It’s a good idea to sniff them out before they cause trouble.”

“Understand completely. Can’t be too careful, can you.”

That settled, the two of them sat quietly sipping their drinks for a few minutes. Bodie knew he needed information, but right now he was at a bit of a loss as to how to go about getting it. He’d normally flirt or threaten but neither seemed appropriate in this situation. Eventually, as Paul reached the last of his pint, Bodie opted for up front and blatant.

“Look,” he said. “I know it looks a bit dodgy, but I’m actually looking for an old mate of mine, and I heard he comes in here sometimes.”

Paul stared at him over his glass for a moment then put it down and nodded. “Okay, I might be able to help. What’s his name?”

“Ray. Ray Doyle.” It was possible that Ray had given a false name, but somehow Bodie didn’t think so.

He was proved right when Paul’s eyes flickered with recognition. “Curly hair and green eyes?”

“Yeah, that’s him.”

“He was in here last night. You’re a friend of his… oh…Oh!” Paul’s eyes grew wider and the flush returned to his cheeks. “You’re him.”

“Him who?” Had Ray been talking about him last night? That didn’t seem likely.

“You’re his friend who he…um… nothing.”

This was bloody ridiculous. “What did he say?” Bodie snapped, grabbing Paul’s arm.

“Keep your hands to yourself!” Paul wrenched his arm away, almost falling off his stool as he did so.

Bodie released him immediately, not wanting a scene and conscious of the barmaid watching them. “Sorry,” he said, holding up his own hands to show he meant no harm, “but…” Christ, this was going all wrong. He rubbed his face, trying to clear his head. All he really wanted to know was how often Doyle came in here and did always come with Findley, but asking outright wasn’t going to work.

“Hey.” A hand gripped his shoulder gently. “Look, Bodie. It is Bodie isn’t it?”

Bodie nodded blankly, wondering where the hell this was going.

“Thought so. It’s me who should be sorry. It’s just that when Ray said last night that you didn’t return his feelings, I assumed it was because you were straight, not because you didn’t fancy him.”

*

“Ray? Phone call for you. From your bank.”

“Yeah, okay. Put it through.” Ray jammed the receiver between his chin and neck and carried on typing. It was probably Dickie Poulson, the deputy manager, checking that he’d cover some of his overdraft. That wasn’t unusual. His bank always called him at work since his home number changed so often and he was rarely there during office hours.

“Mr. Doyle? Mr. Cuthbertson here. It’s about your account.”

Ray sat up straighter. Cuthbertson was the manager, a man who bore a distinct resemblance to Captain Mainwaring and had an attitude to match. “Yeah,” he said. “Is there a problem?”

“I hope not. You do realise, sir, that your account is overdrawn by five hundred pounds.”

Five hundred? Shit, he hadn’t realised it was that much. But then there was the money he’d drawn out for Gracie and then the night out and the meal and the cash he’d needed to pick up some groceries this morning and filling the car with petrol. So, yeah, maybe it was that much.

“Um, yeah?” he said.

“And are you also aware that your salary will not bring you back into credit.”

Doyle gritted his teeth. Of course his bloody salary wouldn’t cover the overdraft. What did Cuthbertson think he was, well paid? “I’m aware of the situation, Mr. Cuthbertson, but I do have a cash bonus due next Tuesday that should cover the rest of it.”

Silence. He could almost see Cuthbertson seething. Then that annoyingly pompous voice came again. “That’s all well and good, Mr. Doyle, but I would ask you not to draw any more checks on your account until a substantial deposit has been made. This is the twelfth consecutive month you’ve been overdrawn and we really cannot allow the situation to continue.”

“But…” Doyle began, only to discover he was speaking to a dial tone. He slammed the receiver down and slumped back in his chair. He had to write a check on his account. The pile of letters from the Electricity Board threatening to cut him off said that he had to. Fuck, when did this all get so out of hand.

He should have been more careful, but how could he say no to family when he was the only one pulling in anything like a decent wage. Mum only had her widow’s pension and Ken, the new brother-in-law, was an unskilled machinist, so Doyle had to offer to help with the wedding. Then last month there’d been no one left to pay for sticking Uncle Bill in the ground when he passed on. Thank god the old duffer had been with the Co-op or the loan Doyle had taken out would have needed to be twice as much. And now Gracie. Another needy person Doyle couldn’t turn away. Was the Cow right? Was he just an easy touch?

“Lunch?”

“What?” Dragged out his unhappy pondering, Doyle sat up and glared at Bodie who was leaning against the door.

“I believe there was a promise of luncheon if I hung around long enough, sunshine. And none of that cheap muck from the cafe; I’m expecting a three course with cocktails, since you’re buying.” Doyle opened his mouth to cry off but Bodie got in first, his face full of smiles and hands rubbing together. “Know just the place. There’s a little Italian opened just round the corner. Perfect for an intimate tête-à-tête.”

The idea of a private meal with Bodie was at once horrifying and exactly what Doyle had wanted for months. A chance to get his partner alone, not in a work environment and without the girls who always seemed to be tagging along. He could take the opportunity to tell him how he really felt. Or not.

Aware of his limitations, Doyle realised that he’d probably spend the entire time tongue tied or chatting about inanities, which was depressing. What was it Paul had said last night? ‘If you like the bloke then go for it. What could be worse that sitting around and getting your chakras all in a twist about him.’

But money. The thirty quid in his pocket was supposed to last until Tuesday, to buy food and maybe a couple of beers. If he took Bodie for a slap up lunch, he’d be wiped out. Then again, on Tuesday he’d get cash and his wages did go in tomorrow, so he should be okay if as he didn’t spend too much. He could always claim not to be that hungry.

*

“`S good,” Bodie was saying, digging his fork into his carbonara and twirling it around.

It looked good, Doyle thought as he watched. The pancetta was crisp, the sauce rich, the pasta just on the edge of firm. Perfect. And all Bodie’s.

“Sure you don’t want any?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“Dunno how you make do with just that.” This time the fork was aimed at Doyle’s plate and the tomato salad he was eating.

Ignoring the rumble in his stomach that was demanding something more substantial, Doyle fended off his partner’s fork and said, “Unlike some, I care about my waistline.”

“And a very nice waistline it is, sunshine.”

All these years Doyle had put up with it. The personal comments, the wandering hands, the nicknames. No longer. Today was the day he grabbed the bull by the horns and either wrestled it to the ground or ended up being hoist high on its horns.

Placing his fork down carefully next to his plate, Doyle sat back and glared at Bodie across the table. “Why do you say stuff like that?”

“Like what?” Bodie answered, his head lowered over his pasta.

“Personal stuff.”

Bodie stopped eating. Literally. Like someone had pulled his plug out. He sat there, staring at Doyle from under his eyebrows, with spaghetti and sauce - which Doyle was not wanting to lick off - plastered over his lips.

“And while we’re about it, there’s the other stuff.”

Bodie’s eyebrows moved fractionally higher, as if to say what other stuff.

“The hands, the touching, the pet names, the fact that you come round to my place and help yourself to things without so much as a by your leave.” This wasn’t working. Bodie wasn’t reacting and Doyle was getting side-tracked onto the things that annoyed him, not the things he wanted explaining.

He shook his head and tried again. “The bottom-line is, if you weren’t dating birds, I’d think half the time you were flirting with me instead.” There, now he’d said it. For good or ill, it was out.

Bodie sat up slowly and deliberately, finished what he was chewing, took a sip of wine and wiped his mouth politely on his napkin before resting his elbows on the table and staring at Doyle over his clasped hands across a narrow expanse of well-laundered linen.

“Let me get this straight,” he said after a couple of seconds. “After five years as my partner, during which time I’ve tried just about every tactic I can think of, aside from clubbing you over the head, to get you into bed, now you decide to ask me what it’s about?”

Doyle knew his mouth was flapping open, but for the life of him, he couldn’t close it. Bodie had been trying to get him into bed? That was… His heart kicked up a notch. Too good to be true. There was no way Bodie would take this so calmly unless he’d been forewarned.

Unless he was kidding around. Or unless Bodie thought he was kidding around.

Eyes narrowing, Doyle studied his partner closely. Bodie’s expression was shuttered, cool. Behind that mask, he could either be opening himself up completely or pissing himself laughing and Doyle didn’t have the foggiest which it might be. It was being left up to him to take the risk. But could he? Could he leave himself open to public ridicule, ruin his partnership and possibly lose his career?

The answer was simple. No, he couldn’t. He’d walked up to the edge of the cliff but faced with jumping without either company or a parachute, he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, take that final step. And knowing that, realising that, hurt. It stabbed through his belly sharper than any hunger or any knife.

Without saying a word, Doyle stood up, took out his wallet and tossed a few notes on the table. Bodie watched him in equal silence, his face still unreadable. Only when it became obvious that Doyle was really about to leave did he reach out and catch his arm, smiling a bit uncertainly.

“Listen, mate, forget it, okay. It’s not important. Just sit down and I’ll give you lift back to HQ in a mo.”

Doyle shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. If he did then the anger seething in his belly would force out something he’d regret. All he could hope for now was that they could remain friends and the best way to do that was, as Bodie said, to forget this had ever happened. Unfortunately, at this moment that was beyond him, so he walked from the restaurant without a backward glance and trusted to fortune that they could both move on.

*

“Prat!” In all honesty, Bodie wasn’t sure who he was referring to, himself or his partner, but swearing made him feel better so he kept it up in a heartfelt way as he drove home.

When Paul had accidentally spilled the beans in the pub, Bodie had been over the moon. All worries about blackmail and dirty doings at the crossroads vanished under impressions of getting Ray into bed.

But the drive back to HQ had given him another idea. For the past five years, Bodie had been good. Yes, he’d patted and touched and fondled, but no more than he would any other good-looking feller, and he’d never taken it further. Ray, on the other hand was an incorrigible flirt and Paul’s announcement finally handed Bodie a chance to get his own back for all the times Doyle’d paraded himself up and down under Bodie’s nose without a second thought for what sort of reaction he causing.

So he’d set him up. Dragged him out to that restaurant with the sole purpose of getting Ray to spill the beans about his lust and then taking the mickey out of the blighter. Course, he would have apologised whole-heartedly afterwards and then dragged Doyle back to his place to screw him silly. If Bodie’s plans had followed their natural course, neither of them would have been walking straight come Monday. It would have been fun.

Only it hadn’t worked that way.

The expression on Ray’s face when he’d brought the subject up had changed everything. Fear, whether for himself or for Bodie, it didn’t matter. What did matter was that suddenly, all Bodie could see was his very straight partner suddenly coming on to him less than a week after being blackmailed. And every instinct Bodie had screamed set-up. He only had Paul’s word that Doyle was queer. And what were the odds of running into the same bloke Doye’d been chatting to the night before. Unless it was planned. Unless he’d been spotted and they knew he was coming and had decided to bring Bodie down along with his partner.

Bodie shook his head and changed down, revving the engine and sending the tachometer flying up into the red.

Ray wouldn’t do that. Not the man he’d worked with for five years. It was inexplicable, impossible, incomprehensible. And yet, Ray had. He’d sat there opposite Bodie and made the offer. Yes, it was couched in terms that Bodie could ignore, but Bodie wasn’t stupid, or at least hadn’t thought he was up until today. Right now, he wasn’t so sure. He wasn’t sure of anything except that something was going on with Ray and unless Bodie found out what, things were going to get a lot worse before they got better.

Worst came to the worst, he could pick up the pieces later. Once he knew Doyle was in the clear.

Accelerating up the King’s Road, he did his best to ignore the other equally terrifying possibility. In Bodie’s experience there were only two things that scared Ray. Bodie himself being hurt, or emotional involvement. If this wasn’t a badger-job, then the only other possibility was that Ray felt a hell of a lot more for him than Bodie had ever realised. And that was enough to send Bodie’s mind into near meltdown panic. Lust for another bloke was one thing, love was something entirely different. He knew love. Love was for a woman and a man. It was a complex clever game where men used flowers and chocolates to stay one step ahead of rings and church bells. And if you ended up hitched and confined to one bed, you’d lost.

What two men felt was different. It stood to reason; their biology was different. Two men were one night stands, anonymous encounters, mates who screwed. It was about sex, sometimes friendship. And anything more made you a limp-wristed pansy.

The traffic lights ahead switched from green to red and Bodie stamped on the brakes, sending the back of the Capri fishtailing across the road. Horns blasted out around him and several voices shouted insults that he neither heard nor cared about. He just wanted to get home, to get away from the thoughts in his head, away from the worry and the stress. He should phone Sarah and go over to her place, lose himself in feminine curves and flowery scent for a few hours. It would do him good. He could stop worrying, stop thinking, and stop remembering the expression on Ray’s face as he’d walked away.

*

“The Cow decide your personal problem wasn’t personal enough?” Murphy quipped as Bodie walked into the rest room.

“Not enough to miss this, apparently. Is that coffee? I’m gagging.” Bodie snagged the mug from Murph’s hand and took a swig. “Yuck, what the hell did you make this with?”

“Camp,” Murph replied and, grinning broadly, retrieved his mug. “We’re out of the real stuff.”

“Bugger. Who’s turn is it to buy?”

“Your better half,” Lucas commented. “And he’d better bring it in with him. Can’t be expected to operate without coffee, it’s three o’clock on a bloody Monday morning.” That was odd. Doyle was normally good at his contribution to the tea kitty. It was Bodie who always forgot. “Where is he, anyhow? Control sent the alert out an hour ago.” A selective call-in, if Bodie was any judge, since there was no Anson, nor any support staff.

“How the hell am I supposed to know,” Bodie retorted, feeling unreasonably guilty for not knowing where Doyle was. Last week he could have told Lucas the precise time Doyle took a dump, and probably which stall he used as well, but since Friday, he’d not set eyes on him. Nor wanted to, a small part of his brain chipped in.

Doyle still hadn’t arrived when they were summoned to the briefing room. Initially, Bodie took his normal place at the back by the door then, realising that if Doyle came in, it would look like he was waiting for him, which he wasn’t, he went and sat in the middle, earning himself a couple of curious looks from the others.

Silence fell as Cowley entered at the far end. The old man looked exhausted, greyer than usual and his limp pronounced. He leaned on the table - arms out spread, palms flat - and glared out over his assembled troops. Slowly, as those steely eyes moved from one pensive face to the next, the tension built. The odd cough barked out, people shifted and suddenly froze mid movement. From somewhere at the back came an aborted snigger.

Finally, eventually, when Bodie thought his skin might split from sheer anticipation, Cowley spoke.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “We have a wee plumbing problem.”

Bodie listened with increasing horror as Cowley outlined the situation. There was a departmental leak. Probably through the computer system which was why Anson, Doyle and the support staff hadn’t been called in. They were the only ones with that level of access to the database during the previous week.

“Who this information is destined for, is not as yet clear, but as of now, all non-essential activities are terminated. It is vital this breach is isolated and neutralised immediately. As yet only a few codes and one safe house have been compromised, and this is the way it must stay. Somewhere along the line our vetting procedure has gone awry. This is unacceptable. It’s our doorstep, gentlemen, and we need to clean it.”

That piercing gaze dropped several degrees from chilly to glacial. Bodie shuddered, the hairs on his neck standing upright, and when Cowley smacked the table, he, along with a roomful of operatives, jumped.

“I will have this situation straightened out before Christmas. Are we clear?”

Clear as a fucking picture window, Bodie thought as he stood up. What the hell was he supposed to do now?

“3-7.”

“Sir?” He pushed his way to the front.

The rest of the room cleared before Cowley addressed him again. “You understand why 4-5 has been included on the list? At this point we can’t afford to ignore anyone, but I’m expecting him to be cleared immediately. We’ll need him. You and 6-2 will look into it.”

Full confession hovered on Bodie’s lips. Stop looking, he wanted to say. It’s Ray who’s sold us out. “Yes, sir,” was all that escaped his lips and then the moment was gone, passed beyond retrieval along with Cowley.

Murphy appeared in the doorway, a quizzical expression on his face. “Special orders?”

Bodie nodded. “Yeah. We get to wake Doyle up.” He shook himself. Freaking out wasn’t going to help. And neither was having Murph along for the ride. “Look,” he said. “Give us a lift over there and you stay in the car, keep an eye on the place. We don’t want Ray doing a runner.”

“Not very likely, is it?”

“Frankly, I have no bloody idea.”

The weather had turned even colder, sleeting heavily as they drove towards Chelsea. Being the early hours of the morning, the streets were all but deserted. Coloured lights flickered in desultory splendour from windows and streetlights, from cables strung across roads and dangling from occasional trees. In five days it would be Christmas, the season of good cheer, merry gentlemen and peace on earth. Bodie wanted to rip it all down and smash it to pieces under his feet. Just like Doyle had done to his life.

“You all right?” Murph asked as they pulled up.

Not able to bring himself to speak, Bodie nodded and climbed out of the car, slamming the door behind him, and stared up at the block of flats. They were all in darkness. Could be empty for all the evidence of habitation.

This is where it ends, Bodie thought with sudden self-insight. Five years of mutual trust and respect. Five years of friendship. Five years of being part of something bigger than himself. The future, which up until now had boasted years of security, was blank. Without Doyle, Bodie couldn’t imagine staying with CI5. Sure he had other mates, like Murph, but Ray was the one who’d made it all worth doing. Ray was the one who he’d stayed for. Whether he knew it or not, Ray was the one who held Bodie’s future in the palm of his hand. Not even Cowley could boast that.

It took a couple of minutes for Ray to answer the buzzer, and Bodie took the stairs two at a time, not wanting to give his friend time to wake properly. Thus it was a bleary eyed, confused looking Ray who opened the door.

“Wha…?” he began.

Bodie didn’t give him a chance to finish. Shoving Doyle in the chest, he pushed him back into the flat and kicked the door closed behind him. Something of his mood must have shown on his face since Ray was coming round rapidly, his hand going for his gun, which was thankfully missing. Hand to hand, he could beat Ray three times out of five, but with a gun involved, things could get nasty.

“Shut up,” Bodie growled as Doyle opened his mouth to speak again. “I don’t know what the fucking hell you’ve been playing at, but they know, okay. The old man’s on to you and he’s sent me and Murph to bring you in.”

“Bring me… what?” Doyle had gone pale, his pallor making his overnight stubble even darker against his face. “What the hell’s going on?”

Clenching his jaw so hard that he was pretty sure his teeth would crack, Bodie pinned his partner to the wall with his forearm. Doyle didn’t resist. He seemed too confused, something that should, but didn’t, give Bodie pause for thought. He pushed into Doyle’s space until their faces were close enough for him to smell the sleep heat rising from Ray’s body. “How about you tell me. Or better yet, don’t bother. You’ve been caught with your fingers in the till, old son. Cowley knows where you’ve been going and who you’ve been seeing. And he’s getting ready to rip out your guts and feed them to you.” And yeah, Cowley didn’t know, but Bodie wanted to put the fear of god into his partner. He wanted Doyle to feel a fraction of the pain this mess was causing him.

And he wanted to scare him enough that he’d run and not have to face the music. There was something heartbreaking about the idea of Ray Doyle in prison.

“Shit.” Doyle sagged against his arm, his face truly bloodless now. Then his expression hardened and he glared at Bodie with eyes like chips of glass. “Did you tell him, you bastard?”

“No, I bloody didn’t.”

“Then how-?”

“You weren’t as careful as you thought you’d been.”

“Christ.” Doyle pushed him away and Bodie gave him that much. “I’ll go. That’d be best.” Leaving Bodie in the hallway, he vanished into the bedroom and returned a couple of moments later fully dressed and pulling on his jacket.

Bodie watched in silence. Somehow he’d not expected this. He’d come here expecting to have to talk Ray into leaving. Ray was a paragon of virtue, determined to face his responsibilities whatever the result. For Ray to run without a fight confirmed his guilt more than anything Cowley could have said, or anything Bodie had witnessed in the past week.

For the longest second Bodie’s world wobbled on its axis.

*

“Ready?” Ray stuck his hands in his pockets and looked at his partner. Bodie was staring at him as if he was something alien. Which he was, he supposed. Alien, or queer, it made no real difference. And now he was gonna have to face the music for his risk. What the hell had he been thinking going to the King’s Head again, making a pass at Bodie? Bloody fool, he was, thinking it wouldn’t get back to the old man.

Still it wasn’t over yet. Doyle knew that if he could just speak to Cowley, he could smooth this over.

“I’m not coming with you.”

“Fine, then I’ll go alone.” Without looking back, Doyle slammed out of the flat. Bodie could set the alarms; it wasn’t as though he didn’t know how.

He took the back exit, since Murph was probably waiting out the front, and high-tailed it down to the main road. The world was starting to wake up and, after dodging a newspaper van, he was lucky enough to flag down a taxi.

Headquarters was bustling when he arrived. Doyle looked around curiously, wondering what the emergency was and why he hadn’t been called in. Then he remembered. No one would want to work with him while this cloud was hanging over his head and Cowley certainly wouldn’t assign him until it was sorted out.

No one stopped him as he made his way to the old man’s office, but then he was expected. Bodie had said as much. Strangely there was no sign of Betty, her chair was empty and her desk as neat as she always left it on a Friday.

He knocked on the door and a second later it opened, revealing a harassed looking Cowley wearing a scowl and a rumpled suit.

“4-5.”

“Bodie said you wanted to see me, sir.”

Cowley frowned at him. “I said no such thing.”

“Oh.” Somewhat deflated, Doyle could do no more than stand there and stare at his boss. Bodie had given the impression that he was expected immediately for a dressing down, but Cowley’s reaction suggested that was wrong.

“Unless you’re to blame for this security leak.”

“Security…? Oh shit!” Suddenly Bodie’s anger fell into place. It was more than an over reaction at being made a pass at, it was a genuine belief that Doyle had sold out. Shock and anger at Bodie’s lack of faith mingled generously with panic at being caught out at such a lousy time. “Not me, sir, honestly. I might have gone to the King’s Head but that was it.”

“The King’s Head?” It was Cowley’s turn to look confused. “What on earth are you on about, man?”

“Bodie said you knew and I was to come in.”

“Knew what?”

This was getting completely out of control. And apparently the Cow thought so too since he stepped back and waved Doyle into his office. “Come in and for god’s sake explain. I don’t have time for guessing games.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Ach, don’t apologise. Just tell me.”

An empty glass stood on the desk amid a jumble of papers and files. It must be the security leak, but why didn’t Bodie mention that? It didn’t make sense. Unless he thought that Doyle already knew. Anger surged anew at the thought.

“Well?”

“I might have left myself open as a security risk, sir.”

The disappointed expression on Cowley’s face was worse than any charge, but Doyle didn’t let that stop him. He explained in clinical detail his activities over the past week, including the veiled pass he’d made at Bodie and the fact that it had been rejected. By the end, his hands were shaking and he held them clasped behind his back. It was the closest he’d ever come to using parade rest in front of Cowley.

When he finished, he stood with his head bowed and waited for the axe to fall.

“Is that it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“No other secrets you feel obliged to share?”

“No, sir.”

Silence. Doyle risked a quick glance at Cowley’s face before dropping his gaze back to the floor. The old man looked his age for once, haggard and grey. The job was killing him, slowly, and Doyle hadn’t helped this time, he knew.

“You realise that this type of behaviour is not considered acceptable in Her Majesty’s service.”

“Yes, sir.” Doyle paused and then added, “I’m sorry, sir.” He hadn’t meant for this to hurt CI5 or Cowley.

“Sorry you might be, laddie, but you’ve given me food for thought. And given me no choice but to put you on suspension until the New Year. ID and armoury.”

Guts tying themselves in knots, Doyle took out his side arm, cleared the chamber and dropped both onto the desk, followed by his ID. “I really am sorry, sir,” he said again.

Cowley sighed as he gathered it all up. “I know you are, Doyle, but that doesn’t change things.” After putting both gun and ID into his drawer, he stood up and came around the desk to where Doyle was standing. When he got close enough, he rested a hand on Doyle’s shoulder, an awkward gesture that Doyle was pretty certain was supposed to be reassuring. “I’ll not throw you to the wolves for this, laddie,” he said, “but I can’t guarantee there won’t be repercussions. The time you’ve chosen…”

“Yeah. Coulda been better, I understand.” What the hell else was he supposed to say. He shifted uncomfortably until Cowley removed his hand. “Look, sir, if you don’t mind, I’ll head off home. Got that special op down at the training centre first thing tomorrow.”

“Ach, we’ve no time for such jiggery-pokery at the moment,” Cowley said as he turned away. “That’s been postponed.”

“Postponed?” It couldn’t be postponed. Doyle had a very rude letter from the Electricity Board threatening immediate disconnection and an empty larder to fill. He leapt for any excuse. “Sir, if I’m on suspension then there’s no reason-”

“If you’re on suspension, 4-5, that’s an even better reason for you not to be involved in top secret research.” The bonhomie that had marked their exchange up until now vanished and suddenly Doyle was facing the Controller of CI5. “In the army you would have been dismissed out of hand for this irresponsible behaviour and it wouldn’t have been an honourable discharge. Be thankful I’m prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt. Now get out of my sight until I need you. I’ve more important things to be doing than worrying about your sordid love life.”

Jaws clamped tight against a riposte, Doyle slammed out of the office and gave the wall outside the benefit of his temper. Let down and doubted from every direction, he wasn’t thinking clearly and knew it, but had no idea how to go about calming down. The fact that Bodie had lied to him, had spied on him, had assumed he was guilty, went against everything Doyle thought he knew about his partner. And it cut to the quick. That he could’ve worked with the man for five years, trusted him with his life, begun to fall in love with him, and have it all thrown back in his face and turned into this twisted mass of accusations and suspicions.

And then there was the money. Christ, what was he gonna do? He’d promised to drop cash in to the Electricity Board on Wednesday and if he didn’t they’d be round to switch him off. The stereo and telly had already gone to buy food, pawned rather than sold, and he’d been planning on getting them back once the bonus was paid. That wasn’t gonna happen now. And when Cowley got to hear about this, it’d make even the old man suspicious.

He was so far up shit creek, even a paddle wasn’t gonna get him out.

“Morning. Thought you were on the suspects list.”

It was Lucas. Doyle turned away, not wanting to engage on any level in case his mouth got the better of him.

“Be like that, you miserable sod.” Lucas called after him. “Here, I hope you brought some tea-bags in. Even Murph’s starting to get pissed off.”

Easier to ignore him. Easier to stalk down the corridor and block out familiar voices and faces as they passed by him, busy doing the job he should be doing. Would be doing if he hadn’t been so fucking stupid. So fucking stupid! Doyle turned the corner, dodged into the loo, and leant against the wall, scrubbing both his hands through his hair. He’d done some stupid things in his time, but this one took the biscuit, and the bloody tin. He needed to calm down, needed to start thinking clearly. There was something here that didn’t add up.

Cold water offered a douse of chill reality. Doyle splashed his face and stood dripping and head hanging for a few seconds to catch his breath. Thinking about this rationally, Bodie’s reaction didn’t make sense. He wasn’t anti-gay, that much Doyle knew for a fact. All that business with Green back in the spring proved it, so there was no way Bodie had just jumped to the wrong conclusion. So he had to think he had other evidence. Good evidence. Watertight evidence. Maybe Doyle’s name linked to the leak.

No, that couldn’t be it. Cowley would have locked him up and thrown away the key if there was evidence like that.

If Cowley knew. If Bodie had told him. Unless Bodie had come to him this morning thinking he was guilty and giving him a chance to get out before Cowley found out.

Which might explain why he was so angry. And definitely explained why he was so surprised when Doyle said he was leaving without a fight.

Bodie thought he had run.

Pushing himself upright, Doyle glared at the mirror, but it wasn’t himself he was seeing, it was his partner. Bodie’s face when Doyle had made his unspoken offer in the restaurant. The blankness that had made Doyle falter at the crucial moment, now became suspicion. Understandable under the circumstances. What was it Bodie had said? After five years of doing just about everything but dragging him into bed, now Doyle decided to take him up on it. Why now? To Bodie’s mind, it must have looked like a set-up. It must have looked like his partner was trying to drag him down with him. Christ, no wonder he was so angry.

And yet he’d still given Doyle an out. He’d still been willing to look the other way while Doyle took off. That spoke of something more than casual friendship, didn’t it?

Bloody hell, he was still at it. Still trying to see more between them than there was.

“Ray? What’re you doing here?”

Doyle glanced up and came face to face with a very surprised looking Murph in the mirror.

“Bodie said you’d…” Murphy paused, took a quick shufty out of the door, and then came into the gents properly, closing the door behind him. “Actually he said you’d done a runner, but I didn’t believe him. It wasn’t you behind this security leak, was it?”

The hopeful note in the junior agent’s voice gave Doyle some much-needed reassurance. Bodie might think he was a traitor, but Murphy didn’t and more importantly, neither did Cowley. If necessary, Doyle could work around Bodie. He’d done it before during the Marrika debacle.

“No, Murph, it wasn’t. Bodie’s being a prat, as usual.”

Murphy immediately relaxed, his face breaking out into that easygoing grin of his. “Thought he was having me on. Daft bugger. Still, you’re on the suspects’ list. You and Anson, `cause of working on the databases last week.”

Oh, that was where the leak was. So nice to be informed. Actually it was good to know that he wasn’t the only operative under suspicion, though presumably Anson wasn’t suspended for making a pass at his partner.

Depression settled its heavy arms round Doyle’s shoulders once again. Who was he to call Bodie a prat? If either of them deserved the title, it was him.

“Ray? You all right?”

Doyle opened his eyes and realised he’d drifted off again, deep into his gloomy thoughts. He grunted something meaningless and splashed more cold water on his face, hoping it would act as a distraction. It did. Murphy didn’t seem to sense anything wrong.

“Guess I’ll see you around when this is all over, then,” he said as disappeared into one of the cubicles.

“Guess you will,” Doyle replied as he shook the drips off his hands and pulled out a couple of sheets of paper to dry them. If I’m lucky, he thought. If Cowley’s feeling forgiving. And if Bodie can still face working with me.

Deep in self-recrimination, Doyle wandered out of the loos and up the corridor. Someone had made an effort to bring a bit of Christmas cheer to the old place, faded paperchains and the occasional coloured tissue paper ball punctuated the ceiling from the break room to the general offices. On the wall by the door, pinned to the notice board that normally contained the operatives’ rota, was a Santa Claus advent calendar with most of its doors ajar. This morning’s had already been opened leaving only two more to go, then it would be Christmas day, and Ray would be spending it alone, in splendid isolation without even his telly to keep him company. Still, it could be worse, he supposed; they weren’t switching the electric off until the twenty-eighth.

“You’re either suicidal or stupider than I thought you were.”

“Fuck off, Bodie.” The words had hardly come out of his mouth before he was slammed into the wall, his head bouncing off Santa and putting paid to the final two doors. He repaid in kind, snapping his elbow back and having the satisfaction of feeling hot breath woof past his ear as it made contact. The anger that had surged in Cowley’s office returned tenfold.

“You arsehole,” he yelled as Bodie slid gracelessly to the floor, hands pressed against his chest and face turning an interesting shade of purple. “You complete fucking bastard!” A handful of short hair and he had Bodie’s head yanked back so he could yell directly into his partner’s face. “Five bloody years and that’s all you think of me! Well, fuck you, mate, that’s all I can say!”

With a final, vicious, shake that left his hand covered in dark hair, Doyle shoved his old partner away and strode off down the corridor, ignoring the small audience that had gathered to watch. They could bloody watch as far as Doyle was concerned, and if Bodie felt like telling them why, then he could. Doyle had had it up to here and then some with hypocrisy. From now on, he was gonna tell it like it was and hang the consequences.

His foul mood lasted until he got home and found a note from Gracie inviting him for dinner that night. Only then did he bend to the inevitable and drown his regrets in his last bottle of booze.

*

Shock at seeing his partner at headquarters transmuted into rage when Doyle verbally lashed him. This was the thanks he got? For putting his own career on the line? For turning a blind eye and letting Doyle get away?

Bodie could no more control his temper than fly. Not since Marikka had he felt so hung out to dry by those nearest and dearest. But the blow to Doyle’s back had been as much about wanting acknowledgement as it had been about hurting him. The same went for Doyle’s returning blow. It might have brought Bodie to his knees, but after a few minutes puffing and panting, he was back on his feet and ready to follow.

Until Cowley’s dulcet tones filled the corridor. “3-7. My office. Now.”

Still moving painfully - Doyle had the sharpest elbows of anyone Bodie knew, and the little bastard knew how to use them - Bodie accompanied his boss into the deeper recesses of the building and slumped down into a chair, his hand pressed to his solar plexus.

“Well?” Cowley said, taking the seat opposite. “I’m presuming you had a good reason for brawling in my corridor or were you trying to end up on suspension with your partner?”

Bodie looked at him, blinking at the same pace as his thoughts were collecting. Doyle? Suspension? “Sir?” he said finally, when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to get any further alone.

“Reason, 3-7. I don’t expect my top agents to engage in fisticuffs in the corridors. What do think this is, man? A training ground?”

Recognising the tone of a superior officer about to bawl him out, Bodie’s body reacted where he couldn’t, and sat up straight. “Sorry, sir, it was… complicated.”

“Complicated, aye. So 4-5 said. You know, Bodie, this is why I don’t like my men being involved. It leads to stupidity. And in my experience, stupidity leads to lives being lost.” The glasses went back on, which, Bodie thought, might mean he wasn’t going to get his balls ground to powder, this time.

“We’re not involved, sir.”

Glasses down the nose and suddenly Bodie was on the receiving end of a disbelieving stare. “Then what could possibly have lead to that disgraceful display?”

“It’s…” The words died away. This was the moment he’d been dreading. Spilling everything to Cowley and then waiting for the order to arrest his best mate. There should be a special allowance. Danger money. Something. Normal people weren’t expected to do things like this.

“Complicated, you said, but it’s not going to get any less complicated if you don’t explain it.”

No choice. That was what Bodie told himself. Cowley gave him no choice. Dropping his voice into the recitative tone he used for reports, Bodie began to explain. “I’ve been following 4-5 since last week, sir. He raised my suspicions by being desperate for money and then I saw him taking a taxi after I dropped him at the Bull. He went to Lewisham where I saw him hand over a large sum of money to a woman. On further investigation the woman proved to be a known radical. On subsequent nights, 4-5 spent a lot of time with this woman, at her house and taking her out for meals and drinks despite claiming to be broke. Last Thursday he took her to the King’s Head in Soho, where I observed him keeping watch while she met with another group of women. I pursued the enquiry and discovered that those women were on the MI5 watch list for anti-government activities.

“And then you called us in and said there’d been a leak,” he finished, rather weakly. Laid out like that the evidence didn’t seem half so damning.

Cowley was silent, his expression calm and considering. Then, without a word, he got up and retrieved a file from the top of a nearby cabinet and flipped it open.

“Would this be the woman Doyle was seeing?” he asked, offering over a photograph.

Bodie took it. “Yeah. Grace Findley, currently residing at forty-three B, Elswick Road, Lewisham.” He handed the picture back, waiting as Cowley stared at it for a few more moments. “Sir, can I ask why you have her file out? Did you know about this?” If he did then maybe Bodie wasn’t the bad guy, after all. Maybe he could start putting his life back together.

“Hmm?” Cowley replied, glancing up at him and chewing on the ear stem of his glasses. “Oh, aye, I know of the woman. And of Doyle’s involvement with her. Though to be fair, I didn’t know about her friends being watched by MI5.” He tossed the file back on the desk. “That may complicate matters, but not unduly, I think.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but what the hell is going on? If Doyle was on an ob, why didn’t someone say something?”

“It wasn’t an ob, no, far from it. Rather it was a case of your partner being too generous for his own good, I suspect.” Leaving Bodie even further in the dark, Cowley picked up his phone and dialled. “Ruth, I need you to pull the details of a bank account for me. Yes, immediately. This takes priority. The number? Ah, 31926819, National Westminster, Chelsea branch.”

Another pause, this time longer. Bodie amused himself by trying to read the Findley file upside down, until Cowley flipped it closed.

“Ruth? Yes. Yes… Ah, yes, I thought as much. Thank you.” The receiver went back in its cradle and Cowley finished jotting down a few notes. “You say 4-5 was desperate for cash?” he asked after a couple of moments.

“Yes, sir. He mentioned something about doing a special job. Something for Jack Craine?”

“Hm.”

All this humming and hawing was driving Bodie slowly up the wall but before he could ask, Cowley fixed him with a gimlet glare. “And what about the incident in the restaurant?”

“Restaurant, sir?” So this was what rabbits felt like when you accelerated towards them.

“I believe Doyle made a proposal to you?”

It was the wording. Bodie wasn’t normally facetious to the old man when he was in trouble. Well, not often anyway. “Not really a proposal, sir. He didn’t even get down on one knee.”

“Aye, well, maybe he should have.”

What? Bodie was doing his fish impression, he knew he was, but prying his chin off his chest was more than he could manage.

“You didn’t take him seriously without.”

“Yeah, but…” This time the glasses were put down completely. Bodie looked at them and then at the face above them. It was verging on avuncular. Terrifying.

“Don’t try to tell me it came as a surprise, man. I’ve been watching the pair of you since you were partnered and the only thing that surprises me is that it’s taken this long.”

“Yeah, but…”

“It canna be the sexual aspect. I’ve a personal contacts list of yours several pages long that says otherwise.”

“But…” Bodie was beginning to panic.

“Which leads me to believe it must be cowardice. And I never took you for a coward, Bodie. A fool, yes, but not a coward.”

Driven past the point of discretion, Bodie exploded up from his chair. “I’m not a bloody coward! Sir.”

“Then give me a good reason why you reacted the way you did. A wee bit cruel, do you not think? Considering the man’s your partner.”

“That’s just it.” The memory of Doyle’s face came back to him. Hope, desperation, fear. Fear of involvement, it had to be. If Cowley didn’t think Doyle was a security risk, then Bodie couldn’t either. So that only left fear of involvement. “To be blunt, sir, he didn’t just want a shag.”

“So I surmised.”

Was there no shaking this man? For all Bodie’s attempts to shock him, Cowley was still sitting there looking unruffled. “He wanted… he wanted a relationship.”

“And?”

And? “And I’m not like that! I’m not some limp-wristed poof.”

“No, that you’re not.”

“And… and falling in love is what you do with women. If you’re a bloke, I mean.” This was becoming more pathetic by the minute. Bodie could feel the blush crawling up his cheeks. “You don’t do that with other blokes.”

“Ah, I see.”

“You do?” Grasping the words like straw in a gale, Bodie turned to his boss with a hopeful look in his eyes.

“Aye, I do. You’re scared.”

“I am not bloody scared!”

Much to Bodie’s surprise, Cowley didn’t react to the temper tantrum. He simply leaned back in his chair and gave Bodie a quizzical look. “Tell, me, laddie, what’s the worst that could happen if you said yes?”

Bodie subsided with a groan. He didn’t have an answer. Not one that would satisfy Cowley, anyway, because the truth of it was that he was scared. Of what loving Doyle would make him, of what the rest of the world would think of him, of how he could look at himself in the mirror and see, not a footloose and fancy-free womaniser, but a married man, in all but name. That scared him. That terrified him beyond reason.

Silence lingered around the office. Bodie stared at his hands and wondered for the umpteenth time what it would feel like to touch Doyle the way he wanted to. Oh, he’d touched before, but they’d always been fleeting, stolen caresses, under the cover of matey-ness. But to touch. To really touch. To take his time and savour every inch of that skin. To run his fingertips through Doyle’s chest fuzz. To stroke his palms down that long lean back and over that tantalising arse. And do it, not just once, but day after day, for the rest of his life.

His heart gave a small leap, as if it was nodding in agreement.

So if his heart knew what it wanted, and his cock certainly did, it was proving that right now, what was the problem? It came back to love being for women. What he felt for Doyle wasn’t love. It was trust, friendship and respect, with a healthy dollop of lust, that was all. It wasn’t hearts and flowers.

But then, maybe Doyle didn’t want hearts and flowers.

Bodie sighed. He had no idea how to woo a man. And that was terrifying in and of itself. William Bodie, Casanova of A squad, at a complete loss when faced with telling his partner how he felt.

“No flowers,” he muttered finally.

“He’d not thank you for them.”

Bodie frowned up at Cowley, hardly able to believe he was asking his boss for help with seducing his partner. “Chocolates?”

“Are a possibility. But you might try for something more prosaic.” Cowley reached into his drawer and pulled out a bottle of single malt. “Give him that and try telling the truth,” he said, “I’ve heard it tends to work in these cases.”

Bodie took the proffered bottle with a shaking hand. “A wedding present, sir?”

“Enough of your cheek, laddie. You can tell Doyle he’s no longer on suspension and you’ve ‘til the New Year to sort this mess out between you. I’ll not have trouble caused by two of my men letting their hormones take over like a pair of silly girls. Now on your way. Oh, and 3-7,” he said as Bodie reached the door.

Bodie paused and looked back.

“If you ever brawl in headquarters again, the both of you’ll be fired.”

“Yes, sir. Completely understood, sir,” Bodie replied with a grin as wide as the Thames.

*

Bodie’s second drive to Chelsea in twelve hours couldn’t have been more different from his first. The sun shone, the sky was winter-blue clear and crisp. Happy shoppers filled streets decorated with seasonal cheer and Bodie found himself returning the smiles of strangers. It was Christmas and goodwill filled him until his chest hurt from containing it.

It was having Cowley’s blessing that made all the difference. How could Bodie argue when the old man believed Ray was innocent and thought being in love with him was not just acceptable, but worth pursuing.

Bodie smiled, his thoughts taking on a decidedly soppy cast. This new love might not be about games and flowers and chocolate, but Ray did enjoy a decent meal and Bodie decided it was time to push the boat out, dip into his savings. Not something he did lightly, but he was going to do it for Sarah, after all, to take her to Wales. Which reminded him, he needed to phone her and end things. She wouldn’t be surprised, he didn’t think. Bright girl like that knew better than to get seriously involved with a bloke like him. It was the job. You needed to have someone who understood.

Ray’s street was full of life when Bodie pulled up outside the flats. Being Christmas, the dustmen were doing their round slowly, taking the time to stop off at every house in the hopes of a tip, which, by the way they were spreading rubbish over the pavements, they weren’t getting.

Whisky bottle safely tucked in his jacket, he locked the car, jogged up the front steps and leant on the buzzer. “Come on, Ray,” he muttered after his second and third rings brought no response. “Can’t be out.”

Still nothing. Bodie backed up and glared at the second floor window. The curtains were drawn and there’d been no alert from HQ, so maybe Ray was just out. Or asleep. That made sense. That’s where Bodie’d be if he had the option, and Ray’s night had been broken as well.

Oh, well. It just gave him time to get a head start on the arrangements. He’d need a tree, plus a turkey and all the trimmings. And he should go buy presents. Maybe a decent jacket. Get Ray out of that lumberjack effort he’d been living in recently.

Happily making plans, Bodie bounced back to the car, not seeing the curtains on the second floor twitch aside.

*

What the bloody hell did he want, Doyle thought belligerently as he watched his ex-partner drive away. Not enough to set about him in headquarters, now he had to follow him home and stick his nose in there and all. Well, Doyle wasn’t having any of it. Bodie could lean on the bell until his fingers went numb and Doyle still wasn’t opening the door to him and that was that.

Letting the curtain drop back into position, he took another swig of gin - straight from the bottle - and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. The alcohol was going to his head. Rapidly. Another half-hour and he’d be blissfully unaware of anything, which suited Doyle. There was nothing to stay a-bloody-wake for anyway. Just his brain churning over the same depressing thoughts again and again and again.

“Fucked it up, this time, sunshine,” he murmured as he lurched back to his chair and slumped down. “Be lucky if files is worst of it.” Then there was Bodie - dreams turned to ashes. Even if Bodie walked in now and offered himself to Doyle on a plate, it wouldn’t be enough. The lack of trust, the belief that Doyle would run rather than face the consequences of his supposed actions, the fact that Bodie hadn’t even had the common courtesy to ask. All of it stripped away the respect that had underpinned their relationship, making it impossible for anything to happen between them now. There was nothing left but anger, contempt and hatred. With that definitive thought foremost, Doyle rested his head on the chair back and began to snore.

The phone brought him round. Grunting and floundering and trying to work out which way was up, he managed to drop the mostly empty bottle and fall over his feet on the way to pick up.

“`Lo?”

“Hello, love, I didn’t expect you to be home, but they said on the other number you gave me…” Doyle took the phone away from his ear and rubbed his eyes. The clock was reading three p.m. He’d been asleep for hours. “… so, anyway, I thought I’d give you ring at home. How are you, Ray love?”

“`M fine, mum. How’s Sal?”

“Just grand. Course, the morning sickness is knocking her about a bit, poor lass, but I told her, you just have a glass of ginger beer first thing and that’ll put you to rights.”

Swallowing a yawn, Doyle staggered back to his chair listening to his mum rabbiting on about this and that. It was comforting, in a way. Showed that the rest of the world was going on as normal even if his life was falling apart.

“So, anyway, will we be seeing you for Christmas?”

With less than half a tank of petrol in his car and no money to fill it? “No, mum, sorry. Gotta work.”

“Oh.” The disappointment in her voice was palpable, but after a momentary pause, she set off again. “Maybe Easter then, eh? I’ll make sure your presents are put by. There’s nothing that’ll spoil. I made sure to tell everyone, just in case you couldn’t get the time off.”

“Thanks.”

Another pause and then, quietly, “You sure you’re all right, love. You don’t sound your usual self.”

“Yeah. It’s just…” Doyle sighed and scrubbed his hand through his sleep-tangled hair. “It’s been a rough few days.”

“That friend of yours, what’s his name? Bodie, that’s it, like the lady at the shop on the corner. He’s not been hurt, has he?”

“No, Bodie’s fine.”

“Oh, good. He’s a nice young man, that one. Such polite manners.”

For god’s sake, she sounded like she was talking to Sal. “He’s my partner, mum, not my ruddy boyfriend,” Doyle snapped and immediately regretted it when the line filled with hurt silence.

“I didn’t say he was, love, but, you know, if there’s something you need to tell me…”

Lips twitching into a smile he hadn’t believed himself capable of, Doyle chuckled and said, “You’ll love me anyway. I know, mum, and I appreciate it, I really do.”

“Just so long as you remember. We’re here for you, whatever you need. Family.”

“Thanks, mum.” This time he really meant it. With all the money problems over the past few months, he’d almost forgotten the why’s amongst the how’s.

Putting the phone down after saying his goodbyes, Doyle relaxed back in the chair. Mum always had the ability to do this, to sense when he was in one of his moods and say the perfect thing to bring him out of it. And yeah, things were pretty buggered up right now, but there wasn’t anything wrong that wouldn’t sort. He’d make sure there wasn’t.

And the first thing he needed to do was talk to the bank.

Ten minutes later Doyle was pacing the carpet like a caged tiger ready to dismember Cuthbertson and every other bastard who’d ever considered finance as a career. No, he couldn’t draw on his account, the manager’s plummy voice echoed in his ears. ‘I’m afraid your account remains frozen, Mr Doyle.’ ‘Until you pay in funds, Mr Doyle,’ ‘Have a nice Christmas, Mr Doyle.’

Yeah, sure, he’d have a really great Christmas, just him and his debts. “Fucking bloody hell!” The coffee table didn’t take kindly to being kicked across the room. It gave a creak as it landed and one of the legs fell off. A pretty good metaphor for his life really, Doyle reflected. Cheap, tacky and falling apart at the seams.

His stomach, sour from too much alcohol, rumbled gassily. Food would be a good idea, though there was probably bugger all left. And no money to stock up.

A quick dig in the cupboard yielded a lone rusty tin of beans and sausages left over from a fishing trip last year. Doyle glared at it with deep loathing before cracking it open and tentatively sniffing the contents. Smelled foul, but then it was difficult to tell if that was normal. The juice didn’t taste fizzy, so he dumped the bullet-like beans and corpse pale sausages into a pan. Hot, they were edible and he contented himself with the thought that Gracie was expecting him tonight. She’d feed him well and with her cooking, that was an offer he was happy to take advantage of.

*

He wasn’t wrong. Despite her own poverty stricken state, Gracie had created a spicy stew of monstrous proportions accompanied by freshly fried bammy bread. Doyle dug in gratefully, grinning at his hostess around his fork.

“Good?” Gracie asked, her eyebrows raised in amusement.

Doyle nodded. “Wonderful, thanks love. Was ruddy starving.”

“It was the least I could do. Plus putting a little more meat on you wouldn’t be a bad thing. Skin and bones you are.”

“Starting to sound like your mum,” Doyle commented, spearing a piece of fish. “See much of her these days?”

Gracie shook her head and stirred her own stew less enthusiastically. “No, she’s not approving of me loving women. Goes against God, so she says, though I can’t see as it makes any difference to him.”

It always stung to see people alienated from their families, especially when his was so accepting. Doyle reached out and took Gracie’s hand, smiling at her when she looked up. “Doesn’t know what she’s letting go,” he said. “She brought you up well. You’re a lovely woman.”

She blushed a little. “Thanks, but you probably ain’t gonna be that glad with me when I tell you what my news is.”

“What’s that then?”

Gracie pushed her plate away and levelled a gaze at him. “I’m leaving London.”

Doyle’s heart sank - for himself not for her. “Probably exactly what you need,” he said. “Where are you going?”

“Wales.”

He couldn’t help it. The laugh erupted out, ringing around the small kitchen. “Wales! Talk about out of the frying pan. It’s all sheep and rugby.”

“It’s not that bad,” she protested, chuckling along with him. “And anyway, it’s Cardiff, so you can stop thinking all that nonsense about tepee people.”

“Know me too well, you do,” Doyle replied, still grinning widely. “Could just see you up a Welsh valley, knee deep in mud digging leeks.”

Gracie shuddered dramatically. “Think I’ll be sticking to the city for now.” She paused and the mood grew serious again. “There’s a group of women forming up and I’m wanting to be a part of it.”

There was something in her voice, something that set the hairs on the back of Doyle’s neck tingling. He put down his fork and stared at her. “Political?”

She returned his look. “In a way of saying.”

“Then don’t tell me.” This was the crux of their relationship and had been for years. Gracie’s interests and his often coincided, but rarely on the same side. It was a tight rope they navigated successfully by dint of not sharing details. Only once had Gracie come to him and spilled everything - before the rape that is - when a group she was involved with ended up privy to a particularly nasty blackmail campaign. It had been her information that had let them catch the bastards red-handed and stick them behind bars.

Across the table, Gracie sighed and lowered her gaze. “I won’t,” she said, “but it’ll not stop me.”

“Yeah, I know that. And I’d be disappointed if it did.” Doyle tightened his hand on her wrist for a spilt second and then let her go. “You’d not be the woman you are if you let what someone else thought stop you, Grace.”

Those words haunted him all the way home. Walking along roads crowded with Christmas partiers getting an early start and back streets silent but for the zing of streetlights in the drizzling rain, Doyle wrestled with the irony of his own feelings. Telling Grace that had made sense, for her, but also for him. Yes, Bodie had been a prat, had jumped to conclusions and not had the courtesy to at least ask what was going on, but really was that enough to dismiss five years of friendship? Bodie was vulnerable to being let down; Doyle knew this from his reaction over the Marikka thing, and he was also fiercely loyal to Cowley, if not to CI5.

Even when it had looked as though Cowley was selling out to the East Germans, Bodie had found it impossible to believe that the old man was bent, so it stood to reason that anything threatening that would be suspect. Including his partner.

Ah, but it hurt. It cut into Doyle to have his word, his loyalty, doubted by the person he had let closer than anyone else. But then Doyle hadn’t exactly given Bodie a chance to explain either, so maybe the hurt went both ways.

Turning into his street as the church clock chimed midnight, Doyle resolved to at least attempt reconciliation. He wasn’t prepared to let Bodie into his heart again, not quite so easily, but if the idiot had good reasons for what he’d done, then Doyle was at least prepared to listen. For a bit. Before he ripped Bodie’s arm off and beat him to death with the soggy end.

*

The following morning, Doyle made a surprising, but welcome, discovery.

Having been in his current flat for over a year, it stood to reason that Accommodations would be moving him on sooner rather than later, so, twitchy for want of exercise, he decided to start spring cleaning early. The bedroom seemed like the likeliest place to start, it being fairly warm and carrying the added bonus of checking for errant pound notes. After dragging out various jackets that had thrown themselves off their hangers to gather in a heap at the back of his wardrobe, he sat next to the pile on the bed and started going through the pockets. For a while it looked as if his search would be in vain, then finally, after finding three betting receipts and a shopping list, he turned up an expenses chit that Cowley had never signed off on. It wasn’t quite the bonus he’d been hoping for, but it was twenty quid and that could make the difference between eating for the next few days and going hungry.

He combined a jog with a visit to headquarters, keeping a low profile once he got into the building on the off chance Bodie was around. Their latest tête-à-tête was going to take place in private if Doyle had any say in the matter.

“He in?” he asked Betty when he reached Cowley’s office.

She glanced up at him through reddened eyes and wiped her nose on a tissue. “He’s busy at the moment. Maybe in about ten minutes.”

“Okay.” Doyle took a seat and, feeling a bit like a kid waiting outside the headmaster’s office, distracted himself by working out how best to stretch his limited funds. Veg was the best option. He should call at the market on the way home, pick up some tatties. Worst came to the worst he’d live on bloody potato soup for the next six weeks. It hadn’t done his ancestors any harm.

He jumped as the door to Cowley’s office swung open and Lucas emerged holding Anita, from records, tightly by the elbow. Though her mouth was tight and hard, the girl’s cheeks were wet and she was obviously still close to tears. Doyle stood up, giving Lucas a quizzical look. Lucas shrugged and jerked his head in the direction of Cowley’s office. Apparently the only one who could fill in the details was the old man himself.

And thinking of the devil… “Hello, sir.”

“4-5. What are you doing here?”

“Ah, yes, sir, but the thing is, I was going through my pockets and I found this,” he handed over the expense chit, “and wondered if you could sign it.”

“Good grief, man, you came all the way down here for that?”

“Well, yeah.” Some of us have to eat. He didn’t add it, though it was extremely tempting. Cowley was heading back into his office, so Doyle followed him. “Found the leak have you?” he said when he saw the previously cluttered desk was clear.

Cowley fixed him with an impenetrable look and then sighed and sat down. “Since you ask, yes. Miss Rushton got herself into difficulties and used her access to the computers as a way to shore up her financial situation. Murphy used that computer know-how he’s so proud of and caught her red-handed. ”

“Didn’t do too much damage did she?” Doyle asked as he took the other seat.

“Enough. But that’s not why you’re here.” There was a distinct pause and then Cowley said, “Though there’s more than a passing similarity, isn’t there, laddie.”

Sudden panic gripped Doyle by the throat. Surely the old man didn’t think he was in on it as well. “What do you mean?”

“I’m saying that financial difficulties aren’t the exclusive domain of Miss Rushton.”

The blood drained from Doyle’s face, he felt it go leaving a chill in its wake. “I’d never sell out CI5, sir.”

“Och, I know that, which is why you’re there and Miss Rushton is on her way to the interrogation centre. No, it’s not your fealty that worries me, just your overdraft. Do you have any idea how you’re going to pay it back?”

When he was a teenager, Doyle’d been a bit on the sticky-fingered side, nicking the occasional bit of cash from his mum’s purse. One day she’d sat him down and asked outright whether it was him taking it and, faced with such deliberate questioning, he’d confessed immediately. Being challenged by Cowley was eerily similar.

Shoulders drooping, Doyle stared at his feet, feeling fourteen all over again. “No, sir.”

“Well, you should do. For goodness sake, Doyle, what possessed you to allow things to slide so far?”

“Not that far, sir,” Doyle replied, hoping to cover the worst of his problems.

“Five hundred pounds overdrawn and that for over a year.” Cowley shook his head, disappointment writ large on his face. “This was what the advance was all about, am I right?”

Doyle nodded but couldn’t look Cowley in the eye. Yes, he was ashamed that he’d allowed things to get this out of hand, but not what he’d done with the money. That he refused to regret for a moment.

“It wouldn’t have done you any good. Borrowing off Peter to pay Paul. A disaster in the waiting.” He was wrong; this was worse than being fourteen. “So how do you plan on repaying it?”

“With all due respect, sir, this is none of your business.”

“When it involves one of CI5’s properties, laddie, it most certainly is. But aye, what you’re saying is true. You’re old enough to dig your own way out of this mess. So long as you do.”

“Thank you, sir.” The brief irritation that had risen at Cowley’s patronising tone, receded. Doyle gestured to the expenses claim on the desk. “If you could just sign that, I’ll get out of your hair.”

Personnel coughed up twenty quid from petty cash without arguing, so Doyle took the long way home, stocking up with a selection of veg from the outdoor market. Next stop was the Co-op for cheap tea bags and coffee that’d taste like it’d been swept off the factory floor. Not pleasant, but full of caffeine and Doyle knew how to tighten his belt when he had to, however much he enjoyed the good things in life. He was just glad he didn’t smoke, or he’d be desperate by now.

Juggling bags and keys, he was unlocking the outside door of his flat when a familiar voice said, “Chuck `em here and I’ll do it.”

Doyle froze, took a deep breath and realised he was shaking. Which was bloody ridiculous. It was only Bodie and why should he be shaking just `cause Bodie was here. “`S okay,” he said as the key turned. “Got it.”

“Give us a bag then. No point in dropping everything.”

Steeling himself for the disdain he was bound to see in Bodie’s eyes, Doyle spun round and snapped, “Come back for another round, have you? Didn’t get enough the other day.”

*

Annoyed at missing Ray twice on the trot, Bodie had taken up vigil outside his partner’s flat, determined not to miss him again. When that familiar strutting figure appeared, laden with shopping, he tucked Cowley’s gift under his jacket, jumped out of the car and followed Ray up the front steps. Offering to help was automatic, the sort of thing Bodie had done for years, and he did it without a second thought.

Getting his head bitten off for his trouble came as a bit of a surprise. He retaliated the way he normally did when Ray went off on one at him. “Never get enough of you, sweetheart,” he lisped.

Ray stared at him, eyes lit with a dangerous inner fire. “You bastard!” he yelled suddenly, getting right into Bodie’s face and making him take a step or two back down the steps. “You complete effing bastard! It’s all a game to you, innit. Just a game. Playing with people’s lives and-”

The tirade stopped as quickly as it started. Ray turned away, his back near vibrating with unexpressed tension, as he vanished through the door.

Bodie stared after him, wondering what the hell he’d done. Ray was a moody sod at the best of times, but normally it was something specific that set him off. Was it the joke? It was the sort of thing he said often… But not a couple of days after Ray’d made a pass at him and had that pass severely rebuffed.

Feeling horribly guilty and aware that he’d put his foot in it right up to the knee, Bodie sprinted up the stairs and was waiting when the lift dinged and the doors slid back. Ray threw him a filthy look and walked straight past. Not wanting to be left out in the hall, Bodie hurried after him, keeping his mouth shut in due deference to the fact that he was rather fond of his teeth and one never knew when Ray might choose to try and remove them when he was riled.

When they reached the flat, he got a heavy carrier bag shoved into his chest, though the front door was left open rather than slammed in his face. Something of a triumph, considering, Bodie reflected, as he sidled shamefacedly inside.

“Sorry,” he offered once he was in the hallway.

Ray ignored him, or at least appeared to. “Stick those in the kitchen,” he said. “I’m going for a bath.”

So that was the way it, was it. Now feeling put upon, Bodie skulked through to the kitchen and started unloading the shopping. Potatoes, carrots, several huge neeps, tea, coffee… What the hell was going on? Where was the meat? Opening another bag, Bodie frowned. Cheap white bread, not Ray’s type at all. He liked brown, with the bits that got stuck in your teeth. Ray must have picked up the wrong shopping or left a bag behind. Easily done when the shops were crowded like they were just before Christmas. Christ, but he’d be peed off when he realised.

And thinking about Christmas; the sun being over the yardarm, it was about time for a shot of seasonal cheer.

The drinks cabinet proved just as bare as the cupboards. Even the spot behind the art supplies on the shelf, where Ray sometimes hid a bottle of the good stuff if he knew Bodie was coming `round, was empty and now Bodie was starting to get really worried. Someone had stolen his Ray and replaced him with a teetotal vegetarian who ate white bread. It was confusing.

“`Ere, Ray?” he called, and when he got no answer, he went and knocked on the bathroom door. “Ray? Where’s the rest of the food?”

Silence.

He knocked again. And was just about to give up when the door was yanked open and Ray - shrouded by steam and with a towel dangling off his hips - was glaring at him. “There is no rest.”

Bodie’s mouth went dry. Which seemed very unfair, considering Ray looked mouth-wateringly good. The damp air had made his curls curlier than usual, his nipples were all hard and peaked, and the hair on his chest led down in this intriguing path…

“Anything else I can do for you or are you gonna stand there and dribble all day.”

Bodie jumped and his gaze shot upwards, landing on a more suitable spot for someone attempting a conversation. His cock twitched resentfully and he gave it a strict - silent - talking to. Now was not the time. Much better to get Ray in a good mood before shagging him silly.

Plastering a vacant grin on his face, Bodie said, “Sorry, you said something?”

Ray snorted - it was amazing how he did that. Sounded just like an annoyed horse - and turned back into the bathroom, giving Bodie a rather nice view of his back side. And his backside, when he took the towel off and climbed into the bath. “Shut the door, will you, it’s getting chilly in here.”

Somehow Bodie managed to get the door closed and leant against it, resting his forehead on the wood while he tried to calm his overactive libido.

What the hell was wrong with him? He never used to be like this. He’d lived, worked, even showered, around Ray for years and beyond acknowledging he was a sexy little bugger, it hadn’t fazed him in the slightest. Now one glimpse of that long lean body and he was set to go off like a teenager. Pathetic, it was. And not appropriate for a man of his age and world-weariness.

It took him a couple of minutes to stop his hands shaking and find his voice, and when he did, he called out, “I’ll go pop the kettle on,” and beat a strategic retreat to the kitchen.

Once there, he realised he still hadn’t found out about the shopping, except for Ray saying that there wasn’t any more of it. Did that mean Ray wasn’t doing Christmas this year? Last year they’d been on duty and halfway through an op that’d wrapped up on New Year’s Eve, so neither of them had done much for the festive season beyond getting completely rat-arsed when the op was over.

The year before… Bodie thought about it as he put the veggies in the empty rack. That had been the year Ray dragged him up to Derby to stay with his mum. Now there was a woman who knew how to do Christmas. Her turkey had been to die for, moist and buttery, with sprouts that were actually edible and gravy that tasted of meat rather than water. The family were nice too. Friendly, in a down to earth way. Different from his lot, who were always too bothered about appearances and what the neighbours might think.

As he filled the kettle, Bodie wondered why Ray wasn’t going up there this year. Maybe he was. Maybe that’s why he didn’t have anything in. Yeah, that made sense. And the veggies were probably for his mum. All of which meant that Bodie’d better get his skates on if he was going to seduce his reluctant partner before he went. How to go about it, though, that was the question. He could wait until Ray came into the kitchen and then pin him against the worktop and steal a kiss from those ripe wanton lips…

“That tea made yet?”

Bodie jumped, caught for the second time deep in presumptuous thoughts, and looked down at the water overflowing the kettle into the sink. “Nope. Will be in a jiff,” he assured cheerily, turning off the tap and surreptitiously tipping some of the water out. “When you setting off?” Maybe Bodie could go with him. Yeah, that’d be nice.

“Setting off where?” Ray was sitting at the table, rubbing his hair dry with a towel. Annoyingly he was dressed.

“Your mum’s.”

“Can’t go. I’m on suspension, aren’t I.”

“No, the Cow said…” The words died in Bodie’s mouth as Ray fixed him with a terrible glare.

“What the hell has Cowley been saying to you about me!”

“Erm, well.” Bodie glanced behind him, but there was no escape that way. The only exit was the door to the living room and a very irate Raymond was between him and it. Bad planning, Bodie, my lad, he thought. Should always make sure you’ve got an escape route planned.

“Well!” Ray’s voice was getting louder, his expression more thunderous.

Bodie swallowed heavily and grinned his most innocent grin - the one let him get away with pinching the girls’ bums at work. “Nothing much.”

Ray’s eyes narrowed dangerously as he stood up. “What exactly does that mean?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Sod complicated, Bodie, answer the bloody question!”

There wasn’t a cowardly atom in Bodie’s body - he’d stared down everything from rabid hyenas to gun-toting terrorists - but faced with Ray Doyle on the rampage, he caved. Spectacularly.

Picking up the ribbon-bedecked bottle of single malt from the sideboard, he held it out. “He gave us this as a wedding present.”

Ray’s arse hit the chair as he collapsed like someone had cut his strings. “W-wedd…”

“And he said that he didn’t want to see us until the New Year, which gives us a nearly two weeks off. So I thought we could go up and see your mum, `cause you didn’t get there last year, and then we could do New Year’s at my place. I bought loads of food, so we’ll not go short. Be better if you cook though. I was gonna call Sarah and see if she minded doing the honours, but then-”

“Shut up!”

Wittering. He’d been wittering. He didn’t witter. He never wittered. He was stoic and silent. Now silenced by Ray’s sharp tongue, Bodie stood and stared at his partner, hands still wrapped around the scotch. It was pathetic and any second now, he was going to find his balls, honestly.

Ray stood up slowly and, at a pace that would put a tortoise in the winning seat, walked over until he was close enough for Bodie to smell the shampoo he’d used in the bath.

“Let me get this straight,” he said in a voice that sounded too placid for anyone’s continued good health. “You and Mister Cowley discussed our relationship, and he sent you over here with a wedding present!” The last two words hit a decibel level that left Bodie’s ears ringing.

Put like that, it did sound a bit dodgy. As if they’d been talking about Ray behind his back, which they hadn’t, not really. Only in the generalist terms. Bodie opened his mouth offer an excuse, and shut it again after one look at Ray’s face. This wasn’t going to be as easy as an explanation.

A finger that felt like it had been inside a pencil sharpener, jabbed him in the centre of the chest. Bodie staggered back a step and bumped into the cupboard.

“Two days after he suspended me for making a pass at you and referred to our relationship as sordid!”

He was good at getting louder towards the end of sentences, Bodie reflected somewhat numbly. “Not two days. Just after you left,” he said, and regretted it immediately.

“What!”

Any second now, Ray was going to punch him. It was inevitable. Like New Year following Christmas. Or taxes following profit. In the five years they’d worked together, Bodie couldn’t remember a time when Ray had been so angry. Not even when Wakeman was trying to wipe out CI5.

“Sorry,” he offered, in the vain hope of avoiding the obvious.

“You are sorry,” Ray said backing off far enough that Bodie was finally able to breathe. And giving himself enough room to swing, Bodie thought morosely. “That’s supposed to fix everything is it? You walk in here with Cowley’s best wishes and an apology and all the accusations, all the distrust, all the spying on me behind my back disappears? Is that it? Is that what you really think? `Cause if you do, mate, then you’re stupider and more bloody suicidal than I ever was.”

Oh, that.

In all the excitement over Cowley’s blessing, Bodie had managed to forget that whole business with the Findley woman. Now it all came rushing back, along with memories of confronting Ray this very flat and those things he said. He winced.

“Remembering now are you? Well, thanks very much. And just for your information, they found out where the leak was coming from. It was bloody Anita in records. Murph caught her this morning.”

Anita? Bodie couldn’t have been more surprised if someone had told him it was Betty. Anita was sweet and pretty with a lovely pair of… It was entirely possible he thought too much about what women looked like.

Ray could read his mind, apparently. “Yeah,” he was saying. “`Bout time you stopped thinking with your dick and tried your brain for a change. Though I doubt it’d make much difference.”

That Bodie had to defend himself against. He knew for a fact that his dick had no brain. “Now hang on a minute,” he said. “I do use my brain. Sometimes.”

“Like when you decided I was the mole.”

Ouch. That was below the belt. “Look, I wasn’t the one knocking around with some bird who beats up coppers as a pastime. What the hell was I supposed to think, Ray? I saw you handing over a load of cash, right after you’d told me you were broke. And then you were in the King’s Head. Thought you were being blackmailed, didn’t I.”

Ray turned away from him, running both his hands through his hair as if he was going to pull it out in handfuls. “And it never occurred to you to ask,” he said.

“No, it didn’t. And I’m sorry. I should’ve trusted you.”

“Yes, you bloody well should have. If I believed everything I saw, you’d be in the nick, mate, serving time for killing Biermann.”

Another blow landed with panache. Bodie was going to be lucky if he was walking straight by the end of this evening. He hung his head, the very picture of remorse.

“Yeah well, luckily I’m brighter than you. Don’t go getting myself involved with dodgy East German spies.”

Bodie risked a glance at Ray’s face. The thunderous expression was gone and now he looked, possibly, vaguely amused. Had he managed it? Had he derailed the infamous Doyle temper? “I am sorry,” he said. “Really.”

“Stop apologising,” Ray snapped. “And for god’s sake pour us a bloody drink. We’ve got some talking to do.”

*

Whisky in hand, Doyle retreated to the dubious comfort of his couch. He was still annoyed with Bodie but not furious anymore. It was difficult to stay furious with the dozy bugger when he looked so guilty. Not that he still didn’t think he was a prat for not asking questions, but, having heard Bodie’s side of things, Doyle could see where the misunderstanding had come from. Strung together, his actions did look a bit suspicious.

Once Bodie had taken a seat in the armchair, Doyle took a sip from his drink and began his side of the story. “Gracie’s an ex of mine,” he said by way of starting off. “We dated a few times while I was with the Met and we kept in touch afterwards.” Bodie was listening attentively, so Doyle continued. “About a month ago she phoned me up and asked if she could come round. She did and when she got here, she was a hell of a mess. It turned out that, back when she was working at a community newspaper, her boss locked her in his office and raped her.

“She didn’t press charges. It was her word against his and you know what that’s like.” Bodie nodded. “Anyway, that was that, so she thought, until a few months went by and she realised she was expecting.”

“Christ.”

“Yeah, exactly. And not surprisingly, she didn’t want the kid.”

“Don’t blame her. Every time she looked at it-”

“It’d remind her.” Doyle shook his head. “It really messed her head up. She didn’t know what the hell to do. Almost left it too late. Her GP was prepared to send her to the hospital but, with Christmas coming up, the ward was closed, and she’d be over the time limit by the New Year. The only way around it was to have it done privately, only she couldn’t afford it.”

“So you paid. That was the money you were giving her.”

Doyle looked up and, seeing sad understanding on his partner’s face, nodded. “Yeah. Had to, didn’t I. She had nowhere else to go.”

“Christ, Ray. What a bloody muck up.”

That was one way of describing it. Ray knew it would be a while before he could forget the look on Gracie’s face the night after. Silently, he finished his drink, hardly tasting the scotch beyond a vague burn in his throat. Cowley would call it a waste. Or perhaps not.

“Cowley said he knew about you and her. Told him all, did you?”

“Hm?” Doyle glanced up. “Not really. Went and asked him for an advance and he cottoned on pretty quick. Tight bastard wouldn’t give it to me though, just offered us that job for Jack. Would have been enough to cover it.”

There was a pause. “But that got called off. Ray, where the hell did you get the money?”

In answer, Doyle gestured to the space where his telly and stereo used to stand. Bodie frowned for a second and then his eyebrows went up. “You sold your stuff? You bloody idiot. Why the hell didn’t you say something, I would’ve lent you the money.”

Doyle laughed. “You’re as broke as I am, mate. Remember your plans for taking Sarah to Wales. Mud hut and a sheep, I think you said.”

“Not that broke.” As Doyle watched, a blush crept up Bodie’s face. “Look, don’t bandy it about, but I’ve got a bit put to one side. Savings, you know. Rainy day money. Only a few thousand. It’s me retirement fund, but I would’ve lent some to you for something like that.”

Years ago, Doyle’s dad used to talk about rainy day money. In Doyle’s experience, it paid for funerals. He should be annoyed, him stuck here with the Electricity Board about to cut him off and Bodie sitting on a fortune and saying he was broke, but Doyle discovered he was just sad. He’d always known there was a class gap between him and his partner, and this drove the point home. Broke meant different things, depending on where you came from in life.

“Thanks, anyway, mate. But I couldn’t have paid it back.”

“Don’t be daft. Bloody hell for this, I’d have given you the money. It’d only end up getting spent on stuff I don’t need.”

Doyle closed his eyes and leaned his head back. He wasn’t going to ask. He had his pride, for Christ’s sake; he was not going to ask his partner for a loan.

“You gonna be able to get your stuff back?”

“Eventually.”

Silence wrapped around him. Doyle kept his eyes shut and listened to the sound of Bodie pouring another drink, the chink of bottle on glass and the thump of glass on wood. After a few minutes, the couch next to him sank and a hand touched his.

“How bad?”

Doyle shook his head, refusing to answer. Behind his eyelids, his eyes stung with unshed tears of shame. To be brought this low, and by the man he loved, was too much.

“Come on. It’s what mates are for.”

“Leave it,” he whispered.

“Don’t be daft. If I can’t do this for you, I’d not be much of a friend, would I.”

Doyle brought his fist up and pressed it to his forehead. “I said, leave it alone, okay. I don’t need your bloody charity!”

“Fine, no charity. Call it a loan. I’ll even charge you interest.”

Humiliated and hurting, Doyle lashed out. “Right and how am I supposed to pay it back.” He lunged for Bodies groin and pressed his hand against it. “Take it in trade will you? It’s all I’ve fucking got to offer.”

Bodie flinched like he’d been burned; his face a mask of disgust that Doyle wilfully misunderstood.

“Not so attractive now, is it? Not when it comes with strings attached. What did you think you were getting, eh? Nice middle class boy with a bit put aside for a rainy day? A quick shag and then walk away with no hard feelings? Well, sorry to burst your bubble, mate, but that’s not on offer. So you can take a bloody hike and get you and your rainy day nose out my business and out of my sodding life.”

Furious, embarrassed, and humiliated beyond bearing it, Ray leapt off the couch and stalked out of the room. The bathroom was the only room with a lock, so he retreated there, slamming the door and shooting the bolt. Bodie could stay or leave; Doyle didn’t care. He wasn’t moving from here until the flat was empty.

*

It was over an hour before a tentative knock came on the door, followed by Bodie’s urgent voice. “Ray?”

Doyle rubbed angrily at his face and kept his silence. If necessary he was prepared to stay in here `til they carried him out in a box.

“Ray, please, I really need the bog.”

Still wasn’t moving.

A minute later. “I’ll pee out of the window if I have to.”

Better than Doyle having to leave the room.

Another knock. “Okay, I was kidding. I’m not gonna pee out of the window, but I might ending up crapping in the kitchen bin.”

Doyle glared at the door. He wouldn’t. No one would. Even someone who’d spent years in the jungle? Doyle winced. Christ only knew what they used as a loo out there.

“I’m warning you, Ray.”

“Fine, I’m coming,” he snapped and unlocked the door. The second it was open, Bodie bolted past him and slammed it shut again, leaving Doyle standing in the hallway. Now what? He couldn’t exactly wait for Bodie to finish and go back in. That would make it look as if he’d been sulking.

Another drink’d be a good idea. If Bodie hadn’t drunk it all, the selfish git.

He hadn’t. The bottle was at the same level as when Doyle had walked out, but it was back on the sideboard. Doyle reached for it and then stopped, his gaze fixing on a thin sheaf of paper tucked under the telephone. His bank statements. He’d left them there after calling Cuthbertson.

He snatched them up and rifled through them. Still in order, exactly as he’d left them, except…“Bodie!” There, on the most recent, was an illegible pencilled note that hadn’t been there before. The effing bastard had gone through his bank statements!

“You rang.”

It was the smug look. That and the folded arms and the way Bodie leaned in the doorway as if daring him to make something of it. Well, Doyle wasn’t it the mood to let this go. He’d tried asking nicely and Bodie had walked all over him, just like he always did.

Not anymore.

His right fist connected with a satisfying crunch, sending Bodie skidding backwards over the arm of the chair to land in a snotty bleeding heap on the living room carpet. He threw the bank statements after him, grabbed his jacket and this time walked out completely. If Bodie wanted the flat, he could sodding well have it.

*

Nursing his, hopefully not broken, nose, Bodie winced as the front door slammed and Ray’s boots thudded down the stairs. Screwed that one up, mate, he thought, gingerly pulling himself up. His nose was steadily leaking blood so, rather than drip on the carpet - however much Ray might deserve it, the ungrateful little git - Bodie headed back to the bathroom.

The mirror showed him pasty and sweaty, not that he hadn’t noticed, and his nose felt like it had been splattered halfway across his face. He poked it carefully. Not broken, but odds even he’d have two corking black eyes in the morning. Bloody perfect. Why was he bothering trying to be nice to Ray again? Oh yeah. He wanted to shag him.

“Thinking with the wrong head again, sunshine,” he said to himself as he sank to the floor with a bunch of loo roll pressed to his face. It quickly disintegrated, so he pitched it down the loo, tipped his head back, and pinched the top of his nose. When Ray got back, he was gonna kill the bastard, and then confess undying love. It seemed only reasonable under the circumstances.

You could have knocked him down with a feather when the bathroom door opened a couple of minutes later and Ray walked back in.

“What do you want?” he asked, sniffing pathetically.

Ray glared at him and then vanished, only to reappear with a tea towel full of ice. “Move your hand,” he said, and placed the cloth on Bodie’s rapidly swelling nose. He groaned. Christ, that was beginning to hurt. Given the choice, he’d rather get shot than hit in the nose. A bullet was less painful.

“Decided to give you a chance to explain,” Ray said after a few minutes of resentful silence.

Bodie laughed and then groaned again. “Coulda done that before you hit me,” he said.

“You deserved it.”

“If you got everything you deserved, sunshine, you’d still be looking at a five hundred quid overdraft, not two hundred. And before you go off on one, it’s a loan, okay. Two percent interest. Tenner a month.”

Silence.

Bodie glared up at his partner. Ray’s face, normally pretty open, was unreadable. He’d pushed his luck transferring the funds, but when he’d looked through those bank statements and seen how Ray was struggling to make good on the money he owed, Bodie had felt the risk had been worth taking. Now he wasn’t so sure.

Finally, when Bodie’s nerves were frayed enough to plait, Ray gave a great sigh and sat down next to him. For a few moments they sat there, arms touching, heads both resting on the wall, eyes closed, then Ray said, “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know.”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“And I’m sorry for hitting you.”

“`S okay. If me nose is crooked, you can pay to have it fixed.” The last of the anger between them vanished, circumvented by friendship, the give and take that made them such good partners.

The ghost of a smile twitched around Ray’s lips. “Sounds fair.”

“I thought so.” Bodie removed the cloth from his face and dropped his head tentatively. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. He prodded it to make sure.

“So this wedding then,” Ray said, apropos nothing.

“Huh?”

“Well, Cowley gave us a present and a two-week honeymoon, so when’s the wedding.”

Bodie raised his eyebrows. “You are kidding.”

“Nope. Expecting the works, mate. A ring, cake, bridesmaids.” Ray paused for a second. “You in a frock. Ouch.”

Bodie removed his elbow from Ray’s ribs and, when Ray got up and offered him a hand, took it. “How about a Chinese, a lie-in and Christmas in Derby. That do you?”

“Dunno. Not sure I fancy you yet.”

This close to Ray, smelling the warmth of him, Bodie was certain of his own feelings. And fancying was the least of them. Rather than answer, he took that extra step and brought their lips together. At first cautiously, and then with more confidence as Ray responded, winding his arms round Bodie’s back and drawing him closer.

Fingers tangling in short curls, Bodie smiled and transferred his attentions to Ray’s neck. Going by the hardening length pushing insistently against his own, fancying was not going to be a problem. In fact, Bodie’d lay good money that the drive up to Derby would have to wait until New Year. He and his new lover had better things to do this Christmas.

 

The End

 

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