We've had our share of tricky assignments in the past, Ray and I, but I can't think of any that have come so close to putting us out of commission as the one involving an old colleague of Ray's from his days in the Drugs Squad ...
"Ray?" I jerked awake quickly. It wasn't Bodie who'd shook my arm, but Murphy. "Your watch," he added, unnecessarily.
I ran a hand over my face and through my hair, the irrelevant thought that I needed a haircut occurring to me. "Yeah, I'm awake."
Murphy growled, scowling impatiently as I took my time standing up. "About time. Like waking the dead."
Murphy slumped on the bunk I had vacated and closed his eyes. "There's nothing happened. Nothing at all. Like a graveyard out there." I frowned at Murphy's words, not that he would see it, before moving to the window.
I wasn't sure what was making me so uneasy; but Murphy talking about the dead and graveyards wasn't helping. The stakeout we were on had been a long one; I had been switched from other cases to cover with Murphy when Andy Norman went sick - sick of stakeouts, Murphy reckoned - and it was anyone's guess how much longer this was going on for, although Cowley didn't keep agents on stakeout for longer than necessary. He couldn't afford the manpower.
Peering through the binoculars at the building opposite I concluded Murphy was right. It was still a graveyard over there. Pulling up the chair, I prepared for the lonely vigil, and allowed my thoughts to drift to Bodie, wondering what was happening...
It was nearly two months since Cowley had called us up to the briefing room...
"Thought we were supposed to be getting a few days off. Wonder what the Old Man's got for us now?" I glanced at Bodie, trailing disconsolately down the corridor behind me. He'd had a weekend set up with Michelle; he'd planned to take her away.
I knew what Ray was thinking - I was thinking the same myself. Bloody Cowley! First weekend off in months, restaurant booked, hotel reservation made...
"It'd better be good. It's taken me weeks to sweet talk Michelle into coming away with me."
"Weeks? You losing your touch, mate?"
I glared at him, too pissed off to make with a snappy comeback, and followed him into the briefing room.
Still grinning over my shoulder from being able to put one over on Bodie, I realised that Cowley wasn't in the room alone. The other man there was Ibbotson, now DCI of the Drugs Squad. He'd been my DS there, and it hadn't been a happy pairing. Under Cowley's stare I returned the civil greeting, but it cost me.
Cowley's outline was brief. "Drugs Squad want a man to go undercover for them, to try and break up a major drugs ring. It'll be a long job."
"When do I start, sir?" Cowley fixed me with that particular glare, dismissing my assumption, and corrected me. "Not you, Doyle. Bodie."
Hanging onto my jaw I cast a glance at Ibbotson; the bastard wasn't laughing but the supercilious humour I remembered was clearly there. "Bodie? But - "
"Bodie is less likely to be recognised than you, Doyle." Cowley was daring me to argue, and under Ibbotson's gaze I wasn't going to. Maybe later ...
I glanced over at Bodie, whose expression was carefully devoid of emotion, and knew he was trying not to show how pleased he was. Always trying to bloody nursemaid me...
Ray was not happy with the order - that was plain. Me, I was relieved. Not exactly happy, of course - neither of us likes working alone - but at least I'd be the one laying myself on the line. I'm bigger than him, and tougher, though it's more than my life is worth to actually say it aloud. Which doesn't stop it being true. Besides, the thought of him going into that sort of danger without me to watch his back gave me the screaming abdabs - though I'd never admit to that, either...
Selfish? Maybe, in some cock-eyed sort of way. I think he knew what I was thinking - Ray gets that look in his eyes sometimes, where you just know he knows what's going on in your mind. Part of being partners for so long, I suppose. You need to be able to read each other if you're going to survive. And right now he was thinking that the old man was talking a load of bull. And underneath that was the realisation I'd be undercover without him to back me up. He didn't like that either. Neither did I. But better me than him...
"Bodie, you're off all other operations from now on. Report to DCI Ibbotson at Scotland Yard tomorrow for a full briefing. That should give you time to sort out your affairs." Cowley smiled wryly. "You won't have time to go phoning the bank manager if you forget to pay any bills."
"Yes sir. Um, sir, I had a weekend away planned."
"Can't be helped, Bodie. You'll have to postpone it."
"But I've already paid for the hotel. Don't suppose I could put it on expenses, could I?"
That earned me an icy glare.
"No, you can not. Doyle, you enjoy your weekend off and I'll see you at 8 sharp on Monday morning for reassignment."
Well, you could read that two ways - but luckily Ray was too preoccupied to jump in with an offer to take my place with Michelle for the weekend. Not like him. Something really must be bothering him.
I was barely listening to them, focusing instead on Ibbotson. Why Bodie, not me? Granted I wouldn't have been happy working with Ibbotson again, but surely I was better qualified than Bodie to work on a drugs case? And I didn't really buy that one about being recognised; it was years since I worked on Drugs.
As the meeting broke up, I got out of the room as quickly as possible; exchanging pleasantries with Ibbotson was beyond me. I could've done with a drink, but short of raiding Cowley's whisky (and that was never advisable) I had better make do with coffee. Banging open the door of the VIP Lounge I was pleased to see it empty.
As I had expected, Bodie wasn't far behind me. I didn't give him a chance. "You'd better watch your back, Bodie. That Ibbotson treads on people to get where he wants to go, which is upwards."
Although Ray'd mentioned his name in passing - usually with a sour expression on his face - I didn't really know anything about Ibbotson. Normally I take Ray's advice about anything to do with his days with the Met with a pinch of salt - he can be a right old woman sometimes, especially when he thinks he knows more than you do. But sometimes - just sometimes - he comes up with the goods. He just needs a bit of prompting.
"C'mon, mate. I'm a big boy now - I can look after myself."
"Bodie - " I stopped, furious and yet worried sick. I knew Bodie didn't always take me seriously; but somehow I had to make him understand what Ibbotson was like. "He's dangerous, Bodie."
"So what else is new?" I frowned. Ray seemed more than usually agitated. "Just what have you got against this guy, anyway?"
"He's the guy who nearly -" I stopped myself, and grabbed the kettle to start filling it. I didn't have any proof that Ibbotson was the one who'd nearly got me killed, just suspicions. And Bodie had to work with him. I slapped the kettle down and plugged it in. Bodie was regarding me with the expression he gets when he thinks I'm exaggerating.
Somewhat lamely, I finished, "You just can't trust him."
To tell Bodie the full story would probably mean he'd refuse to work on the case, or go and thump Ibbotson. Either way, Cowley wouldn't be happy.
I turned to get the mugs. I'd warned him, but I couldn't say any more. "Just watch your back," I repeated.
There was more to it than that, I knew. But Ray obviously wasn't going to tell me, and pushing wouldn't get me anywhere: he'd just get annoyed and accuse me of nagging, and I still wouldn't learn anything. Still, I wasn't overly happy with what I'd seen of Ibbotson myself. Not someone I'd ever choose to work for. Definitely not someone I would ever trust. I'd already decided to watch my back around him before Ray gave me that half-hearted warning. He couldn't tell me everything about Ibbotson, not then, which was probably just as well, or I'd very likely have half killed the little shit. I wanted to, later, given the way things panned out...
"OK, sunshine." I nodded towards the mugs, now steaming away by the kettle. "Don't forget me sugar!"
And that was the last I'd seen of Bodie. Oh, Cowley hadn't been a complete bastard, he'd kept me informed of how things were going. How Bodie had been shipped up to Manchester for a few weeks to establish his cover, before he'd come back to London. Since then, he'd been undercover working for Johnny Tasker. And when I'd heard that, I knew that was why they couldn't use me; Tasker knew me from way back ... Still, it was galling. And worrying, no use denying it; good as Bodie was, he was undercover alone.
I snapped out of the reverie as I caught sight of something moving outside the building ahead, and moved to the camera tripod, thumping Murphy as I did so. "What?" He came awake with a jump.
"Movement." I peered down the viewfinder, hoping that the camera was properly set up. I was OK with normal daylight stuff, but the technicalities involved with infrared film left me floundering. Studying the area carefully, I caught the movement again, and pressed the shutter, forgetting the camera was auto-wind and getting six pictures of the same bit of ground before I managed to release the button and pan the camera slightly to follow the figure and get another couple of shots.
Murphy meantime had focused with the binoculars. "Recognise him?" he asked.
"No." Could've been Santa Claus for all I could see, but I curbed the desire to have a go at Murphy. It wasn't his fault I was stuck here. And after all, things could've been worse; Cowley could've paired me with Anson ...
"Me either. Hope those pictures come out; that's the first movement we've seen."
"Probably be a drunk, looking for somewhere to piss." Maybe I would have a go at Murphy after all; if he was so great with the camera he could do all the watching... I caught Murphy looking at me sideways.
"You OK, Ray?"
"Yeah - sorry. Things getting to me, that's all."
Murphy nodded, as if he understood; and maybe he did, at that. He'd never formed a close partnership in the way Bodie and I had; for some reason Cowley had never paired him up permanently. But he'd shared in enough of our tricky situations to comprehend how we felt about each other - and he was probably the only one either of us would rely on if we had to be partnered with someone else.
"Bodie can handle it. He had you training him." The reassurance and sarky joke got me grinning.
"Sure he can. Too big-headed not to handle it, anyway." I glanced out of the window again; whoever the person was, they'd vanished.
"May as well crash again, Murphy. You're easy enough to wake up."
In spite of Murphy's joke, the uneasy feeling crept straight back again as soon as I sat down. Bodie was working alone; and he didn't even have the benefit of CI5 backup. I had tried to warn Bodie about Ibbotson, but wasn't sure whether he had taken me seriously. I had good cause to know Ibbotson wasn't to be trusted...
Our DI at the time was called King, and he thought he was one. Or God, or someone somewhere in-between. He and Ibbotson didn't quite wear the same school tie, but they'd moved in the same circles; and they weren't the same circles in the muddy pond they thought I'd come from. It was a mystery to me then, and still was, how either of them got into the Drugs Squad when they were patently unsuited to the type of work. Maybe the DCI had the same tie hanging in the wardrobe.
Anyway, the dirty work got left to others, and frequently that meant me. Not that it was a particular chore; I had gone into the Drugs Squad with the desire - one of my crusades, Bodie would call it - to do what I could to clean up some of the trade. Meets with dealers, chatting up the hookers on the street, going undercover; I'd done the lot. And a lot more besides. There had been some particularly nasty sights that I preferred not to remember.
It had dawned on me after only a couple of weeks in the job that Ibbotson was the type to do as little as possible and take the credit for others' efforts. I wasn't looking for medals, but decided that if I was going to stick my neck out it wouldn't be for Ibbotson to use it as a springboard. Consequently, the next time it happened, I determined on a quiet word with him.
All right, so maybe I shouldn't have lost my temper. If he'd shown the slightest compunction about what he'd done, even tried to laugh it off, maybe I wouldn't have thumped him. But the bastard had denied everything; suggested I was accusing him to cover up for my own incompetencies...
King hadn't taken the whole thing well but I'd escaped an official reprimand; maybe because although on the surface he supported Ibbotson he knew that if he took it further I'd bring the whole thing out into the open, and he couldn't afford that any more than I could. The episode was allowed to rest; but it didn't make for smooth running, and Ibbotson took every chance available to stitch me up.
Even I never thought he'd go so far as to try and get me killed, though. I'd been in worse situations since then, but the thought of the knife that had narrowly missed slicing me open was still enough to make me shudder. I'd been undercover, and the only person who knew I was meeting the dealer was Ibbotson. And the dealer suddenly knew I was a cop. I'd never got to the bottom of that one; somehow hadn't wanted to. But I was damned careful never to turn my back on Ibbotson again.
And Bodie was out there, working for Ibbotson, without anyone to watch his back...
It was raining when I arrived in Manchester. Well, it would be, wouldn't it?
It was difficult to see, now, why a trip to Manchester had been such a big deal when I was a kid in Liverpool. I suppose, at that age, a trip anywhere is exciting. Now it was just one more big, grey city. I'd seen a lot of them.
Ibbotson and I had decided between us that trying to pass me off as a dealer wasn't the best idea going. I simply didn't have the background knowledge to make it work as well as I needed to for this job: Ray would have been much better. He'd once joked I made a more convincing dopehead than someone at the other end of the chain (I'd told him he looked the part more than I did - for which he decked me next time we were in the gym. Holds grudges, does Ray. But only 'til they're paid off....) So I was to be Andrew Brodie, minder to Vincent Burrows, a minor villain operating on the very edge of the law, well-known and tolerated because of what he knew and occasionally shared with the local force. He was also someone who wouldn't ask questions. Nor answer them. It wasn't perfect, but it would do.
Vince found me a variety of things to do while I familiarised myself with the rôle. I acted as bodyguard during the day, and occasional escort for various 'lady friends' at night. He had a half-share in a seedy little pub and what he referred to as a 'nightclub' in Wythenshaw, and used me as the doorman there Friday and Saturday nights: even in that area it didn't take me long to establish myself as someone to be given a wide berth. In fact, it appeared I was too good - after three weeks Vince moved me off door duty . Apparently word had got around that the new bouncer at RatsAss (as the club was not so affectionately known by its patrons) was a hard man, and I was keeping people away...
Vince wasn't particularly well-liked by his peers. He found it useful to keep me near him during his 'business meetings', as he called his shady assignations with even shadier types, and was always careful to make sure everyone knew who and what I was. We both knew that if I could attract enough attention here, sooner or later the word would get down to the City, which would make my job a whole lot easier. So I played tough and hard, beat up a few thugs, swaggered a bit, got myself noticed, and kept my mouth shut.
It happened a lot sooner and more easily than I'd expected. Five weeks after I'd arrived in Manchester, Vince was approached by a poacher. His name was Hendricks, and he worked for Tasker.
Vince acted outraged, and he may have been sorry to see me go - I was good in the part, and he'd had less trouble in the few weeks I'd been with him than at any time for the last three years. But I think he was privately relieved. After all, I was 'law' as far as he was concerned. I'm sure I'd cramped his style...
I didn't meet Tasker right away. Hendricks handed me over to a pair of jokers - Hicks, a big black bruiser, and a scrawny little weasel-faced runt called Olson - with instructions to make sure I didn't tread on any toes. For the first few days I followed them on their 'rounds', learning the ropes. They were checking me out as well, checking to see whether I would fit in the organisation - whether they wanted me or not.
Tasker seemed to be intent on building himself some sort of criminal empire. He ran an extensive protection racket, concentrating on garages - always a rich source of revenue - and small specialist shops that didn't have the muscle or the money to get themselves something better. He was clever too, never demanding more than they could - just - afford, and so making it less trouble for them to pay up rather than get the law involved. He was into prostitution, 'managing' a herd of pimps with their own stables and creaming off a healthy profit. The hookers themselves had no say in the matter, but I gathered the pimps weren't overly happy with the situation. But Tasker was always there with a top-class lawyer, for free, when they got into trouble, so they put up with it. The alternative was unhealthy and frequently painful. If not actually deadly.
But his biggest income came from drug traffic, as we already knew. He had heroin shipments, and less lucrative but still useful supplies of soft drugs, arriving (from the Netherlands we assumed: it was the usual distribution point for stuff coming in from the East) on an irregular basis, and so far nobody had been able to do a bloody thing about it. Or about Tasker himself. To the outside world, he was the perfect businessman, sober, efficient, and - most importantly - untouchable. He ran his empire from a distance, through lieutenants admittedly, but there was no doubting who ruled the roost. Everyone was terrified of the man. Get rid of him and the whole thing would crumble. For a while, anyway, until some other up-and-coming bastard grabbed the reins...
Ibbotson and I had discussed ways of getting me close to Tasker himself - most of which depended so heavily on luck I'd more or less dismissed them as hopeless, if only mentally. And now I couldn't even contact Ibbotson to report in.
Olson was the problem. I very quickly realised he'd been given the duty of watchdog, and bloody hell, didn't he take it seriously! At least while I was with Vince I'd been able to escape to a phone box every now and then and ring Ibbotson. That was now impossible. Olson seemed to be tied to my apron strings... Ray would love that image...
So I sat up and took notice, made myself useful as and when I could, and tried to learn as much as possible about the organisation while hoping for some sort of a break. It came quite soon - Olson had taken a shine to me, much to my disgust, and his reports to Tasker must have been impressive, because I was summoned into The Presence after only five days.
It always seems to be a nightclub. I suppose because there are always people coming and going, and it's dark and cosy and private, and those who go there can be as anonymous as they choose. At least Tasker's nightclub was a step up from Vince's - expensive, exclusive, luxurious and very legal. Served good malt whisky, too, though I doubt Cowley would have approved.
I was ushered into a large office on the first floor. Tasker looked me over from behind his desk, his face impassive. He was good-looking enough, I suppose, in a smooth, hard way: at any rate, the slinky, well-stacked blonde draped over him seemed to think so, dismissing me with a glance, only to be dismissed in her turn with a pat on her shapely rear. Tasker gestured to the chair in front of the desk, and I sat. We stared at each other for a few minutes, then Tasker handed me a glass half-filled with Scotch.
It was a short interview, and Tasker didn't talk much. It seemed he really just wanted to see me face to face, to get some idea of me as a person - Olson had already filled him in on how I performed in the field. I gave him an edited version of my career, emphasising the less savoury aspects and, of course, dropping any hint of involvement with CI5. He appeared to be satisfied.
After half an hour Olson tapped on the door and stuck his head in.
"Mr Tasker, sir? Yer guests is 'ere."
He nodded and stood, and gestured to the door. The interview was obviously over.
I went down the stairs to the main body of the club ahead of him, ready to grab a quick drink and head off to the B&B I'd booked into, but there was a face at the bar I thought I recognised. I stood beside him as I ordered a large Scotch and watched him in the mirror that ran along the back wall of the bar, but it wasn't until he turned sideways to speak to his colleague that it clicked. One of Ibbotson's men.
I came alert, scanning the rest of the room as best I could in the mirror. Now I knew they were there, I spotted another two Drugs men. It looked as though Ibbotson wasn't going to trust to luck after all...
The man beside me nudged me, almost forcing me to look in the right direction. I saw light gleam on metal, scrambled across the room and flung myself onto Tasker, knocking him to the floor and shielding him with my body as mayhem erupted. I could bloody feel the bullets flying around us, scrunched up on the floor as I was, risking my hide to protect this.... forget the personal reaction, Bodie. Just do your job.
Tasker and I - and unfortunately Olson, who'd dived behind the bar as soon as the first shot was fired - survived unscathed. A couple of Tasker's men had minor bullet wounds, and most of the others had been hit by flying glass; once they'd achieved their purpose - an apparent attempt to assassinate Tasker so I could 'save' him - the Drugs Squad agents had beaten a hasty retreat, leaving us to clear up the mess. A couple of hours later Tasker called me in to see him again.
"Well, Brodie - it looks as though you might have saved my life."
"Just doing my job." I'd refused to call him 'sir' - or even Mr Tasker - right from the beginning, reckoning that a show of quiet self-confidence would stand me in good stead, as long as I didn't overdo it. He may not have particularly liked it - Tasker was used to being treated with deference - but he didn't object. Now he smiled, thinly. I don't think he was overly happy about being beholden to anyone. But then, I wasn't just 'anyone'.
"And doing it extremely well. There's a place for you in the group. If you want it."
I frowned slightly, pretending to consider the offer. "I'd like to think it over."
He nodded. "Certainly. Don't take too long, though."
"Twenty-four hours, no longer."
I called to take him up on the offer nine hours later.
Relieved by Anson and Abrahams, Murphy and I called in to sign off and headed for our separate cars. I'd seen nothing further and the rest of my watch had been unrelieved tedium, punctuated only by Murphy's snoring. I'd agreed to stop by HQ and drop the film off for processing before heading for home; it would give me a chance to check in with Cowley and see if there was any more news on Bodie. It was nearly a week since Ibbotson had updated the Old Man...
As I drove through the gate, Ibbotson was just leaving. He didn't see me, or at least pretended not to, and the blood was beginning to pound as I parked the car. Why had Ibbotson been over here? All the updates so far had been by phone; what had happened that Ibbotson thought important enough to pay a visit...?
I knew I should go up to the lab and put the film in first, but Cowley's office was on the way anyhow. His door was open, a good sign, and I tapped lightly on my way in. "Morning, sir."
"Ah, Doyle. Anything from that stakeout yet?"
I patted my pocket. "Few pictures. I'm just on my way to the lab." I paused, and waited for Cowley to mention Ibbotson's visit. When he didn't, I brought the subject up, in a roundabout way. "Any word on Bodie?"
"Nothing further." Cowley dropped his head to return to his paperwork, and I took a deep breath, reining in the quick temper, but unable to completely conceal my anxiety.
"I saw Ibbotson leaving."
Cowley now gave me his full attention, pulling off his glasses and waving them by one arm. "And if Ibbotson's been here, something must have happened to Bodie?" Cowley has a wonderful knack of putting people at a disadvantage.
"Well - "
"Nothing further means just that, Doyle. Ibbotson was in the area on other business, that's all." I was suspicious enough to wonder whether the Old Man was lying to me, but had the sense to keep that to myself. I couldn't restrain myself from asking another question however. "Has he heard from Bodie though?"
"Not for a few days." Cowley was suddenly evasive, and I knew I had been right to be suspicious.
"Doyle, this is not our case; it isn't appropriate - "
I ignored him, dropped my voice into a growl and repeated my question. "How many days?"
Cowley stopped arguing and answered me. "Over a week. But we knew this might happen, Doyle. If Bodie's been successful in getting accepted by Tasker then his cover must be maintained, and if that means dropping out of contact - "
He must've caught the look on my face and stopped, as, feeling sick, I turned away, managing to force a few words out. "So we don't know he's OK. He could be lying dead somewhere. And you just say it isn't our case - but Bodie's ours - "
"Doyle!" Cowley's sharp tone brought me back to face him. "I am well aware that Bodie's our man. And I am concerned. But it's not the first time he's been undercover - "
"But never out of contact," I couldn't help interjecting, only to be ignored.
" - and I'm sure it won't be the last. But I'll repeat what I said. This isn't our case. I - we - cannot interfere. Do you understand me, Doyle? You will do nothing to try and find Bodie; nothing that might jeopardise the case. Nothing at all. Have you got that?"
"Yes, sir." I turned to leave, still feeling sick but furious as well.
"Just remember it, Doyle. Now get that film up to the lab, and go home and get some rest."
I took the stairs rather than the lift up to the lab, working out some of my fury on the treads as I went. Go home and rest, he said! Did he really think I could rest, now?
By the time I got back to the car, commonsense had reasserted itself, and I sat and thought for a bit. I wasn't stupid enough to rush out looking for Bodie; if he was OK such an action could very well get him killed. Making my decision, I started the engine and headed for home. Cowley was right; I did need some rest, I was back on that stakeout again later. But I could make some phone calls from home ...
"Hullo, Charlie." It hadn't been difficult to get through to her. Charlotte Colfield had been a DC in the Vice Squad when I first met her; she was now a DI and still climbing.
"Who's that?" she asked. No doubt no one ever called her Charlie now.
"Ray Doyle." I didn't doubt she'd remember me. We'd shared enough late nights in boozers - and afterwards.
"Ray! How are you? Still with CI5, setting the world to rights?"
"Something like that. Listen, Charlie, can we meet? I need to talk to you about something."
"Something off the record?" Charlie sounded dubious now. She had always played things by the book, and wasn't a fan of CI5's more liberal 'results' policy.
"Well - yes." I paused. I had to persuade her it wasn't anything too shady. "I just want to get your impression on something. My mate may be in danger, Charlie."
She knew how I felt about mates; we'd both lost too many. "Away from the Yard then?"
"Yeah." There was no way I was going anywhere near a building with Ibbotson in it. "Can we meet today?"
"Hold on." I could hear her flicking paper, the pages of her diary probably, and grinned, wondering if she was still attending every meeting she could get invited to. "I can meet you at 1.30. What about the pub where you first bought me a pint?"
"Sounds fine. Thanks, Charlie." I put the phone down, reflecting that she was being cautious, not mentioning the pub by name. That caution was fine by me. It wasn't unknown for the switchboard operators at the Yard to listen in on conversations, and I wouldn't put it past Ibbotson to have spies there.
Grabbing a couple of hours sleep, I set the alarm and by 1.20 was walking into Tattersalls Tavern in Knightsbridge. Charlie was already there and hadn't changed in the intervening years; she was still a cracker. And she was definitely going places; the smart suit was a step up from the casual clothes she used to wear while on duty. But when she was dealing with the pimps and hookers she'd had to dress the part.
We'd first got to know each other when on a joint operation; a drink to celebrate had quickly turned into another back at my place with the inevitable outcome, and we'd knocked around quite happily for some time. Charlie knew all about my problems with Ibbotson at the time, although I'd tried not to involve her. I knew I would be moving on, but Charlie was aiming to make Vice her area, and working relationships between Drugs and Vice needed to be good.
"Hullo, Charlie. You're looking good." Taking a seat next to her, I reached to kiss her cheek before attacking the pint she'd already got in for me.
"You're not looking so bad yourself." Never backward at coming forward, Charlie had been the one to suggest we went back to my place that first night. It looked like things hadn't changed much ...
"I haven't got a lot of time, Ray. I've got a meeting at 2.30. What did you want to talk about?"
"Ibbotson. CI5 are doing some work with him at the moment; one of my mates is undercover for him. But I'm worried about him. You remember that trouble I had with Ibbotson?"
Charlie nodded. "Is that why you're not working for him?"
"Not entirely, although I suspect that had something to do with it. No, they're setting up Johnny Tasker."
"Ah." Charlie nodded again. Tasker was well-known to most of the departments around Scotland Yard, he had fingers in a lot of pies. "And Tasker would know you. What about Ibbotson?"
"I'm out of touch. I just wondered what the gossip is."
Charlie finished her drink; she'd progressed from pints to what looked like G&T. "I'm a bit out of touch as well. Being a DI has its drawbacks, you know. As far as I'm aware he runs the department well. You know King is his Super now?"
"I'd heard. Is he still protecting Ibbotson?"
Charlie frowned. "What are you implying? No, don't answer that. Look, I'll ask around for you. See if I can pick up any of the gossip." She glanced at her watch, and I gestured towards her empty glass.
"Got time for another?"
I hadn't misread the signals as she looked directly at me. "Back at your place?"
"What about your meeting?"
Charlie picked up her handbag and stood. "Sod the meeting."
Throwing the car into the space next to Murphy's I ran into the building and up the stairs. Anson was waiting to leave. "About bloody time. You're supposed to have been here nearly an hour ago."
"Sorry." I wasn't about to explain why I was late to Anson, although I might wind Murphy up a bit later.
As Anson left, still grumbling, I took a look at the photos Murphy had brought over. As I'd thought, the figure was unidentifiable, although by the lack of white beard and red coat, it hadn't been Santa Claus after all. "These are next to useless."
Murphy agreed. "I still think Cowley's got us barking up the wrong tree. There's been absolutely nothing again today. Looks like we're in for another boring night."
"Have time to get some sleep in as well, then. You fetching the food tonight?" We'd fallen into the habit of getting take-away; not the healthiest of lifestyles but at least we got to eat. That was the trouble with overnight stake-outs, your body clock was totally thrown out.
"OK. What d'you fancy?"
"You decide. But make it quick; I'm starving." As Murphy disappeared on his errand, I checked the entry log. As Murphy had said, abso-bloody-lutely nothing ...
Dropping into the seat, I let my thoughts drift back to that afternoon. Charlie hadn't made the 2.30 meeting, or the 4.00 one either. It had been good. We'd always been very compatible in bed, and the whole relationship had been an easy one since neither of us was looking for anything permanent.
Murphy returned with a Chinese, probably the healthiest option as far as I was concerned. I must've still been wearing a grin, because he looked at me suspiciously. "Just what were you up to earlier, Doyle? Looking like the cat that got the cream ..."
My grin got wider. Murphy shook his head in exasperation and got busy with the foil cartons. "OK. Tell me later. We'll need something to keep us awake, even if I do get jealous."
Much later, when Murphy had crashed on the bunk, I tried to concentrate on the memory of Charlie, but my worries kept hauling me back to Bodie. Charlie had promised to call me tomorrow when she'd had a chance to put out feelers and get a response. I'd expanded on my suspicions, but Charlie had remained impartial. Although I knew she wouldn't let me down, past loyalties to me were what would convince her to make the call, rather than any belief that I was right.
I don't have Ray's memory for numbers, but with names and faces I'm just fine. Just as well, because since I'd been with Tasker's group I hadn't had a moment to myself to report in.
Olson. That bloody little weasel. I'd thought he was bad before - now he stuck to me like glue. I couldn't even take a leak without him hovering nearby. I knew Tasker didn't trust anyone, but this was downright paranoid!
I'd been working for Tasker for ten days now, mainly doing the jobs nobody else wanted to do. Not much of a surprise, that. After all, I was the new boy in class - regardless of how I'd got into the group, I was still expected to work my way up. Pickups, collecting protection money, checking that Tasker's pimps - and their stables - were toeing the line... unpleasant work, tedious, but not difficult. And Olson dogged my heels every step of the way.
Of course, he was reporting my every move to Tasker: I'd expected that. I hadn't expected him to be so bloody scrupulous about it. You'd never guess it to look at him, the half-mad, ugly little runt. He carried a flick knife with him, kept very sharp and very clean: I'd once found him cutting the feet off a pigeon he'd somehow managed to catch, giggling to himself all the while. He made my skin crawl. I only hoped, come the end of the case, that I'd be the one to nail him.
That day we'd been told to get down to one of Tasker's regular drops, a derelict warehouse down in the docklands. One of his suppliers, an inconspicuous Oriental called Wang Ho Lin, was having 'problems' with a small-time dealer who thought he could muscle in on Tasker's patch. Bad move...
Wang Ho Lin was talking with Hume, the dealer, when we arrived. Well, it was more of a row than a discussion, really. Hume spotted Olson, and snarled an obscenity - then saw me and reached for his weapon.
I was faster. He froze, staring down the Beretta's barrel, and slowly moved his hands away from his sides, a sickly smile on his face.
"Take it easy, pal. I'm sure we can come to some arrangement..."
"Sure we can." I reached under his jacket for his gun. "You can leave now and never come back, or I can rearrange your face for you."
He laughed, nervously. He stopped laughing when he saw I was serious.
"Ah, c'mon now. Surely there's room for a little healthy competition..."
Healthy competition? Healthy?
His face paled as he saw my expression, and he licked his suddenly-dry lips. Behind me I could hear Olson giggling. Wang Ho Lin simply stood looking inscrutable.
Oh well. I supposed I'd better make it look convincing...
I've never been a devotee of pistol-whipping, but it's usually pretty persuasive. By the time I'd finished Hume was semi-conscious, lying in a crumpled heap on the ground, missing a few teeth, and it would be weeks before he looked human again. I was fairly certain he wouldn't be a problem any longer.
Wang Ho Lin wore a tiny satisfied smile. Olson was gazing up at me with a kind of frankly fascinated adoration. If they were anything to go by, I'd just earned myself a reputation as the sort of thug Tasker was eager to have by his side. Me, I just wanted to forget the whole thing over a drink...
Cowley had called Murphy and me just before our shift finished with the welcome news that he'd decided to end the stakeout. Anson and Abrahams would wrap up during the day and pack up the gear, but we could take a break until the next day before we needed to report in. We were both relieved, and it was with a definite lifting of the spirits that I arrived home.
I got the promised call from Charlie just after 11.30. "Sorry it's taken so long. I had to get my DS to ask around."
"Not too directly, I hope."
"Don't worry; she'll have been discreet. But it's as I thought. Ibbotson's department seems to run OK. There've been a few operations that haven't gone according to plan, but that happens to us all. The only remotely suspect thing is that King and Ibbotson are still working out of each other's pockets. But they've been colleagues for years."
It wasn't what I expected or - to be honest - wanted to hear. Was it possible I was carrying my personal dislike of Ibbotson too far? I thanked Charlie, and promised to call her in a few weeks. I probably wouldn't, work was sure to get in the way, but Charlie wouldn't mind. It was that kind of relationship.
The next time the phone rang the caller took me totally by surprise. "Doyle? This is Superintendent King."
I fished for a response, the wind taken out of my sails by this unexpected development. "Yes, sir?" He was no longer my superior, but he'd always expected respect.
"Look, Doyle, this is off the record. But I know one of your CI5 colleagues is working with Drugs Squad at the moment, and I've a feeling that someone may be setting him up." I felt a cold chill down my spine. After several hours of convincing myself that I was wrong about Ibbotson this brought the anxiety flooding back.
"What have you heard?" I forgot to add sir, but he didn't seem to notice.
"I've a time and place. But you didn't get them from me. This is completely unofficial."
Another few words gave me that information and he put the phone down. I returned the handset to its cradle, still feeling cold. I had to go to that warehouse tonight. It was fortunate that the stakeout had finished ...
Orders came down from Tasker to collect a heroin shipment from the old warehouse. Nothing difficult, just a routine task. I drew the short straw - as usual - and of course Olson, who had spent half the day swigging whisky from the bottle he carried in his coat pocket, had to come with me. The motor was low on fuel, and the right hand wiper blade had developed a bloody irritating squeak. And it would be full dark by the time we got to the warehouse, and my torch batteries were running low, and I had no time to go and buy new ones. And the only sandwiches left at the corner shop were some kind of vile vegetarian muck topped by limp lettuce - and the place didn't have any batteries, either. Just a sequence of those minor inconveniences that make a day feel about 69 hours long...
Fretting my way through the rest of the afternoon and evening, I was vacillating on whether to report in to Cowley, but decided I'd probably better see what was happening first.
I found the place without problems and slid the car into a gap between buildings. It wasn't particularly well concealed, but the best I could do. I was early and had some idea of checking out the buildings and finding somewhere to hide and wait for Bodie to arrive ...
The roads were bloody awful - a burst water main slowed the traffic to a crawl, and we were late reaching the warehouse. Olson was fretting more than usual - Tasker was a real stickler for punctuality. And the dealer, a nasty piece of work called Friedmann, wasn't known for his sunny and tolerant nature. All in all not my idea of fun. We reached the warehouse and pulled onto an adjoining piece of derelict land, and I stopped the engine. Olson grabbed my arm and pointed towards the side of the building...
There was a car parked there, in the shadows, a sleek bronze shape that I recognised immediately. I fought down a cold shiver of pure fear. Ray's Capri...
What the bloody hell was he doing here!?
Olson drew his Browning, as he climbed out of the car, and I didn't have much option but to follow suit. He checked through the window, then broke into the Capri with an ease borne of long practise. Crawling in, he rooted around for a moment, then grunted.
"Fuckin' cop car." Before I could say anything he'd ripped the R/T from its mooring and tossed it on the seat. His mean, sweating face twisted to look up at me, grinning lopsidedly. "Fixed 'im, eh?"
He dragged himself back out of the car and stood for a moment, looking around warily: I took the opportunity to hit the tracer switch under the dash. At least now they'd know more or less where Ray was...
I felt Olson's hand on my arm. "Let's go find the pig. Which way?"
My mind raced, trying to second guess which direction Ray would have taken and go in the opposite, playing for time.
"This way." I led Olson off to the left, trying not to be too quiet. We began a circuit of the warehouse. And of course we met Ray coming the other way...
Olson saw him first, and grabbed my arm again. The temptation to break his was becoming nearly overwhelming.
"Look!" he hissed, raising his gun. I pushed his arm back down.
"I'll take him."
I raised my voice just a fraction, praying Ray would hear and find cover. "Because I'm a better shot than you. And you're half cut - you'd probably miss him altogether."
He didn't argue, just gave me an ugly grin and ushered me forwards.
Ray froze, staring at me. Behind me, Olson was giggling, excited at the thought of violence. For one second I thought about shooting him instead. But that would blow the operation. And Ray would never forgive me for that.
I had no choice. I aimed the Beretta...
Bodie was simply staring at me; the gun barrel pointed unwaveringly at me ... How had we got into this mess? More importantly, how were we going to get out of it? The intentness of Bodie's stare meant his brain was rattling through the options; almost instantly, I saw the computations end, the decision made...
And I knew what that decision was. I could see his finger tightening on the trigger, yet knew he wasn't going to swing and shoot the man behind him - I was his target...
Even while my emotions were screaming at me to run, jump, duck, anything to avoid the bullet, one detached part of my mind knew that he wouldn't - couldn't - hurt me, not Bodie...
The finger squeezed; so intent was I on Bodie that I barely saw the imperceptible jerk of the barrel, feeling the bullet scorching into me, letting out a cry, hearing the report of the shot almost as an afterthought...
The force of the bullet spun me and I crashed to the ground; dazed but still focused, feeling the heat of the pain building by the millisecond, and knowing that above all, I mustn't move ... I had to play dead ... or I'd be dead for real...
I was shaking. I felt sick. And I had to walk away as if nothing was wrong...
Oh Christ, Ray! Anyone but you....
But no one but me. At least I was able to pull the shot - I didn't kill you. I know I didn't kill you. But it nearly killed me to hear you cry out, see you twist then fall, see you lying bleeding and know I couldn't do anything about it. Knowing it was my fault. Knowing I'd hurt you...
Thinking about it, later, I knew you'd argue that it was necessary. That it was the only way to protect both of us - you from being killed by Olson, and me from blowing my cover. And also being killed, because they sure as hell wouldn't have let me live if they suspected I was anything other that what I appeared to be. But that didn't make me feel any better about it...
"You OK? Y'looks a bit iffy." It was Olson. I clenched my fists to hide the shaking and glared at him. Thank god he was half drunk. In this state he'd believe just about anything I told him.
"Yeah. Just wondering how he found us. Think someone sold us out?"
Olson frowned and shook his head.
"Not one of us, that's for bloody sure! Tasker'll 'ave the balls off any man who even thinks about screwin' with 'im! Was prob'ly jus' some stupid nosy wanker of a plainclothes pig lookin' for a moment o' glory." The mean mouth twitched into a smile. "Not much chance of that, now, eh?"
At that moment I wanted to kill him, slowly, with my bare hands. Then kill the rest of them the same way. But then Ray's sacrifice would have been wasted.
"C'mon - let's get the goods and get out of here before Friedmann calls the deal off."
As we drove off, all I could think of was Ray, lying alone, bleeding and helpless in that cold dark place. But that wouldn't help him - I'd done all I could and they should be on the way by now, and worrying about it wouldn't get me anywhere either. Through the anger and the grief, something was nagging at me. Then I realised what it was.
Why had Ray been there? He shouldn't have been. I was undercover without backup. No one was supposed to know where I was. So how had Ray managed to find me?
Ibbotson... No, he didn't know where I would be, any more than Ray was supposed to. Or did he? Ray had said he was a sneaky bastard. I thought it through a bit more carefully, suddenly feeling very, very cold.
If Ibbotson knew where I was, he had to be in communication with one of the group. That meant either one of the others was also undercover - in which case why hadn't I been told? - or Ibbotson himself was involved, and not on the side of the angels. Oh shit. I could be in deep trouble here.
Olson was nervous as, fidgeting and chewing his nails, we waited in Tasker's office after finishing our errand. I was still worrying about how and why Ray had been at the warehouse, but further thought was cut short as Tasker entered. He glanced dismissively at Olson before his gaze came to rest on me.
"You're late. What happened?"
Olson was all obsequious helpfulness.
"Cop found us. Brodie 'ere killed 'im."
Tasker's scowl deepened. "Really. Anyone you know?"
"How d'you expect me to know him? This is hardly my home ground, now, is it?" I did my best to look innocent and slightly aggrieved. Tasker appeared to buy it.
"He's dead?" Olson nodded eagerly. For the first time since this whole bloody case had started I felt almost grateful to be saddled with a hero-worshipping moron as watchdog. Tasker's expression lightened a shade or two. "Then I guess we ought to thank you, Brodie."
I managed a grim smile. "Any time."
"What did you do with the body?"
I shrugged. "Left it there. Just one more unexplained shooting. Nobody saw us."
Tasker watched me for a moment longer, face thoughtful, then turned to business, opening the briefcase with the cash.
I must've passed out. And in coming round I moved, and the full torture of the wound hit me. I groaned before I could stop myself, some sense of self-preservation telling me that I still needed to play dead. But there was no discovery, no one grabbing me, no more bullets...
Staying as still as possible I listened intently, but there was silence. Just the wind flicking dust and leaves in otherwise empty corners of the building, no whispers; of clothes against clothes, shoes against hard floor, or voices.
Concluding eventually that I was alone, that they had left me for dead, I persuaded myself I had to move. I didn't know how long I'd been out for, but the thought that Bodie and his colleague might return gave me the strength I needed. Dragging myself to the wall, I relied on its solidity to hold me upright once I reached the same position, and after a remarkably - for the state I was in - short time, I managed to start walking.
Reaching the door, I clung to the frame, and glanced back to where I'd been lying. There was a veritable pool of blood, and I giggled to myself. "Won't be able to give blood for a bit, then, Ray old son - won't have enough left." I giggled again, realising I was definitely light-headed, and started to make my way to the car.
It was only as I rounded the corner that I wondered whether it would still be there. Surely they would've looked for my car; perhaps moved it to confuse searchers ... Bodie wouldn't let them do that? He'd know I'd need the car ... my thoughts were rambling, confused...
The car was still there, looking intact, although the driver's door was slightly open, and I somehow managed to reach it, noticing I left bloody marks on the paintwork and thinking inconsequentially that all this blood was going to ruin the interior... I slumped into the driver's seat, and tried to focus. I had to call for help. I leant forward to lift the handset for the R/T and realised that the wire had been jerked out, and the R/T was laying on the passenger seat, together with the contents of the glovebox.
I giggled, somewhere between mirth and hysteria. Cowley was going to have my salary to fix the car ... Must get help. Focusing again, I reached for the R/T in my pocket ... please, God, let it still be there, and not out of range ...
As I slumped back in the seat I spotted the small flickering light under the dash, and knew that even if I couldn't call in, help was on the way. Thank you, Bodie. Knew you wouldn't let me down, even if you did shoot me ...
I flicked the switch on my R/T, and for a second couldn't think what I needed to say, then had trouble speaking ... "4.5? Doyle, is that you?" Murphy. God, bless him, was looking after me today ...
"Murph." It came out as a croak, but was answered. "We're on our way, Doyle. We've traced your signal. 5 -10 minutes, at the most."
5 minutes. I could hang on that long. 10 minutes even. Murphy called again, sounding panicked. "Ray? Answer me. Do you need an ambulance?" Ambulance. Now that would be a good idea. They could give me some blood to replace what I was losing onto the seats ... gotta concentrate. I managed to flick the switch, and croaked again. "Yeah. Prob'ly."
I could hear someone else with Murphy using another R/T, requesting an ambulance, giving the location ... I dropped my head back on the seat and let things fade out ...
3am. I couldn't sleep.
Of course I couldn't sleep. I had dropped off, earlier, but only for a few minutes. I'd woken up gasping Ray's name, seeing him cry out and fall, in slow motion, over and over again. Olson, thank god, was deep in an alcohol-hazed slumber on the other bed in the dingy room we were currently sharing. I stood and went to the grimy window, staring unseeingly out into the night.
I'm a killer, and I'm good at my job. I don't sweat it - there are situations that demand killing, and there are people who simply have to be put down so that the rest can live in safety. I'm not exactly proud of what I do, though I can say I don't cause unnecessary suffering. I'm quick and clean. These days, at any rate. Usually...
But I have never, never had to shoot a mate in cold blood. It twisted my guts until I could have cried with the pain of it. Ray might forgive me, given I had no choice. Whether I can ever forgive myself is another matter entirely.
I came round shouting something, God knows what. Maybe it was all the blood I'd lost but my dreams - nightmares - had me running, and I was running from Bodie... As I jerked awake, Cowley was beside me, on the other side, a pretty young nurse... I knew which I preferred ...
"Doyle? What happened? Who shot you?"
I muttered, and Cowley bent closer. "What?" I roused myself slightly and forced the name out.
I caught the stunned look on his face before sliding back into the nightmare, hearing someone - a doctor I assumed - warning Cowley off: "... very weak, lost a lot of blood ..." Yeah, all over the car seats ...
The next time I came round things were improved, and the first face I saw was the nurse - that was a definite improvement over the first waking. The next person was Murphy; well, even that was an improvement on Cowley.
Somewhere above my head they were dripping blood back into me; I couldn't see the bag, but the tubing was unmistakable. I still felt weak, but no longer light-headed. Murphy was more tactful, but no less anxious than Cowley to know what had happened. "Ray? Who shot you?"
I tested my voice; found it working better. "Bodie."
Murphy shook his head slightly. "You said that earlier. We thought you were delirious. You meant it?"
I found the strength to nod. "Had to. Couldn't blow his cover. Was set up ..."
The implications thundered in on me. I'd - we'd - been set up. Ibbotson had to be behind it ... I closed my eyes whilst trying to work it out. "Ray?" Murphy sounded worried and I opened my eyes again. "Gotta talk to Cowley."
"Maybe, mate. But later. Least we know we haven't got to go tracking some maniac ..." His voice faded out. I wanted to stay awake; to work out what was going on, to let them know that they did need to find the maniac, that it was Ibbotson ...
Hicks hammered on the door early in the morning, jerking me from the uncomfortable half-doze I'd fallen into, sprawled against the wall, on the floor by the window. Olson just groaned and burrowed further under his blankets.
I gazed blearily up at Hicks. "Problem?"
"Nah, not really. Just some whore Tasker wants put back on the straight an' narrow."
An hour later we were heading for Mayfair. I parked up in Curzon Street off the meter and left the car: Tasker could pick up the ticket if we got one. We walked through dingy side streets to Shepherd Market, where Olson pointed to a shabby two storey house that had been converted into flats at some point in its murky past. He was twitching, obviously excited.
"You gonna do 'er over?"
I ignored him and knocked on the door.
The girl who answered it was a mess. No wonder she'd been keeping back some of her takings - probably trying to save enough to get off the game before it killed her. I don't have Ray's (oh god, Ray...) soft heart, but even I felt sorry for her. She didn't look as though she'd been particularly pretty to start with: years of abuse had left her looking like something the cat dragged in - haggard, scrawny and half-dead. Olson knew her: on the way over here he'd told me she got the 'clients' who wanted something a bit different - kinky stuff, bondage, pain, guys who get off on violence...
Nothing I could do to her could be worse than what she'd already suffered.
I slapped her - but not hard. She reeled anyway, and looked up at me with big green eyes...
I swallowed hard and forced myself not to react.
"You've been holding out on us, love."
Her eyes filled with tears. Somehow I managed to keep mine hard and focused.
"It's not good enough, love."
She nodded, trembling, her lower lip quivering.
"If it happens again..."
She burst into tears and groped under the grubby sofa cushion for an envelope. I handed it to Olson, who checked the contents and then scowled at me, obviously disappointed.
I forced a smile and very gently patted the hooker's cheek, trying without success not to look into those green eyes..
"Good girl. Now, we're not going to have to visit again, are we?"
Her whispered "no" was so quiet I could only just hear it. For Olson's benefit I gripped her chin - as lightly as I could - and shook - gently.
"Sorry, love? What was that?"
"Nonononono! I'm sorry!! Won't do it again...."
She collapsed sobbing onto the cushions.
Olson was sulking.
"Why din't you give 'er a good seein' to?"
I was seething, for once actually feeling something of what my partner felt when he looked at the results of the crime we were supposed to be fighting. I was in no mood to tolerate the pig-ignorant little bastard beside me.
Unfortunately, beating him to death wasn't an option at that point.
I gritted my teeth.
"She won't earn much if she's covered with bruises, will she?"
He stuck out his lower lip. "Yeah she will. 'er johns likes 'er like that."
I pulled over to the side of the road, turned and grabbed the obnoxious little rat by the front of his grimy raincoat. Glaring into his eyes, inches from my own, I spoke through clenched teeth.
"Are you trying to tell me how to do my job?"
He paled, and held up his hands in surrender.
"Nosir Mr Brodie."
"Are you sure?"
"Yessir, Mr Brodie." He nodded violently, nearly banging his forehead against mine. I shoved him back into his seat.
"I'm so glad to hear it."
I slammed the Escort in gear and drove back without another word being spoken.
Coming round a few hours later I found Cowley waiting for me. As soon as he realised I was awake he put down the paperwork, but it gave me a few minutes of thinking time before I needed to speak to him.
"Doyle? How are you feeling?"
I nodded vaguely. I probably couldn't stand without assistance at that particular moment, but all things were relative. "Still here."
Something was odd about Cowley; normally he would be demanding answers to questions, but he was simply waiting for me to speak. But I wasn't up to working it out and I needed to tell him about Ibbotson. If I'd told Cowley earlier, Bodie wouldn't have had to shoot me.
"We were set up, sir. Bodie and me. By Ibbotson."
He wasn't surprised. Not even especially shocked. Several things began to make sense, and I contrived to prop myself up onto my elbow. "What's going on?"
Cowley somehow managed not to answer my question. "If you had suspicions about Ibbotson, why didn't you tell me?"
"That's because that's all they were - suspicions!" I was starting to lose it now, guessing suddenly at what was going on. "You've been setting up a sting on Ibbotson, haven't you! And you sent Bodie in there - alone - without even telling him?"
I thought I saw a trace of guilt cross Cowley's face, but I was probably mistaken, and he gave me a straightforward answer for once. "Yes. The Home Office asked for our help. Ibbotson has been under suspicion for some time, but they weren't sure whether Ibbotson is acting alone or whether Superintendent King is working with him."
Seething, I slumped back onto the pillow, not sure whether to hit him or just tell Cowley to get lost - although I probably wouldn't be that polite ...
Neither action would do anything to help Bodie, though, and I resignedly swallowed down on the anger. "It was King that phoned me; sent me to the warehouse. I should've known ..."
"You should've reported in and told me. Then this might not have happened."
"You should've been straight with us from the start. Then it definitely wouldn't." Half-raising myself again I glared at Cowley; remembering other times we'd been set up - that run-around with Hanish, the affair with Drake, and others - and every time we'd escaped.
This time my luck had nearly run out - was it too late for Bodie?
Cowley had muttered something about a phone call and disappeared; and relieved as I was to have some time alone to think, my thoughts were running in circles, always ending with one thing. Bodie ...
By the time the nurse arrived to check on me, I was on my feet; not pacing, and not exactly steady, but vertical and looking for my clothes. "Just the person," I told her. "Go find my things, there's a love."
"Mr Doyle, please! You're not fit enough to be up yet!"
Evading her attempts to get me back onto the bed I was starting to head for the door when Cowley came back. He took one look and frowned at me.
"Get back into bed, lad, before you fall over." He spoke chidingly and not unkindly, and I gave in, more because of a sudden dizzy spell than of what Cowley had said.
"Got to find Bodie," I muttered.
"You're not going anywhere yet. And neither am I. I've just been talking to the Minister; he's instigating an investigation into Superintendent King immediately. Once we find out exactly how involved he is, we'll know how to proceed."
"You're not proceeding anywhere without me." I saw the dubious look that crossed Cowley's face, and settled back on the bed. If I was going to have the strength to go after Tasker, Ibbotson and King, I needed rest ...
Our next job was collecting protection money from a string of garages. Most were perfectly legit, but two of them obviously made a bit on the side doing up stolen - and by the looks of it definitely dodgy - motors and flogging them on to unsuspecting (but probably not entirely innocent) members of the general public. I made a mental note to pass the information on to the Met once this assignment was over.
Then it was lunchtime. Olson suggested we go to a pub - a real dive; didn't quite have sawdust on the floor but it came close - but at least they did a halfway decent (if greasy) sausage and chips. I washed it down with a pint, hearing Ray nagging me about what the cholesterol was doing to my heart... Oh god... Ray... I closed my eyes to try and block out the memory of what I'd done, had had to do, but it didn't help. All I could see was his face, disbelieving and frozen with shock, as I'd fired...
"Oi, Mr Brodie!" Olson was shaking my arm. I swear, if he touches me once more I'll take his bloody hand off at the shoulder for him. But at least it was a distraction...
"What?" I growled, and he backed off a fraction.
"You all right?"
"Why shouldn't I be?"
Then fuck off and wonder somewhere else... Unfortunately I couldn't say it out loud.
"Yeah, I'm all right. Just tired. Didn't get much sleep with your bloody snoring."
He grinned, a little nervously, and went back to nursing his half.
Cowley got the call at just before 6; under questioning from the hastily-assembled enquiry board, King had cracked. He'd admitted that Ibbotson had been blackmailing him for years. As far as anyone was aware, King was happily married with three kids; under pressure the sordid truth - that he was gay and was in the habit of visiting rent boys - had come out.
None of that surprised me. Apart from the fact that he'd kept it quiet this long. "When do we pick up Ibbotson?" I'd had all the rest I needed, and stood up.
Cowley shook his head. "There's no need - "
"There's every need. We have to find Bodie before they realise he didn't kill me and - "
"The news of your death reached Ibbotson some hours ago."
"My - what?!" Cowley couldn't have done a more efficient job of knocking the breath out of me if he'd actually hit me, and I dropped back onto the edge of the bed.
"They think Bodie did kill you. It bought us some time."
I was trying to grasp the principle behind this. "Time? How does that help? If I'm out of the way there's nothing to stop them killin' Bodie - "
"If they'd suspected Bodie didn't kill you he'd be dead now. From what we know about Tasker - and Ibbotson too - they will want to use Bodie as a warning to the others not to cross them. But we'll be there before then."
I glared at him. Cowley could be a bastard - he was so sure ... "What if we're not?"
I suppose I should've been suspicious at the time. Bastards like Tasker don't live long unless they take extra precautions, regardless of how kosher they look to the rest of the world, and I knew how little he trusted anyone - but he just accepted Olson's word without bothering to have someone go and check the body (Ray's body... I bit down on my own anguish again. Time enough for recriminations - and revenge - once this was all over...)
I'd been sloppy, too. Got too far into the rôle, and between that and worrying myself sick about whether Ray was OK I must have missed some obvious cues. But it wasn't all my fault. Tasker was clever - and he hadn't told my watchdog-turned-lapdog Olson anything...
It happened very quickly. Tasker had called a meeting for that evening - all his runners and collectors and pimps. No-one knew why, but they were all anxious: I gathered these sorts of things weren't exactly what you might call happy social events. Then Tasker arrived, and the reason became clear...
One moment I was small-talking to Jackson, the next he and two others had me pinned against the wall.
"What the fuck..?"
The speed and surprise of it made it work, and before I could struggle free (not that that was a foregone conclusion: Jackson was big) Olson was standing in front of me, knife pressed hard against my throat. Tasker stood just behind him: his smile was ugly. His eyes flickered to my right.
"You can come in now."
Movement at my side. A familiar figure. Ibbotson...
Sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. Ibbotson smiled.
"Hello Bodie. Pleased to see me?"
"You..." I couldn't think of anything bad enough to call him. I suppose my face must have given him some idea of what I thought, though. He hit me, hard.
I kept my eyes on his, licking blood from my split lip.
"You CI5 bastards are all the same. Think you're god-almighty, don't you?"
"Somebody's got to keep scum like you in check."
He hit me again, harder.
"Tell me, Ibbotson - how much're you making from all this? I hope it's bloody worth it."
"Oh, it's worth it all right. Got a nice little nest egg squirreled away."
"How long d'you think you'll get away with it?"
He smirked. "I'm careful. Been doing it for six years now. No-one knows."
"Yeah. Except you. But that won't be a problem for much longer."
I glanced past him. Tasker's mob looked ugly, and I didn't give much for my chances. Obviously Ray and I had both been set up. I could only hope he'd been able to tell Cowley what had happened. If the cavalry didn't arrive - and soon - I wasn't likely to live to tell any tales....
Ibbotson stepped back a pace.
"Before I hand you over to this lot..." his glance took in the others in the room, "I thought you'd like to know one thing. You remember you shot your partner?"
Remember! I wasn't likely to ever forget.... oh god.... what was he going to say?
"Well, he never made it. Bullet nicked an artery and he bled to death."
The room faded along with his voice. For a moment everything went cold and white around me - then my head was slammed against the wall and I could hear and see again. But inside I was cold, so cold...
I remember Ibbotson smiling at me, malicious, evil even. It didn't matter. Nothing did. Not anymore. The smile slowly changed to a frown, and he stepped back.
"OK Tasker. He's all yours. Just make sure the body's dumped a long way from here."
As he left, the others moved in...
Interesting thing about pain. It can only hurt you if you let it. And if you're alive to feel it. I could see and hear them, fists and feet thudding into my body, my face, the chill silver flash of Olson's knife - but the coldness filled me and I felt nothing, nothing at all...
Right up to the last minute, Cowley hadn't wanted me along. I'd almost had to punch him, although maybe it was that that convinced him I was fit enough. The swiftly assembled team consisted of 9 squad members, including Cowley and myself. Apparently Tasker had some kind of meeting going on at his nightclub; Cowley's watcher had reported men arriving for the past half hour.
Cowley had pulled some strings with the Met to get us some more bodies but would only take the team in initially. As we arrived, the streets around the nightclub were crawling with uniformed officers, and Cowley swore. "I told them to keep back until I signalled. We'll have to move fast."
Although I was along, everyone was being very careful not to let me actually do anything; Murphy had been about to open my car door for me until my scowl made him back off. Though in truth, it was only adrenaline keeping me going. That, and my fears for Bodie ...
The door was smashed open; the two bouncers inside dealt with without compunction. As the team spread out, several men appeared down a staircase, obviously alerted by the crashing of the door, and the fight began in earnest. Dodging and hitting as I went, I fought my way up the staircase; Bodie had to be somewhere...
As I burst into the room, I caught sight of the rat Bodie had been with. He was straddling someone on the floor; I caught the flash of a knife and didn't hesitate, kicking him swiftly and ruthlessly away from the still figure.
The knife flew away as he crashed into the wall, but he recovered quickly and was up to face me, gasping as he recognised me.
"They tol' us you was dead!"
I smiled sourly, taking advantage of the surprise and sinking a vicious blow into his guts. "Yeah - hit bloody hard for a ghost, don't I?" A few more remorseless punches did for him, and I sank to my knees beside Bodie, at last allowing myself to look properly at him.
He was a mass of bruises, breathing shallowly. His shirt was ripped open, whether in the beating he'd taken or by the rat I wasn't sure, but the knife had been used to slash his chest. "Christ, Bodie," I whispered, feeling the anguish tearing deep at me.
The sound of the conflict downstairs was abating, and I could hear Cowley calling. "Up here!" I managed to shout, and slid an arm under Bodie. We had to get him to hospital. But it was no good - Bodie was too heavy for me to lift, and as Cowley and Murphy arrived I was flooded with pain and weakness and a buzzing in my ears...
I came to some unknown time later, somehow instantly snapping to full consciousness - and the realisation of pain. Pain everywhere. Breathing hurt. Blinking hurt. Even the pulsing of blood through the veins in my wrists hurt. But at least it proved I wasn't dead. Physically anyway. Ray...
I must have made some sound, as a figure in a uniform appeared, looming over me. A nurse? It could have been. I tried to follow some sort of chain of thought. If it was a nurse, I must be in a hospital. If I was in a hospital, someone must have found me. Nobody'd known where I was except Ray, and I'd killed him. Killed him...So who could have found me? And did it really matter?
The nurse - I seemed to have decided it was a nurse: the smell of the place was that horrible clinical hospital stink we all hated from having to breathe it so often - was saying something to someone outside my field of view. I tried to turn my head, and nearly passed out again. Had they broken my neck?
Another face came into view. I knew this one - Murphy. He dragged a seat over beside the bed and sat on it backwards, his arms resting on the chairback. I tried to speak through a throat that felt like I'd gargled acid.
"Yes, it's me. Don't try to move." His gaze ran over me from head to foot. "God, they really worked you over, didn't they?"
Murph grinned. "Still, it could've been a lot worse - just as well we got to you when we did. Just a couple of broken ribs, fractured wrist, and you've got a badly bruised larynx - looks like someone tried to strangle you." I'd forgotten about that. Not that I'd really been in any fit state to remember most of what had been done to me... "Not surprised really, the way you act sometimes... 'Course, that's only the internal damage. Outside... well, you're going to be the most gorgeous patchwork of purple and blue all over. And it looks like someone tried to carve his initials on your chest."
I couldn't understand why he was sitting there being so cheerful. I tried again.
He shook his head. "It's OK, Bodie. We know you didn't have any choice."
I closed my eyes, feeling tears threatening.
"He'll be in, in a minute, once they've checked him over."
My eyes snapped open. I managed to struggle half way to sitting before the nurse and Murphy could grab me and push me back down onto the bed.
"Idiot! What're you trying to do?"
"...'urph.... I'son said.... Ray died..."
Murphy's mouth became a grim line and I could see fury in his eyes.
"That bastard..." He patted my shoulder, very carefully. "No Bodie, Ray's fine. Well, he was hurt, lost a lot of blood and chipped some bone, but he was with us when we got to you." He chuckled, briefly. "Wouldn't let us go without him. Nearly hit the Old Man, he did. Then the silly idiot tried to pick you up and overdid it. Not surprised, all that junk food you eat. Better go on a diet, mate." His head twisted, and I heard a familiar Scottish burr. A second later Cowley was standing beside the bed.
"How are you, lad?" Still reeling from the knowledge that Ray was alive, I almost missed the genuine concern in Cowley's voice. Murphy spoke up.
"Ibbotson told him he'd killed Doyle."
Quick off the mark, our chief. I could almost see the connections being made in his mind, see the realisation of how that news must have made me feel. He brushed his knuckles gently against my cheek.
"Och, laddie... I'd have spared you that, if I could."
Finding out you haven't killed your partner can have an amazing effect on a battered body. I was beginning to get to grips with the pain, though it still hurt to move my head, and speaking was well nigh impossible. I had to find out what the hell had happened, though.
Murphy lifted a beaker with a straw to my mouth. A few painful swallows of cold water made it a little easier to speak. Not much, though.
"It can wait, Bodie. You'll be out of here in a few days. Time enough for debriefing when you've recovered. Rest now."
There was definitely something not right. The Old Man was being far too soft. But I really didn't feel up to pursuing it right now...
Then a small storm of noise and movement at the door heralded Ray's arrival, and everything else paled into insignificance. He loped to my bedside, and for a few moments all I could do was stare at his living face.
Too pale, much too pale, lines of exhaustion etched deeper than I'd seen them in quite some time. Eyes too bright, too big, almost feverish. He was moving stiffly, left arm strapped across his body. But he was alive. Alive.
I gave him a lopsided grin, filled with the relief of seeing Bodie conscious, and apparently OK. I hadn't been out for long, and had nagged the ambulance crew all the way to hospital for information on how my partner was - then they'd insisted on separating us while they checked me over and strapped up my arm to try and stop me opening the wound again. And all the while I'd been fretting; I'd practically shoved the nurse aside when she'd finished ...
But there was something wrong. Physically Bodie would be fine; but the pain in his eyes wasn't for him, it was for me.
"I'm OK, mate." I spoke softly. "It's not like you had a choice."
As Bodie made a strangled attempt to respond, Cowley answered for him. "Ibbotson told him you were dead."
"No thanks - " I stopped myself, scowling. Cowley knew how I felt about the way he'd used us - used Bodie. Getting Ibbotson would be small satisfaction. I brought my attention back to Bodie as Cowley took the hint and drew Murphy away out of the room.
Bodie was still giving me that haunted look. "It's OK. I just wonder when Cowley will stop sending us out with only half the story. One of these days we may not come back. He had to tell Ibbotson I was dead so that Ibbotson would feel safe in getting rid of you."
Seeing Bodie's puzzlement I realised Cowley hadn't filled him in. "It was a sting to get Ibbotson, Bodie. Cowley sent you in there knowing something like this might happen." I could see Bodie struggling, not so much with the pain but the fact that once again we'd been used.
So that's why Cowley was soft-pedalling. Ibbotson wasn't the only one who'd set us both up...
Watching Ray, his feelings so clear on his face, I wasn't sure I could have said anything even if I had been able to speak properly. Having to shoot him was bad enough: believing I'd caused his death was worse. But knowing Cowley had set the entire thing up, knowing what could happen and letting us walk right in to the setup, unwarned...
He'd done this before, of course. He'd said, on one occasion, that we weren't good enough actors for him to tell us the whole story - that we'd have given the game away. That time all we got were a few lungfuls of gas. This time we'd both come very close to death.
The fact that it had been a successful operation, and that this was what we got paid for, didn't seem too relevant right now.
But Ray was alive.
I'd be OK, too, once the ribs and wrist mended. And we're used to a bit of pain in our line of business. It was the betrayal that hurt most - that, and knowing I'd caused my mate so much grief.
I levered myself up, carefully, trying not to move any more than necessary. The stitches holding together the edges of the gashes on my chest pulled and stung, even under the strapping around my ribs, and Murphy was right: the bruises were already darkening, and I was going to be a rainbow in shades of purple in very short order. Ray slid his good arm behind my back and helped me up...Ray, alive... My right arm was in plaster from fingers to elbow: I laid my left hand on his uninjured shoulder, trying to say with my eyes everything I couldn't with my tongue.
"Oh, Bodie ..." Here we were, both as battered as two fish ready to be fried, and he was apologising to me ... "I'm sorry, too. I should've warned you properly about Ibbotson."
Bodie managed a half-shrug as I paused. "Bloody Cowley. He's the one who should be apologisin' ..."
I fell silent, realising that this had affected Bodie more than I ever thought anything could, and tried to put myself in his place. If the situation had been reversed, if I'd been the one undercover who'd had to shoot Bodie, would I have done it? Could I? Somehow I didn't know. I didn't think so. But then I'd never have believed Bodie could ...
Even then, he'd probably still be the one apologising ...
Cowley reappeared. "I'll see you both later. We have to pick up Tasker now we've tracked him down."
I took a step towards the door, intent on going as well. "Hang about, sir." I glanced back to Bodie, catching a look on his face giving away frustration, anger and a strange sort of longing - I stuck out my good arm to him, and he took it and hauled himself to his feet. "We're coming too."
Cowley looked at both of us as though we were already in the straitjackets.
"Ah, don't be daft, Doyle. Look at you, the pair of you! You'd be nothing more than a hindrance..."
You really would think the Old Man would know better than to argue with Ray by now, wouldn't you?...
What was left of my shirt had disappeared, but someone had thought to grab my jacket from Tasker's place. Ray helped me into it, his face very serious. I reckoned the thought of how close I'd come to dying had shaken him a bit, and the state of my back and shoulders - what you could see of me, above the bandages - reminded him of it. Anyway, he was unusually gentle, which I appreciated. They'd given me some sort of painkilling injection, but it didn't seem to be working very well...
It was quiet in the car. Bodie wasn't capable of making a lot of noise - made a change, that - but I could guess at least some of his thoughts. He was giving surreptitious looks in my direction when he thought I wouldn't see him; I was doing the same to him. I was already regretting the impulse that had made me get him to his feet; he really was too badly beaten, as I'd been forcibly reminded whilst helping him with his jacket. But the look he'd given me had exhibited a mute, impassioned plea for us to get back out there together - and I understood that. I had the same need.
It was a sort of confirmation, reaffirmation if you liked, that we were a team. And if it half-killed us both, we needed to prove it, to the others, and to ourselves - to each other. Stupid, really ...
I caught Bodie giving me another look, and grinned at him.
I still couldn't quite believe Ray was OK. And now that the heat was off, I realised just how much I'd missed him this last couple of months. Every time we have to work apart it's the same - you feel there's something vital missing, like losing an arm or something. It's not just feeling safe, knowing that someone you trust with your life is watching your back: it's the little things - the wisecracks, the jokes, the moods, even the naggings. Getting back together is like coming home.
Ray was grinning. In spite of everything. We were OK. Nothing had changed
Cowley hadn't kept the team waiting while we arrived - maybe trying to keep us from over-exerting ourselves. Tasker and the men with him were already in handcuffs; it was Bodie who drew their undivided attention although they didn't seem surprised to see him standing. They thought he was tough; they couldn't see how much he was hurting ...
By now I was moving on sheer bloody-mindedness alone. It took a concentrated effort to make my legs work so I could walk (walk? Not what I'd call it!) - new bruises seemed to be making themselves known every time I tried to move. If I stayed still for even a few minutes it was increasingly difficult to get going again. And my ribs were beginning to ache like hell, seeming to stab into me every time I breathed. Forget the hard man act: it hurt too much to moan, but that's the only reason I didn't... that, and I wouldn't give Tasker the satisfaction.
Then it was onto Scotland Yard. This time, Cowley intended to make the arrest himself...
He hadn't told us much, except that King had agreed to help in getting Ibbotson to incriminate himself still further, and consequently Cowley parked us in the office half of a conference room, the door left ajar, with strict instructions. "Stay in here and keep quiet. You'll know when I want you."
We heard King arrive, and some inaudible conversation. I was growing tense; waiting was having the opposite effect on Bodie, who was flagging still further, increasing my guilt at having helped him leave the hospital.
Ibbotson's entrance brought Bodie back to full attention however. King opened the conversation. "Major Cowley came to see me about this joint case, Ibbotson. Can you fill us in?"
His voice sent a chill down my spine and I saw the same reaction in Bodie. "I'm afraid Bodie's not been in contact with me for some days now. I can only hope things are OK, but I'm beginning to get worried. Tasker is a highly suspicious man, and if he's somehow seen through Bodie's cover ..."
"So you haven't seen or heard from Bodie in - how long?" Cowley's smooth interruption sounded concerned, nothing more.
"About 10 days. As I told you." Ibbotson was starting to sound suspicious, and I helped Bodie to his feet, sensing Cowley's denouement wouldn't be long in coming.
Cowley's voice had lowered, but wouldn't sound any different to those who didn't know him. "But I understood you were with Bodie just a couple of hours ago."
We moved towards the door, hearing Ibbotson's response. "Just what is this?! Who's been telling you - " He stopped and spun, hearing us behind him, and initially only seeing Bodie. Even then, when anyone else would have given in, he tried to carry it off. "Christ, what happened to you?"
I moved from behind Bodie, and the look on my face told him it really was all over. He gave a desperate glance towards the door, and I grinned maliciously. "Just try it. Exactly how far do you think you'll get?"
I can't remember the last time I wanted so badly to kill someone. I think, if he'd tried anything, I'd have been on him like the proverbial ton of bricks, regardless of how much it hurt me. The slimy little bastard...
I still couldn't find names bad enough for him, even with my colourful background. I stared at him, remembering the glittering satisfaction in his eyes when he'd told me I'd killed Ray. Remembering the haunted green eyes of that hooker, forced into a life of pain and humiliation through the likes of animals like Ibbotson.
Are we making a difference? Are we really? When this sort of betrayal is happening under our noses?
I glanced at Ray. And knew he knew exactly how I felt.
So I stood, fit to drop with pain and exhaustion, after one of the nastier cases of my career, and watched a little man squirm, and knew it wasn't nearly enough. But if we didn't do it, no-one else would. And if no-one bothers, then we might just as well give up now and go back to the jungle...
He's rubbing off on me more than I like to think, is Ray. His ideals, the way he thinks, the things he believes. Not sure I'm altogether happy with that. It makes life a lot more complicated than I like, to be honest.
So would I change things? Go back to my old, uncomplicated way of seeing things?
No. Of course not.
What I have now is far too important, and too precious, to be cast aside.
Some nameless copper came in, cuffed Ibbotson, and led him away. And I realised I simply couldn't hold myself upright any longer...
As the door shut behind them, I swiftly grabbed Bodie as his knees gave way and with Cowley's help got him onto a chair. For a moment I thought he'd collapsed completely, until he opened his eyes again.
I gripped his shoulder, rather more tightly than I should've done given his injuries, but somehow needing to reassure myself that he was OK; that I hadn't caused a relapse by bringing him along. "Still with us?"
As Bodie nodded, wincing slightly, I caught Cowley's frown. "Get Bodie down to the car. I'll catch you up."
That was easier said than done. We drew quite a few curious looks as we made our way to the lifts, and then to the car park. I supported Bodie a good deal of the way; keeping him going by alternately cajoling and swearing at him, ignoring the grimaces of pain and his attempts to stop moving. If I couldn't get him to the car he'd be leaving the building on a stretcher, and I knew him well enough to know he'd blame me for that ...
I don't remember getting down to the car, and the trip back to HQ passed in a blur. I do remember us struggling into the building, moving on instinct, but only getting as far as the lobby before the Old Man called a halt.
Cowley stood regarding us with a typical expression of exasperation. "I should order the pair of you back to hospital. But I don't suppose you'll go."
I was completely wrung out; so tired everything was aching but with a very definite and specific pain in my shoulder. I glanced at Bodie, leaning heavily on the back of a chair, hardly able to stand. The bruising on his face was bad enough, I hated to think what the rest of him was beginning to look like now.
But neither of us would willingly return to the hospital. "No, sir." I answered for Bodie as well. "We won't."
At a noise from Bodie, I added, dryly, "but we could do with a few days off." I had anticipated the comment that Bodie was about to try and make, and he nodded in agreement.
Cowley frowned. "A few days? You'll damn well take a week - at least. Now get out, the pair of you. And find someone to drive you home; neither of you is in a fit state, and we've already got one car off the road, thanks to you, Doyle ..."
I hadn't given Bodie a choice - simply told Murphy to drive us to my place. He helped me get Bodie up the stairs - or rather, half-carried Bodie himself; if I'd attempted to help he'd probably have had to carry me as well.
Bodie was in no fit state to go back to his place alone. At that present moment I wasn't feeling a whole lot better, but at least my problems would abate considerably with a bit of rest. I knew from my own bitter experience that Bodie wouldn't be up to moving about much for at least a couple of days, and consequently got Murphy to drop him in my bed.
After Murphy had left, I poured a couple of tumblers of whisky and carried them into the bedroom. Mixing alcohol with painkillers wouldn't do Bodie - or me, for that matter - a lot of good, but one glass wouldn't kill us, and the mental benefits weren't to be underestimated. For a while, we just sat, not talking...
...just soaking up each other's presence. Exhausted, hurting, it didn't matter. Two - no, three 'menaces to society' would be put away, along with a whole herd of lesser villains who'd be rounded up over the next few days. And as soon as I could speak - or hold a pen steady enough to write - I'd add another list of names to the tally. Right now it didn't matter that they'd be replaced, sooner or later. At least for now we'd helped make the streets a little cleaner and safer. And most importantly of all, Ray was alive.
We both were. It felt good just to lie there, watching him watching me. Finally able to relax, knowing the whole sordid mess was over, bar the shouting. Even if I'd been able, we didn't need to talk. Safe. Mates. Partners...
I could feel my eyelids drooping. I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a decent night's sleep and, pain or no pain, I was going to flake out pretty soon. The whisky helped, but seemed to be having a strange effect - I kept imagining Cowley pruning a garden full of roses and lavender bushes and had to struggle not to laugh, the image was so unlikely. Perhaps it was the mix of alcohol and painkillers. Or perhaps it was simply relief.
The doorbell rang. I considered ignoring it; the door seemed an awful long way away at that moment, but whoever the caller was they were persistent, and getting no reply to the first ring, kept their finger on the button the second time. I wove an unsteady route through the lounge to the door.
It was Charlie. She'd been crying, and seemed unsure whether to be angry or relieved that I was standing there. "Ray! Why aren't you in hospital?"
I slid my good arm round her, and drew her inside, leaning on her rather more heavily than I'd intended to. "I'm OK, Charlie."
She swallowed back the tears. "We heard you'd been killed. Then suddenly, King was suspended, and Ibbotson arrested, and you're back from the dead." She took another look at me. "Well, they were nearly right. Why aren't you lying down?"
"Someone at the door," I replied glibly. "Had to answer it. Anyway, there's someone else in my bed."
I saw a quick flash of jealousy before Charlie realised I was in no fit state to have a woman in my bed, and I supplied the answer. "My mate. Tasker's men roughed him up."
There was something of the Mother Hen about Charlie. She was into the bedroom in half a second, and I heard her exclaiming over Bodie's poor bruised face, and I faded quietly onto the sofa. I could get some rest; Charlie would look after Bodie. And he'd be quite happy with that, she's a lot prettier than me ...
I'd dropped off, just for a moment, when Ray left the room. A soft touch on my face jerked me awake...
I squinted, trying to work out how Ray had changed into a woman.
"Oh, you poor love!" A gentle hand was laid carefully against my cheek, wary of the bruises, and I struggled not to laugh. The amusement had more than a little hysteria in it. Better never let Ray know what my first thoughts had been!
She smiled. "I'm Charlie, Ray's friend. I gather you've both been through the mill a bit. Looks like you're going to need me around for a while."
Pretty. A real looker. And me in no fit state to enjoy it! Damn. Cowley really owes me one this time...
Ray was alive. I was alive. And there was a lovely woman looking after us. The assignment had been a success, even if we weren't exactly in one piece.
And looking on the bright side, we'd even managed to get a few days off...
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