The rhythm of wheels on the track hypnotic in the evening twilight, the train sped south and slightly west, the vibrant green of the countryside all but invisible through the rain streaming down the windows. An area of low pressure moving in from the Atlantic, the weather forecaster had said. Backus shivered slightly, for all the warmth of the carriage, and sipped her coffee.
"Public transport." Malone had said - announced, rather. "Makes you less conspicuous. And you'll go via the scenic route. Train to Liverpool, ferry to Douglas then Dublin, then the train again. I'll arrange for a car at the other end."
"Will he be expecting me?" Backus had asked. She'd spent the entire night studying Bodie's file, and felt she was moving at half-speed, drugged with weariness.
"Oh yes." Malone had assured her, smiling. "We're not quite ruthless enough to expect you to attempt to break in. Even if we thought we could get away with it!"
Backus had been too tired to do more than smile palely at the attempted witticism. Malone was exhausted too.
She'd slept for the first half of the voyage, then spent the rest reviewing what she'd learned from the file.
The original 3-7 had certainly earned his legendary status. And his activities since leaving the organisation, although by no means fully documented, were enough to send a shiver up her spine. New weapons systems, lasers, telecommunications, military applications for the latest computer technology... Smart weapons. Gun-running brought into the 21st century. Some of it highly illegal, but nothing of that sort had ever been traced back to Bodie. He'd started small, using contacts made throughout his career, as a mercenary, with the SAS, in CI5: but there were always people - and governments, and nations - wanting to buy ever more efficient ways of killing. Bodie provided them. Almost accidentally his operation had grown until it was now global and very diverse: he had even provided some of the components CI5 itself used in its communications equipment. And he was now fabulously - if discreetly - wealthy.
Making a fortune from selling destruction. Oh, not personally, of course, not for quite some years - he had a small but fanatically loyal army of underlings to handle the dirty work. But ultimately responsible. How could an ex-CI5 operative behave like that? Had the man no scruples whatsoever?
She frowned, thinking back to a comment she'd overheard, a comment dropped, almost in passing, by an old operative on the occasion of his leaving CI5. Anson, whose perpetual, pungent cigarillo habit had eventually resulted in emphysema, an enforced move from field to office duties, and finally medical retirement (not that he was reluctant to go, by any means, although it was ironic that it would be through his own fault. But he'd lasted longer than most of his peers, and was tired of seeing friends and colleagues die around him...)
Backus had been newly recruited, and was still somewhat in awe of the few remaining 'old guys' as she'd thought of them. She'd hovered in the background as Anson, wheezing and breathless, had reminisced about old workmates. In the midst of a flurry of scurrilous and outrageous stories about long-gone operatives, he'd mentioned - just mentioned - Bodie and Doyle. She'd got the impression he hadn't particularly liked either of them - but nevertheless deeply respected both.
"Bodie..." he'd said, almost to himself. "Bodie and Doyle. Never far apart. Never saw such a close partnership as those two. Like twins. Bodie lent Doyle stability, and Doyle was Bodie's conscience. Not that either of them would ever admit it, of course. But it made them just about unbeatable. Damn them."
Someone had asked him why they'd left, and Backus listened closely for the answer. But Anson had started coughing again, and by the time he'd recovered the conversation had moved on. Watching the haggard man, aged before his time, she had the strangest feeling that the coughing fit had been deliberate. Why hadn't he wanted to answer that question?
There was nothing in Bodie's file that gave any clues as to why Doyle had left CI5 - only that Bodie himself hadn't lasted a year before he also resigned, giving no reason. (Why had Cowley accepted that - allowed it, rather? she wondered idly.) Perhaps he couldn't function without his 'conscience'? Certainly from hints and clues she'd picked up, although still exceptionally good, the pair hadn't worked anything like as well solo or when teamed with others as they did when working together. And of course partners became close - they had to. To be able to anticipate each other's actions, and needs, read each other, protect each other. Save each other's lives when necessary. Look at Curtis and Keel. They'd managed to find that closeness, that rapport, surprisingly quickly - but then, they had got on well with each other from the start. That was one of the reasons Malone had paired them.
Interesting. From everything she'd heard, at first Bodie and Doyle had done everything but get on well - yet Cowley had still made them partners, and it had worked out better than anyone could have dreamed possible. Illogical, but true.
She shifted irritably in her seat, frustrated. With Doyle's files deleted, she may never be able to find out what had made the pair of them so special - and that annoyed her. Backus liked to have everything catalogued and orderly in her personal universe.
She took another swallow of her tepid coffee, filed away her frustration, and turned back to considering Bodie. Handsome, cool, powerful, dangerous Bodie. His reputation as a womaniser was well-documented. It might explain why he had never 'settled down', as the British put it. As far as we know, she reminded herself: information about Bodie's personal life was sketchy. The man guarded his privacy with considerable skill and dedication - for all CI5 knew he could have a harem tucked away in that remote manor house and indulge in wild orgies and satanic sacrifices every full moon. She smiled at the image: satellite reconnaissance had shown only two small vehicles entering and leaving the grounds in the last couple of years, and no activity that could be considered in the least unusual. Of course, they couldn't watch him all the time, only keep an occasional wary eye on him. Then again, she thought dryly, he probably had his own uplink and was watching them just as closely. No, she corrected herself - Bodie probably had his own satellite, if half the rumours were true.
Yet he gave - and gave substantially - to charity.
It had taken a satisfyingly complicated bit of hacking to track down the donor of those large sums to human rights organisations and children's charities, and she still couldn't quite believe they came from him. But perhaps this was his way of compensating for the loss of his conscience. Perhaps she could ask him...
Now that would be really stupid! She mentally slapped herself, concentrating on the gravity of the assignment. Her orders were to do anything - anything at all - to persuade Bodie to help them track down Doyle.
If that meant she had to sleep with him to get the information - well, she'd just have to lie back and think of Malone...
The thought raised a hastily quashed giggle. Now that thought would be a real passionkiller! She gazed at the photograph again. Beautiful, compelling eyes. And that swept-back dark hair, short, sleekly wavy, dusted with white at the temples - very distinguished. Broad shoulders, obviously powerful even in the tux he'd been wearing when the photo was taken. And he certainly didn't look close to twice her age...
Well, if she had to prostitute herself to save the world, she could certainly think of less desirable men with whom to do it.
But then again, it might not come to that. She might be able to appeal to his humanitarianism - he obviously had some, given the charitable donations. Appealing to any notion of patriotism was out, of course. Might he still feel some loyalty towards CI5? She'd have to wait and see, play things by ear.
Not something she felt particularly confident about doing, she admitted ruefully. She usually liked to have at least some idea of a game plan. Still, she knew she was a good operative, highly competent, and attractive. A tiny voice added - and alone, and without backup... She told it to shut up and focused firmly on the photograph.
"You sent her to Bodie? Without backup? What are you trying to do - get her killed?"
Curtis grabbed his raging partner's arm, trying to silence him before he really said something they'd both regret. Malone's mouth was tightening by the syllable.
"They know what she looks like!"
"Anyone could get her!"
"MR KEEL!! Sit down!"
Finally taking notice of Malone's furious face, Keel swallowed his next outburst and allowed Curtis to pull him into a seat.
"Do I have your attention?"
Curtis winced, imperceptibly. He'd heard that tone of voice before. Just once. He hadn't enjoyed what Malone had had to say - and it had taken him five minutes to say it, too - on that occasion, and he had no wish to repeat the experience. He kicked Keel's ankle as surreptitiously as he could. Malone noticed, nevertheless.
"Thank you, Mr Curtis, if I want Mr Keel kicked, I am eminently capable of doing it myself. Now, if you are both quite finished," his glare would have melted the shuttle's heat-shield, "perhaps you might be interested in hearing the details of your new assignment."
Keel opened his mouth to object - then shut it firmly and nodded. Curtis risked a tiny half-smile. Chris was learning. It seemed to be taking forever, but he'd get there. Just as well. It took a long time to break in a partner...
An hour later they were on the train, heading for Wales.
It was dark by the time Backus finally reached the manor house; she had a brief impression of a long, low building half smothered in what looked like ivy before a pretty young woman in a smart grey trouser suit opened the main door and ushered her out of the cold rain and into a warm and very welcoming reception room. A log fire burned in a massive hearth at one end, three large, comfortable leather sofas grouped before it. Gesturing gracefully to a table laden with a selection of bottles, the young woman invited Backus to help herself and then disappeared to advise Bodie of her arrival. At the door she turned and smiled back at Backus.
"But he'll most likely be busy, so please don't worry yourself if he's the devil's own time about it!"
Backus smiled back. "Thanks. I'll be just fine."
As the door closed, she examined the bottle collection, finally opting for a simple soda and lime. Perhaps wiser not to have a drink until she'd at least met her host...
She gazed around her. She'd spent most of the last twenty-four hours sitting down - it would be good to stretch her legs a little. And the room was interesting, and might help her gain a bit more insight into the character of the man she was here to meet.
Solid wooden beams overhead, polished wooden floor below, scattered with subtly patterned rugs. There were a number of what looked like original paintings on the wood-panelled walls, each with their own spotlighting. She paused before one of them, a striking seascape painted in almost luminous oils. It was signed LaMorte.
Death? The artist called himself Death? She shrugged. No accounting for taste... The other paintings were by the same artist. She rather liked his style. She'd have to find out more about him when she got back to London.
There was a massive stone mantel above the fire, and in the centre of it, lit warmly from below, was a faded piece of paper in a silver frame; beside it was a worry egg, carved from what looked like jade, sitting in a battered china eggcup painted with a four leaved clover. Quite out of place in the understated opulence of the room, but quirky and somehow appropriate. She smiled to herself, picked up the frame and held it to the light.
"Go placidly amid the noise and haste, And remember what peace there may be in silence..."
She frowned. Desiderata was probably the last thing she'd expect to find in the possession of one of the world's foremost arms dealers...
"It was given to me by a friend."
Backus nearly dropped the frame. She froze, her hand reaching automatically for her gun - then remembered she wasn't wearing it. Malone had insisted she walk into Bodie's lair unarmed, assuming - quite rightly - that the man would have his own detectors and extremely efficient security, and would not take too kindly to other people's weapons.
She swung around - to find Bodie standing in the shadows of the doorway, the firelight dancing redly in his eyes and turning the white at his temples into fiery sparks. Perhaps the satanic rituals notion wasn't so far off base, after all, whispered that tiny mental voice as she tried to collect her thoughts. Forcing herself to move calmly, she replaced the frame and smiled at her host.
"For god's sake, Chris, will you sit down? You're wearing a hole in the carpet."
Curtis and Keel had arrived at their destination - a cosy country pub, offering bed and breakfast, some seven miles from Bodie's estate - only three hours behind Backus. The crossing had been more than a little rough, courtesy of the anti-cyclone moving steadily eastward, and Curtis was still feeling slightly queasy. Had Keel not been so concerned about their colleague, he would probably have made far more of Sam's unexpected sea-sickness: as it was, he contented himself with a couple of unsavoury jokes, then went back to fretting. Now he paused in his pacing and turned to his partner, face grim.
"Sam, you've read the file. You know how Bodie started out. As a mercenary. What was it Malone said about mercenaries?"
" 'Nasty little men who shoot people down in cold blood for a price.' "
"Right. And Backup's there. With him. Right now."
"And we're here."
"Not close enough..."
"Chris, the way you drive we'd be there in five minutes!"
"Too long. Anything can happen in five minutes."
"Backup's good. She can take care of herself."
"Yeah." Keel paced from the bed to the window again. "What if she can't call us?"
Curtis rubbed a hand across his forehead. He could feel the beginnings of a headache just behind his eyes.
"Chris, give it a rest will you? We're all here to do our job."
Keel stopped and glared at his partner. "Sure. Y'know, I once caught part of a TV interview with this guy. A sort of British Lifestyles of the Rich and Deadly. Someone asked him how he could justify what he did. He just smiled and said that guns don't kill people - people kill people. All he did was supply the hardware: he didn't force people to use it. It was a job, the same as any other." He resumed pacing. "Our job would be a lot easier without guys like him around."
"A lot less interesting, though."
"That's not funny, Sam."
"You're right. I apologise."
There was silence for a few minutes. Rain beat steadily on the window; the clock on the mantelpiece ticked the seconds sombrely away; Keel paced relentlessly. Curtis sighed.
"Fancy a drink? Something to eat? They serve food in the bar."
"I'm not hungry."
"Well, I am. And you should eat too. Keep your strength up. I don't want you fainting on me."
"I've never fainted in my life!" Keel was indignant. Curtis grinned.
"Yes you have."
Keel was about to object when hazy memories of surfacing from unconsciousness to find himself slumped on Sam's back under the hot African sun, fractured leg throbbing, gave him pause.
"OK. I did that once. But I don't make a habit of it!"
"And now would not be a good time to start." Curtis pushed himself up from the bed and grabbed Keel's shoulder, pointing him in the direction of the door. "Come on. Food."
At the top of the stairs Keel hesitated and glanced at his partner.
"Sam, why do we do this?"
"To prevent the end of the world as we know and love it, of course."
"By asking help from bastards like Bodie?"
Curtis gazed at him, exasperation and understanding, in roughly equal measure, clear on his face. "We use what works. We always have done. You know that." Get Chris's mind back on the job, he thought, let his training take over. "Look, assuming Backup manages to persuade him to help us, Malone wants us to get him back to London safely - and without changing his mind. So you handle him with gloves - kid gloves, not boxing gloves. OK?"
"I don't like it."
"You don't have to like it, you just have to do it."
Giving in, Keel allowed himself to be ushered down towards the bar.
Bodie closed the door silently behind him and strode - no, prowled, she corrected herself; the man moved like a panther - towards the fire. As he came closer she caught the faintest scent of aftershave, discreet, smoky and very expensive. Then he was close, seeming to tower over her, offering his hand. She took it, her own fingers small and insignificant in his strong, capable grip.
"Tina Backus I assume. Please, sit down."
His voice was mesmerising, a sound that summoned up irresistible, sensual images of rich dark chocolate and deep soft fur. Backus could have listened forever... She shook herself. She was supposed to be a CI5 operative on assignment. So? asked that little voice. Does that mean you can't enjoy yourself? You were happy enough to consider it, earlier... Smiling as calmly as she could, she sank down onto one of the sofas: Bodie remained standing, his back to the fire, body outlined in flame, face in darkness. There was a moment's silence as they regarded each other. Then Bodie joined her on the sofa, black-clad body relaxed, one arm laid casually along the back behind her head. He smiled, and Backus was lost...
Drowning in the deep blue gaze, she didn't hear his first few words.
"...so perhaps you would enlighten me."
He inclined his head slightly, one eyebrow raised questioningly. She shook herself. Damn, what had he said?
"Excuse me?" Hell, she was blushing like a schoolgirl! Get a grip, Backus! This is not exactly the best way to impress the man.
Bodie's smile deepened. She had the distinct impression that he was used to this sort of reaction from others. The objective part of her mind pointed out that he probably took full advantage of it. Even enjoyed it. Well, he was entitled. She took a deep breath as inconspicuously as she could and smiled back.
"I'm sorry, Mr Bodie. Could you repeat that?"
"Bodie, please." He shifted slightly, settling deeper into the sofa - which brought his thigh closer to hers. She tried not to imagine she could feel the warmth of his body...
"Malone gave me very little information, either as a lure or because he didn't trust the security of the line. I choose to believe the latter, since I can't imagine Cowley's successor being enough of a fool to think I can be tempted by hints and innuendo. So, Tina, perhaps you would care to tell me why CI5 should send a pretty girl into my lair. Sacrificial lamb, perhaps?"
Backus frowned slightly. No, he wasn't threatening. There was a twinkle far down in those midnight eyes. Teasing, then. OK. Teasing she could handle.
She pulled herself upright and crossed her legs primly, flashing him a glimpse of thigh along with a bright, wide-eyed smile. An amused chuckle acknowledged the implied challenge.
"CI5 always did know how to pick them."
Backus silently congratulated herself. It was the right tack to take. But don't get cocky, girl, the tiny voice said. He's still dangerous. Don't push it too far...Sobering, she swivelled to face him more directly, deciding that the simple truth was probably the best option.
"Sir, we have a problem."
"I've heard that before. And it's Bodie. Save the 'sir' for Malone."
"OK, sir... Bodie."
Before she could begin, a tap on the door announced the arrival of the young woman, pushing a small trolley laden with a large coffeepot, jugs of cream and milk, a bowl of sugar, and two mugs. Bodie glanced at the trolley and frowned up at the woman.
She planted her hands on her hips and inclined her head.
"Now Bodie my lad, you know they're bad for you. Rot the teeth, they do. And pile on the pounds."
As Backus watched in stunned amazement, Bodie sighed theatrically and raised his hands in surrender. The young woman winked a large blue eye and left the room.
"Mhairi. Bane of my life. But an excellent cook... Coffee?"
"Uh, thanks." Backus accepted the mug and sipped. Bodie settled back and gestured for her to continue.
"Well, si... Bodie...."
"You've lost every personnel file?"
"Except for the original 4-5's, yes."
"Careless of you. And probably deadly for your people." Bodie's smile had dimmed, then vanished, during her account of the recent occurrence at HQ. He now looked simply dangerous. Backus swallowed hard.
"We know that, sir. But our security is the best there is. If we couldn't keep them out, no one could."
Bodie rose and poured himself a drink, not offering one to Backus. He swung to face her, eyes cold.
"So why come to me?"
"We're expecting some sort of demand. Malone wants to have one operative on standby - someone they don't know about."
She nodded. Bodie frowned pensively for a moment or two, his gaze distant, then downed the whiskey.
"And you want me to tell you where he is."
"Do you know where he is?"
"Of course I know where he is."
From anyone else, it would have sounded arrogant. Bodie spoke as though it was just a matter of course. There were very few people left - alive, anyway - who knew personally of their old partnership, the closeness they had shared. He knew of none who were truly aware of his own overwhelming and instinctive urge to protect Doyle. Even now, thirteen years later and despite the fact that they had not seen each other for over a decade, he knew where Doyle was. Of course he knew. It was unthinkable that he would not.
"So, you'll help us?" Backus couldn't believe it could be that easy, but Bodie nodded.
"I'll help you - as far as I can."
"Can I ask why?"
"Call it - enlightened self-interest. I'm less than happy about my old files being in someone else's possession. In fact, if I'd known about Doyle's files being deleted, I'd have done my damnedest to have mine removed too." He frowned to himself, and muttered, "I must find out how he managed that..."
"But it's unlikely you'd be in danger. You left CI5 a long time ago. And we know your security is excellent."
"Maybe. But I'm still human. Human bodies and bullets don't mix. I'd like to live a little longer. There are still a few things I haven't done."
"So, do you think he might be willing to help us?"
Bodie appeared to have recovered some of his good humour. He rejoined her on the sofa, his deep blue eyes warm again.
"No, he won't be willing to help you."
Backus's face fell.
"But I might."
Backus shook her head slightly. Surely after all she'd said he would realise he would be as much at risk as the rest of them? He read her mind easily, and chuckled.
"No, I'm not volunteering for anything. I mean that I'm prepared to try to persuade him to help you. I can't guarantee success, though."
"We appreciate that, sir... Bodie. Will you come back to London with me, discuss this with Malone?"
"With you and with your guard dogs."
"Guard...? I came by myself."
"I know. They followed later. They're good, but not as good as mine." He smiled. "Why don't you give them a call?"
Frowning, Backus tried Keel's mobile. It was answered halfway through the second ring.
From the corner of her eye she noticed Bodie start, then frown.
"Chris? Where are you?"
"'Bout seven miles from you. Are you OK?"
She felt a twinge of exasperation. Didn't Malone trust her to pull this off by herself? Of course he does, replied the little voice dryly. But it's a kind of important mission, isn't it? Isn't it better to have backup? She sighed.
"Yes, I'm fine. Is Sam with you?"
"Right here, Backup."
"OK. Well, Bodie has agreed to help us." She glanced at Bodie for confirmation: he nodded. "Can you come pick us up?"
Bodie raised a hand, shaking his head.
"We'll use my car."
"Why his?" said Keel. He didn't sound happy. Backus had the sudden, alarming impression that Bodie's smile resembled a shark's.
"Because it's bullet-proof - and built to withstand everything up to a small nuclear blast. Slight exaggeration." he added as Backus's mouth fell open. "Because I customised it myself and know I can trust it. And because if we don't take my car, I stay here."
She grinned, and spoke into the phone.
"You and Sam check out. We'll pick you up in..?" She glanced at Bodie.
"Half an hour."
"Thirty. 5-3 out."
Bodie was shaking his head. At Backus's enquiring glance he gave her a lop-sided smile.
"Would I be right in assuming that Sam's operational code is 3-7?"
"Uh, yes..." Uhoh.
His expression was unreadable.
"3-7 and 4-5... So much for thinking ourselves irreplaceable."
She heard a wholly unexpected sadness in his tone, and laid a hand gently on his arm. "No-one's irreplaceable. But if it's any consolation, you're a legend in CI5. You and Doyle."
He was silent for a moment, gazing pensively into the fire. When he spoke again, his voice had softened and deepened.
"It's been a long time since I saw Doyle. I think it's high time we talked..."
© Jan 2000 Joules Taylor
Seeds Index and Intro
Seeds part 3
© 2000 WordWrights.