Disclaimer: Characters from The Professionals are © Mark-1 Productions Ltd
and are used without permission but with no intent to defraud.

Assignment on Earth


It's a Wonderful Christmas Carol


Life is good even when it's bad, when you consider the alternatives


What do angels want for Christmas?

Doyle raised his head up as footsteps sounded along the corridor but then let his head drop back into his hands again as he saw only his boss and not the expected doctor.
          "Doyle, any change?"
          Doyle shook his head without even looking up.
          Cowley looked at him thoughtfully and then carefully sat down on the seat beside him. "Tell me what happened."
          "You've had my report."
          "I've had the bare facts passed on by Murphy. I want you to tell me how this happened."
          At first he thought his man was not going to reply then he saw Doyle's jaw working, a constricted swallow and finally a muttered comment. "My fault."
          Cowley sighed. It was as he suspected. "Doyle, I wasn't there but I doubt…"
          "That's right, Mis-ter Cowley, you weren't there! I was and I wasn't quick enough, wasn't good enough and now Bodie's lying in there, possibly dying…" Doyle broke off, his anger quickly overtaken by remorse and he resumed his silent contemplation of his shoes. Cowley only just heard his last words, so softly were they spoken. "I should never have joined this mob."
          "Doyle, get yourself on home lad, you're doing nobody any good here, least of all Bodie."
          "I'm fine here," Doyle muttered.
          "Go home. That's an order." Cowley spoke firmly but without any real conviction. Then, more softly; "I'll let you know as soon as there's any change. You know it could be some time and you can't stay here indefinitely."
          For an instant he thought Doyle would be inclined to argue but the spirit seemed to have gone out of his fiery agent. Doyle's shoulders sagged and a moment later he dragged himself to his feet, so stiffly that Cowley almost thought he could hear the other man's spine creak, and nodded wearily.
          He didn't meet his boss's eye but walked slowly to the double doors at the end of the corridor some feet away and went through them without a backward glance. The doors swung shut again, cutting Doyle from his sight, so sharply that George Cowley, try as he might, couldn't help but feel an air of finality about it.
          After a last, brief word with the doctor, impressing on him once again the importance of keeping his office informed of any change in Bodie's condition, Cowley reluctantly left the hospital to return to headquarters. He too was worried about his man lying unconscious in the hospital bed, the prognosis was not optimistic, but he had been in this position many times before and being older and more experienced than Doyle, he understood the futility of expending energy in worrying over things he could not help.
          As he stepped outside the main entrance of the hospital a few flakes of snow swirled around him. He looked up at a sky full of promise for more to come. "Ach, could You not give us a break even now? My men don't need this." Then he laughed softly to himself. God had better things to do than to listen to the complaints of one tired CI5 controller. He turned up the collar of his coat and trudged towards his car. Despite his weariness, there was still work aplenty to be done.

Doyle skewed his car to a halt outside his flat and made his way unsteadily to the front door. It was the luck of the draw at this time of year whether you could park anywhere near your own home. Either neighbours had visitors and all available spaces were taken, or they had gone visiting themselves and the road was motor free.
          As he wove his way erratically to his front door an old man came by walking his dog, shoulders hunched and leaning into the rising wind. He looked Doyle up and down. "Disgusting, being drunk and driving too."
          "Chance 'ud be a fine thing." Doyle muttered to himself as he carefully inserted his key in the lock and pushed the door open. "Stupid old sod."
          Once inside he wandered through the cold flat to the kitchen, flicked the light on and pulled a face in disgust at the mound of dirty crockery piled in the sink. He switched the light off again and moved to the bedroom where a variety of clothes were strewn on the bed and floor. A planned campaign of seasonal bombings coupled with an outbreak of food poisoning had forced Cowley to push his available agents beyond their usual limits and Doyle's flat was a testament to days of quick changes of clothes and hastily snatched meals.
          Doyle threw a heap of clothes from bed to floor with a savage sweep of his arm. He pulled off the clothes he stood in, adding them to the pile, and flung himself into the unkempt bed.

He awoke some unspecified time later, the first hard edge taken off his tiredness. He turned over and tried to slip back into sleep but it eluded him. He turned over again, thumped his pillow into submission and firmly closed his eyes only to have them open again. His thoughts instantly returned to Bodie and his own perceived failings that had put his friend and partner in hospital. He looked balefully at the phone beside his bed, willing it to ring whilst simultaneously dreading it for the news it might carry.
          With a groan he flung back the covers, pulled on his dressing gown and made for the kitchen. If his mind refused to allow him the refuge of sleep then he might at least have a cup of tea.
          In the kitchen he again felt disgust at the mess facing him and instead of reaching for the kettle, he took down a glass and sloshed in a generous measure of whisky. Taking a gulp of drink, he stared briefly out of the window at the swirling snow, now coming down much harder than when he had arrived home, but the tiled floor was cold under his bare feet and he wandered back to the living room and the softer feel of carpet.
          He frowned momentarily at the small Christmas tree, optimistically decorated only a week or so before when life was quieter. Surely he had not lit the lights on it earlier? The thought couldn't hold him and he sat in an armchair and contemplated the liquid in the glass he held.
          In his mind he replayed the shootout at the warehouse earlier that day. They'd separated to cover more ground in searching out clues as to the whereabouts of a group of bombers. Bodie had radioed him for backup; the location not having been as empty as he'd anticipated. Instead of the expected informant he found several armed men; scared and desperate. By the time Doyle arrived Bodie was already bleeding profusely and the bombers were making their getaway through the rear of the warehouse. His rapidly fired shots took out the two back wheels of the car and it swerved wildly for a few more feet before crashing into a concrete post, stunning the occupants. Doyle tore across the stone floor to his partner, heedless as to whether or not any of the gang was capable of movement. Dropping down beside Bodie he hauled out his RT and screamed at HQ to call an ambulance and only as an after thought mentioned the need for some more men to cart away the bombers.
          Doyle sniffed loudly, wiped his nose with the back of his hand and gulped more whisky. "Should have gone round the back roads instead of trying the straight route. Fuckin' Christmas shoppers. Should've been quicker!" Another swallow and the glass was empty.
          As he rose with the intention of seeking a refill, he looked again at the brightly glowing Christmas tree. Its symbolism of peace and goodwill was more than he could stand and he dashed it to the ground, scattering ornaments and tinsel, then yanked the lights out at the socket.
          He flung himself back down in the armchair and put his hand to his head. "Should've stayed in the force where I belong. Just about my level, that was. Should never have joined this outfit."
          "That is the second time this evening you have uttered that sentiment, sir. And if I may presume, you are greatly in error."
          Doyle jerked his head up and the empty glass dropped out of his hand and rolled across the carpet. Standing only a few feet away was a dapper little man smartly dressed in a sober three piece suit, his head tilted to one side in an alert and enquiring manner.
          Doyle leapt to his feet. "How the hell did you get in here?" he demanded.
          The little man opened his eyes wide. "I am an angel, sir. Angels go where they please." He coughed. "Strictly speaking I should say we go where we are required…"
          Doyle sank back into his seat. He was dreaming, nothing to worry about. He cocked an eye at the angel. "Sure you haven't got somewhere more important to be? It is Christmas Eve after all?"
          "Oh no, sir." The man slapped his pockets until he found what he was searching for, a small notebook. He flicked over the pages and then heaved a sigh of relief and read from the page. "Raymond Doyle, London. CI5 agent with doubts." He peered at Doyle then nodded with approval. "No mistake. I'm where I should be." He paused a moment. "Um, sir…if you don't mind me asking…what is CI5? I know I should have done my research but I had to leave in a hurry."
          "CI5 agent with doubts," Doyle repeated ignoring the other being's twittering. "Well that just about sums it up, doesn't it?" Not surprisingly he couldn't even get away from things in his dreams.
          "Apparently, yes sir. But I'm sure we can clear matters up very quickly and then you can have a good Christmas and I can have…"
          "Have what?" Doyle asked in spite of himself. "What on earth…" he caught himself. "Or should that be, what in heaven, do angels want?"
          "Wings, sir." The little man's eyes lit up eagerly. "I want my wings, sir."
          Wings? Well the man, angel? clearly didn't have any at the moment and he was entitled to wish for whatever he wanted, wasn't he? Certainly Doyle had wished for equally unlikely things in his time, world peace for example.
          "Don't they, er…come with the job?" Doyle asked, gesturing vaguely.
          "Oh no, sir." The angel looked shocked. "No indeed. First one has to prove one is, as it were, up to the job. So one gets given an assignment and when one has completed the assignment satisfactorily, one is awarded one's wings."
          Doyle nodded as if it all made perfect sense. He imagined some heavenly equivalent of the Queen knighting the recipients of her New Year's Honours list.
          "But surely you know that, sir." The angel continued. "It's recorded down here as well. Otherwise, so they say, you might stop believing in us."
          "Recorded how?" Doyle asked, curiously.
          "Everytime you hear a bell ring, an angel has received his wings. I can see why my superiors are so concerned if that fact is going unacknowledged."
          "What, every time? Doorbell, clock chime, bicycle bell?" Doyle gave a snort of laughter. "It must be getting a bit crowded up there."
          The angel glared at him. "There is no need to mock, sir."
          Doyle waved a hand. "My apologies. I shouldn't be questioning how you do things up there. I've got enough troubles with how we run things down here." Then his tired mind picked up on the more pertinent part of the explanation. "Hang on, you said assignment? What assignment?"
          "Well you, sir," said the angel, as if the answer were obvious. "You are clearly having doubts about your place in the scheme of things and I've been sent to tell you how wrong you are."
          "Ok, that's enough," Doyle said, getting to his feet. "I have had it with my dreams continuing to badger me. I can do that for myself when I'm awake. I'm going back to bed to try and turn over and get a better dream next time. Something with a beach and a beautiful woman would do for starters."
          Ignoring the other man, he strode across the room only to stop with a yelp of pain as something stuck into his bare foot. Looking down he could see a shard of glass from one of the Christmas baubles now scattered across the carpet. He bent and yanked it out and then stared at it. It had pierced the idea of this being a dream as sharply as it had his foot.
          "Just who the hell are you? No, never mind. You've had your joke, now you can sling your hook." He grabbed the little man by the arm and hauled him towards the front door.
          "Sir, but sir…Mr Doyle…You have to let me help you or I won't get my…"
          "Wings, yeah, you said." Doyle reached the front door, dealing easily with the struggles of his intruder. He paused only a moment when he saw all the bolts still in place on the door.
          He shook the man. "Whose idea was this? You picked the wrong night to have a laugh at my expense. Who are you?" He didn't really expect an answer and when the man continued to protest his angelic origins, Doyle pushed him roughly out into the street and slammed the door behind him.
          He stalked angrily from room to room, convinced the man must have got through a window, his anger abating slightly to puzzlement when he found all the windows as tightly shut as he left them that morning.
          Now thoroughly awake he pulled on his clothes, grabbed his car keys and hurried out to his car. If he couldn't sleep at home, then he might as well be at the hospital to check on Bodie first hand.
          He gave a cursory glance around as he pulled away but there was no sign of his erstwhile visitor. No doubt gone back to report the success or otherwise of the joke.

At the hospital he successfully cajoled the duty nurse into allowing him into Bodie's room and sat down in the visitor's chair. His partner was still unconscious, the curtains were drawn and the room was dim and quiet. Although still concerned for Bodie's welfare, Doyle felt some of the tension of the past hours draining away. "Have I got a story to tell you, mate?" he muttered as he shuffled the chair up to the bedside. "You'll laugh fit to bust your stitches."
         He scanned his partner's face, hoping for some sign he'd been heard but there was no reaction. Doyle felt the same flutterings of fear he'd experienced earlier but was more contented to be here, seeing for himself, rather than waiting at home for a phone call.
          Gradually his shoulders relaxed, his breathing slowed, his head drooped and he slept.

Only to jerk awake some time later. He looked around him in a panic, wondering what had woken him and where he was. The latter answer came to him in a second and he anxiously looked to the man in the bed, hoping to see a change, only to sink back when there was none. "Christ, come on mate, give us a bit of a sign, eh. Think what you'd say to me if I were sleeping on the job like this."
          His voice came out croaky; his throat was dry and his eyes gritty with sleep. He ran his hand over his face. Stumbling out of the room, he made for the nearest toilets to throw some water over his face and try to wake up a bit.
          That done he stopped by the vending machine and felt in his pocket for coins. He selected the coffee, watched the plastic cup fill and then hesitated a moment before taking a sip, he'd drunk at this hospital before, but caffeine seemed called for. He shuddered at the resultant taste and turned to go back to Bodie's room only to see a nurse and a white-coated doctor rush into the room.
          Tossing the cup aside, Doyle tore back to the room only to find his way barred by the nurse.
          "Please, sir, stay out there."
          "What's going on? Is Bodie all right?"
          "Please, Mr Doyle, you can't come in. The doctor is doing all he can."
          Doyle took a step back, but only one, and prepared to wait. He paced back and forth across the doorway, shooting apprehensive glances into the room and catching snatches of incomprehensible instructions being issued.
          Finally the doctor came out and Doyle grabbed at his arm. "How is he?"
          The doctor pursed his lips disapprovingly and pulled his arm away before answering. "He's stable again. We'll continue to monitor his progress." He started to walk away.
          "That's it?" Doyle shouted. "That's all you have to say?"
          "For now, yes. I do have other patients to see." The doctor turned the corner and was lost to sight. Doyle felt a strong urge to chase after him and drag him back to Bodie's room and make him stand over his friend until he was out of danger. He fought the impulse but something had to take the brunt of his anger and worry and this time it was the vending machine.
          "Goddamn it! Fuckin' doctors!" Doyle kicked out again, rocking the machine with the force of his kick.
          "Sir, I do wish you wouldn't be so careless with your use of His name."
          Doyle looked up to see his visitor from earlier standing a few feet away. Here was a real target for his anger. Two strides and he had the man pinned against the wall.
          "You've got a real nerve following me here!"
          "Sir, please sir, I had no choice. I've been assigned to you and I can't go back until…"
          "Until what? Go back to who? Who's making you do this?"
          The little man looked scared and slowly raised his eyes.
          Doyle's anger suddenly evaporated. He pushed the other man away from him tiredly. "Go home, I've more important things to worry about than you."
          He wandered to the window and looked out onto the dark night; saw without seeing, the soft swirling white specks of snow slowly spinning their way to earth. "Why him?" he said softly. "Why him and not me? It's my fault, after all. He shouldn't have to pay for my mistakes."
          "Are you addressing God, sir?"
          Doyle sighed. He really hoped somebody was getting a laugh out of this because for the life of him, he couldn't see a funny side to persisting in this joke.
          Turning around, leaning back against the window, he fixed the other man with a baleful look. "Would it be such a strange thing if I were?"
          "You believe in God, sir?"
          "I don't know, sometimes I think I do. Does He believe in me?"
          "Of course He does, that's why He sent me." The man paused. "Well, strictly speaking of course, He didn't. Not directly at any rate. You wouldn't believe the levels of bureaucracy we have to contend with."
          Despite himself Doyle gave a snorting laugh. "I would, you know. I work for the Civil Service." He shook his head. Whoever this man was, he was utterly convincing in his part. Or would be, if Doyle believed in visitations from angels. "What's your name?" he asked abruptly.
          "Arthur, sir," came the reply. "At your service."
          Arthur the angel. Doyle rubbed his forehead; he felt a headache coming on. "Look Arthur, why don't you just bugger off now. Joke's long over, OK? I've got other things on my mind."
          "Like whether to tend your resignation?"
          Doyle's head snapped up. How had the other man read his thoughts like that?
          "He won't accept it, sir. Your boss. He understands your value to his organisation."
          "Not me, mate. You've got me confused with somebody who doesn't screw up at every turn."
          The other man sighed and drew his notebook from his pocket. "There was a notation in your record that you could be stubborn. Allow me to remind you of a few occasions you may have forgotten." He flicked over several pages. "Ah yes, here we are. My, you and your partner have been particularly busy, haven't you?" He cleared his throat and began to read. "You prevented the assassination of a minor Greek dignitary and his wife at Wimbledon. Rescued a kidnapped Israeli minister. The number of criminals and corrupt officials who are now safely behind bars is quite remarkable." The man looked up. "My congratulations, sir."
          "And for every one of those instances there are others that tell a different story. I killed a man and nearly got the organisation closed down. I lost a powerful gun that was in my protection. What price your praise now?"
          The words had been jerked out of Doyle's mouth in an angry, reflexive rebuttal as he listened to the recitation in some shock but now his instincts surfaced and he reached out and snatched the notebook. "Just where the hell are you getting this information from? This is all classified stuff."
          The little man tried to take the notebook back but Doyle pushed him roughly away and began to scan the page full of close, sloping writing. He groaned in frustration; it was all written in a foreign language, unintelligible to him. And yet, as Doyle studied it, it was not any language he recognised. Not French or German, or anything similar. Latin maybe, but even that didn't quite seem right. He flicked over to the next page in the hope of finding something he could understand. And froze...The page was half filled with the strange writing but rest of the page was rapidly filling up even as he watched. The writing just flowed onto the page all by itself.
          Doyle dropped the book as if it had burnt him. "Just what is going on here?" he said hoarsely. "How did you do that trick?"
          Arthur bent to retrieve his notebook. "No trick, sir, I assure you. Now, if I might continue?" Without waiting for an answer he read from the notebook. "And then... oh my, you saved London from a nuclear explosion. Most impressive."
          Doyle waved a hand, dismissively. "Never mind all that. Any competent agent would have done the same. Has done the same. What I want to know is..." He paused, not really sure how to phrase his question and a tiny bit afraid of the answer.
          Abruptly he turned away from the other man and headed back down the corridor to Bodie's room. He still wasn't sure why he was wasting time with this strange man and not having him arrested for something, but if there were crazies around, he wanted to make sure he was watching over his partner.
          Dropping back into the chair by the bedside, his gaze on his partner's face, he tried to ignore the presence watching him from the doorway.
          "I haven't convinced you, have I?"
          Doyle got to his feet and stalked across the room. "Enough," he said. "My life is my own, my decisions my own. None of your business. Go and bother somebody else." He shut the door firmly on the other man's open mouth.
          He'd barely sat down again when there came a tap on the door. He ignored it, and the two following ones. Then there was a minute or two silence and he congratulated himself that the man had given up and gone away. Then the door opened and a head poked in. "Sir, if you could just assure me that you have given up all ideas of resigning..."
          "Get out!" Anger boiling over, Doyle grabbed the first thing to come to hand from the bedside cabinet and flung it at the head, which rapidly disappeared. The object, a book, hit the door and fell to the floor.
          "Sir!" came from beyond the closed door. "Not the Book!"
          Despite himself a puzzled Doyle crossed the room and picked up the book. "Gideon Bible," he muttered and shook his head. Whoever this man was, his performance was without fault.
          Anxiously he looked at the man in the bed, but Bodie seemed to have been undisturbed by the noise, although Doyle would have given anything for his friend to have opened his eyes and complained about his sleep being interrupted.
          He sat back down in the chair and sighed unsurprised, as the door opened and the little man sidled in.
          "You really are an extremely stubborn man, if you don't mind my saying so, sir."
          Doyle grimaced. "You're not the first, won't be the last. And you're not so bad yourself. Won't take no for an answer, will you?"
          "I can't, sir. I can't go back as a failure. I have to earn my wings!" The little man stamped his foot. "I thought this would be an easy assignment. How could you be so obtuse as to not see the good you do?"
          Doyle raised his head tiredly. "Look, I don't know how to make this any clearer. I don't know how you got the information you have or why you keep following me, nor do I care just at the minute. The organisation would go on whether I was there or not so why don't you give up and leave me alone." He flapped his hand feebly. "Please, just…go away."
          The little man cocked his head on one side and frowned slightly as if listening to something Doyle could not hear. "Really?" he said. "Surely not?"
          Doyle frowned. What on earth was the man up to now?
          "Oh very well," the man said, still apparently, to the air. He turned to Doyle. "Sir, it would appear to be quite vital to my superiors that you are convinced of your place in the scheme of things. To that end they have authorised me to take what seems to me to be quite drastic steps."
          Doyle's instincts had him on his feet, fist clenched, before his conscious mind registered the words as a possible threat. He glared; ready for any action this strange man might take.
          What he didn't expect was that the man simply clicked his fingers…

Doyle stared; where a moment before he had been in a dimly lit hospital room, now he was in a much larger room, brilliant sunlight streaming through the windows. There were several desks with men seated at them but Doyle didn't focus on the sea of faces, his attention was caught by the man at the front of the room. The man's back was to him as he wrote something on a blackboard, but Doyle had no trouble in recognising him.
          "Mr Cowley? Sir? What's going on?"
          His boss instantly swung round to face the room, dusting his hands free of chalk as he did so, but he ignored Doyle and spoke to the other men in front of him. "CI5. Criminal Intelligence. The Action Squad. The Big A. The Squad. All right. So we may have half a dozen names, but only one job. To see that…"
          "Sir?" Doyle said again, bewildered.
          "He can't hear you, sir," came a quiet voice behind him.
          Doyle spun round. It was the little man who had dogged him all evening. "You again," Doyle sighed. "I might have known it. What's going on here and what do you mean, he can't hear me?"
          Without waiting for an answer he turned back to his boss. "Mr Cowley? Mr Cowley!" Not only did his boss not show, by even a flicker, that he had heard his agent, but none of the other men in the room seemed to have heard a word either.
          In despair Doyle turned back to the little man as the only person who would acknowledge him.
          The other man nodded. "They cannot hear you or see you, sir, because we are not here."
          Doyle considered that for a moment. It seemed to him more apt to say that they were not all there for surely one of them had a screw more than a little loose.
          "...tell you my interpretation, I'll tell you what it's really going to be like. You'll be paired off, and from then on..."
          Cowley was still speaking, oblivious to the other conversation taking place. Doyle turned back to listen. It was the same speech the old man gave to every new bunch of recruits, no wonder he knew it off by heart.
          Doyle let his gaze wander over the other men in the room, all of them listening attentively with all the eagerness Doyle himself remembered having on his first day with CI5. He started suddenly; there was Thompson and Williams and that bloke who dropped out at the end of the first week...and if all of them were here then surely...his eyes darted across the faces...Yes, over by the window, Bodie, looking fit and alert, a little younger than when Doyle had last seen him in the hospital bed but otherwise the same.
          Doyle frowned. If he were to make this leap of faith and assume he was seeing events as they were, then surely... he studied the faces again.
          "No sir, you are not here." It was as if the other man could read his mind.
          "But all the others are here," he protested, even as he thought how ridiculous this all was.
          "Yes sir, but you never joined this organisation," Arthur said.
          "What do you mean, of course I did. I..." Doyle's voice trailed away as the other man shook his head.
          "No sir. You have made it very clear that you believe your life and the progress of this organisation would be greatly improved if you had never joined and so, my superiors have arranged matters that I might show you how wrong you are."
          "...and the only backing you'll get is with my boot and right out of this organisation. Any questions?"
          Behind them George Cowley finished his speech and demanded questions in a tone designed to prevent any being asked.
          "Yeah, when's lunch?"
          Doyle spun round at the sound of the familiar voice. Across the far side of the room Bodie had a grin on his face, looking around the room encouraging his new colleagues to laugh with him.
          Doyle's memory replayed how he remembered it. Keyed up and excited by this new challenge, he'd been hanging on the Controller's every word and wasn't impressed at this flippant comment.
          "You have to catch your own in this outfit," he'd snapped back without thinking.
          "No problem. I had plenty of practice at that in the jungle," Bodie had replied. "But you wouldn't know about the jungle, would you, copper?"
          "There's different types of jungles." Doyle said the words again quietly. He and Bodie had eyed each other up across the room. The first time they had come to each other's notice in the general hurly burly of induction.
          This time around nobody challenged Bodie. The other men in the room just stared at him with expressions ranging from unimpressed to dislike.
          "Yes, well, if there's nothing else..." George Cowley dismissed the group and led the exodus from the room.
          Doyle watched them file out to begin a round of intensive training knowing that not all of them would last the course. He wanted to follow them; there was normalcy beyond those doors, whereas here with this...angel...he had no idea what was to happen.
          "Brings back memories, does it, sir?"
          "Yeah, so? I was wet behind the ears then. Doesn't change a damn thing I've said."
          "Not that naive surely," Arthur said. "You must have seen a great deal of unpleasantness in the...er... 'Drug Squad'." He pronounced the last two words with distaste.
          "Oh yeah, I thought I'd seen the worst human beings could do to each other. I thought I had something to offer CI5. I thought I knew it all. Bloody fool."
          "One can hardly be wet behind the ears and know it all," Arthur observed primly.
          "Hindsight is a wonderful thing," Doyle said dryly.
          Arthur wrote something in his notebook. Doyle watched him anxiously. "So what happens now? Do I wake up? After all, you've hardly convinced me to change my mind."
          "I was afraid it wouldn't be that easy. And you are not dreaming, sir."
          "No?" Doyle shrugged. "Have it your own way."
          "I could if you would only let me," the angel muttered.
          Doyle sighed; this was all crazy not to mention taking him away, in his dreams at least, from where he wanted to be. One thought led to another and he swung round on the other man.
          "OK then, answer me this, if you're so concerned about my effect on CI5, why me and not Bodie? We've been partners practically from the get-go, so he'd've had as much effect as me. So why me for this trip through Wonderland?" There, he thought. Let my subconscious deal with that one.
          Arthur nodded. "It's true that you and your partner do your best work together. And it's true that everybody influences the world around them and therefore events would unfold differently without them. However, your partner, Mr Bodie, isn't the one with the doubts. He has a more, shall we say, simplistic view of life, than you do."
          Despite himself Doyle gave a snort of laughter. "That's one way of putting it. Must be that army training. Shelter, food and when he's next going to get his end away." He stopped abruptly as the angel drew in a deep breath and pointedly exhaled it again, a pained expression on his face.
          "He cares though," Doyle continued in a different tone. "Don't let the exterior fool you, he cares."
          "So I have been informed," the angel said, checking his notebook. "However, it is not him I am concerned with this night. You have to be made to see the error of your ways if I am to have my wings."
          "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Doyle was growing tired of this debate. "Look, I don't believe any of this and I certainly don't believe any outcome would be different if I hadn't joined CI5 - except Bodie might not be lying in a hospital bed right now. Or at least, if he was, it wouldn't be down to me. So why don't you just let me wake up and I can try and laugh about what vivid dreams I have when I drink whisky on an empty stomach." He gave the little man a shove to emphasise his words.
          "Enough of the manhandling, sir. Very well, I'll show you the consequences of your actions and see what you think then!" The angel flicked over the pages of his notebook. "Ah yes, here we are." He glared at Doyle and raising his hand up theatrically, clicked his fingers.

The room was dimly lit, the only illumination coming from a lamp on a small side table and the glow from the remnants of a fire dying in the grate.
          "Where are we?" Doyle asked in a hushed voice. It didn't seem the place for loud noises.
          "Keep watching," was all the reply he got.
          Doyle looked around him. The room was so dark it was impossible to see into the corners but what he could see showed him a room shabby through age and neglect. Not dirty, not untidy even, but worn and tired with age. He had begun to think the room was empty when suddenly a movement made him jump. A hand moved into the circle of light thrown out by the table lamp and reached for a glass of liquid.
          "Who is it?" he whispered.
          "He cannot hear or see you, remember," Arthur said. "Take a look." He seemed to be watching with some anticipatory degree of satisfaction.
          Doyle glared at him and reluctantly moved a little closer to the figure in the armchair.
          At first he didn't recognise him but suddenly the man spoke. "Why doesn't he call? Why? Where is he?" The words were spoken in an irritable, peevish tone that was quite unlike anything Doyle could remember hearing from him but the voice was still unmistakable.
          Doyle knelt and looked up into the face of his boss. The change was incredible. Never a large man, he seemed shrunken and considerably older than when Doyle had last seen him at the hospital that evening. But the main change was the tiredness that hung around the man. The fire, the spirit of the George Cowley that Doyle knew was completely gone.
          The phone rang suddenly, causing Doyle to jump. As he watched, Cowley put down his glass with a hand that shook, straightened his back to a faint memory of the soldier he had once been and reached for the receiver.
          Doyle could just hear the buzzing of speech on the other end of the line. He pressed closer to the receiver, trying to make out the words.
          "...committee....failed to persuade....different approach...."
          "But, if I were to speak to them..." Cowley said. "Explain in more detail."
          "No George...final decision. Enjoy...retirement."
          Doyle heard the click of the other receiver being replaced but Cowley continued to grip his handset as if it were a lifeline, a link to something he wasn't yet prepared to let go of.
          Finally, as if becoming aware of the empty buzzing of the line, he slowly replaced the handset in its cradle and picked up the glass of whisky. His hand shook more this time and some liquid splashed onto the table's surface. From the evidence of ring stains it wasn't the first time.
          "Fools, blind fools." He tossed back the remaining drink and reached for the bottle. More liquid spilt as he poured another large measure. "Tomorrow I shall call Richards, he'll listen. And Collier, no, he died last month. Bradley then. He owes me a favour."
          Doyle backed away as the old man continued to mumble into his drink. Repulsed and yet fascinated, he couldn't take his eyes from the man. That George Cowley of all people should have come to this.
          He straightened up and looked over at the angel who was watching him closely. "And this is a direct result of me not joining CI5? I don't believe it, I'm not that important."
          "No, you aren't, sir, not directly at least. However, are you familiar with the chaos theory?"
          Doyle frowned in thought. "Sounds familiar," he said. "Is that the butterfly flapping its wings and causing an avalanche at the North Pole?"
          Arthur pursed his lips, disapprovingly. "Whilst I wouldn't be so flippant, that is basically it, yes. There is an interconnectivity of all things. Affect one and like a row of dominos..." He made a flicking gesture with his finger. "They all fall, one after the other."
          "And you think me joining CI5 means George Cowley wouldn't now be..." Words failed him and he gestured at the man in the chair, who was still alternatively sipping drink and muttering to himself. "Like that!"
          "That and a great many other things." The angel turned over another page in his notebook. "Sara Peterson for instance. She would have ended up dead of a drugs overdose if not for you. As it is, she will go on to work to save many runaways like herself."
          Doyle frowned. "I don't recall the name."
          "Daughter of Ann Seaford. A tragic death that couldn't have been avoided unfortunately."
          Doyle shook his head. "I remember her now, but I didn't make any difference, in fact I got shot. Bodie was your hero there."
          Arthur said nothing but the next page was flipped over very pointedly.
          "Where did all this information come from anyway?" Doyle said, flapping his hand at the notebook, interrupting the angel's next words. "You said you hadn't had time for research."
          "Earlier when you, so unceremoniously, threw me out of your home, I took the opportunity to look up a few things, sir."
          "One of which wouldn't be that you've got the wrong person, would it? No, didn't think so." Doyle glanced over at his boss once more. "I just don't understand what could have happened to cause this. OK," he held up his hand to forestall the angel. "OK, so I'm not there. The organisation doesn't hinge on one person, you've already agreed that. Or if it does, that one person is sitting over there. What did he do so wrong to come to this?"
          "He lost his best team, sir. Two men who believed in him and trusted him when certain facts appeared otherwise."
          "Me and Bodie, you mean? Well he's still got Bodie. Bodie still joined, didn't he?"
          "Yes sir."
          "Well then." But a note of doubt was creeping into Doyle's voice and he looked at the angel with some anxiety.
          "He joined and was an exemplary member of the team. But without you to back him up…To 'watch his back' as I believe your vernacular would have it…"
          "Well? What are you getting at?"
          "You are a very stubborn man, as I believe I remarked before, sir. I am forced to show you what happens to your friend Mr Bodie, then maybe I will convince you."
          "Now just wait a second..."
          The angel once again clicked his fingers, however it wasn't a return to the hospital as Doyle had feared, but a different location altogether.

As a contrast to the darkness of Cowley's flat, this room was light and airy. It was spacious and with minimal furniture, adding to the sense of space. Sunlight streamed in from double patio doors at one end of the room. Beyond them Doyle could see a garden, mostly laid to grass but with some raised flowerbeds, and broad paths winding out of sight.
          "This is nice," he said, cautiously.
          By his side Arthur nodded. "Very suitable," he said.
          Doyle thought that a strange response but he didn't have time to ask the angel what he meant before a door, somewhere behind them, crashed open and a voice he knew well sounded irritably. "I can manage, don't fuss."
          "Bodie!" Doyle said and turned eagerly back into the flat, his smile dying on his face as he saw his friend and partner manoeuvring himself awkwardly into the living room in a wheelchair.
          He hit a wall, swore, jerked at the wheels of the chair, twisting it, and rolled further into the room followed by two women. One of which was clearly a nurse, the other a smartly dressed woman with expensively coiffured hair.
          "Now then, Mr Bodie," the nurse began briskly. "All your clothes have already arrived and been put away for you. Your books are on the shelf," she gestured to a low shelf running two-thirds the length of one wall. "But we left your other belongings in those boxes over there. We thought you would prefer to arrange those yourself."
          "Certainly," Bodie said, bitingly. "Perhaps I could do a spot of painting or wallpaper hanging while I'm about it?"
          "The bathroom's through here," the nurse continued as if he hadn't spoken, opening a door off to the right. Doyle saw, over her shoulder, a gleaming white bath with the noticeable addition of various handrails at strategic points.
          "And that just leaves the bedroom through here." She opened another door and Doyle caught a glimpse of striped wallpaper and a pine chest of drawers. "Now I think we should leave you to get settled in. Lunch will be in about an hour so I'll expect to see you in the dining room then."
          "I'll be going now then," the other woman said who had remained quiet until now. She bent and kissed him on the cheek. "Bye Bodie. I'll come by again tomorrow."
          "Don't bother," Bodie said, without looking up. "Unless you want to share my pureed baby food and jelly you'd better find somebody else, somebody who can take you out to dinner and dancing."
          His tone was light but Doyle could see the pinched look come over his friend's face and recognised the subtle signs of Bodie's anger.
          The woman however did not. She gave a light laugh. "Oh I don't care about things like that."
          "Well I do!" Bodie swung the chair around and glared at her.
          She took an involuntary step backwards, startled at the ferocity of his tone.
          "If not dancing then go and find somebody who can give you a good screw, because I know you care about that! Just bloody well leave me alone."
          "Bodie!" the woman said in distress.
          "Just get the hell out," Bodie snarled as he swung his chair around again and rolled over to stare through the patio doors at the garden.
          "Come on, dear." The nurse put her arm around the other woman and began to lead her from the room. Doyle caught a snatch of words. "…like this at first. Try again…"
          "Well you certainly told her, mate," Doyle muttered. He moved over to the window and crouched down by his friend to study his face. He had clearly lost weight and his face was bordering on gaunt, but Bodie's expression was as one carved from marble, his jaw was rigid and his eyes stared unblinkingly ahead. His hands gripped the arm of the chair tight enough to whiten the knuckles.
          "How bad is it, Bodie?" It was a rhetorical question, Doyle knew his friend couldn't answer him. Remembering suddenly that there was somebody who could, he glanced around the room to find the angel had tucked himself in a corner and was now watching him with the closest to a sympathetic look he had worn all evening.
          Doyle straightened up and swallowed hard. "How bad is it?" he repeated.
          "He's no longer ill, if that's what you mean…"
          "You know it isn't," Doyle snapped, angrily.
          "However," Arthur continued smoothly as if Doyle hadn't interrupted. "He will never walk again. In years to come he will have trouble breathing and eventually will end up on a respirator, until his final release."
          "Oh God." Doyle's cry was heartfelt and for once the angel didn't reprimand him for his blasphemy.
          Although he always affected a disinterest in healthy eating and groaned louder than anyone about their exercise regime, Doyle knew Bodie prided himself on his fitness and abilities. To live out his days in a wheelchair he would find very hard indeed, even without the slow deterioration the angel had just recited.
          "Does he know?"
          The angel shrugged. "He has been told in broad terms. Whether or not he has taken in the full implications I couldn't say."
          Doyle rocked back on his heels, slumped back against the nearest wall and closed his eyes. Was he to see nothing good this night?
          His eyes jerked open again as Bodie swung his wheelchair around and wheeled across the room to where the boxes sat containing his belongings. He began to rummage through the contents.
          Doyle frowned and got to his feet. There was no way Bodie was meekly acceding to the nurse's suggestion of unpacking so what was he doing?
          Model soldiers and a couple of photo frames were carelessly thrown aside and then Bodie gave a grunt of satisfaction as he hefted a small metal box onto his knees. The clasp of the box was fastened with a tiny combination padlock. Minimal security but at least away from prying eyes. Bodie twiddled the wheels of the padlock and threw back the lid.
          Moving around so he could see the contents, Doyle's eyes widened with sudden understanding. "No. No, Bodie. Please no!"
          Slowly, methodically, Bodie clicked open the chamber of the gun he held in his hands. He reached for a small cardboard box from which he extracted one bullet after another until the chamber was full. He snapped it shut and hefted it thoughtfully. Then he put it carefully on his lap, tossed the now empty box aside, swung the chair around and began to wheel it briskly back to the window. At one point the gun nearly slipped and he made a quick grab for it, swearing as he did so. Continuing more cautiously he made it back to the spot overlooking the garden.
          "Bodie, don't do this," Doyle begged. He swung back to the angel. "Stop him, can't you?"
          The angel shook his head. "We cannot interfere sir, we can only observe."
          "You've interfered enough in my life tonight."
          "You are my charge, everything else is immutable."
          "Then what fucking good are you?" Doyle hissed savagely and turned back to his partner. Dropping to his knees by the chair he stared fiercely into that well-known face. "Bodie, don't do this. Bodie come on, concentrate mate, you can hear me really."
          Bodie slowly raised the gun.
          "Oh shit. Bodie..."
          With a twist of his lips that was but a faint ghost of the humour Doyle knew so well, his partner said quietly; "Farewell, cruel world."
          William Andrew Philip Bodie, one time soldier, one time mercenary, late of CI5, used his vast accumulated knowledge of weapons and their usage to position the muzzle of the gun in his mouth in the manner best guaranteed to successfully blow his head off.
          And pulled the trigger.

Doyle fell to the floor and scrambled several feet away before rising to his feet. He forced his eyes open almost expecting to see Bodie's blood and brains splattering his body. But there was no change in him. He could not bring himself to turn around and face the thing that was once his partner and friend. The room was silent now but his ears rang with the sound of the shot.
          "How?" he demand. "How the hell did this happen? What caused this? And what the bloody hell has it got to do with me?"
          "I really am very sorry, sir. A terrible thing to witness."
          Doyle advanced on the angel. "I don't want your fucking sympathy. I want you to tell me how this happened. Now!"
          The angel stiffened, made a show of snapping shut his ever-present notebook and returning it to his pocket. "There is no need to abuse me, sir. I am merely carrying out my instructions." He raised his hand. "And to that end, it will be my...pleasure, to show you exactly how this occurred." He clicked his fingers.

Doyle looked around him, swayed and staggered for balance. They were on the top of a narrow ledge. Around there were the rooftops of other buildings, some on a level, others much lower. Also there were other, smaller structures, their function not immediately obvious or of interest to Doyle. "You could have warned me."
          "Sorry," said the angel, not sounding it.
          Doyle glared at him. "Well, where's Bodie?"
          The angel looked around him briefly, as if getting his bearings. "He should be coming along any moment." He nodded. "From over there. I suggest we move back a little to give them some room."
          Doyle frowned, not wanting to be told what to do but seeing the sense of the angel's words, he stepped off the ledge and moved backwards into a gap between two tall chimneystacks. He stepped carefully, mindful of various planks of wood scattered on the ground and then leaned against the brickwork of one of the chimneys, folded his arms and prepared to watch.
          As if on cue a small group of people appeared from further along the ledge. First a man Doyle didn't recognise who jumped down from the parapet and looked over the edge to the ground below, clearly searching for a way down. He snatched up a plank and laid it across to the nearest structure; a round tower with a narrow walkway and safety rail running around it.
          As he did so a man and a woman arrived. The man was in Arab headdress, the woman in white tunic and black trousers. She rated a second glance in Doyle's opinion but Bodie appearing from behind the second chimneystack diverted his attention.
          The Arab man bent to steady the plank while Bodie put a supporting hand on the first man's back as he prepared to literally walk the plank to the other side.
          Doyle peered over the side of the building. His face contorted as he calculated the distance to the ground; roughly fifty feet or so he estimated. Below he could see a small yellow van - in all probability what they were heading for.
          The Arab man and woman were now standing behind the first man on the far side of the drop and Bodie was preparing to step onto the plank.
          Doyle drew in a sharp breath, sensing what was to come. He jumped at a touch on his arm. The sympathetic look was back in the angel's eyes, telling him his assumption was correct.
          "We can go now, sir, if you want. We do not have to witness everything."
          Doyle shook his head. "No. I...Bodie!" The exclamation was jolted out of him as his fear became manifest. He leapt to the edge of the parapet, not wanting to see yet unable to turn away.
          It took but an instant and yet took forever.
          The plank had slipped from its precarious balance and although his hands shot out instantly and even brushed the ironwork of the railing Bodie failed to secure a hold and with a cry he fell.
          "Bodie!" The cry came not from Doyle but from the other man, the one who wasn't the Arab. He'd turned to go as Bodie had reached out for the railing, urging the other two before him. Now he spun around and stared helpless as Bodie bounced once on the lower roof of the building below them and then unable to stop the momentum of his fall, rolled to the edge, hands desperately scratching for a purchase on something, anything. Fell to a crumpled heap on the grounds so very far below.
          Doyle watched as the other three climbed quickly down to the ground and rushed to Bodie's side and suddenly Doyle was there as well.
          "Get the van started," the younger man yelled at the woman. She nodded and hurried to it, tugging the Arab man with her.
          "Bodie? Bodie!" The fear and anxiety was obvious in the man's voice as he knelt by the body.
          Bodie groaned and his eyes flickered open.
          "Oh thank God." The other man exhaled a breath and bowed his head for a moment.
          Bodie grunted and with an effort shifted his body a fraction. "Can't...can't seem to..."
          "Bodie, it'll be OK." The other man reached for him.
          "No!" Doyle cried, despite knowing that he couldn't be heard, as he saw the other man tuck his hands under Bodie's armpits preparatory to dragging him.
          "Just get you in the back of the van and we'll get you to a hospital. You'll be fine."
          Bodie's scream turned Doyle's blood to ice.
          Shots rang out and kicked up the dust around the other man's feet. He and Doyle looked up to see several armed men running across the concrete towards them.
          "Go," Bodie said, his voice barely audible. "Go." His energy sapped by even those few words he fell back, eyes closed again.
          "Come on." The woman gestured urgently, leaning out of the van door.
          The man gave one last guilty look at Bodie and sprinted for the van.
          It was in gear and already moving as he dived into the rear.
          Doyle remained by Bodie's side as the gunmen appeared sending a hail of bullets after the retreating van.
          They chattered urgently in their own tongue and ran back the way they had come.
          "Hey," Bodie called feebly. "Bloody well finish me off before you go, can't you?" His words fell on deaf ears and Doyle saw from the way his body slumped, that this time he had passed out.
          "Who was that bastard?"
          "Those men?" the angel asked. He opened his notebook. "They were members of a..."
          "Not them. That useless piece of excrement who just put Bodie in that wheelchair by trying to move him like that."
          "Hmmm." The angel scanned the lines of close writing. "That sir, was his partner. John Hampton."
          "His partner? In CI5? What the hell was Cowley thinking of in recruiting that stupid bastard who doesn't know how to watch out for his partner?"
          "I would point out that it is not known whether he would have walked again even if he hadn't been moved. His injuries were quite severe."
          "Either way the man's a fool, anybody knows you don't move somebody after a fall like that. I...."
          The angel looked sharply at his charge. For the first time that evening the man seemed to have some resolve.
          "Yes, sir?"
          "Never mind."
          Doyle rubbed a hand over his face, straightened his shoulders and gazed into the middle distance for a moment. Then he looked into the angel's face. "And you reckon I can prevent this. If I don't resign, Bodie will be ok?"
          "I cannot claim to know all possible futures, sir. I can only state that this particular future has been shown to me as one that will not come to pass."
          Doyle looked down at the still form at his feet and shrugged. "No contest then."
          The angel stared at him. "That's it?" he said. "You give in just like that?"
          Doyle shrugged. "I might not think I've done a sterling job up to now but I'm not going to walk away knowing this will happen. I'd be worse than that...that...." Words failed him and he jerked his thumb in the general direction the van had taken.
          The angel still looked frustrated. "I don't know why I wasted my time this evening. I should have just brought you here and sorted this out instantly."
          "Saved us both a lot of trouble," Doyle nodded, but the little man had his head cocked on one side as he had done earlier in the hospital, listening to something other than Doyle. Then he looked chastened. "Apparently sir, I had to bring you the long way around. Otherwise you would have simply assumed this was a particularly vivid dream brought on by your concerns for your partner. Whereas now..." He eyed Doyle anxiously. "You do believe, don't you, sir?"
          "Yeah. I don't claim for one second to understand it or why you think I'm so important, but yeah, I believe." He took a deep breath and blew it out again through pursed lips in an attempt to release the tension that had gripped him for so long.
         Then memory crowded back in. "Bodie! In the hospital!" For a second Doyle’s eyes flew back to the figure on the ground. He eyed the angel cautiously. "So if he and I are on this assignment in the future then he's going to be all right - tonight?"
          "Oh yes, sir. He will make a perfect recovery in no time."
          The grin threatened to split Doyle's face in two. He knelt for a moment beside the still unconscious man. "See you soon, Bodie. Don't worry, I won't let this happen."
          He stood and clapped the angel on the shoulder. "Come on then, let's wrap this up." He looked expectantly at the other man and clicked his fingers a couple of times encouragingly.
          "Certainly, sir." Still the angel hesitated a moment. "Sir," he began, hesitantly. "I feel I should confess. Whilst I was away, obtaining reference material, I also took the opportunity to speak to my superiors. I requested that they..." He swallowed. "That they take me off this assignment and send somebody else to deal with you. I apologise. I should not have done that."
          Doyle's lips quirked in a smile; the little man was so serious. "And they refused, right? Been there a few times myself. Don't sweat it."
          "Thank you, sir."
          "Look, after all you've put me through tonight, can't you drop the sir? The name's Ray."
          The angel looked shocked. "I don't think that would be at all proper, sir." He hesitated. "I might manage Mr Doyle," he offered.
          Doyle shrugged. "Don't hurt yourself." He changed the subject. "So, do you get your..." he gestured in the general direction of the angel's back. "...wings now?"
          "I don't know," the angel said slowly. "I have certainly fulfilled the assignment but I am not sure it was done in the best traditions of the service."
          Doyle gave a snort of laughter. "Listen mate, if your lot are anything like mine, as long as you get the job done and nobody gets hurt they aren't too fussed about how you do it." He wrapped an arm around the angel's shoulders and shouted up to the sky. "You listening up there? Give this man...sorry, angel, give this angel his wings, y'hear me?"
          "Sir!" The angel stepped away from Doyle's embrace, now seriously alarmed at his charge's exuberance, not being ready for such a change from the previous emotions, running as they had, from morose to angry and back again.
          Doyle grinned and nodded. "Come on then, I'm ready." Suddenly he stuck his hand out towards the angel. "And listen, thanks. I'm not the easiest person to work with, so I'm told, but you stuck with it. Not many people prepared to do that." He glanced back at Bodie as he spoke. "You're in a select number, mate."
          Startled, slowly the angel reached out and shook Doyle's hand. "Thank you...Ray."

"Who's Arthur?"
          The question seemed to come from a long way away and Doyle was, at first, inclined to ignore it. However the pain that followed it was more difficult to ignore. A sharp pain repeated over and over until he jerked up and slapped the offending hand tugging on his hair. "Ouuch. Cut that out, will you?"
          Doyle blinked and looked around him. Long fingers of light were filtering into the hospital room between the cracks in the curtains. His gaze came back to the man in bed who was looking at him with a certain satisfaction.
          "Back in the land of the living, are you?" The voice was croaky and tired sounding but was unmistakably Bodie.
          "Think that should be my line, mate," Doyle said automatically and then sat up a little straighter, ignoring the protest from his back.
          Bodie made a feeble gesture to the jug of water on the bedside table and Doyle reached out and poured him a glass, holding it for him when it seemed Bodie might drop it.
          "You're going to be fine," he announced with satisfaction.
          Bodie narrowed his eyes. "That is definitely my line, Doyle," he said, more used to having to assure his partner as to his fitness rather than deal with this assertive confidence.
          At that moment the door opened and a motherly looking nurse bustled in. She smiled at Bodie. "Ah, you're awake then. I thought you might be with that rapid improvement you made throughout the night." She turned to Doyle. "Nice to see you awake as well. You didn't stir once when I came in to check on your friend."
          "I was asleep here all night?" The words were out of Doyle's mouth before he realised how silly they would sound.
          "Where else would you be, Sunshine?" Bodie croaked, highly amused. "Away with the fairies? Or maybe Santa's elves?" The effort made him cough and the nurse hurried forward to pour him some water and then to take his temperature and generally check him over.
          Doyle stretched again, rubbing the back of his neck and moved stiffly to the window. Had he really been asleep all night? Was it all just an extraordinary dream? Well of course it was, what else? He had to be losing his marbles to think otherwise. All the same, he did feel the better for it. Maybe Freud knew what he was talking about after all. Or was that Jung?
          He flung back the curtains and gazed out onto a world, if not quite deep and crisp and even, then at least with a greater covering of snow than Londoners usually saw. Although patches of brick and concrete were already appearing across the rooftops where chimneys were smoking, down below in the car park Doyle could see smooth, unbroken stretches of white stuff and a gap between the buildings showed him two small boys in the street eagerly snatching up handfuls to make snowballs. Although too far away to hear their shouts of glee, their enjoyment communicated itself and brought a smile to his face.
         A small tinkling noise brought him sharply back to himself.
         "Oh, there's another one," he heard the nurse say and he turned with a frown on his face.
         She saw his look and chuckled. "Well, you know what they say. Every time a bell rings..."
         "An angel gets his wings," Doyle finished in wonder, catching sight, as he did so, of Bodie's growing look of amazement.
         "That's it," the nurse said and she flicked her bell again. It was attached to the front of her uniform together with a rosette of tinsel. She grinned at the two men. "It is Christmas after all but don't tell Matron." With that she winked and swished out of the room.
         "Just what were you dreaming about, Doyle, and who's Arthur?"
          Doyle turned back to Bodie who was looking at him with as much impatience as his weakened condition would allow him to muster. Doyle realised he must have asked the question more than once. "Arthur?"
          Bodie sighed. "You were muttering about some bloke called Arthur in your sleep."
          Doyle grimaced. "Just a friend."
          "I've never heard you mention anybody called Arthur."
          "Just goes to show you don't know everything, then, doesn't it?" Doyle, to his horror, could hear his voice cracking ever so slightly. His relief at having this conversation, such a normal conversation, with Bodie, after his fears of the night before, was getting the better of him. He breathed deeply and aimed for a casual tone. "Better get going I suppose. Find out what the old man's got in mind for me today."
          "That will be all right, Doyle." Cowley's quiet voice made both agents jump. "You've earned your day off."
          Doyle turned to see his boss standing in the doorway, flakes of snow melting on his coat and the hat in his hand.
          "Thank you, sir," Doyle said, stunned. He turned back to Bodie. "I'll grab a couple of hours sleep and then come back to see how you're doing."
          "Bring me something decent to eat," Bodie mumbled, eyes already closing. "And my present of course."
          "What makes you think I've had time to get you a present?"
          Cowley stood by, silently watching the byplay. It was nothing he hadn't heard a hundred times before but given the way things had looked when he'd left the hospital last night, he hadn't anticipated hearing it this morning.
          Doyle shrugged into his jacket and moved to the door, nodded to his boss and went out.
          Cowley was reminded of the previous night when the door shutting behind Doyle had seemed to signal the end of something. Despite the banter he'd just witnessed, had anything really changed? Suddenly the door opened and Doyle's head popped back around interrupting his musing. "In case I don't see you later," he said. "Merry Christmas, sir." Without waiting for a response, he was gone again.
          A breath George Cowley wasn't even aware of holding released itself. Another crisis somehow averted. It seemed as if the partnership of 3.7 and 4.5 would continue. A glance at the bed showed that Bodie was asleep again so, with nobody to witness, he glanced heavenwards.
         "Thank you," he said quietly. Then a wide smile broke across his face. "And a Merry Christmas to us all." With a decisive nod, he placed his hat back on his head and set out with a more purposeful stride than with which he'd entered. He had a standing invitation for Christmas dinner and thanks to Doyle returning peace to the season with his apprehension of the last of the bombers it seemed he was free to accept it. Somewhere out there was a pure malt Scotch with his name on it.

© Sue Tier December 2006