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

Written in response to the Title Challenge

The Day Cowley Was Late.

The first rays of morning sunshine squeezed into the bedroom between a crack in the curtains and hit the sleeping man in the face. He rolled over in bed and opened his eyes. For a moment he just lay there, savouring the quiet moments before he had to rise. Then, with a yawn he rolled over to look at the alarm clock by his bedside.
         The next moment he was sitting bolt upright staring at the clock dial with horror. He had overslept, how was that possible? Had he forgotten to set the alarm last night? Impossible, it was part of his night time routine. He reached out and picked up the clock for a closer examination. The alarm button was not depressed. Clearly, despite habits ingrained over a lifetime, he had forgotten to set it. He threw back the covers and hurried to the bathroom. It was only twenty minutes, if he skipped breakfast he could still be on time for his meeting with the minister. Cursing his forgetfulness, he hurried through his morning toilet.

In short order he was nosing his Rover out of his side road into the main drag of the morning traffic. Ten minutes later he was only a few hundred yards further down the road. Drumming his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel he remembered why he always set the alarm so early. Any later and the commuter traffic was in full force. Reaching a junction he made a quick decision and turned left down a side street. Several other drivers had had the same idea but at least the traffic was somewhat less and they could make some progress. He cast a quick glance at the watch on his wrist and estimated how long the remaining journey would take. Too long.

“Good morning, George. You're rather late, you know.”
         “Good morning, minister. I do apologise, I've been stuck in traffic.” Cowley looked around the room. “Where is Willis?”
         “Gone, couldn't wait any longer. Besides, we'd finished the meeting really. Funny but it seemed to go more quickly without you.”
         Cowley was a bit taken aback at such a comment from his old friend but he rallied. “Well I've better things to do than debate with Willis anyway. If you would be kind enough to let me have the Crawford file, I'll get to work on it.”
         “George, you weren't here, what was I to do?” The minister reached for his pipe and started to fill it. “MI6 now has the case.”
         “But that was our case, C.I.5's case.”
         “Not in my view, George. Had you been here, of course, you might well have been able to persuade me to change my mind, but since you weren't...” The minister spread his hands in his 'be reasonable' gesture. Cowley strode out of the office ignoring the minister's mild voice behind him, saying; "Dinner Thursday, George?"

Cowley hurried into his office, threw his coat and hat onto the coat rack and shouted for Betty. “Get 3.7 and 4.5 in here immediately.”
         “But, sir...they're off duty today. They were on that stakeout at Deptford all night."”
         "I'm well aware of that, thank you Betty. Just get them here as fast as you can."
         Betty whisked out of the room without another word. Cowley sighed. He didn't mean to snap at her but this was important and there was no time to waste.

Cowley looked up when Bodie and Doyle finally shambled into his office yawning and unshaven.
         “Well, what kept you?” Not waiting for an answer he hurried on. “I want you two to find Jack Crawford. I don't care what it takes, turn over every rock until you find him.”
         “Why us? We're supposed to be off duty today.” That was Doyle, of course,. Always ready for an argument that one. Cowley glared at him. “That's why. This isn't officially our case and what you two do in your own time is not my concern.”
         His agents exchanged glances. “Just what are you getting us into?”
         “You don't need to know that. Just do as I say and when you have him, don't bring him here, take him to safehouse seven.”
         The two men exchanged another glance then Bodie shrugged slightly and they turned to the door. Cowley called after them. “Oh and watch out for any MI6 agents, they will be trying to get to Crawford first.”
         “Oh great, you're sending us up against that lot again.” Doyle swung back apparently ready for further discussion but Bodie stopped him with a touch on his arm. “A chance to put a spoke in Willis' wheel? I'm all for it. Come on, Doyle, let's get going.”

Cowley settled back in his chair and reached for the batch of reports that had come in overnight from various agents. He felt vague discomfort at sending Doyle and Bodie out like this but he was convinced that Crawford's knowledge should come to C.I.5 who were best placed to deal with it. The day had not started off well and he was determined to rectify that.

It seemed no time at all before Bodie called to say he and Doyle were at safehouse seven with Crawford. Cowley hurried to his car and quickly drove over there. Finally it seemed as if something were going right today!
         When he arrived at the safehouse he was surprised to see both partners looking somewhat battered and bruised. Doyle's jacket was ripped down one sleeve and Bodie had a bad cut across one eye. He was holding a blood soaked handkerchief to it.
         As soon as the front door was safely closed behind him, Doyle exploded. “You didn't tell us Crawford was hanging around with that gorilla Les Jackson and his mob! It would take more than two of us to take that lot down.”
         Cowley started guiltily. That information would have been in the file and would have been his by right if he had only been on time. “Be prepared for any eventuality, Doyle. You can't expect to have everything on a plate and you clearly managed.”
         “What do you think we are, fucking boy scouts?” Doyle was clearly furious. Bodie didn't look any happier but he raised a hand to forestall any further outbursts from his partner.
         “Leave it Doyle. We got him, didn't we?”
         “Skin of the teeth though, wasn't it?” Then in a different tone; “How's your head?”
         “I'll live,” Bodie said leading the way into the lounge where Crawford was sitting on the sofa, also looking slightly battered and even more apprehensive.
         “Ahh, good morning Jack,” Cowley said genially. “It's been a while.”
         Crawford bounded to his feet. “You never said you worked for 'im. I'm 'aving nothing to do with 'im!” As he spoke he took two shuffling steps sideways to be clear of the sofa and then broke towards the rear door of the lounge, through the kitchen and out the back door of the house.
         Doyle was after him even before Cowley's shout. He flew out the door, hand outstretched to snatch at Crawford's jacket.
         Bodie and Cowley were barely across the kitchen when they heard shots ring out. They instinctively took cover, one to either side of the kitchen door, guns drawn, and cautiously peered out.
         To their horror they saw both Crawford and Doyle, sprawled in the small back garden. Crawford wasn't moving but as they watched, Doyle dragged himself behind the small, wooden shed and pulled out his gun. His other hand clutched at his stomach and even from where they stood, they could see blood seeping between his fingers. He shot one swift look back at the house, locked eyes with each of them in turn and then away, frantically surveying the surrounding area, trying to discern where the enemy lay.
         Bodie swore, gripped his gun a little tighter and despite Cowley's angry command to stay where he was, dashed out the back door and sprinted towards his partner. He fired several random shots as he went in an attempt to buy some cover.
         Cowley, watching anxiously, heard the whine of the bullets, saw Bodie spin round as if in slow motion. Saw him fall to the ground, struggle to rise, fall again and lie still, a few yards from Doyle.
         Doyle stretched out his bloody hand, reaching for his partner. A bullet kicked up dust a few inches from his hand and he swung his gun up to retaliate. The next bullet hit his chest and he fell backwards, the gun dropping from his outflung hand.

Everything seemed to grow hazy for Cowley then. He was vaguely aware of men emerging from bushes, checking the three bodies, clearly pronouncing them dead. Of one of them noticing him and several guns suddenly being pointed at him. Of him slowly producing his ID and being allowed to leave the house and approach his men. He looked down into their faces, bloodied and dirty and somehow, still angry. “I should have let you sleep on, lads,” was all he could find to say.

“George, what the bloody hell is going on here?” Cowley looked up from his silent contemplation. “Hello Willis,” he said quietly. Then he straightened his shoulders and gave his anger an outlet. “Just what sort of outfit are you running? Your men came in all guns blazing, no attempt to take alive, no warning given. And now my men and Crawford all dead. Dead, Willis and it's your fault!”
         "Really George, I could hardly know that you and your men would be here. This is MI6's case. We are free to handle it how we see fit. I would have thought you would have known better than to get in the way." Willis paused to cast a distateful eye around him. "I sympathise about your men, of course. It never looks too good in the reports to say killed by friendly fire."
         "My report will say shot by our own side. I don't hold with euphemisms. It may be many things, but 'friendly' fire, it isn't." No longer able or willing to argue, Cowley stumbled over the gravel path to his car but couldn't recall later how he made it back to headquarters.

In a few words he told Betty what had happened and left her crying quietly at her desk while he went through to his office and made immediately for the filing cabinet where he kept his whisky. Pouring a large glass he sat at his desk and allowed the events of the day to play through his mind. The sun lanced through the window, illuminating the dust motes dancing through the air and glinting on the tumbler in his hand. It was a beautiful day but his thoughts were far from beautiful.
         For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
         The phone rang, breaking the silence.Riiiiiing, riiiiiing.
         For want of a nail, the shoe was lost
         For want of a shoe, the horse was lost
         Riiiiiing, riiiiiing.
         Cowley continued to stare into space, unheeding, his drink untouched. This was possibly the worst day of his time in CI5.
         For want of a nail, the shoe was lost
         For want of a shoe, the horse was lost
         For want of a horse, the rider was lost
         And he could trace it all back so clearly. If he hadn't forgotten to set the alarm none of this would have happened.
         Riiiiiing, riiiiiing
         For want of a nail, the shoe was lost
         For want of a shoe, the horse was lost
         For want of a horse, the rider was lost
         For want of a rider, the battle was lost
         For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost
         And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
         Riiiiing, brrrrinnng, brrrrinnng.
          The noise finally penetrated. Damn it, he had to wake up and deal with it. Couldn't ignore it any longer.

George Cowley rolled over and hit the off button... He blinked and looked around his bedroom, at the now silent alarm clock by his bedside. A dream. It had all been a dream. A dream or a foreshadowing...? Och, what nonsense he was thinking. A disturbed night's sleep will do that for you.
         He threw back the covers, no sense in being late, all the same. He had to meet the minister in an hour.

© Sue Tier 2005

Well, it had to be a dream didn't it? Because, as Carol said, Cowley would never really be late :)