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Readers Challenge - I've always wondered what happened at the end of Backtrack after Marge Harper had Ray Doyle cornered in her car. Did she 'release' him or was he well and truly caught by her. What happened next?

Old Enough

"Marge...Marge, come on now. I've got to go. Got to make my report." For the third time, Doyle tried to pull away from the insistent woman beside him. She was still dabbing at his cut lip with her handkerchief and when words alone wouldn't work, he took her hands in his and forcibly put them down in her lap. "I have got to go!” he said firmly.
         The woman tossed her blonde head. "All right, I suppose you must.”
         Doyle hid his sigh of relief.
         "But you'll come and see me tomorrow.” It wasn't a request.
         "Well I...”
         "I'm not asking for so very much, am I?” she said with a flirtatious smile.
         Then, as Doyle continued to hesitate; "Now look, you owe me.”
         Doyle sighed; he did at that. If it weren't for her they wouldn't have even done as well as they had as cat burglars. Thanks to her guidance and plans, they'd gained access and located quite a stash of drugs. Likely there wouldn't have been any other way to get the evidence. Even Cowley couldn't raid a diplomatic residence on a hunch. It wouldn't hurt, much, to call in for a coffee at some point during the day.
         "Ok, tomorrow then.”
         "Good, dinner's at eight, I'll expect you about seven thirty for drinkies.”
         Doyle opened his mouth to protest but she fixed him with a Look.
         "Seven thirty,” he repeated meekly.
         "And don't bring that lout with you. I want it to be just us.”

         He presented himself at Marge's shop the following evening. There was no danger of his taking Bodie with him. Rather, he'd done his best to make sure his partner had no idea what he was doing this evening. He'd had his fingers crossed all day for a call out that would release him from his promise to come here tonight. He'd thought about making one up, saying there was an emergency he couldn't get out of, but he had a funny feeling Marge would know if he lied.
         He'd been unsure whether to bring the flowers or not, he didn't want any misunderstandings. But Marge had been good to them all through this caper and it was a way of saying thank you. Was it his fault he'd only just made it to the florists as they were closing and had a choice, which was no choice, between the roses he now carried and some limp dahlias? He looked at them again and wished he'd not bothered. But the only alternative would have been chocolates and women were funny about chocolate. Loved eating it and always moaned when you gave it to them.

         The bodyguards, who let him in, looked at him with a mixture of jealousy and pity – the way the bachelor friends of the prospective groom of a black widow spider might look on the wedding night.
         'Don't worry, boys,' he thought. 'Nothing that exciting's going to happen.'
         Upstairs, he peered cautiously into the sitting room. "Ray!” Marge greeted him warmly. Then she spied the flowers and squealed. "Roses, for me? Oh you are a love. They're gorgeous.” She buried her face in the bouquet, sniffing appreciatively, then in a swift movement, kissed his cheek while murmuring her thanks again. She drew back slightly and rubbed her lipstick trace away with her thumb then she leaned in closer again and inhaled. "Mmm, nice aftershave, love.” She smiled, gently stroked his cheek once more and then gestured to the sofa.
         "Sit down, I'll get you a drink.”
         Doyle swallowed. This was going to be every bit as tricky as he'd worried it might.

         Marge busied herself with the cocktail shaker and then tripped back with two full glasses in her hand. The Lightning drink again, Doyle noted. He took a glass and sipped it with trepidation. It was every bit as strong as he remembered.
         "I'll just put these in water,” Marge said, picking up the roses and disappearing through the door.
         Taking advantage of her absence, Doyle got up and prowled the room. In amongst the crowded mixture of quality items and bric-a-brac, on a small side table, there were several silver frames each with a picture of a different man. He was just studying them when Marge came back, large, ornate vase in hand, which she placed on the mantelpiece.
         "My husbands,” she said, coming to stand by his side. "Lovely men, all of them. Well, they all had their shortcomings of course, like all men. But they were lovely, each in their own way.” She sighed nostalgically for a moment, then twitched the frame out of Doyle's hand and urged him back to the sofa, sitting down close to him.
         Doyle cleared his throat. "Want to thank you, Marge," he began. "CI5 is very grateful to you for helping us over this Kammahmi affair."
         Marge caught her bottom lip in her teeth as she looked at him speculatively. "And just how grateful are you, love? Personally, I mean." She put her hand on his knee.
         "Er…um…Marge, is something burning?"
         "What? Oh my goodness. Dinner! But it can't be!"
         Doyle watched her dash to the kitchen with relief. This was going to be a long evening. He wondered about moving to the armchair but thought it looked too pointed. Besides, was he really going to admit to being scared of one lone woman, however predatory? Well maybe… just a little.

         "You're a naughty boy," Marge waggled her finger at him as she returned. "There was nothing burning at all."
         "Smells good," Doyle said quickly. "When do we eat?"
         She looked at him, a small smile playing around the corners of her mouth, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. "Now, if you like. It's all ready, really."
         She led the way across the landing to a small dining room. The table, set for two, was only big enough for four at most and the only other furniture in the room was a long sideboard along one wall. But, as in the sitting room, there were several pictures on the wall and an assortment of silver and glassware decorated the top of the sideboard. There was a large candelabrum in the centre of the table and Marge busied herself in lighting the candles while Doyle settled himself in his seat.
         She popped out to the kitchen and sailed back a minute later with two soup plates in hand.
         "Hope you like it, dear. I've spent all day slaving over a hot stove.”
         Doyle cautiously took a hot mouthful. "It's great, Marge, but you shouldn't have gone to any trouble for me.”
         She looked at him, mischievously. "I didn't, not really. I have a very good relationship with the restaurant down the street. That kitchen's not big enough to swing a cat in, let alone cook a decent meal. I've just been keeping it warm.”
         "So when you thought something might be burning earlier...?”
         "I forgot,” she said archly. "You've got me all flustered.”
         Doyle hastily took another mouthful of soup.

         She let him finish his soup in peace, keeping the conversation neutral as they ate. She asked about the outcome of the case and insisted on raising a glass to the departed Sammy. He commented on the pictures on the walls, wondering as he did so if she would confess to them being originals rather than the reproductions he hoped they were. However once she had cleared the soup and put a plate of thin slices of rare roast beef and accompanying vegetables in front of him, she went back on the attack.
         Picking up his glass to refill it she stood and leaned in close to him. "Ray, love, I've been thinking that we should get together more often. I could be very useful to you. You know, finger on the pulse…" She ran her pinked-tipped fingernail across the inside of his wrist. "Ear to the ground…" She trailed her hand up his arm and across his shoulder, breath coming warm against his ear as she spoke.
         'Eyes everywhere,' Doyle thought, shifting uncomfortably in his seat as her glance raked him from head to toe, pausing at parts in-between. It was one thing to enjoy a woman he fancied making all the moves, coming on strong, but quite another in this situation. Marge might be well preserved, but she had to be old enough to be his....
         "Um, Marge...your dinner's getting cold,” he said, trying to bring her back to a safe table's width away.
         She smiled at him as if she could read his thoughts but merely moved to refill their glasses with a rich, red wine from a decanter on the sideboard.
         "Anyway,” he continued as she finally sat down again. "Wouldn't you be feeding, whatisname, Garbett, with all this information, now Truitt's dead?”
         "I might, if the mood takes me,” she said, slightly huffily. "But some things are out of his league, if you know what I mean.” She looked at him from under lowered lashes. Then she said, more briskly, "Come on, drink up dear. And I've a nice drop of brandy for later. A lovely Armagnac. Took a half a dozen bottles in part payment a few years back. This is the last one. I keep it for special occasions, don't want to waste it on any old riff-raff.”

         Even refusing the chocolate and cream concoction she'd provided for dessert in an effort to bring an early end to the evening only earned him another searing look and a comment from her about his figure and keeping fit. It also hastened the moment when they were back in the sitting room, side by side, brandy glasses in hand.
         He made noises about an early start the next morning but she seemed not to hear him except for commenting, seemingly apropos of nothing, that Alf and Herbert had separate quarters downstairs and to the rear of the building. "Well out of earshot,” she murmured. "I like to be quite private up here.”
         Doyle sighed, he didn't want to hurt her feelings, which he would do if he followed his desires and simply left, but it was getting more and more hard to wilfully pretend to misunderstand or not notice her innuendos. To cover up he took a large gulp of the brandy then gasped and looked at the glass with respect. "Wow, that's good stuff.”
         She looked pleased. "Nothing but the best for my boy.”
         "You said you were given this in part payment,” Doyle remembered. He cocked an eye at her. "Is this knock off, Marge?”
         She didn't quite meet his eye. "What if it is? It was years ago. Don't come all high and mighty with me, Ray Doyle! You know perfectly well what I do for a living.”
         "So how did you get into all this, Marge?” Doyle asked, partly to calm her down again and partly out of a genuine curiosity.
         "Oh that was husband number two, darling,” she said, with another of those swift changes of mood. "He was a fence when I met him, but a bloody useless one. Couldn't do paperwork to save his life. After we married I had to take over or we'd have lost the roof over our heads. Eventually I kicked him out and carried on alone.” She sighed, theatrically. "And I've been alone ever since.”
         "Apart from husbands three and four,” Doyle said tactlessly.
         She dismissed them with a wave of her hand. "Number four was only a short lived love affair. Passionate but fickle. He ran off with the barmaid of our local. He said I kept him short....of funds,” she added hastily. "I told him, I've always worked for a living and you could try doing the same. Number three was the one I told you about. Wanted me to tart for him and him to take all the profits!” She looked at him from under her lashes again and he remembered his comment when she'd first mentioned this particular ex-husband. She was clearly looking for a similar compliment.
         He didn't think she was a man-eater, not really. She just got lonely sometimes. It was natural, he thought. We all like a bit of company now and then. And a woman like Marge would want the respectability of marriage.
         He suddenly felt inexplicably sorry for her. He held out his glass. "Come on then, Marge, give us a top up and tell me about number one."
         Husband number one, it turned out, had been a publican and a genuine love match. Until he'd died of a heart attack in the throes of passion. Marge managed to make the sad little story quite amusing despite her obvious feelings of sorrow.
         "When he died, I had to leave the pub. The brewery wanted to put a new couple in there, didn't think I could manage it on my own. Huh, I'd've shown them. But still, that's all water under the bridge now and who's to say it didn't turn out for the best.” She sighed and reached for the brandy decanter, pouring another two generous glassfuls. "I enjoyed running that place though. That's where I came up with Marge's Lightning, you know. And there were a lot of useful contacts for when I started up here.” She clinked her glass against his. "Including the little man who gave me this lovely stuff. Ahhh, Billy, sweet little chap. He wanted to be number three, you know, but somehow I just couldn't fancy it. He was too old for me. I like a bit of go in my men.”
         She smirked at him.
         Doyle said quickly; "Just how old was he then, if he was still doing the B and E?”
         "Oh he was nearly sixty when he finally packed it in but he'd been doing it since he was a youngster. Like his father, and his father before him. Like a family trade.” She laughed. "He used to say, that his family had been second storey men since there'd been buildings....”
         "...with second storeys!” Doyle finished. "Bloody hell, Old Billy Parsons. I remember nicking him. He was one of the first I had against my name when I first started walking my own beat.” He grinned. "I'd forgotten all about him.”
         "You knew Billy when he was still working?” she squealed. "You must have been a babe in uniform.” Then as her own words hit her, she looked thoughtful.
         "Well, not quite,” Doyle began.
         "How'd you end up in this game anyway?” she asked abruptly.
         He started to tell her of his progression through the force, from his early days walking the beat, the good times with Syd, patrolling in the Panda car, through to his times with the drug squad.
         They turned out to have a lot of people and places in common. Marge's contacts extended further back than Doyle had been in the force or even in London, and across a good breadth of the criminal fraternity.
         The room rang with a series of sentences that began; 'Do you remember...?', 'Did you ever meet...?' or 'I used to know...'. Then Marge dug out a long forgotten photo album showing some of the regulars from her pub days and if Doyle was moved to comment how attractive the younger Marge looked, she merely nodded, graciously accepting of the compliment, and started another story from her past. The laughter and the brandy flowed.

         "Blimey, Marge, it's half past midnight. I'm a growing lad and I need my sleep. Got a busy day tomorrow and the boss won't like it if I'm not fully awake.” Doyle suddenly caught sight of a decorative ormolu clock and stopped his anecdote.
         Marge sighed. "Well if you must, you must, although I thought your Mr Cowley sounded charming when he spoke to me.”
         Doyle snorted. "Can't say I've ever seen that side of him but I'll take your word for it.”
         "Come on then,” she said. "I'll see you out. Alf and Herbert will have retired hours ago.”
         She led the way downstairs and through the shop, pausing at the front door. Catching at his hands she gave him a searching look. "Thanks, Ray. I've had more fun this evening than for a long time.”
         "I've enjoyed it too,” Doyle said, truthfully. Marge was amusing when she wasn't coming on to him. Then, as she continued to look at him, still holding his hands in hers, he began to feel uncomfortable. "Look, I'm sorry about...Well, not...you know...” He floundered. "Well I'm just sorry, ok?”
         "Oh come on, darling. I'm old enough to be your…" she paused and Doyle mentally filled in the blank, but she continued to look at him and now he could see the lust in her eyes. She'd banked it down all evening but now it flared up in full force.
          "…lover," she breathed. Then before he could even decide whether to still be concerned or not, her expression broke into a wide smile. " But I'll take what I can get," she said. "Friends?"
         Doyle grinned at her, a wide grin of relief. "You're all right, Marge," he said and leant over to kiss her cheek.
         "I'm better than all right, but you'll never know now, will you?” she said but although the tone was tart, it was accompanied by another smile, this one perhaps a little wistful. Then she squared her shoulders, opened the door and made a shooing gesture. "Go on then, get you home if you must. But mind you come and see me from time to time. A lady likes a few gentlemen callers, makes her feel valued.”
         "Count on it,” Doyle said, meaning it, and started to walk to his car, jacket slung over his shoulder and whistling quietly.
         She watched him until he'd driven away, then closed the door gently. She sighed regretfully. "Oh come on, Marge," she said to herself. "You've made a friend tonight and that's a real thing, a thing more likely to last than all those silly dreams. Now get yourself to bed, girl, you've got another hard day ahead tomorrow.”

© Sue Tier - November 2005

For those who are interested in such matters, I took Doyle's age as being two years younger than Martin Shaw, as per popular convention, and Liz Fraser's proper age for Marge. This gave me a fourteen-year age gap, at which Marge would have been a possible but young mother but more than capable of being a lover <g>