Curtis sat quietly in the co-pilot's seat, watching Keel.
His partner's face was a study in tranquil concentration, a slight smile hovering around his mouth, eyes scanning the jet's instrumentation, hands competent and relaxed, guiding the slender dart through a cloudless sky.
Curtis thoroughly enjoyed - no, that was too tame. Actively loved? That was better! - flying with Keel. It didn't happen anything like often enough, as far as he was concerned. Chris became a different person in the air, serene, effortlessly self-aware and self-controlled - he reminded Sam, somehow, of some great gliding bird...
They flew in silence. There had been a little idle chat, earlier, but it had petered out as they gained altitude: Keel needed to concentrate on the task at hand, and Curtis didn't want to interrupt him. And they both wanted to luxuriate in a few precious hours of peace together. Such things were far too rare.
And the flight was far too short. As they entered French airspace, Keel sighed and gave his partner a wry grin.
"Guess we don't have time for a diversion, do we?"
"What did you have in mind?"
"Dunno... Just a longer flight."
"Like Geneva via Johannesburg, you mean?"
Keel chuckled. "Malone wouldn't like it."
"No, he wouldn't. And the assignment is quite urgent." Curtis smiled, and sighed. "Sorry Chris. Maybe next time."
"Sure. If there ever is one."
"There will be."
Keel glanced at him, wryly. "You sure about that?"
Curtis smiled, his eyes twinkling. "Yes."
"I'll hold you to that..."
The taxi ride to the hotel took twenty minutes. As they climbed from the car, Keel whistled, gazing up at the building with eyes wide.
"Looks pretty impressive."
"Oh, it is. You just wait!"
"Sam, this place is just awesome."
Curtis had finished hanging up the few clothes he'd brought with him, and was in the bathroom when Keel loped into the room and flung himself onto the large and luxurious bed. Curtis stood in the doorway, grinning. Keel was lying on his back, arms behind his head.
"Please, do make yourself at home."
Keel smirked. "Thanks, I will. Wanna order anything from room service?"
Curtis considered it, then shook his head. "Let's get something from La Grignotière."
"The hotel's terrace restaurant. Terrific view of the lake."
Keel hauled himself upright, his grin widening. "Sure. Think they do beer?"
"Oh, I'm sure we'll be able to find something you'll like..." He reached for the phone. Keel frowned quizzically.
"Thought you weren't gonna ring room service."
"I'm not. I'm leaving a message for the others to say where we'll be."
They'd already established that Bodie and Doyle hadn't yet arrived - the receptionist had regarded Curtis's enquiry with suspicion until the operative flashed him a quick sight of his ID. Even then his "Non, m'sieur." was wary. Curtis had left a message saying they'd arrived.
Now Keel nodded. "Hurry it up, OK?"
Half an hour later, sitting over coffee in the sparsely-occupied restaurant as sunlight blazed through the vast windows, Keel finally dragged his eyes away from the vista outside and looked at his partner. Curtis's expression was bemused.
"You look like you've never seen a lake before."
Keel scowled, very faintly. "Aren't I allowed to enjoy the scenery?"
Curtis took another swallow of coffee, hiding his smile. Sometimes - just sometimes - Chris could act like a big kid... Then again, it was an impressive view.
"I suppose so. As long as you don't make it too obvious you're a tourist."
Keel grinned. "Am I embarrassing you?"
The American shook his head. "Gotta try harder, then."
"Oh, please don't put yourself out on my account."
"Don't worry, I won't." Keel took another look through the window. "Can't we go explore?"
"Maybe after the mission's completed. We are on a tight timeline here."
"So we just gotta sit and wait for the old guys."
Curtis glanced at his watch. "I'm sure they won't be very long. Let's go over these floor plans again..."
Bodie was woken by something cold and wet landing in the small of his back. He'd grabbed his Beretta, rolled off the bed, and was aiming in the missile's direction even before his eyes were open.
Doyle narrowly avoided being shot. Only Bodie's sudden realisation of where they were stopped him from firing the gun.
"Christ, Bodie!" Doyle, pale and shaken, dropped to sit on the bed. Bodie laid the Beretta down with exaggerated care, dragged himself back into the bed, and glared at his old partner.
"That was stupid."
Doyle was regarding him with a mixture of awe and distaste.
"How'd you learn to move so fuckin' fast? No," he held up both hands, "don't tell me. I don't wanna know."
Bodie smiled, grimly. "It keeps me alive."
Doyle stared for a long moment - then suddenly, visibly, relaxed. He treated Bodie - to the arms dealer's hastily hidden shock of delight - to the first genuine grin he'd seen in thirteen years. The artist reached down beside the bed and retrieved a large, coldly-dripping bathroom sponge.
Bodie glared at it in mock anger. "That's your idea of a civilised way to wake someone up?"
"Not someone - just you, mate."
"For that, you're buying breakfast."
"S'long as we can have something a bit more substantial than coffee and croissants."
Bodie held his eyes for a moment. A strangely intimate, accepting moment. Doyle's smile faded.
"Missed you, sunshine."
Bodie nodded, breathlessly, not trusting himself to speak. Thirteen years, wiped out with three words... Doyle stood abruptly, breaking the spell.
"Gonna get dressed then? Or you coming down to breakfast like that?"
Bodie looked down at himself, then back up at his partner. His deep blue eyes were twinkling.
"And give them all a treat? D'you think they'd let us off the bill?"
"Double it, more like!"
Bodie sighed theatrically. "Cutting, Doyle, very cutting."
Doyle smirked. "I do my best." He stood and turned to the door. "See you downstairs in a minute."
"Make it ten."
Doyle tapped his watch as he pulled the door closed. "I'm timin' you..."
"You feel like telling me why you changed your mind?"
To Doyle's loudly expressed - and Bodie's silent - dismay, their choice of breakfast had been limited to coffee or chocolat, croissant and brioche. Bodie had wolfed down half a dozen of the pastries, but was still vaguely hungry; he'd already determined to stop at the most likely looking patisserie and stock up on sugar-rush items for the journey. But for now, cruising at a respectable - if legal - speed back the way they'd come the previous day, he was trying, very cautiously, to advance the new openness between them.
He glanced at the passenger seat where Doyle was sitting, foot up on the dash as usual - but now sprawled comfortably, his eyes alert, taking in everything around him. There was a definite sense of - vitality, Bodie thought to himself delightedly. Yes, vitality. Ray was coming alive again...
Doyle frowned, but it was thoughtful rather than rejecting. He considered the question, then shook his head.
"No. Well, not yet anyway."
Well, that was promising, in its own way... Bodie shrugged slightly, accepting the decision.
"OK. Want to talk about the assignment?"
Doyle snorted - then reconsidered, frowning. "I s'pose we'd better. Since we've let ourselves in for it."
Bodie hesitated for just a moment. "Well, not necessarily. Malone's sending out his top agents to assist us - but he also said that, strictly speaking, we aren't needed any more. We're no longer CI5."
Doyle nodded thoughtfully. "An' we could easily jeopardise the mission." He glanced at Bodie. "I mean, I could jeopardise it. You're as sharp as you ever were. Me - I've lost it."
Bodie pulled the car smoothly over to the side of the road and swivelled to face his partner, face serious.
"Do you want to call it off? I can drop you at the nearest station and you could just go home. This isn't your territory any more."
"Not yours, either."
"Well, no - but I still want in."
"Case of 'know thine enemy'?"
Doyle grinned. "Quotin' Cowley now, are we?"
"Why not? He was right."
"He was always bloody right. Got right up my nose sometimes."
Bodie grinned wryly. "Yeah, I remember. Mine too." He sobered. "So what's it to be?"
"We go on."
"Yeah. I want to be involved. You'll just have to tell me if I look like becoming a liability."
"You kept up with the martial arts? Workouts? Target practise?"
Doyle nodded, a touch reluctantly it seemed to his partner. "Yeah - a bit. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Never know when it'll come in handy. They told me not to push too hard though, so I'm not as fast as I used to be. Not so much stamina. Aim's still pretty good."
Bodie nodded. "OK. We'll see how it goes. At least we can meet Curtis and Keel and discuss the operation." He pulled the 4x4 back out onto the autoroute. "Watching your back again, eh?"
Doyle nodded slowly, brow furrowed. "Just hope I can still return the favour."
Ghost jerked awake as Backus's worried voice permeated her exhaustion. She scrubbed a hand across her eyes.
Backus crouched down beside her chair and caught hold of her arm, forcing the younger woman to look at her.
"You gotta get some rest - and I mean real sleep. We're gonna be relying on you once everyone's in place. You flake out on us, we're screwed."
Heavy-eyed, Ghost rested her chin on one fist and gazed at Backus. "I know."
Backus rose, pulling Ghost up with her.
"OK - bed."
The hacker resisted. "Things to do here."
"Urgent?" Ghost's eyes lowered, and she hesitated. Backus caught her face in slim hands and forced the younger woman to look at her.
Ghost sighed, giving in. "Nothing that can't wait."
Backus nodded and slid an arm around Ghost's waist, nodding appreciatively as the hacker slumped tiredly against her. Genius she might be, but the silly idiot just would not admit to her own limitations...
"You need looking after, y'know that?" Backus muttered under her breath as she half-carried Ghost's slight weight to the guest room, lowering her to the bed. Ghost slumped, sighing, then glanced up.
"No problem. You need anything?"
Ghost regarded her narrowly - then nodded hesitantly.
The hacker opened her mouth to speak - then abruptly changed her mind and shook her head.
"Nothing. I'll see you later."
Backus sat on the bed beside her.
"C'mon, tell me - what do you want?"
Ghost sighed, too tired to dissemble. "I'm aching. CI5 run to masseurs?"
Backus frowned, then lightly gripped Ghost's shoulder. The younger woman winced - the muscle was painfully tight. Backus inclined her head.
"Well, I'm not exactly great, but if you don't mind an amateur... I mean, we probably could get a real one here - eventually..."
Ghost sighed - in relief this time, Backus thought - and gazed up into her eyes.
"I don't mind if you don't mind... I can't sleep like this, not properly."
Backus squeezed the tense shoulder very gently and stood up.
"Get into bed. I'll be back in a minute."
By the time Backus returned, carrying the spare body lotion she kept in her locker, Ghost was in bed, lying on her stomach, head resting on her arms and the duvet pulled down to her waist. Backus frowned slightly at the prominent ribs and spine - the girl was far too skinny - then climbed onto the bed, straddling Ghost's thin hips and slathering her own hands with the lotion. As she gently smoothed it over the too-taut muscles and pale skin, Ghost moaned very slightly.
Backus kneaded lightly at the tensed shoulders, slowly increasing the pressure, gratified as the painful tightness gradually eased under her fingers. Ghost's breathing slowed as she squirmed very slightly in pleasure, settling herself more comfortably onto the bed. In less than twenty minutes she was soundly asleep, effortlessly relaxed and soothed under Backus's hands...
Gradually easing the pressure, turning the kneading into long, gentle strokes, Backus brought her efforts to a close, and smiled down at the sleeping hacker. Leaning forward, she planted a quiet kiss between the young woman's shoulder blades, then carefully climbed off, dimmed the lights, and sought out her own bed. Life was about to get tricky. It would be best to face it well-rested...
Keel was becoming impatient. If he'd been in his own room, he'd be pacing by now, Curtis could tell. And to be honest, he couldn't blame him. Noon had come and gone and they were still waiting.
"Where the hell are they?"
"I'm sure they won't be much longer."
Keel scowled. "Stop saying that, will you? Can't you ring them - find out where they are?"
"No - but I can ring Malone and get him to ring them."
Disbelief was plain in Keel's voice. "We don't have Bodie's number?"
Curtis shook his head, pulling out his mobile and heading towards the terrace. "Not yet, anyway. But it's probably about time we did."
Keel followed his partner. "Secretive bastard, isn't he?"
Curtis smiled. "Just cautious. Wouldn't you be, if you were him?"
"I guess so."
Moments later Malone had agreed to contact Bodie and pass on their request. Moments after that Curtis's mobile purred.
Bodie's voice sounded amused. "So is this. The original."
Curtis sighed silently, unable to decide if Bodie was serious, joking, or trying some bizarre form of one-upmanship. "Good afternoon, sir."
An earthy guffaw could clearly be heard over the mobile, and the partners stared at each other. Curtis raised the mobile to his ear.
"Is there something wrong?"
"No. Just don't call me 'sir'. It's Bodie, remember?"
"Sorry, si... Bodie. Do you have an ETA?"
"About another forty-five minutes. Malone said you want the number for this phone."
Curtis's voice was dry. "It might be useful..."
Seconds later the numbers and access codes for Bodie's mobiles were safely stored in Curtis's own, and Bodie cut the connection. Curtis glanced at his partner.
"Forty-five minutes. Want some more coffee?"
"I'm wired enough, thanks."
"Want another look at the plans?"
Keel shook his head. "We've got all we can from them. Not much point going over them again until the others have had a chance to check them out."
"OK. I suppose we'll just have to possess ourselves in patience..."
En route to Geneva Bodie ended the call and grinned at Doyle, who was still chuckling.
"I don't see what's so funny."
"You bein' called 'sir'!"
Bodie pouted exaggeratedly. "It's a well-deserved sign of respect, from the younger to the elder 3.7."
"'Course it is. Doesn't suit you, though."
Bodie twinkled. "Wait 'til you meet your doppelganger."
Doyle groaned. "What's he like?"
"Quite a lot like you, actually. Short-tempered, rude, aggravating..." He stopped and ducked slightly as Doyle aimed a mock swat at his head. "Why don't you just wait and see, eh? You two might get on like a house on fire."
Muttering under his breath about never having understood that saying anyway - a house on fire was hardly the sort of thing anyone would want to be compared to, Doyle resettled himself and glanced at Bodie.
"Didn't think to ask, but you got a spare gun?"
Bodie nodded. "Several. You can take your pick. If you want to, that is."
"I don't. But I s'pose I'd better. Just in case."
"No. Just necessary." He sighed. "Been a long time since I did something because it was necessary..."
It was early afternoon before Ghost put in an appearance - Backus had been keeping an eye on the situation, monitoring any obvious changes but not taking any direct action. She glanced up as Ghost entered, and grinned widely.
"You look better."
"I feel better." Her glance flickered to Backus's hands. "Magic fingers you have, there. Anything been happening?"
"Nope. Latest news is that Curtis and Keel are in place and just awaiting instructions. Hello sir." she added as Malone appeared in the doorway. He smiled benevolently.
"Good afternoon, Miss Backus, Ghost. Are we ready for action?"
"Will be as soon as Ghost has had a coffee, sir." Backus grinned at the hacker and reached for a mug. Ghost settled herself at the terminal and scanned the latest onscreen information, nodding in satisfaction. She glanced up at Malone.
"How did you get on with the satellite uplinks?"
"They're yours if you need them."
"Good. I want to be able to speak directly to Curtis and Keel, too - it'll save time."
Malone hesitated, glancing at Backus, who shrugged. It was a perfectly reasonable request. It may even prove lifesaving, if anything went wrong. Taking the time to relay information through a third person was just plain stupid in these circumstances.
Reluctantly, Malone agreed. "Very well."
Ghost smiled at Backus. "Could you find me a headset? I need my hands free."
"Sure." She beckoned Malone out of the office, and out of earshot of the hacker, as inspiration struck.
"Sir, Curtis and Keel, and Bodie and Doyle, will be using headsets, won't they."
The controller nodded.
"So all we need to do is to set up some kind of aural or vocal distortion. That way she won't be able to tell who's speaking."
"Can we do that?"
"Well, it's not SOP but we have done it before. When it's been really important to hide the speaker's identity."
"Get onto it right away, Miss Backus."
She grinned and dived towards Richards' terminal. Hiding a smile of his own, Malone returned to the office and poured himself a coffee. He turned to find Ghost watching him, and inclined his head.
"How are you feeling?"
A slow, chilling smile tilted the corners of her mouth. It was not the sort of smile that boded well, but it was one that Malone had seen before. A combination of anticipation, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness. The young woman was actually looking forward to the fight! He nodded, satisfied.
"Good. We'll do everything we can to help."
In Geneva, Curtis laid a hand on Keel's arm, distracting him from a mental appraisal of the forthcoming operation.
"What is it?"
Curtis smiled, his eyes flickering to the entrance.
"I think the cavalry just arrived."
Keel frowned. There was no mistaking Bodie, even at a distance - authority just emanated from the man in waves. So the guy with him must be Doyle...
© 2000 Joules Taylor
© 2000 WordWrights.