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

With huge thanks to Carol, as always, for equal amounts of nagging and encouragement.

Signs and Portents

Challenge Story - must include the following:
Chippy, Informant, Candles and the date 21st August 1979.

          "Debs, all I'm saying is you're not thinking straight. These people, well, that's what they bank on. I just don't want to see you get ripped off."
          "Ray, I'm late and I'm not listening. Mrs Stride isn't like that. She's got a gift."
          Doyle snorted. "Yeah, right. For parting marks from their money." He regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. Deborah brushed past him, snatched her coat from the peg by the door and flounced out of the house.
          Doyle followed her, taking time to make sure the door was properly shut, but she didn't wait by the car, she turned left and strode down the road.
          “Oi, Debs, come on. Where are you going?” he shouted.
          “To catch the bus,” she flung over her shoulder. “I should hate to put you out for something so trivial.”
          Doyle muttered something under his breath and chased after her. Putting a hand on her shoulder and swinging her round to face him, he was horrified to see tears in her eyes.
          “Ohh, c'mon love, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything.” He pulled her to him, felt her stiff body relax and shake a little as the tears fell. He stroked her hair, cursing himself for his tactlessness. It was only a few months since Deborah's mother had died and her emotions were still raw.
          After a minute or two, Deborah pulled away from him and fished in her bag for a tissue with which she dabbed at her eyes and then blew her nose.
          “Sorry Ray,” she sniffed. “Didn't mean to do that. But you shouldn't be so dismissive.”
          Doyle wisely suppressed the comment that immediately leapt to his lips and instead started to guide her back to his car.
          “What are you doing?”
          “You said you were late, I'm giving you a lift.” Then, as she hesitated; “You don't want to go on public transport looking like that.”
          Her eyes widened in horror and she dived back into her bag, scrabbling for a mirror.
          Doyle laughed and steered her to the car. “C'mon, you can fix your face on the way.”
          She sighed and acquiesced. Once in the car she pulled down the passenger sun visor and squealed at the smudges of mascara under her eyes. She gave Doyle directions in between rubbing the marks away with a tissue and reapplying lipstick.

          “Just down there, on the left, just past that chippy,” she said, finally snapping her bag shut.
          Doyle slid neatly to a halt by the kerb.
          “Thanks, Ray,” she said. “I'll call you later.”
          “Thought I'd come in with you,” Doyle said, switching off the engine and opening the Capri door.
          “No, don't you dare!” Debs said. “I appreciate the lift and I'm sorry about earlier but I know you, Ray Doyle, and I don't want you causing trouble.”
          “I won't say a word,” Doyle said mildly. “I just want to see what it's all about.”
          Debs looked prepared to argue the point more but Doyle took her arm and steered her up the path of number fifteen, even ringing the bell so that there could be no more time for discussion.
          The door was opened so swiftly Doyle thought the woman had probably been hovering in the hall waiting for them.
          “Deborah my dear, come in. So pleased to see you again. And who's this?” The woman peered at Doyle with interest.
          “Mrs Stride, Ray Doyle. Ray, this is Mrs Stride,” Deborah performed the introductions with ill grace.
          The woman smiled at Doyle. “An unbeliever. No matter. Come on in, both of you.”
          Doyle followed the two women into the front room. Clearly the woman was good at sizing people up, but then most con artists had to be or they wouldn't be very successful.
          The curtains were drawn in the small front room and the only light came from several candles burning merrily along the mantelpiece and on the small table in the centre of the room. The smell of incense was heavy in the air too, a thick, choking smell. Mrs Stride drew her shawl more closely around her as she gestured to her guests to sit down.
          All the trappings, thought Doyle as he sat in the chair indicated.
          “Now then, dears, what's it to be?” Mrs Stride asked. “Your mother again, Deborah, or something for your friend?”
          For one wild moment Doyle was tempted to claim that they were here for him just to watch the old woman flounder to come up with something. He knew how these scams were worked. Supposedly innocuous conversation drew personal facts out of grieving relatives without them realising it and those facts were twisted and presented back in the form of messages from the dear departed.
          He'd met Deborah's mother a couple of times when he was seeing Deborah, more than a year ago now. A chance meeting with a friend of Deb's in a pub had alerted him to her mother's death and being in the neighbourhood he'd decided on the spur of the moment to drop in and offer his condolences. He'd let his anger at her being taken in by some charlatan get the better of him and he could feel his temper rising again now.
          “No, Mrs Stride. Ray just decided to come with me. Could you concentrate on my mother again please?”
          “Very well, Deborah.” She held out her hands. “If we could just link up...”
          Reluctantly Doyle took her hand in his. It felt cool to the touch, in contrast to Deborah's hot and slightly sweaty one. He glanced at her. There were tension lines on her face and she looked away from him. He looked at Mrs Stride and found her gaze on him thoughtfully. “Close your eyes please, dear. I find it helps with the concentration.”
          Doyle nodded at the tabletop, bare except for the candles arranged in a circle. “You don't use any, er...equipment, then?”
          She gave a slight shrug. “Sometimes I do. The board, you know, or maybe the cards. It all depends on what the client expects to see really. Deborah here doesn't need anything other than her belief.”
          Doyle clenched his jaw to keep from speaking. How dare this woman abuse Deb's loss in this way?
          “Please Mr Doyle, if you can't have faith, then at least try to keep an open mind. The one thing I insist upon is a tranquil atmosphere.”
          Deborah shot him an angry glance, he sighed and pretended to close his eyes.
          “Fully closed, dear,” Mrs Stride encouraged brightly. “That's the way!”
          Doyle closed his eyes only to open them again a crack when he heard her taking a few deep breaths. Her eyes were closed; her head flung back, an expression of deep concentration on her face.
          For a long moment she just continued her rhythmic breathing, then she began to sway slightly from side to side and finally to intone. "The dark mists are clearing. They are clearing...There is a message..."
          "Is it my mum?" Deborah asked anxiously.
          "It is a message for our new friend." Mrs Stride said.
          Doyle sat up a little straighter. If anything he'd expected her to make some excuse about the spirits not talking today. "So, what's the message?" he said.
          "It is not clear."
          “I'll bet. “
          “Ssh,” Debs whispered and he clenched his jaw to keep from speaking.
          "There is somebody you have yet to meet. They will influence you but not necessarily for the better. You will meet where the sun and the moon combine."
         Doyle looked at her from under his eyelashes. It was a very good performance.
         "The heart of the lion is a fearsome thing, be careful not to cross it. I see many, many clouds in your path."
          She stopped then, her shoulders drooping as if the effort had sapped the energy from her. A moment later she opened her eyes. "Well, was it useful, dears?"
          "I'm not sure, Mrs Stride," Deborah said, doubtfully. "It wasn't really that clear."
          "No? Well I'm sure in time it will be. You only have to look for the signs, you know." She stood up, signify their time was at an end.
          Deborah picked up her handbag that she had set down by her chair.
          “And what do you usually charge for this pack of nonsense?” Doyle enquired, ignoring the cry of protest from Deborah.
          “Oh I don't charge, Mr Doyle,” said the medium, seeming not to take offence, although her smile appeared a little more forced. “I have been granted a gift and it is my sacred task to share my abilities with those who need me. If those I help wish to make a little present to me, then I accept it in the spirit with which it is offered. ”
          Doyle nodded. “Very clever. If you don't charge, you help avoid prosecution.”
          Doyle rose from the table, taking no notice of Deborah's objections. “Since you said this message was for me and not Debs, she won't be making any 'present' to you today – and neither will I.”
          Taking Deborah firmly by the arm he swept her out of the stuffy room, down the hall and out of the house.
          Mrs Stride followed them. “Just as you like, dear. I can tell you don't believe me but I'm always here if you change your mind.”

          “I have never been so embarrassed in my life,” Deborah began angrily, the moment the door shut behind them.
          “Debs can't you see that she's an old fake?” Doyle couldn't believe the change in what had been a very level-headed girl.
          “She's not a fake! You've no right to go saying that. She's helped me, I just wish you could see that.”
          Doyle sighed and prepared to continue the argument but just then his attention was caught by the sound of the RT in the car beeping its insistent message.
          “Damn,” he said and half turned towards the car. “Debs, I'm sorry…”
          “Just go, Ray, just go.”
          Doyle sighed and slid behind the wheel. “All right, all right, I'm here,” he said, snatching up the handset. A moment later he'd put the car in gear. “I'll call you,” he shouted to her and sped off down the street.
          She stood looking after him for a moment and then turned on her heel. “Don't bother,” she muttered and strode out for the nearest bus stop.

          Back at HQ Doyle took time to put in a call to a friend in the Met and got him to run a search on Mrs Stride. He wondered if she had any convictions for fraud but the search came up empty. “Only a matter of time, “ he muttered.
          “What are you on about now?” Bodie said from the other side of the room.
          Doyle filled him in on his morning activities much to his partner's amusement.
          “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” he said.
          “Don't tell me you believe all that mumbo jumbo?” Doyle said in disgust.
          Bodie shrugged. “I don't say that I do and I don't say that I don't, but out in Africa I saw some things that can't easily be explained.”
          “Well this is Camden Town, not voodoo land!” Doyle snapped, still angry and made a mental note to call Debs as soon as he got a moment and again try to talk her out of revisiting the medium.

          A week later Doyle still hadn't called her and in fact, had even forgotten his promise to do so. A sudden influx of powerful guns had shown up on the streets along with several dead bodies and Cowley had had his best agents turning the city over stone by stone in an effort to find those responsible.
          Informants had been pressurised for news, a whisper, a rumour, anything, something. Cages had been rattled and people had been leaned on. And then, when they had just about wrapped everything up, Bodie was nowhere to be seen.
          “Where's your partner, 4.5?” Cowley asked sharply, when Doyle handed in his report.
          “Er...in the...um... bog,” Doyle improvised. “The relief it's all over, you know.”
          “Hmm,” Cowley said. “That would be the, ah, gentlemen's toilets of which particular hostelry?”
          Doyle swallowed. “The Rising Sun, sir.”
          His boss favoured him with a look. “Aye, I thought as much.” He looked at his watch. “I should be through here in an hour or so. You can tell Master Bodie to set up a double for me.”
          “Sir!” Doyle grinned and made his exit.

          “You know what you are, don't you, sneaking away like that while I do the bloody report,” he said to Bodie twenty minutes later as he joined him at the bar. “And Cowley's on to you. He'll be here in a bit, looking for his wee dram. Only I wouldn't make it that wee if I were you.”
          “Oh no, the old man's not coming here, is he?” Bodie said. “Why'd you tell where I was?”
          Doyle just raised an eyebrow over his glass as he took a large mouthful of the pint his partner had ready waiting for him.
          “Yeah ok, point taken,” Bodie muttered. “We'll just have to be gone before he gets here then. I've lined us up with two little crackers and I don't need any beady-eyed Scotsman cramping my style.”
          Doyle shook his head. “Not me, I'm having this one and then I'm home to my bed.”
          “Aw, come on, Ray. I told Sandra I had somebody for her friend, you can't let me down now.”
          Doyle looked at him. “Why aren't you knackered? You've had the same week I've had.”
          Bodie shrugged. “Clean living and a pure heart I suppose. Anyway, you can't leave, it's all been foretold.”
          “What are you talking about?”
          “I picked this pub especially,” Bodie said. Then as Doyle still looked blank. “The Rising Sun. And it's a clear night tonight. 'Where sun and moon combine' - your personal horoscope, remember?"
          "Oh you're not raking up that load of cobblers, are you?" Doyle said.
         "You want to learn to listen to the signs, mate. One time, there was this bird - talk about all the delights of the East...And she showed me..." He broke off suddenly. “Here they come now.”
          Doyle glanced across the bar to see two young women making their way towards them. His interest began to stir.
          “Which one's mine?”
          “The redhead, naturally. Don't I always get the best for you?”
          “Not always, no,” Doyle muttered but he straightened up as the women reached their side and smiled welcomingly.

         A short while later Doyle had forgotten his tiredness. The girls were very companionable and the conversation flowed as easily as did the drinks.Sandra's friend had introduced herself as Suki and she seemed equally delighted to be partnered with Doyle.
          As he was trying to catch the barmaid's eye to order more drinks and wondering why it was so crowded for a Tuesday, Bodie suddenly spotted their boss coming through the door.
         “Uh oh, don't look now but Cowley's arrived. C'mon, let's head out the back.”
          Only too willing, Doyle took Suki's hand and began to lead her towards the rear door, keeping a group of large rugby players between him and George Cowley who was standing just inside the pub entrance, surveying the bar.
          Bodie slapped a note on the bar and gestured to the barmaid. “See that bloke over there? Get him a double Scotch, have one yourself and tell him you haven't seen us, ok?” Then he guided Sandra after Doyle.

          Cowley made his way to the bar and found himself accosted by the cheerful barmaid. “S'cuse me sir,” she said with a smile. “This drink's for you.”
          Puzzled, Cowley accepted the drink. “Where's the man who bought it?” he asked.
          “Left ages ago,” the woman said promptly.
          Cowley nodded, surprised and a little disappointed, and took a sip of the whisky. As he did so he caught sight of his two top agents disappearing through a doorway to the rear of the pub, each with a women in attendance, and smiled in understanding. Had he had as much stamina at their age? He could no longer remember. “Have a good night, lads,” he murmured, tipping the glass to them.

          Back at the flat the girls shared, Doyle, his curiosity finally getting the better of him, asked about her name. "Surely not named after the nursery rhyme," he said.
          The girl shook her head. "No, I chose it myself. So much nicer than what I was christened. Don't you like it?"
          "No, it's lovely," Doyle hastened to assure her. "Unusual."
          She giggled. "My real name's Leonie, awful, isn't it?" Without waiting for his answer she went on. "It's because of being born today. Mum said it was appropriate. What she meant was it saved her thinking very hard."
          She looked up at him, clearly expecting some response but Doyle frowned in thought. "What day is it?" he asked.
          "Tuesday," Suki said instantly. "My birthday," she added, pointedly.
          "No, the date." The hours they'd been keeping this last week had made him lose track of the calendar.
          "The 21st."
          "Of August," Doyle murmured.
          Suki stared at him. "Yes, and it's 1979, in case you'd forgotten," she said, half jokingly.
          "Which makes you a Leo," Doyle said slowly.
          Suki squealed. "Oooh, Ray, I knew this was my lucky day! It's so unusual to find a man who knows about astrology. What sign are you? No, don't tell me, let me guess..."
          Bodie, partially overhearing from the kitchen where he and Sandra were mixing lethal cocktails, chuckled to himself. He'd never thought of Doyle as having to resort to that old line.
          "And we met in The Rising Sun, thanks to Bodie." Doyle shook his head. "Amazing how coincidences appear when you look for them."

          Later still when they had made it to her bedroom and Doyle saw the fluffy white clouds she'd painted against the blue sky of the ceiling he fell back against the pile of pillows on the bed and began to laugh. "Maybe that crazy old witch isn't so crazy after all."
          "What are you talking about?" Suki demanded. "In fact, why are you talking at all when I can think of much better things for you to be doing?”
          “Sorry. Quite right,” Doyle said, beginning to nuzzle her neck. “It's just that somebody warned me about women like you. Said you could be dangerous to my health.”
          “Oh yes,” Suki agreed. “You really don't want to cross me, we Leo's have fearful tempers, you know.” Then as his fingers began to explore a patch of bare skin between waistband and blouse. “Mmm, keep doing that though and I'll be a pussycat."
          Much later, when they were lying quietly in each other's arms, she remembered his earlier comment. "So who is this person warning you about us loose women?" she asked. Doyle shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to discuss it. He made a big fuss of propping himself up on several of the numerous pillows and then drawing her head back down onto his shoulder. His avoidance piqued her interest however and she began to fidget and fuss and finally he gave in and muttered about a fake medium he'd once seen.
          "Oh Ray, you have to be so careful about these people. There's a lot of charlatans out there only too willing to deceive you."
          “Trust me, I know," Doyle said, anxious to change the subject. "So, anyway, tell me..."
          “Next time you want a bit of advice or guidance," Suki said, settling herself more comfortably against him. "I'll take you to the woman I go to, she's marvellous. Only just over in Camden...her name's Mrs Stride. I'm sure she'd be delighted to see you... Ray? Ray, why are you groaning like that? Ray...?"

© Sue Tier - March 2006