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


"Night, Fred!" Doyle pulled the door shut behind them and followed Bodie down the steps. "Chilly night." Bodie had already zipped his jacket and was now huddling in it, starting to head for Doyle's Escort. "Get the car open, quick. I'm freezing. Doyle?" His partner's attention had been caught by something. "What is it?"

Doyle was staring down the underlit side street. "Thought I saw something." The area around CI5 HQ was usually quiet at that time of night; far enough from most of the London nightclubs and cinemas not to attract the revellers, the most they usually saw were a few drunks from the arches at Waterloo. He took a step down the street, both his and Bodie's hands subconsciously reaching for their guns. "Anyone there?"

There was nothing for a moment, then a slight figure emerged from the shadows, cautiously at first. "Mr Doyle? Oh, it is you!" As she moved further into the light, the partners recognised the teenager.

"Nicky? What on earth are you doing here?" Doyle's most immediate concern was that the teenager was on her own, at nearly midnight, in central London. "Is Paul with you?"

She shook her head, slipping her hand into Doyle's trustingly. "I came to look for you. I want you to help us. You made everything right before."

Amused as he was, Bodie stored that one up for later - Doyle, the miracle-worker - and urged them to the car. "I'm freezing."

"So's Nicky." The hand in Doyle's was like a block of ice, and he wondered just how long she'd been waiting. Fishing out the car keys he opened the door, got the engine started and the heater going, and by the interior light took a closer look at Nicky. They last saw her around four months ago, and she looked a lot happier. "Why are you here?"

Her face fell slightly. "Paul's missing. But you can find him, can't you?"

Bodie glanced at Doyle. They'd both been of the opinion that Paul would follow in his father's footsteps; finding him might just take a miracle. Avoiding the issue, Doyle looked back at Nicky. "We'll take you home and talk to your Mum. Where do you live, Nicky?"

As Nicky produced a latchkey, the door was wrenched open from within. "Nicky! Where have you been! I was so worried ..." Louise Palmer pulled her errant daughter into the flat before she noticed the partners just outside, and gave a start. Doyle hastened to reassure her. "Only us. Doyle and Bodie, remember?"

"Yes, of course I do. But - " She looked down at Nicky. "What have you been up to?"

Bodie was still cold, and rubbing his hands together, gestured towards the flat. "Could we talk inside?"

"Of course. Come in, please." Louise pushed Nicky ahead of her down the narrow corridor into the single living room at the end, and waved the partners to chairs, fussing at the unexpected visitors. "Do you want coffee? Go and put the kettle on, Nicky."

Nicky moved obediently to the kitchen door, but paused and looked back, grinning as she directed her comment to Bodie. "We've even got milk." Bodie grinned in reply. "Put two sugars in as well, then."

Not understanding any of that, Louise Palmer sunk into an armchair opposite them, worried. "I don't understand, why are you here? Has Nicky been - "

"Nothing's wrong, Mrs Palmer. Nicky came to find us. She said Paul's missing?"

"Call me Louise." She gave a glance towards the kitchen where they could hear Nicky busy with cups, and lowered her voice. "Yes, Paul disappeared a couple of days ago. Nicky's really worried, but I didn't think - Paul's like his father. He'll turn up. Nicky shouldn't have bothered you."

"It's not a problem. Do you think there's anything really wrong?"

"Well - he's always been good at letting me know if he's going to be late, or not home - so it is unusual. He's working at a club, just doing clearing up, things like that, just to bring in a bit of money. But he was getting secretive over the last few weeks. So, yes, I suppose he could be in trouble. But there's nothing I can do."

Nicky carefully carried two mugs in and set them down on the coffee table, before vanishing back to the kitchen. Doyle took a sip, and nearly choked. She'd put two sugars in his as well. At least the coffee was strong, he should be able to drink it. He caught Bodie grinning at him, guessing what had happened.

Nicky returned with another mug for her mother, and a glass of orange for herself, and dropped to the floor next to Doyle's chair, leaning against his legs and looking up at him with puppy-like adoration. Bodie began grinning again; miracle-worker and object of teenage adulation in one night, this would be a great story for the restroom ... Doyle made a point of ignoring him. "Nicky, why are you worried about Paul? It could be he's just staying with friends, or something."

Before she could reply, Bodie caught a movement out of the corner of his eye, and looked round to the bottom of the staircase. "Hiya, sprout!"

"Bodie!" Somehow managing not to spill his coffee as Katie threw herself onto Bodie and hugged him, Bodie could see Doyle grinning his revenge.

"Katie, you should be asleep." Louise began to move, but Bodie waved her back. "She's OK. How're you doing, sprout?" She giggled, clutching at him and snuggling down, and Bodie tightened his arm around her.

Dismissing her little sister, Nicky looked back up at Doyle. "He wouldn't stay away, not without phoning. I think Paul's in trouble." She gave an anxious glance at her mother. "Paul talked to me about the club. He said they were doing drugs and wanted him to do some things for them."

As she paused, Doyle gave her shoulder an encouraging squeeze. "What sort of things, Nicky? Do you know what drugs?"

She shook her head. "Didn't say. Just that he wasn't sure what to do. He doesn't use drugs, Mum."

"I know." Louise glanced over the partners. "His best friend died two years ago on heroin. Paul always said he wouldn't touch drugs."

"Which club?" At Nicky's delighted expression, Doyle attempted to calm her down. "I can't promise anything, Nicky. We can go and take a look, ask a few questions, that's all."

"The PalmTree, up in the High Street." Louise answered him, and although she concealed her emotions better than Nicky, Doyle could see she was relieved, as he got up.

Bodie followed suit, lifting Katie easily. Huddled in his arms she had fallen asleep immediately, and he spoke softly. "I'll carry her up. Which room?"

"Left at the top."

As Bodie gently dropped Katie onto the bed and drew the covers up she stirred, sleepily reaching for his hand. "Bodie?"

"Right here, sprout."

"Are you going to find Paul?"

"We'll try."

The reply was trusting, believing. "OK." She gave a small yawn, sliding back to sleep. "Love you, Bodie."

Christ, Bodie thought, feeling a stab of tender longing. Was this how Nicky affected Doyle? He dropped a kiss on the child's forehead, feeling that her small fist was gripping more than just his hand. "Night, sprout."

Nicky was at the door with Doyle. "Time you went to bed too," Bodie told her. Knowing that she was pinning her hopes on them, Doyle gave her a hug whilst he repeated his caution. "We're not promising anything, Nicky."

"I know." Despite the trust reposed in them, Nicky had grown up in a hard school and didn't believe in fairy tales. "But at least you'll try."

The partners were quiet on their way down to the car, busy with their own thoughts. Bodie broke the silence, the memory of Katie clinging to his hand still with him. "You know, sometimes I wish - " He didn't finish the sentence; didn't need to. Doyle nodded. "I know. Just sometimes."

They fell silent again, pondering the fates which had, so far, left them both single and childless...

The PalmTree was still open. It was one of the less salubrious clubs, and the partners clocked several faces that were known to them. They made their way slowly to the bar to order drinks. "What d'you think?" Bodie said.

"I think it's like a dozen other places round here." Doyle took a sip of the pint. "Any sign of Paul?"

Bodie had been checking around, but the flashing neon didn't make viewing anything easy. "Not so far. This lighting doesn't help."

Doyle gestured to an isolated table. "Let's sit over there and see if anything bites." Bodie pulled a face, the poor lighting having revealed enough to make him careful where he stood. "In here? It'll probably be the cockroaches."

They were drawing glances; the PalmTree obviously had a regular clientele and they stood out as strangers. Within a few minutes they were approached by the smartest-dressed man there; a well-built bouncer. "You gentlemen looking for anything?"

Doyle answered casually. "Just a quiet drink. Don't have to be members, do we?"

"Not as such. Just that we have our regulars; strangers make us nervous." Bodie gave him a thin smile. "Way you're built, I don't see you've got anything to be nervous about."

Doyle leapt in before Bodie could rile the gorilla. "A friend of ours told us about this place. Said we should look in. Paul Palmer. Is he about?" Doyle had half expected a blank look but the bouncer didn't deny knowing Paul. "Why would he be around at this time?"

"Just wondered." Bodie was conscious of at least half the club listening to the conversation, and was starting to feel a vulnerable itch down his back. Doyle glanced at him, probably feeling the same, and they finished their drinks in unison. "Don't know where we could find Paul, I suppose?" Doyle asked the bouncer as they stood up.

"Not this time of night. Goodnight, gentlemen."

They both drank in the fresh air outside, enhanced by the relief of being able to walk out. "Well?" Doyle was mixing them up with the kids again, but this time Bodie was more than willing to follow.

"Dunno. Place probably has numerous illegal things going on, but I didn't pick up anything specific. No sign of Paul, either." Doyle unlocked the car, relieved that it still had all the wheels. Bodie glanced at his watch; it was nearly 1, and he was tired. "Can't do much more tonight, Ray. We've got to be back with the Cow at 8, remember."

"Guess not." Doyle started the engine and glanced at his partner. "Think we should make it official? If there are drugs involved, it would give us time to poke around ..."

"And if it turns out to be just a few kids running for a few other kids, Cowley'll blow his top. Don't make it official yet. See what we can come up with tomorrow."

Doyle sighed. "You're probably right. I'll give Louise a call in the morning to let her know."

The following night the partners hit the club earlier, around 9, and although they were acknowledged by the bouncer he didn't approach them. The place was busier, but there was still no sign of Paul, and after their first drink, Doyle decided to try and raise some interest. Approaching the bar for refills, he quizzed the barman. "Wondering whether there's any action round here." Getting only a slightly raised eyebrow in reply, he tried again. "Drugs? We're interested, see."

"Personal or dealing?" The barman's question came with the pints, and Doyle pushed the money across the bar and growled his response. "Do we look like smackheads?"

The payment was rung into the till before the change, and reply, came back. "Don't look much like dealers either." His glance out over the club made his decision. "If you wanted to buy there's a couple of guys but they're just small time. Can't help you with anything bigger."

Doyle took the drinks back to the table, noticing that the bouncer was paying them more attention now. "Barman can't - or won't - help. But the gorilla's looking interested." Bodie nodded. "So I saw. What now? Wait and see if he picks up on us again?"

"Mmm." Doyle answered him absently. Whatever was or wasn't happening on the drugs front at the club, the reason they were there was to find Paul, which was looking remote at the moment. "Maybe we should come back in the morning. If Paul's simply not going home for some reason but is working as normal, he'll be here."

"Nicky doesn't believe that. And even Louise said it was unlikely."

"Louise also said Paul was like his father, Bodie. And as for being anti-drugs, well, kids get easily caught up." Doyle fell silent as a short man approached them, shiftily, not making it clear their table was his destination until he was beside it. "Heard you wanna buy."

The partners glanced at each other; it was unlikely this was anything more than personal supply, but it was worth pursuing as the only nibble they had. "Could be. You selling?"

The man glanced about him, and jerked his head. "Outside." As one, they stood and followed him to the alleyway next to the club. "Pack'f H. Cost you 50." Doyle slid the money from his wallet without question but held onto it as the man reached out. "Who're the dealers round here?"

The man licked his lips nervously. "Who's askin'?" Bodie loomed large on the other side. "We are," he told the short man, smoothly.

"Ain't worth it, round here. Some names got fings tied up. Leave me alone 'cos I'm small but there ain't no market going nor nuffin'. You want the H?"

Doyle still held onto the money. "What's your name?"

"Smith." In common with most of his words it was pronounced sloppily and Doyle grinned. "Is that with one 'F' or two?" The response showed what he thought of Doyle's sense of humour. " 'free."

Still grinning, Doyle let him twitch the notes from his fingers. "Keep the heroin. That'll pay for the info." Watching Mr 'Smith' disappear, the partners exchanged a glance, Doyle shrugging. "Well, at least we know something happens round here."

"Even if it's not what we're interested in. Call it a night?"

"Yeah." They headed for Bodie's Capri, Doyle coming to a decision as his partner let the clutch up. "Bodie, drop me off at the Palmer's. I'll talk to Louise; see if she can tell us any more."

Bodie didn't comment, making the turns to take them the short distance to the tower block, but followed Doyle out of the car, silencing the remark his partner was about to make. "If Louise does tell you any more, you'll be off on a crusade; and you're not doing that without me watching your back, sunshine."

Doyle accepted the explanation with a grin. "And besides, you're hungry and Louise might feed you. Right?"

Bodie attempted an innocent expression. "Thought never crossed my mind..."

They were back waiting at the club early the following morning. Louise hadn't told them much more, although they had picked up more background on the family in general, including the fact that there had been another boy, coming between Paul and Nicky in age. Louise had been vague over the detail but had left the partners with the distinct impression that his death had been anything but the accident it appeared to be. Musing over what they had heard, Bodie glanced over at Doyle. "Do you think the boy's death was an accident?"

"While the kids were on their own with their father? Probably not. >From what Louise said he was always finding some reason to hit them. Makes you wonder ..."

"Why they have them in the first place? Yeah." The memory of Katie clinging to him, telling him she loved him, stabbed at Bodie again.

"Yeah, that too. I was going to say I wonder whether Paul and Nicky saw it happen." As Bodie glanced at him, shocked, Doyle continued. "Their father said they were messing about on the stairs when Russell tripped and fell. Bad enough if that were true, but if their father knocked him down the stairs while they were there ..."

Bodie nodded slowly. "Could explain why they're so close." He caught sight of the club barman. "Here comes someone to open up."

"We'll let him unlock first, then follow him in." Leaving the car as the barman disappeared inside, the partners made their way swiftly to the door and locked it behind them. The place looked even more squalid in proper light. The barman was clearly startled, but didn't seem worried by their appearance. "Bit early for a drink."

"Looking for a friend. Paul. Is he about yet?" Doyle leant heavily on the bar, watching the barman start to collect glasses.

"Day off. How'd you know him? Hardly school mates, are you?"

Bodie was regarding the place with horror; Doyle wouldn't get him drinking in here again. "Told his father we'd keep an eye on him. But he's not been around for a few days."

"Several days off. Nothing to do with me; I just serve the drinks." Whether he had made them as police or criminals, the barman clearly wasn't bothered which side they were on.

Doyle threw a glance at Bodie, who began to explore, and decided to take it from the other end. "Who's the boss round here? You and Paul must answer to someone."

"Jerry takes care of things day-to-day - the bouncer? It's owned by George Webster. He comes over every couple of weeks." The barman plonked the glasses up on the bar. "Look, I don't know who you are. I don't want to know. Paul's not been around for a few days and I don't know where he is. And I'm not asking; that would be the quickest way to losing my job, at the very least."

Doyle had recognised the owner's name and was inclined to believe him. The man's words at least had a ring of truth to them. Bodie returned from his exploration, shaking his head; there was no sign of anyone else in the building. "Look, if Paul comes in, tell him people are worried and to phone, right?" At the sudden banging on the door, the barman gestured to the rear of the bar. "That'll be Jerry. Go out the back way."

Recognising that the barman was as keen to avoid the bouncer knowing they had been there as they were, the partners exited via the delivery door, emerging into the alley of the previous night.

Back in the car, they looked at each other. "What now?" Keen as Bodie was to help the kids, they didn't have any leads. Louise had been reluctant to report Paul as missing; even if she did, they couldn't really pick up the case. Before Doyle could reply the R/T beeped at them, and Doyle leant forward. "4.5."

"4.5, 3.7, report to Alpha at HQ immediately. Out." The curt message delivered, the controller killed the connection, and the partners stared at each other. "Did we do something wrong?" Bodie commented, starting the engine.

"If we didn't, something's blown up in our faces. Better get in." Doyle hung onto the armrest as Bodie screeched the Capri away from the kerb.

The reason for the abrupt recall was sitting in Cowley's office, and adept as the partners had become at reading his moods, they weren't able to read the current one as Cowley gestured to Nicky. "When were you thinking of making this official, Doyle?"

Bodie caught the flicker of annoyance across Doyle's face. Somehow Cowley always managed to home in on his partner, and Bodie corrected him. "We" - he emphasised the word - "didn't think there was anything to make official yet. Paul's only been missing a few days. There may be nothing in it."

As Bodie had taken the heat off him, Doyle had turned his attention to Nicky, whose expression was a mixture of worry and guilt. "What's up, Nicky?" She didn't reply, sliding from the chair to wrap her arms round him, and Cowley answered Doyle. "Nicky came here to find you because she's heard from Paul."

"He's OK then? Where's he been?" Bodie asked. Doyle lifted Nicky's chin. "What did he say, Nicky?"

"He's been in Birmingham. He wouldn't tell me why, he just said he wouldn't be home for a few days and not to worry." Nicky looked miserable. "He's in trouble. Else he'd come home."

"Did he say if he was in Birmingham with anyone? Did he mention any names?" As she shook her head, Cowley picked up on Doyle's question. "Do you have something, Doyle?"

Doyle gave Nicky a reassuring hug. "Just that the club is apparently owned by George Webster. That's a name I recognise from when I was on Drugs, sir. He was up-and-coming, then; maybe he's arrived." There was more he wanted to add, but didn't want Nicky to hear. "Nicky, do you remember where the Restroom is? Will you go and put the kettle on for us?"

As soon as the door closed, Doyle leant on Cowley's desk. "Webster had a bad reputation, sir. I don't suppose it's got any better. If Paul's mixed up with him - "

"Can we go and nose about, sir?" Bodie was willing to back Doyle up. "Then, if Paul's OK - "

Cowley interrupted him. "You might be able to concentrate on your real work. Check out Webster's background first; it's beginning to sound official to me. And take Nicky home before you go back to the club."

While Doyle went to check out the files, Bodie joined Nicky in the Restroom. The kettle was just boiling, but Nicky gave him a grin. "No milk again."

"Never mind. I'll have black."

"Bodie?" As Nicky carefully spooned coffee into the mug, she glanced up at him. "Did I get you in trouble coming here and telling Mr Cowley?"

"Not really." Bodie took the mug. "Did he shout at you?"

"No. But he didn't look very pleased that you'd been helping us." Nicky still looked worried, and Bodie grinned. "Don't worry. His bark's worse than his bite. At least, most of the time."

Doyle came in only a few minutes later, in a hurry, but didn't provide any explanation. "Ready to go? We'll drop you at home, Nicky." Bodie raised an eyebrow and got a silencing glance in return.

In the car, Nicky tried to get Doyle to change his mind. "Where are you going? Can't I stay with you?" Doyle glanced at Bodie before responding. "We'll be busy, Nicky. And besides, if Paul phones again there won't be anyone there to take the call."

"What do I do if Paul calls again?" Nicky could see the sense in staying at the flat, and scrambled willingly from the car as they got there. Doyle had scribbled down the CI5 number for her. "Try and find out where he is. Then phone Mr Cowley; he'll pass the message on to us. And Nicky, you stay in the flat, understand?"

Nodding, she vanished willingly towards the stairs, and Doyle dropped back into the car. "So what's up?" Bodie quizzed his partner, as he pulled away. "Webster is more mixed up in the drugs business than I realised. And there's been a number of suspicious deaths around him; Cowley made it official the moment I told him. Let's get to the club; and hope Paul's there."

They were about 5 minutes from the club when Doyle suddenly shouted. "Pull over!" Bodie hauled the wheel towards the kerb, slamming the brakes on, praying that nothing was following him too closely.

Doyle leapt from the car, calling. "Paul?" The teenager he had seen disappeared into a shop, and Doyle ran after him. Bodie glanced in his mirror; he was awkwardly parked, but should get away with it as long as Doyle was quick. Several minutes later Bodie was beginning to cause a traffic jam, and wondering whether he should pretend to check under the engine; at least it might mitigate some of the filthy looks other drivers were giving him.

Bodie had just made his decision, when Doyle reappeared, Paul with him, and as they scrambled into the Capri, Bodie restarted the engine and pulled swiftly away into the first gap in the traffic. "Hi, Bodie." Paul didn't seem disconcerted by their appearance until Doyle threw a question at him sharply. "Where have you been?"

"Birmingham. If it's any of yours." Paul sounded sullen, and Bodie shot a glare at Doyle, to warn him not to be too heavy-handed. If they were going to get anything out of Paul they needed him on their side and cooperative, and unlike Nicky and Katie, Paul didn't think they were the greatest thing since sliced bread. His comment was delivered in a reasonable tone. "The girls have been worried about you, Paul. Why didn't you phone?"

"I couldn't. And it would've been stupid, 'cos he was watching me. George Webster, before you ask." Doyle had managed to get a grip on his temper. "What's going on, Paul? Why did you go to Birmingham with Webster?"

"We went to pick up some heroin. George reckons he can get me in on the game; thinks I'd be good at it."

"Whatever gave him that idea?" Bodie asked the question dryly.

Paul grinned. "I did. But what he doesn't know is that I'm setting him up." Doyle turned in his seat, and Bodie tossed a glance backwards. "You're what?!" Swinging left into a side street, Bodie brought the Capri to a stop and turned as well. "And how do you think you're doing that?"

"Well, I know where he's stashed the H for a start. And I know when he's selling it. I was gonna call the cops in. But you can take care of it now." Paul grinned again, seemingly oblivious to the danger he had got himself into.

The partners glanced at each other, Doyle taking a deep breath to keep his temper in check. "Right, Paul. Just tell us everything you know. Then we'll see if we can salvage something from this mess ... "

"And he thought he could just set this up and take George Webster out on his own?" Cowley was amazed. Doyle nodded. "Yes, sir. Apparently Webster took to him straight away, and once Paul realised what they were up to, he decided to work on Webster. The trip to Birmingham seems to show they've accepted him."

"Maybe," Bodie added. "Paul also said they were watching him. He didn't call home because he thought they might be safer if Webster thinks he doesn't care about the family."

"Which is naive, to say the least." Cowley frowned. "So Webster is selling the drugs on tonight?"

"That's what he told Paul. He's got them at the club, and won't keep them there longer than necessary. Webster seems to be making Paul known to all the links in the chain so that he can get Paul to make the runs in future. And of course, so that Paul is the one who'll get picked up."

"And Paul will be safe only as long as he's useful. What time tonight? Do you want back-up?"

"12.30, after the club closes. We should be able to handle it between us. Webster just told Paul to turn up; Paul doesn't know where they're headed, but it sounds like Webster will be alone."

Outside the club, Bodie was dozing. They'd been sitting there since 11.30, and had watched the barman closing up and leaving, and there had been nothing since. It had gone 12.30 before Doyle nudged him. "There's Paul. Been no sign of Webster yet, though."

Bodie shook off the drowsiness. "Maybe he went in the back door. We didn't see the bouncer leave." As they watched, Paul's tap on the door brought a response, and he vanished inside. Bodie slid from the passenger seat. "I'll watch the back door."

It was a few minutes later that Doyle's R/T bleeped. "They're using the back door, Doyle. Going to silent." Tensing, Doyle frowned to himself. Going silent meant switching off the R/T, leaving him unable to contact Bodie, although as a procedure it could be a life-saver - a burst of static at the wrong moment could put an agent in danger. He scanned the street anxiously; concentrating on the entrance to the alleyway.

The seconds stretched out; this was taking too long, and Doyle tapped on the wheel, frustrated at being cut off from Bodie. The abrupt appearance of two men - running men, heading for a car - brought his hand to the ignition key, unsure whether to follow them, but Bodie's appearance had him flinging open the door to sprint across the street instead.

"Bodie!" His partner had made it to the end of the alley, but was leaning for support against the wall. Catching him as he slid to the ground; Doyle brought his hand up, covered in blood. "Oh, Christ!"

Bodie gave him a push, gesturing vaguely down the alley. "I'm OK. Paul - " Doyle was back in seconds, haring back past Bodie to the car and the R/T. "4.5 to Control. Come in!"

"Come in, 4.5."

"I need an ambulance, now! Priority!" Doyle threw down the R/T without waiting for a response, and ran back to Bodie, who was trying to stand up. "Hang on, mate. Wait for the ambulance."

"How's Paul?" Under the pressure from Doyle's restraining hand on his shoulder, Bodie sank back to the ground. Doyle's face was grim as he straightened up to return to Paul. "Doesn't look good, Bodie."

Pushing the curtain aside, Doyle moved wearily into the cubicle where Bodie's cuts were being stitched. The knife had left several neat little slashes over his ribs; they would leave a few more marks on Bodie's already battled-scarred torso, Doyle noticed almost irrelevantly. Bodie glanced over his partner, guessing the answer but asking the question anyway. "Paul?"

Doyle shook his head, not trusting his voice, and in frustration and anger smashed his fist at the nearest wall. The crash made the nurse jump and jab Bodie with the needle, and he dragged in his breath and swore. "For Christ's sake, Ray!"

"Sorry." Doyle swallowed hard, and sank into the chair beside the bed. "What happened, Bodie?"

"I heard them coming out the back door. It was just Webster, along with Paul. Paul was asking where they were going, and Webster suddenly pushed him up against the wall, and said nowhere until Paul told him what was going on." Bodie cast a glance over his partner. "I couldn't hear all of it, but it sounded like Webster saw us with Paul earlier, Ray. He'd recognised you. Anyway, he thumped Paul a couple of times, so I jumped in. Then Jerry came out of the club behind us. I got a few good blows in, when Webster suddenly pulls a knife, so I'm circling with him, managing to avoid him - just - when Jerry grabbed me from behind. As Webster lunged in for the kill, Paul threw himself in front of me."

Doyle had dropped his head into his hands, focused on the fact that Webster had recognised him. "I got Paul killed."

"No." Bodie firmly pushed the nurse to one side, wincing as he sat up. "No, Doyle, you didn't. And Paul saved my hide. Remember that."

As Doyle looked up at him, Bodie could see his partner was torn - guilt over Paul's death and relief over Bodie's escape were both written deeply in his face - and he stood up, tossing back a comment as he walked out. "I will remember that, Bodie. I just wonder how much consolation that will be to Nicky."

Cowley had arrived and was waiting for him in the reception. "How bad is it, Bodie?"

"Not too bad." Bodie gestured down to his bandaged right hand and wrist. "This is just protective. And as long as I don't get too energetic, the stitches will stop me falling apart." He glanced round. "Where's Doyle?"

"Waiting in the car. He told me what happened."

"And he's blaming himself again?" Trust Doyle; always wanting to blame himself for everything that went wrong.

"Maybe." Cowley cast a shrewd look over Bodie; knowing how close the partners were, even if they wouldn't admit it, even to each other. "But not just because Webster recognised him. I'd say he's feeling guilty because of his relief that Paul was killed rather than you."

Bodie was taken aback, and deflected the sensitive subject, before changing it swiftly. "Yeah, well, that's 'cos you'd have trouble finding anyone else to work with the moody sod. Anyway, what do we do now?"

Cowley accepted the change of topic. "The word's out on George Webster; we'll pick him up soon enough." He paused at the hospital door, gesturing to the Escort ahead of them. "Doyle's trying to get up the courage to go to the Palmer place."

Bodie slipped his jacket on, awkwardly, with one arm. "Well, he's not going alone."

Bringing the Escort to a halt in the carpark, Doyle looked at his watch. "Twenty past 5. They won't be up yet." Beside him, Bodie shifted in the seat. They had been back to HQ to shower and change; Doyle had as much of Bodie's blood on him as Paul's. Now the anaesthetic had worn off and the cuts were throbbing abominably, and Bodie wanted nothing more than to go home to bed. But as Cowley had been quick to remind him, they were partners; they were in this together. "Nicky does a paper-round," he reminded Doyle. "She'll be up at 6."

They sat in silence for a while, busy with their own thoughts, Bodie half-dozing. "Bodie? Do you ever think about the people you'd leave behind?"

Bodie opened his eyes; Doyle was off again. Not that Bodie minded him getting introspective, but he did pick his moments. Still - "Yeah, sometimes. Guess I'd leave a few broken hearts for real, then."

"Seriously. Does it stop you getting close to anyone?"

About to produce a flippant reply, Bodie hesitated. There had been that girl a few years ago, Mandy - he'd been crazy for her, had come as near as he ever had to proposing - and she'd dumped him. He'd been beaten up and shot in the space of 10 days, and she'd walked out, unable to cope with the hurt he'd suffered, because she cared about him. And since then Bodie had been careful not to get serious, not to let girls get serious about him ...   He answered Doyle softly. "I guess."

"Me too." Doyle looked at his watch with a sigh. "I was always having to do this in the Met; call on people at an unearthly hour and tell them someone they loved had been killed. You had to stay detached; you'd go mad otherwise. But it never got any easier."

"And they always sent you?" It was a shot in the dark, but Bodie knew that the deep-seated compassion in Doyle would have made him an obvious choice for the officer to impart bad news because he'd try his hardest not to hurt anyone. "Yeah. How'd you know?"

Bodie shrugged. "Just a guess. I'll go up, if you want." That compassion was hurting his partner at the moment; knowing the family, caring as he did about Nicky and Katie, Doyle couldn't stay detached. Not that Bodie wasn't feeling the same, but he'd spare Doyle if he could. "No." Doyle stared at his watch; it was just gone 6. "No. We'll go together."

There were lights on in the flat, and Doyle tapped lightly on the door; loud enough to be heard, but not so loud that it would wake Katie. He glanced back at his partner. Bodie was looking haggard and tired; and Doyle wished he'd insisted Bodie went home. On the other hand, this call was going to be one of the hardest he'd had to make, and it was good to have Bodie's support. There was no response to his knock, and Doyle tapped again.

This time through the opaque glass they could see someone - Nicky - approaching the door. Doyle swallowed. "It's us, Nicky." The bolt was shot back from within and Nicky wrenched the door open; eyes seeking her brother's presence, disappointment dragging a question from her when she saw they were alone. "Where's Paul?"

Doyle stepped forward quickly, turning Nicky and drawing her through to the lounge, leaving Bodie to shut the door and follow them. Nicky slid from under his arm and turned back to Bodie, having caught sight of the bandages. "What's happened?" She looked from one to the other, unerringly reading some disaster. "Is Paul hurt?"

"Nicky - sit down." God, Doyle felt clumsy. He'd lost count of how many times he'd done this, but it always felt like the first time ...   Ignoring his instruction, Nicky focused on Bodie, sensing that Doyle wasn't able to tell her what she needed to know. "Bodie? Tell me?"

Exhausted as Bodie felt, he tried to transmit some comfort to Nicky with the words that were about to shatter her world. "Paul saved my life, Nicky. But he was hurt; badly hurt."

"You're telling me he's dead?" Nicky sounded faint. "When ... what time?" All her attention was still focused on Bodie, as if she couldn't bear to look at Doyle or feel his pity.

"About 1.00." Bodie wanted to lie to her, to tell her that Paul had been unconscious, that he hadn't been in pain ... somehow he couldn't bring himself to utter the platitudes; knowing that Nicky had read everything in his face because he was too tired to hide it.

She gave a small shake, as if the ground had shifted beneath her feet, and it brought Doyle back to life. "Nicky, sit down." Nicky subsided onto the sofa, but whether she heard Doyle was doubtful. "I woke up then. I knew ..."

"I'm sorry, Nicky." Doyle dropped onto the sofa beside her and held her close, feeling her shaking, but not yet crying. Abruptly, Nicky pulled away and stood up, heading for the stairs. "I'll wake Mum."

Bodie shut the door behind them softly. Doyle was taking Louise, and very reluctantly, Nicky, to the mortuary. Louise's normal grief-stricken reactions were in sharp contrast to Nicky's apparent composure, and when Nicky had demanded to go with her mother, neither of the partners had the strength to argue with her.

As before, Katie had woken swiftly. Nicky might be concealing her distress but it had communicated itself to Katie nonetheless, and she was now curled up on the sofa; bewildered and tearful. Bodie sat next to her and tucked her under his arm, noticing that she was careful of his injuries as she moulded herself to him. "OK, sprout?"

He got a small nod and sniff in return. "Bodie? Will Paul go to heaven?"

"I expect so." Atheist he might be, but Bodie wouldn't ruin the child's illusions.

"'cos if he does, he and Russell will be together, and that'll be all right, won't it?" Katie gave another sniff, and Bodie tightened his arm round her, sudden emotions catching him off-guard again. "Yeah. They'll be together."

"That's OK, then. 'cos Nicky 'nd me'll be together too."

"Hi, Katie. Has Bodie been looking after you?" The trip to the mortuary had taken longer than Doyle had anticipated and it was nearly 10 o'clock. He asked the question before catching sight of his partner.

"No." Katie answered him seriously. "I've been looking after Bodie." That much was obvious from the blanket - the pink, gaily decorated with bunny rabbits blanket - covering his slumbering partner, and Doyle swallowed his amusement; if only he had a camera ...  

Louise had subsided into a chair, totally drained by the morning's events; Nicky had disappeared into the kitchen where Doyle could hear her filling the kettle. She still hadn't given way to any expression of grief, and Doyle was growing more concerned.

Their entrance had disturbed Bodie, who now woke with a jump, wincing as he sat up and pushed away the blanket, and Doyle caught the flicker of pain. "You OK?" Bodie nodded; he'd only got stiff while sleeping, and probably would've been worse without Katie's blanket. He stood up and stretched, cautiously. "Any word from Cowley?" His expression asked more than the words, and Doyle shrugged, his reply given in the same shorthand. "Nothing so far."

"We're out of milk, Mum. I'll go down to the shop." As Doyle turned Nicky was already heading for the door, but Louise called her back. "No, Nicky. Don't go out."

"But we need some stuff, Mum." Nicky plainly couldn't understand why Louise didn't want her out of sight, and Doyle answered her. "I'll come with you, Nicky. She'll be OK, Louise."

Frowning, Nicky led the way out, questioning Doyle as they reached the stairs. "Why do you have to come? I've been going to the shop on my own for years." Doyle didn't answer her. Nicky wasn't stupid and could probably work it out for herself, and a few seconds later she proved him right, sighing. "I suppose she thinks something will happen to me too. But we can't stay in the flat forever, can we?"

The small supermarket was just down the street, and Nicky selected several basic items including the milk before taking the wire basket to the till, digging in her pockets as the assistant rang up the items. Apologetically, she turned to Doyle. "I forgot to get the money from Mum." Already reaching one-handed for his wallet, Doyle finished putting the shopping in the carrier. "It's OK, Nick. I'll pay."

At Nicky's sudden gulp, and swift exit from the shop, Doyle thrust the notes at the cashier, and followed her quickly. "Nicky?" She had stopped just outside the shop, back of her hand pressed against her mouth, and she answered him tearfully, accepting his arm around her. "You called me Nick." Doyle was mystified until she added, "Only Paul and Russ ever called me that." As her voice broke, Doyle hugged her tightly, relieved that it had taken something as little as a nickname to get her to start grieving.

"Doyle." He had answered the phone casually. In view of Bodie's injuries Cowley had signed them off for the day, and he wasn't expecting to be called in.

"4.5, there's a message from Alpha. Pick up 3.7 and meet him at Louise Palmer's flat immediately." Doyle felt himself go cold. Things had been OK when they left the flat only a couple of hours earlier. "What's happened?"

"Some sort of disturbance. We didn't take the call; it came via the local force." Doyle didn't waste any more time. "OK. Advise Alpha we'll be there ASAP."

Flashing their ID's the partners made their way to the Palmer's flat with trepidation. The 'some sort of disturbance' was obvious from the smashed front door, and they picked their way over the glass. Cowley finished talking to a uniformed officer and turned to them immediately. "What's happened, sir?"

"As far as we can tell, someone burst in and assaulted Louise and Nicky. A neighbour heard the commotion and called the police; they're at the hospital now." Cowley didn't miss the tension from the partners. "They're not seriously hurt." Bodie was glancing about him; comparing the shambles to the tidy flat of a few hours before. "What about Katie? Is she OK?"

Knowing the reaction his answer was going to have, Cowley broke the news gently. "Nicky didn't tell the police much before they left for the hospital, but she said Katie had been taken. She's missing."

There was a few seconds of strained silence. "Webster?" Turning, Bodie was ready to leave; to find the bastard and kill him. Doyle put a restraining hand on his arm; no less angry, no less worried - but perhaps thinking a little clearer. "It's got to be. Do we have any leads on Webster, sir?"

Cowley shook his head. "We turned the club over earlier. Place was deserted, and there was nothing out of the ordinary. The search is still on for Webster. Go down to the hospital; talk to Louise and Nicky when you can. If we find Webster, or anything else that can help, I'll call you."

Nicky was sitting in the middle of the Casualty reception, clearly forcing herself not to cry, expression fixed. Bodie swerved to the reception desk, saying he'd find out how Louise was, and spotting them, Nicky leapt up and threw herself into Doyle's arms.

"It's OK, Nicky." Doyle managed to get her seated again, and crouching in front of her took a closer look, pushing her hair back. The slightly cut bruise on her forehead didn't look serious, but she was shaking; the attack coming on top of the earlier trauma leaving her shocked. "How's your Mum?"

Nicky swallowed hard. "I don't know. They wouldn't let me stay with her." Bodie called across to them before disappearing down the corridor. "Louise'll be OK, Nicky. I'm going to find her now."

Doyle looked back at Nicky. "Any other bruises?" Her silent response was somewhere between a denial and shrug; Doyle guessed that meant she had bruises but they were unimportant. He sat next to her and hugged her. "Who attacked you, Nicky?" Her shrug was evasive, and Doyle turned her to look at him. "What did they want? Why have they taken Katie?"

Nicky refused to meet his eyes. "I don't know." Ending on a wail, she took refuge in tears, and Doyle hugged her again, although unconvinced and sure Nicky was lying to him.

Bodie reappeared, and took the seat on the other side of Nicky. "Louise has taken a bang on the head; they're muttering about concussion. They're just going to take her up to X-ray, she's got a broken wrist at least, so it'll be a while before we can talk to her." He exchanged a look with Doyle over Nicky's head, asking 'What happened?'. Doyle shook his head. If they were going to get anything out of Nicky, they couldn't push her.

Standing again, Bodie gestured to the machine on the other side of the room. "Coffee?" Doyle nodded. "Black. You want anything, Nicky?" Rubbing her face dry, Nicky shook her head, and Bodie crossed to the machine, dredging the change from his pocket, and starting to sort the coins. Realising he didn't have enough, he called back to Doyle. "Got any 50p's?"

Digging in his own pocket, Doyle joined him, and fed the machine, pressing the buttons for coffee, black, no sugar, and taking the plastic cup carefully. Turning back, he froze, eyes swiftly scanning the reception. "Where's Nicky?"

Bodie looked round him, doing his own swift scan. There was no sign of the teenager. Abandoning their drinks, the partners split up to cover both exits; and met up outside. Nicky had vanished. "Damn." Doyle curbed further expletives. "I knew she was lying to me." He turned back to the hospital. "Come on. We can't wait; we have to talk to Louise now."

Cowley was scathing about Nicky's disappearance. "Two of you. Can't even keep an eye on one teenage girl."

"We had no idea we needed to." Bodie was annoyed. "With Louise lying hurt and Katie missing, Nicky running out on us was the last thing we expected."

Doyle shook his head. "No, I should've expected it. She wouldn't tell me what happened, Bodie. I should've thought she might try to solve things on her own." Cowley interrupted them before Doyle started blaming himself again. "What did Louise tell you, anyway?"

"There were two of them; she identified Webster as one. They broke the door down, thumped Nicky and grabbed Katie, and threatened her with a knife to keep Louise and Nicky quiet. They started pulling the flat apart and knocked Louise down when she tried to stop them, but they were looking for something, demanding to know where Paul had hidden it. Louise doesn't remember everything, she passed out."

Doyle paused, and Bodie continued. "We think maybe Paul stole the heroin from Webster. He had time to go back to the club after we left him yesterday. If he did grab the heroin he would have hidden it somewhere; Webster's assumed Paul went home."

"But the heroin can't be there," Doyle added. "With Katie in danger, if it was there, Nicky would've handed it over. She must've said she'd get it, and Webster's taken Katie to make sure. That's why Nicky had to get away from us."

"But if Nicky didn't see Paul yesterday, how does she know where to look?"

Doyle shrugged, but Bodie suddenly brightened up. "The warehouse where the kids hid? If Nicky didn't see Paul, but knew he'd hidden something, that could be the place." He dismissed the doubtful look on Doyle's face. "We've got to try something, Ray. That's the only lead we've got." Cowley agreed, nodding. "Get over there; keep in touch."

The warehouse area wasn't as deserted as they remembered, part of the industrial estate was being demolished, and Doyle stopped to speak to one of the workmen. "Have you seen any kids about? Yesterday afternoon, or today?"

"There're always bloody kids about. Don't understand the fascination meself; messing about in the dust."

"We're looking for one in particular," Bodie said. "Teenage girl, long dark hair, dressed in black jumper and jeans?"

"Like most of the teenage population?" The workman shrugged, and gestured to the building. "There was one, about half-hour ago. Went round that side; thought we hadn't seen her, but when I went after her, she'd vanished. I don't know whether she went inside or not."

"Thanks." Doyle followed Bodie; the building they were close to was the one they remembered, and it was unlikely to be another teenager answering Nicky's description in that area.

In contrast to how they remembered it, the inside was empty, and they could see immediately that there was no sign of Nicky. They moved quietly through the warehouse, pausing occasionally to listen, but there was no sound either. Bodie spoke quietly. "Do you think she's been and gone?"

Doyle shrugged, worried. If they'd missed her, they had no way of knowing where Nicky had gone. He looked around him, reminding himself of the warehouse layout. They were in the part that had been the scene of the shoot-out, the ducting still hung lazily from the broken support strut. "Where was the loft from here?"

Bodie pointed. "Through there, then up the stairs at the end." As one, they headed for it. Picking their way up the stairs, they found that this floor hadn't been totally cleared yet; some of the packing cases still stood around, and there was one exactly under the loft opening. Jumping up, Doyle stuck his head into the loft space and called her. "Nicky? Are you there?"

>From behind a crate on the far side, Nicky suddenly appeared and made a run for the stairs, and Bodie dived for her, catching her round the waist and hauling her back against him, and gave a loud involuntary yelp as she crashed into his slashed ribs and the sudden pressure on his right arm jarred the cuts. As she wriggled free, Doyle caught her more securely, giving her a shake and reprimand as she continued to struggle, before speaking anxiously to his partner. "Nicky, stop it. You OK, Bodie?"

Gingerly feeling his ribs, Bodie nodded. "I think so." It didn't feel like he'd pulled any stitches; time would tell. He stooped to pick up the bag Nicky had dropped, and opened it. Along with several bags of densely packed powder were several notebooks, and Bodie flicked through one. "Names and dates. No wonder Webster's keen to get these back."

Nicky had stopped struggling with Doyle but was crying. "Let me go. Please. I have to give him that bag or he'll hurt Katie." Doyle relaxed his hold a little. "Sorry, Nicky. We can't let you go. Where is Webster?"

"I've got to go. He said if I told the cops he'd kill her." Nicky pulled away from Doyle to face him, tense with worry and frustration. "I have to go on my own."

The partners exchanged glances. "That's not an option, Nicky. If - and that's a big If - we let you go, we go too." Doyle squeezed the hand he still held. "Things'll be OK, Nicky. Just tell us where Webster told you to go."

Reading implacability on their faces, Nicky yielded. "I've got to meet him in the car park opposite our flat. At 6.30." Bodie looked at his watch; it was just after 3.45. "Not long to get organised."

"If he sees you he'll kill Katie." Nicky looked between them in despair, and Bodie answered her firmly. "It's not going to happen, Nicky. Katie will be fine." Nicky allowed herself to be reassured, fortunately unable to see the glance they exchanged over her head ...

"6.2 to 4.5." From his position in the car on the fifth floor, Doyle couldn't see the entrance ramp to the car park and was relying on Murphy. "What's happening, Murph?"

"You sure he's going to show? It's gone 6.30, Doyle; there's no sign of him." Doyle mentally cursed Murphy. Granted Murphy and Jamieson should've been off-duty tonight, but this caper wouldn't last long, they'd get the rest of the evening. He contented himself with a brief response. "He'll show. Keep your eyes open."

It could be an impossible task however. They only had Murphy and Jamieson to cover the four access points to the car park, and that didn't include the numerous pedestrian entrances. They were assuming Webster would arrive by car, but there was nothing to stop him parking a few streets away. Having to keep Katie quiet and with him would make that difficult but not impossible. He buzzed Bodie. "4.5 to 3.7."

"3.7. Anything?" Bodie, up on the sixth, highest floor, was with Nicky. "Not so far. How's Nicky?" Bodie could see Nicky waiting where Webster had instructed, near the ticket machine. He was some 50 yards away from her, and hoped that would be close enough. He gave her a wave, but she didn't respond. "Seems OK at the moment."

They had no idea of how to play this one; in an ideal world they wouldn't have let Nicky within a mile of the place. But if they were to lull Webster into a sense of security then he had to see Nicky, alone, with the bag he was expecting to collect. They had repeatedly coached Nicky on what to do; she was to get Webster to let go of Katie and hand him the bag, and then get herself and Katie out of there.

In spite of all their plans and instructions for Nicky, there were any number of things that could happen; any number of things to go badly wrong. And even a floor apart the partners were reading each other's minds; their use of R/T almost superfluous. Doyle thumbed the R/T again. "Bodie? Take care of them." Bodie didn't reply to his partner; didn't need to.

The R/T bleeped softly. "Webster's just driven in," Murphy told them. "He's alone. No sign of Katie."

"Thanks, Murphy. You two follow him up as far as the second floor, then block the ramps where we agreed." Doyle was already on the move to the stairwell, where he was going to wait until he heard the exchange made. "Bodie?"

"In position. I warned Nicky he's on his way." Bodie was back down behind a parked car; the place didn't have a lot of cover. "I can hear the car, Ray. Going to silent."

Doyle had also heard Webster's car as it bounced up the ramp between floors and was now making his way up the staircase, switching his own R/T off as he went. He reached the sixth floor and peered cautiously through the small panel in the door where a pane of glass should've been, if kids hadn't put a brick through it. Webster's old Cortina had just reached the top of the ramp, and Doyle could see Nicky by the ticket machine; the car's headlights focusing directly on her, making the shadowy areas darker.

Webster got out of the car and called to Nicky. "You got the gear?" He began to advance on Nicky, who stood her ground and answered him. "Where's Katie?"

Turning back to the car, Webster went to open the boot of the Cortina and bodily lifted Katie out, carrying her forward. As far as Doyle could see she looked tearful and grubby, but unharmed, and Webster set her down, taking her arm, speaking again to Nicky. "Come on, kid. Hand over the bag."

"Let Katie go. When she's over here, I'll throw the bag." Grinning confidently, Webster began to lead Katie forward, maintaining his grip. "Come on. There's nothing to worry about. Just hand over the bag, and I'll get in the car and go."

Nicky was obviously far from convinced but took an unwilling step forward, and Doyle willed her to stop, muttering under his breath. "Don't get too close, Nicky." He caught a slight movement from the other side of the car park; Bodie had shifted position and was trying to come up behind them. Doyle was trapped in the stairwell; if he even touched the door Webster would hear him.

As Nicky took another step forward, Doyle flicked the safety on his already-drawn Walther and tensed himself, ready to pull the door open. If Webster tried to grab Nicky as well, he'd have to go for it whether Bodie was ready or not.

The gap now narrowed to a couple of feet, and Nicky stopped. "Let go of Katie." Obviously reckoning that he was close enough to grab Nicky if she tried to run, Webster relaxed his hold on Katie's arm, holding out his hand for the bag. Lifting it, as if about to hand it over, Nicky suddenly threw the bag sideways, shouting at Katie to run for the stairs, whilst she threw herself at Webster, kicking out at him.

Hauling at the door Doyle burst through, aiming his gun at Webster. "Hold it right there!" Bodie had leapt from cover on the other side, gun also drawn, but they were both brought sharply to a halt as Webster shouted back. "No, you hold it!" Pulling out and activating a flick-knife, Webster had Nicky round the waist and was holding the blade to her throat.

As Katie reached Doyle and slowed, he caught her wrist to stop her running back to Nicky, and spoke quietly to her. "Katie, go downstairs to the ground floor. You don't stop, and you don't come back, understand?" Nodding, Katie vanished, letting the door swing shut behind her, and Doyle focused his attention back on Nicky.

Bodie had closed in from the other side but it was a stalemate, and Webster knew it. "Well? Where do we go from here?" Well, it never hurt to try a bluff, so Doyle tried it. "You're not going anywhere, Webster. Just let Nicky go; no sense in hurting her."

"You're joking, of course. I'm getting out of here, and she's coming with me." Webster began to slide sideways towards the bag, and the partners took a few steps closer. The knife was too close to Nicky; neither of them would risk a shot, and Doyle sent a despairing look over to Bodie - maybe when Webster tried to get her into the car?

Reaching the spot where Nicky had flung the bag, Webster told her to pick it up. Keeping his eyes on the partners but bending with her, he moved the knife forward - and Nicky flung her fist up, into his face, before sinking her elbow back into his groin and throwing her weight forward.

If the surprise and sudden pain weren't enough, as Webster struggled to hold Nicky Doyle fired, the shot smashing Webster through the right shoulder and dropping him.

Pulling herself free from Webster's weight, Nicky scrambled to her feet, and turned to stare at Webster as the partners reached them, Bodie kicking the knife away as he checked Webster's injury.

"You should've killed him," Nicky complained to Doyle. "He'd've killed me and Katie."

Doyle grinned. Nicky's spirit was amazing; what would she be like when she was older? "Well, that's the difference between us and them, Nicky. We're not supposed to kill them if we don't have to." The pout on Nicky's face dissolved into an answering grin. "S'pose."

"Where did you learn to do that, anyway?" The neat manoeuvre had impressed Bodie. Nicky's grin faded a little. "Paul taught me. Just in case ..."

"Then he probably saved your life as well as Bodie's." Leaving Bodie to deal with Webster, Doyle turned her towards the stairs. "You did OK, Nicky. I'm proud of you." He caught a blush as she shrugged. "Didn't mean to get myself caught though ..."

"Happens to all of us. Come on; let's find Katie and take you home ..."

It was a few days later before the partners found time to call on the Palmers. As Doyle brought the Escort to a halt, Nicky appeared, obviously on her way back from the shops, with two heavy carriers. Hurrying to help her, Doyle took the carriers from her. Nicky grinned, obviously pleased to see them. "Mum said you were coming, and we were out of biscuits."

Doyle promptly passed the carriers to Bodie, grinning at his partner's expression. "Well, if you're going to eat most of the contents, you can carry the shopping upstairs." With a shrug of resignation, Bodie made for the stairs, and Doyle took a closer look at Nicky as they followed. "Are things OK?"

Nicky nodded. "Things will be. Katie's still a bit upset. Mum's leaning on me, too; guess I'll have to carry them through it." She paused on the landing before they reached the flat, and seeing her take a deep breath Doyle put his arm around her. "Nicky, you know where to come if you need someone to lean on."

"I know. But we'll be OK." From the open door to the flat they heard Katie squeal with laughter, and Nicky moved to see what was happening, not hearing Doyle's last comment. "Yes, I think you will..."

© Carol Good - February 2000

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