In a Land of Shadow
By Gil Hale – firstname.lastname@example.org
The day after Williams’ successful retrieval of the Sandburg situation, he got a much-rerouted call from a man so eminent that a scandal about him would have occupied newspaper proprietors for weeks.
“What the hell are you playing at? We told you not to do anything until you heard from us.”
“If we were going to halt the problems with Barnes, I had to act quickly.”
“We would have sanctioned abducting Sandburg. Taking Doyle has stirred up a lot of attention we could do without. That new man Murphy has no regard for rank and far too much power. He’s been making himself extremely unpleasant this morning.”
“I had good reason for taking Doyle, and he’s being very cooperative.”
“Heaven help us! That has to be a worrying sign.”
“Hooper thinks Barnes is stabilizing. More than that, there seems to be some slight progress with her control of her senses.”
“We wouldn’t be able to use her for some time.”
“Not exactly as we planned, perhaps, but maybe in some similar way.”
“Possibly. All right. Continue as you are for now. See that nothing final happens to Doyle or Sandburg until we’re sure we have no weak links here. I believe Cowley is sniffing around personally and he still has the capacity to be dangerous.”
Self-serving bastards, Williams thought as he ended the call. Well, it would do them good to take some of the heat for a bit. He was doing all the work, and with a severely depleted team now. He sat down to consider who would do what duties. Sooner or later, he would have to send Durban out to pick up some supplies and an order of Hooper’s that should be arriving at the station. That would leave them severely undermanned. He would put it off for the next few days, though.
Alicia woke, and although she still felt strange, as though everything in her was rushing, she didn’t hurt so much anymore. She lay with her eyes closed, and tried to find things by listening. This was a different place. She only realized that now. The noises were different. But where was Ray? He said he’d come when she woke up. Sometimes she could make her ears bring her the sounds she wanted, though it was hard. She listened past the doctor, and noises in the rooms below, and searched for the voice she could remember. It took her quite a long time to find it, and she was tired, but she concentrated very hard.
Down. The sound was further down. That was where she had been going wrong. Down somewhere more echoey, and she could find him properly now. Ray was talking. Talking to someone who… whose voice…
She knew the voice.
Deep and wrenching, the peace in her shifted to panic. She knew the voice. Alex knew the voice. It was Blair. Why was Blair here? Ray would find out. He would know what Alex had done, and he would never come and see her again.
The fear and anger she felt at the thought was so strong it nearly woke Alex up. Perhaps it did wake her up, but she wasn’t so strong as she had been, and Alicia didn’t quite go away, either. She felt a horrible, sickening, seesawing feeling, as if she wasn’t sure which of them she was, and there were machine alarms blasting her ears and people speaking in huge waves of noise. Alex wrenched and wrenched at the soft straps that held her wrists and ankles, and Alicia screamed.
Then Ray came.
She heard his heartbeat louder than everything else, or maybe she felt its vibration through the air. Alicia stopped screaming. Alex tugged at the bands still, but less violently. Alicia opened her eyes which had been scrunched up and saw Ray looking at her as if she was just an ordinary person. Couldn’t he smell the death on her hands?
“What happened?” he asked.
She had to find out if he knew. “You were talking to Blair,” she said.
“You could hear me?”
The doctor was interested, too, but she didn’t care. “What did Blair tell you?”
Ray sat down in the chair next to her bed, and he could still see her. “I already knew about Alex and Blair,” he said. “I knew before I came to see you the first time.”
Alicia was puzzled and relieved and something else that was too complicated for her to work out. She felt she had to say something to explain. “Sometimes when Alex is angry and she can’t have something, she breaks it,” she said, and realized with surprise that part of the complicated feeling was sadness.
Ray looked as if he was thinking. After a little while, he said, “In the room I’m in with Blair, there are some boxes of old books. We tipped them out this morning and looked through them to see if there was one I could read to you. Most of them were pretty boring, but we found one you might like. Shall we send that goon over there down to get it? And we’ll check on your paint mixing while he’s gone.”
Alicia thought goon was a good name for the man. “Yes,” she said. Alex had gone quiet again. It would be very strange to be read to. No one except Daddy had ever read to her. Mommy had thought she learned more reading to herself. It would be nice, though. She could close her eyes and she would be hearing Ray’s voice all the time.
The book smelled old, but not nasty, and there was part of its cover still hanging on. The Secret G… she read. She didn’t say it out loud, but Ray saw she was looking.
“It should say garden, but I think the mice have been at it,” he said.
“Why is it secret?”
“I don’t know—let’s find out.”
“When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen…”
Bodie had learned to wait; he’d spent a lot of his life waiting, for an ambush, SAS raids, then later on stakeouts or surveillance. He’d never grown to like it, though.
It was worse this time. He and Jim Ellison had sat watching the tobacconist shop in Wareham for two days now, and although they had expected it to take a while, it was starting to get to both of them. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel of the car, saw Ellison wince and stopped himself doing it.
He hadn’t asked, and didn’t intend to, but it was easy to see Ellison was having trouble with the sense thing. He would react to some noise Bodie couldn’t hear at all, and react as if it hurt. He was wearing dark glasses all the time, and today there were weals like nettle rash all over the backs of his hands, and he shifted uncomfortably every few minutes.
They had spent eight hours today watching the shop, and not one customer had even been worth a second look.
“He’s locking up,” Jim said at last, seeing some movement in the shop which was invisible to Bodie. He sounded defeated. He’d held up better last time, Bodie thought. Now it was obvious he wasn’t sleeping, and you could see he had to force himself to eat.
“It’s early days,” Bodie said as the shopkeeper left. “We knew it would probably be a long wait.”
“Williams isn’t going to do anything to Blair; he needs him.”
“I’m worried Blair won’t be able to do it,” Jim said bleakly. “His heartbeat was off the scale when we simply walked into the nursing home yard. When Williams had him before, he didn’t really know what was happening. Even if they dope him up again, I’m not sure he’s going to be able to do what Williams wants. What’s going to happen then?”
Bodie hadn’t thought of that possibility. Now that he did, he could see the most likely, unpleasant course of action for Williams. “He took Doyle as a lever,” he said. “I suppose he’ll use him.”
Jim’s hands clenched convulsively on his knees. “Shit.”
“That would tear Blair apart.”
“Wouldn’t do Ray a lot of good, either.”
“Blair wouldn’t let it happen,” Jim said, “whatever it did to him to go near Alex.”
Bodie seemed to have managed to plunge him further into gloom—and to depress himself as well. Sum total of the day’s achievements. Great.
Blair sat alone with the notebook and pen he’d been given and tried to make sense of what Ray had told him from the most recent session with Alex. Not that there was much to tell. As far as he could make out, Ray sat there and read to her most of the time. Blair tried hard to push away a sense of betrayal. First Jim, now Ray. How was it that everyone seemed to feel the need to protect Alex? What happened to any consideration of nerve gassing people or shooting them or trying to drown them?
He had to believe what Ray was telling him about her now, but when he’d seen her wake up at the nursing home, there’d only been one thought in her, and that was to kill and maim.
Ray said she was loosely restrained. What did that mean? They must know how dangerous she would be if she ever got free.
He looked at his pages of notes. They didn’t amount to much, really, for all the lines of writing. He’d jotted down what seemed to be the distinctions between Alicia and Alex, though, and he couldn’t see how two personalities could be much more separate. Had the Alicia side really been there all the time? Maybe it would make just a little more sense of Jim’s behavior if he had sensed something vulnerable there, hidden by Alex’s ruthless drive.
Footsteps outside and the sound of the key and bolts meant Ray was coming back. He’d been gone for a long stretch this time, after a shorter spell in the night and several brief ones the previous two days. There was no real pattern to Alex’s waking and sleeping, except that she was awake for much longer at a time now.
Blair was relieved to see him. In spite of Alex’s apparent quietness, he felt that she was still a threat. He waited until Ray came and sat down beside him before he asked. Every time it was just as hard to make himself do it.
“How do you feel she was? Was there any change?”
Ray leaned back. He looked tired. He was still getting intermittent headaches, and needed more sleep, not less.
“What did you notice?” Blair tried again.
Ray shut the notebook, quite gently. “No more,” he said. “We’ve enough to convince Hooper and Williams we’re playing their game. Beyond that there’s no point. It won’t help her and it hurts you.”
“I didn’t mean… I’m sorry.”
“It wasn’t anything you did. You’ve been great.” Doyle paused, maybe trying to find the right way to put what he was thinking. After quite a long time, he said, “I don’t know if you remember much from that morning we were at the caravan. You asked me then about the scars I’ve got.”
“I remember,” Blair said, not sure what this had to do with Alex or where Ray could be going with it.
“I told you about Mayli, the girl who shot me. Did I tell you how Bodie held her hand while she was dying?”
“‘Your partner,’ you said.”
“Well, it was Bodie. I heard about it by chance. I was still in hospital, of course, and one of my nurses knew the ambulance staff. She just mentioned it to me, how kind they thought he’d been, how what he did was different from the impression he gives. I said the right things, but actually I found it really hard to take. Mayli wasn’t a cold-blooded killer like Alex. In some ways, she was even a victim. But I couldn’t get past the pain I was still in, and the fact she’d walked up to me and shot me. Any other time, I’d’ve been glad of what Bodie did, but right then, it just… hurt. So I know how hard it’s been for you when I’ve talked about helping Alicia.”
Blair felt as if a weight had lifted off his back. At least they could talk about it. “It’s not just the helping her,” he said. “I mean, yes, I really struggled to be cool with that. But it’s where we’re going with it, too. How can we help Williams and let her loose again?”
“She wouldn’t be of any use to Williams,” Ray said. “Not as she is. Even Hooper realizes that. He thinks the old personality will return once she’s fully in control of her senses, though.”
“I think she might be dying.”
He said it so simply that for a minute Blair didn’t take it in. Then he hardly knew what his reaction was, it was so jumbled. “Surely Hooper would know that,” he said. “He’s the doctor.”
“He’s worried, I think. He doesn’t understand these episodes in her where everything seems to speed up—heart rate goes up, blood pressure rises, brain activity increases. He hopes he’ll be able to deal with it soon by giving her different drugs—ones he hasn’t got yet. I don’t think they’ll make any difference, or not for long. It’s happening more, and for longer periods, and I don’t think there’s any going back. But I’m not a doctor.”
“Is it harming her that much?”
“It’s tiring her—not just physically. If you look at her eyes, there’s something there that you see when people have had enough. I think Alex is exhausted, and Alicia wouldn’t hold onto life.”
“But you’ve been doing all this, working with her senses, reading to her…”
“It’s made her more comfortable. And less frightened.”
Blair couldn’t, ever, under any circumstances, imagine Alex Barnes as a frightened child, but not being able to imagine it didn’t mean he couldn’t believe it when Ray said it.
“I’m glad you could help her,” he said, and found to his surprise that he was, or nearly was. The weight seemed to lift further. He studied Ray properly for the first time since he’d come back in. “You look wiped, though. It was a long session.”
“I wanted it to be. I wanted to get a good look at the outside of this place. Hooper doesn’t pay me much attention once I’ve been there a while—not as much as he ought to if he had any sense. I read to her, but I made sure I was sitting where I could see out of the window. We need to know how we get out, if we have to.”
“That sounds like a change of plan.”
“I still think we’re safest cooperating for the time being. Bodie, Jim, Murphy, they’ve got a lot of resources. They could be getting closer. Besides, at the moment we should be all right because we’re valuable to Williams.”
“But if Alicia did die, we’d not only no longer be valuable, we’d be a definite liability.”
Well, he’d asked. “What sort of time scale are we talking about here. Days? Weeks?” It wouldn’t take Jim weeks to find them. Not this time. Not when he was so close. Jim had always come for him in time… sort of…
Ray shrugged. “It may never happen. Hooper may find some treatment for her. And I’ve no idea of a timescale. But at the worst, it might just be days. If she gets really unstable, we need to be together, not separated up like we have been. It should be possible to arrange that. If things got that bad, I could convince Hooper we both need to be up there with her. That would be our best bet. The room’s not so secure. I know it screws you up, the thought of being there with her, but she isn’t such a threat as Williams.”
Blair nodded. “Okay,” he said. He wasn’t going for the big statements about trusting Ray or doing what he had to. Okay would have to be enough.
Ray smiled, and the tired, rather drawn lines of his face softened. “Jim told me that when it comes to it, you always keep your head and do everything right.”
“He did?” That wasn’t supposed to have come out as a startled squeak rather than a reasonable question.
“Along with telling me what a good partner and friend you’d been to him for the past few years, yes. We had a chat over the cigarette ends while you and Bodie were still playing in the compost.”
“He’d noticed the panic attack.”
“He didn’t want me to get the wrong idea from it. He was very definite about your abilities.”
Blair could just imagine it.
Ray grinned. “He didn’t even know about the ‘dad’ thing then, either. Just wanted to put me straight as to the fact you were pretty much an all-round asset.”
“You sure that was ‘… et’?” Blair joked, but he was warmed, all the same, by the fact that Jim had said it. “It’s been one hell of a ride, partnering Jim,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m really going to be able to go on doing it. We owe Murphy for that.”
“It was time something worked out right for you.” Ray smothered a yawn.
“You need to get some sleep,” Blair said.
“I know. The head’s a stupid place to get shot. I’ve forgotten what it’s like not to have a headache.” He stretched out on the camp bed and closed his eyes. “Not that any part of the anatomy is really a good place. I knew a bloke who got shot in the bum once. Shot gun pellets. He was on assignment, and he didn’t dare call it off—the pellets weren’t that deep. His partner had to dig them out with his penknife.”
“Exactly. He got no sympathy, just six months of terrible jokes.”
The conversation had reminded Blair of something he’d thought of while he lay awake waiting for Ray to come back. “Ray?” he asked quietly, not sure if Doyle was already asleep.
“Thinking of knives, maybe that Swiss army one I’ve got really was yours.”
Ray opened his eyes again. “Maybe it was. I hadn’t thought about it since I saw Naomi, but as a matter of fact I did give her mine. I can’t believe she didn’t throw it away, though. In fact, I’m surprised she didn’t throw it at me.”
Blair would have to work on it until he really did get the story of those three nights. “I think she’d forgotten where the knife came from when she found it,” he said. “It was in the pocket of an old skirt.”
“Good chance it was that one, then.”
The thought appealed to Blair. He’d always been so sure the knife was his dad’s. He watched Ray sleep, and worried a bit about him, and thought how reality always had a lot more complications than fantasy. If Ray had ever turned up in his life back then, Naomi would have thrown him out pretty smartly. But he was here now, and had appeared when Blair had desperately needed him, and had played the dad role just about perfectly without having the first idea that’s what he was. Blair wouldn’t change things.
He’d just like to stay alive to get to know his father properly.
“Bodie’s asked me seven times in the last two days for your list of names,” Murphy told Cowley. “Obviously, I haven’t given them to him. My brief, extensive as it is, wouldn’t cover what Bodie might do to them in the interests of getting information.”
“We’ll get there in the end,” Cowley said. “It’s just a case of prying someone loose. In the meantime, I think we’ve made it clear in the right areas that we value Doyle’s safety very highly. Is Bodie still in Dorset?”
“He and Ellison are following up some tenuous sort of lead. Bodie wasn’t explicit about it. Just some scrap of an address he thought might lead somewhere. I’m leaving it to his judgment.”
He could almost hear Cowley’s disapproval down the phone. Giving Bodie his head. Bad idea.
“The family they’re staying with must have the patience of saints,” Cowley said. “What are you doing this evening? Did you say something about tidying up loose ends?”
Murphy glanced over at Naomi. Was it fair to describe her as ‘loose’? Only in the most attractive way possible. Fortunately, Cowley still had other things on his mind.
“It may be a lot of years ago, but don’t you forget Ojuka. I gave Bodie a direct order then, and I might as well have been talking to myself. If he really has stopped sulking, he’ll go after Doyle without regard for your rules. If he finds out where he is before you do, you’d better hope he doesn’t do anything to compromise CI5. You can’t afford any slips.”
“Bodie understands that,” Murphy said.
Cowley made an exasperated noise. “Have you been listening to anything I’ve said? Never mind. Just make sure you’re the one who finds Doyle. Or be prepared to move very fast to limit the damage.”
The itching blotches of nettle rash on Jim’s skin had spread widely, and his mouth burned when he tried to eat. The electric lighting flashed at the corners of his eyes, increasing the pounding in his head. He was tired, bone-tired, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep.
He slipped quietly out into the yard when Bodie went upstairs. Tom was out and Stella was working. They were slightly short-staffed at her hospital because of the holidays, but Jim wondered if she found it more peaceful there than at home.
It was pleasantly cool outside, and dark, but the punishing weals on his skin still flared and prickled. He sat uncomfortably on a garden chair and suffered it. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been there when he heard quiet footsteps.
“How’s the skin?” Tom asked, coming to sit nearby.
“Would calamine lotion help?”
“Blair does say…” Jim bit off the words. He didn’t want to think of Blair helping him, working out new ways to deal with all the problems of his senses, going to ridiculous amounts of trouble for not a lot of thanks.
Tom waited to see if he was going to finish, then said slowly, “Over the last week or so, you’ve all talked fairly freely in front of me. I couldn’t help picking up that you have unusually acute senses, and that Blair helps you deal with them. Is it to do with your senses that you’re having all these problems now?”
“Yes.” Jim was too tired to go into details. He’d slept so badly for days that he felt almost detached from what was around him. It was only the sheer discomfort of his body that kept him grounded.
“What would Blair say to you if he was here now?”
“Probably ‘What is wrong with you, man? You know better than this. Don’t punish yourself’.”
He stopped, more surprised at his own words than Tom was. Somehow, from the depths of his exhaustion, he’d answered far more honestly than he’d intended—or even believed he could. He could almost hear Blair saying it.
“Well, that sounds about right,” Tom said. “But what I really meant was how would he tell you to deal with it?”
Jim shrugged, pointlessly, as Tom couldn’t see it. “It’s difficult without him here.”
“But he would say you know better than this?”
Jim shifted uneasily, uncomfortable from more than the nettle rash. “He’s taught me some methods.”
“But you’re not using them?”
“It’s… I just seem to run into some sort of mental barrier… I can’t get past him not being here.”
“Because you think it’s your fault? You were right, you know, when you imagined Blair telling you not to punish yourself. Even if you think you deserve it. Apart from anything else, you have to realize it might hurt Blair as well. The way you are now, you wouldn’t be able to do much to help him. If you and Bodie did have someone to follow tomorrow, could you use your eyes, or your other senses?”
His voice was so gentle Jim didn’t hear judgment in the words, or only his own, anyway. If he was honest with himself, maybe he did think he deserved this, and worse. Was that why he couldn’t find the dials?
“The best thing you could do for Blair tonight is to try to get over this and get some sleep. And I think that’s what he’d want for you, too. What was it he taught you to do to control the way your senses worked?”
Briefly, much less fluently than Blair would have done, Jim told him about the dials. It helped that he couldn’t imagine Tom, whatever the circumstances, ever thinking of anyone as a freak.
“He’s ingenious, isn’t he?” Tom said, more impressed by Blair’s inventiveness than the strangeness of having heightened senses.
“You have no idea,” Jim said. “He thinks faster than anyone I’ve ever met. He always comes up with an answer to the weirdest problems. I’d be in a mental hospital if I hadn’t met him.”
“So what would he tell you to do first? The thing that was most uncomfortable, or the sense you had most control over, or what?”
“I don’t know. Maybe hearing. I usually have the most control of that and it sets the pattern.”
“Sort of calibrates the rest? All right. Can you find the dial for hearing?”
Tom wasn’t Blair, but his voice did have a sort of restfulness. With an effort, Jim found he could at least now picture the dial. He stuck there briefly, but then slowly, stiffly, he began to ratchet it down. All around him, sounds fell into their right patterns.
“Okay,” he said eventually. “I’ve got it.”
“Well done,” Tom said. “What next? Taste?”
He fetched a mug of coffee and a muffin while Jim worked at it, and it was a shock to Jim to have coffee that tasted right, and food he could swallow. He was almost too tired to appreciate it, but he felt better for having something in his stomach.
With Tom encouraging him rather than guiding him, they worked through the other senses, leaving touch until last. By then, as the torment of the oversensitivity eased, exhaustion was catching up with Jim. He hardly knew if he found the dial to ease the burning prickling of his skin, or if he just dreamed he did.
“You’re going to be horribly stiff if you sleep out here,” Tom said. “At least come as far as the couch.”
Jim followed him the few steps inside and saw in the no-longer-painful light that the weals on his skin were fading a little. He was asleep within seconds of stretching out on the couch.
For a long time, he was heavily, dreamlessly asleep, but eventually he found himself back in the labyrinth of tunnels. He was still facing the darkness. He could walk into it and shut himself in, and leave Blair outside in the light, but there were many tunnels here. Would Blair be safe? He should make sure of that before anything else. He looked down at the golden light that lapped up from around his feet and glowed gently on his bare hands. Had the light shown him the way towards Blair before? The memory was out of focus, a memory of a dream within a dream, but he turned back towards the light, anyway. It grew a little brighter, and he was aware of a feeling that might have been hope.
But he woke up before he found Blair.
It had been a relief to Hooper that Williams wasn’t enquiring too closely into the progress of his patient. Williams had accepted the reports, seen for himself that she was awake more frequently and not screaming frantic hate at them, but had otherwise concentrated his attention on maintaining security with an inadequate number of people.
Unfortunately, he had come in soon after dawn, when Barnes had been awake for perhaps an hour, and had stood watching as Doyle read to her. Hooper watched the changing expressions on Williams’ face, and flinched. He wasn’t surprised when Williams spoke to Cornish, who was on duty while Durban slept, ordering him to take charge inside the room.
“We won’t be long,” Williams said. “I want a word with Dr. Hooper.”
Resigned, Hooper followed him to the relative privacy of the next room.
“Would you like to tell me what the hell is going on here?” Williams asked with cold anger. “I thought Doyle was helping her get her act together with her senses so we might finally get some use out of her. Instead I find him reading some drivel about little green shoots pushing up out of the earth. She looks as if someone’s done a lobotomy on her! She might have been violent before, but she was someone we could expect to work with. What’s that in there?”
“I told you she was exhibiting two distinct personalities.”
“You didn’t explain what that meant. Damn it, Doyle’s encouraged this, hasn’t he? He’s putting on this big show of cooperating because he knows what he’s delivering is essentially useless.”
“I don’t think that’s entirely fair. This split was beginning to happen before he saw her. It’s just unfortunate that this is the personality which seems to respond to him.”
“I know Doyle better than that. He’s done this deliberately. I want him out of there, as of now. I came up, anyway, to tell you you’d have to manage without him for today. I’m sending Durban out to pick up what we need, and I want Doyle and Sandburg locked in while there are only three of us on the premises. Before I do that, though, I’m going to show Doyle he can’t mess about with me like this. You’d better work on putting things right. How do you get the other personality back?”
“It’s not that straightforward,” Hooper said, deciding not to explain how little he really understood about what he was seeing.
“Rubbish. Two or three nights ago, she was yowling and violent. What caused that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Find out. I’m not letting Doyle or Sandburg near her again until she’s the personality we want.”
“Doyle has got her much calmer.”
“Well, perhaps that’s the problem. I need the woman who used nerve gas as a bargaining agent and didn’t hesitate to off her partner. I don’t need calm. She can be as violent as she likes if we have control.”
“But what if we don’t have control?”
“She’s tied down, isn’t she? And Durban’s picking up the new drugs you wanted. Let her scream. Even that’s better than the way Doyle has her now.”
Maybe she’d sleep, Hooper hoped fervently. Maybe she’d settle now and not wake up until Durban got back with a new arsenal of pharmaceuticals.
Williams sent Hooper back in, and called to Cornish to bring Doyle out.
Doyle, who must have already seen the look on Williams’ face, clearly guessed what was likely to happen. He said quietly to Alicia, “I have to go now. Can you do something for me? Can you make all your paint very pale, very soft, and keep it like that? Lie still and think about the garden until you go to sleep.”
“Like Colin in the story?”
“Just like Colin.”
Hooper was grateful. Very grateful. He also realized just how difficult things could be if Doyle was unavailable.
“It’s absolutely imperative I could get him back in an emergency,” he said to Williams. “Otherwise there’s a chance we could lose her completely. Don’t do anything that will incapacitate him.”
Williams nodded reluctantly. “I can make my point without going that far,” he said. “Cornish, bring Doyle downstairs.”
Doyle walked out with the man as coolly as if he had idea what was coming.
Bodie came downstairs early, to find he was actually the last person up—if anyone else had been to bed. Jim Ellison was asleep on the couch, looking less blotchy. Tom was sitting in a chair near the window, elbows on his knees and his head bowed over his hands. He wasn’t asleep: he looked up as Bodie stopped in the doorway, and came quietly to join him in the kitchen.
“I’ll put some coffee on. I think we’ve still got bacon, and there’s definitely some eggs. Stella’s shopping on her way home.”
Ellison appeared, sleepy and rather rumpled, but brought in by the smell of frying. Bodie was relieved to see he looked almost human, and that he ate without the painful effort it had taken before. He’d half thought of trying to leave him behind if he still looked like some kind of plague victim, but he was pleased not to have to. Apart from anything else, Jim would be useful if their luck turned and they did have someone to follow.
“Is there anything at all I can do to help?” Tom asked as they got ready for another day of watching people shop.
Bodie had been thinking about that. They had had a couple of chats with the proprietor of the tobacconists. He hadn’t been uncooperative, but he hadn’t exactly been friendly, either.
“I wonder if the shopkeeper might say more to you than he did to us,” he suggested. “He was polite enough, but we didn’t get much out of him. Maybe he found us intimidating.”
“He’d probably talk more freely to someone local,” Tom agreed. “And I’d be unofficial. He may have worried about some perfectly innocent customers being harassed. I’d be glad to do that. I’ll come over in my lunch hour if I don’t hear from you before that.”
Bodie called Murphy before he left. Their conversations were getting briefer every time: “I’ve got nothing. You?”
Murphy counseled patience, but Bodie’s patience was wearing thin. He’d forgotten how abrasive to your mood it was to worry about someone.
What was happening to Doyle?
None of the assurances from Murphy, or from his own logic, that Doyle should be all right made the question seem any less urgent.
Blair dabbed cautiously at the blood trickling down Ray’s chin, and wondered what further damage was hidden under his shirt. He’d been startled and alarmed when the door suddenly opened and Ray was pushed in; he was horrified when he saw how bruised and battered his face was.
“Williams,” Ray said thickly before he could ask anything. “It’s superficial.”
Blair eased him gently back on the bed and saw that his eye was swelling and his lip was already twice the size it should be. A cut on his eyebrow and several near his mouth were bleeding steadily. It was obvious it was going to be painful for him to talk, so Blair forced himself to hold back the questions and as gently as possible went on trying to clean up some of the damage.
“They’ve done a real number on you,” he said softly as he took off the pillow case to use as another cloth. “Here, hold the wet one against that eyebrow for a minute.”
The door opened again and he moved instinctively to put himself between Ray and whoever was coming in, but it was only Cornish with a box of food. “That’s your lot for the day,” he said, putting it down near the door. “Make it last.”
“We need some more water,” Blair said quickly.
Cornish didn’t answer, but he came back a little later with two large bottles of water and a bag of ice.
“Dr. Hooper says to get him fit enough to come back up if there’s an emergency. If there isn’t, don’t expect to see anyone.”
Blair had ripped up the pillowcase by now. He wrapped the ice bag in one piece, and Ray held it against his eye. He looked very pale under the bruises.
“Let me help you lie down,” Blair said, getting more and more concerned. “Are your ribs okay?”
There were reddening bruises on his torso, but nothing to show cracked ribs or internal damage. It had been a carefully calculated beating; Ray was hurting, but not in any danger. It was hard, though, to see him in pain. Blair made him as comfortable as he could, and put a blanket over him.
“I’ll be okay in a minute,” Ray mumbled, his words distorted by the swelling around his mouth. “We’ve got bigger probl’ms than this. Williams wants the original Alex Barnes back. He’s not at all happy with Alicia.”
“That’s why he did this?” Blair said, understanding.
“We’re banned until she’s that personality again. Not expend’ble yet, luckily. Not in such a good position, though.”
“Williams must be mad,” Blair said, rewrapping the ice and putting it back against Ray’s eye. “When she woke at the nursing home, she was completely manic. He can’t imagine she’ll be any different now. It wasn’t just her senses being out of control that made her insane. Everything you’ve described says she’s totally unstable.”
“Williams thinks he can control her.”
“Oh, no. What an idiot. Oh, man, I am really glad we’re down here.” Blair dabbed the cloth gently against Ray’s cuts again, wishing he could do more for him. “If Williams is trying to get Alex back, a locked basement is probably the best place to be.”
Alicia woke. She didn’t think she’d been asleep very long. It was hard to tell anymore. The blood seemed to be rushing through her body. Everything was going too fast, as if she was running down a slope and getting quicker and quicker. Even when Ray was there, it was too fast, but he stopped her noticing so much. She needed Ray. He would read to her about the hidden garden.
“Ray can’t come just at the moment,” Dr. Hooper said. She didn’t like his voice and the way he was nervous when he came anywhere close to her. She could smell the fear on him. Or maybe it was Alex who could smell it.
“I want Ray!” she said.
“Later,” he said, and walked away to the other side of the room.
Had Ray gone far away? She tried to remember how she’d found his voice before, and clumsily listened her way down through the house. Ray was there, and Blair, talking. But Ray sounded all wrong, as if the words were coming out of his mouth oddly, and Blair sounded worried. Without understanding how she did it, she focused her senses more sharply on them. She could smell something stronger than Hooper’s fear. That was blood. Ray’s blood.
Alicia began to scream.
Jim watched as Tom stood in the store talking to the man behind the counter. His control of his hearing wasn’t consistent enough for him to think it was worth trying to listen across a busy road and sidewalk crowded with lunchtime shoppers. Tom would tell them anything worth hearing.
Bodie was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel again. Jim had just about learned to live with the sound over the last few days. It was one of the very few outward signs there were that Bodie, who always looked so cool and confident, was as worried as he was.
Tom finished his conversation and came back, leaning in Jim’s window to report. “He was a bit more talkative with me. He has serious civil liberty problems with the whole idea of CI5, but when we got chatting, it turned out Stella had once nursed his wife, and he was more friendly then. One of the things he said seemed to me to be quite hopeful. A lot of his customers fit the profile of the sort of man we think we’re looking for, but not many fit the timeframe that Williams has been in the area. They’re either locals who are regular customers, or holidaymakers. Of the people who’ve started coming regularly in the last few months, only one orders the exact tobacco and papers you identified. And—this is the hopeful bit—he actually called this morning and asked for his usual order to be made up so he could pick it up quickly when he was passing through. He should be in in the next couple of hours. The shopkeeper’s happy for me to hang around inside, and he’ll tip me the wink when the man comes in. I’ll come over and alert you. Does that sound all right?”
“Sounds good,” Jim said.
“You’ll be less obvious in the shop than we would,” agreed Bodie. “Let’s hope he really does show up.”
Jim, too, found it hard to believe they might finally have a lead. The possibility pushed up the tension in the car as they waited. Bodie drummed, and Jim felt the itching spring up again on his neck and hands. His concentration was all on Tom. It never occurred to him they might recognize the man, until Bodie stiffened to alertness beside him and said softly, “Dark-haired bloke, twenty yards, far side of the road. I’ve seen him before. Could have been at the pub. Probably was.”
Jim looked at the man he indicated. Had he seen him before? He was less certain than Bodie, but it gave a sort of confirmation to what was happening when the man walked into the shop. Tom came across promptly.
“Get in,” Bodie said. “I think this is our man. He’s pulled up on the pavement not far along. I’m going to follow him when he leaves.”
Tom slid readily into the back seat. The man from the tobacconist store came out walking rapidly. He didn’t look around, though. His speed didn’t seem to be caused by concern about being noticed.
“Not supposed to be here,” Bodie guessed. “I’ll bet Williams has sent him out to get essentials and he’s running this little errand for himself on the side.”
That was in their interests, Jim thought. If the man was in a hurry to get back, he’d be less careful. Jim focused in on the car, determined not to lose this one possible link to Blair.
Alicia had screamed until her throat hurt, and flung the ‘paint’ in snarls of bright, glaring colour. Now, in the chaos of it, there was another colour, black and slashing through the rest in painful, jagged lines. Alex was awake. They were both awake, and though it gave Alicia that sickening, seesawing feeling again, and made her feel even more as if they were going too fast down a very steep hill, she didn’t run away and Alex didn’t go back to sleep. They were her. She screamed, and Alex wrenched at the restraints, and the doctor, who stank of his fear now, didn’t know Alex was awake because he knew it was Alicia who was screaming.
The doctor went out of the room, and made a fuss. He shouted at the other man, the one she hated most, but in the end he had to leave her to scream. Ray wasn’t coming, and they wanted her to be all Alex. They would be very, very sorry that they’d wanted Alex back.
She could still smell Ray’s blood. She thought perhaps he was asleep now, but sounds came and went; she’d thrown the controls away. It was only the things she could smell that were strong and overwhelming all the time. She knew the smell of blood, and of tears. Ray’s blood. Blair’s tears.
In a horrible, lurching, out-of-control run, Alicia and Alex hurtled downhill together. The blood raced through their veins. The air panted in their lungs. They felt the cells of their body grow and die and grow and die, faster and faster.
Then Alex wrenched a hand free.
So Alicia stopped screaming.
The flabby, frightened doctor came back when he heard the quietness, but he was too late. Alex had undone the other hand, and Alicia understood the need to pretend and lie still and quiet. But when the doctor came close enough, she let it all be Alex.
Then the colors were red and black and loud and sharp, and the doctor was easy and soft and the man on the door was too slow. He started screaming at someone to get Doyle, get a gun, help, and then he was just screaming.
The man downstairs was greedy. Even now, when he had heard the shouts and screams and the silence, he stayed greedy. He still wanted to own Alex and shut Alicia in a small dark closet inside her chest. He went down to the basement and started to open the door, but that was too late now, as well.
The man was mean and greedy, and dangerous. Alex understood about guns. They went carefully now, and quietly, down to the kitchen, then to the top of the basement stairs. They could hear the keys rattling as his fingers shook, and smell the sweat that made his hands slip on the bolts.
When he was opening the door, and not looking back up for a moment, they threw the huge stone from the fireplace and hit him in the back, and then they went down with the knife from the kitchen drawer.
He’d fallen forwards into the room and they, she, they heard the gun fall in there, but she had the knife and she threw that as well from the bottom of the stairs. It went between his shoulder blades. In the room she could see Ray and Blair, but she couldn’t go in, not now. She pulled the knife out and it made the man scream and gurgle. Then she looked at them.
Ray had the gun, but his eyes told her he didn’t want to use it. His face was bruised and sore and it made her sad, but she was afraid of herself, her Alex self, and wouldn’t go closer.
Blair’s eyes were very wide, and his face was white, and Alex didn’t want to kill him, not ever again.
She, they, she turned away and ran up the stairs again, though she didn’t know where she could go. She could see the door that would take her out of the house. She went towards it, and it opened. Fierce, painful sunlight swept in, and in it another man stood. One who had stood by her door and watched them hurt her, or held her down so the needles could spear into her skin.
He saw the blood on her hands, and he stepped back and tried to pull his gun out, but not fast enough. She got more blood on her, and then stepped out into the sunny afternoon which burned her skin and sizzled at her eyes.
There was too much of everything out here, and she could feel it all. She stumbled forward a few steps and heard the air move and felt the bubbling at the earth’s core. And there were more men, different men.
One was the Sentinel.
Feelings choked her, but she wouldn’t look at him or know him. She couldn’t look at him. He could still smell the fountain and the wet dirt in Blair’s hair, just like she could.
The man next to him was dark and hard, but his eyes were afraid, and not for himself. She didn’t know who he cared about inside the house, but she knew he would kill her if it was someone she had hurt.
It was the third man who she turned to, stumbling again on the currents of the earth. He had kind eyes, like Ray’s, and the harsh light broke around him and changed.
It wasn’t sunlight there at all, it was a different light, more golden, and all her savage colors grew softer in it.
She took another step closer.
“Tom! Stand still! She doesn’t know what she’s doing!”
That was Ray’s voice. She didn’t turn around, though. She couldn’t take her eyes from the man Ray had called Tom—or the other man who stood beside him now, who none of the rest of them seemed to see. She hadn’t seen him before. He’d come out of the golden light.
“Please…” she said to him.
He was clearer now, but how could he know what she was asking for? She didn’t know herself. She tried to find words to tell him.
“I can feel the earth moving. I can see the patterns of the way things are made. I can hear the clouds move.” That was her. That was who she was.
She began to see him easily, though it was very bright around him. He had kind eyes, too, eyes that understood.
“Come with me and you can see the stars dance,” he said.
She looked into his eyes now, and knew he could see Alicia and Alex. He could see all the things they’d done and all the things they might have done, and although his face was very sad, it was still kind.
The other people seemed far away and faded now. The golden light was brighter than sunlight, but it didn’t burn in the same way. It made her see herself, though, so clearly.
She looked down. “I have blood on my hands,” she told him.
“So have I,” he said, and he held them out for her to see.
Someone had hurt them. The sight made her even sadder than when she saw Ray or thought about Blair.
“Watch,” he said. As he held out his hands to her, she looked at her own, and they were clean.
“Come with me,” he said again.
The golden light was all around her now. It would wash and burn away a lot of what was Alex and some of what was Alicia, but she, herself, who she was, would still be there.
And be loved.
She put her hands into his and went with him.
Doyle stood for a moment completely shocked, staring at Williams’ writhing body, then the sound of Alicia’s footsteps as she turned and ran galvanized him into action. He paused a moment to make sure Blair was okay, told him to stay put, and ran after her. By then she’d already dealt with Durban. He lay across the doorstep, a bubble of blood showing at the side of his mouth.
Doyle saw Alicia stumble in the driveway—and saw Bodie, Ellison and Tom Hunter. They had no idea what was happening, he realized. They must have followed Durban and walked into this. Alicia wasn’t threatening them, though. Not yet. She stumbled again, turned from one to another, then took a step towards Tom.
Doyle shouted to warn him, and not only Tom, but all of them, even Alicia herself, stood still. Doyle had Williams’ gun trained on her. Bodie, he could see, was also ready to shoot if he had to. But she didn’t seem to be threatening Tom, and they waited.
The seconds seemed painfully long and drawn out. He heard Blair’s harsh breathing close behind him and reached back an arm to pull him close. He was aware of the throbbing ache in his face and chest, and that, with his eye swollen enough to be distorting his vision, he’d be best leaving the shot to Bodie if one of them had to take it.
But Alicia stood still, her head tilted slightly, not looking so much at Tom as to the side of him.
Without any warning, she crumpled to the ground. Doyle had seen people fall like that from a bullet, but no one had fired.
Tom was just too late to catch her, and he dropped to his knees, feeling for a pulse, as Bodie and Ellison both moved towards him.
“How many inside?” Bodie called, as Tom looked up and shook his head.
“Three,” Doyle said. “Williams is a casualty. I haven’t checked upstairs.”
“There’s blood on the stairs,” Blair said, his voice shaky. He moved abruptly to the side, to the patch of grass under the window, and was sick.
Doyle wanted to go to him, but he wasn’t sure he could move. He hadn’t realized how bad he felt until he ran up the stairs, and without the door frame, he wasn’t sure he could stay on his feet.
But Jim Ellison was here now. He held onto Blair while he retched, and stood so he blocked Blair’s view of Durban, and Alicia.
Doyle knew from Tom’s movements that she was dead.
When had Bodie appeared in front of him? He blinked, and with his better eye saw that Bodie was looking him over with expert assessment, and moderating concern. “This is a few hours old, isn’t it. Beating?”
“You be all right propped up there a minute while I just check upstairs?”
Doyle nodded. He watched Tom straighten Alicia’s sprawled body, giving her back some dignity, and Jim sitting Blair on the grass with his head on his knees.
Bodie was back down quickly, and, if you knew him well, looking visibly shaken. “I think they might be alive. Ellison, you used to be a medic—can you take a look? I’ve called the police and ambulance.”
Jim gave Blair’s bent shoulders a quick hug and went to do what he could, if anything.
“Better call Murph as well,” Doyle said.
“He’s not going to be happy. He’ll never believe it wasn’t our fault there was a bloodbath. Did she do all that? On her own?”
They looked at the slight body stretched on the drive.
“Give me a hand over there,” Doyle said.
He brushed off Tom’s concerned questions and stooped to look at her. She looked peaceful. More peaceful than he’d ever seen her. He wished he’d been able to do more for her while she was alive.
“I thought she was dying,” he said. “That bastard Williams wouldn’t let me help her anymore. She was so confused…” He straightened up, the world rocked a little, and he leaned against Bodie’s shoulder. He felt tired and sore and defeated.
“You can’t always tell how much you’ve helped someone,” Tom said softly.
Bodie turned Doyle, quite gently, away from Alicia and towards Blair. “Someone else needs a bit of help, too. You go and look after your boy, and I’ll call Murphy.”
The affection in his voice as much as his words brought Doyle back to the needs of the living. He’d seen what a wrench it was for Jim Ellison to leave Blair and go help the men who’d taken him, and although Blair had his head up now, he looked pale and miserable. Doyle let Bodie help him over there, and sat with his arm around Blair while the police and a couple of ambulances arrived.
One young constable came straight out of the house again, and, like Blair, threw up in the flowerbed. But when Jim Ellison came back, he said he thought that in spite of their injuries, all three of the men in the house might survive.
“We tried to warn them,” Blair said wearily.
“No good trying to warn someone like Williams,” Bodie said, also coming to join them. “Though I must say, he’s paid for it. He might survive, but they think she’s damaged his spine.” He looked over to where the first ambulance was already leaving. “Going to spend the rest of his life in some secure hospital, I’d say.”
Tom had been moving their car and Williams’ vehicles to clear the drive, but he came back now, and sat down on the grass. “Don’t you think you ought to get one of the paramedics to look at you, Ray?”
“He’s okay,” Jim said, earning Doyle’s gratitude. “They wouldn’t do anything more for him except maybe a couple of butterfly bandages. Nothing we can’t do at home. And speaking of that, I don’t know what your rules are for a scene like this, Bodie—can Tom take them home?”
“We’re CI5, we make the rules,” Bodie said. “And although we’ve panicked Murphy enough that he’s coming down by helicopter no less, right now I’m in charge.”
“With me,” Doyle said hastily.
Bodie smiled with just that trace of amusement that never failed to be exasperating. “You’re out of action.”
Doyle had too much sympathy for Murphy, and for whatever poor sod in the force had to write a report on this, to leave the scene immediately, whatever he felt like. He got stiffly to his feet, and went to give the details of what had happened to the senior police officer. Bodie strolled along beside him, never more than a step away, but at least he shut up and let Doyle get on with it. By the time he’d finished, the scene had begun to clear.
“What did they do with her body?” he asked Bodie sharply.
“Tom made arrangements, I think. He thought she had no family?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t want them to slice her up to find out what makes a Sentinel.”
“I think we can see that doesn’t happen.” He’d had his hand unobtrusively under Doyle’s elbow, and Doyle wasn’t sorry for the support. In all ways. “Come on, Ray. We’re done here. There are two constables to keep an eye on things ’til Murphy gets here. You can’t tell me you haven’t had enough for one day.”
Doyle looked over at the small group sitting on the grass. Tom saw that they were done, raised a hand in acknowledgment and went to get the car. Bodie was right, he’d had enough, but it could have been much, much worse.
“She didn’t want to hurt us,” he said quietly. “She was afraid she might, I think. She stood and looked at us, then ran before she could.”
Bodie wrapped an arm around his shoulders—probably severely undermining the constables’ impression both of CI5 and of Bodie’s infamous ruthlessness. “You’re a good man, Ray. However insane she was, I think she knew what was good. I saw her face when she stood there in front of Tom. She was looking at him, and then past him, and whatever she was seeing, it made her light up like a kid with a present. You did what you could for her, and she found some kind of peace. Come on home.”
Even the incessant noise of the helicopter couldn’t drown out the sound repeating itself in Murphy’s mind. It was Cowley’s voice, a little more Scots in his imagination, saying, “Och, I told you so. Will you never learn, laddie?”
What the hell had Bodie done? Two corpses and three severely injured casualties couldn’t just be dismissed as collateral damage. It was all very well for Bodie to say he and Doyle had been innocent bystanders—was that going to stand up in court? At least there had been nothing in the press so far. The tabloids would love it. With Williams’ past in Intelligence, what were his chances of suppressing the story with a D notice? The one good thing was that he’d been able to tell Naomi before he left that Blair had been rescued safe and well. He’d kept the other details to himself.
Jim listened to Blair talking to Naomi on the phone. It was a masterclass in obfuscation. He’d heard Blair snow his mom before, but never quite as outrageously as this. Of course, it was what Naomi wanted to hear: he was fine, he was well, he’d be in London tomorrow or the next day and they’d have a great time together in some museum or art gallery. The only sour note was when he tried to appeal to her sympathy for Ray, telling her Doyle’d been beaten up.
“I expect it happens to him all the time,” Naomi said tartly. “It’s a way of life among the people he deals with. He probably does the same himself, beats confessions out of people and so on. I hope you’re not going to start pretending to be naive about an organization like CI5.”
“Mom, you’re sleeping with the head of CI5!”
“That’s quite different, sweetie…”
Jim didn’t wait to find out how. He shouldn’t have been listening in the first place, and this conversation was definitely moving into areas he didn’t want to explore. Especially as the aforementioned head of CI5 was currently in Tom’s study being reassured, debriefed and generally put right by Bodie and Doyle.
Jim wandered into the kitchen. Stella had gone to pick up her sons—once Tom had remembered where he left the car, and Bodie had taken him to get it. She’d be away until the following morning, but she’d left a huge supper out on the kitchen table. He filled a plate and went out into the yard.
Tom was sitting there with a beer and the newspaper, though it was getting too dark for reading. He tossed it to one side when he saw Jim. “After a day like today, you wonder about how much more there is that never reaches the papers. Can I get you a beer?”
Tom even brought him a cold one. Jim sipped it slowly, and wondered if Tom would think he was losing it if he told him what he’d seemed to see that afternoon. Tom had a good track record, though.
“When we got to the farmhouse,” Jim began abruptly, going for it, “when Alex was standing there in front of you, it was like I could see this light. A different sort of light, I mean. I’ve seen it somewhere before… in a dream… Anyway, she was standing there, and before she died, I had the impression she just, well, stepped into the light.”
“I hoped so,” Tom said simply, not apparently finding anything out of the ordinary in this conversation at all. “From what Ray said, what you all said, and what we saw, she was very lost and disturbed. I was watching her face at the end. Something important had changed. She looked… not lost anymore.”
In spite of everything, Jim was glad of that. He let the subject drop as he heard Blair coming, though. Some day, when Blair was a fully-fledged Ph.D., and the hurts of the past year or more had healed completely, he might talk to him about Alex, but not yet.
Blair still looked pale and vulnerable, but he was past the worst of the reaction to what had happened, and his dominant mood just now seemed to be annoyance.
“I can’t believe Naomi,” he said, absently accepting the beer Tom offered. “She’s not even trying ‘I hear you’ when I talk about Ray. She’s the one who complains about closed minds, but she’s being totally unreasonable about this.”
“She’ll get over it,” Jim said. Personally, he thought that a cop in the family tree probably explained some of Blair’s best qualities, but he wasn’t planning to put that view to Naomi.
“It’s not like I’m going to forget she’s my mother,” Blair grumbled over his beer. “Anyway, they’re going to have to meet each other before we go back to Cascade. Some old guy Murphy knows is inviting us all for croquet and cucumber sandwiches or something.”
Tom choked on his beer.
Jim thought charitably that Blair had been out of the loop. “Was this old guy called George Cowley by any chance?”
“That’s right. Naomi thought that even if Ray was there, it would be fun to go and do something very English, so she’s cool with it. Why are you looking like that? He’s just some retired civil servant, isn’t he?”
“Think retired civil servant who was once a sort of cross between Simon Banks and Jack Kelso, with a touch of special ops thrown in.”
“And years of experience,” Tom added.
Blair thought about it. “Well, she and Ray will have to be civil to each other, then. Might be a good thing.”
Tom heard noises inside that suggested Murphy was leaving, and went to see him off. Blair leaned back against Jim’s chair and tilted his bottle up to get the last drops. Jim thought you could walk around all the art galleries in London and not see a better picture. Had it only been last night he’d sat here feeling as if his skin was being flayed… feeling guilty as hell? He’d been so preoccupied with all that had happened today, and so relieved to have Blair back, that he hadn’t thought at all about anything except the present. Now that he did think of what had happened to cause their most recent troubles, he didn’t want to just let it go.
“Chief?” he said quietly.
Blair swiveled to face him.
“I’m sorry about the whole DNA test thing. We were totally out of line. I had no right to make decisions for you like that.”
Blair looked at him. “Jim, tell me you haven’t been beating yourself up about that all week. I know I threw a hissy fit, but it was Naomi I was really mad at, not you. I mean, sure, you were out of line, but you’re the guy who checks out my dates on the police database—if it’s privacy or protection, believe me I know where I stand.”
“It was a bad call,” Jim said, determined not to be exonerated too easily.
“It must have been hard to know what the good call was. I’m not sure how I’d have handled a ‘maybe’.”
“You should never have had to hear it like that.”
“Jim, Naomi’s a loose cannon. No one could have predicted her turning up in England.”
“I’m trying to apologize here, Chief!” Jim said, exasperated.
Blair grinned. “Sorry, man. I just don’t want you to take more than your share of the guilt, okay? You want to do penance, it’s not on the scale of barefoot from here to Cascade. All the chores for a month when we get home will do.”
“So what’ll be different?” Jim said, giving in to being forgiven.
“I do chores!”
“You plan to do chores.”
Somewhere, even if the apology had not gone quite as he planned, his sense of guilt had lifted. Thanks to Blair. The thought of the loft, and chores, had more appeal just now than a beach in Barbados. Normal life, Blair at Rainier, Blair at the PD with him. He was damned if he was ever going to blow it again.
“You know, Chief,” he said, thinking about it, “if you ever needed him to, Ray would come and kick my ass.”
Blair looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Jim, sometimes I really don’t want to know what goes on in your head. No more, man. Let’s get Ray and Bodie a beer. I think they probably need one by now.”
Bodie was beginning to develop a reluctant respect for Murphy. Murphy had been fully versed in what had happened before he arrived, he’d managed to persuade the doctors to let him have a few words with Hooper, and he’d kept the story out of the papers at least while there was anything worth photographing. Bodie had been able to get in a few good ones about the helicopter, but although he was privately sure Murphy had spent the whole trip to Dorset in a cold sweat imagining embarrassing parliamentary questions, you’d never guess it now. Murphy hadn’t identified Williams’ London backers, but even Cowley hadn’t managed that, and the general feeling was that now that this attempt had so spectacularly failed, they’d go back to the more traditional route of whispers and lies to try to discredit the government.
Yeah, Murphy had done all right. Unfortunately, his parting note had been almost worthy of Cowley himself. “I’ll see you both in London the day after tomorrow, and get yourselves sorted out by then. I don’t care who was to blame for the damn DNA test, or even for Doyle chucking in CI5 all those years ago, come to that. I want your guarantee that by the time you start work properly, you’ll have dealt with it. We’ve got enough enemies without fighting each other.”
He’d timed it well, too. Just as he finished, the car that was picking him up pulled into Tom’s drive, and he was gone before they’d any chance of getting their answers out.
“Cowley’s been coaching him,” Doyle muttered.
“He gives it his own touch, though. Appealing to our sense of responsibility.”
“He’s right, too. I told you we needed to talk.”
There were times when surrender was the only good tactical option, especially when you had something to gain as well as to lose.
“Okay,” Bodie said simply.
It took the wind right out of Doyle’s sails.
“I said okay. Only, if we don’t want an audience, I think we’d better postpone it for an hour or two. I can see the others coming—with beer.”
It was at least a couple of hours, and more than a couple of beers, before the others drifted off again—Jim to call Cascade, Blair to bed and Tom to stack the bottles for recycling and load the dishwasher.
Doyle, still suffering from the battering he’d received at Williams’ hands, looked tired and slightly hazy. Bodie thought that now would be a good time to get some truth out of him.
“I was completely wrong to get that DNA test done,” he said. “I should have talked to you in the first place, when Ellison saw that picture of you and Naomi. I certainly shouldn’t have gone behind your back. You had every right to be angry.”
“You bastard!” Doyle said. He wasn’t so hazy he didn’t realize he’d been outmaneuvered. He knew exactly what this apology was worth—and what Bodie would expect in return.
“So I’ve been told,” Bodie agreed. “Come on, sunshine. I’ve groveled. Now keep your side of the bargain.”
“I need another drink.”
“If you have any more, you’ll fall asleep.”
“Not while I’m talking.”
“I’ve known you do it,” Bodie said, but he fetched them both a whisky, anyway.
“Those years in CI5 seem like another life,” Doyle said, twisting the glass around rather than drinking from it. “Or they did. Now with everything that’s happened, I suppose it’s clearer… closer.”
Bodie waited. Silence was his ally just now.
“Maybe a lot of things built up to it,” Doyle said at last. “I know what finally pushed me to resign, though. It was when Cook and the others died. It was bad enough losing them…” He did drink the whisky now. “I went to see June Cook, broke the news to her. Someone has to, that was what Cowley said, and I knew them. I’ve done it before, and since, and I’ve known plenty of people who took it as hard as she did. But some of the things she said, I don’t know, they just seemed to hit home.”
“What did she say?” Bodie asked quietly.
“That I was all right because I hadn’t got anybody. That—what was it?—we could just go on playing cowboys and Indians for the rest of our bloody, miserable, selfish lives.” The words came down the years fresh in the pain in his voice. “She was just hurting, Bodie. It was because it was too much like what I was already thinking that I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
His quiet bleakness brought that year back to Bodie. A bad year: Ray shot, Cowley talking about how they’d seen too much, done too much; innocents killed; the shifting sands under them where right and wrong had once been rock.
If anyone besides Cowley had kept CI5 struggling to make sure it was the side of right they held onto, it was definitely Ray Doyle.
“She was hurting,” Bodie agreed. “And she was wrong. The last word I’d’ve used about you is selfish. Or trigger happy. You did a damn near impossible job, and you never stopped trying to do it right. I told you this afternoon you’re a good man. That was just as true back then.”
“I made the wrong choice resigning,” Doyle said, with a certainty that surprised Bodie. “The wrong choice for the wrong reasons. Funny, really. A couple of years later, I realized: it was after I left CI5 that I didn’t have anybody.” He shrugged. “Bit late then. And the work was okay—more than okay, worth doing. I concentrated on that until it finally all crashed a few months ago when I got suspended. Know what kept me going then?”
“No,” Bodie said truthfully, drowning the ache of sympathy in his gut with another glass of whisky.
“That time I was shot—you were there. Really there sometimes, and in my dreams sometimes, ready to give me hell if I dared give up. It kept coming back into my mind as I was walking the coast path. Then I bumped into Tom one evening and things just happened.”
Bodie was never, ever going to have one of these conversations again. He’d settle for being shot any day. All those bitter years he’d been so sure it was some high-minded morality that drove Doyle out of CI5, that Bodie and Cowley just hadn’t come up to his standards. It was so much more like Doyle for it to have been guilt, depression and despair.
“Ray…” he started, and stopped himself because he didn’t trust his voice.
“Hey,” Doyle said, looking at him for the first time since he’d started talking. “I screwed this one up all by myself.”
“I could’ve spoken to you, asked you fifteen years ago…”
“I could’ve told you before I went. Anyway, we’re here now, back in business. Maybe if all that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have been here at the right time for Blair.”
Bodie had been glad, anyway, that Blair had proved to be a genuine chip off the Doyle block; he was even more glad of it after what he’d heard. “Yeah, you’ve certainly got somebody now,” he said.
“Always had,” Doyle said. “I realized too late, but I always had.” With the beating and the events of the day and the whisky, he was fading fast, but Bodie could see him fight to stay awake to finish what he wanted to say. “You know something Blair told me while were stuck in that basement with not much to do but talk? Sometimes it’s all about friendship.” He raised his glass. “We won’t forget it this time around.”
Bodie could drink to that.
Though they’d known them such a short time, Jim felt as if he was saying goodbye to old friends when he said goodbye to Tom and Stella. “Thanks,” he said to Tom, gripping his hand. “For a hell of a lot of things.”
“It’s been good having you here,” Tom said. “One of these days, when the kids have all left home, we’ll come and see what it’s like in Cascade. And until then, I’m sure we’ll hear news of you from Ray.”
Stella smiled over an arm full of flowers. Jim, Blair and Bodie, thinking of it rather late, had left Ray to sleep first thing that morning and gone shopping. The flowers had been Blair’s idea. Jim had gone for wine and chocolates, and Bodie for a crate of beer and a single malt. They’d all been gratefully received, anyway.
“Tell Naomi I hope she’ll come and see me while she’s in England,” Stella called.
“Tell Jen it all worked out and that Bodie and I will be back to stand them all a drink!” Doyle called in return
Before they could get into their car, a motorbike swerved into the close. The young rider stopped to drop off his passenger, who immediately removed her helmet releasing a long shock of purple hair.
“What do you think, Mum?” she said.
Jim had vaguely heard that the Hunters’ daughter was also coming home that day. Trained deductive reasoning and the sight of Tom’s face suggested to him that perhaps her hair hadn’t been purple when she left. Her brothers’ jeers confirmed it.
“Rachel!” Tom said, horrified.
“Whatever did it cost to have that done?” Stella asked. “Let me see it properly.”
“It makes your face look green,” one of the boys said.
“Does it wash out?” Tom asked.
Tom shook his head, and came over to the car to see them finally off.
“I thought it was going to be peaceful for you when we left,” Jim said.
“She had such pretty hair,” Tom said regretfully. “Take care, all of you. Ray, Bodie, come and see us soon. Jim, we won’t forget you, or Blair. Tell us when it’s Dr. Sandburg. Look after each other!”
Jim looked back to see them all waving, Rachel with her arm through her dad’s. He hoped he’d see them again. Things were clearer around Tom.
“We owe him,” Bodie said, echoing his own thoughts. “Oh, well, London beckons. What do you think we ought to wear for croquet with Cowley?”
Croquet with Cowley, Murphy mused. If you didn’t know what killer instincts the game brought out in people, it would seem a strange concept. At the moment, though, what was going on on the lawn in front of him was, in the most civilized way possible, total war. And Cowley wasn’t winning; Bodie and Jim Ellison were. Cowley was sounding more like an irascible general by the minute as he directed Elizabeth—who was in no need of direction at all. Judging by the way she was gripping her mallet, mutiny, probably with violence, was a real possibility.
He and Naomi had lost good-humoredly. Blair and Doyle had gone down fighting to Bodie and Jim. But this was the real match. He winced as for the second time in that round Bodie croqueted Cowley’s ball.
“‘Some of these images you may find distressing’,” Doyle murmured, joining him. “I don’t know how you can bear to watch.”
“Horrified fascination,” Murphy said. “What have you been doing, anyway?”
“Making peace with Naomi. Or armed neutrality, anyway. Blair’s happy.”
“Talking of Naomi, you don’t still…”
“Oh, no. She’s all yours. I’ve sworn off redheads. Bodie’s added it to the contract.”
Out on the lawn, Cowley made a noise like an exasperated gander as Elizabeth’s ball just failed to go through the hoop.
“Well, if you’re sure, perhaps I’ll go and show her the rose garden,” Murphy said. You had to admire Bodie’s nerve, but it was straining his own just watching.
With his arm comfortably around Naomi’s waist, he looked back. Ignoring the croquet, Blair and Doyle stood talking in the sunshine.
“It was a beautiful night,” Naomi said unexpectedly. “The next day was horrible, but that night was almost perfect. I like to think that Blair came from somewhere beautiful.”
Murphy drew her discreetly behind a large floribunda where he could put his arms around her properly. “He definitely came from someone beautiful,” he said smoothly. The noises from the croquet were muted here. Make love, not war. Even for the head of CI5, it sometimes worked.
Blair gave his father a final hug. “You don’t have to wait for the dissertation to be finished. Come, anyway.”
“As soon as I can,” Ray promised. “Stay out of trouble.” Which was rich from a man who, on his first day back at work, had already pissed off a cabinet minister.
Blair detached himself reluctantly and went with Jim to board the flight that was the first stage of their journey home to Cascade. Even when they took off, he could hardly believe that he was going home. Perhaps it was a lingering effect of the way Williams had tried to condition him that Cascade still seemed not quite real.
“I’ve got your backpack at the loft,” Jim said. “It was still in your car. It’s in your room.”
Blair could just imagine it: the backpack standing there uncompromisingly, Jim’s assertion, in defiance of all the negative voices, that Blair would come back, or that Jim would go wherever it took to find him. The loft, every familiar inch of it, lost its fuzziness and became so clear in his mind that it took his breath away.
“Simon and the guys are going to throw a party to welcome you back,” Jim said. “Barbecue or poker, your choice. And the Rainier gang is going to do whatever it is anthropologists do to celebrate.”
The PD, the bullpen, Rainier’s halls also sharpened into focus. Blair felt his eyes sting, and hastily turned to look out of the window. The plane was just emerging from the clouds into the sunlight.
“I feel like that, you know, Chief,” Jim said, also watching the clarity of the sky. “Ever since… oh, ever since I had that dream where I shot the wolf, and it was you, I seem to have been walking in the shadows. Making mistakes. Nothing’s been what it should, however hard we’ve tried. It just doesn’t feel like that anymore. I think we’ve made it out of there to where we can see things more clearly.”
Blair swiped his eyes and nodded. “Yeah. I think we have.”
Jim smiled, losing his seriousness. “And when I’m seeing clearly, that really is seeing!”
Blair followed his gaze out into the blue depths of sky. He wondered what it looked like to a Sentinel’s sight. An old, almost forgotten joy at the excitement of discovering woke in him.
He really was going home.
~ End ~