A Pugnacious Angel

By Gil Hale — corbidae@yahoo.com

A Pugnacious Angel - by Roven

Spoilers: Involvement

Author’s Notes: Written for the PROSFanFic Lyric Wheel #3, devoted to partnership and friendship. The story was based on Billy Joel’s song, “Just the Way You Are.” Lyrics are posted at the end of the story.

Illustration (to the right) is by Roven. Many thanks to her!

Christmas was coming. London was busy and cheerful, and Bodie had plans for the season. He felt CI5 had done their share to ensure some peace and good will around the country, and he was looking forward to a few days off to celebrate. He really didn’t appreciate being sent on assignment to the cheerless and genteel coastal resort of Midmouth, especially when he and his fellow agents found they were rather less welcome there than animal liberationists on a turkey farm.

Midmouth was a respectable town—ultimately respectable, and full of prosperous elderly residents who had retired there to enjoy its mild coastal climate. Apart from the occasional unruliness of the sea—held firmly in check by breakwaters and a strong coastal wall—the most that ever ruffled the existence of its wealthy south-east counties clientele was a visit from the wrong sort of holiday maker. Fortunately, its total lack of even the most moderate seaside attractions made this a rare event. Crime, apart from sporadic outbreaks of jewellery theft, was not a problem. The local superintendent had nothing in his experience to prepare him for a visit from CI5.

“I’ve just received an extremely brief notification from Major Cowley,” he said irritably as he ushered Bodie, Doyle and Murphy into his office, and looking them over with undisguised distaste. Superintendent Richardson, Bodie had read on the highly polished plate on his door. He was near retirement age and with his plump and greying appearance would blend in well with the local population. He didn’t actually say that the agents in front of him looked like the sort of leather-jacketed louts whom he and his force kept out of Midmouth on bank holidays, but this was probably only because Cowley’s reputation had pervaded even these depths of little England. “I understand CI5 requires our cooperation.”

“That’s right, sir,” said Murphy with cheerful politeness. Bodie left him to do the talking. He doubted if anything would win over Superintendent Richardson, but of the three of them, Murphy was the least likely to make matters worse.

“I find it very difficult to believe that anything in Midmouth could merit the attention of an organisation like CI5,” Richardson went on and Bodie recognised the tone of a man who was determined not to see anything that would upset his well-ordered view of life.

“Well it’s a matter of national security, sir,” Murphy said, giving the words just the right tone to appeal to the superintendent’s self-importance. It was the Irish in Murphy, Bodie thought, that accounted for that natural ability to charm and persuade. “Obviously I can’t go into details, but there’ve been some problems at quite a senior level.”

Richardson nodded portentously, as if he had some idea of what Murphy was talking about. “But then surely it would be a matter for MI5 or MI6. I believe they have people who would, well, fit in…”

People with the right clothes, the right accent, and a suitable regard for wealth and position, Bodie assumed. He glanced at his partner. Everything about Richardson should be provoking sparks from Doyle, but no. Doyle was standing there looking about as bright as the grey sleety weather outside, and moved to nothing more than a remote cynicism. Vaguely uneasy, Bodie turned his attention back to the conversation.

“MI5 have been looking into the affair,” Murphy was saying, still giving the impression of sharing confidential material while parting with almost no information. “As you say, sir, they can blend in. But Mr Cowley feels it’s time for a slightly different approach. Now, we’d be most grateful if you could smooth the way for us. We’re here under cover, naturally. We’d like to be introduced to the major hotels as representatives from a security firm, here to offer valuable advice to the hoteliers—look at their arrangements, point out potential problem areas, suggest up-to-date technology. We won’t be charging them, of course, so it will need to be represented as a police liaison matter. As a matter of fact, you might well be doing them a favour. I gather there have been a number of thefts over the last few months.”

“Some of our elderly ladies are a little careless with their jewellery,” the superintendent agreed grudgingly. By the time Murphy had finished talking, Bodie saw their status had improved from unacceptable to merely undesirable. The superintendent even made a point of pompously offering the back-up he actually had no choice about supplying.

“Well, thanks for the support, lads,” Murphy said with feeling as they walked out into the dreary morning and the wind off the sea whipped icy rain into their faces.

Bodie grinned. His contribution had been silence. It had been a lot more tactful than anything he might have said. Doyle had surfaced briefly to show a familiarity with police procedure that, if anything, increased the superintendent’s suspicion of them. It had been Murphy’s hour.

“We’ll make it up to you when the bars open,” he promised.

“Men like Richardson make me sick,” Doyle said, but without the force he’d normally have given the words. He wandered over to the edge of the promenade to stare at the incoming tide, apparently unaware of the weather.

Murphy looked at him doubtfully. “Unrequited love?” he asked.

Bodie thought about it. He wasn’t exactly keeping score, but he was sure Doyle had been requited at least as often as he had recently. “Nah.”

“Well, he’s not cheering me up. Shall we go and find our hotel.”

“It’s the cheapest,” Bodie said. “I heard Cowley giving very specific instructions.”

Midmouth didn’t, in fact, run to a hotel cheap enough to satisfy George “Jacob Marley was misunderstood” Cowley. It took them quite a while to track down the place where they were staying, which was really more in the nature of a very small guesthouse. By that time Bodie and Murphy had had enough of Midmouth, and Doyle had apparently had enough of life altogether. He didn’t even join in their eloquent denunciation of Cowley when they found the slightly down-at-heel “Rosebay”, right at the end of the town and positioned to catch the full force of the wind off the sea.

“Well, at least we won’t have to worry about dressing for dinner,” Bodie muttered. “If there is any dinner.”

“Tough meat and watery gravy,” Murphy predicted.

“Bullet-hard sprouts.”

“Thick sponge with a scraping of jam.”

Bodie thought about it. “Can’t go far wrong with sponge and jam.”

Murphy shook his head despairingly at this. “You’re not special forces now Bodie. You can eat like a human being.”

They’d got the bags out of the boot as they were talking, and went up to the front door jostling like unruly schoolboys. To their surprise it opened before they got there. It looked almost like a welcome.

“Come on in, boys,” said the man who was holding it open. Behind him an unfashionably cheerful Christmas tree with mismatched decorations lit up the hall, and there was an appetising smell of baking. “My wife’s just put coffee on, so if you want to take your bags up it’ll be ready by the time you come down. You don’t mind the kitchen?”

“Bodie loves kitchens.”

Bodie grinned at the truth, starting up the rather narrow stairs, but it should have been his partner joking, not Murphy. Instead Doyle seemed to be somewhere else entirely, trailing up after them without any interest in his surroundings. Bodie looked into the two rooms allocated to them. The single was definitely the more desirable.

“Don’t even think it,” Murphy said, dropping his bag in there.

Bodie looked at the twin beds in the other room. “Any preference?” he asked Doyle.

Doyle looked at him blankly for a moment, as if he was talking Swahili, then shook his head. “Suit yourself.”

Great. If there was anything more depressing than English coastal respectability on a rainy day, it had to be Doyle brooding. Bodie couldn’t even think what had started him off. Feeling he deserved it, he took what looked like the more comfortable bed, then summoned up his best level of patience and tried again. “Come and have a cup of coffee. Cheer you up.”

It didn’t seem to have much effect on Doyle, but Bodie was cheered—not just by the coffee but by the discovery that he was being offered mince pies, chocolate log, all sorts of savouries and a tray of cakes that had just come out of the oven. The guesthouse owners seemed as out-of-place in Midmouth as he felt himself. Even their accents were distinctly northern. He’d read a book once, as a kid, about a magic door. He couldn’t remember the story, but he remembered the appeal of that idea: stepping through an ordinary door in a wall and suddenly being in some other world. It felt like that.

Mr and Mrs Barnby, who owned and ran the guesthouse, had apparently not been in the south for long enough to lose their healthy northern curiosity into other people’s lives. While Bodie munched his way through pastry and cake, Murphy told them the cover story of their security technology.

“Well, I’m afraid you won’t get any business from us,” Mrs Barnby said frankly. “We barely break even as it is. We only took this place over just over a year ago, and it was in a shocking state. We wanted to move somewhere mild, because my husband’s father and my aunt were both so poorly with chest problems and the doctor said it was the best thing we could do. Bill was made redundant then, and we thought we’d make a new start.”

“Why Midmouth?” Bodie asked with genuine curiosity.

“It’s not a very friendly place is it?” Mrs Barnby said, understanding. “There wasn’t a lot up for sale when we wanted to move. But we’ve done all right. There are always people who appreciate a bit of home cooking.” She looked at Bodie with approval. “And then my auntie, she was a school teacher all her working life, and she has a lot of friends who like a seaside holiday in a quiet place. Plenty of them we’ve had over the summer.” She paused to hand the plate of mince pies to Murphy who was coming in a reasonable second in the eating marathon, and looked with some concern at Doyle who hadn’t opened his mouth for food or conversation. “Can I get you something else, love. Why don’t you come a bit nearer the fire, you look starved with cold.”

“No—thank you—I’m fine,” Doyle said, which was a longer answer than Bodie had got out of him all morning. “How’s your aunty now?”

“Oh, she’s been so much better since we lived here,” Mrs Barnby said. “She’s just out visiting a gentleman friend. You’ll meet her at dinner.”

As Mr and Mrs Barnby looked to be at least in their late fifties, Bodie was impressed by the idea of auntie still leading a gay social life. Mrs Barnby, though, had distracted herself with the mention of dinner, and they spent the rest of the conversation answering her questions about what they liked to eat and declining lunch—what they’d just eaten apparently constituted elevenses.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to go and do some work,” Murphy said regretfully. “It’s our boss… he’s a real tyrant.”

“And mean with it,” Bodie added.

Mrs Barnby frowned. “I can see he works you too hard,” she said, looking sympathetically at Doyle. “Well, don’t you worry about mealtimes. If we’ve had ours I’ll soon see there’s something hot for you.”

It was still raining outside, and the few people around the fashionable area on the front eyed them with suspicion, but at least they now had this unexpected refuge from it to go back to. Bodie looked at the Georgian facades of the more elegant hotels and decided he was very well off where he was and the joke was on Cowley. Meanwhile, of course, they really did have a job to do.

“Time to start visiting them,” he said. “Get ourselves noticed. If Cowley’s right it won’t take too long for us to be recognised.”

“Where’s the MI5 chap?”

“At The Splendid, apparently.”

“Do we know him?”

“Name’s Ward,” Doyle said unexpectedly. The mention of work seemed to have made him slightly more focussed. “Name he’s using here, anyway.”

In the end, they decided to visit some of the other hotels that matched The Splendid in expense. That ought to get them established, give their quarry a chance to start worrying. The next day they would give the impression of closing in.

“Though it’s a bit much Cowley using us as bait,” Bodie grumbled.

Nobody dignified that with a reply. They were lucky they knew they were bait would have been the general consensus. Cowley had come into this business late, and was convinced MI5 had handled it inefficiently. Certainly they hadn’t achieved much—it was six months since a case of a typical ‘secrets for blackmail’ set up had surfaced, when the civil servant involved had committed suicide. Investigation had turned up at least three other minor civil servants being similarly blackmailed. CI5 hadn’t been informed then, though they could guess Cowley had had his suspicions. The case appeared to have fallen neatly into his lap only few weeks before, when the most recent ‘victim’ had gone straight to him when the blackmail demand had arrived. How much manoeuvring it had taken for this happy outcome, they could only wonder.

“He might be wrong, anyway,” Murphy said. “All our man has to do is sit tight. We’ll never spot him unless he panics and makes a stupid move.”

“That’s what we’re here to make him do. We’re certainly not making much progress any other way.”

One of the few things that did seem to be certain was that the secrets, which at least two civil servants had already admitted parting with, had not left the country. MI5 had been sure for some time that somewhere, someone had a tidy pile of highly confidential material waiting for the highest bidder.

They’d been looking for the who and where for six months.

Cowley had found the ‘where’ in a week. It was one of those things that looked like a lucky break, but in the opinion of his agents amounted to Cowley making his own luck.

The information had been in a police report that had in fact been available to everyone involved. A month ago, arresting a man for jewel thefts, the police had also found an envelope in his possession containing a list of names and addresses, some with dates. The police had assumed it was the thief’s, as most of the addresses were exactly the sort of prosperous homes he might target. Cowley had read the list, and realised that not only were several of the names familiar to him as civil servants or junior members of the government, but among those with dates were the four victims of blackmail they knew about. McCabe had been duly dispatched to chat to the thief, remanded in custody, and he was certain that the envelope had been among items removed from The Splendid’s safe, where other similar envelopes had contained cash or bonds.

It had seemed like a decisive breakthrough, but as far as Bodie could make out, MI5 had made no progress from there. They’d had a man in Midmouth quickly enough, but he’d achieved nothing. Cowley, with unusually few other cases on his mind, had decided to send some of his better agents down and see if they could wrap the case up before Christmas. Perhaps he thought it would indicate to MI5 that it would be more advisable to consult CI5 quickly in the future. Bodie was all for putting the spy boys in their place; he just had a feeling it might be more difficult than Cowley implied.

“Want to split up?” Murphy asked.

Bodie shook his head. “Better if we go together. We can pretend we have different specialities. Doyle can do the cop spiel, you can do sales, I’ll be…” He tried to think of some plausible speciality. His own weren’t quite so relevant in a place that had probably never seen an armed raid in its whole existence.

“Breaking and entering,” Doyle said. “You can see at a glance these places aren’t secure. Basic procedure’ll get you through.”

“And he can charm the receptionists,” Murphy grinned.

Bodie could try, of course, and did, almost automatically, as they visited the hotels. None of them awakened much real enthusiasm in him though. They were all alarmingly similar, for one thing. Some were fair and some were brunette, but in style and accent and dress they could have been products of some expensive school for upmarket receptionists. Perhaps they were. The hotels were alarmingly similar too.

“Deja vu,” Murphy muttered, as they entered the fourth, only to find its foyer and Christmas tree were clones of the first three.

“But didja view that?” Bodie asked, as he leaned round and saw a neat bottom in a very tight skirt where the receptionist this time was just picking up her pen.

She was neither amused nor annoyed by his appreciation. Maybe they had a class on it. Lesson six. Gentlemen and bottoms. They definitely didn’t have classes on security though. Like all the others, this hotel would have been broken into nightly in a place with a lively criminal element.

“If they ever build a motorway in this direction, Midmouth will be in trouble,” Doyle muttered. He’d probably done the most work of the three of them during the day, pointing out the elementary precautions the managers could and should be taking. He’d done it with a kind of tired professionalism that—quite by accident—had gone down rather well with the hotels. Adding Murphy’s charm and the impression Bodie himself gave of being able to handle anything the ‘bad element’ could put up, and they made a good sales team.

“If we did this for real we’d probably make more in a month than Cowley pays us in a year,” he said, as they exited this one and realised that not only was it still raining but it was dark now as well.

“You’d be bored in a month,” Murphy pointed out.

“I’m bored now. Look, we’ve done enough for today. Let’s go and size The Splendid up before tomorrow. Have a Christmas drink.”

“Christmas,” Doyle said, managing to infuse the word with a jumble of emotions no two syllables ought to be able to contain. Bodie wasn’t sure if cynicism or some sort of bitter wistfulness came out on top. Doyle had plenty more to say though. “Christmas is a joke. Look round you, Bodie. There’s two worlds—the one outside where any poor sod who doesn’t fit society’s visiting list struggles along, and mugs like us try to keep the predators off, and then there’s the comfortable civilised world in there—and that’s the one that gets Christmas.”

“Maybe, but which one got the Christ,” Murphy said, walking up to the entrance, and leaving Bodie and Doyle staring after him, for once completely taken aback.

“Irish Catholic granny,” Bodie muttered at last. He glanced at Doyle and saw that he had actually been silenced in mid flow. “Come on, sunshine. The drinks are on Cowley.”

They caught Murphy up before he entered the opulent bar. The drinks were an extortionate price, but Bodie decided they could still go on expenses as this was a sort of reconnoitre. The bar was quite full; they were the youngest people in there, and certainly the worst dressed. Bodie was amused by the range of reactions of the other drinkers, but no-one actually complained about their presence, though he did hear comments about the place becoming like a public bar. He wasn’t sure if it bothered his partner, or if Doyle had something else on his mind but at any rate, Doyle seemed uneasy, and when he’d drained his drink he said abruptly, “I’ve got to make a phone call,” and disappeared into the plush depths of the hall, walking so fast that he almost bumped into a man in a wheelchair. He stopped a moment, stared at the man blankly, muttered an apology and hurried on.

“There you go. He must be in love,” Murphy said, ordering a second round with a reckless disregard for CI5’s budget.

Bodie looked at the perfect lighting glinting off necklaces and rings, and hoped he wasn’t catching Doyle’s gloom. “He’s a different sort of moody when he’s in love,” he said, and then in case this sounded altogether too daft, he told Murphy a scurrilous joke about the Irish to distract them both, and succeeded so well that he forgot about his partner ’til they decided to go and get some dinner. Doyle hadn’t come back, and he didn’t show up for an excellent meal of Mrs Barnby’s cooking.

“It’s a bit more lively along the coast at Brighthampton,” Mrs Barnby said kindly, mistaking the cause of Bodie’s preoccupation. “Why don’t you drive along and take a look. There’ll be some evening entertainment.”

Murphy picked up the idea with enthusiasm. “Come on, Bodie. If there’s one thing worse than Doyle brooding it’s you brooding about why he’s doing it. Let’s go out!”

Bodie decided it was only fair to take pity on him. Doyle wouldn’t thank him for hanging around waiting, anyway.

It did occur to Doyle as he wandered slowly back along the deserted front that he wasn’t exactly adding to the general seasonal cheer. The thought didn’t make him feel any better. He paused under the looping string of white lights, and watched the waves smash up against the sea wall. By his estimate the tide must have turned at least an hour earlier, but the sea was still hitting the concrete with plenty of force, sending up a salt spray that settled on him and glittered in the pale light.

The dark choppy water and chill wind suited his mood, though at least when he’d phoned the news hadn’t been bad. His sister had answered; his mum was home again, with a whole chemist’s shop of pills to keep the pneumonia at bay. The ominous talk about other lung problems seemed to have resolved itself into some further x-rays.

She was cheerful, his sister said. She always was; she never had any thought of reproaching him for not being around, but he felt guilty anyway. Other people had normal jobs, were there for their family if they were needed. He’d actually thought of going to Cowley and asking for some leave this time, but then the crisis had passed. Maybe he should have told Bodie about it, rather than just make both their lives a misery with no explanation; he probably would have done if the way he felt about it hadn’t got somehow tangled up with the depressing sense of wrongness he’d been left with after he’d met up with Ann again. He really didn’t want to tell Bodie he’d arranged to have a drink with Ann Holly while she was on a London stopover.

He stopped to lean on the railing, glad of the emptiness around him. The spray and wind lashed in and whipped away any illusions. Bodie would have said leave it. And he’d have been right.

When he’d heard she’d be in England briefly in December, he’d put out of his mind the way they’d parted and remembered instead the illusion he’d had with her of touching the ordinary warmths and pleasures that normal people enjoyed. He’d thought then it was his chance for a relationship that might last and become something special. Only, of course, it had been a fantasy.

It came back to him almost as soon as he met her, as they stood sipping their drinks like strangers. When she had to see him for who he really was, the reality was too ugly for her. She’d said it all that first time she left, really. “You… you’re exactly what you are.” There couldn’t have been a condemnation that was more complete. She hadn’t forgotten it either. She’d said he wouldn’t change, couldn’t if he tried and it took her only minutes to decide she’d been right. She wasn’t angry or tearful this time though; she might even have been mildly regretful. And she’d spelled out for him exactly what she thought he was. “Where’s the difference, Ray? Who’s drawn the line that puts you and Bodie on the side of the good guys and men just like you on the other? You’re as much of a man of violence as any one you lock up—without trial. You train to fight and kill—you do kill. Oh, you may do it with better intentions, or following your Mr Cowley’s orders, but when it comes down to it, you’re like them. You couldn’t live like a normal person. What does family or home mean to you?”

She’d finished her drink then, just as though they were just having a normal conversation. “I’m sorry, Ray. I appreciate you wanting to see me again; but we never really knew each other, did we?”

He thought she couldn’t have known how her words hurt, how they damned him in his own eyes. They’d parted like civilized people this time, and quite finally.

So now he stood here, unsure of anything except that he couldn’t find any certainties to shield himself from the way the words burned into his mind. He was… exactly what he was, and he didn’t like it.

The dimness of the lights above him was suddenly emphasised by the brighter lights of a car pulling up beside him. Startled from his thoughts he looked up to see that it was a taxi and its disgruntled driver was being forced by a very elderly female passenger to wait while she shouted out of the window, “Are you all right, young man?”

“Yes, thanks,” he said embarrassed, and surprised at anyone bothering to stop. “Just thinking,” he added lamely.

The lady looked at him with a sharpness that age had not blunted. “Are you staying in Midmouth?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said automatically.


The taxi driver was looking at Doyle with rather less suspicion and more sympathy now.

“Rosebay,” Doyle said, managing to remember after a moment.

“Excellent. That’s where we’re going. Jump in and we’ll take you there.”

Doyle looked doubtfully at the driver, who simply said, “Get in. She’ll make both our lives a misery if you don’t.”

The lady seemed to take this as a compliment. Doyle, squeezing damply up to the far end of the seat, had begun to get his bearings. “If you’re Mrs Barnby’s aunty, you’re as late for dinner as I am,” he said slowly.

It seemed a safe guess. She had much more the air of the Barnbys than of Midmouth’s other residents. He was rewarded with the sort of smile his primary school teacher used to give him when he got an answer right.

“I’m sure we will both be suitably apologetic,” she said. “I’m Miss Hetherington, and I gather you’ve already introduced yourself to my niece and her husband.”

Although she was as elderly as he had expected, Miss Hetherington proved quite rapidly to be a formidable personality with an interrogation technique Cowley would have envied. She had found out his name, the names of Bodie and Murphy, their (supposed) business and where he originated from all before they were dropped at the front gate.

They were soon swept into the warmth of the Barnby’s kitchen—Doyle hastily insisting he was more than happy to eat there—and given a hot supper he actually felt like eating. Miss Hetherington, who looked quite frail, had an appetite like a horse. The meal did not distract her from an interest in him which by the end of coffee had somehow persuaded him to tell her about his mum and her chest, his sister, their hometown, Murphy, Murphy’s grandmother, and the little he knew about Bodie. For some reason the name seemed to have caught Miss Hetherington’s interest, and all the more when she found out that Bodie came from Liverpool, but Doyle knew very little about his partner’s background. Struggling to remember which part of Liverpool he was rescued by Mrs Barnby, in a way that reminded him irresistibly of the bad cop, good cop scenario.

“Do you want any more coffee, love?” she asked Doyle. “Aunty—there’s a letter for you from Mabel Gawthrop. I expect that grandchild has finally arrived.”

Distracted by the prospect such a promising piece of news Miss Hetherington departed in search of her post. Mrs Barnby sat down. “You mustn’t mind Aunty. She taught in Liverpool for a long time, and she always likes to hear news of the place. Now you stay here in the warm as long as you like. The bedrooms are heated, but it’s turning chilly, so there are hot water bottles if you want them.”

Doyle grinned involuntarily at the thought of what Cowley would think of that. His chill depression was melting somewhat in the face of the cosiness of the room and the simple goodwill of his hostess, and when he finally went up to his room the gloomy mental rerunning of his conversation with Ann did not return. Instead he found himself actually thinking about the case, chasing an elusive train of thought. There was something at the back of his mind, some connection his brain was trying to make. Why did he feel the man in the wheelchair reminded him of something?

Bodie, mildly drunk, returned before too long. “Should’ve come with us, Doyle. There’s still life outside Midmouth.”

Doyle grinned. “Oh, there’s life in Midmouth if you look for it. I got picked up by this bird who saw me from her taxi.”

Curiosity piqued, Bodie leaned rather heavily on the doorpost. “I don’t believe it!”

“‘S true. She stopped and bullied me into the car.”

Bodie wasn’t too drunk to know when his leg was being pulled. “What did she look like then?”

“Oh, very respectable.”

“The Mata Hari of Midmouth?”

“Nah—Miss Barnby’s Aunty Joan actually. She’s probably some distant relative of Cowley’s too judging by her questioning techniques.”

Bodie was very amused. “Y’know, there’s something about you, Ray. Older women can’t leave you alone. Must be these curls, I reckon. Get an army cut, mate—otherwise every scrawny old bird that comes along…”

He was cut off by a sudden elbow in the ribs from Murphy, turned and looked briefly abashed. Miss Hetherington, passing by on her way to her room, paused to give him a withering look. Uncharitably amused by the expression on his partner’s face, Doyle called out promptly, “Oh, Miss Hetherington, this is Bodie—and Murphy.”

“I had worked that out,” she said tartly. “I don’t expect to hear any more from you boys this evening.”

She went on up the corridor, and they didn’t dare laugh ’til she was out of sight.

“Shame on you, Bodie,” Murphy said seriously. “Where’s your sense of chivalry?”

“Oh, Bodie’s birds never accuse him of being a gentleman,” Doyle said.

Bodie didn’t rise to this though; he was looking after Miss Hetherington with an odd expression on his face. “I’ve met her before,” he said with conviction. “I recognise that look. And the name… there’s something…”

“I told you—she’s probably related to Cowley,” Doyle said, yawning. “Great Aunt or something. Want to investigate her?”

“Count me out,” said Murphy, disappearing into his own room. “I like it here.”

Bodie undressed without a great deal of coordination and got into bed. He got out again very promptly. “What the hell is that?”

“Just your hot water bottle,” Doyle said kindly, watching him extract the yellow furred monstrosity. “Hey _ I don’t want it. Bodie! If you make a noise she’ll come back…”

The next day they began their investigation proper.

Bodie knew it was in many ways a cold trail. Their MI5 contact had found it so cold he believed their man was no longer on the premises, and yet the envelopes they’d uncovered all had south coast postmarks suggesting a degree of stability.

“There haven’t been any new demands as far as we know,” he shared generously enough. “There’s something odd about the whole business. Doesn’t run to form. We’ve set up a couple of promising situations—junior defence secretary apparently bedding his superior, and another in the Foreign Office with major gambling debts and the only nibble we had was direct from the East Europeans. No hint of our mystery player.”

“The blackmail’s just stopped?” Bodie asked.

“Nothing new in the last four months.”

“That was after Cowley got involved?”

“Yes. May be just a coincidence though.”

Doyle looked back from where he was standing gazing out of Ward’s window. “Was there any particular change of approach then?”

“Only the sorts of progression you’d expect. We were getting nowhere so these situations I told you about were set up. Some information was leaked to the press, including the suicide, which had been kept under wraps ’til then.”

“So where are you planning to go from here?” Murphy enquired.

Ward smiled at them benignly. “Home. I’ve informed the powers that be that I think this is a dead end, but that I’ve briefed you fully and you’ll be taking over. It’s obviously a case for your expertise—why don’t you go and bang a few people up against walls? Knuckledusters are still standard issue for CI5 covert duty aren’t they? Now if you’ll excuse me, I want to pack. I have a train to catch.”

Bodie glared, unable to think of an adequate response—except possibly banging Ward himself up against the wall. Doyle, still only partly on planet Earth seemed to have missed the last part of the conversation. “All the blackmail cases were older people,” he said abruptly.

Ward thought about it then nodded. “I suppose so, though there were a range of ages within that. It doesn’t seem particularly significant. People with higher levels of security tend to be senior in age as well as position.”

Bodie looked at his partner, knowing the signs that Doyle was thinking, not seeing where his thoughts were leading.

“It’s being here,” Doyle said, with apparent irrelevance. “Hardly seen anyone under fifty except working in the hotels. Made me think about it. Then you saying how these set ups hadn’t worked made me wonder.”

Ward, with a keener intelligence than his looks would have suggested, looked interested. “You’re thinking that the blackmailer is no longer in a position to pick up on people who are a security risk.”

“Yeah. Maybe hasn’t been for some time. If you look at the cases, these people were being blackmailed for things that had gone on for quite some time—a mistress the man’s had for twenty years, a lifelong gambling habit… it would be interesting to know just how long ago someone could have already known about these things.”

Ward stopped making obvious preparations to leave and sat down on the edge of his bed. “Yes, it would.” He glanced at his watch. “Look, it’s rather unlikely three of you need to check this room for any length of time. Why don’t you two muscle men go and frighten the old ladies, and leave us to do some thinking.”

Bodie looked at Murphy. It was a mistake to let MI5 get away with too much one-upmanship. On the other hand, they both knew the signs of Doyle wanting to talk through a theory at length and it would be worth letting it pass to escape and get the potted version later. Bodie jerked his head at the door. It was beginning to look less likely that they were going to attract the sort of attention Cowley had apparently hoped for, but they had to go through the motions of checking the hotel’s security systems.

It was quite hard work to do this convincingly, and it was almost two o’clock when it dawned on him that Doyle still hadn’t reappeared. He fended off the third person in an hour to ask him to check her room personally—all well into drawing their pensions unfortunately—and collected Murphy from the office area. “I’m hungry,” he told him, “and unless Ward’s missed his train I don’t know what the hell Ray’s doing.”

“Ward’s missed his train,” Murphy said. “He came down to the office and managed to withdraw his cancellation.”

They found them both in Ward’s room, surrounded by files, and uninterested in lunch. “Think we’re onto something here,” Ward said, slightly friendlier than he had been. “Taking Doyle’s idea, we can actually find a time period when all the blackmailees we know about could potentially have known each other socially, to some degree anyway. And it’s a long time ago. I’m beginning to rethink this one altogether.”

“Might not really be about the secrets at all,” Doyle agreed. “Not as an objective. That’s probably why there’s been no hint of them once they left the hands of the people involved.”

“Making the victims suffer?” Bodie asked.

“It’s a possibility. It’s not the sort of motive we’ve been looking for so far,” Ward said. “I’ve got someone onto it now, following up the connections from that time. We can take it from here. I’m not sure we really need you boys any more.”

“Cowley gives our orders,” Bodie said shortly. “And I hope you’ve thanked Ray nicely for putting you on the right trask.&auot;

Ward nodded. “Good deduction,” he said to Doyle. “All I meant was, there’s no longer a need for the heavy handed stuff. It looks as though we won’t have to flush our man out after all; what we need is the background to this group of people, and that should provide a motive.”

Bodie shrugged. “You carry on with that; we’ll finish what we started. You coming for some lunch, Ray?”

Doyle shook his head. “I’ve a few phone calls I want to make. You and Murph go ahead.”

Bodie looked doubtfully after him as he went. Still, it wasn’t humanly possible to leave Rosebay without eating a reasonable breakfast; Mrs Barnby would find it too distressing.

“Still don’t believe it’s love?” Murphy asked as they read down The Splendid’s Franglais menu. “Hey—I bet I know who it is. You remember that redhead who got in through security once—Cowley did a sort of ritual sacrifice of the man on the door—Susie saw Ray with her the other week in Charade.”

“Ann Holly,” Bodie said, with sudden and complete understanding. He couldn’t imagine why or how Doyle would have seen her again, but it would certainly explain a lot. He saw Murphy’s surprise at the loathing in his voice, but he didn’t try to explain. He’d almost lost his appetite though, because this did ring true with Doyle’s mood. Picking up the pieces after she’d finished shredding his partner last time was still one of his more angry memories. He wondered what insidious poison her pretty lips had dripped into the conversation if she’d seen Doyle again.

Doyle walked a little way along the front to a public telephone to make his calls. He could use the R/T for most of them, but the phone box was private and unvandalised—nothing in Midmouth was vandalised—and he didn’t want to go through CI5 to phone home. He hoped he might get to talk to his mum this time, but his sister said she was feeling poorly again.

“Tell her I rang,” he said.

“Can I tell her you’ll be able to come sometime over Christmas?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll try. Don’t get her hopes up too much though.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that. I know you too well, Ray. It’s just lucky I’m always here.”

She sounded a bit tired, more than a bit impatient. He knew logically it was because she was worried and it was near Christmas and she was trying to do too many things at once. It didn’t make him feel any better.

He pushed his thoughts to one side, and took out the R/T. His ideas about the possible cause of the blackmail were still tentative. The morning’s work with Ward had made them seem more plausible, but he was still reluctant to suggest he had a hunch worth backing until he had a bit more solid evidence. He wasn’t sure how reliable his memory was. It had been years ago. He could only just have joined the Met., but the sight of the man in the wheelchair the previous day had connected with something that had been at the back of his mind ever since he saw the list of names of people being blackmailed.

It took him quite a long time to get hold of anyone who could provide him with more reliable information than his own recollections. Then he got through to a Superintendent Bowler. Doyle didn’t know him, but he had a pleasant, efficient manner, and he seemed to have the facts, too.

“You want to know about the shooting at a Whitehall Christmas party?” he asked. “I suppose it’s no good asking why CI5 are interested after all these years?”

“I’m not sure yet whether we’re interested or not,” Doyle said. “Maybe you could run me down the main points of what happened. It was seven years ago, I think.”

“That’s right. Made the headlines for a day or two, but there was no mystery to it, and we had the man who did it, so it was forgotten by the New Year.”

“I was involved with some of the paperwork on the case, but I barely remember the details,” Doyle said. “A man whose wife had been having an affair with a colleague. He went berserk, crashed this big office party…”

“That’s right. There was quite a lot of sympathy for him in the papers. He lost it completely when he found out. Trouble was, he was in such a state he really didn’t know what he was doing, and the two people his bullets actually hit were nothing to do with the affair at all.”

“Neither of them was killed, though.”

“No. A woman, a secretary I believe, was touch and go for a couple of days, but she made a full recovery. Then there was a man hospitalised for a long time.”

“Could you just run me down a list of all the names of people who were there.”

“Hold on a minute.”

Doyle noticed absently as he waited that it was growing dark already. It was the shortest day, come to think of it. Even out of the wind he was getting thoroughly chilled, and he wished he’d taken the trouble to find something more substantial to wear.

Superintendent Bowler came back with a list of names that turned Doyle’s hunch into an odds-on certainty. That very tentative belief that he’d seen those names together somewhere before was right. Every one of the people who had been blackmailed had been at that party. Why the blackmail should only have started in the last eighteen months he couldn’t guess, but that was obviously the connection.

He had one last thing he needed to confirm. “The man who was shot was crippled?”

“A Mr Symons; that’s right. Bullet damaged his spinal cord. Is there any other information I can get for you Mr Doyle?”

Doyle thought for a moment. He could go through CI5, but this might be quicker.
“Can you get hold of Symons’ current address for me? You can get hold of me or one of my colleagues at The Splendid in Midmouth. And thanks. You’ve been a great help.”

“Well, if it’s not classified, I’ll be interested to know the outcome,” Bowler said frankly. “I remember the people involved quite well.”

Doyle fumbled with chilled fingers to tuck his R/T away in his jacket. He should have felt satisfaction at being right, and at the prospect of closing the case, but all he could feel was regret for the messed up life of a man crippled in a chain of events he had nothing to do with. He still had no evidence at all except his own intuition to make the leap between the party and the wheelchair bound guest at The Splendid, but in his own mind he was certain that that guest would prove to be Mr Symons, a man who had a bitter enough motive for targeting any guilty people in his former group of friends.

The wind was almost a gale now, lashing the waves so that the spray flecked him as he turned back along the front. All along the promenade neat strings of white lights were whipped about by it, and he was the only person out of doors. He didn’t expect to meet anyone at all coming out of The Splendid as he reached its well lit entrance, and the last person he imagined he would see was the man he’d been thinking of. But he was there, carefully manoeuvring his electric wheelchair down the short path.

Doyle was not much of a believer in coincidences. This was no weather for a man in a wheelchair to go out unless he had some urgent reason for leaving the premises, and it looked to him as though he was right in this deduction too, and perhaps Bodie and Murphy’s efforts at panicking someone into hasty action had paid off. He stood in the path, so that the man had to stop.

“Mr Symons?” he asked.

He expected a reaction to that; he did not, for one moment, expect the reaction he got. Mr Symons, who had a rug over his knees, drew from beneath it a small handgun. “Walk back slowly towards the front,” he said.

Doyle had been too surprised to react in the second when he might have had a chance to do so. He stood stock still for a moment. Symons held the gun as if he knew what he was doing with it. Anyway, at that range it hardly mattered if he was a lousy shot.

“You don’t want to do this,” he said quietly. “You’ll only make things worse for yourself.”

“I seem to be good at that,” Symons agreed. “Walk back towards the front Mr..?”

“Doyle. Ray Doyle. Look, Mr Symons, this won’t help you at all. I don’t believe you want to shoot me.”

“I want to talk to you,” Symons said. “Walk towards the front. If I have to shoot you to make you listen to me I will; do you seriously think anyone would notice the noise.”

The gun was aimed at Doyle’s knee, not his chest. He looked at Symons a moment longer. There was a determination in the man’s eyes that was more like desperation. Slowly he turned and walked back to the front, then, in obedience to Symons directions, along by the sea wall. Symons drew up level with him, managing the chair and the gun without difficulty. If anyone saw them, they probably looked as if they were going for a bracing stroll. Anyway, there was no one about to see.

The wind cut into at Doyle, chilling him to the bone, and he wondered at the way the man in the wheelchair didn’t seem to feel it. Light and shadow lurched as the white bulbs above them swayed wildly.

“How did you find out about me?” Symons asked, as though it was only of academic interest.

“I was with the Met seven years ago. I remembered the case, eventually.”

“I wondered if it might be something like that. Of course, I’ve been aware of possible repercussions ever since the hotel safe was emptied. Do you want to know where the secrets are, Mr Doyle?”

“I expect you destroyed them.”

“Yes. You do understand, don’t you? I hoped someone would. The secrets were never relevant. It was what those people had done, with no consequences at all. I’d done nothing you know. Never slept with another man’s wife. Done my job honestly. Never been involved in fraud or even the sorts of legal dishonesty most people condone. I’d done nothing, but I was the one who was crippled. Don’t you think it’s fair some of these other people should have their consciences awakened.”

“It went a bit further than that,” Doyle said quietly. “You read about Crayshaw? Couldn’t face what he’d done, and put a hosepipe from the exhaust into his car.”

Symons stopped briefly. “Yes. Crayshaw. He’s the real reason for our walk now. I stopped, you know, as soon as I read about Crayshaw. I never imagined he would commit suicide. He always seemed the most hardened and selfish type of man. I thought he had no conscience. But the others, I feel no regret for making them squirm.”

They’d begun to walk again. “Why now?” Doyle asked. “I mean, you must have known about these people all the time. Why start blackmailing them so many years later?”

“You’re probably aware of the saying about the last straw,” Symons said. “I am, as you see, quite crippled. I found it hard to live with, but not unbearable. My wife, however, gradually did come to find the situation unbearable. Eighteen months ago she left me. I realised then, that I’d done nothing but I’d lost everything. My health. My job. Now finally my wife. Yet all these people whose miserable nasty little secrets I knew, had lost nothing at all. Do you understand, now?”

“I think so,” Doyle said slowly. “But I don’t see where that gets either of us.” They’d walked a surprising distance along the promenade. They’d be near Rosebay now, he realised. Where did Symons think he was going? They were both already wet from the waves that hit up against the wall, and now Symons paused near a gap that in the summer would be the way down to the beach. At the moment its concrete slope glistened icily wet under the white lights, and the tide flooded up it.

Symons laughed softly, apparently at Doyle’s question. “Where does it get us? You might well ask that. There’s no future, is there. I was coming here anyway, you see. The gun was simply to deter you and your friends if you caught up with me before I was ready. Then when I saw you, I decided I’d like to tell you why. You looked as if you might understand, and I wanted someone to know. I’ve thought about things a lot since I knew I’d driven Crayshaw to take his own life. Even if you and your friends hadn’t come, I think I would have done this. It seems particularly fitting now though. It’s seven years ago today that it happened. Did you know that?”

A cold worse than the biting wind gripped Doyle. He looked at Symons, his wheelchair so close to the concrete ramp, and finally he did understand, completely. “This isn’t the answer,” he said slowly.

“It’s the only answer,” Symons said. He pressed the controls on the handle of his chair and it slid directly on to the wet concrete slope and down towards the water. Not caring about the gun now, realising that Symons had intended all along to let the freezing sea put an end to it all, Doyle crossed the space between them in hasty dive. It wasn’t fast enough.

He grasped desperately at the back of the wheelchair, and caught a hold, but too much was against him. Symons was a big man, and the wheelchair was powering downwards into the swell. The concrete was slippery. Doyle couldn’t get a grip underfoot. He tried to grasp the railing with one hand, hold back the wheelchair with the other. A wave came up and hit them both, and the icy shock of it sent him stumbling, and the tow as it went back dragged them both down. He was thigh deep in the freezing water now, but soaked through by the spray and the wave that had just hit. Another wave came, and his numb fingers briefly lost their hold. The gradient and Symons weight tore the wheelchair away before he had any chance of recovery. He flailed wildly after it, but the waves and the wheelchair were a dark mass beyond the reach of the lights, and then there was only sea, and Symons was gone.

Icy water flooded up round him, in keeping with something like despair. He was almost too numb to feel it as it hit him. His hand slid on the railing, and some vague instinct for self preservation made him fling his other arm over. He couldn’t feel his feet. He needed to haul himself up, to get out of the cold, he knew that, but he was so numb, and somehow the effort seemed beyond him even though the promenade was only feet away. He looked up through the water that ran down his face. The white lights swung mockingly. They were like Ann he thought dimly, so pretty and remote and cold. He was… exactly what he was, and he’d failed again. The cold was taking him completely now. It hardly seemed worth the struggle. Only a sudden shout made his hands clutch convulsively once more on the railing they could hardly feel.


Where had Bodie come from? Bodie was at The Splendid… Only he wasn’t, now. Suddenly the white light and the cold silence were broken. He blinked up, not sure briefly if this was real, but Bodie was too solid, too blazing with anger and concern to be anything but real, and now he was skidding down into the wet beside Doyle, and gripping his soaking jacket. The fear, much keener than despair, of dragging Bodie down with him, galvanised him to an effort he hadn’t thought he could make. Bodie’s voice, furious and alarmed, drove out some of the numbness. He found the concrete with feet that seemed no longer to belong to him, he pushed up on the railing, Bodie’s grip on his jacket hauled him up the slope. A wave came and fell back without them. He scrabbled again, and then he was flat on his face at the top of the slope, and beyond the sea’s reach.

Bodie hauled him to his feet; he tried to find his balance on numb legs, and leaned into Bodie’s soaking jacket. “Walk!” Bodie said forcefully. “We need to get you somewhere warm, now.”

“Symons,” he tried to say, as Bodie got them both moving.

“I know. Your superintendent rang the Splendid. I saw you both on the front. I was too damn far away, though. Why the hell did you walk off with him?”

“Pulled a gun.” He couldn’t feel his lips move. The words came out in an odd mumble. Bodie had a firm hold on him now, making him walk, and he found he could shuffle along on feet he couldn’t feel. Bodie was talking into the R/T, telling the police and the coastguard what had happened, speaking to Murphy, but he couldn’t pay attention to it. It took all the concentration he had left just to keep moving; he was too cold to think about where they were going. He was shuddering and stumbling and Bodie’s reassuring arm was keeping him on his feet, and then just when he thought he could do this any more they were stopping and he realised they were at Rosebay.

Bodie fumbled for a key. Doyle remembered dimly from what seemed like days ago that Mrs Barnby had given them keys at breakfast because the family were going out to friends. Then they were in the warmth of the hallway and out of the wind. The stairs they were heading for looked like the North face of the Eiger, and he wanted to sit down in the hallway and let the cold seep away ’til he could feel the warmth rather than just knowing it was there, but Bodie lifted him onto the first step, and somehow they staggered up.

“We need to get you out of these wet clothes,” Bodie said, letting him fall gratefully onto one of the beds. “Come on, Ray. Give me a hand here.”

He tried to raise arms that felt like lumps of wood, and his sodden sweater followed his jacket to the floor. He ought to feel warmer now, didn’t he? Why couldn’t he feel any heat from the room. Bodie turned his attention to the drenched jeans, yanking at them ineffectually. “Damn it, how do you get into these things,” he grumbled. “They’re more like a skin graft than clothing. You could do yourself a permanent injury, you know that?”

Doyle was vaguely aware of the wet fabric scratching down his legs, but like his arms, his legs seemed useless. He didn’t want to stand on them again, but Bodie was ruthless, pulling him upright. “Where’we going now,” he complained.

“Shower,” Bodie said. “Come on, Ray. If I don’t get you warmed up soon I’m dumping you in the car and heading straight for A&E.”

Doyle looked at him reproachfully, which had no effect at all, and found the energy from somewhere to make it to the shower cubicle. Bodie leaned in and did something to the controls, and lukewarm water cascaded down—at least he thought it was lukewarm; he could see it rather than feel it except where it soaked through his hair.

“We’ll turn it up in a minute,” Bodie said.

Doyle let the water run down his face and realised that slowly, very slowly he might be beginning to feel it. Shivering, he put a hand to the heat dial. “Not too much,” Bodie warned. “You want to warm up slowly.”

“I know,” he said. He did really, now that he seemed to be able to think a little again. As the warmer water brought back feeling to his numb skin, he relaxed a little, and realised for the first time that Bodie looked nearly as wet as he was. “Go and get changed,” he managed to say. “I’m all right for a bit.”

Bodie looked at him doubtfully, glanced round the bathroom and saw a plastic stool. “Sit on that then,” he said, handing it in. “I’ll get us both some dry clothes.”

Doyle turned up the shower water by slow increments with fingers that were oddly white but no longer useless. Slowly, wonderfully, the warmth spread over him. He closed his eyes and wished it would seep through to the cold ache inside. Somewhere not far off he could hear Bodie talking on the R/T, but he only caught snippets of the conversation.

“Don’t go to sleep in there.”

He opened his eyes reluctantly, and saw that Bodie was in dry clothes, standing there with an armful of towels and what looked like enough items of clothing for three or four people. Reluctantly he switched off the shower. His skin was stinging and tingling now, and smarting from tiny scrapes and scratches, but the sensation was welcome. He noticed a cut on his hand seeping blood, and just stopped himself wiping it on the towel.

“I’ll get something for that,” Bodie said, leaving Doyle to sort through the clothes and wonder whether his partner really expected him to put on everything he’d brought. He began to get dressed and was amazed at the effort it seemed to take. He ached all over. He felt as if he’d done a hard day’s training or worse. Maybe he could just put the tracksuit on and go and roll into bed.

Bodie, returning with a small first aid kit, treated the cut.

“I brought you two sweaters,” he pointed out.

“That one’s not mine.”

“I know. Murphy won’t mind. Put it on. You’re still cold you know.”

Doyle was. It seemed impossible after the heat of the shower, and with layers of clothing topped by a huge Arran sweater, quite probably knitted by Murphy’s granny, but he was still not warm. Bodie rested a hand against his cheek, assessing. “What you need is something hot inside. You skipped lunch. What did you do after that?”

“Found a phone box on the front. I wanted to ring home, then I stayed there to talk to Bowler.”

Bodie frowned. “So you were outside for all that time even before you got soaked. No wonder you were close to hypothermic. Anyway, let’s go and get a hot drink. I bet Mrs Barnby’s left us something to eat.”

Doyle hadn’t the energy to argue. Bodie slid a hand under his elbow on the stairs and he couldn’t even manage to protest at that. He did demur slightly at the way Bodie treated the Barnby’s living room like home, though. “Hey; should you be mucking about with the fire?”

“You weren’t listening at breakfast,” Bodie said. “Mrs Barnby said to make up the fire when we came in and she’d leave some food out.” He did something to the grate, and suddenly there was a red glow. “Banked down with tea leaves. Haven’t seen that in years.”

Doyle’s mum used to do the same: last thing at night, tea leaves spread thickly over the embers; in the morning when she got up, the fire could easily be coaxed back into life. Bodie had got this one going well now, the red glow spreading and a couple of small flames licking up. Satisfied with it, he disappeared into the kitchen. “I wonder if Mrs Barnby would run away with me,” his voice drifted back. Evidently the food looked good. Doyle wasn’t sure he could face pies or rich cake, and was relieved when Bodie came back with a mug of soup.

“Here you go, Goldilocks, that’ll put the curl back in your hair.”

The soup was good: homemade, hot and savoury. Doyle had to make an effort to swallow the first couple of mouthfuls, and then he was ravenous. He didn’t object when Bodie refilled the mug and brought some bread. The soup seemed to be achieving what the heat of the room had failed to do, and warming him to the core; maybe eventually it would even thaw the abiding chill that had been with him long before the cold touch of the sea.

He watched the flames lick up more and more brightly. Bodie had dropped down on the sofa beside him balancing a laden plate, and was talking idly, not often requiring more than a yes or no. Doyle drained the mug, and leaned back. He felt exhausted, completely drained of energy. He wondered vaguely if they ought to be somewhere doing something, but Bodie didn’t seem to think so, and he was too tired really to care. His eyes drifted shut, and he didn’t try to stop them, answering Bodie automatically from some half asleep limbo.

“How was Ann when you saw her?” Bodie asked, still in the same conversational tone.

“Doing well for herself,” Doyle answered before thought caught up with his words. Then, abruptly, he was wide awake, and finding from somewhere enough spark to be angry. More than angry; furious. Bodie had done this deliberately. He’d worked him like a suspect he was interrogating. He’d been planning all along to ask him about Ann when he was sufficiently off guard. The anger briefly overcame his lack of energy. He stood up to tell Bodie to mind his own business.

After that, he wasn’t sure what happened. The abrupt change to vertical must have, in hindsight, been a mistake, but there was no warning surge of dizziness. All he knew was that one moment he was jumping to his feet to tell Bodie what he thought of bringing questioning techniques into their partnership… and the next he was being eased back onto the couch with only the vaguest impression of Bodie having caught him as the floor came up to meet him.

He pushed Bodie’s hands ungratefully away. He didn’t want to lie down, he wanted to know how the hell Bodie had found out about his meeting with Ann. “Leave it. I’m all right,” he said irritably.

“You’re not all right,” Bodie said with equal force, sliding an arm round him so that if he was sitting, he was propped up. “You haven’t been all right for weeks. I haven’t pushed it, even if you’ve had only half your mind on the job, but this afternoon—I saw your face when I got to you this afternoon, there was enough light for that. And you know what I saw? Damn it Ray, you weren’t fighting. You were only barely bothering to hang on. You were giving up.”

His arm tightened painfully around Doyle’s shoulders, as though he was remembering dragging him from the sea. This time, Doyle didn’t fight it. His thoughts, too, were back on the front, when he held on to the slippery railings and felt the icy pull of the sea. Had he been giving up? Cold and despair—it was hard to separate them. He remembered looking up, white lights and the first stars, and a sense of the cold indifference of the universe—and Bodie breaking through it, angry, afraid, desperate enough to help him to risk joining him in going under.

“Yeah, well you turned up and yelled at me,” he muttered. “Thanks.”

“So, how did you get on with Ann?” Bodie asked.

Doyle gave up. Leaned against the rough warmth of Bodie’s sweater, he told him. “Don’t think it took her as much as ten minutes to remember all the ways I didn’t come up to standard.” The words came easier once he’d started to talk. He found himself telling Bodie not just about Ann but about his mother and her pneumonia, and Symons and how he should have been able to find the right words to reach him. “Like her or not, Ann had it about right,” he finished bitterly. “I’m what I am I suppose…”

“You are,” Bodie said, “and I bloody well hope you stay that way. I know you, Ray. I know if there was anyone on earth who could have got through to Symons, you’d have done it. I know your mum’s proud of you and what you do, even though you can’t tell her the half of it. I’ve worked with a hell of a lot of people, in and out of legit organisations and none of them came close to you. You’re the only person in CI5 I’d want for a partner. I’ll take you the way you are.”

“For better or worse,” Doyle managed to joke, though this forceful declaration of support made his throat tighten painfully.

“It’s time you believed it,” Bodie agreed. “Don’t change, mate. Don’t blame yourself because the world’s a fucked up place. I’ve never known anyone who cared more about putting it right than you do.”

Doyle felt the heat of Bodie’s certainty, the almost angry sincerity of his words. He couldn’t fight that. He turned to the warmth of it and felt the last chill hold of Ann’s disdain lose its power. The overwhelming tiredness he’d felt earlier on returned, but softer edged; he wasn’t being dragged down now, he was comfortable and willing to let go. Far off, Bodie was saying, “And you solved the case; don’t forget that. Ward had about as much chance as a chimp trying calculus. We should get Christmas off after all. Want me to come with you to see your folk?”

“Thanks,” he managed, not just for the offer, but for everything else. Bodie would understand that; they didn’t need a lot of words. He slid back against Bodie’s supporting arm, and let sleep take him.

Bodie sat very still for a long time, disregarding the fact that his plate was empty and his arm was getting numb. Then the fire got too low; he managed to ease Doyle over to one side without getting more than a grunt of complaint, and got up to put the coal on. The clock on the mantelpiece said 6.30. He thought at first it must have stopped. It felt more like the middle of the night.

He went through to the kitchen and—R/T in one hand, sausage roll in the other—checked in with Murphy.

“We’ve finished up here,” Murphy said. “I’m just going to buy Ward a drink before he gets his train—and remind him it only took us a couple of days to solve his case for him. Ray okay?”

“Fine. If you’re going to a bar, bring a bottle of something, and maybe one for the Barnby’s.”

“I’ll be with you about eight,” Murphy told him. “Don’t eat all the food.”

“Couldn’t if I tried,” Bodie said. The table was piled with breads, ham, chicken, salads, half a cold meat pie and several sorts of pickle, and the desserts were on the side surface. It would be the best sort of compliment to Mrs Barnby to make decent inroads into it…

From time to time he glanced back into the living room. The fire blazed cheerfully and Doyle slept. He found a copy of the Midmouth Weekly News, a promising contender for the world’s most boring local newspaper, tried the radio, and ate steadily.

The monotony was broken by Murphy, returning with two bottles of Irish whisky and two of sherry. “Sweet for Mrs Barnby and dry for her aunt, I reckon,” he said unloading them.

Bodie looked at the whisky. “Irish?”

“You try it, my son. I’m thinking of getting a bottle for the Cow.”

“Might react with all the scotch in his bloodstream,” Bodie said.

Murphy was helping himself to a plate of food that rivalled Bodie’s. “Well, my theory is that the Irish would produce a bit more of the milk of human kindness in him. Mind you, he was pleased about this case. He likes putting one over on MI5.”

“Don’t we all.”

“Ward wasn’t so bad really. He did give the credit where it was due. Where is Ray, anyway?”

“Kipping,” Bodie said, jerking his head towards the sitting room.

“Is he really all right? He wasn’t in the water long?”

“I think he was probably close to hypothermic when we got back here, but he’s okay now.” He stood up and looked in again. Doyle was still deep asleep. “Thanks for the loan of your jumper, by the way.”

Murphy was looking in over his shoulder. “You’re welcome,” he said. “What were you doing—dressing him up as the CI5 Christmas angel?”

It hadn’t occurred to Bodie before, but now that he thought about it the much-too-large white sweater and the still damp curls did give his partner something of the air of a refugee from a nativity play. Something was missing though. He glanced round the room at the various decorations and saw what he wanted. It was the work of a moment to nip a length of tinsel off with his pocket knife.

“Forgot the halo,” he said to the amused Murphy, and arranged it neatly on Doyle’s hair.

“William Bodie! What do you think you’re doing to that boy?”

The sharp voice from behind him did more than make him jump. It took him back over twenty years, and made him spin round like a seven-year-old caught out in one of his regular misdeeds.

“Sorry, Miss Hetherington,” he said automatically, finding himself facing Mrs Barnby’s Aunty Joan, and realising now exactly why she had seemed familiar. How could he have forgotten that voice? Or that name. Yes, Miss Hetherington, no, Miss Hetherington, wasn’t me, Miss Hetherington; the name should have done it. He recognised her now all right, and remembered. In the days when he wore short trousers, he’d found her as formidable an authority as Cowley—worse in some ways, because Cowley, though probably tempted, had never resorted to the slipper.

Miss Hetherington gave him a withering look, included Murphy in it for good measure, but melted to something like sympathy when she turned to Doyle who was waking up with an effort and with tinsel dangling over one ear.

“Miss Hetherington…” Bodie said again, still not sure he believed it. “I didn’t recognise you…”

He was stuttering, he realised, annoyed with himself. Murphy was grinning, enjoying it, but he came to the rescue. “I hope you don’t mind the room being so hot,” he said pleasantly. “Ray got a bit of a ducking trying to help someone who went into the sea, and we wanted to make sure he warmed up.”

“In the sea?” Miss Hetherington asked, quite concerned, and temporarily distracted from Bodie.

“You must have been frozen,” Mrs Barnby added from behind them; they were evidently all back. “Whatever happened?”

“It’s a longish story,” Bodie said, trying to save Doyle from too much sympathy before he’d properly woken up. “Can I make you all a cup of coffee? Or we’ve something a bit stronger…”

The bottles Murphy had bought from the three of them were accepted with pleasure, and Mrs Barnby went to find some suitable glasses. By the time they were all sitting down with a drink, Doyle had at least got his eyes open and his brain more or less connected. Bodie handed him a whisky. “It’s from the other side of the Irish sea,” he warned him.

“It’s good stuff,” Murphy said. He’d joined them on the sofa, and Bodie happily left the talking to him. He still hadn’t got over the shock of discovering that Mrs Barnby’s Aunty Joan had once been the terror of his primary school days. She hadn’t said any more about it, but he had a feeling she was just biding her time.

Murphy, who must have cleared it with Cowley earlier, gripped his audience with the account of their real reasons for being in Midmouth.

“CI5?” Mr Barnby said. “That must be a first for Midmouth.”

“And a last, I expect,” Murphy said. “It’s been an unusual case.” He gave them the outlines of it, nothing classified, more the sort of version that might appear in a broadsheet at the weekend. It was enough, though, to win Symons their pity.

“The poor man,” Mrs Barnby said, with a genuine sympathy that took the triteness out of the words. “He must have been in more need of help than anything. Would he have gone to prison?”

Murphy shrugged. “You can’t go round blackmailing people for national secrets, whatever your reasons, but I think he would have received help.”

“He couldn’t live with himself,” Doyle said. “Because of the man he was blackmailing who committed suicide. I think he just felt he deserved to die.”

“And you went into the sea after him?” Mr Barnby said. “You’re lucky you didn’t find yourself in as much trouble as he was. The seas rough enough tonight, and it must be close to freezing.”

“I was in a bit of trouble,” Doyle admitted, glancing at Bodie. “My guardian angel came along and pulled me out, and made me run back here to get dry. That was it really.”

“And quite enough,” Miss Hetherington said. “Well, I’m pleased to hear that you showed some glimmerings of responsibility,” she added to Bodie, getting rather shocked looks from her niece and Mr Barnby. “Courage yes; you were always a brave enough little boy, but it led you into more fights than anything if I recall.” She had evidently noticed her niece’s face, because she added, “I was just going to tell you, dear. William Bodie was one of the naughtiest boys I ever taught. Always in some sort of trouble. You must have a strong-minded man in charge of CI5”

“Oh, you’d better believe it,” Murphy said, evidently enjoying this hugely. “It’s a very well-disciplined organisation.”

“And at least Cowley doesn’t bend us over and use a plimsoll on us,” Bodie whispered to Doyle.

“She really do that?” Doyle asked, impressed.

“Like someone beating a carpet,” Bodie told him, not quite quietly enough, but fortunately Miss Hetherington seemed inclined to take this as a compliment. Mr Barnby hastily turned a laugh into a cough.

“Any of you boys play pool?” he asked. “I’ve a table in the basement.”

“You’ve time for a couple of games before supper,” Mrs Barnby agreed, caught between her evident sympathy for Bodie and a reluctance to interrupt her aunt, and looking relieved at this way of escape.

Bodie glanced doubtfully at Doyle. He looked better, but Bodie thought he’d be better sitting down in the warm room. “‘S all right; she likes me,” Doyle whispered.

“Teacher’s pet,” Bodie muttered, but thankfully made his escape with Murphy and Mr Barnby for a game of pool. They were good company, and Mr Barnby had thoughtfully brought his whisky bottle down. At the end of a game, when he offered them a second glass, it occurred to Bodie that they had their own bottle. “You keep yours,” he said. “I’ll run up and get the other one.”

It was only when he got into the kitchen, and heard his partner’s unrestrained laughter from the living room, that it occurred to him there could have been any sort of ulterior motive in Doyle’s willingness to stay near the old dragon. He was slipping. Mind you, Miss Hetherington was enough to unnerve anyone.

He glanced round the door, and found it was even worse than his sudden suspicions had suggested to him. Miss Hetherington was telling Doyle something, yes, and he had no doubt at all that it was about little William Bodie, but the object that really horrified him was the photo album open on Doyle’s lap.

Doyle looked up and saw him and grinned. “Hey Bodie, come and see this. It’s a gem…”

Even in these circumstances, Bodie couldn’t quite shrug off the pleasure of seeing a genuine and carefree smile from Doyle; not that was, until he saw the photograph they were looking at. “I didn’t know you started practising for the guardian angel bit so young,” Doyle said.

Bodie looked at the black and white print, glued neatly into the old album. It was divine judgment, for putting that tinsel in Doyle’s hair. It still had the power to make him cringe after more than twenty years. It was the infant nativity play: there he stood, seven years old, an aggressive expression on his face—and wearing a long white dress and shining halo. He could still remember the awful moment when he’d known he was going to have to do it.

“I was supposed to be a camel,” he said.

Making bad worse, Murphy had obviously come up looking for the whisky. He leaned in over Bodie’s shoulder now to take a look. “What happened?”

“The head decided this would be a good punishment,” Bodie said. “There was this girl, Marlene Jacobs…”

“It’s always the same story,” Murphy said.

“It was a rather harsh punishment,” Miss Hetherington said unexpectedly. “While I agreed with the head that under no circumstances should you have been looking up Marlene Jacobs skirt…” She cut off Doyle and Murphy’s amusement with a well-placed glare. “… nevertheless, I do not approve of humiliating children.”

She hadn’t, Bodie remembered. It had been his first lesson in the idea that authority sometimes came with understanding. She’d upheld the punishment, but had provided the one thing that made it bearable. He could see it now in the photo, gleaming against the folds of the hated dress. “You got me a sword,” he said. He could recollect the weight, the glorious masculine feel of that sword, made of real metal, not cardboard and tinfoil, and with a proper sheath because it could actually hurt someone. It had been the envy of every boy in the class. “It was a bl— a really good sword. Angels in the bible were warriors, you said.”

Miss Hetherington smiled slightly. “It must be one of the very few things I told you that you listened to,” she commented.

Doyle was looking at the neat handwritten inscription under the photograph. “A pugnacious angel” he read aloud. “It suits you mate. You haven’t changed.”

“I wonder if Marlene Jacobs has,” Bodie mused.

“Marlene Jacobs has seven children now and is at least a size 22,” Miss Hetherington informed him with some satisfaction. She turned to the class photograph on the facing page to point her out to Doyle, and Bodie stole a last look at the nativity picture. Miss Hetherington or whoever took the photo had caught his expression well, torn between being furiously angry at being forced to dress as a girl, but so very proud of the sword.

“Are you coming for another game?” Murphy interrupted his thoughts.

Bodie looked at the album. School photos had been few and far between in those days; anyway, there could be nothing worse than that one. He gave Miss Hetherington his best smile, and said, “Just about saved my life, that sword. I was thinking of running off to sea before you turned up with that. Thank you.”

Miss Hetherington melted slightly. Obviously there was something female under her corsets after all. “As I said, there are some punishments that are cruelty rather than discipline. You had your good qualities. I would not like to have seen them warped. I’m pleased to see that you’ve found a place in an organisation like CI5.”

On this unexpected note of harmony, Bodie escaped again with Murphy. By the time he came back up, Doyle was on his own in the sitting room. Mrs Barnby said her aunt had been called away by a phone call. “She has enjoyed herself,” she said, offering Bodie a plate of hot savouries as supper. “Take some of these for Ray, will you; he still looks tired.”

Bodie took the plate through. Doyle looked at him in disbelief. “You can’t be eating again.”

“Can’t hurt Mrs Barnby’s feelings,” Bodie said smugly. “Nor can you. Eat up.”

Doyle ate up. “I’ve been hearing about your juvenile life of crime,” he said.

Bodie grinned. He’d been thinking while he was playing pool. He was going to go with Ray to see Ray’s mum, right? He’d met her before, but it had never occurred to him to ask her to get out the family albums. There had to be something in there…

Doyle looked at that grin, slightly uneasy now.

“What?” he asked.

“Wait and see, mate. Wait and see.”

Mrs Barnby came in to offer them a hot drink. “If I were you, love, I’d have some cocoa and go to bed,” she told Doyle. “Getting really chilled like that takes it out of you.”

“Go on up, and I’ll bring it up for you,” Bodie said. He, too, had noticed the fine lines of weariness round Doyle’s eyes. He waited in the kitchen and watched with interest the fine art that could be involved in making a real cup of cocoa.

Doyle found it still took a ridiculous amount of effort to climb the stairs. He decided that he might as well sleep in the tracksuit, tossed the other sweaters onto the nearest chair and dropped thankfully on the bed. He shouldn’t be tired. All he’d done for the last few hours was sleep or sit. All the same, as soon as he lay back, his eyes were closing.

For a little while he lay half asleep. Images that had left him alone earlier in the evening seeped into his memory now. Cold saltwater hit his face, choking him, so icy it stopped his breath. His hands clutched round slippery wet metal. He looked up at faces lining the land above him, and they were white and dancing, and they all condemned him, and another wave broke over him and tugged at his hold.

No, he fought silently, it hadn’t been like this, Bodie had come, and his mind supplied a jumbled dream image of Bodie, sword in hand scything the cold faces out of the way, pulling him up from the choking water… and he suddenly sat bolt upright, awake and trying to shake off the dream. He found Bodie just coming into the room, carrying a mug of cocoa and the horrible furry hotwater bottle. Bodie looked at him thoughtfully, but didn’t comment, just handed him the cocoa. Doyle tried it and blinked. “Did Mrs Barnby do that?” The cocoa tasted as if someone had added a very generous helping of whisky.

“No, that was my own personal gourmet touch,” Bodie said. “She sent this though.” He dropped the hotwater bottle on Doyle’s stomach, and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I don’t suppose Aunty Joan showed you any pictures of me on sports day? I won the sprints every year.”

Doyle drank the cocoa and enjoyed the different levels of warmth. “Reckon she’s got a soft spot for you really,” he said.

“She had a funny way of showing it.”

“I wouldn’t’ve wanted to be your teacher. Or mine. Here, Jeeves, you may remove the cup, now.”

Bodie took the empty mug from his hands, and dropped the duvet on top of him. Lulled by the cocoa and whisky and warm bed, Doyle could hardly keep his eyes open. He blinked at Bodie. “You know why she showed me that picture?” he said.

“Because she caught me giving you a halo?”

“Nah, because I made that crack about you being my guardian angel. She said it would be… hell, what did she say… I know, unforgettable. She said I shouldn’t’ve been wandering round Midmouth like a lost soul the other night if I had good friends, and next time I’d better remember that. That’s what I mean about having a soft spot for you. She said there wasn’t much angelic about you, but you were there when I needed you and that was what counted.”

Bodie grinned. “Any time, sunshine. Just don’t expect me to stage my daring rescues in a white frock.”

Doyle let his eyes close. The nightmare sense of drowning in icy water didn’t come back. The old lady’s words stayed in his mind this time, mixed up with that daft picture of Bodie, and a vague and comforting sense of Bodie still sitting on the edge of the bed. They’d solved the case. He still felt a pang of regret when he thought of Symons, but Miss Hetherington had told him briskly that he wasn’t God, and could safely leave that one in more omnipotent hands, which was hard to argue with. He’d manage to get home for Christmas after all. And his own personal guardian angel was on hand and always ready for a fight. What more could he ask?

Content to be just the way he was, Doyle slept.

~ End ~

Just the Way You Are

by Billy Joel

Don’t go changing, to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore
I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are.

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take ’til you believe in me
The way that I believe in you.

I said I love you, and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are.