Cowley’s Irregulars

By Gil Hale —

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

Author’s Notes: In this alternate universe, the ‘bloodless’ revolution of 1688 never took place, and the line of Stuart kings continued to the present day, leading to a rather different England in the late twentieth century, and some significant changes to world history.

Bodie looked out from the high hotel window over the streets of the capital. There seemed to be more beggars than ever since the recent coronation of James VII; most of them had come from the industrial slums of the north thinking there would be new opportunities under a new king. They had quickly been disillusioned, but few of them could afford even the cheapest rail fare home. Unlike Bodie, who had the money to travel by the new motorway and a car to match that of any more legitimate businessman.

He glanced at the expensive wristwatch, locked around his wrist to defy pickpockets. He was expecting a visitor with the offer of a job. He wondered idly what it would be. Probably recruiting more mercenaries for the king’s never-ending wars to hang on to his African colonies. Whatever it was, it would be semi-official. His prospective employer was a minister in the king’s current administration, however secretly he was arranging matters. Also, like anyone who employed Bodie, he knew there were certain jobs Bodie would not undertake; he was no assassin.

Bodie hoped that whatever it was it might get him out of England for a while. He would have been gone before now, if it had not been for this suggestion of a lucrative contract. England depressed him, and he thought things were rapidly getting worse.

The minister arrived, as he had expected, exactly five minutes after the appointed time: late enough to make the point he was the important figure in the arrangements, not late enough to offend Bodie, who knew quite well his own value. Bodie offered him a cognac. He preferred whisky himself, but favourable arrangements with France and punitive customs duties on the Scottish border had prevented most hotels from stocking it.

“It will be a longer job than you normally take on,” the minister said thoughtfully, looking at his glass rather than Bodie. “The pay will take this into consideration.”

Bodie waited.

“How well do you know the situation in the… poorer… parts of London?”

Bodie shrugged. Everyone knew there were parts of north and east London which the civil security guards had more or less abandoned. It was said they would only go in in armoured vehicles or overwhelming numbers. “Somewhere between anarchy and the rule of organised crime,” he offered.

“Exactly. And has it ever occurred to you to wonder why it has been allowed to continue in that way?”

Bodie had never bothered to think about it. It didn’t seem tactful to suggest sheer incompetence. “I always assumed it wasn’t worth the money and man power to do anything about it.”

“Those things are considerations of course. But beyond that, if an administation puts its mind to it, there is nothing that cannot be taxed or yield a profit in some way.”

Bodie glanced out of the window again. A huge car had just arrived, and a rabble of half-starved children were fighting to polish its hubcaps and fenders. He had long ago learned to shut out any feeling about such scenes. But profit? “I don’t quite see…” he said, his voice entirely uninflected.

“In the case of the criminal empires I suppose you could almost see it as feudal,” the minister mused. “They have their… patch… and they pay dues in money and men for the African wars. And anarchy is never quite so anarchic as an outsider supposes. Even in the drug dens of east London. Chinese importers contribute more than anyone would guess to our gross national product. Manufacturers and dealers are prepared to pay to keep interference away from their business.”

It was one thing for cynics to guess at this, another to hear it stated openly. Bodie kept his expression bland. “So the increase in hard drugs in all areas of the country…”

“Is unfortunate. It is very important to his majesty that his subjects in Africa continue to enjoy his protection.” It was obvious from the minister’s manner that he considered Bodie to be quite lacking in scruples. He moved on smoothly to the rest of his business. “The state of affairs in the capital, deplorable as we may find it, is currently in the country’s best interests. There has however been… interference.”

“A local villain too big for his boots?”

“Nothing so simple. That could easily be dealt with. No, we have a serious problem. A private organisation, supported by well meaning individuals and charities, has established a strong presence. Oh there’s been charitable work all the time of course, but this is altogether different. More like a private army, frankly. If you’d been in England a little longer I’m sure you’d have heard of it—the popular press unfortunately have given it a high profile, and it’s achieving what the civil guard have always failed to do.”

“Which is?”

“That’s the problem. Working against the drug traffic, importers and dealers. Working against organised crime. Keeping the streets clean is the popular phrase.”

Bodie smiled without humour. “And his majesty’s administation finds them more profitable dirty.”

“Exactly. I’m afraid the organisation became well-established before anyone dreamed it had a chance of achieving anything. It has influential support—do-gooders, senior members of the church, the livelier elements of the press. You can see the difficulties.”

“But not what you imagine I can do about them.”

“We need a man on the inside. Someone with the ability to work up to the top of the organisation. Someone who can feed us the information on where they’re planning to act, and possibly sabotage that action. You could do it, and you’ve been abroad and independent long enough not to be suspected of government connections.”

Bodie thought about the implications of this. “You’re implying this charitable group runs security checks on potential recruits?”

“Believe me, this is no normal group. When I said it was a private army I meant it. It’s trained, it’s armed and it’s led by a man half Europe knows—though we didn’t realise that ’til a lot too late.” He handed Bodie a photograph.

Bodie looked at it in thoughtful calculation. “George Cowley.” That would be a challenge. Head of the Scots secret service, reputed to know more about most European countries than their own rulers. A very dangerous man by all accounts. I heard he’d been put out of action by a successful hit.”

“He walks with a limp now, and a bullet in his leg. And has come interfering on this side of the border. He seems unfortunately to have powerful friends, and of course it’s difficult to argue with success. His organisation appeals to the most irresponsible journalists. Someone gave them the nickname Cowley’s Irregulars, and of course it’s stuck. CI men, for short. London loves them. We daren’t move against them openly.”

Bodie poured himself a generous measure of the French brandy. ” So you want me to do it from inside. Take on the formidable Cowley. It will be very expensive.”

He took the measure of the minister’s desperation from the very small amount of haggling needed to make the price acceptable. As a business transaction it was very satisfactory; as a job it promised to be challenging enough to keep the adrenalin high. Only, after the man had gone, and he went back to staring across the rooftops, it was hard to keep certain images from his mind: a white, gaunt face that had once been beautiful; rolling back a lacy sleeve to find an arm with half its veins collapsed. He forced the memories back, down into some part of him that he had long ago learned to shut in.

Three weeks later he was waiting for his first encounter with Cowley. Along with a handful of others he sat in the bare corridor of an undistinguished red brick building. To anyone observing him, he looked relaxed, confident, hard. In fact, he felt less assured than he had felt in years. He had not been joking when he described the man as formidable. A little research had confirmed all his previous impressions. Beyond that, the minister’s panic actually seemed justified. This so-called charity, with its pitiful resources and hotch-potch of workers, was achieving extraordinary results.

Bodie ran over the details of the cover he had adopted. It hadn’t been easy to find a plausible reason for him to offer his services. Cowley was unlikely to believe he had undergone a sudden change of heart; it had to be something in his own interests. The motive he’d come up with should work, because it was based closely enough on verifiable facts. Cowley would know he’d served a couple of spells in the king’s armies. It was believable he might want to go back in—for status, for a future. The last time he’d left it had been after a dispute with a senior general about the compromising of his pretty daughter. With a little manoeuvring from the minister, it had been put about that this man, a devout Catholic, had demanded some form of penance before Bodie was allowed back in. Serving with a charity was a common penance enough. If that got past Cowley he would have no problems. It was well known the Irregulars were short on manpower.

Looking at the handful of others waiting for interview increased his confidence. Two middle-aged men and a young woman were obviously looking for desk jobs. There was only one other potential recruit for the real Irregulars, and Bodie looked him over with mild contempt. He wore the uniform of the despised civil guard. He was slight, smaller built than Bodie, and wore his hair quite long and curled in the fashion currently popular in the capital and court. Only the set of his face and the scarred cheekbone suggested he knew how to handle himself on the streets. He looked up as if he felt Bodie’s patronising appraisal and there was a spark of challenge in his eyes. Bodie gave him a smile calculated to say don’t even think of it, I’m out of your league. Cowley, he thought, must be fairly desperate if he was recruiting from the civil guard.

His interview when it finally came was not what he had expected. Cowley asked little about his motives for joining, but showed an alarming familiarity with all the details of his career. It shook him that in the short time since he’d applied the man seemed to have mastered his whole history. He wasn’t used to that level of competence in his superiors, and he’d certainly never had one with so much natural authority. He’d been reminding himself all morning to adopt the right tone, but in fact he found himself saying ‘sir’ as an instinctive reaction. He could not read the man’s reactions at all, and it was a genuine relief to find himself at least half-accepted, and called back in with the curly-haired guard.

Cowley was not exactly complimentary, but he thought he could use them.

“I’m short of men who can handle a weapon and take care of themselves,” he said frankly. “If I was running this the way I’d like to you’d have weeks of briefing and training, but its a luxury we can’t afford. I’ll see you in action this afternoon, and if you’re up to scratch on that you’ll get a couple of days training then learn on the job. You’ve strengths and weaknesses both of you, but nothing that should get you killed unless you’re careless. Now go and make each other’s acquaintances…”

He did not miss the instant blankness on both faces. “Get used to each other. You’ve come in together and you’ll stay together. If you were less experienced I’d put each of you with an old hand, but I don’t want to break up my teams if I don’t have to. Doyle here knows the streets and the people, and you Bodie have learned to look after yourself in most parts of the world. You should both be able to handle it.” He gave them space to hang themselves but they managed to hold their tongues, although one looked sullen and the other on the verge of angry speech.

A partner, Bodie thought as they found somewhere to eat. That’s going to make life complicated. On the whole though he thought he could probably break it up in a way that landed the blame on Doyle.

The afternoon was… interesting.They went thought their paces for Cowley, and to Bodie’s surprise Doyle held his own—more than held it with a pistol.He’d learned some unusual forms of unarmed combat too, and Bodie only managed to get the better of him by making him lose his temper. After that his new partner was icily controlled, the anger banked down and turned to aggression. Although the hostility between them was almost tangible, Bodie was fascinated to find over the following days that in spite of it they functioned effectively as a team. He half though of letting it continue, but it would hamper his real job having a partner. He hid his thoughts with his usual efficiency, and waited patiently for an opportunity to convince Cowley they were better alone.

Living undercover was a new experience. He’d done occasional brief stints, but never had to live out a role for any length of time. Over the next few weeks as he established himself he was surprised to find it easy to forget his real employment. The new life was intensive and challenging, and there were no breaks. Cowley drove his men hard and himself harder. A month passed in a blur of activity, and it was only when Bodie’s contact made herself known that he gave a thought to his paymasters.

The contact was a sophisticated blonde secretary who occasionally visited the CI headquarters on the minister’s behalf. Bodie had already gained enough of a reputation that no-one would be surprised if he engaged her in conversation. This first contact was a preliminary though, a mere laying down of lines of communication. He made it clear that they would have to wait for more until he was solidly established.

“You can chat her up later ,” said his partner, arriving as she moved on. “Time we were on our way.”

Bodie nodded curtly. He had not done anything yet about detaching himself from this teaming. He and Doyle had developed a curiously ambivalent relationship: almost telepathically close on the job, hostile off it. He’d made it clear to Doyle what he thought of the civil guard and of having a partner without military training; Doyle had made it equally clear what he thought of mercenaries in general and Bodie in particular. But none of this had prevented them from being one of the most successful of Cowley’s units, and Bodie had delayed any attempt to go solo until he felt the old man had really noticed his merits.

Today however events conspired to offer an ideal opportunity. For one thing, they failed in what they set out to do. The tensions were running higher than usual: Bodie’s real task was uppermost in his mind again, and Doyle was aware of being more shut out than usual. If they had been involved in violent action they would have forgotten it, but the job appeared a little too easy. Just talk to a small time burglar who had seen something unusual while on a job. Find out if it was anything Cowley might be interested in. Only, between them they panicked the man and when he ran he must have run into someone else who had heard about him. Pulled out of the Thames with his throat cut, he wasn’t going to do any more talking.

Cowley on the other hand was eloquent. Even Bodie smarted under the lash of his words, and he could almost feel the heat of his partner’s fury. As they finally escaped he decided this was the chance he wanted.

“You should’ve let me handle it,” he said. “Might have saved us a lot of trouble.”

Doyle rose to it as he’d known he would. “Oh yeah, you really put them at their ease. You can’t even talk to them as if they’re human beings.”

“Well, at least I don’t lose my temper and bang people up against walls to chat to them. I suppose you left that little detail out of your report.” He was careful to keep his voice low, whereas Doyle’s angry replies were getting the attention of everyone else in the corridor.


“Really. I thought creative report writing was a required skill in the civil guard.”

“I report to Cowley exactly as it happens. And lay off the civil guard stuff. It’s been more use to us than your hired killer approach.”

“Sensitive aren’t we? Come on, Doyle, you know what everyone thinks of the guard—rotten to the core.”

He saw with satisfaction that several witnesses had observed his partner strike the first blow. After that he enjoyed the fight—he’d found the day frustrating as well. They managed to do each other a fair amount of damage before they were pulled apart. Enough, he thought, to impress on Cowley they were really better suited to going solo.

Icily calm, Cowley sent them to wash, make themselves presentable and wait for him. The waiting stretched into hours. Bodie was hungry and beginning to feel the effects of the fight. He knew by some instinct he did not bother to analyse that his silent companion was feeling worse… not because of his blackening eye or the other blows Bodie had landed but because he felt guilty. Well, it would be in his interests too for Cowley to split them up.

Cowley however was uncooperative. He did not discuss it, did not ask for their opinions or justification, just laid down the law, and made it abundantly clear he was not changing anything. Bodie couldn’t decide if it was sheer bloody mindedness or if the old man actually thought they were good as a team. Either way, he wasn’t listening to reason.

“I’m not running a girls’ school. Och, I might as well be, to listen to the pair of you. Do you think it matters to me whether you like each other or not. Do you?” He took their silence as an answer, and gave them his stark alternative. “You’ll work with each other or anyone else I put you with without questioning my judgement, or you’re out of this organisation. No ifs or buts or second chances. You settle your differences and do the job or you can go. Do you understand me? Bodie?”

Bodie stood silent for a moment, jaw clenched. He hadn’t thought it would come to this. They were good, some of the best Cowley had. Didn’t the old bastard know how much he needed them? But he met cold blue eyes and saw he’d finally come up against a will stronger than his own. Cowley meant it all right. With reluctant respect he said, “Yes, sir.”



They left the office resentful and chastened, the verbal whipping harder to take than a physical one. Bodie glanced surreptitiously at his partner. Being in Cowley’s organisation mattered to Doyle. Too much. It was a mistake to let things matter too much. But under the resentment there was bleak misery on his partner’s face and he felt oddly empty as he walked away.

He kept a low profile for some time after that. He didn’t want to attract Cowley’s further attention. Doyle, too, was subdued. They walked warily with each other, and avoided each other off the job. But on it, that odd sense of harmony grew. A closeness and trust developed that at first they hardly recognised. Bodie found himself knowing instinctively how and where his partner would move. They worked together well on the streets. The sense of competitiveness that they could no longer turn on each other, gave them the determination and drive to become a formidable team, and they liked being the best.

“Come for a drink?” Doyle offered one evening. It was breaking their unwritten rule that they avoided each other off the job, but they had had a bad day, and who else would understand.

Bodie knew why he said it. They’d spent most of the day looking for a girl who had tentatively approached them, offering information, wanting a way out of the life she was living. She’d failed to come to the place where she had asked them to meet her, and they’d known from the start that was probably bad news. They hadn’t found her ’til late in the day though, in a squalid tenement block and an even more squalid room. She was dead, of course.

“Overdose,” Doyle said bitterly.

Bodie stood beside him looking at the empty remains of what had once been a person. She had been cheaply pretty, and earned her money in the easiest way for pretty girls. But he didn’t see that, so much as the dead white face and the arms pockmarked from the needles. It brought back the past very sharply. He looked at Doyle, and the anger was a shared force between them. Quite suddenly he realised he hated the dealers and pushers as fiercely as his volatile partner did.

That oneness hadn’t gone. It was why he accepted the offer of a drink. The one turned into several, and he found himself telling Doyle as they walked home a little… a very little… about the past.

“You ever know anyone well who got into drugs? Personally, not just through work.”

“Yeah… a few. Never knew anyone who got out of it again. There’s no help, nothing. The government doesn’t give a damn. No-one gives a damn except Cowley.”

Bodie shivered and didn’t know why. “I knew a girl once… knew her well. She started on it while I was abroad. Could hardly recognise her when I came back. She had been beautiful.”

“At least we’re doing something.”

The words shook Bodie. What exactly was he doing? The warmth of the drink and the companionship faded. Somewhere in his mind perspectives had shifted. It was not him taking on a job now. It was a war. And which side was he on?

“This isn’t worth what we’re paying you,” the minister said irritably. “Do you have any idea of how much effect Cowley and his wretched organisation are having. The man’s rapidly becoming a real threat to the status quo.”

“I told you it would take a few months,” Bodie said equably. After Cowley the minister was remarkably unimpressive.

“I don’t know that we can afford a few months. Surely you have more information than this about Cowley’s plans.”

“He plays things very close to his chest,” Bodie said truthfully enough. “Need to know is his rule and he generally thinks we don’t. I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient, or waste what I’ve achieved in getting established.”

He knew the minister would accept it, and with a little bluster and a few weak threats he did. The problem was not going to disappear though. Bodie admitted to himself now the strong reluctance he felt to do the job he had taken on, a reluctance which had so far held him back from giving them anything. It was partly Cowley—the man’s ruthless morality had got under Bodie’s skin. Partly the job, too. He had mocked himself at first for letting his partner’s idealism rub off on him. It had been uncomfortably like having an external conscience—one that was much harder to shut up. But somewhere along the way he’d got used to it. Used to Doyle, too. He began to face the fact that he was getting backed into a very difficult corner.

“Where have you been? Come on, the old man wants us.” He had been too deep in thought to realise he had almost reached headquarters, and his partner’s voice made him jump. Without thinking about it he fell into step beside him.

The room was crowded, and he realised Cowley had called in everyone available. There was no rhetoric here; as always Cowley was incisive, straight to the point. “We’re hitting them hard now, and they don’t like it. I’m getting a lot of rumours that something big is being planned… and soon. But I’ve nothing definite. Maybe a big drop is being planned to make up some of their losses, or maybe they’ve stuff stashed which is going to be brought onto the market. Maybe they’re setting us up to hit back at us. I don’t know and I don’t like not knowing. Go out there and get me something solid. You’ve all got contacts. Use them. Lean on them. I want facts.”

“Who d’you reckon?” Doyle said as they went down to the armoury to draw ammunition. “Sammy?”

“I wouldn’t trust Sammy as far as I could throw him.”

“Who would? But he’d sell his own grandmother, and he has the advantage he might actually know something. The others are little fish, they’ll have just heard the rumours we have.”

It took them the rest of a dirty and depressing day to find Sammy. They ran him down in the early evening at a drinking house near the river. It was a rough place and the only honest men in it were a few burly sailors from one of the ships in the docks. There were a couple of CI men in there, not making themselves known—Murphy looking like a layabout and Jax who was dressed as if he had just left the boiler room of a cargo ship. Doyle and Bodie looked at least as rough as anyone else in there, and drew little reaction until Sammy spotted them. He dropped the beer he was holding and bolted for the back door. Bodie caught him a pace or two into the yard and slammed him up against the wall with his hand round his throat.

“Not a nice way to welcome old friends, Sammy,” he said reproachfully.

“Fuck off.”

“When we’ve had a little chat.”

Doyle behind him had been covering the door, surprised that no-one had come to help their shifty captive. Now he joined in. “We’ve been looking for you all day, Sammy. I think you’ve been avoiding us.”

“Whole of bloody London knows you’re looking for me,” Sammy spat. “Trying to make out I’m a nark. I’m not telling you anything.”

“Now you know us Sammy,” Bodie said. “We’re reasonable people.”

“Yeah…” his partner chipped in. “We’re the nice guys. Now our boss… he’s mean.”

“He doesn’t ask questions nicely like we do.”

“It’d be much less painful to chat to us.”

“You’re supposed to be a bloody charity, not the secret police,” Sammy complained, wriggling as Bodie twisted his arm up behind him at a painful angle.

“You’d better put in a complaint, through the proper channels of course.” Bodie notched the arm up a little higher, and sweat broke out on the man’s face.

“All right, all right. Don’t break it. It might be worth your while to take a look at a warehouse…” He gave adequate directions. “I’m not promising anything… just a whisper there might be something there and a pick up around ten.”

Bodie glanced at his watch. A couple of hours. It gave them time to have a good look round first. His eyes met Doyle’s over Sammy’s head and he got an almost imperceptible shrug. “Get lost then,” he said releasing his hold, and Sammy scuttled out of the yard.

“I’m not sure about this,” Doyle said as they went to pick up torches. There was no electricity supply to the derelict area where the warehouse stood. “There’s something funny going on in that pub.”

“They didn’t interfere with us.”

“No. But they should have done.”

“Well, Murph’s still there. Perhaps he’ll pick up on it.”

“And Sammy talked too easily.”

“He was scared. Anyway, if there’s nothing there we’ll go back and make his life a misery.”

“If there’s nothing there, it won’t be a problem. S’pose he was setting us up.”

Bodie thought about it. “Nah, they know we’ll be armed. We’ll go in carefully if you like, but I don’t see it.” He swung his torch carelessly and it flicked off for the second time in as many minutes. “Wish Cowley would get some decent equipment.”

“What, on credit? You be careful with that anyway—if you knock it you’ll finish it off. It’s got some sort of loose connection.”

The warehouse was deserted, genuinely. The torchbeams illuminated only piles of abandoned rubbish,obviously untouched in years. There were old boxes and crates,but none of them contained anything remotely interesting. They rummaged around with an increasing impatience.

“I’ll check upstairs, you do the backroom,” Bodie said at last. “We’ll hang on ’til ten… it can’t be far off now.”

Doyle’s torch shone on more crates, filthy, thick with dust.There was no sign that anyone had been near them. Above he could hear Bodie curse as he caught his torch against a stanchion and it went out again, refusing to revive. “You’d better come down,” he yelled, making his way back into the main part of the building. At that moment his radio beeped.


“Ray are you in the warehouse?” It was Murphy.


“Well get out, quickly. There’s a bomb set for ten. Got it out of one of the men at the pub.”

Doyle clicked off the radio. “Bodie!”

“I heard. I’m coming. Go on… get out.”

He saw a light illuminate the uneven treads of the stairs and realised his partner was there lighting the way down. The staircase seemed interminable. “I can see enough,” he yelled. “Will you get out!”

He knew with frustrating certainty that Doyle wouldn’t, and the thin torchbeam shone steadily making it easy for him to hurtle down. He leapt the last flight, Doyle steadied him as he landed and they ran for the doorway together. They were outside… just… when the world blew up and the blast of air sent them flying across the concrete yard. Bodie was aware of the crashing explosion numbing his hearing and debris raining down, but they had been just far enough away to miss the worst of it. He rolled over, half-stunned, and saw the warehouse collapse in on itself and flames already licking up the wooden exterior. His partner lay sprawled a little behind him, and for a gutwrenching moment he thought he wasn’t moving.

“Doyle!” he shouted, and his voice echoed oddly in his buzzing ears. Before he could get to him Doyle rolled over. He looked a mess, with a swelling lump on his forehead and blood tricking down, but he was talking. “I told you we were being set up. What did I say about Sammy. I’ll have his bloody guts for this. And I told you to watch it with that torch. Maybe another time you might listen instead…”

Relief and amusement shook Bodie unexpectedly. He looked at his battered partner, redlit by the growing fire, unable yet to get off his back but still talking indignantly and he began to laugh helplessly. Doyle stared at him even more indignantly for a moment then he began to laugh too.

“Getting a bit too hot round here,” Bodie said grabbing on to self-control. The fire was blazing up and the heat of it was almost painful. He forced himself up onto unsteady legs and hauled up the even more dazed Doyle. “C’mon. Gotta move.”

It took all his strength to get them across the yard where he flopped down against a wall, his partner propped untidily in his arms. Flakes of ash dropped on them, but they were safe from the flames.

“What hit me?” Doyle grumbled,making a slight effort to sit up but giving up on it.

“The ground. It’s harder than your head so shut up and keep still.” He could smell blood and smoke in the tangled mop of hair. “Hey, be a pity if they have to get rid of all those curls to stitch it,” he added wickedly. Doyle’s hand went up reflexively to check the lump was safely below the hairline, and he realised he’d fallen for it. He cursed Bodie fluently. “Anyway, it’s stopped bleeding. Think we ought to get out of here?”

“Nah. Better stay put. Murphy and the others will come looking for us… They couldn’t miss seeing this.” The fire was impressive now, blazing up through what had once been the roof. Bodie watched it and knew he would have been under the burning debris if his partner had cut and run. Without realising it he tightened his hold, and Doyle,too dizzy to object, found a comfortable spot against him for his aching head.

A roar of engines materialised into Murphy and another car coming to view the damage.

“We could hear the explosion right down by the docks. Thought you might not have made it,” he said, relieved to see them more or less in one piece. “Going to sleep on the job are you? Lucky Cowley’s not here to see you sitting around like this.”

“We’d like a bit more warning next time,” Bodie pointed out sarcastically.”Hello, it’s Murphy here, you’re about to be blown up is hardly adequate.”

“We got Sammy,” Murphy said, ignoring this.”Jax has taken him back for Cowley to chat to him. They all knew about it; that’s why no-one tried to stop you taking him.” He knelt down to look at Doyle.”What’s the damage?”

“Bruises mostly. Doyle here tried to dent the ground with his head. We’ll live.”

The doctor at headquarters agreed with Bodie’s diagnosis, although he decided to keep them in the infirmary overnight on the grounds that Doyle was probably concussed and Bodie might be.

The explosion seemed to have blown away the last of Bodie’s illusions. He’d been holding on to the idea that if juggling his different commitments became too difficult he could just get out of England. Lying wide awake in the infirmary, he realised he didn’t want that. It wasn’t enough to get free of the minister and this current assignment. He wanted more: to do the job that he’d been pretending to do for the last few months; to work for a man he could respect; to stay with his stubborn, hot-tempered, loyal partner.

Ironic that. He’d tried hard enough to get out of the partnership. Now if anything held him trapped it was his desire to keep it.

He looked over at the other bed in the infirmary. Doyle was asleep on his back. He was snoring slightly, and his already battered features were disfigured by the swelling lump on his head and grazes down his cheeks. The nightnurse, elderly and strict, was waking him at regular intervals, which had put him in a foul mood. He would be tired, bad-tempered and hard to live with when they got out. Not something to make anyone sane feel that sudden warmth of affection.

You probably had to be insane to do this job.

And Bodie knew now he wanted to do it. No more doublethink, no more concealment. The problem was he could only see one very thin chance of getting what he wanted. The minister was a weak man, but he had powerful organisations to call on. Bodie had his own resources, but to stay in England he needed more. It was a big risk, but lying there he decided his best option was to go and tell Cowley the whole thing. Cowley was an old hand. If he still wanted Bodie, he’d find a way to keep him. The alternative he put out of his mind.

He glanced again at his partner. Sometime, somehow he was going to have to tell Doyle, too. Even if he had to get out of the country he was going to tell him. To do anything else would undermine what had grown between them, and make it into an ugly parody. Cowley first though; if he was wrong about Cowley all his other choices would be eliminated… probably along with him. On that grim thought he fell asleep. The doctor grudgingly pronounced them fit to go in the morning. By then they were definitely yesterday’s news. In the wider world, the king was threatening to dissolve parliament in the hopes of an election bringing in a more remunerative administration. In CI headquarters, word was that Cowley was onto something big.

From Bodie’s point of view, the most significant thing was that Cowley was unavailable, and likely to remain that way. He was out of London for a day or two, apparently calling in some favours from wealthy supporters. His other employers, however, were looking for his company. His contact conveyed a summons too urgent for him to ignore.

The minister, agitated at the day’s news and seeing unemployment looming, adopted a bullying manner. “If you can’t do anything for us this time, I shall take steps to terminate your employment.”

“You haven’t told me what you want,” Bodie pointed out coolly.

“I want information! That’s what you’re there for. I want to know if Cowley’s on to anything… a big operation. And if he is I want to know what he’s planning to do about it. You’ve got to come through on this one.”

“Something important is it?” Bodie asked, wondering how much the man would actually admit.

The minister had no qualms about what he was doing. Drug funds kept his administration in power, and power was after all what mattered.

“Important enough that if Cowley gets wind of it he’ll not only be close to breaking the drug lords, he’ll bring down the government. You can set yourself up for life if you serve us well on this one.”

Bodie’s smile was chilling. “I understand.”

“I hope you do. If you let us down, even Africa won’t be far enough for you to run to.”

Bodie was still smiling as he walked away, though the minister would have had him killed on the spot if he’d known why. The thought of action, of a final end to the game he was playing, the welcome rush of adrenalin all lightened Bodie’s mood. Now if only he could get hold of Cowley…

He found Doyle at headquarters, still looking the worse for wear, but caught up in the tense anticipation that had filled the place.

“They reckon Cowley broke Sammy, found out what was on. He’s back, y’know. Briefing in an hour.”

Bodie had never seen the briefing room so crowded; every available man was there, and even some from the training side. He’d never seen Cowley look so grim either. As usual, the Scot didn’t waste time on waffle. It was big.

Faced with the unexpected and continuing success of the CI men, the drug lords had put aside old enmities and joined forces. A massive shipment from Asia was being brought in. Cowley ran through the details of place and time, but he was at his most bleak when he gave them an idea of the numbers they would be up against. “This is going to be bigger than anything we’ve ever handled before. Our main advantage is surprise, and your lives are going to depend on making sure we keep that element of surprise. You’re not just going to be outnumbered. These men will be well armed. Better armed than you possibly, but not as well trained. The little fish, the dealers and hangers on may well run for it when the shooting starts. Let them go, we can pick them up later. You concentrate your fire and your efforts on the hard men. They’re the ones we need to break, for good. I’ve made some arrangements that I hope will swing things a little further in our favour, but don’t underestimate the fight you’re going to have on your hands.”

As they received their more detailed orders, Bodie worked his way towards the front, and when the room began to clear he got Cowley’s attention.

“I need to speak to you, sir.”

“Aye, I heard. But not now, Bodie. Tomorrow morning. And Bodie… I’m relying on you and Doyle tonight.”

Bodie wondered for a moment if that meant more than the simple statement, but he just said. “Yes sir. We won’t let you down.”

His words came back to him late that night as he lay in the darkness behind a stack of crates on a supposedly disused dock. The dock authorities had evidently been in on it. Their security men kept well away. That had been to the advantage of the CI men, as they arrived in twos and threes during the evening, silent, black-clad, almost invisible even in the open on such an overcast night.

Bodie could feel the same mood in all of them. They weren’t going to let Cowley down. Some had military backgrounds like his own but more were civilians only trained by Cowley; he was surprised to find how much confidence he felt about going into action with them. He would have liked just a little more idea of how they were going to handle it though.

It was the darkness that bothered him. Even when their eyes were fully adjusted it was difficult to make out more than the vaguest shapes. He knew when activity started along the dock, but it was because he heard it rather than saw it. Sounds told him that boats were moving on the water… several he thought… and that cars and other vehicles were pulling up to the quay. Straining to see into the darkness, he breathed into Doyle’s ear, “We need our heads examining. What the hell are we supposed to achieve in this murk.”

“Cowley’ll have something up his sleeve.”

“Oh great. Blind faith. Won’t be much help when it comes to shooting blind.”

He could feel the tension mount as the boats, blacker bulks against the water and the sky, moored at the quayside. The noise of engines, of metal grating against stone and of shouting voices suggested the men there were not worried about meeting with any opposition. The volume of sound below drowned out another noise above until it was almost overhead.

Bodie looked up and could see nothing, but he recognised the sound. Helicopters, two at least, directly overhead. He gripped Doyle’s arm, but before he could say what he was thinking a single shot was fired some way to the left of them. It was the signal for them to begin shooting. Almost simultaneously, flares were dropped from the helicopters lighting up the scene in the docks with almost bluish brilliance. The cold light from above was met with hot light from below. At some point during the long dark wait, Cowley must have had quantities of oil tipped on to the surface of the water. Now it was fired, and the flames licked across the docks and gnawed at the launches. Open mouthed at all this, Bodie was nevertheless firing instinctively and accurately, pinning men down across their segment of the dock.

Out in the open there was panic and chaos. Surprise was an inadequate word for the effect of this attack. Supposing themselves secure, certain in their overwhelming numbers, the drug lords were caught completely unprepared. In the confusion, the numbers attacking them seemed far greater than they really were. The rearmost boat pulled away trying to exit the dock, and only then did anyone see that a rusty tanker was now blocking the entrance completely.

“Told you,” Doyle said, firing accurately at a man on the front of the nearest launch who was trying to aim a machine pistol at their position. “They’re trapped. We’ve got them.”

The scene on the quay was like one of the popular posters of hell which the church sponsored on London buses. The fire from the oil-covered water was blazing up behind the back scrambling figures, and some desperately leapt for shore as their boat also began to blaze. There must have been a good deal of fuel in its tanks, because it exploded within seconds.

That was the beginning of the end. The helicopters—Bodie had identified them as coming from the Duke of Cambridge’s private fleet—were still dropping flares at regular intervals.The quay looked like a battlefield, and those who weren’t down and unable to move were running for it. The CI men began to move out a little from their concealed positions, the problem now being who to take in and who to allow to run.

In one group fleeing towards the back streets Bodie saw a man he thought he recognised. Who he was he didn’t know, but he’d been a visitor to the minister on at least on occasion.

“Come on,” he said hastily to Doyle. “That one in the centre—tall bloke. I think Cowley will want him. Let’s try and take him alive.”

As they ran they fired at the men on either side of the one Bodie had pointed out, ducking into the shadows of the buildings to avoid the answering shots, but the men were more concerned with escape than a fight. One went down clutching his shoulder, but the others rounded a corner, and Doyle and Bodie put on speed. Neither they nor the men they were pursuing had any idea that the roads had also been blocked. They just had time to identify the familiar shapes of the vans used by the civil guard, then the men ahead were turning and coming back towards them.

“Look out!” Doyle yelled, realising that they were now well-lit targets. He dived for cover, taking out a second man as he went. Bodie saw what he had not glimpsed. There was a side alley, offering escape. He stayed in the open a moment longer to take deliberate aim. As always, he was accurate. His target fell with a bullet through the knee, but almost simultaneously the last of the runners had fired. Doyle saw Bodie jerk and fall.

Moving and firing rapidly Doyle saw the man disappear down the alley, leaving his writhing companion, but by then he was at Bodie’s side.

Bodie had rolled into the shadows, but he sat up now, painfully, his hand pressed to his shoulder. “It’s all right,” he said with an effort. “Clean through. Go and make sure of that man.”

Doyle hesitated a moment, then went, shouting orders to the civil guard. It took him less than a minute to make sure they collected the groaning prisoner and took him off in one of the vans, to hold for Cowley. By then Bodie had stripped off his black polo neck. Doyle dropped beside him, ignoring the remaining action. In the light provided by the unending stream of flares, he could see that Bodie was right about the bullet, but the entrance and exit wounds were bleeding freely, and it was ugly enough. He flung off his own jumper and shirt and ripped up the soft cotton to pad and bandage the injury.

“Bloody hell, Bodie,” he said, trying to stop his voice shaking. “Why don’t you just wear a target—here I am, shoot me. What the blazes did you think you were doing? Anyway, Cowley must have got medical back-up. Now things are quietening down, we’ll get you to a hospital.”

“No!” Bodie gripped his arm fiercely. “No hospital.” He was struggling with flaring pain and shock, but not so much so that he did not realise the danger. After tonight his life would be worth very little if he was anywhere the minister’s arm could reach him. Cutting through Doyle’s torrent of protest, he said, “Shut up and listen to me for once. Don’t do anything ’til you’ve heard me out.”

And then maybe you won’t care so much…

It wasn’t how he’d wanted to tell his partner what had been going on, but it had to be done. The pain in his shoulder helped; it took his mind off everything but what he had to say. There was still noise and action on the quay, but in the shadowy street they were isolated. He did not look at Doyle, but he was aware of the warmth of him, and that he knelt closer rather than drawing away as the story spilled untidily out.

“If I go to hospital they’ll be able to get at me easily enough. Not too good anywhere unless Cowley gets me out of this. You were right, you see, about mercenaries…”

“No!” The absolute certainty in his partner’s voice made him look up. “You’re no mercenary, or you’d have been out of here with a fat payment not bleeding all over the road. But you’re right about Cowley. We have to get back to headquarters. We can handle it better from there.”

Bodie was shivering almost uncontrollably, but some inner core of warmth kindled at his partner’s assumption they would see it through together.

“I know one of those lads,” Doyle was saying, looking at the remaining van. “They’ll take us.”

Hegot them to bring the vehicle level with Bodie. “C’mon. Let’s get you on your feet.”

Agony flared through Bodie when he moved; sheer determination kept him going but he was only half aware of what was happening. Some things had reality: Doyle’s firm grip on him and the jolting pain when the van got moving. The rest passed in waves of disconnected images. Doyle was the key. While he was there Bodie could hold on.

The familiar shabby corridors of their headquarters were almost empty. He was half-walked, half-carried by his partner and one of the guards to an empty room in the infirmary and eased on to one of the beds. The doctor was called. Bodie lay there concentrating on staying conscious and enjoyed listening to Doyle laying down the law.

“No, he’s not going to a hospital. You’re going to treat him here, now. You can take that as Cowley’s orders. Requisition what you need. I’ve got a message to Cowley. He’ll be here to confirm anything later. Just get on with it.”

The doctor was elderly, well qualified by both his experience and an innately gentle nature. He heard Doyle’s fear for his partner and ignored the abruptness of his words.

“Let me have a look,” he said quietly. “Would you rather wait outside?”

Bodie backed up Doyle’s refusal by clamping his good hand over his partner’s wrist. It closed round it tightly enough to bruise as the doctor examined him.

“It probably doesn’t feel like it, but you were lucky,” he said, working with deft fingers. “The bullet passed through quite cleanly, and you haven’t lost so much blood that we can’t deal with it here. I’ll give you something for the pain in a minute.”

“Not ’til I’ve seen Cowley.”

The doctor looked at him doubtfully, but compromised by numbing the shoulder locally while he dealt with it. He could see that it wasn’t adequate.

“I imagine Mr. Cowley will be extremely busy tonight,” he said.

“He’ll come.” Doyle’s certainty was rewarded. Either his message had pushed the right buttons, or George Cowley had some agenda of his own. He arrived as the doctor finished bandaging the wound. He was slightly dishevelled but evidently more than satisfied with the night’s work. He looked the young agents over, but his face gave no hint of his thoughts.

“Well, you two look the worse for wear. I got your message, Doyle. The man you told me about is downstairs in a cell waiting for my attention. You did well there the pair of you. And I gather you’ve something urgent I need to hear, Bodie? Doctor, perhaps you wouldn’t mind…”

The doctor nodded and withdrew, but he said as he went, “I wouldn’t let it take too long. He’s in a good deal of pain, and there’s shock…”

“Yes, doctor, I can understand. thank you. Doyle?”

“I’m staying.” He caught the glint in Cowley’s eye and added, “I’m staying, sir.” It didn’t come out very respectfully, but Cowley let it go. Doyle moved to sit on the edge of the bed and Bodie knew that nothing short of force was going to move him. He drew some comfort from that as he began to tell his story for the second time that evening.

He told it plainly, not trying to hide his original motives or what the set-up had been. He was quite well aware that his future, and possibly his life, depended on the reaction of the man listening to him, but Cowley’s expression was quite unreadable. Waves of pain and shivering made him stumble over his words once or twice, but he got the story out, and waited for judgement. He would have liked to say that he was sorry for the whole business but it would have sounded too much like begging.

Doyle had been silent when he was talking but before Cowley could speak he said angrily,”You can see whose side he was on tonight. He’s never let you down…”

“Be quiet, Doyle,” Cowley said, but quite mildly. “Och, I can see where you stand in this well enough. I could see it as soon as I saw you cluttering up the infirmary and getting in the good doctor’s way. But what about you Bodie. You haven’t let me down, I know that well enough. I owe you something for that. What are you asking me to do for you? Keep you out of the way of your paymasters until they’re safely out of power? Get you out of the country? What is it you really want?”

Bodie met his eyes for the first time and saw that he knew anyway. “To stay in the Irregulars… if you want me.”

For almost the first time in their acquaintance he saw Cowley smile. “Aye, I do want you. You wouldn’t have been here in the first place if I didn’t. You’ve a lot to learn yet, both of you, but one of the first things is that when I run a security check it works. I knew where you came from when I took you on, Bodie. I knew who was trying to undermine this operation, and why, but it was to my advantage to accept you. I had in mind then that I’d have control over the information that got back to them. But you’d not been here long before I knew you had the makings of a good man for me. I’ve been watching you, Bodie, carefully.That’s why I know that what you’ve told me just now is the truth. We’ve brought down the government with tonight’s work, and with your help once you’re on your feet we may see some of them behind bars where they belong. As far as I’m concerned you’ve been one of my men for a good while now, and I see no reason why that should change.”

Bodie had thought he was prepared for almost any reaction, but this left him speechless.He could hardly take in that he was safe for the shock of finding that all the time he’d been establishing his cover the canny old bastard had known what he was up to. He was stunned, but he could believe it all right. There was nothing he’d put past Cowley. He’d known, and he’d taken one hell of a risk on him tonight, and it was okay. The mixture of relief and reaction was more than he had the energy to deal with. He slid against Doyle’s shoulder and decided he’d had enough.

From a long way off he was aware of the comforting and familiar sound of his partner losing his temper. With one arm clamped round Bodie, Doyle was yelling at Cowley for making him tell the facts when he already knew them, at the doctor who should be doing something for him, at anyone and everyone who might try to remove him from his partner’s side. Bodie wanted to tell him to cool down, he knew why Cowley had done it, but things were spinning too far out of control. He realised distantly that the doctor was back, something was injected into his good arm, and then he sank gratefully into the darkness.

Surfacing was slow, peaceful. The pain in his arm was there, but bearable. The room was bright with daylight. After a while he shifted and saw his partner was asleep on the other bed, obviously having won that part of his argument. A nurse, a considerable improvement on the battleaxe he’d met before, came in and checked him over. The interruption woke Doyle.

“How are you doing?”

“Better for having met Susanna,” Bodie said, giving her his best smile as she packed up her instruments and went on to the next room. “Any news.”

“Yeah. Cowley was right about the government. They’re out. And that man you knee-capped has talked very freely. Your minister friend is going to go straight from one criminal institution to another.” He yawned. “Cowley’s not so bad. I thought he was going to chew me up and spit me out in little pieces, but instead he came back up around dawn to tell me the news. He’s gone to chat to the Duke now and thank him very nicely for the helicopters. Don’t think he needs sleep.”

Bodie leaned back comfortably on his pillows while his partner went to find some strong coffee. He was sore, and would be for a while, but he was more content than he had been in years. He had what he wanted, and a hole in the arm seemed a small price to pay. It was four months since he had come to London, and in that time he’d done more for his country than he had in years of wars.

He smiled lazily at Doyle returning with two mugs and a pile of the popular dailies to gloat over. The press loved them. They were Cowley’s Irregulars. They were going to be the best the old man had. Life looked good.

~ End ~