Oh No We Didn’t…

By Gil Hale — corbidae@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: The usual disclaimers sung to a jolly holiday tune.

Author’s Notes: Just to wish you all a happy Christmas, from Gil.

The autumn had been dull and dreary, and so had the pace of events at CI5. International hitmen evidently had the sense to turn down English assignments in November, and the home-grown villains were presumably down with flu. To add insult to injury Cowley saw it as a chance for his agents to catch up with their paperwork and go through some files. Life was gloomy.

Cowley, who had a weakness for the sort of sayings trotted out in broad Scots by his grandmother, thought there was a distinct danger of the devil finding work for idle hands, but there was a limit to how much record keeping, training or surveillance even he could think up. Consequently he was relieved rather than surprised when the first photo appeared on the board. A relatively harmless prank, if not in the best of taste, and it might amuse his young men and women discovering who was the photographer.

Susan was the first victim. She and a few others had been involved in a brief flurry of action in the apprehension of a couple of students from the middle east who had added explosives to their authorised syllabus. The students were small time, and no match for CI5, but Susan and Lewis had chased them into one of the large vegetable markets where boxes of fruit and other produce were awaiting a dawn collection.

Lewis’s student had tripped over a crate of oranges and been easily subdued. Susan’s had drawn a knife. She’d disposed of him all right, but not before a wild slash had opened her sweater as neatly as Bodie could ever have hoped to do.

The next morning, the noticeboard contained a beautiful colour compilation of Susan in her parted garments sitting on a crate in front of a pile of gourds. Underneath it, the caption read: As midnight struck, Cinderella had problems with more than her pumpkins. However the handsome prince knew exactly how to find her. ‘Take this bra,’ he said to his faithful servants, ‘ and whichever girl it fits exactly…’

There was a good deal of speculation in the coffee room, but it could have been one of various bystanders, and once the picture had been removed—for Cowley’s scrapbook was the general scurrilous rumour—interest died down for a few days.

Then the next pictures appeared. Murphy, chasing an informer across some suburban backgardens, managed to knock over a clothes prop and get himself entangled with a washing line. It was just his bad luck that the elderly lady who owned the house had chosen that day to hang out her sturdy, not to say voluminous, winter underwear. The widow Twanky denies having a knicker fetish read the caption to that one.

Barely two days later, Jax had to interview the owner of an antique shop about some furniture stolen from the home of a minister. The antique dealer was classically camp, and Jax was standing by a table of fine china. Aladdin missed his old lamp, read the caption, especially when the first words of the genie of the teapot were ‘Hello sailor, what can I do for you?’

Suspicion as to the perpetrators was outspoken but undecided. Shouts of ‘You did it’ and ‘Oh no we didn’t’ enlivened the coffee room, and the noticeboard was watched much more eagerly than usual. Bodie and Doyle would have been blamed, especially in view of Doyle’s skill with a camera, but they’d been off duty when Murphy tangled with the bloomers, and seemed to have an impeccable alibi for Jax’s interview, when they’d been out of town dealing with a problem at one of the minor airports.

After Lewis and Bailey had featured as the ugly sisters, and McCabe—one of the smallest of the team—as Jack facing the giant at the top of the beanstalk, Murphy went so far as to telephone the airport security to check that both Bodie and Doyle had turned up, only to have the two agents’ presence confirmed.

“I can’t understand it,” he grumbled over his coffee. “I don’t see how Bodie and Doyle could have been in two places at once, but if they’re not involved how come they haven’t been up on the board looking like idiots.”

“That’s easy,” Bodie said cheerfully. He’d come in behind Murphy and had been imitating all his gestures to the silent amusement of everyone else in the room. “Doyle and I don’t get ourselves into these situations. Unlike you, my son. How could anyone miss seeing a line of bloomers big enough to power an ocean-going yacht?”

“I saw the bloomers all right,” Murphy protested. “It was the clothes prop I didn’t spot.”

Bodie shook his head. “Careless,” he said reprovingly. “That sort of inattention—not what we expect at CI5.”

“Could be fatal,” Doyle agreed solemnly, looking in over Bodie’s shoulder. “Suppose she’d come out after you with a frying pan. Must have been a big woman…”

“That was the problem,” Bodie went on before the indignant Murphy could get out an answer. “He was looking up at the windows hoping for a very large eyeful…”

“That’s all very well,” Murphy interrupted, ignoring the general laughter, “but you can’t be so funny about everyone else. Jax wasn’t careless—anyone could have been in his situation.”

“Or mine,” pointed out McCabe who was sensitive about his size and hadn’t appreciated the ‘giant’ joke. “It could just as well have been Doyle; he’s no bigger than I am.”

“But he’s sooo much more beautiful,” Bodie said in his best camp voice, ruffling his partner’s curls. They went off laughing.

“I still think they had something to do with it,” Murphy muttered over the dregs of his coffee.

“They changed the subject very neatly,” Susan said.

“If it really isn’t them, perhaps they’ll be the ones to be made fools of next time,” McCabe said hopefully. “They need taking down a peg or two.”

But the next picture was something in the nature of a masterpiece. The agents on duty found it up on the noticeboard after a very unsuccessful night. ‘Reliable’ information had suggested a drugs for guns deal going down at an old warehouse near the river. The major operation that had then been launched had turned out to be a major waste of time. Nobody had shown up and a careful search of the warehouse had only revealed it was suffering from dry rot—discovered when Cowley put his foot through the floorboards of the upper level. The failure of the bust and the severe decline in Cowley’s temper had sent everyone home morose and frustrated, and in no mood to appreciate the Christmas lights.

Now they clustered round the noticeboard smothering their laughter and wondering what awful fate the pranksters would suffer if Cowley caught up with them. There, caught in glorious technicolour, was the moment when Cowley had put his foot through the boards. His face was flushed with annoyance and his expression almost comically irritable. The caption writer had picked this up neatly, not to say intrepidly: At the word Rumpelstiltskin, the little man turned scarlet with rage and stamped so hard in his fury that he sank right through the floor.

“That has to be Bodie and Doyle,” Jax said with conviction. “No-one else would have the nerve.”

“He’ll have them hung drawn and quartered,” McCabe said with pleasurable anticipation.

“Only if he can prove it’s them,” Susan said. “The old man’s nothing if not fair.”

“He won’t like that caption,” Murphy said grinning, but at that point someone called a warning from the corridor. George Cowley was coming, and much as they’d been enjoying looking at his photograph they thought he might be better avoided in the flesh. They scattered.

George Cowley entered CI5 to the quietest and most hardworking atmosphere he had experienced for some time. He looked around with more suspicion than approval, and the noticeboard caught his eye. He walked over for a closer look. No-one hid under a desk, but it was a close-run thing, and the silence was absolute until Cowley carefully unpinned the offending object, glared round impartially, and walked off to his own office.

When the door closed behind him the tension relaxed a little, but the concentration on paperwork remained. Who knew when the door would open again?

In fact almost an hour passed, then Cowley came out looking completely businesslike. They had for some time been receiving reports from the south coast police that they thought something, possibly men, was being brought at night into a small and slightly run-down hotel on the cliffs of east Sussex. The latest report suggested it might be time for another drop—a familiar van had appeared at the hotel, and there were several ‘foreigners’ down from London.

“We’re going to have to take a look at this sooner or later,” he said, “and we’re quiet at the moment. Bodie, you and Doyle will go down as guests and see if you can spot anything. Low key and low budget, please. Betty has booked you a room.”

In normal circumstances Bodie might have queried the shared room but today he was glad to be getting out. Doyle rose with equal alacrity. “Report, sir?”

“Check in tonight then report to me when you get back unless something urgent seems to require our attention.”

They left rather like schoolboys getting out of detention. Cowley watched them go with an unfathomable expression on his face. “Murphy, I’d like to see you in my office, please.”

Murphy winced slightly. His feelings were not improved by the slight gestures of throat cutting and worse from the agents he passed. He entered the office and closed the door behind him wondering if the saints were still with him or had abandoned him in the face of dour Scots presbyterianism. To his enormous relief, Cowley took down a bottle of Scotch and two glasses.

The relief faded a little when Cowley said, “Tell me Murphy, how would you have described the mood of the team last night.”

“Uh… despondent, sir, generally fed up,” Murphy said, not sure where this was going.

“And this morning?”

Murphy looked into his glass for inspiration. The Scotch glowed with inappropriate seasonal cheer.

“I doubt if they were despondent as they looked at that ridiculous photograph, Murphy.”

Murphy blinked with slightly renewed hope. He’d been a good boy all year, hadn’t he? He deserved a break at Christmas. “I don’t think they were, sir.”

Cowley didn’t exactly smile, but the grimness of his face was definitely muted. “Childish and absurd as these… er, artistic efforts have been, they have I think been good for morale.”

Murphy nodded. “There hasn’t been enough action, sir. Something like this gives everyone a bit of a laugh—and a puzzle as to who’s doing it.”

Cowley nodded. “That’s why I’ve let it go, up ’til now. However, I feel I’ve been encouraged to take a personal interest, and that’s why I have a question for you. It was you who telephoned airport security about the presence of 4.5 and 3.7?”

“Yes, sir. They were both there all right.”

“What exactly did you ask?” Cowley said quietly, refilling both their glasses.

“Just whether they’d had a visit from both our agents—I said it was just a matter of form-filling. But he said they’d both been there, had their names and everything.” He looked up with sudden speculation. “I didn’t describe them, sir. It never occurred to me, and I’m not sure how I would have worded it if it had.”

“You didn’t ask if they’d seen the IDs of both agents?” Cowley said thoughtfully.

“No. Of course, you’re right, sir. Neither of them would part with their ID just to help a joke along. If they got someone to stand in, he couldn’t have had one. And if it was Doyle who took the pictures, which makes sense, Bodie’s not nearly so good with a camera, they’d not have got anyone with hair like that…”

“Thankyou, Murphy,” Cowley cut him off. “I’ll take it from here. Oh, and this doesn’t go any further than my office.”

“Of course, sir,” Murphy said, enjoying the last of his drink now. “Um… no-one’s minded, sir. It’s been a good laugh when things were a bit grim.”

Cowley did actually smile now. “It’s all right, Murphy. The only thing I’m thinking of hanging from my mantlepiece is a Christmas stocking. Now I assume you have some work to do?”

“Yes, sir.”

He left feeling extremely relieved, and enjoyed the frustrated curiosity of the rest. The thought of what Cowley might do to Bodie and Doyle gave him an occasional shudder, but after all, they’d richly deserved it—and they were safely outside London, too.

Bodie and Doyle were well on their way, in fact, and just pulling into services off the M23. Doyle, who’d been asleep almost all the way, stretched and yawned.

“We there yet?”

“No we’re not. I need a cup of coffee and a doughnut.”

Doyle didn’t feel wide awake enough to point out the perils of overeating. “Not very seasonal,” was the best he could manage.

Bodie considered it. “All right. Cup of coffee and a mince pie. And you’d better get some coffee. It’s like driving round with a corpse.”

“When have you ever driven round with a corpse,” Doyle pointed out. “Anyway, I’m shattered. Getting that picture developed and printed took what was left of the night.”

“Worth it though,” Bodie said happily. “The look on Cowley’s face…”

“Made me very glad to be heading for the Channel,” Doyle said with feeling. “If he finds out it was us we can just carry on to France.”

“He won’t find out,” Bodie said confidently. “Here—I’ll treat you to coffee. Want a mince pie?”

Doyle shook his head. “Nah. Not hungry.” He’d been struggling with a heavy cold for days and food tasted of nothing. He hoped it would be gone before Christmas—even though they were both on duty this year, they would get a good Christmas dinner and the seasonal trimmings.

Bodie nodded. He hadn’t missed noticing the cold, partly because for the last three days Doyle had nicked his handkerchief. Parting with a fourth as they got into the car—mostly because he was fed up of hearing him snuffle—he said, “That’s what I’m getting you for Christmas you know. Large pack of clean white gents hankies.”

Doyle grinned. “Used to hate that. Lovely interesting-looking present, and when you unwrapped it some aunt had sent hankies. You hanging up your stocking then?”

“Pair of stockings,” Bodie corrected. “Very long, very sheer, just right for Santa to drop a busty blond into.”

The conversation degenerated from there, but it kept Doyle awake until they pulled in to the drive of the slightly dilapidated Seaview Hotel.

In some ways, going in was like stepping back in time. The hotel might have been quite prosperous in the 1950s, and had changed little since. There was a listing Christmas tree in the foyer, with coloured lights and a rather battered star on top, and a glimpse into the residents lounge showed two elderly ladies and an even more elderly gentleman with a vaguely military air.

Bodie grimaced at Doyle, then brightened as the receptionist appeared. If Santa had brought her, Bodie would have written him a very nice thankyou letter. She managed to convey, in a very proper manner, that the sight of a couple of men under the age of eighty would brighten her Christmas, too, then the proprietor emerged to show them to their room.

It was clean, and you could see the sea if you wriggled into the corner by the window at a funny angle. Anything else about it was better left unsaid, but Bodie said it anyway, at length and with rhetorical embellishments on the notorious miserliness of the Scots.

“Well, we’ve got to stay here and I don’t suppose any of the other rooms are an improvement,” Doyle said philosophically. “Lets go and take a look around outside.”

The hotel’s gardens were large and rambled to the cliff edge, where a path led down to a small natural harbour. They were rather overgrown, but pleasant enough to walk in, and they saw another elderly lady walking a small dog.

Bodie peered down at the harbour. “Easy enough to get a small boat in on a calm night.”

“We’ll have to check it out,” Doyle agreed without enthusiasm. “Really doesn’t seem the sort of place though. Just a typical hotel suffering from the preference for holidays abroad.”

“Yes, but not going bankrupt,” Bodie pointed out. “If it’s only got this many visitors at Christmas, how much money is it going to make in a year? They must have another source of income.”

“Investments?” Doyle said vaguely. “Hello, boy, you looking for a game?”

The last remark was not addressed to Bodie but to the dog who’d come bounding up happily and was obviously eager to play. They amused themselves throwing sticks for him—”Just like us and Cowley,” Bodie muttered—and his enthusiasm was endearing. He led them back to the more central part of the garden where there was a lichen covered fountain and a semi-circle of wall beneath a raised bank. Then he disappeared.

Bodie blinked at his partner. “It’s the drink,” he said dramatically. “I’ve started seeing small dogs.”

“Shut up,” said Doyle firmly. “I can hear him somewhere.”

Bodie listened. There was a rustling, scraping sound apparently coming from the wall. It was festooned with ivy, but not thickly enough for the dog to be hidden behind it. He felt along following the noise.

“Got it!” he said.

Doyle leaned over his shoulder, accidentally sneezing in his ear. The wall was higher here, and behind the ivy was a large open space cut under it. It had a low seat at the back, and must once have made a pleasant place to watch the fountain from. It had obviously been overgrown for years, and a spade in the corner suggested it had more recently been used by the gardener. Even that hadn’t happened for some time judging by the thick piles of leaves that had coated the floor. The dog was snuffling in them keenly, hoping for a hedgehog or rat.

Bodie yanked Doyle inside, letting the ivy fall back.

Doyle peered ostentatiously up at the uneven roof.

“What?” Bodie asked, puzzled.

“Just making sure there’s only ivy, no mistletoe,” Doyle said blandly.

Bodie dismissed that. “This place is perfect,” he said. “From here we can keep an eye on the route to the bay and on the hotel.”

“Doesn’t look as if they even remember it’s here,” Doyle agreed, making a fuss of the dog who was delighted his new playmates appreciated this fascinating place. “”All the same, I still don’t believe they’re up to anything that merits attention from CI5.”

He revised his opinion slightly at dinner. The meal was entirely in keeping with the place—thick soup, rather tough cutlets with ‘seasonal’ overcooked vegetables and a sugary pudding—but the ‘foreigners’ were there and they were much less in keeping. There were three of them, and their expensive suits and watches suggested a way of life quite different from the faded gentility of the rest of the residents.

Bodie had given them a cursory glance, but spent more of the meal cultivating the waitress. He’d just made the satisfactory discovery that both she and the receptionist would be on the premises overnight, when the proprietor appeared apologetically at their table. Apparently the coffee machine had just suffered a problem. He suggested that perhaps instead of waiting at the table, they might prefer it if their coffee was brought up to their room.

Bodie and Doyle agreed readily enough. The dining room was too cold to linger in, and most people had already retreated. All the same…

“Did you get the impression he wanted us out of there,” Bodie said thoughtfully.

Doyle shrugged. “Probably just wants to get the tables set for breakfast before the staff want to knock off for the night. Anyway, it was freezing.”

He was red-eyed and red-nosed and obviously not interested in discussing it. Bodie turned his attention to assembling the longer distance RT; they’d agreed it would be a bad idea to use the hotel phones. He slid it hastily out of sight as a knock at the door signalled their coffee, brought by the proprietor himself. Doyle gulped his down thankfully, but Bodie wanted to finish checking in. He found Murphy on duty, and there was something in Murphy’s tone that he didn’t quite like, so he was a little longer than he might have been trying to find out what was amusing the Irishman.

“You know,” he said to Doyle as he drank his own half-cold coffee. “I’ve got an awful feeling they might be on to us.”

Doyle had stretched out on his bed fully clothed. “Wha?”

“I said they might be on to us.” He stood up. “Hey, come on. Wake up. We’ve got a lot to do tonight.”

“Tired,” Doyle said. “‘M goin’ to sleep.”

Bodie shook him. “What are you talking about. We’re on stake-out.”

“Too cold. Too tired, ” Doyle said sleepily, and rolled over comfortably. His eyes closed. Bodie hauled him upright and he leaned comfortably on Bodie’s shoulder and went back to sleep.

“The coffee,” Bodie muttered, looking at his own almost empty cup with dismay. “That creeping little bastard’s slipped us a micky.”

He was aware that his own thought processes were already not as fast as they might have been, and hastily made a decision. Staying where they were seemed a lousy idea. They were vulnerable, and if they did manage to shake off the effects of whatever dope had been in the coffee they could not watch the grounds.

He hauled Doyle up on to his feet, ignoring his sleepy protests. “Come on, Ray. Move it.”

Ignoring his partner’s sleepy protests he pulled him out onto the balcony, where the cold air woke him a little and made him cough. Bodie looked at him. Better not let him get cold. He’d be sneezing for another month. He went back and hauled the blankets off one of the beds, put the chain on the door, and shook his head to clear it. At least he hadn’t drained his cup like Doyle. He managed to hold onto enough alertness to get them both from the balcony to the ground and to find his way across the dark lawns to the fountain, but he could feel the drowsiness creeping up on him. He propped the yawning Doyle against the wall and groped along for the curtain of ivy across the alcove.

“G’way,” Doyle grumbled, falling asleep standing up. “Lemme go back t’sleep.”

Bodie found what he was looking for and pulled Doyle inside with him. It was pitch dark but he had a torch in his pocket he’d brought for the surveillance, and while he was wider awake back in the room, he’d thought of the RT. He had trouble with it now, even by torchlight, but eventually he got Murphy again. He gave him what he thought was a very coherent summary of what had happened, but Murphy kept asking questions which Bodie didn’t have time for.

“Jus’ get some men down here, find out whass going on,” he said firmly. The RT squawked a bit more but he turned it off. He was sleepy now and felt he’d done what he could. Besides, he had Doyle to think of. Doyle was fast asleep now, and Bodie was drowsily convinced it was very important to keep him warm. More asleep than awake himself, he wrapped most of the blankets round Doyle and tried to make him more comfortable. It still seemed chilly. He sat down himself and with sleepy determination cocooned his partner ’til he couldn’t move if he tried—not that he looked like trying. Then he pulled the leaves up as well. They were dry and would give a bit of extra insulation. On the edge of sleep he remembered to switch off his torch. His last vague thought was they were as well hidden as anyone could hope for.

It did not occur to him that it was possible to be too well hidden.

While Bodie and Doyle slept peacefully, Murphy had galvanized forces into action on their behalf. He and Jax and some of the local constabulary descended on the hotel with impeccable timing and intercepted a boat load of… cheese, wine, pate and horsemeat. It was certainly an infringement, of customs and a few other regulations. The proprietor admitted it readily enough. The gentlemen visitors who had been stocking up illegally for Christmas were mildly put out, but no-one took it very seriously. Until they couldn’t find Bodie and Doyle.

By the time everything else had been cleared up and the local police and customs dealt with, Cowley had arrived from London, driven down by Susan who had the knack of looking perfect even at dawn.

The proprietor defended himself eloquently. “They should be in their room asleep. All I did was add a couple of sleeping tablets to their coffee. I didn’t know they were the law. Do you think I would have gone ahead if I did. I just didn’t want them prowling round the hotel last night, trying it on with my girls. All I wanted to do was to make sure they were safe in their beds not seeing anything when we were unloading the boat. I mean, it’s not exactly a major crime is it?”

“It is if two of my agents are missing,” Cowley said coldly.

All the same, he was inclined to believe the man. Looking at the room with Murphy, it seemed clear that Bodie and Doyle had left voluntarily.

“Where was Bodie the second time he called in?” he asked Murphy.

“I don’t know. He could have been somewhere else. He wasn’t making a lot of sense. Just told me there must be something going on because they’d been doped—oh, and he said Doyle was cold. He seemed to think that was important.”

“They could have been outside then,” Cowley said, looking at the grounds. “Bodie wouldn’t have stayed here…”

“Perhaps they’re still asleep,sir.”

Cowley left Jax to handle matters inside, and took Susan and Murphy to scour the grounds. Whether they would have found Bodie and Doyle without help was doubtful, but they soon had a volunteer—he came up barking excitedly, delighted to have found some active friends for the second day running.

“For goodness sake, take him back to whoever he belongs to,” Cowley said impatiently.

Susan stooped and petted him, and he bounced up eagerly. She followed him, hoping to find his owner, and like Bodie the day before was quite taken aback when one moment he was running ahead, the next he was gone. This time, though, he was easy to find because he was greeting yesterday’s friends with yelps and licks.

Susan peered through the ivy. “They’re here, sir,” she called lifting up the strands.

Cowley and Murphy joined her, equally relieved to find their missing agents quite unharmed. They were still sound asleep. The three looked at them in silence for a moment. Bodie had pulled Doyle, blankets and all, against his shoulder for extra warmth. The leaves covered them both almost entirely. Bodie’s mouth was open, and his hair standing on end. Doyle was only visible as a tangle of curls with a few leaves as a garnish. They looked extremely funny.

Inspiration struck Cowley. He was very relieved to see them, but he hadn’t forgotten that photograph.

“The Babes In The Wood, I think,” he said pleasantly.

“I’ll get a camera,” Murphy said happily.

“I’ll do the caption,” Susan offered.

Revenge was sweet. It took Bodie and Doyle until well after Christmas to live it down.

~ End ~