While the Dust Settles

By Gil Hale — corbidae@yahoo.com

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

Spoilers: A Stirring of Dust

Sometimes, it was after the action stopped that life began to get difficult. The adrenaline ebbed away, the bumps and bruises started to make themselves felt, questions that were better not asked crept round the defences of tired minds.

George Cowley returned from apprehending his ‘fourth man’, and looked with distaste round the disaster area that had once been the offices of Arthur Pulman, solicitor, very recently and violently deceased. At least it was quiet now, he thought. A sobbing Helen Pierce, and an almost equally distraught secretary, had already been handed over to the kindly staff of a neighbouring office. The bodies of the solicitor and Liam O’Leary would soon be on their way to the morgue. The chaos could be cleared up, he’d got hold of the traitor and the manuscript he had wanted, but it hadn’t been the quiet viable operation he had hoped for.

He looked at his two best agents, and the satisfaction of knowing that the honourable Paul Cantwell would soon be on his way to Moscow did not sweeten his comments. “What a mess. Well, Doyle, you and Bodie made it, and you can clear it up. I’ve more urgent things to do. And for heaven’s sake keep the press out of it as much as possible.”

“What about Thomas Darby?” Bodie asked. “Don’t you want us to…”

“No I do not. I can handle it without your help, Bodie. You two have done enough damage for one day.”

Doyle caught his partner’s eye and grimaced at him to leave it alone. It was obvious to him, if not to Bodie, that Cowley hadn’t forgiven them for letting the violence spill out into the quiet Lewisham back street where Helen Pierce lived. An audience of young mothers and retired folk never improved their controller’s temper. Better just to accept it and get on with tidying up the details. Concentrate on the wind down; put out of his mind the reaction that was lurking.

” What’s the matter with the old man,” Bodie grumbled. “We couldn’t have…”

“We could,” Doyle said sharply. “We didn’t get the job done professionally. He doesn’t like it and nor do I. And if we’d handled it differently that poor bastard might still be alive.” He glanced over to where the bodies of the solicitor and his killer were being removed together.

“It’s no good wondering…” It really wasn’t Bodie’s day for getting to finish what he wanted to say. Neither Cowley nor Doyle seemed to be prepared to give him a hearing.

“Look, will you just leave it. If you’re satisfied with it, I’m not. Now give me a hand here.” Doyle knew he was snapping at his partner unreasonably, but he could no more stop doing it than stop the pounding in his head. He had a lump behind his ear and rope burns on his wrists, and he hadn’t forgotten those helpless moments on the floor or the lash of Cowley’s tongue after they had lost O’Leary. He forced back both the pain and the thoughts while he got the job done but by the time they had wrapped things up at the scene he had more than had enough.

Bodie had given up trying to talk to him, and he was grateful for that. When he got into the passenger seat of the car, he leaned back and winced as the sore patch on his head pressed against the upholstery. He would have closed his eyes, but he knew from bitter experience that he would see the replaying images of the day’s violence: Callinari crashing through the window, Helen’s face distorted with fear, the blood blossoming from O’Leary’s chest. It made no difference that the hitmen had richly deserved what happened to them; he knew it quite well but the images remained at the forefront of his mind.

“Want to come for a drink?” Bodie asked.

“No, got things to do at home.” His head ached too much already, and anyway he did not want the noise and crowd of a pub. He was surprised Bodie had suggested it after having his head bitten off so many times that afternoon, and even more surprised when he came strolling into the flat with him.

“Coffee?” Bodie asked, as if it was his place rather than Doyle’s, and without waiting for an answer put the kettle on. “I suppose it’s too much to hope for a packet of biscuits?”

“Why don’t you go home,” Doyle growled. “Anyone would think you hadn’t got one.”

Without bothering to reply, Bodie took him by the arm, walked him firmly to the couch and pushed him onto it. A couple of minutes later, he came over with a mug of coffee and put it into his hands before going on a fruitless search of the cupboards.

“There is NO FOOD,” Doyle said irritably. “Well, there might be some yoghurt; it’s a bit out of date.”

“Yoghurt isn’t food. I’ll ring up for a pizza. Garlic bread?”

“I’m not hungry. Look, Bodie, I don’t want to eat, I’m not good company, why don’t you just get lost.”

Bodie brought his own mug of coffee over and sat down. Silence. Doyle was grateful for it, and suppressed a twinge of guilt. He wasn’t going to admit it even to himself but he was pleased to have his partner’s company. Things didn’t bother Bodie in the same way. Different things, different ways, but not this depression at the end of the day.

The coffee was good, hot and strong. He drank it slowly, and tried to remember if he had any paracetamol. Bodie had telephoned to the pizza delivery place in spite of what he had said, but he couldn’t face the prospect of food.

Bodie’s voice cut in on his thoughts. “Ray, how’d they get you when you went into the Pierce girl’s house? Were they waiting for you?”

“Yeah. Callinari was behind the door. I dealt with him then O’Leary hit me with something. Felt like a sledgehammer, but I expect it was the butt of his gun. Next thing I knew I was trussed up like you found me.”

“I wondered.” Bodie found the matted patch of hair and the swollen lump beneath it with surprisingly gentle fingers. “Must’ve hit you quite hard. You ought to have had the doc look at you.”

“No point. I’m not concussed; it’s not worth stitching. He’d just have sent me home and told me to keep quiet. Which is what I’m trying to do.”

He couldn’t quite summon up the exasperation he’d felt earlier, though. When Bodie went and searched his apology for a first aid box and came up with some painkillers left over from the last lot of cracked ribs, he took a couple gratefully enough. He still had no appetite when the pizza arrived, though. Bodie paid for it and put it on the side in the kitchen.

“Aren’t you going to eat it?” Doyle asked.

“In a minute.” He sat back down on the couch. “I reckon I know where Cowley went.”

“Yeah. Brigadier Stadden’s.”

“He must have told Sorenson that Thomas Darby was back in England. Wouldn’t be surprised if Cowley finds the whole lot of them there, enough dust to bury Darby deep. I get the impression they’re still a team, even if they’re well into their old age pensions. I wonder what the old man will do to them?”

Doyle yawned. “He holds all the cards anyway.” The pounding in his head was finally dying down to a dull throbbing and he felt disinclined to move or to think. Bodie was speculating on the contents of the manuscript that had been the indirect cause of so much mayhem, but he didn’t seem to need any reply. It occurred to him after a while that there was in fact something rather soothing about his partner’s monologue, and he allowed his eyes to close. Yeah, definite improvement. There seemed a real possibility of feeling human again within the foreseeable future.

The phone rang, jerking him alert.

Bodie got up hastily to answer it. “Probably Cowley to tell us we missed something.” But Doyle surfaced enough to realise after a moment that the voice at the other end was female… female and upset. If he had been less drowsy from the painkillers he would have guessed immediately, but as it was, it was a minute before he could place it. Then the unpleasantness of the day flooded back. Forrester’s girlfriend, who must have been told that afternoon that Forrester had been shot by O’Leary. She was the reason he’d come to know the man in the first place; she’d been a friend from his early days in the met.

He got rather unsteadily to his feet and took the phone. “Carolyn…” It would have been easier if she’d been angry not simply distressed. What was he to say? He hadn’t even seen the body, just the neat chalked outline on the floor. And she wouldn’t want to hear Cowley’s benediction. A bloody fool, he’d called him. Perhaps he had been, to go after a man like O’Leary alone, but no-one deserved that as an epitaph. He managed to keep his thoughts and his words separate, so that in spite of the angry churning of his brain he said the things she needed to hear: that Forrester’s actions had made a difference, that Liam O’Leary was dead. Maybe what mattered to her most was simply that someone who understood it all was listening to her grief.

When she had hung up he slammed his own phone down so hard that the plastic cracked, and walked over to the cabinet to pour himself a generous glass of whisky. Bodie said nothing, in fact he came and poured his own, but once those were drained he put the bottle away with finality. Doyle was quite well aware of the effect of the alcohol on top of the painkillers and an empty stomach, and at the moment oblivion seemed an attractive option, but he hadn’t the energy to pick a fight with Bodie .

“Why are you still here?” Doyle asked.

“Haven’t eaten my pizza yet, have I?”

“What’s stopping you?”

“It’s still early. Thought I’d put the match on the box and have it then.”

“Oh, make yourself at home,” Doyle said sarcastically. “I suppose that means you’re here ’til the final whistle.”

“Yeah… and it’s the cup so they may well play extra time. Tell you the truth, Ray, I daren’t go home. No, seriously. There’s these two air hostesses…”

Doyle let the nonsense wash over him. He was feeling detached enough from his surroundings for that to be easy. Anyway, he didn’t really want to be on his own. At least Bodie and the football would be a distraction. Without being quite sure how he got there, he found himself back on the couch, and vaguely trying to focus on the screen. Liverpool and Villa. Ought to be quite a good game. He thought he’d give it a go ’til half time at least. His eyes had other ideas, however, like closing and refusing to open again. He forced himself to wake up, but within seconds sleep was tugging him under again. After a brief struggle, he gave up and slid sideways, knowing with complete certainty Bodie would be there.

Always there, Bodie. There so fast this afternoon he must have been running before he hit the pavement. Puts up with a lot, too. Haven’t exactly given him an easy time today and he’s kept coming back for more.

Some vague reluctance to fall asleep without acknowledging this made him find the energy to speak. “Sorry,” he said, not very distinctly. “Shouldn’t’ve had a go at you.”

“Headache talking,” Bodie said comfortably, moving to accommodate him against his shoulder. “Hey, that was miles offside. Who is this ref?”

Bodie watched the slow motion replay, and while he was confirming his judgment as definitely superior to that of the match officials he listened to his partner’s breathing grow promisingly slow and snuffly. “You asleep, sunshine? About time. I wasn’t trained as a pillow.”

In spite of his words he waited a good deal longer, until he was sure Doyle was deeply asleep, before he moved, and then his actions would have surprised most of the squad. He eased his partner into a comfortable position, and slid his arms out of the leather jacket he was still wearing. Not quite satisfied with that arrangement, he grabbed a pillow from the bedroom and tucked it under the matted curls, and as a final concession to pampering his troublesome partner, pulled the cover off the bed and threw it over him.

“You’ll do,” he said aloud. Free to please himself, he demolished the pizza with a can of lager that had been sharing the fridge with the dubious yoghurt, and watched the game through to the final whistle. Eliminating Jimmy Hill’s comments with a ruthless flick of the remote he pulled up the most comfortable of the chairs and leaned back with his feet up on the coffee table.

He’d slept in plenty of more uncomfortable places, and this was where he wanted to be tonight. He hadn’t enjoyed that wait in the car outside Helen Pierce’s house after his partner had gone to check it out. He hadn’t liked it from the start and he could remember a little too clearly the way the unease had grown as the time passed and the painful rush of adrenaline as the smashing window catapulted him into action. It had been more than a relief to find his partner furious and unharmed. No-one would ever be allowed to guess it, even Doyle, but tonight he would sleep easier for being able to hear the slow, half-snoring breathing that reminded him they were both still alive at the end of the day.

He let the sound carry his thoughts. They needed this time. Tomorrow they would be the hard men once more, Cowley’s bully boys, flanking him as he went to put one over on Yashinkov. Tonight they were just themselves. In their job it was too easy to become completely hardened. At least at the moment they were still hanging on to their humanity — even if it did sometimes feel as though it was by their fingertips. They wouldn’t lose that while they were together.

Bodie was good at concentrating on the present. The day was already past; he wasn’t going to worry about tomorrow. When he switched off the lamp the darkness held nothing but a bit of peace at the end of a long day, and the awareness of not being alone. That was enough for him. Cowley could settle the dust.

~ End ~