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


Victims

"What's up with you, anyway?" Bodie's exasperated question came at the end of a long, boring stint at the stakeout that they had been drafted in to cover - just the one shift, thank God. Doyle was legendary for his bouts of moodiness; Bodie was generally able to coax him out of them but today nothing he'd said had made any difference.

"Nothing."

"Oh, come on - it's obvious you're chewing something over." Not starting the engine, Bodie settled into the drivers seat and grinned. "Come along, Raymond. Tell me all about her."

Doyle cast a brief glance at him, face lightening a touch as he at last decided to communicate with his partner. "It's Nicky."

Bodie sighed. "What's she mixed up in this time?"

"Nothing, as far as I know. I haven't spoken to her for weeks."

"Ah." That explained Doyle's concern. It was nearly 9 months since Paul had been killed and initially Nicky had phoned him nearly every week. Although Bodie would have found that irritating, Doyle hadn't seemed to mind. "So? Did you call her?"

"No. Have you spoken to Louise lately?" Doyle had stayed in touch with Nicky but Bodie had taken things a step further and had a brief fling with Louise, but to Doyle's knowledge it hadn't gone very far. "What did happen between you, anyway?"

"Not recently. And we got on, but it wasn't going anywhere. Katie was happy enough, but I think Nicky resented me. So I backed off. What are you going to do?"

"Dunno. I've thought once or twice that it would be better if Nicky didn't seem to rely on me so much. She's nearly 14, after all. Maybe she's just growing out of it."

"Maybe. So?"

"So I'm worrying unnecessarily. If anything was wrong, Louise would've called. I know that. I'm going to stop worrying." Doyle grinned. "What are we doing tonight? Did I hear you saying something about some girls earlier?"

"Didn't think you were interested. I haven't called them."

"I'm interested. Find a phone."
 

It was more than two weeks later that the partners suddenly found themselves with a Saturday off. Bodie had arrived at Doyle's flat and was bemoaning the fact that there wasn't any football to watch. "Just what I could've done with to relax; few beers and a good footie match."

Doyle was grinning in exasperation. "What I want to know is why we always watch football at my place. Could it be that I'm the one with the beer?"

"And the crisps..." Bodie returned the grin. "You know I'm no good at the domesticated bit."

"Well, there's no football. And I think I'm out of beer. Where's your little black book? What about phoning one of your girls?"

"Nah - not in the mood. I'd have to go and smarten up." Bodie was dressed - for him - very casually in black cords and t-shirt. He frowned at Doyle. "You trying to get rid of me? Got plans?"

"Got plans, but not necessarily trying to get rid of you. Thought I might drive over and see Nicky."

"So I'll come with you. I can always take Katie out even if Nicky doesn't want me around."
 

Louise had been delighted to see them, and suggested they took the girls out from under her feet. Katie was thrilled; Nicky reluctant. "I wanted to go out with Liz and Deb."

"Come with us, Nicky. Bodie says we can have ice-cream." Katie's enthusiasm raised a half-smile to Nicky's face, but it was replaced by a scowl when Louise answered her. "You're out far too much with Liz and Deb. You know I don't like you spending so much time with them."

"They're mates."

"They're older than you." This was obviously a topic of controversy and the partners exchanged glances as Nicky pouted. "So?"

"So today you're not going out with them. Ray and Bodie are waiting; go and get your shoes on." Louise gave them a worried look as Nicky disappeared slowly upstairs.

Katie was looking hurt and puzzled, and Bodie tickled her. "Thought we might go to the pictures, sprout. Anything you want to see?" Giggling, Katie squirmed free from his grasp. "No. Can't we go to the park instead?"

"Only if they sell ice-cream. Gotta have some ice-cream today." Catching her hand, Bodie led her outside, and Doyle could hear them debating the merits of why Bodie had to have ice-cream because it was Saturday.

Doyle gestured upstairs. "Problems?"

Louise sighed, hesitantly. "Not really, but she's changed, Ray, just in the last couple of months. It's not like she's as bad as some of the girls round here; some of them on this estate are out all night. I think she's just growing up; but I am worried because she just won't talk to me now - not that she was ever easy to get through to, you know that."

Doyle agreed. Nicky tended to keep things to herself; too much so. "I was getting concerned; she hasn't phoned for weeks. I'll have a talk with her."
 

By the time Doyle and Nicky caught them up, Katie had decided where they going, and although they were waiting near the car, Bodie informed his partner they were going to walk. "Because Katie wants an ice-cream, and we can buy one on the way."

Katie gave him a playful slap. "You want ice-cream!" she exclaimed. Bodie gazed down at her. "But I thought you wanted an ice-cream as well."

"I do - but, aw, you..." Realising he was teasing her, she gave him another slap and Katie started to run, leaving Bodie to chase after her.

Doyle followed more sedately with Nicky, who hadn't spoken since leaving the flat, and he glanced at her. "You OK?" He got a half-shrug in return. "Look, I'm sorry. I should've thought you might've wanted to go out with your friends today."

Another half-shrug, and, "S'OK. Don't matter." She was walking some way from him, keeping a distance between them, but Doyle made no move to close the gap. If something was bothering Nicky she had to tell him about it in her own time; it was no good trying to push the issue.

She refused an ice-cream at the shop, opting instead for a can of diet drink. Doyle picked up some chocolate bars, and was amazed when Nicky refused. "Don't tell me you're dieting?" Although Nicky had put on weight in the time they knew her, she was far from even being chubby, let alone overweight.

"No." Nicky obviously wasn't going to explain, but Katie, dancing round her, let the cat out of the bag. "She'll get spotty!" It earned her an uncharacteristically hard thump from Nicky as she flushed, angry and obviously embarrassed.

"Ow!" Less hurt than confused, Katie slapped back; and Bodie grabbed her hand to pull her away before Nicky could retaliate. "C'mon, sprout. Let's run down to the park and bag ourselves a couple of swings."

Nicky glanced sideways at Doyle; guilty but defiant. "She's a pest." Doyle had already decided not to comment; Nicky was embarrassed enough. He started walking, and was relieved when Nicky fell into step beside him. Waiting until they reached the playground, Doyle began gently probing. "Is something wrong, Nicky?"

"No."

"Well, you don't seem very happy." He got a shrug in response. Nicky seemed completely ill-at-ease with him, and hoping to reassure her that he wanted to help, Doyle dropped his arm around her shoulders. "If there's a problem, I might be - "

"Nothing's wrong. I'm OK." Nicky wrenched herself away from him and walked a few paces. "Why don't you just leave me alone! Just like Mum; always botherin' me..." Catching the puzzled, hurt expression Doyle was suddenly wearing, Nicky stopped herself halfway through the sentence, and took a deep breath, frowning. "I don't mean that. But I'm OK."

It was almost as if she no longer trusted him. Unsure how to handle it, Doyle dropped the subject, leaning on the railings to watch Bodie pushing Katie on the swings.

Hearing someone call to Nicky, Doyle turned back, catching the slightly horrified glance Nicky gave him, before she ran the short distance to the pair of teenage girls, dressed like Nicky in t-shirts and jeans.

He couldn't hear what was being said, but from Nicky's glances back at him, and shaking of her head, she was obviously telling the other girls she couldn't go with them. The teenagers were gazing at him and Bodie in surprise and some awe, and asking questions.

This must be Liz and Deb, Doyle reasoned. Going by appearances, they were a lot older than Nicky, but it was difficult to tell how old teenagers were these days. The girls giggled, Nicky cast another embarrassed glance back, and Doyle deliberately turned so that he wasn't watching them.

Bodie had also caught sight of the girls, and was watching them, and Doyle gave him a half-shrug, trying to decide what he should do if Nicky announced she was going with the other girls. Another burst of laughter from the girls made him glance over his shoulder, to find they were approaching, almost pushing Nicky in front of them.

Slightly pink, Nicky made the introductions. "Ray, this is Liz and Deb. And that's Bodie with Katie."

"Liz, Deb." Doyle smiled at them. They weren't much older than Nicky in terms of physical age, but were several years older in other ways, as they both blushed. "Going shopping?"

Giggling and blushing again, Liz managed to answer him. "Window shoppin'. Can't afford nothing. Wanted Nicky to come with us."

"Mum didn't want me to." Watching her from the corner of his eye, Doyle could see Nicky was clearly embarrassed and hoping that Liz and Deb were going to leave quickly.

Instead, the girls had turned their attention to Bodie, who was strolling over to speak to them. Bodie's casual garb might not impress his girlfriends, but he couldn't have chosen better to impress the teenagers; and they both had trouble responding to his friendly 'hello'. Bodie knew the impression he was making, but for Nicky's sake - he'd seen her unease instantly - he played it down. The girls were too young for him anyway.

Katie had followed him at a run, and now wound herself around him, giggling as he scooped her up. There was frank envy on Liz and Deb's faces, and Bodie exchanged a brief, amused glance with Doyle.

Unable to stretch out any reason for staying, Liz and Deb said goodbye and headed off towards the shops, looking back frequently.

Katie decided it was Doyle's turn to push her on the swings, and grabbing his hand dragged him away, giving Bodie a moment to speak to Nicky alone. Although she had built a better rapport with Doyle, the moment they had shared over Paul's death had established some sort of link between them, and Bodie took full advantage of it, looking directly at her. "Are you OK, Nicky?"

She jumped slightly, lost in her own thoughts, and took a step away, even though Bodie wasn't that close, and had made no move towards her. Confused, she gave a fleeting look over to Doyle and Katie before focusing back on him, finding herself pinned by the intensity of his gaze. She managed a slight nod. "I'm fine." Dragging her eyes away from Bodie, Nicky went back to staring at the swings. Bodie nodded thoughtfully, following the direction of her eyes.
 

After dropping the girls off later and taking advantage of Louise's cooking, the partners left feeling as if they'd actually had more than just the afternoon off. Doyle was grinning as they reached the stairwell. "Well, the girls seemed to enjoy today. And you were a big hit with Nicky's friends."

Bodie grinned in response. "Like I need a couple of teenage groupies. I'll just add them to the list for when they're a bit older. Anyway, you've got one of your own."

"Eh?"

"Nicky." Bodie cannoned into him as Doyle stopped dead. "What?"

"Don't do that - " Bodie sidestepped and continued down the stairs. Doyle caught him at the bottom. "Bodie? What do you mean?"

"You mean you hadn't realised?" Bodie's grin faded. "Was pretty obvious to me."

"Obvious? But Nicky's not even 14 - Bodie - " Doyle caught his arm again as Bodie headed for the car. "What are you on about?"

"Come on, mate. If she doesn't actually fancy you at the moment, it won't take her long." Bodie dodged down into the Capri, grinning at Doyle as he slid into the passenger seat. "You didn't realise. Blind as a flippin' bat..."

"But she's just a kid." Doyle slammed the door shut and stared, bewildered, at his partner. Starting the engine, Bodie shook his head. "Not any more. She's growing up, Ray; you said so yourself. And growing up fast." He swung the car round and out of the car park. "Relax. At least it explains why she's suddenly so awkward around you."

"But - " Doyle shook his head, trying to get a grip on the idea. "Hell - what I am gonna do? Should I talk to her?"

"That's exactly what you shouldn't do." Bodie pulled up for a red light, and glanced over at Doyle. "Look, she's just realised that we're men, Ray - the opposite sex. And since she's always thought you were some sort of demi-god, it's hardly surprising if she's developed a king-sized crush on you."

He let the clutch up as amber appeared, and rolled the car forward on green. "Your best bet is to ignore it. Saves on red faces all round." The R/T squawked at them before Doyle could respond...
 

More than a week had passed, and Doyle was still uncertain over what to do. He wasn't completely convinced that Bodie was right about how Nicky felt, but if he was - and Bodie wasn't often wrong when it came to women - it would just embarrass the hell out of both of them if he mentioned it. Maybe he should just ignore it. Nicky hadn't phoned him in that time; and Doyle felt something of a coward in his relief.

Nonetheless, when he caught sight of her one afternoon, with a group of similarly-attired teenagers on her way home from school, Doyle had wound down the window to call to her. She didn't respond; in fact, Doyle was sure she'd seen him and recognised the car, and had deliberately turned her back.

Beside him, Sally shrugged. "Probably didn't hear you." Glancing at Sally, the answer was suddenly obvious, and Doyle groaned inwardly. Nicky had seen him and Sally in the car together, and had reached the inevitable conclusion.

It was no good. He'd have to go and talk to her.
 

He timed his visit the following afternoon in the hope he would catch her alone; she didn't need Katie for an audience. However, when Nicky answered the door it was clear Katie was already inside, and Doyle jerked his head to beckon her onto the landing. "Just wanted a quick word. Did you see me yesterday?"

Nicky's reluctant step onto the landing was followed by an evasive answer. "Was with me mates."

"But you did see us?" It was clear she had from the look of jealousy she was doing her best to suppress. "She's a work colleague, Nicky." Christ, what was he doing, justifying his love-life - non-existent love-life, at the moment anyway - to a teenager? "But even if she wasn't - "

"It's none of my business?" Nicky had gone white, then suddenly red, recognising from his words that Doyle had guessed the feelings she had been going to such lengths to conceal, and she turned away from him.

Doyle sighed. This might be embarrassing, but it would be better than hurting her. He took a step forward and put his arms round her to hug her. "Look, Nicky, you know I care about you. But - " He broke off as Nicky swivelled violently and shoved him away from her.

"Nicky?" She was more than embarrassed; but he couldn't work out what other emotions were flitting across her face.

"Leave me alone." Turning, Nicky dived for the sanctuary of the flat, slamming the door behind her. Doyle knocked on the door again, but by the time Katie came to open it, he had realised that there was no sense pursuing the matter then. Nicky was already upset; he didn't want to make things worse. Maybe he could talk to her again when Louise was around.

"Why's Nicky crying?" Katie was puzzled, and almost prepared to be suspicious of him. "She's just a bit upset, Katie. Will you look after her? And tell her I'll phone, OK?"
 

His phone call that evening was unsuccessful; Nicky refused to speak to him, worrying him more than he would admit to, even to himself. Doyle eventually managed to speak to her the following day. "Are you OK?"

"I'm fine." Her reply was stilted; Doyle couldn't work out whether it was because of him or whether Katie and Louise were listening.

"Sure? I didn't mean to upset you."

There was a pause before she answered. "S'OK. I understand." She cut short any further comment from him. "Gotta go. Got homework. Bye."

Doyle replaced the handset, still frustrated. Hell. She didn't sound OK; and the earliest he could get over there would be late on Saturday... Maybe he could try and phone again.
 

"You worrying about Nicky again?" Doyle hadn't confided in Bodie, but his partner could see straight through him at the moment, particularly as the lack of action on the current stakeout was leaving him plenty of time to think.

"Yeah. I need to talk to her. Mind if we go over later?"

"No problem." Bodie gave him a grin. "Should've taken my advice, mate."

"Bodie knows best..." Doyle managed a half-grin in response. "It was kinda forced on me. But I need to get it sorted out."
 

There was no answer to Doyle's tap on the door. "See - told you we should've phoned first. Louise has probably taken them shopping." Bodie was halfway along the landing before Doyle caught him up. "Yeah. I'll call them later; fix something up - "

Louise appeared at the top of the stairs, and practically fell into Bodie's arms. "Thank God you're here!"

"Louise? What's happened?"

"The girls - I don't know where they are." Clearly fretting, Louise allowed them to lead her to the flat. "They've been gone for hours. Nicky wanted to go out with Liz and Deb, and I said she could, but she had to take Katie with her, because I was busy."

Getting the key from her, Bodie let them in. "So what's happened? Why are you so worried?" Doyle pushed her gently to sit on the sofa.

"They should've been back by now. Nicky knows I don't like them out for too long... so I've just been down to Liz's place; I thought they'd be there, listening to records..."

"But they're not? They're probably all still wandering round the shops, forgotten the time..." Doyle was sure there was a good reason for their absence.

Louise stood up again. "No - you don't understand. Liz is there. She and Deb came home over two hours ago, they left Nicky and Katie in town. She said Nicky was angry because Katie was being awkward..."

The partners were beginning to pick up some of Louise's alarm now. "Well, they'll be home soon - "

"What if something's happened to them? I want to call the police." Louise looked between them, and Doyle attempted to calm her. "It's not been very long, not really." He glanced at his watch and then at Bodie. He'd dealt with enough missing children reports during his time at the Met to know that most of them turned out to be false alarms. However, those that weren't frequently ended in tragedy.

Pale, Louise stared at him. "How long does it have to be before you take me seriously?"

Bodie answered her. "We are taking you seriously." He picked up the phone. "I'll call Cowley; get him to take us off stand-by, at least for the moment. And then we'll drive out and take a look for the girls, OK?"

The call made, and reasons explained, Bodie left the flat. Doyle paused to give Louise a reassuring hug. "Find them, Ray."

"We will. They'll be OK, Louise. You know Nicky will look after Katie."

There was a sudden shout from Bodie. "Ray!" Doyle dashed outside to the landing, closely followed by Louise, and could hear Bodie already running down the stairs. The panda that had arrived in the car park was disgorging two police officers with a crying Katie, and as they watched they saw Bodie scoop Katie up as she threw herself at him.

They were too far away to hear what was being said, but the policemen followed Bodie as carrying Katie he disappeared from sight, back into the stairwell.

Once they were upstairs, Doyle showed the officers his ID as they followed Bodie into the flat. "What happened?"

Louise was trying to comfort her daughter, who was still sobbing into Bodie's chest. "We found her wandering along, crying."

"There was no sign of her sister?" Doyle was getting more apprehensive. Remembering how Nicky had put herself in danger saving Katie from Webster, he knew she wouldn't abandon her sister; so what had happened to her?

"No. She was definitely on her own. All we managed to get out of her that she was lost, her name and where she lived."

Bodie was still cuddling Katie, trying to get her to talk to him. "Katie, why were you alone? Where's Nicky?"

Sniffing, Katie wailed her reply. "She didn' want me with her. She said I was a pest and to go away. But I followed her."

"Where did Nicky go, Katie? Did she know you were following her?" Like Doyle, Bodie knew Nicky wouldn't just leave Katie, no matter how much of a nuisance she was being.

Katie nodded, still tearful. "She was looking at shops, but she kept looking back at me. Then this car stopped beside me."

Although listening to Katie, Doyle caught the sudden movement from the police officers as they exchanged concerned looks. Bodie hadn't missed it either, but kept his concentration on the child. "What about the car, Katie?"

"Two men got out and starting talking to me, then Nicky ran over shouting, and pushed me away from them but they pulled her into the car and went away..." Katie dissolved into tears again, overwhelmed by the terror of what had happened to Nicky and her own fright at being left alone.

Drawing the officers to one side, Doyle spoke to them quietly, subduing his own consternation at Katie's words. "Do you know anything about this?"

They exchanged another worried glance. "There's been some snatches in that area just recently. Youngsters, particularly girls, are being taken."

Doyle waited, tensing. He could almost anticipate what else they were going to say, as the officer lowered his voice. "Whoever's snatching them is part of a paedophile ring. They abuse the kids; take photos. But they move fast; the kids are usually released before anyone knows they're even missing."

Feeling the blood drain from his face, Doyle turned back to Katie. "Can you tell us about the car, Katie? What colour was it?"

The colour was about the only factor he hoped she could tell them; makes, models and number plates were the last things he expected her to know, but Katie's words surprised them. "Blue. It was a dark blue. Like your car, Ray."

"My Escort?"

She nodded. "And it had a dent at the back; the lights were broke."

The partners both asked questions simultaneously. "Which side were the lights broken, Katie?" "Was it the same as my car, or just shaped like it?"

She managed to sort out the questions to answer them. "Not exactly the same. But not like Bodie's car. And the dent was close to me."

Doyle turned back to the police officers, speaking quietly but urgently, as Bodie started to get up, passing Katie over to Louise. "Where did you find Katie?"

"Heygate Street - just off the Walworth Road."

Doyle nodded. He knew it. "Will you stay here? We know Nicky's been snatched, maybe we've got a chance to get the bastard before he hurts her."

Bodie joined him as the officers nodded their agreement. "We have to find her, Bodie. And fast." Doyle made for the door. "Come on, I'm going to call Charlie."
 

Reaching the Capri, Bodie started the engine and spun it out of the car park, while Doyle got on the radio and requested a patch-through to Scotland Yard and DI Colfield. "Charlie? Ray Doyle."

"How are you, Ray? And Bodie?"

"We're fine. We need your help, Charlie; we're on our way over now."

"Help with what?"

"What's probably one of your cases. We won't be long, I'll explain then. Just get us clearance to your office, will you?"
 

"So you don't know for sure she's been snatched?" For some reason, Charlie was proving awkward.

"I know what Katie saw. Nine years old or not, she doesn't lie, Charlie. What's the problem? We've got a dark-blue saloon with a damaged nearside rearlight cluster to go on. You must have some suspects."

Bodie exchanged a silent glance with Charlie's DS. So far, they'd both stayed out of the discussion, which was getting more heated by the moment.

"How many vehicles are there that fit that description? Thousands, just in London."

Doyle ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "Charlie, we've got to find Nicky. If you've got any suspects, anyone at all, now's the time to roust them. Come on. How many kids have been snatched?"

The DS answered him, earning herself a glare. "Up to last week, 13. And we've got our suspects."

Charlie stood up, and reluctantly agreed. "Yes, we've got suspects. But we wouldn't get a search warrant. We don't have any evidence."

Bodie decided it was time to enter the fray and added a comment. "CI5 don't need a warrant."

There was silence, revealing at least part of Charlie's reluctance to help; and Doyle seized on it. "I know you don't like that fact, Charlie. But this time it could save Nicky. Otherwise she'll be hurt, and God knows how many other kids before you catch them ..."

He swallowed convulsively, imagining what could happen to Nicky - what could have already happened to Nicky. "I could go over your head, Charlie, but I don't want to. Please, help us."

"I'll need to get clearance. I can't just go releasing information, even to you. And we'll need to go in with you."

Doyle relaxed. "We'll call Cowley, he can arrange the necessary clearances quickly. And I'd be pleased to have you along."

"Get calling, then." Decision made, Charlie waved him at the phone before turning to her DS. "Lindsey, get moving, and get a team together. Three cars. Wait for me downstairs. We'll try Odell Street first."

Pulling open a filing cabinet, she flicked through and extracted three different files, throwing a glance at Bodie. "Three possibles."

Doyle put the phone down. "Cowley says he'll get onto the Minister and Commissioner immediately, but to get moving. He'll deal with any official outrage afterwards."
 

The first house appeared empty; Doyle kicked the door open in complete disregard of Charlie's wishes, and guns drawn, he and Bodie swiftly checked the rooms. The place was deserted. Meeting Charlie back in the hallway, Doyle demanded the next address.

The second building was occupied. Doyle hammered on the door, getting a feeling of dejà-vu. "Open up! Police!"

Shouts from inside could just be understood, and the words 'get her out' had an identical galvanising effect on the partners, who smashed jointly into the door. It hadn't been built to withstand that sort of assault, and gave way immediately. The half-naked girl referred to was being hustled towards the rear of the property, but wasn't Nicky. And she wasn't young either; at least, not under the age of consent. Under the layers of make-up, Bodie couldn't really tell how old she was.

Leaving two of her team to deal with the situation there, Charlie directed them to the third address on her files.

As Bodie threw the brakes on, he caught Doyle's arm. Parked just across the road was a navy blue Mark II Cortina, with a smashed rearlight. Doyle was out of the car and across the street, Bodie close behind, before Charlie had stopped her car.

There were lights on in the building, an old, large semi-detached place, and for Charlie's sake Doyle repeated the hammering on the door, but only waited a few seconds before he began to kick at the lock. Pushing him to one side, Bodie aimed the Browning and blasted the centre out of the lock.

The rooms downstairs were empty and dark, and the partners made straight for the stairs. Crashing in through the first bedroom door they smashed into a tripod, knocking the camera and flashgun flying.

On the bed in front of them was a young, sobbing, girl, maybe aged 11 or 12. Again, no Nicky. The naked man with her was rapidly losing his erection, and he slid from the bed back against the wall. Bodie glared at him, completely disgusted. "For God's sake put something on. You look pathetic."

Doyle's attention was held by the other man in the room; a thin, unattractive specimen, who was still holding another camera. "Where's Nicky?"

"Who?" For answer, Doyle threw himself forward, catching the man by the front of his shirt and slamming him back against the wall. "Nicky. 14, dark-haired - you remember, you snatched her off the street earlier..."

The camera slipped from the man's hand and crashed to the ground. "No, there's no other girls, I swear..."

Lindsey had hurried forward to put her arms around the child, pulling a sheet up round her, and as Doyle sunk a telling punch into the man's stomach, she called to him. "She says there was another girl. They hit her, when she wouldn't do what they wanted."

Bringing the man back off the wall, Doyle swung him round and kicked him, shouting. "Where is she? Tell me, you bastard..."

Bodie intervened before Doyle could strike again; interposing himself between the two of them and holding Doyle back. "Where? Or do I let him loose on you?"

He glanced at Charlie as he spoke, catching a significant look of approval as she turned her back, to help her DS. He looked back at the photographer. "Talk while you're still able to."

The scrawny figure shook. "The cellar. She's in the cellar." No longer having to hold Doyle off, because he'd taken off the second the man spoke, Bodie threw a punch of his own, hearing something crack under his fist as it landed in the man's face, before he was haring after Doyle...

The old kitchen was in darkness, and finding the lightswitch they looked for a door that could lead to a cellar. Nothing. About to head back upstairs, the same thought struck them, and they leapt forward to shift the out-of-place Welsh dresser. The door behind was secured with a bolt, and Doyle shot it back.

There was no light in the cellar, and the partners nearly pitched headlong over the ledge as they burst through the door. Ignoring the steps, they dropped the short distance to the floor, just able to make out the crumpled figure against the wall.

Nicky was lying motionless; Doyle reached her first, beginning to lift her. "Nicky?" Her eyes flew open with a gasp - a pain-filled gasp - and Doyle stopped trying to get her up and leant her gently back against the wall.

"Ray?" She got his name out on a shallow breath, sucking in short gulps of air, and Doyle managed to smile reassuringly, hiding his anxiety, as he smoothed her hair back. "Yeah. It's us. What have you been up to, eh?"

He glanced up at Bodie, and got a gesture and nod in return; they both thought the same, Nicky had cracked or broken ribs. She had clearly taken several blows to the face, and a cut over her left eye was still oozing. "Knew you'd fin' me."

Trustingly, Nicky managed a half-smile, and licked at her split lip, and Doyle stroked her cheek. "I'll always be there for you." It wasn't the time or place to be apologising, but in spite of the pain it seemed Nicky understood.

Bodie looked round as Charlie arrived in the cellar after them. "Did you find her?" Then, taking in Doyle kneeling beside Nicky, she focused on Bodie. "Ambulance?" she asked, economically.

Bodie nodded. It was probably only cracked ribs, but it could be worse; at the very least Nicky needed painkillers before they moved her far. He turned back to Doyle and spoke softly. "Let's get her upstairs, at least."

Agreeing, Doyle slid his arm around Nicky. "Come on, darlin', let's get you out of here."

Her hand came up against his chest; a mute gesture of resistance, and she whimpered. "No... it 'urts, Ray."

"I know. But we have to get you upstairs, Nicky." Ignoring her protesting yelp, Doyle lifted her bodily to her feet, holding her light form without difficulty against him, relieved to feel her right hand grasping the back of his jacket. He tightened his grip around her, using the belt on her jeans to draw and keep her close. "Just take it slowly, OK? And let me help you."

Bodie was close on the other side. "Come on, Nicky. You can get up the steps." The quickest option would be to carry her, but that would probably be more painful, and he stood back as Doyle began to move. Left arm pressed against her ribs, Nicky unwillingly moved with him, and they could both see she was suppressing small cries of pain.

It was a slow journey up the steps and through the kitchen. Charlie reappeared. "Ambulance is on the way. Bring her through here." She had piled cushions into the corner of a sofa, and Doyle let Nicky down gently into them.

Still clutching her ribs, Nicky sank back and started to close her eyes; now that she was safe the fear that had kept her from losing consciousness was gone, and beside her, Doyle squeezed her hand. "Nicky, stay with us."

It was obviously an effort, but Nicky obediently opened her eyes and kept them open, doing her best to focus on Doyle, who was relieved to hear a siren already wailing in the distance.

Bodie had joined Charlie near the door. "Where's the bastard?" She gave him a reproving glance. "On his way in. He's already going to find it difficult to talk to me."

"Meaning, he doesn't deserve we should beat the shit out of him?" Charlie didn't respond to his challenge; she had turned a blind eye, after all. "At least Nicky's OK."

"You call that OK?" Bodie was prepared for an argument, Nicky's injuries were hardly minor; but once again Charlie didn't respond. As the ambulance crew arrived, she tossed a comment over her shoulder to Bodie. "In comparison to the others? Ask Nicky in a couple of weeks. I think you'll find she's been lucky."
 

Bodie arrived in the Casualty department with Louise and Katie to find Doyle waiting, impatiently. "Is Nicky OK?"

"She'll be fine, Louise. They've just brought her back from X-ray. They think it's a couple of broken ribs, nothing more."

As Louise hurried in search of her elder daughter, Katie began to follow her, and Bodie caught her hand. "No, you wait with us, Katie."

"Want to see Nicky." Katie's small face screwed up with worry, and Bodie cast around for something to distract her. "You can see her soon. What about a bar of chocolate?"

Still frowning, Katie allowed him to lead her to the machine, and Doyle followed Louise to the cubicle where Nicky was being treated.
 

When he'd arrived with Nicky, the medical staff had at first attempted to ban him from the cubicle, suspicious of his reasons for being there. Production of his ID had done less to convince them to let him stay than the grip that Nicky had on his hand; a grip she had maintained for as long as possible.

Louise was talking quietly to the doctor. "They want to keep Nicky in overnight, Ray. Just in case." Doyle was relieved to hear it. "Good thing, too. She'll find it difficult to move for a bit."

Nicky was clearly drowsy as Doyle slid through the curtain, but she forced her eyes open as Doyle ignored hospital protocol, perched on the edge of the bed and took her hand. "Feeling better?"

"Bit. Is Katie OK?"

"She's fine. She's outside and waiting to see you. Giving Bodie a hard time, I expect." Nicky smiled, faintly, before her next question. "Ray? The other girl...?"

Doyle squeezed her hand. They'd got there just in time; the other girl had been abused but not raped. "She'll be OK. Nicky?" Doyle paused. Charlie would be asking the question soon enough, but he needed to know the answer now. "They didn't touch you, did they?"

Nicky shook her head emphatically before tears filled her eyes, and Doyle lifted her - very gently - to hug her.
 

Charlie had arrived just as the hospital porters were taking Nicky upstairs to a ward. "How is Nicky?"

"She'll be fine. They're just keeping her overnight as a precaution. You didn't want to talk to her now?" Doyle knew Nicky wasn't up to it.

"No, tomorrow will do. We've got Castle banged up, and have already got a preliminary statement from the other girl. That'll be enough to hold him." Charlie looked at Doyle. "Will you bring her over tomorrow?"

"When the doctors think she's fit enough to leave the hospital, I will."
 

After speaking to Louise the following morning, Doyle phoned Cowley, gaining the time to collect Nicky with surprising ease, before he rang Charlie to let her know he'd be bringing Nicky in.

At the hospital, Nicky was ready and waiting for him, perched uneasily on the edge of the bed, and she scrambled slowly to her feet. "Take it easy." Doyle had suffered enough broken ribs himself to know how Nicky felt.

Knowing she would find it easier to walk with someone to lean against, Doyle moved closer - then hesitated as he remembered the last time he'd put his arms round her. But Nicky seemed comfortable with his proximity, and he slid a supporting arm around her waist, relieved when she wrapped her arm around him and dropped her head against his shoulder.

Nicky had apparently refused to have Louise with her whilst she talked to Charlie; a fact that hadn't really surprised Doyle. Once again, Nicky was coping on her own. Even so, he attempted to give her some reassurance during the drive. "Charlie's an old friend, Nicky, so she'll look after you. You just have to answer her questions honestly."

"I know. I will." Nicky was calm; with anyone else Doyle would have been worried they were still in shock, but he'd seen Nicky like this before.

Charlie was waiting, and Lindsey led Nicky away to an interview room. "We'll be as quick as possible. You wait here."
 

It was just under an hour later that Charlie came back to the office. "We've finished." Doyle got up to join her in the corridor. "Get what you needed?"

"Enough. A good statement; although we probably won't need it."

"It's unlikely Nicky will have to go to court?"

Charlie nodded. "Once we confront Castle with the evidence, and the fact that at least half the kids are prepared to stand up against him in court, he'll fold. And Lindsey let drop how interested you and Bodie were in the case." She grinned, wickedly. "I could hear his teeth chattering."

"He's lucky to still have teeth." Doyle glanced down the corridor to Nicky, remembering the anger and fear he'd felt, seeing her in the cellar. "Was she OK during the interview?"

"Fine. Very calm, clear. Seems older than 14, though."

"She's had to grow up quick. Her brother was murdered a few months back; her father about a year ago." Doyle caught Nicky's eye, and she smiled at him; the shy but trusting smile that had been missing recently. Charlie's next question took him by surprise.

"Ray, has Nicky suffered a sexual assault before?"

Doyle stared at her. "Not that I know. Why d'you ask?"

Charlie shrugged. "I'm not sure. It was nothing to do with Castle, just something about the way she answered my questions; the things I didn't have to explain to her..." She shrugged again, as Nicky and Lindsey started towards them. "Probably nothing. Forget it."

Doyle frowned. There was no time to ask her, but just what did Charlie mean? Forget what? The thoughts persisted on the slow journey down to the car. Nicky was subdued, obviously still in pain and lost in her own thoughts, giving him time to think as he drove her slowly home.

What he did understand from Charlie's words was that Nicky didn't seem to be as innocent as Charlie had been expecting, indicating a certain level of sexual knowledge. Well, that didn't mean much; kids were so much more aware these days, she had older friends, maybe even a boyfriend - no, no boyfriend. Doyle cut off that train of thought; Nicky wasn't mature enough. Although - he glanced across at her - that wasn't strictly true either.

The way Nicky had shouldered responsibility after Paul's death had indicated maturity well beyond her years. But it was a different sort of maturity. Not being able to cope with her emerging feelings for him showed how innocent she actually was.

Another glance caught her glancing at him, aware of his scrutiny. "Feel OK, Nick?" A slight nod, and she returned to gazing out of the window.

So Charlie must be wrong. Which was surprising; she'd been with Vice a long time, long enough to have an unmistakeable instinct for that sort of thing... His thoughts jumped back to the precise words of Charlie's first question. She hadn't asked whether Nicky had a boyfriend, she'd asked whether Nicky had been assaulted...

His fists suddenly clenched on the steering wheel as things began to add up. Charlie's comment compared to Nicky's apparent innocence, her recent reaction to his physical closeness, and her fear of them on that first evening that they'd put down to the physical abuse by her father. Doyle's mind raced as he recalled the first child abuse case he'd dealt with; a nine-year old able to describe every detail of what her father had done, yet who was completely innocent of what it all meant.

Pulling up outside the flats, Doyle put the handbrake on, putting out his hand to stop Nicky from trying to get out of the car. He needed to think, and think carefully, before he spoke. "Ray? What's wrong?"

Doyle glanced at her, seeing that in spite of what had happened in the last couple of days her indomitable spirit was still carrying her through; the calm acceptance wasn't an act.

"Nicky, you told Charlie that Castle didn't touch you, but - " Christ - Doyle turned to face her, reaching out to take her hand. "Has anyone?"

Nicky was silent and Doyle sensed her withdrawal, thinking at first that she wasn't sure what he meant. But her expression wasn't showing that; it was wary, and Doyle softly added the question he really didn't want to know the answer to. "Was it your father?"

She pulled her hand free, a slow flush staining her cheeks as she looked away, and began to pull at the door handle. Her injuries prevented a swift exit from the car, and Doyle was round the bonnet and there to help her before she had chance to do more than stand upright.

She winced as she leant back against the car, clutching at her ribs, face pale, eyes downcast. He closed the door beside her, putting his hands on her shoulders. "It's OK, Nicky."

He lifted her chin, and gradually her eyes slid upwards to meet his. "Our secret, OK?" Her faint answering smile was still anxious, and Doyle slid his arm gently round her, encouraging her to lean against him and taking her weight. "Come on. Let's get you home."


© Carol Good - April 2000