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Cries in the Night

 

            I was bored.
            Jax, Marriott, Baine, Ray and I had all been ordered on round the clock surveillance on Sir Alexander Talbot-Jones. So far we'd followed him from his home, to his office, to meetings, to what seemed like half a dozen interminably boring sessions in the House, to his private club, to his exclusive health club, and even to two rounds of golf. (I drew the line at playing caddy. Baine got lumbered with that little job.) About the only place we hadn't tailed him was in the bedroom. Which he shared with his wife - though we didn't know if he also shared a bed with her. Given the lack of suspicious noises from the bug one of Malone's team had managed to place on a visit to 'repair' the phone, we all assumed not.
            But he didn't visit prostitutes either. Ah well, maybe he was just past it.
            I stretched and tried to unkink my spine. I felt like I'd been sitting in this bloody car for days. The minister was dining at his club - currently being served large cognacs by Jax, undercover as a waiter for the duration - while I waited outside, ready to follow him as he left. He was scheduled for a meeting on the other side of town later in the afternoon, and I'd been detailed to follow him.
            2 p.m. I reached for the sandwiches before my stomach could start complaining - then threw them on the passenger seat in disgust. Liver sausage. Last time I let Ray get me lunch!
            He'd left early to go to a retirement party - one of his old mates from the Met. I wondered idly how he was getting on. No doubt there'd be a few people who weren't happy to see him, but it was a pretty safe bet that Charlie would be there. He'd be alright. Probably be OK later on as well, lucky bastard.
            I squirmed again, trying to get comfortable and failing. And my stomach grumbled. And there wasn't even anywhere to buy a
Mars bar…

           By the time Sir Alexander appeared I was about ready to start chewing the upholstery, and had started planning dire revenge for that blasted partner of mine. Somewhat reluctantly - my latest plot was one of epic complexity and would have done Hitchcock proud - I shelved my schemes and started up the motor, tailing Sir Alexander from three cars back. He drove straight to his meeting, parked up and went inside, and I settled down to wait. Again.
            7 p.m. Sir Alexander still hadn't reappeared. But Marriott would be on his way by now. He'd take over and I could - finally - get something to eat…
            The R/T bleeped. With a sinking feeling in the black hole that used to be my stomach I answered it. Murphy. I sighed.
            "Go ahead, Murph."
            "You know what I'm going to say, don't you?"
            "I can guess. Marriott's gone down with a dose of stakeoutitis and I'm stuck with Sir-fuckin'-Talbot-Jones 'til tomorrow morning."
            "Got it in one."
            "Can't someone else do it? I've been on duty since seven this morning. Why can't Doyle take over?"
            "Sorry Bodie. We can't get hold of him."
            "What d'you mean, can't get hold of him? What's up with his R/T?"
            "He's either not answering it or - more likely - left it at home."
            "Damn."
            "You can't complain. You're always doing it."
            "That's not the point!" I re-considered. "Well, perhaps it is. But that's no reason to make me suffer!"
            "If we can't find him, we can't get him to relieve you, can we?"
            "What about Baine, or Jax?"
            "No joy. You're it, I'm afraid."
            I snarled a few choice epithets into the evening air, and Murphy chuckled.
            "I'll tell him you said that, shall I?"
            "I'll tell 'im myself when I get hold of him! Well, could someone at least bring me something to eat? I'm starving!"
            "I'll see what I can do, but no promises. You need to lose some weight anyway."
            Bloody cheek!
            "I won't be much use if I faint from hunger, will I?"
            "Don't exaggerate."
            "I'm not! I haven't had anything since…" I paused: there was movement at the door. "Gotta go, Murph. Sir Alex is just leaving."
            "Call in when he gets to wherever he's going and I'll try and get someone over with something edible."
            I put the car in gear. "Thanks. Just make sure it's not liver sausage, OK?"
            "Will do. Out."
            There were times, I thought idly to myself, when the idea of a steady nine-to-five job was really quite appealing…

           I caught sight of Jack across the room, and as I expected, he was surrounded by people. He'd always been a popular officer and there was no shortage of colleagues there to wish him well in retirement. Managing to catch his eye, I waved, pleased when he broke free of the group and came towards me.
            "Ray, good to see you. Grab yourself a drink; I'll catch up with you later. You know most of the people here anyway."
            Knowing didn't necessarily mean liking. I'd already clocked several faces I wouldn't be singling out for conversation; I'd trodden on a few toes in my time at the Yard, and CI5's part in exposing King and Ibbotson just a few months ago hadn't done me any favours either.
            However, I answered Jack positively, determined not to spoil his evening. "Of course. I've arranged to meet Charlie anyway." His reaction was to grin and nudge me in the ribs. "Still on there, then?"
            I grinned back. "Occasionally."
            More new arrivals caught his attention, and Jack moved on. I filtered my way to the bar, not surprised to see Charlie already there, and dropped a South London greeting in her ear. "'Allo, darlin'."
            She wasn't fazed. Charlie knew me too well, and responded without even turning. "Ray. You remember Lindsey."
            "Of course." I nodded to her DS, and signalled the barman. "What're you both drinking? G&T?"
            Getting the drinks, we moved away from the bar, and Charlie asked after Nicky. The question was a little too casual, and I didn't miss the glance she exchanged with Lindsey; they both had guessed more than they were letting on about Nicky's background. Although the trust was firmly reinstated, I hadn't managed to get Nicky to talk to me yet. I wasn't sure she ever would. "She's OK."
            Lindsey sensed my unwillingness to discuss Nicky, and changed the subject. "How's that gorgeous partner of yours?"
            I glanced at Charlie. While Bodie had been convalescing after the Ibbotson case he'd mentioned Charlie several times; I'd had the impression they'd got together, although in irritating Bodie-fashion, he'd only hinted.
            "Busy. We're both on a particularly boring surveillance at the moment; he wasn't best pleased at being abandoned while I came to a party."
            "You two should get together." Charlie's innocent smile at Lindsey convinced me that Bodie hadn't succeeded with her; quite satisfying really. We were both free agents, but Bodie pinched my birds with regular monotony and I was fed up with it.

           Jack had made his obligatory speech quite early on, and I had waited until Charlie took a break from her inevitable circuit of talking to the right people before sidling up to her. "Thought we could go on somewhere."
            Charlie gave a thoughtful, calculating look around the room before replying. "OK. There's no one else I need to speak to."
            Well, that was charming - put me right in my place. I knew Charlie was ambitious but she needn't make it so obvious I came second to her career. I slid an arm firmly round her waist; catching a teasing smile. "Your place or mine?"

           Instead, we stopped at the pub just down the road for another drink, and once again I had to pry Charlie away from colleagues. I wasn't drinking too much; not that I was driving, but I was on standby again in the morning, and had no wish to get called out with a headache.
            The road was quiet as we left the pub, and we walked towards Victoria Street where it would be easier to hail a taxi.
            The two who appeared were young, and seemingly not overly-experienced. For starters, they made their move slowly; by sauntering from the shadows in front of us, they had no element of surprise. Their second mistake - one that many villains had made before, and others would no doubt make again - was to dismiss me as a threat. They were both slightly taller than me, and well-built, and I saw a flash of metal on the hand of one as they stepped towards us.
            Charlie had stopped alongside me, and I half-pushed her behind, bringing their attention back to me; I hadn't realised until that point that they'd been more focused on Charlie than myself. "Stay outta it," one growled.
            I didn't move. Much as I hated it when I was underestimated, it did have advantages.
            They moved forward again, one stretching out his arm to brush me aside. I fell back slightly as if giving way, before dropping to dive low and hard into him, hoping to take him back into his accomplice, but the second youth - the one with the knuckledusters - had been quicker, and was moving towards Charlie.
            Well, Charlie wasn't helpless, she'd be able to hold him off, and I concentrated on disabling my attacker first, a task accomplished with a few - not particularly by-the-rules - moves. As he slumped, gasping for breath, I spun to help Charlie, horrified to see her take a vicious blow from the armed fist, slamming her back against some railings before she crumpled to the ground.
            I dealt with the second youth with even less compunction; a savage kick to the back of his knee to numb the muscles, before seizing the front of his jacket to twist him, bringing my knee up into his groin and throwing him backwards.
            Before I could follow up and inflict any more damage on either of them a car screeched to a halt at the kerb, and I was faced with a gun barrel from the driver's seat. The incompetent assailants scrambled painfully away and into the vehicle which immediately took off. I noted the number, but was already turning back to Charlie…
            She was dazed and winded. "Ray?"
            "Yeah, it's OK. Take it easy." I'd almost forgotten how stubborn Charlie was. I'd probably have had more success at keeping her seated if I'd told her to get up, and she pushed me back and, using the railings, began to pull herself upright, forcing me to help her. As she leaned against me, I realised she had a deep cut on her forehead, and pulled out my hanky to press against it.
            Miracles still happening occasionally, a taxi drew up beside us; the driver concerned. "You awright, mate?"
            "Yeah. Will be. Can you take us to Casualty?"
            I guided Charlie to the taxi, gently silencing her protests - she liked hospitals about as much as I did. "That cut needs stitches, Charlie."

           We were lucky at the hospital - only an hour's wait instead of the more usual several - and it wasn't long after twelve when the minicab dropped us at Charlie's flat.
            I slid the keys from her fingers and opened the apartment, following her in. "Ray - "
            I knew what she was going to say. "I'm staying, Charlie. I'll sleep on the sofa if you want, but I'm not leaving you alone tonight."
            The easy victory told me she was feeling worse than she'd admitted to. "The sofa's horrible to sleep on."
            "That mean I get a share of the bed?"
            She managed a half-smile. "Don't you always? I need a shower." She forestalled my next question. "Yes, I will be all right, and no, I don't need you to scrub my back. Grab yourself a drink."
            "OK. Hey - " I called her as she reached the bathroom door. "Don't lock it, OK?"
            She vanished with a grimace at my concern and I heard the shower start up as I headed for the kitchen to fill the kettle. More alcohol wasn't a good idea; coffee would have to do.
            I'd not been to this new place of Charlie's, but instinctively opened the cupboard over the kettle. Sure enough; tea, coffee and drinking chocolate were lined up next to the cornflakes, and I grinned. Charlie had always been the same; I could probably identify the contents of each cupboard without even opening them.
            I wasn't on standby until the following day but decided to call in - if HQ did need to reach me they'd need the number. Nothing in the rules said I had to be on standby at my place rather than Charlie's. I needed to report the attack anyway; it could've been a random mugging but in our game you couldn't be too sure…

           Charlie was looking tired and moving awkwardly when she emerged and sank onto the sofa, and I immediately got her to her feet again. "I'm not carrying you into the bedroom if you fall asleep there. C'mon."
            Dropping the bathrobe in a heap, Charlie slid naked into the bed, and I caught sight of the already darkening bruise below her ribs. "What did the doc say about that?"
            "Didn't tell him. 's just bruising." She tugged the sheet up, drowsy but defiantly glaring up at me. I didn't argue but that was why I wanted to stay the night; I'd guessed she'd not got herself checked over properly. At least if I was there I'd know if anything was wrong.
            "OK." I dropped a light kiss on her forehead before straightening up. "I'm going to grab a quick shower. Won't be long."
            Flicking the light off I slid under the sheet next to her, sliding up close. Charlie'd always liked to sleep cradled against my chest and even asleep she snuggled against me as I put my arm around her.
            Listening to her slow breathing, I dropped off to sleep, wondering why we'd been attacked…

           I was stuck outside Sir Alex's house all bloody night, and by 6.30 the following morning I'd really had enough…
            As Baine's car pulled up on the other side of the road, I called in to sign off for the day. The lovely Laura was on switchboard duty.
            "Hello sweetheart."
            "Good morning, 3.7." Her voice was distinctly cool. I frowned. I couldn't remember doing anything to upset her.
            "That's a bit formal."
            "Yes, well, I've been hearing a few things about you."
            "From Doyle? You don't want to believe everything he says."
            "Actually, it wasn't from 4.5."
            "Oh? Who then?"
            She ignored the question. "Remember you're on standby again this evening."
            "I'm not likely to forget. Has my partner called in?" Ray's flat was on my way home - I could drop in for an early breakfast and take great pleasure in inconveniencing him…
            Laura's next words drove the thought from my mind.
            "He called in last night. Apparently he and his companion were attacked after leaving a pub…"
            I didn't let her get any further. "Where is he?"
            "He stayed with her last night - Charlie …"
            I cut her off. "I know it. I'm on my way."
            And with a squeal of tyres, I was.

           It was still early when I woke, and leaving Charlie asleep I headed for the kitchen to make coffee. Part way through browning the toast the door buzzer went and I answered it to the dulcet tones of my partner.
            "Oh, 'ello. Thought it'd be you."
            I yawned and ran a hand through my hair as I fumbled with the locks; not surprised that Bodie was there, although it was early for him to be out and about.

           I shoved the door open almost before Ray had unlocked it and planted both hands on his shoulders, looking him up and down. I couldn't see any obvious injuries, but…
            "You OK?"
            He glowered at me for a moment before gently pushing my hands off his shoulders.
            "'Course I am."
            "No 'of course' about it. What happened?"
            "Stop shouting, come on in and shut the door, and I'll tell you."
            I did as I was told, and walked through to the kitchen. He'd been in the middle of making breakfast: I snaffled a slice of toast for myself and, checking from the corner of my eye that he was watching, opened the far right-hand cupboard and pulled out the jar of Marmite Charlie kept there.
            "Don't spread too much on - she doesn't like it too thick."
            I was rewarded by a wide-eyed gape that almost repaid me for the liver sausage sandwich...

           I stared at him, suspicions forming. Last night I'd have sworn, from the casual way Charlie referred to him, that Bodie hadn't scored with her. But if that was the case he knew a remarkable amount about the contents of Charlie's cupboards, and what she liked for breakfast… Come to think of it, how'd he know where to come? I'd only left the phone number with HQ, not the address. And Charlie'd only moved in here a month or so ago…
            He gave me an innocent grin, nodding at the cooker. "Burning your bit." Snatching the grill pan from under the burners I rescued the slightly charred slice.
            "So what happened?"
            "We'd just left the pub, were walking up towards Victoria to grab a taxi, when these two louts tried to mug us."
            "Oh, I see." He grinned through a mouthful of crumbs and waved the remainder of the slice at me. "So they took you for a pansy and you did your David and Goliath bit on them?"
            I glared at him briefly. I wasn't exactly a seven-stone weakling; he knew how that wound me up - but it did have advantages. I gave him a grin. "Stopped 'em kicking sand in me face, if that's what you mean. But one of them got a couple of blows past Charlie, so we ended up in Casualty anyway."
            Bodie's grin faded as his forehead creased in genuine anxiety. "Is she OK?"
            "Cuts and bruises. I should think the muggers feel worse."

           "Knowing the way you hit, I'm sure they do." I frowned. "Just a mugging, you think?"
            He took a slurp of coffee and glanced towards the bedroom.
            "Could be…"
            "But you're not sure."
            "They were picked up. Car appeared from nowhere as I was finishing with them."
            I grinned at him. "Well, god knows there are enough people who hate your guts!"
            He nodded, face serious. "Me, yeah. But these bastards went for Charlie."
            "She was with you. Good way to get at you."
            He bit his lip. "Yeah… Except they went for her first."
            This was not the time to crack jokes, so I refrained from commenting on his apparent physical prowess or lack thereof. In any case, there was something odd about the whole thing.
            "Why would they do that?"
            He sighed irritably. "Dunno. Unless they wanted her out of the way so they could take their time with me..." He shook his head. "S'pose that must be it."
            I wasn't entirely satisfied. Nor, I could see, was Ray. "D'you think they'll try again?"
            "How'm I supposed to know?"
            "Did you report it?"
            "Yeah."
            "I'll get Cowley to reassign me."
            He thumped his mug down and glared at me.
            "I do not need a nursemaid!"
            Yes, well, I knew better, but there was no point in arguing. "I'm not volunteering. But if I stay on that blasted surveillance job any longer I'm going to go round the twist. Keeping an eye on you'd be a good excuse to skive off."
            "He won't go for it."
            I shrugged. "No harm in trying."
            He scowled. "Yeah, and knowin' you, he'll probably let you."
            I smirked. He probably wouldn't, but at least I'd distracted Ray from his traditional 'nursemaid' nag. And I'd keep an eye on him anyway. Somehow.
            The adrenaline surge that had kept me going since speaking to Laura was wearing off at a frightening rate, and I could feel myself sagging. I yawned widely and leaned against the work top.
            "And you're sure Charlie's OK?" My eyelids were trying to close; I forced them open.

           "Well, the cut on her head needed stitches, but she wasn't knocked out. She'll be pretty bruised for a couple of days, though."
            It struck me somewhat belatedly that Bodie wasn't his usual immaculate self; he hadn't shaved and his clothes looked like he'd been sleeping in them… Unless he'd managed to line up a bird after I left him yesterday - I hazarded a guess.
            "You been on duty all night? Thought Marriott was supposing to be taking over from you."
            He shrugged, patently too tired to even complain about the extended duty. "He went down with something."
            "Like Alice?" There was no response. I sighed; at some point the bad joke would sink in but it wasn't going to be then. "Come on, I'll find you a blanket and you can crash on the sofa for a few hours. You need some sleep if you're going to be any use later."
            I slid quietly into the bedroom; Charlie was still sleeping and I was careful not to disturb her as I opened the wardrobe and located a blanket. Returning to the lounge I shook the blanket out and dropped it over my already-slumbering partner. That was something we shared in common from our vastly different backgrounds; the ability to fall asleep instantly, to grab much needed minutes when hours weren't available.

           I'd occupied myself with a paperback whilst I waited for someone to wake up, but was in the kitchen making another mug of coffee when Charlie eventually emerged from the bedroom.
            "Ray?"
            "In here."
            The bathrobe loosely tied around her, Charlie still looked tired, and I greeted her with a kiss. "How d'you feel?"
            "Shattered. But I suppose it could've been worse." Flicking her hair back, she yawned. "When did Bodie get here? He looks rough."
            "He rolled in just before 7; been stuck on that surveillance all night. He'll look better once he's had a bit of sleep and a shave."
            "Oh, I don't know…" The glance that accompanied the comment was teasing, but I had no chance to pick up on it as Charlie suddenly focused on the wall-clock, alarmed. It was nearly a quarter to ten. "I should've been in for a meeting at nine…"
            "I called Lindsey for you earlier. Got her to pass on your apologies."
            "Looking after me?"
            The comment held a trace of resentment; Charlie was highly independent and would resist nursemaiding as much as I did. I answered her lightly. "For a bit, at least."
            "For today, maybe." She sank onto the kitchen chair, wincing. "Well, since you're here, you can cook me breakfast."
           

           It was the smell that dragged me back to consciousness, albeit reluctantly. That wonderful, cholesterol-ridden, sizzling-sausage smell that makes waterfalls in your mouth. I groaned, and cracked open an eye to see if anyone had noticed.
            The lounge was empty. Disgruntled and aching from not enough sleep on an uncomfortably lumpy sofa, I hauled myself upright and sloped into the kitchen.
            Charlie was sitting at the table; Ray was busy working magic with pots and pans and various bits of dead animals. He raised an eyebrow at me, then grinned over his shoulder at Charlie.
            "See? Told you. Never fails. He's a stomach on legs, my partner."
            Charlie smiled at me. One of those slightly calculating smiles that make you stand a bit straighter and suck in your belly - not that I had any to suck in, Murph's comments notwithstanding. I joined her at the table, wrapped an arm around her shoulder and gave her a gentle but prolonged kiss. She had a lovely mouth, soft and full and mobile.
            "Morning sweetheart. Thanks for the use of your sofa. How're you feeling?"
            She opened her eyes and smiled lazily. I smirked to myself at Ray's expression, clearly reflected in the metal tray propped against the wall behind Charlie: a half-puzzled, half-worried, half-annoyed (yes, I know that's one and a half. But Ray never does anything by halves. If you see what I mean…) scowl. I kissed Charlie's cheek and sat back, stretching.
            "Better for seeing you, Bodie." I raised an eyebrow, slightly surprised - then realised she was teasing Ray. At least, I think that's what she was doing...
            I turned to my partner. "I'll have my eggs well done, please, Gaston."
            "You'll 'ave 'em 'ow they come an' like it." He growled.
            "What's bitten you?"
            He turned to glare, one hand on his hip, the other waving a wooden spoon like it was some kind of offensive weapon. Though come to think of it, in Ray's hands it could be.

           I bit down on the next comment as I caught Charlie's eye. The slight glare was daring me to challenge Bodie over her and I knew her well enough to know that if I did, she'd throw us both out. She'd never let me take her for granted even when we'd been more or less a couple, let alone now.
            "You want something special, you come an' cook it. I'm not your slave, y'know." I got a slight smile from Charlie and a knowing smirk from Bodie as he watched me back down. I'd get him for that later…
            I slapped sausages and scrambled eggs onto two plates and shoved them onto the table. "Not having any, Ray?" Bodie made the enquiry innocent.
            "I'm not cloggin' up my arteries, thanks very much." It was a familiar dispute between us; but I didn't much care for the way Bodie nudged Charlie and they laughed together.
            I reached automatically for a bowl, cornflakes and milk, pleased to see Bodie looked slightly discomfited at my knowledge of the flat. "Anyway, when you've finished that you can drop me back home, and we can let Charlie get some rest. I told Lindsey you wouldn't be in tomorrow either, Charlie."
            She frowned at me but didn't get a chance to respond as Bodie leapt in. "I'm not your chauffeur!"
            "Won't take you long. Then you can get back to bed - your own, nice comfy bed…"
            This time it was Charlie who wore the smirk. And I exchanged a glance with Bodie, wondering who was winding who up…

           It wasn't worth making an issue of it. Charlie could more than hold her own against either of us, and I really did need more sleep. Not to mention the rest… I sighed and gazed at Charlie from half-open eyes, trying for 'smouldering'.
            "I need a shower, too. And a shave. Unless…?" I glanced in the direction of her bathroom and raised an eyebrow. She patted my cheek, then ran a fingernail along my jaw, riffling the stubble, making me shiver. One very sexy lady, is Charlie…
            "Bodie pet, much as I love the rough 'n' ready look, especially on you, I do need a little peace and quiet. I may not be going in to work" she glared briefly at Ray, who shrugged and put on that irritatingly attractive 'who, me?' expression that would let him get away with murder, "but I still need to get a few things done."
            "Nothing too strenuous, I hope?"
            She grimaced. "Some loose ends on my current case - nasty one, a follow-up to that child pornography that Nicky got mixed up in."
            I remembered, and glanced at Ray, frowning. His expression was shuttered as he regarded Charlie, and for a few moments there was a strained silence. There was an undercurrent here I just couldn't catch - more going on than the little I knew. I'd have to get Ray to tell me, later.
            "Anything we can do?"
            She shook her head firmly. "You two have done quite enough for me already, thanks. I'll get someone to run the paperwork over for me."
            It was a definite dismissal. I sighed, finished the little that was left on my plate and drained my mug.
            "C'mon then,
Fanny Craddock." Ray glowered at me, and I smirked and dug out the car keys. Charlie kissed my cheek.
            "Thanks for coming over, Bodie. Good to know you care. You go and get some rest, OK?" I nodded and stifled a yawn as she turned to Ray.
            "You too. And thanks. For everything."
            He pulled her gently into a hug, cradling her head in one hand. I grinned and went back though to the lounge to grab my jacket, leaving them to their farewell. Never let anyone tell you I'm an insensitive lout…
           

           "OK, Bodie pet." Ray grinned at me. "Drop me off at mine first, will you?"
            I was yawning again, and didn't have the energy to object. To anything. Slamming the car in gear I drove him home.
            "Y'know," he said pensively as we pulled into his road, "might be a nice idea to arrange a date. You and me, Charlie and Lindsey. Lindsey fancies you, y'know."
            I snorted. "Of course she does. Doesn't everyone?"
            I pulled myself sideways to avoid the expected blow, but he simply stared at me, shaking his head in sorrow.
            "Such hubris."
            I raised an eyebrow. "Best thing since sliced bread?"
            "That's Hovis, you prat!"
            I smirked, getting back to the real issue. I remembered Lindsey well. Big green eyes and bouncy red curls, not a classic beauty by any standards, but striking. She'd looked far too young to be Charlie's DS. Obviously had hidden depths…
            "Sounds good to me. You want to set it up?"

           "OK - I'll call Charlie later." Flicking the door handle I unfolded myself onto the pavement.
            "Oh - Ray?"
            From the furrowed brow, Bodie was clearly trying to work something out. "Who's Alice?"
            With difficulty, I kept my face straight. "Eh?"
            "Last night - when I said Marriott had gone down with something…?"
            My smirk cracked through, giving him split-second warning that he wasn't going to like what I was about to say. "Surely you've heard of Alice. It can be nasty -
Christopher Robin went down with it..."

           In spite of our jokes, it seemed that Marriott had in reality gone down with something, and I got the call out from Murphy just after 5. It was strange how often Bodie and I ended up on overnight surveillance; if I didn't know better, I'd swear Murphy was trying to stitch us up, and said so.
            "C'mon Ray, would I do that to you?"
            "I hope not. You know what Bodie'd do if you did…"
            Murphy sniggered, then did his best to sound contrite. "Well, the Old Man's given me leave to call Lucas in to help us out, so you and Bodie can snatch tomorrow afternoon off."
            "OK. Tell Bodie I'll pick him up in an hour; got a couple of phone calls to make first."
            "Lining up some girls for tomorrow?"
            "That's right." I put the phone down before Murphy could respond, but he was in fact right. Although the girls I would be lining up weren't exactly what he had in mind.
            I rang Charlie first to see how she was, and suggested lunch in a few days, with a view to setting Bodie and Lindsey up, and was delighted to get Charlie's ready assent.
            Then I dialled Louise's number and spoke briefly to Nicky, establishing that yes, they were on school holidays, and no, they didn't have anything planned. Promising to get there as early as possible, I grabbed my jacket, car keys and a handful of the chocolate bars which were the only thing I could hope to placate a tired, grumpy partner with…

           I sounded the horn outside Bodie's place, staring up at the window. He appeared, briefly, and held up both hands. 10 minutes. I slid back into the car to wait.
            I'd not seen Nicky for a few weeks now; she'd dealt with her abduction by Castle like she had everything else, and seemed disinclined to lean on me. However, I also knew Bodie hadn't seen Katie at all in that time; surprising, given his fondness for the child. On the other hand, he'd noticed Nicky's apparent resentment of him; he wouldn't want to come between the kids.
            It was obvious he hadn't guessed the real reason for Nicky's reticence. Still, it had taken me long enough…

           I jumped down the steps and slid into the passenger seat, grinning. Doyle glanced at me.
            "What're you looking so smug about?"
            I leaned back, still tired but bucked up at the thought of a date. "Murph said you were lining us up a couple of girls for tomorrow. So where're we meeting them?"
            Ray was suspiciously quiet. I felt my heart sink.
            "You did mean Charlie and Lindsey, didn’t you?"
            "Not exactly…"
            I scowled. "Well, if it's not exactly Charlie and Lindsey, who exactly is it?"
            "Nicky and Katie."
            "Oh." Well, that was OK, I suppose. I smiled. "Haven't seen them for a while…"
            "Yeah, I know. I checked on Nicky a couple of times while she was recovering - tough kid, she is, bounced back quickly. Katie was missing you, though."
            I nodded guiltily. "I know. I just…. Nicky didn't seem to like me being there. I didn't want to cause any problems."
            Ray glanced at me. "Hey, s'OK. I told Katie you'd asked after her and you were very busy, working on a case, but you'd try and see her soon. Which is what we're doing tomorrow."
            I smiled at him, relieved. "Thanks. Don't want her thinking I've gone off her!"
            "What else are partners for?"
            I could think of a few things, but at least two of them would have got me thumped, so held my peace.
 

           I hadn't realised I'd dropped off until Ray nudged me awake.
            "You OK?"
            I grunted. "I was 'til you woke me. What time is it?"
            "Nearly half one. You gonna watch for a bit?"
            Half one? I glowered accusingly.
            "You let me sleep on…"
            He grinned briefly. "You needed it, mate. But I need some kip meself, now." He handed me the thermos and tried to wriggle, rubbing at the back of his neck.
            "Anything happened?"
            "No. Boring as hell."
            We swapped seats and I poured a coffee and took a sip. I felt a lot better for the sleep, even if I was aching. I'd had to do it a lot - we all had - but I really wasn't fond of sleeping in the car…
            "D'you think it would be?"
            "Mmm?" Ray was quietly relaxing into a drowse, shifted slightly sideways in the passenger seat.
            "Boring."
            He cracked open an eyelid. "What you on about?"
            "Hell. Do you think it would be boring?"
            He closed his eye again and sank further down in to the seat.
            "Depends who's there to keep you company…."
            I grinned quietly in the darkness and let him doze off.

           The skies over London are smoky and orange at night. You can't see the stars. There were times I missed the night sky in the African bush, that sparkling starry silver blaze across the heavens, bright enough to cast shadows.
            It was about the only thing I did miss about the place, though…

           Ray roused at 5 am, heavy-eyed, yawning, stretching economically in the small space and rubbing a hand across his face. I poured him a tepid coffee - he cupped it in cold hands and smiled at me sleepily.
            "Anything?"
            "Sod all. Why are we doing this?"
            "It's our job."
            "We need our heads examined."
            He chuckled. "Yeah."
            The R/T bleeped. I answered it. Murph again, sounding about as tired as we felt. At least he'd been on overnight as well.
            "If you're calling to tell us Lucas can't make it the Cow'll have our resignations by lunchtime…"
            Murphy managed to raise a small chuckle. "Nope. He's going to be about fifteen minutes late, though. Can you hold out that long?"
            "Do we have a choice?"
            "Want to ask Cowley?"
            I sighed and reached for the last of the Cadbury's Fruit and Nut. "Just tell him to get here quick's he can, will you?"

           Ray drove, dropping me off at my flat at 6 am. As I opened the door he grabbed my arm.
            "Remember we're visiting the kids."
            "I haven't forgotten. What time?"
            He pursed his lips. "I said as early as we could - but we both need a nap and a tidy up. How's about you pick me up at 10?"
            Four hours. Hour and a half - maybe two hours - sleep, shower, shave, breakfast… Sounded OK and I said as much…

           I sauntered out to the car at just after nine thirty, feeling surprisingly relaxed and cheerful. It was a lovely day, sunny, warm, cotton-wool clouds in a bright blue sky, and we were only on standby 'til midday. Surely nothing could happen between now and then…?
            Ray was actually waiting for me on his doorstep when I pulled up, and slid into the car with a grin. I glanced sideways at him, raising an eyebrow.
            "You're chipper."
            He stretched, arms above his head and back arched in the narrow space, then settled back contentedly.
            "Yeah. Nice to have an ordinary, normal sort of day. Y'know, like other people have."
            I nodded. I couldn't actually remember the last time I'd had a 'normal' day, but the idea was appealing…

           Katie opened the door, and before I had a chance to even say hello she flung herself into my arms with a shriek of joy.
            "Ooof!!" I pretended to stagger under a double armful of delightedly giggling youngster, and carried her into the flat. Nicky was there, and treated us to a slightly shy but genuinely pleased smile. I collapsed onto the sofa, Katie nestled on my lap.
            I grinned and rubbed noses with her.
            "You're getting big. Can't call you sprout any more, can I?"
            She giggled again. "What you going to call me, then?"
            "How about - Blossom?"
            She pretend-punched me in the stomach. "That's a cow's name!!"
            Ray glanced at me, eyes twinkling. I could see him imagining Cowley's reaction if we called him Blossom next time he called us in!
            "Oh, OK. How about - Little Plum?"
            "Nah - that's a silly name! An' I'm not an
Indian."
            "Peaches?"
            She made a face.
            "Don't like peaches."
            "Petal, then."
            She tickled me. Ray grinned as I squirmed. He hadn't known I was ticklish - it was something I usually took great pains to conceal. I envisaged torments to come… I tickled Katie back, nearly deafened by her squeals.
            "OK - what do you want me to call you?"
            "Sweetheart. Like you called mum."
            I kissed her nose as she snuggled closer.
            "OK - Sweetheart it is, then." I lifted her face to mine. "So, Sweetheart, would you like to go for an ice-cream - or are you too grown up, now?"
            Ray tossed a cushion at me. "Even if she is, you're not, ya big softie!"
            Katie tried to tickle me again, chanting "Bodie is a softie!" until Nicky intervened.
            "Give over, Katie." Her tone was a little sharp, and I looked up in surprise. There was a familiar expression on her face - the one she used to wear sometimes during the weeks I was dating Louise, particularly on the odd occasion when I'd stayed the night. Resentment, I'd thought, as though she was afraid I'd take her mother's love away from her. Perhaps she was jealous, now, thought I'd come between her and her sister - not that I'd ever dream of doing any such thing, much as I loved Katie…
            I did love her, didn't I? The realisation took me by surprise, but now wasn't the time to think about it. I sighed and reluctantly moved the youngster off my lap and onto the sofa beside me. She looked momentarily confused, until I pointed out of the window.
            "It's a lovely day. Why don't we go to the park? Then I can treat you to a real Mr
Softee!"
            "Yeah!" she yelled as she scrambled off the sofa and went to find her sandals. I smiled at Nicky.
            "Would you like one too? Or something else?"
            She gave me a slight smile, still with an echo of that expression on her face.
            "I'm OK, thanks."
            I was about to try and insist, but Ray caught my eye and shook his head very slightly. I shrugged.
            "OK. If you change your mind, just shout."

           Following my partner with Katie I was amused by their nonsense-filled chatter. Bodie was besotted by her; the child had really got under his skin.
            Nicky walked sedately by my side and I was reminded of the similar walk we'd taken a couple of months back, before she was snatched by Castle and I discovered what had happened to her. But this time Nicky was close to me; only occasionally touching, but trusting.
            My own feelings for Nicky were difficult to analyse. She was too young to hold any sort of romantic interest, and too old to be viewed as a surrogate daughter. Added to the peculiar synthesis of innocence and maturity it was no wonder I was confused; there were times I felt she was as old as me…
            As usual, by the time we reached the park Bodie's teasing had provoked Katie, and I watched as she chased him, not standing a chance of catching him unless he deliberately let her. Nicky was laughing at them; her glance including me in her delight.
            The last couple of times I'd seen the girls I hadn't had a chance to talk to Nicky alone. Although I knew she probably didn't want to talk about her father's abuse, and had resisted my previous attempts to help her, I still felt that if I didn't at least try then I was failing her.
            "You doing OK, Nick?"
            I didn't need to elaborate, she knew what I meant, and I saw the barriers fly up - she was like my partner in that respect. The response was a slight shake of the head and an almost imperceptible movement away from me.
            I gently caught her hand. "It's OK, Nicky. I'm not going to push you. You know where to call."
            Nicky nodded as Katie called to her. "Nicky, come and help me!"
            Her attention caught unexpectedly by her sister, I saw the sudden, terrified flinch Nicky gave as she took in the scene: Bodie had allowed himself to be caught, and was flat on his back on the grass, with Katie now bouncing astride his chest, trying to free her small hands from his firm but no doubt gentle grasp.
            I pulled her quickly towards me and hugged her. "She's OK, Nicky; she's safe with Bodie."
            Nicky managed a wobbly smile past the panic. "I know. s'just…" She stopped, and I guessed the rest. That sort of romp with her father would have been anything but innocent.
            Bodie interrupted us. "I'm the one that needs help…!"

           Katie had squirmed one hand free and was tickling my neck, just under my ear where it was particularly sensitive. She was quick too - I couldn't catch her hand, not without hurting her, anyway, and the tickling was making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
            "Stop it, you little monster." I gasped, in between chuckles - which was her cue to move her hands to my ribs.
            "Ray! C'mon mate, you're supposed to be looking out for me!"
            As my partner moved closer, Katie gave one last tickle and then stopped, with her hands flat on my chest, grinning down into my face.
            "Got you good, didn't I?"
            "Yeah, you did, Sweetheart."
            She leaned down and kissed my nose. And I lay and gazed up at her with what must have been the dopiest expression on my face and my heart full of things I never knew I could feel - love, pride, a simple but profound happiness… I suddenly realised what it must be like to be a father.
            "You OK?" Ray was frowning at me, Nicky hovering at his side. I beamed up at him.
            "Never better."
            Katie giggled and climbed off, then leaned down to grab my hands and try to pull me up.

           She only managed to get Bodie into a sitting position before he pulled her and Katie collapsed back into his arms, giggling helplessly again as he hugged her tightly.
            I felt Nicky's hand slide into mine again and glanced back at her as I squeezed it reassuringly. In spite of knowing Katie was safe, Nicky's own experiences were making her overprotective of her little sister and whilst trying to smile, her expression was a mixture of anxiety and fear.
            Bodie caught sight of her, and suddenly seemed to realise what my frown had been trying to show him; that he was upsetting Nicky. Not that he understood why. But Bodie isn't entirely insensitive, and he set Katie back on her feet, leaping up himself.
            "So where's that ice-cream van?"
            Hand seized, Bodie allowed Katie to tow him away, but not without a puzzled, backward glance at us.
            Nicky relaxed slightly and whispered a slightly embarrassed 'sorry'.
            I squeezed her hand again. "Not a problem. Let's see if Katie can manage to persuade Bodie she really needs more than one ice-cream, shall we?"

           By the time they caught us up, the anxious expression had left Nicky's face and she and Ray were talking normally. Katie was licking enthusiastically at her soft ice-cream: I'd bought myself a 99. Ray frowned.
            "Oi, where's ours?"
            I smirked. "Thought you didn't want one. All that cholesterol clogging up your arteries…"
            He stuck his elegant nose in the air and put Nicky's arm firmly over his as he swept her along with him up to the van.
            "Come, my dear, allow me to treat you to a frozen extravaganza…"
            Nicky flashed me a quick, almost apologetic grin as she passed me. Whatever it was that had upset her, she seemed to be over it. Katie grabbed my hand and dragged me over to a park bench: moments later the others joined us.
            "Bodie," Katie looked up at me from behind the rapidly diminishing ice cream, "Will you marry me when I'm older?"
            Ray nearly choked on his cornet. I fought down a chuckle and regarded her gravely.
            "Aren't I a bit old for you, Sweetheart?"
            "Doesn't matter."
            "OK - I'll tell you what. Let's wait about, oh, ten years?" I glanced at Nicky, who gave me a slight smile. "Then on the next leap year after that you can ask me again. How's that sound?"
            She thought about it, head tilted to one side as she finished the ice cream. "That's a long time…"
            I winked at Nicky over Katie's head. "Aren't I worth it?"
            Her reply was a hug and a slightly sticky kiss on my cheek. She looked up at me, big grey eyes bright.
            "I'm having a party for my birthday. You're coming, aren't you?"
            I hugged her. "Of course I will, Sweetheart, if I'm invited."
            "You promise?"
            I kissed her nose. "I promise."
            I sat back on the bench, happy child cuddled against my side, Ray smiling indulgently at me, relaxed and at ease in the sunshine.

           The rest of the afternoon passed very pleasantly. We went back to the flat, where Nicky made us coffee and sandwiches and I let Katie win two games of draughts against me, then the four of us played Monopoly. Such simple, ordinary things, homely family life. I caught Ray looking wistful, and knew I must look much the same…
            Then it was 5 o'clock. Ray glanced at his watch and heaved a sigh.
            "Sorry you two, but we can't stay much longer."
            "Aww!" Katie's face fell and she climbed onto my lap. "But I want you to stay!"
            I hugged her gently. "We'd like to stay too, but we have to go to work tonight."
            "Will you come again soon?"
            I kissed her cheek. "We'll try." I looked across at Nicky. "If that's OK?"
            She nodded, a little surprised that I'd thought to ask her. "That'd be nice."
            We heard Louise's key in the door, and moments later she bustled into the room, beaming at us.
            "Hello! Have you had a good day? Have you two," she looked from one to the other of her daughters, "been good?"
            Nicky coloured with embarrassment. "Mum!"
            I smiled, coming to her rescue. "The girls have been the perfect hostesses. We've had a great time."
            Nicky flashed me a quick, grateful smile. Louise nodded, obviously pleased. "Got time for another coffee before you go?"
            I glanced at Ray, who nodded. "OK - but then we must head off."
            As we drank the coffee Louise smiled at me.
            "It's Katie's birthday in three weeks. We're having a party, and she wants you - both of you - to come. Do you think you can make it?"
            I nodded. "We'll make da… certain we can!"
            She kissed my cheek. "Thanks. I'll let you know the details nearer the time."

           Half an hour later we were heading back to base to pick up Ray's car, the joys of another overnight stakeout looming large. I sighed. Ray glanced in my direction.
            "What's up?"
            "Katie. Nicky too. Think they miss their father?"
            He was quiet for a moment. A moment too long.
            "Ray?"
            He pursed his lips. "Katie, perhaps. Why? Thinking of becoming a replacement?"
            Well, it distracted me from asking him why not Nicky, which, with hindsight, was probably what he'd intended.
            "Nah. Cramp my style. I'd hate to deny all those willing women the pleasure of my company…" I changed the subject. "Do we have time for something to eat before we take over from Jax?"

           I was thankful that Bodie had dropped the issue so easily. I'd promised Nicky I'd keep her secret, but the closer Bodie got to her the more likely he was to guess what was wrong. He was already suspicious…

           Eleven thirty. I shifted in the seat again, trying not to doze off. The R/T bleeped.
            "You awake?" Bodie sounded about as lively as I felt.
            "Just about. Whaddya want?"
            "Bloody tired… wish I could just get a bit of kip… Know anything that might keep me awake?"
            I grinned into the darkness. "You want me to entertain you?"
            "I'm not after a song and dance routine. Talk to me - give me something to think about."
            "What about a joke?"
            He groaned. "If you must."
            "OK." I thought for a moment, selecting an untold recent gem. "There were these three legionnaires walking through the desert under the baking sun. They were fully equipped with enough water and food for days. On the horizon the mirages came and went and came again, visions of swimming pools attended by dusky maidens, stalls full of ice-cream, winkles, hot dogs, the works. The legionnaires didn't crack, but kept marching solidly on."
            I paused, watching as a car drove slowly past me. Bodie bleeped, sounding hooked in spite of himself. "And?"
            "And suddenly one of them stopped and pointed. "Regardez, mes amis, isn't zat a bacon tree on ze 'orizon?" So, puzzled, they crept forward towards the mystery object, inch by inch, centimetre by centimetre, until they were within a stone's throw of the bacon tree. Suddenly, a shot rang out, dropping one of the legionnaires in his tracks. The other legionnaires hit the ground as bullets thudded into the sand around them. Returning fire they gave first aid to their wounded companion."
            "Yes?" Bodie sounded even more dubious now.
            "As they bandaged him, and poured water over his face, they could hear his faint voice: "Zat was no bacon tree," he gasped, "Zat was an 'am bush..."
            His groan was fully audible. "Where on earth do you get 'em?
            "Keep me ear to the ground…"
            "Ray?" Bodie suddenly sounded sharp and alert.
            "Yeah?" I tensed, fingers resting on the door handle in case I needed to make a quick exit.
            "Car just arrived. Bit late for visitors."
            "See the number?"
            "X-ray Victor Hotel 437 Tango. Jaguar XJS, dark colour."
            "I'll call it in." HQ were quiet; they responded with the information in just a few minutes.
            "Bodie? It's registered to a Bernard Adamson - MD of Adamson Electronics. Looks legit."
            "Yeah, probably. Sir Alex welcomed him in, anyway."
            "So did he look like a Bernard?"
            "What does a Bernard look like?" Bodie sounded puzzled. "I mean, I know what a St Bernard looks like - that little barrel of rum is a dead giveaway…"
            I sighed. "I meant - did he look like the sort of upright citizen likely to be called Bernard and be a MD of a company?"
            "Oh." I could hear the smile in Bodie's voice. "Well, I suppose so. From what I could see he was in his fifties, and well-padded round the middle, probably from all those business lunches…"
            "Why does your mind always gravitate to food, Bodie?"
            "It's only when I'm hungry."
            "That's what I said - always…"

           It was going to be a long night. Adamson hadn't stayed long; barely half an hour passed before he was back in the Jaguar and driving away. Nothing doing. I logged his visit and departure, noting the times, interrupted by Bodie.
            "Do you understand why we're doing this?"
            "The surveillance, or the job?"
            "I meant the surveillance, but if there's an answer as to why we do the job…"
            "I don't know it." I knew Bodie hadn't been listening to the briefing we got from Cowley about Talbot-Jones. Mind you, it had all started to get a bit complicated so a lot of it had gone over my head too. "Something about Sir Alex being promoted and posted overseas by the Foreign Office as our representative at NATO talks. And with all that kerfuffle over Lister last month they want him checked out."
            "Oh yeah. I remember that."
            He would. Although the pictures of the Right Honourable Andrew Lister being chased naked along a street in Soho by three equally naked, nubile young blondes had made the front page of nearly every newspaper, so it was hardly surprising.
            "Anyway, Sir Alex's brother-in-law works for MI6, so Cowley was asked if we'd do a bit of discreet checking up…"
            "And so far, it's a big, fat zero. No girls, anyway."
            "No. Not so far." I sighed.

           Everything went quiet for a while. Well, as quiet as things ever get in London, anyway. I could feel my eyelids closing, and thumbed the R/T.
            "You still awake?"
            "Yeah…"
            "Me too. Just. Got any more jokes?"
            "S'your turn. You must have learned some in the army…"
            I chuckled. "Too blue for your shell-likes, sunshine."
            "C'moff it Bodie."
            I thought for a minute. "OK. Try this one. Irish bloke staggers into a pub, a bit pissed but happy with it. He makes it to the bar and orders a pint of Guinness, then turns to the man beside him and offers to buy him a drink. The second bloke accepts in a broad Irish accent. First bloke asks him where he's from. 'Dublin.' he answers - first bloke claps him on the shoulder and says, 'Begorrah and there's a miracle! 'Tis there I'm from, meself…' and buys another round of drinks."
            I paused, grinning. Ray's voice came over the R/T, wary but interested.
            "Yeah, OK. Go on…"
            "So the first paddy says, 'An' which school was it you were at, boyo?' Second one raises his pint and says St Mary's. 'Ah good Christ!' bellows the first. 'Me own school it was, but. An' when did y'leave?' Second paddy frowns in thought for a moment, wobbling a bit on the bar stool, then grins. 'T'was 1945 they chucked me out, so t'was.' First paddy is now flabbergasted. "Oh holy mother of god! Barman, another round o' your best fer me an' me old schoolmate here.' Barman pours two more pints. By now the pair are attracting a fair bit of attention, slapping each other on the back and waving their arms about. Making a fair bit of noise too, but the barman isn't doing anything about it."
            I paused for a quick slurp of coffee.
            "Get to the punchline, Bodie." Ray sounded resigned.
            "A regular comes in, and orders his usual, watching the antics with some disbelief. As the barman hands him his change, he nods to the pair. 'What's going on there, then?' Barman shrugs. 'Nuthin' to worry about,' he says, 'just the O'Malley twins drunk again…' "
            There was a pregnant pause, then Ray groaned loudly. "That's worse than mine!"
            I followed it up with a quick one. "What did the fish say when it hit a concrete wall?"
            "Oh God…. I don't know - what did the fish say when it hit a concrete wall?"
            "Dam."
            This time the groan was prolonged. "s'just as well you're in the other car…"

           The time passed - slowly. Cowley's insistence on us both being mobile because of the possible need for one of us to back-up the other surveillance team had come to nothing. By five-thirty we were both still sitting in our respective cars, both tired from only grabbing a few minutes' sleep here and there, and both cursing the Cow. At least in one car we could spell each other and get some rest; separated we both had to stay at least relatively alert…
            Marriott arrived and pulled his car to a halt in front of mine and I bleeped Bodie. "Christopher Robin's here. We can go home now."
            "About time… I need some sleep."
            "Whadya mean, you need sleep? This is CI5, sunshine, not some cushy mercenary outfit!" I heard Bodie start his engine, the muttered reply unprintable.
            "I'm gonna call Charlie later. You on for lunch if she and Lindsey are free?"
            He sounded slightly more enthusiastic. "As long as they don't expect me to be energetic."
            "You'll be OK after a few hours sleep. But I can make your apologies if you're not up to it…"
            Bodie immediately sounded better. "I'll be up to it…"

           I'd chosen the Thames Court Inn down in Shepperton because the food was usually good (which would keep Bodie happy) and it's location on the river made it particularly pleasant on such a hot day. Charlie had leapt at lunch, accepting for Lindsey as well, and we'd agreed to meet at twelve-thirty.
            Picking Bodie up at twelve, I was amused to see my partner was out to impress - but whether Charlie or Lindsey was the target I wasn't sure. He'd chosen to wear what were probably the tightest trousers he owned, black needlecord, and a matching casual jacket, with a rather expensive, midnight blue shirt, the one which he reckoned did something for him with the girls.
            Myself, I'd gone for what Bodie would call my 'sartorial inelegance'. I knew I looked good, however, and was hoping Charlie would think so too. If she declared a preference for me, and Lindsey was there, Bodie might just leave Charlie alone.

           I'd never let him know it, of course, but Ray was looking particularly tasty - tight, jade green brushed cotton jeans, pale green shirt (as usual unbuttoned practically to his waist), russet leather belt and boots and a light russet and green plaid jacket. He should wear green more often. It suits him.
            I looked him up and down, hands on my hips. Lucky Charlie.
            "You might have made a bit of an effort! How'd you expect any girl to go for you looking like a scruff? Not to mention embarrassing me…"
            He scowled at me from under long, freshly-washed curls. Wouldn't be too many more days and he'd want to get them trimmed, more's the pity…
            "Sod off Bodie. We're not all vain like you."
            "Vain? I'm not vain. Just take a healthy interest in my appearance, that's all…"

           A few minutes later, in the car and tooling through the sunny afternoon, I turned to Ray.
            "You know those three legionnaires?"
            Ray glanced at me, frowning. "You what?"
            "Those three legionnaires. The ones in your joke."
            He nodded, a touch reluctantly. "Yeah…"
            "Well, after they'd recovered from the 'am bush, they were sent on another recce." I ignored his melodramatic groan and continued. "And as they waded through the sand in the heat of noon, they saw yet more mirages on the horizon. Castles, oases, even a circus tent. But the oddest one was a market. The pieces of cake on the stalls puzzled them to start with, but they ignored them. The mounds of jelly were a bit harder to ignore, but they managed it. But weirdest of all were the enormous puddles of custard everywhere."
            I paused for effect. Ray was gritting his teeth, and his voice sounded strangled. "Well, go on…"
            "When they'd finally left the mirage behind, one turned to the other two and said, 'Zat was very strange…'. 'Oui,' said one of the others. 'It was a
trifle bizarre…' "
            For a couple of seconds there was silence, then Ray groaned and thumped me.
            "That's 'orrible!! That's worse than mine!" He glared at me. "Tell me - do all your jokes involve food?"
            I thought for a moment, then nodded. "Most of 'em."
            He shook his head in despair….

           The girls had reached the pub before us, and we were both conscious of the scrutiny as we made our way over to the table they'd got. I was scanning them as well; Charlie looked stunning in a loosely-fitting pale blue dress. She didn't seem to be showing any ill effects from the attack a couple of days ago, although her fringe was brushed lower than usual, probably to hide the plaster over the stitches. Lindsey was in jeans, darker than usual blue denim and tightly fitting, and a white cotton blouse.
            "Hello, love." I kissed Charlie gently on the cheek; perhaps in deference to Lindsey, Bodie didn't make any such move.
            The girls exchanged a glance, clearly communicating in some way, and I got the distinct impression they were both amused about something.
            "So what are we drinking?" Bodie sounded slightly dubious; I think he'd picked up the same vibes.
            Lindsey dragged her attention away from me, and ran her eyes approvingly over Bodie. "We've ordered a bottle of wine - dry white. I hope that's OK?"
            "Perfect."
            I grinned. Bodie wasn't much of a wine buff; as long as it was alcoholic he'd drink it. "It'll be fine. Have you looked at the menu yet?"
            Charlie passed the menu card over. "We've not ordered yet; thought we'd wait until you got here. But it looks good."
            There was a pause as the waiter arrived with a bottle of wine and four glasses and proceeded to show Charlie the label and pour a small amount for her to try. She sipped, then nodded and waved the waiter away. Lifting the bottle before either Bodie or I could pick it up, Charlie poured a glass for Lindsey and filled her own.
            "Wine, Bodie?"
            Straight-faced, he let out a noise like a whimpering dog. Lindsey got the joke immediately and burst into giggles, while Charlie looked suitably baffled. Suppressing my grin, I enlightened her. "You asked him to whine, Charlie."
            She rolled her eyes. "Oh God..."
            "And I have to work with him…"

           I smirked as I reached for the menu. "You know you love me really… OK - what do they have to offer…?"
            There was a good selection, both of fairly standard pub grub - with the traditional ploughman's, haddock and chips, chicken and chips, scampi and chips - as well as a variety of more unusual dishes. The day's specials were chalked up at the bar; shepherd's pie, curry with rice, T-bone steak and salad, duck á l'orange.
            "I know what I fancy." I managed to include both Lindsey and Charlie in my leer. Ray scowled, but before he could speak, I added, "Chicken in a basket."
            Lindsey giggled, gazing at me from under lowered lashes. "I quite fancy the soup of the day. And maybe a shepherd's pie? Though it's bit hot for that…"
            I twinkled at her. "Well, if you don't fancy a hot shepherd, how about a tasty ploughman?"
            Ray tossed me a long-suffering look. "You'd never pass for either. Sheepdog, maybe…"
            "Woof woof."
            Lindsey patted my head: I panted at her. Ray chuckled.
            "Down boy."
            Charlie had watched the exchange with a benevolent, slightly superior smile. "A real hot dog, our Bodie."
            Lindsey stroked my hair. "Oh, I don't know. I think he's more like a cute puppy…"
            Ray nearly choked on his wine, and a spluttering fit put paid to any comments I might have come up with - which was probably just as well. What was this - 'get Bodie' week?
            Five minutes later, Ray duly thumped on back and revived with a glass of water, the girls had their own look at the menu. After a moment they both looked up.
            "I'll have the soup, and coronation chicken, please." Lindsey smiled at me, licking her lips. I smiled back. I like a woman with a healthy appetite…
            Charlie and Ray both opted for ploughman's lunches, and I was deputised to place the order.
            "OK; so that's two ploughman's - one ham, one stilton - one coronation chicken, one chicken of the day and one soup in a basket."
            Lindsey giggled again, and Ray threw me a disgusted look.
            "Just go, will you?"

           Lindsey was speaking when I got back to the table.

           "So if you've been partners that long, I suppose you know everything about each other?"
            "Far from it." I glanced at my partner. "I'm always finding out something new about Bodie."
            He caught the gleam in my eye and braced himself, wondering what I was about to say. "For instance, just yesterday I learned that Bodie is ticklish."
            The girls laughed, Lindsey grinning at him. "That's very interesting..."
            I could see Bodie was contemplating tickling matches with Lindsey and was undecided as to whether to be annoyed with me for giving away his secret or not.
            Amusement won, and he retaliated. "Oh, I'm sure Ray's got plenty of little foibles hidden away as well. And I expect Charlie could tell us a few…"
            The girls both laughed at me this time. "But you wouldn't expect her to kiss and tell, Bodie?" I asked.
            Charlie smirked and the girls exchanged another glance. There was definitely something going on there…

           The verbal fencing continued throughout the meal and I deduced that although Lindsey was interested in Bodie, so was Charlie, apparently. Although they were arguably both interested in me as well, from the looks they both kept throwing me.
            I gave up trying to second-guess them. It didn't often work, even with dumb blondes, and these two were far from that.
            When we'd finished eating, I got up. "I'll order coffee, and get the bill at the same time."
            Bodie grinned, presumably at the thought of me settling the bill. "Oh, Ray?" He sounded innocent.
            "Yeah?"
            "While you're there, ask them for the rest of the duck as well…"
            Oh God…

           Lunch eaten and enjoyed, wine drunk, we sat over coffee feeling very relaxed and comfortable. Lindsey was curled up in her seat, swivelled sideways to face me, arm draped over the back of the chair, eyes half-closed. She looked very kittenish, and I brushed my hand against her cheek.
            "Why don't we go for a row?" Before the words were completely out of my mouth I was mentally kicking myself. Wanting to impress Lindsey was one thing, but I was hardly dressed for something like that!
            And of course Ray jumped at it. I swear his eyes were twinkling.
            "Yeah - nice cool breeze on the river, swans, me 'n Charlie 'n Lindsey admiring, you rowing…"
            "Me?"
            He grinned. "Your idea, mate."
            Lindsey took my hand. "I think it's a lovely idea. And I'm sure we'll all help out…"
            I ignored Ray's muttered, "Speak for yourself!" and rose to my feet. Well, I could hardly say no, could I, after that…

           It was obvious that Bodie was beginning to regret the spontaneous offer to row. The black trousers didn't exactly leave him much room to move about and he was looking distinctly concerned about that shirt. "Something wrong, Bodie?"
            He looked past Lindsey to where I sat, arm round Charlie. "Not at all. I just didn't realise I'd be doing all the work."
            Lindsey slid back across the seats until she was next to him, and took one of the oars. "We'll row together, Bodie."
            Charlie laughed. "This is where we start going round in circles. We may never reach the bank again."
            Their joint denials were vociferous, and it was because Charlie and I were laughing so much that I nearly didn't see the speedboat.
            I had a vague impression of two occupants as the small launch - surely going much too fast for this stretch of river? - sped towards us - straight towards us…
            Charlie saw the danger in the same second I did, but before either of us could react, Bodie pulled an especially hard stroke at the moment when Lindsey caught a crab, and the rowing boat turned sideways… the speedboat caught us a glancing blow rather than a direct hit, but it was still enough to throw us all straight into the water…

           We surfaced, coughing and spluttering, to see the launch disappearing off into the distance. Ray helped Charlie get a grip on the upturned rowing boat: Lindsey was treading water near me, her face thunderous.
            "Bastards! What the…." She launched into a stream of abuse that would have done a squaddie proud. I listened with some amazement. Were women supposed to know language like that? I interrupted before she could get too carried away.
            "Everyone OK?"
            Lindsey paused in her eloquently obscene descriptions of our assailants and nodded: Ray glanced over to me, expression a little anxious.
            "Charlie bumped her head on the side of the boat. Think she's OK, but we need to get out of the water."
            Between us we managed to get a slightly dazed Charlie safely to the river bank. I hauled myself out and reached back to help the girls, while Ray pulled himself up ready to hold Charlie once she was out of the water.
            Talk about a sorry sight… Soaked through, thoroughly pissed off, I joined Lindsey's chorus as I realised my bloody shirt was ruined

           I shook my head, trying to get rid of the Thames water - it smelt a good deal less fragrant than the shampoo I'd used earlier that day.
            The stench was the least of the girls' worries however. I watched Bodie's tirade falter to a halt in some amusement, as he realised that the light summer materials they were wearing had been adversely affected by the water.
            Charlie's dress had gone from loose to clinging, giving the impression that it had shrunk several sizes - and it possibly had; I wasn't an expert but I did know some things should be dry-cleaned to avoid shrinkage…
            I pulled off my jacket. It was as wet through as everything else but at least it would give Charlie some shielding from the gaze of the people who had gathered to help. She pulled it round her with a relieved smile, and I looked back at Bodie.
            His eyes were round, jaw slightly dropped. It was Lindsey who had caught his attention.
            The crisp white cotton blouse had gone transparent. And what was worse - or better, depending on the viewpoint of the individual - was the apparent lack of any underwear.
            She was still swearing, not as loudly as previously but still with some vehemence, pausing only to look pointedly at Charlie now wrapped in my jacket, and Bodie, still wearing his…
            "Catching goldfish, Bodie?"
            He shut his mouth with a gulp, just as the funny side of the situation got to Lindsey and she started to giggle.
            I grinned myself. "Give Lindsey your jacket…"
            "I can't." Bodie hissed, embarrassed, in a voice low enough for only the three of us to hear. "I'm carrying…"
            Lindsey cast a look over herself, still giggling, and Charlie began to offer her my jacket; her own dress was clinging, but not indecent. Smiling, Lindsey shook her head, throwing out her chest and stretching her arms up to pull her hair back and wring some more water out of it, giving Bodie, and every other male onlooker, a fine eyeful…

           I moved forwards smartly and wrapped an arm across her shoulders, pulling her slightly towards me and holding her so that her arms were more or less covering the evidence of just how cold river water can be, even on a hot day.
            "Come on, love. Let's get you two to the car."
            She looked across at Charlie.
            "Oooh, he's the perfect gentleman, guarding my honour!" She glanced up at me, big-eyed, a sly smile on her lips, her voice pitched so only I could hear it. "Or are you staking a claim?"
            I smiled back. "I wouldn’t dare!" I was not about to admit that the idea was extremely appealing. Lindsey had a lovely body. It wasn't only my mind that was declaring its interest in her….
            Ray distracted me before I could embarrass myself. "We gonna stand here til we take root? I wanna get clean and dry. And Charlie needs checking over."
            Charlie pulled herself slightly away from Ray. She looked a little pale, but otherwise OK.
            "I don't need a nanny. I'm perfectly all right."
            Ray glanced at me, rolling his eyes. I smirked.
            "Now you know how I feel!"
            We dripped our way to the car and squelched into the seats. Ray groaned, and I glanced at him, concerned.
            "You OK? You're not hurt are you?"
            "No. Just imagining what the Cow's gonna say about the car."
            I winced as I looked at the water on the floor and staining the upholstery. Ray was right - he wouldn't be pleased.
            "He'll have us driving Reliant Robins before we can turn 'round…"
            "Just drive, will you?" I'm not overly fond of sitting in wet clothes, and the girls were beginning to look a little chilled in the back seat. I turned to them.
            "Drop you back at Charlie's?" Lindsey nodded quickly before Charlie could object, then glared at her boss. "Just shut up for once."
            Charlie glowered back. "Just think yourself lucky we're off-duty…"

           "Want us to come up?"
            Lindsey smiled regretfully, her eyes giving me the once over, pausing for a moment at my groin. "Much as I'd like to say 'yes', I think I'd better get Charlie comfortable."
            A glance confirmed that Charlie was still a bit pale and flagging a little, and I nodded.
            "How about dinner? Sometime next week?"
            She inclined her head pensively, tongue licking at her lower lip in what was - I'm sure - an unconscious but nevertheless extremely cute little gesture. She smiled.
            "I'd like that."
            I kissed her nose. "I'll give you a ring. What's your number?"
            "Ring the office. I'll check my diary."
            Hmm. Hedging her bets? Maybe just cautious. I nodded. "I'll look forward to it."

           It wasn't until I got into the car that I realised that our dunking had plastered my trousers tightly - and revealingly - to my body. Which wasn't behaving itself particularly well anyway. I groaned. Ray grinned.
            "Well, I wouldn't worry about it. If nothin' else, you've given her a lot to day-dream about…"

           My place was closest. By the time we had both showered and I'd made us coffee (accompanied throughout by Bodie's complaints about the destruction of his shirt) I'd begun to wonder about the incident.
            Bodie was no help. "Well, I had my back to them. I was busy rowing, if you remember. But why d'you think it was any more than an accident?"
            "The speedboat didn't stop."
            Bodie shrugged. "Hit 'n runs. Happens on the roads; why not the river?"
            "Dunno. But if they'd hit us squarely chances are we'd not have got off so lightly. And I'm almost certain they were aiming for us." I reached for the phone. "Charlie saw it. I'll see what she thinks."

           From what I could hear of the conversation, Charlie was of the same opinion: it had been deliberate. Not that that got us much further forward - the world is full of idiots who think it's funny to drop others in it, literally. Still, we needed to go back and check it out. Our afternoon off was ruined, as was my shirt; Ray's car was a mess; I'd had the bloody inconvenience of having to strip down and clean my Browning; and whether Charlie and Lindsey would ever agree to another date was an open question (though Lindsey still seemed keen…)
            As Ray put the phone down I re-holstered the gun, and grabbed my keys and a couple of bin liners to put on the seats.
            "Come on then. I'll drive. Let's pick up my car and get yours back to the car pool."

           By the time we got back to Shepperton Bodie's sense of humour had re-emerged. As we left the car, he grinned at me, cupping his hands and pretending to use a megaphone. "Come in Number 9, your time is up."
            The joke was so old it had a walking stick, but I grinned and went along with it. "But there are only 6 boats."
            "Number 6 - are you in trouble…?"
            The boathouse owner was slightly less amused. He'd retrieved the upturned rowing boat which was damaged, albeit only slightly, and was demanding compensation. We skirted the issue and asked instead about the speedboat - where did it come from, had he seen the occupants?
            He wasn't trying to be unhelpful, but he couldn't tell us anything we couldn't work out for ourselves. The speedboat came from a boathouse a bit further downriver, and he hadn't seen anyone clearly. And as for the compensation…
            "Surely you've got insurance? We're the innocent parties, here. We're the ones who ought to be entitled to compensation for the damage to our clothes and so on."
            He didn't like it, but looking at the pair of us, obviously didn't feel inclined to argue.
            We located the speedboats without any trouble, but drew another blank. The owner hired them out by the hour for cash, and it seemed, providing they came back, he wasn't worried what happened in the meantime.

           Irritating as it was, it looked as though we'd just have to chalk it up to bad luck. For now, we had something else to do - go and confess to Cowley about the car before one of the car pool mechanics beat us to it…
            Unfortunately, one of them already had.

           Cowley towered over us, furious.
            "Why is your car full of duckweed, Doyle?"
            I half-sang a few bars. "Villains and criminals you've managed to foil,
            But why is your car full of duckweed, Doyle?"
            Cowley was looking at me oddly. I managed a smile. Just. Obviously my attempt to defuse the situation had not been successful…
            "Good title for a music hall number. Sir."
            He bristled at me. "That's quite enough from you, 3.7. This is the fourth time your car's had to be taken out of service this year, Doyle. D'ye think the department's made of money?"
            Ray opened his mouth to reply, but the Old Man didn't give him a chance.
            "Is that it, or did you have something else in mind? Perhaps I should issue you with a tank?"

           I managed to control my scowl. "Not exactly our fault that someone decided to ditch us overboard. We hadn't actually decided to go swimming."
            Bodie tried to make up for his disastrous joke. "And I suggested we go rowing in the first place. Sir."
            Cowley frowned at him. That obviously made no difference. I sighed inwardly as Bodie took one step backwards, leaving me to face the music.
            I tried an apology. "I'm sorry, sir."
            That didn't make much difference either. So I tried an explanation. "We think it might've been deliberate. The speedboat headed right for us."
            That was enough to take Cowley's mind off the car. "What do you mean?"
            "I'm not sure. We escaped with just a soaking, but it could've been worse. And after that attempted mugging the other night, I'm wondering whether it could be linked."
            "Did you recognise anyone?"
            Bodie risked rejoining the conversation. "Happened too fast to see anyone. But it is a coincidence - and we don't trust them…"
            "I don't either. Any ideas?"
            I shrugged. "Nothing springs to mind. I haven't had any more threats than usual."
            Cowley nodded. "You're back on surveillance? Well, watch your backs, and keep me informed. And try not to damage any more cars…"

           Following Cowley's instructions, we watched our backs. But that night's surveillance, and the following day, and the next night, again on surveillance, passed off without incident…

           Baine took over from us at 6. I looked at Ray.
            "Do you think we could plead insanity and escape from any more surveillance jobs?"
            Ray yawned widely and peered at me, owlishly, then started the motor. "What, you wanna risk Cowley invoking catch 22?" He shook his head sadly. "Won't work. To stop doing surveillance, we need to be mad, and to prove we're mad, we have to ask for more surveillance. Which Cowley will give us, 'cause he's like that. But if we ask for no more surveillance, that proves we're not mad and are eligible for more surveillance." He frowned and scratched his head. "Have I got that right?"
            I shrugged. "No idea. I've never read the book."
            As Ray glowered at me the R/T bleeped. I picked it up, glad of the distraction. It was HQ.
            "3.7? Patching through a call for 4.5 from a DS Roberts."
            Seconds later Lindsey's voice came loud and clear and anxious over the handset.
            "Ray? Thank God. Can you get over to St Thomas's? Charlie's hurt."
            Before she'd finished speaking, Ray floored the accelerator. I gripped the R/T with one hand and the dashboard with the other and hung on as he performed the tightest U-turn I'd ever seen and screeched along the road in the direction of Lambeth.
            "What happened?"
            "Bodie? You're there?" I could almost see her shake her head in self-deprecation. "Where else would you be..? She was walking to her car after working late last night. Two men attacked her."
            I glanced at Ray. His mouth was set in a tight line.
            "How is she?"
            "She was beaten and stabbed. She's OK." She added quickly, obviously aware of the response her words would have: "Well, she's alive and she will be OK. They're going to keep her in for a couple of days."

           I slung the car into the most convenient bay - Mr Consultant Kingsford would have to walk a bit further if he turned up - and Bodie and I flew into the hospital's Casualty department.
            A few words at the desk established that Charlie had been taken up to one of the wards and we headed for the lift. Beside me, Bodie was tense - but probably not as worried as I was.
            Lindsey met us in the corridor, looking like she'd spent a long night at the hospital, and we soon established she had. "Ray, Bodie."
            "Where's Charlie?" In spite of her reassurances, I wouldn't be satisfied Charlie wasn't in any danger until I'd seen her.
            Bodie had stepped forward to hug Lindsey. "Give the girl a chance, Ray."
            I took a deep breath, and managed a weak smile. "Sorry, Lindsey. Didn't mean to push you. Is she really OK?"
            Lindsey pulled away from Bodie with an apologetic smile. "S'OK. Been a long night for me - and Charlie. But she will be all right. She's taken a stab wound to her lower back, it's pretty nasty but it missed everything vital. And they knocked her about so she's got some bruises."
            "Can we see her?" I looked up and down the corridor. "Which room is she in?"
            Lindsey shook her head. "They've sedated her. She'll be out for a couple more hours at least. But she wanted me to call you. She recognised her attackers as the muggers from the other night, when you two were at the pub."
            Bodie looked at me. "The other night, you thought they were after Charlie first. D'you think…"
            "They were after her all along? Beginning to look like it."
            "Well, Charlie wanted to let you know that you're off the hook."
            "In one way, maybe. Now we need to find out why Charlie's being targeted."
            "It's nothing to do with CI5, though. It'll be a Yard case." Lindsey shrugged. "Look, it's obvious you two have just come off surveillance. You look knackered. Why don't you go and get some rest? I'll call you if anything happens."
            I shook my head. "I'll stay until I can see Charlie. Doesn't matter how long I have to wait."

           I just knew he was going to say that….
            "OK. Where's the coffee machine? Or is there a restaurant here? I could just go a bacon butty…"
            Lindsey smiled tiredly and glanced at Ray. "Does he ever stop thinking about his stomach?"
            Ray grinned briefly, but it was clear he was distracted. "Not often."
            Lindsey shook her head. "The restaurant doesn't open til 8, I'm afraid. But there's a coffee machine around the corner. Get me one as well, will you? Black, no sugar."

           I slid wearily onto a chair. Apart from any other considerations, Charlie was a good friend and had waited in hospitals for me before now. And I wasn't surprised Bodie had stayed. I didn't know how far his relationship had gone with Charlie, but he did care about her. We both owed her a fair bit for her nursing talents after the Ibbotson case.
            I started to relax, both from the modicum of relief I felt that Charlie would be all right, and also because I was tired, which was to be expected after all the nights we'd spent on surveillance recently. No matter how much dozing you did during the day to try and catch up, nothing really does the trick like a good night's uninterrupted sleep.
            Bodie returned with the drinks. He'd automatically brought me one, even though I'd not asked for it. One of these days I'd get him to stop nursemaiding me, but for now I took it, unable to deny that I need the caffeine.
            My thoughts returned to Charlie. I'd been worried sick when Lindsey had first reached us, and I wouldn't be completely reassured until I'd seen her for myself. I wondered if I could put in for any leave. She might not be kept in hospital for very long - and knowing Charlie she'd discharge herself as soon as she could anyway - but she'd need a bit of looking after.
            If she'd let me.
            I glanced across the corridor to where Bodie had ensconced himself next to Lindsey, and appeared to be chatting her up. Never missed an opportunity…

           I handed Lindsey her coffee and settled myself in the seat beside her. For a couple of minutes we sat in silence, watching Ray worrying to himself on the opposite side of the corridor. Then Lindsey sighed.
            "You OK?"
            She glared at me. "You mean, apart from waiting up all night desperate to hear if my friend is going to be all right?"
            Fair enough, she was worried about Charlie, but I could do without the sarcasm right now. I kept my voice very low.
            "Yes, I mean apart from that. We've all been here, love. I've lost track of the times I've had to sit and wait for news of Ray - and I know he's done the same for me. It goes with the job, for us."
            She grimaced, and laid a hand lightly on mine.
            "Sorry. It's been one hell of a night."
            I wrapped an arm across her shoulders and felt her relax against me.
            "I know. You need to rest."
            She glanced up at me. God, she looked beautiful when she was tired, all heavy-eyed and vulnerable… I kissed her forehead, and she smiled faintly.
            "Thank you."
            I frowned very slightly. "For what?"
            "Being here. And understanding. I appreciate it. I know Charlie would too." She flashed me a quick, tired grin. "After she'd nagged you to death about 'wasting' your time hanging about here instead of getting your beauty sleep!"
            I chuckled quietly. I could imagine her doing it, too. I pulled Lindsey a little closer, resting her head on my shoulder and occasionally murmuring to her as we waited…

           About 7 am a doctor appeared and told Lindsey that Charlie was awake - if drowsy - and could talk to her. He regarded us suspiciously while talking to Lindsey, and it wasn't until Ray produced his ID that he agreed to allowing us into the room.
            Charlie looked bloody awful. Left eye swollen and purple, bruising across her cheek, split lip… There were more bruises on her arms where they lay on top of the pale blue hospital bedding. Ray blanched.
            "Charlie?" It was almost whispered. He took her hand, very gently. She opened her good eye and tried to smile - he hushed her before she could speak, and pulled the chair closer to the bedside.
            "Can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"
            She shook her head very slightly and glanced past him to Lindsey. Her voice was a little shaky, but she was in control of herself.
            "Get the warrant."
            Lindsey nodded.
            "Pick him up. And be careful - you remember what happened last time."
            Lindsey's expression became grim. "I remember. Don't worry."
            Charlie's eyes focused on me, a faint frown on her face. Lindsey smiled. She and Charlie seemed to have the same sort of rapport as Ray and myself - at any rate, she knew what her boss was thinking. She turned to me.
            "Are you doing anything right now, Bodie?"
            I glanced at Ray still intent on Charlie. "We're off duty til later."
            "Want to come with me? I'll fill you in on the way."
            I certainly didn't want to deprive myself of the pleasure of her company, but I hesitated. Ray looked up at me.
            "I'm OK. I'll stay here for a bit."
            "Sure?"
            "Yeah. Go on. I'll see you later."

           After they left, Charlie had tried again to talk to me, but I wouldn't let her. I'd been worried enough before I saw her.
            "We can leave the discussions until later. Lindsey told us you'd recognised them; that's enough for now."
            "But…"
            I pressed a finger softly against her split lip. "Shh. No buts. I'm staying with you; get some more sleep."
            For once she did as she was told, and within minutes was breathing quietly and evenly. I adjusted the position of the chair so that I could lean back comfortably and still maintain a gentle clasp on her hand, and closed my own eyes. May as well try and get in a bit of sleep while I had the chance.

           "So who are we picking up?"
            I'd left the car for Ray; Lindsey drove us to Scotland Yard with a speedy efficiency and economy of effort that would have been the envy of a goodly number of male drivers I knew. She answered without looking at me, her attention on the morning rush hour traffic just beginning to cause its usual havoc.
            "His name's Jackson. He's the main distributor for the paedophile ring we're trying to crack - one of the nastier specimens of the human male."
            I frowned. "And what happened last time?"
            She scowled. "We went in short-handed. Charlie, me and one DC. Jackson had a couple of heavies with him." She winced at the memory. "Nasty pair they were. No respect for authority. Anyway, they kept us busy and he had time to get rid of his evidence. All we found was some normal porn. All we could charge him and his gorillas with was assault."
            I watched her with some concern. "You were hurt?"
            She shrugged. "Not badly. Anyway, it's my job."
            "Should you be on jobs like that?"
            She frowned at me. "What are you implying?"
            This was not the time to come over all protective: she'd assume I was being a chauvinist and that wouldn't do me any good at all. I tried to choose my next words with care.
            "Only that it would have been better to take more officers with you."
            She sighed exaggeratedly, her tone patronising. "Yes, Bodie, of course it would have been. But we didn't have the manpower."
            I nodded. That sounded familiar. "So would it help if I came along with you, this time? I know it's not our case, but if you want a body to add some weight to your argument, I've nothing planned for the next few hours."
            Her eyes flickered towards me, and she smiled.
            "So you can hover and look threatening?"
            "Well, I could try…"
            She chuckled. "Bodie, you do an excellent impersonation of a hard man, especially when you've been on duty all night and look like you do right now."
            I ran a hand across my stubble and smiled ruefully. "Sorry. No time to shave. Or wash and change…"
            She patted my knee. "Don't worry about it. I think you look wonderful."
            I was still wondering quite how to take that when we pulled into the Yard. Lindsey left me in the car while she went to collect the warrant, arriving back minutes later with a couple of burly, non-uniformed constables in tow. They slid into the back seat, grim and unspeaking, and Lindsey headed off for Hampstead.

           We arrived just before nine. It was a very nice house in a quiet suburb; unostentatious but by no means cheap, either to buy or maintain, going by the size and condition of the property. Pornography must pay.
            Lindsey frowned as she regarded the premises, then looked at me.
            "There're French windows to the rear, and the garden backs onto a lane. If he gets out that way we'll never catch him."
            "Just as well you brought me along, then." I smiled. "I'll go and hover threateningly at the back door, shall I?"
            She kissed my cheek, ignoring the stonily disapproving stares of the constables. "Thanks. We'd prefer him uninjured if possible. But we do want him, so you needn't be too careful if he gives you grief."
            I nodded and made my way discreetly over the wall and into position to one side of the doors.

           A high pitched scream had me tensing alertly, and I just had time to register that it wasn't Lindsey's voice when the door flew open and a figure charged out. I flung myself at him, grabbing him around the waist and dragging him to the ground in what was, though I say it myself, a pretty decent flying tackle. Taken by surprise, he didn't think to struggle for a moment or two, by which time I'd delivered a couple of disabling punches and pinned his arms behind his back: Lindsey's constables charged through the door to find me sitting on Jackson's back, my weight holding him prone. I smirked up at them.
            "What kept you?"
            Stone-faced, they hauled Jackson upright as I climbed off, dragging him, feebly protesting about police brutality, to the car.
            Lindsey was in Jackson's 'office', a stark small room full of filing cabinets, folders, ledgers and record books, and piles of envelopes. She stood at a window, leafing through a file filled with photographs, an expression of utter distaste on her face. She glanced up as I entered.
            "OK?"
            I nodded, flexing my fingers. "Think I bruised my knuckles on his teeth."
            If I'd been hoping for sympathy I was disappointed. She nodded distractedly and closed the file. "Well, we've got everything we need for a conviction. We make this stick and he'll be going away for a good long stretch." One of the DC's came back in with a pile of boxes, and Lindsey nodded her thanks. "Can you two give me a hand packing all this up? Larry," she waved a hand towards a precarious pile of A4 wallets, "can you get those? Bodie, you start over there."

           I grabbed a box and began clearing Jackson's desk of the sealed and numbered envelopes stacked there. Beside them was a slim, innocuous looking ledger: curious, I opened it. There, in alphabetical order, was a list of addresses and codes. I frowned.
            "What's this?"
            Lindsey put the last folder from the filing cabinet into her box and came over to look. She pursed her lips.
            "Looks like Jackson's client list."
            Heads together, we ran our eyes down the list. Lindsey was about to turn the page when one name caught my eye.
            "Wait a minute. Adamson Electronics. Now why do I know that name ?"
            I tried to remember, concentrating through my tiredness. The name conjured up images of the desert, and a barrel of rum… I snapped my fingers.
            "Got it. Bernard. "
            Lindsey frowned impatiently. "Care to elaborate?"
            I perched on the corner of the desk. "Bernard Adamson. Managing director of Adamson Electronics." My mind was racing. It was a tenuous connection at best, but our standing brief was to check everything, no matter how unlikely. If there was a connection between Jackson and Adamson, we had to know about it. And if there was the slightest chance of a further link to Talbot-Jones, we definitely had to look into it. "They handle some very hush-hush military contracts. And they may be connected to the case we're on at the moment." I shook my head and held up the ledger. "I'll have to report back to Cowley. Can I take this with me?"
            Lindsey was reluctant. "That's central to our case. If anything happens to it, Charlie will have my head."
            "I'll bring it straight back, I promise." I put on my most trustworthy expression. I didn't want to have to pull rank - it would put the kibosh on any chance I might have with her - but I would if I had to. CI5 outranked the Yard, especially where national security was concerned.
            But Lindsey knew it, and gave in, though not particularly gracefully. I sympathised, but I had a job to do, too. I gave her a quick kiss.
            "Thanks, sweetheart. I'll get it back to you in a couple of hours."
            She was still unhappy. "If there's going to be any delay, ring me. And don't let it out of your sight."

           Cowley wasn't going to like my next expenses chit, but a taxi was the quickest way back to base. The Old Man's head was buried in a file when I knocked and stuck my head around his door. He glanced up quickly, then did a double take and scowled.
            "What sort of a state is that to come here in?"
            "Sorry, sir, but this couldn't wait until I'd shaved."
            "You'd better come in."
            Ten minutes later Cowley was frowning, obviously disturbed by the information I'd imparted.
            "Adamson Electronics are handling some very big Defence contracts at the moment - and not just for this country. We'll have to investigate. If there is a pervert in the company, there's always the possibility of blackmail. And that could be disastrous if it's someone in the upper echelons."
            "What about the possible connection between Adamson and Sir Alex?"
            Cowley sighed. "Aye, there's that to consider too." He swung his spectacles by one arm. "We can't spare many men at the moment: there's another of those damned terrorist groups threatening trouble." He paused, deep in thought.
            "Right. Since you've managed to get yourselves involved in this from the Yard end as well, I want you and Doyle liaising with - what're their names?"
            "DI Colfield and DS Roberts."
            He nodded thanks. "We'll have to get someone into Adamson Electronics and find out where the packages are going, who's receiving the photographs." He thought for a moment. "Start at the bottom. Let's get someone into the postroom."
            My face must have fallen: he smiled, briefly. "No, not you, 3.7. I need to hold you in reserve in case we need someone undercover. Wouldn't do you any harm to brush up on what's new in the military department, either. I'll contact DI Colfield. I'm sure the Yard can spare someone. Where's Doyle?"
            "Still at the hospital. With DI Colfield. She was stabbed."
            Cowley frowned. "Stabbed, you say. And you were together when your wee boat was rammed."
            "Yes sir. And Charlie - DI Colfield - was attacked a week ago, leaving a pub with Ray."
            The Old Man nodded, pursing his lips. "Someone want her out of the way, d'you think?"
            "It's beginning to look like it. But they're being very obvious about it."
            "Maybe just trying to scare her off?"
            I chuckled. "Then they've underestimated her!"
            Cowley glanced at me, lips quirked and a twinkle in his eye. He rose and limped over to pour himself a glass of malt, glancing at my pleading expression as he took a sip, and shaking his head.
            "None for you, lad. You're exhausted, and we don't want any more cars damaged. Get yourself home and get some sleep. And tell 4.5 to do the same."

           Lindsey regarded me sombrely as I re-entered the office, the precious ledger in my hand. She took it from me and laid it on the desk, then caught my face between her hands, frowning into my half-closed eyes.
            "You're exhausted! When did you last get any sleep?"
            I gave up trying to work out a precise figure and shrugged. "Day and a half ago?"
            She scowled at me. "You work too hard…"
            I tried for a smile. Nearly managed it, too. "No, really?"
            She took my hand decisively. "Come on. Give me a minute to hand the ledger over and I'll drive you home."
            I resisted. "Ray…"
            She shook her head. "It's OK. I rang the hospital: Charlie's sleeping, and Ray went home. He said he'll ring you later."

           There was something amazingly luxurious about allowing a lovely woman to drive me home. It wasn't until we were nearly at my flat that I suddenly remembered that she'd been up all night, too. I hauled myself up from where I'd slumped in the passenger seat, prised open my eyes and laid a hand very lightly on her thigh.
            "You must be tired too."
            She flashed me the quickest smile. "Yes."
            I hesitated for a moment. But was too tired to think for too long. "You're welcome to stay at mine. If you like."
            The glance she flashed me was a mix of the arch and the speculative. I sighed inwardly, resigned, too tired to push the point.
            "I'll sleep on the sofa."
            She pulled up at a traffic light and turned to look at me, her expression quizzical.
            "Now why would you want to do that when there's a perfectly good bed available..?"

           The insistent ringing of the phone roused me, slowly, reluctantly, from a deep and contented sleep. As I gradually came to, I became aware of the weight of Lindsey's head on my shoulder, the faint herby scent of her soft auburn hair, one slender, muscular arm laid across my ribs, one long leg twined between mine…
            I ran my free hand softly across her shoulder and down what I could reach of her back, then around the soft swell of her ribs to the front, stroking the curve of her breast. She wriggled and twisted fractionally to give me better access, and I ran my thumb across her nipple, circling and scratching lightly. She sighed and nuzzled my shoulder as the hand on my chest roamed lower, tracing patterns across my stomach and, with a strength and suddenness that brought me instantly fully awake, wrapping her hand around my erection and rubbing her thumb over the head.
            I groaned, thrusting mindlessly up into her grasp. Strong, knowing, practised fingers… Still gripping me firmly and rubbing herself slowly and teasingly against my body, she shifted until her tongue could lick the corner of my mouth.
            "Oh, Bodie….."
            I shivered and turned my head to kiss her. She evaded my lips.
            "Bodie… Don’t you think you ought to answer the phone?"
            She tweaked my cock, then moved slightly away, raising herself up onto her elbow and gazing down at me.
            "It might be Ray. Or maybe Charlie."
            I stared up at her disbelievingly. We'd collapsed into bed almost as soon as we'd arrived, too tired to do more than snuggle up together and flake out. (Not that I'd ever admit such a thing to anyone - that'd be my reputation shot down in flames right away!) But to get me going and then calmly suggest I answer the phone…?
            She was serious, too. She prodded me with one long, slender finger.
            "Go on."
            Grunting, I hauled myself out of bed and reached for my dressing gown. She grabbed the hem of it and yanked it off, smiling up and licking her lips when I turned to glower. Her eyes moved lower, appraising me: she raised an eyebrow, and reached to run a finger up the length of my shaft. I quivered, and she grinned.
            "Nice…. very nice. You've a gorgeous body, you know."
            I gaped at her, then scowled at the phone. She giggled and shooed me away.
            "Oh, just answer it will you? The suspense is killing me!"
            It was Ray. I made a mental note to kill him next time we were alone.
            "What do you want?"

           Bodie didn't sound too pleased. I injected innocence into my enquiry, having already guessed the answer. "Been trying to contact Lindsey. You wouldn't know where she is?"
            I didn't catch the response he growled down the phone, but I'd been right, as after a few muffled giggles Lindsey came on the line.
            "Ray? What's up?"
            "I'm back at the hospital. Charlie's awake, and feeling a lot better, but she wants to know how you got on this morning. Any chance you can come over?"
            She hesitated, and I used the few moments to picture the scene - Bodie had taken long enough to answer the phone, Lindsey was there with him…
            "Ah - I really need to have a shower first. Can you tell Charlie I'll be there in a about an hour?"
            I grinned. "Well, don't make it any longer. You know Charlie; if you don't come to her, she'll be out of here and coming to you…"

           Lindsey put the phone down and turned to me, moving forwards a pace, her nipples brushing against my chest. I clenched my teeth as she slipped her arms around my back and pulled me closer, trapping my erection against the curly hair at her groin and sliding her hands down to my cup my buttocks. Her nails made exquisitely painful little half-moon depressions in my skin.
            "It takes fifteen - maybe twenty - minutes to drive to the hospital from here…"
            I hugged her closer. "You did say you needed a shower…"
            She kissed my collarbone. "So do you. And a shave."
            I kissed her forehead. "We could save time by showering together…."
            "So we could…"

           Returning to Charlie's room I was still grinning.
            She looked at me quizzically. "Did you find her?"
            "Eventually." I dropped onto the edge of the bed, feeling stupidly relieved all over again that she was OK. "I'd give you three guesses where, but you wouldn't need that many."
            "With Bodie?"
            I nodded, curious to see how she took the news. "And they took a while to answer the phone."
            Charlie managed a smile, even with the split lip. "Bodie has powerful pheromones."
            "Probably just doesn't wear enough deodorant."
            She laughed outright at that, before groaning loudly. "Don't make me laugh, please. I'm too bruised."
            "I can see that. You should see it from this side. Looks like you've gone 10 rounds with Ali…"
            Her face fell. Charlie could never be described as vain, but no woman likes to be told she's looking rough.
            I squeezed her hand. "And it'll all fade and be gone in a few days. And you still look beautiful to me." I got a dubious look at the sincerity of my words, but I meant them genuinely. After a few moments she gave up trying to see anything but honesty in my face, and grimaced ruefully.
            "Liar. It'll take longer than that."
            "Not much. You'll be out in a couple of days, and the bruising will have disappeared long before you get back to work." I didn't get a reply to that, although I could see she was calculating just how quickly that would be and sighed to myself. I wasn't the only idiot who rushed back before they were fit.

           We do seem to know some tough women. Charlie was half sitting up when we arrived back at the hospital, and, apart from the bruising, looked better than my bedraggled, be-stubbled partner. I smirked and preened a little. He scowled.
            "OK - don't rub it in."
            Lindsey sat on the edge of Charlie's bed.
            "How you feeling?"
            Charlie sighed. "I wish people would stop asking that. How d'you think I feel?"
            "Sorry…" But Lindsey didn't seem too perturbed. I guessed it wasn't the first time the pair of them had been in this situation. She poured herself a glass of water and launched into a run down of the morning's events.
            "…I didn't have all that much time to question Jackson - I'll be tackling him in earnest later. But you can rest assured he's secure. And I've already briefed the Super. He said he'd keep an eye on progress and apply for an extension if we need it. I don't want him getting 'lost'…"
            Charlie glanced at me and quirked her lips, the most she could do in the way of a smile just now.
            "Thanks."
            I shrugged. "Anything to help out."
            Ray stared at me. "There speaks the man who doesn't like coppers!"
            Lindsey and Charlie exchanged looks, and Lindsey grinned at Ray.
            "I suppose it depends what the copper looks like!"
            I opened my mouth to object, but Lindsey carried on speaking.
            "Now, I need descriptions of the two who attacked you."
            Charlie groaned. "Must I?"
            "You know you must."
            "OK." She glanced at Ray. "Mind leaving us for a mo? You'll get your turn in a few minutes."

           I dragged Ray out into the corridor and towards the coffee machine, got us both a coffee then turned to face him.
            "Cowley been in touch?"
            He shook his head, frowning at my expression.
            "Ok - I'll fill you in…"
            It didn't take long, and at the end Ray was chewing his lip. I could almost see him tracing the connections - and the repercussions - in his mind.
            "Sounds nasty."
            I nodded. "It could be. The Old Man's probably going to need someone undercover at Adamson Electronics, someone with a military background."
            "You or Murphy, then."
            I nodded. "And Murph doesn't know the case background."
            He sighed. "Well, I don't suppose you can get up to much mischief in Adamson's office." I smirked, and he scowled at me. "What am I saying? There'll be secretaries..."
            "I know."
            "Hey, you better behave yourself. You wouldn't want to upset Lindsey now, would you?"
            "She'll understand."
            "And it might all be a storm in a teapot anyway."
            "Teacup."
            "What?"
            "Teacup. Storm in a teacup."
            He planted his hands on his hips and glared at me.
            "Why are we standing here talking about teapots?"
            I stared at him for a moment, then shook my head.
            "C'mon, let's get back to the girls…"

           It didn't take long for Ray to give Lindsey his description of the assailants, then we left Charlie to get some rest. Not that we had a lot of choice: the doctor all but chased us out of her room. Lindsey paused as we reached Ray's Capri, and caught my arm.
            "Dinner?"
            I smiled. "Sure you want to, after what happened last time?"
            She grinned. "Oh, I'll risk it. Got a pen?"
            Ray handed one out of the car window with a small flourish, and while I was scowling at him Lindsey wrote down a phone number on a piece of paper.
            "My home number." She explained, handing it to me. "Give me a ring in the morning."
            I grinned and carefully folded the note into my wallet, and waved goodbye as she drove off.
            "What d'you think?" Ray asked as I climbed into the car.
            "About what?"
            "Think Cowley'd still be in the office?"
            It was eight o'clock. "Probably."
            "Suppose we'd better call in, then." He reached for the R/T. I grabbed it before he could switch it on. He scowled and tried to grab it back: I held him off with one hand and tried to reason with him. Not an easy job when he's exhausted and worried…
            "Look, we've not had a decent night's sleep in weeks, and by the looks of it we're going to be landed with a big case in the next few days. And I bet you didn't sleep today." The very faintest sheepish expression passed over his face, to be immediately replaced by the stubborn look I knew so well. I sighed. "I know you want to get whoever did this to Charlie, but at the moment we don't have anything to go on. And in any case, how are you going to help her if you fall asleep at the wheel?" He was at least listening. "Cowley told us to get some rest. We're officially on standby until tomorrow mid-day: let's go for a pint and for once get an early night."
            He didn't like it, but I could see the cogs turning. He knew I was right. Finally he nodded.
            "OK. Where d'you wanna go?"

           I picked up Ray first thing the next morning and we were in Cowley's office by eight. He was, of course, already there, with his nose buried in a file: I wondered briefly if he'd been there all night. As we took our seats there was a knock on the door, and a young woman entered.
            "Ah, good. On time, I see." The Old Man waved her to a third seat and turned to us.
            "Miss Salter, Ray Doyle and Bodie." He smiled wryly. "You might have heard the names mentioned… Bodie, Doyle, this is Miss Salter. She usually works in our own Records Office, but has volunteered for active duty on this occasion. She'll be taking up a post in Adamson's postroom tomorrow."
            Credit where credit's due, Cowley doesn't waste a minute. Quite how he'd managed to pull that off in the time I'd never know. Not that I particularly cared at this moment. I caught Ray's eye, and saw he was thinking exactly the same as me. One - could she handle herself if things got nasty, and two, why the hell did Cowley keep such a lovely little darling shut away in Records!?

           Bodie was right; I was thinking the same as him. CI5 office personnel were given some basic training for just this sort of occasion, although they rarely had to use it. There shouldn't be any problem this time round; a week or so in the company postroom shouldn't draw unnecessary attention.
            As for his second thought, I knew exactly why Cowley had kept her hidden away in Records - it was the last place Bodie would be found in. I sometimes wondered how the Old Man managed to keep the female staff with Bodie around...

           Miss Salter (bit formal, that - we'd have to get to know her better) was endeavouring to ignore my attempts to flirt with her, concentrating studiously on what Cowley was telling us.
            "We checked on the records of the postroom staff at Adamson Electronics and was able to find someone we could - persuade - to take a few days sick leave. Miss Salter will ostensibly come from the Temporary Agency. I've spoken to DS Roberts, and arranged for her to mail the sealed package found at Jackson's today; it'll arrive tomorrow, and we'll find out who it gets delivered to. Are you listening, 3.7?"
            I stopped winking at Miss Salter and snapped to attention. Cowley had fixed me with his best steely glare.
            "Yes sir."
            "I'm very glad to hear it. In the meantime, I want you, Bodie, to familiarise yourself with the latest advances in weapons design. You'll be going undercover at Adamson Electronics as a consultant to the UK branch of the Independent Anglo-German Consortium." He glanced up at me over his glasses. "They're a non-governmental defence think-tank, a small outfit at the moment, but looking to expand in the future. You'll be nosy, and curious, and poke your nose in everywhere, trying to make sure the company will be able to fulfil your group's requirements."
            I frowned slightly. "I will be with the Anglo part of the outfit, won't I sir? My deutsch's not that good."
            Cowley nodded impatiently. "Of course you will." He took off his glasses and regarded me sombrely.
            "You'll need to spend a couple of days at their UK headquarters, getting to know the unit. I've arranged it all with Colonel Daniels: You're expected there at 3 this afternoon."
            I saw my plans for a frisky evening with Lindsey gurgling away down the drain. "Where, sir?"
            "Aldershot."

           I watched as Bodie's face fell. Not that far out of town, but far enough. And if I knew Cowley he'd have fixed it up so Bodie wouldn't have time to breathe, let alone sneak back to take anyone out.
            He took it well though. Wasn't as if Lindsey was going anywhere, after all, and she seemed keen enough on him to accept a postponement.
            "What about me, sir?" I should've known better than to ask.
            "Well, since Miss Salter is going to be away from her post for a few days..."
            Records! I frowned at Bodie's smirk. On the plus side, Charlie would probably be allowed out of hospital this afternoon, and Records Office duty meant regular - or at least what passed for regular in CI5 - hours, giving me more time both to look after Charlie, and follow-up any leads Lindsey might come up with.
            Dismissed, we left Cowley's office, not managing to detain Miss Salter who hurried away. Anyone would think we bite...
            "What now?"
            Bodie dragged his gaze back from the disappearing wiggle. "Files, I suppose. I should at least be as up-to-date as possible on what we know about weapons design if I'm not to let the CI5 side down. Then back to grab some gear and drive to Aldershot." He started down the corridor, and I called after him.
            "I'm going over to the Yard. Are you going to phone Lindsey, or do you want me to pass on your apologies?"
            He grinned over his shoulder. "That's first on the list..."

           I reached the Yard to find Lindsey already waiting for me. "Bodie phoned; said you were on your way, so I waited for you. I'm just about to start questioning Jackson again."
            "Want me to sit in?"
            She shook her head. "Not much point. He's not talking; we just keep sweating him every couple of hours in the rather vain hope he'll start. We'll apply for an extension this morning to hold him a bit longer."
            "Did you make any progress on identifying who attacked Charlie?"
            "Not yet. D'you fancy looking through a few mugshots?"
            No, was the short answer to that. But if it would help catch them I'd do it, and nodded my assent.
            Lindsey led the way down to CRO. "How long will Bodie be away?"
            "Couple of days. He told you what Cowley had planned for him?"
            "I spoke to your Mr Cowley earlier." She grinned, salaciously. "Bodie was more informative on what he had planned..."
            "I'll bet..."

           I got to the hospital just after 4: I'd agreed with Lindsey that I'd pick Charlie up while Lindsey went over to her flat.
            I'd spent a couple of hours ploughing through the rogue's gallery that morning, but couldn't pick out either of the two louts who'd attacked us. Maybe Charlie would have more luck at a later date.
            Then I'd gone back to my place to pack a bag. Charlie wouldn't like it, but I was going to stay with her.
 

           Charlie took a breather on the last flight on stairs. "I wish I'd found a flat that had a lift installed."
            I grinned sympathetically. It was only two floors up; normally she'd run up without even noticing the distance. But she was bruised and stiff, both from the blows she'd taken and the wound itself. The doctors had declared her fit enough to leave hospital - in fact, had probably been glad to see the back of her; Charlie was a dreadful patient - although she'd left with the usual list of instructions. I could've written that list myself by now.
            I slid an arm around her waist. "Come on, old girl. Not far now." It earned me a glower, which still hadn't quite faded from her face when we arrived at the door to the apartment to find Lindsey waiting for us.
            "Oh, for heaven's sake! When are you two going to stop fussing about me?"
            I exchanged a frustrated glance with Lindsey. "When you're better." And since she was already annoyed, decided perhaps I'd better get the confession over with… "And I'm staying until you are."
            Charlie took in my bag already in the lounge, and opened her mouth to argue. I gave her a quick kiss, and went for the anxious look. "I'm worried about you, Charlie."
            Although still exasperated, she didn't quarrel, making her way slowly to the sofa, and frowning at Lindsey when she attempted to help. "Get me a drink. A real drink."
            Our joint objections were silenced by a glare. "I know all about the pills and alcohol thing. I'll only have one. But I need a drink." Lindsey moved swiftly to comply; she obviously knew Charlie as well as I did.
            After the first sip, Charlie relaxed into a smile. "Oh, go on, get yourselves one as well. I can't stand drinking alone."
            Once we were all seated with glass in hand, Charlie started asking questions. "What's the latest on Jackson?"
            "His brief is shouting about a fit-up, but he's not getting anywhere. Jackson's been remanded for further questioning. And we're following up on all the code names and addresses."
            I interrupted. "Charlie - Lindsey can handle it. You're supposed to be on sick-leave."
            She gave me a sceptical look. "You're a fine one to talk. Keep me posted, Lindsey."
            Lindsey nodded, and I guessed she would. And I wasn't sure I blamed her, either. Charlie was a good officer and probably a good boss; Lindsey would want to keep on the right side of her.
            Charlie was still looking a bit annoyed. I stood up. "I'll cook. What d'you fancy?"
            A giggle from Lindsey and they exchanged another one of those looks. I gave a good impression of not seeing it. "I thought Charlie might need building up after hospital food, Ray. I put some steak in the fridge."
            Their laughter followed me into the kitchen, and I frowned. Sometime soon, I was going to have a talk with Charlie…

           I filled them both in properly on Cowley's plans while we ate. "Of course, things will be clearer once we know who at Adamson Electronics was due to receive that envelope; CI5's involvement depends on how far up the tree they are. If they're no threat to national security we can hand the information back to you."
            Charlie grimaced. "I hope it is someone you can deal with. Your Mr Cowley can pull strings to arrange things we have no hope of achieving. We'd never get anyone in undercover to check out the mail; at least, not that easily. And with our budgets, they'd probably not be able to stay there long enough to make it viable anyway."
            "And Bodie," Lindsey added. "We don't have anyone with that expertise to go undercover." She was wearing a slight smile that seemed to indicate she knew all about Bodie's expertise under covers.
            "CI5's talents are wide-ranging." I was still a bit annoyed about being stuck in the Records Office while Bodie got to do the fun stuff like weapons research.
            "You're telling me." Lindsey waved her fork. "Can they all cook like you?"

           I wrung a promise from Charlie to take things easy before I left the following day; whether she'd keep it or not remained to be seen.
            The tedium of the Records Office was relieved at lunchtime, when Cowley sent me to meet Miss Salter for lunch in a small café a short distance from Adamson's office building.
            Conversation with the other girls in Records had provided me with her first name, and I waved and called her over to the table I'd grabbed. "Stevie!"
            She remembered my first name as well. "Hello, Ray."
            The waitress approached, and whilst Stevie scanned the menu, I ordered the chicken salad sandwich I'd already decided upon, delighted when she asked for the same. More my type than Bodie's, then.
            We kept the conversation general until the food arrived and we were left in peace, and over the
doorstops Stevie told me what she'd managed to discover.
            "The package arrived mid-morning, by which time I'd been round the building twice. Since I'm temporary, I'm getting all the worst jobs, like taking the mail up to the top floor - where all the executive offices are."
            "So did you get to deliver the package?"
            She nodded. "Top floor. Adamson himself."
            So we were right to have been worried. Not just top floor, but the MD. "Are things going OK? Will you be all right to stay undercover in case we need you there?"
            Stevie grinned. "I'm enjoying it. Oh, the work is hardly stretching, but the other postroom staff are friendly enough, apart from the supervisor - she's a bit of a dragon…"
            Relaxing now, she chatted about the people and the office gossip. In just a few hours she'd found out a lot, and I made a mental note to mention it to Cowley. Office personnel or not, Stevie had a natural aptitude for the work; it could be useful if we gave her a bit more training.
            We parted at the café, not wanting to be seen outside the building, and I left with the instruction that she was to call in as frequently as possible. Suited or not, this was her first piece of field work, and even fully trained newcomers could get carried away…

           After reporting back to Cowley, I found myself being reassigned to the surveillance of Talbot-Jones. Baine, it seemed, had gone down with Marriott's bug of the previous week.
            I tried to protest, pleading Charlie, but the Old Man wasn't having any of it. "We're too short-staffed, 4.5. I want you on shift now, covering until midnight."
            Could be worse. And I'd get longer in the morning with Charlie.
            On my way, I got a patch-through to Lindsey. "I'm back on surveillance. Won't be back till the early hours. Can you check on Charlie this evening?"
            "Of course. I want to bring her up to date anyway."
            "How's it going?"
            "We're still questioning Jackson while we've got him. But we're no further forward, and I can't see us getting another extension." She sighed. "Was it like this when you were here?"
            "Unfortunately. Nothing sounds like it's changed."
            "Except none of the men are as fanciable as you…"
            She left me with that to think about. Maybe she wasn't so keen on Bodie…

           Charlie had already been asleep when I got in just before 1, but I woke with her as she scrambled out of bed early, still stiff from her injuries.
            I lay, half-asleep, watching her stretch and bend, before she took up her hairbrush and briskly tugged out the tangles. "Lovely sight to wake up to."
            Glancing down at herself, Charlie grinned ruefully. "With all these lovely bruises...?
            She twisted, trying to see the stab wound. "Surely I could take the dressing off now?"
            I beckoned her back to the bed. "I'll take a look. See how you're healing up." I pulled at the medical tape gently, but Charlie still winced. "Ouch."
            "Sorry." Well, it all looked OK, no signs of infection. "Don't think you need keep it covered. Probably better to let the air at it."
            She favoured me with a smile. "You mean I should stay naked…?"
            I finished peeling off the dressing, and planted a gentle kiss at the base of her spine. The smile and tone of the teasing comment, coupled with the loveliness of the body in front of me, were having their usual effect, but I sent 'calm down' and 'behave yourself' thoughts to my groin. Charlie wasn't up to our usual fooling about.
            She turned and sat delicately on the edge of the bed, stroking one hand lightly over my chest while her eyes took in everything else. "Why, Ray Doyle… Surely you wouldn't take advantage of a sick woman?"
            Well, OK, maybe she was up to it… I smiled, hopefully. "You're not looking very sick to me."
            "I'm feeling a little better."
            I reached out to cup her breast, caressing the already pert nipple with my thumb and encouraging it to peak further, drawing a moan from her. "That makes me feel a lot better…"
            It wasn't having any ill effects on me either. "Always said I had healing hands."
            She moved to stretch out beside me. "It's not just your hands…"
            I kissed her, softly, but her mouth was still sore and she gently pushed my face away, her voice deep. "Put those lips to work elsewhere."
            I didn't need telling again. Her fingers snagged in my hair as I fastened onto and sucked one breast, nuzzling my way between them to lick and suck the other, feeling the tremors of stimulation coursing through her.
            Of all the girls I'd known, Charlie had the most sensitive nipples; just the slightest touch was enough to turn her on. I truly believed, given long enough, that she'd come without any other stimulation.
            I'd never proved my theory. Her excitement was such a massive turn-on for me that I usually had a different outcome on my mind. And today was no exception.
            Tongue still working, circling a nipple, I slid my hand down her stomach, pressing lightly, pausing momentarily at the tangle of curls. She lifted her body slightly, pushing her nipple harder into my mouth, and my hand dipped lower.
            The breath caught in my throat, and I pulled away to look at Charlie. If she wasn't fit enough for this, I had to quit now.
            She gave me a smouldering look, somewhere between a glare for daring to stop and a smile at my obvious concern. "Don't keep me waiting, Ray. Just be gentle with me…"
            Well, God knew I'd been patient enough over the last couple of days. I returned to the abandoned nipple, pondering positions. Missionary was out, the area around the stab wound was still tender, and that ruled out quite a few others as well.
            I settled for pulling her towards me and onto her side; not the best position, but at least it would keep her weight off the injury. And by then any position would do for me.
            A few moments of effective wriggling later, Charlie wrapped her legs firmly around my waist, gasping as I sank into her, pulled back and plunged again.
            "God, Ray… I'm OK," she added quickly, feeling me falter as I worried I might be hurting her. "Don't you dare stop now…"
            Just as well. Stopping wasn't an option.

           In spite of the awkward position, we peaked together. We usually did; that was one of the best things about Charlie, we were so evenly matched.
            We lay together, sated, for a few minutes, before she nudged me. "Leg's going to sleep."
            "So'm I." But I shifted obediently, and Charlie curled up next to me, head on my shoulder.
            "Really feel better now…"
            I hugged her. "Thought you might. I always have this effect on girls."
            I felt her lips move as she smiled. "You and Bodie are just the same, aren't you."
            Uh-uh. My self-satisfied smile vanished as I considered that. Perhaps the time had come to have that chat. "What does that mean?"
            She propped herself onto one elbow, grinning at me. "You're both so full of yourselves. I'd almost say arrogant, but you're both too charming for that."
            Oh. Great. There was no chance of getting conceited around Charlie, she always brought me back down to earth. Still - "Charlie?"
            "Yes?"
            "You and Bodie...?"
            She put a hand over my mouth before I could say any more. "Thought you didn't like people to kiss and tell?"
            Her tone was amused, but there was something in the words that made me abandon that particular enquiry. But it raised another. "You and Lindsey have been swapping notes though."
            "Do you really think we've got nothing better to talk about than you two?" The grin was fast becoming a smirk, and Charlie slid carefully off the bed.
            I persisted. "The way you keep exchanging looks, I doubt it. Are you both winding us up?"
            "Would we?" She reached for the bathrobe. "D'you want a coffee?"
            "Knowing you, yes." I followed her off the bed. "I'd prefer tea."
            She had the kettle on by the time I'd got into my jeans and out to the kitchen. "Well?"
            "Yes, thanks." Charlie chuckled, handing me the loaf and nodding at the grill to indicate she wanted toast. I obediently lit the burners, and turned back to her. "C'mon, Charlie. Just what are you and Lindsey up to?"
            She relented. "Nothing. Well, not much. You just came up in conversation, and Lindsey said how much she'd liked the look of you. And when I told her to keep her greedy paws off, she said Bodie wouldn't be a bad substitute." Glancing round, she caught the delighted look I was trying to conceal. "Now you'll get even more conceited."
            I caught her around the waist and dropped a kiss on her neck. "Me? Whatever gives you that idea?"
            "I know you, Ray Doyle. You can keep your hands off Lindsey; she's getting on fine with Bodie."
            I had a momentary flashback to the slim, Thames-soaked figure, and smiled. If it weren't for Charlie, I'd've been interested in Lindsey. However - "I'm very happy for Bodie. Particularly if it means he leaves you alone."
            She gave me a sideways look. "Jealous, Ray?"
            "Only where you're concerned." She didn't, as I had hoped, give any indication of whether I had reason to be jealous. I returned to the grill and turned the toast over, smirking at my sudden thought. Bodie wasn't a bad substitute for me…? I saved that one up for the future.

           I arrived back in London in thoughtful mood. I thought I'd kept reasonably well abreast of developments in modern weaponry, but some of the stuff I'd seen in the last three days had been real eye-openers…
            It was early evening. I'd only been back in the flat for fifteen minutes when the phone went. It was Lindsey.
            "Hi! How did it go?"
            "Not too bad." I paused for a couple of seconds. "If you're not busy tonight, we could meet for dinner and I can tell you all about it."
            "I'd like that. You'd better check with Ray first, though. Knowing your Mr Cowley, he'll have something planned…"
            I smiled. "OK. Where are you? I'll ring you back in a few minutes."
            "The Yard. I'm covering for Charlie while she's off sick."
            "How is she?"
            "Tough as old boots! Be back at work in no time." She didn't sound too displeased, and I couldn't really blame her. From what I'd heard, the Vice Squad is a hard enough job for a man: trying to maintain authority and keep everything running smoothly took a truly exceptional woman. A woman like Charlie, and like Lindsey would be in a couple of years or so. It suddenly occurred to me that I respected her. A lot.
            "Glad to hear it. Speak to you soon…"
            I put down the receiver and thought for a minute. Charlie would be out of hospital by now, but not up to moving around much… I winced slightly with remembered pain, recalling how I'd felt after being stabbed during our investigation of the Empire Society. She'd be at her flat, and it was a safe bet Ray would be there with her. Unless the Old Man had reeled him in… Well, I'd try Charlie's first.
            Ray answered.
            "You're back, then. Have fun?"
            "It was - enlightening. How've things been here?"
            "Pretty good. Charlie's a lot better already. Stevie says the package was delivered straight to Adamson himself."
            "Stevie?"
            "Miss Salter."
            On first name terms already? Ray doesn't hang about!
            "So we know Adamson's involved in it somewhere."
            "Cowley wants us in his office first thing tomorrow. Got any plans for tonight?"
            I swear I could hear him smiling! "Going to try and meet Lindsey." I thought for a minute, then added, a touch reluctantly, "Want to come along?"
            "Nah. Charlie's not up to it and I don't wanna play gooseberry. You have a good time and I'll pick you up in the morning. Give Lindsey my love."
            Hmm. I wasn't sure about that last… Duty done, I rang the Yard…

           "Ooh, I'm full!" Lindsey patted her perfectly flat stomach and sighed contentedly. "That was delicious!"
            I raised my glass. "Yeah - the food's always good here. This is one of my favourite watering holes."
            She stretched, languidly, then leaned forward, chin propped in her hands. The candle light gleamed in her eyes.
            "What do you fancy doing now?" Her voice was very low, seductive, and I felt it all the way down to my groin. I ran a finger across her mouth: she caught it between her teeth and nipped lightly, sending a shiver up my spine. I smiled slowly.
            "Your place or mine?"
            "Oh, yours I think."
            The wonderful thing about Lindsey - well, one of them, anyway - is her complete lack of coquetry. She knows what she wants and leaves you in no doubt about it. We went back to mine…

           We were no sooner in the door when she grabbed me from behind, wrapping her arms around me and attacking my shirt buttons. I locked up in record time and swivelled around to her, nearly knocked off my feet as she jumped into my arms and wrapped her legs around my waist.
            "God, you're gorgeous!" She clamped her mouth over mine, tongue caressing mine, writhing against me. I could feel her nipples already hard against my chest - no underwear again - and the answering hardness at my groin was strongly suggesting we move as quickly as possible into the bedroom…
            And when we got there, she practically ripped my clothes off! I watched from the bed as she wriggled out of her jeans, then slithered in to join me, her hand snaking down to grip my erection tightly. I gasped and grabbed her hard to me. And then she nibbled my earlobe…
            I've never been able to work out if I love that or loathe it. It sends ticklish shivers down the backs of my legs, and tightens my balls, and leaves me squirming. But I always have the same reaction. Without conscious intent I grabbed her wrists, twisted easily, and pinned her underneath me. She lay still, gazing up with those big green eyes, a sultry smile on her lips, and I groaned, shifted, and rammed into her…
            She gasped and wrapped her legs around my waist, pulling me further in and grinding her groin against mine, arching her back and pushing her head hard into the pillow. She twisted her arms from my grasp and sank her nails into my back.
            "….ohhhhhh…… yesssssssss……"
            I thrust, mindlessly, aware only of the eager woman below me, our breathless, urgent rhythm, smooth skin, heat, the tiny whimpers she made as I moved within her. Oh god, Lindsey…… Lindsey!
            As I shuddered, throbbing inside her, she grabbed my hand and shoved it down between our bodies, guiding me to the right spot, and as I slid a finger to either side of the sensitive flesh and pressed down with my thumb she came, biting my shoulder, trembling, body taut beneath me.
            "…ohhh… Bodie…" It was a whisper of sound as she went limp. I rolled to my side and gathered her to me, still inside her, our mingled sweat cooling in the night air, and kissed her, gently but thoroughly. She smiled up at me, eyes half closed and dopey with drowsiness, and nestled herself a little closer.
            "Mmmmmm……"
            Her hand stroked slowly, gently, her nails just skimming my skin, down my chest and came to rest on my stomach. She sighed deeply, contentedly - and fell asleep!
            I peered down at her, grinning to myself and choosing to take it as a compliment. Poor girl - I'd tired her out…

           Fingers trailing down my chest roused me gently from sleep. I stretched fractionally and turned my head on the pillow, to meet smiling, half-opened leaf green eyes.
            "Hullo."
            I shifted to kiss her nose.
            "Well hi there. Come here often?"
            She giggled. "Depends how often you invite me."
            Now there was an invitation I'd find hard to resist! I pretended to scowl. "If I remember rightly, you invited yourself."
            Green eyes opened very wide and assumed a wickedly innocent expression. "Did I? Oh dear… Better not do it again, then."
            I chuckled and pulled her to me, rolling over so she rested on top of my body. Ah, sweet weight… She nibbled at my jaw, sliding her arms around me, wriggling against the stirring in my groin.
            "Do we have time for a quick one?"
            I glanced at the alarm clock. Six forty-five a.m. Ray would be calling for me at half seven. Still needed a shower and shave…. I grimaced.
            "Only if we skip breakfast."
            She giggled and tickled me…

           Ten minutes later I collapsed on top of her, panting. She ran her fingers through my hair and kissed me.
            "Mmmmmm…. You're much more fun to wake up to than an alarm…"
            I rolled off her, running a hand down her neck and cupping a firm breast. She purred, placing her hand over mine - then sighed.
            "Much as I'd love to just stay here all day, I suppose we'd better get up. Can I share your shower?"
            And even then we were almost late, thanks to her insistence on soaping me, very thoroughly, all over…
            Ray was sounding the horn by the time we dashed out of the flat. I ushered her into the back seat, then slid into the front. Ray was staring at me.
            "We're giving Lindsey a lift."
            "Thanks for tellin' me!"
            "Ah, c'mon Ray. It's on our way."
            He swivelled and gave Lindsey a beaming smile. "Good night?"
            She grinned at him. "Oh yes…"
            He winked at her - and she winked back! Enough was enough. I prodded him in the ribs.
            "How's Charlie?"

           "She's doing OK. Still a bit sore but she heals fast. And will no doubt be back at work far too early."
            I knew I was pressing all the right buttons to wind Bodie up. Lindsey had spent a bit of time with Charlie the previous afternoon while I'd been on duty, and from Charlie's private smiles when she thought I wasn't looking, I was sure they'd had another discussion about us.
            However, that was more than Bodie knew. I was pretty sure Bodie was only interested in Lindsey at the moment - which didn't mean he wouldn't go after Charlie if she offered some encouragement - but he was fairly oblivious to the scheming the pair were doing behind his back.

           I let Lindsey out of the car with a promise to ring later. As we drove on to base, I frowned at Ray. He had that 'cat with the cream' look I usually associate with him having got one over on me…
            "So what's the joke?"
            "Nothing."
            "C'mon Ray - I know you."
            "Later, Bodie."
            So there was something. I'd get it out of him eventually…

           The Old Man was waiting for us, frowning, drumming his fingers impatiently on the desk. We were only a couple of minutes late: his leg must be playing up again.
            "Sit down." Obediently we took our seats. He pushed a file across the desk, and swung his glasses by one arm as I leafed through it.
            "You're to be Philip Brown, ex-army intelligence, weapons expert and now consultant to the IAGC. And you've no more than two weeks to crack the case."
            I nodded. Two weeks should be more than enough.
            "When do I start, sir?"
            "Adamson is expecting you this afternoon." He handed me a security pass. "That will give you enough time to familiarise yourself with the information in the file. I trust your time at Aldershot was well spent?"
            "Yes sir. There's some fascinating stuff being developed…"
            He cut me short. "Aye, well, you can put it in your report. Doyle, I'll want you to spend some time with DS Roberts, make sure you know all the details of the Yard's case. You'll liaise with Bodie - but discreetly. I'll not have you undermining the case with any carelessness."
            Ray nodded, a little annoyed at the aspersions cast on our abilities, but not enough to argue. Still worrying about Charlie, I supposed.
            "Any questions?"
            "No sir."
            "On your way, then."

           We stopped off in the VIP Lounge for a cup of tea, and I took the opportunity for a quick word with my partner. He still looked troubled, which bothered me more than I'd let on. I laid a hand on his shoulder.
            "Look at it this way. It's more than likely that this case - or someone connected with it, anyway - is the reason behind the attacks on Charlie: Lindsey said they don't have anything else important on at the moment. So you'll be in the right place to do a little digging yourself."
            He thought about it for a second or two, and brightened.
            "Yeah, I will, won't I?" He grinned at me. "And I'll be working with the lovely Lindsey, as well."
            I smiled, hiding a sudden feeling of unease. After the number of girlfriends I'd poached from Ray, I could hardly tell him to keep his hands off. And Lindsey hadn't exactly struck me as being a one man woman….
            I tried appealing to his protective side. "Look after her for me, won't you."
            He looked surprised. "Like that, is it?"
            "Like what?"
            "You and Lindsey. Got to you, has she?"
            I hedged. "She's gorgeous. Sexy, exciting, fun. We get on well."
            He nodded, sagely. The effect was spoilt by the evil twinkle in his eyes. It wasn't going to be easy, going undercover and knowing he'd be working with Lindsey. But there was nothing I could do about it right now.
            "OK - I'd better get moving. Tell her what's happening, will you, and I'll give her a ring later."
            "Yeah. And Bodie…" I paused. His expression was sombre. "Watch yourself, won't you. Remember what happened to Charlie…"

           Bodie gave me a reassuring grin and disappeared. And I suppose it was unlikely that what had happened to Charlie was directly connected with Adamson; it was clumsy, and far more likely to have been the distributor, Jackson, trying to put her off his tail, which was what she and Lindsey believed.
            I still intended to track those two louts down. I smiled to myself. Jackson was out on bail now; if I had the time I might just do something about that intention.
            I drained my mug and grabbed my jacket. Time to go to work with Lindsey. Now that was interesting, as well. I'd seen Bodie's indecision over what to do about her; whether to warn me off, or play it cool. I was glad he'd chosen the latter course. I rather doubted that Lindsey, any more than Charlie, would be taken for granted. And since I was fairly snug with Charlie at the moment, I had no intention of making a play for Lindsey.
            No need to tell Bodie that, though.

           Adamson was jolly, and bluff, and avuncular. At his almost-insistence we were on first name terms within minutes of meeting, and he seemed determined to present his company in the best possible light. Mind you, having seen the size of the order the IAGC were considering, I wasn't really surprised.
            By the end of the third day, however, his tolerance was slipping just a bit. The Old Man had said to be nosy - I was, with a vengeance, questioning everything he told me and everything about his company. I'd also made a point of chatting up his personal assistant - a statuesque blonde named Carole, whose frosty reception didn't stop me trying it on - and Alison, the Finance Director's secretary, a timid little thing who seemed overwhelmed by the attention. I'd crossed paths with Stevie just once, in the staff canteen on my way through to one of the labs: under the guise of my flirting with her she'd passed on the information that Adamson had received another suspicious coded package: she was delaying sending it up but couldn't hold onto it much longer. Could I arrange to be in the office for the mail delivery that afternoon, at 3.30? I laughed and said it was a date - at which point her superior had appeared, scowling furiously, and asked her what was taking so long? It only took three minutes to collect a coffee and she'd already been away from her post for six…
            I mollified the woman somewhat by explaining I'd asked Stevie for directions to one of the other offices: Stevie collected two beakers of coffee and scurried off back to her post.
            As luck would have it, Adamson was out of his office when the post arrived. I took advantage of his absence to open the package, catching sight of the glossy photographs inside, and was about to slide them out when Adamson returned. He took one look at me holding the fat envelope, and went first red, then white. Without speaking, but without hostility, he held out his hand for the package. I handed it to him, a smile of complicity on my face.
            "Looks very interesting. A little tastier than the tame stuff I usually get to see…"
            He regarded me suspiciously for a moment or two, then smiled.
            "I see."
            I expected more to be forthcoming, but he switched the conversation to weaponry, and I followed his lead, content not to hurry things. The first contact had been made: now I had to wait and see what happened.

           The break came the very next day. I was in Adamson's office, looking over yet another set of blueprints, when there was a knock at the door. It was Carole, cool as ever as she ignored me and smiled at her boss.
            "Sir Alexander to see you, sir."
            Adamson actually rubbed his hands together, a secretive smile hastily hidden as he glanced at me.
            "Philip, my boy, I'm terribly sorry, but this is hush-hush stuff. I'm going to have to kick you out for a little while. Sure you'll understand."
            I nodded. "Of course, Bernard. How long is it likely to take?"
            "Oh, no more than half an hour, I'd reckon."
            I smiled. "OK. I'll take a break then."
            He beamed at me. I left quietly, nodding to Talbot-Jones briefly in passing. Now things were getting interesting…
            There was no point in trying to approach Carole, but Alison was another matter. Miller, the Finance Director, was out of the office, which made my job even easier. I sauntered in, smiling, and perched myself on a corner of her desk. She glanced up shyly and blushed prettily at me.
            "Hello beautiful."
            Her blush deepened and she buried her head in the file open on her desk. I wasn't fooled for a minute.
            "Can I get you a coffee?"
            She looked up, startled.
            "Uhh… Um… But… Would you like one? I'll get them…."
            She made to hasten from her desk, and I moved quickly to push her gently back down into her seat.
            "My treat." I winked at her, raising a yet more ferocious blush. "And I promise I won't tell."
            At that she smiled gratefully. "Well, if you're sure…. I'd love a tea. Milk, no sugar."
            There was a drinks machine in the corridor just outside the executive offices, installed for the secretaries I assumed. I got her a tea and me a coffee and hurried back into the office.
            "I suppose he sees Talbot-Jones quite often, these days. With his lordship being appointed to NATO, I mean."
            It was clumsy - but I didn’t have much time. And Alison hadn't struck me as the suspicious type.
            "Oh no. Not very often. Although he does sometimes send him parcels."
            I frowned slightly. "Who sends whom parcels?"
            "Mr Adamson sends parcels to his lordship."
            I silently thanked whatever deities watch over CI5 for the gift of naïve secretaries, and smiled at her.
            "I wonder what's in them?"
            She sighed, looking up at me regretfully. "Me too. They're big packages sometimes. But I've never seen what's in them."
            I heard voices in the corridor, Adamson and Sir Alexander, and smiled at Alison.
            "I'd better get back. You be good now!"
            Ignoring her puppy-eyed gaze I left Miller's office just as Sir Alex was heading towards the lift, a large, plain brown envelope tucked under his arm. I sauntered back to Adamson's: he was looking distinctly smug. I cocked an eyebrow in his direction.
            "Good news?"
            He regarded me thoughtfully for a moment or two, then nodded guardedly.
            "It would appear so."
            I smiled, dismissively, and turned to the diagrams still spread out on his desk…

           Later, I rang Ray from a public phone box. He was in Lindsey's office, and sounded thoroughly pissed off.
            "You OK?"
            "Yeah - I will be. Just some of the things to do with this case…. Makes you wonder if the human race is worth bothering with…"
            Ray obviously needed a cheerful dose of my company. But I couldn't even drag him off to the pub. After today, I couldn't risk any possible connection being made between me and CI5 - or the police, come to that. In case Adamson decided to check up on me. I expected that he would: it's what I'd have done…
            I told Ray what had happened and he relayed it to Lindsey as I spoke. Then I asked to speak to her myself.
            "Don't tell me, you can't make tonight."
            She didn't sound too annoyed. Well, that could be taken several ways. She knew what the job was, and what CI5 hours were like. Vice was similar, of course, so she'd be sympathetic to start with. Made a nice change that, compared to our usual girlfriends! And the fact that I was, slowly, making headway was a bonus.
            On the other hand, of course, Ray could have leapt in there… No, on second thoughts I didn't think that was likely, given his feelings for Charlie. Unless Lindsey'd started it. I shook my head and resolved to keep my mind on the case, for now at any rate.
            "Sorry love. Just a bit too risky right now."
            "It's OK. More to look forward to when the case is over."
            "We'll do something really special, I promise."
            She giggled. "I'll hold you to that. Well, I'll hold you to something, anyway!"
            Just the sound of her voice was having a noticeable effect on my groin. I wished her a reluctant farewell and headed back to a lonely flat…

           On the Friday afternoon Adamson approached me, laying a heavy hand on my shoulder and beaming broadly at me. I gathered I'd passed his inspection. For a fleeting instant I wondered just what personal records Cowley had provided me with….
            "Philip, my boy…"
            I smiled affably, waiting for him to continue. He coughed and discreetly lowered his voice.
            "Regarding that - ah - package… Do tell me, are you seriously interested in such things?"
            I smiled. "Indeed I am."
            "In that case… There is to be a little soirée at mine this evening. Would you be interested in joining us?"
            I pretended to consider it for a moment, then nodded. "Indeed I would!"
            He patted my shoulder, then handed me a card with an address on it. A very exclusive address in Knightsbridge. "Good, good. Eight o'clock, then."
            I nodded. "I'll be there…"

           Now that he was 'in', Bodie had risked coming over to my place. It was the first night I'd been home; Charlie had finally got fed up of my nursemaiding her and kicked me out. She'd be back at work Monday, no matter what Lindsey or I said.
            Filling me in on his forthcoming evening, Bodie was blasé. "Should be able to wrap it up quite easily. I go to this 'meeting', take a gander at his mucky pictures, and we get the evidence to snap him, and the whole bunch, up."
            I glanced at him. I'd spent the week working with Lindsey, and those 'mucky pictures' were fresh in my mind. "You do know what to expect?"
            The response was typically Bodie, given with an ingenuous smile. "'course. I'm not completely innocent, Ray. I've seen porno mags before."
            Oh, he'd been around, had Bodie. But something told me he'd never actually seen any child pornography. "The photos will be of kids, Bodie. Real kids. Not just young-looking girls. Youngsters; Nicky's age, maybe Katie's… toddlers, babies as young as six months."
            I'd caught his attention now, and Bodie frowned. "But what the hell would a pervert want with a six-month old baby?"
            I felt a flare of anger, just thinking about it. "What do babies that age do?"
            "Well, they can't do much. I mean, all they do is sleep and suck m.... Oh my god..."
            "Exactly." He looked as nauseated as I felt. "You could be looking at almost anything, Bodie. Whatever Adamson shows you, it'll be sickening. And not one photo's taken without a child suffering. That's what this is about. The pornography, the trade in it, is bad enough. But none of it can exist without a child being hurt. Being abused. Sexually abused."
            I stopped, remembering Nicky. I had no idea whether her father's abuse had extended to taking photos. I might never know. The thought that I might someday come across pictures of her… I swallowed hard. Bodie was looking at me oddly. "You see a lot of it, in the Met?"
            "Too damned much. So many of the kids working on the streets end up there simply to get away from abusive parents. At least hooking pays. But the memory never goes away…"
 

           Whoever Vice had detailed to take the photographs of the other attendees at the meeting was very good: I didn't spot anyone, so it was pretty safe to assume no-one else did either…
            Adamson's house was comfortable, with capacious padded armchairs and soft lighting. Adamson offered us all a drink - a generous double of whatever we fancied - then ushered us to our seats. He leaned back against a table and crossed his arms, a smug smile on his fat face.
            "A warm welcome to you all - especially to our new member, Mr Brown." He nodded at me, and several heads turned to smile. Adamson reached for a bulky file on the table behind him.
            "I have a treat for you today - a new set of pictures hot off the press."
            There was a stirring, and an appreciative murmuring from the other men in the room, and Adamson grinned.
            "Ah, yes. I know you've been looking forward to these... I have some rather special sequences here."
            Ray's warning still in my ears, I tried to keep my face neutral, relaxed, but the atmosphere in the room had changed, become charged with excitement. The man in the seat beside me was rubbing the obvious bulge at his groin. He smiled at me.
            "You'll like this. Jerry's pictures are always first class."
            Adamson pulled a handful of stained, dog-eared folders out of the envelope. Each had an ID number typed on the front: he moved between the chairs, placing the appropriate folders into eager hands. He came to me last, smiling.
            "Since you're new and we don't know your preferences, I've selected a wide variety of pictures for you to examine. See if anything takes your fancy. We have an extensive library here…"
            He handed me a bulging folder and retired to his own seat. Around me, the other men were gazing wide-eyed and aroused at the contents of their folders. Several had unzipped and started masturbating, sweat beading their faces, their breathing loud and heavy in the quiet room. Apprehensively I turned my eyes to my own folder, took a deep breath, schooled my expression into an impassive mask, and opened the file…

           A little boy. Naked. Five years old, maybe six; pale skin and smooth black hair, deep blue eyes wide and frightened. A lovely little boy…
            I turned to the next photograph. The boy was on his knees, stretched over a stool, a masked man sitting on a cushion in front of him, holding the child's small hands cupped around his erection. Fear and incomprehension on the little boy's face.
            I could feel the hair on the back of my neck rising.
            Third photograph. Another man, large hands holding the boy's buttocks apart, his erection nudging the child's anus. Fear and horror in the child's eyes.
            Next photograph… The second man's penis forced into the child's small body. The boy's head thrown back in a silent scream of agony…
            I swallowed bile and forced myself not to react.
            I was aware of Adamson watching me. I turned to the next photograph…
            And the next, and the next…
            Trying not to see what was in them, knowing I'd never forget.
            Around me, man after man was reaching orgasm, turned on by their pictures, groaning, panting heavily, cursing quietly. How many of them had actually tried in reality what we were seeing in the photographs?
            I came to the last photograph. A little girl, about Katie's age, held down over the edge of a bed while a large Alsatian dog rammed itself into her. Tears of incomprehension and pain on a face that should have known nothing but love and laughter and innocent pleasure…
            I became aware of Adamson standing in front of me, a look of enquiry on his face. He glanced at my groin, and spoke quietly.
            "Nothing quite to your taste, Philip? Well, never mind. If you'd like to tell me what it is you'd truly like, I'm sure we can… come to some arrangement."
            I looked up at him. How I kept my voice steady I'll never know.
            "I've never had the opportunity before. I'll have to think."
            He patted my shoulder. "I quite understand. Happens to a lot of us, the first time we realise that our little pleasures can be realised. Have another look through the pictures. You might find a second viewing enlightening."

           I forced myself to drive straight. Straight to an inconspicuous, dark and nearly empty pub tucked away in a back street. And proceeded to get drunk.
            Tried to, rather. It didn't seem to be working...
            Images, images behind my eyes, madness to the brain and a restless agitation to the groin. Children. Children. The little boy in the photographs, nameless, his face a mask of absolute hopelessness and misery and pain as he was violated again and again. The little girl, no more than 6 years old, forced to kneel and suck the man in front of her while another shoved his engorged cock into her. Blood and pain… Krivas's nameless, sad-eyed 12 year old whore. Miriam. Nicky. Katie. Oh god, Katie…
            I could feel the tears on my face through a fog of numbing despair. This is civilisation? That such things could be...
            Ray. I had to find Ray. I somehow managed to stumble out of the pub and into the car, letting instinct take over. Not sure how I got to Ray's, let alone managed not to kill anyone on the way.

           "Pictures. Photographs of children - babies, for god's sake! - being… raped, being forced to…" I swallowed, forcing down nausea. "And the men there, getting off on it, loving it, drooling, wanking - two even doing each other… "
            He sat on the table in front of me, my conscience, the real half of me, hand clenched hard on my shoulder, worried green eyes focused on me...
            "Hey, Bodie, c'mon. It's OK mate. It's over."
            I stared up at him. I could feel myself shaking. Unforgiven.
            "You don't understand. I knew how those men felt. I knew exactly how they felt - because, god help me, for just one moment I felt exactly the same…"

           Just for a split second I was furious; feeling a wave of anger and bitterness pounding at me, but it just as swiftly gave way to stupefaction. How could Bodie, of all people, feel like that?
            The answer followed quickly on the heels of the question. All too easily. For all that Bodie had seen and done in his life he'd never had to face something like this before. I'd done my best to prepare him; it obviously hadn't been enough.
            He'd dropped his head into his hands and wasn't looking at me. Granted he was half-drunk and alcohol could loosen up most men, but I couldn't ever remember seeing Bodie like this before. He was shaking; I'd swear he was crying…
            Half-drunk or not, he needed another drink, and I got up to pour it, noticing my own hands were shaking slightly.
            "Get that down you." I put the tumbler on the table in front of him. I had no idea what I was going to say but I had to try and help him…
            Dragging his arm across his face and staggering to his feet, Bodie ignored the drink. The self-disgust was giving him an unnatural pallor; he looked appalling. "I can't bear it - "
            I don't know what he expected to see on my face - anger, revulsion, loathing? - but certainly not compassion. He recoiled. Maybe anger and disgust would have been easier for him to deal with. He backed away, turning slightly, the words choked from him: "Ray, don't…"
            One step forward and I wrapped my arms around him and hauled him back, pushing him down onto the sofa.
            "What'm I gonna do?" The soft plea was so unlike Bodie…
            I forced the glass into his hand. "You're going to drink that, shut up, and listen." I still didn't know what to say. Bodie was barely listening to me anyway, turned inward on his own thoughts, unable to expel the images.
            I'd listened to what he'd said about the photos; now I allowed myself to think about them. It was a long time ago; but the hideous power of the first child pornography - slightly blurred, black and white depictions - I'd seen as a young copper had stayed with me. I still remembered the stark horror I'd felt; I'd seen straight past the supposed lure of the sexual image into the terrified faces and hearts of the children.
            But it hadn't been like that for all of my colleagues. Some hadn't been shocked - or had laughed it off - but some were more than momentarily interested. It was a sad fact of life that most of the male population could get turned on by virtually anything - and Bodie was no exception to that.
            Just being in a room full of other men, their excitement palpable, would be enough to stimulate interest. I focused again on my partner.
            "Bodie, listen. Listen to me." I grabbed his arm to make him look at me. "You're not like that. It was just the other men - around you…" I wasn't making a lot of sense, but then he wasn't capable of taking much in at that moment anyway. I saw a hint of relief in his eyes; not self-forgiveness - that was a long way off - but simple alleviation of the worst of his fears, that I wouldn't understand.
            The depth of his trust in me was astounding. Both that he'd come to me and been prepared to admit what had happened, and the faith he had that I'd help him. I fetched the whisky bottle and refilled his glass.
            "You need some sleep, mate. We'll talk about it in the morning." Fetching him a blanket I watched his uncoordinated efforts to pull his shoes off, and his almost immediate mental shutdown. I needed some sleep too, if I were going to marshal some convincing arguments for the morning…

           I woke to pain, a nagging ache behind my eyes and an uncomfortably sore, twisted back. I was on a sofa. Why was I on a sofa?
            A glance around confirmed I was at Ray's. For a second or two I couldn't remember why - then yesterday's revelations came back to me, doubling me up like a kick to the groin. I pulled the blanket over my head, curling up into a tight ball without realising what I was doing, trying to forget. And knowing I wouldn't be allowed to…
            I'd told Ray what had happened. He'd want an autopsy. He'd want to dissect it, discuss it, and I couldn't face that. But I also couldn't regret the instinct that had driven me to confide in him last night. His reaction - he understood. Oh, thank whatever gods there might be, he understood - made me feel a little, a very little, better about the whole thing. If Ray didn't think I was the lowest life-form ever to crawl out from under a rock then maybe there was some hope for me.
            I dragged myself to the bathroom, and stared without interest at what looked back at me from the mirror. Bloodshot, swollen eyes. Haggard. Stubble dark against white skin. I looked bloody awful and I didn't care.
            Ray tapped on the door, then pushed it open, meeting my eyes in the mirror. His expression was sombre but gentle, and he laid a hand on my back.
            "You OK?" He grimaced at himself, lowering his eyes momentarily, then met my gaze again. "Sorry, stupid question." He reached past me for his shaver, placing it in my hand. "Tidy yourself up a bit. Can't have Bodie looking like he got dragged through a hedge backward and left out in the rain all night. I'll make some tea."
            The sheer normalcy of it was enough to start me moving. A quick shave and a cold wash later I made my way through to the kitchen area. Ray had made a pot of tea and put some digestive biscuits on a plate: he nodded to the table as he cracked eggs into a measuring jug.
            "Get some of that down you. Breakfast'll be a few minutes - scrambled eggs on toast do? Haven't got much in…"
            I nodded, although my gut spasmed painfully at the thought of food, and sat at the table, staring into the mug of strong Brooke Bond. I felt numb.

           I forced myself to concentrate on the cooking; the last thing I needed was eggs welded to the saucepan. Bodie looked like hell; God knew what he felt like.
            He hadn't touched the tea, or biscuits. I slid the plate in front of him. "Eat."
            Silently, he took up the fork, but only managed a couple of mouthfuls before dropping the utensil and pushing the plate away, still staring down at the table. "I can't… sorry…"
            He was apologising for more than the wasted breakfast.
            "S'OK, mate." I pushed the mug of tea closer, relieved when he picked it up. I'd put enough sugar in there to cushion an elephant in shock. "Bodie - last night - "
            "I don't want to talk about it…"
            "No. I know you don't. But you're gonna have to. Listen, anyway…" He wouldn't meet my eyes.
            "I can't pretend what happened is normal. We both know it isn't." Still staring at the table, Bodie flinched slightly at my words. "But you said it yourself - 'just for a moment', you said…"
            I took a sip of my own tea, building up to my point; knowing that I could be honest with him. "You're just not like that. Do you think I wouldn't know? If you'd ever had any thought of abusing kids then you'd have done something about it before now; even if it were only to seek out photos - and what you saw yesterday disgusted you, Bodie…"
            He stirred, fingers clutching even tighter at the mug handle, as I ploughed on to force the reaction I was looking for. "How do you feel about Nicky, and Katie?"
            He remembered as I did the last time we'd seen the girls, the way he'd been playing with Katie in the park. The remaining colour in his face drained away and he focused on me. "No… I wouldn't - couldn't…"
            I gripped his arm. "No - you wouldn't. I know that. And so do you…"

           I watched his face, the intensity in his eyes, his fingers bruising my arm he was holding me so hard, willing me to understand. And I wanted to - believe me, I wanted to more than I'd ever wanted anything…
            But my world had skewed, tilted out of balance. I'd never thought of myself as innocent before, but… Maybe you only realise you had something precious once it was gone.
            That I'd never knowingly, willingly, act on what I'd felt - fleetingly, for that tiny, endless moment - was irrelevant. There was a poison in me now. Would I feel like that every time I looked at a child? Could I ever hold Katie, hug her, without wondering if what I felt was that simple love I'd only just found, or something darker?
            Something seemed to break inside me, and the tears spilled over. I lowered my head, biting my lip hard enough to draw blood, fighting for control.
            "I have to go."
            "Bodie…" Numbly I looked at Ray's hand, his fingers biting into my arm, then up into his face. There was such concern there. For me. I didn't deserve it. I pulled myself upright, dragging Ray with me. He wouldn't let go…
            "Bodie, for Christ's sake talk to me!"
            I managed the tiniest bitter smile. "Christ. Wasn't he the one who said 'Suffer the little children to come to me?' "
            Ray stared at me for a moment, then reluctantly let go of my arm, laying his hand on my shoulder instead.
            "You know where I am."
            I stared at him, startled. I'd expected a fight, not this gentle understanding of my need to be alone just now. There was such compassion in his eyes, such sympathy. He still surprises me, after all this time. I felt fresh tears threatening.
            "Want me to drive you home?"
            I shook my head. He stretched out his hand for the keys anyway.

           I watched as my partner made his way into the flats, his movements unusually awkward. He'd clammed up on me; not entirely unexpected, that was the way Bodie dealt with things.
            I'd done my best to help, thinking I'd understood how he felt; I was only just beginning to realise that maybe I didn't.
            I'd watched him as I drove. The few kids we'd seen had drawn his attention; he gazed at them almost painfully as we passed. Not that any child would ever be in danger from Bodie. If anything, he'd be even more circumspect in his behaviour now.
            No, what I'd seen in his face was sorrow…
           

           I checked the mirrors and pulled slowly away, heading for Scotland Yard. I needed to see Lindsey, to let her know Bodie's sortie had been successful and try and plan where we went from here.

           Lindsey was in the Vice Squad office, for once empty, and was relieved to see me. "Ray. Is everything OK? I was expecting to hear from Bodie last night. I tried to call him earlier but couldn't get an answer."
            "He stayed over with me last night." I'd decided that no one would know about Bodie's - lapse, I suppose it was - particularly not Cowley. He'd have Bodie in with Dr Ross before he could blink. But I hadn't reckoned on Lindsey. She might act soft and fluffy but she was a DS - a young DS - with the Vice Squad, and she hadn't got there without knowing a few things.
            Her eyes narrowed perceptively. "Got to him, eh? I didn't think he was as tough as he makes out."
            "No. I reckon not."
            She stared at me for a moment longer. "He'll get through it."
            I nodded. "Bound to. At least being Saturday he doesn't have to face Adamson and pretend everything's fine. I'm not so sure Adamson would walk away from the office."
            "And we do need him walking." Lindsey flipped open the file on her desk. "These are the photos of the other men who were at Adamson's place last night. We've identified nearly all of them; CRO are still working on the last couple."
            I flicked through the 10 x 8's, not recognising anyone, then turned the stack over and read a few of the names and descriptions inscribed on the reverse. Businessmen, bank managers, solicitors, doctors. I felt sick. All high-ranking, respected members of the community.
            "No connection to Talbot-Jones?"
            "None that we can make right now. He didn't turn up; if he's due a delivery then Adamson must be going to make it personally. Does Bodie know anything about that?"
            "He - er - didn't say a lot. I'll talk to him later."
            Lindsey didn't comment. "We've kept up the surveillance on Adamson. But we're up shit creek without a paddle if he visits Talbot-Jones and we don't have a warrant - and by the time we got one, the place would be cleared of all incriminating material."
            "There are benefits to working with CI5 after all - we don't need a warrant."
            "But you've got to be there. Could CI5 take over the surveillance on Adamson?"
            It would mean me and Bodie doing it. Cowley still had the surveillance team on Talbot-Jones and the rest of the crew were still running about after the terrorist group. He'd committed to letting us assist Scotland Yard but wouldn't spare anyone else.
            Question was: was Bodie up to it?

           I left Lindsey having tacitly agreed to take on the surveillance, and promising to stay in touch.
            My next trip was to HQ; I should update Cowley. If we were to tail Adamson up to Sir Alex's door and follow him in then we'd need Cowley's full backing. We'd get it regardless, but the situation would be that much easier for our boss to handle if he had the full picture.

           The Old Man had listened in silence as I outlined the position since we'd last reported in.
            "You still don't have anything concrete against Talbot-Jones?"
            "Whispers, circumstantial evidence. We know from our surveillance that he sees Adamson at the house, and visits his office…"
            "But, as you say, circumstantial. Could all be completely innocent."
            "We're sure it's not."
            "So you two want to maintain surveillance on Adamson, and then use CI5's authority to grab him as he visits Talbot-Jones?"
            "Hopefully as a neat little package of photos changes hands; yes, sir."
            Cowley was silent for a moment. "The surveillance team on Talbot-Jones at the time can provide back-up, but other than that we're stretched thin. What about Scotland Yard?"
            Lindsey could sort out some help. I nodded. "We don't think it'll be for long anyway. Maybe a couple of days."
            "Keep me informed. If you're able, let me know before you go in; I'll make contact with the Minister immediately." Cowley stood up. "But you and Bodie go easy - there'll be hell to pay if you're wrong anyway, but if you've barged in and damaged anything…"
            He frowned suddenly. "Where is Bodie, anyway?"
            I lied easily. "Had a bit too much to drink last night, so I dropped him home earlier. I'll pick him up in a while."
            The Old Man's radar was working well. "He got drunk after being at Adamson's place?"
            "Yes, sir. Well, he'd had a few there, then came over to tell me how it went, and I stupidly opened my whisky bottle." I contrived to look miffed at the consumption of my alcohol. "Then he decided to fetch a curry from the dodgy place just down the road. I've warned him about that before, but he insisted, and I think it was a combination of that and alcohol - "
            Cowley cut across my waffle, staring shrewdly at me, and I wondered if I'd pushed the bounds of credibility too far in trying to cover for my partner. "As long as he's fit for work later."
            Well, I seemed to have got away with it, and made a swift exit…

           It was nearly 4 by the time I pulled up outside Bodie's flat.
            After leaving Cowley I'd spoken again to Lindsey and arranged to pick up the surveillance on Adamson that evening, before going back to my place and attempting to get some more sleep.
            But I'd found it hard enough to even doze. Stray thoughts, words and phrases kept coming back at me, and eventually I'd given up on achieving any shut-eye, and made a coffee instead.
            I'd stared blindly out of the window whilst I drank it; the image of my partner's expression etched on my mind. Bodie would never harm a child. But would he ever be able to love one, either?

           He answered the door almost immediately, as if he'd been waiting for me. It didn't look like he'd had any more sleep, but he avoided any close scrutiny, heading for the kitchen.
            "Coffee?"
            "Yeah - thanks." I followed him; he didn't get off that easily. But despite my concerns and the obvious lack of rest, his movements were positive. I risked telling him what had been arranged between me and Lindsey.
            "We're taking over the surveillance on Adamson." Bodie nodded, expression unchanged. "Since Talbot-Jones didn't turn up last night -" that drew a slight flinch "- Adamson will probably take the photos there. And we can grab them together."
            I accepted the coffee he passed me. "You OK with that?"

           Damn right I was….
            Ray was watching me, concern clear on his face, in his eyes. I took a deep breath and nodded. I could feel my face settling into tight, grim lines. Ray grabbed my arm.
            "Bodie… We bring them in, OK? That's all."
            I stared at him. "You think Cowley'd worry if they were a bit… 'damaged'?"
            He smiled, very slightly. "Resisting arrest, you mean?"
            "It had crossed my mind…"
            "And you expect me to look the other way?"
            "Unless you want to help…"
            "Cowley wouldn't worry. Any more than I would. But it's still not our case." Ray frowned. I could see he was still worried - concerned I'd lose control, I reckon. I didn't think I would, but then, I hadn't thought the photos would affect me either…

           We pulled up a little way from Adamson's house at just after five. Jax gave us a quick, very tired thumbs-up before speeding off home: this whole surveillance job was wearing all of us out. And we'd had to take one of my least favourite cars from the pool, this time; an inconspicuous dark blue Escort with not enough leg room to get properly comfortable. It did nothing for my mood.
            Ray was glancing at me every now and again, still worried. I normally complained about the car, loudly and regularly, on the rare occasions we were forced to use it: this evening I concentrated on focussing my anger. And I was angry. Angry with CI5 for my ending up in this state - unreasonable though that was - angry with Talbot-Jones, bitterly angry with myself. And blazingly angry with Adamson, both for being the evil bastard he was, and for bringing to the surface things I'd never known about myself.
            "Bodie?"
            I glanced at Ray. He was looking at my hands, frowning. I looked down, to find that I'd been fisting my hands so tightly that my nails - short as I keep them - had dug into my skin. My hands were bleeding.
            He looked into my face. "If you're not OK with this, you gotta say now."
            I forced myself to relax my hands.
            "I'll be OK."
            "That's not what I said."
            I twisted slightly to face him.
            "I know. And I'm not OK with this. But I will be." I frowned, wondering if I could explain it to Ray when I couldn't even fully understand it all myself. "Ray, I need this. I won't let you, or CI5, down, but I have to do this."
            He nodded, and smiled very, very slightly. And I knew that we hadn't changed…

           But nothing happened. No-one came: no-one left. As the hours passed I felt myself growing more and more tense, like a spring too tightly wound. I sat, unmoving, staring ahead, anger roiling just under my skin. Sensitive to my mood, and furious himself, Ray said little. At six am Vice arrived to relieve us, a middle-aged man who seemed to recognise Ray. At any rate, he greeted us casually, yawning widely and with that slightly smug, self-satisfied expression of the man who'd had a really good night in female company. But he caught sight of our faces before he spoke, and wisely restricted himself to listening to our very brief report of the night's non-activity.

           As Ray pulled up outside mine, he glanced at me.
            "You've got to get some sleep. You'll be no use later if you don't."
            Sleep was the last thing I wanted - what I wanted was to wait for Adamson and kill him with my bare hands the moment he appeared - but I knew my partner was right. I was so tired I doubted I'd be able to hit straight. I nodded, and he relaxed a fraction.
            "Want me to come up?"
            I shook my head, and he gripped my shoulder. "Sleep, OK?"
            "Yeah. You too."

           And I managed six whole hours of uninterrupted, exhausted sleep. It was the phone that roused me, and I dragged myself from the bed and stumbled quickly across the room, terrified that it'd be Ray ringing to tell me Adamson'd been picked up and I'd missed being in at the kill. But it was Lindsey, her voice unusually warm and gentle.
            "Hullo. How're you feeling?"
            I wondered how much Ray had told her. Knowing my partner, not much, but I had some idea of how perceptive she was. I sighed.
            "Tired. Feel like I've been through a mangle."
            She chuckled, very briefly. "Want me to come over?"
            I thought about it for a moment, tempted, but everything was still too raw…
            "Not right now. Maybe when this is over."
            "Of course. You will take care, won't you?"
            "Yeah. I'll see you soon…"
            I frowned at the phone as I replaced the handset, trying to remember the last time I'd met a woman who actually understood what my life was like. I couldn't remember one. Which was probably because I'd never met one before I'd met Lindsey...

           I spent an unrelenting couple of hours at the gym that afternoon, and was feeling calm and controlled by the time Ray picked me up. He ran his gaze up and down me, nodding approvingly.
            "You'll do. Ready?"
            I smiled. Coldly. "Yes…"

           We both felt that tonight was the night. To all intents and purposes, it was just an ordinary Sunday evening, but something, some indefinable something, was nagging at us both…
            We sat in the car, vigilant, alert, at a fine pitch of awareness. My window was down, letting in the evening sounds of the city. Summer was nearly over, the nights cooling already, and I breathed in the freshening air with a vague sense of melancholy. Autumn is a sad time of year…

           I was still watching Bodie, but less worried now than I had been the previous night. It was obvious he'd got some sleep and was focused on the events to come.
            The - problem - hadn't gone away. It wouldn't, not that easily. Not even Bodie could ignore, or forget, something like that. But as with so many other things that affected him, he'd buried it.
            That wasn't good. And after this was over, if he still refused to talk about it, I'd - perish the thought, but it might be necessary - be forced to threaten him with Kate Ross.
            But for now, Bodie was OK…

           Adamson left his house at eight, hauling himself into his Jag and moving smoothly away. We followed, at a distance, keeping well back to remain inconspicuous. It soon became apparent Adamson was heading for Talbot-Jones - unless he had friends in St John's Wood. As he turned right into Talbot-Jones' short drive we drove past, exchanging nods with Marriott and Baine (parked diagonally opposite and looking thoroughly pissed off in the darkening twilight). Ray pulled up around the corner and we dived out, keeping to the shadows.
            At the corner, a dark figure concealed in a bush beckoned to us. It was Conners, the Vice Squad photographer who'd done such a good job that first time: he'd been staking out Talbot-Jones' house. He motioned to the house, and we watched as Adamson sauntered blithely to the front door…
            Talbot-Jones' garden was dotted with large shrubs, making the task of approaching the house unseen that much easier. And our timing was perfect. The butler had just shut the door as we reached it. Ray knocked politely. And the butler answered.
            Ray had his ID ready, and silenced the manservant's would-be blustering objections with a firm hand over his mouth. I moved silently to the study door, pushing it noiselessly open to reveal Adamson handing a large brown envelope to his lordship, who held a similar envelope of his own…
            Adamson looked up sharply, momentarily dismayed - then recognised me, and gave me a beaming smile.
            "Why, Philip, my boy!" He glanced at Talbot-Jones, who stood staring aghast. "I had no idea you knew Sir Alexander."
            Talbot-Jones blanched. "I don't know this man."
            Adamson frowned, keeping his attention focused on me. "Indeed? Then why are you here? Are you really that keen to… indulge yourself? Most commendable, if a little rash."
            People talk about 'seeing red', but it was the first time it had ever actually happened to me. Everything I looked at seemed to be tinged with blood. Especially Adamson, and especially Adamson's hands… I don't remember how I reached him. I do remember I slammed him hard against the wall, oblivious to his cry of pain.
            "I'm not 'your boy'. I'm CI5. And I want to kill you…"
            "Bodie…" I was distantly aware of Ray at my shoulder, and Marriott and Baines somewhere on the other side of the room, and Talbot-Jones' twittering wife hovering somewhere just inside the door. I ignored them all, staring at Adamson instead.
            "… but I won't. That would be too quick. You see, where you're going it'll be far worse. Do you know what they do to child molesters, in prison? You think those kids suffered - what's going to happen to you will be beyond that. Far beyond that. You'll wish I had killed you…"

           Nothing Adamson could've said would have been right; he was fortunate that he had the sense to remain silent, pinned against the wall in Bodie's grasp. It was the first time I'd come face to face with Adamson, and it was clear to me that the man knew exactly how he'd be treated in prison. And Bodie was wrong - Adamson didn't care about the kids or how they'd suffered…
            I wrenched open the flap on the envelope and flicked quickly through the photos, registering only that we'd been right, and Sir Alex was in it up to his scrawny little neck; deliberately not focusing on the detail of the images.
            Talbot-Jones was completely motionless, ignoring his squawking wife, holding a second, unsealed envelope that we could all see was stuffed full of money. I dismissed him with a glance, turning to Marriott and Conners. "Take him out to the car."
            I put one hand gently on Bodie's shoulder, feeling the slight tremor. "Put him down, Bodie." I didn't expect my partner to obey me, but the rigidity of his arms relaxed, and he released Adamson, expression clearing as he turned back to me, although not before I'd caught the force of the face he'd been showing to the pornographer.
            He held out his hand for the envelope, and, not without some trepidation, I gave it to him, before jerking my head at Baine and grabbing Adamson's arm to hustle him out of the room.
            It was some minutes before I returned. Bodie was now standing in front of the open filing cabinet, back to me. He spoke, sounding sick.
            "Some more examples of Sir Alex's hobby. All neatly catalogued. Seems he likes little girls - 6 year olds, 7 year olds, 8 to 10 year olds - blonde, brunette, black-haired… More dark-haired than anything else."
            He half-turned, a photo in hand. "'Long dark hair, aged 7'… I almost thought it was Katie, Ray… it looks like her…"
            Heart suddenly banging, I moved to his side, lifting the picture from his fingers, forcing myself to focus on the image. The little girl was with two masked men, all naked, one holding her down on the bed, the other raping her. Past the pain and tears, she was a pretty child. She wasn't Nicky.
            I let out breath I hadn't realised I'd been holding.

           Disgust. I'd forced myself to look through the photographs - and felt nothing but disgust for those - you can't call them animals, that's an insult to the animal kingdom… It wasn't much, but it was a start.
            I'd missed Ray's reaction, except peripherally, and made nothing of it, steeped as I was in my own turmoil. He laid a hand on my shoulder, and I turned to look at him.
            "Conners contacted the Yard when we arrived: Lindsey's on her way - we can leave it to Vice to wrap everything up. C'mon - I'll buy you a drink. We both deserve it."
            "Should wait for Lindsey."
            "Do you really want to?"
            I stared at him, and realised that I didn't. Oh yes, I wanted to see her - but not here, not surrounded by these… this proof of men's depravity, the tragedy of shattered young lives. I could feel myself starting to shake. Perhaps a drink would help.
            I let Ray lead me out to the car, but he drove back to mine rather than to a pub. Once inside he pushed me onto the sofa and headed for my whisky, pouring us both a generous tumblerful. He sat in front of me as he handed me my glass, frowning slightly.
            "We need to talk."
            Oh god, not now… "Later."
            "Bodie…"
            "Later, Ray." I downed my drink in one, grimacing as it burned its way down my throat. "I'm tired. I want to sleep."
            He opened his mouth to argue, but I rose and glared down at him, daring him to try it. "You're tired, too. And I'm sure Charlie will want to hear how we did."
            "But…"
            I'd had enough. "Just go, will you? Cowley'll want to see us first thing. I'll see you there."
            He watched me for a moment, then nodded wearily. "OK. Want me to pick you up?"
            I shook my head. "I'll make my own way."
            He nodded again, slower this time, and paused at the door.
            "Y'know where I am…"
            "Always. Go and get some sleep."
            He left, and I went through the motions, and fell onto my bed, already knowing it was a lost cause…..

           I sat in the car outside Bodie's place for nearly half an hour until the lights finally went out. And then I sat there for a further half hour, torn by indecision.
            Maybe I should've stayed; Bodie needed to talk. In spite of his insistence that he needed to sleep, I doubted if he would.
            The lights stayed out, however, and I sighed and started the engine. It was getting late and I needed to call Charlie.

           The phone was ringing as I got in; Charlie sounded exasperated. "I've been trying you for nearly an hour."
            "Sorry. I was at Bodie's."
            "Lindsey called me. She said you'd collared Adamson making his delivery to Talbot-Jones and they're both safely banged up. The Super's questioning them himself."
            "Mmm." I wasn't much interested to tell the truth, I was still brooding about Bodie.
            "Ray, are you listening to me?"
            "Yeah. Just - "
            She cut across me with sudden intuitive sense. "Is it Bodie? Is he OK?"
            I paused a fraction too long.
            "Lindsey said it had shaken him up."
            Understatement of the week. "He's fine," I lied.
            "Let me know if I can help?"
            "Of course."
            She could hear the exhaustion in my voice. "Go to bed. Call me tomorrow."
            "I will. Thanks, Charlie."
            I set the phone down and headed for the whisky, pouring a large glass before flicking switches on the stereo and flooding the flat with Satie's Trois Gymnopédies in an attempt to block out my troubled thoughts.

           It didn't work. Sleep was a long time coming.

           Ray and I arrived together at the Old Man's office at nine the next morning. Ray looked exhausted. My night had passed in a haze, and I felt shattered, numb, everything greyed by fatigue. Cowley regarded us, expression neutral.
            "Sit down, the pair of you."
            We sat, and he appraised us for a moment or two. I forced myself not to react. Finally he nodded.
            "You did a good job."
            "Thank you sir."
            He glanced at me, and for a few seconds I had the unnerving impression of being under interrogation… "It's a Vice Squad case now. Sir Alexander is finished as far as his career is concerned."
            There was an awkward silence for a few moments as he watched us intently, then he checked his watch, rose and reached for his coat. "I have a meeting with the minister. I want you two to take some time off and get some rest. I'll see you back here on Thursday morning. 8.30 sharp."
            We nodded and followed him from the office. I had nearly seventy two hours to get myself back to normal. If he had any concerns about me by then, I'd be in queen bitch Ross' office before you could say Clement Freud.

           And for a little while I thought I could do it, too. At any rate, I shoved the whole mess to the back of my mind, knowing we could trust Charlie and Lindsey to follow up on the information they'd found at Jackson's, and finding some consolation in the thought that everyone else involved in this filthy operation would soon be in custody - photographers, distributors, buyers, with luck even the rapists. And they'd pay for the harm they'd done, even if it was too late for their victims. But knowing Charlie and Lindsey, they'd move heaven and earth to get the kids the help they needed, too. What really kept me going, though, was my satisfaction at the thought of what Talbot-Jones and that bastard Adamson would suffer.

           On Tuesday afternoon, Lindsey rang.
            "Adamson and Sir Alexander have been granted bail."
            I frowned. "Is that wise?"
            "Maybe not. But two such important men? Not much we can do about it." I heard her sigh. "Just thought you'd want to know."
            "Yeah, thanks." The first hint of apprehension was gnawing at me.
            "Want to meet up tonight?"
            "D'you mind if we don't?"
            Her voice deepened: I could hear compassion, and it hurt. "No, of course not. But you will ring me if I can… do anything, won't you? You know, if you feel like talking? Or going for a drink?"
            "I will."
            "Take care of yourself, won't you? Or let Ray do it…"
            "OK… Lindsey, I'm sorry, I have to go. I'll speak to you soon."
            I put the phone down, unable to cope with her sympathy. I didn't deserve it.
            And the sense of foreboding grew stronger.

           On Wednesday afternoon Lindsey rang again. She was crying.
            "Lindsey? What is it, love?" I gripped the handset tightly, suddenly dreading what she was going to say next.
            "Those bastards… " she gulped and tried to get her voice under control. "Talbot-Jones. Adamson…"
            "What happened?"
            "Jones killed himself. Took an overdose last night."
            "Adamson?"
            "Broke bail and left the country."
            "Oh god…"
            Her tears were from anger and sheer frustration and I felt like joining in. They'd both escaped justice.
            "Do you want me to come over?"
            "Not right now, Bodie." She blew her nose and fiercely pulled herself together, though her voice still shook. "Charlie and I need to see if we can salvage anything. At least we still have the others… I'll give you a ring later in the week, OK?"
            "OK. Let me know if I can help, won't you?"
            "Yes. Thanks Bodie."
            She rang off, and I was left alone in the flat, feeling some - thing - black and hollow filling me inside…

           Fuming, I put the phone down from speaking to Charlie, fists clenched. Bastards. Both of them. Talbot-Jones for being such a coward and taking the easy way out. Adamson for skipping the country; probably to start up another sordid trade elsewhere.
            Oh, I knew Cowley would say that the primary objective, that of exposing Talbot-Jones before he could embarrass the country, or Adamson before someone started blackmailing him into passing on Defence secrets, had been achieved. But that wasn't what this case was about.
            It was about the kids.
            I headed again for the whisky; I was going to have to buy another bottle.
            The kids. The photos that Lindsey had impounded from Jackson. The photos I'd seen briefly in Talbot-Jones' house. All those kids; all ages, both sexes. Poor little kids.
            And Bodie.
            I put the glass down and headed back to the phone. Charlie had said Lindsey was calling Bodie to tell him.

           The phone rang without answer. I let it ring 20 times, hung up; dialled again. And a third time.
            If I was persistent enough, Bodie would answer. If he didn't, I would go round there, and he knew it.
            On the seventh attempt, he picked up the receiver. "Ray."
            He knew it was me; no one else would be that obstinate.
            "Yeah. Did you speak to Lindsey?"
            "She called."
            "And?" I trod carefully. His voice sounded dangerously controlled. "Are you OK?"
            "Yeah."
            He obviously wasn't OK. Given the way I was feeling, my partner had to be feeling ten times worse. But I knew if I pushed too hard I'd never get the barriers down.
            I left it. "Louise called me earlier. Wanted to remind us about Katie's birthday party on Sunday."
            I ploughed on before he could start to think of excuses. "I told her there was no way we'd miss it. We promised Katie we'd be there, remember?"
            He managed a reply. "I remember. But -"
            "That was what you told a little girl who adores you." I'd use emotional blackmail if it got through to Bodie.
            He paused. "I remember. I'll be there."
            "So, are you picking me up in the morning, or me you?"

           Thursday we spent doing the report. As usual, the last few weeks of frenetic activity were being followed by a period where nothing was happening, and we and several other agents spent Friday and Saturday lounging about, getting on each others' nerves.
            Bodie was coping.
            He was tired, tense, and grouchy, and it didn't take the others long to realise he'd suffered a sense of humour failure and that Bodie-baiting was out.
            He refused to talk. But I wasn't exactly shut out either, and I was a long way from suggesting he saw Kate Ross. Although how long it would be before Cowley did, I had no idea.

           Sunday, and Bodie picked me up as agreed. In spite of his promise I'd anticipated excuses, and was relieved when I saw the Capri pull up. He'd arrived on time, but the drive to the Palmer's took a lot longer than usual.
            I grabbed the large gaily-wrapped box from the backseat and got out of the car, expecting Bodie to follow me.
            "C'mon, Bodie." He didn't move; his hands still gripping the steering wheel tightly. Already sure of the answer, I asked slowly, "What's up?"
            I didn't get a response, merely a glance, his expression for once so open that I had no trouble reading it, full of naked fear… But then he was moving, out of the car and towards the stairs, swiftly, barely giving me time to catch up.
            He stopped abruptly on the landing, muttering. "Don't know if I can."
            Putting my hand on his shoulder I squeezed gently. "It'll be OK, mate." I think even then he would've backed out, if it weren't for Katie's appearance from the flat, and the usual, excited shriek of pleasure as she scampered towards us. Feeling his resistance against my hand, I held him steady. "You can do it for Katie."
            He had time for a half-glance in my direction before Katie launched herself at him, and catching her instinctively he swung her around before setting her back on her feet. Fortunately Katie was too excited to notice how quickly Bodie set her down, turning eagerly to me, and stretching her arms up for a hug.
            I gave her an extra hard squeeze, trying to make up for Bodie. "We bought you a present."
            Unexpectedly, Katie seemed disinterested in the gift, seizing Bodie's hand. "Come on, I want you to meet my friends…" She towed him along the landing, unable to see the torment on his face as he looked back at me, clearly wanting to escape.
            Apprehensively I followed them into the flat. Louise had asked us to be there for Katie's birthday; she hadn't mentioned that Katie was also inviting six or seven of her school friends. Nicky was in the middle of the group seated on the floor, and gave us both a grin of welcome. "Katie, come back and join in the game, you can talk to Bodie later."
            Momentarily reprieved, Bodie leant back against the wall. I could see him struggling with the barely-concealed anguish as he regarded - almost in horror - the group of giggling youngsters.

           I couldn't breathe. It felt like a giant hand was clenched around my chest. All I could see when I looked at the children were the images in Adamson's photographs superimposed over their happy faces. And - suddenly, sickeningly - I remembered how I'd felt...
            I could feel my heart hammering, too fast, making me feel sick and light-headed. Panic. I don't panic. Until now. I can't stay in here, not in here, not with the kids...
            And then Nicky looked at me...

           I saw Nicky gazing at Bodie, expression puzzled, and her glance flicked between us. She managed to catch Bodie's eye, and I saw him blanch and swallow hard before he turned away, hurrying out to the landing, fortunately unseen by Katie.
            Picking her way through the kids, Nicky made her way to my side. "What's wrong with Bodie?"
            It wasn't a casual enquiry; whatever she'd read in his face told her half the story, and my expression told her the rest. She dropped her voice, though the noisy game in progress meant I could only just hear her; no one else would. "Did you tell him?"
            "No. He doesn't know about you, but it's - " I wasn't sure how much to tell her. "It's a case we've been working on. It - involved - kids…"
            "Like me, you mean?"
            "Like you, and kids of Katie's age - and younger…"
            She frowned at me, only partially understanding. "But why -?"
            "He's - confused. He's never had to face anything like this before…"
            Something told her there was more to it. "Confused?"
            She saw my concerned glance at the kids as I tried to find words to explain that wouldn't hurt her; Nicky had suffered enough. She recoiled, not bodily but on the inside, flinching slightly as she cast her own fretful look at them. "Bodie's not - he hasn't - "
            "No. He wouldn't, Nicky."
            "But?" Suddenly she wasn't anxious anymore, just terribly sad, as if she'd expected her trust to be betrayed all along, and wasn't surprised now it had happened.
            "Right at this moment Bodie hates himself, for what he thinks he's become. It's tearing him apart, Nicky."
            Oblique though the words were, she seemed to understand.
            Nicky glanced back at the happy squealing group before taking a couple of steps towards the door, stopping and turning uncertainly before she reached it, doubt written clear on her face. Whatever her own reservations about Bodie, she knew how much he loved Katie.
            "Go on." I managed a smile. "See if you can help him."

           Nicky found me leaning against the landing window, trying to cool my burning forehead on the cold glass. I hadn't realised she was there until she touched my arm. And I jerked away violently, moving as far from her as I could in the narrow alcove, banging my shoulder against the wall. Strung so tight I felt I would snap. I couldn't look at her.
            "Bodie…"
            I shook my head, willing her to go away.
            "Want to talk to you."
            I watched her reflection in the window, not trusting myself to speak.
            "Tell me what's wrong."
            "I can't." It came out as a whisper.
            "'Course you can." She took my hand, staring down at it then up at my face, frowning. "You're trembling."
            I looked away, then quickly pulled my hand from hers as I heard someone coming up the stairs.
            "Ullo Nicky! 'Ow's tricks?"
            "Fine, Mr Smith."
            "Good, good. Tell Katie I said Happy Birthday, will you?"
            "I will."
            Mr Smith carried on up the stairs, and Nicky caught my hand again.
            "Can't talk here. Come on, Bodie."
            Helpless, I let her pull me towards the stairs...

           Ten minutes later we were sitting on one of the benches in the park, side by side but not touching, not speaking. The silence stretched.
            Then Nicky sighed.
            "Ray said you've been working with kids. Kids like me… that've been… abused."
            If I hadn't been frozen before, I was now. I stared down at her bowed head, shocked rigid, unable to breathe. Nicky? Nicky?
            She crossed her arms, hugging herself as though she felt as cold as I did.
            "I was a bit younger than Katie when he started. He barged into the bedroom one night when Mum was working, and hit me, and pushed me down on the bed. And when I struggled he put his hands round my neck and said he'd kill me if I said a word to anyone. And I knew he would."
            She was trembling, and had pulled her legs up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, head resting on her knees, her voice muffled. I ached to touch her, comfort her, hold her safe, protect her like I've always tried to protect the oh-so-few things I love…
            I didn't dare. How could I, knowing what she'd suffered, how I'd reacted, how I'd felt…
            "I didn't know what he was doing to me, and he hurt me. But it hurt less than if he hit me and after the first few times it didn't hurt so much. I got used to it. It was just something that happened."
            Her father. Her father did this to her. If he hadn't already been dead I would have sought him out and killed him, very slowly and very painfully… But that wouldn't have killed the part of me I hated, would it…?
            This was about Nicky, not me. I felt myself shaking. I had no words…
            "When I got a bit older and knew what he was doing was wrong I said I'd tell Mum. And he thumped me, and said she wouldn't believe me or that I'd be taken away and then he'd only have Katie there... She was only 6…"
            Katie… My head was pounding, wanting not to believe, knowing it was true. And suddenly so many things clicked into place. Nicky's not wanting us to touch her, when we'd first met the kids. Her protectiveness toward Katie. Her indifference to her father's death. Charlie's comments at the hospital. Her resentment of my dating her mother…
            I felt like I was choking.
            That hadn't been resentment. It had been fear. Oh god, had she thought I'd wanted to…?
            I could feel the blood draining from my face. I felt sick. Nicky lifted her head and looked up at me, eyes wide, face impassive.
            "That night - when he got shot - he wasn't dead. We hated him so much we left him to die."
            She gazed up at me, waiting, all her defences down. And I could have wept. She'd opened her soul to me - to help me.
            I took a deep breath. Telling her what had happened was to risk her rejection. More than risk. After what she'd been through…
            She was still watching me, still waiting.
            "Nicky…"
            I didn't know what to say. How to start. What can you say to a child whose father has repeatedly raped her?
            The silence stretched. Nicky took my hand.
            "Tell me about the other kids, Bodie…"
            "I… I don't know who they are. I've only seen photos. We… we've been trying to find the men who've been taking them…"
            I faltered to a halt. Her expression was a mix of horrified comprehension and fear.
            "Like Castle?"
            "Yes. And the men who buy the photos…"
            "And did you? Did you catch them?"
            I nodded. "Nearly all of them, we think."
            "What about the kids? Are they OK?"
            "Nicky, I don't know. We don't know anything about the children; we haven't seen them, only the photographs. Charlie and Lindsey are taking over from here. They'll do everything they can, I promise."
            She nodded, her face pale, strained. Imagining what it must be like for the children. She glanced up at me and opened her mouth to speak, then hesitated. I waited, afraid of what she was going to say.
            "Ray said… He said you…"
            I took her small hand in both of mine.
            "Nicky, I wouldn't hurt Katie, or you, or any other child. Not for the world."
            "Think I'd've let you get anywhere near Katie if I thought you would?"
            I shook my head. Now, with hindsight, I understood her concern. If she'd had the slightest suspicion, she'd have done everything in her power to keep me away from her sister.
            She managed a very slight smile. "Katie loves you so much. But - but it's not easy, for me…" She looked away. "I know what men can be like…"
            "But I'm not like that." I heard my voice trail away and let go of her hand. "At least, I didn't think I was…" I held my breath. I'd admitted to it. I had no idea what her reaction would be, but I expected the worst.
            She went very still for a few seconds, and had to force herself to meet my eyes. It took everything I had for me to maintain that eye contact, to remain open and unthreatening, while she gazed at me.
            "But you hate yourself for feeling like that."
            "Yes…"
            "Would you - do it?"
            "No! " I swallowed and clasped my hands together. "No. I couldn't. But that doesn't make it any better."
            "Yes it does."
            I watched her, feeling hopeless, not following her logic. She did her best to explain, and as she spoke I began to realise that I wasn't listening to a child.
            "He hurt me, his own daughter. He didn't care about me, or Paul, or Russell, or Katie… He took what he wanted. But you're not selfish. You care. You hate yourself for how you felt."
            I was beginning to understand, I think, but…
            "How can you bear to be near me?"
            She took my hand again.
            "Because you can ask that question."
            I must have looked unconvinced. She frowned and tried again.
            "What would you do if anyone tried to… hurt… Katie?"
            I stiffened, my hands fisting without conscious volition. I didn't realise how my expression had changed until Nicky shuffled backwards a little, eyes wide.
            "You looked like you were going to kill someone." She frowned. "You'd do that for Katie?"
            I nodded. "You too."
            "Why?"
            "Why?"
            "Yeah - why? We're not your kids."
            It was difficult to speak around the lump in my throat.
            "Because no-one should have to go through that, let alone a child. You're the future…" My voice cracked. I'd never felt so helpless.

           For the first time, Nicky hugged me.

           I held perfectly still, afraid to hug back, and she looked up at me, tears in her eyes.
            "S'OK Bodie. I trust you. I know you won't hurt me."
            I wrapped my arms gently around her and wept silently into her hair.

           Ray found us there a little later, still holding each other. As he joined us, Nicky looked up, brushing at her eyes with the back of one hand and smiling tremulously. Ray smiled back, encouragingly, and laid a hand on my shoulder.
            "You OK? Both of you?"
            Nicky nodded and disentangled herself from my arms. Ray looked at me, concerned.
            "You look wiped out."
            I smiled tiredly, feeling it. "Exorcism can do that to you."
            He grinned. "Got enough energy to help Katie blow out her candles? Louise is bringing in the cake."

           It would take a while longer yet for Bodie to forgive himself completely and I watched discreetly as he said goodbye to the girls; his hug for Katie still restrained before he turned to hug Nicky.
            Whatever he and Nicky had talked about had helped, though - helped both of them. I felt a strange pang of envy at the closeness the pair of them suddenly had; I was the one Nicky trusted, yet she'd opened up to Bodie rather than me.
            But the pang melted away as they both smiled at me; Nicky with affection, Bodie with friendship.

           As we reached the car Bodie tossed me the keys. "I'm knackered. You can drive."
            Settled in the passenger seat, Bodie was quiet for a while, his thoughtfulness eventually producing a question. "Why didn't you tell me about Nicky?"
            "Wouldn't have helped either of you. Before." It was only recent events that had brought Bodie to a new understanding of what she'd been through. "And I promised Nicky I wouldn't tell anyone."

           I thought about this for a little while. The party had proved easier than I'd expected when we went back inside - if Nicky could trust me, forgive me, and Ray understood and didn't condemn me, then I could forgive myself. Prove they were right to believe in me. And I'd watched Katie blow out her candles, concentrating on her innocent happiness. I'd caught Nicky's eye, and she'd grinned at me - the first real beaming grin I'd ever had from her. I felt my heart lift.
            But I couldn't help but wonder if the whole thing would have been a hell of a lot less stressful if Ray had been straight with me from the start…
            No. On reflection, I could see why he'd done it. Ray never breaks a confidence anyway, but he also thinks, most of the time, that you need to sort your problems out yourself.
            Afterwards, in Katie's excitement at the culmination of her party, I'd had a few minutes peace to think over what had happened. And for a moment or two I was so bloody angry with Ray for keeping secrets from me - what if I'd said the wrong thing? I could have really dropped myself in it, not to mention causing Nicky real grief. Then I wondered for one cold, frightened moment if perhaps my earlier 'confession' had given him pause… No. No, Ray would have been straight with me, as always… Of course he would….
            Then I really started thinking… I tried to imagine how I'd feel if it had been me who'd had that sort of knowledge. I couldn't. So I tried calling on my feelings for Katie…
            The cold chill up my back made me shake. Imagining Katie, pinned down on a bed, terrified, her little body being…
            I felt sick. Would I want anyone to know?
            No.
            Of course not…
            …I'm not normally given to flashes of insight, but if I could help make sure no more children suffered as Nicky had, it would be a kind of atonement. Wouldn't it?
            I felt myself relaxing, sinking back infinitesimally into the car seat. I understood, slowly and with a new self-awareness, that I was OK. Not superhuman. Not devil nor angel. Just human. I glanced at Ray, driving the car with his usual competence, focused on the road ahead. Wondered for a brief moment what I'd done to deserve a partner like him. Suddenly felt that everything would be OK. It couldn't be anything else, not with Ray there.
            Ray had halted at a crossroads and was watching me, expression firmly neutral.
            "You OK?"
            I looked at him. "I will be."
            He smiled, slowly but with affectionate understanding. "Yeah, you will, won't you."  

 

© Joules Taylor & Carol Good - October 2000



... two weeks later (Joules' follow-up)...

Consolation


... and Carol's follow-up,

In Safe Hands...


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"A Mars a day Helps you work, rest and play." Old advertising slogan. Back

Fanny Craddock - 70's equivalent of Delia Smith. She appeared on TV cooking shows, often wearing ballgowns, helped by her hen-pecked husband Johnny. Back

'They're changing Guards at Buckingham Palace, Christopher Robin went down with Alice'. A A Milne, When We Were Very Young Back

Little Plum was a Red Indian in the Beano, a popular children's comic of the time. Back

"Vile and disgusting pseudo-ice cream soft, swirly gunge that comes from a machine." Joules (who can't stand the stuff….) Back

Trifle - dessert comprising of sponge cake (in Joules' family, usually chopped-up Swiss roll) in jelly, sometimes with a chopped banana, topped with banana-flavoured custard. Bizarre = bazaar (oriental market). Just in case anyone wasn't quite clear! Back

Whacking great sandwiches made with thick slices of bread - very substantial, very filling. Aka 'doorsteps'. Back


Source: Child Pornography: an investigation. Tim Tate. ISBN 0-413-61540-5 (With my sincerest thanks to Carol for reading and précis-ing the information in this text for me. Joules)