"I need a wife."
He sounded dismayed. It wasn't the sort of statement you'd expect to hear from Doyle; Bodie was grinning fit to bust and I couldn't prevent a smile either. Even the Old Man let a glimmer of amusement cross his face.
Doyle glared at Bodie, encompassing me. "Can I remind you both how important this is?"
Cowley was back to business. "We're well aware of that, Doyle. We've spent long enough setting this up."
That was true. We'd invested over a month's time and effort in this case and from the moment of initial contact it had been hard, secretive, work. Once we'd got Clarissa into protection we'd had to work quickly to pick up Tom Dutton and 'disappear' him, replacing him with Doyle.
Doyle had been undercover at the hotel for over a week now, and last night had been his third meeting with Katzler. And now Doyle needed a wife, so we'd better find him one.
Not exactly hard, of course. "We'd better call Ruth in then."
They all stared at me, expressions varying. Bodie's said he agreed; Ruth would be perfect. Cowley's revealed that he agreed but also exhibited underlying concern about using a female agent.
Doyle, on the other hand, looked aghast. I didn't have long to ponder his reasons for such a reaction before he gave them to me.
"Ruth? Have you lost your mind, Murph? There's no way she can double for Clarissa Dutton! She's not up to it; she's never worked undercover before. And - well, I just don't think she's right for the job."
Bodie's gaze flicked between us as he assimilated Doyle's arguments. I calmly provided a counter for them. "Ruth is more than capable of working undercover. She's done all the training. Who else is there?"
"Susan?" Bodie suggested.
If anything, Doyle looked even more horrified, and Bodie covered his laugh with a cough. Susan Fischer hadn't been on the team long but already managed to alienate most of the lads; she was ambitious and the only way forward for her in this man's world was to fight. I probably got on with her better than some of them, but even I wouldn't be keen to go undercover and play happy families with her.
"She's too new." Cowley ruled her out immediately. "So is Julie. Sally has enough experience."
"But she's only just joined us. It makes more sense to have someone who knows Ray. If he's supposed to be married he needs someone he knows, and more importantly someone who knows him. It's the little things that would give them away."
Doyle still seemed reluctant, but faced with Susan as an alternative Ruth was suddenly a much more attractive option. "I suppose Ruth's had some involvement in the case."
Some involvement? When she had proved herself time and again, it still amazed me how she was taken for granted. "She knows everything about the case. Have you forgotten who made first contact with Clarissa, reassured her and brought her in, and debriefed her? Got all the detail you needed in order to play this role? And you've talked to Clarissa, she's not your average dealer's wife; she's a cut above Dutton and we need someone who can mirror that. Ruth is perfect."
"Ruth it is, then." Decision made, Cowley buzzed Betty and asked her to find Ruth.
While we waited, Doyle finished telling us how the meeting had gone. "Katzler was still being cagey about the shipment, even when it was just the two of us he wouldn't give me any details. But I think my cover's solid."
"I tried pumping Katzler's minder, Gus." Bodie was masquerading as Doyle's 'heavy' and he'd been along the previous evening. "I didn't get much from him of any use, but he didn't seem suspicious about Doyle. Although he's pretty brainless, of course. He's just a guard-dog under Katzler's control, ready to bite when instructed."
"Every good pusher needs a guard-dog," Doyle grinned at his partner. "Keep your teeth good and sharp, Bodie."
The door opened to admit Ruth carrying a file. "I've got that report for you, Mr Cowley. Is that why you wanted to see me?"
She paused, the centre of attention. "Why are you all looking at me like that?"
It was a little disconcerting to have all four staring at me. The stares were accompanied by the kind of silence that suggested I'd been the subject of an abruptly terminated conversation.
I looked from one to the other of them. Bodie looked amused, as he frequently does. Ray had dropped his gaze and now wouldn't meet my eye. Murphy, leaning back against a filing cabinet looked rather pleased with himself and Mr Cowley... seemed to come to a decision even as my gaze reached him.
"Miss Pettifer, please sit down. I have an assignment for you."
I obediently dropped into the spare chair in front of his desk and looked at him expectantly. Ray was sitting in the other chair, while Bodie lounged against the window.
Mr Cowley cleared his throat. "You are, I believe, acquainted with the case Bodie and Doyle are working on at present?"
I nodded. "Yes sir."
"Larry Katzler has insisted that Doyle, in his role as Tom Dutton, produce his wife at a cocktail party Katzler is holding tonight."
"I see," I said. "And you want me to play the part of the wife?"
He nodded. "It shouldn't be too onerous an job..."
"Just a quick in and out, Ruth," Ray interrupted. "Dress up, eat some twiddly things on sticks and disappear again."
Now he was looking at me with a trace of anxiety in his eyes. Clearly, whatever the discussion had been before I walked in, Ray was not happy about my involvement.
"Thank you, 4.5. I believe I was still speaking."
Ray said nothing, but sat back in his chair. I kept my expression blank but over Mr Cowley's shoulder I could see Bodie's smirk had widened.
"I hope it is as simple as Doyle suggests, but we must be prepared for all eventualities. You will be fully briefed by him on his cover story and then make your way to the Westbury Hotel."
The Westbury Hotel was, I knew from my reading of the files, the place Ray was staying in as part of his background for this case. I stood and smoothed out my skirt. "I'll go and delegate my outstanding case files and then meet you in the rest room in about twenty minutes, if that's OK?" Without waiting for an answer I gave Mr Cowley a quick nod, slid a glance over the other three men and left the room.
It didn't take long to pass over my files to Julie. She took them resignedly. "When am I going to get to do something more than research and filing, Ruth?"
"Oh your turn will come," I assured her.
Back in the rest room I was relieved to see only Ray. I had half expected Bodie and Murphy to be there as well.
"Bodie's around somewhere, scrounging some lunch, I expect. Murphy's gone home to pack a few things, he's your bodyguard now," Ray said, when I enquired where they were.
"My bodyguard? I don't need a bodyguard. Do I?"
Ray grinned mirthlessly. "Of course you do. Tom Dutton barely lets his wife out of his sight remember? He's not quite so bad in his home town but here in the big bad city, he's a bit more paranoid. So, Murph has been ordered to bring you, Clarissa, down from Manchester. The excuse for her not being here from the start is that she's been visiting her parents but Katzler's pretty insistent now that he get to meet her."
I thought about it. I'd had several conversations with Clarissa Dutton before she was dispatched to a safe house. She was terrified of her husband and even after we'd arrested him she still thought he would find her somehow. She wanted to be free of him but was now regretting the impulse that led her to turn him in for fear of what he would do when he caught up with her again. She had found it hard to accept my assurances that Dutton couldn't bribe his way out of CI5's hands. Not surprising when Dutton seemed to have so many of the local police on his payroll.
"How do you want me to play it, Ray? Clarissa was pretty scared, you know, but I can't see that attitude being much use to you with Katzler."
He nodded. He'd also tried to talk to Clarissa, to try and get useful, personal information on her husband. Stuff other people wouldn't know. But she'd got hysterical and wouldn't talk to him.
"Timid, rather than terrified, I think," he said now. "And you don't know what my... Dutton's and Katzler's business is, OK? She said she didn't have any idea at first and the less you know, the less chance he'll want to see you again."
"I do know what to do, you know," I said mildly. It wouldn't do to start this assignment with a full blown row but I wasn't going to let Ray shield me too much either.
"Of course she does. Just hang on his arm and gaze adoringly at him from time to time. OK Ruthie?" Bodie breezed into the room, sandwich in hand.
"I think I can just about manage that," I said, careful not to let him see how much his calling me Ruthie, irritated me. If he knew that, he'd only do it all the more.
"This isn't a joke," Ray snapped. "Katzler's dangerous and we need to get this right." Then he turned to me. "Ruth, go home, pack a case as if you were planning to stay a while and get a ride to Watford Junction. Best be on the safe side in case they're watching us. Murphy will meet you there and you both travel on to Euston as if you'd got off the Manchester train. We'll do this damn dinner party and then I'm going to push Katzler on this deal. I'm sick of his prevaricating."
Bodie and I exchanged glances. We both knew what Ray could be like when he got worked up about something and from long experience we knew it was best to let him get it out of his system.
"I'll see you at the hotel later then, dear," I said as I got to my feet and watched his head snap up in surprise.
Bodie chuckled. "Ah, marital bliss. Nothing like it – from the outside," he added hastily.
"Pity the poor girl who'd take you on anyway," I heard Ray say as I left the room.
Back at my flat I quickly packed a variety of clothes and toiletries and phoned for a taxi. Then, with a few minutes on my own with nothing to do for the first time since I'd heard about this mission, I allowed my thoughts to come crashing through my mind. I'd never gone undercover before. Mr Cowley seemed to value my organisational skills and he was never fond of putting women in danger; that was well known and a source of some irritation among the female agents. I had no desire to get shot or beaten up as I had seen happened to the male agents, but then I don't suppose they were all that keen on it either. This was something I could do, a role that I was suited to and despite Ray's concern, I didn't see that much could happen to me with three of CI5's finest around.
I saw Murphy as soon as I stepped onto the platform at Watford Junction.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Dutton," he said with a grin, reaching to take my cases from me.
At the hotel we were shown to a suite on the third floor and while Murphy tipped the bellboy I gaped at the size of the room. And this was just the lounge area. The door by the window led to the bedroom and I could see a further room off that, which was presumably the bathroom. I stood for a moment in the doorway of the bedroom looking at the kingsize bed, then I shook myself. We were both professionals, we'd work it out.
"Bodie's in room 107 and I'm in 203," Murphy said. "And Ruth, there's one other thing." He gestured to a small attaché case on the desk by the window. He must have brought it from the taxi along with our suitcases. It had a combination lock which Murphy now twirled open. "The boss thought you'd need some jewellery to fit the part. Not knowing what you'd need he's borrowed this little selection from some Bond Street place. Don't lose any of it for God's sake."
I looked in the case and gasped. What seemed to be an Aladdin's cave of precious stones glittered at me; diamonds, rubies, sapphires. I turned the pieces over with care. I was relieved to see them. When I'd packed it had occurred to me that my own jewellery would not be suitable. The best pieces I had were my mother's emerald and diamond earrings and a pearl necklace I'd been given on my twenty-first birthday but they weren't in the class of the wife of a high level drug baron. I'd packed them anyway but I was pleased not to have to use them.
"Trust Mr Cowley to think of everything," I said.
"Including your rings," Murphy said slapping his pocket and drawing out a small jeweller's box.
I snapped open the lid and found a diamond engagement ring large enough to take my breath away and a broad gold band. "Generous man, my husband," I said lightly. I hesitated a moment before sliding the rings onto the third finger of my left hand. They felt odd there and my thoughts were confused as I stared down at them. These weren't exactly the circumstances I'd imagined when I thought about seeing rings there, even if the man... but I shied away from that thought. If Murphy had even a hint of what I was thinking he said nothing.
Ruth stared at the rings as she slid them onto her finger, and for a second, she looked self-conscious. I wasn't quite sure what was going through her head. It could be regret that she had agreed to do this - she had little field experience, after all - or perhaps she was just wondering what it would be like to wear the rings for real. I had no idea whether she had anyone in mind, of course. Ruth was tight-lipped about her private life, as she had every right to be.
"Do they fit?"
She looked up, startled. "Yes. How did Mr Cowley get that right, do you think?"
I grinned. "Perhaps he secretly has us all sized up for every eventuality?"
"It's an interesting thought." She smiled, somewhat nervously. "It will be OK, won't it, Murphy?"
"Everything will be fine." If she was nervous and bluffing then I'd hate to play her at cards; Ruth always looked so confident. "It's just the one evening, after all. You just have to mingle with the other guests and stay casual. Bodie and I will be there as well as Ray; you'll be able to signal to us if you want. But Ray will look after you anyway."
A key sounded in the lock and Doyle came in, closely followed by Bodie. "Good, you're here. Wasn't sure what time train you'd get."
"We caught one which had actually come from Manchester," I told Doyle. "Made sure we looked the part."
"Good thinking. We'd better get ready for tonight. We'll see you in reception at about seven."
I gave Ruth a reassuring grin as Bodie and I made our way towards the door, seeing something almost like panic flit across her face. There was a lot to playing happy families that she might not have considered.
As soon as the door closed behind them I felt tense. This was silly; I'd been alone with Ray loads of times. We got on well, flirted a little even. I liked his company.
But now, having this role forced upon us like this, was quite a different matter and I felt strangely uncertain. Not something I was accustomed to being.
Ray seemed to have no such problem. "You want first go at the bathroom?" he asked.
I nodded and snatched up my vanity case. In the bathroom I locked the door although I knew really that Ray would never come barging in.
As I showered, dried myself and applied generous amounts of my favourite perfumed body lotion, I began to relax and even feel quite excited about the forthcoming evening. Getting dressed up, the chance to wear fine jewellery and to have a good looking man, no, I was forgetting our 'bodyguards', make that three good looking men in attendance. Well, I had heard of more arduous undercover assignments.
I put on one of the fluffy, white towelling robes hanging on the hook behind the door, wrapped my hair in a towel and went back into the bedroom.
Ray walked through from the sitting room as I came in. "Drink?" he said, holding out a glass of wine to me. "Might as well make the most of it. Cowley's going to have a heart attack when he gets the bill for this lot anyway." He took a sip from his own glass and sighed in appreciation of the quality.
"Hadn't you better hurry?" I asked him.
He sprawled across the bed and took another swallow of whisky. "I bet I could lie here and watch you dress and still have time to get ready while you fiddle with your hair and make up."
"That," I told him firmly, "was a remark worthy of Bodie, not you."
He gave me a look of mock hurt and rolled off the bed. "Hope you left enough hot water," he said as he headed into the bathroom.
As soon as I heard the water running I opened my suitcase and took out the clothes I had selected for the evening. I slipped on fresh underwear and then dropped the dress over my head. I put the robe back on to avoid any mess getting on the dress and then sat down at the dressing table to dry my hair and apply my makeup. The bathroom door opened and Ray came out, also wearing a towelling robe, just as I finished pinning my hair up.
He leaned against the doorway and watched me apply lipstick then he said, "I'm going to get dressed now."
Flustered I hastily got to my feet. "I'll just go and choose some jewellery to go with this." I stepped into my shoes and hurried into the sitting room, his low chuckle following me.
I selected drop earrings, a veritable waterfall of diamonds, and a matching bracelet to complement the dress and was just admiring myself in the mirror, when there came an appreciative wolf whistle and I turned to see Ray strolling into the room.
"Very nice," he said.
"Thank you. You don't look so bad yourself." I said, looking him over. He was wearing standard black trousers and dinner jacket but of a fine quality and with a dazzlingly white shirt. Certainly I'd never seen him so expensively attired.
"Wish I didn't have to wear this, though," he said, tugging on his bow tie.
Before I knew what I was doing, I had crossed the room and slapped his hand away. "Now look what you've done, you've ruined it." I tugged it fully undone and began to retie it.
"Done many of these?" he asked.
I looked up and caught the intensity of his gaze. I flushed. "One or two." I looked down again and tried to concentrate on the scrap of fabric.
"Last person to tie a tie for me was Cowley."
Startled I looked at him. "S'true." He was grinning now. "Wonder who it'll be next time."
"There," I stepped back. "You'll do."
He crooked his arm at me. "Then I think we should get going. Bodie and Murph have probably drunk the bar dry by now." Then the smile fell away. "Seriously Ruth, just be careful tonight. Just be polite, don't get too involved with anybody and tell anybody who asks that you're going back home tomorrow, OK?"
I withdrew my hand from his arm and looked at him coldly. "You attend to your own cover, 4.5, and leave me to manage mine." I snatched up my bag and stalked off down the corridor to the lift.
I had agreed to meet Bodie in the bar for a swift one before we left, and strolled down there at just before six-thirty. He was already there and as usual hadn't been wasting time, if the blushes the barmaid was trying to hide was anything to go by.
"What do you fancy?"
"Whatever you're having." I watched the young barmaid as she walked to serve someone at the other end of the bar, and Bodie smirked at me.
"You can have the same drink, but she's mine; I saw her first."
Bodie had a strange philosophy when it came to birds: he could make a move on everyone else's but no one could make a move on his. It didn't often cause ructions between him and Doyle since their taste in birds - other than the fact that they had to be attractive - was usually completely different; but Bodie's tastes and mine ran rather too close for comfort, and had led to one or two disagreements in the past.
"She's not yours yet." I sent her a winning smile and was gratified to see her blush and dip her head away in embarrassment. "15 all, I think?"
Bodie simply grinned. He wouldn't give up without a fight, but it would pass the time.
Neither of us were taking it that seriously but it seemed to be 40-30 in my favour by the time I saw Doyle and Ruth in reception. "Come on, time to go."
Bodie hung back for a few moments to speak to the barmaid - between us, we'd managed to extract the information that Kayley was Australian and just working at the bar for a few months - and I grinned at my colleagues as they both looked resigned when they realised what was delaying Bodie.
"Can't keep his mind on the job," Doyle muttered. Well, that all depended which job you were talking about, but I restrained the normal ribald retort in front of Ruth and instead complimented them on their attire. "You both look the part."
Doyle, in fact, looked quite uncomfortable in his stiff suit. Given his normal casual - or scruffy - clobber it was hardly surprising, even though he'd been wearing smarter than usual clothes while undercover. Bodie and I were both smartly suited as befitted a pair of slightly dodgy bodyguards, but we were both far more likely to wear suits on a day to day basis.
Decked out in some of the jewels Cowley had borrowed and wearing an incredible creation in red, Ruth looked perfect. I wasn't familiar enough with the fashion catwalk to identify the designer but it fitted as if made especially for her; shoulders bared and revealed by delicate scoops of material. Before I could comment, Bodie hurried up beside me.
"You look great, Ruthie."
Doyle frowned at him. "Better start calling her Clarissa. In fact, since I'm employing you, you'd both better call her Mrs Dutton."
"Yes, boss," Bodie answered him, grinning. "Whatever you say, boss; three bags full, boss..."
Seeing Doyle's temper was on a short fuse tonight, I hid my smile and backed away towards the front doors. "I'll find us a taxi."
Once we were on our way, Doyle repeated his request. "Seriously, Katzler's men call his wife 'Mrs', so you two need to show Ruth some respect."
"And you need to remember to call her Clarissa," Bodie pointed out. "We all know what we're doing."
Bodie and Doyle bickered like this frequently and it didn't affect their professionalism or partnership one iota, but I didn't think it would do much for Ruth's confidence. "We'll remember, Ray."
Unable to relax, Doyle honed in on Ruth. "I've no idea who else is invited to this party but we don't want to give anything away. Stick to general conversation no matter who you're talking to."
"I probably know more about Clarissa and her background than you know about Dutton's." Ruth was clearly already getting annoyed with being patronised. "I'm not fresh out of training - I have got some idea of what to do."
Doyle opened his mouth, perhaps to give some further instruction, but caught the look on Ruth's face and decided against it.
"With the three of us there things will be fine, Ray." I exchanged a quick glance with Bodie. "It's just a party. We can all manage parties."
"We're here." As the cab pulled up in Cadogan Place, Bodie hopped out onto the pavement first and I followed, glancing curiously at the house. Katzler had apparently rented it; it was large as I'd anticipated, and the whole area reeked of money.
The main door stood open and an over-dressed couple were just entering. I took Ruth's hand to help her alight. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be." She acknowledged me with a smile as she took Doyle's proffered arm and moved forward to where Katzler now stood on the step, his wife just behind him.
Bodie and I followed as Doyle led Ruth up the short flight of steps, giving us the benefit of the back of Ruth's dress, which sported more of the scooped material and only properly began at the waist.
"Larry, this is Clarissa."
"Clarissa." His brief, intense scrutiny of me completed, Katzler shook Ruth's hand, holding it for longer than he needed to. "We've been looking forward to meeting you. This is Marilyn, my wife."
Introductions performed, Katzler gestured to the door. "Everyone is here; let's go in and get a drink." He appropriated Ruth's arm before Doyle could escort her, and I saw Doyle's frown. Obviously he hadn't anticipated Katzler's interest in his 'wife' would be anything more than friendly, but frankly, dressed like that, Ruth was going to attract interest from every hot-blooded male in the house.
Gathering his wits, Doyle offered his arm to Mrs K., and we entered the portal...
Almost as soon as we were inside the door, Larry Katzler scooped a couple of glasses of champagne from a passing waiter and handed one to me.
"Thank you," I said. "You have a beautiful house, Mr Katzler."
"Larry," I repeated and smiled at him.
"I can see why your husband keeps you hidden away," he startled me by saying next. "You are much too lovely to be allowed to run around loose."
I mumbled something about my mother having been ill but I'm not sure he was listening. I felt the cool touch of his fingers in the small of my back as he guided me across the room to meet some of his other guests.
Despite the obligations of the host to mingle with his guests, Katzler seemed determined not to leave me alone. He took me along with him and introduced me to the other party guests. He had a fair mixture of business and society people there and I wondered how he had made the acquaintance of all these people. There were several members of the peerage and even one minor royal. No wonder Katzler had needed to rent such a large house if he planned to give parties on this scale.
The house had come fully furnished and that included many lovely paintings on the walls of the large reception room and more leading up the wide, winding stairs. There were also vases and other objet d'art decorating various side tables, all clearly valuable. But whenever I expressed an interest and stopped to examine one more closely, Katzler appeared bored and hustled me on to yet another group of guests.
"You should talk to my wife," he said. "She's forever buying knick-knacks for our home."
I glanced around the room for a glimpse of our hostess but couldn't see her for the throng of people. I did see Murphy on the periphery of the room and he gave me a smile of reassurance. Ray, on the other hand, was talking with a group of people and frowned when he saw me still with Katzler.
As we weren't really guests Bodie and I hadn't taken drinks, and once inside the main reception room had discreetly drawn away to stand at one side. Bodie nodded in recognition to a pug-faced man across the room that I surmised to be Gus.
I noticed we were getting a few curious looks from some of the party-goers and supposed that we did look a bit out of place; clearly not joining the party and yet not staff handing round drinks either. I tried my best to look inconspicuous whilst scanning the people in the room, but I couldn't see anyone that featured in our files as dodgy. I wandered closer to Bodie. "I feel like a sore thumb at a wedding."
"It's the sort of occasion where you feel like there's this big flashing neon sign above your head saying, Look at me; I'm undercover," he grinned. "I doubt we'll pick up anything useful tonight. We've run checks on the majority of the business people here before and they're clean."
"Better make a few mental notes of who they are though; might be worth rechecking them." I glanced around again. Doyle was chatting with a mixed group, apparently absorbed in what one rotund man was saying; Ruth was nowhere in sight. "Just going to see where Ruth is," I murmured.
Drifting towards the door leading to the main hallway I couldn't see her, and paced quietly across the hall. The study on the other side was empty; as I emerged I spotted Ruth on the first landing with Katzler and several others. She didn't see me, but Katzler did and he glared.
Taking my time to illustrate I was innocent of anything other than wandering aimlessly I made my way back to Bodie, relieved when Katzler soon appeared with Ruth still by his side. I answered her slightly concerned look in my direction with a warm smile; but also caught the frown Doyle gave her.
Excusing himself from his circle he headed purposefully for them. I was too far away to hear what he said, but Katzler nodded amiably and made a show of passing Ruth over to Doyle before moving away to join his wife.
Turning Ruth away from Katzler, Doyle made some remark as they came towards us, and I saw Ruth snap a reply, eyes flashing. Bodie had seen them as well, but it wasn't the time for discussing it. "Something we can do, boss?"
"Take better care of my wife?" Doyle muttered. "I had no idea where she was."
Ruth's smile was brittle as she replied in a similar undertone. "And just where did you think I might be?"
"Katzler's looking this way," I murmured. As far as Katzler was concerned the Duttons were a loving couple; we needed to maintain that facade. "Let me get you both fresh drinks."
By the time I returned to hand them a glass each Doyle and Ruth had already been approached by another couple intent on making their acquaintance, and having performed my task I returned to stand next to Bodie, conscious of Katzler still looking in our direction.
"Do you think he's suspicious about anything?"
Bodie shrugged. "Can't see what. But he didn't get to where he is by accepting everything at face value; suspicious is probably his middle name."
"Maybe." Bodie was right, but there seemed to be something very specific in Katzler's scrutiny.
The evening wore on. Doyle did his best to keep Ruth by his side but there came a time when Katzler collared him and Ruth moved on, and with my own unease backing up Doyle's concerns I made a point of keeping her in sight as she progressed from room to room while trying not to be too obvious about it.
Ruth had been caught up in conversation with Mrs K. for a while and I could see Doyle consulting his watch before signalling to us to find a taxi. Glancing back as we departed on our errand I saw Ruth and Mrs K. join Katzler and Doyle.
Katzler gestured to his wife and included me in his glance so I followed her and we rejoined our husbands.
He smiled at us both. "I have just had a wonderful idea," he said, putting his arm around his wife. "There is no point in you two staying in that hotel. You should move in here, we have plenty of room."
"Larry, that's a marvellous idea."
Clearly Mrs K. was in favour, I held my smile in place and waited to hear what Ray would say.
"Ah well, I don't want to impose," Ray began.
"Not at all," Katzler said. "You'd be doing me a favour. All these folk," he gestured around the room. "They've all got their lives to get back to. You're not from London, you haven't got anything else to be doing... have you?" The last words were said more pointedly.
Ray still hesitated a moment but ultimately he had no choice. "Well, thank you, that's very generous of you. I'll be delighted. My wife, unfortunately, will have to go back to Manchester, her mother is not well and..."
"But you said earlier that your mother was much improved," Katzler said, turning to me.
I could feel Ray's eyes boring into me as I stammered for a reply. I had said that, it had seemed a harmless thing to say at the time.
"My wife would be grateful for the company," Katzler continued. "You know what women are, Tom. They can go shopping together and spend our money while we work out how to make more of the stuff. OK?"
Ray shrugged and put a cheerful face on it. "OK, we'd be delighted. But my men come too, of course."
"Certainly I would expect you to bring one of them..." Katzler smiled. It was a confident smile, he was the host after all. We could hardly force his hospitality but my mind began working on how we could stay in touch with the one, Murphy presumably, who would have to stay outside of the house.
"Both," Ray said. "They won't get in the way, might even be useful, and my wife goes nowhere unaccompanied." I flicked a quick glance at him. His smile matched Katzler's exactly in degree and his eyes were just as unblinking.
"Larry, honey," Marilyn Katzler said. "We've plenty of room upstairs. There's all those attic bedrooms going unused."
"Both of them it is then," Katzler said. His tone was jovial enough but a muscle jumped in his cheek. "You drive a hard bargain, Tom. I look forward to our business discussions."
At the doorway we couldn't hear what was being said but Bodie and I exchanged glances, knowing Doyle well enough to read his posture which just at the moment showed he was being pig-headed and stubborn.
Bodie moved forward to interrupt them. "Got a taxi waiting, boss, Mrs D."
Doyle nodded, and he and Ruth made their farewells to the Katzlers before we all exited the magnificent hallway.
Katzler had followed us out to the top of the steps and called to Doyle, forcing him to return while we waited at the taxi. "What's he want now?" Bodie muttered.
It was something about Bodie or me; that much was clear from the frowns Doyle was casting in our direction. "Dunno - but it doesn't look good."
Shaking Katzler's hand again, Doyle trotted down the steps to join us, and we followed him into the taxi. "What was that about?" Bodie asked, as we were driven away.
Doyle jerked his head towards the driver. "We'll talk back at the hotel."
Pulling his tie off roughly, Doyle threw it down onto the sofa, his jacket following. "This job is going from bad to worse!"
Bodie headed for the mini-bar and collected some miniature bottles and glasses. "Have a drink and fill us in," he advised his partner.
"It's going to take more than one drink," Doyle grumbled, pouring himself a whisky. Ruth was looking apprehensive. "It's not that bad," she ventured.
"You think? Cowley's going to love this." He slumped onto the sofa. "Katzler wants us to move into his house. Me and Ruth."
Well, it might expose Doyle to greater danger but would also enable him to get closer to our quarry. "But Ruth doesn't need to. She can disappear back to Manchester."
"Katzler wasn't having any of that, he insists Clarissa goes too," Doyle shook his head, glancing sideways at Ruth. "And Clarissa here helped him by telling him her mother was much better."
"I wasn't to know what he had in mind," Ruth snapped at him. "I didn't think he was even listening to me most of the time."
"What about us?" Bodie asked.
"At first he only wanted one of you along, but I managed to coerce him into agreeing you could both accompany us. But I'm not happy about taking Ruth in there."
It wasn't ideal certainly, but not the end of the world, and Bodie seemed to think the same as me. "So Ruth goes for a day or so then you can get a call from her parents to say she's needed. We're much more likely to get Katzler if you can work from the inside."
Doyle didn't look wholly convinced, but it seemed to be the only answer. "Anyway, the reason he called me back to the door was to tell me why he wasn't keen to have you two thugs in the house."
I think we both gaped. "Thugs, us?"
"Over-familiar and disrespectful, were his actual words." Doyle seemed to derive some amusement from the memory. "I had to assure him that there were obviously cultural differences but that you were both properly under control."
"What are you talking about?" Bodie growled.
"Precisely, he didn't like the way you interrupted us about the taxi, or the lack of respect in calling Clarissa, Mrs D."
While Bodie absorbed that slight on his character, Doyle grimaced at me. "And you, Murphy, are far too familiar with Clarissa. All those little smiles and the way you kept her in sight; he practically suggested you were having an affair."
"That's ridiculous," Ruth exclaimed.
"I told him you were simply being protective on my instructions, but I'm not sure he believed me." Doyle knocked back the rest of his drink. "We're in for a few fun and games on this one..."
"You haven't even got to the best part yet," Bodie smirked. "You need to phone Cowley."
Reaching for another miniature, Doyle paused. "You sure you don't want to do it?"
"I think I'll leave that to you, boss..."
There was no sense in putting off the inevitable, and Doyle reached for the phone to dial the office where Cowley was waiting for a call. A few words explained the situation and Doyle held the receiver away from his ear in case Cowley exploded, but it seemed our leader wasn't fazed by the developments.
Doyle nodded. "That's rather what we thought, sir. And after a couple of days we can pull Ruth out. On the plus side, of course, we'll be saving money by not keeping these rooms at the hotel. Bodie's bar bill alone will probably take most of the department's budget for the month..."
Grinning, he neatly dodged the cushion Bodie threw at him. "I'll tell him, sir. We'll call in before we leave in the morning."
Bodie defiantly unscrewed another miniature as Doyle hung up. "What did you tell him that for?"
"S'true," Doyle grinned. "Actually, he didn't sound that worried - but you probably shouldn't try bumping your expenses up for a few weeks."
"So he's happy for us all to move in then?" I was surprised at Cowley's reaction.
"Not happy exactly. He's keen to get his hands on Katzler. I guess we do what it takes."
That made sense, I suppose. I spotted Ruth yawning and trying to hide it. "We should let you get some sleep."
"Yeah, sleep." Bodie winked suggestively at Doyle, and I hoped Ruth hadn't seen him. "Besides, we've emptied your mini-bar and they'll still be serving downstairs."
"Take him away, Murphy."
I took Doyle at his word and propelled Bodie out of the door with a hand between his shoulder blades. "Not renowned for your tact, are you?"
"What?" He grinned, knowing exactly what I meant. "Well, c'mon, Murph. Doyle, Ruth, alone in a bedroom? Of course he's going to try it on."
He'd be mad if he didn't, I would concede that. However: "We're in the middle of an important op, Bodie. He wouldn't risk that."
Sauntering away down the corridor Bodie continued grinning, maddeningly. Of course he knows Doyle better than me, but surely he wouldn't...?
He stopped at the lift. "Coming down for a nightcap?"
"Just the one?"
And of course I was going with him. Kayley would probably still be on duty and it wouldn't do to renounce any claim without a fight...
"It will be all right, Ray," I said as the door closed behind the other two.
He looked regretfully at his empty glass and sighed. "Oh I suppose so. Means Katzler is probably serious about doing business if he wants me to move in, so we might get this wrapped up soon. Wish you weren't involved though."
"I shall be sweet and innocent and simply burble away with Marilyn Katzler. I'm just your little appendage in the same way she is to him, he won't even notice I'm there."
"He noticed you all right tonight. No, I don't mean that thing about Clarissa's mother." He held up his hand as he saw me getting ready to speak. "I'm not bringing that up again. I'm just saying, he was watching all of us bloody closely. That's how come he saw what Murphy and Bodie were up to as well. He's sharp."
"Well so are we," I began but was then overtaken by an enormous yawn. "Oh, sorry, Ray."
He grinned. "You won't be so sharp if you don't get your beauty sleep. Ahh, let's leave it for tonight; I'm beat as well. We'll worry about it in the morning. Let's go to bed."
Well that woke me up, as nothing else would have done at that moment. I tried to gauge if he meant anything more than the literal meaning. If he did, I'd prefer he woo me first, at least a little. He caught my look and gestured towards the bathroom. "Ladies first."
I nodded and did my best to maintain an air of calm as I collected nightdress, dressing gown and my vanity case. Once safely locked in the bathroom I unpinned my hair and brushed it out, removed my make up and the borrowed jewellery and generally prepared for bed. While I was cleaning my teeth I became aware of intermittent banging from the other room. It sounded like cupboards and drawers being opened and closed and finally, I drew my dressing gown securely around me and went to investigate.
"Found 'em," Ray announced, when he saw me.
"What have you found?"
"The spare blankets and pillow," he said as if surprised I should ask. Then, when it was clear I still didn't understand what he was talking about, he pointed to the living room. "I'm sleeping on the sofa."
I felt relieved but obliged to point out that the bed was big enough for three so surely two of us were adult enough to share it without it causing a problem. It would certainly ensure he got a better night's sleep than on any sofa.
"I'm not so sure about that," he said and I felt myself flush. It was amazing how conscious I was of feeling undressed when, in my nightdress and matching gown, I was more respectably covered than in the dress I'd worn earlier. Just knowing it was bedroom attire coloured the whole mood.
"Look love," he said, coming close to me. "This assignment is... awkward and I don't want to make it any more difficult than it already is. It's going to be bad enough tomorrow when we move into the Katzler's place."
"And you don't seem to have any faith in me to play my part," I said, a little more heatedly than I intended. A reasonable discussion was always a better tone to take with Ray Doyle than an angry one, as most of the squad could tell you to their cost.
He gave me a hard look. "If I wanted a conference organised, transport laid on or even a minister seduced, you'd be my first choice. But this is a ruthless man, a dangerous man and yes, since you ask. I don't think you really know what you are getting into."
Before I could even think of how badly I'd been insulted let alone how to reply, he strode into the bathroom and slammed the door.
I fretted while he was in the bathroom. We had to work together, we'd done so before and I still couldn't see what was so different this time. Still, quick to heat up and quick to cool down, that's Ray. When he came out of the bathroom he looked a bit sheepish.
"Sorry about that," he said, catching me mid pace. "I've got a bad feeling about this op. It's not that I don't have faith in you but I'd rather you were far away from Katzler and his mob."
"I'll be fine," I said, anxious to reassure him. "You've made sure Murphy will be with me at all times. What can possibly go wrong?"
"Famous last words," he said but he managed a smile to go with them.
I nodded at his pyjamas. "Nice PJ's," I said, eager to change the conversation to something less tense. And I meant it. They were a midnight blue with a swirly, paisley pattern in a very fine silk. I wouldn't have minded a pair of those myself.
Ray looked down at himself and pulled a face. "What a bloody poncey get up – silk pyjamas, I ask you! Cowley had his tailor fit me out with everything and I mean, everything."
I bit my lip, trying not to laugh at his indignation. "You could hardly have a... um... mismatch of quality at Katzler's house so maybe it's just as well Mr Cowley's tailor was so thorough."
"Yeah, maybe. The Cow will have a fit when he sees the bill. I told the bloke I only needed a suit and a couple of shirts. He just tut tutted and sold me half the shop."
"Oh Mr Cowley will probably have told him it was a matter of national security and got them for practically nothing," I assured him. "When he wants to, he can have people eating out of his hand, you know." I broke off with another enormous yawn. The ups and downs of working with Ray were very exhausting. I made a mental note to ask Bodie how he coped.
"Get some sleep, Ruth." Ray brushed a swift kiss against my hair and moved away towards the lounge. I kept my back to him as I shrugged off my dressing gown and swiftly slipped into the bed. When I looked up again he was watching me from the doorway, propping it up in his usual fashion.
Partly in shadow as he was I couldn't quite make out his expression. "So, we ok then?"
I nodded, willing him to go into the other room. He had omitted to do up the pyjama jacket and the effect was... distracting, to say the least. I'd never seen him other than fully clothed, although perhaps where Ray was concerned, the term fully clothed was an exaggeration. Now he stood there, one hand on his hip, his habitual pose, sweeping the silky fabric ever further back. I found myself wondering what it would be like to slide my hands over his body... to run my fingers through all that chest hair... to trace a line through it, down to the waistband and gently ease...
Something in my eyes must have given me away because he hesitated and then took a step towards me. "Ruth...?"
I hastily slid further under the covers. "Night. Hope you sleep well," I said and closed my eyes. This was not the moment for a diversion of that sort.
A long moment later I heard the click of the connecting door and I opened my eyes a crack. He was gone. I sighed and reached out and switched off the bedside lamp.
I lay staring into the dark. It was going to be a long night.
"Wha...?" I somehow located the handset to answer the loudly ringing phone.
"Good morning, sir. Your early morning call."
How could anyone sound that bright and breezy at... I peered at my wrist... seven? Still, I'd asked for a call and it was probably just as well.
"Mmm, yeah, thanks." Hanging up, I collapsed back onto the pillow, but only for a few moments. I couldn't let myself go back to sleep, and forcing myself to throw off the covers, rolled to sit upright on the edge of the bed.
Christ, my mouth was dry. It wasn't as if I'd that drunk much last night - although that one nightcap had spread out and become several. I levered myself upright and headed for the bathroom to drink a couple of glasses of water, which improved things a bit.
After that I got straight under the shower, emerging just ten minutes later but considerably more awake, and a vigorous brushing of my teeth completed the job.
We'd agreed to meet in the restaurant for breakfast at eight, so I still had enough time to get ready. Taking my shaver, I wandered back into the bedroom and picking up the phone dialled room 107. Bodie had drunk easily as much as I had last night, and knowing him he wouldn't have had the sense to book a wake-up call.
It rang twice before a woman answered. "Sorry, wrong room," I hastily said, before hanging up.
My finger poised to redial, I only got as far as the first digit before I stopped. I didn't think I'd misdialled - it was only three numbers, after all - and there was something about the woman... Her accent. She had an Australian accent.
I slammed the phone down. Bodie and I had left the bar together; so how come Kayley had ended up in his bed? The bastard had either managed to arrange it behind my back or had sneaked back downstairs.
Bodie deserved a personal wake-up call. I shaved and dressed quickly, and headed down the corridor to the lift.
I banged energetically on his door, wondering if they were still in bed. Disappointingly, Bodie opened it almost immediately and made no attempt to keep me out; he was alone.
"Thought we were meeting downstairs?"
"Didn't want you to oversleep."
"You should know me better than that, Murph." He had obviously showered and was still wearing the hotel towelling robe but looked awake and alert - no sign of even a mild hangover or a disturbed night. While Bodie got dressed, I cast a surreptitious eye over the double bed. It was rumpled; but then mine had been as well, and I'd definitely been alone.
Could I really have dialled the wrong room? Instinct told me I hadn't, but evidence was in short supply.
"Ready? I'm going to have the full fry-up today." He looked the picture of innocence as well. Not that that meant anything, especially. Bodie's 'innocent' looks were the ones you had to be wary of...
We were the first ones in the restaurant. Bodie winked at the waitress who came over to our table. "Morning, Babs."
"Mr Bodie." Did I imagine it, or did she wink back? Just how many women had Bodie chatted up in this hotel? "Coffee, sir?"
"Yeah, we'll have a pot for now. Mr Dutton will be joining us with his wife shortly. We'll order then."
"Very good, sir."
"Lovely girl." Bodie watched her leave. "So many women..."
I shook my head in despair. "I'm sure Cowley doesn't realise he's helping you add to your harem."
"Hardly a harem, Murph. I try not to have more than one on the go. But I can't help it if they find me irresistible."
As the coffee arrived, we both caught sight of Doyle advancing across the room towards us and Bodie smirked at me. "He looks shattered."
Shattered was a bit strong; but Doyle didn't exactly look like a man who'd had a good night's sleep. Bodie handed him the coffee pot. "Bit restless last night, were you?"
Doyle glowered at his partner and didn't reply.
"And will Mrs Dutton be joining us?"
"She'll be down in a minute." Doyle took a swig of the strong black coffee. "We overslept."
Bodie snorted and smirked at me again, and Doyle sighed. "Out with it, Bodie."
"Whatever you're trying to imply with all those looks and grins. I know how your mind works, remember?"
"Me?" Bodie really did have a good line in innocent looks, and it reminded me of my earlier annoyance and suspicions. "Don't know what you mean."
Doyle lowered his voice. "Let's get something straight. Ruth and I didn't share a bed last night. You'd think a place like this would have more comfortable sofas."
"If you say so." Bodie clearly didn't believe him; and I was torn. As I'd said to Bodie; we were working and I couldn't believe Doyle would jeopardise the op. On the other hand...
The waitress approached. "Any more coffee, sir?"
"Can you bring us some tea?" Doyle said. "My wife prefers it."
Bodie sent me another raised-eyebrow look which I had no trouble interpreting: when did Doyle find out Ruth preferred tea in the morning?
Not hard though, if you thought about it. We'd had enough early morning starts in the VIP Lounge, and Ruth generally had tea. Doyle was just more observant than Bodie over things like that.
I spotted Ruth in the doorway and waved to her and Bodie's grin widened at her heavy-eyed appearance which make-up was doing little to conceal. I had to admit that she made a fine pair with Doyle; they both looked as though they'd had a heavy night.
"Good morning." As she took her seat, Bodie shot another leer at his partner, who glared back. Quite bright enough to work out what was going on, Ruth blushed and paid close attention to the menu.
Babs returned with a pot of tea and to take our breakfast orders giving Ruth a little time to compose herself, but she couldn't meet Bodie's eyes.
"So," I started, to try and bring a little normality to the proceedings, "what's our game-plan for today then?"
"Pack our bags and move in with Katzler," Doyle said reluctantly. "I was thinking about it for ages last night, whether there was some way round it, but he's only going to get suspicious if I pull out now."
"We agreed we've got no choice but to go for it," Bodie commented around his mouthful.
"Doesn't mean I have to be happy about it."
"Well, I'm going to need some more clothes," Ruth put in. "Clarissa was only supposed to be staying one night; I didn't pack that much. And other than my evening dress, most of what I've got isn't of the quality that Clarissa Dutton would be wearing either."
We all grinned; the cliché of women never having anything to wear occurring to all of us. "I'll take you shopping, Ruth. I'm going to need some more gear as well, although I could swing past my place for some fresh shirts."
Bodie waved his knife at me. "Better buy new, mate. If Katzler's staff report you have new shirts but no bags or packaging he'll smell a rat."
"You mean I get to outfit on the department's budget as well? This job is looking up."
"Well, there's no need to buy from Harrods," Doyle warned. "Keep the costs down."
Bodie stared at him, and then looked under the table. "Where are you hiding Cowley...?"
"Idiot. I was thinking more of Katzler - he'd expect Clarissa to have designer clothes but Murphy is a poorly paid bodyguard. Marks & Sparks is your level, mate."
"Trust you to be a wet blanket." Doyle was right however. We had to think and act like our characters; it was the details which would give us away to Katzler. "So, we'll go across and move in, then I'll take Ruth shopping. What about you two?"
"Work on Katzler, I suppose. It's what we're there for..."
After breakfast we returned to our respective rooms to pack, agreeing to meet downstairs at about ten. Throwing my overnight stuff into my case didn't take long, and I headed downstairs to wait in the lounge for the others, and get a look at some of the morning newspapers while I was there.
I was half way through the Times when glancing up I spotted Bodie at the reception desk. He was chatting to one of the receptionists who nodded, and reaching behind her retrieved and handed him a piece of paper.
Curious, I sneaked up on him, and looked over his shoulder. Realising I was there he quickly folded the paper, but not before I'd seen the name and phone number written on it. "So, Kayley's given you her number then?"
"Yep." He tucked the paper away into his top pocket. "Said she'd leave it for me last night."
"Or early this morning?"
He wasn't the least abashed at being found out. "I thought it had to be you on the phone. Face it, Murph - the better man won."
"Hardly a fair fight, though."
"All's fair in love and babe tennis..." Whistling tunelessly, Bodie headed back towards the stairs. I couldn't say I was particularly upset; more exasperated that Bodie had won out again.
"You're Mr Murphy, aren't you?" The receptionist was holding out a slip of paper to me now. Bemused, I took it - and found it was Kayley's number, plus a message. 'Please call me soon. I'd love to see you.'
I folded the paper thoughtfully. Better man, eh? Now I had to engineer it so Bodie knew about her note. I went back to my newspaper, to make plans.
When I saw Doyle and Ruth arrive in reception, followed by a porter with their cases, I joined them. Doyle had requested all three bills to be ready for him to sign; but being Doyle, he couldn't help but check them first. "What the...?"
I glanced at the account Doyle was reading. "What's up?"
"I didn't have all these drinks. I've hardly been to the bar."
I grinned. "I think you'll find Bodie's been charging everything to your room."
Doyle grimaced. "He wouldn't be doing that if I was really Dutton," he muttered, signing 'Tom Dutton' with a flourish. "I'll let Cowley sort him out..."
The taxi decanted us on the pavement outside Katzler's house. The driver accepted his tip and drove off leaving us with a case and a bit apiece at our feet.
"Bring 'em all in," Ray said with a grin and led me up the steps to the front door, leaving Bodie and Murphy to grapple with the suitcases.
"I could get used to this," he whispered to me just as the door opened.
Moments later Marilyn Katzler was fluttering around us offering coffee and directing Gus to show Bodie and Murphy where to put our luggage.
"I am so delighted you agreed to come stay," she said, guiding us both into the living room. "I just know we are going to get along so well." She patted me on the arm. "But, my dears, I am so sorry, I have to go out again almost immediately. I simply cannot apologise enough but it went right out of my head last night. I've got a lunch date and I simply must keep it."
"That's perfectly all right," I assured her. "We'll be fine."
"But what kind of hostess am I? I can't even see you settled in properly." She leaned over in a confiding manner. "But when Lady Victoria Babbington suggested lunch I was so excited! When I told her we intended to be over here for the whole summer, she said there were all sorts of events I could get involved with. Do you know Lady Babbington? Her father's an Earl, you know."
I could see Ray was dying to laugh so I tried to keep Mrs K's attention on me but just at that moment Katzler himself came in followed by a maid with a tray of coffee.
"Marilyn's told you about the unfortunate timing, I presume?" he asked. "Tom, I was hoping that the girls could amuse themselves and that I could take you out with me today. I've got some people I'd like you to meet." He turned to me. "I'm sure you wouldn't mind killing a few hours, would you, Clarissa? You have the run of the house of course. It would give you a chance for a closer look at some my art collection you were admiring last night."
"Thank you, Larry," I said. "I would enjoy that later, but we'd already decided that I need to go shopping. I brought so little with me yesterday and for that matter, so did Murphy."
"Well that's just fine then," he said heartily. "I'll take you along with me, Tom and we can all meet back here later for dinner."
Ray agreed, not that he had much choice about it. But anything that got him in thick with Katzler had to be good for the operation and I'm sure he was relieved that I would be out of the house as well.
Katzler clapped him on the back. "Give a woman the slightest excuse and she'll use it to go shopping. I hope your credit card can stand it, Tom."
I looked at Ray with a wifely smile. He looked resigned and amused. "Oh I think we can afford it," he said. "So where are we going, Larry?"
"Oh just folks I think we could do business with," Katzler said, vaguely. "You'll see."
That sounded faintly alarming to me but Ray didn't turn a hair. He just nodded and said he'd look forward to it.
An hour later we were going our separate ways. A taxi had already taken Marilyn away for her lunch appointment and another was waiting for myself and Murphy. After Ray's warnings of the night before, I was alert to the thoughtful look Katzler gave us but he was distracted by Bodie standing nearby, clearly ready to accompany him and Ray to wherever they were going.
"Gus is coming with us, Tom, we don't need anybody else. These are friends we're going to see after all."
"Friends of yours," Ray said, his tone pleasant but firm. "Besides, you really don't want to leave Bodie here unattended. He'll eat you out of house and home."
Bodie shot him a look but almost immediately made his face a blank and said nothing.
"Hmm," Katzler said. "Guess we'd better get going then." He held the door open to allow me to pass through and Murphy followed me down the steps to the waiting taxi. Ray and Katzler were to go to their meeting in the car Katzler had hired. The dark blue Daimler limousine was also waiting on the pavement complete with chauffeur who leapt to open the door the moment he saw his employer approaching.
Ray gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek. "Think of your expense sheet," he murmured as he did so. "Have fun," he said out loud and followed Katzler to the car.
I was surprised when Murphy gave the taxi driver his own address as the first port of call. "I've got a new shirt still in the bag," he explained. "That'll help a bit, although it's probably a drop in the ocean compared with what you'll have to spend."
At his flat I waited in the living room while he dived into the bedroom to fetch the shirt. I admired the neatness of the room, probably a holdover from his military days although I had known people to go the opposite way and become complete slobs when released from the service.
"Got it," he said, coming back holding a Marks and Spencer bag in his hand. "Now we'd better nip over to Marble Arch and stock up on a few necessities."
Murphy was quite restrained with his shopping and as quick over it as most men usually are. Another shirt, some extra socks and underpants and he was done. The daytime suit he was wearing today would probably see him through the, hopefully, few days we would be in these roles.
"And the rest of the day is yours," he said when we came out again.
"Mr Cowley will be pleased with you," I told him. "He won't like my shopping half so much."
Rather than visit a variety of shops I decided the easiest course of action was for us to go to Harrods. There were enough designers under the one roof to please anybody and the classic green carrier bag would say it all much better than any, possibly, obscure British label.
After I'd walked his feet off from one end of the designer floor to another without actually buying anything Murphy begged for a lunchbreak.
"I don't claim to have anything like Bodie's prodigious appetite but I wouldn't mind a break from all this," he said. "And I could really sink a pint right now."
"OK." I took pity on him. "I could do with a chance to think over what I've seen anyway. I need to make some choices."
"Is it that difficult?" he asked guiding me, with unerring accuracy down to the ground floor and along to the Green Man pub. When he said he wanted a pint, he wasn't joking.
Although crowded, we managed to find a couple of stools towards the rear of the tiny pub and Murphy struggled through to the bar and returned with his pint and a glass of wine for me. Two large club sandwiches were shortly delivered as well and I suddenly discovered I was hungry.
"Yes, it is difficult," I said, around a mouthful of sandwich, finally answering his question. "This operation has already been extremely expensive. Mr Cowley certainly hasn't budgeted for a new wardrobe from here."
Murphy grinned at me. "Ruth, you're not doing the accounts now, you're an agent in the field. Think of doing the job first and let others worry about the bills."
"I suppose I could buy a load of stuff for appearances sake," I mused. "And take back anything I don't actually wear."
Back upstairs I carefully selected a couple of blouses and skirts that could mix and match, a jacket and a pair of practical black court shoes that would work with anything. For dressing up in the evening I chose a ubiquitous little black dress, one that was so classic in styling that it could fit in anywhere without a second glance. Then, unable to resist it, I returned to a dress I'd looked at earlier that day. It was a deep, royal blue, a silky material that slithered through my fingers as I touched it. I looked at the price tag and shuddered, imagining trying to explain it on my expense sheet. I sighed and let the dress fall back into place on the rack.
"I'll just go and pay for this lot," I told Murphy and headed for the nearest till.
The sales assistant had just finished carefully wrapping the last item in tissue paper and had begun to ring it all up on the till when the blue dress was dropped from behind and flowed across the counter in front of me.
"And this too, please," Murphy said to the assistant. "You'll look great in it," he said, as I started to protest. "And you'll be glad of it if Mrs K dresses up for dinner. You've got to play the part, Ruth."
He had a point, I realised, and I told myself I should take the advice of a more senior agent who had much more experience at this sort of thing. I said nothing more and only winced slightly when I signed the credit slip. Inside I felt a private gloat at the thought of having such a beautiful dress.
I flicked a grin at Murphy. "I'll need some shoes and a bag to go with it, then."
Murphy groaned. "See where my generous impulses get me." But he smiled as he said it.
Ruth wasn't the first woman to have had me trailing around the shops. An ex-girlfriend spent every spare minute she had shopping - in fact, that was probably why she became an ex, neither my wallet nor my feet could stand it.
So I wasn't exactly a novice when it came to a woman's favourite pastime but it's not high on my list of ways to spend an afternoon either, and I was relieved when Ruth finally decided on the shoes - and also a bag, because for some reason women have to have matching items - to go with the blue dress and we could go.
I might not have enjoyed the trip much but Ruth clearly had and she was still chattering when the taxi arrived back at Cadogan Place. I gathered up all the bags, refusing to let Ruth take anything. "I'm here to fetch, carry and look after you, remember? And that includes paying for the taxi, so you just trot up the steps and ring the bell."
They weren't heavy, but there were a lot of them and I had to juggle the bags while paying the fare, but fortunately the maid had already answered the door by the time I staggered up the steps.
"Can I help with anything, ma'am?"
"No, Murphy can cope. Take them up to my room, please." I caught the gleam of merriment in Ruth's eye as she took me at my word and issued her order. "Could we have some tea in the lounge please?"
As the maid nodded and turned away to the kitchen, Ruth winked at me. "I'll save you a Bourbon if you're quick."
"It's Bodie you have to bribe with chocolate biscuits, not me." I grinned at her. "Just don't get carried away..."
By the time I had deposited Ruth's purchases in the plush double room with en-suite that was allocated to her and Doyle, dumped my own bags in my distinctly less well-appointed attic room and returned to the lounge, the tea tray had arrived.
"Milk or lemon?" Ruth asked, still with that mischievous twinkle in her eye.
"Milk please missus," I answered her in my best cockney. "But I promise not to drink out of the saucer."
She giggled. "That really would prove to Katzler you were barely house-trained."
"Don't worry, I'm going to keep my profile so low I'll be almost invisible." Taking my cup, I prowled around the room, peering at ornaments and paintings. "So, is this stuff really valuable then?"
"Some of it is. I checked out the house's owner when we were first setting this up and he's a dealer and collector. His insurance premiums are through the roof." Ruth joined me. "Katzler's got an eye for some of the finer works as well, from what Marilyn was telling me last night. Some of the statuettes displayed on the landing upstairs are purchases he's made here already."
"And does she really know nothing about his business?" I still found it hard to believe Marilyn Katzler could be ignorant of how her husband made his money, but it was apparently the case. Nothing we'd discovered proved otherwise.
"Well, obviously I haven't had chance to talk to her in any great depth." Ruth moved back to the sofa. "But I really get the feeling she's just another purchase to him; an acquisition to be displayed. I should be able to ask questions now though, that I might not have been able to if we hadn't moved in. You never know what she might tell me, even if she doesn't know how important it is."
"Maybe. But you take care. Clarissa isn't supposed to know anything about Dutton's line of business either, remember."
"I know what to do, Murphy."
Of course she did; and I wasn't about to be patronising. I nosed around the room for a bit longer, not that I expected to find much. Katzler was far too canny to leave anything incriminating lying around, and in fact most of the drawers were empty.
Ruth watched me in amusement while she finished her tea, before heading for the door. "I'm going to unpack and decide what to wear later."
"You've got plenty to choose from. I'm looking forward to seeing you in that new dress," I called after her, winking as Ruth looked over her shoulder.
"I'll be dressing to please my husband, not you," she responded playfully. "If he comes back soon, tell him I'll be taking a shower."
"And if he isn't back soon, do you want me to come and scrub your back?"
She gave a peal of laughter. "I can manage, thank you."
The door swung closed behind her and I grinned to myself. Ruth was a good sport; I couldn't imagine Susan bantering like that.
I decided to take the tray back to the kitchen. Katzler had brought Gus and a second man, Al, with him but I knew he had also hired a cook and two maids, plus the chauffeur. It wouldn't hurt to find out who else was in the house and size them up.
Replacing our cups, I balanced the tray on one hand while letting myself out of the lounge into the hall. Finding Katzler standing silently close to the doorway was something of a shock, but I managed not to drop the tray.
"I didn't realise you were back, sir," I acknowledged him, before realising he was alone. "Isn't Mr Dutton with you?"
"Dutton's getting a cab back."
I couldn't cross-examine Katzler as to why Doyle hadn't come back with him but ventured a further question. "Will he be long? Mrs Dutton was wondering..."
"Shouldn't think so."
"I'll let her know, then. Thank you, sir." Anything more would raise his suspicions, so I carried on with my intention of going to the kitchen, not looking back.
The maid who had answered the door and brought the tea wasn't there but the other one was, and I stole a march on Bodie for a change because once he realised there was a raven-haired Portuguese beauty in the house I'd lose out again. I wondered, briefly, if there was any way of keeping Bodie out of the kitchen but I was definitely onto a loser with that one.
Having spent a few minutes making myself agreeable to Constancia and the cook - who was nothing like Mrs Bridges - I headed upstairs to tap on Ruth's door.
Now that Katzler - and presumably Gus - were back in the house, being seen coming out of her room would be a bad move and I didn't obey her instruction to 'come in', calling to her instead in case we were overheard. "It's Murphy, Mrs Dutton."
Catching on quickly, she came to the door.
"Just thought I'd let you know Mr Katzler is back, ma'am. He said Mr Dutton should be here soon."
"Thank you, Murphy." Her eyebrow asked me why Doyle had been delayed, but I shook my head and shrugged. No doubt Doyle had a good reason and would tell us later. "I'm going to take a shower and dress for dinner now so I won't need you further this evening."
"Yes, ma'am." I grinned at her and left for my room.
As soon as I'd shut the door on Murphy I proceeded to do exactly what I'd said. Fun though shopping is, it can also be very tiring. Today had been especially so with all the choices needing to be made for clothes I didn't want, with money that wasn't mine. It was a relief to stand under the shower and let the water soothe and relax me.
Afterwards, my disturbed sleep of the night before made the bed seem very attractive. Giving in I stretched out on the bed and closed my eyes. There was plenty of time before dinner and I wasn't going to sleep, just to relax for five minutes or so...
I awoke with a start when Ray came into the room and with a squeak I made a grab at my towel, hoping it hadn't come too much adrift as I slept.
"Sorry," he said as he removed his jacket and draped it over a chair. "But I could hardly knock on my own bedroom door."
"My fault," I muttered, hastily getting up from the bed. The towel I had wrapped around my head fell away and I gave another cry as I put my hand up to my hair. It was almost completely dry, flat in some places and ridiculously curly in others.
Ray chuckled tiredly and flopped onto the bed. He yanked his tie undone and flung it across the room, then undid the cuffs of his shirt and shoved the sleeves up to leave his forearms bare. When he started on the shirt buttons I wondered how far he was going but he stopped after the top three; just his usual quota.
"See you've had a good day, then," he nodded at the various empty carrier bags on the floor.
"Expensive. But," I added, pointedly, "Murphy paid the taxi and carried all the bags, like a good little employee."
"Good." Ray nodded with approval. "I only saw Katzler briefly as I came in. He said something about a drink before dinner so I suppose I'll have to be stirring myself in a minute."
"I'll just get dressed and the bathroom will be all yours," I said, and quickly collected a selection of items including the new blue dress and hurried into the bathroom.
Trusting that he was unlikely to move from the bed until I got back, I left the door ajar so we could continue talking. "So how was your day?" I asked.
"Oh not bad, I suppose. Katzler's mates turned out to be just as charming as him. All talk of polo and golf and the stock exchange and they'd slit your throat if you so much as looked at them funny. No, correction, they'd get one of their men to do it for them. God forbid they should get their own hands dirty." He laughed. "They all felt nicely superior to me, the smug bastards. I think Katzler was a bit puzzled over some of their more subtle insults. It'll be a pleasure to see the look on their faces when we take them down. After a while he said he had to get back to make some business calls to America because of the time difference. So I took the chance for Bodie and I to check in with Cowley and said we'd make our own way back here."
He stopped talking as I came out of the bathroom. I paused, momentarily, to slip on the matching shoes and then crossed the room to get my make up bag out of my vanity case. The silky fabric swished around my legs with every step, feeling every bit as good as I knew it would. With a tiny smile I turned swiftly, making the fabric in the skirt spin out. As I suspected, Ray was watching me, his expression intense.
"You like?" I said, preening, turning this way and that.
His eyes ran slowly over my body from head to toe. "I like," he said, seriously.
I suppressed a smirk as I sat down at the dressing table. "I'll look better once I've fixed my hair and done my face."
Pinning my hair up seemed the best way to deal with the mess falling asleep had made of it and I'd had just finished when Ray came out of the bathroom, looking refreshed and smart once again in his suit.
From the jewellery box I selected a gorgeous sapphire pendant and matching earrings.
"Here, let me." Ray came up behind me and took the two ends of the pendant. I stood very still as he fastened the ends and my breathing almost stopped as I felt the backs of his fingers slowly stroke the back of my neck.
"Ready?" he said, standing back.
Dumbly I nodded and he took my hand and led me out of the bedroom and down the stairs.
"Ahh, there you are, good." Marilyn Katzler was at the foot of the stairs. "Larry's just finished the last of his calls. Come on through and have a drink."
"Eat, drink and make merry, "Ray whispered in my ear. "For tomorrow..."
One of the things I'd grabbed while at my place was the two-inch thick novel I'd been attempting to read for a while, so I was fairly immersed when Bodie tapped cursorily on my door as he came in. "Murph?"
"You're back then. Where did you two get to?"
He closed the door firmly behind him. "Called in. Updated the Cow on a few things." He grinned. "Told him you'd been shopping."
"Bet he loved that."
"He grumbled a bit, but it's necessary and he knows it." Bodie's stomach gave the most enormous rumble. "Christ, I'm starving. Did you get any lunch?"
"Certainly did. Harrods, no less."
"Gus and I sat outside this posh restaurant while Katzler wined and dined Doyle and his huge group of friends. Not so much as half a sandwich came our way. Gus tells me he makes up for it by large breakfasts and escapes for a steak down the road in the evenings. He suggested we join him and Al."
"Sounds good to me. Gives us a chance to see if they know anything about the shipment."
"OK. I'm going to freshen up; meet downstairs in half-hour?"
I nodded and returned to my book; I could polish off another chapter in that time.
Marilyn pressed a martini into my hand as soon as we entered the room. Not my drink of choice but I accepted it with a smile and followed her to the sofa.
Ray had been accosted by Katzler and taken to the far end of the room where I saw the whisky being poured liberally. Katzler had practically ignored me, only giving me a curt nod. It was a change from his previous genial behaviour but I thought nothing of it. Men like him were frequently pleasant if somewhat patronising, when it suited them and all business when it didn't. I turned my attention to Mrs Katzler and asked her how she'd enjoyed her day.
"Oh it was just wonderful! Lady Victoria was just delightful and we have so much in common. And her house, my dear, so many lovely things."
I let her prattle on, interjecting an interested noise every now and then, but my attention was caught by Ray and Larry Katzler and their very intense conversation.
Ray had been all smiles when they first started talking but each time I glanced their way he was looking more and more serious, angry even. I wondered what could possibly have gone wrong, from all he'd said earlier, his day with Katzler had gone well. I caught his eye at one point and gave him a tiny smile, trying to convey query and reassurance in one, but he just ignored me and turned back to Katzler. I began to feel worried. Was our cover blown? Surely not. If it had been, I rather doubted we'd still be here, in such pleasant surroundings with drinks in our hands.
Marilyn's voice penetrated my thoughts and I realised I had allowed my concentration to slip. "I'm so sorry," I smiled at her. "You were saying?"
"Shall we go in?" She gestured to the dining room door where the maid was standing, indicating that dinner was ready.
"Lovely," I started to say, then my attention was caught by the door opening and Bodie coming in, closely followed by Murphy.
Bodie was already chatting to Gus and Al in the hallway when I got there. "You took your time. I was thinking of sending out a search party."
"You said half-hour." I grinned; I hadn't hurried but then I wasn't as hungry as Bodie.
"We'd better just let Mr Dutton know we're going out." Bodie tapped at the lounge door and I followed him in.
Doyle was standing near the fireplace with Katzler, but it was Ruth who caught my attention, sitting on the sofa. She had on the blue dress, and I was right, it did look stunning on her. I was only half-listening to Bodie outlining our plans.
"We're going out to eat, boss. Just thought we'd let you know..."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement, and had just enough time to register that Doyle was looking furious before he reached me and his punch to my jaw knocked me flying. Ears ringing, I missed his first few words. "... stay away from her, hear me?"
I half-scrambled to my knees; natural instinct prompting me to fight back, but fortunately common sense kicked in and I paused. Doyle wouldn't do this without good reason. Whatever he thought was going on, in his role as Dutton and my boss I could protest but I couldn't come to blows with him. Bodie had been taken by surprise as well but had recovered quickly and now put a hand heavily on my shoulder as if to restrain me.
"I don't understand, boss. What have I done?"
"Save it!" He barked the words out savagely then spoke to Bodie. "Get him out of my sight before I hit him again."
Hauling me upright, Bodie hustled me out of the room past Katzler's men who were looking bemused. Over my shoulder, I saw Doyle returning to Ruth, putting his arm possessively around her and drawing her away towards the dining room.
Bundled outside, I followed Bodie down the steps rubbing my jaw - that was going to bruise. "What the heck was that about?"
Bodie's grin was sympathetic. "Katzler was looking smug. At a guess, he still thinks you and Clarissa are having a fling. From what we know of Dutton, Doyle was staying in character."
"I suppose. He could have pulled that punch a bit though."
"Wouldn't have looked realistic if he hadn't floored you, mate. Dutton's no wimp." Bodie looked thoughtful. "Wonder if you're going to get the sack?"
"Cowley wanted us both to stay on hand. It'll be tricky to replace me."
"I doubt Ray will let it come to that. Anyway, this pub." Naturally, Bodie's interest in his stomach was outweighing everything else. "Do you still feel up to eating? A nice raw steak to put on your chin, perhaps?"
"That's for eyes, you idiot." I rubbed my jaw again. "And I don't think I'm up to chewing even a well-done steak. Let's hope the pub has a wider menu."
Gus and Al joined us, obviously curious. "What's the problem?"
I shrugged at them, not sure how much Katzler confided in his men, and Bodie answered for me. "Mr Dutton's got a quick temper. I expect he's got his wires crossed; it'll all be sorted out later. Where's this pub then?"
We ordered and ate, although I wasn't much interested in food by then; chewing over in my mind instead what could have caused Doyle's attack.
It couldn't be anything that had happened during the day because Bodie would have known about it. It had to be something in that half an hour since they got back. I remembered with a sinking feeling that Katzler had been in the hallway - had he heard me talking with Ruth?
And how long had he been standing there? I thought over what I could remember of our conversation; certainly the early part would have given us away, but then I'd spent some time poking around the room. If he'd just come in when Ruth was going upstairs and heard our exchange then, it could easily have prompted Doyle's reaction. I had to hope that was the worst of it...
But what if that wasn't the worst? What if Katzler had overheard the whole conversation? I abandoned my half-eaten meal and stood up. "I'm not feeling too great. I'm going back."
Bodie gave me a briefly assessing look but didn't see anything to alarm him and although I would have liked him to accompany me in case, I couldn't warn him without alerting Gus and Al. The latter stood up as well. "I'm all finished as well. I'll walk back with you."
Compared to Gus, Al was thin and taciturn, not joining in the conversation Bodie and Gus had engaged in over the meal. He proved to be just as reserved on the walk back to the house; my few questions receiving monosyllabic answers. I surmised returning with me wasn't for my company, rather to make sure their boss wasn't alone in the house with Dutton and his men. They trusted us as little as we - or Dutton would have - trusted them.
It was all quiet when we went in; the lounge door stood open, and Al poked his head in. "Still at dinner," he told me. "Best get upstairs and keep out of sight like the boss said."
Nodding, I headed for the stairs. It seemed I was worrying unnecessarily - unless Katzler had decided to play a waiting game. Although if that was the case, why give away that he'd heard any of the conversation at all?
Horrified I let Ray lead me into the dining room, followed by the Katzlers. Ray was angry, no doubt about it. It was there in the taut muscles of his arm around my shoulders and the tight set of his jaw. I wanted to ask him what had caused his outburst but I couldn't ask as me and I wasn't sure how to ask as Clarissa. She was wholly subservient to Tom Dutton and while I wasn't portraying her in quite the same way, there was no way Dutton would have a completely open relationship with his wife.
Ray did hold my chair for me at the table but when he sat down opposite he wouldn't meet my eye. I couldn't work out if he were really angry or if he was still just being very convincing as Dutton. But what had Murphy done to anger either persona?
'Stay away from her'. That was what Ray had said. The 'her' could only mean me. And his behaviour, like a possessive husband... Katzler must have been feeding him more stories about Murphy and Clarissa being too close. But what could he have seen or heard, he was out when we were talking earlier and we were very correct when he was around. Could the staff have listened to us and reported back? In which case we were in worse trouble still.
"You throw a good punch, Tom."
Ray flicked a tight glance at Katzler. "Nobody messes with me and mine. Nobody."
"A good motto," Katzler nodded approvingly. "Words to live by." He began to spoon up the soup the maid had placed on the table. I was sure I could see a smirk at the corner of his lips and it made me angry. How dare he try to stir things up?
"Larry," I began. "I don't know what you think you have seen but..."
Stunned, I stared at Ray in astonishment. His eyes were hard without a trace of the warmth I was used to seeing there.
This was going too far, I wasn't going to put up with being treated like this. Even in my role as Clarissa I felt I could make a dignified retreat. I started to rise, muttering words of excuse.
I flashed an angry look at Ray and then froze at the fury in his eyes. Flustered I dropped my napkin.
"Sit down, Clarissa and eat this meal Marilyn has gone to the trouble of preparing for us."
As myself I wouldn't have stood for this kind of treatment, but in the guise of Clarissa Dutton I daren't do anything to give us away. Hurt and upset I sat down again, head lowered, eyes staring at my plate. I had never felt so humiliated.
Ray had certainly immersed himself in his part. I had no doubt that this was exactly how Tom Dutton would have behaved in the same circumstances from the couple of occasions I'd had the pleasure of observing the man.
The nightmare meal passed agonisingly slowly. The maid changed soup plates for main course and finally the dessert and I did my best to eat whatever was put in front of me but later I couldn't have said what I had tasted.
The other three ate with gusto, seemingly oblivious to my discomfort, although I did think Katzler was taking a malicious enjoyment in the situation. He mainly directed his conversation to Ray, although he did throw the odd remark to his wife. Marilyn seemed content to listen to their talk, only occasionally offering a comment. She made one or two attempts at conversation with me but my monosyllabic replies soon made her give up the effort.
I did wonder if Ray would order me to be more polite and I tried to stir myself to be so but he seemed content to have kept me at the table.
For all that he had taken a blow for his trouble, Murphy seemed to me to have got the better end of the deal. At least he wasn't in this horrendously awkward atmosphere. I thought Ray's ears ought to be burning with all the comments I could imagine Murphy and Bodie were saying.
As soon as we had all finished eating Ray refused the offer of coffee and rose from the table. He again thanked Marilyn for the meal and asked that they excuse us as we had things to discuss.
Larry agreed instantly with another smirk while Marilyn fluttered around making noises about the next day.
Ray cut through it all by taking hold of my elbow and hustling me out of the room.
I left the door to my bedroom open, in the hope that if there were any disturbance from downstairs I would hear it, although being three floors up it was pretty unlikely. But to go any lower would mean lurking in corridors and my reputation - whatever had happened - didn't need to get any worse. I hoped Bodie was right and that Doyle would be able to convince Katzler I should stay on. Facing Cowley over the ruins of an important op wasn't something I wanted to do at any time, let alone imminently.
I picked up my book once or twice but couldn't get into it with the thought of what might be happening downstairs. Even with the best-case scenario, I could imagine what Ruth must be going through. If Bodie was right and Katzler had been poisoning Dutton's mind about what his wife was up to, Dutton would be punishing her - and I'd already seen how keen Doyle was to stay in character.
He didn't say a word until we were back in our room with the door safely shut then he slumped against the door, closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. "Jesus, I thought that meal would never end."
His eyes opened. "Just what the hell are you and Murphy playing at?" he hissed. "Your little games are going to ruin this whole op."
I gaped at him. I'd just begun to relax convinced that he had been acting all through dinner but now the anger was back in full and I was caught off balance.
"I don't know what you're talking about. What has Katzler been saying?"
"Oh just something about you joining Murphy in the shower. Christ, Ruth, I thought you had more sense. And Murphy! He ought to bloody well know better."
I shook my head, tried to remember our conversation that afternoon. "Ray, we didn't say anything like that... Katzler's lying..." Then I remembered. "OK, I said I was going to have a shower and Murphy joked about scrubbing my back. But it was just a joke, Ray. And Katzler wasn't even there; he was out. We wouldn't be that idiotic if he was around."
He was pacing the room unable to stand still, his anger radiating from him. He flung his jacket on the bed followed by his tie, without even breaking stride. I pulled on his arm to make him face me and listen but he shook my hand off as he might swat a fly. "This is Katzler's house, these are Katzler's staff. You have to assume that anything you say will get back to him. You stay in character, all the time!"
Another swift pace across the room and back. He was breathing hard and his fists were clenched, looking for something to hit, for some release. He swung round on me again. "You've been stupid, you and Murphy both. If you've got something going on with him, keep it out of hours!"
Before I could protest he stopped dead still and ran a hand over his hair. "God, how am I going to apologise to him? If I'd known, I wouldn't have thought..." He broke off and glared at me again. "You couldn't have given me a hint, one of you? Bloody hell, Ruth, we're sleeping in the same fucking bed? And all those innuendos from Bodie at breakfast, Murphy must have really enjoyed that! At least you could assure him today nothing went on."
Since the only man in CI5 I'd ever even contemplated the possibility of a relationship with was pacing up and down before me, this was getting more ludicrous by the second.
"I am not having a fling with Murphy!" I cried in exasperation and then clapped a hand to my mouth in horror. In my anger I'd forgotten to keep my voice down and that cry could have been heard outside of this room.
There was a second of silence in which you could have heard a whole cushion of proverbial pins falling and then Ray swung one hand and slapped his other forearm hard. It sounded unbelievably loud in the still night.
He put his face close to mine. "If the household is listening, and you can just bet they are, they now think I've slapped you." His face contorted in disgust. "Katzler thinks I can't handle my men or my wife. This op is a bloody fiasco." He snatched up his jacket and slammed out of the room.
Looking at my watch wasn't making the time go any faster and it was over an hour later when I heard Bodie whistling his way up the stairs. He was alone and came straight in.
I moved to close the door behind him. "Yeah. I was thinking things through and coming back quickly seemed like a good idea."
"I wondered if it was something like that. Not immediately, though," Bodie admitted. "At first I wasn't surprised if you had a headache or something, but then I thought you weren't usually such a delicate little flower. But even if I'd caught on sooner, it would have looked like I was holding your hand to come back with you."
"My reputation is bad enough, thanks. Did you see any sign of anyone downstairs?"
He nodded. "Just as we came in Doyle was practically manhandling Ruth up the stairs. He looked like thunder and Ruth looked miserable. I did think about trying to talk to him, but even I didn't fancy interrupting them."
"Come on then, confess. Just what have the two of you been up to?"
"Nothing," I denied. "We were just having a laugh. Although I suppose we were being a bit familiar."
"And Katzler heard you?"
"He must have done; it's the only thing I can think of. As long as he only heard the last few words..." I outlined the conversation and my fears to Bodie.
He understood the ramifications but wasn't so alarmed. "It's more than likely he's just taken the opportunity to drop you in it. He wasn't happy about both of us moving in, remember. Maybe he feels threatened and thinks Dutton will kick you out."
"I'm not sure he won't!"
"But as you said if he did overhear everything, why let on at all? It just means we all have to be a bit more careful. I'm just surprised you weren't."
I groaned. "I know. All I can say is that Ruth and I had a good day, and we were just relaxed and not properly back in character."
Bodie shook his head and attempted a Scottish accent. "Ye'll have tae do bettr th'n that, laddie..."
"I don't even want to think about what Cowley would say."
"You've got to face Doyle first. He's going to be pretty narked if you and Ruth have upset the apple cart."
I rubbed my jaw again. "He was narked all right - but I still think he could have pulled his punch. I'm just lucky I don't have any loose fillings."
I stared at the space where he'd been only a second before. The sudden absence of his angry presence was as startling as the fury itself. I had heard him in a temper before of course; one couldn't work for CI5 and not be aware of agent 4.5's temper. I'd heard the reports and complaints of it from other personnel; I'd joined in the raised eyebrows and resigned shrugs when the building shook with another Ray Doyle temper bout. I'd just never been on the receiving end of it before.
The whirlwind had left me shaking and I sat down heavily on the bed. In his portrayal of Tom Dutton Ray had convincingly shown the man's icy cold anger and then let his own fiery temper out when we were alone and to be subjected to both within such a short space of time was disorientating to say the least.
I felt a tear run down my cheek and brushed it away angrily. Unbidden another one fell and then another and before I knew it I was sobbing as hard as if I had been on the receiving end of that slap and all I could do was bury my face in the pillow and try not to give Larry Katzler the satisfaction of hearing me.
Some time later I awoke from a sleep I hadn't even been aware I was drifting into. I was still alone; Ray wasn't back. Stiffly I rose from the bed and tottered to the bathroom. Even without putting the light on I could see I looked a complete mess with hair and makeup in tatters. I took the blue dress off and hurled it out onto the bedroom floor. So much for all that expense, I couldn't see me wanting to wear it again. Sighing I unpinned my hair and cleaned my face.
After cleaning my teeth I came back into the bedroom, hesitated a moment and then cursing my inability to permit untidiness, I picked up the dress and put it neatly on its hanger in the wardrobe. Then I stripped off the rest of my clothes and put my nightdress on, heedless of Ray coming back into the room. Somehow I doubted I'd see him again tonight.
However no sooner had I lain down than the door quietly opened and Ray did come back in. I froze for a second and then tried to breathe normally. I hoped he'd think I was asleep and not disturb me. I really couldn't face another battle tonight.
Ray was obviously of the same mind, although I doubted it at first when I felt movement on his side of the bed. But he was just reaching for his pyjamas from under the pillow. He ghosted to the bathroom and made only minimal noise in there. When he came out he didn't come to bed as I expected. Cautiously I opened my eyes just a crack and saw him standing at the window his back to the room. He stood there for a long time, just staring out into the night.
Just when I was on the verge of saying something, anything, to break the tension I was feeling, he moved. With a sigh he turned back into the room and I quickly closed my eyes tight, now as keen to stay silent, as I had been to speak only a moment before.
As he slipped under the bedcovers I held my breath but he turned on his side, his back to me, perched on the far side of the bed. I caught a faint smell of alcohol; he'd obviously been drinking. With Katzler? Probably. What had they been saying?
I lay as still as possible and prayed for sleep to take me again. Behind me Ray seemed to be doing the same thing. This bed was smaller than the one at the hotel, or perhaps it just seemed so now I wasn't alone.
I awoke with a jump when somebody tapped on the bedroom door. Sunshine was streaming in through the window and my heavy eyes tracked Ray, fully dressed, crossing the room to open the door and take the tray of tea from the maid standing there.
He put the tray on the small desk and poured two cups, holding one of them out to me.
I struggled to sit up whilst trying to keep the sheet decently wrapped around me. "Thank you," I said, my voice coming out surprisingly croaky.
Obviously I'd got some sleep but it didn't feel anything like enough. Ray was doubtless used to company at night but I wasn't and it felt strange to have somebody else in bed with me, let alone all the other reasons for a restless night. I think I woke every time he turned over.
He nodded and taking up his own cup, leaned back against the window, half sitting on the sill, and eyed me as if wondering how to start.
"Listen, love," he began. "I'm sorry, I got a bit wild, last night - "
I sighed with relief. We weren't about to pick up where we'd left off. "It's ok, Ray. You were right to be cross. I'll be the perfect little wifey from now on, I promise."
He shook his head. "I'm going to send you back. I'll tell Katzler I'm sending you back to Manchester; I doubt he'll be surprised."
"No!" I sat up straighter, almost spilling my tea as I did so. "No, you can't do that, Ray."
"It's my call," he said. "Cowley should never have agreed to put you undercover in the first place. Bodie will have to go as well. Dutton would hardly send you back home with Murphy for company."
"No," I said again, thumping the bed with my fist and losing the sheet in my agitation. "You need Bodie here." I wasn't going to be responsible for splitting up the 3.7/4.5 team, not on a dangerous mission like this one. Of course they both could and did work well apart but they worked even better together. Remarkably so – I'd even heard Mr Cowley say so when I'd been driving for him. He often forgets himself in front of us and lets all sorts of interesting comments fall.
"Bodie can come back again tomorrow. Don't give me grief over this, Ruth. My mind's made up. I can't be doing my job here if I'm worrying about you all the time."
He sounded tired and now I looked more closely at him, there were dark shadows under his eyes. Probably a combination of drink and lack of sleep. I felt a stab of guilt. I had been foolish, even stupid. This wasn't a game; we couldn't afford any mistakes. I'd wanted this job, been pleased to have been chosen and I wasn't now going to be sent back as a failure.
I threw back the covers and went over to him. "Look, Ray. I screwed up, I admit it. But there's no harm done, fortunately, and you need me here as part of your cover. I can keep an eye on Marilyn Katzler and..." He started to shake his head and I hurried on. "Look Ray, if you send me back that's one thing, I don't really count. But you'll be down a man as well and Katzler will have won. It's a power struggle, Ray."
"Yeah, I know that," he began, but I overrode him, eager to make my point.
"Katzler didn't want you to have two men here from the beginning. If he makes you get rid of one then he's still in control." I spoke rapidly, coming more awake and alert every moment. "You can't send Clarissa back unchaperoned because Dutton wouldn't, so you have to keep me here to justify having both Bodie and Murphy." Then as he still hesitated. "You've worked hard to convince Katzler you're equal to him, don't let him get the upper hand now. He won't let you have Bodie back once he's left, you know." I pushed just a little further. "And I promise I'll stay in character all the time and order Murphy and Bodie around like... like... a drill sergeant."
He laughed then and the sound was good to hear. "Oh yeah, Bodie'll love that. Might be worth seeing at that." Then he looked at me more seriously. "All right then, you can stay, but you be damn careful."
"I will," I promised.
He sighed. "I've still got to square things with Murphy this morning. He's a bigger idiot than you for all that I can understand why he slipped."
I was about to protest again that there was nothing between Murphy and me when he glanced down at me and his expression softened. "You have to toughen up, Ruth. I'm sorry I made you cry but tears have no place in this game."
I froze for a second. In my anxiety to change Ray's mind about my role in all this, I'd forgotten what I must look like.
With a cry I dived for the bathroom and hastily shut the door behind me. I stared into the mirror in horror, much as I had done some hours before. I wasn't sure I'd brought enough makeup with me to cover up the fright I saw there. I sank down onto the toilet seat and put my head in my hands. No part of this assignment was going quite how I'd imagined.
Ray tapped at the door. "You ok? I'm going downstairs now. See you there, no hurry."
Was he laughing? I couldn't quite tell and I didn't have time to dwell on it. A bolt of panic ran through me and I yanked the door open again. "Ray!"
He turned and at the look on my face, swiftly came back across the room. "What's wrong, love?"
"Would you wait for me? I really don't want to go down there by myself."
A look crossed his face that I couldn't quite interpret and I cursed myself for being so weak after convincing him that I should be allowed to stay.
"Sorry," was all he said. "I should have thought." He sat on the bed. "Take your time but you might have to wake me when you're ready."
Relieved I hurriedly collected some clothes and retreated back into the bathroom to wash and dress.
When I came out, Ray was laid full out on the bed eyes closed, arms behind his head. He didn't even stir while I had the hair dryer going full blast but as soon as I switched it off, he opened his eyes.
"Left my book behind in the hotel," he said. "Damned annoying, I was only half way through it."
"What was it?" I asked, starting to apply my makeup. It felt very strange to have somebody, a man, there while I dressed and made up but somehow it was also curiously relaxing, just chatting with Ray as if we weren't under the roof of a man who would kill us as soon as blink.
"Day of the Jackal." He grinned. "I don't see Tom Dutton as a reader of any great depth."
I flashed him a quick smile but concentrated on my reflection in the mirror. Foundation, power, concealer, eye shadow; I did the best I could but still couldn't help pulling a face when I'd finished. It would have to do but it was still obvious I'd not had a peaceful night.
I slipped on my jacket and took a last look at myself in the mirror. Black trousers, crisp white blouse and checked jacket with flat shoes made me feel ready to face whatever Marilyn had planned for us.
"Ready," I announced, turning round. Ray swung his feet off the bed and stood up.
With his hand on the doorknob he suddenly stopped and swung me round to face him. "Listen, Ruth. I'm sorry but I'm going to have to have another go at Murphy when we get down there. When I walked out last night, Katzler caught me and we had a drink in his study. He wanted to know what I was going to do about 'my presumptuous man', as he put it. I put him off then but I can't be seen to let it go with just that punch."
Poor Murphy. I wondered if he realised something like this was forthcoming. I swallowed and nodded. "He'll understand, Ray."
He pulled a wry face. "I hope you're right." he said. "Let's go and find out."
Bodie had stayed in my room until gone midnight; we'd both hoped Doyle might have sought one of us out but given the circumstances I suppose wandering around the house late at night would only arouse further suspicion.
Not long after Bodie had come upstairs we'd heard raised voices and what sounded like a slap before a door slammed, and alarmed, I glanced at Bodie. "Doyle wouldn't..."
"No," he said firmly. "Doyle wouldn't. More likely Ruth's thumped him."
Of course it was. But Doyle had one heck of a temper. I let it go, but it left me with a niggling concern.
It would have been a further proof of my idiocy to have followed my instinct to seek Doyle out, but I hated working blind and I was awake early, following disturbed dreams full of chasing shadows.
Bodie was just emerging from the small bathroom we were sharing when I finally gave up trying to doze and left my room. "There's no hot water," he shivered. "You'd think a place this size could manage a decent boiler. I'll see you down in the kitchen for breakfast, I need a cuppa quickly to warm up."
I laughed at him, but on that basis avoided a shower and managed with a quick wash instead. Back in my room, shaving was accomplished slowly, with a lot of suppressed swearing as the bruise made itself felt, even if it wasn't spectacularly visible.
The delicious smell of bacon started my stomach rumbling before I even reached the kitchen, and I wasn't surprised to see Bodie making inroads into a plate full of fried food.
He was attempting to chat to Constancia at the same time, and it was some salve to my wounded pride that she instantly abandoned him when I walked in, exclaiming over what you could see of the bruise on my chin.
The cook gestured towards some hotplates telling me to help myself, so I piled a plate Bodie-style and joined him at the table, favouring Constancia with a smile as she poured me a cup of tea before the cook called her away.
Bodie looked after her, amused, and pointed his knife at me accusingly. "You knew she was hidden away down here."
"I did. Didn't think she'd stay hidden in the kitchen for long though," I grinned at him.
"She's pretty taken with you." Bodie seemed happy not to pursue her; and I remembered he still thought he had one over on me with Kayley.
I wished we were still back at the hotel. Last night had been a sharp wake-up call to the importance of staying in character; for all we knew even the cook might be reporting on us. "Have you seen the boss yet this morning?"
The same thought had obviously occurred to Bodie and he shook his head. "Came straight down here. They're having breakfast; I'll go up in a bit and find out what the orders are for today."
"Could be 'pack your bags' for me..."
Bodie shrugged. "I'll go and find out," he repeated.
As we descended the stairs, Ray squeezed my hand then he let go again, already schooling his face into Tom Dutton's more reserved look. If nothing else, this operation was a fascinating insight into the abilities of the top agents, the ones who got all the really difficult assignments. And difficult meant dangerous, I reminded myself.
The Katzlers were already sitting around the dining room table, empty plates in front of them, coffee cups in hand.
"Well good morning," Marilyn said. "Come, sit down. Tell me what you'd like for breakfast."
"Just tea and toast, please," I said as I slipped into a chair.
"For me too," Ray said.
"I thought you English liked to start the day with a full breakfast," Katzler said.
"Some of us are concerned about staying fit and avoiding a heart attack," Ray replied. As I'd heard him have this conversation or variants of it with Bodie on more than one occasion, I felt a bubble of amusement welling up in me but I quickly suppressed it. Just because Ray and I were OK again didn't mean Tom and Clarissa were.
"Did you sleep well?" Katzler asked me next.
I forced myself to keep a neutral expression on my face as I looked at him. "Very well, thank you, Larry. Hotel beds are never quite as good, are they? No matter how many stars the place has."
Across the table I saw a small smile quirk at the corners of Ray's mouth. It wasn't as if Katzler could call me a liar without breaking all the rules of hospitality.
"And what are you girls up to today?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Oh well now, I thought we could do a little shopping, have some lunch and maybe do an art gallery or museum afterwards," Marilyn said. "Are you up for that, honey?"
I smiled at her, grateful that she at least seemed to be genuinely friendly. "That sounds lovely, Marilyn."
"Great. Can we have the car, Larry, or will you be needing it today?"
"Not sure yet, you can take a cab." He leaned back and shouted. "Gus, order up a cab for the ladies."
A faint cry of acknowledgement came back from the hallway. The maid brought our breakfast. Ray disappeared behind a newspaper Katzler had left lying on the table and Marilyn chattered to me about the various cultural delights she had on her list to visit while they were over here. Katzler simply drank more coffee and made notes in a small black notebook.
Towards the end of the meal he looked up. "While I hate to labour the point, Tom, you mind if I enquire what you're going to do about that man of yours?"
"That's really not your concern, Larry," Ray said, looking up from the newspaper. "Unless you object to him staying here, of course."
Katzler frowned. "You're keeping him on then?"
"I am. The man's been a fool but he does good work, I just need to keep him out of temptation's way."
I felt myself flush and looked up in time to see Ray fold the newspaper up again and meet my eyes. "And to that end," he continued. "He'll be with me from now on and Bodie will be looking after my lovely wife for me."
I froze for a second, feeling embarrassed all over again for all that I knew Ray and I were only playing a part. Over the last couple of days I'd discovered I got on much better with Murphy than I ever did with Bodie so the prospect of being with Bodie all day was disconcerting.
Of course getting along with Murphy was what had put us in this position in the first place so I tried to look unconcerned and told myself to just accept the situation.
"I'd be grateful though, Larry, if I could have the use of your study to have a word with him first. Afraid I wasn't in any mood to discuss the matter last night."
"Be my guest," Katzler waved his hand languidly. "But you really need somebody with Clarissa, do you? Marilyn doesn't feel the need of a bodyguard."
Ray smiled tightly. "He can carry the bags and a bit of culture won't hurt him either."
"Well, if we're all done here," Marilyn said, brightly. "Clarissa and I can just collect our purses and be off."
I marvelled at her ability to completely ignore any and all tension around her and blithely carry on with her plans.
We went out into the hall followed by the two men and as we did so, Bodie came up the stairs from what I presumed was the kitchen.
"Morning, boss," he said. "Mrs Dutton." He nodded politely to the Katzlers then turned back to Ray.
"What's the word for this morning?"
I'd followed Bodie up to the ground floor but hearing voices in the hallway, I stayed back out of sight. I had no idea what mood Dutton - or indeed, Doyle - was in but I would rather avoid a repeat of the previous evening. If Dutton wanted me out I'd rather get the message from Bodie.
I could hear Doyle was talking but not what he was saying, so edged forward. That brought me in sight of Ruth standing next to Katzler, and I tried to see if she looked OK because I hadn't forgotten that apparent slap we heard. However I was too far back to see anything and my slight movement caught Doyle's attention and he frowned.
Even in character I wouldn't retreat, so I moved forward a few steps. Doyle ignored me and finished what he was saying. "The taxi is already waiting."
Bodie nodded and headed for the stairs, giving me a quick glance with a raised eyebrow which could have meant anything. Ruth followed him more sedately but without looking in my direction at all.
Doyle scowled at me, and pointed to the study. "In there."
Silently I obeyed, wondering what was to come.
"No thanks, Larry. I can handle it." I was relieved to hear Doyle's curt refusal of Katzler's assistance. It sounded less likely that I was going to get more of last night's treatment, and maybe we could talk properly.
"So tell me why I should keep you on." Slamming the door behind him, Doyle stalked across the room. His expression and gestures towards the door were completely at odds with his first words, but I caught on quickly. He thought Katzler was probably listening.
"I'm sorry, boss. I didn't mean to cause any offence to you or Mrs Dutton."
"I employed you to mind my wife, not sit around drinking tea and making eyes at her."
Murphy-the-minder would be apologetic but attempt some defence, I felt. "She's a nice lady, boss, and I was keeping her company, that's all."
"Not what it sounded like, so I've heard." Doyle stared straight at me, and I blinked. Either Doyle had absorbed so much of Dutton's character that he was playing the part unconsciously well, or what I was seeing was Doyle's own anger.
"I'm sorry," I repeated. "I was just being friendly."
"From now on you keep being friendly to yourself. You do your job and nothing else; and maybe I'll think about keeping you on the payroll. You've done OK up till now but this is your one and only warning, got it? And Bodie will take over as minder to Mrs Dutton."
I opened my mouth to attempt a protest but he swept on. "I know how innocent you both claim to be but I'd be stupid to trust you. I'll keep you on - for the moment - but I'll keep you where I can see you. You will stay away from my wife and have nothing to do with her. She's mine, understand?"
We knew Dutton was a jealous husband and I supposed it was what Katzler would expect to hear but Doyle was really getting into his part. "I understand, boss."
"Good." Some of the anger died away. "Bodie will accompany my wife on her shopping trip today. You will come with Mr Katzler and me later. I'll call you when I need you."
"Yes, boss." Thus dismissed, I preceded Doyle out of the study, schooling my expression into 'rebuked and slightly resentful'. Sure enough, Katzler was still standing in the hallway and he looked pleased with himself. I dropped my eyes rather than have him accuse me of anything and headed for the stairs - just as Ruth started down them.
Keeping my face carefully neutral I stood back to let her pass. Other than appearing a bit tired she seemed OK, smiling at the two men in the hallway below her. "Is Marilyn ready, Larry? I'm looking forward to our day out."
"Not yet, Clarissa. Come back into the lounge while you wait for her."
As she reached the bottom of the flight, I got the merest glance from Ruth; cold and disdainful. I think I'd have preferred to have been ignored.
Without bothering to look back at any of them I trotted up to my room, catching Bodie as he passed. "I hear you're going shopping."
"Yeah, thanks to you." He rolled his eyes. "You speak to the boss?"
I nodded. "Still on the payroll, for now anyway."
"Good. I'd better get downstairs; I'll catch up with you later."
Hearing voices outside, I looked down to see Ruth and Marilyn Katzler on the steps, by a taxi. Bodie bounded down to open the door for the ladies before following them into the interior, and the taxi pulled away. I wondered idly why Katzler had brought both Gus and Al with him from the States when the latter seemed not to have a role but ghosted around the house.
Perhaps he'd go with us today rather than Gus; whatever it was we were supposed to be doing. And how long I was going to have to wait until Doyle summoned me?
I could sit alone in my room - or I could go back to the kitchen where I could carry on chatting up Constancia...
In the taxi I let Marilyn prattle on, organising our day out. She did ask me once or twice if what she suggested was OK with me and I always agreed. It didn't make any difference to me, after all. So we were all set for a day of shopping, lunch and art, in some form or another.
I hadn't heard the location Marilyn had given the taxi driver but soon enough I thought I could guess our destination, Harrods again. I felt I'd seen enough of the place to last me a year but it was an obvious choice for a visiting American. However it wasn't Harrods that the driver stopped at but the Janet Reger shop in Beauchamp Place.
I knew of the place, of course, but I'd never been here. Just looking in the window now as Bodie paid off the taxi I was dubiously eyeing the skimpy outfits on the dummies in the window. The fact that there were no prices displayed was warning enough.
Marilyn tucked her arm in mine in a cosy way. "My favourite form of therapy shopping," she said.
Bodie scooted in front of us and held the shop door open. "Ladies," he said, with a sweeping gesture.
"You can wait outside," I told him firmly and tried not to giggle as his face fell.
"Oh no, he has to come in," Marilyn shocked me by saying. "I like a man's opinion sometimes."
"Marilyn!" I squeaked as she swept me into the shop. I twisted to look back over my shoulder and saw Bodie, eyebrows raised but also with an anticipatory gleam in his eyes.
I gave him a look to match the one I gave poor Murphy; only this one took no effort at all. I would never be allowed to live this down around the CI5 rest room. Bodie, watching me buy my underwear.
"Clarissa honey, you have got to lighten up a bit," Marilyn said. "Now how long have you been married?"
I knew the answer to that one. "Just over three years."
"Well there you go then. That's far too early to be fighting like this." She patted my arm. "I'll bet your Tom is just like my Larry. Works too hard, too many hours. If he leaves you alone with a good looking man, then he can hardly complain if you get friendly with the help."
"Marilyn, once and for all, I am not having an affair with Murphy," I hissed at her, conscious of the shop assistants eyeing us up as well as Bodie only a step or two away.
"No? Fair enough, but that's my point really. Tom's probably only getting so wild because he knows he leaves you alone too much. He's scared of losing you, so..." she waved a hand encompassing the shop's wares. "You buy some pretty things to reassure him. He'll appreciate it, you'll appreciate his appreciation and pretty soon everything will be lovely again."
I laughed. I was liking Marilyn more and more. She made everything seem simple and uncomplicated. If we weren't all in this potentially dangerous undercover situation I'd almost be enjoying myself. I could certainly afford to play along with her plans to help me regain 'Tom's' affection. I began to browse the racks of clothes.
"So, Marilyn," I asked. "Enough of my bodyguard, what about your own?"
"Gus? Or perhaps you mean Al?" She shuddered. "Have you taken a good look at them?"
I chuckled again. Since I'd mentally tagged them as Gus the Gorilla and Al the Ape in my mind, I wasn't surprised at her answer.
"No, all the better looking boys were left at home," she said a trifle wistfully. "So I shall just have to make do with yours," she added and held up a pale pink baby doll nightie in front of her. "What do you think?" she demanded of Bodie. "Does it suit me?"
He looked faintly startled. "I'm sure I couldn't say, Mrs Katzler."
"Hmm, perhaps you're right," she said, putting it back on the rack. "Never mind, I'm sure we'll find something you'll approve of." She took his arm and led him further into the shop while I intently studied a rack of peignoirs to hide my giggles at the look on Bodie's face. Maybe he wouldn't be the only one with stories to tell once we were back at headquarters.
Tempting though the company was in the kitchen, I'd decided to stay in my room. In the circumstances it might help improve my cover to chat up Constancia, but she was likely to have work to do and I didn't need the cook complaining to Katzler that I was causing problems with the staff. If Dutton was keeping me where he could see me, I had no doubt Katzler would also be watching closely and there wouldn't be second chances on this one.
It was over an hour later when Gus tapped on my door. "They're ready to go now."
The limo was waiting at the kerb and Gus grabbed what was probably his customary place up front with the driver. The Daimler was designed to carry extra passengers in the back but it meant I had to squash myself into one of the foldaway seats in front of Katzler and Doyle, who were already reclining in comfort. It seemed a large vehicle for Katzler to have hired given that there was just the two of them, but fortuitous for us.
Given how plush the vehicle was, even with the reduced legroom I wasn't too uncomfortable - but that didn't last long. Gus and the driver were cut off by the closed privacy panel but I was nicely in earshot and Katzler couldn't help himself.
"Did you find your room comfortable, Tom? Clarissa sure looked tired this morning."
I did my best not to react, but I'm sure I stiffened, waiting to hear Doyle's response.
"You heard what she said, Larry. The bed and room are fine."
"I expect you were up late talking, especially after our chat last night." It was all for my benefit of course. "Clarissa probably had a lot to think about as well."
"Yeah, we talked." I could hear the warning note in Doyle's voice indicating he didn't intend to discuss it, but Katzler was still keen to push his point and moved onto me.
"And of course you've had words with your man here."
Out of sight, I clenched my fist. I didn't even dare turn around let alone defend myself, not if I expected Doyle to keep me on as his minder. But I couldn't expect him to defend me either, so it was a relief when at least he didn't join in the sniping.
"I told you earlier, Larry. I've dealt with it. They both know exactly where they stand." He swept on, changing the subject and probably preventing Katzler from making another comment. "These people we're going to see. I hope they're of more use to me than your wealthy chums yesterday."
"More use?" Katzler's reply sounded genuinely puzzled. "Those guys have a lot of contacts, Tom."
"And a lot of attitude to go with it."
In between moaning about being stuck without food while Doyle had enjoyed a fancy lunch, Bodie had imparted that their meeting yesterday had involved several men we'd already had an interest in (as well as several we hadn't) but they were all stinking rich and upper-class and hadn't hesitated to look down on Tom Dutton, who clearly had dragged himself up by his bootstraps.
The cultural differences didn't seem to have affected their various relationships with Katzler, but he probably had enough money for them to overlook any lack of class.
"Right." Katzler still sounded as though he didn't understand. "Today we're meeting someone you've been anxious to meet."
"Good." There was no mistaking the satisfaction in Doyle's voice; although Katzler couldn't know the real reason for it was the delight Doyle always took in arresting drug dealers. The sooner we got to Katzler's source the sooner we could we could wrap this job up.
I'd been tracing our route in my mind; the chauffeur had taken us towards the West End but instead of taking us to a hotel somewhere close our journey continued, passing close to HQ and dropping down to travel along the Embankment. I risked a quick glance over my shoulder; Doyle seemed relaxed, enjoying the drive.
Past Cannon Street and the Tower, and onto Smithfield and I began to get an idea of our direction; the docks. I'd done some jobs around there but it was an area Doyle knew much better than me, which might come in handy.
We drove for another ten minutes before the driver, who had obviously been there before since he didn't need directions, headed straight to our destination eventually pulling up in a small street close to the river.
I hopped out immediately, folding up my seat and holding the door for Doyle. I saw a flash of amusement in his eyes but he didn't speak to me, glancing around before following Katzler towards the warehouse.
The man who had come out to meet them was a stranger to me, and it seemed to Doyle also, which was good. The downside to Doyle knowing the area was that someone might know him. Shaking Katzler's hand without a word the man gestured to the building and all three headed for the door; Doyle with a quick backward glance to make sure I was following.
Fortunately Gus was already doing just that, so I wouldn't stand out by doing the same. Once inside I hovered near the door to get my bearings; Doyle was with Katzler and the other man around a desk in a partitioned office, but I was too far away to hear what they were saying. I wandered over to where Gus had perched on a packing crate.
Taking a seat beside him, I gestured towards the office. "What's all that about?"
He eyed me suspiciously. For all that he was most definitely a subordinate I doubted that Gus was in the dark as to any of Katzler's business dealings, but so far neither he or Al had given anything away to us. "None of our business," he eventually replied.
I shrugged casually, and left it. While it was unlikely any sort of deal was happening right at that moment, this wasn't your normal business meeting.
Although I couldn't hear what was under discussion it quickly became clear that Doyle wasn't happy about something, and I stood up as Doyle bowled out of the office. Katzler followed, catching his arm.
Doyle roughly shook him off. "When you've decided if you can trust me, maybe I'll be back!" He stormed towards the door, and I hurried after him.
"Tom!" Katzler was ignored, but rather than chasing after Doyle he stopped me. "Tell Tom I'll see him at the house later. Tell him we'll talk."
"Yes sir." I glanced back a few times as I pursued Doyle, who was stalking away with apparently no intention of stopping. It took me the length of the building to catch up with him, and even then he barely acknowledged me. Of course, we could still be seen, so I simply fell into step just behind him and let Doyle lead the way.
The way, it seemed after another five minutes of swift walking, was to a pub. As far as I could tell we hadn't been followed, and Doyle banged open the door to The Ship. "I could murder a pint."
We stepped up to the bar and ordered, and carried our drinks to an empty table. "So what happened back there?"
"It's all taking too long. I told Katzler earlier that I couldn't afford the time to keep hanging about in London, so I was hoping that we'd get something concrete on him and the drugs shipment today. Instead, I was being fobbed off with more promises of the arrival being 'imminent'." Doyle sunk some more of his pint and grimaced. "Katzler apparently doesn't even trust me enough to give me the name of that man back there. I figured Dutton wouldn't stand for that, so I walked."
"As long as it hasn't blown the chances of making the deal..." Personally, I thought perhaps Doyle had let his own temper get the better of him, but couldn't deny that Dutton wouldn't be messed about. Anyway, I could hardly criticise Doyle for not being professional enough.
He considered that, for all of five seconds. "Nah. We might have nothing specific but Katzler's told me too much. He'll still want to go through with it."
"Hope you're right. He said to tell you he'd see you back at the house."
"There you are then. If he wanted out of the deal, he'd be kicking us out." Doyle looked hopefully towards the bar. "Wonder if they serve food? Even a ploughman's would do."
"Doubt I could chew any crusty bread..." I rubbed ruefully at my chin for added effect, and Doyle gave me a slightly embarrassed grin.
"Oh yeah... sorry..."
"Did you have to deck me that hard?"
"Actually, I did. It's what Katzler expected - and what Dutton would have done."
Although I appreciated the need for Doyle to keep up his cover as Dutton he didn't seem that apologetic about thumping me; but his next words left me almost speechless.
"Anyway, you deserved it."
"I what? How'd you work that out?"
"You and Ruth. If you'd let on that you were an item maybe I'd have been ready for Katzler's accusations and better placed to deny them. As it was -"
"Hold on." I stared at him. "An item, Ruth and me? Since when?"
"You tell me; you're the one carrying on with her."
I shook my head. "Not me, mate. She's a great girl and we get on well but what Katzler overheard was just us joking about."
"Surely Ruth told you that it was nonsense?"
"Yeah." He grinned sheepishly, seeming relieved. "But I thought she was just being coy and trying to defend you."
"Uh-uh. I've never made a move on her. Mind you, if the opportunity were to present itself... although I expect Cowley would squash any signs of familiarity fairly quickly."
"Well, he certainly tries when Bodie carries on with the secretaries." Doyle grinned. "Although I think that's because he doesn't like interruptions to the work, with half the typing pool either mooning over Bodie or in floods of tears because he's dumped them."
He stood up, draining his glass. "I'll get us a refill and find out about food."
Marilyn was able to spin out the game of teasing Bodie for what seemed like hours. 'Did this garment suit her?' 'What about this colour?' 'What was his opinion on teddies?'
When her back was turned, selecting more items, Bodie pulled desperate faces at me that I affected not to see and quietly went on with my own browsing. Once again I didn't see how I could get out of buying some of these expensive fripperies. Beautiful though they were, they were considerably outside of what I usually paid for such garments. I consoled myself that I could probably return them – after I'd had the experience of trying them on and imagining what it would be like to dress like that every day.
I'd noticed that the assistants were most punctilious in using each customer's name as they paid, having observed the name on the credit card or cheque as they were handed over. Therefore I waited until Marilyn had Bodie at the furthest distance from the till and quickly handed over my purchases.
"Thank you, Miss Pettifer," the assistant said, with a smile, handing me the carrier bag with the pretty things all individually, beautifully wrapped in tissue paper. It was certainly a different buying experience, shopping in Knightsbridge.
Now I thought I had better rescue Bodie. As I rejoined them I could hear her saying; "I'm really not sure, maybe I should try them both on and you can tell which one looks better."
"Try them on by all means, Marilyn," I told her. "And I'll give you my opinion, but I think Bodie has had his education broadened enough for one morning. You can wait for us outside now, Bodie."
"Yes, Mrs Dutton," Bodie said obediently and I was sure I could see a flicker of relief in his eyes.
Marilyn gave me a measured look, as if surprised to discover the submissive Clarissa had a backbone and I wondered if I had overdone it. Then her eyes fell on the carrier bag in my hand.
"Ohhh, you've already paid! And I haven't seen what you chose. Show me now!"
Before I could protest, she'd taken the bag from me and was pawing through the contents.
"Oh excellent choices, Clarissa. Your Tom will be delighted, I'm sure." She patted my arm again and her eyes danced with the light of satisfaction at mending the supposed rift in my marriage.
Again I couldn't help smiling back at her. She was good hearted even if she did like to tease. "Are you ready to go yet, Marilyn?"
"Oh well, I suppose so. I can always come back again before we go home." She moved to the counter, her arms full of a variety of garments all, presumably, for Larry's 'appreciation'.
I moved to the door where Bodie was slouching against the window. He straightened up as I came out into the bright sunlight.
"Get a taxi, would you? She's about ready to move on."
He nodded, eyes instantly scanning the streets for an available black cab. "So who're the pretty things for, Ruthie? Doyle or Murphy?" He shot a quick sideways glance at me, a smirk on his face.
Damn the man, I felt my face flush even though I had nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I thrust my bag at him. "Just keep hold of that and get a taxi and keep your grubby thoughts to yourself." I turned on my heel and marched back into the shop to where Marilyn was keeping two assistants busy wrapping her many purchases.
Lunch was at a pretty Italian restaurant down by the river that Marilyn said she had discovered on a previous visit to England. I got the impression that she'd had to frequently entertain herself, during the daytime at least, while Larry conducted all sorts of business.
Although I ventured a few innocuous questions about his business, Marilyn either didn't know or wouldn't say and deftly changed the subject each time. I let it drop. I wasn't here to do any investigating as such although I obviously wouldn't pass up any information that came my way. I was just here to help maintain Ray's cover.
Marilyn proved to be more equalitarian than her husband and insisted on Bodie joining us at the table. Probably more of her liking for decorative men around than a real desire for his company because she seemed to have tired of her games of the morning and practically ignored him.
Instead she quizzed me as to the Dutton's home in Manchester. How big was it? How many servants? In what style was it decorated? It was concealed under the give and take of conversation as she offered up information about her own house in America. It could all be completely innocent; they were perfectly natural things to discuss with a new acquaintance. Fortunately my assiduous study of the Dutton's file and my time spent with the real Clarissa paid off and I could supply all the detail she could wish for.
After a very leisurely lunch and several glasses of wine, Marilyn seemed ready to move on. "I must just make a visit to the powder room," she said.
"I'll come with you," I rose from the table. "Bodie, take care of the bill, will you?"
"Yes, Mrs Dutton." Bodie gestured to the waiter.
"Aw honey, thank you."
"My pleasure, Marilyn."
At least I wouldn't have to see the size of the bill I'd just accepted. But I didn't see I had much choice. It would be quite natural for the Dutton's to stand the odd meal against all the Katzler's hospitality and by making Bodie deal with it, I'd again avoided the possibility of Marilyn getting a look at the name on my credit card.
The pub didn't usually serve food for the punters, but it was early and quiet and Doyle sweet-talked the barmaid into disappearing out back to rustle up a couple of sandwiches from the owner's kitchen. Supplemented by several bags of crisps, it wasn't the largest of meals but it stopped our stomachs rumbling.
The pub started to fill up with local workers just before one, and Doyle started to look nervous. "I used to be known around here. We'd better get moving."
We headed up to the main road and were fortunate in flagging a black cab almost immediately, and Doyle gave the Cadogan Place address. "Not much point in checking in," he added to me as we set off. "Bodie and I were only in there yesterday and there's nothing really new to report. Just the address of that dock - and even that might be just a meeting place. Besides, if we get back to the house we might get a chance to look around, if Katzler isn't back. We've got to use every opportunity we get, because we're not likely to get many of them."
Disappointingly, when we arrived the door was opened by Gus and Katzler appeared instantly from his study. "Tom. Can I have a word?"
Doyle favoured him with a brief and emotionless stare, before slipping off his jacket and passing it to me. "Take that up to my room, Murphy."
I stood back and waited while Doyle casually unbuttoned his shirtsleeves and shoved them back, before strolling into Katzler's study. The door closed behind them, and I headed for the stairs to take Doyle's jacket up.
Gus called after me. "I'm just going to the kitchen for some lunch, if you want to join me..."
"OK. I'll be down shortly." I carried on up the stairs, pondering the man's sudden friendliness. Not that he'd been particularly hostile before, but this was a departure. Instinct told me he was acting under instructions; and I'd better be careful what I said.
Dropping Doyle's jacket onto their bed, I left the double room and trotted up to my own. I'd barely got through the door before I realised someone had been in there; my book had been moved and the bed made properly. Just the maid, then?
I opened the wardrobe for a hanger for my jacket. I always pushed everything to the right, and now the clothes were at the wrong end of the rail. It wasn't just the maid, someone had been going through my things.
I hung up my jacket. What could they find? All my personal things - wallet and so on - I had carried with me. And since I wasn't going under a false name that wouldn't give me away anyhow.
No, Doyle and Ruth's covers were at greater risk, if Katzler had instructed Al to search our rooms. I knew Doyle had been outfitted at great expense to become Tom Dutton, but Ruth's cover had been thrown up quickly. I hoped she'd been sensible enough to leave anything with personal details safely at home.
The shout didn't sound worried or alarmed, but I shot instantly out of the room and down the stairs in response to my master's voice. Doyle stood in the doorway to his room. "Did you move anything in here?"
Just as I'd known someone had been in my room, it was obvious to Doyle as well. I followed him inside. "No sir. Just put your jacket on the bed and left again."
"Well, someone has."
"Probably just the maid tidying up, sir." I gestured back towards the door, certain that I'd seen Al lurking at the top of the main staircase, and pushed the door closed before lowering my voice. "They searched my room as well."
"You can return the compliment later. Katzler's just told me he's booked a table and is taking me and Ruth out for dinner tonight. Bodie will go with us which leaves you free to do some spying."
I nodded. "Any idea what time the others will be back?"
"From what Marilyn seemed to have planned for their day, it won't be anytime soon. Still, Ruth is quite safe with her and she's got Bodie in tow."
"OK. I'm going down to the kitchen - Gus has suddenly developed a partiality for my company. No doubt Katzler has told him to pump me for info."
I exited the room swiftly but there was no sign of Al. Either I'd been mistaken, or he was too experienced to get caught listening outside rooms. My experience told me it was probably the latter...
For our slice of culture, Marilyn had decided upon the National Portrait Gallery. She said she'd done most of the others in her previous visits but this one had 'gotten away from her'.
"I want to see that picture of your Shakespeare," she said as we walked through the gallery doors. "To think, it's contemporary."
I'd seen the picture some years ago on a previous visit and whilst being impressed at its age and the subject, I hadn't thought much of it, but I was curious to see if my opinion had changed over the years.
Since we didn't have a hope of covering all that the gallery had to offer, we used the guidebooks to choose items we particularly wanted to see. We started on the top floor so as to be sure to see the Shakespeare painting.
We studied the picture for a while and while Marilyn exclaimed over it, I decided my opinion hadn't changed very much. I preferred the equally contemporary portrait of Elizabeth I.
Whilst art appreciation had never been my strong subject, I found plenty to interest me in the portraits of real figures while Bodie trailed along behind us, looking more and more bored and lumbered with carrying the Janet Reger bags.
I noticed Marilyn looking at her watch once or twice but didn't think anything of it until we had worked our way down to the first floor. We had reached the portrait of the Bronte sisters which I again remembered from my previous visit and I was studying with fascination the barely discernable outline of Patrick Bronte and wondering just what had driven him to paint himself out of the picture and thus to draw even more attention to it.
Marilyn stifled a yawn; clearly not as interested in these old writers as much as she had been in Shakespeare. "I need to powder my nose," she said.
"I'll come with you," I offered, but she shook her head.
"No, you carry on wandering and I'll come and find you. I'll only be a minute."
She walked swiftly away before I could say another word and shrugging, I turned back to the painting.
"Ruth," Bodie said softly, "She's up to something, stick with her."
I looked at him in surprise but despite our respective roles he was the senior agent and obediently I followed Marilyn.
She was already out of sight when I started after her but she had to be on the stairs leading to the ground floor where the toilets were situated. As I reached the top of the stairs I could just see her hurrying around the bend. I followed her down, keeping my distance in case she should turn around.
At the bottom, instead of turning left for the toilets, she turned right and I knew Bodie's instincts had been good when a young man, standing by the door of one of the rooms, came forward to greet her.
They remained in the corridor and I didn't dare try to get any closer. There weren't enough people around to cover me and Marilyn would only have to turn her head in my direction to spot me. As I watched they talked earnestly for a few minutes then Marilyn drew a small packet from her handbag and passed it over to the man who pocketed it.
She then glanced at her watch and her gestures said clearly enough that she had to be getting back.
I hastily moved back up the stairs to the first floor and found Bodie where I'd left him, leaning against a pillar, arms folded across his chest and eyes purposefully scanning the room.
"You were right," I said, sitting down on a nearby bench. I told him what I'd seen, my tone frustrated. "If we weren't undercover I could have radioed for somebody to follow him when he left."
"Them's the breaks," Bodie said with a shrug. "But you're doing fine," he added quietly.
I swivelled my eyes at him in surprise and gratitude. After all the traumas it was nice to be told I wasn't a complete flop.
"Just keep looking at the nice pictures," he said. "She'll be here any second."
I tried to focus on the portrait nearest to me, one of a young Dickens.
"Ray will be sorry he made you cry," Bodie astonished me by saying next. I fought the impulse to turn around and look at him again. Bodie knows how to wind me up and does so frequently. I find his sense of humour ribald in the extreme, but he's not stupid. Nobody in the Big A was and certainly not Mr Cowley's top team.
"He can be a right ratty sod when he puts his mind to it," Bodie continued, his lips barely moving. "Under other circumstances it could just as easily have been him talking out of turn. But he's carrying the weight of this op and he's under pressure."
"He's doing a marvellous job," I said, feeling even as I said it, slightly absurd at defending Ray to his partner.
"'course he is," Bodie said, instantly, as if I had criticised Ray. "All I'm saying is, cut him some slack if he goes a bit overboard."
I nodded, still marvelling somewhat at Bodie's depths of perception.
"A flash of your new purchases should put a smile back on his face," he went on, rustling the bag slightly, reverting back to the sort of behaviour I'd more commonly come to expect from him.
I glared at him and opened my mouth to warn him to mind his manners.
"Here she comes," Bodie said, hastily and straightened up. I began to flick through the pages of the guidebook on my lap.
"Sorry to be so long," Marilyn said, dropping onto the bench beside me. "Such a queue. Why do these places never have enough stalls?"
Not expecting an answer she leaned over and looked at the open pages of the book in my hands. "Decided what you want to see next?" she asked.
Over my second lunch of another sandwich, Gus proved he wasn't quite as brainless as his appearance suggested - at least, he did a reasonable job of probing without being too obvious that he was asking questions.
I did just as good a job of being vague with my answers, with the net result that we shared a meal but not much else. I imparted only the information that after leaving Katzler, Mr Dutton had taken a taxi to 'somewhere I didn't know' to meet up with 'someone he knew'.
That didn't really satisfy him but even Gus could see that he wouldn't get any more out of me and turned the conversation to more general topics, asking me about my home-life, and confiding that he had a girl back home who would be missing him. I gave him a few spurious highlights of life in the great metropolis of Manchester without giving anything away about my personal life at all, although he'd probably only realise that later.
I didn't have any specific duty I needed to carry out that afternoon but didn't want to continue playing footsie with Gus for the rest of it either, so it was a relief when Al appeared to tell me Mr Dutton was looking for me.
I found Doyle hovering in the hallway. "Get your coat, Murphy. We're going out."
I hurried up the stairs to my room - if nothing else, this job was going to keep me fit - wondering where we were off to. Doyle had said nothing about a further trip out earlier and it was obvious we were going without any attendance from Katzler. Perhaps Doyle wanted to talk away from the property.
He waited for me to hail the taxi, but once we were safely inside he grinned mischievously at me. Honestly, he and Bodie were like a couple of schoolboys sometimes. "So where are we off to?"
"Anywhere. Doesn't really matter; I just couldn't stand the thought of sitting in there for the rest of the afternoon, trying to dodge Katzler."
I grinned at him. "You must have been reading my mind. I was wondering how to get away from Gus."
"Doyle saves the day again." He stretched, clearly relaxing at being able to be himself for a bit. "So, where shall we go? Do you think there might a film worth seeing?"
"It'd kill a couple of hours, I suppose." I slid open the glass behind the driver and directed him to Leicester Square before settling back in my seat. "Although I've got a feeling most of the films just out are love stories - and you're not my idea of a date."
"Don't flatter yourself." Doyle was in too good a temper to rise to anything. "You're not exactly first on my list either."
It was a short journey but unfortunately my feeling had been right, and neither of us fancied the films which were showing. We wandered aimlessly on and eventually found ourselves in the newly opened shopping area of Covent Garden.
As yet a lot of the shop units were still to be let, but the small craft market area was thriving and we browsed the stalls - or rather Doyle did, looking very interested in the jewellery, while I followed, getting bored.
"What exactly are you looking for?" I growled into his ear, making him jump.
"Nothing," he began, before realising that perhaps he'd been searching just a little too intently for that to be true. He looked awkward. "Well, actually... a present for Ruth. I upset her pretty badly last night."
That had been obvious. She'd slapped on the makeup but it hadn't disguised her red-rimmed eyes. I had assumed just a sleepless night was responsible but it could just as easily have been caused by crying.
"So, I thought maybe I could buy her something... to apologise. Perhaps a necklace, or a bracelet...?"
"Good idea." He looked relieved when I didn't take the mick as Bodie would no doubt have done. "A necklace, I would say. And I'll have a look round too."
Doyle frowned at me. "What are you looking for then?"
I smirked at him. "I don't know yet. I just thought that you might want to apologise to me as well."
"Keep that up, and I'll thump you again..."
Doyle eventually chose a necklace in silver which had a sort of spiral droplet. It wasn't flashy but it would suit Ruth whose adornment - when she wasn't being Clarissa - tended towards the sophisticated rather than gaudy.
Grabbing a taxi, Doyle tucked the small box away in his jacket. "Can't let Katzler see that - it's nowhere near expensive enough."
"We should have bought a Harrods bag to put it in. You could have pretended it was platinum or something."
"I wouldn't risk it," Doyle shook his head. "Marilyn strikes me as exactly the sort of woman to know what jewellery is made of and what it costs. No, I'll make sure Ruth keeps it hidden."
Our expedition had usefully eaten up most of the afternoon and we arrived back just as another cab was depositing the ladies and Bodie onto the pavement. After paying for our taxi, I moved to take some of the bags from Bodie while he fumbled in pockets to find the money to pay for theirs.
Doyle was already escorting the ladies up the steps asking about their day, and out of earshot Bodie heaved a huge sigh of relief. "That was about the most boring day I've ever spent."
I waved the Janet Reger bags I was holding. "Boring? You get to shop in a fancy lingerie shop and it was boring?"
"No, that was embarrassing. I'll fill you in later," he added, seeing that the others were inside.
I had expected them all to have disappeared into the lounge for tea, but Marilyn was still in the hallway. "There you are. Bodie, would you take my bags upstairs for me? I know I can trust you not to peek..." She winked outrageously at him and swirled away into the lounge.
Bodie cast a stricken look in my direction and practically ran for the stairs. I smothered my incipient hilarity and followed. Snatching bags from me, he deposited most of them inside the door of the Katzler's room and a couple into Doyle and Ruth's room, and continued his run to our floor, only stopping when we reached my room and he could shut the door behind us.
I grinned at him. "Let me guess, Mrs K fancies you?"
"I've hardly encouraged her. Cripes, Murphy, I feel like she's been pursuing me all day. Even when she hasn't."
"And the day isn't over yet."
"Why? What's happening this evening?" Bodie looked even more alarmed.
"Katzler has booked a restaurant. You'll be going."
"Oh, that's OK." He looked relieved. "Katzler won't have me anywhere near the table - and I doubt Marilyn would flirt under his nose anyway."
"So other than fending off Mrs K, did you enjoy your day?"
"Could've been worse. There was something odd that happened though; Marilyn made a point of losing us to meet up with a man."
I raised an eyebrow. "Could it be a lover?"
"Not the way Ruth described their meeting; I didn't see it myself." He shrugged. "I wouldn't be surprised, but they didn't exactly have long together."
"Our checks on her were clean, but maybe she bears more careful watching."
"Rather you than me... How did your day go? Where had you been without Katzler?"
I recounted our morning although I drew the line at telling Bodie the outcome of the afternoon's excursion. Doyle's present was a personal one to Ruth; no need for him to know - he'd probably only wind the pair of them up anyway...
I was relieved to see Ray and Murphy getting out of a taxi when we arrived back. They'd clearly separated from Larry Katzler at some point and if they hadn't come back I would have had to cope with both Katzlers on my own – a prospect I found daunting. Especially now we could no longer be sure that Marilyn was as innocent as we had thought.
Ray guided me into the lounge where Larry was waiting. I greeted him warmly but hoped we could soon get away. I was keen to go upstairs to our room so I could tell Ray about our day and hear about his, but then Marilyn hurried in behind us and demanded tea.
"So, how was your day?" she asked her husband as she dropped onto the sofa.
"Oh fine, fine," he said, heartily.
"For some of us," Ray said, dryly.
"Now Tom, I've promised you we'll sort all that out." Katzler glanced at his watch. "In fact, I'll get right on it along with organising our dinner reservation. We're eating out tonight," he told his wife.
"Oh great," she cried. "Clarissa and I have some delightful new things to wear."
Katzler nodded, barely listening and headed towards his study, then he paused and looked back at Ray. "By the way, where did you disappear to this afternoon?" His tone was just a little too casual.
Ray leaned back in the armchair and smiled easily. "Oh, places to go, people to see. You know the sort of thing. Always on the lookout for good business."
Katzler looked slightly disconcerted. "I hope you wouldn't be thinking of changing your mind over our deal, Tom."
Ray slung one leg up to rest his shoe on his other knee, looking completely relaxed and as if he were the master of the house and not the other way around. "Can hardly say, can I, when you've not let me in on the details? You make your calls, Larry and then we'll talk."
Katzler pursed his lips but whatever retort came to mind, he suppressed it with an effort, gave a sharp nod and continued into his study.
He didn't reappear again; the maid took a separate tray of tea into him. Clearly this was nothing unusual; he probably frequently made international calls at this time.
Marilyn began giving Ray an account of our day. She skipped over the shopping with only vague hints about me having bought some things he was bound to love but when she started on the art gallery she was unstoppable.
She gave Ray a blow-by-blow description of what seemed like every painting we'd seen. Ray, in the part of Tom Dutton, a philistine if ever there was one, showed only polite interest but it didn't seem to deter her. After a while I got fed up of sitting there and feeling like a spare part and I pleaded a headache and a wish for a long soak in the bath before we went out and escaped upstairs.
The bath had filled and I'd turned the taps off before Ray finally came into the bedroom.
"How that bloody woman talks!" he said. "You've got my sympathies, love, putting up with that all day."
I laughed. "It wasn't too bad. She mostly had her sights set on Bodie."
He looked enquiringly at me and then laughed fit to burst as I described Bodie's discomfort.
"Oh, Bodie is not going to live this one down. Did she carry on like that all day?"
"No, she eased up after that. But listen Ray, an odd thing happened at the art gallery..." I told him about Marilyn's secret meeting with the young man.
He frowned when I'd finished, thinking it over. I could almost see the cogs turning in his head as he worked out the possible ramifications. Then he shrugged. "So, we go on watching both of them. Nothing changes." His eye fell on the Janet Reger carrier bags and a smirk came over his face. "So, do I get to see what you've bought?" He made to reach for one of the bags and I slapped his hand.
"No you do not. They'll all have to go back anyway, I can hardly claim them as a legitimate expense, now can I?"
"I don't know, seems you deserve a small reward for putting up with that one." He jerked his head towards the door and whatever part of the house Marilyn Katzler was inhabiting at that moment. Then he slapped his pocket and withdrew a small box. "Talking of which, present for you."
He put the box in my hand and strolled over to the window as if the gift and my reaction to it were of no concern to him. I was puzzled for a moment then I smiled; I thought I knew what it meant; both Katzlers had been playing at Cupid. "Tom feeling guilty was he?" I asked. "Did Larry persuade you to buy something to keep wifey happy?"
He shoved his hands in his pockets and, if it were another man and not Ray Doyle, one of the favourite sources of gossip of the women in CI5, I would have said he looked embarrassed. "No, that's from me so you'll have to keep it out of sight. It's hardly in Dutton's league."
Somewhat stunned and seriously intrigued, I eagerly opened the little box. There, nestling on a bed of cotton wool was a dainty silver spiral; solid and smooth to the touch, hanging on a fine silver chain.
I lifted it out of the box to examine it more closely. "Oh Ray, it's lovely! But why?" Ungracious I know but the words slipped out.
He shrugged slightly but the grin was back in place. "It just caught my eye, thought you might like it. My way of saying sorry for sounding off last night."
I was touched and made to put it on, but somehow I kept missing the catch. Finally I looked at him. "Do it for me?"
He stepped behind me and took the two ends of the chain from me. I'd already pinned my hair up in preparation for my bath. I felt his fingers gently brush the back of my neck and linger there for a fraction longer than it should take to just fasten the clasp. Then he moved away and resumed his position leaning against the window. I turned to the long, freestanding mirror to see how it looked, tugging the edges of my dressing gown apart a little to get the best effect. It fell to a point just short of the dip between my breasts and despite not being properly dressed, I thought it looked rather fine.
"Suits you," Ray said.
On impulse I stepped closer and leaned in to kiss his cheek. "It's lovely, thank you."
His arms came around my waist, holding me when I would have moved away. "You're welcome," he said. His eyes darted over my face and I waited to see what happened next. "So..." he said.
"So...?" I tilted my head, allowing a smile to play around my lips.
"Nothing going on between you and Murph then."
"I did tell you," I said mildly.
"So you did," he said, looking me in the eyes. He must have read my anticipation there because a smile spread across his face and he lowered his lips to mine – slowly, giving me time to pull away if I wanted. Not that I wanted, of course. Attraction aside I had some curiosity about Ray's... skills. Some months before I'd interrupted a couple of women from the typing pool who were comparing their dates with him. I'd suggested that their time be better spent in completing their work than gossiping in the corridors, which earned me a couple of very huffy looks, but at odd moments since then and especially since on this assignment, their words had come back to me and I'd wondered.
Unfortunately, on this occasion, satisfying my curiosity would have to wait. His lips had barely touched mine when there was a very perfunctory knock at the door and Marilyn Katzler barged in.
"Ooops, so sorry," she giggled, not sounding it a bit. "Clarissa, I think Bodie has gotten our bags mixed up." She waved a carrier bag and giggled again. "At least I can be sure he didn't peek."
We'd broken apart as she came into the room but Ray had kept a hand lightly on my waist, seemingly unconcerned about being caught – and why not, we were supposed to be married. Now I pulled away from him and went over to the bed. The second bag I looked in was clearly full of things I'd never wear and I handed it over to her.
"You'd better hurry," she said with a look that was full of meaning. "We leave in an hour." With that she flashed us a knowing smile and whisked out of the room.
Ray chuckled. "That's our cover made even more secure." He moved towards me. "Now where were we?"
But for me, at least, the moment had passed and I shook my head. "My bath water is getting cold. She's right, we should get ready."
"You want me to scrub your back?" Ray said but his tone was light, not pushing. His words also served to remind me of Murphy saying them not so long ago and that in turn reminded me that we were here for a serious purpose so I just gave him another headshake and a quick smile to show I wasn't upset and disappeared into the bathroom.
Once they had departed for the restaurant, I headed for the kitchen. I wasn't especially hungry after two lunches, but there was no sign of Al and it would help to establish his whereabouts before I tried my hand at a bit of snooping.
The cook had the evening off and the maids were either out or in their rooms since the kitchen was dark and deserted. I made myself a mug of coffee while I considered my options.
I could snoop around anyway, and if Al caught me I could say I'd been looking for him. As an excuse that would work for some areas of the house, although not if he caught me in the Katzlers' bedroom. It also wouldn't help if he found me before I'd had a good look round - and what reason did I have to be looking for him?
I rinsed my mug and went upstairs. The hallway was quiet but lights shone out from the lounge. I wandered in casually in case Al was there, but that room and the dining room beyond it were empty. I'd already searched around the lounge yesterday without results, and moved back into the hallway.
The door to Katzler's study opposite was ajar and I could see the lights were on, but tempting though it was I needed to find out where Al was first.
It struck me belatedly that perhaps the reason I couldn't find him was that he was snooping up in our rooms.
I made my way quietly up the stairs making a little more noise on the last flight, partly because of the lack of carpet but partly deliberately. If Al was in my or Bodie's room then I'd rather like him to hear me coming and rush out so I could confront him, but my room was empty and the way I'd left it; and a quick glance into Bodie's didn't reveal either Al or anything out of place.
He could be in his room but I didn't really want to find him. Instead I turned back to the stairs and treading much more quietly now made my way down them, pausing outside Doyle and Ruth's room. I couldn't hear anything but that didn't mean Al wasn't searching in there.
There were a couple of other - presumably empty - rooms on the same floor, and I debated with myself for a moment. I couldn't believe that Katzler would leave anything incriminating out of his sight, but stranger things had happened.
Stepping softly into the first, I debated whether to turn the light on; with the windows facing onto the rear of the property it wasn't quite light enough to see much. I flashed my small torch around first; the beam illuminating enough for me to realise there was no point in searching. The dustsheets over the furniture were doing their job and clearly hadn't been touched for months. To touch them would give away the fact that someone had been in there, and I backed carefully out of the room.
The other room revealed the same story and after glancing into Doyle's room I quickly moved on to the lower floor where the Katzlers' room was. Given Marilyn's behaviour earlier, I no longer believed her to be innocent of her husband's activities and it was entirely possible I'd find something in their room.
Fortuitously, someone had left the lights on, and I swiftly looked through the drawers of the dresser. There was some highly flamboyant feminine underwear and the usual range of male items - all silk - but nothing we were interested in.
The wardrobe revealed a large number of Marilyn's attire and a few extremely expensive suits and I went through the pockets, being careful not to move the position of the clothes on the rail. Nothing.
The suitcases below were empty as well. I paused. Where else might you hide something? Under the bed?
I flashed my torch around and after going to the far side, fished out a briefcase. It had a combination lock - which was unhelpfully set and the catches refused to budge. I replaced it as precisely as possible; it would take far too long to guess at the code and I couldn't bust it open.
The only place left to search was the study. I made for the door, which I'd left ever so slightly ajar in the hope that I'd get some warning if Al came upstairs - and heard footsteps.
If I made a run for it he'd hear me, so instead I retreated, taking refuge in Katzler's bathroom and hoping that Al wouldn't come right in.
Through the crack in the door I saw the door sweep open and Al put his head in and look around the room. I wasn't sure if he was specifically looking for me or not, but my luck held and he left, closing the door behind him.
I gave him a few minutes before I followed, and keeping my fingers tightly crossed that he wasn't lurking outside the door, and gently turned the handle...
Nothing happened. As in, the door wouldn't open. I tried it again with the same lack of result, and remembered that the key had been in the lock when I came in... Putting my eye to the keyhole, I could see lights in the hallway.
Al had locked the door. More precisely, he'd locked me in...
Dinner was at the Connaught and I thought if nothing else, this operation was getting me into some lovely places I otherwise would never see. I was awestruck at the magnificent polished staircase before we even got into the sumptuous and yet somehow intimate dining room.
Marilyn seemed to have burnt herself out talking before dinner and with Larry there, she reverted to her quiet persona, saying little and allowing him to shape the conversation.
He spoke at length of his journey from reasonably humble beginnings to the success he now saw himself as. He kept the details contained to his legitimate business dealings but they were quite impressive even so. Enough that I wondered what had made him turn to the drug trade. Why was a small fortune never sufficient for some people?
Ray joined in the conversation with stories from Dutton's own rise to fame and there were ample linguistic confusions to remind me of George Bernard Shaw's saying about Britain and America. Tom Dutton had started life on one of Manchester's roughest council estates, which had to be explained to the Katzlers as Ray expounded on Dutton's pride in having made something of himself and gone up in the world. Marrying Clarissa had been another facet of that self-improvement but Ray didn't go as far as portraying Dutton's arrogance and possessiveness of another accoutrement to his position and power.
At the coffee stage I accompanied Marilyn to the ladies where she slyly made reference to the scene in our bedroom that she'd interrupted saying that she guessed I hadn't needed the new underwear after all but that he was surely in for a treat later.
I made noises that could have been agreement but remained noncommittal. I had, in fact, decided to keep one of the nightdresses I bought. I'd been unable to resist trying it on earlier after my bath, while Ray was changing. The featherweight silk felt lovely against my skin and the cut of it made me feel very daring and sexy and I'd recklessly decided to splurge on it. Despite what Murphy said about putting things like the blue dress on expenses, I wasn't going to indent the department for something like that. I couldn't bear the thought of watching Mr Cowley's eyebrows rise up into his forehead when he saw the paperwork and then having to present him with justification for it. Especially if the explanation turned out to be that it was for the possible delectation of agent 4.5.
I firmly put the thought of later out of my mind. It was still not the time for any distractions of that sort.
Back at the table the men were nowhere in sight. I was looking around in puzzlement when Marilyn nudged me and pointed. The two of them were out on the terrace of the hotel, along with several other male diners, enjoying an après dinner cigar.
I was surprised, I'd never seen Ray smoke before and assumed he didn't. But anything to stay in character, I supposed and Tom Dutton would certainly fall in with the conduct of the upper class men he longed to emulate.
We drank coffee and idly chatted about what we might do the next day. Marilyn was talking about taking a trip on one of the Thames pleasure boats. I kept glancing over to the terrace and watching Ray and Katzler deep in conversation. At one point I saw Katzler slap Ray on the back and when they wended their way through the neighbouring tables back to us, they both had broad grins on their faces.
Katzler called for brandies all round; "Ought to be champagne, eh Tom?"
As a child, I'd quite enjoyed adventure books where the kids always managed to get out of locked rooms by doing clever things with pieces of paper under the door. I'd tried it once or twice but had never got it to work for me - and with the key missing from the lock it certainly wasn't an option now.
Yet get out I must, because I wouldn't give a lot for my fate should Katzler find me in there. So, no exit via the door; what about the window?
The sash was already partly open and I stuck my head out. I was on the second floor and still higher than I really wanted to be without a safety net, but I didn't have a lot of choice. It was fortunate that the Katzler's place was one of the few without a canopy over the balcony on the first floor, because I couldn't see how I would have managed otherwise, but even so, scrambling onto the window ledge and having to drop around ten feet onto a narrow balcony was no picnic.
Having landed in relative safety, I stayed crouched behind the balustrade for a moment. The street lamp just a few yards along had meant I hadn't had to make my jump in darkness, but had it revealed me to any passer-by?
There were no shouts of discovery. I straightened up cautiously; the next step could be just as dangerous.
I peered into the lounge. It still looked deserted, and I pried at the french-door with my fingertips. It was shut tight. I glanced over the balcony. I could go down over the front door and reach the ground safely but that would leave me outside, and I'd really rather be inside.
I moved to the second french-door and tried it, and breathing a sigh of relief when it opened I slipped inside.
The room was empty; my luck was holding strong, and since I was on a roll...
I poked my head around the study door in the manner of a man seeking someone, but once again the room was devoid of Al's presence. I let myself into the study and replaced the door at the same couple of inches distance from the jam.
The study had to be the place I was most likely to strike gold, surely. The desk had a few folders on the surface and I quickly flicked through them mentally recording the contents.
Keeping one ear open for any sign of Al, I slid open the top drawer and took careful note of the position of the contents before lifting them out. The top drawer didn't have much in it, a few thank-you letters from some of the partygoers and one or two suggesting Katzler called them in connection with business.
Replacing them, I moved on to the second drawer. There were more folders in here, and I went through them quickly. All were concerned with companies in the States; without anything to cross-refer to it was impossible to tell whether the papers were important. I needed a camera. It wasn't something we'd equipped ourselves with, mainly because we hadn't imagined being in a position to be able to use it.
The last drawer was nearly empty, containing just a pair of slim American passports. Although I doubted they would tell me anything I didn't already know I flicked through them, and was pushing the drawer closed when the phone started ringing.
As I started towards the door I heard Al hurrying down the stairs; he had to be coming to answer the phone...
Crammed into the kneehole under the desk I prayed that he wouldn't come round to sit down. Al answered the phone from the far side of the desk.
"Hallo?" Either it wasn't going to be a long call or he didn't dare sit in his boss' seat, but he stayed there.
"Yeah, tomorrow. S'what she told him; tomorrow at the salon. She'll get to the appointment early, you make sure he's there with the money."
He had to be talking about Marilyn; our instincts were right. Whoever he was talking to seemed to be arguing.
"I told ya, he can't come here. The boss don't want him anywhere near here."
"Tomorrow. Ten a'clock."
As the receiver was slammed down I gathered the caller was still arguing, but I had more important things to worry about...
The lights snapped off and Al slammed the door behind him. I let out the breath I'd been holding, and unfolded myself from the tiny hiding space - any longer than that and I'd have got cramp.
It was a shame Al had closed the door, I didn't know if he'd gone back upstairs or down to the kitchen. I eased the study door open, the hall was empty, and I closed it behind me with equal care, soft-footing it up the stairs and reaching my room in safety.
Someone up there still liked me; I'd have to get Cowley to pass on my thanks...
The upshot of the celebrations was a late return to the house, which was all in darkness when we arrived. Bodie and Gus, who'd been stuck in the bar all evening with probably nothing more than a club sandwich, were dismissed for the night and took off with some alacrity.
Larry took Ray off to his study, probably to drink more brandy, but, thankfully, I took myself off to bed.
I was almost asleep when Ray came up. He bounded into the room, a wide smile on his face. He punched his fist in the air. "Yes!" His eyes glittered and his smile turned wolfish. "Yeah! The deal's on for tomorrow. We can finally take this bastard down!"
He sat down on the side of the bed as I struggled into a sitting position, flung his arms around me and gave me a smacking kiss.
"Urgh," I recoiled before I could help myself. "Sorry," I said quickly. "Can't stand the smell of cigars."
His face fell, the exuberance dying away and I felt guilty. "Sorry," I said again, putting my hand over his. "But that's excellent news about the deal. We could be back in our own homes tomorrow night."
"Yeah," he said, a little regretfully. He stroked the back of his hand gently down my face. "Think I'll take a shower."
I thought I would wait until he was out of the shower and get all the details of what Katzler had told him. I wanted to see the enthusiastic look back on his face. But after the long day and two previous nights of interrupted sleep, my best intentions couldn't keep me awake and I was only dimly aware of the bed dipping slightly as Ray slipped under the covers before a deep and dreamless sleep overtook me.
It was nearly midnight before the dinner party returned; I'd spent the rest of my evening trying to think of a way to find out where Marilyn Katzler got her hair done, since getting out of the house was going to be difficult enough, without trying to follow her. It was unlikely to be far; there were enough salons around the area after all, but I didn't see her walking there. Maybe Ruth could find out for us?
Bodie stuck his head in and interrupted my train of thought. "Had a fun evening?" he asked.
"Not quite what I'd've called it." I briefly related my enforced encounter with the balcony, and he snorted with laughter.
"You're supposed to climb into the bedroom to leave the box of chocolates behind."
"'All because the lady loves...'. As if I'd want to leave anything for that woman."
"Anyway, did you find anything from all that searching?"
"Not really. Few papers that might be of interest in the desk drawer and a briefcase in Katzler's room which no doubt holds what we're really looking for, but no way of getting into it. But I did overhear a phone conversation that Al had, confirming that Marilyn is in it up to her neck, and that's she's meeting with someone tomorrow at ten."
Bodie pricked up his ears. "At ten? Did you hear where?"
"A salon, that's all."
He grinned. "Ruth will know, or can find out. As they got back into the car this evening, Marilyn was talking about an appointment for the morning so Ruth will probably go along."
"Maybe she shouldn't, if Marilyn is off to meet a contact?"
"She'll have me along." Bodie's face fell at the thought of a morning sat waiting in the hairdresser. "Perhaps you're right."
My turn to grin. "You should talk Ruth out of it."
"She didn't look that interested, actually. Anyway, there's something else going on. Doyle hasn't had chance to talk to me yet, but he was definitely keyed up about something. Maybe we're near the end of this charade."
"Fingers crossed. There've been too many close calls on this one."
"And too many tedious periods as well." Bodie yawned. "I'm off to bed."
It barely seemed like five minutes later that someone was tapping on the door to wake me up, but as I tumbled out of the bed I saw from my watch that it was six-thirty.
It was Doyle with a sleepy-looking, hurriedly-dressed Bodie already in tow. They both brushed past into my small room, and made themselves as comfy as was possible.
"Sorry for the early start, we need to talk before everyone else is up."
I nodded sluggishly, hoping that my brain would start functioning soon. "What's up?"
"The deal is on for later today. We need to get word to Cowley as quickly as possible so that he can have the teams ready for when Katzler's shipment arrives at the dock."
That perked us both up. "What time?"
"I'm not sure. That particular card is still close to Katzler's chest. But what Dutton is going to need is that briefcase of money he brought from Manchester as a deposit, so Bodie, you'll need to collect it for me."
Bodie nodded; that had been part of the initial set-up and Cowley had organised for the money to be instantly available when Doyle needed it. "I'll pick us up some weapons as well, I've been feeling naked without mine. Does Cowley know exactly where to get the teams to?"
"It's a place called Cyclops Wharf, off Westferry Road at the Isle of Dogs. Once Katzler gives me the nod and we leave, you could phone in and let them know we're on the way."
"Just a sec, we've got a few more things to add to the mix." I'd finally woken up properly, and explained my previous evening's discoveries to Doyle. "This proves Marilyn is involved in something; if Ruth goes with her, we need Bodie here to go along."
"Maybe Murphy could collect the money instead?" Bodie suggested.
Doyle grinned. "So, I'd trust him with my money but not my wife? No, if Marilyn is meeting someone then I think Ruth should stay here. From what I heard of their conversation, Marilyn wasn't asking her to go as well but if Ruth develops a headache that will definitely prevent her from going."
"What about finding out who she's meeting though? It could be important - I should follow her."
"If you follow her out and leap straight in a taxi after her, I think even Marilyn will be suspicious," Bodie pointed out. "Although if Ruth knows the name of the salon, you could get there before her."
Doyle nodded thoughtfully. "We'd need an excuse to get you out of the house first, Murph."
"This headache Ruth is about to get - how bad is it? Bad enough to need a particular type of painkiller?"
"You know, I think it's going to be a humdinger of a migraine. What time is Marilyn's appointment?"
"OK. Bodie, I'll see you in the hall as I go down for breakfast and give you instructions to fetch the briefcase. I won't be going anywhere with Katzler until you're back because he won't make a move without my money. I'll make Ruth's excuses of a headache, but when I go back to the room it's turned into a migraine, so at about nine-thirty I'll call for you, Murphy, and send you out for painkillers. But if Ruth doesn't know the name of the salon, then there's no point in you going. Better to let that slip than jeopardise the whole job."
We both nodded, although I didn't like the idea of letting Marilyn's contacts go.
"And you'll need to get back here as soon as you can. If Bodie is back with the money and Katzler wants to move, it means either I go without backup, or I leave Ruth unprotected, and neither is a great option."
"I doubt I'd be back much before ten anyway, but I'll take my time and make sure I'm not," Bodie said. "You'd better get back to Ruth before the household wakes up, and we'll see you later."
Doyle nodded and checking the coast was clear, slid quietly out of the door. Bodie followed, with a parting shot: "Don't go back to sleep, Murph..."
I slept the sleep of the innocent all night long and only stirred when I felt Ray leave the bed and head to the bathroom from where he emerged scant minutes later unshaved, but dressed in shirt and trousers.
"Sssh," he said when he saw me watching him. "It's early, go back to sleep. I want to catch Bodie and Murphy before the household is up."
I watched the door close softly behind him and glanced at the bedside clock – 6.30 – plenty of time to go back to sleep if I wanted. Obediently I closed my eyes and tried to recapture that warm, comfortable place... and failed completely. It was no good, I was wide awake now. I sat up, put on the bedside lamp for more light and began to flick through one of the magazines that had been left in the room to entertain guests. Good Housekeeping informed me of the best ways to cook on an Aga, which might have been of use if I'd followed my sister's example and married a nice gentleman farmer. I sighed and turned to the fashion pages. Twenty minutes or so later Ray was back, slipping in through the door and closing it quietly. The gleam of the night before was back in his eyes and he rubbed his hands in glee. "Think we're about ready to wrap this one up."
I sat up straighter. "Tell me about it."
When he'd finished I pouted. "So you're off having all the fun while I get to hide up here with a pretend migraine."
"Ruth..." he began in exasperation. I put my hand out to halt him mid flow. "I'm joking, Ray. I know where I'm well off. You just be careful."
He nodded. "As soon as we're gone, you say you think some fresh air might do your head good and you and Bodie can disappear. All this stuff can be packed up later."
"And tomorrow, back to normal," I said slightly wistfully. "Back to filing and researching and driving Mr Cowley around."
He nodded. "It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it."
"Hey!" I slapped his chest.
He gave a low chuckle that sent tingles through me and somehow I was in no hurry to move my hand away. Almost of its own volition, my hand slid further inside his shirt, no longer resisting the impulse. I could feel the warmth of his body, my fingers gently circled around and around, twisting his chest hair.
"Ruth?" His voice brought me back to myself and I felt myself flush. His finger under my chin tilted my head up so I couldn't avoid looking at him. His gaze was warm if a little puzzled and I felt I could lose myself in their green depths. My eyes flicked between those eyes and his mouth.
"Ruth?" I watched his mouth form the word, felt his breath lightly touch my cheek I slid both hands up his chest and around his neck.
"Yes." It was an answer to his unspoken question and I watched the heat flare up in his eyes as realisation dawned and a slow smile spread across his face.
His hand moved to cup my face and as he moved in to kiss me he muttered; "You do pick your moments, don't you?"
Later I lay back on the pillows and listened to Ray whistling some unidentified tune as he shaved. The melody was punctuated by the odd spluttering but did nothing to quell the obvious good spirits. I couldn't stop the grin on my face from spreading even wider as I lay there.
Why had I waited so long? Two reasons really. One, I had no wish to become gossip for the locker rooms and long stakeout hours and two, I had a wistful hope to be more than just another notch on Ray Doyle's bedpost. I was reasonably confident about the first, I wouldn't have succumbed, no matter the provocation, if I hadn't been sure Ray wouldn't talk. As to the other... well, I'd just have to wait and see.
Ray came out of the bathroom still whistling and moved to the wardrobe to select a clean shirt. The other one was still on the floor beside the bed, along with my nightdress.
He wandered over to the bed, buttoning his shirt as he went. "I'd better be getting down to breakfast."
"While I starve away up here. Well it was about time I started that diet."
He sat down on the bed and leered at me. "Nothing wrong with your figure, darlin'."
"Now don't start all that," I said primly. "I have a headache, remember."
Ray chuckled, leaned over to kiss me all too briefly and then got up to locate his tie. "Right," he said, slipping his jacket on. "I'll be back in about half an hour or so, to check on you." With that he was gone.
After my abrupt awakening I doubted I could have gone back to sleep if I tried. Instead, I got dressed and when Bodie tapped on my door again we went down to the kitchen together. The cook hadn't been expecting us that early but Constancia was happy to help us and in a short while we were partaking of a good old-fashioned fry-up.
We took our time, not heading upstairs until nearly eight-thirty, and meeting Doyle just coming down. In spite of his early start - and given how late they'd been out the previous night - Doyle looked distinctly chirpy.
"Bodie, I need you to collect the briefcase I left for safekeeping at the bank." He handed over a sealed envelope. "That's your authorisation. I'll be needing it today, so be waiting when the bank opens."
"Yes, Mr Dutton. I'll just get my jacket and be off."
Marilyn Katzler appeared from the lounge. "Good morning, Tom. Did you sleep well? Is Clarissa on her way down?"
Doyle turned to greet her. "Morning, Marilyn. I slept well, but Clarissa's not too good. Bit of headache, so she's dozing. I'll see how she is shortly."
He nodded to dismiss us and led her into the lounge, and Bodie and I trotted upstairs. I'd got probably an hour before I'd be called on for my errand.
I took a quick shower, slipped on my nightdress and hopped back into bed thinking I had better try to look pale and wan in case Marilyn came to check up on me. Any good hostess would be concerned about a guest who was unwell.
I fell into a light doze and was genuinely startled when Ray opened the door again.
"Clarissa, how are you feeling now?" His use of my cover name was enough to tell me somebody else wasn't far behind.
"Clarissa, honey? You're not well?" As I thought, Marilyn slipped in behind Ray and hurried to my bedside, concern on her face.
"Not so good," I mumbled, my voice fortuitously croaky from sleep. "Feel sick."
"You sure you didn't bring your tablets?" Ray asked.
I nodded and moaned feebly, hoping I wasn't overdoing it.
"We have tablets," Marilyn said. "What would you like? Aspirin, paracetamol?"
Ray made a dismissive gesture. "She's tried that earlier. She needs the stronger stuff she normally takes when it gets this bad. I'll send Murphy out to get some." He reached into a pocket and brought out a notebook and pencil. "Can you write the name of it down, Clarissa? I never can remember it."
I frowned for a moment until I noticed Ray looking at me intently. Of course, he needed to know the salon Marilyn was going to visit. I would have told him earlier had we not been... distracted. Still, writing it down was a good idea in case Marilyn were still to be hanging around when he spoke to Murphy.
"I think so." I began to struggle to a sitting position and Ray moved round to help me, solicitously, his body shielding Marilyn from seeing what I was writing.
"Good. I'll send him straight away. Try to rest, darling." Ray dropped a kiss on my forehead and moved to leave the room, driving Marilyn before him in such a natural way that she could hardly protest and a moment later the door closed behind them both.
"Yes, Mr Dutton?" I hurried out to the stairwell where Doyle was just ascending.
"Mrs Dutton has one of her headaches. I need you to find a chemist and buy some of these tablets." He handed me a slip of paper.
"Right away, boss." I tucked it away in my jacket pocket and followed him down the stairs. As I passed the second floor landing I heard Marilyn asking Al to find her a taxi in about five minutes for her appointment, and hurried on down. If she was leaving in just a few minutes then I needed to get moving.
I headed straight out to Sloane Street on the basis that although I didn't yet even know where I had to get to, a taxi was the answer and Sloane Street was the best place to find one.
Pulling the note out of my pocket as I went, Ruth's neat script gave me the direction, and flinging myself between cars I hailed the first free taxi heading north. "The Vidal Sassoon salon on Knightsbridge, please."
The cabbie was probably used to tourists taking taxis for short journeys, but looked askance at me. "S'only about ten minutes walk, mate. Take me almost as long to drive you there."
"Maybe." The time didn't matter, since it would also take Marilyn's taxi as long to get there - as long as her driver took the same route - and I settled into my seat. "But I don't know exactly where it is."
"Your money," the cabbie muttered, and started off.
His words made me think though, and I called through the partition. "Do you have an A-Z?"
That earned me a black look in the mirror. "You think I don't know the way?"
"Not at all. But I won't need a cab back if I know which way to go."
With bad grace he tugged a paperback edition from his door pocket and passed it back to me, and I flicked the pages open. "Can you tell me exactly where the salon is?"
"North side, just past Albert Gate."
Although I didn't know the salon, that gave me a clearer idea of where I was headed since I could picture the entrance to Hyde Park, and if I followed my nose south from there it would eventually lead me into Cadogan Place.
Of course, I'd also need to find a chemist to buy something for Ruth's headache and I was more likely to find that type of shop in the street near Harrods, so I also studied a few roads leading from Brompton Road back to Cadogan Place.
Handing the map over, I asked my unfriendly driver to drop me at Albert Gate. As I paid him off, I could see there was already someone loitering outside the salon and I frowned. I'd seen his face in our files; this had to be Marilyn's contact, and I racked my brains for a name.
I couldn't get any closer, and in fact Marilyn was quite likely to spot me where I stood as it was. Moving in close to the buildings, I turned away quickly as another taxi indicated and pulled up just past me.
The contact waited impatiently as Marilyn paid the driver and turned to greet him, and as he turned more towards me his name popped out of my subconscious. Arnie Middleton. Right-hand man to Dean Halstead, a man we believed to be a major heroin dealer.
After exchanging a few words Arnie gave Marilyn the large envelope he was holding, and she tucked it away in the voluminous handbag she was carrying. Arnie seemed to be making a point, jabbing his finger towards her although he stopped short of actually touching her, and I saw Marilyn snap a retort before unceremoniously walking away towards the salon.
Left poking mid-air, Arnie looked slightly bemused and self-consciously stuffed his hand quickly into his pocket. For a moment it looked like he was going to follow her inside, but then clearly thought better of it and hurried away past me.
There wasn't much point in following him; we could pick him up later. I strolled casually forward, pausing before I reached the salon and managing to peer in to see Marilyn swathed in a gown and being welcomed by a stylist.
I should let Cowley know about her meeting with Arnie and Halstead's involvement before finding a chemist and getting back to the house. It was times like these when you missed carrying an R/T. However, there was a handy phone box a few yards past Albert Gate and I headed for it.
I lay there for a few minutes in case Marilyn decided to pop back but with her appointment being for ten and her other rendezvous possibly beforehand, I knew she'd have to leave the house quite soon. I heard faint shouts about a taxi and minutes later the front door banged and a car pulled away. I assumed she had gone and nobody else was likely to come in except Ray and he was probably deep in conversation with Katzler about their forthcoming deal.
I got out of bed and dressed quickly. I wasn't sure how long the next stage of the operation would take but at some point Bodie would return from headquarters with a case full of money. Murphy would return from spying on Marilyn, presumably with pills of some kind in case anybody asked, and then he and Ray would accompany Katzler to the docks for the takedown. When the time came to leave I wanted to be ready not still in my nightdress – not in front of Bodie. I laid down on the bed again, just in case, and picked up another magazine to occupy myself.
It was only about ten or fifteen minutes later when I was startled out of a reverie of the latest catwalk fashions as the door was flung unceremoniously open.
I let the month old copy of Vogue drop the floor as I rolled over to see Al in the doorway.
"Boss wants you downstairs. Now." As he spoke he shifted gum from one side of his mouth to the other and grinned, unpleasantly.
I sat up. "How dare you come bursting in here?"
Ignoring me his eyes swept the room then he took quick steps across the room and picked up my handbag from the dressing table.
Incensed now, I swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
He grabbed my elbow, hard, and started to drag me out of the room. "Like I said, the boss wants to see you, now!"
I instinctively pulled away from him or tried to, but his grip bit tighter and he pulled me firmly towards the door. I wanted to say something more but a sudden fear gripped me and the words froze in my throat. I let Al lead me downstairs and now I wasn't resisting him, his grip lessened so it was more as if he were guiding me than forcing me but even so I wondered if he were grossly overstepping himself or if there was real trouble ahead.
We passed into the living room and I was relieved to see Ray there, sitting in one of the armchairs.
"What's going on, Tom?"
"Just what I'd like to know," Ray said, getting to his feet. He raised his voice. "Katzler? Get out here, now. And you," he glared at Al. "Get your hands off my wife!"
Al smirked and pushed me towards the other armchair. He opened my handbag and upended it onto the nearby coffee table just as Katzler came out of his study.
"Tom, Clarissa," he said, looking from one to the other of us. "Clarissa, dressed I see. The head not so bad after all, perhaps. Tom, sit down." As he spoke he produced a small gun from his jacket pocket and waggled it meaningfully. "Please."
The gun was only small, a .22 I thought, neat enough not to make an unsightly bulge in the suit, but quite enough to make a mess at this range. Ray sat down.
"What the fuck's going on, Katzler? I thought we had a deal."
"We did and maybe we still do but I prefer to know who I'm dealing with. If I'm wrong, I'll apologise but until then... Anything?"
His last comment was directed at Al who had been pawing through my possessions spread across the coffee table. He ignored the lipstick, powder compact, tissues and comb. There was a small notebook but it was new and there was nothing but blank pages to see when he flicked through it. Then he reached for my purse and I tried not to react in any way as he extracted a small slip of plastic. I'd left my ID behind, naturally, plus my driving licence and anything else that might have identified me, but I had no option but to keep my credit card.
"Boss?" He held it out to Katzler.
Katzler took it and tossed his gun to Al in exchange.
"R Pettifer," he said. "Care to explain that, 'Mrs Dutton'?"
I licked my lips. "It's my maiden name. The old card hadn't expired when we got married and I didn't bother to change it." The dates on the card didn't quite match how long the Duttons had been married but I had to hope his information wasn't accurate on that score.
"Ahhh, I see. Of course, how silly of me. And the er... incorrect initial?"
"Rissa. It stands for Rissa. " I babbled off the top of my head. "All my family call me Rissa. It was the only name I used until I married Tom, he's the only one who calls me by my proper name." I swallowed hard and tried to meet Katzler's eyes convincingly. Had he believed me?
Ray leaned forward then, ignoring Al jerking the gun aggressively. "Anything else you want to know before you get on with that apology?"
"Your wallet please, Tom. The only other place we haven't been able to search."
Ray glared but he handed over his wallet without protest. He could, his cover was quite secure. He had a several cards, bank and membership, all created in the name of Thomas Dutton.
Katzler pursed his lips and nodded slowly as he flicked through each one. "Very good, very convincing."
"So, grovel sufficiently and maybe we'll still have a deal." Ray wasn't backing down an inch.
Katzler looked at him for a long minute. "I'm not sure. See, I had a phone call this morning that suggested, very strongly, that you might not be who you claim to be."
"A phone call? Who from?"
"A friend of a friend. Somebody who saw us at the docks yesterday and wondered what I was doing with a cop."
"A cop? " Ray did such a natural double take that if I didn't know him, I would have believed in his denial. "You think I'm... what, some kind of undercover policeman? You're crazy. If my reputation isn't enough for you I don't care if you crawl now, the deal's off. "
He stood and held out his hand to me. "Come on, Clarissa, we'll be leaving now."
Eagerly I got to my feet and took his hand. If we could just get free of the house, we could call for back up and maybe still salvage something from this.
"Not so fast." Al stepped in front of us, gun still in hand.
"Katzler, if you can't do anything else, control your man."
"Well it seems to me, 'Tom', that he has the right idea. We can't let you and your lovely 'wife' go until we're sure you are who you say you are."
Ray raised an eyebrow. "Are you telling me the great Larry Katzler didn't do his homework before embarking on this deal? It's a bit late to start questioning my credentials now."
"Oh there is a Tom Dutton, big crime boss, in Manchester, it's true. All I'm saying is that you're not him. So perhaps you'd like to tell me just who the hell you are?" On the last word he swung a punch at Ray that snapped his head back.
I screamed with shock and without hesitation Katzler brought his hand back and slapped me across the face.
Ray stepped between us, fists clenched, but was brought up short by Al waving the gun and smirking in a way that made me wish for the ability to wipe it off his face.
"You'll pay for this, Katzler," Ray said.
Katzler shrugged. "You could save yourself a lot of grief by simply telling me what I want to know. Feel free to speak at any time." As he spoke, he doubled Ray over with a punch to his stomach and instantly followed it with another to his jaw.
He watched as Ray got slowly to his feet, blood trickling from his mouth. "Head of a crime organisation or undercover cop, I expected more somehow."
Ray's eyes glittered. "Just you and me, Katzler. Stand down laughing boy there and then we'll see who's the hard man."
"Alas, I don't think I have the time to accommodate you. So we'll just have to continue to follow my agenda. Ready to speak yet?"
Most of the senior agents had sustained a beating at one time or another but it was one thing to see them limping around headquarters being alternatively macho, stoic or flippant about their injuries, accepting and even sometimes, milking the sympathy of the office girls, and quite another to see those injuries being inflicted.
I screamed again. "Stop it, just stop it!"
"Shut up, Clarissa," Ray snapped. I swallowed my words with an effort. It was a warning to me to not to say anything, to show no weakness, to keep our cover.
But was it worth it? Katzler clearly no longer believed we were the Duttons so was it fair or wise for Ray to take this punishment for nothing.
"We're CI5." The words were flung from me even before my conscious mind had formulated the decision to speak.
Katzler stopped and looked at me frowning, which was nothing compared to the look Ray gave me.
"Is that supposed to impress me?" Katzler asked.
"Could be trouble, boss." Al spoke up before I could say anything more. "Big trouble. I heard all about them last year when you sent me over here for that job."
"Hmm. And those other two, Bodie and that Murphy, they belong to this CI5 outfit as well?"
"Yeah." Ray obviously decided it didn't matter now. "You're going down, Katzler. Big time."
"If I do pal, I'll see you go first."
"Boss," Al said, urgently. "Those other two could be back anytime. We should clear out."
Katzler looked at his henchman. "I should take some time to get acquainted with CI5 if they can get you this bothered, Al." He appeared to reach a decision. "All right then. You keep an eye on these two while I ring Marilyn and tell her to meet us at the docks soonest. I'll get my case and clear out the safe. We can sort all this out at the docks as easily as here and we won't have to worry about being interrupted. No neighbours to overhear." He looked at Ray significantly.
Ray just stared back.
Julie told me Bodie had been and gone, and since Cowley was already busy organising the teams I left a message with her.
Checking my watch as I left the box I found it was already past ten and Bodie would be back at the house soon, so crossing over I started towards Brompton Road. I was working on the premise that I could probably buy some tablets in Harrods if there wasn't a proper chemist available but before I reached there I spotted the familiar blue and white logo and hurried thankfully into Boots.
I had no idea what would be good for migraine but needing the strongest over-the-counter painkiller available to justify my absence, decided to ask at the pharmacy desk, which unfortunately was manned by just one member of staff already serving a slow and upper-class lady. It wasn't a long delay, but long enough to have me looking at my watch before I was served; although in just a few minutes I was carrying a box of something powerful and on my way.
Within quick order, Katzler was back, an attaché case in his hand. In the intervening minutes, Al had not taken his eyes off Ray and had stood far enough back to cover us both and be just out of range of anything Ray might try. Whether he was normally that cautious or just had a healthy respect for CI5's reputation, it meant Ray hadn't been able to tackle him.
"Come on. We might be able to come back later but this is the important stuff for now."
In the hall, Gus stood waiting, jingling the car keys. As soon as he saw us he tossed the keys to Al and started for the front door.
"We'll do this nice and easy," Katzler said. "Follow Gus to the car please Tom, or whatever your name is. And do remember, won't you, that although it might be out of sight for the sake of the neighbours sensibilities, I've got a gun on your lovely wife." He took his gun back from Al and slipped it into his jacket pocket as he spoke.
Ray glared but obediently followed Gus down the steps to the car at the kerb. His head was turning slightly from side to side as he went and I realised he was hoping for a sight of Bodie or Murphy coming back from their errands. Gus pushed him into the rear of the car and got in after him. He was holding his hand inside his jacket in a way that screamed 'gun' to me but probably that thought would never dream of crossing the minds of the residents of this quiet Knightsbridge suburb.
Al hurried down the steps next and took the driver's seat. They clearly weren't going to use the official chauffeur for this little outing.
Katzler gripped my arm. "Shall we?" he said and walked me down the steps, his free hand never leaving his pocket. I also cast hopeful glances along the street but there wasn't a soul to be seen along the street in either direction, although I could just catch the movement, through the trees, of people in the small park opposite.
Then suddenly a taxi turned the corner and drew up just past the car. The door opened and Bodie stepped out. I'd never been so glad to see him in all the time I'd known him.
Katzler tried to push me into the car but I resisted and cried out. "Bodie!"
Bodie's expression changed from his polite cover face to one of wariness and concern. His hand was reaching inside his jacket even as Katzler pulled his gun from his pocket and held it against my side.
"Stay right where you are," he shouted to Bodie who froze. The taxi driver however decided he didn't need to wait for his fare and pulled swiftly away, gears crashing and tyres squealing.
Gus had been momentarily distracted by my shout and Ray had seized his chance and lunged at him. Their struggle rocked the car and Katzler glanced away from Bodie for a split second.
Al leapt out of the driver's seat, I think to go to Gus' assistance, but it meant that Bodie was trying to cover both him and Katzler and Katzler took advantage and shot him.
I saw Bodie clutch his leg even as he returned fire. But his aim was off and did no more than scratch the paintwork. The next second another shot was sounded and Bodie slumped to the ground. Al had fired and his was a much larger calibre weapon.
Katzler thrust me towards the still open back door of the car, bumping my head on the doorway as he did so. For a second I was dazed and he had no trouble in pushing me inside to half fall against Ray who was lying stunned across the seat.
"Clipped him with my gun," Gus said, hauling Ray upright so there was room for myself and Katzler.
Ray's eyes flickered opened and he groaned. "Bodie?"
"I don't know," I said. I tried to twist around to see out of the back window but Katzler yanked me down.
"For God's sake get us out of here before somebody calls the cops. They can't have failed to hear all that racket."
"Gotcha Boss." Al had resumed his seat and he now started the car and we began to move swiftly away up the road.
Just as we did so, I caught one quick glimpse of Murphy's shocked face as he looked from us to the body in the street. Next second he was running towards Bodie and we had turned the corner and were out of sight.
First to catch my attention was the taxi belting past, its driver clearly in a hurry. I glanced curiously at it, before realising that something was happening ahead of me outside the Katzler house.
The Daimler was at the kerb and even as I recognised Bodie and beyond him Katzler struggling with Ruth, shots began to ring out. I ducked instinctively but nothing was being aimed at me, all attention focused around the Daimler.
I was unarmed and too far away to do anything useful, but I began to run. As the limo screeched away I saw Ruth's white, horrified expression, and Bodie, who lay on the pavement...
I skidded to a halt, dropping to one knee beside him. "Bodie!"
"Jesus..." Despite his injuries, Bodie managed to lever himself to a sitting position, clutching at his shoulder with his good hand.
"How bad?" I began to try and ease his jacket away from his shoulder, which clearly had a bigger hole in it than his leg.
"Fuckkit, Murph, I'm still breathing, aren't I?" Shoving my hand away he pulled a R/T from his pocket. "You have to alert Cowley and get after them..."
Satisfied that Bodie wasn't about to peg out on me imminently, I took the R/T and called in. "6.2 to HQ. Get me an ambulance to Cadogan Place, and get me Cowley!"
There was a brief acknowledgement. While I waited I made another attempt to look at Bodie's shoulder but he waved me away again, pointing a few feet behind him. "Get the bloody briefcase. Cowley'll kill me if it goes missing."
The R/T crackled into life as I picked up the briefcase of money from where Bodie had obviously thrown it out of the way. "Murphy, what's going on?"
"We're blown, sir. Bodie's been injured and Doyle and Ruth have been taken off by Katzler and his men."
"Were they hurt?"
"I saw Ruth being put in the car; she looked OK, but I didn't see Doyle." Not that it made much difference. None of us believed Katzler was just taking them for a drive.
Bodie groaned. "You have to get after them, Murph. They have to be going to the docks."
"We don't know that -"
"There isn't anywhere else we know about," Bodie interrupted me.
Cowley agreed. "Find yourself a car and get after them." I didn't get a chance to protest about leaving Bodie bleeding on the pavement. "Jax is on the way to your current location to take over. I'll get teams down to the wharf to back you up."
"Go on!" Bodie thrust his gun at me but I was still reluctant. "Shouldn't I hang on until the ambulance arrives?"
We could both hear sirens, and Bodie shook his head. "It's nearly here. Get going before the cops arrive and hold you up; I'll be OK."
I still wasn't happy, but exchanged the briefcase for his weapon and shoved the spare clips and R/T into my pocket as I sprinted for Sloane Street.
Find a car. Quite how Cowley expected me to do that I wasn't sure: 'taking and driving away' wasn't an accomplishment I had listed on my CV. I could always hijack a taxi, I supposed, but they weren't known for their speed and I'd prefer not to have an unwilling passenger along.
As I rounded the bend I spotted a shiny Audi 80 pull up at the kerb and the driver exit, carrying a bundle of envelopes and heading for a postbox. The engine was still running...
Memorising the numberplate as I went, I reached the car just as the owner posted his letters and turned back. I missed exactly what he shouted as I slammed the door behind me, thrust it into gear and took off, but I'm sure it wasn't complimentary.
The last thing I needed was some officious cop pulling me over, so as soon as I could I fished out the R/T. "6.2 to HQ. I've just stolen a car, registration Tango Kilo Kilo seven three two Sierra. Keep the Met off my back, will you?"
I dropped the unit without waiting for acknowledgement, needing to concentrate on getting to the wharf.
As the car sped away I could feel my heart beating wildly. Poor Bodie shot. How badly? At least Murphy was there to ensure he got help. But what about us?
I glanced across at Ray. He had struggled into a more comfortable sitting position and it seemed to me he was fighting the impulse to rub his head where the gun butt had landed.
He caught my eye and winked. I tried to smile back. If he could take the trouble to reassure me, the least I could do was pretend to believe it.
"So," Katzler suddenly made me jump as he picked up a lock of my hair and twirled it around his finger. "What do I call you now? Raquel? Rosemary?"
"Miss Pettifer will do nicely," I said firmly and heard Ray snigger.
Katzler yanked my hair hard enough to make me cry out. "I would think the reply, 'anything you like' would be more appropriate given our respective positions."
"Let her go, Katzler. She's just the window dressing. I'm the one you want." Ray's tone was low, menacing.
"Oh we're going to have a long talk, don't worry about that." Katzler's tone was mild enough and he let go of my hair but the implied threat silenced me and I stared out the window watching the streets flash past and trying not to think what might be in store.
It soon became obvious we were approaching the docks; I assumed to the warehouse where Ray and Katzler had their meeting the day before.
Katzler looked at his watch. "We've got a bit of time before the boat comes." He smiled. "Time to decide if you get left behind or if we take you with us."
Ray clicked his fingers in mock annoyance. "Darn it," he said. "I've gone and left my passport behind."
Katzler's hand came up in an instant to hit him but Ray caught his arm and held it in a vice like grip. They locked eyes and there was a brief but silent testing of strength before Katzler withdrew his arm. Gus had instinctively jerked his gun up when Ray grabbed Katzler's arm but his boss waved him down again. "Plenty of time for that sort of thing."
He clearly didn't like the loss of face in front of his men and I felt it didn't bode well for Ray. On the other hand however, I didn't really think we'd had much to lose.
Fortunately the volume of traffic had lessened somewhat in the last half hour and I reached Millwall knowing I couldn't be much more than ten or fifteen minutes behind the Daimler.
Now I just had to find the warehouse again. I knew it was only just off the main road, but which of the small turnings was it? I slowed, looking for something I might remember - and saw a sign for lock-up storage units that had caught my eye when Katzler had brought us here.
Pulling quickly into the kerb, I abandoned my stolen vehicle - although I locked it and took the keys with me; it was bad enough that I had taken it in the first place, leaving it unlocked to be really stolen wouldn't go down well. As it was, it'd be lucky to keep its tyres - before I hurried to the corner of the road.
Claude Street wasn't long and I peered around the end of the building very cautiously. I could see the Daimler parked up outside the warehouse, apparently empty, and risked a dash to a large shuttered doorway halfway down.
The building I was now against was obviously vacant, the door set into the shutter bearing an ancient padlock; but it butted neatly into the warehouse that I needed to get into. Assuming that the ground floor was going to be guarded, could I get in via the roof?
Picking locks was something Cowley insisted everyone have on their CV, and old as the lock was it didn't take me long to finagle the levers into giving me access.
As I opened the door, a taxi turned into the end of the street and I slid quickly inside, peering from behind the door as it passed. I wasn't surprised to see Marilyn Katzler in the rear seat. Unwelcome though her arrival was, at least it confirmed I was in the right place.
I closed the door behind me and set off through the dark, dusty building in search of some stairs and a fire escape to the roof.
The car drew up at the entrance to a large warehouse. Al got out first and held open the rear door. His body shielded the gun in his hand and anybody passing by would have been unlikely to spot it.
However there were no passers by; nobody around at all but for a couple of men in the distance working by a pile of pallets. As Katzler urged us out of the car I noticed them and wondered if it were worth screaming for them to call the police. Katzler must have discerned my thoughts because he took my arm tightly and jerked me along. "Don't even think about it. Unless you want civilian deaths on your conscience."
Ray shook his head slightly at me and I let Katzler pull me into the building. Ray followed with Gus and Al bringing up the rear. I heard the door bang shut behind us and my heart sank at the sound. Unless Murphy had guessed where we were and rounded up some of the troops, I couldn't see any way we were going to get out of this alive and it wasn't exactly guaranteed even then. Intellectually I'd always known this could be the result of being an active participant in an operation. I'd attended enough departmental funerals, after all. Lost any number of good friends and colleagues. But somehow I never quite thought of it as happening to me. What was it Ray had said, a quick in and out? So much for that. I wondered if it would hurt and then I wondered what other pain might be waiting for us before the end.
Katzler ignored the office I could see in one corner of the large building and instead forced us through into the main warehouse.
"Sit down," he barked, giving me a slight push for emphasis.
Ray took my arm and drew me a few steps away to sit on a couple of packing cases.
"Keep bearing up," he whispered. "The cavalry could be here soon. Just got to play for time for a bit."
I swallowed, sat up a little straighter and managed a weak smile.
"That's better. Now, no matter what, don't go telling them anything." It was a warning not to blurt out anything like I'd done at the house. I swallowed harder; I knew what he was not saying. It could get a lot worse for him than the few punches he'd sustained so far.
"So, dinner tonight?"
I gaped at him, the swift change of conversation throwing me completely. He grinned and I pulled myself together to give him the answer he wanted.
"If I ever get my handbag back, I'll check my diary."
He laughed out loud and the grin grew. "Good girl."
"Quiet!" Katzler's attention, which had been engaged in conversation with Al, was now brought sharply back to us.
He stalked over and stood before us, glaring. "So, CI5. And I'm supposed to be impressed?"
Ray shrugged. "Depends if you've the brains to be."
Katzler turned red. "And you're one of their best, are you?"
Ray shrugged again. "Think you're worth our best, do you?" He raised an eyebrow enquiringly as he looked up at Katzler.
Katzler's self control snapped and he made as if to hit Ray but suddenly Ray wasn't there. I gasped at the speed with which he'd moved. Standing a few feet away, bouncing on the balls of his feet, he grinned at Katzler. "Just you and me, eh? Come on, I dare you."
Katzler shook his head slowly. "You see, this is the difference between us. You're just the hired help, the gofer, the boy. Whereas I..." he clicked his fingers. "Can delegate."
At his signal, both Al and Gus moved forward, Al sliding off to the side so they flanked Ray left and right. I saw Ray's eyes darting from one to the other, waiting for them to make the first move. Then I cried out in surprise as Katzler grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. I felt the gun jammed into my ribs.
Ray darted a glance at us and in that moment, Gus moved in swiftly and although Ray reacted quickly enough to avoid the full weight of the blow, his attention had been distracted for a vital split second and he caught the edge of the punch and staggered awkwardly. Al was quick to follow up the advantage as he moved in and caught Ray's arms behind his back.
"Now Tom, I have some questions for you," Katzler called. "Starting with your real name."
"What, you don't think Tom suits me? Umph!" I couldn't help a squeak escaping my lips as Ray doubled over from Gus' punch to his stomach. But I bit my lip and swore to keep silent.
"Since you insist," Ray coughed. "It's Doyle, Ray Doyle."
"Good. Now that wasn't so hard, was it? Now, Ray, let's talk about how much your organisation knows about mine."
Ray shook his head. "Nope. That's your free shot." He gasped as the breath again shot out of him and I wondered why I had ever been pleased to be handed this assignment.
"Larry? Larry, what's going on? Is it true?" The outer door banged and Marilyn strode out onto the floor of the warehouse. She took in the situation at a glance. "I see it is true. Well, what has he told you?"
"Nothing yet. We're just getting started," Katzler said.
"You won't get anything that way. Let go of him. Let them both go, for now. Larry, come here." She gestured imperiously.
Gus and Al looked at Katzler who hesitated a moment and then nodded. They let Ray go as Katzler let go of my arm and moved to Marilyn's side. I shot over to Ray and guided him back to our packing crate armchairs.
Gus continued to watch us while Al joined in the Katzlers' conversation. They were careful to keep their voices down so we couldn't hear them but in any case my attention was focused on Ray.
"Ray, are you OK?"
He managed a half grin. "Fine. Just another day at the office." His hand crept towards his stomach and then he halted the movement and carefully placed it palm down on the case.
He glanced at the trio across the way and spoke softly. "Dunno what's going on over there but this has got to end one way or another soon. Keep smiling, Ruth."
I barely had time to nod in what I hoped was an heartening manner before he muttered; "Ding, ding, seconds out, round two."
The Katzlers and Al strolled back to stand in front of us and I stiffened in anticipation of their next action.
"Gus, go and check if that damned launch is in sight yet."
Gus nodded and hurried across the floor. I was vaguely aware of the door open and close behind him but my attention was on Katzler and what he might say next.
To my surprise though, it was Marilyn who spoke. "Time to stop playing games."
"Oh, and I was so enjoying it." Ray gave her a bright smile.
She gave a short laugh. "Oh macho man, I'll bet you'll enjoy what I've got in mind even more."
Katzler put his attaché case on another packing case and gestured to his wife.
"All yours, Marilyn."
"Thank you, honey."
I felt, rather than saw, Ray grow wary as Marilyn flicked the catches and threw back the lid. I didn't instantly understand why but I watched in growing horror as she extracted a hypodermic needle and a small package of white powder. I glanced at Ray and saw his whole body tense momentarily and then his shoulders slumped in resignation.
Marilyn swung round, eyes glinting. "See, I just knew you'd like my game better."
My exit onto the roof necessitated some more B&E, with more emphasis on the breaking this time when the padlock resisted my attempts to pick it, and I had to use my shoulder against the door to get it to actually open.
Scaring various malevolent-looking pigeons, I successfully negotiated the nests scattered about and made my way to the edge of the building. I had made a slight miscalculation in thinking the warehouses butted up to each other - there was an alleyway between them.
Only a narrow one, mind; wide enough for a person but not a vehicle, which meant in real terms that I only had to jump a gap of about three or four feet. And on the plus side the building I needed to jump onto was a couple of feet lower, so at least I didn't have to propel myself upwards as well. I moved back a few paces. A run-up might not be entirely necessary but I was several floors up and plenty of momentum would see me sail over. I didn't even want to contemplate the alternative.
I landed safely, scaring a few more pigeons, and made my way to the fire escape door set in the centre. This was where my plan went awry; the door was firmly secured on the inside and didn't even have a handle I could try pulling on. Damn.
I made my way to the edge over the rear of the building; I had a fine view over the Thames and of Deptford, if you liked that sort of thing. Right now, I'd settle for a fine view of a way down which didn't involve retracing my steps.
Immediately below me was the answer. A metal fire escape wended its way from the top floor down to the yard, although I wouldn't need to go that far, the first open window would do me. I'd have to drop the eight feet or so down to it first though; this job was testing more of my abilities than even the most recent assessment. Although in need of a lick of paint it looked sturdy, and I should be fine as long as no one heard me land.
Sitting down, I started to slide round to lower myself over the edge - then froze as I heard a door bang below me. A figure appeared, and I retreated onto my ledge.
As the man moved further into the yard, I saw it was Gus. I waited in the hope that he'd have a quick look round and go back inside, but he started to fish around in his pockets, producing a pack of cigarettes and lighter and taking up the stance of a man not going anywhere soon.
That scuppered my plans then; there was no way he wouldn't hear me if I tried dropping onto the metal platform.
The R/T - fortunately tucked securely into my jacket pocket - buzzed quietly, and I slid away from the edge before I answered it.
"Murph, it's Mac."
The cavalry. "Where are you?"
"We're out on the main road, by the car you nicked. What about you?"
"I'm on a roof. Listen, I need you to do something..."
I outlined the situation; if McCabe and Lucas could get around the back to deal with Gus, I could get into the warehouse. It would also help to have one less gunman inside.
From my high vantage point I could see pretty much everything and within a few minutes I saw them hurrying along the street, Lucas ducking into the warehouse door I'd opened while McCabe carried on into the alley.
I had no idea what was happening to Doyle and Ruth inside, but made my way back to the edge and got into position to move as soon as they'd got Gus; every minute could be vital.
I heard something rattle across the concrete. Gus had heard it as well, and tossing down his fag he made his way across the yard, hand inside his jacket in a manner all too familiar. As he passed the end of the alley, McCabe launched himself forward and taken completely unawares Gus went down and didn't come back up.
I spoke quietly into the R/T. "Thanks, Mac. I'm going in now; I'll holler when we need you..."
I looked from Marilyn's smiling face to Ray's resigned one. Clearly he'd already summed up the situation and was accepting the inevitable.
"Think that's going to make any difference?" he said tiredly. But I saw a muscle jump in his cheek and I thought then that he'd rather have taken the expected beating.
"Actually yes, I really do," Marilyn said. She looked through the case again. "Hmm, we're going to have to improvise a bit. Now you just wait there while I go see what I can find in this godforsaken dump."
She walked towards the tiny office, her heels clicking incongruously on the hard, concrete floor.
The cavernous warehouse was silent, so silent I could hear my own breathing and fought to control it. How much time had passed since we'd left Cadogan Place? How much longer before Murphy and others found us and ended this madness? I'd started to lift my wrist to check my watch, caught myself and slowly let it drop to my side again. Knowing wouldn't help and there was no need to show any more concern than must already be written on my face.
The silence was broken by Marilyn's return. I watched her close the distance between us; each step seeming to mark a countdown to this terrible thing she was going to do.
"Disgusting creatures, men, aren't they?" Marilyn said, appearing to address her remarks to me. "That little kitchen area is a hazard to health. Still, we can't let a little thing like hygiene stop us."
She put the items she'd been carrying down on the makeshift packing case table beside the still open attaché case.
My heart was beating as I looked at what she'd scavenged. I'm not sure what I was expecting but the result was so ordinary that it took me a second or two for my brain to process the information. It was nothing more sinister than a black mug with a bright yellow smiley face on it and two dirty looking teaspoons.
I watched in horrified fascination as she took a syringe from the attaché case, depressed the plunger and then stuck it into the mug and drew up some clear liquid, water I assumed.
"Hardly sterile, is it?"
At the sound of his voice, I dragged my attention back to Ray. His arms were folded across his chest and his whole attention was on Marilyn and her actions.
She looked up at his words. "We don't have time for the niceties. Bother you, does it?"
He shrugged, never taking his eyes from what she was doing.
Leaving the syringe in the mug she took up the spoon and with a firm movement bent the handle downwards slightly. At first I was puzzled but the reason soon became clear. She placed it back on her work surface and, taking up the syringe, emptied the contents into the hollow of the spoon. The liquid remained level in the, now balanced, bowl rather than spilling out.
"Knife please, Al." She held out her hand and Al slid his hand into his pocket without taking his eyes from us, and passed her a penknife, which she used to slit open the packet of white powder.
I heard Ray drew in a sharp breath. "You know a single dose of the pure stuff can kill, of course?"
She paused. "Of course. But let's play the odds. Unless you're ready to talk now?"
Ray shook his head. I bit my tongue to keep from screaming.
Turning back to her work, Marilyn put the tip of the second teaspoon into the packet and scooped up some of the powder, which she then gently shook into the water on the first spoon.
"Lighter," she commanded and again Al dug in his pocket for the necessary implement.
She raised the spoon up a few inches, held it in a steady hand and began playing the flame of the lighter on the underside of the metal.
"Nearly there," she said after a minute or two, during which time nobody had uttered a word. "Ahh, that should do it."
I willed her to jolt the spoon and spill the contents as she carefully replaced the spoon on the packing case and reached for the syringe again, but her hand remained steady as she drew up the liquid contents. She held up the syringe and flicked a finger at the barrel, pushing lightly on the plunger as she did so. A tiny drop of liquid spurted from the needle.
"I should've let it cool a bit but we're hardly being that fussy today, are we? Will you roll up your own sleeve, Miss Pettifer, or shall I do it for you?"
She looked enquiringly at me but it still took a few seconds for the words I'd heard to really hit me. Me. She wanted to inject me with that stuff. Me, not Ray.
"No!" Ray was on his feet. "Leave her out of this. I'm the one you want."
Somehow I got to my feet. I licked my lips and touched his arm gently. "Ray..." I had no real idea of what I was going to say but if he had been prepared to take a dose of that stuff, could I hardly do any less? I'd been going over in my mind what I could recall one could expect from a single dose of heroin. Dopiness, maybe a headache or nausea. Some euphoria if one were lucky. If it would buy us a bit more time then surely I could put up with that.
"Not another bloody word, Ruth," he said fiercely. "That stuff could kill you!" Abruptly I sat down again with a bump.
"Ruth." Marilyn nodded. "So much nicer to be on first name terms again." She advanced another step and the syringe loomed large in my vision.
"Ask your questions," Ray said. "I'll tell you what you want to know."
Katzler stepped forward then chuckling, an unpleasant smile on his face. "Good to know you can be reasonable."
"Ah, but what if it didn't kill her?"
Everybody looked at Marilyn. "What if we took her with us and then, in a month or maybe two, returned her to him? A snivelling, crawling, drooling, do anything for a fix, junkie."
"But Marilyn, he's agreed to talk," Katzler said, as if she needed it explaining.
"Wouldn't be so pretty then either," Marilyn continued, ignoring him and I wondered how I could ever have liked her. As she finished speaking her hand shot out and grabbed me by the wrist, yanking me to my feet.
In an instant Ray was on his feet again and pulling me free from her grasp, half shielding me with his body. Marilyn just smiled as if she expected nothing more.
"Al, go and get Gus. God knows what he's doing out there all this time. The two of you can ensure Ray gets a ringside seat for this."
Al glanced at Katzler, almost apologetically, and headed for the exit. The analytical side of my mind registered that it was an interesting insight into the authority dynamic in the Katzlers' relationship.
"Marilyn, why?" Katzler protested. " We don't have time for this."
"Because he's screwed up a very lucrative deal and he's got to pay for that. And this will hurt him."
The more emotional side of my mind was frozen with horror at Marilyn's words and the venom behind them. I so wanted to say something witty and flippant to show she hadn't got to me. But I was scared witless. There was no sign of backup, nothing to suggest they would find us in time to prevent this madwoman injecting me at least once, if not taking me away altogether.
Ray might be determined but they'd shoot him without compunction, I was sure of that. And I was equally sure that if it got as far as them taking me aboard their boat, nothing would save me.
Creeping down the stairs I kept a wary ear open for movement. The likelihood of having been heard in my descent was small, but I didn't want to run into anyone. I had reached the first floor before I could hear voices; not clearly, but enough to identify Doyle, and Katzler who was laughing.
Treading softly, I carried on down the staircase, thanking my lucky stars it was enclosed rather than open. It might muffle what I could hear of them, but it was doing the same for me.
There was a door at the bottom, but it stood open and as I paused I could now hear more of what was being said, and as I grasped the meaning of Marilyn's words I felt chilled. Bad enough if she carried out her threat of injecting Ruth now, but taking Ruth with them... No way was that going to happen.
Risking a quick look around the doorframe, I could see that although they weren't at the front of the building they were still too far away for me to move in without being seen.
Al was closest; standing with his back to me looking on. Doyle and Ruth together, Katzler keeping them covered with a gun while Marilyn made her threats - I couldn't believe we'd believed her to be innocent of Katzler's affairs.
In spite of both Katzler and Al being armed Doyle was holding Ruth next to him and protesting defiantly, and I heard Marilyn instruct Al to fetch Gus.
I tensed. I was only going to get one chance at this, and I had to hope Doyle and Ruth were able to take advantage of it, otherwise we were all sunk...
Bracing myself against the wall, I tucked my gun away and crouched. I needed to take Al out quickly and smoothly, I couldn't afford to be slugging it out with him for any length of time. I heard his footsteps approaching and at the first instance of him drawing level with the door I sprang forward, propelling myself upward with fist outstretched.
I caught him smartly under the jawline, knocking him backwards against the far wall, and although his gun went flying he swung a punch at me, one I managed to dodge quite easily since it had been instinctive rather than planned.
Two or three more punches and he went down and pulling my gun I turned my attention to what was happening in the warehouse.
I'd been relieved and aware that Doyle had taken full opportunity of my attack to launch himself at Katzler and was slugging it out with him, proving that Katzler wasn't the man he thought he was.
Ruth... Ruth had perhaps been slower off the mark than Doyle...
As Al passed through the doorway I dimly registered a noise. Before I could even wonder what it might have been Ray had flung himself at Katzler. The movement momentarily distracted me but Marilyn spared them only a brief glance before advancing on me. I saw her approaching from the corner of my eye and tried to dodge. She grabbed for me with her free hand and I instinctively seized the wrist of the hand containing the syringe.
We struggled briefly, pushing back and forth. Me fuelled by hope that help had finally arrived and the tables could be turned and, I suppose, Marilyn by desperation or possibly sheer vindictiveness.
Suddenly I noticed a gun lying on the floor a few feet away. It must have been Larry Katzler's, dropped in his struggle with Ray. From what I could see it appeared a very one-sided fight.
Fear and adrenaline lending me strength I pushed Marilyn from me, knocking her to the floor, and dived for the gun. As my fingers stretched to close around the hilt the breath was knocked from my body as Marilyn literally threw herself on me. She had one hand around my neck, yanking my head back, while the other hand was outstretched, trying to reach the gun before I did. A small cry escaped me as I realised that with both hands occupied she must have dropped the syringe somewhere in our struggle. I hadn't realised just how terrified I'd been of it. I must have relaxed for a dangerous split second because although I struggled, I saw with horror her hand reach the gun first and then I felt the barrel pressed against my neck. "Get up," she said, triumphantly. "Slowly."
She backed away from me and I sensed her getting to her feet. I got cautiously to mine and again felt the gun push against me.
To my right Ray was just putting Katzler down for the count with one final blow. He spun round and his face dropped as he saw Marilyn standing behind me, the gun jammed in my side.
At the same moment, Murphy came through the outer door gun in hand. He also stopped dead, his gaze flicking from one to the other of us.
As Marilyn started to back slowly away with Ruth, Doyle sent me a frantic look and I took the opportunity of throwing him Al's gun.
He caught it effortlessly and swivelling levelled it deliberately at them, but I could see that Marilyn didn't believe he'd do it; she could shoot Ruth easily before he could shoot her and she continued to back away, keeping Ruth in front of her as a shield. "Don't even think about it."
Doyle took a couple of steps towards them and Marilyn stopped. "No way. I'm not warning you again. Drop the gun, now!" She pushed her gun harder into Ruth, who gave a faint gasp. "Or your girlfriend will find out the hard way that playing with guns can be dangerous."
Doyle's movement had put him almost between me and Marilyn and I slowly brought my gun up in readiness, but silently willed Doyle to fire. He was the best shot on the team; even with Ruth that close he could take Marilyn.
Even as I watched he lowered the gun slightly, then brought it back up again. What was he waiting for?
"You won't get away, Marilyn." He'd decided to try and talk her out. Not a decision I would have made in the circumstances, and it was pointless.
"You taking money on that?" At last she pointed her gun at him rather than Ruth. "I said, drop the gun!"
Doyle wavered. I saw his hand drop, lift, then drop again, and he released the automatic and let it fall. In that split second Marilyn smiled triumphantly, taking a half step backwards. But Ruth was no longer pinioned by the weapon and didn't echo the step, and I took my chance.
A step to the left and I fired. My shot went squarely through Marilyn's shoulder and she screeched and dropped the gun, following it to the floor. I rushed her and kicked it away before she could make another grab for it, as Ruth stumbled away.
I felt the bullet fly past my shoulder, the sound of the shot deafening to my ears. I staggered forward a couple of steps and sensed rather than saw Murphy move in to capture Marilyn.
Ray caught me and for a moment I was held against his chest, his arms around me. "It's OK, Ruth. It's over now."
For one long moment I remained there, luxuriating in the feeling of security and strength. "Here come the troops," he murmured and I pushed away from him, took a breath and brushed my hair back from my face as firstly Lucas and McCabe dashed into the warehouse and then, a moment or two later, Mr Cowley. Probably OK to have a moment's weakness with Ray but it wouldn't do my or any of the female agent's reputations any good to be found weeping at an op.
I'm not sure even Murphy noticed, busy as he was with ensuring Marilyn didn't have any other tricks up her sleeve.
The door banged open and Lucas and McCabe made one of their trademark entrances; one going right and the other left. Seeing that things were under control they bounded towards us, and started checking Al and Katzler.
"Get Katzler out to the car." As was fairly common, Cowley strode into the aftermath and started issuing orders. He cast a look over Marilyn clutching her shoulder in agony. "I suppose you'd better call an ambulance for her."
"Already on the way sir." McCabe pulled the still dazed but becoming belligerent Katzler to his feet, and I moved to help him as he snapped handcuffs onto Katzler's wrists.
Something rustled in my pocket and I remembered the box of headache tablets I'd been fetching. Pulling them out, I shoved them into Katzler's top pocket. "Something for your headache, sir." I was amply rewarded in the furious glare he gave me as McCabe led him away.
Cowley had turned his attention to Doyle and Ruth. "Miss Pettifer." His tone was sharp.
Although not touching they were standing close together, but as soon as Cowley spoke Ruth straightened up. "Yes, sir?"
"You've done well, lass."
Shaken as she was, Ruth had been resolutely suppressing her emotions, but the kind words jerked loose a few of the terrified tears lurking just below the surface. "Th-thank you, sir."
"Doyle, take Ruth and get the pair of you checked over."
Doyle nodded. "How's Bodie?"
"Swearing at the nurses, last I heard," Cowley told him shortly. "He's in St Thomas'; you can go there if you like."
Doyle's grin was full of relief, and even Ruth relaxed slightly. "We will, sir."
Ray hustled me out of the room and outside where three or four other agents were milling around. The bright sunshine hit my eyes making me blink. If it had been dark I wouldn't have been surprised. It felt as if we had been in that nightmare for hours.
"Hey, Doyle. You off to see Bodie?" It was Anson coming towards us. I thought it a measure of how well he knew the partnership that it was the first thing to cross his mind.
"Yeah, I hear he's terrorising the nurses," Ray replied.
Anson tossed him a set of keys. "Take mine, over there. I'll come back with somebody else when we're done here. We're still waiting on this launch coming in so we can take down the ship and its cargo."
"Cheers." Ray caught the keys, took my elbow and guided me over to a red Cortina.
We pulled away from the dock area and I thought if I never saw it again, I wouldn't be heartbroken.
Ray drove almost sedately for him but I was conscious of tension radiating from him. He stared straight ahead, saying nothing, his fingers tapping a steady beat on the steering wheel.
I thought about asking him what was wrong but the last of the stress was leaving me and I felt pleasantly sleepy. The last thing I wanted was a post op argument with Ray and if he was inclined to stay silent, I was happy to let him. I leaned back in the seat and let my eyes close.
It seemed no time at all before he was gently touching my shoulder and shaking me awake.
I yawned, nodded, shook myself and climbed out of the car.
He came around to my side and I prepared to fall into step with him but instead he put his hands on my shoulders and gazed at me for a long moment. His expression was intense and for once I couldn't read him. One hand lightly brushed my hair and then slid down to cup my face.
"Too close," he murmured. "That was too damn close." Then he kissed me fiercely and before I'd got my breath back, wrapped his arms around me, pulling me into a tight hug that squeezed the remaining air from my body. I leaned against him, my arms around his waist, enjoying again the feeling of just being close to him.
We stood there for a minute or so, just holding each other and I could gradually feel the tension leaving his body. Slowly he let me go and smiled at me. A proper Ray Doyle smile, the kind I'd tried not to let weaken my resolve all these years.
"Better?" I said, smiling back at him. So the top agents aren't completely superhuman after all. Not that I ever thought they were of course, but men being what they are, rarely show an emotional need and their physical hurts are swiftly put into the hands of doctors to deal with.
"Much," he said, slinging his arm around my shoulder and beginning to walk towards the hospital entrance. "We'll check out Bodie, see he's not skiving. Then I suppose we'll have to fetch up some kind of report and then..."
He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at me. "I'll think of something."
As Doyle hurried her away, I spotted the syringe which had obviously been dropped in Marilyn's struggle with Ruth, and bent to pick it up. It was still full, and moving over to where Marilyn lay I crouched in front of her and let her see it. "Almost a shame to waste this," I murmured softly, so that only she could hear me.
Forgetting the pain in her shoulder she cringed away, and just for a second I knew I had her and that she believed I would inject her as she would have done to Ruth. Slowly moving my hand towards her, I drew out the suspense for just a few more seconds, inflicting suitable retribution on her, before I paused. At that moment Cowley called me.
I stood up and turned. "Just making sure this syringe is handled carefully, sir. Wouldn't want anyone to stab themselves accidentally."
"No, we wouldn't." He glanced down at Marilyn, seeming to know full well what I had been doing. Not that he seemed to mind. "Perhaps you should put it in the case with the rest of the drugs."
I put it carefully between the packets and snapped the briefcase shut, making sure I checked the combination so we could open it again easily.
By this time we had been joined by Anson who went straight to get Marilyn to her feet, not exactly handling her gently. "The ambulance has just arrived, so I'll take this one outside."
She protested, loudly. "You should be getting me a stretcher, I'm injured."
Cowley gave her a brief glare. "Go with Mrs Katzler to the hospital, Anson. Make sure she's treated properly. And then take her to headquarters to enjoy some more of our hospitality."
Grinning, Anson nodded and led her away as McCabe came in through the back door and called to us. "The launch is on its way, sir. We're all in place."
"I've got the River Police shadowing it in," Cowley told me as we went to join the team. "Just to make sure no one gets away."
As take-downs go, it was a walkover. The team barely even needed to show their guns before the deckhands - obviously innocent of their cargo - surrendered. Although the captain did try and pull a gun his common sense kicked in as he realised that being outnumbered on a scale of 7 to 1 wasn't good odds, and he threw it down almost instantly.
Satisfied that things were under control, Cowley took the briefcase from me and headed for his Granada, parked behind Katzler's car. "What about the Daimler?" I asked.
"We'll find out the name of the hire company and get them to collect it. Oh, and you need to return your stolen vehicle - I trust you have the keys safe?"
I felt in my jacket pocket, hoping I hadn't lost them in all that scrambling around roofs, but they were still there. "Yes, sir."
"Control have the details - get the address from them. Fill it up with petrol first; that's the least we can do." He shut the car door and pulled away without giving me chance to argue. So I was reduced to a chauffeur now, was I, after saving everyone?
I suppose I did steal it in the first place. I headed up the road hoping that it hadn't been vandalised in my absence but it was fine. Before I thought about returning it though, I was off to the hospital to find out how Bodie was doing...
In casualty Ray was inclined to ignore Mr Cowley's orders and look for Bodie rather than getting checked over by a doctor himself. I insisted he was looked at though. It might not seem much to him but he'd taken some hard blows and that knock to the head and I preferred to know he was all right than just have him assert he was.
What I didn't expect was to be pounced on by a doctor myself and hustled into a cubicle to be asked questions. I assured the doctor that I'd faced nothing more serious than a slap in the face but he insisted on a few basic checks before letting me go. All the hospitals in the London area have experienced members of CI5 as patients and I suspect none of them wishes to face an angry Mr Cowley if his people aren't well looked after.
Once released, and having no idea how long Ray would be, I headed for the lifts. We'd been assured that Bodie had been treated and was being transferred to a ward so I thought I might as well seek him out as wait down here.
"Ruthie." He greeted me with pleasure when I found his room. Then his gaze looked beyond me and sharpened. "Where's Doyle?"
"Downstairs with the doctor..." I started.
"What's wrong with him?" Bodie snapped.
"He's fine." At least I hoped that was true. "Mr Cowley's express orders to get himself checked over." I smiled at him as I sat down in the visitor's chair. "What about me, don't I warrant any concern?"
"You're walking and talking," Bodie said gruffly, but his words were accompanied by a lingering top to toe look, which was much more what I expected.
Despite the sharpness of his tone, he didn't seem to be in any pain. In fact, having had his mind put at ease with regards to his partner, he leaned back on his pillows and looked remarkably relaxed. Probably due, I thought, to whatever pain medication the doctor had given him.
"So," he said. "Everything taken care of?"
I nodded. "The Katzlers, Gus and Al are under lock and key and the ship should be likewise by now."
"Sorry I missed it," he said, breezily.
I wouldn't have minded missing out on it myself but I said nothing. Now it was over, there was just a tiny part of me that was pleased to have been part of an operation from the inside for once instead of forever fretting on the outside.
Although I said nothing my face must have given me away for I jumped slightly as Bodie's hand squeezed mine. "Rough?" he said.
"Interesting," I said, carefully. He nodded and thankfully Ray came into the room then and Bodie turned his attention to him.
"What no grapes?"
"Not even a bottle of whisky," Ray said. "Been a bit busy. Got you this though." He dropped a Mars bar onto the bed. Clearly he'd made time to find a vending machine.
Bodie's eyes lit up. "Oh thanks, mate. Better than grapes with all those..."
"Pips, yeah, I remember. So what'd the doctor say?"
Bodie shrugged as well as he could with a bandaged shoulder. "Usual. Overnight stop, rest, take it easy, blah, blah, blah. You?"
"Couple of bruises, nothing to lose sleep over. No time off work either. Which is a shame, I could do with some downtime." The face Ray presented to us was the blandest, but I thought I could see a twinkle of mischief in the depths of his eyes.
"Oh yeah? Who is she?" Bodie glanced at me as if remembering I was still there. "Just cover your ears for a minute, Ruthie."
I sighed and got to my feet. "I can recognise a cue to leave when I hear one."
"No one you'd know," Ray said swiftly, in response to Bodie's question and caught at my arm as I made to go past him. "Hang on, Ruth. We're not finished yet, you and I."
I looked at him, not understanding but grateful he hadn't taken the first opportunity to tell Bodie everything that had happened between us.
"Oh ho," Bodie crowed, rubbing his hands together. "Marital bliss caught up with you, did it? Tell me all about it."
"Reports," Doyle said, succinctly. "We have to turn in reports. We can't all loaf about in bed like some folks."
"Knowing Cowley he'll send me in pen and paper to write mine here," Bodie grumbled.
"If you're very lucky he might send Kirstie to take dictation."
Bodie brightened up at Ray's words and at that moment Murphy came into the room.
"We're just off," Ray told him. "Probably see you back at HQ. I'll get back when I can, Bodie."
"Tell the Cow you have to drive me home tomorrow."
Ray nodded and took a step out of the room when he paused and turned back to Murphy. "Forgot to say earlier. Nice shooting, Murph. Thanks."
"Yes," Ruth added, smiling at me. "It was."
"What shooting?" As the door closed behind them, Bodie latched onto me. "Ruth said it had all been wrapped up - what exactly did I miss?"
With only my chauffeur errand and reports to look forward to, taking the time to fill Bodie in was definitely preferable so I flopped down in the visitor chair and recounted events from the moment I'd left him on the pavement.
When I got to the bit about Marilyn's threats to Ruth, if he'd been fit to jump out of the bed and get to HQ and interrogate her himself, he would have done. As it was he had to be satisfied with my account of how Doyle and I had taken out Katzler and Al, and finally the stand-off with Ruth in the middle.
"So, you had to shoot Marilyn? Why didn't Ray?"
It was odd, but up to now I hadn't really had time to think about it. "Marilyn had the gun stuck into Ruth most of the time. It wasn't until she thought she'd got Doyle beat that she moved it away and by then I had the better position."
"She had Ruth very close; a tricky shot at the best of times. Katzler and Al had thumped him about; maybe Ray was dizzy?"
"Maybe. Sounds like Ruth did pretty well, but she'll be lucky if she doesn't have nightmares."
Bodie was right, and it was a reason why Cowley didn't like putting the female agents into danger. But it didn't help to patronise them; Ruth had certainly proved to me that she was up to the job. "She's made from tougher stuff than you think."
"Let's hope so."
"Anyway, time I was going," I told him, getting up. "No doubt one of us will pick you up tomorrow. In the meantime," I fished around for the piece of paper I'd written the owner's address on when I'd called Control earlier, "I have a car to return."
I stared at the paper. This wasn't the address; it wasn't even my writing... Kayley. Ah.
"And I have a phone call to make," I smirked at him.
He caught my tone immediately. "What? Who are you phoning?"
"A certain Aussie barmaid?" I waved the paper at him. "I'll give her your love, shall I?"
As I made swiftly for the door, he hollered at me. "Murphy! She's mine, you bastard!"
"Well, you said it: all's fair in love and babe tennis, Bodie..."
As we reached the car park my stomach suddenly gave a very unladylike rumble. "Sorry," I muttered.
Ray laughed and looked at his watch. "It's nearly two-thirty. You must be starving. I at least got breakfast. C'mon, we'll grab some sandwiches before hitting HQ."
Fortified by doorstep sandwiches of beef and mustard we hammered out a joint report on the last few hours. I made frequent cups of tea to keep us going but it was only fair since Ray seemed quite happy to rattle the keys of the typewriter. He used an odd three fingered combination but managed a fair speed which I supposed came from having had to type up any number of police reports in his time.
The building seemed quiet and we were left mostly undisturbed. Betty knew we were there of course and Sally popped into the lounge to congratulate us having heard all about it from monitoring the various radio transmissions.
She hugged me and asked if I were OK. I assured her I was and surprised myself by meaning it. Maybe in the darkness of the night something would come back to haunt my dreams, but for now the events of the day were already fading to something not quite real. That hadn't really been me in that dirty warehouse with a syringe of heroin being waved in front of my face. Not me with a gun in my ribs. Somebody else, not me.
"Oh, while I think of it," Sally said. "Somebody went to Cadogan Place and brought back all your things. They're in the locker room."
"D'you mind?" Ray gestured to the typewriter. "Got a report I'm trying to get done here."
Sally pulled a face at me but wisely said nothing.
I glanced at him and back to her. "I'll come along and get my handbag, Sal. I have a sudden urgent need to check my diary."
Sally nodded, thinking she understood my using any excuse to leave agent 4.5 to his short temper. She led the way out of the room and so didn't see Ray pause suddenly and the smirk that spread over his face. Apart from that though, he didn't give any reaction.
By time I had finished assuring Sally I really was all right and got back to the rest room with my bag over my shoulder, Ray was just ripping the last sheet of paper from the typewriter rollers.
"Sign it," he demanded, holding out a pen.
"Shouldn't I read it first, officer?" I said, taking it and scribbling my name at the bottom of the document.
"Think I'm trying to fit you up?"
"If you are, I'll come quietly."
A slow smirk spread across his face. "Oh I don't mind the odd bit of noise. Shows my efforts are appreciated."
I'd barely realised my unintentional double entendre and felt the blush start up my cheeks when he gave me a sudden grin. "Stay right there. Do not move."
He snatched back the report and disappeared. I sat down again and attempted to compose myself.
He was back in short order and looking pleased with himself. "Come on, quick. Cowley's downstairs with Katzler. I've given the report in to Betty and told her I'm giving you and your cases a lift home. If he wants me bad enough he can shout but I should think we're safe for this evening."
Giggling like school children we snatched our luggage from the locker room and exaggeratedly tip-toed to the car park and freedom.
We didn't make it to the promised dinner that night. Instead we slipped back undercover again and later, when the nightmares did hit, Ray was there to soothe them away.