Doyle was already conscientiously reading the file as we left Mr Cowley's office and headed for the Lounge. "You'll have plenty of time for that when we're in the car," I told him.
"Taking it for granted you'll be driving then." The glance he gave me was without emotion; the slight hint of resentfulness all in his tone. For all his advanced Met training Doyle still couldn't out-drive me and it rankled.
"Look on the bright side. Means you get to doze."
"As if anyone could doze while you're driving. Anyway, you'll need me to navigate if we're not going to get lost."
I've navigated cross-country through Angola using only the moon to guide me so I think I can manage to find my way onto a motorway, but I let it pass. Normally I'd argue my corner but Doyle could be a touchy sod and it was going to be a long couple of days; the last thing I needed was him in a mood, sniping at me every few minutes.
"Got your assignment then?"
Doyle was already smiling as he turned to greet the speaker. One of the older squad men, Barry Martin had also been one of our instructors and Doyle had hit it off with him in a way that I hadn't. I got on with him okay but hadn't joined in the socialising.
"Yeah. Not exactly 'protecting the realm' - just got to pick up some grass who's turned Queen's evidence."
"It's got to be pretty important though," I added. "You don't send CI5 out for small fry."
"Oh, you've got the Newton job then? I had thought the Major might just send me - it's hardly worth sending out two agents on."
"So he is small fry?" I was disappointed, but I suppose this was the first proper assignment we'd been given. Training and backgrounds notwithstanding we had yet to prove ourselves to Cowley.
"He is. But his evidence will bring down a much bigger fish." Martin rubbed his hands together. "What's your plan? Down today to collect him and back tomorrow?"
"Providing we have him back to the safehouse by Thursday night ready for interrogation on Friday, Mr Cowley's left it up to us." I could tell Doyle wasn't too happy about the flexibility; something to do with being more used to following orders I should think.
As far as I was concerned flexibility meant you could use your initiative; something the SAS encouraged, and it made sense to me. "Salisbury isn't that far - we can easily get down there and back today. After all, once he's installed at the safehouse we can call in someone else to watch him and get off-duty."
Doyle scowled at me. "We're not rushing the job just so you can knock off early and go out boozing."
"I don't know, sounds OK to me," Martin laughed. "Although I think you might find there wouldn't be anyone else to cover for you. Once you're assigned, it's your job start to finish - no such thing as regular hours in this outfit."
"That suits me," I assured him. "It's Doyle here who's been used to regular hours in that cushy police force."
Martin found that hilarious and walked away still laughing, while Doyle glared at me.
"Oh, come on," I sighed. "Isn't it about time you learnt when I was joking?"
"Isn't it about time you learnt to stop joking?" He glared for a moment longer while I pictured the gloom of the forthcoming journey, then suddenly his face cracked into a grin.
Keep Bodie off his guard, that was the best way to deal with him I'd decided after we'd been partnered a week or so. At first I thought I wasn't going to be able to tolerate him and in retrospect, I think he probably thought the same, but I was damned if I was going to be the one to say so. Joining C.I.5 was the biggest thing I'd done and I wasn't going to screw it up. It seemed as if it were just one more thing to put on Bodie's CV. He didn't seem to care how he was viewed.
Still, it was quite fun winding him up, especially when I knew he was trying to do the same to me. He could take it as well as dish it out and that's important. He doesn't hold a grudge either. I've snapped at him a few times and he just ignores it or yells back and then gets on with it. I like that in a partner. Sid always used to let me sound off as well. And Maurice never took any notice when I took a pop at him. He just say, ‘Feel better now? Well get on with it then, Doyle.' And I did.
I'm trying to behave myself in this mob though. No point in getting chucked out on my ear now I've made it through basic training. ‘Basic'! Who are they kidding? I thought I was fit enough when I joined but the Met's idea of fit and that bastard Macklin's are two very different things. Still, feel like I could take on the world these days. Just need a chance to prove it.
Doubt this job will give us the opportunity though. It's just a simple pick up job. I'm not surprised Mr Cowley didn't want to send Barry, it's hardly a job for a senior agent. I like Barry Martin. Of all the ex-army types there are here, he's the least stuffy of them. He likes a laugh, does Barry and he's always interested in what we new agents have to say. He's not like the other, older agents who don't think we can contribute anything. Bodie doesn't like him so much though. Probably reminds him of a sergeant he had once who had the pleasure of trying to teach him some discipline.
"Well, are you going to stand there all day reading that, or can we get going?" Bodie demanded.
I looked at him suspiciously. "You wouldn't by any chance, have a date tonight, would you?" The number of times Bodie had made it into training by the skin of his teeth after a wild night was no odds to anyone. At least his stories were wild; I wasn't sure how much of them to believe.
He shrugged. "It's a flexible arrangement. If we're back in time…" Then he grinned. "So is she, flexible, I mean."
"Spare me the details," I said in disgust. "And you needn't think you're sticking me with babysitting duty just so you can go out on the pull."
"Ahh, cheer up, Doyle. You never know, we might get delayed and then neither of us will be getting any."
That's another thing about Bodie; he always has to have the last word. I followed him out to the car. This could be a long day.
In spite of his earlier touchiness, Doyle had seemed in a good mood for most of the journey. I kept him amused with various tales of my past; he shook his head disbelievingly and scoffed frequently but it passed the time.
After the motorway ended Doyle had insisted on navigating, just to prove his point I thought, but even taking our time we arrived in Salisbury just before midday, for once in perfect harmony.
"Just need to find the cop-shop now. According to this address it's on Wilton Road; that's on the other side of town."
"Do we need to go straight there?" On cue, my stomach rumbled. Well, it had been an early start.
"They might have a canteen."
Either Doyle was learning to read my mind or he'd heard my stomach. Or maybe I was just growing predictable. "They might not. Anyway, it'd be better to stop for food before we pick up our suspect, be much harder afterwards."
I was slowly bringing him round to my way of thinking. Doyle nodded. "OK. Better make it a cafe rather than a pub. We won't look very responsible if we turn up for Newton stinking of beer and fags."
"Good thinking." I wanted a proper meal anyway and pub food could be hit and miss. "I'll find somewhere to park and then we can look for somewhere suitable."
Doyle pointed out the sign to the local station. "What about there?"
"You want to eat British Rail sandwiches?" I'd leave Doyle there and find proper food, if he did...
"No, Bodie, but they'll have a car park, right?"
I grinned. "Good thinking again, Sherlock." I swung the Rover left under the railway bridge and sharp right up to the car park, pointing to a cafe as we passed it. "And that looks perfect; we won't have to go far for food."
The cafe was perfect - provided you were happy with a fry-up, which meant perfect for me. Doyle grumbled a bit at the limited menu, but didn't seem to have any trouble polishing off his plateful.
He read out the important parts from Newton's file while we lingered over a second mug of tea. "Danny Newton, age 25. Born and raised in Bristol, sent to borstal for burglary aged 14. Arrested again for burglary with violence two years later but the case collapsed. Moved to London and faded out of the limelight for a few years; turned up again about four years ago, apparently working for a bookie. According to the local division the whole thing is a front for a protection racket."
"Busy little bee. So what do we have him for?"
"The traffic cops tried to pull him over for a dodgy brakelight and found themselves in a high-speed chase. He's no James Hunt and ended up in a ditch, and when they searched the car they found two suitcases stuffed full of heroin."
"Guilty conscience." I finished my tea, wondering if I could get another, along with one of those sticky buns in the cabinet. Working with Doyle I was getting a lot of practice at trying to stretch lunchtime out; he was still a bit of a stickler for the rules and hadn't quite got used to taking it (whatever 'it' was) when you could, just in case you didn't get a chance later. With Doyle immersed in his file today looked good for another cuppa, and I signalled to the girl behind the counter.
"Heh, get this. 'Under questioning, Newton denied all knowledge of the drugs. He claimed to be carrying stolen goods he was intending to sell to dealers.' Some defence!"
"Lighter charge, lighter sentence." I stirred sugar into my mug quietly, trying not to alert my partner. "As if anyone was going to believe it."
"Exactly." Doyle gave me a brief glance, just to make sure I knew he knew about my third cup. "Anyway, once it was made quite clear to him who would be taking the fall - and given the amount of drugs he wouldn't be coming back up for a long while - he suddenly got talkative. Swears he didn't know anything about the drugs, but he could tell them who did."
"And that's the someone important?"
"Apparently. Not that Mr Cowley told us who it is. Just a couple of couriers, we are, mate." Doyle shut the file and signalled to the girl himself. "Another tea and one of those buns."
I beamed. "Make that two."
Paying at the till, Doyle asked where we might find Wilton Road.
"It's just round the corner," was the girl's reply. "Back up to the roundabout and straight over."
"That's lucky," I put in quickly. "And you think I've got no sense of direction."
I shot Bodie a glance. I was getting to know that tone of voice. He was trying to wind me up again. Just how well did he know this area?
I put the thought to the back of my mind for now, best not to react, would give Bodie too much pleasure.
Less than five minutes later, we turned into the wide driveway of the Divisional Headquarters where Newton was being held.
I had my ID ready as we entered through the main doors and held it out to the sergeant behind the reception desk. "Doyle, CI5, here to pick up Daniel Newton."
The sergeant took my ID and studied it for a while, looking me up and down and comparing reality with the photograph on the card. "Sure you'll know me next time?" I asked him.
He looked over my shoulder to Bodie. "Is he with you, sir?" I was bloody furious. Who did this officious twit think he was? "Now look here…" I started but my partner interrupted me.
"Yes, officer, he's with me." He leisurely pulled his card out of his pocket and showed it. "If you could bring out Newton, I'd be grateful."
The sergeant nodded and lifted a telephone and dialled an extension. I swallowed my annoyance. I'd got away from this kind of petty snobbery, I reminded myself. Just let it ride.
In response to a command over the phone, the sergeant reluctantly allowed us to pass through the double doors and down the corridor to an interview room and in a few minutes, Newton was brought to us.
He was a right cocky little bastard. He folded his arms across his chest and laughed when he saw us. "Blimey, is this all I'm worth? Man at C & A and a bloody scarecrow."
The inspector who was with him apologised; "I'm sorry, gentlemen. No manners this one. Frankly you're welcome to him. I'll be glad to see the back of him." He pushed over a piece of paper. "Just sign for him if you would and you can be on your way."
Bodie reached for the form. "Just like signing for a dog licence or a piece of lost property."
Newton scowled. "You better take better care of me than that. I'm important, I am. The things I know. The people I can name."
"Yeah, yeah, heard it all before, sunshine," I told him. "Come on." I hooked the handcuffs around his wrists and we filed out to the reception area again.
The sergeant was still there and he gave me another suspicious look. I went over to him. "Just what is your problem?"
"Doyle." Bodie was at the door and sounded exasperated. "Just leave it."
I gave the sergeant a final glare and came away. "Well, who does he think he is? Fat lot of bloody use he'd be going undercover in the drug squad."
"Yeah, well you're not in the drug squad now, are you? You could try wearing something that didn't come from Oxfam."
"I'm not mucking up my good gear in this job."
"Oh you have some good gear, do you?"
This was already an old argument between us and neither of us were taking it that seriously. Newton looked from one to the other of us as we led him to the car. "Right couple of jokers you two are. I don't think I've got too much to worry about."
What did he mean by that remark? I decided it was best to ignore him. If he didn't get any attention he'd soon realise he wasn't anywhere near as important as he thought he was.
Fortunately Bodie appeared to reach the same conclusion and we reached the car in silence and simply thrust Newton into the back seat. I swung myself into the passenger seat, no sense in having the same argument with Bodie, and picked up the map. "We need to retrace our steps to the A30."
"If we take the road north to Amesbury instead we can pick up the 303 there - it'll be a faster road back to London."
There was a pause while Doyle traced the route, then shut the mapbook with a snap. "Just how well do you know the area, Bodie?"
I glanced at him, grinning. "Been a few years, but well enough not to need directions. But you were having such fun plotting our route this morning I didn't want to disappoint you."
Before he could reply Newton laughing in the back seat caught my attention and I glared at him. I might be winding Doyle up but that didn't give anyone else the right to do it. "I don't remember giving you permission to join in this conversation."
He stopped laughing and glared right back at me. "You never said it was private, either. Anyway," he jangled the handcuffs at me, "I can hardly put me hands over me ears."
Unfortunately, he had a point. I returned my attention to my partner who had discarded the mapbook and was now grinning at me. "Come on then, Livingston, get me back to the concrete jungle."
I picked up the road easily enough - fortunately, since Doyle wouldn't have let me forget it if I'd got lost - and we headed out of town. The midweek roads were quiet and once clear of Salisbury I could put my foot down, although keeping a wary eye out for speed cops. I'd been caught out down this road before.
Spotting a filling station ahead, I slowed and began to indicate; the level of fuel in the tank was getting low and if memory served there weren't that many filling stations actually on the 303. Turning off just to get petrol would be a pain.
"Why didn't you fill up before we left?"
I just knew Ray would have a go. "We had half a tank. As it is we'd probably have enough to get back to town, but there's no sense in running low - we might hit a jam. Anyway, I think she's burning too much - I'll get the mechanics to look at her when we get back."
Doyle shrugged, accepting my excuse. "If you say so. I suppose you want me to pay?"
I'd actually already drawn some money for expenses. But if Doyle wanted to pay, who was I to stop him? "Of course," I beamed.
The owner trundled forward and looked expectantly at me as I got out. "Fill her up, mate." The pump was as old and slow as he was; dispensing something in the region of ten gallons was going to take some time.
I glanced around the nearly-empty and rather untidy forecourt. A very battered old Viva had pulled up at the airline and the driver was checking the pressure on his front tyre. As my partner got out I nodded towards the Viva, intent on winding him up. "Bet that's not road-legal."
Doyle glanced round; it had taken a while for him to lose the irritating habit of wanting to nick every illegal driver he saw. "Probably not. But none of our business, or so you're always reminding me."
I saw Newton was smirking again. Either it was his permanent expression or he was finding something amusing.
The pump had finally dispensed as much as the tank would take, and Doyle took out his wallet. "How much?"
"Five pound forty-five, guv." The owner took the proffered tenner, and ambled away to his hut and till.
"We'll be here all night if we wait for him to come back..." Rolling his eyes, Doyle followed to collect his change.
I grinned and got back in the car, thinking that perhaps now wasn't the time to mention the change I had in my pocket. Newton was still smirking and I glared at him in the mirror. "What's so funny?"
"You two." He didn't elaborate and I began to get curious. This was someone in a lot of serious trouble yet he didn't seem worried. Was he planning something?
I started the car as Doyle returned, noticing with that suspicious part of my mind that the driver of the Viva had also got into his car, apparently without doing anything to his tyre. I pulled away, and he followed.
Damn. I flicked a glance at Doyle, trying not to alert Newton. If it was someone out to snatch him back, we could be in trouble. Doyle spotted my third deliberate glance at him, catching on immediately as I looked into the rearview mirror, and lowered his sunvisor to use the mirror there.
I increased my speed slightly. From what I could remember of the road it narrowed not far ahead, going into villages, and I'd stand no chance of outrunning the Viva. On the other hand, they'd have to slow as well and stood no chance of overtaking. It all rather depended on whether they were armed and prepared to shoot out our tyres.
The Viva had picked up speed as well, and I could see Doyle voicelessly sharing my concerns. A quick glance over my shoulder showed me Newton was enjoying the ride. We were in trouble.
I slid my gun out of its holster and gave it a quick check. I knew it was ok, I'd checked it as usual this morning, but it never hurt to double check, it might just save your life.
And in order to save my life or that of my partner, would I have to take one? They say killing, like most things, gets easier the more you do it. I hope I never find out.
My first kill I'm not sure was even down to me. Three of us on a drugs bust, we all shot the bloke, there was no way of telling which bullet did the killing.
I'm good with a gun, a natural affinity my instructors said. I dunno about that, but it seems to come easy, stationary targets or moving, doesn't make any difference. Good eyesight and quick reactions... that and a willingness to pull the trigger. Killing's another matter though. Was the one thing Macklin expressed his doubts about on my report. He said I had to learn not to hesitate, to be as ruthless with targets that shoot back as I was with the dummies he set up.
Bodie glanced across at me. "All set?" he asked. I nodded. Bloody mercenary. All right, ex-mercenary. Bet he doesn't turn a hair about killing somebody. Christ, I'm partnered with somebody who, in other circumstances, I'd be arresting.
Still he'll not find me lacking if that's what he's implying. I'll watch his back all right. Just hope he does the same for me.
We whizzed past a small police station. "Not thinking we could run for help, were you?" Bodie asked.
I shook my head. "If those blokes behind are what we think they are, the local boys won't be any help. We'll just get them killed. No, we're on our own with this one."
A sudden snort of laughter came from the backseat making me jump. I'd almost forgotten chummy in the back. "You jokers don't stand a chance. Might as well give up now. I could ask my friends to kill you quick."
"How about we kill you quick instead?" Bodie said. "Save us a lot of trouble, that would."
Newton just laughed again. "You can't do that, you're the good guys."
"We're not the good guys, we're C.I.5," Bodie replied and he didn't sound as if he were joking.
I kept quiet but I wondered for the umpteenth time since we had been partnered, just what it was Bodie had joined C.I.5 for. And why Mr Cowley had taken him on.
I might have silenced Newton for a while, but I could see that last comment hadn't gone down well with Doyle. We hadn't been partnered long; long enough for him to trust me when it came to saving his bacon, but not necessarily on any other score. He didn't know what I was capable of - and maybe that was just as well.
I'd never killed - in cold blood, at least - unless the other party had deserved it. Although the definition of what constituted deserving would probably vary somewhat between me and Doyle...
We'd been lucky so far. Since the bad guys' intentions had become obvious the roads had been too busy with oncoming traffic for them to overtake us - once or twice I'd driven up the middle of the road to prevent them - and once we hit Amesbury they'd had no chance to do so. The traffic lights had obligingly stood at green but as we approached the major roundabout junction with the 303 the road widened to two lanes.
We needed to head right, towards Andover and London. The road had sections of dual carriageway as far as the M3 where it would widen out into three lanes, and the lack of oncoming traffic wouldn't help evade us our followers. But the Rover was powerful, it had a full tank and I knew how to drive it to get the best out of it. And we could call in some cavalry once we got closer to London.
The Allegro ahead moved left, then drifted right in front of us. "Make your bloody mind up!" I swore, yanking on the steering wheel and stamping on the brakes. Swerving hard to the left I just missed his rear wing, and stabbed the accelerator to push the Rover forward, intending to power through, undertake and be off up the 303 before the idiot even realised I was there.
From the outer lane, the idiot decided to turn left anyway. Doyle yelped in alarm as for a split second a collision looked inevitable but the Rover was more nimble than it looked and I put the power to good use, spurting away to the left and pulling ahead of the Allegro.
The Viva had been wrong-footed and the dithering Allegro driver held them up still further; I could see the nose of our mucky green follower weaving behind him as they attempted to over, then undertake.
I kept going, noticing that Newton wasn't having as much fun now. Maybe he'd realised that we weren't going to be the push-overs he had been imagining.
"I thought you knew where you were going," Doyle commented wryly, as we flashed past a sign indicating we were 180 degrees out.
I grinned. "I know a short-cut."
"Short-cut to hell," Newton interjected from the backseat. I was getting fed-up with him: "For you, maybe."
I saw the Viva had managed to pass the Allegro; the chase was back on. As we crested a small rise the short strip of dual carriageway came to an end and we popped over the top still a way in front of them.
Ahead in a dip, Stonehenge loomed. "Short-cut, or sightseeing tour?" Doyle asked me.
"Whistle-stop," I told him. "It's only a pile of old bricks; I wasn't planning on stopping."
I flicked another glance in the mirror; the Viva driver was accelerating down the slope behind us. Our options weren't numerous. We had to outrun them as far as the next roundabout - and I couldn't remember how far that was - before being able to turn back towards London, or we stopped and fought it out.
The second didn't rate as a particularly good idea - gunfights had a way of ending up fatal for someone, and I'd rather it wasn't us. It'd be even worse if the public got involved; our careers with CI5 would be over before we'd even started and Cowley would have our balls...
The green car was still bearing down on us and I realised, almost too late, that they weren't just trying to catch us - they were trying to ram us!
Praying the driver of the oncoming Merc had good reactions, I wrenched the wheel right and we sailed past his nose into the smaller road alongside Stonehenge.
In the mirror I saw the Viva driver brake sharply, and unluckily for us the Merc also stopped in time. Not that I had anything against Merc drivers, but a prang would stop our pursuers for good. Speeding away up the hill, I saw driver of the green car reverse to get himself around the nose of the Merc, and turned my attention to the road in front of us. It was narrower; more little bends and awkward kinks to concentrate on, and not a road I knew. I wondered if we could get far enough ahead to lose them?
For once I forbore to comment on Bodie's driving and let him concentrate on the twists and turns of this narrower road. I heard a somewhat belated horn fanfare from the driver of the Merc, clearly resenting being cut up like that. Glancing behind I could see the green Viva had successfully negotiated its way onto our road and was now barrelling down on us as fast as the road and his engine would allow.
Bodie continued to throw the car around each corner and bend and for long seconds at a time we would lose sight of our pursuers but they always reappeared and if they weren't gaining, we weren't either.
The only good thing was the absence of other vehicles on the road. Given the way Bodie was flinging the car around with scant regard for lane division, it was just as well there was no oncoming traffic.
Famous last words. We rounded another bend and ahead of us was a tractor pulling a trailer laden with bundles of hay. Bodie slammed his foot on the brake whilst swearing colourfully in at least three languages. He leaned on the horn although where he expected the tractor to go I wasn't quite sure. The driver of the tractor stuck his hand out of the cab and cheerfully raised his hand in the two figured salute and continued to trundle slowly down the road.
"They're coming up fast," I said, somewhat unnecessarily. Bodie could see that perfectly well in his rear view mirror.
"He's turning!" Bodie said and I swung back to see the tractor was pulling into the next field. Slowly, ponderously, it moved inch by inch off the road. Clearly the driver was dragging it out especially for our benefit. "Come on, come on," Bodie muttered and hit the accelerator hard.
Even as he did so I heard the whine of bullets, my wing mirror cracked and there was the sound of metal being scraped along the side of the car from stern to stem. As we shot past the tractor I caught sight of a startled look on the driver's face. Maybe next time he'd move over a bit quicker.
The Rover's engine screamed as Bodie forced it to regain the speed we'd lost when we encountered the tractor. I wound the window down and leaning out as much as I dared, returned fire. Thanks to Bodie throwing the car from side to side we managed to avoid any serious damage from the bullets now being hurled at us by the guys in the car behind. Two or three more did hit the car though, enough to have Newton cowering in the back seat. I didn't have any better luck in hitting them but at least they knew now that we were willing to fight back.
We were a mile or so further down the road now and bit by bit, Bodie was increasing the distance between us. I had to hand it to him, he could certainly drive. There was just a chance we might still shake them off.
I was still shooting back and a part of my mind was thankful we had met no further traffic, innocent civilians caught up in a gun battle didn't bear thinking about. Suddenly Bodie zigged when he should have zagged and I swear a bullet nearly gave me a parting.
"Sorry 'bout that," Bodie said as I ducked back in, but he didn't take his eyes off the road as he tried to coax a bit more speed out of the Rover.
"S'ok, I had to reload anyway." I groped in my jacket pocket for another clip and tried to brace myself enough in the lurching car, to load it quickly.
Suddenly I was nearly flung against Bodie as he wrenched the wheel abruptly to the left and sent us hurtling along an even narrower road with dense trees on both sides.
"What the hell…?" I demanded.
"Bivouac point," he said, as if that explained it. "We'll either be able to throw them off along here somewhere or we'll make a stand for it."
We shot past a sign that mentioned army manoeuvres. "If we don't get blown up first," I murmured.
"Hey! I've ‘ad about enough of this." Newton made his presence felt again. "I'm getting thrown about all over the place here. Can't hold on to nuthin' with these cuffs on."
"Oh dear, and it's all for your benefit," Bodie commiserated.
I snorted a laugh. Say what you like about him, Bodie was cool under fire. Talking of which, turning onto this track had bought us a few seconds but the Viva was now back on our tail. I gripped the gun and prepared to play target again.
There was an almighty crack and a large spider's web of lines appeared in the rear window, Newton screamed and flung himself flat out on the back seat. I instinctively ducked forward and Bodie slid a little lower in his seat.
"I 'ave 'ad enough of this!" Newton screamed.
"Oh shut up," I told him, cautiously raising my head again. "I thought they were your bloody mates. What's up, not so keen on them now?"
I was turning back to the open window now and just caught the edge of his movement out of the corner of my eye, the flash of the handcuffs in the weak afternoon sun…And then I was fighting for breath… choking… hands scrabbling at my throat…And somewhere I could distantly hear Newton shouting. "Stop! Stop now! Stop here!"
It's at moments like these I'm glad we're trained so well. Just imagine how much more I'd be panicking if I weren't?
I jinked the wheel but Newton had too good a grip to be dislodged like that, and at that speed I couldn't take my hands off the wheel to help Doyle, particularly with the Viva close behind and still shooting.
I had to do something. I risked hanging on with one hand briefly and used my left to chop down on Newton's upper arm. He didn't let go, but it was enough of a blow to make him to relax his hold slightly and I saw Ray manage to get a levering hand between Newton's arm and his throat and gasp in some air.
Newton was still screaming, and for a brief moment I toyed with the idea of doing what he said, stopping and handing him over to his mates. He wasn't worth getting killed over.
Then common sense kicked in. These guys weren't asking nicely, the chances of them peacefully driving away with Newton and leaving us alive weren't high. A small sign at the roadside pointed left and I shot through the gap in the hedgerow onto the gravelly bivouac point.
The tyres spun wildly as I swung the car to the right. The turn-off wasn't as large an area or as heavily forested as I'd been hoping for and reaching the end I used the rough surface to spin the car and brought it to a complete halt, pulling out my gun as I did so.
"Let go." Newton's main purpose in strangling Ray had been to get me to stop, but it wasn't just achieving that which made him obey me.
Doyle pulled forward, still choking.
"OK?" I asked, still keeping the weapon trained on Newton.
"... will be... 'fing 'stard..." Swallowing hard, he reached into the footwell to retrieve his gun which he'd let fall when Newton grabbed him.
We'd gained a valuable few seconds when I turned because the Viva driver hadn't been expecting it, but they'd be turned by now and following us. "Do we get out and run or fight for it?"
"Bet'r off in the car," Doyle shook his head. "...'ere they come!"
As one we threw open the doors on the Rover and using the vehicle for cover, fired. The Viva braked sharply and the passengers returned fire, and for thirty seconds or so it sounded like World War Three.
In a momentary lull I was suddenly conscious of the noise of the rear door opening on the Rover, and Newton throwing himself out. "Doyle!"
Ray had already heard or seen Newton for himself, and as our prisoner ran for the line of trees alongside us he followed. I stepped up the fire in order to give him some cover, which made the Viva's passengers duck for safety but on the blind side of their car the driver carried on firing.
I heard a surprised yelp of pain from my left and nearly stopped a bullet myself as I darted my head up to see if it was Doyle who had been hit. I couldn't see him or Newton clearly; both had made the cover of the trees, and I ducked back down.
There was a pause in the shooting. The other side probably weren't carrying much ammo either, maybe even less than us. If they were as cocky as Newton they'd probably expected us to just hand him over.
My R/T stuttered: Doyle's voice, quiet. "Newton's been hit. Nothing serious, fortunately."
"Nothin' serious! Nothin' serious? I'm bleedin' to death 'ere!" Newton's voice rose in a squeak, which sounded loudly in the silence after the volley of gunfire.
"Shut up, you bloody idiot," I hissed at him. "Do you want them to know exactly where we are?"
"They shot me," he whined but thankfully in a lower tone. "You've got to protect me."
"Oh, now you want us, do you?" I lifted the RT again. "Bodie? Supergrass here is finding us strangely attractive suddenly." I paused to cough, as quietly as I could. When I had a minute I'd think about nearly being strangled by this prat. "Can you swing the car over this way and we'll dive back in?"
"Certainly sir, we offer a door to door service," Bodie said, in a would-be posh voice.
From where we were, crouching low in the long grass, I couldn't quite see Bodie but I heard the car start up and I knelt up to give him some covering fire. There were a few shots from the guys in the Viva but less than before, more cautiously placed. Perhaps they were running low on ammo. That could only be a good thing but I didn't have too many shots left myself, so we needed to make this quick and slick.
I grabbed Newton by the collar and half shoved him towards the rear of the car as Bodie slewed up alongside our hiding place. Newton made a dash for the Rover and I flung a couple more shots across the way before following him.
Approaching the car from the rear, I decided to get in the back with Newton rather than risk even the few extra seconds of getting to the front passenger seat. Also, while I didn't think Newton would give us any more trouble, I wasn't going to give him a chance to pull that stunt with the handcuffs a second time.
Newton had literally dived into the rear seat and now lay sprawled across it. I could hear his voice, raised in fear, screaming at Bodie to go. Bodie was revving the engine ready to take off the minute I was inside. I had a split second to decide whether to pile in on top of Newton or leap for the front seat after all and in that moment, Newton kicked out at me. The unexpected blow caught me forcefully in the stomach and I fell backwards.
I heard Bodie's shout as I hit the ground. In the next instant a shot shattered the driver's side window only just missing Bodie's ear and passed through the car and over my head as I started to my feet. Instinctively I dropped to the ground again and made the only decision I could.
"Go!" I shouted to Bodie. "Get the hell out of here!" Even as I said it, I could see the other guys were back in their own car and moving into position to intercept Bodie. They'd either ram it, or get close enough for a shot they couldn't miss. Either way, unless Bodie went now, none of us would stand a chance. He couldn't afford the extra seconds to wait for me.
I caught sight of his face, absolutely stony, as he looked from me to the approaching car and back again. He gave me a tight nod of agreement, having reached the same conclusion I had, then with a savage thrust on the accelerator that threw up a shower of gravel, he shot forward towards the exit. As it was, the other car clipped the side of the Rover but Bodie was already weaving around them and it sounded worse than it was.
I took aim and blew out the front tyre of the Viva. I tried for a second shot at one of the rear wheels but the gun just gave that ominous click - out of ammo.
The Viva skidded to a halt and all three men jumped out of the car. I could hear their angry shouts as they looked from me to the shot tyre to the dwindling sight of the Rover as it disappeared down the lane.
Time for me to do the same I thought as I headed into the forest. With luck I could lose them amongst the trees.
Damn and blast it! This op was going from bad to worse; losing my partner was not the way to impress Cowley! If only it had been Doyle driving - I was jungle-trained, I stood a much better chance of outrunning the bad guys out here...
But I couldn't do anything about it now. My responsibility had to be the runt in the back seat.
Newton was still moaning, and I cursed him under my breath. "Shuddup, before I turn around and hand you over. It's your fault I've had to leave my partner behind!"
"But they shot me... they're supposed to be saving me..."
"Shame you're not as valuable to them as you think you are."
He was having a hard time believing it. "But it was arranged..."
I stored that fact away for the future; I suppose I already knew it but someone had leaked information. "What seems to have been arranged, Danny-boy, is that they want you to keep your mouth shut. And since we're not keen on giving you up, they've got orders to shoot you instead. So you'd better start praying and being nice to me..."
I belted round another corner. What I had to do now was find an army camp, put Newton in their charge and get back out to look for Doyle. I'd turned onto the road in our original heading; we hadn't passed a camp so far but this was Salisbury Plain for crissakes, I had to run into one soon!
Round the next bend, what I almost literally ran into was a troop smack in the middle of the road. Thank Christ the brakes on the Rover are better than I think they are. I leapt from the car, beaming. "Am I glad to find you!"
Several muzzles swivelled in my direction, and I stopped dead and raised my hands. These lads were only on basic training and none of their weapons should be loaded, but I wasn't about to take the risk. "Take it easy." Unfortunately my movement revealed the Browning tucked into my belt and rather than diffusing the situation the gesture made things worse.
I gingerly fished out my ID and held it out to the sergeant in charge. "I'm with CI5. The man in the back is a prisoner I'm taking back to London, but I ran into trouble."
"Gun as well." I wasn't keen on handing it over, but they had no reason to trust me and I passed him the Browning. The ID was carefully examined. "You involved in that shooting we heard?"
"Yes. But I'm licenced to carry the gun; you can check it out."
"Oh, we will. This CI5, new outfit, is it?"
"Not especially. Although new to me; I was with the Paras." If I'd hoped to influence him in my favour, it didn't work.
"Get back in your car. We'll drive down to the camp and check your story." Instructing the corporal to take over the troop and return to camp, the sergeant motioned another of his men into the rear of the car with Newton, and took the passenger seat himself.
I started the car but was impatient to get this sorted and get back out to find Doyle. "Look, my partner is still out there with armed men chasing him. Can't your men take my prisoner and you come with me?"
"Only got your word for it all, sir." He was polite, but clearly not going to be budged. "Won't take long to sort it out."
Resigned, I started off, hoping the camp wasn't far.
Throwing a quick glance behind me I could see one of the men kick the flat tyre and then move towards the rear of the car - presumably to get the spare from the boot. The other two shouted something, pointed at me and started to run.
With this much of a head start I'd back myself to outrun most men on the straight but it was impossible to get up any speed through the woods. It was all dodging and weaving around the trees, whilst ducking under low branches and trying to avoid tripping over the large roots, half hidden under grass. I'd decided to head into the thickest part of the wood rather than making my way back to the road. If I could just lose them in here I'd have time later to find my way back to civilisation. At this moment I'd be too easy to spot on the road.
I could hear them crashing through the woods after me. If they kept making that much noise I wouldn't have too much trouble staying ahead of them. But then I wasn't being exactly silent myself. How did you move quietly through a wood anyway? Too many broken twigs on the ground cracking as I ran over them. Low branches snatching at me as I passed, some breaking off making more noise. Sound seemed to carry more out here.
I stopped for a moment to catch my breath and take stock of my surroundings. Nothing but trees all around me, their tops so close together I could only see patches of sky in places. I barely knew which direction I'd come from let alone in which to go. This was nothing like hide and seek in the streets I'd walked on the beat or later as a detective in the Met. I knew what I was doing out there. And I didn't get lost.
Maybe I should hide somewhere and wait them out. But even as I looked around for a likely tree, I dismissed the idea. I don't like anywhere that hasn't got a back door, and up a tree would leave me too vulnerable if they should spot me.
The sounds of pursuit got louder and I took off again.
Luckily Knook Camp wasn't that much further down the road. Due to the sergeant in the Rover I was waved straight through the gate and he directed me to park outside the Guardhouse; not the place I wanted to be.
Protesting too vigorously could get me locked up, but I couldn't afford to let much time pass. "Can I see the OC?"
"We need to check your ID."
No bad thing, as long as they got straight on with it since Cowley could vouch for me immediately. However, they seemed more concerned about finding the MO for Newton, who had been whining about his injury ever since we got back in the car.
"It's just a nick. He'll live." I should have remembered the regulars weren't known for their speed of thought. "Look, my partner could be bleeding to death out there while you fuss over his little scratch!"
At last I made an impression. The sergeant disappeared into his office and I heard him telephoning; first a call to the MO then a second where he stood smartly to attention and after explaining about me, said 'yessir' a lot before putting the phone down.
"The Major is coming down himself."
Great. More delays. "Thank you," I said, not without a hint of sarcasm. "What about checking my identity?"
The sergeant picked up my ID and returned to his telephone. "You need to ask for Major Cowley," I called after him.
Before his call had even connected, I heard a car approaching and the Major appeared. Force of habit: I snapped to attention.
"What's all this about?"
"I'm with CI5, sir. I was detailed to collect this prisoner from Salisbury; he's got some information and evidence for us. We were tailed and attacked by three men who were either trying to snatch him back or kill him."
"My partner. I had to leave him back at the bivouac point in order to get the prisoner clear. I'd like to get back out there and see if there's anything left of him..."
At that moment, the sergeant called me. "Mr Bodie, Major Cowley would like a word with you."
Hoping it wasn't "you're fired", I took the receiver from him. "Sir?"
"What the hell's going on?"
"Long story. We were tailed from Salisbury and came under fire. I've had to leave Doyle up on the Plain somewhere so I could get Newton to safety."
"Then get back out there and find him."
"Yes, sir. What about Newton?"
"Let me speak to whoever's in charge."
The Major closed the office door behind him and I waited impatiently, hearing snatches of the conversation and not liking what I heard. The army had no jurisdiction outside the camp, the best I could hope for was that they'd agree to mind Newton, return my Browning and let me go.
At worst, they could hold me here while the local police got involved, which wouldn't help at all.
Mr Cowley obviously managed to pull rank or some strings, and the Major emerged to issue orders, although reluctantly it seemed. "Sergeant, get the injured man seen to and put him somewhere safe until someone else from this organisation arrives to collect him. Mr Bodie, having spoken to your superior and in view of your direct brief from the government I've agreed we won't hold you here. However I can't authorise any of my men to accompany you; if you go after your partner you're on your own."
"That's a pretty normal state of affairs, sir. Could I request the loan of a vehicle? The men I'm after know my car."
He seemed to find that a difficult request as well, but after a few seconds of internal debate, agreed. "I'll leave you with the sergeant."
Everyone relaxed as he left. The sergeant motioned for me to follow him outside, collecting a key on the way, and pointed to a Land Rover. "Borrow that one. Don't bend it."
I grinned. "I'll try not to. What about my gun?"
He frowned. "I'm not sure I should be giving you that back. The Major wouldn't be too pleased to know someone was running around near camp with loaded weapons."
"I notice you didn't mention it to him. Anyway, the guys I'm after are armed. I have to defend myself."
"Well, your superior did confirm you were authorised to carry it. I suppose it's OK."
Five minutes later, I was in the Land Rover and heading back up the road towards the bivouac point...
It had to be at least five minutes since I'd heard anything from them. I'd taken to walking so as to minimise my noise, pausing every now and then to listen for sounds of pursuit. Maybe I'd finally thrown them off. Now if I could just work out where I was, maybe I could head back to the road and try to flag down a lift. I'd discovered I no longer had the RT with me. Must have dropped it back at the clearing, or perhaps since, in my mad dash through the forest. If I still had that, when I found the road, I could whistle up Bodie to come and get me. He'd probably love to be used as a taxi for hire.
That was always supposing he hadn't hightailed it back to London. When I'd told him to go I hadn't really thought about where he'd go. Not that it mattered much, he had no other choice and I'm glad he had the sense to see that. Maybe that's one advantage of a mercenary background. I knew full well that too many of my ex-colleagues would have hesitated too long or refused outright to leave me.
A sudden noise jolted me out of my reverie. Damn, they'd found me again and it seemed they were coming at me from two directions. I backed off in the most opposite direction possible, still trying to walk quietly. Cowboys and Indians had been fun when I was six or seven and the girl next door had been persuaded to be captured and tied up, but this was not my idea of how to spend an afternoon now.
I could still hear them coming through the trees like a couple of small bull elephants but as yet couldn't see any movement although my eyes were darting in all directions. All but immediately behind me, of course. Never have mastered the eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head trick. All the same, suddenly I got that feeling - hairs on the back my neck standing up, itch between my shoulder blades feeling, as if I were at the end of a gun sight. I dived to the right but not quite quickly enough as a bullet put a hole in my jacket and burned my shoulder as it went through.
"Get up and keep your hands where I can see them," a voice snapped. "Over here. I've got him!" he shouted more loudly.
As two other men came crashing through the trees, I realised this must be the third man, the one who I thought was safely back at the car, changing the tyre.
I got slowly to my feet, hands raised slightly. I rolled my shoulder cautiously but my movement didn't seem restricted at all and I seemed to have got away with it. Which was more than I could say for my jacket. The best menders in London wouldn't be able to make that hole invisible. And Bodie wonders why I don't want to wear anything good to work.
The one holding the gun came closer to me and I watched him closely. Another couple of steps and he'd be in range. If I could just get the gun from him, I could hold all three of them off.
He seemed to realise it too, unfortunately, and stopped suddenly, just out of reach. "Throw your gun over here," he said.
It didn't seem worth pointing out my gun was empty. I slid it from the holster and tossed it on the ground at his feet. He crouched and picked it up, never taking his eyes from me as he did so. He didn't look very happy. "You have put us severely behind schedule," he said.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry to hear that," I replied, politely.
He glared and shook his head. "You will be," he said. "You will be." He gestured with the gun. "Move, that way."
We made a strange procession through the forest but there was nobody around to see us. Nor did we have far to go; only a few minutes walking brought us out to a clearing where I saw the Viva parked up, half on and half off a narrow road, the sort mostly used by locals who know it is there.
"Lucky," I muttered.
"Planning," said my captor. He put his hand in his pocket withdrew a small, two-way radio and waved it at me. "We herded you like a stupid, dumb, sheep."
As we drove along I kept my eyes skinned for any sign of help. I really didn't expect to see Bodie but this was army land, for heaven's sake. Where were all the bright little army boys when you needed them?
I was all too conscious as well, of the gun just touching the back of my neck, held by one of the two men sitting in the rear of the car. Even if I did see an opportunity to make it worth while risking grabbing the wheel, my timing would have to be pretty damn good to avoid getting a bullet in the brain. Still, I needn't have worried; I didn't see another living soul as we travelled the increasingly narrow lanes.
"Here we are," the driver announced as he swung the car left into an overgrown drive nearly hidden from the road. He brought the car to a rest outside a small cottage. "See, I told you it was in the middle of nowhere."
The man holding the gun, who seemed to be in charge, got out of the car and gestured to me to do the same. He looked around him with satisfaction. "Yeah, this'll do nicely." He motioned to me again. "Move."
He was cautious, kept out my reach, which was wise. If he'd come close enough I'd have taken him on and worried about the other two afterwards. I didn't want to go indoors.
Our little group stopped at the front door. "Key?" snapped the leader.
The other man grinned and bent down to retrieve it from underneath the pot of flowering geraniums. "Thought they'd forget about that one when they cleared out dear granny's effects."
He opened the door and led the way inside. I felt the gun barrel nudge my back and followed him.
The cottage was empty, of people and furniture. There was a threadbare carpet on the stairs, held down with stair rods, presumably considered not worth removing, but in what, had most likely, once been the living room, the floor was completely bare and dusty. There were two upright chairs, one with only three legs and the other with a broken back, and an old sideboard that looked identical to one my parents had had, too battered and old fashioned to be worth anything but still functional and therefore hard for thrifty people to discard.
The man waved the gun at his colleague. "Tie him up."
The man pushed me down onto the chair with the broken back and then yanked down the dirty net curtain from the window, tore it into strips and used it to tie my hands behind me.
Satisfied he could now relax, the leader tucked the gun into his pocket, looked around him and sniffed. "Place smells damp," he said.
"What with these walls?" the man who seemed to know the place said. He patted the wall nearest him. "Good solid stone, these are."
"Nevertheless," the leader said. "I'd like a fire to warm the place up a bit. See to it, will you?" He looked at me in a way I didn't like. "He's right though, these walls are thick. Could scream your head off all you want and nobody would hear a thing."
I sighed quietly to myself and tried to remain calm and impassive. Here it was then, moment of truth. How much torture was I able to stand? I'd always wondered, but it had never been put to the test before. I had stubbornness on my side and anger could carry you through quite a way and I certainly had more than my fair share of that.
Oh sure, I'd taken my share of knocks and injuries over my career, but received in the give and take of a fight or inflicted in the heat of the moment is quite different from sitting here, helpless, while some goon does whatever he wants.
"Trev, come over here." He gestured to the third man who, up until now, had said nothing and kept out of the way.
I was liking this less and less. I'd seen all their faces and now I had at least one name to go with it. Given that, if I could believe his comment, the other man was the grandson of the cottage owner, I knew too much to be allowed to walk away from this.
Trev heaved himself away from the wall he'd been leaning against and came to lean over me instead. He was a large bloke, well over six foot, I should say, and with enormous hands. I had a really good view as he raised them and slowly clenched them before my face. With the cauliflower ear and the broken nose, it didn't take a detective to guess he had once been a boxer. Light heavyweight would be my guess. This was going to hurt.
"You could always try just asking me what you want to know," I said. "I might tell you. Unless of course matey here, gets his jollies this way, in which case far be it from me to interfere."
"All right," the leader said. "Where will your partner have taken our friend?"
"Straight back to London," I answered promptly, hoping it was true. Newton was clearly more important than we had realised and it was down to Bodie to get him back to headquarters and Mr Cowley.
The man gestured and I was hit by what felt like a brick wall. Never even saw it coming. My head snapped back and the chair wobbled on unsteady legs.
"And leave you here? I don't think so."
"Standard practice, protect the goods first." I caught the movement from the corner of my eye this time and managed to ride the punch a little.
"You're his partner. Your sort puts great store by partners. He wouldn't just abandon you."
I shook my head to clear my vision and spat blood. "We hardly know each other. He owes me nothing." I mentally apologised to Bodie. Although I didn't like his attitude most of the time, I didn't really think he was as callous as he'd like us to believe.
The next punch was to my stomach and I gagged hard and gasped for air.
The leader crouched down beside me and rubbed his chin, thoughtfully. "I'm being unfair to you," he said. "How can you possibly know what your partner has done? Let's try something much easier. What has friend Danny told you?"
This was tricky. Should I go with nothing or everything? ‘Everything' might require details. Ah well, mum always said you couldn't go wrong by telling the truth.
"Nothing. The boss'll question him when he's got him back in London."
I took some small satisfaction from seeing some of the blood spray hit him in the face.
He backed off quickly with an exclamation of disgust. "I don't believe you."
I sighed. "Pity." I'd rarely been more sincere.
He took hold of my chin, forcing my head up. "You are a member of C.I.5, the best of the best..."
"Our reputation precedes us," I murmured.
He backhanded me before continuing. "I know you are trained to resist interrogation..."
"I was away that day." Another slap. What was it DCI Stevens used to say to me? ‘Your sense of humour, PC Doyle, will hinder, not help, your career.' Looks like he was right.
I turned cautiously into the gravelled area, Browning at the ready, but it was deserted. A scattering of bullet cases showed where the cars had stood, and I checked around the bushes where I'd last seen my partner.
Of course, that was a relief in a way; it was a very real possibility that I would come across his body - and I still could. Whoever these guys were, they were serious.
I absently checked the Browning again while I considered the options. This was a large area to search alone, complicated by the terrain. Searching for a person wasn't too bad, but if I was searching for a body - well, there were plenty of places to hide a corpse so that it wouldn't be found for a long time, if ever.
I had to look on the positive side. Doyle might not be as good as me at blending into this sort of background, but he'd been trained and I had to believe he'd evade capture at least for a while, and might have managed to go to ground successfully. I'd better start looking.
I scouted around. It wasn't hard to see which way Doyle had taken - at least I assumed he'd taken it, because I could see where another two sets of feet had heavily flattened the grass, probably running.
The trail led straight into dense woodland, and I set off in pursuit. Picking out the signs - broken twigs, scuffed moss, disturbed grass and leaves - meant it was fairly easy, particularly when those I was following had been running. After a short while, the signs began to get less obvious which I took to mean Doyle had started to take more care, moving quietly in the hope of losing the bad guys, who had in turn slowed.
None of them were about to lose me, though, not with the SAS training behind me. I followed the trail noting where the two heavier treads split up, and stuck to the more obvious of the two, part of my mind assessing how tall and well-built the man probably was. Not the sort of villain you wanted to get caught by.
If I hadn't been so precious about my superior training, Doyle might have been better equipped to cope with this environment. If he'd survived, I'd share those SAS techniques with him; next time, it might be him looking for me.
A bit further on there was a smallish clearing, and I paused, taking in the clues. My heavy-set man; the second follower in boots coming in from the east. Lighter marks, probably left by the running shoes Doyle was sporting, bordered on a larger patch of flattened grass. I scoured it intensely but there was no sign of any injury. Then, a few paces to the south, another set of footprints.
Didn't take a genius to work that one out; three of them, and they'd cornered him. Their footmarks now combined into a path which led me south and almost immediately out onto a lane. The mud at the edge had fresh tyre-tracks; tyres with very little tread on them. The Viva.
I straightened up, and looked both ways. North or South? Whichever I decided, I'd need the vehicle so started to retrace my steps, taking my bearings as I went in order to find the place by road.
Just what were my chances of finding Doyle anyway? They'd obviously put him in the car and so far all the evidence pointed to him still being alive. They had some reason for taking him, I just hoped it was a good enough reason to keep him breathing.
Using my compass, I navigated my way back to the Land Rover in far less time than it had taken to follow Doyle's trail. Once there, I rummaged through the maps in the door pocket until I found one of sufficient scale to be of use, tracing the route to where the Viva had been parked.
I stared hopelessly at the map. I had a starting point; and that was all. The road itself might only go in two directions, but there were numerous lanes and tracks spidering off from it and the Viva could have taken any one of them.
Or none at all. They might have headed straight for the main road, and London. Doyle could be with them, or his body might be in a ditch somewhere...
Just one more, I can take one more. Well maybe two. Ok, two more punches before I give in.
Urgh! Doesn't this guy ever get tired?
I can at least last until that damn church clock chimes again. It'll be four then, how time flies when you're having fun. That's the trick; just dole it out in small, sustainable bits. Don't ever think you can take it no matter what, that's too vague. Keep it simple, keep it small, just one - urgggh - just one step at a time. You need something to hold on to.
Only a few short hours ago Bodie and I were sitting in that café, thinking how good it was to be on our first assignment - and how easy said assignment was. What do they say about famous last words?
I lost my lunch a while ago. The room stinks of my vomit. Bet he's sorry he asked for a fire now, with the heat wafting the smell around the room.
After lighting the fire from some old newspapers and bits of broken furniture, granny's beloved grandson huddled in the corner of the room saying nothing and pretending there was nothing nasty taking place. He glanced over from time to time as if unable to help himself but mostly he kept his eyes averted. Couldn't stand the sight of blood, most likely. Couldn't blame him really, I doubted I was a pretty sight.
My guts felt on fire and one eye was almost completely closed. I couldn't catch a decent breath; every intake just made me choke more on the blood running from my nose.
"Hold it, Trev."
Oh blessed relief. I don't know why he's stopped but it's so damn nice, just for a moment.
I let my chin fall on my chest again, the effort of holding it up too much. The leader came closer, carefully stepping around the mess on the floor, and yanked my head back by my hair. "You are giving Trevor, quite a work out," he said. "And you still persist in telling me lies."
He didn't hear my answer, mumbling as I was, and tugged my hair harder, as if that were going to help my diction. I had the craziest thought that he wouldn't have been able to do that to Bodie. Hastily I forced my mind back to the here and now. This was no time to get distracted. Or perhaps it was. Goodness knows I'd rather be almost anywhere else than here right now.
"Fuckin' amateurs," was what he heard the second time. If I could have managed more words, I'd've explained that they should learn to know when a man is telling the truth, not just keep hitting him trying to get a different response. But I couldn't manage any more and I think he took it as a criticism on their interrogation skills because he stepped back angrily.
"You think this is all we have with which to persuade you? You're wrong. So very wrong."
Somewhere inside I felt a flutter of fear. What was the mad bastard going to come up with next?
"Peter, get some more wood for the fire."
The man who had been studiously looking out of the window, jumped as he heard his name. His glance darted between his leader and me, and then he hurried out of the room.
I swallowed hard and tried to show nothing.
We waited in silence until the nervy man returned with more unidentifiable bits of wood, which he proceeded to lay crisscross on the fire.
"Good, good," the other man said as he took up the small brass poker lying in the hearth and shoved it into the heart of the fire. "Got to keep it nice and hot."
I tensed my muscles and felt the netting bite into my wrists. This was more than I had bargained for. The beatings were no worse than I had had before, although previously I had been free to fight back and the adrenalin had dulled the pain until much later. I could deal with that - and with a broken bone if necessary - I'd done so before - but this...
Trev the gorilla ripped open my shirt. The leader, now the only name I didn't know, glanced up from the fire, grinned at the expression on my face and deliberately spat on the poker. I could hear the sizzling and knew it would be my skin next.
He straightened and moved towards me. I could see the tip, glowing red. Tried to look away but couldn't. Despite myself I shuffled the chair back an inch or so, trying to get away from that monstrous thing.
"All right, I'll talk."
My only hope of finding Doyle was to get on and search for him. I checked my watch; it would be at least another hour before someone arrived from London to pick up Newton but I ought to be back at the camp for that, even if I left them to it and came back to look for Doyle again.
I revved the Land Rover and headed up the road. I had an outline of a search plan; approaching from the north I'd start checking the side roads about a mile from Doyle's last known position, for about a mile along in each case. I'd work south, and if I still found nothing I'd have to call in some help and widen the search.
He moved the poker away slightly. "So talk. Where has your partner taken our friend Newton?"
I tried to think, I needed an answer quickly. I'd have said anything then to stop that glowing stick coming any closer but now I needed to back it up, convincingly.
"Army camp." I struggled to draw more air into my lungs, coughed and tried again. "It was the last thing he said to me. He's ex-army so they'll take him in." I suppressed a smile at the expression of frustration that crossed his face. He could hardly waltz into an army camp and take Newton away. This was just difficult enough for him that he might believe it. Amazing how the brain can work under pressure.
"Hell!" His anger was palpable but the poker was a little further away and I breathed a little more easily. He noticed and shoved it back into the fire. "Just in case," he said. "Just keeping it warm for you. If I find you've lied to me, we'll really see how much punishment you can take."
He was lost in thought for a moment and then straightened. "Pete...no, Trev, go and start the car. We'll take a run over to the camp and see if we can see any signs of activity."
The big man nodded and left the room. I was relieved to see him go as well. If that got two of them out of the way, did I have a chance? I was still tied up and feeling less than mobile but nil desperandum and all that. Never say die - no, never say that.
"And as for you..." The leader rounded on his other colleague. "You stay here and watch him. That shouldn't be too taxing, even for you!"
The hapless Pete just nodded and tried to avoid looking at either of us. The leader made a noise of exasperation and left the room. I heard the cottage door bang and a moment later, the car pulling away over the gravel.
"Hey," I gasped out. His head swung around. "Can I have a drink of water?"
For a moment he looked shocked as if he didn't expect me to speak at all, then he stood. "I'll see what I can find in the kitchen." He toddled off towards the rear of the cottage.
As soon as his back was turned I twisted my wrists this way and that, in an attempt to free myself, but the strips of net were tied tightly and didn't budge. Ah well, on to plan B then.
Pete came back with water in a chipped china cup. He held it while I slurped at it somewhat messily. It was icy cold and helped to soothe my throat a little.
I nodded and he made a return visit to the kitchen.
"Be easier if I could hold it," I suggested when he came back, but he shook his head vehemently. "I can't do that."
"S'not like I'm going anywhere," I muttered. Optimistic I might be but I couldn't see me getting past even an idiot like this in my present state.
"Tom'd kill me if you got loose," he said.
I finished the water and eyed him. "That's a poor joke, isn't it?"
He looked puzzled.
"Your mate won't really kill you. But he'll kill me, sooner or later. I'm not walking away from this, you know."
The berk shook his head violently. "No, no he won't. He'll let you go if you just tell him what he wants to know."
The water had helped ease my ability to speak. "Jesus, just how bloody naïve are you? You really think he's just going to leave me to tell everybody who you all are? He's a killer and you'll be one as well if you don't do something!"
The cup hit the floor and shattered into several pieces. This thought clearly agitated Pete who returned to his place by the window.
I sighed and let my head hang down to rest on my chest again for a moment while I tried to gather more strength for another go. I'd like to take longer to work on him, gradually build up a rapport, gain his trust, but I didn't know how long I had before the other two would get back.
"This your grandmother's place then?" I said next, and his head shot around.
"How'd you know that?"
"You said so," I told him. "I still had all my faculties when you brought me in here, hearing included."
"Oh, oh yeah. Yes, she died last month. The place isn't sold yet, not everybody wants to be this isolated. She liked it though. I used to come here for holidays when I was a kid." He smiled a little at the memory.
"And do you think dear old granny would approve of the use you're making of her cottage?"
He didn't like that. He turned his back on me and stared out of the window. I needed him talking to me. I tried again.
"So how'd you get mixed up in this mess then? Doesn't seem like you're cut out for it?"
He shrugged. "Why does anybody do anything? I need the money."
"There are better ways of earning a living, rather than dealing in drugs, screwing up peoples lives."
"Nobody makes them take it!" he flashed back, exhibiting some spirit for the first time.
"No?" I said. "I could show you plenty of teenage prostitutes who'd tell you different."
He flinched and I pressed the advantage. "C'mon Pete, you're not like those other two. This isn't what you want to be doing. You want a safe job, a quiet life. Wife and kids maybe."
He laughed bitterly. "That's how I've got in this mess. I've got a wife and she's got plans, expensive plans. I've got to get money and quick, if I'm to keep her. Tom said it would be easy money. I didn't bargain on all this."
"This isn't the way out of your troubles, no matter what your friend Tom says."
"Tom's not my friend, he despises me," he interrupted me. "But I'm married to his sister and he has to put up with me. He let me in on this for her sake, not mine."
"And do you really think she'll wait for you when you're stuck in prison for murder?"
"I tell you, that's not going to happen!" he insisted. He sounded close to tears and looked anxiously from the window to his watch and back to the window again.
I felt a bit frantic. How much time had passed already? How far away was this camp? How much longer did I have? How much more could I press him before he cracked?
"I tell you what, mate, you let me die here when you could have stopped it, and I'll bloody well haunt you!"
"All right! All right!" he shouted. "Just shut up, will you?" He came around behind me and I felt him fumble with the ties.
"I don't know how I'm going to explain this to Tom," he continued. "He'll kill me, I know he will."
I felt my hands fall free to my side and brought them slowly up to rub at my wrists, to try and bring some feeling back. "Listen," I said. "Just tell him I got free and knocked you out. There was nothing you could do about it. He might shout a bit but he won't kill you. He'd have a tough time explaining that to his sister, right?"
"I suppose," he said, doubtfully. "But he'll know I wasn't knocked out. I'm not very good at pretending."
"I think I can help you with that," I said, and willed my legs to propel me off the chair, swinging my fist as I did so.
He went down in a heap and I followed him, my legs unable to hold me upright. Fortunately he hit his head on the corner of the hearth and lay still.
The temptation to just lie there myself, for a moment was very strong, but I gripped the chair and slowly pulled myself upright again. The door of the living room seemed a long way off and when I reached it, the front door of the cottage looked even further, but by leaning against the passage wall and sliding my way along, I made it.
It would be just my luck, I thought, as I stumbled across the overgrown lawn, heading for the cover of the forest, for Tom and Trev to drive up now and see me.
Even as I had the thought, I heard sounds of an approaching motor. It didn't sound like the Viva but I couldn't afford to take a chance. I dived behind the nearest bush and then clamped my fist in my mouth to stop myself yelping as my bruised ribs protested.
Not the Viva, thankfully, but an army Land Rover, trundled past my hiding place. They weren't going that fast but I wasn't up to leaping out and flagging them down either. As I lurched to my knees, my hand closed on a large stone. Quickly I snatched it up and hurled it at the retreating vehicle.
More by luck than aim, it hit the wing mirror and the Land Rover screeched to a halt.
Two, very young, soldier boys got out and approached me as I half fell, half stumbled out of the bush and onto the road.
"You'll pay for that," one of them said.
"Pleasure," I said. "Just get me to a phone. And a doctor," I added as an afterthought.
Keeping half an eye on the map, half an eye on my watch and a whole eye on the road I raced recklessly up and down the lanes, meeting no-one, if you discounted the sheep and a brace of pheasants. I rather think I hit one but didn't have time to stop and check. Shame really. I like roast pheasant.
My zig-zag route eventually brought me into the absurdly-named village of Codford St Peter and I joined the A36 to return to Knook Camp. I'd been more than an hour, someone was bound to have arrived from London by now and I wanted to check Newton would be handed over to them. Besides, I'd been out of contact for too long, someone might have heard something from Doyle.
I talked my way back through the gate with remarkably little problem and found the sergeant in his office. "One Land Rover safely returned; no dents, no bullet holes."
He took the keys. "No sign of your partner, then?"
"No. At least I didn't found his body either." I perched on his desk. "But I'm going to need help to find him out there."
"It's a large area. You'd need to go through channels, but I'm pretty sure we could muster up some troops for a search party."
"Thanks." I hoped it wouldn't come to that though. If it did, Cowley was probably going to need to assign me a new partner, if he kept me on at all. "What happened to my prisoner?"
"No one's turned up for him yet. The MO has him over at the surgery; I'll show you. I told him to lock the door, although I shouldn't think the lad will make a run for it."
I followed him outside. "I wouldn't bet on it. He wasn't keen on going to London with us, although he changed his mind when the shooting started."
He laughed. "So many do. You were with the Paras, you said? Seen some action?"
"Some, round and about. Moved on to 22 Reg."
He looked at me with new respect. "Why'd you leave?"
"New challenges. I don't like to be tied down." Having achieved that status, the sergeant didn't seem to think my reasons were good enough for leaving, but he gave up asking questions as we arrived at a neat block with the descriptive red cross on the door.
"Doc, this is the CI5 agent who brought that lad in."
"His injury wasn't serious. I locked him in my examination room, but I don't think he'll try anything." The Medical Officer was older than me but seemed naïve.
"Don't you believe it," I told him. "He only got shot because he tried to leg it from my car. I suppose I'd better check on him."
The MO opened the door for me. Newton was still lying up on the table, nursing his bandaged arm. He scowled resentfully and reproachfully at me. "My bleedin' arm 'urts. When'm I going to get some proper treatment?"
I glared back; conscious of my still-missing partner. "All depends on what you call proper treatment. Left to me you wouldn't be as comfortable as you are."
"Call this comfort?"
He still looked ready to argue the hind-leg off a donkey, and I didn't have the patience or energy. "Lock the door again," I said, walking out.
The sergeant was waiting outside. "Just got a call from the main gate. Someone here for you." He gestured towards the Land Rover heading towards us, and I frowned; the lads would be in a CI5 car, surely...
As it stopped and the passenger door opened, I spotted a familiar curly head through the windscreen, and my partner tumbled out onto the ground, balancing himself by hanging onto the door handle.
"Doyle!" I hollered, initially relieved but almost immediately concerned. "What the heck have you been up to now?"
I was ridiculously pleased to see Bodie, although what he was doing there I couldn't imagine.
"Oh just chatting with our new friends." I aimed for nonchalance but didn't quite dare let go of the car door. I wasn't keen to fall over at Bodie's feet.
"Hmm," he said, looking me up and down. "Interesting technique you have. Find out anything interesting?"
"Bits and pieces," I shrugged.
The young cadet who'd driven the Land Rover came to stand beside me. "The MO's hut is just here, sir."
I sighed and reluctantly let go of the vehicle door. I took one shaky step and then another.
"Want a hand?" Bodie asked.
"Made it this far, haven't I?" I snapped back. All his sarky comments about plods he'd made through training came flooding back to me. He was so smug over his precious SAS training; he didn't think anybody else could possibly match up. I wasn't going to give him a chance to make more out of this than there was. Could have happened to either one of us.
Bodie said no more but merely opened the door to the hut for me and then followed me across the threshold.
A thought suddenly struck me. If Bodie was here, then did that mean…?
"Is Newton here?"
"Yeah, the doc's got him under lock and key."
I began to laugh and then wished I hadn't. "I told them you'd taken him here. They're probably watching the gates right now."
"What on earth did you tell them that for?"
"Most unlikely thing I could think of," I said. "I reckoned you'd've taken him back to London post haste."
He gave me an odd look but a man came forward that could only be the doctor, and I didn't have time to dwell on what it might mean.
You could say Doyle was a sight for sore eyes; except he was the one with sore eyes, and sore-just-about-everything-else as well. I'd seen blokes worked over like that before - the SAS selection always resulted in injuries like it, you had to be sure applicants were tough enough after all - so I wasn't particularly shocked by his appearance.
Silently, I watched the MO working on the myriad of cuts to his face. The bruising hadn't shown itself properly yet, Doyle would be scaring the horses when it did. I'd seen the way Doyle had got out of the Land Rover, how he'd had to hang on to the door and how stiff he'd been while walking into the office, and I knew he was hurting.
The silly sod wasn't about to admit it though. Tight-lipped in answering the MO's questions, he denied having more than a few bruises and insisted he was fine. I'd seen him do this during training as well, carrying on when he'd taken more than enough, even denying a concussion once.
Can't blame him, of course. I've made it plain on more than one occasion how pathetic I think the police are, and he's always trying to prove just how tough he can be. And in spite of what he might think, I'm impressed; initially I had my reservations about him, but I liked the fact that Doyle didn't fall when he was pushed. He had the makings of a good partner; one who would back you up come hell or high water, and I knew a bit about that.
"That cut needs stitching."
"Just stick a plaster on it." Something Doyle and I shared; a dislike of medical men and their fussing.
"Yeah, doc, a plaster will be fine. It's not like you have to save his good looks or anything." Doyle shot me a malevolent look but it wasn't as expressive as usual; I guessed his face was already stiffening up.
It probably wasn't fair to bait him at this point. "You fit, mate?"
The plaster applied, Doyle pushed the MO to one side and stood up. "Fit as I'm likely to be, just at the moment."
Doyle paused, although the way he hung onto the chair made me think it wasn't only because the MO had asked him to. Rummaging in a sports bag, the doc produced a t-shirt and held it out to my partner. "I can't do much more about your face, but at least you can change out of that shirt."
His hesitation wasn't pride at not wanting to accept it, but unwillingness to put it on. Glancing briefly at me, Doyle gritted his teeth and wriggled out of his jacket and the remains of his shirt in one. There were less blood stains on his chest - other than where they'd soaked through - but there were clear signs where punches had landed. He shook out the t-shirt and pulled it on with something less than his usual flexible movement, stifling a yelp as he stretched his arms above his shoulders.
The MO sent me a worried look. "You need to get an x-ray."
"Nothing's broken!" Doyle's head emerged from the t-shirt scowling. "I'm not one of your soldier boys; just let me get on with my job."
Easing himself back into his jacket, he focused on walking towards me, dismissing his injuries and the MO. "So, what's the score?"
"Well, first thing we should do is let Mr Cowley know you're safe." I strolled outside, and Doyle followed. "When I landed up here I had to call in to get clearance so they didn't bang me up, and he said he'd send someone down to collect Newton while I went looking for you. They should be here soon."
"Right. So why didn't you just drive straight for London with Newton?"
Good question. SAS procedures stipulate the mission comes first; fallen colleagues are left to fend for themselves. Doyle knows that; and that even through most of training I couldn't suppress that instinct, falling foul of our instructors for my lack of commitment to teamwork. So why didn't I? Maybe for the first time, my instinct had been to achieve a better outcome than simply completing the mission. Couldn't tell Doyle that. He'd think I was going soft.
"It would have been too far for you to walk, and I wasn't about to drive all the way back to fetch you." I think Doyle might have seen through that one, but hurried on. "So what happened to you? I followed your trail and assumed they'd grabbed you. I just spent the last hour driving up and down tracks looking for you."
"They took me off to grandma's house in the middle of the woods." Doyle saw the beginnings of a smirk on my face. "Yeah, one of them was the big bad wolf. Wanted to know what Newton had told us, and where you'd taken him, and didn't much like the answers I gave him. In the end I said you'd have come here just to get him off my back."
"And lo!, here I am. So, if your nice new friends are waiting outside, what do we do about them?"
"Well, I'd rather like the chance to chat to them again," Doyle growled, clenching a fist to indicate his intentions. "Can we round them up, do you think? Taste of their own medicine?"
"Why not? Let's find out whether they're out there, first." I took off briskly, part of me smirking at the way Doyle kept up with me without a word, much less any groans. If he wanted to play it tough, I'd go along, although I doubt I would have been so callous if I thought he was seriously injured. His pride was more hurt, or at least it would be if I made anything of it.
We borrowed a pair of binos and found a vantage point to scan what we could see of the road outside the main gate. "Over there," Doyle eventually said. "The Viva."
I took the binos and focused where he pointed. "Yeah, it's them. D'you think they saw the army boys bring you in?"
"From there? Bound to have done; we approached from that direction. So, now they probably think I wasn't lying, and that you and Newton are definitely here." I glanced at Doyle; his speech was sounding slightly slurred, but given the beginnings of a swollen lip I concluded it was incipient bruising rather than anything else.
"What about if we fake them into following us, while whoever comes for Newton sneaks out with him?"
I nodded. "Then we'll string them along for a bit, before turning the tables. Let's see what we can find in the way of a dummy."
Doyle caught my arm as I turned away. "Cavalry's here."
The car just coming to a stop at the barrier made my heart sink. I'd been hoping Cowley would send some of our peers for Newton; maybe Lucas and McCabe or Lake and Williams. Instead, I saw Barry Martin emerge from the passenger seat to speak to the squaddie. Just our luck. Cowley obviously thought we were in deep hot water and had sent two experienced agents to bail us out.
Doyle, on the other hand, was pleased to see his mentor. "Barry'll take good care of Newton."
He started towards them and I hauled him back, inadvertently hurting him and making him grimace. "Those guys outside can still see them. We don't want them to know that's our back-up; otherwise our ruse won't work. Wait for them to drive up here."
The squaddie had obviously phoned through, and Martin's car was allowed to drive up to the Guardhouse where the sergeant met them, pointing out where we were.
Jerry Coleman was also one of our instructors and he and Martin came swiftly up towards us. They both reacted in shock at Doyle's appearance. "Bloody hell, Ray, you been fighting with a bus?"
Doyle managed a lopsided grin. "Not quite. The guys who were after Newton were trying their hand at being persuasive."
"And they're now waiting for us outside the gate." Realising that sounded like we were scared of the school bullies, I quickly continued. "We were just talking about how we could decoy them away while you spirit Newton out of here."
"You decoy them away?" Coleman sounded incredulous. "Doyle isn't in a fit state to do anything like that; look at him! No, we'll do the decoying and apprehension while you take Newton back to London."
That was what I had feared. There weren't ranks in CI5; neither Coleman or Martin could give us orders as such, but experience had to count for something and we were supposed to listen to them.
I glanced at Doyle, hoping I was correctly interpreting the mutinous look currently crossing his battered features. "No thanks. These guys have chased us, shot at us, and used Doyle as a punchbag. We'd like the pleasure of taking them in."
"Besides," Doyle picked up from me before Martin could interrupt, "the bad guys don't know who you are. It's our car they know, us they'll be expecting to leave with Newton. Our assignment was to get Newton back to London, and you taking him is the best way of us achieving that."
The older agents exchanged glances, then Martin shrugged. "If you're up to it. We'd better call in and inform the Major."
Half an hour later, the army had come up with a straw dummy with a few too many bayonet holes to be of any further use, with the addition of an old hooded jacket. Even propped upright in the corner it still didn't look real enough; as we turned out of the gate the bad guys were going to be close enough to see what it was.
I could see Coleman beginning to think going along with us was a bad idea, even though the boss had sanctioned it.
Doyle was musing. "How about if I sit in the back seat with the dummy? They won't realise it's not really Newton until you start to turn; and I could pretend to recognise the car, and shove the body down so they don't have a clear sight of it?"
"That could work..." Martin also didn't look happy, apparently still not convinced of Doyle's ability to function. "You're sure you want to do this?"
We could all see it was a blatant lie. Doyle wasn't fine, but I was satisfied that he wasn't going to let us down either. Maybe this partners thing would work out, after all.
"Well, let's get to it, then." I jumped into the Rover and started the engine while Doyle got into the back seat. "All set?"
"No time like the present," I said, gripping the dummy tightly to make sure it didn't slip sideways too soon.
Bodie put the car into gear and we slid smoothly out of the gate. Bodie giving a mock salute to the guard on duty as we passed.
At the due moment, I pretended to give a start upon seeing the Viva, pointed dramatically out of the window and then shoved the dummy over to sprawl out along the seat.
"Does RADA know about you?" Bodie enquired over his shoulder.
"Did it work?" I asked, ignoring him.
"Yup," he said with satisfaction. "Here they come."
As Bodie accelerated along the A36, I sat up and gingerly twisted to see between the cracks in the rear window. Sure enough I could see the green Viva hurtling up the road after us.
I had a sudden thought of Pete and wondered if he were still back at the cottage or had come to and made a run for it. I was rather glad he wasn't with the other two right at this minute. I'd cheerfully arrest him later for his part in the drug dealing and the rest of it, but he wasn't in the same class as his mates and I'd rather not shoot him if I didn't have to.
Thinking of shooting made me take out the spare gun I'd borrowed from Coleman. It was good to feel the weight of it and know I was free to fight back again. I checked the chamber and clicked off the safety.
"Listen, they're coming up a bit fast. You know Barry said to give him and Coleman at least a few minutes head start."
"Trust me, Doyle, I know what I'm doing," Bodie said. "I'm just enticing them into our trap, letting them think they've got us, when actually it's the other way around."
As he spoke there was a sharp, metallic clang that sounded somewhere underneath me.
"They're going for the tyres! If they hit one of those, they will have us, never mind your clever plan!"
"Well maybe you could help discourage them a bit," Bodie snapped as he put his foot on the accelerator and increased the gap between us.
I wound down the window on my side, knelt on the seat and returned fire. It was more by way of showing enthusiasm than any likelihood of hitting them, the way the two cars were swaying from side to side of the narrow road.
"Hold on," Bodie said, as he swung the wheel sharply right. His warning came a little too late and I fell heavily across the dummy on the far side of the seat. A few strands of straw were pushed out by my falling on it and poked me sharply in the face.
"Doyle, you all right?"
His question made me realise how slow my reactions were. I was still lying there when I should be back up in my position.
I gripped the strap and hauled myself back up to a sitting position. "I'm fine, ok?" I said. I was more cross with myself than with him but I was fed up of having to argue with everybody.
"Just checking you hadn't gone to sleep back there," he said mildly, never taking his eyes from the road.
"They're still with us," I said, glancing out the rear window.
"We're just coming up on that bivouac point again," Bodie said. "I thought we could take 'em in there."
He sounded positively gleeful about the prospect. Ever since we'd got rid of our handicap, Newton, Bodie had been sounding more and more like a kid on a picnic than a responsible member of the security forces. Me, I'd just be glad when this was all over and we could head on home. A simple operation had turned into a right mess and that wasn't what I hoped for on our first mission. All we could do now was try to salvage something from the mess and hope we didn't get our heads handed to us when we got back to headquarters. I'd already got the impression Mr Cowley didn't like failure.
Taking advantage of the reasonably straight road, I leaned across and wound down the other window in preparation. No sense in breaking them if we didn't have to.
"Get ready." Bodie warned and I took hold of the strap again. A second later and we were skidding into the same open space we'd first been in only a few short hours before.
The Viva hurtled in through the gap moments later. They were ready for us but we had two guns against one as Bodie had pulled his the moment we'd stopped but the driver of the Viva, that mad nutter Tom, had to concentrate on controlling the car as they skidded across the gravel.
Also, we were shooting from a steady position from behind the car doors. Although they had some protection inside the moving car, Trev would be finding it hard to get any accurate shots off.
Suddenly, with a loud crack, their windscreen shattered and I thought they'd be forced to stop but instead the car seemed to speed up, heading right for the trees surrounding our open space.
With a sickening crunch of metal on wood, the car crashed into a large oak. The bonnet crumpled and steam started billowing out.
"Got 'em!" Bodie said and took off at a run towards the car. I started to follow him but before I'd gone more than a few steps the car RT crackled into life and I heard Barry Martin's voice.
"Doyle? Bodie? We're being hit. D'you hear me? We need assistance now!"
"Bodie!" I skidded to a halt just a few feet from the Viva. Doyle was holding the R/T and gesturing madly at me. "Martin and Coleman are being hit, we've got to get back and help them!"
I looked back at the wrecked car. Neither occupant was moving; through the open window I could see one of our shots had hit the driver and the passenger didn't look up to even getting away, much less causing us any more bother. Heeding the increasingly frantic yells from Doyle, I hared back towards the Rover.
"Do we know where they are?"
"Not yet." Doyle was calling to Martin, trying to get more details, but there was no response. Not that I was going to wait for one; Martin and Coleman had intended to leave the camp no more than ten minutes after us and head south, they couldn't be that far away and it shouldn't be that hard to find them. Gravel spewed as I accelerated away and I saw Doyle wince as I banged him against the door again. "Maybe you should put the seatbelt on."
The glare I got was scathing. "What, and get trapped in here when you manage to wrap us around a tree?"
"I'll have you know I've never yet wrapped a car around a tree..." Skidding around the next corner I found it was a sharper bend than anticipated and had to hold on to the wheel tight to avoid running out of road. "But there's always a first time," I grinned manically to Doyle, as I straightened the car up without losing any speed.
The R/T crackled and prevented his reply; static at first, then we both heard a screech of metal and a crash, then Martin's voice. "We're being forced off the main road... not a mile from the camp, a small turning to the left..."
"We're coming! Try and keep transmitting!" Doyle was left holding a handful of static again as I reached the main road, pulling out with the merest of checks to make sure nothing was going to run into us.
The road was straight past the camp, and I put my foot down again, glancing at the mileometer to try and pinpoint when I might need to turn left - if there were no visible signs, like a smashed vehicle or the odd body or two.
"Martin!" Doyle was reluctant to let go of the R/T connection. "What's happening!"
Although we could hear a transmission, it sounded like Martin was talking to Coleman. "We've got to leave the car!" There was another crash and the sound of shots; several close together, and then staccato single blasts. "That building..."
The R/T went dead. A quick glance showed me that Doyle was white-faced, staring at the handset for a short moment before dropping it and taking up the borrowed handgun to check it.
Concentrating on the road I made the brakes screech as I suddenly spotted tyre tracks and badly chewed up grass on the verge, and a left turn. Making it with only inches to spare, I sent the Rover through the gap onto the track and accelerated again, or at least as much as I could given the state of the surface.
"Are you sure this is it?"
"Nope, I'm not sure." I braked heavily and jinked at the wheel to avoid a hole which could have taken the chassis out. "But Martin said less than a mile and this was less than a mile."
As the sound of gunfire reached us, Doyle wound down his window. "It's ahead."
"Then let's get ready to join the party." I didn't bother to reach for my gun yet; I needed both hands on the wheel on that road, but it was within easy grabbing distance in my belt.
We rounded a bend to find that the already poor track petered out into nothing but a mud lane going in two directions and I slid, rather than braked, to a halt. Doyle stuck his head out of the window to listen. "Left," he directed me, and I took off willingly, heading for the broken-down barns.
The noise of the shots was much louder as we approached, but I heard something else, a car engine roaring. Too late, I realised that I should have blocked the track and hauled on the wheel, but the heavier Volvo was moving quickly and catching our rear wing it smashed us to one side, the muddy surface providing little grip for our tyres.
We spun a neat half-pirouette but fortunately came to a stop without landing in a ditch or hitting anything else. I relaxed my grip on the wheel and stretched my aching fingers. Doyle was ashen, trying to rub one arm and hold his ribs at the same time. "Maybe you want to reconsider the seatbelt?" I asked him.
He was too shaken to answer, opening the door instead and stumbling out. I followed, horribly aware of the silence outside. Were we too late?
The look of relief on Doyle's face on hearing Barry Martin's voice was palpable, and probably matched by my own. We ran - not easy in the mud - towards the barn. Martin was kneeling by Coleman, checking his pulse.
"We were making for the barn but they shot out one of the tyres. Coleman had to stop the car and we were running for the barn when Newton leapt at Coleman and laid him out before attempting to run towards the Volvo." Martin indicated the very dead body of Danny Newton, a few feet away. "They shot him, and then fired at us. I managed to drag Jerry this far before I returned fire. Then we could hear your car; they'd obviously done what they needed so they retreated."
Newton couldn't have hit him that hard; Coleman was already coming round. I walked over to check Newton's body. He was still wearing the handcuffs; the doctor's neat work on his shoulder superfluous now. He looked surprised. Little whining runt shouldn't have been after the first attempt, but I suppose hope springs eternal. I doubted he would be missed, although Cowley would be furious at the loss of a star witness.
Doyle joined me. "Definitely dead?"
"Count the bullet holes," I told him. "Every one a prize-winner."
I dropped to one knee and gently closed Newton's eyes. "Stupid, stupid git." I glanced up at Bodie. "What did he think he was doing?"
Bodie shrugged. "He wasn't the brightest tool in the box and there's no honour among thieves. Or in this case, murdering drug dealers."
His callousness irritated me. Whichever way you looked at it, a man had died here and it shouldn't have happened.
Awkwardly I got to my feet, ignoring Bodie's outstretched hand. "Come on, let's just get back to London and face the music. This whole op has been a bloody washout."
"Not your fault, lads. You did your best and I shall tell the Major so."
Just for once I wasn't in the mood for Barry's bonhomie. "Thanks, but we can make our own report."
A groan came from behind us. "What's going on?"
Coleman was back on his feet but looking unsteady, and I hurried towards him. "How's the head?"
"Thumping..." He ran a hand round the back of his skull. "Never have thought Newton would manage that hard a blow. I thought he was concerned with saving his own skin anyway, when they first attacked us he was terrified and when we told him to run for the barn he seemed intent on doing just that. I could've sworn he was beside me, but obviously not..."
Martin had joined us. "He dropped back, just far enough to thump you. It was a rabbit-punch, not much else he could do with his hands cuffed, but he had some power behind it."
Doyle was shaking his head. "I still can't understand why he did it. They'd already shot him once. What made him think they'd be any different this time?"
"Arrogance." I'd spent most time with Newton and reckoned I had him sussed. "He thought he was important to them but the only thing that made him valuable was what he knew, and once they'd seen they wouldn't get him back it was better to kill him. What I don't understand, is who were those guys in the Volvo and how did they know they had to follow you? The Viva was chasing us; they clearly believed we had Newton."
"It's obvious what happened. Those guys who beat up Doyle must have called up reinforcements because they knew they couldn't snatch Newton back from an army camp. There's a phone box right by the gate."
Doyle was nodding at Martin's rationalisation. "That must be it. And talking of the guys in the Viva, we should get back up there and see if there's anything left to question."
"The driver won't be talking, I can guarantee that; and the passenger didn't look too bright either."
"They tried to take a shortcut through the trees," Doyle explained to Martin and Coleman. "But the trees didn't get out of the way." He didn't seem as concerned about the probability of those two being dead; but I suppose what they'd put him through would colour anyone's attitude.
"Will you two be all right?" Coleman still looked shaky; but Martin shooed us away.
"I can change the tyre and we'll throw Newton in the boot; then we'll head for London. I'll stop and call Major Cowley to let him know what's happened."
At Doyle's suggestion, we stopped at the camp to call for an ambulance and the local police before heading back to the bivouac point. As I'd thought, there was nothing that could be done for the driver - with a flat tone of distaste Doyle had named him as Tom - and although the passenger - Trev - was still alive it was touch and go, and the ambulance men weren't encouraging about his chances.
"What about the cottage?" Doyle ventured next. "The third man, Pete. I knocked him out; he might still be there. Not that he'll be able to tell us much, I shouldn't think. He's just a minor pawn in a much bigger game, and he didn't even want to play in the first place."
I was willing, but: "Do you know where to go then?"
Doyle nodded, pointing south, then wavered a little, and pointed to the west before dropping his arm. "Well, sort of. We could drive around..."
"If you don't know precisely, I'm not spending what's left of the daylight driving up and down these tracks again. I shouldn't think you want to, either."
"Nah, not really. I suppose we should call in and get some orders from Mr Cowley."
That sounded like a better idea, and after the local police arrived we drove back to Knook Camp. Leaving Doyle in the car - his lip was now swollen to the extent that it was getting hard to understand him so there wasn't much point in him trying to talk on the phone - I called in, expecting to get a rocket.
Instead, Mr Cowley sounded resigned, having already heard most of it from Barry Martin. "It sounds like you lads did your best. I gather Doyle was put through the mill?"
I looked through the window to where Doyle was slumped in the Rover. "He was worked over, sir. He's not badly hurt but not a pretty sight either."
"I'll organise the rosters to allow him some time off and partner you up with someone else."
"Not permanently?" I realised that for all my previous resistance to the partnership, I didn't want Mr Cowley to split us up. Doyle still had some rough corners and could do with a bit more training, but if I had to rely on someone in this outfit then it would be him.
"Och, no. Just until Doyle is fully fit again. You don't get rid of him that easily."
"Damn." I said it with regret but think Mr Cowley saw through me, as he chuckled.
"Get yourselves back to London. I'll see you here tomorrow."
Dusk was falling and Doyle was half-dozing but roused slightly as I got back into the car. "What'd he say?"
"Get back to London. I think we got away with it."
"Got away with it? Failing, y'mean?"
I paused as I reached to start the engine. I suppose we had failed in our assignment to bring Newton in. But as far as I was concerned, we'd also proved our partnership could work and I knew I could rely on Doyle. "Depends on how you define failure, mate. We're both still alive."
"I suppose that's a result." I peered at him through the gathering dark then settled back in the seat. "I'm going to sleep off my headache; don't wake me until we get back to somewhere more civilised."
Grinning, Bodie started the engine and switched on the lights. "Yes, Stanley..." Stanley? Oh yes, well if Bodie were Livingston, I suppose that did make me, Stanley. I closed my eyes and started to relax then opened them again. "I suppose if we make good enough time, you can still see that bird you were on about earlier."
A grin spread across his face. "Now that's a very good suggestion of yours, Doyle. Hold on!" And he put his foot down as if we were still being chased by gun toting bad guys. I rocked in my seat, thoughts of a gentle ride back vanishing. Me and my big mouth!