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


Torn Loyalties


         I felt the bite of a bullet graze my shoulder as I dived into the dark water of the canal. It was icy cold and I had to fight the impulse to gasp with the shock of it.
         I kicked downwards, the water willingly dragging me down, the weeds eagerly reaching up for me. If I wasn't careful I wouldn't be able to rise again even if it were safe to do so.
         I tried to open my eyes but the water was too murky to see anything so I just tried to hold my position and my breath. I'd felt the water shift with more bullets following that first one but would they think me dead and give up before I was forced to the surface for air?
         I was conscious of the beat of my heart, each thump seeming more frantic than the last and chiming in time with the words in my head.
         Bloody. Fucking. Murdering. Bastards.
         Finally I had to take a breath, whether they were gone or not. It might be my last if they were still waiting on the bank but I had to surface. I kicked out, had a moment of panic as my foot caught on an old, long abandoned bicycle, a brief struggle and then – oh blessed relief – I felt the cold night air on my face and my lungs dragged in huge gulps of air.
         I did a quick 360° turn and was relieved to see nobody on either bank. I struck out for the far side, taking longer to make the few strokes than I felt it should have done. But then swimming fully clothed, including leather jacket, isn't usually recommended.
         The anger driving me wasn't enough to boost me out of the water. My arms felt too heavy to lift and I couldn't get a purchase on the muddy grass. I had just managed to sling one leg up and was digging in a toe to try and drag myself a little further up when I heard a motor and saw headlights heading my way.
         I slipped back into the water, relinquishing the headway I'd made. If they'd come back for a better look I'd have to keep my head down, literally.
         I pressed back in against the bank, just keeping my face out of the water ready to go under again the moment they came closer. Hiding like this was beyond frustrating when all I wanted to do was leap out of the water and smash my fist into their faces.
         Bastards. Bastards. Bastards.
         "See anything?"
         "Nahhh. Kids probably. And probably long gone now."
         "Shots fired, the caller said."
         "Been watching too much telly if you ask me. Come on, let's radio the sergeant and move on."
         Not them then. Police.
         "Hey!" I hailed them, gagged on a mouthful of canal water, spat it out and tried again. "Down here. Give us a hand."
         Astonished they might have been but they hauled me out of that stinking water damn quick.
         They didn't want me in the back of their nice clean squad car but they also didn't have much choice. Could hardly leave a man shivering to death on the side of the canal. Besides, whether they believed me or not, my insistence that I was a member of CI5 needed investigating.

         Adrenaline can only carry you so far. Finally safe for the first time that evening and the warmth of first the car and then the police station made it easy for me to start to slump. My other injuries were making themselves felt now as well and wrapped in a rough blanket and with my hands around a steaming mug of coffee my eyes started to close.
         Only to have them jerk open a second later to escape Stevie's pleading expression begging me to save her.
         Anger coursed through my veins, warming me more than any amount of coffee could. I began to marshal my thoughts into some order. Those bastards were going to know what it was like to have no escape, no place to hide. Cowley would have every man on the squad out looking for them, I'd see to that. And when we caught up with them...
         "Ray!" Bodie's shout interrupted my thoughts.

         In my haste to get to my partner I barged past the young copper who'd been showing me the way and skidded to a halt in front of Doyle, swiftly assessing his physical state. Various cuts, bruises that were just beginning to make themselves visible, and he looked like the proverbial drowned rat but nothing overly serious. Not that I wouldn't get him over to a hospital as soon as possible; the message I'd received said he'd been dunked in a local canal and the possibility of some infection was no joke.
         "Been swimming?" I asked wryly.
         His eyes met mine. Perhaps not surprisingly there wasn't a flicker of amusement, but it wasn't just a lack of humour over his situation. He might be cold on the outside but inside he was in turmoil, his gaze scorching - and yet haunted.
         "Ray? What is it?"
         He dropped his eyes back to the cup of coffee as though he were too tired to keep his head up, and I dropped to one knee in front of him. "What happened?"
         As he glanced at me I could see I hadn't been mistaken in what I'd seen. Before he could answer I saw an involuntary shudder shake his whole body and decided that whatever it was, it could wait until later and he needed a check-up.
         "C'mon mate. I'm getting you to the hospital."
         As an indication of how serious the underlying problem was, I met with no resistance, verbal or physical, to that statement; which in itself worried me more than anything he could have said. Handing me the half-finished mug of coffee and pulling the blanket tightly around himself, Doyle moved stiffly towards the door.
         The coppers let us pass without comment, but there was something on their faces which told me more had happened than I knew about yet, even if they'd only heard it from Doyle.
         As soon as he was huddled into his blanket in the passenger seat I started the engine and put the heater on full blast; the journey wouldn't take long but there was no point in letting him get any colder.
         "They didn't tell you, then."
         It took me a second to work out that was a belated answer to my earlier question. "The message from HQ said you'd run into trouble and to pick you up. What else?"
         "Stevie's dead."
         Swinging the car in the direction of Bart's I let that one sink in without answering. Ray had been meeting Stevie once she'd finished work, before going off-duty. It didn't take two of us and he'd got the short straw.
         There were obvious questions; the first being 'how', but so often in our job the how didn't matter, it was the 'why'. In any event, I wasn't going to ask them now, although it didn't stop me wondering what had gone wrong. Stevie Salter was one of CI5's staff who we occasionally used when we needed something checked out in a business environment. Being office-trained she could blend in far better than many agents who didn't know one end of a typewriter from the other; and she'd proved to have a natural talent for sniffing out dodgy paperwork.
         I wasn't even certain exactly what she'd been working on, just that we'd had her in place for about ten days and we'd been assigned the daily meet.
         Parking in an ambulance bay I unloaded Doyle into Casualty, making sure someone was aware that he needed attention, before I went back to move the car. After finding a parking bay, I lifted the R/T to call Cowley, but HQ couldn't patch me through. "He's out with a team following Doyle's report."
         "OK. Just let him know I've picked up Doyle from the police station and brought him to Bart's to be checked over. I'll call in as soon as I know what his condition is."

         Doyle wouldn't normally be objecting to a pretty nurse undressing him, but so far she had only managed to get his jacket off. "Mr Doyle, please! Your clothes are damp; you can't stay in them."
         "Come on, Doyle. They just want to put you in a fetching gown." I attempted to jolly him along, but my humour vanished as I spotted an unmistakeable rip and bloodstain on the shoulder of his shirt. "Why the hell didn't you tell me you'd been shot?!"
         He glanced at it. "It's nothing. Just a graze."
         "Anything else you ought to tell us? You're not hiding any other 'grazes'?"
         "Nothing." He shook his head. "Get me some fresh clothes?"
         "Christ, Ray, just let the girl undress you, will you? You can't want to stay in stinking, clammy clothes? And when the doctors say you can leave I'll pick you up some gear and not before."
         We've been in this sort of situation on numerous occasions, and Doyle knew I meant what I said. He also knew I'd help him 'escape' as soon as he was fit to do so, never mind what the doctors said, and reluctantly allowed the nurse to unbutton his shirt.
         I picked up his empty holster. "They got your gun?"
         "And my wallet." I saw him shudder again, not entirely due to the chill in the air. I waited, but that seemed all he wanted to say. I could wait for the details - he'd need to report properly to Cowley anyway - but knew my partner well enough to see that his mind was racing.
         I was just trying to decide whether to probe deeper when a doctor arrived. "I'll get a coffee," I murmured, not even sure he'd notice I'd gone.

         "Bodie." I halted him before he could leave and dragged my head up to look at him so he could tell I was serious. "Get me some clothes, now. I'm not stopping here."
         He gave me a searching look and finally nodded and left the cubicle, pulling the curtain around as he did so for that mockery of privacy hospitals cling to.
         "Oh come now, Mr Doyle, our hospitality isn't that bad." The doctor aimed for a jocular tone that fell flat with the look I gave him.
         He was young and inclined to be horrified at the extent of the bruising starting to show up on my body. If he stuck around long enough he'd see a lot worse but I saw no point in telling him that now.
         He tried further unsuccessful attempts at conversation as they all do and must have got fed up of my monosyllabic replies because he finally snapped and suggested a stomach pump to clear out any remaining canal water. Another glare took care of that suggestion but he had to get in his parting shot.
         "Canal water's no joke," he said. "Can't guarantee you won't be laid up for a good 24-48 hours."
         I shrugged and he finally left me alone to await Bodie's return.

         By the time he did show up I was nearly screaming with frustration. I did not want to be lying here counting the cracks in the ceiling, surrounded by bright lights and briskly efficient people and certainly not the association of death. I wanted to be out there, doing something. Finding two particular faces to use my fists on.
         While I was dressing in clean jeans and sweatshirt I was conscious of Bodie studying me carefully. He knew something was up and I wouldn't be able to put off telling him for much longer. I just didn't know how in control of myself I would be in the telling.

         "Home then?" Bodie asked as I, somewhat stiffly, eased myself into the passenger seat. My ribs were definitely tender from the kicking I'd endured.
         The Capri seat still felt a bit damp from the earlier journey but I ignored it.
         I gave him much the same look as I had done the doctor's stupid questions. He took it in much better part.
         "OK, OK, just checking." He started the car and pulled smoothly out of the car park.
         "Cowley called," he said after long minutes of silence. He glanced across to make sure I was listening. "Nothing left at the warehouse. Clean as a whistle." He paused. "Except for Stevie's body, of course." Another pause and another sideways glance at me as I tried to unclench my fist and relax a little. "He said something about calling her parents when he got back to the office."
         "And how's he going to explain that their daughter, who had a nice office job, a nice safe office job, working for the civil service, has been tortured and murdered in an abandoned warehouse? Do you think he's got a nice turn of phrase and a decent proverb for that, Bodie?"

         OK, now we were getting a bit closer to the crux of the matter. Cowley hadn't told me much; initially I had imagined that was because beyond the facts there wasn't much to tell, but in the back of my mind I had known there was more. Doyle's behaviour from the moment I'd got to the police station had told me that.
         Witnessing Stevie's death would have been bad enough anyway, but bad as it is, seeing someone killed is nothing new for us. But tortured?
         I shot him another glance. His normally mobile expression was fixed, jaw locked rigid, and I put off further questions until I could get a drink inside him. Even then, I could have trouble getting him to open up and tell me everything. This was going to be rough.
         I pulled up in front of a small local shop. "You got much scotch in?"
         "Some... enough."
         "I'll grab a bottle anyway." In truth, it wasn't just whisky I was after - I didn't intend to drink much - but fruit juice and bottled water for Ray. I'd swallowed enough mucky water in my time to know what it could do to your system.
         Doyle didn't take any notice when I returned to the car with several bags, but when we eventually reached his place and I carried them all upstairs he was at first puzzled, then resigned. "I don't need mothering, Bodie."
         "I'm just thinking ahead. I don't want you calling me at two in the morning."
         Leaving me to take the bags to the small kitchen, Doyle slumped carefully onto the sofa. I found two glasses and poured a healthy slug of whisky in each, carrying them with the bottle back to the lounge. "Get that down you."
         He merely sipped at it and I wondered if he was already starting to feel the effects of the canal water. "Come on then. Let's have it."

         I took another sip of drink and avoided his gaze.
         "Come on, Ray. Get it over with. First time's the worst."
         I managed to quirk my lips in an approximation of a smile, knowing he was right. It had to come out sometime and maybe better here and now with Bodie listening than tomorrow in Cowley's office.
         I tossed back the last of the drink in my glass and poured another but didn't drink. I sighed and leaned back against the cushions, eyes closed, prepared to tell my story.
         "I met her at that café as usual."

         "Hi Ray." Stevie reached up and gave me a kiss on the cheek as I rose from my seat at the street café to greet her.
         She dropped into the opposite chair and the waiter, who had been hovering, came over swiftly, pad in hand, to take our order.
         "Just coffee," I told him, glancing at Stevie. "Unless you want anything else?
         She shook her head. "No thanks. I'm having dinner with Paul later."
         "How's that going?"
         Her face lit up. "Oh he's wonderful. He's just got a promotion and we're celebrating." Then she flushed and looked even prettier. "I think he might be going to ask me to marry him."
         "Hey that's great. Congratulations, love."

         "She was excited. Thought she'd found something interesting, useful."
         Bodie just nodded. Letting me tell it at my own pace.

         "I think I've finally found something."
         It was pleasant out here, catching the last of the September evening sun. I was in no hurry to get home, having nothing on this evening and even if Stevie were practically an engaged woman, she was still very easy on the eye. I stretched my legs out, reached for the coffee cup and cocked an eye at her. "Come on then, give."
         She leaned forward, all eager to share her news.

         "She said there was definitely a rotten apple in the barrel. One of the accountants not quite as respectable as his partners."

         "On the surface it all seems very respectable," she said. "And I really think most of them are above board. But there's one who is definitely dodgy. I found some papers this afternoon I certainly wasn't meant to see. My bag wasn't big enough to hide them in." She indicated the small shoulder bag hooked over the back of her chair. "So I posted them to myself."

         "Great! So we've got some hard evidence then!"
         I glared at him and he looked slightly abashed. "Sorry, Ray. But you know I want to get these bastards as much as you do and this can only help."
         "I want the ones who pulled the trigger," I muttered.
          "We'll get them," Bodie said, seriously.
         I hesitated a moment, then nodded, accepting, at least for the moment, the strength of his commitment.
         "So what happened then?" Bodie said, after a moment of waiting for me to continue.

         Stevie sat back in her chair looking pleased with herself, as well she might.
         "Proper little Mata Hari, aren't you?" I said, amused by her enthusiasm. "So you should get them, when? Tomorrow?"
         She nodded. "The envelope would have left the postroom about four, so if the Post Office play ball it should be delivered tomorrow morning."
         "If Cowley doesn't demand them sooner from the main sorting office," I said. "I'll call him and see what he wants to do. Nice work, Stevie."
         Her smile of pleasure dimmed as she glanced at her watch. "Ohh, I must get going. Sorry Ray. We are done, aren't we? I have to get home and get changed."
         "Come on." I rose from the table. "I'll give you a lift. Can't have you late for your dinner date."
         I took her arm and led her around the corner to the side street where the Capri was parked.

         "They must have followed her when she left the office. A very neat pick up just as we reached the car."

         Reaching the car I'd just bent to unlock the passenger door for Stevie when I felt the unmistakable jab of a gun barrel in my side.
         "Our car's just over there. Take a ride with us."
         I straightened up slowly. One man by my shoulder and a slight turn of my head showed me another one beside a wide-eyed Stevie. The guns were held in their jacket pockets for the sake of any passers-by but there was no doubt they existed.
         If I'd been on my own or with another trained agent I'd have reacted then, taken my chances on being faster than them, but Stevie wouldn't have picked up her cue. She was an instant hostage and could even be shot while I attempted to play hero. So I made a gesture of surrender and submitted to being pushed in the direction of their car, a nondescript green and slightly battered Cortina.
         I was made to get into the passenger seat while Stevie was pushed into the rear with a gun still held on her; on both of us.
         "Going to be a bit late for dinner, love," I called over my shoulder in what I hoped was an encouraging tone.
         "Shut up," the driver said, while the man in back chuckled. "Might not even make it at all."
         I heard Stevie draw a sharp breath but beyond that she made no noise for the rest of the journey.

         "Took us to that warehouse. That area's pretty quiet after hours and besides, nobody outside would hear screaming unless they were right up close. Nah, they knew they were fairly safe in there."
         Despite the warning rumble in my guts I took another swig of drink. An automatic response and besides I needed something to help me get through this.

         Once inside the warehouse they pushed us into the middle of the open space. I put Stevie behind me and watched the two men warily. So far, so good. They hadn't thought to search me so I still had my gun. Unfortunately, quick though I am, I didn't reckon to draw and outshoot somebody who already had a gun pointed at me. I'd have to hope for an opportunity.

         I flicked a glance at Bodie. "Thought it was me they wanted. You know, some kind of pay back for something I'd done."
         He nodded. Occupational hazard.
         "I thought she was just an innocent caught up in whatever it was. Wish to Christ that's what it had been."

         One of them gestured with his gun. "Out of the way, lover-boy. It's the girlfriend we want."
         Behind me I heard Stevie give a tiny gasp but I kept my attention in front of me.
         "Now look, I don't know what you think this is all about but you've got the wrong people," I tried.
         The man who'd accosted me sighed.  "Don't try and be a hero to impress her or we'll just shoot you where you stand."
         When I still didn't move he made to make good on his threat but his partner stopped him with a gesture.
         "Leave it Joe, I've not had any exercise today." He dropped into a fighting crouch and shuffled towards me.
         His partner shrugged. "No skin off my nose. We've got all night." He leaned back against a pillar and prepared to watch, as he thought, some nobody get flattened for his entertainment.
         We'd still have his gun to worry about once I'd put this guy down but one thing at a time and if I could at least buy some time for Stevie to make a run for it....

         "So you took him."
         It wasn't a question but a statement. From what I'd told him Bodie would know the score, would have come to the same conclusion I did, that I had nothing to lose and all to play for by taking the chance to remove one of the opposition. I looked ruefully at him. "Yeah. At least to start with. Maybe if I hadn't done that he wouldn't have felt so vindictive."
         "And maybe you'd both be dead," Bodie snapped, then instantly looked ashamed. "Sorry, mate, but you know you can't go second guessing these things."
         He was right. He usually is. Ultimately it makes no difference.

         He wasn't a bad fighter. Street taught but pretty good for all that. If I'd been the nobody he thought me I wouldn't have stood a chance.
         I was edging him around, hoping to create an opportunity, maybe shove him into his friend, knock them both off balance, at least long enough for me to pull my gun. His friend had other ideas however, probably thought his buddy was taking too much of a beating. Suddenly I sensed movement to my side but not quickly enough to dodge. I felt a stunning blow to my head and I staggered, dazed. Only for a second or two, but it was easy enough for chummy to come back at me with a few savage punches. Then when he knocked me to the floor he didn't hesitate to put the boot in. I curled up and rode it out as best I could until his partner pulled him off.
         "Enough, Harry, enough. That's not what we're here for."
         Panting hard, Harry gave my battered ribs one more hard kick and then, thankfully, stopped.
         Spotting some cable nearby he snatched it up and threw it to his friend. "Tie him up. I'll finish this later."
         I felt hands under me, pulling me upright and dragging me over to a nearby pillar. As he did so he felt the weight of my gun.
         "Bloody hell, he's carrying!" He yanked open my jacket and removed the gun.
         "Who the hell are you?" Without waiting for an answer he rummaged through my pockets and found my ID. Flipping it opened he gave a sharp whistle. "CI5. We've got a big fish here."
         He finished tying me to the pillar and stood back. Behind him I could finally see Stevie again. She was white with fright, one fist stuffed in her mouth to stop her sobs. I groaned inwardly. Whatever she'd discovered at that blasted office, it was clearly something more than a mere secretary could deal with. Good at her job she might be but her job was shorthand and typing or bookkeeping, not working undercover like this.
         "Ray?" Stevie's voice trembled.
         "It's OK, Stevie. It's OK," I told her, knowing it was far from OK.
         "Stevie?" Harry said, moving towards her. "That's never the name you were born with. What's your real name?"
         "Ste.. Stephanie."
         "Oh, Stephanie. How la-de-bloody-da. Well Stephanie, you and me are going to have a little chat. I'm going to ask you some questions and you're going to give me some answers. Truthful answers, mind, or I'm going to hurt you. Got it?"
         "Ye...yes."
         She looked over at me then, eyes wide, begging for forgiveness in advance.
         I gave it to her. "Tell them anything they ask, Stevie. Don't hold back."

         I met Bodie's eyes. "She was terrified, Bodie. She wasn't ready for that. She wasn't trained." My mouth twisted. "She was so damn proud of herself for finding something, for being useful and then this."
         I was silent for a long time then, lost in thought. Finally Bodie's voice jerked me back to myself.
         "What did they do, Ray?"
         "You want to know what they did? You go and look at her body!"
         He didn't blink at the ferocity of my tone. He's had to take shit from me enough times over the years. I waved my hand to brush away the words. "Sorry, mate. Bit on edge."
         He nodded, eyes warm with sympathy.
         "So how did you get away in the end? I would have thought they'd turn to you next."
         I sighed. I didn't want to talk about it any more. I looked down at my hands and wrapped it up swiftly. "Not for information. They'd followed Stevie from the office just waiting for a chance to nab her so they knew she'd not passed anything to me. Laughing Boy just wanted to get his kicks by finishing me off. I decided I didn't want to play and ran for it. Taking that near miss as I went in the drink, they probably thought I'd had it."
         I looked up at him.
         "They didn't need to hurt her, Bodie. She told them everything. They didn't need to kill her."
         My voice cracked and I took another sip of whisky. I doubted it was doing me much good but I just needed some liquid and to get up and get something else required too much effort.
         I'd shouted myself hoarse trying to get them to stop while bloodying my wrists in a vain effort to get free and all this talking now was doing it no good.
         "Piss off now, Bodie." My tone was milder than the words but nevertheless he looked at me sharply.
         I nodded and managed half a smile. "I'm OK. I just want to be alone now. Got to try and get some sleep."
         I could see him hesitate but in the end he nodded. "I'll come by and pick you up in the morning. And get some fluids in you for heaven's sake and I don't mean more of that stuff!"
         I flapped my hand at him, a gesture not to fuss, and closed my eyes. A minute later I heard the front door softly close and I was finally completely alone with my thoughts.

         I sat in the car for a few moments without starting the engine. "Go and look at her body," Doyle had said, but I didn't need to. I'd seen people tortured before; I could imagine any one of the images already in my head superimposed onto Stevie's neat little body.
         As I shook the thought away, the R/T bleeped for attention. "Alpha to 3.7. Where are you?"
         "Just leaving Doyle's place, sir."
         "Come in, will you?"
         I'd already been on duty throughout the day and could have refused - even Cowley can't deny us our downtime - but it was a request, not an order. "On my way."
         
         The building had that kind of quietness which was only to be found after an agent's death; the few people I saw were talking in hushed voices and avoiding my eyes.
         I found Cowley in his office, bottle of scotch already on the desk. He pushed a glass towards me and I helped myself, topping up his glass at the same time.
         He took a gulp, savouring the bite of the alcohol, before speaking. "I spoke to Stevie's parents. They're coming to London tomorrow."
         There was nothing I could say that would make him feel better about that. Instead, I began to fill him in on what Doyle had told me. "We need to have someone waiting at Stevie's place for the post to arrive."
         "We can do better than that." Cowley fair leapt at the phone, dialling swiftly. "Mark, find out which sorting office would deal with mail for Stevie Salter's home address and get someone over there. I want any mail addressed to her, particularly anything which was posted in the Finsbury/Clerkenwell area."
         He sank back into his seat and took up the glass again, but at least looked slightly less beaten.
         "What do you think she found? What was she doing at that place anyway?" I didn't really need to know; but perhaps having something to talk about would mean Cowley wouldn't brood.
         "You remember that recent spate of terrorist bombings?"
         It was only a few months ago; we'd been run off our feet. "Of course. But what has that to do with Stevie?"
         "Six picked up some info on who might be behind the funding for it. They passed it to us. Alexander Cameron is owner of a very successful international transport firm with no obvious connections to anything criminal but if the money was coming from his company we needed to find out."
         "I still don't see -"
         "Stevie was working at the auditors who oversee the firm's books. Large scale diversion of funds couldn't be achieved without someone covering it up and she was trying to find out if anyone there was involved."
         "And someone was."
         "Obviously." Cowley drained his glass. "We can do nothing until we have whatever it is she posted. You may as well go home and get some rest."
         It sounded like a good idea. "I'll give you a lift home, then, sir."
         Cowley shook his head, pulling some files towards him. "I have things to do here first."
         I glanced at his wall-clock. It was already past ten; the Old Man would be doing another all-nighter if I left him. "Not tonight, sir. The morning will be soon enough."
         He followed my glance at the clock, and set down the pen he'd picked up. "Perhaps you're right. Bring the car around; I'll follow you down."

         I left Cowley with his thoughts as I drove smoothly through the near-empty streets to his apartment. As we arrived, a group of girls in impossibly-high heels tottered past, and we watched them in silence, both knowing what we were thinking.
         Reaching for the door handle, Cowley turned to me. "How was Doyle?"
         "Right now, I should think he's shouting for Huey down the great white telephone."
         Cowley sketched a smile, but I knew he wasn't just referring to Doyle's physical state. "Did he have something going on with Stevie?"
         "They had a brief fling, after Stevie's first piece of fieldwork on the Talbot-Jones and Adamson case." I frowned at suppressed memories; that had been a bastard case for all of us. "I'd guess he still felt something for her. He's coping, I think. But we'd better get the ones responsible."
         He nodded. "We will."

         I lay there grateful for the silence, the absence of questions. First the police, then the doctor and finally this session with Bodie, necessary or not I could have done without it.
         I felt my eyes closing and didn't fight it – until my hand relaxed and the glass tipped, spilling the remaining liquid across my stomach. Jerking upright I watched in astonishment, as if outside of myself, as the glass flew from my hand to smash against the opposite wall.
         I lowered my hand slowly to my side and mentally took stock. Clearly more wound up than I had thought. I drew a deep breath, held it and then released it deliberately slowly, forcing myself to calm down. Time to hit the sack.
         I made the tour of the flat, turning out lights, checking locks, the usual routine. In the bedroom I stripped my clothes off, hesitated a moment and then headed for the bathroom. A shower would not only get rid of the lingering canal smell but might relax me as well.
         Ten minutes later I was under the sheets, still a little damp but feeling cleaner. I closed my eyes and demanded sleep arrive.

         Several hours later I was wondering if it would just be easier to shoot myself. I'd thrown up so many times I probably hadn't now eaten since a week last Saturday and my guts still felt on fire. I'd paced the floor and forced down the fruit juice Bodie had left which I'd deliberately ignored earlier, only to have it come back up again.
         And each time, every single time, when I'd fallen back into bed hoping to pass out, I'd seen Stevie's face before my eyes begging me, pleading with me to save her.

         They started off lightly enough. Was she CI5 too? Had she been a plant at the office? Then the one called Joe suggested she'd seen something she shouldn't. She tried denying it but that just got her knocked to the floor. They loomed over her then, nasty sneers on their faces. She looked terrified and tried to scramble back to her feet but they shoved her back down again.
         They got everything out of her, little as that was, within minutes, while I strained helplessly against my bonds. If she'd been a fully trained agent...if she'd even been told to expect something...she might have come up with a convincing lie. But she was just a secretary. Fuck Cowley for putting her in this situation.
         "So," the one called Joe crouched down beside her. "That's everything, is it? You've told us the truth?"
         She nodded violently, eyes wide, pleading.
         "Hmm. I don't know."
         "It's the truth, I swear. I don't know any more. Honestly. I'm just a secretary."
         He stood up and dipped a hand into his pocket, coming out with a packet of cigarettes. He offered the packet to his friend and took one himself, lit both from a small lighter, inhaled deeply and then blew out smoke in a long stream towards the ceiling. Then he crouched down again and looked at Stevie,
         "Let's go through it again, just to be sure."
         Hesitantly she reiterated the story of finding the papers and posting them to herself.
         "And who were you after? Who were you told to keep an eye on?"
         "N...nobody. Nobody in particular. Just to w...w...watch."
         "What about the name Cameron? Or Walsh? Were you told to look out for them?"
         My heart sank. Up until then I'd harboured a faint hope that if they got all the information they'd been looking for they just might let us go. Two anonymous thugs; we couldn't have identified them and they'd have disappeared into the night. But now, naming allegedly respectable citizens working in that firm, we couldn't be allowed to talk.
         Stevie shook her head mutely.
         "Sure?" As he asked the question he touched her bare arm with the lighted cigarette and she screamed...

         ...jolting me awake. My first thought was gratitude for waking. I didn't need to go through that again. Then I felt a surge of anger and guilt. It was only a bloody dream to me. How dare I want to escape the memory of it? Stevie had died and hadn't even known what she was dying for. Nor had I for that matter but I would find out. Oh yes, I would find out.

         "She's dead."
         "Nah she's faking it."
         "No, she's definitely dead. Harry, you broke your toy."
         "Oops."
         I knew they were just trying to provoke me now. But as they turned towards me I also knew I had to fight the impulse to pulverise the pair of them. I had to get the hell out of here and raise the alarm. No mistakes now, no false heroics. I had to ensure these two and the people who hired them were properly dealt with.
         When they untied me I staggered a bit, exaggerating the lack of circulation, faked them out as if I were stupid enough to engage in the fight they assumed I wanted, feinted around them and ran for it.

         Waking again, this time to blessed daylight, I staggered free of the sweat-soaked sheets, gasping for breath. Nightmares were to be expected, part of the job. I knew without Kate Ross and her like telling me that it was the mind's way of sorting out the daily horrors we live with, but I didn't need these events sorting for me. It was already quite clear. They'd been determined to kill her right from the start, they'd enjoyed every minute of it and I was going to hunt them down and see they paid. It was just that simple.
         Looking at the clock - just after eight - I took stock of myself. Felt completely wrung out but with another shower and some fresh clothes I would do. I didn't want to lie around here all day; I wanted some action and headquarters was the best place to start.

         I debated whether to call Doyle before leaving for headquarters the following morning, but decided that he'd probably had a rough night and if he was managing to grab some zeds he wouldn't appreciate being woken up.
         I could already hear voices as I approached the door and Fred was clearly relieved to see me as I arrived in the main hallway. "Oh, Bodie. I wonder if you can help this young man?"
         "What is it?" I didn't recognise the bloke, who was looking worried sick.
         "I'm looking for Stevie, Stevie Salter. I know she works here."
         A boyfriend, then. I glanced at Fred, who obviously knew about the previous evening and had been trying to decide how to deal with him.
         "We were supposed to be having dinner.  She didn't turn up, and I went to her place.  I've been waiting there all night..."
         "We need to talk." I put a hand on his shoulder and guided him towards the small reception room to the right, noticing his face pale even more. "Fred, let Mr Cowley know I'm in the building, will you?"
         I knew Fred would also pass on what I was doing. I closed the door behind us. "Take a seat."
         "Has something happened?" He remained standing; his concerns and random thoughts tumbling out. "I don't have a number for her parents: I waited but she didn't come home..."
         "What's your name?" I pulled out a chair and he subconsciously sank into it.
         "Paul."
         "Paul, I'm afraid something has happened to Stevie."
         "An accident? Is she in hospital?"
         I cowardly let my silence tell him the truth, wondering how he would deal with it. He stared blankly at me, mind churning as he slowly understood, then asked the question I'd hoped I wouldn't have to answer.
         "What happened?"
         I heard the door open to reprieve me. There aren't many occasions when I'm relieved to see Cowley, but this was one of them. "Sir, this is Paul, Stevie's boyfriend."
         He could see I'd already broken the news, and having heard the question as he entered took over. "Paul, I'm George Cowley, Stevie's boss."
         Paul nodded vaguely, still focused on what he most needed to know.
         "How much did Stevie tell you about the work here?"
         "Not much... she said it was some sort of security service - but nothing like James Bond." He glanced at me. "We would normally meet for lunch, but she's been working on secondment for a few weeks, somewhere in Finsbury..."
         His gaze came back to Cowley, perhaps grasping now that we were trying to tell him it wasn't a straightforward accident. "What happened?"
         "Stevie was working at an office to try and find some information for us."
         "Information? She's a secretary." Cowley let him work it out, which he did with commendable speed. "She was working... undercover? Is that what you mean? But she's just a secretary..."
         I took a step forward; I didn't think he'd react violently but you couldn't exactly blame him.
         "That is what I mean. Stevie was very efficient. We were only looking for some paperwork but the situation was more dangerous than we believed."
         "Someone killed her?" Paul could barely grasp the idea; it wasn't something that happened to ordinary people like his girlfriend. "What... where is - her body?"
         Swiftly, Cowley broke in before he could ask to see her. "Stevie's parents are coming here later today. If you would like to wait, you could meet them."
         "Yes..." Paul glanced at his watch in a reflex action, somehow taking in the fact that it was only just approaching nine, when time was probably standing still for him. He made an attempt to pull himself together. "I should go to my office. Let them know where I am... what's happened."
         "Please come back later then," Cowley told him. "I'll leave instructions for you to be admitted to the building."

         We watched him walk unsteadily down the steps. "Another life ruined..." Cowley murmured, before turning briskly. "Fred, call Betty when he returns."
         I followed him upstairs and he paused at Betty's office door to issue orders. "Betty, Stevie's boyfriend will be coming back. Organise a room where he can wait for her parents to arrive."
         His tone softened. "And could you get us some coffee?"
         "On your desk already, sir."
         "Thank you." He continued to his office, expecting me to follow.
         I was glad I had when I realised Betty's efficiency extended to bringing in breakfast. Cowley accepted a cup of coffee but waved the plate of sticky Danish away, smiling ruefully. "Just one of the reasons why I could never send Betty undercover."
         He gestured to some papers on his desk. "Jax collected Stevie's mail. That's what she posted from the office."
         Holding my pastry in one hand, I flicked through the pages quickly. There were two sets of accounts which appeared on first glance to be identical, but closer scrutiny revealed some huge differences in the figures of columns. "This was it? This is what Stevie put her life on the line for?"
         "It's a good deal more important than it looks, Bodie. And the fact that Stevie could see its importance is why she was working there rather than you. They're the annual accounts for Cameron's company."
         "So, someone has doctored them?"
         "Definitely. And the name on the front tells us who."
         Trevor Marsh. I read it while stuffing the last of the Danish into my mouth. "When do we pick him up?"
         "He's already downstairs, Bodie. I was just waiting for you to arrive so that we could interview him."
         "Why didn't you say so?" I beat the Old Man to the door.
         "I said 'interview', Bodie. There's nothing to tie him to Stevie's death yet."
         "Yet." Those men were after the papers Stevie had taken; stood to reason this man downstairs knew something...

         Lucas and McCabe had apparently moved in to arrest him at six a.m., giving him no time to call anyone or get anywhere to destroy papers and he was now extremely nervous.
         He still tried a bit of bluster. "Holding me like this is illegal! I demand that you call my solicitor."
         Cowley ignored his words and laid the incriminating pages on the table. "Mr Marsh, you're here under investigation because of these."
         Snatching them up he realised immediately that we had both versions of the document but tried to bluff it out. "I don't know where you got these. These are confidential papers."
         Settling into the seat opposite, Cowley paid no attention to me as I prowled around, although Marsh became noticeably more flustered. "You don't seem to understand how serious this is. This is evidence showing that someone has been misappropriating funds from Haul-Right International."
         "I haven't taken a penny of it."
         "Perhaps. I'm sure Mr Cameron is very generous and you've been recompensed in other ways."
         We both saw his realisation that this was the point at which he had to deny Cameron's involvement and probably face charges alone or give up what he knew.
         Cowley helped him along. "You wanted to know where we obtained those papers? You have a Miss Salter working in your office at the moment."
         He flushed. "I knew it was her sneaking around. I was right not to trust her."
         "Did you see Stephanie leave your office last night? Did you follow her?"
         "No." The change in direction threw him. "What is this?"
         "Someone followed her last night. Someone who snatched her from the street."
         "Did you know she'd taken the accounts?" I decided it was time to join in. "Did you think you could take them back from her?"
         "It wasn't me. Whatever she's said, she's mistaken."
         Doyle could have taken this liquid-lunching overweight businessman with one hand tied behind his back anyway, but Marsh thought she was still alive which seemed to rule him out as one of her killers.
         "So who did you call, Mr Marsh? Who did you send after her to retrieve your papers?"
         He didn't immediately deny it, but it was obviously a question he was going to have trouble with as he started to speak before stuttering to silence.
         A tap at the door heralded the arrival of Murphy. "Sorry to interrupt, sir, but I thought you should know Doyle has just arrived in the building. And he's a bit on edge."
         That was, we both knew, a euphemism for 'about to start ripping people's heads off'. Cowley headed for the door. "You have time to think about your answer, Mr Marsh."

         As I stepped out of the taxi at the CI5 gate I took a moment to take stock of myself. The last of the orange juice had been all the breakfast I could face and my stomach ached like hell but it had been a while since I last threw up and I was hopeful the worst was now behind me.
         I strolled as nonchalantly as I could through reception heading for the lift. The stairs, I felt, were more than I was capable of this morning.
         "Morning, Fred."
         "Morn...Blimey, you look rough."
         "Tell me something I don't know," I said, not breaking stride.
         Upstairs I checked the rest room first and, finding it empty, was about to head to Cowley's office when Murphy came along the corridor.
         "Where's Bodie? Where's the Cow?" I greeted him.
         "Good morning to you too. Looks like you had a rough night." He paused. "Sorry about Stevie. She was a nice kid."
         "Never mind all that. What's the latest?"
         "They're both downstairs, having a nice little chat with some accountant bloke."
         I felt the first genuine smile since this all started spread across my face. The old man could be relied upon not to hang about.
         "Good!" I started back down the corridor but Murphy caught my arm.
         "Hang on, Ray. You don't want to go barging in there."
         "Yeah, actually Murph, I do."
         "Look, you know what it's like." He slipped around to place himself in front of me, blocking my way. Not that I couldn't have got around him but an undignified scuffle in the corridor was not what I wanted right now.
         "Interrogating a suspect is a delicate business. You know that as well as anyone. Interrupt at the wrong moment and you could lose the whole confession."
         His words made me pause. I knew he was right and I had enough sense left to know I'd rather have the confession than the satisfaction of having words with the bastard.
         "Why don't you make yourself a cup of tea? Sit down before you fall down." Murphy was quick to follow up his advantage. "I'll go down and see if Cowley's free to come and talk to you."
         I resented the implication I was less than fit at the minute but the idea of sitting down sounded good so I let it ride.
         "Yeah, OK. Thanks, Murph."

         I was just sipping cautiously at the recommended cup of tea when Cowley arrived, with Bodie only a pace behind him.
         I hastily put down the mug and got to my feet. "Has he talked yet?"
         They both surveyed me critically. Bodie, naturally, got in first. "Looking rough, Doyle."
         "So I've been told. Never mind that, has he talked?"
         "Not yet," Cowley said. "I'm not convinced he knows very much anyway. He's a very small fish, I suspect."
         "I'll make him talk," I said and started for the door but Cowley put up his hand.
         "All that you will do, Doyle, is go back home and rest."
         "I'm fine," I growled.
         "I decide who is fit and who is not. Another day of rest should see you fully recovered. And when you are, I want a full written report out of you."
         "Bodie..."
         "Bodie has told me what you told him, aye. But I want your words, the full story, for the files."
         His gaze softened a little. "Any detail might help, lad, you know that."
         I nodded, suddenly too tired to argue.
         "Bodie, drive Doyle home. I want to make sure he gets there." With that he nodded briskly and left the room, presumably to continue the interrogation. Or leave our guest for a while longer to soften him up. I rarely questioned our boss's methods of questioning, he so often produced results, it was just this time I was anxious to feel things were really moving. But I knew it was useless to argue with him and at least we had somebody in custody. It had to lead us somewhere.
         "Come on, my son. Let's get you home." Bodie tugged on my arm and led me from the room. Suddenly the thought of sleep seemed infinitely desirable and I allowed myself to be led downstairs.

         We both knew we could safely leave the interviewing to Cowley, but Doyle had to be feeling rough because he'd given in so easily. "I take it you didn't manage much sleep, then?"
         He grimaced. "A few minutes here and there, between trips to the bathroom. Quick way to shed some weight."
         "There are better ways." As we reached the ground floor, I heard a phone receiver being replaced, and Fred's voice.
         "Miss Franly will be down shortly, sir."
         As we passed Paul, Doyle glanced at him, curious yet disinterested - who was he, that Betty was coming down to meet him? Paul's carefully controlled expression made him pause and stopping, Doyle turned to look at me.
         "Who is he?"
         I took his arm and wheeled him away. "Stevie's boyfriend."
         He pulled away from me at the door. "I should..."
         "Do nothing." Pulling the door open I pushed him through. "He's finding it hard enough to cope as it is; however bad you feel you won't help him by telling him anything else!"
         For a moment it looked like he would argue but either he wasn't up to fighting me or my words made some sense and nodding slowly he carried on down the steps.
         Glancing back as the door closed slowly, I saw Paul staring after us. He'd probably heard what we'd said, and I hurried Doyle away. Maybe at some point they should talk but this definitely wasn't the time.
         "Stevie was in love with him. Thought he might be proposing soon."
         I started the car to get us away from there before my partner changed his mind and wanted to go back inside. Once we were moving, I replied. "Wouldn't be surprised. He was here first thing, trying to find her. Not the action of a casual boyfriend."
         "Damn Cowley. So determined to get what he wanted."
         "He had no way of knowing it was dangerous, Ray. It was an office job, that's all."
         "That's all."
         Of course Ray was bitter. The current rancour against Cowley was simply because he lacked the real suspects to take it out on. But we would get them. "Save it for the ones who deserve it, eh?"
         He nodded distantly and gestured to the supermarket I was coming up to. "I need some stuff."
         "More fruit juice?"
         "Yep." He managed an answering grin. "Your supplies just about lasted me. And I suppose I should buy something to eat, in the hope I can keep it down..."
         "Loaf of bread, for plenty of dry toast," I advised. "Want me to go in?"
         "I can manage my own shopping, thanks."
         I waited in the car, wondering how Cowley was getting on with interviewing Marsh. We needed a breakthrough quickly.
         Doyle wasn't long and returned with several bags, including a pack of toilet rolls. He saw my grin, and returned it. "Something you need to remember when shopping for canal-swimmers. I didn't quite have to resort to last week's local, but it was a close run thing."
         I completed the short journey to his flat where Doyle dismissed me. "I can manage the shopping and the stairs."
         "You'll get some more rest though?" He might be putting a brave face on it, but there was no denying he still looked a bit green. "No running back into the office later. If you're really that desperate to work, you could write up your report."
         He gave me a tired but resilient grin. "Yes, mum."

         Once inside I chugged some juice for common senses sake but my primary focus was to get some sleep. I felt as if I would fall over where I stood if I didn't lie down soon.
         I dragged myself through to the bedroom and had just enough energy to yank the sheets from the bed, I couldn't face the thought of getting between those again. Kicking off my shoes I fell on the bed, rolled myself in the blanket and let sleep take me.

         This time the dreams were a jumble mass of pictures, none of them making much sense and fortunately not strong enough to wake me. When I finally opened my eyes some hours later the bedside clock told me it was almost half past one.
         I flopped onto my back and took mental stock.  I felt more alert and my stomach seemed to have calmed down as well.
         I extricated myself from the blanket, made a relatively normal visit to the bathroom and then hit the kitchen.
         Despite my stomach giving a reassuring rumble I decided, unappetising as it was, Bodie's suggestion of dry toast was probably my best bet, at least at first.
         Two slices and half a cup of tea later and only minimal protests from my stomach I decided I was probably fit enough. So what was I going to do for the rest of the day? I could probably go back into headquarters but unless I was going to be assigned something to do with Stevie's murder I didn't want to know and somehow I thought Cowley would have other plans for me if I showed up.
         There was nothing for it, I would have to write that damn report. It had to be done and I could do it just as well here as in the office.
          A couple of hours later I was done. Not without much pacing and stopping for breaks, genuine and artificial. Even just sticking the bare facts I had to relive the whole thing over again. Still, it only served to fuel my resolve to find those bastards and make them pay.
         I remembered the man in the lobby at HQ, her boyfriend Bodie had said, and wondered how he must be feeling, and her parents for that matter. I wasn't looking forward to meeting with them but I knew obligation would drive me to speak to them at some point.
         I stood and stretched. I felt restless and while I saw no point in going back into work until tomorrow, I was anxious to get out and grab some fresh air.
         I collected up the soiled sheets and a few other bits and pieces, shoved them in a bag and took a stroll around the corner to the local launderette. While my smalls were whizzing around I went and sat in the small park across the road and tried not to think very hard about anything until they were done.
         Back home again I rang in but neither Bodie or Cowley were available. Hoping this meant some good news I decided for once to take the sensible approach, a light meal, a bit of television and an early night. Tomorrow could throw anything at all at us and I needed to be prepared.

         I'd intended to return to HQ and get back into the interview with Cowley, but as I pulled into the car park I was met with the sight of Anson, Lucas and McCabe piling into one car while Jax and Murphy were scrambling into another. "Bodie, we need you!" Murphy shouted across. "Tip-off on a bomb at Charing Cross!"
         Business as usual, then. I didn't bother replying, simply swung the car around in an empty bay and followed the other two vehicles. Cowley wouldn't let Marsh slip.

         It turned out to be a hoax. It was a real waste of our time and resources; particularly when the location in question was somewhere like a rail station with a huge area of ground and underground tunnels to cover in a search. Not that we were exactly complaining that it wasn't a real bomb, but we could all be doing better things with our time.
         It was nearly four before we got back, albeit via a stop at the café down the road because we were all starving, and after polishing off my sarnie and a quick cuppa in the lounge, I went in search of Cowley.
         His office was empty, so I tracked down Betty instead. "He's just gone to a meeting with the Minister, Bodie. He won't be back today."
         "So what happened about the accountant we had downstairs? Did he get a confession?"
         "I'm not sure, Bodie. You need to talk to Mr Cowley about it."
         She seemed tired and I remembered belatedly that she'd been left to deal with the aftermath of Stevie's death. "Are you OK? Did Stevie's parents arrive?"
         "About midday. They were being terribly brave about it. Almost harder to bear than if they'd broken down. Mr Cowley came out of the interview to talk to them, and then they went to a hotel."
         "What about her boyfriend?"
         "I was talking to Paul for quite a while before they arrived. He seems so nice. It's such a tragedy."
         "You shouldn't have had to deal with them. We ought to have someone else here for that."
         "Perhaps, but I knew Stevie better than any of you; it probably helped them to talk to me."
         "Even so..."
         "Honestly, Bodie. It was OK." She sighed, and reached for her coat. "But it was upsetting, and I'm going home now."
         I followed her out to the corridor and watched her go. It might have helped Stevie's family but it shouldn't have been at the expense of Betty's peace of mind.
         I'd make sure she was all right in the morning. We had to keep an eye on each other in this job...

         I mooched back to the Lounge, not sure whether I could also slide off early. We were still on elevated alert, particularly after today's bomb hoax, but it didn't make too much difference if I was called out from here or home, or even a bird's place. The only restriction - and one happily self-imposed by us all - was that of not having too much to drink. Alcohol and serious situations didn't mix.
         Murphy had lost the toss and won the unenviable task of writing up our hoax call-out, but had just finished. "I'm done," he greeted me, "and I'm off. The way things have been going we'll have another call-out before the night is over. Fancy a swift half?"
         "They're not open yet."
         He grinned at me. "I know somewhere..."
         Murphy's 'somewhere' was a small club which happily signed me up as a member for a few notes, and although we could have stayed longer we called it a day after just a pint, and I headed home. An early night was just what I needed.

         Unsurprisingly, Doyle was on the phone first thing. "What time are you picking me up?"
         "Soon as I've had some breakfast. Anyone would think you were keen to get back to work; you should jump at some time off."
         "I don't need any more time off; I want to find out whether Cowley has arrested Stevie's killers."
         I could hear a vendetta in the making. "Not by last night, he hadn't," I warned him. "But we'll get them."
         "Too right. So get some toast and make it snappy, or I'll grab a taxi." He hung up and I sighed. I'd been thinking about it: Cowley had disappeared to a meeting and not returned, and Betty had been evasive. I wouldn't be surprised to find things not going as smoothly as Doyle would like...

         "You what?"
         I was tempted to put my hands over my ears. I wasn't worried about Doyle's language but anticipated a sharp increase in the volume.
         "Marsh has been passed to the Fraud Squad; they're charging him with embezzlement," Cowley repeated, patiently.
         "What about the murder charge?"
         "We had no evidence of any involvement in Stevie's death, Doyle. Marsh admitted the fraud and has implicated Walsh, the Finance Director at Cameron's company, who has also been picked up."
         "So you're letting them get away with it?" Far from rising in volume, I could barely hear Doyle's voice as he struggled to comprehend what Cowley was saying - or possibly he was containing his anger. "You sent that poor kid out there and you're giving up on finding her killers?"
         "Of course I'm not giving up, Doyle," Cowley snapped at him. "We need proper descriptions from you and we'll follow the normal procedures. And I am certainly not giving up investigating Cameron - those two might have admitted fraud but Cameron is behind it all and I mean to find the evidence. If it leads us to the murderers so much the better."
         "But what about the interview yesterday, sir," I interjected. "Marsh was about to tell us who he'd phoned to send after Stevie."
         Cowley shook his head ever so slightly at me. "He didn't say that, Bodie. He denied sending anyone after Stevie, or going himself."
         I was about to argue when I realised that the interruption to the interview must have given Marsh time to think and come to the conclusion that giving up Cameron wasn't a good idea - and that Doyle had caused the interruption. It probably wasn't a good move at the moment to let him know he might have blown our chances.
         "So, your report, Doyle. Get it on file and spend some time going through the files and looking at faces."
         "I don't want to waste time doing that; I want to get out there -"
         "You're not fully fit yet - at least, you certainly don't look it. And you know as well as I do that it's never a waste of time; your two killers are out there somewhere and there's every chance they're on record already."

 

         "Thought I'd find you here."
         I raised my head and blinked.
         "Come on, Doyle. It's late, give it a rest."
         I shook my head and returned to the book of mug shots. I turned over another page, realised I hadn't taken in any of the previous faces and flipped the page back.
         Bodie shut the book, putting his palm firmly on the cover to prevent me opening it again.
         "Leave it, Ray. You've been through them all at least twice. If they were there, you'd have seen them."
         I knocked his arm away and reopened the book, swiftly turning pages to find where I had left off.
         "Doyle! You can't keep putting yourself through this every night!"
         I slammed the book shut and stood up, the better to glare at him. "They're out there somewhere and if he's not prepared to do anything then...."
         "Then what, Doyle? If you have any criticism of my actions, you bring them to me, not hide out down here."
         Neither of us had heard Cowley's approach and he now stood in the doorway eyeing me with some annoyance.
         "All right then." I stalked over to him. "We should be pulling Marsh in again. We should be having Walsh in. We should making them talk, putting the finger on those murderers and then sending them all down. Instead you've got us out on a bloody stakeout as if nothing's happened."
         He heard me out. I'll give him that much. "Doyle, we have nothing on Walsh or Marsh. Nothing to justify even talking to them, let alone brow beating them in the way you'd like. I've got a watching brief on them. If they so much as get a parking ticket, we'll know about it, but until then we leave them alone." He paused and his tone softened marginally. "Get yourself home, lad. You're doing no good here and I need you alert and on the job again tomorrow."
         I shook my head. "No. Tomorrow I'm going to Stevie's funeral." I felt Bodie start beside me but Cowley beat him to whatever he was going to say.
         "Betty is the official representative of the department. You are...."
         "I'm going," I said, flatly and glared at him, daring him to argue with me further.
         He hesitated. "You will not engage in discussion with the family. You will confine yourself to paying your respects and you will rejoin Bodie on stakeout by 2.00 pm. Is that clear?"
         I wanted to disagree just to be perverse but I'd got what I wanted. I nodded once and turned back to the table with its heaped pile of albums.
         But Bodie was ahead of me. Taking my arm he swung me round and had me half out of the room before I could protest. "No, sunshine. Enough is enough. If you're going to be sober and respectable tomorrow then you need your beauty sleep."
         I shrugged his arm off but a jaw-breaking yawn proved his point and I just kept on going without a backward glance at either of them.

         The crowd around the plot began to thin. People casting last glances at the hole and its content and then stumbling across the uneven ground back to their cars and their lives.
         My focus was on the little group still standing by the graveside, huddled close. Mother, father, brother. A family ripped apart, clinging together.
         I steeled myself and made to approach them.
         Betty tugged at my sleeve. "Aren't you coming back to work, Ray?"
         "Get yourself a taxi or grab a lift with somebody, can you love? I've got something to do first."
         Her face was worried and she bit her lip indecisively, probably under orders from Cowley to see I didn't step out of line. Finally she nodded, touched my arm again, in a sympathetic gesture and started back on the path that led out of the cemetery.
         I took a deep breath and stepped around the grave to come up alongside them.
         "Mr and Mrs Salter? My name's Ray Doyle. I was with your daughter when...when this happened. I'm very sorry."
         I didn't have time for more. Like a cat striking its prey Mrs Salter lashed out, slapping my face, hard. "Then why isn't it you in that box instead of my daughter? Why didn't you help her?" She collapsed, sobbing, into the arms of her husband who drew her away with soothing words. "I'm sorry," he muttered before turning away.
         Their son was some years younger than Stevie, tall, gangly, not yet fully grown into his size. His fiery gaze burned me, looking as if he would like to hit me to show solidarity with his mother. I would probably have stood there and let him. I didn't want his father's apology, I didn't deserve it, I'd got his daughter killed.
         No, not me. I wasn't so far gone in guilt that I didn't know, underneath, that there had been nothing I could have done. But the department had surely been responsible and I was here representing it. No, wrong again. Cowley had made it clear I was only here under sufferance. I was only representing myself. A free agent.
         I sighed. I'd done what I came here for, what more had I expected? I'd better get back to the joys of stakeout. I glanced at the grave one more time, made a silent promise and then, hands in my pockets, I trudged back to the road where I'd left the dark blue saloon car I'd collected from the car pool this morning. It had seemed somehow more subdued, more appropriate than my usual gold Capri.
         I was just putting the key in the lock when a figure stepped out from behind a tree. "Excuse me, are you Ray Doyle?"
         I whirled around, cursing myself for being so lost in contemplation. It was no good claiming I wasn't expecting trouble here, a good agent should always expect trouble. The gospel according to St. George.
         A vaguely familiar-looking, fair-haired young man took a hasty step backwards, hands raised in a gesture of peace. "Hey, sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
         I relaxed. I'd seen him at the funeral but had not paid him much attention, my focus being much more on the family group.
         He stuck his hand out. "My name's Paul Wilson. Stevie was my girlfriend."
         Of course, the boyfriend. I'd seen him that day at HQ when he came in to see Cowley. I shook his hand and started to offer my sympathies.
         He shook his head. "That's not why I've approached you." He hesitated. "Stevie mentioned you. She liked you." There was no undercurrent of concern in his voice. Either grief had pushed other considerations aside or he had been completely secure in Stevie's affections.
         "I liked her too," I said, neutrally. "She was a nice girl."
         "I went to that place," he said abruptly. "That place where she was working. I just felt I had to do something. I can't stand feeling this helpless."
         I nodded, knowing that feeling all too well.
         "I talked to some people. It soon became clear that Haul-Right is where the answers are going to be. Did she tell you I'm an accountant?" He went on without pausing for my answer. " Haul-Right is always on the look out for new blood so I got them to take me on."
         "Now look," I started. What had the crazy young fool done?
         "I saw something. I don't know if it means anything. It may be nothing but..."
         I felt my senses beginning to tingle. My instincts were suddenly at full alert. It was something, I was sure of it.
         "Tell me," I demanded.

         I slammed the door of the flat behind me, dashed into my bedroom and made a swift change into jeans and shirt. I yanked a duffle bag down from the top of the wardrobe and began stuffing it with a few essentials. Hopefully this wouldn't take long but I didn't want to be caught short either.
         I hesitated, one hand hovering over the RT, but finally I decided against it. I had thought of calling Bodie at the stakeout but decided I couldn't risk it. You just never know when our communications are being monitored. The old man's butted in on more than one exchange and the radio operators are the best source of gossip in CI5 with all that they pick up. Bodie would just have to cope with not knowing. It wouldn't be for long and I'd buy him a pint afterwards.

         I thundered my way up the stairs. Just wait till I got my hands on him...
         The VIP lounge was empty. Undeterred I tried the locker room then went back past the lounge, before I burst into Betty's office, startling her and earning myself a rebuke.
         "Bodie, I may not expect you to knock, but you could try opening the door instead of crashing through it."
         "Sorry. Where is he?" I apologised and launched into my quest without pause. "The sod left me to handle the stakeout on my own this afternoon. Where's he hiding?"
         "Ray?"
         "Yes, wonderful Ray Doyle." I could see Betty thought I was over-reacting; it never normally bothered us that much if we had to cover for each other. Truth be told, I was worried. If the silly sod hadn't done what he should and turn up to partner me at the stakeout, then what had he done...? "His car is downstairs, so he must be somewhere about."
         "His car?"
         Either Betty was being deliberately obtuse or I was talking gibberish. "His Capri. It's still in the car park."
         "Oh, he didn't take that today. He took us in the navy Cortina."
         "He did?" OK, so perhaps I had been talking gibberish. "So where did he go after you came back?"
         "Er..." Betty glanced behind me, before she replied in hushed tones. "He didn't."
         It was my turn to be obtuse. "Didn't what?"
         "Come back here. I came back alone." She glanced behind me again and I realised she was trying to keep her voice down in case Cowley was around. "Mr Cowley told me Ray wasn't to speak with the family and had to get back on the stakeout once the funeral was over. I don't quite know how he expected me to make that happen."
         "Tell me what happened." I sighed. "Don't tell me he went off with the family?"
         "No, quite the opposite. He told me he needed to speak to them and to get myself a taxi. I watched him approach them - Mrs Salter slapped him. Poor woman; what she's going through..."
         "So what then?" Sympathetic though I was, I needed to hear about Ray.
         "I saw him walk away towards the car, but then I got into the taxi so I don't know where he went from there."
         "That's just great. But he definitely didn't come back here?"
         "Not that I saw; maybe one of the others...?"
         I didn't want to ask around; he was supposed to have been on stakeout with me and I'd rather like to keep his absence quiet from Cowley if I could. I needed to find him and fill him in on the non-events of my afternoon, so at least it looked like he'd been there with me.
         I reckoned without the bloodhound. "Ah Bodie. Nothing happening at the stakeout, I take it?"
         "No sir. All quiet; Jax and Matthews have taken over."
         Coming fully into the room, Cowley glanced around obviously expecting to see Doyle. His gaze came back to bore into me. "Taken over from you." It wasn't a question. "Where is Doyle?"
         "I don't know..." I unintentionally glanced at Betty; it wasn't her fault Doyle had gone AWOL.
         "He didn't come back here with me, sir. I don't know where he went."
         "And neither of you thought to tell me?"
         "I'll find him now, sir. I expect he's just back at his flat." I headed for the door without waiting for a response.
         "Bodie. Call me when you get there."
         When you get there. Not when you find him. I hoped Cowley was wrong, and I would find him.

         The double locks were engaged and rooms quiet and dark. I checked them anyway, swearing repetitively under my breath. Where the hell was he? I could try some of the local pubs I supposed, he might be drowning his sorrows... But somehow I knew he wouldn't be.
         I knew Stevie's death had hit him hard and knew how determined he was to find her killers. There was little doubt in my mind that he'd gone AWOL deliberately. The question was: had he simply decided to cut loose and work on his own because nothing was happening or had he actually got a lead?
         I relocked his doors, and headed back to my car, glancing up and down the street I'd already checked for the old mark three Cortina. It still wasn't there and I couldn't delay any longer. Lifting the R/T I called in.

         Betty hadn't been able to tell us any more. Doyle had been alone last time she saw him walking towards his car but there was no telling what happened after that. Cowley had questioned her quite closely on who else had been at the funeral but since most people don't introduce themselves over the grave she hadn't been able to name them.
         "Stevie's boyfriend was there," Cowley mused, after Betty had left.
         "You'd expect him to be there. They were practically engaged." What was Cowley thinking? "Do you think he spoke to Doyle?"
         "She had a brother as well."
         "You don't think some of them got together and took some sort of revenge?" I didn't see it myself - I didn't know about Stevie's brother but Paul Wilson was white-collar, not the sort to take revenge. At least, not cold-bloodedly; most people are capable of all sorts of things in the heat of the moment.
         Cowley shrugged. "I'm just trying to think of all the possibilities."
         "I don't think that's among them. Let's face it, we both know Doyle is completely capable of ducking out of his own volition. What worries me is what he's up to."
         My acknowledgment of Doyle's obstinate nature appeared to amuse Cowley as he half-smiled. "But that worries me too. He said nothing to you about a lead - he didn't come across a face he recognised in the mugshots he was looking at last night, for instance?"
         I was startled: that was a possibility I hadn't even considered. "No - but I doubt it. He wasn't happy at being dragged away from the books but the sort of mood he was in, I don't think he'd have kept quiet if he'd found a face. Anyway, he's been through all the books at least twice in the last week - surely he'd have found it before?"
         "You'd assume so. So, what happened? Was it after you left him last night, or something at the funeral? Betty didn't seem to think he was any different to normal - but I don't doubt he'd be able to fool the lass if he wanted to."
         "He might - but why would he? If he'd been onto something this morning he'd have gone AWOL then. The funeral was important to him, yes, but finding the killers is even more important, he'd have disappeared earlier. But - we're assuming that he's actually onto something."
         "You think he might have just walked out?" That pleased Cowley less; I suppose he could forgive the hot-head for chasing up a lead but not just ducking out.
         "He's been - simmering, I suppose you'd call it, all week. He can't forgive himself."
         "Or me?" Cowley asked. "I sent Stevie out there, after all."
         "There wasn't anything he could have done, he knows that. But what he can do is find her killers. Nothing is happening here, maybe he thought..."
         "He'd do better alone."
         "It's possible." I waited while Cowley thought. "We could APB his car..."
         "No, not yet. As far as the rest of the team are concerned, he's having a few days' compassionate leave. I want him found, but we can't ignore the possibility he's onto something - we don't want to bring him back in and lose a lead. You get out there and look for him; you know the man and where he might hide out. Stay in touch."

 

         Using the sack truck to open the door for me, I barged into the room and wheeled the filing cabinet inside.
         "Where do you want this one then, missus?"
         The grey-haired tartar behind the desk glared at me. "Through there with the rest of them and mind your manners."
         I tugged an imaginary forelock, executed a neat spin and pushed the cabinet down the end of the room to the door indicated, winking at her staff as I went. In the few days I'd been here at Haul-Right International I'd already learnt that the best people to get information out of were the girls of the typing pool. Much like in CI5 they saw most of the inter-departmental memos and were willing to gossip for the price of a cup of coffee and bit of cheeky banter.
         I'd learnt how fortunate I was to have this job for starters. Haul-Right International was doing very nicely, thank you. So nicely in fact, that when they needed to open up more office space their own moving department was fully booked with customers' orders. Hence the hastily drafted advert for short-term casual staff Paul Wilson had told me about. He'd overheard a couple of people talking about while he was in personnel filling out forms for his own job but thought no more of it until he saw me at the funeral.
         Whistling gently I deposited the filing cabinet against one wall and returned back through the pool, earning another glare from the supervisor.
         "Have you many more of those to bring through?" she demanded.
         I looked at my watch and shook my head. "Not me, not unless they put me on ovvies."
         She glanced at the big wall clock and tutted, clearly not impressed with my idea of knocking off time but then changed her mind and muttered something about them perhaps being able to get some work done.
         I exited and hurried down the corridor, intending to ditch the sack trucks and do some make-busy work until the office staff had left for the day. There were carpet fitters working late tonight so the building would be kept open for them and one more labourer more or less wouldn't go amiss.
         Another of the things I'd learnt was that nothing seemed to go on in this company without Cameron's PA knowing about it. He seemed a likely bet for checking out.
         I was determined to get into his office tonight and whilst I would accept being locked in and hiding out until morning if I had to, I'd also rather not if I had the choice.
         Paul Wilson came down the corridor towards me carrying a bunch of files. There was no one around so I gave him the briefest nod of acknowledgement. The white-collar workers certainly didn't hob-nob with plebs like me so I'd hardly laid eyes on him since he alerted me to the job here.
         "Pub, tonight. Eight-thirty," he muttered from the side of his mouth as he passed me.
         I sighed. He was enjoying the job of super spy a bit too much. I'd hugely prefer he had backed out of this job once he'd got me inside. The last thing I needed was some gung ho civilian ruining everything. And if he did give himself away, would I be able to do anything to prevent having another death on my conscience?
         Still, he might have something useful and I'd still have time to check out the grandly named Timothy Franklin-Harrison's office beforehand.
         Time to lose these sack trucks and hide myself out somewhere until my more industrious colleagues had gone for the day.
         "Ray. Ray!"
         Recognising the voice I suppressed a larger sigh, plastered a smile on my face before turning around and watched Vicky hurry towards me, a conspiratorial grin on her face.
         She certainly filled out her jumper nicely but unfortunately that didn't make up for the space between her ears.
         "Ray, I've only got a minute." She waved the file in her hand, obviously her excuse for leaving the pool and the eagle eye of the dragon lady. "Am I going to see you tonight?"
         I'd taken her to the pub a couple of nights ago, plied her with a few drinks and got a lot of useful information out of her about the make up of the company and who was who in the power stakes. Like I said, typists' gossip and the word discretion wasn't in Vicky's vocabulary – along with quite a few other words unfortunately. Apart from the information I wanted, I'd had to listen to a lot of drivel about what had happened on Coronation Street the previous night, whether she should get her hair cut or not and a new pair of shoes she was thinking of buying.
         Much more of that would drive me round the twist but I had to keep her sweet in case I needed anything else from her.    
         "Not tonight, love." I winked at her. "Got to do a bit of business."
         Her face fell. "But you promised."
         Had I? I was fairly sure I hadn't but most of the time I'd switched off from her prattle and just muttered the odd comment in the right places.
         "Yeah well, something's come up. Can't turn down the chance for an extra bit of bunce, now can't I?"
         "S'pose not." Being always skint herself, it was the sort of excuse Vicky would understand. "Soon though?"
         "I'll let you know," I said, hating myself for hurting her feelings but equally unwilling to commit myself to another night in her company unless it was necessary. "You'd better get on back now before Miss Iron Drawers thinks you've been away too long."
         She giggled and playfully slapped my hand. Clearly the hurt feelings didn't run too deep.
         She spun around, her skirt swishing and wiggled back down the corridor.
         Reluctantly I dragged my eyes away, the rear being nearly as good as the front, and hurried off to get rid of the sack trucks.

         A couple of hours later I cautiously came out of the storeroom on the third floor where I'd hidden out and made my way up to the fifth floor where the executive offices were.
         I was disappointed, but not really surprised, to find the door to Mr F-H's office locked. I dug my picks out of my pocket and knelt to poke at the lock, glancing over my shoulder from time to time hoping the security guard wouldn't choose this moment to do his rounds.
         A few minutes later I was inside and shutting the door carefully behind me. I didn't risk the overhead light but fumbled my way to the desk and flicked on the bankers lamp. It gave me enough light to see by and I decided to start with the desk drawers as being the most likely place to find anything incriminating.
         This lock was finer than the one on the door and I cursed under my breath as I worked, the picks slipping just when I thought I had the tumblers. I mused if I were to apply for another job, what a thing to put on my CV, lock picking a speciality. Maybe I would really need to consider that if Cowley took serious objection to my little spot of AWOL. I pushed the thought away, plenty of time to worry about that once I'd obtained some justice for Stevie.
         The lock finally gave and I began to rifle through the papers within. As I had no idea what, exactly, I was looking for, it took me some time to work my way down the bottom drawer. But it was there that I found the hidden compartment. Only small and very well constructed so a casual check would probably pass it by. Knowing it was there and figuring out how to open it were two different things but eventually my probing fingers released the catch and the little recess popped open.
         I sat back on my heels with a grin of satisfaction on my face. Drugs. Not a huge quantity, to be sure. An amount that, if questioned, could conceivably be said to be for personal use, but my bones were telling me it was only the tip of the iceberg and that I was definitely onto something big.
         I thought I'd probably found the main thing worth finding but my watch said only 7.30 so I had time enough to check out the rest of the office and still meet Paul in the pub so I moved over to the nearest cupboard and tugged the door open.
         It turned out to be nothing more than a hanging space for coats and I was about to move on when I heard voices and the door handle began to turn. I was inside the cupboard and gently pulling the door to before my brain had fully registered the danger.
         "That door was locked. I always ensure it's locked."
         That was Franklin-Harrison, I recognised his whiny, slightly nasal tone. I'd seen him several times, striding about the corridors, issuing orders. Not a likeable bloke even without anything dirty against him.
         "And that lamp's on. Somebody's been in here!"
         I groaned quietly to myself, what bad timing. I tensed, expecting any second the cupboard door to be yanked open and my hiding place to be discovered.
         A faint rattle. "Well the desk's still locked. That's something."
         I heard the clink of keys and prayed he wouldn't notice the scratches I'd been unable to help making on the lock.
         "Prob'ly just the cleaner. You worry too much." A second voice.
         "I get results, don't I? Attention to detail's the thing and don't you forget it."
         "Not much chance with you around, is there? Was it part of your 'attention to detail' that got that girl killed?"
         Suddenly, far from wishing they'd hurry up and leave, I was all ears and wishing I'd got some recording equipment on me.
         "My instructions to them were perfectly clear," I heard F-H say, stiffly. "Those incompetents chose to exceed their authority and now I've had to send them out of town for a while until the police have given up their investigations."
         My jaw tightened with anger. Damn! But we could certainly force Mr Double-Barrelled to give up their names. I was tempted to step out of the cupboard and arrest the pair of them on the spot but I managed to resist. There might yet be more to learn if I just stayed quiet.
         "Well here it is. I assure you it's of particularly good quality this time and there's as much of it as you require."
         I heard the rustle of plastic, a pause and then the click of a briefcase's catches.
         "And here's your down payment. The usual terms, I assume? I'll be in touch to arrange the place and time."
         A few more words wrapped up the meeting and they left. Unfortunately leaving me with nothing concrete to go on, but at least I knew I was on the right track in coming here.
         I had to pick the lock on the door again in order to get out once they'd gone and then to lock it securely again once I was on the outside. Franklin-Harrison might have accepted the theory of the cleaner leaving the door unlocked before but there was no point in arousing his suspicions a second time. However I was still sitting in the Anchor and Hope sipping a pint by eight-twenty, in plenty of time to meet with Paul Wilson.

         I stopped at the lights and straining my eyes gazed down the same street I'd been down just half hour ago. There was still no sign of Doyle.
         It was five days since the funeral and after having searched everywhere I might previously have expected to find him, I was reduced to driving the streets after hours, just hoping to catch sight of him. Cowley had consented to the team being alerted to watch out for him as well, after a couple of days had passed.
         Somehow I was more convinced that he was onto something now. Even in his most pissed-off moods Doyle wouldn't stay out of contact this long without a good reason. At least, he'd better have a bloody good reason!
         The car behind tooted and I realised the lights had changed to green at least half a second ago, so rolled the car slowly forward still scanning the pavements. I was concentrating on the area where he and Stevie had been snatched. I'm not sure why he would be more likely to be there than anywhere else, but it seemed to make some sense.
         Who was I kidding? The chances of spotting him anywhere were infinitesimal. I needed a miracle.

         He came through the door about five minutes later. I waved him over and gestured to the other drink on the table.
         He dropped into the seat opposite and took a large gulp of the beer before sitting back and grinning at me.
         "I think I've finally found something."
         I stiffened. He had unwittingly echoed Stevie's exact words and the grin of triumph on his face also reminded me of how she looked that evening.
         "Look," he produced a sheaf of folder papers from inside his jacket pocket. "I went searching lunchtime and I found these accounts. They definitely don't match up to the records that have been filed."
         He held them out to me. "They'll help, won't they? They'll help get them arrested?"
         I took the papers and glanced through them but the rows of figures meant nothing to me. "Where exactly did you get them?"
         "Ah well, Cameron's secretary seems to think I'm just what she's been looking for so I've taken to spending my lunch hours in her company. She got called away today just as we were going out; something urgent needed finding. She said she wouldn't be long and that I should wait for her. So I did. But I had a bloody good look around while I was there."
         "And these just happened to be lying around, did they?"
         He frowned at my tone. "No, of course not. They were in Cameron's office. The connecting door was open, he'd gone to lunch as well and I just thought, well, why not take a quick look." He took another mouthful of beer. "Quite clever really. He'd hidden them amongst a whole load of other accounts. Very Poe, I thought. You know, The Purloined Letter."
         I shook my head in despair. What trail of destruction had this idiot left behind him?
         "What is your problem?" Wilson demanded. "I thought you wanted some proof and those accounts are dynamite, take my word for it!"
         "My problem is you," I snapped. "You're just bumbling around in the dark thinking it's a game. Well it's not! OK, you got me in and I'm grateful for that but now you should disappear and leave it to me. You have no idea what you're doing and these blokes won't mess around if they catch you. Not to mention all possible evidence will suddenly disappear if they think anybody is on to them. I want you to just go home!"
         "It's no game to me. It was my girlfriend that got killed over this, unless you've forgotten! You're not getting rid of me this easily. I've got a right to be here!"
         "You're out of your depth and you're too stupid to know it. It's not safe for you. I had to stand by and see Stevie killed. I won't do the same for you."
         "I can take care of myself."
         "No, you can't!"
         "Problem, gentlemen?"
         Startled I looked over at the landlord who, unnoticed by either of us, had come up alongside our table. I was also shocked that we were both on our feet and I had one hand actually gripping his jacket while the other was shaking under his nose in an effort to convince him. We both had our fists clenched and to the other patrons it must have looked as if we were squaring off for a scrap. Our voices too had raised enough to attract attention from those around; certainly enough that the landlord had thought it best to intervene.
         "No problem. We're just leaving." I snatched my jacket from the back of the chair and strode for the door, the crowd parting before me.
         I didn't wait to see if Wilson was following me or not and I don't know if I would've even stopped outside to let him catch up but as it was he grabbed my arm and spun me around to face him.
         It would have been the simplest thing in the world to have swung back my fist and let fly. All my instincts, my training were to the fore and men have got worse for grabbing at me when my temper's up. But something in his face stopped me.
         "I know why I'm doing this," he said and there was a shake in his voice that he couldn't quite control. "And I know this sort of thing is your job. But it seems to be personal for you. Was there.... Did you....?" He swallowed. "Was there something between you and Stevie?"
         I took a deep breath and let my hand fall by my side. Pushed the temper back down inside where it belonged. Got to save it for those who deserve it not this guy who was still grieving. I shook my head. "No. We were just friends, work colleagues. She was crazy about you. She was a nice kid and I was there." I shrugged. "You'd be the same if it had been you."
         He managed a half smile and nodded. "Thanks. I'm...I'm going to get on home now. Listen, I'm sorry about that in there."
         "Don't worry about it. But think about what I said. You'd be safer keeping out of it." I kept my tone light, I didn't want things to get out of hand again but the fight had gone out of him now and he just nodded again and sketched a wave as he turned to the car park. I gave him a minute and then followed him to my own car. I didn't envy him his thoughts and dreams tonight.

         There he was! I hauled on the handbrake and flung myself from the car to reach him before Doyle could get into the Cortina and get away from me.
         "Ray!" He didn't look pleased to see me but I didn't care. "Where the hell have you been?"
         "Here and there."
         I slowed as I reached him; at least he hadn't attempted to get into the car. "We were worried. You know Cowley's views on solo flights."
         "Do you think I care?" Doyle scowled at me. "What do you want?"
         "I want to know what you're up to!" Did he think I'd just come for a chat? "You've been missing for days, not even a phone call. You could have been dead somewhere for all we knew!"
         "You'd find my body then," he replied sourly. "Look Bodie, you can see I'm fine. A few more days and I'll be back, so just leave it, will you?"
         He bent to unlock the car and I stepped in front of the door. "Not so fast, Ray. You can't just disappear again."
         "That's exactly what I'm doing." He straightened up and glared at me. "How did you find me anyway?"
         "Tip-off, mate. Your little barney in there was observed by Jeff. Fortunately for me I was just up the road." I glanced towards Jeff lurking in the dark doorway, obviously happy to leave me to deal with Doyle.
         "He called it in, via HQ?" Doyle's face tightened as he followed the direction of my glance. "So Cowley might be on the way?"
         "He might." I didn't know if Cowley was still around but I was capable of stopping my partner on my own. "Anyway, what's the problem?"
         "I'm not coming back in, Bodie. Not yet. And neither you or Cowley are going to make me."
         "Are you onto something? If you've got something solid you know Cowley will let you run with it; he wants to find Stevie's killers - "
         "Not as badly as I do," he interrupted.
         "Badly enough. Talk to him, tell us what you've got."
         "Not enough, that's what. Not yet. If the Cow wants evidence I'm going to find it, and the two responsible." His swift movement in pulling open the car door bounced me off it. I bounced straight back.
         "Come on, Ray. You can't just leg it..." I could see how determined he was but the shove took me by surprise and I stumbled backwards, catching my heel on something and dropping to the ground. I scrambled back to my knees as he got into the vehicle, reaching for the car door... which smacked towards me, catching me on the temple, and suddenly I was on my back seeing stars, and listening to the Cortina roaring away out of the car park...

         "Bodie?"
         Jeff had reached me before I had chance to do more than sit up and rub my head. "Yeah, I'm OK." I was going to have a lump - it had started swelling already - but it was no worse than I normally suffered in the course of a week.
         What made it worse was who'd caused it. Doyle had intended to floor me, if not cause actual injury - that door had all the force he could muster behind it. Dammit, Ray, why'd you have to be so bloody awkward!
         Before I could get to my feet the car park was brilliantly illuminated as a car shot through the entrance and I shielded my eyes from the glare. Braking sharply and cutting the lights, Murphy scrambled from the drivers' seat as Cowley alighted from the other side.
         "Where's Doyle?"
         "Clocked me one and done a bunk." I struggled upright, avoiding help from Jeff. "He wasn't listening to reason."
         "Clearly." Cowley glanced round at my car. "Didn't it occur to you to block his escape route?"
         "It didn't occur to me that I needed to! This is Doyle, my partner, we're talking about; I wasn't expecting to bring him in under armed guard!" For all my indignation, Cowley was right. I should have anticipated that Doyle wouldn't come quietly and he could be unpredictable at the best of times. "I certainly didn't expect him to thump me in order to make a getaway."
         "Ah well, what's done is done. What did he say?"
         "He's onto something. But he wouldn't give me any more than that, just that he needed a few more days to get the evidence."
         "Evidence of who killed Stevie? Or something else? Jeff, who was he with in the pub?"
         "It wasn't anyone I knew, sir. Young, late twenties I'd say, fair hair, dressed smartly. I only spotted him because they had an argument - almost came to blows."
         So Doyle was already wound up - that explained the attitude. Didn't excuse him hitting me though.
         "He left with Doyle; by the time I'd got across the bar and followed them out he was just leaving; he had a fairly old red Escort but I couldn't get the number. Then Bodie arrived so I hung back."
         Cowley looked at me. "Did you see this man leaving? Any idea who it was?"
         "I saw the car turning out but didn't take any notice of it, I was more concerned with finding Ray."
         Several men left the pub and stared across at us curiously. "Come on," Cowley said. "There's nothing more we can do here, let's get back to headquarters."

         Unable to quiet my mind enough to sleep I turned over yet again, trying to find a comfortable spot in this poor excuse for a bed. The landlord of the third-rate bedsit I'd rented in this Islington backwater had little or no interest in the place beyond collecting his rent. The bed, along with the rest of the meagre furniture, had seen better days once but they were some considerable distance past. I'd never complain again about having to doss down on the couches in the rest room.
         Assuming I was ever allowed back inside the hallowed walls of CI5.
         Assuming I wanted to be.
         Bloody Bodie, why couldn't he have just let me get on with things?
         A little voice in my head whispered that I'd hardly given him a reason to trust me. Just disappearing like that, not a nice thing to do to your partner. You'd have been worried if the boot had been on the other foot.
         Yeah, but calling Cowley in on it, that was hardly being fair.
         But he didn't, did he? The same inner voice insisted on pointing out the truth of the matter. It wasn't Bodie who called the old man, it was that git Cranthorne.
         I sighed. The minute I'd glanced across and seen Jeff leaning against the pub wall watching us, I'd seen red. Give yourself up, his look said. We don't want any trouble but I'm here to back up Bodie if you won't come quietly.
         I knew the look, I'd used it enough times myself. Bastard. What was he doing drinking so far from home anyhow? That pub was miles from his usual haunts.
         Well if CI5 wanted to treat me like any common criminal it'ud just have to take the consequences.
         I shifted uncomfortably knowing that wasn't true of Bodie. There'd been concern in his eyes. Right up until the moment I knocked him down anyway. Glancing in my rear view mirror as I pulled away, I'd not seen him start to get up either. Christ, I hoped I hadn't seriously hurt him.
         And then there was Paul Wilson. What was I going to do about him? I seriously doubted anything I'd said this evening would make him give up his inside job. He thought he was doing some good, doing something useful. And who knows, maybe he was. Maybe those papers would help. We already had the accounts Stevie took but these would at least prove a definite link to Cameron that we didn't have before.
         Ahh, Stevie. Wilson's reason for being there at all. I, at least, had my job as defence for my actions. Stevie might not have been a fellow agent but she was a colleague and, like in the force, you all look out for each other. Nobody likes a cop killer. You touch one of us and you bring the whole force down on you. No escape. Nobody rests until you're caught. So why couldn't Cowley see that? Why hadn't he insisted on more agents on the case, on pulling in Cameron, Marsh, Walsh and anybody else who looked the least bit dodgy?
         A little matter of evidence muttered that insufferable inner voice. But for once I ignored it. Once we had the main players the evidence would surely follow. Cowley had done more for less in the past. The important thing was to secure justice for Stevie.
         "Was there something between you?" Wilson had asked and I'd given him the only possible answer. He didn't need anything more on his mind right now and in all honesty anything there once was between Stevie and me was long over.
         A week or so after the end of that damned Adamson and Talbot-Jones case I'd seen her waiting at a bus stop and offered her a lift. Which had turned into dinner. Which, if not that night then shortly afterwards, had turned into breakfast.
         Stevie was intelligent, as proven by her undercover work for us, pretty and great sense of humour once she'd got over a slight shyness but somehow we both knew it was nothing more than a pleasurable interlude.
         When I surfaced after the next bout of undercover work she had already met this Paul Wilson of hers and I wished her luck. But you don't forget a woman who's been killed in front of you, let alone one whose body you've had the pleasure of. Yeah, I had as much right as Wilson to be here all right.
         I finally gave up all pretence at trying to sleep, threw back the covers and padded over to the small table where I'd left the bottle of Scotch I'd bought a couple of days ago. I slugged back a mouthful and wandered to the window to stare out into the night and plan my next move.
         Cameron's office seemed favourite. I might spot something Wilson had missed. He might be trained in accountancy, which I didn't have a hope of understanding but I would probably recognise a wider field of culpability than he would. Then, armed with evidence, Cowley could hardly refuse to do something about it.
         I shook my head ruefully. Whether I'd burned my bridges or not, CI5 was too ingrained in me to not think of bringing them in when I needed them.
         I drained my drink and turned back to the bed. Morning would come soon enough and I needed to be alert for another tedious day of manual labour followed by another potential evening of B & E.

         "Doyle can't have tracked down the actual killers yet," I mused. "But if it's so important for him to stay out there he must have a lead to them. And who was the man he was with? Could it be someone from Cameron's company? That's where this mess started."
         Cowley poured us both another scotch. "It's possible. The Fraud Squad hasn't found anything indicating that anyone other than Walsh knew about the missing funds, but I find it hard to believe he was acting alone in a company that size."
         "Someone sent those thugs after Stevie."
         "Exactly. And neither Marsh nor Walsh would know where to find that sort of thug. At least, not at half-hour's notice. No, Marsh called someone as soon as he realised the accounts were missing, and it wasn't Walsh, although it was undoubtedly someone at Haul-Right."
         "Ray was right, we should have gone straight in there and turned the place over."
         "Chances are we'd have found nothing. If Cameron is using his company as a front he'll have anything dodgy well-hidden."
         "So how would Doyle know someone working there?" I went back to my original thought, and immediately answered my own question. "Because he's working there. He's gone in undercover."
         "Without any back-up."
         "You weren't exactly interested in following anything up. He didn't have much choice."
         Cowley let my criticism pass, perhaps because I was right. "We'd better remedy that then. First thing, you get over to Haul-Right. Confirm that Doyle's working there; see if he can get you on the inside as well, and we'll take it from there."

         Accordingly, by eight the next morning I was hovering opposite the main entrance to Haul-Right International's large office block. The autumnal weather was starting to bite and I had my collar turned up against the sharp wind whistling around the corner behind me. I hoped Doyle wouldn't be late for work.
         By quarter to nine I was cursing under my breath. There'd been no sign of Doyle and it had occurred belatedly that there were bound to be numerous entrances to this sort of building - there was an underground car park for starters, and given the nature of the business it had to have a goods yard. I didn't know for sure that Doyle was working for them, but it had to be some sort of manual job - I couldn't see him landing an office position - and it was far more likely he'd use the rear entrance.
         I was just about to give up when a man walking up the street caught my attention. Paul Wilson, Stevie's boyfriend. Late twenties, fair hair, dressed smartly. Was that who Doyle was in the pub with? Why were they arguing?
         About to step forward and call him, I stopped as he turned into the building. Why? He didn't work there, surely? What connection did he have with Haul-Right?
         Head buzzing with the latest turn of events, I retreated to a cafe down the street and after collecting a steaming cup of coffee to warm me up, tucked myself into the corner of a booth and radioed in.
         "Alpha One is out of the building, 3.7." Damn. How was I to track Wilson now? "Put me through to Betty."
         My brainwave paid off: although he wasn't next of kin Betty had recorded Paul Wilson's details, and once I'd warmed up I set off to walk the short distance to the firm of accountants that Paul worked for and a few white lies later I was chatting to his boss.
         "Paul is, as you might expect, still on compassionate leave," Ronald Grayson told me. "It was such a dreadful shock - at first he said he wouldn't take any leave, that he would find it easier to work on, but after just a day he said he needed time alone."
         "And you haven't spoken to him since then?" Definitely something odd going on then, if he wasn't working.
         "Not personally. He might have spoken to one of his colleagues - he works closely with James Bennett..."
         "I'll have a word with him."
         Grayson pointed me towards a pair of facing desks; only one occupied. "That's James."
         Bennett didn't look up until I ensconced myself in the chair facing him at the neat and tidy desk without files that was clearly Paul's. I got a slight shock as I encountered Stevie's grey eyes gazing out of a photoframe at me.
         "James, or is it Jim?"
         He nodded, obviously having seen me in his boss' office. "Jim will do."
         I deliberately didn't introduce myself. "I was wondering if you'd spoken to Paul this week?"
         He swallowed nervously. "Uh, no. I haven't seen him since he was last in the office..." he glanced at the calendar hanging on the wall. "Monday the 15th, it would have been..."
         Stevie had been killed on the previous Thursday. "And you didn't go to the funeral?"
         "We didn't really know Stevie here. I'd have gone but Paul didn't want anyone along..."
         He was far too nervous; something didn't add up. I leant forward. "Are you sure you haven't spoken to him? He hasn't phoned you?"
         This time he glanced nervously over to Grayson's office and I knew I was onto something. "What's Paul doing?"
         "Oh God... Look, I said I'd cover for him, he couldn't just sit back and wait, and the police didn't seem to be doing anything but then they wanted a reference -"
         What the hell...? "Take a deep breath and start from the beginning."

         "3.7, is Alpha One back yet?"
         "Putting you through, 3.7."
         I kept walking while waiting. Bennett didn't know exactly what Paul was doing...
         "Bodie, what's going on? Betty tells me you're looking for Paul Wilson now?"
         "I spotted him outside Haul-Right this morning. The company he works for says he's on compassionate leave, but his colleague has just confessed to writing a fake reference for Wilson so that he could get a job at Haul-Right. I think the idiot had some idea of finding out who killed Stevie himself..."
         "Does Doyle know he's working there?"
         "He must do - Wilson fits the description Cranthorne gave us. I'm back at Haul-Right now; I'm going to see if I can talk to Wilson. I'll call in later."
         By the time I reached the building I'd decided that waiting around to see if he emerged at lunchtime wasn't an option; it would be all too easy to miss him even if he did come out. I bowled confidently up to the reception desk. "I believe Paul Wilson is working here now. I'm a friend of his, I wonder if you could call him for me?"
         The pretty blonde looked slightly puzzled. "I'm not sure I know him...?"
         I knew he wasn't under an assumed name because Bennett had told me he'd had to produce his accountancy certificates. "He's not long been with you, he works in accounts."
         "Oh, yes, I think I know." She flicked through a phone book and then dialled a number. "Mr Wilson, there's a..." she raised an eyebrow at me and I supplied my name. "James Bennett."
         "...James Bennett in reception for you."
         I knew Paul either wouldn't recognise my name or come down if he did, but he'd assume something was wrong if Bennett came looking for him, and sure enough, she replaced the phone. "He's on his way down."
         I hovered near the lift and hailed him as soon as the door opened. "Paul! How're you doing?"
         He looked first confused then wary as he recognised me, and a quick glance showed him that the Bennett he was expecting was nowhere to be seen. "Uh..."
         "Got time for quick chat?" I ushered him to the far side of the lobby out of the receptionist's hearing. "What the hell are you doing here?"
         He flushed. "More than you were doing. I'm going to find Stevie's killers."
         "And probably get yourself killed as well." Still, he was inside while I wasn't and maybe I could make some use of him. "Listen, is Doyle working here?"
         Wilson hesitated, obviously wondering whether to deny knowing Doyle, but then nodded. "I told him they were looking for temporary staff to help with moving the offices around here."
         "Can you find him; pass him a message? Tell him that all is forgiven and he has Cowley's backing, and that he's to get in touch as soon as possible."
         "Well, I'll try, but we don't exactly move in the same circles. It might take me a while."
         "Quick as you can. Call whoever's in charge and ask them to send someone to move a filing cabinet, or something. I'll be hanging around outside, so if he can't get to a phone tell him to come and find me." I breezily punched his arm in a friendly farewell, raising my voice as I headed back towards the front door. "Good to see you, mate. I'll be in touch."

         I arrived at work feeling disgruntled. My middle-of-the-night blues had not left me and I felt antsy and out of sorts. I was sick of hauling tables and chairs; I wanted some action. I'd been doing this job for a week and I was frustrated at the lack of progress. Would the accounts Paul Wilson had found be enough? Coupled with my encounter with Bodie the previous evening, I was ready to bite the head off anybody who crossed me.

         Fortunately perhaps therefore, for those I was usually working with, I was set to organising an office in the new section; laying out desks and chairs in accordance with a prescribed floor plan. It wasn't a large office and so it was deemed I could manage by myself.
         After several hours of pushing and shoving of furniture into position and only one quick tea break, I was just about finished and in serious need of some lunch. My time alone had given me more time to think unpleasant thoughts and I wandered into the basement area given over to us labourer types determined to search Cameron's office as soon as possible and if that found nothing, then to try more drastic measures to force the issue.

         "Ah, Ray, you'll do. Get yourself up to the fifth floor, they need a mover and shifter urgently."
         I frowned at Reg, my immediate supervisor. "We're not doing anything on the fifth."
         "We are now. Mr Cameron and his pet Rottweiler are wanting some cabinets moved into secure storage. Lord knows why it has to be now when we're so busy but they don't confide in me."
         I thought I knew and groaned to myself. Had Cameron noticed that his accounts were missing? Maybe Paul hadn't covered his tracks as cleverly as he thought he had. Or maybe T F-H wasn't quite as convinced by the cleaner forgetting to lock his door as I'd hoped.
         I grabbed a set of sack trucks and prepared to snatch this opportunity to legitimately move files of evidence to somewhere I could check through them at my leisure.
         "Oi." Reg called after me as I reached the door. I turned back enquiringly. "Don't be trying any of your back chat on his lordship either. He won't find it funny and you don't want to cross that one."
         I had my own ideas on that point but I just nodded non-committally and carried on my way.

         I emerged from the lift onto the soft-carpeted fifth floor and made my way along to Franklin-Harrison's office. Might as well start with him.
         The door was slightly ajar and I pushed it further open with the edge of the sack truck. He was on the phone and hit me with a glare that was probably intended to be intimidating.
         "Don't you knock? Can't you see I'm engaged in business?"
         I shrugged. "It's now or never. We're pretty busy."
         "Insolent...!" He broke off to snap into the phone receiver. "Yes, yes, I'm still here. Hold on a moment." His eyes flashed back to me. "That cabinet there. Take it to the secure area immediately and then report back to me. I'll show you what needs moving in Mr Cameron's office."
         I refrained from tugging at a forelock and proceeded to hoick up the indicated cabinet onto the sack trucks.
         I swung it around and was about to leave the room when his side of the phone conversation penetrated my mind.
         "I know what I said, now I'm telling you to get back here immediately. I have a job for you. "
         I came to a halt, my ears flapping.
         "No, not like the last job. This is a simple courier job that even you idiots shouldn't be able to screw up.  Now be in the usual place at 3.00 or you don't work for me any more."  He hung up on the last word and noticed that I was still in the room.
         "What are you still doing here? How dare you listen to a private conversation?" Not pausing for an answer he went on. "Just get that cabinet moved now but be assured, I shall be having words with your supervisor!"
         I made a quick decision. The conversation hadn't been conclusive but I was convinced. I let go of the sack trucks and, in lieu of the key, which wasn't in the lock, I grabbed the nearest chair and wedged it under the door.
         "What the hell do you think you are doing?" Franklin-Harrison stood up, his voice rising in tone.
         He didn't, as I thought he might, reach for the intercom on his desk to try and summon his secretary. He was confident in his ability to deal with any upstart employee.
         Even so, I moved to the connecting door between this and his secretary's office and slid the door wedge, obviously used on occasions to hold the door open, into place to ensure we wouldn't be disturbed. Although it was lunchtime I didn't know if she were out and even if she were, what time she might be back.
         I strode across the room and shoved him back down into his chair. "You and I are going to have a bit of a chat."
         He tried to rise again, anger contorting his face, but I pushed him back down and held him there with one hand while I fished in my back pocket of my jeans for my ID card, thankful now that I'd not abandoned it along with my career when I'd taken off after the funeral.
         I flipped it open and held it up in front of his face. He took it in and froze for a second, then relaxed. "So? What on earth do you want and why go about it this way? You could have just made an appointment."
         "Oh yeah? So you could smile politely and tell me nothing? I prefer my way."
         "You've got nothing on me or this company. Even CI5 can't touch me without reasonable proof. You'll be hearing from my solicitor."
         His face was calm now, his tone assured. He clearly felt back in control of the situation. I itched to hit him but senseless violence would get me nowhere, not now when I was so close to my goal.
         "You're right of course," I agreed. "Even CI5 has its limits." His smug smile grew. "But I don't."
         I was still holding my ID card. Now I very deliberately snapped it shut and tossed it onto the desk. "I'm not with CI5 any more. I've walked. They don't know I'm even here." I put my face up close to his. "I want the truth and I'm not leaving here until I get it. One way or another. I'm not fussy."
         I was pleased to see a frown and the first, slight indication of anxiety appear on his face.
         "So, what do you want?"
         "Stevie Salter."
         "Stevie...? Is that what this is about, that nosy bitch?"
         I tightened my grip on his jacket and shook him. "You sent men out to kill her!"
         His lip curled. "Not exactly. They exceeded their authority, but there, you can't get the staff these days."
         The sheer effrontery of it took my breath away.
         "I regret the rash actions of my people but you must surely understand it was only business."
         "Business!" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
         "Certainly. You are on one side of this fence and I on the other. Naturally our interests may conflict from time to time, but there is nothing personal in the interaction. If you are here with thoughts of revenge of some kind, then frankly I think the less of you."
         I sucked my breath and ran my hand through my hair. I had to hand to this toffee-nosed, double-barrelled crook, he was certainly cool about the whole thing. I hadn't exactly expected him to spill the beans just by me asking but now I was wondering exactly what I could do to make him talk. One punch, maybe two, I could probably bring myself to do that much but to repeatedly hit a man over and over in cold blood until he talked, that wasn't my style. You have to be a particular type of character to do that. I've had it done to me and I know what it takes. I don't think there was a man in CI5 who could do that. Even Tommy McKay, poor bastard, hadn't been crazy that way. Say what you will, Cowley knew how to recruit the right sort of man.
         So, if I couldn't beat it out of him, what could I do? Again, unbidden, the image of Cowley rose in my mind. Bluff. The old man was damn good at convincing people to talk. Memories of his threats to inject Sutton with heroin, to deport Benny Marsh back to Angola, to cause trouble for Jan Malenski's family. Although deep down I didn't think they were bluffs. Maybe that was what made him so convincing. Well I could be convincing too.
         "Listen, I want those two goons of yours. It was them on the phone, wasn't it? Tell me where the meet is."
         He looked at me, calculating how far he could defy me. "I really wouldn't get very far in business if I simply gave up my associates when requested, now would I?"
         "Listen to me," I dragged him to his feet. "I was there, that night, when they killed Stevie. I saw what they did and I'm having them! Do you know what they did? Do you? To a young, frightened and defenceless girl. I don't really care who I have to go through or what I have to do to get to them."
         I pulled him over to the window and with one hand gripped the window frame and shoved it up. I heaved him out so his back was lying across the sill.
         "And when I say I don't care, I mean I don't give a fucking shit. So you tell me now what I want to know, or you can take a dive."
         His smile was a little less certain now. "You wouldn't do that. Your kind doesn't do that."
         "But I told you. I've walked. I'm not one of them anymore. I'm... freelance."
         I pushed him a few more inches out of the window. He struggled but I held him in place without much effort. His eyes darted wildly around, the light breeze ruffled his neatly blow-dried hair and he struggled harder.
         I jerked his tie, hard. "Tell me the meeting place."
         He was breathing hard now. "If you let me fall you won't gain anything."
         He had some guts, I had to give him that. I let him slide another couple of inches and felt him grab my arm. I leaned out so my face was up close to his. "But I'll be no worse off either. And you'll be a bloody mess they'll have to scrape off the pavement."
         I pushed a little harder and didn't let my face waver but his feet were scrabbling now, his toes barely touching the floor and I knew if he didn't cave in soon I'd have to haul him back in and admit defeat. He was balanced precariously and his centre of gravity was tipping over to the point where it would be hard to hold him.
         "Help! Up here!" It probably cost him to call out but we were high enough up that the wind snatched his words away before they could reach anybody on the ground. I tightened his tie until he began to choke and his eyes widened in terror as he felt himself slip a little more. All that was saving him now was my grip on the piece of fabric scrunched in my hands. I hoped he went to a good quality outfitters.
         "All right. All right, you bastard." It came out as a croak but it was all I needed. Trying not to show my relief I hauled him back in and thrust him down into his chair.
         "Talk."
         He loosened his tie, tugged his jacket straight with hands that he couldn't quite prevent shaking and swallowed.
         "I am to meet my...employees, at the same warehouse where the -" he coughed. "- unfortunate incident took place."
         "Good. That's a start." I caught sight of a Dictaphone on the desk and I had an idea. I slid it towards me. "Now you can repeat that along with a full confession. Just for the record."
         "Now look. I told you what you wanted to know. You can pick up those two psychos but you leave me out of it."
         I shook my head. "No. You ordered them to take Stevie. You're going down too."
         He shook his head. "No way. " His eyes darted to the window again and he looked scared but he didn't budge. "It's a trade, them for my freedom."
         I sighed. I was committed now. Affecting a casualness I didn't feel, I reached out and picked up a lighter, large, round, heavy, made of pewter, from next to a green marble cigarette box.
         I held it up in front of him and flicked the flint so the flame flared brightly. I waved it slowly back and forth and his eyes followed the flame as if hypnotised.
         "They burnt Stevie, you know. Amongst other things. She'd done nothing to deserve that." He made no sound and I yanked on his tie, dragging him upright, nearer to the flame. "Do you hear what I'm saying?"
         "Yes, yes, I hear you."
         "Good, good." I let the fabric slide slowly through my hand, giving him enough slack to fall back into the chair.
         "You on the other hand, are a greedy, manipulative, dirty lying, low-down toerag. Oh, and a murderer by proxy. You deserve all you get." I let the lighter flame brush gently against the very end of his tie until it began to smoulder. He jerked and pulled back, his hands slapping at the fabric long after the whisper of smoke had disappeared.
         "You crazy bastard!"
         I leaned in close. "Yeah. And don't you forget it. Next time my hand might slip and singe that caterpillar under your nose." I flicked the lighter again for emphasis then swung around and depressed the button on the Dictaphone. "Talk."
         He talked. Oh he still needed a little bit of encouragement from time to time, but I just perched on the edge of the desk and continued to fiddle with the lighter while asking him questions about how his business operated and who was involved, getting it all nicely down on tape.
         "Thank you," I said when he was done. He glared at me but said nothing. I clicked the machine off and extracted the tape, slipping it into the back pocket of my jeans.
         "And now what? My secretary will be back from lunch any minute. I presume you aren't going to be hanging around to meet her."
         "You presume right." I thought furiously. I had to make that meeting but the minute I was gone, T F-H was going to be clearing out evidence and disappearing.
         His eyes widened as I unbuckled and tugged off my belt. Despite myself I couldn't help grinning. "Don't get worked up, it's not that exciting." I moved behind him and yanked his arms through the chair back and strapped them together. Then I pulled his belt off as well and used it to bind his legs together. He tried kicking out at me but a minor jab to his stomach blew the air out of him. Still gasping for air he nevertheless tried to pull away when I went for his tie again but almost relaxed when all I did was gag him with it.
         I'd just yanked out the wires to the telephone and the intercom when a thought struck me and I cursed quietly. "Damn." If I'd thought first I could have rung HQ and got them to send someone to pick up Franklin-Harrison.
         I looked at my watch. No time to worry about that now. I'd have to just do what I could and hope for the best. Ignoring his flinch as I bent over him, I went through F-H's pockets for his keys and locked the door carefully behind me as I left. I had to hope that he would remain undisturbed until I could get him collected.

         I waited impatiently for the lift doors to open and was ready to charge straight in when they did, only to bump into a tall, blonde woman equally impatient to get out of the lift. I recognised her; Franklin-Harrison's secretary back from lunch.
         She side stepped me and hastened down the corridor.
         "'scuse me, miss."
         "Yes?" She swung around to look at me in surprise.
         "Your boss was looking for you. He went thataway muttering something about a meeting and he didn't look happy."
         It was a long shot that she wouldn't just look down her nose at a mere workman daring to speak to her but instead a look of fear came over her face and she jerked a glance at her watch. "Ohh. I'm only a couple of minutes late back." She headed back towards her office, tearing her coat off as she went and I thought I'd failed but only seconds later she dashed out again, notebook and pencil in hand, and practically ran down the corridor in search of her tyrant of a boss.
         It had bought me a little bit of time at least. I pushed the button for the basement so I could get out the staff entrance, the quicker to get back to where I'd parked my car.
         I was impatient, anxious to get moving, so when the lift stopped to let somebody in on the second floor, I'd jabbed at the button to get it moving again before I realised the other person was Paul Wilson.
         "Ray! I was just coming to see if I could find you."
         "What for? No, don't bother telling me now, I've no time."
         "But it's your colleague, Bodie, he's outside waiting for you."
         "Bodie is? What are you talking about?"
         "He came in today, spoke to me. Said to tell you all is forgiven and you're to get in touch with him at once."
         The doors opened onto the basement corridor. I stepped out but held my hand against the lift door to prevent it from closing.
         "Look, I've got something else to do. Something important." I fished in my pockets. "Go and find Bodie yourself. Give him this and this." I handed over the tape and the key to T F-H's office. "Tell him to get up to the fifth floor and take Franklin-Harrison into HQ. Tell him to get Cowley to listen to that tape, it explains everything. And don't go back to work yourself. Clear out, now. Got that?"
         "I think so." He looked a bit stunned at my rapidly delivered instructions. "Do you mean it's all over? You've got what you wanted?"
         I nodded. "Just got one loose end to tidy up but yeah, job done. Now shift!" I stood back and the doors closed even as he tried to ask a further question.
         I sped off down the corridor and out the back door of the building, ignoring the shouts of sundry of my erstwhile colleagues as I flew past them. I was unable to help the grin spreading across my face as I went. Despite my desperate need to get my hands on the two thugs I couldn't help but feel bolstered by the twin facts that I clearly hadn't seriously injured Bodie the evening before and that, despite everything, he was still there for me. He'd tracked me down and his timing was as immaculate as ever.

         My stomach was rumbling but I hadn't dared move from the place I'd stationed myself, opposite but close enough to the main entrance to see everyone who came out. Expecting - hoping - that Doyle would seek me out as soon as he got the message I'd wanted to be easy to find, but I hadn't expected Paul to appear looking flustered and clearly looking for me.
         Sensing trouble, I was already reaching for my R/T as I headed recklessly across the road through the traffic. "Get me Alpha One!" I hissed into it as I dodged a group of businessmen sauntering along the pavement. "Paul, over here!"
         His relief on finding me was evident. "I've only just managed to find Doyle."
         "What's happened?" Something had, otherwise Doyle would be out here not Paul. Whatever his answer, I was needed inside and was already heading for the building. "Where is Doyle?"
         "He was up on the fifth floor. I took ages to find him..."
         The pretty receptionist, who had probably already been puzzled by Paul's hasty exit, jacketless, from the building, now looked even more surprised as he rushed back in with me in tow, and the pair of us leapt into a waiting lift. I heard her calling after us as I punched the button and the door closed.
         "Doyle was going down to the basement, he's gone."
         "Going down...?" I was heading in the wrong direction then. But even though he didn't have much of a start, I didn't know where to follow... "Gone where?"
         "I'm trying to tell you what he told me. He'd been up on the fifth, where the executive offices are. I gave him your message, but he said he has something to do, and to give you the tape and take care of Franklin-Harrison."
         "What tape? And who's Franklin-Harrison?" Not much of this was making sense...
         The lift pinged its arrival and I slid my hand under my jacket; there was no telling what trouble Doyle had left behind him. Fortunately the corridor was quiet and deserted, and I drew my R/T rather than my gun and answered the impatient bleeping. "3.7."
         "Bodie, where are you?"
         "Inside Haul-Right, sir, fifth floor. Doyle's gone off somewhere."
         "We're on our way."
         I slid the R/T away and turned to Paul. "Right, from the beginning. Who's this Franklin-Harrison, and why does Doyle want me to take care of him?"
         "He's Cameron's PA. His office is second on the right. But I don't know what Doyle meant."
         "Let's find out..." I drew my Browning now, and padded softly along the corridor. The first office door stood open, and I quickly checked inside what was obviously a secretary's room. It was empty and I tried the connecting door - it didn't seem to be locked but was jammed in some way and refused to open, so I retraced my steps to the corridor and tried the door directly into the PA's office.
         That was solid in the frame, definitely locked, and I took a step back. I'd have to break one of them down...
         In spite of any possible danger Paul had followed me and now held out a key. "Doyle gave me this, do you think...?"
         Of course it was. Trust Doyle...

         The man behind the desk initially looked relieved as the door opened, but that didn't last long when he realised I was a stranger and unlikely to be his saviour. He had been comprehensively bound to his chair with a couple of belts - I recognised one as Ray's - and gagged with an expensive looking tie.
         "Mr Franklin-Harrison, I presume?" I've no doubt that if he'd been able to reply I'd have got a mouthful of abuse, but the best he could manage was a glare at me. I glanced around the room; nothing much seemed to be disturbed. If Doyle had any evidence then either he hadn't had to search for it - or had asked for it...
         My eye settled back on the PA. We believed Marsh had called someone at Haul-Right who had organised the thugs. Who better than the man closest to the man at the top?
         "So, Stevie Salter," I began, as I untied his gag. The panic hit his eyes and I knew I was on the right track. "What did you tell Doyle?"
         He swallowed a couple of times to relieve his dry mouth and then attempted a bluff. "I don't know what you're talking about..."
         I picked up the slim wallet from the desk in front of him and held it open. "Ray Doyle. What did you tell him?"
         "Nothing! I don't know anything - the man is crazy, he broke in here threatening me - he held me out of the window, said he'd drop me..."
         "So what did you tell him? Why did he leave?"
         "He... he ran out of time - he knew my secretary would be back any moment, so he left - tied me up so I couldn't call security - and ran for it! I couldn't tell him anything because I don't know anything!"
         I obviously hadn't spoken to Doyle and he was hoping to bluff his way out of it. It might work, with someone other than myself and Doyle; we knew each other far too well. It was unlikely Doyle would have tackled him if there wasn't something to know - and dogs with bones had nothing on Doyle. It wouldn't have mattered if the household cavalry had been on the way back to the office, Doyle wouldn't have left - and certainly not run away! - if there was still something to find.
         A loud gasp from the door drew all our attentions. The tall blonde was at first horrified by the sight that met her eyes, but I very quickly saw amusement spread over her face. Franklin-Harrison saw it as well, and I swear he was on the point of opening his mouth to fire her. "Paul, take her next door and tell her to keep quiet."
         He nodded, and I shut the door behind them. "So, Doyle ran for it?" I stepped behind him and loosened both the belts to release him.
         "Yes, he did." Franklin-Harrison sounded more confident now, convinced his bluff had worked. "I told you, the man is crazy. I shall be speaking to your superiors..."
         I seized his jacket and hauled him over to the still-open window, shoving him up against the adjacent wall. "Oh, you will. Now, let me tell you something. Think of Doyle as the frying pan and myself, if you will, as the fire. You, Mr Franklin-Harrison, could be about to get burnt..."
         His screech of fear as I shoved his head out - face down, I'm sure he would like to see where he was going - almost drowned out the noise of Paul returning, and that he was saying something to me. Holding the PA firmly, I turned to see what Paul was saying. "The tape that Doyle gave me, it fits this machine."
         Although I'd noticed the open Dictaphone on the desk I hadn't taken much notice of it, but now Paul's earlier words about a tape came back. I pulled Franklin-Harrison back inside and threw him down into the corner. Paul was already fitting the tape into the machine and rewinding it.
         First Doyle's voice, asking questions. Franklin-Harrison answering - not without some prompting. I could hear a persistent clicking in the background of the recording which puzzled me, until I realised it was probably the heavy lighter which sat on the desk, and the singed end to the silk tie suddenly made sense. But it got what Doyle wanted. Franklin-Harrison's confession that it was he that Marsh had phoned, and that he'd called some 'associates' to ask them to retrieve the papers from Stevie. I listened impatiently, it was all very useful and would help immeasurably in court, but it didn't tell me where Doyle had gone. Perhaps it would be quicker to beat it out of the weasel - it would certainly be more satisfying...
         Then I heard what I needed. "The men I used... I'm supposed to meet them later at the warehouse..."
         The warehouse? The one where they killed Stevie? I scowled at Franklin-Harrison and pressed the stop button. "Going to gloat about Stevie, were you?"
         Scrambling to his feet he returned the scowl. "That assumes she was important enough to gloat about."
         I'd been slightly surprised at Franklin-Harrison's earlier claims that Doyle had threatened to drop him out of the window and I had supposed he was exaggerating, but if he said anything like that to Doyle I'm surprised he was still alive.
         Beside me, Paul had turned white and now lunged at the PA. "Stevie meant everything to me, you bastard! She was far more important than you'll ever be!"
         I let him get a couple of blows in, the poor sod deserved that at least. However, much as I didn't care what happened to him we needed Franklin-Harrison in one piece and I reluctantly hauled Paul off him. "Leave him, mate.  He's not worth it."  
         Paul slumped back onto the desk. "Stevie was worth thousands of him."
         "Damn right. But he'll get what's coming to him." I was thankful to hear a voice I recognised arguing with someone out in the corridor, and seconds later Cowley rounded the doorframe. "Bodie! What's going on?"
         "Franklin-Harrison, sir." I indicated the slightly battered man. "He's the one who sent the thugs after Stevie. Have a listen to that, it explains everything."
         I thrust the Dictaphone at Cowley. "Doyle knows who the killers are and where to find them, so I need to find him..."
         "Bodie!" Cowley caught me as I reached the door, and lowered his voice. "You have to find him. If he gets to them first - if he kills them - then he'll have crossed the line. I won't be able to protect him."
         Cowley didn't need to elaborate; I nodded briefly and took off along the corridor to find my partner and save him - from himself.
         To save his career, and his sanity. Because no matter how much they deserved it, if Doyle killed them he'd regret it eventually, and eventually it would destroy him...

         I pulled up a little distance from the warehouse. Ten to three. I was early but so might they be, I didn't know from what distance they had to come and I didn't want to alert them with the sound of my car approaching.
         I groped under the driver's seat and felt for the gun I'd taped to the underside a week ago. I'd not liked the idea of carrying it around with me nor of leaving it in those dodgy lodgings and putting it in the glove compartment would have been just asking for trouble. Vicky had dived right in the night I'd given her a lift home, rooting about clearly looking for anything personal. I don't think a Magnum .357 was quite what she had in mind.
         Cautiously I made my way over to the warehouse. The weeds and grass were high grown but would hardly hide my approach if anybody were watching.
         It all looked so different in the daylight. I could see the occasional passing traffic across the bridge and a more steady flow along the main road some distance away. Ordinary people going about their ordinary lives with no idea that a young girl had been brutally murdered here a fortnight ago. Living in blissful ignorance. I hoped they never learnt the truths I'd seen.
         Reaching the corner of the warehouse I peered cautiously around the edge. There was a car parked in front of the entrance, a nondescript brown saloon.
         I couldn't see anybody in or around the car, they had to already be inside, so I crept forward to the small door set into the frontage. It was ajar and as I approached I could just make out voices coming from inside.
         "What's he want to bring us back here for?"
         "He always sets us the meet here, you know that. We're not good enough for his smart office. What's wrong with it?"
         "Nuthin'." The second voice sounded defensive and the first one laughed.
         "Ghosts, is that it? You're afraid of ghosts in broad daylight."
         As cues go I'd rarely had better and I stepped through the doorway, sliding my gun out from under my jacket as I did so.  
         "Well this ghost has come back to lay you to rest."
         The look on their faces was so comical I almost laughed but the one called Harry was quick to recover.
         "Oh look it's lover-boy. Had my suspicions you were still alive and kicking. Your mob would never have been on to us so quickly unless you were still around to tell them."
         "That's right, we are on to you. More than that, we've got the whole lot of you bang to rights."
         He started to scoff but I interrupted him. "Timothy Franklin-Harrison is singing his little head off as I speak." A slight exaggeration possibly but Bodie would certainly have hauled him off to HQ by now so it was only a matter of time before we had a more official confession to go with that taped one. "He'll give us Cameron and Walsh so that just leaves you two."
         "Yeah? So now what? I don't see any of your mates rushing to help you bring us in."
         "Oh they'll be here." Of that I had no doubt. All I had to do was sit on these two until Bodie came trotting along. How long that took just depended on when he or Cowley listened to that tape. Maybe I'd been a bit foolish not waiting for back up but I so wanted to see the look on these murdering bastards' faces when I collared them.
         I gestured with the gun. "Go on, move over there a bit. Might as well make ourselves comfortable while we wait."
         They moved back slowly, watching me keenly hoping for an opening to jump me but I just followed them at a reasonable distance to where some upturned crates would serve as seats.
         I couldn't help a quick glance around at the place I'd been held not so very long ago and I suddenly froze as I saw a patch of brown stain on the floor a few feet away. Dried blood. Stevie's blood. I felt bile rise in my throat but a flicker of movement at the corner of my eye was enough to make my reactions take over and I swung back to cover the man making a rush at me before he could move more than a couple of paces.
         "Sit down and don't move again or I might just put a bullet in you for the bloody hell of it!"
         "See you're remembering it. Yeah, that's where she died. Died begging you to save her. But you didn't, did you."
         "Shut up! Shut up, now!"
         "We did her a favour, putting her out of her misery like that. We would have done the same for you if you'd only held still. Didn't think you had it in you to bolt like that."
         "Thought you'd be sure to come at us," the other one chimed in. "Knew you'd want a pop at us. Then you just took off out the door."
         "That's his training, Joe. Discipline and all that. Get the job done no matter what, no matter who gets in your way. Who gets hurt."
         I took a step towards them, one fist clenched, the other clutching the barrel of the gun so tightly it hurt. I could feel my lips pulled back in a snarl and I forced myself to stop. It was what they wanted. They couldn't deal with me while I was standing off at a distance with a gun in my hand, but if they could get me mad enough to want to get up close and personal they would have every chance to get away. Two against one would seem fair odds.
         And the thing was, it was working and they could see it was. Being back here, the visible reminders. I could feel the rage rising in me. That white-hot temper I had got better at controlling but which sometimes still controlled me.
         "Come on, copper. You know you want to pound our heads. Get some blows in as revenge for her pain. Remember how she screamed? I do."
         Knowing what he was doing made no difference. The bastards were right; this is what it had all been about. Finding them, getting my hands on them, making them pay. The length of time being forced to witness Stevie's suffering meant getting them into custody was too impersonal. Only inflicting some physical punishment myself would begin to alleviate the mixed feelings of anger and guilt I hadn't been able to let go off since it happened.
         Slowly, deliberately, never taking my eyes from them, I zipped my gun in my jacket's inside pocket and took a step towards them. As if they were expecting it or, more likely, unable to believe their luck, they were off their crates and towards me like greyhounds from the stalls. Whether their intention was to just get past me to freedom or for at least one of them to do so while the other kept me occupied, I was ready for both of them.
         A swift kick caught Joe as he approached my right side and Harry ran onto my waiting fist. Unexpected it may have been but it didn't put them down. They were street fighters, used to being hit, and they merely staggered a bit and regrouped.
         That suited me just fine; I didn't want this to be quick.
         They weren't bad fighters, in my days in the force they would have given me some trouble but since my CI5 training trouble was what I was dishing out. Again, if they'd caught me unexpectedly they might have tipped the balance their way but I'd been expecting them and got the first blows in. However well they recovered and however long we danced, there was only ever going to be one outcome.
         The adrenaline surge meant that the blows they did get in didn't touch me. I'd feel it later but now I was riding high on the red mist of rage.
         I don't know how it lasted, these sorts of things can't really last too long but eventually Joe was on the floor, seemingly out cold and I laid out Harry with a final punch that had him slumping to his knees.
         I dropped down behind him and yanked his head back, pulled my gun again and shoved it against his throat. "Now, you think I should put you out of everybody's misery?" I swung my arm across to cover the unconscious Joe. "Or him?"
         I jammed the gun back against his throat. "Well? Any last words?"

         "Ray!"
         I snapped my head up, Bodie was there, gun drawn, concern written all over his face.
         "Fuck off, Bodie."
         "Ray, come on, you...."
         "Take a walk, Bodie. You don't want to see this. You were never here."

         At least I'd got here before he did anything. Now to keep it that way.
         I'd been hoping I would get here before the thugs so that Doyle and I could face them together. But once I'd reached the cars I had to persuade Cowley's driver to relinquish the keys to me and then it had taken precious minutes to reach Betty and get the exact address of the warehouse where Stevie had been killed.
         I holstered my gun and tried again. "But I am here. Come on, Ray. You've got them. We'll slap the cuffs on them and take them in."
         For once, his expression was unreadable, even to me. "You think that's enough? You don't think they should suffer a bit more?"
         I hadn't been there to see what they'd done to Stevie but undoubtedly these two hadn't suffered anywhere near enough. If our positions were reversed I'm not sure we'd even be having this conversation; I wouldn't have paused to think.
         I couldn't let Doyle do it - but I couldn't blame him for wanting to.
         Doyle tightened his grip on the man he held. "I don't think 'due justice' will suffice here. A few years inside? They won't even remember what they're in for. Not unless they have something to remind them..." He angled the gun downwards, and the man writhed as best he was able.
         Cowley wouldn't be much happier about a pair of kneecapped villains than he would a pair of dead ones. I tried not to react. "Of course they deserve it; I'm not denying that. But you deserve better. What happens to you if you pull that trigger?"  
         He was silent. I hoped that was a sign that Doyle was coming to his senses and could see from the thug's tortured expression that he thought the same, but Doyle slowly and deliberately brought the gun back up under his chin. "Oh, I think it would be worth it..." he growled softly.

         For a few frantic seconds I considered the options - did I try and jump Doyle, or turn my back to make it easier to lie when I said I hadn't seen anything? - but the resolution was much simpler. With a whimper of pure fear the thug wet himself, and Doyle grunted in derisive satisfaction as he released the man and stepped swiftly away. "Not such a tough guy now."
         Fishing out the cuffs I snapped them onto the thug and left him kneeling in his own piss as I moved to secure the other one who was showing signs of coming round.
         Doyle had holstered his gun and wandered off to one side, vaguely rubbing his ribs in a gesture familiar to me that spoke of emerging bruises. Leaving him alone with his thoughts I headed for the car to call in, but backup arrived as I reached the warehouse door and it only took a few minutes for the two thugs to be hustled out.
         My partner was silently contemplating the blood-stained ground, his shoulders set and stiff. I paced quietly to join him. "Can you lay her to rest now?"
         He didn't respond immediately. I wasn't sure what sort of internal conflict he was having - was he angry or relieved that he hadn't gone through with shooting the thug? Would he really have done it? "Ray?"
         He shrugged and turned to me but before he could speak Cowley swept into the warehouse. Giving us a brief glare - although why I got glared at, I don't know - and he snapped out an order before vacating the premises in the same mode as he'd entered. "My office - twenty minutes."
         Doyle opened his mouth to reply but our boss was gone. "Me, or you?" he finally said to me.
         "Both of us?" I hazarded a guess.
         "Maybe. Does that mean I still have a job?"
         "Of course it does. Who else does Cowley have to shout at? C'mon, let's get back to your car before we're late and give him even more reason to shout..." I started for the door, and slowly, somewhat reluctantly, Doyle followed.

         The journey back to HQ was taken mostly in silence. We took my car, although Bodie drove. He tossed the keys of the car he'd driven to Jeff and neatly twitched mine out of my hand.
         "Just to make sure you get there," he said and with a shock I realised it wasn't entirely a joke.
         I didn't object, I was slowly accepting it was all over now, sundry parts of my anatomy were complaining and I was tired. Lord, so tired. I felt as if I could sleep for a week. Maybe I'd be able to do just that if Cowley really was going to kick me out. The enormity of what I'd done was creeping up on me. Despite what outsiders might think, Cowley ran a tight ship. He oversaw and authorised our actions and we didn't get away with stepping over the lines he set. Going AWOL in the way I had... well, the result was not going to be pretty.
         I groaned and closed my eyes, sinking a little lower in my seat, sensing rather than seeing Bodie's glance.
         "Ribs? Head?"
         I shook my head. "I'm going to get creamed."
         He gave a snort. "Yup."

         Nothing more was said until he pulled into a parking space at HQ and I got out, somewhat stiffly, and looked around me. It didn't look any different of course and yet it seemed an age since I'd last been here.
         Bodie clapped me on the shoulder and guided me towards the main door. An action he'd done a hundred times before, but this time it felt different. Did he really think I was going to take off at a run or something?

         Betty's face lit up when she saw us but she only gestured towards Cowley's office. "He's waiting for you."
         I squared my shoulders. "We who are about to die..."
         "With your sword or on it," Bodie agreed. "I'll just wait here to pick up the pieces, shall I?"
         I gave him a look, took a breath and knocked on the inner door and without waiting for an answer, stepped inside.
         My boss was sitting behind his desk, writing lines on a sheet of paper before him. He glanced up as I came in then seeing it was me, he glared and slapped his pen down.
         "Well, what have you got to say for yourself, Doyle?"
         "I'm sorry, sir." It seemed the safest thing to say.
         "What for?"
         "Sir?"
         "What, exactly, are you apologising for?"
         "Er...."
         "I don't believe you give a damn about what you've put this organisation through. You waltz out of here...disobey my direct orders.... My orders, Doyle, are not suggestions to be followed if you feel like it and ignored if not."
         "No, sir." The old man was angrier than I'd seen him a long time. I hadn't expected him to be delighted but this was serious. He was on his feet now, glasses in hand jabbing the air with them to punctuate his words.
         I stayed where I was, in front of the desk, standing straighter than usual, unconsciously adopting Bodie's usual pose and feeling it might be best for once, to follow his practice of yessir and nosir until Cowley ran out of steam.
         "You had my assurances that Walsh and Cameron would be watched, investigated and yet that clearly wasn't enough for you. You felt that you alone knew better."
         "Getting those suits wouldn't have got those murdering bastards!" Well, so much for keeping quiet.
         He flicked a glance at me then and I thought I'd won him round. He might keep his sympathetic streak well hidden but it was there nevertheless.
         "And since when is it policy to go after criminals like a one man vigilante? Aye, I've heard what you did to those men. Screaming blue bloody murder they are. Do you think I've nothing better to do than ensure your doings are covered up?"
         "No sir."
         "You should have waited for back-up!"
         "They could have got away."
         "Unlikely. They were there for a meet but even if they had left, we'd have picked them up again. It did not require you threatening to murder them in cold blood. Although knowing you, there wasn't much of the cold about it."
         I opened my mouth to speak but he overrode me again. "Well? Would you have gone through with it? Would you have shot them?"
         I paused, brought up short and tried to collect my thoughts. Back in the warehouse, my blood up, the urge had been strong to...to frighten them, to terrify them, to make them feel just a fraction of the fear they'd caused Stevie.
         I exhaled. "No."
         I could see Cowley relax too, just a fraction. "No. Go down for the likes of them? I should think not indeed!"
         He came around his desk and stood in front of me, his gaze intense. "So, where do we go from here?"
         "Sir?"
         "Do you still wish to work for this organisation?"
         Moment of truth then. "Yes, sir."
         "If I keep you on, Doyle, there must be no repeat of this sort of behaviour. I cannot have agents running off at the slightest provocation..."
         "Slightest..."
         "...provocation, believing they know better than myself or the law of the land. Is that clear, Doyle?"
         "Yes, sir." There was no point in prolonging the argument, as we both seemed to want the same thing. However my answer was drowned by Betty's voice emerging tinnily from the intercom. "The minister is on his way in. I'm sorry sir but I couldn't stop him."
         And at the same time the office door opened and the minister strode in. "Ah George, is it true what I hear? Have you really got Alexander Cameron locked up? Can you make it stick?"
         "News travels fast, minister. Yes, we've got him and I don't think he'll be going anywhere very soon."
         "Splendid work, George. I thought the man was too canny to ever trip himself up. However did you manage it?"
         "Thank you, minister. I had a man in undercover. He found out all we needed to know. Yes, Doyle, that will be all. Have your report for me first thing tomorrow."
         I'd taken a cautious step towards the door, thinking to make a strategic retreat.
         "This man, was it?" The minister swung around and looked me up and down. His enthusiasm faltered a little as he took in my dishevelled appearance but he rallied himself. "Good work, jolly good work, young man."
         "Thank you, sir. All in a day's work," I said, cheerfully and then, at the look on Cowley's face, I hastily retreated through the open door.
         As I closed the door behind me I could hear the minister suggesting a drink to celebrate.
         "Bloody hypocrite," I muttered. "Tearing me off a strip and then taking the praise as if he'd organised the whole thing."  
         "All sorted though, eh?" Bodie said, "Kissed and made up and all back to normal?"
         I nodded. "Report due tomorrow so I think we're safe to run away until then."
         It may have been my use of the phrase 'run away' but an odd look passed across Bodie's face, only to be quickly wiped clean and replaced with his habitual expression. It was quick and I wouldn't have seen anything if I hadn't happened to be looking right at him just then. It brought me up short though and my mind, tired as it was, starting racing. I know Bodie, probably better than anybody else does after all the time we've spent together. I know how he thinks and I know what he doesn't say. He might have to be dragged over hot coals before he'd admit it, but Bodie was hurt I'd not confided in him, not asked for his help. It was time I made up for that.
          "Thanks for being there earlier," I said now and saw his glance sharpen. "It strikes me that I haven't been all that fair to you over all this."
          "Oh what, running out without a word, not getting in contact, not trusting me to help. That sort of thing? Don't give it a moments thought, mate."
          Oh yeah. He was definitely annoyed.
          "No sense in both of us being in bad with the boss. It was my turn." I moved slowly towards the door. "But I do think I owe you a drink."
         "You owe me more than just the one." The words were tart but the tone and the accompanying look were more normal.
         "Trouble is, "I continued. "It's like the pig's tail."
         "Huh?"
         "Twirly. There's nowhere open yet."
         Bodie groaned obligingly and then brightened. "I know somewhere. Murph got me signed up. Nice club but the drinks are a bit pricy. It's going to cost you." He grinned happily and rubbed his hands with glee.
         "Ah," I said, swiftly, hiding my pleasure at seeing him perk up. "I know those sort of places. If I'm your guest I can't buy drinks. Members only."
         "Well you can just become a member as well then. Only a tenner."
         "A tenner! Do you think I'm made of money or something?"
         "What, didn't they pay you at Haul-Right then? You've been collecting two wages, sunshine, and as your mate it's only right I help get rid of the evidence before Cowley and Inland Revenue find out."
         "Oh, that's you being a mate, is it?"
         "What else?"
         "Oh I could think of a few other words for it."
         "If you're still here when the minister leaves, Mr Cowley might just find some work for you to do." Betty's quiet voice made us both jump.
         "We're gone, we're gone," Bodie said, hastily and pulled me towards the door. "See you tomorrow, Betty."
         As he disappeared out the door his voice floated back in a mock Southern accent. "And tomorrow is another day, Scarlett."
         Yes, another day for us but there were no more days for Stevie. I sighed. I'd kept my graveside promise and that was all I could do. Now it was time to get back on with looking after the living.
         With a reassuring smile at Betty, I followed my partner down the corridor. A few drinks and a few laughs would see us all right again.


© Sue Tier & Carol Good - December 2007


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