Every branch in the entire park was alive with a choir of tiny sparrows. Leaves fluttered from their perches, carpeting the scuffed park path in imperial ruby and gold. Bodie shrugged his coat tighter around his shoulders. It wasn’t freezing exactly, but he could feel the first stirrings of frost scratching at his skin. The steady crunch of the leaves was echoed by another – almost identical – tread beside him. Bodie automatically adjusted his pace to match and let his gaze slide sideways so he could surreptitiously study the pale face that the other tread belonged to.
Luckily for him, Doyle’s attention was engaged by the songbirds above them and, judging from the rapt expression on his face, drinking it in hungrily. A weird sensation twisted in Bodie’s stomach, nearly making him stop in his tracks. Normally he would be making a crack right now about classical music and (depending on how mock-annoyed Doyle could be bothered to act) Mozart would maybe be dragged into it. But, even as the mists of the sentence presented itself in his brain, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to voice it.
The reason for that was because of how skinny Doyle was. Of course, the little sod had always naturally looked like a rake; but it wasn’t like he had actually been a rake in the traditional sense of the word. No, Doyle had always been lean – not skinny, a skinny agent wasn’t what Cowley wanted – and energetic with it. Every thought and feeling was spelled out in his mannerisms and gestures which Bodie had long ago learnt the index for.
Now all that energy, all that fire was curiously absent and had been for a long time. Bodie dropped his gaze back to his feet, absently shuffling the leaves over his shoes. Doyle still did his job as he was supposed to, talked to colleagues making jokes and observances galore and he sometimes allowed Bodie to drag him out for a few pints down at their local. Bodie had stopped that after a few weeks because Doyle would quietly and unfailingly get completely hammered and then go home with barely a word to Bodie, presumably to drink some more. Finally, when he’d had enough of this silent bottle-hitting Doyle, he had taken the opportunity – when asked to fetch something of Doyle’s from his flat – to go through his home, seeking out any hint, any shred of evidence, that would confirm what he thought he already knew.
But there had been nothing: no bottles, no shards, not even the merest drop of alcohol anywhere in the house. Standing in the darkened living room, Bodie had experienced a sudden surge of relief. Either there hadn’t been a problem or Doyle had realised that he was going overboard with his drinking and was doing something about it. Thinking back on it now, Bodie wondered if Doyle had been becoming an alcoholic – he had always seemed sober apart from those ill-fated trips to the pub. Maybe Doyle had felt a… he didn’t know… an obligation, or something, to keep Bodie company while he drank. Maybe he just overestimated how the alcohol was going to go to his head. Come to think of it, the beer had seemed a little strong.
But that didn’t change that fact that Doyle was different. He didn’t seem to get as angry about things anymore – failed ops, criminals mocking them, even little incidents like being late or forgetting something important. If it had been anyone else Bodie might have said that they had mellowed, but this was Ray Doyle he was talking about. This was Ray Doyle who could have been sold as a firecracker on Bonfire Night when the temper took hold and even Bodie had learnt when it was ok for him to try and interfere and when it was time to take off running and not look back. Now everything just seemed to almost be too much bother. Bodie didn’t like it. He wasn’t sure what to do. He’d seen Doyle slip into this black mood before, let him battle it out inside his head and was waiting to help pick him up again when Doyle had beaten his demons. Doyle liked doing things by himself, Bodie had lent a few jabs to boost his morale in cases before but ultimately it all came down to his partner to sort it out for himself.
Which he seemed to have done, Bodie noted. There had been the return of a spring to Doyle’s step in recent days and Bodie found himself hoping that it heralded the return to normality.
They crossed the road by the island and walked along the splintered pavement, their footsteps throwing soft clicks into the general calm noise. The street was fairly deserted, just a couple lounging together on a bench in the park, completely oblivious to the world and a group of androgynous teenagers chattering excitedly to each other about some new band or film as they rounded the corner. They halted outside a little corner shop, Bodie stooping to skim the headlines of the newsstand outside. “Hey Doyle, reckon I won anything on the races yesterday?”
“I dunno,” Doyle smiled at him, “what was it called?”
“Um…” Bodie had the good grace to look embarrassed, “Goer Betty.”
Doyle raised his eyebrows, “Goer Betty? Who names their horse Goer Betty?”
“The same kind of person who names their horse Flirty Gert,” Bodie countered defensively. “Anyway,” he continued, pulling open the door, “how’s Lucy been? I haven’t seen her for a while.”
“You know as much as me,” Doyle shrugged cautiously, “We agreed that it wasn’t going anywhere and we kind of drifted apart,” he picked up a bike magazine and began leafing through it. Bodie eyed him with suspicion.
“Really?” he asked, “when was this?”
“About… about a month ago.”
“So who’ve you been seeing then?” he asked.
Doyle shrugged again, a lopsided jerk of the shoulder, his attention still fixed on the newest piece of machinery. “I haven’t really been going out.”
“Dry as a desert then?” Bodie teased. Doyle just shrugged again and moved away to the window, gazing out across the road. “Ray…?”
“I’m ok.” Doyle glanced back at him; “Just a bit tired, that’s all,” A wave of tension momentarily tightened his shoulders before it evaporated as fast as it had appeared.
“We are owed a few days off, you know.” Bodie replaced the newspaper on the shelf and gave Doyle a quick matey pat on the shoulder. “If you would be willing to brave the Cow’s wrath then you could have a few days away – on the coast or something.”
Eyes crinkling, Doyle interjected, “Why me? You’re his favourite!”
“I still don’t understand why you think that, Angelfish – I’ve had more tellings off from the Cow in the last month that you have all year,” inwardly, he winced at the blatant lie. Doyle laughed softly, obviously seeing through it. The laughter was genuine, Bodie noted, but there was still a tinge of something in it that he wasn’t sure how to identify. However, he pushed on. “No Ray, I’m serious. Get away. Take the sketchbook and have some time to yourself. You’re looking more and more like a ghost every day!” There was a small twitch at the edge of his partner’s mouth as if he had said something inordinately funny.
“Should I just get a sheet and put it over my head then?” Doyle joked, “Start leaping out at people in HQ going boo?” The image stopped Bodie dead in his tracks, imagining a costumed Doyle sneaking around the CI5 corridors doing just that.
“Bloody dangerous that,” he replied, trying to smother a chuckle, “You’d probably end up getting shot by Cowley.” Doyle shrugged again, his face closing abruptly.
“I would, wouldn’t I?” he said quietly. “Death by Cow, eh?”
“Not a nice way to go,” Bodie said with a little less joviality that he had been planning. “Thank you Mr Ross. I’ll see you later,” he interrupted himself and shoved the pennies in his pocket, “Can’t think of many worse ones.”
Doyle didn’t reply to the prompt, his brow creased slightly in thought.
The bell tinkled as they stepped out into the watery sunlight, a light breeze sweeping the leaves from the pavements. They walked on in separate silence, Bodie growing increasingly more and more apprehensive, therefore more irritated, by Doyle’s inwardly retreating air. He felt himself starting to grind his teeth. Just before they crossed the road to enter the park, he grabbed Doyle’s arm. “Listen Ray…” he said, “You know that it wasn’t your fault what happened, don’t you?” Doyle didn’t answer. “You couldn’t have stopped it – none of us could!” Doyle gently pulled his arm from Bodie’s grasp.
“It’s ok, Bodie.”
“Are you sure?”
Doyle stared towards the trees for a few moments, his expression wistful and still. There was a rumble in the distance, but Bodie ignored it. He hadn’t noticed before just how gaunt Doyle looked. His partner turned around to him and gifted him with a dreamy smile.
“Yeah,” he said. Then he stepped out onto the road –
Straight into the path of a speeding bus.
A piercing scream – screech of brakes – rough cloth sliding between his fingers – sudden weight of a body – crack of knees on concrete – explosion of hot, wet pain – stillness of limbs entangled in his.
The birds stopped singing.
Monochrome images, frozen in time, blinked through his brain, bathing the world in horror.
Then, like a film stuttering back to life, colour flooded back to his eyes. Disorientated by the sudden change in pace, Bodie struggled to sit up. Doyle was cursing flatly, trying to disengage his legs from under Bodie. Hastily Bodie grabbed for him and tried to check for injuries, “Ray? Are you ok? You weren’t hit were you?”
“Gerroff me Bodie!” Doyle managed to draw his trapped limbs away from his partner and began to climb to his feet. “Didn’t hit me.”
“Thank god,” Bodie breathed, feeling his heart rate slow to double digits, “Did you not see the bus?”
There was the merest of delicate pauses before Doyle muttered, “no.” They were standing now; the bus was long gone, leaving the impression of tyres on the tarmac. “Are you alright?” Bodie looked down and grimaced.
“You owe me a new pair of trousers sunshine,” he remarked drolly. Slow streams of crimson were dripping down his shins from the grazes in both knees. Doyle opened his mouth to say something – but was suddenly silenced by the arrival of the flustered couple, their terrified exclamations rupturing the tense atmosphere.
“Are you ok? Oh god, he nearly hit you!”
“I didn’t manage to get his number, mate, sorry… oh! Your knees!” The man was staring at the blood in dismay, his blue eyes wide.
“I’m ok –“ Bodie started.
“I’m a doctor, mate. Just –“
“I’m fine,” Bodie insisted. “I’ve had worse.”
“Are you sure?” the woman asked doubtfully, twirling a strand of ginger hair round her finger, “I mean… it was an awfully big bus.” she flushed at the banality of the statement.
“It’s ok, love,” Doyle was flashing his devastating smile, reassuring the couple as he would in any other situation. Bodie had to marvel at just how calm he was after their close call. “I just didn’t look – stupid of me I know – but you know how it is. Mind on other things.”
Unfortunately his charms were not so effective on the man who persisted that Bodie should at least bath the wound and maybe go to see a doctor. “It could get infected, mate.” Bodie took a good look at him, seeing the baby face that was yet to fully disappear as he matured, coming to the conclusion that this man was still new to his profession and eager to do some good in the world. “It’s ok, really. Thank you. I’m going to do that,” Bodie lied as he gripped Doyle’s arm and began to steer them both away from the couple, “but first I think I’m going to have to beat some sense into my friend here.”
Doyle shook his head sorrowfully, “good luck with that.”
It took a while for them to completely convince the pair that they were both very much alive and not likely to keel over from shock – unlike, Bodie suspected, they were – and soon the couple had moved off together in the direction of the shop. They crossed the road, Bodie fastidiously checking both ways, in tight-lipped silence and were back among the rain of leaves before Bodie decided to let his feelings rip. “Jesus Doyle!”
“What? We’re both alive aren’t we?” Doyle snapped.
“No thanks to you, mate. It was a bloody close call!” Doyle pushed past him, hands rammed deep into his pockets. “Don’t you dare walk away sunshine –“ Doyle ignored him, quickening his pace. “Come back!” There was no response. Bodie chased after him and snagged his arm roughly.
Doyle spun round, spitting fire, “Let go!”
“Not until you snap out of it!”
“Snap out of what?” he asked calmly. It was the same calmness that came just before a bullet hit you, when you knew that it was coming and it was far too late to do anything about it. “Go on. I want to hear this.”
“Oh? You think I haven’t noticed? You think I haven’t noticed the fact that you drink yourself insensible? You think I haven’t noticed that you’ve halved your portion sizes? You think I haven’t noticed that you look like a walking corpse?” Bodie paused, anger making him breathless. “Do you think I’ve just looked the other way when you’ve run straight into a firefight? I’m your partner damnit! I’m supposed to watch your back!”
“What I do in my own time is my business.” Doyle said sharply. He yanked his arm out of Bodie’s grasp. “Just go home. I can make it from here.”
Doyle frowned, puzzled. “No?” he queried.
“If your idea of having a good time is trying to kill yourself then it becomes my business.” Bodie informed him darkly.
Doyle bit his lip and turned away with a sigh. “Thanks Bodie.”
“What?” he was thrown by the sudden change in tone.
“I appreciate it. No, really,” he held up his hand, “I do. I’m an arrogant sod and I don’t know why you bothered putting up with me. This is something I have to do, ok? I just want… I just want to be alone for a while. I’m tired.” He punched Bodie on the shoulder and then, quickly, walked away towards his flat. “’Bye.”
Bodie was left standing on the rotting carpet, feeling hollow and confused. For a moment he thought about running after him, but he wasn’t sure it would help. He began to scythe at the leaves as he walked, his hindbrain gnawing incessantly at the last conversation, worrying over it like a terrier.
Don’t know why you bothered putting up with me… something I have to do… want to be alone… I’m tired… bothered putting up with… I have to do… alone… my own business… tired… bothered… bothered…
Why did he say bothered instead of bother? The tangling spider web of words nearly walked Bodie into a tree. He caught his ankle on a root and lurched forwards, jarring his injured knees. Hissing a quick curse, he yanked himself loose and then leant against the irregular bark – trying to work out what exactly his brain was telling him. Bothered – bothered. The word was beginning to blur in his mind, becoming a meaningless jumble of syllables. Why? Why the past tense? Was he going to quit? Was he going to storm up to Cowley like he had done three years ago and demand that CI5 accepted his resignation? Hadn’t worked last time, had it? The Cow was far too cunning for that. He had stood firm against Hurricane Doyle without changing tone or expression and calmly informed his furious agent that he was suspended so the amateur dramatics were useless. Only Major George Cowley could have turned the situation on its head so fast that the agents were both floored by it. Actually, Bodie wondered if Cowley had planned for the entire outburst from the start like he seemed to plan almost everything else. He wouldn’t put it past the old bastard.
But that didn’t change the wordless roaring fear inside him. This moment felt wrong – Doyle had teetered on the edge of resignation many times before and it had never been like this.
The lightning nearly sent Bodie to his knees. He froze in indecision, not quite understanding what it was that made that word so different and so dangerous. Then it came to him with a sick moment of clarity.
Doyle never said goodbye.
He just didn’t. Bodie had always reckoned that it was some remnant that he had picked up on the Drugs Squad; it had been the same in the SAS. In their line of work you didn’t tempt fate. So, you said see you or later or something like that. Some people wouldn’t even say the word in passing, just in case. He had turned and was sprinting along the path before he even remembered how to move. Doyle’s words slashed at his brain and echoed hauntingly in his ears, spurring him to adopt an even faster pace. Bodie skidded along the path, narrowly avoiding a woman with a yappy rat of a dog, and was across the road with little thought for his own safety. Someone swore and leaned on the horn, but he ignored them. He wasn’t far from Doyle’s flat. He could make it. Please, let me be wrong, he thought despairingly. I’d give anything if I’m wrong.
The grey-white block of flats wasn’t particularly tall, but to Bodie it seemed to stretch on forever. Panting a little, he stabbed at Doyle’s name on the outside call box. There was no answer. He smashed his fist into it again and again. “Damnit Doyle! Answer me! Let me in!” Impatience eating at his bones, he backed up and tried to judge if he could break the door down. Déjà vu burned its way behind his eyes and into his heart as he remembered a day very much like this one not long enough ago. The fear creeping inside. The silence from the flat above. Where was the fire escape this time? He was just about to go and find it when the front door suddenly opened. Bodie wasted no time. Without regard for the old dear tottering out, he shoved past and into the lobby, casting a wild glance around. The lift was occupied and on its way up so he thundered for the stairs. Doyle was only on the fourth floor. He could run that.
Number 16 – number 16. Bodie sped past each room until he reached Doyle’s. He raised his hand to knock and stopped abruptly. Doyle might not be here. He could have gone somewhere, anywhere else to… to do it. Of course, he might not be going to do it. Bodie might be overreacting. Oh god please let him be overacting…
He was still frozen in the act of rapping on the door when a small voice piped up, “If you’re lookin’ for Mister Number 16 then he’s in. He only ’rrived about ten minutes ago.” Bodie started in surprise. The boy on the stairs gave him a knowing look that clearly stated that he wanted something in return for the information. “He looked kinda sad, mister.”
“Thanks kid,” he muttered curtly, hammering with all his might on the wood. “Doyle? Open the door!” Something smashed inside the apartment. “I’m coming in Doyle. Whether you like it or not.” He rapidly backpedalled and crashed into the door. The boy stared in disbelief with his mouth hanging open, the comic book slipping off his lap. This was way better than anything on TV. Bodie shoulder charged it a second time, feeling the chain begin to give way. On the third go, which nearly popped the joint from its socket, the door gave way, spilling him on the floor. Instinctively, he drew his gun – only just realising that there could be another reason for Doyle not answering him.
Bodie was expecting silence. It took him a moment to grasp that the room was filled with music, some classical piece that was both uplifting and heartrendingly solemn. He tore towards the source, the music invoking a frantic flutter in his brain. The door to the bedroom was jammed shut, but the adrenaline leaping through his body made it a useless gesture. Bodie barged the door open –
And stopped abruptly, his brain refusing to acknowledge what his eyes were telling him.
Suspended, like some sick parody of the angel he vaguely resembled, Doyle dangled limply from the rafter in the ceiling, his face rapidly tinging blue. A chair was crumpled on its side below his twitching feet. Bodie didn’t remember what he did next, didn’t know if he fired the gun (he must have, what else was there for him to use?) but the very next recollection he had was dragging Doyle’s unconscious form to him, checking airways and heartbeats with intrusively desperate hands. “Ray…” he whispered pitifully, “why? C’mon mate, you’ve got to stay with me. C’mon…” clumsy fingers fumbled at the knot, listening to the harsh breaths of a body that wasn’t entirely sure it was still functioning. Bodie craned his neck to glance out of the door, spotting the kid’s shadow loitering outside. “Get an ambulance!” he roared.
“What’d I say?” the boy wailed, almost frozen in terror. To him the whole scene was nightmarish – belonging in the kind of film that his older siblings adored, featuring psychos with chainsaws.
“Tell them that a man has been strangled,” Bodie didn’t know how his voice was so clear, “he’s breathing and his heart’s going, but he doesn’t look good. Can you do that for me?”
“I – I don’t know…”
“Yes, you can – what’s your name?” Bodie didn’t take his eyes off the figure in his arms. Doyle looked so vulnerable; dark, ominous bruises were forming across his throat like some weird necklace. He’d removed his silver chain, Bodie noted absently. Briefly, he wondered where it was.
“My friend is not very well, Callum,” he nearly laughed at the stupidity of the lie, “and he needs an ambulance right now. I can’t leave him as he could get sicker. I need you to call them for me. Can you be a big boy, Callum and do that?” Callum rushed to the phone. Bodie dimly heard him dialling the number and then repeating what Bodie had told him one word at a time. He heard him direct the emergency team to the flats and give the number of the room. “Good boy,” he said softly, “good boy. Listen to me, Ray, I’m not going to let go, ok? I’m not going to let you go.” He laid his partner on his carpet – trying to keep his head as still as possible – and raised his legs, supporting them with the chair. Carefully, like he might break something, he brushed Doyle’s hair away from his eyes. “Why the hell did you do it, Ray?” he asked harshly, anger only now beginning to surface. “What the hell were you thinking?”
He kept a firm hold on him even after the he heard the sirens singing down on the street. He kept a hold on him even when the medics crashed up the stairs and inside the room. He refused to let go even when they talked to him in soothing tones. It was only when the anger burst out of him in a savage swirl of red that he allowed Ray to be pried from his grasp and taken from him by the green-clad doctors as another statistic in the battle between life and death. He had never felt so…