The Cold Calculus

At least the rain had stopped.

George Cowley shook himself, perplexed at the ludicrous thoughts that could still infiltrate the defences of his mind in times of emergency. After all these years, he could still lose a moment to the caprices of adrenaline. He knew he had no time for this.

He leaned against his motor as the last of his men drove past, tyres screeching as if in angry protest of this bizarre turn of events. Inside himself, Cowley screeched as well. Only three men were supposed to have been in that building. Only three. So he'd ordered his best team in to take them, dead or alive, and instead he'd sent Bodie and Doyle into the lair of an entire terrorist organization. How many men had they found? Twenty? Thirty? A dozen had just escaped through the back, including the ringleader. Now Murphy and Jax and everyone else was in pursuit.

Except Cowley. He'd stayed to pick up the pieces. He did not know the cause of this debacle - was there a plant inside CI5 tampering with information? was it a last-minute change of plans on the part of the terrorists? - but he placed the blame on his own doorstep.

He entered the abandoned warehouse through a side door with stealth that would have made Macklin proud. Leaning against the doorframe, gun in hand, he took the scene in at a glance. Dead bodies littered the floor. Cowley allowed himself a moment of pride; his best team might've been led into the lion's den, but the two had taken many a lion down with them.

It only took moments for Cowley to scan the warehouse, but those seconds stretched in surreal timelessness as the damage became clear. To his left, Ray Doyle scrabbled along the floor, all but paralyzed by a shot in the hip. One hand covered the wound and the other stuggled for purchase on the filthy concrete. His face contorted around a hoarse cry for Bodie, repeated over and over as he dragged himself toward the center of the storeroom.

Across to Cowley's right, Bodie fought to prop himself on his elbows, both hands clutching at his belly. Full lips seemed to form Ray's name, but any sound died behind the bright red blood that bubbled and spilled down his chin.

Before Cowley could act the walls shook with a violent explosion. He turned into the support of the doorframe, noting to himself the sound and size of the blast. There would be structural damage, and possibly fire. As the echoes died he lurched back into the building, intent upon rescue. The far wall of the warehouse burst into flame. Cowley felt the heat on his face. He had such little time.

He summoned anger and grief and put their combined power behind his rationality. Doyle was wounded, but he might well survive if he received medical attention soon. Bodie was much more gravely injured: gut shot, haemorrhaging. His chances were poor.

In a moment Cowley was at Doyle's side, hooking hands beneath each arm and pulling him toward the door. Doyle's litany of Bodie's name erupted into a scream of pain as Cowley moved him. Then the former copper went still in Cowley's arms. With awkward, dragging steps Cowley finally brought Doyle to the doorframe, then kneeled beside him and looked back for Bodie.

Smoke clouded the air and brought tears to Cowley's eyes. Squinting, he could make out Bodie's hunched form. The ex-merc was huddled in on himself, shuddering and choking for bloody breath, his eyes fixed in terrible concentration on the quickly approaching flames. He could not move; he could only drown in his own blood or be burned alive.

There was no time. No time at all. Bodie was a good lad, Cowley thought. Perhaps the best. Such a terrible loss, but Cowley would face that later. Someone would pay, but that, too, was an issue for a later time. There was no chance for rescue. But there was a chance for mercy.

Cowley aimed his gun.

The sudden movement across the cloudy room caught Bodie's eye, and he turned to see his mentor. Cowley waited as understanding shifted the angles of the ravaged body. Bodie looked to Cowley's side and recognized the unconscious Doyle, safe in Cowley's care. He settled then, as if satisfied, and ceased his struggles for air. He nodded once and closed his eyes.

Despite the smoke and the stress, Cowley's aim was true. But as he lowered the gun, the still fingers began a palsied trembling that made every movement clumsy.

He pulled Doyle clear only heartbeats before the building's roof collapsed.

The flames battered the darkening sky. With exact precision, Cowley summoned an ambulance for Doyle and called his men for reports. Steadiness eventually returned to his hands.

The rain began again, a gentle grey downpour. Cowley ignored it and thirsted for scotch.


Vital Stats: Originally written in 1998.