Out of the Dark

Chapter One

He looked so young. Major George Cowley bent over the hospital bed where the boy was lying, still unconscious after the surgery. Freshly shaved and cleaned, eyes closed on some peaceful dream, he had nothing in common any more with the human wretch Cowley had rescued from the rebels' jail two days ago. He had not noticed then the form on the cot, in the darkest corner of the room, and could have missed him completely if it had not been for the sound of raspy breathing coming from that area and the weary gesture of MacLaren pointing to his cell mate.

Then he had seen the man; more a boy than a man, in spite of the nascent beard shadowing his face. He had taken a moment to consider the lean, athletic body spread very still and defenceless in front of him. Save for a dirty rag loosely wrapped around the hips and a blood soaked band circling his head, he was naked. There also was a nasty machete wound left untended, hardly closed up, festering on his right shoulder. The rest of the exposed flesh was covered in bruises, more markedly on belly and flanks.

A life long experience of pain, his or others', had hardened him against such emotions; yet, he had not been able to suppress a pang of compassion. Suddenly the young man had opened his eyes and he had met the shock of a deep blue gaze staring at him interrogatively.

Questioned, he had uttered his name with a sort of honest pride: "Bodie, Sir". The voice was pleasant, undoubtedly English and steadier than could be expected from his apparent condition.

And now, George Cowley was at his bedside again, not in a grim bush camp barrack, but in a clear, white, impeccably clean hospital room. It was a testimony of the growing political influence of his mentor that he had managed within two days, to arrange a medical repatriation and an admission to a London military hospital, not only for his own man, but for this stranger too.

MacLaren was out, for some examination or other. He was alone with the boy, waiting for him to awaken and wondering what he was going to do with him after his medical release. A brief inquiry, based on the sparse information given by the man had not uncovered any family or personal records. He knew nothing definite about this man, not even his name.

"Bodie", if that was his name, was still asleep and breathing evenly, happily unaware of the surrounding world. Cowley let his gaze wander over the male figure, roughly defined by a thin blanket: Tall, wide shouldered, well muscled though slim, he must have been perfectly fit and trained before he had been wounded and captured. A fine soldier, really.

Major George Cowley liked fine soldiers. And it did no harm when they were good looking too. As for this one, he could easily be called beautiful with his regular features (apart from a funny, slightly snub nose) and these absurdly long lashes which almost reached the high cheekbones.

He shook his head, angry with himself; handsome soldiers and beautiful boys were not a healthy daydream topic for a man in his position.

As if in answer to his thoughts, the thickly fringed eyelids lifted and Cowley was caught again...diving in deep marine blue...Stop! He cringed inwardly; deep marine blue pits, indeed! Last time he had fallen for such nonsense, he was still at boarding school. The man was decidedly dangerous, and not only for his fighting skills.

At the moment this dangerous man was smiling at him, not remotely shy, and his deep blue eyes looked still deeper and bluer.

"You recognize me?"

The smile broadened. "Of course I recognize you! Your face was the most beautiful thing I had seen in ages."

"What do you mean?" asked Cowley, a little taken aback.

"It was an honest Englishman's face."

"I am a Scot," retorted Cowley sternly. If he was stung, it didn't show.

"Oh, yes," said the young man with indifference, "just a manner of speaking, you know...among all these dark, unfriendly faces; it was like coming home at last..."

"You are home now. What are your plans for the future?"

A shadow veiled the handsome face. "Future? I haven't thought about it."

"You have to. What age are you?"

I'll be twenty four this July, end of July," he added with playfulness, "I'm a Lion, you see..."

"Come on, man," Cowley snapped, "We are talking seriously. What do you intend to do after you have been released?"

The young man shrugged, then winced: "Ouch! Damned shoulder!" He looked up at the ceiling. "Don't know, really...Anything I find, providing it's reasonably paid. There's a lot of things I can do." He smiled. "I happen to have worked in some strange places...such as 'Le Pompon Rouge', in Tangier; it was supposed to be a sailor's home." He smirked. "It was more a male brothel than anything else, to tell the truth."

Cowley was shocked and surprised to be so. "Save this tale for someone else; I'm not interested in your dirty little secrets."

Bodie was unfazed. "I was only the bouncer."

"What a waste," thought Cowley in a totally illogical way. He didn't voice his feelings but they probably showed on his face, for the young man laughed frankly.

"I was very popular there. Sometimes I regret I didn't take more advantage of the situation: there were quite a few big-wigs among the regulars, you know."

Cowley knew, or rather remembered. Yes, and we had our eye on them, as did the French, and the Soviets as well.But he kept these reflections to himself. It reminded him he had to check the man's past and background before he could offer him a job. The idea struck him by its incongruity: why should he propose anything to a total stranger, whose kinship was unknown, previous history murky and personal character dubious? It was as if he was looking for a good reason to keep in touch with the lad.

No, he decided; there were good reasons enough: On the plane, he had had time to read MacLaren's reports about the insurgency and Bodie's part in it. The man was smart, undoubtedly: a born warrior, a natural leader and, more importantly, he had a reputation for perfect loyalty towards his chosen masters. Properly handled, he could become a precious asset to one or another of the British Special Forces. In the future at least - not now. He had to be tested and prepared carefully. Well, he had to heal up first. His present condition was far from bright.

Cowley got right back to the point. "Have you got any financial resources at your disposal?"

Bodie raised a single circumflex-shaped eyebrow: "How could I? You found me naked in the middle of the bush, remember?"

"Don't tell me you work for free!"

"Well, I didn't get the premium for this last mission, but I don't want to complain; I have money enough, just not in England."

"I hope I can manage to find you a place in a military convalescent home, where you could stay for about a month, two at the most. After that, you'll have to be on your own."

It was more than Bodie would have figured in his most optimistic speculations. "Why would you do that for me?"

God knows why, thought Cowley, Or the devil, but I don't. He pulled a sour face: "Do you expect me to throw you naked and penniless onto the London streets?"

Bodie couldn't help trying to push his advantage. "I will be naked and penniless when I get out of your rest home."

"Oh, I have no doubt you are quite able to find a few odd jobs before retrieving your hidden loot." He let out the last dart: " London isn't lacking in places of debauchery; they employ bouncers too, you know."