Disclaimer - Sad to say, do not and never will own the Professionals or anything to do with the show. Am always willing to negotiate a deal for Bodie . . .

This story does contain the use of expletives - these are tough men doing a tough job and their language is reflective of that.


Dead Man's Hand

Doyle stared across at the man sat opposite him and their eyes met and held in a silent challenge. The air which surrounded them was so thick with tension you could have sliced it into pieces with a knife. His face settled into lines of stone. He was not going to back down from this one. At this rate, he reflected, sardonically, they were going to be here all night.

He drummed idly with his free hand on the table, watching as a slow and reluctant smile spread over his opponent's face. Bodie lifted a quirky eyebrow and placed his cards face-down on the green baize.

"All right, you bastard. I fold."

Doyle relaxed and sat forward in his chair, eyeing-up the pot appreciatively. "Takes nerve, that, Bodie. Nerve - and balls of solid steel."

"Lucky sod," muttered Jax with disgruntlement. "That's me wiped-out for the night."

Murphy nodded, cheerfully. "Me too, or at least of anything worth having. Just enough left for a curry. What say we hit the Bengal Star and destroy what's left of our taste-buds?"

"Just a minute, sunshine," Bodie grasped hold of Doyle's arm as he began to scoop up the pot. "I want to take a look at the hand which just cost me last week's wages."

"Be my guest." Doyle pushed the cards towards him and finished collecting his winnings. "Go ahead, read 'em and weep."

"Bloody-hell!" Bodie's voice was suddenly sharp. He laid the cards face-up on the table. "Two black eights and two black aces - you played a dead man's hand."

Doyle laughed at him theatrically and twirled an imaginary moustache. "Just call me Wild Bill Hickcock and you can be Wyatt Earp."

"More like Wyatt Twerp," Murphy grinned.

"Don't." Bodie continued to stare at the cards, his eyebrows snapped together in a dark frowning line. "Don't take the bloody mickey."

"Or what?" said Doyle incredulously. "A villain will burst in through the door and shoot me in the back? I don't think so, Bodie, you prat, hardly Deadwood, is it?"

Murph laughed. "More like Cricklewood."

"Besides, isn't that your job - to cover my exquisitely formed rear?" Doyle shoved the last crumpled pound note in his pocket and looked up at his partner scornfully. "And when the hell did you become so soddin' superstitious all of a sudden?"

Murphy waggled his eyebrows and spoke in a cadaverous tone. "Since those days in the heart of the jungle, in deepest, darkest Peru."

"Anyone got any honey?" Jax spoke across the sudden snorts of mirth. "Wouldn't want poor little Paddington here to go hungry."

"Very funny," said Bodie, sarcastically, doing his best to ignore them. "For your information Paddington ate marmalade sandwiches, and I was in Africa, not darkest Peru." A scowl spread over his face again. "Laugh it up for as long as you can, but it's bad luck, Ray, bad karma. If there's one thing the life out there taught me, it was not to mess about with fate. This job's hard enough as it is. The last thing we need is you playing chicken with the bloody devil himself."

"Or when you least expect it, he'll jump up and bite you on the bum!"

Jax leapt up from the table and made a mock lunge for Doyle's backside, knocking him sideways off his chair in a shower of playing cards. Murphy dived on top of him, and the three men fell about laughing. Doyle grasped Jax in a less than perfect head-lock which would have made Macklin lament in despair, before being knocked off his feet again by Murphy who wrestled him back down to the floor. They sprawled there in a laughing drunken heap, the forgotten cards fluttering around them, but the lure of the curry house was hard to resist and their thoughts returned to the Bengal Star.

Bodie remained uncharacteristically quiet, as he shrugged his arms into his jacket. He looked intently at Doyle's discarded hand, displayed face-up on the table. The black cards stared mockingly back at him like a chilling portent of doom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bodie was moody for the rest of the evening and nothing they could do would snap him out of it. His frown became deeper and more pronounced as the others grew louder and more raucous, washing down a variety of spicy dishes with several more pints of beer. He barely touched his own chicken vindaloo and sat apart at the end of the table, pushing at the mound of rice on his plate and not taking part in their antics.

Doyle watched him through a haze of drunken exasperation. Bodie usually ate like he'd been starved for over a week, especially at the successful conclusion of an obbo. Perhaps this one had taken more out of the daft prat than he'd realised; it had been a particularly difficult and trying time. Anson still lay in the hospital, and the fact he was just off the danger list went a good way towards explaining the usually more sensible Jax's high spirits tonight. Doyle deliberately closed his own mind to some of the more gruesome aspects of the case. The mangled remains of bomb victims did not sit well with his curry and rice.

They eventually staggered out of the Bengal Star at gone two o'clock in the morning. The pavements were black and shiny and there was more winter rain in the air. Doyle stood to one side and allowed the bedraggled remnants of a victorious rugby team to shoulder past them into the aromatic warmth of the restaurant. They were singing at the tops of their voices, very obviously and amicably drunk. As the last of them pushed his way through the door, it swung back into Bodie's face.

The situation flared out of nowhere.

Before Doyle was even half aware of what was going-on, Bodie spun backwards with an angry snarl, his hand clenched on a burly shoulder.

"Fucking-well watch where you're going!"

"No offence, mate." The man, obviously a front-row forward if his attractive cauliflower ears were anything to go by, blinked at him blearily with a good-natured smile and tried to carry on through the doorway.

Bodie's hand tightened. "I am not - and never will be, your mate. You fatuous piece of upper-class shit!"

"Fatuous?" muttered Murphy, sotto voce, turning to Doyle with an amused raised eyebrow. "Fatuous?"

"Bodie," Doyle groaned with an air of resignation, but it was already too late. The atmosphere changed in a second from one of drink-fuelled bonhomie, to an adrenalin created surge. He looked up in dismay at the solid wall of blue-blazered front-row now confronting them on the damp pavement. "For Christ's sake, leave it, you bloody idiot. My apologies. No offence meant, gentlemen. My good friend here's just a little bit drunk."

He watched Bodie's face in the light from the street-lamps, reading the expressions like a map. He knew every quirk, every nuance, and recognised the strain he saw now. His partner was as pale as a ghost, the black brows snapped together in a single line of fury. Doyle knew it did not auger well for the rugby team if Bodie refused to let the matter drop. He'd seen that look too many times before. He gave a sigh, preparing to push his sleeves up and pitch in when the punches started flying, but as suddenly as it had ignited, Bodie's explosive anger seemed to die.

He dropped his hand from the rugby player's shoulder and the tension drained out of his body. "Yeah, sorry, all my fault. Look, there's no offence taken. If you want a friendly suggestion, I particularly recommend the vindaloo."

Doyle nodded at Murphy. Between them, they pulled Bodie away from any remaining vestige of trouble and made their way on down the high street. Once in the clear, Doyle allowed his own temper to simmer to the surface. He grasped the lapels of Bodie's jacket and thrust him up against a plate-glass window.

"What the fuck was that all about? And what the hell is wrong with you tonight? You're as glum as a poofter in a female prison."

Bodie gave a violent shrug and pushed him out of the way. "Leave it alone. Just leave it."

Doyle ran an agitated hand through his hair. Of all the big, dumb, stupid arseholes, his partner sometimes took the bloody biscuit.

"Probably better to do as the man says," said Murphy, quietly. "Been a tough few weeks for us all. Knowing Bodie, he's blaming himself for what nearly happened to you, and what did happen to Anson."

Doyle watched as Bodie stalked on ahead. "It wasn't his call and he knows it. Prat's not bloody telepathic, is he?"

Murphy sighed, his eyes on the taut leather-clad back as Bodie moved rapidly away from them. "Come on, Doyle, it's one of the downsides, bloody accountability. Feeling responsible for the fuck-ups even when they're not our fault."

Doyle pulled a face. "It doesn't help, of course, that we don't get any of the kudos when things do work out. Bodie had a gut feeling there was a shooter on the roof, but the Cow told him to cover the bloody Minister. Anson got caught in the cross-fire - it makes no odds Bodie was right."

"He did his job and kept the suit safe. The fact you and Anson nearly came a cropper isn't down to him."

"Tell him that," Doyle scowled, and jogged off after his partner. In this kind of mood, Bodie was like a walking time-bomb. It was merely a matter of lighting the blue touch paper and waiting for the inevitable explosion. That was the trouble with slow-burners. The pressure built like a ruddy volcano. The eruption could be catastrophic for anything that got in the way.

"Wait up," he fell into step beside him. "There's a bottle of Scotch back at my place if you're interested?"

Bodie's face was still a ghastly white. "Bloody wankers . . ."

"Yeah," Doyle chuckled, suddenly. "Even fatuous bloody wankers. Funny, I thought you were a tad fond of the oval ball yourself, from time to time?"

Silence - then a reluctant smile and a shrug. "Me? Just like to pose in the blazer and tie. The birds love a rugger-bugger - all that mud and blood turns 'em on."

"So," Doyle paused, and looked up and down the street for a taxi. "We on for that Scotch or what?"

He could still sense the tension in Bodie - could feel it in the hunch of the leather-shrouded shoulders and the suggestion of rushing adrenalin which emanated from his partner in waves. He frowned as he remembered Murphy's words of wisdom. Too right they got none of the kudos. If it wasn't for Bodie's lightning reflexes then Her Majesty would be down one Minister of the Crown. Not, he suspected, that Bodie gave a stuff about that. It was Anson's injuries which were causing this particular attack of grief and guilt. Anson, and so very nearly Doyle himself. He sighed, feeling suddenly sober. The sooner they both got home and stuck into that bottle of twelve year old malt, the better.

An empty taxi cruised along the opposite side of the street. It was too good an opportunity to miss on a busy Saturday night. After a cursory glance to his right, Doyle stepped down off the kerb, his arm upraised in a ready hail.

The second car screamed out of nowhere.

A blue Ford Escort full of drunken yobbo's careered around the corner with a squeal of tyres and the stench of burning rubber. The driver lost control of the manoeuvre and mounted the curve of the pavement. Temporarily dazzled, Doyle was blinded by the head-lights as they bore relentlessly down on him. There was a split second of noise and confusion and a horrifying moment of truth.

Wet tarmac, bright lights, the scent of damp leather . . . and then a hard uncompromising grip on his bicep as Bodie tossed him into the safety of a shop doorway.

The Escort screeched off and didn't stop. Joy riders. Probably just kids. Doyle rolled up onto his left hip and followed the tail-lights with his eyes. They faded down the street and skidded around the bend out of sight. The whole incident had happened so quickly, he found he'd forgotten to breathe.

"Chrissakes, Ray," Jax's hand was on his shoulder, as the man crouched down beside him. "You all right, not hurt?"

Doyle nodded with reassurance and climbed rather stiffly to his feet. Nothing was injured or broken and he knew he'd had a lucky escape. "Nah, I'm okay, bloody hooligans. They made a mess of my soddin' jeans."

He brushed ineffectually at the dirt on his trousers and turned to face the other men. A little dirt was nothing in the scheme of things. He owed his life to Bodie - again. Murphy had made a half-hearted attempt to chase the car to the end of the street, but the rain and the darkness, the speed at which it was going, all of these made it impossible to read a number-plate.

"Didn't get more than the last couple of digits. Jesus, Doyle, you're lucky to get away with this one. Just for a moment, I thought you were a goner."

"You and me both." Doyle turned to face Bodie who had been silent up until now. "Ta, mate, I owe you one."

Bodie inclined his head, perfunctorily. "Another one, you mean."

Doyle was filled with resignation as he recognised the closed look on Bodie's face. There would be no getting through to him tonight, Scotch or no Scotch. It would be better to go their separate ways and leave Bodie alone with his demons. Despite the fact there was a good chance his partner had just saved his life, Doyle felt a prickle of irritation. He was tired and brewing a hangover, wet through, and covered in grime. The last bloody thing he needed right now, was Bodie in one of his black dog moods.

It was with no little relief he saw the taxi had drawn to a halt on the opposite side of the road. A hot bath and a warm bed beckoned; two aspirin, and a couple of pints of water. It was a sorry end to the evening, but the urge to celebrate had deserted them all. An awkward, almost grim air of anticlimax seemed to whisper around them in the night, and if Doyle had been a superstitious man, he would have sworn he felt the weight of storm clouds gathering somewhere on the horizon.

The taxi driver radioed-in a ride for Murphy and Jax. Doyle raised an eyebrow at Bodie, but the other man quickly shook his head.

"I'll walk. Only a couple of miles - need the fresh air."

"Suit yourself." Doyle shrugged and eased his achy body into the back seat of the cab. His fingers paused on the door handle and he was seized by a sudden pang of conscience. "That bottle of Scotch . . ."

Bodie gave him a wintry smile. "Another time."

"Yeah - another time."

And still he could not go.

What the bloody hell was up with his partner?

He was used to Bodie's mercurial mood-swings, but this evening had been ridiculous. When they'd left the office, Bodie had been the most high-spirited of them all. He'd been determined to get quickly bladdered and enjoy the first spell of down-time they'd had in weeks - making outrageous plans for the weekend and roping Doyle in on various schemes. It had been Bodie who'd ordered in the crate of booze. Bodie who'd suggested they play poker . . .

Doyle had a light-bulb moment.

The poker, goddam, it was the poker.

If he wasn't so bloody tired, he would have laughed out loud. It all stemmed back to earlier this evening when he'd played that lucky dead-man's hand. It was as though a light had been switched off behind his partner's eyes. Something to do with tempting fate, with thumbing a nose at the kind of lives they led – at the risks they were forced to take on a daily basis.

Big, hard, tough-guy Bodie, spooked by a hand of playing cards.

Christ, Doyle knew the man could be superstitious. It was a hangover from being at sea and all those years living in the jungle, where fate and luck could, and often did, mean the difference between living and dying. Like so many fighting men of his ilk, Bodie walked a fine line betwixt an almost Taoist belief in fatalism and a cold and clear-headed pragmatism, but this business over the dead man's hand was just too stupid for words.

He stuck his head back out of the taxi, a half-formed invitation on his lips, but Bodie had long since stalked away, alone and rigid-backed into the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bodie paused, his hand on the door knob, taking a second to school his features. It was three days since he'd spoken to Doyle and he was in for some well-deserved grief. The long-weekend had been welcome down-time and they'd made plans to spend most of it together, but his behaviour following the poker game had pretty much put the kibosh on that. True to form, Ray had phoned, but he'd ignored the call and let the message spill over to answer phone. After a well-deserved pithy diatribe, Doyle was wise enough to leave him alone.

Truth was – he was relieved.

He'd needed the time.

A little breathing space to banish the images.

He'd spent the weekend breaking the speed limit and hammering the hell out of his bike.

It helped – or at least, it took the edge off things - dicing with death as he jousted with the traffic; the endless miles of solitude and tarmac, and half a bottle of decent Scotch every night. They were still there – the twisted bodies - etched indelibly into his psyche, but they no longer continued to haunt him. He just wished he could say the same thing about Ray.

There'd been something, call it gut instinct, but he'd known there would be a second shooter. The Provo's were brushing up on their tactics of late and would not leave such an obvious stone unturned. To be fair to Cowley, the man had listened and taken his warning seriously. He'd made Bodie scope out the area and locate the most likely vantage points. There'd been a vulnerable spot near the Banqueting House, just past Horse Guards Parade; the perfect place for a sniper to hide and pick off an easy mark. The Cow sent in a TAC team and forced him to cover the Minister. By then, it was of little comfort to know he was a lifetime too late.

Two bodyguards killed and Anson shot through the lung. Ray Doyle had been grazed by a bullet. There'd been an agonising moment when he'd thought his partner was dead as he'd escorted the Minister to safety.

Just a scrape.

Nothing more than a long red scrape which had ripped across the muscle of Ray's bicep. He'd been lucky – an inch or two more to the left and the bullet would have ploughed through his chest.

And now there was the lousy poker game.

He could still see the hand on the table. The black cards face up and mocking him . . . two aces and two deadly eights. Loco – the whole thing was crazy. Bodie knew he was being irrational. He was obsessed with some dumb, out-dated curse; it was all too absurd for words. They faced real danger on a regular basis and stared death in the eye on some occasions. The last thing either one of them needed was to worry about some old superstition, but try as he might, he couldn't shake it, nor the very real sense of unease.

The blue Ford Escort had merely compounded things. Once again, Doyle had almost been a goner – left to die in the rainy gutter whilst the joy riders roared off at high speed. Little bastards. Bodie scowled at the memory. There was no way of teaching them a lesson. If they ever crossed his path again then he would gladly wring their scrawny necks.

Talking of necks . . . he massaged the base of his skull. Christ, he had the mother of all headaches. It was most likely tension or a low-grade hangover. He'd hit the Scotch a tad hard last night. He shivered slightly and then braced his shoulders, a self-derisive smile on his face. It was time to get back to normal and try and put the whole thing behind him. The poker game was woeful timing, the deadman's hand an unfortunate coincidence, but he couldn't help crossing his fingers for a second as he reached out towards the office door.

There was no point courting bad luck.

Doyle was fine and Anson was recovering – even Cowley was dourly pleased with them. There was a full compliment of ministers in Whitehall and they'd cleaned out the latest Provo cell. It was too bad about the department store bomb, but it had come with no Intel or warning. There was nothing – little short of a miracle – they could have done to save any lives.

He turned the handle and entered the room, pausing for a second in the doorway. Doyle stopped pounding the life out of a typewriter before looking up and meeting his eye a trifle warily.

"You all right, then?"

Bodie plastered on his biggest grin and rubbed his hands together. "Fresh as the proverbial daisy – or I would be – where's me tea?"

"Get it yourself," Doyle was clearly still in a righteous piss with him. "And while you're at it, one for me. No sugar – you hear me, Bodie? I don't have shares in Tate and Lyle like some people around here."

"Little bit of sugar might sweeten you up," Bodie muttered as he moved across to switch on the kettle.

"That's rich," Doyle clearly wasn't going to let him off the hook. "You flounce off in a right monk and leave me high and dry for the weekend. Had to reorganize my schedule at short notice and rearrange that date with those two birds."

"Did you?" Bodie raised an interested eyebrow. "You should have taken the both of them on. The more the merrier, two for the price of one and all that."

Doyle allowed him the glimmer of a grin. "Maybe I did and maybe I didn't - wouldn't you like to know?"

"Oi, Cagney and Lacey," Murphy poked his head around the door, his eyes brightening at the steaming mugs in Bodie's hand. "Better leave that tea for me. The old man wants to see you right away."

"What's-up, now?" Doyle made a face.

Murphy shrugged. "No idea, but he's not a very happy little soldier. Better get along sharpish and see."

"Terrific," Doyle was still grousing as they made their way to the top of the staircase. "Just when you think it's safe to go back in the bloody water."

"Thought," Bodie corrected him. "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. You need to get these things right, Raymond, or else you'll never be a literary . . ."

Whatever he was going to say was lost for all posterity as Doyle missed a step at the top of the stairs and toppled forwards in an ungainly slip. It took Bodie maybe all of two seconds to recognise what had happened before he lunged forwards and made a grab for his partner. He clamped his hand around the top of Doyle's jacket and yanked him backwards in a clumsy sprawl. The two men landed in a tangle of limbs but Doyle's potentially dangerous fall was averted.

"Ow - " Doyle reached up and rubbed his neck ruefully. "I think you just ripped the collar off my jacket, one of me favourites, too. That was a bloody close one, mate – and I swear I haven't even had a drink."

"Can't you look where you're going?" Bodie breathed hard through his nose and sat upright. For a second he was flooded with anger. How could Doyle be so downright flippant when he'd been a hairsbreadth from serious injury yet again? "Could have broken both our necks just because you've got two great left feet."

"Keep your hair on, missus," Doyle gave him a hand up. "No harm done, thanks to your quick reflexes. Think I'll hire you as my personal bodyguard until the deadman's curse is laid to rest."

"I'm glad you think it's so dammed funny," Bodie stalked ahead down the staircase. "Laid to rest being the operative words. Better hold on tight to the banisters, because I might not be there to save your sorry backside next time."

"Course you will," Doyle said, cheerfully, "like you always are. Just like you always have been. I might not trust you with my birds or the contents of my fridge, but I will happily place my life in your hands."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bodie turned the newly-commandeered Gas Board van into a tree-lined avenue and pulled up alongside the kerb. Turning off the engine, he wound down the window and gave the quiet street a swift appraisal. The houses were stately, bow-windowed Edwardian, with well-kept front gardens and gates. There were a few cars already parked in the road but the place had an air of calm desertion. It was term-time so there were no children and he guessed most of the husbands worked in the City.

"Across the road, blue front door - number 37. Nice quiet spot, no one much around. Most of these houses belong to commuters."

Doyle nodded. "Convenient. Plenty of daytime parking and they can pretty much come and go as they please. What I want to know is how MI5 missed this? I thought we'd turned the whole rat's nest out."

"Merely players, sunshine, that's what we are. As the Bard said, we're merely players. We know as much or as little as they want us to. That's why Cowley's gnashing his teeth. Bet the old man hates it when the Ministry keeps something like this from him. They must have had their own axe to grind."

Bodie was right and he knew it – didn't stop the whole thing getting on his nerves, though. As Shakespeare said, they were 'merely players' and someone else was controlling the game. The old man had indeed been spitting chips when they'd been summarily hauled up to see him. They could consider themselves back on high alert thanks to new information received. Or rather; old information which was new to CI5 – hence Cowley's tight-lipped fury with the Ministry. It now looked as though they'd only cleared out part of the cell currently operating in central London. There were still Provo operatives based in the suburbs ready to continue the bombing campaign.

He scowled at himself in the wing mirror. "Yeah, and then we get sent in to clean up the mess. This whole soddin' thing stinks. What a waste of an afternoon, getting housewives to fill in fake Gas Board questionnaires just so we can recce the place."

"Och, reconnaissance only," Bodie mimicked Cowley's voice with uncanny accuracy. "We would nae want Bobby Kinsella getting wind of us, would we, laddie."

"We're from the bloody Gas Board. We could say someone reported a bit of a nasty niff."

"The sweet fragrance of Semtex on the breeze?"

"Like I said, the whole thing stinks."

"How are the fingers?" Bodie changed the subject and glanced across to the slightly grubby bandage now adorning the third and fourth digits of Doyle's left hand. "Should have gone and had a couple of stitches. Only you could manage to do yourself a mischief on a tin of bloody Spam – and that was supposed to be for my sandwiches, too."

"I can just see the Cow's face if I'd announced I was off to get my pinkie stitched."

"Maybe he would have offered to come along and rub it better?"

"Disgusting – that's what you are, Bodie. Lucky it's not my gun hand."

"Right – lucky," echoed Bodie, sardonically, although his tone indicated anything but.

Truth was - Doyle knew his partner was still unnerved by the thought of the poker game and the clumsy and stupidly coincidental number of accidents which had occurred since then. He let out a small frustrated sigh. Despite the banter and almost studied repartee which had bandied back and forth between them ever since this morning, Bodie's mood was balanced on a knife-edge. His always mercurial partner was even more uptight than usual, and it made for an uneasy bedfellow.

"Leave it out," he was pissed off and more snappy than intended. "You're starting to give me a complex. This job's not a bloody picnic and I can't afford to be off me game. Come to think of it, neither can you. It's not about fate, you daft idiot, it's about covering your partner's back. A little instinct, some awareness and reflex . . . in the end, it's all about skill. About keeping your head switched on."

"You don't think I'll be there for you?"

"I didn't say that, you moron - "

"Then, what - you don't think my head's in the game?"

"Chrissakes, Bodie," Doyle ground his teeth in exasperation, but the stupid great prat was already jumping out of the van, officious looking clip-board in hand. "That's not what I meant, and you know it. Oi, Boday!"

"Better get this over and done with," Bodie glanced at him over his shoulder. "I'll take the left and you take the right. We'll work up and down both sides of the street and then meet-up outside number 37 - " he paused. "And whilst you're at it, try not to walk under any ladders or trip over any stray cats or Irishmen."

"Very funny – very soddin' funny," Doyle called after him, but even as he uttered the words, he missed his footing getting out of the van and scraped his shin painfully on the inside of the metal door. "Damn!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Three slammed doors and two explicit propositions later, and Bodie was beginning to get bored. He'd had enough stupid questions and complaints about people's gas bills to last him a proverbial lifetime. That curvaceous brunette back at number 18 . . . he wouldn't have minded checking out her meter. In the red, if he wasn't mistaken, no shortage of energy there. He brightened a little at the memory. She'd made a point of handing him her phone number. By the way she'd trailed her hand along his bicep, there was a definite hint of rain check in the air.

Maybe this job had some perks, after all.

The winter sunlight was pale with a sharp hint of frost. He shivered slightly in the uniform jacket. He felt the cold more acutely than most – a legacy of his time in the tropics. He could see Doyle working his way slowly up the other side of the street, curly head disappearing occasionally as he was invited in through someone's – usually a female someone's - door.

Bodie grinned fleetingly.

Randy sod.

He wouldn't mind betting Doyle was being asked to read a few meters of his own.

He stopped outside the gate of number 35 and looked over the garden fence at 37. The curtains were drawn at the windows and no-one appeared to be in. If they'd been watching, they would have seen two Gas Board employees knocking doors on official business - the kind of thing which happened from time to time in your average suburban street.

Just for a second, Bodie felt he was being observed. The hair rose on the back of his neck. There it was – the barest flutter of a curtain in one of the rooms upstairs. As luck would have it, there was a nearby utilities post standing handily alongside the hedgerow. Removing a pen out of his pocket, Bodie bent down and pretended to examine it. He wrote a few notes on the clipboard and the curtains moved slightly again.

Okay – so they knew somebody was home. There was no point attempting a break-in. It looked like they were stuck with finishing the recce and gathering any information they could. Bodie sighed and stood upright again. There was no time like the present. May as well start with number 35 – he only hoped the owner was in. She was - and seemed happy to see him. Even better, she was disposed to be chatty. Bodie gladly accepted her offer of tea and polished his best cheeky grin.

Ida Milne was a widow in her sixties with a miniature toy poodle called Mitzi and an obsessive collection of china. Bodie showed a sudden and appreciative interest in her vast array of commemorative plates. He sat and waited obediently whilst she vanished to put on the kettle, eyes brightening when she appeared from the kitchen with a selection of homemade cakes. Between learning all about her ungrateful errant children and her saintly departed husband, Sidney, Bodie also picked up a few useful facts about her recently acquired neighbours.

Mister and Mrs Keane were Irish and not very friendly and Mitzi absolutely didn't like them. Apparently, the poodle was an uncanny judge of character, so this was the acid test. They kept strange hours – lots of coming and going, and Ida thought they might work the nightshift. When they'd first rented the house, she'd done her best to be welcoming, popping around to introduce herself, and invite them over for a cup of tea. They'd made it very clear they weren't interested, almost shutting the door in her face.

"No kids, then?" Bodie asked, casually.

Ida shook her head and then smiled approvingly as he reached for another slice of cake. "No children, Mister Bodie, but I'm sure they must take in lodgers. There's one man, he sleeps in the room at the back, and another who spends most of the nights. The four of them seem to get on very well. They're always sat around the dining table talking."

Bodie's ears pricked up. Within minutes he was being given a tour of the house, ostensibly to check for any gas leaks. He was soon able to confirm that Mrs Milne had a nice view into the rear dining room of number 37 from the small window of her back bedroom. He stood to the side of the glass for a moment, making sure no one could see him. There was only one occupant as far as he could see; a blonde woman smoking a cigarette.

At least two and possibly four of them.

No confirmed sighting of Kinsella.

It took almost ten minutes to escape Mrs Milne, but it was high time he checked-in with Doyle.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Doyle looked at him sourly as he climbed into the van. "You took your time. Wasn't she a little too old for you?"

"Homemade cake," Bodie answered, succinctly. It was all he needed to say.

"Learn anything?"

"Plenty," Bodie didn't waste any time as he laid out the facts for Doyle.

"Four of them. It stands to reason, and apparently, they're a two-car family." Doyle gestured. "The dark Opel parked right outside the house, and a white van in the rear service alley."

Bodie nodded. "Nothing like keeping your getaway options open. There's an entrance leads from the alley and a back door straight into the utility room. There's also a hatch to the cellar which I'm told has its own flight of stairs."

"You get all this from the nosy neighbour?"

"Hey, don't you knock my friend, Ida. She's not just a dab hand with the cake whisk, I'll have you know."

Doyle snorted and sneaked a sideways peek at his partner. It seemed like Bodie had recovered from their previous spat and was back to his ebullient self again. It was amazing what a large slice of Victoria sandwich could do, and he was more than a little relieved. Bodie was on the walkie-talkie right now, radioing in their discoveries to Cowley. If the look on his face was anything to go by, they would not be home early tonight.

"He wants us to wait until we're sure all four are inside. He'll have back-up units ready and waiting. Meanwhile, I'll knock on the door with my survey while you wait in Ida's back bedroom."

Mrs Milne was more than happy to greet him as he stood on the doorstep with his toolbox. He waited for Bodie to introduce him on the pretext of checking out a small gas leak.

"Oh dear," she ushered him inside with barely concealed excitement. "I do hope this isn't too serious. We haven't had anything like this happen since the Luftwaffe dropped a stray bomb on number 11 in 1943."

"Nothing to worry about," Doyle spoke reassuringly. "My colleague mentioned the back bedroom. I'm sure I'll have it sorted in a jiffy."

"If you'd like to follow me . . ."

Doyle had barely stepped into the hallway when he felt a sudden agonising, needle-like pain above his ankle bone. Looking down with a strangled expletive, he beheld a small and very belligerent ball of fluff.

"Mitzi," Ida bent down hurriedly and retrieved her delinquent dog. "You naughty Mitzi-kins. Oh Mister Doyle, I can't think what's come over her, she's never behaved like this before. You don't think it's the effects of the gas?"

"No harm done," Doyle smiled through gritted teeth. "Please don't worry about it. Maybe she doesn't like the uniform. I promise it isn't the gas."

"She didn't seem to mind Mister Bodie's uniform. In-fact, she positively fawned all over him."

"Must be his animal magnetism," muttered Doyle, as he made his way upstairs, trying to ignore the stinging puncture wounds in his calf. "Mitzi probably sensed a kindred spirit."

Nonetheless, he was glad Bodie hadn't been there to witness his discomfiture. Apart from the very obvious humiliation of being attacked by a canine cotton wool ball, on the down and rather more serious side, there was still the bloody shadow of the curse. Other than the various telephone numbers and offers of tea and biscuits he'd collected on his earlier rounds with the clipboard, he'd neglected to reveal the drunk and disgruntled man who'd almost trapped his fingers in the door. Neither that little altercation nor his rather painful trip over a discarded child's toy had warranted a mention to Bodie. After their earlier heated exchange, he could predict what his partner would say.

With any luck – he made a face at the word – this obbo really would be over soon and then they could put this behind them. Things might start returning to normal once they had Kinsella in the bag.

He set the tool kit down on the floor and moved carefully across to the window. Bodie was right; it was a perfect vantage point. He had a clear view into next door's back rooms. He stood just behind the curtain and observed the couple sat at the table. As he watched, they jerked their heads up simultaneously to something out of Doyle's line of sight.

So far, so good.

Bodie must have rung the front doorbell.

He watched them speak urgently together and then the woman got up out of her chair. There was a flash of movement in the corner of his eye and then several things happened at once. The entrance from the alleyway opened suddenly and two men hurried up to the back door. Doyle barely had time to register before he recognised Bobby Kinsella. He pulled the walkie-talkie out of his toolbox and quickly radioed-in the information – all the while watching intently as they walked through to the dining room.

From the looks of things, Kinsella was angry. He was shouting at the others around the table, and then abruptly, he reached inside his jacket and his hand reappeared with a gun. Doyle felt his gut clench with instinct.

So much for waiting for back-up.

He turned, nearly tripped over the toolbox, and then dived headlong down the stairs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bodie rang the doorbell and waited. The afternoon was starting to draw in now. The winter sun was low on the horizon with a knife-edge of mauve in the sky. He tapped his pen on the clipboard and tried to look like a gas-board official. There was something – call it gut instinct – that was making him a tad uneasy. He didn't want things to start going pear-shaped when they were facing the homeward stretch.

As for Doyle – by now he should be safely out of harm's way setting up the surveillance gear. Surely not even Ray Doyle could find any trouble in Ida Milne's back bedroom? Not unless you counted death by gossip or an overindulgence of homemade cake.

Bodie couldn't help sighing – neither of them had referred to their earlier row when they'd met up at the van a little earlier, but the shadow of the cards still hung over them. It would be good to get out of here.

He looked at his watch and rang the doorbell again, tensing up when he heard the sound of footsteps. They were taking their own sweet time answering, but he had no reason to suppose they were onto him. When he was done here, he'd drive the van out of sight and then come back and rejoin his partner. It was about time they were honest with Mrs Milne who would probably adore all the excitement. With any luck she already had the kettle on. It must be time for another slice of cake . . .

The first three shots were unnaturally loud. The winter air seemed to amplify them. Bodie dropped the clipboard and leapt to one side as he reached inside his jacket for the Browning. He waited two seconds and breathed hard through his nose before the front door exploded into splinters. Four rounds at approximate chest height. Another heartbeat and he would have been butchered. Doyle must have fired the warning shots - his partner had just saved his life.

They were onto them and Doyle had realised. He must have spotted something from the bedroom window. Thank the Lord, Mrs Milne had a back door – he'd barely made it in time. Bodie knew he had to act quickly if he wanted to return the favour. Doyle had laid himself wide open to attack in order to raise the alarm. He took a step back and then drove his shoulder into the door, blanket-firing straight ahead for cover. It opened a few inches and then caught on the chain, refusing to budge anymore.

Instinct drove him sideways, and he dived to the left, just missing a burst of automatic gunfire. Rising swiftly he put his whole weight behind it and gave the damaged door a hefty kick. He pushed it again and then tucked and rolled, momentum propelling him forwards; slamming into the darkened hallway as four more rounds scorched the air above his head.

By Christ – this was too hot to handle.

Where the hell was bloody Cowley and his back-up?

He came to a halt next to the skirting board and then thrust himself up on his elbows. He fired once and the Provo cried out in pain, twice more and his target was dead. One down but it wasn't Kinsella. Three more shots rang out from the kitchen. Without hesitating, he was up on his feet again and sprinting along the hallway.

The second shooter was little more than a blur as he lunged around the dining room door. Bodie barely had a second to drop to one knee and line the Browning up on his forearm. A bullet whined too close to his earlobe and the next nearly parted his hair. The third one was deadlier, and he grunted in shock as hot metal bit into his bicep. Blood splattered the wall behind him but raw adrenalin numbed any pain. He swore hard and shot the man twice in the face. There was no room for any social niceties. The Provo dropped his gun and fell sideways, his body half-blocking the hall.

Two down – two to go – and still no sign of Doyle.

He could hear the wail of sirens in the distance. A mirthless smile creased his saturnine features. Must be Cowley's bloody cavalry at last.

With a strength born of desperation, Bodie kicked his way into the kitchen. Another bullet sang past his cheek-bone and ended up in the door jamb instead. Ducking low, he threw himself to one side, as someone else drew covering fire away from him. He slid down behind the big chest-freezer and caught a glimpse of Doyle's curly head.

"One shooter," Doyle sounded pissed off, "We've got him pinned down between us. Give it up, mate, you're not going anywhere. Not while I'm in the bloody utility!"

Bodie grinned and reloaded his gun.

Pissed off, or not – Doyle's voice was magic to his ears.

"You can go to hell, you fucking bastards!"

To his surprise, it was the woman who answered, which meant Doyle must have nailed Kinsella. He raised the Browning and held it in readiness. "Better face it, love, the party's over. Throw down your gun. This ends now."

"Screw you."

"Now, that's not very polite," Doyle goaded her. "You could do with some lessons in manners."

She laughed, scornfully. "I'd like to see you try and teach me."

"Nah," Doyle didn't sound very regretful. "Sorry love, don't think you're my type."

Bodie listened and tried to work out where she was. Anything to give him an advantage. He wasn't naïve or stupid enough to think there was a chance she might surrender. The Provo cells chosen for the mainland were highly trained and especially ruthless. They were legendary for their determined ideology and the ability to work without conscience. He strained his ears and a slight movement rewarded him. She was somewhere near the breakfast room alcove. Although trapped, she could easily cover both entrances into the kitchen.

He looked down at the empty clip in his hand and came to a swift decision. He needed to get this done with - it was time to break the impasse. When the smoke had cleared, when this was finished with . . . he had a feeling the dead man's curse would be over. The longer they were in danger, the more likely it would end with Ray's death.

Crouching, he counted to three in his head and tossed the ammo clip over the freezer. It hit the side of a kitchen unit and then clattered down onto the floor.

"Now, Doyle!"

He launched forward into a shoulder roll raising the gun into a firing position. The woman saw him and brought her weapon to bear just a fraction of a second too late. Her eyes flashed with recognition and panic but Bodie had already pulled the trigger. Two well placed shots and it was finished, her dead gaze wide and accusing.

Doyle advanced from the utility room doorway and swiped the sweat from his brow. He stared down at her body for a moment or two, his expression sour with strain and distaste. "Dammit, Bodie, you couldn't have waited? Can't you hear the sirens - another minute and it would have been over."

"Over for us, maybe."

"Let me guess, the bloody curse again?"

Bodie got to his feet and didn't answer. There was nothing he felt like saying and he most certainly didn't feel any remorse. He was tired and his wounded arm was stinging. He could use a very stiff drink.

He turned to Doyle. "Where's Kinsella?"

"What you on about – didn't you take him?"

Their eyes met in sudden horrified dawning and both spun around to face the breakfast room alcove. Kinsella stepped over the woman, face contorted in grief and rage. It was a death run – he wasn't going anywhere. One last attempt at faded glory. There was a cold fanatical gleam in his eye as he brought the automatic to bear. Bodie watched the gun shift as Kinsella turned it on his partner. He heard the shots – smelled the stench of the cordite – saw the muzzle flashes in the dim light.

He must have shouted but the words were incoherent.

Must have moved but his feet seemed too slow.

The world spun on its axis and turned upside down as the bullets tore into his chest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It would be funny if it wasn't so tragic, but Doyle didn't feel much like laughing. They'd fucked-up royally and were going to pay for it. He was staring death straight in the face.

Two black eights – two black aces . . .

Doyle knew the cards were mocking him. Bloody Bodie and his dark-age superstitions – but in the end, his partner had been right. Both of them antsy because of a curse and maybe that was the crux of it. It had caused an edge of friction between them and taken their minds off the job. Should have taken a body count and not relied on any assumption. Should have checked Kinsella was accounted for. It was a stupid rookie mistake.

Too late now.

Way beyond too late. He knew it and Kinsella knew it. The Irishman had a smile on his face and the madness of blood in his eye. There was a shout and something bulldozed into him as all hell let loose in the kitchen. Doyle just about managed to squeeze off three shots as he sprawled in a heap on his side.

Silence - and then he rolled onto his back, shrugging Bodie's heavy weight off him. The enclosed space was thick with cordite and the rank stench of death in the air. Kinsella lay slumped in the doorway. He wasn't finished yet but as near as damn it. He still groped for the gun with a blood-stained hand before Doyle shot him right between the eyes.

And then it really was over.

Doyle felt a tremor run through him. He knew that somehow he'd broken the curse. The cards had lost – he was still alive. "For chrissakes, that was too close. What were you bloody thinking crashing into me like a great bull elephant? Could have done me a proper mischief - it was a good way to get yourself killed."

No answer.

The silence was deafening.

Doyle looked properly for the first time. "Bodie - oh sweet Jesus, Bodie!"

"Two black eights . . . two aces . . ." Bodie's voice was scarily weak.

"Don't talk – save your breath, you idiot. Will you shut-up about the stupid curse?"

"Told you . . ."

"Yeah, right, you dumb crud, you told me." Doyle dashed at his eyes with the back of his hand and knelt at his partner's side. "Except it wasn't meant to be you. Here, hold still -" he grabbed a cleanish looking tea-towel from the oven rail and pressed down hard on Bodie's chest. "Those bullets were meant for me."

"Hurts."

"Stay with me."

"S-sorry, Ray . . ."

"You will be when all this is over." Doyle's blood-stained hands slipped on the walkie-talkie buttons as he barked out terse instructions for help. "Come on, mate, don't you dare go to sleep."

Bodie wouldn't or couldn't respond to him. He lay grey-faced and seemingly uncaring. His partner was slipping away from him and Doyle's gut began cramping in fear. Nothing made any sense anymore – not the curse or that stupid poker game – they both should have kept their minds on the job and made sure Kinsella was dead. He'd been sour-faced and pissed-off with Bodie and then the bastard had jumped right in front of him. What was he thinking – it was virtual suicide and yet he'd taken the bullets instead.

It was a lethal combination of factors and Bodie's warped sense of nobility. The price might prove to be deadly. It was one Doyle did not want to pay.

"Wake-up – don't die on me, you bastard."

He was furious with the world and with Bodie. With the job and the whole damned universe. Mad as hell at Cowley and the Ministry, but most of all, he was livid with himself. He should have checked when he'd come in the back way; should have confirmed Bodie's kill rate. Truth was he'd been so bloody happy just to see his partner alive.

By now he was kneeling in a puddle of blood. He pressed down hard in an attempt to stop the bleeding. There was a pulse-rate still fluttering on the side of Bodie's neck, but his partner lay as one already dead.

What's black and white and read all over . . . better make that red all over.

The black of Bodie's lashes against the white of his cheek . . . the red blood staining the both of them. Doyle choked and gave a sob of broken laughter as the childish joke whirled in his head. Black and white like a suit of playing cards - two black eights and two aces. He'd taken a chance and played a dead man's hand and now he was losing the game.

"Me – do you hear? It was supposed to be me," he didn't know who the hell he was shouting at. "Bodie knew all along and I laughed at him. I laughed and he was bloody-well right."

"Doyle?" An urgent hand on his shoulder and then a fully armed Murphy was looking down at him. "We've got four dead hostiles accounted for. Is there anyone else inside?"

"It's clear, you hear me, the place is clean. Now get me a soddin' ambulance."

Murphy looked at him in concern. "Give me a second to radio that in. We've got it covered, the medics are waiting."

There was a flurry of people and activity as time seemed to polarise around him. Murphy tried to lead him out into the garden, but he was reluctant to leave Bodie's side. He watched from the kitchen doorway as the ambulance men worked on his partner. It was obvious from their sense of urgency they were fighting just to keep him alive. Someone else – maybe Tomlinson - asked how he was and gave him some water. Truth was he couldn't answer. His head spun around in a daze.

"How is he?" Cowley stepped into the room and surveyed the scenes of carnage around him. His eyes flicked over Kinsella with a look of distaste and then rested on Doyle in concern. "Let's give them some space and step outside," he gestured to the paramedics. "The Minister will want a full enquiry. I want to know what went wrong."

"This - " Doyle pointed angrily towards Bodie. "You can tell him this went wrong."

"Aye, so I see," Cowley stayed calm. "A man down – and not just any man, but one of my highly trained operatives. Rest assured I shall tell the Minister exactly what a nasty mess he's caused."

"Bully for you, Sir," Doyle was still fuming. "And while you're at it, you can tell him to go stick . . ."

"Come on, man, you're in shock." Cowley interrupted and took him by the arm. "They'll be wanting to move Bodie shortly. We can talk on the way to the hospital. They'll tell us the worst soon enough."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Even so – the worst still came as a blow. They had a long wait while Bodie was in surgery. It was past 5am in the morning before they heard he was still hanging-on. In the meantime, Doyle stalked the quiet corridors. It was easier than simply waiting. The plastic chairs were too damned uncomfortable and the vending machine coffee tasted foul.

The urge to hit out still lingered as he simmered with repressed anger. It vied with the gnawing anxiety which ate into the lining of his gut. The bloody Ministry and its dangerous power-plays. The secrecy and madness of politics. Cowley's much-vaunted lavender and roses trampled down in the stinking dust.

"Sit down, laddie," the man in question eyed him, shrewdly. "There's nothing to be gained by yon pacing."

Doyle was long past any last attempts at politeness or protocol. "Perhaps you should go if it gets on your nerves. Come to think of it, why are you still here?"

Cowley looked sharply at him. "That would be, 'why are you still here, Sir?' to you, Doyle, and where else do you think I should be? Maybe turning the Minister out of his bed so I can register my disgust at his dishonesty? That's not the way we do things, and you know it. Och, man, don't be so naïve."

"Naïve?" Doyle scoffed. "Isn't that what we are - risking our lives so men like the Minister can use us like pawns in some twisted game?"

Cowley's voice softened. "Is that why you risked your life today – or the reason Bodie risked his?"

"Damn it," Doyle slumped down heavily and acknowledged the truth. "You know exactly why Bodie risked his life. It's part of who he bloody well is."

"It's part of who you both are," Cowley shot back. "And that's why you should never belittle it. We all know it's a dirty job out there, but we're the ones who are fool enough to do it. If we didn't, then the likes of Kinsella would win and chaos would reign in our streets."

Kinsella.

Christ – he could still see the look in the Irishman's eyes as he'd confronted them and squeezed the trigger. Doyle felt a sudden lurch of nausea as he was forced to reflect back on the day. There'd been no room for mistakes but he'd made one. It was a fact – pure and simple. He'd taken his partner for granted. Risked his life on a bloody assumption and Bodie – god help him – had done the same.

What was it he'd said back at the office this morning?

The flippant words came back to haunt him. It was just after Bodie had stopped him from taking a header down the stairs. Something about Bodie being there for him – about saving his sorry backside.

"I might not trust you with my birds or the contents of my fridge, but I will happily place my life in your hands."

The irony hurt like a physical blow and his face twisted with pain and self-mockery. He'd been taking the piss out of Bodie . . . making light of the fact that he cared. Doyle was filled with a desperate hope that Bodie hadn't taken him too seriously. Christ, he needed to see him – to tell him the truth, but even now it might be too late.

"Should be me, you know," he said conversationally, the words laced with a hard edge of bitterness. "Bodie might have moved a bit faster, but those bullets should have cut me in half."

Cowley regarded him silently for a moment and then reached inside the breast of his jacket. He pulled out a small silver hip flask and handed it across with a dour smile. "I've always found playing the 'what-if' card to be one of the most fruitless exercises ever. There but for the grace of God go most of us. No point dwelling on what might have been."

Doyle looked up sharply at the mention of playing cards and wondered if Cowley was psychic. He wouldn't bet anything against it. The man seemed to get wind of everything that went on inside CI-5. He was right, though. No getting away from it. Any self-recrimination was futile. Bodie was all that mattered now. He only hoped his partner would make it.

The single malt burned down his gullet and the fiery track it left was almost cleansing. He took another sip when Cowley nodded at him and felt the warmth sing through his veins.

"Good stuff, this," he passed the flask back again.

Cowley smiled. "I've always found it so."

"You know, I couldn't stand him when I met him. Thought he was an arrogant bastard. There was a time I considered leaving when I found out you'd paired us together."

"And now?"

Doyle dropped his head down into his hands. "Perhaps it would have been better if I had."

"Better for you, that's as maybe, but certainly not better for Bodie. The risks he takes, the way he operates - there's only one man who can compliment him – cool him down and cover his back. I paired you together because I recognised that. Bodie's strength and your bloody tenacity. He's been fortunate to have you as a partner. Och, they don't call you the Bisto Kids for nothing."

Oddly, Cowley's diatribe was calming, but Christ . . . Bodie's strength . . . the words hurt him. He was glad when Cowley passed him the hip-flask again.

His partner could use that strength now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI-5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bodie was in the twilight zone, and to be honest, it felt safer to stay there. It hurt too much, took too much effort, every time he attempted to leave. There was a nightmare of pain and heaviness which pressed down on him and stopped him from breathing. Maybe he was back in Africa and an elephant was sitting on his chest?

"It's all right, mate."

Easy for Doyle to say.

He wasn't the one fighting the pachyderm.

Bodie sank back down into the darkness and decided to call it a day.

The next time he woke it was better. The elephant had been on a diet. Either that or someone had swapped it for a less hefty creature instead. The pain, although unpleasant, was manageable. Perhaps breathing would be a tad more straightforward. He had a feeling he should try a bit harder, inhaled shakily and opened his eyes.

Pain . . . sharp like a knife through his ribcage.

The agony was sudden and quite shocking. To his shame, he cried out in anguish. There was a blur of activity around him as he gasped and floundered for air.

Hands on him, restraining and soothing . . . the promise of an end to discomfort. An image of bright lights and uniforms and then something stinging cold through his veins. Pethidine – he recognised it gladly, a golden gift from the great gods of medicine. The swift action and yellow haze to his vision before the opiate blunted his pain.

He was drifting in a blur of discomfort. White starch, disinfectant, muttered voices. It was like trying to look through a ghostly veil at a whole world outside of his bed. A hospital – that was a given. Bodie only wished he could remember. There was something about a pack of cards and then Doyle swearing and shouting his name.

A pack of cards.

Two black eights, two black aces.

They whirled like confetti around his head.

The third time, he was determined. He wasn't called stubborn for nothing. He grasped hold of the coattails of consciousness and clung on for all he was worth. It took a while to gain any awareness but eventually his mind starting working. Bodie set his teeth against an onslaught of pain and finally opened his eyes.

He was on his own in a cubicle surrounded by a bank of machinery. His bed was facing a window and outside he could see it was night. He hurt – but not like he had done. He felt languid and fuzzy with morphine. The pain simmered just under the surface getting ready to build up again.

There was something . . .

He tried to remember, but the images slid past like skaters.

Bobby Kinsella . . . the stench of cordite . . . him and Doyle and the dead man's curse.

He pushed up and then sank back with a groan. For a few seconds the room swung around him. A rash of sweat broke out across his forehead as the memories began to return. Kinsella – he'd made such a stupid mistake and come to such a deadly conclusion, in assuming his partner had dealt with the Irishman, he'd foolishly let down his guard. This time when he groaned, it wasn't with pain. The discomfort was more of a different kind. If Doyle had survived the shoot-out intact, then why was he in here alone?

There was no question of resting until he found out the truth. Bodie groped around for a call-bell. There was something wrapped around the cot-side, tantalisingly just out of reach. He clenched his teeth and hauled himself up. The agony was almost paralysing. One of the machines started chiming in protest as he fell backwards on the pillows again. Useless – he was worse than useless. He squeezed his eyes closed, fighting back a rush of moisture. The last scenes in the kitchen looped around in his head like a broken piece of cine-film.

He had vague memories of an angry Doyle, cajoling him, cursing him, threatening. Something about an elephant . . . an elephant was sitting on his chest?

"What the . . . are you trying to finish the job? Of all the stupid, dumb squaddie arseholes. I leave you alone for barely five minutes and already you're causing trouble."

The rough tones were familiar and like manna from heaven. It was Doyle in all his customary outrage. Bodie kept his eyes closed submissively and let them wash over his head.

"Talk about lead in your pencil – there was enough for a whole soddin' school in your chest. So, for once in your life, just do as you're told and stay in the bloody bed."

"Yes, matron," he tried to murmur, compliantly, but the sound was little more than a whisper. It came out rather more like a strangled croak followed up with a rasp of coughing.

"Bodie?" There was a softer more concerned quality about Doyle now, as he peered into Bodie's face. "You awake in there, compos mentis?"

"As compos as I ever can be."

"That's not saying much," Doyle was smiling – positively beaming. Bodie could hear the expression in his voice. "Christ, mate, you took your ruddy time. Had me worried there, for a minute."

"Worried about that tenner I owe you?"

"Well, yeah, amongst other things."

He was drifting again but he fought it. There were some things which still needed saying. He lay for a while sorting the thoughts in his head whilst his weakened body summoned the strength. It sounded as though he'd been here for a while – more like days – and the conclusion was sobering. Doyle was rarely so gentle or choked with him. Probably meant he had nearly died.

"How long?"

"Five whole days you've been out of it. Catching up on your beauty sleep. Lying here snoring your head off while the rest of us do all the hard graft."

"Don't snore," it was a token protest. He had to ask. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Doyle was gruff. "Some bloody great idiot barged me aside and took two bullets in his chest. I got away scot-free."

"Kinsella?"

"Had to finish him off, much to Cowley's disgust. The bastard was hell-bent on dying."

"Probably for the best. He wouldn't have talked. His kind never does."

"Bodie - "

"Leave it alone, Ray, forget it."

"You don't know what I'm going to say."

"Yes, I do, and you can bloody forget it. At least we broke the damned curse."

"More like a self-fulfilling prophecy. We behaved like a pair of dumb school kids. Wound ourselves up as tight as a drum and made a really stupid mistake."

"Should have confirmed the numbers."

"Too right we should have confirmed the soddin' numbers. Kinsella could have taken out both of us and then done a follow-up on Murph's team. If it wasn't for you deciding to play hero I wouldn't have got a shot at him. We were lucky this time, bloody lucky. We can't let this happen again."

"Lucky, he says," Bodie set his teeth. The pain was coming back with a vengeance. He grasped hold of the metal cot-side until the knuckles in his hand turned white. "Tell that to the sieve that was my chest."

"Here," the anger seeped out of Doyle like the mercury fall in a barometer. He reached over and pressed the call-bell and then prised Bodie's hand off the bar. "Sorry, mate, now's not the time or the place. This can wait until you're feeling more up to it."

"Didn't know you cared," Bodie camped it up a little, trying to keep a stiff upper lip as he gripped hold of Doyle's fingers gratefully, and rode out the latest wave of pain. "Better not let Cowley see us like this, or he'll start ordering bromide in our tea."

"In your dreams," Doyle scoffed, but his eyes were still concerned and he didn't let go of Bodie's hand. "We'll have plenty of time to thrash this out later. He's got us booked in for some serious Macklin time as soon as you're fully recovered."

Bodie groaned. "Great, now, there's an incentive. I feel a definite relapse coming on."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~CI-5~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Doyle swore and smacked his hand on the desk before reaching across for the Tipp-Ex. If there was one thing he truly hated, it was typing endless reports. It really ought to be in his blood by now after all those years as a copper, but the tedium never failed to frustrate him and make him yearn for any kind of distraction. It was at times like this he missed Bodie. His partner was nothing if not distracting. Maybe annoying and even childish sometimes, but on the whole, always game for a laugh.

He painstakingly corrected the tiny mistake and re-aligned the paper on the roller. Eleven weeks of what amounted to admin work was beginning to get on his nerves.

Bodie's convalescence had been longer than expected, thanks to infection and a bout of pneumonia. The world's worst patient had spent five long weeks in hospital, driving all the nurses insane.

They hadn't mentioned the curse again. There wasn't really any need to. What happened with Kinsella had been a salutary lesson. They both knew it would never be repeated. There was so much Doyle had wanted to say – so much he had agonised over. In the end, Bodie's silence had forestalled him, and the words remained buried and unsaid.

What was the point when they both knew the truth?

It could have easily been him instead of Bodie.

The bond they had was inviolable.

When the chips were down they had each other's back.

Instead of typing, Doyle took a swig of cold tea and turned his hand to a nifty paper aeroplane. He was just streamlining the wingtips when Murphy poked his head around the door, a big grin plastered on his face.

"Working on something top secret, I see?"

"Need to know," Doyle tapped the side of his nose.

"Better not let Cowley catch you with that. He's already tearing his hair out because Tomlinson and Philips have flu."

Doyle snorted. "Not my fault he's still a team down. Make that two, if you count me and Bodie. I asked if I could return to active, but he refuses to let me back in the field."

"Which reminds me," Murph's grin spread. "There's a shady character out in the main office chatting up that new typist. You know the one with the eyes like Bambi and the curves like a figure of eight?"

"Luscious Lucinda," Doyle sighed, and then scowled and jumped to his feet. "Oi, she's strictly a no-go area. Which bastard's moving in on my territory?"

Murphy followed him back out of the doorway. "I'll give you a single guess."

Doyle's ire faded quickly as he ground to a halt just in time to see Bodie in action. He was using the brave wounded hero routine, wincing slightly and holding his chest. Judging by the lovely Lucinda's response, she was falling for it hook, line and sinker, big brown eyes welling over with sympathy as she stood and offered Bodie her chair.

"Nauseating," Murphy shook his head in disgust. "Better face it, Doyle, old son, you just had the rug pulled out from under."

Doyle studied his partner carefully and wondered how much of this was play-acting. Bodie looked fragile, all planes and angles, his face still haunted by pain and dark shadows. The by-now familiar worry began to nag at him again. They'd been a hairsbreadth from losing everything. They'd both made a nearly fatal mistake because of a game of cards.

He'd meant what he'd said about the birds and the fridge . . . he really wouldn't trust Bodie with either, but here he was, face to face with irrefutable proof. He would always trust the man with his life.

"You back then, or is this a flying visit?"

Bodie tore his soulful gaze away from Lucinda, face creasing with a hint of devilish mirth at the look of chagrin in his partner's eyes. All allusions of frailty disappeared in an instant as the old swagger returned again.

"Looks like you drew the lucky straw, Raymond. Just on my way up to see Cowley. Seems like the old place has missed me. Back on light duty, as of today."

Revenge could be petty, but it could also be sweet, and he was a due a little payback for Lucinda. Doyle smiled at the thought of all the paperwork and couldn't help gloating a tad. "Good, plenty of um . . . light duties ready and waiting in your in-tray."

"If you're back, then we ought to celebrate." Murphy gestured towards the clock on the wall. "Ten past four now, it's going to be opening time by the time you're done with the Cow."

Bodie smiled meltingly at a receptive Lucinda and shook his head. "Sorry, Murph, think I've just made other plans. Lucinda's kindly offered to help out with my physiotherapy."

"Oh, come on," Murphy was not to be discouraged. "I'll give the lads a call and we can start off with a couple of pints in the Red Lion, followed by a few hands of poker . . ."

"NO!"

Bodie stared across at Doyle in horror as they shouted the word simultaneously. Then he leant against the desk and started chuckling, as Doyle joined in and shook his curly head.

"No poker," Doyle schooled his features.

"But . . ."

"No poker." Bodie had the last word.

THE END


Lisa Paris - 2011