Although Cowley owned his operatives, body and soul, even he couldn't decree who they fell in love with. That was outside even his operatives' control. When Cowley had teamed Doyle up with Esther, a secondee from Hong Kong, they were to go undercover and act the part of live-in partners in a poor neighbourhood. Bodie, who had drawn the short straw (in his opinion), was across town squatting in a tumbled down wreck of a house (even though it was said to be a listed building) keeping an eye on the itinerant population in the hope of picking up a tasty lead. He had wanted to know how come the Bionic Golly had got the best role – AGAIN! Cowley had told him not to be childish.
Doyle and Esther quickly settled down to non-married bliss together – he as assistant stallholder in the local market selling fruit and veg, and she as student-cum-waitress. Somewhere along the line – and neither could pin-point when – their professional defences had somehow slipped. One way or another they had unknowingly wandered across the line from undercover cops, to friends and, finally, to lovers. They'd slipped into an easy routine of man and wife. They enjoyed exploring each other's cultures in the living room, and each other's bodies in the bedroom. The seemingly banal 'how was your day, darling?' became a byword for a settled married life that Doyle in particular had secretly yearned for and knew could never happen as long as he remained in CI5. It would be unfair on any wife, he believed, to have a husband on active service and she never knowing if today was the day her spouse never came home. Look what happened to poor Derrick Cook. He didn't last long, did he, after Doyle had persuaded him to join CI5? Poor bugger didn't last a month before he was gunned down, together with some of his colleagues. Doyle still felt guilty over that. However, the fragrant and formidably proficient Esther had at least survived her mission and it was only when she received her thanks from Cowley, and her one way ticket back home, that it hit her that this was the end of the operation. She was going home. CI5 had ended up with a fistful of smoke, being unable to bring the bad guys in because they'd wrapped themselves up securely in diplomatic immunity, and Esther had ended up falling in love and breaking her heart.
It was Doyle who had first voiced his love and his impending loss. "I'll miss you," he'd said sincerely. She'd been too choked at first to reply, but eventually echoed his words through her tears. The previous night, when Esther had silently showed him her airline ticket, they had simply sat staring at each other, hand in hand, lost in each other's eyes for hours. Eventually they'd bypassed the kitchen and dinner and headed straight for the bedroom. Instead of making love they'd just clung wordlessly to each other like victims of a sinking ship. They hadn't wanted morning to come. If they could just keep awake through the night, maybe the sun would do them a favour and not rise; keep time on hold. At some point however they did drift off to sleep and somehow the sun did rise, its rays nudging them into wakefulness. Cowley, in a rare show of empathy, had given Doyle the day off to take Esther to the airport. And so Esther had packed, folding her tears and her broken heart into her suitcase. Doyle had come in and wrapped his love around her. Somehow that made the pain worse. He gently stopped her packing and turned her round to face him. He kissed her deeply and longingly. She felt his tears mingling with hers. Silently they walked slowly to the bedroom hand in hand and made love for the last time, then lapsed into an exhausted sleep. A few hours later the phone startled them into wakefulness. Doyle reached across for the receiver and mumbled his name.
"Ray, it's Bodie."
His heart sank. Couldn't he and CI5 leave him alone for this one day? Surely Cowley hadn't had a change of heart – now that he'd finally found one?
"What d'ya want?" His voice was thick with sleep and anger.
"Cowley's had a message from Esther's people in Hong Kong. They said – look can you get Esther on the line, you don't sound awake?"
"It's Bodie," Doyle said, passing the phone to Esther who'd managed to wriggle under Doyle's naked body into something like a sitting position. She listened to Bodie's monologue, murmuring acknowledgment now and then before putting the phone down.
"My boss wants me to report in as soon as I arrive," she said bleakly, "They think they have a lead over there from a contact in Berlin."
While Esther had been muttering to Bodie, Doyle had automatically looked at the clock. It was more than time that they were going. She seemed to read his mind – as she so often did; they were on the same wavelength.
They showered and dressed. They were too tense for conversation.
"Hungry?" Doyle proffered.
Esther looked at her watch and shook her head. "I'd better be going."
They hadn't eaten since yesterday but they could grab something at the airport.
"Ray, look. I've been thinking. I think I should take a taxi and go on my own. I'd rather say goodbye here and now and privately."
Doyle took her face gently in his hands. She kissed them and pulled away. She reached for the phone and he didn't stop her as she rang for a cab. He took out his wallet to pay for the fare.
"Don't you dare," she snarled.
Doyle was at first taken aback at her sudden anger, then realised how it looked from her point of view – him paying her off like a common tart.
"I'm sorry, Esther. I wasn't thinking."
"Sorry, too, Ray. I shouldn't have snapped."
All too soon there was a tooting of a taxi horn outside. They hugged, they kissed, the taxi driver got tetchy. Suddenly Esther snatched her suitcase and hauled it outside. She didn't even want him to help her with it. Then suddenly she was gone without a backward glance. If she hadn't gone then she didn't know if she'd have had the strength and courage to go at all. Doyle heard the front door click shut and the taxi revving away. Silence washed through the flat like a tsunami. He returned to the grubby lounge that had been their life together – three glorious months of it. Where had that time gone? Neither had said that they'd keep in touch; neither had committed to anything. Doyle had jokingly said that they could set up a cat house together, but both knew it was a joke. That had been the theme of their relationship – easy jokes, laughter, banter. She'd only been gone 27 minutes and already he was aching for her. He knew he'd have to occupy his mind with something but somehow he didn't want to leave the flat in case she phoned to say she'd forgotten something – or that she was going to give everything up and come back to him forever. Yeah, sure she was! Was he prepared to drop everything and live in Hong Kong? Yeah, sure he was!
When he'd eventually convinced himself that the flight had left England – he'd even phoned the airport to check that the flight had left on time and that Esther was on it after all – he went for a jog, which petered out into a listless tour of the area, as though he was trying to fix everything in his mind. Tomorrow he'd have to pack up this flat and move back home – a home which Esther had never seen; a life he'd never shown her. He'd have to pick up the threads of his life again without her, just as she was going to do on the other side of the world. He wasn't sure he had the strength any more to fight the emptiness.
On the other side of town Bodie was thinking how he could give Doyle the strength he needed as well as the space he needed. But if anyone could square that circle, Bodie could.