I try to slip as silently and as un noticed as I can into the crowded Conference Room of C.I.5.'s headquarters and hope no one, especially Cowley, will notice that I am late. But of course I know that he will, as will Ray. At the head of the room Cowley's speech is holding them spellbound and motionless but my arrival, when I drop into a chair hot and uncomfortable from my rush to get here is duly noted. His eyes sweep me for a moment and then inflict their death stare upon me without the slightest break in his powerfully worded discourse. I'm in trouble but, I ask myself, what's the worst that can happen? He'll say I'm unreliable and insubordinate as he has done a hundred times before and I'll stand there and take it with the right amount of remorse but know in my heart that I'll have him back on my side before the evenings out.
My eyes automatically seek out my partner from the other twenty or so agents that have gathered for the occasion to mark the five years existence of the organisation. He is seated at the edge of the room beside the tables that line one wall and the vast array of food on them reminds me that I am hungry, some would say 'as usual'. As if he can feel my eyes upon him Ray shifts slightly in his seat allowing him to glance across at me. He widens his eyes in question as to my lateness but I can only give him a subtle quick grin before Cowley's gaze falls on me again. Ray resumes his attention on Cowley but my eyes remain on my partner.
I had had no intention of liking him when we first met. I didn't want a partner, they were a liability, someone to get in your way, disrupt your thinking and someone you ultimately had to be responsible for, to take care of like some nurse maid. Well, I had no intention of taking care of anyone. I had listened quietly to the speculation that we were all to be paired up on the morning we, as newly recruited and trained operatives, had stood in the main hall of C.I.5's headquarters. I cringe now at my audacity to challenge Cowley about it.
"We're to be paired up,Sir?" I had asked during a coffeee break.
"Yes, Bodie. I trust that's not going to be a problem?" Cowley had peered at me disapprovingly over his glasses.
"I thought I'd be working alone. I'm better on my own."
"Well you thought wrongly. I have partnered you with Raymond Doyle. He's a good man, solid, trustworthy. An ex- police detective."
And that was the final straw, Cowleys last words. An ex-police detective. This Doyle was a cop and if there's one thing I hate its coppers. Not being much of a team player I had kept pretty much to myself during our training so I couldn't be sure which one was Doyle. As long as it wasn't the one with that stupid mop of curly hair, I had thought at the time. I'm not walking round with anyone that looks like that. And, as if to teach me a lesson, it turned out that yes, that was Doyle. He was quick to pick up on my unvoiced disapproval at being saddled with him but to his credit he said nothing and, whether consciously or not he went on to prove me wrong, very wrong. On only our second assignment together he efficiently dispatched a gunman who had caught me by surprise, his weapon trained on me. As the thin wisp of smoke left Doye's gun he had regarded me fixedly for a few seconds and then walked away, leaving me to reflect on my attitude. This Doyle could take care of himself and what's more he could take care of me. His loyalty to me went on to be complete and unwavering, his trust unflinching.I would give him my last penny, the shirt off my back.
I watch him as he joins in the laughter at a joke Cowley's made and then he turns to look at me and finds me staring at him, a small warm smile on my face. He wrinkles his brow in puzzlement, aware I am lost in my own thoughts and have no idea what our boss has said. As he returns his attention to the front again my gaze passes quickly over the rest of the assembled agents dotted amongst the other faceless dignitaries of police departments and goverment. They are all here, Murphy, Jax, McCabe, Williams and all uncharacteristically in suits and ties that befits the celebration. All good men. Well they would be. Cowley wouldn't have taken them on otherwise but, as I look at each of them in turn I can't imagine working with any of them or, more to the point any of them working with me. I am well aware very few wanted me as their partner. To this day I still don't know what Ray thought. Maybe I'm too afraid to find out. Maybe I already know.
I had thought I would probably stick the job out for a year or so. I've never stayed in a job for any real length of time. But I think Ray changed that and also George Cowley. He is another good man. Like Ray he also puts up with a lot from me but I'm usually careful never to overstep the mark with my sometimes seemingly reckless exuberance to get the job done. Mind you, he once threatened to shoot me and both Ray and I, to this day, aren't one hundred percent sure he wouldn't have done so.
I take a long breath and relax in my seat. I don't often have, or give myself time to reflect on my life, my job or the people that surround me.
I am conscious suddenly that Cowley is touching upon the fatalities suffered within his unit and the room falls into a sombre mood, some heads bowing in remembrance at the loss of our colleagues. Both Ray and myself have so very nearly joined these statistics many times and accept that this will ultimately be our demise given the job we do.
As I run a finger under the tight stiffness of my shirt collar my eyes alight pleasingly on Betty and Sally. Both Cowley and I have shared Betty, he in her capacity as a first rate secretary and me… in something altogether more enjoyable.
I am brought back to reality as the sound of applause reverberates around the room and when Ray rises to his feet clapping everyone else, including me does likewise. There is a scraping of chairs on the wooden floor and the room is suddenly filled with chatter as the formality of the gathering breaks up. Ray makes a beeline for me and his voice breaks through my reverie as I realise my eyes have returned to him as has my smile.
"What are you looking at?" he asks.
"Nothing. I can look at you, can't I?"
"Why does that not sound right? Anyway, where have you been?"
"Unfinished business." I tell him pushing past him to the tables.
"You mean a girl. Bodie!" Ray is exasperated.
"No actually." There's an unfair misconception about me that seems to suggest that whatever trouble I'm in there'll be a girl involved.
"Four p.m sharp Cowley said and you stroll in ten minutes late. You could have made the effort, its important to him. It should be important to YOU! Hell, HE should be important to you! The old man's going to kill you." Ray continues,following me and picking up paper plates.
"No he's not."
"You sound sure."
"I am." I tell him smugly. "I'm starving."
"You always are." Another misconception. On second thoughts I'll give him that one as I pile my plate high with all manner of tasty goodies.
"So are you going to tell me where you were?"
Ray stares at the tower of food balanced on my plate. "Can you get any more on there?"
"Don't need to, mate. I'll be going up for seconds. I'm a growing boy."
Ray groans but tries to hide a smile.
As I start to make quick work of the buffet food I suddenly spot Cowley coming our way. "Quick, take this!" I thrust my plate into Ray's chest and quickly make my escape.
"Bodie!" I hear Ray hiss as I thread my way through the assembled party and disappear into the corridor.
A few minutes later I return and, finding Ray and Cowley still together I make my way casually towards them.
"Ah, Bodie. Nice of you to turn up."
"Yes Sir, sorry I was late, Sir."
"No doubt you had a very good reason for your lateness."
"And no doubt also, it involved a young lady." There's not a hint of foregiveness on his face.
"Actually, no Sir, not this time." I pull back my jacket to reveal an expensive twenty five year old vintage bottle of Cowley's favourite pure malt scotch.
"Doyle and I got you this, Sir." I hand it to him registering the shock on Ray's face. He knew nothing about this.
"Bodie! Doyle!" exclaims Cowley wide eyed and beaming at the bottle. " I don't know what to say!"
"Neither do I." Ray mutters.
"We just thought you deserved something special, Sir."
"But boys, this must have cost you a pretty penny. Twenty five years old!"he whistles.
"Came in from Scotland,Sir,just this afternoon. That's why I was late. Didn't have time to wrap it, Sir."
"Well, its very much appreciated. Thank you very much lads."
He walks away still staring at the gift. Ray moves closer to me, a look of disbelief on his face."You always come up smelling of roses."
"That's because I keep my feet firmly in the manure."
"That was a kind gesture."
"I hope you'll still be thinking that when you pay up your share of the cost."
"I didn't think you had it in you to do something nice off your own bat." He has the impression I have little depth.
" You have a very low opinion of me, Raymond. I can be a very nice bloke dispite what you think. And like you said, he's important to me."
"What did you get me?" Ray asks suddenly.
"Well, five years we've been together. Five years I've been watching your back, getting you out of scrapes, saving your life. What did you get me?"
"Nothing, execpt that one of the privileges of having me as your partner is it entitles you to another five years." I inform him.
"If that's a privilege then someone shoot me now." Ray groans.
"The trouble with you is you don't know when you are on to a good thing."I smirk.
"What have you done with my food?" I spy my plate on the table behind us and pick it up as Ray drifts off to mingle among our colleagues and I do likewise, making a beeline for Betty and Sally.
A couple of hours later and the celebration begins to slowly break up. Ray appears at my side as I polish off the last slice of black forest gateau. Well I couldn't just leave it there could I?
"I'm going to be getting off." he informs me, draining the last of his beer.
"Yeah, me too."
"Why? Because there's no more food left?"
I pull a face at him and we share a smile before finding Cowley and saying our goodbyes. Cowley is quick to remind us he wants us in the office first thing Monday morning. "And don't be late!" he barks, for my benefit.
We walk out into the cool evening air towards our cars. As Ray puts the key in the lock of his Capri I stop and look at him.
He glances over to me.
"You know you're important to me, don't you?" I half expect him to laugh or ask me if I'm drunk but he senses the sincerity edging the tone of my voice. I realise that maybe the occasion has caused him to do some reflection of his own.
"Yeah," he says softly, smiling. "Course I do."
I smile gently at him and then turn back to my car.
"There's no me without you." Ray puts in. "You know, when we're out there in the thick of it."
I nod slowly, holding his gaze for a long moment, a mutual exchange of unspoken yet understood communication passing invisibly between us. His words surround me in a warm glow.
"See you Monday?" I check.
"Och, you will, Bodie." Ray replies in his best imitation of Cowley. "And don't you be late!"