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Poison Apples

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The devil hath power
To assume a pleasing shape.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, scene 2

April 15

“God, I’m sick of rain.” Bodie sighed and lowered the field glasses. “Not to mention being sick of bloody draughty warehouses, never-ending stakeouts, and what passes for London springtime.” He turned his attention on his partner. “And you, mate, you’re just plain sick. You look like hell, Ray.”

Doyle made a face and snatched the glasses away. “And you’re supposed to be watching the place, not playing nanny.”

“Listen, sunshine, you turn green one more time and I’ll pot you on my windowsill next to me aspidistra.”

“Give it a rest, will you? I’m fine.”

“Sure you are. Come off it, Ray. You look ‘orrible and probably feel worse. What’s wrong with you anyway? You haven’t been your usual, bouncy self for days. Why don’t you tell Nanny Bodie all about it, son.”

Doyle dropped the glasses to glare at him. “Okay, so I’ve a touch of stomach flu and, yes, I feel bloody awful. Your goin’ on about it doesn’t help, you know.”

“If you’re ill, mate, you should call off.”

“Wha’? And miss nabbing Whitley and his mob? Not a chance. We’ve put too much sweat in this one to hand him over to another team.”

Bodie pursed his lips disapprovingly. “Yes, but the Cow won’t love you if you lose your lunch all over his new dancing pumps, will he?”

Doyle’s look would have withered an oak tree. “Pack it in, Bodie. This won’t last much longer; the drop’s due to be made any time now. I can hang on ‘til then.”

Bodie regarded him doubtfully, noting the beads of perspiration, the lank curls and the general air of misery. Irritated by the worried frown, Doyle shoved the binoculars at him and growled, “Don’t say it! I told you I can handle it, dammit! You just keep your eyeballs peeled for that lorry and mind your own fuckin’ business.”

The other man’s face altered in a flash, losing the affectionate, somewhat indulgent expression he habitually wore when he was alone with Doyle. The blue eyes chilled. “I was under the impression it was my business,” he said quietly.

Knowing he had said the wrong thing, and feeling too wretched to be conciliatory, Doyle clung to his anger. “As long as I can do my job, what’s it to you if I feel rotten or not? Just shut up and leave me alone.”

Bodie’s eyes widened at the venom in the smaller man’s voice. “Christ, Ray, I was only—”

“I don’t give a damn what you were doing,” Doyle snarled. “You’re always buttin’ in where you’re not wanted. I’ve had my fill of it, so fuck off.”

Bodie stared at him for a long moment before turning back to the window, raising the glasses stiffly. “That’s clear enough.”

Doyle cursed himself under his breath. “Ah, Bodie, dammit! I didn’t mean . . .” He trailed off as another wave of nausea caught him. With his view directed at the truckyard below, Bodie didn’t notice Doyle’s sudden need to sit down and clutch at his stomach.

“I still wish it’d stop raining,” Bodie remarked, his voice even. “I could do with a bit of sun.”

Doyle took a deep breath as the sickness eased slightly.

Bodie continued in a conversational tone, “Do good to get away from the City for a bit, too. Some peace and quiet, fresh air. Someplace with a jolly pub and some nice, friendly folk.”

Outwardly, Bodie seemed to have dismissed their little squabble, but Doyle knew better. He had hurt Bodie and it would take some doing to soothe away that particular wound. But he didn’t have the energy to tackle it now; it’d have to be chalked up with all the other minor cuts and slices he’d inflicted on his partner over the years. One day, he’d have to make it all up to Bodie. Not today, perhaps, and probably not tomorrow. Someday.

Anyway, Doyle thought irritably, it was Bodie’s own fault for breathing down his neck all the time. Mostly it didn’t bother him—it was even flattering—but Bodie should know him well enough to realise when he felt sick he just wanted to be left alone to suffer in peace, not be continually nagged over. Still, Bodie meant well, and he had been excessively nasty with him . . .

“Eh,” Bodie said, “a truck’s coming in. Yeh, that’s it. There’s Whitley.”

Doyle clicked on the R/T as they headed for the stairs. “4.5 to Alpha. The fish is hooked. Over.”

At the ground floor, they split up, taking opposite exits. In the neighbouring warehouse, Murphy and Sims would be taking their positions as well, blocking off the only other escape route.

It was over in a matter of ten minutes. Quick but not without a good deal of gunfire and momentary tension; Whitley’s men didn’t surrender without a fight. All in all, however, it was a fairly clean op as drug busts went—one of Whitley’s men dead, one wounded, and no damage on their side.

Bodie helped Sims cuff Whitley and shoved him into the police van that had just pulled up. He was holstering his gun when he heard the cry.

“Bodie!”

The sound of it, high-pitched with pain and shock, cut through Bodie like a blade of ice. “Ray?” He sprinted across the yard to where Doyle had collapsed against the damp brick wall of the warehouse. He was in a crumpled ball of agony, curled in upon himself, whimpering and panting.

Terrified, it took a few seconds for Bodie to unwind the quivering form to search for injury, fully expecting to see a flower of red blossoming over the white tee shirt. There was nothing.

Dizzy with relief, Bodie leaned his forehead against the rain-wet curls. “What is it, sunshine? What’s wrong?”

Doyle clutched his stomach, his face ashen and furrowed with agony. “I don’t . . . know. It hurts . . . oh, Bodie . . . it hurts. I can’t—”

“Shhhh.” Bodie held him close as he called on the R/T. “Murph, get an ambulance over here quick. Doyle’s in trouble.”

* * *

April 16

“I’ve been informed that 4.5 is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances,” Cowley commented gruffly. “Not that he rates such good fortune.”

Bodie didn’t reply. At the moment he wasn’t feeling particularly charitable towards his partner either. Doyle had given him a real scare and he resented the fact bitterly.

“According to his physician,” Cowley continued, “he’ll be out of commission for several days at the least, perhaps longer if the infection gives them any problems.” He shook his head in disgust. “Whatever possessed the man to let it go on so long? A burst appendix is no laughing matter, Bodie.”

“I know that, sir,” Bodie said evenly.

Cowley glared at him. “So where were you, 3.7? You’re alleged to be his partner, aren’t you? Couldn’t you see something was wrong?”

“Yes, sir,” Bodie replied carefully, holding his temper in check. The last thing he needed right now was a scold from the old man; he blamed himself enough as it was. “We have been quite busy lately, sir. I knew Ray was ill, but he kept passing it off as a touch of flu.”

Not that Bodie had believed it for a minute, but there seemed little advantage in pointing out what a stubborn little bastard his partner could be, and that Doyle had more hair than sense when it came to staying on the job. Cowley was well aware of that, and Bodie knew he was grumbling out of irritation for being one man short. But the implication still stung.

Cowley sighed. “Well, at least the operation was successful.”

“At least,” Bodie muttered resentfully. The damn operation had been the reason Doyle had held off so long—damn near too long—keeping Bodie at bay with a poisonous tongue to prevent him from dwelling on his partner’s obvious discomfort.

“What was that, 3.7?” Cowley asked suspiciously.

“Uh . . . nothing, sir.” Then, with a touch of defiance, “But I did request relief several times and you insisted we remain on station.”

Cowley cleared his throat uncomfortably and pulled off his glasses to clean them with a tissue. “Point taken. Yes, well, it all turned out better than we deserved. And next time Doyle takes ill, he’ll know to report it, or I’ll remove his hide along with several other vital organs.”

Replacing his spectacles, Cowley began shuffling through the files on his desk. “In any case, it worked out for the best. We put a stop to Whitley’s import operations and 4.5 is out of danger. Matters might have turned out worse.”

They might, indeed, Bodie thought angrily. By the time Doyle reached hospital, his situation had been critical. It had been touch and go for quite some time, and Bodie was still trying to deal with the strain of those nerve-wracking few hours. Raymond Doyle was doomed to hear a few choice words on the subject.

“However,” Cowley continued, “4.5 will be incapacitated for some time. That leaves you at rather loose ends, doesn’t it, 3.7? Perfect for a little project I’ve had in mind. As the last operation was satisfactorily completed and nothing else of urgency presents itself, I’ve decided to put you to use on an investigation of a more personal nature.”

“Sir?”

“Ordinarily, I wouldn’t waste an operative on what is no doubt a trivial matter, but this case does interest me. There’s something odd about it, and I’m curious to see what’s at the bottom of it. Three weeks ago, a childhood friend of mine contacted me in the hope I could be of help. His son disappeared nearly a year ago and he has been unable to obtain any satisfactory answers from the local police.”

“A missing person? Not in our line, is it, sir? Unless he has diplomatic connections.”

“No, there’s nothing like that involved. Andrew Campbell is a respectable businessman with comfortable means, but far from wealthy. Conservative politically, but unconnected with the government in any way other than paying his taxes on time.

“His son, David, was a student at the University of Edinburgh, majoring in anthropology and sociology. His marks were acceptable but not particularly outstanding. A perfectly normal young man by all accounts; quiet, a bit shy, but hardly either a loner or troublemaker. The only record of disciplinary action against him was for hobbling a goat in the headmaster’s study.”

Bodie smiled. “Not exactly a left-wing radical, then.”

“Hardly. He was to begin his last year at University this past fall, and already had a fellowship lined up to work with a Dr. Bitsmen in Australia. Last spring, he was working on a thesis on insular cultures. To this end, he arranged to spend his summer vacationing on Summerisle. He never returned.”

“What do the local authorities have to say about it?”

“Summerisle has a population of less than five hundred; they seem to have no need for a constabulary. Lord Summerisle’s family has owned the island for four generations, since his great-grandfather purchased it in the last century. He functions as justice of the peace. According to him and to the inhabitants of Summerisle, David never arrived in the first place. They have never heard of David Campbell. He had planned to travel to the island by boat—it has no airfield, or even much terrain suitable for landing a plane—but there are no records of young Mr. Campbell engaging transportation on the mainland.”

Bodie shrugged. “So he went somewhere else. It happens. Kids drop out, run away, lose themselves on purpose. Excuse me, sir, but it seems the most likely explanation. Perhaps he ran into a bird and she—”

“Perhaps,” Cowley cut in smoothly, “but Andrew doesn’t think so. He is positive his son did go to Summerisle. I’ve known Andrew for twenty years, and he’s never struck me as a many unwilling to face facts. He went to the island himself and spoke to the inhabitants, including the Lord. He doesn’t believe them. The police, however, tend to agree with your theory.”

“And you think he’s right? That something’s happened to the boy?”

Cowley frowned. “Not necessarily. Even the most pragmatic man can be blind when it comes to kin. But when I did a bit of research, I discovered a few unsettling details about this particular island. This isn’t the first time someone’s gone missing in connection with Summerisle. I’ve never fancied coincidences.”

He located the file he wanted and opened it. “Over six years ago, a Detective Sergeant Neil Howie flew a seaplane to Summerisle to investigate a report on a lost child. It was assumed at the time that Howie’s plane was lost at sea. However, no debris was ever found and the day he left was perfectly clear and calm. Moreover, Neil Howie was an expert pilot and knew the area well.”

“And the missing child?”

“Was never missing according to the villagers. They knew nothing of the business. The Howie investigation was closed, listed as ‘death by misadventure’.” Cowley handed the file to Bodie who studied the enclosed photo. The man in the police uniform was handsome enough, but stern and unsmiling, looking distinctly prim and priggish. But there was something in the eyes that was vaguely disturbing; hinting of a man who courted suffering. It reminded Bodie of paintings of burning saints and crucified martyrs. He closed the file uneasily.

“The island, where is it, sir?”

“Off the west coast of Scotland. It is small and isolated, just barely within our national waters; the farthest west in the Outer Hebrides chain. There is little, if any, contact with the outside, and hasn’t been for centuries. The British government remains essentially removed of their affairs for the simple reason there has been no call for their services; no demand for National Assistance, Health—nothing at all. They don’t even have TV nor automobiles to licenses. The people keep to themselves, as they have done for generations; the very reason for young Mr. Campbell’s scholarly interest in the region. Have you ever heard of Summerisle, Bodie?”

“Not that I recall, but there is something familiar about the name.” He snapped his fingers. “Summerisle apples. That’s where I’ve heard it.”

“Indeed. That is their primary export. The island is located in the Gulf Stream and, due to the mild climate combined with a richly volcanic soil, seems to account for their amazing success with fruit.” He opened a desk drawer and took out an apple which he offered to Bodie. “Summerisle apples are exported all over the world. They are considered a rare delicacy; worth fifty times the price of an ordinary apple.”

Bodie polished the fruit on his sleeve. “Looks like a regular apple to me, sir.”

“Yes, but you’re more likely to find it at Fortnam & Mason than on a fruit peddler’s cart in the East End.”

Curious, Bodie sank his teeth into the fruit and chewed appreciatively. “Very nice.”

Cowley glowered at him. “I didn’t require a taste test, 3.7. It’s fortunate that wasn’t evidence.”

“Just digesting the facts, sir,” Bodie grinned and continued crunching away.

Cowley shook his head despairingly and continued, “Something else I find intriguing is the fact that, excepting the physician who trained in Glasgow and returned to the island to set up practice, there is no record of anyone moving away from the island in over fifty years.”

Bodie shrugged. “Perhaps they’re happy there.”

Cowley looked at him severely, surprised by the comment. He had been concerned about Bodie for some time now; the man seemed vaguely restless. At times he suspected Bodie was only staying in CI5 for Doyle’s sake, that he’d lost his heart for the job around the time Marikka Schulman was killed. Cowley wasn’t too fretted at present, however; sensing that as long as he held Doyle, Bodie would be right there in “leading strings.”

“In any case, I’ve decided to send you up to nose around a bit. You can leave tonight.”

Bodie straightened in his chair. “What? Tonight, sir? But—”

“Tonight, 3.7,” Cowley said firmly. “The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll be back to do some real work.”

“Does it have to be tonight, sir?” Bodie protested. “It can’t be all that urgent. Besides, it still seems out of our line. A waste of time—”

“Has it possibly slipped your mind that I am the one who decides what is suitable for CI5?”

“No, sir. But—” He opened his mouth then closed it again.

“What is it, Bodie?” Cowley snapped.

Bodie regarded him sheepishly. “It’s Doyle, sir. I know he’s out of danger and all, but I’d . . . I’d just as soon hang about for a day or two, just in case.”

“That’s a tad overprotective, isn’t it, 3.7?” Cowley objected, but he was thawing and Bodie saw it.

Grinning cheekily, Bodie replied, “Well, it was you who pointed out I didn’t look after him properly. Just following orders.”

Cowley snorted, amused in spite of himself. “4.5 is in capable hands. I doubt if your presence will improve his condition—particularly if it includes alcoholic binges in his hospital room.”

Bodie’s eyes twinkled, perceiving he had won. “You’ll never forgive us for that broken scotch, will you?”

“An entirely different matter,” Cowley bit back. “Oh, very well. You can leave Tuesday morning. But don’t expect to make a habit of delaying your assignments for personal reasons.”

“Oh, no, sir. Would I do that? Of course not. Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t press your luck, Bodie. Just take that file and get out of here. Give 4.5 my regards.”

* * *

Doyle was in a foul mood. He was running a slight fever, his incision burned and ached from surgery and, most of all, he hated being flat on his back in hospital. Having to face an understandably irate Bodie while flat on his back was even more galling. It didn’t help that he had a definite suspicion that Bodie had every reason to be furious with him.

“I swear, Doyle, you’ve got to be the most obstinate, thick-headed prat in London. You must’ve had some idea it was your appendix.”

“No,” Doyle got out through gritted teeth. “I told you, I didn’t think it was all that bad.”

“You didn’t think at all, more like it.” Bodie paced the narrow space between the wall and the bed, becoming more wound up by the second. For once, at least, Doyle was forced to lay still and listen. It was a relief of sorts, being able to release some of the pent-up anxiety on the cause of it. “What if one of Whitley’s goons had got a bead on you when you doubled over like that? What if they’d got away ‘cause you couldn’t hold your position? Not to mention the minor fact you let it go on so long you could’ve died as surely as if they had pumped ten rounds in your gut. Christ, Ray, don’t we take enough risks as it is? Or are you pitchin’ for Martyr of the Month? Hang on a bit and I’ll run round an’ light a candle for you.”

Doyle flushed angrily. “I said I’m sorry; drop it, will you?”

“Oh, you’re sorry, eh? Well, that’s all right then. Here I thought you expected a pat on the back for bein’ such a brave boy.”

The sarcasm stung. “What the devil do you want me to say?” Doyle snapped. “I fucked up, okay? I could’ve got you or one of the others killed out there. Do you think I need you to point that out? I’m a rotten human being and should eat worms and die?”

Bodie paused, half-smiling at the ferocious form on the bed. “Nah, mate, you’d probably have me diggin’ the worms for you. And stop scowling; if your face freezes that way, you’ll scare all the birds.” He sat down on the edge of the bed, reaching out to dislodge a curl that had adhered to Doyle’s forehead. “We’ll let it go for now, then. Perhaps I did go over the top a bit, but the next time I say you’re sick, sunshine, you’d better listen to me, right?”

Doyle jerked his head away from the touch. “Leave off, damn it. Stop fussing. Who the hell do you think you are anyway, giving me lectures! Lot of nerve you have—”

“I thought I was your partner,” Bodie cut in coldly.

“Yeh, well, sometimes you act more like a bloody sweetheart!”

Bodie immediately stiffened, facing paling. “Why did you say that?”

Doyle was too frustrated and irritated to pay much attention to Bodie’s reaction. At the moment guilt was making him uncomfortable and therefore rash with his comments. His mind kept flashing a mental image of Whitley drawing a line on Bodie, himself unable to raise his own gun to stop him. Right now, he just wished Bodie would go away until he could get a grip on his bruised and shaken confidence.

“What did you mean by that crack?” Bodie wouldn’t let it go.

“Stop smothering me, that’s all! Get off my back! Stop hangin’ around like a mother hen. I’ve had enough of it.”

Bodie stood. “All right.”

Doyle chewed on his lip, already regretting the harsh words. They weren’t even totally true. “Bodie, wait—”

“You’re right,” the other man said calmly, picking up his coat from the back of the chair. “You need to get some rest.” His mask was back in place, solid and impenetrable.

“Bodie—”

“Take it easy, Ray.” Bodie’s parting smile was brittle and just a little wishful.

* * *

The weather turned even nastier that evening. Bodie spent a frustrating half-hour trying to close a window that had obstinately stuck three inches open, sending freezing gusts of wind and rain through his already damp bedroom. He finally surrendered, afraid he would wind up breaking the wretched thing and sound every alarm at headquarters. He wasn’t in the mood to explain to a sniggering security chief that he couldn’t manage to shut his own window.

He shoved a spare blanket into the crack to keep out the worst of it, and returned to his clammy bed, not bothering to kid himself that it was more than the smallest part of his insomnia. He’d slept in mud-choked ditches before, waking up only long enough to dispose of the newest crop of leeches. A slightly damp bed and a few chilly draughts was positive luxury in comparison.

Bodie knew after all this time, he should be able to take his partner’s mercurial moods in stride. They were hardly anything new, and this one hadn’t even been particularly nasty up against some of the fireworks Doyle had tossed his way.

So why did this time smart so much?

It couldn’t have been that crack about him acting like a “sweetheart.” You couldn’t pay attention to particulars during one of Doyle’s tongue-lashings—he didn’t know what he was saying half the time himself. Besides, it was ridiculous. Perhaps he was a little over-solicitous towards his partner at times, but that was understandable. They were a team, weren’t they? Good mates besides. But lovers? It was laughable to even think about.

It took a long moment for Bodie to realise he was thinking about it. And he wasn’t laughing.

Impulsively, Bodie leaned over and snatched up the phone.

“Mr. Cowley? It’s Bodie, sir . . .uh . . .no, I didn’t notice the time. Sorry, sir. Oh, yeh, well I’ve been thinking about the investigation we discussed . . .yes, Summerisle. I’ve decided to make a start right away. This morning, right. Doyle? He’s doin’ much better an’ all . . . no reason for me to hang about . . . Yes, sir. I’ll be in contact. Sorry again for waking you. Goodbye.”

* * *

April 17

This certainly wasn’t the first time Bodie had been in Scotland, but he had spent the majority of his time in Glasgow or Edinburgh or climbing his way out of the mountains during SAS training missions. Unsurprisingly, it seemed spring was taking even longer showing up here on the northwest coast than it was in London. The sky was grey and sullen and water dripped from the eaves in listless monotony.

Leaving the bus, he hunched his shoulders against the chill wind that whipped around the corners of the stone buildings. He ducked into a tea shop to get his bearings. Finding an empty table against a wall, he parked his carry-all underneath. After ordering some tea and a sausage sandwich, he took out the file Cowley had given him and a map of the area. He had flown to Glasgow, then on a small plane to the Isle of Lewis. He finally arrived by bus here in the town of Stornoway on the western coast. Now he just had to find a way to Summerisle.

The old mother who brought the tray caught sight of one of the photos spread out among the pile of papers.

“Oh my. That’s puir Sergeant Howie, now innit?”

Bodie looked at her with interest. “You know him, then?”

“Knew him, puir lost soul. Lost at sea in that fancy boat-plane of his. Lord, it must be near five years now.”

“Nearly seven, actually.”

“Nay? That long, ya say? Well, when ya get a bit long in the tooth like meself, one year’s verra like another. Was the Sergeant kin of yours?”

“No, ma’am. Did you know him well?”

She wiped a smear on the formica table fussily. “Bless you, yes. He was o’ a habit of stoppin’ in nearly every afternoon fer tea, ‘less he was on patrol o’ course. Not like most o’ the other coppers in the station—nice as they be—but spendin’ way too much o’ their times in pubs and dancehalls to my manner o’ thinkin’. Set a bad example fer the young ‘uns, I say. The Sergeant now, he was a decent, god-fearin’ man. Quiet like. Not cheery enough for some, but I always said he had higher realms on his mind than makin’ fun and causin’ mischief.”

Bodie nodded solemnly, his expression giving room to suspect he’d never seen the inside of anything so sordid as a common pub. Taking in the neat suit and tie and the clear, healthy complexion, the old woman warmed to him immediately. Even if he was a Foreigner (anyone outside the town being foreign to her mind), he seemed a polite, respectful lad.

“What are you doin’ with Sergeant Howie’s picture, Mister . . .?”

“Bodie, ma’am.” He slid his identification out of his inside pocket.

“My . . .police, are you?”

“Not exactly. But I am investigating a disappearance. Perhaps you could help me.”

“Not yon Sergeant’s surely? Years ago, that was. And everyone knows his plane—”

“No, ma’am, not the Sergeant’s.” He located the photo of David Campbell and handed it to her. “Do you recall seeing this man?”

She took the picture, adjusted her spectacles carefully, and studied it. “No . . .no, I dunna believe I have. Not from ‘round here, is he?”

“No. He was on his way to Summerisle.”

She snorted disapprovingly. “No one goes ta Summerisle, laddie. Not if they have any sense. They don’t take ta strangers there, and we dunna take ta their kind neither. Heathens, the lot of ‘em.”

Bodie retrieved the photo thoughtfully. “Someone must go there, surely. If only to deliver the post—”

“They take care o’ all that theirselves, don’t they. Send a packet boat once a week or so ta pick up the mail. That’s the most we see of ‘em, except ‘round harvest time. Not that they stoop ta be bringin’ their fancy apples through here, mind ya. Most of ‘em gets shipped farther south to folks willing to spend good money on such frippery. Summerisle apples, indeed! Fruits of Satan, I say. We’re well rid o’ it.”

“But they used to ship through here?”

“Aye, when I was a lass. The islanders would even come into town for a day or two. Before the war, that was. An evil lot, all of ‘em. Drinkin’ and dancin’ on the Sabbath.” She pursed her lips in disgust. “An’ doin’ worse than that, if all be told.”

“After the war, they found another market, then?”

“Aye, thank the Lord. That island never spells ought but trouble, Mister Bodie. If the young lad you’re lookin’ for was goin’ for there, I say he deserved whatever he got.” She looked at him coldly. “An’ I say the same ta you. Look, I canna stand here nattering with you all day. Will you be needin’ anythin’ else?”

“No, thank you. I’m sorry for taking your time with all the questions.” He offered his best smile. It seldom failed him, and this was no exception.

“Aye, well, I know you’re just doin’ your duty an’ all,” she replied, slightly mollified. “Surely you’ll be wanting a wee bit of jam and cake for afters? I did up a fresh batch jus’ this mornin’.”

“Yes, that would be very nice, thanks. Then perhaps you’ll give me directions to the police station?”

* * *

April 18

Sergeant Hugh MacTaggart of the West Highland Police was less than pleased with his present passenger, nor with the detour he had been asked to make in his routine patrol.

“You’re positive you want to be let off there? I can’t guarantee how long I’ll be, ya know. Could be two days, could be a week. And if the weather—”

“Are you sure there’s no other way off the island? No boats to hire to take me to the mainland?” Bodie looked out the window of the sea-plane, beginning to doubt the wisdom of this. The sky was still grim and what little he could see of the odd islands and knolls through the leaden streaks of cloud didn’t seem promising.

“You might convince one of the natives to bring you back, but then again, you might not. They’re a clannish lot, and stiff-necked with strangers. Especially uninvited ones.”

“Then I’ll have to depend on you gathering me up in a day or two, won’t I?”

The Sergeant scowled and banked the plane sharply. “Don’t know as why you’re stickin’ your nose in at all,” he muttered.

Bodie ignored the grumbling. Being in CI5, he had become accustomed to stepping on toes. No way to avoid the implied insult in re-opening an investigation that the original investigators had been less than thorough.

“Have you been to Summerisle?” Bodie asked, hoping to get a little more cooperation from the closed-mouth copper.

“Aye, twice,” came the short reply.

“And . . .?” Bodie prompted patiently.

“And what? I’ve been there twice, that’s all. Wouldn’t be goin’ back now, if you’d read my report.”

“Listen, Sergeant, I have read your report. Four times. It didn’t take long; there’s not much to it.”

The man sent Bodie a resentful glance. “Not fancy enough for you big-time charlies, eh?”

“Yeh, that’s right,” Bodie retorted. “I’m used to pink paper and gold embossing. Give me a break, will ya? You did your job, let me get on with mine. If your nose is out of joint, just be glad it’s not your arse in a sling.”

“Who the bloody hell do you think you are?” MacTaggart snapped. “Tellin’ me I don’t know my job! Some city punk disappears, and just because he was supposed to be headin’ this way, we get all the flak for it. Well, I did my job, Mister Cee Eye Four or Five or whatever outfit you’re with, and it’s all in my report. Nothing! Because there was nothing to report. If young Campbell was comin’ here at all, there’s no trace he ever showed up in Portlochie, let alone made it to Stornoway. I talked to everyone at the wharf who might have chartered him a boat or even gave him a lift. No one goes out that far, except the fishers, and they don’t go near Summerisle—the reefs are too dangerous around there for a large boat. The only ones who risks them are the Summerisle fishermen, and they’ve been sailing those waters for generations. Satisfied?”

“No,” Bodie said bluntly. “What about the packet?”

The Sergeant looked surprised. “What packet?”

Bodie sighed. “I was told someone comes by boat from Summerisle every week or two to pick up the post.”

“Oh. But that’s from the island. Old Birch McDougal’s been collectin’ the mail for years.”

“Did you talk to him? Perhaps Campbell got a ride over with him.”

“Aye, I talked to him! I talked to all of them on Summerisle; even his Lordship himself. It’s all in the bloody report, if ye’ll take some heed to it!”

“And they say they’d never heard of David Campbell?”

“That’s right. Why should they lie, I ask you? All of them?” He snickered, “But I suppose in your books I shoulda arrested the lot o’ them for conspiracy. No proof, no reason.” He shook his head. “You London coppers must spend a lot of time in court facing charges of false arrest.”

Bodie smiled wryly. “I’m not a copper. And, no, that doesn’t come up very often.” He stared out the window for a long moment, recalling his partner’s long and passionate lectures on police procedure. Not that Doyle wasn’t above tossing the rules in the trash bin on occasion; he’d just bite his tongue off before admitting it. Before Bodie could start wondering how his partner was doing and fall to mooning over the jumble of emotions he’d pushed to the back of his mind, he turned to the pilot.

“You said you’d been there twice. When was the first time?”

“Oh, years back. I was a greenie then, my first rotation. My old sergeant cracked up his plane, and we had to do a follow up.”

“Sergeant Howie.”

MacTaggart glanced at him, startled. “Yeh, that’s right. Neil Howie. Let’s see . . . 1973 that was. How did you know about it?”

“Research, son. Didn’t you think it odd that the island was involved in that, too?”

“Not particularly. It was only one stop of many on the Sergeant’s patrol. We weren’t even sure he was headin’ there first. It’s a big area, Mr. Bodie, an’ the weather can be tricky.”

“But it wasn’t that day, was it? Clear and calm, wasn’t it?”

MacTaggart shrugged. “For all we know his ticker gave out. He was the type—all tension, uptight with ulcers. Me and McCallum went to the island to check things out—” He broke off and looked at Bodie. “I take it you know why he was stoppin’ there as well, since you know so much?”

“An anonymous letter about a missing child.”

“Yeh, well, like most anonymous letters, it was a crock. Some nasty ol’ biddy stirring up trouble most likely. The girl, Rowan Morrison, was there right enough, fit and healthy, pretty as a peach, and no one had a sight nor sound of the Sergeant.”

“And you never found any trace of the plane?”

“The patrols last anywhere from three to ten days, Mr. Bodie. We didn’t even start worrying about him for some time. The wreckage could’ve washed up anywhere . . .or nowhere.”

“What was he like, this Neil Howie?” Bodie asked curiously, wondering if MacTaggart’s opinion would tally with the woman at the tea shop.

The tone of the question was informal, almost friendly. The sergeant relaxed a bit. Besides, he hadn’t thought of his old superior in years.

“Neil was an all right sort. Bit of a prig, though. No, that’s puttin’ it mild. He was a bloody old maid. When he took a whiz he probably closed his eyes so he wouldn’t sneak a peek at his pecker. Too, too pure for this mortal world, ya see.”

“You didn’t like him?”

“Did I say that? Like I said, he was all right. Narrow-minded and a spot self-righteous, but mostly he was fair enough. You could count on gettin’ a decent shake from him, even if he didn’t approve of your morals or drinkin’ habits off the job. He might lecture ya ta bloody tears, but as long as you did your job, he took it no farther.” As an afterthought, “He was a damned good copper, too. Knew what he was about, did ol’ Howie. Hung onto somethin’ like a bloody bull terrier until he got answers. Poor sod.”

Bodie noticed with interest that the sky was lightening. Within a few moments, they left the last of the wispy clouds behind them and burst out into clear sunshine. Ahead of them, wide streaks of sun sliced through the bands of mist high above. The plane dropped altitude and flew towards an island breaking through choppy blue-grey sea.

“There she is. Summerisle.”

Sheer, barren cliffs reached up from a churning, furious ocean. “Looks formidable,” Bodie remarked.

“Aye, from this angle, it ‘tis. The mountains here cut off the north and east wind from the rest of the island. Wait until we get in a bit further, then you’ll see something.”

As they passed over the mountain ridge, jagged rock gave ground to ranks of pine trees and rolling hills that gradually turned to high pastures and bright green jewels of meadows. Black and brown specks soon resolved into peacefully grazing cattle, and a fluid patch of white became a herd of running sheep startled by the plane’s engines. The orchards stretched in charming, harmonious rows, just beginning to blossom into pink and white. Wild roses rumbled over ancient, but carefully tended stone fences.

“It’s lovely,” Bodie commented breathlessly, feeling the description inadequate, but unable to come up with anything more expressive. After the long, dreary winter, it was like looking down at paradise.

“Aye, it is that. What with the mountains and the Gulf Stream, spring comes earlier here. The winters are milder, too, from what I’m told. There’s his Nibs’ castle.”

Set among softly curving orchards, with the sea to its back, the manor house was beautiful. A line of poplars created a windbreak against the ocean breezes, and the sinking sun reflected pink and gold in the mullioned windows, mellowing the blocks of stone to a rose-grey hue. Bodie wished suddenly that Ray, with his eye for landscapes and artful things, was here to see this. He would love it.

“And there’s the village. We’ll land in the harbour by the jetty.”

To Bodie’s amazement, he saw that the gentle curve of the harbour was lined—of all things—with palm trees, gracing it with the impression of subtropical splendour.

The village itself was small and cozy; brick and stone cottages jostled close together as if the island jealously resented giving too much room to anything without living roots in the rich earth. As the Sergeant banked the plane in a wide circle in preparation to a sea landing, Bodie asked, “What do you know of the Lord Summerisle?”

“Not a lot. Met him, o’ course, during the investigations. Very educated, snobby but very posh manners; your typical long-nosed aristocrat. Bit odd, just the same. Not that you’d expect much different from the high nobs. I reckon they’re all a jot strange when you come right down to it.”

“What’s odd about him?”

He wrinkled his nose uncertainly. “Dunno. Just is. You’d think a man with his kind of money, wouldn’t hole himself up on an island for most of his life, would you now? ‘Course it’s just rumours, mind, but I’ve heard tell that the present laird’s great-granddad didn’t leave the mainland all on his own. They say he was crazier than a coot, with all kinds of strange ideas and ways.” Bodie pondered that cryptic statement while they made the landing smoothly, kicking up only a few quick sprays of water.

“Well, here you are. They’ll send a skiff in a few minutes, once they see the police seal on the plane.”

Indeed, a dinghy was already making its way out to the softly bobbing aircraft.

“You say there’s an inn in the village?”

“Aye. More of a public house, really, but they used to have a couple of rooms upstairs to let.”

Bodie gathered up his belongings and stuck out his hand. “Thanks for the ride, Sergeant. Sorry for the interrogation. Nothing personal.”

MacTaggart looked sheepish. “Aye, I know. Shouldn’t be so bloody thin-skinned.” He shook the offered hand. “Good luck to ya, Mr. Bodie. I’ll be back round in a couple o’ days.”

Bodie smiled. “I’m sure I’ll be more than ready to go. Bored out of my mind, no doubt. I’ve never liked chasing down dead ends, but ours is not to reason why . . .”

“That’s surely the truth. Ah, here’s your transport.”

Bodie opened the hatch and stepped out on the pontoon.

The gristled old man in the dinghy pulled closer alongside. “You fellas wantin’ ta come ashore, are ye? This is private property, y’know. Ye’ll need his Lordship’s permission.”

“The only means of attaining it seems to be to ask him,” Bodie pointed out. “And it’s just me coming. The sergeant has other places to go.” He moved onto the boat, easily keeping his balance against the swells. He waved to the Sergeant as the old man swung the dinghy around and began rowing towards the dock. A few moments later, the engine caught and the plane moved slowly out into takeoff position.

“His Lordship know you’re comin’?” the old man asked doubtfully as soon as he could be heard above the departing plane.

“He will when you tell him, won’t he? My name’s Bodie, by the way. So he’ll know who’s begging for an audience.” Bodie replied cheerfully.

The sun was just above the edge of the water now, and there was a warm, rosy glow over everything. Bodie felt very good suddenly, peaceful and content. A few days in this place wouldn’t come amiss. He’d been wishing for sun and quiet, hadn’t he? And the Cow was paying for the holiday! It would have been perfect except—he bit his lip, remembering exactly what had sent him scurrying off to Scotland even quicker than necessary. Stupid berk. If he’d waited another week until Ray left hospital, he might’ve talked Cowley into letting them both come—a kind of R&R mixed with light work. And Ray would’ve bloody loved this place.

He conveniently forgot that the last time he’d seen his partner he’d felt like throttling him. And that Doyle had been about as friendly as a wounded hedgehog. They’d work it all out. They always did, didn’t they?

When the boat nudged against the dock, there were several men lining the edge, regarding the newcomer with a kind of bored interest.

“Who’s this then, Barley?”

“Ask ‘im yourself.”

Bodie climbed up the ladder. “I’m Bodie. The Sergeant tells me there’s an inn in town where I might find a room for a night or two. Could you point me in the right direction?”

“Only one direction, Mister Bodie. That’s down the road. They all lead to the same place. Back where you started.”

Bodie looked around the chuckling circle, eyebrow lifted, wondering what the joke was. “Ah, well, I suppose I’ll find it then.” He handed a coin to the boatman and picked up his bag.

“Depends on what you’re lookin’ for,” someone called out.

“If you even know,” chimed another.

Bodie stopped and turned slowly around, eyes narrowed. “Besides a room for the night, what do you think I’m looking for?”

“Trouble,” came one answer, grimly.

“The meanin’ o’ life,” another offered sarcastically.

“A piece of tail,” came the capper.

Amidst the roar of laughter someone else added, “With Willow MacGreggor, he’ll manage all three!”

Bodie tightened his grip on his bag and his temper. It was nearly twilight now, the air becoming chill, and he was tired and hungry.

When the laughter died down, the man with the boat stepped forward a pace. “People come lookin’ for all manner o’ things, Mr. Bodie. Sometimes they don’t much fancy what they find.”

“It’s lucky I’m easy to please,” Bodie returned lightly, and walked in the direction of the pub.

As he strolled up the cobbled street past the neatly whitewashed houses, something struck him as peculiar about the town. It was more than the absence of motors; he had been informed of that and had expected it. No, it was something more subtle. He experienced a small twinge of deja vu, as if he’d been here before, in his dreams perhaps.

The air was sweet, laden with pollen. Bodie sneezed explosively. Surprised, he pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose. He hadn’t suffered from hay fever since he was a child, but the island seemed to be positively bursting with life; the atmosphere teeming thick with invisible energy.

He was tucking his handkerchief back in his pocket when it occurred to him one more thing that was odd about Summerisle. There were no lines of wire connecting the houses, tying them together in the service of modern technology. No electric then, and no telephones. No television either, judging by the distinct lack of aerials adorning slate roofs. Beyond that, there was no noisy bustle that Bodie was accustomed to. Instead, there was a quiet, lazy hum, like a hive of constant bees. Lamps were being lit in various cottages, casting a warm glow on the twilight outside the open casements. The crickets were beginning their mating symphony, and ahead he could hear the cheerful piping of a flute soon joined by the teasing notes of a fiddle.

The lighthearted tune was pouring out from the exposed windows and door of the inn bearing a battered wooden sign portraying the painted face of a man sprouting leaves from his hair, nose and ears. The faded letters were in Gaelic and underneath, spelled out in English, THE GREEN MAN. Yellow light streamed out into the street and with it a jumble of voices and laughter in concert with the music.

As Bodie stepped over the threshold, the music died and the mumble of conversation stilled. Feeling a little self-conscious, he strode boldly through the taproom to the bar. “Good evening. I was told you might have a room I could use for a night or two.”

The innkeeper regarded him suspiciously. “And who might you be then?”

“My name’s Bodie.” He smiled pleasantly, glancing around the comfortable, wood-paneled room. Dozens of curious, silent eyes looked back. “Jolly place you have here . . .or it was until I walked in. Didn’t mean to disrupt everything.”

Slowly the customers began talking among themselves again, and the fiddle player plinked out a lively melody, recapturing their attention once more. Bodie turned back to the man behind the bar. “That’s better. I’ve never considered myself such a wet blanket before.”

Easing a bit, the landlord smiled back and drew a pint of beer which he put on the bar in front of Bodie.

“Ta, very much. I was just going to ask for one.”

As he started to drink, the landlord offered. “I’m Alder MacGreggor, Mister Bodie. Don’t know as if I can help you with a room. Not ‘till you have a word with his Lordship. We don’t get many strangers on the island, and I don’t feel comfortable about takin’ in just anybody, ye understand.”

“Of course,” Bodie agreed amiably, totally at sea, unable to fathom what the Lord would have to say about letting a room in a public inn.

MacGreggor explained, “I’m the proprietor here o’ course, but the inn belongs to his Lordship. Everything on Summerisle does. It’s private property, ye know, and we don’t get many—”

“Strangers,” Bodie completed, “yes, I know. Well, how do I go about getting an appointment to speak to Lord Summerisle? It’s a pleasant night, but I don’t much fancy dossing down under a shrub.”

A chair scraped back on the wooden floor. “I’ll give ye a ride, if ye will it.” A short, stocky person moved up to the bar. It took a second for Bodie to register the fact that the muscular figure belonged to a woman. “I’m Sorrel, his Lordship’s gillie.” At his puzzled look, she added, “Gamekeeper, groundskeeper . . . general dogsbody. Do y’ want a lift or nay?”

“Uh . . .yes, indeed. If it’s no trouble. May I leave my gear here?” he enquired of MacGreggor, who nodded. Bodie smiled brightly at the toadish woman. He chugged the beer and said, “Shall we be off then?”

Following Sorrel out, he collided with someone coming in. Giggling, the girl wiped away the splashes of cider that had drenched her from the impact with the pitcher she’d been holding.

“I’m terribly sorry—” Bodie began, but his apology faded as he realised exactly what he’d run into.

She was lovely—no, she was literally gorgeous. A long mane of silky blonde hair framed a face that was so sensual and earthy, his body reacted almost as quickly as he took it in. Her skin glowed with health, peach and rose in the lamplight. While past the first blush of youth, her body was supple and lush. Her green eyes sparkled with unabashed appreciation and open hunger as she took stock of Bodie, gaze measuring him hotly from head to toe, settling without coyness on the fullness of his crotch.

Dipping her finger into the bounty of her cleavage to catch an errant dip of cider, she brought it to her lips and sucked salaciously at the tip, curling her tongue around it provocatively. “Never mind, I’ve caught it all, haven’t I?” Raising her lashes, she gave him a blinding smile. “You’re a pretty one, aren’t you?”

Bodie found himself reacting to her open lust, easily forgetting the crowd that watched the little scene with avid interest. “That’s rather like the pot calling the kettle hot, isn’t it, love?”

“Well, when yer kettle’s ready ta boil over, pretty stranger, give Willow a call.”

“Bodie,” he said softly. “I’m Bodie.”

“Bow-dee . . .” She repeated his name like a love word.

An impatient call from outside interrupted the blooming relationship. Recovering himself, Bodie gave her an apologetic smile. “I’ve got to go. Perhaps I’ll see you later?”

“I’m certain you will.” Her eyes promised he would see all of her.

Another irritated summons and he shrugged helplessly. Impulsively, he leaned over and kissed the full, pouting mouth. Whistles and stamping feet brought him back to himself, and he beamed sheepishly at the laughing witnesses. He offered them a good-natured salute and hastily popped out the door.

It wasn’t until he climbed into the horse-drawn cart beside Sorrel that he remembered the comments of the fishermen at the jetty. So that was Willow, was it? He grinned. The visit on Summerisle was looking better and better.

“How far is the castle?” Bodie asked the driver.

“Not far. Ten minutes or so, depending on whether ol’ Betty wants ta trot.”

As the cart clattered out of the village and off the cobbled street onto a road made of pea gravel and sand, Bodie tried to initiate a conversation, hoping he could get some information before he saw the Lord. “You said your name is Sorrel?”

“Aye.”

“Pretty name. I don’t think I’ve heard it before.”

Bodie couldn’t see her face in the darkness, but her voice was clearly amused. “No need ta try the sweet tongue on me, Mister Bodie. I don’t like cocks. Never did, never will. But dunno worry, that git Willow does nae appeal ta me either, so ye’ll get no competition from me if yer tail’s in the wind fer her.”

Bemused by her vulgarity, Bodie couldn’t honestly say he had been too worried by that threat, but it seemed less than diplomatic to assure her of his unconcern on either matter. He tried a different approach. “It’s a lovely place, this. Lived here all your life, have you?”

“O’ course. Everyone has. So what’s your business here?” she demanded straight out. “A bit far out o’ the way ta be stoppin’ in for a visit.”

“Just a formality,” Bodie replied evasively. “Bookwork. Nothing very important.”

A snort of pat disbelief greeted his remark. “A few thousand miles o’ travel is nothing, I suppose? Stop shoveling the muck, laddie. You’re a copper.” It was not a question.

Bodie kept his eyes on the now pitch dark road, hoping the horse knew its way, since the reins lay lax in the woman’s lap.

“Not a copper, no. Just a civil servant. My job is to tie-up all the loose ends. Very boring, but it keeps the computers happy.”

“What loose ends would that be?”

“We seemed to have misplaced a young man. The government census bureau can get a bit stuffy about such things. No death certificate, you see. Have you ever heard of a young fellow by the name of David Campbell by any chance?”

“Nay,” she replied shortly.

“You’re positive? About twenty, dark hair, grey eyes? I’ve a photo I can show you once we get to the manor.”

“No point in it. Any strangers on Summerisle woulda be common knowledge, whatever they looked like. He’s not been here, Mr. Bodie.”

“I see. Well, I was afraid of that; Sergeant MacTaggart said the same. Odd you don’t remember even hearing the name, though, during his investigation.”

There was a short silence. “Oh, aye, that was the name o’ the lad they were looking for last year. But I reckoned that case closed.”

“Unfortunately, no. He hasn’t turned up, you see. Perhaps some of the fishermen found some boat wreckage or something like that?”

“Current’s too strong for that, Mister Bodie. Sweeps right on by us. The undertow could’ve carried ‘im to South America.”

“Yes, Sergeant Howie—”

“Howie?” The question was sharp, startled.

Bodie wished he could see her expression. “Yes, Howie,” he repeated carefully. “Of the West Highland Police. Do you know him?”

A short, tense pause followed. “Nay, I don’t know as I do. I thought you said ‘is name was MacTaggart.”

“Sergeant MacTaggart handled the investigation on David Campbell. Sergeant Howie was here a few years back to search for a missing child. Do you remember him now?”

“Sorry, I’m very bad wit’ names.”

Bodie felt a sudden tingle at the base of his spine, what Doyle would have called a copper’s itch. She was lying and he knew it sure as he knew the Cow’s favourite brand of malt.

“Strange,” Bodie mused, “on a place as small as this, you’d think you’d remember something as upsetting as a missing girl. But then they found her safe and sound didn’t they?”

Disgruntled, the woman snapped the reins against the mare’s back, increasing the speed to a slow trot. “If you’re talkin’ about that to-do a few years back, Rowan was never missin’ at all. A storm in a teacup. Pity about the Sergeant, though. I heard tell he smashed up ‘is aeroplane durin’ patrol. Never came here, though, so the name went right out o’ my mind until you brought it up. I have my doubts if he’d intended on comin’ ta Summerisle at all. Why’d he bother wit’ such a trifle when he had other important business? We take care o’ our own here, Mister Bodie. Always have done.”

“That’s good to hear,” Bodie said heartily. “Wish everyone did the same. Make my job easier, wouldn’t it?”

“And just what is your job, Mister Bodie?”

“Like I said, Miss Sorrel; tying up loose ends. Looks like this one will be dead easy, won’t it?”

“Which loose end are ya set on clearing up,” she demanded coldly, “David Campbell or Neil Howie?”

Bodie let the silence stretch for a suitable time before saying very quietly, “I never mentioned the Sergeant’s name was Neil, Miss Sorrel.”

Without noticeable pause, she put in glibly, “Not that many Howie’s lost around here. Don’t lose them every day, do ya? The only one I know of was Neil Howie.”

“Five minutes ago, you didn’t even recall his surname name.”

Again the slick reply. “That’s right; the memory’s a funny thing, ain’t it now?”

“Hilarious,” Bodie muttered. He was feeling vaguely disquiet; the darkness and the unnerving silence broken only by the rhythmic clop of the hoofs, the chirping of crickets, and the occasional lonesome song of a nightingale. Once he could read the stirring of a jungle night or the quiet rustle of savannah grass and know instinctively what lurked there. But the years of civilised city life had corroded his senses—or perhaps honed them to different dangers.

This lush, semi-tropical enigma was totally baffling, and he wondered why Cowley’s usually thorough files had been so unspecific. The facile mention of volcanic soil and warm sea currents had hardly prepared him for this mad Eden. Even in the blackness of a moonless night, he could feel the stirring of life as the cart moved on the road; smell the heavy odour of apple blossoms on the soft breeze; feel the intimate whir of a moth as it flicked past his cheek. The entire place simply reeked and sang with vitality, in direct contrast to the barren islands they had flown over that afternoon, brown and dull with chilled heather and bracken. But they had been more in line with what he’d expected of the Outer Hebrides, which were not renowned for their gentleness. In fact, it was a standard joke in the squad that Cowley sent unruly agents there to teach them a lesson.

Bodie smiled into the darkness, determined to take all the punishment Cowley was willing to dispense, if this was the hardship he was expected to endure. Having anticipated a cold, damp, ungiving island, he had dressed in thick cords and shirt with an even heavier roll neck sweater topped off with a jacket. He had long since doffed the coat and was considering shedding the sweater. It felt more like a June evening in London than mid-April in the dreaded north.

Again, with a regretful twinge, he thought of Doyle. The very smell and taste of the island reminded him of Ray; a kind of abandoned sensuality that beckoned subtly. Just thinking of it got him going, remembering the jagged mountains that had concealed the lush island from view. Like Doyle—at first glance, rough and a bit off-putting, then incredibly attractive and seductive. Warm and alive with sensual surprises as strange and exotic as palm trees in the Outer Hebrides; more exquisite for the very fact you had never anticipated it.

Before he could fall any deeper in his reverie, he spotted an orange glow up ahead.

“Is that the manor house?”

“Aye,” she answered, obviously still irritated by his earlier questions, or perhaps by her poor show in answering them. “And ye best straighten yoursel’ up a bit; his Lordship is one ta be respectful of.”

Bodie lifted an amused eyebrow towards the shadowed lump beside him. While he wasn’t in his best attire, he prided himself on being neat and presentable if at all possible—unlike his oft-times scruffy partner, who he usually had to remind to straighten his tie or tuck in his shirt. And considering what he remembered of his driver’s shapeless coat and trousers, the remark came off as somewhat ludicrous.

As they passed through a wide stone arch, the road smoothed to a velvet thrum under the wheels of the cart, indicating a careful pavement that stretched into a graceful circle in front of the house. Pulling the horse to a halt outside the torch-lit doorway, Sorrel turned to him.

“Someone else can take ye back when you’ve a mind to go. I’m done fer the night. Marigold or Birch might be headin’ into the village later.”

“Who are they?”

“Marigold’s the cook; Birch is the gardener.”

Wondering if everyone on Summerisle was named for one plant or another, Bodie hopped down from the cart. “Thanks for the lift, Miss Sorrel. It was kind of you.”

With a snort, she chuckled at the horse and drove away.

Torn between amusement and irritation, Bodie stepped up to the wide doors and dropped down the heavy metal knocker. It was a strange shape; a round but oddly squatted face representing a vaguely evil-looking sun. He dropped it again, with more force, realising that a house of this size must present some problems with hearing the knocker.

The door opened in fairly short order to a man dressed in a formal starched shirt and kilt. “Good evening, sir. May I be of some assistance?”

“Thank you. I would like to speak to Lord Summerisle, if I may.”

“Very good sir. May I tell his Lordship what this is in reference to?”

“I’d rather explain that myself, actually. My name is Bodie.”

“Yes, sir. If you will be good enough to wait here, please?”

Bodie entered and found himself faced with an imposing hall, complete with impressive staircase and intimidating coats of arms on the high walls. Several wooden benches lined the entrance, and Bodie sat down as the Butler indicated a seat, making it plain the stranger wasn’t exactly a first-class guest. Bodie settled down with a wry smile; the story of his life—stuck in the foyer. He permitted himself to wonder what Doyle’s reaction to this would be, missing his partner’s acerbic comments. Ray was at his best abusing the class system; could rise to heights of poetic obscenity on the subject. Bodie had never let it bother him, figuring he could out-snob the best of them when he wanted to, but Doyle’s East End socialism had always amused him.

While awaiting his landlord’s pleasure, Bodie studied the huge wall with interest. The last time he’d seen such a house, he’d paid 50p for the privilege, and it hadn’t been half as enthralling. This was like turning a couple of centuries back on the clock, and it was authentic, no reconstruction or artful display for tourists. This was an actual, lived-in and enjoyed home. He noticed a pair of muddy boots in the corner, complete with matching handprint on the wall where the owner had leaned to tug them off. There was a fine coat of dust on the sills and a few wayward cobwebs drifting on the high ceiling, catching the torchlight as they moved, stirred in the air.

No picture-perfect tourist trap, this, but a working household where important things took precedent over scrubbing baseboards. Bodie found himself warming to the unknown Lord who didn’t expect his servants to clean a twenty-five foot ceiling every other week. He couldn’t be a total tyrant; maybe Doyle wouldn’t have disapproved so much after all.

Bodie stood as the butler reappeared. “His Lordship will see you in the great hall. Follow me, sir?”

Great hall, Bodie thought drily. How much greater could it get? After trailing the butler through several smaller parlours and anterooms, he soon discovered the answer to that question.

The room was enormous. Breathtakingly beautiful with a ceiling that arched thirty-five or forty feet at the apex. The flagged stone floor was covered with smaller islands of deerskin, leopard, and other various animal rugs, grouping the antique furniture into more comfortably intimate circles. The room housed a great organ with pipes reaching half way to the ceiling, a grand piano near a wide section of french doors that led onto a terrace, and a harp sat harmoniously at its side. Illuminated by what seemed to be hundreds of candles, large oil lamps with crystal globes hung at measured length along the walls, adding to a steadier light. A fire burned merrily in a stone fireplace large enough to roast an ox. Four winged armchairs faced the hearth, and from one of these Lord Summerisle rose to greet him.

“Ah, Mr. Bodie, I believe? It is so pleasant to see a new face. Do come in.”

Bodie took the offered hand and found the grasp firm but not challenging. “Thank you for seeing me at such an inconvenient hour, Lord Summerisle. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Nonsense! It is we who are delighted to see you. We’ve become very dull, I’m afraid, having so few visitors to our island.”

Bodie was a little surprised at the warmth of his reception, and found the Lord not to be at all what he had expected. He was first struck by his height, for Summerisle was well over six foot tall, with a magnificently tapered body that wore the tartan kilt and ruffled shirt with true flair. While probably in his late forties or early fifties, he had a crackle of energy about him that made it impossible to pin down any age. His hair was dark and cut fashionably long, with highlights of copper and silver that glinted in the firelight. But it was his eyes above all else that mirrored the true force of his personality. Large and very dark brown, they were incredibly direct and burned with a compelling inner flame.

“Come, Mr. Bodie, do sit down. But I am forgetting my manners. Allow me to present Miss Rose. My dear, this is Mr. Bodie.”

Joining the Lord beside the fireplace, Bodie turned his attention to the woman seated in one of the armchairs. She was lovely; a cool, mature blonde, with self-contained light-blue eyes that measured him with calm interest. Bodie bowed over her hand, kissing it.

“Miss Rose, it is an honour. Your name is very appropriate, I see.” As she smiled at the compliment, Bodie wondered if there was no middle ground on Summerisle as far as women went—were they all either bad-tempered frumps like Sorrel, or runners-up in the Miss Universe contest?

“You are very kind, Mr. Bodie. And a very clever one. All women have a weakness for handsome men with charming words. But you must save your flattery for someone more suitable.”

“It’s only flattery when it’s not the truth, ma’am, and that’s obviously not the case here.

Seeming gratified by the exchange of compliments, Lord Summerisle offered a chair to Bodie. “Please, make yourself comfortable. Some wine, perhaps? Or a brandy?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Miss Rose is our village schoolmistress,” Summerisle commented as he poured the drink and handed it to Bodie. He sat down and looked at Bodie inquiringly. “Now, Mr. Bodie, to what do we owe the honour of your visit to our out-of-the-way island?”

“Nothing of any great concern. It’s more of a formality than anything else. I’m investigating the disappearance of David Campbell.”

“Ah, yes. The missing schoolboy. I was under the impression he would have been located by this time. It was, what? . . .nearly a year ago since the police were here from the mainland. And have there been no traces in all that time?”

“No, milord. Nor was he quite a schoolboy. Mr. Campbell was twenty at the time of his disappearance.”

“Really?” Summerisle looked puzzled. “I was under the impression he must be younger. Twenty, you say?” He shook his head. “I don’t want to sound unsympathetic, of course, but a man of that age is surely capable of taking care of himself. How can you be sure he wishes to be found?”

“The only fact we know for sure is that he intended to come to Summerisle.”

“Unfortunate, as that fact is obviously faulty. Whatever his intentions, he never arrived here, as doubtless you have already discovered. Nor had we ever heard of the poor man until all of this came up. Are you certain that he met with an accident or even that he was in the area? Perhaps he simply . . .left Scotland. Young people often take fancies in their heads to ‘see the world.’ I hear California is very popular now. Have you checked with the American authorities? The . . .uh . . .FBI, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Bodie replied, patiently. “There is no record of his leaving Britain. He had a passport, but he left it at home.”

“Yes, I see. A most puzzling situation. So what is your interest in this affair, Mr . . .or should I call you sergeant or maybe lieutenant?”

“Just Bodie is fine. We don’t have rank in my service.” He took out his identification and handed it to Summerisle.

“CI5. I don’t believe I’m familiar with this.”

“Just another branch of the civil service,” Bodie replied easily. “We mostly do follow-ups; mop-up operations, and the like. Clear out as many loose ends as we can that the other services don’t have time for.”

“Like this case,” Miss Rose put in softly.

“Precisely. For legal and insurance purposes, you understand.”

“So it’s not a priority investigation?” she prodded gently.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the cautious look of warning directed at her from the Lord, and again Bodie felt the “copper’s itch,” the certainty there was more here than was apparent at first glance.

“No,” Bodie said with an apologetic shrug. “I’m afraid not. It’s basically a waste of time; I’m sure you’re right and the young Mr. Campbell is now riding a surfboard in L.A. But paperwork is paperwork, you see.”

“Of course. But you’ll probably be leaving us tomorrow, I imagine?”

“Unless I can hire a boat to return me to the mainland, I’ll have to wait for Sergeant MacTaggart to come back in his plane. I am loath to impinge on your hospitality, but it could be several days.”

Summerisle’s eyes were suddenly hard and opaque. “Don’t be concerned, I’m sure we can arrange transport—"

“There’s no rush, is there, milord?” Miss Rose cut in smoothly. “A few days on the island could be very relaxing for you.”

Again, Bodie intercepted a quick exchange of glances. Whatever Miss Rose was trying to communicate to Summerisle must have been understood for he said very smoothly, “Quite right, my dear Rose. We must convince Bodie to stay much longer. But I suggest we discuss it over dinner. You will join us, won’t you?”

Bodie hesitated. His clothes were hardly suitable for the formal atmosphere of the manor; it was obvious that it was customary to dress for dinner.

Understanding, Summerisle put in heartily, “Don’t mind all that, dear fellow. We’ll waive being proper for once. But perhaps you would care to freshen up before we dine? Broom can show you to a chamber.”

Bodie murmured his thanks and followed the servant out of the hall. He was hardly out of the door before he heard Miss Rose’s light voice speaking eagerly to Lord Summerisle, but he couldn’t catch what she was saying.

* * *

The dinner, like everything else on the island, was lush and delicious. For dessert Miss Rose presented him with a single, perfect apple.

“Tradition, Mr. Bodie. Accept this, the most precious fruit of our island, as a sign of our hospitality.”

Something about the gesture, the handing of the ripe red apple with an open palm, gave him an disquieted impression. Inwardly amused at flashes of superstition tied up with thoughts of Eve in the Garden (or even Sleeping Beauty), he took it from her with a smile and bit into it. Rose couldn’t have looked less like a wicked witch or an evil stepmother. The fruit was even better than the one he had tasted in London; sweeter somehow, but with a special tang that left an odd, not unpleasant, aftertaste.

Soon after, they returned to the great hall for coffee and brandy.

“You live in London?” Miss Rose asked. “Your family must miss you on these long trips.”

For some reason his mind flashed back to a surly Doyle, flat on his back and making it clear he was fed up with his partner’s unwanted attentions.

“No, I’ve no family.”

The blue eyes considered him over the rim of her glass. “No wife? No children?”

Bodie smiled. “No. I’m a confirmed bachelor, and reasonably quick on my feet.”

The conversation continued on a more general note, with the Lord discussing his new strains of fruit and Rose occasionally putting other delicately probing questions regarding Bodie’s personal life. He found it unsettling, more because of the intensity of her expression as she studied him than for the politely phrased questions themselves. He was beginning to feel like a bug on a pin.

Of more interest, however, was the skillful way Summerisle managed to dodge his own questions. Hoping to get the same reaction he had elicited from Sorrel, he casually dropped Sergeant Howie’s name, and found the Lord nimbly turning the conversation to a discussion of the dangers of flying and the treacherous weather in the area.

When the butler, Broom, announced that the cart was waiting to return to the village, Summerisle accompanied him outside.

“Well, Mr. Bodie, I do hope you will find reason to enjoy your stay on our island. When you have cleared up all this distressing paperwork, do come back to the manor for a proper tour. You must see my conservatory, my greenhouses, and my experimental orchard.”

Bodie offered his thanks, and as the driver urged the horse into a brisk trot, reflected that Summerisle was a very slick customer indeed. It wouldn’t do to underestimate him. Bodie was convinced that something was afoot on the island of Summerisle, but he couldn’t be positive if it was any more than the natural suspicion and ethnocentricity of an isolated people. He was a stranger and, moreover, a stranger asking prickly questions that skirted the edge of accusations. It was perhaps only natural for them to be awkward with him. It was possible he could be reading too much into their reactions.

Nevertheless, he was now more determined to find out the answers than he had been when he set out from London. After a few attempts to start a chat with the driver and receiving desultory replies, he gave up for the moment.

Feeling strangely mellow and languid, and putting it down to the dinner and the brandy, he slid down in the seat and let the rhythmic rocking of the cart lull him to a light doze.

He was startled awake sometime later as the wheels left the comparatively smooth path and met the rough cobblestones of the village street. They pulled up outside The Green Man, and the driver left Bodie there without saying a word. Shrugging, Bodie went inside.

Although past eleven, the taproom was still crowded, but the atmosphere was different, quieter with a sense of hushed expectancy. Someone was strumming a guitar in soft, melodious chords. Bodie wondered if they had been waiting to see if the Laird would toss him out on his ear, or graciously permit him to stay.

“You’re back then,” MacGreggor, the innkeeper, said needlessly. “His Lordship sent word you’d be stayin’ with us.”

Surprised by that, Bodie replied noncommittally, “For a day or two.”

The landlord smiled mysteriously. “I’ve had yer bag taken up to the room at the top of the stairs. First one on ta right, it is.”

“Thanks. I’ll—”

“Have a drop of hot cider first, Mr. Bodie. See you sleep sound an’ all.”

Bodie started to refuse, already feeling drowsy, but the mug was in front of him, and the spicy odour was compelling. He nodded his thanks and took a drink. Like everything on Summerisle, it was rich and almost shockingly delicious. He downed the mug and nearly asked for another, but feeling the delayed warmth in his stomach as the potent mixture began to take effect, he decided against it.

“I’ve also taken the liberty of fixin’ a bath for ye,” MacGreggor added as he turned to the stairs. “Figured you’d like a good long soak after your trip. Hot water’s in the jars by the tub. The bath’s at the end of the hall.”

It sounded good. In fact, it sounded irresistible. At the top of the stairs, he paused to take his bearings; found his room easily by the fact his bag was at the foot of the bed, his clothes neatly hung up on a rack in the corner, and the rest folded in stacks in the top drawer of the chest. Picking up the clean towel and flannel draped over the bedpost, he made his way to the bathroom. His eyes widened at the sight of the bathtub. It was an ancient, freestanding, clawfooted affair, narrow but deep with a sloping back. MacGreggor had already filled it with about eighteen inches of cool water, to which Bodie now added the steaming jugs that lined the wall until the level and temperature was to his taste. Hanging his gun on the hook behind the door with his sweater carefully draped over to conceal it, he undressed and stepped into the water, easing down as his skin adjusted to the heat.

Bodie let out a satisfied sigh as he sank into the steaming water, head falling back to rest against the enamel edge. It felt delicious. How long had it been since he’d last had a bath; a long, slow experience instead of a hurried shower on his way to a date or the job? He couldn’t quite remember. Ol’ Doyle now, there was the boy for baths. He loved ‘em, the sybaritic little sod. Bodie had lost count of how many times he’d caught him lolling around in the tub, curls screwed up tight in the wet heat, face flushed with pleasure. Yeah, Doyle would’ve ate this up, he would. Sell his soul for a bath like this.

Feeling blissfully drowsy and comfortable, Bodie let his mind drift on the vision of his partner, recalling the last time he’d seen him like that. Hardly more than a month ago.

Bodie had pounded on the door for five minutes, before giving up and using his spare keys, irritated because he knew Doyle had been expecting him, and guessing exactly why he hadn’t bothered to get up and let him in. Sure enough, Doyle was up to his chin in water, feet braced against the other end, hands propped behind his head.

“We have a date in thirty minutes,” Bodie had reminded him with amusement, closing the door with his foot as Doyle growled something about letting in a draught. He loosened his tie against the damp heat, and leaned casually on the wash basin, enjoying the view.

Doyle hadn’t bothered to open his eyes yet, just smiled and said lazily, “No rush. They’ll wait, won’t they.”

“Don’t be so sure. Went to a lot of trouble to set this up. Even gave you the prettiest one, didn’t I?”

“That’ll be a change,” Doyle commented without malice.

“Well, it’ll all go for nothing if you show up lookin’ like a prune.”

Grinning, Doyle offered a dripping foot. “Check for wrinkles.”

Bodie shuddered. “Hideous.”

“Feels good anyhow.” Doyle took a deep breath and rubbed a sensuous hand down his front. Bodie watched in fascination; through the murky water, he could see a definite twitch from Doyle’s cock. Feeling a responsive heat of his own, Bodie turned hastily to the mirror, wiping away the coat of mist and pretending to inspect his image.

Doyle chuckled thickly. “Don’t worry, sunshine, you’re worth waitin’ for.”

“Naturally,” Bodie retorted with his customary superior grin, “but the question is, what about a scrawny little sod like you? If I pulled the plug on you, you’d go right on down the drain.” He turned back around, trying to avoid staring at the most intriguing section of his partner’s anatomy. “Com’on, mate, get a move on.”

“All right, all right,” Doyle agreed regretfully. Oblivious to Bodie’s discomfort, he soaped a flannel and proceeded to wash, sliding the foamy cloth down his thighs and between his legs. The green eyes were so catlike, the look so concentrated, Bodie wouldn’t have been surprised to see him using his tongue to clean his fur like any self-respecting tom.

“I’ll wait outside ‘til you’re finished,” Bodie said abruptly. “Help meself to a drink.”

It was so natural, so unconsciously sensual . . .so Doyle, Bodie felt a bit silly about fleeing from it, but he couldn’t deny his helpless reaction to the voluptuous expression and the warm, slick flesh so artlessly displayed. Doyle was such an unselfconsciously sexy bastard, in another century he would’ve been burned as a witch. Bodie was conscious of being under his spell, and realised he had been for a long time.

He thought of Africa and counted his blessings that Ray had never taken that route. He was lucky to get away with such blatant exhibitionism in the safe, cold civilisation of London. In Angola, no one would have hesitated in making him live up to the promise he seemed to instinctively make with his eyes and the movements of his body. Even now, Bodie found it difficult to pass up the opportunity Ray presented. Old habits die hard, and even years and miles hadn’t dimmed the attraction of male sexuality.

But habit and inclination was no match for affection, and he cared too damn much for Ray Doyle to risk it for something that Doyle would probably want no part of. For all Ray’s sensuality, he’d never given a clue that his interest could lie in that direction. Christ, it’d taken months before Ray would even let him touch him without jumping like a scalded cat. True, he didn’t jump anymore—at times even appeared to enjoy the careless pats and impulsive hugs, with an amused tolerance—but that was a long way from responding positively to anything more serious, and Bodie didn’t have the guts to play the odds when he wasn’t prepared to lose his stake.

Now, with such thoughts on his mind and the silky feel of the water on his body, Bodie was lulled into a gentle arousal. He slid his hand down his chest to his groin, offering his cock a pleasant stimulation. The oil lamp flickered in the mild breeze through the open window, creating a sweetly secret island of pleasure without the harsh reality of electric light to spoil the surreal effect of the moment.

It took a few seconds for him to realise it hadn’t been the window that brought the stirring of air; it had been the door.

Willow, quiet as a whisper, was standing with her back against the now-shut door. Startled, and resultingly embarrassed, Bodie searched for the towel, only to find it hanging on a bar that was just out of reach.

“I expect you’d like some more hot water,” Willow smiled.

Bodie swallowed, unable to find his voice, feeling a fool and fighting his ingrained modesty. Willow’s appreciative gaze on his body was anything but modest.

“Why, you’re blushing, my pretty Bodie!” she teased. “All over.”

Feeling helplessly inadequate under her stare, he shrugged. “I wasn’t expectin’ company,” he managed weakly.

She stepped closer. “No? You should’ve been.” Slowly she poured the water from the pitcher she carried into the bath down near his feet, and he felt the warm swirl of liquid curl up towards his groin.

“Too hot?” she asked sweetly, green eyes glowing with mischief.

His mouth felt dry, conscious of his still-hard cock bobbing in the warming water, as if it was applauding the improvement in temperature. He cleared his throat nervously. “No . . . it’s fine. Thank you.”

“Aye, I can see that.” She laughed at his discomfort. “Not all of you is bashful.”

Seeing the humour in the situation, Bodie grinned back. “Doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Can’t take it anywhere.”

“But you are embarrassed, poor boy. You shouldna be; you are very beautiful, y’ know. You make me wet below just lookin’ at ye. Embarrassment is silly, pointless, isn’t it? Our bodies know what is natural ta them. I’ve never seen an animal blush nor try ta deny their nature.” Her gaze swept down the wet length of him. “You are ready for me, and I for you.”

Bodie was easily past being embarrassed; the look in her eyes was enough to banish that, her words just fueling the flame. Once open sexuality entered the picture, the situation was one he could handle.

She stood back and pulled her blouse from the confinement of her skirt, stripping it over her head to reveal her bare torso. Shaking back her mane of honey hair, she unbuttoned her long skirt and let it drop to a puddle on the floor. She was naked beneath.

If he’d considered her lovely before, now he revised his estimate upwards. She was a wickedly luxurious siren; a lewd Aphrodite against the backdrop of a rough plaster wall. The lamplight wove a golden web around her, drawing his eyes to the seductive shadowed hollow between her legs. Her breasts sprang pertly off her ribs, tipped by nipples that looked freshly sucked by other mouths. Her lushly rounded hips swayed for him, picking up the best of the music from the taproom below. She posed for him wantonly, drawing in his admiration and lust like sustenance, caressing her belly and hips, toying with the tips of her breasts to increase their allure.

His breath caught in his throat as she slowly approached him and boldly straddled the width of the tub, spreading her legs wide to open herself to his view, until her slender thighs rested on the rounded edges.

Willow began humming to the music that wafted up from the pub; a slow, sensuous song with an insidious beat that seemed to match the pulse in Bodie’s groin. He reached up for her, running his hands over her breasts and down her stomach, then back up to finger the protruding nipples, pebbling under his touch. She moaned in delight and the very sound of it seemed to be part of the music of Summerisle; of joyful abandon to sensation.

For an instant Bodie nearly drew back from the overload of senses; a part of him uneasy. He felt exposed as if he were being watched by eyes other than Willow’s, and for some reason remembered the crowd in the pub below. Fancifully, he felt the lust he was experiencing was not all his own, but was being fed on by others in some manner that was vaguely unclean.

The eerie feeling faded as Willow stroked his face, slipping her hands into the water to caress his chest and pinch his nipples. Helpless under the renewed stimulation, his hips arched up, striving to close the tantalising few inches between his aching cock and the hungry, teasing opening suspended above. His hands moved to her spread thighs, watching the pearling of droplets on her skin as his wet hands smoothed over her. They glinted like diamonds in the wavering lamplight. Eyes fastened on her centre, on the secretly mysterious place of woman, so often explored, so eternally intriguing. He slid his hands under her, cupping her behind, and moved both thumbs against the wetness of her vagina, brushing over the quivering tip of flesh she presented to him so eagerly. She gasped in ecstasy, tossing back her head.

Bodie sat up and bent to use his mouth to give her more pleasure. She accepted it as her right, moving rhythmically in time to the lapping of tongue, clutching greedy fingers in his short hair to hold him to her. She cried out and the guitar throbbed in accompaniment.

After a moment, she pulled back his head and smiled down at him, sated but wanting more. She moved her legs over the side to join him in the tub, pushing back so her knees rested on either side of his hips. She kissed him slowly, offering her tongue to suck as she lowered herself onto his swollen cock. He groaned at the beautiful relief of it, thrusting up to meet her.

She rode him expertly, using inner muscles to alternately tease and milk him, until unable to bear more, he growled and jerked forward, thrusting hard and taking the last few points of pressure he needed to burst into an incredible climax that left him spent and shaken.

* * *

Bodie could feel the sun on his bare back. With a little groan, he rolled over, blinking against the light that poured through the open drapes. Judging by the angle, it had to be late morning.

He felt groggy, finding it difficult to think. Rubbing his eyes, he sat up cautiously, trying to pin down the strange dream he’d been having. It was all a confusing blur of fire and chanting and an exotic sexuality. He’d been having a lot of dreams lately, all of them containing the same elements, and all of them difficult to capture in the light of day. He could almost remember making love to Willow in the dreams, but it was Willow with dark hair . . .or Willow with curly hair . . .or perhaps it wasn’t Willow at all.

He noticed the two empty mugs on the bedside table. Had too much to drink, that was it. That damn cider was deceptively intoxicating; didn’t make you feel drunk exactly, just pleasantly muzzy and languorous. But it must pack quite a wallop just the same.

Bodie shook his head, trying to clear it so he could concentrate for a change. Funny, it didn’t feel like a proper hangover. He’d had enough experience with those to know the difference. True, he had the same fog in his brain, but none of the accompanying aches and pains.

There was something nagging his conscience. Something he was forgetting. If he could just clear his mind of the cobwebs for a second, he could get a grip on it—

Footsteps on the stairs burst his train of thought like a half-formed bubble.

“Ah, lover, you’re awake, I see.” Willow came in carrying a tray. She put it down on the table and sat on the bed, hand sliding under the quilt to move over his body as she kissed him. He felt a stir of response as he always did when she touched him, but she playfully resisted his attempt to pull her down on the bed with him.

“Not now, naughty boy. I’ve things to do. I’ve tables to scrub and the week’s bread to bake.”

He released her reluctantly and she held out a thick slice of buttered toast for him to bite.

“There now, that’s your reward for being a good boy,” she said, laughing.

Taking it from her, he took another bite. “Did you make this?”

“O’ course.”

“It’s wonderful.”

“You’ve butter on your chin.” She licked it off for him.

“You make that as well? The butter, I mean?”

“Ummm,” she nodded, plumping the pillows up behind him. Bodie watched her as she reached over to pour his tea, his expression troubled.

“Willow, what day is this?”

“Wednesday,” she answered absently, dropping a green leaf in the tea.

“What’s that?”

“Mint. Don’t you like it?” She smiled at him. “My, you’re a curious one this morning.”

Bodie didn’t answer, forehead knotting in concentration. “Wednesday . . . You say it’s Wednesday?”

“Yes.” She handed him the cup. “Now drink up your tea so I can get on with my work.”

Abstracted, he sipped the liquid, eyes lost on something faraway. Then suddenly he dropped the cup back on the saucer with a clatter. “Wednesday? It can’t be. No, that can’t be right.”

She sighed. “Don’t you remember, love? Yesterday we went to the glen. The day before we walked in the orchards. Sunday we had a picnic at the cove. This is Wednesday and I have to stay home and bake bread or you won’t have any toast for breakfast tomorrow—”

“Willow, that means I’ve been here five days!”

“Six,” she corrected, unperturbed, “if you count the evening you arrived.”

Bodie pressed his fingers to his temple, totally confused. “I don’t understand. I . . .I remember doing all those things, but it doesn’t . . .it can’t have been five days!”

“Time flies,” she quoted with a giggle. “What’s the matter, Bodie?”

“Cowley’ll kill me,” Bodie muttered, wondering how the hell he was going to explain being out of touch this long to the old man. But right at this moment, he couldn’t even remember why Cowley had sent him here in the first place.

“Bodie, what’s wrong?”

Ignoring her, he quickly gulped down the tea, hoping the shot of caffeine would help snap him out of it, then swung his legs over the side of the bed. “I’ve got to go, Willow,” he said with determination. “Where are my clothes?”

“Hanging up. Go? Go where?”

“Home. Back to London, love. I’ll have to—” Then he remembered MacTaggart and the plane. A wash of relief swept over him and he relaxed with a grin. So that was it. MacTaggart hadn’t returned from his patrol; he had said it might be several days.

Clinging to that bit of sanity helped a great deal. For the moment there, he’d been really shaken, unable to fathom how the days had slipped by without notice, how he’d lost himself so completely. It still disturbed him, but now that he knew he hadn’t been missed yet, it didn’t seem to matter quite so much. He’d puzzle it all out later.

Willow patted his cheek maternally. “Nonsense. You don’t want to go anywhere.”

“Well, not right at this minute, I suppose. But soon. The plane should be back any time.”

“D’you mean the police aeroplane? Oh, that was here yesterday morning.”

Bodie stiffened, his stomach knotting sickly. “What are you talking about?”

“Just that. It’s been and gone. What’s wrong with you, Bodie?”

He grabbed her wrist. “Why didn’t you tell me!”

Eyes wide, she tried to pull away. “Stop it, you’re hurting!”

He let her go, his own hand shaking. “I’m sorry, Willow. But you have to tell me what’s going on. Why didn’t you tell me the plane was here?”

“But you knew it. You spoke to the Sergeant yourself; told him you’d be stayin’ on. Don’t you remember?”

A smothering sense of panic settled on him. “No, no I don’t.” But he did. God help him, he did remember now. He just had no conception of how or why it happened.

Willow began kneading the taut muscles in his neck. “Why would you want to go, Bodie? You like it here, don’t you?”

Still stunned, he replied automatically, “Yes, of course. But I have to leave. I have to go home.” In spite of himself, her touch was calming him, making the worry fade away.

“This is home, lover.”

“No . . .” A wave of dizziness caught him and he fought it back. “I’ll get a boat today. Someone at the wharf will have to take me to the mainland . . .”

“Bodie,” she murmured, moving around to kneel behind him, stroking his back and sliding her palms around to smooth his chest, as if gentling a skittish animal. “You want to stay. Stay with me.”

“No,” he repeated stubbornly, although he was already finding it difficult to focus on what he was denying. His head was swimming in the honeyed, soft pattern of her caresses. Too sweet, cloying . . .

“There’s nothing for you there,” she whispered in his ear. “No one for you there.”

“You’re wrong. There’s someone . . .” Ray, he thought desperately. I need to see Ray, talk to him. He’d explain all this craziness. Figure out what was happening to him. Ray would have the answer.

“You’re not needed there, Bodie. You’re not wanted there.”

He squeezed his eyes shut, remembering Ray’s face as he’d last seen him: angry, impatient, disgusted; telling him to leave him alone, that he’d had enough.

“No one . . .” he whispered, suddenly hurting out of all proportion to the cause.

“That’s right,” she said quickly, picking up on the pain in his voice; her tone so very sympathetic, so very loving. “No one for you there, my Bodie. But here, here you’re wanted. I want you—we all do. We need you. Avellunau needs you; Nuada needs you. Summerisle needs you.”

Bodie took a shaky breath, a sob choking him. “No one’s ever needed me. Not really,” he said brokenly, while part of his mind stood back in shocked amusement at this uncharacteristic orgy of self-pity.

“Now we do. Don’t go, Bodie. Stay for Avellunau. Stay with me.”

The strange names she murmured meant nothing to him, but in some way they sounded familiar; as if he’d heard them only recently. Had he? In a song? A chant? He couldn’t think, couldn’t remember, couldn’t bring himself to care.

She tugged him down on the bed beside her and he moulded her tightly against him, suddenly realising how unimportant it all was. Cowley, CI5, all of it. It wasn’t real. They were something he had dreamed along with the bonfires and mystic ceremonies.

And Ray?

Ray hadn’t wanted him. It was simple as that.

* * *

April 26

Cowley came through the door like a Gaelic tornado.

Doyle, barely four days out of hospital and still feeling a bit weak on his pins, stepped back just in time to prevent the door banging him in the nose.

“I want to know what the devil is going on, 4.5, and I’m not in the mood for any double-talk.”

“Eh?” Totally baffled, Doyle nearly gaped at him.

“Did you and 3.7 have a row?”

Doyle blinked. “Pardon?”

“Come on man, it was your appendix that burst not your eardrums. You heard the question well enough!”

“I don’t understand, sir. What’s the problem with Bodie?”

“That’s what I’m asking you, damn it all!”

Hoping to glean some sense from all of this, and wondering why Cowley’s voice was more than faintly accusing, Doyle tried to calm him down. “If you’ll just explain what’s going on, maybe I can—”

But Cowley was having none of it; his temper pushed beyond sweet reason. “I asked you a question. Did you and Bodie have some kind of childish squabble?”

“Uh . . .no, sir.”

“Don’t lie to me!” Cowley paced the room angrily. “There’s something behind all this. Ordinarily it would have taken wild horses to pry that partner of yours away with you hardly two days out of surgery. What did you say to him?”

Me?” Doyle protested defensively, beginning to get a annoyed at the insinuation he was the cause of whatever trouble Bodie had got himself into this time. “What’ve I got to do with it?”

“What else would send him tearing off?”

“Knowing Bodie, almost anything,” Doyle answered tartly. “Listen, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. What’s going on?”

“Och, if I knew that, would I be here asking you?”

Doyle could only remember a very few times he’d seen Cowley this furious and frustrated. But this was obviously about Bodie, and everyone but Bodie knew how important that one, infuriating operative was to their controller.

“So you didn’t have a fight with him?” Cowley demanded.

Doyle thought back to the uncomfortable scene in the hospital. It had bothered him ever since, but he wouldn’t exactly qualify it as a fight. While he might have been a bit sharp with Bodie, it wasn’t a tenth as bad as some of the rows they’d had during their partnership. Both of them were stubborn men, and even if Doyle’s temper was quicker to flare, Bodie’s exploding point usually wasn’t too far behind. They’d even had a couple of punch-ups, as far as that went.

“Honestly, sir, maybe we weren’t getting on as well as we normally do, but there was nothing said to cause any problems.” He took a deep breath. “Now will you kindly tell me what this is all about? What’s happened to Bodie?” A frightening thought occurred to him. “He’s all right, isn’t he?”

“He won’t be when I get my hands on him,” Cowley growled.

Doyle let out the breath he’d been unconsciously holding. He should have realised Cowley was more mad than worried. If Bodie was hurt, it’d be the other way around.

“He’s in Scotland, isn’t he?” Doyle said, having heard on the grapevine that the old man sent him on a rather private investigation. It was quite a joke among the agents that Bodie had finally pushed the old man too far and he’d made good his threat to pack him off to the Outer Hebrides. Doyle, although he missed his partner’s cheerful company terribly during his convalescence, found it rather amusing himself.

“The point is, 4.5, he’s still there. He was supposed to take three or four days; it’s been well over a week.”

Alarmed, Doyle said, “Maybe he’s in trouble. Have you—”

“No,” Cowley cut in. “I’ve already sent Dawson up to check. He returned this morning.” He stuck his hand in his inside coat pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “He brought this back with him.”

Doyle took it, recognising the scrawled signature at the bottom. He read it and sat down very suddenly.

“What do you make of that?” Cowley demanded.

Doyle stared down at the paper, re-reading the few hurried lines, then looked up at Cowley, plainly stunned. “A resignation? I don’t understand.”

“So you knew nothing of this?”

“How could I?” Doyle felt kicked in the gut. What the hell had happened? Where had he been when the world turned upside down?

Doyle stood and shoved the paper at Cowley. “No, I don’t believe this for a minute. Something’s wrong.”

“According to Dawson, your partner wouldn’t agree. He’s having a bonny time, enjoying the sunshine and smelling the flowers. Bodie’s found himself a lass, and looks to settle down and raise apples.” Cowley’s tone was distasteful.

“A bird?” Doyle snorted. “No way. Bodie wouldn’t ditch the squad for a girl.”

“No?”

Doyle swung around angrily, knowing Cowley was thinking of Ann Holly. “We’re talking about Bodie, dammit. Bodie! He’s not the type.”

“To fall in love? You’ve a very cynical view of your partner, 4.5. I’d say of the two of you, he’s the more romantic type.”

The sarcastic tone was beginning to grate on Doyle. “Yeh, he’s a fantastic weekend Casanova, but come Monday mornin’, he’s ready to move on. Nah, something’s off.”

Cowley gestured impatiently. “I don’t have the time to stand around speculating on 3.7’s love life. Nor do I care one way or another, as long as it doesn’t affect CI5. I thought you might have some insight into this mess, but since you don’t—”

“Wait a minute,” Doyle stopped him as Cowley made as if to leave. “What are you going to do about this?”

“Do?” Cowley seemed surprised. “Why, nothing.”

“Nothing! But—”

“Surely you don’t think I believe this, do you?” Cowley tapped the paper in his pocket. “No, Bodie has some bee in his bonnet for the moment, but the bucolic country life will hardly suit him. He’ll be back in a week or so, tail tucked between his legs. And I intend to see it stays there.”

Doyle tended to agree with Cowley in principle, but there was still something very wrong here.

“If he’s just skiving off, it doesn’t explain the resignation, does it? He wouldn’t go that far, would he?”

A troubled look passed over Cowley’s face, but was gone in an instant. “Another one of his gambits, no doubt. Perhaps he fancies I’ll be so pleased to see him back, I’ll be willing to forget he left me shorthanded when I can least afford to be. I don’t have time for all this nonsense. With you laid up for at least another week, Carson hobbling around on a broken ankle, and at least four separate dignitaries choosing to visit London in the same week— Damn the man! What does he think he’s playing at?”

“I think I’d better go find out,” Doyle said thoughtfully.

Cowley’s head snapped up. “You’ll do no such thing. I’ve already wasted one agent’s time and resources checking up on our lost lamb just to discover he’s acting the wolf we already knew he was. Bodie will come back in his own sweet time . . .and he’ll wish he’d taken the long way round.”

“But I’m going to be off the job anyway,” Doyle said reasonably. “Why shouldn’t I—”

“Kindly remember why you are off work, 4.5,” Cowley cut in icily. “To recuperate from an operation that should have been minor—except for the fact you were too idiotic to take care of it until it became major. Your physician tells me you are very lucky to be alive. Don’t push it.”

“I’m fine now,” Doyle protested.

“Hardly ‘all right’ or you wouldn’t be on mandatory sick leave. I’m not having you risk a setback in your progress by chasing after your partner. Obviously, you can’t be trusted to watch your own health, and I can’t afford to have you off the job any longer than is absolutely necessary.”

“But—”

“That’s an order.”

Knowing Cowley was none too pleased with him as it was, Doyle didn’t force it any further. “I suppose you’re right,” he mused, avoiding his boss’s suspicious look. “Bodie’ll be back when he gets enough of it.”

Satisfied by the casual attitude, Cowley nodded. “I must be going. I have an appointment with the minister. You see you mind the doctor’s orders, 4.5.” Then, as if realising Doyle had capitulated a bit quicker than usual, he added, “And mine as well. Or I’ll nail your hide on the wall right beside Bodie’s.”

Doyle shrugged. “No problem, sir.”

He saw Cowley out and waited only until he saw the car pull away from the curb, before grabbing up his jacket and heading out the door.

Dawson’s latest flat was only a couple of miles away, and the Escort made it in record time. Doyle rang the bell several times, then pounded on the door impatiently.

“All right, all right . . .’ang on, will you?” came the mumbled answer from inside as the locks snicked back. Dawson’s drowsy face peered around the door. His hair was sticking up and he was dressed in a tattered yellow bathrobe. “Oh hell, it’s you. What do you want?”

Doyle pushed inside. “What’s going on with Bodie?” he demanded without preamble.

“Oh shit, Doyle, can’t you have a heart?” He closed the door and yawned widely. “I’ve been up almost forty-eight hours, travelled a few thousand miles in various public conveyances, none of which had any creature comforts of any kind, and I just got through a grilling on the subject from the Cow. Can’t you just ask him?”

“I’m asking you,” Doyle snapped. “You saw Bodie, talked to him. What’s wrong?”

Dawson scratched his chest and yawned again. “Nothing I know of. He looked okay to me.”

“He sent you back with his resignation, dammit! Don’t tell me nothing’s wrong with him!”

“So?” Dawson shrugged, longing to get back to his warm bed and make up for lost sleep. “People resign, y’know. Get fed up. Find somethin’ better. What’s it matter to you, anyhow?” He grinned drowsily. “You act like a jilted girlfriend.”

Doyle’s patience dissolved. He grabbed the robe and shoved the other man back against the door. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Dawson was totally awake now, and more than a little peeved at the aggressive treatment. He’d never liked either Bodie or his temperamental partner in the first place. It was difficult to like them; they certainly never went out of their way to be precisely lovable to anyone except each other. And if you were one of the younger members of the Squad, as Dawson was, having tales of their derring-do shoved down your throat didn’t aid matters. Truthfully, Dawson had been quite pleased to discover Bodie had feet of clay just like the rest of them.

Now, he looked at Doyle coldly. “Let go, Doyle, unless you want to find yourself right back in hospital.”

Belatedly realising he was going over the top, Doyle stepped back. “I just want some answers, Dawson. You can save your cute comments. The sooner you tell me what I want to know, the sooner I’ll be out of your hair.”

“Okay, but you just lay off snarling at me. If you treated Bodie this roughly, it’s a bloody wonder you’ve kept a partner this long.”

“Just get on with it,” Doyle barked.

“There’s not a lot to tell. Told me he wanted to stay there. He seemed happy as a friggin’ clam, and who could blame him. You should get a look at the bird he was with. Enough to have a bloke’s tongue hangin’ out. She knew how to use it, too. I had the feeling she would’ve had it off with me right then and there, if I didn’t have to get back on the plane.” A puzzled look came to his eye. “Funny thing, though, I got the impression Bodie wouldn’t have given a damn if I had.”

“I thought you said he was in love with her?” Doyle scoffed.

“No, I didn’t say that exactly. But he must be, mustn’t he? He’s stayin’ with her, ain’t he?” He shrugged. “Maybe he was just sure of himself.”

Well, at least that sounded like Bodie. He’d never be the jealous type to begin with.

“What did he say to you?”

“Just that he was chucking the job; gave me the letter for Cowley. Didn’t have much time for anything else. I’d come on the police plane and Cowley wanted a quick report back. Didn’t see any reason to hang about anyway, once it was clear Bodie was fine. Oh, the place was pretty enough an’ all, but I could never abide the country. Weird, though, seeing all those flowers and trees blooming at this time of year. And palm trees, for Chrissake.”

Doyle thought quickly. “The job Cowley sent him on; did he finish it up?”

“The way I understand it, there wasn’t much of a job to it. Just double-checking on some missing kid. Friend of Cowley’s. I asked around a bit about that as well, but it seemed pretty clear cut there was nothing to it.”

“Do you still have the file?”

“Sure. I told you, I just got back a couple hours ago. Haven’t had time to get it to records yet.”

“Give it to me; I’ll take it back for you.”

Dawson hesitated. It wasn’t exactly procedure, but then again, the information was hardly classified material. He dug through his still unpacked suitcase and fished out a folder. “Here; have a ball.”

“Thanks.” Doyle started for the door, but stopped. “Dawson? Do me a favour. Don’t mention to the Cow that I was here, okay?”

“What do I owe you a favour for?”

The green eyes made it clear the favour would keep his jawbone in one piece.

“Oh, all right. Just get out of here and let me get some sleep will you?”

Doyle did so gladly. He had a train to catch.

* * *

April 27

Finding the means of getting to Summerisle proved more difficult than expected. He couldn’t, after all, go to the West Highland Police and ask for transport as Bodie and Dawson had. Doyle wasn’t there in an official capacity, and the chances of Cowley getting wind of his activities were too risky. Much to his frustration, however, he discovered that trying to charter a boat to take him to the island was far from a simple proposition. Whatever interest he aroused by flashing a wad of cash, quickly evaporated when the word Summerisle was mentioned. Even more frustrating, none seemed willing to give a logical reason for declining. The most he was able to pry from any of them was that the island wasn’t a smart place to go.

After reading the puzzling file on David Campbell and Sergeant Neil Howie, Doyle had already gathered that much.

He was beginning to wonder if he would be forced to show his hand by going to the police after all, when one of the fishermen made the laconic observation that “T’packet’s due.” A little more persistence revealed that he was talking about the mail boat from Summerisle that came to the mainland every two weeks.

Grateful for the fortunate timing, Doyle was waiting for it when it arrived the next morning and made certain he was a passenger at its departure by means of sheer aggression and flashing his identification. The captain of the little boat was far from happy, but it was just as obvious he wasn’t sure how to handle the situation.

“His Lordship won’t like it,” he grumbled as they set off.

“Pity about that,” Doyle responded mournfully. “Will I be beheaded, d’you think? Or just let off with a light horsewhipping?” He regretted his flippancy as soon as it was out. Antagonising these people wasn’t going to help anything. Nor was showing up with a chip on his shoulder the size of a football.

Doyle found the entire idea of Summerisle grating. The concept that someone could own an entire island and everything on it, smacked too much of feudalism, and the “his Lordship” crap didn’t help any. From what he’d read in the file and what information he’d picked up in both Portlochie and Stornoway, the inhabitants of Summerisle were passed down from Lord to Lord like a bloody silver tea set. But Doyle had to remind himself he was going there to bring Bodie back, not stir up a rebellion. He’d have to keep his prejudices to himself. And his temper.

The effort to do so wouldn’t be made easier by his physical state. He was totally fagged out, exhausted by the trip and the worry over Bodie. It wouldn’t take much for him to fall asleep on his feet. Discovering it would take several hours to reach the island, he found a dry section of deck and, using his jacket as a pillow, dozed off.

It seemed like only moments later that he was awakened by the cry of seagulls and the scraping of the boat against the dock. Doyle scrambled to his feet and grabbed his carry-all.

“You’ll need to see his Lordship,” the captain called as Doyle jumped off, onto the wharf.

“Fuck off,” Doyle snarled, still groggy, eyes watering in the sunshine. He sneezed twice, before starting down the street towards the main part of the village. Dawson’s report had said that Bodie was staying at an inn called The Green Man. In a place this tiny, it shouldn’t be hard to locate. It wasn’t. He saw the sign across the green as soon as he reached the general store/post office at the end of High Street.

Ignoring the curious stares he received, Doyle took a short cut across the grass and entered the pub. It took a moment for his eyes to adapt to the cool dimness after the blinding sun outside. But he saw Bodie immediately.

His partner was sitting by the open window, chair tilted back, feet up, sipping contentedly from a pewter mug.

“Bodie?” he asked quietly.

The blue eyes looked up, registering his presence. A sweet smile of uncomplicated delight spread over the handsome face.

“Goldilocks! Come an’ have a drink!”

Doyle stopped still, dropping his bag limply. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected—rushing in to rouse him from a horrible bout of melancholy, perhaps—but definitely not this careless, almost absent-minded welcome.

“Did the ol’ man send you lookin’ for me?”

Doyle shook his head numbly. “Bodie—”

“You came on your own then?” Bodie seemed pleased at this. “That’s terrific, mate. You’ll love it here. Come on, don’t just stand there. MacGreggor, bring my partner here a drink!”

A man came from around the bar, looking Doyle over with dislike. “Mr. Bodie, I don’t think your friend here will be stayin’ long. No doubt, he’ll want to get back to the mainland straight away.”

“Nonsense,” Bodie scoffed, dropping his chair back to the floor and jumping up to steer Doyle over to the table. “I’ve missed you, Angelfish. You look . . .” He paused, making a closer study of Doyle’s pale face. “Well, you look like you need to sit down. MacGreggor, where’s that drink?”

The landlord hesitated, then beckoned to the teenage boy who was dividing his time between sweeping the stone floor and staring lustfully at Doyle.

“Here, lad, you’d best get up to the castle and let his Lordship know we have another guest on the island.” He smiled coolly at Doyle. “The Lord likes to greet visitors personally, ye see, Mister . . .?”

“Doyle,” Bodie answered for his partner happily. “Ray Doyle. Best mate I’ve ever had.”

“O’ course.” The landlord gave the boy a shove towards the door. “What’ll ye be havin’, Mister Doyle?”

Doyle was ignoring all of it, his attention still focused on his friend. “Bodie,” he said hoarsely, “what the hell’s going on?”

Bodie sat down, chuckling. “Yeh, I bet the ol’ man’s having kittens by now, wondering where I’ve got to.”

“No,” Doyle said bluntly. “I think the resignation cleared that up.”

The blue eyes flickered uneasily. “Resigna—” He broke off, chewing on his bottom lip. “I . . .”

Seeing the confusion, Doyle leaned forward to put a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “What is it Bodie? What’s going on?”

Bodie shook his head and smiled up at Doyle. “Nothing. Why?”

“Nothing? How can you call turning in your resignation nothing?”

Taking another drink from the mug, Bodie wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before replying carelessly, “Lighten up, Ray. It’s just a job.”

“But why—”

Before he could complete the question, a woman came into the pub from the back room, drying her hands on her apron. “Lover?” She stopped when she saw Doyle. “I was just going ta ask if you wanted chops for supper, but it looks like I’ll have to lay another place at the table. Who’s the sexy stranger?”

“I’ve come to take Bodie home,” Doyle said flatly.

“Really?” She looked him up and down. “I thought you said you didn’t have a mother, Bodie?”

Bodie chuckled, oblivious to the sudden tension. “Willow, this is my friend, Raymond. Ray, this is Willow.” He slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her close against him, then down on his lap to nuzzle her neck.

Doyle had stepped back at her approach, and now he watched the couple with cool green eyes. Over Bodie’s dark hair, she watched him back with eyes just as green and just as measuring. Within the space of two seconds they had taken an instant dislike to each other that was mutual and deadly. Without need for further words, they knew the lines of battle were drawn and that neither would give up easily.

So this was the scrubber that fancied she had Bodie by the balls, Doyle thought viciously, muscles clenching in his jaw. He hated her with a sudden and inexplicable violence that amazed him. Hated her voluptuous body, her pink and gold loveliness; hated the way her fingernails combed through Bodie’s hair, touching the back of his neck with familiar possessiveness. Hated the confident expression in her hard eyes; the knowledge that she was on home territory and he was the intruder.

Having had more than he could take of the scene—and very conscious of the fact that such public displays were out of character with his partner—Doyle carefully took the girl’s arm and pulled her out of his lap.

“Pardon me, miss.”

Bodie blinked up at him, as if he had nearly forgotten he was there. He gave Doyle a cheerful grin, and reached for the mug.

“Bodie, are you pissed?”

The other man laughed. “Probably. Why don’t you join me, mate?”

“No, thanks.” He grabbed Bodie’s arm decisively and jerked him to his feet. “Come on, mate. We’re gonna have a talk—in private.” Hanging onto a handful of shirt sleeve, Doyle led him out of the door and down the cobbled street in the direction of the jetty. Bodie went along agreeably enough, and when Doyle released him, he even slung a companionable arm over Doyle’s shoulder.

“Did I tell you how glad I am to see you, old son? I’ve missed you something terrible.”

“Oh yes, so I see,” Doyle retorted grimly.

“Where’re we going?” Bodie asked amiably.

They had reached the stone wall that divided the beach from the village. There was no one about that Doyle could see at the moment.

“This is good enough.” He stopped and turned to face his partner.

Bodie hopped up to sit on the wall, swinging his legs a little and still taking sips from the mug he had managed to hang onto when he was dragged from the pub. “So how’ve you been, sunshine? You look a bit peaked.” His eyes narrowed, as if trying to concentrate. “You were sick, weren’t you?”

For a second Doyle was too angry to speak. He wanted to knock Bodie off that wall; wanted to wipe the sweet, bland expression from his face.

Rather belatedly, Bodie noticed Doyle was nearly shaking; his face flushed. “You don’t look so good, you know. Maybe you shouldn’t have been travelling until you got your strength back. You were pretty sick, I remember. You must be tired.” He seemed as if he was finding it hard to recall just how sick Doyle had been or why.

“I am tired,” Doyle said tightly. “I’m tired and confused and disappointed and—” He broke off, taking a deep breath.

“Then why’d Cowley let you come?” Bodie asked, puzzled.

“Cowley doesn’t know I’m here!” Doyle roared. “You stupid berk! I came to find out what the hell was going on, sure you were in some kind of trouble, and I find you acting like everything’s just peachy.”

Bodie regarded him soberly. “It is Ray. I’m sorry if you were worried about me, but I’m perfectly fine.”

“Fine? You’re drunk on your arse, and don’t seem to care—”

“I’m not drunk,” Bodie said calmly.

Doyle looked at him, seeing how he sat steadily on the wall, remembering the ease of his walk—nor was his voice slurred in the least. Bodie could hold his liquor, but . . .

“If you’re not pissed, there’s something else wrong. You’re not making sense, Bodie. And you haven’t explained why you’re still here.”

Bodie shrugged. “That’s simple enough. I like it here.”

Doyle stared at him. “You like it here?”

“Yes. I think you’ll like it too, if you’ll give it a chance.” He sat the mug down on the wall and jumped lightly to his feet. “Take a look around, Ray. It’s wonderful here . . . like magic.”

For the first time since he’d arrived, Doyle actually took stock of his surroundings. He had been so concentrated on his purpose, so preoccupied with finding Bodie, he’d scarcely noticed anything else; letting his subconscious absorb the barrage of colour and brightness. Now, he gave it another look, finding it fairly much as he’d expected from the report and Dawson’s comments.

“So? It’s pretty. So’s Tahiti, but I’ve never seen you so keen on landscapes before. Why now?”

“You don’t understand. It’s more than that, Ray. It’s . . . peaceful here. It’s . . .” He shook his head. “I can’t find the right words for it.”

Doyle sighed. “All right; so maybe you needed a holiday. You were griping about the weather back in London anyway. So you needed a little sunshine and quiet. But why resign to get it? Cowley might’ve chewed you out for skiving off, but he’s going to eat you alive when you go back now, you must know that.”

“I’m not going back,” Bodie stated firmly.

Doyle felt a strange lurch in his chest, as if his heart had skipped a beat. “Don’t be daft. Of course you are. The sooner the better, too. I think the sun’s cooking your brain—”

“I’m staying here, Ray. I’m happy here.” He put his hands on Doyle’s shoulders, standing close. “I want you to stay, too. Please stay, sunshine.”

The blue eyes were perfectly serious, and it scared Doyle to death. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Bodie.”

“Of course I do. Stay on Summerisle—with me.”

Doyle jerked away, feeling like he was being held by a maniac. “And do what?” he snapped. “Drink all day in the pub and screw the barmaid all night?”

He sensed rather than saw Bodie brace himself. “Christ, you can be such a nasty little bastard, Doyle.”

“Why? Because I’m telling the truth? What the hell else is there to do around here? Pick apples?”

There was a spark of anger in Bodie’s eyes now, and Doyle was gratified to see it. At least he was achieving some reaction besides good-natured blankness.

“Well?” Doyle demanded contemptuously when it seemed Bodie wasn’t going to answer. “What else is there?”

Bodie replied simply, “Being happy for a change.”

“I didn’t realise you were all that miserable,” Doyle shot back.

“No, no you wouldn’t have, would you?”

The quiet words hit hard. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Bodie just shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Look, if you want to go, fine. I won’t try to stop you. Go on, go.”

“Not without you, dammit. Bodie, this isn’t like you. Letting Cowley down—”

Bodie’s laugh cut through and there was a tiny note of bitterness in it. He leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms casually over his chest. “I doubt if the Cow is too upset about it. He knew I might opt out sooner or later. What you really mean is that your nose is out of joint because I didn’t tell you first.”

“All right. Why didn’t you? If you’d been thinking of quitting, why’d you keep so mum about it?”

Again the bewildered expression passed through Bodie’s eyes. “I . . .”

“You came here on a job, Bodie. You weren’t running then. So what happened all of a sudden? And don’t tell me the scenery suited you.”

As if bothered by this line of questioning, Bodie turned his back to Doyle, propping his elbows on the wall and looking out at the sea. “I met Willow,” he said weakly, but Doyle perceived that wasn’t all of it. Or maybe even any of it.

“You’re saying you really love her?” he demanded skeptically.

“Yes . . . no . . .” Bodie rubbed his forehead in confusion. “I don’t know. Why shouldn’t I? You saw her, Ray. She’s beautiful.”

Doyle refrained from offering his opinion—that it was a real pity she wasn’t drowned at birth. But he was suddenly both relieved and strangely even more nervous. So it wasn’t Willow alone that held him. Yet, that left the situation even more inexplicable.

“Bodie,” Doyle began uneasily. “Was it something I said?”

Bodie turned to him and burst out laughing. “I don’t believe you said that. That’s classic, that is.”

Doyle flushed with irritation. “You know what the hell I meant. That last night in the hospital . . . I was feeling pretty crummy and I might’ve said—”

“No, you were your normal, lovable self, Doyle. Don’t fret.”

Doyle’s frustration exploded. “Then what the bloody hell are you playing at? All this garbage about ‘belonging’ here, and being happy. You’re off your nut!”

Bodie’s eyes were cold again. “Maybe I am. Does it matter? Could it possibly matter to you? That’d be a new one, wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t know happy if it kicked you in the bollocks, Doyle. Since I say I’m happy, it must mean I’m mad as a hatter, right? Your logic is incontrovertible.”

“And your logic’s obviously moved to your balls!” Doyle replied viciously. “She’s drained it all out of you.”

If he expected to get a rise out of Bodie, he was disappointed.

“Give it up, Ray. You can be as vile as you like; I’m not in the mood to argue.”

“And what am I supposed to tell Cowley? That my partner’s found a nice pasture and put himself out to stud?”

For a split second, Bodie’s looked stricken.

Concerned, Doyle took a step forward. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Then Bodie shook his head as if to clear dark thoughts. He smiled sadly. “I think I understand now. The old man blamed it on you, did he? So that’s why you’re here.”

“That has nothing to do with it,” Doyle protested, flushing.

“No? Don’t con me, Raymond. You felt guilty, didn’t you? That’s why you were asking me about the hospital. I should’ve seen it straight off. What else would bring old Raymond it’s-all-my-fault Doyle running? A good unhealthy dose of guilt. You eat it up every time.”

“Shut up, Bodie,” Doyle said grimly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Bodie shrugged. “Have it your way, mate.”

Frustrated, Doyle grabbed Bodie’s arm. “I can’t talk to you, can I? You won’t listen to anything I say. I don’t know why. No, you’re not drunk, but there’s something . . .”

He stared at Bodie intently, trying to put his finger on what was bothering him, what had been subtly wrong from the moment he had first seen him. What occurred to him was almost too absurd to be considered, but right now he was so perplexed at his partner’s behaviour, it seemed as feasible as anything else. “No, not drunk . . .” Shoving up Bodie’s sleeve, he inspected his arm; then repeated the action on the other.

Bodie suffered the handling mildly. “What are you doing, Ray?”

Finding nothing, Doyle’s gaze fell on the mug still sitting innocently on the wall. He picked it up, took a sip and spit the liquid out quickly.

“What the hell’s in this?”

Bodie regarded him blankly. “What?” The blue eyes looked clear enough, but up close now, Doyle imagined the pupils were more dilated than they should have been in the bright sunlight.

“What have you been drinking?” Doyle demanded patiently.

“It’s cider,” Bodie answered vaguely.

“Maybe,” Doyle mused. “And maybe it’s more than that.”

As it dawned on Bodie what Doyle was thinking, he chuckled. “So, if I’m not crazy, or drunk, I must be doped, is that it? Maybe you should check between me toes as well. Always the copper, aren’t you? Listen, why don’t you just run on back to London where you have more scope?”

“Not just yet,” Doyle said absently. “Why not drugs, Bodie? Something’s wrong, that’s clear enough. Why not consider the possibility?”

“Because, old son, it doesn’t make sense, that’s why.”

“It would if they wanted to keep you here.”

“It’s you who’s flipped, mate,” Bodie said, lightly, but he looked troubled. “Why would they want to do that?”

“Willow—”

Bodie smirked. “Thanks for the boost to my ego, but in spite of my obvious charm, no bird has thought it worth doping me up to hang onto me. You’re reaching, Doyle.”

Bodie was right; he was grabbing for straws. Yet, there was more here than was apparent at first glance.

“All right, what about the job you were on? Maybe you found out something they didn’t want you to know. If they wanted to keep you quiet—”

“Job?” There was a flash of true panic in Bodie’s eyes, and this time Doyle saw it.

“Bodie, what is it? What’s the hell is going on?”

“I . . . Nothing. It’s all right.”

But Doyle knew it wasn’t. “My god, Bodie, you don’t even remember anything about it, do you? Why the Cow sent you here?”

Bodie shifted his gaze uneasily. “Of course I do. I was to check out leads on Campbell. David Campbell.”

“And did you?”

It was almost painful to watch the struggle in the confused blue eyes. Instinctively, Doyle reached out, but Bodie backed away.

“I didn’t . . . There wasn’t anything to find.” But the answer was hesitant and he was trembling slightly.

“I think there was. I think something’s rotten here, and they did something to you to make sure you couldn’t smell it. Think, damn it!”

“Lay off, will you!” Bodie yelled, fighting the cloud in his mind and the passionate demand for attention in Doyle’s face. “Why don’t you just give it up and go back to the City and leave me in peace?” But in direct contrast, he grabbed Doyle’s arms and held on tight. “Ray, I’m not going crazy. I know what you think, but I’m not—”

“What I think is that you’re doped to the eyeballs,” Doyle said flatly.

Bodie released abruptly. “No.”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense, can’t you see that? You know something isn’t right.”

“No. Why should they . . .? No that’s daft.”

“Maybe. Or maybe not. I can’t tell what drug they are using, maybe some local herb. But I’m going to find out, one way or another. I think it’s time to talk to Lord Summerisle.”

For some reason, this brought a thread of fear to Bodie. That way, danger lay. If he could only concentrate, he knew he would be able to put the pieces together, but he was suddenly terrified of the picture it would show. Scared of what it all meant. And, most of all, he didn’t want Ray to be drawn in as he had. But the flicker of insight faded before it was fully formed, and he was left standing in the warm sea breezes of Summerisle, head filled with the smell of salt and apple blossoms.

“You’re wasting your time, sunshine,” Bodie said easily. “Your imagination’s taking you for walkies.” He picked up the mug and drained what little was left. “I need another drink. Let’s go back to the pub, shall we?”

“Bodie—” Doyle stopped, giving up what he’d wanted to say. Bodie had slipped back into that unshakable fog of the lotus eater. That short moment when he had almost got through to him had passed as if it had never occurred. “All right,” he said at last, “go on back. I’m going up to the castle and try to get some answers.”

Unperturbed, Bodie ruffled the curls playfully. “Suit yourself, Goldilocks. See you later then.” And he sauntered off happily.

Watching him walk away so casually wasn’t easy. Doyle wanted to run after him; drag him away from whatever force held him to this strange place; whether it was sex, drugs or something he didn’t understand yet. He felt a strange new possessiveness in his regard of Bodie that he reluctantly realised must colour all of his perceptions—of the girl, of the island, of anything that threatened to take Bodie from him. At this point, he couldn’t even be sure if Bodie was really drugged, or if he had been jumping to the easiest answer.

True, Bodie was acting strangely, but that could be explained in a dozen ways—nor was it the first time Bodie had withdrawn into his own world and excluded Doyle. He had done the same when he was seeing Marikka Schulman, and again when he went after the motorcycle gang that had killed his Para buddy.

What if Bodie really did want to stay? What if that was really all there was to it? No mystery, no drugs, no dark reasons. Would he be able to accept that?

No. Doyle was honest enough to realise he was too selfish to give Bodie up whatever the reason. It was not a pleasant realisation, nor was he quite ready to admit what lay behind the sudden wave of possessive emotion. He simply hadn’t time to think it all out. Until he could, all he was sure of was that he was going to get Bodie out of here, one way or another.

Right now, the first step towards that seemed to lie in the direction of Lord Summerisle’s castle.

* * *

Rose found Lord Summerisle in his laboratory, studying a section of an apple bud under a microscope.

“Ah, my dear, I didn’t expect to see you so early,” he commented absently. “A school holiday?”

“I dismissed the girls early to work on their May Day masks. Willow told me about the policeman. I thought I should look into the matter.”

“Oh, yes. Doyle, isn’t it?”

“Tease, I think we may have a problem.”

He seemed only vaguely interested. “Really?”

“What do we do about it?” she said impatiently.

Summerisle smiled and straightened to look at her. “I don’t see that we necessarily have to do anything, my dear Rose. He will snoop around a few hours, find nothing, and go away like the others. I suppose we should be pleased they have evidently had a decline in the crime rate on the mainland that they can afford to spare us so much attention.”

“I’m glad you find this humourous, milord, but I’m afraid I canna share your ease. This one knows Bodie.”

He glanced at her sharply, then shrugged. “As did the last one, I recall. There’s nothing to concern yourself with. Our Bodie is very taken with our lovely island. He won’t leave on his own—not with Willow’s forms of persuasion—and they can’t very well force him to depart, can they?” He shrugged. “Even if this Doyle fellow manages to convince him, how will that harm us? Bodie knows nothing.”

She appeared uncertain. “He may remember things.”

“Dreams, my dear, hallucinations. Coppers need proof. How do you say . . . ah, yes, probable cause.”

Rose looked doubtful. “I’m not so sure. This one seems much more determined.”

Summerisle’s dark eyes sparkled with glee. “Ah, and I remember well the last determined copper we entertained. None of the latter ones possessed his . . . fire. If you will pardon the pun.”

“I’m serious, milord. According to MacGreggor, this Doyle person is a great friend of Bodie. And he listened to him—too long.”

“Indeed? I wasn’t informed of that.” He looked thoughtful.

“It changes the situation, don’t you think? If he knows Bodie well, he might see the difference in him, unlike the other one. There’s even a chance he could convince him to leave us. I know you don’t think that a problem, but it would spoil everything.”

“Calm yourself, my dear. That will not happen. Have Willow increase the dosage; at least until the snoop leaves. It shouldn’t affect his . . . uh . . . performance too badly, and if the copper suspects something, well, we’ll deal with that.”

“It’s dangerous, the wartleaf,” she warned.

“Only if taken over a long period of time. And our handsome Mr. Bodie doesn’t have that problem, does he? It’s only two more days until Beltane.”

She nodded. “Very well. But that doesn’t quite solve the entire problem. What if Doyle refuses to leave? Willow seems to think he suspects something already. It could make things difficult later on.”

Unconcerned, Summerisle prepared another slide. “I can handle this Mr. Doyle. He came here on the packet, didn’t he? That was odd, don’t you think? If he was really here in an official capacity, he would have come on the seaplane with all the other neat little coppers. Perhaps he’s here on his own to find his friend. That could simplify matters.”

“What are you thinking?”

Summerisle smiled again as he bent his eye to the microscope. “Just that there’s a distinct possibility he wouldn’t be missed. It was you who suggested we keep our virile Bodie here; perhaps Doyle could be put to the same use if he proves difficult to be rid of.”

“No,” she replied firmly. “He’s not right. He’s . . . common. Even ugly. I saw him when he passed the green; a pale, skinny boy with a broken face.”

Summerisle shrugged, accepting her judgement. “Pity. It was an interesting thought. I’ll simply make certain he’s off the island as quickly as possible then. You speak to Willow about keeping her pet on a tighter leash until I do.”

“What do—”

The servant interrupted Rose apologetically. “I beg pardon, Lord. Miss Rose.”

“Yes, Broom, what is it?”

“The stranger, sir. The policeman, Doyle. He wishes to speak with you.”

Summerisle grinned with delight. “How very efficient of him. He’s been here, what? Two hours? I do hope this one is more clever than the rest.”

“Bodie was almost too clever,” Rose pointed out wryly. “If you remember what Sorrel told us.”

“Which is one reason I agreed with your suggestion, my dear. We need intelligence as well as beauty, you know. Broom, have Mr. Doyle wait in the garden. I’ve had far too many coppers tramping through my house for one year.”

“Very good, sir.”

As Broom bowed and left, Rose asked Summerisle, “What will you tell him?”

The Lord pulled on his tweed jacket as he answered. “Simply that he is quite welcome to take his friend and leave—if his friend wishes to go. I can hardly tell him anything else, can I? I believe we can count on Willow to have Bodie make the proper answer. Go ask Broom to prepare us some tea, my dear. I’ll be with you as soon as I’ve rid us of our pest.”

Unhurriedly, he went out the side door and around the side of the gardens at the rear of the great house, pausing to take in the sight of the sea beyond the wall. It was a lovely day, and he had never felt so alive and pleased with his world.

He did hope this newest copper wasn’t a complete idiot. He would appreciate a true challenge for a change. It was quite depressing, really, the calibre of law officer in modern Britain. Smiling at the thought, he plucked a stray daffodil and spent a moment admiring its ragged beauty.

In truth, he couldn’t hold the police at fault. They had neither the training nor the vision to recognise or accept anything outside their narrow laws and regulations. Their world was limited to thuggery and violence, robbery and crimes of passion. Without possessing the poetry of imagination, they had no basis to build an investigation. Only Sergeant Neil Howie had been able to make the quantum leap between the ordinary and the sublime—but he had the advantage of being wrapped in the mysticism of his own religion. Miracles were old friends to him, familiar and believable; even if they were the trappings of another faith. But he could recognise the signs of belief. True and abiding credence as opposed to the mundane and meaningless rites. His faith had given him insight. An insight that contributed to his destruction . . . and rebirth.

Summerisle looked out over the orchards with paternal pride. Every apple he ate tasted of Neil Howie. He felt it in the very marrow of his bones and exulted in the triumph. Even if the Sergeant’s ultimate end had been a foregone conclusion, he had still led them a merry chase. They would not doubtless find his like again—the perfect virgin fool.

Bodie might have been an amusing challenge; Summerisle had sensed a quietly dangerous quality in him. But he had been neutralised very quickly, his classic good looks and strong body sealing his fate before the real threat was apparent to him. And he had certainly not been a virgin. Rose had seen his possibilities immediately and had urged the Lord’s agreement with evangelical zeal.

Tucking the flower in his lapel, Summerisle continued towards the terrace garden, hoping this new one had some small degree of wit. He was weary of boring investigations and boring coppers like MacTaggart and Dawson. Rounding the yew hedge that bordered the garden, he paused in the shadows seeking out his opponent, wanting to have the strategic advantage of seeing him first.

At first it seemed the garden was empty. Then he spotted the still figure slumped on one of the stone benches against the wall. The man appeared to be fast asleep, his arm propped uncomfortably on the ledge to brace his head.

For a second, Summerisle was disconcerted, having expected a normal copper to be chewing the grass at the purposeful, even rude, delay. But the lines of fatigue in the forehead and the circles under the oddly slanted eyes told their own tale. Either the man had been very recently ill, or he was pushing himself unbearably hard.

For a long while, the Lord watched the sleeping figure, studying it with growing appreciation. Rose’s unflattering description had hardly prepared him for the vision before him. Common? Uncommon was more like. Unusual. Exotic. Fey. The adjectives rushed through his mind, none of them quite filling the purpose, all of them apt, but all of them too weak to accurately portray the reality.

The wind stirred the fuchsia bush overhanging the wall, dropping fuchsia petals to rest in the long reddish-brown curls. The sunlight picked up streaks of copper in the unruly hair that framed the elfin face. The eyelashes lay long and dark against the too pale skin, and the delicious mouth was slightly parted in the ease of slumber; sensuous and perfect, in contrast to the flawed imperfection of the chipped tooth. His marred cheekbone, obviously broken years ago and poorly mended, rested on one slender artist wrist.

While realising that much of the charm of the man was a trick of the light and dappled shade, of the mood and attitude of the moment, Summerisle was nonetheless entranced. He silently moved closer, holding his own breath in abeyance, finding the vision earthy and compelling.

The figure stirred immediately, as if preternaturally sensing Summerisle’s presence, eyes flying open to reveal the startled forest jade of a wild thing. He was on his feet in a second, wary and chagrinned at his weakness.

“You’re Lord Summerisle?”

“Yes. I apologise for disturbing your rest, Officer Doyle.”

The embarrassed rush of blood to his face made him, if possible, even more attractive. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I’m sorry. I was . . . tired.” Then added edgily, “You did keep me waiting some time.”

“I apologise for that as well. I was in my laboratory, and sometimes I become overly involved in my research. Do you know anything of horticulture, Officer Doyle?”

“Just Doyle. Raymond Doyle.” He produced his identification.

Summerisle inspected it with amusement. Policemen always presented these little bits of cardboard and metal as if they were magic talismen, able to open doors and convert sinners to saints. “Ah, you must work with our friend Bodie. Yes, he told me you’ve dispensed with the niceties of rank in your service. How refreshingly plebeian. You’re a close friend of Bodie’s, I understand.”

The green eyes watched him appraisingly. “News travels fast, I see.”

“It is a small island. Visitors are quite the attraction.” He smiled ruefully. “At least until very recently. We seem to have become inundated lately. Or perhaps besieged is a more accurate term. And what has brought you to us, Mr. Doyle?”

“Bodie,” Doyle replied simply.

“Of course, you wanted to visit your friend. How splendid to come all this way.”

“His resignation was something unexpected,” Doyle said carefully, matching the Lord’s casual attitude. “I must admit I’m curious as to what seduced Bodie so thoroughly.”

“Seduced, Mr. Doyle? Surely an odd choice of words.”

Doyle smiled suddenly, holding the Lord’s gaze with a ferocious intensity. “Is it? Or should I borrow your term, besieged.”

Summerisle’s heart stepped up its beat. Truly wonderful! The man was dangerous as well as attractive. How incredibly exciting.

The tall man laughed. “Perhaps you’re right at that. There is much that is beguiling and rare here on my island. And beauty can be extremely seductive. You will have to let me show it to you.”

“Then you won’t mind my hanging about for a bit.”

“On the contrary, I’m delighted. Would you be interested in apples, by any chance?”

“I’m interested in everything, Lord Summerisle,” Doyle returned coolly.

“How very ambitious of you. I’ll be most pleased if you permit me to educate you on the peculiar specialties of Summerisle and its people. Tell me, have you had time to speak to your friend yet?”

The green eyes were abruptly icy. “Oh yes. I’ve talked to him. He seems to have changed a great deal in a very short period.”

“Indeed? How strange. But perhaps he was ready for a change. Have you known Bodie long?”

“Long enough.”

“I see. Then you must realise how content he is here. Not many people take to our quiet life as quickly and enthusiastically as your friend has. Although I’m quite sure that MacGreggor’s lovely daughter has much to do with that, don’t you?”

Doyle didn’t answer, but Summerisle noted the tightening of his jaw with interest. Jealousy? That could prove very interesting.

“Yes, our Willow is quite smitten with your friend. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they don’t make a match of it. They make such a fetching couple, don’t you agree?”

“Charming,” Doyle said tightly.

Summerisle turned away to hide his smile. “So you’ve met Willow as well? You can hardly blame Bodie for being so infatuated with her, can you?”

“I can see she’s very . . . intoxicating,” Doyle said smoothly. “Even habit forming, I’d wager.”

Summerisle laughed aloud in delight. So Doyle had caught on this quickly, had he? This man was purely no fool. And he knew how to play the game with finesse. It was pleasing to know that there was a sharp mind behind those bewitching emerald eyes.

He turned back to look at Doyle. “If you will pardon my saying it, Raymond, you look as if you could use some refreshment. In fact, forgive me for being rude, but you don’t look completely well.”

Doyle noticed the cavalier use of his first name, but let it pass. “I’m fine. Just tired from the traveling. It’s quite a trip.”

“But you will have some tea? Please, I insist. As a matter of fact, it’s such a splendid afternoon, why don’t we have it out here on the terrace? If you will wait for me here, I will have my man bring it out.”

“Thank you.”

Summerisle found Rose seated at the piano studying some sheet music. She glanced up as he entered. “Did you manage to get rid of him?”

“Oh, I do hope not.”

“What can you mean by that?” she asked, puzzled.

Summerisle rang for the servant and moved to the window overlooking the garden. From the concealment of the heavy drapes, he observed Doyle, a confident smile curving his lips. “You were far too hasty in your assessment of our guest, my dear. He is exquisite.”

“What?” She stared at him in amazement.

He beckoned for her to come stand beside him. “Look again. Do you still insist that he is ugly?”

“Perhaps the term was a bit strong,” she admitted reluctantly, “but I still find him unattractive.”

Summerisle shook his head reprovingly. “You are much too preoccupied with perfection, Rose. Don’t you realise that a few imperfections only serve to accentuate beauty? It gives it the allure of the exotic, the original.”

Tossing him a skeptical look, she returned to the piano. “He’s still not right for our purpose. Bodie is enough.”

“Yes, you’re right about that. Your handsome, symmetrical Bodie is all that is necessary for our purpose. But for my purpose . . .”

She looked up from the keys suspiciously. “What have you on your mind now, I wonder?”

Summerisle laughed softly. “I think you know very well.”

“It is unlike you to become besotted, milord.”

He turned from the window, one eyebrow lifted haughtily. “Besotted?”

“Unless you have a better word for it?” she challenged. “Enamored? Obsessed?”

“Appreciation perhaps?” He looked back out at his quarry, pleased. “But you may well be right. Does it matter?”

“Only if it brings more questions from the outside. We’ve had too much disturbance as it is.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that. I’m convinced that my sweet Raymond is here without authority. He’s come to fetch his partner, you see. When they are finally missed, it’ll be assumed they went off together. Hand in hand, no doubt.”

“You’re taking unnecessary chances,” Rose protested without much hope of being heeded. Her fingers picked out a light melody on the keyboard.

The Lord hardly heard her, too absorbed in his own thoughts. “There is something about him that is . . .” His brow furrowed in concentration. “Something familiar, but I can’t quite—” He snapped his fingers as it came to him. Pacing over to an ornate wooden stand, he opened a large, ancient book that lay upon it. Leafing through the brittle pages with care, he found the item he wanted. “Rose, come see what I have discovered.”

“What is it?”

“I believe I may have unearthed the source of my fascination—or part of it, at any rate.”

Curious, she went to his side and inspected the page he indicated.

“This is Teague, son of Nuada the god of the sun.”

Rose looked doubtfully at the crudely drawn illustration, penned by some unknown scholar over one hundred and fifty years earlier. There was some slight resemblance to the man outside, she supposed, if one was willing to interpret it loosely. That faded drawing showed a round impish face with wicked, slanted eyes and hair that swirled in haloing curls to represent rays of the sun.

“Raymond,” Summerisle mused fondly to himself. “Ray. How very appropriate. Son of the Ray. Ray of the Sun. Quite poetic, don’t you agree?”

“My Lord—”

“Calm yourself, my dear Rose. I haven’t mislaid my reason. Ray Doyle is most certainly human. I simply find this representation fascinating in its similarity. You must admit it is quite a coincidence. Or perhaps not so surprising. My Ray is a throwback to the past. Yes, that is what intrigues me so. He is one of the old line—the Celts, the Druids. It’s still there, in his face, in the way he moves. An accident of genetics, of course, but even more entrancing for that.”

“As long as you keep your perspective,” Rose cautioned.

“And when have I not? Don’t mistake my enthusiasm for more than it is, my vigilant Rose. His arrival may be opportune, but it is hardly mystical.” He moved back to the window, looking out with a hungry smile. “I want him. It is as simple as that. Therefore, I will have him.”

While long familiar with the Lord’s peccadilloes, this one seemed more than rash, it could be grave. “Is it worth it? The risk—”

“Of what?” he cut in smoothly, tiring of her caution. “A crime needs a witness. There are no witnesses on Summerisle.”

“He’s an outsider—”

“Look at him!” Summerisle said sharply, eyes glowing. “He belongs here more than you or I. Whatever he believes himself to be, his line goes back to the very beginning, to the very essence of our faith.”

Again, he paused to watch Doyle prowl the garden like a discontented cat. “I need that—I need to touch our past. To hold it . . . possess it . . .”

The servant entered with the tea tray, interrupting Summerisle’s reverie. “We will take it on the terrace, Broom.”

“Very good, sir.”

Summerisle took Rose’s arm. “We’ve kept our guest waiting far too long. You will be agreeable, I am sure.”

It was not a question, and Rose knew Summerisle too well to bother with further protests. He had made up his mind about this Doyle and there would be no shaking his determination. Doyle stepped forward to join them as they came outside. Broom sat the tray on the stone table and poured out the tea.

“Raymond, I would like to present Rose.”

Doyle took her hand lightly. “Lady Summerisle.”

“No, Mr. Doyle,” she said coldly, removing her hand from his. “I am not.”

“I beg your pardon. I assumed—”

“There is no Lady Summerisle,” the Lord broke in smoothly. “Miss Rose is our schoolteacher, and is kind enough to act as hostess for me on occasion. An understandable mistake. My introduction was a bit vague. Do be seated.”

Rose studied him casually over her teacup, revising her estimation of his appeal, but still mystified by the Lord’s newest obsession. She sensed he might be attractive in an odd sort of way, but only if he chose to be so. At the moment he was very contained and focused, giving nothing, revealing less. Unlike Bodie, he was making no effort to charm her. He wasn’t interested in her, nor in Summerisle for that matter, except for the answers they might give him.

“Do you take honey in your tea?” Summerisle asked Doyle. “We have our own hives, you know. Very original taste. The apple blossoms add a flavour all their own.”

“No, thank you.”

Summerisle noted with amusement that Doyle waited for both the Lord and Miss Rose to drink first, already wary of falling into a trap.

“I was under the impression that wine was the customary vehicle for poisoning in all the thrillers. Tea is much too mundane, don’t you agree?”

The green eyes regarded him directly. “How about cider?”

Summerisle chuckled. “Far too pedestrian. Come now, Ray, my lad, I realise policemen are meant to be suspicious, but you don’t truly believe we would attempt to serve you tea with a hemlock chaser.”

Doyle smiled sweetly. “Of course not.”

“That’s comforting. We can relax then, and enjoy the afternoon.”

“I would rather ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.”

“But I do mind. It’s far too lovely a day for tiresome questions and tedious answers. Besides, I thought you were on a visit—not on official business.”

“I don’t believe I said either way?”

“Ah, mixing business with pleasure? It can be a dangerous combination.”

“It was for Bodie, at any rate,” Doyle put in coolly.

“You’ve seen your friend,” Miss Rose finally spoke up. “Does he seem to be in danger? He is content here, Mr. Doyle. I canna understand why you find that so difficult to accept.”

“Because Bodie has never been ‘content’ in his life. Not like this. It’s like talking to a bloody zombie.”

“Exactly what are you accusing Willow of, Mr. Doyle? The crime of making a man happy?”

“When I start making accusations, Miss Rose, you’ll be one of the first to hear what they are.”

She stood, blue eyes snapping. “If you will excuse me, milord, I have lessons to mark before tomorrow. Good day, Mr. Doyle.”

As she left, Summerisle leaned over conspiratorially. “You’ve offended her, I’m afraid.”

“I have? What a shame.” Doyle smiled nastily. “And what about you? Are you offended?”

“Not at all. In fact, I’m pleased to have you all to myself. Rose doesn’t take well to outsiders at all; she’s never been off the island, you see, and tends to view anyone from the outside as threatening. I, on the other hand, enjoy new people from time to time.”

“And you have left the island?”

“Naturally. I attended Harrow and Cambridge and had my tour of the Continent during my youth. Once a year, I still vacation in Nice. My island offers everything one needs to be comfortable except variety.”

Doyle’s eyes sparkled angrily. “And the Lord is the only one permitted the privilege of leaving.”

Summerisle regarded him in true surprise. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

“There’s no record that anyone has ever moved from Summerisle.”

Summerisle laughed heartily. “I see. And the only reason for that, of course, is that I keep the poor serfs in chains. Did you ever stop to think that they might want to stay here? That the people are intelligent enough to recognise when they’re well off?”

“At least that’s what you tell them,” Doyle retorted.

“Can you honestly say that the mainland can offer these people more than they have right here? What can it offer them? Unemployment? Poor housing? Crime? Venereal disease? Air pollution? While it is true none of these ‘privileges’ can be found on Summerisle, I very much doubt if they are missed.”

“What about freedom of choice?” Doyle snapped back. “Independence?”

“Could you give me a rough estimate of how many of those ‘independent’ people are on the dole? How many of them use this ‘freedom of choice’ to commit suicide or strangle their wife out of frustration and despair? Come now, Ray, as a copper you must have witnessed this freedom first hand.”

“So Summerisle is a paradise,” Doyle replied sarcastically.

The Lord smiled. “Look around you, Raymond. What would you call it? There are no locks on Summerisle; no one fears his neighbour. Life is good, full and rich. The people work because it gives meaning to their life. They enjoy the bounty the gods grant them.”

“You make it sound so simple, so perfect. Nothing is that perfect.”

“No, it wasn’t simple and it was far from easy. You disapprove of me, I can see that. Or rather, you disapprove of ‘Lord Summerisle.’ You’re something of a socialist, I think.”

“No,” Doyle answered flatly. “But I don’t like the idea of one man owning an entire island—and the people on it. I’ve nothing against wealth, just against exploitation.”

Summerisle shook his head sadly. “I see you don’t understand at all. I don’t own all of this—oh, in the legal sense, I do, but that’s the least important factor—I am the caretaker. The custodian of a rare way of life. And like my father and his father before him, I take my responsibility very seriously, I assure you.” He sat his cup down and stood. “Tell me, Ray, do you ride?”

“Yes,” Doyle answered cautiously.

“Good. I have an excellent stable. Come, I’ll show you my island and explain more fully. I want you to understand.”

* * *

For all of his Lordship’s professed concern over Doyle’s health earlier, he spared him little during the short tour of the island. The horses were very fresh when they started out, and Doyle was anything but. He hung on grimly, however, unwilling to admit to weakness or exhaustion in front of the enigmatic Lord Summerisle.

Doyle had gradually moved from being mildly mistrustful of the man, to being convinced he was the source of all the mystery of the island. Whether that included being responsible for the missing people or drugging Bodie, he couldn’t be sure, but it was obvious there was absolutely nothing that happened on Summerisle without the Lord’s knowledge and consent.

Oddly enough, however, the people they met and spoke with, while very respectful, did not seem either awe-stricken or intimidated by the Lord. Still, the exchanges had the flavour of a priest bestowing blessings on his parishioners. They tended to ignore Doyle completely, although he caught several watching him curiously out of the corner of their eyes, and there were a few very ribald comments that he couldn’t quite catch except to know they were concerning him.

Doyle couldn’t deny the incredible beauty of the place; it practically attacked the senses with a barrage of colours and smells. But that was precisely what bothered him about it. It was early spring, but the feeling of the air was ripe and pregnant with sweetness. Nor was it merely the profusion of blossoms; there was an underlying decay that wasn’t physical, but metaphysical. The sweetness was cloying. The whole island was an overly baited trap; attractive but sticky, like a Venus flytrap.

“When my great-grandfather came to this island over one hundred years ago, the inhabitants were practically starving,” Summerisle continued his lecture. “The island, like the others in the Outer Hebrides, was nearly barren; covered with heather and bracken. True, it was gentler than most, situated almost perfectly in the warm Gulf Stream, and the soil was fertile—or would have been, if the villagers in their ignorance hadn’t grazed it nearly to death with their wormy and diseased sheep. Most of the islanders made their meagre living from them or from fishing the treacherous waters. They were illiterate, filthy, scrawny creatures, living on the bare edge of existence.”

Doyle pulled his horse up closer. “And your grandfather changed all that, did he?”

“Most of his triumph was not achieved in his lifetime. He introduced new strains of fruit, adapted to the particular climate and soil. They flourished.

“Gradually, he brought more and more species, and with careful husbandry, they grew in abundance. He built a school for the villagers; the first they had ever seen. Taught them how to read and write; to understand the principles of scientific agronomy. How to rotate crops, how to care and feed animals properly. Taught them terrace farming to stop the erosion the overgrazing of the sheep had caused on the high slopes. Each of us, in turn, have continued with his grand plan; the creation of paradise, if you will. And we have been rewarded tenfold.”

“And the apples?”

“Ah yes, they were his favourite experiment and the most successful. With the triumph of the Summerisle apples, came the capital for more improvements, just as he had envisioned.”

“What’s that ahead?” Doyle asked, pointing to the circle of stones he had passed earlier that day on the way to the manor. He had noticed them then, but had been too abstracted to stop and investigate.

Summerisle’s smile widened. “I was rather hoping you would be interested. To understand my island, you must understand the very bedrock of our society. Follow me, my dear Ray.”

He urged his mount to a gallop, but Doyle followed at a slower pace. His side was already beginning to ache with the strain and he didn’t intend to push the barely-healed surgery any more than he absolutely had to. As it was, he had sincere doubts that the doc at HQ would have approved this ride in the first place. But it was obvious that the best method of obtaining the answers he needed was to stick close to Lord Summerisle and keep him talking.

The man was shrewd, Doyle granted him that, but he also had the egotism of the megalomaniac that he was. He was convinced of his own invulnerability. It would have been stranger, perhaps, if he was not, considering his upbringing and the manner of his life here. His family had been the sole rule on this island for generations, with total control of everything and everyone on it—no matter how soft the glove of the iron hand. Fortunately, this very vanity offered Doyle his greatest chance of puncturing through the facade of Summerisle to the truth.

Doyle was, moreover, beginning to catch a glimmer of the Lord’s real interest in him. What he’d passed off as upper class affectation, became more pronounced as the afternoon wore on. The familiar use of his first name had irritated him at first, interpreting it as a type of cut—a means of putting him in his place like an unruly servant. But after a while, he noticed the manner in which it was said; the softening of the dark eyes when they touched on him. It didn’t bother Doyle unduly however. He had dealt with rich faggots before, and he wasn’t above stringing them along to a certain point, if he could see some use to it.

Summerisle had dismounted and was standing beside what seemed to be the entrance to the area. The circle was large, with some of the stones slightly tilted and settled into the ground by their sheer weight and age. Some were capped by equally large stones.

Doyle got off his horse, relieved at the opportunity to stretch his cramped legs. “It’s like Stonehenge,” he commented.

“Of course. It is from much the same period. Built somewhat later, perhaps, but erected for the same purpose.”

“Which was?”

“Worship of the original gods. The forces of nature. The true powers of life.”

Doyle wandered around the grassy ring, stopping to touch the smooth sides of the stones, warm in the sunlight. “It’s fantastic,” he breathed, awed in spite of himself by the sheer primal aura the monoliths exuded. He noticed a good-sized firepit at the centre of the circle. It still held lumps of charred and crumbling wood. Doyle looked questioningly towards the Lord. “I take it you were talking about this place being used for ceremonies in the past.”

The dark eyes twinkled, mischievously. “Why would you assume that?”

Doyle’s eyes widened. “You mean that they still do? Dance around fires and all that rot? And you let them?”

Summerisle chuckled. “I have even been known to participate. Ah, I see that you are shocked by the concept.”

“Well, it is a bit primitive. And you don’t strike me as a superstitious man.”

“You are correct; I am not.”

“You’re not saying these people really believe this drivel, are you?”

“Raymond, Raymond,” Summerisle reproved with mock seriousness. “It is considered rude to disparage another’s religion. Especially if you are standing on one of their holy places.”

Doyle couldn’t be sure if he was being had; with Summerisle it was sometimes difficult to be sure.

Noting the skeptical expression, Summerisle continued, “My grandfather actively encouraged the islanders’ faith in the living forces of nature. He introduced—or should I say, reintroduced?—them to the old gods. It made all the difference in their dour, unhappy life. Gave them a purpose, a joy in living that the Calvinistic oppression of the Church could never offer. The Christian religion taught them that suffering was holy, that hunger and poverty were payments for . . . what is it? . . . ah, yes, ‘original sin.’ Amusing term, that. Dooming a soul as soon as the head departs the womb.” He shook his head in bemusement.

“And they consider paganism barbaric. And this Christian dogma also deemed sex as evil and the pleasure of the flesh as the work of the devil.” He laughed out loud. “What an absurd ideology. Very self-defeating and counter-productive. The people had no difficulty in comparing the two faiths and deciding which one to dismiss. Oh, how they loved the happy, natural gods of nature; gods which gave them back the right of happiness, of dancing and singing, of loving and lusting, without blame or fault.”

Doyle was trying to remember what he’d learned in school of Druids and the Celtic myths, but it was all rather vague and all screwed with witchcraft and warlocks and magic, and he didn’t think that was quite the same thing. He never really thought of it in terms of a real religion before—and certainly not a living one.

“Do you consider all of this to be a blasphemy?” Summerisle asked lightly. “Some people react badly to the idea of paganism. It upsets their rigid, civilised view of the world. Does it bother you, I wonder? Are you so heavily entrenched in the Christian piety?”

“Not particularly, no,” Doyle replied truthfully. “But I am surprised. I thought all this died out a thousand years ago.”

“It is the one religion that can never die, my boy, because it is the most basic, the most true to the very heart and soul of mankind. When man crept out of the caves to discover fire, his first action was to worship it. And the sun which gave him light to protect him from the dangers of the night. And mother earth which gave him sustenance. All of these gave forth tangible rewards; something other religions are very short of.”

Doyle was absorbed in studying a topiary hedge trimmed in the shape of an erect phallus. Bemused, he didn’t notice the Lord’s stealthy approach. He jumped slightly at the feel of the hand at the back of his neck. Stiffening instinctively, he kept himself from over-reacting. As Cowley was so fond of reminding Bodie, people tended to talk better with a full set of teeth.

“That’s interesting,” he commented calmly, trying to ignore the prickles of unease down his spine.

Summerisle followed Doyle’s gaze to the hedge. “Yes, isn’t it? A fancy of one of the gardeners.” His fingers toyed in the curls at the nape of Doyle’s neck. “Do you like it?”

“Well, there’s not much like it in Regent’s Park,” Doyle replied noncommittally, moving smoothly out of reach.

Summerisle indicated his appreciation of the maneuver with a wry smile, but didn’t pursue the chase for the moment. “I can see you are weary. I have been a most inconsiderate host. We should return to the house so you can rest before dinner. It will be dusk soon.”

“I must be getting back to the village,” Doyle protested. “Bodie—”

“Will be dining with Willow, I’m certain. There will be plenty of time for you to visit your friend tomorrow. Please, permit me to offer you the hospitality of Summerisle Manor for tonight.”

Doyle hesitated, but it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. It would give him the chance to do some snooping without Summerisle looking over his shoulder. He had already decided how to deal with Bodie, and that would have to wait until morning in any case.

“Very well. I will accept your invitation with thanks.”

“Marvelous. Shall we go?”

* * *

The windows in Doyle’s chamber were concealed in a mass of heavy drapery. The room itself was oppressively luxurious; brocade and silk, the curtains on the enormous bed embroidered in gold thread that glinted in the lamplight. Doyle had only read about places like this, and he’d seldom liked what he’d read. They’d all mostly concerned haunted manors with skeletons in the walls, seduced virgins or ancient curses. And then there were always the vampire flicks. They always included castles and candlelight. Difficult to take seriously, but even more difficult to ignore when you were stuck in the middle of it. Bodie would have burst a gut laughing at his jumpiness, of course. His partner had always derived an indecent amount of amusement from Ray’s overactive imagination when it came to things that went bump in the night.

He pushed aside the plush drapes to reach the window, meaning to open the casement to let in some air that didn’t smell of dead violets and old ghosts. It was a mistake; the open window brought in the scent of apple blossoms and the sea. He was rapidly becoming sick of apple blossoms. In fact, he was considering swearing off fruit altogether. Still, the tang of salt helped, and he took in the cooler air with relief.

Very faintly, he could hear music; a strange, lilting sound that carried with the breeze, dancing over the tops of the trees and swirling and sweeping with the soft movement of the branches, as if the song originated there. Curious, he knelt on the padded window seat and leaned out further. Then he saw the light. It caught his eye, golden and red, flickering brightly in the darkness. A bonfire, obviously, but it took a second for him to pin down its location. Figuring its geography in relation to this room, it had to be in the midst of the stones they had visited, where he’d seen the remains of an earlier bonfire.

Sight adjusting to the thin moonlight, he watched the distant flames with fascination, seeing the darting shadows that danced before it.

So he was telling the truth, Doyle mused, intrigued, and wondering what bearing this could have on the other mysteries of Summerisle. What did Bodie make of this? Did he even know about it?

He had planned on waiting until much later in the night to attempt another private exploration of the house; what he had discovered earlier had been interesting but inconclusive, and he had felt a strange jitteriness that he had attributed to trying it too early, before the house was settled for the evening. But now he had something else to check out. Intending to go out and investigate the ritual in progress, he turned to find his way silently blocked.

Summerisle stood in the gap in the drapes, dark eyes glowing. Doyle jerked back, sitting very suddenly on the window seat. For the half-second before his heart started again, all he could think of was Dracula.

But Summerisle’s smile showed no fangs, only gentle apology. “I’m so sorry I startled you. I did knock, but obviously you didn’t hear it.”

Doyle swallowed his startlement, feeling a total fool. “No . . . I was listening to the music.”

“Ah, yes. You’ve noticed one of our ceremonies.”

“Is that what it is?”

“Of course. It’s quite lovely actually. One night you must join us. It would, however, be rude to intrude at this point in the festivities. As a matter of fact, this particular ceremony is usually restricted to the women . . . but they have been known to make exceptions on occasion.”

“What is it about?” Doyle asked warily. He would have preferred to have stood, but Summerisle was still blocking the opening, leaving little room to move without actually brushing him aside. Instead, he leaned back against the windowsill, and propped a foot up on the seat, refusing to be intimidated by the man’s height and aura of dark power. He’d let his imagination have enough run for one night.

“It is a celebration of fertility. Of fire and passion and moonlight. A poetic mixture, don’t you agree? Fertility is very important to us.”

“You mean, the apples and crops and things.” Despite his resolution, Doyle was becoming nervous again. The eyes that bored into him from above were hypnotising, disquieting.

“And people. A closed society such as ours must always be conscious of the importance of new life, new generations.” His hand reached out very slowly and Doyle watched it, frozen. It touched his face with exquisite gentleness. “Your eyes are very green in the candlelight, Ray.”

Doyle wanted to move, knew he had to move, but for a long, long moment he found it impossible, pinned by those drowning black eyes and a lassitude in his muscles.

Finally, with an abrupt gesture, he jerked the enclosing drapes to one side and stood. “Don’t.”

Summerisle smiled, a haughty, knowing smile that sent a small tingle of alarm through Doyle.

Doyle blinked, felt dizzy, and knew exactly what was happening. “Okay, how’d you manage it?”

“Manage what?” Summerisle, still smiling, approached him with slow, sure steps.

Doyle backed away again. “Don’t,” he said again.

“Don’t touch you? Why not? You like it; I certainly like it. You are a fascinating creature. Do you find me that unattractive?”

Doyle grinned drily. “You’re not me type.” He was starting to feel a little better now that he understood what was happening to him. It was only frightening if you didn’t understand it. “So, was it in the wine?”

Summerisle halted. He threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, you are a clever one. I’m delighted.”

“Obviously not clever enough. I was careful at dinner, but—”

“Yes, you were. Admirably so. No, it wasn’t in the wine. You were too careful to see that you ate only what came from a common dish and only what I took. The same with the wine. However, the glass you drank from had a very light dusting of powder at the bottom, difficult to see by candlelight.”

“Fortunately I didn’t care for the vintage,” Doyle replied sharply. His vision was blurring slightly and his heart was racing, but he knew he could handle himself even now. “Is this what you’ve been dosing Bodie with?”

“Bodie? Why should I do that?” Summerisle’s smile deepened. “He’s not my type.”

“Knock off playing games. Why are you doing this?”

The smile was gone in an instant. “It is necessary.”

“Just tell me why, dammit!” Frustrated, fighting off the swamping effect of the drug, Doyle kicked over a side table, sending assorted silver boxes and figurines flying. “Did you do the same thing to the Sergeant and David Campbell? And how many others? Well, did you?!”

Summerisle ignored the crash. “You are the detective. You find out.” He turned towards the door.

“Do you honestly think you can get away with this?” Doyle stared at him in amazement.

At the door, Summerisle stopped. “In a word, yes. But only assuming that I’m trying to get away with anything at all. Fate must always play a hand.”

“You just drugged me, for chrissakes,” Doyle snarled. “And you admitted it.”

“That’s true. But it would be rather difficult to prove, don’t you think?” Summerisle smiled again, eyes raking over Doyle hungrily. “Pity about tonight, but if you aren’t interested—”

“You mean if I’m not doped enough,” Doyle said nastily. “You fuckin’ pervert!”

Totally unaffected by the insult, Summerisle continued, “—I can wait for another time. I want your agreement. Your active cooperation, in fact.”

“You’ll rot first!”

“Rape is a very distasteful business, Ray. But if you stay, I don’t think I’ll be forced to resort to such extremes.”

“If I—You think I’d stay here? You’re madder than I imagined. Unless you’re planning on keeping me prisoner?”

“Oh, no, of course not. You’re quite free to leave, if you wish. If you can find transportation off the island. And if you want to leave your friend. I don’t believe he’s quite ready to go yet. Perhaps you weren’t able to give him what he needed.”

“Whatever it is, he won’t find it here,” Doyle snapped.

Summerisle just smiled. “Pleasant night, Ray. Do try to get some sleep. You look all done in.”

As the door shut quietly behind the Lord, Doyle stared at it blankly for several minutes, trying to work out what the hell was happening here. He knew, without bothering to check, that the door was not locked and that no one would try to stop him from leaving the house. Summerisle was right; why should they bother? There was no way off the island without the Lord finding out, and odds were excellent that all the boats were carefully out of reach or guarded. Even if he did manage to steal one, he wasn’t positive he would be able to navigate it to the nearest island, especially in these tricky waters. What he knew about the sea could be jotted down on a postage stamp. Bodie would probably know, but that all depended on getting him off whatever drug they were giving him—and convincing him of the danger here. A danger Doyle couldn’t yet pinpoint. The drugging itself was serious enough, of course, but the reasons behind it went far beyond an attempted seduction; something darker and more sinister.

The bottom line at the moment, however, was that Summerisle was also right on another point. How could he prove any of it? One could hardly call it a kidnapping, since both of them had come there of their own accord. The drugs would be out of their systems by the time they got back—even if they could establish they hadn’t taken them willingly.

It was at this point Doyle’s mind refused to function. It was too confusing, and he still couldn’t fathom a motive to any of it. Doyle’s drug-fogged brain couldn’t deal with any more. He curled up on the bed and fell asleep.

* * *

April 30

A pair of trousers fell onto the back of Bodie’s head with a plop. He stirred a bit, but didn’t waken. Willow, however, sat up in the bed and glared at Doyle.

“What the devil are y’ doing in here!”

Doyle ignored her. He poked Bodie brutally in the ribs. “Up, sleeping beauty.”

Bodie groaned and rolled over. “Eh?”

“Get up,” Doyle elucidated. “Now.”

Willow glowered at the invader. “Leave ‘im alone! He’s tired.”

Doyle raked her with venomous regard. “I’ll just bet he is, sweetheart. Bodaaay!” he called again, drawling it out in the familiar way that never failed to get up his partner’s nose.

“What do you want, Doyle?” Bodie demanded sleepily.

“Stakeout, mate.”

“Stakeout?” Bodie rubbed his eyes, but sat up obediently on the edge of the bed and fumbled for his trousers.

Doyle rummaged through the chest of drawers and came up with a t-shirt and black roll-neck jumper, which he also tossed at his partner. “Hurry up,” he added curtly, anxious to be away from here.

Bodie pulled it on with a mild curse, but as Doyle had counted on, he was moving out of habit, too sleepy—or still too doped—to think clearly about what was happening.

When his head emerged from the sweater, he looked up at Doyle blearily, reinforcing Doyle’s original opinion. His pupils seemed as wide as saucers; his gaze opaque and dull. Doyle’s heart plummeted. Whatever they were dosing him with, it was more powerful than he’d suspected. Only the instinctive reaction to the word “stakeout” had any affect at all.

“Let’s go, Bodie.” Doyle felt an urgency to run; the strange prickling at the back of his neck making him aware of the danger here and glad of the gun under his arm. They couldn’t stop him taking Bodie—only Bodie could do that—but he’d much prefer getting away quickly and cleanly.

Totally nude, and as self-possessed as if she’d been wearing a suit of armour, Willow leaped from the bed and confronted Doyle. “I told y’ ta leave ‘im alone! He doesn’t belong ta you; he’s ours now. Ours!”

Doyle faced her with cold distaste, her blatant sexuality having no effect on him at the moment, he was too aware of the hate and ugliness that blazed from her eyes.

“Get out of my way,” he growled. Her nails were digging in his forearm, cutting into his flesh, but he didn’t throw her off, afraid to spark Bodie’s fogged attention on the ghastly little scene at the door. He couldn’t afford to argue or fight with Bodie at this point, needing to concentrate on getting him away quietly and with as little fuss as possible. He grabbed her wrist with his free hand and bent it back slowly, until she was forced to release him. Obviously, she was just as interested in keeping Bodie out of it as he was, for she didn’t cry out even though the pressure on her wrist was intense. Tossing a glance at the oblivious Bodie, she gave ground for the moment, pausing only to snarl a whispered curse at Doyle.

Doyle pondered this for a second. He’d expected her to call out to Bodie, to arouse his protective instincts. Since she did no such thing, it might mean—he hoped it meant—that they weren’t all that sure of Bodie’s reaction, in spite of the drugs. Had he given them trouble already?

Bodie stood, touching the edge of the table to steady himself. His other hand went up to his head. “Christ, mate, I must’ve had a skinful last night.”

“Yeh, something like that.”

Willow tried to slip past to Bodie, but Doyle quickly blocked her way, eyes warning her off. He took Bodie’s elbow and tugged him through the door.

Bodie pulled back for just long enough to flash Willow an apologetic smile. “Sorry, luv. Duty calls.”

Leaving a furious Willow at the top of the steps, Doyle managed to steer his partner out the door without any more difficulty. The sun was barely up and the square was deserted. For some reason, however, that made Doyle even more ill at ease. This was too simple, and long experience had taught him to mistrust anything that seemed to go too smoothly. Holding fast to Bodie’s arm, he pulled him around the corner of the building to where he’d left the horses he had liberated from the Lord’s stables.

Bodie stopped short. “What the bloody ‘ell are those?”

“Horses, mate,” Doyle said patiently, untying the reins and checking the tightness of the girth, “they’re called horses.”

Bodie rubbed his eyes again. “These are horses, Doyle,” he informed his partner.

“Bodie!”

“I mean, what the devil are you doing with horses?”

“You’re getting on one, I’m getting on the other, and we’re riding off into the sunrise, partner. Just shut up and mount up.”

“I thought you said it was a stakeout?”

“So it is.” Doyle swung up on his horse, gaze darting around for watchers. He could still see nothing and no one, and it made him more nervous. “Do you have your gun, Bodie?”

“Gun?” Bodie patted his side absently. “No . . . I must have forgotten it—”

“Never mind, I’ve got mine. They’ve probably hidden it anyway. Will you get on the bloody horse, Bodie!”

“Don’t like horses,” Bodie muttered resentfully, but he did as he was told.

“Don’t like stakeouts either, do you? All of a piece. Come on, you know how to ride. Let’s go.”

“Barely,” Bodie grumbled, but he urged his mount forward after Doyle’s.

Doyle had counted on habit and training working where reason and explanation would not. Years of being dragged out of bed at a moment’s notice and in various physical states stood in good stead now. The drug already created a degree of pliability, of susceptibility, in Bodie, and Doyle used that easy compliance to get him away.

It wasn’t until they had passed the boundaries of the village that Bodie ventured to ask, “Are you going to tell me why we’re on horseback?”

“No motors on the island,” Doyle said shortly.

“Oh.” Bodie’s dope-fogged mind worked that over for a few minutes before finally bringing his animal to a stubborn halt. “Wait a minute. Stakeout? This is bloody ridiculous, Doyle.”

Swinging his horse around, Doyle pulled up alongside Bodie’s. “I’ll explain later, okay? We need to get as far as we can—”

“No. Explain now. Where are we going and why?”

Doyle gestured to the line of mountains. “Up there.”

“What? That’ll take hours.”

“Yes. And we’re wasting time.”

Bodie shook his head doubtfully. His eyes looked clearer, but he was still more than a little foggy. Oddly enough, it didn’t prevent his easy handling of the horse, nor the steadiness of his balance.

In a way, this in itself worried Doyle a little. He was familiar with a variety of drugs and their symptoms, but this didn’t seem to fall in the normal categories. After touring Summerisle’s extensive and elaborate laboratory and conservatory, it didn’t seem at all unlikely that the Lord had managed to develop something totally unique. If so, it would be difficult to predict how sudden withdrawal of the drug would affect Bodie after two weeks of constant exposure to it.

“You haven’t told me why,” Bodie reminded him.

“I promise I’ll explain later. Let’s go.”

For a second he was afraid the man would become obstinate and head back to the village, but Bodie merely shrugged and grinned. “Lead on then.”

They rode for a long time, climbing higher, passing orchards and meadows, moving up into the area near the foot of the volcanic mountain peaks. Doyle kept a watch behind them, but could detect no one following. In the distance, he could just make out the figures of workers along the dock and up closer in the fields, but their interest didn’t seem directed at the two men on horseback. It was probably well past ten by the time they passed into a thin break of trees and the terrain became more difficult for the horses.

To Doyle’s relief, the scent of pine and fir trees overwhelmed the fragrance of the orchards below. The air was clear and tangy.

Bodie pulled up his horse and dismounted. “Okay, Ray, enough is enough. What’s this all about?” The air of easy-going acceptance was beginning to tatter a bit, showing signs of irritability.

Doyle had hoped to get farther before Bodie baulked, but the ground was becoming too rough for the horses in any case, so he also jumped down and began to uncinch the saddle. “We’ll walk from here.”

“Walk? Now, wait a minute,” Bodie protested. “I don’t like horses, but I like walking even less. I’m not going anywhere until you tell me the point of this.”

Doyle tugged off the saddle and dropped it to the ground before turning to Bodie. “You’ve come this far, can’t you go a bit more?”

“Why?” Bodie demanded.

“Because I’m asking you to,” Doyle answered simply, too dispirited to put much force behind the request.

Bodie blinked. “Okay. See? All I wanted was a reasonable explanation.” He smiled sweetly at the smaller man, and turned to remove his own saddle. “I just hope you’ve brought some grub, because I’m starving.”

Doyle felt it wiser to reserve comment on that, but was cheered by Bodie’s obvious trust in him.

“What do we do with the horses?” Bodie asked.

“Let’m go.” Doyle took off the bridle and smacked the horse smartly on the rump, then repeated the action with Bodie’s. “Don’t know how long we’ll be up here. Can’t leave them tied, can we?”

Bodie studied him silently for a moment. “Ray, what are you afraid of?”

“I’m not really sure,” Doyle admitted wearily, hardly able to justify the overwhelming urge to run as far and fast as he could. Right now, it concerned more than getting Bodie away long enough to counteract the drugs; it was a sudden, irrational fear, like an animal sensing the presence of a trap. He sighed. “But you’re right . . . I am scared.”

“Ray—”

“Not now, Bodie.” He piled the saddles in a small depression and covered them with fallen branches, then picked up the blankets and satchel he had brought with them. Bodie watched him without comment. Doyle glanced at him. “Ready?”

“Ray, you know they can find us if they want to. Running won’t help anything.”

Doyle turned, startled by the comment. Bodie’s eyes were strange—sad and confused and defeated all at once. “It’ll help me. It’ll help you, too, mate. The drug is starting to clear now, isn’t it? You’re beginning to remember, aren’t you?”

The blue eyes closed and he shivered slightly. “They’ll find us, no trouble. They know this island, we don’t.”

“Yeah, well there’s no sense in making it easy for them. Bodie?” He touched his arm and Bodie jumped back. “Easy, sunshine, it’s just me. You okay?”

Bodie nodded.

Doyle started to say more, but the unhappy expression on Bodie’s face made him hold his tongue. It was too early. It might be hours before the main effects of the drug began to dissipate.

“Let’s go,” he said quietly, setting off high into the trees. After a moment, Bodie followed.

* * *

They climbed up through the woods for another hour or so, until Doyle decided they had traveled far enough—or as far as he was able at the moment. Pine trees surrounded the tiny glade and sunlight glinted on a clear, bubbling stream. At least they would have water, and judging by the way Bodie dropped down on the bank to eagerly cup a drink in his hands, it was none too soon. Doyle let everything fall and copied his partner, thinking that nothing had ever tasted so wonderful.

It was just as well they found a suitable place to settle when they did. Doyle was on his last legs; the effects of the drug Summerisle had dosed him with the previous night, mild as they were, had long worn off, but in its place was a nebulous depression, superseding even the intangible fear and compulsion to run he’d felt earlier. Even the conscious knowledge that it was mostly the aftermath of the drug, didn’t prevent the weight of sadness he felt.

He glanced at Bodie, worried at the possibilities inherent in the sudden withdrawal. Already, Bodie had been far too quiet for too long. The earlier irritability had subsided, leaving Bodie hardly more than a silent shadow robotically following Doyle.

Doyle knew he needed to rest now if he was to deal with the inevitably unpleasant hours to come. He spread out the folded blanket and put the pack down as a pillow. “I’m knackered. We’ll stay here.”

Bodie stood over him, eyes dark and desolate. “No . . . not far enough.”

Doyle sat up, barely catching the soft, pensive voice. But the eyes frightened him; troubled and spiritless, they were dark as shrouds. “There’s no point in going farther right now. Sit down, mate. Rest.”

“They’ll find us, y’know,” Bodie said matter-of-factly.

“So you said. Bodie, what have they done to you?”

The eyes blinked, and he shook his head. “Nothing. I’m hungry, Ray.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. But I’ve only got a bit of bread and a few apples. I was afraid anything else might be drugged.”

“No apples!”

Doyle started slightly at the sudden vehemence. “All right, you don’t have to eat them. I’m not sure I could swallow one meself, come to think of it.”

Bodie didn’t answer, but he dug in the bag and pulled out the bread Doyle had nicked from the kitchen. He chewed it thoughtfully, glancing around the tiny clearing as if he was finally seeing it. Taking a deep breath, he sat down near Doyle. “Pretty here. Smells good.”

“At least it doesn’t smell like damn apple blossoms,” Doyle replied bitterly, settling his head in the crook of his arm. “I hate this place, Bodie. It’s rotten. Really rotten. Last night . . .”

Bodie turned to him abruptly. “What about last night?”

The question was sharp and attentive, almost like the Bodie he knew. “I’m not sure. It’s all rather hazy now. I was drugged; I remember that much. But the rest . . . it’s odd, but it seems as much a dream as real. Summerisle . . .”

In the sunlight that slipped through the break in the tree, Bodie’s eyes were now deep blue and very piercing, demanding an answer. Doyle found it impossible to speak of the fantasy enchanter of the night, the vampire hungering for something far different than his blood. How could he be sure any of it was authentic? Only the awareness of danger haunted him, drove him to flee, running from a phantom that could have caught them with a snap of his elegant fingers.

“Ray?”

Brought back to the present, Doyle only shrugged one shoulder and nuzzled back into the crook of his arm, too weary to think about it at the moment. “Do you want me to explain why we’re here?” he offered instead.

Bodie’s eyes shuttered and he stuffed the bread back into the sack, barely touched. “No. I know why we’re here.”

“Do you?” Doyle countered softly.

But the other man ignored the question. “Tell me what happened to you last night.”

Doyle sighed and shut his eyes. “Not now, Bodie. I’m too dozy to know what’s going on. I have to sleep for a while. Maybe I’ll wake up and this’ll all have been a bad dream. You’ll be okay on your own for a bit, won’t you?”

“Ray—” Bodie bit back what he started to say. “Sure, I’ll be fine . . . you rest.”

But Doyle had already slipped into a troubled sleep, crammed with poison apples and voluptuous blondes with razor teeth.

* * *

When he woke, it was late afternoon. The glade was silent except for the burble of water over rough stones and the call of an eagle overhead. For a second, he was fascinated, watching it soar and dance in the narrow half-circle overhead. He knew little about birds, but this was definitely an eagle and somehow he sensed that, like everything else on Summerisle, this was a rare and carefully-cultured breed. He remembered the cliffs behind the castle where Summerisle had shown him a species of bird that was supposedly extinct to the rest of the world. Here, safe from the ravages of man, it still survived.

There is true beauty here, he thought suddenly, and an appreciation for things long past. There is, so close to the darkness, a light in this place, a knowledge and love of nature that had all but been surrendered elsewhere. It confused and alarmed him, being so unexpectedly torn between right and wrong; a wrong he’d only sensed and a right he’d only just discovered. He’d been so engrossed in the retrieval of Bodie, he’d been essentially blind to the rest. But it was there, in his subconscious, in his soul. Summerisle’s words had not been hollow or ignorant. And his arrogance was the product of success as much as birth. This island was alive because of him and his ancestors before him.

A paradise, yes. But at what cost?

The question nagged at Doyle, as always. The policeman in him feeling the wrongness; the cynic unwilling to accept perfection.

And Bodie? How to explain his earlier eagerness to remain here? Bodie had never been much of a nature lover. The dope was the palpable answer, but was it the only reason? More importantly, how to understand the defeat and terror he’d read in his eyes that morning? Bodie was not a man easily driven to either.

Bodie.

Electrified by the thought, Doyle sat up, abandoning the eagle and his meditation. At first, he saw nothing and his heart pounded wildly with guilt and dread. He shouldn’t have slept—Bodie needed him. Then he saw the figure standing by the stream, his back to Doyle.

He stood up and nearly tripped over the notebook. For a second, he couldn’t remember what it was; then he remembered his silent foray through the upper levels of the castle the night before. Or perhaps not so silent. Now that he knew he had been drugged, he wasn’t sure he could trust any of his perceptions. Perhaps Summerisle or one of his servants had been watching him the entire time. It seemed probable. Yet he’d obviously been allowed to take this.

With another glance to the still figure by the stream, Doyle stooped to pick up the notebook. He’d found it impossible to read the scrawled handwriting by candlelight and had saved it for morning. It was the articles around it that had moved him to take it: photos, tucked neatly in folders; pictures of young girls in white dresses standing by heaped mounds of fruit and vegetables; pictures of odd swords and erotic imagery. There was also two photos of two men, also dressed in white, also involved in some ceremony; but only one looked content with the idea. The other, the older man, was quite clearly terrified—or offended. Oddly enough, it was difficult to tell which. But it was enough to make Doyle grab both the photos and the notebook when he’d heard footsteps on the stairs. It turned out to be only Broom dousing the lamps in the upper corridor, but Doyle had felt both too tired and yet too nervously unsettled to attempt more scouting that night. Nearly everything after that point was rather dim. He could hardly remember making it back to his room.

Now, he knew he had been drugged. How he knew that was still a bit hazy, but having been familiar with the affects from both his rebel years as a teenaged terror, and to a greater extent, witnessing the effects on others when he had been on the Drugs Squad, he realised that had to have been the case.

“Bodie?” he called softly. The other man didn’t react. Doyle dropped the notebook and moved to stand beside him. “How are you feeling?”

Bodie still didn’t respond.

Doyle clutched his arm. “Bodie—”

Abruptly, Bodie swung around and pushed him, hard. “Stay away from me, damn you!”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

Bodie’s eyes were wild, stormy dark and full of anguish and frustrated anger. “You’ve done what you’ve had to do, haven’t you? Made me see . . . made me know . . . Just leave me alone.”

“See what? Bodie, explain what you’re feeling.”

Bodie stared at him, and for the first time, Doyle felt the scorch of hatred directly solely at him. “I was happy here, happy! For a few moments I belonged. I was needed. Not as a killer, not as someone handy with a shooter or a blade, but as a man. Maybe I was wrong—all right, I was wrong about it all!—but did it have to be you to show it to me? Did you have to prove you were better than me? Damn your eyes, Doyle, can’t you leave well enough alone? For just a little I felt needed here . . . wanted . . .”

“But needed for what, Bodie,” Doyle interjected tartly. “Can you tell me that?”

Bodie’s shoulders slumped. “Does it matter? It’s more than I felt anywhere else.”

Doyle took a hesitant step forward. “I need you.”

The other man just shook his head. “Too late, Ray . . .”

Provoked, Doyle snapped, “Didn’t know there was a time limit! What’s all this crap? You really think it’d have been better to leave you here, cheerfully doped to the gills? All right, you think I’m a selfish bastard, and you’ve probably sussed me out right on target. But you damn well better be glad I am; because there’s more going on in this sickly sweet paradise than growing a few rotten apples!”

Bodie spun around, furious. “Yeh, there probably is. How nice for you, Sherlock. Figured it all out, haven’t you. Come to save my bacon. Ossifer Doyle to the rescue! Christ, it’s a bloody wonder I can zip me trousers by myself. Or maybe you’d prefer to check it out yourself? God, I can’t stand this!”

Stunned, Doyle regarded him in silence, unable to absorb most of the tirade. Bodie was beginning to run on a familiar pattern for withdrawal—irritation and depression, followed by aggression and anger, blame, rejection. What was next, self-hatred? Or had he already reached that level? “Bodie, listen to me. You were drugged—”

“Does it matter?” Bodie snapped. “I fucked up, didn’t I? I fell for the ultimate swindle, the most seductive con in the world—I wanted to be happy. Wanted to be—” his voice cracked suddenly, “ . . . loved. Stupid, stupid . . . stupid!” His clenched fist impacted with his forehead on each word.

Doyle caught his arm. “No! Listen—”

Bodie jerked away violently. “Don’t touch me!”

Doyle backed away, very conscious of the fact that Bodie was on the downslide of what portended to be a very nasty withdrawal. He’d seen it before too many times; only this time, since he couldn’t pin down the drug, it was impossible to predict the ultimate reaction.

“Bodie, calm down just for a second. I’m your friend, remember? What have you found out? You think I know, but I don’t. I’m still only guessing. Help me out.”

Bodie, engrossed in studying some distant nightmare that Doyle could only imagine, turned to him slowly. “What do you want to know?”

“They drugged you, didn’t they?” Doyle asked, sticking with the one thing he was sure Bodie would no longer try to deny.

Bodie laughed harshly. “Oh yes, they did that. Among other things.”

“What things?”

The expression in Bodie’s eyes as they met his sent a sudden cold ripple up Doyle’s spine. “Bodie, please! What did they do?”

Bodie turned back to stare into the clear, burbling water. “They loved me,” he said simply. Then, almost as an afterthought, “They used me. They hurt me.”

“How?” Doyle said intently. “How did they hurt you?”

Bodie glanced at him with a kind of strange sympathy. “Don’t you know? Finding out I was being used. That I wasn’t wanted for me, but for what I could give them.”

“What?” Totally bewildered, Doyle grabbed his shoulders and swung him around. “You said they hurt you? How . . .?” He trailed off as Bodie stared down at him, eyes suddenly both scornful and filled with pity. Pity?

“You just don’t understand, do you? Never figured you would. That’s what hurts the most y’see. More than anything. Givin’ and giving and gettin’ nothing back. But how could you see it? Oh, god, not you. You’re the specialist in takin’, ain’t you?”

Bodie didn’t move a muscle, but it felt like an electric shock breaking Doyle’s hold. He felt the rejection like a fist in the gut, for once really seeing the deeply-buried resentment in Bodie. Standing there breathless, he couldn’t answer. Wasn’t sure he quite fathomed it even now. But he was haunted by a vague, will-o’-wisp promise to himself to “make it all up to Bodie . . . someday.”

“What do you want from me, Bodie,” he finally managed hoarsely. “Tell me what you want.”

Bodie, seemingly bored with the conversation, or with life in general, merely shrugged. “Doesn’t matter now. Never did, I suppose. A bit of yourself, maybe. A bit of you that was only for me, that only I could reach.” He smiled wryly. “But you’re too democratic for that, aren’t you. Treat everyone the same; chance acquaintances, total strangers, even snitches and the occasional villain can catch at that overworked conscience of yours . . . get your sympathy, a bit of charity.” He paused for a second, then smiled ruefully. “No, that’s not quite right. Capitalist is more like it. You capitalise on your assets. Parcel it out special, don’t you? Dependin’ on what you get back.”

“No.” Doyle’s denial sounded weak to his own ears.

After a moment, Bodie turned to him, somehow seeing and noting the pale, startled face. “Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’ve just never been able to figure you out. Nobody really owns a cat, do they?”

Totally lost now, Doyle just stared at him, wondering what could be going on behind those deep, agonised eyes. Bodie shrugged, “It’s okay, Ray. Don’t go off on a guilt trip. You can’t help what you are. I’ve never blamed you—ever. My fault, being such a pushover. Mush inside where you’re concerned. Cowley told me that once, and I’ve been trying to prove him wrong ever since. Only with you I fuck up. Only with you, I can’t keep up the wall. Not your fault, mine. I guess . . . guess I just needed somebody and you were elected without your even opting to be in the running. I can’t help it, and you can’t help it, so there it is.”

“Bodie—” Totally staggered and unable to cope with the magnitude of what was being put before him, Doyle faltered. He cared for Bodie deeply—obviously—but Bodie was talking more than caring, he was talking love. Doyle, who tended to jump headlong into emotional whirlpools, was suddenly, inexplicably shy. Hell, he was petrified. Exactly how far off was this from what Summerisle did (or didn’t—depending on the view of reality) offer last night? Was it what Bodie meant at all? Brotherhood, camaraderie, partnership, friendship—Doyle thought he’d already offered all that freely. It had to be something else. Something deeper and more definite. Or maybe he was wrong and he hadn’t truly offered enough of any of it. Subconsciously, he realised he always held something back, some intangible essence of himself, but he’d always felt he had to—self-defence, caution, and experience demanded it.

Bodie patted his arm paternally. “S’okay, son. Let it go.”

“Let it go?” Doyle yelled, taking refuge in anger. “Talk straight, dammit! What do you want?”

Bodie smiled sadly. “Nothing, Ray. I gave up wanting long ago.” Then, curiously, “Why did you come here; what really made you come after me? I was happy, y’know. For a while. Until I found out. And even then, most of the time, I couldn’t think about it or deal with it. When I could—” His face darkened suddenly, and he turned away, shivering.

“What, Bodie?” Doyle clung to something more understandable at the moment. “What have they done to you?”

Bodie rubbed his eyes painfully. “Can’t remember too well . . . it’s . . . but it hurt . . . I was helpless.” He hunched his shoulders as if ashamed. “I was afraid, Ray. Really afraid. They would do it—I know they would do it; as if I was no more than . . .”

“Then what?” Doyle pushed.

“. . . an animal. I’m sorry. Sorry. I was scared. Couldn’t think.”

“You were drugged, Bodie. That’s why you couldn’t think. Tell me what you know now. You know something. Please, tell me!”

Bodie shrugged and turned away. “It’s in the book. Read it. I read it, while you were asleep—or most of it. Enough.”

“Book?” Doyle glanced back at the wind-ruffled pages of the notebook. “That? What is it, Bodie? What do you know?”

Like a wounded animal who could take no more, Bodie spun around, holding Doyle’s reaching hands at bay. “Leave me alone! I need time to think . . . just . . . don’t touch me!”

As Bodie started to walk away, Doyle called after him anxiously, “Where are you going?”

Bodie didn’t answer, just continued to move away, his steps faltering and unsteady, reinforcing the vision of a wounded wolf.

“Bodie, don’t go far, please! Bodie!”

The man halted, swaying as if drawn forward to a quiet place of sanctuary. “No . . . I won’t go far.”

Doyle, torn, sensed that Bodie needed to be alone. He was afraid to follow, but afraid to leave him unguarded. So he stood still and watched him slip off down the curve of the stream. It was the wrong time to tell Bodie how he really felt—even if he could sort it out himself. Bodie was still coming off the effects of two weeks of the unknown drug. He could believe anything or nothing of what Doyle said to him.

Accustomed to making decisions in an instant, Ray Doyle was suddenly indecisive, both about what to say and what to do with Bodie. All he could know for sure was that he would not let him go for long—what that precisely meant, he wasn’t ready to analyse.

Praying Bodie only needed a bit of privacy, and unwilling, unable (or less attractively) not brave enough to discover for sure, Doyle turned his attention to the notebook Bodie had mentioned. He was certain there must be something in it that had made Bodie realise once and for all that the island was evil. He suspected Bodie had been on a drug-powered merry-go-round of contentment, suspicion, faith, doubt, and euphoria for some time. From his own brief and subtle experience, if he had been administered the same drug, he knew it to be powerful but ephemeral. It had the tendency to peak and fade erratically, unlike most other drugs Doyle was familiar with. The ability to function fairly well was also strange—and he was trusting more on Bodie’s reactions than his own experience, because the drug also tended to blur reality once the effect dissipated, like sodium pentothal. It was impossible to second guess the situation. Heroin would have brought Bodie down quicker and he would have been physically hurting, which he wasn’t—emotionally, yes, but not physically. Downers would have caused him to be sluggish and uncoordinated, as would mescaline or amphetamines once the effect wore off. This was none of those, yet it had the appearance of several. Summerisle was a scientist, a chemist, as were his father and grandfather before him—and a botanist. It was impossible to know what he had discovered in that laboratory of his, only to helplessly witness the results.

Doyle finally picked up the notebook, hardly caring what it said. He wanted out—wanted Bodie out. For once in his life the eternal copper couldn’t find the energy to care about the possible crime. He was more concerned with the sick dread of what might yet come.

He sat down on the blanket and opened the book, leafing through the first few pages to where the diary actually began—when David Campbell arrived on the island.

It was rather slow going at first, a young student intent on scientific accuracy and dry facts, still a bit pompous with tomes of knowledge crammed in his head at University and self-conscious about living up to what was expected of him. Somewhere, quite early on, however, the tone of the diary began to alter. The descriptions of the island and the people began to be less flat and scholarly and more personal.

Doyle was a bit startled at first that none of the names were familiar; there was no Lord Summerisle, no Miss Rose or winsome Willow. It occurred to him finally, that it might be customary to alter names in such studies. For what Campbell described was surely Summerisle and its people. But instead of the Lord, there was the erudite high priest, measuring and weighing the amount of modern civilisation he judged proper for his flock. There was the cold, unbending high priestess, leaning always on the side of the old ways with the caution of one who wanted her own influence and power to be felt. And there was the symbolic goddess of fruit, for none to marry but open to all. Campbell called her Aphrodite, for her beauty as well as her promiscuous nature. Many pages were devoted to her as the young anthropologist found cold science less absorbing than the subject.

Aphrodite is very helpful to my research. She has taken me out many times to the various shrines and holy places of their worship. The churchyard—or “yard” as they prefer to call it—is relatively unimportant to them. With their deep belief that the spirit adopts other forms after death—animals, fire, water, air—the earthly remains hold little significance. But I must note their custom of saving the umbilical cord after birth to be attached to a tree planted on each grave. Interesting concept suggesting they see birth and death as interchangeable aspects of life, rather than the more common view as beginning and end.

Another point of interest the lovely Aphrodite explained to me was that unlike the Druid and Celtic cults of the past, it is the May Day celebration—Beltane—here on the island that holds the primary importance. It is at that season, rather than the more expected Winter Solstice, when sacrifice is offered to the gods of the field and sea and to the all-important god of the sun. This is most fortunate for myself as the first of May is only a few days away. Perhaps I will be allowed to observe or, if Aphrodite will speak for me (and I modestly believe I can talk her into it), participate as well.

The next entry was excitedly scrawled:

My wish has been granted! Aphrodite must have spoken to the High Priest because he called me to the castle and spoke with me for most of the afternoon. Seeing how devoted I am to the subject, he waxed at great length on how their religion was founded and the history of the island and his family. He is a fascinating man; highly educated and logical. But I found it even more amazing to discover that he believes just as strongly in the mythology and the spiritual aspects of the cult as the lowest of his servants. He can speak passionately on the topics of parthenogenesis and the pantheon of gods and goddesses. I concealed my surprise well enough to convince him of my sympathy to their ideals. The suggestion he made to me was a bit shocking at first, of course, but totally fascinating. I could even understand the logic of his motives in asking my cooperation. I must admit I was incredibly flattered—not to mention titillated by the concept. It would be incredibly difficult to maintain a truly scientific dispassion under the circumstances. Yet what an unequaled opportunity to examine this unique society. If I have achieved this degree of acceptance, I can attain access to the most private of their rituals. It is not an offer I can bring myself to refuse. I hardly dare think what my father would say, however. Still, I have an ace up my sleeve with which I can avoid the more permanent consequences of my involvement.

A few pages later:

Today I helped in the construction of the wicker man. When it is completed, it will be an incredible edifice, more impressive than I ever imagined it to be when reading of the ancient rites while back in Edinburgh. The reality is almost frightening, even knowing that in present times the offering would be comprised of apples and vegetables and various animals. I cannot help but remember its original prisoners down the dim march of time. The men that had met their hideous death in the flames so that the crops would prosper. Even now, the idea of animal sacrifice disturbs me. As a scientist, I know I must remain impartial, but I can’t help but be a bit squeamish. Hopefully, I will be able to conceal it when the time comes and they set the torch at the base.

I am intrigued by some of the comments of the villagers as we constructed the figure. Amidst the always present music and song and laughter, there were wistful comments about the May Day of ‘73. “Now there was a true May Day,” and eager nods of agreement left me puzzled. “Remember when—” and then old Lark was nudged to shut him up. I asked what was so special about that particular May Day. For a moment, they were all silent, then Beech spoke up to say that the sacrifice brought great bounty that summer. They all joined in happily to exclaim over the size and sweetness of the apples, how large and clean the potatoes were, and how the onions grew as big as melons. I finally gathered that the year of ‘72 had been very bad, almost disastrous, and a special sacrifice had been required to revitalise the island. I tried to question further, but Woodbine started up a rousing song and everybody joined in. I am determined, however, to discover more about that wonderful May Day celebration.

Soon after, there was another change, more abrupt and more disturbing. It was difficult to pin down as nothing was specifically stated; in fact, the diary returned to a more clinical, observant nature, spelling out in more detail the strange quasi-Celtic religion of the island. But Doyle sensed an edginess in the tone of the writing, a jerky, uncertain style that hadn’t been there in any of the previous pages—as if the writer was nervous of being caught out.

It can’t be true. And if it is, what can I do about it? I’m here to observe, not to judge. It’s only an assumption on my part. No proof. These people, they couldn’t do such a thing. I’m taking them too literally. Must reconsider.

Several pages later, another entry, more ambiguous than the last:

So what if they find out? I never intended it to go this far. Never meant to do any of it. But what a chance to observe, to participate. How can I be blamed? But they would blame me. An insult to their gods. Father wouldn’t understand. Already they seem suspicious. It’s been two months since I came here; very soon they will know for certain. What will they do? What they did to the other one? No, I’m just over-reacting. Imagining things. I must study this rationally.

Puzzled, Doyle read on, absorbing more about the island through David Campbell’s notes and interpretations than he had been able to see in the short time he had been here. The religion was analysed in depth; Campbell finding it a fascinating bastardisation of several Celtic and pre-Christian cults. The first Lord Summerisle had apparently carefully chosen his particular brand of paganism; leaning heavily on the fertility aspects. Doyle wondered suddenly if that was all due to his hunger to make the island bloom, or to his hunger to fulfill his own lusts. It was quickly apparent that the Lord—or the high priest—took it upon himself to indoctrinate the post-pubescent youth in the importance of fertility. Oddly enough, it was not limited to the females. Any sexual act, it seemed was an honour to the gods. The act of copulation itself a kind of offering.

Doyle found that difficult to understand for many reasons, until he discovered the role the high priest played in the scheme of things. He was in the part of the man/woman, the “teaser.” Both as the leader of his people and the part he was given to play, the Lord had to be all things to all people. Judging by Doyle’s memories of the day before, the present Lord was more than enthusiastic with his role.

There were other things as well, mores and customs Doyle only skimmed—the custom of sitting naked on the grave of a lost love, planting a tree between the vee of the legs to signify rebirth; reading portents in the entrails of animals; the practice of putting a small frog in the mouth to cure a sore throat. Folk medicines, herbs and folk cures, rituals and rites, and it all existed easily alongside scientific fertilisers, plant grafting, and advanced experimental cultures. Magazines and newspapers such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph and Punch were freely available (although a few months out of date), and much of the fashion and hair styles were modern—the island even supported a beauty salon. But there was no electricity, no radios—not even a wireless.

Doyle cared little about any of this. He’d already decided Summerisle was an odd place—and only reluctantly came to realise it wasn’t all as bad as he wanted it to be. The people were happy here; that much couldn’t be denied. But if Summerisle and/or Miss Rose had decided that David Campbell was a danger to that happiness, they might have felt justified in shutting him up permanently. Even if he used false names and didn’t pinpoint the location, there was a lot to arouse suspicions. But suspicions of what? Worshipping weird gods wasn’t against the law. Nor was any of the rest of it, except a few minor health or education violations. Nothing to kill a man over.

He read on, wondering what Bodie had seen that had shaken him so. Or maybe it was something he had already known, but had only now came to realise? Being stoned out of your mind tended to dull the instincts and sense of observation.

Campbell’s earlier fear seemed to have faded. His only comment on the subject, however, was still disturbing.

They must know by now, but no one has said anything. I was jumping to conclusions, of course. I’m not sure what I was expecting. The High Priest spoke to me, asked me if I had known. I saw no reason to lie; he would have seen right through me. I’ve never been a very good liar. It was difficult for a few days; no one would speak to me. I was the invisible man, shunned and tabooed. I must admit this was the most terrifying time I’ve ever spent. For three days I sweated, wondering how to get off the island, or if they would even let me go. Ridiculous, of course. Goes to prove one can’t believe too literally the culture one is studying. Instead of the result I halfway feared, I was punished by being ostracised for a few days—and a very disturbing punishment it is. My nerves were on end every minute. Naturally, it all came out at last, and Summerisle even asked me to stay on until Winter Solstice. I wish I could, this society is fascinating. I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. But I do have commitments elsewhere and I can always return when I have my degree. But deep inside, I suppose I know I won’t ever want to come back to this unsettling place.

It wasn’t until the last page that the edge of fear returned to the book.

I went to the boat this morning. They wouldn’t set off—said the sea was too rough. But they said that yesterday and the weather was calm as it is today. I don’t understand. I thought they had forgiven me. I never meant to offend them. Why can’t they believe that? Why do they want me to stay for the Winter Solstice? Is that why the boat won’t take me back? I keep remembering the May Day of 1973.

Please God, I just want to go home. I want to see my mother. I’m so tired of being afraid.

Doyle turned the page but it was blank. There was something eerie about coming to the end of a story so clearly unfinished. Or was it? Had Lord Summerisle finished it forever?

It was still very vague proof. Perhaps the handwriting would verify it was David Campbell’s, but the final entry was ambiguous. Doyle could almost hear the counsel for the defence stating that the alleged victim could have left the island on his own, that nowhere in the chronicles did he directly state he was being kept against his will. With 500 witnesses to back it up, it would be tough to prove they had lied on that point. Nevertheless, just to get this back to the mainland would be some degree of proof. Enough to open an inquiry at the least.

Doyle blinked as a sliver of sunlight caught him square in the eye. He looked up, belatedly realising it was beginning to set. Bodie had been gone for a long time.

For over five minutes Doyle wrangled with the idea of going after him. He had been heading up into the mountains, following the stream, the opposite from the village, and somehow Doyle knew Bodie would never return there willingly. But he should have returned to Doyle by now.

Actually, he should never have been let Bodie go alone at all.

Doyle realised that very clearly, knew he’d been a fool, but also knew he hadn’t been ready to offer Bodie the one thing he obviously needed. He wasn’t sure he was ready now, if it came to that. But if the island had seduced Bodie away from him, he was bound to seduce Bodie back if that was what was necessary to hold him. If that was what Bodie needed from him, it was a small price to pay.

Deciding with a very pragmatic, semi-sacrificial air, Doyle headed off in the direction Bodie had taken earlier, along the bank of the brook.

He didn’t have far to go. Bodie was scarcely a quarter-mile away. Doyle pushed back a branch to see more clearly. The stream began here, tumbling from an incredibly tiny fall that cascaded with power over a steep, high rock-face. The fall was muted by its small size and only the force of the water through the tiny crevice gave it any ghost of an angry roar. The sheer walls that surrounded the gush muted its noise to a sweetly melodic rhythm, like a sonic rush of a bloodstream through an artery.

Bodie was seated at the foot of the falls on a wide rock spit that jutted out over the stream. The mist had settled on him like a cloak. The sunshine was still alive here, throwing out its last rays between the gaps of the trees, creating a prism of rainbows around the curled figure.

Apprehensive but enthralled, Doyle moved closer, seeing a Bodie he had never known. The damp had moulded the trousers and shirt to the strong body like a second skin, delineating every line and curve of the body like Greek marble. The shoulders were wide and the muscles of the back sleekly defined. Doyle, the artist, saw the sweet sweep of line and the despairing but proud carriage of the spine; knowing all must be phantoms of perfection cast by the ever-changing light and background, yet true and faultless in that second of space. Sunshine glistened in the shining cap of black hair that curled softly on the collar and around the ears. Droplets gleamed on the strong throat, the shirt open for once to reveal a wet expanse of bare, muscled chest. The face seemed more made of stone than the body, only the sun glinting off the long, lower eyelashes giving the figure a spark of life.

Doyle stopped, frozen in place.

Water dropped off the lash and streaked down the fair cheek to meet an older, more tenuous tear.

Bodie was crying. Silently, without movement.

Doyle wanted to run. To retreat. To hide from this unacceptable show of emotion.

Unacceptable to whom? To Bodie?

Undoubtedly. He would not thank Doyle for witnessing something brought on by withdrawal from drugs. Something he couldn’t help, something he couldn’t control. Thank him? He’d no doubt hate him for it. Bodie, the man of steel and stone. Impervious.

Again the question stubbornly rose in Doyle’s mind as he started to back away.

Unacceptable to whom? To me?

Doyle sat down suddenly where he was, the realisation startling and unexpected.

Bodie can cry. Bodie can hurt.

Okay, I knew he could hurt. I let him hurt . . . so many times, because it was easier than finding out what hurt him.

He’s crashing down after being hyped for weeks . . .

He still hurts.

He’ll get over it soon.

Let him do it by himself? He’d want to.

Would he? Would you?

Alone?

“You don’t need me,” is what he had said, is that what he feels?

God, but I do need him.

Still selfish enough to take another look, Doyle found he couldn’t look away. The man was incredibly beautiful. Every feature so nearly perfect, any more would be blasphemous. Yet he was so distinctively male, to call him beautiful seemed wrong; to call him handsome, inadequate. Doyle felt he had been blind for a very long time—for over five years, in fact. Yes, he’d recognised the attractiveness from the beginning, but that was a vastly different step from being attracted himself. Now he was caught and understood belatedly that he’d been trapped for a very long time. Being a partner didn’t cover the way he felt for this man—he’d had other partners and none of them had had him dancing for their wayward attention when he briefly lost it. But he had done that for Bodie. Unconsciously turning on the sex appeal, the tease, the “aren’t-I-the-sweetest-game-in-town” routine, whenever the other man wasted a bit of attention in another direction.

Doyle wasn’t quite ready to face that, but more blatant scenes were coming back with nasty force, and Bodie’s words echoed painfully.

“You capitalise on your assets . . .”

True? He’d never thought he had that many assets beyond shooting a gun straighter and more consistently than the next fellow. But physically? All right, he could turn it on when he wanted to; had seldom met a bird he couldn’t pull—even away from Bodie if it seemed appropriate. But he couldn’t keep them. Flash was one thing, substance was another. It was Bodie that had trouble shaking them off when he was done, not Doyle. Like Ann Holly, they practically sprinted away from him.

Bodie gave to his birds—if not his heart, then his charm, his time, his imagination. Doyle seldom felt it worth the effort . . . And the times he’d tried, he’d failed miserably. So he had essentially stopped trying.

A sound drew his attention. A small sound, but loud enough to carry over the fall of the water. He didn’t want to look again, didn’t want to be drawn in any more. True, he’d brought Bodie here to clear the dope from his system, but he hadn’t thought beyond that, to what it entailed. Abashed and guilty, he realised he’d held total strangers through this stage, helped stinking, useless addicts to kick years-old habits—but this was his Bodie. And he was scared. Scared of not being able to offer what was needed.

It wasn’t the sex. The sex was easy, if Bodie wanted it. He knew himself well enough to know the right time and the right person could make anything possible. No, it was the deeper things that Bodie so obviously needed that Doyle wasn’t sure he could offer. To fail would be worse than trying. Doyle knew Bodie had been right; guilt was his safety clause—I tried, I blew it. Wallow for a couple of days (depending on the situation), and then forget it. Bodie had never had that safety valve.

The sound came again, impossible to ignore. More than a sob, too loud to be a whimper. Bodie was suffering. Deep down in his gut, suffering. And Doyle was just sitting here contemplating the toes of his running shoes.

Furious with himself for his cowardice, Doyle stood and moved purposefully towards the ledge. Bodie was oblivious to his approach. Doyle knelt down beside him taking the slumped shoulders in his hands. “Bodie, stop it! Snap out of it! It wasn’t your fault, any of it!”

Even with the somewhat bruising grip, it took a moment for Bodie to register his presence. “Go away,” he said savagely. “I can’t take any more!”

“What, shown you what a fucked-up place this is? Sorry, but that’s my job. Your job is to get your head straight, sunshine.”

“No more sunshine . . .” Bodie murmured desolately.

Doyle pulled back at what seemed a complete non sequitur. “Eh?”

“Almost gone now,” Bodie continued vaguely, looking up at the sliver of sky through the trees. “No more sunshine.”

Doyle watched as the last glimmer slipped over the barren rocks and left a pale twilight. “Yeah, well, we’d better get back to where I left the blankets, hadn’t we? You’ve practically soaked yourself to the bone. I’ll see if I can fix up a fire, dry you out, okay?”

Bodie jerked away from him, doubling over, face buried in his knees, arms wrapped tightly around his legs. “Leave me alone! I can’t handle this right now!”

“You mean, you can’t handle me?”

Bodie didn’t look up. “Yes . . . no . . . go away.”

“Not a chance. You’re my partner and I’m stuck with you, aren’t I? We’ll just have to make the best of it.”

“Ray, stop. Just stop. I . . .” His voice broke and he hugged his head tighter, keeping the world out.

“You were drugged, Bodie,” Doyle repeated angrily. “It wasn’t your fault. Think about it. Just stop and think about it, will you?”

Bodie tried to squirm away from the embrace. “I’ve ruined it all,” he mumbled. “The job . . . Never finished it. Never tried . . . Disappointed Cowley . . . you. All my life, I’ve screwed up . . . this is the worst . . . Oh, Ray. I’ve lost it all . . . what little I had . . . gone . . .”

“That’s not true! You haven’t lost a damn thing. Please don’t do this to yourself. It’s the drugs, dammit. Don’t let them win!”

His answer was a whimper of unbearable pain. “They already did, Ray . . . long time ago. Couldn’t fight . . . Didn’t know what I was fighting . . .”

“So now you know,” Doyle said sharply, hoping it was true. He still wasn’t sure himself. “So let’s figure out what to do about it. Come on and get up before I get as soaked as you.”

“Just go away, Ray, go away . . . They’ll let you go . . .”

“Not without you!” Doyle tugged uselessly at his arm feeling the tense trembling in the muscles that had nothing to do with the damp. “I love you, dammit!”

For some reason, that broke Bodie completely. He began to sob hopelessly, painfully, shoulders shuddering in Doyle’s grip.

Doyle held him tightly. “Okay, go on, have a cry. Get it out. I love you, Bodie. I’ve said it, and you’d damn well better believe it. Don’t say it to just anyone y’know. You wanted to know why I came after you, and now you bloody know. Didn’t know it meself, did I? Not straight out, anyway. Just knew I couldn’t let you go. Well I’m not. I’m not letting you go ever. You hear that? You dumb bastard; I thought you always knew what I was on about before I did. Why the hell didn’t you just tell me what was going on with us, if you knew it before me? You know I’m not so quick on the uptake sometimes. Can’t see the forest for the trees—god knows you’re big as a bloody tree . . .”

Doyle knew he was prattling on, that he hardly knew what he was talking about himself, but he was finding it difficult to deal with this torrent of pain from a man who seldom released it.

Odd, he could so clearly remember the other side—Bodie holding him while he cried after Ann Holly walked out. Sobbing like a bloody baby. And so many other times, when it was just a comforting arm and a cheery word, easily offered from Bodie’s normally caustic lips. Bodie could be so damn gentle; easy to overlook when faced with the everyday slick cynicism, but impossible to really forget.

Now, put on the other end for once, Doyle didn’t feel adequate. A wave of emotion hit him that was so intense he felt dizzy from the force of it. God, he loved this man; a man who obviously didn’t think himself worth being loved.

Well, he’d never thought he loved Bodie for his sense.

“Bodie, are you hearing any of this? Do you know what I’m saying?” He rocked him silently in his arms, waiting for the storm to pass, hoping something had got through, that Bodie knew that he did love him; that all the harshness and snappishness had been ignorance, not rejection. He didn’t think that he could ever have rejected Bodie—even in the beginning.

The emotional tempest died out fairly quickly, the harsh sobs quieted. Even if it was twenty years of pain escaping at long last, Bodie, being the man he was, kept it to a minimum. The body was still trembling violently, but it was partly chill, partly the effort to hold himself in check.

“Bodie?” Doyle offered tentatively. From desperately wishing Bodie would calm, Doyle suddenly felt it was over too swiftly, too easily. He hadn’t been certain how to manage the breakdown, but he knew even less how to deal with aftermath.

The dark head lifted slowly. The face was streaked with tears, the eyes reddened. He sniffed and shuddered again. “Sorry. That was a daft thing to do.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Doyle said kindly. “Wipe your nose.”

Bodie grinned fleetingly. “On me sleeve? Not ready to sink to your standard, son.”

Doyle smiled back, rather shakily. “Use mine then?” he offered lightly.

Bodie laughed. It was weak and fleeting, but it was a genuine laugh, and it did Doyle’s heart a world of good. “Ta anyway.” He dug in his pocket and drew out a somewhat soggy handkerchief. “This’ll do.” He blew his nose and tucked it back. “Christ, I feel a fool.”

In the gathering twilight, Doyle recognised the desolate expression. He couldn’t let it continue and spread like a cancer to eat away all the truths they’d discovered. So easy to let all this pass—and Bodie would let it. Turn back the clock to a more sober, sane time. But Doyle knew he couldn’t settle for that now.

The other man turned to look at him reluctantly, obviously afraid of what he would see. Doyle leaned forward and touched Bodie’s mouth with his own. No more than a brush of the lips, but the blue eyes lit with a surprised glow.

“Why . . . did you do that?” he asked breathlessly.

“Didn’t you hear anything I said?”

Bodie looked down in confusion. “You don’t have to—”

“Shut up, dammit!” Doyle pulled his head back up and kissed him again, more decisively; forgetting the compassion and concentrating on how he really felt for Bodie—remembering the rainbows and the water sparkles in his hair.

After a split second of hesitation, Bodie returned the kiss, admitting Doyle’s tongue, accepting the hands that pulled him down on the flat rock, the fingers tangling with his shirt buttons. For several minutes they were caught in the newness, held by the heat of the other’s embrace. But as a light gust of wind caused Bodie to shiver in the damp, Doyle finally drew away. It was nearly dark now, and they were both damp from the mist. Bodie, who’d been sitting within the circle of spray for what could be hours, was fairly soaked.

“Hey, let’s go get warm, shall we?” Doyle suggested gently.

Bodie seemed loath to let go of what had so surprisingly been put in his hands, but he nodded, willing to agree to anything Doyle wanted at the moment. Doyle stood and reached a hand to help Bodie up. Together they made their way through the gloom to where the blankets lay.

Doyle made Bodie strip off his wet clothes while he found wood for a fire. Never much of a boy scout, even with the assistance of his butane lighter, it took some time before Doyle could get a blaze going; in fact, it took a blanket-wrapped Bodie to finally achieve a blaze that put out a bit of warmth.

Doyle’s clothes were more damp than wet, so he avoided removing them since there were only two blankets at hand, and one was needed to cushion the pine needles. Bodie, seeing the problem, ordered him to “get ‘em off and share the blanket.” Since it wasn’t far from what Doyle had in mind, he agreed.

For a while, cuddled together under the blanket watching the fire, they were silent, each trying to guess the other’s thoughts. Doyle was afraid to say anything, afraid he had pushed too much already. The drug was apparently clearing from Bodie’s system, but it seemed a poor time to make any kind of declaration. The kiss had been erotic enough, but it wasn’t the kind of thing you could make assumptions on. Only a few hours ago, Bodie had literally hated him. Now he was down, needing something as a buoy to keep him from falling farther. Taking advantage of that for his own needs seemed as selfish as Bodie had accused him of being.

“Ray,” Bodie said softly, startling him. “Can I kiss you again?”

Considering the turmoil that had been rushing through his mind, it seemed an incredulously innocuous question. He turned his face to Bodie in relief.

Again they found themselves clasped together on the ground; this time without the hindrance of clothing. It made things considerably more simple. Hands caressed, touched, moved down. Bodie’s mouth followed, kissing the pulse in Ray’s throat, nuzzling down farther, his breath hot against Doyle’s skin. His hand slid between Doyle’s thighs, and the legs parted instinctively to encourage exploration. Doyle’s breath caught as the lips settled over his nipple, tongue and teeth teasing hungrily.

The fire they’d built was burning merrily now—both the one at their feet and the one in their blood.

Bodie licked along Doyle’s cock, waiting for the moan to reward his efforts. He took the shaft in his mouth and sucked softly, tongue lapping at the head. Doyle’s hands reached down helplessly to take hold in the silky hair, afraid the exquisite pleasure would be taken away from him too quickly. But Bodie was a generous lover, giving long, luxurious moments of pleasure, waiting only for the signal that the end was very near to draw off.

Nearly delirious now, Doyle pushed him down and began mapping his own territories. Bodie squirmed pleasurably beneath his questing mouth. Doyle cupped the heavy balls in his hand as he settled on the iron hard arousal. Bodie, as if afraid of forcing too much, fought back the urge to trap him there, to reach for the enticing flow of hair that tickled his belly; his fists clenched at his side, holding himself in leash. But after a moment, one hand came up to gently entwine in the jumbled curls, more to hopefully direct the rhythm of the suction than to make Ray take more than he was able of the pulsing organ. Doyle, sensing Bodie was more familiar with this than he, was grateful for the patience. For all his eagerness, it was difficult to take him too deeply into his throat without gagging. But he was conscious of a need to do so; he wanted all of Bodie, every centimeter; wanted to hold him, please him. It was all very new in a practical sense, but incredibly exciting.

With a sudden groan, Bodie pulled him around, hands gripping at Doyle’s hips to bring his cock within reach. At the feel of the accomplished mouth drawing him in, Doyle lifted his head for a second in sheer bliss, shocked at the hot delight that tingled in his balls. He’d been sucked by a plethora of women, but none had had quite the voracious strength and ruthless knowledge of the mouth on him now, with its blatant and overwhelming hunger for what he would ultimately give it.

He tried to return to Bodie’s cock, but felt hopelessly inexperienced, and too caught up in his own firestorm. Finally, he simply rubbed his cheek against the stiff flesh and gave way to the sensations in his groin.

He cried out as he came, the feeling sending vibrating shocks of pleasure that started in his quivering balls and raced through his nerve ends. Bodie continued to suck powerfully, drawing and swallowing every drop of semen; while his finger, at a particularly electrifying point, pushed cautiously inside Doyle’s anus to miraculously prolong the ecstasy to the point of near pain. It was too much . . . it shook him to the core and beyond.

It took a long time for Doyle to come down from this peak and he felt limp and helpless. His mind kept working, however, even if his body seemed to have temporarily abandoned the use of its muscles.

Analytical by nature, Doyle was trying to judge rationally if this was really the best sexual experience of his life, or if it was just the newness of being with a man, or because the man was Bodie, or because he hadn’t been thinking with more than half a brain for over a week anyway. He decided that it really didn’t matter. It was a man, it was Bodie, and it was good. He shouldn’t be silly enough to be worrying about the whys and howfors.

Bodie moved around so they faced each other. Even in the flicker of the firelight, Doyle recognised the shy diffidence in the other’s expression.

“Are you okay?” Bodie asked softly.

Doyle closed his eyes, letting his cat-cream smile demonstrate the answer to the ridiculous question. Bodie kissed the corner of his mouth, then buried his face against Doyle’s throat and held him. Doyle couldn’t recall ever feeling so cherished.

Curving his arm around the broad back, Doyle stroked the ripple of muscles, enjoying the satin feel of the fine skin. His fingers grazed over the rough scar tissue on the shoulder blade. “Never told me how you got this,” he commented vaguely.

“Africa.”

Amused, Doyle chuckled. “Africa, again, hah? Busy boy, weren’t you? While I was still sniffin’ glue and nickin’ hub caps, you were already playin’ commando in the jungle.”

Bodie stiffened. “What do you want to know, Doyle? If that was where I learned to suck cock? You’re right, it was. Learned a lot of things there, didn’t I? Most of them ugly.”

Cursing himself, Doyle refused to let Bodie pull away. “Don’t. Don’t run from me again, dammit. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it like that.”

Bodie looked down at him, face hard. “Didn’t you?”

Doyle touched the other’s cheek fleetingly. “Bodie, do you remember what I said to you at the falls? That was something I did mean. I love you. How do you want me to prove it to you?”

The long lashes wavered, then closed. Bodie let out a deep breath. “You don’t have to prove anything, Ray. Not ever. Something else I learned in the jungle—make damn sure you can trust the bloke who guards your back. I’ve been trusting you for a very long time, mate. Guess I let that slip my mind lately, haven’t I?”

Doyle, remembering the harsh impression of puckered scar against his fingertips, wondered how Bodie had ever brought himself to trust anyone again.

Feeling the hardness pressing against his thigh, Doyle belatedly realised Bodie had still to attain release. Perhaps there was a way to prove how he felt, whether Bodie needed proof or not. Doyle suddenly wanted to offer tangible evidence of his own faith in Bodie.

“Bodie,” he whispered, “will you do something for me?”

The blue eyes opened, huge and bright, reflecting the flames.

“Fuck me.”

Bodie licked his lips nervously, his gaze searching Doyle’s face. “I told you you didn’t need to—”

“Don’t you want to?” Doyle cut in silkily, arching up to brush the hard flesh. Bodie’s breath caught at the sensation, at the siren look in the green/gold eyes, fire dancing in their depths.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” he said hoarsely.

“So I’ll yell if it hurts,” Doyle said lightly. “And we’ll think of something else to do. Deal?”

With a groan, Bodie took Doyle’s face in his hands and kissed him hungrily, settling his body carefully down on the bare line of Doyle’s body.

Doyle had expected to be a bit alarmed at this point, nervous at the least, but to his amazement, he could feel an electric twinge of response in his own cock—something he thought would have been impossible so soon after that last incredible session. Still, the weight of Bodie bearing down on him, the tongue exploring his mouth as the strong hands explored his body, resurrected the arousal with amazing speed.

He felt very safe, and very desired.

Even in his painfully delayed excitement, Bodie was tender in his taking, careful to bring the smaller man up to his own level of burning. He was too conscious of the callous initiation of the boy he had once been. Doyle was not a boy, but there was in him some inviolable touch of innocence, that stubborn belief of the basic good in people. It was a belief they could never share, but that Bodie had no wish to further disillusion. There was plenty of that in their job without adding to it. So, with an almost inhuman effort, he held back the flood of passion, the compelling urgency to swiftly take what was so boldly offered.

Doyle, caught in his own wash of sensation, was oblivious to the moral struggle, accepting the gentle, tantalising lovemaking as expected from his Bodie, never considering it might be otherwise. Doyle gasped as he felt the first sharp edge of pain as Bodie entered him, somehow surprised by it. Intellectually, he had known it would hurt, but neither his body nor his emotions believed it.

Bodie stopped, nuzzling his neck and cheek. “Okay?” he asked breathlessly, fingers clenching bruisingly into Doyle’s arms, wondering if he would find the strength to quit if Doyle said no.

Doyle laughed, albeit a little shakily. “Go on. It’s downhill from here, isn’t it?”

Unable to hold back any longer, Bodie thrust again. Doyle bit his lip against the piercing pressure, but found it gradually eased as his body accommodated itself to the invasion. Quicker than he would have dreamed, he was moving with Bodie, countering each thrust, begging for more. His own fingers digging into the muscular shoulders, head thrown back in the delight/pain of the act.

Bodie’s mouth found his, smothering his demand for Bodie to go harder . . . faster . . . Then he felt—actually felt—Bodie go off inside him; a new warmth that triggered his own explosion.

They lay together panting, melded together by Doyle’s stickiness.

Bodie, rather stunned and shaken by how good it was, contrary to popular belief, to actually get what one had wanted after all, licked Doyle’s ear gratefully. “Next time . . . your turn . . .” It was all he could manage at the moment, but he wanted Doyle to know, to be sure.

Doyle was so totally and so wonderfully spent he found the suggestion amusing. “Not just at the moment, thanks,” he replied breathlessly. “Take a rain-check, though.”

“Did I hurt you?” Bodie asked, needing the reassurance.

“Yes, at first,” Doyle replied honestly. “Expected it to, didn’t I? Havin’ a cock shoved up your arse can be a new experience for some of us.” Seeing Bodie’s crestfallen expression, he took his head in his hands and shook it. “Don’t be daft! I’m very adaptable, or hadn’t you noticed? It was fantastic, mate.”

Bodie sighed and put his head back down on Doyle’s shoulder. “I never expected any of this, y’know. Not really. Had some wet dreams about it, but—”

“Did you?” Doyle interjected with interest.

Bodie grinned. “Shut up, you.” He sobered. “Are you sure it’s all right, Ray? That it’s what you want?”

“Actually, I’d rather have Brigitte Bardot and a million pounds, but I suppose I can settle.”

Bodie raised up on an elbow to look at him. “You’re very high, aren’t you?”

“As a kite, mate,” Doyle said happily. “And the only drug around is you.”

Their eyes held for a long time in the firelight, reading the intense feeling in the other and returning it in good measure.

“Fire’s burning down,” Bodie commented. “Need to add some wood.”

Doyle yawned, “Be my guest. You’ve worn me out.” He watched as Bodie got up to add some more branches to the dying fire. “Anybody tell you you’re bloody gorgeous?” he enquired sleepily.

Bodie turned wide, mock-surprised eyes upon him. “No! Really? I’ve only been tellin’ you that for years. Blind bugger.”

Doyle chuckled. “Shouldn’t the ‘bugger’ part be turned around?”

Tossing another chunk of wood in the fire, Bodie sat down on the blanket beside him. “I told you; it’ll be mutual. We’ll both be buggers. I’ll just be a beautiful one.”

Impulsively, Doyle hugged him. “You are, you know,” he said fiercely.

Bodie stroked the tangled curls. “So’re you, Angelfish. Remember who wanted whom first.”

“Whom?” Doyle chortled. “Your public school education is showin’ mate.”

“Don’t care what I show with you,” Bodie murmured, burying his face in the riotous hair. “Speaking of showing . . . I didn’t get a good look at your appendix scar. How is it? I mean, how’re you?”

“I’m okay.”

Bodie pulled back to face him. “You couldn’t have been out of the hospital long. You shouldn’t be here at all, should you?”

“Are you sorry?” Doyle countered.

Bodie kissed him. “Truthfully, yes and no. This isn’t a good place to be, Ray.”

“No shit. So what are we . . .” he tried to stifle a yawn, but failed, “ . . . going to do about it?”

Smiling benevolently, Bodie pushed him back down on the blanket and covered him up. “You, Raymond, are going to sleep. We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

“But how much do you remember now?” Doyle protested. “Earlier, you seemed to know—”

Bodie put his hand over Doyle’s mouth. “Shhh. I hardly know what I said before. I’m still trying to get it all straight myself, and it’s making less and less sense. We’re both too tired to think about it now, anyway. Do you have your gun?”

“Yes, it’s tucked in my shirt.”

Bodie fetched it and checked it in the firelight, clicking it shut when he was satisfied. He tucked it under the edge of the blanket within easy reach. Doyle tried to follow his actions, to contribute something intelligent to their predicament, but his eyes kept falling shut.

Still, he couldn’t quite fall asleep until Bodie lay down again beside him and he could pillow his head on the broad shoulder.

* * *

April 30

Bodie awoke to the music of birds and a wet snort against his breastbone. Looking down, he found Ray Doyle wrapped securely against his chest, snuffling occasionally. Bodie touched the flow of tangled curls fondly.

My God, he thought, Ray loves me.

His next thought, none the less vital for being second, was that he was starving.

Moving the draped form cautiously from his chest, Bodie found the sack and located the stale bread. He finished his half rapidly and carefully put aside the rest for Doyle, although the skinny sod probably wouldn’t touch it. Bodie contemplated the stream for a moment, then glanced back at his sleeping partner. It was barely dawn, Doyle hated early rising, and as worn out as the poor golly was, it could be an hour or so before he stirred.

With that in mind, Bodie set to work.

Ninety minutes later, when Doyle finally groaned and stretched to relieve a kink in his back, Bodie was cooking a trout over the fire he’d built in the ashes of the one the night before.

Doyle blinked and rubbed his eyes. “Wha’s that?” he croaked, giving a long sniff.

Bodie grinned, finding the tousled hair and screwed-up face adorable. Have it bad, old son, he told himself sternly.

“‘S prime rib with fins. Fancy some?”

Doyle sat up blearily. “Where’d you get it?”

“They had a sale at Marks & Sparks. Where’d’ya think? The stream.”

“But how?”

“Speared it, didn’t I,” Bodie said brightly. “Borrowed your pocket knife and tied it to a stick—just like in the scout manuals.”

Doyle regarded it doubtfully. “It’s awfully small, isn’t it?”

“Well, I like that! Next time, I’ll lie abed while you drag in the wild game for the tent, quemo sabe.”

“Didn’t take much draggin’ to bring that in, I’d wager.” But the gamin grin indicated that Doyle was finally wide awake.

“Well, you didn’t see the one that got away,” Bodie grumbled. “Here, have a try. Mind the bones.”

Doyle accepted his portion eagerly, mouthwatering from a day of abstinence. He wolfed it down, ignoring Bodie’s quick admonition that it was hot.

He ate it too rapidly to be sure if it was really good or not, but lied cheerfully, “It’s wonderful. Have any lemon on you?”

Bodie glared at him. “Don’t look a gift fish in the mouth, old son.” He grinned. “Come to think of it, wonder how Angelfish tartar would taste?”

The green eyes gleamed back wickedly. “Thought you found out last night.”

“I did. Found out it was my favourite meal.”

“Bodie, come here, please.”

Bodie knelt facing him. “I’m here.”

“Are you all right now?” Doyle asked seriously.

Taking a deep breath, Bodie closed his eyes. “I think so,” he answered flatly, knowing Doyle meant the drugs. “As much as I can be sure.”

“And last night?”

The blue eyes opened. “You must know it wouldn’t clear off that quickly. I think I was mostly clear; but I probably wasn’t.”

“Do you know why I’m asking?”

“You want to know how much I remember. I’m not sure, Ray. Not all of it. Maybe not most of it.” He cupped the searching face in the palm of his hands. “Enough, though, Ray. Please god, it’s enough.”

Doyle’s hands covered Bodie’s, brought them down and kissed the palms. “As long as you remember what’s important. That you can’t run away from me anymore.”

They held each other in a bruising grip then that threatened to flow over into something else. Bodie, however, pulled back. “We’ve got to get out of here, Ray.”

Unwilling to surrender the sweet feeling, Doyle protested, “We will. We’re together now; we don’t have to worry about—”

“Shhh!”

Doyle froze. “What is it?”

“I don’t know. Nothing maybe.”

Doyle glanced around the circle of trees, trusting in Bodie’s second sense in such circumstances. Doyle was a city boy; he was out of his element and knew it.

“Get dressed,” Bodie ordered tersely, reaching for the gun and checking it yet again.

Finding his jeans and tugging them on, Doyle asked, “You really think they’re serious about keeping you here? Serious enough to need the shooter?”

“What do you think?” Bodie returned, scuffing out the remains of the fire.

“I’m not sure what I think. Haven’t been since I got here.” Doyle pulled on his tee shirt. “That’s the whole problem isn’t it? Half the time I think I’m imagining things. Maybe I am.”

Bodie stared at him. “Didn’t you read the diary?”

“It’s not proof of anything, Bodie.”

“Christ, Doyle, don’t you know what he was so afraid of? What he figured he’d done to offend them so damn much?”

“No. How can I know? He didn’t say. Why are you so sure? Did you break the same taboo?”

Bodie laughed shortly. “Oh no, just the opposite, I’d say. I’ve probably done a damn fine job for the sons of bitches.”

The helpless fury in his partner’s voice puzzled Doyle. Bodie had been drugged, that was certain. But what else? What gave birth to such bitterness?

A voice from the trees responded to Bodie’s comment. “Oh you have indeed, Mister Bodie.”

They both spun around, Bodie ready with the gun. All around them in a half-circle of the trees, were animals—animals with the bodies of men. Stags, hares, horses, oxen, wolves, bulls . . .

Dealing with the shock in his usual manner, Bodie said flippantly to Doyle, “Well, Dr. Doolittle, what do’y reckon this is about, then?”

Some of the men removed their masks and stepped out farther into the clearing. One man, who hadn’t been wearing a mask at all spoke again, “Flashing the gun is a bit excessive, isn’t it, Bodie?”

“Let me blow your head off, Summerisle, and I’ll give it serious consideration later.”

“How long have you been here?” Doyle demanded.

“Long enough. Very touching scene. Male bonding, I believe is the popular term for it. Sharing danger, excitement, thrills—”

“What do you want?” Doyle cut him off angrily.

“Do forgive me. I didn’t mean to tread on . . . shall we say . . . delicate ground. As for what I want, I’m afraid we’re not quite finished with your friend. Tomorrow is May Day, and tonight is a particularly important ceremony. He is the star attraction, as usual, and it’s far too late to find another. I’m sure you’ll understand.”

“I understand you’re all raving mad!” Doyle shouted.

“No, they’re not, Ray,” Bodie said quietly. “It’d be a hell of a lot easier if they were.”

“Ah, so you’ll come with us,” Summerisle said smoothly.

Bodie smiled grimly. “Not on a bet. Go to hell, you bastard.”

“Are you going to shoot us all?” Summerisle asked with curiosity.

“Not enough bullets for that,” Bodie said cheerfully. “But how about if I start with you?”

“I would predict you would both be torn apart in approximately five minutes. There are ten men here with me and fifty more a very short distance away. One shot would bring them. Now, do be sensible.”

Bodie and Doyle stepped closer together, not risking a glance in the other’s direction—not needing to. “No,” Bodie said clearly. “I repeat—go to hell.”

“I’m disappointed in you, Bodie. You sounded so knowledgeable before, you must realise we have no hell.”

“I’ll be more than happy to introduce you to it,” Bodie retorted grimly, levelling the gun at the Lord.

A second later, Doyle went down. Startled, Bodie dropped down on a knee beside him, keeping careful aim on Summerisle. “Ray . . . Ray!”

There was a cut on the corner of Doyle’s temple, bleeding sluggishly.

“A stone can be as powerful as a bullet, Bodie,” Summerisle commented softly. “Some of my people are excellent marksmen with slings, as you can see. But if you insist on more modern firearms, there are at least four shotguns levelled at your friend at the moment. You can shoot me, certainly, but there wouldn’t be much left of your . . . lover . . . ten seconds later. Drop your gun, Bodie.”

Bodie glanced down at the still, pale figure, his free hand resting on his chest, only partly comforted by its steady rise and fall. Ray was still alive, by luck. Somehow he had to keep him that way.

Bodie dropped the gun and stood, facing Summerisle. “All right, what do you want?”

“That’s better.” Summerisle reached in his coat and withdrew a hypodermic needle with a flourish. “A bit direct and not at all as poetic or romantic as our previous efforts, but you and dear Ray have obviously figured out the methods of our poor scheme, if not the reasons. Clumsy persuasion, but adequate to our needs.”

At the sight of the needle, Bodie stepped back. “No. No more, damn you.”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to insist. You are too dangerous to run free for the time remaining until Beltane. Both of you are. While you may not be able to find a way off the island, I give you both credit enough to realise that you could be an extremely disruptive, if not fatal, influence on my people. I don’t choose to take that risk. Pull up your sleeve, Bodie.”

“No . . . no!”

“You have no choice, I’m afraid. We still need you. Just for a short while.”

Sensing a movement behind him, Bodie spun around to see a man with a knife at Doyle’s unconscious throat. Bodie started forward, only to be brought up short by the man’s warning gaze and a tiny trickle of blood running down to the collar of Doyle’s tee shirt.

Bodie turned to Summerisle. “Don’t hurt him!”

The Lord snapped at his man, “Farrow, be careful. That’s enough.”

Farrow seemed reluctant to leave off, and Summerisle’s elegant rage was suddenly directed at him. “I said that’s enough.” He didn’t raise his voice, but the man lifted the blade reluctantly.

Summerisle let out a tiny breath, seeming almost as relieved as Bodie.

“Very well. Now, roll up your sleeve, Bodie.”

Bodie glanced back at his partner, a crumpled form with a knife an inch from his throat, then back at Summerisle.

“Promise me you won’t hurt him? Swear it.”

“You’d believe me?” Summerisle said in mild surprise.

“I’d have to, wouldn’t I? But you’ve no reason to lie. You can kill him and take me anyway, can’t you?”

“That’s very true. And you’re right. My word is good. My people will not harm him. He’s important to me as well.”

Bodie’s head jerked up at that. “What?”

Summerisle approached with the hypo, measuring it out with a careful eye. “Now your arm, if I may.”

Suddenly terrified, Bodie froze. “Don’t. Why are you doing this?”

“We are doing this because we must. You are doing it to prevent harm coming to your friend.” A competent hand took his arm and shoved up the sleeve past the elbow. Bodie closed his eyes, hoping Doyle would understand his surrender.

“You swear, Ray will be all right,” he said bleakly. “You swear it?”

“How could we hurt one of our own?” Summerisle responded cryptically, inserting the needle in the vein.

Bodie didn’t even wince, eyes holding on his partner. “Let him go,” Bodie pleaded. “Just let him go.”

Summerisle stepped back and tossed the empty hypo into the grass. “Ah, but I didn’t promise that, did I?”

Confused, Bodie looked up. “But you said—”

“I said my men wouldn’t hurt him. Nor will they. He is very precious to me. You are for the island, dear Bodie. Ray is mine.”

“No!” Bodie jumped forward, trying for the Lord’s throat, but arms grabbed and held him fast, arms stronger than his own.

“Oak, Cedar—take him. You others, help them. Broom, Fallow, bring Doyle back home.”

“Damn you, no!” Bodie struggled, kicking away one captor, nearly freeing himself of another, but there were always more to come in their place, and his fury was fading, draining away as the drug seeped through his bloodstream. “Please, don’t do this . . .”

Summerisle ignored him, pausing to stroke the unconscious Doyle’s cheek. “You have the horses near, Broom?”

“Yes, milord.”

“Be gentle with him. Have the doctor see to his head wound. It doesn’t look dangerous, but head injuries can be tricky.”

“Yes, milord.”

“I’ll kill you!” Bodie vowed as he was dragged down. “You bastard, I’ll kill you.”

Summerisle finally favoured him with his attention. “I somehow doubt that, my handsome friend. But I do you the honour of accepting your reasoning. He is worth dying for, is he not?”

* * *

Doyle’s head ached abominably. He felt as if he’d been kicked by a mule—not that he’d known all that many mules other than Bodie. Groaning, he tried to sit up, only to have a gentle hand push him back down on the bed.

The girl at his bedside was unfamiliar. Both pretty and unassuming, she smiled at him shyly. “Please, sir, don’t stir yoursel’. You’ve had quite a shock, haven’t you?”

“Who are you?” he asked weakly.

“I’m Rowan. I found you outside the village and the Lord says I was to look after you.”

He looked around hazily, fighting the pain in his temple. “Where am I?”

“His Lordship’s manor, sir. We brought you back stone cold, puir thing.”

“What . . . what happened?”

“You took a horse from his Lordship’s stables this mornin’, sir. Old Harry, he’s a mean one, no doubt. Threw you right and proper, he did. You’ve been out for hours.”

Doyle put his hand to his head, wincing as he encountered the tender bruise on his temple.

“It’s past suppertime, sir. You’ve been out so long, perhaps you’d like a bit of soup?”

Despite the ache in his head, the hollow in his stomach made itself felt. “Yes, please.”

She propped up the pillows behind his back and offered him a bowl and spoon. He ate hungrily for a few minutes, mind only now beginning to adjust to the situation.

He handed her back the bowl thoughtfully. “Where’s Bodie?” he asked suddenly.

“Bodie?”

“Yes, dammit! Bodie. Where—”

“Would you like some cider?”

“No! I want—” he broke off, lowering his voice to a level acceptable to his roaring head. “I want to see Bodie.”

“Ah, I see you’re finally awake.” Summerisle entered the room abruptly. “How are you feeling?”

“Where’s Bodie?” Doyle demanded.

“Why, where should he be? At the inn, I suppose.”

Doyle sat up farther in the bed. “Don’t play games with me. I want to see him. Now!”

Summerisle patted the girl on the shoulder. “Thank you, Rowan. You’ve been very helpful. You can go join the ceremony now.” He sat down on the chair Rowan vacated. “You’ve had a nasty accident, Ray. I wish you had asked someone to help you choose the horses you wished to borrow. Some of them are rather difficult to handle.”

“I said, don’t play games,” Doyle snarled. “I don’t have amnesia, if that’s what you’re hoping for. It’s coming back very clearly now.”

“What is?”

“You followed us.”

“Of course, we did. I was worried for your safety. You are unfamiliar with the terrain. It can be dangerous. Especially on horseback.”

“You wanted Bodie back. Why? Now you talk about some ceremony. Is he part of it? Is that why you drugged him? Is this what you needed him for?”

Summerisle poured some golden liquid into a glass. “Here. You must be thirsty. Have some cider. It’s very good.”

“No. Where’s Bodie?”

Summerisle’s dark eyes narrowed dangerously. “Drink, Ray. Do you want to see your Bodie? Then, drink.”

Doyle hesitated, but his head still hurt too much to think clearly. He took the glass and drank, discovering how thirsty he really was. He drained it.

“Very good, Ray. Wasn’t that easy?”

Doyle put his hand to his head again, feeling dizzy. The headache was fading, but in its place was a dangerous euphoria. He tried to remember the glade, the men, Bodie pulling his gun . . . the rest of it was dim and then nothing.

“What time is it?” he mumbled.

“Late, quite late. You’ve slept the day away, I’m afraid. I was somewhat worried, actually. Afraid of a concussion. But Dr. Hawthorne assured us there was little to be concerned about. It seems you are weakened what with one thing and another. A recent operation to remove your appendix, I understand? Poor lad. Still, the incision has healed admirably.” His hand moved down Doyle’s chest to his stomach.

Doyle jerked away. “Where’s Bodie? I’ve had enough, Summerisle. I wasn’t thrown by a horse, and this is not a game. I don’t know what happened to me, but I do know you have my partner. Now tell me where he is!”

Summerisle regarded him with amusement. “Yes, I suppose the charade is over. You want to see your Bodie? Very well, I will take you to him now. Your clothes are here.”

Doyle pulled them on hastily, mindful of Summerisle’s heated gaze. He paused, steadying himself against the bedpost, the headache nearly vanished, but something else becoming apparent. “You did it again, didn’t you? Drugged me. God, what a fool.”

“If it’s any comfort, most of the drug was in the soup, not the cider. I couldn’t be sure you’d still be hazy enough to accept a drink from me. Never mind, your headache is better, is it now?”

Doyle glared at him. “You said you’d take me to Bodie.”

“Yes, indeed. And I promise I will explain everything. Come.”

Doyle followed him bleakly, wondering how he had been caught out again, wondering how he and Bodie could have handled the entire job so badly. They’d been taught over and over to expect the unexpected. But the island of Summerisle hadn’t been on anyone’s mind. It was a nightmare in a gilded frame; an insidious evil that twisted perceptions and preyed on trust. Another knife in Bodie’s vulnerable back.

They didn’t have far to go. Only to the circle of stones not distant from the castle. A bonfire boomed in the centre, and torches lit the edges to illuminate the sensual scene. It wasn’t an orgy—the movements and carriage of the participants were almost choreographed, graceful and premeditated. Music filled the night air, lilting, seductive rhythms, lute and guitar, calling seductively to the dark, almost seeming to draw in the heavy smell of blossoms to join the rite. Offering it so openly to them, for them, for the fertility of the fields and the people who tilled them.

Summerisle pulled Doyle back against one of the stones. “We go no farther. The circle is sacred to the woman. We can only watch out of sufferance. I am their priest, and you—” he smiled down at Doyle, “you can be the ‘sorcerer’s apprentice’ for tonight. Watch and learn what we are about here. See the reality from which we grow.”

All Doyle could see was Bodie. Naked and erect, he lay sprawled near the centre of the circle, head pointed to the blazing fire. The women, equally nude, dancing around him, singing with the music.

“Take the flame inside you, burn and burn belong,
Fire seed and fire feed and make the baby strong.

“Take the flame inside you, burn and burn belie,
Fire seed and fire feed make the baby cry.

“Take the flame inside you, burn and burn begin,
Fire seed and fire feed and make the baby king.”

Doyle watched as Bodie writhed before them, spurred on by the occasional brush of a hand against him.

“He’s drugged,” Doyle said hoarsely.

“Of course. But hardly in any pain, as you can see. We need him, Ray. He is vital to our survival.”

Doyle watched, outraged, as a girl stopped and straddled Bodie’s prone body, settling herself on his cock and moving sensuously against him. Bodie’s hips thrust up powerfully inside her. After a moment, she moved regretfully off; and hands reached to hold him down, preventing him from clinging to her.

“It’s a bit like Russian roulette,” Summerisle said cheerfully. “They mount him until the lucky girl receives his offering. He is a symbolic image, a flesh and blood proxy for the god of fire, you see. Rather a good one, you must agree.”

Doyle started to step forward, but Summerisle’s fingers bit into his arms, holding him back. “Don’t interfere, Ray. It would be deadly for both you and your Bodie.”

“Why? Why are you doing this?”

“It’s necessary,” Summerisle answered flatly. “I wanted you to understand that. We have a limited gene pool. As a scientist I recognised the danger of that. For nearly one hundred years the inbreeding has continued. With no outside blood, we could soon have grave problems. Already the number of stillbirths and defectives are unacceptable. This is the only way to counteract the trend.”

“You’re mad! There must be a dozen ways better than this—”

“You’re wrong. Any other method would disrupt the beliefs my grandfather cultivated here as carefully and lovingly as he did his apples. It must all fit a pattern, an intricate and delicate weave of science and religion. This satisfies both.”

Bodie’s words came back to Doyle. “You’re using him. He’s nothing but a stud bull to you.”

“Well, in a practical sense, that’s true. But he is quite magnificent, you must admit.”

“Stop it!” Doyle said viciously. “Let him go!”

Summerisle jerked him back violently against the stone. “I warned you not to interfere. You wanted to see him, to understand, so I’ve shown you.”

Doyle, feeling too lethargic to fight, leaned back against the rock and closed his eyes wearily. “How long . . . how long have you been doing this?”

“Nearly two weeks; since soon after he came. Rose was quick to point out the advantages in his selection. She has quite an eye for breeding material. I must admit, I had my doubts at first. He was quite difficult to handle. I had to double the dose of drug. He has a very strong mind; extremely stubborn.”

“Weren’t you worried the drug would affect the . . . offspring?” Doyle asked bitterly.

“Oh no. A mere two weeks’ exposure wouldn’t damage the semen. And after tonight, there’s no problem.”

Doyle’s eyes opened. “Why?”

“It’s the last night. Tomorrow is Beltane—May Day,” Summerisle answered, as if that explained everything.

Doyle looked back at Bodie as another woman offered herself to his increasingly frantic embrace. “You said he gave you trouble?”

“Oh yes, at first. The drug wasn’t quite enough once he realised what was happening. While he is easily aroused, tying him down during the ceremony . . . well, it wasn’t quite the effect we wanted, you see. So I was forced to offer another incentive to ensure his cooperation.”

“Which was?” Doyle demanded hoarsely.

“Castration. I reminded him that it was the customary action taken with a useless stallion.”

Doyle, without thought, went for him. Summerisle staggered under the attack of the smaller man, but Doyle was swiftly grabbed and pulled down from behind.

Summerisle gathered himself together, dusting off his immaculate ruffles. “That’s enough, Oak. I think Ray has made the point that he disapproves of our methods.”

Jerking away from the giant who held him, Doyle stood. “You bastard! You’d do that to a man?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had to resort to it. The suggestion itself seemed to be adequate. It certainly made your friend more receptive.”

“I don’t doubt it! Drugged out of his skull, betrayed by all of you, feeling he had no way out. And, yeh, I think you would do it. I think you’d get a perverted kick out of it!”

“Perhaps I might,” Summerisle said blandly. “However, the question didn’t arise. He did perform—as you see—and this is the last of it.”

“The last I heard, rape is still a crime—even on Summerisle. You’re part of Great Britain, the laws still hold true here.”

“Only if they are reported,” Summerisle countered softly. “Do you think Bodie will report it? Will you?”

“Were you afraid that David Campbell would?” Doyle shot out coldly. “Is that why you killed him?”

A trick of the torchlight caused the Lord’s black eyes to gleam with menace. “Oh, no, that wasn’t what happened to David. Not at all. He sealed his own fate. That young man knew exactly what he was doing, knew exactly what toes he trod upon. Unlike you, he pretended to love our life here, to love our gods. He was studying us, yes, that was understood. We accepted that. Our beliefs are no great secret to many people. But he wanted more than that. Wanted to join our rites, participate in our ceremonies. Why not? He seemed sincere, seemed to know the seriousness of their purpose. So we used him, as we are using your Bodie—only with David’s full knowledge and eager consent. He was a healthy, strong young man; intelligent and willing. He didn’t seem to find it degrading or demeaning, but the honour it truly is.”

“What happened?” Doyle asked, remembering the closely-held secret of the notebooks, the thing that had terrified David Campbell.

“He agreed to participate because he knew he was infertile,” Summerisle snapped out furiously, still raging at his own misjudgement. “He had suffered a childhood disease . . . mumps . . . only the year before, rendering him sterile. And yet, he offered his fertility to our gods! An abominable insult—a blasphemy that could not be tolerated!”

“And you killed him for it?” Doyle said slowly. “My god.”

“What other fate could possibly give restitution for the magnitude of his offence?” Summerisle scowled thunderously. “David Campbell cheated us of the crop of children we needed. But far more seriously, he spat on everything we hold dear. To our very life. The penalties for such blasphemies have always been severe, and the Wicker Man burns as hot as your Christian hell.”

“And Bodie?” Doyle interjected shakily. “What if he’s sterile as well?”

“You think I’m a fool?” Summerisle snarled. “I tested him the first night. He’s fertile all right.” He smiled wryly. “The sperm damn near jumped off the slide.”

“So you don’t have to kill him,” Doyle put in quickly. “He hasn’t insulted anyone, right?”

A sudden change in the beat of music drew their attention. The woman straddling Bodie cried out in delight and Bodie heaved up beneath her, face torn with a kind of ravaged ecstasy.

The music stopped suddenly, one throbbing note filling the night, holding . . . holding.

Bodie dropped back on the ground and covered his face with his arm.

The other women came to surround the lucky girl, patting and hugging her as she moved from the limp form. They ignored Bodie.

Doyle started to go to him, but Summerisle caught his arm. “No, not now. He’ll be taken care of.” As Doyle started to protest, Summerisle tightened his grip. “Unless you are difficult . . . then he will be taken care of in a different way. Remember, we’re finished with him now. Tomorrow is May Day.”

Doyle hesitated, wanting more than anything to smash Summerisle’s confident expression. But the hulking man named Oak was standing only a few feet away, and Doyle knew his own aggressive instincts were being artificially muted by the drug. It was rather surprising that he still had the compulsion to fight back at all.

“Are you sure he’d want to talk to you now, anyway?” Summerisle put in insidiously.

That, if nothing else, quieted Doyle. Drugged or not, Bodie wouldn’t be able to handle facing him at this moment, knowing what had been done to him, aware that Doyle must know as well. Better to leave it for the moment.

Hardly seeing, Doyle was led to the small carriage that magically waited. He entered automatically, and within a couple of minutes they stopped outside the house.

Inside the entrance, a servant was waiting with a tray of wine and a single glass. Summerisle filled it and dismissed the servant while Doyle was studying the floor, trying to understand how this had happened to them.

“Drink this, Ray.”

Doyle looked up warily. Seeing the glass, he instinctively dashed it out of the Lord’s hands. The crystal shattered against the stone floor.

“You shouldn’t have done that, Ray,” Summerisle remarked calmly. He rang a bell and the servant returned in a moment. “Another glass, if you please. You can clean this up later.”

“More drugs?” Doyle snarled, finding it hard to dredge up the energy for anger. “I thought you’d already managed that.”

“Like your friend, Bodie, you have a stubborn will. Tonight, I want acquiescence.”

“Better ring for another lackey then, if that’s what you want,” Doyle said tiredly.

“You will drink, Ray.” Summerisle nodded at the servant and refilled the goblet. “At this point, Bodie is expendable. Do you doubt that I could arrange his disposal with a single gesture on my part?”

Doyle stared at him. “You’re not going to let us go anyway, are you? Not now. Why should I give you any satisfaction?”

“Because you can’t be positive I won’t let you go. Because you can be sure I can punish your lover very painfully—even fatally for your stubbornness. And because, if necessary, I can force you to drink this.” Summerisle shook his head at Doyle’s obstinate expression. “I am an exceptionally patient man. I have even been known to tolerate insolence for any number of good reasons. But I do have my limits. Drink, Ray.”

Doyle took the glass, trying not to think of Bodie. It hardly seemed to make a difference. He was already lost, falling in some great, dark pit. At the bottom Summerisle would be waiting for him; he could only hope that if he ever clawed his way out, Bodie would be waiting for him as well.

He gulped down the wine and took a deep breath. “Will Bodie be all right now?”

“I’m sure he’s tucked into bed, safe and sound,” Summerisle assured him. “Broom!” Summerisle called the servant from outside. “Take Mr. Doyle to the conservatory.”

Doyle’s knees nearly buckled as he tried to walk, but Broom caught him up and steadied him. After a second, the dizziness passed as it had before, but Doyle felt no particular urge to argue with the choice of direction or what was waiting when he arrived at his destination.

The conservatory was dim, lit mostly by moonlight and a few sputtering candles. In the centre of the glass house was a padded bench, low and wide, surrounded on three sides by a veritable riot of growing plants.

“You can wait here, sir,” Broom said tonelessly. He began to light the other candelabras, and Doyle found himself turning aside at each new glow of light.

“Good night, sir,” Broom muttered, bowing stiffly, and departing.

For a moment, Doyle was alone. He searched out the door and found it across the room, but it seemed so very far away—unreachable. Physically, he knew he could probably get up and walk easily the few steps it would take. But somehow, somewhere, he had lost the ability to make the conscious decision to do so.

He giggled suddenly. Christ, what a fiasco. Two tough agents caught without a shot being fired. Falling into a sweet, cloying trap. Lost before they recognised the need for battle. Oh, Cowley would surely love this. We’ve cocked it up from the start.

If Cowley ever came to know of it. If anyone did. The island of Summerisle covered its snares very well—and its victims.

The giddy humour left as suddenly as it appeared.

Oh, Bodie, I came here to help you and I’ve made a right mess of it all. I can’t guard your back, sunshine. Not here; not anymore. The knife is in us both.

* * *

Doyle’s mind seemed clear a trifle, although it seemed to work more slowly than usual, and he couldn’t seem to convert his thoughts to action. For the moment, he just tried to puzzle out everything he’d learned so far. The one fact that horrified him most was David Campbell’s fate in the Wicker Man. Somehow he knew Summerisle didn’t intend the Wicker Man to go hungry this year either and Bodie and himself seemed the most likely candidates.

Summerisle was standing beside him for some time before Doyle even noticed.

“Remove your clothes, Ray.”

“No.” Doyle wasn’t sure where that denial originated. Consciously, he was surprised that he could still offer even that much of a struggle. Absurdly pleased at how nicely his subconscious could behave at times, Doyle smiled up at Summerisle. “Fuck off.”

“Very well, I will assist you.”

This was something else again. He couldn’t quite bring himself to actively object to the stripping. He didn’t like it, but couldn’t seem to coordinate body and mind to stop it. Naked, he leaned passively in the Lord Summerisle’s embrace.

“Lay down, Ray.”

Now, that at least seemed logical. The bench was wide enough for a bed and he felt limp and deliciously languorous; which didn’t quite explain the tingle along his nerves. Odd that—feeling so alive and yet so . . . unconnected.

Summerisle took each narrow wrist in hand and tied it to the bar at the end of the bench.

Doyle felt distantly insulted by that. The bindings were absurdly loose. He could probably free himself in half a minute. Of all the times he’d been trussed up, this was the most ridiculous of all. What a joke. Did Summerisle really think this would hold him? A good kick to that aristocratic chin would put him out in a second and from there he could be out the door and gone before anyone could say jackrabbit.

Doyle didn’t move, permitting his body to be arranged as Summerisle wished. But he could have clearly explained to anyone who wanted to ask him that escape was embarrassingly easy. Simple as pie. He’d use it in a minute. Any minute now . . .

The minute passed, and another. He found it difficult to remember what he had been concentrating on so intensely.

Summerisle’s hands stroked down the bare body and Doyle reacted instinctively, arching up to greet the delicate touch.

“Ah, yes . . . so accepting. So eager.” He pushed Doyle’s legs off either side of the bench, parting the thighs widely. Cupping the balls in his hand, he murmured, “So full of life.”

Doyle squirmed in the grasp, some part of him rejecting the touch. “Don’t.”

“Still resisting? I doubt if that will last long.”

“Go to hell,” Doyle said, the voice coming from some stubborn, angry holdout in his mind. He was pleased at the viciousness of it, though hardly capable of such venom if he’d had to think about it first. For once in his life, despite all the trouble it had given him, he found himself grateful for that nasty part of him that tended to snarl first without first bothering to think.

“It must be very crowded, this hell of yours,” Summerisle commented with amusement, “you are all so quick to condemn others to it.”

He stroked down Doyle’s chest, rubbing his thumbs over the hardening nipples. “Relax, enjoy . . . give way to sensation.”

There didn’t seem to be much choice in the matter; his body was already responding. Summerisle began humming some odd, melodic tune, while his fingers traced patterns over the supine body.

Doyle’s eyes opened wider at a sudden cool wetness. Summerisle was using his index finger as a brush to paint a red line from one side of Doyle’s chest to the other. Then he dipped his finger into another small pot beside the bench and pressed down hard on each nipple, on the centre of the breastbone and the middle of the forehead, leaving marks of gold liquid to run off in starburst ripples. Summerisle continued with white tint, drawing a ragged sun on Doyle’s stomach with the navel as a core of red.

“For tonight,” Summerisle spoke softly, “you are Teague, son of Nuada, God of the sun. For tonight I shall worship him through you. I shall draw power from you, as every day we draw it from your Father. I shall drink of your life force and take it into myself.”

The sincerely intoned words and the intense seriousness of Summerisle’s face, suddenly made Doyle want to laugh. It was simply all too bizarre to be taken seriously.

“You really are mad as a fuckin’ hatter, aren’t you?” Doyle chuckled, then began to laugh in earnest. Deep in the euphoria of the drug, conscious of the tickle of the dripping paint, he suddenly found it difficult to take in the danger of the situation. In fact, he found it more pathetic than sinister.

“You want to jack me off, is that it?” Doyle snickered, catching his breath. “Give me a quick blow job? Be my guest. Never been sucked off by a lord before.”

Summerisle froze, staring at him. Doyle expected anger, fury at the derision, and steeled himself for the blow. But Summerisle’s hand only cupped his chin, tilting Doyle’s face to the light.

“Is that what you think I want?” he asked fondly. Then, to Doyle’s amazement, he threw back his head and roared in laughter. “Oh, my poor Ray. I knew you were naive, but even you must see that is hardly sufficient.”

Doyle’s jaw tightened. Okay, so you’re going to be fucked, he told himself grimly, earlier humour vanishing as if it had never been. Obviously I can’t fight it, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let it destroy me.

Summerisle leaned close, eyes holding Doyle’s like a snake charming a bird. “You still don’t understand, do you? You are sacrificing your life force to me, my dear boy. I’m afraid that happens to entail taking your life.”

Doyle’s breath caught in his throat, gut clenching with a numbing terror that overrode even the drug.

“Ah, I see you begin to comprehend.” He pulled out a silver dagger from the belt of his kilt. The candlelight glinted sharp off the deadly narrow blade. “But as you are unfamiliar to the ritual, perhaps I should explain it to you.” His free hand encircled Doyle’s cock, squeezing and pumping it. To Doyle’s horror, it twitched in independent response to the skillful manipulation.

“First, I shall give you—what you so charmingly called—a blow job,” he grimaced at the term, “but at the peak, as you pour out your virile offering—” The blade lowered until the steel rested against Doyle’s testicles. “At that most powerful of moments, I will take a further sacrifice. Oh, do not be concerned; your pain will not last long.” The knife blade moved back up so the point rested over Doyle’s heart, barely pricking the skin.

Summerisle looked thoughtful. “I understand it is customary in some cultures to actually consume the living heart—but I think I will have to dispense with that particular aspect of the rite.” He smiled charmingly. “I’m primarily a vegetarian, you see. However, I imagine the excising of the heart will suffice.”

Laying the knife to one side, he surveyed Doyle, quite pleased with himself. “Do you know, I think I’ve really surprised you, haven’t I? You didn’t expect this at all. Oh, don’t feel too badly, poor boy; in your world sacrifice has a very different meaning. Tell me, why should this be so different than a bullet tearing into your body, or a terrorist’s bomb blasting you to pieces? Death is the end result either way, is it not? Yet you, in your so-noble line of work, accept that idea of sacrifice every day. It is only this that frightens you. I imagine it will frighten your friend Bodie as well when he meets the Wicker Man tomorrow evening.”

He smiled as Doyle’s eyes widened. “Oh yes, he must be offered as well. Not that we are afraid of what either you or Bodie could tell the outside world, but because you both will do great honour to our gods. You, for our great and benevolent God of the Sun, and Bodie for our gracious and fertile Goddess of the Orchards. A perfect circle.”

He put his hand down flat on Doyle’s chest. “You must be very excited; your heart is beating very fast. Perhaps I didn’t give you a sufficient amount of the drug. If you struggle, this could be even messier than it needs be.” He hesitated, as if pondering whether it was worth administering a further dose. Then he shrugged. “Let’s begin and see how it goes, shall we?” He smiled again. “You don’t seem very amused anymore. A pity; your face lights up so prettily when you smile.”

Doyle closed his eyes, too stunned to think clearly, still unable to move. The terror was like a live thing clawing through him for escape, finding no outlet in the useless muscles.

Summerisle continued his monologue as he stroked the now trembling form. “One thing I appreciated about you, religion here was strange to you, even comical, but you were never righteously offended. Oh no, not a sophisticated man of the world like yourself. Did I ever tell you about the other visitor we had? No, of course I didn’t. But you did know of him. Sergeant Neil Howie. What a proper copper he was. Stiff shirt, brass buttons and all. Neat as a show window manikin—about as yielding as one. But he served our purpose well, did the Sergeant. As the virgin, King-like fool, he brought life back to our orchards and fields. A fit sacrifice, and a brave one. He had his own religion to give him strength, you see. Shouting his praises to his god and singing his hymns as the flames blossomed around him.”

Summerisle paused, hand once more stroking Doyle’s cock, erect now under his palm.

“What will you have, I wonder, to keep you going in that final moment before the end? What faith you have in your god is shaky, you’ve admitted that; your friend is warm in the arms of the lovely Willow at the moment; and no one will even know how you died. Just you and I will share that, my Ray. You will give me your life, and I shall cherish it. You belong here, you see. I knew that from the moment I saw you in the garden. And now you can be a part of Summerisle forever . . .”

Still stroking Doyle, moving his hand more quickly now, he reached for the knife, face glowing, eyes shining almost red with blood lust.

Panicked, Doyle bit down hard on his lip to keep from screaming out his horror. Not that it could matter now . . . not that anything would ever matter again—

“Milord! Milord!”

Shocked and furious at the interruption, Summerisle tossed the dagger to one side and stood. “How dare you come in here without my permission? What can—”

“I . . . I’m sorry, milord,” Broom stuttered, glancing at Doyle and swallowing visibly. “But I had to tell you.”

“Tell me what?” Summerisle thundered.

“It’s . . . it’s Willow, sir. She’s dead. And so’s Beech—”

“How? Why?” But before the man could answer, Summerisle’s face cleared. “Bodie. It was Bodie, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, milord. He strangled her, y’see.”

“Where is he now?”

Broom looked nervous. “That’s just it; we can’t find him. We’re searching the village and we found Beech near the boathouse.” He paused. “We think his neck was broken, milord.”

“Any boats missing?”

“No, milord. They were all anchored offshore, like you ordered. And the dinghies were pulled on land and chained. He’s still here.”

In his frustration and fury, Summerisle struck out, kicking over a line of clay pots with a crash.

“How the hell did this happen?” he demanded. “He was supposed to be drugged, watched!”

“He was, sir. And Willow was with him. The Green Man was crowded tonight, celebrating, you see.”

“Oh, yes, I see! Celebrating so much he was able to escape!” He shook his head, making a conscious effort to calm himself. “I suppose I didn’t give him enough of a dose; I didn’t take into account how long he had been without it. Or perhaps he had managed to work up a degree of immunity.” He took a deep breath. “I’ll have to see to this personally. I want him found before he does any more damage.” But as he started to leave, he hesitated, glancing back at Doyle. “I don’t want him left alone. Stay here—make sure he remains secure. I’ll be back shortly.”

As soon as the Lord left, Broom began pacing nervously, awkwardly holding the shotgun he carried, glancing uneasily at Doyle and at the dark expanse of the conservatory not illuminated by the candles.

Doyle was still in a state of shock, too numb to fully take in everything that had just been said, too busy accepting the simple fact that he was still alive. The fear wouldn’t dissipate easily but now he felt more sick at his stomach than terror-stricken. He took a few deep breaths trying to bring himself under control. He still, however, felt vaguely disconnected to his body, unable to do much more than tremble.

The minutes passed and Broom stopped pacing to sit down on a stone bench near the door, resting his chin in his hands and the gun across his lap, looking morose.

Doyle’s mouth felt dry and he wondered if he dared ask for some water. Instead, he looked around the enclosure, finding he could turn his head if he didn’t think about it too much. The moon was hidden in a roll of clouds, and the blackness of the night sky through the glass roof was oppressive. All around him were the careful fruits of Summerisle’s painstaking research—small trees, bushes, vines; a veritable jungle of plant life. The room smelled damp and heavy with rich soil and compost. Doyle’s senses seemed magnified and he could almost hear the water droplets falling from the leaves.

Then he heard something else. A quiet rustling and a barely audible thump.

Broom raised his head as well, listening intently, but when the sound was not repeated, he slumped down again.

Doyle, however, sensed something different in the air; a subliminal electrical charge that brought his heart to his throat.

Bodie.

Almost automatically, he glanced over the floor by the wall of plants to where Summerisle had dropped the knife.

It was gone.

Eyes wide, Doyle tried to steady his breathing, afraid to draw any attention to this side of the room before Bodie was ready to move. It has to be Bodie, he told himself comfortingly, it just had to be.

Time crept by and Doyle’s hope was beginning to tatter. He started to wonder if he had been mistaken about the knife after all, if desperation and the drug were playing tricks on his mind.

But then there was a crash near the far wall. Broom jumped up, levelling the gun in the direction of the noise. He inched towards it slowly, but when he got there he found nothing but a piece of brick and a shattered glass jar. Before he could turn again, Bodie was on him from behind, an arm locking around his throat and jerking it sideways so Summerisle’s fancy little dagger could neatly slice the artery below the ear.

“Bodie . . .” Doyle’s voice was hoarse, but he found enough will to pull against the bonds that held his wrists.

The other man was beside him in an instant, cutting through the leather strips and pulling him up into his arms to hold him in a crushing grip.

Doyle choked off a sob against his shoulder. “Bodie . . . oh god . . .”

“Shhh . . . hush now . . .” Bodie’s vice-like embrace, if possible, tightened even more.

Doyle didn’t care about the pressure on his ribs, he was only afraid Bodie would let him go. After a few seconds, Bodie did just that. He pushed him back and grabbed up Doyle’s clothes. “Get dressed.”

Doyle discovered it was easier than expected, his coordination only a little off. The drug drained the personal will, not the actual ability to move. But as he started to pull on his tee shirt, he hesitated, looking down at the streaked paint on his chest and reliving the horror of the voice and hands.

It was Bodie who found a cloth and wiped away the smear of paint as best he could and tugged the tee shirt and jacket over the quivering figure.

Doyle, recovering slowly from his shakes, looked again to Bodie for guidance, feeling lost. Bodie returned to the dead man, picking up the shot gun and quickly searching the corpse’s pockets for spare shells. “Let’s go,” he said shortly.

While not consciously thinking about it, Doyle anticipated Bodie would take them out the way he’d come in. Instead, Bodie led him through the door to the house.

“Where—”

“Shut up,” Bodie snarled under his breath. He caught Doyle’s eyes and jerked his head upward. “The roof,” he mouthed.

Doyle stared at him for a second, startled by what he saw. Bodie’s face was all hard angles, muscles taut, eyes glittering dangerously. Bodie the wolf, then, functioning on pure instinct now; still wounded but more dangerous than he had ever been.

The house was huge and amazingly easy to traverse without being seen. They weren’t searching for them here yet, for one thing—hadn’t yet discovered Doyle was gone. They made their way almost silently up the servant’s stairs at the back of the house, Doyle following Bodie’s lead, his own instincts seeping back with the new wash of adrenaline. On the upper floor, Bodie prowled the corridor until he found the entrance to the attic. A few more minutes and they were on the roof, Bodie pulling up the ladder and closing the trap door. A loose stone wedged it close. Taking Doyle’s arm, he led him cautiously through the darkness, the moon dancing only briefly in and out of the clouds. Finding a place where the gabled roof sloped together in a vee, Bodie stopped and slid down with his back braced against it. Doyle sat down close beside him, beginning to shake again with delayed reaction, wishing Bodie would hold him, or at least talk to him. The animal silence was unnerving.

“What now?” he asked finally.

“We wait.”

“For what, Bodie?” He touched the tense hand, pleased that he was able to make an independent gesture, as slight as it was. “For them to find us?”

Bodie looked at him then, catching Doyle’s defeated expression in the fleeting moonlight. He put down the gun and pulled Doyle to him. “They won’t look for us here,” he said gently, cheek against the rumpled curls. “Not yet at least. They’ll expect us to run away from the house, not stay here. So, we’ll wait for dawn.”

Feeling slightly better now, Doyle relaxed against the broad chest. “Dawn?”

“It’s the best time to move, dawn and dusk. People’s eyes play tricks on them then—can’t adapt quick enough to the change in the light. They’ll have more trouble spotting us. And they’ll be tired and careless after searching half the night.”

It seemed logical. “Where will we go?”

“Get as close to the sea as we can; find another place to hole up until dusk. The mail boat is anchored offshore; a half mile, maybe less.” He looked down at Doyle. “Do you think you can swim that far?”

“I don’t know,” Doyle said honestly.

Bodie’s arms tightened. “You have to, Ray,” he said fiercely. “Do you hear me? It’s our only chance.”

“I’ll try, Bodie.” But he was shaking again and couldn’t seem to stop, remembering the insidious hands on his body, the silky, cultured voice explaining exactly what horrors he intended, the gleam of the knife and feel of cold steel . . .

“Ray, snap out of it! Ray, don’t!”

Doyle pressed his face against Bodie’s shirt. “I’m sorry . . . can’t help it . . . oh, god . . . he was going to . . .”

“Don’t think about it. It’s over now. I won’t let him touch you again, I swear.” His voice was grim and determined. “They won’t touch either of us again.”

Bodie kissed him then with a primitive and animal passion that Doyle was happy enough to accept after the malevolent caresses earlier. If Bodie’s embrace was on the edge of being brutal, it was clean and pure, because Doyle knew the source.

After a long moment, Bodie’s mouth gentled and his tongue licked penitently at the corner of Doyle’s mouth before lifting his head.

“I was afraid for you,” he whispered. “Afraid I’d be too late to help you . . .”

Perversely wishing Bodie had continued what he’d started, Doyle pressed closer.

“I heard them talking, down in the inn,” Bodie continued darkly. “Laying there on that bitch’s bed, zonked out of my mind, I heard them. Laughing, singing. And then I heard your name. When I tried to get up . . . she pushed me down and she was laughing too. Told me not to worry about you anymore, that the Lord had plans for you—” Bodie’s arm tightened painfully around the smaller man. “He won’t touch you again,” Bodie vowed fiercely.

* * *

May 1

Doyle woke as Bodie shifted his position. It was still dark and for a second Doyle had no idea where he was.

“S’okay,” Bodie said quietly. “Stay here while I take a quick look around. It’ll be dawn soon and we can leave.”

The darker shadow that was Bodie, melted away into the blackness, leaving Doyle to struggle with what was going on. It was nearly dawn, he must’ve slept for four or five hours, but he still felt tired and his brain was fuzzy.

It came back slowly, what had happened to Bodie; to him. As always, the drug fogged the memory, running the past few hours through a kind of sieve, with much of it leaking away even as he tried to catch it. But there was enough left to build hatred on, and it burned inside him like acid.

Doyle found he could move as he wished now; that part of the drug seemed to have lost its effect. Bracing himself against the slope of the roof, he stood. There was the vaguest tinge of pink in the sky now, not enough to be deemed light, but just the hint of the coming dawn.

Bodie returned, still carrying the shotgun. “Okay, we can get down at the back. There’s a drain-pipe down the lower roof of the kitchens. If we follow the gutter, there’ll be more pipe at the end of that roof. Come on.”

“Bodie,” Doyle said suddenly. “Give me the gun.”

“What?” Bodie turned on him questioningly.

“I don’t want to leave.”

“We have to, Ray! And we’ve got to go now so we can get to the edge of the woods before full light—”

“Not until I kill him.”

Bodie stared at him in the softly growing light. Ray Doyle was not a cold-blooded killer. Oh, he could kill very efficiently—but not like that. Never like that.

There was an executioner looking out of Ray Doyle’s eyes now.

Bodie’s own eyes closed for a second, feeling sick. Damn them, he cursed silently, damn them to hell. Of all the things Summerisle had done to both of them, this was perhaps the worst evil of all.

He opened his eyes and looked straight at Doyle. “We’re leaving now, Ray. Do you understand me? Right now.”

Doyle shook his head. “I have to kill him, don’t you see?”

“Fine. Good luck to you.” Bodie turned and made his way across the roof. For a long, heartsinking time, he was deathly afraid Ray wouldn’t follow. That Ray could somehow manage to kill Summerisle, Bodie had no doubt. With the drugs out of his system and a single-minded purpose, Doyle could be ruthless. But it would be a blessing when the others caught him and took their revenge, as they assuredly would. Because the Ray Doyle he knew would already be dead inside.

As Bodie reached the edge of the roof, he hesitated, afraid to look back. There was the whisper of rubber-soled shoes behind him, and some hurt, hidden corner of Bodie’s heart was freed again.

They climbed down the pipe and made their way across the lower roof through the grey, hazy light. It took only a short time to find the rest of the path downward and they sprinted in turns from hedge to hedge until they reached the woods. Once, they caught sight of three men with lanterns still lit, pacing over the grounds towards the orchards. But at that dim hour of the morning, they hadn’t yet realised that the glow of their lamps kept them from seeing anything beyond the narrow circle of artificial light.

Once in the woods, Bodie and Doyle moved quicker, Bodie still leading, but Doyle keeping pace a step behind him. The sun was beginning to shine openly through the breaks in the trees by the time Bodie called a halt.

“This is far enough for now. There’s a cove right over the rise; the packet boat is anchored there.” He smiled cynically. “Or it was last night when I checked. Of course, they could have moved it by now.”

“Please, I can’t stand it when you’re optimistic,” Doyle growled. “So, now we just stand here all day, or find a convenient bush to cower in?”

Bodie grinned, relieved to see a hint of his old, snarky partner back again. “Neither. We go up.”

“Up?”

Bodie indicated a huge, ancient oak tree.

Doyle surveyed it with little pleasure before turning back to his mate. “You want us to sit up in a bloody tree all day, is that it?”

Bodie struck a pose. “I think that I shall never see, a thing so lovely as a tree.”

“You must be joking. We’ll fall out.”

“A little monkey like you? Nah. Besides, it’s an amazing fact that people searching for fugitives seldom tend to look up trees. Dunno why.”

“Probably give’m credit for more sense,” Doyle muttered sourly, but followed Bodie agreeably.

“Okay, give me a leg up,” Bodie directed. “I think I can reach that lower branch.”

“Give you a boot up,” Doyle grumbled, obediently clasping his hands together. “Monkey? You’re the one’s . . . oomp . . . been in Africa, mate, not me.”

Bodie grinned down at him from the branch. He wrapped his legs around it securely and reached down his arm. “Toss me up the gun first.” When Doyle obliged, Bodie wedged it in a crook of another branch and reached down. “Jump, twinkle-toes.”

Bodie caught his wrists and after a few sweaty seconds managed to get his partner up beside him. Doyle clung to the branch and avoided looking down. He hated heights.

“Come on,” Bodie urged.

“What? Higher?”

“Ever upward, son. Pretend you’re social climbing.”

Shortly thereafter, high up in the concealing leaves they settled down in a place where three branches split off the main trunk, close enough to make it feasible to sit close together, feet braced against the opposite branches, backs against the wide main trunk.

“There now, comfy, isn’t it?” Bodie said brightly.

“Well, I imagine you feel right at home. But I’ve got a twig practically sticking up me backside.”

Bodie brought out the knife, intending to take care of the problem by trimming it off, but caught the expression in Doyle’s eyes at the sight of the silver dagger.

“What is it, Ray?”

Doyle’s eyes met his bleakly. “You didn’t see . . . you don’t know?”

“About last night?”

“Yes. You didn’t see Summerisle?”

Bodie wanted to drop this now, didn’t want to talk about it. Couldn’t bear the bleak look in Ray’s eyes. But Doyle was waiting for an answer. “That butler bloke was the only one there when I got there.”

“And me.” Doyle swallowed painfully. “Do you know what Summerisle was going to do?”

Bodie, wishing Doyle would stop, praying he would just let it go for now, answered roughly, “I’ve a pretty good idea.”

“Do you?” Doyle persisted, tearing at his own inner wounds viciously in the mad hope that the fear would go away if he prodded it enough.

“He was going to rape you,” Bodie said bluntly, afraid to permit too much of his own hatred to show when he was trying so hard to control Doyle’s. “You wouldn’t have liked it, but you’d’ve survived. And obviously, it didn’t happen, so just let go for now, okay?”

Doyle laughed harshly. “Oh, no, mate. I wouldn’t have survived at all. That’s just it. He was going to use that shiny dagger to cut my heart out—probably to bury it in his fuckin’ orchard.”

“Oh my God.” Stunned, Bodie stared at him, seeing only what might have been if he had been a little later.

“He’s a nutter, Bodie. He believes all this crap, y’see. He killed the police sergeant to help his bloody apple trees. And he murdered David Campbell because he insulted their gods by being sterile.”

“Ray—”

“There’s more. They were going to kill you today. Burn you up alive in their ‘Wicker Man.’ Just like they did with Sergeant Howie and David Campbell. Human sacrifice, that’s what this place is all about. No wonder it took us so long to figure it out—how could any sane person expect something like this? But it’s happening, Bodie. It’s real.”

Bodie didn’t respond, taking a moment to absorb everything Doyle threw at him so quickly.

Bitter, Doyle demanded, “Why did you stop me, Bodie? Why didn’t you let me kill him?”

Bodie clutched Doyle’s shoulder hard. “Don’t you think I want to kill him, too!” he snarled. “But getting out of here alive is more important right now.”

“I’m not so sure,” Doyle retorted blackly. “He needs to be killed, Bodie. And I want to do it myself—”

“And I can’t let you, dammit!”

“What?” Doyle’s face lifted in confusion. “What do you mean . . . you can’t let me?”

Bodie released him and sat back, wondering how he could explain something that he felt mostly deep in his gut rather than in his mind. “You’re not the type,” he finally mumbled inadequately.

“And you are? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes,” Bodie hissed. “If you want to put it like that. It’s way too late to start worrying about my soul—but you’ve still got yours, Ray. I can’t watch you destroy it.”

Doyle was silent for a moment, studying his partner’s face intently.

“Doesn’t matter either way,” Bodie said dismissively. “I’ve already killed two people here and I’m not sorry for it. Despite that, you don’t see me running off tryin’ it either, do you? I’ll think about that once we get out of this damn place.”

Doyle reached out to touch his face, making Bodie look at him. “That was self-defense. I know what they’ve done to you and what they planned to do. Summerisle needs to die more than any of them. He’s the master of all of this insanity?”

Bodie, again, had trouble finding the words. “If . . . if you killed him like that . . . in cold blood . . . it would change you, Ray. I need you to be the way you are. I think you’re my conscience, y’see. And if you throw it away, then I’ll have nothing left at all.”

Doyle’s eyes filled with sudden tears. “Oh, Bodie, that’s not true at all.”

But Bodie only shook his head and looked away again, fighting back his own rising emotions. Now wasn’t the time for any of this. And hardly the place.

Doyle took a deep breath. “All right, you win. I won’t blow the bastard’s brains out, much as I’d like to. We’ll do it right, report everything to the authorities. They won’t believe us, of course. Who would? Who besides the Cow, that is. But once we’ve got him onto it, he won’t let it go. He’ll get the bastard for us, no matter how long it takes.” He looked straight and hard at his partner. “So I won’t kill him. But get something clear right now, mate. You’ve got to promise the same. I mean it, Bodie. No coming back here once we get away and trying to do it yourself—no matter what happens. Even if I don’t make it out. No revenge.”

Bodie’s head shot up. “I can’t promise that. It’s not the same for me—”

“Of course it is, dammit. Exactly the same. Swear to me, Bodie.”

Their gaze held for a long time, before Bodie finally took Doyle’s hand. “I swear.” With a sad, crooked smile he added wistfully, “Tryin’ to save my soul, Doyle?”

“Don’t have to,” Doyle answered softly. “It’s been right there all along.”

The sun was still some distance above the swell of the ocean when they made their way down the rough cliff to the cove. While they had planned to wait for dusk before moving, thirst drove them down early, and neither felt they could afford to waste more of their depleted energy in waiting longer. Neither of them had eaten much in the last two days, and the night on the roof and the day in the bough of a tree had brought little actual rest to either of them.

Bodie, who had not slept the night before, was looking particularly drawn and exhausted; the circles under his eyes very dark against his pale skin. He had napped a little in the tree, but the precarious position and unpleasant dreams hadn’t improved his condition.

When they reached the rocks, they both breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of the small boat anchored far out in the cove. From this vantage point, they could just see the line of the wharf and the village beyond. Nothing was stirring anywhere.

“Where is everyone?” Doyle wondered aloud.

Bodie shrugged, busy trying to judge the distance to that boat. It looked farther away than he’d anticipated. On an ordinary day, Bodie thought he could have reached it without too much trouble, but considering the shape they were both in, his confidence was wavering. And Doyle had never been a particularly strong swimmer.

“Do you think you can make it?” he asked quietly.

Doyle eyed the expanse of waves, more worried about Bodie than himself at the moment, although he knew it would never do to mention it. Right now, he was probably in marginally better condition than his partner, in spite of everything. He had had a good deal more sleep for one thing, while Bodie had been running on adrenaline for nearly 36 hours.

“Ray, can you make it?” Bodie repeated harshly.

Doyle smiled ruefully. “Rather than sit any longer in that bloody tree, I’d swim the Channel, mate.”

“Forget the Channel, just concentrate on staying afloat. You didn’t bring your waterwings.”

Doyle shook his head mournfully. “There, I knew there was something I forgot to pack.”

“Pity, I could’ve used ‘em as well. Here goes nothing, mate.” He tugged off his jumper and shoes purposefully.

“I thought we were waiting for sunset?”

Bodie shook his head. “No point. We’re more likely to get caught here than once we’re in the water. The mail boat is the only one on the island with a motor, and the fools have chained all their dinghies up. It’ll take ‘em time to get them loose and into the water. With luck, time enough for us to make it out there and start up the engine. No way they can stop us then.”

“Unless there’s someone on the boat ready to knock us in the head as soon as we come alongside,” Doyle offered grimly.

“I don’t think there is. Haven’t seen anybody. And this is May Day, remember? Like Christmas to these bastards. Everybody had a holiday.”

“Maybe the motor won’t start,” Doyle continued gloomily.

“Why shouldn’t it? You’re always tellin’ me you’re good with engines, aren’t you?”

“How about if it’s out of petrol,” he finished his pessimistic list with glum satisfaction.

“Eh, what is this? Mutiny already?”

“No, no,” Doyle assured him airily. “Ready and eager, Captain Bligh. You did say my other option was the tree, didn’t you?”

Bodie ruffled the curls and kissed him swiftly. “Come on then.” He left the shotgun with a regretful pat, as Doyle stripped off his running shoes, and with another careful look for observers, they entered the water.

They swam steadily, matching the other stroke for stroke. The effort went on for what seemed like hours, although it was probably no more than twenty or thirty minutes, before Doyle began to lag behind.

Bodie stopped and treaded water while he caught up.

“You okay?”

Doyle halted beside him, coughing a little. “Dumb question.”

“We’re over half-way, now. I can hold you up a bit, if you want.”

The smaller man pushed him away. “Don’t be stupid. I’m okay.” He began swimming again and Bodie fell in beside him.

Ten more minutes and Doyle was forced to slow, swallowing another mouthful of seawater. Bodie caught his arm and steadied him until he got his wind back.

“Oh, by the way,” Bodie said before they started off on the last leg, the boat still seeming very far away to both of them, “if I yell ‘shark’—”

Doyle’s head jerked up, barely missing a faceful of wave. “What?!”

“I’m just kidding.”

“Damn you,” Doyle cursed weakly, but felt better for the exchange, as Bodie had meant him to. If his partner could still make black-humour jokes, things couldn’t be quite as desperate as he thought. They were going to make it. Not much farther now. Already he could almost read the name on the side of the boat.

Abruptly, Bodie gave a muffled cry and went under. Panicked, Doyle treaded water and searched for him frantically.

“Bodie! Bo—”

The head came up, sputtering and choking painfully. Doyle caught hold of him, nearly getting pulled down himself as Bodie fought to keep his face out of the water.

“What is it? What’s wrong?!” Doyle demanded, buoying the other man up as best he could.

“Cramp . . .” Bodie gasped. “Be okay . . . in a minute . . .” His face twisted again as the pain tore at him.

“Just relax, mate.” Making up his mind, Doyle took him in the rescue hold and started swimming towards the boat, grimly ignoring his own exhaustion. Bodie knew better than to struggle in this position and risk making it harder on his partner.

Somehow, Doyle was never quite sure how, they made it to the boat and Doyle managed to grab hold of the collapsible ladder and pull it down.

Once onboard, they dropped limply on the deck, chests heaving, and Bodie still trying to rid himself of the cramp in his calf muscle. When Doyle got his breath back, he tried to help massage it out, but Bodie pushed him off.

“Forget that! Get the motor going. Has anyone seen us?”

Doyle levered himself up to stand. “Not that I can tell. Hold on a minute.” Staggering into the cabin, he returned with a pair of binoculars. “Nothing’s stirring.” He pulled the glasses away and looked down at his partner with puzzlement. “The whole village looks deserted. Where could they be?”

“Who gives a damn?” Bodie countered wearily. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Within a few minutes Doyle had the engine running and the anchor lifted. Bodie was able to limp to the wheel to steer the boat out of the cove and around the curve of the island, back towards the mainland.

“How are we doing for petrol?” Bodie shouted over the engine noise.

“No problem,” Doyle grinned. “Looks like I was wrong on all counts.”

“So what’s new? But we should watch out for reefs. Hang on a second—what’s that?” Bodie throttled down the motor and cut it off abruptly. In the sudden silence they could hear the joyous chorus of voices carried clearly by the wind over the water.

Summer is acumin’in
Loudly sing Cuckoo
Grow the seed and blows the mead
And springs the wood anew . . .

“So that’s where they all are,” Doyle said softly.

They didn’t have to worry about being seen, even if there had been a danger of Summerisle having another motorboat. The line of people stretching along the cliff had their backs to the sea, their attention wholeheartedly focused on the immense figure in front of them.

“What the hell is it?” Bodie asked hoarsely.

“The Wicker Man,” Doyle breathed, feeling sick.

The coarsely woven image rose at least fifty feet in the air, crudely shaped in the form of a man, its arms and legs made up of cages where birds fluttered madly against the bars, and calves and lambs cried pitifully in terror, their bleating voices discordant amidst the happy music of Summerisle. Fire flickered brightly at the base, rising swift and greasy up the legs of the hideous figure.

And in the large cage shaping its stomach, there seemed to be something else.

Doyle clutched Bodie’s arm. Bodie clutched him back.

They stood there frozen, helpless, as the line of villagers on the cliff swayed and sang their song of rebirth.

And as the flames reached the centre of the giant figure, spreading out in a glorious fury, a single wrenching shriek reached their ears, carrying with a horrifying crystal clarity, a scream of such extreme human agony and terror.

Within minutes, the Wicker Man was consumed and crumpled in upon itself in a fireworks of sparks.

“Oh my god,” Doyle whispered, turning his face into Bodie’s shoulder.

Bodie stared at the blazing ruins on the cliff and desperately wanted to vomit. But he knew it wouldn’t help, that it would take more than that to purge the sickness he felt.

Doyle’s head lifted and their eyes held for a long, despairing moment, both of them at last realising the truth.

David Campbell hadn’t been dead at all.

Until now.